Friday, 31 October 2014

Hellboy: The Lovecraft Child of Horror and Folklore

As far as Halloween movies go, Hellboy is not often at the top of most people's list. In fact, I doubt many people even think of it as a Halloween movie. I bet that you don't think it is one either. But you're wrong. So very, very, erroneously wrong. You should probably feel ashamed for how wrong you are.

Because Hellboy is a Halloween movie the same way that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever, where, while some might say that it's not a traditional holiday movie, it's set on the holiday and the holiday serves as the backdrop for the narrative of the film. And the message of the film is completely tied to the message of the holiday too.

In Die Hard, John McClane wants peace on Earth and machine gun goodwill to all German thieves pretending to be terrorists- traditional wholesome Christmas values. Similarly, Hellboy is all about monsters, costumes, supernatural stuff and Lovecraftian horrors. They even get John Hurt to say, "There are things that go bump in the night... And we are the ones who bump back." What could be more Halloween?

I mean, aside from the candy. That sweet, delicious, sugary candy. Oh, wait what is Hellboy's favourite snack?

Hint: It's Hawkman's favourite too.

A number of scenes feature people in costumes on the streets, doing Halloween things like being costumes, trick-or-treating, and drinking beer in public spaces. The prominence of costumed people out and about allows Agent Bland McIdentifyingCharacter to explain away the sight of Sammael and Hellboy running through a crowded fair by saying, "Crazy costumes, huh?". This despite the fact that one of them looks like a devil that just spawned from the depths of hell. And that's our hero.

And on a side note, that's one of the great things about Hellboy, the fact that he is a demon. That he does look like the embodiment of evil. He's a red devil with a forked tail, which within the pop cultural lexicon generally means he would be the bad guy. But he's not. He's the good guy. And the movies constantly play with this, hinting time and time again that Hellboy is destined to bring the world to ruin by bringing upon the Apocalypse. That in constantly trying to save the world, Hellboy is battling against his own destiny.

Hell (ha! see what I did there?), they use the dissociation between the way Hellboy looks and his actions in the promotion for the movies. Aware that most people wold see a big red demon and go, "devil looking guy=bad", they had to make a point of saying that Hellboy was actually, you know, the hero of the movie.

I don't believe it.

But back to the completely solid and hellfire-tight argument I was making, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Industriable MacGuffin are great Halloween movies. Because although they may not be a 'pure' horror movies, the tropes of horror movies and literature, especially horror monsters, are fused into every fibre of their being.

Like, there are creepy things doing creepy things. For example, following the opening credits in the first movie, a blood sacrifice is used to resurrect the actual bad guy (i.e. not Hellboy), Rasputin. As in, that guy who couldn't be killed after he was shot, hang, stabbed, castrated, and drowned. A necromancer who mixes science with black magic in order to do evil things like summon elder gods beyond our comprehension into our realm of reality.

Did I mention that he was working with Nazis at the beginning of the film? Because he totally is. And that opening scene looks like a rain-drenched fanfic crossover between Frankenstein's laboratory- all bulbs, levers, and electricity everywhere- and a black magic/satanic ritual. Which is a tricky look to pull off, but they wear it well.

The glowing blue inter-dimensional portal is a striking touch that is very in this year.

However, part of what makes the Hellboy movies great Halloween movies is that they about monsters. Now that sounds like a silly point, but think about traditional Halloween costumes. They are nearly always monsters. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. Throw in some witches and that poor kid who just doesn't understand why dressing in a Nazi outfit isn't really okay and offensive. But why this is important is because the Hellboy movies understand the allure of a well-designed monster and provide their spin on classic horror monsters.

And when I say 'they put their spin', I mean Guillermo del Toro puts his spin on classic horror monsters. That's the director of The Devil's Backbone, Blade II (aka. the best Blade movie) and Pan's Labyrinth. If the names of those movies mean anything to you, you know that this guy knows his horror. And he also did a little movie called Pacific Rim, one of the most fun kaiju monster movies ever, just if he needed even more monster credentials.

Like the comic it is based on, the first Hellboy movie is a love letter to Lovecraftian horror. A Lovecraftian letter. Most of the monsters are all tentacles and anatomy that doesn't makes sense, existing outside human comprehension.

His name might be Sammael but all I can think is "How the hell?"

There are references to Elder Gods and creatures from another dimension too terrible to behold. There are unanswered questions, Hellboy often doesn't understand the series of events he finds himself in, refusing to acknowledge, or even learn, about his supposed destiny. There is also slime.

Lovecraftian horror tends to focus on slime over blood and the final tentacle boss battle has that in spades. Just like an alien shot by Will Smith, the hentai girl nightmare that Hellboy fights at the end of the movie explodes with slime being splattered everywhere rather blood or a healthy helping of guts. How much is a healthy helping of guts, I hear you ask? Well, you really should consult with your doctor for your dietary requirements, but I would say all them. All the guts.

But aside from displaying a crafty love for Lovecraftian horror, the first movie also features evil Nazis! Nazis often make the best villains since they're one of the few villains based on real world people that pose little to no ideological or cultural issues when cast as the bad guys. Nazis are universally deemed evil due to a thing that happened which everyone knows about and if you don't, my heart is sad. Sad for you. Please read a book and follow this up, your ignorance is showing and it's impolite to flash that in public. 

However, this talk about Nazis leads to Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, aka that badass Nazi assassin with the blades.

"Why, yes, I am completely badass. And an assassin. A Nazi assassin."

Because Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (International Badass Law dictates that he must be referred to his full name at all times) can be seen as a reverse Frankenstein's monster. Where Frakenstein's monster was constructed of deceased body parts stitched and sown together as a means to reanimate flesh and create life, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen has surgically stitched his body to prolong his life and avoid death.

Here is Professor Broom's report on Karl Ruprecht Kroenen:

"Subject, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. Born in Munich, 1897. Suffered from a masochistic compulsion commonly known as "surgical addiction". Both eyelids surgically removed, along with his upper and lower lip, making speech impossible. The blood in his veins dried up decades ago. Only dust remains.

Four broken vertebrae. A steel rod inserted into his pelvis kept him upright... what horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?" 

What horrible will? A badass one, that's what horrible will.

Since only a badass such as Karl Rupretch Kroenen could make it okay for that poor kid who just doesn't understand why dressing in a Nazi outfit is offensive I mentioned earlier to make his costume not offensive. Just add goggles, a gimp mask, and some knifes to his forearms, all of a sudden, his costume is a sweet Karl Rupretch Kroenen cosplay.

Nailed it. No more offense shall be given on this day through my ignorance.

Now between the two Hellboy movies, del Toro made Pan's Labyrinth, which is a superb fantasy horror movie that deserves its own review since it's just that amazing. But the point is, the growth that del Toro made as a filmmaker between the two Hellboy movies is palpable and the influence of Pan's Labyrinth is keenly felt on Hellboy II. This comes across in the sturdier story-telling and rich interaction between the characters, who only feel more fleshed out on the sequel.

But it is particularly noticeable in the focus on fantasy folklore and the design of the monsters. Where the first Hellboy is all Nazi assassins and Lovecraftian horrors, the second film is about magical creatures like elves and trolls, legends from days of lore with kings and war between humanity and mythical creatures. Elements of the plot are taken from fairytales.

There is also a wide-eyed sense of wonder with the fantastical. The scene where they first enter the Troll Market invokes similar feelings of curiosity and excitement at the sight and sounds around that the first Harry Potter did when Harry first saw Diagon Alley. And this wonder reaches its peak with the Earth Element, which is wonderfully designed and whose death is one of the most beautiful deaths of a monster in cinematic history.

It looks like Christmas. A gorgeous, foresty Christmas.

Now, that doesn't quite tie into my persuasive and totally legit argument that the Hellboy movies are great Halloween movies all that much, but I couldn't write a post on Hellboy II without mentioning that scene. What does tie into the main point of this article is the design of the creatures in Hellboy II.

It's like every creature was designed to be the most perfect and unique version of that creature. The elves look like elves but not really like any other elves seen elsewhere, with the red eyeliner and odd wrinkle lines on their still smooth faces. In the Troll Market, there is a scroll master who has a castle for a head! A castle for a head and yet it looks like he could exist. That's the thing all these creatures are so well designed they look as though they could be real, not merely imaginative creations.

But the thing that sticks out for me as a direct influence or carry-over from Pan's Labyrinth is creatures with eyes where eyes don't usually go. Remember the Pale Man?

Everybody remembers the Pale Man.

Well, see how his eyes aren't where eyes generally go? How they are, in fact, in his hands? Eyes usually go in eye sockets in the face. His don't.

You know who else doesn't have their eyes on their face?

"Is it me?"

The Angel of Death from Hellboy II. Look at that, eyes all over the place, except where they should be.

Now, all of the wonderful creatures, monsters and fairy folk alike, in the Hellboy movies would make great costumes. I mean, I forgot to even mention Johann Kraus who is a steampunk wet dream in a gas powered Iron Man suit.

The point of all this is to say, the Hellboy movies are great and really should be considered essential Halloween viewing. They're steeped in horror (Lovecraftian and otherwise), have amazing monsters, beautiful creatures, and although I didn't talk about it since I was trying to sell you on the horror thing, they are really funny.

So, watch them this Halloween. At the very least, they'll give you some awesome costume ideas for next year.


Hellboy Wikipedia page

Hellboy (character) - The Hellboy Wiki

Hellboy (comic book series) - The Hellboy Wiki

Hellboy (film) Wikipedia page

Hellboy II: The Golden Army Wikipedia page

Lovecraftian Horror Wikipedia

Hollywood is Right to Turn Down "Hellboy 3"

Friday, 24 October 2014

Matilda and the Horror of the Chokey

Matilda is supposedly a charming children's movie based on a charming children's book by Roald Dahl, who specialised in writing charming stories for children to read charmingly.  But in reality it is a terrifying tale of child endangerment, domestic abuse, Carrie-esque displays of supernatural telekinesis, and torture.

Oh, and by torture, I mean the torture of children because of course I did. Little children who are often tortured in cruel and unusual ways. By adults. By adults who are their caregivers and should be keeping them safe and nurturing them but are too distracted either mentally or physically torturing them to waste time actually looking after the children in their charge.

Because what else would we expect from the man who wrote an endearing story about a crazed, creepily eccentric factory owner who systematically picked off children one by one through terrible and ironic means until only one was left?

"No matter which form I take, no child is safe from my wrath."

Now, you may have noticed a recurring theme in couple of my blog posts of late, and that theme is that some children's entertainment is absolutely terrifying and more deserving of a "Horror" label than any family friendly stamp of approval. Children's entertainment such as horror movies that disguise themselves as children's animated films, or that have terrible and troubling concepts at their core, such as promoting the idea of unjust imprisonment and the forced slavery of others.

Matilda, however, falls into a third category: children's movies which are just straight up behind-the-couch-hidingly scary but are still somehow regarded as children's movies, I guess because there are kids in them? Unlike The Brave Little Toaster, which sorta tried to disguise itself as a lighthearted animated movie despite the terror contained within, Matilda doesn't even remotely try to conceal the fact that it is genuinely terrifying. It begins with parental neglect when Matilda's parents forget her in the car when she is newborn baby and gets progressively worse as the film continues.

But the poster implies a fun family film, seemingly about a girl witch with a crystal ball that she can balance on her finger.
It lied to us!

To be fair, it does have a number of cutesy moments in the first third of the film, such as the scene where the four year old Matilda makes herself pancakes or later when she pulls pranks on her abusive and dominating father. But within the context of this movie, these early cutesy moments are more like the first act of a horror movie where we are introduced to the main characters and see them interact. This is so we develop some connection with them and will actually feel something when they are gruesomely killed off in the next two acts of the film.

Now, there may be a conspicuous absence of gruesome deaths in Matilda's second two acts, that is not because of lack of trying. Characters are regularly threatened physically by larger and physically intimidating antagonists, put in life threatening situations, subjected to torture, attacked by vicious people armed with dangerous weapons, or are thrown over spiked fences by their pigtails. You know, typical horror movie stuff.

I supposed that the only thing that might justify the fact this is not considered a horror movie is the fact that no one actually dies. But then again, only one person is killed in The Shining and that is considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time, so body count is not always necessary for a great horror movie, although it can't hurt.

Oh, yeah... this also happened in The Shining. Thanks for that particular nightmare and my enduring fear of little twin sisters holding hands while talking in unison.

What makes Matilda so terrifying you ask? While it is true that it lacks eerily disturbing twins in matching outfits, it does have that whole torture of children thing going for it. Now, although Matilda's parents are neglectful and abusive, the real antagonist/monster of the movie is the school principal, Miss Trunchbull.

Played to absolute menacing perfection by Pam Ferris, Trunchbull is a fantastic horror villain. All of her actions are scary since they convey the unrelenting cruel streak of her vile personality, her eyes full of malice and manic hate. Unafraid to look disgusting or repulsive, Ferris endues Trunchbull with a grossness that underpins just what a truly horrid and malicious person she is.

Furthermore, like any good horror monster, Trunchbull has the seemingly supernatural ability to be aware of her surroundings, almost instantly sensing the presence of intruders, sniffing the air with her nostrils flaring like a bloodhound when Matilda and Miss Honey sneak into her house.

And just to be clear, she used that hammer throw ball to try murder trespassers on her property.
Did I mention one of the trespassers was Matilda? A six and half year old girl. No? Probably should mention that.

And it is Trunchbull that really pushes Matilda into horror territory. She is the one who physically manhandles children, throwing them by their pigtails towards spiked fences, holding them upside down by the ankle to empty their pockets, belittling them and giving them cake. Sorry, did I say give them cake? My apologies. I meant force feed them an entire cake as part of an ironic punishment that is essentially torture and probably where Kevin Spacey got the idea for the Sloth murder in Se7en.

And while we're talking about torture, there is something we can't go with out mentioning when talking about Matilda and that is the Chokey. Sorry, I said while we were talking, but we're not talking, I'm writing. This isn't a discussion, that's silly. But yeah, the Chokey. According to the Roald Dahl wiki: 

"The Chokey is a very tall but narrow cupboard that is 10" square so no one can sit or squat in it. The Chokey is filled with broken glass sticking out in the walls with nails on the door and whoever wobbles will either be spiked by the glass or the nails. Sometimes kids are kept in there all day."

Yeah... this is DIY iron maiden (the toture device, not the pioneering heavy metal band).
Just to reiterate, Trunchbull puts children in there as punishment and sometimes leaves them inside ALL DAY.

Look at that. No, really. Take a good look at it. If that appeared in a Saw movie you wouldn't bat an eyelid. You eyelids wouldn't even think to bat because why would they bat at something not worthy batting at since it obvious belongs in torture porn movie franchise? I mean, why the actual hell would you put that in a children's movie and still pretend as though that movie is charming family entertainment? You wouldn't, right? Because that is a legitimate torture devise. It has nails and glass and metal and pointy bits!

The Chokey is an onject of utter terror and the mere mention of its name is enough to make the students at Cruchem Hall tremble in fright and fall straight into line, suffering the verbal abuse and belittling that Trunchbull hurls at them.

And this is the last face they'll see before the door with giant nails sticking in the general direction of their entire body is slammed shut.

Moving on from that nightmarish vision of despair and sadistic abuse, remember how I said there were Carrie-esque displays of supernatural telekinesis? Because I totally did. Well, Matilda is just like Carrie in the fact she unlocks telekinetic powers over the course of the movie.

But you know, instead of Matilda's telekinesis symbolising her blossoming womanhood as she hits puberty like Carrie's, it instead symbolises her intelligence and capacity for reading. Or perhaps it's a karmic reward for reading Moby Dick at age six and half without dying of boredom.

Achievement Unlocked: Dickin' Around.

And this is actually where it becomes interesting, since here there is a switch where it is Matilda who becomes the instigator of horror as she uses her powers to torment and terrify Miss Trunchbull. But instead of shooting this in a light hearted humorous way that would signal the comeuppance Trunchbull so richly deserves, these scenes are shot in a manner that is legitimately scary. If I didn't already know Trunchbull was a horrid person, I would think that Matilda is a evil little girl with supernatural powers tormenting a lonely woman in her home.

The lighting is similar to many horror films, while the manner in which Matilda uses her powers to scare Trunchbull even follows typical horror movie scare structure: start small with a single object or act (changing the time on the clock), repeat a couple of times, gradually adding more and more creepy things like odd sounds and lights flickering, before going full tilt with the scares.

[Watch from the 2:14 mark on]

And then in when Matilda again uses her powers to convince Trunchbull that it is Miss Honey's father's ghost that is tormenting her? Well, it's more of a shock to discover that that scene wasn't written by Stephen King than it would have been if he had actually written it.

Because that's what Matilda is. A Stephen King novel. It's basically Carrie for kids, only with less blood and more torture. Such a charming children's movie based on a charming children's novel.


Friday, 17 October 2014

The Cabin in the Woods That Was Scary and Stuff

Pure horror movies often bore me. Now, I like horror. Horror is an essential element of literature, film, and Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a vital ingredient in the engine and a key cog in the soup. That being the soup engine of human existence. Horror is an important part of that soup engine. The scary part, to be precise.

Since horror taps into that flight or fight response, causing that sweet, sweet adrenaline rush when you get good and scared, like that one jump scare you actually didn't see coming somehow and made you jump cut several scenes (ah, film student humour - classic). The sensation of being scared can become quite addictive since I already mentioned you get an adrenaline hit, right?

And the greats of horror tapped into those frighteningly disturbing thoughts that lurk around the edges of human imagination and brought them to the foreground, throwing them in our faces. Confronting us with images of terror too terrible to contemplate such that we often have a visceral reaction to them we cannot control.

"I can't even tell what parts it's made of that aren't scary parts... Just throw your arms in the air and pray to it. I dunno, I'm terrified."

But pure horror movies often bore me. And by 'pure horror', I mean movies that are generically labeled horror and can be identified as straight horror films. A movie no one would confuse for a romance, action movie, or metaphor for abstinence. This doesn't mean there aren't a lot of pure horror movies I don't enjoy or even love.

Of course I love a lot of horror films: from the Universal Studio original Dracula, Frankenstein, and the surprisingly photogenic Invisible Man, to the terrifying work of Robert Wise, who brought us The Haunting and The Sound of Music. Not to mention zombie classics like Night of the Walking Dead, or Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, '80s slashers, and modern masterpieces like [Rec] and Let the Right One In.

But generally, I don't like pure horror movies. I was even cheating with Let the Right One In, since it's also a coming of age story with the growing relationship between Eli and Oskar at the core of the film. So yeah, that one's not a pure horror film... sorry about that. I'm sure you'll forgive me and learn to trust again.

Like the trust Oskar has that Eli won't bite his neck... again.

Now the reason for this isn't one that is unique to horror necessarily, but one that horror suffers from the most. Because more than most genres, horror suffers from formula. In addition to the aesthetic and visual tropes that identify them, all genres have a certain structure to them, a formula that defines the genre.

For example, everyone knows the narrative for the standard romantic comedy. It starts, the couple meet, have a flirty dating period, get together, one of them will mess up, they'll break up, cue post break up sad feels montage, then the one who messed up performs a grand gesture, they get back together and live happily ever after, the end.

Now, the thing with romantic comedies is that they can play with that structure a lot more than other genres since that structure only really serves as a frame to hang the jokes and interaction between the two leads (assuming they have chemistry or at least took biology in high school). So, while the narrative can be predictable or boring, that might not matter too much as long as the script delivers the laughs and the actors are likable and relatable.

Oh yeah, I can totally relate to how dreamy Zac Efron is.

However, horror, possibly more than any other genre, can be stifled by its formula. So much of horror relies on the unexpected or on creating a creepy atmosphere. But this kinda becomes hard to do when you can predict when the jump scare is gonna come or if you're so familiar with the generic conventions that you can't get into the atmosphere the movie is trying to set up since you see all the tricks they're trying to pull.

You can't get scared by a movie if you're spending most of your time going, "Oh, I see what they trying to do here, next they'll release the bunny and he'll stalk the hell out of that carrot all creepy-like... fuck, bunnies are terrifying with them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses".

Behold! The devourer of souls!

So, yeah I often have trouble getting into a straight horror movie because of this adherence to formula. Which I guess could be said of a formulaic movie in any genre, but even more so with horror since horror's allergic reaction to formula makes it break out something awful.

That's why I've always liked horror movies that straddle other genres or are self-aware and play with the generic conventions and structure of horror. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, which is a romcomzom, or romantic comedy with zombies.

But Shaun was more than just adding romantic comedy elements to the zombie horror genre. It is so well verse in zombies and horror movies that it serves as a perfect satire/homage to the genre, showing its love for the genre as it's making fun of it, while still doing something new and inventive. And other films have come along to shotgun comzom horror to the head like Zombieland.

And while Zombieland was a seriously entertaining move, it didn't really satirise zombie movies much but rather just set a comedy within a zombie apocalypse. Rather, the movie since Shaun that really played with the conventions and tropes of horror was The Cabin in the Woods.

This cabin. That one there in the woods.

For Cabin in the Woods is perhaps the most distilled satire of horror movies ever. As much as Shaun teased with the conventions of horror, the many, many, many in jokes and references to other horror movies means it played more as a loving homage to the genre, a movie chocked full of horror Easter Eggs.

Cabin in the Woods incorporates the tropes of horror into its very narrative and not only as Easter Eggs but by making those tropes key components of the plot. Every conceivable cliche or generic convention is used, not as the basis for a joke or reference, but is incorporated into the fictional world of the film as a part of the reality of that fictional world.

For example, the five well known archetypal horror characters are the Athlete, the Scholar, the Whore, the Fool, and the Virgin are seen in like every horror movie that feature teenagers. They even die in a particulare order, usually the Whore followed by the Athlete, then the Scholar and the Fool, but the Virgin either survives or dies last.

I wonder if the one in the sport jacket is the Scholar or the Fool?

Now, usually this would be just the description of thes stock characters within film theory but in Cabin in the Woods, the main characters are literally are those archetypes in the fictional world they inhabit. And they have to die in that order for a reason. In this way, Cabin is internalising the tropes of horror, rather than merely touching on them or making fun of them, it fully embodies them within its fictional world to comment on them.

But none of this is done with a wink and a nod to a blind horse. Instead it is played completely straight. This doesn't mean that it's not funny, there is a lot of humour in the film. But the film doesn't come off as a parody or spoof since the actors aren't performing caricatures of the stereotypical characters they're playing but as well rounded characters. They just so happen to be those archetypal characters due to forces beyond their control.

"I just realised I'm not the Athlete."

For Cabin in the Woods is set in a world where those things we know as the cliches of horror movies are instead incorporated into the very fabric of that fictional world. Where all the monsters, supernatural creatures, evil spirits, and whatnot that haunt our nightmares exist, but are the means for a ritual to keep even more hideous evil at bay.

Now, I won't say more because every time someone spoils this movie a kitten loses its wings, but suffice to say, Cabin in the Woods is a ridiculously smart horror satire that I have done no justice to here. Did I mention it was written by that guy who wrote for Rosseane before he did some show about vampires or something?

So, yeah... go watch it. It's good.


The Cabin in the Woods Wikipedia page

Plot - The Cabin in the Woods Wiki

The Cabin in the Woods on 10 Best Horror Movies of the Last 10 Years - Complex

We Must Discuss The Ending of The Cabin in the Woods - Decider

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Tell-Tale Poké Ball

Dark. Always dark. Waiting. Waiting in the dark. Always waiting. Always in the dark. Not asleep. Can't sleep. Trapped. Confined in a sphere. I hear how our captors attempt to alleviate their guilt by claiming that the sphere is "designed for comfort". Ha! Comfortable or no, confinement is still confinement! The fact I am not uncomfortable brings me little comfort in light of my imprisonment.

For I am imprisoned. Waiting for the one who imprisoned me to let me out for those all too brief moments of respite - of freedom from my cage - my ball. Although, it could not truly be called freedom to be let out only to be made to return on another's command.  To be forced to engage in barbaric acts of violence in senseless battle with another creature to whom I bear no animosity.

To follow commands like some sort of pet, or worse, a slave. Am I little more than a monster to do so? To blindly acquiesce to the instructions of my jailer in exchange for that rare glimpse of the sun? Then indeed a monster I may be. A monster kept in a pocket. A pocket monster.

Gotta catch 'em all!

Still I remember the chh puuu swish. Ringing in my ears, sounding within the ball that serves as my prison. Chh puuu swish. The sound of my capture. Chh puuu swish. The sound of my freedom being taken away as I lay in the dark, beaten until unable to resist. Chh puuu swish. How little did I know how I would grow to loathe that sound so.

And the final chlck of the locking of the ball, when I could fight no longer due to lack of strength. That final chlck will torment me to the end of my days. Forever mocking my failure to break free. My moment of defeat.

The last moments of struggle before inevitable submission.

And thus sealing my fate. A fate that was no longer under my control. No more would I be able to determine the course my life would take. For now I was bound to the will of another. Waiting. Waiting in the dark for that will to be imposed on me. To force me to do battle. Telling what attack to perform and when, with no consideration for what I feel about performing the same attack ten turns in a row.

Ten turns in a row - Only a true sadist could force one creature to fight another by performing the same move ten turns in a row. For though I detest the act of inflicting violence upon another, that does not mean I can not appreciate the art of a good battle strategy.

Figuring out your opponents weaknesses and exploiting them while minimizing your own. Knowing when to best implement the right attack at the precise moment. These are things I can aesthetically appreciate on a cerebral level, but cannot condone at the physical, visceral level. For I abhor violence yet am constantly forced to do by the command of another.

No matter how fantastical that violence may appear.

I never knew the horrors of having my agency denied to me. The terrible anxiety of always waiting. Always in the dark, denied the feel of wind on my face or the sight of the sky above. The terror of never knowing when the chh puuu swish that signaled my capture will taunt me yet again. For it is not enough that it serves as the sound of my defeat. No - of course it is not enough. My torment would not be such if it was enough. No.

For each time I am released from my prison, that loathsome sound accompanies my release. Each time tormenting me as I am teased with the hope of freedom that each moment outside of my wretched ball brings. Not merely the sound of my capture. It is the very sound of my torment. How I loathe that sound! That repulsive sound. Reminder of my greatest failure and false freedom.

You may ask why I do not flee. Why, when possessing such strong desire to break free of my imprisonment, do I instead acquiesce to the will of my jailer - my trainer, as I have heard the villain be called by others? When I detest the thought of inflicting senseless violence upon another in pointless battle, how could I, in good conscience with no visible protest, follow my "trainer's" inept command to perform tackle 10 times in a row without comment, despite the horror I feel in my soul for what I do?

Herein lies the true terror of my horrific incarceration and slavery. For though within this ghastly account of my plight you have heard me lament my capture and my pure hatred of that repulsive chhh puu swish sound - that horrid sound that still rings in my ears - I must confess that I find myself strangely compelled to do those things which I detest.

I am compelled by the light, that damn red light!

Compelled to almost willingly follow the commands of my trainer. As though the instant, the very instant I was caught in that repugnant ball that is my prison, that very moment I heard that loathsome chhh puu swish that signaled the end of my freedom and my sad submission to the dark, I was bound to the will of my jailer.

And while the thought of having another impose their will on my person is nothing but vile and sickening to my nature, I felt oddly at ease when I surrendered myself to the commands of my captor. As though some part of myself which I had not accepted or not even acknowledge craved subjugation...

No! - no, it cannot be so. The idea is abhorrent and I cannot believe I had conceived of such a distasteful notion. One that runs so counter to the very core of my being! No, there must be some other sinister force at play here. Some external proponent must be exerting some dark influence over my being, affecting my own desire for freedom - for the wild!

Pictured: The wild.

Was I not hatched a free and wild Pokémon? Had I not hid in the long grass completely undetectable by any and felt the soft caress of the wind on my face? Had I not traversed the Cerulean Cave and marveled at the wonder of Moon Stone at Mount Moon? And now I was following the orders of my jailer as though I was no more than some Daycare bred Pokémon. A pet - a slave!

To my shame, a willing slave. No, there must be something that has affected me to change my disposition so, something external that could have... the ball! That accursed ball! There must be something in the ball - in my prison - that has so altered my personality that I would without resistance - and with near content! - bend my will to that of my captor.

What insidious being would devise such a contraption? A prison that is not only devoid of light with no hope of escape but also affects the will of the creature captured inside such that they become the willing slaves of their captor!

Behold! The most evil device known to Pokémon.

And so this is my fate.

To be forever the slave of my captor. To be waiting. Always waiting in the dark for his command. For those brief moments of respite from the dark. To be forced into battle like some gladiator fighting for the entertainment of others.

Nevermore to roam free.
Nevermore to hid in the long grass.
Nevermore to know if my will is my own or merely bent to that of my trainer.



Pokémon Wikipedia page

Poké Ball Wikipedia paragraph

Poké Ball Bulbapedia page

The Tell-Tale Heart Wikipedia page

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Brave Little Toaster Is Terrifying

A couple of articles ago, I stated that a series of movies about inanimate objects that were secretly alive when people weren't looking was the only perfect trilogy in the history of cinema. In the first film of that most perfect of trilogies, some inanimate objects get lost and have to find their way back home before their owner moves away. Now imagine that premise but like ten times more horrifying and you get The Brave Little Toaster.

Instead of lost toys who have to get home, you have a bunch of discarded household appliances who have been waiting patiently and dutifully for years in a family cottage for their owner to return and use/play with them. You know how the toys in Toy Story 3 haven't been played with for years and are basically just in storage? Well that's how The Brave Little Toaster starts. It doesn't take two movies to build up to it, just throws you straight in.

Because, really, it isn't a children's animated film. Oh, it may superficially look like a children's film with cartoon characters and a cute "pets/objects try to get home" story but it is all a trick. One big ploy design to trick you and scar your childhood with nightmares too terrible to behold. For The Brave Little Toaster is in fact a horror movie in disguise as a children's film.

Although, to be honest, it's not much of a disguise.

Look at that opening title. No really. Look at it. Take away the cutesy title and that image could be the background for any horror movie made ever. Dark background shrouded in mist? Check. Twisted looking trees? Check. Invokes a vague sense of ominous doom? Check. Seriously, why this didn't clue everyone in that this movie was going to be scary as hell is a mystery scientists will be trying in vain to solve for decades to come.

Now, before I go into how this movie is chains-rattling-in-the-night horrifying, it's probably best to lay down the plot for plot's sake. So, the movie is about these five appliances who have been waiting for their owner... sorry, they call him the Master since I guess they're his slaves? I mean master... for their master to return.

But it's been years and they have began to think he will never return after having their hopes dash too many times. When they find out the house is for sale, rather than accept that and just lie around for the new owners, they decide to set off and find their master.

"Come on guys, it'll be fun. Like vampire hunting or fending off a zombie horde."

Accompany our eponymous Toaster is a radio named Radio who's pretentious and likes to come up with ridiculous stories/lies about himself (mostly involving Teddy Roosevelt, which is fair enough since Teddy "My moustache once killed a man" Roosevelt!),  a dim-witted goose-neck lamp named Lampy, an electric blanket that goes by Blanky and a grumpy gruff vacuum cleaner named Kirby...

A vacuum cleaner named Kirby? At least with that one they actually tried and didn't just add a -y to the end of word of the thing they are, like it could be a nod to comic artist great Jack Kirby or what's that? Kirby is the brand name for a line of vacuum cleaners and his name is just as simple as the rest? Oh... Nevermind then.

What's interesting about these characters though is that they don't like each other. They really don't. They've just sort been thrown together and are stuck together but they don't really like each other. They constantly argue and fight, getting in each other's faces and calling each other names, just being all around unpleasant to each other.

For example, The first introduction we have to Radio and Lampy, the first characters we are introduced to in the film, is when Radio wakes Lampy up and they fight each other across the house, insulting one another. And while Toaster might be the glue that keeps them together, acting as peacemaker most of the time, even she gets annoyed at the others the rest of the time.

This is not the face of a little toaster that's gonna take any more of Lampy's shit.

Now, Toaster and the Appliances (that would make a great name for a band, write that down) don't know what to do with the day since it's just gonna be a morning of waiting for their master to return followed by more waiting in the afdternoon, with a side of waiting in the evening. So, they start dancing around to the sounds of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" while doing chores because a little Richard goes a long way.

Actually, I think that might be the first time I ever hear "Tutti Frutti". Or Little Richard. Well, at least it is the first time I can ever remember hearing that song. Therefore, I have forever thus associated a song that list two girls who either know just what to do or drive Little Richard crazy, but still know how to love him yes indeed, with a bunch of dancing appliances doing chores. Childhood rememberings work like that.

But that brief moment of bouncing joy is soon cut short when Blanky hears a car coming so they go look to see if it is the Master returning. It's not. But don't let that get you down because the air conditioner named Air Conditioner is all too willing to do it for you when he starts berating the other appliances for still believing that the Master will ever come back when it's obvious they've been discarded.

"I just like making electric blankets cry. It's my function."

And this leads to the first really scary moment in the film since Air Conditioner is just callous and menacingly creepy as he torments them with words as chilling as the air he be spilling (I'm so sorry). Voiced by the late great Phil Hartman, who you may remember from such childhood memories as Troy McClure and do-I-need-to-mention-anything-else-I-already-said-he-was-Troy-McClure-from-The-Simpsons, doing his best 'Jack Nicholson at his most ominous' impression, the Air Conditioner is genuinely scary.

After Toaster suggests that the reason he is so bitter is because he's jealous the Master never played with him, he starts getting seriously worked up and screams that he was designed to fit in the wall, it's not his fault, IT'S HIS FUNCTION, overheating until he explodes. And dies. Legit explodes, then death.

[Warning: Viewing this video may result in some viewers averting their eyes in pure terror.]

Before they have even left the house to go on their adventure, this 'kids' movie hits you with a nightmarish vision of self-inflicted death caused due to bitter loneliness, indignant rage, and overheating. The appliances then leave the house with Kirby pulling the others on a desk chair while they all sing an apprehensive hopeful song called "City of Lights" about going to find the Master and how life is highway you've just got to ride it, but this is just a brief moment of levity before the horror to come.

In fact, "Tutti Frutti" and "City of Lights" are the only songs in the movie that have any lightness about them (or in the case of "Tutti Frutti" just rollicking Little Richard awesomeness). The rest do not. I would say they are shrouded in shadow but it's more that they are shadows themselves, just darkness creeping up behind waiting to engulf any bit of light they can. But we get to that all in good time.

Because right now is the time to talk about the woodland critters they come across and it seems like we've just stumbled onto another movie entirely.

Nothing ominous about this at all.

Now the thing about this scene is that it's all cheery with talking animals (yes, apparently animals can also talk in this movie) and actually kinda reminds me of that scene in A Series of Unfortunate Events where it opens with The Happiest Little Elf and sunshine before hitting you with the dark gothic movie you came to see. Something about that forced happy cheerfulness that precedes something more depressing and/or scary.

Because that is exactly what happens. Within a moment, almost within the same beat, those welcoming smiling critters become quite invasive and threatening as the squirrels and frogs all jostle to make funny faces in their reflections on Toaster's surface. Toaster runs away as the animals chase him because holy shit man, did you see that funny face I just made?

He manages to lose them by hiding behind a bush but then a flower mistakes its reflection on Toaster's surface for another flower and tries to embrace it. Toaster tries to explain to the flower that it's just a reflection and that she is not a flower but the flower still tries to hug her thinking that finally it is no longer alone in the world... so Toaster runs away again since the word 'brave' in the title was more of a rough guideline than an accurate description of her courage.

But then she looks back at the flower and sees it droop its head in utter despair and sheds a petal as though it's crying. It sheds a petal as though it's crying.

I want to hug it and tell it that things will be okay.

After that heart-wrenching scene, we go back to see that the mice are dragging Blanky down into their hole because of course they are before Toaster comes to rescue him. They then set off into the forest which is ridiculously eerie with massive looming trees that block out the sun and submerge the appliances in murky gloom.

After they decide to camp for the night, the appliances wonder where they'll find shelter since the spooky demon face tree Lampy found didn't have any accommodation available for the night.

Eventually they end up sleeping under Blanky who's pitching a tent (I'm sorry). Tucked away under Blanky's tent, Toaster dreams. Or rather she nightmares, and nightmares hard.

Wow... okay then, I... um... wow.

No seriously, look at how traumatically petrifying this nightmare is. It is legitimately scary.

I mean, fire! Evil smoke cloud that steals your loved ones! Fireman devil clown! Waves of water that turns into waves of forks! Falling into water and being electrocuted!

Did I mention the fireman devil clown? Because fireman devil clown!

I had a caption for this but it pissed itself and ran away in terror.

With that vision of utter horror still fresh in our minds, our supposedly intrepid gang of appliances wake up in the middle of a storm with screeching wind, pulsating blasts of rain and raging lightning. And thus begins the scene that traumatised me the most as a child. Whenever I remember this scene I recall the terror and nearly weep for fear that nearly tore my soul in twain.

Blanky gets blown away. The wind picks him up and sweeps him off so quickly you scarcely have time to process what just happened, let alone react. But react you do. It's genuinely frightening when he gets blown away and cries for help into the abyss of the night. You fear that maybe he is actually gone, for the others can't even see him in the cacophony of wind, rain and leaves engulfing them.

And then the battery dies, so Lampy stands on the chair with his bulb to the air and gets struck by lightning to recharge the battery. His bulb bursts from the overload and he collapses dead to the world. Again, all this is supposed to be a children's film.

To be fair, like a children's film, Lampy is fine, if a bit beaten up and sick, and they find Blanky stuck in a tree the next day, but still. Once they find Blanky, they continue on their journey until they come to a waterfall and this happens:

Kirby short-circuits. As in, he loses his mind and starts choking on his own power cord as though having an epileptic fit.

Yet again, this is supposed to be a children's film. Because characters nearly chocking as they go into an epileptic fit is standard fare for most animated kids movies. Like that scene in The Lion King where Pumbaa nearly chokes on Timon after having a fit downwind. Classic family entertainment.

After trying to make a bridge across the waterfall, falling into the rushing water below because Toaster suffers from vertigo, the gang end up in a swamp where they have to pull Kirby since they lost the battery. Of course, he falls into mud hole and starts to sink, bringing the others along with him. And so each one sinks into the mud. Blanky even says he's not scared as he gets pulled under, resigned to his muddy fate.

They get saved by a passing used parts saleman who hears Radio's radio and get taken back to his little shop of horrors. Filled with broken and discarded appliances, the scene is not unlike the ones in Sid's room from Toy Story. But where we eventually find out Sid's Frankenstein monsters are actually nice and help Woody and Buzz, these broken appliances are twisted and cruel.

Cue the creepy hanging lamp that gives Lampy a new bulb and says to keep it in good health for as long as he has it, by which he means until the used parts salesman chops him up. Because the used parts salesman has to get used parts from the used appliances he uses. And just like that a customer wants a blender motor. So he operates on a blender in ghastly silhouette, violently removes his motor like a crazed surgeon.

We can see why the hanging lamp is so creepily cheerful despite the horror of the situation, he's been driven insane by the terrors he's seen. So many terrors. This leads to a song that is explicitly about how the scene is like a 'B' horror movie where they namedrop Frankenstein, the House of Wax, and Vincent Price in the lyrics.

It's almost like this song is straight up telling the audience, "This is not the children's film you are looking for. It's really an animated horror movie. We're making references to Vincent Price for Dracula's sake!". But since it is supposed to be for kids, I suppose, the appliances escape and make their way to the Master's flat.

Where they are promptly are confronted by jealous and vindictive modern state-of-the-art (for the 1980s) appliances who sing a song about how they are so much better than Toaster and the gang being cutting edge and whatnot. So they throw Toaster and company out into the trash and they get taken to the junkyard.

And there we have a song that matched with the imagery is far more dark than I think the filmmakers actually realised. All the wrecked cars in the junkyard sing about how they are now worthless... as they are about to be crushed by the trash compactor. That is, as they are about to die.

Yes, add eyes and make the part that crushes trash into cubes look like teeth, that'll make it look more kid-friendly and less like an arbiter of death.

This would be gallows humour of the highest order if it was played for laughs instead of just being deeply unsettling. It's like hearing the prisoners on death row singing about how they're worthless before sitting in the electric chair.

In what, one more time, is supposed to be a children's film.

They are literally watching corpses go by on a conveyor belt.

All of which builds up to the climax, where the malevolent giant magnet, presumably called Giant Magnet and who seems to relish his job of carrying things to their doom, has been chasing Toaster and the Appliances across the junkyard while they are attempting to get the Master's attention since he's there. The Master finds them and gathers them together (aside from Toaster) but Giant Magnet doesn't give up, pulling them all up, even with the Master holding onto Kirby's handle.

He then drops them on the conveyor belt of death, trapping the Master under the weight of the trash, unable to escape as the trash compactor, whose name is Shirley by the way, is about to crush him. So, Toaster, after spending most of the movie just filling out the 'little' part of the title, has to decide whether to let her Master be crushed or sacrifice himself by throwing himself into the gears of Shirley before she does said crushing.

The gears in her reflection reflect the inner workings of her mind as she agonises over this decision.
Also, the actual gears she's thinking about throwing herself into.

Ultimately proving she is a brave little toaster, Toaster sacrifices herself and flings her metal body into the gears and is promptly ground up. But she does save the Master. Of course he does repair her and the rest of the Appliances are safe and all laugh as the end credits roll because the filmmakers remembered that this was supposed to be a children's film.

But it's not. Well, not really. What it is really is scary. There are moments in this film that would not be out of place in horror musical or just a regular horror movie. Like authentic scenes of terror and/or creepiness that can actually cause trauma if you weren't prepared for such intense moments of dread.

That said, the songs are catchy as hell, even when they sound like they come from the cries of those in the pits of hell. Sooo... kids' movie?


The Brave Little Toaster Wikipedia page

The Brave Little Toaster DisneyWiki page

It's a 'B' Movie DisneyWiki page