Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ The Hills Have Eyes Remake Double Feature!
Fresh from Fright Fest we’re resuming our annual In Review series with a special double slasher feature with the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Yes. Okay. First off, I understand that reboots and remakes are typical fodder for heated debate. Often, i would agree with the naysayers and who much rather prefer new stories instead of rehashed ones. HOWEVER…sometimes a reboot or remake is just what the doctor ordered, no? Consider Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly versus Kurt Neumann’s 1958 original staring Vincent Price. Or Don Siegel’s 1956 take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers versus Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version. While these originals were themselves fantastic films, the remakes added to the story for a new generation of moviegoers. Today’s double feature films are not necessarily better films than the originals nor are the above mentioned movies, but they weren’t totally unnecessary. Right? Let me explain myself. Continue Reading
Creature Features in Review: COMING SOON!!!
Greetings folks! Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. As we begin this new year it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a brand new “In Review” series. Creature Features…beloved by many, loathed by some, irrefutable masterpieces that tell a tale of where the world is during each era of release. From the nuclear wastelands of Hiroshima in Godzilla and the radiated test sights in Them! to the hideous shadows in swamps and space fiends coming to terrorize quiet small town America in Critters and Swamp Thing to the worlds of mad science and mythology to humanoids and mutations, Creature Feature films have been at every turn in pop culture. Spanning decades, here at Machine Mean, thanks to our mob of talented and twisted guest writers, will bring to you beginning this Thursday and running until December, on every Thursday a Creature Feature in Review. Set your clocks and mark your calendars.
The fun begins this Thursday on Jan 5, 2017.
Follow the series on Twitter at #MonsterThursday
Universal Monsters in Review: a monstrous survey
For the past nine months, my weekends have had the added benefit of screening a new Universal Monster movie on Saturday or sometimes Sunday nights, from Frankenstein to The Wolf Man and all the lesser known sequels and House specials. The majority of which I had not previously seen. They were new and largely unknown to me. And of those unknowns, yes a few were just god-awful, but for the most part, the majority were intriguing, a few breathtakingly mesmerizing, and fewer still, though odd and unusual, they held a certain charm about them. When watching movies with 86 years of separation between then and now, you’re bound to find conflicts with storytelling and filmmaking that go against how you understand them. Things were done differently then. People held different beliefs and ideology than today. Different cultures and even customs. Some of those things are pleasant reminders of a simpler time, the way dialogue was crafted with care and chivalry, poetic in its own right. And there were also aspects that were uncomfortable to watch, such as sexism and discrimination towards women and those of African or even Asian descent. Remembering the historical context of the films can help relieve some of the conflicts we feel with those nostalgic glitches.
When Dracula released in February of 1931, the world was in a state of flux. The economic depression (known as The Great Depression) was setting root in not just America, but all over the world. In Germany, the first pangs of the rise of Nazism was felt. Though defeated by a majority win, in just two years time the elected German president, Hindenburg, will elect Adolf Hitler as chancellor . Eugenics was a pop science in which the sterilization of unfit parents and the “euthanasia” of “the defective” and “useless eaters” is making the rounds, not just in Nazi Germany, but also on the shores of the United States. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws are passed (the first major steps in annihilation and extermination of European Jewry, ie, The Final Solution). In 1936, the Spanish Civil War begins. In 1937, the Rape of Nanjing, which is basically the systematic rape, torture, and murder of more than 300,000 Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers as they invade China. 1939, Germany invades Poland, and by December 7th, 1941, the Day that will Live in Infamy, the once “civilized” world is thrown back into global conflict. These were uncertain times, to say the least. And we have to keep in mind that this was the backdrop during the production of the majority of the Universal Monster movies. Intentional or not, history shapes and continues to do so.
Every decade, every generation has had a take on the original Universal monsters. Thru the 1950s, into the 60s, 70s, 1980s, 90s, 2000s, and even today, those pillar stories are still being told. And that is a part of what we’ll discuss here today. Those movies we call remakes, the hits of those and the blunders, as well as what waits in store for those of, let’s say, my daughter’s generation. What will the monsters look like tomorrow? This is roughly about 60 years of film history, so we will not tackle each and every monster movie, but rather a survey of each decade. Savvy? Let us begin.
When the last of the Universal monsters, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), aired, a new generation of monsters was born. The 1950s was a strange era, filled with mutated creatures and aliens from other worlds. Big hits during this decade included Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, Godzilla, Forbidden Planet, and Them! (just to name a few). The classic Universal monsters faded into obscurity in America, becoming cult-B movies for those brave enough to venture into the movie theaters with duel Herman Cohen produced flicks, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and the return of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970, a mashup of classic Universal and atomic age science. While the monsters went B in America, they seem to thrive across the pond in the UK as major productions. Universal monsters were reborn in Hammer Production films and a great majority of these are still some of the best monster movies on the market, even by today’s standards. Movies, such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy captivated a new generation of monster lovers. The Mummy (1959) starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I found was especially good and horrific compared to the original Universal films which were not beloved by many.
Trends from the 1950s continue on into the 1960s. The majority of monsters are the creations of mad science or invaders from other worlds. Godzilla and Mothra being some of the most popular monsters during this era, and other very unique monster created by a couple of rogue filmmakers in Pittsburg, Night of the Living Dead (1968). But that doesn’t mean the classics Universal monsters had died away, there some… Hammer Productions continued with The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, and The Mummy’s Shroud, and NOT FORGETTING the best of the best, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). In the United States, two classic Universal monsters were melded with the new age craze with the release of Atomic Age Vampire (1960) and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) and super low-budget flick Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). Leaving only one major production, a made for children stop-motion animated musical comedy titled Mad Monster Party? (1967) starring Boris Karloff in his last appearance in any of the classic Universal Monster movies as the voice of Victor Frankenstein.
Hammer Productions continued to flourish with classic monster films such as The Horror of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, and the Monster from Hell, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. During this decade we’re introduced to a few well known B-Italian (and German and French included) classic monster movies with Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (starring Lon Chaney in his last reprisal in a “Universal” monster film), The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Women, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and the very strange Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein). Now, for classic Universal monsters in the United States, the 1970s gave birth to a very interesting phase called Blaxploitation. In 1972, on the eve of Blaxploitation, we’re blessed with the likes of Blacula, the tale of an African prince (William Marshall) is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula (Charles McCauley). Sealed in a coffin for several lifetimes, “Blacula” reawakens in 1970’s Los Angeles. Leaving a trail of bloodless victims in his wake. And Blacula returns in 1973 with Scream Blacula Scream. Some other noteworthy Blaxploitation-classic-Universal-monster films include 1974’s Blackenstein and Ganja & Hess.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!
In 1974, Mel Brooks produced and directed one of the greats spoofs set within the classic Universal monsters lexicon…Young Frankenstein, starring the late great Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Gar, and Marty Feldman (to name a few). Though I am a rabid fan of both Hammer and Blaxploitation films, my love for this era falls directly on Young Frankenstein. The film was absolutely respectful of the roots of Frankenstein and even used what remained of the original set. Not to mention was wonderfully written, directed, and acted. Less not forgetting a few other honorable mentions, Werewolves on Wheels, The Boy who Cried Werewolf, Werewolf Woman, and Legend of the Werewolf are all wonderfully gritty and fun to watch.
It’s really hard to hate the 1980s, especially regarding the volumes of horror movies produced during this VHS era. So many monster films and the birth of a new sub-genre, The Slasher, and the reclassification of Universal tropes, whereas the Gillman from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, became Swamp Thing and Toxic Avenger. One of the more obvious “Universal” carry-overs would be Jerry Warren’s Frankenstein Island, starring John Carradine, one of the last surviving members from the original Universal Monster films. But what made this era really great were three films that took the concepts developed by the traditional Universal tropes and created something new from the old.The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Silver Bullet took what The Wolf Man did in 1941 and set it in a more reality-toned story if you can believe that. The rules of werewolfism became more complex and reminded audiences how fun these kinds of movies can be if done properly. Now…I’d be a horrible film historian/fan if I failed to mention the one single most recognizable “Universal” heavy monster movie from the 1980s. That’s right folks, I’m talking The Monster Squad (1987). This movie took every 80s cliche and every classic Universal Monster cliche, boiled it in a stew and served it with nard pudding. You either love it or you hate, and if you hate you’re probably too terrified to say so, considering how many damn people love this movie!
Looking back on the 90s is like looking through a kaleidoscope. There were so much realism and so much snark the 90s is often really hard to separate diamonds from the squares regarding monster flicks. The 90s gave us more creature features, not necessarily mutated or atomic…just…creatures. And as far as the use of classic “Universal” monster tropes, we have two different extremes. On one end, we get Frankenhooker (1990), a raunchy B-movie where a New Jersey mad doctor (James Lorinz) rebuilds his girlfriend (Patty Mullen) with body parts from exploded hookers. And not forgetting (though I wish I could) Mel Brooks directed Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But on the other extreme, we get these melodrama films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), both of which did their best to follow the source material that inspired the original Universal Monsters. In the middle of all this dueling complexity, we have at least one movie that keeps to both melodramatic and B-ish action, one of my person favorites from this decade, NO, not Monster Mash, I’m talking 1998’s comic to film flick, Blade starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristoffer, and Stephen Dorff.
And I guess I’d be amiss if I did not mention one of the first more modern remakes directly linked to the Universal Monster classics. In 1999, The Mummy released starring (then loved now somewhat shunned) Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, and America’s favorite weirdo Kevin J. O’Connor. The remake followed most of the basic tenets of the original Mummy while kicking up the action. I remember actually being really impressed with the film and truth be told…I had seen this one before screening the original. Unfortunately, it suffers from what most 1990s movies suffer from, the crappy use of CGI. But overall, The Mummy is still a fun romp on a late night.
(Shhhh…if we’re quiet and don’t make any sudden movements, no one will mention 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris…)
The 2000s were not entirely unkind to Universal Monster tropes. Strange…but not unkind. Universal Studios themselves had put out a what should have been a return or at least a nod to the classic hey-day with Van Helsing (2004)…and while they did capture the feeling of watching a Universal Monster flick, the story itself and odd choices with effects and the horribly outdated CGI dropped the bottom out on this movie. It’s amazing how much of a turd Van Helsing is, and it could have been so much more, a virtual House of Dracula, giving audiences werewolves and vampires and hunchbacks and even Frankenstein’s creature but instead filmmakers ignored the lore and added strange new rules that didn’t make sense, making a complete mess of a movie.
The decade was not without some gems. I thought Dog Soldiers (2002) was both brilliant and horrifying. There was also Ginger Snaps (2000) and Ginger Snaps II which were both smart. And, though not a lot of folks liked this one, I thought it was fun and an awesome throwback to the classic vibe of Universal Monsters, 2004’s Wes Craven directed Cursed starring Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, and Joshua Jackson. Another fan favorite during this decade was action-thriller Underworld (2003), starring the very leather-clad Kate Beckinsale and the always magnetic Bill Nighy. Underworld has developed into a series franchise, putting audiences into a world of vampires versus werewolves. The sequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans released back in 2009. All of which all fun and entertaining, though very obviously films in a post-Matrix world with all that leather and gun-play. Another vampire hit, for me at least, was 30 Days of Night (2007) which shed the “it’s fun to be a vampire” motif and actually allowed them to be monsters. And while sequels are not always a favorite subject matter, we cannot discount Blade II (2002), this round being directed by then up and coming monster director Guillermo del Toro… And be honest here, who doesn’t love a movie with Ron Pearlman in it? But let’s stop there. No need mentioning Blade: Trinity…ugh!
And as for the best of the 2000s decade, my hat goes off to Let the Right One In (2008), a Swedish “romantic” horror film directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist about a bullied 12-year-old boy named “Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved they slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.” Let the Right One In was one of those “unknowns,” coming right out of left field. It was a slow burn, but so atmospheric and moody and dark…it gives me the chills just thinking about the movie.
Here we are…roughly 70 years of film history. And with just six (nearly 7) years into the new decade, it seems as if those classic Universal monster tropes are making an epic comeback. Or at least, that’s the vibe I’m getting. Let’s start things off here with my favorite, the 2010 direct remake of the original 1941 The Wolf Man, with a star-studded cast including Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and David Schofield to name a few. Now, I’m not saying the movie didn’t have some flaws. The fight scene between Hopkins and Toro is…well…a little odd, but for the majority of the film, the effects and even added CGI wasn’t too shabby. Considering the original is my preferred archetype regarding werewolf stories, I pretty much fell head over heels for this one. And wait, there’s more! Not only did we get a directly linked werewolf movie, but it looks as if the indie film community was filling in where Hollywood failed to capitalize. Consider this fan-favourite and truly underrated horror flick, Late Phases (2014), about a secluded retirement community plagued by mysterious and deadly attacks until a grizzled blind war veteran moves in, rallies the residents, and discovers a beast is behind the killings. Another unrated flick and extremely well done, Stake Land (2010) gives the classic vampire trope a plague-like treatment.
2013’s Wer was another surprise, giving lycanism a hereditary twist and 2012’s Werewolf: The Beast Among Us wasn’t too shabby for a largely unknown action thriller. And 2013’s Frankenstein’s Army was just bizarre enough to be entertaining. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) was a smart and surprise hit among monster fans, where residents of a worn-down Iranian city encounter a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on men who disrespect women. And I thought Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) was good for a late night screening.
Now…because I’m a dad (totally using this as an excuse), I have to mention one of my top favorites thus far for this decade before moving on to anything else. Hotel Transylvania (2012) was absolutely brilliant. Fun. Funny. And full of classic monster tropes. The story goes, “When monsters want to get away from it all, they go to Count Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) Hotel Transylvania, a lavish resort where they can be themselves without humans around to bother them. On one special weekend, Dracula invites creatures like the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and others to celebrate the 118th birthday of his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). However, an unforeseen complication unfolds when an ordinary human unwittingly crashes the party and falls in love with Mavis.” Say what you will, but I love this movie!
As for the duds…though I still haven’t screened this one, I’ve heard that the steady-cam take on the Mummy monster trope The Pyramid (2014) was not very good. The concept sounded interesting…maybe I’ll give this one a go before passing final judgment. The same for Dracula: Untold (2014), I just haven’t gotten around to watching it, but I’ve heard that it was decently entertaining. And I still haven’t caught up with We Are The Night (2010) or Byzantium (2012), both of which follow a more feminine-centric story trope. One dud that I did actually watch was comic-book based I, Frankenstein (2014). “Two centuries after Dr. Frankenstein assembles and reanimates his creature, Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is still living. He becomes embroiled in a war between two immortal races: gargoyles, the traditional protectors of mankind, and evil demons. Since Adam is neither human nor demon, gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and demon Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) each want him for their own purposes. It is up to Adam to discover his inner humanity and the reason for his continued existence.” The movie could have been so much more but casting pretty-boy Eckhart as the monster…well…it seemed to reek of trying too much to be like Underworld to have any real chance of being its own movie. The concept was fun and the addition to the Frankenstein lore…so, at least it had that going for it.
Also on my to watch list: What We Do in the Shadows (2015), and Freaks of Nature (2015). It just seems, part of my problem is that there are so many classic films to choice from my tastes typically shy away back to the 1970s or 80s. That’s not to say the 2010s have nothing to offer, just look at the list above and you’ll find more than one blockbuster worthy of your time. And the year is not even over yet. A think, largely, everyone has their own tastes for horror, and this is especially true for those of the classic Universal Monster breed. My biggest disappointment is the lackluster treatment of my favorite Universal Monster, The Mummy. While the 1999 remake did a rather bang-up job, that’s been…what, 17 years now? I have to wonder what the aversion is. I’m assuming it’s because the Mummy is not a “fan favorite.” Vampires and werewolves sell movie tickets, is that it? You put a screenwriter who loves the trope, some solid practical effects, and a director who knows what they’re doing, and I guarantee you a great film will be made.
And now…a peek into the FUTURE….
As you’ve no doubt heard, Universal Studios will be reviving from their vaults, the return of the classic Universal Monsters in a new series that will eventually tie together all our beloved baddies. This news has been generating for about two years now and it looks as if they’re finally getting the ball rolling. The first monster up for theatric return will be The Mummy, with a June 2017 release date, and starring none other than Tom “Top Gun” Cruise. It feels fortuitous that my favorite Universal monster will be up first in this new rival. The Wolf Man is said to be next, with a 2018 release date and rumors of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking on the lead role. Scarlett Johansson is rumored to be on Universal’s radar for the led in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Angelina Jolie for Bride of Frankenstein. Johnny Depp for The Invisible Man. And supposedly, Dracula: Untold‘s end sequence opens the door for what all these remakes will be leading towards. At first, I had my reservations. Some of the descriptions for what the producers wanted sounded un-horror and un-betrothed to what the originals were. But it seems those rumors were just that, rumors. As more information has released, the more excited and cautiously optimistic I’ve become. If you’ve tuned into any of the reviews in this series, you’ve no doubt noted how much of a fan I am of the classic Universal Monster. And by-Geroge, I’m glad they’ve finally decided to bring them back to their full glory.
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new paranormal series, The Subdue Books, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.
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Deathdream (1974): in review
There is something very intimate going on in Deathdream. Something very personal is being shown to us. Perhaps this feeling has to do with the film’s low quality, the early 70s B-movie vibe, and dang near grainy steady-cam picture, or maybe the intimacy in question has to do with the atmosphere, the utterly believable world we’re entering as the movie starts, as it is likewise chilling and raw, in which a part of you doesn’t want to exist, but it does. Just ask your parents or grandparents, or maybe you know something yourself of this era of fear. Mostly, the credit of the realism is thanks in part to the incredible cast of actors and actresses, all unknowns, taking on the role of characters that are mirror images of people walking the streets in small town America, a place that very well could exist, because it probably does, somewhere out there. And this is the vibe, the feeling we get as the reel begins to hum. This movie is real. This is real life. And when the supernatural takes hold, turning our blood to ice, we’re caught off guard. These things that transpire cannot happen. The dead stay dead, those are the rules. But for Andy Brooks, the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?) in this story, those rules no longer apply. Andy has come home. And I think this is the root of the intimacy. Andy, by all accounts of the rules of reality, should not have come home, because sometimes, given differing situations, we cannot come home. The life we lived or the life we’ve known can no longer exist because the other self, the past self no longer exists.
Okay…before we get anymore metaphysical, lets talk about the movie in question.
Here’s a synopsis in case you missed out on watching:
“A young man killed in Vietnam inexplicably returns home as a zombie.”
Jeez, you gotta love those IMDb descriptions!
In a nut shell, yes. This is the movie. But, for clarification, I don’t think Andy is a zombie. He’s something…else.
Lets take a look.
As the movie opens, we’re shown a quick clip of Andy’s supposed death in Vietnam and then movie pans to the second most important scene, into the kitchen of the Brooks family. Mother. Father. Sister. Everyone is merry, or as much as they can be with a loved one deployed to Vietnam. They make small talk. They laugh. Everything will be okay, this scene tells us, so long as they remain strong, for Andy’s sake. And then someone knocks on the door. Who is it? They don’t know. It’s awfully late for a neighbor to stop by. The mood drops temperature. Two uniformed soldiers are standing at the door. It’s a telegram, the worst kind, the one no one at home wants to receive. “I’m sorry to inform you,” the Class-A dressed solider announces, “but your son is dead. Killed in action.” Shock. Cold pricking goosebumps. “My son? Dead?” Its laughable, how could their son, brother, Andy be dead? These things don’t happen to them, they happen to other people, people on the news, people far away from the safety of the dinner table. No, not Andy. Not their Andy.
The grief here at the dinner table is very raw and heartfelt. The mother weeping. The sister in shock. The father…doesn’t want to accept the news. I’m not sure how you are taking this scene, for me, this moment in the movie is very real. After serving almost 7 years in the Army, and having deployed three times to Iraq, watching the Brooks family is how I might imagine my own family reacting to the news of my death. I believe this is what the director and screenwriter wanted. Hence the name, Deathdream. Yes. It’s a horror movie. A 70s horror movie at that. But it is more. It’s real. And director Bob Clark wanted you believe as much. He wanted you to become one of the Brooks family.
Now, what happens next is where things get a little odd. There’s a knock at the door. The family, just getting to bed after hearing the terrible news, tread the stairs thinking, “What now?” The father answers. There’s a buildup of suspense, as if something really horrifying is going to be at the door. It’s Andy. “It’s Andy!” they all shout. Everyone is overcome with joy. There must have been a mistake. “Can you believe, they actually told me my son was dead?” the father says. Everyone is happy, and rightly so, but there’s something…wrong with Andy. Something he’s not saying. He’s pale and stoic. He doesn’t want to be around crowds, not even friends or family. Again, they recall the evening’s event, nearly hysterical, “They sent a telegram telling us you were dead.” And Andy answers with, “I was.” And here we get a glimpse of the horror to come, the Brooks family doesn’t know how to react. Andy is different…
As stated before, the above is the second most important scene in the movie. The strange homecoming. As the film progresses, we’re given other little snippets of post-war life. Andy, though we’re not too sure (we weren’t privy to his life before the war), but we’re given the impression had been at some point a very happy go-lucky sort of chap. All the neighborhood is abuzz with the news of Andy’s return, even the local kids want to stop by and say hello. But Andy isn’t the Andy they remember. He doesn’t want to play. He doesn’t want to interact. And everyone is taken aback. They don’t know what to make of this new Andy, in fact, they don’t even want to see Andy as being different. The father gets mad, retires to the local bar, and gets drunk. The mother, keeps vigil, maybe Andy will get better, she promises herself. The sister hides amongst her friends. And the neighborhood kids? Well, they all run away screaming.
I won’t get into all the detail, you really ought to watch this film for yourself, but speaking personally, this scene, among others, also resonates with me. Am I the same Thomas Flowers that existed before the war? Not at all. I’m different, and through the years have come to learn how my experiences have changed me, and I’m still learning, every day. Andy doesn’t have that luxury. Andy isn’t your typical veteran. He’s a ghost. A memory of a shadow, made of stolen blood that somehow keeps him whole, walking amongst the living. His character isn’t going to learn anything or develop or change. There is only one progression for Andy, the ultimate progression you might say. And so, you might be asking, “What’s the point of the story?” Well, being careful not to take the movie out of context, this is a 1972 (74 maybe?) story. Being drafted into the Vietnam War is a huge fear in the minds of most American families, especially for those with sons, brothers, uncles, and husbands already deployed in combat. But, there is also an ambiguous question clawing its way out the grave. What is it, you ask? What is the question?
Let’s talk about another important scene, though certainly not the most important one. When Andy’s father seeks outside help to discover what is amiss with his son, Andy ends up following Dr. Allman, the gentleman who had been working with Andy’s father, trying to solve the proverbial mystery of what was “wrong with him.” Andy confronts the good Doc in his office, stating, before draining him of his blood, “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor…? You owe me…” And then, in a scene mimicking the escalation of drug abuse common among combat veterans, Andy “shoots up” the drained blood with a hypodermic needle. This scene, for obvious reasons, is full of dark ambiguous questions. But it’s not the most ambiguous scene. This scene simply lays on another series of questions.
Here we are. Finally. The most important scene. Before we move on, I need to mention the ending. I know, spoilers and all, but I need to talk about what happened. Throughout the movie, Andy is slowly decaying. He’s becoming what he already is, dead. After a few murders, the truck driver and Doc Allman, and I think perhaps one more (I can’t quite remember), the cops are now on to him. Delirious, Andy’s mother agrees to take Andy away, but during the chase, Andy directs her to the town cemetery. Cemetery? Why there? The sirens are wailing. Tires screeching. Guns drawn. Will there be a final showdown, man verses monster? No. We are denied such luxuries of simplicity. In the final moments of screen time, Andy, nearly dissolved of energy and flesh, crawls to a grave he had prepared for himself sometime previously. He lowers himself, clawing the dark rich earth, covering his body. His mother watches, in tears, protesting, “Why? Why?” And Andy, unable to speak, gestures to his impromptu tombstone. “Andy Brooks, born 1952. Died 1972.” Slowly she realizes that her son is in fact dead, and helps cover his body. The cops arrive on scene shortly before the final act, pistols in hand, ready to slay the creature. But the creature is already dead. They’ve been robbed this battle of archaic man, of Stone Age man, but their faces are not disappointed, their faces are full of question. And this is why the final scene is the most important scene in the movie. Why? Because it deals with a mother and her son. It deals with our children, the future generations and the things we’ll ask them to do. No. Deathdream doesn’t answer any of these questions. The answers to all these ambiguous questions are up to the viewer. As witnesses, we will have to answer for ourselves.
With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
“This is an intense book, and it definitely doesn’t pull any punches. This is Flowers’s first foray into extreme horror but I have to say that his lack of experience does not show in the least bit. He manages to bring an expert balance of extreme, and restraint. The challenging moments happen at the precise moments in the story where I thought they were called for. And there was no point where I felt he was being gratuitous. What gross and disturbing scenes were there felt like they were serving a purpose” -Confessions of a Reviewer.
A Grotesque Mannequin: Europe’s Old Conscious within a New World Paradigm (1945-2002)
World War II in Europe had come to a horrible end. The ashes of homes, roads, and people covered a once lush countryside of an epoch healing within the bruised and blushing scars of WWI. Survivors faced an unimaginable future in 1945. According to historian Eric Brose, “the infrastructure of an entire continent – roads, railroad tracks, tunnels, train stations, bridges, port facilities, and airports – lay in ruins” (Brose, 267). The casualties were beyond imagination, and among the maimed and broken soldiers, the women murderously raped and rapid suicide following wars end, Europe peered into the same mirror Elie Weasel once did after the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, and watched the reflection of a disfigured corpse crying out for retribution, contemplation, and atonement. Europe was torn apart and reassembled according to new existential principles. In the years following 1945, Europe’s old consciousness was forced to occupy a new paradigm and marched unsteadily from post war malaise, through the Cold War and the atomic age, and terrorism. In the popular and controversial films of Post-WWII Europe, such as: The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and the particular history each film reveals, we will peer into the mirror ourselves and ascertain how postwar Europe’s displaced, suppressed, and reshaped reassembly was sadly unsuccessful. But we’re talking nearly sixty years of history here! How could we possibly cover so much time and so much history in is meager blog? Simple, we can’t. Instead, we’ll cover the evolution or devolution (depending on how you interpret events) in each decades most predominate historic theme.
The beginning in the end…1945:
In the autumn of 1944, Käthe Kollwitz, a preeminent German sculptress who had attempted to convey the bitterness and helplessness felt during the post war years following World War I, lamented regarding the resurgent bestial realities of the new age when she said, “I am dying in this faith [in humanity]. People will have to work hard for that new state of things, but they will achieve it” (Brose, 266.) Kollwitz held out, despite the unimaginable devastation, “the life of the world might move forward” (266), that somehow the dignities of the individual could be elevated above the authority of the state, that people would avoid mechanized-obedience and become ethical, moral creatures, concerned with the suffering of others. However, in the chaotic aftermath of World War II, the political landscape darkened once again and old motifs, such as: Nazism and Fascism will prove hard to eradicate. According to historian Eric Brose, with communism sweeping into Eastern Europe uninvited, “Understanding reality and coping with life’s dilemmas became even more difficult as the Grand Alliance came apart along ideological seams and the far more frightening image of atomic Armageddon appeared on the horizon” (Brose, 267). In the midst of the atom, Europe picked the pieces of her crumbled and fractured landscape.
In the aftermath of 1945, as displaced people huddled together in Red Cross camps, dreaming for the return of normalcy, Europe struggled in understanding the causality of WWII and the Holocaust. In doing so, Europe reassembled according to new existential philosophical principles in the growing shadow of countless mass graves and post war malaise. According to Brose, philosophers and the great thinkers of the post war age, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, struggled to understand the “authentic state of being.” Basically, these thinkers were motivated in answering the question of war, why it happened, again, and why the Holocaust happened in a modern society by understanding the reality of a hostile and threatening world and the complexity of human problems and moral dilemmas. These “existentialists” urged that “individuals controlled their own density by the choices they made” (Brose, 268). The pursuit is understandable, but the determinations, I think, are harder to grasp, especially for those of us who never experienced Europe at war, and the generations that did are rapidly fading from memory. To help future generations understand the determinations those existentialist thinkers were searching for we can look at the films of the era these dilemmas were actually being grappled with, which is the struggle between existentialism and the pessimistic and optimistic qualia of human nature. In films, such as, The Bicycle Thief (1948), audiences confronted the existentialist understanding of á priori morality, the existence of a self-evident moral, law-abiding society where certain values are taken seriously (Goldstein, 489), juxtaposed with the grim images of grisly, ruined lives; thus becoming an issue between morality verses reality.
Furthermore, consider the evolving relationship between father and son in The Bicycle Thief, during which the father obsesses to find his stolen bicycle, an important symbol of individuality during an era of overcrowded cities. In the pursuit to regain his independence, the father’s relationship with his son changes drastically throughout each episode. Before the bicycle was stolen, when the father’s individuality was intact, smiles abounded, the mood was carefree and light, and there was purpose despite the apparent dirtiness of the city and the chaotic state of employment. With the bicycle, the family dynamic seems normal and fluid; when the bicycle is stolen, and when the father loses his chaotic pursuit, outnumbered by the thieves, outnumbered by the protective neighborhood, outnumbered by an unsympathetic police presence, outnumbered by the disassembled bicycle parts at the market, the same family dynamic and their dreams for a better life become swallowed whole into the faceless sea of the crowd. The Bicycle Thief tares apart and reassembles existential principles in the reality that the individual cannot overcome the larger nature of society where in desperate situations people will act accordingly to desperation. A society in which individuality as become faceless in the overcrowded cities; where the human connection with each other has become twisted and malformed.
The loss of individuality and community were at the epicenter during Europe’s progression toward reconstruction. It was the ambiguous care of refugees in displacement camps, where Jewish and non-Jewish survivors, laborers, and German nationalists who fled the Red Army in Eastern Europe, who converged together in a cesspool of disillusionment and desperation, and although Allied forces worked diligently to provide the necessities of life for the uprooted souls that numbered in the millions, who had “no alternative but to remain day after day” (Perry, 273), the remnant of “death, physical injury, loss of human dignity, and material destruction left most Europeans bereft of energy for anything other than piecing their lives back together” (Perry, 269). It was during this period when Germany faced criminal and moral guilt for justification and/or rationalization regarding the commission of the Final Solution and other atrocities of war as simple acts of patriotism (Brose, 274). This is the backdrop where the precarious geopolitical differences between the Soviet Union and the United States collided. When Hitler’s crumbing house finally fell in the early spring hours of May 1945, as German High Command, General Alfred Jodl, surrendered unconditionally, the need arose within the Allied ranks to push German political, diplomatic, military, and industrial leaders toward a nationwide effort of denazification, disarmament, and democratization. According to historian Brose, the first step in this program was to “somehow [deal with] Nazi War criminals [and] to set a postwar example of rule of law” (Brose, 282). However, despite all the overall agreement to bring justice to Nazi leadership for “war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity,” the continuity of chaos proved divisive between the United States and the Soviets. While the Americans wanted an international law against future acts of aggression, which had already been established in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, the Soviets hesitated to condemn aggression as an initiation of war (as their own government was born from “aggressive liberation” during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917).
Nevertheless, the Nuremberg Trials began in November 1945. The first docket showcased twenty-two Nazis considered to be “top level defendants,” including: Hermann Goering, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, Julius Streicher, and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Brose, 283). Among the cohorts there remained an empty seat reserved for Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery and Hitler’s private sectary. Bormann made an excellent candidate for the first round of executions for his part as a major player in the collaboration of the mass murder of millions; however, Bormann had been mysteriously disappeared after his May 1945 escape from the Fuhrerbunker in his attempt to evade the approaching Red Army. The Bormann myth has been queerly popular in the decades following the Nuremberg Trials. Told like a monster story, various and conflicting sightings across the globe were reported, adding to a strange and abundant fascination with the at-large war criminal motif. At-large Nazi fascination reflects, in a way, an innate desire to separate oneself from the actions of perpetrators. As if to say, the monster is out there in the unknown, an unordinary entity, and as such, controlled by an unordinary fate. However, in the late 1990’s, scientists tested and confirmed the DNA of skeletal remains discovered at the bottom of a mass grave in Berlin in 1972. It was Martin Bormann, who committed suicide mere hours after leaving the Fuhrerbunker, unable to escape the chaotic streets of a crumbling Berlin; a banal and uninteresting demise for such a wildly popular myth. In the end, the Nuremberg Trials witnessed the execution of 486 Nazi perpetrators, a majority of which was hanged.
The Atomic Age and Cold War Malaise 1950’s-60’s:
The Cold War had effectually swung in from the gallows of Nazi perpetrators, ushering in a new paradigm with the old consciousness torn out from the nerve steam of Fascist ideology, grinded and reassembled into a grotesque machination of something that once was. There is no other movie that recants this strange new creature other than Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964). Considered by many film historians and critics to be Stanly Kubrick’s best work, Dr. Strangelove provokes “laughter through tears” in a nightmare comedy designed to stir a response toward nuclear strategy and weapons (Maland, 190). According to historian Charles Maland, the “American consensus to which Dr. Strangelove responds was rooted in the late 1930’s and in the war years [when] Americans began to feel more threated by the rise of foreign totalitarianism” (Maland, 190). The paradigm of fear was solidified after the Axis defeat during WWII and the “economic prosperity fostered by the war [effort]” (Maland, 191). Dr. Strangelove shows us a world unaware of this continued paradigm dominating the American “social and political life through the early 1960’s” (191) using dark comedy in a dramatic world that no longer made sense. Kubrick describes making Dr. Strangelove during an interview in 1970, he stated:
“It occurred to me I was approaching the project in the wrong way. The only way to tell the story was as a black comedy, or better, a nightmare comedy, where the thing you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible” (Maland, 196-197).
According to Maland, Dr. Strangelove utilizes nightmare comedy as a method of satire to expose four dimensions of the Cold War consensus: “anti-Communist paranoia, the culture’s inability to realize the enormity of nuclear war, various nuclear strategies, and the blind faith modern man places in technological progress” (Maland, 198).
The comedic use for illustrating technological mishaps of a nation can be somewhat disturbing, if not entirely revealing. Consider the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the distraught American President Muffley attempts to call Soviet leader Kissov and the back and forth parodical small talk is mixed in with talk of a renegade American B-52 inbound for the Soviet Union to unload its cargo, the bomb. According to Maland, Dr. Strangelove challenges the fundamental assumption of the fear paradigm, where the nearsighted nationality “[and] human death instinct leads man first to create machines, then to use them for destroying human life” (Maland, 205). Kubrick prods a contemplative stance on technological marvels: has technological means surpassed the bounds of human rationality and morality? Though Dr. Strangelove does not suggest that Soviet leaders are any better, it does, however, suggest that perhaps “no nation-state has a monopoly on foolishness and that the backstage strategies of military and political leaders are simply exercises in paranoia” (Maland, 206). But what does this say of Dr. Strangelove himself, the man who the film is named after? Dr. Strangelove doesn’t say much during the movie, not until the end at least, but his character is carefully crafted and shaped to represent the grotesque surviving mannequin of fascism. When Dr. Strangelove speaks his poorly hidden German accent comes through and becomes more obvious the closer the bomb is to being launched. Dr. Strangelove’s broken and crippled body moves sporadically in quick violent jerks as he attempts to contain something bubbling within. And when the bomb becomes inevitable, Dr. Strangelove bolts his arm upward, eerily reminiscent of the Sieg Heil (German hail to victory) salute.
The character Dr. Strangelove represents the monster once thought destroyed, a fascist creature devoid of feeling, horribly cold, and calculating (Maland, 202-203); the film Dr. Strangelove gives voice to Käthe Kollwitz’s 1944 lament, that though people would have to work hard, a better state can be achieved. Kubrick’s astonishing work, Dr. Strangelove, evokes her passion for a resurgence of social justice and social awareness in a society that has embraced, if not utterly conformed to the paranoia enabled by the House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthyism, and the growing discontent of the late 1950’s, a decade plagued by othering, a symptom indicative to the historical context that spawned, according to historian Konrad Klejsa, “[the] impulse which led to the decision to start developing an atomic bomb [in the first place]” (Klejsa, 438). However, Kubrick also begs the question: do people want to work to achieve a better state or what is the better state? By 1968, it was becoming apparent that denazification could not shake the old ghost of National Socialism. The voices of those maimed by the machinations of war were becoming extinguished in the great wind of militant indifference toward world destruction, the bomb, nuclear holocaust. This disconnection really shows the disenchantment and horrible calamity of the era.
Europe’s Uncertainty during the 1970’s:
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970′s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of theBunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters. And while the film is somewhat of a bore, the character development and the unshackling of Katharina toward the end is an important conceptualization of the possible effects of extreme othering and incredible swings on the pendulum.
Moving into a new era (1990’s-2002):
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1994 seemed like a sunbeam cast on a dreary landscape haunted by ghosts and monsters for nearly a hundred years. However, throughout the post-WWII years, with the stream of immigrants coming into Europe, old animosities and ideologies resurfaced (Brose, 457). As the iron curtain fell over Moscow, once restricted communities were once again able to move toward the “imagined good life in the West, and labor shortages soon [followed] giving way to sluggish [economic] growth and high hovering unemployment after the 1970’s” (Brose, 457). During the 90’s, the European Union sought to make labor movement within Europe easier, whilst simultaneously making immigration stricter. In 1995, Jacques Chirac stated a common sentiment among Europeans, “France cannot accept all the wretched of the earth” (Brose, 457). In Germany, the ressentiment against “outsiders” seems even more staggering considering their contextual history, with, according to Brose, “10,037 hate crimes” committed in 1999. After a century of othering, it would seem old motifs have survived for the dawn of the 21st century.
In the film, Bend It Like Beckham (2002), director Gurinder Chadha tackles the growing issue with xenophobia in a post 9/11 world, where, according to historian Brose, terrorist attacks “ushered in a period of intense cooperation on security and defense between Europe and the United States” (Brose, 459), which in no small way exasperated tensions between migration and emigration. Throughout the film, dual characters Jess, an orthodox Sikh, and Jules, a seemingly average white female Brit, deal in similar situations that confront the complex limitations of society. Gurinder Chadha’s film, much like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, also calls back to the 1944 lament of Käthe Kollwitz, as Jules and Jess challenge multicultural barriers that surround them in their place in 21st century history. The best illustration for this positive call for change can be seen in the final montage sequence in Bend It Like Beckham, after Jess’ father tells her to fight boundaries, but simultaneously is unaccepting of Jess’ love interest with couch Joe, an Irishman. Demonstrating with each boundary overcome, there are still more boundaries to cross. The final breakdown at the close of the film shows Jess and Jules “spotting” famed soccer player David Beckham at the airport, representing the resurgence of Englishism, followed by Jess’ sister’s pregnancy, representing family and tradition, and followed at the end with Jess’ father playing lacrosse with Joe. The finality of the film gives audiences the impression that there doesn’t need to be a stereotype “British,” or “American,” or “German,” culture, but that a melody of multiculturalism could work. As we look back at the close of the 20th century, we can see evidence of the failure of accepting the other; however, the 21st century is still in front of us.
The mirror Elie Weasel peered into after the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, when we saw himself as this ghostly apparition, a reflection completely unfamiliar to him, his body tortured by all he suffered during the Holocaust, we too must beg the question of our own reflections and the reflections made in history. The physicality of Europe was in no small way torn asunder. But when Europe was reassembled according to new existential principles, was she born again or was she tragically the same entity forced to occupy a new paradigm, a sown monster marching rigidly from post war malaise, through the Cold War, into the atomic age, and eventually facing new forms of terrorism and xenophobia. In the popular and controversial films of Post-WWII Europe, such as: The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and the particular history each film reveals, we witnessed the continuity of old ideologies that originally gave birth to the maiming machines of war that gnarled a post WWI generation whose voices had been extinguished in the great wind of Russian Revolution, the complete and utter failure of the Weimar Republic, the rise and fall of the Nazis and ultimately the horrific revelation of the Holocaust. The history archived in films, such as: Battleship Potemkin (1925), M (1931), and Jud Süss (1940), along with novels like, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), demonstrate the progression of chaos in Europe, while films like, The Bicycle Thief (1948), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975), and Bend It Like Beckham (2002) demonstrates, sadly, how the fabric of fascism and extreme othering were simply ripped from one body and sown onto another. For the most, this was a 20th century history; what can be said of the 21st? Will the monster continue to terrorize the countryside? Or can we hold out for hope, as Käthe Kollwitz once did, and “believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart” (Anne Frank, 1944)?
Political Unrest in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.
While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.
Sources: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976.
The Deer Hunter & the Superman in Vietnam
In film historian Leonard Quarts article, “The Deer Hunter: The Superman in Vietnam,” the author discusses an interesting notion how the film (Deer Hunter, 1978) in itself created an American mythological figure, the soldier, living beyond conventional values and projecting heroic, almost alluring, emotional invulnerability. According to Quart, Hollywood has used this mythology to blur the argument of our involvement with Vietnam War away from the political world, away from any specific policy, and back into an introspective question regarding the human condition in Vietnam. Using The Deer Hunter as a backdrop, Quart reconstructs the main character, Michael Vronsky (Robert DeNiro), and illuminates his superman archetype as the American mythological figure for the human condition. This reconstruction can be seen in three character developments: first, Michael, as local steel-mill worker, second, seeing Vronsky as an accomplished hunter and woodmen, which directly leads into the third character development, Vronsky’s leadership ability during his stint as a Vietnam POW. These three reconstructions demonstrate two years after the Vietnam War ended (1978), how the overwhelming sense of self-confidence and invulnerability drew many American fighting men into Vietnam during the 1960’s.
The myth of the superman in Vietnam is first constructed in the persona of Michael Vronsky, as the Pennsylvanian, blue collar, working class hero. During the film, even the small factory town to which the main characters belong was glozed over with a refined middle-class shine. Men, working without complaint, nor distressed, nor sweat from countless hours of back-breaking work; even their steel-mill uniforms are absent of blemish. This image of the working class town fits perfectly as Michael Vronsky’s fortress of solitude; a town that emulates intrinsic values of church and country, indicative to middle class America. The picture perfect sleepy little industrialized town, far removed from the hustle of modern cities, gives the audience a sense of romanticism, the American Dream in its natural environment.
The second construction mentioned, was how Quart uses the development of Vronsky as the American superman through his prowess as a hunter. Vronsky can be pictured as “an outsider…[,albeit] chaste, honorable, forbearing, revering the mountains and nature, and given to a purity of purpose embodied in his deer-hunting gospel of the one-shot-kill. ” Michael as an actual hunter, an ultimate outdoors man, he becomes the myth of a romanticized figure of American folklore and tradition who constructs his identity in conflict with nature, similar to historically famous Americana outdoorsmen, such as: Davey Crockett or Teddy Roosevelt.
The third construction Quart uses in the development of Vronsky as the American superman myth, is during his performance at the Russian-roulette table in the Vietnam POW camp. Here, Quart complements Vronsky’s characterization in notions of a Hemmingway-esk sense of heroic grace and indomitability. Vronsky’s capacity for violence is seen as calm and controlled and when he frees his fellow patriots, he becomes “the incarnation of the superman…the apotheosis of American courage and daring…a transcendent figure who seems almost immortal. ” However, this comparison also begs the question, regarding the state of the human precondition, if a person can kill without fear or constraint.
Quart’s article on The Deer Hunter as an allegory for the mythological superman in Vietnam is a convincing argument. The director obviously attempted to portray the middle-class American as both the hero and victim of the war in not only how Vronsky was developed, but also how his town changed as the people themselves changed. If film symbolizes our hopes and fears, The Deer Hunter represents our ideological need to create certainty where there is none. However, the horror of Vietnam is too ambiguous and complex to explain or dismiss away within the concept of the American superman; Vietnam is not the OK Corral or some other western motif where the Duke rides in on a white horse and justifies the atrocity of war and our involvement. The Deer Hunter is an awesome movie, a must see for any Vietnam War movie buff, but like Quart, the film lacked significant historical accountability, and, even more important, the film lacked social realism that would have allowed the movie to go beyond being just another cartoonish depiction of middle class America in the Vietnam War.
Evolution of the Horror Remake: A Short Narrative
Something strange started happening during the dawn of the new millennium. Beginning as early as 2003, once revered horror movie classics were being revamped for a supposed new audience, a audience geared toward a sicking predisposition for hyper violence and “better” special effects. Now that we’re well into a new decade, its interesting looking back and speculating why certain trends even started in the first place. The biggest and most fascinating parallel between those “classics” and their children are the things happening in the world when said films were being made. For me, the two biggest world events impacting film worth mentioning (especially considering our horror subject matter!) are the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan War.
The Two Wars:
Doing our best to avoid a politico argument, lets look more at the similarities between the two decades (1965-1975, 2001-?). Besides the obvious similarities in the type of war (strategic and tactics, guerrilla urban warfare, and the precarious balance in winning hearts and minds while simultaneously engaging the enemy), the Vietnam War and Iraq War could also be compared to the amount of combat footage that made its way into the mainstream. In the living rooms of millions of Americans, while folks sat down for their nightly news, they were bombarded with images of seemingly “random” acts of violence. Allow me to clarify. These acts of violence feel random because folks in the U.S. and folks over in the desert or jungle getting blown up are disconnected. The people back home in their living rooms have no way of knowing whats really going on “over there” except from what the media provides. This new norm impacted how we engage movies, especially the shock value in horror movies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
The best thing that could ever come from the mess over in Asia-Minor was how it effected horror films and turned them into positive avenues of expressing discontent. Some have dubbed this epoch in the history of horror as Savage Cinema. Films, such as: Deliverance (1972),The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977) disconnected horror away from fantasy. The horrors of the world were no longer shown in the castles of Transylvania or some tomb in Cairo, but in our own backyards, down the road, behind the curtain. The monsters were no longer beasts or creatures of myth, but our own neighbors, our relatives, or that seemingly ordinary fellow walking down the street. Horror, in essence, became set in reality.
Now, flash forward to the post modern take on Savage Cinema during the 2000’s. Comparatively, in every way possible, each and every remake falls short of the original. The effects and filmography were often better, but what they left behind was the message, the meaning behind the chainsaw and the desperate family living among the rocks in the Californian desert. The heart was replaced for even stronger images of violence. In a way, I suppose this could say something of the time period. Did we no longer care for actual storytelling? Were we simply looking for our “new” norm among the flooding destruction brought on during our nightly news broadcasts? Perhaps, but can we really forgive those remakes, such as: The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween II (2009), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and so many more that needless tore asunder classic storytelling for pointless mayhem? The only real forgivable remake during this epoch was Dawn of the Dead (2004), though not entirely. The forgivable aspect of the new Dawn of the Dead was how producers didn’t trash on the old characters, but instead introduced new ones for a new evolution of the film. And, in a way, maintained the similar, though less obvious, take on consumerism.
A New Decade:
Though we are just entering the 2010’s, there seems to be a change in how movie makers are approaching remakes. The trend of completely redoing the classics have, in a way, transformed into a continuation in the story itself, in a undefined kind of way. Basically, the new remakes are not really remakes anymore; they are and they aren’t. Make sense? Consider the recent revamp of Evil Dead. The story wasn’t so much a new story of the original, but a continuation without having to give a huge boring and needless back story. The simply yet obvious easter eggs were enough to reconcile the old with the new. The way Evil Dead was re-imagined could possibly (and hopefully) be a reacquiring trend in how future remakes will be done. News of the upcoming revamp of Poltergeist seems to confirm this “new” direction as we’re given not a retelling of the same story with flashier gimmicks, but a continuation of the story with a new set of characters facing a similar threat without having to spend an hour explaining the original. The most interesting take on this new Poltergeist (which, by the way, the 1982 classic is a personal favorite of mine) is how producers are approaching home ownership. In the original story it was about the 1980’s boom in home development, and with this new revamp, its about the boom in refurbishing old homes. Keeping it the same; not keeping it the same, simultaneously.
Hopefully this trend will continue, especially when pertaining to old classics. While I personally would rather see new stories being told, if Hollywood insists on remaking the classics, let the story evolve instead of just mindlessly rehashing what has already been said.
The Hills Have Eyes: 36 Year Review
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.