Tag Archives: The Silence of the Lambs

Fright Club: Bad Doctors in Horror

As we salute the tireless work of our great doctors and health care workers during this uneasy time, Fright Club looks at our favorite “bad doctors” in horror!

5. Herbert West, Re-Animator (1985)

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator reinvigorated the Frankenstein storyline in a decade glutted with vampire films. Based, as so many fantasy/horror films are, on the work of H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator boasts a good mix of comedy and horror, some highly subversive ideas, and one really outstanding villain.

Jeffrey Combs, with his intense gaze and pout, his ability to mix comic timing with epic self righteousness without turning to caricature, carries the film beginning to end. His Dr. Herbert West has developed a day-glo serum that reanimates dead tissue, but a minor foul up with his experimentations – some might call it murder – sees him taking his studies to the New England medical school Miskatonic University. There he rents a room and basement laboratory from handsome med student Dan Caine (Bruce Abbott).

They’re not just evil scientists. They’re also really bad doctors.

Re-Animator is fresh. It’s funny and shocking, and though most performances are flat at best, those that are strong more than make up for it. First-time director Gordon’s effort is superb. He glories in the macabre fun of his scenes, pushing envelopes and dumping gallons of blood and gore. He balances anxiety with comedy, mines scenes for all they have to give, and takes you places you haven’t been.

4. Beverly and Elliot Mantle, Dead Ringers, (1988)

This film is about separation anxiety, with the effortlessly melancholy Jeremy Irons playing a set of gynecologist twins on a downward spiral. Writer/director David Cronenberg doesn’t consider this a horror film at all. Truth is, because the twin brothers facing emotional and mental collapse are gynecologists, Cronenberg is wrong.

Take, for instance, the scene with the middle aged woman in stirrups, camera on her face, which is distorted with discomfort. Irons’s back is to the screen, her bare foot to his left side. Clicking noises distract you as the doctor works away. We pan right to a tray displaying the now-clearly-unstable doctor’s set of hand-fashioned medical instruments. Yikes.

Irons is brilliant, bringing such flair and, eventually, childlike charm to the performances you feel almost grateful. The film’s pace is slow and its horror subtle, but the uncomfortable moments are peculiarly, artfully Cronenberg.

2. Dr. Heiter, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede. Just the First Sequence makes the list, though.

For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular break down and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.

Although the film mines something primal about being helpless in the hands of surgeons and doctors, it’s Dieter Laser and his committed, insane performance that elevates this film. That and your own unholy desire to see what happens to the newly conjoined tourists.

2. Dr. Genessier, Eyes Without a Face (1960)

The formula behind this film has been stolen and reformulated for dozens of lurid, low-brow exploitation films since 1960. In each, there is a mad doctor who sees his experiments as being of a higher order than the lowly lives they ruin; the doctor is assisted by a loyal, often non-traditionally attractive (some might say handsome) nurse; there are nubile young women who will soon be victimized, as well as a cellar full of the already victimized. But somehow, in this originator of that particular line of horror, the plot works seamlessly.

An awful lot of that success lies in the remarkable performances. Pierre Brasseur, as the stoic surgeon torn by guilt and weighed down by insecurities about his particular genius, brings a believable, subtle egomania to the part seldom seen in a mad scientist role.

Still, the power in the film is in the striking visuals that are the trademark of giant French filmmaker Georges Franju. His particular genius in this film gave us the elegantly haunting image of Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Her graceful, waiflike presence haunts the entire film and elevates those final scenes to something wickedly sublime.

1. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Who else but Hannibal the Cannibal?

Anthony Hopkins’s eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends. He’s toying with you. You’re a fly in his web – and what he will do to you hits at our most primal fear, because we are, after all, all part of a food chain.

Fright Club: The Law

The Law figures heavily in horror films. Most of them depict crimes. Bloody, bloody crimes. So, in many cases, the authorities must be brought in. And there are some outstanding genre films depicting a law enforcement officer as hero—Jaws and Slither spring to mind. They are also villains as often as bumbling side characters (we’re looking at you Inside and Last House on the Left).

Today we want to celebrate the films that dive into the police work, that focus squarely on The Law and its investigators. And, again, bloody, bloody crimes.

6. 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.

5. Se7en

Serpentine and dark as the sin it depicts, David Fincher’s Se7en marked him as a director willing to work your subconscious and take you to unseemly places. The film compares the strict and merciless justice of an old school God with the rotting corpse of NYC police work as two homicide detectives – one a grizzled veteran (Morgan Freeman), one a hot headed rookie (Brad Pitt) – try to keep up.

Fincher shrouds the mystery in some of the most memorably horrific images set to film. Who can forget that first victim, facedown in his spaghetti? How about Lust? “Get it off me! Get it off me!”

Let’s not even discuss Sloth. Still trying to recover from that, and the film came out in 1995.

Great performances and sleight of hand keep the story itself breathless as you work toward the now legendary climax.

What’s in the box?!!!

4. The Wailing

“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Writer/director Hong-jin Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

3. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) plays a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is a police investigator played by Byung-hun Lee (The Magnificent Seven), whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Beneath the grisly violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor.

If you can see past the outrageously violent images onscreen, you might notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

2. Big Bad Wolves (2013)

A mixture of disturbing fairy tale and ugly reality, Israel’s Big Bad Wolves takes you places you really don’t want to go, but damn if it doesn’t keep you mesmerized every minute.

The particularly vulgar slaughter of several little girls sets events in motion. One teacher is suspected. One cop is driven. One father suffers from grief-stricken mania. It’s going to get really ugly.

Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (Rabies) implicate everyone, audience included. They create intentional parallels among the three men, pointing to the hypocrisy of the chase and making accusations all around of a taste for the intoxicating bloodlust that comes from dominating a weaker person.

Their taut and twisty script keeps surprises coming, but it’s the humor that’s most unexpected. Handled with dark, dry grace by Lior Ashkenazi (the cop) and Tzahi Grad (the father) – not to mention Doval’e Glickman (the grandfather) – this script elicits shamefaced but magnetic interest. You cannot look away, even when the blowtorch comes out. And God help you, it’s hard not to laugh now and again.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and FBI investigator Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.





Fright Club: Best Serial Killer Movies in Horror

A ripe topic for the genre, serial killers. There’s not much more terrifying than that. And while most films on that theme tend to be police procedurals, plenty of horror movies contend with that loner who thirsts for his (or her) next kill.

Some are done with humor – The Greasy Strangler and Sightseers among the best. Some (Peeping Tom, for instance) give us sympathetic villains. Some (Wolf Creek among them) do not. Others exploit the killers’ exploits for the sake of exploitation. We’re looking at you, Man Bites Dog and The Last Horror Movie.

All those mentioned above are required viewing, but what are the best of the best? Glad you asked!

5. Frailty (2001)

In 2001, actor Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty.

Paxton stars as a widowed dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Whatever its flaws – too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe – Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes nostalgic familiarity, and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

4. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) plays a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is played by Byung-hun Lee (The Magnificent Seven), whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Beneath the grisly violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor.

If you can see past the outrageously violent images onscreen, you might notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

3. American Psycho (2000)

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. For all his quest for status and perfection, he is a cog indistinguishable from everyone who surrounds him. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. Whether it’s Chloe Sevigny’s tenderness as Bateman’s smitten secretary or Cara Seymour’s world wearied vulnerability, the cast draws a real sense of empathy and dread that complicate the levity. We do not want to see these people harmed, and as hammy as it seems, you may almost call out to them: Look behind you!

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane, yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

2. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry offers an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister Becky.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil, and even when you think you might be seeing this to understand the origins of the ugliness, he pulls the rug out from under you again by creating an untrustworthy narrative voice. His film is so nonjudgmental, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU3P6WXzvXU

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends.

But it’s Ted Levine who goes underappreciated. Levine’s Buffalo Bill makes such a great counterpoint to Hopkins’s Lecter. He’s all animal – big, lumbering, capable of explosive violence – where Lecter’s all intellect. Buffalo Bill’s a curiously sexual being, where Lecter is all but asexual.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin, though, in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.





Fright Club: Best Dance Sequences in Horror

Who’d have guessed that deep inside the most notorious genre in film beats the heart of a dancer? Well, we guessed. You can’t hide your sensitive soul from us! We are here to admire your dancer’s heart and your boogie shoes as we count down the 5 best dance scenes in horror movies!

5. Prom Night (1980)

Saturday Night Fever meets Carrie in this high school slasher that’s utterly preoccupied with disco and Jamie Lee Curtis’s boobs. Who isn’t?! See it for the super-colossal dance-off. Go Jamie Lee and Jamie Lee’s thumbs, go! Is that Leslie Nielsen? Who brought all that glitter? And who’s the killer? Is it the pervy janitor? The disfigured escaped mental patient? The vindictive ex and her hoodlum new boyfriend? It all builds to a bloodbath on prom night, so just go with it and boogie down!

4. Night of the Demons (1988)

Do not be confused – Night of the Demons is not exactly recommended viewing. It’s terrible. Once you get past its dirt-cheap sets and TV-level staging, you’ll notice that Night of the Demons boasts among the most stilted and cardboard dialogue of any film from the Aquanet decade. But Angela (Amelia “Mimi” Kinkade) looks cool. Every goth chick – Fairuza Balk’s Nancy Downs from The Craft in particular – owes Angela a little respect. And professional dancer Kinkade does the demonic transformation justice. The acting is atrocious – all of it – but the film boasts a campy, nostalgic, oh-so-80s quality, and we never disagree with Bauhaus on a soundtrack.

3. Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The film has a lot to boast about. 1) It’s the first film to have zombies moan for braaaaiiiinnnnssss. 2) It’s a funny and clever twist on Romero’s foundation. 3) Eighties scream queen Linnea Quigley dons a ridiculous Eighties punk ‘do to dance nearly naked in a cemetery. Artistry among the headstones. So that’s the point today – wearing nothing but legwarmers and a wistful gaze, Quigley makes the film truly memorable.

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

2. Calvaire (2004)

This is a weird film from the opening credits, but it takes a sharp turn toward seriously bizarre inside the local pub. As soon as those first piano keys slam and tinkle and those first boots stomp, slide and try to keep time, a whole new narrative takes shape. Things becomes clear in a way that you just don’t want them to, and we know that poor, poor Marc (Laurent Lucas) should not hope the townsfolk will be his salvation.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Oh, Jame Gumm. Even after 30 years, your transformation to the tune of the Q Lazzarus song Goodbye Horses is still equal parts compelling and repellant. Ted Levine evolves from hulking, inarticulate caveman to slinking sex pot – sure, a sexpot with another woman’s scalp atop his head, but he’s doing his best! And let’s be honest, you forget all about that other scalp once you witness the Buffalo Bill Skin It Back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0ilk2NfOyw





Fright Club: Best Cannibal Horror

Perhaps any living thing’s most primal fear is that of being eaten, and horror cinema has taken advantage of that built-in tension with every zombie movie and creature feature ever made. But there’s an added element of the macabre, the unseemly, when it isn’t some “other” preying on us for our own tasty flesh. Today we celebrate those brave, carnivorous souls who crave the other, other white meat. You are what you eat.

Who’s hungry?

5. Trouble Every Day (2001)

Writer/director Claire Denis doesn’t offer a great deal of exposition, relying instead on startling images to convey themes. Her approach, and her provocative film, may do a better job of linking not just sex and death – which is commonplace to the point of being a bore in horror – but lust and bloodlust, carnality and hunger.

Beatrice Dalle’s Core – lovingly held captive by her husband – routinely escapes to seduce and consume unsuspecting men. Meanwhile a honeymooning groom seeks her because of his own obsession and/or similar sexual disposition.

This is a tough film to watch. The murder sequences are particularly bloody and profoundly uncomfortable, but the film gets under your skin and stays there, which is the point of horror, right?

4. Ravenous (1999)

The blackest of comedies, the film travels back to the time of the Mexican/American War to throw us in with a cowardly soldier (Guy Pearce) reassigned to a mountainous California outpost where a weary soul wanders into camp with a tale of the unthinkable – his wagon train fell to bad directions, worse weather, and a guide with a taste for human flesh.

Pearce is great as the protagonist struggling against his own demons, trying to achieve some kind of peace with himself and his own shortcomings, but Robert Carlyle steals this movie. As the wraithlike Colonel Ives, he makes the perfect devil stand-in. Smooth, compelling and wicked, he offsets Pearce’s tortured soul perfectly. The pair heighten the tensions with some almost sexual tension, which director Antonia Bird capitalizes on brilliantly.

3. We Are What We Are (2010)

Give writer/director Jorge Michel Grau credit, he took a fresh approach to the cannibalism film. His Spanish language picture lives in a drab underworld of poverty, teeming with disposable populations and those who consume flesh, figuratively and literally.

Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Indeed, were this family fighting to survive on a more traditional level, this film would simply be a fine piece of social realism focused on Mexico City’s enormous population in poverty. But it’s more than that. Sure, the cannibalism is simply an extreme metaphor, but it’s so beautifully thought out and executed!

We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit, and you have hardly the goriest film on this list, but perhaps the most relevant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ4-UOB3Y-U

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Not everyone considers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic. Those people are wrong. Perhaps even stupid.

It is classic because Hooper masterfully enlisted a low rent verite for this bizarre story to do something utterly new. The camera work, so home-movie like, worked with the “based on a true story” tag line like nothing before it, and the result seriously disturbed the folks of 1974. It has been ripped off and copied dozens of times since its release, but in the context of its time, it was so absolutely original it was terrifying.

Friends on a road trip pick up a hitchhiker, played with glorious insanity by Edwin Neal. The Hitchhiker is part of a family of cannibals, and the youths will eventually stumble upon their digs. Here we find this unemployed family of slaughterhouse workers just teasing and mocking each other with little mercy. Like Sally Hardesty, we’ve entered a lived-in world belonging to them, and their familial bickering and cruelty only reinforce our helpless otherness. This inescapable absurdity is one of the things that make TCM so unsettling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs3981DoINw

1. The Silence of the Lambs

Everyone loves this film, even people who hate horror films. Those pretentious bastards call the film a “psychological thriller.” But to clarify, any film about one man who eats human flesh helping to track down another man who wears human flesh is a horror movie.

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Anthony Hopkins’s eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends. He’s toying with you. You’re a fly in his web – and what he will do to you hits at our most primal fear, because we are, after all, all part of a food chain.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.





Fright Club: Feminist Horror

Horror’s come a long way from the days of nubile, sexually wayward teenage girls being victimized and/or rescued by men. Strong female characters have become staples of the genre, thanks in part to a rise in female writers and directors, but likely just as much credit goes to an audience unwilling to accept ridiculous stereotypes. Today we are joined by Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker as we pay tribute to half dozen of the best feminism horror has to offer.

6. The Descent (2005)

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

These ladies are not Green Berets who, unlike the audience, are trained for extreme circumstances. These particular thrill seekers are just working stiffs on vacation. It hits a lot closer to home.

More importantly, the cast is rock solid, each bringing a naturalness to her character that makes her absolutely horrifying, merciless, stunningly brutal final moments on this earth that much more meaningful.

Writer/director Neil Marshall must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

5. The Woman (2011)

In horror movies, things don’t always go so well for the ladies. But sometimes we’ll surprise you, and your pervy freak of a son, as director Lucky McKee details in his most surefooted picture, the gender role horror show The Woman.

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. Writer Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. McKee 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. Still, nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate.

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Ginger Snaps picks at most of the same adolescent scabs as Carrie – there’s the underlying mania about the onslaught of womanhood accompanied by the monsterization of the female, which leads to a mounting body count.

Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister Bridget (Emily Perkins), outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other, and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school in general returns). On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. It also proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore.

3. Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott made a lot of great decisions with this film – the pacing, the look, the monster, and the casting. Especially the casting. Because the Ripley characgter was not specified on the page as a female – no character was – but Scott decided that a couple of these crewfolk would certainly be women by this point in human history. And history was made.

Ellen Ripley is just the next in charge. She’s just a solid, smart, savvy crewman. That’s what makes the film so special. In Aliens – an all around outstanding film – Ripley is out to save a little girl. She draws on her maternal instinct, which is a far more traditional and comforting reason for audiences to accept a female behaving this way. But in Alien, her gender really is not an issue. She happens to be the strongest, most ass kicking survivor on board.

2. The Babadook (2014)

A weary single mother contending with her young son’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior begins to believe that her son’s imaginary boogeyman may well be a monstrous presence in her house.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme did the impossible. He took the story of a flesh eater who helps the FBI track down a flesh wearer and turned it into an Oscar magnet. How did he do it? With muted tones, an understated score, a visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and a subtle but powerful use of the camera. The performances didn’t hurt, either.

Yes, it’s awesome, but how is it feminist? Mainly, through Jodie Foster’s character of Clarice Starling – our point of view character and the film’s hero. We are meant to identify with and root for this fledgling FBI agent as she navigates the horrifying mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (an epic Anthony Hopkins) in the hopes of stopping a serial killer (the under appreciated Ted Levin).

Usually, a director shoots a villain from below, making him look larger and more menacing. (It’s also not a very flattering angle, which doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to make someone seem mean.) The victim is usually shot from above, which makes them seem smaller, less powerful, more vulnerable, and cuter. When Starling and Lecter are talking in the prison, they’re shot at the same angle, eliminating that power struggle. They’re shot as equals. In this way the film as a whole affords Starling all the respect and credibility the character proves to deserve.

Thanks to Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker for joining us today! Listen to the whole conversation on our podcast FRIGHT CLUB.





Fright Club: Best Horror of the Nineties

The Nineties boasted more good horror than you might remember. It was a time of big budget, Oscar nominated studio films like Misery and early genre work from filmmakers who would go on to become the best in the business, like Fincher’s Seven, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, Tarantino and Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn, and Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. Foreign films made a splash – Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, and a wave of Japanese films that would have a powerful influence in the next decade of American horror. Here we pick the best of the decade.

5. Cape Fear (1991)

In 1991, Martin Scorsese toyed with the horror genre with a remake of the ’62 Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum power struggle between a steamy psychopath and an uptight lawyer. Scorsese mines the very ripe concept for more outright horror, recasting Robert DeNiro – still on top of his game and garnering an Oscar nomination – as Max Cady, a deeply disturbed criminal who should not be underestimated. Nick Nolte takes on the Peck role, but it’s Juliette Lewis (also Oscar nominated) as Nolte and Jessica Lange’s teenage daughter who amps up the unseemly tension.

Scorsese and his cast know how to wring anxiety from an audience and their film brims with a sultry tension that keeps everything on edge. It’s masterful storytelling with a throwback feel, the kind of film that finds you yelling at the screen, not because characters are doing anything stupid, but because you know better than they do just how terrifying Max Cady is. Still, the evil that he can do manages to stagger every single time.

4. Scream (1996)

In its time, Scream resurrected a basically dying genre, using clever meta-analysis and black humor. What you have is a traditional high school slasher – someone dons a likeness of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting and plants a butcher knife in a local teen, leading to red herrings, mystery, bloodletting and whatnot. But director Wes Craven’s on the inside looking out and he wants you to know it.

What makes Scream stand apart is the way it critiques horror clichés as it employs them, subverting expectation just when we most rely on it. We spent the next five years or more watching talented TV teens and sitcom stars make the big screen leap to slashers, mostly with weak results, but Scream stands the test of time. It could be the wryly clever writing or the solid performances, but I think it’s the joyous fondness for a genre and its fans that keeps this one fresh.

3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Blair Witch may not date especially well, but it scared the hell out of a lot of people back in the day. This is the kind of forest adventure that I assume happens all the time: you go in, but no matter how you try to get out – follow a stream, use a map, follow the stars – you just keep crossing the same goddamn log.

One of several truly genius ideas behind Blair Witch is that filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made the audience believe that the film they were watching was nothing more than the unearthed footage left behind by three disappeared young people. Between that and the wise use of online marketing (then in its infancy) buoyed this minimalistic, naturalistic home movie about three bickering buddies who venture into the Maryland woods to document the urban legend of The Blair Witch. Twig dolls, late night noises, jumpy cameras, unknown actors and not much else blended into an honestly frightening flick that played upon nightmares I have almost every night.

2. Audition, 1999

Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.

Nearly unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking from horror master Takashi Miike. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror. Midway through, Miike punctuates the film with one of the most effective startles in modern horror, and then picks up the pace, building grisly momentum toward a perversely uncomfortable climax. By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry. She will not be the ideal stepmother.

Keep an eye on that burlap sack.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s greatest and scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends. But it’s Ted Levine who goes underappreciated. Levine’s Buffalo Bill makes such a great counterpoint to Hopkins’s Lecter. He’s all animal – big, lumbering, capable of explosive violence – where Lecter’s all intellect. Buffalo Bill’s a curiously sexual being, where Lecter is all but asexual.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin, though, in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.

Usually, a director shoots a villain from below, making him look larger and more menacing. The victim is usually shot from above, which makes them seem smaller, less powerful, more vulnerable, and cuter. When Clarice and Lecter are talking in the prison, they’re shot at the same angle, eliminating that power struggle. They’re shot as equals.

More than that, during their conversations, Demme captures each character’s reflection in the partition glass as the other speaks, once again making the visual impression that these two are equals, have similarities, are in some ways alike. No one is like Buffalo Bill. He’s incomprehensible. Unacceptable. But Demme generates something akin to sympathy in his depiction of Hannibal in relation to Clarice, and given how terrifying he is, that’s equally unsettling.

Listen to the whole conversation – join our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.





Countdown: Movies You Can’t Turn Off

As we sat and watched Jaws for the 400th time last weekend, we laughed about all the movies that – when we find them on TV, no matter where in the film we switch on – we are compelled to watch to the end. It’s 11:30 pm and we stumble upon the opening diner sequence from Pulp Fiction? It looks like we’ll be up til 1:30 today. We’ve pulled together the list of films we cannot turn off when we find them on TV. What’d we miss?

Jaws (1975)

This is the top one for us. George, in particular, has seen this movie dozens and dozens of times. It’s an absolute marvel, and while every watching of course brings back memories, there truly is something new to notice every time you see Jaws. Spielberg’s raw talent, for example. Or John Williams’s pitch-perfect score. Jaws is always thrilling, always scary, always amazing.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s a masterpiece that sucks you in no matter when you turn it on because every scene is a work of utter genius. Every character is as cool as can be, every exchange is more fun to watch than anything else you’re going to find on TV, and it’s the kind of movie absolutely no one ever really made before or since. There is nothing quite like Pulp Fiction, which is why you should watch it at every opportunity.

 

Die Hard (1988)

This is George’s favorite movie of all time, so it kind of goes without saying that it stays on if we come across it. And why not? The iconic Eighties game changer altered the course of action movies with its wiseass underdog, confined terror and magnificent Euro-trash villains. Not enough can be said for the smarmy brilliance of Alan Rickman, and watching Bruce Willis at the top of his game is always fun, too.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This is Hope’s favorite movie of all time. There are no flaws in this movie. The fact that a movie wherein a man who eats human flesh helps the FBI track a man who wears human flesh could go on to win every major Oscar says about as much for the craftsmanship behind this movie as anything could. It’s Jonathan Demme’s greatest achievement and one of the greatest films ever made.

Caddyshack (1980)

When you can say every line along with the film you are watching, you’ve seen the film too many times. And yet, is it possible to watch Caddyshack too often? Ted Knight! Rodney Dangerfield! Bill F. Murray! No, it is not. Somehow this weird accumulation of spontaneous insanity remains fresh 35 years on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrTqenN1SqQ

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Another one that’s funny no matter how often you see it, Lebowski benefits from magnificent writing and superb direction (as is always the case with The Brothers Coen), but more than anything, the film demands rapt attention because of Jeff Bridges’s magical lead turn. Well, demand is kind of a fascist word. It’s just a really, really hard movie to turn off, man.

Alien (1979)

From the moment Nostromo lands – allegedly drawn by a distress signal – Ridley Scott’s horror/SciFi hybrid starts building horrific tension. Nobody wants to be awakened unexpectedly. This crew seems weary of their mission and tired of each other. Scott’s drained all the color from the crew and the set – it’s like being trapped in a bad dream that’s only going to get worse. And yet, we just can’t turn away.

Aliens (1986)

You can’t have one without the other. Where Ridley Scott’s original was a slow build horror show, James Cameron’s is a badass action flick and Sigourney Weaver is equally at home in either genre. Cameron abandons claustrophobia, opening the film up with death trap labyrinths and expanding the terror with an army of acid-blood monsters. This is the very best kind of high octane fun.

The Conjuring (2013)

Thank God for HBO because The Conjuring is on almost daily now. The thirtieth time you jump at the same damn ghost, you know a movie has got something, and we’re telling you, every time little Cindy Perron starts sleep walking into that bureau, we tense up. Yes, there are silly moments in this nuts and bolts haunted house flick, but director James Wan understands pacing and knows when flesh and blood are scarier than FX. The result is a fun, jumpy night with one stinky, foot grabbing ghost.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Richard Linklater’s wonderful, rambling ode to coming of age in the Seventies pops up a lot, lately. We usually come in right about the time a handful of freshmen are conning Ben Affleck’s delightfully dickish Fred O’Bannion that there’s a cherry ass to beat. Whether it’s Matthew McConaughey’s most iconic character or the way Linklater and cast languidly capture both a time period and a universal right of passage – or maybe it’s just wanting in on that party – we are always hooked.





Countdown: Winter Weather Lunchtime Options

Some people eat sauerkraut to begin the New Year, but if weather predictions hold true, we may be looking at snowbound isolation, even power outages. How long will your provisions hold out?! After enough time homebound and desperate, you might find yourself contemplating roasting a leg of neighbor over an open fire.

Should you find yourself in such a state, here are a few films you can think of as how-to’s.

7. Motel Hell (1980)

Super cheese director Kevin Connor teamed up with low rent 80s staple Nancy Parsons and 50s heartthrob Rory Calhoun – not to mention Elaine Joyce and John Ratzenberger – to create one of the best bad horror films ever made. So gloriously bad! Farmer Vincent (Calhoun) makes the county’s tastiest sausage, and runs the Motel Hello as well. Now if swingers (note: cannibals are always eating swingers) keep disappearing from the motel, and mysterious, bubbly moans are coming from those sacks out back, that does not necessarily mean anything is amiss. Motel Hell is a deeply disturbed, inspired little low budget jewel.

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.

6. Eating Raoul (1982)

This bone-dry black comedy plays like an early John Waters film made with less money and more irony. The sexually repressed Mary and Paul Bland need to generate capital to open a restaurant and get away from the customers, patients, and neighbors constantly trying to have sex with them. They team up with a scam artist and thief named Raoul, played with almost shocking aptitude, considering the film itself, by Robert Beltran. Together the threesome knock off perverts and swingers, rob them, and sell their bodies for dog food. But when Raoul gets a little too ambitious, not to mention lucky with Mary, well, the couple is forced to eat him. And live happily ever after.

It’s amazing what you can do with a cheap piece of meat if you know how to treat it.

5. Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green may not be the most famous of Charlton Heston’s sci-fi cult classics, but his granite-jawed overacting is so perfect for this melodramatic examination of human nature, greed and desperation that it is still an amusing genre study.  Heston is a cop in this urban nightmare of an overpopulated future where the elderly are wooed into euthanasia by the same company that produces the only food available. You do the math. You’ll undoubtedly do it faster than Heston does, but that doesn’t undermine the fun.

You’ve got to tell them!  Soylent Green is people!

 

4. Titus (1999)

Director Julie Taymor glories in the spectacle of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. Considered a pot boiler when it was written, it compares favorably in this century’s ultra-violent landscape. Titus, (Anthony Hopkins, perennial man eater), returns victorious from war, but the violence he wrought revisits him when he becomes entangled with a diabolical widow/war spoil (the ever-luminous Jessica Lange). Cannibalism, incest, rape, mutilation, infanticide, and an enormity of assorted carnage take on a surreal beauty under Taymor’s artistic direction.

Hark, villains, I shall grind your bones to dust, and of your blood I shall make a paste.

3. Delicatessen (1991)

Equal parts Eraserhead, Motel Hell and Amelie, Delicatessen is a weird, wild film. Set in the apartment building around a macabre butcher shop in a surreal, post-apocalyptic France, the film addresses the same cannibalism catalyst explored in many films: a human race that destroys everything required to sustain life and must turn to the only nourishment left. The carnival funhouse approach to cinematography predicts the absurdly funny take this black comedy has on humanity and its future.

Answer me meathead.

 

2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The action in this granddaddy of all cult films turns on one dinner scene. (Now you yell “Meatloaf again?!”) Creator Richard O’Brien’s raucous, once-controversial film about a sweet transvestite, a slut, an asshole and a couple of domestics who sing, time warp, throw rice, animate monsters, swap partners, and finally put on a show is still as much fun as it ever was. Once a subversive take on the classic musicals and sci-fi films of the 30s and 40s, Rocky Horror is now a high-camp icon of its own.

I’m afraid you’ve touched on a rather tender subject there, Dr. Scott. Another slice, anyone?

1. Silence of The Lambs (1991)

Why miss any opportunity to watch one of the most perfect horror films ever made? The fact that a movie about a man who eats human flesh tracking down a man who wears human flesh could win all five major Academy awards is itself a testament to how impeccably this film is put together. From the muted colors, haunting score, and meticulous cinematography to the shockingly authentic performances from Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine, Silence of the Lambs is a stunning achievement in any film genre.

I do wish we could chat longer but I’m having an old friend for dinner.