Monday, November 18, 2013

The Bay: Don't Drink the Water

Since it's Monday, I think I'll get right to the point. I quite enjoyed The Bay. Well, maybe 'enjoyed' is too strong of a word---because really the entire time I just felt curling up into a tiny ball in a cold dark corner while thinking about the possibility of giant parasites eating my internal organs and biting off my tongue. Not pleasant really. But as far as horror movies go, The Bay is extremely effective and when all is said and done a lesson in how to make an effective horror movie on a smaller budget. And also probably a lesson in why you shouldn't dump chicken poop in the water.

The Bay stitches together found footage of all different types to tell how the events of July 4th unfolded in a small seaside Chesapeake Bay town. The film's narrator is a rookie television reporter who's first assignment was to cover the town's annual Fourth of July celebrations. She tells her story over Skype, while narrating the various bits of found footage. Halfway through the celebrations, the townspeople start to develop strange symptoms---huge rashes and boils, vomiting up blood and then... dying. It's not long before the entire town gets taken by the mysterious parasites growing in the town's water supply.

The good thing about The Bay is that the found footage aspect is so varied. There's not one single medium used throughout the entire film--rather it switches it up constantly which nicely removes you from the monotony that found footage films usually trap you in. It also jumps back and forth along the timeline of events, which builds up the feeling of unease nicely.

Sprinkled among all the found footage of the town, there are two oceanographers who are slowly but surely uncovering the parasite problem sometime in May. Later their bodies are found mangled, prompting town officials to dub their deaths as a shark attack.What makes this bit of found footage alarming is how it continues to raise our anxiety as the oceanographers find more and more evidence--culminating in their demise.

The film also does a really nice job of building up anguish without shoving it in your face. Perfect example is one brief webcam shot of a man showing his stomach to the camera and shouting that he feels sick and something is very wrong with him. We can see the outline of a parasite moving inside of him threatening to burst out Alien chest burster style---but it doesn't.

This is what I wish bigger budgeted films would do. Perhaps the parasite didn't burst out because they didn't have the money to make it look convincing--or maybe they did it on purpose. Either way--the fact that we never actually see parasites bursting out of people's stomachs, or eating their tongues is quite refreshing. It causes us to use our imagination which in most cases is more terrifying than the actual event. There's also a lot of subtle creepiness going on, which is again much appreciated in this day and age when horror movies normally like to throw the scares directly in your face. Take this simple scene where a couple who has been sailing to the town throughout the film finally arrives and sees just this empty sailboat floating along…

Sure there are some burning questions I have, (why it take so long for the townspeople to get the parasite, but it took that one guy only 12 hours or whatever? How come the reporter lady stuck her face in a fountain and didn't get it? OH you probably have to ingest it....but she got that person's blood on her face---some totally got in her eye?) And I'm also a little dubious of how all the found footage was so intact..especially the one of the two teenagers, also I wish the mayor guy got a better payback.

Overall,this is a solid film that really leaves you feeling unsettled. Or maybe just nervous about ever drinking from the tap again. At any rate, it's an excellent entry into the found footage/contagion subgenre and I'm totally into it. Check this one out on Netflix Instant Watch--one of few movies I haven't seen and doesn't completely stink. Hooray!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Day Without Blood is Like a Day Without Sunshine

I think I have a problem. My doctor said not to worry but it keeps itching and……okay fine I'll tell you. It seems that after 27 years of existence, I cannot stop watching movies about the Vietnam War. Totally weird right? Movies about puppies sure. Romantic comedies---could be worse. But Vietnam? WHY am I glued to the TV like an oily handprint? Why do I find myself watching the same movies over and over and over again. I'll tell you why. Unlike most other war movies, movies about the Vietnam War somehow seem more relevant to me. The themes, the artistry and underlining message in these always sparks a truly unique reaction within me.

Previously my obsession began when watching Apocalypse Now for the first time and deciding that it embodied my ability to embrace horror movies as a way to disintegrate the fear. Last night, I noticed Full Metal Jacket was playing on IFC and I got all excited again. When I was younger, I watched Full Metal Jacket and thought I felt some inkling of genius. I lacked the real brain power to put the pieces together but the important thing was---the movie spoke to me. Me-- a kid without the slightest knowledge of the Vietnam War aside from what I learned in Forrest Gump.  Imagine that.

So after watching Full Metal Jacket not once but twice in two days, I've come to appreciate it more than I ever thought I could. Putting aside the obvious motifs about military brainwashing, the inherent evil of the Vietnam War, and the duality between love and war---I'm more interested in the 1,000 yard stare.

A concept brought to the public thanks to Tom Lea, who emphasized the horrors of war and the lasting effects on the soldiers in his painting, "Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare". The 1,000 (or 2,000) yard stare signifies a kind of deep, traumatic understanding. It represents the idea that there are two kinds of people. The ones who see and the ones who do not. The ones who have been there. And the ones who have not.

The 1,000 yard stare is brought up in Full Metal Jacket when Joker claims he's been in combat--but others disagree citing that he lacks the 1,000 yard stare to have been there. By the film's end, Joker makes a decision to end the life of the wounded teenage girl sniper and then at that moment develops the iconic 1,000 yard stare. It's important to note that after all Joker has been through---the horrors of boot camp, witnessing Pyle murder Sergeant Hartman and then blow his own brains out,

seeing Vietnam Civilians carelessly killed and discarded like an afterthought, his best friend getting shot----Joker does not develop the 1,000 stare until made to look death straight in the face.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gomer Pyle developed the 1,000 yard just by caving in to his own weaknesses.

Pyle's essentially bullied until his mind can no longer take the fact that he's stuck in 'a world of shit.' The truly fascinating thing then is that the 1,000 stare doesn't need to be restricted just to those experiencing war and the horrors of combat. It's life fool.  I'm not trying to make light of the depth of the 1,000 yard stare and its true meaning but I'm just saying that I think it's bigger than that. And I think Kubrick was trying to point this out. It can't be a coincidence that one of his iconic filming techniques is dubbed the "Kubrick Stare" right?

I still think there's something much more chilling about Pyle's 1,000 yard stare than Joker's. I think it's the revelation that Pyle sees himself stuck in a world of shit and unable to get out. A desperation of the mind encountered by those who are suicidal. Joker on the other hand while still admitting he is in a world of shit, grows from it and becomes stronger. Seeing the surrender of Pyle chills me and continues to chill me long after the moment has passed and the credits roll.

The real horror of Full Metal Jacket is that more people aren't like Pyle. Not in the sense that they didn't kill themselves but because everyone else seems to have an ability to turn off their mind and just kill and be OK with it. The end scene for example, after having killed a teenage girl sniper, the soldiers march off into the flames while singing the Mickey Mouse March.

It's a scene so jolting that I instantly compared it to the end of Salo. The scene where after senselessly torturing a group of children and teens, the soldiers start up a friendly waltz with each other--blissfully ignoring all the crazy shit they just did. It's enough to make you crazy. And I think that's at the heart of the sadness of Pyle. The ability to realize that you're not made of what they want you to be made out of.

Clearly I've lost my train of thought and am just rambling now but that's what happens when movies about Vietnam and I get together. It's like an Italian Horror movie. It starts out making sense and then all of a sudden, a man is dressed as a woman and a monkey walks in with a telephone, while a midget recites poetry.

So, apologies for this rant. But my mind is doing this crazy thing where it can't stop thinking and wondering and loving and battling. Life man. Life is hard. You've either seen it, or you haven't.  The trick is---what will you learn about yourself once you have seen it?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movies I Want to Marry: Death Becomes Her

I've always felt a strange kinship to Death Becomes Her. Was it because of its sharp and witty commentary on society's need for youthfulness?  Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep acting together and fighting to the death until realizing that neither one of them could die? Bruce Willis as a spineless mortician? Fat suits? Floating nuns? Cats and jars of frosting? YES YES YES. I think it's safe to assume it's everything. In a nutshell---Death Becomes Her may just be the perfect movie to get married to. It also refills the Brita filter so….bonus.

As a kid, the comedic aspects of the film may have been overshadowed slightly by the darker tones. My horror at seeing Goldie Hawn squeeze a handkerchief until her hands bled never seemed to leave me and I still have trouble walking down to the morgue without imagining three unearthly nuns gliding across the floor.

Okay you're right, I've never been to a morgue but if for some reason I have to walk down to one to unzip my husband from a body bag that he was mistakenly put in to---you can bet on the fact that I'll be doing it with my eyes closed. Lest I run into this.

A scene that naturally sparked my irrational fear of people gliding across the floor……


But now that I'm older and wiser, I can truly appreciate the dark comedy aspect of the film in all of its glory. I can also finally realize that the special effects aren't that spectacular ('HOW did they make it look like her neck was twisted and her head was on backwards???'…. I wondered in awe. 10 years later. 'Oh…. right.)

However, I will say that the scene when Mad and Hel are duking it out with shovels is still pretty spot on in terms of impressiveness. The hole in Helen's stomach perfectly catching what would be behind her at the exact right time. So there's that. Also the makeup has its moments and I still can't get enough of Goldie Hawn in her fat suit.

I should mention that a few weeks ago there was a moment when I looked into my fridge and saw only condiments and a jar of chocolate frosting. Naturally I instantly flashed forward to the ultimate sad realization that I'm not too far away from this…

Basically in case you missed it the first time, I am in love with this movie and I don't care who knows it.   Really though..what's not to love?

That's right nothing. So why does it get a bad rap or no rap at all? Because everyone is a jerk that's why. Apologies for this somewhat useless/awesome post but I had to get my true feelings out there. Right?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Maniac (2012): The Good Scalp

When Elijah Wood was first cast as Frank Zito in the remake of William Lustig's Maniac, people were mad. Not just regular remake mad but like…I'm going to kick a baby then claw my face off and eat it mad. As usual I played devil's advocate and slapped those people in the face. Then, I calmly reminded them that Elijah Wood was actually really good at being an understated creepy psychopath.

Why didn't they remember his unsettling turn as Kevin in Sin City? And not only that--but who can admit that his performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind as a weird, panty stealing idiot did NOT fully creep them out? My thoughts exactly.

So that's why I was intrigued by the Maniac remake. Not only because I wanted to see just how much creepier Elijah Wood could get, but also because I felt like there were so many other layers of the original Maniac that had yet to be explored. Luckily, the remake does explore those layers---but it still leaves things intentionally fuzzy as well which is both frustrating and neat. Apparently Frank Zito is a case that will never be cracked---

and after a glass of wine or three to get my mind off the heavy duty scalping…I think I'm OK with that.

As far as plot goes--the remake of Maniac stays fairly close to the original. Frank Zito is a disturbed man attempting to lead a normal life but hiding his true passion in his sadly outdated and cramped apartment. During the day he refurbishes mannequins--which by the way is proof that there IS something more terrifying than a mannequin----a mannequin hospital. At night, Frank kills women, scalps them and then tacks their bloody scalps onto mannequins and sleeps with them.

All the while entertaining us with his flashbacks of seeing his prostitute mother do bad things. After meeting a super arty photographer named Anna, Frank's scalping desires seem to hit the high road and his maniac tendencies start to really get out of control…

I was glad to see almost immediately that the remake kept that same seedy feeling of the original film. Swapping out 1980's New York for California circa now, the Maniac remake still has the power to make you want to take a shower. I attribute this to the fantastic styling of Frank's apartment. Dated, cramped, and swarming with flies stuck onto the rotting scalps of his victims--Frank's apartment is like the anus of the devil. I also loved the switch in professions for Frank---what better way to really freak people out with the mannequins than actually having Frank's job be about running a mannequin store?

Almost the entire film is shot in POV style which is at first jarring but then highly symbolic and fitting.

It's very Enter the Void---and is also a really nice nod to Slasher films in general. Peeping Tom meets Enter the Void? Hmmm yes, that sounds delightful. The only time we get to look at Elijah's mug is when he stares into mirrors, which, actually happens quite a bit (the symbolism kills me!)

There's also a brief moment where he's stabbing his victim and suddenly we're inexplicably just looking at him from the outside with no reflection in sight.

What's that about? Could that scene have been implying that Frank was transported briefly out of his body and looking at himself and his behavior from the outside? Maybe!

I will admit that the gore level in this remake is top notch. As someone who prefers not to witness a full on scalping---I fought the desire to die several times during this. The scalping is so graphic that I think I heard a rumor that it was real.

Just kidding the blood is too shiny so it's not but really----really traumatic stuff here. Although Alexandre Aja only appears to have produced and written Maniac--the the gore in this is quite indicative of his style. Head trauma, shiny blood and really creative face wounds are all over the place.

As far as remakes go, Maniac is pretty strong. It took the important elements of the original and then added in some spice here and there. It also seemed to give us an even closer glance into Frank Zito thanks to the POV tactic. What it didn't do however was do a good job of explaining Frank's mother's continued presence. I felt that in the original I could really understand Frank's issues and how they correlated to his mother. Here though we're treated to some late night romps, Frank hiding in the closet and then a fuzzy scene of him brushing her hair. Her death isn't really touched on and the scene with Anna's agent is therefore kind of odd.

Elijah is as I predicted insanely creepy. The mannequins are insanely creepy (and evidently horny when left alone)

 And the fact that this girl chose "Goodbye Horses' as mood music is insanely creepy.

Doesn't she know the kinds of bad things that happen when the song 'Goodbye Horses' is played?

Overall, I think the Maniac remake did me proud. What do you think?