The Exorcist; or We’re Going to need an Old Joke and a Young Joke

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we wonder just what has kept us from reviewing a film that is so important to the horror genre for so long. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they settle in for a nice evening in to only hear a strange scratching in the attic, leaving them to allow their pea soup to cool as they go to see what is going on.

Today’s Film Offering: The Exorcist

Andy: I have a confession to make.

Horror Film-A-Holics Anon Meeting Goers: You’re safe here. Go on.

Andy: I hadn’t seen this film until two years ago.

Lilly: But. I had been making the ‘I’m going to need an old priest and a young priest’ joke for ages before than!

Andy: I know!

Lilly: I referred to certain shades of green as ‘Linda Blair green’!

Andy: I know! I know!

Lilly: It must have been so confusing!

Andy: It was!

Horror Film-A-Holics Anon Meeting Goers: Stone the non-believer! Stone the heretic!

Lilly: Well. That’s a bit much, but…

Better get on with this review before we delve too much more into the trauma of a life without The Exorcist.

51A9BEVEQVL._SY445_.jpgThe Exorcist is the story of a mother (Chris) who is worried about her daughter (Reagan) and the illness she is developing. This is no case of the chicken pox, doctors soon rule out, since most cases of that do not involve levitating and speaking in tongues. At least not any I’ve seen. Soon enough, she is at her wit’s end. Enter one of my favourite characters in horror, Father Damien Karras. A priest troubled by the recent passing of his mother, he takes on the case of Reagan’s possession with the help of a more experienced priest, Merrin, played by the brilliant Max von Sydow. But will it be that easy? Will it take just some faith?

Andy: I think we’re all guilty at some point of feeling a certain amount of resentment to movies that people tell us are classics over and over and over again and then they never, ever live up to the hype.

This is the exception that proves the rule. It genuinely is that good.

Of course, you already knew that, as I was the last person on the planet to watch it.

Lilly: Yeah, previously undiscovered settlements make the old priest and a young priest joke.

The Exorcist is a horror film that even did the rarest of rare–it reached commercial success in mainstream outlets. And for good reason. It explored topics such as religious belief, the limitations of medicine and a mother’s love to cure what ails a child’s soul, and self sacrifice.

You can go deeper than all that, too. You can explore what the film says about female sexuality (think of all those things Reagan says, and how Chris is perceived as a single mother), the Catholic church (as it is heavily implied that Merrin was the one who released the demon into the world, something that would go on to hurt a young child, partnered with the constant struggle between good and evil), about Karras’ ascension towards his ultimate martyrdom by the fact that he is constantly shot going up stairs or standing up, rising every time he appears, to even the subversion of two men in black robes being the good guys versus an innocent child.

So much. So good. I could go on for a while about all this. I really could.

Andy: As people who are far too young to remember the sixties, it is really interesting to see a film that not only acknowledges the generation gap that existed at the time, but jackknives an eighteen wheeler into the middle of it, too. To add to that long list.

Lilly: Honestly, this is a film I want to gush about. It’s got faults, sure, but…I don’t care. It’s powerful, it’s well scripted, and it clearly has a staying power in the modern world of horror to still influence makers today. From The Conjuring 2 through to a specific challenge on Rupaul’s Drag Race featuring a disembodied head that draws its lines from the possessed Reagan’s demonly wiles, you can’t escape The Exorcist, and you really shouldn’t want to.

This is a big thumbs up from us, and while this is a short review, it is because to say more would risk talking about it for ages–it truly is a Hallowfest favourite, so go, watch, and enjoy!

And if you want to talk about any of those themes at length, come on at find us on twitter, or comment here!

Advertisements

The Shining; or All Work and No Play is a Typical Work Week, Jack

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another How Have We Not Reviewed this Wednesday, where we take a look at ourselves and a look at our review choices. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, just as they are about to check in to a certain (in)famous hotel, even if they have their doubts that they were imagining the blood they just saw get off the elevator.

Today’s film offering: The Shining

download (1)Andy: The Shining. What can we possibly say about it that nobody has ever said before?

Not a lot really. This movie has been poured over, picked apart, and ground to a fine powder enough that they even made another movie just to explore all of the theories – Room 237. It regularly appears on lists as one of the greatest horror movies ever, it features one of the most iconic and over-referenced scenes in horror (Heeere’s Johnny!) and is maddeningly ambiguous enough for people to genuinely think it was about Kubrick confessing to faking the moon landing. Seriously.

Lilly: Basically, all we can add is ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s at this point, frankly.

Andy: So, what makes it so bizarrely compelling to such a large number of people? Well, last year I criticised the 1999 remake The Haunting, a movie that removed the ambiguity of whether there are in fact any ghosts in the house, prevalent in the original novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Here, Kubrick essentially does the opposite. In the (pretty decent) Stephen King original, the hotel is definitely haunted, and we learn an awful lot of the backstory of what made the hotel so messed up. Kubrick threw almost all of that out.

Lilly: Plot maybe?

Andy: Kind of.

We spend almost all of our time with our three protagonists, and all the supernatural goings-on are witnessed through them. We’ve seen unreliable narrators before, obviously (a personal favorite being Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), but never quite like this. The movie is filled with moments which on a first viewing you can miss, but that you’ll kick yourself for another time through. For example, Jack never looks directly at a ghost when speaking to them. Instead, he looks into a nearby mirror. You can’t unsee it, and it’s seriously off kilter.

Lilly: And on the umpteenth viewing, you are questioning why anyone would ever go anywhere with Jack because he’s a huge creep and there is no two ways about it–it’s not like he is ever a comfortable presence. I can’t tell when he goes insane because he always sounds insane to me. There is always that underlying aggression. But then, I suppose that is why the hotel has the effect it does.

There is something in The Shining that makes us go back, though. Something that drives a documentary, something that has me rewatching, something that still holds on to those who return to it again and again.

So for those of you who haven’t seen it (HOW!), The Shining is a story of a man and his family who take on the role of caretakers at The Overlook hotel for their closed winter season. Seems like they don’t have a regular guy to do that anymore for reasons (mumblemumble murder mumble madness mumble), so Jack and his wife (and little Doc, too!) head up to what could only be a long winter of tending to pipes and making sure nothing breaks too horribly. Plus, Jack will have time to write his book! Finally! A story about a writer from Stephen King, imagine that!

Andy: GASP well color me shocked.

Lilly: Anyway, we then get introduced to the notion of ‘the shining’, a power Doc and a friendly hotel worker share and really only gets used like once in the film but sure, relevant enough for the title. The shining is the ability to see things that aren’t there, or to see the future, or to talk to each other in your mind, or to have a little guy in your finger named Tony or…whatever it is, it is helpful, okay?

So, the hotel isn’t all it seems (or is exactly what it seems since it looks terrifying) and something (or someone) starts poking and prodding at the sanity of the family members as they go about their days. It is only a matter of time, a viewer can quickly glean, before someone breaks.

Perhaps that is what brings me specifically back for viewings. Maybe the desire to watch for more and more little details as to who is going to break brings me back. Even though I know what is going to happen (and even knew before I saw it thanks to a slumber party and a friend recounting the story as if it was a true story that happened to a friend of a friend of a friend, not to mention The Simpson’s spoof, The Shinning), I still find pleasure in the little touches that Kubrick and crew put into the film to bring you in on the secret of The Overlook.

Andy: An example, and a personal favorite, is that if you pay attention, the external building and the internal layout make absolutely no sense whatsoever and bear no relation to each other. It’s one of those things, like the mirror thing, where unconsciously you’ll know something’s off, but it takes real effort to actually spot it.

So I take it we’re recommending this one.

Lilly: Well, what do you think?

Andy: Bonus fun: if you get stuck watching this with a pair of insufferable bores who love this movie (like us!), watch for and loudly point out the visible helicopter shadow seen in the opening. It’s a great movie, an intriguing movie, almost an addictive movie, but it’s not quite perfect.

Hellraiser; or The Music Video for Tainted Love is Way More Intense Than We Remember

Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we pick up our own slack and review those big name films we know you were dying to hear our opinions on all these many years of Hallowfest! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, two writers in the further regions of experience who are demons to some and angels to others.

Today’s Film Offering: Hellraiser

Lilly: Whoa.

Andy: You OK?

Lilly: Yeah just … give me a minute.

Andy: Get a glass of water or something. Or have a mint out of the box. NO NOT THAT BOah damn.

Cenobite: YOU RANG.

Andy: Yeah, sorry mate, we did the thing with the mints again.

Cenobite: YOU NEED TO STOP STORING INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTALS ON YOUR COFFEE TA-

Andy: Yeah, yeah I know.

51StiQZskKLAnyway. Hellraiser is one of the largest franchises we haven’t covered in any way, shape or form. Based on a novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart (way to spoil the ending, dude) there are no less than 9 movies in the series, with a 10th due sometime this year.

Lilly: Wait, what! I’m in. I’ve seen none of the other eight, will that be a problem? Whatever, I got time!

Cenobite: ACTUALLY THEY DECLINE IN QUALITY AFTER THE SECOND INSTALLMENT.

Lilly: That is surprisingly self-critical and meta of you, Cenobite.

Andy: WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?

It’s also fairly unusual as far as horror franchises go. It’s British, for a start, as is Barker, and he directed and wrote the screenplay for the first movie. It’s a long running horror franchise that ISN’T a slasher, and it also began in 1987, at a time when most other franchises were merrily beginning to plow themselves into the ground. The worst offender, Friday the 13th, was between Part VI and VII. In a market well past its late-70s prime, this is shockingly original.

The plot involves a man called Frank, a jaded man seeking new extremes of sensation. Purchasing a puzzle box in a Marrakech (or somewhere like it) he solves it – opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate pleasure and pain: indeed a place where the distinction between the two is essentially meaningless. And in the opening move of what promises to be a deeply unpleasant experience, he is torn apart by rusty hooks. Exit Frank.

Lilly: Oh, PS, this movie is super graphic.

Andy: Some time later (months? years?) his brother Larry moves into his house with his British (read: uptight) wife, Julia. As we here at Hallowfest know all too well, moving house is a pain in the ass; and in Larry’s case thanks to a rusty nail, the hand. A few drops of blood on the attic floor later, and Frank is back minus a few essentials. Like his skin.

Frank has some kind of hold over Julia through the power of boning, and convinces her to bring her more blood to help restore his body. Meanwhile, Kristy, Larry’s daughter, realises her stepmother is up to no good and investigates. And of course, the Cenobites, nightmarish denizens of the other realm, are not too happy about Frank escaping their clutches…

Lilly: So this film was a thing.

First things first–holy wow, this was an exploration of how far people go for pleasure. Hellraiser is at the core a nasty, gorey journey towards sexual fulfillment that sees pain as being part of the experience. Acceptable and consensual adult s&m relationships are turned up to eleven by Frank’s ever growing need for more dangerous stimuli. Unfortunately for him, the Cenobites go all the way up to twenty seven (see: rusty hooks). It does give a whole new meaning to ‘aftercare’, though.

I need to talk about the Cenobites. Seriously. I want to talk about them at length, and try and figure out what the heck I was seeing. I loved them. They were confusing ins-and-outs of orifices and piercings and oh all that leather–a symbol of extreme that transcends Heaven and Hell, clearly. I love how they were visibly walking the walk of their gospel. One of them is so hardcore, he doesn’t even have a face! I mean. That’s dedication. Or mutation? Who knows!

Cenobite: WE’RE NOT MUTATIONS. MORE MUTILATIONS.

Andy: Was that a PUN? NOBODY OUTPUNS ME IN MY OWN HOME I’LL KI-

Lilly: Whoa now! First off, don’t bother threatening him, he’ll just like it. Second off, I’m not cleaning up your bits they nail to a spinning display. I’m just not.

For creatures that have no basis in…anything? Any mythology known to my simple mind, the Cenobites march out on screen in the first few minutes of the film and take command of the space like true proud dom/mes. I wanted to see more, wanted to know more, and honestly am now pressuring poor Andy to watch more of the series so I can watch these loveable creeps in action.

The best part is that these terrifying beings aren’t even really evil. They operate on a whole different level than humanity, so it can appear as such, but they are just pushing the limits of what is pleasure and what we understand as pleasure to the extremes that the human flesh can withstand (and then just past that). They only appear when summoned, the ultimate submission needed. You need to request that they do what they do so well. Oh, and figure out a weird rubix cube for horny people. You have to do that, too.

Andy: There are very, very few works that get to the core ideas of H. P. Lovecraft as well as this. His elder gods are not evil, per se – they are simply vast, unknowable and operate without our concepts of what is right and fair. Ash’s “perfect organism” without “delusions of morality” in Alien is one, but it can’t talk. The Cenobites can, and every sentence out of their mouths is coherent, consistent, and utterly indifferent to the unfortunate mortals who stumble into their path.

Instead, the film asks us to consider who the real monsters are – the Cenobites, alien, unknowable and outside our own limited senses and perceptions? Or is it Julia and Frank, the sordid, down-to-earth, flawed humans who make terrible choices?

Lilly: Or is it the weird upside monster thing that defies gravity? Who knows!

Andy: Yeah, what is that thing?

Cenobite: NO IDEA.

Lilly: I really don’t find that comforting at all.

Hellraiser is the sort of film you hear about for years, followed by groans of remembrance of ‘that scene’ (which is different for everyone) and sniggers due to it being about sex. But it’s not just that. It’s about the morality of pleasure and the limits that can be stretched and, a bit troublingly, about how once you say yes to that world, there is no going back.

Andy: It’s also not perfect – Clive Barker is a writer first, and clearly a director a distant second, the result being that it’s shot like a really gory TV movie. But the ideas it has, the broader implications of its story, mean that I did not regret one bit jumping in on this franchise, er, 30 years late.

Lilly: So do we recommend this film? A hearty ‘yes please!’ from me.

Andy: And me!

Cenobite:

Andy: What now?

Cenobite: I PREFER CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Andy: …Trust us to get one from the Hipster Dimension. How do we close this box again?

Night of the Living Dead; or Just Pick a Room and Barricade it, Guys

Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesdays, where we shamble slowly in the direction of classics we’ve somehow missed until now! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who are definitely, definitely coming to get you, Barbara.

Today’s Film Offering: Night of the Living Dead

Andy: Occasionally, very occasionally, people ask us if there are any ‘core’ texts to horror movies; ones that you have to watch, to get under your belt so to speak. Personally, I would say that I don’t find people encouraging that kind of attitude to be helpful. If you’ve only seen Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, that doesn’t make you less of a fan than someone who has seen every one of Lucio Fulci’s movies and then hung out with his composer. It’s an enthusiast genre, and if someone is gatekeeping rather than ramming their suggestions down your throat, something is wrong.

Lilly: Call Andy Sir Mix-A-Lot because it sounds like he likes big ‘but’(t)s…

Andy: Night of the Living Dead however–

Lilly: Called it.

Andy: Well, it may be as close to this idea as I will get. Due to copyright weirdness, it’s actually, legally free to watch online, but that’s not the only reason you should watch it. What we have here, from 1968, is the first truly modern horror movie.

I first saw this when I was far too young, staying up far too late, and laid awake for the rest of the night. Not because I was scared. Because I was disturbed.

Seriously. Go and watch anything made by Hammer or AIP from the same year, and then watch this. It’s on a completely different level. It’s a brutal movie, shot unflinchingly in a beautiful, bleak monochrome. It’s been remade, remixed, ripped off, referenced and revered more than perhaps any other horror movie, but it remains painfully, awesomely unique; both revolutionary and perfectly of its time.

Lilly: Feel like we could skip to the ‘do we recommend this?’ bit right now. Spoiler, we do!

Andy: Anyway, the plot is relatively straightforward. On a trip to the graveyard, Johnny teases his nervous sister Barbara about a man in the graveyard. He says he’s coming to get her.

Lilly: His teasing is easily one of the most quotable moments in the film, fyi. But do go on!

Andy: Trouble is, the man is coming to get them, and after a short struggle and a horrible run through the countryside, Barbara finds herself in an old farmhouse. Johnny, of course, doesn’t make it. Slowly others show themselves; brave, resourceful Ben, the Coopers, headed by bullying patriarch Harry, and a young couple, Tom and Judy.

Lilly: Their arrival is good news, seeing as for a brief and all-too-hilarious portion of the film, Ben is stuck with Barbara, who is in such a state that she is just fondling doolies on the couch and being generally unhelpful in his quick barricading of the farmhouse. Barbara’s got the doolies on lock down, so everyone relax, okay?

Andy: With the gathering of the living hiding from the dead, this is where the film becomes something special. The zombies, never referred to as such, don’t represent a major threat, at least at first. While Johnny’s killer hangs about outside, the true threat comes from the slow accumulation of his many, many friends. And of course, the people inside the house. Ben and Harry both have reasonably sensible ideas, but they are different and neither will back down, so neither happens.

Ben, essentially our protagonist as Barbara takes the rest of the movie off (see doilies above), at least until Johnny, er, ‘turns up’, tries to reason with Harry, but there’s this electric current throughout of Harry wanting to be ‘in charge’. Ben is also a black man, and there is a real sense that Harry thinks he’s getting above himself, bearing in mind that this is 1968.

Lilly: Romero does make an effort to shrug off his casting choice, saying they just knew the actor who played Ben and he was good, it wasn’t any kind of commentary meant, but it’s hard not to see it that way when, as Andy says, it is 1968. Though hey, it’s 2017 and that sort of narrative could still be played out (watch out for our Get Out review coming later in the month!) soooo great, we’ve come far.

Andy: The movie has one of the most gut-punching downer endings, and there’s a real sense that the zombies aren’t responsible. People will argue themselves into the grave, and won’t realise until it’s too late. It’s amazing.

Lilly: This I can definitely jump in and speak to–I saw this film when I was a teenager and it was in a bargain bin at Walmart on a DVD that also had the original House on Haunted Hill. Worth the $5, let me tell you. Anyway, I can actually still remember yelling at the television at the ending and getting actually upset, near crying. Now, I’m a film crier, I’ve said this before, but not usually during horror films (I’m too busy saying ‘nope!’ out of fear) so this is notable. I was driven hard into an emotional reaction by this film, and so surprise, don’t want to spoil it. It caught me off guard how invested I was in the film until Romero took the comforting rug of it out from under my feet and left me confused and with an emotionally sore behind. This isn’t a film that builds you up with piano swells and heroic gestures of self sacrifice and over the top declarations. This is a film that sucks you in because you could be that doilie fondling Barbara or that argumentative Harry or the quietly assessing Ben. For a film about the dead walking the Earth, it realistically captures what it is like to be in a crisis but also be a human with torn emotions, motives, and desires.

Andy: The gore effects are really effective too, consisting of chocolate syrup shot in black and white. Nearly 50 years later, there are certain scenes which are still stomach churning. I wholeheartedly, unreservedly recommend this one to absolutely anyone and everyone.

Lilly: So, and I’m dreading asking this question, is there anything wrong with it?

Andy: Anything wrong with it? HOW DARE YOU actually there are a couple of nitpicks. First is that the idea of night and day seems pretty fluid, with ‘live’ news reports shot in broad daylight while pitch black reigns outside. Also, the explanation for the zombies is pure Twilight Zone garbage nonsense that comes up once and never again in this movie or the series. Dawn’s simple “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” is way, way better.

These are the minorest of minor flaws though, and this remains one of my all time favourite movies. Not horror movies. Movies. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Lilly: And, though I usually have a generally ‘no, no, please no’ approach to zombie films, this is a recommendation from me. It approaches the situation with the main monster of the film not being running, gnashing, flesh-dangling corpses but rather man and his ego, and I can dig that. I wouldn’t go as far as Andy and say it was one of my favourite movies (it’s hard to cross into that from horror for me, Jaws notably being my main interloper), but I definitely would say it was one of my favourite horror movies.

So go, watch, enjoy, and come back to talk that ending with us!