March 31st, 2013 · 1 Comment
February 14th, 2013 · No Comments
February 13th, 2013 · 6 Comments
If RAISING CAIN (1992) does not register as premium De PALMA, please consider that ALL movies that fail to feature NANCY ALLEN are inherently flawed. Beyond that gross defect, CAIN, unsteady and riling though it may be, is thoroughly fascinating. So what if it loves leaving the audience in a lurch, how can anyone who adores film not recognize that same affection mirrored on the screen? Don’t expect me to be one of those goofballs who whines about De PALMA’s glorification of HITCHCOCK. First off, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, secondly, I never get tired of directors unabashedly exploring what inspires them and thirdly, De PALMA brings more than enough of his own idiosyncratic voice to the table, thank you very much. His visual excesses, unfathomable choices and awkward self-awareness are exactly what curl my toes; if anything, I wish I could lure him even further out on his favorite limb. CAIN is completely oddball beneath its misleading suburban surface and somehow unique even while presenting an almost “greatest hits” version of the director’s previous thrillers. It’s exquisite, it’s a mess, and it will make you wish you were provided a map or at least some post-it notes to identify what is dream, memory or hallucination. If you don’t particularly take to this movie, I can’t particularly blame you but here are five things that I love about RAISING CAIN…
1. The voice-over: De PALMA’s original idea was to open CAIN focusing on the internal world of Jenny (LOLITA DAVIDOVICH) who is contemplating having an affair (a la DRESSED TO KILL). Only later did he plan to let the cat out of the bag that cuckold husband Carter (JOHN LITHGOW) was juggling an assortment of personalities, of which, at least one was homicidal. In a bout of charity toward the viewer, De PALMA re-cut the film in order to expedite the focus towards hubby Carter’s madness. It does work in helping us understand Carter is bonkers from the get-go but we are left with Jenny’s story floating in a bubble closer to the center of the film. The ripple effects of the switcheroo results in Jenny delivering a tardy, gawky voice-over exposition that discontinues as abruptly as it materializes. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe Jenny is loopier than her husband. When we shift to her perception, the whole world is fuzzy Valentines and her love interest Jack Dante (STEVEN BAUER) happens to be impossibly slick, ripped off the cover of a Harlequin romance. They even share a hospital-set soap opera-style kiss (she’s a doctor) as his ailing wife watches, wails and politely drops dead. Jenny’s screamingly artificial narration actually fits her gauzy, trapped in a daydream existence but yeah, I mostly love it because it’s weird. The device follows her snapping out of a nightmare, as if she’s woken up to find herself in a movie (and yet another dream). I’m not lost. I think I’m right right around the corner from MULHOLLAND DRIVE.
2. The creepy kid: So Carter is insane. I can safely tell you about at least three of his personalities. One is his twin brother Cain who is elected to do all the dirty work, one is his child self, “Josh” who gets to feel all the emotional pain and then there is “Margo” who should not be disturbed because she doesn’t put up with nonsense. De PALMA certainly has PSYCHO on the mind (especially when it comes to victim disposal but let’s submerge that vehicle later) and he’s also eyeing that film’s sibling flick, MICHAEL POWELL’s PEEPING TOM. Both films are ostensibly about crazy people doing murderous things but at their core, if you ask me, they’re really about shitty parents. Carter’s dad was a child psychologist who tortured and traumatized him in order to record the results (much like PEEPING TOM) and tellingly, not one word is spoken about his mother. We know nothing about her except the primary knowledge that she clearly failed to protect him. This is perhaps why the shadow of the Margo personality looms so large; she is the protector Carter was denied (not to mention the protector he longs to become, our very first view of Carter is of him wrapped around his own child in a guarding maternal pose). Trickster De PALMA has a blast playing with different ways of presenting Carter’s selves. One of the freakiest representations occurs when out of the blue, a curly headed, cherub looking tyke confronts Carter with a distorted, almost demonic, voice, “I know what you’re going to do! It’s a bad thing and I’m going to tell!” The viewer has no clue at the time that we are witnessing a projection of Carter’s youngest identity (or that the person the kid is threatening to inform is Margo). It’s out of left field, ELM STREET- level surreal and as bizarre as it is alarming.
3. Morning has broken: This tribute is a work of art. Carter/Cain, like Norman Bates before him, means to hide a dead body in a car and roll it into a lake. The water is black as tar and the car and all that floats atop the lake are ochre, copper and gold. But wait! The prey is not dead! As she screams, the accusing spotlight sun awakes, the curtain of night drops and gossiping birds shriek like alarm clocks. The morning light spreading over Cain’s face is fantastic. It’s played for suspense that his murderous crime might be exposed but it’s also a clever portrait of Carter’s eclipsing identities. I’m guessing De PALMA is less interested in mimicking a method of body disposal than he is giddy to duplicate HITCHCOCK’s predilection for feeding the fires of viewer collusion.
4. The longest yard: PSYCHO doesn’t get grief too often but when it does, it’s typically over the way Norman’s condition is (some say) heavy-handedly explained by a killjoy psychiatrist at the film’s conclusion (De PALMA nabbed DENNIS FRANZ for a similar thankless job in DRESSED TO KILL). Personally, I don’t mind a little post-trauma pow-wow and who takes one lone character’s viewpoint as gospel anyway? De PALMA has loads of back story and clarification to get off his chest in CAIN and he kindly gets it out of the way relatively early and in a most entertaining way. Enter FRANCES STERNHAGEN as scene-stealer Dr. Waldheim who due to cancer wears a jet black wig which she claims makes her look like a transvestite. No need to pull up a chair! Dr. Waldheim is taking you for a little walk! There’s nothing not to love as the good doctor fills us in on everything we need to know in an incredibly lengthy continuous shot while the camera spins around her and she is humorously yanked to stay on course down several floors and tilted flights of stairs toward the payoff of an almost comical screaming corpse. I like a show-off and this incredible scene has at least two…or three.
5. The closer: There is no way to fully explain the climax of RAISING CAIN. It’s like a multi-layered clashing collage or a cinematic scrapbook of postcards from places the director has visited or conquered. Critics would walk away with boring accusations that De PALMA was cannibalizing himself but meanwhile dude was double dipping his corn chips in the meta mash-up bean dip years ahead of schedule. I can’t explain it and I don’t have to. It should be enough for you to know that the epic finale involves a cross-dresser, a mad doctor with a Norwegian (?) accent, a baby carriage, a tot in a red hoody, slow-mo spilling groceries, lightning flashes, a deadly sundial on a wayward truck and a couple unexplained belligerent drunks and that the entire concoction utilizes three floors of a neon lit motel. It’s a symphony of insanity and wanton black humor and no other director in the world would dream it up. There’s plenty to pick apart in RAISING CAIN but none of its foibles can overshadow the pure crazy brilliance pounding through its veins. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think much of it when I saw it in the theater way back in 92′. I was riveted by some of what I saw but most of it turned to mush in my head. That’s O.K., love at first sight is overrated anyway. Did I mention that the bulk of the movie takes place on Valentine’s Day? Think of RAISING CAIN as a Valentine from De PALMA. It’s not the sweetest chocolate from his heart shaped box but I reckon it’s one of the chewiest. Hopefully you are not allergic to nuts.
December 31st, 2012 · 2 Comments
December 25th, 2012 · 1 Comment
May your holidays be filled with visions of terrifying marionettes!
unkle lancifer & aunt john
December 24th, 2012 · No Comments
December 19th, 2012 · 24 Comments
I’ve got to snap out of it and get my groove back. There I was happily riding the horror Christmas train when suddenly, absolute derailment. What the hell is wrong with people? If horrendous tragedy wasn’t enough to sap my spirit, here comes everybody with their too late answers for everything. In my opinion, if your solution doesn’t put the value of human life above all else then it already blows. Whatever you do, don’t even try to place blame on movies and video games, they happen to be exactly what I’m going to use to springboard out of this funk. I want to thank INFAMOUS 2 for providing a place for me to hide ‘til the coast was clear and now I’m going to make a ten-ingredient movie cocktail to obliterate this malaise. I’m not saying these movies (not in any order) will work for you, but I know through experience that they work for me. If you have your own secret weapon stuper-smasher please share it in the comments section!
THE NEVER ENDING STORY (1984)
Let’s get the tough love out of the way . I know this movie has the saddest scene ever but I’m going to stick it up here anyway as a crystal clear mission statement. Don’t let the swamp of sadness get to you Artax! Also, if you can watch the scene below without crying, you are most likely a sociopath… so please get help.
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)
They may have complimentary singing voices but in the end murderous charlatan Harry Powell (ROBERT MITCHUM) is no match for unsung saint Rachel Cooper (LILLIAN GISH). “I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds. I’m good for somethin’ in this old world, and I know it too.”
SUPERMAN II (1980)
Ignore the cellophane “S” and let’s hear it for the citizens of Metropolis! After Zod and his cohorts have apparently killed Superman, bystanders are so outraged; they band together and selflessly throw their own safety to the wind. “They killed Superman!” one screams; “Let’s go get’em!” yells another. This always makes me happy. The fun’s not over yet, I could watch Lois clock Ursa (“You know something? You’re a real pain in the neck!”) all day.
A list is not a list without JOHN CARPENTER. If you want to convince me that an alien would be even remotely impressed with humanity, it’s a good idea to get an actor like JEFF BRIDGES to play said alien and KAREN ALLEN to represent humanity. “You’re at your very best when things are at their worst” Not always true but when it is…wow.
FLASH GORDON (1980)
The theme song alone is enough to make me euphoric but what I find most life affirming is when Dr. Zarkov explains how he avoided being brainwashed by thinking of the works of Einstein, Shakespeare and the Beatles. That must be one hell of a planet he comes from! As Flash would say, “Not too bad.”
You didn’t think I’d neglect to put a horror film up in here did you? CANDYMAN is stuffed with stinging bees and violence but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got anything positive to relay. I love that our hero Helen sacrifices herself to save a baby and I love even more that she is recognized and mourned by the residents of Cabrini-Green for her deed. They don’t even know a fraction of what she’s been through but they know enough.
(Tie) HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010) /THE IRON GIANT (1999)
I can’t choose between these two and so I won’t.
(Tie) LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986)/GREASE 2 (1982)
I don’t always watch musicals but when I do they include songs about murder and dentistry (LITTLE SHOP) or sex education and bowling (GREASE 2).
Johnny Case (CARY GRANT) must choose between shallow dud Julia and her freethinking down to earth sister Linda who just happens to be KATHARINE HEPBURN. I won’t tell you how it ends but summersaults and the world’s greatest rumpus room are involved.
You’ve seen this right? You know how it ends. Once upon a time way back in 1988 I went to see SCROOGED in the theater and I’ll never forget it. After BILL MURRAY has his epiphany he breaks the 4th wall and invites the audience to sing along with the closing song “Put a Little Love In Your Heart.” I don’t know what was going on with the packed Center City Philadelphia audience I saw this with but they really got into it. At first it was embarrassing and then it became mandatory. You had to sing and clap along. When MURRAY told one side of the theater to sing they did and when he told the other (my side) we did too. It was amazing and I’m not exaggerating and if you think it sounds lame that means you weren’t there. Hey, isn’t that Harry Powell (ROBERT MITCHUM) singing along too? I forgot that he was in it. How perfect. Yes, the world really sucks sometimes but if you’re one of the many people not adding to the grief, you should make sure you enjoy yourself this season. You deserve it.
December 14th, 2012 · 23 Comments
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.
December 9th, 2012 · 8 Comments
I’ve made it clear I’m saving my tears for tragedies more devastating than a horror movie being remade HERE. Let me also be honest and admit that I get a kick out of watching supposedly broad-minded horror fans stomp their feet and get all Harper Valley P.T A. puritanical whenever a new one is announced. Sorry, nothing is more comical than a person in a zombie T-shirt crying about the death of originality. Greedy Hollywood is “out of ideas” that, or maybe they just know that pious bubble-dwellers will promote their film ad nauseum by bitching about it non-stop for a year…and then see it anyway. Can you believe that somebody had the gall to remake SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? How can anyone hope to improve upon that fine piece of cinematic artistry? Don’t get me wrong, I adore SNDN but a lot of my affection for it is because it is crass, disrespectful and mocks propriety. It’s not a movie that would clutch its pearls and say “Well, I never!” at the thought of being remade. It was born to step on toes.
If you are appalled by remakes you better not watch SILENT NIGHT (2012); not only does it use a previously existing movie as a springboard to tell its story, it brazenly lifts swatches of content from fellow maligned remakes! Still teary-eyed about the MY BLOODY VALENTINE redo? Well here comes JAIME KING and a small town atmosphere to pour salt on your wounds! Still throwing darts at that ROB ZOMBIE poster because he successfully burned every copy of JOHN CARPENTER‘s masterpiece in existence? Here comes that no good MALCOLM McDOWELL and he’s brought expressive color filters and light flares with him! That’s gotta sting. Never mind that the first two SNDN‘s, long out of print, have been released at a reduced price to coincide with this differently titled movie’s release, this abomination was built to ruin everybody’s innocent memories! How will we ever go on?
SILENT NIGHT is a fine modern slasher. It has an exceedingly likable lead in KING and even though it’s lame on occasion, its coal black sense of humor easily wins out in the end. They did a superior job making the Santa killer look menacing and there are more than a couple inspired kills. Granted, some of the nods to the original work better than others. It’s always nice during the holidays to see someone impaled on antlers, but they needed to hire a much gnarlier dude to play phony-comatose grandpa. The guy they chose could play a patriarch on a nighttime soap! Look, I LOVE Christmas horror films and regardless of this flick’s origin, it’s a welcome addition to my collection. It’s too soon to say if it will become part of my seasonal rotation but if I had to guess I’d say, “Who am I kidding? Yes.” It’s a crisp breezy romp and I must put a star on its tree for not shying away from killing a bratty kid who asked for it. I’ll always favor the orginal’s more personal story focusing on the forging of a psychopath, but there’s room in my stocking for this approach too. I won’t over sell it because I’m bias as hell but if you’re into killer Santas movies than it’s a must see all the way. In fact, I’m hoping it follows its inspiration’s lead and spews out many sequels for years to come. Yes, SEQUELS! Groans of disapproval are music to my ears.