Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources. Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier). Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.
10/15/2016 – Psychological: Audition (1999)
Directed by Takashi Miike
In the majority of horror films, there is something very tangible menacing our protagonists. Whether these are zombie, cannibals, serial killers, or whatever, they exist as a very real threat to those trying to stay alive. However, not all terrors are so concrete; instead they are of the mind. This is where psychological horror films come in. While there is still often still a menacing villain and the possibility of overlap with those other genres (which can make the category vague and rather spackle like for when you aren’t sure what genre to throw it under), the primary goal is instead of breaking the hero down mentally. The rest of the time, it is merely their own mind messing with them as we try to decipher what is real and what is in their head. Of course this often means that the film is often building up to a twist, a twist which frequently derails a movie and undoes everything good about it.
As a genre, psychological horror films have just kind of always existed and unlike other ones, there haven’t really been any booms in production outside of a general increase over time. It’s tough to pick a date for the earliest one since it can be such a vague concept but the various adaptations of The Hands of Orlac especially Mad Love are a good starting point as well as the original Cat People and the Ventriloquist’s Dummy sequence from Dead of Night. While films such as Diabolique, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Repulsion, and Rosemary’s Babywere exploring the mental descent of their characters, films such as The Bad Seed, Psycho, and The Haunting were using elements of psychology to bolster their horror, and films such as Wait Until Dark and Invasion of the Body Snatchers(especially the 1978 version) were blending it with thriller elements. The Shining is probably the definitive example with Jack’s descent blurring the lines with the supernatural and making for one of the best onscreen villains.
The Hannibal Lecter films used the psychology of a killer to track down others combining with the crime subgenre, with others Flatliners (sci-fi), In the Mouth of Madness (Lovecraftian which is typified by a psychological outlook), Funny Games(home invasion), Ringu (ghost), The Blair Witch Project (found footage), The Others(gothic horror, another very psychological subgenre), Haute Tension (New French Extremity), Triangle (time travel), Excision (horror-comedy), and The Babadook and It Follows (supernatural) all doing something similar to add a new twist to their respective subgenres. When used properly, they add an extra dimension of horror and can be more “frightening” since there’s nothing you can do to defeat them. Slaying a monster is comparably easy to trying to come to grips with your own possibly failing mind. Other great ones include Jacob’s Ladder, A Tale of Two Sisters, 1408, and based on reputation Exam, I Saw the Devil, and Berberian Sound Studio.
Here is the first of two Japanese films by Takashi Miike I am looking at this weekend (along with Ichi the Killer and Miike’s career is nothing if not diverse (that and prolific). As best I can figure, he has directed 92 films in the past 26 years (3.54 per year) as varied as the horror of this weekend’s titles, One Missed Call, and Three… Extremes, the yakuza film Dead or Alive, the acclaimed samurai film Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, the video game adaptation Ace Attorney, the superhero movie Zebraman, the fantasy The Great Yoki War), etc. While he directed the comedy-horror-musical The Happiness of the Katakuris which I absolutely loved, I admit I have been putting these films off due to their reputation proceeding them (and the fact that Audition’s twist is casually spoiled by posters and assholes any time they discuss the film) despite their classic status. I will try to avoid spoiling things for the one of you who hasn’t yet.
The film begins with a recently widowed man who holds a phony audition to find a woman to marry and he starts as an almost wacky romantic comedy complete with montage of all the various women. There’s no getting around it, the first half is incredibly slow and it just served to make me hate every man in the movie. The lead is a lying creep looking for a perfect replacement wife who is young enough to be his daughter (despite claiming he doesn’t want one who is too young). It’s the perfect setup but the tone seems to indicate that Miike wants to find this amusing and laugh at the women auditioning but it just made me sick (which is what it should have been doing intentionally). And maybe it is just expectation of what was coming, but I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to care about the romance plot. It’s the same kind of piddling crap that I wouldn’t stand for in any other movie and over an hour is far too long to make us sit through that crap.
SPOILERS To be fair the very label of it being a horror film is a spoiler in a way (similarly toFrom Dusk Till Dawn so it’s hard to blame people from spoiling the rest of the film especially with all that comes before being so dull and uneventful. The switch is sudden in a way to indicating where the film will go, but it still takes a while for it to happen as I could feel my patience being tested. That’s nothing though compared to how I started to feel when the movie started to jump around and I guess I’m a dumb dumb because the fractured timeline left me lost. I had a sense of what was happening, but I struggled to keep straight all the dream sequences and flashbacks.
And then there’s the famous torture scene which is as hard to watch as I anticipated it would be and I chalk it up to the sounds. I couldn’t help but cringe and squirm just as the very cracking of bones and other wonderful sounds being made. It’s the moment we waited all film for and as great as that scene is, it’s just too little too late. I hate to draw the parallel but honestly, my comparison throughout was to Hostel not From Dusk Till Dawn. Obnoxious characters spend much of the movie doing nothing only for the torture to start at the end. Admittedly Audition handled these final scenes far better, but I can’t let it off the hook. It does manage one earlier scene with a tongue-less (among many other parts) man eagerly consuming vomit that was properly horrifying but that’s it END OF SPOILERS
It’s been a while since I was this disappointed by a film. Not since The Tree of Lifehave I felt that a film would be improved if given the hacksaw treatment and cut out most of the beginning and the more ambitious narrative elements (and there’s far less worth salvaging here). I’m not sure if knowing the twist ahead of time made things worse since it spoiled the surprise and made the movie feel even longer or better since I might have done the incredibly rare for me decision to turn it off before the movie ended (which means I would have missed the best part), but it sure did affect my enjoyment.
Bonus Episode #19 – Sci-Fi: The Manster (1959)
Directed by George Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane
I’ll admit I watched this entirely for the hilariously terrible title and surprisingly it’s far better than the title would suggest. It’s hardly a good movie (it’s yet another mad scientist film), a boring title character, and is depressingly deprived of any man-hamster hybrids (they went with bad pun instead of bad portmanteau) but it’s an entertaining little B-movie. It also is fairly unique in its Japanese setting (filmed in English with white heroes because of course it is) and there is a substantial Japanese cast largely devoid of stereotypes with the meatiest role given to a Japanese actor as the villainous doctor who doesn’t seem like such a bad guy overall (he has experience personal tragedy with his wife injecting herself against his will and turning into a monster before the film starts) and an interracial relationship. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though, SPOILERS I don’t even need to tell you the race of all the characters who die and all who live. It’s certainly a movie of its time (not that it would likely be much different now). END OF SPOILERS
The film tries to make us care about the lead, a white reporter who’s about to head home to the US, but even it seems to have given up trying after a while. He’s injected with a strange substance which changes his personality in a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type deal, only this time SPOILERS the creature is actually able to detach itself because of… I really have no clue. It just sort of sprouts a rest of a body instantaneously when it’s time to detach. END OF SPOILERS Like Mr. Hyde, he gets the hairy werewolf styled face and hand (it’s always the hand to start), and gives into baser desires such as getting drunk and making out with women who are decidedly not his wife all while his personality changes substantially and he get angrier. It diverges however when the weird pain in his shoulder SPOILERS manifests as an eye growing out of it that eventually grows into a head which looks like a full sized version of those shrunken heads. END OF SPOILERS The monster design is very dated generic 50’s kind of stuff, but we get a decent variety including a pair of ape-men and a woman with a badly disfigured face and parts of her body to go along with the two headed man.