horror

Happy Friday The 13th, from me and Jason Voorhees

When it comes to horror the 80s, bathed in blood and soaked in spine-chilling screams, gave us so many classics. And Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th is certainly one of them…

And as I’m sure you all know today is Friday the 13th, so there is no better excuse to blow the dust of an old classic and give your blood a good curdling, and your bones a good chilling.

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Loaded with suspense, a classic two note horror score, and a complex (and surprising) villain it’s got everything you could want… And more!

Enjoy!

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Nature vs nurture: Psychos on film

My post about Elijah Wood’s creepy turn as Frank Zito in Maniac sparked a nice little discussion over on Blogcatalog about the depiction of psychotic, homicidal maniacs in cinema — and how they are so often portrayed as having a tragic start to life, which often triggers their psychosis. The whole thing got me thinking about the old Nature vs. Nurture debate and how it’s frequently used in horror films, especially.

We all know Norman Bates had mommy issues, as did Jason Voorhees, and Se7en’s John Doe was physically abused and suffered electric shock treatment as a child. But, is it more terrifying when on screen psychos have ‘normal’ lives?n

This started me off on one of my personal gripes. The remake. And, in this particular case, Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween. I’ve got two things to say about that: One, I hated it. Two, it wasn’t necessary. And my reason for both is Michael Myers was totally misrepresented in the remake.Yes, that mask-wearing, knife-wielding unstoppable creep who in  John Carpenter’s original 1978 movie starts his killing streak by murdering his sister when he’s just a young child.

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What is so sinister and unnerving about this is that Michael appears to live in, what seems like, a great neighbourhood in a nice house with wealthy, loving parents. There’s absolutely no sign or suggestion that he suffered any type of trauma or mistreatment that could lead to his homicidal behaviour. Making it shocking and all the more blood-curdling to think evil can be simply born — and there’s nothing we can do about it. From a writer’s point of view, it was a refreshing twist on the well-worn road of serial killers having flashbacks of childhood trauma as a way of ‘triggering’ their behaviour.

Compare this to the remake where Michael is living in squalid conditions and regularly exposed to drug paraphernalia and abuse as well as his mom being mistreated by her clients — so, watching a kid live with such depravity and absolutely no moral compass, it doesn’t seem as shocking when he lashes out with violent behaviour and displays a complete lack of morals himself.

And, as a viewer, this portrayal of his character becomes immediately less interesting and therefore less frightening. In this instance it seemed almost reasonable, and understandable, for a child like that to grow up with a skewed view of the world and a warped idea of right and wrong. And from a writer’s point of view, this is the easy way out. Plain and simple.

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So, when it comes to psychopaths with absolutely no apparent rhyme or reason to behave the way they do Alex Delarge step right up. He is, without question, as depraved as they come. And why? Purely because he wants to be. He is a boy whose primary interests involve ‘Beethoven, rape and ultra-violence’ and we can all agree that two out of three of those are not things you’d list on your resume in a hurry.

Alex is a character I have been fascinated by and obsessed with for the past eight years. It’s a testament to Anthony Burgess’ incredible skill as a writer that he could create a character so devoid of empathy, or compassion and yet charming and endearing . Especially in Kubrick’s controversial big screen adaptation where there’s something sexy and alluring about Malcolm MCdowell’s portrayal of Alex, you become increasingly spellbound by his actions and the motives he gives. There’s never an excuse offered up as to why Alex is the way he is, and isn’t that more unnerving?

This ability to dazzle and blind you from his abhorrent actions is what I find most terrifying about his character. It’s a lot harder to pull this off, and perhaps this is why we are so often presented with characters with tragic backstories as a way of explaining why they are so maniacal. Maybe it’s an attempt to create some amount of sympathy, or a desperation to explain why because there must be a reason for everything right? Right? Does it make us, the viewer, more comfortable knowing that a human behaving with monstrous qualities is only that way because he was treated so monstrously too?

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And at this point it feels only right to mention Kevin Khatchadourian who, via the pages of Lionel Shriver’s exquisite novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, kept me awake at night for weeks.

In both the book and the on screen adaptation we are given the chance to get right inside the mind of a killer from a young age — but what makes this so interesting is it’s primary focus is on a mom trying to work out whether her son’s fatal attack on his high school had anything to do with the way she raised him or whether it’s just in his DNA. Think about that for a second. The thought that we might have no way of stopping evil in its tracks. Blood curdling.

There’s nothing here to suggest that Kevin is anything other than a cold, hard psychopath and the story of his life is engrossing — and spine chilling. Not to mention, an incredible contraceptive as the thought of having children becomes less and less appealing with each frame of the movie. Ha!

And this sense of mystery doesn’t just go for serial killers — I also feel the same about all characters if I’m honest. Like Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki in Prisoners. He was a tortured soul but we were never given a reason why — and that’s definitely a risky move on a writer’s part, but it pays off big time in my book. It keeps you thinking, and leaves you waiting for more.

Like Walt Disney said, Always leave ’em wanting more

Reflecting on what makes a Maniac

The horror genre has been, excuse the pun, butchered so much lately. As a self-confessed Horror nut I’ve been left feeling frustrated so many times over the past few years when directors have heavily relied on over-the-top gore for cheap thrills instead of crafting terror through twists you don’t see coming, characters loaded with depth and mystery, and chilling cinematography.

Maniac, is a remake of the 1980 slasher movie by William Lustig, starring Elijah Wood as a troubled and creepy mannequin store owner by day who gets his kicks by mutilating girls on the street by night. He kills and scalps girls before attaching their scalps to his own private collection of mannequins, which he then interacts with as if they were alive. So, on the surface it sounds like your average freaky, gore fest but at its core it’s so much more than that.

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Considering how much of a mad crush I’ve got on Elijah Wood, I was surprised by how much I dig him in a role where he is playing such a disturbing and unnerving character. The dialogue was stilted and eerie which certainly carved a sense of terror in me from the moment the film started and reinforced the idea that this guy was off the freakin’ rails. Big time.

Filming it almost entirely from his point of view was a genius move, as we only get to see his face as a reflection in mirrors, windows, and car doors, which ramps up the creepy factor by a few notches. Plus, as Elijah Wood is, let’s face it, totally beautiful it makes sense not to let us indulge in his beauty too much purely because it’s distracting and the last thing we want is to be attracted to him. And mirrors are a really powerful tool because they open up and explore that idea of self image and how we see ourselves compared with the facade we’re putting on for the world. So, that element of the film just rocks and I loved it. It’s not the first time I’ve ever seen this technique but it’s certainly one of the better uses of it, for sure.

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During and after watching this film I felt myself wanting to know more about Frank as I was super intrigued by his character and some of the suggestions that he was maybe dealing with a multiple personality disorder as well as clearly being traumatised by his childhood — and in particular, his relationship with his mom. He has flashbacks of some of the most pivotal moments of his upbringing that could have triggered his bloodlust and psychotic behaviour as an adult.

What I loved so much were the obvious references to Silence of the Lambs, one of the greatest Horror stories of all time, especially with its choice of music —THAT Goodbye Horses song, eurgh! — which completely transcended the film because what Silence of the Lambs does so well is lulls you with suspense and draws you in to a dark, and sinister place and that is exactly what Maniac needs. It needs for you to be captivated and terrified from the beginning so it can pummel you with fear to create that overwhelming sense of distress and anxiety, and nothing does that better than a not-so-friendly reminder of another sick lunatic who also gets his kicks from skinning his victims — albeit it for totally different reasons, but hey let’s not split hairs here.

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I won’t pretend I didn’t watch this movie purely because of Elijah Wood, but after a few seconds I completely forgot about him and was absorbed into a new, frightening world that was almost too much at times. It’s so intense, partly down to the direction, but mainly because it is gruesome and unrelenting. It’s access all areas as far as the violence goes, so if you’re squeamish this is not the movie for you. Sorry.

In the end, it is quite a tried and tested structure and without wrecking the plot I’ll just say I wasn’t satisfied or blown away with the ending but I did enjoy (if that’s the right word to use when watching a man scalp innocent women in the street) the path it took to get there. For originality and creativity I can’t fault this movie, and that’s good enough for me. It’s engrossing, and has a lot more lurking beneath the surface for you to sink your teeth into — if you can move past the (enormous amount of) blood.

Go watch it, and keep a sick bucket close by just in case!

American Horror Story, something sinister this way comes

American. Horror. Story. Those three words have been the talk of social media sites, strewn across the front pages of magazines all over the world, and on the lips of you and your colleagues every monday morning (and tuesday, wednesday, thursday and friday mornings for that matter I’ll bet…). It’s managed the rare feat of snagging both mainstream success and cult status, and has proven, with genius writing and rare performances, that it has longevity. So, long live the horror stories!

Ever since I was a little whippersnapper I’ve been intrigued by the supernatural. Like most little girls, I woke up every morning hoping that would be the day I finally realised my magic potential a la Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or the more age-appropriate Matilda.

Then I moved on to Charmed and longed to be a Halliwell sister, became obsessed with The Craft as a teenager and finally found my favourite in Practical Magic where I decided once and for all I wouldn’t be truly fulfilled until I spent my days drinking Midnight Margaritas, and casting spells.

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A decade later, and while my magical powers still haven’t appeared (yet!) my love for all things spooky has only grown stronger — going from cauldrons, broomsticks and potions to something a little more spine-chilling thanks to a certain Michael Myers (not the Canadian funnyman but the knife-wielding masked maniac from Halloween). The horror genre, and in particular, slasher movies became my area of interest and expertise.

For me horror isn’t about how much (fake) blood your villain can spill, or how many (prosthetic) heads your baddie can send flying, but more about skilled writers conjuring up suspense and blood-curdling terror with well-thought out characters, clever direction and the all important don’t-want-to-look-but-can’t-look-away sequences.

American Horror Story is every horror junkie’s dream TV show but, unlike so many horror franchises, it doesn’t lazily rely on gratuitous gore for cheap thrills. But instead, crafted by skilful, intelligent writing by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck it tantalises the audience with ingenious plot twists and terrifying suspense.

The first season is set in the notorious Murder House in Los Angeles, where a new family move in and slowly begin to uncover the sinister history hidden behind closed doors.

The house’s blood curdling past is cleverly told through mouth-wateringly exciting new takes on world-famous crimes, such as The Black Dahlia murder, giving new life to the tried and tested ‘haunted house’ stories, until we soon uncover the full extent of the gruesome reality that awaits whoever calls it home.

Jessica Lange smoulders as the scheming bitch next door, Constance Langdon— her blade sharp one-liners are as flawless as her hair. She will stop at nothing to ensure the legacy of the house is kept hidden from prying eyes, and telling mouths. She schemes, lies, and murders her way through town without so much as a curl falling out of place.

Season 2, American Horror Story: Asylum, set (largely) in 1964 in the terrifying Briarcliff mental Asylum, saw the writers and directors step the horror stakes up big time. The decision to keep the same cast to play new characters in a chilling, new environment was inspired, but unsurprising considering the stunning performances from Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, and of course Jessica Lange.

Not only are the new surroundings unnerving, and graphic but the sub-plots of Alien abduction, terrorism, and religious cults ensure soaring pulse rates, chewed-down nails, and teeth-chattering terror at the end of each episode.

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The plot sees horrifying serial-killer Bloody Face, whose signature is skinning his victims before slaying them, admitted to Briarcliff after finally being caught… BUT as he protests his innocence, and with the skin-crawlingly creepy Dr Arthur Arden skulking around inflicting his brutal methods on the patients, the question is have they caught the right man?…

The latest season, American Horror Story: Coven, is set in modern day New Orleans, home to a coven of witches. Ferocious, powerful and dressed in black — and not a pointed hat in sight, just the way modern witches should be.

Coven certainly played up to its cult status, giving the audience catchphrases, and fashion icons we could adore even more than before, while maintaing its high standard of twists and turns you can’t see coming and characters to sink your teeth into, love or loathe. And yes, you know what I’m going to say… Jessica Lange, as Supreme Witch Fiona Goode was captivating and smouldering as only she can be.

Emma Roberts was spectacular as the selfish, self-absorbed bitchy witch Madison Montgomery. She was an inspired addition to the cast. Her temper was shorter than her hem lines, and her one-liners sharper than her winged eye liner.

The chemistry between the actors, especially Voodoo queen Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) and Fione Goode, was explosive — like fireworks across a midnight sky.

With the endless possibilities for horror filled situations and villainous characters, there’s no reason why AHS can’t stick around for a long, long time.

So, long live the witches, the bitches, the warlocks, the ax men, the psychopaths, the serial killers, the delinquents, the voodoos, the wild child, the ghosts, the trouble makers, the ghouls, the boogeyman, the telekenetics, the demons, the crazies and, of course, the good guys. Because where would we be without the good guys, eh?

Oh, and before I forget, I shoulda been the next Supreme!

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