Not Quite Horror: “Miller’s Crossing” (1990)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

In the month of October, I am celebrating the films of Not Quite Horror legends Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Monster: In the Coen Brothers’ crime masterpiece Miller’s Crossing, Tommy (Gabriel Byrne) is a smart guy caught between two warring mobsters, with stacks of corpses piling up on both sides. No strangers to horror, Joel and Ethan Coen don’t skimp on the gore.

The titular Miller’s Crossing must be a very haunted place. The film’s gangsters commit bloody violent acts wherever they see fit, but the Crossing is a place where people are taken knowing they are going to die. The location itself is peaceful and beautiful, but it is a place where bodies are buried.

The Horror: In October, I will be analyzing films from the Coen Brothers as horror films. One consistent Coen Brothers theme is the human need for dignity in death, and the world’s attempts to deny them this peace.

Miller’s Crossing seems like a nice place to die at first glance, but everything goes wrong. The breeze feels sinister. People don’t behave right. Begging and pleading fills the sky. Even in nature, dignity is denied.

The Shared Fate: Death does indeed come for all of us, and we hope to make our life’s end decent and meaningful. By naming the film Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brothers underline the inevitability of our shared fates. Then, with their trademark humor, they remove the illusion of dignity that most mobster films work hard to preserve.

In the end, they’re just leading us down a lonely path and letting us fade to black.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Happiness” (1998)

happiness

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

Happiness (1998)

The Monster: Within Bill Maplewood’s (Dylan Baker) troubled mind, a battle rages. His self-destructive loathing is at war with his desire to become a sexual predator. When he offends and is revealed as a criminal, he must answer difficult questions from his son.

In a film with an obscene phone caller, adulterers, and a murderer, Bill Maplewood still manages to make stomachs turn. His slow preparation and obsessive planning before the crime make viewing uncomfortable, to say the least.

The Horror: In spite of his unspeakable awfulness, Bill Maplewood could not be more mundane. At times, Dylan Baker manages to provide charm to a character whose actions make him horribly upsetting. In short, Bill Maplewood could not be more real if he existed.

The Shared Fate: Unfortunately, there are hurtful people in the world who use their averageness to mask their crimes. Few films spend as much time with the abuser as a mundane citizen.

Happiness is a clear reminder we won’t always see bad things before they are connected to our lives. At over two hours of running time, it forces audiences to live with this threat for much longer than they would like.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

the-sopranos-2_7524

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

The Sopranos (1999-2007)

The Monster: Film and television have relied on organized crime to create compelling story lines for decades. The criminals in The Sopranos are born from this murderous family tree. They even discuss previous gangster films as they go about their work.

Given an entire HBO series to develop, these characters grow in different directions than their counterparts in film. The show gives them time to wear track suits and grow bored. Then, in sudden and vicious moments, these men take lives with swift brutality.

The Horror: Murder on The Sopranos is no glamorous business. Even when the hit has been organized well, the victims sob pathetically and one bullet rarely does the job.

Usually, it’s not even that efficient. Characters can’t figure out where to stow a dead body, or have to rebury a corpse when development threatens to unearth it. A traitorous friend haunts Tony Soprano in visions and dreams of dead fish.

Shame and death aren’t reserved for the family business, either. A hitman dies a bloody death in his car after completing his mission. A husband stuck in traffic finds he has been delayed by the car accident that killed his wife. One character even dies after straining too hard on the toilet.

The Shared Fate: Coming after the proud glory of the Godfather movies and the swagger of Goodfellas, The Sopranos goes out of his way destroy glamour.

Life in the Sopranos world is often in the hands of bitter, hideous men with no sense of beauty. That hits pretty close to home, don’t you think?

Popular as it was, The Sopranos must’ve given nightmares to thousands of viewers expecting a nice mobster bedtime story.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “White Water Summer” (1987)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There more than one way to watch a movie.

White Water Summer (1987)

The Monster: Vic (Kevin Bacon) is the worst kind of monster; he’s a man who means well. He convinces Alan’s (Sean Astin’s) parents to send their son with him some other kids on a hiking and white water rafting adventure.

Once the trip begins, Vic’s efforts to toughen up the city kids quickly reveal themselves as being dangerous and out of control. He takes a special sadistic joy in tormenting Alan, in an effort to break his spirit. When Vic is severely injured along the way, Alan proves his courage to Vic by saving his life.

The Horror: Kevin Bacon’s most famous work in the field of horror is undoubtedly Friday the 13th, but his performance as Vic is menacing enough to make the outdoorsman seem like a slasher killer, even though he never murders a single person during the course of White Water Summer.

Vic is introduced to the audience as he walks the median of a busy city street. Clearly out of place, hauling his hiking gear on his back, he has the look of a man without fear. When he is finally in his element, hiking with the boys, he pitilessly demands they face their fears and do as told. He makes them cross an unsafe rope bridge despite their protests. Complain about Vic and he’s likely to appear behind you.

The Shared Fate: Vic is a slight exaggeration of real-life figures like camp counselors, baby sitters, and older siblings. As teens or young adults, these people represent authority. However, they often lack the experience and emotional maturity to make the best decisions.

White Water Summer is an almost-slasher. Vic, the would-be killer, is motivated by ego, not revenge. The campers are younger, and they are punished for weakness instead of sexual promiscuity. In the end, everyone lives. Still, it doesn’t take much to stop the movie before Vic’s injury and imagine a body count even Jason Voorhees could be proud of.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “Pelotero” (2011)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There more than one way to watch a movie.

Pelotero (2011)

The Monster: The System. In day-to-day life, people often find themselves at the mercy of larger, more powerful groups of people. Aspiring baseball players in the Dominican Republic are no exception.

Able to sign contracts with Major League Baseball when they turn sixteen, potential ballplayers (“pelotero” means “ballplayer”) can make millions of dollars for them and their families. Because of this, many players lie about their age to increase the amount of money they make. Baseball has to identify and punish these offenders.

The Horror: What do you do when The System insists you aren’t who you say you are? In the documentary Pelotero, Miguel Sano is told they can’t confirm his age is 16, like he claims it is. He’s told he’s actually much older. He’s told he used the birth certificate from a child of his mother’s that did not survive. He’s called into meeting after meeting. A meeting with his agent is secretly videotaped so the family can prove to others what they’re being told in private. Pelotero may be a documentary, but it feels like a novel by Kafka.

The Shared Fate: As anyone who’s ever had problems with the law, a bank, or an insurance company can attest problems with The System can warp a person’s entire reality.

Watching Sano and his family have their identities redefined by The System, any member of contemporary society has to feel some solidarity. Whether a person’s gotten junk mail to a misspelling of their name to unscrambled miscommunications between insurance companies, most of us have been told by The System that our reality is simply wrong.

After the process drags on and Sano’s career in Major League Baseball is jeopardized by the investigation, the horror is not conveyed with violence or screaming. The horror lives in the frustrated, broken look eyes of Sano and his family.

Isn’t there a point, for all of us, when we fear losing the will to fight and simply become whatever The System says we are?

Additional information for this article was accessed at The American Society for International Law. For more information on where the real life Miguel Sano is now, check out friend of the author Seth Stoh’s Twins’ Prospect Guide!

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen

Not Quite Horror: “G.I. Joe: The Movie” (1987)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There more than one way to watch a movie.

G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

The Monster: The new villains facing the forces of G.I., the Cobra-La, provide new faces and new toys to be sold to fans of the show. Their leader has the lower body of a snake, their strongest warrior has wings, and their foot soldiers have axes larger than their torsos. They were barely more monstrous than Cobra’s evil soldiers.

Their plan for global domination involves using one of the Joe’s many techno-toys to spread evil spores across the world, mutating all of the innocent civilians of the planet.

The Horror: In the midst of the show’s regular laser-light show of combat and bravado, a truly terrifying narrative emerges in the unlikeliest of places.

Cobra Commander, arch enemy to the heroic Joes, is ousted from his position of power and forcibly infected with the Cobra-La’s spores. During his escape, he devolves into a mutant snake that can’t stop hissing about how he used to be a man.

The Shared Fate: G.I. Joe: The Movie was released during the Cold War and marketed at adolescents.

These adolescents grew up believing in the threat of mutation and mutilation at the hands of the Evil Empire. However, the one who suffers the most in the movie is Cobra Commander, the enemy they used to fear. It’s not unrealistic to assume adolescents would identify with Cobra Commander’s plight, as they themselves worry about being betrayed by their growing social connections.

The horrifying moral of Cobra Commander’s story? Your friends will abandon you and you’ll suffer, then die alone. G.I. Joe had weapons, but when the credits on the film rolled, they couldn’t fight that fear of isolation and abandonment.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen