No postings for the next two weeks. See you the week of Thanksgiving!
How do we celebrate the period in between Halloween and Thanksgiving? With comedy, of course. After all that horror, we’ve got to have some sort of a break in there. If we go for too much intensity, we’re going to wind up looking like we’re perpetually constipated or worse, we’ll develop the inability to smile. No one wants that, especially when PUMPKIN PIE is upon us. So we’re going to kick it spoof style with the 1998 comedy Jane Austen’s Mafia! This one is going to strike out with some, but if you love some stupid humor, boy have I got the movie for you. Here are five reasons to watch it this weekend.
#1 – The jokes are stupid
When I say stupid, I mean really, really stupid. Bad puns. Visual gags. Toilet humor. Dick jokes. Digs on Italian-American culture (growing up Italian-American, I can tell you that there’s a lot of harsh truth to it. You roll with it.). While the jokes may be cheap and groan-inducing, it’s also a lot of fun. Sometimes, you need some stupidity in your life. With the world we live in, we totally need to unwind with stupid jokes.
#2 – It rips on mafia movies
I am not a fan of mafia movies. I think that boils down to having once dated someone who carried anti-Italian sentiments – I never wanted to be the stereotype because it sucked getting called a slur. It always struck me as being a bit powerless to have everyone think that your heritage meant that you were involved in organized crime. Point is, I always stayed away from mafia movies. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to ripping on them. And rip on mafia movies this film does. It goes after Forrest Gump and Il Postino as well, but the primary targets are the Godfather trilogy and Casino. It has quite a bit of fun at the ultra-serious expense of those movies.
#3 – The characters are so deadpan
Part of what can make a comedy so successful is the way the actors play it off. Some give a sly wink and a nod to the audience, breaking the fourth wall and letting us know that everyone is in on the joke. But what happens when someone is so achingly earnest that they’re completely serious? When they’re genuinely shocked at the ridiculous thing in front of them, it’s excellent. Jay Mohr and Christina Applegate manage to keep a straight face through some pretty stupid stuff. Billy Burke does an excellent job with this as well in his role as the drug-addled younger brother. The deadpan quality is gold in this instance, and the cast should be commended for not breaking out into giggles. I would have totally failed.
#4 – Pop culture jokes
Some of these jokes will seem dated to younger viewers, but for anyone who’s at least in their late 20s, they’ll love the gags. Forrest Gump jokes are great. The great reading pushes of the 1990s are wonderful as well. In between, there are gags about soup and cars and all manner of things that were popular 20 years ago. In the age of 90s nostalgia, it’s a good throwback.
#5 – It’s a lot of fun
I’ll be frank: we live in a world where there are mass shootings, loss of basic human rights, healthcare debates and various other violations all over the world. I’m not just criticizing the US: it’s everywhere, and it’s crushing. There are many times when I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t possibly help put a dent into making things better. You know what makes me think I can get back up and start trying? A good comedy. The ability to laugh. The chance to recharge, take some perspective, laugh a bit, and go back at it with some joy in my heart. Yes, this movie is stupid. But this movie is also a lot of fun. Stupid fun can be very, very good for the soul.
Jane Austen’s Mafia! can be a bit of a pain in the ass to find. Your best bet is one of the copies up on YouTube. It’s a real gas.
F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) is often hailed as one of the greats of the silent era. It features a little bit of everything: a creepy male lead, heavy makeup, judicious lighting, and an unauthorized adaptation of a Bram Stoker novel. All in all, the film is a good time, but there’s something disconcerting here. The character Ellen Hutter (Greta Schroder) is problematic on a multitude of levels: she represents the blind stereotype of the inherently good, self-sacrificing woman that exists only to make the men in her life better.
Ellen’s major problem is that she’s entirely too precious to be believable. When we first meet her, she’s a German Expressionist parody of Snow White: taming the local animals whilst looking pretty in her sausage curls. She’s all smiles until her husband presents her with a gift of flowers – upon seeing the gift, she bursts into tears and asks her husband if he thinks that they suffered. Ellen, they’re flowers, but that’s beside the point. While this is meant to demonstrate that Ellen is a sensitive, deeply feeling creature, she comes off a bit closer to Nathan Lane’s character in The Bird Cage screaming, “I pierced the toast!” It doesn’t stop there, either: Ellen is left in the care of her good friends, and seems to mimic the mind control that her husband is under while in the clutches of the vampire. She then tops off her empathic life by sacrificing herself to save Europe from the great terror that is Count Orlock (can’t really argue with her here – Max Schreck, though only in his early 40s at the time of shooting, was utterly terrifying and it’s easy to see why rumors of actual vampirism persist into the present).
Another problem from which the character Ellen suffers is the fact that she means more to the men around her in terms of what she represents than the components that actually create her personality. Ellen means distinct things to those around her, yet the thread between each of the male characters has a common theme: Ellen is something that requires protection because she is a good and sweet, and therefore becomes a target for corruption. When Hutter is around her, they’re typically embracing, and he encourages certain behaviors within her, such as discouraging her reading a particular passage concerning how to stop a vampire. Likewise, close friend Harding sees Ellen as something to protect, much as a piece of jewelry would be placed into a safe. Even Count Orlock gets in on the action, remarking that Ellen has “a lovely throat,” marking her more so as a food source than a human being. The overtones of this treatment are disturbing: Ellen is something pure and feminine, and as such, she requires protection. After all, at the end of the film, Ellen’s compelling beauty and purity renders the evil vampire in a stupor, unable to save himself from the sunrise. She’s not keeping Orlock engaged with incredible conversation over scones – she’s got him locked in, in a position that’s verging on sexual, allowing herself to be violated and literally bled dry so that others can continue to live. She gives of herself to save everyone else, because she is good and pure. And let’s face it, when you view her in this light, no one is going to miss Ellen crying over cut flowers. They’re going to miss her because of what she does for them, whether it’s something nice and naïve to come home to at the end of a long business trip, or her good-natured smile. Ellen is praised for her traits rather than the core self.
We’ve gone from one-note Disney princess to Christ figure in one fell swoop, and that should scare the living hell out of anyone who has even a passing fancy for calling bullshit on gender roles. Ellen reflects the dangers of stereotyping here: she’s not a person, but rather a representation of what a woman should be. The greater issue with that logic is that Ellen is not a person in this respect: she’s an archetype, which is far more difficult to humanize. In real life, we’d look at someone like Ellen and mutter, “Is she for real?” She’s an odd marriage between Pollyanna and Phoebe Buffay from Friends: incredibly innocent to the point of appearing cognitively impaired. Worse, Ellen is self-sacrificing in her purity, which sets the dangerous precedent that only the best women are the ones who are pretty and sweet enough to die for their husbands and friends by allowing someone to bodily violate them. Ellen has to place herself into situations that cause her to faint in order to save the day, and her death is labeled “honorable” because she sacrificed herself in the face of evil. While honorable, the point of contrary lies in the fact that survival is just as important as sacrifice – the fight should not be discredited. Furthermore, women don’t need to be as perfect as Ellen in order to make a difference. To hold her up as an ideal – which clearly happens in this film – is to say that this is someone we should aspire to be. And that’s not right in the least.
The character Ellen poses a conundrum of reality versus archetypal woman: do we want the imperfect person that we could find in the real world, or do we want that perfect illusion? For those of us that love choice B, Nosferatu presents a terrifying notion that’s far worse than any vampire: you need to be perfect, naïve, obedient, saccharine and beautiful to have meaning in the world. It’s a dictation of what makes up the perfect woman. If a man can be an imperfect hero, then so can our heroines.
I wanted to be sure to come out of hiding to wish everyone a Happy Halloween without disrupting the scheduled line-up of posts for this week. So this is going to be a slight deviation from my usual fare of Trailer Tuesday contributions.
Once a year, I emerge from the dank recesses of my lair and adjust my hood, lest the piercing gaze of daylight sear my flesh. I’ll now gorge myself on thousands of unsuspecting Reese’s minis, watch classic horror films, and submit this post to assure everyone I’m alive before scuttling back to the sewers to slumber until Christmas. Part of the ritual also includes taking stock of my life (because what self-respecting ghoul doesn’t on a day that celebrates our fragile mortality) and turning to nostalgic entertainment. I’m not the only one, apparently. Creatures like me have taken over your TV and your town. We’ve possessed your young Millennials to find joy in throwback entertainment, including homages, tributes, remakes, and downright rip-offs. Today, I’m going to give you a trailer mash-up to watch once you’ve reached that point in the evening when you’re home from the party and under the influence of candy and alcohol (you know, that point when you feel you should hate yourself, but rationalize that it’s only once a year so the guilt is short-lived). It’s those moments when you’re done with everything you planned to do for the night, but aren’t quite ready to go to bed. Nostalgia TV (or in this case YouTube) is often the cure for that moment of post-revelry ennui.
So lie back. Dust the candy wrappers off your costume, and sink under the spell of nostalgic horror entertainment. I’ll be watching…
In lieu of the usual King quote, I present you with this:
White people continue to be ignorant of Native American culture. It doesn’t go well.
This is one of King’s much more defined horror stories, as its subject matter is not only violent at times but extremely dark in tone. It’s his first real contemplation of death as not only a plot device but something that surrounds this book on all sides in its story, location, and characters. It’s very Lovecraftian in tone as it gives an impending sense of dread that nothing good is on the horizon: similar to Reanimator in that a doctor is trying to conquer death, keeps getting it wrong with disastrous results but keeps trying it. Louis doesn’t learn any lesson in this story; he just keeps repeating the same mistakes. I think this element is what turned critics against the book upon release because Louis Creed descends in to darkness and doesn’t come out the other side. It has the Lovecraftian style of having a character go insane and that be their arc.
We have a lot of classical King tropes here as well, in the psychic kid who’s seeing the deceased Victor Pascow, the father who’s barely keeping together after coming up against a supernatural force, and the wise old man who knows a lot more than he lets on. But this story has a much stronger sense of time than a lot King stories. You feel the characters and relationships grow over the few months the story takes place during. Similar to IT, you feel time pass and the impending dread closing in on all the characters.
The book tries to cover up its more tragic moments, making them more impactful. Rather than coming out right and having the death of Gage as a scene, we jump to the funeral (because you can’t spell Funeral without Real Fun) while at the same time giving us flashes of the death scene. It puts us on the level of Louis, as you’re experiencing the feeling with him on the day and…. you’re still thinking that Funeral=Real Fun bit was insensitive aren’t you? I stand by the joke because this book doesn’t give you a moment of levity, so someone has to.
King’s idea of the reanimated corpse is very well presented in that they aren’t a mindless shambling hoard, but a dark spirit. They have a Greek chorus quality in knowing how to get under people’s skin. This speaks to them being brought back to life so much as having some other force inhabit their form and wreck house. This is an element the film didn’t touch on that gives the story an edge. The film shows the reanimated as mindless husks rather the cautionary tale they’re meant to be. I know King adapted his own work, so he must have had his reasons for doing so. But it’s an element that makes the book a lot more interesting because there’s clearly something much larger at play we’re not let in on.
IT – Georgie Denborough and Gage are buried in the same cemetery. Mount Hope.
Zelda is the enduring image for me from this film. She’s not related to the main plot but fuck did the sight of her bother me as a kid. I first saw this by accident, back in the good old days of VHS recording. I recorded something else off of the television one night and because as a kid I was obsessed with the Long Play feature of VHS tapes, the tape was left recording long after the intended program ended and this horror gem was accidentally commited to that tape. There was something about first seeing Zelda on a grainy VHS tape that made her even more terrifying. I think a lot of that was the seemingly random way she was inserted into the movie, as I had no knowledge of the story beforehand. I understand the character was played by a male actor, but Zelda remains the most impactful thing in this movie and one of the few things from childhood that still gives me a twinge each time I think of it. (The other thing is an episode of Hey Arnold that really shit me up.) (Editor’s note: I need to hear this story now.)
Mary Lambert made one of the best Stephen King movies in that it is both very true to the source material but also expands on some of the more creepy imagery that the book can’t really convey. Why the fuck is she not helming horror movies today? Looking her IMDB page, it’s a long string of music videos (including a load of very famous Madonna videos) and a few other movies, including Pet Sematary 2. But her work her is truly fantastic and the imagery of Zelda alone makes this film incredibly memorable and still bothers me to this day. King adapted his own work on this one, but Lambert’s direction makes it creepy, entertaining and building tension excellently. It’s so damn watchable.
Fred Gwynne is a powerhouse in this film. That very thick Maine accent is something that had lived beyond this film and become a part of pop culture all on its own. Gwynne is a chameleon of an actor who shows up everywhere from The Munsters to My Cousin Vinny, but Judd is the role I like him best in as he plays it perfectly. His drawl and slower way of speaking only amplify the horrifying things he knows about the Pet Sematary and the events that have gone on in Ludlow over the years because of it. He has this wise old man thing going on while being someone you could easily see talking to in any pub/bar anywhere in the world. Gwynne brings something that makes this film complete and as it was one of his final performances, it shows he was always in a league all of his own.
Final side note, legend goes that Bruce Campbell was meant to play Louis Creed originally… how fucked up would that have been? I like Bruce as an actor but it would’ve changed the tone of the film considerably. Think the problem is that Bruce has too much character for Louis, as Creed is a guy who spends a lot fo the film emotionally numb. Campbell plays big roles excellently….. side note within a side note, he’s still playing Ash on TV. Ash vs. The Evil Dead is crazy good, and if you aren’t watching it, make the time.
The book and film are nearly perfect mirror images of each other; the film just cuts down some of the longer family time in the book and shows a real economy of story telling. It makes Pascow a much bigger role, falling into the Griffin Dunne role from An American Werewolf in London: at times guiding the characters in a much more literal way. The presentation of Zelda still really troubles me to this day, which comes across much more in the book than the film because the character was aged up for the film. Which makes her so much more terrifying.
Overall, I really enjoyed both tales but the film takes it for me because I have fond memories of it being a scary movie from when I was a kid. It still has it’s hooks in me to this day.
Next Time: I haven’t the foggiest.
This week has been long and tiring and all I want is cake and a milkshake.
We’re not going to let a little thing like exhaustion stop us. No sir. This week, we’re going to skip a trailer on Tuesday because Dan’s got the perfect thing for the end of the month (and Halloween to boot): a look at Pet Sematary. Erin’s going to jump in and bitch about 1922’s Nosferatu, because the day wouldn’t end in “y” if she wasn’t complaining about something. Given that we’re starting to move into November this week, we’re going to recommend the comedy Jane Austen’s Mafia! at the end of the week. It’s a bit random, but it works for us. It’s all about balance sometimes.
Edgar Allan Poe and October go together like beer and pretzels. Even better, soft pretzel sticks and beer cheese for dipping. Crap, now I’m hungry. Where was I? Ah yes, Poe. Good ol’ Edgar had a knack for looking into what made our skin crawl in a genteel sort of way. And what better way than to appreciate that creepy quality than by animating some of his stories? That’s exactly what the 2015 film Extraordinary Tales, directed by Raul Garcia, seeks to compile: give Poe tales in animated form. Here are five reasons to watch it this weekend.
#1 – It’s Poe!
The lineup of shorts is pretty impressive. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” “The Pit and the Pendulum.” “The Tell-Tale Heart.” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” “Masque of the Red Death.” Have to admit, this is a who’s who of Poe short stories. That’s like putting together a baseball team with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Jackie Robinson and Cy Young. Wait, I think I just made a successful baseball analogy. I need to go lie down.
#2 – It’s broken into nice pieces
I really kind of hate it when an anthology can’t figure it out how to break up its pieces. Some of them will long overstay their welcome; others just sort of blend together when the pieces don’t really have much to do with one another. As much as I loved XX, for example, it had some rough transitions between subject matter. Extraordinary Tales knows how to balance out the duration of its segments with the transitions. The result is a gorgeous, seamless piece. That’s something worth it right there.
#3 – The narration
Christopher Lee narrates one of my all-time favorites: “The Fall of the House of Usher.” That in and of itself is about as magic as Iggy Pop narrating “The Tell Tale Heart” in Closed on Account of Rabies. Better yet, not everyone is an actor: Guillermo del Toro reads “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which makes my inner goth girl squee with joy. Bela Lugosi reads “The Tell Tale Heart,” and Julian Sands takes on “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” It’s so, so good. There are some extraordinary readings. Check it out, especially as we don’t have some of them with us anymore.
#4 – The animation
There’s a mix of CGI and traditional animation in this film. Special call out to David Carriere, Tomislav Findrik, Raul Marinez, Gilles Rudziak, Antonia Santamaria, Serge Ume and Regine Waleffe, who compromise the animation department of this film. Ditto to Javier de Prado and Regine Waleffe, who supervised the visual effects, and Cedric Gervais, who was in charge of the art department. This film is visually stunning, and they obviously knew their shit.
#5 – Dark beauty
The expectation of an animated film is that the settings and images will be light and airy. Animation, after all, carries a sense of whimsy: it’s just a drawing, just a picture, so it has to be light and happy. This film does not adhere to that expectation – it stays truer to the spirit of Poe tales rather than the demands of animation convention. This quality makes it dark, overcast, and a bit bleak at times, but you know what else is it? It’s absolutely beautiful. There are moments of pure beauty captured in these animated tales that will cause you to pause. This film has a melancholy that possesses great beauty.
Extraordinary Tales is available on Netflix for streaming.
It’s Halloween again, which means that we’re getting yet another Saw movie. What started as a short film in 2003 turned into the first feature-length motion picture in 2004, courtesy of James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Today, we’re up to installment number eight, with the tortures bigger, bloodier and far more graphic than the original. We’re often presented with people who have done something morally unsavory, that now must escape a trap that represents their own shortcomings lest they die. It’s a piece on moral relativism and what a social offender truly deserves. However, we’re overlooking something that’s snuck into the franchise in multiple instances: it subtly dismisses addiction and rehabilitation as something that can be cured by being scared.
First, some background. Drug addiction is a sticky, tricky spot. I’d love to define what is it absolutely, but the largest problem with addiction is that the research is not there to concretely tell us the nuts and bolts of how it works. True, we know that it’s a physical and psychological dependence upon a substance. We know that some are more susceptible to it than others. We know that once you go down that road, it’s extraordinarily difficult to stop, because it’s a disease – you don’t just cure asthma or diabetes by telling your body, “Hey, knock it off.” There are physical as well as psychological intricacies. The problem with treatment stems from the lack of understanding: it’s not always perceived as a disease, there’s a ton of social stigma that prevents people from getting help, and the lack of knowledge on the innerworkings of addiction make for treatments that only go after the symptoms as opposed to the root cause. Those three things put together can completely botch a recovery attempt for an addict, and I can’t help but feel for these people. There’s anger and hurt on the side of those who love the addict, and there’s nastiness to feed an illness on the side of an addict. It’s a disease, and we need more knowledge to beat it. (If you want more information on some of what we do know about addiction, I highly suggest you visit the Mayo Clinic’s site, as well as a paper concerning the drug addiction treatment of incarcerated women. We’ve still got a long, long way to go, which is the understatement of the year.)
Where addiction comes into play in Saw is woven throughout multiple pieces. In the first installment, we meet Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who is forced to think fast and dig through the stomach of a man trapped with her. She gets a dismissed a bit by Detective Tapp (Danny Glover), who tells her, “You are in fact a drug addict, Mandy. That is why he picked you.” The logic of Jigsaw is to select someone who is deemed “ungrateful” for their life – someone who needs to wake up. The extreme shock of surviving the reverse beartrap puzzle renders Amanda grateful and reformed in her addiction. In Saw II, we find out that she’s now placed Jigsaw into the role of father figure that’s responsible for turning her life around, and she seeks to become his apprentice. She carries on this role in Saw III, Saw IV and Saw V, but then gets some greater explanation in Saw VI: Amanda assisted in a botched robbery that left the unborn son of John (Tobin Bell) and Jill (Betsy Russell) dead. John later presents Amanda and her progress to Jill, an addiction counselor, under the guise that Amanda is proof that his methods of curing addiction are the ones that work. She’s a case study in scaring someone straight, literally.
To say that this treatment of addiction is problematic moves from wrong to horrific on so many levels. First off, Amanda is described as not only an addict, but a heroin addict – a notoriously tough addiction to treat. Heroin is known for inducing a euphoria that reportedly blows orgasm out of the water; conversely, the withdrawal symptoms can lead to death if left untreated, which makes quitting the drug insanely difficult. It’s not like Amanda is going to conquer addiction by getting scared – many addicts go through things like rape, robbery and overdoses, and these scary experiences do not deter them from getting high. It’s a fucking illness. Trying to scare her into quitting is like taking someone with cancer through a well-constructed haunted house attraction and hoping that the jump scares make their cancer go away. It’s not plausible to think that scaring someone is going to magically make a disease go away. You wouldn’t expect that from someone who had diabetes or a heart disease or aggressive strokes – why the fuck would you think that scaring the living crap out of someone is going to make a mentally and physically ingrained experience go away? Again, this goes back to the stigma, misconception and treatment of symptoms that gets us into this mess with addicts: there’s a snide side-eye to Amanda for even being an addict in the first place; there’s a complete lack of understanding how her addiction actually works; and without that understanding, she can’t actually be cured of her disease – because no one understands how addiction functions, treating her is only going to treat some of the symptoms she displays, which means the illness is going to keep coming back. If you notice, she replaces one addiction with another: heroin for assisting John. Amanda’s not shooting up, but she’s certainly behaving in an obsessive, all-consuming pattern. John has done nothing to cure her: he’s just made sure that her attention is focused on something other than explicit chemicals. He’s found a replacement high for her under the guise of appreciating her life. That’s not helping; that’s transference. It’s like replacing a gambling addiction with fanatical religious devotion: the illness is still there, but the presentation has changed ever so slightly to fly a bit more under the radar in a socially acceptable format.
At the end of the day, it’s disconcerting to realize that no one has changed for the better in these films. Amanda is still an addict – she just happens to have a compounded element of PTSD that has forced her into some extreme Stockholm Syndrome. The issue here is the calculation of Jigsaw: as an addict, she was something that needed to be cured of substance abuse: now that he’s able to manipulate her addictive personality, it’s okay that she houses those capabilities. Of all things, John is not trying to cure her. He’s trying to use her for his own ends. And that, my friends, does a deep disservice to understanding and treating addiction. There’s no gratitude. There’s no come to Jesus moment. There’s no new lease on life. There is only usefulness to someone else’s machinations by the exploitation of an illness.
(Author’s note: to anyone currently or previously struggling with addiction, I deeply respect all you’ve endured as you’ve slugged your way out of hell. If you’re still in that hell, I hope that available resources can help ease your suffering. Don’t ever let someone make you feel bad for having an illness.)
Full disclosure: I was not as pumped for the Twin Peaks revival as my friends were. Yes, I know, it was supposed to be wonderful. We were all supposed to cry tears of Lynchian joy but I just couldn’t bring myself to get there. I’m kind of over the Lynch fuckery; if you’re not, that’s totally cool. Just don’t expect me to jump up and down like it’s our ten-year high school reunion and we’ve got baby pictures to exchange. What I am excited for is the return of Stranger Things. We’ve talked about it quite a bit these past few months. In honor of its release on Friday into the wild, here’s the final trailer.
Eleven has hair! Hop is getting hosed down! Will’s got a father figure! Joyce is freaking out in front of a medical board in the most Joyce-tastic way! The gang is back, and this time, they’ve got Will! MOAR WALKIE TALKIES! Mike looks pensive! Lucas is still badass (I love Lucas)! Dustin and Steve and a baseball bat (which could be the name of a very funny road trip movie, especially with these characters. Get on that, Duffers.)! Jonathan is hanging out with Nancy again (they can’t all be positive)! This is all waiting for us! GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Stranger Things season 2 premieres at the end of the week, and this is what we’re been salivating over since last fall. Damn is it a good time to be alive.
This week, we’re going to celebrate with some Halloween-themed analysis and recommendation in honor of the spookiness headed our way. At the request of a reader, we’re looking into the Saw series. Thursday will see a recommendation for Extraordinary Tales. But don’t worry about seeing it this weekend. We’ve got the gang back and available for binge watching Friday morning. HUZZAH!