Urban legends and their adaptation in horror cinema
Mikel J. Koven
Urban legends, those apocryphal stories told in university dormitories and around campfires about hook-handed psycho-killers and boyfriends discovered hanging above the parked cars, are a form of oral literature. This chapter explores the adaptive processes these largely formless narratives have undergone to be made into mainstream cinematic horror narratives. It expands on Paul Smith's typology by considering some of the structural issues of the urban legend film, that is, films based primarily or largely on orally circulated belief narratives. The chapter defines some of the more textual dimensions to the urban legend horror film in an effort to expand on what Smith began. It identifies four main narrative strategies that filmmakers avail themselves to within Smith's 'complete plot' category: extended, resultant, structuring and fusion narratives. The chapter summarises two multi-strand narratives: fusion narratives and anthologies.
Horror and the avant-garde in the cinema of Ken Jacobs
This chapter examines how the contemporary experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs adapts the legacy of magic. His work might seem a bit out of place in the context of the horror genre. Jacobs' work, like much of the American avant-garde, rages against the commodification of the image and its seemingly passive consumption. With his seminal film Tom Tom the Piper's Son, Jacobs rescues a 1905 Biograph slapstick movie of the same name from cinematic oblivion. Cinema emerged in the late nineteenth century, accompanying capitalism's monstrous progeny: alienated production and the fetishised commodity. Jacobs' 'Nervous Magic Lantern' apparatus is similar to his 'Nervous System' performances, but it pares the cinematic experience down to even more primitive elements. Adapting the lens of the horror genre to Jacobs' 'Nervous Magic Lantern' and 'Nervous System' performances is particularly apt.
Australian Gothic represents a mode, a stance and an atmosphere, after the fashion of American Film Noir, with the appellation suggesting the inclusion of horrific and fantastic materials comparable to those of Gothic literature. The perversity of rural townships and their residents forms the basis of Gothic texts which in other respects reflect debts to generic entertainment, social polemics, fantasy and allegory. Peter Weir's first feature production The Cars That Ate Paris portrays the Outback town as the seat of deranged authority. The considerable commercial success of Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981) both at home and abroad is attributable to the strong generic basis for their narratives, characterisation and iconography. Max's heroic tasks grow in stature and destructiveness as the cycle progresses. In the cases of Walkabout and Shame, a significant part of the horror resides in the defamiliarisation of natural and human landscapes away from urbanisation.
The recreation of the Australian film industry in the 1970s and its subsequent survival on economic and aesthetic terms have been inseparable from debate over sources of finance. The reception and encouragement of the period film cycle has been taken as evidence of a regimentation of treatment in the service of a primary political objective. This is to define and broadcast an expedient, respectable and marketable form of Australian identity at a crucial moment in the development of national consciousness. The groups of films addressed in this book have been categorised by critics or have aligned themselves with generic patterns, in response to their maker's intentions and their audience's expectations. Stereotypical representations of Australian masculinity are found in The Overlanders, They're A Weird Mob and Crocodile Dundee. These representations strive to designate the white, classless, individualistic male as the archetypal Australian, defined strictly by or in relation to outsiders.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in this book. The book examines Terence Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. Praised by David Pirie in the early 1970s as a Gothic auteur, he has since come to be seen as the reactionary face of British horror against which more radical and innovative approaches can be defined. The book presents Fisher as a more complex figure than this, as not entirely the auteur identified by Pirie but neither the wholly reactionary film-maker imagined by others. Isabel Cristina Pinedo has suggested that Hammer horror forms a transitional stage between 'classical horror' and more modern forms of horror. Fisher's horror films perhaps represent more clearly than other Hammer horrors some of the tensions and uncertainties involved in this transition.
This book offers introductory readings of some of the well-known and less well-known feature productions coming out of Australia since the revival in the national film industry at the end of the 1960s. The interpretations of the texts and the careers of their makers are considered in relation to the emergence of an indigenous film culture and the construction of national identity. The majority of the films examined in the book have had theatrical or video releases in the UK. The independent development of several indigenous film genres has been an important feature of recent production, and helped to punctuate and bracket the streams of feature production that have evolved since 1970. These Australian genres have been identified and evaluated (the Australian Gothic, the period film, the male ensemble film) and are worthy of consideration both in their own right and in their intersection with other conventionalised forms. These include science fiction, fantasy and horror in comparison with the Gothic, the heritage film and literary adaptation in connection with the period film, and the war film and rite of passage in relation to the male ensemble. More recently, an aesthetic and thematic trend has emerged in the examples of Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla, and Muriel's Wedding, which foregrounds elements of the camp, the kitsch and the retrospective idolisation of 1970s Glamour. Such chronological, stylistic and thematic groupings are important in the interpretation of national filmmaking.
This chapter argues that all Terry Gilliam's films are exercises in hybrid textuality, but the dystopian form taken up in Brazil makes this his most overtly political work. Brazil initially is replete with utopian dreams, but as its protagonist Sam Lowry gains a better understanding of the dystopian reality, his dreams increasingly take on the dystopian tenor of that environment. Lowry's fantasies are critically analysed in terms of their narcissism and escapism, but even if we judge these negatively, he at least inhabits a more stimulating world than those around him. In Munchausen, by constructing the framework of the theatre around the tales themselves, Gilliam and Charles McKeown create a form of transitional space between the worlds of fantasy and reality. The Theatre Royal provides a space where fantasy can be presented, while serving as a refuge from the murderous reality of the besieged town that surrounds the audience.
National identity and the spirit of subaltern vengeance in Nakata Hideo’s Ringu and Gore Verbinski’s The Ring
This chapter discusses Gore Verbinski's 2002 film The Ring, a remake of Nakata Hideo's Ringu, which was itself an adaptation of Suzuki Koji's 1991 novel The Ring. Both Ringu and The Ring are ideally positioned to explore the ideological function of models of national identity promulgated by the media in Japanese and US society internalised by members of each. These were often in direct contradiction of the realities of national history or contemporary social and cultural practices. Sasaki Sadako, as spirit of vengeance, asserts her own right to survive, and to reproduce, by becoming both mother and father to a new breed of infected individuals. Her meta-hybridity echoes in the book's inference that her father was not in fact human but a water spirit summoned by the real-life ascetic En no Ozunu.
In The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam is attracted to the darker sense of the fairy tale, understanding it as a suitable genre for mature children and open-minded adults. Bob McCabe had already produced Dark Knights and Holy Fools, a critical survey of Gilliam's films up to Fear and Loathing, and would put together The Pythons Autobiography By The Pythons. The book that came from Gilliam's request, Dreams and Nightmares: Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Grimm, and Other Cautionary Tales of Hollywood, offers a sobering account of the tribulations Gilliam underwent in making The Brothers Grimm. Tideland takes Gilliam into new territory, the world of Gothic horror, and he claimed that in Tideland, Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho. There are elements of the Gothic in The Brothers Grimm, but that film's comic undertones relieve the tension, which builds menacingly in Tideland.
In thematic terms, a sense of desire as a dangerously uncontrollable force can be seen to inform Terence Fisher's later films. In the horror work, the powerful and effective heroes tend to be celibate while those individuals who succumb to desire usually end badly. In the pre-horror work discussed in this chapter, one gains a sense that Fisher is more engaged in those scenarios which afford him the possibility of exploring or commenting upon the perils of desire. Possible traces of Fisher's input are minimal, as one might expect from a project in which Noel Coward was so obviously the leading light. Most of the films he directed at Highbury and Gainsborough were thoroughly conventional, both generically and in broader aesthetic terms, and rarely went beyond the norms and types that characterise British cinema at this time.