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:
- Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
- Withnail and I
- An American Werewolf in London
- Un Chien Andalou
- Heavenly Creatures
- Wild Reeds
- Anvil: The Story of Anvil
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- The Wedding Banquet
- A Clockwork Orange
- The War Game
- Barren Lives*
- The Third Man
- Hour of the Wolf
- Talk to Her
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?
*available via Netflix streaming