What We’re Watching – Horror Edition #4
Brandi Sperry: It is getting to the end of the month, and that time when, after weeks of gorging, a horror fan might either be looking to circle back around to the must-watch-every-year classics, or get a little out there and outside the box. In My Skin (2002), a disturbing French film from writer/director Marina de Van, could easily be classified as outside the confines of horror. It is not meant to be “scary.” But the sense of apprehension in the viewer that it evokes, the atmosphere of psychological instability, and the sheer, gory ickiness of it, to me, provide so many of the trademark sensations that many horror films do that I can’t help but think of it that way.
De Van also stars in the film, as Esther, a woman of about thirty who seems to be on the verge of that “next stage” of adulthood. Things are going well at work, and a big promotion is on the horizon. She and her boyfriend are ready to move in together, and looking at places. All the steps one is supposed to take are presenting themselves to her. But, in life, sometimes the simplest thing can send everything careening off course.
Out with friends one night at a party, having drinks, Esther falls in the backyard where some sort of construction work is being done. She doesn’t notice how badly she has cut her leg, until startling herself later with the ominous trail of blood she leaves on a white carpet. Later, the doctor who does her stitches is incredibly perplexed by how she couldn’t have felt how badly she’d been hurt. This simple mystery sets off something inside Esther, triggering a curiosity over what pain her body can handle that quickly turns obsessive, and devolves into self-destruction of the most look-away-from-the-screen-oh-my-sweet-lord kind. It is nasty, people.
You can watch this film as a sort of postmodern identity crisis tale about the deconstruction of self (um, literally), or as a riff on the torture aspect of the horror genre, and get something out of it either way (I hesitate to use the word “enjoy,” because…yeah. Her skin). However you view it, it’s a well-made indie that had me thinking, and I’m curious to explore more of de Van’s work.
Adelaide Blair: Not too long ago while watching John Carpenter’s newest film The Ward, I noticed that the movie they were playing in one of the scenes seemed kind of interesting. I looked it up and it is Tormented (1960), directed by prolific B-movie writer/director/producer Bert I. Gordon. I’m not a huge fan of his—Empire of The Ants is painful at best—but I have a weakness for 1960s B-horror films, so I thought I would give it a try. I put the film in my Netflix queue and then promptly forgot about it because it always had a status of “Short wait.” Turns out I own it, as I discovered while rifling through my Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection. Duh.
Tormented starts off in a lighthouse where jazz pianist Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is informing his ex-girlfriend Vi (Juli Reding) that he is serious about fiancée Meg. Vi responds that no one will ever love him like she does and that he only likes Meg’s money. They engage in a little physical tussle and she, through no fault of Tom’s, ends up hanging from the lighthouse by one hand. He has the opportunity to save her, but does not, and instead lets her fall to her death. Soon he begins to see signs that not even death will thwart her desire for him. Her jewelry appears in strange places, Meg’s wedding dress gets covered in seaweed, and Vi’s disembodied head taunts him repeatedly. Soon, Tom is questioning his own sanity, dealing with a blackmailer, and having other people notice that there is some weird shit going down on the island. As he keeps having to clean up after this mess, things spiral further and further out of control.
This movie is a classic cheesy B-film: low budget, passable-to-bad acting, laughable special effects, and a serviceable script. But, it’s got a little something extra that elevates it beyond simple campy fun (and there is nothing wrong with simple campy fun). The final scene of this movie is actually pretty chilling. Tom starts out as a weak man; he didn’t do anything to prevent Vi from falling and it’s fairly obvious she was right about they enjoyment he receives from his fiancée’s money. (He denies to himself that he did anything wrong by letting Vi fall.) As the story plays out, he must resort to ever-escalating acts of violence to cover up what he has done. By the end of the movie, he has moved from weak to evil, and as we watch him contemplate murdering someone close to him, it’s a bit of a shock when he acts on it. This is by no means a great movie, but it’s a lot better than it ought to have been and hella fun to watch.
Allen Almachar: William Friedkin’s claustrophic psychological horror film Bug (2006) came as a complete surprise to me. I was not expecting to enjoy it, but after it was over I came to the conclusion that this is a very underrated horror movie that deserves more praise. Ashley Judd gives a standout performance as a lonely woman trying to move on from her past and find some kind of purpose to keep going forward. She finds that in the companionship of a military veteran played by Michael Shannon. Together, the two create a world of their own, as they quickly realize that their hotel room has become infested by microscopic insects that have burrowed into their skin. Slowly but surely, the two become unraveled in their desperation and paranoia, highlighted by a tour de force scene featuring Judd’s character trying to fit all the conspiracies together. It’s a slow burn, but by the end we find ourselves trapped inside an insane asylum without realizing how we got in. Harry Connick, Jr. provides a supporting role.