It is Fringe Friday and to quote Roger Sterling: “I have an announcement to make. It’s going to be a beautiful day.” In both universes as a matter of fact. News broke yesterday that Fringe has been renewed for a final 13 episode fifth season. It may be all about the numbers but at least us fans get to benefit from studio-network politics every once in a blue moon.
The New York Times caught up with Mr. Cumberbatch to discuss the return of Sherlock to American television and his numerous upcoming projects. I especially love how this reporter describes BC:
In person the thin and muscular Mr. Cumberbatch shares the piercing gaze and sonorous, sinister voice of his Holmes but is warmer and more irreverent. He is a self-confessed motormouth and a relentless mimic who, over the course of an hour, adopted the shrieking voice of an admiring Valley girl; the Scottish burr of his friend and colleague James McAvoy; the synthesized speech of Stephen Hawking, whom he portrayed in a British TV movie; and the rapid, adenoidal clip of both Mr. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, who directed him in “War Horse.”
And luckily for everyone, the “self-confessed motormouth” peppered his interview with a number of memorable, thoroughly delightful quotes.
On keeping secrets about Star Trek 2, The Hobbit, the Sherlock cliffhanger…: “You could stick a knife in my thigh, and I wouldn’t tell you. [But] pull the hair on my head the wrong way, and I would be on my knees begging for mercy. I have very sensitive follicles.”
and: “I’ve got to be a complete and utter tease.”
On Christmas: “We observe this little Judeo-Christian cult holiday called Christmas. Whereas, you know, some kids in this part of town” — he circled his hands in the Los Angeles air — “with their Crackberrys, don’t.”
On Sherlock, as a character:“He’s a high-functioning sociopath. He has a general disregard for standard codes of conduct, pleasantries, niceties. He wants to cut to the chase. He wants everything to be faster and better and purer.”
On Sherlock, the show: “I’m desperate for America to really take to this. It has taken it into its heart as a cult thing, but I’d love it to hit the mainstream this time. Because I just think it’s of that quality, and it belongs there.”
[Yes — Americans, rally. Because the time period between January and May was just ridiculous I have already watched the second season. But, worth it. Above and beyond the first season — and I thought that was great. I wasn’t even obsessed with BC until “A Scandal in Belgravia,” as Martin Freeman was my original draw. That episode…wow.]
On Downton Abbey’s award success: “I just looked at [the Golden Globe] and went: ‘Begone, woman. Bring it back when it says “Sherlock Holmes” or Steven Moffat or myself — someone else who’s more deserving than the second series of “Downton Abbey.” ’ ”
Speaking of The Moff, on BC: “His look is quirky. His appeal is quite intellectual. He’s not conventionally handsome — handsome by any normal human standard. But the screen is very demanding. [He is] not ever going to play an ordinary man.”
Finally, on criticisms about selling out: “[There has been] a huge blogging response to me selling out to Hollywood and dating a model and become a walking cliché. That was nice.”
What can I say Ben? HATERS GONNA HATE. You do you.
Entertainment Weekly posted last week that Lois Duncan’s book Down a Dark Hall will be adapted by Stephanie Meyer, creator of He-Who-is-Shiny Edward and the rest of those people. Like many, I was excited to see a book I enjoyed in my teens being thrust back into prominence. But I am anxious about Stephanie Meyer and what her influence will do to it. (Shuddering at the thought.) Serendipitously when I discovered my cache of Lois Duncan books in the attic, I decided to sit down and see what I had in store – and how Hollywood would likely adapt the story for our modern age and movie-going expectations.
My obsession with Lois Duncan books fell sometime in between devouring everything Nancy Drew and scouring used bookstores for Christopher Pike titles. My version of I Know What You Did Last Summer ties in with the movie version as the cast from the film is on the cover. That’s right, the film led me to the novel, but at least it was the gateway to more Lois Duncan fun.
Apparently (disclaimer: my source is Wikipedia), Duncan was none too pleased to see her YA novel turned into a horror movie. Which actually makes sense because (spoiler alert) I was stunned when reading the book that neither Helen nor Barry (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe’s characters in the movie) die. As a SMG obsessive at the time, I was actually pleased with this alternative narrative. Her book Killing Mr. Griffin was adapted into film in 1997 and again under the title Teaching Mrs. Tingle in 1999. I remember the previews for the Katie Holmes and Barry Watson-helmed Teaching Mrs. Tingle well, but do not remember Helen Mirren playing the titular Mrs. Tingle. I haven’t see it, and why, Helen, why?!
But if true, her outlook is sort of a shame: even if they are gearing toward the Twilight crowd, Down a Dark Hall has all the ingredients necessary to pull off a spooky, atmospheric horror film. In fact, throughout the book, there are many elements reminiscent of horror movies that came out after Down a Dark Hall was published. What jumps out immediately? Suspiria; in fact, I could almost see some people (not knowing it was a book) thinking of DaDH as a modernized take on Suspiria, although the film came out 3 years after the book. If a script, and director, could put together a film as creepily haunting as Argento did with Suspiria, this could be awesome. In Suspiria, an American ballet dancer travels to an elite academy in Germany only to discover it is run by a coven of witches. Like main character Kit in DaDH, Suspiria’s Suzy is often woozy and falls asleep unexpectedly while strange events happen around her.
Some aspects reminded me of Evil Dead. One girl in particular, Lynda, appears possessed by the spirits that compel her to paint. Similarly, a possessed Kit throws a broken pencil at her friend Sandy, evoking memories of this scene in Evil Dead and this scene from The Faculty. Pencils are deadly. Similarly, when Ruth throws her notebook on the fire and howling voices emanate from it, I couldn’t help but think of the Book of the Dead when Ash throws it onto the fire. Briefly, I also thought of A Nightmare on Elm Street, if only because of the evil that awaited when the characters slept. Kit repeatedly fails to stay awake to prevent the spirits from taking over – if only she took a page out of Nancy’s book and kept a coffee pot under her bed (I remain envious of this).
My takeaway: I identify – a lot – with Kit. She looks around the small town (that she doesn’t even get to visit) and remarks “There isn’t even a movie theater!” (When I went to college, the sight of the local Regal made me feel instantly better about life.) And her newly remarried mom and step dad dropping her off at boarding school so they can take an extended European honeymoon?: that is straight out of my worst fears as a child. This quote in particular from new dad Dan, annoys me: “I know your position in the family has been different from that of most girls; with just the two of you, your mother has treated you as an equal rather than as a child. You’re strong-willed and independent and very used to running things. But you are not going along with us on our honeymoon”. All of that uttered as if it is a bad thing! To be fair, I think Duncan wants us to feel as slighted as Kit; the real perpetrators of evil in this book almost seem to be Kit’s mom and Dan: guardians surreptitiously pointing Kit towards Blackwood and ignoring her fears because their honeymoon was so damned important. I would feel so much satisfaction from being able to tell my mom how wrong they both were and how miserable I was in part due to their inattention. To think my mom would let anyone talk to me like Dan talks down to Kit is just unfathomable. Thankfully, I also believe that my mom would never have left me anywhere for that long of a time, especially if I voiced misgivings about it and pleaded to leave immediately.
There are only a few things I think Stephanie Meyer should change in the adaptation.
- Kit should be older than fourteen. She certainly acts older than that in the book and any flirtation that she will get to have in the movie with Jules, a recent graduate of a European music conservatory will be less creepy. Duncan does a pretty good, Stephanie Meyer-esque, job of describing Jules as the hottest guy, like, ever. But as Kit faces some tough revelations about Jules, she re-evaluates and no longer finds him attractive – not sure if this is in Stephanie’s wheelhouse.
- There is the obvious need to update technology. One of the biggest reveals in the book that something is up at Blackwood occurs when Kit notices neither her mom nor her best friend are receiving her letters anymore. This will not fly in this day and age, especially with Skype. How can the movie get the students so isolated for so long? And the whole “ugh, no signal” trope will not work for many parents.
- I Know What You Did Last Summer, at the end of the day, was a horror movie, making the deaths of two of the characters all but necessary. Had the book been adapted in the vein of Twilight, they could have stuck to the main plot instead of creating the Ben Willis character. With Stephanie Meyer taking the reins on DaDH, I assume (and hope) that there will be little derivation from the book in this regard.
- Finally, the book stops abruptly: we know that Kit has escaped and she will be rescued almost immediately after the conclusion. It is fairly satisfying but — at the risk of book purists getting up in arms — I would love an epilogue to these events. The book ending denies us the chance to see Kit’s mom’s reaction to what happened at Blackwood. We fail to find out what happens to Madam Duret and if her deceits, forgeries, and abuse are uncovered for the world to see. Would Kit forgive Jules after he stands up for the girls against his own mother? Questions I would love to see answered on the big screen.
If I tried to even remotely write on my feelings about Glee, I think my laptop would overheat and explode – so I have avoided the temptation to rant on, paragraph after paragraph, about all the maddening things this show is now guilty of. It isn’t going to change, so why bother? And anyway, I have Ryan McGee to angrily tweet my feelings and assure me that I am not crazy with his incisive reviews. I watch to maintain my foothold in the cultural narrative, and because of my weekly ritual to “live-text” the show with a friend. But amongst all the negatives that I find, even in the most recent episode, I stumbled upon a glimmer of hope: the legacy that Glee will leave is going to be very positive. (I hope.) More on that in the conclusion.
The Whitney installment, “Dance with Somebody,” exemplified one of my newest pet peeves: it seems more and more obvious that good Glee (or acceptable Glee at this stage) versus not great Glee hinges on the theme of the week. Sometimes the theme is so broad almost any genre or artist can be featured that week. With this range they initially chose songs that reverberated emotionally and with the plot. Nowadays that happens more sporadically, with the larger concern being whatever Top 40 song they can shoehorn into the episode to generate iTunes sales. The Whitney episode bugs me on a larger scale: obviously this episode was in response to very recent event. What theme did this replace? Or am I still showing too much faith in the writers to assume they had these final episodes sketched out around the time of Whitney Houston’s passing? But that would also require me to believe in the idea that any of the plot matters, which it clearly doesn’t, since no strides made by characters carry through to the next week. Did plot points that were going to be addressed already fit so seamlessly with Whitney’s songbook or were events thought up on the fly to fit with those songs? I think it was largely the latter. But I digress.
Before the manipulation of plot for Whitney was apparent, I was employing my snarky, text-y, tweet-reading method of quasi-paying attention to the episode when Glee grabbed my attention. In a good way. In a thought-provoking way, on a personal and universal level. I thought I was fairly detached from Glee at this point, but Kurt so brazenly texting his new “friend”/flirt partner in front of Blaine made me see red. Okay, I realize Kurt is a teenager but it was just so, so hurtful to do that. (Never mind the fact that Rachel appears to be under the impression only significant others text each other…sighhh.) Next, the whole confrontation scene occurred between Blaine and Kurt; I thought Darren Criss was so good here. The whole argument made me upset, and I really needed Kurt to understand that he was acting inappropriately.
But not-so-shockingly this segued into Whitney’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok,” prefaced by Blaine dedicating it to those who had been cheated on. And it felt like the entire plot structure of the episode led to that moment, and to moments later when Kurt sang “I Have Nothing” back to Blaine. This led to Blaine and Kurt in Emma’s office, trying to actually resolve the issue that (shockingly) two Whitney songs failed to fix. Ignoring the fact that Emma is now equipped to be McKinley’s in-residence couples-counselor as well, this scene felt organic. I think one way or the other Glee would have dealt with Blaine’s anxiety over Kurt graduating and heading to New York, and Kurt’s (plot-motivating) lingering jealously over Blaine texting Sebastian. I am less convinced they needed Kurt’s emotional cheating to get us to this conversation. I just hope someone cures Blaine’s melancholy over their relationship (this is high school!!) and that someone makes Kurt realize that Ohio to NYC is probably not going to be a weekly weekend trip that Blaine is going to make.
Blaine: And while we’re being perfectly honest, I don’t like that with every conversation, we end up always talking about NYADA. What song you’re going to sing, what outfit you’re going to wear to your callback, how amazing New York is…In a few months, you’re going to be gone. With this brand-new life, these brand-new friends, brand-new everything, and I’m going to be right here. By myself. You’re right. I have been distant. And I’m sorry. But I’m just… trying to practice what life is going to be like without you. You are the love of my life, Kurt. And I’m pissed off that I have to learn, for the next year, what being alone is going to be like.
Kurt: But you’re not going to be alone. I’m going to Skype you every day, and you’re going to come visit me in New York every weekend as far as I’m concerned. But I promise, you aren’t going to lose me.
On a larger, (slightly unrelated) scale, I left this episode of Glee feeling positive about the show’s legacy. It may be slipping in the ratings with those fans who can no longer stand the nosedive in quality, but it is still widely popular with kids, pre-teens, teens etc. A much younger crowd than would typically be watching a show that promotes LGBT relationships and examines (however, haphazardly re: Santana’s coming out) some worthy issues. Not every parents can be as cool as Amelia and her husband (her 7 year old son refers to Blaine as his boyfriend) but my sincerest hope is that these kids will help to re-orient the world around a vision where the kids at McKinley are the norm. And I think it has the potential to do that. After all, if reigning cool guy Jenko can go back to high school and find that hipsters, goths, and a gay guy can be part of the popular crowd (“I totally know the cause, Glee. Fuck you Glee!”) then I hope we all can.
Laura Saltman is truly doing God’s work: I watch the HBO GO Interactive Features for Game of Thrones every week hoping to score some Joe Dempsie. Well, finally, someone decided to discuss Gendry…and it was Access Hollywood. Points must be deducted for good ol’ Laura not knowing about shipping. Entertainment is your job, lady. Sighhhh.
Time just released its list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. Some people are very deserving and the mere recognition of their efforts should be lauded. And in the case of others I fail to see what they are purported to influence. Chelsea Handler? Rihanna? Luckily there are worthier entertainers on the list:
E L James: Typing worthier entertainers and then seguing to E L James even makes me question myself a bit…but Fifty Shades of Grey is continuing to grow in popularity for a few reasons. Its most recent success stems from word-of-mouth buzz. The book is everywhere and people are increasingly reading it to join in on the conversation. But more importantly, it has generated new discussion around what women read. I am not talking about the ridiculous misnomer “mommy porn”; Fifty Shades has proven that all kinds of women respond to what is depicted in the book. I definitely would not consider it the best read of my life: it is repetitive, the Britishisms that James employs are very distracting, and it would be better served with edits for plausibility (Ana is an English major WITHOUT a computer?). A few things did hold my interest: the S&M rules and explanations were fascinating; not something I have extensively read about in any novel. The other thing was this: Christian’s inaccessibility. Ana can’t touch him, can’t have him in the way a normal relationship works. And I think many women respond to this, the just out-of-reach guy, and along with Ana we hope to heal Christian, thus we race to the end of the book. The bottom line: hopefully James has paved the way for more writers to approach novels geared toward women in new, innovative ways. I think this is a big opportunity to find new stories to tell centered on romance that avoid the sappiness of a Harlequin paperback; novels about relationships that also teach, inform, and generate discussion.
Kristen Wiig: Bridesmaids is genius. And I think the idea to not do a sequel to Bridesmaids is genius. So, yeah, I can agree that Kristen Wiig is on top of the food chain in the female comedy world. With women writers/performers generating such great material, it is a new dawn in a world previously dominated by the Frat Pack. Unfortunately, this trend towards female-centered comedy is resulting in more misses than hits. I understand that everyone can’t be Kristen Wiig and her writing partner and not every movie will be as surprisingly refreshing as Bridesmaids. I just hope that female comedy is further encouraged, and not hindered by, the onslaught of pretenders to the Bridesmaids throne.
Louis C.K.: If Kristen Wiig is bolstering female comedy, Louis C.K. is revolutionizing the entire comedy scene. I honestly think that people will be looking at his career, years from now, in order to chart the changes in the field. Much credit should be given to FX for giving Louis C.K. what amounts to carte blanche in the industry. Although he has given up some of his original duties for his show Louie, he has simultaneously starred, written, directed, and produced. He has drafted friends to participate and stuck to a specified budget. And he started the trend of releasing his standup special from his own website instead of working with a distributor. Louie is a fascinating show; it can be outrageously funny in one episode and ruminate on Catholic guilt in the next. It is never boring and it is never repetitive. And hey, can’t ignore someone who feels the same way that I do about Ewan McGregor.
Asghar Farhadi: The Iranian film A Separation took Hollywood by storm this year, becoming the shoe-in for Best Foreign Film. Its reception is more evidence that tough topics and messages can be communicated through film beautifully and transmitted on the global level. And yet, I have not seen it because it is not available (to rent) in the United States. Making a good movie is one thing. We have to work on outreach and accessibility. This isn’t the cure to ignorance but I truly believe that promoting films such as A Separation is the gateway to a better informed world.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In a similar vein, Saving Face brought home Pakistan’s first Oscar. The film raises awareness of acid-related violence against women and Sharmeen is currently touring Pakistan’s towns and villages with an educational-awareness campaign. A talented filmmaker, she has left a trail of award winning films. This kind of large-scale outreach program is exactly what I am talking about: we need more of this in the West. We need to find new methods of mobilizing the populace to watch these groundbreaking films in order to promote global awareness and understanding.
Claire Danes: I nodded my head enthusiastically to the inclusion of Claire Danes and her portrayal of bipolar, anti-hero Carrie Mathison on Homeland. There seems to be a double standard in the television world where audiences eagerly accept our male anti-heroes (of which there are many) but are quick to judge or even attempt to utilize women in similar roles. Carrie bucks that trend by introducing us to her world: she is beyond brilliant but catastrophically impulsive. We get to watch as she implodes relationship after relationship, all in the pursuit of her hunches. She doesn’t let anyone get close, save for us viewers. I think television is getting the hint: we don’t need our ladies to be likeable; we just need them to be compelling. (The overwhelming divisiveness of Girls, however, seems to indicate that the room for maneuver with unlikeable women is very limited.)
Prometheus is doing a really good job of creating buzz while remaining fascinatingly opaque. The Cabin in the Woods experience has proven that in this spoiler-obsessed day and age you can still get away with surprises (hey, Joss Whedon has some good explanations on the dynamics of spoiler culture, of course) and I want to remain as in the dark as possible for the remaining months before its release. Ridley Scott wants me under a rock and there I will stay. Except when it comes to viral videos like this, which appeals both to my love of Michael Fassbender and dystopian androids that look like Michael Fassbender, available for purchase:
A friend pointed out that David is also Haley Joel Osment’s name in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. This viral video gave me the bug: cue my overwhelming desire to watch A.I. as well as the Alien Quadrilogy. Also, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe Blade Runner as well. Who knows what other tangentially related movies I can find in my collection…Sorted: Alien blu-rays Amazon’d. I predict a long post on androids in my near future.
The Cabin in the Woods came out on Friday the 13th and that was too great of an opportunity to not see it on opening night. I have so many thoughts on this film bouncing around in my head I don’t think it is possible to fit them all into a concise post. I want to talk about the commentary it makes on horror movies, the parallels to Evil Dead (and how Evil Dead, surprisingly, doesn’t fit into the obvious archetypes that the movie also addresses) and how it fits into the legacy of Scream’s revitalization of the genre. So this is more a stream of consciousness post that I apologize in advance for; however, it is categorized into three discussions. Also, if you haven’t see The Cabin in the Woods and do not want to be spoiled (which for this one you really shouldn’t) then just…don’t read this. Please.
Cabin’s contribution to the contemporary discourse on horror movies:
Self-identified fans of horror movies (myself included) are so used to the formula it is almost ingrained to the point of invisibility. Why else do we watch literally the same variation on a theme countless times with only the big bad, locale, and kills slightly modified? CitW points out that any deviation from the norm results in dissatisfaction: case in point, the need for female nudity; or, as Randy appropriately calls it in Scream, “the obligatory tit shot”. When the puppeteers are ogling the couple about to have sex (a scenario they have engineered) Richard Jenkins remarks that if the girl fails to show some skin, “they” won’t be pleased, as in nudity is such a given to the horror formula that fans will be disappointed without it. Can’t say that I agree with this assessment because honestly I feel like if you attend horror films hoping for the nudity, you are not there for the right reasons; studios that make nudity a cornerstone are probably also not concerned with the overall product and hence why we get such formulaic dirge every year.
To enjoy horror is to turn off a little valve in your head that would otherwise be horrified by the events depicted on screen and, of course, you need a healthy dose of suspended disbelief and detachment. In Friday the 13th we are not expected to grieve for the counselors as they die (I hope), their missed opportunities, or to think about how their parents will react upon hearing the news (“We regret to inform you that your child was murdered by an insane woman who believes all camp counselors are at fault for the drowning death of her son…”). We are supposed to fear the unknown: who the next victim will be, how they will die, and whether the evil will ultimately be defeated. And be entertained throughout. However, when horror movies do depict the fallout of murdering an innocent or stop to ask questions similar to those we would tackle if such events happened in the real world –the film proves that its ambitions are higher, that it aims to carve out its own niche in the canon.
For instance, it is hard to separate what happens to Johnny Depp’s character in A Nightmare on Elm Street from the wails of his mother when she discovers the scene. And other than just abiding by the rules of a sequel (“Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead” What would any of us do without the dedicated wisdom of Randy?), Halloween II also pays off what we learn in the first film: Laurie’s murdered friend Annie was the sheriff’s daughter and before the hospital mayhem we get a poignant scene (for a horror movie) where the sheriff realizes that his daughter is one of the victims. Setting certainly lends a hand (these teens were dying in their homes and around their parents) but it indicates a certain acknowledgement that even though these characters were engineered to be serial killer fodder, they are not an island unto themselves and death has immediate consequences.
To take this commentary as criticism of the formula seems a little odd to me. In fact, I would be very much in favor of a return to the standard formulaic themes of horror that function under a innovative idea. Hostel was innovative. The new Oren Peli movie, Chernobyl Diaries, looks to have promise. These days horror seems comprised of two types: the remake/reboot/prequel (which employs the formula, but is recycling an already established premise) and the “lost footage” gag which I was already annoyed with after Paranormal Activity and I now beg to never see another poor exorcism movie again. I recently discussed how the Final Destination formula (working with but separately from the tradition horror formula) is one of the most predictable while also being the most nerve-wracking. It is an instance where we know the formula enough to anticipate where we are going with the narrative but it is also highly effective because of repetition: they will try to surprise you with how death actually occurs and they consistently follow through with unique devices.
The commentary doesn’t resonate with me as much as Joss Whedon would like it to; it is an interesting concept, but not one that makes me question myself. Should we enjoy watching teens being murdered by some supernatural force? If you approach it in some ways, probably not; but the point of horror is the rush: as humans we are scarily attracted to falling and other dangerous activities, we are attracted to the thrill of being scared. And yes, maybe sometimes we want to see ingenious kill scenarios or gratuitous blood and guts. This may be compelling for a psych major but I don’t find anything particularly disturbing about being a rabid horror fan.
CitW takes a crack at the Evil Dead formula:
The obvious parallel that viewers are supposed to draw from the beginning of this movie is Evil Dead. (How many people who went to see the film have seen Evil Dead? Especially since the remake has yet to grace our screens? I can’t answer that. But I assume that the answer to “How many of the people who saw The Cabin in the Woods and have also seen Evil Dead enjoyed CitW?” is the majority). In both, our main stable of characters pull up to a cabin in a secluded area (in ED they must cross a bridge; in CitW they must go through a tunnel). Inevitably, these means of access will be obliterated and the characters trapped. This scene in CitW worked really well for me: being unable to escape their circumstances is a must for horror movie characters and the panic over the tunnel still being accessible as they drove towards it was pitch perfect. There are large floor openings to the cellar in the living room. The cabin seems to grow and expand as the movie goes on. Investigating what you find in the cellar may not be the best idea – reading out any foreign phrases is also not a good idea.
(Side bar on more horror commentary) The cellar in Cabin serves as a staging board: whatever object is activated by a character will be what is sent to kill them (a puzzle ball reminiscent of Hellraiser, a merman whose closest analog in my mind would be a creature from the black lagoon, an old wedding dress, a music box, or a diary). Possession is the watchword in Evil Dead but without becoming an exact replica, CitW instead went with hillbilly zombies. But in CitW this scene (jam packed with images that evokes horror movies of years past) establishes that the basic premise is set: you have five young people in a secluded spot, whatever bad decision they make in the cellar is arbitrary. It calls to mind those old Goosebumps books where you chose your own pathways (Go into the tomb: turn to page 40; run after your brother: turn to page 105). Your free will only extends as far as the moments leading up to a fatal decision. (Mostly…end of side bar)
The other horror trope CitW wants to criticize is the necessary archetypes that must exist in the horror formula: the stupid jock, his blonde slutty girlfriend, the fool, the scholar, and the virgin. Early on CitW establishes that these archetypes were not initially the core of our characters: the jock is on scholarship and majoring in sociology, the blonde has literally just gone blonde and the “virgin” just ended an affair with a professor. Interestingly, Evil Dead more so than other films from the same period, bucks the trend of these archetypes. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is the clear leading man, shunning the prevalence of the female lead protagonist. His friend Scotty could be considered the typical hard party-goer, if only because he is the one most eager to party and most disbelieving of supernatural forces. Ash and Scotty’s girlfriends seem to be on the same level of annoying and neither fit into a category. Ash’s sister, sidelined like the fool but also imbued with characteristics of the virgin, is the first to be possessed. Evil Dead is a-typical of many horror films and perhaps that factored into the reasoning behind choosing it as the foundational material for CitW.
Is CitW the new Scream?
The Cabin in the Woods is getting a lot of buzz over being the most inventive horror film since Scream. Apparently, when it comes to being awarded buzz about creating game-changing horror, you had to start out entertaining teens over on the WB. Thanks to Kevin Williamson (of Dawson’s Creek) and Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) we now have two of the wittiest scripts in horror.
CitW is more interested in illuminating specific tropes and the state of formula horror. Scream begins in a world that acknowledges its horror predecessors, which is actually revolutionary in itself. The members of The Walking Dead can’t even refer to the walkers as zombies because to admit that such a catastrophic event was predicted in pop culture would undermine something…somehow. Not only is Ghostface asking future victims about their favorite scary movies in the form of trivia, but even Tatum has enough knowledge to accuse Sidney of acting out some “Wes Carpenter flick” (I didn’t say her knowledge was correct). The references weave together seamlessly in Scream: it seems innocent when Billy is watching The Exorcist (sadly on TV) but he also watched Carrie to get ideas about pig’s blood to fake a stabbing. Sidney knows that the big breasted girl will always run up the stairs and Randy knows that the “werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it” is code for The Howling. And to cap it all off, perhaps the most seminal slasher movie, Halloween is the background soundtrack to the climax of Scream.
The best conclusion that I can draw from my musings is that Scream reigns supreme, revolutionizing horror for the modern age and making filmmakers remember that it is possible to make smart, provocative, game-changing horror without falling back on a ridiculous premise and existing archetypes. CitW is a love letter to people who have this formula ingrained in the very fiber of their soul: the archetypes, the settings, the cliches, and every plot contrivance in between. It is more of a commentary on the genre as well as those that are entertained by it (the target audience for CitW).
I think, besides his commentary on formula horror, Joss Whedon wants us to go into our next horror movie thinking “is there an exterior force pulling the strings on this situation?” and thus, that is his contribution to modern horror. Or his attempt to destroy it: I get the point, I like it, but I also think this theory being applied to any given horror movie is an unnecessary distraction. Scream’s takeaway is this: our society is saturated with horror movies that most people are aware of on some level; people like Randy (and yes, myself) obsess over horror movies because they are movie geeks. People like Billy and Stu think that a preoccupation with horror is the ideal motive for murder (“It’s the millennium. Motives are incidental”).
Scream is accessible to any viewer and the horror fan only gains but so much by knowing all the the references dropped throughout the film (in my case, I was young enough to be very unfamiliar with most of them but Scream spurred me into seeking out these movies to be part of the club). But CitW is only accessible on its best level if you have put in at least a few years of horror movie watching. CitW even hopes you have experience with J-horror, which I assume most horror fans do; otherwise, the fact that the school girls in Kyoto defeat the Ring-like menace with a song and turn it into a song is just not as hilarious. I am not sure at what point maximum saturation would occur for you to enjoy all that the movie has on offer but suffice to say, you need significant experience with the genre.
Last week I wrote about the unfortunate dichotomy that exists between watching Game of Thrones and then switching over to Mad Men. This week I didn’t get to re-test my theory thanks to traffic. My guess is that my distractedness would have been less pronounced, as this week’s GoT started to wind down the action in its closing moments. Luckily, I am glad that I didn’t risk detachment to Mad Men like last week, because “Mystery Date” was…AWESOME. When AMC teased that fans of The Walking Dead should be equally excited by the return of zombies of the 1960s, they weren’t kidding. And by that I mean Mad Men was really channeling the rise of Hitchcockian terror with Richard Speck’s infamous killing spree of eight nurses in Chicago. By July 1966, Psycho, The Birds, and a plethora of Roger Corman films had entered into mainstream pop culture. But this post is about “Mystery Date” and the personal nightmares that enveloped our characters this week:
Megan: Her nightmare is by far the most…usual: How long will I have to continue to face my husband’s philandering past? Should I be worried? Questions that all spring from a chance encounter with Andrea, a former fling of Don’s. (Don’s defense: They are in Midtown. I mean, what does she expect? What exactly are the stats at this point, Don?). For the most part, as we will see, Don is way more concerned about this than Megan. And while these are legitimate concerns, Megan seems in control: she rightly points out that it is Don that brings up Andrea again later (“And all I can think is that you feel guilty, which makes it worse than I thought”) and that he cannot blame Betty for his (numerous) past indiscretions: “That kind of careless appetite — you can’t blame that on Betty.” Preach!
Don: One path I can take with this is that Don’s nightmare is himself, or his former self, the man he no longer wants to be yet is obviously very paranoid about changing back into. The other path is that Don…has some problems, clearly, because he imagines murdering Andrea for accusing him of loving his old ways. Would I have been so disturbed had his fever dream been about him reverting to his old ways and cheating on Megan? I don’t think so. But I guess we can also assume that Don is equally paranoid about another hidden aspect of himself, one which has the capacity to rage-strangle former lover Andrea and then shove her body under the bed. The imagery was also startling: it reverses what we learn from the Richard Speck murders (that beneath the bed is a safe place) and it drudges up the imagery that new wunderkind Michael used in his Cinderella pitch (a woman with one shoe, hobbling along the cobblestones).
Roger: This week in Roger’s nightmare we still see his struggle hinging on a fear of irrelevancy. And even though he was shamed by Pete last week, he still decides that napping in his office is preferable to giving Michael his Mohawk assignment. So he must turn to Peggy, who swindles him out of a cool $400 to lie about covering his tracks. The Roger horror show lives to nap, drink, quip and smoke another day.
Peggy: I like that Peggy’s “nightmare” segment starts off with an actual horror movie riff. The SCDP hallways are dark but Peggy hears a sound. She thought she was alone but…actually Don’s secretary Dawn had decided to sleep in the office for fear of the night time commute for a female African American. High on power from her encounter with Roger, Peggy insists that Dawn stay at her apartment. And as much as she tries to commiserate with Dawn (they are women in a man’s world, they were both Don’s secretaries) she is put in her place almost immediately by a 5 second lingering glance at her purse. How shaming for Peggy who was probably about to float away on her goodwill and progressive actions; she questioned the safety of her money and Dawn saw it. That, along with asking Dawn whether she “acts like a man,” leads us to Peggy’s true nightmare: when it all boils down, she isn’t who she thinks she is.
Joan: Joan is the only character that makes headway into effectively vanquishing her nightmares in this episode. Her biggest problem can probably be summed up as the embodiment of her husband. He raped her, she married him anyway. He goes off to Vietnam when he fails as a doctor in New York and Joan gets knocked up by Roger. By kicking him out of her life, things can only look up: she can find a non-rapist boyfriend (Lane?!) and avoid the nasty issue of paternity (for now). Joan, dropping some knowledge: “You’re not a good man. “You never were. Even before we were married, and you know what I’m talking about.”
Sally: Sally, separated from the rest of the action at the Francis Haunted Mansion, is being looked after by Mama Francis. Pauline is engrossed in the coverage of the Speck murders but tries to hide the details from Sally. Of course, overcome with curiosity, Sally rescues the paper from the trash and reads about the gruesome crime in bed. Naturally, she is too scared to sleep and appears abruptly to startle Pauline (another horror movie trope). Pauline does more damage by imagining, along with Sally, the scenario in which Speck entered the duplex and then offers Sally a Seconal to help her fall asleep. Both of them end up knocked out, with Sally having crawled under the sofa as a means of feeling safer (meanwhile, somewhere, Don in his fever dream is stuffing Andrea under the bed). Sally may have avoided her nightmares at the expense of opening herself up to a new one—as many have pointed out, this will probably be the first of many pill-infused nights for Sally.
Michael: As opposed to everyone else, newbie Michael seemed to be spinning the nightmares himself. He may have shied away from graphic images of the Richard Speck murder victims but he wasted no time in pitching his Cinderella ad for a shoe company: she hobbles along the cobblestones missing one shoe when a strange man comes out of nowhere to touch her shoulder from behind:”She knows she’s not safe, but she doesn’t care. I guess we know in the end, she wants to be caught.”
Mad Men brought the creepy and I liked it. Also, Mystery Date, the game is now terrifying to me. “Will your mystery date be…?” Dreamy? A dud? A psychopathic serial killer and/or rapist that will shove you under the bed? Or just a thief? What happens if you marry your mystery date even though he raped you, is terrible at his job and chooses Vietnam over you and “his” baby? What if your mystery date is preying on you because you lost a shoe outside the castle?
Confession: I often watch shows that I don’t have a vested interest in. Current case in point: Once Upon a Time. Why do I tune in? I have nothing else to watch Sundays at 8 (which is probably one of the most important pieces of criteria one of these shows must have) and also the blink or you’ll miss ‘em Lost references. But the show has proven to be quite inventive in some areas and employs favorites like Robert Carlyle, David Anders, Emma Caulfield, among others. What else? House of Lies (which I do take the initiative with and seek out on demand, but its short running time also makes it an excellent time killer). Other past examples: Prison Break, Desperate Housewives; shows that I watched for seasons at a time and then dropped without a second thought when something else came along. If I really stopped and thought about it, I assume that all shows start out the same and I am either on board immediately, slowly get into the groove after a few episodes, or remain in this purgatory-like state where it never really grabs me. (Or in the case of Syfy’s Being Human, it alternated from quasi-interest—all of first season—to my rapt attention, that is, whenever Kyle Schmid’s character Henry is involved. So I suppose I am always looking for that character investment, or a really good gimmick). Rarely do sentiments like these turn into real investments. But then, sometimes the effort is worth the limbo time.
Enter Lost Girl, a show that landed on my watch list solely because television critics kept telling me it was the bee’s knees. And eventually, somewhere along the line, I finally realized that they were speaking truth. But it was a longer road for me than usual. I spent the first half of the season gritting my teeth and forcing myself to pay attention (as others raved and raved…). Then, one magical (fae-esque?) night, I was so distracted I only really paid attention towards the end and found myself disappointed: I wanted to know what I had missed. Progress! So I re-watched on demand and have slowly evolved into this kind of thinking: “Monday—ohhh Lost Girl!” ever since. Another sign of my new attachment: I now watch Smash, which conflicts with Lost Girl at 10, but unlike Lost Girl, Smash is not re-aired again on the same night. So although I have a conflict, I can still watch Lost Girl at midnight, which is dedication. At this point Lost Girl would be my choice over Smash, if it came to that. (Also unlike Lost Girl, I was immediately on board with Smash…but ever since the pilot, as everyone knows, that show has suffered some major, MAJOR problems).
If I had to diagnose my initial ambivalence, I would say it was due my reluctance to adapt to the world that was being presented: it was different, yet familiar, to other fantasy worlds. And the mythology that is thrown around in the first episode (Dark vs. Light fae, The Ash, and The Morrigan) was not that compelling for me. And I might as well throw Lauren, the human doctor and rival love interest for Bo, into the mix. I understand (and completely agree) that Bo’s uncompromising, indiscriminate Jack Harkness-like sexual preference is an asset to the show. Lauren just doesn’t work for me as a character and it is no coincidence that my interest significantly increased when Bo got burned by Lauren’s allegiance to The Ash. Give me another fae/non-evil succubus girl for Bo and I am in. (Except I will probably be in deep mourning over anything negative happening between Bo and Dyson). But increasingly I realized how promising the fae world was shaping up to be: each week offered up a uniquely fae problem that felt fresh and newly tread. Even a few weeks back when it felt like the show was overly telegraphing the fact that Kenzi’s love interest, and case of the week, would bite it by episode’s end (even though their intervention saved him! and repaired his long-estranged relationship with his brother!) I didn’t mind too much; if anything, it helped me to brace for the sadness.
Lost Girl is the exception to the rule because it beat the odds stacked up against it. I didn’t much care for it or pay attention to it and I didn’t abandon it when a show I (unfortunately) thought was more up my alley premiered. I am also quietly fangirling over Bo/Dyson and how their relationship has progressed. Where’s the love for Kenzi though? Half of the time I am swooning over Bo and Dyson I am simultaneously depressed over her relegation to third wheel status on an episodic basis. I also love Bo and Kenzi’s relationship: if a thief/con artist human and a succubus can make it as best friends then who can’t?