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Archive for the ‘author Troy Olson’ Category

(Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

(essay by Troy)

Psycho, simply put, is the most influential horror movie of all-time.  Here we have the film that took horror from being generally a genre with supernatural and gothic traditions, making it popular to place the emphasis on the modern, the domestic, and the psychosexual.  Or, as Jamie has stated before it represents the “year zero” of the genre, creating a divide of those films that influenced Psycho and the films that were influenced by Psycho.  50 years later it’s narratives, themes, and aesthetics have been referenced and drawn upon in 100’s of films, yet no one has been able to quite perfect the combination of style, tension, timing, narrative misdirection, and morbid wit that Hitchcock did.

Filled with its fair share of remarkable moments, Psycho is forever connected to one indelible and iconic series of images, “the shower scene.”   It’s memorable for several reasons.  There’s the level of technical ingenuity that’s on display — it famously has not a single penetration of the knife, yet our mind connects those dots in the midst of the scene’s myriad of cuts and camera angles. Of course, there’s also an underlying sleight of hand at work here, Hitchcock slyly playing the audience “like an organ,” wherein he shifts our voyeuristic and objectifying gaze into one of complicity when Marion is attacked and her body is disposed of.

Those are part of what make this a staple of Film Study 101 classes, but what makes it stand the test of time is the abject fear it still manages to create, even after multiple viewings and the likelihood that everyone watching knows what’s lurking around the corner 40-minutes into the proceedings.  I’ve seen it numerous times and it never fails to shock and chill me in its suddenness and violence, a combination of disorienting music and editing, murderous shadows, naked helplessness, and hemmed-in claustrophobia, finalized with Marion’s desperate grasp and a haunting focus on her lifeless stare looking back at us.

It’s the quintessential horror movie sequence and a permanent fixture in our cinematic cultural heritage.

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(Peter Weir, 1975)

(essay by Troy)

Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock opens with a shot of the 500-foot tall volcanic Hanging Rock, fog slowly lifting from its base, appearing like an alien monolith rising out of the earth.  Taking place on Valentine’s Day circa 1900, we are soon introduced to the students of Mrs. Appleyard’s School for Girls in soft-focus golden hues, idealized visions of Victorian age femininity and beauty, shown amidst Zamfir’s ethereal pan flute and whispered poems.  One of these girls is the beautiful Miranda, full of gloomy portent and as she ominously tells her roommate Sara that she’ll “not be around long” and that “”everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”  These opening shots contrast the harsh exteriors of the Rock with the glowing innocence of the girls, providing us with the image of Miranda as the perfection of femininity (a teacher of hers likens her to a “Botticelli Angel”), almost otherworldly in the way she carries herself and seems to have an understanding of what lies ahead.

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(Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

(essay by Troy)

Val Lewton’s legacy all starts here, the first of his RKO B-horror films and his first collaboration with Jacques Tourneur.  With Cat People, the two remove the gothic trappings of the then-popular Universal horror movies and bring things into a complex, adult world full of neurosis, psychological hang-ups, and repressions.  Like the other two Lewton films that have preceded it in this countdown (I Walked With A Zombie and The Seventh Victim)*), there’s a somber lyricism at the core along with a fatalistic melancholy creeping beneath the surface.  The films are also marked by their astute ability to delve into such subjects as a distressing obsession with death, the dissection of human duality, unspoken sexual conflicts all done with literate allusions, noir-ish atmosphere, and an impending sense of doom.  Lewton not only made sure these were intelligent affairs, but employed a simple formula to keep their short run times interesting, “a love story, three scenes of suggested horror, and one of actual violence.”
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(Charles Laughton, 1955)

(essay by Troy)

I’ll be back…when it’s dark

Such a line speaks to the deep rooted and irrational fears that all children have of the night, a time when they feel alone, unprotected, and at their most vulnerable.  It’s the time when the mythical boogeyman goes about terrorizing the young.  Building from this archetype is Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, creating an all-too-real boogeyman in the form of Robert Mitchum’s monstrous wolf in sheep’s clothing, Reverend Harry Powell.  As elemental a horror story as one can come up with, it’s core is simplicity, the story of two children constantly on the run from the intimidating Powell, desperately searching for refuge.  It’s themes are universal; the fundamental battle of good versus evil, the duality of man (hammered home with the “love” and “hate” that our evil preacher has tattooed on his hands), and the need for children to be protected from the predators of the world, lest they be eaten up. It’s part Biblical allegory and part Grimm Brother’s fairy tale, viewed through the prism of the Depression era Deep South.
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(Dario Argento, 1977)

(essay by Troy)

Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated academy of Freiburg. One day, at nine in the morning, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 p.m. local time.

So the narrator intones amidst a credit sequence consisting of a cacophony of pounding tympanis, screeching guitar strings, entrancing prog synths, and eerie background vocalizations.  It would have been just as appropriate for Dario Argento to insert a title card which states “Once Upon A Time…” as it soon becomes apparent that Suspiria is Argento’s stylized and lurid attempt at crafting a supernatural, gothic fairy tale (Argento has admitted to using the story and film of Snow White as an influence).  Even while mixing a few of his earlier giallo tropes into the mix —  the Grand Guignol setpieces and a mystery that hinges on an unresolved memory come immediately to mind — he begins moving even further away from the more literal constructs of those earlier films and into the dreamscapes that he would incorporate for his short run of intriguing films.

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(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)

(essay by Troy)

Part existential horror, part imaginative science-fiction, and recalling other transplant horror hybrids like Eyes Without A Face and Seconds, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Kôbô Abe’s The Face of Another examines the dread that originates from loss of identity and the fears it evokes stemming from alienation and disconnection from humanity.  The story provides philosophical look at the connection between image and self, face and soul, how they shape our interactions and relationships with others.  Sewn together with surreal visuals, a discordant Toru Takemitsu score, and an intelligent script, it’s an at times unsettling, at times thought-provoking, yet always stunning film.
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(Ken Russell, 1971)

(essay by Troy)

Known primarily for it’s history of censorship*, I was actually first made aware of Ken Russell’s The Devils via Roger Ebert’s zero star review of it(the best line: “We are filled with righteous indignation as we bear witness to the violation of the helpless nuns, which is all the more horrendous because, as Russell fearlessly reveals, all the nuns, without exception were young and stacked.”).

I’m not quite sure what Ebert was thinking there, because Russell, though a bit of a bad-taste provocateur known for flamboyant style, uses his elaborate style to great affect here, crafting a harrowing and tragic look at how the persecutions of religious and political institutions are capable of destroying individuals.  Or, as the lead character says near the end, it’s about those who would attempt to create “a new doctrine…especially invented for this occasion, the work of men who are not concerned with fact, or with law or with theology.  But a political experiment to show how the will of one man can be pushed into destroying not only one man or one city, but one nation.”

I don’t often like to delve into wholesale plot recaps, but here will, as the underlying story is so critical to the greatness of the film.

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