House of Mirth and Movies

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Halloween II (1981)

I rarely write about the uninspiring horror remakes and “reboots” that come each year, despite the fact I drag myself out to see nearly every one of them.  Though this year I haven’t been to the theatre as much as usual, half of my viewings have been horror films. In spite of this rather high average of genre viewings, there is only one of them that I’d deem as good (and it’s not the one directed by Martin Scorsese.)

I sometimes wonder why I torture myself and sacrifice my hard earned money when I know more than half of the time I will walk away disappointed. If only there was a critic or a consensus out there I trusted, but even if there was… I can’t imagine trusting them enough to evaporate that inkling of hope that the remake of *insert favourite horror movie ever* won’t be amazing.  I could always wait for DVD or indulge in some illegal downloading activity, but for me, nothing beats seeing a great horror film with a great horror audience. It is simply an incomparable cinematic experience.

Last week I HAD to see the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Something deep inside was telling me that I would love it; that I would see in it something that no one else did, and I would have a horrific revelation.  I had been excited for weeks; I had even planned it as a birthday event so that I could share this awesome experience with all my awesome friends. I made sure to buy my tickets in advance in case it was sold out, I chose some of the best seats in the house, I got my popcorn and I waited excitedly for the film to begin. An hour and a half later, I was not very happy. There were no scares, there was no suspense. The film had two upsides; a hallway turning into a pool blood, and the so-bad-its-good quote “Who can remember being five years old?” I could easily write a long essay tearing apart every minute aesthetic, narrative and thematic device that went wrong, but I don’t get paid to do this. There are many critics out there who have already laid out everything wrong with this film; I don’t need to reiterate what has already been said.

My appetite for horror hasn’t diminished, despite my recent string of bad luck. I am still craving some good old fashioned heebeejeebees (ones that do not include human centipedes, no human centipedes… plz and thank you). Tonight I rented Halloween II (1981), hoping I would be cured of my slump. I wasn’t. Though not as bad as many of the horror remakes and sequels we get today, there is nothing exceptional about Halloween II. It is at least well constructed; the craft is there… it just does not live up the expectations of its predecessor.

Interesting deaths don’t compel me as much as they apparently do many horror viewers (my experience watching movies in theatres tells me, cool death = loud applause), and I tend to treasure the lead up more than the creativity of the death. Halloween II does this with moderate success, and the build-up is stressed as being more important than the shock value. That being said, my favourite death of the film is one that is “creative”, so to speak.

The death of the head nurse happens off screen, her character had long disappeared from the narrative and we could only imagine what had happened to her. When Jimmy realizes Laurie is missing from her room, he searches the hospital for her. Instead he stumbles upon the nurse who has been strapped to an operating table. Despite being dead, she seems completely unscathed. He moves closer only to notice that a needle has been stuck into her arm, and she has been drained of all her blood which now covers the floor. It is an eerie death, one that gets under your skin. It is perhaps the most unsettling moment of the film, and the overhead shot of Jimmy lying in that pool of blood (he slips), apparently dead, is perhaps the most potent in the entire film.

On the other hand, this does not seem to fit Michael Myers. A slow death is not really a part of his repertoire, and even the deliberate act of psychological torture seems well beyond his capacities, at least as presented in the first two films. If the original film did not make it clear, its sequel does; Myers is something more (or less) than human, and his methods are hardly sophisticated. At times he’ll play little games, or use strategy, but there is no real sense of joy in the death itself, as much as there is a joy in tearing living things into little pieces.  I don’t even wish the rest of the film was like this moment. I don’t particularly enjoy body-horror, with the exception of David Cronenberg who makes it smart and somehow palatable. Is this even body horror? Probably not, but torture, maiming, draining, etc. Etc. Is just not something I particularly enjoy. I don’t know why I like this moment, perhaps because as an image it is so striking, so strange… Despite the fact it doesn’t quite fit the film it is an awesome sequence of inspiring dread, and I can’t help admiring that.

Another way the film handles dread well is in the use of hallways (it uses them well, but it also doesn’t use them enough). I think surrealism uses a lot of hallways and doors to convey the anxieties of the unconscious mind, and it is a very effective image. Brutality and torture may be upsetting, but nothing beats the fear of the unknown. It is something that truly gets under your skin, because it so effectively can be mapped onto our everyday fears and anxieties. Even though I’ve been obsessing (in the worst possible away) about the horror that is the Human Centipede (a film I probably won’t see) because the idea of so absolutely disgusting and upsetting to me, it evokes a visceral kind of disgust that I don’t see as being enduring or compelling. I know for a fact, that the idea of the film is far more upsetting than the actual execution, which only supports my thesis on “less is more” in horror cinema. A long dark hallway in a hospital; that is a truly haunting image, if only because we have no idea what lurks beyond those doors.

It reminds me of the kind of horror David Lynch evokes, like the painting in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, of the room and the door. It’s eerie without any hint of violence, it is just an unnatural state of mind; one that inspires the idea of a hidden world, or the idea that death is lurking just around the corner. The film touches, very briefly, on the idea that Myers is some kind God or reaper… an unstoppable force of evil and the entire film may have been better if they followed up on that line of thinking. The original film is so great in part because there is that mystery about his existence, and his sheer inability to be killed. The fault of a lot of recent remakes, like (2010), is an attempt to explain away all the nuance and mystery of its monsters. Halloween II (1981) is also guilty of this, with it’s now infamous twist, which frankly makes no sense at all, as it adds nothing to story and is never used or explored in any meaningful way.

Maybe I am simply over-thinking these films, or maybe they just kinda suck.  Either way, I’d like to be surprised in the near future by something truly great, because I’m not giving up now. If I’m burning out on horror, I want it to be on a high note damn it. Maybe recommend me something