Friday, February 18, 2011

WIH Recognition Month - My top 10 memorable performances - Part 2

Howdy horrorphiles! Ratty here to deliver the fantastic (well, it's not really dramatic) conclusion to my top 10 list. This is a list of memorable performances by women in horror films, in every case I feel these actresses were pivotal in the transcendence these movies make from the status quo into the mighty realm of the classic. With these next 5 titles, I am venturing into the world of foreign films, by this I mean anywhere but Hollywood. 

Once again these come in no "order" of merit, for they are all essential viewing, and to me they highlight the importance of a convincing performance when dealing in the currency of terror. Here we go!

Cécile De France in Haute Tension

Haute Tension is probably still my favorite horror film made this century. Alexandre Aja's debut film was a flagship in the new trend of "high impact violence" in horror films, and was poorly emulated time and time again by Hollywood in the following years. It was spared a remake, but re-released in the USA under the awful title Switchblade Romance. Cécile De France's flawless performance in a truly multi-dimensional role as both victim and perpetrator shows us vulnerability, fear, strength and pure insanity. 

Elizabeth Moody in Braindead (Dead Alive)

Peter Jackson's all time splatter comedy opus will never be topped, the gore sequences are the most inventive and brilliant use of traditional makeup and special effects on a limited budget. But if not for the fantastic performances, this is all we would ever remember. No one who has seen this film could ever deny that Vera is the embodiment of the mother from hell, and that's BEFORE she is infected with the rabid monkey-virus and transforms from the undead into a 20 foot tall monstrosity. Poor Lionel! Jackson also featured Elizabeth Moody in Heavenly Creatures and the first Lord of the Rings film.

Manuela Velasco in REC

First of all, I must say I am not a fan of the hand-held camera style shooting appearing more often in films, it is a fantastic concept but requires extreme skill to be pulled off successfully by both the cameraman and the actors, and of course in most cases (Blair Witch, Cloverfield, The Last Exorcism) it comes off hokey and noticeably takes away from the enjoyment of the film. To me REC is an exception to the rule, thanks in no small part to the lead role of Angela Vidal, the news reporter who is trapped in a building where an unknown contagion is sending the residents bonkers. Velasco's beautifully understated performance allowed me the very rare suspension of disbelief I don't usually experience these days. 

Nanako Matsushima in Ringu and Ringu 2

The film that started the explosion of Asian horror films that would grab the Western film-goer by the throat; and provide Hollywood with endless poor remake fodder. It also set the iconic "evil little girl with long hair over eyes" as a standard for many other Asian films to emulate, in most cases poorly. It is a truly eerie, harrowing and inventive film, and the fate of the main character Reiko is what leaves the viewer in suspense with every scene, as she tries to uncover the mystery of Sadako's deadly video tape. I include both the original and the sequel, as in my mind they are equally good and should be watched as one story. Matsushima's terror, especially in the well sequences, is convincing enough to chill the blood of any viewer.

Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï and Isabelle Chasse in Martyrs

I only watched this film recently, and was blown away. I had heard about how 
incredibly graphic and disturbing it was, and like many films I waited for all the
hype to die down a bit, and expertly avoided spoilers so I could watch the film 
without someone else's opinion in mind. I did the same thing with A Serbian
Film, which also blew away my high expectations, but to me this is the winner
when it comes to recent shockers. These young women give ridiculously
well crafted performances, I had to end with this example as protest to the 
cheesy "Scream Queen" article that started me writing this to begin with. There
is so much screaming in this film, terrifying, awesome, realistic, cringe inducing

The film has the unique storyline which makes both female leads main 
characters, of course I have included Isabelle Chasse who plays the "creature", 
possibly the finest full body makeup job I have seen in any film. This is not 
to be missed, brutal, upsetting and perplexing from the first minute to the 
explosive conclusion. This is probably the ultimate example of a film which
required extraordinary acting for it to work at all. A triumph.

So there you have it folks, I hope that this reminds you of the tireless efforts 
of all the women of horror, and indeed of film.

Till next time


Thursday, February 17, 2011

WIH Recognition Month - My top 10 memorable performances - Part 1

Howdy horrorphiles! It's the Ratman, here once again to deliver a safer injection. Today I have decided to contribute an article in honor of Women in Horror Recognition Month and all the wonderful women that make horror so fantastic and eternal. I have been waiting in the wings this month, but after reading an awful piece listing 10 great "Scream Queens" (a list which seemed to judge its winners by how strong an erection they gave the author) I had to create balance in the Force by publishing my own list of 10. 

My list is actually about horror films and memorable performances by women in these films. Films that are essential viewing for anyone who appreciates true method acting, and wants to understand just a little about what it might take from within to create moments of true terror. All of these films sit among my all time favorites thanks to such wonderful actresses. So ladies, I tip my hat to thee. There is no order as they are all superb.

Barbara Hershey in The Entity 

Whether they liked the film as a whole or not, no critic could ever deny the strength of Barbara Hershey's performance in The Entity. The supposedly true account of a woman who was sexually assaulted by spirits would be laughable without something truly convincing from the lead actress. What we get is just that, Hershey immersed herself in the role of Carla Moran, and lay herself bare for the camera, and I speak not of her clothing. This is a true example of a film that trusted in a stellar performance to make it work.

Shelley Duvall in The Shining

Until I saw The Shining (perhaps the first movie to truly terrify me) I always thought of Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl from the much loved childhood favorite Popeye. A strange parallel can even be made between Olive and The Shining's Wendy, at least in the opening of the film - she is the ultimate submissive, vulnerable and "weak" wife character, dominated by her aggressive husband. Her terrifying ordeal is played out to perfection, leaving most viewers as shaken as Wendy is by Jack's explosion into psychotic violence. This is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema, in one of the finest horror films ever to be made.

JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Heather O'Rourke, Dominique Dunn, Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist

So many thoughts ran back through my head when recalling this film, so many moments and memories and other things connected to this film. Growing up in the 80's, this was a film so talked about, it probably takes the crown as the film I waited longest to actually see. I cannot choose a single performance from a female in this film for the list, in fact all 5 featured roles were delivered wonderfully, including the least developed character of Dana (Dominique Dunn) - after all that happened, it's a shame that some people only got to know this movie through its controversy, rather than its merits.

Sigourney Weaver in Alien

Science Fiction and horror were rarely mixed in equal doses in a film with any success, until Ridley Scott brought us Alien. Female protagonists were rarely the first to pick up the big guns and come to the rescue via serious ass-kicking, until Sigourney Weaver brought us Ellen Ripley. In my opinion, this film is perfect. It has everything I want in a film, and is crafted with the care and design of a formidable list of talent. I can assume almost everyone who will ever read this blog has seen this film many times over. Sigourney Weaver is the ultimate woman, end of story.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

As this is one of the most written-about films and performances in all of horror, there's really nothing I can say that is original. This performance, along with Jodie Foster's performance in Taxi Driver, should always be seen as the cardinal example of bravery and strength in a performance by a young lady. I could not imagine what went through Linda Blair's mind as she was made up to be the incarnation of the devil, cursing and bleeding and vomiting and screaming her way into the critics' best lists. Though her demonic voice was performed by Mercedes McCambridge, from this footage linked below we can clearly see this young girl is phenomenally good.

Original voice footage:

I have decided, through my sore back and also for the sake of brevity, to make this a two part feature. Now we have the added element of suspense. Who will take out the next 5 spots on my list? Find out in the next installment (spooky noises)


Monday, February 14, 2011

A Place To Cry

This is a very short story I wrote yesterday during a particularly strong bout of anxiety. Further proof that we can overcome the strongest symptoms of mental illness and turn the energy into something creative. Hope you like it!


He lay tightly curled on the wet floor, clutching at his own knees as though he were holding onto the branch of a tree, trying to save himself from the raging currents of a flooding river. When he opened his eyes for a moment, they saw nothing but a swirling chaos of images he knew could not be real, unless he had been transported directly into a painting by Salvador Dali or Hieronymus Bosch. He managed to see through this illusory blanket of terror, and focused on the place on the wall where he had pressed the tip of his pen to draw a large eye. The eye was simple in design, but its perfectly round iris held the reflection of all the complexities of madness. The liquid which had ran down the wall, leaving its dark shadowy drips on the surface had long dried. But he had outlined the marks with his pen to form teardrops, the glisten of which looked as though they had just streamed from the eyes of a mother mourning a lost child. The inscription above the permanently wide and weeping eye was still a blur, but he knew just what it said, and just how it looked, and just what it meant. "Sometimes we all need a place to cry" - the advice he had inscribed for no one but himself to see. 

The corner of the fire escape was walled in with cheap fibre board, leaving a doorway into a dead corner. His place. The place where his secrets dwelled while he slept, sometimes he felt that they fed themselves on the scraps of rotten food and cigarette butts that littered the floor, growing in their strength and power, ready to invade his shell once it lay shaking on the floor again. They would never be set free from this place, for he would never allow them to see the light of the alley, or the street, or the world, or the universe outside. They would forever be trapped in the black of the ink which was manically applied to the wall by a shaking hand, inside the unblinking prison of the eye, forever waiting. His death was warm, and wrapped around him like a dirty blanket as he closed his eyes for the last time.

Till next time