Saturday, August 30, 2014

watch a few movies, take a few notes

...in the Scream trilogy [“hypermodernism”] can be identified in two ways: (1) a heightened degree of intertextual referencing and self-reflexivity that ceases to function at the traditional level of tongue-in-cheek subtext, and emerges instead as the actual text of the films: and (2) a propensity for ignoring film-specific boundaries by actively referencing, “borrowing,” and influencing the styles and formats of other media forms, including television and music videos—strategies that have further blurred that once separated discrete media. (Wee, 2005, p. 44)

So, there’s that. I’ve covered most of what’s said there, but given more time, I would love to get into the specific references, say, to other movies. Also, given the movie right now is in the early scene of Sidney alone in her house (she’s about to fall asleep and when she wakes up is the night the killer(s) call her) and I kind of want to deal with set decoration, oddly enough—there is an interesting old fashioned aesthetic going on that house, a pot belly stove in the corner for example. I’d like to really get into the function of slasher film villains (or horror film villains in general) in focusing all of our larger fears into something more tangible, more fathomable. Gill (2002) argues, “the brutal murderer of adolescents in [the slasher film] serves a bizarrely apotropaic function: his savage presence wards off the far more unsettling circumstance of unknown evil, of personal guilt and social indifference” (p. 17). Gill is specifically referencing A Nightmare on Elm Street but the same applies to any slasher film. Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface, or whomever—each one serves as an apotropaic focal point...

Not everyone knows that word, so, from Merriam-Webster:

apo•tro•pa•ic \ˌa-pə-trō-ˈpā-ik\

adjective

: designed to avert evil - an apotropaic ritual

Origin: Greek apotropaios, from apotrepein to avert, from apo- + trepein to turn.

First use: 1883

Anyway, a fictional evil distracts from a real evil, so to speak. If we can sit in a theater, or a living room, and be afraid of a horrible monster like Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th films or even Billy Loomis in Scream, and see him bested in the end, we needn’t fear the real threats out in the world. And, the fact that movie monsters tend to represent (at least in some fashion) specific real-world fears helps. Building on what I said yesterday about the breakdown of the family, Derr (2013) argues,

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, America feared the things hiding in the dark. The monsters under our beds were the invisible but menacing power of the Soviet Union, stagflation that kept us suspended in economic limbo, the possible disintegration of family structure and repeated energy crises [note: the killer family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre are ex-factory workers] which undermined our sense of our country as a superpower. Naturally the horror films of those decades were about faceless terrors that might jump out at us at any moment...

And, moving forward, past Scream into torture porn, Derr continues:

But today our fears are of the terrible things happening right in front of us—chemical weapons, gun violence and sexual abuse—over which we seem to have no power. Not surprisingly, this decade’s horror movies have focused the camera on the act of violence itself.

Derr makes an interesting point. Additionally, we had the “war on terror” in full swing by the time Saw came out. But, I think it’s worth noting that the other type of horror film that has been around in the past decade—supernatural horror (demon possession-type stuff), having a resurgence of late—stems in part from the same cause. A faceless killer we don’t fully understand and can barely fight—that’s the possessing demon and the foreign terrorist. I would love to do a study comparing the state of a) the economy and b) American hegemony (or at least our impression of it) to trends in horror films. The zombie film was birthed in Cold War fears. The slasher film was a response to the sexual revolution and all that came along with it. Torture porn has come a war without boundaries and a faceless enemy. For a few examples. In the 90s, when horror wasn’t doing so well, our economy was, and with the Cold War won (or at least ended), we were on top of the world. Scream comes into play when we don’t have too many big fears to deal with. It’s an exercise in de-/re-construction of a genre come when we had the time for that sort of thing.

Really, the practical elements of what make Scream what it is—that is what I haven’t seemed to have time for. So many words written about slasher films more generally and horror films even more generally, and I’ve hardly written in regards to the specifics of this film, the unique elements of what makes it great.

The entire script is clever but there are extra clever moments in the film, like maybe Stu and/or Billy might not ever actually lie about killing certain people; I’m not sure how they’d do with a lie detector test, being psychotic killers, but it’s an interesting detail nonetheless. Another example: The killer (Stu, this time) says to Sidney over the phone: “Poor Bill, boyfriend. An innocent guy doesn’t stand a chance with you.” There’s an extra level to the text here in that Sidney has already been responsible for putting an innocent man (Cotton Weary) in prison.

And so many more little details.

I hadn’t even intended to watch this film, by the way. I started the new format with The Ring specifically so I could title the first new entry seven days. Then, some of my research directly referenced The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project and, to a lesser extent, Scream. I had actually wanted to watch four movies that didn’t relate to one another in the first month of this iteration of this blog, then focus on blocks of movies for future months. I hadn’t intended a month of horror. I must apologize ahead of time, in that there will be another month of horror (including A Nightmare on Elm Street which will inevitably involve a direct expansion on yesterday’s topic) in October, for Halloween. But, the next four weeks will be very different. And tomorrow—well, that will be special.

For now, the Groundhog Day Project will be leaving the darkness behind for a bit.

Works Cited

Derr, H. (2013). A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part 4. Ms. Magazine. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/10/23/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-4/

Gill, P. (2002). The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family. Journal of Film and Video 54:4. pp. 16-30.

Wee, V. (2005). The Scream Trilogy, “Hypermodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film. Journal of Film and Video 57:3. pp. 44-61.

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