Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Psycho: The True Story

After watching the film Psycho, I was browsing the internet for more information on Ed Gein, the serial killer who is known to be the inspiration of the screenplay. The more research I did on Gein, the greater my sympathy became for Norman...yes I know, it's weird to feel bad for such a crazy, serial killer, but if the life of Norman was in fact inspired by Ed, then believe me, you should feel badly too.

At the age of 39, a single Gein had just lost his only brother and soon after, he lost his mother. Although she was a very controlling woman, Eddie was very attached to her and her death took a toll on him. "Weird old Eddie" as the people of his hometown referred to him as did not move out of the now haunted home he'd grown up in, instead he physically sealed off all rooms of the house except for two.
Gein's sick and intimate interest in the female body stemmed from his childhood when his mother forbid talk of anatomy and that sex was a terrible thing. His obsession was born when Gein studied the female anatomy in medical books, pornography magazines, etc. His first crime was digging up female corpses from local graveyards, dissecting the bodies and doing strange things with them. This is how it all began, if you know what I mean....

After moving on to the living, and being discovered, headless bodies of missing local women were found in the barn on Gein's property.

This shy, insecure man with some major psychological problems. A judge seemed to agree and sent him to a mental institution instead of a state or federal prison. It is said he was always a model prisoner--gentle, polite and discreet." Just like Norman, the same opinions about Gein were shared among the people of his hometown. In 1984, Gein died in the mental institution he spent his last six years.

Recent female characters

I have found that in most of the recent films that we have watched, the female characters leave something to be desired. Judith O'Dea's character in Night of the Living Dead is laughably bad, as is the young female that is killed with her young husband in the exploding truck. In Nightmare on Elm Street, the female protagonist simply screams the whole time and becomes indignant with Johnny Depp's character. There are two likely reasons for the lack of strong female characters. First, the movies that we have watched recently fall in the slasher genre of film. These movies typically don't just have bad female characters, they have almost no character development at all. Most slasher film characters are stereotyped in to their roles, whether they be male or female. The second reason could be that these female characters are intentionally supposed to be bad. They may be trying to comment on some social commentary or they may just be secondary to the horror in the films and the monsters that many slasher films have.

Female characters in our recent movies

I have found that in most of the recent films that we have watched, the female characters leave something to be desired. Judith O'Dea's character in Night of the Living Dead is laughably bad, as is the young female that is killed with her young husband in the exploding truck. In Nightmare on Elm Street, the female protagonist simply screams the whole time and becomes indignant with Johnny Depp's character. There are two likely reasons for the lack of strong female characters. First, the movies that we have watched recently fall in the slasher genre of film. These movies typically don't just have bad female characters, they have almost no character development at all. Most slasher film characters are stereotyped in to their roles, whether they be male or female. The second reason could be that these female characters are intentionally supposed to be bad. They may be trying to comment on some social commentary or they may just be secondary to the horror in the films and the monsters that many slasher films have.

Night of the Living Dead - Zombie Commies again!!

Like we saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, once again in Night of the Living dead we find ourselves dealing with a clearly lifeless, emotionless form of humans (un-dead humans but still in human physical form) that are clearly a major plague on society. Given the time of the film it could be argued that the zombies could represent any group, communists, hippies, racial minorities that could have been seen as a plague on society. I doubt they were making many racial connections given that the heroine of the film was a black man. Not to mention he was without question the smartest and most competent of the characters. That in itself is a statement about race and thus probably removes racism from any part of the Zombies meaning. They do however, remind me a lot of the Body snatchers and as a result remind me of communists or hippies. Two groups you could easily argue were causes of social unrest in the 1960's. I had no idea Horror films had potential for so much depth.

Nightmare on Elm Street. - Freddy likes girls more than boys

I might be looking too deep into the sexuality of Nightmare on Elm st. but I felt as though there was a distinct difference between Freddy's killing of the boys vs. the girls in the film. The boy's deaths were pretty simple, hanging and being sucked into the bed. Neither saw much of a struggle and they weren't very scary to watch at all. The girls on the other hand seem to struggle way more with Freddy. He almost plays with them suggesting his more child molester side. When he kills Tina, it seems quite a bit like rape when he is attacking her on the bed. Freddy seems to go a bit crazier with the girls. Tina's death is absolutely horrifying because of how much she is getting tossed around. She has no ability to fight him off and is completely helpless to the stronger Freddy. We see a less aggressive scene latter in the bathtub but just as sexual. Freddy lifts his arm through he legs to grab her. Nancy is then dragged down naked into the water. The clear sexuality in the placement of his hand and the fact that she is naked makes this a far more sexual attack than you anticipated and one begins to wonder if Freddy is supposed to have these subtle sexual assaults on the girls in the film. He also decided to lick her through the phone after killing her boyfriend. An extremely gross scene that evokes the repulsiveness inherent in horror. After all, Craven did originally have Freddy as both a child murder and molester. Perhaps he only likes to grope the women he attacks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

AL’s Weekly Blog Post #13: Emotional Glaciation; or, the Cinema of Michael Haneke


michael-haneke-cartelIn case you are the bizarre person keeping up with the numbering of these posts, then you will notice that number 12 never appeared on the class’s blog page.  The twelfth  post which concerned the origins and development of slasher and serial killer cinema was almost complete when it was lost due to a virus on my computer.  Now Windows is happily reinstalled and virus-free without any data loss other than said blog post.  Not to worry—in casemichael-haneke-pal_1409502c you actually care—said blog post will be recreated from memory, but it will take a little while.  For now, I will be posting this shorter analysis and history of Michael Haneke, one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers.  Without hesitation, Michael Haneke ranks in my personal top ten filmmakers producing films today—in case you’re interested, my others include Lars von Trier, Wong Kar-Wai, Takashi Miike, Darren Aronofsky, Terrence Mallick, Park Chan-Wook, and others I’m probably forgetting. 

220px-DersiebentekontinentBorn in Munich, Germany in 1942, Haneke attended the University of Vienna where he studied philosophy, psychology, and drama.  He failed to achieve success in acting or music, and ultimately landed a job as an editor at a German television station.  While he had done some work as a television director, Haneke did not make his first theatrical film until 1989 at the age of forty-seven.  In 1989, Haneke released The Seventh Continent, the first part of his “Emotional Glaciation Trilogy,” a series of films that explore the alienation and isolation of individuals in the postmodern world.  Based on a true story, The Seventh Continent follows the final years of a family that committed suicide together.  Although his first film, The Seventh Continent already announced the style and subject matter that would come to define Haneke’s controversial career: a stark, almost clinical aesthetic thatsc5-758111 outlines the affectless, alienated lifestyles of its subjects that are punctuated by moments of extreme violence or sexuality.  In many ways, Haneke’s aesthetic is about the media—his minimalistic, cinema verite style captures the rare moments of violence and sexuality alongside the quiet hours and days that build towards them.  Hence, The Seven Continent follows a seemingly normal and sane middle class family who suddenly cut themselves off from existence, destroy their house and possessions, and then kill themselves.  As with the bulk of his films, Haneke’s camera eye never judges the characters—it merely presents their story for our reflection and perhaps even implicates us in their deaths.  Ultimately, The Seventh Continent already announces Haneke’s basic thesis that postmodern society has itself become pathological and certifiable. 

The rather lengthy scene of the family dismantling their house in The Seventh Continent, a scene that already demonstrates Haneke’s meticulous and detached style.

600full-benny's-video-posterHaneke continued his “Emotional Glaciation Trilogy” with Benny’s Video (1992), a film about a teenage boy who lives his life through video images: the ones he perceives on a constant basis as well as the ones he records himself.  In particular, Benny becomes obsessed with images of death, particularly a video of a pig being slaughtered with a bolt gun to the head.  One day, Benny invites a female friend of his over and shows her the video as well as his bolt gun.  He dares her to fire a bolt into his chest, but she refuses, so he nonchalantly fires one into her and kills150_1 her.  Benny shows no remorse for his action nor does he display emotion while committing the murder.  The film proceeds to document his and his mother’s response to the crime, but the film’s point is already clear—the real death he A-Clockwork-Orangecauses seems no different in Benny’s eyes than the ones he see in the news or in films.  His entire world is built of simulacra—copies without originals—and hence he can no longer tell the actual from the virtual, the real from the false.  Benny’s Video is about the power of video image to mediate and control our experiences of existence.  In essence, we no longer believe in anything unless we can watch a video of it.  To quote Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971): “the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.”  Of course, Clockwork Orange is also a film about the controlling power of the image.

71_Fragmente_einer_Chronologie_des_ZufallsHaneke rounded out his “Emotional Glaciation Trilogy” with 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), a film that unfolds as a series of moving tableaux from different storylines that ultimately converge by chance at the film’s climax.  The premise of featuring numerous parallel storylines and then bringing them into relation with one another is nothing new.  The great Robert Altman pioneered this technique with his classic flim Nashville (1975), which incidentally featured Ronnee Blakely—Nancy’s drunkimages mother from A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Altman would use a similar aesthetic in Short Cuts (1993), which was based on several Raymond Carver short stories.  Other directors have subsequently adopted similar plot architectures: Lawrence Casden’s Grand Canyon (1991), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004), and most of the films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros [2000], 21 Grams [2003], and Babel [2006]).  Haneke’s 71 Fragments concerns a magnolia_ver2_xlgmultiple murder that occurs at an Austrian bank, an event announced at the opening of the film. The various fragments of the film ultimately unite in this horrendous act of violence.   Haneke cuts to black between each “fragment” and intercuts images from real news footage from Bosnia, Somalia, Lebanon, and other war-torn regions.  Again, 71 Fragments examines the violence that permeates ours lives through the media and that can abrupt in random, meaningless ways at any point.

Trailer for Robert Altman’s Nashville
Trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

 Plakat Funny Games.qxdAfter completing his trilogy, Haneke proceeded to release his most brutal and disturbing film to date: Funny Games (1997), a home invasion narrative that will leave you feeling exhausted from the tension that mounts from the film’s beginning to its very end.  Funny Games  participates in a long tradition of exploitation films while simultaneously deconstructing them.  In my mind, the film recalls Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972), Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park (1980), and manystraw_dogs_movie_poster of the other Last House rip-offs.  The film also resonates with horror movies that have been released since 1997: David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Ils (2006; Them) or Bryan Bortino’s The Strangers (2008), which feels like an American remake of the French film but is not stated as such.  Haneke’s Funny Games concerns an upper middle-class family who have arrived at their summer house for vacation.  Shortly after their arrival, a pair of young men come over ostensibly from their neighbor’s house and imagesask to borrow some eggs.  But the young duo stay and begin torturing the family of three or playing games with them as the young men term it—we never receive the duo’s real names: they alternately call each other Peter and Paul, Tom and Jerry, and Beavis and Butthead.  Featuring no non-diegetic sounds or music except during the opening and closing credits, Funny Games is an unrelentingly realistic serial killer film that almost never depicts acts of violence or depravity but instead builds its almost unbearable tension through the emotions of the characters, the camerawork, the silence of its soundtrack, and extreme long takes thatimages force the viewer to endure the horror and sorrow of the victims in real time.  Funny Games continues to develop Haneke’s distinctively objective and clinical style of filmmaking, but it adds a new twist by having the characters break the fourth wall repeatedly by winking at and even talking to the audience.  Ultimately, such moments make us the viewer complicit in the horrors we watch unfold, horror spectacles that Haneke actually denies us by having them occur off-screen in complete defiance of what most horror fans expect.  The film ultimately poses a series of questions to us the viewers: “Why the FUCK are you watching this?  What is wrong with you and our media society that such a film would be produced and be watched by you?  Why do you want to see others suffer?  Have you no empathy?  Have you no emotions?”  And funny-gamesthe killers actually pose an equally provocative question at one point in the film: who do root for in the film?  The killers or the victims?  Funny Games is an absolutely brilliant exploration of our obsession with violence and tragedy and the media’s portrayal of it.  And none of us are innocent—we help create the crimes and tragedies that unfold upon our television.  Haneke so loved Funny Games that he directed an almost shot-for-shot, English language remake of the film that was released in 2007—the tenth anniversary of the original.  In many ways, Funny Games can’t help but remind me of Tool’s song “Vicarious,” which concerns our need to experience violence and death through the media—see below for the video.

The extreme long take from the U.S. remake of Funny Games that forces us to endure the couple’s grief after the death of their son.
Tool’s “Vicarious” video from their album 10,000 Days (2006).

220px-The_Piano_Teacher_filmHaneke achieved true notoriety with The Piano  Teacher (2001), a Freudian nightmare of repression, fixation, and neurosis.  The film follows a middle-aged, Viennese piano teacher who still lives with her overbearing mother.  Her controlling mother and her consequent sexual repression have caused her to develop a variety of paraphilias or fetishes: voyeurism, sado-masochism, self-mutilation, etc.  A young seventeen-year-old student arrives at the conservatory, and sexual tension begins to mountpiano_teacher3 between the two.  Featuring Haneke’s trademark clinical, unsympathetic style, The Piano Teacher includes clips from hardcore pornography and pushes the boundaries of cinematic depictions of fetishism.  A powerful film about the forces that control us and the obsessions that drive us, The Piano Teacher may not be as traumatic as some of Haneke’s previous films, but it still slowly sculpts a growing sense of unease and despair in the viewer as we glimpse the truly fractured nature of the human psyche. 

English-language trailer for Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.

220px-LetempsduloupHaneke followed up The Piano Teacher with The Time of the Wolf (2003), a post-apocalyptic tale concerning a family trying to survive in a steadily decaying and dangerous world.  Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Time of the Wolf never reveals the cause of the world’s devastation but instead focuses upon the human need to survive in the absence of society—it is powerful film about the ties that bind us together and help us cope with reality.  Reminiscent of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, the film ultimately questions whether humanity can exist in the absence of social order or whether we willcache slowly devolve back into nothing more than overly complicated beasts.  Haneke returned to realistic cinema with contemporary settings in his acclaimed thriller Cache (2005; Hidden).  Cache starts off like David Lynch’s Lost Highway, which we watched earlier this semester: a couple begins receiving mysterious tapes of themselves.  The tapes ultimately lead the couple into a thrilling series of investigations that may open up forgotten or repressed aspects of their pasts.  Haneke’s penchant for long takes and static camerawork reaches its apex in Cache with its frequent inclusion of supposed surveillance camera footage.

The trailer for Haneke’s Time of the Wolf.
Trailer for Haneke’s Cache.


Haneke’s most recent film, The White Ribbon (2009), was his first black and white film and his first to win the Palm d’Or at The Cannes Film Festival.  A hauntingly beautiful and disturbing depiction of a German village on the cusp of World War I, the film concerns the puritanical education of the village’s children and their often inhumane punishment.  On a more general level, it concerns the disturbing and violent events that are occurring beneath the seemingly placid, the-white-ribbonperfect exterior of the town.  A powerful, absurdist, existential parable about that darkness underlying the shiny veneer of society and the social ills that lead to war, Haneke’s The White Ribbon is an absolutely unforgettable example of historical cinema that blends its realistic aesthetic together with a healthy dose of Kafkaesque absurdism. 

The trailer for Haneke’s The White Ribbon.


The same year as The White Ribbon also saw the release of an absurdist Greek drama that participates in a similar style to Haneke.  Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kynodontas (2009; Dogtooth) concerns a family that has kept its three, now adult children from the outside world—they are not allowed to travel beyond their house’s gates until they have lost their dogteeth. The parents have taught their children that words means different things than they do in reality, and the father pays a young woman from work to come into the house and have sex with the son.  A powerful03092010_dogtooth1 examination of the human need for communal engagement and perhaps an indictment of home schooling, Dogtooth examines the way in which society structures our identity and understanding of reality.  A brutal and unforgettable film, Dogtooth will make you reconsider even the most basic things that you have been taught—it is a excoriating deconstruction of education and family that will leave you unsettled by the time the credits roll.

The trailer for Dogtooth.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nightmare on Elm Street

It's hard for me to believe Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the scariest of its time. However, when I consider the movie's use of our dreams, and using our dreams against us, it seems a little easier to understand how this movie could mess with one's psyche. The power dreams have on us is a really interesting topic in my opinion. Our mind can make us believe we are falling from a building, being chased by an animal, or some other event. And what we're feeling is real. We are experiencing real joy, happiness, fear, etc, but only because of the events our mind has created for us. The mind can trick us into believing we are somewhere we are not. This is what Elm Street touches on - our inability to tell reality from dreams. Even at the end of the movie, I found myself confused as to whether Nancy had every woken up or if Freddy had only allowed her to believe she was out of the dream. I guess that was the point - to leave the audience wondering what had actually happened. Was it a dream, or wasn't it? Was Freddy ever in the real world? This is a similar tactic other movies, such as Inception, have utilized as well. Incorporating dreams or different levels of reality into a movie is a surefire way to leave the audience questioning reality.

Inspired by True Events??? Really?

“Inspired by true events” is a phrase commonly seen at the beginning of serial killer flicks. But, I always wonder just how “true” these events are? I think the phrase can often be misleading, but it ultimately makes the audience’s experience scarier knowing that these things could have happened like this in the real world. The serial killer Ed Gein provided inspiration for the leading creeps in “Psycho,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Silence of the Lambs.” Only small details from Ed Gein’s horrific murders are used as inspiration. In the case of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the special edition DVD of the remake has a very interesting documentary-like spill in the special features all about Gein and his killing spree in Wisconsin.

“The Strangers” (2008) is a newer film that is “based on true events” but these events are disappointing when you consider the horrific actions in the movie. For those of you who have not seen it, “The Strangers” follows a couple, on the rocks, who stops to stay the night at a cabin on the way back from a friend’s wedding. Upon arriving, they are greeted and ultimately tortured by strangers. The scariest part of this film (at least for me) is that the killers have no motive at all, just boredom. Also, the entire movie is built on suspense. The killers parole the perimeter of the house (and sometimes the inside of the house) and leave creepy messages on the doors and windows. After I saw this movie, I immediately started searching for the story that inspired the plot. I was disappointed to find that the film was based partly on the Manson murders, 1981 Kedie Cabin killings in Sierra Nevada’s, and partly on an “event” that happened to the director as a kid.

“As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody who didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors on the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses,” – Bryan Bertino, director.

These scary real-life stories have been made into some terrifying films over the years. However, it still bothers me how loosely directors throw around "inspired by true events” or “based on a true story.” How can they honestly put these labels on films that are basically straight fiction? My verdict is that it just straight up makes the movies scarier when you know they are “real.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I feel like Nightmare on Elm Street could have been very scary to some people because of the dream aspect. When we dream, sometimes it feels so real and there have been countless movies about dreams whether they be to tell the future, to see superstitious things like ghosts and lost ones, or if they are nightmares. The film was probably one of the first films to utilize the aspect of dreams to haunt someone and uses the supernatural very well because we don't know if Freddy is real or part of some group of people's imagination. The fact that Freddy is not a made up person and that he was actually alive at some point makes it all the creepier because he represents a ghost trying to come back and torture the people that got rid of him. Back when this was first released I could tell why it was such a big success on how it scared people because it was a unique experience.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Funny Games

I must admit, after seeing Michael Haneke's Funny Games, I left the showing feeling quite disturbed. I had a sickening feeling throughout my being and I remember thinking, could such malicious evil truly exist in our world. For, unlike many other horror films watched through our class, Funny Games presented a horrific scenario that stayed within the realm of possibility. While I will inevitably be frightened by films such as Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Night of the Living Dead, the level of fear I attain from realistic horrors such as Funny Games is unparalleled. In such films, the evil is performed by mere humans performing simply sadistic--yet plausible--actions. While I find it improbable that someone could be driven to such madness, it's not impossible and, therefore, unnerving for the viewer.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Slasher films

I have never been one to watch slasher/serial killer films if I can help it. I understand that people enjoy scaring themselves by watching these types of movies but I have never shared that sentiment. On the one hand the storyline and deranged killers in these films are often so twisted and complex they seem far from reality, yet somehow this sort of crazy appeals to us in a way that causes us to believe it just might be true and therefore leaves us with irrational fears of showers, for example, after the film is over (as was the case with my roommates after watching "Psycho" with me, one even kept a knife in the bathroom for days afterwards).

I suppose these movies seem more real to me than science fiction or zombie thrillers that contain more obviously fantastical creatures that are known not to exist, rather than a normal human whose psychological processing has been interrupted by some traumatic but plausible event that has caused them to respond with a gruesome rampage. Perhaps these films engage with some of our deepest, most twisted fears in order to convince us that such sick individuals are out there and perhaps just a step away with every creak in our homes and rustle in the bushes.

Black Christmas

For some strange reason, I enjoy slasher/serial killer movies. This makes no sense, because of all of horror cinema, the actions depicted in these movies are the most likely to actually happen in real life. I found Black Christmas, for example, to be extremely entertaining. I don't know if it was because of the hilarious hair-do's of the time in which the movie was made, or the ridiculous police officers, but Black Christmas really added the comedy to the suspense it provided. Like many slasher movies, we are not sure of the true identity of the killer until the end, and even then, we do not know who it truely is , or what his motives are. This significantly adds to the suspense and mystery behind the film. I think with a real explanation, the film would seem too contrived, and the audience wouldn't go away from it feeling as immersed in the film.

Suspense in Black Christmas

For me, Black Christmas has been one of the most creepy, chilling and horrific movies we've watched this semester and I've come to the conclusion it's because of the suspense Bob Clark creates throughout the film. First of all, despite never focusing on the weather, snow and cold linger in the background to remind us how cold and oppressive the narrative. The joy and cheerfulness of the holiday season and the sacred aspect of Christmas is juxtaposed with the killer's insanity and vulgarity. So from the beginning of the film, you know something's not right and you can almost feel some sort of strange tension in the air.

The film also combines a series of claustrophobic shots, especially when introducing the killer. Clark films him in fragments to add mystery to his character and reveal his fragmented mind. We never see his face completely, but instead we're often trapped in his point of view, which often originates in a closet or a tight space. While the drama unfolds at night, adding an even greater sense of foreboding, Clark uses every angle and inch of space in his shots to conjure suspense and surprise.

This was the first film all semester where I truly felt on the edge of my seat and surprised by what was to come. A movie about a serial killer in a sorority house could have been painfully predictable, but I think Clark's techniques in creating suspense and anxiety among viewers is genius.

1, 2 Freddy's Coming for You

Freedy Kreuger is possibly my favorite slasher. He is truly evil. Unlike Jason or Michael Meyers who experienced some sort of traumatic childhood incident that led them to become soulless killers, Freddy was always evil. In life he was a child killer. Wes Craven originally wrote him as a child molester because he believed that is the worst thing one could do, but he changed it due to the sensitivity of the topic. From his inception Freddy was never meant to do anything but evil. After the parents of Elm Street killed him in a fire he was transformed into a dream demon, hence his powers.

Ironically, what I find most evil about Freddy is his sense of humor. He is truly sadistic and not a homicidal child trapped in a man's body or a gender confused Oedipal character. His humor shows his true joy in killing and torturing his victims. We've already seen him take one victims life, but this is yet the first to come. In that first killing sequence we saw both his sheer viciousness and his comedic taunting of his victim just for the sake of seeing him or her in fear. Freddy is evil. Freddy is the boogeyman.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Psycho and Taboos

Slasher films are probably my least favorite subgenre of horror films- I suppose I prefer psychological horror/thriller films. The characteristics which define slasher films are precisely the reason I don’t seem to like them. Victims are often morally repugnant, and not in any way sympathetic. They are dumbed down and fall into the same traps like splitting up from other characters. It frightens me more when characters that are harmless get axed them characters that are “asking for it.” Also, slasher films to me follow the same patterns and are followed by some ridiculous sequels.

That being said, Psycho is as classic a film today as it was edgy for the time. I’ve seen a number of Hitchcock films but I cannot recall in any of them the female characters walking around half-dressed or lying in bed with their boyfriends. The film can be dated by the language and elements that were seen as “racy” at the time. You don’t ever see Janet Leigh’s navel- that would have been a no-no until I Love Jeannie eventually forced the taboo out. I even discovered through the magic of the Internet that the flushing of the toilet was even taboo at the time.

I wasn’t familiar with the “sequels” to the Psycho film until Wikipedia directed me to them. In these sequels Anthony Perkins return as Norman Bates, commits more murders, but all because “Mother” has come back into his psyche and taken over. The sequels, instead of incriminating Bates, try to make the audience sympathize with him. Perhaps in the decades that followed the original, when the sequels were made, there was not only a greater understanding of mental illness but sympathy for people with those conditions.

Night of the Living Dead and Race

I found night of the living dead interesting as far as its take on race. Overall the movie, unintentionally funny, silly, and has moments where your just say to yourself really? On top of that they have the traditional female stereotypes of passive and helpless women, who can barely stand up straight. the part that really interested me was the portrayal of the black character. First, he was in a major role in the movie as a decision maker and a leader. There are many times when he comes into conflict with the other white character, but the black man is more often than not right in the situations. The major statement is made at the end, where you have black man as the last man standing, who used his brains and brawn to survive the night, only to be killed by a group of white men in mob haphazardly shooting people, and finally ignorantly taking aim at the human, holding a weapon and killing him. The movie makes it grandest statement about race relations in that final scene, in a melodramatic killing of human as if nothing happened.

Psycho and Slasher Film

I agree with Emmitt that the best thing about Psycho is how it manages to take only two killings and still make the film terrifying. Unlike today's slasher films where the audience can literally look at the characters and decide who and in what order they will die. Psycho is great because it put the audience into a situation that they more than likely engage in on a daily basis (showering) and makes them feel that vulnerability.

Any slasher film that preys on the idea of when the real life audience are the most vulnerable have a higher chance of actually being terrifying compared to those that continuously put a group of kids in the woods only to be chopped up by some deranged and child abused killer. When done the right way, a small scene that targets our most basic fears (killer under the bed, noises in the house)are the biggest nightmare to the audience because they start out with an element of the unknown. The fact that the first viewing audiences of Psycho did not know that Norman was both the killer and his mother was doubly terrifying because it forced them to deal with the idea that a normal perception of behavior could also serve as a phsychotic one. That we may never know the type of people we actually surround ourselves with. Those slasher films that can leave the audience still questioning after the film will always be transcendent of the rest.

Slasher Films and Psycho

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, the horror genre has never been high on my list due to its generally graphic content and its dependency on fright as its primary entertainment value. Nonetheless, as we progress through this section of the class I am finding less and less trepidation when it comes to several of these films. Take, for instance, the subcategory of slasher films. Despite their gory nature, I have come to find them quite predictable due to the limited realm of deathly techniques at the killer’s disposal. Additionally, there is often a comical nature associated with the characters, as though the characters know of their impending doom and the director is making morbid jokes about their inability to survive. In fact, the latest Scream sequel’s television trailer boasts that the film is “hilarious” among other adjectives describing the horrific elements of the film.

I had a similar impression when watching the original cut of Psycho for the first time. As with many of the early films we have watched, the film is comical in what it considers racy, which is almost G-rated in today’s society. However, placing myself in the timing of the film’s release, I can understand how it has developed into a timeless classic. The plot of the movie is genius in the fact that it throws viewers off by killing off the supposed protagonist midway through the film. This throws off the audience to think that perhaps the prior 40 minutes of plot were meaningless.

Additionally, Hitchcock focuses on the psyche of the murderer rather than his actual killings. Thus, the film succeeds where many modern slashers stumble. Rather than inundating viewers with graphic kill after graphic kill, the murderer only successfully kills two characters off during the movie. Nonetheless, by developing the insanity of the character, Hitchcock develops a much scarier character than any mass murderer. The audience sees how and why the killer is so disturbed, earning him empathy and an element of realism. Instead of killing him off at the end of the film, Hitchcock allows the insanity to end the film. Thus, rather than feeling safe and secure that the killer is dead and out of their minds, Psycho’s audience is left to dwell on the madness of the killer and to cope with the understanding that insanity of that nature could exist in the real world.

Killer Clowns and Skull Ashtrays

Of all the horror genres, serial killer films are the most frightening for me because these murderers are in the newspapers all the time. Odds are pretty slim that I'll be eaten by a zombie, but twisted serial killers actually do exist and I am convinced that my ultimate demise will somehow involve a trip to Wal-Mart for duct tape, a hunting knife, Hefty lawn bags, and a hoagie. Plus, I was born and raised in Milwaukee and grew up hearing about serial killers like Chicago's clown/killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. (who *was* a clown and not a killer of them, although he did like to paint them)...

...and Ed Gein (caught in the late '50s), who was probably Wisconsin's most notorious serial killer before Jeffrey Dahmer came along in the '90s. Here's a short documentary about Ed, who was part of Hitchcock's inspiration for Psycho. Ed, who also had mommy issues, used to gut people like deer and use their skins and skulls to make furniture, lampshades, ashtrays, etc. He was handy like that.

I'm not sure how familiar people are with Jeffrey Dahmer anymore, but he started murdering folks in the '70s and wasn't caught until the mid '90s. He lived in my hometown, frequented a couple of the same bars I used to go to, and looked creepily familiar when I first saw his picture on the news. My best friend's dad was one of the cops on the scene when the remains of his victims were found in the guy's apartment. The stench was unbearable, and he has no idea why the neighbors never complained.

So anyway, my point is that serial killers are something you hear about all the time, so they pack the biggest scare punch for me. This film from 1990, Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer, is probably one of the most realistic, frightening, and well-made serial killer films you'll ever see:

I saw it at a 10pm showing when it came out, and I had to walk home alone afterward, which was very poor planning indeed.

On a lighter note, here are trailers from a couple of my all-time favorite deranged killer B-movies. Both are brilliant.

In Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) some young Yankee travelers are lured into a southern small town that isn't always there, and the townspeople convince them to join them for a centennial celebration they are throwing. Then the Yanks are all killed one-by-one in extremely inventive ways--some of which include festival games that the whole town participates in. It is awesome and has the best soundtrack since Lawrence of Arabia.

In Spider Baby (1968), distant relatives come to visit three orphaned children who are being cared for by the family chauffeur (played by Lon Chaney Jr.). The kids have some weird disease that causes evolutionary regression. Gore ensues.

Oh...and on a lighter lighter note, here's my all-time favorite black comedy, Parents (1989), in which a kid in a seemingly idyllic 1950s family learns that his parents are extremely twisted individuals.

Sleep tight, all.

Psycho shower

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Pyscho” was one of the best horror films I have seen in a very long time. It had everything a movie of this genre should have; there was gore in the shower, an interesting plot line, and a great twist at the end. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire movie. I have to say the shower scene was one of the greatest murder scenes I have seen in a horror film. You already felt very creeped out because Norman was watching her undress through his hole in the wall. Then, as you suspect that maybe everything will be alright, the creepy shadow appears from behind the curtain, further incriminating his “mother.” The blood being in black and white was much more believable than most color films I have seen. All of the chunks that you see floating down the drain were more than enough to make me feel queasy. After watching this film I felt afraid to take a shower for a few days, I locked my door to make sure no murdering mothers would enter.

Unfulfilling Christmas

Black Christmas left me feeling very unsatisfied. I wanted to know who the killer was! Usually I don't mind ambiguous endings,in fact I usually prefer things to be left to personal interpretation, but this one just seemed senseless. There was so much build up and suspense leading up to discovering the murderer but in the end, none of that mattered. It wasn't Peter like we all thought. I would have liked some sort of hints into the mind of the real killer. I thought the movie spent way too much time developing this red herring plot-line that led nowhere. I wanted there to be some sort of screwed up psychological reason as to why the killer was so, well, screwed up. They show a scene where he is rocking the body of his first victim in a chair while she is holding a baby doll. I was sure that this scene was of some symbolic importance as to why the man became a killer and when it didn't follow through, I was disappointed.

That being said, the movie was so-so. It was quite corny but it definitely had its moments of shock value. The relationship between Jess and her boyfriend was a well-thought-out commentary on the progressive role of women during this era, but again I was disappointed that it concluded so senselessly. Aside from the progressive social commentary which I give this movie credit for, I really didn't enjoy how unrealistic it was. Slasher films have never been on the top of my list for this reason. Stupid, irrational characters just make me angry and annoyed because I know that people are not quite that dumb in real life. I like some realism in my films!

Black Christmas:

I have to admit that I was expecting for the women in Black Christmas to be shown in an even worse light than perhaps they were. Not sure why, but when I saw that the movie was going to take place in a sorority house I expected for the girls to be shown running around in their underwear, having pillow fights, and having sex with their boyfriends. Instead the girls kept their close on, yes they drank a lot but I almost felt that was a statement about the time. I saw the movie as showing what they believed college life was like at the time. The students were shown as drinking heavily and there is no mention of going to class or taking exams (even though it was close to the holiday). I was even impressed with the posters that were shown in the girl’s room. The posters had nudity and I found this extremely funny because most people would see that as “un-lady like”.