Archive for romance

A Tribute to Free Love in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

Posted in Dark Musings, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, an occasion on which monogamous couples are encouraged to celebrate their union and romance. In many ways it’s a paean to heteronormativity – it’s meant for a man and a woman who are solely bound to each other.

Rather than feed into this, I want to talk about THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW – one of cinema’s purest celebrations of free, uninhibited love and pleasure.

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Most people know of this film as a crazy, hilarious, purposefully bad sendup of 50s sci-fi films and musicals. It’s a midnight classic, still screening around the world with shadow casts and costumed fans who have memorized the lines. But even more remarkable is its depiction of sex and love. There is a Bacchanal sense of madness to the film, and an unabashed queerness, with men dressed as women, people sleeping with the same and opposite sex without qualm, orgiastic pleasure… All hot topics in social culture today. Only Richard O’Brien crafted this show forty years ago, when this was still a dangerous idea.

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RHPS is bold and overt in its dissection of traditional love. We begin with the wedding and proposal, played with grotesque, pure excitement; but it’s not long before we’re sucked into the frenzy of Frank ‘N Furter’s world. This is a character who completely destroys gender boundaries. His fabulous wardrobe, his ever-selfish dominance, and his obsession with Charles Atlas are his own, creating an identity independent from societal constructs. The wedding between Frank and Rocky is a terrific parallel to the opening scene. It would be seen as a perversion of that ceremony if it wasn’t so passionate, so free.

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What follows is a sexual awakening for Brad and Janet, whose sexuality was so clearly repressed. Frank initiates a renaissance for both of them – while they protest at first, they give into the pleasure and realize what they were missing. Janet’s tryst with Rocky is funny, sure, but she also finds her own identity in the act, as bold as Frank’s.

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And (SPOILERS!) the big number, followed by the orgy in the pool, ties it all together. “Don’t dream it, be it” – a hymn to all of those who felt their identities locked away, too ashamed to explore them. Frank might be hedonistic and bizarre, but he is liberated. His liberation carries over to Brad and Janet, too. They find their own happiness in sexual freedom because there is no longer fear. To anyone who has ‘come out,’ that experience is universal.

The ending has always struck me as far more tragic than the bulk of the film would justify. Frank is murdered for living his dream, seen as a perverted lifestyle by his own servants. His final song is heartbreaking in this context. And at that time, this was a reality. Anyone who did not fit into the societal definition of ‘normal’ was targeted for hate and violence. Is it a coincidence that O’Brien, who identifies himself as a third sex, concludes his show in this manner?

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It might end in sadness, but even so, Rocky Horror is wholly liberating. It presents these themes and ideas without batting an eye. So, rather than indulge in films that promote the image of ‘normal’ romance this holiday, I want to celebrate Frank ‘N Further’s message. Allow yourself to find your own identity and embody it to the fullest extent. As opposed to forty years ago, today, there is not nearly as much reason to fear.

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Forbidden Tomes: THE GREAT GOD PAN by ARTHUR MACHEN

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2016 by smuckyproductions

We all know and bow down to Lovecraft and his pal Cthulhu. But where did that horror master find his inspiration? This early tale of cosmic terror is hard to find in print, which is a dreadful shame, because its evocation of what would become Lovecraft’s themes is soul-shaking. I’m talking about it today, though, because Valentine’s Day is coming up – and this is possibly one of the least romantic stories I’ve ever read. This cosmic warning is called THE GREAT GOD PAN.

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Now, by today’s standards, this story is pretty sexist in its setup and conclusion. This must be taken into account when analyzing it by the standards of its time. It begins with two doctors preparing a woman (willingly, sort of) for a strange procedure: they will open a part of her brain that will allow her to see the massive truth of the universe, the Great God Pan. Naturally it goes about as badly as it could. But it doesn’t end there – years later, one of the doctors hears uncanny tales of a woman who has the power to ruin the lives of those she touches by driving them insane. And the test subject happened to get pregnant after seeing the Great God himself. Is the child of Pan roaming the earth, and if so, what does that mean for humanity?

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Arthur Machen poses this story as just that, a series of stories told by secondary sources. Our main character witnesses nothing but the procedure – everything else comes to him through rumors and tales. This is confusing for the reader at first, but as the pieces fit into place, it creates an atmosphere of deadly mystery and paranoia. We can’t see the Great God or the evil woman, but we know she’s out there. And her intentions could not be more evil. As we hear of her deeds – ruining men with her sexual power, holding dark rituals, driving children insane with fear – we come to fear her, too.

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The cosmic elements elevate the story from mildly intriguing to terrifying, a terror that lingers. Machen’s opening idea, of this entity that exists in a nether region of space, is eerie – but giving this entity agency is nightmarish. And because of the format, we never get close enough to reconcile this force, put a face or size to it. That is the genius of this story, and the reason it still holds power. If we saw the Great God, we would know its limitations; instead, we are left with only second-hand accounts, all of which are too rattled to give a full image. As Lovecraft said, the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.

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I love this type of story for its atmosphere and implications, the sense of overwhelming dread inherent in the events. Forcing characters to face an irreconcilable monster, when done right, makes for fascinating insights. And it also happens to be a perfect anti-Valentine’s Day statement. We witness marriages imploding, demonic births, and sexual manipulation, all under the sway of a massive evil force from beyond the veil. What a better way to comfort oneself about a lack of significant other? I’d much rather be single forever than date the Great God. So stick it, Hallmark.

That, of course, is a secondary concern – manufactured holidays aside, THE GREAT GOD PAN is an astoundingly influential work. Like “The King in Yellow” and “The Willows,” it set the stage for Lovecraft, Ligotti, Barker, and so many others. Read it and tremble in the face of Pan himself.

Film Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most anticipated genre releases of the year, CRIMSON PEAK is a gorgeous and impassioned return to form for Guillermo del Toro. This was at the top of my list ever since rumors and stills began leaking through the Internet catacombs. And I was not disappointed.

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The story is nothing terribly original – a young woman marries a mysterious man and follows him home to a decaying mansion, which is filled with ghosts and deadly ulterior motives – but del Toro plays it out sincerely and powerfully, making sure each emotional moment hits at the right time. He’s a terrific storyteller. And with such an amazing cast – Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston, to name a few – the story becomes vivid. But that’s not the best part. (What also might be said is, contrary to most Gothic stories, this one does not punish or weaken its women. The female characters are the strongest ones, which is refreshing and necessary.)

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What comes as no great surprise, but is still an absolute joy, is the production and costume design. Every image of the film explodes with color and detail. It’s a deliriously beautiful homage to the master of Grand Guignol lighting Mario Bava – sickly greens, vibrant reds, and cloying blues are all used boldly and to great effect. The success of these visuals is a testament to how ingenious Bava was as a filmmaker, and to see him referenced is joyous. Roger Corman also comes to mind, of course, but del Toro’s haunted house is more surreal than that.

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I don’t want to spoil too much, but the design of the ghosts was also profoundly original – it continues on del Toro’s concept from “The Devil’s Backbone,” but as if that film dropped acid. They’re polarizing, I’m sure, but I found them both fascinating and strangely terrifying. It’s rare that showing the monster can in itself be scary – usually the golden rule is to keep them in the dark – but in this case, every time they came on screen, I was frightened.

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It’s important to address, however, that del Toro did not make a horror film. This is not meant to be scary or shocking. There is violence and terror, but the main emphasis is placed on the theme of love, and the romance between the characters. So, don’t expect a traditional horror film. Del Toro himself said: this is a Gothic Romance. And that genre has been neglected of late. I am thrilled to see storylines that echo Sheridan Le Fanu and Nathaniel Hawthorne play out on screen. Del Toro is a huge nerd, just like me, and it comes through that he’s done his research.

While “Crimson Peak” certainly isn’t for everyone, it is a dream come true for people who love a classic ghost story and appreciate the beauty of cinema. Del Toro crafted this film with immense love and passion, and that shows on every frame. He loves his monsters and in turn, so does the audience. Beautiful, chilling and exhilarating, “Crimson Peak” is a macabre delight.

Forbidden Tomes (Halloween edition): THE BLOODY CHAMBER by ANGELA CARTER

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Halloween is a time for legends and fables, going back to its roots in Celtic tradition. What better way to spend the month than immersed in the dark world of myths? In honor of that tradition, this entry dips into the Gothic gold of Angela Carter’s groundbreaking fairytale collection, THE BLOODY CHAMBER.

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Cinema today is obsessed with retelling fairy tales, more often than not with a more adult edge. This is not at all a new trend – it all started back in the 70’s, and Angela Carter did it better than anyone. Adopting the monumentally familiar plots of Charles Perrault (among others), Carter brings the classics into a modern and deeply sensual world, in a way that reveals dark but important themes. Her feminist slant on horror, together with stunning Gothic-Romantic language, creates an ingenious collection of terrifying and beautiful stories.

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The stories in “The Bloody Chamber” are, as I said, familiar. The titular one refers to “Bluebeard,” followed by two versions of “La Belle et la Bete” and three of “Red Riding Hood.” Carter does not disrespect these classic works, either – her imagery is steeped in Gothic traditions, full of shadowy castles and spectral women in bridal gowns and gnarled woods haunted by wolves. This acts as a support for her strikingly modern themes of sexual awakenings and forced maturation in a deadly world. Carter is working in the Gothic genre, but she is elevating it from its clichés as well.

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I was overjoyed to be immersed in so much classically spooky atmosphere. Carter seems to relish in it as well, as she renders for the reader her breathtaking manor houses and wasted landscapes of danger. “The Lady in the House of Love,” a riff on the dying world of aristocratic vampires trapped in abandoned castles, is a personal favorite – the titular lady in her mother’s wedding dress covered in blood is one of the best images in the book.

But this image, along with others – the girl-bride of Bluebeard being violently deflowered, an innocent girl waiting to be transformed into a bird and kept captive by her Elfish lover – are also quite emotionally haunting. There is a layer of melancholy and tragic horror to the more Romantic kind, that of the loneliness of love, and the pain of coming into your own sexuality.

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It’s no secret that classic fairy tales often set horrible values for young girls, and Carter exposes these mercilessly, while also creating some of her own. In stories like “The Company of Wolves” (later adapted with great success by Neil Jordan), her young protagonists actually take control of their sexuality and are empowered for it. When the imagery has faded and the violence committed, it’s these moments of human revelation that really remain. Carter was renowned for this in her time as well, and it would be a shame to neglect what she did for women in the genre, which is rife with sexism. That is part of the joy in her stories, discovering how she alters the endings, or doesn’t, in favor of her modern goals.

“The Bloody Chamber” is a lush, entrancing world full of sensuality, awakening, and death – all set to the backdrop of traditional Gothic imagery. Atmospherically, it is ideal for cold October nights. It’s a classic of the genre that has influenced more than it is credited for – we will do our best to never neglect its impact, and find morbid joy in its gleeful appropriation of the fairy tales we all know so well.