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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Drawing Connections: 5 Memorable Horror Homages

Because of its status as a "low-genre", horror viewership has been linked to ideas of deviancy, sadism, masochism, and corruption. So it's not surprising that horror fandom has the tendency to become very communal, inciting both a huge popular following and huge cult/underground followings. Scholar Brigid Cherry has even written of watching horror as a rite of passage, especially for teenagers - a chance to prove brave in front of peers. Meanwhile, Barbara Creed has asserted that the genre creates an interesting dialectic between seeing/not seeing for the viewer who is at once drawn to the screen and closing their eyes in order to disconnect when times get tough. According to Linda Williams, horror is a body genre, making its appeal in its ability to elicit bodily reactions from viewers who essentially lose control by losing themselves in the diegesis. 

All this to say, there is a blatant attraction to the genre which is bound up in the idea of having fun, and cutting loose. The sense of community among horror lovers, as you may have guessed, extends beyond the audience and onto the screen. Horror filmmakers, scriptwriters, 
actors and so forth are generally well known for their dedication to horror fandom, thus making homage a significant aspect of the films. After all, isn't everything just based on Hitchcock's Psycho? And isn't Craven's Scream franchise just based on... well, everything?

Drawing connections has become one of the most exciting ways to view these films, especially today in a time of infinite repetition, with remakes and reboots invading the cinemas. But the truth is, within the genre of horror at least, moments of homage have always been a part of the viewing experience - it has always been a genre for the fans. With the recent boom in remakes and sequels (which is not a new thing), it is increasingly noticeable that the ones that work best are the ones that seem to get that it is not so much about remaking the movie, but about revisiting what was loved about it. And often this means, who was loved about it. 

There are tons of these out there, but as a jumping off point, here are 5 of my favourite connections.

Halloween Loves Psycho

Beginning in 1978, headed by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Michael Meyers quickly became the most well known, and terrifying killer on the big screen. His prey? Laurie Strode, portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first feature role. With the film’s strong connection to Psycho, it is no coincidence that her first role was as a Final Girl, a slasher archetype considered to be properly developed for the first time in this film. In 1960 Hitchcock set the groundwork for the must-factor in what would eventually come to be known as slasher cinema - the attack of a beautiful unsuspecting woman. Of course, this was Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, Hollywood star and mother of the then two year old Jamie Lee Curtis. Aside from her keen ability to bring Laurie Strode to life, Carpenter liked that she was “Marion Crane’s”  daughter since his script was already something of a love letter to Psycho with a significant character, Dr. Sam Loomis, being named after Hitchcock’s male lead. So, heavily inspired by the classic, Halloween went on to become a classic of its own.

Janet Leigh And Jamie Lee Curtis, The Mother-Daughter Scream Queen Duo

Just a couple short years after Carpenter’s clever casting of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween he and Hill decided to make the connection a recurring element of their films, casting both Curtis and her mother Leigh in his next feature, The Fog. The joke here of course is that Curtis and Leigh play two completely disconnected characters. The viewers wait and wait for a connection to be made between them, or for them to at least share an embrace, but it never happens. Instead, the two eventually find themselves trapped in a church together with the rest of the townsfolk and never once bother to interact directly. “Gotcha!” (Likely this is what Hill and Carpenter exclaim when viewing with others). Then in 1998 Curtis decided it was time for a twenty year reunion with her beloved brother, Michael Meyers. Along with director Steve Miner, Curtis developed Halloween H20. This time Leigh’s presence as a Mother figure for the grown Laurie Strode is undeniable. Battling alcoholism and paranoia, Laurie turns to her boss for advice whenever she feels herself getting too lost. The dynamic is a perfect nod to this mother-daughter duo’s long Scream Queen career.

Danielle Harris In Rob Zombie’s Halloween Reboot

In 1988, at just eleven years old, Harris took over the role of Final Girl in the Halloween series from Curtis who had moved on after the first sequel. While the third installment was completely disconnected from the original story, not even featuring the character of Michael Meyers, the fourth attempted to dig up its roots. Harris plays Jamie (yes, Jamie), the orphaned daughter of Laurie Strode who has since died in a car accident. When Michael escapes his hunt for his sister leads him straight to little Jamie, who is living with a foster family. After being hunted by Uncle Michael in Halloween 4, 5, and 6, Jamie’s role finally wrapped up. But it was not the end of Harris’s relationship with the series. In 2007 musician turned director, Rob Zombie decided to reboot the series with a new, modern take on the scenario. This time Harris was cast as Annie, Laurie Strode’s best friend who had originally been portrayed by Nancy Kyes in 1978. While Annie’s character was eventually killed by Michael in a car, Harris’s version was a much stronger “Final Girl-esque” figure who survives the brutal attack, even to return in Zombie’s sequel. We can only assume this is a nod to Harris’s superb Final Girl survival skills.

Andrea Martin In The Black Christmas Remake

Bob Clark’s 1974 Canadian slasher, which largely set the precedent for the genre, features an unseen killer hunting the girls of a sorority house on Christmas eve. Of the many characters, Phyllis would perhaps be the most forgettable if it weren’t for that unforgettable style - the mini afro and round glasses are completely out of place next to the plainer styles of the other girls. Still, even as one of the last to be killed (positioned gruesomely post-mortem with Barb), Phyllis has very few lines and is of little significance within the plot itself. She is overshadowed by characters with far more presence such as the Final Girl, Jess, the crass loud-mouth, Barb (played by Margot Kidder. Yup, Lois Lane), and the drunken House Mother, Mrs. Mac. In the remake however Andrea Martin is the only original cast member to return, this time as a lead role character - Ms. Mac. From quiet and insignificant, to storyteller and mother figure Mac, Andrea Martin’s role in the Black Christmas Universe comes a long way. It was really the only thing to enjoy in this one.

When There Is No More Room In Hell…

Horror veteran Ken Foree made his debut lead appearance as the protagonist Peter in George Romero’s instant classic Dawn of the Dead. Not only was his character significant for his ability to progress the narrative, that the character is black is also something that made the film so special. According to Robin Wood, the late film scholar, Peter’s position as a black man was used to indicate his separation from the “norms of white-dominated society” (not unlike the black protagonist in Romero’s earlier picture, Night of the Living Dead). Because this film is also “perhaps the first horror film to suggest the possibility of moving beyond the apocalypse” (Wood), religious undertones become important to the film’s consciously political level. Arguably the film’s most famous, if not most important, line, “when there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”, was delivered by Peter. So it was no surprise that when the film was remade in 2004, Foree made a well anticipated cameo as a televangelist, repeating this very line. The scene was very well received by the original’s loyal fans. The fame and respect Foree garnered from his role as Peter has carried throughout his career with such intensity, that it is difficult to imagine any of his horror work not relying on our recognition of this.