Halloween's coming, so why not continue with my horror double-feature suggestions? Although based on an early 1930s story by Edogawa Rampo, Blind Beast can be seen as Yasuzo Masumura's inverted take on John Fowles' abduction classic The Collector (made into a 1965 movie by William Wyler, which might've been recommended here if it were a better adaptation). Fowles' book is about class and the empty exercise of capital, in which an alienated office clerk moves up the economic ladder by winning the lottery, but remains on the outside looking in. His only passions are in the form of commodity fetishism: collecting butterflies and fantasizing about a beautiful young female artist whom he obsessively watches from afar. He uses his newfound wealth to kidnap and imprison her with the hopes that she'll discover who he truly is, you know, on the inside. But what he is is nothing more than a guy who collects things, with no more connection to those things than that they fulfill some mental checklist. His is a life reduced to reification where an emotional bond is seen as two stamps being placed together in a book.
In Blind Beast, the kidnapper, Aki, is a blind sculptor who poses as a masseur in order to get tactile inspiration for his art, surrealistic walls of female body parts. Being a sadist, Aki finds his perfect model, Michio, a woman who begins as his victim, but with the transgressive sexualization of pain (or, perhaps, the Stockholm Syndrome) is transformed into a willing masochist. As Luis Buñuel explained his attraction to surrealism:
For the first time in my life, I'd come into contact with a coherent moral system that, as far as I could tell, had no flaws. It was an aggressive morality based on the complete rejection of all existing values. We had other criteria: we exalted passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss. Inside this new territory, all our thoughts and actions seemed justifiable; there was simply no room for doubt. Everything made sense. Our morality may have been more demanding and more dangerous than the prevailing order, but it was also stronger, richer, more coherent. -- quoted here
Whereas The Collector's Frederick never sees his captive as more than an object, thereby reinforcing his own alienation, Michio's abduction is cause for an aesthetic release from objectifying social restrictions. In a spiraling dialectic of slicing and dicing, she and Aki achieve an intersubjective bond through sensuousness (more painful than I'd prefer, but you get the picture).
Why did I see this? One fact I wasn't aware of is that director Stephen Monroe formerly helmed It Waits, which I had mistakenly checked out on blu-ray thinking it was Larry Cohen's It's Alive. I made it through maybe 20 minutes, and now have blown 11 bucks on Monroe's remake of Meir Zarchi's Day of the Woman aka I Spit on Your Grave. Must check IMDb more often. Anyway, if you haven't heard, the plot is rape, then revenge (for a more thorough summary, see a professional critic -- Roger Ebert still hates the original and, now, equally hates the remake). The details remain pretty much the same, but scenarist Jeffrey Reddick adds the missing fifth male, who was promoted on the American poster for Zarchi's original. And although the redneck rapists are no less cretinous than before, they know their way around modern technology: they can use a Macbook, understand that a cellphone doesn't work when it's been dropped in the toilet, and, keeping with the most modern of horror clichés, one of them carries a videocamera. (Sidenote: In order to critique the viewer's implicit scopophilia, the film has to implicate him or her in the voyeur's place through identification, as in Lost Highway, Peeping Tom or Vertigo. Here, you identify with the female victim, so when she fishhooks the hillbilly auteur's eyelids, saying, "you like to watch, hunh?," there's no critique of the gaze, masculine or otherwise. Instead, the viewer will likely feel satisfaction at the spectacle of revenge.) The sheriff (the added fifth rapist) is smart enough to know that the digital recording is evidence, so he attempts to destroy it. On the other hand, he wasn't smart enough to stop the recording while the rape was going on. Not that it matters, since the victim, Jennifer Hills, isn't interested in proving her case to others.
The bromidic High Tension and a remake of The Hills Have Eyes didn't exactly warrant high expectations for a remake of Joe Dante's Piranha, which was itself a low-budget remake of Jaws using The Birds as a template. There's not much to Dante's film except that scenarist John Sayles deserves credit for writing a goofy riff on Hitchcock's classic 2 years before John Carpenter did it with The Fog. So why see a film with such a lackluster pedigree? Well, a friend promised me as much boobs and blood simulated in 3D tactility as an R rating could handle. And, for once, director Alexandre Aja doesn't disappoint. There's a beautifully choreographed underwater nude balletic lesbian make-out scene that surely points to the future in porn on high-def 3D TVs. And the full-scale attack of the piranha on the vacationing college kids is delivered like Saving Private Ryan's Normandy invasion
set in an MTV spring-break special, only with more carnage.
The central aspect to The Birds that neither Dante nor Carpenter got right was the Divine Vengeance angle where the mortal victims in their finitude couldn't come to grips with Judgement Day. At the end of Hitchcock's film, you're still asking why, whereas you're given a reason in the two derivations: In The Fog, the attack is payback for an act of theft on which the coastal town was founded; in Piranha, it's a matter of basic biological drive allowed to take its course due to a bureaucratic coverup so that a prime vacationing spot not be deprived of commerce (as was the case in Jaws). Piranha 3D doesn't achieve Hitchcock's metaphysical ambiguity, either, but it does provide for a more satisfying version of retribution.
Next up in my survey of contemporary French horror films is Xavier Gens' Frontier(s). As can be surmised from the title, the horror affect centers on the question of boundaries, both in transgressing them and being bound by them. Most literally, the five main characters -- Yasmine, aka "the final girl;" her brother Sami; her boyfriend Alex; an awkward, Muslim kid, Farid; and a big, blonde dickhead named Tom -- are making a run for France's borders in the near-future after stealing some loot during a widespread riot on the eve of the National Front (NF)'s winning the popular election. This spatial separation of the inside from the outside -- particularly the urgent need to escape -- is the objective correlative for what follows.
(I'll be discussing plot points as needed, so spoiler alert and don't expect a linear plot summary.)
Perhaps the most commonplace hypocrisy constituting the modern Right's ideological stance is that in promoting deregulation and mass privatization of supposedly everything, the one object that remains for them entirely objective, defined solely from the outside, and thusly constituted by the law, is the body. They are, for example, consistently against drug legalization, outré sexual practices (defined as anything outside of the ventro-ventral procreative technique with the opposite sex), suicide (various State-regulated killing of another's body is okay) and, of course, abortion. Yas, no longer having that last liberty available to her at home, flees to the border with her larcenous comrades to abort her pregnancy elsewhere, not wanting to raise a child in the encroaching fascist dystopia. This plan is foiled when the group encounters the Geisler family, a Eurotrash version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.