Saturday, October 29, 2011

Night of Terror #28: 24-Hour Movie Marathon

Hi guys. You may have noticed that it's been a couple days since I updated the site - it has, but this was all so you'd be prepared for this epic bit of Halloween celebratory madness. My friend Chip from Pretty When Alive has plotted this one out. We at 31 Nights of Terror don't recommend trying this at home unless you're in the presence of a licensed terror professional. And despite this blip in programming, I am still planning on catching up with #31 going up on Halloween night. Here's Chip:

When I first saw Eli Roth’s proposed 24 hour horror movie marathon, that inspired me to do my own marathon. Weekly. For two months. And I would go back to doing horror marathons every October for years. It is fun to plan out 24 hours of catching up on movies I’ve been intending to watch. But that was when I lived alone. I still have enough free time, more or less, but it might not be all that cool to tie up the television for 24 hour blocks at a time.

But after seeing Edgar Wright’s proposed marathon this year, it has inspired me to consider doing it again. I don’t have time to do one before Halloween, but I thought I would throw one out there as if I did. Now when I used to do this almost every week, it was just for myself, so I would generally load up the marathon with my favorites: The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, The Birds, The Shining, Deliverance, Jaws, etc. And I would include any dvds from the library or netflix that I had not seen yet. If anyone were joing me for any length of time, I would try and schedule a movie they hadn’t seen. My current roommates have seen most of my favorites, so we’re generally finding new horror movies together.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that in plotting out this particular marathon, I decided to look for a dominating theme. What did I pick? Religious fanaticism. I think not nearly enough films exploit how people are willing to accept one sort of supernatural bullshit, but completely dismiss another. Or how horror is the perfect genre for exploring and critiquing faith. After all, there’s something infinitely more fascinating about how Peter Cushing clings to a crucifix versus how Kirk Cameron eats a banana.

Noon. The Night of the Hunter.

We’ll start out with a lone wolf. In sheep’s clothing. Robert Mitchum is undeniably terrifying as the preacher who murders and punishes – convinced he’s carrying out God’s will. Granted, evil preachers are almost too easy. But this is the movie that set the template. Watching the movie, there’s no doubt that this lunatic truly believes he’s in the right. He’s not just thumping a bible in order to con people. As most folks know, this is the only movie Charles Laughton ever directed. It’s a shame. There’s a magical surrealism to this movie, and it constantly compliments the darkness.

In the end, two Christians face off against each other. Mitchum’s preacher and Lillian Gish’s child collector. The scene when they harmonize while singing a hymn creates this sweet but chilling moment when two foes meet in the middle – bonding over their shared beliefs. This movie doesn’t paint all of Christianity in a bad light (thanks to Gish’s character), but it certainly makes one dubious about trusting someone on blind faith.

1:40 pm. Carrie

Stephen King often brings religious fundamentalist villains into his stories. He seems to have quite a beef to pick with how religion is often used as a weapon and faith is often taken advantage of. Piper Laurie plays a total fucking religious nut. Early in the movie, she’s seen going door to door, preaching the word. One neighbor (who knows her) plays her off in order to get her to leave. Laurie then goes home where she preaches to her daughter, played magnificently by Sissy Spacek, and terrifies her with the word of God. She uses prayer as a punishment and a tool to inflict pain. Is she just compensating for something? Is she just getting her jollies off by terrorizing someone weaker than herself and then justifying it by clutching a bible in her hand? In the end, perhaps she’s right. Perhaps her daughter does have the devil in her. But it doesn’t matter. The audience absolutely comes to hate Laurie’s character.

I saw this in a theater a few years ago, on Mother’s Day weekend. [SPOILER] During one scene, Laurie’s character gets pinned in a doorway with knives and stabbed repeatedly. At this, one audience member yelled out, “Happy Mother’s Day!” And entirely appropriate sentiment I think.

Also, I think this would make a good double feature with William Wyler’s The Heiress. Both films do a wonderful job of someone who’s been raised under an unrelenting thumb, reached out desperately for love from someone else, and reacted darkly to being denied said love.

3:20. The Others

In The Others, Nicole Kidman plays an overprotective mother who keeps her children locked in their dark, vast mansion. She claims is because of a rare skin condition they both somehow have. She home schools them and indoctrinates them with religious fairy tales. She preaches the word to them and forces them to ponder eternal damnation if they step out of line. As with the other movies in my marathon so far, this is only one lone nut imposing their beliefs on others, only to have these beliefs bite them in the ass.

This movie steals more than a little from The Innocents, which also invokes religious righteousness from time to time. But director Alejandro Amenabar seems more critical of Christianity – in particular imposing it on children. Nicole Kidman’s overbearing character is undeniably crazy, but how much of that crazy plays into her superstitious beliefs is questionable. Regardless, it seems to me that her religious fanaticism was more dangerous than inspiring.

5:20 The Mist

I put a little break in there to heat some food up. There ya go.

The Mist is about a group of survivors who hole up in a grocery store while hiding from monsters lurking in the fog outside. As the survivors grow more scared, one particular nut (played by Marcia Gay Hardin) exploits the fear and faith in the room to amass a legion of followers. They chant about expiation and take on an us-versus-them approach to the situation. Soon, Hardin’s character has gained enough influence that she can have her followers kill a child solely on her word.

It seems as if she comes to believe her own divination – particularly when one of the monsters spares her. And as with the other Stephen King adaptation, I wonder if she may have been right. Regardless, the audience is once again waiting with baited breath to see this vile religious nut meet her end.

7:30 [REC]

A first person, faux documentary horror movie. This one is rather intense as it follows a group of survivors who are faced with a zombie apocalypse. And as the characters work through the mystery of what’s happening, it becomes clear that these zombies are Vatican-approved. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie, so I don’t remember any religious zealots among the characters. The religious insanity is inherent in the cause of the zombie outbreak. And at this point in the evening, I feel that you would need something visceral, something unrelentingly tense to keep your attention and wake you up.

This is the first time in my marathon that the religious elements is not just one person taking advantage of a situation. It’s a religious organization creating a situation that has spiraled out of control. It’s just going to get worse from here.

9:00 pm. End of the Line

I already wrote about this movie in my own blog this October, but it certainly fits here. This religious organization is so organized that they all rise to do their duty when a mass text is sent out. They then pull daggers from their oversized crucifixes and kill anyone who isn’t in their creepy cult. It’s the apocalypse. It’s mass murder. And it’s for the good of all non-survivors. There’s a cool ambiguity regarding whether or not the religious visions of demons coming to devour the religion holds any water, but if you watch closely enough, you get your answer.

This movie is absolutely ruthless in how it depicts the cult. They all dress like Mormons. They sing a creepy hymn. They constantly claim their murderous actions are for a greater good. Clearly the filmmakers are not fans of organized religion.

10:40 Witchfinder General

My favorite Vincent Price performance. Made in 1968, this was the last movie directed by Michael Reeves who died soon after from a drug overdose at the ripe old age of 25. He had directed 3 ½ movies by the time he died – the last of which, this one, is now considered a masterpiece.

Set in 1645, Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a relentless and sadistic witch hunter who travels the countryside looking for those who may practice witchcraft, then tortures them to death. Reeves regular, Michael Ogilvy, plays a reasonable young man who recognizes Price’s mission as an exercise in abusive torture.

The pacing is pretty slow. Much of it plays as a stiff costume drama, which makes the violent darker moments al the more potent. The movie ultimately becomes a story of revenge as Ogilvy tracks down Price and returns some of the torture he’s been dishing out. The ending is exceeding harsh and violent and cynical. Even the best people are capable of turning into monsters.

Price claims to be doing God’s work throughout the movie. Murdering witches and servants of the Devil. It’s a vile abuse of God’s word – justifying what is clearly his own thirst for violence. The ending is bleak. Bleak. Bleak. Bleak.

12:20 Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural

A trippy, disturbing, not entirely competent movie from the seventies. A young girl flees her adoptive father, a priest, to be with her gangster father. Things get surreal fast and she finds her self in an expressionist forest filled with zombie-like vampires. There’s a lot of religious creepiness – especially once her priest father comes looking for her. And he’s worse than the vampires. There’s absolutely no one here to root for.

I first saw this movie when it was shown at the downtown library here in town. The AV guy there definitely seems to be a fan of horror movies and took a special pride ins showing this movie. He even recorded an interview with the director and played for everyone. I absolutely loved it. Every inappropriate, uncomfortable, violent moment. Most of the other people in the audience seemed to hate it. At one point you see the lead actress’ breasts, and she can’t be more than fifteen at the time. Very little of the movie makes sense – in particular the ending which seems disconnected from almost everything that came before it. Was it all a dream? A flashforward? Has she been inundated into the creepy church? I really want to watch this movie now – no, I want to show it to someone, but I’m worried about hearing how much it sucks from my roommates.

1:40 Red State

I was originally planning to put The Seventh Victim in this spot. I felt that the ending, in which some characters shame Devil Worshipers by quoting the Lord’s Prayer, would come off in a less upbeat light if it were precursed with Christians running afoul. But then I saw Red State a few days ago, and I realized that this movie has to be included.

Based on the Westboro Baptist Church, a religious organization lures sexual deviants to their church where they are made examples of to a fawning congregation. Michael Parks plays the church leader and has an extended scene in which he recounts the horror of modern living while the congregation nods in approval. In my opinion, the slyest scene involves a police officer who is poking around outside the church when he recognizes the cars of some missing persons in the lot. As kids are being tortured and killed inside, Parks comes out to talk to the officer, and as he’s convinced the officer that nothing is up, he stops and turns. At first, it seems like it’s going to be a classic Colombo move. But instead, the officer asks Parks, “I remember when you were protesting the dead Pope in Rome. I was wondering . . . how is Italy?” It implies a complacency among the community in the preacher’s actions. They’re cool with it as long as it doesn’t affect them personally. Parks answers with a crack about Italy being full of Italians. The officer laughs it off. This scene is just as chilling as anything going on inside the church.

3:20 The Wicker Man

I’m talking about the original version with Christopher Lee, of course. The story: an overbearing fundamentalist Christian police officer, played by Edward Woodward, comes to an island searching for a lost girl. As he explores the island, he finds that everyone there is part of a pagan cult. The children sing songs about death. The adults jump through fires naked (“It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with your clothes on!”). And no one seems at all concerned that small girl is missing. Not even her mother. The appalled officer skulks around the island threatening to bring the law of man and God down on everyone involved. Christopher Lee, in what he once claimed was his favorite performance, plays the cult leader who is more than cooperative with the officer.

At this point in my marathon, there is a deliberate shift from mad Christians to mad cultists with a bone to pick with Christians. As Christopher Lee ultimately tells Woodward, “God had his chance. He blew it!” The ending is dark and gleeful in its anti-Christian actions. There’s nothing overtly supernatural about the movie, so one can’t really say if there’s a comment on the existence of god or not. But the movie definitely paints the stalwart Christian as unlikeable while the murderous pagans are actually a lot of fun.

5:00 The Exorcist

Everyone has seen this. I put it at five in the morning for two reasons: it has an undeniable drive to it, so if you’re starting to drift off, this movie might jolt you back awake. And even if you do drift off, you’ve probably seen it. You can use the nap for fuck’s sake. Also, I didn’t want to end the marathon on an ambiguous note. Did Christianity win out against the devil? Or just a demon in general? I don’t feel like the movie really makes a great case for the strength of Christianity, but it doesn’t criticize the religion. The demon, who utilizes a young girl’s body to get at Max Von Sidow’s Father Merrin, clearly has an issue with chritianity, and this one Christian in general. And ther’e s a lot of back and forth about science vs. superstition. Despite the assaultive style and gross-out effects, This movie may be a bit of fresh air after watching the cruelty and madness that’s been on display all night. It also begins a rather famous thematic trilogy of demonic children movies that all came out about the same time.

7:30 Rosemary’s Baby

I included a break here. It may take you a little while to snap out of your nap. And you may want to fix breakfast or take a shower. Whatever you need to wake you up, because while Rosemary’s Baby is powerful, paranoid bit of filmmaking, it’s not the fastest movie ever made. In fact, it’s very deliberately paced (i.e. slow). But I love it. You’ve probably seen it, but if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Satan worshipers have their own anti-jesus coming. Mia Farrow plays the unwilling mother who is raped by Satan himself. The cult comes off every bit as creepy as the Christian cults seen in earlier movies from the marathon. Towards the end, as Farrow realizes what is happening, she cries out, “Oh, God!” At this, one of the witches snaps, “Enough with your ‘oh gods’!” And seemingly enough, God is ultimately impotent and or unwilling to step in. As far as we can tell, Satan wins, and the baby is out there now – preparing us for last days. Actually, it’s me guys.

10:00 am. The Omen

This is the third of the popular demon child movies in the seventies. One could consider it a thematic sequel to Rosemary’s Baby. In it, an American politician secretly adopts a child to shield his wife from the fact that her child died in child birth. And that child, it turns out, is the anti-christ. This is about Devil worshippers, not Christians. But their unyielding allegiance to certain doctrines and the child himself is entirely based on Christian behavior – coming at the end of all these movies, the subtext is undeniable. And when the politician, played by Gregory Peck, does turn to the church for help, he has to embrace a violent vengeful agenda. Thematic spoiler ahead for those who somehow haven’t seen it . . . the bad guys win. What makes this movie creepy is the cultish allegiance of the worshippers – not the power of Satan. In particular, the “It’s all for you, Damien!” moment.

By the end of this marathon, group think of any kind should make your very core sick. Sometimes, when I’m in a room full of people all chanting the same things, and on the same wavelength, I flash to Hitchcock’s The Birds, and those scenes of various birds slowly amassing . . . waiting to attack.

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