Category Archives: Horror Films

A Day of Horror Films

Today was an epic horror movie marathon.  Usually, I watch horror movies alone often screaming and being terrified of my own shadow for days.  Yes, I’m a masochist on so many levels, and I completely recognize this fact.  Today I had the pleasure of watching with a friend who equally appreciates horror movies and also likes talking back to them. (I’m quite thankful for that. . . . thanks for not laughing at me when literally screamed out loud–yep, I did that.) We didn’t pre-plan the movies and used a mix of Nexflix, DVDs, and VUDU, and yet, we ended up unknowingly watching three films with deeply religious and mythological themes that combined questions of gender and sexuality within their narratives.
As with all of my blogs about film, don’t read if you don’t like spoilers.
We began with The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), directed by Adam Robitel and written by Robitel and Gavin Heffernan (watch the trailer). This film presents itself as a psychological and compassionate film about dealing with a family’s struggle when mother Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) begins to disintegrate with Alzheimer’s.  Very quickly though we understanding that Deb is not just being effected by Alzheimer’s but that something very different is occurring. Moving from a psychological story to body horror to very quickly become a possession film.  With hallmarks of demonic possession, Deb’s possession transforms her body, in specifically gendered ways. The camera looks upon her body that is both highly sexualized and desexualized by her age and disease by camera focus and angles that emphasize her nudity and her descent into disease and possession.  Deb’s possession by the spirit of a doctor–Henry Desjardins.  The story goes that the Dr. Desjardins reenacted supposed human sacrifice rituals of the Monacan Tribe that in pop culture short cut of all ritualistic human sacrifice to appease gods mean the ritual sacrifice of virginal girls–in this case girls in the moment of their first menstruation that they called “bleeding roses.” Yes, how’s that for mythology and imagery?  There’s so much to like about this film even as it relies upon deeply problematic stereotypes as shortcuts. The intersection of this mytho-religious ideology and our utter terror about aging and more losing ourselves to diseases that rob us from ourselves before death are the pieces that are must compelling within this film. The Taking of Deborah Logan is well constructed and conceived and more important it is completely unnerving.
Our second film was Horns (2013), directed by Alexandre Aja and adapted from Joe Hill’s novel of the same name by screenwriter Keith Bunin (watch the trailer).  The film relies heavily on Christian ideology and iconography.  In the wake of the death of his girlfriend, Ignatius “Ig” Perrish finds himself accused of her murder. He, then, wakes up one morning with horns and a new-found ability to make other people tell him their darkest thoughts and act upon them. He can also witness their memories of events. Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig–yes, Harry Potter with an American accent–well mostly except for the moments when the British slipped through). With good and evil and heaven and hell intermingling, Ig seeks to find who killed Marrin. The notion of sin and what constitute sinful acts  plays heavily throughout the narrative with the answer being essentially do no harm. This film had quite a bit of gay baiting early in the film but that resolves itself well, but it also needs a trigger warning for a rape scene that occurs in flashback. Horns is a horror film that is funny, cheeky, and philosophically intriguing. The issues of sexuality and gender that are imbedded demonstrate an understanding of shifting ideological paradigms about sin and evil. It underscores the notion that self-sacrifice and love are the stuff of actual morality not ideological constructs. Also this may just be one of the best shot films I’ve seen in a long time. Truly beautiful camera work and layouts. The richness of the colors and the camera work added to the ambiance of the film.
Our final film was As Above So Below (2014), directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (watch the trailer). First, I have to own that this film terrified me, as it hit many of my panic buttons, especially super confined spaces combined with creepy looking people with scary looks in their eyes popping out of absolutely nowhere. The film centers upon the search for the philosopher’s stone by a professor, Scarlett (Perdita Week). The history of alchemy takes center stage, and this historical pinning means the mixing of Greek, Egyptian, and various mythologies within the narrative. This film plays with perception, obsession, and madness all set in the Catacombs of Paris, which may be the scariest place on earth truly. The backdrop is dark and bone-filled. Scarlett and her friend/ex-lover George are wicked smart.  I highly appreciated all of the mythological twists and turns as well as the the invocations of Dante’s Inferno in the descent into hell.  In many ways, As Above So Below upends gendered tropes within horror films, as Scarlett is intelligent though reckless.  She embodies the typical masculine role of professor and adventurer in the vein of Indiana Jones.  This is essentially the National Treasure of horror movies with puzzles to solve and dangers to overcome.  Like Horns, this film has excellent camera work and some really amazing shots that establish really excellent tension and terror.  While I’m so not looking forward to the inevitable nightmares this film will surely bring, it was worth it to have my head messed with on this level, but also to see smart weaving of alchemical history and ideology within a horror film. In full disclosure, lots of critics hated this movie (i.e. Simon Abrams’ review), which I discovered as I was gathering my links for this blog since I avoid all spoilers to all things with a fervency unrivaled accept for my absolute fervent devotion to horror movies and reading naughty books.
These three films were excellent in establishing their narratives and creating interesting world-building based on intriguing views on mythology and religion.  The Taking of Deborah Logan and Horns are currently available on Netflix, VOD, and DVD/Bluray. As Above So Below is only available on DVD/Bluray and through video on demand services.

Motherhood, Madness, and Monsters in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook

I’m on a roll with female-directed horror films lately, so today’s installment is Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), which has been distributed by IFC Midnight (See the trailer). You can see it in your local indie theatre or as a digital rental from iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon. (It’s streaming for $6.99—seriously it’s totally worth every penny and more.) My brain is quite full of things about this film, and I do believe that it has found its way into my dissertation. So this will be brief but I have to write something about it right now!

Here’s a very brief synopsis: Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to raise her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), after the death of her husband. Samuel’s fear of monsters in his room at night heightens his pre-existing behavioral struggles. A book entitled Mister Babadook appears one night for story time, which begins the torment, sleeplessness, and emotional and psychological breakdown of Amelia. (Also I’m going to try really hard not to give any spoilers here.)

The Babadook is part suspenseful psychological horror, part monster movie, part possession film, and all just flat-out scary in a quiet and creepy way. The Babadook haunts this film as a specter, a creature, an idea, and a possessive force. He is both the monster and the catalyst for the monstrous. The Babadook is the thing that we fear in the dark that creeps out of our closets and from under our beds.

It’s actually the normality—the underlying sense that none of us can keep our lives together all the time and that things have to give—that creates the backdrop and evokes our own fears of failure to be good enough. There are moments of absolute discomfort for the audience, especially in the moments where we see Amelia struggling with her parenting and Samuel’s overall difference. Amelia’s on-going grief over the loss of her husband is palpable and real. I could feel the hole within her and her gut-wrenching loneliness and heartache at his absence. It’s the type of grief that can never be healed or filled but the type that leaves a scar for life. Even though Amelia holds it all together pretty well, the center cannot hold with that much pain, especially when Samuel’s fears keep her awake at night and the Babadook manifests in their lives. The madness that lack of sleep, fear, and the utter exhaustion of balancing her motherhood with her selfhood establishes a feeling of deprivation and terror that at first seems to be normal fears of a woman who just doesn’t know if she can do it all anymore. (Which I think many of us understand and fear as well). But Samuel’s fears are founded, and the monstrous is real in this film.

The Babadook is a film full of the questions that haunt us. How do we protect those that we love from things we can’t understand or see? How do we protect them from the worst of ourselves? How do we balance all of the emotional, physical, psychological issues that we struggle with in order to be whole even in the midst of the realities of life and loss?

My suggestion is to watch Kent’s The Babadook. I don’t think you’ll regret this creepy, sly, and ultimately feminist narrative about a mother battle real life concerns alongside the supernatural world. It reminds us that our everyday lives are horrific and monstrous at times just like this smart and intriguing horror film.