Wednesday, September 29, 2010
6WH: Slasher Statistics
There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex. BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. The sin factor! It's a sin. It's an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, "I'll be right back." Because you won't be back. -- Randy (Scream, 1996)The slasher film is an unusual beast. It's often criticized for its lack of originality, simplistic premises, repetitive nature, and strict adherence to formula. Of course, it's often praised for such qualities as well. For fans of the slasher, watching a new film that follows the formula is like eating comfort food.
Ahhh, horror comfort food. Watching an '80s bodycount film, I find, is relaxing. You kinda know what's going to happen and all of the characters act in predictable ways, but that's why it's like putting a sweater on on a chilly day.The funny thing about this is that the so-called formula isn't exactly precise. I've written about genres in general before:
A genre is typically defined as a category of artistic expression marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. However, anyone who is familiar with genre film or literature knows that there are plenty of movies or books that are difficult to categorize. As such, specific genres such as horror, sci-fi, or comedy are actually quite inclusive. Some genres, Drama in particular, are incredibly broad and are often accompanied by the conventions of other genres (we call such pieces "cross-genre," though I think you could argue that almost everything incorporates "Drama"). The point here is that there is often a blurry line between what constitutes one genre from another.As such, it's usually easy to spot a Slasher flick, even if there are lots of traits that are uncommon or unique. That being said, there are a number of characteristics common to a lot of slasher films:
So to me, the "true" slasher film was made between the years of 1978 and 1996, with the primary concentration being in the early 80s. Sure, there were a ton of influential films made before 1978 that featured or established important tropes, but none of those films even approached the success of Halloween and it's imitators. Similarly, films made after Scream were forced to acknowledge the tropes and conventions of the sub-genre, and thus they shouldn't really count.
In 1992, Carol Clover coined the term Final Girl to describe the lone surviving character at the end of slasher films, and a new controversy was born. Because of its seemingly rigid conventions, the slasher film is ripe for post-modern interpretations and deconstructions, and it's easy to get carried away with such things. Clover started a more academic discussion of the sub-genre, and it's continued for the past 18 years. The discussion has mostly revolved around the role of women in these films, with the general contention being that more women are killed than men, and in a more graphic way. There have been papers arguing one way or the other, and as you might expect, none are particularly definitive.
Which brings me to a relatively recent scholarly article, Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of Violence (.pdf). Published in 2009, the article summarizes the existing arguments and, more notably, attempts to do a pretty thorough quantitative analysis of 50 slasher films.
The article is detailed and thorough enough that it would be of interest to any fans of the genre, even if it's possible to nitpick a number of details in their methodology. Given what I wrote about above, I think you can see where my nitpicking was focused. In particular, I was baffled by the film sample list (see page 11).
Earlier in the article, the authors discuss previous efforts, and dismiss them for various reasons. One of the previous articles is criticized for a small sample size - which is a pretty legitimate criticism. Another is criticized because it selected films by commercial success:
The sample size in the Molitor and Sapolsky (1993) study is adequate; however the decision to sample the most commercially successful films may raise problems with sample bias and interpretation of the findings (Molitor & Sapolsky, 1993; Sapolsky et al., 2003). Films featuring frequent presentations of extremely graphic violence may appeal to a smaller audience, generating lower box office revenues. Thus, the findings in the existing research may not reflect the true nature of violent presentations characteristic of the slasher subgenre.This I find less valid, especially given the author's concerns surrounding the impact of slasher films on society. If a film is not commercially successful, it is less influential, almost by definition.
All that being said, the authors came up with a new methodology which involved using IMDB's power search capabilities. To my mind, their new methodology is probably just as problematic as previous studies. Their definition of the slasher sub-genre seems a bit broad, and as such, some of the films chosen as part of their study are questionable at best. For one thing, they include several pre-Halloween films and several post-Scream films, which dilutes the sample. Indeed, some of the films are arguably not even slashers. For instance, the inclusion of two Saw films seems like a bit of a stretch. It is true that Saw leverages some similar tropes, but it's also one of the defining films in a different sub-genre - the "Torture Porn" film. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but I can't imagine anyone jumping to Saw when asked to think of a slasher film.
The lack of any sort of measurement of influence is another issue. This is a more general problem, but it impacts this study in particular due to the random nature of the sample collection. For instance, there is no way that a movie like Cherry Falls should be used as a representative member of the slasher sub-genre. A study that focuses on commercial success of a film (i.e. box office and home video sales) would never have included that film.
Ultimately, these complaints amount to nitpicks. Even with these flaws, some of the study's conclusions are still interesting:
Contrary to the findings reported in previous research, the current analysis suggests that there are several differences in the nature of violent presentations involving male and female characters. Male characters in slasher horror films are more likely to experience relatively quick, graphic, and serious acts of violence. Comparatively, female characters are more likely to be victims of less serious and less graphic forms of violence, such as stalking or confinement, with increased cinematic focus on depicting close-up states of prolonged terror. Women in slasher films are also more likely to be featured in scenes involving sexual content. Specifically, female characters are far more likely to be featured as partially or fully naked and, when sexual and violent images are concomitantly present, the film’s antagonist is significantly more likely to attack a woman.This is ultimately not all that surprising, though I do wonder about a few things. For instance, since the Final Girl is a common convention, and since the final battle with the killer is likely to last a lot longer than earlier murders, it would make sense that the violence against women characters is less serious, but prolonged. I suppose one could also argue about the inclusion of non-physical violence as violence, which could get a bit hairy. The stats surrounding nudity and sex are also interesting, though I wonder how they would compare against other film genres (action films, for instance). The study presents the slasher as some sort of outlier, but I don't know if that's the case (not that it would excuse anything). I don't know that any of these correlations can be tied to a causation, but it's interesting nonetheless.
It's an interesting article, and well worth a read for anyone interested in the sub-genre. Thanks to And Now the Screaming Starts for the pointer and stay tuned for the next installment of the Six Weeks of Halloween movie marathon. That's all for now, but don't worry, I'll be right back!
1 I'm particularly fascinated by pre-slasher films, of which there are many. Psycho, Peeping Tom, Blood and Black Lace (and other Giallos), Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas, Silent Night, Bloody Night, Alice Sweet Alice, The Hills Have Eyes, and so on. Even some older films nor normally associated with slashers presage the idea, like Thirteen Women or And Then There Were None.
2 In particular, April Fool's Day and Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, both released in 1986, began to recognize the conventions of the genre and started the self-awareness trend that would culminate in Craven's Scream. There are probably lots of other good slashers made during this 1986-1996 corridor, but the slasher film was seriously on the decline at that point.
3 It might be a bit insulting to Film Noir, but there are some parallels here. Critics basically defined the film noir after the fact and once that definition became popular, all new films that featured noir-like characteristics became known as neo-noir. Of course, this is not a perfect parallel, but there is a similarity here. Once people self-consciously started making noir films, they lost a certain quality, and the same is probably true for the slasher, and in particular, films like Scream and those that followed.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
6WH: Week 2 - Sixties Horror
At first, I didn't think I'd have a recognizable theme this week, but then I realized that these three films were all made in the 1960s (even though one is probably more of a thriller than a horror film, I'm going to let it slide, especially since it does feature several horror hallmarks). So here we go:
Update: Yeah, I should probably mention some other folks doing some horror movie blogging as well. Ben has been infected by my efforts and inspired to watch some horror in preparation for the season (this time, he's going for underwater horror), and of course, kernunrex continues his yearly marathon (which had originally inspired me in the first place). I haven't looked around a ton, but I'm sure lots more folks will be starting up once we reach October...
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Professor David Huxley's Laborious, Licentious Spotted-Leopard Labor Day Film Quiz
I'm a few weeks late to the party, but Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another movie quiz. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to Professor Huxley:
1) Classic film you most want to experience that has so far eluded you.
The last film quiz had a similar question... and sadly, I still have not watched The Apartment. I don't really have a good excuse for this one either.
2) Greatest Criterion DVD/Blu-ray release ever
This is a difficult question, seeing as though I've probably only seen somewhere around 10% of the movies in the Criterion Collection (and many of the ones I have seen haven't necessarily been the Criterion version), but the first thing that came to mind was the Ultimate Three-Disc Special Edition Box Set of Brazil. I think a big part of this is that, at the time, Criterion was the only company putting out DVD releases this thorough, and this one blew me away. It featured two versions of the film - Gilliam's directors cut and the "Love Conquers All" version - and an exhaustive series of special features chronicling the film's production and the studio meddling with the US release that ultimately lead to the creation of a new version of the film that had a happy ending. This sort of treatment isn't that unusual today, but back then, it was, and it was all the more notable because it was created in service of a relatively obscure cult film.
3) The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon?
I had to rub my eyes for a second because these questions asking us to pick between two movies (or actors/actresses) usually feature at least one option that I'm not at all familiar with. In this case, I've actually seen both films (it's been a few years, but I've definitely seen both)... yet I'm still having trouble picking. For now, I'll say The Big Sleep, though it's not like I have anything against The Maltese Falcon.
4) Jason Bateman or Paul Rudd?
Wow, two in a row where I know what you're asking about. It's another tough one, but for now I'll have to go with Paul Rudd, though Bateman has been coming on strong lately.
5) Best mother/child (male or female) movie star combo
The only thing I could really come up with here is Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, which appears to be a pretty common (i.e. boring) answer to this question...
6) Who are the Robert Mitchums and Ida Lupinos among working movie actors? Do modern parallels to such masculine and no-nonsense feminine stars even exist? If not, why not?
I'm at a bit of a loss here. I'm no expert on his filmography, but it's not like Mitchum was surrounded by contemporaries who did what he did, and I can't really think of anyone working today that comes close either. The closest I can come is Clint Eastwood, but he's still quite a bit different (interestingly, I was wondering the other day if any younger actors could fill Eastwood's type of role these days?). I have to admit that I'm not at all familiar with Ida Lupino, but when it comes to no-nonsense actresses, someone in the comments of the SLIFR thread mentioned Christina Hendricks. I guess that's cheating, though, as she's more of a TV star. No-nonsense characters seem to be less common these days though, so perhaps that could account for the lack of actors taking on that sort of role (or being type-cast as that sort of character).
7) Favorite Preston Sturges movie
The Lady Eve (these questions are easy when you've only seen one film in a director's filmography!).
8) Odette Yustman or Mary Elizabeth Winstead?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as she's been in a lot of decent movies already (and not so decent movies that I don't really mind). The most notably thing Odette Yustman has been in for me is Fallout 3, where she did voice acting for the Overseer's daughter (she shot me down).
9) Is there a movie that if you found out a partner or love interest loved (or didn't love) would qualify as a Relationship Deal Breaker?
I always find stories about this amusing, but I can't think of a single film that would ever provoke this kind of reaction in me. Perhaps if I hated every film she liked, there might be a problem, but in that case, I suspect it would really just be symptomatic of deeper problems.
10) Favorite DVD commentary
The tricky part about commentaries is that the best commentaries are usually done for bad movies. There's no pressure to defend poor choices or mistakes, and thus the filmmakers tend to be a little more comfortable and honest about the production. The biggest problem with this is that you actually have to watch bad movies in order to get to these types of commentaries. For instance, I've heard that Joel Schumacher's commentary for Batman & Robin is fantastic because he doesn't really hold back and openly admits mistakes and problems with the production. I have not heard the entire commentary, but I saw a clip once where he admitted to redesigning the batmobile in order to sell more toys (or some such). That's not my answer though - my pick would be Kevin Smith's (and the rest of the cast's) commentary on Mallrats. All of Smith's commentaries are entertaining, but the failure of this movie at the box office adds that extra dimension that can make a commentary great. You get lots of moments between friends, like when Smith and others berate Affleck for liking Malcolm in the Middle, but you also get stories about how the marketing failed the movie and how studio execs convinced Smith to tone down some of his more raunchy humor. It's excellent stuff. (I'd love to see a commentary on Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but Smith was apparently so distraught at some of the behind the scenes wranglings that he didn't want to do one - hopefully once he gets some time and movies behind him, he can revisit this...)
11) Movies most recently seen on DVD, Blu-ray and theatrically
On DVD, it was Don't Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci's disturbing Giallo (part of my 6WH horror movie marathon). It was a decent film with a few standout sequences, but it doesn't really compare to the top tier of Giallos.
On Blu-Ray, it was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a self-aware, neo-slasher mock-documentary. It features some interesting components and puts a name to the many conventions of the genre, though the only really new terminology that's coined is the concept of an "Ahab" (basically, in the context of slashers, the primary example of an Ahab would be Dr. Loomis from the Halloween films). Ultimately it's not a great film, but it was an entertaining enough watch.
In theaters, it was The Town, Ben Affleck's surprisingly strong sophomore effort as director. It's not going to win awards like Gone Baby Gone, but it's still a solid film. I wish more films like this were made and I'd be more than happy if Affleck spent the rest of his career putting out little crime thrillers set in Boston.
12) Dirk Bogarde or Alan Bates?
Ah, there we go! I'm not especially familiar with either of these actors, but I guess I'd give it to Alan Bates, as I've actually seen a few of his movies.
13) Favorite DVD extra
Well, I've already given two of my favorite examples (the Behind the Scenes documentaries about Brazil and the Love Conquers All version of the film, and Kevin Smith's commentary for Mallrats...) so I'm having trouble picking another favorite. Kevin Smith does have some other great special features, like the (seemingly) 2 hours of deleted scenes (with introductions) from Dogma. There are some interesting making-of documentaries on my copy of The Terminator and The Thing. Alien and Aliens also have pretty good special features. But now we're just getting into movies I like! Someone in the comments at SLIFR mentioned the Fruity Oaty Bars feature from Serenity, which I find funny (both because it warranted a special feature on the DVD and because someone actually picked it as their favorite extra). In a more general sense, my favorite extra feature is a commentary track (especially if done well!)
14) Brian De Palma’s Scarface— yes or no?
Yes. Though I certainly don't get the absolute worship the film receives, it is a reasonably well done movie.
15) Best comic moment from a horror film that is not a horror comedy (Young Frankenstein, Love At First Bite, et al.)
The answer here is obviously from Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. I'll chose the title sequence where the camera zooms into Jason's eye, where you then see Jason sashay accross the screen, James Bond style, and swing his trusty machete, filling the screen with blood that eventually spells out the title. I laughed for a solid ten minutes when I revisited the film recently, not remembering that this film was so self-aware. There are several other choices in the film, such as a couple's attempt to bribe Jason with an American Express card, the fact that one of the children in the camp is reading Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, and the way Jason holds a dismembered arm and cocks his head, as if thinking "Huh, his arm came off. Will wonders never cease." I suppose you could make an argument that this movie is a horror comedy, but most of the film retains the typical, earnest slasher movie style, so I think it counts (and there are a few legitimately creepifying moments, though maybe that's just nostalgic remnants of my childhood poking through). There are actually a bunch of other movies I considered for this, including Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive, Re-Animator, Tremors, and An American Werewolf in London (though again, you might consider at least some of those to be horror/comedies)...
16) Jane Birkin or Edwige Fenech?
I got nothing.
17) Favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
I have to admit that I'm not a particularly huge Wong Kar-wai fan, so I've not seen a lot of his films. Of the ones I've seen, I'd say In the Mood for Love, which does have a legitimately interesting premise.
18) Best horrific moment from a comedy that is not a horror comedy
This one was a lot harder than question 15... Does Raising Arizona count as a comedy? I remember finding The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse a bit creepy when I was younger... I guess another option would be the end of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
19) From 2010, a specific example of what movies are doing right
I loved Inception and hope its success augurs for more of the same. Even if it's just a few new movies that are not based on existing properties, I think that'd be a win. I'm not tremendously confident of that, but it'd be nice. Another thing that seems to be going well is the concept of digital distribution. I've caught a few movies on IFC On Demand, which means that I can watch some of those hard to find movies without even leaving home (even if it's playing in Philly, this means I can avoid the traffic and the parking, etc...)
20) Ryan Reynolds or Chris Evans?
Hey, two more people I know. This must be a record. Anyway, I guess I'd probably go with Chris Evans, as he seems to make more interesting choices.
21) Speculate about the future of online film writing. What’s next?
I'm not sure. Everything seems to be getting smaller. Perhaps film critics who post exclusively on twitter or some other sort of micro-blogging format. Or the other direction: the return of long-form film criticism. Ultimately, I don't think much will change. Old school outlets and criticism will continue to lose ground to the seemingly endless throngs of online critics who work for peanuts (if that).
22) Roger Livesey or David Farrar?
Filmspotting has been doing a Powell-Pressburger marathon, and so they've been talking about these two guys... but I haven't seen either of them, so I can't really pick.
23) Best father/child (male or female) movie star combo
The first that comes to mind is Kirk and Michael Douglas, which I guess is a boring answer, but the only others I can think of are also boring. Given my answer to the mother/child question, I suppose I could also go with Tony Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, just for the sake of symmetry.
24) Favorite Freddie Francis movie (as Director)
Not tremendously familiar with his work, but I guess I'll go with Tales from the Crypt. He seems to have a more impressive resume as a cinematographer than as a director.
25) Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth?
Seeing as though I've only seen one of these, I've got Bringing Up Baby by default.
26) Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig?
I guess I'll go with Tina Fey on this one, though I do really like both (Wiig, for instance, was the best part of Knocked Up, and she was only in it for about a minute or so).
27) Name a stylistically important director and the best film that would have never been made without his/her influence.
What started with John Ford westerns moved to Akira Kurosawa samurai films and then back to the westerns with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. If I have to pick my favorite spaghetti western, it would be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but the entire sub-genre owes a debt to what came before.
28) Movie you’d most enjoy seeing remade and transplanted to a different culture (i.e. Yimou Zhang’s A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.)
I was going to think of an answer for this, but then I saw Patrick's answer at SLIFR: "I'd love to see what Hayao Miyazaki would do with the Wizard of Oz."
29) Link to a picture/frame grab of a movie image that for you best illustrates bliss. Elaborate.
I had a surprisingly hard time with this. The first shot that came to mind was the end of It's a Wonderful Life. On the other end of the spectrum, I also thought about the end of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, but again, I couldn't get a good screenshot of that (and I suspect that Capra's visual talent outweighs that of Danny Leiner).
I stink at these, but here are a few: Star Embargos, Inglorious Bastards, The Texas Chainsaw Picnic, Reservoir Puppies, Eyes Wide Open , and hmm, if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Texas Chainsaw one.
And I think that about covers it. See you on Sunday with some 60s horror.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Six Weeks of Halloween 2009: Week 1 - Giallo Films
Halloweentime is my favorite time of the year, and like kernunrex, I celebrate the season by watching a ton of horror movies, eating bite-sized candy, drinking pumpkin flavored beer, and playfully decorating my home with (fake) corpses and mutilated pumpkins. I've got Netflix queue full of movies and only 6 weeks to get through them all, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or play along!
I'm starting this year with a distinctive Italian sub-genre known as the Giallo. The word "giallo" means "yellow" in Italian, and the sub-genre takes that name because of the distinctive yellow backgrounds on a series of pulpy, Italian crime/mystery novels.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Link Dump and Other Stuff
I'll be travelling this week, so there probably won't be an entry on Wednesday. But! Next week marks the start of the Six Weeks of Halloween, so lots of good stuff coming... For now though, enjoy some links:
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Deep Thoughs on Piranha 3D
Piranha is not a good movie, but it is just about exactly what you'd expect and thus, it can be a lot of fun if you go into it with the right mindset. It's one of those movies (like Snakes on a Plane) where movie reviews and ratings won't really sway an audience. This is a movie where tons of ferocious fish chow down on a bunch of obnoxious kids celebrating Spring Break. That either interests you, or it doesn't. Either way, I don't think anyone expects it to be good, and it's not. So this isn't really a review, but I had some assorted thoughts I'd like to share.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
More SF Pet Peeves
Sunday's post on the Unquestioned Assumptions of SF was a little strange as the post I was referencing was really more about pet peeves than unquestioned assumptions, so I figured that I should rename this post to add my own pet peeves to Matt Johnsons's list. So without further ado:
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in September 2010.
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Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
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Weird Movie of the Week
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