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Discussing Horror Moves (Part 2): Horror vs. Terror, & Is SE7EN Horror? Plus, Spooky Scores.

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 2) Horror, Terror, Se7en

Does “horror,” as a film genre, have a sufficient definition? Can we decide, once and for all, whether or not SE7EN is a horror movie? Plus, Pat and I list a few underappreciated musical scores from horror movies.

Tony: Do you have a favorite segment of subgenre of horror? Are there one or more corners of this universe that you tend to gravitate toward?

Pat: Lately, I’ve found myself liking the mystery genre. Shows like True Detective that teeter on the edge of that Lovecraftian existential collapse, or movies like Seven (1995) that invoke supernatural terror without ever crossing the line into the realm of ghosts and goblins, are expertly crafted horror stories.

The mainstream tends to avert using the word “horror” to describe these well-thought-out narratives and instead choose to call them “thrillers” or “suspense” stories. I’ve always taken issue with that because on some level, the mainstream finds that, by placing these stories in the horror category, they are devalued.

Maybe “horror” still conjures up images of B-movie vampires in Party City capes delivering cheesy lines before straddling the X-rated line of soft core pornography and excessive (and usually terrible-looking) blood effects. Horror though, is not cardboard ghost cutouts and spooky organ riffs.

Tony: Who doesn’t love a good spooky organ riff? Read more…

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Discussing Horror Movies (Part 1): Gateways, Themes & Motivations

Discussing Horror Movies (Part 1): Gateways, Themes & Motivations

Why do we love horror movies? What makes them so cathartic? My friend Pat and I begin to scratch the surface of these and other questions in Part 1 of our wide-ranging horror movie conversation.

Tony: Have you seen anything horror or horror adjacent lately worth mentioning? Classic or new? Good, bad or other?

Pat: Tony, I have to say—horror is near and dear to my heart. I use that line deliberately because we usually use that term “near and dear” to express fondness. Horror, to me, truly is near and dear because it is a kind of celebratory ritual. Horror celebrates goodness because this kind of fiction frames our psyche in a way that forces us to imagine what  it is like without the things we love most. Friday The 13th forces us to imagine what it is like to lose youth (as at some point in real life, sadly, we hear about high school friends who never made it into their twenties). Frankenstein forces us to question the foundation on which moderns society is built by scrutinizing its technology (and in turn, its ethics and the idea of what is good).

So horror is near and dear to me because it reminds me of what I hold most dear by taking me through a psychological exercise of loss. And in that way, horror is immediately related to love. Horror threatens us because we love. In my opinion, the best horror stories are, on some level, love stories. Read more…

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 poster

Nostalgia is a funny thing. With rose-colored glasses, it’s easy to see Blade Runner as a potentially hot piece of intellectual property, but the irony is strong with this one. Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie didn’t fare particularly well at the box office and divided critics upon initial release. It is revered today, but that lofty status has been decades in the making. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Blade Runner 2049 is a somewhat unlikely sequel. Apparently, 35 years is about how long it takes to forget that a prickly, unaccommodating R-rated sci-fi noir isn’t exactly the safest way to invest the kind of money that typically funds summer blockbusters. I’m glad they forgot, because Blade Runner 2049 is wonderful.

Denis Villeneuve’s take on the replicant universe offers much of the same for those familiar with it. Replicants are physically identical to humans but were engineered as a labor source. Replicants are so lifelike that they even have memory implants. The problem with this level of verisimilitude is that humanoid androids with memories and nascent emotional capacities eventually begin to think of themselves as fully human. The occasional rogue android necessitates enforcers known as blade runners.

So, what is Blade Runner 2049? It’s a sequel, to be sure, though it doesn’t really pick up any of the obvious story threads from Blade Runner. Instead, 2049 inserts the audience into a vaguely post-apocalyptic version of L.A, this time using K (Ryan Gosling) as the point of entry. It’s more a detective procedural thriller than a glitzy sci-fi action flick. Also, at 163 minutes, a word like “ponderous” hardly even begins to explain this one. 2049 is very similar to the original, in that it gives you so much to chew on and yet doesn’t seem too interested in being easily digestible. It’s just the latest in a long line of defiantly singular science-fiction films including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker, and more recent fare like A.I. and Under The Skin. Read more…

Movie Round Up: Kingsman 2; The Duke Of Burgundy; Pootie Tang

In order to publish words here a little more frequently, and with a little less personal pressure, I’m going to start posting shorter reviews in random combinations. I watch all kinds of movies from a variety of sources so each batch should be an eclectic mix.

Kingsman: The Golden Cricle; The Duke of Burgundy; Pootie Tang

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I’ve always been attracted to spy movies. Bombastic 007 entries, understated John La Carre adaptations, modern reinventions like the Jason Bourne movies, etc., it really doesn’t matter. I found Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) to be just as grand and action-packed as the best Bond movie, and every bit as fun as the best of the Austin Powers flicks. In short, it was a breath of fresh air. For better and worse, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is more of the same. Read more…

Dead Ringers

dead ringers surgery red

Twins. Red surgical capes. Fiendish homemade medical implements. This is a brief look at the David Cronenberg classic, ‘Dead Ringers.’

dead ringers poster

In 1988, David Cronenberg, one of the most accomplished purveyors of horror and shock cinema at the time, unleashed a beast of a different kind. The film is Dead Ringers. It is a chilling, fictionalized account of the story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who died together under mysterious circumstances in 1975. Ringers is based on the lives of the Marcus twins as well as the novel Twinsby Bari Wood.

In Cronenberg’s film, the identical twin doctors are Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons), and their unique brotherly connection causes them to share their personal and professional lives in more ways than one. Practically indistinguishable from one-another, they even trade roles without bothering to make others aware of their substitution. Read more…

Just How “HARD TO BE A GOD” Is It?

A spoiler-free appreciation of the great Russian film, ‘Hard To Be A God,’ by late writer/director Aleksei German (that’s Grr-men, with a hard “G”) released in 2014.

Ironically, myth has always been a fertile source for science-fiction. A culture’s collective mythology is a set of impossible-to-prove stories intended to explain why things are the way they are. At first glance, science fiction doesn’t seem like it works backward in that way. What can a tale of futuristic advancement explain about our origins? Like I said, it’s a little ironic.

Hard To Be A God Russia 2014

Movies and myth have always been a perfect match for one another. Just think about how many times the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been made into a movie (nearly two-dozen if you count TV). Why has that story been retold over and over? Primarily, because the official historical record is imperfect. No retelling can be proven wholly accurate, allowing different storytellers to riff on the story in their own way.

When you expand your gaze from the myths of the Old West to the myths of creation, now you are onto something. The exploration of a culture’s own creation mythology is also a relatively popular topic in SF circles (Prometheus comes readily to mind). Space exploration and the search of a higher power or life-form both brush up against mythology (think Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Tarkovsky’s Stalker) as well. Sometimes, good fiction is able to take an entirely novel approach to the mythical constructs we are familiar with.

Hard To Be A God is one such film. Released several months after the death of writer/director Aleksei German in 2013, Hard To Be A God examines what life might have been like had the Italian Renaissance never brought an end to the Dark Ages. A team of scientists has been observing life on another planet identical to Earth, with a dominant species identical to humans. This society, which has mirrored the development of humans on Earth, currently lags behind that of the scientists by about 800 years. That puts them, you guessed it, smack in the middle of their own Dark Ages period. Only thing is, this version of humanity has violently suppressed its greatest artists and thinkers, causing itself to unknowingly regress into a doomed societal state. Read more…