Archive for we are still here

Dark Musings: The Art of Homage

Posted in Dark Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Returning from Sitges International Film Festival, I realize that three of the eight films I saw were explicit homages – SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL; THE LOVE WITCH; and THE VOID. If you get liberal, you might be able to throw THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE in there as well. These films make a point of visiting a bygone age of horror not only through style, but through plot, character and theme. LONELY GIRL is a psychosexual Gothic thriller with cold, beautiful imagery and a frail protagonist straight from the 70s; you could actually convince me that LOVE WITCH was filmed in the 60s, aside from the final act (more on that later); and THE VOID feels like a Carpenter film that never got made.

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This is no surprise – in fact, it has become almost commonplace. So many of the horror films we see today either feel like or are constructed as throwbacks to other eras. CRIMSON PEAK revisits Roger Corman and Mario Bava. THE CONJURING sits right next to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and POLTERGEIST. WE ARE STILL HERE is a stylistic and thematic marriage of Lucio Fulci and H.P. Lovecraft, who had come back into vogue in the 1970s. We hear synths in the scores again, we see long and patient zooms, we find practical effects favoring CGI (for the most part).

This is, in many ways, a positive thing. Many fans would argue that these eras were the best, partially due to techniques that we seemed to have forgotten about in the early 21st century. To see them coming back into play is thrilling. It just means that many of the films feel like something that came before – there isn’t much originality going around. For the most part. Alongside the homages, there have been some incredible feats of meta-cinema. These are the films that continue to reshape and invigorate the genre.

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One of the best horror films to hit the screens recently was IT FOLLOWS – an homage in its cinematography, plot and score, all of which are masterful. But it also feels deeply rooted in this generation. The films it draws from (HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) mostly operate on the idea that sex leads to death, a classic slasher cliché. The plot of IT FOLLOWS reflects this – have sex and inherit a supernatural entity that stalks you until it catches you – but also inverts the idea completely, because in order to survive, one must continue having sex. The story is also rendered so uniquely by David Robert Mitchell’s direction and Maika Monroe’s heartbreaking performance. Rather than going for camp and cheese, Mitchell and Monroe create a portrait of trauma. The disease is horrifying, world-changing, but no one else can see it… until they experience it. Sexual shame and assault are much the same.

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Similarly, THE LOVE WITCH exists staunchly in the world of 60s soft-core cinema. The titular witch uses her brews and spells to seduce men. But, here’s the catch – this is not a supernatural film. Anna Biller, the director (and costume designer), recreates the aesthetic and atmosphere down to the quality of light; but the story does not follow quite as faithfully. Within the first ten minutes, someone calls the protagonist out for her old-fashioned views – her continual insistence that “We must give men what they want.” The film spends its running time dissecting dangerous ideas of idolization, romanticism and delusion, eventually proving that these ideas end only in tragedy. What could have been just another sexploitation pic becomes a commentary on the themes it embodies.

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These are not the only films that transcend homage, but they stand out vividly as an example for future filmmakers. It is possible to pay tribute to another era without falling into its trap and feeling like a replica. Horror has always been rich in theme and commentary, and much of past cinema explores ideas that are relevant in our era. Going back to those decades can unearth their commentary and make it fresh. WE ARE STILL HERE uses its 70s atmosphere to dissect grief and mob mentality; or THE WITCH, revisiting the occult obsession of the 60s and 70s, finds feminist themes that feel vital today. Here we find filmmakers who respect their cinematic history, but do not fall into its stagnant clutches. Art must always move forward.

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Then, of course, there are films that feel (to me) entirely of this generation – Mattie Do’s sociological Gothic chiller DEAREST SISTER; the already-infamous WE ARE THE FLESH; and Richard Bates Jr.’s TRASH FIRE, which, while taking grotesque cues from BABY JANE, still exists in the 21st century. They free themselves fully from nostalgia, in the process finding new themes and styles that invigorate the genre. They might be rarer, or less celebrated, because that nostalgia is such a strong pull (as evidenced by the success of THE CONJURING and STRANGER THINGS); but they give evidence that, one day, filmmakers may pay homage to the style of this decade.

It is a thrilling time for horror cinema, both of the past and present. New filmmakers must make the choice, though – exist in bygone eras or create something new, something of their times. For fans, it is enough to have a bit of both.

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Smucky’s Best Horror Films of 2015

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2015 by smuckyproductions

The madness that was 2015 has come to a conclusion. Looking back, there is so much to celebrate in horror – a veritable resurgence of this wondrous genre. Now Smucky’s Grave reflects on the favorite horror films that graced the screens this year.

THE HALLOW

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Creature feature, body horror, and possession drama – all in one outrageously fun movie. Born and bred in Ireland, which is full of untapped spook stories, this indie effort shows that monster movies can still be scary. It’s gross and imaginative, but it also has a heart beating at its center.

CREEP

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Found footage is generally the worst. But leave it up to Mark Duplass and the Blumhouse folks to come up with a hilarious, subtle, and ultimately horrific meta-film about loneliness and madness. This quirky piece of terror might be too weird for some folks, but for those who are weird already, it speaks volumes. I wanted to take a shower after the ending.

WE ARE STILL HERE

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Dark Sky Films does it again with a wonderfully creepy homage to Lovecraft and Fulci. The fact that those two names show up together is enough to send horror nerds flailing in excitement. What begins as a spooky haunted house flick soon descends into gore-soaked cosmic horror, all while being legitimately scary. A ball of bloody fun, this one.

CRIMSON PEAK

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It’s too much to hope for that not one, but TWO, films reference Italian directors. Guillermo del Toro’s lush, stunning love letter to Gothic romance is dripping with Bava-esque visuals and intense passion that most of Hollywood has effectively killed. While not exactly horror, this film embodies the Gothic tradition so well, and makes for singularly spooky entertainment.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY

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It’s no accident that this film was Austria’s submission to the Oscars this year. Rarely has a film been able to sustain such unbearable tension, all by withholding information – until the brutal, bone-rattling end. This horrorshow seems like a Gothic chiller set in a cold modernist world, but by the conclusion, it becomes so much more. I still shiver when I think of the images here. Not for the fainthearted.

IT FOLLOWS

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Sure, this film is over-discussed. But there’s a reason for it. In an age when most horror is either a remake or a spoof, this film manages to pay homage to the classics, tear them down, and rebuild them into something new. It’s honestly terrifying, surprisingly beautiful, and uncannily subtle in its presentation of nebulous millennial fears. We have witnessed the birth of a new genre icon here, and a testament to the power of indie cinema. What a way to celebrate cinema.

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There are quite a few films that Smucky’s Grave missed this year, including: “The Final Girls,” “Unfriended,” “Krampus,” “The Visit,” “Bone Tomahawk,” and “The Boy.” Here’s to hoping that 2016 allows for more time to explore these well-hyped films.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, GHOULS!