Monday, 21 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 20 (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)

Ah yes. Back at this shit again. I don't know if I've detailed how much Freddy Kreuger as a concept scared me as a child, but he did. Not the main source of childhood horror movie trauma, but definitely up there. A lot of that was just in the sheer idea of "if you go to sleep, something you cannot possibly avoid doing, a monster will fucking kill you". Oddly enough, revisiting the opening of this movie had me tense and shitless for a completely different reason. That being the wrist slash scene near the beginning. Artery injury's a phobia of mine, and anything with slit wrists or throats has me noping the fuck out. (I don't think I actually witnessed a single kill in the original Friday The 13th because of this, but we're about 15 years too early to cross Jason over with this.) Still, you know, dread happened and I managed to avert my gaze like the phobic dork I am. The rest of the movie should be okay. We're on the third Nightmare movie, and one I haven't experienced since college when I marathoned these things in a bid to conquer fear or whatever. I thought it was fine back then, but I think I've consumed fan consensus to believe that this is the one the most people like? Not really me. Still, this rewatch has given me quite a thematic thoroughline to talk about... even if the other parts of the movie don't work. So, let's talk about that a bit.

Whereas the first two movies were set in suburbia (the same house of suburbia, in fact) and dealt with all the haunting of that, Elm Street 3 (let's just call it Dream Warriors from now on, huh?) takes place in the halls of a psychiatric ward with a ragtag group of troubled teens. Freddy's back and toying with them in their dreams, but Nancy Thompson from the first film is back as well and is now a psychiatrist herself, here to help them out. This setting, and the tropes of supernatural horror in general, reflect each other in a strange and honestly sobering way. (Oh and if you want mirror imagery, there's lots.) The teens are refusing to sleep, due to the quite sensible reality that a goddamned dream ghost with knives for hands is trying to murder them. As part of the conflict and danger to them, their doctors think it's all just delusions and a healthy bit of sleep is all they need to get right-- GEE HEY WHY ARE ALL OUR KIDS DYING IN HORRIFIC AND ABNORMAL SUICIDES ALL OF A SUDDEN??? It's the typical horror movie cliche of the adults in power not believing a word these kids say when they express fears of being murdered by a supernatural monster, and those adults taking the absolutely wrong actions in trying to protect them. Set in a psychiatric ward, though, this all suddenly takes a morbid turn. It feels like a metaphor for the sorry state of mental health treatment in general, and how it's a fucking joke. The people who are in need of help, who are practically begging for help from those in power to help them, are not getting it. Those with the power to help are instead having academic debate about delusions and REM sleep and completely dismissing all of their concerns, and the people in need of that help are fucking dying. Indeed, this becomes all but textual when Kristen, the girl from the beginning, is set to be sent to solitary and sedated so she'll quiet down, at the behest of the one doctor who doesn't believe them. In hysteria, and basically pleading for her life because she knows Freddy Krueger will dismember her in her dreams, she screams "YOU STUPID BITCH, YOU'RE KILLING US!". God. I didn't expect this movie to be saying something so strong.

Unfortunately the rest of it doesn't quite work. There's a very weird undercurrent of science vs. religion going on in the background, where the other doctor who slowly comes to believe Nancy has his faith in science questioned as he's powerless to stop the kids in his care from these bizarre suicides... and then he keeps seeing a nun who tells him to have faith and use it to beat the abomination killing his kids. That ends up being what kills Freddy in the end, throwing a bunch of holy water on his bones and compelling the shit out of him in the name of Christ. There's also Freddy's "origin" story, wherein a sister of the faith locked in a ward for criminally insane inmates is sexually assaulted by them and gives birth to Freddy. Which, where in the fuck do I begin with that? Sure, it mirrors the theme of mental health treatment being inadequate, but Jesus. There's also the whole "Dream Warrior" idea, where the kids learn to weaponize the power of their good dreams to do cool shit like backflips or super strength or shooting lightning bolts as a wizard. It sounds like a great idea, and it would be a beautiful resonant duality of them beating their nightmares and traumas with positivity if it actually affected Freddy in any way. Every Dream Warrior confrontation has him shrugging it off like the unstoppable slasher icon he is and then just fucking killing them anyway. It's a pessimistic waste of a great idea. I think that's all I've got on Dream Warriors. It's better than I thought it would be, but it doesn't quite come together on all fronts to be the perfect dreamlike horror movie it could be. Oh, what could have been.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 19 (The Immortal Hulk)

This was, if nothing else, an interesting] read for the spooky season. From page one it states "There are two people in every mirror" and if you know me by now, you know that's enough to get my attention. Really, applying the notions of duality and dark mirroring to the Incredible Hulk sounds kind of obvious when you put it on paper like that, but over the 24 issues of The Immortal Hulk so much more happens than just that. I don't know how long I'll talk about those things for, but we can get a post out of it so... let's start from the beginning. This ain't a happy fun punching Marvel comic book, it's all dark and visceral and introspective and shit. Its opening moments have a gas station holdup gone wrong, with three dead... including one Bruce Banner. Once night falls, the gang who put the robber up to it find a green monster ready to enact vengeance like some unhinged Batman. (Okay, maybe not that different from how Batman would have done it, actually.) The portrait painted of the undying Bruce Banner and his other selves, the green thing on the other side of the mirror, is that of a wanderer seeking atonement for past sins. That's the vibe the early issues give, and #3 is a lovely little Rashomon-style affair of different people being interviewed about a Hulk sighting, with different art styles for every vignette. Still, there's a whiff of something here. Something more... and soon enough, it rears its head.

Friday, 18 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 18 (A Voice From The Dark)

Well, that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. It even gives me something to work with for post length. Speaking of that, I feel like I need to give context for what A Voice From The Dark is, and the specifics of why it is a thing. Not because I assume the backstory is something unfamiliar (I'm sure like 90% of you know all about what I'm going to mention), but because it is important to understanding the actual thematic resonance of the story. Yes. It has one. Incredible. So. There's a website for a particular old-school style of Internet review show called Channel Awesome. Until about... last year or so, it had a hell of a lot of people on it and a huge community of different and varied critics covering their own niches, all rallied around the main draw of the site; Doug "Nostalgia Critic" Walker. There are two things you need to know about all of this. The first is that, over the first few years of the website's history, Doug Walker brought all of his pals together to film anniversary specials. Like, The Avengers of Internet reviewers. These started as 20 minute crossover "brawls" with a lot of pretend fighting and memes, and then grew into actual feature-length movies and a four-hour miniseries before culminating. You should also know that I hate these things. They have their audience, but I am on the fringe of that audience and yet all it is to me is hammy bullshit, obnoxious memery, and a shitload of pretend fighting. The second thing you need to know about all of this is that, last year or so, a mass exodus occured from Channel Awesome after several allegations came to light; some unprofessional annoyances, others massive accusations. It is far beyond my wheelhouse to detail them at length; suffice it to say there are grievances, I believe them, and just about everyone abandoned ship en masse. Then, born out of some nostalgia on the part of these creators over the good parts of those old anniversary films, a bunch of them got together to create another crossover miniseries, this one as an audio drama instead of a filmed thing. That's A Voice From The Dark, and it's got Lovecraftian undertones and is set in a haunted house, so that's why it's here. What does it have, though?

Thursday, 17 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 17 (When I Arrived At The Castle)

You've got red on you.
This will probably be a much shorter post than usual, I'm afraid. There's a few reasons for that. One, the subject matter is a pretty short affair, all things considered. Nothing wrong with brevity, of course, but that leads me to issue two. I'm not much of a comic critic. I can talk about how pretty the art is, and I shall, but any specific visual drawing techniques at play beyond the immediate obvious elude me. Listen, my field is the written word and not the painted picture. With all that in mind, what have we got here? Well, it's an evocative and moody little piece of fiction, if nothing else. I looked at the cover and expected some sort of dark lesbian gothic horror fantasy. I got... some of that. Other things I got I didn't expect, but are good because it means I get to write about them. So, let's see what When I Arrived At The Castle has going for it.

Its use of color is on point! Black, white, red. That's what you get, and that's all you need. Really, let's do our best to point out the use of red as it's the only non-monochrome color used to illustrate the piece. As an accentuator, it works for narration first off. As you flip through and our protagonist catgirl ventures deeper into the castle at the behest of what must be a vampire girl countess, red splatters all over. The carpet, the portraits, the rain outside. All signifying the bloody nature of this place. It all has a certain surreality to it, and later on, as we see our catgirl taking a bath (Incidentally, there are nipples in this book, so heads up on that) the water is inky black. A knock comes to the door, gentle white at first before a blood red cacophany. We get even more surreal imagery with a fantastic "jumpscare" in page-turner form involving the vampire, and then on we go. Beneath her elegant facade we see the shades of red where some terrible true form lurks. Then come the doors, and we never actually see what is behind them, we only hear of the fates of those who have come before in two-page spread narration (with a red background, of course). As we go on, more and more red stains our catgirl.

Then, a confrontation. Our Countess is a lamia, inviting our catgirl to kill her... and we get true visceral. Red everywhere, a terrible thing finally bursting forth from the elegant countess, sinking its fangs in... and then no red. A moment of calm, a simple dream of sinking... and, eventually, the thing. The human features in white, the monstrous blood red, halfway out of the dark. True animalistic nature takes over with evocative narration, a dance of visceral red playing out in a white void. Both of them are monsters now, wrestling and tussling and biting. We dance and dance until we have a red cat, a thing with its prey in its mouth... and fade to black. That's When I Arrived At The Castle. It's a surreal piece of work with a lot of clever uses of color and allegory that I barely scratched the surface of... but these are hardly deep dives. It's pretty neat! Lots of spooky imagery, and not at all what I was expecting. Nice stuff. On to something else that's odd and wild in a lot of ways, then.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 16 (Alien Resurrection)

It's time once again to play the personal memory game. So. It's 1998. I feel like it must have been the end of winter, beginning of spring. Still cold, but not the hellish depths of winter. The previous holiday season of 1997 saw me, high on the inspirations of Star Wars and the Star Trek movies, take my first true delve into the horror genre. I watched the Alien trilogy, and even though they scared the hell out of me I still really liked them. Hey wow! There's a new one out! I lived in the middle of nowhere, so it wasn't like I could pop into the cinema. Therefore I had to wait for VHS so I could rent it. As I recall, my cousin found it in a video store a few towns over. It was a hell of a search, a treasure hunt that yielded fruit. So, here we both were, at his place in the cold of 1998, Alien Resurrection in the VCR. How would they follow up from Alien 3, considering the definitive final end? Well, we both watched Alien Resurrection. It was not very good. I didn't care for it, and that's the opinion I held for 20 years. I didn't care enough to go back in all that time, despite the fact that I must have seen those first three Alien movies a good 10 times each in those intervening years. Maybe even more. Then I revisited it, a few years back, and I thought it was the funniest goddamned thing. Like, so bad it's good glorious. Now we've gone for the hat trick of revisits, and I've come back from my third viewing of it in 22 years. How'd that go? I think I took a bit of both of my opinions this time. Let's dig in, I guess.

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 15 (Doctor Who: Listen)

The bedsheets are a metaphor. The bedsheets are anxiety.
Holy shit do I love this episode more and more every time I see it. Listen. No, I'm not just quoting the name of the episode, I'm like stating "please listen". This is actually the third time I'm writing about this Doctor Who episode. The first time was as it aired, when I had a little writing gig and got to cover the first Peter Capaldi series as it came out. The second was just before Series 9, when that little writing gig had evaporated and I was reposting the old content on my blog, with new thoughts as I rewatched in anticipation of the new show. Both of those were September viewings, as I recall, so there's no real sense of me covering (or watching) Listen in any spooky month sense. Until now. It's absolutely prime Halloween marathon material, with themes and images that resonate with the season... and it is, in all respects, absolutely what I needed to see at this time.

Monday, 14 October 2019

31 Days, 31 Screams: Resurrection- Day 14 (Mothra)

Okay. That was different. It still gives me plenty to work with, so let's get to sculpting the shape of this post. This is the first Toho Co. kaiju film I'm covering that doesn't have our big stompy lizard pal in it, and good old Godzilla always did strongly reflect something of the nuclear disaster. Be it fresh memory of the horror of August 1945, or nail-biting anxiety over the Cold war, or even critique of government's reaction to disaster crisis, Godzilla's got you covered there. What about this, then? What is Mothra strongly reflecting? I must confess I don't know. There's no obvious and intended subtext I can easily dig out because I don't know Japanese history that well. The best I can give is that it's pointed commentary on postwar occupation of Japan by the USA. As for Mothra herself? A force of nature and of vengeful retribution... but it's all collateral damage. Mothra has an actual goal, see, and that's where we get into the parts of this movie that resonated with the here and now for me.

What's fascinating is that, structurally, Mothra is built in much the same fashion as another infamous kaiju movie: King Kong. Both movies have an expedition to a mysterious island with strange wildlife and indiginous people, followed by the discovery of something amazing and the decision to take that something back to the mainland, to exhibit it to an amazed public (and make fame and fortune in the process). Then everything goes horribly wrong and we have a kaiju running riot through the city, causing untold millions in property damage and loss of life. Now, in King Kong the thing brought back was the giant ape himself, so all he had to do was get loose to go on a rampage. Mothra plays it differenly; the thing that Mr. Nelson of Rolisika (yeah... I'm going to get to that) takes back with him from Infant Island are a pair of very tiny women. Like fairies. They then use telepathy and their harmonizing song to call for Mothra to rescue them, and that's what kicks off all the giant monster destruction. Nelson is a real son of a bitch, though. In the first place, he's keeping a pair of tiny women in a birdcage like slaves and showing them off for fame and fortune. Even when it's clear Mothra will not give up, he resorts to fleeing Japan for homeland Rolisika, dodging all authority and responsibility before trying to flee again, pulling a gun on an angry mob of people pissed off with him for endangering them all, and then gets gunned down by the police. Here's where I get into my sheer swerve of a reading of this movie, once I accept is not at all what was intended... but, fuck it. Death Of The Author, right? I get to play jazz with what harmonizes with me in 2019. Okay. here it goes.

Mothra is climate change, and Nelson is a climate change denier. Yeah. Think about it. Nelson's actions and his fairy show make him rich and famous. The movie never comes out and says he's making a shitload of money, but I can buy it. Nelson's fortune comes from the fairies, and the fairies have sent Mothra to save them... and Mothra will fuck everything up that's in between her and the fairies. Nelson, pointedly, does not give two shits. He will do anything and everything to keep his hands on those fairies as long as possible, consequences to everyone else be damned. He's a climate change denier making millions from big oil, who doesn't give a fuck about the planet burning as long as he gets his! He'll ignore all appeals to reason, violate the law all over so long as it can benefit him, and at the end of it all a bunch of angry protestors harass the shit out of him for it! HEY ASSHOLE WE'RE ALL GOING TO FUCKING DIE BECAUSE YOU HAD TO HAVE ANOTHER FUCKING ROLLS ROYCE! GET OUT OF THE CAR, I'LL SHOW YOU A FUCKING FAIRY SHOW. And then he pulls a fucking gun on them all! Jesus! He really thinks, even then, he can get away with it! Oh yeah, and he's from Rolisika. Which at first I took as a made-up country that's just supposed to be Russia... but in the climax of the movie we go to "New Kirk City" in Rolisika, with lots of Americans. So it's like... both? Which I guess makes sense, since Nelson being an arch-capitalist wouldn't make much damn sense if he were supposed to be from a socialist country. With that reading in mind, I found Mothra pretty fascinating. It's got some decent destruction, a lot of fun with the human characters, and the fairies are just so mystical and magical and inspiring. This one was a great time, and I even got to make a gonzo reading of it. Still, though. It ain't kaiju season without the big boy himself. Let's see what Godzilla's got for us this time.