Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cabin Fever (2002) & Hostel (2005)

Do you like Eli Roth? I can't make up my mind. I kind of accidentally watched two of his films back-to-back the other night.

Both Cabin Fever and Hostel show us a group of friends way out of their element, far from home and under threat. Both are satisfyingly (and practically, effects speaking) gory and gross, and both were strong enough in premise and critical/audience reception to have spawned sequels and remakes. Let's take a little look at them...

Even though I've never considered myself an Eli Roth "fan" as such, I remember having an appreciation for his work. Sure, it's a little immature, but it comes from a love of the genre, right?

Hostel's Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova)

To focus first on the women in these films (because that's where my representation interests lay most heavily), I have to give Roth his due; there's an evolution from the standard "helpless and topless" female characters. Natalya (above) is actually by far the most interesting character in Hostel: she's presented in more than one dimension and has something approaching a character arc! Natalya begins as a sexually liberated hook-up, and progresses through lure to full on traitor, with her appearance following the disintegration of her morality. More thought went into that than I remembered, to be honest.

Cabin Fever has another strong brunette in Marcy (Cerina Vincent). She is comfortable with her sexuality (which I guess in these films amounts to "is willing to get naked" but I'm not judging - women like sex!) and she's also brave and capable.

She's also the bum in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage shot!

Female representation is, surprisingly, not as poor as I recalled. There are still ample scenes of sex (centred on the male experience, of course) and boobs, but at least we have characters who are ultimately more than their body parts. They are somewhat multi-faceted personalities, not just a walking pair of tits.

Male characters... don't fare so well. Let's just say that the most striking thing on this rewatch was the reminder that early 2000's Roth sure did a fine line in absolute douchebags. From Bert (James DeBello, below left) in Cabin Fever to all three male leads in Hostel, if you ever feel an inexplicable need to hear characters call one another "fag" and "gay" repeatedly, then you're in luck, I guess?!

Cabin Fever's Jeff (Joey Kern, above right) experiences the best/worst reward for his selfish arseholeness, in another horror homage moment at the film's climax. Having saved himself from infection by abandoning his friends, he staggers out of his hiding place and back to the cabin. In a less shocking but still cool nod to hero Ben's fate in Night of the Living Dead, he's promptly shot and killed by police.

In terms of gore, I feel like it's kind of redundant to comment on at this point. Hostel shows us so much realistic violence that it was rolled into the whole "torture porn" debate. Cabin Fever too, is stomach-churningly gruesome (the shaving scene!) but comes under less fire due to the intent; sick shit is happening to these kids, but it's not directly at the hands of others gaining pleasure from it. In Hostel, people are deliberately captured, sold, sat down and tortured. It all looks very real.

To some this is too much, it's a step too far to show such extreme pain with no real message behind it. Personally, I use the "torture porn" label as a way to know what the movie is about, and gauge if I'm in the mood for it, but it's not a deal breaker by any means. Experiencing the pushing of boundaries is all part of being a horror fan, for me. And if the characters are set up the right way, well, I want to see those kills. Not everything has to have a message!

And if we're talking sick stuff, I'll take this opportunity to say that I've a real soft spot for films that use sexual arousal and infection as an interchangeable/confused notion. The scene with Paul (teen Jo crush Rider Strong) and Karen (Jordan Ladd) in bed, where he's trying to initiate something and moves his hand under the sheets, only to take it out a minute later covered in blood and goo... Hahaha, so good!

Contracted plays with this too, when the main character passes on her virus to a lover and her putrefying pussy is mistaken for being wet from sexual arousal. It's so sick and I love it!

Both of these are on US Netflix at time of writing, and worth revisiting if it's been a while since you've seen them and are happy to take them for what they are. Roth certainly knows what works for an uncomplicated and few-holds-barred horror movie, and he clearly loves being part of the genre. These were not quite as "from a mind of a ten year old boy" as my memory had me believe - the cringey homophobic language aside - and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed them.

But it must be said that the director cameo in Cabin Fever is one of the worst I've ever seen...!

Friday, October 20, 2017

blood + guts + shopping

Feeling pretty great about my spooky purchases lately. Got this amazing Creature From The Black Lagoon inspired collar from interro bang bang and my new "Blood & Guts" pin from Negamidas.

The The Thing hand pin is from Negamidas, too! 🖤

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Raw (2016)

We're looking at my favourite so far this October. I really loved Raw. Tell me, what's not to love about an awkward, coming-of-age drama with some cannibalism thrown in?

Justine (Garance Marillier) is following in family footsteps by attending a prestigious veterinary university. Her parents met there, and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) already goes there. Justine's got a lot to live up to; but for this quiet, "average" (her word) girl, that doesn't initially appear to be too much of a problem. 

That is, until "rush week" gets underway, where Justine and her fellow rookies are put through some fairly intense initiation ceremonies. She's nervous but doesn't falter, not until there's one involving eating raw meat. All of her family are strict vegetarians, she says, she can't do it. But under threat of being outcast this early on in her student career and with pressure from Alexia, she caves.

At first, her only reaction is a really nasty skin allergy that appears almost overnight. She visits the nurse who diagnoses it - and then lights a cigarette right there in the examination room, gotta love the French! - and gives Justine some cream.

But the sense of something being off... of feeling itchy and not right deep down in her skin doesn't go away. And gradually, tiny moment built wonderfully upon tiny moment, Justine starts to realise with growing fascination and horror, just what it is she's yearning for.

WHERE do I start with this? It looks beautiful.

Everything looks beautiful. And it has big wide shots with nothing happening in them for a couple of beats, until a little car or a little person appears on the edge or the horizon. This is something, for some reason, I absolutely adore in films - and even replicate in my own photography, a lot of the time.

That this was written and directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau) comes as no surprise. Justine and Alexia are interesting, human, flawed, and beautiful characters. They bicker like sisters do, but they make up quickly like sisters do. Alexia tries to guide Justine and open up her worldview, but also protect her at the same time. It's such a lovely, real relationship.

Including a blackly comic home waxing scene.

Much of Raw's dark comedy comes from the bond between these two, and it's the subtle moments of humour, along with a fantastic performance from Marillier, that coat the plot in a warmth you aren't expecting.

Additionally, can I get three cheers for the normalisation of female body hair, please!

This would make a great companion for Teeth for a double bill, I think (and both are on US Netflix now, at time of writing!). With its depiction of a young woman discovering herself, both in a normal sense, ie: being of Justine's age where she's suddenly thrust into this un-parented world of boys and parties - and this playing out alongside the more extreme, fantastical changes the young woman is noticing in her body, too.

A shy, weird, late-bloomer who's simultaneously terrified of her urges and wanting desperately to indulge them. Justine even fucks her roommate to try and calm the storm boiling inside her. It doesn't work.

It never gets old when female sexuality is represented as well as this in horror. There's so much power in it and it's a monumental task to try and understand that power. Adding something gruesome on top of an already pretty fucking scary time is just the cherry on top of the sundae.

Cannot recommend this one enough.

Bonus: It has one of my favourite Blood Red Shoes songs on the soundtrack, as well as some pretty amazing other stuff to check out.