Friday, October 31, 2014

every murderous impulse we've ever had

I have never actually seen the released version of Halloween: Resurrection; saw it at a test screening. Watching it on Netflix tonight. But, really, I’m barely inclined to talk about the movie itself... Don’t get me wrong. I will still do that. But, with only another day of slasher films left, I feel like I need to try to summarize this month in addition to talking about today’s movie and tomorrow’s (Freddy vs. Jason).

First, a couple complaints—and I had to pause the movie to rant about both of these things out loud; it’s still paused.

1. Michael Myers, as he exists in this film is not a serial killer. The nurse at the psychiatric hospital just called him one. A serial killer does not show up in a small town and kill a whole bunch of people (14 in one night back in 1978) then disappear for 20 years. A serial killer does not show up 20 years later to kill 6 more people. Keep in mind, this movie is a sequel to H20, which ignores Return, Revenge and Curse. Now, Clover (1992) might disagree with me a bit here, given the whole “psychosexual fury” thing. But, that fury, in Michael Myers, has led him to mass murder—hell, I believe I complained previously (and pasted some guy’s diagram of Michael’s kills to prove my point) about him being termed the greatest mass murderer, or however they phrased it a couple movies back. I’m forgetting the distinctions between, say, a mass murderer and a spree killer; Michael’s kills, especially going from the suburban neighborhood to the hospital in the first two films, might be termed a spree killing. But, his kills in H20, that is like textbook mass murder. One general location, a bunch (and not even his biggest bunch) of kills. Hell, even in this movie, Freddie refers to Michael as “our most brutal mass murderer.”

2. Laurie Strode/Keri Tate spent 20 years, we’re supposed to believe, being paranoid and messed up in the head over her friends being killed and her brother trying to kill her. Nevermind that she was stable enough to fake her own death, set up a new identity, get an education, become a teacher, and a good enough teacher to teach at a rather posh private school. Nevermind all that—she was suffering psychologically 20 years later, obviously, because she hallucinated Michael Myers. (Except, if that is a sign of real psychological distress, these films have seriously traumatized a lot of people... actually, that might be an idea worth exploring.) In cinematic terms—not actual psychology, mind you, but the way events are generally presented in film—the last reel of H20 was Laurie basically getting the fuck over it already. She sent John and Molly away (just like she did Lindsey and Tommy two decades earlier) and—

I can’t believe I’m using this phrase, considering how often I write about gender in this blog, but I think our patriarchal society just doesn’t have a gender-neutral term for it

—manned up, fought back. Hell, she went that extra step of taking Michael’s body, ostensibly without a plan in mind, but she ended up taking his head off. Though this movie rewrites that beheading, in cinematic terms, Laurie should be fine. Instead, she’s sitting in a mental hospital. Three more years later.

Now, back to the movie. I’m just under 4 minutes in.

And another complaint (made it 50 seconds) or two:

3. The paramedic who died in Michael’s place—he’s a horrible paramedic. He approaches what looks like a dead body, pulls a knife out of him, barely focuses on what he’s doing, and is easy prey for Michael. Dude didn’t even have any medical supplies with him. He should have had a bag or something. That’s just bad prop work from the production crew and, because of that, a really bad paramedic who, in slasher film terms, kinda deserved to die.

4. Cop who found the dead paramedic? Also not good at his job. No crime scene photos yet—we actually hear him calling out “here” presumably to a search party. So, what does he do? Tampers with the scene, pulling the mask off the severed head.

Back to the—damn it.

5. So, Laurie is faking the “extreme dissociative” state, not taking the meds she’s being given, because... Michael can’t get into the hospital for three years now? It can’t be that secure. Plus, the previous film implied that her son was also Michael’s intended victim now, or that whole 17-years-old thing was just a stupid coincidence that both the film and Laurie drew attention to. So, sitting in this hospital for three years is an irresponsible parenting decision on Laurie’s part. John was probably killed by Michael 2 1/2 years ago, because she was too busy sitting on her ass pretending to do nothing.

Six minutes in, now. Clover (1992) makes a point of how just in the four years between the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the original Halloween, the Final Girls went from passive (running away) to active (stabbing back) defense (p. 37). This opening sequence is quite simply backtracking Laurie from her active defense into something much more passive.

6. Michael’s one-handed reverse pull up might have looked cool in the previous movie (even if it did invite one to imagine Michael having to jump up there in the first place, which isn’t all that scary an image), but we didn’t need to see it again. Jason may break through windows in al of his movies, but Michael is much simpler—he walks after people, and occasionally pauses at the top of stairs or somewhere where he can look a little bigger and a little cooler for a moment. He doesn’t need some weird trick.

Even if she’s got that trap rigged on the ceiling. I mean, she couldn’t set that up at her house? She might not be “afraid” of Michael but she is kinda stupid over him. Wasting three years of her life just to set this trap. She should have called the FBI guys who took down Jason at the beginning of Jason Goes to Hell.

7. How could she be sure it was Michael by taking off the mask? She has not actually seen his face since they were kids, and we can’t be sure she a) remembers it clearly or b) could deduce what he would look like a few decades later.

8. Crazy guy with the clown mask who seems to be a fan of serial killers, lists off Michael’s kills—his sister, check. Three teenagers in 1978, check. Three nurses and a paramedic, check. What about the doctor? What about the mechanic whose clothes he stole? What about the orderly? And, whatever else all those people in II were? Four students in 1998, check. What about the teacher? This guy seems like he’d have more accurate information.

Jungian shadow stuff in play here—at least this film is trying for something new, not simply “evil.” But then, Busta Rhymes calls Michael Myers “evil in its purest form.” Less than a minute later, another character mentions Hitler. you know, the go to exemplar of evil.

9. The scream thing was stupid.

Evil in its “purest” form would not have killed only 20 people (or only 12 according to clown mask). There’s a reason we use Hitler as the exemplar of evil—the holocaust was systematic. Systematic is scarier than random, scarier than maybe he’ll show up this year and kill a few people. Systematic suggests something much darker (and fundamentally human, since we’re talking about Jungian shadows) than Michael Myers.

10. (NOT A COMPLAINT) I rather like that the Myers house interior actually resembles the Myers house from the original film, unlike that house they used in Revenge.

Systematic killing like that done in Nazi concentration camps—that says more about the darkness possible in humanity than anything Michael Myers does. Michael Myers is effectively inhuman. Like Jason Voorhees, like Freddy Krueger (but not like Leatherface), Michael is a supernaturally strong slasher, something closer to a force of nature. A tornado may be scary but it is not evil.

Great sequence with the first kill in the Myers house here, bringing us back to a month ago, talking about Peeping Tom. Michael kills with the leg of the tripod, hooked to a camera that’s running. It’s the I-camera common to so many slasher films, and specifically calling back to that film that helped birth the genre. “Much is made of the use of the I-camera to represent the killer’s point of view,” Clover tells us.

In these passages—they are usually few and brief, but striking—we see through his eyes and (on the soundtrack) we hear his breathing and heartbeat. His and our vision is partly obscured by the bushes or window blinds in the foreground. By such means we are forced, the logic goes, to identify with the killer. (p. 45)

Clover goes on to disagree a little bit with that logic, citing the shark’s POV in Jaws and the Birds’ POV in The Birds, and suggesting that the I-camera “works as much to destabilize as to stabilize identification” (ibid). But, the I-camera providing us the POV of the killer is such a staple of the slasher genre that it is hard to argue that it is not there to put us with the killer, to perhaps make us acknowledge our accountability and culpability in his killing each victim. He does so for us, after all. Halloween: Resurrection, if I remember it rightly, is not a very great film, but it aims to do a couple rather great things: 1) it incorporates modern technology into a genre that needs something new, predating POV reality programming like Ghost Hunters by a few years, and only partially invoking found footage horror and 2) it puts we in the audience not only quite specifically into the POV of the killer but just as much, if not more so this time, into the POV of the victims. We are not only responsible for the deaths we see, we are the victims of our own choice to watch this and all other slasher films. We choose to be scared, we choose to watch the murder and the gore, the sex and the drug use. And, we choose a genre that not only provides us with such transgressions but regularly suggests that those transgressions are worthy of death. In my recently published piece about Plato’s charioteer and the modern shoulder angel and shoulder devil (Black, 2014), I argue that we put angels and devils on our shoulders in cartoons and whatnot as a reification of a binary moral compass, a simplistic take on Bentham’s panopticon. We keep ourselves in check by constantly reminding ourselves what action is good and what action is bad, and more importantly, that actions must be one or the other. What this film does, in terms of the I-camera use, is put us quite directly into the good and bad sides of the action. We are the killer and the killed. This film is not about this collection of students exploring Michael Myers house. It is also not about Michael Myers. It is about all of us watching it, all of us watching the previous entries in the Halloween series or any other film within the slasher genre. The Jungian shadow being explored here is not Michael’s, not any of these other characters’, but ours. The slasher film is our way—and I think I’ve used this phrase before—to both exorcise and exercise our demons. Writing about Peeping Tom, Clover (1992) tells us:

[It (and I would extend it to other slasher films)], in short, should also be taken at face value as a commentary not only on the symbiotic interplay of sadistic and masochistic impulses in the individual viewer but equally as a commentary, within the context of horror filmmaking, on the symbiotic interplay of the sadistic work of the filmmaker and the masochistic stake of the spectator, an arrangement on which horror cinema insists. (p. 179)

I would take it even further, here. Just as there is an audience within this film, watching

(and cheering on—hell, in the third act, Miles is even directing Sara where to go, just as we so often do when we’re watching these kind of films, but this time the directions are actually heard by the character)

that action online, we watch both levels of the action, and we cheer, too. We do so not simply because we are masochistic, but because we are sadistic as well. As John Carpenter once said, “Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or another” (quoted in Derr, 2012). We want to watch people be hurt. We want to watch people be killed. And, when it’s over, we want to walk out of the theater (or our living room) safe and sound. We want to get close to the danger, close to the death, as close as cinematically possible, then we want to be free to walk away. To have our cake and eat it, too, as the saying goes. Set our inner demons and our inner fears loose for a while. Then, return to our (probably) safe reality. We who benefit from lives in which we have the time and money to watch these movies—we’re probably doing ok. And, if we’re not, if we live in a bad neighborhood, or we fear terrorists across the globe, or disease outbreaks (if you’re reading this entry in the future, Ebola has been in the news a lot lately), or we have maybe created a vicious cycle out of watching movies like this to fuel our mean world syndrome-induced view of things, then we can set aside our real-world fears for a while for something more controllable and controlled. These murders, even if we have to take some responsibility for them in order to be witness to them—they serve as an acceptable proxy for everything dangerous and scary in the real world.

And then, the credits roll and all is well.

11. (NOT A COMPLAINT) The fall into the pool of blood is a nice visual tie to Halloween II

12. Chainsaw is a nice touch, but she should have stayed quiet while using it. Her “This is for [insert name here]” lines sound silly.

13. (NOT A COMPLAINT) Michael sits up just like he did in the original. Nice visual.

14. Unplugging a wire and touching someone with it would not electrocute him. Either it is the male end of the wire, in which case unplugging it took away its power, or it’s the female end, in which case there’s no metal sticking out to transfer the electricity.

15. Busta’s rant to the news people? Silly. Not just because it’s a bit simplistic and kinda trite, but because if anything, this series of events has proven the power of media coverage rather than suggesting it needs to go away. If not for the cameras, there would be no survivors here. Freddie will be planning another DangerTainment outing in no time.

But, now these credits roll. And all is well.

One slasher film left to watch, then no horror films for a while.

For this blog, I mean. I would never give up horror films.

Works Cited

Black, R.E.G. (2014). From Charioteer to Shoulder Angel: A Rhetorical Look at Our Divided Soul. Colloquy... (and I will have to fix this citation tomorrow; my copy of the issue is on the shelf in my office at work)

Clover, C.J. (1992). Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Derr, H.L. (2012, October 5). A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part One: Daddy Knows Best. Ms. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/10/05/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-one-daddy-knows-best/

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