Becky (2020)

Death. Death really sucks and I’m not the best when it comes to dealing with it. Sure, I’m an old pro when it comes to the sadness, depression and general hopelessness involved; it’s the unfathomable anger that arises that I find unwieldy. A little over a month ago, we lost our beloved cat daughter Rory and let me tell ya, if there was a button that could destroy the whole world, I would have pounded on it. And boy did I hate whatever the hell it is that we call God. What kind of idiot assigns cats a lifespan less than twenty years and then tells turtles they can kick around for over a hundred? That’s just incompetent design work in my book.

Anyway, because I feel a great affinity with anyone who might feel like stabbing the entire universe in the eye after the death of a loved one, I really dug the film BECKY and found it to be a wonderfully cathartic experience. In fact, it made me laugh with sadistic glee on multiple occasions. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for killer kid flicks. I think (I know) it’s because I felt so powerless in my youth. BECKY is a home invasion turned revenge tale and it’s basically crafted to have you hooting and hollering when the bad guys get what’s coming to them and for me, it was just what the doctor ordered.

BECKY features frequent horror star Lulu Wilson (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018)) as the titular Becky who has recently lost her mother and now has to deal with her father (Joel McHale) setting up house with a new gal (Amanda Brugel of JASON X) and her young son. Even though she is lucky enough to have a super cool fort in the woods and two lovely canines, the girl is salty as hell due to her grief. Making matters oh so worse, a group of escaped convicts led by a bearded, swastika bearing Kevin James (!) stop by to terrorize the household in search of a key (I never fully understood the key aspect but the ambiguity works). The mean home invaders get a little too cocky, kill a dog (ugh) and soon Becky is channeling her suppressed volcanic rage into inventing ghastly ways to dispose of them (and when I say ghastly, I mean I had to cover my eyes at one point). One of the intruders (Robert Maillet aka WWE’s Kurrgan) is the gentle giant type but he’s only gentle because he already killed two kids on the way to Becky’s house so don’t feel too sorry for him.

As noted above, this film is my jam. It kind of reminded me of DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1975) except in this case most of the people who get offed deserve it for being Nazis and in that way, it also reminded me of FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977). Lulu Wilson delivers a multilayered performance and I have to give props to Kevin James for so efficiently shedding the jovial persona he’s known for. More importantly, though BECKY allowed me to vicariously express my fury at death. I was totally with her the moment she snapped and completely understood the wave of nihilism she gets swept up in. I actually felt better after watching this movie as if some air had been left out of my tires right before they burst. Thanks, BECKY!

Note: I realize I just equated an adult man (that would be me) losing a cat who had a full life to a teen prematurely losing her mother and that may be a bit off. I’m sticking with it though because we need content, I’m still a little angry and cats are better than people.

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:: Eyes of Fire (1983)

It’s getting dark around here so I’m going to light a candle by gushing about a flick that fascinates the heck out of me, 1983’s EYES OF FIRE. This one has come up a bunch of times on these pages over the years and every time it does, I declare I’m going to watch it again immediately and then I usually don’t. That is because the thought of it stirs up some freaky unease in me and I mean that as a compliment towards its effectiveness. It’s been feathering the inside of my mind more than usual lately after seeing THE WITCH so the other night I returned to it again only to find that its spell on me has lessened exactly zero percent over the years. There’s something so elemental and mystical about EYES OF FIRE that even on the occasion that it sports garishly dated video effects, it somehow makes them work. And there’s something so primal going on that the entire experience of watching it feels like a forgotten memory from another life being unearthed. One thing that I think EYES OF FIRE excels past THE WITCH in, is convincing the viewer of the endless depth and open, uncharted nature of the forest its story nests in. Whereas THE WITCH has a definite (and comparatively comfortable) sense of a home base, EYES OF FIRE makes you feel dazed and lost and scrambling in the middle of nowhere.

When I was a critter nothing scared me more than anything concerning big bad Satan. That slippery dude was lurking behind every corner back in the spook-aholic seventies. As I’ve grown older those fears have become less potent. Sadly, a lifetime of witnessing holy rollers spewing more venom than any invisible demon has weakened my trepidations concerning ol’ Scratch (if only I could sue the Bible thumpers for diluting my DVD collection with their relentless overplay). Luckily EYES OF FIRE is a movie that knows exactly how to leap frog over my skeptic (read exhausted) view of religion by presenting evil as a force that is a fundamental part of nature itself (for example, a fox isn’t evil but if you are a bunny he might as well be). More importantly (and this moral concept can be found in many a horror flick), evil actions leave a residue that breeds more evil in the future and places that have tasted an excess of misery turn bad. That’s not superstition, that’s science!

IN EYES OF FIRE a group of pioneers are cast out of their village (sound familiar?) and must fend for themselves in an unwelcoming frontier world. It’s a large group (that’s sure to dwindle) and two of the main players include an adulterous priest bent on spreading the good word (that he fails to follow) and a talented witch working overtime to clean up his mess. In other words, the person who puts on false airs of piety causes all the destruction and reaps all the rewards and the truly spiritual one quietly saves the day and gets shafted. My how things haven’t changed. To escape a tribe of marauding Indians they venture into a cursed valley that they know the superstitious (respectful) Indians won’t follow them into and as you might expect, learn that maybe they don’t know everything. The disgraced priest even has the brass-ball hubris to suggest he can “save” a young Native American orphan through baptism but a bark-faced witch and a gaggle of naked tree spirits let him know that the local beliefs are about to become way more pertinent.

EYES OF FIRE is a unique movie though I’m sure much of what makes it special to some will be seen as drawbacks to others. It’s a low budget affair but that helps to keep it both grounded and undomesticated. You don’t sense a Holllywood vibe anywhere and the un-caged atmosphere feels both freeing and dangerous. It has always seemed to me sort of like an educational historical film you’d see in junior high school that goes horribly wrong. Which is not to say that there are not more than a few moments of incredible beauty, some documentary natural, some arthouse surreal. As I said above, there are a few wonky moments of dated effects but they come off as mostly charming and may even help the viewer jump backwards to an earlier, more wide-eyed and accepting mind-set. The acting is good enough that you’re hardly aware of it and, more often than not it leaves you feeling like a present but invisible observer. And may I please give a shout out to character actress FRAN RYAN who used to pop up as a battle-axe in just about everything from PRIVATE SCHOOL to STEWERDESS SCHOOL back in the day? She rules.

Sometimes when a movie is not available on DVD its reputation is exaggerated simply due to its obscurity but let me tell you, EYES OF FIRE really is an outstanding and poetic horror film. It may be too patient and quirky to garner unanimous approval but those who dig subtle supernatural horror (see again: THE WITCH) should be all over this like mold on corn. In fact, I’m thinking if it had enjoyed a proper release back in the DVD gold rush days its reputation would be comparable to LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH by now (and yep, it would be cherished by a similar crowd). I for one am a devout fan. It hits me in a way that few films do and why shouldn’t it when it’s basically a ginger-led backyard rendition of DAYS OF HEAVEN meets CATHY’S CURSE (only half kidding). The truth is, EYES OF FIRE comes from a place where it seems to be authentically mesmerized by the world that it depicts and that way of seeing things has a knack of swaying the viewer to do the same.

EYES OF FIRE is currently available on YouTube and you should watch it while you can. There’s no guaranteeing it will ever be available any other way and the crime of watching a movie for free is far less than the crime of allowing a piece of art to die. Hey, look (below)! EYES OF FIRE features Black Phillip’s ornery great grand pappy and he’s eating all the books! There’s your true Devil! The true Devil separates man from art and ideas!

The Lords of Salem (2013)

In THE LORDS OF SALEM, Heidi Hawthorne (SHERI MOON ZOMBIE), a radio disc jockey, receives a mysterious package with a record inside. A friend attempts to play the record for her but it merely skips until Heidi places the needle upon it herself. The disc produces a haunting wall of sound that puts Heidi in a sort of a Stendhal syndrome trance while her friend remains unmoved. For whatever reason, Heidi then chooses to share her unusual discovery by playing it on her radio show. As the recording howls and booms over the airwaves, we again observe that the music affects different people in vastly different ways, some scowl and shrug and some stop in their tracks mesmerized. The best way to describe ROB ZOMBIE’s THE LORDS OF SALEM is to say that it’s a movie that operates exactly like that record does. It’s a treasure trove for those that respond to visual and audio stimulation and a barren coffer for slaves of clarity and traditional storytelling. If you fall into the latter category, don’t ever see this movie! I beg you! That whole crossed arms, I just ate a lemon, indignant consumer routine you do; it’s not as cute as you think it is.

ROB ZOMBIE is one of the more significant horror directors working today not because he is the most commercially successful but because he has miraculously held on to and honed his own voice (against a tsunami of chattering teeth opponents, I might add). Love it or lump it, he’s now at the artistic level where accessibility is no longer a concern. Think of THE LORDS OF SALEM as his STARDUST MEMORIES, he’s point blank telling anyone still listening that he’s not truncating his journey just because you dig his “earlier, funnier movies.” That could very well irk folks who can’t seem to connect with his work but stand down horror fans; the genre deserves at least one modern director not slavishly beholden to the sensibilities of mall teens. If you don’t like it, good. Welcome to the world of art! Don’t frown; in this joint you can get just as much stimulation from the stuff you don’t like as the stuff you do! Remember, you must be this tall to enter, keep your hands inside the car and stand ready to see things done in ways that you might not have done them yourself! Here is a bullet to bite. I know it’s not what you want but trust me, it’s what you need…

To me, in one way or another, each ROB ZOMBIE movie has been more interesting than the one that came before it. I’m not saying “better,” I’m just saying more thought provoking. (Actually, I could almost say I like each one better than the last except THE LORDS OF SALEM is not dethroning H2 in my heart anytime soon.) Maybe I’m just a very visually oriented person but there are moments in THE LORDS OF SALEM that I think are more potent and valuable then many of ZOMBIE’s directing contemporaries entire output. I’m not kidding. If an alien came to earth and was like “I’m either going to obliterate from existence that frame from LORDS with the orange fur beast or everything that ADAM GREEN and ELI ROTH ever laid a hand on, I would take zero seconds to shamefully respond “Give me the orange fur beast.”

Not that I have anything against those other guys, it’s just that for my needs they’re comparatively disposable and more likely to indulge audiences rather than shepherd them anywhere new. If I ever missed HATCHET, I suppose I’d just watch MADMAN whereas I don’t think there’s anything I could trade ZOMBIE’s imagery for regardless of how much it might be inspired by existing material. He’s just a brilliant visualist, end of story and sorry, that means something to me.

“But Unkle Lancifer!” you might be saying while taking off your spectacles and cleaning them with an embroidered handkerchief, “I don’t care for his writing! His dialogue is trite and like many horror aficionados, I’m an absolute stickler for dialogue!” Here’s the thing, I think his writing is fine and moreover, hold onto your tea cup Oscar Wilde, when it comes to the expression of horror, I don’t think the written word is paramount. “Clay face man walks goat in graveyard” is not much on paper but trust me, visualized it’s a whole different crap-your-pants kettle of fish.

I promise you, I didn’t salute every flag ZOMBIE hoisted. Remember when I was talking about the EVIL DEAD remake and I was saying that it was well built but failed to conjure up a believable presence of malevolent mojo? LORDS is the flip side, its malevolent mojo is indisputable but its structure could stand a few more laps around the gym. I’m not buying the SHINING-style days of the week title cards as framework. As in my actual life, I don’t care what day of the week it is and it’s really no less corny than showing a clock spinning. If you are dubious about SHERI MOON ZOMBIE playing the lead, I’m not going to totally disagree. I think she’s wonderful, a one of a kind character actress, she made an indelible mark in DEVIL’S and she broke my heart in HALLOWEEN. Still, I feel like this movie needed somebody that you didn’t intuitively predict was scrappy enough to wiggle out of whatever. It’s noble to put forth a different type of protagonist but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think some of the film’s erosion themes aren’t blunted by that choice. Do you know who would have been perfect? FAIRUZA BALK! Think about it. Before you agree just know that my answer for every casting quandary is FAIRUZA BALK and I may be subconsciously judging SHERI MOON on her hair.

Here’s the thing though, the most important thing, after the movie was done I went to the restroom in the theater and something about the place felt wrong. The overhead fan was acting up, singing a crazy womp-womp LYNCH-ian dirge and the lights were blinking an indecipherable code. Half my head was still in the movie and that’s my idea of success. True, I missed the emotional punch of H2 (if you didn’t feel anything during Annie’s death scene, congratulations you’re a sociopath) and I admit that I prefer my ZOMBIE a little more stompy. And yet LORDS certainly constructed a hazy, mad malaise that wasn’t so easily wiped off my windshield. Those who get frothy at the mouth minimalizing ZOMBIE’s vision can sleep well, LORDS‘ adamant ambiguity gives you plenty of space to dig in your talons. All I know is that my trusty specter detector was reading some true, undiluted horror on the screen. And when I say “horror,” I don’t mean the pandering power fantasy kind, the giggly, popcorn sleepover kind or the logo strewn, fan bought collectible kind used to spackle over identity chasms and make one feel all safe and special. I mean the unpleasant, corruptive, soul-siphoning kind that has no interest in patting you on the back. No, LORDS doesn’t deliver the rousing cathartic thrills horror fans are looking for instead it offers something most horror fans have little taste for at all, actual horror.

Black Christmas (1974):: Do You See What I See?

I suppose it’s possible to trudge through the holiday season without watching BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) but why on Earth would anybody want to do such a thing? Viewing murder and mayhem in celebration of December 25th may seem like bad taste verging on sacrilege to some, but I’d argue it’s more appropriate than a sled load of sappy modern X-Mas movies bent on selling you the idea that having your every indulgent fantasy realized is the reason for the season. Keep your shopping malls, Christmas should be spent in an old dark house surrounded by snow waiting for the appearance of you don’t know what.

BLACK CHRISTMAS, like Christmas itself, focuses on a pregnancy (although this one will end in abortion rather than the son of God) and if that’s not enough to convince you of its fittingness, it’s also got folks with horrible communication skills cursing like sailors and abusing alcohol. Like any holiday gathering, it’s equal parts hilarious and maudlin and yet you don’t need to travel to reach this snuggly destination! Trust me, Jesus would tell you himself if he wasn’t too busy crying his eyes out about the greed-driven travesty his birthday has become that he’s more comfortable being associated with BLACK CHRISTMAS than “Black Friday” (Though truth be known, his favorite horror film remains CARRIE).

BLACK CHRISTMAS has no problem collecting laurels for including tropes that would become ubiquitous years later but its brilliance is worthy of far higher praise than “first out of the gate.” This is no mere sorority house hack n’slash, and ultimately its most essential similarity to HALLOWEEN is that it’s labeled “minimalist” when it’s anything but. The late BOB CLARK built a psychological maze with no clear exit and more primary to its personality than its relationship to any forthcoming body count flick is its unspoken crush on ROSEMARY’S BABY. C’mon, the creepy boyfriend, the invasion paranoia, the raking of religion’s chestnuts over an open fire. What separates BC from the slasher pack and even its own remake is that darn unwanted baby and its mother Jess’s unyielding plans for it. Pretending BC is only an under recognized trendsetter ignores everything that makes it so strangely haunting and difficult to pin down.

Jess, as played by otherworldly beauty OLIVIA HUSSEY (who had just given birth before shooting), is admirable but notably aloof. She knows exactly what she wants, offers no apologies and attempts at swaying her are useless. She’s going to have an abortion and not only does her boyfriend have no say in the matter, he’s lucky she deigned to inform him in the first place. We’re on her side, she’s too stalwart not to align with, but held up against the history of horror heroines, she’s comparatively cold. Jess is going to do what Jess is going to do. Here’s another “final girl” who doesn’t fit the faulty “virgin lives” theory and doesn’t her regality make you feel like a cad even bringing it up? She shows no outward signs of feeling torn about her stance and it seems neither her boyfriend nor the universe she lives in can handle that. The harassing phone calls the sorority house has been receiving get more and more personal and accusatory and the holiday itself, honoring a holy birth, inaudibly sings a preachy Oompa Loompa song in her ear. There’s a growing presence in the house to match the one in her body and it seems devoted to the act of shaking her fortitude.

Whether Jess deserves to be raked over the coals for her adult decision is beside the point, horror is under no contract to be fair and understanding. It’s no accident that nearly every seemingly random act of brutality that occurs will wag a finger at her. The staple-kill that binds this volume together involves Clare (LYNNE GRIFFIN), who bawdy Barb (MARGOT KIDDER) refers to as “The poster child for virginity.” Clare is strangled in a plastic bag (a mockery of contraception?) and propped in a motherly pose in a rocking chair with a rotten baby doll in her hands (I’m assuming that’s the same doll briefly glimpsed earlier in the film trapped in a birdcage). Boozy Mrs. Mac climbs into the attic womb and is gauged on a hook. As Jess cherishes the cherub faces of innocent carolers, Barb is penetrated with a symbol of fragile uniqueness, a crystal unicorn (while a death skull observes above.) “Like having a wart removed,” Jess hears as she clings to the phone’s umbilical cord. The granny voice isn’t just quoting a conversation between Jess and her unborn baby’s father Peter (KEIR DUELLA), it’s backing up his condemnation. She’s being punished all right but is it because of her decision or because she fails to broadcast the required level of socially sanctioned maternal emotions?

We’re meant to suspect the Biblically named Peter. He bashes a piano in a rage and CARL (PROM NIGHT) ZITTRER’s shivery understated score echoes his tantrum throughout. He calls Jess a bitch, stalks about the premises and is filmed in menacing shadow. He does everything short of chomp on a red herring sandwich. But this stubborn to confirm anything film does gift us at least one solid fact, that Peter’s hands are as clean the ones on Jess’ sweater. After being led to believe that the horror is over with Peter’s death, we linger to learn that the squealing beast still exists (is resurrected in a way) in his nest upstairs. Our last glimpse of Jess and Peter together is a curious one and it more than a little resembles Michangelo’s masterpiece “Pietà” which depicts the ultimate pure mother Mary cradling her mourned son.

BLACK CHRISTMAS would remain a stunning movie even if CLARK had followed advice and tagged Clare’s boyfriend Chris (ART HINDLE) as the culprit, but by sticking to his guns and allowing the killer to remain ambiguous, he lifts the tale into the arena of the poetic uncanny (where it’s felicitous roommates with HALLOWEEN.) Our killer Billy could be anyone, could be anywhere. He is free to change forms each time you watch. Sometimes I imagine due to a few shots of a framed record that Mrs. Mac made with her sister (The MacHenry Sisters!) that Billy is her estranged nephew. With his judging, all-seeing-eye he might be a stand in for the notably absent Santa Claus or even God. Is he giving voice to Jess’s raging to be born baby or is he a physical manifestation of her suppressed guilt? Neither and both. Shadowy silhouette killers are nothing new but CLARK’s representation delivers a singular identifying shard, Billy’s intense penetrating eye; a cinematic pitfall into a bottomless chasm of meaning. If the frequent point-of-view shots place the audience inside the head of the killer, then the stark flashes of Billy’s eye amounts to the viewers catching a glimpses of themselves in a mirror. If Billy can indeed be anyone then that includes us; the judgmental, voyeuristic audience.

I’ll never be able to explore every room of this address. I didn’t even mention my favorite character Phyl (ANDREA MARTIN) the heart (and co-patriot observer) of the joint, who I suspect CLARK had similar affection for since she’s granted an off-screen kill. You probably don’t want to get me started on JOHN SAXTON, especially if I’ve had some eggnog; it can be embarrassing. I’m moved by the plight of Clare’s father and it kills me when he gets hit in the face with a snowball. Then there’s that little girl’s worried mother and the volunteers braving the cold for a literal search for lost innocence in the park. Luckily we get some comic relief thanks to Sergeant Nash (DOUG McGRATH) and his limited knowledge of sexual terms. You could devote a whole book to KIDDER’s Barb and her shenanigans. Maybe I’m biased and when am I not? BLACK CHRISTMAS just happens to take place in a space that reminds me of my grandma’s seventies-era abode and it’s occupied by people who look like I remember they did while my favorite X-mas memories were being carved in my head. Even the posters on the girl’s walls enthrall me.

Let me close by giving a final more definitive shout out to OLIVIA HUSSEY’s Jess who I think is often shortchanged. No, she’s not a warrior badass and yes, Sidney Prescott in SCREAM was probably referring to her when she complained of those who are “always running up the stairs when (they) should be running out the front door.” Still, she’s a sleeping giant in the horror heroine department for so fully claiming ownership of her herself from introduction regardless of how she might be perceived by Peter, Billy, Santa, God or us. Appraising a character on the strength of their personal convictions rather than their defensive fighting skills? Jesus would totally approve.

Halloween (1978):: Death and the Maiden

The first time I saw Michael Myers’s face (mask, really), I turned (sprinted, really) away. It was during a review for HALLOWEEN on SISKEL & EBERT and it was just a clip but I had to leave the room and shake his visage from my mind by jumping up and down. His image is now so familiar (especially this time of year) that it takes some effort for me to recall just how alien and menacing it was upon first view. I had no knowledge of whom or what he was within the story, no idea of how iconic his likeness would become and certainly no inkling of his countenance’s debt to Captain Kirk. I saw a white face with hollow black eyes and it almost appeared as if it were floating in the darkest of space. He was a levitating skull and skulls don’t have to speak to say loud and clear, “Poison, death, run.” Some primal million years old memory stored in my DNA awoke and manipulated my legs as if they were connected to marionette strings. (My cat feels the same way about the vacuum cleaner). Some movies are bigger than movies; some movies unknowingly chant ancient spells. I never wanted to see that face again so I began to seek it out.

To best understand HALLOWEEN (both the film and the holiday) it helps to be a certain age, somewhere between bright summery childhood and cold mature winter, somewhere on the cusp of adulthood lazily observing the world transform with a crisp mix of excitement and apprehension. It helps to be a teenager in autumn. It helps to be knee-deep in change. Here comes Laurie Strode! She’s carrying a wall of books in front of herself like a shield. She’s different than her friends, more cautious, structured and on guard and those who reductively sum up her identity by her level of sexual experience, are evaluating a universe based on one dying star. Here we have one of horror’s most beloved and identified with protagonists. She is a hero and earns the right to be called one. This status does not fall into her lap because she abstains from sex throughout the course of the film. HALLOWEEN is often cited for forging the spurious template that demands only virgins survive a slasher film and that all those who dabble in sex and drugs must die, a condescension that ignores not only Laurie’s internal journey but also the fact that she gets stoned before showing up at her babysitting gig.

Of more pertinence than Laurie’s presumed “purity” is the way in which she interacts with others and the things that she says about herself. We get the gist that she is considered a “good girl” but it appears she achieves that recognition by fulfilling the wants of others while her own desires are shelved. When she bumps into young Tommy Doyle her reply to his every request is a quick, “Sure, sure, sure” but she has no real answers when he bombards her with, “Why, why, why?” She runs errands for her father; she picks up the slack for her friends, and when she jokes about being a “girl scout” it may have less to do with her moral standing than it does the accommodating, nearly subservient position she holds. More pressing than her love life is Laurie’s subtle struggle with her own acquiescence. HALLOWEEN is a classic that is highly regarded by people of various ages but it’s notable how the film tends to strike a firmer, more formative and enthusiastic impact with audiences members roughly Laurie’s age, young adults naturally beginning to wonder if they are mapping out their futures for themselves or based on the expectations of those (parents, friends) around them.

What is the cost of subverting yourself in order to facilitate everybody else’s goals and agendas? Laurie sees, intuits death. While giving a prompted answer regarding fate in class, death appears; while being goaded and chided by her pals on the sidewalk, death appears; while staring out the window at the drooping result of domestic chores, a full clothesline, there stands death again. The paychecks for not rocking the boat become fewer as the taxes for bottling her true self pile up. Laurie admits she’s interested in a guy named Ben Tramer but as soon as proactive pal Annie clears the path towards him, she recoils and coyly cowards. C’mon Laurie! Really? You know what? If you keep neutralizing and diluting yourself, the invisibility you are conjuring is going to manifest. Do you know what that will be like? It will be like running down the street as shades are drawn and porch lights extinguish screaming “Can’t you hear me?!!!”

HALLOWEEN is frequently made to fess up its debt to BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) but the blank-faced yet somehow accusatory dark figure, the central challenge haunting its heroine to fully take form and the overall poetic, uncanny atmosphere favor even more so CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). Feel free to toast the late BOB CLARK for the P.O.V. shots and the holiday setting but when it comes to the death-and-the-maiden motif, we’re dealing with a theme so firmly rooted that you wouldn’t be off base high-fiving EDVARD MUNCH and EMILY DICKINSON either.

Laurie is locked in place but her tango with mortality will bestow traction, this dance with death is not new. It’s Halloween night and we’re celebrating the end of summer (Halloween is linked to the Celtic “Samhain” which is derived from “Sumuin” which literally means “Summer’s end”). It’s a night when it’s said that the supernatural world and our world overlap and ghosts from the past return (home). It’s a night that honors the dead but more importantly here, in turn, celebrates the bounty that is change and renewal.

“Why won’t anybody help me?!” Poor Laurie, always happy to lend a hand but when she needs one herself she’s own her own. She’s found her voice but nobody is listening. There is a panicky “Boy Who Cried Wolf” element afoot as Laurie discovers how easily she is overlooked and forgotten. She reenters (thanks to a half asleep Tommy) the Doyle house and things markedly change. It’s unfair to say Laurie transforms, rather, she finally allows herself access to what was available to her all along. She stands her ground. We’re about to find out her commitment and responsibility towards others is a vulnerability easily flipped on its head to become a source of power. With two children counting on her, Laurie drops the wavering and amasses control. It’s a struggle, as well it should be, but this “day of reckoning” has been brewing for some time. For the audience, the battle is as cathartic as it is suspenseful. We’re watching someone not assessed too grandly by her peers carve some turf in the world and refuse to roll over. We’re witnessing a rite of passage. Laurie is accepting the challenge to move ahead toward autonomous adulthood. Who would understand that something so benign and mundane seeming as a knitting needle could be a devastating game-changer? Laurie.

Sheriff Leigh Brackett: A man wouldn’t do that.
Dr. Sam Loomis: This isn’t a man.

Is there really such a mystery to the “The Shape”? The very first thing we learn in HALLOWEEN is who he is. He’s that mouth-breathing scamp who severed his sister from her rightful adulthood in the very first scene of the film. He’s frozen in time. He has no voice. You can paint him in as many dark shadows as you want but he’s still the poster child for arrested development. (He even hangs out in the wreckage of his boyhood home.) I’m not saying he’s not scary (nothing is scarier than a dullard with a sharp knife and nothing to lose), I’m just saying we tend to deny that we’ve all seen behind this mask. Haddonfield residents may have molded him into “The Boogey Man” but even as such, he’s chained to the fears of childhood and that is where he belongs. He is something to be outgrown (“Well, kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition”). Laurie is purposely moving away from Michael a.k.a. “The Shape” (a voiceless shadow linked to the past) and toward Loomis (an outspoken eccentric who follows his own compass forward). Although the Myers monster was consciously conceived to be a “blank slate” that audiences could project an infinite amount of fears upon, for Laurie, being a “blank slate” could be, in and of itself, the ultimate fear and the ultimate death. The creature she is battling is the void she might become.

So yeah, I see a coming-of-age film lurking in the shadows of HALLOWEEN. Instead of “The Shape” conservatively punishing the characters for premarital sex and alcohol consumption, I see him raging against the common rites of passage that lead toward adulthood that he has denied himself. Laurie does not live due to the magical power of prudence, on the contrary; she survives because she loosens the grip on her own reigns. I’ve heard it said that HALLOWEEN is a throwback because Laurie must wait for Loomis to save her, a comment that makes me want to partake in a killing spree of my own. It’s an insult to Laurie’s cavalry, the universality of the tale and the fact that this movie, by my estimation is the greatest cinematic collaboration between a man and a woman…ever. We’re talking JOHN CARPENTER and DEBRA HILL (CARPENTER readily identifies the film as “a 50/50 collaboration”.) If you understand HILL provided Laurie’s essence and CARPENTER Loomis’, it’s only fitting that in the end, they team up not to destroy, (You can’t kill the boogeyman!) but to push the destructive darkness back into the night. Loomis has been struggling to be taken seriously too why should Strode have all the (redemptive) fun?

HALLOWEEN hardly needs any endorsement by me. Its artistry is well observed and the long-standing devotion its characters have garnered in fans says everything you need to know. Still, as the years pass, I have become more in tune with just how succinctly the movie captures the spirit of the holiday itself (regardless of the conspiratorial green trees that wave from the horizon). Maybe phantoms don’t actually cross over into our world on All Hallows’ Eve, but I for one can always count on being visited by the ghost of my youth. Halloween and autumn stand responsible for many a child’s earliest awareness of the fleeting stages of life and who didn’t feel the wasp sting the first time they heard, “You’re getting too big for trick ‘r treating!”? (Oh, if only I knew then that adulthood would also mean no one ever telling you again what costume to wear, how late to stay up watching horror movies, what candy to throw away or what demons to dread.) Getting older may include leaving certain things behind but I’ll never let go of Laurie, Loomis and Tommy all trying to make their fears heard, Bob and Lynda both trying to get laid, sarcastic Annie trying to get that butter stain out of her shirt, and her poor good natured pop just trying to keep things in order. And I’ll never lose sight of “The Shape.” He’s not as enigmatic as he once was but maybe that’s because he’s moving closer. That empty, vacant face still scares me, and everyone, no matter their age, is entitled to one good scare.


When I was a kid I didn’t have any question about whether God existed. We had a picture of him in our family photo album. It was a Polaroid of a large head in shadow looking downward through the camera directly at me. Like any decent religious artifact, it elicited equal parts fear and comfort. Eventually I grew older and my fluffy brain began to gel and harden. Caterpillars stopped being my friends, mice stopped operating my innards and the glowing bats that flew over my bed became reflections of car headlights driving by. Eventually the picture of God transformed into a picture of my Dad. What? Yes, the undeniable truth was that my father had simply held the camera below his head, looked down and took a picture of himself. I had misinterpreted the image on a grand scale; my dumb imagination made up the whole thing. My evidence of God was for shit.

I couldn’t help thinking of this disheartening incident while watching RIDLEY SCOTT’S PROMETHEUS. Partially because within the film there exists a giant head that vaguely resembles that old photo and also due to the fact that the movie involves a quest for solid answers that ends in disillusionment. If that were not enough, there are more daddy issues smuggled aboard this ship than a four-year subscription to “Modern Replicant” magazine. A robot is miffed to learn how arbitrary his existence is, one daughter dreams of her dead dad while another wills her pop to croak so she can take over his turf and a molten skinned oldster requests a bigger allowance from a parental being who’d rather deliver a mortal spanking. It’s Christmas day and on everybody’s wish list is something more substantial than blind faith. There may be answers in PROMETHEUS; they’re just unlikely to be the ones we yearn for. As in life, the more you try to focus, the less you see but at some point there is no denying the tentacles.

I saw PROMETHEUS the day it came out, so if this post is late to appear it’s only because I was left nearly speechless. Sure, I’ve talked about it with friends but the idea of cramming the experience into typed words felt untoward. This is a hyper-visual, painterly film and those who gravitate toward dissecting the script and focusing on the narrative alone are missing a great deal. It’s commonplace to accuse anything that is this gorgeous of being empty and relying on style over substance but in my mind, that’s an insult to the infinite power that an image alone can contain. To be honest I was far too immersed and mesmerized by what was before me to be effected by any of the alleged lapses that apparently yanked others out of the film. Maybe that’s just me though, if a character in a movie does something foolish my mind says, “Hey, buddy don’t do that, you’ll be sorry!” not “I wouldn’t do that so therefore this makes no sense.” Which isn’t to say I have not been highly entertained by the mostly intelligent criticism this movie has inspired, it’s just that if you’ve seen PROMETHEUES and you don’t believe that it’s destined for classic status all I can say is…that’s adorable.

Besides the jaw-droppy, awe inspiring overall design and the thought (and controversy) provoking, open to endless interpretation, storyline, we also get an undeniably for the ages performance by MICHAEL FASSBENDER, that is if you can take your eyes off CHARLIZE THERON for a moment which I admittedly had difficulty doing. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes here, I also can tell you that I found myself wincing my face in gleeful fear on at least two occasions and wading in dense dread on several more. Are there things I wish had been done differently? Yep, I’d say several but I wouldn’t trade that for a film created to charm the audience and be forgotten the next day. GUY PEARCE’s character reads (and looks) particularly slack in my opinion but I’ve chosen to play a tiny violin for myself and move on. In other words, count me out of the naysayers club. I’m not simply “choosing to believe” in RIDLEY, I’m choosing to believe that movies don’t have to be subservient to audience expectations to be significant. Those who need everything nailed down for them and desire art without blemishes can scamper to the side away from this rousingly erratic masterwork but I’m going to run straight on forward and happily allow it to fall right on top of me. Youch, that feels good!

The Voluptuous Horror of Alien: Redux

PROMETHEUS opens today around these parts so don’t expect to find me anywhere except the movie theater. Wild facehuggers couldn’t keep me away. RIDLEY SCOTT returning to science fiction is cause for celebration enough but the fact that this movie is going to somehow whisper sweet ALIEN nothings in my ear has put goosepimples on my goosepimples. I know the Internet lives to bleed acid on my sanguine expectations and so away from the laptop I must run!

Since I’m feeling nostalgic amore for all things xenomorphic today I shall shamelessly leave you with a recycled post entitled The Voluptuous Horror of Alien! I realize it is unseemly not to hate everything I do but I’m especially fond of this post because it took a lot of time and work and it ended revealing to me things about ALIEN I’d missed before. Another thing it showed me is that I need to get out of the house more often hence my impending hookey-date with CHARLIZE THERON. Hope everyone has a great weekend and make sure to venture to the theater to support this, let’s face it, momentous event! We’ll be back with something fresh and less representative of my Ripleyphilia tomorrow!

Happy Arbogast Day Vera Sanchez!

We must take a short break from the IAHTKY cavalcade to perform an important Kindertrauma ritual. Today is Arbogast Day! Although Arby has pulled the plug on his superlative blog, it is still necessary that we take part in his “The One I Might Have Saved” thing-a-ma-bob to insure a rich healthy harvest of traumafessions this year. To activate the sacrament I must simply pick one horror movie character that dies on film that I’d rather have not die. Nobody readily appeared in my head but then I remembered that I had just viewed FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 3 again and had decided that I love the character Vera Sanchez as played by CATHERINE PARKS. I’m going to save Vera! It’s a tough decision because her death is pretty awesome and it’s Jason’s very first kill wearing a hockey mask but the heart wants what the heart wants and all that jazz.

I’m sorry but I like Vera way better than that uptight final squirrel Chris Higgins. Vera’s just as easy on the eyes (though her red outfit is a little too match-y-match-y for my taste), yet she is much more aware of the feelings of those around her. She defuses nerdy Shelly’s advances in an understanding way and she’s quick to stroke his ego after they both escape the most dangerous three member gang in the world. Aw, she even looks genuinely touched when she come across a picture in Shelly’s wallet of him and his mom. Plus she’s endearingly flawed too; butterfingers drops the darn wallet in Crystal Lake! Now if I’m going to point Jason’s arrow elsewhere to spare Vera should I point it at Chris? I thought about that but no, the arrow must hit the eyeball of the bitch behind the counter at the grocery store wearing the pig T-shirt who has the gall to tell my Vera, “We don’t accept no green stamps.” Excuse me? Yep, that one deserves an arrow in both eyes. So, there we are done. “He who walks behind the rows” has been fed. Happy Arbogast Day everyone and Vera, don’t ever change!