Friday, April 11, 2008

When a Crap Movie Can Turn Your Year Around

It is an understatement to say that I have not been very productive lately. It would be easy to blame it on the funk that I've been in, on this part of the depression cycle that I seem to be stuck in, on sleeping too much because I want to avoid everything, or on my angst over my failing relationship. But I've been in this place before and still been able to be productive, in my own way. I might not have been able to hold down a job, go to my college classes, or be awake during daylight hours, but I was still productive in my own way. I watched movies, kept up on magazine reading, journalled, and, above all, read books. The winter before I moved back to my parents' house, I read the first half, or more, of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, series in a couple nights. But since BT left back in January, I've barely finished a magazine a week, haven't watched any movies except when I was hanging out with someone else, and I haven't finished any books. I HAVEN'T FINISHED A SINGLE BOOK IN FOUR MONTHS!!!!!! What is wrong with me? And, as for the movies, I have quite a few movies on DVD that I haven't watched, a few of which usually travel wtih me when I spend time over at TyRoy's, except I can't watch them there because his DVD player, excellent though it may be, is too old to play my cloned DVDs. In fact, I think I've had Hostel 2 in my overnight bag for a month without the DVD ever leaving its little paper sleeve.

Yesterday was my six month wedding anniversary. I felt awful, like I'd never be a productive, employed member of society again, and the anniversary of my dissolving marriage didn't make me feel any better. I started to feel a little better when I have a better than usual IM/webcam chat with BT, with Firefly on DVD playing in the background. I also felt a little better when TyRoy agreed to give me the drill sgt. treatment, if that was what it took to get me up everyday and to a job. (Though I have to get a job first. One step at a time.) But you know what really made me feel better? As silly as it is, what made me feel better was watching, completely and in one sitting, Hostel 2. Yes, watching Hostel 2 was what changed my whole day, week, month, hell, year around.

Now, for those of you who don't know, I am addicted to horror movies. Just like my mom is addicted animal movies, like my dad is addicted to (bad) science fiction movies, like BT is addicted to war movies. and TyRoy is addicted to (really stupid) comedies. Growing up, I had to sneak to watch most horror movies, mostly because most horror movies have at least one sex scene in them (so that those damn sluts can get killed later in the movie) and my parents wouldn't let me watch sex scenes. But I don't think that it was the sneaking that made me love them. I once read an essay by Stephen King that theorized that people love horror movies and stories because, just like a rollercoaster, they are scary but in a safe and controlled environment. This is why I like good horror movies, or good-to-me horror movies. And I know that a horror movie is good to me if I'm still spooked in the safety of my own house hours afterwards. Then again, what about all the other horror movies that I've watched? Even by my lax standards, good horror movies are few and far between. Especially if you keep up with horror movies as they come out, instead of just watching those horror movies that keep their luster after just a few years. It seems to me that horror, more than any other movie genre, tends to get stuck repeating variations on the same formula for years after one movie becomes a smash hit by using that formula.

********[Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen Psycho, Scream, Saw, Hostel, or Hostel2]******
But nothing beats that moment in a horror movie when you realize that you are seeing something out of the ordinary. I remember seeing Scream opening weekend, hell, opening Friday night, at 10pm, in a theater in Chicago Heights, IL, in a packed theater with a largely black crowd. My friend Mary and I were 13. After years of making fun of the stupidity of the characters in horror movies, we finally had a movie that spoke to the flaws of teen-based horror movies. And just as Hitchcock shocked audiences of his day by killing the female lead of Psycho, Janet Leigh, less than halfway through the movie, we were shocked when the biggest name in the whole film, Drew Barrymore was killed in the first sequence. But it was those things that really grabbed us and made us appreciate the movie. More than movies in any other genre, to be good, horror movies have to play on, and yet still defy, your expectations. I think the last time I truly felt that was at the end of the first Saw movie. Not only are you left with the grim idea that no one is probably going to survive the Jigsaw Killer, but you can't help thinking "WTF!?!?!" when the man you assumed was dead all along gets up off the floor and goes after those with some semblance of life left in them. Even if "The Twist" at the end of a movie is a cheap ploy, it is a cheap ploy that I will always love, so long as I don't guess it in the first 10 minutes. (Yeah, I'm talking to you Sixth Sense!)

Don't get me wrong. Hostel 2 is not a great horror movie. It is not even a good-to-me horror film. It is nominally better than the first Hostel, but I think that might be my gender bias. I had high hopes for the first Hostel, but, despite the "twist" that it was just regular joes, albeit very rich regular joes, who were torturing and killing these young people, I couldn't seem to root for the victims. The first part of the movie seems like a not very funny comedy, with these idiot frat boys touring Europe looking for easy pussy. While I don't believe that anyone deserves the sort of torture they endured, I also did necessarily feel a great deal of sympathy for them either. I also wasn't particularly horrified by the idea that rich men from around the world would pay large sums of money to torture and kill people. A cynical part of me believes that they already do. I was glad that the most decent guy got away and that he helped another poor girl escape and that he killed one of the rich torture tourists, but it was all kinda...meh.

So what made Hostel 2 so different that it turned my year around? Once again, it's not because it was particularly good. There were so many groan-inducing cliches that I wasn't even sure why I wanted to watch it- the implied lesbianism of the main character, the potential torture tourist driven to it by an emasculating wife, a blonde party girl bestfriend, the naive teetotaler who tags along with the more popular girls only to become the first victim. And, for such a short movie, there is way too much time spent with the two men who have come to torture and kill, the emasculated one, who keeps waffling about whether or not he'll go through with it, having been dragged there by his macho bestfriend. This leaves us caring even less for the intended victims. Where the first killer being a female with a female victim could have been inspired, it ended up cliched, as she only wanted to bathe in the blood of a virgin, that timeless anti-aging secret that few women can afford. But it was "The Twist" that pulled me in. Granted, if I had been a little bit more invested, I probably would have seen the twist coming from a mile away. But I didn't and felt generously rewarded when the last female victim turned the tables, saving her life by becoming a member of the club. It wasn't just that she killed her would-be killer. The heroine of most horror movies has to do that just so that she may survive. But she has her would-be killer tied-up, has rendered him powerless, when the people that run the club confront her. She can pay her way out of the situation, out of a large inheritance left solely to her by her mother. But that isn't the only requirement. She must kill, must become part of the club, if she is to leave. Though I think the audience is meant to believe that it is her would-be killer calling her a cunt that makes her do the unthinkable, I think that is just what pushes her over the edge of the cliff that she had long been standing on. The ability to kill, the desire to kill men like this was already with her. She could chose any method for murdering him, but she choses to literally emasculate him and then leave him to bleed to death, not because she doesn't want his death on her hands but just because she can't be bothered by him anymore and bleeding to death without a dick provides a slow, painful, and humiliating death. And it was a bit cheeky for her to get her membership tattoo in the spot usually designated for a "tramp stamp."

So I'm left wondering if it was the movie, with its twisted themes of female empowerment and male emasculation, that made me feel better or just finishing something that I've wanted to do for so long, even if that finishing only took me an hour and a half. Maybe it was just that it got me to think about why such a not-good movie could make me feel so good....

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