Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#11: A World of Horror: Vampyr (1932), At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964), Black Christmas (1974), The Plumber (1979), The Thing (1982), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), Meokgo and the Stick Fighter (2006), and District 9 (2009)

This post is for the World in Film Blog-a-Thon.

I decided to participate in this blog-a-thon under the theme of horror. Let's start with the oldest movie first.

Representing Europe, and serving as a bridge from silent film horror to the sound era, is Vampyr, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. It was shot as a silent movie but had dialogue added in post-production. This film takes a Sheridan Le Fanu vampire story as the basis for dreamlike exploration of a setting where death seeps into place and mind. Vampyr is a prime example of the use of striking images in horror.

Picture via poisonedteacup.
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma), directed by José Mojica Marins, represents South America. It is reputed to be the first horror film made in Brazil. The director also stars as Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe), a nihilist-leaning undertaker who is violently obsessed with finding an ideal mate. This first film in the "Coffin Joe Trilogy" shows how engaging execution of an extreme concept can help an obviously low-budget film endure as a cult classic.
Picture via elbergo.
North America is represented by the Canadian film Black Christmas, in which a sorority house is targeted by an unknown killer. It predates better-known Hollywood cousins like Halloween by several years, and its influence can be found throughout the slasher subgenre. The terror in this film escalates from start to finish, and the group of sorority girls under attack are livelier and better-defined characters than many of the victims in other movies.

For Australia, there is the made-for-TV film The Plumber, written and directed by Peter Weir. Some might classify it as more suspense than horror, but this battle of wills between a housewife and an intrusive plumber finds scares in the most realistic situation on this movie list. Though it doesn't attempt greatness, Weir fit some complexities into this small-scale story, such as various levels of socioeconomic conflict and the ambiguity over what is permissible in the classification and expulsion of an outsider.

Picture via The Criterion Mission.
 Antarctica is represented by The Thing, which focuses on a science team who finds an alien creature in the ice. Horror director John Carpenter keeps action and special effects grounded within an environment of  isolation and paranoia.

Representing Asia is A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa hongryeon), directed by Kim Jee-Won. It's a gorgeous puzzle of a film that blends both psychological and supernatural varieties of horror.

Picture found via The AV Club.

Finally, we have Africa. While it was difficult to track down available horror films from the continent, I remembered that Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi film District 9 has a very strong body horror element. The film's commentary on race relations and xenophobia may be undercut by its depiction of Nigerian immigrants, but the messy divisions between outer-space alien refugee and human are still powerfully illustrated within District 9's narrative.

The last film on this list is the short film Meokgo and the Stick Fighter, directed by Teboho Mahlatsi. It didn't seem right to represent Africa just with a film that features a white African protagonist, so I decided to include this short film, which features black African characters. Like District 9, it's not strict horror. This odd little film is probably best categorized as fantasy. However, I'm also including it to bring up the point that horror, sci-fi, and fantasy often mix. Genre borders are probably imposed more by the audience than the creators, and are determined not simply by story, but a film's particular treatment of a story in relation with other films. This bizarre (at least to mainstream Western audiences) but entertaining short is about an accursed stickfighter who fights evil with the help of his magical tiny accordion (concertina). It is awesome.

This list was created with the intention of not only covering different continents but different types of horror cinema as well. Each selection is not meant to be an encapsulation of the entire horror output of a continent - just an outstanding film that happens to be from that continent. It's also worth noting the various fears that these movies depict. Black Christmas functions on fears of the intruder within the home. Vampyr, The Thing, The Plumber, A Tale of Two Sisters, District 9 and Meokgo and the Stick Fighter also make antagonists out of the outsider while incorporating suspicions about the protagonists themselves. The protagonists of At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and Vampyr are driven mad by their fear of death, while the sci-fi films The Thing and District 9 find horror within bodily transformation. The outsiders are either possibly ordinary folks -sometimes the protagonists- whose perceived traits are exaggerated by possibly irrational fears, or extraordinary beings whose existence seems impossible until asserted with violence.

While one can't expect all stories to fit neatly within established categories, I've found that stories that are declared "horror" can be pared down to tales of defending minds and bodies against forces of unknown potential for destruction. An audience is whisked away from mundane and complicated everyday life and dropped into a fight for life and sanity versus the undefinable. It is the heightened return to instinct that makes horror such a vital genre.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I like how you did The Thing for Antarctica... as soon as I saw your prompt, I was racking my brain for any Antarctic films, and this one is perfect!

As for your account of the horror genre, I think you are pretty much right. Although I'd like to add that for me, the creepiest horror stories aren't about a "visceral fight for life"—that rings true of horror in the slasher vein, which isn't the worst for me. The worst for me is psychological horror, where the focus isn't so much on survival as it is on setting a mood, and the subject matter is on what is or isn't real, and/or the capabilities of humans. I'm thinking something like the short movie "Dumpling" by Fruit Chan for what creeps me out the most.

Diandra said...

Thanks for reading, oddrid! I was trying to figure out a way to include psychological horror in that statement, so I mentioned the survival of the "mind and body." I realize now that the definition I put kind of limits the types of horror, so I'll think about making a slight revision. Thank you again!

amy said...

I never though of District 9 as horror, so that's a bit surprising. xD

I'm not really knowledgeable in the genre, so I only know A Tale of Two Sisters which is completely brilliant. And The Plumber looks like it can completely freak me out hahaha, I dunno if I want to be afraid of my plumber though.

Diandra said...

District 9 probably isn't horror, but the middle part definitely has body horror elements, so I decided to throw it in.

What made The Plumber work was that it's based on a clash of personalities that could happen in every day life. It doesn't go to the extremes of most horror movies, but it's definitely an intense war of wills.