Talk To Me

A little while back I posted a list of “post-childhood kindertraumas; movies that legitimately scared me even though I viewed them as a reasonably rational adult. Well, if I waited just a little while longer before posting I could have easily added the Australian A24 supernatural scare-fest TALK TO ME. This flick grabbed me by the jugular, slapped me around some and even had me crunched up in the corner of my chair watching the screen through my fingers. I really wasn’t prepared at all, the title sounded more like an innocuous Stevie Nicks single than a horror film and the trailer had me thinking it was just your standard seance/Ouija board flick. Boy, was I wrong; at one point I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m getting too old for this!”, while discretely scanning the theater for the nearest exit just in case I needed to bail. There’s a brief moment of glimmering light near the climax when I thought it might transform into a rousing, cathartic “Dream Warriors” battle between good and evil forces but nope, the noose only tightens exponentially and I was jettisoned down a greased slip n’ slide toward hopeless REQUIEM FOR A DREAM territory. It was all sorta like when I thought I could ride the Matterhorn Mountain ride at Disneyland as a kid but ended up crying for my mommy instead.

Teenager Mia (Sophie Wilde, who I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of in the future) has basically adopted the family of her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jenson) as she tries to find solace from grieving her own mother’s suicide. The two girls and younger brother Riley (Joe Bird) sneak off to a party where a bunch of other kids are playing around with a strange plaster hand covered in cryptic writing. The deal is, you grab the hand to talk to the dead but if you hold it too long you might be stuck with a permanent tag-along ghost. Of course Mia’s mourning makes her extra susceptible and soon she’s playing horrifying games and winning even more horrifying prizes. Makes sense, we’ve all seen vaguely similar set-ups before but writing/directing brothers Danny & Michael Philippou really know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to delivering absolute unmitigated horror and dread. These incredibly creative (and mercilessly cruel) men even went so far as to gleefully stoke my biggest bugaboo fear of losing control and hurting myself and my much recorded aversion to scary faced smiling elderly people. Let’s just say that there’s one octogenarian visage that appears towards the end of the film that simply will not evaporate from my mind’s eye. I’m at the point where I may have to watch kitten videos on YouTube in an effort to erase the nightmare stain.

In other words, TALK TO ME is brilliant across the board; the direction is inspired, the acting (especially Wilde) is thoroughly convincing and the general tone is consistently somber, off-putting and dread inducing. As dark as the film is though, there’s an undeniable fresh, youthful undercurrent of exuberance to it that keeps what should be tired, absolutely enthralling. There’s also something so heart-wrenching and tragic throughout that keeps it from feeling like the typical horror ride. Mia is such an understandable and relatable character. All of her dumb moves come from a place of simply wanting to escape her emotional pain. She’s like a drug addict who thinks she’s found a miracle cure when she’s really just circling the drain. I really can’t praise this strangely moving, truly frightening work of art enough. I stand here so torn between wanting to see it again as soon as possible and wanting to run as far away from it as I can. To me this is horror in it’s most rare, concentrated, undiluted form and of course it’s equal parts mesmerizing and repulsive. I highly recommend going out and seeing TALK TO ME in the theater, I doubt there will be a better horror movie in some time.

In Memoriam:: Margot Kidder

I've got to pour one out for the great MARGOT KIDDER. In my book, she's one of the coolest actresses that ever graced the screen. As photogenic as she was, there was always something so real about her and she seemed like somebody you could know in real life. Maybe it's partially due to the time period of her most indelible performances but she reminded me of every babysitter or Aunt I ever looked up to in awe. Man, how I loved her scratchy voice and the little twist of her upper lip and her kooky unfeigned laugh. There was just nothing phony about her and she never altered herself to fit into Hollywood. In fact, in the way she was slowly nudged out of the SUPERMAN franchise you can observe everything that's wrong with the movie industry. Somehow, those in power didn't fathom that Lois' strength was equally compelling as the man of steel's. It's gutsier to scale the Eiffel Tower when you can't fly.

For many folks, KIDDER's name will always be synonymous with her portrayal of Lois Lane in the SUPERMAN series and that's fair and no surprise, she's truly phenomenal in that iconic role. We should never forget though, her incalculable contribution to the horror genre. She has appeared in several seminal fright films and is known to proudly admit to being a fan of horror movies herself. What the SUPERMAN films and her horror output have in common is that she brought something grandly her own to the table that nobody else could (for further evidence of that, just check out any of the remakes of her films). She has said, "I'm a very good screamer, that's for sure" and we are all so lucky that we got to scream along with her.

SISTERS (1973)
This flick is almost too good to be true. Does the world even deserve this? You sort of get two outstanding performances for the price of one thanks to KIDDER's mystifying double-edged role and on top of that, SISTERS is pure, primo BRIAN De PALMA (complete with succulent split-screens). The worship worthy director is clearly tipping his hat to HITCHCOCK but there's also a late in the game plunge into dreamy POLANSKI-ville that will make your head swim. You're not going to find a better showcase for KIDDER's remarkable versatility and it's incredible to see her effortlessly shift from cooing to terrifying in the blink of an eye. She's remarkable and in a just universe KIDDER would need a twin to help her pick up all of the laurels thrown at her feet for the talent she reveals here. Add a dash of JENNIFFER SALT, a dollop of CHARLES DURNING and a beyond brilliant BERNARD HERRMANN score and you got something impossible to duplicate.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of BOB CLARK's holiday slasher. Without it, there would be no HALLOWEEN and without HALLOWEEN – oh geez, I don't even want to think about it. BLACK CHRISTMAS's tone and overall construction are impeccable but what really makes its bulbs shine are its vibrant characters. KIDDER's 's Barb is a sensational standout; she's brassy, cynical, nasty but funny and ultimately surprisingly lovable. She might not survive the night but she's equally as valid and essential as those that do. Anyone with the wrongheaded idea that victims in slasher films are disposable cannon fodder need no other proof than Barb that they're horribly wrong. Sure, she's flawed and abrasive but that just makes her relatable and it's her humanity that makes her demise all the more tragic. I think we're all a little conditioned to think only the survivors are of interest in horror films and nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing solely on the protagonist is sort of like scraping the center out of an Oreo and throwing the rest of the cookie away. It's a great way to miss out (and something a townie might do).

Based on a true story (sure, Jan) this haunted house extravaganza is a bit of a fixer-upper but that doesn't stop it from being a stone cold classic. No matter the faults in its foundation, I don't think there's anyone who could complain about the two central performances provided by JAMES BROLIN (as believably bonkers-bound George Lutz) and MARGOT KIDDER (as harrowingly harried Kathy Lutz). KIDDER is spot-on heartbreaking as she slowly realizes that her Mr. Right is slowly morphing into Mr. Yikes. When push comes to shove and shove comes to axe-wielding murderous intentions, she displays just the right maternal momma bear strength but never lets go of her character's rightful panic. And KIDDER (much like similarly put-upon SHELLEY DUVALL in the following year's THE SHINING) is capable of the perfect dark-eyed howling wraith-face for expressing pure unadulterated horror. This joint might not be all it could be (needs more Jodi the pig) but boy, do the occupants (especially KIDDER) know how to sell it.

HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)
I'm still here sticking with my initial assessment that ROB ZOMBIE's HALLOWEEN 2 is one of the best horror sequels ever made for unflinchingly staring directly at the down and dirty ugliness of dealing with the aftermath of trauma. KIDDER is cast as Laurie Strode's consoling therapist Barbara (her name a nice wink to BLACK CHRISTMAS). It's not a large role but it provides the film's lone safe space in a whirlwind of emotional anguish. In my mind, it's also a rather generous way to allow the actress to put a needle in the butterfly of her own triumphant confrontation with the monsters of the mind. Some folks like to accuse ZOMBIE of stunt casting but I just see that rare person who is gracious enough to give back to the people who inspired him.

To be honest, I'm still a little bit haunted by the details of KIDDER's well-publicized manic episode in 1996, which left her confused, alone, injured by an attempted rape and utilizing a random backyard for shelter. It still sends a chill down my spine as this type of mental collapse can happen to anybody at anytime and should be treated like any illness and without stigma or public exploitation. I wouldn't wish such a thing upon my worst enemy let alone an artist who has brought me great joy repeatedly throughout my life.

As much as it pains me to think about, I now believe there can be a beneficial takeaway from what my hero MARGOT KIDDER went through and that is the knowledge that a person's darkest hour will never define them, that sometimes the bottom of the pool is the best place to propel yourself back to the surface. The bright side of the dark coin she was handed is that she was able to get the help she needed (vitamins/orthomolecular medicine rather than psychiatry/drugs worked best for her) and she was able to plow forward avoiding any future episodes. She returned to her craft, worked steadily (albeit mostly outside the mainstream) and when not on set enjoyed a peaceful existence in the Rocky Mountains with her beloved grandchildren and dogs. She passed away far too early at 69 but she died in her sleep, which has got to be one of the top ways to go considering the alternatives. I found it heartening to see upon her passing so many celebrities, co-workers and fans expressing how sweet and kind she was off screen and how dynamic and influential she was on screen. I'm going to back that up by telling you that when I was fortunate enough to fawn on her at a convention she was every bit as genuine as I'd hope she'd be. KIDDER has left behind many a favorite film for me but I'll also like to remember her as the brave woman who treated her troubles with mental illness much like Lois Lane treated the criminal Kryptonian Ursa after she was cleverly bamboozled into losing her powers in SUPERMAN 2, by saying "You know what? You're a real pain in the neck!" and punching the unwelcome menace into the abyss.

Of course mental illness is probably something you never fully conquer, I'm sure you always have to watch your back but MARGOT's determined rebound and subsequent well-being is something that should be celebrated as much as her impressive career. I'm glad she found some peace in this life and hope her peace is now eternal. So long, Margot and thank you, you'll always be cooler than Superman to me.

In Memoriam:: Tobe Hooper

TOBE HOOPER is well known for creating one of the most frightening and influential horror films of all time. I personally found THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE so fiercely disturbing upon my first viewing that I was left feeling queasy for hours afterward. I'm not kidding; just ask my little brother who suffers from the same post-TCM-stress disorder. Years later when we were older we thought its sequel THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 would be a breeze but then our doorbell rang during the nightmare opening scene and we realized we were both too freaked out to answer it. HOOPER rightfully will always be strongly connected to his cherished masterpiece but I'm truly a huge fan of his entire creative output. Maybe there are a couple misfires but that can be said for any artist. He did things differently and I think his unexpected counter-intuitive viewpoint is exactly what made his work so fascinating and effective. He never took the obvious path. Here are some of my favorite TOBE HOOPER memories. Like many horror fans, I am forever indebted to the man for his incomparable contributions...

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1979) As stated above, TCM rocked my world. It felt so chaotic and feral and purely unsafe and I think it slapped the idea that goodness will always prevail right out of my head. The house (at least on the outside) resembled my family's earliest home and reminded me of my very first memories of the world. How could such things happen there? More importantly, why did I think it was a good idea to eat fried seafood out of a Styrofoam container on an aluminum TV tray while watching this rented VHS? I had to go lie down afterwards. It was like having a hangover at age 13.

SALEM'S LOT (1979) The TV film that launched a million kindertraumas. I'll never forget having to go to bed after seeing that smiling demon float through the window. I couldn't have been more terrified if it happened to me and it felt like it had. Those kids were my age. That looked like my room. This scene has lost exactly zero of its power. It remains one of the most purely eerie visions ever created. Chills.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) I adore this movie and it's one that I think gets better with every view. Amy Harper (the incredible ELIZABETH BERRIDGE) is so much deeper than your average final girl. She's actually more like the usual cynical sidekick that goes looking for trouble and finds it. She wants to break free from her parental restraints and then feels completely lost and vulnerable when she does. It's really a brilliant film about the horrors of growing up and leaving childhood behind. There's one scene in which Amy looks out of the funhouse she's trapped in and can see her parents looking for her but she can't make contact and it's heartbreakingly similar to Dorothy seeing Auntie Em in a crystal ball in THE WIZARD OF OZ. It's one of my favorite moments in all of horror and it's so brilliantly underplayed. I wrote a longer review way back HERE and it's one of my favorite posts just because I remember how much fun I had writing it. And don't get me started on just how delicious this movie is on a purely visual level; I could look at it all day.

POLTERGEIST (1982) I don't care how much is SPIELBERG and how much is HOOPER. There's nothing wrong with collaboration, all that matters is the end result. On the way back from the movie theater after seeing this perfect slice of cinema heaven my friends and I decided to cut through a graveyard. This was either the best or worst idea ever and I'm kind of surprised that I didn't return home with a streak of grey on my 14-year-old head. This movie is as much fun as it is genuinely terrifying and that damn clown doll can haunt you at any age.

EATEN ALIVE (1977) I somehow didn't get around to EATEN ALIVE until I was in college and maybe that's good thing. I think its consistent weirdness would have thrown me off as a kid. As an adult I really admire how this film feels so much like a nightmare you can't wake up from. Full gushing review HERE.

LIFEFORCE (1985) I saw this crazy sci-fi horror mash up when it first came out and it flew directly over my head. I had no idea what was going on. But later in life when I decided to check it out in HD it just opened up completely for me and I was in love. Check out my change of heart HERE.

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) Talk about underrated! This remake in name only is one of my favorite horror films of its time period and I think it's nearly right up there with HOOPER's finest. Full love letter HERE.

And let me say HOOPER was very reliable in delivering on the small screen as well. Besides gifting us with the aforementioned unforgettable miniseries SALEM'S LOT, he also handed over excellent episodic work to FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES (1988 "No More Mr. Nice Guy"), old pal SPIELERG's TAKEN (2002 "Beyond the Sky"), buddy JOHN CARPENTER's BODY BAGS (1993 "Eye") and my personal favorite, THE OTHERS (2000 "Souls on Board") just to name a few.

In closing, I love TOBE HOOPER. I will always love TOBE HOOPER. I wish I could properly explain how much. I think a lot of people very rudely wanted him to somehow repeat the watershed magic that was CHAINSAW and that's just greedily asking for the impossible. CHAINSAW is a once in a lifetime perfect storm. I commend HOOPER for exploring uncharted territory no matter the result and I think as the years go on we all will more fully realize how fantastic his post TCM work actually is. I keep reading how HOOPER's favorite drink was Dr. Pepper. How fitting that he would enjoy something known for it's against the norm uniqueness.How fitting that he'd have no interest in the more popular conformist colas. Our man HOOPER was a Pepper! Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

In Memoriam:: George A. Romero

It's a pretty good bet that I'm going to spend the entire day thinking about GEORGE A. ROMERO and the better part of the evening watching his remarkable, groundbreaking films. If a bomb dropped across the street it would be of secondary interest. Like many in the horror community I'm sure, I feel shell-shocked, it feels like a favorite teacher, mentor or spiritual Godfather has departed. I have never met Mr. ROMERO but he surely had a big impact on my life. I was born the year NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was being filmed, DAWN OF THE DEAD rammed right up against my adolescence and DAY OF THE DEAD knocked me upside my teenage head. I don't have any personal anecdotes to share about him but allow me to indulge myself with some memories of some of the many times he fueled my love and (and genuine fear) of horror films. (The following is in the order of my own viewings rather than when the films were released).


Somehow I saw DAWN OF THE DEAD before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It was in the earliest days of the VCR and nothing could prepare me for it. It certainly terrified me but it was also the coolest thing on earth! I was probably about 13 or 14 at the time and a big part of me was super ready for the entire world to drop dead and for me to live in a mall in which everything was free for the taking. You can probably see it coming a mile away these days but at the time, the helicopter zombie decapitation absolutely blew my mind and inspired many a rewind.


For (I believe) several years, early MTV showed NOTLD on Halloween night. I was addicted to slashers at the time but it made it very clear to me that black and white movies could be just as frightening as the then modern fare I was devouring. Geez, that little girl (Karen) in the basement! The echoing screams of her mother! It's horror at its purest. In addition, NOTLD still has one of the strongest opening sequences I can think of and I feel right at home inside the screen having spent my earliest days on this planet right outside of Pittsburgh (shout out to Allison Park!).


I didn't have HBO as a kid but my friend did and it was always a blast to check out salacious flicks like TATTOO and VICE SQUAD while guzzling sodas that don't exist anymore and chomping on bags of garbage. I'm going to say that the ground zero of my puberty occurred sometime while watching KNIGHTRIDERS and leave it at that. This is yet another great example of ROMERO being completely original and marching to the beat of his own drum.


This movie was a damn big deal in my house and my younger brother was an even bigger fan of it than myself. We collected horror movie posters at the time and that CREEPSHOW poster was certainly one of the most striking and I'll always be obsessed with that little rat crawling through the ghoul's burlap looking cape. CREEPSHOW is known for being a lot of fun but it sure as hell scared the bejesus out of me too. I will forever and always be freaked out by TED DANSON's submerged gurgling undead voice when he returns to exact his watery revenge. I need to also mention that the cover of FANGORIA with E.G. MARSHALL's bug filled face bursting on it is one of the best things ever and I still remember greedily reading that issue in our screened in back porch. The cover has separated itself from its staples but I still proudly own that poor mangled thing.


ROMERO's creatively creepy anthology series always had a knack of appearing at times when my brain was most susceptible to its shenanigans. Its opening narration and theme music were like a dog whistle alerting me that normalcy was about to jump out the window and be replaced by total unpredictability. Would it be funny, scary, weird, thoughtful or confounding or all of the above? You never knew what you were going to get, you just knew it would be far off the beaten track and a freaky good time.


I felt exactly as weird and ostracized as Martin as a teenager but looking back, he probably had it more together than I ever did. I was a big new wave music fan around this time and was so happy when I bought a SOFT CELL album that included a 12-inch song entitled MARTIN written in tribute to the film. I actually saw it a couple of weeks ago at a record store and I'm now going to hit myself in the face for not picking it because it may be the perfect song to annoy the neighbors...


Ack! Between you and me and the lamppost, I may own a copy of DAY OF THE DEAD and I may think it is brilliant but I've only truly watched it from beginning to end once (as far as I remember). My little brother and I happily went to see a midnight showing of it in Texas when it was first released and it left me with such a dire, hopeless soul-killing feeling that I never dared to watch it again. Maybe I was having mental problems at the time but it really clung to me like a morose, unshakable grimy cloud. I hereby promise to force myself to break the curse and watch it again soon to see if it still murders my precarious sense of well-being.


Aw, here's the perfect cure for DAY OF THE DEAD. I love this movie. Is it bad that MONKEY SHINES may well be my favorite ROMERO film? I can't help it.I‘ve got a soft spot for psychological thrillers and an even softer spot for that adorable monkey, Ella. Listen folks, there are very few movies that properly capture the complexities of an animal's personality or the intricacies of the loving relationship between a human and their pet. What ROMERO did with this movie and how he presents Ella is incredibly impressive. I don't care if there was more than one monkey; this has to be one of the greatest animal performances of all time. Also the strong emotional tie that is depicted in this movie totally reminds me of how I feel about my cats and how my cats (surely) feel about me I know the power of representation!


By the time LAND OF THE DEAD came out I was a full grown fully dysfunctional semi-maybe adult (sorta, if you squint your eyes). Frankly after my experience with DAY OF THE DEAD I had some true trepidation mixed with my excitement to return to ROMERO's vision. I wasn't disappointed and I remember feeling particularly anxious during its zombies on the waterfront scene. DIARY and SURVIVAL came out over the last ten years while we've been doing this site. They are certainly stranger, more idiosyncratic takes on the DEAD and whether you like them or not, they also feel more personal. I'm so glad ROMERO got the chance to really experiment in his sandbox and I admire him for not taking the easy, more commercial route. He gave us horror fans, SO MUCH (and he gave us so much even after he was royally screwed on his rights to his unfathomably influential first feature film). He cut his own path and told us things that only he could. He made real art that whispered truths about humanity and culture that we'll be happily deciphering and unraveling for decades to come. He generously entertained us while making us think and if you don't agree, well then I'll just have to quote my pal Barbara, "You're ignorant".

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (Plus Friday Funhouse)

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?!!

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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.

Let's Go Crazy:: A Shining Prince Tribute

Dearly beloved
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!

C'mon baby
Let's get nuts

Let's go crazy

Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down
Oh, no let's go!
Go crazy

I said let's go crazy (Go crazy)
Let's go, 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

He's coming

He's coming


Take me away!


For the Love of: Pin (1988)

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.

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."