Saturday 23 June 2018

We Don't Go Back #85: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

If Liquid Sky was an example of a film that I'd wanted to see for decades, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is possibly the best example of a film that I never wanted to see. It's not an issue of quality – in fact, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, in terms of cinematography, performance, technical artistry and structure, an exceptional horror movie, and in terms of its content, an essential folk horror. For me, it's entirely about content.

Everyone has their points of disconnect: for example, while I've never been unduly disturbed by the films of David Cronenberg and their mutant queering of the human body, I have at least two friends who can't cope with it at all. For me, my deal breakers, among the things I cannot usually personally bear to watch are cruelty towards or violence directed against children, zombies (for a whole raft of reasons), and murder by dismemberment, the industrial conversion of human flesh into raw, bloody meat. And I suppose that if I were to analyse that I'd say that while in, say, Existenz or Videodrome the flesh warps and changes, life persists and the transformation is ambivalent. But in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, we enter a human abattoir. We enter the realm of dead meat.

And I'm a vegetarian.

Spoiler warnings are, as per usual, for wimps, but there are spoilers, if, like me last week, you're one of the five horror fans who haven't seen it.

Thursday 21 June 2018

On a Thousand Walls #14: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

Quite a few of the films I've written about in the last couple of years focus on the experiences of children and adolescents, and mostly by children and adolescents I mean “girls”, and the most usual way you see them navigate the uncanny landscapes in which they find themselves is through being forced to engage with the mechanics of adulthood. And OK, I can't skirt round the fact that this means sexuality. In some films, we have the classic monsters of gothic horror standing in as straight metaphors for sexual awakening, so in The Company of Wolves, the young protagonist, in embracing her sexuality, embraces the werewolf and in Lemora, it's a vampire, and both are deeply ambivalent endings, since in both cases there's an embrace of violence and in both cases there's a sense that sexual agency means, for the young woman, a sort of exile from safety, comfort, and the general discourse of society. It means to become a monster.

In folk horror, the sense of isolation in these situations is part of the deal. It's almost that in the hidden rural corners that sit just outside of the borders of our community, these new adolescent monsters can find a place where they're not really monsters.

On the other hand, in a less isolated setting, the adolescent monster needs to negotiate the society of the crowd in a different way. In the 1976 film The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, rather than a character who winds up amounting to a vampire or a werewolf, we have what amounts to a more urban monster, the serial killer.

Thursday 14 June 2018

We Don't Go Back #84: The Levelling (2016)

The thing about British folk horror is that it comes from a specific time, a specific place. Folk horror is a function of hauntology, hauntology being that idea that we are haunted by unresolved history, that our landscape, whether urban or rural, has the ghosts of past sins encoded in its fabric. We only notice that history is unresolved when the present gives us reason for unrest. And when we feel that unrest, that feeling that perhaps the situation in which we're living is perhaps a little bit, you know, rubbish, then we're haunted.

Monday 11 June 2018

The Question in Bodies #14: Liquid Sky (1982)

(This post is also On a Thousand Walls #13)

Liquid Sky is a film I've wanted to see for nearly 30 years. Ever since it was in the list of inspirational movies in a sidebar in Mike Pondsmith’s first Cyberpunk game (I dug it out and looked, and found teenage me had ticked off the ones I'd seen like it was a checklist).

I suppose out of all those films I really wanted to see, it's the one that I took the longest to track down, and it's not like I spent the whole three decades waking up every day feeling sad because I hadn't yet seen Liquid Sky, because that's not how it works, but every so often, someone would mention it, or it'd come up in a discussion of cyberpunk films, or 80s cult movies, and I'd think, Yeah, I should get to that, and in the last decade or so that'd mean that I'd go see if you could get it on Amazon or eBay and I'd invariably find you couldn't, and shrug, and go and watch something easier to find, and that continued until a couple months ago, when I found that there was a region 0 Blu Ray/DVD box, only it was a fearsomely expensive import, and I ummed and I ahhed and eventually I decided that I had to, because every single other Great Elusive Film in my life I'd seen and there was only this one left, and dammit, it's been 29 years.

God, I was disappointed. Then I wasn't. Then I was. And then finally I wasn't. One thing is certain: I'm glad I wasn't 14 when I finally saw it. I wouldn't have had a hope of appreciating it, not least because it is an exceptionally sweary film.

Thursday 7 June 2018

The Question in Bodies #13: Phase IV (1974)

I appreciate that a film about killer ants doesn't immediately present itself as a shoo-in for a project about identity horror, but I think I'm on safe ground when I say that there is no film about killer ants that is quite like Phase IV. Spoilers, as ever.

Oh! And this post comes with an actual soundtrack, courtesy of Zeuk, the Wyrd Wonder of Cardiff, who composed and performed a suite of music especially for a screening of the complete Phase IV a few years back. 

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Cult Cinema #10: Manson Family Vacation (2015)

I was going to get to Charlie Manson and his Family eventually. It's an obligation, really, rather than something I especially want to do, a recognition that of all the weird little religious and pseudoreligious movements that have intruded on our culture, this one people remember. And it's nearly fifty years ago now, but it's one of the quintessential toxic cult stories, one of the pop cultural touchstones for cults in California, and it's got everything, whacked-out hippies and drugs and malleable minds getting warped by a charismatic leader and celebrities. And the standard take on it is pretty shallow: charismatic nutjob gathers group of impressionable young women, mainly for the purposes of having sex with them, insinuates himself into the lives of some celebrities, and then convinces his followers to murder a bunch of people in Beverly Hills, most famously Sharon Tate, then heavily pregnant. He's caught, tried, and spends the rest of his life in prison. He becomes iconic. He becomes a T-shirt design.

And it's that T-shirt we see Conrad (Linas Phillips) wear for much of J. Davis’s 2015 film Manson Family Vacation.

Friday 1 June 2018

We Don't Go Back #83: Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

A landmark: this, I've decided is the last essay that's going in the book. Thank the heavens it's a film I liked, albeit one with a content warning: Calvaire is a film that has male rape and bestiality in it.