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A House Plant

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  1. A House Plant

    Did Herbert West kill the Cat?

    I just finished the short story. This episode gave me an appetite for Lovecraft. In the story it's pretty clear West is willing to murder purely for his experiments. Whether he's murdering people's pets in the story is pretty ambiguous. The one line that mentions animal experiments is "n his experiments with various animating solutions he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the prime nuisance of the college." His being a "nuisance" might just mean he's using up all the medical school's experimental animals. A few lines later, regarding human subjects for experimentation, it says, " It was here that he first came into conflict with the college authorities..." The story is also from pre-animal rights, so we're not impassioned about vivisection and other cruel experiments yet, and Lovecraft was sort of a neckbeard for the period when the chain of being, the hierarchy of types of life, was a big thing. It's unclear if medical authorities of that time in a Lovecraft story would be stepping in for dogs and cats. It's also important to remember that the story isn't he movie. The movie is set in modern times rather than in the period the story is set in, which is around the first world war. Killing small animals has much more of a serial killer vibe to it in modern times because our research on serial killers, which may or may not have been made then, or a satanic vibe (satanic panic just happened?), and whatever animal rights notions have filtered into the general consciousness from the 1970s also apply. I also think the delivery of the line coupled with West's multiple protests about people being in his space suggest that he probably did it. Edit: And, of course, him being about to blackmail Dan a few seconds later, as Jimmy Mecks pointed out below me. The degree ambiguity, in my opinion, is just there to give you enough room to like the character later by making his pet-murder not so visceral. You can't cheer for him at the end if you watched him break a cat's neck.
  2. A House Plant

    Episode 84: RE-ANIMATOR

    The whole idea of the canon rests on the useful fiction of there being a relatively uncontentious set of values you can use to judge the qualities of a film, things like pacing, performance, editing, etc but film is so diverse you often end up developing your values based on the qualities and the traditions they fall into. Often I think this is solved by resort to autuer theory: if a film's qualities express a vision, if they're intentional.... but I'm not always convinced about this. Visions are about the world as much as they are about the artist. There's also the issue of fairly transparent choices often being the best ones. (Remember the saying about the oscars meaning "most" instead of best.) I think part of the argument Devin and Amy are having is over precisely this: how niche is horror and by extension its component parts? Devin, near the end of the podcast, made some remarks about how everyone likes scary movies. I think he finds them more mainstream. If horror were perfectly mainstream, a lot of the qualities that make up horror movies would become something you'd want to showcase with your canon picks, just like you want to showcase certain quality in the realistic dramas that often make up the bulk of these sorts of selections like the plausibility of character motivations, the plausibility of the conflicts and the events that advance it, the importance of the conflicts to our lives, etc. I'm not a big horror-goer so I can't say, but I'll venture you'd want to showcase something like Devin's "viscerality." I take issue with how much spectacle there is in this film, and that might just be an inherent quality of horror that I don't understand because I care about a different tradition, which is the dramatic-realist one. Devin also puts forward some broader reasons why these qualities might be important. That stuff about confronting the reality of death. There's an argument that wasn't made about how Herbert West and how Herbert West is made, say, forces that confrontation. I think he also gets at how some of these qualities can actively be in tension with different critical values. If you want to make a campy story, or the most actiony action movie ever, you're probably making one that somebody who only likes pure Ibsen-style drama can't like. There's also the question of how art films, often lauded as the best in film, are niche or not. But I think that's a bit of a digression.
  3. A House Plant

    Ghost World

    I'd like an excuse to re-watch Ghost World, and I also think it'd produce an interesting discussion. Probably a soft yes for me. I'm not sure it's been very influential but it's certainly capturing something about the zeitgeist in its portrayal of ironic engagement shifting into sincere engagement, and the way that plays into contemporary coming of age. There's also, on the cultural side, the fact that it's one of the few intersections of the huge world of dramatic indie comic books and the film world I know of, and the leads are both stars delivering great performances.
  4. A House Plant

    Episode 84: RE-ANIMATOR

    My first vote, and it's a hard no. Devin's arguments for including Re-animator in the canon include pointing out how good this is despite how bad everything else of the period is. The canon isn't about how good something was despite what it could have been: the canon is about how good something can be. In light of that, the question I often ask of my books and movies when I think of these kinds of thing is, can I imagine it better? I can imagine a better Re-animator. Re-animator as it is seems to me to get distracted from both a very interesting budding friendship based in weird science and a very interesting slide into the scientific outre by a bunch of gory slapstick and pornography. So much of what's great in this movie for me is so much subtler than the third act. I strongly dislike Dr. Carl Hill. He's the engine of this film's plot but his obsession doesn't really tie into its themes at all. Just mentally-ill-obsessed is so flimsy compared to the relatively realistic motivations of the other characters, even if those motivations are expressed in an exaggerated, an "arch," manner. There was the potential for his plagiarism to be deepened into a central motivation. That would be much better if the point of his character is to show the will to power and position. It seems like it was just there to get us the bush shot and, sure, to give us somebody beyond death also going beyond the pale. Also his totally impossible talking without a respiratory system and somehow managing to draw blood into his head was really out of place in a movie largely about science. It feels like the movie cheaply introduced paranormal stuff to make this happen, when it should have been introduced to say something, like Amy said, about why the corpses come back so angry. I would liked that stuff to be much more ambiguous. (Nitpick: the corpses first come back totally imbecile and reckless with rage, and can later be choreographed into an ambush? Also aren't older corpses supposed to respond worst to the serum?) I'm also less inclined to be generous because I'm a Lovecraft fan. Lovecraft excelled at that subtle advance into the weird despite the affectations of his style. This movie leaps.