Occultober – Day 26 – Şeytan

Şeytan
Turkey has a long history of ripping off and shoddily remaking American Blockbusters from the 1970s and 1980s. Titles range from Star Wars to E.T. to Superman to Predator, and the Turkish versions are cult oddities (for those who like watching ineptness of the highest order) in part due their Hollywood counterparts are big budget blockbusters with some of the best filmmaking talent behind them. By comparison, these remakes can only be seen as shoddy product to be consumed by less critical local filmgoers with only vague notions of the original films.

Şeytan was released in 1974, and while it doesn’t follow exactly the plot of William Friedkin’s masterpiece, The Exorcist it borrows the floating bed, the turning head, and many other images. Of course it all looks a bit silly if you don’t have enough talent to get past the threshold of suspension of disbelief. A young girl named Gul, from a well off family in Istanbul plays with an Ouija Board, gets possessed by Satan and requires a psychiatrist and a priest to set her soul free. Silly special effects and hysterical over-acting ensue.

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A Month of Horror 2013 – Chapter 3

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In this installment Exorcist II:The Heretic, Ravenous, Possession (1981) and The Devils. Now work with me Linda, work with me!

 

Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman – 1977)
There are some great elements to this jumbled mess of a movie, but none of them ever quite fit together enough to bring even one great scene to bear. Moments, shots and ideas pop out, but then get ground down and trampled with remarkably silly and inconsistent plot points (usually involving religious flapdoodle, terrible “scientific” theories or ancient myths). Also of an inconsistent nature is the acting (though Richard Burton does stay reasonably consistent as the priest investigating what happened years ago), which can shift from moments of subtlety to awkward line readings – within the very same scene. Now that I think of it, nothing is consistent in this movie – even the special effects at times could provide an impressive set or shot, but then fall into almost laugh-out-loud goofiness (just because you can almost replicate a man falling down a chasm, doesn’t mean you should do it). No one gets away with their reputation intact.

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Some Horror Noodling and Thoughts, post Halloween

 

Having just rewatched both The Exorcist and The Shining within the past couple of weeks, and seeing how both films use some off-the-wall strange editing strategies and cinematography, it certainly had me thinking about populist-art house horror that goes beyond the cheap scares and laughs and attempts to burrow a bit – both on a personal (as every good horror films should) and cinematically (both advancing the genre, and yet also standing a bit alone, high on the mountain, impenetrable to the whims and fads of the genre). Neither film is in a hurry to scare its audience, setting for a long, slow build up to establish geography, emphasize key locations and spend some not-all-that-related-to-plot moments with its characters. Friedkin (and his pair of editors) cut away from possessed Regan right in the middle of her outburst, once even to a domestic scene (I believe) to someone reading a newspaper in the kitchen. Kubrick makes a lot of use of slow zooms, something not all that common in american studio produced cinema (horror or otherwise) but is indeed something Kubrick used a lot, particularly in his film prior to The Shining, Barry Lyndon. Furthermore, Kubrick splits the perspective between possessed Jack and his terrorized family, something perhaps unusual in a stalking-horror movie (really, the last act of The Shining) where the victims generally are unaware of when the killer will pop out. It is strange to see the bathroom sequence (“Heeeerrrrre’s Johnny!”) shown simultaneously from the POV of Jack and the POV of Wendy. It still works, but I digress. Suffice it to say that the slow-burn horror film experience, with a bit of austerity thrown in for good measure is probably my bag of horror filmmaking (no insult to the [Rec]s and the Evil Deads of the genre).

So then I was re-watched There Will Be Blood, which often uses the syntax of a horror film, with all of the mining accidents, the mud and oil functioning as pretty naked allusions for the blood-ties of family and society and the violence therein. Daniel Plainview is the monster in this case, slowly winding his way towards insanity and perhaps in his own mind, an uphill battle against obsolescence as society moves out of the prospecting frontier and into a commercial society (certainly the temporal cut, in the final 20 minutes of the film between 1903’s desert landscape and 1929s verdantly groomed mansion is jarring to say the least.) It was interesting to note that P.T. Anderson also favours some slow zooms. Anderson is usually discussed within the context of similarity to his hero Robert Altman (dare to compare Short Cuts and Magnolia), but there is a Kubrickian remove in There Will Be Blood, that perhaps (a little) tends to have detractors of the film label it shallow or showy, certainly something that was the case with Kubrick’s The Shining, a film that has risen remarkable in stature since its release in 1980, a film so open to interpretation and consideration of its own themes that it has been labelled alternately as the meltdown of the nuclear family in the Carter years (here), or an ironic take on White Man’s Burden and his destruction/usurping of Indian lands and society (here), or my personal favorite (and points for creativity and rock-solid conspiracy-theory-fu!) an admission of guilt for Kubrick filming the faked moon landings concurrently to 2001: A Space Odyssey (mandatory entertainment here and here). But I am digressing again.

Lastly, Brad Anderson’s Session 9 owes a LOT to The Shining, with its huge mental asylum standing in as an overwhelming character, much like The Overlook Hotel. Here we have a mundane collection of jobbers (again, not unlike the Torrence family care-taking task, or for that matter, Donald Sutherland’s church restoration in Don’t Look Now – perhaps another influence on Session 9) sent in to clean out asbestos (perhaps a metaphor for the collective and dangers skeletons in the closet) but dealing with the strange, and hallucinatory evil of a place. Now where Session 9 fails is actually on aesthetics, it being shot at the dawn on HD-Digital filmmaking, everything looks quite ‘VIDEO’ and not in the interesting Michael Mann fashion or the invisible David Fincher mode, but rather rendering their Gothic asylum as a mundane, paint-peeling office building. I felt that the primitive video look was a bit of a deal breaker in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, compared to the more handsome and aggressive cinematography and editing in 28 Weeks Later, but that is another, familiar argument in these parts) Still, watching Peter Mullan (an underrated character actor if there ever was one!) melt down by the stress of his job and his bickering crew is a solid tension builder, but the cross cutting of psychiatric evaluation tapes of a schizophrenic former patient, and strained domestic home-life scenes of Mullan’s young family work like gangbusters in association. And maybe that is the key, some sort of overriding association of the mundane and the supernatural (like say relaxing beach holiday and large man-eating sharks?) that makes a slow-burner, even austere, horror movie click in such a way to make them a heck-of-a-lot more rewatchable than the more manic entries in the field.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: New Hollywood Marathon

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My largest and most glaring gap of cinematic knowledge, at least of American film, is easily the 1970s. I grew up watching the films of the Hollywood studios’ golden era, the 1930s-1950s, and of my own generation, the 1990s-current, but have only sporadically caught the films in between. Given that many of the greatest and most iconoclastic American films of all time come from the 1970s, I have decided that enough is enough, and this year I am going to eliminate my New Hollywood list of shame, which includes: The Godfather Part II, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist, Five Easy Pieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and others.

easy-riders-raging-bulls.jpgBecause my knowledge of the whole era is a little superficial, I’m reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Generation Saved Hollywood to give myself a background in the history and temperament of the era, and watching the films he discusses while I’m reading. And I figured, might as well share my journey through New Hollywood as I go. The list of films you’ll find after the cut is culled from Biskind’s book and Wikipedia’s entry on New Hollywood, leaving out some that I have already seen.

One thing that has fascinated me as I worked on creating this master list is how varied the films are – drama, comedy, action, satire, war, crime, romance, horror, western, science fiction, concert film and period piece are all among the genres represented. What they have in common: 1) a willingness to push the boundaries of what cinema was allowed to do and to explore themes of sexuality, antiheroism, and isolation that were previously taboo, 2) a sense of brashness and raw vitality brought by the eager young filmmakers wresting the reins from entrenched studios, 3) a tendency to focus on character and script rather than plot, and 4) a knowledge of and appreciation for cinema itself, from the masters of Golden Age Hollywood to the imports coming from Europe and Japan.

This quote from Biskind’s introduction I think sums it up nicely:

[The 1970s were] the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work — work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily. […] In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ’70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released. […] The thirteen years between Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.

And it wasn’t only the landmark movies that made the late ’60s and ’70s unique. This was a time when film culture permeated American life in a way that it never had before and never has since. In the words of Susan Sontag, “It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself.” Film was no less than a secular religion.

A few Row Three contributors have already shown an interest in writing about some of these as well; if you’d like to watch and share your thoughts about any of them, please do! See also the list at the bottom, which includes several films I’ve already seen and don’t intend to rewatch and write about, but someone else certainly could. If you’re not a R3 contributor and would like to join in, just email me and I’ll post your reviews with credit.

 

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