Everyone has their staples for Halloween watching, like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “Nightmare Before Christmas.” But be forewarned, gentle reader, because your master of Scarimonies (God, I sound like the Crypt Keeper), Dukey Flyswatter, will suggest some gems and themes that may have flown drastically under your radar, like a schizophrenic Vampire Bat. Week four we focus on movies that defy categorization, but are just plain creepy.
Funny Games (1997)
Director: Michael Heneke. Stars: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Arno Frisch, Doris Kuntsmann.
Although the American version has the same script, and is duplicated almost shot for shot, I prefer the original since its cast was unknown, and the film and its concept came way out of left field for its day. The film whacks its audience with a message of violence and voyeurism, and then breaks the fourth wall to be smug about it. You’re either going to love it or hate it. When I first saw “Funny Games” in the theater, some people were walking out because they were either taken aback, or because they had just had enough physical and emotional cinematic brutality. This not the film to show to the kidlets while they carve their Jack o’ Lanterns. Save “Disney’s Halloween Treat” for that ritual.
In a brilliant opening credit sequence, an upper middle class family is heading for a vacation at their lake house to the strains of opera and symphonic music. Exterior overhead shots are scored with extra loud Death Core Metal that may suggest that we are heading for something weird, or that circumstances surrounding the family may not be so pleasant.
No sooner do they get there than two Aryan and preppy-looking college-type kids drop by to borrow some eggs, claiming that they were sent from their friends next door. All seems well, but as the conversation progresses, one of the youths becomes more and more snarky. Soon after leaving, they return claiming that the chubbier of the two tripped and broke the eggs. Naturally, this pisses off the mother and they play on this until she insists that they leave and don’t come back. Dad comes in to help, and has his leg shattered when the more dominant boy grabs the man’s golf clubs. What ensues is a night of pain, torture, and humiliation ending in a bet with the family and the audience that they won’t live to see the dawn.
What I like most about “Funny Games” is its ability to set up what could be a conventional, albeit sadistic thriller, and play with all of the variables we have come to expect from years of watching these movies. It also brings up the question: if you make it through the movie from beginning to end, does that mean you are complacent when seeing atrocities committed onscreen, or are you there purely to see what the outcome, any outcome that the film shoves in your face? If you go for crazy foreign art films, or are terrified by xenophobic horror films like “They,” “The Strangers,” and “The Purge,” this might be the right slice of creepy for you.