Monday, March 14, 2011

The first time I've been properly scared in years

So, as avid readers (by this I mean my long-suffering mates) will know, I am a massive horror movie fan. I'll watch pretty much anything, I don't scare easily and I have a pretty strong stomach - all of which has been built up over many, many years. However, there are still certain movies from which I stay away. Rob Zombie - awesome musician, fellow horror buff and all-round sexy man - has made a few fucked-up movies that I have absolutely zero interest in seeing again (The Devil's Rejects I have blocked out entirely). I saw his remake of John Carpenter's legendary Halloween one night in a bar and didn't sleep for a few nights straight. I couldn't even hear it, but seeing it on screen was enough.

It was the first time I'd been properly scared in ages, which leads me to the subject of this blog post. I am very ashamed to admit that, prior to last Saturday night, I had never seen the original Halloween. However, I am aware of how important it is in horror movie history, since it not only established the killer's first-person perspective and cemented the idea of the "final girl" but it managed to scare audiences without anything much happening at all. Horror, quite often, is more about what one doesn't see than what one does (it's really obvious I'm reading Mark Kermode's book at the moment, isn't it?).

After Rob Zombie's terrifying, updated version, I was petrified of seeing John Carpenter's original. I thought it would be even worse, given that it was the source material, and Rob Zombie couldn't possibly be that fucked up (no no, he is).

However, I was pleasantly surprised. On with the review!!

Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter.
The film opens in 1963, on Halloween night. Kids are trick-or-treating, horny teens are fumbling about on a couch, being watched through the window by the bizarrely high camera. Within the opening five minutes, a teenage girl is slaughtered by what turns out to be her much younger brother (despite the too-high camera), who is wearing a clown costume and brandishing a giant butcher knife and a totally blank, emotionless expression. There isn't much blood, but there are tits (always welcome in horror movies). So we're off to a good start!

We then skip fifteen years into the future again, where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living on the same street, and has to drop a key (her father works for some sort of real estate company) to the "old Myers place" which, it quickly transpires, is sort of the neighbourhood haunted house, where kids dare each other to go and in which nobody lives because of the murder and blah blah blah. She then goes about her business with a plucky young boy and her intentionally vapid, slutty friends. Thus, it is quickly established that she will be the final girl, before anything even happens, because Slutty Mc OpenLegs isn't gonna be, and this isn't Zombie's version so it's not like the kid is going to be in the running (and then brutally slaughtered). Luckily, a lot of things in this film are implied, as opposed to the heavy-handed way in which they are communicated in horror movies nowadays (like BAD! BAD! THIS THING/PERSON/PLACE IS BAD! BE AFRAID! LIKE THE PEOPLE IN THE FILM! ROOT FOR THIS ONE!). One of the most interesting aspects of Halloween is how it compares to horror movies nowadays. For most of its' duration, I found myself on edge, but not really sure why, which is odd considering how bloody and disgusting and visceral the violence is in films today. How can nothing happening be scarier than that!?

After Michael escapes from the mental hospital in which he has been living for the past fifteen years (of course) and has driven off (yes, driven) in a car marked clearly on the side with the hospital's logo (something which is great later on for spotting him stalking in the background), the story switches back to Laurie, who, in stark contrast to her ditzy friends, answers questions in class, offers to babysit despite it being Halloween night, and generally acts like a boring, virginal, prissy chick who, although slightly dull, can stick up for herself and refuses to follow the crowd (thus, the final girl).

The moments when she spots Michael (who, let's be honest, looks like a member of Slipknot in his mask and stolen overalls, but is still frightening nonetheless) get creepier and more tense as the night darkens. It's rare to see the killer during daylight hours in a horror movie, and it's to Carpenter's credit that Michael appears and disappears at will, despite the fact that the sun is still shining and there's every chance he'll be spotted by a wandering passerby (although, of course, the only person who spots him is Laurie, thus cementing her role as the loon who's been studying too much and needs to relax). The tension is stacked up at an almost unbearable pace. Every moment Michael appeared behind Laurie, trailing her and her friend in his car, or just lurking across the street behind a nearby tree, I jumped, or even, at times, squealed like a girl (not a common occurrence for me).

Once the actual killing begins (and there isn't really much of it, either) it's almost a relief. Is Michael in the car? Yes. Is he hiding in the coat closet while that dude gets a post-sex beer? Yes. Is he going to pretend to be that man, using his glasses and a sheet, so he can see some tits and then murder the dumb blonde girlfriend? Oh yes. Jamie Lee Curtis excels as the terrified babysitter who has to choose between keeping the kids she's looking after calm, and freaking out that her best friends may be in trouble just across the street. To her credit, she does manage to fight Michael off quite a bit (with a knitting needle and a hanger, no less!), as opposed to the usual running-away-screaming-half-naked schlock to which we're usually subjected. The scene when she's trapped in the wardrobe had me squirming and clasping my hand over my mouth so hard I almost choked myself.

Put simply, I was TERRIFIED, which I haven't been in a very long time.

The beauty of Carpenter's Halloween is that nothing much has to happen for the audience to feel threatened, on edge, and completely terrified. One just has to hear that music and see Michael standing behind a bush to know that people are in danger and bad shit is going to go down. Most of the movie consists of Michael just turning up or stalking Laurie, not really doing much besides breathing heavily into his mask (much like Corey Taylor, har de har) while the amazingly creepy score plods alongside him. He isn't even that big, which means that, unlike in Zombie's version (in which the massive Tyler Mane plays Michael), it's somewhat believable that people wouldn't look twice if they say him on the street, because perhaps they would just assume that he was some lad having a laugh, in a mask, for Halloween.

There isn't much blood, and the kills, although vicious, are nothing compared to Zombie's (okay, okay, so subtlety has never really been his thing). So then, why did this film scare the shit out of me? A lot of it has to do with my fear of Michael Myers as a character...there is something so frightening about somebody who just kills for no reason... But a lot of it also has to do with the pace of the film (it's just over an hour and a half long, after all) and the dreaded tension that is built up throughout. It's a potent mix, the intelligence and skill of which has surely been lost on the creators of such torture-porn atrocities as Saw, Hostel, et al. (no, those films are not frightening, despite what you have heard).

My favourite modern-day horror movie, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, owes a lot to Halloween. After all, the killer is revealed early on, the kills, while inventive, are quick and reasonably bloodless. Most of the establishing shots are from the first-person perspective of the killer, and he is shown covered in blood, lurking outside the window, which is only noticed by, you've guessed it, the dumb blonde, who, of course, nobody believes. The same can be said of the Scream franchise, which establishes a killer, in a mask, with a big knife, and then goes from there.

Put simply, Halloween kicks some serious ass. It's scary, it's brave, it got under my skin, and I'll forever be looking over my shoulder at passing cars as I walk down my street towards home. Oh, and the ending truly made me shudder...for several hours...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pathetically late first post (or second, really)

How sad is it that the only time I can find to write on here is during my lunch break from work!? Whatever, it's time to bring this blog back from! Now, for some firsts of 2011!!!

First movie - 127 Hours.
Being a fan of horror and having a pretty strong stomach for gore, I was dying to see this movie, in which James Franco infamously cuts off his own arm, as the climber Aron Ralston did in real life after being trapped in a cave for five days. I'm sad to report back that there wasn't quite enough arm-slicing for my liking (I would've liked a more lingering shot as he cut his tendons, for example) but regardless the film was a bloody masterpiece (no pun intended). Franco put in a cracking performance, to which he was rightly nominated for an Oscar, and Danny Boyle, as always, did a fantastic study of the human condition without it ever bordering on being too Hollywood or over-the-top. Put simply, it was fantastic, and a great way to start off what will hopefully be a fantastic year for movies.

First CD purchase (downloads don't count, I am old-fashioned when it comes to music) - Dark Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys - My Chemical Romance.
I bought two CDs at once, but the other turned out to be a two-disc DVD extravaganza, not a CD, (Sicnesses by Slipknot, in case anybody is interested). I purchased the newest MCR album because I got my little sister tickets to go see them for her birthday, and wanted to know at least some of the new songs so that I wouldn't be totally bored. Happily enough, despite its' pretentious title and the accompanying videos detailing the adventures of non-superheroes dressed in bright colours and stupid masks, Danger Days is a nice little album. The songs are upbeat, catchy and interesting, the riffs are clever and the underlying message is less heavy-handed and melancholy than their previous offering, The Black Parade. I'm not exactly a fan of MCR, but I don't hate them either. I saw them a few years ago and they played a pretty decent set, despite being bottled the entire time. They're the kind of band that I'd stick on every now and again, but in whom I'm not particularly invested. However, Danger Days really caught me by surprise and I'm happy to report that I'm still listening to it, weeks later.

First gig - My Chemical Romance, The O2.
As I've already mentioned, I got my little sis a ticket to this gig for her birthday (although it was a month beforehand). I tucked it into an incredibly naff Twilight card, sat back, and watched her freak out. We headed off fairly late (about 7) but still got reasonably close to the stage. The new layout of the O2 is great, because there's usually no pit (or at least I haven't seen one yet), which means getting much closer to the bands than I ever did when I was 15, or even 18. Anyway, the support bands were shit, that goes without saying. The Blackout looked like an ad for Topman, and played the kind of monotonous, unoriginal, whiny songs that teenagers looove to sing along to because...well, what's more fun than that at 15? But yeah, they sucked! Then, about a half hour before MCR took the stage, a load of photos flashed up on the screens on either side of us of the "fabulous Killjoys", in which I had absolutely no interest. Then, the lights dimmed, and on the sound system came the "Look alive, sunshine" opening (voiced by Steve Righ? of one of my favourite bands, Mindless Self Indulgence) which, I have to admit, gave me goosebumps. Gerard Way and co stormed through the awesome Na Na Na Na Na Na (I defy you not to jump around to this) as an incredible opening number, and what followed was a set that made me feel like I was 15 again, in the best possible way. Not only were they tight (much tighter than I remembered them being), but they chose their set perfectly - it was the best possible mix of old, new and Black Parade. I was particularly impressed with the addition of House Of Wolves, one of my favourite MCR songs, that I didn't expect at all because it was never a single. By the encore of Cancer and Vampires Will Never Hurt You (a brave choice, from their very first album) we were bruised and elated. My sister was thrilled with the show, and so was I. Let's see if The Blackout can do something similar in ten years time...

First piercing - lobe stretch, stage one.
This doesn't really count as a piercing, but I started the process of stretching my lobes, which sort of counts... It hurt more than I thought and it's gonna take months before they're the size I want them, but I don't mind, because it's all in good fun! And it only cost a tenner!

First tattoo - Lenore on my upper right arm.
I decided what better way to start my sleeve (I'm only planning on doing one, but we'll see how that goes) than with a piece of artwork by the unbelievably amazing Roman Dirge, whose comics I've loved since I was about 13! Luckily, Dirge himself is very heavily tattooed, so he supplies what he refers to as "dope ass tattoo flash" with lots of the Lenore comics. I chose my favourite (one of many, I'm sure) made it bigger, and that was that. My tattoo artist, loon that he is, loved it, and scheduled me in to get it done on my 23rd birthday. Unfortunately, after three hours in the chair, he realised it was going to take more than one sitting to finish. And, what had begun as three hours quickly became eight. Luckily, he gave me a massive discount and I didn't particularly mind the pain or annoyance because he's amazing and really good fun to be around and it looks incredible now that it's finished! It's full colour, very unusual and totally beautiful. I'll be getting it topped up in the summer, and I'll probably get lots more in the meantime, but for now this is probably my favourite tattoo yet! (I'd post a pic, but I think that's kind of naff).

First book - My Booky Wook 2 - Russell Brand.
I love Russell Brand, and his first autobiography had me laughing and crying like a sap. The second installment has a different tone, and I felt a bit ill when he wrote about how much he loves Katy Perry (besides the boobs, what more is there to her?) but overall it was an interesting, funny read, and really it just made me love him anymore. I got very into reading biographies last year, and it's definitely carried on into this year. I'm midway through Mark Kermode's at the moment and I'm loving it!

I can't think of any more firsts (no interesting ones, anyway) so I guess I'll leave it at that for now. I will make more time to blog, in an effort to keep some sort of record of what my life was really like in my 20s. Otherwise, I'm going to have a hard time writing my autobiography...

Song of the day: Placebo - Battle For The Sun.

Currently reading: It's only a movie - Mark Kermode. I love this man, and his book is just like him - smart, funny, silly and riveting.
Currently listening to: Fixed At Zero - Versaemerge. I love love love this band. I may even be flying to Leeds to see them in May because I can't bear to wait any longer!
Currently wearing: Lots and lots of DropDead stuff, cos it's amazing. In work, I'm keeping it classy with a rock 'n' roll twist. In my private life, I'm going all out because there's less and less time in which to do so now!!
Currently feasting my eyes on: Pretty much anything to do with Berlin, because I'm heading there after Rock im Park this summer. Also whatever Pokemon game I have for the DS!