Tuesday, October 28, 2014

HAPPY HAPPY HALLOWEEN VIII

That’s right, boys and ghouls, it’s that time of the year again. Every Halloween season, the B-Movie Catechism offers suggestions for cheap and easy to make costumes based on some of the movies we’ve discussed over the past twelve months, either here or over at Aleteia. We provide this annual service for those Christians who are tired of dressing up as a nun or an Old Testament prophet, but would still like their disguises to reflect their beliefs in some way.

hh stalker

Let’s begin with Stalker, the bleak allegorical sci-fi flick from Russia which ponders the question, if a place existed which could reveal the thing you wanted most in this world, would you actually want to go there? Dressing up as a character from Stalker is easy. Just rummage through the clothes in your attic, put on anything you find that is grey or dull brown, and then make sure you don’t smile for the rest of the evening. Then, at each home you visit, find a puddle or pile of dead leaves to lie down in. When the owners come out and ask what it is you think you’re doing, respond in a world-weary monotonous tone, “Wondering if the true desire of my heart is Christ?” That way, you’ll give them something to think about, and they’ll give you as much candy as you want if you’ll just go away.

hh divergent

If you’d prefer something with a little more pep, then perhaps you’d rather dress up as one of the Dauntless from Divergent. Just throw on something black, apply a few temporary tattoos and you’re pretty much done with the visuals. To complete the illusion, all you and your friends have to do is run onto people’s lawns screaming like maniacs and turning somersaults (bonus points if you enter the yard by leaping from a moving car). If the homeowners don’t gun you down first, you can explain how your wardrobe and actions reflect the Dauntless code of freedom from fear. If they don’t want to join in, just tell them to trust in God and fear no evil.

hh this night

Speaking of evil, part of the fun of Halloween is mocking it by dressing up as one of the monsters or bad guys. That being the case, who better for a Christian to caricature than that dastardly uber-atheist Coffin Joe, villainous star of the classic Brazilian terror tale This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Pick up some costume jewelry, press-on nails, and one of those vinyl capes from the Dollar Store and you’re almost there. To finish off the ensemble, just grab the beard and cardboard top hat from that presentation your kids made on Abraham Lincoln and you’re good to go. When someone answers the door, rather than the usual trick or treat, instead launch into a twenty minute rant on the non-existence of God… and then beg for forgiveness as He smites you.

hh golden

If plain old atheism isn’t evil enough for you, then maybe a full-on demon would be a better target to make fun of. Hey, it worked out for Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child, didn’t it? To outfit yourself as Sardo Numspa, emissary of Hell, all you really need is one of those dandy looking dinner jackets your grandfather has some stuffed in the attic somewhere. Oh, and the complete inability to say the letter “J,” that’s essential. If they all laugh at you because of your accent, well, that’s the point. After all, the ghosts and goblins of Halloween should be seen as ineffectual as they will most certainly be overcome by the power of Christ as witnessed through the lives of the saints and souls we celebrate on the two following days.

hh zombie

Finally, for those who want something a bit more traditional, the makeup from Hard Rock Zombies shouldn’t cost more than a few bucks to throw together. At least I’m pretty sure that’s all the filmmakers spent on it, anyway. A little white face paint, one of your old heavy metal T-shirts from the 80s, and a mullet wig (please tell me you’d need a wig) is all that’s required to turn you into a hair raising head banger. If someone points out that you look a little quaint compared to today’s more modern walking dead, tell them not to worry, all zombies, no matter what they look like, are just a representation of a false resurrection anyway. Then let them know you’d be happy to discuss the true resurrection with them. Or eat their brains. Whatever works for them.

Hope this helps all of you who were stuck for costume ideas this year. Happy Happy Halloween everyone.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

SHORT FEATURE: OUIJA PSYCHIC TERROR

In conjunction with the movie “Ouija”, which I reviewed for Aleteia this week, those movie promotion/prank people are at it again…

Truth be told, that gag is probably more fun than the entire movie it’s shilling for. Okay, that’s not quite fair. “Ouija” is actually a pretty decent horror film for younger teens who haven’t seen a lot of these kind of flicks or possibly those who don’t like a lot scary in their scary movies. Plus, given what transpires in the film, none of us religious types have to worry about the film encouraging the use of Ouija boards.

That probably comes as a disappointment to Toy “R” Us. On their website, they describe the Ouijas they sell as follows:

“Enter the world of the mysterious and mystifying with the Ouija board! You've got questions and the spirit world has answers - and the uncanny Ouija board is your way to get them! What do you want to know? Ask your question with a friend and the planchette that comes with the board, but be patient and concentrate because the spirits can't be rushed. Handle the Ouija board with respect and it won't disappoint you!”

Ah, communing with the dark forces. That’s just good clean fun, right?

The “talking board,” as it was originally called, was first released in 1891 by The Kennard Novelty Company to cash in on the growing interest in spiritualism. It wasn’t necessarily considered a children’s game until 1966 when Parkers Brothers bought the patent and began worldwide distribution of what has become popularly known as the Ouija Board.

One of the the first thing people usually question when it comes to things like Ouija boards is, “Does it really work?” It’s an honest question. For the Christian, though, the short answer to that question is, “It doesn’t really matter if it works or not.” After all, the consistent teaching of the Church (and Judaism before it) is that any dabbling in the occult is to be avoided. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that we believe there are evil forces working against us, and any fooling around with the occult provides those forces an inroad into your soul. You know, kind of like what happens in “Ouija,” just without all the special effects.

But there’s another reason as well, one that has nothing to do with demons. The Catechism explains that "all practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion". What the Church recognizes is that stuff like Ouija boards, the casting of spells, fortune telling, use of charms, and other such practices are really just attempts at imposing your will on the world (and therefore the people) around you.

In contrast, when Christians pray for something (healing, guidance, maybe even love) we’re not trying to manipulate some supernatural force into giving us what we want (not if we’re praying correctly, anyway). We’re asking for God’s will to be done, and if what we desire happens to coincide with God’s will, that’s great. If it doesn’t coincide then we hope God teaches us why it doesn’t and changes our disposition so that we want what He wants. We leave the future to God.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

SHORT FEATURE: PRIVATE SNAFU – SPIES

So, I watched “Fury” for Aleteia this week, David Ayer’s new flick starring Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman Tank in the waning days of WWII. While I’m still not quite sure what message (if any) the movie was trying to convey, the film definitely gets points for realism. If nothing else, “Fury” lets you feel what it must have been like to spend most of your day crammed inside a rolling metal box approximately the size of a standard hall bathroom with four other sweaty guys. And for the one or two of you out there who might actually find that idea attractive, remember that the Germans were consistently lobbing grenades at you the whole time.

Of course, as Private Snafu could tell you, enemy combatants aren’t a soldier’s only concern. What’s that, you’ve never heard of Private Snafu? He was the Warner Brothers animation department’s contribution to the military’s training program during WWII. All of their top talent worked on the series, which was shown only to members of the armed forces. Snafu, as his name suggests, was an idiot who never followed proper military protocol. As a result, he pretty much ended up imprisoned, hospitalized or flat out dead by the end of every episode. Where’s his final destination in “Spies?” Let’s find out…

Well, as it says in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Because of that, later on in Proverbs 21:23, we are advised that “Those who guard mouth and tongue guard themselves from trouble.” If we don’t follow that advice, then James 1:26 warns us, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.”

Yep, it certainly sounds like it would be a good idea to follow the example of the Psalmist, who prayed in Psalms 141:3, “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.” That’s an excellent prayer for us all, from the lowliest privates to the highest ranking generals, from the laymen in the pew to the loftiest princes of the Church. Not that any Cardinal would ever be in need of such a prayer… right?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

HOLY HORRORS FOR HALLOWEEN FILM FESTIVAL II: THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse

“Tonight I'll Possess Your Corpse, episode two in the Coffin Joe trilogy, more or less reprises the story from the first installment. Zé Do Caixão (José Mojica Marins) resumes his search for a bride who can bear him a child, in order to ensure himself a kind of immortality via future generations. His central criterion: to locate a woman "immune" to terror. Thus, with the help of cracked assistant Bruno, he begins to kidnap girls and exposes one after another to "fear tests," which involve planting tarantulas on their nude bodies and evaluating their responses. Subject after subject caves, until Zé meets Marcia (Nadia Freitas), who seems rather unfazed by the furry, multi-eyed critters. Yet Marcia does balk at Zé's habit of throwing his rejected betrotheds into a snake-filled pit to watch them die. Marcia's attitude induces Zé to break up with her -- he reasons that she isn't quite tough enough (and thus, not a suitable match), but he can let her go without worry, because he feels confident that, bound by love, she will never disclose the secrets of his macabre torture games. Subsequently, Zé and the gorgeous Laura (Tina Wohlers) become sexual partners -- they share a connection of atheism and a contempt for the supernatural. Zé impregnates Laura, but her health conditions demand that the couple choose between the life of the mother and the life of the baby. These developments are too much for Laura's parents and the rest of the villagers, who decide to put a nasty and brutal end to Zé. As Zé struggles to evade capture, the curse issued by one of his prior snake-pit victims (who promised to "possess" his body as she succumbed to death) fills the murderer's ears.” ~ rovi’s AllMovie Guide

“Is life everything, and death nothing? Or is life nothing and death everything?” – Coffin Joe

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23, NABRE

Until the advent of home video, Brazil’s Zé Do Caixão (that’s Coffin Joe to you and me)was only a whispered legend amongst impressionable young American horror fans, his ghoulish antics occasionally garnering a mention in genre magazines or books. But in recent years, the movies featuring José Mojica Marins’ black clad alter ego have become widely available to viewers worldwide and… yeah, the first few of them have pretty much been worth the wait.

2014-10-14_000239

For those not familiar with Coffin Joe, the character first appeared in 1963’s “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul.” An undertaker by trade, Joe is an evangelistic atheist who preaches (a lot) that any form of religious belief is a sign of weakness. Believing himself to be the avatar of human perfection, Joe’s singular goal is to find the equally perfect specimen of womanhood and mate with her. Their son (Joe doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility of a daughter) will naturally be a superman destined to usher in a golden age in which mankind finally overthrows the false notions of God and Satan. You just know Richard Dawkins cosplays this guy at home when nobody is looking.

Like any good villain, Coffin Joe is convinced he is in the right, and he wastes no time in trying to convince others of the same. Seriously, at least a third of the running time of any given Coffin Joe film is spent listening to the little megalomaniac rant and rave about his beliefs, or general lack thereof as the case may be. It sounds tedious, but Marins (as both an actor and director) always manages to find a way to make it entertaining. Just when it reaches the point where you don’t think you can listen to another word, Marins sends in the tarantulas or snakes or obligatory scarred hunchback to liven things up.

2014-10-14_000450

The centerpiece of “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse,” and the reason so many name it as their favorite out of all the Coffin Joe flicks, is Joe’s vision of Hell near the end of the movie. You see, it turns out that Joe is completely devoid of conscience except when it comes to one thing. Joe, unrepentant murderer that he is, loves all children, born and unborn (Where did all those kind of atheists go?). So enthralled is he with the purity of the young that he vehemently declares, “Damned are all those who destroy human life!” This may sound odd coming from a man who just tossed five women into a pit full of poisonous snakes, but by Joe’s logic, those who show fear, love or compassion are sub-humans on a level with lab rats, so killing a bunch of frightened women doesn’t really count as murder. Or as Joe explains to one of his victims, “Not sadism, my dear. Science.”

At any rate, once Joe learns that one of the women he killed was pregnant, he is overcome by guilt and dreams he is dragged into Hell. In a weird Wizard of Oz moment, once Joe arrives in Hell, the film switches to color. But because the film stock in Brazil at the time wasn’t all it should be, the color is strangely saturated, and it makes the whole scene feel off-kilter even before it treats us to the torments of the damned. And boy are those torments freaky. Hordes of naked sufferers crawl through fire and ice while men in red leotards jab them with pitchforks. Bodies are halfway fused into walls while demons whip and stab the visible parts. Something is going on under a blanket, and while it remains unseen, it must be horrible based on all the screams. In fact, the constant drone of wails and moans from the damned is probably the most unnerving part of the scenario, and it’s likely what prevents the whole scene from descending into early 60s camp.

2014-10-14_001312

It still comes pretty close, though. It has to be admitted, by today’s standards, the vision of Hell presented in “This Night I’ll Possess Your Soul” seems a bit dated what with its prancing devils and all. These days, as we discussed way back in our review of “The Burning Hell,” the Church just sticks to describing Hell as a “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed,” leaving the possibility of lakes of fire and other such gory details to our imaginations. Despite that, however, the Church remains firm in its teachings that Hell, regardless of whatever state of existence it turns out to be (I’ve got serious doubts about the red tights), is horribly real, and people should fear going there.

This doesn’t sit well with lots of modern folks, including many Christian denominations. People should come to God out of love, they say, not out of fear. But as Msgr. Charles Pope wrote…

“Frankly, many are still at a spiritual stage where the fear of punishment is both necessary and salutary. Jesus certainly saw fit to appeal to the fear of punishment, loss, and hell. In fact, it is arguable that this was his main approach and that one would struggle to find very many texts where Jesus appeals more to a perfect contrition and a purely holy fear rooted in love alone as a motive to avoid sin… Now why should we, who are summoned to preach and teach in Jesus’ name, reject a key strategy that he and his chosen apostles employed?… By our silence in this regard we mislead God’s people and become, in effect, deceivers who do not preach the “whole counsel of God” (cf Acts 20:27).  While it is true that we can help to lead God’s people from an imperfect contrition (rooted in fear of punishment) to a more perfect contrition (rooted in love for God), it remains a rather clear fact that many of the faithful are at different stages and are not yet at the perfect contrition stage.  For this reason the Church has always allowed that imperfect contrition was sufficient to receive absolution… But this act of contrition also helps the penitent recall the journey we ought to make out of the fear of punishment to the deeper and more perfect motive of love of God and neighbor to avoid sin.  But for most of us, this is a journey that is underway, and some have made more progress than others. Meanwhile, the preachers of the Church do well to appeal to the fear of punishment among other motives to avoid sin.  Jesus and the Apostles never hesitated to recall the fearful results of sinful obstinance. And neither should we who Preach today. Fear of punishment is needed after all.”

2014-10-14_002054

That makes sense, really. As a parent myself, I know that if I find reason and compassion aren’t enough to stop a child from doing something to hurt themselves, then I’m not above using the fear of consequences to get the job done. If it saves the child, at least I’ll have the chance later on to help them understand better reasons than just fear to avoid dangerous actions.

Of course, some folks take a lot more scaring than others. Even after Joe challenges God and is immediately struck by a tree felled by lightning, he defiantly screams, “This doesn’t convince me!” It’s only in the very end, as the skeletons of his victims begin to drag him down to Hell for real, that Joe finally admits there is a God, crying out to the Lord for mercy as he sinks below the swampy waters to the strains of Ave Marie. After an hour and a half of half-baked atheist rants, it’s a pretty satisfying ending. Yes, Marins, ruined it forty years later by coming out of retirement and filming a seriously goofy sequel, but as a standalone film, “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” makes a fine addition to our Holy Horrors Film Festival.

(Warning: This trailer is from Brazil where public tastes are different than they are in the States. You might not want your kiddies watching it.)