Category Archives: Anthology of Opinionated Witterings

Believe the geist! Why demons leave me less than screamin’.

Hello! Unfortunately certain perky circumstances mean I’ve been unable to blog for a while. But I’m back and am going to be posting a lot more often! Delving into the world of film once more, I’m taking a stab at horror (again). Are you sitting comfortably? If not, there’s nothing I can really do.

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers as well as insufferable OPINION.

I’ve finally gotten round to watching Paranormal Activity for the first time a while back (late to the party, I know), and was left less than impressed. The thing is, once I had switched of the TV and got dragged down the corridor by me legs out of the black mass of ennui it had left in my living room, I realised something; demons aren’t scary. Or at least, I don’t think so. The key to any good horror movies is actually being believable, even if it’s improbable. When you think about it there are only two really scary things; people and ghosts. (I’m leaving out slashers for this protracted wittering as I think they’re a little different. Their appeal of sudden shocks and over the top gore and are meant to be more entertaining than spine tingling.)

The Wicker Man is scary because a manic masochistic matriarchal society may well exist on some god foresaken remote island. The Pitchfork Disney, what I would actually consider as a horror piece of theatre, left me terrified, alongside my So So Gay colleague Eleanor, because such twisted people living out such warped lives is uncomfortably convincing. Se7en is horrific in that the John Doe’s raison d’etre is so warped, meditated, and out rightly evil, it bares not thinking about. Buried is possibly still the most intense and excruciating film in that it’s just too damned possible as well as playing to an absolutely horrifying fear of many. And Eden Lake was just unyieldingly brutal.

But why also ghosts? Ghosts are still (sort of) people. I suppose it might lock into our yearning that people we knew that have passed on are still about etc. But essentially, it’s because there’s something familiar and recognisable about them. The Woman in Black is an absolutely nerve shredding tale of spiteful revenge. The Orphanage (one of my all time favourite horrors), is a chilling tome of loss, maniacal child’s play, and some terrifically choreographed building of atmosphere. Even The Ring and Nightmare on Elm Street had antagonists of supernatural but human origin, albeit in bad need of a haircut or moisturising and a manicure. Also, let us not forget the unforgettable Ghostwatch, a coup de gras of television genius, where a live investigation team were haunted by a faintly recognisable but none the less ghostly vision of a man.

The film that is the best example of striding both brilliance and botched is Jeepers Creepers. The beginning is nerve shredding. The great big walloping truck, the gruesome “Sistine Chapel” basement, and the foreboding sense of not knowing what on earth was going on had my firmly behind the shoulders of my then boyfriend. But as soon as you realise that it’s not some crazed psychopath and actually some badly dressed demon, it lost ALL of its terror. Why? Because at that point it became totally outlandish.

Demons are just that little too far fetched. The debate on whether they exist or not is a little irrelevant. It’s not an issue of whether they’re real or not, my argument is that they just don’t relate to an audience enough. Unlike good old fucked up humans, or embittered and marauding ghosties, you just can’t empathise with a dark entity with an appetite for going bump in the night, and a penchant for mauling young ladies for no other reason other than they can. It’s just difficult to engage and be afraid of something mindless and uncategorised. In films where you do see them (and I think it was a good decision to keep the demon in Paranormal Activity wholly unseen), though they tend to look horrific, they verge safely on the side of gruesomely surreal than realistic. That’s why I think demons should be left more to things like Hellboy, where they seem to work deliciously well for high octane, high camp madness.

But even then the demon is only part of the problem with Paranormal Activity. As the severity and intricacy of the events escalate, the more I lost interest, and ultimately, the less scared I was. A few unaccountable movements and unexplained thuds and I was a little creeped out. But when Ouija boards started catching, fire and strange footsteps appeared in the talcum powder, it just became a little far fetched.

This leads to my example of a perfect horror; The Shining. You’ve got the unsettling deterioration of Jack’s mental state. Danny’s unexplainable and unsavoury wtf visions, and the supernatural element is just the cherry on the icing.

Yes, of course good direction and cinematography can really help a film along, especially like The Oprhanage. The scary bits in Guillermo del Torro’s rather wonderful The Devil’s Backbone is also expertly done. In Paranormal Activity’s defence, there were some genuine moments of edge of your seat/behind the duvet tension in the fuzzy blue tint of the amateur camera image.

But that’s not to say that the inhuman(ish) doesn’t always fail to work. The Crying Angels set a benchmark for all the scary nastiness that The Dr encounters, The Birds is a veritable aviary of chilling ornithological terror, and even Signs was a little frightening (albeit a masterclass in emulating Alfred Hitchcock) until fear of the aliens were overcome by some well placed glasses of water and visible zippers.

In saying all this, like in any film, the characters also need to be likeable! My main complaint of Paranormal Activity is that Noah was an absolute cockface. I think Katie was using her “demon” as a cover for giving him the twatting he deserved. Just saying.

Who likes short shorts?

Still from the short film "Manhunt". Courtesy of FURY.

It’s great to hear that the Iris Prize is raring to go for its 2012 festival as it announces that it’s open for submissions. I attended and covered it for So So Gay last year. It was my first time there and I utterly loved it. Despite being totally knackering it was enormous fun and I’ve already put this year’s dates (10th – 14th October 2012) into my diary regardless on whether I’ll be covering the festival again, or just going on my own accord. However, this piece of news reminded me of something that I’ve wanted to pen for a while now, so I thought this might make a nice first post for this blog.

At the festival, one of what I felt were one of the weaker films at 2011’s festival was a French flick called Manhunt (to give it it’s English title) by Stéphane Olijnyk, which I described as ‘…laboured with a sense of trying too hard to be edgy, and indulged in an overt and cliché military fetishism.’ I certainly wasn’t the only person who felt this way about it, from festival goers that I spoke to. But on my round-up article for So So Gay, someone posted a comment to a link to an altogether very different review by Amos Lassen that was surprisingly positive and interesting to read.

As much as I, like any other reviewer, can get a tad defensive when having an opinion challenged (depending on how nice or nasty it’s put), I do really enjoy it when someone disagrees with me. Indeed, what I think have been some of my stronger reviews are ones where myself and Arts Desk editor, Matt Wolf, have exchanged fevered e-mails enforcing our often very polar viewpoints. I feel I end up having my own thoughts challenged and therefore can stand back from a piece better.

Confronted to a very different review of Manhunt to my own, this was no different. Of course, no review is ever wholly objective. That’s impossible. There will always be the reviewer’s own tastes and past interactions with the genre that will heavily weigh their opinion. But what about immediate factors?

Manhunt was part of a block of short films that were shown at the festival. This particular batch included  the fantastically tense, violent, and erotic Spring, and the deliciously heart warming and funny Cappuccino; two of my highlights. By comparison, Manhunt appeared more than a little wounded.

When I read Amos’s review I immediately thought of several things:

1)      Really?

2)      Did the reviewer watch this feature by itself?

3)      If not, what was the calibre of the other films it was seen with? i.e. was this the best of the bunch?

4)      Reeeeeally?

Although I still stand by my opinion of the film, I do often think that I might have ended up with a different one if I viewed the film under different circumstances; if I’d seen it on its own, or if the quality of the films it was shown with had been a lot worse. Or, maybe I wouldn’t have.

Then, thinking back, the same thing happened when I wrote about May 2011’s Queer as Film event which I also reviewed for So So Gay. The film that was shown was a piece by Pierre Stefanos entitled Bedfellows which had won more than a handful of awards at previous festivals and screenings. Yet when it was shown at Queer as Film, and this is unfortunately not an exaggeration, the entire audience laughed AT it! ‘…unrealistically optimistic [and] crammed with every imaginable cliché,’ was my verdict.

However, on reflection, the films that preceded it were all British. One of them was the rather marvellous Toothless by Steven Dorrington (see embedded video), which, along with the others, was a fine example of the pessimistic and self-deprecatory dry humour that we’re famed for. Then, along came Bedfellows, which I still personally feel is a typically over-American, Disney-esque, slice of perfect, “happily ever after”, super-sweet…thing. But I do sometimes wonder that whether given the timbre of films leading up to its showing meant that myself and the other audience members rated it a little unfairly.

Both short films are obviously doing quite well for themselves despite my grumbles. Manhunt was part of the prestigious Iris Prize Festival 2011, and Bedfellows has an intimidating amount of laurels flaunted on its promotional material. Though they may not have wowed me, I still wish both films all the best, and hope that others find charm where I hadn’t. And I promise that when I review my next batch of short films, I’ll try my best to not be swayed too much by others shown alongside it.