10 Historical Horror Movies For Halloween

I really enjoyed making this list, as I’ve seen nearly all of these, and the rest are on my radar. I tried not to choose conventional movies, that everyone has already talked about, like Dracula, and The Wolfman, which are kind of a given really, or the kind of movies which featured the usual take on vampires and werewolves, although there is a tiny bit of that on this list. I also tried to add a few international movies that have maybe gotten a bit of attention on this blog. If you’re looking for a little novelty for Halloween viewing check these out.

Ravenous (1999)

After surviving a military ambush, Lt. John Boyd, discovers that he’s developed a taste for human flesh. When he gets sent to an isolated outpost, as punishment for the cowardice that saved his life, he encounters another cannibal who has fully given in to his proclivities, and tries to talk Boyd into doing so as well. This movie was directed by the late Antonia Bird, and stars Guy Pierce. Its a humorous movie, with tiny moments of camp, in the form of occasional asides from one of the characters, or the music during certain scenes, but mostly the plot and characters take themselves seriously. There are elements of the real life Donner Party incident, and strong references to overcoming addiction.

Ginger Snaps II: The Beginning (2004)

This is a sequel to the modern version of the first movie simply called Ginger Snaps. In the first movie, a young woman gets bitten by a strange creature in the woods, that was attracted to her because she was having her first period. There’s a little less of that here, but the movie does have a lot to say about the plight of women during this particular time period. There are the occasional moments of humor, but the movie isn’t particularly campy, and there is the obligatory Indigenous character ,who knows more than he’s telling, but who, of course, dies first.

After finding two sisters in the woods, being attacked by wolves, the men from an isolated outpost start giving in to paranoia and cabin fever, as they start getting picked off by a mysterious creature, that has followed them from the sister’s rescue site.

The Witch (2015)

This is a rather famous film as it won a slew of minor awards. It’s also one of my favorites. Its more dread inducing than terrifying, but if you saw Midsommar ,and Hereditary, than this is the movie you need to watch this Halloween. After her family is accused of witchcraft, a young woman encounters strange and terrifying events around her family’s isolated house. The atmosphere is perfect, but is a bit of a slow burn. The terror carefully creeps up on you, so you may want watch this with the lights on.

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

I talked about this movie in an earlier post. This kind of a werewolf movie without a werewolf. This is an odd mishmash of historical fiction, martial arts, and political mystery, based on the French story of the Beast of Gevaudin, a werewolf adjacent creature that killed several people, in the French countryside, during the 17th century. This is a horror movie for people who don’t like horror movies, or don’t want to get too scared, but its not for kids. There is some amount of gore and sexual activity.

Mark Dacascos stars as an Indigenous man with the skills of Bruce Lee, and the movie highlights these skills in several beautifully spectacular, but completely unnecessary, fight scenes. Conveniently, he barely has any dialogue. A lot of the film is taken up with political arguments, a little bit of romance, and the mystery of finding The Beast, before it kills again.

The Head Hunter (2018)

This movie was a little confusing for me, because its not a linear transgression from moment to moment. There is some backing and forthing, and the lead character doesn’t make the plot clear from the beginning, because he’s pretty much all alone. There’s no one to explain things to. This is not a fast movie, but if you wait a minute its worth it.The movie, is dark, grim, and fairly gruesome, but if you like that sort of thing, then check it out. Its about a Viking who hunts people, but also the alien looking creature that killed his family. This movie is available on Amazon Prime.

Lizzie (2018)

This a revisionist retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden, who murdered her parents with an ax, in the 19th century. There have been a couple of these in the past ten years, but this one is more artistic, and intimates that Lizzie killed her family because they disapproved of her relationship with a young woman, who moved into their home. I didn’t care too much for the revision, ( only because I prefer a simpler version of the story), but the acting is first class, and its a lovely looking film, that’s well worth the watch, just for those two things. This is available for viewing on Amazon Prime’s Shudder app.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

This is one of Guillermo Del Toro’s early films, which, unless you are a real Del Toro enthusiast, you probably haven’t seen, since this movie, like Cronos, was made before his emigration to Hollywood. It contains most of the usual Del Toro imagery, and themes, and is very similar in feel and story to Pan’s Labyrinth, with children telling each other ghost stories, while trying to protect themselves from a malevolent adult, against the backdrop of war.

Overlord (2018)

This is an unusual zombie story set during WWII. What captured my attention is the lead character is a Black man, who is ostensibly the hero of this film. After they crash their plane in a village in German territory, he and his fellow soldiers stumble across German experiments in resurrection, using some kind of black goo, that bubbles out of the ground. When his companions become infected, he has to try to destroy them, the experiments, and escape the castle where they took place. This is available on Amazon Prime.

Deadlands (2014)

This isn’t actually a movie, its a series that is loosely based on a movie of the same title. A young Maori man who fights zombie- like creatures in the real world, but at some point, must go into the afterlife to discover why the dead are rising, find the source of the evil, and save his people. This is an interesting peek into ancient Maori history, the cinematography is stunning, and this is the first type of zombie movie I’ve ever seen like this. There have been some interesting genre movies and series coming out of New Zealand, since Peter Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings there, some twenty years ago. This series is available on Amazon Prime.

Monstrum (2020)

I talked about this movie in an earlier post as well. Set in ancient Korea, its about a ruler who is given a pet creature, that grows to an enormous size. At some point he loses control over it, and sets it free to roam, and attack the citizens in an effort to keep them under control. A group of brave soldiers and clerics band together to destroy the beast.

Like Train to Busan, this is a very exhilarating action horror mashup. The monster is mysterious and terrifying, the action scenes are very suspenseful, and no one is too important to be spared. This movie is airing on Amazon Prime.

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.

Halloween Horrors Directed By Women

XX (2017) Anthology

I recently watched this anthology of horror shorts, directed by women, on Netflix and found it very effective. Not particularly frightening, but moving nonetheless. I not only enjoyed the stories themselves, but there were some interstitial moments between the episodes that I found pretty creepy, and which also tell a kind of story. Of the four stories, three of them deal with the idea of motherhood as a harrowing and anxious experience.

One of the middle stories, and the most frightening, is The Box,  about a woman whose family slowly starves themselves to death after the son peeks into the box of a stranger on a bus ride. I think I read this as a short story somewhere because it felt familiar. Its a very effective and emotional scare, as the mother is helpless to save her family, who are determined to destroy themselves. One of the other stories chronicles the adventures of a mother whose husband dies in a giant panda suit just before his daughter’s birthday party called, appropriately enough, The Birthday Party. It’s the funniest of the stories, but I was exasperated by it because it didn’t fit the gray mood of the rest of the anthology.

Dont’ Fall is the most straightforward horror story with no message to it. A group of people go camping and run afoul of an ancient cannibalistic evil. Her Only Living Son is a favorite of mine. Its like a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, if she had run away from  all the people trying to manipulate her, and tried to  raise her son not to be the AntiChrist. It’s interesting that the two most effective stories are about mothers trying to save their children from the aftermath of bad choices.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was a little dubious about watching it, at first. Women directors in the Horror genre are very rare, but this turned out to be pretty good. The types of stories  were  female-centric in a way that men’s stories just aren’t, and that was refreshing.

This movie is available on Netflix.

Ravenous (1999) Antonia Bird

I reviewed this movie some time back, and advised people to listen to the DVD commentary, because it’s very informative. I’ve since learned that Antonia Bird died from cancer in 2013. Her films include a few others I’ve watched: Priest, Safe, and Mad Love.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/geeking-out-about-ravenous-1999/

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) Ana Lily Amirpour

This is a nice little nugget of a film available on Netflix, which I have not finished watching yet, because I was interrupted. (I was about thirty minutes away from the end, which is probably when all the best stuff happens.) This is a remarkable story about an unnamed and  beautiful Iranian vampire, who spends her nights trying to resist her hunger, in the presence of an innocent young man named Arash. The movie isn’t frightening, so much as it is melancholy, although The Woman, as I call her, does manage to cause plenty of death.

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Jennifer’s Body (2009) Karyn Kusama

Despite people hating this movie, I actually enjoyed it , and thought it was pretty funny. This was my first introduction to Megan Fox ,and based on her performance here, I wish her career had continued. I wasn’t sure what to expect actually. I think I expected the director (who, at the time,  I did not know was a woman) to simply use the plot as an excuse to have Megan Fox be naked and/or sexy. I thought the trailer a little misleading. But the movie turned out to be a lot deeper, as it was about the friendship between these two very different characters, and how people change and grow apart as they get older. The movie was also written by a woman, Diablo Cody, which explains some of its humor.

Anita, played by Amanda Seyfried is friends with a bitchy cheerleader named Jennifer. Now I should have paid closer attention because I was unclear if Jennifer had been turned into a vampire, or if Jennifer actually died and was replaced by some creature. At any rate, its up to Anita to try to stop her, because, obviously, Jennifer is evil. It was hard not to like Jennifer though, because she’s actually funny, and some of the best dialogue in the movie is between her and Anita during their knockdown fight at the end.

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Raw (2016) Julia Decournau

I have yet to watch this film, but I really  liked the trailer, and so its on my Halloween list. It heavily reminds me of a cross between the movies  Thelma and Jennifer’s Body.

Its interesting to me that so many horror films directed by women seem to involve the concept of eating and the  forbidden and blood.   The anthology XX had an episode about people denying food, A Girl Walks Home Alone is about a vampire, and this one is about a young vegetarian developing a taste for raw meat after a horrible campus initiation. Ravenous and Jennifer’s Body are about cannibalism. At some point someone is going to have to analyse why that is.

Pet Semetary (1989) Mary Lambert

This is the one movie on this list I’m not a big fan of, but a heckuva lot of people really really love it, so I’m recommending it for viewing. I thought the movie was kind of ridiculous, and some of the acting was simply terrible. On the other hand, Fred Gwynne, who played Herman Munster on the sitcom, was great, and I liked Denise Crosby, who was really likable here. I was creeped out by the family cat, but I  laughed at part of the ending, when this tiny munchkin went on a murder spree. I don’t hate this movie ,but I don’t have happy thoughts about it either, although I did enjoy the Stephen King book it was based on.

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Near Dark (1987) Kathryn Bigelow

I gave a review of this movie earlier in my blogging career. This was directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Oscar for her movie The  Hurt Locker, and gave us such great characters as the Aliens version of Ellen Ripley, and the Terminator 2 version of Sarah Connor.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/near-dark-1987/

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Carrie (2013) Kimberly Peirce

I did a review of this one where I compared Kimberly’s version to the one directed by DePalma, charting the difference between when a man makes a female- centered film vs. when a woman does it. Basically, there seems lot more meaningful interaction between the women in a female directed movie. At some point I’m going to revise this review to add some new thoughts.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/carrie-vs-carrie/

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Honorable Mentions (Not Directed By Women)

These five movies were not directed by women, but the women characters are not just in the center of the plot, they are the plot. Any one of these movies would be great for a female themed marathon on Halloween night, along with longstanding favorites, like Alien, and Halloween.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

This is one of my favorite werewolf movies, right up there with the newer movie, Wer. Here, two teen Goth sisters, Bridgette, and Ginger, the local high school weirdos of a small suburban town,  discover that Ginger has developed lycanthropy, after being bitten by a wild animal, while on their way to play a prank on another girl. There is a parallel here between the disease and sexual maturity, as Ginger has just had her first period, which is why the animal attacked her. Ginger Snaps considerably deepened the discourse around the subject of feminine transformation, rage, and sisterly love,  and upped the werewolf game.

Thelma

This is a repost of a mini-review I did  in May of this year.

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I’d been looking forward to seeing this for some time, and it did not disappoint. Now, when I first heard the description of it, I had not yet seen the trailer, and I was expecting something like Carrie, but quieter. Then I saw the trailer, and found that it’s something wholly different from Carrie. This movie isn’t about vengeance, it’s about desire, and what happens to a person when that desire is repressed.

For one thing, this is a much quieter, and more subtle movie than Carrie. It’s so low-key, that the supernatural aspects of the story kind of sneak up on you. They sneak up on you because they’re  loosely covered by several other issues that you will find compelling enough to be distracting.

The film is based in Norway, and the lead character, Thelma, starts to experience epileptic seizures, except it’s not seizures. Her doctor says they are psychosomatic, and stem from emotional suppression. At the same time, she meets a young woman who comes to her rescue, after she has a seizure in the college’s public reading room, while that room’s giant picture window is battered by a flock of birds. Every time she resists her feelings for Anja, or tries to suppress her powers, she has a seizure.

Thelma and the young woman, Anja, start to get closer, but Thelma comes from a quietly strict Christian background, and she becomes very conflicted about her relationship with Anja, which starts to take a romantic turn. It turns out that Thelma isn’t necessarily conflicted because of the Christianity, but because she has the power to make things happen to people, when she strongly wants it. The Christian beliefs her parents espouse are what was used to keep her powers in check.

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When Thelma was a child, she became jealous of her baby brother, and wished him away several times. The last time she does it is emotionally devastating to her mother and father, but this isn’t something you find out until the middle of the film, and only in flashbacks, and explains why her parents treat her in the quietly aloof manner that they do.

As Thelma becomes overwhelmed about her relationship with Anja, (she keeps having sexual nightmares involving snakes, and dreams about drowning, which is classic symbolism of someone being overwhelmed by a subject), she wishes Anja away too, and it’s a testament to the low-key horror of the movie, that even at the end, you’re not entirely certain that what is happening is real. Did she bring Anja back? Is Anja even real? And then there’s the further question, brought up by her father, about whether or not Anja truly loves Thelma, or did she make Anja love her because she wants her to love her.

It’s not a straight horror movie, with jump scares, and frightening moments. The most frightening moment in the movie is when Anja disappears, and Thelma kills her father. But mostly it’s those nagging questions,that stay with you, as you start to realize Thelma is far more dangerous than you may at first have believed. Her mother and father were in a car accident a few years before she went to college, and though it’s not explicitly stated, you wonder if it was Thelma who caused it.

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After Anja disappears, Thelma leaves college to go back home, where her family welcomes her, but her father decides that she can’t leave. She takes control of her abilities, takes a horrific revenge on her father, and walks out of the house. She goes back to school, where she is greeted by a newly returned Anja, who passionately kisses her.  Her mother is disabled, and uses a wheelchair after the accident, but by the end of the film, Thelma has given her the ability to walk again.

Like several other movies I’ve seen in the past few years (It Follows, Annihilation, A Quiet Place), the horror comes not so much from what happens in the movie, but from its mood. The wintry landscape of Norway, and the remote location of Thelma’s home, is very effective. On the other hand, I can’t say that the movie was enjoyable, either. It’s too haunting for that, and I am still disturbed by the questions that arose, and the answers I came up with.

For those of you on the LGBTQ spectrum this movie is safe enough to watch There is a brief moment when you think there’s a Kill Your Gays Trope, but by the end of the movie, that has passed. Its a movie about overcoming repression, and acceptance of the self.

Thelma is available on Hulu.

It Follows

I’ve done two reviews for this movie. One is an examination of the meaning of the monster, and the other focusing on the female -centric symbolism embedded in the film.

https://wordpress.com/posts/my/tvgeekingout.wordpress.com?s=it+follows

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/it-follows-2014-more-thought

Added Bonus:

28 BLACK WOMEN HORROR FILMMAKERS:

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/2018/02/28-black-women-horror-filmmakers-meosha.html

Hannibal Season Two : Mukozuke

This episode dispenses with the case of the week entirely, in favor of advancing the plot its truly interested in, Will Graham’s plan to out Lecter as the Chesapeake Ripper. We’re also dealing with the aftermath of Bella Crawford’s attempted suicide and Beverly’s fridging by Hannibal Lecter. By the end of the third season, the show has almost entirely  jettisoned the police procedural elements of the show, to focus  on the battle between Will and Lecter.

In the course of the series, we’ve known that Lecter has done horrible things, but most of these things have happened off screen. This time his killing of Beverly is coded as the worst thing he’s done. Its merely the most blatant implication of his villainy. In Bryan Fuller’s favor, it is a testament to his writing abilities, that he can make us sympathize with such a hideous being, getting us to recognize his humanity. Against Bryan Fuller is, in his attempts to avoid the cliche of serial killers sexually victimizing women onscreen, he has still managed to fall into the cliche of non-sexual victimization of women, though, especially in the second season.

Bella, Beverly, and later Freddie Lounds and Abigail Hobbes, are not killed in a sexual fashion, and with the exception of Bella and Abigail, they don’t die on screen, but their deaths are portrayed for their shock value, if not to us, than to the characters on the show,  which is what Fuller claims he was trying to avoid. Some people claim that Lecter kills plenty of men too and so do the serial killers on the show, but most (if not all) of the men’s deaths occur off-screen.

At any rate,this particular episode doesn’t even seem to have an overriding theme, as many of the previous episodes do. It is mostly about advancing Will’s plot. Although we open with a shot of Lecter encouraging Jack to take care of himself, after his wife’s suicide attempt, we don’t actually spend a whole lot of  time with Jack in this episode.

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Freddie is called to the same telescope Location where Jack found Miriam Lass’ arm. This is why Lecter is NOT Jack’s friend, despite the questions I proffered in my last post, because this, displaying Beverly’s body in this place, is a direct slap in the face to Jack Crawford, especially on top of nearly losing his wife the previous day.

 

Jack is losing the women he feels responsible for, and Lecter is directly responsible for the loss of two of them, and had a hand in prolonging the death of the third. So, when we re-watch the fight between Lecter and Jack, at the beginning of the season, you can understand Jack’s volcanic, violent response to learning who has orchestrated so much of his  misery  in the last couple of years. In Jack’s mind, Lecter most certainly  had it coming. Jack trusted him completely and found that Lecter was never worthy.

It’s a testament to Lecter’s utter narcissism, that he can rail against Will’s betrayal of him, and never notice that Jack is far more justified in his sense of betrayal than Lecter is. In fact, most fans of the show don’t seem to notice it either, so caught up are they in humanizing Lecter and Will’s  relationship. If anyone has a firm right to feel betrayed, it would be Jack Crawford. Lecter mentally destroyed Miriam Lass, and then Will Graham. He has duped Jack again and again. He killed Beverly and neatly sidestepped killing Jack’s wife, while the whole time, he’s been feeding Jack  his victims,  and leading Jack to believe they were the best of friends.

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As with all of Lecter’s victims, there is a massive amount of “field kabuki” involved in Beverly’s death and display. She has been sliced open lengthwise and displayed between panes of glass, like a biological specimen. I think Bryan Fuller must have see The Cell, because this is a direct callback to a scene in that movie, where a horse gets dissected alive, in the same manner. In fact this series has much the same aesthetic as that film, so if you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. (Only be warned, it does involve the victimization and terrorizing of women, and  stars Jenifer Lopez.)

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Jack reports the news to the rest of his Forensic team and the FBI community, and the news eventually gets back to Will Graham, who asks to see Beverly’s  body.We get to watch Will suit up for this field trip and, for the first time, see Hannibal Lecter’s mask from the movies, or rather a version of it, as  this one is transparent. Its heartbreaking, to see Will wearing it, as everything we know about the movies has been reversed. Will mentally re-imagines the crime scene, spurred on by Beverly’s specter, which urges him to “interpret the evidence”, but he refuses to give Jack Lecter’s name, telling Jack he’ll have to reach his own conclusions, his own way. (Jack is too far under Lecter’s enchantment, right now, for Will to convince him of anything.)

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Will confronts Chilton about talking to Lecter about him, which is against his express wishes, but Chilton says it nothing important and complies with Will’s request to bring Abel Gideon to the facility. I think after his conversation with Lecter in the last episode ,Chilton has grown increasingly suspicious that Lecter is The Chesapeake Ripper. Will convinces Chilton  that Gideon is a witness, and can help jog his memories about what happened to the two of them, the night Will tried to kill Gideon.

Zeller and Price prepare to process Beverly’s body. I don’t think it need be said that in real life these two would never be allowed access to her body, in order to preserve the chain of evidence and keep contamination of the evidence to a minimum, just in case either of them held biases as to who her killer was. At any rate, them processing her body, is a clear conflict of interest, and I would think it would be fairly traumatic for them, as they were her friends.

Gideon is brought to the Hospital and he and Will discuss what happened the night they met. Their entire conversation is recorded by Chilton, who believes it.  Chilton, unable to keep his mouth shut around Lecter, informs Lecter that Gideon is at the hospital at Will’s request. Lecter doesn’t like this and asks to see Gideon, who pretends the two of them have never met.

Lecter encounters Freddie Lounds after his conversation with Gideon and she informs him that Will asked her to interview him. I’m sure Lecter is worried about all these people coming to talk to Will, and wonders what Will is planning, with all these requests to speak to certain influential people. First the request for Chilton to become his primary physician, then the request to have Gideon transferred to talk to him,  and now an interview with Freddie Lounds. Whatever Will is planning, Lecter needs to nip that shit in the bud.

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Will tells Freddie he wants to use Tattlecrimes to open a dialogue with the admirer who sent him the ear at his trial. Will’s activities and adventures closely parallel Lecter’s activities in season three, when Dollarhyde, who greatly admired Lecter, opened a dialogue with Lecter and sent him Chilton’s lips. (The  only show on TV, where that sentence even begins  to make any kind of sense, without it being totally ridiculous.)

Aided by Freddie’s interview in Tattlecrimes, Will’s  orderly confesses to him that he is his admirer. Like Lecter in season three, manipulating Dollarhyde into going after Will and Molly, Will enlists his admirer to kill Lecter. This is overheard by Gideon.

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After this request, Will hallucinates that he is becoming the ManStag, and he should, after adopting  just the kind of underhanded tactics that Lecter uses against his enemies. This is not the first time that Will tries to kill Lecter, but one can argue that he certainly becomes more comfortable with that activity as the series progresses. He’s never tried to kill Lecter under the aegis of the law anyway, but at least he had righteousness on his side, and didn’t try to manipulate others into doing it.

Alana visits and tries to talk Will out of his vengeful mood but can see she’s not making much headway. She goes on to question Chilton about why Gideon has been brought to the hospital, and then confronts Gideon about his presence, as well. Alana is on a real tear in this episode. She is always extremely protective of all those who come under her wing, and now she’s trying to protect both Will and Lecter, simultaneously. Gideon warns Alana about what Will has done and she calls on Jack for aid.

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Will’s orderly, Matthew Brown, kidnaps Lecter at the public pool. He ties Lecter up and places him atop a bucket with a rope around his neck. He also  slits Lecter’s wrists, so that when he finally goes weak from blood loss, he’ll choke to death. He interrogates Lecter, asking if he killed Will’s Judge at his trial, and if he is The Chesapeake Ripper. Lecter doesn’t seem at all phased by any of his, and is still as snarky as usual.

Jack and Alana track Lecter, and for the second time, in the series,  Jack saves Lecter’s life. The first time was in Savoreux, when Will tried to shoot Lecter, in Abigail’s house.

Will, unaware that his plan has been foiled, hallucinates a flood of blood in his cell that night.So, its not Will trying to kill Lecter in Abigail’s kitchen that begins Will’s fall into the abyss. It starts when Will attempts to, as Nietzsche put it, “out-monster the monster”.

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Hannibal Season Two : Takiawase

Will is dream-fishing with Abigail again. He often has these idealized dreams of what their life might have been like if she were still alive. I’ve figured out that these dreams are not about their actual relationship, but the relationship Will wished they had. Its not that he didn’t care about her when she was alive. He did love her and was desperate to save her because he was the one who changed her life by killing her father, but her behavior in Will’s  dreams,  doesn’t  match up to how she actually behaved towards him, when she was alive.

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Abigail was a severely traumatized, lying, manipulative , and intelligent young woman, and Will’s dreams are his idealization of her. In his dreams, Abigail can do no wrong and understands everything, including him, whereas in the real world the two of them butted heads more often than not and I never got the feeling  that she cared very deeply about Will. (This may be the reason I dislike her.) Her most important scenes happened in the presence of Lecter, and when she finally confided her big secret, it was to Lecter. Later, she questioned Lecter about whether or not Will knew her secret, and Lecter had to reassure her that Will would keep her it. To me this points to a certain lack of trust on Abigail’s part.

Lecter knew about Will’s idealization of her and his need to save her, because of Will’s reaction to the kidnapped boys in the episode “Oeuf”, in season one. In a sense, Will handed Lecter the keys to manipulate him  through his idealization of Abigail. It was easy for Lecter to pretend that Abigail was dead all through the second season because, in a sense, Will wasn’t actually  mourning Abigail. He was mourning a potential Abigail, that had never been real. Notice how he and Abigail are almost never seen engaging in any other activity beyond fishing and they are always happy, calm, and content. In the real world, Abigail was rarely happy, or content. Fishing is Will’s perfect escape, and in his dream, he shares his perfect escape with his perfect daughter-who-might-have-been.

The discussions Will has with Abigail,  throughout all of season two and three, are discussions that Will is having with himself. Even in his dreams, Will just can’t seem to keep that big brain of his from working his cases (or rather the enigma of Hannibal Lecter.)

After the circus of Will’s trial, Beverly discusses with Will how she can determine Lecter’s guilt. Will says not to look for Lecter’s guilt, just revisit all the evidence for signs that not everything is what it seems. After Beverly’s statements in the last episode, about the manner of evidence found against Will,  she is somewhat primed to do this.

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HANNIBAL — “Takiawase” Episode 204 — Pictured: (l-r) Scott Thompson as Jimmy Price, Aaron Abrams as Brian Zeller, Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford — (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

Next we’re introduced to the case and theme for this episode. In the forest a man’s body is found who has been turned into what Jimmy Price called a “Human Apiary”, a bee’s nest. The case of who did it and why isn’t much of a case, as the mystery is   dispensed with rather quickly,  and is kind of secondary to the episodes theme of euthanasia.

Euthanasia: is the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering. This episode is about people trying to relieve themselves of pain and indignity. On the one hand you have the killer, played wonderfully by Amanda Plummer, an acupuncturist who is trying to relieve the pain of her patients by giving them lobotomies. Not that the lobotomies don’t work, its just what she’s  doing is overkill.

Then you have Bella Crawford, who wishes to take her own life rather than go through the pain and indignity of dying, screaming, in a hospital bed. And there’s Lecter who, with a flip of a coin,  decides for reasons known only to God, the Devil and small children, to resuscitate her when she  overdoses on morphine in his office.

I initially thought it was because he didn’t want Jack to think he hadn’t done everything in his power to save her. After all, he still needs Jack in his position of power. He needs  Jack to think of them as friends, also with Bella dead, Jack might decide to retire and that would be unacceptable to Lecter. My second thought was that he didn’t want anyone else dying in his office after Tobias Budge (Fromage), because he can’t afford any more scrutiny. People will ask a lot of questions about the wife of an FBI supervisor dying in his office.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that its, more  likely, sheer whimsy on his part. Lecter often chooses a course of behavior based on curiosity and that may well be the case here.

In the meantime, Will, embarking on the rest of his plan to out Lecter, tells Chilton not to discuss anything he says or does with Lecter, and that he is now exclusively under Chilton’s care. I think the purpose of this part of the plan is to make Lecter suspicious of Chilton for taking away access to his patient. This backfires because Chilton simply can’t keep his mouth shut around Lecter, and informs him that Will made the request. Will is attempting to play these two doctors off each other but this ploy is undermined by Chilton always wanting to impress and/or gloat, when he’s around Lecter, a dynamic Will hadn’t seen, and didn’t know about. However, Will does succeed in getting Chilton to take his side, (by appealing to his ego), and be suspicious of Lecter. How much of Chilton’s suspicion is believing in Will’s innocence vs. wanting to think the worst of Lecter, is anyone’s guess.

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Chilton hypnotizes Will and discovers that Lecter used  unethical tactics, the same tactics he was accused of using with Abel Gideon, on Will. He confronts Lecter about this, in an effort to form some kind of comradery with Lecter, not understanding that Lecter neither needs, nor  wants,  any comradery but that of Will Graham. I think,  Lecter, for his part, begins  eyeing Chilton as a possible recipient of future scandal involving The Chesapeake Ripper, just after this conversation.  He does not like his professional decisions to be questioned, as he considers that to be rude, and also he doesn’t need Chilton insinuating to people that something might be wrong.

Bella meets with Lecter and they discuss suicide as an alternative to her coming death by lung cancer. He leads her to believe that he is a proponent of euthanasia, which is why she chooses his office for her death scene. Earlier, there’s a charming scene of Bella and Jack, in support of his wife, smoking weed (Purple Kush, she calls it) in their bedroom. It’s  a beautifully touching scene, between two PoC, showing a deep love for each other. Jack wants her to be with him as long as possible because he loves her,  but Bella is afraid of her imminent death and doesn’t want Jack to experience what she did, when her mother was dying of of the same disease.

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She makes Lecter promise to make Jack take care of himself after she’s gone and he agrees to this.

A lot of people saw her not telling Jack about her disease as disrespectful to him but I was more positive about her deception. She withholds this knowledge because as soon as she tells him, he will have to directly  deal with the idea of her dying, and she wants to put that off as long as possible. She says it’s because Jack has enough to worry about and she doesn’t need him worrying about her, too but I think that’s just marriage-speak,  the shorthand that two people develop when they have lived with each other’s feelings for so many years. She loves Jack and doesn’t want t o cause him pain. She knows, that sooner or later her death will cause him pain. If she can die easily, causing as little pain to Jack as possible, she will do that.

Notice how, as Bella comes to accept her imminent death, the colors she wears switches to all white. She was already wearing a mix of off-whites, blacks, grays, and pastels, but now that she has accepted that she is going to die, her wardrobe consists entirely of white, the two times she comes to visit Lecter in his office.

Zeller and Price’s investigation of the Bee Killer’s patients, gives Beverly an idea about her own investigation of the evidence in Will’s case, about looking beneath the surface of things. How the evidence on top can often mask greater evidence underneath.She discovers that the Eye of God killer had his kidneys removed. She takes this information to Will, who chastises her for consulting with Lecter about it, and warns her away from him, saying she has found what he wanted her to find.

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Zeller, Price and Jack confront the Bee Killer, an acupuncturist named Katherine Pimms, who immediately confesses to her crimes. (Once again, Fuller presents us with a serial killer who is not sexually oriented, in keeping with his mandate not to show the sexual victimization of women, as so many movies about serial killers, regularly engage.) Katherine, like the Mushroom Killer from season one, believes she was helping her victims. She’s very gleeful about this actually. She asks if any of them tried to eat the honey made by the bees who took up residence in the man’s head. (Ewww!) She says she was quieting their minds to relieve their pain. The entire time I’m watching this, I’m wondering if Jack is connecting what Pimms is saying, to his wife Bella. If he isn’t, then he should, because what Pimms is saying, is about to have a direct effect on his life.

Will’s mind, stimulated by Chilton’s activities, pulls up the memory of Will and Abel Gideon in Lecter’s home, the night he tried to kill Gideon. He asks Chilton to transfer Gideon to the hospital with him, as Gideon is a witness to Lecter’s unethical activities with him. Later, he warns Beverly that she should take whatever evidence she found to Jack. But what she tells him spurs Will to recognize that The Chesapeake Ripper committed that particular crime and that he is eating his victims.

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Jack is called away to Bella’s side in the hospital after Lecter revives her after she dies in his office. She is not grateful for this and pulls up enough strength to  give him a good, sharp slap, for going against her express wishes, especially after he agreed with her about how ,”Death is not a defeat.”  But I enjoyed that slap because Lecter lies to Jack about his reason for saving her, saying that all life is precious, when we know what he is. Beverly takes Lecter’s absence as an opportunity to gather more evidence against him. Instead of taking her evidence to Jack, who is at the hospital,  she goes to Lecters home. Lecter leaves early, though, and catches Beverly in his home. She fires her gun several times but it is not enough to save her.

I was going to write on the reasons why Beverly’s death is, or is not, fridging and how women of color are treated on the show. (There are two women of color on the show and one is killed and the other is dying.) But there are people who are much more eloquent about these views online. I feel that the situation is complicated by the needs of the story, so this is about more  than Bryan Fuller being a  misogynist or a racist. For the record, I don’t believe he is, at least not consciously, but people are capable of perpetuating racist concepts, when they don’t think deeply enough about what they’re doing. A lot of arguments can be made both for, and against, Bryan Fuller for making these story decisions, and though I’m a WoC, I still don’t know how to feel about them.

Since Beverly is an unorthodox character, who is Asian, there are things about the killing of Beverly that I, as a black woman, just didn’t see, until it was pointed out to me by Asian writers. So what I will do is let Hetienne Park , (whom I absolutely love, btw,) speak about this in her own words:

Hetienne Park:

https://yellowbird66.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/racism-sexism-and-hannibal-eat-the-rude/

And the  Counterpoint, which I completely understand:

Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Why Hetienne Park’s Response Still Left Me Unsatisfied

 And this article here, which falls somewhere in the middle:

 

What do you think about Beverly Katz’s death in the show? Please, keep in mind that Asian women may have a very different point of view  and that their opinion of her death is just as valid, as they are the ones who get to speak on those issues that most  directly affect their lives.

Hannibal Season Two : Hassun

Will has a lot of dreams in the next few episodes. This is the result of a clear mind, that’s not being manipulated, drugged, or suffering a fever. His subconscious mind is always busy finding solutions to problems he hasn’t consciously been presented with yet, and answering  questions he hasn’t yet been asked.

This time he’s dreaming about killing himself in the electric chair. This is a basic anxiety dream about his very real life situation and has nothing to do with Lecter, really. I’m not sure of the significance of dreaming that he’s doing it to himself, beyond his last statement to Kade Prunell, about having to save himself. If he doesn’t save himself, no one will. He doesn’t yet know Lecter is just as desperate to save him and wouldn’t believe that if he knew. After all, Lecter put him where he is.

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The first day of the trial begins with watching Will getting dressed in his cell. This is the first time we’ve seen Will this well dressed. (He usually wears rumpled plaids.) This “dressing up” montage is paralleled with scenes of Lecter suiting up for the trial. It’s as if the two of them are going into battle, only in Will’s case, his suit really is a form of armor to emotionally distance himself from the people around him, and the events happening to him. For highly empathic people, crowds are a special form of Hell, where it’s difficult to block out other peoples emotions. Will is going to be sitting in a crowded courtroom, while people focus their attention at him, for several hours.He’s going to need the  protection. In Lecter’s case his suit is a masquerade, hiding his true nature from the people around him, a suit on top of his people suit.

There’s a certain lecherous humor involved in watching Lecter zip his pants. Why is that so funny? I think its the emphatic manner in which its done. There! That’s final!

The Prosecutor’s argument is that Will is an intelligent psychopath who is,  probably, the smartest person in the room. When she says that we glimpse Lecter’s familiar smirk. No. He’s the smartest person in the room.  After all, he caught Will Graham.

Kade Prunell counsels Jack to get over his guilt. She tells him his priority should be keeping his job. But Jack doesn’t listen, and his conscience prompts him to defend Will, when the Prosecutor says that Will enjoyed hiding behind the FBI to commit his crimes. In his testimony, he appears to take responsibility for Will’s instability, saying he kept pressuring Will to do the work, even though Will hated it. Will is his friend, after all, and every one of his instincts tells him that Will is not a killer, and if Will Graham is not a killer, then it is his fault, for making him one.

Afterwards, Will’s lawyer is confident that this is the sort of break they need to have Will exonerated. He and Will argue briefly over the lawyers methods, but they are of too different mindsets. One of them is a sensitive, ivory tower dreamer, and the other is something more grounded and pragmatic, so they’ll never see eye to eye about the issue. (A groundhog has very different priorities than a  hawk.) During this discussion, Will’s lawyer has a human ear delivered to him. The funniest line in the episode, is him saying he must have gotten Will’s mail by mistake.

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The series is starting to play around with humor more. The creators, as they become more certain of the story they wish to tell, are getting frisky with the material, and the characters are funnier. Season three is, of course, one of the funniest seasons, with   Will, Bedelia, and Lecter getting in some wonderful quips and one-liners, as all three of them seem to realize the sheer craziness of the situations they find themselves in.

Jack and Lecter discuss Jack’s testimony. Lecter cautions Jack not to throw away his career for a short term goal, like assuaging his conscience. Its ironic that someone who has never had a friend in his life, in striving to make Jack believe they are friends, is quite possibly one of the best friends Jack could ever have. Lecter says and does all the correct things friends say and do. He’s the prefect friend even though he doesn’t actually know how to be friends. He knows how to go through the motions of friendship to get what he wants. Another irony is that Lecter doesn’t actually see how real his pretense looks.

How much of a difference, which makes no difference, is no difference?  Are Jack and Hannibal really friends? Certainly Jack believes it. Lecter walks the walk and talks the talk, so is he actually Jack’s friend, even though we know that he is only behaving this way because it suits his own ends?

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Questions arise as to where the ear came from and why it was sent to Will. Jack and the forensic crew start to wonder if there is another killer out there and if that person could be responsible for the killings Will has been accused of. Will wonders if he has an admirer and who that might be. It turns out that Will does have an admirer, who killed the bailiff at Will’s trial, chopped off his ear, gave him a Glasgow smile, impaled him on a deer’s antlers and burned him in a booby trap, when the authorities came to investigate. Beverly makes an argument for Will’s innocence, saying that the evidence against him was presentational and that no evidence of his guilt has been found since. The Bailiff’s death is another version of “Field Kabuki”, just like the evidence they found about Will. It is Lecter who asked the most pertinent question: How will this affect the outcome of Will’s trial?

Chilton takes the stand and proceeds to describe Hannibal Lecter in great detail. The only problem is that he’s applying all these descriptions to Will Graham. Not saying that killers can’t love dogs, but the description he gives of Will Graham is no match against what we have actually  seen of Will.  Anyone who has ever seen him around his little pack of Lost Mutts, can’t possibly believe the things Chilton says about him. It’s not that Chilton is wrong. He’s just pointed  in the wrong direction.

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Hannibal takes the forensic evidence in the bailiff’s murder to Will, who unequivocally states that the Bailiff’s murderer, and the person who murdered the women he’s accused of killing, are not the same person. He knows Lecter already knows this, to which Lecter replies, he was reaching for a reason to believe in Will’s innocence.  He wants Will to believe he is his friend and  wants him to think the best of him. Lecter’s attitude towards Will is often puzzling and sometimes funny. In the first season he was indulgent with Will, often giving his rudeness a pass, although Lecter’s patience with him only goes so far. He often harms Will while feeling irritated with him, only to regret it later, as in the season one episode, Fromage.. It is extremely obvious to us  that Will hates him, and why, but Lecter often acts puzzled about Will’s enmity towards him.

He tells Will that the killer left him a gift and that he shouldn’t allow the killer’s love to go to waste, but even though he didn’t kill the Bailiff, you know he’s talking about himself.After all, he admires Will, too. This has parallels to Tobias Budge from season one, who left dead love letters all over Boston, as an admirer of the Chesapeake Ripper.

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Freddie Lounds is called to the stand. She makes quite an entrance, and looks hella smart, in her blue and black suit. She looks like she stepped right out of a Dashell Hammet novel, and she must think she’s in one, as she twitches her way up to the witness stand and proceeds to outright lie about Will Graham’s relationship to Abigail Hobbes. Freddie Lounds is so unreliable a narrator,that all the Defense needs to do is mention the many times shes been sued for libel, and how many times she settled those suits.

Will’s lawyer, who was  grooming Alana to take the stand, abandons her, jumping at the opportunity that’s been given by the Bailiff’s death.  Alana was having some trouble being truthful about whether or not she had a romantic relationship with Will, anyway. Well, technically they didn’t, as that relationship was stillborn. The Defense calls Lecter to the stand, instead, to testify that it is the same killer, but the Judge dismisses Lecter’s testimony. Watch the look of irritation on Lecter’s face when this happens.You just know this is not going to end well for the Judge. Lecter really hates for his professionalism to be questioned..

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Okay, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not sure I understand why Lecter’s testimony was thrown out. He was called to the stand as an expert witness on profiling, but the prosecutor decided that what he’s saying is his personal opinion about the forensic evidence, and the Judge agreed to go along with this.Why would the Judge agree to that, when he gave the Defense permission to let Lecter testify in the first place?  Well, yes, it is personal opinion, but it’s Lecter’s  expert professional opinion, which is why he was called. He didn’t just pull it out of his  ass (although for the purposes of this discussion, the viewers know, and will ignore,  that he did pull that out of his ass.) At any rate, even I was pissed off at what the Judge and Prosecutor did, so I can imagine how Lecter must have felt.

Lecter, dejected by the Judge’s decision, sits quietly in his office. He ‘s come to deeply regret framing Will for his murders and  misses his friend. There’s that dull ache, that his former patient, Franklyn, talked about. While Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor plays in the background, we see all the main characters sitting alone in their places of power: Jack, Lecter ,and Will. Lecter wants Will to be free so badly,and  has no real idea how to correct it, except to kill again as the Chesapeake Ripper.So he kills the Judge, scoops out his brain and heart, and balances them on a scale. He needs to make this a definitive Ripper statement. The Judge’s death, at the hands of the real killer, results in a mistrial.

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When Alana comes to see Will, she asks what he thinks the killer wants from him. I’m not sure whether he’s talking about Syke’s killer, or Lecter, when he says the killer wants to know him.

Will dreams of the Stag opening his cell door. He walks out to see Lecter standing in the hall pointing the way out. (Shit Will’s mind is working on while he’s asleep.) Will  knows Lecter killed the Judge in the hope that it would affect his trial. now he just needs to know why?

 

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Geeking Out About : Ravenous (1999)

Guy Pearce’s character, Lt James Boyd, is pathologically incapable of lying. So much so, that I spent a not insignificant portion of this movie screaming at my TV, for him to, “Just lie, Dammit!”

<Sigh> Let me start at the beginning.

Lt. James Boyd is honored with a medal for  single-handedly defeating the Mexican Army, somewhere. But, since he is incapable of lying, he tells his superiors how he actually did it. It involves pretending to play dead, feeling renewed vigor after the blood of one of his officers gets in his mouth, then getting the drop on his captors.  He is so appalled by this, that he decides to become a vegetarian.

So, he gets a medal but he also gets shipped off to the middle of no and where for his “unorthodox” methods and because his CO doesn’t want to set a bad precedent. See, if Boyd had simply lied about his motivation or method, he would not then have been shipped off to Fort Spencer for Rejects, and we would probably have no movie.

He gets shipped off to the Rockies where a skeleton staff, consisting of a drunken officer named Knox, (who never met a bottle he didn’t like); two native people, a brother and sister named, respectfully, George and Martha; a gung- ho Private named Reich (who he is advised to steer clear of); twitchy muttering priest named Tofler who likes to sing religious hymns;  his bemused CO, Colonel Hart,who likes to kill walnuts with his books, after reading them in their original languages; and the permanently overmedicated  Private Cleaves.

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One harsh night a stranger stumbles into the Fort, frostbitten and exhausted. He tells a horrific story of cannibalism and that there may yet be survivors. Since their job at Fort Spencer is to offer aid and rescue to people traveling the Rockies, everyone except Martha and Cleaves, (who have left on a supply run,) spring into action. But not before George can explain to them, the myth of the Wendigo

And this is where it all goes horribly wrong. Which is saying something if you were paying attention to anything I stated earlier in this post.

It turns out the story is a ruse and that their rescued stranger is actually Colonel Ives. He’d killed and eaten the party he’d been traveling with, and now that he’s lured them all out, he intends another buffet.

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Everyone dies except Boyd, who only survives by eating the body of the dead Private Reich. (Here’s the thing, if Boyd got sent to Fort Spencer for cowardice, which he insists on telling anyone who will listen, I don’t even want to know why Reich got sent there. In every respect, he appears to be the perfect soldier, except that he seems just a little too happy to be one.)

Boyd makes it back to Fort Spencer with an extraordinary story for his  superiors, who beg him to retract it, but he insists. In fact, not only do they ask him to retract the story, they actually beg him to lie and even offer him a story with which to do it. I begged him to lie.This was the point where I began screaming at my TV.

Then to his surprise, in walks Colonel Ives which, of course, makes him seem like a liar. He has no luck convincing anyone that Ives is the killer and he and his story are dismissed.

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Colonel Ives settles in and begins making plans. He thinks he’s got a good set up at Fort Spencer. He can eat all the people he needs, without fear of discovery, as long as a few key officers are in on it. When Boyd does not agree to go along with this, and Cleaves and the horses are killed, Ives has him locked away. He sends Martha out to gather up their COs, for a court martial, also known as “breakfast, lunch and reinforcements.”

It turns out that Colonel Hart is still alive after Knox is killed. At first, he’s kind of into the whole idea of being a cannibal, but after realizes that it would involve far too much killing to suit him, he asks Boyd to kill him. He does.Boyd then  decides to have it out with Ives.

Just before the other officers can arrive, the two of them have a knockdown, drag out fight that involves collapsing buildings, fire, swords and a giant bear trap. In the end, its left up to the viewer, who will survive by eating who.

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I have to confess, when I first heard about this movie, I had no idea it was supposed to be funny. The trailer gave me no real clue about it, other than it involved cannibalism, on the old frontier. At the time, I’d known the story of the Donner Party and I thought this movie might be a reenactment.

I watched this movie three times. The first time I was very mad as Hell because I just didn’t get it. Was I supposed to laugh? Was this supposed to be funny? Why were they making fun of such a serious topic? Why is the music so ridiculous? Or maybe it was just that I was much younger and of a more serious bent back then. I don’t know.

The second time I tried watching it with my Mom. I thought she’d like it because, hey! people being eaten!, but she hated it too. I don’t think she even remembers watching this because its been sitting on our DVR for about two months now, and she hasn’t said a word, other than to ask me when I was going to delete it.

The third time is the charm or maybe its just because I was older and better prepared. Or it could be that I was coming down from a nasty flu and was the most lucid I’d been in about 24 hours. It was on cable one night and I. Just. Got. It. I got every joke, every reference, including Martha and George’s names, Tofler’s religious hymns, and Ives’ snarky asides about eating people.

There’s no stinting on the gore, if that’s your bag. The humor is as dark as the subject matter but never at the character’s expense. It’s not so much you laughing at these people, so much  as the characters  are mordantly sardonic about their ridiculous situation. This is not a slapstick movie. The humor isn’t physical. None of them, with the exception of Cleaves, plays any of this for laughs, then again, he spends most of the film higher than a kite, so that’s his excuse.. Colonel Hart and Colonel Ives, especially, get some of the best lines in the movie.

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There is one woman in this movie. A Native American woman (Martha) who manages, through a combination of canniness and luck, to survive to the end of the movie. She has maybe five to ten lines of dialogue in the whole movie and I sort of wondered why she was in it at all. George, her brother, gets even fewer lines and under the “Highlander Principle” of movie making, if you have more than one of any marginalized people, in a movie, “there can be only one”, by the end of it.

Boyd, played by one of my favorite actors, (Guy Pearce), actually shows a certain amount of bravery at the end in trying to take down Ives, but I’m not certain if its because he’s actually being brave or if its because he just ate Colonel Hart.

His fight with Ives is only slightly less destructive than Superman’s fight with Colonel Zod, in Man of Steel. Its directed by  a woman, Antonia Frasier, and if you’ve never seen the movie, as soon as you’re done, watch it again with the commentary. Her remarks are interesting and enlightening as to what she was trying to accomplish and why.

And if you can get past some of the most ridiculous music ever put in a movie, you may put this on the shelf, along with the best of Sam Raimi’s films.

This has since become one of my all-time favorite horror movies, right up there with the remake of The Thing and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.The movie by which all other cannibal movies are compared and found wanting.