Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dial M For Movies: Everything Is The Devil

Hello all,
Moving into more modern masterworks of horror cinema, this week I decided to show my boyfriend the 1976 Brian De Palma flick Carrie. This film is an intensely unsettling look at the clique-based nature of high school, bullying, religious oppression and feminism, through the horrific story of Creepy Carrie living up to her nickname. Widely regarded for its stylish yet unsettling quality, I was incredibly excited to show my boyfriend this film, especially seeing his only prior knowledge of the film was that “she’s psychic, telekinetic and evil.”
   However, in order to watch the film, I also had to watch it with parents. My house only has one (admittedly very large) television which is in the lounge, so in order to show my boyfriend films on a screen bigger than my laptop I also have to watch it with my parents.
   The reason that this was going to be awkward is ably demonstrated by the first scene of the film, which depicts a large number of naked females running around a locker room. Finn noticed that “this seems oddly sexualised.” Well, it was until Carrie starts getting her period and panics. Adorably, my boyfriend tries to comfort her through the screen; “Calm down. It’s okay, no-one saw.” It’s of no use and soon she is being viciously bullied and taken to the principal’s office who, as Finn keenly points out, “has no idea who she is.” Her friends are punished by a kindly teacher.
   Later, when Carrie arrives home, we see her mother.
   “She’s a witch!” suggests Finn excitedly.
   “She’s worse,” I say nervously, having seen this film, and been horrified by the evil mother, before.
   “She’s a bitch,” Finn says definitively. As we see the mother’s obsession with religion, he notes that she thinks “Jesus is always watching.”
   The next day, at Carrie’s school, a teacher suggests that the girl’s hair would look better up.
   “She can’t,” says Finn. “Hairspray’s the devil. Everything’s the devil.”
   One of the sympathetic girls from the school, Susan, asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom. Things are looking up.
   That night, however, some of the crueller students plan their vengeance. They go to the local pig farm, with an odd painted mural next to it, upon which Finn notes a familiar name;
   “Bates motel!” he says joyously, “Like from Psycho.” I nod, pointing out that the music has at some points sounded exactly like Bernard Hermann’s famous shower scene score. Brian De Palma, you old Hitchcock fan, you.
   At the pig farm, some of the jocks violently attack one of the pigs with a hammer. “Sick bitch,” says a horrified Finn.
   Later, we arrive at the most famous sequence from the film; the prom. Finn is largely unaware of how horrific this scene will become. He guesses that “the problem is that he has a girlfriend, but likes Carrie.” For me, this scene became incredibly ridiculously tense.
   Carrie is voted prom queen and is so happy. Finn, however, isn’t so easily fooled; “Oh no. She thinks it’s real.” It was around this point that I had to put my pen down and stop taking notes or I foresaw that I was going to accidentally stab myself in anticipation. I do remember, however, that Finn felt so sorry for the teacher who accidentally gets killed and that the death of the mother was clever, as her death exactly resembles that of a Jesus statue used to torment Carrie. He also guessed the final twist, which I’m not going to spoil here (because it’s too creepy. I jump every. Single. Time. So embarrassing).
   At the conclusion of the film, I ask Finn for his opinion.
   “That was good,” he says, but when I ask why he’s lost for words. “It’s hard to analyse myself sometimes.”
   “Did you find it scary?” I ask.
   “I definitely thought it was very suspenseful and tense but not really scary. It was much more tense than The Birds.”
   “For me, I think what makes this film really effective is that, unlike most horror movies, the killer is incredibly sympathetic. Do you agree?”
   “You really did feel for Carrie. I can kind of relate to her because [in school] I was an outcast and bullied.”
   “And we also don’t seem to be positioned to like any of the other characters,” I say.
  “Well, Sue seemed regretful and the teacher did want to help her,” Finn says, accurately.
   “I particularly find the mother to be a hateful character.”
   “The mum is a crazy bitch. She takes everything way too far.”
   “Let’s talk about the prom scene. Do you think her actions justified? And why do you think there is no music in this scene?” I ask, hoping to get into the nitty-gritty.
   “There’s revenge, but that’s not killing them. She snapped. That scene is very focussed, it’s all happening in her head. She doesn’t hear anything. But I was a little confused, because [the audience] were all serious and shocked but she seems to imagine their laughter.” Finn says, making an intriguing point.
   I hadn’t noticed this but it could easily be read that Carrie imagines the prom school body laughing at her, which is even more powerful in regards to the depiction of the oppression that high school seems to promote.
   Returning to our discussion, I ask Finn what his favourite scene was.
   “I don’t really know if I have a favourite scene. The prom scene has lost some of its shock value, but unlike Psycho, it was still effective and I sympathised with Carrie. I was expecting the cliché that it was just a joke in Carrie’s face, but it was more than that.”
   “Any closing thoughts?” I ask.
   “They’re taking a while to make Carrie 2,” he says grinning.
   He gave the film 4.5 stars and says that he’ll never rate a film 5. It just became my goal to change that.
   Overall, this was a great film to watch with my boyfriend. It was admirably creepy and didn’t lose much of its unsettling nature even after over 30 years. And my parents? Well about halfway through the film, they went to bed. When I asked her why the next day, mum told me that it was too scary, it had hit too close to home. This seems incredibly impressive for a classic film. I did feel very guilty though…
   Next week, our mini horror movie marathon (like it did last year) concludes with John Carpenter’s 1976 terrifying film Halloween. How will Finn react to one of the scariest movies ever made? Join us next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!

Finn: 4.5/5
David: 5/5

David Gumball-Watson & Finn

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dial M For Movies: Bird Bitch

Hello all,
Continuing with the Halloween Hitchcock theme, this week I decided to show my boyfriend, Finn, the 1963 creepy classic The Birds. Due to his lukewarm reaction to last week’s film, I was more than a little nervous to show him this film. There were some signs however that he would enjoy this film more. For a start, he loves animals and secondly, this film has less of a pop culture lexicon around it. For example, Finn knew only of this film that in one scene, there is a random fish instead of a bird.
   As we viewed the film, I found that Finn commented less often. Was this merely because my parents were in the room? They like to talk, by the way. So tempted at one point to just say, ‘shh I’m trying to gauge my gorgeous boyfriend’s opinion on classic cinema!’ Or was it because he was genuinely enjoying it?
   He wondered why there was no music in the film and, despite his frustration in regards to the acting abilities of the cast and the occasionally lopsided effects, he seemed to be more engaged with the film.
   For example, he whispered ‘Oh God’ as the birds start massing near a primary school and made the keen observation that “whenever kids sing in tune, something bad is gonna happen.” When we got to the scene where an ornithologist tries to dismiss what is happening, he even came up with a nickname for her; “the bird bitch.” Later, when the birds start attacking a door by pecking their way through it, he and I giggled as we imagined the bird peeking through and shouting, “Here’s birdy!” The joyousness of this cannot be overestimated.
   Hilariously, Finn couldn’t find the fish. When the film concludes, I turn to Finn and ask him his opinion.
   “I actually liked that,” he says. “Unlike Psycho, I didn’t predict what was going on because it doesn’t explain the events.”
   “That’s interesting, because I’ve viewed this film with dad and he hates that it doesn’t offer any kind of explanation or conclusive ending. But you didn’t mind that?” I ask.
   “I’m not fussed that it didn’t give all the answers. This may just be my gaming side, but it’s better to let the ‘player’ decide the story, to leave it to their own interpretation, their own imagination. This makes them more engaged with the story.”
   “Did you find the film scary?” I ask nervously. This film is one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen and has gifted me a strong phobia of birds.
   “I found it a little bit unsettling, but not really scary. Part of this was because of the use of the green-screen, but when real birds were used, I found that to be more effective. A CGI remake probably wouldn’t work,” he argued, “but one of the Resident Evil films had a scene with birds. But that’s regarded as one of the worse ones, because of script and acting and stuff.”
   I nodded before asking; “At the start of the film, we noted that there was no scare and I found this worrying, because one of your key highlights from Psycho was the score. Do you think The Birds works without music?”
   “It didn’t need a score, because it’s more of a documentary film. The woman, [Melanie played by ‘Tippi’ Hedren] is in every scene. It is purely her movie.”
   “So, what was your favourite scene?” I ask, telling him that mine is when the birds silently gather outside the schoolhouse just waiting to attack.
   “My favourite scene was the bird woman. Her refusal to believe what was going on around her provided a strong contrast to the rest of the film and reaffirmed that the bird’s attacking was not normal. This film was taking place in our world. It was a very tense film.”
   “Unlike Psycho, do you think the film is still effective to a modern audience?”
   The Birds has more of a relevance to a modern day audience, definitely.”
   “Any final thoughts?”
   “It wasn’t a perfect film. The era of the film and the intended effect weren’t as gripping, but the concept is solid and the techniques are good for the time. And in closing, I will find that fish!”
   And indeed he did. Midnight that night, he sent me a text message to say that “Aha!! Found the fish!! Though it wasn’t actually in The Birds, it’s in a movie called Core. A scene where tons of birds go crazy and slam into windows, some are fish… See I’m not crazy, just got the wrong movie lol.” Needless to say, my boyfriend’s persistence is perfectly adorable and I never thought he was crazy (much). Also, I now also have to see Core.
   Finn’s opinion of this film has again proved fascinating for me, as I would’ve thought his verdict would be switched. I thought The Birds’ reliance on effects would have proved to be less effective than Psycho’s use of thrilling, more realistic elements. That the film’s open-nature would’ve made it less palatable to an audience founded on films with easy answers. More questions have been raised here. Is it story itself that is more important than what we see? Is a strong concept and clear love for the crafted work enough for it to retain its relevance? Are slightly more obscure classics like The Birds more likely to live on because they haven’t been referenced in a hundred other things? These ideas have thrown my world into turmoil. I love it.
   Anyway, the next film I’m planning on showing Finn is Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror masterpiece, Carrie. How will he react to this haunting tale of high school terror? Join Finn and I next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!

Finn: 4/5
David: 5/5

David Gumball-Watson

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Dial M For Movies: Psycho (1960)

Hello all,
In what may be one of my most unintelligent ideas ever, I’ve decided to try and introduce the world of film to my boyfriend. Ever since I learnt he couldn’t even remember if he’d seen The Wizard Of Oz or not (the one film I thought everyone must be able to act out), I have seen it as my duty to try and make him slightly more film literate. This is probably me just being paranoid and controlling, but if I make a pop-culture reference (like EEE! EEE! EEE! While making a stabbing motion) it’d be nice to have my boyfriend understand it. So, this task was probably flawed from the start, but whatever.
   Considering the fact that it’s Halloween, I decided to introduce my boyfriend first to some of my favourite classic horror films. For an avid Hitchcock fan like myself, I couldn’t possibly go past Psycho (1960, US, d. Alfred Hitchcock) as the first film to show to my lovely boyfriend. I also took notes while viewing, so I could record his reaction here. So, let the recap begin!

   As the thrilling opening credits start, I notice Finn start to dance oddly. I join in before asking;
   “What are you doing?”
   “Voguing,” he replied, referencing Paris Is Burning (a documentary about drag I’d forced him to watch only a few weeks before).
   “I am so proud of you,” I said, grinning.
   As the end credits conclude and we launch into the main character Marion’s life, I spot ‘ol Hitchcock making a cameo in his film. He asks me who that is. So I, ignoring my shock, explain to him that Alfred Hitchcock had a cameo in every one of his films and that it’s something to watch out for. He nods, as if I’ve just explained why plants are green (Actually, why are plants green?). Meanwhile, Marion tells her boss that she is “going to spend this weekend in bed.” Cue innuendo stares between Finn and I.
   He guesses that Marion is going to steal the Ke$ha, long before it’s explained.
   “Ke$sha”, he asks.
   “Yeah, that’s what I call cash,” I explain. “So, I’ll just be like, ‘oh, got to check how much Ke$ha is in my bank account’.”
   He smiles.
   “Oh, that reminds me. I’ve got to give you some Ke$sha a bit later.”
   “Oh, cool.”
  “Yeah. She’s released this new song and I think you really might like it.” Cue him patting me softly on the head.
    While I face my embarrassment, Marion is greeted by a cop. Finn looks to me and says that this doesn’t make sense as the filmography of a person moving right to left would suggest that they are going back home, something he knows because of his own storyboarding. He then goes on to say that the police officer’s glasses are so impersonal. While I’m sitting in this bubble of super awesome pride, he upon seeing her number plate ANL-709, shouts out “Anal!” Oh, my perfect silly boyfriend.
   After we recover from laughter, Marion is trying to trade her car for a new one. The mechanic says to her, “I’ll just shoot your car in the garage.”
   “Pew!” says Finn holding his hand up as a gun, before reflecting on Marion’s character. “She’s not very smart about it.” As he goes on about her possible motives, I struggle to write it all down.
   “I wish I could do this on Youtube. The two of us reacting to Psycho.”

   “But you don’t have Youtube. Or the internet. Or a camera. Or good lighting.”
   “You have good lighting,” I retort cleverly.
   “Thank you,” he says, smiling.
   Later, Marion has pulled up to the Bates Motel, a building Finn seems to recognise. As I start to explain that it’s a famous set used in many films and TV shows since, he says, “I think I’ve seen it!” He goes on to explain that it was on a tour at Universal Movie World
   “So”, I say, “while you have not seen Psycho and only know of the shower scene, you have seen the actual house? Life is so unfair.”
   As Norman Bates, manager of the creepy hotel, and Marion have lunch, Finn’s plot speculation goes into overdrive. “He has this crazy, restrictive mother who won’t let him leave. His trap is his mother. He’s gonna kill his mother!” Knowing what was to happen, it was interesting to note how cleverly Hitchcock works the audience to keep the twists hidden.
   Marion says to Norman, “Why don’t you go away?”
   “That seems blunt,” says Finn, laughing as he realises that she was talking about Norman leaving his mother.
   However, as Norman states, “We all go a little mad sometimes”, Finn’s speculation continues.
   “He goes a little mad. He kills Marion because he thinks she’s going to take his mother away from her.” Well, sort of.
   Marion leaves and goes to her room to get changed, and Norman stares at her through his…
   “Pee-pee hole,” says Finn.
   “I do believe that’s actually a peep hole,” I laughed, before stating rather emphatically, “I don’t want to think about Anthony Perkins’ pee-pee hole!” He looks at me strangely before we both laugh.
   But not for too long, because next is the shower scene. My excitement is barely contained as Finn says, “Ooh. It’s his mother!”
   I explain to him how shocking the death of Marion was back in the 60s. “She was the main character. And she’s dead.”
   “Movie over,” he replies sarcastically, before coming up with a theory. “There is no mother. The mother’s already dead. He couldn’t cope with it, so he’s gone mad.” I was a little shocked at how quickly he’d guessed the big twist, but before I can say anything, Norman Bates starts mopping up the blood.
   “Mop is a fun word,” I say, leading both Finn and I to shout mop randomly throughout this scene. We are so mature.
   “He’s gonna cover up for his mother. But he’s really covering up for himself,” he says. I reflect that this is the way to dispose of a body. Just simple and uncomplicated, but he debates me on this.
   “In today’s C.S.I.ety, there would be ways of finding it out.” Oh, boyfriend, I love your new words.
   Later, Marion’s boyfriend and sister turn to a private investigator in the hopes of catching her before she “gets in too deeply.” Cue innuendo stare.
   With Finn’s theory decided, he remains quiet for much of the rest of the movie until the local policeman confirms that Norman’s mother died many years ago. He can’t wipe the ever widening smile off his face, not even as we reach the exciting climax.

  Norman talks to his mother before carrying her down the stairs. “It’s a dead body,” Finn says grimly.
  Soon after, Marion’s sister and boyfriend walk into the hotel. “I was expecting you,” says Finn, pretending to be a master villain stroking a cat. Unfortunately no. It’s just the freaky Norman. While Marion’s boyfriend distracts the killer, the sister goes into the house and discovers that the mother’s bed hasn’t been “sleeped in. Slept in,” Finn corrects himself, but too late. I have it all written down. After engaging in a short fight which threatens to ascend into a make-out sesson, the sister and I notice a strange record in the player.
   “Erotica?” I ask, shocked.
   “Eroica,” he says.
    But no matter, Norman is soon captured and examined by a psychiatrist who works out that he’s pretty much insane.

   As the film ends, I turn to Finn and ask his opinion.
   “Well, the plot was predictable because of future movies. I can see it’s a masterpiece because it was the first film to do it but it’s hard to relate to it having seen so many modern versions.”
  “Did it scare you?” I ask.
   “It didn’t scare me. At all.”
   “Well, was it well directed?”
   “[Filmic techniques] develop more strongly later. The directing then seems different to the practices now. But I didn’t mind it. It’s still a good movie. I didn’t get bored.”
   “I think the music has a lot to do with that,” I suggest.
   “Yeah, the music is really good. Much of the film is scored which adds a lot of the suspense to it.”
   “So, what was your favourite scene?”
   “I actually liked the nuance in the conversation between Marion and Norman in the parlour.”
   “Yeah, me too. A possibly controversial question now. Do you, as a GLBTQ person, think that the film is transphobic?” This was a thought that had occurred to me on this viewing of the film and it was something I wanted Finn’s opinion on.
   “For their time, [trans] was an unusual concept. The psychiatrist suggests that Norman isn’t transgender, it’s multiple personalities. The film doesn’t really seem transphobic.”
   Somewhat upset to Finn’s reaction to the film, I ask that if the film has no relevance to a modern day audience, if it’s directing is stale and its plot twists ruined by later films, should it be forgotten?
   “It’s understood as a classic. It’s a great movie, of its own time. The shock value is lost. The narrative and plot development seem cliché and unexciting to a modern audience. So, it shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s a classic, a masterpiece. It shouldn’t be forgotten but it’s not relevant and doesn’t hold up to a modern audience. It’s not really for everybody.”
   After much debating, he gave the film 3/5 stars.
   This proved to be an incredibly interesting experience for me. As a person who loves movies, and in particular this film (which rated 3rd in my list of favourite movies), I can’t deny that I was a tad upset by Finn’s reaction. While I didn’t expect him to love this movie, it was shocking to see how some of the film’s most famous set pieces had little to no effect on him. He guessed the ending soon after the shower scene because of exposure to many other texts which feature similar endings. This raises an interesting idea.
  Does Psycho still have worth if we understand it merely because of the impact it has had on our popular culture? More concerning, is it this exposure that limits its effect on a modern day audience? These are questions that aren’t simply answered and I think it’s going to be something I continue to grapple with as I show Finn more and more classic movies. We shall see.
   Anyway, the next film I’m planning on showing Finn is another Hitchcock film, the 1963 nightmare-inducing classic, The Birds. As an avid animal lover, how will he react to this unsettling classic. Join Finn and I next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!

Finn: 3/5
David: 5/5
David Gumball-Watson & Finn