Typical horror movies just aren’t enough for a truly miserable fella

I keep hearing recommendations for new horror films and at least 9/10 times, I’m totally unimpressed when I check them out. The Witch, The Ritual, Hereditary, Mandy, A Quiet Place, Get Out, It Follows, Kill List, etc — consistent disappointment. Never scary. Silly, stupid, tired old stories. Stories that seem to take themselves too seriously. Stories that are weird for the sake of being weird, without any substance or merit or purpose.

I’m particularly tired of the ‘weird shit is happening and then we learn it’s because everyone is in a cult’ story. Of course this isn’t a new idea, but it’s been especially popular for the last three or tour years, and I’m sick of it. It’s such a convenient, easy, predictable, lazy explanation.

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Boring, Sidney.

What’s the problem here? Is it me? I certainly seem to be the common denominator since most other people are raving about these flicks. Are my expectations too high? Is it the fact that the films were recommended to me, ie, if I watched them without anyone having told me “you should see this,” would I feel differently? I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that the films I listed above and countless others I’m forgetting now just aren’t that good.

There have been a few good ones, of course — I liked I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In the House, Beyond the Black Rainbow, The House That Jack Built, Under the Skin, Serbian Film, and a few others. I think those films were all surprising, different, interesting, more challenging and satisfying to watch…but none of those were recommended to me and I hadn’t heard any buzz (or anything at all) about them before I checked them out. Why are the films I like generally so underappreciated?

You know, I think I might be on to something there. I think I like horror movies that are challenging, that make me think, that make me feel things I’m afraid of or uncomfortable with, and I don’t think most movie goers are looking for that stuff — most people just want something fun and easy, something disposable, sort of like ‘horror lite.’ Most people don’t want to feel sick and horrified for weeks after watching a film. Most people don’t want to confront man’s humanity to man alone on a Saturday night. But I do, and I think this is why I can’t dig on the majority of popular horror movies.

Lord, it’s hard to find a flick that a misanthrope can really dig on. There should be a section on Netflix for me and my ilk. Or maybe I should just bite the bullet and start watching snuff films.

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Chiller Theater and my childhood

 

I watched the biopic film Ed Wood a few nights ago. I saw it shortly after it came out in the mid-90’s and liked it then, even as a dumbass teenager, but wanted to revisit it as an adult because I thought I might appreciate it more now.

I’d say I liked it slightly more now, not much. I just appreciate the subtleties of Depp and Landau’s acting more than before but that’s about it. I basically ‘got’ the rest of the film on the first watch. It’s a good one, for sure. Man, Depp was great then. Why does he suck so bad now?

Anyway, Ed Wood got me thinking about the horror movies I grew up watching, or was at least aware of, when I was a kid. That got me thinking about Chiller Theater, and that’s what I want to write about now.

Chiller Theater was the name of a program that played horror movies at 2 am on Saturday night (or early Sunday morning, for you anal nerds) back in the early 90’s. My Saturday nights back then often went like this:

  • lots of juice and popcorn
  • 11:30 pm: Almost Live
  • midnight: Saturday Night Live
  • 1:30 am – 2:00 am: [killing time flicking channels, struggling to keep eyes open]
  • 2:00 am – as late as I could manage: Chiller Theater

Chiller Theater had a campy title screen, and an Igor/Cryptkeeper-like voice that welcomed the viewer and introduced whatever flick was on that night. That’s it, but it’s all I needed for this to be the holy grail of my Saturday night — it was really all a horror movie fan could ask for.

I rarely made it all the way through a film on Chiller Theater. I know I watched all of Evilspeak (it was bad but I liked it), and I remember seeing the beginning of Rosemary’s Baby, and some flick about teens camping on a mountain and getting hunted down by a lunatic with a hatchet. I know there were others but I can’t remember them now. Usually, I’d only watch the first 10 or 15 minutes of a flick before I decided it sucked and that I was too tired to keep going, and I’d head to bed. Even though I thought most of the movies sucked, I still felt like a wimp for not sticking it out. I really wanted to stay up and watch that shit, no matter how bad it was.

I know that sounds lousy but I loved the ritual, and the trope of the late night horror show, and have incredible nostalgia for it. I’ve been digging online for more info on Chiller Theater but am finding multiple shows of the same name, and none of them seem to be the one I remember. The only one I can find that still ran in the early 90’s was one hosted by a guy named Ned the Dead but I watched a clip of that one and it definitely wasn’t the one I saw, so I don’t know. I think my Chiller Theater was on KVOS or some other Pacific Northwest-based channel of the time but I can’t find shit for that.

Oh well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I remember Chiller Theater, and that I loved it, even if it mostly sucked. I hope I meet other people someday who saw the show and remember it fondly too.

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Not the Chiller Theater I’m talking about but damn it, it’s going to have to do for now.

i wish everything in life was constantly nightmarish

since i was a kid, i’ve been fascinated by things that disturb me. one of the earliest memories i have of this is catching a few snippets from the movie, dune. there is a scene where a guy has to put his hand in a mysterious box and it seems like something weird and awful is in the box and it’s going to hurt him, and another scene where a person is wearing a weird suit that looks like a cage of plexiglass and a bullet pierces the suit very slowly until it gets in, at which point it resumes normal speed and kills the person. both of those really stuck with me — i mean, here i am 30-odd years later, still yammering on about them.

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the box that basically started it all

those examples (along with a bunch of other stuff that scared the hell out of me) basically set the tone for the rest of my life. as i’ve grown older and developed the means to search out freaky stuff on my own, i’ve found more of it, and in varying forms — music, film, visual art, words, abstract feelings. and at a certain point, i realized that the things i find most intriguing aren’t strictly gory or violent or typical slasher movie fodder. the things that really mesmerize me are things that are nightmarish. that is the key quality i seek.

what qualities make something nightmarish, you ask?

  • sinister overtones in otherwise normal situations
  • twisted, deformed versions of familiar things
  • things that a) don’t make sense and b) inspire fear

i think it was the movie jacob’s ladder that finally illuminated this nightmare fascination thing to me. i saw it several years ago, loved it, and thought about it a lot afterwards. i thought about how it was scary as all hell but wasn’t really a horror movie. there wasn’t a demented killer or a demon or any of the usual horror trappings. it was more that the main character was experiencing weird, scary stuff and it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t. while ruminating on this, i had an epiphany where i realized that the film legitimately felt like a nightmare to me — PINGGGG — and then i thought about a lot of my other favourite things in this world, and started seeing the nightmarish qualities in those things too: lost highway, possession (1982), the shining, eyes wide shut, 2001: a space odyssey, antichrist, under the skin. virtually anything by cronenberg. akercocke, voices, faust (1994), too dark park, the process, the exorcist, and bosch, for example.

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perfect example. can’t say why this is disturbing but it is. and i love it.

i’m not sure why i’m drawn to nightmarish stuff. my best guess is that i was a wimp as a kid and things like dune just set off some electrical pathway in my brain that has liked to be stimulated ever since. i think that’s a bland, cop-out explanation and i hope there’s a better reason but i can’t think of one. all i know is that i like the blurred line between what’s real and what isn’t, i like not understanding what’s going on, and i like the fear.

i like it so much, i want it to be present in my life whenever possible — like a shadow that i can sense is near, or catch a fleeting glimpse of. i learned this when jenn and i went on a summer road trip that was lovely fun but tinged with a weird darkness due to the fact i was reading faust by robert nye on the same trip. i only realized long afterward why even the warmest memories of that vacation had a vague portentous tone to them, and why other vacations where i had neglected to bring some good, dark art with me felt more one-dimensional, less compelling. since then, i’ve made a point to bring some kind of satanic literature with me to help spice things up, to help cast a dark cloud over the summer fun, and it’s worked wonderfully.

i can only hope that when i die, i’m plunged into an eternity of hellish experiences, like a scene from hellraiser. only then will i surely have my fill of nightmares.

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stranger things 2 sucks, and snipers are glorified murderers

jenn and i just finished watching stranger things 2. i think it mostly sucked. of course there were elements i liked, like the many nods to classic fantasy/sci fi/horror tropes and how they continue to nail a lot of small details about the 80s, but overall i think this season was really muddled and half-baked. there were so many subplots and relationships between characters that were introduced and then never explored or resolved. there were also a bunch of new characters and none of them were given any development. it was just like, “time for a new bully. steve is out, billy is in. that is all.”

i’ve got so many specific complaints, mostly about undeveloped or unresolved things, that i’m gonna list ’em.

  • eleven’s jealousy of/dislike for max — came up several times, nothing happened with it.
  • mike’s dislike for max — came up several times, nothing happened with it.
  • sexual tension between billy and mrs. wheeler in the last episode — came up once, a lot of time was spent on it, it was fun but it didn’t go anywhere.
  • billy’s abusive father — came up once, sort of explained billy’s bad attitude, seemed like it was going somewhere, but didn’t.
  • nancy and steve — are they broken up or not? never explained.
  • nancy and jonathan — are they together or not? never explained.
  • how did steve turn from the school’s biggest, toughest badass to a wimp overnight, getting picked on by the new tough guy and getting his sensitive heart broken by his girlfriend? that’s ridiculous.
  • kali and the chicago punks — what the hell was the point of that? a whole episode just to show how eleven learned to focus her anger to intensify her power? then we never see kali or her lame gang again — utterly pointless.
  • while i’m on episode 7: eleven showing compassion for her enemies when she almost kills that retired lab guy, then doesn’t — that seemingly important element never comes up again.
  • another episode 7 complaint: the retired lab guy says dr brenner is still alive but nothing ever becomes of this incredible news. i’m assuming this seed is being planted for a major plot line in a subsequent season of the show but i think if that is the case, there should really be some other hints or evidence of it peppered throughout this season the show.
  • billy’s vaguely racist feelings on lucas — seemed like it was going somewhere but didn’t.
  • when the “demodogs” are loose in the lab facility, why do they kill everyone except dr owen? he’s only got a few minor flesh wounds. how absurdly convenient.

now, i like art to have a healthy amount of ambiguity. i don’t like things spelled out, i want to use my brain, be left with some questions, fill in the blanks. but there is a clear line between being artfully ambiguous and being inept and lazy, and this season of the stranger things was definitely the latter.

really, the thing i liked the most about stranger things 2 was the fact that our new kittens liked to cuddle with me on the couch when jenn and i watched it, and the show provided a vehicle for that. i definitely didn’t hate the new season but i don’t think i’d recommend it to anyone at this point.

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very disappointed with the show but jeez, this is a great pic. what a bunch of good looking kids, on top of the world and enjoying it. you have to be happy for them. will looks so much better without that fucking bowl cut.

new topic: it occurred to me today that military personnel are trained and given the implements to kill people — despite the fact that murder is illegal in most countries, and the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare. that strikes me as really odd. especially trained military snipers, they specialize in being ruthlessly efficient killers, but if they did the same thing outside of their military jurisdiction they would be persecuted, jailed, and possibly even killed themselves. it’s an incredible double standard. who gets to say when it’s ok to kill someone, and when it’s not, when killing is absolutely illegal for 99.9% of us?

i’d like to see the names and faces of military officials who authorize the use of deadly force, and the names of faces of people who carry that stuff out. i want to look in their eyes and see if i can discern any hint of a god complex or some similar psychopathic disconnect from the world that most of us live in. i wonder if sanctioning murder or being a sanctioned murderer weighs on the psyches of those folks the same way it might on the mind of a common criminal, despite having some sort of social license. do they wrestle with it? do they feel guilt? do they feel justified? do they view their ‘targets’ (what a cold term for a fellow person) as nothing more than that? do they have to turn off any sense of empathy in order to do their job?

i need to meet a sniper and have a chat with them. i have a lot of questions.

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i bet he has some problems at home.

my gore ceiling

last night i was watching something on youtube when i saw a suggested video entitled ‘splatter gore compilation part 1.’ that got my attention instantly. i grew up watching shit that made me sick, scared the hell out of me, shook my faith in humanity, etc so this seemed right up my alley. and it was, at least for the first 5 minutes.

by the time i got to about 6 minutes in, i actually started to feel lousy. i wasn’t going to barf or anything like that, i just suddenly felt unhappy. i also got a headache. it was really weird. i think what happened is that, as drawn as i am to senseless gore and violence, i must have a limit of how much i can take in a sitting. sort of like eating sugary shit — i’ve got a hell of a sweet tooth but after several pieces of cake and a half dozen cookies, even i lose my hunger for any more of the stuff.

anyway, it really surprised me because i’ve never come close to getting my fill of blood and guts before. the goriest scenes have always been the parts i’ve looked forward to the most so this was an eye-opening experience for me.

the take-away is that in the future, i’ll limit my gore-binging to only 4 minutes.

here’s said video, in case anyone else wants to feel shitty.

from scary to stupid

here’s yet another spoiler alert. i’m going to bitch about the witch and the conjuring so if you haven’t seen them and don’t want me to ruin them for you, move on. or if you have seen them, liked them, and don’t want me to ruin them for you, you might also want to move on.

here’s the problem i have with both of them. they are both ok — decently dark and scary — up until they go too far and get super stupid.

in the conjuring, there is a scene where the kid hears a sound in the armoire. the kid approaches it, then sees some sort of demon on top of the armoire.

that scene should have stopped right there. that would have been scary and left me wondering what evil befell the kid. my mind would have run wild.

but it didn’t. the next thing that happened was the demon jumping down on the kid and engaging in some kind of wrestling match/struggle.

that’s so fucking dumb. a wrestling match is the least scariest thing i could think of. supernatural beings don’t need to wrestle with anyone to overcome them, and if they did get into some sort of physical altercation, you know that their strength would be otherworldly. they’d rend you limb from limb effortlessly. evil demons aren’t skinny fucking wimps, man.

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the demon from the conjuring goes to the beach.

the witch didn’t live up to the hype i’d heard about it but it was still pretty good…up until the ending. there is a scene where thomasin is talking to black phillip, trying to determine if he really is the devil, where he finally speaks back to her.

great. that’s fucking weird and creepy. they should have ended the film right there. did the goat speak or did it turn into a man or some other form? did thomasin get taken to hell? did she become the devil’s concubine? or was her goodness incorruptible? we would never have known. it would have been an excellent cliffhanger.

but nope. black phillip turns into a man with a fashionable goatee (i know, har har), a cowboy hat, and black cowboy boots with spurs. he looks like a fucking member of nightwish.

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no joke, he looked just like this fruitcake.

then thomasin is naked out in the forest, watching a bunch of other naked women dancing wildly around a fire. then they all start floating in the air. then thomasin does too! and she’s laughing like crazy! WHOAH, SHE REALLY MUST HAVE FLIPPED HER WIG.

i’d love to talk to directors who are responsible for scenes like these ones and ask them wtf they think they are accomplishing when they over-explain things, when they tear the veil away to expose the ‘true horror and evil,’ but that horror and evil falls flat, is silly and childish. i don’t understand how film makers have not learned that leaving some details to the viewers imagination is usually far more effective than whatever image or definitive conclusion they can put on a screen.

i’m convinced that even without any training, i could make a better horror film than most of the shit i see. i should hire myself out as a professional horror flick consultant.

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“as you can clearly see, your films suck shit. not scary.”

my thoughts on ‘stranger things’

i just finished watching stranger things and want to praise some things and bitch about some others. so spoiler alert, i’m going to spill the beans on the whole damn thing here.

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i’ve never seen this poster. i like it. yet another nod to 80’s classics.

here’s what i like about it.

  • i like the extremely cohesive 80’s aesthetic, from the analog synth soundtrack to the furniture to the tupperware.
  • i like the spooky, supernatural thriller/horror vibe, and i like it even more when it’s done well.
  • i like the overt homage to the creator’s inspirations, like the movie posters for evil dead, the thing, and jaws.
  • i think some of the acting was great, most notably for dustin (the toothless kid), joyce (will’s mom), and sheriff jim hopper.
  • i like how quickly it moved, the pace of the story.
  • i like the blend of humour with horror, it helped prevent it from taking itself too seriously.

overall, i’d give it 7.5 or 8 out of 10 — a solid B.

however, i don’t think it’s deserving of the over-the-top approval it’s getting from most other people, and here’s why.

  • a lot of the acting is weak — eleven, mike (he’s good most of the time but whenever he’s supposed to be serious or angry he is thoroughly unbelievable, stiff and forced), lucas, dr. brenner.
  • some characters were disposable and unnecessary to the story (the bully kids, will and jonathan’s estranged father lonnie, nancy’s quasi-boyfriend steve).
  • there were a few things that were distinctly out of place in the otherwise cohesive aesthetic, most notably some very modern dialogue — “douchebag” was not a common insult in the 80’s, and absolutely nobody in the 80’s ever said “just sayin.” i think those things were either overlooked when written into the script, or they were consciously done in order to connect with an audience who may not have grown up in the 80’s. either way, they stood out to me and they sucked.
  • i really hated the typical story arcs, like when mike is mean to eleven for what he thinks was misleading him, she runs away, he regrets it and racked with guilt until he finds her and apologizes, and then they’re closer than ever. god, that’s so fucking typical. that same arc is used in every fucking romantic comedy ever made. it’s boring, typical, ‘paint by numbers’ horseshit and it’s insulting to every viewers intelligence. it even occurs TWICE in stranger things, the second time being when jonathan and nancy have begun growing close while searching for the monster, but then they both say some stupid, heated, overly mean things to each other, separate angrily, she gets lost in ‘the upside down,’ he rescues her, and guess what! everything is great after that! hooray!! christ, why do writers insist on doing that same old tired shit, time and time again? i’d like to meet the people who put that in this show and ask them wtf they were thinking.
  • i don’t even need to mention it because i know everyone on the internet has already pointed it out, but it must be said — what about barb?

i see that they are working on a second season, and i find that concerning. i was hoping this was a standalone, 8-episode miniseries, or that each season would be a different story, unrelated to the other seasons and stories. if they continue on with these same kids getting involved with some other unrelated spooky shit, i have some serious concerns. any time good shows become franchises, i worry that the drive to create more episodes and reap more profits will outweigh the creator’s drive to make something worthwhile. popularity is a curse to good art. but then again, it appears they left the story open to continue on with the same kids fighting the same evil — maybe eleven is still alive in ‘the upside down,’ maybe will gave birth to another monster when he coughed that slug up into the sink…maybe he’s got a few more in him yet. i don’t know but i guess if they go that route, it might be ok.

anyway, that’s where i’m at with stranger things. i liked it. i’ll check out the next season and hope that it hasn’t gone to shit overnight.