Posted on February 26, 2023
The best horror story ever told, to my mind, has to be The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier. For two reasons: it doesn’t explain the horror and it doesn’t resolve the horror.
Again, according to my own guiding principles, I think of any story that resolves the situation and restores order to be a thriller. By the same definition, any story that allows chaos to endure is a horror story.
Because that’s the one thing we’re all really afraid of. Endless chaos.
In the story, the protagonist smokes his last cigarette waiting to be killed without ever knowing why the birds attacked. In the movie, the survivors slip past the resting birds and drive away. Once again, they don’t know what started it and have no idea how it will end.
I rewatched Hitchcock’s adaptation last night and was struck by how good it is. Granted, I have entered that part of my life where I view with pleasant nostalgia movies made on sets with obvious rear projection, but the dread in the set pieces of that movie are incredible.
One his best tendencies is to drag out the scenes way past where your inner critic is yelling for them to stop. For instance, the scene where Rod Taylor is trying to get the shutters closed while gulls peck at his hands goes on so long it ends just short of comedy.
A point that I think of as “Exquisite suffering.”
The major set pieces – Schoolhouse attack, birthday party, Bodega Bay attack, house attack – occupy relatively small portion of screen time, but they are literally all you can remember when the credits roll.
The only false note in the entire symphony, both in the story and the movie, is when the characters figure out there is a long pause between attacks. In the movie this comes from a radio broadcast. In the story, the protagonist figures out the attacks are related to high tide.
I feel like this lets off too much steam. Without that promise of an extended lull, the scene of the survivors getting into the car at the end would be excruciating.
But one thing we can all agree on is that we know who is behind it all. Right? Has to be the corvids.
X is a throwback to a different kind of horror movie. In the 1960s & 1970s, we got a flood of inexpensive, quick, bloody films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Don’t Look In The Basement, etc.
They were characterized by a quick setup of paper thin characters and a series of brutal murders. The good ones, like TCM, managed to infuse an extra sense of mystery and dread while the bad ones seemed more like a porno film, a series of threadbare situations meant to show off a kill shot.
Oddly enough, X is about a porno shoot at that TCM family’s farm. There’s a long setup which, weirdly, doesn’t add any depth to the characters, followed by some gratuitous sex scenes, before we dive into the series of killings.
Honestly, it tried my patience and provided very little payoff.
Some of it was so obvious it made me feel like the filmmaker thought I was stupid. But where the writing was often all text and no subtext, the editing, shot composition, and production values were all excellent. I look forward to what Ti West comes up with when he has a more robust script to work with.
Sigh… I hate getting older. At the height of my powers, I could have watched Barbarian and Knock At The Cabin in a double feature. But this guy? This old guy? It took me three sessions to get through Barbarian alone.
Don’t get me wrong. The difficulty had nothing to do with the quality of the movie. It’s great fun, but it’s also a basket full of liquid dread and I’ve reached that point in my life where dread overwhelms desire.
Obviously, if you haven’t seen Barbarian, please stop reading now. This post will have some major spoilers in it.
The first act of the movie is just so chaotic and insane (but steeped in the reality of the AirBnB world) that you never get a chance to gain your footing logically. You’re too busy screaming at Tess not to trust Keith that you don’t really understand the actual situation.
And what brilliant casting it was to get Bill Skarsgard (PENNYWISE) to play a red herring. Or, I guess, more precisely a Janet Leigh.
I was good through all of that. I was good through Tess being locked in the basement. I was slightly less okay when she found the hidden door. And I was super jazzed when she looked into the tunnel beyond and said, “Nope.”
It’s the word we in the audience are yearning to hear in any situation like that.
But then she changed her mind and we get the first reveal of what looks like a torture room with a camera in it. And then we get the second reveal of the tunnel that goes down.
And I was out.
I should mention I usually watch horror movies around midnight when I finish writing. I’m alone in the house, it’s dark, my dog has gone to bed, and I sit dwarfed by my insanely large TV.
So maybe that has something to do with why I turned off the TV and went to bed.
“Okay, seriously, you need to push through. Things are about to change in a very weird way.” That’s my daughter exhorting me to not give up.
So, the next midnight I fire it back up Tess starts going down into the tunnel and Keith lets her out of the basement and then he goes down there and then he screams for help…
And I’m out.
“Seriously, what is your problem? Keep pushing.” This is my fault for getting her hooked on horror movies as a kid.
Midnight comes again and I fire up the stream and, man, what I thought had to be the biggest twist of the movie happened about sixty seconds in. Bye Kieth.
And then, as my daughter promised, the story takes the weirdest right turn in the history of movies. Justin Long (who this kind of stuff seems to happen to a lot) drives into the movie and into our hearts as an absolutely irredeemable douche bag just as his comeuppance arrives.
Anyway, the rest of the movie is actually quite easy to get through. Very entertaining and fun and extremely well done, but nothing near the pits dripping dread of that end-of-the-first-act tunnel exploration.
Bored last night, I was digging around in HBO Max’s nether regions when I came across the entire Bond collection. I had only ever seen part of Dr. No when I was a kid so I decided to turn it on.
How young was I when I watched it first? Well, we apparently hadn’t gotten our color TV yet because I very clearly remember watching it in B&W. Also, I could only remember a couple of things about what I saw: Bond shooting the man who had emptied his gun into the bed and Honey Ryder coming out of the water.
My first real Bond experience was Diamonds are forever. They say your Bond is the one you see when you’re 13. So my Bond was mostly a sweaty, meat faced Sean Connery.
I couldn’t stand Roger Moore’s interpretation of the role. Too campy, for me, I liked my Bond Connery style, but I didn’t really understand what that style was until my actual favorite Bond came along.
Daniel Craig rightly saw the character as a tightrope between sadism and misogyny and did everything in his power to keep from falling to either side.
Connery is trim and young in Dr. No and stretching his legs as Commander Bond for the first time. He’s extremely violent, not yet a know-it-all but getting close, and completely dismissive of the women around him.
That much I get. It was the 1960s, after all. But then, I watched with growing dismay as he murdered an unarmed man and forced a woman into having sex with him against her will… twice.
Watching what amounts to a rape-as-revenge scene seemed to shatter my rose colored Ian Fleming glasses as the whole story suddenly seemed slow and a little silly.
For instance, if you can slip into a man’s hotel room without waking him, you can easily shoot him in the back of the head, something which has a far more likely outcome than putting a tarantula under the covers.
No need to mention the whole bit where people believe there’s a fire breathing dragon on an island until a helpful colonial points out it’s just a machine.
These movies are supposed to be fun, and I remember them being VERY fun at the time. I certainly understand we shouldn’t judge the past by the present’s standards, so watching Dr. No now is better viewed as a chance to measure how we and the film franchise have evolved together over time.
Anyway, I think I’ll watch Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (by the far the best Bond film ever made) as a pallet cleanser tonight.
I’m only one episode in on this Joe Cornish series and I can already tell this is not your standard YA fare. While its protagonists are teens, the story is more Dickens than Rowling.
Great and deep characterization, a slow reveal of the problem and the rules of the universe, and a truly great director of photography make this series a true grownup delight.
FYI, I don’t have anything against YA. I’m just tired of everything I watch revolve around high school. I did high school. I loved it, had a great time. But all my personal adventures took place AFTER high school.
Anyway, watch Lockwood & Co. You will not regret it.
EDIT: And I must add, in the post-Harry Potter deluge, much of the YA on offer, regardless of the medium, was just dreck. As with any genre, some of it is awesome and much of it is oatmeal.
I was having a conversation about favorite horror movies today when the subject of Let The Right One In came up. It was the opinion of the majority that Eli loved Oskar, but I’ve always felt she had no real feelings for him. I thought her behavior indicated she was grooming a new familiar to replace her current one who had grown old.
I believe Oskar, and Hakan (?) before him, are more than in love with Eli. I see them as being in thrall to her. That’s the purpose of recruiting them as children, to build that unhealthy dependency on her so they will service her for the rest of their lives.
In either case, this is a beautiful movie and I love it. I even like the American remake.
Craig Maizin’s adaptation of the video game The Last of Us has been fantastic so far, but I have been worried about the repetitiveness of the video game seeping into the story telling.
After Episode 3, I no longer have that concern.
One of the many, many reasons video game adaptations fail is that the nature of addictive game play runs counter to interesting storytelling. The interest in playing the game is experiential whereas in a story it’s more passive.
In a game, you don’t notice that you’re basically locked in an escalating repetition – going there, finding your way, killing the boss, repeat – because you are the one doing it.
This is the reason I’ve never understood Twitch, but I suppose watching others play video games operates on the same empathetic level as watching professional sports.
Think about the dichotomy like this: video games are action with a little bit of story to divert the player’s attention from the patterns while stories are about characters with a little bit of action to open them up.
Episode 3’s lovely and timely (and largely infected free) story showed us that Maizin is fully aware of this to a degree that we can now relax and watch the rest of the show excited about what new delights may be coming our way.