50 movies in 2013 [13/50] - the faculty
50 movies in 2013 [14/50] - scream
my relationship with scary movies is pretty love/hate. my favorite scary movies are among those people find to be the very scariest - alien, the thing, the mist. movies like those terrify me, but they do more than that - they engage my analytical mind without taking me out of the experience. they scare me AND challenge me. i admit these standards are high.
the movies i really can’t watch are ones most people don’t seem to have a ton of trouble with - any movie about spiritual possession, like the exorcist, poltergeist, or even the exorcism of emily rose, and believe me i will NEVER watch rosemary’s baby; any movie with ramped up tension like texas chainsaw massacre, even tense movies that aren’t made to be scary scare the shit out of me (got enough in my own life thanks); but i also have a lot of trouble with slasher movies. i don’t like slasher movies, even though i watch a lot of them with owen. i spend most of the movies looking down at my hands or watching between spread fingers, i get mad about what happens to the women and kids, i take it too seriously. i get scared in a way i don’t like (i still sometimes have a hard time understanding that this is a thing that people like) and i can’t let myself have fun.
while the faculty isn’t a slasher movie, i’m thinking hard about the teen horror genre in general after watching this double feature least night. i think it’s interesting that so many movies with a pack of teenagers involves a mad killer stalking them through a school/house/campsite/sleepy town. as scream points out, there are rules, and it works hard (too hard?) todeconstruct those rules, dragging the tropes of the genre to the front and shining a bright light on them1. you can be scared, wes craven reminds you, even if you know what’s going to happen.
i get the significance of the film - he breathed life back into the slasher genre by reminding people that while slasher flicks are comprised of a static number of pieces, there’s literally thousands of combinations to these components, if you just apply a little innovation. and even though i appreciate and agree with the sentiment, something feels wrong about scream to me. i feel lucky that pop culture never spoilered it for me, but maybe subconsciously it did, because the reveal was kind of a snooze for me and ultimately i felt like the film was a little too clever for its own good. so much winking, my god.
my favorite moments in scream are twofold: first, any moment where neve campbell transcends her character’s trope. i find myself wishing for so much more from that character - of all the tropes wes craven and screenwriter kevin williamson had to play with in their deconstruction, i wish more depth had been lent to the female character, as i don’t really think sidney is really that different from the slasher flicks of old. i want more. i want her to be more violent, differently damaged. what if her mother’s death had made her act out differently? what if sex was a different kind of fulcrum for her? i think scream would benefit from a feminist rewrite, and i think there’s another movie to be made there. i’m not talking a buffy-style redux where she’s so strong and can do anything - that’s too simple. i wanted complexity, and i didn’t get it, and i don’t think scream deserves the moniker of reinventing the slasher flick without doing this.
second, on the other hand, the opening scene with drew barrymore is flawless. it’s a perfect short film that i could watch over and over again. it’s obviously the thesis of the movie in a lot of ways, and i feel like the writing strays from its initial thrust as it seeks to hit you with a reveal later in the film. i don’t care about any part of that film as much as i care about casey, and that’s really too bad.
i vastly prefer the faculty. the faculty plays with tropes, too, but rather than exploring a niche like scream, it’s vastly cross-discipline, referencing science fiction stories, old horror films, and even teen dramas as it brings together an unlikely cadre of teenagers to fight an alien horror. it’s more buffy than alien, and so its exploration of horror feels more to me to transcend scariness and represent something else. it’s the body horror and somatic uncertainty of the thing, but it’s also a good fucking time, a rollercoaster rather than a cannon.
the characters are archetypes from teen flicks in general, but i think the movie throws them together in interesting ways in different contexts - almost every character has an alone moment with every other character, and while this is a movie where i DON’T care about complex character development, it gives it the old high school try.
the monster is fascinating without being too complicated; obviously it draws from much of the horror genre before it, but i think its cross-genre fusion is successful and not derivative. i’m not sure i’ve ever seen anything quite like it before, even though it reminds me of so much2. it’s also a gorgeous film, to me; beautifully lit and fascinatingly shot, i feel like it’s more tight and well-executed than scream, despite the budget disparities.
most people consider long-term impact when assessing the value of film; if you do, scream is a better film than the faculty by far. scream revitalized the slasher genre and still influences filmmaking and comes up in conversation regularly 15 years later; the faculty is kind of an out-of-character one-off by a relatively niche director that most people prefer in other contexts. i tend to prefer to bracket the question of value - especially when talking about film, as i feel way undereducated about the medium as a whole - and rather focus on my own experiences. i had a way better time watching the faculty. i liked the characters more, appreciated the humor better, and felt the movie appealed to my sci-fi and fantasy bent more.
but i have a lot more to say about scream. that has to mean something.
1 both films upend a trope that’s far more interesting to me than the basic top ten rules of slasher films that scream mostly mucks about in - they both turn teens from prey to predator while still following the rules that say they have to be prey.
2 one of the things that i kept thinking about during the faculty was the squaresoft video game parasite eve, which also features a parasite of questionable galactic origins with crazy tentacles and transformative properties, which also came out in 1998, as did scream. WHAT was on our minds in 1998?
I think your examination of why you like horror films is absolutely fascinating because I’m always amazed at the multitudes of reasons people can enjoy the same things. My favorite kinds of horror movies are the very ones you have trouble with - films that deal with the confusing middle ground between demonic possession and insanity and leave things largely unexplained. I also love incredibly tense movies (although I’m not keen on most slashers for the same reasons you’re not). What’s especially interesting to me is that I love those movies for the exact same reasons you can’t deal with them. I have a ton of stress and anxiety in my life so if I can focus all that stress and anxiety onto a movie about a human maybe being possessed instead of the bills I can’t pay or the fact that I’m sad for no reason I feel like I can get a decent amount of control over these negative feelings.
I also LOVE your critical examination of Scream. Both Scream and Cabin in the Woods (which people have been comparing unfavorably to Scream in recent examinations I’ve been reading) get tons of credit for twisting slasher conventions on their head with mildly feminist twists on tropes that they’re consciously pointing to, but both movies also don’t do quite enough to really convince me that they’re all THAT different from horror movies of old except for a little wink toward the audience. At least from a gender and sexuality perspective.