Posted on April 7, 2017

Chopping Wood in The Witch and The Amityville Horror


Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) is a horror film, to be sure, although most critics have tended not to treat it as a genre film, focusing on its impressive innovations in production, narrative, and cinematography.

Every time I’ve watched the film, though, I’ve been struck by the scenes of Ralph Ineson’s William, the Puritan patriarch, furiously chopping wood. He does so three times (that magic number) and each time he is more disturbed. These scenes stand out not only because lumber is pretty much the only thing the struggling family has in abundance but also because it strikingly evokes The Amityville Horror, both the 1979 original (Stuart Rosenberg) and the 2005 remake (Andrew Douglas).

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Posted on April 2, 2017

Jordan Peele’s GET OUT – Call for Contributors


Approaches to Jordan Peele’s Get Out

Abstracts due: 8/31/17

Jordan Peele’s horror film, Get Out (2017) just became the highest-grossing debut project for a writer-director with an original screenplay (beating out the prior holder of that record, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 film The Blair Witch Project).

Get Out is not only an enormous box office success but it has won a critical acclaim unusual for a horror film—currently (as of early April, 2017) standing at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes with 225 positive and only one negative review.

Popular writers and bloggers have already mapped out a whole panoply of contemporary issues that Get Out takes up (many of them guided by what Peele himself has said in interviews). The film tackles liberal racism, US electoral politics, white privilege, feminism, the targeting of black men by the police, the prison industrial complex, even slavery. And its place within the horror tradition is already being mapped, as writers have pointed out the film’s explicit and implicit connections to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Stepford Wives (1975), Halloween (1978), and The Shining (1980).

Get Out is widely touted as having inspired countless conversations among its viewers—propelling many of them back to the theater for a second and third viewing—and so it seems time to begin a conversation among scholars of horror, scholars of film, and scholars of millennial popular culture and politics more generally.

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Posted on March 30, 2017

Girl Trouble: The Blackcoat’s Daughter/aka February

Guest Post

Guest Author: Bernice M. Murphy

Warning: This Article Contains Minor Spoilers.

Writer/director Oz Perkins’ assured debut feature film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), known in the UK and Ireland as February, represents a fascinating treatment of a preoccupation that has become intriguingly prominent in recent American horror cinema: that of the threat posed by dangerously unhinged girls and young women. The past five years alone have seen the release of Excision (Richard Bates, 2012); Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013), Alyce Kills (Jay Lee, 2011), The Bleeding House (Philip Gelatt, 2011), We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013), Last Girl Standing (Benjamin R. Moody, 2015), Let Her Out (Cody Calahan, 2016), Darling (Mickey Keating, 2015), and The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016). Then there is the much-hyped French film Raw (2016), which is about a neurotic female student whose first-term mental breakdown leads to cravings that are a tad extreme. All of these films are about deeply troubled young women who possess an initially latent potential for violence that explodes in the second half of the narrative. Their horrific behavior is usually presented as being the result of severe mental illness that has gone tragically undetected by family and friends because they look (relatively) “normal.” Both dysfunctional familial environments and the romantic and professional stresses of becoming a fully individuated and conventionally successful adult are often implicitly presented as key contributing factors. Read more

Posted on March 30, 2017

The Belko Experiment: Aesthetical Violence Meets Life Boat Ethics


Please be aware this discussion contains spoilers.

To say that I have been looking forward to screening The Belko Experiment, directed by Greg McClean and written by James Gunn, is an understatement. The well-designed trailer for the film positioned it as another entry in the increasingly growing oeuvre of “life boat ethics”[i] horror films in which survival is intimately tied to the choices one makes when thrown into a moral quandary. These films, in which ethics and choice collide, are somewhat unique to the genre in that the physical violence is secondary to the psychological warfare being waged. Consider, for example, the first Saw film in which the majority of the narrative tension comes not from the actual acts being perpetrated but by the struggle of the unwilling game participant to make a choice.  Early trailers for The Belko Experiment, which showed the film to be about a group of employees who are held hostage by an unseen mastermind and forced to decide who in the group should die so that others could survive, gave every indication that this film would follow the conventions set out by previous “life boat ethics” films. Boy, was I wrong.

What I got instead was a wholly original postmodern horror tale that takes the conventions of a morality fable and repackages them to be less about psychology and more about shock and awe. In this case, spectacle is not part of the narrative. It is the narrative. Read more

Posted on March 22, 2017

Devil in the Dark & Eco-Horror


2017                Canada                        Tim J. Brown              82 min.

Given the rush of high-profile horror releases in March, 2017 (Get Out, XX, The Belko Experiment, Raw, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Devil’s Candy), you may be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Canadian director Tim J. Brown’s indie film, Devil in the Dark. I hope this review helps spread the word about a genuinely scary, well-crafted, superbly-acted, and provocative indie horror film. It’s on VOD, so you can rent it now (and you should!).

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