Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So begins the list of the #30 best things to watch for Halloween (I by no means claim this is a definitive list and the ordering is rather arbitrary).

We start this month of horror films off with a TV show. But not just any TV show, the single greatest TV show in the history of human civilization (at least up to this point…Whedon could easily come out with something new that would surpass it in a few years). That show is of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer. High tragedy, high comedy, deep understanding of the human condition, skill in writing, acting and directing, and of course a hopeful view of humanity that forgiveness is possible and that people can grow and improve themselves. There is simply no show in the history of television that has dealt such profound philosophical themes without being heavy handed and with characters who were human and never just two dimensional cutouts who were allowed to followed a predictable pattern.

The reason such a great work of art gets put last in this list is that it’s really not a horror story. Yes there are vampires and werewolves and monsters of all stripes. But even though it has all the tropes of horror, it is not focused on death as any good horror story is, rather Buffy is focused on life, specifically the growing up part of life. And in this respect it works as a good counterbalance to everything that’s going to come after, but that does not mean it does not have its horrifying moments.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the more terrifying episodes.

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

“Hush”: Possibly the most horrifying episode of Buffy. Corpse like emaciated men dressed in 1920’s style suits come to town, steal everyone’s voice and rip out their hearts. It’s frightening for several reasons. The first is the villains, The Gentlemen. The scariest monsters are always the ones that look human but are just a slight bit off, the fact that they were so concerned with manners and courtesy in their actions toward one another just adds to the horror because it is so out of place when you’re about to cut out a live and awake person’s heart. The other reason that it’s such a terrifying episode is that it takes away from the characters something they take for granted: their voice. The idea of not having something we have been so dependent on that we take it for granted, like our ability to communicate brings up the simple question in our minds: “what would I do in that situation?” It’s not a pleasant question. We use our voice for so many things and the idea that we should have to live without it–not a pleasant thought. And of course there is the fear of death. Few episodes have shown people so helpless as this episode when being killed, they’re restrained almost immediately so they can’t run away; they have no voice so they can’t scream for help and then they feel everything as their heart is cut out. One of the things that frighten people so much about death is that they think it is something out of their control, that it will come in the night without warning or rhyme or reason and there is nothing they can do about it, and they are utterly powerless in the face of the unknown. It’s powerlessness against it that frightens them (it’s why waiting for the diagnosis of cancer is worse than the diagnosis itself, when you know what it is, you have a name, an MRI, an idea you can fight against or give into, it’s your choice—but when you’re waiting you still have no choice about anything). It is this powerlessness that the scenes of death in this episode capture so well, and remind most of us of our own fears of death.
Helpless: People run a lot in Buffy. But either they’re one episode’s extras whom we’re not really all that invested in, or they’re main characters and we know Buffy will save them. But when it’s Buffy who is doing the running because she has had all her powers taken away, that adds a lot more terror. The safety net of “Buffy will save the day” is gone, and being Joss Whedon, we never had any reassurance that he isn’t willing to kill main characters, so there’s not that usual safety net either.

“Restless”: There is something terrifying about the unknown and the bizarre to most people. If they can’t understand and make sense of it, it frightens them. So putting our four main characters in a rather symbolic and random dreamscape with an unknown assailant killing them, is quite terrifying. Oh and there’s cheese (if you’ve seen the episode you’ll get that).

“Fear Itself”: Finally my favorite Halloween episode in Buffy. The Scooby Gang faces off against a demon who makes them live out their worst fears and then face the fear demon itself. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This episode shows how foolish that is. Why? Because the fear demon is three inches tall, which is possibly the most insightful and genius representation of fear I have ever seen in of all of literature. Fear is something small, something insignificant, and something if you use reason isn’t worth worrying about…yet we let it control us because we refuse to look at it. If we did confront it head on we would probably find that most of our fears are so small and so insignificant that they can just easily be squashed and ignored.

Xander: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon? Giles: Don’t taunt the fear demon.Xander: Why? Can he hurt me?Giles: No, it’s just… tacky

Honorable Mentions:

None these are exactly great films (not that the top 30 are all Oscar Winners) but they get trotted out every Halloween and I would say they do meet my criteria of an unhealthy obsession with death.

Constantine: An epic battle between good and evil with a poorly executed story of redemption.  Fun but ultimately pointless.

Stigmata: It’s not exactly a horror film, (and I’ll probably deal with it later in my blogs about movies for New Agers) but with all the blood and suffering it has many of the tropes of a horror film.

Bless the Child: Certainly not as dense and preachy as the novel it’s based on, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still just a little preachy.  And then there is just the rather low quality direction.

The Shinning (TV movie 1997): You know the Nicholson/Kubric version of the film is actually well done, the problem is that it seems to completely ignore that there is actually a great book that it’s supposed to be based on. The TV movie, while not without its flaws was more true to theme and characters of the book and thus I prefer it to the older version.

Fringe: Again it’s not really about the fear of death, but there are some truly horrifying moments.  Like in the first episode where everyone’s skin is melting off, that’s frightening at levels I can’t begin to describe.  And that 3rd season episode where they guy is playing with a corpse and through levers and pulleys make it dance ballet, that’s disturbing at a level I seldom see.

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Filed under Art, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Death, Faith, Fear, Free Will, God, Halloween, Joss Whedon, Movies, New Age Movies, Popular Culture

Movies for everyone: Cabin in the Woods.

Ok, I’m drawing a line in the f!@#ing sand. Do NOT read the Latin!


As it was probably made clear in my review of Halloween movies, I have great contempt for most horror films.  Cheap, predictable, cliché and recently little more than torture porn.  Especially the “let’s go somewhere remote where a monster of some kind is going to kill us all” variant.  And Joss Whedon apparently hates this cliché as well.

It really shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  This is the Joss Whedon who got so tired of seeing the ditzy blonde cheerleader with the silly name die at the hands of a monster, he gave her a stake, some brains, and the name Buffy, and let her tear through the monsters.  But he seems to be a bit more vicious in his critique of what the horror genre has devolved into over the last decade, completely disregarding his proof that horror can be intelligent and witty and more than just gore and blood.

It appears he, along with longtime Buffy writer Drew Goddard, wrote Cabin in the Woods to drive the stake home that horror movies are getting just stupid.

Short version, every trope and cliché is made fun of.  Almost every version of the story is lambasted.  College students go on a trip to the cabin in the woods, get stopped by the creepy gas station attendant who basically screams at them to turn back, go into the cellar of the cabin which just conveniently opens on its own, call up a group of redneck pain-worshiping zombies (which is very different from just normal zombies) and get picked off one by one in true archetypal fashion—the blonde over sexed whore goes first, then the fool, the athlete, the scholar, and of course finally the virgin (“we work with what we have”).

But this isn’t your standard horror torture porn film.  No this movie is actively making fun of the kind of idiot who read the Latin from the diary of the religious lunatic bent on worshiping pain which is kept in the creepy cellar…because that seems like such a great idea.  It insults a group of kids who don’t turn right around when the outside of the cabin looks exactly like the cabin from Evil Dead and on the inside has the mounted head of a wolf, a picture of the slaughter of a ram, and the mounted horns of a hart (and if you know Joss Whedon’s work, you know the wolf, the ram and the hart are a very, very bad sign) not to mention the creepy one way mirror and the cellar of horrors…again why didn’t we turn around?  Cabin in the Woods also makes it clear that this grouping of one of each archetype never actually occurs unless you seriously drug half your cast to act in a way contrary to their normal behavior.

“Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of …Am I on speakerphone?”

It also makes fun of every other kind of horror film out there.  The recent spate of Scandinavian horror films that go beyond all good taste are labeled as a total failure from almost the first moment.  The Japanese horror film, where no one has ever survived any incarnation of, is lambasted by finally letting everyone survive the Japanese horror film (how hard is it to kill nine-year-olds?).

Until you’ve seen the movie you don’t realize how hilarious this picture is…Kevin? The Sugar Plum Fairy?

It makes fun of the filmmakers.  The film makers who bet that we’ll go see yet another crappy zombie film are lambasted as boring and unoriginal and the filmmakers of crappy scifi movies which pull out obscure monsters no one cares about are even more humiliated by their choice of stupid monsters.  Not to mention it tears into the tediously formulaic way that these movies progress through as if it’s some kind of ritual that must not be deviated from, even in dealing with the order in which victims must be killed (honestly, when was the last time you ever saw the virgin die first?) or how no matter who is involved, be they bright or stupid, everyone always does the dumb thing and splits up.

And most of all it makes fun of the audience for their perverse need to watch the stupid movies that the horror genre has become.  From the obsessive need to see naked women (which is hit both with seeing all the technicians crowded into the control room to get a glimpse, and again with Hadley’s enthusiastic “score.”)…to the fact that the audience of this genre is constantly being mocked for believing such preposterous situations…and in the final dig for comparing the audience to absolute evil for it’s insatiable need to see such suffering offered up to us as if it was a sacrifice that we demand.  The film closes with a not too subtle call for the audience of this genre to rise up and demand that this cycle of crappy movie end once and for all as they don’t provide anything.

As with any Joss Whedon work every scene is full of wit and humor (even the violent ones) and a whole mess of allusions to other works (at some point I’m going to have to go through the last act and look for every reference they make, because Goddard and Whedon seemed hell bent on referencing every horror film ever made).  The problem is that the first time I went to see this movie the audience I was with clearly understood this was a comedy and was laughing at all the digs at the genre…the second time I saw it the audience clearly came for a horror movie and didn’t get the fact that their genre was being humiliated (it was odd, I was one of the maybe 5 people laughing at every scene).  So the expectations you go in with drastically affect your appreciation of the film.

The main question I get about this movie, from those who are not fans of the horror genre is: is it violent and gory? Yes and no.  It has blood and tension and some gore.  But compared to a lot of films in the genre it’s quite tame.  Personally I would put it on par with one of the Scream movies in terms of gore, maybe a little worse.  (Except for the fifth act where they’re throwing around blood by the tub full…but really that’s more farce than horror.)  If you’re really squeamish, even the humor might not be enough to overpower what gore there is…but I still suggest you should give it a try.

“Good work, zombie arm.”

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Filed under Art, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Fear, Joss Whedon, Movies

My Favorite Romantic Couples for Valentine’s Day

Having done romantic comedies I thought we would take a quick look at my favorite cinema couples before heading into the high body count of Romantic Dramas.

I have some simple rules here. First they must be married (or as close as you can get, I have some couples from Lost in here and there wasn’t exactly a church on that island) and have a healthy relationship (so my beloved Buffy & Angel, Michale & Fionna, and Mal & Innara, are out on both counts)…and no matter how much I love them Sherlock and Irene, no matter what incarnation, have never had anything resembling a healthy relationship. Second that the characters must be together and married for the majority of the work (either movie or TV show) that they are in…yes we all love this or that couple but be it Booth & Bones, Mulder & Scully, or a thousand couples in sitcoms, they didn’t really get together until the very end… (my number 1 couple hasn’t been married for the majority of the show, but they have been married from the moment the female half showed up). Third they have to be fictional (as much as I love Giamatti and Linney as John and Abigail Adams, they have nothing on the passion and romance of the original…read their letters if you don’t believe me). Finally the relationship has to be a central point of the film (Jack Ryan seems to have a good marriage, but it’s always tangential to the story). Granted this leaves only a few examples as most examples of married couples in film are one of not so healthy relationships, either for dramatic or comedy purposes, but there are a few.

#6 Any married couple of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

From Adam’s Rib and State of the Union all the way to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner these two have always been a wonderful and adorable couple on screen and off.

Spencer Tracy on the importance of love:

#5 Lord & Lady Blakely from The Scarlet Pimpernel Now I have always loved the original book The Scarlet Pimpernel and while some may like older versions I have always loved Richard E. Grant’s interpretation of the original hero pretending to be a worthless playboy (yes, the character predates Bruce Wayne and Don Diego de la Vega). I prefer the A&E/BBC from the 1990’s version with Grant as Percy Blakely and Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Marguerite Blakely because the miniseries focuses a little more on their relationship after Marguerite learns who her husband really is. The constant fighting between the two (both for show and for real) is endlessly adorable and only out done by their moments of tenderness. This might seem an odd inclusion, but if you know the story you know the relationship of Lord & Lady Blakely is always taking center stage with the swashbuckling as the secondary plot point.


(There are not many good short clips of The Scarlet Pimpernel on YouTube…sorry this is the best I can find…trust me they’re a wonderful couple).

#4Nick & Nora Charles from The Thin Man movies


How can you not love a pair or married smartasses who solve crimes for fun? Such is the genius of The Thin Man movies. William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are always a delightful pair who seem to overcome any problem and any mystery with grace and wit… Although the hilarity might have something to with the truly obscene amounts of alcohol they consume in between solving crimes.

(I usually don’t like remakes…but I am curious what they’re going to do with the proposed remake of the Thin Man stories.)

#3 Zoe & Wash from Firefly
Granted everything about Firefly is more or less perfect…but one of the true touches of genius from Joss Whedon is having two of the crew members be in a stable and loving relationship. In this wonderful cast of highly dysfunctional misfits you have two people who provide an ideal and enviable relationship.

Zoe Wash

…Yeah, Whedon did what Whedon does to happy couples (anybody bother to check if Pepper or Jane are surviving to make it to Iron Man 3 and Thor 2?…cause you know he’ll do it if he can) but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enviable while it lasted. Curse once Whedon! Once, just once, I’d like to see true love win out! (And why do I know I would regret getting everything I ever wanted.)

#2 The Couples of Lost
(Sawyer & Juliet, Sun & Jin, Bernard & Rose, Penny & Desmond)

I love Lost, (I think in part because I only watched it after it was all on DVD…it I had to wait weeks and summers for more episodes I probably would have given up or gone mad), but besides the deep spiritual themes, the most unexpected joy of the show was how, unlike most drama on TV it showed not just one but several happy and successful couples. Yeah there were also a few that had to deal with serious issues, but I think the couples I listed above highlight how this show demonstrated that love and happiness were actually the natural state of human existence not the exception.

Yes this clip is a spoiler…but if you don’t know the context it won’t tell you much.

Now if you’ve seen the show and want to see all the happy couples again click here …fair warning I always cry seeing this scene.

And my favorite couple in all of cinematic fiction is a recent addition…

#1 The Doctor & River Song

Since she showed up (apparently already the Doctor’s wife) there has been nothing but a stream of flirting…

…And more flirting…

…And wonderful romance. Both were more than willing to die for the other, both actually died to save the other. Ah the confusing relationship of two witty super intelligent time travelers who keep meeting each other out of order. It’s tragic and beautiful and funny and terrible. How can you not love it? (Some might want me to include Amy and Rory in here too, as this video seems to suggest they also belong on here…

…but even with as badass as Rory has become, I just have problem calling their relationship healthy given the fact that Amy tried to jump her son-in-law the night before her wedding)

I could go into far more detail on their relationship, but that would be, as River would say, spoilers. Just suffice to know that they are a perfect couple even early in their relationship when at least one of them could still say “I just haven’t met you yet”

And I open up the floor for healthy, married, fictional and together for the majority of their story, who did I miss?

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Filed under Art, Happiness, Love, Movies, Valentine's Day