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Stirring The POT(US)! – A Socio-Political Analysis of Thriller/Horror Films

hysteriaIf you ever find yourself thinking it seems difficult to keep up with what is “in” right now in the thriller/horror genre, it’s actually pretty simple; just follow political/social trends. If you’re wondering what’s going to be next to come in American thriller/horror films, leave it to politics to give you your answer. Because inevitably, our common themes in this genre of film, often attack the political/social agendas of that current time. To give us a clearer scope of this argument, I like to look back on several decades of horror, specifically all the way back to nearly 50 years ago. Since the 1970’s I argue that the thriller/horror genre has undergone five phases of horror eras. All of which I have coined specific names:

1) The Era of Mass Hysteria (Mid 1970’s – Mid 1980’s)

The 1970’s was all about mass hysteria in the wake of serial murders. The nightly news couldn’t make it for 10 minutes without mentioning Bundy, Manson, Gacy or any other notorious necrophiliac. Similarly, horror hits from this time through the mid 80’s mirrored such propaganda. Americans lived in fear of leaving the house, and being the next target of the local deranged mass-murderer, on a quest for innocent victims for their next murder spree.

  • Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Friday the 13th (1980)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Maniac (1980)
  • Nightmare on Elm St. (1984)
  • Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

2) The Anti-Adolescent Era (Late 1980’s – Early 2000’s)

Then, as we transitioned through the 1980’s with the Reagan Administration, and even through the millennium with the Clinton Administration, we started to see an angst towards preserving the conservative adolescent behavior in our political/social dialogue. Government funding began to back pro-abstinence campaigns in high-school curriculum, and more of a focus shifted towards anti and/or safe-sex marketing strategies, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged. Consequently, with this rise of sexually-transmitted diseases, paranoia surrounding sex and drug abuse in America rose, and so did much of the media/political agendas, which were filled with contraceptive and anti-tobacco/drug ads, all of which targeted teenagers. Thus, our horror hits of these times were filled with adolescent distress and teen slashers.

  • Poltergeist (1982)
  • Children of the Corn (1984)
  • Child’s Play (1988)
  • It (1990)
  • Scream (1996)
  • I Know/I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1997/1998)
  • Final Destination (2000)
  • Jeepers Creepers (2001)
  • Joy Ride (2001)
  • Wrong Turn (2003)

3) The Era of The White-Picket Demise (Early – Mid 2000’s)

Then, as the millenium hits and we progressed through the mid 2000’s with the new Bush Administration and the brink of a war, the socio-political agenda intensified regarding keeping our homeland safe and refurbishing the traditional “white-picket” American home. Without wasting any time, the Bush Administration began implementing the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) just soon after George W. Bush took office. Tensions between the U.S. and middle-east enhanced post-9/11, and American people seemed less concerned with the epidemics of the 90’s, and more interested in protecting the nation. Subsequently, the thriller/horror films at this time consistently preyed upon the family dream home, and a deterioration of the nuclear family.

  • The Others (2001)
  • The Grudge (2004)
  • Amityville Horror (2005)
  • Cold Creek Manor (2003)
  • The Skeleton Key (2005)
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
  • Silent Hill (2006)

 4) The Postmodernist Era (Mid 2000’s – Mid 2010’s)

Postmodernism is a term that in its most literal sense, derives from skepticism of conformity across many different mediums. Thus, as we moved from the mid-late 2000’s through the mid 2010’s decade, we began to make drastic advancements in technology with major monopolies like Apple, Amazon, and Google becoming key players in our scientific breakthroughs. While moguls such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos withheld immense intellectual power, and our everyday lives seemed to be more and more centralized around their products, our skepticism towards such things also grew. As a result, a whirling social doubt of our government with incidents like the Wikileaks Scandal, rising unemployment rates, and a recession, the thriller/horror blockbusters at this time represented this exploitation of technology and government conspiracies. With unique camera angles switching to more of the “live footage” POV’s and zombie-culture films for example, it was this rising anti-technology/anti-government motif that created a provocative environment for dystopian movies in this genre.

  • Pulse (2006)
  • Stay Alive (2006)
  • I am Legend (2007)
  • Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • 30 Days of Night (2007)
  • Cloverfield (2008)
  • One Missed Call (2008)
  • Quarantine (2008)
  • The Fourth Kind (2009)
  • The Crazies (2010)
  • Contagion (2011)
  • The Purge (2013)

5) The Era of Subjective Fear (Mid 2010’s – Current)

This all brings us to our current state, which we’ve been in since the mid 2010’s decade – This socio-political clusterfuck as a result of the utmost political/media doubt and uncertainty that causes us to be more and more polarized as a society. Amidst the Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and an uproar of what seem to be dated social issues – race, police brutality, and gender equality, all begin to resurface, the uncertainty of human ethics seems to keep growing. Ironically, our thriller/horror films recently have been more subjective* (see previous post) and ambiguous as the catalyst of a lot of our fear in our everyday lives in unknown, so similarly our films reflect this.

  • It Follows (2014)
  • The Witch (2015)
  • It Comes At Night (2017)
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
  • Get Out (2017)
  • Birdbox (2018)
  • Us (2019)

Final Thoughts:

With all of this being said, there are obvious examples that counter this argument, and so, this is not to say that if a film doesn’t attack socio-political norms of that time then it won’t succeed. However, I do believe that it makes it that much more challenging for a film outside of it’s typical “era” to succeed. So what does it mean for the future of the thriller/horror genre? Well, with the way we are heading socially and politically, my predictions are that this subjectivism will continue to be explored with films exuding innuendos of propagandic fear via media streams, paparazzi-fear, more social media horror, and even more mass-shooter films. What do you think is in our future for this beloved genre? Do you find my categories sufficient? If so, of the five listed, what’s your favorite thriller/horror era?

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A look at FEAR – NO not the shitty Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon thriller…

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve last posted on here…I’m sorry to keep you guys waiting by the edge of your seats (LOL). I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about some of my favorite thriller and horror films over the past year – A Quiet Place (2018), It Comes At Night (2017), Super Dark Times (2017), and while they are all such different films, I found a lot of my thoughts and analyses about them to be quite redundant.

I was left wondering, what is it that separates these films from each other? What makes them so special? I think how we categorize fear for one is very important here. If we want to categorize anything in the genres of thriller/horror it should be categorized by the type of fear that particular film embellishes. So, I have taken it upon myself to create a scale of fear, “The O-S Scale”, to help one analyze thriller/horror films more adequately (Get your notepads out gang!).

To me, there are two extremities when it comes to fear in film – Objective Fear and Subjective Fear. If we think about the literal term ‘Objective’ this comes from meaning actuality or supportive reasoning such as statistical facts or science that explains why something would be categorized as objective. While ‘Subjective’ comes from meaning interpretation, or personal declarations such as feelings or emotions, that explain why something would be categorized as subjective. Thus, Objective Fear refers to actuality, or overt fear, while Subjective Fear refers to interpretation, or ambiguous fear.

For example, your most objectively scary movies are going to be your slasher or torture films, to name a couple – movies in which you’re directly faced with the catalyst of the fear. In these films you might often wonder, “What caused this evil rage? – A wrong-doing? A mental-health issue? What does this perpetrator want from the victims?”

While your subjectively scary movies are often more of your or dystopian films or films that lack a distinctive Mise en Scene  – movies in which the root of the fear is harder to define, and often described as “IT”, because the evil is something we have yet to put into words, category, or meaningful thought. In these films, you might often find yourself thinking, “What is IT? Is IT all of our problems manifested into something we can’t explain, something we can’t see, something we can only feel? Is the evil that we combat self-induced?”

To put things in perspective, if we were to label the most objectively scary movies on my “O-S Scale” as a 10 and the most subjectively scary movies as a 1 (not to say that a 10 correlates to horror and a 1 correlates to a lack of horror), we could consider a movie like Halloween (1978) as a 10 and a movie like It Comes At Night (2017) as a 1.

Further, during your objectively scary movies, our fear is usually instilled like a rollercoaster – build-up’s to a climax followed by a come-down from that scene, followed by a relapse, over and over again until the movie concludes. Yet, during the subjectively scary movies, there aren’t usually these sporadic moments of climax throughout the film. Of course there are climatic moments for sure, however, there’s more so this lingering of constant unease or fear during the whole movie. As if the tension we feel comes from knowing we’re not going to get that big hurrah of a scare when we anticipate it, because we don’t even know exactly what the fuck we are afraid of yet (see homemade graphs below).

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Let’s break this down in more of a literal context – Usually your objectively scary movies are conducive to dark hallways passed through by a shaky protagonist with a light waiting to turn sharply to only see a ghost staring back at them. Our subjectively scary movies might be envisioned as a petrified protagonist alone in the woods searching for the root of strange noises, sightings, etc. Make sense?

Now, in my humble opinion, I think we are currently in a subjectively dominated era of horror. Not to demean or disenchant the great objectively scary movies that have recently been made, but I do feel as if our current climate of horror leans more on the subjective side. One thing that we can all agree on, is that there are great masterpieces of both objective and subjective film of all sorts, despite if you have a certain preference in category or not. Likewise, we can also agree that neither category of film is more scarier than the other.

What I hope you take away from all of this, is a new lens to analyze the thriller/horror genre of film. I hope to bring more critical thought to the physical reactions that are a natural byproduct of our deepest cognitive emotions. To enlighten my readers on the subject matter of fear itself – an inevitable, natural, and complicated source from our inner subconscious, that is often the reason for why we can or cannot explain our complexity of wonder.

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What are some of your favorite thriller/horror films? How would you rank them on the O-S Scale? How do you feel about these categories, do you agree or disagree with this spectrum? Below are some horror films that I have ranked on the O-S Scale, let me know what you think!

Halloween (1978) – 10
It Follows (2014) – 1
As Above, So Below (2014) – 6
It Comes At Night (2017) – 1
A Quiet Place (2018) – 7
The Invitation (2015) – 5
Honeymoon (2014) – 4
Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015) – 3
The Witch (2015) – 4
Super Dark Times (2017) – 1
Jeepers Creepers (2001) -10
Hereditary (2018) – 4
The Others (2001) – 2

An Ode To Kim (Not Me)

Similar to David,
You seem to have this way,
Of capturing my heart,
And wooing my mind.

For your words
And your imagery,
Saturated my soul
Like sum-sum and kimchi,
And the Seoul sun.

If it weren’t for Soo-yeon,
And those dreams by the pond,
I’d be off the deep end too —
Waiting, pretending, and praying for more
From you.

Hiding from my deep, dark past,
Until I can breathe some sanity again, at last.

(A Tale of Two Sisters)

An Ode To Jim and Danny

I don’t give a fuck how bad this may be…. But you will forever have my heart! For the nostalgic mementos, and mediocre dialogue, are enough to pull me in, yet every time. Though Jen wasn’t as convincing as the puffery had hoped, and Freddie’s heroic moments seemed more like falls from grace,
Anne and Ryan really carried it home. With aggression, with wife-beaters, with a crazed woman in the woods — I take this to my grave! I TAKE THIS TO MY GRAVE, THAT I NEED YOU LIKE HELEN NEEDS THAT GOD DAMN TIARA FROM THE BAY!!! And who gives a fuck what Mr. Blue has to say?! I can always welcome your toxicity with open arms and devotion. For your desperation and comic relief, is what I’ll always be, “waitinggggg forrrrrrrrrr”.

(I Know/I Still Know What You Did Last Summer)

10 of the most basic tropes you’re bound to see in your favorite horror films

1. The creepy drawing from a kid

creeoy drawing

  • Notable References:
    • Annabelle
    • Orphan
    • The Ring
    • Children of The Corn

2. The inevitable bathroom scene

Nightmare

  •  Notable references:
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    • Slither
    • What Lies Beneath
    • Candyman

3. The wise hermit that knows everything

Sam Loomis

  • Notable References:
    • Jezelle – Jeepers Creepers
    • Missy Egan – I Know What You Did Last Summer
    • Estes – I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
    • Sam Loomis – The Halloween franchise
    • Professor Jonas – Sinister
    • Bill Bludworth – Final Destination

4. The worst cops of all time

Scream

  • Notable References:
    • Get Out
    • I Know What You Did Last Summer
    • Scream

5. The last tryst before death

it follows

  • Notable References:
    • It Follows (the entire movie)
    • Jennifer’s Body
    • The Cabin in The Woods
    • Halloween (1978)

6. Eating shit when being chased

prom night

  • Notable References:
    • Leprechaun
    • Scream
    • Prom Night (1980)

7. Tits…for no particular reason at all

tat

  • Notable References:
    • (90% of all horror movies)

8. An old book with details on the origin of the evil

evil dead

  • Notable References:
    • Evil Dead
    • The Babadook
    • The Amityville Horror (2005)

9. If you’re a 90’s/Early 2000’s teen slasher, then a scremo rock movie trailer narrated by Redd Pepper is a must

swimfan

10. The infamous battle cry

IKWYDLS

  • Notable References:
    • What are you waiting for huh?! What are you waiting forrrrrr?!?!?!!?!?! – I Know What You Did Last Summer
    • “He’s big and he plays football and he’ll kick the shit out of you!” – Scream
    • “The power of Christ compels you!” – The Exorcist

 

An Ode To Sofia

Perhaps the best things in life are free…?
Perhaps love only exists in the bottom of my whiskey glass,
Or miso soup, or that yuzu sake you drink…?

Cause I loved you the moment you gave me that longing look of lust.
With those perfect pink locks and innocent eyes.
For you were the spark that ignited my existence, and made sense of this alllllll,
Despite my even-keeled demeanor (you are my escape).

Perhaps in another time or place we could make sense too…
But I’m too far gone for that,
And you’re too good to look back.

But now I can breathe easily,
For we know love does exist –
In the middle of that elevator, just you and me.

 

 

 

(Lost in Translation)

 

Why We Should Thank Michael Moore

mike mooreThings we can thank Michael Moore for: Dad jeans, New Balances, and unwarrantedly aggravating neighbors. While these might be true, Michael Moore also gave us our current obsession with true-crime documentaries/docuseries. It’s almost as if every week there’s a new Netflix debut of a new crime documentary or docuseries. Most popular in recent years:

*Making a Murderer (2015)
*OJ: Made in America (2016)
*The People vs. OJ Simpson:American Crime Story (2016)
*Amanda Knox (2016)
*Casting JonBenet (2017)
*The Kalief Browder Story (2017)
*The Keepers (2017)
*Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)
*The Staircase (2018)
*Flint Town (2018)
*The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (2018)
*The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2019) 

It’s as if the left-wing guy with a camcorder and moral obligation has transitioned to more of a debut; a highly funded production that is cinematically premeditated, all created by a team of people. And while we may still get the occasional Michael Moore’s, what we crave now is a dramatic production in the documentary genre. In order to really understand this transition however, we must first understand philosophical theory and the history of the documentary genre, because I would argue that there is a philosophical algorithm to creating an effective documentary/docuseries nowadays, and it is embedded with Aristotle’s foundations.

Aristotle categorized the derivative of persuasion in to three modes – ethos, pathos, and logos. “Ethos being ethical appeal, means to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character. Pathos being emotional appeal, means to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions. And Logos being appeal to logic, means to convince an audience by use of logic or reason” (ethospathoslogos.com). Documentaries were traditionally referred to as “actuality films” because of their depiction of realism through cinematography. Then mid 20th century there was this shift to more of an intimate production (Desktop-Documentaries.com) This is where we see documentaries start to shift from less of a historical dialogue to more of a dramatized one. Dramatized meaning more emotional so to speak, not artificial.

In sum, the purpose of the documentary/docuseries begins to switch from telling a story from a historian standpoint, to creating persuasion to incite emotion. What this means is that while logos for a long time was the constant variable in this genre of film, pathos became the focal point of production when this transition was made.

Theorists such as Neil Postman would argue that this transition is the antithesis of what documentaries should be, as we are more consumed with the entertainment behind the production rather than the facts themselves now. Coincidingly, such pieces deviate from actuality itself, because the persuasion is too calculated, and as a result the overall message is lost in conspiracy (Amusing Ourselves To Death, 1986).

Meanwhile, with an emergence of new technological equipment in the 1990’s, there began a kickstart to what would become an obsessive culture over documentaries/dosuseries. The trailblazers of this genre at this time – Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield, Morgan Spurlock, etc., relied heavily on their ethos – how well they could incorporate their character/credibility throughout filming to drive home the message of the logos (gun control, obesity, corruption, etc.), and leave their audience with an unsettled emotional response to the medium – the pathos. Allegorically, current filmmakers in this genre must now often rely on the logos and how it is presented in the film in order to drive home their credibility and motives, and leave their audience with an unsettled emotional response to the medium; the pathos.

To put things in perspective, we can think of our Moore’s and Broomfield’s as our “start-up” guys – filmmakers that sort of went rouge and created these provocative narratives with little funding and resources, with themselves at the focal point of scrutiny. As this theme gained traction, so did resources and ideas, and now we have this overwhelming demand for more pieces of this kind, created by tenured professionals – analysts, journalists, directors, producers, politicians, lawyers, activists, celebrities, you name it, all backed by lots of funding for production.

Now, Postman may argue that due to this, the current medium is degraded with ill-intention and glamour. Do you agree with him? Do you think there are too many hands in the pot now? Do you think that this stylistic formatting dilutes the genre or validates it? Why do you watch documentaries?

Now, I argue that this current medium has allowed us to not only challenge the status quo but to also question politics and our criminal justice system. It validates our current social doubt in media coverage and political agenda, and forces those with authority to reconsider trail appeals, revisit and re-analyze investigations, prosecutions (or lack thereof…), and inspires activism and a space for a multitude of perspectives and impositions. It pressures our authoritative figures to, “do the right thing” because now all eyes are watching.

Thus, documentaries NOW CAN TRIGGER ACTION! Disagree? A decade ago, who outside of Manitowoc County would have cared about Steven Avery’s sanctity of life without Netflix?! And how many people would urgently be rallying to indict R.Kelly for sexual assault again without the Lifetime docuseries?!

So while we might in fact thank those like Michael Moore for showing us the bravery behind dad jeans and New Balances, or Morgan Spurlock for making us regret those extra calories at the drive-thru, we must rather thank them for the prominence of neo-liberal cinema, backed by factual exploitation, and a lack of satisfaction with regulated perspectives.


Sources:

https://www.desktop-documentaries.com/history-of-documentaries.html

https://pathosethoslogos.com

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

An Ode To David

You are perfect.
You dazzle.
You intoxicate.
You relish—

In the spotlight
Of opposition
To a mass
Much greater than you.
So they thought at least…

From sources of creativity
And vectors that renew
This clique of disenchantment
Undone with folly motifs
And docile vessels.

You are the utmost precedent
Of love and fear.
And for that…

You are perfect.
You dazzle.
You intoxicate.
You relish.

(It Follows really did it for me…xoxo)

An Ode To Richard

To arise in this stupor
Would be the ideal.
To masquerade in this fallacy
Would sparkle to most.

With embers of authenticity
That to no degree can satisfy enough —

A muse.
A portal.
A figment.

To which only clutter this disdain
And are no more than temporary.

Independently maneuvering pious burros
Tormented with in-denial cliches
In a labyrinthic pursuit for
A c t u a l i t y.
Desperate for substance
It is only at bottom
In which there’s utter relief
From a mad world of suburban shallow.

(For you, Donnie Darko)