Every year for Halloween, we do a horror movie marathon. This year we went in a slightly different route and have watched mostly psychological horror movies so far, i.e. movies that are scary for the ideas that they present, not necessarily because they are straight up scary. We started out with Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist”, and have also watched Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s baby.” We did also throw in “The Descent” and “Little Shop of Horrors” to get some variety. Coming up we still have “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Devil’s Backbone.” and “The Orphanage.”
The Birds is, of course, one of Hitchcock’s classic films. I would say that it is hands down his most intense film, and the one most deserving of the term “horror-film.” Sure there are other horror films that are a lot scarier, such as “The Descent,” but the tone and mood of “The Bird’s” is still one of the most despairing in film. The last third of the movie is especially important in that it’s influence is very clearly seen in many films such as George A. Romero’s seminal “Night of the Living Dead.” It is filled with such dread and uncertainty. The reason for the bird’s attacks are never explained, and there isn’t even a real resolution to the film. Hitchcock shows with this film that he really is one of the greatest directors of all time. Consider the final shot of the characters driving away, surrounded by birds. Hitchcock didn’t use the standard shot showing the characters in the car, with a view of the birds behind them, but rather showed the car driving away from the viewpoint of the porch, framed on all sides by birds. In essence, we are still trapped with the birds at the conclusion of the film, with the only people we knew driving away. This single shot so effectively reinforces the feeling of loneliness and utter despair institutes “The Birds” as one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements.
“Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby” are first two movies in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” so called because Polanski made three consecutive movies (“The Tenant” being the third) that featured a protagonist that is trapped by their apartment surroundings. While an apartment is specifically used in these three movies, I suspect that “apartment” is meant to refer to urban life in general. I first saw “Rosemary’s baby” a few years ago, but had not seen “Repulsion” until this viewing, and I was amazed how much it changed my perception of “Rosemary’s Baby.” “Repulsion” is a character study on the effects that women’s oppression can have, and Polanski uses a variety of techniques to really convey the paranoia and trauma that the character experiences. Polanski uses many of these same techniques in “Rosemary’s Baby,” but in a much more subtle manner. This similarity in technique is not just a way for Polanski to reuse effects, or for Polanski to slack off. Rather, he uses these effects very selectively as a way to reinforce the misogyny of Rosemary’s husband and other males in the film. It made the film that much more impactful. These movies are very powerful studies on the consequences of a male-dominated society.
Now we come to Von Trier’s “Antichrist.” How to describe this film? I think it is absolutely brilliant, and one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. This was my second time to see it, and I still have as many questions as I do answers. It’s not disturbing because of gore or any of the typical “disturbing” horror moments, although it does have a few somewhat gory moments. What makes it truly disturbing is its ideas, of which there are many. As an example: the film makes the statement that in the natural order, man’s violent tendencies are more powerful than woman’s sexual tendencies, as illustrated by the husband murdering his wife at the end of the film. It discusses the relationship between violence and sex, female oppression, psychological torture under the guise of “helping,” and many others. If you go into this film looking for your run of the mill jumps and scares, be prepared to be disappointed. However, if you actually think about this film and really listen to what it has to say, it is unforgettable.
To me, the best horror movies are the ones that make you think. They are about more than just the events that happen to the main characters depicted during the running time. They say something (dark and sinister) about the human condition. They make us realize that there are real horrors in the world, things that we should indeed be scared of.
(1) “The Birds (film).” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film)
(2) “Rosemary’s Baby (film).” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary’s_Baby_(film)
(3) “Antichrist (film).” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antichrist_(film)