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206. se7en – Halloween 2020 (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Doctor Bernice Murphy and Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This week and next week, we are taking a break from our Summer of Scorsese for a Halloween treat. David Fincher’s se7en.

Detective William Somerset is seven days away from retirement, and has just been partnered with a new arrival from outside the city. Detective David Mills has yet to fully adjust to the rules of the urban landscape. However, Somerset’s plans to retire are undercut after a pair of strange deaths point to something sinister simmering below the surface of the city.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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50. The Thing – Halloween 2017 (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Halloween treat. John Carpenter’s The Thing.

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It Follows the Rules – Horror Movies and “the Rules”

As with all cinema, horror movies tend to reflect the era in which they were created.

There are any number of obvious examples. The b-movie horrors of the fifties fixated on atomic horrors as an expression of anxiety of the development of the nuclear bomb and fears about science gone mad. The haunted house became a fixture of horror in the seventies owing to economic uncertainty, while the zombie became a reflection of unchecked mindless consumerism. The late eighties gave way to body horror as the AIDS virus became an international crisis. In the nineties, knowing irony seemed to take over.

itfollows3

Even in the first couple of years of the twenty-first century, the genre came to be dominated by supernatural monsters and found footage. Found footage offered a more grounded and realistic depiction of terror, reflecting the footage of real-life horrors captured on camcorders and mobile telephones for broadcast on the evening news. This dependence on found footage seemed to represent a logical extension of the ironic postmodernism of the nineties, a fear that the real world and the world of the horror were overlapping.

Indeed, it is quite easy to draw parallels between the War on Terror and the horror movies of the early twenty-first century. The found footage style recalls the images of 9/11 captured by citizen journalists and imprinted upon the public consciousness. The emphasis on torture in franchises like Saw and Hostel reflects contemporary political debates about how best to face the future. The renewed emphasis on foreign countries as inherently hostile in horrors like Hostel, The Ruins and Touristas.

Still waters...

Recent horror movies have seen a bit of a shift away from those kinds of themes and stories, although there are still traces to be found; The Shallows is very much an “American tourist in hostile territory” film while The Girl With All the Gifts looks to be a clever twist on the zombie genre that is still going strong following a millennial resurgence. Still, recent years have seen modern horror become increasingly nostalgic and old-fashioned, a trend best demonstrated by the horrors produced by James Wan like The Conjuring.

However, there is something else interesting happening in the background. Perhaps an extension of the same postmodern irony thread threaded through late nineties films like Scream and then evolving into the blurred fiction of found footage, modern horror films seem increasingly fixated on the idea of the “rules.” more and more, it seems like horror films insist upon their monsters conforming to an internal logic that the protagonists and audience can deduce (and exploit) through observation and experimentation.

lightsout

Note: This post includes spoilers for It Follows and Lights Out. If you haven’t seen them yet, consider yourself warned.

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Non-Review Review: Annabelle

Annabelle certainly looks pretty. Not the doll, of course. The doll looks like the children’s toy version of Jack Nicholson. There is something immediately and effectively intense about the figure at the centre of this horror spin-off, to the point where it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting the toy in their home in the first place. To paraphrase Stephen King’s criticism of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, it is not a question of if this doll will start killing people, but when.

However, the production design on Annabelle is quite striking. It very much a period horror film in the way that The Conjuring was a period horror film. This time, we are visiting the sixties rather than the seventies. There are lots of bright colours and stylish clothes, and the film works hard to capture the mood and aesthetic of the era – or, at the very least, the era as we remember it. Annabelle feels like a horror film effectively riding the waves of sixties nostalgia that has rocked popular culture in recent years.

Well, it'll never be a collector's item now...

Well, it’ll never be a collector’s item now…

Sadly, Annabelle is not pretty enough to distract from its rather fundamental problems. Its script has some good ideas, but no real idea what to do with them. So, instead, it falls back on a kitchen sink approach to modern horror. The script for Annabelle is a collection of sequences and stock elements copied wholesale from recent films like Insideous or Sinister or The Conjuring. While those films did not necessarily have fresh scares, they were blowing the dust off some very classic horror movie tropes.

Here, it feels almost like reheated leftovers.

A doll's house...

A doll’s house…

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The Silicon Chip Inside Her Head Gets Switched to Overload: On-Screen Mania and Off-Screen Motives….

And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was good as gold
And he can see no reasons
‘Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be show-ow-ow-ow-own?

I Don’t Like Mondays, The Boom Town Rats

I have to admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for cheesy horror films. Not necessarily all of them, as there’s a lot of dross out there, but I have to admit that there’s nothing like a well-constructed scary movies. I was watching Scream again, this time with my gran in preparation for Halloween, and I enjoyed it yet again – I think it’s a fascinatingly clever look at the slasher genre, and a movie which is as relevent today as it was when it was released, untouched and unspoilt by the wave of inferior imitations that we’ve seen in the years since. There’s a line towards the climax of the film which got me thinking about these sorts of films, and how they’re scary. Asked to provide a motive, the killer responds, “Did we ever find out why Hannibal Lector liked to eat people? Don’t think so! See, it’s a lot scarier when there’s no motive.” Is the unknowable that much scarier?

Psyche!

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Scary Monsters and Super Freaks…

D’you know what would have been scarier than nothing?

What?

Anything!

– Bart and Lisa discuss Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, The Simpsons

The week before last, in reviewing Insidious, I made the observation that director James Wan made the mistake of “showing too much” in his horror film, and that movie itself suffered because it didn’t show any restraint in how it handled its creatures and monsters. The always wonderful Justin, in fairness, called me on my assertion correctly – who ever stated it was a rule that horror films can show too much? Surely it’s possible to show as much of something as you might want, provided you have enough talent and skill to do it well? Surely showing too much only becomes a problem when you aren’t skilled enough to deliver something genuinely terrifying?

Or is it something more primal? Is what you don’t see scarier?

Do I have a point?

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When Was the Last Time a Horror Film Gave You Nightmares?

We had a family outing at the weekend. We all went to see The Last Exorcism, on the recommendation of my gran. We were pretty much all disappointed, but to different degrees. Anyway, as we sat around the kitchen table at midnight, discussing the film, my gran and my aunt conceded that whenever they typically saw a film about demons, they had trouble sleeping – even the camp horror of The Devil Rides Through or the courtroom-focused drama of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. However, neither would have any real trouble sleeping that night (and, the following morning, both seemed perfectly rested). So it got me thinking, perhaps the perfect measure of a horror movie’s effectiveness is how afraid it makes you as you lay yourself down to rest. So, when was the last time you had trouble sleeping?

A stab in the dark...

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Have We Stopped Making Children’s Films For Children?

The three biggest children’s films under discussion at the moment are Pixar’s Up, Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. These three films have generated a debate about who exactly family entertainment should be aimed at, and whether are not there are themes (rather than content) which should be taboo for films that would appear to be aimed at children. More importantly, these three films have sparked a flurry of complaints or criticisms from adults who claim they are far too mature for younger audiences. So, are we really only making these films for big kids?

Watch out, here comes the Politically-Correct-allo!

Watch out, here comes the Politically-Correct-allo!

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