psychological horrors

All posts tagged psychological horrors

Tense Horror Behind The Door

Published November 23, 2014 by vfdpixie

the door

The Door (2014)

I had first gotten wind of The Door from a tweet on the Fangoria feed.  It piqued my interest, and when I was at Horror-Rama 2014, I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy promoted by its distributor Black Fawn Films.  If you are looking for some interesting psychological horror fare, The Door is a good bet.

Owen is freshly unemployed (I can relate-erk!) and really strapped for cash.  After using his head and saving a Japanese business man from a brutal robbery and beating, he is rewarded by becoming an employee for the business man.  His job?  To watch a door in a large deserted warehouse, 5 nights a week for $500 a night, ensuring that it never opens.  Weird, but seemingly easy, Owen takes on the task with more than a little curiosity.  His night is disrupted by an unexpected delivery and a visit from his tipsy friends that leads to a chaos, psychological terror and destruction that they will never forget.

What this film does is build tension really well.  You begin to question everyone’s motives, and as the madness takes hold of each character, theories get quashed again and again.  There were inklings of romantic tension as well as some possible betrayal that made the storyline interesting, but those inklings were slippery at best.  A couple of really tidy story arcs, however, brought some cleverly thought out closure and made up for that.  The performances were solid, drawing you in enough to want to shake some sense into each member of this sinister Scooby gang until they ran for their lives.

The look of the film was really successful.  The art department and cinematographer managed to maintain a large amount of colour within the dark tone and look of the production.  The lighting, or lack thereof, was very strategic and forced the viewer’s focus to created suspense, and coupled with minimalistic sets, really conveyed a starkness and desperation that made any type of terror experienced all the more intense as the audience searched alongside the characters for an antagonist.  Add the great scoring and sound, and you have a compelling low-budget, indie horror film.

With a decent pace and some great, tense performances, writer and director Patrick McBrearty leaves the viewer wanting a sequel to The Door.  Check it out if you are a fan of psychological horror, because it’s a great addition to our Canadian indie horror roster.

Oculus: Madness and The Mirror

Published April 12, 2014 by vfdpixie

Oculus 2

Oculus (2013, 1 hr, 45 mins)

I am a Mike Flanagan fan.  This is no secret.  I became a fan of this director and writer after I saw his film Absentia at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2011, and was so taken with the unique storyline and minimal but effective production that it has become one of my favourite indie horror to date.  So it is no surprise that I was immediately jazzed when I heard he had come out with another horror film about a haunted mirror. A haunted mirror you ask?  Yes, and Oculus was the equivalent of a nightmarish M.C. Escher painting that kept you guessing at every turn.

Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) are siblings with a sad past.  Their idyllic family life was shattered by the violent deaths of their parents, seemingly fueled by their parents’ deteriorating mental health which left the children fighting for their survival.  After being traumatized by the deaths and institutionalized for 11 years, Tim is released and reunited with his big sister Kaylie, who seems to have her life together after being in foster care.  The reality is that Kaylie has recovered a 300 year old mirror that was in their childhood home which she feels is the cause of their parents deaths.  She wants vengeance and she needs Tim’s help.  With great reluctance, Tim agrees to help Kaylie in a supernatural showdown to destroy this ominous mirror, testing their sanity and determination.

I really liked the reworking of such a morbid subject:  the supernatural demise of a family.  We have seen it done with such classics as The Amityville Horror and The Shining, and Flanagan does a good job making his script fresh enough to keep the audience on edge with an old school horror feel.  He also manages to, once again, cleverly optimize minimalism to his advantage.  With only a few sets and some select special effects, this story was effective without the bells and whistles, but his skill at editing is what made the film for me.  It was perfectly timed and taught, and was key in the story telling as the characters lived almost parallel lives flipping between the past and present.

I was also interested in this film because my sister is adamant about never buying anything antique.  She is a very logical person, but believes that objects, especially wooden ones, hold the energy of past owners or spirits.  When I told her about the premise of this movie, she said “I told you so”, and was down to see it.  This was a good haunted object story, and the mirror itself, sculpted by artist Bruce Larsen, was dark and disturbing; a silent cast member with its own mythology that orchestrated a morbid fairy tale of a modern-day Hansel and Gretel.  I found the “Lasser Glass” intriguing and was hungry for more than what Kaylie offered in her investigations.  I also noted that the childhood home was on Hawthorn Way, and I’m not sure if Flanagan reached to his Irish roots, but the hawthorn tree is kind of unlucky and from what I’ve gathered, cedar, which is what the evil mirror was made of, is a highly spiritual wood that can hold spirits.  If Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard were up on superstitions, they did a good job adding those elements.

The performances were great.  I’ll start with Katee Sackhoff, whom I loved as Starbuck on BSG, loved her even more when she made a guest appearance on Workaholics, and now I just adore her as she has made scream queen status.  Her transformation from doting wife and mother to maniac was uncomfortable and chilling.  Karen Gillan has my heart because of her Dr. Who fame, and it was nice to see her doing something completely different, from her bang on American accent to her obsessive determination, as Kaylie.  And then there is Annalise Basso as young Kaylie and Garret Ryan as young Tim.  They really made you feel for them as they dealt with the disintegration of their family.  Of course I have to make note of the scoring, which I am always aware of and is essential to any good horror film.  The Newton Brothers really set the tone for this creeping terror of a film, with ominous, full-bodied sounds that made hug yourself to get rid of the chill.

Oculus was a refreshing horror film that leaves you wanting more, and making an educated guess, I suspect there will be a sequel (at least I hope there will!).  Go check it out for some lo-fi, high art psychological horror that’s more story than gory.

Call Me Crazy But…Old School Horror and Female Intuition

Published April 10, 2014 by vfdpixie

The last few days, I have been immersed in the psychological horrors of yesterday; films with minimal effects, a touch or two of shlock, a great cast and a largely sound story (most based on best-selling novels).  They have not been, and in my opinion, cannot be duplicated, bringing us creeping uneasiness and self-doubt, but all of them featured a doomed female protagonist.  From The Mephisto Waltz and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death to Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel, these sleek films of the late ’60’s and ’70’s deal with the struggles of female intuition, the feminine voice and sanity.

the mephisto waltz

In The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Paula Clarkson (Jacqueline Bisset) is married to failed concert pianist Myles (Alan Alda), who becomes the object of ailing musician and Satanist Duncan Ely’s (Curt Jurgens) desire.  Duncan wishes to re-incarnate himself into Myles’s young body so he can carry on being a master pianist.  Paula knows there is something amiss, but her instincts are constantly dismissed by friends, colleagues and doctors.  The feeling grows throughout the film until she makes the ultimate sacrifice to be with her possessed husband.

let's scare jessica to death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) brings us the story of Jessica (Zohra Lampert) who has recovered from a recent breakdown.  She moves to the country with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and his buddy Woody (Kevin O’Connor) to live a more peaceful life, but they are met with strange occurrences in the small town surrounding their farm as well as a mysterious guest at their house.  She doubts herself constantly, believing she is still mentally ill, but all the while her instincts were right.

rosemary's baby

Of course we all know the story of Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) knows there is something wrong from the conception of her unborn child to her neighbours and her isolation, but she too suppresses what she feels, believing others when she is labelled silly and emotional, and feels comforted that everyone else knows what’s best for her.  Dominated sexually and socially, she is treated like property by her husband Guy (John Cassevetes), who rents out her womb for Satan in exchange for fame.  Unfortunately, Rosemary realizes her own power and instinct too late in the game.  Cutting her hair, investigating her situation, and trying to plead her case to those in power will not give her the upper hand.  Since she can’t beat her oppressors, she reluctantly joins them.

the sentinel

The Sentinel (1977) brings us yet another intuitive woman in Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) who, despite being independent, modern and wanting to wait to get married, becomes a pawn in a supernatural fight for her soul.  When she experiences the unbelievable and tells the truth, she is medicated, subdued and her sanity is questioned, especially after two suicide attempts in her past.

All of these women have the same experience:  their gut tells them something is wrong.  That “wrong” is shrouded in so-called logical explanations, making them doubt their instincts.  Even though they know something isn’t right, it is because of traditional gender roles and a history of mental illness or fragility that allows the received rational thought of the time to discredit their natural, or preternatural instincts, intuition and experience.  Was this a way for the ruling patriarchy to play out fantasies of repressing the female voice in a time of feminist growth?  Second Wave Feminism (1960’s-late 1980’s) was emerging and questioning the status quo at that time.  What better way to subconsciously criticize women’s rights than to use popular culture to label women as crazy, fragile or silly for thinking outside of the box.  As the heroine feels an uneasiness with her situation, her free will and free thinking is routinely challenged as patriarchal ideologies escalate their self-doubt.  These women are penalized for being emotional, intelligent beings and for witnessing the extraordinary.  There is no “final girl” here, instead these films illustrate a “what if” scenario as supernatural forces (or society) overtake the rights of our heroines, taking a psychological snapshot in time to illustrate the consequences of defying social conventions.  Each woman is either subdued for speaking the truth like Alison and Jessica, or succumb to the pressures of society and their peers like Rosemary and Paula.

One film in particular, The Sentinel (with a star-studded cast including Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon and Jeff Goldblum), blatantly deals with the emerging female voice and sexuality in the era of ‘Women’s Lib’.  Alison wants independence instead of marriage.  She is coping with a persistent fiancé-to-be, the death of her promiscuous father, her suicide attempts, and renewed Catholic faith.  She moves into an old apartment house owned by the Catholic Church where there is an array of odd neighbours, the most interesting being a lesbian couple Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D’Angelo).  Alison is invited to have coffee with them, and when Gerde leaves Alison alone for a moment with Sandra, she is subjected to Sandra’s bizarre display of masturbation.  Alison is shocked and embarrassed, but I think the scene is very important.  To me, it illustrates, in a somewhat heavy-handed way, Alison’s confrontation with her own sexuality as she embarks on a journey to find herself.  Gerde and Sandra represent Alison’s repressed sexuality trying to emerge in some form, becoming distorted as Alison denies that part of herself.  The couple is free to express themselves and this freedom is seen as a perversion, demonizing their lesbian relationship.  Since the house is owned by the church, it is a metaphor for Alison’s traditional beliefs that engulfs her as she tries to be independent.  Despite her efforts to be her own person, Alison is doomed as she is unable to let go of her ingrained traditional beliefs and be true to herself.  She will eventually become a mute and blind servant who no longer has a self or a say in her future.

the entity

As we move into the 1980’s, films like The Entity (1982) give us a more literal representation of woman versus the omnipresent oppressor.  Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother who is tormented and raped by an unseen demonic presence.  She is persuaded to see a therapist who tries to convince her that past trauma is the culprit for her attacks.  When she seeks help from a parapsychology team, her skeptics soon realize a bad childhood may not be the answer.   What is different here is that our heroine fights back and walks away instead of succumbing.  Determined and tenacious, Carla will not let this presence defeat her.   This adaptation of a book based on allegedly true events seems to be one of the earlier films that shows the woman as a bruised victor; carrying on despite her oppressor’s constant presence.

It is great to see how female intuition has evolved since these classic films.  While we still have work to do, women are continually challenging and changing conventional sexual, cultural and political roles in film and reality.  The Descent, Gothika, and The Invasion are great examples of modern psychological horrors featuring women who are strong in their determination and intuition to beat the odds and triumph against evil and those who challenge their sanity (honourable mention goes to the female leads in Doomsday, 28 Days Later and You’re Next for some kick-ass lady power!).  So what have I learned from these films?  I think it is basic.  Horror is a perpetual lesson of how we, especially women, should trust our gut and stick to our guns even in the face of naysayers, slashers and creepy crawlies.  As a woman myself, I can remember countless times when I was told I was too sensitive, or that I was overreacting; that I shouldn’t be so upset or emotional.  All of these observations made me self-conscious and suppress true emotion when my instincts that told me something wasn’t right.  I ended up paying for that in so many ways that now, in my present life, I will never let anyone shame me into hiding my feelings or not trusting my gut.  So the next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, or that you are crazy for what you feel, tell them to get stuffed, stand up for yourself, and carry on.  It might save you from the boogeyman one day…


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