The Horrifying Soundscape of ‘Hereditary’

Horror scores are lauded for their creation of atmosphere and dread, from John Carpenter’s electronic music in Halloween to the iconic fear created through two notes by John Williams in Jaws. However, music is not the only sonic way to build horror; sound design is everything in cultivating a terrifying film. An early example is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which didn’t even have score. Its soundscape was almost entirely digitally-manufactured bird sounds that create its persistent feeling of unnaturalness and unease. Then there are the multitudes of monster sounds created throughout horror history that may haunt you in your dreams, from the rawr of Jurassic Park’s T. rex to the vampire screeches in 30 Days of Night. Not to mention the screams, stabbings, creaking floorboards, whispers, and more that are utilized throughout the genre to build suspense and make your hair stand up. In horror, sound design, sound effects, and score all work together to create a soundscape of dread.

A recent example, and I believe a rather important one, of the power of sound is Ari Aster’s 2018 film, Hereditary. Its use of sound effects and a haunting, droning score by Colin Stetson, paired with camerawork that prioritizes auditory experience rather than a visual one, contributes to the film’s unbelievable tension and dread. While much of the film’s praise is given to its amazing performances, its use of sound truly makes it one of the year’s most terrifying films.

First and foremost, there is the tongue clicking that permeates the film, a sounds that been ruined for anyone who has seen Hereditary. Even the film’s trailer alluded to the power of just one little cluck of the tongue. The tongue clicking is that of Charlie Graham, who does it as some kind of tic. She clicks her tongue as she draws, makes strange toys, whenever, wherever; it is how her family can identify her without even seeing her. Despite it seeming to be an innocuous click, every time she does it, it feels like a jump scare; these clicks shatter the silence like a hammer to glass and put you on edge just in the film’s beginning. So when Charlie dies, it seems that these moments of uneasiness will be over. Not so fast.

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Female Director Spotlight: Dorothy Arzner and Making Films for Women in the 1930s

Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s was a male-dominated space, with men like Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir, and countless others receiving credit for their illustrious place in film history. But, one person that film history largely forgets is Dorothy Arzner, who has the largest oeuvre of any woman filmmaker. She was the only female director working during this time and the only female filmmaker whose work moved from the silent era into sound, showing her strength in filmmaking as well as her creativity. But it isn’t just her technical prowess that deserves praise; it is also her desire to portray nuanced and complicated women, rather than the stereotypical women-as-objects seen in that era of cinema. Her films explore women, how they’re represented in classic Hollywood narratives, and how supportive friendships between women flourish, which can be seen in Dance, Girl, Dance. She made films about women for women, and addressed the many facets of being a woman, from societal standing to romantic relationships to what it means to work. Arzner was also a lesbian filmmaker, which can be seen in her critiques of heteronormative relationships and their consequences, particularly in her 1933 film, Christopher Strong.

Despite a prolific career, Arzner is not commonly mentioned with this era of Hollywood cinema and she is rarely studied. I was lucky enough to be introduced to her work by a TA in grad school, who told me only one book has been written on Arzner and how difficult is to find many of her films — only a few of them are available to stream or even purchase. I believe Arzner deserves a larger place in the canon, and more recognition for the types of films she was creating, particularly with her focus on catering to a female spectator. The films I detail below are some of her more easily found work and exemplify Arzner’s key themes around social class, work, friendship, and critiques of heteronormativity.

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In His Most Self Aware Film Yet, Lars Von Trier Proves He Still Doesn’t Care About Women

It started with laughter and ended with a round of applause. No, this was not a comedy show, but it sure felt like one. This was the screening for the director’s cut of Lars Von Trier’s newest piece of controversy, The House That Jack Built. For two-and-a-half hours, von Trier showcased his latest experiment in misogyny, violence, and stroking his own ego.

The House That Jack Built marks von Trier’s return to filmmaking after being banned from Cannes in 2011 for making comments about sympathizing with Hitler. His newest film documents 12 years in the life of Jack, played by Matt Dillon, and the five incidents that he believes have defined him as a serial killer, as recounted to Verge (Bruno Ganz). These five incidents involve the brutal murder and mutilation of female bodies, save for the last incident. To Jack, these murders are an act of high art, markers of his own intelligence — what he’s doing is not wrong because it is in the name of art. The film follows a Dante-like structure as we traverse through the different incidents like the circles of hell, and perhaps even wander into hell itself.

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‘Cam’ is a Humanizing Portrayal of Sex Work and a Horrifying Look at the Internet

Black Mirror has tapped into our fears of the looming power of technology: cell phones, virtual reality, constant surveillance, it has addressed it all. But many of those episodes address a not-so-distant future. What about the technological fears happening now? Daniel Goldhaber’s film, Cam, addresses our current fears in the digital age, using the perspective of a cam girl who has had her identity stolen.

Lola is a cam girl who aspires to be in the Top 50 performers on her cam website. For those unfamiliar with camming, it is when someone, usually a woman, holds sex shows via webcam. Lola has devoted customers who tip well and even get private Skype chats for the right price. She works hard and has cultivated an online persona and aesthetic that she believes will get her to the top. But, just as she’s hit her stride and on track to hit that coveted top 50 spot, someone steals her account. What comes next is an increasingly bizarre journey to get her account back and find out who did this to her. 

Sex workers in horror are treated like trash. They are extras to be thrown away, women to be punished for their overt sexuality, and scantly-clad figures to be torn apart. However, Cam succeeds in humanizing sex workers and showing them as hard-working people, mostly in part to Isa Mazzei’s involvement. Mazzei, a former sex worker, wrote the film and used many of her own personal experiences with camming for inspiration. This is not a film that demonizes sex work or tries to show Lola that she needs to stop doing it for some kind of retribution. Rather, it shows the reality of profession that is rarely seen in horror, or any genre of film really. Instead of sensationalizing her work or exploiting her body, the film presents her work as a job, something she’s doing for money and how she gains control over those watching her to rake in tips.

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Podcast #1: Halloween, Horror, and Childhood Scares

Dear Much Ado readers, get ready to be listeners!

We’re so proud to share the first episode of our podcast with you. It’s been a year (and a month) since we opened Much Ado and we could never imagine how far we’d come in such a short time.

On our Patreon page we set a goal of $75 to start working on our podcast and this month we hit that goal, thanks to your help! Every time we gain a new Patron, we come one step closer to saving enough money to pay to our writers. You can help us with as little as $1.

Our first episode is about, as it should be on October 31st, Halloween! Podcast host Charlie Dykstal talks with our writers Mia Vicino, Mary Beth McAndrews and Tyler Llewyn Taing about horror films that scared them in childhood, jump scares and how cathartic horror films can be.

Listen to the first episode on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. Don’t forget to subscribe for upcoming episodes and share your feedback with us on twitter or via e-mail at muchadoaboutcinema@gmail.com.

‘Halloween’ (2018) is an Effective and Gory Examination of the Lasting Effects of Trauma

On Halloween in 1978, Michael Myers came home. Now, 40 years later, he’s back again with a vengeance. One of the most iconic figures in horror history, Michael Myers is evil incarnate, a potentially supernatural figure who wants nothing more than to kill. However, there is a massive shift in the most recent addition to the Halloween franchise. Instead of focusing on this figure of evil incarnate, the film offers are poignant portrayal of trauma and its effects on both the survivor and their family. While showing plenty of disgusting kills, the focus falls away for Myers and onto the women of the Strode family.

Halloween takes place 40 years after the events of the 1978 Halloween. Director-writer David Gordon Green has erased all previous sequels in the Halloween canon, eliminating claims that Myers is Laurie’s brother and that he is some kind of supernatural figure. Don’t worry, the film makes plenty of crowd-pleasing allusions to the previous films. 40 years after the horrors enacted by Myers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living in fear and isolation, with an estranged relationship with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak). Laurie’s preparations for Myers’ inevitable escape are not in vain; he breaks out, and he’s ready to terrorize Haddonfield yet again. You can expect a series of ridiculous and gory deaths, but also surprisingly touching and emotional moments between grandmother, mother, and daughter. Plus, John Carpenter returns to score the film, which is an added bonus. Continue reading “‘Halloween’ (2018) is an Effective and Gory Examination of the Lasting Effects of Trauma”

Halloween Horrors: Get Seduced by the Ghostly Eroticism of ‘Kuroneko’

It seems somewhat serendipitous that my final horror film recommendation for the month is Kuroneko, the most recent film I viewed on FilmStruck. Because of that streaming service, I was able to watch perhaps one of the most beautiful horror movies ever made and be seduced by its ghostly visuals. It is also a fascinating take on the rape-revenge film, a genre that seems to exclusively be grounded in Western cinema.

Kuroneko, or Black Cat, is about grief, suffering, revenge, and love. The film takes place is war-torn feudal Japan where young men are sent off to battle and rogue samurai roam the land. Two women, a mother and her daughter-in-law, are raped and murdered by said rogue samurai. However, a black cat appears, and brings them back to life as vengeful spirits who vow to drink the blood of every samurai in existence. This gets a bit complicated, however, when their son and husband, Gintoki, becomes a samurai. Continue reading “Halloween Horrors: Get Seduced by the Ghostly Eroticism of ‘Kuroneko’”