Friday, October 31, 2014

Guillermo Del Toro: Master of Horror.

Since it's halloween,, and everyone else is doing it, I thought I would also talk about horror films. One director in particular came to mind. If you haven't read the title of this post, that director is Guillermo Del Toro. You might be familiar with Del Toro, he's the guy responsible for this

and this

Though his films have many elements of horror not all of them would fall into the horror genre. His most well renowned piece Pan's Labyrinth is closer to a dark fantasy despite having many horror elements and The Devil's Backbone is more of a war film with a ghost story interwoven.   
Del Toro has a few trademarks that he likes to include in his films. They are...

Del Toro uses children as leads or prominent roles in a number of his film. Innocence is a strong theme throughout Del Toro's film, this innocence is often set against war with a tragic ending.

Clockwork & Insect Imagery
 Del Toro loves clockwork, things with gears galore and intricate parts. He is also a big fan of insects, this can be seen throughout his work from the Cronos Device (pictured above) in Cronos to big dominated Mimic and the fairies in hiding in Pan's Labyrinth.

Blue/Amber Hues

Amber and blue hues are overly present in all of Del Toro's film. They enhance the film's visuals and work well with the copper tone of the clockwork machinery. Where there is not amber in his films, there will be blue hues, often used for dark, wet, unsettling places.

Del Toro is a fantastic director with a great eye for color and design his dark fantasy/horror films will delight and entice any lover of cinema looking for complex stories and a good scare now and then.

Silent Yet Deadly

I’ve recently been on a Tim Burton high— perhaps it’s the Halloween air, or maybe it’s that film, “It’s Your Funeral” that I’ve been working on that’s inspired me. Whatever the reason, Burton has inspired me so much that I’ve decided to blog about the film that inspired him— The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Considered to be the first, ‘true horror film,” contain the first twist ending in film, and one of the most influential films of the German Expressionist movement, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a truly scary film. 

Check it out here:

While many believe that Wiene decided to film against a 2 dimensional set for monetary reasons, (this set was undoubtable cheaper to create than finding realistic locations), others do not. Wiene was, “making a film of delusions and deceptive appearances, about madmen and murder, and his characters exist at right angles to reality. None of them can quite be believed, nor can they believe one another.” By actually painting light and shadows on the walls, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” takes on a look that isn’t quite right. He puts the viewer in reality limbo. 

At first I had a hard time believing that a horror film could be more horrible if it was set somewhere unrealistic. However, “Calgari” takes place in a subjective psychological fantasy— an alternate universe where unspeakable horror suddenly becomes very possible. This world disables the viewer’s ability to rationalize. Any thoughts like “that would never happen, or, the cops will catch that guy soon,” lose all validity. We have no business being in this world at all. Everything we know is meaningless. Now THAT’S scary. 

More women behind the camera means more money at the box office

By now, all of us know the Bechdel test inside and out. The Bechdel test asks if a fiction film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Using this test, FiveThirtyEight analyzed thousands of films to determine whether the presence (and importance) of women had an effect on a film's box office. Here is part of their analysis:

We did a statistical analysis of films to test two claims: first, that films that pass the Bechdel test — featuring women in stronger roles — see a lower return on investment, and second, that they see lower gross profits. We found no evidence to support either claim.
On the first test, we ran a regression to find out if passing the Bechdel test corresponded to lower return on investment. Controlling for the movie’s budget, which has a negative and significant relationship to a film’s return on investment, passing the Bechdel test had no effect on the film’s return on investment. In other words, adding women to a film’s cast didn’t hurt its investors’ returns, contrary to what Hollywood investors seem to believe.
The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent. The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent.

So why is it that movies that pass the Bechdel test have a better return-on-investment, but filmmakers of these films are given less money? FiveThirtyEight also discovered that when more women were involved in the production of a film, it was more likely to have female cast members. In other words, when one gender dominates the creative process for a picture, that shows on the screen. Under-representation behind the camera results in under-representation in front of the camera.

So here's an equation for you:

More women behind the camera = more women on screen = more money made at the box office

It's a win-win situation.

Snowpiercer: Left or Right

(spoilers for the movie)

It starts with something as simple as “left or right” and quickly escalates into who will live or die that day. It changes the entire course or a story for better or worse. It can completely turn everything that you knew to be true upside down in a matter of seconds. It is character choice. The inevitable question every protagonist faces, even in the most subtle of ways, that forces them to choose between two (or more) mortal options.
Tony Zhou returns in his series of “Every Frame a Painting” to bring us the reasoning of camera direction and screen positions. For him, the best way to tell a difficult choice is to utilize your screen directions. As seen in the movie Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-ho, left and right are delegated a sort of moral compass. Right is forward and left is back. By moving the character between both directions, we see his struggle but as he chooses to go one way we know where he stands before even he knows. The movie is practically predictable if you were skillful enough to catch the subtle shifts in character movement.

And it’s a remarkable thing. A very powerful and influential technique to use, if done properly. If a filmmaker is truly apt at composing that “scene of choices” then they know what to do. Because it’s just a simple question: left or right?

Not Another Halloween Movie: The Rise of Slasher Films

Dun, dun, duuuuuun! Another conveniently holiday themed blog post! And every year when Halloween comes round, the first thing that comes to mind for us film buffs is usually the slasher film genre. So stick around... if you dare, and let's do this thing.

A Little Bit of History

The sub-genre known as "Slasher Films" dates back to the 19th century French theatre plays known as The Grand Guignol. It was a violent, shocking form of theatre that was a pioneer for horror films in general, but that's a whole other blog post's worth of information. Oh wait, I did do a blog post on it. Check it out here if you want more info, or wikipedia it or whatever. Anyway the real stuff started with Alfred Hitchcock's infamous film, Psycho (1960). Although the character Norman Bates wasn't technically a serial killer, he paved the way for the big stars like Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The subgenre itself was a hybrid of thriller and horror films from the 70s and 80s, starting with Black Christmas (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). But, the movie Halloween (1978) really defined the genre. Close after came Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), which solidified the famous trio of psycho killers (mentioned above) places in film history.

What's a Slasher Film?!

For those of you who grew up under a rock, the definition of a slasher film is a subgenre of horror and thriller, usually involving some kind of psycho who kills a lot of people. But, what sets it apart from splatter film or psychological thrillers is that most of the time, it follows a pretty recognizable formula:

1. Sexy Lookin' Teenagers: That's right folks, what's a slasher film without a bunch of beautiful, unsuspecting, high school/college kids? I guess it's less satisfying to watch ugly people get murdered in horrible, horrible ways.

2. Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: You know the drill. All the beautiful kids get together at a party and participate in risqué activities and drunken debauchery, until it's broken up by many of the guests' guts being spilled all over the place.

3. Psycho Killer: There's no slasher film without someone doing the slashing. The psycho killer is usually equipped with some kind of unconventional weapon (chainsaw, blade, axe, etc...) and may possess supernatural abilities, like never, ever, ever dying. Ever.

4. Teenagers Get Killed Off: One by one they fall. If you're sexually active, stupid, ridiculously heroic or a minority, then sorry, you're probably not going to make it. Which leads us into the final rule of a slasher film:

5. Final Girl (aka Survivor Girl)

The final girl of a slasher film is the last woman/girl alive to face the serial killer. To be a final girl, you usually have to have some of the following characteristics:
  • Sexually unavailable or virginal
  • Avoids alcohol/drugs
  • Have a unisex name (Laurie, Sidney, Teddy, Billie, Georgie, etc...)
  • Short hair
  • Spend half of the film terrorized, then overcome your fear through masculinity
  • Become masculinized through "phallic appropriation"
That last one refers to stabbing the psycho killer with some kind of long, pointy object (get it?). Typically, a final girl has quite a few masculine qualities (like the short hair, or the name) and steps into that role when they overcome their fear of the killer and fight back. There are many theories about whether or not slasher films are feminist or anti-feminist, but the best discussion about it that I've seen so far is Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992). Check it out if you have the time.

Examples of Slasher Films

And finally, here's some examples of slashers films:

  • He Knows You're Alone (1980)
  • Dressed to Kill (1980)
  • The Boogeyman (1980)
  • Hell Night (1981)
  • Jagged Edge (1985)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Friday the 13th (1980) - which was notably the most successful horror franchise of the 80s.
And if you're like me and love a good satire, you should check out the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). It's shot mostly in documentary format and follows a film crew who interviews an alleged legendary psycho-killer, and how he keeps up the appearance of the supernatural aspects of the legend. It's a funny film, but also provides a really good insight to the sub-genre of slasher films.

Happy Halloween folks! And if you decide to drink tonight, remember that there's always a chance that you may be murdered by a psychopathic killer.

Music Video Trilogy

I recently watched M83’s last installment to their music video trilogy. Early on  music videos became narrative short films. Now it doesn’t even matter if the song has any direct relation to the story or that the band didn't appear in the video at all. The video became an entity unto itself, a film of its own. Sometimes a story is epic enough to warrant a sequel, and rarer —a trilogy.

M83’s trilogy started with the song “Midnight City”.

In this video we meet a group of children with special telekinetic powers imprisoned in an asylum. However they escape for a short while and live like regular kids until they are recaptured from the authorities and put back in captivity in the second music video installment “Reunion”.
In the final chapter “Wait” the story reaches a new level of abstraction.
I loved this music video trilogy. It placed me in a different world. The shots were breathtaking with the close-ups, landscapes, space travel, nature, etc. The end of the trilogy wasn’t very conclusive but I liked how it left the story open to interpretation.