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Archive for the ‘author Robert Taylor’ Category


(Wes Craven, 1984)

(essay by Robert)

1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is a film that explodes beyond its slasher framework by transgressing the boundaries of reality and imaginary.  The film makes no apologies for its preponderance of blood and abruptly challenges us to look hard at the psychological and sociological burdens of the characters.  Craven created a film that is so violent that the true concepts can be lost.  The real genius of the film is in the undertones of his commentary combined with the gripping dream imagery.

The dream motif and the concept of capturing the feeling and obscurity of dreams/nightmares was by no means original.  It was Craven’s seamless connection between the dreamworld and real life that hit home: he does this both literally and figuratively.  The dream/reality transitions in the film are subtle and are a wonderful horror mechanism.  More symbolically, Craven built a relatively complex story-line going back decades to insert a very tangible and somehow believable link between the dreams being experienced and real “awake” events (most importantly death).  Nightmares are a universal yet personal experience. Somehow, regardless of how silly they seem in the day-light, they are startling and trigger real fear.  There is security in knowing that all we have to do is wake-up and the door is closed on the dream.  The idea that this door does not lock and that somehow someone, other than ourselves, can penetrate and control both our dreams and reality is an amazingly chilling notion that touches at the most vulnerable place. This element undoubtedly is what makes the film so intriguing and relatable. (more…)

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(Roman Polanski, 1965)

(essay by Robert)
Polanski used a minimalist approach to give us this shocking depiction the deteriorating mind.  In doing so he delivered one of the finest examples of psychological horror of all time.  Still today an intriguing and gripping film, Repulsion unapologetically explores the thin and fragile balance of sanity without accusing or presuming.  The first of his “apartment trilogy”, Repulsion unfolds with the director’s distinctive subtlety and humanism.

Catherine Deneuve portrays the sexually fearful Carole.  She is perfectly cast as the voluptuous but apprehensive manicurist.  All around her in swinging London are the trappings of a sexually parochial society that is threatening and revolting to her.  From the daily cat calls she endures and the lingering presence of her sister’s (married) boyfriend to the aggressive advances of her landlord and seeming shallowness of her own profession, she is cornered relentlessly. When she is pursued by Colin (John Fraser) she groups him with all of her pent up feelings and stereotypes.  He essentially has no chance. Deneuve’s casual portrayal of such an agonized character is absolutely mesmerizing.  Her violent and murderous charges overtake her calmly as her natural defense mechanism.   These spurts seem to be her truest moments.  What at first seems a quite and impenetrable shield turns out to actually be a front for completely terrifying anguish and instability.

Of course you cannot explore Repulsion without deep musing of the sexuality of Carole (and all the film’s characters).  Polanski depicts Carole’s torment aggressively by showing us her dreams/hallucinations of sexual assault and allowing (forcing) us to hear her sister’s real life sexual encounters.  He also takes full advantage of her physicality by not-so-subtly parading her in her divulging nightgown.   These powerfully build Carole’s tension and defenselessness. The film though is about much more than sexual resistance and repression. Polanski uses this very sensual theme to explore his deeper subject of the inhibiting and anguishing command of human fear.

It cannot go unmentioned that, in addition to this compelling concept and fantastic delivery by Deneuve, the young director shows an inspiring level of depth by utilizing strikingly simple (but powerful) visual and audio.  He maximizes the effectiveness of his black and white film buy shedding countless shadows and shooting close-up angles.  He also somehow manages to transform everyday noises like dripping water, train tracks, ticking clocks and house flies into horror devices.  Also, notice the awesome rapid-fire drumbeat that accompanies her slashing of her landlord.- this is an exceptional representation of her pounding mental torture.

The absence of plot though is Polanski’s most effective tool.  It is also his most telling clue that he does not intend to place guilt or provide us with rational explanation to Carole’s plight.  He casts us straight into the scenario without history and back-story. Although he refuses to let us off the hook by telling us too much, he does tease us with glimpses of a family photograph showing detached Carole as young child.  This perhaps suggests some lifelong Freudian explanation to Carole’s ultimate undoing. He does not elaborate further.  Instead he wonderfully challenges us with questions (not answers) about his characters and ourselves and leaves us to devise our own solutions. This photo often times (unfortunately) becomes the focal point for discussion of the film.  It is often commented that the photo tells us all we need to know about Carole. I maintain the director was making a much deeper point about the fragility of the human mind- one that cannot be explained away so simply.

Repulsion, most simply put, is an exploration of madness.  In his truest form, the director includes us in his study.  Polanski most certainly wants us to taste the madness; to sympathize with Carole’s torment, but he is more interested in us recognizing our own.  What makes the film so engaging and human is the undeniable sense that madness is not only a completely reasonable response but one that we all teeter-totter with.

(this film appeared on Roberts list at #4, Jamie’s at #19, and Troy’s at #22)

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(Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

(essay by Robert)

A good way to describe the Shining is: Intoxicating and Addictive.  Perhaps the most common reaction is to first walk away feeling very unclear.  Watch it again and you are impressed but still scratching your head.  The next viewing is even more intriguing but the ambivalence lingers.  After a while and multiple sittings it becomes easy to come back to and so very satisfying.  No question about it, this is what makes Kubrick’s film so absolutely fascinating and a masterpiece of horror.  Its open-endedness and ambiguity succeed in intriguing again and again. A seemingly simple storyline- A man with higher ambitions moves his young family into an isolated resort (with a history) to become the caretaker during the offseason.  What unfolds onscreen over the next 2+ hours (about a month in the story) however is anything but simple.

Kubrick begins to build and build almost immediately by slipping important pieces of information in his conversations and visual.  The hotel manager (Barry Nelson) explains to Jack that the previous caretaker developed cabin fever and killed his family. Jack nods this off by stating that the isolation is exactly what he is looking for.  We then learn that Jack and Wendy’s son is not exactly normal and that the family itself is hardly picture perfect.  On the tour of the hotel we learn that “All the best people stay here” and get a further insight that it was built on a Native American burial ground and that attacks had to be fended off while the hotel was being built.  Kubrick uses wonderful lighting and décor to build on the “life” of the hotel and Danny (Danny Lloyd) asks: “Is there something bad here?”…of course there is.  All of these pieces, all of this information, is important and add on to Kubrick’s opus.

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(Tobe Hooper, 1974)

(essay by Robert)
Tobe Hooper’s film changed the genre. Perhaps what is most impressive about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the myth and legend it has become and the impact it has had.  So often imitated and so commonly misunderstood (or perhaps misremembered), the film was amazingly impactful.  Everyone is moved by the film, even people who have not seen it.

A lot is written of Hooper’s motivations for the film, I will not focus these here as I would rather emphasize the on-camera aspects. These are important though (hopefully comments will be posted) and can be read about in multiple articles.   I will say that I loved reading that he seemed to have been inspired  (in part) by standing in a long line in a store and the idea that he could get the people to move if he had a chainsaw.  This is not only humorous but also a perfect precise example of why this genre is so human and should be so much more embraced. (more…)

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(William Friedkin, 1973)

(essay by Robert)

One the most recognizable films of all time, The Exorcist today remains an unmistakable horror foundation.  Adapted from William Peter Blatty’s novel (see also The Exorcist 3) and supposedly loosely based on true events, the film is synonymous with the genre.  William Friedkin, as a follow-up to his Academy Award winning The French Connection, was chosen to direct what now seems to be a film fated from the start for fame and notoriety. (more…)

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(Michael Powell, 1960)

(essay by Robert)
What an absolutely perfect horror film. Peeping Tom, which was written by the  polymath Leo Marks and directed by Hitchcock disciple Michael Powell, challenges the horror audience to see ourselves for what we really are. We are immediately involved with the film as Powell delivers a sincere thoughtful masterpiece while leaving us scratching our heads about ourselves.

Appropriately Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is an aspiring film director earning his way by photographing low budget smut images. He also acts as the landlord of the large family estate willed to him by his father. Lewis is a recluse- a bizarre outsider completely uncomfortable with basic human interactions.  We will quickly learn that it was his father that left him with a deep bizarre obsession.  Boehm is incredible as the dark and emotional killer.  He draws us in to the point we can’t help pitying him feeling his anguish.

The father was a biologist focused on capturing the sensory reaction to dramatic experiences.  He was also obsessed with curing scoptophilia (voyeurism). His main test subject naturally became his developing young son.  Powell shows us grainy and odd home movies of Mark’s childhood: a startling wake-up scene with a lizard, mourning his mother’s death, and the natural peeping tendencies of the young boy.  The bizarre tactics of father Lewis are revealed in the adult son’s illness.  They also put the audience in the uncomfortable position of having to think back to our own defining moments.

Another intriguing element of the film is the fact that Lewis seems to be on the brink of success but can’t get past his weakness.  This is proverbial for us as we watch and think about our own shortcomings and fears. Despite the spine-chilling presence, people like Mark.  They are in taken by his calm handsomeness and shy demeanor.  As a photographer, he creates a calming atmosphere and as the quite landlord, he is interesting to the young and naïve Helen.  His obsession keeps him cornered however keeps him cornered and trapped. As close as it seems, his escape is out of reach.  This is felt in the film’s most important scene when Mark has his run in with Helen’s mother (played wonderfully by Maxine Audley). “Instinct is a wonderful thing- a pity it can’t be photographed” she compassionately warns.  As a blind woman, she is the only one who can see Mark’s danger.

The concept and overall delivery are so engaging it is easy to forget some of the specific elements that Powell uses so successfully.  Not the least of these are the kill sequences in which we see the victim through Mark’s camera’s POV.  The cross in the camera’s lens is like a target zoning in on each fatality’s final moments.  This creates a fantastic personal effect as we zoom and almost touch the kill.  Powell masterfully hides from us even the slightest gore and blood but instead taunts us by revealing his murderer and method almost immediately.  He is obviously less concerned with the “who, what, where and when”.  The real question he asks us is “why”?

It is also interesting to see the often referred to similarities between Powell’s piece and those of Hitchcock.  Of course it was the elder Hitchcock who became the “Master of Suspense”.  Powell’s film on the other hand, seemed to hit so close that it literally derailed his decorated career.  This is such a shame, as it was the mild (almost non-existent) violence and the sexuality (tame by any standard today) that seemed to cast the dark shadow on the film at the time and black-balled an exceptional creative and articulate artist.

Top Horror Moments:
The voyeur and the blind woman

-Helen sees Mark’s obsession for herself and Mark carry’s out the ultimate peep

(this film appeared on Robert’s list at #53, Jamie’s at #75, Troy’s at #44, and Kevin’s at #33)

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(Roger Corman, 1964)

(essay by Robert)

I am always surprised about how many people I talk to who are not familiar with Corman’s Masque of the Red Death.  Perhaps it is because it was mashed between so many other Edgar Allen Poe adaptations staring Vincent Price.  Masque was actually the 7th of 8 Poe inspired films that Corman directed (all but one starred Price) working closely with writer Richard Matheson.  Notably, it is actually a mashing of 2 Poe stories: Masque and Hop Frog.  To me, Masque of the Red Death stands alone as the truly inspired piece from this series and a fantastic example of mise-en-scene prowess.

Time after time, Corman delivers brilliance on-screen.  His interpretation of the “seven rooms” is spot-on and the multiple extravagant ballroom scenes glimmer with endless color and movement. The wow-moment of the film is when Prospero comes face to face with the true Red Death after his guests are wiped by one sweeping pan through the room. Far and away however, the unmistakable star(s) of the show are the all-powerful death figures.  The Red Death, of course, gets the most screen time but Corman hits you with everything when he gathers all the reapers in the forest to discuss their most recent escapades.  In a stunning final shot, All the “deaths” including Black, Red, White and Yellow compare their most recent conquests.  Fascinatingly, instead of bragging about the number of lives they have claimed, they are proud of the select few that they let live.

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(Richard Donner, 1976)

(essay by Robert)

By no means is this an original story line.  The timeless battle between good and evil and the arrival of the antichrist upon unsuspecting mankind.  Nor was the Omen the most impactful religious/possession horror of its time.  Of course The Exorcist, just 3 years prior, owns that distinction.  What makes The Omen such a great film is its reliance on the audience’s belief that good will overcome.  Even though Donner repeatedly assures us that the forces at work are far larger than the individuals in the story, we find ourselves rooting for the death of a young child.  The film is an exhilarating witch hunt and a tremendous success at the box office because of Donner’s ability to play off these.  You can almost still hear the collective gasp when Damien is revealed in the film’s final shot.  Evil is still out there!  Note that in an alternate ending, one of the 2 caskets is actually a child’s casket, suggesting that Damien had been killed. Clearly, Donner made the right choice.

These aspects, along with a fantastically eerie soundtrack and visuals (See below), are all certainly commendable.  As I re-watched The Omen though in preparation of this list, I became less impressed with these and more taken with a more subtle message throughout. Good needs evil and the church needs Satan, they both need us to believe, and without them- we are free.  These are the true essences of the film. The symbolism, complete with biblical passages, site excavations, and Italian monasteries, are piled-on but the film also gives us plenty of opportunities to appreciate the deeper intent. Notice, for example, the fact that it was a priest who convinced the atheist father to take the antichrist child- as if to say, we need you to take the burden of our relevance.  He could have easily declined and cast the priest away as crazy but his own weaknesses (not wanting to inform his wife that their baby had died), allow him to be targeted. In a later scene, Mrs. Thorn gives her husband another chance to make things right when she asks for his support in an abortion.  He refuses, not because he is animately opposed to the operation but because he wants to prove his own fate is in his hands.  There is also the distorted photographs that predict the multiple deaths- the priest’s impaling, the nanny’s hanging (a fantastic horror moment) and the photographer’s famous decapitation.  These are all taunted in our face saying- destiny is out of your control.  Even if you crack all the codes it is futile, so why do we pray? Why do we fear? Why do we fight?

The film does use some eye-catching visuals- including transparent shots of the priest and father-to-be overlooking Damien in the hands of the nun.  Donner also chose to use still images (photo album shots) to show the passing of time which are very effective in delivering us to through the first 4 harmless years of Damien’s life. There is also to wonderful contrast of the rich symbolic Roman  setting (the scene of of the original crime) VS the beautiful landscapes of the English scenes.  I thought the symbolism of the menacing black dog was a little bit too palpable but it does create a lingering intense presence.  There is also the orange lit scenes as Embassador Thorn rummages through Damien’s hair to find the hidden 666.

I also love the casting in the Omen.  If I had to pick an ambassador to England, I think I would choose Gregory Peck.  With his stately wisdom and air of confidence, he is sensationally paired with the glowing domestically of Lee Remmick.  The star of the show is Billie Whitelaw who portrays Mrs. Baylock, Damien’s zealous caretaker, who challenges the Thorns (Peck and Remmick) at every opportunity.  It is easy to find yourself involved with the dialogue as she inputs her “advice” on how to properly raise Damien.  Young Harvey Stephens also did a notable job portraying the notorious child most strikingly for his bone-chilling stares and smirks that he delivers in his dialogue-less role.

The Omen is not the best horror film of 1976 nor is it the best film of its sub-genre, it is however, a great film that is worth a re-watch if you have not seen it recently.  Re-watch it for the great visuals, re-watch it for the outstanding horror performance of Billie Whitelaw, and (most importantly) re-watch it for the

Top Horror Moments:

-A vieled Mrs. Thorn is cornered in her hospital room by the diabolical “caretaker”
-A grave is opened to reveal Damien’s true mother.
-Suspense is in the air as bells chime and the deformed priest writes a note for the father.

(this film appeared on just one list, Robert’s at #23)

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(Stuart Gordon, 1986)
(essay by Robert)
Stuart Gordon is an utterly endeared figure in horror.  There is a constant comedic undertone to his films and he masterfully balances this with cerebral and thought-provoking plots.  He is most famous for his string of HP Lovecraft adaptations- Castle Freak, Dagon, of course Re-Animator and From Beyond– my absolute favorite Gordon.  Not the most famous but the most potent, and complex.  From Beyond is an astounding body-horror experience but also, as is so common in Lovecraft’s work, a complex (and humorous) insight into pushing human boundaries.
And what is a Gordon film without Jeffrey Combs (loved seeing the comments posted about Combs here 2 days ago) who holds together the volatile plot and variety of characters.  Gordon portrays Dr. Crawford Tillingast- understudy to the brilliant but deranged Dr. Pretorius (Nod to Bride of Frankenstein) played by Ted Sorel.  Together they have created the Resonator, a wonderfully conspicuous a device intended to maximize the pineal gland of those within its range.  Guess what, the thing works but somethings are not intended to be understood.
The mysterious pineal gland is the perfect subject matter for the film.  A tiny gland in the center of the brain has been referred to as the “seat of the soul” the “third eye” and the “sixth sense”.  Gordon’s resonator stimulates the gland to its full potential and reveals further depths of reality and senses.  Also revealed are other-dimensional creatures that surround us at all times.  What transpires after these revelations is an outlandish exploration of pushing human sensory limits until ultimate entrapment in the most basic and visceral animal instincts of sexuality and dominance.

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