More Excuses

Perhaps it was my Shingrix-addled brain—but we all know that’s an excuse—I decided to watch Creature (1985) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (timeless) over the past couple of days.  The former was a decision made when not having the energy to read, I could still search Amazon Prime for “free to me.”  I was all set to start Attack of the Giant Leeches when I scrolled over Creature only to learn it would be free for only eight hours more.  I recalled, somewhere in the haze, that a movie called Creature was on my watch list, and since time was running out, I clicked play.  Clearly a knock-off of Alien, with even a Sigourney Weaver stand-in, it was one of the most badly written films I’d seen in a long time.  I was surprised to learn it’d had a theatrical release.

A crew stranded on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, finds a creature—one that looks like a down market version of Ridley Scott’s nightmare—that feeds on unsuspecting astronauts.  Still, the surprises kept coming.  The impossibly pretty women and rugged men of the crew seemed unlikely.  And was that Klaus Kinski trying a move on the security officer that he wouldn’t have survived if he’d tried it on Sigourney?  And how was it even possible that this was nominated for the Best Horror Film of 1985 at the Saturn Awards?  Okay, granted 1985 wasn’t a banner year for horror, but Creature really doesn’t seem to hit the bill for “best of” category—but it was over 25 years after a classic.

Attack of the Giant Leeches is obviously the lesser of the two movies, but it falls into the category of “so bad it’s good.”  The leeches are clearly people in rubber suits, and the caricatures of the hooch-swillin’ swamp-dwellin’ lazy ole homeboys is just too good to pass up.  And the fact that it’s just over an hour long is a bonus when you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open.  Those black-and-white sci-fi horror films of the fifties sure take me back to more innocent times (not the fifties, and the film isn’t all that innocent).  Given that both movies were free on Prime, and given that my head was fuzzy from my vaccine, I counted this as a worthwhile effort at staying awake.  We seem to have come to a more sophisticated era, in many regards.  Such films can’t compete with their modern-day counterparts and even streaming companies are producing their own these days.  There’s something to those older films, however, and maybe it’s helped along by a shot in the arm.


Hiding What?

Who are we?  Do we really show ourselves to others, or do we wear masks?  That question applies to horror films as well as to everyday life.  Alexandra Heller-Nicholas addresses this directly in the former context in Masks in Horror Cinema: Eyes without Faces.  As I write about horror films, peer reviewers suggest these more technical studies as means of adding depth to my analysis.  Most of them are revised dissertations and retain the academic language that makes such documents difficult to read in places.  Still, they contain a lot of insight.  I learned a lot from Heller-Nicholas and I was particularly impressed that she took the “shamanic imagination” as her approach to the films she analyzes.  The ritual aspect makes good use of religion and horror connections.  It’s nice to see this catching on.

Masks are more than disguises.  Yes, there’s something theatrical to them and there’s a great deal of ritual to theater.  Ritual and religion aren’t identical, but they are clearly related.  Often masks are discussed as simply a way of hiding a killer’s face.  There’s quite a lot more to it.  This is where the academic analysis comes in.  We can’t explore it in detail in the brief context of this post, but there’s a whole book out there to read on it.  Heller-Nicholas doesn’t feel constrained to major movie releases.  I did that in Holy Horror because I supposed more people would be interested in reading about movies they’d actually seen (most of them anyway).  There are a lot more examples out there.  I’m learning about more all the time.

There are many different masks in horror.  This book looks at several, some metaphorical, but most literal, and what they convey.  Or conceal.  The fact is we mask ourselves for many reasons.  It’s kind of like when we dream—our subconscious seems to know more about who we are than our waking minds do, and we really don’t share our dreams with others.  The mask in horror isn’t worn just by killers.  When it is, however, it often has a shamanic effect, or, as Heller-Nicholas points out, a trickster aspect.  This is very much like how anthropologists approach shamans in traditional societies.  Religious specialists are often tricksters and they provide an important element in cultures that are otherwise beset by rules.  Rationality is important, but so is letting go of it once in a while.  Shamans get away with things the average person can’t.  And it is just one of many masks we wear all the time.


O Viy

Viy is a most unusual movie.  I’m talking about the 1967 version, of course.  Filmed and produced in the USSR, it was, by many counts, the first Soviet horror film.  There’s been a resurgence of interest in it because of the study of folk horror—and it’s certainly an example of that.  Not really known for its plot, it’s noteworthy in its early special effects.  Since it’s a story that revolves around a monk, however, it participates in religion and horror as well.  Unusual for a Soviet-Era film.  Set in an undefined period in the past—before electricity, in any case, and perhaps the Middle Ages—a class of seminarians is released for vacation.  They’re a rowdy, unruly bunch, hardly the pious priests you see associated with orthodoxy.  When three of them get lost on their way home they end up spending the night at the farm of an old woman.

The woman comes after Khoma (one of the three) that night and bewitches him.  Riding him like a horse—and this is common witch lore—when she finally releases him, he beats the old woman severely.  But she has turned into a beautiful young woman.  Khoma returns to the seminary but is sent to say prayers over a dying young woman—one guess who it is.  Between getting drunk and trying to escape, Khoma seems to guess his fate.  At the compound of a wealthy merchant, the girl’s father, he learns she has died.  The father insists he keep vigil for three nights, praying over her corpse.  In the church scary things happen, not least her return to life.

On the third night all kinds of monsters appear after she calls on the god Viy.  Viy means something like “spirit of evil.”  Each night Khoma has drawn an effective magic circle around himself, which keeps the dead witch at bay.  The last night the monsters make it through, with predictable results.  There’s so much folklore at play here that it’s easy to see why the story by Nikolai Gogol suggested itself for a film.  It was poignant to watch because it’s set in Ukraine (Gogol was a Ukrainian writer).  Gogol had a tremendous influence on other writers, but isn’t as widely cited among western authors in contemporary times.  The film is fairly easily found online, and an updated version was released in 2014.  Even in the USSR, when horror emerged in the late sixties, it was doing so with religion, even before Rosemary’s Baby.


Novelization

It must be both difficult and easy writing the novelization of a movie.  I suppose it depends on the movie as well.  Sleepy Hollow is a film based on a story already, but Washington Irving’s tale isn’t a novel and the movie was a collaboration between Irving’s original, re-envisioned by Kevin Yagher, Andrew Kevin Walker, and Tim Burton.  The novelization was done by Peter Lerangis and it, naturally enough, follows the movie.  As a novelizer, however, you need to try to make sense of some scenes where a film only implies what’s going on.  Now, in this case I’ve seen the movie many times and any deviations come across as “that’s not the way it goes” moments.  Still, it’s competently done.  It  even helped me make sense out of some things that had me puzzled since the start of the millennium.

In the “book or movie” debate I tend to think a book should be read first.  Sometimes it should go the other way around.  Novelizations are, of course, intended to increase the profits for a film.  You’ve got the box office take, and if there are advertising tie-ins or other merch, you can add to the haul.  A novelization can also help.  In this case, the movie has a somewhat complex plot with revenge and double-crossing, and so a novel helps to make all that clear.  However, when the novelist asks you to accept what a character is thinking you may have already come up with your own ideas on that point and any postmodernist would tell you that your opinion is just as valid as that of the writer.

Movie scripts tend to be a bit short for novels—if the movie isn’t based on a novel, of course—and sometimes extra material is needed.  This novelization includes the public domain story by Irving as well, even though the movie completely recasts all the characters into unfamiliar roles.  Brom, for example, is a minor part, whereas Katrina is a witch and Ichabod a constable from New York City.  All of that having been said, there really aren’t many surprises here.  I read this because I’m interested in the life of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  Its many retelling and re-envisionings.  The original story was published less than fifty years after American independence and has memories closer to the time.  It tells us something of what it was like in those early days.  And this novel both retells and redacts a movie already a couple decades old itself.


Who’s Calling?

The first twenty minutes are impossibly scary.  I didn’t see When A Stranger Calls back in 1979, when it came out.  I prefer my monsters in non-human form, thank you.  But still, to be writing books on horror movies without ever seeing what is widely regarded as being the scariest opening ever?  Although the first twenty minutes were indeed scary, and extremely tense, for me the scariest part came after that because I didn’t have any idea what else would happen.  Of course I knew the initial calls were coming from inside the house.  That urban legend seems to have been around since I was a kid.  I wasn’t sure who survived, if anyone.  And psychopaths are scary in real life, let alone in fiction where they can break into locked houses pretty easily.

The story, as laid out, is better than most critics give it credit for being.  The only part that seemed difficult to believe (and don’t get me wrong—I love Charles Durning) was that an overweight John Clifford could do all that running (particularly up stairs).  It’s believable that the criminally insane can escape—Michael Myers seems to do it every couple of years—and even that they could blend in on the streets of any city.  I do have to agree with the critics that the writing isn’t great, but those who say it’s not scary enough, well, they’re made of sterner stuff than me.  Or perhaps they lack empathy, which is a scary thing in itself.

Curt Duncan, perhaps because he’s clearly killed at the end of the movie, never became the serial boogyman that the aforementioned Myers, or Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Kruger, or Hannibal Lecter became.  Although sequels were made, once you’ve seen that first twenty minutes of Stranger, you get the sense that they’re not going to be able to do it any better.  Snopes tells us the legend began in the sixties.  It was clearly a reaction to the proliferation of telephones and the potential to abuse such technology.  That’s an object lesson we still haven’t learned.  We now seem never to be more than inches away from a device at all times.  Except maybe when in the shower, but that’s a scary story for another time.  Although I won’t be going back to rewatch or analyze this one over and over, still I feel I somehow earned a stripe or bar for watching it.  And I now feel even more appreciative of caller ID.


Double Feature

Creature features were a regular part of my youth, and, I suspect, where my appreciation of horror films began.  Nobody was really afraid of Godzilla or other monsters that were clearly people in rubber suits.  The use of forced perspective to make regular-sized animals into giants was obvious even to a child, but that didn’t make such movies any less fun to watch.  The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews both involve gigantic versions of rather small animals and both of them were produced outside of the studio system by Gordon McLendon, the owner of a chain of drive-in theaters.  Looking for B-movies for double features, he decided to make a couple of his own.  These two didn’t cost that much, but the special effects artist, Ray Kellogg, agreed to do them if he could be the director.  Together they make quite a double-feature of their own.

The Giant Gila Monster is never explained beyond the effectively shot beginning stating the who knows how big some things grow in the unexplored west.  Not even using a real gila monster, the lizard (unlike Komodo dragons, which one expects, were too expensive and untamable) isn’t aggressive and seems, from my perspective, to be just barely putting up with the fake trees and models it has to crawl over and around.  And everyone, apart from Mr. Wheeler, is nice.  The local Texas teens want to drag race but Chase Winstead, the gold-hearted mechanic, keeps them in line.  It’s a perfect world, in a Republican kind of vision, except for that darned giant lizard.  Winstead even figures out a way of getting rid of it so the authorities don’t have to.

The Killer Shrews, in reality puppets and dogs dressed up as shrews, is more adult-themed.  Four scientists on an island—contradicting the voiceover at the opening—have bred giant shrews.  The supply-boat captain and his Black mate are trapped on the island by a hurricane, where the mate predictably gets eaten by the escaped shrews.  McLendon himself appears as an over-the-top nerdy scientist while the producer, Ken Curtis, appears as another, more action-oriented man of science.  In a move a little unexpected for the fifties, Dr. Craigis’ bombshell blonde daughter is also a scientist.  But she’d be willing to be a sea-captain’s housewife if only she could get away from these awful shrews!  There’s a bit more tension in this one as one of the scientists is already engaged to Miss Craigis, but he’s a drunk and she wants out.  So might some audience members, but both films found international distribution and made money.  Now widely available for free, they are a slice of childhood served up in giant proportions.


Religious Monsters

It began with monsters.  A religious monster-boomer, I couldn’t get enough of these scary creatures as a child.  For some reason they made me feel happy, secure.  With the real monster of parental alcoholism lurking outside the door this is perhaps understandable.  Growing up I soon learned that these were childish things—religion was adult.  And very serious.  Always trying to be a good boy, I followed the trajectory to seminary and then further study.  Monsters had faded.  I still liked them, but seldom encountered them and acted disinterested if I did.  Fortunately I came out of it.  Probably it was being ousted from academia that awakened what had once been my reality.  That, and I’d learned that some academics—mostly in religion departments—were now studying monsters.  Monster may I?

Maybe a decade ago, I’d read, I thought, just about every academic book on monsters.  Then the slight shift of focus from monsters to horror films started.  You see, movies are often where we learn of monsters.  There weren’t too many academic books on the topic, and the internet sites I found often lacked depth.  (Although a shout-out is due to Horror Lex here, if you’re not visiting, you should be. And of course, Horror Homeroom.)  Editors, you have to understand, are for some reason discouraged from writing books.  I’d been noodling away on the ideas behind Holy Horror for years.  Suddenly it occurred to me—I could write a book on monsters from an angle unused before.  (Later I discovered an academic had written an article on the topic, but seems to have dropped it after that.)  Writing about horror is really my sublimated love of monsters arising.  And they do rise.

Of course, those who know the religious Steve, still trying to be the good boy, are confused.  Our culture has poisoned the well for horror, I fear.  Not everyone likes slashers.  I personally don’t care for them.  A quiet haunting is more my style.  Still, what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime often dictates what I see.  If you’re going to write about horror movies you have to read about them.  Lately that’s driven me more toward film department studies.  That’s the thing about curiosity—it never rests.  There are always doors to open and rocks to turn over.  And books to read.  There’s no end to it, kind of like a good scary movie.  Like a monster you have to cross boundaries to learn anything.  Religion has its monsters, and denying that will only lead to complications.


Things that Appear

As a movie, Apparition fails on many levels.  One way that it passes is being free on Amazon Prime, which is how I found it.  The trick with Prime, of course, is that really good movies tend to be available for a limited time, keeping you on the website.  Time is money, after all.  I was drawn into Apparition from the “based on real events” tagline, even though I should know better.  It was a hot, sleepy weekend afternoon, and I’m not a good napper.  I’m not going to worry too much about spoilers here, so if you’re into penance, you might want to wait until after you’ve seen it.  Set at the real life Preston School of Industry—a boy’s correctional institution in California—the boys are tortured and sometimes murdered by the warden and guards.  This is one of the few real-life parts: a housekeeper at the facility was murdered in an unsolved crime at the site.

Fast-forward two decades.  The former warden (the place has been closed), is hosting the lavish rehearsal dinner for his son’s wedding.  The son is unloved (his father is a sociopath, after all), and doesn’t treat his fiancée very well.  Meanwhile a younger son is a nerd who’s developed an app called Apparition.  Through some unexplained technological wizardry, it allows the user to connect to the dead.  Another couple, son and daughter of two of the former prison guards, decide to try it and discover that it works.  When the bride gives it a try it leads the five young people to the Preston School.  There various ghost-hunter startles are used as the ghosts of the murdered boys take their revenge on the offspring of the warden and guards.  The bride discovers her father was a “good cop” and that’s why she wasn’t killed.  The younger son is actually the son of the murdered housekeeper, another of his father’s dark secrets.  The parents come and get what’s due to them.

What makes this unremarkable film (and very little comment has been given on it) worth discussing here is that during the opening credits a Bible is shown open to Exodus.  The verse called out is 20.5: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”  This isn’t referenced per se in the film, but the warden does suggest the school is a righteous place.  That’s a fairly brief reward for watching, but I hate to waste even a lazy weekend afternoon when it’s too hot to work outdoors.


Social Horror

Some books get you thinking in ways you don’t expect.  That’s one of the pleasures of reading.  Lindsey Decker’s Transnationalism and Genre Hybridity in New British Horror Cinema may sound terribly specific—there are a lot of qualifiers in that title—but it actually has some very broad implications.  I was reading it specifically from the horror angle for a project I’m currently working on, but I was surprised at the social commentary I found while doing so.  One of Decker’s main ideas is to show that British horror is, well, transnational while maintaining its Britishness.  She focuses mainly on five films in the book, only two of which I’ve seen.  Very aware of the history of British cinema, she points out many characteristic features and situations that make British horror what it is.

The social commentary comes in when discussing “hoodie” horror films.  These are movies showing how the working class, particularly the youth, are dangerous and anti-society.  The more I read the more it occurred to me that imperialist, capitalist systems are built on the corpses of the poor.  Even good kids from bad situations have difficulty getting ahead in life and those above them on the “social ladder” more or less despise them and make policies to keep them in poverty.  This leads to anger and resentment, and often, in reality, this spills over into violence.  It all comes down to those who benefit from the system refusing to make it more equitable.  When the inevitable happens—those pressured without sufficient means boil over—they are blamed for their own circumstances.

Having grown up in a working class system and having struggled all my life to somehow maintain a comfortable existence for my family, I know the kinds of obstacles faced.  In my particular case, retirement is not a likely outcome.  I’ve worked, except for (and often even) when I was in higher education, since fourteen.  I’ve seen others with connections, educated parents or influential friends, get ahead.  I’ve also watched while many of us get shunted aside because, well, who are you?  Some people wonder why I watch horror.  There are many reasons for it, and at times I think maybe I’ve seen enough.  But then I look around at the corpse-strewn foundations of our current system and I see how reality plays into that fear.  Decker, I’m pretty sure, was meaning for her words to apply to mainly the fiction of horror, but there was a different kind of hybridity there as well, at least for me.


Hollow

Now that we’re officially in September, it’s kosher to talk of Halloween horror (I’ve seen Christmas decorations in the stores already).  Well, around here we don’t really need an excuse, but since it’s handy I’ll use it.  Regular readers know I’ve been on a Sleepy Hollow kick lately, and I’d been wanting to see The Hollow.  Released as an ABC television movie, it had a fairly modest budget of only about $900,000 but managed to pull in stars with name recognition.  A pre-Penny Kaley Couco also appears as the new version of Katrina Van Tassel.  Let me back up a bit.  This is set in the present day.  Halloween eve.  Karen (not Katrina) is watching a Sleepy Hollow retelling being done by Ian Cranston, but her bored escort, Brody (Brom, anyone?), goes to the graveyard instead with some of his friends.  Two of them are killed.  Oh yes, there will be spoilers.

It turns out that Ian, who’s just moved to the area, is the last remaining descendant of Ichabod Crane.  You see, after Ichabod fled, and settled in New York City, he changed his name for fear that the Horseman would find him.  Now that a Crane is back in town, the Horseman rides again.  The teen-rivalry between Ian and Brody plays out at Karen takes a shine to the newcomer.  A descendant of Hans Van Ripper, who unaccountably talks like a pirate—lots of “ye”s thrown in—realizes that the Horseman’s after the young Cranston.  Since he’s the town drunk, though, nobody really believes anything he says.  On Halloween the town has a haunted hay ride in which each side of the love triangle is involved.  Brody plays the Horseman, but suddenly there are two of them—uh oh!

Cranston, who’s on the fencing team (to the everlasting shame of his football-coach father), is able to engage the fiend in swordplay and eventually destroys him.  He gets the girl and impresses his father all in one predictable way.  There are some laughs along the way, but for the most part this is played as teen drama.  Some racy scenes (and head-chopping) led to an R rating, but there’s little that’s surprising here.  For anyone who’s interested in the various ways Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been repackaged over the years, it’s a reasonable enough diversion.  When Halloween draws closer, however, it may well be time to try something a bit more appropriate for the harvest season.


Pitfalls

While watching Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum, it occurred to me that these movies have improved with age.  The series of American International Pictures’ Corman Poe productions do manage to capture a mood.  One of the reasons, I suppose, is that Vincent Price was an able, often underrated, stage performer.  No, these aren’t like modern movies.  They’re clearly fictional and the backdrops are pretty obviously fake and it always seems to be thunder-storming outside. They are going for a mood, and for those who watch films for the feelings they generate, this can work.  Although based—very loosely—on Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum was screen-written by Richard Matheson, an able novelist in his own regard.

The Poe story hinges on the terror of the slowly descending pendulum and it has been used and reused in various guises over the years in everything from horror films to James Bond movies.  Corman’s Poe movies often set trends.  For example, in the backstory to Pit and the Pendulum, Nicholas’ (Price) father was a member of the Inquisition.  He kept a personal torture chamber in his basement—well, he lived in a castle, after all.  One of the victims of his father was Nicholas’ mother, an event the young Nicholas witnessed.  A very similar scenario, with even some similar shots, occurs in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.  I’m sure it must occur elsewhere as well, but in making a narrative of the story, this is my own unprofessional observation.

Yes, Corman is often over the top.  His films know they’re for entertainment purposes.  He’s not above camp and gimmicks.  The strange juxtaposition, in my own case, is that movies are meaningful.  Ninety-minutes to a couple of hours relieved from the constantly pressing demands of work and trying to maintain some sort of social life.  (And yard work.)  In ancient times, I suspect, myths served a similar purpose.  They still do.  Our myths have become more Technicolor over the years and have evolved from celluloid to pixels.  Their function has also evolved from escapism to a location of meaning.  On a recent weekend on my own I ended up watching five movies, feeling guilty between times for not painting the porch or doing that plastering that’s requiring attention in the attic.  The movies, however, give meaning to these other more mundane tasks such as work or housekeeping.  They’re not literally true, I know, but we need not disparage Roger Corman for stating the obvious.  Myths entertain as well as inform.


The Persistence of Streaming

I’ve had to start keeping a list.  If I don’t I’ll forget which movies I’ve streamed.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.  Electronic information is vapid and eminently forgettable.  If you go see a movie in a theater, you’re likely to remember it.  Memory of place and occasion aid the memory of plot and effects, I suspect.  To my knowledge I’ve never had anyone ask if I’ve seen a movie that I didn’t remember, if I saw it in a theater.  Streaming—maybe yes, maybe no.  A few weeks back I found myself streaming a film and thinking “this looks awfully familiar.”  The longer I watched the more convinced I was that I’d seen it before.  When it was over I checked.  I had watched it only a few months earlier.

When you buy a DVD or Blu-ray (or even a VHS tape), the physicality of it serves as a reminder.  Unwrapping the package, handling the case, loading it into your player—these are all keys, hooks upon which memories hang.  As I’ve intimated before, movies are, I believe, our modern mythology.  The idea’s not original with me, but think about how movies are often our frame of reference around the water cooler or with friends.  What did you think of Nope?  It’s a safe way to express our beliefs and aspirations.  Even if it’s not great, it’s helpful to be able to remember it when you want to.  Streaming, it seems, often lacks commitment.  Particularly if it’s from a free site.  (I use such only when the media are otherwise unavailable.)  Maybe there’s a reason it’s free.

Streaming asks little by way of investment, financially or psychologically.  It costs time, of course, and perhaps that’s the greatest siphon of all.  If you’re a busy person time is a commodity.  Spending some of it watching a movie—depending on who you are—isn’t simply entertainment.  Mythology gives us meaning.  I suspect that’s why we value those auteurs who break through the noise and manage to stand out in our minds.  Those who know what it is to captivate an audience.  Those who are really invested in their projects.  Like most books I read, the movies I watch come from a list.  I have a reason for watching them, often related to research.  And if you put the time into it, you want to remember it.  For that, I recommend keeping a list. (Have a written a post like this before?)


Like Sheep

Since horror grew up in the late 1960s, religion has become a favorite theme in the genre.  Although religion had been in horror from the beginning, Rosemary’s Baby marked a definite sea change.  More and more religion has been moving from a subsidiary theme to the main vehicle of horror.  Małgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a case in point.  “Shepherd” is the leader of a separatist religion that consists only of women.  The premise itself is creepy enough, but it becomes clear that Shepherd—the group literally has a flock of sheep—physically abuses the women.  They are divided into two groups: sisters and wives.  When unexplained things happen, Shepherd gives prophetic pronouncements.  His followers are expected to accept everything he says on blind faith.  Many religions do this by proclaiming faith against evidence a virtue.

One thing that I’ve emphasized in various presentations I’ve done is that Christianity, and perhaps all religions, work because believers are great followers.  While Shepherd uses biblical-sounding language, there are no Bibles in the film.  There are recognizably Christian themes, but the doctrine isn’t familiar.  Part of the reason, obviously, is that Christianity has a negative view of sex and Shepherd treats his flock as his harem.  The women follow because he “rescued” them from worse situations and their communal life is better.  Only it’s not.  When a woman director stands behind such a film, there’s clearly a message being sent about male privilege.  Any system set up with male superiority will lead to abuse.  When Shepherd’s enclave in the woods is discovered, they must move.  He instructs the women that they are going to find Eden.

Throughout, the movie is more creepy than scary in the traditional sense.  There are no jump-startles, but the situation makes you sense that something’s not right.  The women, acclimated to this lifestyle, many of them for years, know no other way of being or even where to go.  They have no vehicles.  Forced to move, they walk—Shepherd carries nothing while the women backpack out supplies.  Once Eden, on the shore of a lake, is reached, Shepherd baptizes the sisters and drowns the wives so the younger women can take their place.  You get the sense throughout that this movie is a parable.  Men like to take the privilege of determining women’s fates without understanding women’s needs.  This new kind of horror is insightful and symbolic.  There is no final girl when women band together.  The Other Lamb deserves wider exposure than it’s had.  It’s a good example of what religion can do to those who simply follow.


Walking Home Alone

It is an American-Iranian, female-directed vampire movie.  Shot in black-and-white and entirely in subtitled Persian, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a very unusual and artsy movie.  The film has been described as a “spaghetti western” as well, but that’s a bit more difficult for me to see.  If all these disparate elements seem odd, the director’s background may help explain it.  Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England, but of Iranian heritage.  She moved to the United States as a child and began making movies quite early.  A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is her best-known film to date (I only found out about it by reading a book about horror films that recommended it.)

The title may set certain expectations that will be subverted by the film.  There will be spoilers here, so if you’re likely to see the film you might want to wait to read on.  Who knows?  Maybe spoilers will make you want to see it.  The girl who walks home alone is the vampire.  She’s perfectly safe at night.  The story involves her falling in love with a compassionate young man who’s trying to support his heroin-addicted father.  The movie is quite gritty.  The girl is a conflicted vampire, which happens to be my favorite kind.  She’s never explained.  She simply is.  Her first victim that we see is the drug-dealer and pimp who’s pressuring the young man’s family.  Although they live in poverty, he takes their car in payment.  He’s a nasty piece of work.

The young man, also conflicted, takes over the dead thug’s drug-selling business, but doesn’t take advantage of people.  The vampire is attracted to his virtue.  She also befriends one of the thug’s prostitutes because she’s sad.  Apart from the dead petty crime boss, everyone in Bad City lives in humble circumstances.  The young man finally throws his father out of the house.  The vampire attacks him, leaving him dead.  The young man, in love with the vampire but not knowing she’s a vampire, talks her into leaving with him although he can see she’s implicated in his father’s death.  This is a most unusual film, praised for its feminine outlook.  That’s unusual in both vampire movies and horror, but there’s no reason that it should be rare.  More of an art-house movie than a cineplex blockbuster, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a movie that will leave you wondering.  And that, it seems to me, is a good thing.


Wicker Back

The dilemma of my eclectic interests sometimes runs up against the natural slowness of publishing.  My book on The Wicker Man has been given the green light by Auteur Publishing and should be out next year.  I just received the readers’ reports and they were positive enough to make me blush.  The thing is, I submitted the manuscript back in January and I’ve nearly finished writing my next book since then.  It’s on a different topic for which I’ve been collecting sources since January.  I really hope this next one won’t publish with an academic press.  The endless rounds of revision from peer review can wear a body out.  Reviewers, you see, have university jobs.  Libraries at their fingertips.  Sabbaticals.  (I work with authors who won’t write unless they have one of the latter.) Now my reading shifts back to Summerisle.

For those of us with 925s that get a paltry number of holidays per year (which are spent holidaying) and paid like most working stiffs, with no academic library access, this can present somewhat of a challenge.  I see peer reviews all the time.  Academics so deeply into the subject that they don’t (can’t) think of the practicalities.  When I see a reviewer write that a book is ready for publication, but if the author could only restructure the whole thing and approach it from this angle instead… I have to chuckle.  During my teaching career I worked in situations that didn’t allow for sabbaticals.  Even among academia those given such rare benefits are privileged.  It’s a wonder that so many books get written, all things considered.

Like waking from a dream world, I suddenly have to downshift to a previous project.  I haven’t really thought much about the Wicker Man since January.  My next book, which is eclectic, has been slowly gestating over the months.  My reading has been geared towards it and is financed personally.  I’ve tried contacting the local college and university libraries.  I can’t borrow, or do inter-library loan, so the weird resources I need I have to buy.  Preferably used.  One thing reviewers like to do is point out new resources.  And yes, I have to agree that my argument would be stronger with them.  I have a strategy to the way I write my books, now that I’ve found a receptive readership, so none of this is mishap, I hope.  (Ironically, now I get quite a few readers of my revised dissertation asking me questions about ancient West Asian studies.)  That trireme paddled from shore long ago.  I’ve moved my current project to another burner, and you’ll be hearing more about The Wicker Man in coming weeks.  Next year is the film’s fiftieth anniversary, so I have a deadline that I just can’t miss. It’s time to get reacquainted with an old friend.