Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Never Going Away

This movie is a hefty chunk of meat. It was made in 1995, but it’s held up and will probably continue to hold up as one of the scariest crime movies ever made. But why is it timeless? Well, even though the characters talk on phones with cords and the cars resemble artifacts from a film noir, the ambiguity of the story’s details makes the movie universal and timeless.

The city, for instance, takes on the qualities of Superman’s Metropolis. It’s never given a name, and it hold ties to most cities in the United States. I always assumed it was Philadelphia, but arguments could be made that it’s New York or LA. I’ve read it might be Seattle because of the rain, but it doesn’t usually rain hard like that in Seattle, and the fields at the end indicated it’s a midwestern town. A piece of trivia found on IMDB suggests a book spine only seen in the fullscreen version hints that the city is supposed to be Omaha. That makes sense with the fields, but Omaha doesn’t have such dense, aged urban areas. The point the indecisive location makes is that the vile characteristics that corrupt humanity are everywhere.

Details relating to John Doe are scarce, too. Obviously, he has no name. He has money, but the origin of that money is never declared. He is educated, but the movie never clarifies what schools he might have attended or what jobs he’s held. He cuts his fingers so he doesn’t leave prints. He is everyone and yet no one at all. John Doe is a placeholder for the evil and corruption within society, a wicked conglomeration made into a man. Again referencing a piece of trivia on IMDB, statements have been made claiming a version of the script ended the movie in a church after Somerset learns John Doe was abused by a priest. This detail would have ruined the universal nature of the movie; not knowing why John Doe became the man he is forces viewers to confront the notion that there’s inexplicable evil in the world.

The infamous ending also adds to the enduring nature of the film. While watching, I wondered what the film would be like if Somerset killed John Doe, and I’ve since read that was a consideration for the end of the movie. That version would have worked as an ending because Somerset became a protector of Mills, and it would be martyr-like for him to take the crime on his shoulders instead of allowing Mills to take that burden. But that would have been a happy ending and clashed with the theme of the movie. The unwavering message this movie sends through its duration is that sins are unrelenting and everywhere--no one can escape. It’s a hopeless message; however, this message means the only ending that really works is what the movie came to theaters with. Sin will never go away or be beaten, and when viewers watch this movie decades from now, they’ll related to that same timeless plight.

Se7en is one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen. It transcends the crime and mystery genres and is elevated to higher levels. It’s horror at its heart, but it’s more than just a psychological drama or suspense. This movie holds the essence of what’s wrong with humanity in a way I’ve only seen managed by a handful of other films. In short, it rocks.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why I Hate Closing my Eyes

I wasn’t enamored of The Sculptor, but who was? Let me rant about why the book didn’t work, then I’ll move onto something productive--it’s best to vent instead of hold negativity in. Funaro spends the majority of this tale telling a series of events. At times, I can accept telling, but the impact of the narrative is lost as it tells the most important elements of characterization. Some examples include the attraction and sexual relationship between Cathy and Sam (“...when Markham saw the tears in her eyes, he finally gave over to his heart and kissed her. There, into the evening, they made love....”) and the history behind the Sculptor, which supposed to explain is current bloodlust (“But one thing he could never wrap his mind around was his mother’s love.”)--show use how he gave her his heart, show use that climactic love scene that’s been building through the book, and show us the Sculptors slow mental degradation as the enigma of his mother’s abuse torments him. By the end of all this telling, most characters were forgettable because of this and I lost emotional ties to all of them.

I’m no expert, but I think there were problems with the way the crime was handled. First, since murderers are usually connected to the victims, Cathy should have been treated more as a suspect or target from the start since her name was brought up in the case. I’m not sure they’d divulge confidential information to her as they did. Also, the scene where the local cops find the Sculptor but think he’s part of a news crew seemed problematic. Although it’s probable that errors can happen in the field, if a pair of police were sent to keep watch in the wake of a series of murders, they’d be prepared to handle each trespasser as a suspect. This means they would have called in and reported the van and plates. They’d probably have their weapons drawn or prepared to be drawn, they’d and be prepared to make an arrest due to the danger of the situation. Again, errors can be made, but after reading about how crime scenes are handled, this section seemed too problematic.

Books like The Sculptor encourage me, though, because I believe if I try my very hardest, I can get something as good, if not better (probably better), published someday. There is hope. And whatever its shortcomings, The Sculptor did have strengths worth analyzing. Where a serial killer story should shine--the murder scenes-- The Sculptor does shine. These scenes came to life for me, and the horrific sculptures created from the corpses really got under my skin. But why?

Everyone has there own fears and anxieties, and mine include losing free will. I always have trouble falling asleep--and even when I do, I’m a light sleeper--because I’m paranoid of what might happen while I’m unconscious. When I’m sedated, I’m constantly fighting the drugs. When I got my wisdom teeth removed, I remember waking up two times during the procedure and fighting to keep my eyes open. So, when the victims awaken to find they’ve been mutilated and decorated like a statue, I’m reminded of the reasons I hate closing my eyes at night. To top off the situation, the victims are administered a dose of epinephrine to induce a heart attack. This action demonstrates the complete control the Sculptor is taking over his victims; he’s saying that his victims’ bodies are his to control and reshape as he sees fit. The victims are tortured and degraded in some of the worst ways I can imagine--except the boy, which the narrator states escaped the torture that would have followed at the Sculptors lair.

I can’t even imagine my body being pumped full of formaldehyde, buried six feet under, and having worms crawl in and out of my ears. When I die, I expect my body to be cremated immediately to prevent something so terrifying. I know I won’t be around to care, but I sleep easier now knowing my body is safe from future Sculptors digging up graves for their next masterpieces.

While in Dallas, I had the opportunity to tour an accidental mummies exhibit. Apparently, people who couldn’t offered to buy funeral plots, rented spaces in tombs where their bodies withered and were preserved due to some coincidental, natural occurrence. Now, the bodies have been exhumed, and are being studied by scientist and displayed for the masses. I felt the same way touring those bodies as I did reading the Sculptor. Human body don’t need to be the most sacred of vessels to still deserve respect and dignity. I’m not sure those mummies got their share, and I know the Sculptor didn’t give his victims any, which is what made an otherwise lackluster read a little more interesting.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Contagion of the Mind

Stephen King is a master of the craft. Misery, although not my favorite book of his, demonstrates his talent as a suspense writer, pulling him away from some of his supernatural and Lovecraftian roots. I've seen the movie before, and although Kathy Bates has solidified her face in her portrayal of Annie, the book redeveloped the rest of the story in my mind. What might be one of the most fascinating elements in this book that I didn't pick up in the film was that even though Annie was the psycho in this tale, Paul's narration illustrates how a mind can be manipulated, damaged, and fragmented into psychosis, as if psychosis were a contagion (a theme King revisits in other tales, such as "N"). King succeeds in demonstrating Paul's mental deterioration as the tension builds through Misery.

By the way, there are some spoilers in here.

As the novel begins, a physical calamity kick-starts Paul's traumatization. Shortly after, he's forced to burn the only copy of his latest novel, the work he's most proud of. This situation is a bit farfetched these days because with computers backups are almost mandatory; however, given the time period, and the use of typewriters, the situation works. And the situation is important because by incinerating his beloved work, Paul's starting to let go of his old life, of his normalcy. To build upon this insulting experience, Paul is forced to drink dirty, soapy water, sealing the ordeal.

Another step Annie takes in obliterating Paul's psyche is always knowing what he does. She knows that he's gotten out of his room but does not divulge her knowledge to him. He continues under the assumption he has his own secret, a little private room of safety in his mind that he can keep away from his tormentor. But when she reveals she knew of his breakouts the whole time, Paul's little mental sanctuary is decimated. I've heard this is a method used during interrogations, too--interrogators work as if they already know the answers to the questions they're asking and the captive loses the sense of privacy and having secrets.

Of course, the major component in shattering Paul's mind is when Annie chops his foot off. King also manipulates plot at this point, inverting time and connecting the amputation with the removal of Paul's thumb, which happened days later. This physical torture is a manifestation of Paul's vulnerability. He's powerless, and if he ever questions that, he can look down at his missing body parts.

It's no surprise that he finds it hard to call for help when a policeman comes, and no surprise he starts to connect Annie to being a goddess when she murders the cop. She is all knowing and invulnerable. In the end, Paul has come to terms with not surviving. He has turned into a vicious animal, wanting to instill pain just as Annie has instilled pain in him. He's ready to die, just as long as Annie is tortured, too.


After Paul escapes, the narrator leaves much ambiguity whether Annie lived. At one point, it appears that she's hunted Paul down and finally murders him. This narration is successful because it displays how Paul's so traumatized he's constantly terrified of Annie's return. Finally, readers learn Annie died, but they only learn that after they've felt the fear Paul experiences--if readers knew Annie is dead, they'd feel no sense of danger knowing Paul just dreams her return. The story ends on a positive note, Paul returning to a new normal, but he's only able to do so after a long battle and by escaping into the world his writing provides.

Misery is violent and full of tension. On the outside, it's a tale of a crazed fan having her way with her favorite author. But beneath the surface, King has delved deeply into how the human mind and psychosis work. Annie is an interesting villain, but Paul's character development is what makes this novel so fascinating.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monsters of Their Former Selfs

Silence of the Lambs has become one of the most famous horror movies ever, and Hannibal one of the greatest villains. But is it really a horror movie? I found it in the suspense section, but I’ve also heard it referred to as a psychological thriller. What really interests me about this whole series is that the killers take on almost superhuman characteristics; they become monsters of their human selfs, which dig under my skin, and for me, these traits make these stories belong in the horror section just like the older tales about the monsters that influence these characters.

Let’s start with the Dragon from Red Dragon. Comparing the killers in these tales to horror-movie monsters, I see Dolarhyde was essentially being possessed by a ghost: the demon of the Dragon or even the ghost of his grandma, both of which shared similar qualities and connections. This possession gave him uncanny strength and a high level of intelligence. To reinforce the notion of a ghost, he lives in a creepy house that lends itself to being haunted. After reading the book, I watched the movie, and in the movie Dolarhyde hears the voice of the Dragon but the viewer does not. In the book, the reader sees what the Dragon says. Both approaches work, but something about the movie reinforces the ghost idea when Dolarhyde tells Reba that “He” is upstairs and will hear them. Dolarhyde says this with such conviction that viewers have to wonder if maybe there is an invisible entity in the house manipulating things. Of course these stories are all grounded in reality; no supernatural events occur, so viewers know better, but still they wonder about the possibility of a ghost.

Buffalo Bill might hold closer resemblance to Frankenstein and his monster. Consider his domicile. It’s decrepit, but not in a fashion like a haunted manor such as the one in Red Dragon. Buffalo Bill’s basement is brick like Frankenstein’s laboratory. His house and basement are also cluttered like Frankenstein’s lab. Buffalo Bill’s makeup and textiles hold similarities to the lab equipment, too; for example, they’re laid out to be used for morbid creation opposed to just being useless clutter. Also in Frankenstein’s lab, his creation was raised through a hole into the dark sky, which contrasts with the dark hole Buffalo Bill lowers and keeps his victims in. Although there are connections between Buffalo Bill and Ed Gein, I think the grave robbing in Frankenstein ties in here, too. Buffalo Bill goes out at night to find victims to further his creations just as Frankenstein and Fritz (Igor) did, except Buffalo Bill catches live bodies. Of course, the grand finally of the similarities is the tapestry of flesh Buffalo Bill creates to cover his own and its connection to the sutured up, necro-skin of Frankenstein’s monster.

Then there’s Hannibal. Even though it’s not a new concept, the idea that Hannibal is a contemporary and realistic Dracula is an interesting one. He lives in a prison that holds ties to Dracula’s castle, he shows very little emotion like the undead, and he even has the slicked-back hair like Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the Count. But what I want to point out is his need to feed. His hunger is more than just physical, although he does eat people. His game of quid pro quo and his need to psycho analyze others stems from his hunger to feed off their pain. Just as he offends the senator (like the troll he is), he devours Clarice’s painful memories. He’s an emotion vampire. So, if he enjoyed Clarice’s memories, why didn’t he want to kill and eat her too? Well, even Dracula fell in love. Clarice relates to the innocence of the world, the willingness to sacrifice herself to save others; she’s the opposite of Hannibal and Dracula. Clarice is Mina, and Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula’s love. Dracula wants to pull Mina into the dark side, which Hannibal attempts in his own story. The movie adaptation of Hannibal was changed from the book, but in the book Hannibal succeeds in changing Clarice--they become creatures of the night together.

So, why is it Harris’s characters send shivers down my back while other killers in the same genre (whichever that might be) do not? It’s because they share so many characteristics with the old-fashioned, supernatural monsters I’ve always loved--the ones that gave me bad dreams as a kid. I know I talked Harris up in my last blog, but again, I have to say he’s very talented and has ingeniously taken something old, updated it, and made it something unique and personal.