Hands play a huge role in the horror film: there is the shot of the hand (alive or dead) grasping for its victim, the severed hand lying inertly on the ground, the detached hand crawling across the floor, with a life of its own—and the hand that has a life of its own even though it’s still attached.
So why is the hand so crucial to the horror film tradition?
Noël Carroll has argued that the notion of “impurity” is a defining characteristic of horror’s “monster”—and that one particular kind of impurity is “categorical incompleteness”: the monster doesn’t have all its parts, or is made up of parts, or is only one part: “detached body parts are serviceable monsters,” Carroll writes, “severed heads and especially hands.”[i]
But why does Carroll write “especially hands”? He explains why body parts recur in horror, but not hands specifically—and it does seem to me that hands (followed closely, perhaps, by brains) play a special role in horror films. Read more
Guest Author: Laura Kremmel
“Wait, is he blind?”
“That’s kind of fucked up to rob a blind guy, isn’t it?”
“Just ‘cause he’s blind don’t mean he’s a saint, bro.”
These opening lines summarize the plot of the 2016 box-office hit, Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez, and this scene appears in every trailer for the film. It demonstrates a sadly common reaction and attitude towards those with visual impairments, and other disabilities: a double-take, discomfort, pity, and disengagement (or, worse, repulsion and recoil). Blindness is almost a deal-breaker for the speakers, thieves planning their next mark, and it is ironically the most ruthless of the three who exposes their assumptions with the third line.
The three thieves (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) break into the house of a man (Stephen Lang) who has received a large settlement after his daughter is killed and has hidden the cash in his dilapidated house in a deserted Detroit neighborhood. They target him for all of these reasons. The fact that he’s also a blind war vet becomes an added bonus: easy prey, if pathetic. They presume he will be an easy mark that will bring their careers as thieves to a fruitful end. However, “The Blind Man” (that’s the only name he gets) is not only capable of defending himself, but of hunting them down one by one. In the depths of his house, they discover that he’s hiding more than money. Critics are saying this twist sets the film apart, but I have no interest in discussing it here. Any other spoilers throughout this post involve the details of the film-long chase, which I don’t feel would detract from a first viewing. The film is an experience. Read more
Author: Neil Gravino
Easter is a short film in the Holidays horror anthology, released in 2016. Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy, it tells the tale of a young girl (played by Ava Acres), who is conflicted about the Easter holiday; having just learned of Jesus’s death and resurrection at church, she has a hard time reconciling the story with her mom’s tales of the Easter Bunny, whom no child has actually seen. What follows is one of the most disturbing yet surreal scenes out of recent horror: as the girl traverses the dark hallway of her home to get a glass of water, she encounters the Easter Bunny. But as is to be expected of a horror story, this Bunny is a horrifying, blasphemous combination of the cute holiday mascot and Christ— the raw, flayed, crown of thorns, pierced side, and stigmata-riddled Christ of the Crucifixion story. He is the girl’s confusion made real. Cowering in fear of this monstrosity, the girl is told that she must now “take [his] place.” When the girl questions whether she will see her mother again, the creature replies— with seemingly sadistic glee— that she never will. The short then ends with the girl transforming into a new Easter Bunny. Read more
R | 2016 | Marcus Dunstan | 87 mins | USA
The Neighbor (2016) was one of those films that started out well and then got better. It started out appearing to be one kind of story, and then it became another—a much more human story. At every turn, writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton reveal that characters who appear unredeemable, the sadistic stock characters of exploitation horror, are just powerless individuals, caught in a web of hopelessness, trying to survive.
The Neighbor is Marcus Dunstan’s third film as director, following on the heels of The Collector (2009) and The Collection (2012), both also written by Dunstan and Melton. These two earlier films can’t help but shape expectations for The Neighbor, as does the trailer and all the brief synopses of the film. As the summary on IMDb tells us: “the film follows a man who discovers the dark truth about his neighbor and the secrets he may be keeping in the basement.” So you could be forgiven for thinking The Neighbor is another Collector, another entry in the by-now rather tired “torture-porn” subgenre. It isn’t. It’s much more interesting than that. Read more
NR | 2016 | Jim Gillespie | 107 mins | UK
My primary motivation for watching the recently-released Billionaire Ransom (Take Down outside the US) was its filming location. I was punished, it seems, for my less-than-serious motivation in that the film’s location ended up being by far the best thing about it.
Billionaire Ransom is directed by Jim Gillespie, known for I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and written by Alexander Ignon. It features a cast of young people (led by Jeremy Sumpter and Phoebe Tonkin), all of whom are rich and spoiled and sent to some kind of punitive boot camp for moral rehabilitation. As they are being taught the basics of survival on an isolated island, they are kidnapped by a group of criminals interested in a little wealth redistribution. The rich kids then get to practice their newly-honed survival skills with their very lives on the line. Read more