Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Get Your October Face On!



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Seasons greetings!

Hope you all enjoy your time beneath the mask.

31 Screams: Marilyn Burns

Jesus, where do you begin?

I've held off doing Marilyn Burns from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) for a number of years now because, yeah, where do you begin? Screaming never got better than this, it never got more intense or more extreme, no one was ever able to amp this up, pimp this out, or deconstruct it. It is what it is, as the kids say, and what it is is... it's the end, isn't it? The living, screaming end.

Burns starts screaming about 52 minutes into this 83 minute movie, which means she's doing this for more than a third of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, stopping only for breath. The legend of the making-of informs us that the actress was in extreme discomfort throughout principal photography in general and this scene in particular, meaning that we're getting, we ticket buyers, we voyeurs, we vicariouseurs, a heady cocktail of make-believe and snuff, except that Burns could not even hope for the sweet release of death. She just had to keep screaming until Tobe Hooper said "cut!"

The extreme close-ups bring to mind Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960), which is a propos given that both films  draw from the Ed Gein case. Where Hitchcock went for match cuts that drew discomfitting similarities between shower head, tub drain, and open mouth, Hooper reduces Burns to component parts (certainly fitting for a story about disarticulation) that all perform the same function. Burns' gaping mouth is matched to her wide-staring eyes, the vermilion of her lips to her enflamed sclera.

Her terror reduces her to something like a one-celled organism. She is no longer fully human. She is 95% scream.

If eyes can be said to scream, this is what that looks like.

Are we happy that Tobe Hooper did this? Is it a good thing? Certainly one of the gifts that horror is able to bestow upon us by virtue of its honesty is to make specific and palpable something that has long been generic and rote, to bring close something that we have traditionally kept at a remove, to say "This is what we're really talking about, right?"

"Feast your eyes, glut your soul, on my accursed ugliness" said Lon Chaney in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) but the sentiment seemed lost on Mary Philbin. The Phantom deserved a trouper like Marilyn Burns, whose reaction would have gratified his monstrous (but not entirely unfounded) self-loathing, and taken the horror to its logical conclusion -- the end, the end of everything, of all our yesterdays and tomorrows. And so we close 31 Screams 2012 with the reminder that we choose for our entertainment, we freaks, we ghouls, the consideration, the possibility, the inevitability of our own obliteration. We go there, we make that choice... and if we're not willing to take that to its logical conclusion, to the vanishing point of sanity, then we might just as well stay home, mightn't we?

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

31 Screams: Niall MacGinnis

Though I have hung a spoiler advisory below my blog banner and feel that due diligence has been served, I still get complaints ("Thanks for spoiling the ending of BABA YAGA for me!"). In light of this, I want to be very clear that I am going to be discussing the conclusion of Jacques Tourneur's NIGHT OF THE DEMON (US: CURSE OF THE DEMON, 1957) today and if you still have not seen this 55 year old movie, if you have put off watching it for years but have made the effort to see ORPHAN (2009) and INSIDIOUS (2012) and SINISTER (2012) and every other turd bomb passing itself off as the state of the art of contemporary horror then, sir or madame, you are an ass and stop reading here.

Anyway. At the end of NIGHT OF THE DEMON, villainous (but deucedly amusing) diabolist Julian Karswell repays his Faustian debt on a strip of lonely railway tracks in the English countryside. He has been passed a slip of paper bearing runic symbols, essentially a Go Directly to Hell card, and when he cannot fob it off on another, he knows that he is irreclaimably fucked.

This is what makes Karswell's scream -- no, not here; it comes just a bit later -- so delicious. Throughout the film, we have seen Karswell sic his demons on those who would expose him for what he is (and, it's worth noting, for what he is not - which is to say a fraud) and though these people have died terrible deaths, their terrors have at least been ameliorated by their utter disbelief. But Karswell cannot rely on the anesthetic properties of befuddlement, which makes his horror all the more acute.

No, Karswell knows precisely what is in the cards for him.

And he screams. Pity there's no closeup but I suspect Tourneur felt, as I do, a little sorry for Karswell, played to perfection by Niall MacGinnis. He's good, the old trouper. Like, Bond villain good. He's so good that you feel, I know you do, it's a shame he has to die. Which he must of course. But, it's still a shame.

Karswell gets another good scream in just before the demon rakes the living shit out of him with its yard-long talons, a fair approximation of Faust's death in the maw of Mephistopheles' Hell hounds (in certain interpretations of the myth, but not Goethe's, that pussy). Ultimately, this powerful adept is discarded by the demon as if he were no more substantial than a wet tissue.

He has it coming, of course, but I always feel a bit sad for Karswell as he lies there smoldering on the tracks. Maybe it comes down to the choice of actors. With someone else in the role -- say, Charles Laughton or Michael Redgrave -- I would have felt that justice was served and the balance of nature restored but that son of a bitch MacGinnis gets me to like Karswell and accept his malevolence as a necessary evil. Does that make me a Niallist?

It is October 30th. You are allowed one day more.

Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Screams: Bernice Stegers

The character played by Bernice Stegers in Lamberto Bava's MACABRO (MACABRE, 1980) is having the worst day of her life and she doesn't even know everything that we know.

Racing in a car through New Orleans after having received the news that her young son has died, Jane Baker cannot know that her own daughter was the killer, motivated as she was by extreme jealousy and anger over her mother's affair with another man.

Then the vehicle in which Jane is an aggrieved passenger goes out of control and her lover is killed at the wheel. Decapitated.

Jane will spend the next twelvemonth in a sanitarium, her release from which is MACABRO's true starting point in a very strange and certainly unique if not all together persuasive tale of madness, obsession, betrayal, sexual repression, and throat biting. 

Stegers (Mrs. Mike Newell to you) denies Bava fils nothing for the purpose of his proper directorial debut. You probably need one complete pass through the film before you can see past the aggregate outréity and understand the depths one plumbs willingly when one has lost everything.