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The Refracting Animations of Julia Gfrörer’s Palm Ash

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Palm Ash is a comic by Julia Gfrörer set during the Diocletianic Persecutions, which were the most severe persecutions of the Christians by the Romans.  It is 20 pages long and can be had via her Etsy page for $5(though there are few copies left)

Julia Gfrörer is someone whose work I’ve wanted to write about for some time.  Her book, Black is the Color, put out last year through Fantagraphics was one of my favorite books from last year, and I think one of the strongest books by a contemporary artist that Fantagraphics has put out in a while. Gfrörer’s work is kind of intimidating critically though, because the space it creates for itself is so intelligent and considered, that there’s a real question of whether you really have anything to say to the book that doesn’t immediately demean your own words by comparison.

Palm Ash is more of the same in this respect.  There are beats in a Gfrörer comic that are so assured and naturalistic in their wit and brilliance that you have to double take that you are in fact reading a comic still.  The 9 panel grid that Black is the Color was cordoned off into is repeated here with much the same effect in that the restriction and repetition of form allow for the details of figure and gesture to become louder on the page, and the smaller character moments of the book become more noticeable.  Gfrörer’s comics often live in the space of subtle hand gestures and wry looks between characters.  As I mentioned when I wrote about Katie Skelly’s book Operation Margarine, the control and modulation between the wide shot and the close-up in Palm Ash, perhaps even moreso than Black is the Color, really go a long ways toward dictating mood and emotional tenor for the characters involved.  We zoom out at key moments to a character with their back turned to a conversation before coming into a tight sweaty closeup within the same scene and segment of panels.

The speed with which Gfrörer can set up the emotional playing field between her characters is nothing short of remarkable.  Most of these scenes that make up this book’s taut 20-pages are only two or three pages long, but you get a lot of character development just because of the assured sense of character at play here.

Let’s examine one of my favorite pages from the book to sort of see what I’m talking about with these elements:
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So to contextualize this scene, this is a scene between Dia who is the lover of a Roman soldier named Drusus, who her friend is occupying while she meets with Simeon, who is a christian Martyr whose secret Martyr trick is that lions fall asleep next to him instead of eating him.  Dia has a son named Maioricus who she wants to bring to Simeon so he can baptize him.

One of the interesting things with early Christianity, and one of the reasons why the Romans were initially so aggressive against it was that it largely started with women and slaves in roman society, because the faith largely sold a liberation from the yoke of the traditional role of a woman in roman society.  And so a lot of the roman power structure was being undermined by this new religion which struck at a lot of the exploited labor on which the society was nestled, and what’s more, it glorified martyrdom, so it wasn’t like you could really threaten these people with death and that would be that.  

So what’s interesting here is that even though Dia knows the tremendous costs associated with getting her son baptized, she still wants to because she believes in the power of Simeon’s God.

So that first panel, is after Simeon has told Dia that they will meet again in the next life, and we get this wonderful reaction where Gfrörer has whited out her eyes and there’s these heavy lines around the nose—we can see the cloudiness of her soul in that moment, her uncertainty, and there’s a certain thought process conveyed there in that simple look that is underscored by the panel after it where she looks gloomily at a smiling optimistic Simeon, and this is where she makes the decision to risk her son’s life so that he may have a better afterlife.  And again we get little gestures, notice how Simeon’s hand is on top of Dia’s, he’s the certain one, Dia’s hand is pulling back, her soul is clouded in that moment.  She is considering the totality of the risk, and it’s all just in this silent medium shot panel nestled between two almost repetitive close-up panels of Dia’s face.  Again you can see the mental state has changed for Dia between the first and third panel, and it’s all in the subtleties of how the eyes are shaded.  Again, this is accomplished because of the rigidity and repetition of the page layout, and the repetition of forms so you can register their differences.  

When you get to the second row look at how much Dia’s disposition has changed from the 2nd panel in the first row and the 1st panel on the second row.  It is night and day, even though it is the same shot with the same characters.


Simeon’s performance on this page is similarly brilliant.  His expression in the middle panel of the page, his sad astonishment at what Dia is willing to risk.  The first panel on the bottom row is probably my favorite singular panel of the entire book, and in some ways it is the pivotal panel of the book because it is where Simeon takes on the weight not only of his own arc, but also that of Dia and her son—he is willing to shoulder the responsibility for the horror that is going to happen(and most certainly, in graphic detail, does happen).  His resoluteness in the final panel of the page is fully earned from the first panel to the last.

And it’s not all hyper emotional moments, there are a lot of really funny moments in Palm Ash of just black sarcastic gallows humor.  Gfrörer’s comic timing is largely built on a lot of the same precepts which allow her dramatic angles to work, in terms of repetition and gesture.  That she is able to easily shift between both is remarkable, and there are few writers who are as gifted in western comics at shouldering both elements so ably.  

It’s interesting to think about Palm Ash in comparison with Black is the Color, because even though Black is the Color is the longer work, Palm Ash is the denser work.  There are more interweaving narratives at play here.  There’s several small bits like Geta’s ring—that weave through the background of the book, and create this interconnected narrative space that is extremely rich.  Even though the joy of Gfrörer’s work is still largely in the details, the totality of Palm Ash is quite substantive.  There is a fairly clever and brave story at work here about motherhood and the role of women within these sort of Roman Coliseum stories that have largely been taken over as male narratives.  While also powerfully illustrating the both the role women played in early Christendom, and the threat they posed to the empire through that behavior.

It is horrific when Drusus charges in and yells at Dia “everything about you belongs to me”, but she has already subverted this statement, and even as everything in her life is taken from her, that defiance and her agency in the choices that precipitate the final actions of her life have already given her back a measure of humanity that previously had been closed off from her.

I have certainly said it in places before, but Palm Ash is nothing if not more evidence to it’s testament, Julia Gfrörer is absolutely one of the most gifted storytellers in comics, and anytime you get to read one of these books, it’s really quite wonderful.

07.29.14 45
Horror Movie A Day: Week 12

This week’s horror movies that I watched were;

#77: Baba Yaga (Dir Corrado Farina)

#78: Amer (Dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

#79: The Living and the Dead (Dir. Simon Rumley)

#80: The Hunger (Dir. Tony Scott)
#81: Witchfinder General (Dir. Michael Reeves)

#82: Vinyan (Dir. Fabrice Du Welz)

#83: They Live (Dir. John Carpenter)
#84: Cat People (1982) (Dir. Paul Schrader)

I only wrote about The Living and the Dead(follow the link), but I could have written on Cat People, The Hunger, Baba Yaga, and Witchfinder General really easily(humble brag).  But I did other things with my time.

Here’s what I’ve got to date;

#1: Humanoids from the Deep (Dir. Barbara Peeters)

#2: Shock (Dir. Mario Bava)

#3: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#4: Female Vampire (Dir. Jess Franco)

#5 The Iron Rose (Dir. Jean Rollin)

#6: Alucarda (Dir. Juan López Moctezuma)

#7: Wake In Fright (Dir. Tedd Kotcheff)

#8: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska)

#9: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska) and Gore

#10: Lisa and the Devil (Dir. Mario Bava)

#11: Critters (Dir. Stephen Herek)

#12: Szamanka (Dir. Andrzej Zulawski)

#13: The Whip and the Body (Dir. Mario Bava)

#14: City of the Living Dead (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#15: White Zombie (Dir. Victor Halperin)

#16: Hardware (Dir. Richard Stanley)

#17: The New York Ripper (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

# 18: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Dir. Dario Argento)

#19: Black Christmas (Dir. Bob Clark)

#20: The Beyond (Lucio Fulci)

#21: Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma)

#22: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (Dir. Jack Sholder)

#23: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose)

#24: Rosemary’s Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski)

#25: The Innocents (Dir. Jack Clayton)

#26: Phantasm (Dir Don Coscarelli)

#27: Nadja (Dir. Michael Almereyda)

#28: Baby Blood (Dir. Alain Robak)

#29: Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)

#30: Bay of Blood (Dir. Mario Bava)

#31: In My Skin (Dir Marina de Van)

#32: Halloween III (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)

#33: Halloween 2(Zombie) (Dir. Rob Zombie)

#34: Dark Touch (Dir. Marina De Van)

#35: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#36: The Vanishing (Dir. George Sluizer)
#37: Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#38: Zombie (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#39: Maniac (Dir. Franck Khalfoun)
#40: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
#41: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Dir. John D. Hancock)

#42: Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

#43: Don’t Look Back (Dir. Marina De Van)

#44: Alligator (Dir. Lewis Teague)

#45: Ganja and Hess (Dir. Bill Gunn)

#46: The Burning (Dir. Tony Maylam)

#47: The ABCs of Death (Dir. Various)

#48: Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan)

#49: Cat People (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#50: The Curse of the Cat People (Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

#51: Little Deaths (Dir. Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley)

#52: Marebito (Dir. Takashi Shimizu)

#53: A Horrible Way to Die (Dir. Adam Wingard)

#54: 5 Dolls for An August Moon (Dir. Mario Bava)

#55: I walked with a Zombie (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#56: The Legend of Hell House (Dir. John Hough)

#57: Psychomania (Dir. Don Sharp)
#58: Inside (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#59: Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)

#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)

#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)

#65: Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)

#66: Livid (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#67: Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fischer)
#68: Christine (Dir. John Carpenter)

#69: Demons (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#70: God Told Me To (Dir. Larry Cohen)

#71: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (Dir. Tony Randel)

#72: The Addiction (Dir. Abel Ferrara)

#73: Lips of Blood (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#74: A Blade in the Dark (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#75: Demons 2 (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#76: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

#77: Baba Yaga (Dir Corrado Farina)

#78: Amer (Dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

#79: The Living and the Dead (Dir. Simon Rumley)

#80: The Hunger (Dir. Tony Scott)
#81: Witchfinder General (Dir. Michael Reeves)

#82: Vinyan (Dir. Fabrice Du Welz)

#83: They Live (Dir. John Carpenter)
#84: Cat People (1982) (Dir. Paul Schrader)

07.26.14 12
#79: The Living and The Dead

For a lot of people in horror, the starting point creatively is horror. Simon Rumley just uses horror as his end point.  I find his work relentlessly challenging and I haven’t even seen Red, White, and Blue yet. 

The Living and the Dead is the story of this aristocratic husband and wife team and their mentally ill adult son.  Unfortunately despite the huge manor in which they all live, they’ve fallen on hard economic times, and the wife/mother has become terminally ill.  So when the dad has to leave and the nurse who is supposed to take care of the wife, doesn’t arrive, the well meaning son takes it on himself to care for his dying mother.

The results are as soul crushing as they are utterly horrifying.  There were as many scenes in this that you wanted to look away as scenes where I couldn’t really see through tears.  And it’s just this spiraling situation that gets worse and worse and worse as the son stops taking his medication, and the mother’s situation begins to worsen.

Rumley has put this store in this huge empty aristocratic manor the scale of which creates this exhausting manic pace where we watch the son, James run from one end of the house to the other.  We watch him bound up and down huge spiraling staircases—this huge space is coupled with the small corridors and rooms that the James and his mother drag themselves into.  The way Rumley plays with the expansive space to create this tension of distance and time and physical effort is matched by the cramped decay of these smaller spaces and the sense sometimes that James’ mother has become his prisoner as much as his patient.By the time we get to James completely gone, jamming needles into his arm, one right after the other, waving a knife around as his perceptions fall out from underneath him, we’ve come to a really harrowing place.  “I see dead people” turns from the jokey reference to that M. Night movie—to a horrifying uncertainty that escalates into the decimation of this family and their house.

You rarely see mental illness treated as complexly as this in film.  This is terrifying, tragic, but not sentimental.  There is no comfort to be found here.  In Rumley’s world terrible horrible things unfold, they simply do.What I find so amazing with Rumley’s work is that he allows the mundane world to bleed ever so slightly into a lot of these traditional horror tropes, and show that these tropes do have real world analogs—and in that way, these tropes kind of get their teeth back.  It’s really virtiouso in it’s construction, and really challenging to me in terms of how to approach horror as an artist.

07.22.14 21
Blutch: Sex and Violence

Re-reading Blutch’s masterful So Long Silver Screen, which I have previously written about.  It’s actually one of the few times I’ve ever concluded a piece of comic writing telling people to buy something.  Which proves both that I am first everything I hate, before anyone else is.  And secondly, just how huge of an experience So Long, Silver Screen was for me.

I have been thinking about Blutch a lot lately because for my own art, I’m trying to get into these very visceral ugly dramatic spaces—I’m trying to carve geography out of the side of Bergman, Zulawski, and Ferrara and steal it away for my comics.  But the corralary of trying to work with those beats, is needing to figure out how to get them to pop off in comics properly—but unfortunately there are very few comics that have this kind of dangerous dramatic intensity.  I would say the end of Oyasumi Punpun comes to this space—and someday I will write about that—I think Blutch is an artist who also carries this off.  Of course So Long, Silver Screen is one long love letter to the best cinema has to offer.  But beyond it’s essayistic qualities, and deconstructive connections to film, the interior dramatic segments also have some of the most primal stuff I’ve seen.  

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I’m thinking mostly of the ugly passionate arguments between Blutch’s stand-in and the women of the comic.  His sort of violent psycho-sexual interactions with them are really incredible.  The book actually opens with a woman in a darkened room looking for her lover, who suddenly attacks her with a pillow from behind, suffocating her, before preparing to have sex with her, while opining about cinema.  The woman suddenly wakes up to correct him about Paul Newman before another woman, a much older woman appears and begins to chastise the male character, before the two of them also get into a violent fight.

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Now Blutch isn’t the first artist ever to depict these sorts of things, but he is one of the few who captures a certain kind of hatred that you really only see in films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Scenes from A Marriege—it isn’t totally just hatred, because that would be boring.  But rather we’re talking about the hatred of people who have felt deep emotional history between one another, and lack the emotional tools to communicate their pain verbally and so have to resort to violence—it’s like in that scene in Possession in the kitchen where Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil are fighting, but they have their backs to one another, and you can see their bodies almost ripping apart from one another—it’s something about body language and framing—which Blutch has.
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I think Blutch’s style lends itself to the kind of malleability needed to pull off these kinds of emotions.  The deep shadows that can suddenly come from nowhere and obscure and cloud faces, which allow us to imagine their emotion—Blutch has a working symbology for the deeper psychological motivations of his characters as they interact with one another.  And then past that, he understands the push and pull of characters who have emotional ties to one another.  He knows that the body has it’s own sight, and can see with it’s back turned, certain feelings and individuals.  He shows us the sinewy hate filled contortions of this male character, who the woman can’t see because her back is turned, which puts us as a reader on edge.

And when Blutch’s characters physically fight, it’s not really punches, so much as grappling.  Limbs and fingers interlocked, characters lose their balance together and fall over—it gives his fights the sexual energy which underlies the hateful things his characters are doing and saying to one another.  And the figures move with desperation when they are pinned down.  They clutch, rip, and knee whatever they can.  

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And what’s more, this violence and hate, quickly can turn into sex and love.  He blurs the lines between the two, and it allows for these orgasmic epiphanies like the one he ends the book on.

So Long, Silver Screen is about fighting.  It’s men and women fighting and not understanding one another, but trying to understand one another.  It is about women’s place in film history, and agency in the world—the penultimate page is one last violent fight where Blutch’s protaganist is fighting another lover, interrogating her bullishly the whole time: “Who grabs your legs? Who spreads em wide? Huh?  Who sticks his nose in your cunt?  Who lives and breathes you?”

The woman  stops him and says to him: “me too, Paul”.  You don’t get the emotion of that moment without all of the horror in front of it.  Blutch earns that moment with every inch of the page.  Truly masterful.

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07.20.14 17
Horror Movie of the Day: Week 11

This week’s Horror Movie of the Day movies were:

#71: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (Dir. Tony Randel)

#72: The Addiction (Dir. Abel Ferrara)

#73: Lips of Blood (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#74: A Blade in the Dark (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#75: Demons 2 (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#76: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

The links lead to articles I wrote about said movies.  Vampired it up a bit this week.

Here’s the updated list so far(as above, links lead to writing on particular movies):

#1: Humanoids from the Deep (Dir. Barbara Peeters)

#2: Shock (Dir. Mario Bava)

#3: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#4: Female Vampire (Dir. Jess Franco)

#5 The Iron Rose (Dir. Jean Rollin)

#6: Alucarda (Dir. Juan López Moctezuma)

#7: Wake In Fright (Dir. Tedd Kotcheff)

#8: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska)

#9: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska) and Gore

#10: Lisa and the Devil (Dir. Mario Bava)

#11: Critters (Dir. Stephen Herek)

#12: Szamanka (Dir. Andrzej Zulawski)

#13: The Whip and the Body (Dir. Mario Bava)

#14: City of the Living Dead (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#15: White Zombie (Dir. Victor Halperin)

#16: Hardware (Dir. Richard Stanley)

#17: The New York Ripper (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

# 18: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Dir. Dario Argento)

#19: Black Christmas (Dir. Bob Clark)

#20: The Beyond (Lucio Fulci)

#21: Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma)

#22: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (Dir. Jack Sholder)

#23: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose)

#24: Rosemary’s Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski)

#25: The Innocents (Dir. Jack Clayton)

#26: Phantasm (Dir Don Coscarelli)

#27: Nadja (Dir. Michael Almereyda)

#28: Baby Blood (Dir. Alain Robak)

#29: Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)

#30: Bay of Blood (Dir. Mario Bava)

#31: In My Skin (Dir Marina de Van)

#32: Halloween III (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)

#33: Halloween 2(Zombie) (Dir. Rob Zombie)

#34: Dark Touch (Dir. Marina De Van)

#35: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#36: The Vanishing (Dir. George Sluizer)
#37: Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#38: Zombie (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#39: Maniac (Dir. Franck Khalfoun)
#40: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
#41: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Dir. John D. Hancock)

#42: Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

#43: Don’t Look Back (Dir. Marina De Van)

#44: Alligator (Dir. Lewis Teague)

#45: Ganja and Hess (Dir. Bill Gunn)

#46: The Burning (Dir. Tony Maylam)

#47: The ABCs of Death (Dir. Various)

#48: Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan)

#49: Cat People (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#50: The Curse of the Cat People (Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

#51: Little Deaths (Dir. Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley)

#52: Marebito (Dir. Takashi Shimizu)

#53: A Horrible Way to Die (Dir. Adam Wingard)

#54: 5 Dolls for An August Moon (Dir. Mario Bava)

#55: I walked with a Zombie (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#56: The Legend of Hell House (Dir. John Hough)

#57: Psychomania (Dir. Don Sharp)
#58: Inside (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#59: Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)

#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)

#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)

#65: Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)

#66: Livid (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#67: Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fischer)
#68: Christine (Dir. John Carpenter)

#69: Demons (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#70: God Told Me To (Dir. Larry Cohen)

#71: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (Dir. Tony Randel)

#72: The Addiction (Dir. Abel Ferrara)

#73: Lips of Blood (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#74: A Blade in the Dark (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#75: Demons 2 (Dir. Lamberto Bava)

#76: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

07.19.14 9
#76: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

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I was ten years old when the first trailers for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula first started appearing on television.  It was one of the big moments in my childhood looking back on it.  And it would be a few years before I would be able to see the film and when I saw it was a truncated version for basic cable television.  Back then my mom was very strict about what movies I could and couldn’t see.  So I couldn’t see PG-13 movies until I was at least 13, and I R until I was 18.

But it was enough to see just the trailer for Coppola’s Dracula.  These strange otherworldly colors like I’d never seen before.  The costumes and dresses that seemed to come from another world themselves.  And then Dracula finally as a figure I could understand.  My exposure to Dracula to that point had largely been shows making fun of the Legosi character, robbing him of his terror for the sake of parody, and while I was terrified annually by the documentary on the historical nature of Dracula hosted by Christopher Lee—it would be some years before I really encountered Lee’s Dracula.  But it was Coppola’s vision of this sexy witch demon of Dracula that finally made sense to me.  I could understand both how he was terrifying, and how you could fall in love with him.  And only seeing this in trailer form really allowed the idea to grow in my brain.

Finally I was able to convince my mom to buy me a copy of the book to hold me over until I was old enough to see the film, and reading that book was it’s own kind of religious experience.  I remember taking the book with me to this christian talent show thingy that my sister was playing the piano at, and I had to be up there by myself with my sister and my step-dad, both who by that time I was incredibly alienated from. This talent show thing was like an all day thing, and I remember slinking off into an empty Sunday school room and just devouring the book.  I must have read the whole book in 6 hours, and the part of the church I was in was pretty empty, so if you can imagine sitting in these sort of grey shadowed corridor rooms of a church with all of the attendant sounds and iconography as the day faded out while reading dracula as a ten year old with an overactive imagination literally scared of everything, but especially death.  It was one of the most special experiences of my entire life.

But the whole time reading the book I’m sort of transposing this movie I’ve never fully seen into the book and imagining how that movie looks through this book, so by the time I actually did see Dracula there was actually a huge potential for me to be incredibly let down by it.  I wasn’t—but I saw it on TV probably when I was 13?  And I think mostly it was just hard for me to process it all.  Even edited down for television.  Coppola’s film is so frenetic and it jams together so much in such a limited frame of time that it is impossible to fully absorb it as you experience it.


Rather it’s a film that you begin to understand the more time that you get away from actually having seen it.

So it was really interesting to revisit the film after all of these years, knowing the impact that it had on me.  And also by this point absorbing a lot of the critiques I’ve heard half-hazardly lobbed at the film, and Ford Coppola’s later work.  But I have to say, it’s lost none of it’s power.  I absolutely count this and Herzog’s Nosferatu remake as my two favorite Dracula films.

And as a quick aside about Ford Coppola.  A lot of his contemporaries have gotten to his age and just stopped giving a fuck, and mostly just kind of fallen into flacid self-parody.  But they are all still so well regarded, and you see things like Scorsese now becoming an Oscar regular for the weakest work of his career while Ford Coppola is kind of out on the fringes making these lower budget films with complete creative freedom.  I’m thinking especially of a film like Tetro which is absolutely a fantastic film which has in no way recieved anything like it’s due.

So with Coppola’s Dracula I think people maybe largely latch onto some of the (intentional) campiness of it but lose sight of how utterly beautiful and thematically complex it is, and what a stunning update on the way the mythos had been depicted in film to this point. Particularly in comparison to Horror of Dracula and Legosi’s Dracula.  Coppola is trying in a singular film to bring together all of the prominent film history on Dracula and vampires into a singular film statement.  Everything from Legosi and Lee up to Jean Rollin, Herzog, and Jess Franco’s vampire films.  

The costume design in this film by Eiko Ishioka is it’s own thing even past that.  Lucy’s lizard frilled dress, her red dress, Dracula’s Klimt robe—the styling of the jewelery and hair pieces for Dracula’s Pit Witches.  Even the men with their three piece suits and knee high boots and long ornamental swords and knives—none of it has lost an ounce of it’s power after all of these years.

My principal interest in revisiting Coppola’s Dracula though was principally about ideas I’ve been exploring about my fascination with the Lady Vampire genre of horror films, principally represented by Jean Rollin, but also seeing their expression in Dracula’s Daughter, Nadja, and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction.  

My favorite character in Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula is the character of Lucy as played wonderfully by Sadie Frost.  Principally the scene with her in the crypt after she has fully turned into a vampire and we see her dragging a small child to feed on before she is caught and killed by Van Helsing and his goons.  That scene always stood out for me.  Ishioka has Lucy in that frilled dress with the huge head piece, which recalls both sort of a clown costume, and a spitting lizard.  And then Frost’s face is painted in this metallic white makeup which stands out even within the Crypt which is similarly colored.

Her carrying that child down with her to feed on, in a satanic parody of motherhood, and then that last gasp where she defiantly rises up against Van Helsing to vomit blood all over him.  

Even though this segment is very small(much smaller than I remembered), I think it has in it a lot of the themes that can maybe elucidate my interest in this sort of sub-genre.

For me, Lucy represents the first incarnation in fiction of the lady vampire.  I seperate her from Dracula’s Brides which are largely confined to his castle grounds, and don’t really seem to be allowed to do much without first his approval.

The thing about Lucy is that once she is turned by Dracula, she is largely left to her own devices.  She actually goes on a bit of a killing spree, and there is this sense that she is her own monster.  That in becoming this demon she has been unshackled from a lot of the patriarchally enforced performances she had previously found herself chained to.  We know for Mina she represents a kind of liberated woman even within those confines, but once she has escaped those societal structures, her choices become her own.  Her hungers are hers to satiate.  She is no longer a woman in waiting, she is a woman with her own considerable powers.

And it’s important too that the expression of these powers are largely anti-social, her actions, largely directed at children, are a direct threat to the society she strained against.  She is undermining traditional roles for women of that time in the most violent and sadistic way possible.  That she is monstrous and has become this extremity can in fact be seen as a kind of natural reaction to an extreme and monstrous world around her, in which she previously had no real agency.  It is interesting as well in Coppola’s update on Dracula how inspirational a figure Lucy becomes to Mina, even after she has been turned into a vampire, in fact we see Mina’s own choices to become a vampire herself as her also seeking to grab hold of her life and evolve from a woman who is sort of trapped in a window waiting for her dear fiance to return to marry her, to a woman who has raised a rifle at this man, and is prepared to kill him if he doesn’t allow her to make her own decisions with her life.  That image of Winona Ryder with a raised rifle, crescent moon burn on her forehead, green dress, ready to kill her husband and all of the men around him to defend her right to life is incredible, and I don’t think you can get to that without Lucy.

It’s also interesting to think about this scene and how it was done in earlier depictions.  She’s much less of a threat in something like Horror of Dracula, where the emphasis of the scene is placed more on her husband, van helsin, etc, and their manly need to man up or something.  The scene is more like an adventure, whereas here it is pure horror.  I don’t think she has the child in the Horror of Dracula version either, but the way that Eiko Ishioka has styled Lucy here, she has a more threatening and monsterous quality.  She is actually bigger, longer, more demonic and minimalistic in the Coppola version.  And her seduction of her husband is performed much more lewdly.  Sadie Frost gives her a parody of her husband’s desires, and underscores how little he understands her humanity, that he can’t even notice it’s lack.  She’s become a monstrous parody in total of these men’s idea of womanhood.  And it’s absolutely fantastic.

So I think that is the thing that I most latch onto with the Lady Vampire subgenre, is just the notion of an outsider expression of womanhood, that is fundamentally abhorrent in it’s freedoms, to straight cisgender white male society.  It is also why I like witches as an iconography.  Of course with Coppola he has mapped witchcraft AND werewolfs onto the Dracula mythology—so he’s really doubling down on things that mean a lot to me.  Even the image of the wolf represents the fringes of the night, the threat of the unknown—and when you see society views you as the unknown, these things become your own symbology.

What’s interesting though is most of the Lady Vampire genre in film is coming from male directors, which is a whole other question of why these men, particularly in the 70s needed to represent women in this way.  Some of it is purely because it was an easy way to make sleezy softcore films—but I think another aspect of it must have been men wrestling with the changing power and roles of women who at that time were asserting themselves in society more than anytime since the 20s—particularly through things like the equal rights amendment and roe vs. wade.  It may have been a way to kind of wrestle with the sort of rise of this largely unknown force, and their own impotence in the face of it?  I don’t know.  But it certainly made for some wonderfully empowered women on film.

So yeah.  Fun to rewatch things.

07.19.14 64
#72: The Addiction (Dir. Abel Ferrara)

Abel Ferrara meets Onyx in a 90s as fuck Lady Vamp film fronted by Lilli Taylor—basically.  So even without being a twisty meditation on the nature of addiction, evil, and vampire genre tropes this was definitely both a movie I knew I’d like going in, and one which I loved more than even that, going out.

Abel Ferrara is probably one of my favorite american film directors ever.  His movies have this agressive beautiful brutality to them, and he’s largely operating in genre to convey this stuff—but geez, no one does it like Ferrara.  There are shots in his films that you just can’t get anywhere else really.  He just has worlds inside his head, that are kind of…I dunno, raw is the best way to describe his work.  Just raw open vein kind of movies, that are about 5 paces off where he’d need to be to be regarded the same way a Scorcese is.  And then maybe a few steps too far away from Cassavettes to really hit that space with people either.  I like that his films feel dangerous, I like that so many of his films have prominent female characters.

The Addiction is about this character played by Lilli Taylor who is a philosophy grad student who is bit by a vampire played by Annabelle Sciorra and then left to go about her devises. 

It plays out as a meditation on morality and addiction.  Taylor’s character, even before she is bitten, is studying atrocity and horror and evil that humans commit through history.  And so she’s kind of bent to try and understand how those things happen.  What is our nature?  Are we evil because of the things we do, or do we do these things because we are evil?

Once she becomes a vampire her overwhelming addiction to blood overpowers her notions of being an observer of horror, to being an active participant.  Her addiction overcomes all other considerations and she willingly commits violence and atrocities against random people in the street to satisfy herself.  The conclusion seems to be that if the need is great enough, there is no end to what you’ll do.  Which kind of posits civilization as our attempt to codify these natural urges and find scapegoats and outlets to divorce that evil as far from as possible.  To deny this horrible nature.

It’s an interesting way to use the vampire genre tropes—and there are some similarities between this and Nadja, which is another mopey 90s new york vampire fuck.  Though where Nadja is sort of more the erudite sophistication of immortal existential boredom, The Addiction is primal unsatiated infection and hunger.

Lilli Taylor’s vampire is sometimes overly verbose in the way that early 90s grunge films could be—but on the whole her performance is sweaty, grimey, and contorted.  She’s not as convincing as say a Isabelle Adjani at this kind of game, and in fact there’s a “subway” scene in this film that really doesn’t connect because of this.  But Taylor’s willigness to debase herself and devolve into a sweaty blood caked animal for the most part is very effective.  The scene where she escapes from Christopher Walken’s creepy vampire pad is really incredible.  The way she drags her head across the sidewalk, trying to tear her own stomach out, is incredible.

As with Ms. 45, there’s a lot in here about the space of being a woman walking down the street, and as in Ms. 45, once Taylor is empowered she freely enters these spaces, and feeds upon men who previously had barred her presence in those spaces.  She has ceased to be potential victim, and has instead made men her potential victim.  We see this subversion a few times where she feasts on a guy who has been cat calling her all through the film, when she feeds upon her professor, and when a cab driver tries to play her white knight, only to find she really only needs him as a bag of blood.

On the whole, what I really dug most about the film was just the assault of philosophy, rap music, and feral composition.  The underlying ugliness, chaos, and malice behind Ferrara’s camera really puts the film on a razor’s edge.  The film almost seems to build itself in shadows around Lilli Taylor with each step she takes.  Silhouttes, shadows, moon light texturing through wire—it’s an extremely black film.  It makes Val Lewton’s Cat People look like a flashlight.  There’s just this constant restriction of light throughout the the film, and the few times we do experience real sunlight, is terrifying.

There’s also a cool scene where Lilli Taylor paws at a salad wanting blood, while she watches Edie Falco absolutely devour a huuuuge hamburger.  It’s such an incredible depiction of the multiple layers of hunger at play in the film, in a metaphor that is very easy for anyone to understand.

But yeah.  Cool movie.

07.15.14 15
Horror Movie A Day: Week 10

Up to 70 days in a row now.  This week was kind of uneven, in large part thanks to Netflix fucking with my hustle.  But still.  Finally saw Demons, which was pretty terrific.  Livide which was cool, and I wrote about.  Christine which was good, but not per se in my wheelhouse.  Snowtown was pretty.  Anyways.  Below is the list of what I watched this week.  The links lead to articles I’ve written on the movies;

#65: Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)

#66: Livid (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#67: Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fischer)
#68: Christine (Dir. John Carpenter)

#69: Demons (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#70: God Told Me To (Dir. Larry Cohen)

Here’s the master list of the films I’ve watched to day:

#1: Humanoids from the Deep (Dir. Barbara Peeters)

#2: Shock (Dir. Mario Bava)

#3: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#4: Female Vampire (Dir. Jess Franco)

#5 The Iron Rose (Dir. Jean Rollin)

#6: Alucarda (Dir. Juan López Moctezuma)

#7: Wake In Fright (Dir. Tedd Kotcheff)

#8: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska)

#9: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska) and Gore

#10: Lisa and the Devil (Dir. Mario Bava)

#11: Critters (Dir. Stephen Herek)

#12: Szamanka (Dir. Andrzej Zulawski)

#13: The Whip and the Body (Dir. Mario Bava)

#14: City of the Living Dead (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#15: White Zombie (Dir. Victor Halperin)

#16: Hardware (Dir. Richard Stanley)

#17: The New York Ripper (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

# 18: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Dir. Dario Argento)

#19: Black Christmas (Dir. Bob Clark)

#20: The Beyond (Lucio Fulci)

#21: Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma)

#22: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (Dir. Jack Sholder)

#23: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose)

#24: Rosemary’s Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski)

#25: The Innocents (Dir. Jack Clayton)

#26: Phantasm (Dir Don Coscarelli)

#27: Nadja (Dir. Michael Almereyda)

#28: Baby Blood (Dir. Alain Robak)

#29: Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)

#30: Bay of Blood (Dir. Mario Bava)

#31: In My Skin (Dir Marina de Van)

#32: Halloween III (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)

#33: Halloween 2(Zombie) (Dir. Rob Zombie)

#34: Dark Touch (Dir. Marina De Van)

#35: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#36: The Vanishing (Dir. George Sluizer)
#37: Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#38: Zombie (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#39: Maniac (Dir. Franck Khalfoun)
#40: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
#41: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Dir. John D. Hancock)

#42: Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

#43: Don’t Look Back (Dir. Marina De Van)

#44: Alligator (Dir. Lewis Teague)

#45: Ganja and Hess (Dir. Bill Gunn)

#46: The Burning (Dir. Tony Maylam)

#47: The ABCs of Death (Dir. Various)

#48: Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan)

#49: Cat People (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#50: The Curse of the Cat People (Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

#51: Little Deaths (Dir. Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley)

#52: Marebito (Dir. Takashi Shimizu)

#53: A Horrible Way to Die (Dir. Adam Wingard)

#54: 5 Dolls for An August Moon (Dir. Mario Bava)

#55: I walked with a Zombie (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#56: The Legend of Hell House (Dir. John Hough)

#57: Psychomania (Dir. Don Sharp)
#58: Inside (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#59: Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)

#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)

#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)

#65: Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)

#66: Livid (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#67: Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fischer)
#68: Christine (Dir. John Carpenter)

#69: Demons (Dir. Lamberto Bava)
#70: God Told Me To (Dir. Larry Cohen)

 

07.12.14 9
#66: Livid (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

image

Livid is directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, it is their follow up to their pregnancy, home invasion terror Inside, which I enjoyed fairly well.  I thought Inside was a wildly uneven film that’s successes largely outstripped the thing failures of it—I was interested to see this follow up because it promised more Dalle, and I was hoping perhaps they would have honed their vision more.

But it was less Dalle, and more of the same kind of unevenness, which is fine.  The score drove me absolutely crazy, because I was trying to engage with the film on the same level I did Inside, but the score is very much a kind of Danny Elfman fairy tale type of thing—and I mean there’s certainly a way in which this movie functions that way, and I’m sure the intent was kind of to make something that would be comparative to Del Toro’s fairy tale creature features—but man, I’d love a cut of this with the score completely removed.

The first half of the film is largely a meandering set up of this spooky haunted house that you kind of just push through.  Once the film flips over into space warping Bene Gesserit Taxidermist terror mother doppleganger mode pretty much you’re moving right into my sweet spots artistically. 

The performance by Marie-Claude Pietragalla as the witch-mother is really incredible.  She’s a dancer and her movements in this are really incredible.  Parts of it reminded me of Butoh with it’s slow-fast body bending movements.  And the design of her character with her black cloak, white hair, and breathing apparatus is really cool looking.

This movie has a lot in it that sort of reels off Jean Rollin film vibes, which again is nothing if not endearing to me. 

Beatrice Dalle’s part is really small, and it seems like it could have expanded into a whole thing, or been explained better—but hey, whatever it takes to put Dalle in front of a camera, good by me.

Livid also has a lot of sort of trecherous archetecture—rooms with no doors, windows that weren’t barred before, now barred—the house plays like a rubix cube of traps and corridors for the mother-witch to manipulate the other characters through.

If It’s weird that reading this given all of these themes and concepts that you haven’t read me mention anything about Suspiria, then there, I just did.


In the end, this is definitely more on the bittersweet gothic horror end of the scale, and isn’t anywhere near as incendiary or harrowing as Inside was, but again, there’s a lot I really latched onto, and I think the core imagery and story of abusive mothers, ballerinas, witches, and labryinthe houses, will always be engaging for me.

What’s perhaps most interesting in the film is how the doppleganger aspect plays out, because ostensibly the characters of Anna(the vampiric daughter of the mother witch) and Lucie, the caretaker, ARE doubles of one another, and when they first become cognizant of each other, their first reaction really is violence.  But once both of them are put under a singular threat, they work together to dispose of that threat, and then their relationship briefly becomes like twins, which again recalls Rollin.  But then like doppelgangers, they can’t co-exist in the world, and once one is conscious, the other has to die.

07.08.14 11
Horror Movie A Day: Week 9

Another week down.  I’m now 64 days straight of horror movies, and I have to say, I’m even more excited about it than I was even on day 1.  There are so many great films I haven’t seen, and it seems like I’m finding something that I get something really good out of ever two or three days tops.  Netflix is killing me though, I’ve had five particular movies for like a month just camping at the top of my queue under the “short/long” wait game.  Oh well.

The above is fan art I drew and colored for the movie Under the Skin, which I also wrote a great deal about this week.  You should definitely check that out even if you hated the movie. 

Anyways, below is the list of films I saw this week, with the links going to writing I did on particular ones(or one in this case):

#59: Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)

#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)

#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)

This is the updated masterlist, for those scoring at home:

#1: Humanoids from the Deep (Dir. Barbara Peeters)

#2: Shock (Dir. Mario Bava)

#3: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#4: Female Vampire (Dir. Jess Franco)

#5 The Iron Rose (Dir. Jean Rollin)

#6: Alucarda (Dir. Juan López Moctezuma)

#7: Wake In Fright (Dir. Tedd Kotcheff)

#8: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska)

#9: American Mary (Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska) and Gore

#10: Lisa and the Devil (Dir. Mario Bava)

#11: Critters (Dir. Stephen Herek)

#12: Szamanka (Dir. Andrzej Zulawski)

#13: The Whip and the Body (Dir. Mario Bava)

#14: City of the Living Dead (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#15: White Zombie (Dir. Victor Halperin)

#16: Hardware (Dir. Richard Stanley)

#17: The New York Ripper (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

# 18: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Dir. Dario Argento)

#19: Black Christmas (Dir. Bob Clark)

#20: The Beyond (Lucio Fulci)

#21: Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma)

#22: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (Dir. Jack Sholder)

#23: Candyman (Dir. Bernard Rose)

#24: Rosemary’s Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski)

#25: The Innocents (Dir. Jack Clayton)

#26: Phantasm (Dir Don Coscarelli)

#27: Nadja (Dir. Michael Almereyda)

#28: Baby Blood (Dir. Alain Robak)

#29: Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)

#30: Bay of Blood (Dir. Mario Bava)

#31: In My Skin (Dir Marina de Van)

#32: Halloween III (Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace)

#33: Halloween 2(Zombie) (Dir. Rob Zombie)

#34: Dark Touch (Dir. Marina De Van)

#35: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#36: The Vanishing (Dir. George Sluizer)
#37: Living Dead Girl (Dir. Jean Rollin)
#38: Zombie (Dir. Lucio Fulci)

#39: Maniac (Dir. Franck Khalfoun)
#40: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
#41: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Dir. John D. Hancock)

#42: Kill List (Dir. Ben Wheatley)

#43: Don’t Look Back (Dir. Marina De Van)

#44: Alligator (Dir. Lewis Teague)

#45: Ganja and Hess (Dir. Bill Gunn)

#46: The Burning (Dir. Tony Maylam)

#47: The ABCs of Death (Dir. Various)

#48: Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan)

#49: Cat People (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#50: The Curse of the Cat People (Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)

#51: Little Deaths (Dir. Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, Simon Rumley)

#52: Marebito (Dir. Takashi Shimizu)

#53: A Horrible Way to Die (Dir. Adam Wingard)

#54: 5 Dolls for An August Moon (Dir. Mario Bava)

#55: I walked with a Zombie (Dir. Jacques Tourneur)

#56: The Legend of Hell House (Dir. John Hough)

#57: Psychomania (Dir. Don Sharp)
#58: Inside (Dir. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)

#59: Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

#60: Left Bank (Dir. Peiter Van Hees)
#61: Simon King of the Witches (Dir. Bruce Kessler)

#62: Blood and Black Lace (Dir. Mario Bava)

#63: Nightmare City (Dir. Umberto Lenzi)

#64: Rogue (Dir. Greg McLean)

07.06.14 20