Wednesday, September 7, 2011


it's true i'm obsessed with the NIGHTMARE-MODEL story (events spiral "bad to worse," "real to unreal,"). I considered this after watching a) another Nightmare-Modeled movie, and b) having woken up from a Nightmare.

If you're interested in Nightmare Movies, here's my Recommended List of Favorites [some I'll review IN-DEPTH later, WINK WINK] [summaries from]

1. Mulholland Drive, d. David Lynch (2001), w/ Naomi Watts
    "After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesic, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality."
2. Let's Scare Jessica to Death, d. John D Hancock (1971), w/ Zohra Lampert
    "A recently institutionalized woman has bizarre experiences after moving into a supposedly haunted country farmhouse and fears she may be losing her sanity once again."
3. The Tenant, d. Roman Polanski (1976), w/ Roman Polanski (YES< HE STARS IN IT<amazingly)
    "a man rents an apartment in France where the previous tenant committed suicide, and begins to suspect his landlord and neighbors are trying to subtly change him into the last tenant so that he too will kill himself"
4. Antichrist, d. Lars von Trier (2009), w/ Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
   "A grieving couple retreats to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse." [I'm particularly fond of the trailer]
5Possession, d. Andrez Zulaweski (1981), w/ Sam Neill
   "A young woman left her family for an unspecified reason. The husband determines to find out the truth and starts following his wife. At first, he suspects that a man is involved. But gradually, he finds out more and more strange behaviors and bizarre incidents that indicate something more than a possessed love affair."
6. The 4th Man, d. Paul Verhoeven (1983), w/ Jeroen Krabbe
    "A man who has been having visions of an impending danger begins an affair with a woman who may lead him to his doom."

and Nightmarish Works of Fiction...
1) The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell (1979)
   [A disturbed man, furious with the injustices of modern England, becomes obsessed with an apartment complex where he believes he's identified a serial killer of male prostitutes. Campbell is the UK's most award-winning, living horror writer. And he's my personal favorite. In the 2006 afterword, Campbell says The Face That Must Die is "the first anti-homophobic horror novel." He also confesses the main character's modeled after his own paranoid-schizophrenic mother].
2) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
  [Guests are rewarded money for residing in a reportedly "haunted" house. The premise is now almost cliche, but Jackson's suspenseful prose terrifyingly asks"is it the house or is it their own psyches?" in one of the best modern, Gothic "nightmare" novels.
3) The Last Feast of Harlequin (novella) by Thomas Ligotti (1991)
  [A scholar fascinated by the anthropology of clowns, who also suffers from seasonal-affective-depression, uncovers the bizarre rituals of a small town's clown festival. Ligotti has been called the heir to Poe & Lovecraft, and "the best-kept secret in literary horror." His most-published & accessible collection, Teatro Grottesco, is also awesomely fantastic-- featuring stories called "The Clown Puppet," "Gas Station Carnivals," and "The Bungalow House." His work is highly existential, surreal, and bizarre.]
4) The Ruins of Contracoeur (novella) by Joyce Carol Oates (1999)
  [A family in political exile moves to an isolated forest, where their child witnesses a faceless man prowling the night; stranger events follow. Published in the 999 anthology of horror. Oates has written countless "Gothic" works, such as the stories collected in Haunted, Night-Side, and The Museum of Dr. Moses. One of the most prolific writers (1989 NYT says Oates "is synonymous with productivity"), she's won dozens of awards (Bram Stoker for Zombie, National Book Award for Them).
5) Occultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron (2010)
  [A collection of stories infused with the occult, drug abuse, hallucinations, nightmares, deadly performance artists, and "the unknown." One of the most interesting and promising of the new generation's horror writers. Barron's currently working on his first novel, (tentatively titled) In the Attic of the Damned.]

and some Nightmarish "True Stories"...
1) Ted Bundy - (pic above) [suicide hotline specialist, 1972 Chairman of Washington State Republican Party, "charming & handsome," murdered over 30 women with similar physical appearance, represented himself in court, escaped prison once for a "Florida sorority massacre"]
2) Ed Gein - [1940's grave-robber, built anatomy-furniture, wanted to make a female skin-suit]
3) H.H. Holmes and the "Murder Castle" [co-subject of bestselling book, Devil in the White City, Holmes built a hotel in 1880's Chicago, specifically designed to trap & murder guests, vagrants, and employees during (especially during the population-swelling anonymity of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair). His "hotel" included auto-locking rooms w/ poisonous gas, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, and trapdoors falling to Holmes' basement labratory. The basement included acid vats, where Holmes dissected corpses, selling their bones to med schools. He was a doctor and pharmacist.]

You can read about my own private nightmares later...


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


[HEY< ALEX MILLS, this is a blog where I share my fascinations-- like arguing cases for legitimizing the integrity of the Gothic/Horror genre]

"What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willingly - confront us. What would that look like?" - The Last Winter

Tonight I watched writer/director Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter (2006), a psychological-horror film, set on an Alaskan oil expedition. This was my second viewing; instead of (previously) enjoying it alone & terrified, tonight I debuted it to relaxed friends. But this time I was shocked. Whereas I loved the film, there was a disturbing disparity between our audience reactions (just as on "Rotten Tomatoes," TLW has a great 77% Fresh Critic's rating; yet in contrast it has a terrible 67% Rotten Audience rating, or rather, 33% Fresh Audience rating). These past few hours, I've been puzzled over my friends' review of the film, best summarized by the repeated phrase, "that was stupid."

Here's my case for why The Last Winter isn't stupid-- and has gone unappreciated as one of the best contemporary, American, psychological-thriller-horror films.


* TLW constructs itself in the mode of a "bad to worse" situation, escalating into nightmarish "dread, wonder, & suspense" for the audience. TLW does not sell out to the over-produced indulgences of hyper-violence, torture, sex, or in-yer-face grossness. So it's not surprising when the highest-grossing "horrors," (which win a wide audience's "Fresh Rating" via monetary approval) are "shock & gore" franchises like Saw, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Child's Play, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The mystery or "dread & wonder," is lost because the "horror" is declared, sequel'd, and obvious (and thus, stupid), with only "shock & gore" of the of the villain's executions to satisfy any scares

*In contrast, the classically-remembered "critical hits," like Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Jaws, The Shining, or The Exorcist, all favor a suspense & mystery-fueled type of scare, where the audience must "dread & wonder" what the horror (or climax) will be. [Yes, this blurs distinction between "mystery vs. horror," but why is any distinction necessary or helpful, except one mode has a stronger mood? I'll probably discuss this in another post.]
While many of these "critical classics" (like Lambs or Shining) feature gore, it's incidental and secondary to the pervasive dread, suspense and mystery of "things going bad to worse." As in TLW, there's greater attention towards building an audience's fears, and letting the audience imagine & wonder the destructive outcome (this "wonder" acts more satisfying than being "fed" gore, a topic I'll discuss in the next point re: innovation].


* TLW has carefully composed, impressive photography. The camera movement is disturbingly fitting (with the trademark forward-tracking shots pervasive of in the thrillers of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Carpenter, Argento-- giving us a spectral stalker-POV; it also features many long-shot takes effectively plant us within the scene, without Hollywood's over-loaded, distracting shot-cuts to different character's POV's). The sound creates a nightmarish atmosphere (though occasionally the music, in perhaps an attempt for contrast, renders some moments undeservedly & indulgently sentimental). Its editing is fast-paced, with unique & memorable sequences building a mood of a post-traumatic shock, disturbed wonder. Its color palette is strong, specific, and wide-ranging (the stark Gothic expressionism of black & white, like light/life & dark/death), (the cold blues of isolation), (the jaundiced green of night-vision, coloring a tone of lunacy), (the warm oranges of interiors, fires, safety). There's a careful, specific, intelligent, mood-affecting design.

* TLW works best with its (slightly) surreal & unreliable narrative, where our perception is mixed with the dissolving sanity of the character's minds. While possessing some of the pure-dream-nightmarish modes of Lynch's Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, or Eraserhead-- The Last Winter performs more accessibly strange, where the mystery of "what is happening" isn't obscured into too difficult an interpretation.
[However, TLW works best when the "what is happening" mystery is a tad more obscured-- or not so obvious a "is this just reality or hallucination" question. Likewise, when the horror offers an irrefutable (thematic) explanation, the scare becomes less interesting & satisfying. Or rather, the film's image of the tangibly understood "monster 'X'" is less scary than the personally imagined "monster '???'" -- though this is the nature of desire, (like longing is extinguished upon acquisition); suspense is killed upon solving].

* TLW repeats a theme of "environmental consequence" both in its literal plot/characters, with also its thematic message of identifying "the horror itself." TLW is more blatantly political than other "enviro-revenge" films, (like Jaws, Jurassic Park, Prophecy, The HostThe Happening), which remove themselves from (too obviously/politically) implicating man as guilty and deserving of nature's wrath. 
Here's a quote from where one character finds another's journal, 
" Something is being unleashed in the softening permafrost. Why do we despise the world that gave us life? Why wouldn't the world survive us, like any organism survives a virus... Is there something beyond science that is happening out here? What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willingly - confront us. What would that look like?" (imdb)

So here's a dialectic, where the audience must choose whether man's consequences on nature will reap nature's consequences on man. TLW thus follows a popular horror-model of "crime & punishment," like the Macbeth's guilt-as-horror narrative (King Macbeth's regicidal conquest of betraying his higher-power suffers him insanity & death--  a parallel of Marion Crane's thievery or Norman Bates' matricide in Psycho-- the anti-authority "crime" "punishes" the characters with death & destruction).  Likewise in TLW, near-unexplainable acts of lunacy & harm are implied to be consequences of man betraying his higher-power-creator of nature/Earth. TLW's terror asks how nature might fight back to its enemy, or how an "organism survives a virus."  

One need only a peek on IMDB's user comments to see how many hate this film for being "a Green, Tree-Hugging, Democratic-Left Lesson." But the ferocity of these (conservative) outrages only implicate their own threatened, reactionary viewpoint. The film's message (that, yes, perhaps man will suffer consequences for our industrious conquest over nature), is most obviously attributed with the "global warming" "debate." While overwhelming scientific evidence shows there is climate change from human effects (like greenhouse gases or ozone depletion), this conclusion threatens a powerful business, as well as threatening the belief of our security and dominance. The dismissal of "change or progress" (even in the face of fact-based studies, evidence), for preserving a "conservative status quo," reveals a viewpoint lacking in compassion, and saturated in greed, sloth, ignorance, apathy, and fantasy. While corporations profit under the regulation-free fantasy of "no climate change," TLW threatens this power (and need to change), by nightmarishly animating the downfall of enviro-conservative ignorance (the matricidal consequences of man killing Mother Nature). [And let's not forget the historical progress of man learning to regulate his own progress, re: inventions of science & industry-- like the 1917 NJ Radium Girls, the taboo of atomic warfare, 1946-74's General Electric's PCB/mercury/food poisoning in NY's Hudson River, agricultural run-off attributing to Red Tide, etc...] 

I recommend The Last Winter to any audiences appreciating psychological-horror suspense, cinematic innovation & design, and the dialectic for social & political progress.


I'm Alex Mills