Blog: Horror of Horrors

Good evening.

Even better than the real thing. Hitchcock at Madame Tussaud’s.

It’s election eve, and instead of frantically scrolling Twitter like I usually do when other people’s anxiety starts to kick up my own, I’m sitting here staring at this WordPress screen, seeking something profound to share. I don’t have much, save a recap of all the wonderful horror I’ve consumed this Halloween season.

When I was a kid, I watched the suspense and horror that my mother enjoyed. Namely Hitchcock, Vincent Price films, a few episode of The Twilight Zone and the Universal monster movies. We trucked through some silent vampires and a smattering of other stuff, but when it comes to slasher horror and the golden ’80s, I was seriously under-schooled and largely uninterested. Until this year.

Freddy, Jason & The Franchise Appeal

The real fucker about sitting through 20 Nightmare and Friday films is that I now understand the true doom of franchise horror: you have to watch them all, because one of them could be amazing.

My favorite Friday films are A New Beginning (5) and Jason X (10.) My favorite Nightmare films are A Nightmare on Elm Street (1) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (6.)

What the hell??

Franchise horror not only gives indie and previously unknown creators and actors the chance to make a splash, but allows for some truly unique ideas -provided you can get the funding, and get your ideas past the producers. Nightmare 2 is a bad example here because it’s an entity unto itself, and feels more like it should be 7th or 8th down the line rather than a direct sequel. The true tragedy of Nightmare 2 is that the script is pretty shitty, and Freddy’s not much of a presence or a threat. I’m surprised it didn’t sink the whole franchise, to be honest, but Freddy’s so memorable and alluring as a villain that it stands to reason there’d be more to come.

The real gems come later on, because these films demonstrate what you can really do when you’ve run out of normal ideas and when no one’s paying close enough attention to tell you no. Nightmare 6 is a total trip and starts to break reality in a way Dream Warriors (a film with a better scrip and cast,) couldn’t really hack. It’s Burton-esque in the best possible way, and combines surreal comedy with a family twist on Freddy that actually holds some menace. A New Beginning is a cocaine-fueled trip that includes breakfast table suplexes, an emotional port-a-potty murder and one absolutely surreal inciting incident for the subsequent murder spree. Neither of these sequels are remotely scary, but they’re wildly entertaining in the chances they take and their respective (batshit) tones.

It’s bad enough that possible gold lies in slogging through sequels to iconic, good movies. No, now I’m learning that the potential for ridiculous entertainment or a serious horror jaunt doesn’t limit itself to excellent predecessors. Nightmare 1, for example, is fantastic, but Friday 1 and 2 sure aren’t. It’s not until Friday 3 that we start to see some promise. The final girl in 3 is annoying but manages a pretty badass final battle against Jason in which she lands a seemingly endless barrage of hits. Plus, she gives him the iconic axe notch, which he manifests again (?!) after reanimating in 6. 4 does some interesting stuff with the potential for axe-swinging fun times, and Corey Feldman gives us a good performance as a nerdy kid who has had it with this mutant murderface.

Tommy “Ok but let’s dig him up during a lightning storm and make SURE he’s dead” Jarvis makes some great fucking decisions as the franchise progresses.

I can confidently say it was all worth it to see Jason get his Terminator upgrade and Freddy start some meta-shit, and if someone doesn’t lean into Earth-2 Jason Voorhees someday I will scream. There’s no sweeping profundity or incisive critique here, really. I’m just shocked and pissed that I have to watch everything now, because I could miss out on a potential treat ranging from a movie that’s actually good (Freddy vs. Jason) to something that’s just a trip and a half (Jason X,) and suffer through some supreme bullshit (Jason takes Manhattan, Nightmare 4) along the way.

God damn it.

Holy Shit, Candyman Is Good

It doesn’t get everything right, but in 2020, Candyman sure packs a punch – in some ways I wish it didn’t have to. It’s a damn compelling horror flick. Barker hasn’t let me down so far with eroticism and desire (obviously) but there is so much to unpack in Candyman.

I’m not just completely into a young, achingly handsome Tony Todd covered in bees, I swear. The film has a lot to say about beauty, love and terror that resonates. Hard.

Virginia Madsen plays an elite, good-intentioned intellectual who gets her shit handed to her. Deservedly. She intrudes on a community in which she does not belong, endangers and traumatizes them and, shockingly, actually pays for it. Candyman came out in 1992 but its social message resonates today, and so does the film’s complex and dark web of allure, animus and suffering.

Helen is the peak white object of desire. Madsen is stunning, of course, and Helen’s also an incisive, intrepid and intelligent woman. She occupies the precarious but coddled position of wife to Trevor (fucking Trevor,) a tenured academic whose predilection for boinking his students probably didn’t start with Helen-as-nymph, and definitely doesn’t end with marrying her. Trevor’s late-stage-regret flashback to his sumptuously beautiful wife greeting him with home-cooked dinner in their stylish condo says it all. Helen’s also close with Bernadette, whose clearer view of reality and the perils of intruding on a heavily policed Black community gives us additional class nuance, and doesn’t really make a dent on Helen until it’s too late – for both of them. Bernadette’s sacrifice is typical of some horror in that she pays for the curiosity of a white woman but, shockingly, Helen’s also made to pay for her willful ignorance.

Helen’s second trip to Cabrini Green sees her coerce and endanger a child, but the scene in the shit-smeared bathroom gives us a bit of satisfaction. Helen gets clocked because, well, she deserves it – not as a woman, but as a willful interloper and fetishist of a “story” that has a very real and violent impact on the Cabrini Green community. Violence begets violence, too; we’re not meant to miss the detective’s mention of a “full sweep,” meaning the community suffers as a whole because Helen put herself in harm’s way and incited a response. An act that is narratively just reaps nothing but additional pain for the people Helen’s “work” impacts, and she possesses tremendous power to police and punish the man who hit her – for now.

Tony Todd gives the gift of bees – and revenge.

From there, Helen’s world unravels in some shockingly ballsy ways as she’s de-powered and punished, but her floundering also causes extreme pain. Anne-Marie’s rewarded for her kindness by Helen’s brutal intrusion into her world – her dog’s death and Anthony’s abduction may not, as we find out, be by Helen’s hand, but Helen’s fascination with the Candyman and his growing regard for her are directly responsible for this moment. Anne-Marie manages to nick Helen’s shoulder with the cleaver and, again, we don’t wince as she experiences some mild trauma in exchange for what she’s wrought. Anne-Marie features in the bonfire scene in an extremely exploitative shot, but again at the end of the film in a position usually reserved in our dominant culture for white women: as the surviving, beautiful mother. As with Bernadette, Anne-Marie’s portrayal definitely isn’t perfect, but she’s depicted as innocent in a way that white audiences usually don’t see. 

Helen takes a trip back to the police station, this time as a suspected murderer, and is shot and featured accordingly. Bernadette is then killed for the sin of showing up with flowers to support her friend – something her husband can’t seem to do unless he’s visible while doing so – and Helen takes a little trip to a mental hospital, where things continue to go downhill as the Candyman’s courtship intensifies.

There’s so much more at play than the plot in Candyman, from the sumptuous fur trim of Todd’s coat (an exquisitely lovely contrast to his bee-infested bare ribcage and mutilated hand) to the iconic bee kiss scene and the powerful connection between Helen and the Candyman, to the inspired use of color and architecture to paint a brutal picture of gentrification and the legacy of white violence. Madsen and Todd’s performances are killer, and their chemistry goes far to make the esoteric nature of their characters’ link land. The film is the total package, from aesthetic to content, and, as I kept blurting to my tolerant partner during viewing, it absolutely fucking wipes the floor with its peer, The Silence of the Lambs, in both theme and execution.

Ultimately, we’re meant to judge Helen even if we sympathize with her. Becoming a spirit of vengeance may sound cool, but Helen literally crawls through fire to get there even if it’s, again, deserved in many ways. Barker’s all about penance, and this story does a good job of showing what that can look like if we blend gothic horror with urban hardship.

It’ll be pretty damn cool to see what DaCosta and Peele do with the prequel next year, too. For all that works in Candyman Rose’s perspective is ultimately voyeuristic, and there’s a nagging hardship romanticism that endures despite the attempt to highlight inequity and suffering.

And yes, I was extremely gratified to see fucking Trevor eat shit at the end. He is such a prick.

Ephemera

We’ve watched a lot of cool/memorable/trashy shit in addition to everything above: The Gate, The Stuff, Street Trash, Pontypool, The Frighteners, Tremors, Critters, From Beyond and Lost Highway, to name a few. There’s other shit I’m likely forgetting because, like most of us, my memory is reduced to one stressed neuron firing into the vast void between my ears. Still, what’s apparent to me is that in the midst of real-life horror coming to bear in all sorts of bizarre and painfully obvious ways, finding art that shows a way through, however imperfect or improbable that way may be, is a balm in these strange times.

Be well, all, and balance logging the fuck off Twitter for a day or two with continuing to pay attention to politics after this election is over. One way or another, we can’t afford to be surprised or stick our heads in the sand anymore.

I’ll be here with my machete-wielding, dream-haunting, bee-shrouded friends in the meantime.

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