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October 31, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-10-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

* October 31, 2005
arts. michigandaily. com

R TSe irhigan til


. . ...........
. . ... ..... .......

The evolution of horror

girl makes out with the cap-
tain of a nameless sport on her
parents' couch, but she hears a
sound and freaks out and he gets pissed.
So he goes outside to shake it off, but then
the girl goes out too and finds her letter-
jacket sweetheart inside out, if you get
my drift. She frantically runs inside but
doesn't think to lock the door
- so in comes the guy with
the butcher knife and mask
he picked up at the party
store on the way over. She
glides up the stairs and locks
herself in her bedroom and
waits until the coast is clear
- whoops, he's still there,
SLICE, she's dead, strung
up for her parents to find her
with something written in JEF
blood nearby, like "this is BL
what happens when you don't


Courtesy of Warner Independent

They sure lowered the requirements for the new Bond.


By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer
Much critical praise has already been lavished upon
Philip Seymour Hoffman's striking turn as famed author
Truman Capote. The fey wrist, the
strange lisp, the effeminate hip Capote
sway - Hoffman melds all of the
celebrated Capote's famous quirks At the Showcase
into one cohesive, decadently self- and Michigan
centered whole. Theater
Capote bucks the current trend Sony Pictures
in Hollywood biopics, "Capote"
wisely focuses on only a small
slice of its subject's life, though it presents a fairly well-
rounded portrait all the same. The year is 1959; some-
where out in the flat prairie of Kansas, an entire family
has just been ruthlessly slaughtered, each shotgunned
in the face. Capote, already an established author mak-
ing the rounds of New York high society, spies the story
as a brief front page newspaper blurb and finds it so
strangely compelling that he promptly jumps aboard
the next heartland-bound train to investigate.

Originally, Capote intends merely to study the mas-
sacre's effect on its quiet town. But Capote is drawn
with much greater passion to the perpetrators - spe-
cifically, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr., "Traffic"),
whose contradictory character makes up the heart of
Capote's signature work, "In Cold Blood."
"Capote" moves at a brisk place, yet it achieves a nice
balance between Capote's work and his personal life.
The ever-dependable Catherine Keener ("Being John
Malkovich") joins his inquiry as fellow author Harper
Lee, of "To Kill a Mockingbird" fame, who agrees to
serve as a research assistant for Capote's project. She's
an old friend of Capote's, able even to finish his sen-
tences, and perhaps the character most sadly aware of
his unrepentant ego. In fact, it's Lee who lays down the
guiding principle of the movie's second half - "Tru-
man," she observes, watching him gallivant about a
cocktail party, "is in love with Truman."
"Capote" and its star don't soften many blows in
presenting Capote as a man of near hubris. He never
seems more at home than when he charms onlookers
at some cocktail party and shamelessly proclaims his
as-yet-unstarted work a masterpiece. He also gleefully
drops the era's celebrity names with great offhand-flair
(at one point describing director John Huston and icon

Humphrey Bogart as heavy drinkers with the thirst of
"ravenous water buffalo"). Whether Capote is aware
of his self-absorption is unclear; though he is certainly
unabashed in demonstrating it, particularly in his calcu-
lated, almost heartless manipulation of Smith.
Smith, albeit an admitted killer, is a sadly lonely
man, accepting with puppy-dog eagerness Capote's
professed friendship. Capote visits him, listens to
him, even hires him new lawyers for a round of fur-
ther appeals. But when asked whether he respects his
subject, Capote answers tellingly, with typical breathy
excitement - Smith is simply "a goldmine." Capote
provides those lawyers merely to keep the condemned
man alive long enough for his story to be extracted.
When that execution is successfully delayed for another
few years, Capote becomes coldly despondent - he
now needs Smith to die for his book's ending.
"Capote" never cloaks Truman's manipulation of
Smith in any high, moral explanation, and therein lies
its strength. While a little long and often slow, it stud-
ies rather than lionizes its subject, leaving behind more
lingering questions than solid character summations.
For instance, did Capote empathize with the killer or did
he merely use him? And the question remains, which is

talk to your kids about premarital sex."
God I love horror movies. There's
nothing like sitting among a big crowd on
a Friday night as the girl looks behind the
door and under the bed but doesn't think
to check the closet, where, of course, we
saw the hooded assailant go. It's a dif-
ferent kind of experience; yes, the post-
"Scream" slasher has a subversive comic
edge and recent ghost stories such as "The
Sixth Sense" sentimentalize as much as
scare us, but the bottom line has remained
the same since horror's inception: collec-
tive social fears weaved into a dark narra-
tive, mercilessly, almost contemptuously
digging their way under our skin.
Granted, it's been a while since the
genre really meant something. The target
audience of today's Hollywood horror is
young teenagers with attention spans that
run more or less shorter than most of the
films' running times - more if the lead is
someone like Sarah Michelle Gellar and
there is a shower scene involved, less if it
veers too far off from genre conventions.
But before the bulk of its modern fan
base was even born, social apprehensions
vented themselves in the genre, and real
classics were born. In "The Exorcist," a
mother lost control of her child to a mani-
acal outside force - in her case Satan, in
the real world social activism. In "Hal-
loween," it was the false complacency of
post-Vietnam suburbia, as we learned that
yes, in fact, long-thought-lost menaces
could and would return. "Halloween" also
marked the beginning of a new trend: Of
all the characters, only Laurie Strode, the
steadfast virgin who babysat while her

friends shacked up, managed to survive.
From this template came the slasher
genre, popularized by films such as "Fri-
day the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm
Street," where teenagers drank, did drugs,
had sex and were (consequently) killed in
increasingly lurid fashion.
Alas, it's long since been lost on us. We
grew up on the "Scream"
movies, Wes Craven's
ingenious trilogy in which
the characters knew they
were in a horror movie and
acted accordingly - before
promptly drinking, doing
drugs, having sex and getting
killed. This had a curious
effect on horror subjects:
Slasher today has much the
REY same cautionary ideology as
)MER it did in the '80s, but modern
characters think their aware-
ness of this somehow cancels it out. In "I
Know What You Did Last Summer," Julie
James cynically laughs off urban legends
about premarital sex but doesn't suspect a
thing when, after sleeping with her boy-
friend on a beach, she gets chased around
by a guy wielding a giant fishhook.
Self-aware or not, today's horror has
grown into a full slate of remakes, a trend
constantly under critical fire - some of it
deserved, some of it not. They don't lack
quality production so much as context;
the original "Dawn of the Dead" attacked
consumerism, while the 2004 remake had
a comparable body count but a whole lot
less going on under the surface.
If there is an egregious flaw in hor-
ror today, it's the belief that graphic
violence is inherently scary, which it's
not. "Saw," a surprise hit last Halloween
(sequel now in theaters), thought of doz-
ens of mildly derivative ways to torture
and kill people but didn't have a single
thing to say about any of them. It's been
all but forgotten that horror can be taken
seriously, and was once one of the most
effective genres of film.
In the meantime, we digress, because
it's hard to deny the pop-culture value of
a genre that gives us a movie where Paris
Hilton is impaled wearing red lingerie.
But with nearly three horror movies every
month, it's hard not to wonder when Hol-
lywood will rediscover the power of one
of its most profitable exploitation indus-
tries, and what will happen when it does.
- Bloomer cries when watching "Scary
Movie 3." E-mail bloomerj@umich.edu.





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