Monthly Archives: September 2010

What is Horror?

By Tom Kapr

 

Horror may be the most difficult of all genres to define. The harder I try to draw distinct lines around it, the blurrier those lines become; and no two people’s definitions of it are the same.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the denotation of the word itself. Merriam-Webster defines horror as “painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay;” “intense aversion or repugnance;” and “repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character.” The etymology can be traced back to the Latin horrere, which can mean to dread, to shrink from, to shudder at, to bristle, or to shiver — all apt terms in describing our visceral reaction to well-made dramatic horror.

 

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

 

Most horror films have an element of the supernatural, the fantastic, the otherworldly, or simply the unexplainable. Maybe that is part of the reason why it is such a difficult genre to succinctly explain, because the material itself deals with inexplicable themes. And isn’t that the basest reason why we watch horror movies? Isn’t that the reason the horror filmmakers — the good ones, at least — make them? To explore the unknown and to try to come to grips with our own human fears and frailty?

Horror goes beyond twisted fantasy. Horror is in the world around us. We are confronted by its reality on a daily basis: Serial killers. Terrorist bombings. Rape. Genocide. Nuclear destruction. Cancer, AIDS, death. A YouTube video of a psychopath throwing puppies into a raging river. Somewhere in the world right now, someone is experiencing unspeakable horror. Somewhere in the world right now, someone is committing unspeakable horrors against another human being.

Who's hungry for some fava beans? Sweetbreads? Ray Liotta brains? Anyone?....

But let’s get back to the movies. Some make categorization easy: Hellraiser? Horror. Night of the Living Dead? Horror. Horrors of Spider Island? Horr — well, actually more like a super-softcore skin-flick, but there are spider-human mutations and such, so, still horror. District 9? Now it becomes more difficult. DuelDeath Proof? Mulholland DriveThe Silence of the Lambs? Thomas Harris’s tale is a horrific one to be sure, but nothing outside the realm of possibility. In fact, Silence more than many films is controversial in its classification, as many would argue that it is a thriller but not a horror.

Schindler’s List? No one would argue against Schindler’s List being one of the most horrifying films ever made. Adolf Hitler was a monster, and the Holocaust is one of the most horrific chapters in our history. In a way, Schindler’s List is more purely horror than Hellraiser, and is a title I always come back to when I think about cinematic horror.

A must-read for anyone interested in the horror genre

I like Clive Barker’s take on the genre. In the introduction to his compilation book Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror, he writes, “Most horror, whether it’s real or fictitious, literary or cinematic, deals with the eruption of chaos into human existence (or else the revelation of its constant, unseen presence)….”

“Horror is everywhere,” he later writes. “It’s in fairy tales and the evening headlines, it’s in street corner gossip and the incontrovertible facts of history. It’s in playground ditties… it’s in the doctor’s surgery… it’s on the altar, bleeding for our sins…. It is so much a part of our lives (and deaths) that a hundred volumes could not fully detail its presence.”

There is yet another take on the horror genre that I quite like, and it’s not just because I wrote it. I found it written in one of my journals from about five years ago, when I was musing about the subject one day:

“A good horror film is more about striking imagery than anything else — visuals and sounds that burrow into your consciousness and dig in their claws, making themselves a uteran home in your mind, gestating till they are stirred by random recollection, and poke forth their heads, whether in conscious feelings of unease or subconscious dream.”

This being the time of year when the horror film is at the forefront of our collective consciousness, I am taking upon myself a month-long movie experiment. Every night for the first 30 nights of October, I will be watching at least one horror film, chosen at random from a predetermined list, and recording impressions of my experiences watching the films, here on the Rant Pad in both video and written form. On Halloween night, I will publish some sort of a horror compilation, a “Top 50″ list perhaps, or possibly just some sort of conclusion to the overall experience.

My podcast cohorts are worried about my sanity. True, cramming this much horror, especially since I’ve already gotten a head start, into such a short span of time may drive me to some form of madness. But that’s okay…

 

...we all go a little mad sometimes.

 

Go to Day 1 – Nightbeast

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Buried Cinema, Artifacts #002-004: Another side of Milla Jovovich

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Milla Jovovich is generally known as a go-to heroine for B-grade sci-fi action flicks, and most notably for her roles as Alice in all four Resident Evil movies and as the adorable, mysterious Leeloo in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. As such, she is often not given credit for her acting skills (despite often being the only thing making certain scenes in these movies watchable).

"Lee-loo dal-las mul-ti-pass"

What most people don’t seem to realize is that Milla has a healthy indie career when she’s not fighting zombies, vampires, and mutants. I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend a few of her best films.

A Perfect Getaway (2009) is the first non-sci-fi film directed by David Twohy (pronounced tooey), who also directed the underrated Pitch Black a decade ago. Getaway is Twohy’s pop culture-savvy twist on the serial killer genre that deals more in psychological suspense than violence and gore. The plot involves three young couples on holiday in Hawaii who hear news that the perpetrators of a recent double-murder may be in the vicinity of the isolated forest trail they’re hiking, but the less you know about the plot before viewing, the better. Milla stars alongside a talented cast that includes Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, and Chris Hemsworth.

Dummy (2002) stars Adrien Brody as Steven, a 30-something man-child who decides to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a ventriloquist. Milla plays Fangora, Steven’s free-spirited, foul-mouthed best friend. When Steven develops a crush on his unemployment counselor Lorena (the wonderful Vera Farmiga), Fangora’s sociopathic relationship advice is, shall we say, counter-productive. Written and directed by Greg Pritikin, and co-starring Illeana Douglas, Jessica Walters, Ron Leibman, and Jared Harris (who also co-starred with Milla in Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Dummy is a funny, off-kilter romantic comedy that should be seen by more people, especially those looking for something better than the usual Hollywood rom-com fare.

The Claim (2000) is about a man named Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), who owns a town named Kingdom Come–a town he built after trading his wife and daughter for a gold claim. Now, his town is in danger of obsolescence by a railroad survey crew led by Wes Bentley, and his own past comes back to haunt him when Nastassja Kinski and Sarah Polley appear in town. Milla plays Dillon’s girlfriend, the madame of a brothel, who becomes disillusioned with her privileged life when she begins to learn about Dillon’s past and is faced with his style of handling present circumstances. The Claim is a bleak, but affecting, revisionist Western from director Michael Winterbottom.

(While we’re on the subject, also check out hippie-Milla in Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused.)

Learn more about the featured films at the IMDb:

A Perfect Getaway: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0971209

Dummy: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0246592

The Claimhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218378

–Tom Kapr

Classics I Can Live Without

–Steven Moore

Blade Runner is an amazing and important film. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterwork of theme and composition. The Godfather: Part II defines the word classic. Yet I don’t really enjoy any of these movies. They mean something to film as an art but not to me as an individual. I can easily put them farther down my list than Zack Snyder’s fun-as-hell remake of Dawn of the Dead or Dreamworks’ endearing Kung Fu Panda.

You meet a girl. She is beautiful, smart, funny, sexy, and, why not, rich. She wants nothing more than to lavish her attention, beauty, and fortune on you. But that spark isn’t there; she just doesn’t hit you where it means something. You don’t actively dislike her; you just forget about her. When people talk about how stunning and perfect she was, you just kind of shrug and stay quiet.

The movie experience is not simply the sum of its parts. If that were the case, Singin’ in the Rain would be a long-since forgotten disaster. If you were to try and look at Singin’ in the Rain as a whole, the movie barely holds together, a hodgepodge of scenes loosely connected by a weak story. Yet there’s something mystical that happens when I watch it. I am watching a movie that rises beyond its material, however flawed, becoming not just entertainment, but a magical experience. Singin’ in the Rain is magical, and I surely can’t say why.

On the podcast we often tease Tom for his love of Citizen Kane. In truth, I think our teasing is more a result of our own uneasiness. We wonder if being uninterested in Citizen Kane is a sign of our own intellectual inadequacies. It’s all very Freudian and probably stems from mother or father issues.

Nonetheless, Citizen Kane is an amazing film. Its contributions to cinematography are immeasurable. All films made today use techniques birthed in the belly of Citizen Kane‘s production. Yet I could live my entire life never sitting down to watch those innovations again and be perfectly okay. I know, in my head, that Citizen Kane is an important piece of cinema, but it doesn’t get me. It doesn’t pull me into another world that I want to stay in, to inhabit for two hours.

Charles Foster Kane reacts to Steve's lack of interest.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomStargateTop GunThe Goonies: these movies are flawed, silly, sometimes just plain bad; but they wrap me in a world that I revel in, and for that I love them. For that I place them high in my canon, films I must watch until I can quote every line. I want to be in their realities again and again until I have my own address.

I’m not sure what that magic formula is. Maybe only Christopher Nolan knows. The recent Indiana Jones film proves that if Spielberg knew, he’s forgotten. Maybe it’s undefinable, like pornography. You know it when you see it. So the next time someone is going on and on about Taxi Driver, you can just say, “Look, it’s not you, it’s me.”