Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Power of Christ Compelled Me

When you talk about classic horror films, several tend to come to mind immediately.  When I hear horror my mind tends to focus in on a ten year period between 1974 to about 1984 that includes such films as POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  I know that there are some pretentious douchebags out there who might rail against my use of the term "classic" because I don't include older films like FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and the WOLFMAN, but there's a simple reason for that: FRAKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and THE WOLFMAN all suck balls and aren't scary at all.  I'm also not referring to all those art house douchebags with their esoteric horror movies that nobody's ever heard of and they only enjoy because they are esoteric and not because they genuinely enjoy them.  I have no time for people who would deprive themselves of pleasure simply to make a point.  It's just like when your wife says she doesn't want to have sex because she's "not in the mood" or "has a headache" or "just had a baby."  Obviously, you did something that was (or wasn't) on her List, and she is withholding sex as some kind of punishment in the errant hope that she can condition you live Pavlov's dogs and that you can't just peel your own banana.  It's not that she doesn't want sex.  How could she not want sex?  Everybody wants sex.  Your wife (assuming she's actually heterosexual and you didn't completely miss the mark) is constantly craving your dick, so when she denies you she's really denying herself and for no good reason.  And really, she's only hurting herself.  You still have your dick to comfort you; she now has nothing.  It was Sigmund Freud who first identified dick as a form of social currency.

But wait, you might be thinking to yourself.  What does your troubled sex life have to do with horror movies and why did you define a period of ten years when defining your list of modern-classic horror movies when of all the titles you mentioned were clearly made during an eight year period?  Well first of all my sex life is just fine, you smug bastard, and second of all you are far more observant that you probably are attractive.  The oldest movie I've mentioned so far is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which was released in 1974 and the most recent was POLTERGEIST in 1982.  This is because I've grouped movies ideologically. POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE I consider to be in one category.  However two more iconic horror movies made during this time -namely FRIDAY THE 13TH in 1980 and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in 1984- are in a category all by themselves and bring us to the ten year time frame that I had previously established.  I suppose one might also include THE SHINING to our list, however I would put that movie in a category all by itself, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Of course there are some people out there who might want me to extend my timeline to 1968 to include THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and even though I'm a huge zombie fan, it doesn't feel right in the context of the other horror movies I've mentioned. Plus, zombie movies are a category unto themselves. And there's probably some fuckhead out there who would be compelled to add PSYCHO to the list, but again it just doesn't have that same horror movie feel that the others do, plus it was released way back in 1960 and even though I do enjoy this key piece of Hitchcockian lore, PSYCHO has got to be one of the most overrated films of all time (but still dwarfed by Kubrick's piece of crap 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which to me remains one of the most bafflingly popular cinematic disasters of all time).  For some reason the time period between 1974 and 1984 just seems to have a higher per capita of evil than other decades. 

Let me start with THE SHINING.  It has to be included in this discussion because it is this iconic movie that is to this day still very alive in the collective consciousness, probably forever solidified by The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror V.  I wouldn't classify it with the other movies from the Decade of Evil for two reasons.  For one it isn't about some indescribable evil force or some kind of masked or disfigured maniac.  Some would argue that it's a supernatural thriller; I disagree.  Although there are ghosts in the movie, I think THE SHINING is actually about Jack's psychological breakdown rather than some kind of demon possession.  And even though Danny and the old black caretaker have some psychic abilities, that kind of supernatural element isn't really played up.  The second reason THE SHINING stands alone is because even though it fails in some very key aspects (namely the ending) THE SHINING is a lot more low key and it feels more cerebral, even though it's really not.  The third reason, (yeah, I reserve the right to arbitrarily change the number of reasons at will) which really pisses me off and truly ruins the movie for me every time I see it is the fucking ending where Jack is in that painting from years before.  What the fuck is that supposed to mean?  Nobody knows.  I don't even think Stanley Kubrick even knew what it meant when he tacked it on to what was an otherwise acceptable film.  I guess he was trying to throw some kind twist at the end to make the audience think... but think about what is the problem.  I don't know why I'm feeling the need to shit on Kubrick's work right now other than the fact that he deserves it.  What the fuck were you thinking?

"Fuck, I got to switch to Gilette."
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH are almost always mentioned in the same breath, and rightfully so.  Both are great horror films, both are the grandparents of the slasher flick, and both spawned a series of increasingly shitty, completely unnecessary sequels and both of these series as a whole eventually became laughable, pathetic parodies of themselves.  But the original movies themselves were great.  The fact that FRIDAY THE 13TH has become synonymous with everyone's favourite hockey-mask-wearing serial killer Jason Voorhees is really a shame, because it really takes away from the original which was the only one which had any semblance of intelligence.  Even though A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is decidedly different in that it's antagonist (or protagonist depending on how you look at it) is most definitely supernatural in nature the concept of some crazy fuck murdering people is essentally the same.  What these two movies had that their sequels didn't was relatively unique ideas and a lot more suspense.  Eventually these franchises became known simply for their bloodthirsty murderers.  Plus these two movies were both stepping stones for two famous actors, namely Kevin Bacon and Johnny Depp.  I wonder if it was because of FRIDAY THE 13TH that Kevin Bacon's career trajectory proceeded as it did and allowed us to see his schlong in WILD THINGS, like it was all part of some cosmic plan and if he hadn't have appeared in the former, his man meat might not have appeared in the latter, and we might have been deprived.  It really makes you stop and think.  And of course, the real evil of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was that the final scene wich was undoubtedly the main influence for HOME ALONE, the obvious heir apparent to the franchise.

I suppose if you wanted to include a third member of the unholy trilogy of original slasher flicks you'd also have to consider HALLOWEEN, which I almost completely forgot about but which is also so closely related to FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that I feel almost foolish for having overlooked it.  Not only is it from he same evil time period, but it was also the stepping stone for a famous actress as it starred a young Jamie Lee Curtis.  And with the inclusion of HALLOWEEN in our discussion you might then find yourself wondering how I overlooked John Carpenter's other "horror" movie from that same era, namely THE THING.  Well wonder no longe because not only was THE THING not scary, but it also sucked total balls as a movie in general and challenges THE SHINING on the most overrated movies list. 

Which brings us to the final category of films which in my mind seem to embody the "classic" in my modern classic label.  What really ties POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE together is a unifying them: evil.  The true antagonist in all of these movies (with the noted exception of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, although I suppose that might be debatable) is some unknown, or undefinable evil Force, most commonly associated with either the devil or some evil or vengeful spirits.  Now most people would probably categorize THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET as being an obvious contributor to the slasher genre as there is a chainsaw wielding maniac killing people in terrible ways.  But in my mind THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE differs from those other two movies because at its heart it isn't so much about the murders as is it about the horror surrounding the murders.  It's about the complete atrocity of the situation rather than the situation itself.  Complete devastation, as Bonegod would say.  Leatherface and the clan seem to be agents of some larger evil force too terrible to comprehend.  I mean, who could be that evil if not possessed by some evil force and not named George W. Bush?  The rest are easy to see.  THE OMEN is about the birth of the Anti-Christ, the symbolic Judeo-Christian embodiment of evil.  THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is about a haunted house that possesses its inhabitants forcing them to commit terrible crimes (Like making out with your cousin.  Shame on you George Michael.).  POLTERGEIST was about vengeful spirits who haunt a house and kidnap a little girl into the television set.  Plus, it has the acting talents of one Craig T. Nelson, with one of my favourite lines: "You son of a bitch!  You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"  I don't know why, I just loved Nelson freaking out on that dude.  It was great.  In fact out of all of the "horror" movies I've discussed so far I think POLTERGEIST would have to be my favourite.  Until now.  Now we have ourselves a tie.

It seemed a shame that the only one of these movies I had yet to see was THE EXORCIST.  But thankfully I remedied that situation recently and took time out of my busy schedule to watch this bastard.  And surprisingly I wasn't disappointed.  In fact, for me THE EXORCIST ranks up there with POLTERGEIST.  Two great, creepy films.  Even though I hadn't seen THE EXORCIST I already knew the basic plot because, well, everybody fucking knows the plot.  Little girl possessed by the devil has to be exorcised by a couple of priests.  When I finally sat down to watch it I was pleasantly surprised, like when your reach down a hooker's pants and don't find a dick.  The first thing that really struck me was the really slow, suspenseful buildup.  I think it's the first half hour or forty-five minutes, where nothing really super crazy happens, and I was sitting there thinking "What the fuck is this shit?  It's fucking boring as hell.  I'm going to go jerk off into the ice cube tray again."  But then when the demonic shit hit the fan the payoff was so much more gratifying than if the filmmakers had just jumped right in.  The second thing that struck me was how grounded the movie was.  From the title I expected exorcisms to be taken for granted, like everybody in the 70's got exorcisms.  I figured the mother would be some religious freak who called in an exocist right away.  It turns out that the 70's wasn't the supersticious, witch-burning era we all read about in textbooks, where high priests in ceremonial flared pants would gather around the mystical mirrored ball and worship their derranged disco gods with perverted orgies and virgin sacrifices.  As the doctors examine the young girl Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) they constantly come up with new diagnoses looking for a scientific explanation for her strange behaviour.  And when Regan's mother (Ellen Burstyn- the mom from REQUIUM FOR A DREAM) finally turns to the Catholic church for an exorcism as a last ditch effort even Father Karras (Jason Miller) the other priests tell her that nobody does exorcisms anymore and that it's probably just mental illness, which is an oddly logical thing to hear from a person who believes in an old bearded man in a toga who lives in the clouds.  Even after Father Karras interviews the girl who does crazy shit like MOVE THINGS WITH HER MIND!!!! he's still not completely convinced it's demon possession.  Not until crazy old Father Merrin comes in near the end of th movie does the exocism start happening.  Which brings me to another thing that surprised me about this film; it seems that somehow Max von Sydow has always been old.  I thought he looked old in MINORITY REPORT, but damn he somehow looked even older almost thirty years earlier.  I mean, in the EXORCIST he looks like he's on death's door.  I'm almost postive he's been replaced by a robot intent on world domination, but I can't say for sure.  Yet.

The best part about THE EXORCIST was that it was surprisingly scary for a horror movie.  Most movies inthe horror genre aren't particularly scary, per say.  I mean sometimes they're creepy or disturbing, and sometimes they give you cheap scares like some dude popping on screen suddenly, or somebody closing the mirrored door of her bathroom cabinet only to reveal that some psycho killer in a silly mask is standing behind her.  But usually nothing that doesn't wear off by the time you walk to your car or walk upstairs or jerk off to that scene of Jamie Lee Curtis dancing in her underwear in TRUE LIES (you know it's in your spank bank, don't even try to deny it).  Most horror movies aren't scary except in a truly superficial way.  But people watch horror movies simply to be scared rather than to stay scared.  That is, people want a quick, cheap thrill for the adrenaline rush which in turn releases endorphines in the brain which acts as  mild natural high which is good for the feeling in and of itself, and lubricating otherwise frictional social interactions like getting your girlfriend or wife primed for a good boning.  This is the same kind of effect that you might get from riding a roller coaster or -if you're a thirteen year old with low self esteem- stealing a chocolate bar.  Truly scary movies -movie that leave you with that long, slow burn, and haunt you for days afterwards-are few and far between and usually terrifying because they are more than just serial killers and angry ghosts.  The best example I can think of right now is SEVEN, which to me is scarier than any of the other movies I've mentioned in this article.  It functions on a far higher intellectual level and it's not the shock that scares: it's the idea.  What's scary about SEVEN isn't the gruesome nature of the murders, or Kevin Spacey's psychopathic serial killer (who is scary even without some stupid mask): it's the way SEVEN engages its audience intellectually.  It's the themes the movie explores and the seeds of darkness it plants that slowly take root in your mind.  It's the subtle use of ambiguity like never having John Doe's origins explained and never knowing exactly what was in the box.  SEVEN is chiling in a way that traditional horror movies simply aren't, and no matter how many times I watch it, even knowing what's coming, I still have to sleep with the lights on that night.

THE EXORCIST was not quite on the same level of psychological terror I experience with SEVEN, but out of all the horror movies mentioned so far, it came closest.  There were several elements that alway seem to fuck with me.  There was the subtle build up and surprisingly intelligent script.  There was enough fucked up shit to sufficiently blow my mind like the spider-girl stunt down the stairs, the classic head spinning around trick, a little girl screaming "Let Jesus fuck you, let Jesus fuck you..." while she masturbates violently with a crusifix the making her mother lick her bloody crotch screaming "Lick me, Lick me...", one of my favourite insults of all time "Your mother sucks cocks in hell!", and, of course, levitation.  For whatever reason I can't explain human levitation always scares the hell out of me.  I'm not talking about flight.  I don't shit my pants when I watch SUPERMAN (yes, I know, he's an alien, shut the fuck up).  But simple levitation, where a person's body rises a few feet off the floor is creepy in a way I can't explain, and scenes like the one from THE FOURTH KIND still mess me up.  Then there was the effective use of ambiguity.  There is just enough left unexplained to make sure the audience can engage on a higher intellectual level.  There's no stupid reason given as to why Regan was chosen to be "possessed".  She wasn't Hitler's granddughter, and she wasn't born on Friday the 13th, and she wasn't conceived in an ancient Indian burial ground.  She was just some random little girl; and the randomness of the whole thing makes it even scarier.  Maybe that's why THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST stuck with me out of all the other horror movies; in both movies small children are victimized.  There could be some shared, primal fear in the collective unconscious relating to any harm coming to small children and it plays upon that  fear.  Or maybe it's that children represent innocence and purity and when children are portrayed as being victims that the real victim is our own inner child.

Either way THE EXORCIST was a great surprise of a movie and a great addition to the Halloween movie collection.  Whether you want to be scared, or whether you just want to check out a well-made movie you need to check this shit out if you haven't aready.  I give THE EXORCIST an 8/10 = (this one is too easy) One Demon Possessed Child's Head Spinning Around And Spewing Glowing Green Vomit


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