Archive for June 5th, 2008

Creeposaurus Rex

Why do we like scary movies?  Sarayu, don’t answer that.  I took a film class in college on horror movies.  We watched movies like Cat People, Halloween, The Exorcist and Beetlejuice.  We studied patterns in the genre and talked about the sound bus and other conventions.  We talked a little about different philosophies of why these movies can be so appealing — ideas like, we generally live very safe lives and these movies satisfy some deep need to turn on our fight-or-flight instincts from time to time.  All that aside, and for whatever reason, I do like a good scary movie now and then.  Or at least I think I do.

Last night I was truly scared.  I saw The Strangers.  Ben said that he wasn’t interested in seeing it because he thought that a movie about people being terrorized by masked killers wasn’t so much a horror movie as it was just a gross movie about torture, which is a fair argument, I suppose.  But I read the reviews, saw the previews and wanted to see it.  It sure looked loads better than Vacancy.  I walked into the theater already scared, but ready to brace myself.  There were a bunch of other people in the theater, which was good, as long as they didn’t sit directly behind me.  There was also a guy who was pretty vocal with his laughter and cries of “No!”  In Out of Africa, I would have been furious; during The Strangers, I was grateful.

The movie starts with what I thought was very cool imagery: sort of moving snapshots of a street with homes that get further and further apart, leading you into a clearly more and more remote area.  Then there are snapshots of two Mormon-like young lads slowly entering a house, shots of blood spatter, and the sound of a 911 call in which the caller states that he doesn’t know where he is, but there’s blood everywhere.


Ben (as I will call him because Heather did, though, yes, I realize his name is really Scott Speedman and his movie names is James, Jamie or Jimmy) and Liv are driving a Volvo (very horror movie car — safe, reliable, Swedish), she’s crying, he’s looking Ben-like.  They’re returning home from a wedding to what was described in the opening narrative as Ben’s family’s summer home.  Just an aside here: this is a totally weird summer home.  It’s a 1950s or 60s ranch that is stuffed to the gills.  I mean, there are knickknacks everywhere.  I guess some folks would use their summer homes to unload junk from their everyday homes, but there was nothing in this house that said hey, sit, relax, unwind — you’re on summer vacation!  It looked more like someone’s grandparents’ house.  Additionally, although its location was clearly remote, it still seemed to be in some sort of suburban neighborhood.  I don’t know.  Something about the house just didn’t seem to fit for me.  And that there was Corona in the fridge of the summer home in February.  And that Ben got the mail from the mailbox even though he’d been there earlier that day.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, though it’s obvious that I was distracted by it. 

The movie did a nice job of providing some tension between Ben and Liv without delving too deep.  I think it’s important to know a little about the characters you’re about to want desperately to survive the terror.  So, we find out that he’s just proposed and she clearly didn’t jump at the offer.  But she’s sad, he’s embarrassed.  He still takes care of her by unzipping her dress, lighting her a fire, and going to buy her cigs when she says she’s out (another interesting bit: the cigs.  In this age where groups seem to be threatening Hollywood with their anti-smoking zeal, we see super-sweet Liv chimney smoking.  Not that I’m worried about the tobacco lobby, but I was surprised by the Marlboro plugs).  I suppose the cigs were needed to get Ben out of the house so our heroine can begin the super scary stuff alone.  Which is what happens.  He leaves, and weird stuff starts.  Well, not entirely true.  Someone pounds on the door before he leaves and says, “Is Tamara home?” or something like that.  Not only did this person interrupt the great Wilco/Billy Bragg song on the record player — as well as Ben and Liv about to consummate their non-engagement — but it’s truly FREAKY.  It’s 4 am.  Do not answer the door when someone pounds on it.  Plus, this girl’s voice is enough to send me to the phone to call 911.

Freaky girl:  Is Tamara there?

Kate: [frantically dialing 911]

911 Operator: What’s your emergency?

Kate: There is a totally freaked out girl at my door asking me if Tamara is here.

So, Tamara is not home, girl has the wrong house.  Nevermind that it’s 4 in the morning and the girl is outside your damn super-isolated/suburban summer home in February with no car.  I mean, hello?  What the hell is she doing there?  And Ben is all, should I go after her?  People get lost out here all the time.  On foot?  At 4 in the morning?  In February in a supposed summer home area?  Argh.

Now I know that horror movies are meant to be frustrating (don’t open the door!  Turn around!  Don’t go out there!), but I must comment on the frustration because that’s sort of part of the whole experience, isn’t it?  Afterwards — and during — saying to yourself, or out loud, “If only….”  If only they hadn’t answered the door, if only Ben hadn’t gone for those cigarettes, if only he’d listened to Liv when she said a damned masked man was at the back door, if only she’d accepted his proposal…

The thing about this horror movie, though — if it can legitimately be called horror (more on this later) — is the sheer random-ness of it.  There is no Michael Myers who’s stalking his sister and her friends (or whatever that was about) or Freddie coming around to get revenge or even the devil himself taking aim at a little girl and the Church.  This is without reason.  When asked, “Why are you doing this to us?” the answer is, “Because you were home.”  And it’s said with such pure honesty.  There is no reason.

Whether that’s some comment on postmodern postmodernism, or some other ism, it’s damn scary.

As for whether or not this is horror movie, well.  In class, we were taught the prevailing theory on what constitutes a horror movie is that the movie must have, among other things, a monster.  The monster is something that isn’t human.  And it can’t just be a dog or something, either.  It has to be not-of-this-world, or out of sync, like the anachronistic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  I think you could make a case for The Strangers being a horror movie.  Those masked psychos were soulless.  And what’s less human than that?

Oh! I wanted to add that I thought the movie did some great nods to its predecessors — the bath scene was a little Psycho-ish (and actually the beginning in the Volvo reminded me both of Janet Leigh driving to the hotel, as well as a little Beetlejuice with Alec and Geena driving back from town), the closet scene was all Jamie Lee in Halloween and the end was sheer Carrie.  I find these allusions strangely comforting — while they’re scary because they remind us that there’s terror out there, they also remind us that we’re watching a movie.  I like a little reminder like that when watching a horror film.

The consolation I had while trying to sleep last night, in addition to the bunches of wine I consumed to calm my nerves, was that there was a very scary thunderstorm.  I told myself, as well as puppy, that scary ax-wielding masked intruders don’t like to get wet.



June 2008

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