Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Casting a shadow

I do love this spider. Every day when I go out to visit my plants, it's hanging around on the pitchers, usually on top of a Sarracenia rubra. Sometimes it crawls, picks itself up a bug and crawls back out. The sunlight caught it just right the other day for this photo.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Final Girl Film Club: 'House of the Devil'

Writing about this movie is going to be difficult because I kept falling asleep. Each time it happened I would jolt awake a few minutes later, see unfamiliar stuff happening onscreen, sigh with irritation and rewind the movie to the last thing I remembered. This was a tedious exercise but, I imagine, not quite as bad as watching "House of the Devil" straight through without interruption. I'm grateful not to have seen it in a theater, where I would have had to sit upright. This movie is a snooze and I'm afraid director Ti West is a frightful bore.

This is the first film I have watched for the Final Girl Film Club that I have energetically disliked. It will be very interesting to see what the other Film Club Coolies have to say! My friend Jason adored it. I read a bajillion favorable reviews when it came out. But -- I have nothing good to say about "House of the Devil." It is without redeeming qualities.

Everyone's favorite thing about this movie seems to be that it's set in the 1980s and made in the style of the era's brilliant horror movies. And how could you not love that idea? A babysitter, a synthesizer score, a friend with a crazy flip hairdo -- these are great accessories for a horror movie. But they're accessories. You need something real at the core. The movie needs a scary idea, and "House of the Devil" hasn't got one.

Heroine Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) lives in a college dorm and really wants to rent an off-campus apartment from landlady Dee Wallace (tribute! tribute!). To help pay her first month's rent, she accepts a babysitting job from weirdo Tom Noonan ("Manhunter," "Monster Squad") and his weirdo wife, Mary Woronov (the friendly scientist from "Night of the Comet" -- and OK, I did get excited about that). But the house is dark and it's creepy! It might even be the house of the devil! Whatever will Samantha do?

Well, she plays some pool. She listens to her Walkman. She orders a pizza. She watches some TV. She walks around the house. I woke up and skipped the DVD back and she obligingly did it all again.

The problem with this movie is not so much that it's slow -- it's really not that slow -- but it gives your brain absolutely nothing to latch on to. The characters are impossible to understand. How come Samantha needs this apartment SO badly? So she gets sexiled by her roommate. Who hasn't been through that? How come the couple is so weird about pretending they have a kid, and then pretending instead they have an elderly mother who needs looking after? How come they don't even show her the upstairs of the house before leaving her alone? How come she puts her Walkman on? What if the "elderly mother" called out for her? Who's after whom? What's going on? I just sat there getting irritated, and after a while I just quit caring and let my eyes close.

Unfortunately, West's "The Roost" had exactly the same effect on me, which is really a shame because I love farm horror and I love bats and I love zombies. But "The Roost" never quite coheres -- it creates an atmosphere, but it isn't intelligent enough to create a mood. "House of the Devil" is the same. A scene doesn't automatically become interesting because the heroine is using a rotary phone instead of a cell phone. The fact that this is all West has got -- I find it kind of insulting. Come back when you have something to say, dude.

But Mary Woronov! That's pretty sweet. God, do I love "Night of the Comet."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ladybug opens

Ladybug opens
Originally uploaded by Trillium grandiflorum
My Sarracenia hybrid "Ladybug" unfurls a sinister new pitcher! It will turn deep red in the (as you can see) bright rooftop sun. The pale spots are translucent windows that disorient insects and lead them to their doom. I have really come to love this hybrid and the hooded-cultist look of the pitchers.

I took some better photos of this pitcher but sort of like the washed-out, raw quality of this one. Sometimes death is more frightening in broad daylight.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I do so love "Cabin Fever"

And I don't think enough other people do. The debut feature from Eli Roth has so much going for it. Just a few reasons, off the top of my head...

The music. Nathan Barr does a fabulous nails-on-a-chalkboard score, starting with the gorgeous opening credits. Angelo Badalamenti contributes a jazzy, "Twin Peaks"-esque number for the surreal Deputy Winston, as well as the haunting "Red Love," for Paul's doomed attempt to manually satisfy Karen. A bunch of songs are borrowed from "Last House on the Left," providing both a shout-out to Roth's beloved 1970s horror, and setting a nicely creepy we're-alone-in-the-woods kind of mood.

I even love the closing bluegrass band, pepping up the end credits with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." (Apparently they were a local band and Roth invited them to come play in his movie; I just love that.)

The characters. They're all likable enough that you root for them, yet ultimately they're just rotten enough that you don't feel awful when they die. I've never seen a slasher movie that walks this line quite so well. They're selfish but not loathsome. Everyone gets annoyed with Burt when he shoplifts, and when Jeff talks down to the locals ("If such an incident were to result in a 'lawsuit,' you could be held liable"), his girlfriend Marcy tells him to shut up. A sick man asks for their help, and they light him on fire -- but they feel really bad about it! You wouldn't want to be on vacation with these kids, but you don't hate them like you hate the people in the "Friday the 13th" remake either.

The disease. Flesh-eating virus! I love nothing more than fake blood and zombie skin effects. I also love how a killer disease preys upon these beautiful, hygiene-hyperconscious kids -- "I don't want him touching me" is a recurring line. But the best part: Everyone gets sick by the end, but not one of the main characters actually dies of the disease.


The writing. "Paul, that guy asked for our help. We lit him on fire." (I also like when Jeff says "The rain probably put him out.")

The girl stuff. I might get in trouble for this but I think this movie is particularly fun for women. It can be hard to find good female characters in your modern horror movies; at a glance Marcy and Karen just fall into the usual slut/girl-next-door pigeonholes, but they turn out to be a lot more complicated. Marcy turns out to be very nurturing, fixing chili for everyone and stroking Karen's hair. Karen strings Paul along and then drops him as soon as a semi-cute stranger shows up with a bag of weed ("You can sit here!").

And I think women viewers just are going to get a more personal frisson out of Marcy's notorious leg-shaving sequence, or Paul's even more notorious misfire as he attempts to manually satisfy Karen. (Male viewers might relate to the misfire in their own way, of course.) Even just little moments ring true, like Karen talking about her parents' shower massage and saying "You can imagine my disappointment the first time I had sex." Marcy rolls her eyes: "Tell me about it," and all the boys look confused. ♥!

The group dynamics. People are awful, and they're even worse in groups. "Cabin Fever" is a fascinating showcase of groups behaving badly! First, the teenagers light the aforementioned sick man on fire. They don't mean to; they think he's attacking them, and maybe he is; but still, it's not nice. Later, when one of their group gets sick, they react in terror: screaming, running, slamming doors, and finally putting the sick girl outside in a shed, alone. I love the scene where they line up to carry her mattress out and then help her down the stairs, silent for the moment, their group decision made: they look like a tribunal, there on the back porch.

Then various group members go for help, running afoul of locals in various ways, then lying to each other about what happened: the group is coming apart. They meet their match in a tightly-knit, shotgun-toting family of rednecks. And that's before several law-enforcement agencies hold an emergency parley in a hospital room to discuss the best way to handle this strange new disease. It all seems chillingly plausible. I mean, we cover things up and scrub the surfaces clean and make sure our hair is as shiny as can be, but -- underneath it all, people are just nasty.

God, I love this movie.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New camera, new spider

At last I have replaced the camera that I dropped on the ground and can photograph the beautiful green spiders who have been hanging out on my pitcher plants. Sometimes they are just inside the pitchers and sometimes outside. I spotted this one on my lovely "Dixie Lace" hybrid, casting a dramatic shadow over the intensely veined pitcher top. Still figuring out the camera settings -- and the sun was way too bright -- but this will do for now!