The Lodge (2019)

Hey, THE LODGE is a horror film with a chilly snowbound setting so how can it not be fun? I’ll tell you how; it also happens to be one of those new-fangled emotionally torturous artsy flicks that make you feel like you’re losing your mind. You know the drill, fifty percent of the audience is going to find it brilliant, the other half will claim it’s boring and I’m going to end up hiding under a blanket tormented by suicidal thoughts and a feeling of incompleteness because I do not maintain an exact replica of my home in dollhouse form. Honestly, I don’t need this bad mojo right now, mid-to-late February is not the time to be playing around with crazy-making, mind-fuck flicks concerning isolation, damnation, purgatory and pet death, especially when said movie’s runtime is approximately forever-ish.

Don’t get me wrong, THE LODGE is basically a masterpiece when it comes to delivering waves and waves of impenetrable unease but so is every social media site I’m actively trying to avoid. I get it, you win, THE LODGE! You successfully made me feel like garbage for three days and counting- are ya happy now? Maybe you should just change your name to “HEREDITARY, HOLD MY BEER…” Folks, I can’t tell you how many nineties-era sitcoms with jaunty theme songs I had to watch just to regain a thimble full of equilibrium.

THE LODGE concerns a family who (for reasons I’ll never understand) celebrate Thanksgiving by hanging plastic roasted turkey ornaments outside and donning plastic roasted turkey hats. In other words, they are insane and are born to be insanity magnets and attract insanity wherever they go. Perhaps the only rational person presented is the mother played by the never lovelier, ALICIA SILVERSTONE who taps out of the nightmare universe this movie conjures as quickly as possible (via blowing her brains out). The empathy-free father decides a good way to celebrate Christmas with his two grief-stricken children is to force them into spending the holiday with his fiancé/mistress who just happens to be the emotionally fragile, lone surviving member of a death cult- and her dog Grady who is clearly named after the psycho caretaker in THE SHINING. After a near-death experience on a frozen lake, pop gets a call from work and supposes it’s totally cool to leave his children with someone they barely know and hold directly responsible for their mother’s early departure from this mortal coil. One evening, the trio makes the questionable decision to watch THE THING (1982) and JACK FROST (1998) back to back and for their folly wake up trapped in a purgatory chuck full of eerie occurrences that may or may not be hallucinations and a nonstop parade of ominous omens.

There are a couple of images in THE LODGE that I will likely drag with me to the grave and I don’t appreciate that. When it comes to choosing sides on the verdict of “boring” or “brilliant”, I’m going to have to begrudgingly lean toward “brilliant” simply because there were times during this movie in which I feared I myself might be dead and I had to resist the urge to stand up and scream until I was assisted out of the building. That said, I can’t imagine a scenario where I would ever subject myself to watching this movie again. It may have to be filed in the cursed movie file in my head along with DER TODESKING (‘90) and V.I. WARSHAWSKI (‘91). Then again, maybe I could watch this movie in the summer during a completely different mental state and find joy in its fragrant symbolism and wrecking ball pessimism. It should be said that that the performances in this movie are all top-notch. RILEY KEOUGH, as tortured Grace, compellingly rides a razor blade between sympathetic and off-putting and LIA McCUGH, as Mia, is heartbreaking and should be a shoo-in to play a young FLORENCE PUGH if there’s ever a MIDSOMMAR prequel.

I ultimately give this movie props for mercilessly ruffling my psychological feathers just as it intended to but can’t argue with anyone who finds it manipulative and heavy-handed as well. Love it or lump it, I think everyone can agree it’s a painful watch and a kick in the shins reminder that perhaps the only order to this world is the order you construct yourself. Now I’m off to punish myself further by watching the hell that is JACK FROST. It’s what I deserve. I must repent!

Name That Trauma:: Ashley M. on a Family Staircase Stabbing

Hoping you can help! Some idiot managed to take me to a scary movie when I was about 5 years old. I’ve thought of it many times and I can’t figure out what it was. 

It was in a movie theater in probably 1987 or 1988, Kansas City. All I know is that generally, it was about a family, no monsters or magic or anything. There were several stabbing scenes. The worst I can remember was on the stairs in the family house. There were dead family members all over the house and I believe when the last female is killed the movie ends. Or maybe she survives…?

Let me know if that sounds familiar at all. It’s hard to do an effective search when you don’t know any specifics.

Traumafession:: Dan C. on a Junkie Ballarina PSA

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated and often terrified by the PSA as a format. An early memory of mine involves me laying in bed, holding aloft my Cookie Monster stuffed animal and miming what it would look like if Cookie was the talking head in a PSA; not saying any words, just trying to approximate the subtle movements. I ended this with a mock freeze frame. I scared myself with this enough to throw the covers over my head and try and will myself not to think about Cookie Monster freeze-frame, lest I would never get to sleep from the terror of a freeze-frame in an imaginary PSA.

Yeah, it’s pretty weird. So time marches on and various PSAs come and go, and I’m scared of them in degrees from 0 to 99. The mid to late 80s anti-drug obsession starts to take hold and it instills a general sense of paranoia in us suburban preteen kids, but it all still seems like the “other.” In our little sheltered burg, we thought some stranger in a van (perhaps a clown) was going to come and offer us “druggggggggs” and maybe kidnap us. It was all a vague (but real, it sure as hell seemed!) threat. Welp, the vagueness showed it’s power when I was maybe a couple years too old for a genuine kinder trauma, but I can’t under estimate the terrifying grip that one fucking Partnership for a Drug Free America spot had/has on me. I was like fucking 11 or 12 and I don’t remember the first time I saw this thing.

The sound of an orchestra tuning. A low angle shot with cold, cold, diffuse light. A ballet studio. Slow-motion dancer is spinning, spinning out of control. Onlookers with crossed arms of disapproval in the background. Voiceover of little girl: “I wanna be a ballerina when I grow up.” Cue fake Psycho violin stabs, then adult male voiceover: “Nobody says they wanna be a junkie when they grow up. Don’t let drugs get in the way of your dreams.” This fades into the standard Partnership for a Drug Free America text and black screen. This spot started showing up in weird places immediately…Siskel and Ebert (yeah, i was a kid watching S&E on Sunday mornings), Wonder Years and Doogie Houser MD were prime spots. It showed up in an airing of the Rankin Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in 90 or 91. I think I closed my eyes for that one. See, cuz I took different tactics to get over this fear; I’d close my eyes and just listen, I’d pay strict attention to every detail, I’d count the times the dancer spun (it’s not even one full spin). Nothing worked. I even had a wake up paralyzed screaming nightmare about it once.

Me and my few loser friends in middle school would talk about this spot, and the few others in the series (none of which bothered me a quarter as much) and talk about how “freaky” they were. It was a good word to avoid seeming weak in that junior high shark pool. But I was obsessed with it as it left rotation and went into PSA retirement. So, as I got into collection weird VHS years later, of course that would be a thing I was on the hunt for. As I picked up home recordings of broadcast tv I’d be always hoping it would lead me to this terror. I found tons of fascinating, and at times terrifying PSAs but I never found the ballerina. I even found collections of Partnership for a Drug-Free America tapes and it seemed they were erasing that spot from there history for some reason. Even as youtube emerged as, I found almost everything I wanted to see from days past…couldn’t find the particular spot.

Eventually, it did show up on youtube, and get taken down immediately. Was this secretly a controversial ad? I did give in and watch it on youtube sadly right before I found it was on a tape I had of an ABC primetime broadcast I never bothered to look at cuz it was Young Indiana Jones or some garbage like that. Anyhow, I’m still fascinated by this, because I think I’ve been truly terrified by this thing entirely because of the power of film language. Whatever who these anonymous creatives were going for, they found it purely through scary creepiness. Frankly, I think the anonymity in these spots are partially what make them so elusively unnerving. Who made this? Who is the ballerina? Did they believe in what they were doing? Cuz the implementation of creepy style certainly indicates a certain dedication. Did they know they’d be haunting the minds of kids as they became functional adults? I still can’t quite put my finger on what this particular thing gives me such intense unease. But it’s still there.

Name That Trauma:: Drew P. on a Evil Grandma Robot

I’m a longtime fan of Kindertrauma and I’m wondering if you can help me identify a particularly paranoid kids cartoon from a long time ago…

It would have been screened during a Saturday morning cartoon block on ABC or CBS sometime in the mid-nineties (probably no later than ’96), but the animation looked noticeably different from other 90s cartoons, so my guess is that it was actually an older, eighties cartoon brought back for a rerun. I’m not sure if it was an animated TV movie or a standalone episode of a show. For many years, I assumed it was an episode of CBS Storybreak, but recent digging around online proves that this isn’t the case.

The story was about two siblings (older sister and younger brother, I think) on summer vacation whose parents are hypnotized by a malevolent alien robot disguised as an old lady. The brainwashed parents tell the kids that the robot is their grandma or their great aunt. They tell the kids that the robot is going to be their babysitter for the rest of the summer and then they take the car and split, leaving them all alone with the alien invader. The robot forces the kids to do chores, locks their pet dog in the basement, and generally makes them miserable. I think the robot starts building a UFO (just like The Thing!) or some kind of device to summon an invasion fleet. The kids try to warn other adults, but (in true Bodysnatchers fashion) no one believes them. The robot may also hypnotize a few other adults. Kids are immune to the robot’s hypnosis.

The robot has a vulnerability to water. When water is nearby, its eyes start to glow and it warbles “water…water!” in a creepy-sounding electronic voice. The kids ultimately defeat the robot by shoving it into a conveniently-located swimming pool. There’s a big cloud of smoke and sparks, and then a satanic-looking face made of crackling red energy rises up from the bubbling swimming pool and flies off into night sky – presumably, returning to outer space, never to return. The parents return to normal with no memory of recent events. The dog is released from the basement. Everyone learns a valuable lesson that grandmas are pure evil.

Much obliged! Thanks for everything you guys do!

Gretel and Hansel (2020)

Any time ALICE KRIGE appears in a horror movie it is an occasion for rejoicing. She’s one of the greatest character actresses who ever lived plus she’s got a near LON CHANEY-esque talent for meshing with monstrous roles. The KRIGE was all kinds of mesmerizing in GHOST STORY (‘81), seriously sinister in SLEEPWALKERS (‘92), ten tons of threatening in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (‘96) and magnificently mortifying in SILENT HILL (‘06). In GRETEL AND HANSEL, she takes on the role of Holda, a haggy archetypal fairy tale witch with cannibalistic tendencies and it’s her most gleefully despicable creation yet (if you don’t count Tully, the literary agent she portrayed in BARFLY (‘86)). Director OSGOOD PERKINS appears to fully appreciate winning the lottery in the casting department and wisely allows KRIGE to fully KRIGE and the uncanny end result is like an inevitable monument foretold in the stars. The fact that KRIDGE spends most of her time here psychologically sparring with the formidable aptness of SOPHIA LILLIS (IT: CHAPTERS 1 &2) as the titular Gretel is even more to be thankful for. GRETEL AND HANSEL is a smidge tottery at times and I can’t help craving it had a more robust right hook but I sense it accomplishes everything it sets out to do refreshingly unconcerned with audience expectations.

GRETEL AND HANSEL is much more like a trip to the art gallery than the amusement park (I might even say it’s more of a spell/hex than a film/movie) so if you prefer the latter you may want to skip it altogether. I found myself in a kind of hog heaven of sorts but must admit that the candle-lit cabin coziness of everything made me momentarily drowsy at times (that’s less of a complaint than it sounds). This movie is undeniably stunning on a visual level, absolutely gorgeous; a shoebox diorama filled with perfectly lit construction paper silhouettes. It’s like GUY MADDIN (CAREFUL (‘92)) playing WIN LOSE OR DRAW with ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY (HOLY MOUNTAIN (‘73)) and the answer he’s trying to illustrate is ROB ZOMBIE’s LORDS OF SALEM. It’s as if THE WITCH (2015) and EYES OF FIRE (‘83) played hooky from school and did mushrooms while swinging in hammocks listening to THE COCTEAU TWINS. I can’t say no to this sort of thing! The soundtrack is by ROB, the same dude who did MANIAC (2012) for crying out loud! I’m starting to believe watching a movie is a lot like being hypnotized and we’re all susceptible to wildly different triggers and cues. This jaunt tugged all the correct occult harp strings in my spine and I tip my triangular Aleister Crowley cap to it. Maybe for its own sake, it should have thrown the audience a bone in the form of a more explosive climax but I guess that would have been against its very nature. As it stands, it’s a singular dark visual poem that sure to become a totem among the esoteric. Sure the story is sort of like a trail of breadcrumbs left for the birds but this crazy catalog of cursed eye-candy left me convinced that one truly arresting image may be worth more than some entire franchises.