Caffeine, Monsters, and Dead Dogs: A “1,001 Movies” Update

My quest to watch 1,001 movies in 2012 is off to a good start, with a total of 206 films under my belt.  I credit my success thus far to an iron will and a never-ending flow of coffee, both of which have transformed me from a meditative morning lark to a wide-eyed, popcorn-chomping night owl. It’s a small price to pay for the amount of fun I’m having, though.

A great deal of the amusement value of this project derives from seeing how various themes and motifs play out across films and genres. For some reason, this particular crop of movies–chosen randomly from the master list–skewed to films that depicted violence and/or horror.  I’m not too keen on guts and gore, but I do love a good scare or disturbing thrill, so I was very interested in the depiction of monsters and the monstrous in films like Heavenly Creatures, The War Game, A Clockwork Orange, and (naturally) Monsters.  Packing film to the gills with gore is easy–I’m talking to you, Mel Gibson–but it’s far more difficult to psychologically disturb your audience with subtly-composed shots and well-written dialogue.  Monsters, we learn from watching films, do not necessarily have pointy teeth or tentacles, and the most monstrous acts are frequently committed by the externally beautiful.

The best example of this phenomenon from this round of movie-watching is, hands down, Takashi Miike’s Audition.  The story, which is based on fiction by Ryu Murakami, revolves around Aoyama, a lonely widower who wants companionship, but isn’t sure how to get back into the dating game.  A movie-mogul friend, who is currently casting for a project, suggests Aoyama sit in on the auditions and use them as a search for the perfect bride. Though skeptical at first, Aoyama slowly comes around to his friend’s point of view and falls in love with one of the young women who auditions.

What happens next is a surreal blend of psychological horror and non-linear narrative that will have even the most careful viewer blinking with confusion.  There is some gore involved, but it is used both sparingly and skillfully, so that by the time you get to the really icky parts, you’re already frightened out of your mind.  Clearly the villain of the piece is monstrous…but then again, so are the cultural attitudes that created her.  No easy answers, but definitely plenty of sitting on the edge of your chair, shouting at the screen, and covering your eyes.

All that being said, the hardest part of the film for me was watching the cute little beagle run around Aoyama’s house, knowing that when the camera keeps cutting to the adorable dog in a horror movie, something bad is bound to happen sooner or later.  In fact, the number of dogs–and I’m including werewolves here–who don’t fare very well in this batch of film made me a little nervous.  Do filmmakers genuinely not like our four-footed friends?  Or is it just an easy way to tug an audience’s heartstrings?  Making me care about a critter, and then subjecting it to a horrible demise, isn’t very nice.  But, as I am learning, the point of some films isn’t to highlight the “nice” – the focus is on probing our darker sides and selves, and bringing that hidden darkness to light for analysis and discussion.

I still don’t like it, but I suppose I’ll just have to soldier on.  Here’s a complete list of films from round 2 of the project:

  1. Monsters
  2. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
  3. Withnail and I
  4. An American Werewolf in London
  5. Un Chien Andalou
  6. Heavenly Creatures
  7. Wild Reeds
  8. Anvil: The Story of Anvil
  9. Apocalypto
  10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  11. The Wedding Banquet
  12. A Clockwork Orange
  13. The War Game
  14. Audition
  15. Barren Lives*
  16. The Third Man
  17. Hour of the Wolf
  18. Cabaret
  19. Talk to Her
  20. Alphaville
  21. Gabbeh

Do you like horror movies? Why or why not? If you’ve seen any of the films above, which ones strike you as “monstrous,” and why?

Leigh Anne

who also managed to finish reading A Storm of Swords, and has eagerly dived into A Feast for Crows.

*available via Netflix streaming


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18 responses to “Caffeine, Monsters, and Dead Dogs: A “1,001 Movies” Update

  1. I used to like horror films, but now they seem too formulaic. A friend and I laughed our way through “Jason X” once. I’ve grown accustomed to the blood and gore, and the true classics that rely on subtlety are hard to find.

  2. Don

    Alphaville, Alphaville, Alphaville … please tell us what you think!

  3. ZZMike

    Wow! That’s what I call a movie marathon. We’ve been to quite a few film festivals (where you watch a dozen or so new movies over the course of a week). It usually leaves my head spinning.

    After all those “horror flicks”, you’re going to have to watch “Mary Poppins”, “Sound of Music”, &c.

    I agree with the first comment: too formulaic. In the early movies, if somebody got cut up into little pieces, you’d see it play out in shadow – and it was quite scary.

    Remember the shower scene in “Psycho”? All you saw was blood going down the drain.

    Maybe it’s because people are jaded nowadays; maybe it’s because filmmakers want to go a little further out.

    Have you seen this one: Pan’s Labyrinth? That one is scary in a different way than the slasher movies.

    Some of those I hadn’t heard of before: “Withnail and I”, which IMDB lists as “Genres: Comedy | Drama”

    • Hear hear on the lighter picks – I’m hoping some comic relief pops up shortly, although since I wrote this post I’ve already watched a really great drama – stay tuned for my next turn in the rotation!

      “Pan’s Labyrinth” is on the list, and I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard it’s very good. I did not care for “Withnail and I,” but I suspect I might not have been the target audience – it’s a “bro” movie, in that “it was the 60s” kind of way….

      Leigh Anne

  4. I just came across “yet another list: Top 15 films about films
    (It’s from the British paper the Telegraph. It’s a series of photos, one for each movie. It makes a nice circular “back to where we started” list. It loads slowly for me, so I list the titles. I put in the captions where they help. )

    [*: I’ve seen it; +: You should, too]
    15. The Artist (2011) * +
    14. Peeping Tom (1960)
    13. Mulholland Drive (2001)
    12. Mepris (1963)
    11. Man with a Movie Camera (1929): This experimental Russian film is a silent documentary, which has a scene in which a cameraman risks his life to get the best shot
    10. Last Action Hero (1993)
    9. Rear Window (1954): * + Not strictly about film making but Hitchcock’s greatest film (starring James Stewart) is all about watching and being watched
    8. King Kong (1933): * A gang of unscrupulous film makers go to a strange island to find a giant monkey. Stick with the original and avoid the 2004 remake with Jack Black
    7. Sunset Boulevard (1950) * +
    6. Get Shorty (1995) “A mobster travels to Hollywood to collect a debt and discovers that the movie business is much the same as his current job.” (IMDB summary)
    5. Ed Wood (1994)
    4. Boogie Nights (1997)
    3. Adaptation (2002)
    2. Day for Night (1973) * +
    1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952): * + One of the greatest films of all time about the move from silent film to talkies. The Artist paid homage but could not match its sheer joy or Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dancing

    Here’s something strange: Under “Day for Night”, the caption reads:

    “The title of this incredibly funny Goddard movie refers to the screen technique of turning night into day with bright lights.”

    I’m pretty sure it’s really the opposite: turning day into night with dark filters. It’s a lot easier to shoot during the day.)

    Speaking of “The Artist”, here’s another Jean Dujardin movie you might enjoy: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

    I saw it a long time ago, and didn’t make the connection to Dujardin till now. But wait: there’s more:

    Director: Michel Hazanavicius
    Starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

    Dujardin is “Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, alias OSS 117”, a combination of Inspector Closeau and James Bond – with the worst features of both.

    • Wow, thanks for the recommendations! I have seen four of these films, and I have a feeling some of them are on the list I’m using – another great part to this project has been the film recommendations coming out of the woodwork from friends, blog readers, and colleagues!

      Leigh Anne

  5. I don’t watch the slasher movies, but I do like a scary psych thriller now and then. Enjoyed American Werewolf. Clockwork Orange was difficult to watch even after reading the book in high school. I recently read it again but with the final chapter that was cut from the US released version. Must say that I prefer the novel without the final chapter.
    Enjoy your movies. At 206, you are well on your way to getting in the 1,001 this year.

  6. Jen Danifo

    Leigh Anne,
    I just stumbled upon this blog and it’s fantastic. Good work!
    My friends and I do Horror Movie Month every October. We watched Hour of the Wolf this past October. Some were disappointed that it was not horror, but I loved it. I keep flirting with Audition but I have to admit, I’m afraid. What did you think?

    • Hi Jen, and thanks so much! We do our best to keep it interesting. :)

      Horror Movie Month sounds like fun! I thought “Hour of the Wolf” was definitely a psychological horror film, and if you liked it, you will probably like “Audition,” though you may have to cover your eyes at the icky parts. If I hadn’t known it was a horror movie before I started watching it, it might have given me a heart attack – as it was, I found myself profoundly disturbed, in all the right ways. :)

      Leigh Anne

  7. For extremely effective atmospheric dread, try the TV version of A Woman in Black… the library system has a VHS copy, but otherwise it’s not widely available. There’s one part that truly terrified me, and I regularly watch & enjoy horror movies without that happening.

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