Monday, October 12, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: Hellraiser

Well, I finally fucking did it. I watched Hellraiser.

In my first blog post of this month-long series in which I reviewed A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, I told you all about how my boyfriend Brandon (aka Horror Movie Madness) and I spend the month of October. For us, October is full horror movie immersion month. You see, I'm horror movie deficient, and Brandon has decided he will cure me of that. 

It's fun, and I super enjoy it, but long ago I told Brandon I only had one rule: no Hellraiser.

"I will not watch Hellraiser," I told him all those years ago. "Not in a box, not with a fox. Not on a train, and not in the rain."

Brandon, being a kind and loving boyfriend, agreed to my terms. But he was curious, so he asked why. I explained to him that many years ago, in circumstances I can't remember, I stumbled into a room in which someone was watching the movie. I caught ten to fifteen seconds of it, and it scarred me for life.

It was that fucking chattering Cenobite. I saw him grab a woman by the head and shove his fingers in her mouth. It looked to me like he was attempting to rip her jaw off, or perhaps he was miming forced oral sex. I couldn't really say for sure which, but it turned my stomach.

Anyhow, fast-forward to today. This is our third year of October horror-movie lessons. I've already conquered the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of 1000 Corpses. I've seen most of the eighties slasher flicks and the classic seventies religious-cult movies. I thought it was time that I climb Mount Hellraiser and get it out of my system.

Besides, I always thought it was a little weird that I've read (and enjoyed) many of Clive Barker's novels and couldn't bring myself to watch the movie adaptation of his story that he, himself, directed.

So I watched Hellraiser today. And this is my assessment.

It was good.

Ha! I have more to say than that, of course. But just right off the bat: Hellraiser was exactly as scary as I expected, but not to the point where I couldn't enjoy Clive Barker's story. The man is just as much a genius of the genre as Stephen King, and I wouldn't say that lightly.

There are only a handful of characters in Hellraiser: Larry, a remarried widow of considerable financial means that derive from an unspecified origin; Larry's new wife Julia, his brother Frank; and his daughter Kirsty.

It's revealed early in the movie that Frank is a philandering cad who may or may not live off his brother's money, and who slept with Julia on the eve of her marriage to Larry. Frank is also, not surprisingly, the person who hunts down the demon-raising puzzle box and summons the Cenobites. They variously torture and pleasure him, as is their wont, and banish him to Hell-with-a-capitol-H.

When Larry cuts his hand and bleeds on the floor of their family home, the blood somehow nourishes Frank, who begins to rematerialize in his earthly form. Frank then reaches out to Julia, telling her that if she feeds him the blood of more innocents he would come back to life all they way. Julia, recalling their one wild rendezvous, agrees to help.

Time out.

This entire movie is predicated on the fact that Larry is apparently so boring in bed that his wife would literally kill random innocent people in order to once again fuck her brother-in-law. Good God. How sad.  Poor Larry is surrounded by horrible people. Except for Kirsty. She is eventually the one to re-banish Uncle Douchebag Frank to Hell and drive away the Cenobites. Of course, she didn't do any of that soon enough to save her father's life, but, oh well.

This is a Clive Barker story, remember. There may be a simple plot line but that leaves plenty of room for art, however terrifying it may be, and for psychology. 

A common theme throughout most of Barker's stories is the conflation of pleasure and pain, disgust and desire. Those themes are found throughout the movie. There are images of sexually-titillating fingers-in-mouths in the clips of Julia and Frank's One Wild Night early in the movie, images that are twisted and recreated later when Kirsty accidentally summons the Cenobites and Chatterer grabs her head and shoves his fingers down her throat.

As much as that scene disturbed me years ago (and again today), I was impressed by how it sort of bookended the earlier scene. It's like it put a ghoulish period on the end of that sentence.

I'm glad I watched Hellraiser. But, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I don't think I'll be watching it again.

I will leave you with this image, because it is cute, and cute conquers scary.

For another take on Hellraiser, read what Brandon thought of it!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

31 Days of Halloween! A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

October is a special month for my boyfriend and I. Every year that we've lived together (3 so far) we have spent the month of October watching a slew of horror films. Because that's what you do when you're dating a man whose screen name is "HMMADNESS." (That stands for Horror Movie Madness in case you didn't figure it out.  

Right before our first October as a cohabitating couple, Brandon presented me with a truly ambitious list of some 60-odd flicks.

"We won't necessarily get through all off these," he said to me. "But I'd like to try to get to as many as we can."

See, I haven't seen a whole lot of horror movies in my life, and Brandon felt pretty strongly about educating me in this arena. My eyes wide, more than a little daunted, I said:

"Sure. Of course."

That first October, I watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the original Halloween. I saw many if not most of the Friday the 13th series. And I made it through House of 1000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects, somehow. We watched some old, black-and-white horror and some cheesy independent horror. No, we didn't get through the whole list. But we did make a mighty dent in it. And Brandon succeeded in laying the foundation for my horror movie education.

At the end of our first October together, I was a sincere Jason fan, and I had a better idea of the kind of horror that gives me nightmares. 

Now, a couple years later, we're approaching October a little differently. Brandon is having me take a more active role in choosing which movies to watch. This year, we thought it would be fun to focus only on what is available through Netflix. That will make it more random, and open up more independent film possibilities.

First up, I chose A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.

I have already seen some of the NOES flicks. I had taken my daughter Meredith to see the remake of the first movie in the theater when it came out. And, since Freddy is Brandon's favorite movie monster, he had already shown me the original NOES as well as the third film in the series and Freddy vs Jason. But he had avoided watching the second of the series with me, because he himself is NOT a fan of it. Like many people, he considers this film to be too much of a departure from the original story to really fit in well with the rest of the series.

So we approached this viewing as something of a lark. I looked forward to what I had heard would be a lot of unintended homosexual innuendo, and we prepared to drink whenever one of the characters made fun of Jessie and whenever someone died or we got a glimpse of Freddy's claw.

And you know what? We did laugh at what turned out to be a TON of unintentionally silly dialogue ("Are you mounting her nightly?" For real? What high school guy talks like that??). And there were moments when I was honestly confused about what the movie was trying to convey (I'm looking at you, spontaneously combusting parakeets), but all in all I really liked Freddy's Revenge.

I liked Freddy's Revenge for a very specific reason: it managed to be a fun slasher flick even while it broke every convention of slasher flicks. That's not a small feat.

Freddy's Revenge came out in 1985. At the time, Friday the 13th and Halloween dominated the horror market. They were--and still are--beloved slasher flicks that not only follow slasher flick conventions, they helped to create them.

You can say these with me because we all know them:
(1) The final girl is always the good girl (defined generally as the one who doesn't get laid on screen)
(2) Teenage debauchery is mandatory, and
(3) Teenage debauchery leads to murder and mayhem
(4) Parents? Whoever heard of parents?

I'm sure there are more. And I'm sure there are more nuanced versions of the ones I presented, But I'm not HMMADNESS.

What Freddy's Revenge does is say "FUCK YOU!" to these conventions. And it doesn't suffer cinematically for doing so.

For starters, the "Final Girl" in Freddy's Revenge is a guy, Jessie, who is possessed by Freddy Krueger and made to kill his friends and coach (and very nearly his sister). That, alone, is a bold gesture and is largely responsible for the movie's reputation for homosexual innuendo.

Jessie has a girlfriend, of course: Lisa, who is both smarter and stronger-willed than he. And since she manages to stop Freddy-working-through-Jessie from killing her it can be argue that she is ALSO the final girl. But even that would be a break from convention. What other slasher flick had two final girls?

Also, there is next to no teenage debauchery in Freddy's Revenge. Lisa throws a party in the movie, and that sets the scene for most, but not all, of the slashing. But the joke is, her parents are home, and are actually PRESENT at the party for most of it. No one gets laid, although Jessie and Lisa do some heavy petting. That, though, is interrupted when Jessie feels Freddy start to come out. The viewer knows Freddy is starting to come out because Jessie's tongue turns black and grows about six inches.

Elongated, disgusting tongues seem to be a recurring theme in NOES movies. What the hell is up with that??

Anyway, the movie ends with Freddy banished, Jessie alive but with a notable case of PTSD, and Lisa seemingly none the worse for her close encounter of the nightmare kind.

I give Freddy's Revenge a 7 out of 10.

I really did like it. It's not the work of cinematic genius that the first and third movies are, but it's a lot of fun. And I cannot overstate how brave I think it was for the writers and director to make the decision to NOT follow the genre's conventions. At the time, Jason was it. He was everything. And it would have been a lot easier for them to make Freddy a Jason copycat. Why not? Wes Craven was not a part of the team anymore, and they certainly weren't scared to make creative decisions that did NOT follow his vision (attempting to bring Freddy out of the dream world and into reality).

But they didn't. They followed their own rules and made a slasher film that was its own unique product, and, I felt, a lot of fun.

Now go read Brandon's take here.

Or watch this 30-minute fan-made film featuring Freddy taking on the Ghostbusters. (Please forgive the Jared cameo. This was made before we all knew the awful truth about him.)