Saturday, February 23, 2013

Women in Horror: The Madman's Daughter

Juliet Moreau's teenage life has been tumultuous and traumatic. When she was younger, her family was part of the highest of society. Her father, Henri Moreau was a well respected scientist and she lived very comfortably with her loving family. Then, the unthinkable happens. Her father is involved in a huge scandal involving rumors of inhuman, grotesque experiements and disappears, presumed to be dead. Her life falls apart and she is cast adrift. With no family and no money, Juliet gets a job as a maid and struggles to earn enough to live. She is one step from living in the streets. Her life takes another turn when she sees her father's assistant Montgomery, who knows that her father is alive and well and living on a remote island. Juliet convinces him to let her accompany him to see her estranged father. After a grueling journey and a castaway named Edward joins them, they arrive at the beautiful, wild island. It's inhabited by  mysterious, strange, and twisted people who treat Henri as their god. Juliet will find out what's happening on this island and if the rumors that led to her downfall are true at any cost.

The Madman's Daughter is an excellent novel that retells The Island of Dr. Moreau through the perspective of Dr. Moreau's daughter. This story is deliciously gothic and melds turn of the century England society with science tinged fantasy and horror. The setting is perfect, both in England and on the island. The contrasts between the two is stark. England is busy, bustling, and dangerous, particularly to Juliet as an unmarried, disgraced girl with no family. The scientific community during this time was full of experimentation and wonder. Charles Darwin's discoveries were not too long ago and this is the century when scientist became a legitimate profession. Henri Moreau's experiments show the dark side to the possibilities of science, where madmen strive to become gods. The vivisections and grotesque experiments (as well as the results of those experiments) proved to be sufficiently thrilling and suspenseful. The island, although bright and wild, became more dark and sinister than England because of Henri's out of control experiments. The bright and open landscape is deceptively beautiful and actually houses unnatural creatures and a murderous monster.

The characters are engaging and unforgettable. Juliet Moreau is an impressive character. Despite being a step above the lowest of the low in English society, she manages to build a life for herself after her mother died and after being abandoned by her father. Her life is very tenuous and one wrong move would leave her to starve or to sell herself to survive. No one wants to associate with a disgraced girl, no matter what her previous position in society was. The only attention she gets is lecherous glances and advances from men in power who could ruin her life in a heartbeat. Juliet doesn't fall into a depression as many other YA heroines might. She fights back when a prestigious surgeon tries to rape her and convinces Montgomery, her father's assistant, to take her to the island. She has a fire, a curiosity, and a drive that makes her magnetic and enjoyable to follow. I love that she doesn't accept her horrible fate in society and does what she can in the face of great opposition to succeed. Her father, Henri Moreau, is just as interesting, but intensely unlikable. Although obviously brilliant, he is incredibly delusional, classist, misogynistic, and egotistical. The drive and curiosity that Juliet has came from her father, but in him, it is twisted and put towards unthinkable experiments that go horribly, horribly wrong.

The Madman's Daughter succeeded in grabbing my attention on the very first page. I was hooked and doomed to read until I lost sleep and forgot meals. Megan Shepherd melded her own story with the source material seamlessly and made sure the romantic woes of Juliet didn't over power the larger story. I highly recommend this deliciously dark gothic read.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 5 Favorite Female Villains

I know there are tons of epic and memorable female villains out there, but these are my favorite.

1) May Canady

May is my favorite horror movie villain because she is so sweet and sympathetic. She starts off the film as a little odd and shy, working at a vet's office and trying to make some friends. I relate to her because I wore an eyepatch when I was young and I am not the most socially graceful person. Everyone she tries to befriend turns out to be much different than she initially thought and she ends up hurt and alone. Her mother's motto when she was little comes to her mind: if you can't find a friend, make one. She takes the advice a little too literally and takes the best parts of her former friends and creates an all new friend. Despite becoming homicidal, May remains a sweet in her own odd way and makes this film one of the most unique because of this portrayal by Angela Bettis. I desperately wanted her creation to come alive because I truly wanted to see May happy. It takes a special performance for the audience to overlook such a glaring flaw as murder and still want to see her succeed.

2) La Femme

La Femme is the insane antagonist of Inside that wants to steal another woman's baby while it's still in the the mother Sarah's womb. This character could have been easily a one-dimensional crazy person, but La Femme is so much more. She has a tragic past inextricably tied to Sarah's. The same accident that killed Sarah's husband also resulted in the death of La Femme's baby while she was still pregnant. Motivated by sadness and depression that drove her insane, she sees Sarah as unworthy of a baby and of the life she has. Despite being totally insane, La Femme is smart and resourceful. She deftly wields a large pair of scissors and can act sane while lying convincingly when others try to come to Sarah's aid. Beatrice Dalle's performance as La Femme is what makes Inside so interesting to watch and makes me watch it over and over.

3) Lola Stone

Lola Stone is one of the most memorable recent female antagonists. Her weird blend of daddy's girl, super girly girl, and bloodthirsty psycho make her unique. To the public, she's a just an outcast that is barely notable to the people around her. Her private persona is completely different. Her emotions are all over the place, laughing and taunting one second and then screaming in rage the next. Lola is the extreme and twisted version of a spoiled child. Her daddy is her willing slave and together they torture boys and turn them into pets. Other than that, her other hobbies are fairly normal. Everything she owns is pink and she listens to sappy pop songs. She even keeps a scrapbook of all the boys she's tortured and carves her initials into their chests. These parodies of normal teen behavior make the film darkly comic and interesting to watch. Robin McLeavy manages to make the behavior, which I would normally find completely annoying, to be endearing in an odd way. She portrays her sadism, femininity, and childishness in a balanced way without every making her unlikable.

4) Asami Yamazaki

At first, Asami seems like an unassuming, shy, sweet woman with a tragic past. She used to be a dancer, but due to an injury had to quit and she has a romantically melancholy air about her. The first 3/4 of the film is an honestly kind of boring love story with touches of weirdness. The first indication that something is amiss is when Asami is shown in her apartment staring at her phone with a mysterious bag in the room. The phone rings and the bag moves! It's seriously one of the most disturbing scenes because it's so out of the blue. Anyway, Asami is shown to be brutal and cruel, gleefully torturing him with long needles and piano wire. The film is even more confusing when after Aoyama is saved and Asami is killed, the scene cuts to Asami and Aoyama in bed. Aoyama could have dreamed it because of his own guilt over meeting her under false pretenses and kind of being an ass or viewing her as monstrous because he views her as such because of the sexual abuse in the past. Whatever the reason, Asami is extremely frightening and stars in a very memorable and expertly filmed torture scene.

5) Annie Wilkes

Annie Wilkes starts off as a nice, welcoming nurse that finds famous author Paul Sheldon after his horrific car accident. Then she reads the latest book in his romance series and finds out the main character, Misery, is dead. She flies into a rage and forces him to properly resurrect her (without cheating the audience) under threat of torture. Her moods vary from brightly cheerful to deeply depressed to blindingly angry and can do so from moment to moment. The most insignificant things can set her off like finding out her favorite character died in a book or Paul pointing out the paper she chose isn't the best quality or anyone using profanity around her. She's incredibly manipulative and controlling yet paranoid. When others come around, she uses her cheerful side to lull them into a false sense of security. Her past as a nurse is deep and dark. She killed many people under her care, including 11 infants, but was acquitted of the crimes due to lack of evidence. Annie Wilkes is a weird combination of ubercrazy and nice. Her brand of crazy is compelling and frightening to watch. You just never know if she'll bring the pain meds or a sledgehammer. Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, one of the few times the horror genre is actually officially recognized.

Did I miss your favorite female villain? Comment with your own favorite!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Women in Horror: Sick Girl

* Spoilers *

Ida Teeter is an entomologist who loves her job, but finds it hard to find a girlfriend that accepts it. Being shy and kind of awkward doesn't help either. All of this changes when her co-worker points out a beautiful girl who sketches in their office lobby every day. Ida is dubious, but eventually learns that her name is Misty Falls and awkwardly asks her out a couple days later. Their relationship steadily progresses and they move in together. Before they met, a large, strange bug was sent to Ida by an anonymous source. It escapes, nests in her pillow, and bites her girlfriend. Misty starts to act strangely, but she dismisses it as sickness. Bad idea.

Lucky McKee’s Sick Girl was featured as an episode in the Masters of Horror TV series. Despite its short runtime, it proved to be an excellent film. Angela Bettis and Erin Brown were perfect as Ida and Misty. Their chemistry was slightly awkward, but sweet and romantic all the same. I found Ida's old fashioned style and deliberate way of speaking, as well as Misty’s frenetic energy, endearing. These characters were unique and surprisingly well fleshed out for the short time allotted to setting up their relationship and their personalities. Their relationship and their sexuality were never used solely to titillate the male audience (as is true with many horror films), but as a normal, heart-warming love story with a deeper meaning than just putting nudity on the screen. 

I believe this film is about the demonization of the homosexual lifestyle by the majority of our society.  Each person in the film that interact with Ida and Misty are representative of an aspect of society and their typical opinions about homosexuality. Ida's landlady Lana Beasley and Misty's father Malcolm Wolf (who is also Ida's teacher) represent the political far right, who are typically older people. They disapprove of Misty and Ida's lifestyle and go so far as to do the harm (by depriving them of a place to live and sending them a giant homicidal bug). Lana even accuses Ida of being a pedophile, a typical and false argument of someone opposing homosexuality. Betty Beasley, Lana's granddaughter, represents the younger people in society who typically are more progressive and generally support homosexuality. Betty looks up to Ida and sees her as a good friend. She also views Ida's relationship with Misty as nice and normal. Ida's coworker Max Grubb represents the typical heterosexual male. If her lesbian relationship isn't titillating him in some way, he doesn't really care about it. He disapproves of Misty and Ida's long term relationship and asks crude questions about it. Of course, these characters don't encompass the entirety of the people they represent, but the general majority.

The film ends with both Misty and Ida largely pregnant with thousands of monstrous insect babies and being controlled by the large original insect that infected Misty. This ending puts into reality the fear that people against homosexuality have: that gay people will somehow destroy society if their relationships and lifestyle become normal. This is a ridiculous notion and shown to be so by this short film. I think Sick Girl portrays American opinions towards homosexuality in a concise and symbolic way while portraying realistic and nuanced characters. I highly recommend this film and also Lucky McKee's other films May and The Woman.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Songs

Here are some tragic, twisted, and interesting songs about love to go with your wonderful Valentine's Day!

* The Bed Song by Amanda Palmer

This song just pulls at my heartstrings. It's about the course of a relationship where the two grow apart and don't talk about it until it's way too late. It's frustrating because they seem to still love each other despite the lack of communication. The video is absolutely beautiful, as is the music and Amanda's raw emotion. Watch with some tissues.

* Boyfriend by Ben de la Creme

This is the best Justin Beiber parody ever, featuring awesome horror references (including Silence of the Lambs, Misery, and The Human Centipede), homoeroticism, and creepily obsessive love. The song is hilarious, clever, and far superior to the original song.

* The Horror of Our Love by Ludo

This song shows how love isn't always sappy and sweet, but can be dark, consuming, and horrific. I love the deliciously dark imagery and ominous melody. Love songs don't have to be boring and cookie cutter. I would also recommend Love Me Dead for another of their dark, unconventional love songs.

* Fuck You by Garfunkel and Oates

Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome are just being honest with their song about budding love. It starts out sweet and unsure, then gets real. Just bypass all that romance, flowers, and chocolates with this song to get straight to the point.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Zombie Valentines!

For all you horror enthusiasts, here are some creepy cute zombie valentines for your zombified love!

* from hanasaurusrex, download in pdf form here.

* from ThinkGeek

* from Stacey Graham

* from *Ekiriam

* from Jesse Petersen (more at her site)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Women in Horror: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

* Spoilers *

Everyone notices that Mandy Lane has gotten really hot over the summer and they all fall over themselves to get her attention. She is invited to a party and she only goes on the condition that her best friend Emmett can come too. They go to the party and Mandy is predictably hit on a lot. Emmett comes to her rescue, but causes the guy's death by suggesting he jump off the roof to impress her. Fast forward nine months. Mandy has gotten more popular and separated herself from Emmett. The cool crowd invites her to a party on a ranch to drink and do other typical delinquent teen activities. Everything is fun and games until one by one, the teens disappear.

Mandy Lane is the all American girl: gorgeous, virginal, aloof, and extremely bland. For the life of me, I have no idea why boys won't leave her alone except that she's pretty and she doesn't want them. Despite being as exciting as linoleum tile, the cool people at her school include her in their party, while she looks at them condescendingly, doesn't really interact with any of them in any way, and looks bored. I swear Amber Heard went to the Kirsten Stewart school of acting, where hair flipping and empty gazes are all that are needed. I was hoping that by the end, Mandy would have some sort of personality, but she really doesn't. The ending's surprise twist is that Mandy was complicit in all the murders that Emmett committed. Instead of killing herself with Emmett like they planned, she kills Emmett, leaving herself free to blame all the murders on him and continue her life. She proves to be an incredibly bland and manipulative person that relies on her looks and doesn't have any real relationship with anyone. The other women in the film are just as vapid and annoying as Mandy, except they also put each other down, have no self respect, and give sexual favors to the men who treat them badly.

The guys in this film are unbelievable. The majority of them believe that girls are commodities to be owned and conquered. Mandy is unwillingly groped, kissed, and touched by many of these boys because they think it's their right to do so. Even her own boyfriend acts like anyone can just come along and take her. They all prove to be flat stock characters that are incredibly annoying and misogynistic. The only likable guy in the film is Emmett, the murderer. He doesn't buy into their views on anything and treats Mandy like a person (even though he is just as infatuated with her as everyone else). It's pretty sad when the best person in the film kills just about everyone in it. I hated just about all the guys in the film because of their frat boy, misogynistic tendencies.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a stereotypical, formulaic slasher film with misogynistic male characters and bland, vapid female characters. The film was fairly frustrating to get through and became quite boring after a while. I liked the songs used in the background, but other than that, it's mediocre at best. I wish it would have changed up the typical tropes of the genre or even had dynamic characters.

My rating: 3/10 fishmuffins

Monday, February 11, 2013

Women in Horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Eva Khatchadourian's life has completely changed since the incident involving her son Kevin at his school. She used to be a successful travel writer and now she took any job that would have her (in this case a clerk in a travel agency). She used to have a family in a large luxurious house, but now lives alone in a small squalid house. The people of her town are largely hostile towards her, splashing her house with red paint and even attacking her in the street. Kevin nears eighteen and she regularly visits him in jail despite not having much to talk about. Eva reflects upon her strained  relationship with Kevin and his complacent father who dismissed all of her concerns as she struggles to put some semblance of a life back together in the face of depression and the judgment of the people around her.

I am really impressed with this film. It examines this fictional situation that has been seen countless times in the news over the years and simply presents pieces of the story as the film goes along, allowing the viewer to come up with their own rationalizations and judgments. There aren't any clear answers about anything because there are none in real life. It makes for a thought provoking and depressing film that has stayed with me. A major theme in the film is the lack of communication in the whole situation. Despite the title of the film, no one actually talks about Kevin. Every attempt Eva made to voice concern about him was dismissed by medical professionals and her husband. After her concerns went unheard, she stopped trying to voice them. This lack of communications permeates all aspects of Eva's life. She never really talks to the people who were devastated by Kevin's actions (which may have made her feel less alone and ostracized) or to her husband about her doubts about being a mother and wanting to travel more (which may have made their relationship and marriage better) or even to Kevin. It's actually quite sad how a healthy dose of communication could have helped a lot of the situations here.

I loved Tilda Swinton's portrayal of Eva. She comes off as a sympathetic and human character. It seems as if she didn't really want to be a mother right from the beginning. She seemed detached from the other mothers in the pregnancy classes, abhors her constantly crying infant son, and even tells him that every day she wakes up she wishes she was in France. Unfortunately, society still considers it a taboo when a woman doesn't like being a mother or doesn't want children, so this portrayal is rarely seen. Many would see Eva as a terrible person, but motherhood really isn't for everyone. I'm sure there are many women out there that regret having children because our society puts forth that all women should want or like children and have a maternal instinct. Eva made some mistakes along the way, but she really loved Kevin and tried to do her best even when he was at his worst. Over time, she grew scared of him and knew that anything she said against him would be dismissed and would make her look irrational or cruel. In the aftermath of the incident, Eva takes a lot of grief and violence from the parents of Kevin's school mates. Instead of protesting this or even talking to them, she quietly takes the abuse and moves on. She believes Kevin's actions to be her fault and accepts the vitriol of others because she believes she deserves it. Eva is a flawed person, but is simply human and undeserving of such punishment.

Kevin is a frightening character. Through the course of the film, he grew from a difficult infant to a sociopathic  teenager. Talented at manipulation, he uses the people to his advantage at every opportunity even at a young age. His relationships with Eva is complex and interesting. She is the only person who sees him for who he truly is, but he punishes her at every turn because he knows no one will believe her. His violent act is designed to hurt his mother in the deepest possible way, even going so far as to reference the children's book she read him when he was sick. The reason why Kevin ended up as he did is an obvious question and doesn't have a clear answer.

The way the film is presented is disorienting at first. It starts after the incident but then constantly flashes back to life before from Kevin's birth to the incident in a fairly linear order. I would recommend watching the film at least twice because it makes much more sense the second time and more nuanced things can be recognized when not hindered by trying to figure out where every scene fits into the story timeline. The cinematography is striking. The color red is used in much of the film as a constant reminder of the blood and violence that Kevin caused.

We Need to Talk About Kevin provides a different perspective on a story we have seen time and time again in the news. It provides some insight into how the people might feel in this situation and how something like this might happen without resorting to stereotypical smokescreens as other films have. I would recommend this highly disturbing and powerful film.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Women in Horror: Lady Vengeance

19 year old Geum-Ja Lee confesses to the kidnapping and murder of a young boy and spends thirteen and a half years in prison. Unfortunately, she is actually innocent of the crime, but confessed to keep her own child safe from the real kidnapper and murderer. She became infamous as a monster with an angelic face. While in jail, she very publicly found religion and helped many other women. When she was released from jail, she takes steps to put her life back together and exact her revenge against Mr. Baek, the man who kidnapped and threatened her child. Geum-Ja slowly and carefully puts together her revenge by calling in as many favors as she can with the inmates she helped while reconnecting with her daughter.

Geum-Ja is viewed and judged by many people throughout the film, but few know her for who she really is. First, she is known as a monster after confessing to the kidnapping and murder of the little boy. The case is sensationalized, shown by the particular vigor and excitement the press had when she re-enacted the murder scene and the way the public romanticizes her by mimicking her fashion. Of course, she is characterized in this way because of the stereotypical view of women as meek, maternal, and loving and because of her beauty and air of innocence. This crime flies in the face of all of that and would not have made such a splash if a man been charged of the same crime. The public is obviously both fascinated and appalled with Geum-Ja and her heinous crime.

Once in jail, Geum-Ja turns her entire image around. After finding religion and publicly advocating for the healing power of prayer in jail, she helps many of her fellow inmates in significant ways. She poisons the prison bully with bleach over the course of three years to save the women she harrassed; a heartsick inmate finds solace, healing, and a kidney with her; she takes care of an elderly ex-spy with Alzheimer's when no one else wants to; and she comforted and supported other women as well. Her new nickname became "Kind Hearted Geum-Ja" and she is widely viewed as a saint. Another inmate even remembers her serene face radiating divine light. All of Geum-Ja's kind acts seem selfless, but she carefully gained these women's favor in order to call in favors after she got out of prison.

Once out of prison, Geum-Ja's image changes again. Outside the prison, she rejects and alienates the religious that see her as a role model. She wears blood red eyeshadow and dresses in black to destroy her kind hearted reputation. Her beatific smile and all pretense of serenity are gone. Every single person she sees comments on either her change of dress or demeanor because it is so vastly different than the saintly persona she adopted in prison. Geum-Ja tries to put together some semblance of a life by working at a bakery and reconnecting with her daughter while putting together her long planned revenge by calling on the help of the women in her debt. Revenge is within her grasp when she realizes there was more than one child victim. She gets the families together, shows them proof that Mr. Baek killed their children, and offers them the chance to either turn him in to the police or exact a more personal vengeance.

Through most of the film, Geum-Ja is defined by the perception of those around her, but she actually isn't completely good or evil. She is a flawed person who makes mistakes, but does what she thinks is right. Her 14 year vengeance plan worked, but in a different way than she envisioned. She sacrificed her own need for vengeance so that the people most hurt by him could exact theirs. This is the moment where she truly commits a selfless act of kindness. Afterwards, her new life is started with a clean slate, symbolized by the white cake she buries her face in.

Everything in the film works together beautifully. Yeong-ae Lee's performance as Geum-Ja is amazing. She captures each stage of Geum-Ja's story perfectly captures the emotions of each scene with her facial expressions. I was blown away by her range and depth as she carried much of the film on her own. The score, both the adapted baroque pieces and newly composed, adds an elegance that matches the beautiful cinematography. I highly recommend this brutal, but ultimately hopeful film.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Women in Horror: V/H/S

V/H/S is an anthology film that has a frame narrative that weakly ties together 5 other horror vignettes. I am so happy I didn't spend any actual money on this film because it made me angry and sad. All of the stories are exceptionally misogynistic and have no redeeming or likable characters at all. Plus many have the worst picture quality and the most nauseating camera work I have seen. Spoilers ahead.

Frame Narrative/Tape 56

This story features a group of idiot men than go around harassing women, forcing them to expose their breasts, stealing, vandalizing, and generally being criminals while video taping it and putting it online. They talk about extending their exploits into upskirt shots and one of them men covertly video tapes having sex with a woman, who then finds out and is rightly outraged about it. Both of these situations are just disgusting, degrading, and awful to watch. An anonymous person pays them a large amount of money to break into a house and steal a VHS tape, where they find and watch the tapes of the following vignettes. These characters eventually die, but it seems we are still expected to sympathize with them in the face of an inhuman foe. This was the worst of the segments for me and it didn't help that the footage of a woman being forced to bear her breast was played over and over during the end credits. Really, directors??

Amateur Night

This segment features another bunch of idiot men (that I initially mistook for the first group) that rent a hotel room for sex and have a pair of glasses that act as a camera so they can video tape sex without the woman's knowledge. Again. This group swiftly get their just desserts when they pick up a strange woman named Lily. They take her back to their hotel room and she proceeds to kill every one of them, slitting throats, biting, and eventually flying off with one of them. The scene where two of the men are cowering in the bathroom as they hear her killing their friend prompts the audience to feel sympathy for them despite their disgusting actions. The woman here is literally a monster, losing any sort of sympathy of being lured to their room after revealing herself to be this way.

Second Honeymoon

Sam and Stephanie go to the west and stay in a motel to celebrate a second honeymoon. A masked intruder comes into their room at night to steal money, expose Stephanie's ass for the camera (and caress it with a switchblade), and put Sam's toothbrush in the toilet. Sam is belligerent towards Stephanie the next day and blames her for stealing the money, saying it wouldn't be the first time. The next night, the masked intruder returns to kill Sam and is revealed to be Stephanie's lesbian lover. The two women make out for the camera and run away together. The women here are more human, but exhibit monstrous behavior in murdering Stephanie's husband in order to be together. Stephanie is shown to not only be a liar and a thief, but complicit in murder.

Tuesday the 17th

Wendy and her new friends go on a camping trip in the woods. She leads them through the woods while narrating where her friends died when she was a kid there. Her friends start dying one by one, killed by some sort of creature hidden by tracking lines and accompanied by a super annoying noise. Wendy reveals she brought the group there as bait to be able to confront the creature again. Seriously, who would do this?? Wendy is obviously a horrible sociopath that values revenge over 3 other people's lives plus her own.

The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger

Emily and James are dating and video chat frequently. Emily has an annoying bump on her arm that reminds her of an accident she has when she was young. Then she takes off her top for the camera. She is convinced that her house is haunted because of child-like creatures she sees at night. After trying to confront them, she is knocked out by the creatures and James, who had been watching on the webcam, dashes into the room and extracts an alien fetus from her back. He mentions he has to make it look like an accident and  asks the aliens how much longer they plan to use her as an incubator. The next scene is a bruised Emily with a broken arm sobbing and saying James should have a normal girlfriend because he made up a story about her walking into traffic in a fugue state. He reassures her and starts a video chat with another girl with the same bump and also takes off her top for him. These women's bodies are literally being penetrated and used as an alien breeding ground without their knowledge. James is abusing these women to make the injuries from the surgery look incidental to an accident, making them think they are crazy, and effectively ruining their lives.


Yet another group of idiot men go to the wrong house for a party. They walk into an exorcism and encounter crazy weird happenings, a possessed girl, and death. This segment is the only one with any real suspense and pretty cool visual effects. The arms coming out of walls of the house seriously reminded me of the super low budget effects of Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. The windows shrinking and disappearing and the handprints on the walls were a nice touch. The woman here is part victim being invaded by a demon and part frightening monster.

These short films had no real element that linked them all, which simply feels lazy to me. The frame narrative didn't add much except to put in some more objectification and abuse towards women. In all of the segments except for the last one, women strip or are stripped for the male viewer's enjoyment, which is annoying because there is essentially no reason for this. I don't mind nudity, but there should be a reason for it, not just to sleazily add to the number of breasts shown in the film. The time those shots took in the film could have been used to create some suspense or some sort of characters development. It also seems to assume that only men are the target audience because of the way women are viewed and judging from the characters the audience should be sympathetic to.

If only one segment had some sort of misogynistic element, it could have been reasoned away or dismissed. However, every single segment either has women being violated, women as monsters, or women as victims. No characters were fully fleshed out or had any real redeeming qualities at all. This film is all about objectifying, victimizing, or demonizing women. The majority of the men here are awful, ranging from criminals to abusers. I would not recommend this for anyone. Please spend your money and time on good horror anthology films like Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat.

My rating: 1/10 fishmuffins

Monday, February 4, 2013

Women in Horror: The Silence of the Lambs

** This review contains spoilers. **

Clarice Starling works very hard and is regarded as an exceptional student at the FBI Academy. Jack Crawford, her mentor and teacher, enlists her help to present a questionnaire to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant but deranged psychologist infamous for cannibalism, manipulation, and murder. He scoffs at her attempts and sees that her mentor actually wants his help in the current serial killer case, where the murderer known as Buffalo Bill skins women. After a disgusting act from another inmate, Lecter decides to help her by giving her a riddle to solve. This marks the start of their odd relationship where he provides information and insight in return for details on her personal life. Clarice will face her own personal demons as well as a deranged killer before she has even become a full fledged FBI agent.

Clarice Starling is one of my favorite horror heroines. She's focused, dedicated, and strong, but many around her don't see her this way. Upon my latest viewing, I noticed that Clarice is very often underestimated and out of place, mostly because of her gender. She is very often surrounded by tall, imposing men when doing anything in relation to the FBI (at the academy, at the autopsy, etc.). The cinematography of these scenes gives the viewer Clarice's point of view and, in comparison, she seems small and meek, perhaps unsuited for the job frequently associated with strength and masculinity. Many men in the film agree with this assessment of her. Dr. Chilton hits on her immediately, seeing her only as a sexual object purely base on her appearance. After being rebuffed, he completely changes his demeanor from friendly to cold and singlemindedly seeks to undermine her. Even Crawford, her mentor, uses her as an uninformed pawn in order to fool Dr. Lecter, ignoring her ability to consciously persuade Lecter to help them. Hannibal Lecter dismisses her as an annoyance at first before she intrigues him and, of course, Buffalo Bill merely sees women as objects to be torn apart and sewn together. All of these factors make Clarice's chosen career difficult for her to venture into and become successful purely based on her gender.

Clarice proves to be a strong, formidable woman, even to those who doubted her, by never backing down in the face of opposition. She succeeds where Dr. Chilton had failed for years in forming a connection with Hannibal Lecter and gaining his trust. Dr. Chilton, on the other hand, inadvertently allows Lecter to escape. Crawford follows a false lead to an empty house while Clarice finds Buffalo Bill by accident and kills him. This scene is one of my favorites because of what it shows about Clarice. When the lights are turned off, she is obviously terrified, frantically trying to feel her way around and listen for Buffalo Bill. The second he makes a noise, she turns and empties her gun into him and immediately reloads. It shows how she feels emotion, which is a stereotypically frowned upon trait of women, and it doesn't interfere with her ability to be a good FBI agent. Jodie Foster portrayed Clarice wonderfully with a perfect balance of toughness and vulnerability.

So many aspects of this film came together to make it exceptional. Anthony Hopkins is excellent as Hannibal Lecter with his trademark intense, unblinking stare. Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill is odd and disturbing, especially the infamous Goodbye Horses dance and the perfect delivery of "It puts the lotion on its skin." The film score by Howard Shore supports and enhances each and every scene and I can never hear Bach's Goldberg Variations the same ever again.

The Silence of the Lambs is an excellent film. I can watch it with fresh eyes and discover something new about it even after I have seen it many times over the years. It's one of those special films that transcends its time period. Sure, there are cues all over the place (clothes, phones, hair styles, etc.), but they are incidental in the face of the intensely interesting characters and the chilling plot based in reality.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Women in Horror: American Mary

Mary Mason is an ambitious and focused medical student who is down her luck. Growing increasingly more broke, she desperately needs money and hits rock bottom when she applies to work at a strip club. During the sleazy interview, the club owner asks for her medical expertise when one of his associates is severely injured for an astronomical amount of money in cash. Of course, she performs the illegal surgery and feels sickened, but happy for the money. Later on, Beatress Johnson, a performer from the strip club who looks just like Betty Boop, approaches Mary for a business proposition involving extreme body modification. She refuses at first to focus on her studies, but after being traumatized and alienated by the teacher she truly admired and the medical field as a whole, she assents and throws herself full force into the dark and sometimes bizarre world of illegal body modification.

I have been itching to see American Mary since Jen and Sylvia Soska's panel from last year's San Diego Comic Con. I finally got the chance when the film was featured at LA's Screamfest and subsequently won most of the awards there, including best picture, best director, best actress, best makeup, and best cinematography  The plot and execution of this film is more unique than the majority of the horror films I've seen over the last year. It's truly a breath of fresh air among all the remakes and sequels with twists, turns, and shocking moments. It subverts expectations at every turn and avoids the typical formulaic horror for an unpredictable plot that kept me guessing what would happen. For a movie about surgery, the use of blood and gore is quite restrained and the entire film is beautifully shot. I expected buckets upon buckets of blood, especially after Dead Hooker in a Trunk. The cinematography is polished, gorgeous, and completely different from their previous film. The scenes of surgery are especially ethereal looking, enhanced by the use of Gounod's Ave Maria as background music.

The body modification community could have easily come off as freaks or monsters, but the Soska twins merely present them as normal people with tastes for socially unacceptable appearances. They also worked with people from the Church of Body Modification as consultants and actors to authentically portray their community. Since many of these people's reasons to get this type of surgery is just as, if not more, valid than those getting conventional plastic surgery, it begs the question why many of the procedures are illegal. This community in the film comes off as more welcoming and nice than the "normal" people. The members of the medical community are supposed to be the best and brightest our society has to offer, but are portrayed as manipulative adrenaline junkies that don't think twice about taking advantage of their students. This reversal of expectations provides a new perspective not typically seen in any genre.

The characters also aren't what one would expect. Mary Mason is a focused, driven woman, but she doesn't have many redeeming qualities. Her main motivations are selfish and greedy and her demeanor is largely aloof, detached, and fake. The only real difference in her behavior after the abuse is that an undercurrent of rage runs underneath her coldness. She also goes a bit crazy after embracing her lucrative and illegal career. Despite her flaws, she remains a sympathetic character throughout the film due to the writing and Katharine Isabelle's performance. She's a complex character, being the final girl and the killer at the same time. The rare glimpses of vulnerability and true emotion in Mary are priceless and brought about by the rough looking but genuinely kind hearted bouncer that works at the strip club. Billy is the sleazy strip club owner who regularly victimizes his employees. You wouldn't really expect him to have any redeeming qualities, but he is quite sweet to Mary and really cares about her. Their relationship gives an awkwardly romantic element to the film that adds a sweetness to a very dark film. These characters are far from perfect, but their glimpses of lightness and true emotion is beautiful in the backdrop of crime, jadedness, and violence.

The only problem I have with the film is the pacing. It seems to lose a little steam near the end, but picks up after a shocking turn of events. Everything else is wonderful. Todd Masters' makeup and prosthetics and the avoidance of CGI work in their favor because it looked real and I believe will look better as time goes by. The performances are singular and coupled with the writing are the real stars of American Mary. The characters are the most realistic I have seen on screen, especially in a genre usually rife with stock characters, and I love them, flaws and all. Jen and Sylvia Soska are not only kickass writers and directors, but genuinely nice people who take the time to reach out to their fans. I will watch anything they create from this point on because I know it will be different than anything I've seen and of the highest quality.

My rating: 9.5/10 fishmuffins

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Women in Horror: Excision

** This review contains spoilers. **

Pauline is a mentally disturbed social outcast, prone to odd outbursts and delusions. Her fascination of blood and viscera crosses the borders fetish and obsession and she dreams about being a great surgeon one day. The other kids at school just think she's really weird and either make fun of her or simply ignore her. Her parents are in denial about her mental health and skimp on treatment by taking her to a local priest instead of a therapist, which isn't really doing any good. Her little sister Grace, whom she loves dearly, has cystic fibrosis and is rapidly getting worse. Pauline has been working on her own solution to her sister's problem that will shock everyone.

Excision is an unexpected movie. I figured it would be full of gore and blood (which it does have), but not a thoughtful character study of a dysfuctional family with a shocking ending. The family dynamic is utterly believable with realistic characters. There's Pauline, the black sheep of the family. Although not a good student by any stretch of the imagination, she dreams of being a surgeon. Her actual dreams have very little to do with surgery and a lot to do with gallons of blood, organs, and half naked people. They give great insight into her growing madness and twisted sense of sexuality. Her behavior is a little weirder and more abrasive than social outcasts usually are in film, but I felt it was a more authentic portrayal of someone with an undiagnosed mental illness. She isn't afraid to push people's buttons tell people her blunt opinion whether they want to hear it or not. Her bluntness and her periodic conversations with God are actually pretty funny and lighten the mood of an otherwise very dark film. On some level, she knows she has a problem and even tries to get the principal of her school to send her to a psychiatrist, which he laughs off. This makes the ending all the more tragic. AnnaLynne McCord does a phenomenal job of changing her entire appearance, posture, and speech patterns to play Pauline.

Grace carries a lot of baggage for a teenage girl. She has cystic fibrosis and the condition drastically worsens to the point where she will have to risk a lung transplant to survive. One of her friends with the same condition died, bringing her own mortality into the forefront of her mind. Other than that, she's a normal girl with concerns about boys, clothes, and school. Her mother considers her to be the perfect daughter because her interests coincide with those she approves of and her attitude and comportment are normal. Grace is a sweet girl who brings out the good in everyone. Pauline would do anything to protect her sister even though she may go about it the wrong way. Ariel Winter captures the balance of naivete and cynicism that Grace feels.

Pauline's parents, Phyllis and Bob, are fairly normal. Phyllis is very Christian and proper and wants her daughters to emulate her. Her pursuit of the perfect family is hindered by the reality of her daughters' sicknesses. To counteract reality, she attempts to force Pauline to be normal by yelling and berating her every day. However, she's not an evil person and really does love Pauline. Traci Lords conveys the frustrated mother's overbearing nature and concern for Pauline very well. Bob is complacent and only steps in when Phyllis falls apart. Both of them try to basically sweep Pauline under the rug without addressing any of her problems for a couple of reasons. One is shame. Our society still has a pretty significant stigma on mental illness, causing people like Phyllis, to act as if her daughter doesn't have any problems for the sake of appearing to have a perfect family. The second one is the expense. The family seemed pretty well off, but if insurance doesn't cover it, therapy and psychiatric drugs can very expensive and needed over long periods of time. This aspect is particularly relevant today since the Newtown shooting put American mental health services (or lack thereof) into focus.

**Spoilers** The ending of Excision is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking. Pauline, at the height of her delusions, operates on Grace in their garage, swapping her lungs for another girl's. When Phyllis finds them and Pauline is glowing with happiness that the surgery went well, I just lost it and cried. Pauline just wanted to help her sister and felt she could do this for Grace and for her family. Then realization sets in and Pauline starts to cry. The scene, although obviously bloody, is in stark contrast with the dream sequences and the tragic result of trying to bring those dreams into reality.

Excision is a complex film that features some great performances and compelling characters. There is admittedly not a whole lot of plot, but it gives more emphasis and care to the character building. This would really be the only thing that was wrong with the film. The film is powerful and honest and I highly recommend it.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins