Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Horror, The Horror

While I fully endorse the apparently eminent zombification of North America and its attendant territories (what up, Guam?), I have to admit that, if society was going to be playing by the rules as set forth by a generation of horror movies, I would be woefully unprepared. My taste in "horror" movies skews to a funnier set; my scares often come with hysterical giggling after. Unrelenting fear usually finds me hiding in the kitchen, pretending to cook lunch. In reality, I'm totally avoiding the scary music.

I figure I come by it honestly; when I was 10, prime time for easing into horror movies, my sister was six and my brother was two. Movie nights were still family movie nights. As my siblings got older, their interests lay mainly with the Disney clamshells. My brother watched Robin Hood three times a week for two years - even now, whistling that opening tune brings me right back. My parents, especially my mom, weren't interested in letting Freddy Krueger babysit her children. The wholesome upbringing probably did a lot to damper down my latent anxiety, but it didn't do much to prepare me for horror flicks fifteen years down the line.

Everyone's definition of horror is different - for some, it's gorefests like Saw, while others like the atmospheric creepiness of The Sixth Sense, or the craziness of Antichrist, or the teen-slasher classics like Scream. Going back, we can choose from Carrie, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Child's Play, Night of the Living Dead, and a slew of other classic, and not-so-classic, movies. There's every level of bloodshed, every level of scariness, every possible villain, and, in the teen-slasher flicks, tons of nipples. Seriously.

While I don't often watch horror movies, I'll reading the living crap out of a big fat scary book. Somehow I'm able to handle it a little better. I guess folk wisdom dictates that books are supposed to be scarier than movies, because books can let your imagination wander. But I've always been a pretty visual girl. Scary movies? With the freaky music and the crash zooms on people's guts falling out or evil little girls? I am affected. That shit is scary! Somehow, I can read The Shining and then fall into a deep and dreamless sleep. Show me an unsettling film and I'll be up at three in the morning, wondering if I'm going hear the slow creak of the closet door, or if I'll just be stabbed to death by vicious clowns.

Horror movies make us face some of our ickiest fears. None of us sit around after work, planning for when the homicidal maniac rolls out from under our bed. Horror is useful for folks to get all sweaty about something scary in a safe way. Humans like looking at gory things. Could the Roman colosseum be considered an early outlet for our love of watching entrails blorp all over the floor? Maybe. All I know is, movies, with their corn-syrup blood, are a much more humane way of exploring our dark side. We can identify with the victims, sure, with their squishy parts all over the place; but, and it's not always charming to admit it, the killers are often pretty damned magnetic. We're drawn to the power, the violence, the single-minded commitment to mayhem and craziness. Villains that strike a balance between gentility and insanity - Hannibal Lecter is one notable example - are so interesting to watch. They make us second-guess what we think we know about evil. And villains that don't - all the possessed girls and hockey-mask-wearing nuts - are kind of fun too, with their gleeful destruction of their victims.

Toronto is one of the cities, uh, "blessed" with a horror (/sci-fi/action - basically anything where the probability of one of the characters getting a slug to the guts is fairly high) movie festival, and it joins New York, LA, Edinburgh, Cape Town, and loads of others in showcasing some of the newest releases and most memorable classics, along with all the freako flicks that aren't going to get the Criterion treatment any time soon. If you'd prefer to catch up on your horror content while lounging in the tub, grab a copy of Rue Morgue or Fangoria, magazines that specialize in the bloodier side of cinema. Horror movies are big business, an indelible part of our collective pychosocial imprint, and divisive in their likability.

I need to get over the fear and the gross-out factor and see some of these movies. I'm not going to sit through stupid films, but a lot of horror movies might be considered classics at this point, and they can appeal to my film-snob side as well as dangling fresh hunks of bloody human in front of me. Bring on the brains! Bring them with fava beans and a nice chianti! I will eat every bite.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bird Is The Weird

No one ever aspires to grow up to be weird. Remember the seventh grade? Fitting in felt life-or-death, like we all needed to master safe ways of doing our hair, of dressing, of interacting with our friends and foes and teachers. I was fettered with unforgivable sins: I was more comfortable with adults than I was with kids my own age (not so mysterious, since twelve-year-old girls are second only to wild dogs in their viciousness); I was smart; I was an early and awkward bloomer. Weird, which is what I was, was disastrous. Weird was unforgivable. Weird was decidedly not good.

No one admits to being the popular kid in middle and high school; comparing notes, we were all huge dorks with tragic glasses and unsettling orthodontia. (Which is a total lie. Some of you were cool - some of you had to be cool. I was very uncool - eating-alone-in-the-lunchroom-uncool, to be specific. Even the religious South African twins in the frumpy long dresses were cooler than I was, because they had an interesting accent.) By our own telling, we were all freaks and geeks, losers, with some humiliating incident from the school bus/lunchroom/playground/locker room that haunted us, maybe even to this day.

But now, weird has turned into something kind of...desirable. Especially in the creative realm, weird consistently has more street cred than the forgettable top-40 pap that's piped in around us like foam. Bjork, for example, whose mid-90s oeuvre still stands up as a solid, interesting collection of songs, and whose more recent releases, what with the vocal chicanery and the electrobeats backing her signature shriek-and-release voice, are challenging without being alienating. I'll admit to not really understanding Bjork's appeal, since I find her voice startling. And, yes, weird. But I also like Bjork very much, because she gets into airport fights and once inspired a fashion-spread caption that was basically a transcription of her description of the clothes: "Dees blouse is a hoppy yerrlooow," which I just love. Plus, one of the greatest emotional releases when you're feeling sad is to rent her film-acting debut Dancer In The Dark and just sob throughout. I swear to god I pulled a muscle crying at that movie.

Sometimes the weird is just too much. I like The Knife a lot, but their latest release is a head-scratcher. Inspired by Charles Darwin's writings, Tomorrow, In A Year is the sort of electronic album that is long stretches of empty headphones, interspersed with some opera and some random-seeming bleeps and bloops. I'll freely admit to not getting it.

But when the perfect weirdo balance is struck, it's a delightful thing. Exhibit A: Tilda Swinton, the British actress known equally for her inexplicable fashion choices as she is for her film choices, and who lives with both the father of her children and her much-younger boyfriend. I am fascinated by her. I love the makeup of her household. I love that she can flip between blockbuster Hollywood flicks and strange little indies. I love that her look seems equally inspired by German Expressionist films and HR Giger. She seems like an intergalactic ambassador who would be totally comfortable preparing a rabbit stew.

Weird isn't precious. To be a weird woman, you need to be aware of, and in control of, your sensuality. Obviously, it doesn't need to be used, but ignoring sex altogether isn't a weirdo move, it's just sort of sad and damaged. Same with crazy; weird isn't crazy. Even at her most bipolar, Britney wasn't weird. She wasn't harnessing her rage and insanity and turning it into creative expressions; she was threatening photographers with umbrellas. Unstable doesn't equal weird. She needed some professional help.

When you're a woman, you're supposed to be pretty. But when you're not blessed with starlet-y looks, or you're not interested in shoehorning your face and body into someone else's standards, or you're more interested in seeing what your brain or your voice or your talents can do, then you have to come to terms with your particular weirdness. Women in the entertainment industry who choose not to play the looks game are, to be blunt, weird. They're unusual, and sadly, sort of scarce, but when the gamble pays off, when their weirdness is balanced by their prodigious talent, it's a great thing to behold. It gives the rest of us weirdos some hope.