Hellboy (2008) Vs. Hellboy (2019)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II was released in 2008, a mere ten years before the release of this new reboot, by Neil Marshall. The reboot bombed horribly, which kind of saddens me because I generally like Neil Marshall’s output. He’s the director of The Descent and Dog Soldiers, both of which are good, solid, action-horror movies, each with a deft emotional touch.

This newest version of Hellboy isn’t’ bad, but lord, it isn’t good. Well, let’s just say it’s worst than it should’ve been. I want to compare Del Toro’s and Marshall’s versions of the films, but in order to do that, I need to also talk about the comic book series the movies are based on, as both movies capture different aspects of the books.

The comic books are written by many different people, but Mike Mignola, as the initial creator, has had an enormous amount of control over his creation. Depending on what mood Mignola is in, you can get humor, or scares, or melancholy, which is something felt across the entire series.

Marshall’s remake is a grim and disjointed affair, that feels like a collection of unrelated action scenes, with too many flashbacks designed to illuminate who the various characters are, and why they’re doing what they’re doing, any one of which could be made into their own film, rather than the hodgepodge we got.

I believe Marshall’s first mistake was starting the film with the villain’s origin story. Nimue is some type of Witch Queen, who gets killed by King Arthur, and Merlin. Using Excalibur, they chop her into pieces, and send the pieces to different parts of the world. We then move to the present day, where the plot becomes unnecessarily convoluted, as a secret organization tries to kill Hellboy. This secret organization has no other role in the film other than getting Hellboy to visit England.

Meanwhile,  Baba Yaga (one of the coolest parts of the movie) is collecting the various pieces of the Witch Queen (with the help of a kind of troll, fairy/ pig creature, also cool).  Hellboy fights some giants, which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and feels like filling time until we get to the real plot. He is then kidnapped by  Alice, who gets a flashback to when Hellboy saved her from the fairies, specifically the fairy pig thingie that took Alice’s place as a changeling, and who now bears a grudge against Hellboy for having exorcised him from Alice’s house.

Outside of that, Alice’s story is unrelated to the larger Nimue story and Baba Yaga. Hellboy fights with his adoptive father, who gets a flashback to his first meeting with Hellboy, and  Hellboy meets Ben Daimio, who also gets a flashback to his origin story as a were-jaguar, a story that is wholly unrelated to anything else in the movie, although  I liked seeing him because I have a crush on the actor, Daniel Dae Kim, who is also underused.

Actually, the very beginning of the movie is Hellboy traveling to Mexico to fight a friend who has been turned into a vampire Luchador, which sounds cool as fuck, comes directly from one of the stories in the comic books and could have been a movie in its own right. Hellboy kills his friend, goes into a drunken funk, and has to be taken back to headquarters by the agents of the BPRD. Nothing in this scene is even remotely related to anything else that happens in the movie and we don’t get to see any more Mexican bat-vampires for the duration of the film.

I liked many of the individual scenes in the movie, from the vampires to the giants to the Baba Yaga scene. I just wished all of these things had been tied together with a coherent story, and all the unnecessary stuff jettisoned to tighten up the plot. There’s also no big emotional payoff.  The remake is more of a horror movie that’s made up of side quests. There’s a warmth and whimsy in the original films, that’s very palpable, and you get a distinct impression that Del Toro truly loves these characters. It’s not that I didn’t find things to like about this newer version, there were just fewer things to enjoy, and those things weren’t thematically or even emotionally connected to any of the other things. At times, the movie felt very workmanlike. Hellboy needs to meet someone so he gets taken to them. He needs to be somewhere so he’s ordered to go there. I liked the visuals, which were great, especially the scene of Baba Yaga’s house with the chicken legs, which came right out of my childhood nightmares. There’s a lot of gore in this movie, but beyond a few snarky comments by some of the characters, (mostly Alice), I just wasn’t feeling it.

At no point during the film does Hellboy make the decision to fight the apocalypse of his own free will. He spends the majority of the movie being snatched, kidnapped, derailed, or ordered about by the other characters, and seems not particularly interested in being heroic, at one point complaining about having been turned into a weapon by his adoptive father.  In the middle of the movie, Hellboy has a very “emotional” fight with his father about this which comes across a bit ham-fisted, and seems to come out of nowhere. There’s no emotional buildup for this outburst nor is the subject ever revisited. This same subject is handled more deftly in Hellboy II, when Prince Nuada challenges Hellboy not to kill the last living Forest God, and accuses him of being nothing more than a weapon against his own kind if he does, and its a question that arises out of Hellboy’s wonderings about his life purpose.

A big part of my dissatisfaction is with the cast though. I wasn’t feeling any group cohesion, although I had no problem with David Harbour’s version of Hellboy, who seems as perfect for the role as Perlman, if somewhat more petulant but he is never given any room to shine since the plot constricts him. All of the relationships in this movie start out adversarial, and for no other reason than they were written that way, but at the end, the characters are suddenly working as a well-oiled team, and getting along with each other, except when they don’t. These were people who were together because the plot required them to be, not because they were friends or genuinely like each other.This is unlike the Del Toro movies, where the characters get on each other’s nerves, and are often exasperated by Hellboy’s behavior, but at least you get the sense that they like each other, and are long-term friends.

This movie tries and fails to create the dynamic seen between Hellboy and Abe in the original film, and fails at that too. Alice has something of the same powers as Abe (she’s a mystic) but never comes across as a fully realized character, with some kind of interior life. Abe, despite all the heavy makeup, is imbued by his actors body language with a deep interiority. Abe and the other characters are treated by the story as if they have a life when Hellboy isn’t around, especially in the second movie, where they are given their own storylines. We don’t know anything about Alice other than that she’s cranky.

As with the original movies, there are some impressive visuals, if not the sheer imagination of the first two films, but these visuals are not connected to anything in the rest of the plot. At the beginning of the movie Hellboy fights some giants. This fight has nothing to do with the overall plot with the Witch Queen, or the preceding plot, which had an organization that existed to kill him, in case he turns evil and destroys the world, according to the prophecy. The Witch Queen releases some demons that wreak havoc on the city of London, but Hellboy doesn’t get to fight those, which would have been fucking awesome to see, but he has no contact with them at all. The demons show up to terrorize the city and that’s what they do because it looks cool. Events in the movie are only connected because someone in the cast says they are, and not because of any actual connections. The movie is just made up of  setpieces that look really cool.

There are scenes that vaguely echo scenes from Helboy II, in this remake, but without any of the emotional payoff, because although we’ve been given backstories we still don’t know any of these characters. Everyone remembers the fight scene between Hellboy and the Forest God, in Hellboy 2, and the haunting and beautiful music and images when the creature dies. Here, the music is forgettable, action film noise.

Like I said, its not that the Hellboy reboot is a bad movie. I watched it, and liked the way it looked, but it is  a bad movie compared to the excellence of the first two films that came before it, and it’s too soon after those movies that this one was made. And people definitely compared them and found the remake wanting because no one went to see this movie. Hell, I didn’t even go see this movie. In all fairness though, it would have been really hard for any  film maker to follow in the footsteps of the mastery of  Del Toro, who  has a reason for every single thing you will see on the screen, right down to his use of colors, and it feels like Marshall either didn’t understand the assignment, or did not try as hard as he should have to make the movie his own, as he seemed to be aping bits and pieces from the original films, or in some scenes trying really hard not to ape those scenes.

I think this new film suffers from too much plot (We’ve got Merlin, Excalibur, witches, fairies, dragons, demons, were-animals, giants, spiritualists, and knights) and simply not enough character, since it’s the characters in the original films which drew us into the ridiculous idea of a giant red devil-man in a trench coat, running through the streets of New York City, chasing Cthulhu demons on subway trains, a telepathic fishman, and a woman who can control fire, all fighting an ancient Nazi wannabe, an Urban Elf King, or tiny winged creatures that eat teeth! Yes, it’s all utterly ridiculous! But we cared about the characters and believed their relationships, and so were willing to sit with the craziness of these stories.

This reboot was adapted from at least four different Hellboy comics by the actual writer, Mike Mignola, and none of those books are related either, which accounts for the disjointed plot here. It’s like Mignola saw a chance to throw a bunch scenes from his favorite comic books up on the screen, and then tried to flimsily make these plots stick to each other.

I tried. I really did. But I just didn’t care about Alice or even Hellboy because there’s simply nothing there to grasp. Ian McShane is wasted, swanning in from time to time to yell at Hellboy and then he’s gone. Daniel Dae Kim is also completely wasted as a were jaguar who is cranky for no reason, and doesn’t show up until near the end of the movie, and his disappointing special effects made me roll my eyes, which is not, I think, the effect the creators were looking for. These are empty characters who are going through the motions of the plot. I did like, of all the characters, Baba Yaga, who was absotively awesome, and quite frankly, I would’ve preferred the entire plot be just her and Hellboy playing a game of cat and mouse over whatever machinations she was getting up to.

I remember I was excited for this movie because of the trailer, but ultimately I walked away disappointed. Not because it’s so awful, because I’ve watched much worse films than this, but because I kept seeing what could have been, if there had been better editing, character development, and a leaner and meaner plot.

Warnings: lots of gore and violence.

Nope (Pt.2): The Characters

The reason I rushed to get that last post published so quickly was that I had just watched the film, and wanted to get it all down while the images were still fresh. I’m probably going to mention things in this post that I forgot to mention in the last one or not mention some stuff I simply forgot. I’m still in something of a rush to write this all down before I forget my impressions of these characters, (I have seen the movie a second time since the first post). I didn’t walk into the movie thinking about things to look for. I walked into it remembering an interview I saw with Peele where he mentioned that his inspiration for this movie was Jaws.

There Are Going to Be Spoilers!!! There Are Going to Be Spoilers!!

To make a movie this ambitious (it is more than 2 hours long) and in an effort to save time, Peele has engaged in a certain amount of film shorthand, namely archetypal characters. Archetypes are typical examples of a certain type of person often seen in movies. Archetypes are characters that the audience is meant to immediately recognize (mostly on a subconscious level), understand who they are, what their purpose is, and sometimes a broad concept of what actions they’re going to commit. There’s nothing wrong with archetypes (unless they’re badly used or written), most films use them, and they’re meant to save storytelling time. Peele has used at least three different archetypes here, and they mostly seem to map very well to the archetypes from the movie Jaws, which is on Peele’s recommended watchlist as inspiration for this film.

The Archetypes

The Cowboy – Oj

Drawing on his depth of knowledge of genre films Peele has engaged the archetype of The Cowboy in the form of OJ. While the definition of the cowboy is a guy who rides a horse to herd cattle, the image of the cowboy in the US is anyone who exhibits the behavior and trappings of a cowboy, which Oj does. He’s heroic, strong, silent, and highly principled, and has mastered the understanding, training, and use of horses. But what he most reminds me of with his jeans and hoodie are the urban Black horseriders called the Compton Cowboys which tickles me to no end!

When it comes to comparisons to Jaws, Oj is the one most like Sheriff Brody. He is the person trying the hardest to hold things down, hold onto his father’s legacy, and he is dedicated to his job and devoted to his family. Like Brody, he has trouble making his voice heard even when he is right, and is the kind of man willing to make the sacrifice play to defend what he loves.

The Prodigal – Emerald Haywood

Em is the classic Prodigal Son archetype. The Prodigal in movies (this definition is outside the literary version) is often a younger brother who has left home because they couldn’t reconcile themselves with the wishes of their father and seek a better life for themselves. Em comes back home from Hollywood after her estrangement from her father, and reconciling her issues with her dad (and brother) achieves her final goal. There is no Prodigal character in the original Jaws so the addition of Emerald is wholly unique. Another wholly unique feature is that this Prodigal is a Black woman who, while working in tandem with her brother, turns out to be the hero of the movie and a Classic Final Girl.

The Wild Card – Jupe

Another archetypal character is the wild card. Jupe isn’t a wild card because he’s unpredictable to us. Like Quint in Jaws, he is a wild card to the other characters who don’t know enough about him to figure out what his goal is. The wild card character has their own agenda and their own motivations. As long as they can accomplish their goal they will work with anyone, on any side, they will switch sides, betray others, or form alliances based entirely on what they can get out of the arrangement. They are often arrogant and opportunistic. This perfectly describes both Ricky (Jupe) Park and Quint. I consider Jupe a wild card because his goals are not consistent with the goals of the other characters, although, on the surface, they may seem to be and he is willing to seem as if he is their ally. But his primary goal is to exploit the UFO and the circumstances for his own monetary gain and his motivation is based on the mistaken belief that he can.

The Common Man/Man in the Chair – Angel

The closest Jaws character to Angel is probably Hooper, who is there to study the shark, handles all the tech and equipment, and has no stake in the affair other than being friends with the protagonist. I talked before about how every genre story needs to have one character who can speak for or represent the members of the audience. This character’s job is to voice the audience’s concerns or do the things that audience members wish they could do like having a grand adventure, being friends with the primary characters, or just surviving the event. These characters are unlikely to be killed, because they have no real stake in the proceedings, so they are more like witnesses. Angel, like Hooper, isn’t someone who really furthers the plot in a big way, but he is the character that is most like us, finding himself in an incredible situation that he must now deal with in a way we hope we would.

The Characters

Ricky (Jupe) Park

Jupe is one of the deepest characters in the story and the one about whom we get the most in-depth backstory. Like the Mayor from Jaws, he is also the closest thing we get to a villain, or antagonist, as it is the choices he makes that set the plot in motion. One thing viewers may not have gotten is that the alien/ufo has taken up residence in the valley where the Haywood Ranch exists because Jupe has been feeding it the horses he’s been buying from Oj. Oj has been selling him horses as a way to pay for the Ranch’s upkeep, with the full expectation that he can buy them back. When Oj tries to discuss buying back his horses, Jupe distracts him with his famous backstory. Even though we can see the pain in his eyes and that he has not, in fact, moved on from the trauma, he tells Em the story anyway.

That scene is also an echo of Quint from Jaws in the scene where he is telling Em his story of what happened on the set of Gordy’s rampage and is a callback to Quint’s recitation of his own trauma aboard the USS Indianapolis, and something which informs his motivations for hunting the shark. You have these two characters who have not moved beyond their trauma, which has led to the delusional belief that they can control/capture these wild animals, which subsequently, gets them killed. Jupe’s scene doesn’t have the same level of gravity as Quint’s scene because it happens fairly early in the film before we’ve really spent much time with the character, but it serves the same purpose as a “pivotal moment” that each character has in their backstory. It is the moment that made them who they are in this one.

Jupe has the idea that because he survived Gordy’s rampage on the set as a child, and because Gordy, who was trained to give him a fist bump, was in the process of doing so before he was killed, that he has some special connection with animals. He has entered into a kind of devil’s bargain with the alien, where he feeds the creature horses every weekend, and as a result, the alien has taken up residence near his theme park, and specifically, near the Haywood ranch, where it steals the occasional horse and dumps its “spoor” on their land. Jupe’s mistaken belief that he has mastered this alien creature is one of the larger themes of the movie.

Jupe has not dealt properly with the trauma of what happened to him as a child. He continues to dwell in the headspace of that event, and coupled with his need to hold onto the fame of his youth, this makes for the disastrous outcome we see in the movie, where he presses his luck, and for his trouble, he and his audience get eaten.

If you look closely, you’ll see that each character holds onto some object from their past that is representative of their personal trauma. For Jupe its the little gray shoe which he keeps on display in his memorial room.

Emerald Haywood (Em)

The scene that most completely encapsulates the type of person Emerald Haywood is is the scene in the tech store where she’s laying out her plan to capture photos of the ufo to her brother, and she briefly interrupts her spiel to compliment some lady about her clothes. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but when I saw it I burst out laughing because that’s just so HER. She does things like that where she just randomly compliments people. Em is a person who is constantly giving and looking for approval, not just because it helps her accomplish her goal of being a Hollywood star, but because she seemed to always be trying to win her father’s approval.

Em’s “pivotal” backstory is when she was about nine years old her father promised to teach her to train her first horse, which she named Jean Jacket, but she never got the chance because her father chose Oj in her stead. She says after that their father never seemed to see her. He only had eyes for the heir to his legacy, Oj. Subsequently, she has spent the rest of her life trying to be seen, trying to gain somebody’s, anybody’s, attention. That’s what all the hustling and charming, self-referential patter is all about. She left home to go to Hollywood for fame and fortune and spends her time trying to convince other people she is special, not understanding that she was always looking in the wrong place because her brother already knew she was special (for being able to do the thing he could not do which was break free of his father’s shadow) and he has always been able to see her.

The one thing that Em holds close to her that exemplifies her trauma is her father’s speech which he used to introduce himself to his clients. In her attempt to be seen by her father she has memorized every word and inflection (even his stammer) of that speech.

There are a number of callbacks in the film, like the scene where she watches her brother being trained on her horse, Jean Jacket, and he looks up at her and points to his eyes, and then to her. This is recalled at the end of the movie when he does it again and she returns the gesture. One of the primary themes of this movie is seeing and being seen. Capturing the alien’s photogragh is her Jean Jacket moment. He is giving her this chance to put her shit down and show the world what he always knew she was capable of.

And for that, we anime fans are gifted the extreme pleasure of seeing her do The Akira Slide!!!

Otis Haywood Jr. (Oj)

Each of the primary characters has a pivotal story in their background that informs their character, motivation, and actions at the end of the movie. Oj’s pivotal story is that his father chose him to be his successor rather than Emerald who seemed to want it more. When they were kids, she was set to train a horse she named Jean Jacket and his father changed his mind and chose him for the training instead, which led to Oj being his legal heir. Subsequently, he got all the training (and hence his father’s attention) with Em’s horse. The first job he went to with his father was on the set of The Mummy spinoff movie, The Scorpion King 2, (which is where the orange hoodie comes from) but he was deprived of his chance to show his skills when the creators decided they didn’t need horses and would use camels instead, and has spent the years since then as his father’s assistant, never getting the chance to build the confidence that comes from working on his own.

The representative object that Oj holds close to him is the orange hoodie with the Scorpion King logo. It’s emblematic of the pivotal childhood event where he never got a chance to use his newly trained skills on his first job, and was relegated to being nothing more than his father’s assistant.

One of the reasons Oj is so reticent/standoffish on the set at the beginning of the film is that is actually his first job alone, after his father’s death. Before that, his father did all the talking and handling on the set including that little speech memorized by Em. Oj didn’t have to try to hold everything down or talk to anyone on set because Dad had everything under control. (Up until one’s parents are gone you always think you’re ready for whatever, and then when they’re gone, you have to actually find out if you are.) The orange hoodie represents him finally picking up the reins from his father, and the corralling of the alien (and the protection of his family and legacy by doing so) is really his first job.

Oj, because of his understanding and connection with animals, is the first to recognize not just that the ufo is actually a territorial predator that must be respected as the animal it is, but the significance of the actions he and Em are about to perform. It’s Em’s first training job too, only she will be corralling an alien predator. It is Oj who names the alien Jean Jacket as a tribute to that moment.

While we’re here, let’s talk about how Oj survives multiple attempts by the alien to consume him, something that Jupe doesn’t. Oj is a very different character from Jupe and his sister. He doesn’t seek fame or attention, and the special connection with animals that Jupe only thought he had, and Em wishes she had, is something that Oj actually possesses. Due to his training with animals, he is the first to discern what they are dealing with, and unlike Jupe, he never forgets that an animal is an animal, and no matter how much training that animal has, it has a mind of its own, and it can still be triggered into violence. Em may be jealous of his skills but she is willing to recognize his expertise, listen to him when he tells her about the alien, and follow his directions in dealing with it.

As for Oj’s demeanor, some of the primary markers of autism are avoiding eye contact with others, anxiety in social situations, finding it hard to make friends or being a loner, noticing small details that others don’t, and difficulty discussing feelings. Oj displays many of these traits which is why some audiences like to read him as being autistic, an idea I support because I happen to be autistic. The first time we see Oj at work he is almost painfully withdrawn. He refuses to make eye contact, looks nervous/disinterested about being in the presence of so many strangers, and shows a reluctance to speak or draw any attention to himself. When he feels pinched he calls for Em to do what she does, and we feel almost as uncomfortable as he seems to be. (I winced through that entire scene, and it’s my least favorite one, not because it’s badly written, but because it’s such a great depiction of social anxiety/being the center of attention.)

Em and OjRelationship

I really enjoyed this movie because yeah, I’m attracted to spectacle, and it has plenty of it, but it also has great characters and great relationships. Otis Jr and Emerald really resonated with me because their relationship isn’t all that different from me and my oldest little brother, and the personality dynamics aren’t too far off either, except I’m the one who left home and came back, and he’s the more garrulous one. I’m one of those people who say about twenty words a year, and only under duress!) I’m an artist and dreamer, he’s a talker and fixer-of-things who thinks his big sister is an absent-minded nerd who needs to be carefully looked after. This is not unlike how Oj thinks of his little sister as a dreamer who is smart, but flighty. He’s willing to listen to her ideas because he respects her intelligence, and because of the force of her personality, which is how I often have to convince my know-it-all little brother to do what I want.

If you watch the movie carefully you realize that the only person Oj physically engages with is his sister. It’s not that he doesn’t interact with other people but recall the scene where he and Em are celebrating a victory, and slapping hands. Oj acts that way with no one else in the movie. He is almost always monosyllabic and averts his eyes from everyone else, even Angel, who he only warms up to slowly. Palmer and Kaluuya have such great chemistry that you actually believe they’re brother and sister. They both have issues surrounding their father but don’t let that get in the way of their own relationship or ability to work together. Em listens to her brother and trusts his expertise, especially when it comes to what he’s been trained to do. Oj listens to what his sister has to say, and goes along with her plan, recognizing her drive and intelligence.

Angel Torres

I like to refer to Angel as the Common Man, or Everyman because, like Hooper from Jaws, he is an outsider, and of all the characters he seems most relatable to the average person. Like us, he doesn’t live, work, or have loved ones in danger at the Ranch, nor does he have any real stake in the proceedings other than being friends with Em and Oj. His life will not be greatly upheaved, outside of his interior sense of self, after this is all over. He is not there to save the Haywwod’s ranch or make any money off the alien.

Angel gets a tiny bit of backstory and I like him for that. Angel operates like the sibling’s “man in the chair”. He helps set up their equipment and then spies on their attempt to capture images of the ufo. He tells the siblings that he just broke up with his girlfriend and is searching for something greater than himself, and even though he doesn’t say it, he’s also looking for friends, and somewhere to be other than by himself. He meets Em and Oj at the tech store where he works and is immediately intrigued by them. Seeing their presence in his store as a call to adventure, he invites himself into their lives, and them into his, offering to let them stay at his home after an incident that causes them to flee their own (and offering them his clothes). Angel is that childlike part of us that seeks thrills and adventure (and new friends) with no consideration of the actual danger.

I’m a sucker for the Found Family trope, so Angel immediately endeared himself to me by inserting himself, totally uninvited, into an event that has nothing to do with him, and then holding his own, as if he totally belonged there. He is a quick and clever thinker and one of the few people actively pursued by the alien that saves himself by simply making himself taste bad – rolling himself in barbed wire! (He makes himself unattractive to the camera!) Although Angel spends most of the movie frightened out of his skin, he does make reasonably intelligent decisions, the kind we’d like to think we would make in such a situation. He’s out of his depth and he knows it, but he never backs down, or runs out on them, and manages to keep his sense of humor. His loyalty to Em and Oj is baffling to some people, but having been an introvert on the receiving end of being unexpectedly adopted by an extrovert, I get it.

One thing tied to my last post is about the scene where the mantis obscures the view of one of Angel’s cameras, and how in Christian mythology a praying mantis in the home is a sign that angels are watching over you. Some audience members pointed out that there actually is an “Angel” watching over the house during that scene.

*Okay, now this one is also getting a bit too long, and I can see that this is going to require a part 3 because I haven’t really talked about the monster, its significance, its depiction, what it represents, and one other character people always forget about when talking about a film, the landscape!

**Yeah, I did go back and see the movie a second time. I had not planned to do so, but when the opportunity presented itself for my sister to pay for it I jumped at the chance. There is a certain amount of glee involved in watching a Horror movie, with your easily frightened and already nervous sibling, that you have already seen and lording it over them just a little bit. That’s just one of several perks of being a sibling!

Nope: The Horror of Spectacle (Pt.1)

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE AND DON’T WANT SPOILERS.

I’m going to be talking about a lot of details, and give away a number of secrets about the movie that are crucial to its understanding and so cannot be avoided. Trust me, knowing these things before you see the movie will spoil your enjoyment of the film.

Jordan Peele’s Movie Watch List for his actors included two of Spielberg’s biggest films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws. Like Close Encounters, this movie has all the trappings of an alien invasion film, and the characters’ obsession with wanting to understand the alien is echoed in the first half of the movie, while the last half has the adventure feel of Jaws with the characters chasing and being chased by the alien. On the surface, this movie may seem like your typical Summer blockbuster where you have an intrepid team of people setting out to capture or destroy some kind of monster, but Peele has a lot more to say than that.

The Basic Plot

Oj (Otis Junior played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (aka Em played by Keke Palmer) are a brother and sister trying to save their father’s horse ranch after he is inadvertently killed by the alien. The Haywood Ranch specializes in training, wrangling, and renting horses for movies, and Oj’s first job was working on the set of The Scorpion King 2. Oj is his father’s direct successor while Em has gone off to Hollywood to make her fortune. She comes back home to help her brother raise money to save the ranch. Oj is the typically strong and silent cowboy type, (heavily coded as autistic to a lot of viewers – more on that later), and Em is his exact opposite, being funny, brash, and massively charming.

Ricky “Jupe” Park, played by Steven Yeun, is the former child star of a series called Gordy’s Home, where he experienced a horrible trauma, and who now owns a theme park next door, called Jupiter’s Claim. Oj has been selling his horses to Jupe to keep the ranch afloat, not knowing that Jupe has been sacrificing those horses to the alien visitor that has taken up residence in the valley for the past several months. After Jupe and his audience are consumed by the alien after his attempt to make money from the spectacle of its feeding, Em and Oj become convinced that the way to save the ranch is to capture the alien on film and sell the photos.

They meet an electronics store employee named Angel (Brandon Perea) who helps them set up cameras at the ranch, but since the ufo (now called UAPs by the US government) produces a field that deadens electrical equipment they are unsuccessful and so decide to call in the director they met on a film set they were fired from at the beginning of the movie named Antlers Holst, (Michael Wincott – he of the extraordinary voice). Antlers owns a crank camera that doesn’t require electricity. After several mishaps, chase scenes, and a few near deaths, Em is successful in capturing the alien on camera and destroying it.

Jean Jacket

This is the name given to the creature by Oj, named after a horse she was supposed to have received training for on her 9th birthday, and which Oj got chosen for instead. Oj names it Jean Jacket as a tribute to Em after she comes up with the plan to capture the alien on film. The alien represents Em’s first animal training exercise.

**Throughout this post, I’m going to use three terms interchangeably, ufo, alien, and the creature, because although we, the audience, still don’t know what it is, it is definitely a living being of some kind. When the movie begins it is shaped like the typical image of a disc-shaped flying saucer. By the middle of the movie, the characters have become aware that while what they are dealing with is still a ufo, it is also a predator that actively hunts other life forms, and by the end, it reveals its true physical form as that of a massive array of drapery with a green aperture-like mouth at its center that sucks up its prey like a vacuum.

The Themes

Spectacle

Let’s start with the film’s opening quote. In the first reference, Peele tells you right up front what the theme of the movie is (which is why I don’t understand some people’s confusion after watching this.) People should know by now that Peele’s movies are not the kind of movies you watch to let the images simply wash over you and hope you reach understanding. They are the kind you must think about and pay close attention to, or you simply won’t understand, and you have to prep yourself for watching the movie this way beforehand. One of the issues with Horror movies, and especially the point being made here, is that people get consumed by the “spectacle” of the horror, and fail to think of the greater themes and repercussions surrounding the absorbing images. The audience members who did this mental preparation walked out of the film with a better understanding and appreciation of what they’d just seen.

The opening quote at the beginning of the movie is from Nahum 3:6: I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. This refers to two events in the movie, the scene where the alien hovers over the ranch and drops waste matter of blood and metallic trinkets from its victims onto the Haywood’s house, and the ending where it unfurls itself during its pursuit of the two siblings.

The movie’s overarching theme is about how both the viewer and those being viewed are affected by the camera, about how audiences can be (literally) consumed by spectacle even as we consume it, and about the interchangeable nature of seeing a spectacle and being a spectacle. Several times the alien and other animals react to being seen on camera, or by an audience, or by themselves in reflective surfaces, and are startled into violence.

The movie opens by introducing the young Jupe on the set of a TV series called Gordy’s Home. This flashback to Jupe’s tragic past is the key to understanding some of the meanings of the movie. This event is later shown in its entirety, as a chimpanzee named Gordy (which, in the show, had been adopted by a white suburban family) flies into a rage and massacres the cast (all except Jupe and a young girl named Mary Jo) when it is seemingly startled by the release of a bunch of metallic balloons. That Jupe survives this event is important to how he dealt with his survivor’s trauma and the reason for his death.

One aside: Jupe says Gordy’s rampage lasted 6 minutes and 13 seconds. The alien appears every day at 6:13 PM to acquire its sacrifice of flesh from Jupe. Viewers have theorized a number of biblical verses that this could be in reference to, and many of them involve the topic of predators, prey, sacrifice, and how to avoid being such.

The theme of animals that are assumed to be tame or easily controlled, becoming violent, and turning on people are referenced multiple times throughout the movie. In another introductory scene, Oj, while on a film set with one of his horses, keeps trying to warn the cast about how to behave with the animal, only to be ignored (because white people don’t listen to Black people’s warnings of danger), and someone ends up being kicked by it. Like Gordy, the horse is startled by its reflection in an orb-shaped object. The idea of animals rejecting being seen as spectacles continues from there, from Gordy, to the horse, to the alien itself, since the alien only consumes those who stare at it.

These reflections extend to some of the characters too, like Mary Jo, the young girl who, like Jupe, survived Gordy’s rampage on the film set, but with extensive damage to her face. She attends Jupe’s first showing off of the alien while wearing a veil covering her current face, but wearing a t-shirt with the image of her childhood face on it. Like the alien, she is a spectacle who both wants and doesn’t want to be seen by others, and yet she is also a spectator, there to see another creature that does not like being seen.

Oj because of his retiring nature and experience with horses, is one of the first to understand that the alien is like any other predator, that looking it in the “eye” is like a challenge to its dominance that will make it angry. He is one of the few people to survive multiple encounters with it by turning away from the camera-like hole in its underside. Basically, he (and later, Angel) resists being consumed by the spectacle of the thing.

In fact, Oj’s natural tendency to avoid the gaze of others, and not look animals or other people in the eyes, ends up serving him very well, and it is also one of the signifiers of autism, along with his reticence in speaking, and deep focus on his job. When we first meet Oj we see he has his head turned away from the camera and film crew. He has a pattern of rejecting the gaze of others and denying them his own, so it is significant that not only is he the first person to catch that staring at the alien makes it angry, but at the end of the film it is meaningful when he signals to his sister that he will grant the creature his attention. He signals to her both, that he sees her, and that he will see the alien in an effort to trap it with his gaze, buying her the time she needs to capture its image.

Animal Exploitation

Jupe has been sacrificing Oj’s horses to what he thinks is a ufo for at least six months and plans to make money from the creature’s existence by sacrificing a live animal in front of a paying audience. To his horror, Jupe has only moments to realize his hubris in believing that he had tamed it (because he survived Gordy’s massacre unscathed he thinks he has a special power over it) because rather than taking the horse, the alien (like Gordy) becomes enraged at being looked at and consumes Jupe and the audience instead. (They get consumed by the spectacle.)

Jupe dies horribly, in the belly of the monster, while trying to exploit the existence of this creature for entertainment purposes. Just as Gordy was taken from his natural habitat, separated from his species, and raised among humans for their entertainment needs, Jupe hopes to do the same to the alien, and this is tied to his personal trauma because, although he exploits that for monetary gain, you can tell by the look in his eyes that he is not as casual in his feelings about the event as he would have others believe. He is haunted by what happened to him on the set and it has informed his behavior, not just towards his trauma, but his interaction with the alien. He believes his survival of that one event gives him a special ability to tame this new creature. He thinks he has a special connection, like the one he had with Gordy, because he has bribed this thing with Oj’s horses for several months, but the creature has not been tamed, nor has it been trained to come to him because he feeds it. The alien is simply being opportunistic and Jupe’s interactions with the creature only involved him and the alien. When the alien sees there is now an audience it takes the entire group.

Child actor exploitation

That’s not the only connection between Jupe and Gordy. The movie also strongly references the exploitation of child actors. Hollywood has a long history of consuming both the lives of animals and actors and then spitting out whatever is no longer useful, or left over. After Jupe and his audience are consumed by the alien, having consumed too much, it then spits out what it can’t use, (mostly metallic objects like coins, keys, and jewelry), which is how Oj and Em’s father was killed, at the beginning of the movie, when the alien spit out a coin that embedded itself in Otis’ head.

There are also elements of racism in the exploitation of both Jupe and Gordy. One of the nastier stereotypes of Asian men throughout Hollywood’s history is equating Asian men with monkeys. In the sitcom, both Jupe and Gordy are adopted by a white family and both are seen as token comedy relief. The white family acts as if the adoption of a human boy and the adoption of a chimpanzee are equal acts and treat the adoption of Gordy as no different than Jupe’s adoption. The family (and the series) does not respect Gordy as a powerful animal with an animal’s thoughts, and this is part of what causes his rampage. This scene is also a callback to a similar real-life event:

https://allthatsinteresting.com/travis-the-chimp

Oj names the alien Jean Jacket, after a young horse that Em was supposed to be trained on (but didn’t get the chance when her father changed his mind). Jupe named the thing he first thought of as an alien craft, The Viewers. And yes, this is a reference to those of us who came to watch the spectacle of Nope, especially those of us who got so caught in the imagery that we couldn’t understand the meaning of the film, and the voraciousness of an audience that can never be appeased. Jupe spends several months thinking he has pleased The Viewers, and believes he has things well under control, only to find that The Viewers cannot be controlled or appeased.

Symbolism

Mirrors and Reflections

I spoke before in my Symbolism of Film post, that mirrored reflections indicate that a character (or in this case an animal) has a double nature, and reflective objects are a motif seen throughout this movie, from the reflective balloons released in front of Gordy that sends him into a rage, to the metallic SFX orb that is waved in front of the horse which startles it, and the motorcycle helmet of a nosy paparazzi who shows up at the Haywood Ranch and gets eaten because his reflective helmet enrages the alien into consuming him. The creatures in the movie are believed by people to have been “tamed” because they have been trained to interact peacefully with human beings, until they stop doing that, indicating their dual natures of wildness and domesticity. Just because something has been domesticated (the alien, the horses, Gordy) doesn’t mean it will not react if provoked, and this is something that Oj, with his many years of experience in horse training, understands. These animals must still be respected as animals, which is something the film crew on the Gordy’s Home TV set, and Jupe himself did not understand, and many people paid the price for that.

Veils: Obscuration, and Revelation

Outside of the mirrors and reflections, the film has many images of drapery and veiling. Mary Jo (Jupe’s old co-star) covers herself with a veil to keep from being seen by others, and a torn tablecloth hanging between the young Jupe and Gordy is probably what saved Jupe’s life, as it obscured direct eye contact between him and Gordy, and as a result, Gordy doesn’t kill him. The ufo is often obscured by clouds, making it difficult to track.

Angel, Em, and Oj come up with a complicated plan to capture the alien’s image using several cameras mounted around the ranch but when the alien shows up, the cameras all power down, and the one camera that doesn’t is obscured by the presence of a tiny creature resting on the camera’s lens: a praying mantis, an insect which is often accused of looking alien. The Praying Mantis is literally a stand-in for the ufo and is itself a predator known for its large eyes, direct gaze, and a source of both wonder and horror for both its beauty and brutality in hunting prey. In Christian symbolism, the praying mantis is a herald of good luck, and the placement of its “praying hands”, a sign of piety, which meant that angels were watching out for you. Some audience members have theorized that Jean Jacket is actually a biblically accurate Angel, but the Praying Mantis also foreshadows the creature’s final form with its giant translucent wings, that look like drapes.

The alien’s real image remains obscured until its final form which appears to be made out of veils of skin and air, a lot like a jellyfish, but really like nothing ever seen on Earth, although that does not necessarily mean it’s an extraterrestrial. A ufo is what it’s called because that’s what it looks like at first presentation but by the movie’s end it looks not unlike a cross between a Blanket Octopus and a Deepstaria Jellyfish! And it is interesting to note that this creature that flies into a rage when people look directly at it makes a huge spectacle of itself, which would naturally cause people to stare at it.

I mean I stared, so surely I would not have been able to resist looking at it, even knowing it would eat me for doing so, and maybe the point is that spectacle is impossible to resist. The image is literally all-consuming. After all, as the audience, we couldn’t resist being distracted by that little upright shoe, even in the middle of the greater spectacle of Gordy’s rampage.

The Shoe

We get a flashback to what actually occurred on the set when Jupe takes Em into a private room in his home to show her the objects he saved from the show. One of the objects in his collection is a small gray shoe, which can be seen during Gordy’s rampage in the unlikely position of standing, unaided, on its heel. The director wants us to see this shoe. It sits in the center of the action even though its presence is not important to the actual event. There is a lot of speculation about the meaning of the shoe because even during the spectacle of the massacre the shoe is distracting. Many people think it’s a symbol that for Jupe the other shoe has yet to “drop”, and that that other shoe is what Jupe has been waiting for his whole life.

I believe the shoe is a parallel to the scene at the end of the movie where the alien turns out not to be a ufo, so much as a massive alien creature whose final form is both awesome and wondrous yet terrible and terrifying to behold. That inexplicable shoe standing on its end and the final form of the alien are wonders in the midst of horror.

**Incidentally, the song heard in the movie’s trailer is Fingertips Pt. 1 by a young Stevie Wonder, who was renamed “Wonder” by his manager Berry Gordy and hailed as the blind child prodigy, who played a variety of instruments, including the piano and the harmonica.

***Okay, this post has gotten long enough. In the second part of this review let’s talk about the primary characters: Oj, Em, Jupe, and Angel.

More New Trailers

Hey, we got a bunch of exciting new trailers that recently dropped so let’s check them out! Which ones are you looking forward to, and why. Let me know in the comments!

Jurassic World: Dominion

This is such a great trailer for the movie. I would watch an entire season of short snippets of people coping with dinosaurs, so I’m really excited to watch this. I hope it’s a really good movie because this was the kind of stuff I used to imagine when I was a kid and I don’t want to walk out of the theater disappointed.

Wow! I mean just think about it! What if dinosaurs existed at the same time as modern humans? We’d have to take the good (incredible images and photos) with the bad (possibly being eaten). What if you lived in a place with a dinosaur infestation? What would your insurance be like? How would you explain being late for work because there were some triceratopsians blocking the freeway? What if the local pack of herbivores showed up in your backyard and ate your flower garden? And let’s be honest here, there is a part of me that thinks watching human beings be menaced by giant predators is just deeply entertaining.

Incidentally, if you like this video there’s a trilogy of books by James David called Footprints of Thunder that has this same plot, with dinosaurs having made it into the modern world through a time rift! Not sure if it’s still in print but if you can find some copies, check them out.

As I mentioned before, my youngest niece and nephew have already decided we’re going to see this film, and I believe in shamelessly indulging their interests. My Millennial sister likes dinosaurs too, so I hope to turn this into a full family affair, (although my oldest niece may miss out because of work).

The Winchesters

Okay, I have no intention of watching this. I watched all 15 years of Supernatural and I have no more taste for their story. I stuck it out to the end, and have moved on. More than likely this is an appeal to a younger generation of supernatural fans who while they may have watched the old episodes, are probably more likely to watch this than those of us who sat through 15 seasons of the original series. The actors are all very pretty but I don’t know any of them and I don’t want to supplant any of my memories of the original with any images from this one, so I’m going to pass on it.

But I know there are some people who are greatly interested in this, so I’m giving y’all a heads up in case you hadn’t heard the news.

The Umbrella Academy

I am very excited about this series and I’m really looking forward to the season three premiere. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, I implore you to check it out. There will be at least one character you will fall in love with. I thought the character I would love the most was Klaus, who acts like a free spirit but is mostly traumatized by his ability to speak to the dead, and so self medicates. To my surprise, my favorite character turned out to be Number Five, an old man in a child’s body (due to time mishap) and who is the smartest sibling along with being a complete badass.

But this series is notable for having Eliot Page. Eliot came out as non-binary transgender last year and everyone was wondering how the character he played on screen in seasons one and two would be treated in the story. It appears that the character has also come out as transgender since the writers changed the name of the character from Vanya to Victor. Hopefully, Victor won’t try to destroy the world again as they did in the first two seasons. See how new this is. This is something that so different from what we’re used to that I don’t even know how to talk about a fictional character. How do I talk about Vanya? Is it deadnaming to talk about her since the new character is named Victor? And is it okay because she’s fictional? Somebody help!

She Hulk

I was a huge fan of the Jim Byrne run of the She-Hulk comic series, and I love what they’re doing here with the character. They seem to have perfectly captured the sensibility and mood of the books and now I’m looking forward to this. It looks fun and funny. I love how they made her a sexual being with appetites who makes it clear that she wants what she wants. The comic book version was often sexy and sassy, with a lot of snark and attitude, and yeah, Bruce Banner is indeed her cousin.

All that aside, I do hate the CGI. It looks awful and cheap and simply not up to Disney standards. The face is just wrong, especially in her Hulked-out state, and her body looks too thin, and not very muscular, which is a real problem I have with female characters who are supposed to have super strength but whose arms look like twigs. I hope they correct all this by the time the series airs. (Note: Jane Thor and King Valkyrie have just the right amount of muscle for such characters).

Note: I read that the CGI has been upgraded to look a bit better, so I checked it out, and the trailer was improved a bit. She looks more muscular than before, but her face still looks a little bit off to me. It’s not as bad as in the original trailer though.

Sandman

I have not read the Neil Gaiman comic books on which this series is based, something I plan to correct before the series airs in August. Since I am only passingly familiar with The Endless, I don’t know enough to be really excited about this, but so far, I like what I see, and I’m looking forward to reading the books, and watching the show.

But, whether or not I watch this also depends greatly on what else will be out at the time. Sometimes I have every intention of watching some show or movie, and then I don’t, or only watch some of it, not because it’s bad or anything, not because I’m bored, but because it’s sometimes hard for me to keep up the momentum, which has been stolen by another series. But even if I don’t watch the series, I intend to refresh myself with the books, which I haven’t even glanced at since I was a young’un.

New Thor 2 Trailer

Well, I already had plans to see this. Yeah, I’m an MCU fan and no shame in that, because I go to the movies to have fun and adventures, and MCU films deliver every single time. If I’m gonna spend that much money to be entertained I want it to be worth it. (Yeah, I’m not going to pay the cost of birthing a child in the US to watch a movie about pain and tragedy, unless it’s by Martin Scorcese.)

One of the primary reasons I love Taika Waititi (the director) is his ability, almost his compulsion, to take famous characters, sometimes famously evil ones, and deconstruct them, making them human and relatable, while never denying they’re not actually good people. He did this with vampires, Hitler, pirates, and superheroes, and he’s done the same thing for Thor, and I find it a really interesting habit. I’m gonna have to talk about that some more in another post.

So, yeah I’m looking forward to his interpretation of Jane Thor, King Valkyrie, and this new villain, Ghorr the Godslayer, who is played by Christian Bale.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning

Okay, these actors are starting to get up there in years, (except for Rebecca Ferguson, who I believe might be a vampire), but I don’t care. The Mission Impossible franchise consistently hits it out of the park in the Action genre, and you have the usual required scenes of Tom Cruise jumping onto something while clenching a woman, and running really fast somewhere. I’m probably not going to see this in the theater because it’s simply not on my list of movies to watch this Summer. My mom used to throw my whole watchlist into disarray every year, but fortunately, I can dictate to my sister’s kids, and they kinda have to go along with my tastes if they wanna eat free popcorn.

I don’t actually have much to say about this trailer except the Action doesn’t look as wild and crazy as it has in previous films, but maybe they’re just holding back on those images, and when you’re sitting in the theater you’ll get that familiar sensation of your stomach dropping down to your knees, and you’ll clench the arms of your seat in terror, and paying five thousand dollars to see it will have been worth it.

Willow

I don’t normally engage in a whole lot of nostalgia, but for this movie, I will make an exception! The original movie was released in the 80s, and when it was available for TV, I remember watching it multiple times. It’s been thirty+ years and we have a sequel television series. As soon as I heard there was a trailer for this, my mind started playing the John Williams theme from the original. Yep, I still fondly remember that.

The reason the movie was so special to me was because of Warwick Davis. He was my first exposure to a dwarf actor, and I thought he was very handsome and very charming. In the movie, he is tasked with the care of a tiny baby girl that is the “chosen one”, But the movie isn’t about her, because she’s, like, one year old and has no speaking parts, so much as the hero’s journey of Davis’ character, Willow. It’s a little bit of a remix of Snow White, and surprisingly progressive for its time, with a woman warrior character and an evil Queen.

This sequel happens many years later and the “baby” is an adult, and Willow and some companions have been called to save their world again. The original was also my first real exposure to High Fantasy that I actually liked, as I was mostly indifferent to these types of books and movies, and most of them made no impression on me. But Willow snuck in and got to me, and I’m obviously going to have to do a deep dive before this series release!

I’m looking forward to it because it looks like a lot of fun and the nostalgia factor really kicked my ass while watching this!

Resident Evil

Despite that I’ve watched almost none of the movies, I do love a good horror series with lots of monsters, so I’m looking forward to this series. I’m not enthusiastic exactly, but anytime I’m watching a trailer, and I am sitting on the edge of my seat or just nope the fuck out (the giant spider scene), it’s definitely worth checking it out. so zombies, spiders, chainsaws, Black women being included in the story? I’m in!

I am glad to see more Black girls and women being involved in fantasy and horror movies and series. For the longest time, at least since the seventies, the existence of Black women as an audience that could be pandered to was not a thing. There’s nothing wrong with being pandered to in a narrative, despite the fact that straight white male audiences want to turn it into a dirty word, which is really ironic since for the past seventy years they have been the ones being pandered to by every form of entertainment media that existed.

Creators, almost all of whom were white men, literally didn’t think about other groups of people, in fact making it expressly clear that white men, between the ages of 15 and 35, was the ideal audience they were chasing after, and there is a contingent of online assholery that actually wants to go back to a time when we were considered nothing but maids, slaves, and servants to be abused in whatever stories we were in (hence the current online trolling of Black actresses who happen to find work in these genres). I’m glad to see these creators and writers remembering that WoC watch shit too, recognize that we also have money and choices, are willing to chase after PoC for their money, and that we want to see ourselves in these narratives as heroes and villains. Putting that message out into the world is one of the primary reasons I started this blog.

So yeah, I’m excited to see a Black girl in this series who is apparently being a total bad ass.

Strange World

I am a really huge fan of Lost World type movies, and my personal favorite is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. I just love watching movies about goopy aliens, monsters, and weird environments and this looks like hella fun, plus it’s got this retro-vibe that I find aesthetically appealing. I don’t normally watch a lot of the kid’s stuff on Disney, and I don’t go to those type of movies anymore (cuz I don’t have that kind of money), but I would pay money to go see this. I think it’s just going to be on the Disney+ app though which has more than shown it’s worth in the series Wandavision, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and a bunch of movies and documentaries.

I’m not sure how I feel about the characters, because as I said many times, it’s not just a plot or some imagery that pulls me into something. It’s got to have at least one or two characters I’m drawn to, although the characters do look really cute! I didn’t see much of their personalities in this trailer so I don’t know what to think of them yet, (and although the pilot looks appealing, it doesn’t mean I will like her) but the trailer looks like weird goopy fun, which is enough of an attraction for me, I guess. It’ll get a look-see.

The Menu

And finally there’s this gem, starring Ralph, Fiennes, and one of my favorite new actresses, who I hope will be around for a good long while, Anya Taylor-Joy! I have the feeling this movie is about one of my favorite topics, cannibalism, and I’m always up for a good humans eating humans movie, especially if it’s an “eat the rich” story. I only just heard of this movie, so I don’t have a lot of knowledge beyond the visuals, but I will probably watch this when it streams.

Starring the Landscape: The Desert Has No Memory

In 1971, Universal Pictures released Duel, a film starring Dennis Weaver, and directed by, a not yet famous, Stephen Spielberg, from a story by Richard Matheson. In it, a businessman named, conveniently, David Mann, is pursued across the desert by a monstrous truck and the driver who insists on terrorizing him. Mann, who thinks himself a practical, but tough fellow, has to prove his masculinity, not just against the driver of the truck that menaces him for over half the movie, but against his aging vehicle, and the Mojave desert in which this drama unfolds.

duel. steven spielberg | Tumblr

The hot, barren, landscape of the desert has often been used as a backdrop to tell stories of dramatic survival, proving one’s toughness, or realizing one’s humanity. Sometimes its about surviving the people in it, as everyone competes for the bare resources that can be found there. Unlike snowy environments, the desert’s wide-open terrain, with so few obstructions, is perfect for car chases, and creating a feeling of low grade anxiety, the sense that one could get lost in such isolation. The heat heightens a person’s fear, and desperation, creating a unique form of sweaty misery. The desert is for isolationists, the place people go when they want to separate themselves from other people, or to prove their rugged individualism, or in some cases, simply go mad.

In the Western storytelling tradition, the protagonist is the person who is trying to move forward, to progress, to accomplish a goal. The antagonist is whatever that person must struggle against to reach said goal. Through that process, the person undergoes change and/or growth. The desert is an environment that can often be filmed with a single protagonist, as in 2010’s 127 Hours, as a young hiker literally struggles against the environment that has trapped him, or as in the Mad Max franchise, a cast of thousands, and still get variations on these basic messages, because it’s the desert that is the ultimate antagonist.

Image result for mad max gifs

The desert tests the worthy, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in the Mad Max franchise, where human beings manage to scrounge a precarious living, several years after a global catastrophe. In Fury Road, when Max is captured by Immortan Joe’s Warboys, they treat him not as a person, but as a commodity, an object. Throughout the movie, while fighting Immortan Joe, his men, and the dry terrain in which their battle takes place, Max grows and changes, reasserting his humanity and proving to others that he is not a thing.

The Hills Have Eyes - Enzian Theater

The desert is home to the poor and isolated, with its lonely trailer parks, ghost towns, and abandoned and ramshackle houses. It’s a place where people go to get away from other human beings. Most Horror movies set in the desert, like those set in rural America, tend to focus on people as monsters, rather than creatures.

The kind of people who live in the desert are often equated with its predators, as they stalk, kill and feed on anyone they regard as intruders into their domain. They are sometimes mutated, and feral, as in the 1977 Wes Craven movie, The Hills Have Eyes, where a vacationing suburban family run afoul of a pack of cannibals who scrounge a living in the Nevada desert by eating those who pass through it. The movie pits family against family, as the Carters attempt to hold onto their humanity while fighting the inhumanity of the cannibals. And in 1987’s Near Dark, a family of vampires preys on desert wanderers, or the occasional lonely farmboy, who just happens to run afoul of the wrong girl of his dreams.

Horror movies GIF - Find on GIFER

The desert is vast and unforgiving, and its silence and isolation gives birth to much quieter horrors than trucks and cannibals, as all kinds of rotten secrets hide there, as in the 1975 movie, The Devil’s Rain, which stars William Shatner, as he tries to stop the leader of a Satanic cult from retrieving an artifact of great power. In the 2005 film, Wolf Creek, a young woman must try to survive the landscape, and the serial killer she and her family encounter while camping in the Australian outback, and in the 2017 Netflix movie, Cargo, a father is suffering from a zombie bite, while stranded in the outback, and must try to get his baby to safety before he succumbs to his wounds.

Desert wanderers are not always victims or innocents, and any people one finds wandering in the desert are best left to themselves, as the 1986 movie, The Hitcher, shows. When Jim Halsey picks up a hitchhiker in the Nevada desert, he finds he has picked up a serial killer who terrorizes him for the rest of the movie. It seems the desert is as great a place to be stalked and hunted as the jungle, since that is the plot of several desert set films, from 1995’s Nature of the Beast, which stars Lance Henriksen, to the 2001 Joy Ride, starring Paul Walker, where a group of teenagers is stalked by yet another truck driver across the arid landscape.

GIF bomb testing - animated GIF on GIFER

Its best not to live in small towns situated in or near the desert, as they tend to attract monsters of all kinds including large and small desert dwelling insects. In the vast openness of the desert, creatures tend to grow in size to match, often aided by nuclear radiation. In the movie Them! from 1954, giant ants terrorize a desert town, after they are mutated by nuclear testing. A year later, another town experiences a giant spider invasion, caused by nuclear testing, in the 1955 movie Tarantula. Nuclear testing isn’t the only culprit for villainous desert bugs as they sometimes get mutated by chemical waste, such as in the 2002 horror comedy, Eight Legged Freaks, where the tiny town of Prosperity, Arizona gets attacked by the titular monsters, after a truckful of chemical waste, and a local spider farm, collide.

The smaller versions of these desert animals sometimes like to get in on the action, too, as in the 1977, Kingdom of the Spiders, starring William Shatner again, when tarantulas take their revenge against a small Arizona town that burned down one of their habitats. In the 1974 Phase IV, ants in the Arizona desert plan to take over the world, and make humans a part of their new hive mind, after a mysterious comet imbues them with greater intelligence.

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Sometimes other kinds of monsters come from under the ground, as the residents of a small Nevada town discover when an earthquake releases mutated cockroaches, that have the ability to start fires, and being eaten alive was something the residents of the tiny town of Perfection did not foresee after they are attacked by a pack of massive tunnel dwelling worms, that they name Grabboids. The townsfolk have to demonstrate just how self sufficient, and clever, they can be against an underground menace that can appear anywhere, and without warning, all while trying to escape across the barren landscape, to find safety in the next town.

In fact, the desert’s isolation ensures that all kinds of weirdnesses can be born there, and reach a certain level of maturity before they’re even discovered. The strangest thing to come out of the desert to prey on mankind is the sentient tire named Robert, from the 2010 Horror Comedy, Rubber. Robert rolls through the desert landscape telekinetically exploding any humans he encounters, while a choir of onlookers give commentary.

Despite the wealth of material in this post however, movies set in the desert aren’t that frequent. It’s a difficult landscape in which to shoot a film. The temperatures and sand can work against any filmmakers so making anything in such a place is a real feat, but there are a few filmmakers who feel that the sere dry heat and isolation of the desert is worth it. The desert landscape, just like it’s snowy cousin, the tundra, is the type of landscape that is great for showing human survival at the extremes.

Look! Some New Trailers

So, there were a handful of new trailers last week. Will I watch any of these? I say I will but sometimes that turns out to just be a lie, and I fall asleep instead. But let’s talk about them anyway.

First Kill

With the cancelation of Batwoman, which I was starting to get into a little bit, the fans are excited about a new show featuring a Black woman in an wlw interracial relationship, and not just that, it’s got those Buffy/Vampire Diaries/star-crossed lovers vibes because one of the women is from a family of vampire hunters, and the woman she falls in love with is from a family of vampires!

This isn’t really my cup of tea, because teenagers and romance, but it looks really pretty and I can grasp why fans are very excited about it.

Westworld season 4

I am looking forward to this next season of Westworld, even though I didn’t entirely understand the last season. The plot has become somewhat convoluted, and I’m not quite sure what the goal of the show is now, so I’m gonna have to watch some explaining videos, or read some summations.

But this looks really intriguing and we’ll probably be introduced to some more theme parks this season, so I’ll be watching this one.

Love Death and Robots Season 3

I really enjoyed the last season, and the images for this new season look stunning. I know some people don’t Ike the comedy shorts but I love them, especially the ones from John Scalzi, so I’m looking forward to it this Friday, and I’ll be talking about it at some point.

I remember I had a couple of issues with the first season, but season 2 was much better, and I’m hoping for a better integration of the love and death part of the robot shorts.

Avatar 2

I do not want to GO see this, but I probably will end up in the theater looking at it, because my niece and nephew are very excited about it, and as their auntie it’s my job to spoil them terribly! I had issues with the plot of the first movie. It made me really angry and I’ve been angry about it ever since, so no matter how gorgeous it looks Im feeling some type of way about seeing it.

But make no mistake, this is an absolutely gorgeous looking film, no doubt about it. James Cameron has always been a top notch visualist, even if he falls flat on the storytelling, so that’s how I’m approaching this movie.

Men

I have done absolutely no research on this film, beyond watching the trailer, but it looks creepy and weird. I’ll probably catch this on some streaming service. I like the actress but can’t remember where I saw her, and I’m too lazy to look her up, but it is an A24 film, the same guys that brought us Get Out, and The Northman, so there’s that…

On the other hand I’ve liked Alex Garland’s other films. So even though it looks like a ghost story, and I’m not usually impressed by ghost stories, I’ll check this out.

And is it just me or all all the men in this movie wearing the same face?

Surprise me!

Firestarter

I remember the original movie and was not a fan. I read the book when I was a teenager and…nope. Still not a fan. I didn’t care for the actor who played Charlie’s dad in the film, (although I liked Charlie okay, and King’s description of her powers was pretty cool) but I have a strong aversion to watching people burn to death. Also I do not have AppleTv, so there’s that.

I know some people will be excited about this remake, but I thought the book was much better than the original movie, even though I haven’t read it since.

Mad God

This is going to be streaming on Shudder in June, so I will be there for it. This is a labor of love from Phil Tippet, and while you may not know his name, I know you’ve seen his work.

He’s done the special effects for most of Steven Spielberg’s movies for the past forty years, from Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park, while working on his stop motion masterpiece the entire time, using the skills of bunches of volunteers that he personally trained to realize his vision. I like movies that are strange and weird, so I’m excited to see what he’s done.

Strange Things Season 4

I wouldn’t call myself a Stranger Things fan (but then I don’t call myself a fan of lots of things, even though I consume them) but I did watch the last season, and understood most of it. This season doesn’t look quite as interesting, but I’m going to watch it if it doesn’t conflict with anything else I’m watching because I’ve grown to really like these characters, especially Eleven, and Lucas. It’s been really fun watching these kids grow up onscreen.

The Monster Files (Pt. 2): The New School

Here is part two of my non-comprehensive list of Monstrology, The New School, although some of these aren’t so much new as updates of some of the classic monsters. I mostly tried to stick with monsters from the late 20th century, from the 70s to now, so some monsters won’t get mentioned, like the tripods from the original War of the Worlds because it hails from the 1950s, and there is a notable atomic theme in there, and the updated remake doesn’t quite qualify as new because it’s just the same monster. However, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers gets mentioned in the new monster category even though the original film was released in the 50s, because each subsequent remake adopts new scientific knowledge about how the invasion might occur. If you’re looking for consistency, my mind isn’t the place to find it!

The criteria my brain used for making these lists was a broad combination of form and intent. There are monsters that have a very specific intent,(like possession, or mimicry) and some have the same intent of all the other monsters, just in an unusual form, so that means I have left out a lot of monstrous creatures from these lists. If you don’t see your favorite monster that doesn’t mean I didn’t like or didn’t know about it. It just means I ran out of room to mention it. Like I said, this isn’t a comprehensive list but there are a lot of my favorites.

The New School: Devourers

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These monsters are not regular animals grown to large size, like the ones in the 50s. They’re smaller, faster, and in some cases, slightly more intelligent than their kaiju brothers, which makes them capable of reaching into smaller, more intimate spaces, like people’s homes, to actively hunt their prey. I’m also going to add to this list the more human-like predators, like the rural-style cannibals that look more or less human but are often twisted and deformed because of environmental factors, and a few alien invaders. These aren’t the kind that lurk in caves, and lie underground and wait, on the off-chance, that some humans might drop in but we’ll talk about those in a minute. These are the kind that actively stalk and occasionally eat humans in broad daylight. They’re not shy or taking any chances about finding their next meal.

The poster children for this type of monster are the creatures from Tremors, released in 1990 and starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Reba McEntire. These monsters come from underground and hunt their prey through sound, meaning any vibrations made on the ground will attract their attention.They’re also pretty smart, learning from their fellow monster’s mistakes, which requires humans to be inventive in dispatching them. The characters in the film had the bright idea to call them Graboids, and the movie was so popular that it spawned an entire franchise of sequels, most of them starring Michael Gross (Yes, the guy from the Family Ties sitcom) as Burt Gummer, a crackpot survivalist. Not all of the movies are any good but all of them try their best to be as much fun as the original.

In the same vein is the 2012 movie Grabbers, which feels like a comedic cross between Aliens and Tremors. Set in Ireland, the movie pokes fun at Irish drinking habits because drunkenness makes humans taste bad. The heroes of the movie spend their time trying to keep the inhabitants of their small town drunk enough to save them from being eaten. In another alien invasion movie are the Quiet Place monsters, who don’t appear to eat people but nevertheless stalk and kill them in using the same method as the Graboids from Tremors, sound. It’s possible for the Quiet Place alien monsters to go into their own category but I decided they belong here because not all alien invasions are the same, and my brain slotted these here because these monsters seem to have no other motive. They’re not trying to take over the planet or replace humanity or anything. In fact, The Quiet Place monsters seemed to have landed on Earth by accident, unlike the Martians from War of the Worlds who came with a specific intent. But this does include the aliens from Pitch Black., though. Yeah, humans dropped into their environment by accident but they do actively hunt and eat people.

One of the newer popular monsters (popular in the last thirty years) is the Wendigo, a creature of Algonquin folklore, a gluttonous spirit that was once human but has been corrupted by cannibalism to always feed on human flesh. Normally this monster abides in forests and out-of-the-way places, as in the historical horror movie Ravenous, which deals with issues of colonialism, greed, and personal cowardice, as a group of American soldiers are possessed by the Wendigo. There are also a few of these films set in urban landscapes, like the 2021 film, Antlers, where a little boy is tasked to take care of his father and brother after they both become possessed after being bitten by one. The movie also addresses issues of poverty and child abuse.

Addressing cultural and social issues is kind of new thing too, at least since 1968s Night of the Living Dead, which set the stage for movies to be about more than just interpersonal relations. Before NOTLD, most Horror movies didn’t really discuss social issues like racism or domestic abuse, at least not much beyond anti-nuclear sentiment, or environmentalist issues, and seemed to focus almost entirely on the relationships between the characters.

There are also the modern-day cannibal mutants in the American Southwest, in The Hills Have Eyes. In some of these movies, the monsters are or were once human. We must also not forget the updated versions of vampires in movies like 30 Days of Night, and the highly infectious fast-moving modern zombies in movies like Train to Busan and 28 Days Later, and the deformed and infected zombies of the Resident Evil franchise. The sole purpose of a lot of these monsters is to devour people and that’s it. They are creatures with not much motive beyond procuring food.

The New School: Possessive Aliens and Parasites

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There is an entire class of monsters that just want to be us, because humans are a great place to hide, or sometimes breed.

These are the body snatchers, and the shape-shifting memory thieves and these type of monsters did not appear until the mid-20th century and are usually based on scientific principles. The original bodysnatchers were human body thieves who stole cadavers from cemeteries, to meet the demands of the nascent English medical establishment, during the 1800s, and there are a few of these type of films made in the early 20th century. Later on, the term bodysnatcher came to mean something very different, a living being, or organism, that uses live human bodies as hosts.

I know some of you are thinking 1979’s Alien, and yes, that is one of them, but this actually began in 1956, with the movie adaptation of Albert Finney’s horror scifi novel, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, in which infectious alien spores take over human bodies in a small California town. In the1978 remake, the spores would become more ambitious, taking over the city of San Francisco, then a military base in 1993, and eventually the entire world in 2007. Each remake gets updated with a new version of how the invasion and possession of the human body occurs.

In the original and 1978 versions, there are actual plant-like pods that grow imitations of human bodies, while in the 1993 movie Body Snatchers the possession of a human body takes the form of tentacles, and in the 2007 version, the possession occurs in the form of a contractable virus. The three early versions had human bodies be destroyed as the alien took over their consciousness, but in the last one, the bodies are not broken down to make a new plant-like body. In the new version the invason behaves like a virus that overwrites the mind of its host, so that it is possible for a person to be converted back to their original self, once the infection is destroyed.

Let’s not forget all of the many alien invasion movies that have a somewhat similar idea like 2018’s Annihilation,where a team of women are sent into a spreading patch of Earth that’s been taken over by an alien threat. There is 2019’s Assimilate, where a small town gets invaded by bodysnatcing aliens from a swamp, and 2013’s The World’s End, where humans get replaced with robot-like aliens during a pub crawl by some high school friends.

One of the most famous bodysnatching alien invasions films is John Carpenter’s gory 1982 remake of the 1951 movie,The Thing From Another World, which was based on John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There. Here, the alien consumes the entire person, after which it can mimic their form perfectly, with their knowledge and personality intact, thereby making it indistinguishable from the original person.

The Thing is notable because in the other body snatcher films, there is a noticeable emotional flattening that gives away the mimicry. Not so here. A mimicked person is completely indistinguishable from the person they were before, and there has been much argument among fans if a person knows if they are a Thing, and if so, are they truly dead. Unlike in 1979s Alien this isn’t a parasitic relationship, nor is it like some of the later versions of the bodysnatcher invasion where the human host isn’t destroyed, although The Thing’s invasion contains elements of the infection storyline. The human body is invaded and destroyed, with the person becoming another component of the alien mind, which possesses all of their knowledge and sense of self.

In Ridley Scott’s Alien, human bodies are used as incubators for alien young. Consuming humans isn’t the alien’s ultimate intent but I find it difficult to believe that the aliens don’t eat the leftovers. Many fans have likened this particular monster to Earth’s parasitic wasps, a creature which uses other insects as hosts for its young. Birthed from eggs this monster has a complicated three part lifecycle, which culminates in the implantation of yet another egg into a human body, and the eventual live birth of an alien, called appropriately enough, the chestburster.

As was said in the 1978 Invasion movie: Aliens don’t always need metal ships.

The New School: Possessive Ghosts and Demons

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These are possessive monsters too, the only differences are they’re usually supernatural in origin, are non-corporeal entities, and aren’t so much interested in becoming someone, so much as being alive again. They’re non-corporeal beings that, hating their non-corporeal state, are looking for a physical shell in which to exist.

Possession films are a genuinely new category appearing for the first time in the late 60s/ early 70s. The Exorcist, released in 1972 was based on the book by Wm. Peter Blatty who claims that it’s based on the real story of an exorcism performed by the Catholic Church, and this paved the way for an entire sub-genre of film, with hundreds of ripoffs, lookalikes, and related miscellanea. Almost any movie starring Satanic rituals and/or demonic possession can be traced back to it, and/or 1968s Rosemary’s Baby. To be sure movies with a demonic theme existed long before The Exorcist, but it was this movie that set the template for all the possession movies that came afterward, including comedies like The Evil Dead, which spawned its on sub-sub-category. In fact, The Exorcist was so influential that most of the body horror imagery of demonic possession and exorcism has not changed in over forty years.

The Exorcist was a deeply controversial film at the time and I suspect that it, and Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for the Satanic panic of the 80s, since people had been imbibing a steady diet of demonic films all throughout the 70s, and which were often about Satanic conspiracies in otherwise innocuous jobs and communities. Movies like 1975’s The Devil’s Rain, 1978’s The Omen, its sequel, and 1973’s Satan’s School for Girls were set in small towns, the world of politics, and private schools, positing the idea that people who worshipped Satan could be found anywhere and everywhere, and appear quite innocent. (Actually, there were a helluva lot of movies with Satan in their titles during the 70s, so there’s that.) During the Satanic Panic the police formed whole units dedicated to deciphering satanic symbols and people actually went to prison on Satanic conspiracy charges.

The Evil Dead movies spawned an entire sub genre of its own during the 80s about people being possessed by demons and going on killing sprees in movies like 1985s Demons, and The Night of the Demons from 1988.

I should include haunted house movies since there is a common theme of incorporeal beings inhabiting a physical structure, but it’s a little bit different since hauntings mostly occur against the will of the haunters. They just happen to be stuck in a place they can’t leave. Even though the trope is a classic, there aren’t a whole lot of these types of movies in Hollywood’s early history. There is the 1927 Cat and the Canary, a couple of movies in the 40s, namely Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock, and 1959s House on haunted Hill. So although there can be spirits possessing a person in such movies as 1983s Amityville 3D: The Demon, it’s not quite the same thing, and Haunted Houses are a much older trope.

The New School: Cellar Dwellers

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These kinds of monsters are hidden in the out-of-the-way places where humans generally don’t make a home, like outer space, the desert, caves, sewers, and jungles. These monsters don’t normally go on the hunt for human beings unless they drop in uninvited. These are opportunistic predators that lie in wait, sometimes for centuries, for their prey to come to them. This is a relatively new sub-genre as there are only a handful of early films with this theme, like the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, and the 1959 Beast From Haunted Cave, in which a group of thieves flee into the jungle while being pursued by a giant spider creature.

I suppose one could add those Lost World-type movies, and even King Kong, but the primary goal of those type of movies is adventure. In Cellar Dweller films the primary goal of the monster is usually to eat people, or use them for some other reason, and there is a rich history of this type of film despite it having only really sprung up in the 80s, with movies about extra-large crocodiles, alligators, and various sea creatures coming out of the depths of wherever they were to terrorize. (Sea Creatures can be another sub-genre itself.)

Movies like Alligator from 1980 were based on the US urban legend that people were buying baby alligators as pets and flushing them into the sewers when they couldn’t take care of them. I am including movies where people are unsafe in watery conditions, with 1976’s Jaws setting the stage. These include all the Jaws ripoffs that have ever been made in its wake, like Lake Placid, Deep Star Six, Leviathan, Deep Rising, and the newest addition, Sea Fever. I didn’t include any of the Sharknado-style movies because I refuse to sit through one of those, and the point is humans usually have to encroach into the monster’s territory (the water), although according to such films, being on land is not a guarantee of safety either.

Cellar Dweller movies play on humanity’s innate claustrophobia, fear of the dark, and/or enclosed spaces that are not easily escaped. 1979s Alien set the stage by being the perfect Cellar Dweller movie with a group of people trapped in a spaceship while being picked off by a stealthy vicious creature. Since then there have been several standout movies of this sort, like the famous Descent films from 2005, where a group of women cave hikers are hunted by weird humanoid predators, and The Cave, where yet another group of cave explorers are hunted by some unnameable humanoid creatures. For some reason, there was a huge slate of these movies released in the early aughts. I’m not sure exactly what America was going through at that time but this was a very popular sub-genre.

And then we have the jungle dwellers, in movies like The Ritual where a Norse forest god menaces a group of hikers for the rather vague purpose of collecting worshipers. But there are also lots of reptiles grown to large size in the jungles, in movies like Anaconda, and Rogue Crocodile. I want to include some of the Predator films, since only one of those takes place in an urban environment. The rest are in the jungles and one is set in the Arctic, these are the kind of places that are just a little bit out of the way for a regular person, a person must actually travel to or through them. If you stick close to your urban home you may be able to avoid giant spiders, small spiders, small snakes, giant snakes, any monsters that live in lagoons, and giant rats that have grown to large size after eating The Food of the Gods.

My point is that by avoiding traveling to these places you may also avoid being eaten by jungle cannibals, killer shrews, and giant wasps and chickens. However, I cannot vouchsafe your safety if you live near a sewer system, or catacombs since things like demons, rat gods, giant roaches, regular size snakes, and other monsters are given access to your basements and toilets.

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The New School: Machines

Humans battling against murderous machines are almost a staple of the genre in movies like The Terminator and Maximum Overdrive, but I’m classifying them as new monsters because this particular horror of technology is relatively new (about mid 20th century) and because there have been so many of these movies in the latter half of the 20th century that killer machines have become their own subgenre of Scifi Horror.

Horror Scifi started with the golem-like Frankenstein and fears of the robot revolution of 1927s Metropolis, but updated movie-making techniques have moved us beyond techno-paranoia to full-on technophobia. The machines aren’t simply going to rebel. They’re going to kill us all. From movies like 1999s The Matrix to Ex-Machina, from the alien style Virus, to the futuristic Saturn 3, murderous robots are not simply content to win their freedom from human bondage, but wipe out specific human beings and sometimes humanity altogether. I wrote about this topic for Medium, where I discussed where the foundation of this particular fear might have sprung.

The Slave Rebellion Genre (by Lakitha Tolbert)

White Hollywood loves slave rebellion movies starring robots, but starring Black people, not so much.

New and Weird

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This category is the repository for all those monsters where there is simply no real classification and sometimes not even a name. They don’t make up a sub-genre, and are often stand-alone, without a franchise or sometimes even a comprehensive theme. Some of them don’t seem much interested in eating people even though they are inimical to human life, because hating, and/or killing humans seems to be their primary objective. Personally, I blame Stephen King for this as he has made an entire career out of making innocuous items terrifying.

Outside of masquerading as an innocent-looking object many of them don’t usually lurk or sneak, often committing their murderous behavior right out in the open where the victims can see them. They’ve basically got no chill, and tend to be the kinds of objects that are not commonly associated with killing people, or even being considered animated, like dolls, rubber tires, plants, shopping carts, donuts, and tomatoes, as a result, many of these types of films fall into the comedy spectrum, like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and yes I did indeed watch the exceptionally stupid Attack of the Killer Donuts.

No, I’m not talking about haunted dolls that cause supernatural mischief. Those belong directly in the Supernatural genre. I mean creatures like Richard Matheson’s murderous doll from 1975’s Trilogy of Terror, 1988’s Chucky, and the cast of Demonic Toys from 1992. This category applies to inanimate objects that come to life and try to kill and/or eat human beings. Sometimes they stalk their prey, imitating the template of the slasher film and sometimes they like to be a little more stealthy, but most of these beings and creatures don’t get that no one is supposed to be seeing them.

This type of movie is sometimes one that is genuinely scary for me because I have a thing about inanimate objects, that aren’t supposed to be moving, moving! In Trilogy of Terror Karen Black plays a woman named Amelia who buys a doll that proceeds to hunt her through her apartment. It’s not so much that it’s a killer doll that scares me, so much that the little thing is small, sneaky, and frighteningly intelligent. He is also appropriately named “He Who Kills”. I consider myself reasonably intelligent so part of the fun, and terror, of watching this movie is figuring out how I would outsmart such a thing. Yeah, I think I could take him. Not that I would ever want to, but I think I could.

This category includes movies such as Killer Klowns from Outer Space from 1988, about …guess what? A murderous conjoined twin in 1982’s Basketcase, Society from 1989 is a new take on the rich consuming the poor, Zombeavers from 2014 is a new take on, well…zombies, in Street Trash, the monster is a deadly bottle of liquor that melts its imbibers into puddles of goo, and sometimes, well sometimes, the monster is one’s parents, like the cannibal parents from1989s Parents, 2018’s Mom and Dad, where kids have to survive against their suddenly murderous parents..oh hell! Killer parents, siblings, and grandparents can probably all be part of their own sub-sub-genre! (No, The Shining doesn’t count because that’s a Haunted House movie!) There are also a whole host of movies that feature randomly possessed childhood objects like Frosty the Snowman, The Gingerbread Man, and other food items like donuts and tomatoes.

There are also some rather unique monsters that haven’t really been copied anywhere else, like The Blob, both the 1956 version and its 1988 remake, and the highly unique The Stuff from 1985. There are insectile monsters, like the alien induced giant bugs from Love and Monsters, the folkloric Babadook, the science-based The Fly, The Yautja aliens from the Predator franchise, the Krites from the Critters movies, and technically speaking, the monsters from Gremlins are kind of unique, but it’s success did spawn a bunch of replicas like Ghoulies, and Trolls. I would also include comedies like the genetically engineered, zombie-like creatures, from the 2006 comedy, Black Sheep.

Sometimes it’s not so much the monster as the movie itself is just unique. Movies like the Final Destination franchise, in which the thematic purpose of Horror movies is made explicit because Death itself is the villain, as really all monsters, no matter what their form, are simply manifestations of death.

There are one-off movies like Cabin in the Woods, which features all the monsters and film tropes, as well as The Mist, with entirely unique creatures from another dimension, some of which kinda resemble the monsters of this one, and wholly unique Cosmic horror movies like From Beyond, about a machine that creates portals to a hell universe, and Event Horizon about people trapped on a Hellish ship. There are some interesting stand-alone films, like Pontypool, and the uniquely terrifying Birdbox.

This list also includes monsters for which there is simply no description because they are non-corporeal entities or simply remain unseen, and yet, they don’t necessarily have a supernatural origin, like the invisible monster from It Follows, the invisible rapist from the 1982 film, The Entity, and the nameless god-like creature from Children of the Corn, He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

Okay, this is obviously turning into Monster May! I have a couple more SCP posts coming up, and some mini reviews of things I’ve seen, like the new Dr. Strange movie, and a movie called Underground Monster, from China!

Top Favorite Films of 2021

Quite a few hotly anticipated films were released in 2021. Well, they were hotly anticipated by me. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching movies that were off my list of films because I was so busy dealing with my mother’s health issues, which was pretty stressful. (I’m not so much recovering from my Mother’s passing as I am from the sheer emotional stress of trying to keep her alive.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time watching a lot of stress- relieving TV series, standup comedies, or just things that simply weren’t very emotionally taxing. I just didn’t have the bandwidth for much more than that. This also meant that I watched a lot more escapist-type movies, MCU films, or just films without any heavy topics. But these were my favorites of all the movies I got to see.

Keep in mind, that I also tend to like a lot of what I watch because I’m not a professional critic, so don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to, and I tend to gravitate to movies and shows that I think will make me happy, or at the very least, make me think! Unlike professional critics, I don’t have to soldier through a movie that’s not working for me. I can always turn it off and walk away. I never hate-watch anything because life is too short to be subjecting myself to unpleasant movie-watching experiences as a form of fun! I love movies though, and can always find something I liked about most of the things I subject myself to.

And that’s the same aesthetic I carried into the TV series I watched this year. There were a lot of superhero shows, some comedies (a lot of standup), all of the MCU series except Loki, and lots of Youtube.

Spiderman: No Way Home

I do not as a general rule, rank things according to best to worst, or by numbers. My mind simply doesn’t work that way. For me, I either liked a movie, or I didn’t, and it starts with how the movie made me feel. If I didn’t like it, I won’t expend any more energy thinking about it, beyond what went wrong for me. That said, while this isn’t my absolute favorite movie this year, it is extremely high on my list of favorites because:

I went to the theater for the first time since 2019, and the first time without Mom. I took my niece and nephew instead. My nephew is ten and is a huge Spiderman fan, even though he doesn’t read comic books! It was so much fun sitting there speculating about the plot and characters with him, while trying to keep my youngest niece from eating all the popcorn and making herself sick. My oldest niece, The Potato, couldn’t make it.

I rated this movie at the top of my list largely because of the fun factors of going to the theater with my family, and the movie itself. My nephew and I are both huge Spiderman fans, so we were probably gonna like it regardless! And it was pretty neat watching him be excited about the two Spidermen that he wasn’t around to see that first time, as he’s only been alive since the Holland era!

I have a different attitude towards being a comic book/superhero nerd than a lot of other people. I do not engage in gatekeeping because the way I grew up I was wholly and completely alone in these geeky interests. There wasn’t anyone around to be geeky with, so I’m loving this thing where I get to share these interests with my nephew, who is also incredibly knowledgable, for one so young!

Expect to read more of my takes on Spiderman in the coming weeks.

Dune

I absolutely loved this movie, which has so much depth that, like most of Villeneuve’s movies, it’s gonna take a minute (and probably several posts and re-watches) to sort out my thoughts and feelings. If I had to rank this film I would put this at not only my most hotly anticipated film, but the best SciFi movie of the year.

Like Bladerunner 2049, this is a very immersive film, not just visually, but through plot, sound, and character. I’ve watched this multiple times, (it was on HBOMax), and the more I think of it, the more layers I find. Villenueve really did an exceptional job with this film, and I will be discussing this some more when Dune returns to HBOMax at the end of this month.

The Suicide Squad

And this is why it’s so hard for my brain to rank movies. I absolutely loved this film too, and would also count this one as one of the best movies of the year. This movie isn’t half as shallow as people think it is, considering it is a kind of grindhouse/found-family/superhero movie. I mean, if you’re a fan of the show Invincible, or the TV series The Boys, or Preacher, you might like this movie. It’s gory, fun, funny, utterly ridiculous, and has a surprising amount of pathos. I posted about this earlier. I am one of five people who are readily willing to admit that they actually liked the first movie too. I loved the characters mostly, and their interactions, and this movie built on that beautifully, even if I did miss Will Smith.

James Gunn has an incredible knack for taking characters you’re not supposed to like, characters who are villains, and making them nuanced and sympathetic. He even manages to make the final boss, Starro the Conqueror, a sympathetic character! He’s really good at getting you to care about them, and he’s done this in movie, after movie, after movie, from Dawn of the Dead, to Slither, to Guardians of the Galaxy. I trust him as a director, and can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next (probably Guardians of the Galaxy 3).

The Harder They Fall

I spoke briefly about this movie before it was released on Netflix. This movie just has a coolness factor that is simply unparalleled. It’s definitely the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino would’ve loved, except with a lot less use of the N*word. (That’s the difference between having a white director vs a Black one. White directors like Tarantino will throw that word around in the script, with no regard for Black audiences, because they think it’s more important to be edgy. Black directors almost never do this without considering that Black people will be watching it. Not that they don’t use the word, but when they do, it usually serves more purpose.)

That said, the movie’s focus is on style, and feelings, and not so much on truth or facts. Most of the characters in the movie lived in slightly different time periods, and never met each other, but that’s not a drawback, as far as I’m concerned, although some people seemed outraged at the idea. The movie is also a who’s who of Black cinema with Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beetz, and my personal favorite (as an actor and a character) Lakeith Stanfield, who is very possibly, one of the coolest Black men to ever be seen in a Western!

The movie doesn’t just have a coolness factor, there are layers, and it pays to know a little bit about the time period in which the film is set, which is that little slice of time just after the Civil War. So much of the history of the West has been thoroughly whitewashed, but basically all the stories you either watched and or read about that only had white characters, well Black, Brown, and Indigenous people were all engaging in the same types of stories. They formed gangs, committed crimes, caught criminals, loved, fought, and died on horseback, too, and we never got any of these stories because a film industry run almost entirely by straight white men wasn’t interested in telling them.

Army of the Dead

For some reason, this movie caught a lot of flack from critics for being dumb, but I enjoyed it because sometimes the term dumb is being used in place of “fun”! That said, this is one of the more fun zombie films ever made. It’s not on the level of Shaun of the Dead, but it was a lot of fun, with a surprising amount of depth of feeling. I wrote about this movie in an earlier review, and I talked about Zack Snyder’s relationship to the film and its characters.

I do wonder why no one ever decided to combine the heist narrative with the zombie apocalypse, and I hope to see more of these kinds of zombie mashups in the future.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said in an earlier post, I wasn’t one of the people clamoring for the release of this movie. I was largely indifferent to the first version, and gave it no more thought after I watched it. There was a lot of the movie that, while watchable, just didn’t impress me much. But the Snyder cut deepened two of my favorite characters, who got short shrift in the theatrical version, and gave me mad respect for an old character that I just wasn’t feeling before: The Flash, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman, and I will always love this movie for that.

It doesn’t hurt that the villain was significantly more impressive, the plot was more coherent, and the action scenes looked excessively cool, especially Wonder Woman’s scenes. I discussed all of this in one of my mini reviews last year.

The Eternals

I generally liked The Eternals. I am a big fan of Chloe Zhao because of Nomadland, and I really “enjoyed” that movie, and I could definitely see her flavor of filmmaking here. It was a very “comfortable”, and “comforting” movie to settle into, because she has a different, quieter, and less “jangly” style of filmmaking than the other MCU films. The sounds, color, characters, all it just felt different.

As I said before, my way “into” a movie is often through its characters. The characters are quirky, or interesting, or sometimes I just see myself in them, and I think that’s why I liked the characters in this movie so much. They’re superpowered characters who just felt like people, and I actually liked all of them. I feel like the characters, and their relationships with one another was the movie’s strongest aspect.

The movie’s weakest aspect was the plot, which feels a bit disjointed at first, but then after a while, it just falls flat. I simply didn’t care about the plot, and I wasn’t invested in it. I will watch it again because the characters are all so likable, and the absolute best part of the film, but the plot didn’t move me at all!

Rurouni Kenshin: The Finale/The Beginning

I have an entire post dedicated to this five-part series of live-action movies, based on the anime. Keep in mind that that post will be only about the films because I never watched any of the anime, or read the manga. There is a lot to be said about this series, which is fun and action packed, and like a lot of Japanese projects has elements of everything: war, romance, martial arts, comedy. Right now, the last two parts of this series is available on Netflix, so check it out before I finish writing my review!

The Green Knight

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s very much a “were you feeling it”, dream sequence style of movie. If you’re not onboard with dream logic, magical plot points, and weird characters, or are simply unfamiliar with the original story of Gawain and the Green Knight, you’re not going to get a lot of mileage out of this movie beyond the visuals. That said, I didn’t get a lot of meaning out of it, although I’m sure it’s in there. I was simply too caught up in just following the story, and the cinematography, which is okay since it takes multiple viewings for me to get to the meaning of something at times, and I have not had the opportunity to re-watch it, since I haven’t rented it again. The movie is definitely haunting me though, so I may have to.

Candyman

A lot of people claimed that this movie was too slow, it didn’t have enough gore or killing in it, (as if that were the only criteria for a Horror movie), and that the plot made no sense, but Candyman is essentially a mashup of a slasher film and a ghost story, and I found it very satisfactory. Yes, it started off slow, but that is entirely in keeping with the narrative of the ghost story, where the foundation has to be set up before we can move on to the actual “haunting” section of the story, and I don’t mind slow-moving Horror.

I was impressed with how much of the original story was integrated into this one, and of course, there might have been some people who were confused about what type of movie this was, because knowing that makes it easier to slot it into a category they can understand. This definitely isn’t a prequel, and it’s not exactly a remake. It’s more of an updated sequel, continuing the story that was set up in the last movie, but with new information (since the Cabrini Green Housing Projects are now extinct), and new characters, and expanding the story to give it a kind of global mythology, and I really liked that.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen turns in a great performance, which is a sort of a reprisal of the role of Helen, in the first film. I’m getting really attached to this actor, because he keeps showing up in everything I want to watch. If you were hoping for more of Tony Todd, then you’ll be disappointed, because this version isn’t really about him, and he doesn’t turn up until the end of the movie. I feel like people’s mileage may vary regarding Horror movies depending on what expectations they bring into it. I’m not quite sure what I expected. I went into this having read the original story by Clive Barker, but only having watched the first movie a couple of times, and not being especially impressed by it.

As I said, this is a quiet, dialogue-heavy film that relies more on producing feelings of dread than gore and body counts, and I was here for it. Is it as good as Get Out, or Us? Maybe not, but I am here for this new wave of Horror movies featuring Black casts and mythologies, from the above named films, and movies like Vampires vs Brooklyn, to TV shows like Lovecraft Country.

Honorable Mentions:

Last Night in Soho

This movie made this list because I’ve always been fascinated by 1960’s London fashion and culture, which this movie captures beautifully. It’s not a great film, but it makes a really good effort at being great, it looks gorgeous, and it’s by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright. The drawback was that I wasn’t feeling the characters and plot that deeply. I just wasn’t very emotionally engaged with what happened to any of the characters, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check it out. Its exceptionally stylish, and you may feel about the characters in a way that I didn’t.

Haloween Kills

There has been a lot of criticism of this movie as being stupid, and I feel I need to make the distinction here. The characters in the film are deeply stupid, which is par for the course when it comes to Horror movies, so I’m not sure why people are outraged about it here. The film itself has a point it wants to make, and I feel makes it beautifully. If the first film was about dealing with the aftermath of traumatic events, than this movie is about regret. I spoke about this in a previous post, and I stand by that. This was also the last Horror movie I watched with my Mom, who was, shall I say…unimpressed.

A GAME EFFORT:

These are movies that made a pretty game effort at being my favorites of the year, or at least the most entertaining, but for one reason or another just fell short. Not that I didn’t enjoy them, or that they were bad films, they just didn’t make it into the top ten.

These movies are all still well worth watching, and I watched a lot more movies than the ones on this list, but some movies stick in your memory, and others just don’t.

Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings

This is another movie where the plot fell flat for me, but I absolutely loved the characters and the action. The stand out character for me wasn’t Shang Chi, but his father, Wenwu, played by one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung. I think I may be in love with his heartfelt, soulful facial expressions, and that voice! He’s just dreamy…uhm okay…let move on.

Like I said, the weakest part was the plot. There are a few moments that pulled me right out of the film, or that I simply didn’t like, although the action scenes were very good, until the end of the movie, when all the fighting went on just a little too long, and so was a little bit tiresome. The same problem I ran into while watching Black Panther. It’s about people, until the end, then it’s just a too long action sequence with not enough “people” in it. Contrast that ending with the ending of The Eternals, or even Avengers Endgame, which still had some great character defining moments during the last fight scene.

But I do like Shang Chi, and the movie would’ve been higher on this list, except it got beat out by a couple of other films. It’s a fun, entertaining film, with two of my favorite actors, (Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung), and I’m really looking forward to whatever movie the “almost as likable as Spiderman”, Shang Chi shows up next!

Matrix Resurrections

I tried really hard to like this movie. I loved the action sequences, and one of the two primary characters was played by Jessica Henwick, who I was surprised to see got a lot (and I mean a lot!) of screen time. I loved her character, and Yahya’s version of Morpheus was great, and totally bad ass. I was less than impressed with Neo’s role, but Carrie Ann Moss’ character was good in the quieter, dialogue heavy moments, which I actually liked. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed her first meeting with Neo.

Where the movie fell flat, for me, was its treatment of mental illness, and parts of the plot. As I’ve said before, I’ve had some mental illness and suicide issues in the past, and parts of this movie were less enjoyable for me because they hit just a little too close to home, and kind of broadsided me with no warning. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it just means it was especially triggering for me. I was very excited to see it, though, and will definitely watch it again, because the action scenes are really cool, and I really enjoyed the ending.

Also, I’m still not invested in Neo and Trinity’s relationship. They either have no chemistry or I’m still just not feeling it. The plot of the movie needs some work, and there were bits of it that felt a little soul-less, although there’s more humor in it than the last movies. I’m a big fan of the Wachowski Sisters, and I enjoyed Sense8, so I’m on board with anything else Lana comes up with in the future.

And Let’s Not Forget:

Black Widow

Once again, the characters were great, and I liked the action, but the plot didn’t impress me much, and I kept wandering off to do something else, while the movie played in the background. The best character in the entire movie, of course, was Yelena, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing her in the Hawkeye TV series. I

I’ve been really impressed by Florence Pugh (Yelena). The last time I saw her was in Midsommar, where she simply tore it up, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where her career goes in the MCU. She is a worthy successor to the old Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly it’s the Yelena version of Black Widow that I’m most familiar from the comic books. I was well aware of the other Black Widow, but indifferent to her, never paying much attention, and I never read any of her adventures. I do remember some stories of Yelena and Hawkeye working together though.

Antlers

This is a pretty solid and gory horror movie that is yet again, about the Wendigo, and I’m here for it. It’s scary enough, but also a little predictable, the plot, and some of the acting didn’t meet my exacting criteria/s, so it didn’t make it very high on my list, but I just watched it, and it seems to be sticking with me, and I guess that’s a good thing. Not as good as Last Night in Soho, but better than Halloween Kills, I think.

Lamb

I really liked this one, but I didn’t love it. It’s about a couple on a sheep farm, who lost their daughter fairly recently, and have not moved on from their grief. When one of their sheep gives birth to a half lamb, half human creature (thanks to a large half man, half ram creature assaulting their flock), they steal it, and raise it as their own. You can guess that things come to a bad end.

I cannot say the movie is “enjoyable” because it’s just too disturbing for that, but it is dreadful, and haunting, and that’s enough to make it onto this list.

Starring the Landscape: The Suburbs – Such A Nice Place To Kill

 

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There are few movies that feature the suburbs before the 1950s. Most movies,  up to that point, were about city-living, because for most people, that was where the excitement was. All the action happened there, and the suburbs and small towns were places to escape from. You couldn’t have a life in those places. At least, not an interesting one. After the second world war, the suburban population exploded thanks to programs like the GI Bill, which allowed white people to buy homes away from the city, and the massive funding of the highway system, which allowed white people to flee the cities, and still be able to reach the places of work they left behind

https://www.history.com/news/gi-bill-black-wwii-veterans-benefits

While the GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million black veterans who had bravely served their country during World War II, in segregated ranks.

If you want to discuss themes of conformity, existential angst, boredom, dullness, ennui, and escape from any of those issues, then you need to set your story in the suburbs, with its endless miles of strip malls, identical pastel housing, well kept patches of lawn, and daily rituals of pleasantness. The suburbs, in the movies, are used to represent stability, order, the status quo, and the mainstream. In other words, normalcy. In the ‘burbs, one day is much like the next, the unexpected doesn’t occur,  and change is not encouraged.

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The suburbs are often shown as unexciting places that are meant to be escaped from, or unexciting places into which some excitement falls, and the members of the community must deal with the repercussions, or the members of the community must fight off the encroachment of some thing, or someone, in order to keep the status quo, in order to return to “normal”. Many Horror movies set in suburbia followed the standard formula of something from the “outside”  disrupting stability, and needed to be defeated.

The reason why Horror works so well in suburban settings, is because of the underlying sense of  the suburbs as a safe space,. The suburbs were established as a place  away from the “darkness” (i.e. PoC), and sins of the city, but in horror movies, the suburbs are  invaded by something dangerous, that is either  masquerading as a member of the community, like Fright Night. Sometimes the horror comes from within, when a disruption is caused by someone rebelling against a community which insists on controlling its members through authoritarianism, (The Stepford Wives), murder (Suburbia), or in one particular  short story by Robert R. McCammon, He’ll Come Knocking At Your Door, being sacrificed to nameless gods, in exchange for good fortune. The theme is that the good fortune of living there comes at a price. It can cost the inhabitants their autonomy, their sense of individualism, or their lives.

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The suburbs were created as a way to escape “the other”, (known as “White Flight”.) The suburbs themselves were supposed to be free from the encroachment of the violence, and incivility, and crime that white people were told, by the mainstream media, had overtaken the cities. What the residents did not take into account was that because of the inter-connectedness of American society, the decline of cities would eventually lead to the decline of the suburbs, as well. And, as PoC gained access to the suburbs, during the 80s, which was the height of the Slasher film era, those white people who could afford to leave, ran away to the ex-urbs, (a district outside a city, especially a prosperous area beyond the suburbs),leaving their poor white cousins behind. Since a system had already been set up, so that housing values declined with the “encroachment” of PoC, these white people were now trapped in these supposedly safe, but declining areas, being invaded by the poc they had been told they needed told to escape from, and unable to afford to leave.

In the early years of suburban movies and shows, the suburbs were a utopia, and saw the residents engaged in melodramas, or kids adventures, such as Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Peyton Place, but as television moved into the 60s, the movies, and shows, started hinting at the darker underbelly, as in the  movies of Douglas Sirk, and shows about non-conformity, like The Addams Family. In these, the suburbs are shown to be a deceptive environment, where dark things could flourish behind its walls, like pedophilia, and domestic violence. It is not the actual environment of the suburbs that produce feelings of horror, and disquiet, but the people who live there. What kind of human beings could live in this  boring, carefully arranged world, with its identical homes, and territorial picket fences? Apparently the kind who are hiding secrets.

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This may seem obvious), but suburban horror is known for being made in spaces where people are, but a film’s tension comes from where people are not. Slasher movies, in suburban environments, focus attention on hidden, dark, out of the way spaces, like abandoned houses, empty schools, and even deserted streets at night. The 1978 Halloween, for example, took place largely at night, and the streets and neighborhoods are curiously empty. There is the sense that other people are around, but they are locked away in the well-lit houses, where they don’t answer their doors to people in distress. Several times, in the movie, Laurie Strode, the movie’s Final Girl, yells for help in the middle of the street, or hammers on doors, to no response. For most of the runtime of the movie, she appears to be entirely alone in this environment, as she frantically dashes from house to house.

And there are secrets here, too. Secrets that eventually come back to disrupt the lives of the inhabitants. This is the premise of The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, in which the sins of the parents are visited upon their children, in the form of a dead pedophile, on which they’d enacted vigilante justice, by burning him alive in a school basement. Their sons and daughters are systematically murdered by this angry ghost. Angry ghosts are also the motivation behind hauntings, in movies like the 1982 Poltergeist, in which the Freeling family are haunted by ghosts in their brand-spanking new, suburban development, which was built on a cemetery from which none of the bodies had been removed. The ghosts in the  Amityville Horror from 1979, go back even further, as the movie posits  that the house was built on  Native American burial grounds. The metaphor here is that the suburbs are not as historically, or emotionally, sterile or pristine as its inhabitants are led to believe. This land has a backstory, and its foundation is built over a dark, and malignant, underbelly.

Sometimes, these stories are cautionary tales, about distrusting people, and usually follow a standard formula of something from “outside” infiltrating this peaceful space, and masquerading as one of its inhabitants, as in 1985’s Fright Night, in which a teenager becomes convinced that his new neighbor is a vampire, or that there is some form of corruption growing within it, like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in which an ordinary looking menace is hiding in plain sight, or just living in the suburbs itself is the danger, in movies like The Stepford Wives from 1975,  and 2007’s Disturbia.

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A classic “the horror comes from outside” story is Steven Spielberg’s 1976 Jaws. Amity is a small New England suburban town, that is visited by an avatar of death, in the form of a mindless killing machine, a Great White shark. The town’s new Sheriff, Martin Brody, himself an outsider, along with a local boat captain, and a wealthy marine biologist, have to  destroy the shark to restore order, because, according to the Mayor, no tourist will visit a Summer town where they can’t swim at the beach, and without tourists the town can’t survive. The presence of the shark threatens to throw the entire economic system into disorder, and destroy the town. Along with an intrusion from an indifferent outside force, such movies also included  trash talkin’, about cities, as hellish landscapes, filled with crime and poverty. In one scene, Martin Brody explains to Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper, the reasons why he left the city:

Brody : [Drunk] I’m tellin’ ya, the crime rate in New York’ll kill you. There’s so many problems, you never feel like you’re accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings… kids can’t leave the house — you gotta walk them to school. But in Amity one man can make a difference. In twenty-five years, there’s never been a shooting or a murder in this town.

The idea of the suburbs, as a safe haven from the death and disorder found in cities, didn’t get it’s start in horror films, but it was one of the reasons used to get White citizens to buy into the value of living so far from the it. That nothing ever happened there was part of the appeal. Brody’s postioning of Amity as an innocent, place that is free of danger, is thoroughly ironic, considering one of his kids is almost eaten by the shark.

Because Horror films, (and real life), have shown us that terror and death will come for us all, and cannot simply be escaped by driving further away, across some water, or in the movie, It Follows, in the water.

In It Follows from 2016, several teens living in the declining suburbs of Chicago, are  hunted by an avatar of death that is transmitted via sexual activity. The beautiful, but listless, Jay has already experienced tragedy with her father’s death, but after a sexual encounter with a young man who is not who he claims to be, she finds she is being stalked by an invisible, powerful entity, whose only purpose is to kill her. She can stave off death by having sex with someone else, thereby passing it on, but she will never escape it entirely, because just as in the real world, one cannot pass off death to another to save oneself, nor know the hour of one’s death. The film’s theme is based on the existential angst, that comes to the young, only after they begin to realize their own mortality. 

…and you have no suspicion that death, which has been making its way towards you along another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness, has chosen precisely this day of all days to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time, more or less…

— — — Marcel Proust — The Guermantes Way

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In Suburban Horror, the suburbs can be infiltrated by something dangerous, that may be masquerading as a member of the community, as in the movie Fright Night, from 1985. Jerry Dandridge is a vampire, able to successfully blend into the suburban environment, by simply conforming to the manner of dress, rituals, and behavior of its inhabitants. He is handsome, polite, charming, and friendly, introducing himself to his neighbors and accepting, and extending, invitations. His house is well taken care of and he causes no disruptions. He fits right in, thereby not arousing suspicion, except from a single teenage boy, that no one believes. Not because no one believes in vampires, but because Jerry laughs at people’s jokes, and wears turtleneck sweaters. Witness the scene when Charlie calls the police to investigate Jerry. The detective visits Jerry’s home and finds no signs of disorder. The lawn and hedges are nicely kept, the garbage is taken out, and the “gardener” says Jerry is away on a business trip. The horror comes from the idea that this “safe” place is harboring a creature that is only pretending to be human. It is especially telling that this movie was released in the 80’s, at the height of the AIDs crisis, as Jerry Dandridge is also a metaphor for another hidden monstrosity, the “predatory gay man” with his pretty face, loyal male hangers-on, and effete European mannerisms, who moves to the suburbs, so he can “infect” the children.

The suburbs are a stand in for conformity and authoritarianism. Sometimes suburbia doesn’t just produce, or expose, darkness, but actually IS the horror. Homeowners Associations, with their stifling and authoritarian rules about the length of the grass on one’s lawn, the color of one’s home, how many Christmas lights can be used, and/or the number of cars that can be parked in one’s driveway, eliminate any forms of individual expression, in favor of suffocating monotony. Obedient wives, toxic masculinity, and forced camaraderie are the norms illustrated in the film, The Stepford Wives. Based on the satire by Ira Levin, the movie takes place during 70’s First Wave feminism, as Joanna, a successful photographer, moves to the well to do town of Stepford Connecticut, with her husband and children. She grows increasingly frightened of her neighbors, and her gaslighting husband, who tells her there is nothing for her to fear. The horror in Stepford Wives is not the death of Joanna’s body, (although that’s part of it), but that she can see the death of her sense of self, through the deliberate destruction of her individuality. By the mid-70’s, the suburbs had received a reputation as the place where a woman’s dreams go to die.

The Stepford Wives. Excellent. BUT NOT TRUE~... |

As more PoC could afford to move into suburban areas in the 80’s, a siege mentality set in, as the residents believed their territory was being encroached upon, which partially accounts for the glut of slasher films released between 1980, and 1989, and all of the other suburban invasion films released along the same timeline, which pictured the suburbs being invaded by violent beings of all kinds, from aliens (Critters), to serial killers (Freddie Krueger), to creatures of folklore (Gremlins), that came there to kill, rape, or create disorder.

What the residents failed to take into account, and still do, was in fleeing the cities, they simply carried all of their pathologies with them, engaging in the same activities, from which, they were attempting to flee. After all, you cannot run away from yourself.

It’s a cheesy old adage, but it’s true. Wherever you go, there you are. What does it mean? It means that if you don’t like yourself, or you haven’t made peace with yourself for things you’ve done in the past, you will be dealing with that baggage forever.

You may even be cursed to make endless movies about it.

Halloween (1978): The Horror of Framing, and Identification

A Frame is a single image of film or video. “Framing” consists of the composition of the subjects (people ,objects) within that image. Based on where the camera and the subjects have been placed,  we know where we are, as the audience, and that can make all the difference in a person views a film.

I have friends who dislike Horror movies. I know! Sacrilege, right? But I get it. I don’t pressure them to watch them, because I understand that such movies aren’t for everyone, but I often wonder what it is about such movies that they dislike, especially when they are unable to articulate this for me. I know for some of them, its the feelings of tension and anxiety that such films produce. But I also think at least part of that anxiety has to do with the nature of the visual media itself. The camera is often a stand-in for the audience. We see what the camera sees, and visual media is carefully composed to manipulate our emotions about what we see. Some people will find it very off putting, not just watching a scene, and being helpless to stop it, but based on how the images are framed, feel as if they are actually participating in the violence. 

I was watching the original 1978  Halloween, and comparing it to the new sequel that came out last year. I was thinking about why the new sequel is so effective, at being scary, whereas none of the other sequels and remakes, outside of  were scary for me, at all.

At least part of the reason the new sequel works is it successfully replicates the framing of the first film in ways that the others do not. This framing has the effect of making the audience a participant in the action. If you remember the opening scene from the original film, we see the suburban setting as if we, the audience, were operating the camera, as Michael stabs his sister to death. Afterwards, the camera switches the viewpoint to that of his parents, we pull back when his parents pull off his mask, as he stands on the front lawn. This is an example of the audience as not just onlookers, which is the viewpoint from which most films are told, but as participants in the actions onscreen. We are not meant to simply watch, but see through Michael’s eyes, as we participate in the killing. That we see the murder from Michael’s point of view can make some members of the audience feel complicit in the act.

After this opening, the camera neatly switches between Laurie Strode’s, and Michael’s, point of view. It is Laurie’s decisions that control the plot, but she and her friends are the ones being acted upon by Michael. The movie is framed in a classic Protagonist/Antagonist plot, of two (relatively) evenly matched adversaries, who play cat and mouse throughout the movie. Part of the movie’s tension is who is going to survive, and the camera shows this by switching between both their points of view. Switching between these two different points of view is a way to keep the audience off balance.

First, let’s have a discussion of camera techniques and film vocabulary, since I am operating under the assumption that a lot of my readers have never really given a whole lot of thought to the idea that what a camera is doing, doesn’t just tell the audience how to feel, or think, but often focuses the movie’s primary themes, and character dynamics.

It is the  composition of the characters, within the Frame, which tells the audience who is of primary importance in the story, and how the audience should feel about what is happening to them.The Director, and Cinematographer are the ones who decide where the camera is going to stand, what it’s going to be doing, and what that image looks like through the viewfinder (the colors, lighting, and depth of field). One of the things that makes horror movies so unsettling is that camera viewpoints can switch at any moment. The camera can be anyone at any time. One of the side effects is that the viewer is not given time to become complacent, or to feel comfortable.

Sometimes we see the world through Michael’s eyes, experiencing the emotionlessness of this character. The way the images are framed, give us a sense of Michael’s height and power, as the camera is often placed slightly above, or at head height during his scenes. When in Michael’s point of view, the camera is always a distant, and unemotional, observer, that moves slowly, and steadily, giving him a sense of relentless implacability. He is framed as a powerful machine, a thing  which cannot be stopped. This is the same camera effect that was used in James Cameron’s The Terminator, to convey that same sense of relentlessness, whenever we see the world through the Terminator’s eyes.

In other scenes, we see the events through Laurie Strode’s eyes, experiencing her terror, vulnerability, and bravery. The camera, from Laurie’s point of view, is handheld, and so it trembles in an uncertain manner, peering slowly around corners, and hedges, through doorways, and closets. In many of her scenes, the camera is below the eye-line, as it angles up towards a sound or image. She is framed as small, timid, and helpless in comparison to Michael.

In the newest Halloween, this is masterfully done by James Carpenter, the director of the original film. In  Michael’s scenes, the camera moves slowly and steadily, contrasted against busy, or frenetic settings, at head height. Laurie, whose mindset is now very different after the trauma of the first movie, doesn’t get a lot of viewpoint scenes, but when she does she is shown, unlike in the first film, as to be equally matched with him, as the camera is at head height for her, too, until the end of the film, when Michael, now in a vulnerable position, is placed below head height, looking upward, towards Laurie and her daughter. The two of them, having turned the tables on him, look down on him from their position of  power.

No discussion of framing would be complete without mention of the film in which it was made especially famous, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho, where we watch the death of the primary character, Marion Crane, from the point of view of her killer, in the infamous “shower scene”. Hitchcock is rightfully lauded for this particular camera technique, as it had never been done in that way before, and it rightfully shocked audiences. I think at least part of that shock is that Hitchcock makes the audience feel complicit in Marion Crane’s murder, as we see it from the point of view of her killer, Norman Bates. But that’s not what makes Psycho groundbreaking. It is the switch from Marion’s point of view, earlier in the film, to a sudden shift to the killer’s, that sets it apart. Marion goes from being the Subject, to being an Object, from the person who commits the acts that determine the plot, at the beginning of the film, and the person with whom we identify, to the person who is now being acted upon. At the beginning of the film, Marion is the Subject, from whose viewpoint we see the world, but while she is killed, she becomes the Object, and WE become her killer. For some people, the sudden shift from one protagonist to another, was simply too much.

What Hitchcock did in this scene is switch Framing. Based on the framing, the audience is meant to think, or feel, a certain way about, or towards, a character, and we, as the audience, had become comfortable with the idea of Marion Crane as the primary character. You’re meant to be as uncomfortable during the shower scene, as with Michael’s murder of his sister, as your eyes are forced to see your victim, and you cannot look away.

In Hitchcock’s scene the camera is initially placed inside the shower with Marion, as she looks outward and sees a shadow. We do not see Marion, in those instances, (she is “out of frame”), because we are seeing things from her point of view. Then the camera is turned, and placed outside the shower, facing Marion. We don’t see her killer now, because we are now in the killers viewpoint. This makes this scene much more intimate than if it was “framed” another way. For example, if the camera had been placed to see both subjects, at the same time, “Framing” both of them within the image, in such an enclosed space, it would have to be placed further away from them, which would have had the effect of placing us, the audience, at an emotional remove, and the scene would feel less immediate.

By placing the camera as the point of view of either character, and switching back and forth between them, we become a part of the scene in an unexpected way. We become each character, rather than an omnipotent third party, who are just watching a murder, as would have happened if the camera were placed at a distance. The moment becomes not just more intimate, but more visceral, than if the camera, or characters, had been placed elsewhere.

Most movies are framed in such a way as to make the audience a third but invisible onlooker, which is sometimes called the “god perspective”, or the “omnipresent watcher”. If the camera is close to the scene, such as when two people are having a conversation, and both of them are seen within the frame, (a medium shot) we feel like a third invisible observer, in the scene with them. If the camera is even further away (a wide shot) than we may feel like we are not part of that scene at all. We might feel like we are spying on the two subjects from afar. If the camera is placed within the scene, switching from the view of one character to another, (the medium closeup, the over the shoulder shot), than we become each character. Where the characters are placed in the scene is an  indication of the level of intimacy between them, and  between them and us.

For example, an extreme closeup of a woman, with the camera panning, (when the camera moves up and down, or from side to side), along her body, places us in the scene with her, as we look at her body. (This is what feminists are referring to when talking about “The Male Gaze”.) Sometimes the scene is meant to be sexually evocative, as the character is may act aware that we are there, and appears to be responding to our presence in the scene with her. But if the camera is across the room, while focusing on her body and legs, then we are no longer in the scene with her, but spying on her from a distance. The character doesn’t know we are there, and acts as if she is alone, which makes us voyeurs, in what appears to be a private moment, such as the scene when Marion Crane first gets into the shower. She is unaware of the camera, and she has not given consent to look at  her, and so, she is as unaware of our presence, as she is of the killer’s.

Contrast that scene, with the opening scene, from the 1976 version of Carrie. The camera is in the shower with Carrie, in extreme closeup. Closer than the Marion Crane scene in Psycho. This is framed as a deeply intimate moment, that we are intruding on, but not participating in. Carrie is supposed to be alone, as she does not react to the camera, and is unaware of its presence. But the scene isn’t without emotion, as shots of her legs, torso, and body, are interspersed with extreme closeups of her face, with its tranquil expression. She is separated from the other girls in the room, and we are intruding on Carrie’s private moment. She is one of the last girls still in the shower, because it is the only place she can find respite from her  bullying classmates. She is enjoying this quiet solitude, before she must re-enter a painful world. Here, we are voyeurs of a different sort, as we are meant to identify with Carrie in this scene. If we were not meant to identify with her, she would be objectified, by not having extreme close ups of her face, a perspective that emphasizes her emotions, and  humanizes her.

Framing can mean the difference between objectification, and identification for an audience.  In Carrie, we are meant to identify with her. It is her classmates, who appear at  a distance, framed as a raucous  mob of water nymphs, scantily clad, and in slow motion,  who are being objectified. In a sense, that is how Carries sees them, as happy, frolicking, young women, whose faces all blend together, and that’s something that will be shown explicitly, minutes later, during the tampon throwing scene, and during the Prom scene, when Carrie thinks they are all laughing at her. She does not differentiate them. They are all the same face to her, and the audience. Focusing the camera on Carrie’s solemn facial expression, during her shower scene, is in contrast to her classmates. We are shown her feelings, and her personhood. We are meant to be sympathetic to her, not her classmates, and for some people it may be difficult to watch a film where one is made to identify with the victim of bullying.

Let’s use another example of framing, in a different film. The 2011, It Follows. Halloween and It Follows, have the same basic plot, where young women are relentlessly stalked by silent creatures that want to kill them. Both movies frame the characters in such a way that we kow they are the protagonists, both films revolve around killing that involves sexual activity, and both involve the survival, at the end of the movie, of a Final Girl.

In It Follows, Jay is being pursued by a monster that can take the form of someone she knows, after she is infected by a virus that allows her to see it. In Halloween, we go where Michael goes, and see what he sees. We are the monster. In It Follows, we mostly don’t see the world from the monster’s viewpoint, except at the opening of the film. For the rest of the movie, we are almost always looking towards the monster, and seeing the world through either Jay’s eyes, or as third impersonal observer. We don’t spend the movie walking in the monster’s footsteps, so we are not meant to identify with It, and hence, the monster is the less important character. Unlike Halloween, in It Follows, Jay is constantly being watched by the other characters in the film, and also the audience, as we observe Jay during some of her most private moments, or we see the monster (always at a distance) from Jay’s viewpoint. Jay is the movie’s focus, and everything revolves around her. This is not like Halloween, where you have two separate, matching, adversaries. The monster has no identity of its own, and is given no point of view. Any identity we see, is given to it by Jay, and everything we see of it, is from Jay’s mind. 

Michael (who is often the audience stand-in) often watches Laurie and her friends from a distance. The camera’s distance from Michael’s victims creates a feeling of emotional detachment in the audience, while closeups indicate intimacy. We don’t get closeups of their faces, because Michael isn’t interested in them as people, only as objects, upon which he acts. We are not meant to identify with Laurie’s friends. However, as a third observer, we do get lots of closeups of Laurie’s face. We are meant to feel what she feels because, the closer a camera is to a character’s face, the more intimate the moment, and some audience members might have trouble with that level of both intimacy, and tension.

Such movies, which are framed from the point of view of the killers, as if the viewers were either ineffectual observers, or participants in the scenes, means the audience is meant to feel the tension and anxiety of the victim, or the excitement, or detachment, of the killer. I’ve never felt the latter, but there are those who watch such movies who find the physical power of such characters, thrilling. I’ve also heard people who don’t like horror movies, accuse those who do, of getting just such a thrill, and that was how I came to the conclusion that some of them were being affected by how  horror movies use framing.That they are uncomfortable with feeling so close.

Perhaps, especially for those who perceive themselves as “good” people, who would never harm anyone, horror movies might be especially stressful, in this regard. Seeing horror scenes from the killer’s relentless point of view is distressing, just as much as being a stand in for the helpless and vulnerable victim, or being an invisible voyeur to violent acts.

NOTE: This post has been heavily edited, to make more sense, than when I first wrote it.

5 Haunting Horror Movies You Haven’t Seen…Yet!

I’ve been watching horror movies since I was a little girl ,who was supposed to be asleep at 11 o’clock at night. I went through a period, with my mother, where I think we tried to watch every horror movie that got made between 1980 and 1988, before I went off to college, so I have seen a helluva lot of movies, many of which have been forgotten, unless your’e a serious horror movie fan. I admit, not everything I watched was any good, but I found something interesting in these five movies, which have stayed in my memory even though I haven’t watched some of them in decades.

 

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973)

This move was made back in 1973 so I wouldnt go in expecting it t be enlightened about mental illness. I saw this movie when I was a teenager, and there was just something about it that I found deeply disturbing. Yes, the characters are disturbed, certainly, becasue this is an asylum, but that’s not the reason why this movie has haunted me for years. I suspect its some quality of mood, or lighting, or acting that I found mesmerizing back then.

A young nurse gets a job in a remote asylum for the mentally ill, and has a great deal of difficulty doing her work, as the director of the facility seems as deeply disturbed as her patients. You can probably guess what the twist is long before the plot spirals down into a hot mess of murder and mutilation.

 

 

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

A troupe of method actors and their despotic director head out to Coconut Grove, Florida where, as a prank, they exhume a corpse called Orville and are subsequently horrified when his similarly deceased friends emerge from their graves to play some deadly games of their own. Filmed as America experienced its post-60s comedown, director Bob Clark’s first horror feature began a truly terrifying trilogy that continued with the powerful anti-Vietnam war statement Dead Of Night and climaxed with the classic seasonal (and subsequently re-made) scarefest Black Christmas.

You can definitely tell this movie was filmed on the cheap, but this is also one of the first zombie movies I ever saw, long before ever watched Night of the Living Dead, and of course this is nearly forgotten, except by zombie movie enthusiasts like me. The acting isn’t great, and the special effects aren’t either, but the movie has such a distinctive feel, that I’ve never forgotten it, despite having not watched it in decades.

 

 

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

I haven’t seen this movie in decades but for some reason I still remember the haunted feeling I had watching this. The plot is a little fuzzy, but I think its about a woman who moves out into the country, with her boyfriend, to recover from a nervous breakdown, and encounters strange events, and possibly ghosts and vampires.

The movie is surprisingly well acted for a horror movie from the 70’s, and the cinematography looks gorgeous. The only drawback seems to be that the plot is a bit murky, but I do remember enjoying watching this on late night TV.

 

 

Psychomania (1974)

This is another movie I remember watching as a kid, late one night, when I was supposed to be asleep. I haven’t seen it in decades, but I still remember it pretty well, although it took me some time to find the title. I remember that I started off excited about the movie because, Hey! Zombie Bikers!, but by the end I recall a distinct feeling of melancholy for the bikers, and their inability to die, and at least part of that was due to this song.

I remember thinking something along the lines of how all these characters eventually became pretty jaded by the1974 lifestyle they thought was a form of true freedom, only to be trapped in a kind of hellish living afterlife.

 

 

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

This is another movie I watched late one night, without my mother’s permission, even though she was the one who told me about it! Its more of a mystery than a horror movie, but I’m going to put this here because it does have some onscreen kills. It stars a very young Jodi Foster, who was still riding on her fame from Taxi Driver, I think, which came out the same year.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this, but I think one of my mother’s objections to this movie, is the character is a serial killer ,who genuinely regrets killing people. My guess is that my Mom was opposed to kids killing adults in movies, which is understandable, but it might also have been the pedophilia from one of the characters, which she thought I was too young to be watching.

I wanted to see it because I was under the impression, at about nine years old, that Jodi seemed to be about my age, when she was, in fact, thirteen, at the time. I have observed that little girls often gravitate to movies about other little girls, and I was no different, except I gravitated to horror movies that starred little girls.

I cannot recall if she was alone because she killed her parents, but I do remember her making up various stories for the adults who investigated her situation, as to why she was alone, and killing the ones who got too nosy, as well as a man who was trying to get too cozy with her, if y’all know what I mean.

Starring the Landscape: Welcome to the Jungle

The Jungle is the symbolic opposite of the desert and the tundra. The Jungle environment is a stand in for confusion, the loss of civilization, wildness, overabundance, hardship, danger, fear, threat, and powerlessness. The colors associated with jungle environments in movies are greens, black, and red. The kind of horror stories that take place in the jungle often embody all these themes. In fact, many movies that take place in the jungle involve many elements of horror, even if they’re not actually horror movies.

Predator - Shooting Jungle [HD] GIF | Gfycat

The jungle is the opposite of the desert/Arctic, in that it has an overabundance of life, and most of that life is indifferent to ours. So dropping human beings into such an environment automatically makes it horrific, with the jungle itself as an external threat. Jungle movies that contain both internal and external threats are kind of rare, because often just the backdrop of the jungle itself is enough of a threat to human life that it makes the movie horrifying.

In the 2017 movie Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe, there is no more threat needed than the act of simply attempting to survive while in the jungle, with no food, no tools, and no resources, or skills. The movie is based on the true story of Yossi, an Israeli traveler who gets stranded, alone, in the Amazon, after a series of misadventures with friends. After several days of trying to get food and make shelter, Yossi is rescued by one of his friends. The movie is filmed much like a horror movie, except the killer is the environment, as Yossi and his companions encounter one challenge after another, from sickness and wounds, to river rapids and hunger.

Blu-ray Review: 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God'

In the 1972 movie, Aguirre the Wrath of God, directed by Werner Herzog, the horror comes not just from the environment, but also internal, as it comes from the weaknesses of other people. In 1560, a group of Conquistadors get lost in the Amazon, while searching for the fabled City of Gold, El Dorado. One by one, they succumb to the dangers of river rafting, sickness, hunger, angry natives, and their own perfidy, until their cruel leader is finally left alone to die in his  madness. The soldiers were not only ill prepared for the rigors of survival in the jungle, but were brought low by their own greed, selfishness, and cruelty.

Writers don’t really need to add more to make the environment more threatening to increase the horror,  but writers will occasionally drop in another external threat, such as in the most famous of these types of film, the 1987 Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a small, heavily armed, paramilitary rescue team, encounter a hostile alien in Central America, The alien possesses advanced weaponry and, one by one, stalks and kills them, until only Arnold’s character is left to outsmart it. The soldiers deal with multiple external threats that make watching the movie especially harrowing. They don’t just have to survive the dangers of the jungle, but the hostile insurgents they came to fight, and the alien, all while attempting to rescue a government official.

Predator - Shooting Jungle [HD] GIF | Gfycat

Alien beings are not the only threats form Outside however. Sometimes the threats are humans, or animals. Since the beginning of cinema, the deep, dark jungles of Africa, and South America have been shown  to be the place where White explorers fear to tread, largely because of cannibals. The most recent one of these is Eli Roth’s 2013 Green Inferno, in which a cast of white plane crash survivors are set upon by a tribe of hungry natives.

https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/the-green-inferno-is-new-low-in-racist-film-making/

http://www.fightbacknews.org/2016/1/23/racism-and-cynical-politics-are-real-horror-eli-roths-green-inferno

The Green Inferno received negative reviews, not just for its gore, but for the tired racist concept of Indigenous people as inherently bloodthirsty and cannibalistic, predators lying in wait for white tourists, or travelers, to happen by, so they can torture and kill them. Among these films were a series of exploitation films, by Italian directors from the 80s, like 1980s Cannibal Holocaust, 1981s Eaten Alive, and Cannibal Ferox, that were devoted to the topic of white people being eaten by natives in jungle environments.

Top 10 Cannibal Themed Horror Movies of the 21st Century - PopHorror

The Ruins, which was released in 2008, follows much the same plot, at least on the surface, when a group of backpackers in the Amazon, are attacked by the Indigenous tribe of that area, after they stumble across a forbidden site. The cannibal narrative is overturned, however, as the natives aren’t simply out to kill tourists, but are keeping them trapped in the jungle, to save the rest of the world from the sentient carnivorous plants the travelers have become infected with.

There is always an element of racism involved in such movies, as the natives, often people of color, are  depicted as hostile, primitive, and cannibalistic, and  whatever religions they practice are also demonized. The local natives in such films are often shown to jabbering hysterically  in foreign languages, ignorant, uneducated, and not in charge of their own fates. The pagan religions they practice are associated with the jungle landscape, and represent the wild outer reaches of civilization, where human beings can survive, but not without the assistance of unknowable animal or eldritch gods, who  are depicted as greedy, bloodthirsty, and requiring ritual sacrifices of animals and people, or involving arcane and mysterious rites of appeasement, as in the 1987 film The Believers, where a man is terrorized and cursed by the members of a Santeria cult, after he stumbles across a plot to sacrifice his son to a pagan god, to prevent World War 3.

Cannibal Ferox (1983) – Balls Out and Balls Off - YouTube

In film after film, South and Central American religions like Voodoo and Santeria are  associated with cults, jungle tribes, primitivism, a lack of education, gullibility, zombies, and Satanism. In fact, the term Witch Doctor comes directly from such movies, differentiating itself from the European witch model, by combining  pagan religious rituals with medical and scientific experiments, as in the 1988 The Serpent and the Rainbow, supposedly based on the true story of Wade Davis, where a medical doctor, gets zombified by the local Witch Doctor, while researching the zombie myth. With rare exceptions, the only time Black people (or Indigenous peoples) appear in such films is when they’re the villains.

When attractive looking White people, (because let’s be honest, urban Black people are not traveling to the jungle for any reason, and we never star in these films as the victims), are not being eaten by humans in the jungle, they are being chased and eaten by the many dangerously large animals that live there. Every year since America’s environmental awakening in the 70s, Hollywood has  produced a host of movies nature’s revenge movies, involving people being chased by giant snakes (Anaconda 1997), giant bears (Grizzly 1976), giant crocodiles (Primeval 2007) or giant pigs, (Razorback 1984) as a punishment for their hubris in believing they could conquer such an environment, or for not paying proper respect to it.

Indominus Water Scene GIF | Gfycat

The premise of “Lost World” films is often based on revenge for the hubris of white colonizers, where there is some part of the world that is so unexplored, or uninhabitable, that it is still available for exploration and/or  exploitation by white men, which nature duly rebukes for their trouble. The latest movie featuring a lost world plot is the 2017 Kong: Skull Island, wherein a group of military specialists get stranded on an unknown jungle island during the Vietnam War. They encounter the titular ape, and get picked off, one by one, by a menagerie of dangerously massive animals like spiders, pterosaurs, and to make the setup complete,  horrific underground monsters.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

But the most famous of these giant animal movies, upon which the new version is based,  is the 1933 King Kong, in which an intrepid group of explorers get stranded on a jungle island that’s been lost in time. They get hunted by everything from hostile tribesmen, to dinosaurs, to the actual ape himself. The Jurassic Park franchise of the mid-90s, is just a scientific way to upgrade the Lost World myth to the modern world, with humans being hunted through  dark jungles, by ancient creatures, while still addressing the same issues of economic exploitation. The dinosaurs are a scientific version of King King, (only without the elements of racism that mar the original  film.)

The jungle is where human beings go to kill or be killed. That’s its only purpose. There’s no compromising with it, anything can be imagined in such a place, and a person can only exist in there on its terms, which makes movies set in jungles the most exciting and terrifying adventures to have.

The Trailers Are Out!

The DCEU just had this thing online in August, that was sort of like ComicCon, but only for DC and its properties, called the FanDome. Basically they showcased all their shows, movies, and trailers online, for a week. So here are the relevant trailers, and a couple of random trailers, and videos, I threw into the mix,  just because I liked them!

 

Enola Holmes

This is a new series on Netflix, based on the Enola Holmes Mystery books, which I have heard about, but never read. Enola is Sherlock and Mycroft’s little sister, and Since I like her brothers, and I like this actress, I’m looking forward to the first episode, which looks like lighthearted fun.

 

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

For the record, I cared not one whit for the Zack Snyder cut to be released, let alone that it even existed. I’m also not exactly a Zack Snyder fan, even though I’ve probably seen all his films. Its more that  Zack Snyder keeps directing movies that have actors in it that I like, and so I end up seeing his movies.

All that said, I actually am looking forward to this and will definitely watch this mini-series, which I understand will take place over four days. Frankly, that’s how it should’ve been approached in the first place, rather than a 2+ hour movie, that seemed to displease everyone.

 

The Suicide Squad

Now, I must state up front, that I am a fan of the first Suicide Squad, which is differentiated from this one by not having the word ‘The” in front. I know people hate that first movie, but I found a lot of things to like about it, (as well as hate), and it’s more likely that I was looking at that film through a very different lens, than the white fanboys who hated it, and one day I’m going to have to write about why that is.

Anywho, I am a big fan of James Gunn, whose career got canceled briefly, but who has since been reinstated, in his role as the  director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which I personally love. Those are two of my absolute favorite MCU films ,so I’m very much looking forward to his version of the Suicide Squad.

 

The Batman

This movie actually looks okay. Yeah, I was more than a little dubious about Robert Pattinson playing this role, but I never liked Ben Affleck, and I’ve since watched Pattinson in other roles, and I feel confident that he is gonna bring it as The Batman.

Now this is a much younger Batman than we’re used to. I’d say year one or two, in his role as Gotham’s protector, and you can see that he is not as controlled in his manner, as we’ve seen the older Batmans, and that there is a little more hand to hand combat, rather than the reliance on gadgets, that a lot of the movies fall into. Hopefully, this movie will also focus on Batman being a detective, because that was the part of his role that made him interesting in the comic books, and  which hasn’t really been depicted onscreen yet.

 

The Stand 

You guys all know I’m a dedicated Stephen King fan despite some of my issues with some of his characters, but I will admit that I disliked the original mini-series of this book intensely, because the acting was so spotty, and it was trying just a little too hard to be faithful to the book, without actually being faithful to the book. But I’m kind of looking forward to this version. For one thing, it stars much better actors ,and it looks like its going to remain faithful to the spirit in which the book was written, and it happens to be timely.

Now, I don’t know how many of you want to sign on to see a pandemic destroy the Earth, considering what we’re all going through. I tried reading the book back in May, and just couldn’t get through it, and I also believe the money spent on this would have been better served filming The Talisman, but I’m gonna watch this in December, even though it ain’t got nan but two black people in it, and let you guys know what I think.

 

Thriller Haka

Taika Waititi continues to be comedy gold! I just love this man’s humor ,and of course the Thriller dance would be a Haka!

 

Raised by Wolves

Not sure what to think about this one, but I’m going to check it out because its SciFi, and based on my blog name, I am required by law to watch this, I think.

 

Tenet

I am definitely going to watch this, and then we’re going to talk about my love of Christopher Nolan films

 

Alone

I think this is an American remake of the French movie, The Night Eats The World, a zombie type movie, in which people act insane, but are not actually zombies, right? It stars that guy from Teen Wolf. There’s also a bunch of other movies out right now called Alone, but with 0009949443528

a different type of horror, so try not to get confused. This looks intriguing, but I’m not sure I want to binge on too many end of the world flicks right now, because I’m just not feeling it.

*Hopefully, my review of Lovecraft Country’s first episode, will be ready by this Friday!

Horror’s 10 Weirdest Monsters

I was just looking over a list of of horror movies I made early on this blog, of some of my favorite monsters, and took note of how damn weird all the monsters on that list were. I remember deliberately leaving certain types of traditional monsters off the list, like vampires and werewolves.

I also noticed a trend, from decade to decade, too. Whatever social or economic concerns Americans were voicing in the media at that time, got appropriated by Hollywood to make these movies, although its not quite that simple, as Hollywood didn’t just reflect our fears, but reinforced them, as a lot of these films had a sort of dialogue with one another.

In the fifties, the big theme was nuclear generated monsters because people were still reeling from the use of atomic weaponry during the war. In the sixties, the theme was zombies, and other human related horrors, as people began to question American lifestyles, and there was a great deal of social and racial upheaval. In the seventies, it was environmental concerns, and in the eighties, Hollywood focused on human and supernatural related horrors, like zombies, and slashers.

Here is my top ten list of the weirdest horror movie monsters ever screened. There’s a lot more, these just happen to be my personal favorites.

 

Little Shop Of Horrors – Giant Venus Flytrap

This is certainly one of the strangest monsters ever seen in a movie, (especially considering the sheer numbers of strange monsters in movies), a giant flytrap that is actually from Venus, that talks and sings. It took me years to figure that that’s what Audrey II was, probably because I wasn’t paying attention to the dialogue as closely as I should have, and well…Audrey is certainly distracting. The 1986 movie stars the music of Alan Mencken, was directed by Frank Oz, of Muppet fame, while Audrey was voiced by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops.

 

Food of the Gods – Giant Mice, Chickens, and Hornets

This 1978 movie was loosely based on the H.G.Wells novel of the same name about a strange substance that bubbles out of the ground near a farm, which gets fed to various animals. This causes the farm animals, and all the nearby woodland  wildlife to grow to tremendous sizes. The audience gets treated to giant chickens, giant hornets, and of course, giant mice. Yes, the acting is terrible, and the special effects are laughable, but there are at least a couple of truly effective scenes, which makes this movie worth taking a look at.

Part of the reason for all these giant and killer animal movies, during the 70s, was America’s new awareness of ecological issues, which prompted Hollywood to try to cash in on these new environmentalist fears. Movies like Squirm, Slugs, Day of the Animals, Frogs, and the many Grizzly films gave vent to American’s fears of humans destroying the environment, which prompted the environment to take revenge on us.

 

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – GiantTomatoes

In keeping with the theme of ecologically based monsters, this is an utterly ridiculous, 1978 satirical film, whose style is loosely based on the giant nuclear animal movies of the fifties, and The Blob.  The tomatoes even have their own theme song, written by John Dibello. The acting is atrocious, which only contributes to the films very, very, broad humor.

 

Night of the Lepus – Giant Rabbits

This is a 1972 horror scifi movie about a town being overrun by giant rabbits. The special effects are incredibly laughable because the rabbits don’t look especially evil or angry. They just look like rabbits, which is entirely in keeping with the “nature is trying to kill us all” phase of horror that happened during the 70s.

 

Rubber – Killer Car Tire

This 2010 movie is about a rubber tire, named Robert, that somehow becomes sentient enough to psychically kill the people it encounters. It rolls around the desert, exploding the bodies of hapless animals and unsuspecting people. Directed by Quentin Depieux, and starring a cast of nobodies, this film is much more surreal, as it also has a chorus of bystanders, who view the events, while making commentary, and who eventually all contract food poisoning by eating some bad poultry they brought with them for a picnic. Quentin needs help!

 

Attack of the Killer Shrews – Giant Shrews

This 1959, black and white,  giant animal movie revolves around a boat captain and his crew, who get stranded on a research island, with a mad scientist, his daughter, and the staff. The mad scientist believes shrinking human beings to the size of party snacks is a way to solve world hunger.  He should have stuck with enlarging plants, because naturally, he gets to be one of the first people eaten by the shrews. Its also a monumentally stupid idea.

This movie has the distinction of being one of the few movies, on this list, that scared the living beejeezus out of me…when I ten years old, and watched it on some idle Saturday afternoon. its always those childhood fears that stick with you, because I saw this a couple years ago, and yeah, I laughed at it, but it was, lowkey, still effective.

 

From Hell It Came – A Tree Stump/Zombie?

In keeping with the theme of murderous, sentient, wildlife, this is a 1957 scifi horror movie, about what appears to be an angry,  nuclear generated, tree stump, on yet another desert island. This movie has the rather unique plot of having  a witch doctor and human sacrifice involved, as well. As usual, there is the demonization of some sort of African pagan religion, which I’ll be speaking on later.

 

Black Sheep – Sheep

Black Sheep is a 2006 movie from New Zealand, about a brother who accidentally zombifies a flock of sheep, by performing genetic experiments on his father’s sheep farm. Just one bite from one of these fat, and perfectly normal looking sheep, is enough to transform a man into a horrific man-sheep monstrosity. The humor is that all of this is played completely straight and the actors really sell it.

 

The Crawling Eye – Giant Loose Eyeball

Originally called the Trollenberg Terror, this is a 1958 British, black and whit,e film. This one of the few films where the monster’s origins are not a result of nuclear something or other. The location is isolated, scientists are involved, and the monsters seemingly have a form of mind controlled.

 

Squirm – Worms

This is another movie I remember watching as a kid where  I wasn’t so much terrified, as disgusted. This movie, released in 1976, was one of the worst of the ecologically based horror movies, if only for the acting, but I still found it intriguing, because…worms. During a thunderstorm, a farm full of worms get struck with electricity from downed power lines, and decide they like the taste of people. There’s some greatly ridiculous scenes of screaming worms, and houses being swarmed by regular sized, bloodthirsty, worms.

 

Honorable Mentions

The Swarm – Killer Bees

This was apart of the great Swarm! of killer bee movies that we all got inundated with in the 70s, thanks to the media horror stories about the Africanized honey bee, the most hostile and aggressive bees on the planet because…Africa! taking over America.

 

Frogs – Frogs

This movie released in 1972, is a rather slow moving thing that doesn’t contain monsters so much as deeply stupid people. A wealthy family has a reunion on their private island, so they can fight among themselves in private, but are inundated by swarms of frogs, and other wildlife, that apparently hate them. The frogs and other animals,  aren’t grown to large sizes, or are even especially malevolent. They pretty much just act like snakes, birds, and lizards, while the family members act like accident prone ninnies.

 

So hey everybody, have a happy weekend, and watch out for the trees!

Starring The Landscape: This City Is Horrible

There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don’t understand. Internal is the human heart.

John Carpenter

 

city gif on Tumblr | Night city, City lights at night, City aesthetic

When I was a child, the very first city related Horror movies I remember, were Godzilla, and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, two stories about larger than life monsters destroying the biggest things humans have ever built — cities. These movies made an indelible impression on a little girl who lived in the city, and loved dinosaurs. It explains my love of Kaiju stories, from Godzilla, to Cloverfield, to Pacific Rim, and how movies about the destruction of cities have often moved me the most.

I grew up watching these films during the Cold War, between Russia and America, under the constant threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. I remember having nightmares about that, and avoiding movies and shows where it was depicted.

The underlying tone of most of these films is apocalyptic, with many of them indirectly referencing atomic energy. The destruction of entire cities, by some ravaging creature that was caused by atomic bombs, was often a stand-in for nuclear holocaust, natural disasters, or mankind’s hubris. These movies were terrifying, but still invoked awe and wonder, for something greater, whether that was a giant ape, a massive venom spewing dinosaur, or a fifty foot tall woman. They also provided a sense of comfort, as order, and the status quo, were restored at the end.

The stories are all about scale. The monsters are larger than life, meant to distract our attention from the city, and have the side effect of making us realize the more important things in our lives, like our loved ones, or unaccomplished personal goals. The monsters are often huge and unknowable things, that are impossible for any one individual to overcome, much like the city itself.

The monster must rival the size of the city. In 1953, New York got destroyed by a rampaging beast, awakened in the Arctic, by an atomic bomb. It was one of the first atomic age horror movies, and it set the stage for the destruction of New York, by similar beasts, like King Kong, the Cloverfield monster, and Godzilla, for the next fifty years, albeit with different motives.

Best Godzilla 1998 GIFs | Gfycat

After Godzilla in 1998, New York was destroyed again in 2008’s Cloverfield, where the lead character, who has planned to move out of the city, realizes what’s most important to him is his ex-girlfriend, when the city is invaded by some giant creature, of unknowable origin. He sets out to rescue her, in an effort to let her know how much he values her. The live action scenes of the two of them trying to escape the destruction of the city, by the rampaging creature, are juxtaposed against the live action footage of their lives during happier times. Here, the horror comes from the contrast of their human connection, with the disruption of order represented by the monster.

In 1954, long before he reached New York, Godzilla (Gojira) trampled Tokyo for the first time, and that film is an example of true urban horror, tragic, and awful, channeling the real citizen’s pain and bewilderment, after the nuclear bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly ten years before. None of the many Godzilla films that followed captured that level of intensity.  Godzilla even became an endearing and protective father figure, in a series of zany comedies, which featured other monsters. It was almost like the Japanese were healing themselves of their trauma, through film.

That is until the Fukushima disaster of 2011, a real life horror, in which a massive, earthquake-driven, tsunami, caused a meltdown of the nuclear facility in Fukushima on the same day. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives, and the entire city of Fukushima had to be evacuated. Five years later, Shin Godzilla was released, and successfully captured all the horror and tragedy of those two events , becoming yet another example of Japan reliving its worst nightmares, through the medium of film.

 

 

As in suburban settings, there are three types of Horror stories about the city. someone or something invades the city, which brings about the city’s destruction (external), something insidious is growing within the city or its people, (internal), and destroys its citizens, or it’s the setting itself that is the horror. Movies like Dracula, Blade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Train to Busan, are examples of these, although they have different goals. One is about the xenophobic fear of disease and contagion from outside the city, or growing within it, one is about the dehumanization of city life, and the loss of individual selfhood, and another is about human connections during its destruction.

Francis Ford Coppola’s version of the Dracula myth was released in 1992, and by that time, most of its original xenophobic themes had been papered over with themes of sexually transmitted disease, and romance, but there are still remnants left behind. Dracula is an outsider, from the Middle East, who brings the plague of vampirism to the busy streets of London, which, in the Victorian 1880s, was in the midst of an industrial revolution. In the real world, talk of outsiders bringing disease, has once again reared it’s ugly head, as the British government threatens to separate from the European Union, while its members speak out against illegal immigrants from places like Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq. So it’s quite a coincidence that there happens to be a yet another version of Dracula, this time set in modern day London, airing on Netflix right now.

Body Snatchers Point GIF - BodySnatchers Point Epic - Discover ...

Contagion is also one of the themes present in the movie Blade, and its sequel, Blade 2, as New York threatens to be overtaken by a plague of vampires growing within the city of New York, and is also the theme of several alien invasion films, where “sentient diseases” are passed on to unsuspecting human beings through non-consenting fluid exchange, in movies The Invasion, a remake of the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, a movie which is not as effective a story, without the sounds and images of the city of San Francisco as the backdrop. The setting is contrasted against the funny, quirky, Dr. Matthew Bennell, and his close friends. One of the other messages of the movie is how the city encourages social isolation, and dehumanizes the inhabitants, as much as the alien invasion.

In fact, the nature of city life, makes it nearly impossible to tell who has been reborn as an alien, and who has not, and that is the point. The people of San Francisco are so separated from one another, that no one really knows any of the people around them, so it’s impossible to notice if anyone has changed, even after multiple people tell the lead characters that their friends, lovers, and spouses, are not who they say they are.

The individual stories of the invasion victims are tiny, compared to the size of the city, and only heightens the pointlessness of their struggle to tell the world that an alien invasion has occurred. City people are so good at not minding the business of others, that by the time Dr. Matthew Bennell has noticed that people are losing their humanity, it’s too late to do anything about it. The city and the invasion are too huge and implacable for one person to make a difference.

The theme of dehumanization is also captured in movies like Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and Train to Busan, where a select group of individuals run a gauntlet of ravenous, once human, creatures, while trying desperately to hold onto the last shreds of their own humanity, both literally and figuratively, as civilization collapses around them. The focus of these types of stories are on the humans attempting to survive a chaotic environment, rather than the inhumanity of the monsters. The audience is drawn into the story through the kinds of decisions they make, which determine what kind of people they are. The audience is meant to identify with them, and place themselves in their shoes, thereby illuminating their own character.

 

 

Zombie movies are  a way to tell an intimate story in an oversized location. Many horror movies set in cities tend to focus on small dramas that happen during its destruction. In Train to Busan, the lead character, a callous business man, who cares more about his job than his family, learns to reconnect with his neglected young daughter, the people around him, and his own conscience, as he tries to protect her, during a zombie apocalypse. The zombie apocalypse is used as a backdrop to tell the story of a man regaining his humanity in the face of everyone losing theirs.

Sometimes, city dwellers themselves are monsters, and the the city is shown as a darkly cynical place, a cutthroat “urban jungle”, where people prey on one another, and no one can be trusted. City living is badmouthed in other movies. There are people who will rape or kill you at a moment’s notice, something which was not entirely an incorrect observation, especially during the 60’s and 70’s, when New York city was a much seedier, and more pornographic place, and Times Square in particular, before its gentrification and cleanup. Now, Times Square is clean and neat, but in the 70s, it was rife with strip clubs, open prostitution, porn theaters, and drug use. The frantic sights and sounds, river of traffic lights, buzzing of neon signs, sleek fashions, inclement weather, and constant chatter of people, are the hallmark tropes of city living. Cities are shown as cold, fast, sleek environments, often at night, using cool blues, and hot reds, which serve as  visual shorthand for lusts, and desires, but also  the emotional disconnect of the characters.

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 The movie Candyman was loosely based on a combination of African American urban legends, and the lives of the Black citizens of the Cabrini-Green housing projects of North Chicago. In the years since its creation in 1957, crime, gangs, and administrative neglect, created horrifying living conditions for its residents. Now add an immortal monster, that preys on their pain and sorrow, and what is depicted is an insidious horror, The Candyman, who was created out of  Black anguish, and white racist hysteria.

Much of Cabrini Green was eventually torn down in the 90s, and the last few buildings were destroyed in 2011. In 2020 Jordan Peele will release the spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, which will tackle themes of displacement, and gentrification by affluent white residents, who of course, are not immune to the horrors of the city, no matter how much they tell themselves that they are improving it with their return.

Seven: The Brilliance of David Fincher's Chase Scene | Den of Geek

In 1995s  Se7en, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt, she a schoolteacher, and he a cop, move back to the nameless every-city featured in the film. Unused to the grit, and callousness, she tells Morgan Freeman’s William Somerset, “I hate this city…the conditions here, are horrible.” And she is right. In Se7en, it is always raining, everything is gray, and littered with garbage, and the only warmth to be found is in Gwyneth’s character, and the home she has made for her and her husband. Throughout the movie, Somerset gives several speeches about the apathy of the people who live there, and how easy it is for human beings to not care about each other. The two people who claim to care the most about the city’s plight, are on opposite sides of the law. One is a serial killer, whose only solution seems to be causing more misery, by killing its weakest inhabitants, and the latter is Somerset’s hotheaded partner, who is eventually broken by his interaction with the former.

Cities can be a visual shorthand that represents the dehumanizing future that comes with technological progress. Got a horror story involving robots (The Terminator), or virtual reality, (The Matrix), then the best way to tackle so many sub-themes at once, is to set it in a city. Movies that question humanity, (The Fly), and reality (The 13th Floor), through technology, are almost always set in cities.

Movie of the Month - Dark City (July 2017) - Movie Forums

Just the name of the movie, Dark City (1998), invokes images of tall buildings, trash strewn alleys, crime, and permanent darkness, all of the shorthand that’s been used in Film Noir to indicate the horror of city living. Film Noir comes out of the German Expressionist cinema of 1920’s Berlin, and the American movies released in the 40’s, are based on that concept, while also referencing the crime and pulp fiction novels of the 30’s. In Film Noir, a person’s fortunes can turn on a dime, and human beings are the monsters, and with their suspect motivations, and weaknesses of character, they often bring about their own demise.

Dark City contains several monsters, including the actual  city itself, as it grows and transforms, at the whim of its alien masters. This is a literal parallel to real life cities, where, unlike the country with its bland stability, sites and markers come and go, the city grows and changes, and no where is there a fixed position.

In Dark City, a nameless man is pursued by strange men in black, for a series of murders he doesn’t remember committing. He spends most of the movie in pursuit of his memories, while discovering that the city itself is a lie. As the story progresses, we are introduced to alien possession, superpowers, and multiple themes about identity, alienation, and existential dread, which would be more difficult to impart, if the movie were set, for example, in the desert, which is representative of a different type of isolation.

It is said that there are a million stories in the naked city, and whether they are small and intimate (Rear Window, American Psycho, 1408), or huge and bombastic, (War of the Worlds, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman), that’s a promise for many more lives and cities to be destroyed, and more themes to be explored, in the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope we can survive them all.