Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demons. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Demons & Demons 2 (1985 & 1986)

Repost from 2009.

Demons (a.k.a. Demoni): Dir. Lamberto Bava || 1985 || Italy
Demons 2 (a.k.a. Demoni 2): Dir. Lamberto Bava || 1986 || Italy

It’s taken years and I probably had too many beers when I watched this for a third or fourth viewing this past weekend, but I think Demons is finally growing on me. Does it make any sense? No, it still doesn’t. Will I ever understand some of the academic theories around this movie? Not for awhile, but mostly because I’m thinking about the scene where the blond guy is riding a motorbike through a theater slashing at demons with a samurai sword. And how right after that, a helicopter magically falls through the ceiling. Or what that red haired chick dressed as a Irish pilgrim had to do with any of this. Same with the guy in the silver mask. Why do the blond guy and the silver mask guy look like characters from Mortal Kombat?

Demons is about an assorted group of people who are given tickets to a sneak preview for movie at this mysterious art deco-style theater. No one knows what the movie is about, but it turns out it’s a horror movie that seems to be about young archeologists on the search for a mask. A similar mask was in the lobby and one of the prostitutes attending the film with her pimp and co-worker puts it on, and is cut on the cheek. Something similar happens to a person in the movie, and all hell breaks loose.

I like Rosemary, the ground zero demon. She has hair like my middle school chorus teacher (or Rick James if you prefer). She is one badass demon.



The movie has a good, apocalyptic ending once you get past the goofy points that come before it. Also, a cameo appearance from the kid from Fulci’s The House by the Cemetary.

As far as Demons 2 goes, I want to like it, but it’s kind of a mess. I do not know whether or not it was supposed to be in continuity with the first movie. The first character we see is the guy (who looks like the result of what would happen if you mixed Michael Berryman’s genes with a young Rupert Everett’s) who played one of the coked up punk kids in the first movie, as a security guard for this building in the second movie. Also in this movie: the guy who played the pimp in the first movie, this time as the building’s very bossy/poor man’s Ken Foree-type personal trainer; and a young Asia Argento.

This time the demons are coming through the television in a show that most of the characters seem to be watching. The show may or may not be a documentary on what happened in the first movie, or it may be more of the movie or a sequel to the movie the people in the first Demons movie were watching. I honestly don’t know, and wish I did know. This time the ground zero demon is Sally, who has having a birthday party in her apartment. Sally is one of those needy friends who is a gigantic drama queen. She storms off into her room at one point while her friends are dancing to The Smiths, where she catches the show and the demon that somehow makes it out of the television.



Demons 2 is somewhat reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s Shivers. It is a film that takes place in a completely secure and locked down high-rise apartment building, meaning that the other inhabitants become infected really quickly, although mostly because blood is continuously seeping through the floors and pipes. That’s a terribly made building right there. Under more capable hands, the main story of the hunky physics major who is trying to save his pretty and pregnant wife, would be more compelling. Instead, you just root for them cos even as a demon, Sally is still pretty annoying.

The ending is also not particularly satisfying. It’s pretty disappointing actually. It’s almost as if the budget ran out. The film in general leaves a lot of unsettled stories, like, what happened to lil Asia Argento?

I don’t live in a large city, and it’s probably goofy for me to think about this just based on Shivers and Demons 2, but why would anyone think that having a self-contained building and/or a building where if something goes wrong, the building is completely locked down and impossible to get out of a good idea? Was this entire sub-subgenre of film based on The Towering Inferno, where “people trapped and in danger in a large building = entertainment”?

I can’t remember whether or not I’ve heard recently that Demons is up for a remake. It probably is, since at this point, one may as well believe that any horror movie made in the past 30 years is up for a remake. Unless the makers find even someone more incompetent than Lamberto Bava to be at the helm of these films, the remake(s) may not be that bad. Which I hate to say about Lamberto Bava, because his first film, Macabre, is actually pretty good. I want to think that for some reason, Demons and Demons 2 got seriously butchered at some point, but considering that both movies have been on video or DVD in America for at least 20 years, I find it hard to believe that there are better versions of these movies out there, versions that match the pretty good concept with good quality. Oh well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes on Jennifer's Body (2009)...

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Karyn Kusama (written by Diablo Cody) || 2009 || USA


Preface, Part I:
I could go on about how Jennifer's Body was much maligned before and during it's release last fall, by both the horror community and its subsect, the feminist horror community, but frankly, I was too busy studying 16th century British plays last fall to pay attention to blogs, or go to the movies very often. I think I was only paying attention to womenandhollywood.com's coverage because I thought it would be interesting. Melissa Silverstein is a feminist film marketeer and critic who tends to promote and review films I would never see in my life if I can help it (Katherine Heigl romantic comedies, most modern romantic comedies). But she actually wrote a favorable review of the Jennifer's Body and was confused when the film didn't do well. I know enough to understand that Jennifer's Body was not a well-marketed movie. For more information on the plot of the movie, go to Final Girl. For more information on how off-base it was for the horror community to dismiss Jennifer's Body, go to And Now the Screaming Starts.

Preface, Part II:
I am titling this post "Notes on Jennifer's Body" because I really do not have the time or energy to write a proper review, essay, or treatise on this film. I'm just going over the more interesting aspects. I will likely be responding to the posts made by Stacie at Final Girl and C at And Now the Screaming Starts, so I am encouraging everyone to read those posts first, since I'm not going to go over the plot of the film too much.


With a bullet, number one, kill the family, save the son
I left a comment at And Now the Screaming Starts about how a satanic emo or indie band would not be entirely off-base if Diablo Cody knew much about the indie music scene. There are stories of a couple of indie bands whose singers have raped or assaulted women and have more or less gotten away with it. One band in particular, these stories came out about 15 years ago in blurbs in national music magazines, and this band finally became popular about 5 years ago, complete with an iconic music video (I am leaving enough information to piece things together, y'all). Considering how 90s-centric Juno kind of was, and the obvious tip-off of the title of the film coming from a Hole song, I'd be surprised if Cody didn't know. There is even a scene where Needy tries to tell a classmate about how Low Shoulder are a bunch of creeps who actually didn't help anyone at the bar when it burned down, and her classmate basically replies that Low Shoulder are saints. People get really defensive about their favorite bands, and "indie" and/or emo bands tend to carry the stereotype of either not being sexist (or portraying themselves as such) and/or basically being wimps to the point where no one ever thinks they could do anything wrong, especially physically harming someone (or again, portraying themselves as such, considering a lot of indie band singers sound like whiny eunuchs).

Low Shoulder's reason for wanting to be successful is like any other band's: they don't want to work in coffeeshops anymore. But what is funny about this is that when the singer tries to convince his bandmate that sacrificing Jennifer is the way to go, he asks "Do you want to work in a coffeeshop or be Maroon 5?" I'm not sure if this, combined with the fact that Adam Brody is doing an impersonation of Brandon Flowers from The Killers (in both looks and moves), is supposed to be some sort of commentary on the term "indie" being just another marketing ploy, since neither Maroon 5 or The Killers were ever considered indie. Hell, it was that way 20 years ago, and it wasn't too different in this past decade. The casting of Adam Brody as Low Shoulder's singer is either perfect stunt casting or unintentional genius, since it was both the actor and his character on The O.C. who caused some "indie" bands to become so popular in the 00s. He's actually spot-on and menacing as a douchebag in a band.

In a twist opposite of the recent stories of bands whose shows resulted in fires that killed people, Low Shoulder becomes successful instead of failures involved in years of litigation (it is never fully implied that they started the fire but they were at least expecting it to happen - the whole scene at the bar is weird, between Jennifer becoming increasingly hypnotized during the band's performance, and the singer just strolling out with a drink from the bar after the girls get out of the fire). However, in a sort of Tales from the Crypt-ian twist, their success is somewhat short-lived after Needy, now partially demonized herself after her final fight with Jennifer, is successful in her revenge in killing the coked-up band in their hotel room. If the movie had gone on past that however, we likely would have found out that Low Shoulder became even more successful, because that's the way things are. Famous people are typically more successful and nearly sainted in death more than they were in life.

Bitter you, bitter me
As Stacie at Final Girl mentioned, the subplot of Jennifer terrorizing the town Devil's Kettle and Needy to try to maintain some sort of relevancy arrives too late in the film for much to be done with it. This is not a typical high school film where Jennifer terrorizes the other students for not being popular or pretty. While Needy tells Jennifer in their first fight that she was always a terrible friend, the only evidence we see of it is in the beginning where Needy tries on outfit after outfit to fit Jennifer's definition of "cute, but not cute enough to make me look bad" before they go see Low Shoulder. The only other way that this can be linked to the issue of relevancy is if you take C's take on why this was not a film where a girl was using her sexuality (and therefore, not the unfeminist film some people were making it out to be) - Jennifer maybe seduces one out of her four known victims, tops. Almost all her victims are confused and shaken boys in some manner - one from surviving the bar fire, the second a guy mourning the death of his best friend in the fire, and the fourth was just emotionally conned by Jennifer, and is reluctant and confused. It is a possibility that Jennifer's main target of terror was Needy. While Jennifer and Needy have a severely co-dependent relationship, Needy does have a boyfriend, and one other friend from school, and Jennifer kills them both. Jennifer seems to have no other friends but Needy. It is only when Jennifer realizes that Needy has more power over her than she does over Needy, and that Needy may genuinely not love her anymore that Jennifer is ready to surrender and die.

This is how the ending of the film comes as a surprise. In a typical horror film, it would have ended at Jennifer's death. But with Needy's newfound confidence and demon powers, she goes and exacts revenge to the band that ruined her and her friends' lives. She takes charge, and is the only one to throughout the entire film. I thought I would have a huge misgiving about the film stating in the beginning where Needy was and the story being told via flashback, but it was handled better than I thought it would be.

In some ways with the late relevancy subplot, it feels tacked on as though it is some sort of cautionary tale about the two women who star in the film. Megan Fox is not a terrible actress, especially not in this film, and even if she says stupid things from time to time in interviews, I kind of have to respect anyone who made it out alive after starring in two films with the black hole of charisma that is Shia Leboeuf. But considering the only successful films she has been in are the Transformers films, there is a relevancy issue with her career. Amanda Seyfried keeps a significantly lower profile than Fox, and is considered the more respectable actress, so she makes it out of the film and her post-Jennifer's Body career intact.

And yeah, I liked the film.

ETA 03/04/10: It is also possible that Cody was making a dig at the success of the Juno soundtrack when the singer calmly explains to Jennifer that the only way for indie bands to become popular now "is if they're on some shitty soundtrack!" As I stated in my Juno review two years ago, I am not one for twee cutesy acoustic music, but it was bizarre seeing a local record store mark up the what was likely a normally $5 self-released or Plan-It-X Records-released Moldy Peaches CD with a xeroxed black-and-white cover to $10-14 during the time of the soundtrack's popularity.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Riddle me this: What are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Image by Szoki.

Since it was somewhat settled this week that my graduate thesis work is going to be on slasher films, PTSD, and whether or not the same people who are frequently attacked throughout a series can be considered empowered (that's a mouthful), I want to discuss one of the things that has been bothering me this summer as I read through the gamut of books on slasher and horror films. While there are series of films where the killer is human, what are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Freddy appears to be the only one who does not shift in his existence, even if it takes almost the entire series of Nightmare on Elm Street films to settle on the fact that he is essentially a dead body possessed by demons. Jason, forever the product of a revolving door of writers, changes in his existence. Human, Frankenstein's monster-type, (a zombie, according to some people), and by Jason X, just plain unkillable to the point where he has to be cryogenically frozen. As of this posting, I am still waiting for Halloweens II-V to come in the mail so I can watch/re-watch and study them. But roughly based on parts I and II, Michael is pure evil that cannot be killed.

The second part of this question is, in one or two words, how can these three characters be defined as a group? Since the majority of books I have read this summer are from the 1990s, they all seem to be reluctant to define Jason, Freddy, and Michael as monsters in the sense of Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman, i.e., the classical Hollywood monsters. "Supernatural killers" seems to be the most popular definition of the three characters, although I am now re-reading Adam Rockoff's book and he calls them "heroes" in the introduction, which does not really settle well with me.

I am interested in hearing opinions, because I think that fans of these series are more likely to have a better grip on this topic. At this time, I do not have access to the one or two books actually centered around the Friday the 13th series, so I would also be interested book recommendations past the 90s standards of Noel Carroll,  Vera Dika,  Carol Clover, and Isabel Pinedo, or newer books from this past decade by Adam Rockoff and Jason Zinoman.

Postscript, April 2014
I ended up not writing a thesis due to 2-3 months of grinding gears and various other issues, and opted to take the comprehensive exam that my program was offering for the first time. As for what Michael Myers is, I think I have forgotten, if I ever knew to begin with. The Halloween series, despite starting off the strongest, falls and fails rapidly before retconning itself to the point where it was just rebooted. It is definitely the worst series to watch in a marathon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec and Quarantine

In the Spring of 2012, I did an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror. So for the next week or so I will be posting my short response papers, then my final paper.

My response paper on [REC] and Quarantine is below the cut. This is where I began to find formalist holes in the [REC] series (my third viewing of the first film), and found that I kind of preferred Quarantine.




Rec and its American re-make Quarantine are the first films I have encountered in this study that have no framing device. They are also ongoing series of films, with Rec 3 currently screening in Europe. The American sequel to Quarantine has apparently dropped the “found footage” structure, while it is rumored that Rec 3 has also dropped the “found footage” structure for a straight narrative (despite apparently taking place at a wedding, an event rife with video cameras). The mythology for the Rec series is either being made up as it goes along, or Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero just like to tamper or even combine genre conventions (as also seen in their film X-Mas Tale, a disturbing take on the children’s films that Steven Spielberg produced in the 1980s). Their penchant for tampering with genre conventions becomes more apparent in Rec 2, which provides the only clue for how the footage from the first and second films was found.  Although I have not seen the sequel to Quarantine that takes place on an airplane or at an airplane hangar, presumably it has little connection to the first film past taking place in Los Angeles.

Both of the films follow the same storyline: a reporter and cameraman for a television show about what working a night shift is like follows two firefighters on a call to an apartment building where the neighbors have called about an elderly woman screaming. They meet most of the neighbors and two police officers in the lobby. The building is soon quarantined after the firefighters, police officer and TV crew check in on the elderly woman in her apartment and she attacks and bites one of the police officers. Quarantine is often remarked upon or criticized for being a shot-for-shot remake of Rec. This is not exactly true. While Quarantine features many of the same key scenes that were in Rec, some of these recreated scenes are extended. There are original scenes. Quarantine also has features typical of American horror or American horror remakes: there are more people living in the apartment building, which means that there are more victims-turned-attackers; there is also a clearer explanation for the outbreak, although the ending, which is highly similar to the ending to Rec, muddles this explanation (although not nearly as much as it is muddled in Rec). The main differences lie in how the characters are adapted and portrayed. Angela, the reporter, and Pablo, her cameraman are more professional and ambitious in Rec, compared to their American counterparts Angela and Scott. Angela and Pablo panic very little until the final scene of the film, whereas Angela and Scott have several emotional and prolonged outbursts throughout the film, as do the police officers. Quarantine is also a slicker-looking film than Rec, and this is displayed by the camera used by Scott, and how Angela directs him to use it. Angela frequently tells Pablo to cut off the camera to save tape if an interview segment becomes boring, and Pablo is forced to shut the camera off frequently by authorities within the film, although it is indiscernible until the end of the film whether the camera is just shorting out or if Pablo is actually cutting the camera off and on. This often leads to two or four images being on the screen horizontally. In Quarantine, presumably because of the use of a higher-end camera, Angela does not ask Scott to cut the camera off except for one time, when they use a fire extinguisher either kill the rabid dog or the man the rabid dog has just killed by opening the elevator door that the man and dog are stuck in. Scott is a more prominent figure in the film than his Spanish counterpart, and we do see him in front of the camera more often, and he and Angela have a better camaraderie. Scott uses the camera twice to kill an infected person, signifying that a camera is a weapon in a more subtle way than Diary of the Dead.

An article by Catherine Zimmer on post-9/11 surveillance horror, while primarily discussing the Saw series and Cache by Michael Haneke, lists Rec and Quarantine (as well as Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and Paranormal Activity) as being surveillance horror. With the exception of Paranormal Activity, which frequently uses a stationary camera, I am not sure where the other four films fit in. The cameras in Rec and Quarantine are frequently moving because they are attached to a cameraman who is often running. The inhabitants of the apartment building implore the television crew to film what is going on “so the world will know their story” and how they are being kept without information by the authorities. The desire to film the events is not entirely based in Angela’s ambition. Surveillance, other than in the Paranormal Activity films, does typically imply that the person being watched is ignorant to their surveillance or does not desire surveillance.

An article by Brigitte Nacos about 9/11 news media coverage discusses how religious terrorists require media coverage, that it is “like oxygen” for them and their messages. The ending of Rec, although perhaps simultaneously debunked and confirmed to an extent in its sequel, does imply a level of religious terrorism at play. The mysterious, half-abandoned attic apartment in the building is full of newspaper clippings and files about an exorcism, perhaps one that failed. The two people or creatures found in the apartment are a small boy-like being and an adult being that appears to suffer from Marfan Syndrome more than anything else, although the adult being is violent. The terrorism angle, albeit perhaps secular terrorism, is a bit more obvious in Quarantine, because the newspaper clippings that Angela and Scott find on the wall concern a terrorist group that wants to bring about the Apocalypse through bioterrorism, including a hyper strain of rabies. They find the same beings as their Spanish counterparts. However, it does seem highly unlikely that the Vatican official who rented the attic apartment in Rec and his doctor counterpart in Quarantine knew that a television crew for what seemed to be at-best a syndicated program or at-worst a late night local news show would be in their apartment buildings. It is never known who Patient Zero was, if it was a human or one of the pets in the building (or a rat in the building from Quarantine), and if the infection was unleashed on purpose.

Postscript 08/01/12: There is actually little-to-no hint as to how the footage from Rec and Rec 2 got out in Rec 2, unless someone came across the SWAT team van that may or may not have had screens showing the footage from the team members's helmets. Angela does not take the camera with her at the end of Rec 2. Also, I did end up watching Quarantine 2 a month or so after I wrote this originally, and the infection was unleashed on purpose and rats were the carriers. Rec 3 is apparently being released in the US on VOD and ITunes next week, I think. Maybe I'll watch it, or I'll wait for DVD or Netflix Streaming. I have read that the "found footage" format is dropped about 1/3 into the film for a straight narrative. Because Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero are just subtly trolling everyone anyway.

Postscript 2014: Perhaps it is because I have been reading/proofing through a friend's thesis on modern surveillance films that I can confirm or say that Cache and the Paranormal Activity series are surveillance horror films. I guess the Saw series might be as well, although I have only ever watched the first one, which did involve a variety of surveillance of the characters. I still maintain that for the most part, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and the Rec/Quarantine films are not surveillance horror. Diary just dabbles in it or the issues surrounding it occasionally.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec 2, Troll Hunter, Apollo 18

In the Spring of 2012, I completed an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror.

My response paper on Rec 2, Troll Hunter, and Apollo 18 is below This was written during the time of the quarter where I was becoming more pressed for time and burnt out and frustrated not just with school, but with this actual project. Rec 2 caused me to run through a gamut of emotions from laughter to sadness to anger, because I think this could be a good series if the makers actually gave a shit. Apollo 18 in particular was pretty awful and I fast-forwarded through at least half of it. This was one of the impetus' (impetii?) for my professor to direct me towards the earlier Found Footage Horror films for my final paper.




Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero appear to spend a lot of time devoted to making sure the actual temporal continuity of the Rec series is correct, but at the sacrifice of everything else*. They appear to want the entire series to take place in the space of one night. The first two films take place at the same apartment building in Barcelona, and it is not until the third film that the location is changed. Rec 2 is a largely silly film that answers no questions posed in the first, and messes with or changes many of the ideas put forth in the first film. This seems to be a mockery. At the end of the film it is still unknown as to who found all of this footage and why it was released. Rec 2 is almost two films in one. The first half focuses on a SWAT team with helmet cameras plus one cameraman who go into the quarantined apartment building with a Ministry of Health member thinking that they are there to try to find survivors. The Ministry of Health member is actually a priest looking for a vial of the blood of the possessed girl in the attic at the end of the first film. Her blood can create an antidote, although the virus is not rabies, it is actually demonic possession. This part of the film seems to become one homage on top of another – Aliens, The Thing, any given demonic possession or zombie film. There is very little obvious editing throughout the first half of the film, perhaps because there are so many cameras involved. The second half of the film follows a group of obnoxious pre-adolescents with a video camera (running on half battery power when they are introduced) as they follow the father of the sick little girl and a firefighter who drove the truck belonging to the two firefighters, all from the first film. The father and firefighter manage to sneak into the building from the sewer, and the kids follow, but they are soon sealed into the building as the police are welding the entrances and exits from the building to the sewer shut. As a result, the SWAT team and the second group soon meet in the building. The most amusing thing about Plaza and Belaguero is that they have no qualms of portraying children terribly and in an unsentimental manner, although this is nothing new in Spanish horror**. The second half of the film features more editing via the kids’ video camera frequently having to be turned off to conserve battery power, and it eventually dying altogether.
                

Troll Hunter, on the other hand, appears to be pretty open about their mockery of found footage horror. It is likely the first film I have watched in this study that is clear in every aspect. The footage was anonymously sent to the studio that produced Troll Hunter, all 283 minutes of it, which was then edited by the studio. The cuts are noticeable. Troll Hunter seems to double as a parody of found footage horror films and as a film promoting tourism in Norway. Its premise is that three student filmmakers have disappeared after following around a troll hunter. There is frequent running through the woods, night vision, and fallen cameras. The footage appears to have been released to reveal that there are trolls in Norway and to aid in finding the three filmmakers – the two women appear to have been grabbed by the government, and the director may have been hit by an 18-wheeler while running away from government agents. The only mystery to the film is whether or not Hans the troll hunter was the one who betrayed them.
                

Apollo 18 confused its chronology within the first five minutes of the film. The footage processed in post-production to look as if it came from the early 1970s. While The Blair Witch Project was genuinely shot on older cameras, Apollo 18 genuinely looks like something filtered through a video version of the Instagram app. Apollo 18 features frequent voiceovers. It is a good example of asynchronous sound, but beyond that, it is a hard movie to watch. It is not very interesting, and seems made to appeal to people who are into moon landing conspiracies. I fast-forwarded through much of it and have no desire to look at or study it further.

Postscripts 2014:
* I have come to the conclusion that Plaza and Belaguero are trolling everyone with the Rec series. After my disappointment in re-watching Rec and Rec 2 for this project, I watched Rec 3 in the Fall of 2012 and rather enjoyed it. Rec 3 drops the "found footage" premise 20 minutes into the film and moves into a straight and rather fun narrative. Rec 3 manages to connect to the first two films rather loosely, but cleverly manages not to dwell on it, although taking place the same night as the first two films.
**See also Plaza and Belaguero's X-Mas Tale (an older review of this film will be posted soon enough), Who Can Kill a Child?