Friday, February 18, 2011

You're a Fool, Boy...

Boy, what a long week this was.  We had a big fight on Tuesday, that started in my room no less, but that passed and was taken care of pretty quickly.  Wednesday and Thursday were block periods, so they were long, and today was my first Friday at school in weeks (thanks to being out for medical testing and what not) so it just dragged on and on.  But instruction-wise, it was an easy to handle week.  I guess I can't really complain...but boy am I ever glad that this weekend is a three day weekend.  I won't have to be back to school till Tuesday, very nice.  And this weekend has already started off well.  I got a haircut and a new iPhone from AT&T, they offered me a really good deal on an upgrade...so I've got all kinds of new things to play with this weekend.  The only downside is that this weekend is the first weekend that Patrick and I aren't gonna see each other.  Its too bad, but its necessary I guess.  I mean, absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.  Anyway, tonight I'm revisiting a fun horror film from the 90s that is equal parts horror, comedy, and children's adventure.  If it wasn't so gory, I think it could have passed as a cousin to the dark fantasies of the 80s.  Anyway, enjoy a dark ride with me as we visit The People Under The Stairs.

Poindexter 'Fool' Williams is celebrating his 13th birthday today...though his day isn't exactly the best.  He and his family live in a slum, are about to be evicted by their landlords, and are dealing with a mother who has cancer.  They are too poor to pay the rent and too poor to care for their mother, so Fool agrees to burgle the landlord's home.  Getting in is pretty easy, but once he and his mentor in crime are inside, they find that stealing is the least of their worries.  Apparently, the landlord and his wife...known as Man and Woman in the credits...have turned the house into a maze of booby traps, secret passages, and things that go bump in the night in order to keep out the world.  Soon, Fool is trapped in the house alone and trying to outrun the crazed couple...as well as the strange people that live in their cellar.  The only one who can help him to escape is a girl named Alice who the Man and Woman are keeping as their daughter.  She is the only one who also knows the ins and outs of the house as well as Man and Woman, and the only one that they won't kill.

Wes Craven crafted a modern fairy tale worthy of Grimm's when he made The People Under the Stairs.  It combines Gothic horror with and old fashioned treasure hunt and the comedy of a children's movie and it is that whimsical nature that makes the film so easy to digest.  Frankly, the actual 'horror' isn't all that intense and the only reason its rated R is for gore and language.  If Craven had made the movie a little tamer he could have sold it to families...but instead he made a film that's too tame for hardcore audiences and too grown up for kids.  Its too bad too, because the story and the performances are really good.  Oh well, its a fine film for a Friday night...and its certainly worth seeing if you haven't already.  Its perfect for lightweights...so even Mom and Miss J could watch it.  Give it a whirl if you'd like a good haunted house style ride.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Little Romance

So this weekend I had my first Valentine's date ever...and I kinda liked it.  Of course, had the date taken place for any other reason or on any other date it would have been just as good.  Afterall, Valentine's Day is just a day.  However, Patrick and I enjoyed ourselves immensely.  We had a very classy dinner at Mitchell's Ocean Club at Easton...and it was a tasty and lovely as I always dreamed it would be (I've been wanting to go for years).  And then we both gave each other a cliche Valentine's gift.  I gave Patrick a heart shaped box of chocolates and a necklace...and he gave me a card and a Build-a-bear teddy bear.  It was almost sickeningly cute.  We also did some heavy baking here at the house and watched a lot of movies.  It was a really great weekend that really wasn't long enough at all, but its good to have experienced it rather than not.   This coming week should be a pretty easy one, and then I get a three day weekend with little plans outside of resting and having a good time.  It will also be the first weekend in a long time that I won't see Patrick...but I think that's a good thing.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder afterall.  Anyway, since I'm in a lovey-dovey kinda mood I thought I'd talk about a love story...but not the kind of love story you think.  This is a tale of forbidden love that tears about the fabric of a family and which spits in the face of all that is good and decent.  It also questions the rules of the afterlife and the thin line between pleasure and pain.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hellraiser.

The film opens on Frank Cotton, a criminal and deviant, hiding out in his parent's house.  He sits in a darkened attic, surrounded by candles, and fiddling with a puzzle box.  He finally solves it and as it plays a sweet tune, black chains spring from it and tear him apart while several black-leather-clad demons watch.  The head demon closes the box and the gory scene disappears just in time for Larry Cotton, Frank's brother, and his lovely wife Julia to move in to the old house.  Julia is particularly uncomfortable in the new house seeing as it is an unfamiliar place and things with Larry seem to be strained.  In fact, Julia has a secret.  The day before her wedding to Larry, Frank seduced her and she has never stopped loving him.  Julia's memory of Frank is interrupted when Larry finds her in the attic and bleeds on the floor where Frank died (he cut himself on a nail).  While Julia and Larry are out at the hospital, the blood is sucked into the floor and Frank is reborn in a gelatinous and skinless state.  Julia finds him and, because she still loves him, agrees to bring him men to drain of blood so that he can become whole again.  Problems arise when Frank demands to use Larry and Julia refuses...and when Larry's teenage daughter Kirsty discovers Frank in the attic.

Hellraiser a love story?  It sure is...the gore and the horror is only a function of the story itself.  The real driving force of the tale is the forbidden love that Julia feels for Frank...and is not returned to her.  Frank makes promises he doesn't intend to keep and betrays her in time, but for her it is almost a fairy tale romance.  She must rescue him with her love and devotion and for her, that is the greatest reward.  It makes her empty life mean something.  People always make the mistake believing that love stories are always supposed to be happy and healthy...but some love stories are about poor choices, being consumed by lust, and the pain that love causes.  This is one of those stories, and it is worth seeing for that side alone.  Of course, its also worth seeing for the excellent gore effects and the introduction of one of horror's most memorable faces...Doug Bradley as Pinhead, the head cenobite (or demon).  Also a standout is Claire Higgins as Julia, the good (if slightly frosty) woman who becomes evil by the close of the picture.  A true tragic hero in the vein of Shakespeare, she has a tragic flaw that draws her into a destructive spiral leading to her eventual undoing and demise.  Its a rich narrative and a gothic love story worthy for a bit of anti-romantic viewing this time of year.  See it, if you can stand it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Knows What Scares You

I'm not sure why, but during these snowy early months I like to watch a lot of scary movies.  Maybe its that its dark all the time, maybe its because they are small morsels that can be watched and digested in an hour and a half, or maybe its just because I like horror movies.  At any rate, I've been watching a lot of them lately (and purchasing a lot on blu-ray) and I figured I'd better check back in and write about one of the classics.  It is a skewering of 1980s suburban life and an old-fashioned ghost story all rolled into one great morsel of a movie.  If you don't know what it is already, maybe its famous line will remind you...."They're Heeeeeere."  That's right, today I plan to examine Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg's classic spook show.

The film begins as the local cable station is signing off for the night.  The National Anthem blares over the opening credits and then fades to snow as the camera takes us through the house and introduces us to the different members of the family who lives there.  First is Steven, the father, asleep in his easy chair, then Diane the mother, Dana the teenage daughter, Robbie, the youngest son, and Carol Anne, their youngest child (all of this is done by E-Buzz the dog who wanders room to room looking for something to eat).  Carol Anne wakes from her slumber and walks with purpose down to the glowing television set where she begins to have a conversation with someone who's voice we cannot hear.  The next day, following a storm, Carol Anne wakes again to see a smoky tendril explode from the set and into the wall.  Soon after, strange things begin happening in the house.  The chairs stack themselves on the kitchen table, furniture begins moving around, and Carol Anne insists that "They're Here".  Diane finds it all fascinating at first, but soon things turn violent.  A tree attacks Robbie and then, while the family is occupied, Carol Anne is sucked into her closet and disappears.  It is then up to the family to rescue her from the malevolent forces who have taken their daughter away.

Poltergeist has all the markings of a classic haunted house movie while also ratcheting up the action to account for the modern effects of the 1980s.  The film has a relatively slow build and then jumps right into the violence with the tree attack that almost comes without warning, like a really bad storm (of course, there is also a thunder storm in the scene).  There are other standout effects including the 'ghost lady' in the middle of the film, and The Beast that confronts Diane at the end.  And no one could ever forget that hideous grinning clown doll from the children's room.  However, Poltergeist isn't just about ghostly suspense and effects, its also a time capsule of another time and a type of life that many middle and upper class Americans were accustomed to...suburban life.  Steven and Diane are typical parents who are kinda cool and kinda loose while also running a picture perfect family with only minor issues (they also like to smoke pot and talk dirty in private).  Of course all that changes when an outside force enters their home uninvited and tries to tear them apart.  Notice the metaphor?  The American family isn't going to be destroyed from within...but rather from something from the outside.  It could almost be a parallel to the continuing Cold War fears at that time...but I don't want to go nuts on analysis.  Suffice it to say that Poltergeist is meant to show the strength of the American family and the futility of the outside world's attempts to destroy it.  In the end, the family survives and the malevolent forces are driven away...at least until next time...