Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Halloween is drawing ever closer, and it's FINALLY starting to feel like Autumn here in NYC. Autumn is my favorite season, so this makes me sigh a great sigh of relief. Summer weather has just lasted WAY too long this year. There's now a slight breeze and chill in the air that I just love. It also means that every TV show is now trying to be a little bit spooky. Which is fine by me. Horror is easier to take in smaller doses, so I generally like horror TV shows a bit more than I do horror movies. The three below are two of my all-time favorites and one show that, frankly, should be so much better than it is, but is often still pretty good anyway.

The X-Files (1993-2002) It's true, classifying The X-Files as horror does it a bit of a disservice. After all, in its heyday, it could be just about anything from week to week. But there was usually an element of the scary, or at the very least the creepy, and the creepy-crawlies made multiple appearances. The basic premise is simple: Two FBI agents comprise in the bureau's "weird cases" division, one of whom is a true believer in aliens and the supernatural and one of whom is a scientist who is naturally skeptical of such things. But creator Chris Carter did so much more with it than that, creating a longer-term story arc deemed "the mythology" that had more influence on the state of TV programs today than most will admit. It's taken for granted now that the best episodes of the show were the "monster of the week"-style episodes, and the episodes focused on the "mythology" arc were lesser, but at the time, this was ALL truly thrilling stuff. On a personal level, The X-Files was basically my introduction to the horror genre. It was my mom's favorite show (next to ER), and when my sister and I reached the age when we were allowed to stay up late on Sundays to watch it, we were excited - we finally felt like grown-ups!
Favorite Episodes: "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", "The Post-Modern Prometheus", "Triangle", "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) Yet another show that it feels like a disservice to reduce to being a "horror" show, as well as another show that had more influence on today's TV shows than most are willing to admit, Buffy was basically my favorite show in high school. The story of a teenager who is the latest in a long line of Vampire Slayers - "chosen" ones who have been called by fate to fight the undead (and other monsters), her friends (and a frenemy or two), and her "Watcher" (her high school librarian, natch)... and the hunky vampire with a soul Angel. Creator Joss Whedon's stroke of brilliance to have Sunnydale High School literally sitting on top of a Hell Mouth (exactly what it sounds like) and use the demons as metaphors for the vagaries of teenage life is what allows the show to endure, but the show's whip-smart, ultra-quotable dialogue is what made it a huge hit among the teens of the '90s.
Favorite Episodes: "Doppelgangland", "Hush", "Restless", "The Body", "Once More With Feeling"

American Horror Story (2011-Present) Ryan Murphy's grand guignol anthology series is SO hit-or-miss, but at its best (unquestionably the second season, Asylum), it has a truly terrifying anything-could-happen brazenness that makes it required viewing. Given that each season is its own complete story, you an skip the seasons that don't seem like your thing. In addition to the aforementioned Asylum (in which Sarah Paulson's lesbian journalist commits herself to Jessica Lange's Catholic nun-run asylum for a career-making scoop), the best seasons are the first (Murder House, in which Dylan McDermott's psychiatrist and his wife Connie Britton move to the titular house in LA after a bout of infidelity on his part, only to find out it's haunted - by busybody next-door neighbor Jessica Lange as well as by ghosts both friendly and malevolent), and probably the absolutely demented sixth season, Roanoke (a "true crime"-style show within the show about a couple who move to a renovated home in the backwoods of North Carolina, supposedly on the spot where the infamous Roanoke Colony moved after its sudden disappearance). The third season, Coven, is wildly uneven and terribly scripted despite some entertaining performances; the fourth, Freak Show, is a wasted opportunity; and the fifth, Hotel is a gorgeous slog. American Horror Story is not a show that very much cares for silly things like logic and consistency, but in its best moments, that doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Halloween Edition: Body Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come play with us! All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them.

Yes, it's true! At long last I have returned to the land of the living, having finally recovered from the big apartment move. I was so exhausted the past couple of weeks that I don't know how i managed to stay awake most days, but I'm finally all moved in and unpacked in my new place (save for some books that need a place to go - I have so much more space I don't know what to do with it!), and it feels GREAT! I love my new apartment something fierce and I'm so glad to be getting back to "regular life" stuff like my blog.

And speaking of moving into a new place and taking up residence there: BODY HORROR. This week's Thursday Movie Picks theme. I'll be honest. Body horror isn't really my thing. I don't do well with creepy crawlies and gore. That being said, there are some movies that I LOVE that do kinda fall into this horror subgenre. Bear with me, as you consider....

Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) If you've seen this, you know exactly why it's here. If not, you may be confused as to how a movie about an alien with Scarlett Johansson's body seducing men for unknown nefarious purposes fits into body horror. Well, except for one scene, it's mostly subtext. What plot there is in Under The Skin concerns itself with, more than anything, this alien creature coming to grips with her outer shell of a body and what it means to be human. But this is NOT a movie that is very concerned with such silly things as "plot" - Glazer is more concerned with images and what they can do, how they can tell a story with only the barest bones of dialogue. Make no mistake: This is a slow burn of a slow burn movie, but it is so utterly hypnotizing that it remains one of my favorite theater-going experiences. If the gorgeous, frame-worthy images don't draw you in, then Mica Levi's haunting experimental score will. Under the Skin, especially that score, burrowed its way deep into my subconscious on first viewing, and has yet to make its way out. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007) You know all those stories about how mothers find superhuman strength when their babies are in danger? Well, what if a teenage Christian abstinence group spokesperson did something similar when a man tried to get near her lady parts? Well, that's what happens to Dawn (a star-making performance from Jess Weixler) - after a friend tries to rape her, her vagina sprouts teeth and... well... you can guess what happens from there. This black-as-pitch comedy follows Dawn's journey to owning her womanhood in a new, exciting way. It's kinda gross, kinda scary, and pretty damn funny - a true underseen gem.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) If you don't think this falls under body horror, then you've never been a dancer. By now, I'm sure you know the plot: Technically proficient but emotionally stunted dancer Nina (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-winning performance) wins the coveted lead role in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake. She perfectly embodies the virginal white swan, but has trouble with the more aggressive, sexual black swan, and her anxiety manifests in increasingly baroque, scary ways, especially after free-spirited company member Lily (Mila Kunis, perfectly cast) is made her alternate. A psychosexual thriller set in the ballet world starring Natalie Portman and directed by Darren Aronofsky... and with Barbara Hershey as Nina's terrifying stage mother? Yes, this movie was clearly made in a lab just for me, and this is one of very few movies that surpassed my impossible-to-keep-down expectations. The entire thing is ingeniously shot, edited, and scored, with tremendous performances from everyone. Yes, my friends, Black Swan is, in a word, "perfect."