The Squeaky Reel

An outlet for my thoughts on film, music, books, and various off-topic ramblings.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday the 13th is over...

...and I never watched a single one of the flicks in that series.
It's not that I don't have some amount of affection for them, mind. It's just that I've seen 1-6 enough times to last me for a while, and the ones that followed don't do much for me. (Though I do kind of have a soft spot for the silliness of Jason X and the monster-mash team-up of Freddy vs. Jason.)

For the record, I like the even-numbered entries in the series up through 6. 1, 3 and 5 just don't work for me. (Though admittedly I haven't seen 3 in 3-D; I might change my tune otherwise.)

Now that *that* is out of the way...

More quick notes on a recent viewing:

I've mentioned the misanthropic nature of Fulci's horror work. But I don't believe that another movie can actively *hate* quite like the late Roger Watkins' Last House on Dead End Street. The movie is fueled entirely on speed and anger. It eschews the fantastic or surreal aspects of Fulci's work, and instead creates as "real" a world as possible. However, it holds its audience at arm's length, refusing to let the viewer identify with anyone within the film's world. The constant voice-over work and detatched tone of the recording (there is *no* room tone in this, just varying levels of echo), continually remind the viewer that he or she is watching a movie. But this doesn't really give the audience any respite. It actually puts the viewer in an extremely uncomfortable position, given the subject matter of the film (Terry Hawkins, a recent release from prison, helms a series of filmed murders in order to seek retribution on those who had wronged him previously). Constantly reminded that we are the audience, and that we sought out this film in the first place, we have to ask ourselves: are we as depraved as the audience Terry believes exists for his "horror film?"

Now, there is generally nothing I hate more in film than a director who believes himself to be better than his audience. For instance, Michael Haneke's Funny Games or Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Both films seem to be saying, "you see these horrible things I'm filming? It's your fault -- I wouldn't be filming this stuff if it weren't for you sitting out there demanding this on your cinema screens." (Haneke's film doesn't sidestep the issue -- it tells you this quite literally, in to-the-audience addresses from the film's protagonist. Deodato may be ham-fisted, but at least he ain't *this* ham-fisted.) When Deodato closes his film with the line "who are the real cannibals?", he's not implicating himself in anything. Watkins doesn't play that game. He's not claiming to be above the audience. He's questioning his own relationship with the material at the same time he's questioning ours. Casting himself as Terry Hawkins was a stroke of brilliance; when he delivers lines like the almost-chanted "I'm directing this fuckin' movie!!!" or "you bet your ass this is for real!", he's blurring the line between himself and Terry to an almost unbelievable extent. He's just as responsible for what is going on as anyone, and he knows it. But he wants you to be just as aware of your role in this.

The film eventually becomes something akin to a magickal ritual, with shifting identities, invocation of godforms, release and banishment. And by that, I don't mean that the film is simply depicting something akin to a magickal ritual -- the film itself becomes that. To what end, I am not sure, though I suspect that it is a kind of catharsis via psychodrama. We are being made to recognize the Terry Hawkins existing within us, and when we are finally implicated in this and asked to share the burden, we banish him into the darkness. The constantly-shifting identities (accomplished by the brilliant use of masks being exchanged among the cast members) call into question exactly who is whom, and who is doing exactly what. Are we the protagonist or the victim in this game of role-playing? The answer is both: we are Terry, and the Terry within us will destroy us if he is given free rein. By the time that the closing sequence is completed, with the violation of the eye (and by extension, the audience; the final shot forces us to share the POV of the final victim), we have been made complicit in the acts we have seen, we are shown that we are the final victims of this misanthropy made flesh, and the rite is done. Despite the added-on postscript (in which a voice-over tells us that Terry and his pirates are serving 999-year sentences for their acts, a bit of narration added by the film's distributors after the fact and without Watkins' approval), the implication is that Terry is still out there; or, more to the point, Terry is still *in* there, and we're all tainted by his presence. No one is innocent; we are all guilty; we are all Terry and Terry is all of us.

Oddly, I wore my LHODES t-shirt to Whole Foods the other day, and was asked about it by employees *twice*. Never been asked about it before, but there it was, twice in one day. Dunno what that means, but I figured it was time to watch it again.

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