The Witch

I liked THE WITCH. The cinematography is gorgeous (particularly a slobber-worthy, late night lantern-lit outdoors scene), the acting is across the board impressive (particularly RALPH INESON as the put upon patriarch. What a voice on that guy!) and there are more than a couple moments in this melancholy mood piece that can chill ya to the core (particularly a bit involving a raven that has branded itself into my noggin). That said, you have my full approval to skip it in theaters. That’s right; don’t go see it. I personally, wish I waited and watched it in the privacy of my own home in the wee hours, preferably during a relentless rainstorm. It’s such an intimate, quiet outing that it deserves to be devoured alone and without a person chomping popcorn like a mule behind you. Furthermore, if you are wondering if this is one of those movies where all the critics lead you to believe that you are about to experience the next THE EXORCIST and then you go and see it and it’s NOT the next THE EXORCIST — the answer is yes, it is one of those movies. Truth is kids, you’re not getting your own THE EXORCIST so you might as well stop waiting. Folks were innocent back then and if you are reading this, then you are on the Internet and are therefore already jaded, corrupt and ruined.

That’s the end of my review but I’ll add some extra text just to justify the posting of more of these cool animal poster images! Um, THE WITCH is about this family during the olden timey days that try to forge a life for themselves and fail miserably at it. Eventually they all blame their crappy fortune on teenage daughter Thomasin (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY), which is understandable because she’s the only one in the family who doesn’t look like she fell out of VAN GOUGH’s “The Potato Eaters” painting. Writer/ director ROBERT EGGERS does an exemplary job as far as atmosphere and historical accuracy goes and he’s admirably able to make it seem as if nature itself is a malicious supernatural force. I also dig how he goes against the norm in the way information is disclosed, as it keeps the viewer perpetually on their toes and plowing through the dark. I’m afraid I’m going to have to watch THE WITCH a couple dozen more times before I can even start to think I know what’s truly going on in it. Maybe I’m dumb. Probably. Oh well, I enjoyed THE WITCH but I can’t say it knocked my socks off because my socks are still on. I know I’m supposed to either passionately love it or vehemently hate it but sorry, I’m more in the middle. It’s basically everything I’ve ever asked for in that it’s EYES OF FIRE (1983) if EYES OF FIRE was super pretty to look at but still I sit here feeling like I somehow missed a course of the meal.

You know what it is? I think this movie is relying too heavily on the assumption that I’m going to be scared of a talking goat! No way, I’d love to meet a talking goat! If I met a talking goat I would only want to hug it and be its best friend. Plus I’m pretty sure THE WITCH has it in mind to vilify a bunny? Again, no way. In closing, if conversing with animals is wrong, I don’t want to be right. We shall meet again THE WITCH, on my own home turf! If nothing else, you truly are vexing. I like that.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

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.”

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)

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).

Streaming Alert:: Split Second (1992) is Free on HULU!

What the what? Last night I bumped into SPLIT SECOND (1992) on HULU and for free no less (HERE)! I was going to sit on this info until I could use it for a Sunday Streaming post but then I decided life is too short, there’s no time like the present and who the heck cares? The thing is folks, SPLIT SECOND is not available on DVD and the VHS tape probably currently looks all dried up and stinky so this is your best bet for now. Sure there are a few commercials sprinkled throughout but HULU is thankfully pretty nice about keeping them short. SPLIT SECOND is kinda like if one of those ALIEN creatures was set loose in BLADE RUNNER land except that nothing could be as awesome as what that sounds like so prepare yourself to be fairly disappointed. I have no problem telling you SPLIT SECOND should be far more engaging than it is and it looks better both on paper and in your head than it actually does on the screen but there’s still plenty enough going on to make it worth your while, I promise.

SPLIT SECOND comes from the same director as THE BURNING (TONY MAYLAM) and it stars the coolest guy who ever lived, RUTGER HAUER who is supported by such fine folks as plucky KIM CATTRALL, not-so-plucky PETE POSTLETHWAITE and the one and only slightly plucky MICHAEL J. POLLARD of TICKS and AMERICAN GOTHIC fame as “The Rat Catcher.” RUTGER plays a gruff cop who smokes a lot and laments the death of his partner while hunting down a deadly creature that is frustratingly NOT SHOWN ENOUGH in a waterlogged (due to global warming) London in the flabbergasting future world of 2008!!!!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m prone to appreciate a mid-budgeted sci-fi flick cuz they have enough money not to embarrass themselves but not so much that they over do everything and come off synthetic and fake. Anyway, this is just a public service announcement for those out there who were waiting to see a decent presentation of this fine enough flick. I seem to recall that when I saw it in the theater it was way too dark but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore so maybe that was due to the theater I saw it in or something in my head. Who knows? You should have been sold at RUTGER HAUER anyway. Oh, and the soundtrack, she is tops too!