Sunday, March 20, 2011

Elements of the Uncanny: The Legend of Bloody Mary

I believe in Mary Worth.

How many of you played the Bloody Mary game as a child? Ha, I know that I sure as hell didn't, and wouldn't if someone dared me to today! Frankly, I love the creepiness of it, but I don't mess with that shit myself. I believe that if you provoke and willingly open your surroundings to it... it's coming in.  

For those of you that aren't familiar with the legend of Bloody Mary here is the general gist of it: You go into your bathroom, and light a single candle. Then you mark yourself, and others if you choose, by writing their names on mirror in front of you.  Then you turn out all of the lights, and challenge Mary but saying "I believe in Mary Worth." Legend has it, that you will see her face flash in front of you, or hell, maybe even come out of the mirror itself and kill you. Why anyone would tempt fate and play this is beyond me, but that's the game.

I chose to write about this topic in my blog this week, because as I was scanning Netflix for a new movie to watch while doing some writing, I came across the title "The Legend of Bloody Mary" and had a quick flashback to second grade. I will never forget the one time I went to the bathroom at recess, and as I was locked in the stall, a group of girls came in and turned off all the lights, and started giggling, saying that they were going to play the Bloody Mary game. Needless to say, I high-tailed it out of there asap, but it's strange to me that at such a young age, they were willing to try to evoke something so evil, and test fate.

But since I never played the game, I was curious to learn more about it - so I watched the movie. To my surprise, I found it quite unsettling and while the movie itself wasn't a 10 on my scale (more like a 5), I can't dismiss it as not being scary because, like I stated above, I wouldn't never mess with that stuff because it's so scary. But overall, the movie was a mixture of Darkness Falls, The Ring, and Urban Legend(s)  in my opinion.
  • Darkness Falls: This movie deals with the legend of the Tooth Fairy, stating that if anyone sees her at night that they will die a very unfortunate death if left in the dark too long. Light is their only savor. It's similar to this movie because darkness is a huge factor when playing the game, and the people that have been traumatized over it, and are having relapses in the film are only effected at night (or by reflective surfaces, since she lives in a mirror).
  • The Ring: This movie deals with a deranged little girl that spread her curse through a video tape, and anyone that watches it will die by her hands in seven days. This movie is similar because while Samara has to be evoked our of her well, Mary has to be evoked to come out of the mirror. Plus anyone that is marked on the mirror is in danger, just like anyone who watched the tape is.  ALSO, there is a scene in the movie where a girl falls asleep on the couch, and Mary is in the TV while the screen is fuzzy, trying to come out to attack her, and nothing says The Ring like a fuzzy TV screen.
  • Urban Legend: I don't feel like I need to explain this too much because the movie deals with urban legends and how someone is actually playing them out to scare everyone - which is essentially what Bloody Mary is entirely based on.... a legend gone wrong.  A group of girls decide that they are going to have a party and subject one girl to play the game (the new girl, go figure) and then basically scare her to death and have a good laugh at it in the end.  Naturally, everything goes wrong, and everyone basically winds up dead, so goes the rules of horror.
What did I like about the movie? :
 I liked the elements of the uncanny in the film, because they dealt with the eye and reflections. In the beginning, we are introduced to a boy that lost his sister to the game, and when he walked in the bathroom to find his sister missing, and the floor covered in blood, his eyes turned blue - as did everyone who was involved in the game, but didn't actually play it. I thought this was a really cool tactic to use, because it's a permanent way to show that something has scarred someone and that they won't ever be able to return to normal.  Even at the end, when things supposedly are returned back to normal, his eyes remain blue, and honestly, I think that is really creepy.

The idea of reflections has also always been a favorite of mine because it's a way of showing your 'double,' so when people look in the mirror in horror movies, and don't see themselves but a deformed version instead, I have to love it- it's like it's showing their true, hidden identity, which in most cases, no one ever wants to reveal. Now both the game and the movie itself are solely centered around mirrors, because throughout legends, mirrors are used as portals (and were used as portals for witchcraft back in history). According to legend, Mary Worth became pregnant out of wedlock, and wouldn't name the father, so the church accused her of witchcraft, saying that she slept with Satan.  Her punishment was to be tied to a tree, and slashed to death in front of a mirror so she could look her sins in the face.  Upon her death, she cursed the town, swearing her revenge and entered the mirror where she would live for eternity waiting to be evoked. Bet you think twice next time you look in a mirror now!

What I didn't like about the movie:
Besides the fact that I think the acting could have been better, and the way the movie was shot needed to be changed -- I really don't like the idea that if someone decides to play the game, that they can mark others that aren't involved and essentially send Mary over to kill them.  I think that has so many plot holes and frankly it drives me crazy because in horror, I feel that you truly have to deserve, in some shape for form, what's coming to you (in these kinds of movies) and when you're unsuspecting and completely innocent and a ghost from the past decides to kill you anyways -- it takes all the fun out of it!

Overall, the movie was a decent watch and if anything brought me up to speed on a legend that I wasn't entirely familiar with.  I would say to give it a go if you don't have anything else to watch, but if you're looking for a good movie to sit down and get the shit scared out of you -- look elsewhere friends. But for the sake of everyone around.. don't play the game. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Elements of the Uncanny: THE EXORCIST

"It was always very strange for me when I was young and would meet someone who geniunely seemed to be afraid of me. They couldn't separate me from the monster I became in a movie. You wouldn't believe how often people ask me to make my head spin around." - Linda Blair (Regan)

It has been a little over a week since I have put my big girl panties on and watched The Exorcist, and I have to say that I am still quite fascinated over it. The more that I have thought about it, and the more in depth we have gotten in analytic critiques in class, the more mad I get at myself for not watching this film sooner because there is SO much to discuss and dissect on a psychoanalytical level... and frankly, I just need to go there with you folks.
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A few years ago, I read Freud's The Uncanny as well as The New Uncanny (which is a book of short stories written in response to Freud's original piece) and this semester I am revisiting it again in my Literary Criticism class.  Now maybe it is the natural weirdo in me (or the perv?) but I am truly fascinated by the uncanny, and by Freud, and have actually been doing a lot of reading on the topic of psychoanalysis in my spare time to get a better grasp on how to apply it to past and modern day horror.  So on that note, I want to go over some elements of the uncanny that we discussed in class last Thursday, as well as some of my own discoveries that I have been deviously pondering.
  • NOTE: for those of you that aren't familiar with the terminology, the Uncanny (das Unheimliche -- literally, "un-home-ly") is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange.
So of the main elements that are discussed when talking about the uncanny are: the double, the eye, a sense of being buried alive, dismemberment, the idea of an all controlling genius, a confusion between reality and imagination, repetition (repetition), reanimation and or mechanical movements (such as seizures or trances, or the dead coming back to life) and finally, my personal favorite, dolls/dummies.  Now what is so cool about the uncanny, is that when I first read a list like this, my mind went in a million directions thinking of different plots and characters in horror/thriller/science fiction movies that apply to scenarios like the above, but what my teacher, Mike Arnzen keeps stressing is that the uncanny is not always evil or related to the horror world.  For instance, Déjà vu is certainly an uncanny concept but people can have it without being previously chased by a monster, or being killed in a past life.  Personally, that's all the more creepy to me, because it means that the uncanny is everywhere!


But back to The Exorcist:
Our class came up with a list of uncanny elements that I want to share with you, because I think we did a pretty job and pin-pointing areas within the film that evoke uneasiness within the audience, and within the characters as well:  the idea of an all-controlling genius, possessed body parts, seizures and mechanical body parts such as when her head spins, the idea of the satanic double, repetitions of aging women, the notion of being buried alive, insanity, reoccurring numbers, supernatural uncertainty of whether Regan in is reality or in her imagination, the reanimation of Father Karras's mother within Regan, animated objects (bed, dresser, etc), the eye, throwing of voices (ventriloquism), and the castration/Oedipal complex.

  • Some of these are pretty obvious to the viewer, but some are done a tad more subtlety such as: being buried alive, the reanimation of Father Karras's mother with Regan, the throwing of voices, and the castration/Oedipal complex.  
The concept of being buried alive is a favorite of mine because it deals with the horrors of a woman's body (well in my opinion anyways).  When the movie first begins, we see the elder priest reach into a deep hole, which Freud would interpret as his desire to re-enter the womb.  While this is a little stretched at times, because I don't think that every time someone reaches within something that they are begging to be a part of their mother again, I think it works well within this story based on the relationship between Regan and her mother. Regan is an only child, living in a broken family. From the scenes where the mother is cursing at the father on the phone, it is obvious to the viewer that their divorce was, and still is, on hostile grounds. Because of this, I think that Regan is constantly reaching out to her mother, who plays both the matriarchal and patriarchal role in their family as she has a steady (and successful) career as an actress. Because of this, Regan is mostly brought up by the nanny/maid, and it's obvious that she wants her mother to herself when she kills Burke in her possessed state - the man that her mother was currently romantically involved with.  That idea reverts to a form of the Oedipal Complex, where Regan wants her mother only for herself.  But, if we took a step away from the mother/daughter relationship, the obvious symbol of being buried alive would be the fact that Regan was buried within herself, thus the demon taking over.  We see that she is trapped inside when she writes help me on her stomach.

I thought that the reanimation of Father Karras's mother was (damn) scary because it tormented him on such as psychologically level, and he was already torturing himself over the decision he made by putting her in the mental/hospice facility. Personally, when Regan spoke out to him in his mother's voice, my body went cold. What a way to attack someone by reanimating their guilt or their fear -- this reminded me of Stephen King's Pet Semetary when we see Gage reanimated, but more so the vision of his mother's sister who was deformed and deathly ill, all the while blaming her sister for her death. I think this goes  back to the idea of the familiar becoming unfamiliar in that what we one felt safe with is now eliciting fear/panic from us. Also, note the fact that Regan throwing her voice portrays the ventriloquism element of the uncanny. Voice changes are always creepy no matter what because it's almost always linked to possession, whether in inanimate or animate forms.

Last, but not least, my personal favorite, the castration complex. We distinctly see this in two scenes during the movie, both involving Regan. In the early stages of her possession, when her mother is still seeking a medical explanation for her actions, she had consulted a psychologist/hypnotist to come and examine her daughter.  In the beginning of the process, it appeared to viewers that it was working because Regan admitted to being afraid of something inside of her, yet when the doctor began to speak to the demon, it violently responded with grabbing his crotch and twisting his groin.This not only symbolized a physical (literal) castration but a metaphorical one as well, as he was denied the knowledge of what was going on within the child.  The next example, would be when Regan was left alone in her room, with the cross.  She stood up on her bed, and penetrated her vaginal area with the cross, over and over again, shouting obscenities and vulgarities as she did so.  This action could represent the castration of Regan from the church.

The Exorcist is such a terrifying movie because it plays on so many aspects of our fears, hence the subtleties of the uncanny.  The actual notion of Regan's possession because obvious very early on, and thus plays backseat to the other areas of horror within the film and book (although I haven't read it, yet).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Just Watched: THE EXORCIST

Growing up, my parents forbade me to even consider watching movies like Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist, and I didn't really put up too much of a fight, because I was scared of everything as a child. I hated Halloween, I would cry if my parents turned out my nightlight, and most importantly, I slept with my blankets covering my neck because I was afraid a vampire was going to come in through my window and suck my blood.  My parents always told me that if you brought evil into your life, that it would stay there -- hence why we got the house blessed regularly, why I was dragged to church every Sunday, and why I was somewhat censored via film as a child. Ha. It's really quite funny how I turned out in the long run.

But minus the brief flashback, I was still always afraid to watch The Exorcist because I don't really play around with demonic possession. Only recently did I watch An American Haunting because when I originally went to see it in theaters, and saw the cross fly off the wall, I ran out of there.  So I was determined to face my fears, step by step, so first I read Rosemary's Baby, then moved on to An American Haunting, and slowly became okay with the idea of serious evil staring me in the face. Heck, I even rented the films and watched them too! But for some reason, I never quite got around to watching The Exorcist because I truly felt that it would ruin my life if I saw it.  So naturally, my teacher and mentor, Dr. Mike Arnzen, put it on our Literary Criticism syllabus this semester (he always said he would get me to watch it before I graduated)!

I was a little apprehensive going into class because I wasn't sure how I was going to react to the film.  Growing up Catholic, I felt like I was going to catch on fire the minute something bad happened, but to my surprise, I actually liked the film, and slept peacefully that night. I think the idea of the film really scared me, but the actual film didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.  Mind you, I don't think I want to watch Linda Blair crab walk down the steps too often -- but I can definitely see why the movie is a classic horror film... and yes, I think all horror fans should be required to watch this movie... even if it takes them 22 years like myself.

Viewer Response Criticism:

I have to admit that I enjoyed watching the progression of Regan's condition (if that's what you want to call it). I thought that it was kind of neat how it started out very subtlety, with her having trouble sleeping, the bed shaking, etc. and then moved on to her shouting obscenities at the doctors. However, I think that it took the mom a little while to realize that this wasn't a medical condition, especially when it was bluntly staring her in the face.  I mean, no matter what religion you are, everyone knows about possession, and if I walked into my child's room and things were floating everywhere, she was talking in a deep, creepy voice, and was floating on the bed, I would think one of two things were happening: (1) if she was 13 that maybe she was turning into a witch, because that's what happened to Sabrina or  (2) that she was clearly possessed by Satan. Mind you, I'm sure that the whole 'this isn't possible' sentence ran through her mind a couple times, but I have a hard time buying it because I've never heard of a nerve disorder that changes your face, your voice, and mutilates your body with scratches and scars.

*Side note: I thought that it was REALLY funny how that when the bed was first shaking that the mom thought that she could stop it by jumping on the bed with her, ha!

The transformation of the demon taking over her body was most intriguing to me (partly because I believe stuff like that can actually happen) and I thought that it was ironic that the possession didn't follow the formalities of a typical possession in accordance to the Catholic church: for example, Regan wallowed in pain when Karras through the tap water (that he said was holy water) on her, and then when he asked her to speak Latin, he later found out that it was English in reverse.  To be, regardless if the language was backwards or not, not normal person knows how to do that, and that enough would have been more than enough to convince me. Plus when you take into consideration that Regan knew that a priest was coming, and that his mother had recently passed...it's kind of hard to chalk that all up to coincidence.

What happens when you're possessed:
I thought the things Regan did to herself and to others were really creepy, and that the entire crew to the movie did a great job at the effects, the makeup, the sound, etc.  I have watched scenes where Linda Blair is talking in her normal voice, and then listened to the sound overs with the demon voice, and frankly, that makes the whole movie in my opinion. When she attacked the hypnotist and grabbed his groin, laughing all the way, I got chills down my arms, and then after watching her penetrate herself with a cross... I was utterly speechless, and still kind of am.  The puke scene is naturally a classic, but to me that was more of a gross out feature rather than an attempt to scare me, but when her head spun... that was just classic.  There is something so inhumanly evil about a head spinning that no matter how many scary movies you watch... it has to freak you out (even if you don't want to admit it).

On that note, I have to say that the scariest scene (for me) was when Karras opened the door after the first attempt at an exorcism, and saw Regan out of her restraints, sitting in the corner, with the elder priest dead on the ground. I'm a big fan  of leaving horror up to the imagination, and by not seeing what actually happened in that room, makes the scene all the more terrifying to me. It's almost as if we can't see it, because it's too horrible to watch, and we'd never understand it. Bravo!

After all, it's a great day for an exorcism!