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Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Seven: Psychological Horror

I think this is probably a somewhat intimidating sub-genre, which accounts for the smaller amount of contributions this week. After all, how to define psychological horror, exactly? In a certain sense, almost all horror can be said to be "psychological" in nature, pressing certain buttons in our heads, manipulating us in various ways. Psychological horror certainly bleeds into a lot of other categories, and can take many forms.

Movie-going being a decidedly subjective act, it's interesting to take note of which films certain viewers find to be psychologically focused--which films got inside their heads in particular. Both here and over at Brutal as Hell, there are some interesting choices on display. These are movies which may or not be explicitly horrific in nature, but which all derive much of their power from the games they play with our minds...

B-Sol on Psycho

The year was 1960, and change was in the air for horror films, as it was for the movie business in general. The first shot would be fired by one of the business' most established and respected directors, Alfred Hitchcock, whose seminal suspense flick set a standard that would be a sign of things to come. Here, it was not some outlandish monster, but the guy next door who was the instrument of terror. It was not some baroque fantasy world in which the action was set, but the very real world in which we lived. This would become a hallmark of the modern horror movie.

No other decade has such a single dominant horror character as the 1960s does with Norman Bates, Robert Bloch's amazing Ed Gein-inspired creation. Bernard Hermann's composition adds so much--it is not just a film score, it is the film score. Janet Leigh was nominated for an Oscar, and Anthony Perkins should've been. With one of the most well-known climaxes in film history, it still packs a hell of a punch. The reason: absolutely breathtaking film-making. It gets no better.

It's become a film school standby, and one of the most revered films ever made--and it's not even Hitchcock's best. A true master of the medium, Hitch dazzles effortlessly with gorgeous composition and a pacing rhythm that gives you no choice but to watch.

From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on Eraserhead

“Psychological horror” certainly seems to be an interesting phrase. When you think about it, shouldn’t all horror films technically qualify as psychological? As a fellow blogger recently pointed out to me in a paraphrased quote from Douglas E. Winter, horror is not a genre, it is an emotion. At times it appears some people forget that. They think that severed heads and furry monsters in a movie instantly qualify it as a “horror film.” But what about the emotion of horror? When does it ever leap from the screen and attack our most vulnerable spot, the fears within our own minds? In my mind, there is no film that has evoked this type of sensation in me more brilliantly than Eraserhead.

Essentially plotless, the film follows the exploits of a bloke named Henry, a factory worker off on vacation in a post-apocalyptic world, who must now cope with the presence of a mutated child in his life and the ever-promising words of the lyrical Lady in the Radiator. Does that make sense to you? The point is that it doesn’t. Eraserhead works with a sense of dream logic that is at first befuddling and mystifying all at the same time. Things happen just because they can and that’s all there is to it. This film is one of the prime examples of the closest thing to a genuine nightmare being filmed on celluloid. There are countless images and sequences that will play in your head days after viewing this. They’ll leave their mark burned in your brain, ringing in your head like the squelching cries of Henry’s hideous child-thing.

The chicken dinner scene, the dream sequence in which Henry’s cranium is taken to a pencil factory, the cadaverous man turning the rusting gears, and the slimy sperm-like creatures that constantly slither across the screen are just some of the horrors that one is to witness during a viewing of this film. I’ve attributed watching this film to riding a carousel of the damned, the trip leaving you with a dizzying and warped sense of your surroundings. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but there’s no doubt that Eraserhead won’t get into your head and make you feel at least a little uncomfortable. But underneath all the grime and dirt, there are hints of true beauty. It’s a testament to David Lynch’s power as a filmmaker to make things so vile and disgusting appear attractive on more than one occasion.

Poetic, surreal, disturbing, and even blackly humorous at times, Eraserhead is a unique viewing experience. It’s certainly not for all tastes. It may inspire deep thinking, provoke nervous giggles, or just stupefy the viewer into a shocked silence. No matter what the reaction, Eraserhead is sure to wield its warped magic over you, leaving you shaken one way or the other. It’s best to watch this film alone, without the comfort of loved and close ones. Eraserhead will alienate you and make you feel like you’re a lone being in the vast, cold, and dark recesses of the most hellish regions of space. What more incentive do you need to watch this film than that?

Day of the Woman's BJ-C on Hard Candy

If Dateline NBC has taught us anything, it's that the world is swimming in a sea of pedophiles who get their rocks off in online chatrooms with pre-teens and children. If horror films have taught us anything, it's that 14-year-old girls can exact their revenge and bring on one hell of a firestorm of psychological torture. Witness the ever creepy and forever chilling psychological thrill-ride Hard Candy.

Hard Candy is the story of a 14-year-old girl named Hayley Stark who meets a 30-something photographer named Jeff in an online chat room. The two agree to meet up in public, despite the age difference, as the two were casually flirting before. What starts off as a tale of a man with a Lolita complex and a 14-year-old girl caught up in something she shouldn't be, takes a twisted and torturous turn. A cat-and-mouse game as insane as it is beautiful, Hard Candy delivers a provocative take on the horrifying concept of revenge, and keeps audiences on the edges of their seats.

I will spare the details for anyone who has yet to see the film, but it is by far one of the more demented films I have witnessed, and shows that Ellen Page can play much more than sharp tongued teenagers. As the story begins to unfold, it becomes ever so obvious that 14-year-old Hayley Stark isn't going to be taken advantage of by a man twice her age, not by a long shot. There is a scene that throws any man for a loop for about 20 minutes, and convinces the audience of his inevitable demise... and she never even touches him. While the good ol' days may be famous for keeping their audiences in a tizzy, Hard Candy shows that the psychological horror sub-genre is still thriving.

* * * * * * * * * *

Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires

Join us next week, when it's back to some good old fashioned monsters, with the finest in werewolf cinema!


Theron said...

With Psycho, Hitchcock was at the top of his very formidable game. Here, Hitch merged art film and genre film in an audacious display of bravura moviemaking. He perfectly controlled every element to produce a flick that's still as cool and beautiful as, well, a Hitchcock blonde...

Marc Patterson said...

I find it interesting that in a blind pick there were a total of three of us this week that chose Eraserhead as our favorite psychological horror flick.

Psycho was up there on my list, but I have always thought of Psycho as the blueprint to the modern day slasher, though it certainly fits the billing for a psychological thriller quite well.

Another top pick, which I could have easily made my pick was Roman Polanski's Repulsion. But it just doesn't quite top the effect that Eraserhead has had on me over the years - and when it comes to a favorite - you have to go with the one that has really had the greatest impact. I'm glad to see I'm not alone on that one.

Erin said...

Glad to see Eraserhead recognized as a scary, scary movie. For me it's so psychological that I get scared just thinking about the movie. I have not seen it in at least 10 years but the creepiness is instantly accessible in my memory.

B-Sol said...

Eraserhead definitely struck a chord with a lot of people. I'd also agree that Repulsion is another excellent choice--I was seriously considering that one.

Brandon Sites said...

Eraserhead, been meaning to check that out. One of those films I have been meaning to watch ever since I was a kid. Hopefully, I'll watch it sometime this year (only took me about 20 years to get around to it, LOL)?!?

If it was my pick, I would go with 1973's Sisters from Brian De Palma. That film still manages to keep me on razors edge every time I watch it. Usually I don't shell out more then $20 for a DVD, but I went ahead and forked over the $33 for that movie when it came out.

Anonymous said...

I have never actually watched Eraserhead all the way through, but what I've seen is so freakin' weird that, quite honestly, I'm a little leary of watching it...and this from someone who's can watch someone be disembowled in a film and go "Cool! Did Savini work on that?" But Eraserhead? That's a horse of a different color. I would include "Freaks" as a psychological horror film. There is no gore, but we are completely unsettled by what we see. And how the "freaks" exact their revenge...the images of the people going after the woman in the pouring rain and mud...truly disturbing.
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

B-Sol said...

Freaks probably would've been my second choice.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

I'm going to say something really unpopular right now: I hate David Lynch. I kind of hope he falls off the face of the Earth. And Eraserhead, while definitely disturbing and effective in many ways, reads like a bunch of bullshit to me. (Again, I am aware this is a super unpopular opinion.) I always do wonder, if he were to give up creative control to a person like Guy Madden, I think his films would be worth something then, so I can admit there's something there--just not accomplished.

Hard Candy, however, is a fucking rip-roaring good time. Way to go, BJ-C.

And... uh... duh... to Psycho.

B-Sol said...

Ha! Hmmm...over-obvious choice, you think? Oh well, not so this week with my werewolf pick :-)

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