The 1980s were an incredible time for practical effects, and a great time for horror films. The unique and terrifying cinematic experiences made during this era — from The Thing to Hellraiser — owe much to masterful animatronics and other practical effects. But there’s one film that seldom gets brought up in the horror special effects conversation: The Company of Wolves.
Category: Scene Analysis
At the end of Army of Darkness, the final film the Evil Dead trilogy, we see our hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell) back at his workaday job as a clerk at S-Mart department store. Having just survived a barrage of challenges after being transported back to the Middle Ages (everything from dangerously skeptical knights to monstrous Deadites), Ash looks comfortable and assured in his familiar, modern-day surroundings. Ever the show-off, Ash brags that the people he encountered in the 1300’s – from commoners to royalty – offered him the chance “to lead them, to teach them, to…be king.” Ash’s cockiness is soon disrupted by the shocking appearance of a female customer-turned-Deadite. Despite her promises to swallow Ash’s soul, the Deadite is quickly defeated by our hero’s wily sarcasm and rapid-fire shotgun blasts.
During the first few seconds of John Wick: Chapter 2, the motorcycle sequence from Buster Keaton’s 1924 film, Sherlock Jr. is projected on the side of a building in New York City. This is no accident: The influence Keaton has on the John Wick franchise and action movies is immense. Technological advances aside, the influence is easy to discern: the stunt work, the cinematography, even the fundamental use of physical action as a form of storytelling. But while action movies have long exuded a serious, no-funny-business demeanor, John Wick: Chapter 2 honors another enduring element of Keaton’s work: slapstick.
Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film The Lower Depths is set in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and is about the poor tenants of a rundown residence. In this featured scene we see three, and then four, men circle dance using traditional hand movements. From their simple “stage” to the faux flautist, these peasants are performing their own rustic version of Noh Mai, which is a form of Japanese dance theatre typically enacted to music made by hand held drums and flutes.
Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark tells the story of Caleb, a naïve young man who falls for the winsome blonde vampire Mae and finds himself struggling to adjust to her nighttime world of murder and mayhem. Transformed by a bite from Mae, Caleb nevertheless struggles with the morality of feeding on humans. Bigelow’s vision of star-crossed love among bloodsuckers is at once wildly romantic and frankly gruesome. It offers a rare mix of beauty and ugliness – grace and brutality.
According to Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the protagonist of Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut Pi, math is a language – a series of distinct characters, each with values that, when strung together in an equation, express a new value. It is like Spanish, or music, or code. Yet Max’s assumption, though, is that math is not just any language but the language of nature. And it is this assumption that drives Max to search for a pattern within the mathematical constant pi so as to explain the operations of the universe, a pattern he believes he can find in the stock market.
The confessional scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal follows Antonios Block (Max von Sydow) as he struggles through a crisis of faith. The film’s opening sequence sees the physical embodiment of Death (Bengt Ekerot) come for the knight’s life but, for reasons explained during the confession scene, Block challenges Death to a game of chess to decide his fate. Traveling through a country devastated by the Black Death, Block is also dealing with the societal wreckage left in its wake. His confession in this scene is a direct response to his confrontation with the personification of Death and the actual death he has already encountered.
In horror and sci-fi films, female characters are too often the victim of the male gaze. Some might offer Ripley’s disrobing scene in Alien as a classic example. However, the mise-en-scene and cinematography of the scene disrupt the sexualizing possibility of the male gaze, and instead highlight the vulnerability of the human form.
Questions of humanity and authenticity have always been at the heart of the Blade Runner universe. In Ridley Scott’s original film, Rick Deckard a “blade runner,” administers an “empathy test” meant to distinguish humans from realistic androids known as replicants, and fans have spent well over three decades debating whether Deckard himself is a replicant. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), deftly maintains a sense of ambiguity regarding Deckard’s origins, and also finds new ways to wrestle with the question of what it means to be “real.”
Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940) teems with witty quips, perfect responses, and enough cigarette smoke to blot out the sun. Consider the film’s second scene where we are introduced to retired reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her former boss and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant). This meeting not only sets up the characters and their prior conflict, but through a momentary breakdown in the motor-mouth dialogue, we also get a glimpse at how the film will resolve itself.