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The Lords of Salem (2013)

May 2nd, 2013 · 19 Comments

In THE LORDS OF SALEM, Heidi Hawthorne (SHERI MOON ZOMBIE), a radio disc jockey, receives a mysterious package with a record inside. A friend attempts to play the record for her but it merely skips until Heidi places the needle upon it herself. The disc produces a haunting wall of sound that puts Heidi in a sort of a Stendhal syndrome trance while her friend remains unmoved. For whatever reason, Heidi then chooses to share her unusual discovery by playing it on her radio show. As the recording howls and booms over the airwaves, we again observe that the music affects different people in vastly different ways, some scowl and shrug and some stop in their tracks mesmerized. The best way to describe ROB ZOMBIE’s THE LORDS OF SALEM is to say that it’s a movie that operates exactly like that record does. It’s a treasure trove for those that respond to visual and audio stimulation and a barren coffer for slaves of clarity and traditional storytelling. If you fall into the latter category, don’t ever see this movie! I beg you! That whole crossed arms, I just ate a lemon, indignant consumer routine you do; it’s not as cute as you think it is.

ROB ZOMBIE is one of the more significant horror directors working today not because he is the most commercially successful but because he has miraculously held on to and honed his own voice (against a tsunami of chattering teeth opponents, I might add). Love it or lump it, he’s now at the artistic level where accessibility is no longer a concern. Think of THE LORDS OF SALEM as his STARDUST MEMORIES, he’s point blank telling anyone still listening that he’s not truncating his journey just because you dig his “earlier, funnier movies.” That could very well irk folks who can’t seem to connect with his work but stand down horror fans; the genre deserves at least one modern director not slavishly beholden to the sensibilities of mall teens. If you don’t like it, good. Welcome to the world of art! Don’t frown; in this joint you can get just as much stimulation from the stuff you don’t like as the stuff you do! Remember, you must be this tall to enter, keep your hands inside the car and stand ready to see things done in ways that you might not have done them yourself! Here is a bullet to bite. I know it’s not what you want but trust me, it’s what you need…

To me, in one way or another, each ROB ZOMBIE movie has been more interesting than the one that came before it. I’m not saying “better,” I’m just saying more thought provoking. (Actually, I could almost say I like each one better than the last except THE LORDS OF SALEM is not dethroning H2 in my heart anytime soon.) Maybe I’m just a very visually oriented person but there are moments in THE LORDS OF SALEM that I think are more potent and valuable then many of ZOMBIE’s directing contemporaries entire output. I’m not kidding. If an alien came to earth and was like “I’m either going to obliterate from existence that frame from LORDS with the orange fur beast or everything that ADAM GREEN and ELI ROTH ever laid a hand on, I would take zero seconds to shamefully respond “Give me the orange fur beast.”

Not that I have anything against those other guys, it’s just that for my needs they’re comparatively disposable and more likely to indulge audiences rather than shepherd them anywhere new. If I ever missed HATCHET, I suppose I’d just watch MADMAN whereas I don’t think there’s anything I could trade ZOMBIE’s imagery for regardless of how much it might be inspired by existing material. He’s just a brilliant visualist, end of story and sorry, that means something to me.

“But Unkle Lancifer!” you might be saying while taking off your spectacles and cleaning them with an embroidered handkerchief, “I don’t care for his writing! His dialogue is trite and like many horror aficionados, I’m an absolute stickler for dialogue!” Here’s the thing, I think his writing is fine and moreover, hold onto your tea cup Oscar Wilde, when it comes to the expression of horror, I don’t think the written word is paramount. “Clay face man walks goat in graveyard” is not much on paper but trust me, visualized it’s a whole different crap-your-pants kettle of fish.

I promise you, I didn’t salute every flag ZOMBIE hoisted. Remember when I was talking about the EVIL DEAD remake and I was saying that it was well built but failed to conjure up a believable presence of malevolent mojo? LORDS is the flip side, its malevolent mojo is indisputable but its structure could stand a few more laps around the gym. I’m not buying the SHINING-style days of the week title cards as framework. As in my actual life, I don’t care what day of the week it is and it’s really no less corny than showing a clock spinning. If you are dubious about SHERI MOON ZOMBIE playing the lead, I’m not going to totally disagree. I think she’s wonderful, a one of a kind character actress, she made an indelible mark in DEVIL’S and she broke my heart in HALLOWEEN. Still, I feel like this movie needed somebody that you didn’t intuitively predict was scrappy enough to wiggle out of whatever. It’s noble to put forth a different type of protagonist but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think some of the film’s erosion themes aren’t blunted by that choice. Do you know who would have been perfect? FAIRUZA BALK! Think about it. Before you agree just know that my answer for every casting quandary is FAIRUZA BALK and I may be subconsciously judging SHERI MOON on her hair.

Here’s the thing though, the most important thing, after the movie was done I went to the restroom in the theater and something about the place felt wrong. The overhead fan was acting up, singing a crazy womp-womp LYNCH-ian dirge and the lights were blinking an indecipherable code. Half my head was still in the movie and that’s my idea of success. True, I missed the emotional punch of H2 (if you didn’t feel anything during Annie’s death scene, congratulations you’re a sociopath) and I admit that I prefer my ZOMBIE a little more stompy. And yet LORDS certainly constructed a hazy, mad malaise that wasn’t so easily wiped off my windshield. Those who get frothy at the mouth minimalizing ZOMBIE’s vision can sleep well, LORDS‘ adamant ambiguity gives you plenty of space to dig in your talons. All I know is that my trusty specter detector was reading some true, undiluted horror on the screen. And when I say “horror,” I don’t mean the pandering power fantasy kind, the giggly, popcorn sleepover kind or the logo strewn, fan bought collectible kind used to spackle over identity chasms and make one feel all safe and special. I mean the unpleasant, corruptive, soul-siphoning kind that has no interest in patting you on the back. No, LORDS doesn’t deliver the rousing cathartic thrills horror fans are looking for instead it offers something most horror fans have little taste for at all, actual horror.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror · I Have No Idea What This Is · My own personal Jesus

Black Christmas (1974):: Do You See What I See?

December 12th, 2012 · 9 Comments

I suppose it’s possible to trudge through the holiday season without watching BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) but why on Earth would anybody want to do such a thing? Viewing murder and mayhem in celebration of December 25th may seem like bad taste verging on sacrilege to some, but I’d argue it’s more appropriate than a sled load of sappy modern X-Mas movies bent on selling you the idea that having your every indulgent fantasy realized is the reason for the season. Keep your shopping malls, Christmas should be spent in an old dark house surrounded by snow waiting for the appearance of you don’t know what.

BLACK CHRISTMAS, like Christmas itself, focuses on a pregnancy (although this one will end in abortion rather than the son of God) and if that’s not enough to convince you of its fittingness, it’s also got folks with horrible communication skills cursing like sailors and abusing alcohol. Like any holiday gathering, it’s equal parts hilarious and maudlin and yet you don’t need to travel to reach this snuggly destination! Trust me, Jesus would tell you himself if he wasn’t too busy crying his eyes out about the greed-driven travesty his birthday has become that he’s more comfortable being associated with BLACK CHRISTMAS than “Black Friday” (Though truth be known, his favorite horror film remains CARRIE).

BLACK CHRISTMAS has no problem collecting laurels for including tropes that would become ubiquitous years later but its brilliance is worthy of far higher praise than “first out of the gate.” This is no mere sorority house hack n’slash, and ultimately its most essential similarity to HALLOWEEN is that it’s labeled “minimalist” when it’s anything but. The late BOB CLARK built a psychological maze with no clear exit and more primary to its personality than its relationship to any forthcoming body count flick is its unspoken crush on ROSEMARY’S BABY. C’mon, the creepy boyfriend, the invasion paranoia, the raking of religion’s chestnuts over an open fire. What separates BC from the slasher pack and even its own remake is that darn unwanted baby and its mother Jess’s unyielding plans for it. Pretending BC is only an under recognized trendsetter ignores everything that makes it so strangely haunting and difficult to pin down.

Jess, as played by otherworldly beauty OLIVIA HUSSEY (who had just given birth before shooting), is admirable but notably aloof. She knows exactly what she wants, offers no apologies and attempts at swaying her are useless. She’s going to have an abortion and not only does her boyfriend have no say in the matter, he’s lucky she deigned to inform him in the first place. We’re on her side, she’s too stalwart not to align with, but held up against the history of horror heroines, she’s comparatively cold. Jess is going to do what Jess is going to do. Here’s another “final girl” who doesn’t fit the faulty “virgin lives” theory and doesn’t her regality make you feel like a cad even bringing it up? She shows no outward signs of feeling torn about her stance and it seems neither her boyfriend nor the universe she lives in can handle that. The harassing phone calls the sorority house has been receiving get more and more personal and accusatory and the holiday itself, honoring a holy birth, inaudibly sings a preachy Oompa Loompa song in her ear. There’s a growing presence in the house to match the one in her body and it seems devoted to the act of shaking her fortitude.

Whether Jess deserves to be raked over the coals for her adult decision is beside the point, horror is under no contract to be fair and understanding. It’s no accident that nearly every seemingly random act of brutality that occurs will wag a finger at her. The staple-kill that binds this volume together involves Clare (LYNNE GRIFFIN), who bawdy Barb (MARGOT KIDDER) refers to as “The poster child for virginity.” Clare is strangled in a plastic bag (a mockery of contraception?) and propped in a motherly pose in a rocking chair with a rotten baby doll in her hands (I’m assuming that’s the same doll briefly glimpsed earlier in the film trapped in a birdcage). Boozy Mrs. Mac climbs into the attic womb and is gauged on a hook. As Jess cherishes the cherub faces of innocent carolers, Barb is penetrated with a symbol of fragile uniqueness, a crystal unicorn (while a death skull observes above.) “Like having a wart removed,” Jess hears as she clings to the phone’s umbilical cord. The granny voice isn’t just quoting a conversation between Jess and her unborn baby’s father Peter (KEIR DUELLA), it’s backing up his condemnation. She’s being punished all right but is it because of her decision or because she fails to broadcast the required level of socially sanctioned maternal emotions?

We’re meant to suspect the Biblically named Peter. He bashes a piano in a rage and CARL (PROM NIGHT) ZITTRER’s shivery understated score echoes his tantrum throughout. He calls Jess a bitch, stalks about the premises and is filmed in menacing shadow. He does everything short of chomp on a red herring sandwich. But this stubborn to confirm anything film does gift us at least one solid fact, that Peter’s hands are as clean the ones on Jess’ sweater. After being led to believe that the horror is over with Peter’s death, we linger to learn that the squealing beast still exists (is resurrected in a way) in his nest upstairs. Our last glimpse of Jess and Peter together is a curious one and it more than a little resembles Michangelo’s masterpiece “Pietà” which depicts the ultimate pure mother Mary cradling her mourned son.

BLACK CHRISTMAS would remain a stunning movie even if CLARK had followed advice and tagged Clare’s boyfriend Chris (ART HINDLE) as the culprit, but by sticking to his guns and allowing the killer to remain ambiguous, he lifts the tale into the arena of the poetic uncanny (where it’s felicitous roommates with HALLOWEEN.) Our killer Billy could be anyone, could be anywhere. He is free to change forms each time you watch. Sometimes I imagine due to a few shots of a framed record that Mrs. Mac made with her sister (The MacHenry Sisters!) that Billy is her estranged nephew. With his judging, all-seeing-eye he might be a stand in for the notably absent Santa Claus or even God. Is he giving voice to Jess’s raging to be born baby or is he a physical manifestation of her suppressed guilt? Neither and both. Shadowy silhouette killers are nothing new but CLARK’s representation delivers a singular identifying shard, Billy’s intense penetrating eye; a cinematic pitfall into a bottomless chasm of meaning. If the frequent point-of-view shots place the audience inside the head of the killer, then the stark flashes of Billy’s eye amounts to the viewers catching a glimpses of themselves in a mirror. If Billy can indeed be anyone then that includes us; the judgmental, voyeuristic audience.

I’ll never be able to explore every room of this address. I didn’t even mention my favorite character Phyl (ANDREA MARTIN) the heart (and co-patriot observer) of the joint, who I suspect CLARK had similar affection for since she’s granted an off-screen kill. You probably don’t want to get me started on JOHN SAXTON, especially if I’ve had some eggnog; it can be embarrassing. I’m moved by the plight of Clare’s father and it kills me when he gets hit in the face with a snowball. Then there’s that little girl’s worried mother and the volunteers braving the cold for a literal search for lost innocence in the park. Luckily we get some comic relief thanks to Sergeant Nash (DOUG McGRATH) and his limited knowledge of sexual terms. You could devote a whole book to KIDDER’s Barb and her shenanigans. Maybe I’m biased and when am I not? BLACK CHRISTMAS just happens to take place in a space that reminds me of my grandma’s seventies-era abode and it’s occupied by people who look like I remember they did while my favorite X-mas memories were being carved in my head. Even the posters on the girl’s walls enthrall me.

Let me close by giving a final more definitive shout out to OLIVIA HUSSEY’s Jess who I think is often shortchanged. No, she’s not a warrior badass and yes, Sidney Prescott in SCREAM was probably referring to her when she complained of those who are “always running up the stairs when (they) should be running out the front door.” Still, she’s a sleeping giant in the horror heroine department for so fully claiming ownership of her herself from introduction regardless of how she might be perceived by Peter, Billy, Santa, God or us. Appraising a character on the strength of their personal convictions rather than their defensive fighting skills? Jesus would totally approve.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · Holidays · My own personal Jesus

Halloween (1978):: Death and the Maiden

October 19th, 2012 · 12 Comments

The first time I saw Michael Myers’s face (mask, really), I turned (sprinted, really) away. It was during a review for HALLOWEEN on SISKEL & EBERT and it was just a clip but I had to leave the room and shake his visage from my mind by jumping up and down. His image is now so familiar (especially this time of year) that it takes some effort for me to recall just how alien and menacing it was upon first view. I had no knowledge of whom or what he was within the story, no idea of how iconic his likeness would become and certainly no inkling of his countenance’s debt to Captain Kirk. I saw a white face with hollow black eyes and it almost appeared as if it were floating in the darkest of space. He was a levitating skull and skulls don’t have to speak to say loud and clear, “Poison, death, run.” Some primal million years old memory stored in my DNA awoke and manipulated my legs as if they were connected to marionette strings. (My cat feels the same way about the vacuum cleaner). Some movies are bigger than movies; some movies unknowingly chant ancient spells. I never wanted to see that face again so I began to seek it out.

To best understand HALLOWEEN (both the film and the holiday) it helps to be a certain age, somewhere between bright summery childhood and cold mature winter, somewhere on the cusp of adulthood lazily observing the world transform with a crisp mix of excitement and apprehension. It helps to be a teenager in autumn. It helps to be knee-deep in change. Here comes Laurie Strode! She’s carrying a wall of books in front of herself like a shield. She’s different than her friends, more cautious, structured and on guard and those who reductively sum up her identity by her level of sexual experience, are evaluating a universe based on one dying star. Here we have one of horror’s most beloved and identified with protagonists. She is a hero and earns the right to be called one. This status does not fall into her lap because she abstains from sex throughout the course of the film. HALLOWEEN is often cited for forging the spurious template that demands only virgins survive a slasher film and that all those who dabble in sex and drugs must die, a condescension that ignores not only Laurie’s internal journey but also the fact that she gets stoned before showing up at her babysitting gig.

Of more pertinence than Laurie’s presumed “purity” is the way in which she interacts with others and the things that she says about herself. We get the gist that she is considered a “good girl” but it appears she achieves that recognition by fulfilling the wants of others while her own desires are shelved. When she bumps into young Tommy Doyle her reply to his every request is a quick, “Sure, sure, sure” but she has no real answers when he bombards her with, “Why, why, why?” She runs errands for her father; she picks up the slack for her friends, and when she jokes about being a “girl scout” it may have less to do with her moral standing than it does the accommodating, nearly subservient position she holds. More pressing than her love life is Laurie’s subtle struggle with her own acquiescence. HALLOWEEN is a classic that is highly regarded by people of various ages but it’s notable how the film tends to strike a firmer, more formative and enthusiastic impact with audiences members roughly Laurie’s age, young adults naturally beginning to wonder if they are mapping out their futures for themselves or based on the expectations of those (parents, friends) around them.

What is the cost of subverting yourself in order to facilitate everybody else’s goals and agendas? Laurie sees, intuits death. While giving a prompted answer regarding fate in class, death appears; while being goaded and chided by her pals on the sidewalk, death appears; while staring out the window at the drooping result of domestic chores, a full clothesline, there stands death again. The paychecks for not rocking the boat become fewer as the taxes for bottling her true self pile up. Laurie admits she’s interested in a guy named Ben Tramer but as soon as proactive pal Annie clears the path towards him, she recoils and coyly cowards. C’mon Laurie! Really? You know what? If you keep neutralizing and diluting yourself, the invisibility you are conjuring is going to manifest. Do you know what that will be like? It will be like running down the street as shades are drawn and porch lights extinguish screaming “Can’t you hear me?!!!”

HALLOWEEN is frequently made to fess up its debt to BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) but the blank-faced yet somehow accusatory dark figure, the central challenge haunting its heroine to fully take form and the overall poetic, uncanny atmosphere favor even more so CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). Feel free to toast the late BOB CLARK for the P.O.V. shots and the holiday setting but when it comes to the death-and-the-maiden motif, we’re dealing with a theme so firmly rooted that you wouldn’t be off base high-fiving EDVARD MUNCH and EMILY DICKINSON either.

Laurie is locked in place but her tango with mortality will bestow traction, this dance with death is not new. It’s Halloween night and we’re celebrating the end of summer (Halloween is linked to the Celtic “Samhain” which is derived from “Sumuin” which literally means “Summer’s end”). It’s a night when it’s said that the supernatural world and our world overlap and ghosts from the past return (home). It’s a night that honors the dead but more importantly here, in turn, celebrates the bounty that is change and renewal.

“Why won’t anybody help me?!” Poor Laurie, always happy to lend a hand but when she needs one herself she’s own her own. She’s found her voice but nobody is listening. There is a panicky “Boy Who Cried Wolf” element afoot as Laurie discovers how easily she is overlooked and forgotten. She reenters (thanks to a half asleep Tommy) the Doyle house and things markedly change. It’s unfair to say Laurie transforms, rather, she finally allows herself access to what was available to her all along. She stands her ground. We’re about to find out her commitment and responsibility towards others is a vulnerability easily flipped on its head to become a source of power. With two children counting on her, Laurie drops the wavering and amasses control. It’s a struggle, as well it should be, but this “day of reckoning” has been brewing for some time. For the audience, the battle is as cathartic as it is suspenseful. We’re watching someone not assessed too grandly by her peers carve some turf in the world and refuse to roll over. We’re witnessing a rite of passage. Laurie is accepting the challenge to move ahead toward autonomous adulthood. Who would understand that something so benign and mundane seeming as a knitting needle could be a devastating game-changer? Laurie.

Sheriff Leigh Brackett: A man wouldn’t do that.
Dr. Sam Loomis: This isn’t a man.

Is there really such a mystery to the “The Shape”? The very first thing we learn in HALLOWEEN is who he is. He’s that mouth-breathing scamp who severed his sister from her rightful adulthood in the very first scene of the film. He’s frozen in time. He has no voice. You can paint him in as many dark shadows as you want but he’s still the poster child for arrested development. (He even hangs out in the wreckage of his boyhood home.) I’m not saying he’s not scary (nothing is scarier than a dullard with a sharp knife and nothing to lose), I’m just saying we tend to deny that we’ve all seen behind this mask. Haddonfield residents may have molded him into “The Boogey Man” but even as such, he’s chained to the fears of childhood and that is where he belongs. He is something to be outgrown (“Well, kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition”). Laurie is purposely moving away from Michael a.k.a. “The Shape” (a voiceless shadow linked to the past) and toward Loomis (an outspoken eccentric who follows his own compass forward). Although the Myers monster was consciously conceived to be a “blank slate” that audiences could project an infinite amount of fears upon, for Laurie, being a “blank slate” could be, in and of itself, the ultimate fear and the ultimate death. The creature she is battling is the void she might become.

So yeah, I see a coming-of-age film lurking in the shadows of HALLOWEEN. Instead of “The Shape” conservatively punishing the characters for premarital sex and alcohol consumption, I see him raging against the common rites of passage that lead toward adulthood that he has denied himself. Laurie does not live due to the magical power of prudence, on the contrary; she survives because she loosens the grip on her own reigns. I’ve heard it said that HALLOWEEN is a throwback because Laurie must wait for Loomis to save her, a comment that makes me want to partake in a killing spree of my own. It’s an insult to Laurie’s cavalry, the universality of the tale and the fact that this movie, by my estimation is the greatest cinematic collaboration between a man and a woman…ever. We’re talking JOHN CARPENTER and DEBRA HILL (CARPENTER readily identifies the film as “a 50/50 collaboration”.) If you understand HILL provided Laurie’s essence and CARPENTER Loomis’, it’s only fitting that in the end, they team up not to destroy, (You can’t kill the boogeyman!) but to push the destructive darkness back into the night. Loomis has been struggling to be taken seriously too why should Strode have all the (redemptive) fun?

HALLOWEEN hardly needs any endorsement by me. Its artistry is well observed and the long-standing devotion its characters have garnered in fans says everything you need to know. Still, as the years pass, I have become more in tune with just how succinctly the movie captures the spirit of the holiday itself (regardless of the conspiratorial green trees that wave from the horizon). Maybe phantoms don’t actually cross over into our world on All Hallows’ Eve, but I for one can always count on being visited by the ghost of my youth. Halloween and autumn stand responsible for many a child’s earliest awareness of the fleeting stages of life and who didn’t feel the wasp sting the first time they heard, “You’re getting too big for trick ‘r treating!”? (Oh, if only I knew then that adulthood would also mean no one ever telling you again what costume to wear, how late to stay up watching horror movies, what candy to throw away or what demons to dread.) Getting older may include leaving certain things behind but I’ll never let go of Laurie, Loomis and Tommy all trying to make their fears heard, Bob and Lynda both trying to get laid, sarcastic Annie trying to get that butter stain out of her shirt, and her poor good natured pop just trying to keep things in order. And I’ll never lose sight of “The Shape.” He’s not as enigmatic as he once was but maybe that’s because he’s moving closer. That empty, vacant face still scares me, and everyone, no matter their age, is entitled to one good scare.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · Halloween · Holidays · My own personal Jesus

Prometheus

June 22nd, 2012 · 15 Comments

When I was a kid I didn’t have any question about whether God existed. We had a picture of him in our family photo album. It was a Polaroid of a large head in shadow looking downward through the camera directly at me. Like any decent religious artifact, it elicited equal parts fear and comfort. Eventually I grew older and my fluffy brain began to gel and harden. Caterpillars stopped being my friends, mice stopped operating my innards and the glowing bats that flew over my bed became reflections of car headlights driving by. Eventually the picture of God transformed into a picture of my Dad. What? Yes, the undeniable truth was that my father had simply held the camera below his head, looked down and took a picture of himself. I had misinterpreted the image on a grand scale; my dumb imagination made up the whole thing. My evidence of God was for shit.

I couldn’t help thinking of this disheartening incident while watching RIDLEY SCOTT’S PROMETHEUS. Partially because within the film there exists a giant head that vaguely resembles that old photo and also due to the fact that the movie involves a quest for solid answers that ends in disillusionment. If that were not enough, there are more daddy issues smuggled aboard this ship than a four-year subscription to “Modern Replicant” magazine. A robot is miffed to learn how arbitrary his existence is, one daughter dreams of her dead dad while another wills her pop to croak so she can take over his turf and a molten skinned oldster requests a bigger allowance from a parental being who’d rather deliver a mortal spanking. It’s Christmas day and on everybody’s wish list is something more substantial than blind faith. There may be answers in PROMETHEUS; they’re just unlikely to be the ones we yearn for. As in life, the more you try to focus, the less you see but at some point there is no denying the tentacles.

I saw PROMETHEUS the day it came out, so if this post is late to appear it’s only because I was left nearly speechless. Sure, I’ve talked about it with friends but the idea of cramming the experience into typed words felt untoward. This is a hyper-visual, painterly film and those who gravitate toward dissecting the script and focusing on the narrative alone are missing a great deal. It’s commonplace to accuse anything that is this gorgeous of being empty and relying on style over substance but in my mind, that’s an insult to the infinite power that an image alone can contain. To be honest I was far too immersed and mesmerized by what was before me to be effected by any of the alleged lapses that apparently yanked others out of the film. Maybe that’s just me though, if a character in a movie does something foolish my mind says, “Hey, buddy don’t do that, you’ll be sorry!” not “I wouldn’t do that so therefore this makes no sense.” Which isn’t to say I have not been highly entertained by the mostly intelligent criticism this movie has inspired, it’s just that if you’ve seen PROMETHEUES and you don’t believe that it’s destined for classic status all I can say is…that’s adorable.

Besides the jaw-droppy, awe inspiring overall design and the thought (and controversy) provoking, open to endless interpretation, storyline, we also get an undeniably for the ages performance by MICHAEL FASSBENDER, that is if you can take your eyes off CHARLIZE THERON for a moment which I admittedly had difficulty doing. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes here, I also can tell you that I found myself wincing my face in gleeful fear on at least two occasions and wading in dense dread on several more. Are there things I wish had been done differently? Yep, I’d say several but I wouldn’t trade that for a film created to charm the audience and be forgotten the next day. GUY PEARCE’s character reads (and looks) particularly slack in my opinion but I’ve chosen to play a tiny violin for myself and move on. In other words, count me out of the naysayers club. I’m not simply “choosing to believe” in RIDLEY, I’m choosing to believe that movies don’t have to be subservient to audience expectations to be significant. Those who need everything nailed down for them and desire art without blemishes can scamper to the side away from this rousingly erratic masterwork but I’m going to run straight on forward and happily allow it to fall right on top of me. Youch, that feels good!

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror · My own personal Jesus

The Voluptuous Horror of Alien: Redux

June 8th, 2012 · 8 Comments

PROMETHEUS opens today around these parts so don’t expect to find me anywhere except the movie theater. Wild facehuggers couldn’t keep me away. RIDLEY SCOTT returning to science fiction is cause for celebration enough but the fact that this movie is going to somehow whisper sweet ALIEN nothings in my ear has put goosepimples on my goosepimples. I know the Internet lives to bleed acid on my sanguine expectations and so away from the laptop I must run!

Since I’m feeling nostalgic amore for all things xenomorphic today I shall shamelessly leave you with a recycled post entitled The Voluptuous Horror of Alien! I realize it is unseemly not to hate everything I do but I’m especially fond of this post because it took a lot of time and work and it ended revealing to me things about ALIEN I’d missed before. Another thing it showed me is that I need to get out of the house more often hence my impending hookey-date with CHARLIZE THERON. Hope everyone has a great weekend and make sure to venture to the theater to support this, let’s face it, momentous event! We’ll be back with something fresh and less representative of my Ripleyphilia tomorrow!

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Tags: Holidays · My own personal Jesus

Happy Arbogast Day Vera Sanchez!

May 14th, 2012 · 3 Comments

We must take a short break from the IAHTKY cavalcade to perform an important Kindertrauma ritual. Today is Arbogast Day! Although Arby has pulled the plug on his superlative blog, it is still necessary that we take part in his “The One I Might Have Saved” thing-a-ma-bob to insure a rich healthy harvest of traumafessions this year. To activate the sacrament I must simply pick one horror movie character that dies on film that I’d rather have not die. Nobody readily appeared in my head but then I remembered that I had just viewed FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 3 again and had decided that I love the character Vera Sanchez as played by CATHERINE PARKS. I’m going to save Vera! It’s a tough decision because her death is pretty awesome and it’s Jason’s very first kill wearing a hockey mask but the heart wants what the heart wants and all that jazz.

I’m sorry but I like Vera way better than that uptight final squirrel Chris Higgins. Vera’s just as easy on the eyes (though her red outfit is a little too match-y-match-y for my taste), yet she is much more aware of the feelings of those around her. She defuses nerdy Shelly’s advances in an understanding way and she’s quick to stroke his ego after they both escape the most dangerous three member gang in the world. Aw, she even looks genuinely touched when she come across a picture in Shelly’s wallet of him and his mom. Plus she’s endearingly flawed too; butterfingers drops the darn wallet in Crystal Lake! Now if I’m going to point Jason’s arrow elsewhere to spare Vera should I point it at Chris? I thought about that but no, the arrow must hit the eyeball of the bitch behind the counter at the grocery store wearing the pig T-shirt who has the gall to tell my Vera, “We don’t accept no green stamps.” Excuse me? Yep, that one deserves an arrow in both eyes. So, there we are done. “He who walks behind the rows” has been fed. Happy Arbogast Day everyone and Vera, don’t ever change!

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Tags: Arbogast Day · Holidays · My own personal Jesus

Humongous (1982)

November 22nd, 2011 · 7 Comments

Even though I’m as poor as an unemployed church mouse with a moth in his wallet and holes in his tiny mouse socks, I decided that I deserved to purchase HUMONGOUS on DVD as my hair has literally turned gray while waiting for it to appear on said format. It may not be the best movie in the world, but it has always scratched my slasher fan itch even though its cramped and fuzzy VHS presentation always left much to be desired. SCORPION RELEASING’s new, far less dish-watery, widescreen offering doesn’t fix all of HUMONGOUS’s faults but it sure does make the movie a less frustrating and more enjoyable watch. It might even change a few people’s minds about this underrated whipping boy of a movie that’s not nearly as pointless as folks like to pretend.

Our tale begins with a woman being raped. We don’t have to wait long for the culprit to get his comeuppance because dogs immediately maul him and his victim smashes his head in with a rock. Next, somber opening credits share snapshots of her life. The pictures are all happy until we reach one that was taken after the ugly incident where her smile is replaced by a scar. Thirty-eight years later a group of hard to like young folk jump on a boat and go for a joy ride. They save a stranded boater within some heavy fog and he tells them the story of “Dog Island.” The home of the lady who was attacked all those years ago who now lives in isolation from the world surrounded by her protective dogs. It’s implied that the woman has gone “mad” but if living in a big old house on your own island surrounded by canines is “mad” then I want to be mad too.

After the telling of the campfire-free campfire story, one of the douchier members of the group (who has been acting up all day) gets it in his head to take over the boat but instead crashes and blows the thing up leaving everyone swimming for dreaded Dog Island. If HUMONGOUS has any bone to pick it may be with the consequences of blind male aggression. Life would be so sweet if it wasn’t for gross rapists and spazzy yacht sinking acts of machismo.

Once our friends set foot on dry land it’s time to get murdered but not in the order that one might assume (The old adage ”killers don’t make slashes on gals who wear glasses” is wrong.) Thanks to some subtle clues like dog bones everywhere, someone falling in the lap of a corpse and a journal that conveniently explains everything, our sleuths surmise that the lady and her dogs are dust but her savage monster offspring is living large. Although somewhat sympathetic (when not crushing skulls) the malformed creature comes across as a seven-foot stand in for thoughtless male destruction. He’s almost a tape recording of the original violence he spawned from set forever on repeat. Not to ruin the ending but the last image of the film of its lone survivor staring off coldly suggests that the ripple effect from the original vicious act will continue on.

Directed by PAUL LYNCH (The original PROM NIGHT), HUMONGOUS can get on your nerves for holding a decent hand yet often failing to play the right cards. I have a feeling LYNCH unwisely went with the false theory that showing less would somehow magically make his film more suspenseful. Less may be more when filming a haunted house tale but if you’re doing a movie about a giant mutant rape-baby, subtlety is not your friend. Even polished up on DVD, HUMONGOUS sticks to the shadows and lingers in black spaces more than it should, sometimes it works to its benefit and sometimes it shoots itself in the foot. Overall though, the coastal atmosphere, the use of real lived in locations, the Ginny Field-style psychology, the eerie score and the joyful aberrance that abounds have always been enough for me.

Truth is, it’s no use complaining about the film’s creaky nature because it is a major part of its charm. Better lighting, better acting, better kills and a more satisfying monster reveal would have been great but that doesn’t feel quite right for a movie called HUMONGOUS. I could complain that it’s filled with cliché’s but honestly, I chomp on tropes like Skittles, they are as comforting as street signs leading me home. I might bellyache that you don’t really get to know the characters but truthfully I don’t want to know them. I know enough characters thank you very much. Is it all right if I just want to hang with a monster on an island for a while and then leave without exchanging numbers and promises of holiday cards? HUMONGOUS the movie is really very much like its theatrical poster, cheap, primitive, goofily deviant and inexplicably awesome. It doesn’t deliver the brutality it appears to promise but there are more than a couple accomplished visuals and tons of weird moments that stick in your head. It’s no masterpiece but like a scraggily child’s drawing stuck to the fridge, I just might prefer it to one.

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Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus · Trauma-Mommas

The Attic (1980)

November 17th, 2011 · 4 Comments

If you want to meet two of my favorite characters in the world of horror then you must watch producer/writer GEORGE (GAMES, RUBY) EDWARDS‘ lone directorial effort THE ATTIC. I can’t get enough of meek, noodle-legged ticking-time bomb Louise Elmore (Oscar-nominated CARRIE SNODGRESS in one of her best roles) and her snidely, cantankerous wheelchair-bound pop Wendell (Oscar winning dynamo RAY MILLAND throwing superfluous logs on my fan-fire.) I love observing their mutually draining and detrimental shackle bond twice as much as they appear to hate experiencing it. Interestingly this dysfunctional duo made an earlier appearance portrayed by different actors in 1973’s THE KILLING KIND. I’m forever grateful that TONY CRECHEALES and GEORGE EDWARDS who wrote both films found the two worthy of closer examination as in my world, these characters are welcome to sit at the same rotting picnic table as Baby Jane and Norman Bates.

Like Baby J. and Norman my ATTIC pals are trapped in the molasses of their own minds. The passing of time alone is horror enough for these under inflated floats that failed to keep up with the parade. Librarian lush Louise, once set to propel away from her father’s critical eye instead finds herself eking out scraps of purpose as his unappreciated caretaker, a punishment she bestowed upon herself for the crime of being abandoned at the altar. Although she dreams of escape, she is as tethered to her past as her father is to his chair. Her only release is found in hidden hooch, vivid murderous fantasies, one night flings with sailors, the occasional failed arson attempt and her ever-expanding monkey collection. Mercifully, she does meet a new friend (RUTH COX) who inspires her to break her routine but the introduction of light into Louise’s dark corner of the world illuminates a few truths she might have been better not to know. THE ATTIC is as tragic as anything can be that involves monkeys.

Some folks accuse THE ATTIC of not being a horror film at all but I say it only illustrates that the genre is less rigid than it is given credit for. Maybe there is little to no blood spill and maybe the few dry kills take place off screen, but that doesn’t dilute the general awfulness that befalls our tipsy protagonist. Released in 1980, during the height of the slasher boom, THE ATTIC is particularly and perhaps purposefully out of touch with the times; a fact made all the more clear when Louise attends a slasher film within the course of the film.

Late to the party though it may be, THE ATTIC and Louise are more in step with the spooky spinster flicks that came in the wake of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Which makes sense considering our characters first appeared in a movie by CURTIS HARINGTON the director of both WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? and WHOEVER SLEW AUNTY ROO? It’s not the best pedigree if you’re looking to court a teen audience, but I like being reminded that once upon a time folks thought it was just as frightening to loose your mind as your head.

If I’m making THE ATTIC sound overly dowdy and maudlin then I’m not explaining it right. It’s actually one of the funniest movies in the world to me partially due to its intentional black humor and partially due to its high-pitched melodrama. I can’t help thinking that cult classics HAROLD AND MAUDE and WHERE’S POPPA? were of equal influence as the previously mentioned horror films as THE ATTIC shares those films affection for morbid levity, suspicion of parental authority and utilizing mellow seventies music as a Greek chorus to back up the action on screen.

Even though the film is humorous (and how could any movie that pairs an ape in a sailor suit against a grouchy MILLAND not be?) when it decides to nosedive into the well of horror, it does so with knowing assurance. Our final moments spent with Louise before the curtain falls are both uber-gothic and catastrophic. Perhaps, it’s all more creepy than actually scary, but that will depend on how frightening you find the idea of a life misspent crushing oneself to suit the whims of another. To me, horror doesn’t get much scarier than that.

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Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus

Burial Ground (1981)

October 19th, 2011 · 13 Comments

If you watch horror movies all year ‘round to begin with, how in the world do you amp up your Halloween viewing pleasure for the month of October? One way I kick things up a notch is by shamelessly watching movies that are extra goofy. BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR is just such a movie. It really is relentlessly daffy and how evil am I for subjecting an unsuspecting Aunt John to it sans warning or explanation? Aunt John asked what year it was from and I guessed ‘73 (I was way off ‘81) not really my fault.

The plot is about as complex as a HENRY comic strip: a professor with a wise beard discovers how to raise the dead. He invites some friends to his cool mansion to talk about his find except he’s already been eaten by zombies and soon they will be too. The entire movie consists of his unfortunate guests failing miserably at escaping peril. Folks cannot even cut across the lawn without stepping in an inconceivably placed bear trap and the only thing missing really is the BENNY HILL theme song. It’s a bad day for the living and a good day for the stunningly resourceful dead. Normally a good zombie movie will make me morbidly depressed, but this one is like a semi-creepy day at the beach.

No post concerning BURIAL GROUND would be complete without singling out scene-stealer extraordinaire PETER BARK. At roughly the age of 26, the diminutive BARK portrays a young child named Michael whose affection for his mother is disturbingly enthusiastic to say the least. The portrayal is lifted to the sublime with the aid of an absolutely unconvincing adult actor supplying his dubbed, puppet show voice. Even if you think you have no interest in seeing BURIAL GROUND, I assure you that once BARK enters the picture that there is no turning around. Even Aunt John rode the film out to its “Did that really just happen?” conclusion.

BURIAL GROUND is above (or below) understanding, speculation or critism. It only wants to bring you joy. It also showcases some of my favorite zombies of all time. The make-up person sort of went with the idea that if something is painted black, then it is invisible to the human eye (even in broad daylight) and I honor this delusion. (At least that’s why I think that some of our zombie pals have black make-up on their noses beneath their masks?)

In any case, I think this calls for a zombie beauty pageant! Check out these teeth that resemble no teeth that ever existed! Look at that crazy hair! How about those cutting edge burlap fashions? Vote for your favorite zombie below and check out this movie if you want to have fun. Trust me, its the only zombie movie in existence whose BARK is better than its bite!

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · Halloween · I Have No Idea What This Is · Kids Who Kill · My own personal Jesus · Tykes in Trouble

Streaming Alert:: Deadly Blessing (1981)

July 11th, 2011 · 7 Comments

I gotta thank good ol’ Mickster for sending me over to Hulu the other day because I wasn’t there more than a couple minutes before I bumped into DEADLY BLESSING (1981). Why does DEADLY BLESSING think that it can hide from me when it can’t? It looks pretty good as far as the picture goes, less grainy than my rusty VHS but it needs some work done for sure. The fact that it’s horribly cropped is made apparent during the opening credits as every other name that appears has portions lopped off. Poor DEADLY BLESSING has never found its way onto DVD somehow (at least not in my neck of the woods.) You’d think a movie directed by WES CRAVEN would garner a little more interest and respect. It’s not his best work of course but it’s far from his worst. If you look really closely, I think you can see little idea seedlings that will come into fruition on Elm Street.

Luscious MAREN JENSEN (of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fame) is Martha Schmidt. She and her hubby Jim (DOUG BARR of the often seen by me THE UNSEEN) are enjoying the country life and expecting their first child. The fly in their buttermilk is Jim’s estranged family members who do not approve of the marriage, wear creepy hats and chatter about demons and damnation all day. They look like the Amish but are called “Hittites” and I refuse to judge them because they revere ERNEST BORGNINE and are apposed to the wearing of short pants just like me. One day Jim dies in a mysterious tractor accident and Martha can only be cheered out of her mourning by the likes of SHARON STONE (of the legendary classic thriller SCISSORS) and SUSAN BUCKNER (who played Patty Simcox in GREASE.) Things get scary when MICHAEL BERRYMAN starts snooping about and people start swallowing spiders in their dreams, taking baths with snakes and receiving unsolicited egg deliveries from LISA HARTMAN (of the smash hit BEWITCHED spin-off TABITHA).

DEADLY BLESSING is loopy, semi-spooky fun albeit a little overstuffed. For a horror film released in 1981, it certainly marches to it own drummer (that reminds me, the nifty score comes care of JAMES HORNER the dude who did HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, ALIENS & SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.) The story may not hold up to much close scrutiny but somehow the near constant shifts in direction and focus work in its favor. The setting allows for some rich atmosphere and you can tell CRAVEN had some fun playing around with the expansive openness of the location. In fact, I’d say there’s almost always eye candy on this table, whether it be the easy to look at cast, the rife with personality homestead or the weird off kilter paintings provided by HARTMAN’s engagingly oddball character.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a movie that mixes slasher elements with a heavy occult vibe and you can just take out the “maybe” I started this sentence with. Not that it matters much, but I’m also madly in love with the poster art for DEADLY BLESSING. It’s just really cool and that’s coming from somebody with a generally indifferent attitude toward boobage.

Many feel, WES CRAVEN included, that DEADLY BLESSING’s tacked-on, producer-insisted ending betrays the film but I strangely don’t mind it at all. It’s just one more crazy wrinkle in a film full of many, so it hardly breaks the tone. Blaming the ending scene for making this movie bonkers is like having a heard of bulls trash your china shop and only getting mad at the last one out the door as they leave. I say that as a fan. I am soooo biased when it comes to this picture because I saw it at a certain age and it was one of the early R-rated horrors I caught in the theater. I still remember my wonderment and how mysterious and forbidden it all felt. It seemed that anybody in this movie could be murdered or take a bath wearing their underwear at any moment. This is a message movie really and the message is, “Look out for the incubus!” It is a message that is heartbreakingly still relevant today. I still don’t understand my attraction fully. I still don’t understand a lot of things, but I do understand that you can watch it for free HERE.

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Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus