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Posted on June 23, 2017

The Last Broadcast: Christine and Carnival of Souls

Guest Post

On July 14th, 1974, 29-year old Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter based in Sarasota, Florida, was helming a seemingly routine newscast when there was a technical hitch. Once the live feed returned to the studio, Chubbuck read the following statement: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living colour, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.” She then pulled a gun out from under her desk and shot herself in the head, dying in hospital several hours later. Footage of her suicide attempt was subsequently passed on to the police. In Killing for Culture (1995: revised and updated 2016), David Kerekes and David Slater discuss Chubbuck’s suicide alongside other notorious instances of “Death in the Media.” They note: “The tape has apparently yet to surface in any form. Despite some claims that footage of Chubbuck’s suicide had once circulated on the internet, there is no evidence to suggest it is there now. Frankly, it is unlikely that such material – any material – would ever surface and then simply disappear from the virtual reservoir” (2016: 355).

Footage of Chubbuck’s death may not yet have surfaced in the “virtual reservoir,” but that fact that it inspired two films in 2016 suggests that her story is one that still resonates. The meta staged “documentary” Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene) is told from the perspective of an actress preparing to play Chubbuck. My focus here is on the more formally conventional take on Chubbuck’s story, Christine (Antonio Campos, 2016), which dramatizes the months leading up to her death.

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Posted on June 16, 2017

Alien Aesthetics: The Problem with Everyone’s Favorite Complaint about Prometheus

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With the release of Alien Covenant, it’s time to put to bed everyone’s favourite argument about everyone’s least favourite prequel. I’m sure you’ve heard a variant of this complaint before: “The problem with Prometheus is it’s set before Alien but the technology looks better”; or, maybe “I would have liked Prometheus if it had stuck with the retro 80s idea of the future from the Alien films.” I think Prometheus is a bad film, but this argument misses its real faults. It’s the modern obsession for logically nit-picking at movies masquerading as an aesthetic concern. It sides with nostalgic familiarity over the innovative and creative. Ultimately, it’s not a way of looking at film that will help us spot when something really new and original comes along.

While there are a few satisfying explanations for why the technology in Prometheus would be slicker than the clunky monitors of Alien (a common one seems to be that the Prometheus mission was far better funded), the need for an explanation misses the point. It’s natural for films to adapt their vision of the future with the changing times, just as our idea of the past has updated with historical study. To not change makes it difficult for a film to stand on its own two feet with new audiences; in the case of a sequel or prequel, it makes it dependent on the original audiences. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for instance, a film that radically overhauled the iconic look of the originals to use new special effects. Why was Fury Road praised for its visuals while Prometheus was criticised for them? There’s a few possible answers. For one thing, Fury Road deliberately blurred the line between sequel and remake, partly by way of its audacious visuals. The world of Fury Road is also so high octane that it makes it almost plausible that society would accelerate into a sun-bleached desert in Max’s lifetime. But let’s face it, the real reason is that more imagination and effort went into the visuals of Fury Road and it just looks cooler.

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Posted on June 13, 2017

Award-winning Horror Shorts from the Greenfield Youth Film Festival

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Not many events foster the creative aspirations of the teenaged filmmaker, which makes the Upper Dublin-based Greenfield Youth Film Festival stand out. On April 27, 2017, this film festival displayed and celebrated short films from all over the state of Pennsylvania. Some of the most clever (and most awarded) films were horror films. After the event, I got the chance to talk with the filmmakers awarded for their work in the horror genre at a private screening on May 7th, or through email correspondence. Below are three films that stood out in the film festival. These expert and passionate films reflect the professionalism and talent of their respective makers.

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Posted on June 4, 2017

Unfriended: Unfairly Maligned

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I have a confession. I love found footage horror and have an undying need to protect the often-maligned subgenre from criticism. I’m not trying to excuse the absolute tripe that sometimes passes for found footage horror, but hand on my heart, one example I feel that was dismissed a little too quickly and energetically by the horror community, is Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze, 2014).

In Unfriended, the internet is a place haunted by characters’ mistakes as much as the supernatural and the insidious potential of social media is at the heart of the film’s construction of fear. A large majority of critics received the film negatively on its release, suggesting that Unfriended was an example of found footage horror trying desperately to stay relevant by co-opting the aesthetics of social media into its repertoire after riding the surveillance-cam wave of Paranormal Activity for the past decade.

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Posted on May 9, 2017

The Eye vs. The Eye

Guest Post

If you’re a serious film fan, you probably have a kneejerk (but totally appropriate!) negative reaction any time you hear about an American remake of a beloved movie from another country. Who among us has not been burned? Who doesn’t have that one favorite film from abroad that was eventually sullied (or even ruined) by Hollywood ignorance/excess/apathy/all of the above?

For me, it was the 2004 Thai horror movie, Shutter, which was crazy scary and climaxed with a final reveal (I won’t spoil it here) that chilled me to the bone, only to be transformed four years later into a disappointing cash grab starring Dawson Creek’s Joshua Jackson.

For others, perhaps it was the British cult classic, The Wicker Man (1973), which was recycled into the unintentionally campy Nicolas Cage movie of the same name in 2006. Or maybe it was the R-rated J-horror classic, Ju-on (2002), which became the nonsensical PG-13 Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle, The Grudge (2004).

But believe it or not, I’m not a rabid purist. I do acknowledge that there have been solid remakes in the American canon, horror and otherwise. For example, as much as I (and the rest of the world) love the chilling Let the Right One In (2008) from Sweden, I think Let Me In (2010) is remarkably well-crafted and surprisingly moving, emotionally, in ways the Swedes never intended.

So it was with an open mind that I recently approached watching, after all these years, the 2008 American remake of The Eye (2002). I saw the Hong Kong-made original when it first came out, in a small theater that no longer exists, and it instantly became one of my favorite horror films of all time.

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