Another Man’s Shoes

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One major trend in modern horror cinema is the Found Footage sub-genre. Mimicking the style of documentary or home video style film-making, the sub-genre attempts to put the audience into the shoes of the protagonist, or at the very least try to convince us that what is occurring on screen is something that has happened in our own reality. Many horror fans however have begun to tire of this style and the question must be asked, are we done with Found Footage?

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While most people credit The Blair Witch Project (1999) with the creation of this sub-genre, generating a box office success from it’s style and being hailed for it’s ingenuity on a low budget ($22,000), it was Cannibal Holocaust (1980) that got there first (actually there were many Found Footage films before Blair Witch, including The Last Broadcast, Forgotten Silver, and Man Bites Dog.) Cannibal Holocaust was infamous in it’s use of the Found Footage style, leading to director Ruggero Deodato being arrested on Obscenity charges, claiming that he was showing a snuff film and that some of the actors had been killed. The charges were dropped when it was found out that the actors were still alive (they had agreed to lay low while the film was out to fool people into thinking it was real). Sadly few films after that have fooled their audience to that same degree. Personally I will still get on occasion people asking me if certain films are real, or try to convince me of the legitimacy of particular events that films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are based on. However the mass-majority fail to believe such tales these days.

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The intimate level of perspective offered by Found Footage films are comparable to horror in a different medium. Horror literature (or literature in general) is often written from the point of view of a narrator protagonist. We get right inside the head of the person who is experiencing all the dread, sharing in all the fear and terror. However unlike Found Footage, the narrator leads us with an internal monologue, their stream of consciousness. The closest thing to that we might experience in a Found Footage film is the occasional rambling of the person behind the camera (usually to the effect of “What was that!?”) The internal monologue also fixes one problem that dogs the sub-genre, that question that takes us out of the story, “Why are they still filming?”.

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There’s only so long you can standby and film atrocities. While some Found Footage will focus on the voyeuristic nature of the camera, the majority of them use it as a way to get around paying to make the film look professional. The main reason these films are popular among first time directors is because they are cheap. Sticking to this style for the duration of the film however often damages the plot because it becomes unbelievable that we’re still watching the footage. The [REC] franchise is one that managed to make a bold change of style away from Found Footage. While the first two instalments were notably successful Found Footage films, the third [REC] film moved away from the style (In a joke towards the style, it did start off Found Footage until they beat up the cameraman for not helping). Behind The Mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon, is another that also did this with it’s third act, choosing to drop it’s documentary style when the documentary crew decide they’ve got to stop filming and help. Both of these films fail to make us believe that they are documenting real-life cases and proceed to only entertain the audience, yet most Found Footage films fail to make us believe they’re real anyway so is the style so important?

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The Found Footage style doesn’t need to go away all together, it just needs to be thought out better. A well thought out and well written horror film will always be better regardless of style. Films like the VHS franchise make up some of the better Found Footage films out there due to the short film anthology format, the stories don’t out-stay their welcome and we never ask why they’re still filming. We could also utilize the point of view sequence more without having to use the device of characters holding cameras. The 2010 film, La Casa Muda (also known as The Silent House, which was remade in 2011) often went into POV mode for parts of the film. La Casa Muda’s simulated “Shot in one take” style often had the camera drifting around, sometimes into a character’s eye-line and then taking over as that character’s point of view. I think more films could take advantage of this in more intense moments.

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Found Footage no longer scares us into thinking that it’s real, but they do put us in the vulnerable position of the protagonist’s shoes. If they can just bring a little more of that intimacy that exists in horror literature, they could be onto something truly terrifying. Until there’s something better than maybe a clunky film-noir style narrator over the top of it, I’m not sure how to get there yet.

Sex and Death

If you’ve seen your fair share of Slasher movies, you must be aware that one of the first people to die will be someone who has snuck off to have sex. Sex gets you killed in horror movies. It’s the kind of fact that channels the genre’s origins in old cautionary tales. The kind of Little Red Riding Hood story except exchange “Don’t stray from the path” to “Don’t have sex in old crime scenes”. While it all seems common sense to the viewing audience, do these old cautionary tales in our modern horror movies promote bad sexual attitudes?

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The idea that you will die if you have sex in a horror movie is the kind of abstinence-only sex education that has become out-dated in modern society, which would be relevant if the creators of horror films had any intention of teaching their audience about sex. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the twisted authoritarian ideas of slasher film killers (often pushed onto them by an abusive parent). Also it’s an easy way for horror film makers to get in a little bit of nudity to attract an audience. Follow up that nudity with some gratuitous violence and you’ve got yourself a hit with the young, heterosexual male audience that at one point made up the majority of the horror audience.

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One of the major archetypal characters in slasher films that we can all recognise is the “Slut” character. Often she is one of the first characters to get killed off, if not the very first. She will have little to no character traits other that being horny, probably a bit dim and physically attractive. While those character traits are not in themselves problematic, it is a problem that they are the only character traits. Writing female characters this way reinforces the idea that women are nothing more than disposable sex objects. I said before how the Slut character is “one of the first characters to get killed off”, in older horror films there was another archetypal character who was often killed off before the slut which was the Token Black Character, often thrown in to appear inclusive but these days is rarely used because it appears insensitive to make someone’s race (based on ridiculous stereotypes) their sole character trait. The Slut is getting to that point, that it is insensitive and dated and should be put to bed. The fact that the archetype name is entirely derogatory is evidence enough.

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To move away from the slasher sub-genre, there are many more sub-genres of horror that are more geared to entire plots focused around sex. There are plenty horror films, such as A Serbian Film, Feed, and The Bunny Game, that centre their plot around more disturbing circles of fetish culture and pornography. The British Board of Film Certification often gives these films a hard time, demanding cuts to be made as was the case for A Serbian Film, or banned outright like The Bunny Game. You would think, maybe if it got banned it’s a film so shocking and exciting that it’s probably fantastic. The Bunny Game is terrible, little plot and heavily promotes sexualised violence. The BBFC are strongly against sexualised violence and it was due to the fact The Bunny Game has little else to offer that got it banned. These films are often extreme and disturbing but the behaviour is almost always betrayed as deplorable. By demonising sexual violence, do these horror films guide people away from acting in a similar fashion?

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The Rape Revenge sub-genre was a product of the 70s exploitation cinema era, with notable films including Last House on the Left, I Spit on your Grave, and Straw Dogs. All these films shared a common plot line, that during the course of the film a young woman would be raped (and sometimes murdered) and either the young woman or one of her loved ones would get their bloody revenge. It is often said that the rape scene is acceptable because 1) it is showing a real world horror and it’s terrible nature, and 2) that the rapists are shown getting punished for their horrendous actions. However by making a whole sub-genre of this it seems to trivialise the act of rape, reducing it to nothing more than a standard plot-point that has to be visited before we can move on to the gory retribution.

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The last sub-genre I want to mention is the female predator sub-genre. Films like Species, Jennifer’s Body, Under the Skin, and to some level, Teeth, all fall into this sub-genre. While the female characters in these kind of films are generally more fleshed out and interesting characters, they are normally shown as evil. I would say that Teeth is the biggest exception to this because the female lead, while she does use this power to inflict cruel justice, it is still justice. Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body does kill boys out of her demon blood lust, but there is a sympathetic angle because men made her that way. The sub-genre shows that these women (or creatures in the form of women) are evil creatures that exploit the weakness of a male libido to gain power over men and that these women (or women-shaped creatures) should be destroyed.

While horror is a massive genre full of compelling, subversive, and thoughtful films, there are still many that are being made that will often use old tropes and clichés that can be concerning. We don’t need to keep making films where women are nothing but powerless sex objects, and that rape is nothing but a plot-point. There’s nothing wrong with using our insecurities about sex to create new cinematic nightmares, just hopefully more progressive nightmares.

The Shocking Truth…

It has to be said that as an avid horror fan, I often get questions from friends and colleagues who are a little less initiated into the genre about films of particular notoriety. The kind of films that torment the gag reflex of more timid watchers. Controversial gross out films. In recent years the main offender is The Human Centipede. Usually just First Sequence, but you do get the occasional follow up question about the second and maybe even the long awaited third film. All seasoned horror fans know the main question about this film franchise; Why would you watch that (It’s disgusting!)?

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I never fully understood why people were so offended by the first Human Centipede film. I understand that it has a particularly grim premise and few outside of certain fetish circles find the idea of human feces entering human mouths anything other than unpleasant. However nothing like that is shown in any level of excruciating detail. The Human Centipede relies more on facial expressions, crying eyes, than anything close to human waste. It uses the age old technique of “Less is more” and lets the audience fill in their own wretch-inducing blanks. Sure Tom Six ramped it up for the sequel, but the first film set the bar.

That still doesn’t really answer that original question. Just because it doesn’t offend me, doesn’t mean I should watch it. The reason that the majority watch it is due to our morbid curiosity. The freak show mentality.

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When I first watched The Human Centipede, all hyped up by the squeals of controversy, I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan. It wasn’t due to the sick material on the screen but because of what lead up to that point. How you get your characters into that horrifying scenario counts for a lot in my book and I didn’t think this film had it. Lindsay and Jenny had to make a series of blundering mistakes to even arrive at Dr Heiter’s door. I’ve ranted too many times about their lack of logic. Driving to a club? From the city to the country? Don’t even try to fix the car? Walk through the woods rather than by the side of the road? Accepting drinks from strangers? By the end of the first 20 minutes, I’ve become entirely unsympathetic towards the pair.

It’s a common occurrence in horror plots to make the characters easy to hate. We want to see bad things happen to them and we often have our blood lust satisfied. This transaction of sadism comes at a cost, and the cost is usually how scary the film is. We’re not terrified by the horrors unfolding in front of our eyes, we’re begging for them. We need our next fix and each fix of ultra-violence is a little less potent each time. This is the biggest problem with shock-orientated movies.

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Moving away from Tom Six’s notorious franchise, another legendary master of shock is Japan’s Takashi Miike. Famous for films including Audition and Ichi the Killer, he has a knack for bringing extreme and often perverse imagery to the big screen. However the film I’d like to talk about is 2001’s Visitor Q. Visitor Q has scenes of incest, rape, necrophilia, lactation fetish, as well as frequent violence. Many times these are used from comedic purposes. It ends up not being very big or clever and I felt rather disappointed by Visitor Q. I just wasn’t shocked by it.

A film that did shock me was 2011’s The Woman by director Lucky McKee. I remember seeing it at Fright Fest in London that year and just being left gob-smacked as the credits rolled. There’s some gruesome acts of torture and abuse in that film, not in such frequency as Visitor Q, but it’s all in the film’s delivery. The introduction of the characters and their development from happy family to victims of a maniac really attack you. It left me feeling distraught and it had been a long time since any film made me feel so strongly. McKee made it feel real and that’s what made it shocking. It gave me a strong fix.

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The reason we watch films like The Human Centipede isn’t because we WANT to be grossed out. It’s to see if we still can be. It’s to try and blow away those jaded Been There Done That feelings. We want to transcend to more masochistic pleasures, and sadistically show it to our friends. Plus the third Centipede film is promising a 500 person centipede, of course I’m watching it!

A few more thoughts on See No Evil 2 (SPOILER WARNING!)

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A couple weeks ago, after watching See No Evil 2 for the first time, I posted quite a lengthy, gushing rant about what I found so clever about the film. That it was a special gem in the Slasher sub-genre because it subverted the gender associations of horror archetypes. In the couple weeks that has passed I have read quite a few reviews to see what other reviewers made of the film and I have to say I’m a little disappointed that it hasn’t come up in any reviews I’ve read.

I’m not sure if it’s because slasher films have got the reputation of being “turn off your brain and enjoy” kind of movies with little in the way of subtext. We’re here for gore and boobs, right guys? Isn’t that what Cabin in the Woods was saying about appeasing the old gods AKA the audience? We need to hit all the old tropes or it just won’t be good.

I have to say when I first watched See No Evil 2, when Amy (Danielle Harris) died, it hit me like a punch in the guts. Yet there was that uppercut realisation of what had just occurred that left my head spinning trying to acknowledge that Amy wasn’t the final girl. That the genders have been swapped and that Seth is the “Final Girl”.

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Like so many horror fans I am ready to box the characters into their stereotypical roles. In a number of reviews I’ve read, the reviewer has said that the characters were your standard horror fodder. Particularly with the roles of Tamara and Kayla, labelling them as Bimbos or Sluts. However these reviewers haven’t noticed the gender play and that Tamara and Kayla are just acting like horny boys. That’s why Tamara pushes Carter’s head down. That’s why Kayla blatantly checks out Will’s ass when he’s not looking.

Speaking of Will, I’m surprised few guys picked up on his “You’re like a sister to me” line that some might regard as unrealistic male dialogue (not to say it doesn’t happen though). The guys in the film have their gender-reversed moments too. Seth’s wonderful cake he gives to Amy implies that he made it and even if he didn’t, most films would have made it jewellery. As I mentioned in my previous rant, Carter takes on the role of the timid girlfriend who follows Tamara’s morbidly sexy antics.

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So many clues pointing to this wonderful play on gender stereotypes that keeps getting overlooked! I’ve watched See No Evil 2 quite a few times now, showing it to friends to see if they pick up on it and largely they haven’t but when you see it, the film’s brilliance is unleashed. OK, rant over. Go watch this film again people!

Thoughts on See No Evil 2 (SPOILERS!)

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Just watched See No Evil 2. Some more jaded horror fans might role their eyes. “A sequel to that slasher film the WWE made? Puh-lease!” Well fuck you hypothetical jaded horror fan, this film is fucking awesome.

For a while I have been a bit bored with slasher films for one major reason, the roster of characters never really changes. It’s the same interchangeable group of white teens/20-somethings getting hacked to pieces by a guy in a mask. There’s been so many meta-slashers which mock these characters and the rules they have to follow. It’s dull. Show me what happens when you change the perspective, show me old people vs slashers, show me different cultures, show me different genders. Mix it up a bit.

See No Evil 2 does it differently. Characters you see at first and think “well that’s the slut. That’s the final girl…” they’re not who you think they are. Tamara (Katherine Isabelle) who could be mistaken for “the slut” character has more in common with the typical “jock” character. Heightened libido, macabre sense of adventure (“hey babe let’s hook up next to the dead mass murderer”), the confident swagger. It’s more evident with her boyfriend Carter with his “I don’t think this is such a good idea” reactions, normally reserved for the timid girlfriend character.

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However it’s not just a simple gender swap. Tamara is not a character written for a man but played by a woman. She screams and panics and falls over, because she is scared and reacting as a scared person does regardless of gender. She’s just more fleshed out than the typical slasher movie woman. You care when she dies because she’s fun and likeable.

Seth comes across as your usual love-interest of the final girl character. Waiting for his moment to announce his true love to the final girl, assuming that it’s Amy. Except she asks him out, and suffers the same fate as most characters who ask someone out on a date while evading a slasher. Whuuuuut!? Seth is the final girl!? Amy was the knight in shining armour who fails to save the final girl.

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I find this entirely fascinating because the final girl was a tool of female empowerment against horror films which victimised women and made them survivors instead. Even though Amy is not a survivor in this film, she’s still empowered. She takes control over the situation to try and save her friends and does her best. Seth does very little until he’s left no other choice but to face adversity head on. He’s quite the stereotypical final girl.

If you gender swap the whole cast (except Jacob Goodnight) the film would be closer to your typical slasher film, although it’s more than a subversion of gender that makes this a good film. It’s extremely well made and hopefully will gain the cult status that it deserves.

The Horror Begins…

Welcome to Horror Every Day.

Do you like horror?

Like REALLY like horror?

Do your friends and family worry when you handle potentially lethal objects, e.g. knives, spoons, babies, magazines, soft cheeses, etc.? Well this might just be the website/blog for you!

On Horror Every Day I shall be expressing my opinions and feeling about the state of the horror genre, from modern horror cinema to wonderfully disturbing literature to the hidden terrors of the internet. Sharing the scares in anyway I can, because what is horror when you can’t inflict it upon those you care about.

As well as reviews, I also plan to post some original works of fiction from my own demented brain. Like “Are you afraid of the dark?” but less stories of haunted puppets… probably.

Enough chat; Let the Horror begin!

-Your “King of Creeps”

Christopher Stewart

@horror365