Send Requests

Is there a Horror film you'd like me to review?
Send the title and year to

Monday, 27 January 2014

THE TINGLER (William Castle 1959) and the Pleasures of Gimmicky Fun

Last week I had the unfortunate experience of viewing I, Frankenstein. Granted, I had no expectations walking in with my free pass, but I felt a sense of dread wash over me when I spotted the bin of migraine inducing 3-D glasses. Oh Hollywood, when will the madness stop? 

But cinema gimmicks are nothing new. In fact, there was a time when they were actually quite fun. To many, the Master of Gimmicks will always be the Great and Powerful, William Castle. Notably, his films do not take themselves too seriously, a tip Hollywood could stand to profit from these days.

My favorite Castle film will always be The Tingler, named for its villainous bug-like creature which feeds off of human fear. Because he was always going for campy thrills, the film has never really become outdated. 

4 Stars

From the late 1950s until the mid-1970s, William Castle created a series of gimmicky horror films which focused on completely enveloping the viewer into the narrative. The Tingler is an interesting case because not only does it comment directly on the (artistic) phenomenon of realism in its narrative, but it also uses gimmicks to create a physical link between the onscreen and offscreen worlds. Those who were lucky enough to experience The Tingler in it’s original theatre run would have had their ability to remain rational intrusively tested through such gimmicks. “In what may be the ultimate direct audience address” (Kevin Heffernan), Castle utilized “Percepto” to make a select many seats in the theatre vibrate at choice moments in the film. Also, partway through, the story is suddenly interrupted as the Tingler escapes the diegesis “attacking” audience members. A booming voice warns of the danger at hand just before screams take over the soundtrack. It’s rather doubtful that this prank would have had people actually fearing for their lives, but it seems safe to assume it would at least create quite the thrilling atmosphere. Nowadays, even in my gimmick-free living room, the film fills me with joy. Moments like these are all in good fun. 

Furthermore, this type of extreme devotion to the physical experience is an obvious precursor to the technologies that have developed the ride-film. On a related note, Lauren Rabinovitz has recently argued that new digital and computer technologies “threaten our acquired understanding of the photographic/cinematic domain”, subsequently undermining the viewer’s ability to “determine whether or not the representation has a real world referent”. But the extent to which a filmmaker like Castle is willing to go in order to involve the spectator suggests an intention to master a whole new type of realism. It is that of the hyper-real; a reality so intense, yet so paradoxical it can only be described as surreal. 

Castle created real gimmicks to incite this hyper-real experience. Anyone who has seen The Tingler can attest to this. It is something that the present monotony of 3D can simply no longer promise its viewer.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (2011): Cue Psych 101 as Marnie meets Girl, Interrupted

It’s below 30 degrees outside and I’m home alone, so of course I turn to Netflix for comfort. Scrolling along I happen across The Ward and wonder why I haven’t seen it yet. Now I know.

2 Stars 

Warning: This review may contain spoilers

Still from The Ward (2011)

This film has an awful lot of potential - it's a ghost story set in a 1960s psych ward for women. So why does it fall so flat? It pains me a little to criticize Carpenter and Hitchcock here, I honestly cherish their work, but some things just need to be said. One major obstacle when dealing with "crazy" subjects is representation. While the representation of the 60s medical institution is quite powerful at times with extremely uncomfortable scenes of electroshock therapy, the big finale employs a Hitchcockian style “psyh 101”, as a therapist explains away the entire film with a simple case of, well, “crazy”.

Hichcock famously utilized this technique in Psycho to explain Norman Bates’ condition. 4 years later, he directed the rather subpar Marnie, taking his apparent interest in psychology even further. This time, a beautiful habitual thief is taken on as a project by a rich businessman. Despite her resistance and aggression, he eventually finds her triggers and uses them to reveal her childhood trauma. By making her face this experience, she is healed. I suppose Carpenter figured a similar method could work, so long as he set the film in the 1960s. But it doesn’t. In The Ward, the disturbed arson, Kristen, is locked away with only an  evil medical faculty and a group of other “damaged” girls. In the fashion of a brilliant 1999 James Mangold film, Girl, Interrupted, many of the girls’ issues seem to have to do with a desire to have freedoms, both in and out of the institution. However, the acting in Carpenter’s film is sloppy at best. It does not have the magic of Mangold’s film because the representations of trauma and frustration are entirely insincere. In some cases they are undeveloped, in others they are exaggerated.

When it comes to cinema, I am always inclined to identify any aspects of a film I can enjoy. This definitely enhances the viewing experience. So these are the things that kept me going while watching The Ward. That the women seemed unfairly treated by the entire medical establishment was where I was able to find some true horror. Historically speaking, women have certainly faced some atrocities having to do with “mental health” and “treatment”, and I am always impressed when filmmakers explore or address this in some capacity. Also, the “ghost” figure haunting the patients is actually pretty creepy. Not a traditional ghost by any means, and definitely intimidating to meet in a darkened hallway. So that was kind of refreshing. Lastly, the cinematography was what you would expect from Carpenter, so there was a suspenseful atmosphere.

Ultimately, I would never expect to find this film on a Top 10 list unless it was dedicated to surprising failures.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ( Wes Craven 1984): A Collective Nightmare

4 Stars

A classic, of course. Despite the crude subject matter of violence against children, the film manages to produce an amusing display of ‘horrality’. This is a term I adore, coined by Philip Brophy to define the intersections of horror, textuality, morality, and hilarity. Yes, this Craven product really is the whole package.

The story in a nutshell is as follows: After being burned alive (the result of an act of vigilante justice against him) Freddy Kruger, “a filthy child murderer” as he is referred to, returns to haunt the the children of Elm street while they sleep. If you die in your sleep, you die for real. His wrath is two-fold, for vengeance against their parents (his killers), and for the satisfaction he gains from torturing, sexualizing, and finally killing the teens. So, typical slasher stuff. The twist is its supernatural element. A malevolent spirit of some sort, Freddy is a living nightmare. The only escape is to stay awake, but no one can do that forever. 

Like all good villains, Krueger represents a threat to the social order. In compounding issues of morality, justice, sexuality, and violence, this film manages to raise considerable questions about contemporary middle-class suburbia and the perceived circumvent threat of rape in the 1980s (admittedly, this second point exists largely in subtext). Krueger really is, as theorist Carol Clover put it, "a collective nightmare" for his time.

By this point in Craven's career, he had already created quite a splash in horror circles with Last House on the Left (1972), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). But his knack for crass humor could only be brought forward so masterfully by Robert Englund. What a creepy man! His performance is sure to incite a shiver or two. Of course, this means when I see Englund, I see Freddy, not unlike how Jack Nicholson will always be Jack Torrence to me. And it also means there can only be one Freddy, sorry Jackie Earle Haley - but kudos on the effort. 

I must admit, although I was extremely hesitant to give Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare remake a shot, I’m glad I did. It’s not the same film, but that’s okay. Why should it be? As a separate entity, it holds up quite well with its own brand of creepiness. And if you can’t get enough of Englund, that’s fine too, because there are seven films in the original Nightmare series. Although not all are graced by Craven’s involvement, they usually tend to be pretty fun.

All in all, Nightmare employs an original storyline, and a twist ending. Unpredictability is the key to creating a successful slasher film, and that it is. That being said, I would not classify the film as frightening, or even gory. While it maintains a sense of nostalgia for those of us who saw it as children, this also means it is a little dated. Still, revisiting it these days never fails to offer a good time. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

I Guess I'll Start a Blog

I have seen a lot of movies. No, really... I have seen a lot of movies. And like many other film buffs and Netflix addicts, I have a lot of opinions about the films I see. After high school I decided that I needed an outlet, so I settled into a Film Studies program and scooped up a couple degrees. But as my studies come to a close, I realize I will no longer have a way to release all of these pent-up movie reviews. 

So... I guess I’ll start a blog.

My objective will be to channel my passion for thinking about movies into a collection of short reviews, 500 words or less. This will be a challenge for me since I generally have 5000 words or more to say about, well, anything really. 

I will be focusing on horror cinema, allowing this broad term to encompass everything that indulges in the abject. From 1980s slashers to the recent craze for 'found footage' paranormal flicks, these will be films that are meant to scare, thrill, and excite. I expect nothing but a good time. 

The first review will be coming soon so stay tuned!