Halloween (1978) – Analysis

Halloween is the godfather to all modern slasher flicks, specifically the ones in which a group of teenagers fall victim to a weapon-wielding psychopath who hacks and slashes his way through them. The teenagers who have sex die, and the one’s who don’t live. That’s the formula, and John Carpenter concocted it all with the release of Halloween. Though many have attempted to recreate the magic, only a select few have reached the heights that Halloween has through both visuals and sensibility. The movie begins with one of the most spellbinding scores I can think of in cinema, and it pierces you right to the bone. The stabs of synth and piano are hinting at so much, and in combination with the first shots of Michael Myers, our antagonist, the tone of the movie is set right from the beginning. Although the movie may lead you to believe that the film is going to be through Michael’s eyes, since that is how it is depicted at first with a single take from the six-year-olds point of view, the movie that will take place is vehemently opposite. Showcasing a technique that has become a staple of the horror genre, Carpenter structures shots from behind objects, only to reveal what is unseen beyond that object by moving the camera. This is first seen when we see Michael’s home, the first of many reveals.

            Although the movie begins with Michael’s escapades of murdering his family, coincidentally on the night of Halloween, the focus of the story shifts to Laurie Strode, and instead of falling into the ditch where most other slashers reside, Halloween makes a name for itself by focusing on the psychology of our protagonist, Laurie. Laurie lives in the same location as Michael Myers’ family’s murders, some 15 years later after the fact. On Halloween, she has to babysit whilst her friends are trying to scheme and come up with ways to meet with their boyfriends. This is opposite of our protagonist, as she seems to be withholding those impulses, though it is known she does have a crush on one of her classmates. Jamie Lee Curtis, or Laurie, seems to have skipped the entire phase of teenage rebellion, and gone straight to the maternal and more logical qualities that we see with maturity, or perhaps with anxiety. With that in mind, it makes the actual murders and sexual punishments of Michael’s much less significant when comparing them to the overarching themes that are Laurie’s anxious nightmares, embodied by Michael’s doings. It is important to note that we do get more background on Michael, specifically from his doctor or psychiatrist, but the devices used to convey these messages are unnatural and forced, and the film may as well lose them all together. I believe it is a much more interesting story to visualize Michael as the personification of what Laurie fears most, and that’s the anxiety and struggles that come with being a stereotypical teenager.

            This works well with how Michael is perceived in the movie, thanks to Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Michael is merely a conjectural or imaginary presence in a very real world. Once Michael begins stalking Laurie, some scenes point to this theory, such as him standing outside in the middle of the day wearing his infamous mask and boiler suit. It gives the impression that maybe only Laurie can see him, or if not, does not care whether or not others can see him at all. Its also important to note his resilience to pain and his magical ability to disappear almost as soon as he appeared. With credence to the aforementioned theories, I think it’s important to discuss the ending of the film, which can seem almost embarrassing. Several times we see Michael attempt to stab or slice Laurie and miss completely; Laurie also throws her knife away before making sure Michael is dead and even turns her back on him several times. I think it’s unrealistic to think that Carpenter has suddenly lost his affection for the “blocking shots” used in the beginning of the film for the third act. Perhaps this is intentional, allowing us to see everything going on because what we are seeing may in fact be taking place internally. After all, the film does end with Michael disappearing yet again, allowing us to fight our demons, win sometimes, but inevitably, have to face them again sometime down the road.

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Super Fly (1972) – Analysis

As opposed to what you may believe, Super Fly has an enormous amount of emotional tone and political nuance. When normally discussed, moviegoers seem to focus on the cars, clothes, and drugs depicted within the film, but the film has much more to offer than the decorative full-length jackets that lead star Ron O’Neal is depicted in. Super Fly, in a way, depicts the tragedies and despair that hold a person inside a societal prison, where their criminal initiatives are just another form of enslavement. If these qualities were lost in blaxploitation films made down the line, that’s not at fault of this film. Gordon Parks Jr., son of Gordon Parks, who directed Shaft a year prior, may put on a charade that this movie is donning a colorful and pleasurable story, but the truth is, the story that we follow is much more grief-stricken. Just like the soundtrack, composed by legendary soul singer Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly and “Pusherman” share one thing in common, being that “there is no happiness”.

The same chord as “Pusherman” is struck with our lead, Priest, a New York City cocaine dealer with a lot on his shoulders and a lot in his pockets. While not necessarily guilt, the thing on our main character’s mind is what money can’t buy him, and that’s his independence and freedom from the drug trade.  He even speaks to someone, in one of the films many reflective dialogues, where he states he just “wants to be free”. Our character is driven by relentless frustration, and even though he has many sexual feats and masculine overtones, he seems to be distressed and uses the drugs he sells in order to garner confidence from within. The movie begins with Priest running down some people who have mugged him, and sets the stage for the rest of the film. Despite all his accomplishments and material success, whether moral or not, Priest is a man struggling to live in a world he is seemingly thriving in.

When looking at the actual techniques and shots of the film Super Fly, scenes can vary from the outright shoddy and amateur to exciting and nerve-wracking. With that in mind, there are some pitfalls to the film, but they don’t usually last long enough to draw away from the overall film. A particular instance of this, is the cringe worthy bathtub sex scene, which thankfully and most likely purposefully, cuts to a violent street brawl. The movie’s piece de resistance would be the still-photo montage in which we see the process that the cocaine in the city goes through. From purchasing to packaging to sale, we see the drugs move throughout the ghetto of the city, while also making it’s way to the polar opposite side of town filled with upper-class clientele, who seem to be Priest’s main customer base.

Though the film, at times, seems to depict this life as deadly and decrepit, Super Fly does not lose it’s footing and doesn’t exactly represent a rigorous tale of morality and fatality. The movie transcends such matters, for the events that occur in the film are not just the problems of our main protagonist, but also overarching problems for society, specifically those systematically oppressed, at large. It’s a rotten game, but it’s the only one that man has left them to play. Nonetheless, Priest still attempts to complexly craft an exit out of the business, and though this plan involves selling copious amounts of drugs to do so, I think it contributes to the message we have been seeing throughout the film. This is an environment conducive to crime, and the only way out is to play along. Our protagonist’s decision to leave this life is world shattering and in doing so makes Super Fly a battle cry for rebelliousness and insubordination. The fact that the movie is entertaining and visually entertaining is just a plus.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) – Analysis

The Night of the Hunter is a manic fever dream, and that’s actually what makes the film so interesting. Weird and demented, it is almost hard to believe that the film was released in the 1950’s. With that in mind, it’s even harder to believe that this was British actor Charles Laughton’s first and only directorial film. The plot of the film focuses on a ‘false prophet’ who is, simultaneously, a religious man and a serial killer. At the beginning of the movie, with a trail of dead women in his wake, he puts his sights on a grieving widow and her two children after learning that the former ‘man of the house’ stashed $10,000 somewhere before his passing. Harry Powell, the killer, is willing to find this money by any means necessary. Powell is terrifying for a good chunk of the film, as we are only able to see his silhouette some of the times he is present, most notably on the widow’s children’s bedroom wall. Even as he charms those he comes in contact with, we still get the feeling of for his smarminess. The dominating aesthetic of the movie would have to reside in surrealism. When looking at the structure of the film though, it is definitely less cohesive. The Night of the Hunter seems a bit haphazard with technique, almost as though the director knew he would only make one film and decided to throw all his eggs in one basket.

            The film begins with a bizarre shot in itself, one of hovering disembodied heads tittering against a dark starry backdrop. Followed by aerial footage of the town here the film takes place, and lifelike location exteriors, we see many camera tricks from Laughton’s cinematographer, Stanley Cortez. The more notable tricks being those that showed Powell’s memories of a dancer through what seems to be a keyhole, that, and when Powell confronts the children through the front door of their home and the iris shot reveals them to be watching through the cellar window. This embodies the surrealism that takes hold of most of the tone and atmosphere of the film. Interior scenes, sharp and dramatic, seem almost horror like and almost evoke a sense of fear, whilst the scene where the children escape Powell by river seems to evoke a sense of fantasy and fairy tale due to the backgrounds and stage-like sets. All of these things are purposeful it seems, to instill somewhat of an hazy and impressionistic view upon the viewer. The movies star spectacle though, would have to be the ghastly shot of one of Powell’s victims, tied to the bottom of a car in the belly of the river. This scene is almost humorous, in that we see the victim’s hair, floating like the seaweed in concurrence with a fisherman’s hook floating nearby.

            Scenes like these are what make the film. Whether implemented by Cortez or Laughton, it’s hard to deny the talent that the film puts on display. Especially since the film itself doesn’t need visual cues such as these to reinforce the horror and thrill of what is happening on screen. The third act of the film, takes a sort of turn. The act focuses primarily upon the older Lillian Gish, who supports and takes care of ’exiled’ children. Those children include John and Pearl, the widow’s children, who come to her when their boat comes to break on her shore. Lillian is an actual woman of faith, and not the distorted and chauvinistic kind that Powell displays in the film. This is most particularly apparent when the two opposing forces perform an opposed duet to the tune of “Leaning on Everlasting Arms.” If you want to simplify it even further, Powell is evil, or hate, and Gish is love, or good. The Night of the Hunter uses these strengths as a vehicle to carry the philosophical message of the film, and does so excellently.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Analysis

2001: A Space Odyssey is arguably one of the most important pieces of cinema when speaking of science fiction and pictures that transformed the genre. Stanley Kubrick, the director of the film, created an ethereal story based upon the writings of Arthur C. Clarke, focusing mainly on some astronauts on a mysterious mission against man and machinery. When questioning the potential meanings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it definitely helps to establish a pattern. Looking back on the movie, it’s easy for me to differentiate three distinctive parts. The first would be the prehistoric humans, or ‘ape men’, that we see towards the beginning of the film. The second would certainly be the journey of the moon voyagers in the year 2001, the meat and bones of the film. Finally, our focus would be placed on the space baby that appears in the end of the film, drifting amongst the cosmos. What do these three illustrious individuals have in common with one another? 

Most recognizably, the monolithic slab, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to assert its will upon the creatures that lay and gaze unto it. Emitting an opera-like siren sound, the ones who come in contact with this monument have their lives, and the lives surrounding them, changed in ways that alter the entire fabric of our ‘universe’. Our evolutional ancestors learning to turn bones, once considered trash, into tools with different functions, portray this. After their introduction, we get a match cut to the tool of the modern age, a space station. Once the same/different monolith is discovered on the moon, HAL 9000, the spacecraft’s artificial intelligence, becomes sentient in himself and alters the course of the space crew’s mission to Jupiter. This is where the pattern lies in 2001, not exactly to explain the movie or combine the separate ‘characters’ and pieces of the film, but to suggest there is something more universal going on than a simple bone toss or “Open the pod bay door, HAL”.

Though growing up in a time where computer generated effects run rampant, 2001 still managed to hold me captive with originality and comprehensive skill. Especially the more memorable shots, such as the ‘jogging’ scene where the astronaut fully runs across the inner walls of the ship, and the flight attendant carrying her tray up a wall. Oddly enough, the sets almost seem more alive than our human characters in these instances, as throughout the movie they seem robotic and disinterested. The movie succeedingly and ironically shoots for the stars and, in my opinion, lands amongst them. Now, that is not to say that this is a Kubrick film, and that the aroma of pompousness and pretentiousness isn’t tangible. I think this in itself is a callback to the subject matter of movie, oddly enough, as we find ourselves looking just like the apes and the humans after it, gawking at a black ‘monument’, seeing something we quite don’t understand. After all, the movie does begin completely black, for a few minutes at least.

The monolith, our connecting figure of the divine or possibly alien, gives us tools. How we used them however, turns out to be our demise. The primordial apes took to using their newfound tools to kill each other. Once HAL gained consciousness, he becomes paranoid and commits murder. The monolith finally, rebirths Bowman, who we last witness flying towards Earth. If we go off the beliefs of the times, in 1968, we may think that he represents peace and a new era. Although, if you think about what the pattern has set forth in this film, we are doomed to repeat history, naturally or artificially created. The space baby isn’t going to save earth, he may be in his way to destroying it.

Chopping Mall (1986) – Review

Chopping Mall is a cliché 80’s film, which means it’s full of horny teenagers, robots who shoot lasers and sleep darts, and abysmal dialogue. What more could you ask for? The Park Plaza Mall, our location in the film, has just installed a new state-of-the-art security system, complete with steel doors on the exits and three AI-controlled robots with the capability to detain and incapacitate thieves at large. Three sex-crazed couples, and one “doomed to survive” duo, decide to throw a party in one of the furniture stores in the mall where a few of them work. Multiple tit-shots ensue, and an obligatory “yes, yes, you’re the king!” porno-esque dialogue is shared. Things are all going cordially until lightening strikes the mall, and the computer-controlled robots lose their ability to differentiate friend from foe. The movie then plays out quite how you’d expect. The latter 40-ish minutes of the film consists of run, get trapped, fight robots, someone dies, rinse, and repeat. This may sound as a distasteful cash-grab on the Robocop and Short Circuit formula, but god, is it fun to watch.

(Chopping Mall, 1986)

At the very least, the movie seems to acknowledge the absurdity of its own plot, and in somewhat of a nod to the audience, embraces the fact that you know exactly what you’re getting into when watching the film. Its contextual references to exploitation films of the past, notably the scene where Ferdy and ‘Curly-hair’ watch “Attack of the Crab Monsters”, show what the movie is getting at while still preserving the charm that the sleazy horror films asked of directors and actors in the 80’s. This most likely due to the director being Jim Wynorksi, who’s made a career of directing exploitation films and has 75 feature-lengths under his belt. This movie, obviously will strike you as one that is truly garbage. With that in mind, who doesn’t love to watch a garbage fire? The acting can be laughable, the special effects are not great by any standards, and the gore is definitely lacking. The movie itself makes up for all of its downfalls with it’s charm, though. The movie is an invitation to laugh and cringe all at the same time, and never puts itself in a place where you think the creators are taking themselves too seriously. As a horror fan myself, something I could’ve done with more of is the gore. The scene where someone’s head explodes is there, but even that is a quick shot and not as satisfying as going all out in a film like this. On a similar note, a few people also die from electrocution, and where’s the fun in that when these robots are obviously able to explode heads and chuck propane cylinders? The movie does seem to tighten the rope the farther we get into the plot, probably in conjunction the more characters that die, and even at a runtime of 77 minutes, it can seem to be a bit boring at times. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the surviving characters are your average celibate do-gooders of the 80’s, and don’t have much to offer us besides “thank you, have a nice day”. Still though, what is to be expected in a movie of this caliber, it is harder to ask for deep complex characters in a film that lacks a lot of subtext and plot points to begin with. At its best, Chopping Mall is a bad movie with good watchability, and for that I can’t be mad at it. It’s not an abysmal chef-d’oeuvre, or anything quite good for that matter, but the ride it took me on was enjoyable and the references and laughs I shared with it are ones that I appreciate. With the right friends (or drinks) I’d recommend this film on a night with nothing better to do.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mandy (2018) – Review

Mandy is a bizarre, psychedelic-fueled ride that will test your patience at parts, and reward your patience at others. Red Miller (Nicholas Cage), and his partner/girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live an idyllic life in the ‘Shadow Mountains’.  That is, until, they cross paths with a small religious cult headed by a self-prophetic leader, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah claims he is the god of all things in the universe, and upon seeing Mandy, wants to assumedly recruit or enslave her into being apart of his ‘society’. Things go awry for the couple when Red is left for dead. On a quest of revenge and vengeance, Red encounters four-horsemen-like leather clad bikers, chainsaw battles, and blackish goo that causes us, and Red, to truly question his sanity. Mandy isn’t really a movie about plots, more so about the atmospheric experience that director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is crafting through distinctive imagery in the movie. The movie feels as though an 80’s metal band’s album cover has come to life, and also implicates other 80’s memorabilia and nostalgia along with it. The revenge formula is there, but one can find themselves wondering what else Cosmatos is communicating through the silver screen.

 The problem with this is that it’s easy to lose viewership along the way, as some people will either stay for the journey that is ‘Mandy’, or check out wondering what kind of art-house bullshit they decided to watch. While both phantasmal and engaging at parts, Panos seems to leave story elements behind for the sake of visual stimuli and creative decision-making.  The possibility of connecting with the movie essentially relies on whether or not this movie’s atmosphere engaged you or not. The overall plot is minimalist, campy, and basic, so the performances the actors give can really be sharp and cutting at times. For example, Nicholas Cage goes full ‘Rage-Cage’ towards the middle and end of the movie, and it really plays to some of the better qualities that this movie has. This movie almost seems designed for the modern-day stigma that Cage carries with him, and he plays into those facets in a remarkably beautiful way. Cage fully embraces the insanity of the film, and I believe that it’s one of its biggest strengths. Mandy, a campy 80’s revenge movie never seems to belittle the viewer or make fun of what’s happening onscreen so much as praise the absurdity of what this movie is.

Cheddar Goblin (Mandy, 2018)

There is a film trapped within this fever dream that only takes a third of the time to deliver the same results, but Cosmatos’ sheer love and indulgence seems to hinder it in some ways. The score of the film (Johan Johannsson) is varied and musically diverse. He draws from the metal influences on this film and creates a sonic backcloth suitable for a film as brazen and distinctive as Mandy. If you can appreciate what this movie is, and not what it could’ve been, it is quite a fun ride. Following the crazy unconventional nature of the film and not as much of the plot and characters still left me to be intrigued and interested in what the film had to say. If you can’t, this movie is definitely one to let slide and maybe not labor through the runtime that hinders it. This criticism may sound discriminating based upon the nature and dreamlike state that film takes place in, but I do believe that even in dreams we tend to flesh out more story and shape to an image. Mandy is a dream with a loose plot structure, impeccable images, and even more remarkable feelings, and that can end up being some of its pitfalls. I do enjoy the strange, but almost wish the strangeness were more connected.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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