Spooktober Day 17: Scream

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Yep, another Craven! While this is a similarly iconic entry into the horror-world, this pioneered a change that would continue to be reverberated over time. At the time it was an affirmation that, yes, this genre can still be creative. Thank the stars.

This is a favorite among many fans of the genre, and while I have seen it a lot and I recognize that it guided a generation, it’s not top-tier for me, but that doesn’t negate the fact that its influence was seen and felt, still to this day. Wes Craven reinvigorated a sleepy genre once more. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is the matured, self-assured Craven, which makes for a wonderful evolution for the director.

This comes on the precipice of a fourth Scream movie arriving next year (oddly just named “Scream” which seems wildly confusing) and it’s got me reflecting on the franchise, and the most obviously, for a variety reasons- the best one (though 2 is also great).

A mysterious killer hunts a group of high school students in the town of Woodsboro, California. With stars of the time like Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard at the helm, that power is just one of the many reasons, Scream is still going strong.

source: Dimension Films

Not only is it the O.G which always carries with a certain level of authority, but there’s also a way that Craven melds the newness and self-awareness of horror with reflections on the old slashers of the past, that makes this something special.

Something I love about Scream is that it doesn’t age. While some of the sequels most definitely do, there’s a sense of a pristine time-capsule like essence with this movie.

I remember when I saw this when it came out. This, I Know What You Did Last Summer and also, Urban Legend because it makes sense, as always, with movies to pile on a theme/trend when something works, were all very present at this time. I liked them all for different reasons, but when I saw Scream I loved the self-referential aspect, and also the schlocky humor. Who was the killer? The fun was in the discovery. Not to mention, a villain that has a mask similar to a famous painting that quizzes people on their horror movie skills? Sign me up please! Wes Craven does it again, with a new decade, and a new appreciation for the genre (also don’t sleep on the his 2005’s Red Eye).

source: Dimension Films

The writing, the music, and the performances/characters all were inspired, and influenced by the time they were formed. I can’t watch this movie without feeling the sensation of the 90s, and even in the most cheesiest of lines, I can’t help but feel a sort of comfort. That’s one of those lovely aspects of film that will never die. It’s like handprints in cement, even as time passes, there’s proof it was there, then, and it doesn’t lose it. It’s deft, hilarious, and ultimately, a huge part of the cinematic horror world.

Even if there’s a bit of tiredness as they continue the saga (for some, yet somehow, I’m still in it- though not assured in my reasoning), the characters and actors are a big part of what has made Scream the force that it is. Does anyone not know who Sydney Prescott is? That’s pretty powerful. It’s meta, irreverent, a bit farce, but also tied in with moments of actual frights- it’s still a horror after all.

Through reinvention and self-awareness, Scream woke us up, and bought the slasher genre to new, fun, bloody heights.

Spooktober Day 4: Misery

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

So much of Misery’s “charm” lies in the subtleties, in the obscure corners. While you might be thinking “Wait, what? Annie Wilkes is about as subtle or charming as a… [enter potential expletive here] it’s really quite true. Let’s consider this: Misery is primarily in one central location (nearly just one room) with a focal point of two main characters who try to psychologically outdo the other, and yet, it never feels forced. For this kind of a setup to work, a lot has to come together, and in many ways, the smaller- less obvious parts, are what makes it so great.

Stephen King knows how write an epic story. And, Rob Reiner knows how to make a King adaptation work (see, Stand By Me). Misery proves this as he delivers a suspenseful, unsettling, film. It isn’t always a guarantee when adapting the imaginative work of King, but when it clicks, it clicks.

source: Columbia Pictures

Famed writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just finished his newest piece, enjoying the high that comes from completion, heading back to NYC from within the snow covered mountains. When his car goes off the road during a storm he’s rescued by his number one fan (how lucky!) Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a nurse who wants to make sure he’s back in tip top shape. Mhmm.

Misery Love Company

I first saw Misery as a young teenager, and I was pleased to say that I was adequately disturbed. It had this admirable blend of tones that had me feeling as confined and confounded as Paul. I was also impressed because the performances were just so stellar. I had known Caan from my love of The Godfather, and Kathy Bates from Fried Green Tomatoes, and this was nothing like either. I was sold on these portrayals, and I’m not surprised, but quite pleased, that Bates won an Oscar for it.

Despite the fact that Misery is most certainly a horror, it’s also never skimps on the humor. In a discomforting way, it makes the terror even more potent. Every time I laugh watching it, the film reminds me moments later why the laughter will eventually die out.

This dual-sided title (another one of King’s wonderful wordplays) is not only shown, but felt. There’s a tension that festers early, and only builds as we discover Wilke’s real intentions, and the scope of her capabilities. Soon, we notice her mood swings, her intense anger, and the extent of her delusions. As an audience, the sinking realization arrives just as it does for Paul.

This is not good.

source: Columbia Pictures

Her duality is deftly delivered as Annie can offer warmth and the idea of sanctuary in one hand, while the other wields a sledgehammer. Annie’s idolization of Paul is disorienting. She wants the book she feels fans deserve, not what he has written. This makes her hostile, violent, and ultimately- tragic. Both of our main actors are transformed in these roles, with a nearly hypnotic push and pull between the two. It makes it difficult to not be wrapped up in this suspense filled examination of fandom gone, very, very, wrong.

A smile and a hobbling, what’s more horrifying than that?

There’s such a perceptible anxiety that feeds the psychological cat and mouse. There’s something scary about a person that can turn on a dime as fast as Bates does (and there are certainly some sinister scenes). As a viewer you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what she’s going to do next. She becomes obsessively dependent on what Paul writes, and what happens to the title character, Misery. The demand of her brand of “art” straight from the artist, eludes to King’s own expectations that have been put on him by fans. While there’s a lot of dark comedy and Bate’s unique choice of expressions “The Cock-A-Doodie Car”, expect a growing unease to form in your stomach, and in one particular scene… jump up into your throat.

Ouch.

I have to give kudos to the cute bickerings between the sheriff Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen, as his wife, providing brief intermissions of comic relief. The script by William Goldman ensures that this King’s adaptation is done its justice, giving this character study its bones, with the memorable performances as the lifeblood.

Utilizing close up shots of Bate’s masterful spin on the female villainy (sometimes too much), Misery works because it hits the gas, let’s go of the wheel, and sees what happens. It’s engaging, taut, and miserable…in all the right ways.

Spooktober Day 3: A Nightmare on Elm Street

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

What makes Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher so iconic?

I was introduced to horror at a young age. When I got the “bug” we’ll say, I was hooked. I was laughing when it was funny, cringing when there was cause, and always, wanting more. In a lot of ways my young noggin really benefited from the exposure to the genre I hold so dear, because it allowed an already intriguing introduction to take hold, and to firmly take root. I love all kinds of film, and I’d be hardpressed to say one particular genre or film that is above the rest. But, I love horror because of its endless applications- its the chameleon of movies because it can be so many things, make you feel so much, while being one of the areas that can truly be creative. Are there limitations? No, there certainly, amazingly, are not.

Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) are the main teenagers in the throes of potential death and blade-fingered induced injuries. It seems everyone is having the same dream with a man covered in burns, with a either badass wardrobe or a lazy one, depending on your reception, with blades for fingers. The worst part? What happens in your dreams, happens in real life. And he is not the kind of guy you want to dream about. Robert Englund embodies Freddy with equal parts fun and horror, delivering an over the top, thrill.

source: New Line Cinema

When I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street I was quite dazzled. I know, probably not the word choice that most would choose, but it’s true. I was really intrigued by the idea of a killer who attacks while you are sleeping. Despite how upending nightmares can truly be, there’s always the exhale of relief when you wake, knowing that in your waking hours, you’re okay.

Like the best of horrors do, it imaginatively ruminates on our vulnerabilities, and, now, 37 years later, it’s still doing it. It’s a unique concept, that is universally terrifying, brought to fruition in a campy delivery, and plenty of one -occasionally eek- liners.

Blurring Dreams & Reality

For its time, A Nightmare on Elm Street’s originality was a sought after ideal. Since it’s origin it has spawned multiple sequels (most that are meehhh) as well as a reboot that even Rooney Mara couldn’t save. Freddy, as a slasher icon, is still renowned, still personified, and a recurring Halloween-costume. Why? Because he sticks the landing.

I think there’s something to be said about anything that stands the test of time. I’d like to think if I was a six year old now I’d be equally fascinated.

Although I couldn’t imagine a different Nancy, I never felt the performance was a stand out. In a lot of ways, even the portrayal by Depp feels a little off, and the dialogue can be a bit…silly. The reason that none of this bothers me? Because this film is so undoubtedly 80s. It breathes and thrives in this decade, between the costumes, the dialogue, and soft-focus, glamour shot feel.

source: New Line Cinema

It really enables the dream landscape created by Craven. When you watch A Nightmare on Elm Street you are persuaded into a terror- fantasy realm that even in its less effective moments, insists on immersion.

As I said, campy…fun.

I have no doubt that A Nightmare on Elm Street will continue to hold its coveted place in horror history. With a mix of originality and camp, coming from a genuine fear, it’s a film that can’t be replicated.