Horror films, even a comedic kids creature flick like Gremlins 2, need to have a monster. Sometimes the monsters are human, as in Psycho and Cannibal Holocaust. Sometimes it is an animal, as in Cujo and Jaws. Or it could be aliens, a ghost, vampires, a haunted snowman, or even the devil himself. The point is that the tension and conflict at the heart of every horror film comes from some version of the monstrous. In 1984’s Gremlins, the monsters were the gremlins themselves. The same is true of Gremlins 2. However, the film also sprinkles in a few bad guys who initially seem like they could emerge as monsters in their own right. But, none of these human bad guys are given the full commitment and power of a true monster.
Author: Deirdre Crimmins
In director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, everything is as it seems. A highly stylized dive into the corrupt world of high fashion modeling, the film is a natural fit for symbolism. The lush visual imagery is the most important facet of the film, with the plot coming in a distant second. It is one of the beautiful films that emphasize form over function. That being said, the film’s deliberate and careful themes coexist with the visual storytelling rather than fighting against it. Certain themes in the film are direct reflections of the pretty images dancing on screen. Notably, the interconnection of two of these themes, innocence and superficiality, is one of the more pervasive voices throughout The Neon Demon.
According to postmodernism, and cynics, nothing is new anymore. Every story has already been told. Cinephiles know that certainly feels true, with all of the remakes and sequels getting big-budget releases nowadays. But this has nearly always been the case. Looking back at some of the greatest and most dearly cherished films and stories through history it is easy to recognize classic mythological narratives and patterns. It is the interpretations and application of these formulas that distinguish them from one another and make a film succeed or fail.
I choose to believe in Drop Dead Fred.
Fred (Rik Mayall) is the central imaginary friend in 1991’s universally panned DROP DEAD FRED. The production quality is lackluster, the score hokey, the negative characters are caricatures, the premise odd, and I can only imagine that this adult film about imaginary friends was a nightmare to market, so much of the criticism is warranted. However, I can’t help but adore Fred and the adventures he gets into.
There is no denying that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a cinematic triumph. It is still the only horror film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and it continues to terrify. Though it balances psychological horror with body horror against the backdrop of a police procedural, there is something extra- something sinister—which makes the film stand out. For me, it is the unsettling intimacy of the film’s two monsters and their victims.
The timelessness of any film is difficult to gauge. I’ve found that the films I hold dear, and declare timeless, have in fact aged along with the rest of us mortals. The hairstyles and costumes show their age, just as much as my old middle school yearbooks do. But what does not age is nostalgia. In fact, nostalgia grows stronger as timeliness fades. But logically we know that there must be certain films that hold their own, despite our emotional attachment to them. Beyond the quality of a film, there are certain factors that prolong its shelf life when compared to its contemporaries.
Despite their best efforts, witches do not always get the respect they deserve, especially in the movies. For every frightening THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT there is an equally silly TEEN WITCH. Whether they are historically inspired (THE WITCH), embodying the wiccan religion (THE CRAFT), or wearing pointy hats and cackling (WIZARD OF OZ), witches tend not to stay too far from the collective understanding of what witches do. THE WITCHES, however, exists outside of these previously established witchy notions and redefines witch mythology, which is one of the many reasons it is such a standout film.
Cynics have a tough time during February. We are surrounded by the Hallmark romanticism of Valentine’s Day with every turn. Even those who seem so grounded get swept up during these few weeks. As a romantic cynic, it is tough for me to fully dive in to a romantic film; so many of them are saccharine, and ring hollow to us non-believers. Rob Reiner’s now classic THE PRINCESS BRIDE is different. Though it is drenched in romance and love, the inclusion of cynics within the film make it more relatable, and ultimately persuade the darkest hearts over to the lighter side.
In May of last year, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was released in the theaters, and it felt like a welcome punch to the face. We had not seen such a fast-pace, thrilling film with heavy substance in a long time. The film is stylish, the effects are largely practical, and its feminist voice rings so clear it would be very difficult to plausibly deny. Since then, much has been written about the film’s commentary on the role of women. This includes the role of women both in the film (Furiosa, her clan of warriors, and the breeders) as well as the women behind the scenes (in regards to Hollywood’s mostly male movie-making machine). Rather than add to the chorus of writing itemizing and idolizing the innate feminism of George Miller’s latest (all of which is richly deserved, mind you), I’d rather take a little time to look at the other half of gender representation in the film. Namely, how does MAD MAX: FURY ROAD construct masculinity?
Tim Burton is all about extremes. Though his most recent film, BIG EYES, was a fairly straightforward biopic, his earlier films were stylistically far departures from our typical realities. Often his films feature two opposing factions, and the fun part begins when the two halves meet. BEETLEJUICE is where the dead met the living. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (which Burton produced, but did not direct) is where Christmas meets Halloween. The fissure between worlds in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is much easier to see and feel than it is to describe. While there are many obvious ways to contrast Edward’s (Johnny Depp) world with the suburban pressure cooker he briefly visits, it can be especially interesting to look at the role of industry and mass production in these two worlds, as that is where Burton is especially murky.