Saturday, July 11, 2015

"It Follows"- the Scary Movie of 2015?

 
    Ghost and What a Witch recently ventured out to see a new indie horror film “It Follows," and what followed was one hour and forty five minutes of pure suspense and terror.
The story centers around a girl named Jay who has been 'infected' by a horrific and deadly curse after a sexual encounter with her date. The curse is an entity that creepily follows the victim and, if it catches up, will kill the host. The remedy: pass on the curse to the next person by having sex with him/her.

     This whole movie serves as a PSA to remind us once again that STDs are terrifying.
The scares in this film are few and rarely the kind that makes you want to jump out of your seat, but that, is a good thing. The tension that comes along with the slow, tension building pace and eerie, at times ear drum-popping music only makes those few jumpy moments more intense. The film's cinematography, complete with an overall 1980’s era vibe succeeds in bringing out an ambience that is even more cold and menacing. The Witch and the Ghost sat down to discuss their thoughts on what has been called the horror film of 2015. Possible spoilers may be discussed. 

What do we think of the villain in this movie, the body shifting, slow moving nameless, background less entity?

What a Witch: It’s vagueness, combined with its relentlessness, makes it very, very unnerving. Are they one creature? Are they minions? Of whom? Why does it sometimes look like dead people, even when they are taking the form of someone who is alive in the story, and at other times, appear as a normal person?

     The vagueness and lack of back story makes this whole story very Carpenter-esque. Remember that before "Halloween" became a franchise, developing the story that Michael Myers was Laurie Strodes brother- the original movie was about a random evil killer, setting his sight on a random girl. The only connection being that she lived in the same town as he did as a child. I couldn’t help but think though, what if, instead of always walking, they took public transportation? I would, If I was a murderous supernatural entity that had to walk to get my victims.

Ghost: The last scare of the movie for me is the inevitable sequel, and what I fear will, as my good friend the Witch mentioned, be a lesser sequel trying to explain the monster more. Because I do not want to know more about the monster. I do not want the kids of a sequel to be shown finding the weaknesses of the monster on Google. Mystery equals terror, it always has, from "Halloween" to "Psycho" to "Aliens" to the original MGM monster movies-- and explainations make that terror less, and for a film like this would pull the rug out from so much of it's punch. Becuase, simply, this monster works. Yes whatever it is follows some odd rules, and shape shifts, but the execution is stellar, and the commitment this monster has to stalking its victims is frightening. I loved that this monster could take on so many different forms and be scary. At one point in the film, I thought we were going to get some kind of back story having to deal with the briefly mentioned abandoned psychiatric hospital, especially when so many of the monster's forms appear to be patients in such a hospital-- but we were never told. Which worked so beautifully for me. 


What about the music?
What a Witch: This is certainly another nod to Carpenter. The music sounds a lot like a vintage score crafted by John Carpenter with sinister synthesizer tunes similar to Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13.  
     The music terrified me. It provided its own jumps and scares for sure, but in the movies slow moments, it also created a sense of dread and tension.

Ghost: The music is an absolute love letter to John Carpenter. And I loved every note of it. Any critic who tries to dismiss the score as too much like Carpenter is having the point sail over her or his head. I want this score on viyl, and to play it this Halloween for trick or treaters. 



Was it scary?

What a Witch: Yes! This movie felt like an actual nightmare to me – what scared me was not the mindless terror but the notion of mindlessly trying to escape the terror. The evil was unrelenting, and even if you can manage to shake it, you always run the risk of it coming back for you.
     The lesson in this story is of course, that you should only have sex with really smart people who can keep passing it on and avoid their own demise.
     The few times the movie did provide a seat jumping scare, it was absolutely horrifying, especially with some of the scenes revealing the entity early on in the main characters experience…specifically, super tall guy in her bedroom!!!!
Ghost: Absolutely agreed, this was truly a scary nightmare of a film. You don't even feel like you've woken up from the nightmare once the credits roll. I would much rather be constantly unnerved by the atmosphere of a film, and occasionally jolted to fear, than any other experience horror can provide. Every scary in this film is worked for, and none are cheap or explotive in an era when the genre is oversaturated with such attempts at scares. 


What about the retro vibe of the film?
What a Witch: I loved the 80’s look of the movie- and the fact that there was hardly any modern technology (save for the super awesome compact/ clamshell shaped e-reader that I hope becomes an actual thing!!).
     And admittedly, I have a bit of an obsession with Detroit as recent movies like this one and "Only Lovers Left Alive" have somehow made the city’s urban decay sexy, hip and mysterious.  
     The cinematography in this film highlights Detroit’s mass scale degeneration and lack of inhabitants. And although it is filmed beautifully, the city becomes a menace of its own in this film. A place so large yet comes off as a secluded wasteland…and so, so stuck in it’s long ago and long past glory.

Ghost: The retro-vibe in here should win an Academy Award, seriously. Is that possible? It truly helped make the film for me. I don't think I will go as far as saying that in a modern, post 2015 setting, horror isn't as effective, but when you take our smart phones tracking our every move, and set us back in simpler times, horror thrives. Would John Carpenter's "Halloween" have been as successful if Laurie Strode used her smart phone to call Sheriff Brackett when she was trapped in the closet with Michael Myers outside? Would the chase to catch up with and destroy Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel be as thrilling if Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and company were checking in at Transylvanian rest stops on Facebook every step of the way? I think not. 

      And that's what's so brilliant about this movie. It's like a dream. We see kids gathering around a small black and white TV to watch a scary movie that's being shown, and using phones with cords to call each other. They stop over at each other's houses instead of texting each other. And yet the one character has some kind of (primitive, futuristic, both or neither?) e-Reader. We don't know what time we are in, but we have known like times, and it takes us back to a scarier time, maybe the 1980s, when you were more isolated, alone and helpess when the mysterious other comes to terrorize you. I feel seriously sorry for children growing up today who won't know-- or can they?-- the frame of reference of growing up in a time before the Internet, when the world had so much more mystery to explore, and terrify. 

      But back to the movie. "It Follows," plays the retro-vibe up-- in setting, music and tone so perfectly. I'd watch it over and over again if for nothing else than the atmosphere. 



What, in the end, does the curse means?
 

What a Witch: Perhaps an allegory about sexually transmitted disease?

     Or maybe it is about death itself? The movie ends with one of Jay's friends reading aloud a grim Dostoevsky quote about the moment of extinction. Perhaps it is about the fear that we can never outrun or escape our inevitable demise.
Ghost: To paraphrase a quote from an artwork on roughly the same scale as Dostoevsky, the film "Mean Girls:" 'Don't have sex, or you will die.' 
      I think this is, at heart, the basis of the curse. But it's so much more than that. The now retro films that "It Follows" so expertly harkens back to-- "Halloween." "Friday the 13th," "Scream"-- so often boiled down to a cast of sexually active teen characters being killed by a killer who can never seem to catch the virginal character. "It Follows," remembers these films, and expounds on the concept with something deeper. There are few things in the world more primal, and occasionally frightening, than death and sex. Marrying the two together, and having these characters we so easily root for possibly spending their lives out running sex and death is something much smarter and more affecting than most-- well, nearly all-- horror films today have to say. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 12 Scares of Christmas: Krampus


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

There could be no other choice for the 12 Scare of Christmas. Krampus, the horned one of Christmas, bringing terror to the hearts of children at Christmastime for generations. And, if we haunted hearts are very good, generations more to come. 



 In German speaking folklore, Krampus has long held high court over Christmas. Some have even theorized that this devil-creature dates back to pre-Christian traditions. Although Krampus as a legend has no direct ties to the horned one, also known as Satan himself, the resemblance is uncanny, and one can clearly see the devil's influence on Krampus.

 The main idea behind the legend of Krampus is that he comes in the winter to punish bad children. Krampus often, like Marley's Ghost, carries chains he rattles, along with bells to create a commotion and scare. Krampus carries birch branches, which he uses to beat bad children-- much like Belsnickel. But Krampus goes much further than Belsnickel in his punishment of the bad children. Krampus is often shown with a sack or a washtub on his back-- in which he will take away the bad children to beat, to drown or take them back to Hell.




 In more modern times, the tradition of Krampusnacht, which takes place in Alphine communities on December 6. On Krampusnacht, Saint Nicholas travels with Krampus-- Nicholas, rewarding the good children; and Krampus punishing, or at least terrifying, the bad.

 For the nearly countless generations that Krampus has existed in legend, he appears to finally in our modern times be getting his due. On the sheer strength of how brutally terrifying his myth is, a modern pop culture interest has continued to gain traction in recent years. With a film on its way later this year, based on the popular recent novel "Krampus: The Yule Lord" by author Brom, Krampus is every dark this time of year.

 And we wouldn't have it any other way.


Krampus, from "Krampus: The Yule Lord" 































Photo Credit One: The Atlantic

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: Belsnickel


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

For the eleventh scare of Christmas, we head to Germany. Meet Belsnickel, a miserly old gift-bringer who is celebrated in southwestern Germany-- by the Rhine, the Saarland, and areas of Baden-Wuttenberg. The tradition of Belsinckel has also been brought to some Pennsylvania Dutch communities. Belsickel is also found in parts of Newfoundland. 


 Several weeks before Christmas, Belsnickel visits homes of good and bad children alike. For the good girls and boys, Belsnickel brings gifts. For the bad, he carries and switch, with which he beats bad children and tries to scare the naughty from them. He is almost always portrayed as mean, with dirty clothes, and ill-tempered-- perhaps like a less well kept, German Ebeneezer Scrooge. 



 Belsnickel. He knows if you've been bad or good. And if you are bad he beats you. There, ghosts and witches, is our 11th scare of Christmas. 


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Kallikantzaros


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

"Kallikantzaros"

by Christos in Painting


 For this tenth scare of Christmas, we head to Greece. To meet the Kallikantzaros. The Kallikantzaros are goblin like creatures who roam the Greek countryside during the 12 days of Christmas. Of course. Variations of the creature exist in other Southeastern European cultures, but appear most predmoniantly in Greece. 


 The legend of the Kallikantzaros goes something like this. The whole year round, the goat-footed goblins spend their time toiling under the surface of the Earth, sawing at what is called the World Tree, in order to literally bring down the world. When they begin to finish their work toppling the tree, Christmas happens, and they are released out into the world to spread their terror. When the sun dawns on the day of the Epiphany on January 6, they returned to their underground world to find that the tree has healded itself, and they must begin their work again-- until the next Christmas. 


 And there you have the tenth scare of Christmas. 


Monday, December 29, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Yule Cat


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

Before we leave Iceland, one more scare of Christmas that lurks there is too good to leave behind. That is the myth of the Yule Cat. 



 According to Icelandic legend, at Christmastime, the Yule Cat lurks in the woods. The monster is a gigantic cat, who exists mainly to eat people who have not received new clothes in time to wear for Christmas Eve. Popular legend also links the cat to Gryla as, of course, her pet house cat. While Gryla was popularizred as a cautionary tale for badly behaved children, the myth of the Yule Cat has been viewed as a cautionary tale to spur productivity in clothing workers, to process the autumn season's wool before Christmas.

Picture Credit: http://themonsterguys.com/tag/yule-cat/

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Yule Lads


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.


 For our next scare of Christmas, we remain in Icelandic mythology-- and on the mischevious child-eating Gryla's own family tree. The Yule Lads are a group of 15 unique troll creatures who commit their deeds year round and especially on Christmas. And they just so happen to be Gryla's children, although the legend of Gryla and the Yule Lads existed independently for centuries before they came to be associated as family. 

 Unlike their mother, who abducts, devours and makes stews out of children, the Yule Lads are-- while their own individual brand of creepy -- not as brutal as their mother. Like a demented take on Snow White's seven dwarves, the Yule Lads, each with a name and a certain fascination, are quite the crew. 

 There is Stekkjastaur, who has peg legs and harasses sheep; Askasleikir, who hides under beds and steals bowls; Gattapefur, who uses his large nose to sniff out laufabraud, a type of bread to steal; Gillagaur, who steals milk from cows, Hurdaskellir, who slams doors during the night; Ketkrokur, who has a hook he uses to steal meat; Stufur, who steals pans; Skyrgamur, who steals skyr, a kind of Icelandic strained yogurt; Kertasnikir, who steals candles from children; Pvorusieikir, who steals wooden spoons to lick; Bjugnakraekir, who hides in rafters and steals sausages; Pottasiekir, who steals leftovers from pots; Gluggagegir, who looks through people's windows for things to steals; and, finally, Leppaludi, who is Gryla's husband. 

 And here they are all, explained in a graph from iceland.is. 



Sunday, December 28, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: Gryla


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.


 The Seventh Scare of this Christmas is a drastic departure from the kindly old, gift-giving lady of the Befana. Readers, meet Gryla, an Icelandic giantess of myth, whose legend dates back to at least the thirteenth century. Her legend last for centuries, and became associated with Christmas sometime during the seventeenth century, when she became known as the mother of the Yule Lads, who will be chronicled in their own post here at the 12 Scares of Christmas. 

 Gryla's legend dates back to the "Edda," which was a thirteenth century written account of Old Norse prose and poetry, which is the main source of what we know today as Old Norse mythology. The legend of Gryla, as it was come to be known, goes something like this. Throughout the year, from her mountain cave home, Gryla can detect misbehaving, bad children. At Christmas she comes out of her home to eat bad children. End of story. Gryla eats children. As evidenced in this painting below. 



Saturday, December 27, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: La Befana


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

 Coming in at number 6 on the 12 Scares of Christmas is La Befana, the Christmas witch from Italy. The Ghost has been intrigued enough by the legend of the Befana to write of her before, and even created Christmas cookies of the witch of the yuletide. 


Painting by James Lewicki, from "The Golden Book of Christmas Tales" 1956. 

 The legend of the Befana goes something like this-- though, as legends do, the stories vary and change throughout the year and in the words of the teller. The Befana was an old woman, or a witch, who was tending her house somewhere in a land before the birth of Jesus Christ, and she was visited by the three wise men who were travelling to visit the baby Jesus. After staying at her house a night, the wise men left and asked the Befana to come with them to see the baby Jesus. The Befana declined, in many of the tails because she had too much housework to do, too much sweeping with her broom. Sometime after the three men left, the Befana regretted her decision, and she took off after them-- and never reached the wise men she had met or Jesus himself. And so, she goes from house to house every Christmas, looking for the baby Jesus, and leaving gifts, presents or tokens for the children she does find. Yes, in some areas of our great world, Santa Claus is an old witch on a broom. 
Photo from Scienze.fanpage.it

 Although the Befana is never-- in the majority of tellings-- meant to be a witch who scares children, the fact that the Christmas season contains a witch lands the old woman on list of the scariness of Christmas. Because, in the end, the Befana represents all the figure of the witch is about: a character who can be, for lack of a more impartial term, villified by being dubbed a scary witch simply because she is different, old and carries a broom. 








      In today's culture, the Befana is depicated as everything from a kindly, warm and inviting old lady or grandmother type, to a straight up witch with a pointed hat and nose and cackling cat, a refugee from the world of Halloween. But whatever way the old woman may be represented, I think we can all agree that the season of snow and multi-colored lights and good will to men could use a little more witchiness, no? 



Friday, December 26, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

      The fifth scare of Christmas needs no introduction. Easily the scariest installment among Scrooge's Christmas Eve visitors, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has been scaring Scrooge-- and readers and viewers-- for 171 years. 




       The Last of the Spirits has made the Grim Reaper as synonymous with Christmas as the big man in the red suit. Shown almost always in long, black robes which call to mind the most classic depictions of the grim reaper-- the spirit who comes for souls to take them to death-- this last Ghost shows Scrooge the bleakness of the Future, one where Tiny Tim has died, and Scrooge himself sits alone, reviled and physically forgotten, in a cold, snowy churchyard cemetery.


Disney's "The Muppet Christmas Carol" 1992



      Whether depicted without a face, or with a skeleton face revealed beneath the hood, this Ghost is silent and scary. He caps off Scrooges night and the plea from beyond the grave by leaving Scrooge with the thoughts of all he has remembered and seen-- in the past, present and future-- and offers him no insight but what he can show him. In some adaptations, the Ghost leaves Scrooge alone in the cemetery, in others Scrooge falls through to his grave, his coffin-- ending up back in his bed, safe and alive but changed. All in all, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to come does his best to bring some haunting into the Decemeber season.
A Christmas Carol - Illustrator P. J. Lynch.
Illustrator: P. J. Lynch

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Ghost of Christmas Present


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

      The fourth scare of Christmas on our list is the least traditionally ghostly of Charles Dickens' creation: The Ghost of Christmas Present. Unlike Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past, this ghost has not come to scare Scrooge; at least at face value. 
EB Image
Alastair Sim and Francis De Wolff in "Scrooge" later known retitled "A Christmas Carol" 1951

      Normally depicted as a fire haired Father Christmas, St. Nicholas and/or Santa Claus figure, the Ghost of Christmas Present is the jolliest, and most inviting of the ghosts, seeming to go easy-- at least at first-- on our protagonist who needs to change. "'Come in!' exclaimed the Ghost. 'Come in! and know me better, man!'" 
   
     For most of his part, the Ghost of Christmas Present is subtle. Showing Scrooge the boisterous happiness of Christmas begins to crack Scrooge's icy exterior. And by showing him the Crachit family on Christmas Eve, and first presenting Scrooge with the problem of Tiny Tim-- the sweet innocent boy who is gravely ill-- the Ghost begins to show Scrooge that which most disturbs him: the chance the Tiny Tim might die.


     This Ghost, however, quickly gets scary. What many adaptations gloss over, change or emit entirely, is the revealation of Ignorance and Want-- portrayed by two almost feral, stricken children emerging from beneath the Ghost's robe-- showing Ebeneezer in frightening detail the enemies that lie just below our present Christmas happiness, and are capable of destroying the spirit of yuletide joy it brings.

Disney's "A Christmas Carol" 2009

     And destroy they do. What is also not always depicted in your average "A Christmas Carol" adaptation, is how the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves Scrooge: in a violent, disturbing death which leaves the literal shell, the skeleton, of the Christmas Spirit that so charmed Scrooge. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The 12 Scares of Christmas: The Ghost of Christmas Past


Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

“’Your lip is trembling,’” the Ghost of Christmas past tells Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ novel. But the trembling is not, as would be typical with a spectral, frightening appearance, the result of Scrooge’s fear—it is because of Scrooge’s memory, and the emotions associated with his youth. Yes, the first of the three ghosts Jacob Marley announces to visit Scrooge isn’t the scariest of the lot, but she or he does play a significant part in the scaring of Scrooge back to the life he should be leading. 

 Unlike Marley, with his shaking chains and moans, the Ghost of Christmas past is not out to horrify and unnerve Scrooge. The role this ghost plays is to make Scrooge remember, in all the glory of what came before, exactly what his past looked like; who he was, who he was with, and how he felt. And in a way to Scrooge, that fear—that the person he was in the past with his sister, his friends and the woman he loved could never be again—is one of most frightening experiences that makes Scrooge change. If he cannot go back to his past and change it, he can, as he goes forward into the Christmases of the Present and the Future, do justice to the past, by remembering who he was before he changed.

 While the majority of the “A Christmas Carol” ghosts have standard depictions—Marley with his chains forged in life, the Ghost of Christmas Present a fire-haired Saint Nicholas figure, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come a variation of the grim reaper—the ghost of the past is often depicted differently. While the general idea from Dickens novel is often adhered to—a candle-like figure that can be, like the past, extinguished—most film and television adaptations have chosen different routes—sometimes depicting the ghost as a woman, sometimes a man; sometimes a young girl, but, always, with a floating, temporary presence that embodies what the past is to the reader of the viewer.
““These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “They have no consciousness of us.” “
Photo Credits:
First Photo: Bret Helquist
Second Photo: Walt Disney Pictures, "A Muppet Christmas Carol."