Monday, October 22, 2012

15 Nights of Fright - Tobe Hooper Double Feature

Every night from now until Halloween Matt will be reviewing another of his 15 favorite horror films in a segment called 15 Nights of Frights. Slashers, monsters, aliens, and ghosts will all come out to play in the next two weeks and one day. So, find a safe place and leave the lights on while Matt gives his thoughts on all things frightening. Above The Film presents Ginger Geek Blog's 15 Nights of Fright.

Note: Due to my participation in the Tri-State Tough Mudder yesterday (Oct. 20th) I was unable to post Night of Fright, so in order to make up for it I will be packing two movies into one post.

Tonight's Frights:

Poltergeist (1982)
Do you remember something you were afraid of as a child that looking back now just seems silly? Maybe the old tree in your yard with the gnarly limbs, or maybe an old clown doll your family had. It's amazing what kind of terrible fears a child's mind can create of things that are truly harmless.

He always seemed just a little too eager to be my neighbor.

But, in 1982, a movie came along that would make all of those harmless things suddenly more frightening than they had ever been before.

I f*cking knew it.

Poltergeist, was born from the sometimes-twisted mind of Steven Spielberg, and is the story of a family living in housing development in California who's house is haunted by malevolent spirits. After being released from "The Other Side" by making a connection with the family's youngest daughter through an dead channel on the television the spirits terrorize the family. At first their actions are minor annoyances such as moving the kitchen chairs around or clouds of mosquitoes that seem to only be attracted to members of the family. When the family doesn't seem to get the rather unintelligible message of "get out" the spirits decide they need to escalate. In what may be one of the most frightening scenes a child could witness, the old gnarly tree outside of little Robbie's room busts through the window and pulls Robbie out of his bed, attempting to eat him. While the family scrambles to save Robbie, little Carol-Anne is left alone in her room where a portal to the other side opens in her closet, playing on the idea of the closet light she always asked for when going to bed, and sucks her into it.

This film knows how to take a child's fears and multiply them by 1,000. Ever since I saw Stephen King's IT on a family vacation while I was young I have had fear-turned-hatred of clowns since. This film does not help with that one bit. 

Not sleeping tonight, now. Thanks a lot, readers.

Yep, Poltergeist knows how to get to me, even today. Going back and watching this film even today I tense up when this scene approaches, and that is the mark of a true horror film. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen it, it will still get to you. So with that, let's take a look a nice little pallet cleanser that no one can claim Tobe Hooper didn't direct.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
It was close to two years ago, senior year of college that I took a class called Contemporary Criticism: Film. I believe the name was meant to sound more cultured than what it truly was; a class of watching horror films once a week. One of the first films we watched in this class was the 1974 original Texas Chainsaw Massacre because it was my professor's favorite horror film and one she felt was a good way to dive into our material. I had thought about digging out my notes we took on the film from then, but then remembered I hardly ever took notes.

While I did my overview/review of Friday the 13th a few days ago I talked about Halloween being the movie that made masked-killers popular in slasher films after it's release, but I did not mention the fact that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the film that started the masked killer concept. As the film opens it claims that the story of freaks living in a secluded house and terrorizing teens was a true story, but in fact it was not a true story at all.

Yes, I too enjoy the uncanny similarity.

Hooper claims that his intentional misinformation toward the audience was done as a statement about the lies the people are fed by the government every day. At a time of Watergate, an oil crisis, and Vietnam Hooper felt the lies we were told and terrible violence we were shown in the news proved "man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film."

In terms of a slasher film it's obvious that Chainsaw was a stepping stone for so many films after it, but truly it wasn't the gore or the kills that Leatherface carries out that are the scary part of this film. Sure throwing pretty young women onto meat hooks or chainsawing a boy in a wheelchair into pieces is terrible, gross, and all kinds of rude but nothing is truly more off-putting than psychosis of Leatherface and his entire family. While crazy people who wear masks made of flesh and decide to kill people is disturbing, what truly disturbs me when watching this film is the utter joy and somewhat sexual thrill the members of this family seem to get from taunting, frightening, and torturing Sally, the main female character of the film. 

After being knocked unconscious, Sally awakens tied to a chair (with skeleton arms for arms *rimshot*) at table while Leatherface, the hitchhiker, and the gas station attendant (spoiler alert: they're all in on it) are eating dinner. Across from her is what looks like a corpse of a man, but in face turns out to be their barely living "grandpa." As Sally screams, the men scream and howl along to mock her. She begs for them to stop and let her go while the hitchhiker rubs her face, puts his fingers in her mouth, and leatherface plays with her hair. Did I mention that Leatherface is now wearing a dress and his lipstick on his dead-skin-mask? Well yeah, that happened too. The entirety of the move has been jump scare frightening and creepy with the dead-animal decoration motif in the house, but it is at this point that the film gets unnerving. Watching these men just toy with this girl before the ultimately get around to killing her is worse than all the wheelchair-chainsawings in the world combined. Even after she gets free and attempts to flee seeing the hitchhiker brother chase after her where he seems to be skipping and flailing like an idiot the whole time before he gets close enough to constantly slash her across the back with a knife just shows how they don't even take this seriously, it's almost a game to them. Blood and violence and monsters can be scary for some but I think things, especially movies, that stick with you are the ones that are just truly unnerving.

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