Ack, can’t we slow this October thing down? This weekend is Halloween and I’m not even properly spooked yet unless you include the other night when I had to get up to use the bathroom and I was super worried that I’d have a heart attack if I bumped into that scary plague doctor dude from that creepy Polish viral video.
To be honest, as much as I appreciate everybody’s enthusiasm for the holiday, sometimes all the desperate commercialism and pumpkin latte caramel spice crap can dampen my fervor and that’s when I need to go old school! In an effort to achieve the desired mood, the other night I realized that I had to find a super rainy movie with lots of howling wind and tons of hoary lightening sound effects. I’m comforted by the fact that nearly every stormy seventies TV offering features the same familiar cracks and crashes. If I’m especially lucky I’ll stumble into something that sports the same stock footage of lightening that appears at the beginning of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.
Happily I stumbled into the 1972 TV movie THE VICTIM starring ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY and holy crap, EILEEN (BAD SEED, BURNT OFFERINGS) HECKART!!! If you’re keeping tabs that’s a score, a score and a double score (I probably just lost some of our younger readers just then to whom I say buh-bye). MONTGOMERY plays a lady named Kate who visits her sister unaware that her sister was recently murdered. The killer decides that they might as well kill Kate too and the whole movie is her running around in an empty house in the middle of the night trying to avoid being murdered. It actually has a very similar premise as this Australian movie I just watched called LADY STAY DEAD (1981) but it also reminded me a bit of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL with its minimalism and limited location.
The ending kinda sucks. I’ll be real. It’s even a little extra frustrating because it could have been easily saved by one line of dialogue. It sort of just leaves you hanging and even though I can’t say it doesn’t give you all the information you need, it certainly doesn’t emphasize it in a satisfactory manner. But that’s just the very end and I can’t negate an entire song just because of one weak note at the close. Otherwise, I absolutely dig the mood and music of this baby and felt it hit the spot. Even though I never caught this corny creeper as a kid, everything about it makes me feel like I’m staying up late and braving the danger zone. If you are of a like mind check it out but I’d say wait till late at night and make sure to pretend your computer is a portable television set. It’s not at all scary but it will put you in the mood to be scared and that tastes a lot better than cinnamon pumpkin spice gingerbread crap.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I enjoy movies and shows that take place in a snowy setting. I’m only half kidding when I say that I believe they allow my eyeballs to air condition the inside of my head. Recently (while waiting for that slow poke CURTAINS DVD to arrive!) I decided that I’d get a quick snow fix by taking in the BATTLESTER GALACTICA (original series) episode “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero” because the only thing better than an ice planet is an ice planet with a robot dog running around on it. I know it’s really just a chimp in a costume but that hardly makes it any less adorable, unless of course, you think about how it was probably no fun for the chimp, who I hope was at least handsomely paid with bananas. Anyway, while watching this snowy episode I began to remember that there was another GALACTICA episode that kinda freaked me out as a kid and so I skipped ahead and watched that episode right afterward. It’s called “War of the Gods” and like “Ice Planet,” it’s a hearty two-parter, though alas it’s sadly snow free and low on chimps.
In this episode a bunch of pilots go missing so our intrepid heroes Starbuck, Apollo and Sheba investigate a planet that looks like California filmed in infrared. There they discover a massive crashed ship and an imposing fellow named Count Iblis who speaks in a grandiose manner and has a shifty glint in his eye. They take him back to the Galactica and that’s where he really starts acting smarmy, telling everybody what they want to hear, making huge promises to all who will listen and even putting the moves on Sheba who is easily half his age.
Perhaps due to having recently experienced an epic holocaust that nearly wiped out the entire human race that was caused by one duplicitous dude’s flimflam, Apollo’s not exactly itching to buy the space equivalent of swampland in Florida. He goes back to the planet they found Iblis on to investigate the wreckage further and is followed by Starbuck and Sheba and a pissed off-Iblis. What Apollo finds in the ship’s mangled debris is never shown but it’s obviously damning evidence against smooth taking Iblis who is particularly loath to have Sheba learn his true colors.
As Apollo begins to out Iblis with other names that he is known to go by, including “Prince of Darkness,” Iblis decides maybe he’ll just kill Sheba to shut him up and curse Apollo’s conscience forever. As he shoots some kind of magic death ray out of his hand towards Sheba, Apollo being Apollo jumps in front of it to save her and is killed himself (What!?!). Seeing his buddy dead throws Starbuck into a heart-wrenching rage that still makes me verklempt and he begins wildly blasting at Iblis and the gunfire reveals Iblis’ real face and it’s a pig face. Yep, a demonic pig face. The effect hasn’t held up very well but neither have I, so I guess we’re even.
Back as a kid in the seventies, I had much to worry about. Would I get that Lego set I wanted for Christmas? (Nope). Would I be good at sports? (Nope). Would I excel at school? (Nope). Was my awkwardness a phase that I’d grow out of? (Nope). Would I become possessed by the Devil? (Still pending). It sounds pretty dumb now but back then Satan was ubiquitous and inescapable and looking back it didn’t help matters that those I looked up to and believed in made it pretty clear he was a valid concern. I remembered feeling somewhat betrayed, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was where I went to get away from such worries. Satanic phantoms were for horror movies and Sunday school; what were they doing here on my favorite show?
Kid-me needn’t to have gotten so wigged out though, as this episode really knows how to clean up a mess; by the time the end credits rolled I was able to jump into bed with no worries. Starbuck and Sheba put Apollo’s dead (Still, what!?!) body in a shuttle and began their sad journey back to Galactica and on the way there, they encounter what looks like a giant sparkling chandelier that welcomes them aboard and bleaches all their clothes a pristine white. The place is crawling with calmingly mellow angel/aliens who are super wise and considerate and very open about not being big fans of Iblis.
They show Starbuck and Sheba Apollo’s dead body and Sheba starts to loose it because she figured what transpired had to be a nightmare. The kindly angel people tell her that she’s the one who was meant to be pushing up daisies on account of her being bamboozled and ask her if she would trade her life for his (Oh no, now I’m getting all verklempt again). Sheba and Starbuck are both like, “Hells yea! We’d switch places with Apollo in a heartbeat because he’s so awesome and we love him.” And so the angels bring Apollo back to life and they don’t even make the other two drop dead as payment because it’s like WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and they just wanted to test them to see if they were assholes or not. So everything works out great, the aliens erase the entire incident from everybody’s head so that nobody has to deal with the ramifications and then to be extra friendly, they shove the coordinates of Earth in their noggins instead. So basically, bite it, Count Iblis.
Look at me trying to sound flip when in actuality I was riveted the entire time and sincerely moved. The tale of good vs. evil, of the temptation to sell out what you value for shortcuts and empty promises and learning that only through selflessness can you regain all that you’ve lost must be as old as the hills but maybe there’s a reason for that. People can say whatever they want about this show, that it’s corny or too kid friendly or too reliant on special effects and is overall simplistic when compared to the more complex re-imaging but simply seeing the expression of awe and gratitude on Sheba’s face when Apollo is resurrected is enough for me.
We sometimes (i.e., always and especially lately) live in a terrible, frightening world. There are plenty of secret pig faces (e.g., politicians, religious leaders) selling pie in the sky dreams if only you hand over your humanity. But as any chandelier worth its crystal can tell you, it’s really our bonds with each other that matter. So again I must say bite it, Count Iblis, you wretched pig face. But I should add that actual pigs are nice and by many accounts as smart as dogs. I’m going vegan or at least I’m not buying a bacon bowl anytime soon.
Note: There’s another trauma lurking inside this trauma, a memory of an even younger me having to go a couple doors down to a strange family’s house to memorize Bible verse and being paid in useless colored ribbons for my efforts. The head of the household was a motorcycle enthusiast (and a cop?) and a poster hung on the wall of their garage depicting a guy on a cycle saying something like, “So what if I’m a male chauvinist pig?” and yes, you guessed it, he had a pig’s face. It was a very disturbing image and frankly these people’s entire house smelt funny and why am I not surprised my parents were fine with leaving me in the care of total (and strange smelling) strangers as long as it meant my being out of their way for a while? I swear anybody who survived being a kid in the seventies deserves a reward and not a useless colored ribbon either. Maybe a Lego set.
How in the world can I still have a trauma to confess after all these years? I’m pretty sure I did go on about this one in our comments section back in the day but I never got around to doing a proper post. That is because when I tried to watch it again, I found it lacking which is weird considering it stars RAUL JULIA whose peepers can usually carry anything. It’s O.K. though, my trauma isn’t about the whole movie; it’s only about the scary opening scene. The opening scene of DEATH SCREAM (1975) remains a tense view for me even if what follows is deadly dull.
The first scene of DEATH SCREAM is based on the real murder of Kitty Genovese who was raped and stabbed to death outside her apartment building as she was returning home for work in 1964. Weeks later her death became national news when it was reported that her attack was witnessed in one form or another by thirty-eight neighbors who did nothing to aid her. Exactly how many witnesses and exactly how much they may have seen would later be debated but the fuse of the story had been lit and public outrage followed. It’s not the numbers or the confirmed details that make this story horrify though, would it be half as shocking if there were only nineteen witnesses? The fact is you could probably turn on the news tonight and find a story that involves bystanders turning a blind eye. I know because watching the news the other day is what made me remember this trauma.
I know I saw this made-for-TV flick when my family was living in California and since we left in ‘76 that means I must have seen it the night it premiered on September 26, 1975. Yay for me! I was eight. Why was I watching this movie when I was eight? (Sorry, I gotta go down this rabbit hole) That means this trauma actually predates my SATAN’S TRIANGLE trauma by a few months and that’s the one I’ve always cited as my first. Hmmm, well, I’m not changing my plea. There’s really no comparison when I think about it. DEATH SCREAM was more of a “horrified by human ugliness”- trauma whereas SATAN’S TRIANGLE was more of a “Oops! Your soul is damned for eternity!” type of thing. Apples and oranges.
Let’s move on before I start telling you about how my mother left me unattended on a beach when I was three. You won’t believe the cast of DEATH SCREAM. Besides RAUL JULIA being a cop whose daughter is HELEN HUNT and whose love interest is KATE JACKSON, they also somehow crammed ED ASNER, TINA LOUISE, CLORIS LEACHMAN, ART CARNEY, DIAHANN CARROLL, LUCIE ARNEZ, SALLY KIRKLAND, TONY DOW and NANCY “Quicker Picker Upper” WALKER (among others) into this cinematic psycho clown car.
The first scene has THE HOWLING’s BELINDA BALASKI playing the role based on Kitty. She’s arriving home from work but must first make her way through an eerily empty parking lot. If you’re a kid from the seventies, this might appear to be any number of cop shows. We’re talking clanking high heels on asphalt and cats toppling over trash cans before a trench coat wearing shadowy figure lunges. What’s especially harrowing about this attack is how many times BALASKI’s character nearly escapes and how that relief is repeatedly denied. Frustration reigns too as we are constantly torn away from her plight and into the apartments of the building’s residents, being untimely forced to hear their weak justifications for inaction.
To be honest, it’s not quite as nightmarish as I recall. In my mind’s eye, I’ve always remembered NANCY WALKER hanging out her apartment window 227-style casually looking down upon the proceedings. Thankfully, it appears I made that creepy LYNCH-vision up in my head. Look, I’m not saying I’d be running down the stairs with grease paint under my eyes carrying a bazooka either but I’d like to think I’d do something. What, nobody’s got a potted plant to throw? All right now I just envisioned a DONKEY KONG style video game where you’re NANCY WALKER dropping plotted plants out of a window to ward off murderers. I share that not to make light of a grizzly scenario but to illustrate how unhelpful my brain constantly is. Now I feel bad. This is based on a real tragedy and all I can think about is how well NANCY WALKER rocked her Zira from PLANT OF THE APES hairdo. I’m going to utilize my side-step to identify another clear current of queasiness; it’s not like they picked nameless shmoes to play the cowardly bystanders in this flick, these are my TV pals! It’s like that famous quote,” The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for both Grants Ginger and Lou to do nothing.”
I’m now hopped up on chewy Spree so it’s best that I go. The scene in question is below. It freaked me out as a kid and what it says about humanity still makes me barf today. Kitty Genovese, I’m so sorry. NANCY WALKER, I miss you.
Happy Father’s Day! Today I submit for your viewing pleasure the very father-tastic made-for-TV flick, 1972’s HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH. It stars the father of JEFF & BEAU BRIDGES, LLOYD BRIDGES, Mary Richards’ father figure ED ASNER, America’s most favorite dad ROBERT REED as a reverend (or father), TONY BILL who fathered one of my favorite movies, FIVE CORNERS, CLORIS LEACHMAN who played somebody who shared the same father as Mrs. Garrett on THE FACTS OF LIFE and the father of Julie’s baby on ONE DAY AT A TIME, MICHAEL LEMBECK.
This sorta reads like a precursor to that show by TORI SPELLING’s pop, FANTASY ISLAND although it’s sadly HERVE VILLECHAIZE-free. It’s about a bunch of rich people who get trapped on an island and thanks to forces beyond their understanding, come to realize how wretched existence is when hopes are dangled in your face like carrots on strings and repeatedly snatched away. If I could throw us all in a time machine back to the days when this flick’s SARTRE-lite rug-pull was still a mind blower, I would but Father Time just won’t allow it. Thankfully, seventies era slo-mo shots and background music brandishing hellish death sirens singing “ahhhh-ahhh” will always retain their eternal creepy power ‘round here. Enjoy, and have a mutha of a Father’s Day.
I have not watched BLOOD SHACK since I was about 15 and the reason for that is because I have always regarded it as the worst film I had ever seen in my life. Remarkably, not even 2009’s THE UNBORN could alter that opinion. The other night though while perusing free viewing opportunities on CRACKLE I noticed it there, staring at me like an orphaned injured kitten and I had to see it again. Could it really be as wretched as my brain recalled? After all, my brain usually doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Well, it turns out it is as bad as my brain said but not nearly as painful. I’ve either lowered my standards considerably or developed a sense of humor. It’s a terrible movie no doubt, but watching it fully prepared for the awfulness makes a big difference. What once filled me with rage now elicits only sympathy. It may be the worst movie ever made but that doesn’t mean it’s the least entertaining.
BLOOD SHACK is hardly a movie. It’s more like a swept together pile of footage. When it first snuck its way into my life, it was wearing a nifty VHS box that made it look like a current eighties slasher flick even though the old coot had been lingering about for more than a decade. Strangely, it seems less dated now than it did back then. For instance, the weird seventies wardrobes which were so alien to my then neon MTV eyes look like standard hipster-wear now. The overall dusty drab feel of the film has benefited with age too. Back then it just read as ratty but now that gritty dustbowl esthetic is pretty much au currant. I hate to admit it but I kind of now dig the near constant horizon line and the off-putting minimalism. Really, the sun flare happy playing field here is not so far off from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Of course that movie had an actual story to tell and didn’t pad its running time with rodeo footage. Yes, rodeo footage.
So my problem with this film is no longer that it is scrap heap cheap and alarmingly barebones, my issue is with the fact that it is an unstructured blob of random pointlessness. It’s pretty clear that there was no script involved and that the director allowed the actors to wing it and wing it poorly. One character wants to buy the shack and that’s all he talks about, one character doesn’t want to sell the shack and that’s all she talks about and one character warns folks to stay away from the shack ad nauseam. The only break from that pattern is provided by a our wispy narrator who sounds like she is breaking out of an eleven-year coma and offers little worthwhile information, unless you felt the need to know that the pony’s name at the rodeo was “Peanuts.” Truth told Peanuts the pony is the lone convincing presence in the movie and I was happy to see that her or his name found its way into the end credits.(Peanuts’ IMDb page HERE.)
The theoretical scares of BLOOD SHACK are provided by “The Chooper” an Indian spirit who protects the title shack with a sword and black pajamas. Chooper tends to yell as if he’s stubbed his toe and is partial to flamboyant arm flailing daytime attacks. My horror starved teenage self found “The Chooper” to be unbearably lame but now I see he’s pretty hilarious. In the same vein, the movie itself is not the whirlpool of depressive ineptness I once thought; it’s actually somewhat lovably maladroit. It made me laugh out loud which is more than I can say for DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.
BLOOD SHACK was directed by RAY DENNIS STECKLER who has acquired a cult following thanks to B-grade goofs like THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES (who stopped living and became mixed up zombies) but even his most devoted followers can be forgiven for drawing a line in the sand against Chooper’s lackadaisical exploits. As lousy as this movie is though, I think STECKLER should be given some credit for stumbling early upon a few elements that would later prove to be highly effective in future better films by other people.
The good news is that I finally after all these years found out what was going on with all that pesky rodeo footage. STECKLER’s original cut of the film was only a merciful 60 minutes long and he was required to add ten minutes more to play the film in drive-ins and theaters. I guess I can forgive that. This is a hyper low budget movie that just barely scrambled itself into existence so no harm, no foul. It’s terribly done in every possible way but somewhat endearingly so and at least it did not cost millions of dollars to make this mess. (What’s your excuse THE UNBORN?).
There’s no way I could recommend BLOOD SHACK and realistically expect anyone to ever take my advise again, so I won’t but I will say that there are tiny sparkles of pure quaintness to behold amongst the sub par, brain numbing wreckage. It’s an annoying fiasco mostly but it doesn’t have a cynical bone in its body and now I find I’ve grown slightly and embarrassingly fond of this crappy movie that I once hated with a passion. I was warned that “The Chooper” would get me and I guess the bastard eventually did. Really, I blame Peanuts.
There’s a re-do of the classic 1973 T.V. flick DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK right around the bend so let’s say we take a closer look at the original. There’s something about this relatively simple tale that allows it to forge a significant mark. The premise, a woman fighting for her existence against tiny, Smurf-sized fiends is on the surface silly and yet the minimal production hits an uncanny tone that feels as old as the hills and bewilderingly familiar. Tiny monsters aside, we’re dealing with a haunted house and a haunted house is usually a prop to depict a haunted mind. There is a bounty of horror movie titles that begin with the cautionary word “Don’t” but none whose suggestion is as difficult to achieve wholly. We can choose not to go in the basement, in the house or in the woods when titles warn against it but the human fear of darkness is planted in our DNA. It’s primal and it’s permanent even if what we dread to find in the blackness alters with age.
For many, the fear of darkness is born in their earliest of memories. It doesn’t come as a surprise that this film would have its strongest effect upon those who viewed it at a tender age. The thing under the bed and the thing in the closet are both given ample room to run and play here. In fact, we have sort of an all-star cast of classic terror instigators, an old dark house, whispering voices, howling winds and ink-black shadows that could easy ensconce our worst nightmares, they all make an appearance before the curtain closes (and when this curtain closes it closes hard.) The childhood horrors traipsing around in this movie are as plain as day, they scatter like roaches when the lights go on but what I think makes the film special are the larger adult horrors that lumber in the background. They’re reluctant, abstruse and somehow even darker.
Sally Farnham (KIM DARBY) seemingly has all of her ducks lined up in a row. She and her upwardly mobile husband Alex (JIM HUTTON) have recently inherited a dream home from her grandparents. While Alex is busy piling up promotions at work, Sally spends her day with her interior decorator, maid and handyman setting up house. Problems arise when Sally discovers her Grandpa’s study in which lies a bricked-up chimney. The handyman warns her that “some things are better left alone,” but she delves just the same. She opens the chimney’s ash chute and peers into an absolute abyss. Now she has inherited something new. Demons have been freed to taunt and take down Sally. Of course nobody believes these entities are real and soon her world is in shambles. Nothing has changed but everything has. Her husband seems suddenly a work-consumed jerk and the house she once loved grows smaller and smaller and darker and darker. Her ducks are frustratingly no longer in a row.
The prune faced whispering gnome gremlins of DBAOTD are certainly memorable but if you were to edit them out of the picture you’d have a story about a woman crashing face first into a wall of denial. I’m not discounting the trolls as nuisances but it’s interesting to note just where the fabric tears in Sally’s life occur and the many loaded symbols the mini-goons utilize to frazzle her.
First of all, it’s obvious that the Farnham marriage is not as perfect as once thought. It turns out maybe Sally isn’t feeling as fulfilled in her set-up as she originally planned. Alex is never around and when he is, he’s barking out orders, mineralizing her needs (and troll concerns) and critiquing her party hosting abilities. Holy crap, she’s a trophy wife in a gilded cage and why did she never realize this before? Spending her husband’s money to replace ashtrays destroyed by goblins doesn’t even fill the void! Sure Alex is on the fast track but where the hell is Sally going? At this rate she could end up trapped, growing old in this house forever! (Note: Alex has some reasonable fears too, like that his wife will pull him into the quicksand with her.)
“Some things are better left alone.” If Sally had just gone with the flow and refused to examine that which she was warned not to, would life had continued on a smooth gnome- free course? Are the walnut headed midgets that hand Sally razor blades, slip her sleeping pills and leave her with gashes in her palms the real problem or just creeps who want to accentuate those that already exist while forcing an accelerated outcome?
It’s easy to conclude that Sally’s “nervous” disposition masks resentment towards her authoritative husband and her unsatisfactory domestic life but that doesn’t explain why her grandfather succumbed to the same demons when he retired to his study. If we are to take the little monsters at their word then they have already explained what is at stake and what Sally needs to fear losing in the dark, namely her spirit. Sally ultimately fears the same thing from her husband, her house AND the creatures, that she will be consumed and lost within them. One might assume that she has not only inherited the knowledge of her dormancy but the dormancy itself. Whose life is she living?
Hope you’ve seen this because now I’m going to talk about the ending. It’s a favorite. Some folks might find Sally’s ineffectualness annoying, but it’s rather the point of the story. Sally looses. Drugged, she puts forth a somewhat valiant effort attempting to fight back by casting light (a camera flash) upon her darkness thriving tormentors and yet still she fails. She is dragged into the chimney and the aid of her husband and close friend are too little and too late. It’s not unlike the conclusion of THE HAUNTING or THE YELLOW WALLPAPER and frankly, I’m all for it. Horror stories are in no way required to be tales of empowerment and conquest. It’s not their job to boost your ego. Please pick another genre if you want to see your fantasies fulfilled.
DONT BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is about a woman who ostensibly has it all. She’s living the dream or at least the dream of 1973 and it’s not enough. The hubby is placated and the rooms are decorated just so but an emptiness, a “darkness” remains. She’s sold herself out really to stand in somebody’s shadow not realizing just how cold and dark shadows can get. There’s a Pandora’s Box element for sure with Sally daring to look where advised not to but what she finds is only the truth exaggerated (and miniaturized). In the end, Sally’s voice joins the chorus of the lost; her spirit forever trapped in a house living a life that is no longer her own. In a weird way though her dilemma is solved and her feeling of disconnect is no longer an issue. Depersonalization cures all. Now she is an integral part of something.
Many who return to DON’T after being traumatized by it as kids find it less than what they remember and there are those who, having heard tale of this flick, track it down only to find it laughable. I can understand that but I wonder if perhaps they are investing too much in the micro-ghouls as literal beings. If you instead read them as representatives of a privileged woman’s swept under the rug internal demons, this is an exceptionally strong outing (especially considering its 74 minute running time and two week shooting schedule.) In the alternate dimension of genuine reality, I don’t believe that Sally was dragged into the chimney to disappear forever but I do believe she indeed lost her battle to find a meaningful place for herself in the world and succumbed to a suffocating status quo, trapped, diminished and ultimately snuffed out like a candle. Whether it’s worse to shrink into a wrinkle-faced troll or transform into “the perfect party host” is up to the viewer to decide.
The weather is getting nice and you are now thinking of betraying the computer that kept you company all winter and taking a walk outside. Don’t bother. The air may be fresh but there are also bugs flying around out there that want to bite you and steal your blood or maybe lay eggs in your hair. Best to just stay indoors and watch VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS, a 1970 Czech film that looks more beautiful than anything going on in your neighborhood. I can say that with confidence even though I don’t know where you live because this movie is perpetually gorgeous from first frame to last. I’m not entirely sure what the hell is going on in it but it sure is something to behold. To call it dreamlike is an understatement, VALERIE is like having ten dreams at the same time that overlap and blend into each other with the ease of a breeze. It’s simultaneously simple and complex and feels like falling into a painting that morphs from one style to another without pause. One moment it’s lush and expressionistic, the other moment it’s gruesome and darkly gothic and then back again.
VALERIE is based on a novel from 1935 and depicts the surreal perceptions of a young girl shedding her childhood and moving forward into a confusing adult world. It reminds me very much of 1973’s LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL with its preoccupation with innocence, corruption and aging. Both films also share a curious protagonist seemingly surrounded by exploitive forces ready to pounce. For Valerie, growing up is essentially the act of learning that monsters are not only real, but they also just happen to be everybody she knows. We’re witnessing a rite of passage of sorts; she is being welcomed to sit at the adult table but it comes with the knowledge that she will be dining with parasitic vampires. We’ve all been there. It’s not all darkness and depravity though, as terrifying as some of the people and situations that Valerie encounters are, she retains a clear adventurous spirit. It’s hard not to like a gal who, when tied to a stake to be burned as a witch, has the moxie to make faces and jeer at the threatening mob. Plus this movie has weasels.
Folks who get frustrated with ambiguity may want to take a pass here. Characters change identities like hats and for every concrete step forward, there is a dizzying step back. Personally I can’t resist a film this visually stunning and I like the idea that with every return trip I may spot something new and understand it a shade more (or not). I’m also rather in love with the soundtrack which is just as haunting and provocative as the film itself. To be honest with you, this is a difficult film to write about. The more you think about it the more it evaporates. All I know is that for a film that runs a mere 73 minutes, it casts a formidable spell that may leave you in a trance like state. I advise watching this movie, but I don’t advise operating any heavy machinery afterward.
I just caught another NIGHT GALLERY segment that I found just as intriguing as the brilliant “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” It’s not particularly scary but it ended up building a little nest of perplexed disquiet in my head anyway. It’s called “Brenda” and it is the second half of the seventh episode of season two. It’s based on a short story by female sci-fi author MARGARET ST. CLAIR. I point out her gender because during a time when most female genre writers hid behind gender neutral pen names, Margaret was all like, “Aw hells no!”
“Brenda” is about a fruit loop named Brenda who could write a book called “How to Lose Friends and Aggravate People.” The girl is a brat, such a brat that she purposely destroys a sandcastle and not just any sandcastle, mind you, but a sand castle constructed by America’s sweetheart PAMELYN FERDIN. Who the hell is obnoxious enough to do that? Brenda is, that’s who! Although I somewhat hate Brenda, her zero concern about popularity and the perceptions of others I find absolutely thrilling to behold. Actress LAURIE PRANGE is way too old to be playing the part but that just makes her behavior appear more outrageously asinine and underlines the aggravated arrested development that fuels the tale.
One day while strolling in the woods and basking in her own awfulness, Brenda bumps into a creature more horrific than herself, is frightened and then profoundly captivated. In fact, she meets my all time favorite type of monster, a shambling pile of mossy tethers who skulks around like Bigfoot. I love swamp monsters! I’m not sure if it stems from the KOLCHAK “Spanish Moss Murders” episode, D&D, or SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT but my admiration is such that I have painted many a portrait of these amorphous archetypal beasts. In other words, Brenda and I are remarkably on the same page at this point of the story. At first Brenda traps the creature in a giant hole and sparks a realization that everything going on here kind of resembles the Kinder-fave movie entitled THE PIT (1981). Eventually she aids in its escape and devilishly leaves her front door open so that the weird thing can follow her home and terrorize her parents in the middle of the night. Hey, I’m starting to like this girl!
After a night of wreaking somewhat passive havoc across the island community Brenda and her parents are vacationing in, the monster goes back to the pit, covers itself in a stony cocoon and hits the hay. Brenda is heartbroken by the creature’s retreat and the knowledge that her family will be splitting soon and may never return. Seasons come and go, a year passes and Brenda returns more mature and less impish and scampy. You’ll find no shocker twist here, just Brenda hugging the stones that represent her once animated friend and declaring her eternal love and affection. I don’t know what to think except that the monster is a physical representation of the self-alienated Brenda’s charged relationship with her own crazy imagination. It goes into hibernation as she becomes more adult but she is thankful and secure in the knowledge that it lies waiting if needed.
In a way I feel this entry is a perfect companion piece to the previously mentioned “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”; I can’t be 100% sure about the address of its final destination but I know it’s on the corner of Lonely Lane and Insanity Street. I love this type of horror/fantasy storytelling; it backs up my theory that if you want to learn what it means to be human, your best source of information is a monster.
First of all, allow me to suggest that if you are up late at night looking for something to watch, yet you feel you can’t commit yourself to an entire film, then the answer to your dilemma is NIGHT GALLERY on Hulu. So there, THAT possible future problem is solved. I know because that is exactly the position I found myself in the other evening and I wish I had just jumped into GALLERY earlier rather than wasting so much time being indecisive. The episode I viewed contained a segment that was perfect for throwing my brain a bone to gnaw on as it closed up shop for the night. I’m talking about season two, episode five “The Phantom Farmhouse/Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” “Phantom Farmhouse” is fine enough but it’s “Silent Snow” I want to trudge through here.
Actually for more on that NIGHT GALLERY segment, just jump on over to the always necessary HAUNTED CLOSET over HERE ( & watch it HERE!), that way I can focus on an earlier version (‘66) that I found which is of equal interest. It can’t boast an ORSON WELLES narration and the acting may be a bit off but what it lacks in polish it makes up for with sheer creepiness. As it turns out both tellings were directed and adapted by the same guy GENE R. KERNEY so don’t feel you’re stepping on toes if you prefer one to the other. The NIGHT GALLERY version is certainly slicker but who can deny the unquestionable emotional power of black and white? Check it out in two parts below…
NOTE: The end kinda cuts off the final line: “We’ll tell you the last most beautiful and secret story. A story that gets smaller and smaller, that comes inward, instead of opening like a flower. It is a flower that becomes a seed, a little cold seed. Do you hear? We are leaning closer to you…”
How about that? It’s like an after school special directed by DAVID LYNCH with a casting assist from JOHN WATERS. It’s wild how closely it resembles the later version yet has a distinguishable vibe all it’s own. After viewing both renditions I thought I’d read the original 1934 CONRAD AIKEN story too (find that HERE). The story ends with this even more provocative line: “The hiss was now becoming a roar-the whole world was a vast moving screen of snow-but even now it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep.” Like the snow it speaks about, I couldn’t get the story itself out of my head. What is going on here? Is the kid going crazy and if so, why does crazy sound so fucking great to me? I sense that I should be feeling a dread that the protagonist is slipping away from reality and yet the words used are so exuberant that I can’t help mentally congratulating the child on successfully adopting the fine art of escape.
I’ll blame the world for my reaction, disasters both natural and man-made, a twisted soulless culture that worships the blatantly superficial, pure hate masquerading as morality …VICTORIA JACKSON. Ah, the snow, is the snow really so bad in comparison? The snow truly is beautiful and clean and it washes it all away. Some folks rashly believe that the kid in the story is buckling under advancing schizophrenia (or autism), but I just see a good ol’ fashioned dissociative disorder galloping up to save the day. School sucks and that child wasn’t born to entertain his parents, why not take a little snowy holiday in his brain? Am I just playing Devil’s advocate when I say that there’s not much wrong here and what a lucky dude for finding a trap door? If you ask me, it’s as beautiful as a Tommy Ross poem. O.K. so there’s a scary PINK FLOYD “Comfortably Numb” element as well, but did someone say sleep? Sleep sounds nice. Maybe it’s me but I detect a valiant rejection of the mundane, a refusal to accept the norm and the understandable desire to commission beauty to counteract an ugly world. Reality shmeality I always say. No, serious I do always say that.
Truth told I had my own “secret snow” as a kid. On a trip to Universal Studios I discovered a machine that when activated with a quarter poured hot red wax into a mold and after a couple minutes of cooling, dispensed a too fragile, wax Frankenstein figurine. Now this was in grade school when horrible children brattier than even myself would call me Frankenstein because I had a scar on my forehead so this figurine doubled as an identity totem. Whenever a situation got scary or worse, lethally boring, I simply imagined a hole on the top of my head and red wax being poured into my body. It would start in my toes and rise until it started spilling out of the crown of my head. Another problem solved! While filled with my imaginary wax I could bare just about anything and the problems of the day would Calgon blur away. Oh, Frankenstein figure why’d you have to go and break into pieces? I guess I could have survived without my secret but is there anything more important than finding something in life that allows you to forge a private alliance with yourself? It’s entirely possible that I am missing the whole point of the story, on the other hand the snow falling on my keyboard is encouraging me to think whatever I like.