Tuesday, October 3, 2023

ENG 281 Week #8: Classic Occult Films (16 Week)

Introduction to our theme:

Huckvale, David, Kevin Lyons, and Mike Muncer. "Occult Pt. 1: An Introduction." The Evolution of Horror (2021)

Film Options:

Rosemary's Baby (USA: Roman Polanski,1968)
MB: This film adaptation by Polanski of Levin's popular novel was the forerunner of an explosion of occult films. It, along with The Exorcist, can be traced as huge cinematic influences on The Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
Film description: "Horrifying and darkly comic, Rosemary’s Baby was Roman Polanski’s Hollywood debut. This wildly entertaining nightmare, faithfully adapted from Ira Levin’s best seller, stars a revelatory Mia Farrow as a young mother-to-be who grows increasingly suspicious that her overfriendly elderly neighbors (played by Sidney Blackmer and an Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon) and self-involved husband (John Cassavetes) are hatching a satanic plot against her and her baby. In the decades of occult cinema that Polanski’s ungodly masterpiece has spawned, it has never been outdone for sheer psychological terror." - The Criterion Collection
Resources for after you watch the movie:
"Stuck with Satan': Ira Levin on the Origins of Rosemary’s Baby."
Park, Ed. "Rosemary's Baby: 'It's Alive.'" Current (October 30, 2012)|
Eggert, Brian. "Rosemary's Baby." Deep Focus Review (October 7, 2018)

The Exorcist (USA: William Friedkin,1973)
MB: This film terrified me when I was a committed youthful Christian who had been raised by my grandparents to believe that demons were waiting for an opportunity to possess us, and, when I watched it later as a non-believing college student studying film, it still had the power to disturb and terrify me (the psychological grooves of those beliefs never leave you, even when you stop believing). This film set off a media frenzy as there were reports of grown adults passing out in the aisles of theaters and people getting physically sick. In metropolitan theaters there were long lines around the block of eager viewers willing to test their mettle. Even more than Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist was a massive influence on The Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
Film Description: "A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness. And a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy." - Andrew Harmon
Resources for after you watch the film

The Holy Mountain (Mexico/USA: Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)
MB: From the time I was first studying films as an art form, I heard whispers about the surreal, mind-blowing, nearly impossible to find films by Jodorowsky. His films were tangled up in a legal dispute with the original producer, who held the rights to them and tried to blackmail Jodorowsky into making a cash-grab soft-core erotic movie in the late 1970s. Jodorowsky, who was more interested in the artistic side (and the occult implications of art/performance) refused this commercial project, and the vengeful producer refused to allow his films to be released on video & DVD. Fans, or cult film enthusiasts wanting to see them for the first time, were relegated to terrible copies of copies until, 40 years after the producer died, Jodorowsky's films were released in new restored prints. By this time, I was a new professor at BCTC running the Bluegrass Film Society, and I decided to screen The Holy Mountain. We had the largest crowd ever (of nearly 500 screenings), and everyone animatedly discussed the film afterward. Reportedly, the premiere screening of the film in Mexico City led to a riot amongst the huge crowd, and Jodorowsky escaped through a bathroom window. John Lennon and other celebrities were fans of his films, and they were part of a trend of out-there films that led to the Midnight Movie phenomenon.  The film is loaded with occult symbolism and seemingly takes an anti-authoritarian glee in assaulting every societal institution (religion/church, capitalism, militarism, and even the authentic seeker, ...). It really is a film unto itself.  
Film description: "In a corrupt, greed-fueled world, a powerful alchemist leads a messianic character and seven materialistic figures to the Holy Mountain, where they hope to achieve enlightenment."
"Venerated by cult cinema enthusiasts while dismissed by most other critics, the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky present strange and magical visions that are not easily categorised or understood. Informed by a lifetime of spiritual journey, Jodorowsky’s cinematic output is filled with violently surreal images and a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation. His completed films are few in number (only six features to date, two of which he has subsequently disowned), and are typically associated with the youth counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially the “head film” subgenre and the “midnight movie” phenomenon. While canonical directors like Buñuel and Fellini were celebrated darlings of the critical establishment, Jodorowsky (who wrote, directed, scored, and often starred in his personal films) was lurking on the fringes of the film world, bringing his distinctly surreal and esoteric sensibilities to the screen in controversial films like Fando y Lis (1968), El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973)." - David Church
Resources for after you watch the film

The Craft (USA: Andrew Fleming, 1996)
MB: This film may not reach the heights of artistic excellence, but it was a successful crowd pleaser and gained cult status on its release on video/DVD. It was an inspiration to a generation of young, alienated females to start dressing like the characters and practicing magic rituals. The cast includes Fairuza Balk, in a defining role as the angry leader Nancy Downs, and Neve Campbell (also the protagonist of Wes Craven's 1996 meta-horror film Scream - Skeet Ulrich is also in both films) as the new girl in the high school who completes the coven.
Film description: "A Catholic school newcomer falls in with a clique of teen witches who wield their powers against all who dare to cross them – be they teachers, rivals or meddlesome parents."
Resource for after you watch the film:

Gamble, Ione. "The Craft (1996)." The Final Girls (October 31, 2019) ["The Final Girls are joined by Ione Gamble to discuss witchcraft, teen girl politics, and why Nancy Downs remains a bastion of weirdness for teenage girls everywhere."]

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