Tag Archives: possession

Fright Club: Best Surreal Horror

Everybody’s first experience with horror is a nightmare – their own bad dreams. Surreal horror manages to recreate the anxiety, confusion and dreamlike quality of those nightmares.

In fact, it’s such fertile ground for horror that there are dozens of excellent possible films to celebrate – beginning with Bunuel and Dali’s 1929 head trip Un Chien Andelou to Bergman’s 1968 film Hour of the Wolf, Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s fantastical 1989 fantasy Tetsuo, the Iron Man to Turkey’s latest foray into the genre, Can Evrenol’s 2015 head trip Baskin. All of these films are required viewing for horror fans, but something had to be set aside.

So, here you have it: our pick of the five best surreal horror films.

5. Vampyr (1932)

The well-groomed Allen Grey (Julian West) is an aimless dreamer preoccupied by tales of the supernatural. He wanders thusly, with what appears to be a fish net, to a secluded little inn. But trouble’s afoot.

And dig those crazy shadows!

Early in Vampyr, Grey receives a package from a weary looking man. The package says, “To be opened upon my death.” It appears that Grey has stumbled into a deadly mystery with nothing to help him puzzle out the details except that needless fish net.

The great Carl Theodor Dreyer co-wrote and directed this gorgeous black and white fantasy. The painterly quality of Dreyer’s frames and the bizarre character behavior give the film a surreal atmosphere you can’t shake. His decision to limit dialog to a minimum and craft the film with traditional silent film gimmicks benefitted the dreamscape atmosphere.

As Grey wanders through this picturesque nightmare realm, the film becomes almost drunk with weirdness. Dreyer captures the gorgeous terror of a dream more perfectly than any other filmmaker, in a movie that is never predictable, always a bit surreal and spooky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xEWT23yA3o

4. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government (or are they?) agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing we can get behind.

Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna’s (a fearless Isabelle Adjani) relationship boasts an intentional artificiality – a queasying sexuality – that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk-like monster.

3. Repulsion (1965)

The first of Polanski’s brilliant “apartment trilogy,” Repulsion takes on its protagonist’s point of view. As Carol (an utterly amazing Catherine Deneuve) spirals into a hallucinogenic stupor of violence and paranoia, Polanski wisely decided to occupy that same headspace, rather than observing it as an outsider.

It gives the film its surreal feel, developed partly by the wonderful camera work of Gilbert Taylor, who uses the black and white necessitated by the budget to wondrous, shadowy, menacing effect.

Though the marketing for the film promoted a virgin’s hysteria, close attention to the film suggests something far more sinister beneath Catherine’s breakdown. Is it ironic that Roman Polanski of all people is able to articulate the mental and emotional chasm left by a likely sexual assault? Why yes, yes it is, but God help me, he does it well.

2. Gozu (2003)

If you are looking for genuine lunacy in film, your search should begin and quite possibly end with filmmaker Takashi Miike. His shit is nuts. Truth be told, there are scads of Miike films that could have populated this list because even his tamest, most logical, no-puppetry films are wild rides. So when he starts coloring way outside the lines, expect to be surprised.

This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.

Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses Ozaki and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.

Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery. It’s just stuff you can’t unsee.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penZT2N2xDw

1. Eraserhead (1977)

There truly is no film quite like David Lynch’s first feature, eh?

Eraserhead defies simple summarization. Easily the most surreal of all Lynch’s films – which is a huge statement – the film follows sad-sack Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) dealing poorly with fatherhood.

The film becomes a nightmare of paternal angst and existential crisis – indeed, it may be impossible to name a film or filmmaker more able to bring a nightmare to life.

It’s also among the finest examples of corporeal horror you will find. The shadowy, grimy b/w photography – partially handled by Lynch’s longtime cinematographer Frederick Elmes – amplifies the dismal stagnation facing Henry.

At the same time, it gives a weird, nostalgic camp factor to the Lady in the Radiator and adds a particularly lurid element to that whole bleeding “chicken” thing.

Plus, the baby. Yikes. Alive with the most disturbing imagery, Eraserhead is impossible to forget.

Halloween Countdown, Day 24: Possession

Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government (or are they?) agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing I can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). I love that his name is Bob. Bob – it’s so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality- a queasying sexuality- that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk-like monster.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Fright Club: Marital Problems in Horror

For some filmmaker and even audiences, a horror film can provide catharsis. It can be a way to channel one particularly horrifying experience into art. A crumbling marriage can inspire this kind of horror. Of course, it can also become the tidy underpinning of a mystery or a comedically evil revenge plot.

Here are our five favorite horror films about marital problems.

5. Candyman (1992)

Candyman is a seduction film, like a vampire fable, and for it to work this film needed two things.

1) A seducible heroine.

Enter Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen). While she researches her graduate work on urban legends, her professor husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) philanders with nubile co-eds.

2) A seductive villain, which it delivered with a dreamy baritone in the form of Tony Todd.

No, he’s not classically handsome. In fact, on paper, Candyman is not that sexy of a villain. He has a hook for a hand, bees in his chest, that moldy velvet robe thing has to smell awful. But Todd’s voice is the push over the cliff. When he tells Helen, “Don’t fear the pain. The pain is exquisite,” you can’t help but want to believe.

4. The Crate (segment from Creepshow) (1982)

Several of the shorts featured in the George Romero/Stephen King collaboration focused on troubles between husband and wife, but there was one particularly toxic marriage.

College professor (very popular figures in bad marriage horror, eh?) Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) has a problem. His wife.

One might guess at the focus of his early attraction to Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau), but we’re introduced to the couple well into their worn out, unhappy pairing. Wilma’s a belligerent drunk, you see, and Henry’s friend needs a little help with this monster he’s unwittingly unleashed from a crate beneath the stairs back on campus…

Henry probably thought of Wilma as a tasty dish once before, too.

3. Diabolique (1955)

Pierre Boileau’s novel was such hot property that even Alfred Hitchcock pined to make it into a film. But Henri-Georges Clouzot got hold if it first. His psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful.

And it wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the weirdly lived-in relationship among Nicole (Simone Signoret) – a hard-edged boarding school teacher – and the married couple that runs the school. Christina (Vera Clouzot) is a fragile heiress; her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the abusive, blowhard school headmaster. Michel and Nicole are sleeping together, Christine knows, both women are friends, both realize he’s a bastard. Wonder if there’s something they can do about it.

What unravels is a mystery with a supernatural flavor that never fails to surprise and entrance. All the performances are wonderful, the black and white cinematography creates a spectral atmosphere, and that bathtub scene can still make you jump.

2. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

What’s she so mad about? Her divorce. So angry, indeed, that she’s gone mad – and begun neglecting, even endangering, her puffy coated actual daughter.

Cronenberg wrote the film during his own ugly divorce and custody battle. He created a fantasy nightmare rooted firmly in the rage, despair, and the betrayal that comes from watching someone who once loved you turn into someone who seems determined to harm you.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVQkJJxjdIM

1. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing I can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). I love that his name is Bob. Bob – it’s so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality- a queasying sexuality- that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking. Surreal and unnerving as it is, Possession is maybe the bet cinematic nightmare interpretation of a crumbling marriage you will find.

Fright Club: WTF?! Horror

Horror films have the power to freak you out, to terrify you, to disturb and unsettle you. And often enough, along with inspiring some combination of the aforementioned emotions, certain horror films just beg the question WTF?! Like, almost anything Takashi Miike has ever directed. Or Antichrist – I’m sorry, did that fox just speak? Whether the bizarre puppetry of Hausu or the skull sex of Headless, the orifice’s point of view camera angles in Enter the Void or the queasying sibling relationship in Pin, horror movies can hit that unsettling nerve. So let’s just embrace it today, shall we? Today we count down the five (or six!) best in WTF?! horror.

6. The Woman (2011)

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Notorious horror novelist and co-scriptor Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee – in his most surefooted film to date – has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Indeed, the advanced screener I watched came in a vomit bag.

Aside from an epically awful performance by Carlee Baker as the nosey teacher, the performances are more than just good for the genre, they’re disturbingly solid. McIntosh never veers from being intimidating, terrifying even when she’s chained. Bridgers has a weird way of taking a Will Ferrell character and imbibing him with the darkest hidden nature. Even young Zach Rand, as the sadist-in-training teen Brian, nails the role perfectly.

Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.

5. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

The hell?! Why? What?! Good God.

Nicholas Hope is astonishing as the titular Bubby, a 30-year-old manchild who’s never, ever left the room he keeps with his mum.

Remember the Oscar-winning indie film Room? Remember how tragedy is somehow skirted because of the courageous love of a mother for her son? Well, this was not Bubby’s mum. Bad things are happening in that room, and once Bubby is finally free to explore the world, his adventure is equal parts deranged and soul-crushing. Hope is so frustratingly empathetic in the lead that no matter what he does, you root for him. You root for friends who will love him, for someone who will care for him, but it’s the resigned cheerfulness with which he faces any kind of abuse that really just kills you.

This taboo-shattering film is so wrong in so many ways, and yet it’s also lovely, optimistic, sweet, and funny. And just so, so fucked up.

4. Baskin (2015)

Welcome to hell! Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol invites you to follow a 5-man police squad into the netherworld, where eye patches are all the rage, pregnancy lasts well under the traditional 40 weeks, and you don’t want to displease Daddy.

The serpentine sequencing of events evokes a dream logic that gives the film an inescapable atmosphere of dread, creepily underscored by its urgent synth score. Evrenol’s imagery is morbidly amazing. Much of it only glimpsed, most of it left unarticulated, but all of it becomes that much more disturbing for its lack of clarity.
The further along the squad gets, the more often you’ll look in horror at something off in a corner, that sneaking WTF? query developing along with your upset stomach.

The central figures in this nightmare are one eye-patch wearing helper who enjoys tossing his or her hair over one shoulder, and the breathtaking father figure played by Mehmet Cerrahoglu. There is no one quite like him.

Cerrahoglu’s remarkable presence authenticates the hellscape. Evrenol’s imaginative set design and wise lighting choices envelope Cerrahoglu, his writhing followers, and his victims in a bloody horror like little else in cinema.

3. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.

Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.

The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.

Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.

His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3oba5HmH8

2. Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it feels like David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing we can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). Bob – the names is so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality – a queasying sexuality – that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk monster.

1. Gozu (2003)

If you are looking for genuine lunacy in film, your search should begin and quite possibly end with filmmaker Takashi Miike. His shit is nuts. Truth be told, there are scads of Miike films that could have populated this list because even his tamest, most logical, no-puppetry films are wild rides. So when he starts coloring way outside the lines, expect to be surprised.

This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.

Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses him and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.

Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery. It’s just stuff you can’t unsee.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penZT2N2xDw

Day 22: The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)

Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.

The farmhouse’s previous residents may be dead, but they haven’t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the couple’s cases.

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with this effort.

A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch.

Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re watching and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ