Happy Birthday to the late, great composer JERRY GOLDSMITH who was born on this date! Let’s count the ways we appreciate this beyond brilliant dude by identifying ten images from ten flicks he lent his awesome talent to!
...:::Caution: I break for geniuses!:::...
February 10th, 2017 · 10 Comments
July 15th, 2016 · 5 Comments
If you want me to go to church, build a church in honor of Ray Harryhausen; that is a church I will have no qualms going to. I’ll even put coins instead of buttons in the collection basket when it comes my way. Besides being a true artistic genius (geez, the guy’s drawings are as jaw-dropping as his miniatures), he has inspired so many people to dream bigger than they would have without his shining example. In the documentary RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN (now available on Blu-ray from the fine folks at ARROW), you’ll get to see the likes of STEVEN SPIELBERG, PETER JACKSON, TIM BURTON, JOHN LANDIS, JOE DANTE, JAMES CAMERON, GUILLERMO del TORO, TERRY GILLIAM and lifelong pal RAY BRADBURY sing his praises and thank him for his inspiration. I don’t have to tell ya, that’s quite the fan squad to have in one’s corner and although I’m not one to glorify financial success over artistry, it’s pretty amazing to see how the ripple effect of HARRYHAUSEN’s brilliance went on to spur the most successful filmmakers of all time. Recently a beautiful gold statue was made to honor HARRYHAUSEN and that makes me happy but is life-size big enough? I think it should be a couple miles taller.
My first run in with HARRYHAUSEN came thanks to a Sunday afternoon showing of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and it immediately stopped me in my channel switching tracks. The scene featured a dude in a skirt fending off a gang of animated skeletons and it witch-zapped me into a state of mesmerized awe. The only thing I ever saw that was more astonishing was that one time when I was a kid and I woke up in the middle of the night to see a bottle of Elmer’s glue dancing a mad jig on my dresser and that was probably (I hope and pray) a half-awake hallucination.
Not long after that I would get to witness HARRYHAUSEN’s sorcery on the big screen via his swan song before retirement, 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS. I’ll never forget that we got to the theater early and the show before us had not ended yet so every time the theater door would open to let out an usher or unruly kid, I’d get to see a momentary glimpse of CLASH’s giant Kraken-coated climax. As filled with anticipation as that left me, nothing could have prepared me for the signature scene involving the slithery showdown with a glowing–eyed, rattlesnake-tailed, Medusa. That sequence takes the cake because it’s as thrilling as it is chilling and it’s got kindertrauma written all over it. Also, can I add that I’m sorta team Medusa? She was just hanging out in her pad and wasn’t asking for any trouble. Then again, I’m also team Calibos and he definitely was up to no good and I forgive him because he had an awesome bone throne, a stylish swamp lair and chummed around with a giant vulture. It’s possible I’m not the best judge of character.
Anyway, this is exactly where I’m NOT going to trash CGI and cry about how computers ruined everything while writing on a computer. I mean what’s the point? I have a feeling people and their eyeballs have changed more than movie effects have. Wasn’t there a time when the viewer met the filmmakers half way and used their own imagination a little? These days folks seem to be much better at pointing out holes than patching them up and yep, that extends to just about everything. All I know is that checking out HARRYHAUSEN’s glorious work always brings me back to a less persnickety mindset and a sweet space where I’m so stunned I can be knocked over with a Pegasus feather. It’s like you’re looking at the exact spot where diligent skill, virtuoso talent and uncanny alchemy meet. HARRYHAUSEN himself hits the nail on the head within the documentary when he points out the dream-like quality his artistry achieves. I don’t think it’s anything that can ever be duplicated but if you want to be inspired by it, well then, the sky is truly the limit.
NOTE: Folks, check out more ARROW FILMS awesomeness HERE, share your own HARRYHAUSEN memories in the comments and since it’s Funhouse Friday let’s say we do a CLASH OF THE TITANS puzzle below! There are ten differences between these two images; can you pretend those differences are Pokemon creatures of some sort and find them all?!!
June 17th, 2016 · 7 Comments
I was walking on air after seeing JAMES WANS’ THE CONJURING 2. It’s pretty much every thing I want in a horror movie. My persnickety brain tried to come up with a valid grievance but it was doused a couple scenes later and had more to do with my trying to jump ahead of the story than any flaw of the film. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a masterwork that proves without a doubt that horror movies can be meaningful and emotionally rewarding without losing any of their power to scare and thrill. I think it’s a giant step forward out of the genre’s typical arrested development swamp but even those who are ONLY interested in chalking up frights will be hard pressed to find something to grouse about. Furthermore, it’s a sterling defense for the value of sequels because the viewer’s relationship with the characters is all that much deeper having withstood such a rewarding (albeit dubiously accurate to the nth degree) ordeal with them once before.
Speaking of, I have to say, the chemistry between PATRICK WILSON and VERA FARMIGA as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the married paranormal investigating team that anchors the series is all kinds of phenomenal. Seriously, somebody should be casting them in a remake of BRINGING UP BABY because they spark like CARY GRANT and KATHERINE HEPBURN in this. It makes me sad I no longer work in a video store because I would have so loved to have answered the question “Can you recommend an epic romance?’ with “Sure, THE CONJURING 2”. There’s a scene where WILSON picks up a guitar and sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” to FARMIGA and it’s like watching cinematic gold being spun- and let’s just say it’s a good thing I don’t mind blowing my nose in the sleeve of my Pac Man t-shirt. It’s transcendent, plain and simple and I wonder if many horror fans even know they deserve such a beautiful thing every once in a while. Geez, they really need to put out a music video of it so that I could watch it over and over again.
Anyway, there I was getting all ready to break through my writer’s apathy and gush about this monument to everything the genre should aspire to when news about the Orlando gay club shooting massacre hit and knocked the wind right out of me. There was no way I could think about a movie. In fact, every time I went online and saw that people were still hen squawking about summer sales and recent acquisitions, I pretty much had to self-eject myself out of fear of having to return Aunt John’s computer with a vomit soaked keyboard. Actually, the less said about the mental zone I found myself in, the better. I’m not proud of the thoughts in my head and the things that were going through my mind. It’s one thing to be rightfully angry and it’s another thing to dissect every word spoken or not spoken until you’re no longer capable of distinguishing friend from foe. I may have even responded to a friend who greeted me with a smile in a guttural possession voice worthy of the film we’re speaking of. “Don’t you know what’s going on??!!” Not proud of that.
Hey, we all grieve and process things differently and you never know what extra hurdles are in another person’s path. Once you start condemning other people’s responses more than the original tragedy though, you can be pretty sure you’re running in the wrong direction. I feel guilty for not voicing my outrage louder and yet I never want to become the type of person whose first reaction to something so heinous is to view it as grist for the social media mill. Plus I’m pretty sure I would have said something I would have regretted. I know that because I’ve already deleted about ten paragraphs here for too clearly revealing my tenuous mental state and I usually only have to delete about two. Anyway, kudos to all of those who determinately focused on the 49 lives lost rather than themselves or the selfie-prone sewer sludge that committed the atrocity.
Needless to say I’m still stunned and reassembling but the more I think about THE CONJURING 2 the more I find it both fortifying and apropos. Not for nothing, the film opens at the Amityville house; a joint world renown for being the location of multiple murders of unarmed innocents by a weak minded lunatic happy to blame anyone other than the douchebag in the mirror holding the gun. It’s a marvel how the opening’s ferociousness (not to mention jaw dropping attention to detail) surpasses every film in the AMITYVILLE franchise (with possible exception of my beloved PART 2: THE POSSESSION) put together and in such a brief amount of time. If you want me to buy WHEATIES, I’d advise you to put JAMES WAN on the box. The guy is unstoppable.
Fittingly in the basement there is indeed an ancient instigating presence viciously fanning the flames and hiding its malicious intent behind the cloaking costume of religion. Personally I’m weary of any and all religions but I find the way THE CONJURING 2 presents its faith surprisingly palatable. While the dark threat uses religion as a mask to hide its manipulations our stalwart heroes arm themselves with their love for each other and utilize religion as a sort of magnifying amplifier of that love. Ed even tells the beast, “I don’t care what you believe.” It’s not a matter of theology; it’s not a matter of debate or willpower, Ed need only look at his wife to verify an undeniable powerful force. In case you didn’t know, this is how many gay (LGBTQ) people feel towards their loved ones. Against wrathful voices, they have no choice but to walk toward that energy. It’s inarguable and yes, it’s very different than the feeling that guides you towards hate. Trust me, I’m familiar with both.
One of many reverberating scenes takes place on a swing set between Lorraine and Janet (MADISON WOLFE), the child who the bullying darkness has singled out and gravitated towards (by the way, VERA FARMIGA is impeccable and between this and her soulful performance on the last season of BATES MOTEL, all I want to do is fan her in awe with a palm leaf). Lorraine shares with Janet that she knows exactly what it feels to have her threatening experiences disbelieved and to be ostracized for being different. I can’t quote it verbatim but she also includes a mentoring reminder that the depressive, self-hating feelings the incidents left her with are exactly the feelings that the demon feeds and thrives upon and that she must fight against them. A similar sentiment is later echoed when Ed advises her siblings how to best respond to the beast that wishes to divide and destroy them. He compares the attacks to the schoolyard bullying they are all too familiar with and advises them to react in exactly the same way; that it is their duty to stand up for each other as a family and that they have a greater strength as a galvanized whole. Truth.
So if you ever catch yourself thinking it’s a bad idea to see a horror movie after your soul has been through the wringer, don’t be so sure. In some cases a horror flick can provide you with just the rallying inspiration you need. That’s the power of art and that’s the value of creating rather than destroying. I’ll have to exclude myself from the list of people who did not succumb to the darkness after America’s latest mass shooting. It’s very possible I myself may have been possessed for a while. To fully escape my personal tar pit I had to return to the lessons of the film one last time. The slithering, misleading demon in THE CONJURING 2 had one chink in its armor, one scale missing in its dragon skin. Knowing its correct, true name and speaking it aloud was its one vulnerability. I happen to know exactly the name of the demon that snuffed out 49 lives at an Orlando Florida gay bar on Latino night. That monster has one name and that name is Hate. Don’t let it fool you and don’t let it win.
April 29th, 2016 · 5 Comments
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor
If you don’t like the world you’re living in
Take a look around you
At least you got friends
You see I called my old lady
For a friendly word
She picked up the phone
Dropped it on the floor
(Ah, ah) is all I heard
Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down
Oh, no let’s go!
Let’s go crazy
Let’s get nuts
Let’s look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s go!
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die
And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door
Tell me, are we gonna let the elevator bring us down
Oh, no let’s go!
Let’s go crazy
Let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s go!
Let’s get nuts
Let’s go crazy
Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down
Oh, no let’s go!
I said let’s go crazy (Go crazy)
Let’s go, let’s go
Dr. Everything’ll be alright
Will make everything go wrong
Pills and thrills and daffodils will kill
Hang tough children
Take me away!
March 2nd, 2016 · 6 Comments
My parents are preparing to move and so they’ve been cleaning out the attic. This resulted in my mother sending me several boxes filled with some of my old stuff. We’re talking tons of war torn FANGORIA, TWILIGHT ZONE and HEAVY METAL magazines from the early eighties (!!!), STAR WARS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and WARLORD comic books (!!), PRISONER OF CELL BLOCK H, CAT PEOPLE and THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY movie tie-in paperbacks (!) and a slew of tiny self- painted D&D metal figurines… your standard treasure trove of nerdy memorabilia. I mean, what self-respecting teen in the eighties didn’t proudly hang a STILL OF THE NIGHT (1982) poster on his or her bedroom wall?
Included in a package was my dear long-lost stuffed animal, Felix the Cat who (don’t laugh) was once my go-to best friend. Poor Felix was trapped in a hot Texas attic for decades, which left him brittle and falling apart in places. I did my best to mend him but as I sewed him back together it only seemed to create fresh holes and tears. Geez, I wish I never saw TOY STORY because suddenly I found myself being hit with waves of guilt. How could I so coldly leave Felix in a dark box all these years? I did the best I could; I even swiped a jersey off of an unsuspecting Phillies Phantatic doll to hide Felix’s more devastating injuries (it’s sure to cause a loosing streak). Finally I placed Felix up on a high honored shelf where he should be relatively safe at least until I’m dead and gone.
In other words, I know first hand how a person can develop an attachment to an inanimate object and how that totem can seem to establish a personality all its own. It’s all very irrational but the upside of Gepetto-esque magical thinking is that it helps me to better appreciate the greatness that is PIN (or PIN: A PLASTIC NIGHTMARE if you feel the need to fill your marquee). PIN was filmed in good old reliable Canada and released there in 1988 but it didn’t hit my neck of the woods until the following year, bypassing a theatrical run and landing directly on VHS. Horror movies were still cleaning up at the box office at the time so PIN’s no frills release lead me to believe that it must not be any great shakes but oh how very wrong that knee-jerk assumption was. As far as I’m concerned PIN, which is based on a novel by ANDREW NEIDERMAN (the Guy who authored THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and now fittingly ghostwrites as V.C. ANDREWS) is one of the best, most satisfying, horror films of its decade… or any other.
In fact, if anyone ever asks me what might improve modern horror I think from now on I’ll cut the conversation short and simply say “Watch PIN.” In my mind it’s not about ratings, levels of violence, jump-scares or hype, what makes or breaks a movie often (for me) are the characters. And I’m NOT talking about the old cliché of “liking” a character so that you care if they die, I don’t have to “like” anyone, I just want them to be interesting enough to hold my interest, I just want to partially understand their motivations and I just want to believe they are there for a reason rather than standing as glorified chess piece props. Ironically, not only is PIN’s lead character Leon more intriguing than those you are likely to bump into in most horror flicks but so is plastic “Pin” who only sorta partially exists in a make believe character’s mind. Yep, PIN’s not even real in the fake story he occupies but he’s still more substantial and complex than your standard horror pawn. I also give PIN props for representing schizophrenia as less a gathering of various personalities than the tragic shattering of one.
PIN is like the JOHN IRVING novel of horror films and yes, that’s a compliment. By the time the end credits roll the viewer feels as if they’ve grown up with the characters and have seen them at their best, worst and most vulnerable. We first meet siblings Leon and Ursula as tykes dealing with their parent’s idiosyncrasies (that’s polite for mental illnesses); Ma’s got an OCD cleaning fetish and talented ventriloquist Pa’s repressed enough to let a life size, see-through medical dummy do the talking when conversations turn to sex. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that Dad is portrayed by the phenomenal TERRY O’QUIN between STEPFATHER gigs). Leon’s budding illness allows him to mentally converse with Pin even when his dad isn’t around and when both parents die in a horrible car accident (one in which Pin is creepily present), Leon’s already tentative identity collapses and Pin begins to take the wheel. What’s truly astounding is how sympathetically Leon’s terrifying slip into insanity is handled. DAVID HEWLETT is so remarkable that I’d even feel comfortable comparing him to ANTHONY PERKINS in the PSYCHO films (and I do not do that lightly, folks!).
Speaking of PSYCHO, Leon and Pin easily earn an honored spot within the AVENGERS/EXPENDABLES coalition of favorite horror introverts that assemble regularly in my head. This fine alliance of fright flicks include the aforementioned PSYCHO, A REFLECTION OF FEAR (1972), BAD RONALD (1974), THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), THE ATTIC 1980) and just to prove I’m not entirely living in the past, 2012’s fantastic EXCISION (which should have landed TRACI LORDS an Oscar nomination if you ask me) and 2014’s underrated STARRY EYES. May I also submit for your approval MANIAC (1980) and its re-do (2012)? After all, gore doesn’t magically erase the psychological plight of that duo. You can say all these folks are touched in the head but I prefer to think of them as courageous visionaries who refuse to let a little thing like reality stand in their way. I suppose one could write reams about PIN but since I’d never expect you to read a longer post than I would, this isn’t the place for that. Instead, I’d just like to nudge anyone who hasn’t seen PIN to seek it out as soon as possible. You never know, it could become your new best friend.
February 12th, 2016 · 2 Comments
I’m so glad I don’t have kids. People who have kids (with all due respect) are insane. It’s like multiplying your potential for an emotional Armageddon by a quadrillion percent. Maybe I’m just a worrywart; I don’t understand how you’d ever let a kid out of your sight in the super deadly, arbitrary, calamity-baiting obstacle course that is our world. I have enough on my plate fretting about the fates of my felines. And I’m not talking about legitimate concerns like kitty cancer and urinary tract infections; I’m talking about if they sit in the window facing the street I fear somebody is going to throw a Molotov cocktail at them or maybe some teen rapscallions will shoot them with a BB gun or hit’em with a machete or… a flamethrower. Everybody who has seen THE EXTERMINATOR can back me up, flamethrowers are dangerous.
Even more troubling is the vague idea that somewhere under the sweet icing concern for the well being of my beloved fur babies hides the darker worry that if something should happened to them, I wouldn’t be able to handle it and I would completely LOSE MY MIND… forever and ever and ever. That may sound overly dramatic but I’ve dealt with death before and I can tell you, that bitch is a bionic grizzly bear from the basement of hell. I don’t remember fully and I don’t want to. All I know is the whole universe cankers and everything wilts and then some callous, miasmic Demon masquerading as God snickers while cramming the entire planet into a cosmic trash bag for a couple dozen months. It’s a bummer.
DON’T LOOK NOW is a masterpiece and don’t even bother with it if you’re the type that thinks that horror movies are all about finding your inner strength and foiling murderers with booby traps and karate chops. This flick is seeping in grief and its got real, legitimate death floating around in it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best movies are not movies at all, they are spells and this particular spell is a doozy. If you’re ever of the mind to publicly accuse a person of witchcraft, let that person be NICOLAS ROEG (not that DAPHNE DU MAURIER’s hands are zestfully clean). I swear a billow of smoke appears in this film and it’s all that billow of smoke can do to not morph into a screaming skull. I know it wants to, it knows that I know it wants to… and thank all that is holy that the scene ends before it does.
DON’T LOOK NOW features two acting greats, both of whom deliver career high performances. DONALD SUTHERLAND and JULIE CHRISTIE are John and Laura Baxter, distraught parents processing the recent death of their young daughter Christine. The couple’s differing methods of dealing with the tragic loss slowly creates a chasm between them. The two travel to Venice for John’s work and as Laura finds solace in two strange, questionable sisters (one of whom claims to be receiving assuring psychic messages from Christine), John’s repairing of a church mirrors his frustrating attempts to piece back together his faith. It’s as if Laura’s embracing of the unknown allows her to move on and John’s inability to accept the unexplainable tethers him to the ground. Laura is not exactly religious (She offers, “I’m kind to children and animals” as an apology to a priest) but she finds a way to allow hope back into her life. John’s stagnation (not to mention his outright rejection of his own warning intuition) seems to only invite more of the darkness we all try to avoid.
Because yep, DEATH does indeed return as if responding to an engraved invitation, as if John’s spiritual wavering is the ultimate red carpet. DEATH (I won’t be too spoiler-y ) pretty much shakes its head at how very, very off base John’s been for at least as long as the run of the film. And yeah, the end of DON’T LOOK NOW still to this day, gives me an ice wedgie, gives me a doom noogie, gives me an existential purple nurple. ROEG’s devious shuffling of time and his abandonment of the linear evokes an infinite bad dream concoction that leaves you thinking that the adage “In the midst of life we are in death” may be a gross understatement. Do our lives flash before our eyes when we die or are our lives ONLY a flash before our eyes as we die? I don’t even know what I just said but I do know that I don’t like the sound of it. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a flashback montage.
Clearly this flick is crazy making. I better snap out of this solemn swamp mood before I attract a hooded ghoulie. Maybe it’ll help if I focus on ROEG’s brilliantly subtle gaslighting skills or how lovely it is just to take in CHRISTIE’s elated face exclaiming, “Christine is still with us!” after Laura’s fainting spell or the exquisite cinematography that makes the entire city of Venice look like a haunted house or the fact that this monumental movie marks the great PINO DONAGGIO’s very first feature length film score! Ha, take that death troll!! Can you believe that the first time I tried to watch this baby as a dumb teen I fell asleep? I blame it on the rain. Anyway, if you’ve given this one a chance before and it didn’t float your gondola don’t sweat it. I promise you it will come back to finish the job later. In the words of Wednesday Addams when asked why she dressed like somebody died, “Wait.”
February 5th, 2016 · 3 Comments
All I wanted for Christmas this year was the DVD of BUTCHER, BAKER NIGHTMARE MAKER (1982) and I’m happy to report that tiny lil’ dream became a reality. Now that the pined for item is captured and shelved, one of the many nagging voices in my head can finally shut up. Once upon a time, wrongly thinking the flick’s DVD debut was imminent, I allowed my VHS tape (under the title NIGHT WARNING) to fall into the wrong hands and wouldn’t you know it, the cursed thing stood me up like a bucked-tooth prom date. Worse still, when it finally was released, the universe began a cruel campaign of placing obstacle after excruciating obstacle between me and my coveted prize! It’s over now. I shouldn’t salt the gaping wounds. I just mean to point out that there are movies you casually collect for a rainy day and there are those that feel like appendages that somebody ripped off your body that you have track down and sew back on or risk dying from infection.
I think the problem is that I remember my life through movies. I have no idea how I’d recall anything if movies didn’t exist because they provide pretty much the only structure in my foggy head. Things were easier when I worked in a video store and I could look on the wall and see by numbers on stickers on plastic boxes where I had been… now everything is all jumbled up and out of order.
For many reasons BUTCHER, BAKER towers as a monumental marker through the mist behind me. It casts a deeper shadow than most because it had such an impact on me during my teen years. I came across the movie tie-in paperback years before I would encounter the movie itself and its content provided me with one of my earliest encounters with the subject of homosexuality (at least within a story that I could relate to rather than a horrifying news item or a pitying sitcom platitude). Its significance was boosted further by the fact that the novel was confiscated from me in junior high as if it were some kind of illegal contraband and my fear of its verboten themes being discovered were great. See, things were very different for a gay teen in 1982 and in so many subtle stabbing ways that it’s impossible to fully convey. You know that part in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS when the characters had to hide any and all emotions or traces of humanity to avoid being pounced upon by the screeching, pointing, empty hearted hive mob? I feel like that reflects my personal high school experience better than say, SIXTEEN CANDLES.
BUTCHER, BAKER doesn’t exactly present the idea of being gay in a Pollyanna positive light but therein held its particular power for me because its crassness allowed me to better digest it. At that point in my existence the idea of being validated or approved of wasn’t even on the table but the knowledge of not being alone in the universe left enough air out of my about-to-explode alienation balloon that it was the difference between life and death. There’s a shitload of acrimony offered many discriminated against groups in the world but I think LGBT teens take on a singular burden of having to face those thrown stones alone…at least for a while. Sorry, that’s kinda heavy but that’s how important seeing myself at least partially reflected was. And really, that’s how important movies and books are.
Anyway, BUTCHER stars JIMMY McNICHOL as Billy Lynch who is getting ready to go off to college and sparking abandonment drama from his twitchy guardian Aunt Cheryl (SUSAN TYRELL). Billy comes home from school one day to find his Aunt has killed a man (who she claims tried to rape her) but when the victim is discovered to be gay, a homophobic detective (BO SVENSON) becomes obsessed with pinning the murder on Billy. Now, a little while’s back I was gabbing it up about another fine flick that features TYRELL called ANGEL (1984). ANGEL presents two all accepting counter culture fantasy parents in the characters of Solly (TYRELL) and Mae (DICK SHAWN.) In contrast, BUTCHER, BAKER offers a dark flip side and features two soul dousing monster parent figures. First we have Aunt Cheryl who is a controlling, jealous, trapped in the past, sexually inappropriate loon and symbolically subbing for Billy’s dead father is SVENSON’ s Det. Carlson who is a berating browbeater who elbows out Billy’s one positive adult figure, his happens-to-be gay basketball coach Tom Landers (STEVE EASTIN who would fittingly go on to appear as a policeman in another gay-centric horror flick A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE).
I should clarify that there’s nothing within the framework of BUTCHER to indicate that Billy is gay. Whether he is or he isn’t doesn’t change what he endures or how we understand him but I point it out because it deepens the detective’s level of… instead of “homophobia” let’s go with misguided witch burning hysteria and projected sexual insecurities. Like life though, BUTCHER is about much more than folks grappling with sexual orientation, it earns serious points from me for focusing on that critical moment that many of us must plow through when we shed the limiting, spirit-confining ideas we were raised with and begin to walk on shaky legs toward our own self-realization. Billy has to destroy his monstrous parental figures to move forward because they stand as the bars of his cage.
Due to its teen heroes (Billy’s loyal and bunny-nose cute girlfriend Julia is played by a young JULIA DUFFY) and the year of its release, BUTCHER is often lumped in with the slasher clique but it has more in common with psycho-biddy grande dame Guignol flicks like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? than its more popular body count contemporaries. Tonally I think it pairs up swell with the following year’s excellent PSYCHO II or maybe even 1980’s underrated THE ATTIC. In fact, BUTCHER could have saved itself a bunch of heartache by calling itself simply THE CELLAR as some of its more important revelations are made in just that locale. In any case, the streamlined alternate title NIGHT WARNING is of no help at all.
We’re not offered any huge mystery to solve, the audience knows very well which chocolates in the box contain the nuts, the tension comes from wondering just how hard the shit is going to hit the fan and when. It’s too bad director WILLIAM ASHER did not continue down the horror/ thriller path because he definitely brings something cyclonic and sweeping to the film’s storm set climax. It’s impressively uncanny compared to the rest of the movie and I can’t help worrying that both Julia the character and JULIA the DUFFY are truly getting the tar beaten out of both of them right there on screen.
Let’s be realistic, this movie is OWNED by TYRELL and I only wish I could type OWNED in neon and make it flash forever and with an accompanying siren sound. It’s really one of the greatest performances in all of horror and frankly it’s a disgrace that it’s not more widely seen and appreciated. If NICHOLSON or WALKEN delivered this performance they’d be forever ducking from all the laurels chucked at them. From the DVD’s (much appreciated) extras it doesn’t appear TYRELL herself thought too much of the role but the truth is on the screen and, no matter how scampy she sometimes riffs it, there are clear-cut moments where she’s delicately skating on the sharp thin line of true madness and it’s a freaking glorious thing to behold.
In closing, this is a take it to the grave movie for me as you can probably tell. I’ll be watching it when my hair is gray and my eyes have been removed to make way for tiny TV sets. Revisiting it once again I’m glad that times have changed and at the same time I don’t know why they haven’t changed more or even why they were so screwy in the first place. I’ll never be grateful for the crap I personally had to endure but if it curbed me from becoming your standard douche-y bro dude it was very much worth it. Most of all it’s fun to revisit through cinema a time in my life when I related more to buoyant Billy than I did to shattered Aunt Cheryl because great googly moogly, lord knows that’s no longer the case. Ha ha. Just kidding (no, I’m not).
August 31st, 2015 · 12 Comments
Don’t you hate when you hear that somebody has died and then you go to sleep and later when you wake up you find out that they’re still dead? I do. Maybe I should consider a less passive course of action when confronting life’s unpleasantries but I swear, this sleeping and re-setting plan has worked on several occasions! In any case, I think Wes Craven would understand my logic. If you are a horror fan, I’m sure you’ve heard that yesterday Mr. Craven died. I urge you to seek out the words of those who actually knew him and worked with him. He was a true great and loved by many. All I have to offer is some remembrances of a lifetime of watching his films but luckily, around this joint, that’s what it’s all about. It would be virtually impossible to be a horror fan and to not be affected by his work.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
This may not be Wes’ first film but it’s my first film of his. HILLS was a notorious late night staple in my house growing up back when there was six channels to choose from. Here in Philly I’m guessing it played after eleven on either Channel 17 or 48. The title alone would fill me with dread. I’m pretty sure I tapped out long before the end credits threatened to roll and I’m going to cite this movie as an early indicator that I worry about the safety of dogs more than I do human babies. Is that wrong?
SUMMER OF FEAR (1978)
As I recall, when this made-for-TV witch flick aired it was called A STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE but the big-boxd THORN EMI VHS tape I rented from STAGE DOOR video at the King of Prussia Mall called it SUMMER OF FEAR. This is one of my favorite Craven offerings and I suspect I’m not alone. Tame though it may be by horror standards this baby kicked off my life long love affair with both witch movies and usurper comeuppance flicks. LINDA BLAIR pouting in a fro with giant red blotches on her face is pretty much exactly what I picture my very soul looks like.
DEADLY BLESSING (1981)
One of my earliest and fondest experiences seeing a horror film in the theater and yes, I snuck in. Full review HERE.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
Ack. For years and years this was a very hard watch for me. For some strange reason even though this film is filled with brutal rape and murder the idea of a person being forced to pee in their own pants sticks out in my brain as the height of depravity. I can actually watch this movie fine now because I demystified it by reading a book about its making (by DAVID A. SZULKIN). The POV image used on some ads that featured the three attackers looking down upon the victim inspired a bunch of paintings I did in college (though I may have changed them to aliens) and even a Kindertrauma FULL HOUSE parody.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
I had a horrendous drug experience as a teen. I can only pull it about half way out of the cupboard in my brain otherwise I’ll get freaked again. A friend and I were offered some pot and so we smoked it. We were then informed by the laughing psychotic who offered it to us that it was laced with angel dust. What then happened, for what seemed like forever, was hell on Earth complete with hallucinations and promises of death pouring out of the radio. It was an absolute nightmare and I think I got to experience my own death a couple hundred times that day. I tell you this because believe it or not, that experience was what came to my mind the first time I saw ANOES. Maybe I had post traumatic stress disorder or something but I assure you that I did not find Freddy Krueger a cute wise cracking anti-hero when I first met him. He scared the living daylights out of me. Freddy’s ability to bend reality and basically do whatever the hell he wanted (like fitting behind that tree! Like stretching his arms across an alley!), terrified me to no end and I basically half expected him to pop up in my very own, recently made unsafe dimension.
NEW NIGHTMARE (1994)
Wrote a review back HERE but mostly see above.
SCREAM and SCREAM 4 (1996 and 2011)
Yikes, that bad memory makes me want to wrap this up. In 1996 the horror genre was crying because it was basically in a boat not unlike the one it’s in today. Sure there’s always earnest and interesting indie fare guppies flopping about but who cares when you’re starving for a humongous game-changing fish? SCREAM was a serious breath of fresh air and even though it probably caused another rut to eventually come about, it also spurred a lot of great stuff too. All I know is that after I saw SCREAM I had to drag friends to see it too and that’s the best review I can give a movie. I don’t have to tell you about that opening scene! You know!
And I love SCREAM 4. The second one is darn good (besides the singing), I’m one of those people who don’t care for the third (Today I’ll blame the cinematographer) but I do love Part 4 (I probably explain why in this old review HERE and here’s an entire SCREAM-a-thon HERE.). I’m just sad (and a little greedy) that it’s his last.
Anyhoo, thanks for all the memories, Wes both good and bad and fond and not so fond. Craven brought so much to horror that nobody else could and he saw the value and meaning beyond the surface and made sure his audience did too. He was a chronically innovative artist and storyteller and he broke new ground and paved the way more times than he is given credit for. When he hit, he hit hard and when he missed he missed hard but the misses never stopped him from moving on and hitting that nail right smack on the head again like nobody else could. How many times did he revitalize the entire genre? What are we going to do without you Wes? Who will save us now?
June 1st, 2015 · 4 Comments
Dearest critters, you better believe we are not taking one step further down the trauma path without first acknowledging the passing of the beloved mother of modern horror, the sweetly stupendous and stupendously sweet BETSY PALMER. I think we can all agree that whichever gremlin is responsible for sabotaging her car to the degree that she simply had to accept the part of Mrs. Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13th in order to purchase a new one, is the greatest gremlin who ever lived. PALMER may not have been crazy about the role at first but she never revealed her reservations on screen; instead she delivered a wickedly wily performance that was impossible to forget and echoed in the minds of many long after the credits rolled.
Long ago in Kindertrauma’s first year of operation, we did an extensive list of trauma-mommas that ended with our top ten favorites. Not only did Pamela Voorhees land in the top ten, she easily claimed the number one position because duh, a-der and furthermore a-doy. Here’s what we said back then:
“No other mother brings it like PAMELA VORHEES. No other mother has that voice, that smile, that commitment. The entire franchise and many other horror films that followed it in its wake owe their eye teeth to BETSY PALMER. Even as a decapitated head in a refrigerator, she owns it. Even as a crazy sweater shrine, she brings it. BETSY PALMER IS THE ULTIMATE TRAUMA-MOMMA! GET IT? GOT IT? GOOD!!!”
I was going for facetious with my praise of the acting talents of a decapitated head but if you think about it, I had a point. PALMER’s performance in the original FRIDAY movie was so indelible that a mere prop easily reiterated its frightening power in PART 2. I’ve never been able to figure out how folks could fail to see that PALMER and the Mrs. Voorhees character were the vital beating heart of the FRIDAY THE 13tTH series but you can certainly see the results of that seemingly obvious fact failing to register in the soulless cardboard reboot.
Let’s not get negative though- I’m here to praise the PALMER. Let it be known across the land that Kindertrauma loves her times infinity. And let us all take a lesson from BETSY. Keep doing what you love and give it your best even when it seems like there will be little payoff. It’s not always about instant gratification; a stupid looking seed planted today could produce unknown bounties in the future. Also never listen to critics when it comes to horror because they are complete idiots and above all else, if you are hired to watch kids at a summer camp, watch them! Pay attention! Don’t be making love when you should be paying attention! Some of those kids should be watched every minute!!! Some of those kids are….not very good swimmers.
August 7th, 2014 · 13 Comments
It breaks my heart to write about the death of Marilyn Burns but it doesn’t seem right to post anything else until we’ve acknowledged this loss. My heart goes out to her friends and family who surely must endure the brunt of the devastation. As a mere fan, I’m sure I can’t even begin to understand the depth of grief felt by those close to her. Still, I can’t help feeling like everyone who ever loved a horror movie just took a major dent, whether they realize it or not, and that something incalculable that was once here is now gone.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic due to my morbid state but I think the truth is that horror audiences can expect to never, ever, ever witness the type of unadulterated terror that Marilyn Burns was able to put into her performance in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE again. It’s just a sad fact. The way the genre is moving it just wouldn’t be allowed and even if it were attempted, you’d never be lucky enough to find an actress as unselfconscious as Burns to pull it off. Even if they had the talent, it’s hard to believe they’d also have the moxy to withstand such a grueling endeavor. Nope, we’ll never see the likes of it again because we’re all too soft and spoiled and modern horror has become less about fear and terror and death and mortality and the unflinching unfairness of the universe than it is about looking competent and cool in the face of adversity. So I guess I just want to thank Marilyn from the bottom of my horror fan heart for bravely going where no actor ever had gone before or ever will again. Real horror, it’s there, in that movie, forever thanks to her.
I’m going to make this about me for a second and if you think that’s vulgar, I totally agree with you but I have to get over this bump somehow and I never said I wasn’t ignoble in the face of death. I may have mentioned before that I can be, on occasions, socially awkward. One thing that’s sure to make me a Bambi-legged Jell-O bowl is a large crowd. I don’t go to horror conventions very much any more but when I did, what I was really seeing in my head was the climax of THE DAY OF LOCUST. If I meet a famous person, I’m usually a jittery marble mouthed spaz on invisible roller skates and that’s putting aside for a moment my legendary Lori Singer evoked facial-tick.
Anyway, once I was at this horror convention feeling like a Howdy Doody marionette plopping around in a sea of Monster High Dolls and I went outside to the front of the hotel for a breath of fresh air and mostly a cigarette (this post was not approved by the Surgeon General). And who do I see there all by herself but Marilyn Burns puffing away. So we get to talking (actually, I was with a more boisterous friend who initiated the conversation but I’m going to edit that person out in the spirit of poetic license) and she put me at ease (not an easy thing to do) in all of a minute. She was so gracious and open and generous and all around awesome that I almost forgot that I was talking to a living legend.
For perspective, please realize that a half an hour earlier I was getting shady stink eye from a self-proclaimed scream queen whose boobs were featured in an unwatchable piece of garbage directed by her mouth breathing husband and now suddenly I was being made to feel like I might exist enough to cast a shadow by a woman who plowed like an eighteen wheeler through one of the greatest movies ever made wielding only one of the most outstandingly performances of all time. And folks, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, that’s something else you can look forward to seeing less of in the future- humility. No, they don’t make movies like TCM anymore but what makes me sad here is that the last time I did a head count, they don’t make too many people like that anymore either. I know I can’t say that I knew Marilyn based on our brief encounter but I can say that it was obvious to me that those who did know her were very lucky. Goodbye for now Marilyn and again, thank you so much for all that you gave. It’s more than you’ll ever know.
One last thing, I gotta give a shout out to EATEN ALIVE. That’s a fantastic movie too.