Posts Tagged ‘Seventies’

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

October 5, 2018

I have had the misfortune of being in a car that broke down. In my teens, my parents had at least two cars that developed electrical problems and would shut down at traffic lights. Thankfully, I was able to get the car started again before the people behind me got too pissed. However, much later I was driving a Mazda that had been recovered from a police auction that had been wrecked once before. One day, the vehicle just died in traffic and I coasted off to the side of the street (thankfully) due to a faulty alternator. Coincidentally, the battery on my cell phone was dead too so I had to walk to get it handled. Even worse, I once completely totaled a car in a ditch up in Vermont and I stumbled my way to a pay phone to get help. The thrill of the thought of ‘I survived!’ was immediately replaced with ‘Now what do I do?’ while I was in shock. I cannot even imagine doing all of that in the dark. Both of my big events happened while the sun was still up so I was not scared of bad things happening. Also, both were at least relatively near civilization. If both of those things had not been true, I am sure I would have been scared as hell.

Many horror movies were written around using the rural citizens of the United States as villains. This has happened so much that I was easily able to find the term ‘hicksploitation’ on the Internet. Hick, of course, is the derogatory term for the uneducated rural people who exist far outside of urban centers. They make good horror movie villains because their world is so exotic to people who live in or near cities and towns. I grew up either in or very close to Baltimore City so whenever I ventured farther out, it was culture shock. How can they hunt in a world where I can walk to the grocery store? Why do they have to use a well when there are utilities? It was not a matter of rich vs. poor, I knew what city poor was. I did not grow up with people out in what is more or less the wilderness. Most people who go to movie theaters did not either. That is why we get movies like Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, and a whole host of movies you probably have never heard of. We will forever fear what we do not understand and we will be anxious in environments we are not familiar with.

The movie is from the seventies and very much matches the look of films from that era. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with a desert locale and you will start to imagine the right look for this movie. I cannot imagine ever driving through that landscape by choice and definitely not onto back roads. The movie is a brutal horror movie, which you would expect from the director, Wes Craven, who had already brought us Last House on the Left. Like that movie, the blood effects are almost too realistic in that they are shown sparingly. By that, I mean that when somebody is cut or shot, a geyser of blood does not erupt from them. They bleed slow and painfully which is scarier to me. The landscape is desolate and that adds to the desperation that runs through this movie. Like a lot of effective horror movies, the movie deals well with sound. If there was any music, I do not remember it but I remember the silence. The silence is eerie and then that silence begins to be punctuated by weird and horrible sounds and you start imagining things. There are two dogs in the film and their noises mix with the noises of the desert and of the family and it creates a tense soundscape.

The cast boils down to the Family, the antagonist weirdos, and the Carters, a family on vacation. The stars of the show are the Family as the antagonists in a horror film are the ones getting showcased. Papa Jupiter is the lead and is played by James Whitworth as basically, Jaws made into human form. His three sons are similar but all a little bit different. Mercury and Mars are very much like their dad but I was instantly fascinated by Pluto. Pluto is played by Michael Berryman and he is simultaneously goofy and menacing, like a homicidal Marty Feldman. Ruby, the only daughter, is played by Janus Blythe and she is vulnerable and lost. Of the Carters, I liked Bobby the most. He is played by Robert Houston and is the youngest male but he is brave and smart but far from perfect. I also liked Doug, played by Martin Speer, who is the levelheaded and likable goofball who is forced to take the lead. Also, Suze Lanier-Bramlett plays the young and shrill Brenda which normally would have annoyed me but her screaming performance worked really well here.

Overall, I really loved this movie more than I thought I was going to. I originally watched it because it is considered a classic and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The movie is nothing like most of Wes Craven’s other movies that I have seen as it is straightforward and brutal more like Last House on the Left than the Elm Street movies. It lacked his usual surreal touch but sometimes that is not exactly a bad thing. The thought I had after the movie was over was that it felt like it came from a similar place as Spielberg’s Jaws.  Almost like a mix between Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.  Violence is combined with a lot of tension where you wait for something bad to happen and a lot of time is spent on the impact of the bad times.

The Love Witch (2016)

October 23, 2017

120 minutes – Unrated but I would rate it R for nudity, explicit sexuality, eerie atmosphere, and death.

Love is terrifying if literature and popular culture are to be believed. I have not felt romantic love yet but I have heard all of the stories. On the other hand, I have experienced crushes and physical attraction and they are definitely scary too. There is that moment when the chemicals kick in and I feel like I am losing mind. Like Madeleine Kahn, I feel the flames on the side of my face and I need to calm myself down. It is both a great and a horrible feeling at the same time. Kind of like taking an upper and a downer at the same time. Wires get crossed and things get confusing. Then comes the fear of indecision of whether to actually do something about it. It can be a maddening bag of emotions. That chaos can be terrifying as you stand on the precipice, wondering what comes next. I remember I once crushed hard on a woman much older than I was. I would see her several days a week. In fact, I would sit next to her. I both was both full of excitement and dread everytime we would meet.

We are all taught from a young age that confidence is a great thing to have. Of course, they are right. When I was a child, I had very little confidence and people often asked me why I was silent most of the time. Eventually, I found my courage and my voice and I am fine talking to people. Confidence drives us to go after what we want in life and also gives us the strength to protect what we have. However, as with all things, too much confidence can be a bad thing. Do you know who has unshakeable confidence? Serial killers. Serial killers cross the boundaries society set for the proper amounts of confidence. They are so sure of themselves that they feel that they are right no matter what. Killing people is no problem when you feel like you are right all of the time. Some of society’s rules definitely deserve to be challenged but murder is a boundary we do not want to cross.

The first thing that struck me about the movie is the excellent production design. Everything is just perfect looking. Everything in every scene has a purpose and fits together so well. That sort of thing is eerie. The real world (and most films) are messy and sloppy in some way. None of us match our outfit to the decor and there is almost always one or two things just a little out of place in our homes or apartments. The movie is a seventies technicolor throwback to a time where Wicca and magical cults were a big thing in the public’s imagination. The movie is full of that imagery. It is absolutely covered with pentagrams, daggers, nudity, men and women with capes, and all sorts of other strange images. The titular love witch always has portrait perfect makeup which I have never seen in real life outside of a fashion show. It adds to the overall creepy atmosphere of the movie. Everything but the witch looks fairly normal, put together but slightly imperfect. They also did a great job of filtering the footage so it looks like it comes from that time but still looks very clear. The movie has so many vibrant colors that sometimes almost hurt the eye which just adds to the madness.

The witch herself is played by Samantha Robinson and she is so awesome in this movie. Her voice is so alluring that it drew me in immediately. Her eyes are also striking and she spends a lot of time gazing deeply into the camera but I get the feeling she is not looking at the viewer but through them. The cadence of her speech is off, somewhat alien but not enough that she is completely out of place. She has a way of drawing the perfectly normal people around her into her weirdness. It makes her look incredibly powerful and magnetic and that in itself is scary. There is something dominant in her performance but it is unlike performances like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman or Scarlet Johannsen as Black Widow. It is somehow stronger and less vulnerable. Her inner monologue is so much fun to listen to but also, again, kind of frightening. To know what someone like her is really thinking is disturbing. The rest of the cast does a great job as the unwitting normal people this woman meets, victims or near misses.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent horror movie. The movie tackles the troubling themes of gender roles in today’s world through the lens of seventies culture. The patriarchy is a very real thing that is scarier than any monster we might see in a horror movie. Male dominance should not be a thing and most feminists (myself included) only want human equality and not female dominance. A lot of this movie is about women finding their power. However, these are issues that we continue to try and tackle and I was happy to see a horror movie address it in an intelligent way from a different angle.

 

(As a side note, this film had its US premiere in my hometown.)


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