Howdy howdy howdy! I’m a cowboy podcast episode about 2013’s “The Conjuring”! Yes, we get outright contemporary this fortnight with a discussion of this recent and hugely financially successful Amityville-ish creepfest. Here’s the mp3!
Short version: it’s a significantly creepy film with some great effects, good sound design, fun if not particularly subtle cinematography, and a sort of unfortunate sogginess to the pacing that may have more to do with the meta-film context of the source material than the film itself. We both liked it and we both had problems with it. (So, basically, An Episode Of This Show.)
We talk a bunch (that is to say, Josh in particular grumps a bunch) about the dissonance in framing such an unabashedly dramatically shot film in terms of being very overtly Based On A True Story, and about the way the history and claims of the real-life paranormal investispouse pair that is Ed and Lorraine Warren gives the film a kind of storytelling baggage that compromises a little bit what might otherwise have been a more taut horror flick.
There’s a lot about the film — not coincidentally the same stuff about it that doesn’t always feel like it’s working in service of the core horror experience — that feels like it would be a better fit for a glossy short-season television series; the dangling threads of the Warren’s history as a couple and as investigators, of Ed’s amateur priest Catholicism, of The Bad Thing That Happened With Lorraine, etc., all end up feeling either rushed or unresolved or both in the film in a way that expands the runtime unnecessarily for a feature but would work very well as fractional episodic threads in a season of hour long shows, etc. But there’s apparently a sequel in the works and a spin-off about featured creepy doll Annabelle, so maybe that’ll end up happening in its own way on the big screen.
And theories: is Judy Warren in fact dead the whole time? Are the Hide ‘n Clap ghosts imitating the Perron family, or are they actually the time-traveling ghosts OF the Perron family? Is the dad character in fact not just played by the same actor but secretly the same character as the guy from Office Space, passed out in the living room on prophetic TPS reports? Is Hide ‘n Clap literally the worst idea ever in a new home? Is this movie actually a very subtle reboot of The X-Men, with Lily Taylor’s mom character Caroline as Jean Grey vis-a-vis Dark Phoenix?
Hello horror fans and welcome to the unmistakeable year 1996! This (approximate) forntnight, we’re doing the genre-savvy revival of the horror genre: Wes Craven’s Scream. You can download the episode directly as an MP3 here.
Scream came out at a time when horror was at a nadir of popularity and associated mainly with cheapo direct-to-video sequels of the Nth degree. The concept: a teen slasher film full of teens very, very well aware of the concepts of teen slasher films could have easily gone wrong, and yet it very much did not. Certainly certain aspects of the film (e.g. the incredibly earnest and obvious genre-savviness, just about the entire wardrobe, Skeet Ulrich) haven’t aged very well, and we get into that. But on the whole, Scream has a well-deserved status as a modern classic. If you haven’t yet seen it, stop reading this right now and go watch it, because there’s spoilers in this post and definitely in the podcast.
There’s a lot to dissect in this movie and we dig in deep.Craven manages some double-reverse backflips with the foreshadowing of Billy Loomis as Ghostface; when you think “no, too obvious,” you’re playing right into Craven’s hand and kicking yourself on rewatch. But that’s okay and very much part of the fun. Almost as much fun and watching the bromancy Billy and Stu come to grips with the fact that getting stabbed hurts, dude.
The Blair which project? The Blair *Witch* Project! That’s what we’re talking bout in episode 30 of We Have Such Films To Show You, and it turns out that it’s a film that still holds up pretty well 15 years on.
So what’s the skinny on a film that got famous as much as anything for having no good reason to have expected to get famous? Blair Witch looks like an indie film project — tiny cast, no sets, no recognizable names, not much of a plot or sense of direction — but it’s a really *good* one. So much is done well in terms of economical horror filmmaking here, from exploiting poor or no picture to using smart, sparing sound design, to letting the fundamental discomfort of disorientation and interpersonal emotional tension do the work of putting viewers on edge.
It’s not a film that stands up well to close rational scrutiny, but it’s not the sort of horror film that’s operates under the pretense it could. It’s just creepy and doomed from start to finish, a slow cranking burn through fear of the dark and the sense of having gotten in way, way over one’s head.
Also interesting, for a film that deserves a lot of credit for being a guiding light to the explosion of found footage horror that’s followed in the last fifteen years, it what it doesn’t have: nowhere in this film do we see the now almost obligatory-feeling use of camera-POV sexual exploitation of one character by another, things that are between hinted at and blatantly leaned on in everything from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S. Blair Witch didn’t even glance in that direction, and didn’t need to.
We talk a bit about what worked most and least for each of us (Yakov was genuinely scared watching it again, Josh was engaged with the film’s narrative and style but found the strong memory of most of the twists robbed it of actual scares for him on revisiting), and also come up with a few questionable theories about the metanarrative of the film, including a discussion of, as usual, the question of who the editor of this footage would have been if the viewer takes at face value the idea that this is supposed to be an assembled artifact within the film’s universe, especially given that a notional edit of the Blair Witch footage would have required among other things a lot of painstaking matching of soundless 16mm film to DAT audio recorded independently out of syc.
Highlights of a couple of those theories:
1. Heather, the lead woman in the film, is of the same possessed-by-a-film-auteur-demon ilk as Josh theorized Katie from Paranormal Activity was; we don’t see Heather die on camera, because she doesn’t, because she was planning The Blair Witch Project film itself as her real film project, and her pointedly crappy documentary-within-the-film was just an excuse to lure Josh (film-Josh, no relation) and Mike into the woods to kill them off.
2. The Blair Witch Project is not meant to be a literal edited film, but a metaphorical projection of the narrative arc of memories of some Maryland police officer who was tasked with reviewing the footage. He or she sits through twenty, thirty, forty hours of camcorder and developed 16mm film and DAT audio, trying to piece things together, and what we’re looking at and listening to is a semi-cohesive representation of the resulting nightmares said officer had over the next several weeks, months, years of their life, so traumatized were they by the force of the total footage and the grisly circumstances.
Also we got off on a tangent near the end about the current trend of retro-console graphics — 8bit and 16bit Nintendo/Saga pixel art games — and whether there will ever be a similar strong, faithful retro movement to recreate the shitty low-poly-count, low-res texture aesthetic of the earliest 3D console releases for e.g. Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation. Why? Who knows! Maybe because the Playstation game Silent Hill was based in part on Kindergarten Cop? That’s a reason, sure.
And that’s that for this episode! Thanks for listening, see you next time.
That’s right, this double-fortnight we’re talking about the 2007 franchise-spawning indie found footage film about a man haunted by his douchebaggery and a woman haunted by actually literally being haunted.
We talk about the found footage aesthetic, the mechanical/framing quirks of a movie that depends for a significant portion of its length on a single static repeated shot, the legacy of Blair Witch Project and the general found footage/fake documentary genre, the weird bits and pieces that didn’t make the official release, and a lot of other little things.
We also talk about the pressure of plot on characterization — essentially, the idea that Micah is such a dull unlikeable douchenozzle and Katie so tolerant of said dullness and douchenozzlerly not so much because it’s great for the characters or the story but because it was a workable way to justify things continuing down the path the film required.
And we hash out a few theories:
1. Katie was possessed the whole time, which is why she put up with Micah’s bullshit; it was a long con by the demon.
2. Micah’s stubborn insistence on filming and apparent disinterest in involving others in the situation is a metaphorical critique of the auteur approach to film-making, which would ironically have been more appropriate had the film itself been worse.
3. The demon is the filmmaker, in a literal sense: it isn’t just interested in crossing over or inhabiting Katie, it’s specifically enthusiastic about breaking into the indie horror film industry and sees filming a convoluted snuff documentary as its big break. Katie is the assistant editor, putting together a secret rough edit every time she’s off camera at the demon’s behest; the film we see is entirely that work, with the final scene being something Katie then slapped onto her running edit and made obvious for the San Diego PD to find.
All in all, we both liked it a lot and thought it was good for a scare. And it got us pretty jazzed to touch a little more on found footage, so next fortnight we’re going back to that OTHER hugely-grossing zero-budget indie flick: we’ll be covering The Blair Witch Project in all its trend-starting glory.
Don’t call it a comeback! Call it the apocalypse. Also download it here.
After a brief glitch we are back with Episode 28, in which we cover the third part of John Carpenter’s thematically-linked Apocalypse Trilogy: In The Mouth of Madness starring John Trent Sam Neill at his scenery-chewing best.
The film repeatedly veers into metafiction, and boy do we get into that. Considering the central conceit of the movie is that the events we watch are the product of possibly-middling-but-inspired author Sutter Cane, it’s hard to draw the line between the film representing schlocky horror writing, and the film simply being schlocky horror writing. Carpenter, of course, leaves the answer up to us.
Technically, the movie is fun to watch: canted angles abound, acting regularly veers into expressionism: one character appears to have simply wandered off the set of the Re-Animator. The effects, while not at the level of the virtuosic visuals in The Thing are a thrill. The moment where the possessed Styles steps out from the crashed car is Carpenter and his crew bringing their a-game. This animated GIF does not do it justice.
And, of course, this is the single most overtly Lovecraftian film Carpenter has made. References to Lovecraft are everywhere, from Sutter Cane’s story titles, to characters’ names, to the cosmic horror cosmology dictating that beyond this veil there is no god, but something far, far more terrifying. Interestingly, Sutter Cane himself is not the anemic recluse most of us think of when we think of the man H.P. Lovecraft. Rather, he is charming and self-assured. And, sadly, quite underused.