Category Archives: Horror Reels

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The Indefinsibles: Exorcist III (1990)

Gabby: The Indefinsibles investigated a mental asylum to defend…

Jeremy: The Exorcist III. IT’S FINE!!!

Jeremy: If you’re new to this site, the three of us get together and each pick a movie we want to defend set around a certain theme. Well, usually around a certain theme – ’cause we’re getting back together for the first time in 2017 with a free-for-all. First up is my pick, the theatrical cut of Exorcist III.

I wanted to pay tribute to William Peter Blatty, who passed away earlier this year. He’s responsible for some of the greatest horror stories of the 20th century. On top of that, as an American, I was looking for a film that reflected my current fears about the mess we’re currently in. Exorcist III is a perfect fit for that: it’s about making sense of the world while surrounded by the evil we’re capable of.

Another reason I have a particular fondness for it: I was twelve when this premiered on HBO. This was soon after my parents realized I wasn’t starting fires or performing unnecessary surgery on the pets and let me start watching whatever I wanted. This wasn’t my first R-rated movie or anything – but possibly my first full-on R-rated horror movie. Exorcist III rocked my world.

At the time, the first hour of this film felt like a living thing… sinister and coiled, waiting to strike. exorcist-4I had trouble getting to sleep for days afterward. And even back then, movies rarely scared me.

As an adult, the seams from all the studio-enforced reshoots are obvious, but the first hour is almost without equal among horror movies – especially the way it balances characters, themes, and scares. And man, there are scares here.

Brett: This is the second time we’ve watched an Exorcist sequel that would be a better movie if not tied to the Exorcist franchise.

I’ve avoided the movie for years. Bad reviews and tales of the forced-at-gunpoint reshoots. The story of a cop chasing a copycat serial killer who turns out to be a ghost would be a major second act reveal… if it wasn’t obvious that it’s about g-g-g-ghosts right off the bat with the title.

It’s a pretty decent movie, but it has a pacing issues.

I remember seeing an interview with a horror writer in the ’90s. She had built her career from werewolf and monster stories, but she was just starting a new series about serial killers. She said serial killers were the monsters for the ’90s. She had her finger on the pulse there. I feel like there was a hell of a lot of serial killers in the ’90s.

Jeremy: When we were planning this round of movies, you mentioned never having seen this.10626_1 Based on the previous movies we’ve covered, I figured you’d be lukewarm on it. I get the impression that supernatural horror isn’t your thing.

I think you – and just about everyone else – would prefer Blatty’s original novel, Legion, or his director’s cut. There’s not an exorcist or exorcism in sight. It’s much closer to being a supernatural mystery the whole way through, without all the cheap theatrics in the theatrical cut.

Brett: I would be interested in seeing the original cut. Isn’t it available somewhere?

Jeremy: It’s available with the Scream Factory re-release. The excised footage could be only recovered from VHS tapes of the dailies, so the movie constantly cuts back and forth between a beautiful Blu-Ray remaster and rough – even by VHS standards – 4×3 footage.

If nobody minds having it spoiled, we can discuss the differences.

Brett: I don’t mind. I am curious to know what tinkering went on.

Gabby: Before we move on, I wanted to add that I really like supernatural horror when it involves more than jump scares. And this movie definitely has more on its mind, though I enjoy the supernatural aspects of it. It would have had an easier time being its own thing without the title. I enjoy some of the ties to the original through exorcisms and exorcists (when not included the last section of the film). It gives an added layer of unease and a unique link between the victims of the killer.

Jeremy: So let’s talk about the changes. The opening scenes have more character beats and clearer exposition for where the story was originally headed. It’s established that Brad Dourif was Father Karras before he sacrificed himself at the end of The Exorcist.

Jason Miller, who originally played Karras, is not in the film. This recasting – and the addition of Father Morning – comprise most of the reshoots. The basic idea – that the Gemini Killer is possessing senile patients to do his work – is the same. The difference is the spirit of the real Father Karras moved on the night he fell down those steps. All that remains inside his body is the transplanted soul of the Gemini Killer. There’s no need for an exorcism or all the ridiculous pyrotechnics in the theatrical cut.ishot-951

In both versions, the Gemini wants Kinderman to go to the press and report that the killings have resumed. After the attack on his daughter (holy shit, that scene…), Kinderman returns to the Gemini’s cell and just unloads his revolver into him. He doesn’t say a word. Cut to credits.

There’s probably something missing here – because not all the footage could be recovered – but I think you’re supposed to infer that the only way to stop the Gemini is to kill him. Similar to how Karras sacrificed his life in the original film, Kinderman is most likely sacrificing his career, if not his freedom.

It’s a better movie, but the ending is as anti-climatic as the theatrical cut is overblown. The problem with both cuts is the same: once Kinderman discovers “the man in cell 11,” most of the second hour is the killer telling us how he did it. There’s more procedural work in the Director’s Cut, but each version shifts into low gear and rarely gets back the suspense of the first hour. There are a few exceptions, like the attack on Kinderman’s family. And, of course, the hallway jump scare. Probably the best jump scare there is.

Brett: That’s a good jump scare, mostly because it’s not a fake scare (like a cat or something) and it gives our imagination a gory image to invent. I was impressed with the restraint the movie shows, considering they could have coated the walls with blood.

Jeremy: I love the restraint here, which is something I want from horror movies aiming to scare you. It’s one of the main reasons the film remains creepy on repeat viewings. I’m curious if that was because Blatty knew he couldn’t top Friedkin or this was just Blatty being allowed to do things his way.

It’s shot more like a film from the ’70s. Paced that way, too. That out of time feeling adds to the unsettling tone. Even if this isn’t as flashy as The Exorcist, it’s effective at getting under your skin.

Gabby: I also agree about the restraint. Very impressive. Especially from a sequel to a horror movie.

The first hour is so well-balanced, I agree Jeremy. The characters are defined and I did really jump at one point (yes it was that jump scare). But it was more the unsettling feeling it evoked that is somewhat similar to some nightmares I have had.

I agree with Brett in what he said about restraint and how it lets our imaginations get to run riot. Blatty understood something really important with the human psyche, we can dream up the most terrifying things with our imaginations. And the film lets you go down that road on your own, by setting up something other than ‘horror’ and letting you fill in the blanks.

As Jeremy said, the ’70s pace does add that unsettling tone. 4883702_l1There is sometimes a slight lingering on scenes when they seem like they have ended, with a moment or two in silence. When Kinderman is with the dead body of Father Dyer for instance. There are a just a few moments near the end of the scene added where someone else might have cut away. Kinderman is standing with his hands together. He looks uncomfortable, scared, angry, grief-stricken and the silence in the room allows you to know there is a lot more to come.

Jeremy: I love the sound design. This is a surprisingly effective movie to put on to show off your sound system. The scene you mention wouldn’t work half as well without the silence between the dialog, which grows into a low, rumbling thunderstorm as the scene builds. Like you said, it’s more muted than you would expect from a film like this.

Now let’s get to something that isn’t muted. What does everyone think of George C. Scott? Too much ham?

Brett: It feels like the right amount for the material.

Gabby: At times, it is too much. But I like it when he is bubbling away before he shouts and slams the desk. It might have been more effective if he had got close to boiling but didn’t. And then eventually explodes.

Jeremy: One of the big draws for me here is George C. Scott as Kinderman. Even on paper, it’s a big character. But you’re right – there are choices he made where less would’ve been more. Most of that is in the scenes immediately after Father Dyer’s murder, when Kinderman is a wreck.

The majority of the time, it works. And I love this character. He’s a good man with a hard job, and his life is obviously not just the job. He’s world-weary, not burnt out. There’s love in his life. Almost any other writer would make Kinderman a divorced, deadbeat dad with a dirty secret the Gemini could exploit.

I appreciate that Kinderman is allowed to be an older man. He’s likely close to retirement, but it’s never mentioned. (Something else I appreciate.) I see a little of my grandfather in the character – at least in terms of a man who used to be able to hold it all in, but these days the tears and frustration and love just pour out.

Also, how crazy is it that this movie starts with two older men marking the time since they lost a friend? Not only does George C. Scott headline a movie in 1990, there’s only two speaking parts, I’m pretty sure, from characters under 25. That’s a statistical anomaly for a Hollywood movie courting the usual Friday night crowd. I‘m guessing we got that (and everything else you wouldn’t expect from a movie in 1990) because of the first movie’s clout, along with the trainwreck that was Exorcist II – which I’ve still never seen, despite owning the entire series.

Brett: I have seen video reviews of it online. That seems to be close enough for me.

Jeremy: I’ve avoided reading or watching anything about it. I know there will come a night where I can’t sleep. In that restless, magic time, around 2 a.m. – when bad ideas suddenly become good ideas – the time will be right to put it on. When that time comes, I want to go in fresh.

On the Scream Factory special features, Brad Dourif starts to talk about Exorcist II, hesitates, and then calls it a piece of shit. It’s glorious. Speaking of Dourif, are there any other performances we want to talk about?

Brett: Okay, Dourif. d36a17ccd46bb20653fa6607a1970474I felt his performance matched Scott’s pretty well. That’s probably why I didn’t feel Scott was over the top, he matches the person who he spends the most time talking with. I found using two actors to portray what is essentially the same person a very interesting choice.

Jeremy: It works way better than it’s supposed, given the crazy story behind it all.

Brett: What was the story? I thought it was a stylistic choice.

Jeremy: From the way Dourif tells it, not at all. Again, Dourif is originally cast to play the Gemini Killer, whose spirit is in Karras’ vacated body. The studio decides to recast the role entirely and have Jason Miller return.

I’m guessing the studio felt like someone from the first movie had to come back. It’s actually a studio note I get, at least to a degree. A lot of the movie hangs on Kinderman’s affection for Karras. There’s a better chance audiences will share that affection with the original actor in the part.

Brett: Ahhh, good old studio interference…

Jeremy: Sadly, Miller was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism, and he couldn’t do all the speeches and long takes. Then, and only then, is Dourif brought back in. That’s how we get what’s in the movie. Jason Miller is Karras – the actual Karras – but when the personality of the Gemini comes forward, it’s Dourif.

It all works surprisingly well. The “legion” isn’t just the psych ward as originally intended, it’s also the warring forces inside Karras. That lends some emotional stakes the original cut didn’t have. On the other hand, the Father Morning scenes don’t work. Not in the slightest.

Brett: No, that’s a disaster. You can see the new pages of the script right on the screen when he shows up. Hell, you can tell the ink is still wet on those pages.

Jeremy: The only benefit to the reshoots is Kinderman’s arc. He gets a moment with the real Karras. Also, the “I believe…” speech pays off Kinderman’s existential crisis at the beginning of the film: he can only rationalize evil in a world without gods or monsters.

At least, that’s the way I read it. Even if I like some of the theatrical cut’s climax, it wraps everything up too neatly. Removing all the exorcism noise but keeping some of the emotional payoff would be my preferred version of the film.

Gabby: I agree, I think that speech is powerful and respectful to the character. It would have been great to have an ending that had the balance you suggest Jeremy.

Brett: I kind of thought we didn’t get studio interference like this anymore, but Rouge One and Suicide Squad are two major examples.

Jeremy: Really? I see it as being worse – or at least more public. And it seems more common that directors get taken off their films during post-production. Take Rogue One. Rumors suggest that a third to a half of that movie is reshot footage, possibly made with or without Gareth Edwards’ involvement.

From what I can gather, though, Blatty did all the rewrites and reshoots here.

Brett: I hadn’t seen many stories for a while and then last year we got two major examples. One turned out okay, the other was a disaster.

Jeremy: I’m curious how much of that has to do with the modern concept of reshoots.

Brett: A fair amount I suspect. Marvel seems to have a pretty good reputation for letting things happen.

Jeremy: Just the fact that almost every big movie just pencils that into the budget, like it’s an inevitability that weeks of reshoots will happen. But, yeah, Warner Bros. seems especially bad about panicking over rough cuts and taking insane measures such as we see here. This is a studio that spent $30-$40 million on an Exorcist prequel, then spent as much money again to reshoot the entire film. And if I understand things correctly, Suicide Squad was finished by a company that makes movie trailers. That’s insane.

Brett: And to what end? They always seem to lose. Save for Rogue One, I can’t think of a situation where heavy-handed interference led to a better movie. Wizard of Oz? I guess?

Maybe when it’s a big hit you don’t hear about it.

Gabby: The Wizard of Oz comes from the era of the studio movies. Where studios ran everything and had to be really smart to try and outmaneuver the inevitable. It still ended up as a perfect movie, despite all of that in the background. We are supposed to be in a more free society artistically speaking and democratically by now. But I feel that movies in the American New Wave were less oppressed than some now. Let’s hope for a further rise of the independent movies and a growing group of diverse and liberally minded studio executives to give us more studio films like Moana and Frozen. Films that know what they want to say and use the studio system to further it, by hiring cultural historians and artists for instance, to form something powerful.

Jeremy: And I hope we get a clear understanding of what Rogue One was before the reshoots. I have a feeling it was rougher around the edges but had a more personal vision. It’s a movie I want to cover here. I think it falls under the type of movies we talk about.

And with that, anything to add before we get to our final thoughts?

Brett: I found I liked what this movie wanted to be, but I didn’t love what it actually turned out to be. It’s not bad though, and

Gabby: I think the first half is beautifully made, especially with the slow pacing and the escalation the eerie mood. Even though it has its flaws because of the supernatural elements, I still really like some of those aspects of the movie. Exorcist_III_-_Film_FootageOverall, I really recommend people see this one.

Jeremy: I’m already on record as being a huge fan of this series. It’s probably my favorite horror franchise outside of classic Universal Horror. If the second half was as good as the first, this would make my all-time top ten – a perfect combination of excitement and substance. As far as the movie we got, I still love it. Possibly more so because of its imperfections.

Thanks for reading, everyone. We’ll be back soon with a pick from Brett, Ichi (2008). In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment below. Until then, go watch a movie.

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The Indefinsibles: House II: The Second Story (1987)

GabbyThe Indefinsibles share a wacky dream after watching and discussing Jeremy’s pick…

Jeremy: House II: The Second Story. The second best movie to prominently feature a crystal skull.

We should start with me saying why I picked this movie. I didn’t have a burning desire to cover House II, but I thought it’d be fun to revisit a movie I watched a bunch as a kid, which I haven’t seen since the ’80s. Also, when we were planning this “Summer of Sequels” series, I wanted one of our choices to be outside of the mainstream. This definitely fits the bill: a modest budget, late August release in the summer of ’87 – aimed squarely at pre-teens who probably didn’t see the first House because of its “R” rating.

Also, to my surprise, this turned out to be a big favorite of yours, Brett. How did this play for you now?

Brett: This is one of those movies that was on during a Saturday afternoon during my youth. I had no idea what it was, but we watched it and it was amazing. I thought I had maybe missed the earlier adventures of our heroes (Jesse and Charlie, two of the most ’80s best friends ever) but as it turned out I could follow it without seeing the first movie. As it turned out, this was the greatest achievement of Western Culture, possibly of all human endeavor. Okay, hubris aside, there are some issues with this movie. The role of women is non-existent, and the body builder (playing a pre-historic man) might as well be called Cotton Eye Joe.

Because where does he come from and where does he go? Also, if not for Charlie, Jesse would have been married a long time ago. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Jesse is the Natural Mask Protagonist and Jesse is the Han Solo screwball. They are friends, and they have adventures. 

This almost feels like it was supposed to be a six-part BBC series that got cut down into a 90-minute movie. Threads appear and then leave without bearing fruit.look-itc2b4s-a-prehistoric-bird The joke I used with Jeremy during the livetweet was that I couldn’t remember something that had happened two minutes earlier because you can’t go back, you can only move forward in House II.

On the other hand, I sort of like that the threads aren’t neatly tied up at the end. Jesse and Charlie don’t win the girls back. Gramps never becomes young again. Rochelle… I have a whole idea about Rochelle sneaking into one of the alternate worlds and becoming a goddess of the prehistoric world.

Jeremy: Who was Rochelle, again? The ex that shows up about halfway through the movie?

Brett: I think she was an ex… she was clearly someone Jesse had dealings with in the past. Her role here is to be a refugee from a French Farce and to make you feel kind of icky about how the movie treats women. A very messy script.

Jeremy: Yeah, the script’s a friggin’ mess. The main bad guy – Gramps’ old partner from the Old West – appears in the prologue to kill Jesse’s parents, then doesn’t appear again until the movie remembers him in the last 10-15 minutes. Jesse and Charlie just have a few adventures in the past and manage to alienate their girlfriends in the present. I wonder if they were filming without a script… or improvising because they didn’t have the resources to film what was on the page.

Looking up the cast on IMDB, I was surprised to see that the actor playing Charlie, Jonathan Stark, has been a regular sitcom writer since the early ’80s. He’s worked on some great shows (Cheers) and some not-so-great shows (According to Jim). It feels like he punched up his own material. His jokes are broad and sitcom-y, but they work well enough.

I want to go back to the female characters for a moment, which are… disappointing.  Jesse’s ex pops up out of nowhere, and she’s just there to write off all the female roles except the Mesoamerican virgin who can’t speak English. Ick, indeed.

All the relationships go nowhere. It’s a shame. There’s probably a better version of this movie where Jessie shares the adventure with his girlfriend and best friend, who don’t get along. Having to choose between a serious relationship and your best friend is a well-worn trope, but it’s relatable. Certainly better than a lot of narrative dead ends.

And I’m not sure what the filmmakers wanted out of Jesse and Gramps’ relationship. Obviously, they have a connection – they’re family. It feels like they intended Jesse to be this path of least resistance guy who’s not really happy. And Gramps is there to make him man up and have an adventure.houseii5

There are some fun scenes with Gramps. Like you said when we were watching the movie, Brett, there’s something sweet about Jesse and Charlie being in such awe of Gramps. The film’s biggest problem for me is that Jesse is a complete blank. And it’s not Arye Gross’s fault. He was the right guy for the part… at least the way I imagine it in my head.

But I’m trying, God knows why, to turn this movie into a story where everything fits together and has meaning – when I should just enjoy how nutty it is. I mean, where else are you going to get a zombie cowboy feeding beer in a baby bottle to a cuddly two-foot-long worm with the face of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog?

Brett: About the relationships, there is something in here I really like. There are a handful of times where the movie surprises you. Take one example: they lose the skull (one of the 27 times THAT happens) and Jesse goes and wakes up a hungover Charlie. Now, we know Charlie is the screwball and should take the news that the skull is missing to be humorous and explain he’ll find the skull after nine or ten more hours of sleep. Instead, upon hearing the skull is missing he leaps up and the two of them rush off. Every time I thought, “Oh, we’re about to have a tedious scene play out like it does in every other movie” they don’t do that. A little subverting of my expectations, that’s all I ask.

Jeremy: Gabby, how did this play for you?

Gabby: I thought it was entertaining. I agree there are touching moments with Gramps and the women should have had more to do. I did really enjoy the handyman’s random appearance and participation in the movie as well.

Jeremy: John Ratzenberger’s scene is the highlight of the movie. It’s the closest the film gets to being on the level of something like Ghostbusters or Gremlins. Ratzenberger’s basically doing Cliff Clavin… if Cliff’s day job involved home repair and adventures in alternate dimensions.

Let’s wrap things up. What does everyone think about the ending, where Jesse and Charlie are exiled to the past?

Gabby: Because now he is a manly man and can face the old west?

Jeremy: Something like that. Is that the vibe you guys got?

Brett: I don’t know if I thought about it that deeply. By the time the movie ends, that was the only magical door left to go through. He’s trapped at that point.

Jeremy: Yeah – and I totally get I’m over-analyzing this movie. Probably just so we have something to talk about. Plus, I’m trying to figure out why I loved this as a kid. The answer’s actually simple: it’s a haunted house movie pitched at kids, with lots of jokes and monsters. It’s fun in places, but a Joe Dante joint this is not. With that in mind, closing thoughts? If any?

Gabby: I think it has some suprisngly sweet moments with the three main characters. It is not great but fun and silly. You really don’t know what’s coming next and it shows an adventure I wouldn’t mind going on myself.

Brett: This is the junk food of my entertainment diet. Empty calories, no fiber, just a bag of candy.MSDHOUS EC030 This is filed under “I just don’t care” for me. I wouldn’t want to watch it every day, or even every year, but when I do watch it, I have a boatload of fun. And that’s what these dumb movies should be about. Every once in a while, just let a stupid, silly movie in that avoids cliche and logic just wash over you. That’s House II. 

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. This wraps up our block of films on summer sequels, just in time for Labor Day. We’ll be back soon and dedicating a month to Tim Curry movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a movie.

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The Indefinsibles: The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)

Gabby: We switch on our brain boxes and open a doorway between worlds to find Jeremy’s pick…

Jeremy: The Whisperer in Darkness. H.P. Lovecraft’s working title: My Ovaltine with Akelely.

I’m glad we were able to watch this, Gabby. Our one rule for the movies we pick is that they have to be accessible to UK and US readers. Since this was a super low-budget film, I wasn’t sure if it made its way to the UK.

Gabby: I managed to rent it off iTunes!

Jeremy: Wait – it’s available digitally in the UK? That’s some bullshit, right there. I would kill to have a legit digital copy.

Gabby: That is weird, you should be able to get it! Give this to Jeremy digitally, powers that be.

Jeremy: Before we go further, let me say why I picked this movie to defend. This is the second independent film made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) based on Lovecraft’s stories. Their first film, The Call of Cthulhu, was released in 2005. From everything I can gather, it was a minor cult hit on DVD. I know horror fans really embraced it.

And it’s how I discovered Lovecraft. I was a Lovecraft virgin when I bought a copy of Call of Cthulhu on a whim from a used video shop. I was immediately taken by the cover, to say nothing of the hook the HPLHS devised for filming this supposedly unfilmable story: make it a black & white silent movie, as if it was produced in the year the story was published, 1926. Thanks to that movie, I became a huge Lovecraft nerd. Because, you know, I didn’t have enough geeky obsessions already…

Adapting Lovecraft stories to match the films of the era they were written in – which the HPLHS coined as Mythoscope – was such an inspired idea. First off, Cthulhu was a micro-budget production made by fans, so it hid a lot visual shortcuts they had to make. It also allowed them to make a movie that ran under 60 minutes, as was the style of the time. Most importantly, a silent movie provided an opportunity to adapt Lovecraft faithfully while circumventing his purple prose and the near absence of dialogue in his stories.

Working on and off over the next six years, the HPLHS were finally able to make a follow-up with The Whisperer in Darkness. The production was certainly more ambitious. Since this story was published in 1931, they were now making a “talkie”, heavily influenced by the Universal Horror movies of the period.

I wish I could say Whisperer was met with as much enthusiasm as their first film. It didn’t get bad reviews – but the initial reception was fairly lukewarm. All the reviews I read hit upon the same thing: it feels less and less like a classic horror movie as it goes on, which was their aim with the Mythoscope hook. During the last half-hour of new material devised to give the story a third act, it feels more like an ’80s James Cameron movie than ’30s horror.

I, too, was put off by the final act during my first viewing. The more times I revisit the movie, the less issues I have with it. If Lovecraft fans were disappointed the first time, I recommend they go back and give it another chance. It’s not entirely the movie I would’ve made – but guess what? It’s not my movie. I love what the HPLHS does and want more people to see their films. So that’s why we’re talking about one of ‘em today.

Brett: So the third act was okay until the airplane came along. We didn’t need the airplane chase or the close-ups on the Mi-go, showing off just how computer animated these monsters were. The very last shot made up for it, though. Odd how I could basically tell where Lovecraft’s story ended without Jeremy telling me, though that helped. Lovecraft always wrote as if he were saying, “Yeah, but their imagination won’t have the budget for that.” Lovercraft never showed things as much as I wanted. You never seem to get a full sense of exactly what the hell was going on with him.

We should make it clear where the story ends and where the movie ends. In the story, our hero, Alfred Wilmarth, is shown that the Mi-go can put brains in metal containers so humans can journey, in spirit, across the cosmos with them. He speaks with a human brain who tries to sell him on all the wonders the Mi-go can show us. Wilmarth discovers soon after that the man, Henry Akeley, who discovered the Mi-go and their followers wasn’t a man at all. It was a Mi-go in a face mask and human prosthetics. Wilmarth runs away back to Arkham to never do anything interesting ever again. Whisperer-1

And in the movie, Wilmarth tries to stop the Mi-go from opening a portal between their world and ours. He’s hurt in a plane crash while doing so and his brain is removed. We then see him as the new sales pitch man, using the exact same words as the last guy, explaining why it would be so cool if we let the Mi-go put our brains into jars.

The tone shifted once the original story ended. I liked the movie overall. There were only a few things that jumped out, but none of them ever spoiled the scene. I found the guy who was just a brain in a jar – who was giving the sales pitch to Wilmarth – pretty goofy, but then it turned out he was supposed to be.

Jeremy: I get where they were going with the third act. Lovecraft was all about the horror of discovery, of digging too deep and learning too much. You can’t end a movie with your protagonist running off into the night after realizing he had a not-so-pleasant chat with a monster in a human suit.

Whisperer is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, though I’m curious why they chose it for a second film. While the source material reveals a lot about the Cthulhu Mythos, it’s actually a story told on a much smaller scale than his other stories from the period. The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, At Mountains of Madness – they all feature something resembling a third act, with some sort of action or chase scene.

My guess is they were realistic enough to acknowledge that Whisperer was the best story to adapt with the resources available. (They’ve made audio dramas for most of the big stories by this point. If you’ve been following us at all, you know how much I dig that.) I wish someone would hand these guys a few million dollars and leave them alone to do their thing. If you’ve seen either one of their movies, you know they can stretch a budget like you would not believe.

Gabby: I am impressed by the movie’s use of its budget.drew-barrymore-as-dylan-sanders They managed to create a terrific looking movie. I say that as a big old horror movie fan (as well as old movies in general). They’re playing right into my wheelhouse with their shot framing, lighting and edits. I too hope they get a really good budget to do another Lovecraft story.

Brett: It’s fine, the story is there in its complete form, they just added a bit. I actually read an interview where the director gave a good justification for the third act. He said that Lovecraft’s stories basically end at what a movie would call act two, that he never knew how to resolve a story, but we’re making a movie here and we have to close it with a third act.

Basically, the same thing you were saying about the horror of his work being in the discovery.

Jeremy: I’m glad we’re starting with the third act, so I can get my quibbles out of the way and move on.

My big problem is the additions made to give Wilmarth some emotional complexity. In theory, I should love that. I care more about character than plot. It’s just these changes don’t add up to much. To start with, they make him more incredulous of the creatures’ existence. Dramatically, that makes sense for a movie, but they seem to be setting up this idea that his faith in science – at least so far as he understands it – is a weakness. If that’s supposed to set up something, it’s a setup with no payoff.

Then there’s giving Wilmarth a dead family to mourn and the introduction of Hannah, a wid5character created for the film. The filmmakers are going for a Ripley/Newt dynamic between the two characters. Don’t get me wrong – the Ripley/Newt bit is a great bit. One of my favorites. The characters don’t have time to form a connection. They don’t meet until the third act and only share a few minutes of screen time.

It occurred to me on this viewing that they set up this relationship as a bit of narrative sleight of hand. Of course they’re going to be fine! They’re gonna become a family!

Nope.

Brett: I kind of liked the ending. I would have been okay with the plane just crashing, though.

Gabby: I really enjoyed the first ending with the plane crash too. I have no idea why they felt the need to add another ending. I thought when it faded to blackout, ‘That ending was neat! I like being unsure what happens ne… oh.. wait… what the fuck is happening? What… what just happened?’

Brett: I kind of thought that would be the end too. However they did need to clear up the fact that he’s narrating the movie. By the way, add this to the short list of movies where the voice over doesn’t detract from the movie. I don’t say it helps, but it doesn’t hurt.

Jeremy: It’s a good example of how to do narration. It’s creating a mood, not covering for gaps in the story.

Gabby: And I agree about painting him as a skeptic. It seemed designed for him to use that book of folklore from the first act to save them, which he became so obsessed with and yet believed as pure fiction. So making a complete turn around in terms of beliefs might be a predictable character arc, but one that seem to be hinted at. But instead, that idea literally gets shot to pieces.

Jeremy: In both versions of the story, the Mi-go and their human cultists steal back all the evidence of their existence from Wilmarth. To me, a “We don’t have to kill you. No one’s gonna believe you…” ending is way more terrifying. Even if the HPLHS had stayed closer to the original ending, they still had to come up with a way for Wilmarth to have a dramatic escape. In a movie, he has to accomplish something, even if it’s a minor victory, like the way he now discovers the Mi-go’s lair and disrupts their ceremony.

And while Wilmarth’s dramatic arc doesn’t entirely work for me, I was surprised on this viewing by how unnerving the real Akeley’s final moments are. He’s summoned back into existence only to discover he’s a brain in a jar and his son’s most likely dead. That’s rough, man. I also appreciate the addition of seeing Akeley’s body hanging in the monsters’ lair like a piece of meat. Getting to see the bullshit the Mi-go are shoveling actually enhances the story for me.

So much of the movie works because of the actors playing Wilmarth and Akeley,images (1) I’m impressed by both of them. Matt Foyer is, like, the perfect Lovecraft protagonist. Barry Lynch gets to be both creepy and sympathetic in dual roles, and he’s great in both of them. The rest of the cast ranges from solid to a little amateurish. But a lot of the cast are amateurs, as I understand it – so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. This is a movie made out of love, so I’m on board with everyone’s enthusiasm.

Brett: I had no complaints about the actors. Even when they come off as a bit hammy or amateurish, that’s got a lot to do with the style of the time they’re recreating. The sales pitch brain guy is a bit hammy, but his part should be hammy. He should be one of those old stage actors who never really got the idea of acting on film and does everything broad and over expressive.

Jeremy: The first head in the jar is the director, Sean Branney. And the actor playing Charles Fort, the character Wilmarth debates at the beginning of the film, is Andrew Leman, who co-wrote and produced the film with Branney.

Brett: The effects for the guy’s head when he talks to Wilmarth kind of jumped out as being way too modern. It was too clean. Kind of jarring. 

Jeremy: I know they wanted to use practical effects whenever possible, like monster suits and puppetry for the Mi-go. Based on their time and resources, it wasn’t feasible. CGI had to do for the most part.

I really like the design of the Mi-go, especially their mechanical wings and various do-dads. The brain’s sales pitch being such a sales pitch didn’t bother me, though I see where you’re coming from. I know it bugged you during the live-tweet. It reminds me of Wilmarth’s increased skepticism at the beginning: they’re getting it to play dramatically, even if it’s playing to the cheap seats.

And to go back a minute, I can’t imagine ending on just the plane crash. I love that Wilmarth delivers the same exact sales pitch as the previous brain. It leaves you wondering if the brains are reprogrammed somehow or if their experiences traveling to other worlds are too wondrous to deny. Personally, I lean to the former idea.

Brett: It’s not the sales pitch that bothered me. It’s that it looks so much like it was done on a laptop with After Effects and doesn’t match everything we’ve seen until then.

Jeremy: Ah, I get it, yeah. I’m trying to imagine what a ’30s version of that would look like. In the story, it’s a voice coming out of a speaker. That wouldn’t work on film.

Brett: Less clean, more matte lines probably. A little more like Universal’s The Invisible Man. And the head works way better on screen. The fact that the movie was in black and white helped mask that they’re using some cheap computer effects.

Jeremy: Speaking of The Invisible Man, there are some great moments where they capture that classic Universal Horror magic. It’s never scary, but it’s atmospheric as hell all the way through, which is exactly what I want out of classic horror.

Gabby: It is very effective at that at times. One example, for me, was the lead up to the presentation of the first brain in a jar and it transforming into a man’s head.

Jeremy: My favorite scene is the group of learned men assembling in an office and pouring over the evidence Akeley’s son brought to the university.Dscn4251 It gets the closest to evoking Universal Horror. For an exposition scene, it really moves and holds your attention. The actors do a great job of vacillating back and forth between reason and fear – especially Matt Foyer.

Brett: Yeah, the office scene is nearly perfect.

Jeremy: My favorite part of horror movies is the setup, of the possibility of things that go bump in the night. So I eat exposition scenes like this up. Take Stephen King’s short story, 1408: half of it is just one man telling another man about the terrible history of a haunted hotel room. Delicious.

For that reason, the entire first act works for me and works in a big bad way. My only real quibble with the second act is the same one I had with the story: there’s no room to question Noyes (the cult leader) and faux-Akeley’s intentions. Wilmarth seems particularly dense about the whole thing… though maybe that’s what Lovecraft whisperer-in-darknesswas aiming for.

On the other hand, I like that we never hear the story faux-Akeley tells Wilmarth. That tale is basically Cthulhu Mythos porn in the novella – interesting only to die-hard fans. The notion of creatures and horrors too terrible to explain is a big part of Lovecraft – and I like how they preserve that sense of mystery while simultaneously dealing with the proverbial Tom Bombadil in the room.

Gabby: I noticed the vibe they were going for from the opening lohpl1_thumb1go. I admire that choice and think it adds a lot to the movie. I agree that the office scene is really well delivered, especially in capturing that ’30s Universal Horror vibe. I do love classic Universal Horror, so this made me grin a lot.

Jeremy: It’s cool to hear you guys enjoyed this movie, because I was curious if it would work for anyone who wasn’t a Lovecraft fan. Keep in mind where I’m coming from with this. It’s hard to be objective about something that feels made just for you.

Gabby: Have any of you seen Son of Frankenstein?

Jeremy: I have. I’m nuts for Universal Horror and have all those DVD collections with the films for each monster made in the ’30s and ’40s.

Gabby: When the head was raving about how great it is to be chosen, it reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All the propaganda that could easily connect to communist propaganda and the Red Scare. But then again the first World War was advertised as a chance to fight for your country and gain glory…

Anyway, I ask as Son of Frankenstein has some really beautiful looking shots. At times, the way they lit this was similar. I really love that old-fashioned craft of cinematography, seen with the use of shadow across the characters’ faces. The encounter with the monsters really went for the King Kong vibe.

Jeremy: That’s a great observation, Gabby. I’ve always john-carter-mars11thought the plane chase was a little out of time, but you’re right: it’s right there in King Kong.

Gabby: Anyone else get a ’50s sci-fi vibe with the brains in jars? I can tell Lovecraft was ahead of his time. What did people think when this story was first published? I found that an odd transition though.

Also, I was getting more of The Village of the Damned vibe off that young girl…

Brett: Frequently, at that time anyway, books were 10-20 years ahead of the movies. Most the film noir from the ’40s and ’50s was based on stories and books published in the ’20s and ’30s. Same with sci-fi. Interestingly, Lovecraft was one of the best kept secrets for a long, long time. He influenced lots of writers, but his work didn’t really get much popular exposure until the last 20 years or so.

Jeremy: Speaking of which, Gabby, you mentioned not having any experience with Lovecraft before this. Does this pique your interest at all for reading his stories?

Gabby: It does for sure. As we were speaking about this movie I have wanted to read the original story. So I have been reading it on and off throughout today. I think I will be delving into his works more this year.

Jeremy: I’m happy to hear that. Just keep in mind that he’s kind of a racist monster who created incredible monsters.

Brett: There are shockingly few movies based on his works. So many other writers were influenced by him though. He’s like the Mötorhead of horror.

Jeremy: I would amend that to there are very few faithful adaptions, that keep the spirit of the stories and set them in their proper time period. Even the more notable movies baring his name – The Dunwich Horror, Re-Animator – are loosely based on his stories at best. I’m not a purist by any means – but you lose a lot by taking these stories out of a time where technology was on the cusp of making our world feel smaller and less unknown.

Gabby: In a similar way that War of the Worlds was published in the age of the Industrial Revolution and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Where people started questioning and reshaping their religious beliefs.

Jeremy: And to your question about how the story was initially received. Lovecraft’s imagination was ahead of its time, his values were not. From what I’ve read, this story and At the Mountains of Madness were difficult sells for the pulps, since they explicitly say the monsters aren’t monsters and are, in fact, aliens. These stories were supposedly too sci-fi for the weird fiction magazines and too weird fiction for the sci-fi rags.

Wow, I just realized that this is our longest discussion yet. We better wrap this up. Final thoughts, everyone?

Gabby: My last thoughts: this film is definitely worth a look. They put a lot of effort in and it shows. Though not a big fan of the last few minutes of the film, the rest of it has an atmosphere and visual design that adds a lot. On top of that, I enjoyed the performances and the fun way they approached the story. It’s bonkers. In a good way.

Brett: I don’t dislike the movie. I think it’s pretty good, but, yeah, it would have been that much better if they kept the tone consistent.

Jeremy: What more can I say? The mixture of old and new sensibilities doesn’t entirely mesh, but goddamn, do I love this movie. There’s more passion and enthusiasm on display here than in most of the movies we covered. May the Dark Gods of Old bless the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

And this ends our round of movies based on pulp/weird fiction. It’s been a blast. We’ll back soon, talking about three sequels to blockbuster summer movies. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment below.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

wickedpryce2

The Indefinsibles: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Gabby: The crew jump on a carousel as we whirl over Brett’s pick…

Jeremy: Something Wicked This Way Comes. A movie that besmirched the good name of carnies everywhere.

We should say what we’re up to with this latest block of movies, which we’re calling “Dark Disney.” We’re covering three films from the late ’70s through the mid-’80s when Disney was making dark, scary movies aimed at young viewers. These movies may not seem scary now, but if you grew up with them, they were the stuff of nightmares.

As Gabby said, we’re starting with Brett’s pick this time. What’s your history with it?

Brett: I have only ever seen this on TV. It was one of the movies that showed up on one of the cable channels. I don’t remember which one. Maybe the Disney Channel, maybe Showtime, whatever.

It’s one of those Saturday afternoon movies. One of those movies that I often walked into 10 minutes in and just kept watching. Life is full of those. It was a while before I worked out it was a book. I read it and kind of forgot about it. What I mostly remember now is that I was reminded of it when reading Needful Things.

Jeremy: Needful Things is sooo this story. A mysterious stranger comes to town, pretends to ply his trade, and bargains for the locals’ souls by tempting them with their innermost desires.

Ray Bradbury is a geek blind spot for me. Imagine my surprise, then, when watching this movie for the first time and realizing that. I mean, all tales are built upon existing stories, but jeez…

Speaking of Needful Things, we’ve talked about doing a Stephen King round of movies before. Would that be anyone’s pick?

Brett: I don’t hate Needful Things as a movie, but it would totally work for us. Creepshow 2 might work, but I feel less solid about that choice. The Dark Half is probably the best choice. Someone remind me of that later. 

Jeremy: If a miniseries counts, I’d go for The Shining. There are way too many choices. Needful Things would be a good one, though. I’m curious to revisit it after seeing this. It now feels like a paler imitation of this story. Something Wicked has a clearer point of view – and definitely something on its mind. I love that it’s about the passage of time and how time takes everything away from us. It’s not dour, just bittersweet – an “enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think” story. I’m a sucker for those.

Also, I enjoyed the hell out of this. It isn’t my favorite movie that we’ve covered, but it’s probably the best.

Brett: This is one of the few movies where a story involves what could be called “daddy issues” that I don’t mind. I think it’s because the father and son have honest feelings and both of them are well represented.

The father’s regrets are given a lot of weight. As Jeremy said, it does the “later than you think” thing very well. That kind of goes into the book scene, which I wanted to talk about anyway.

It’s an old standby, but I will always love a movie that shows me something new. The way the pages glow when they’re torn from the book and fade as they fall to the floor was one of those amazing things that stuck with me for years. UntitledNow that I’m actually old enough to understand what that scene is really about, it means a lot more. I had never seen anything like that book scene before, it really had an effect on me. And then Pryce and Robards sell the hell out of the scene.

Jeremy: That scene is amazing. Why it doesn’t get talked about more is beyond me. As we get older, we perceive time as if it’s moving faster, and this scene brilliantly captures the feeling of life passing by too quickly, of realizing how close you are to the finishing line. It’s the highlight of a comparatively weak third act – one of my few problems with the movie. The third act probably worked on the page, but the production fails to keep tightening the screws as we build to the climax.

Gabby: That book scene is great. The visuals, as Brett said, are unique. 

Jeremy: Back to what you said a moment before, Brett, I wouldn’t even call this “daddy issues.” The moral of the story is that even if you’re blessed with great parents, they’re still just people doing the best they can. I know that’s something I figured out a long time ago with my parents. And Jesus, I hope my kid gets there in the end.

Brett: Okay, here is my deep dark secret. I don’t actually think Mr. Dark is a stupid name. It’s a kid’s book, it’s a kid’s story, he’s a kid’s villain. I’m into it.

Jeremy: No problems here, either. You understand, though, why I had to make this joke on Twitter.

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Brett: Oh yeah. Actually, a lot about this movie feels like it shouldn’t work. 

Gabby: Mr Dark does sound like a Mr Men character, which, could almost be toying with a child’s imagination. The villain has a name that sounds like a cartoon but is damn scary. So, even if that sounds like a silly name when you go past a certain age, I agree with Brett that it could play well with a younger viewer.

Jeremy: Almost everyone had a clever name, which got to me. But, yeah, it’s right for the story. And Mr. Dark would choose that name and wear it proudly.

Brett: Almost every word that comes out of Jonathan Pryce’s mouth are things that would just die on the lips of lesser actors. And yet, he makes it work. He’s usually good, but I think this is one of his best roles.

Jeremy: Yeah. When I think of him, I usually think of his later roles, where he’s hamming it up. Something like Tomorrow Never Dies. His performance is pitched perfectly here. It was kinda like revisiting a Pacino performance from the ’70s and remembering what he was capable of.

Jason Robards goes in the other direction, underplaying a lot of moments, which was the right choice. This movie is another reminder of how good he was.

Gabby: I like Pryce a lot in this movie. He does carry these lines. I cannot imagine, either, it working with many actors. He totally gets what movie he is in – which is weird a common mistake with actors. When they don’t get what movie they are in, I mean.

Jeremy: And how great are the child actors in this movie? Screenshot (64)We’re talking ’80s Spielberg/Amblin good.

Gabby: It is also rare to have such enjoyable child actors in films! I second what Brett said about so many things seeming like it wouldn’t work.

This could have easily ended up a hot mess. But the casting is one of the reasons it doesn’t. The casting director should get a good reward for that. It really works for the whole tone and set up of the film.

Brett: So, did any of us actually find this scary? I was more feeling that it was a dark adventure. But it didn’t strike me as a scary story.

Jeremy: Not really. I don’t think it’s meant to play that way unless you’re a kid. I could see anyone who’s got a thing about spiders being unnerved. (Gabby Ferro, I’m looking in your general direction.) We’re only covering three Disney movies from this period. I wish I had time to revisit Watcher in the Woods and Return to Oz to see how this stacks up against them in the scares department. I remember them being scarier than this.

I think my pick, The Black Hole, would be more upsetting to a kid. Something Wicked has a great sense of atmosphere. It creates the right mood. Horror movies don’t scare me often, so the right mood is all I ask for. As I said before, it needed stronger, scarier third act.

Dark adventure is a good way of putting it. It feels like a Twilight Zone episode, in the way it’s more about the human condition. I love what this movie says about getting older and realizing that not all of your dreams are going to come true… and how tempting it would be to have the life you expected or used to have.

Brett: Yeah, I kind of feel like this movie is really about the father. It’s told by the son, but it’s about the dad.

Gabby: I think I might have found the carousel parts scary. wsadI always found some dolls quite creepy and some other inanimate ‘cute’ things made of plastic. So I can see that playing on my overactive imagination.

Jeremy: I was surprised by how little the carnival creeped me out. That’s usually a recipe for instant creepy. We all agree that there’s some inherently wrong about carnivals and circuses, right?

Gabby: But yeah. The carousel. That would have got me. But the carnival itself wasn’t. I agree, carnivals and circuses ate inherently creepy. Fun House is a horror film I really like that uses its setting to great effect. I mentioned in the live tweet that I had just finished reading The Night Circus before watching Something Wicked.

Brett: Oddly, I don’t remember the carousel killing Mr. Dark in the book. Coolest effect in the movie, and it’s not in the book. In the book, the dad hugs Mr. Dark and the power of love causes him to melt or some shit. (Spoilers for a 60-year-old book.) Unless I’m remembering wrong

Jeremy: One thing I was confused about: the traveling lightning rod salesmen was coming to town to stop Mr. Dark, right? I can’t remember it ever being overtly said.

Brett: It wasn’t specifically said. I think Tom just showed up at an opportune moment.

Jeremy: Mmm… If he is a Van Helsing character, we can all agree that pretending to be a traveling lightning rod salesman is, like, the worst cover story ever, right?

Brett: Yes, yes we can. I always thought the lightning rods should play a larger part in the climax. Like it was being built into something that never paid off.

Jeremy: I was surprised to read that this had a really troubled post-production. This character and the hall of mirrors scene are the only places where I can sense any disjointedness. In the cut of the film we have, he’s basically a drunken hobo Van Helsing, who sobers up long enough to impale Pam Grier with one of his lightning rods.

I was also surprised that James Horner was a last-minute replacement as the composer. It’s a very, very James Horner-y score. I’m not going to fault him for dipping into his bag of tricks if this score was composed at the eleventh hour, much like his score for Aliens.

Anything else we want to say before we get to our final thoughts?

Brett: I think this is probably the best movie we’ve seen for this group. It’s rare to see a movie come together this well and yet still kind of miss the mark at the crucial moment (that third act is sadly weak) but the rest of the movie builds up so much good will I don’t even mind.

Gabby: It is a film I really liked. I will be glad to watch it again. I do also enjoy the visuals and the way it explores time..You definitely feel what world you are in with this film. That is a hard job to establish. It makes an impact. I can definitely see why this would freak a child out. Especially, if you flipped this on watching TV late at night…

Jeremy: Good will is the perfect way to describe my feelings about this film. I know I’m asking far too much out of a pre-Marvel Disney film, but it’s too safe and pedestrian in places. The story could be clearer. There’s arguably a better adaptation that could be made, but not one that’s this earnest and melancholy in just the right way. Eight-year-old Jeremy would’ve eaten this up, and it worked almost as well on the cynical bastard I am today. This is a strong recommend from all three of us.

Thanks for reading, everyone. We’ll be back soon with The Black Hole. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter.

christine

Horror Reels: Christine (1983)

Albert: My particular history with Christine is this: I read the book in 6th grade, in the midst of a full-blown Stephen King obsession. I won’t go too greatly into that, as this is about the John Carpenter film (and really, I expect to go on enough about Carpenter and don’t need to exacerbate things by adding another hero of mine too strongly into the mix), but it was perhaps the 3rd or 4th King book I ever read. I didn’t understand ALL of it (as was the case with most of the King books I was reading between the age of 10-12) but I sure got enough of it for the book to make quite an impact. I loved it immediately, as the underlying bits concerning what growing up does to friendship and relationships — be they familial or romantic — may have been pitched a bit outside my age range but I was getting there. I may not have been in high school, but those feelings and situations were beginning to become a larger and more important aspect of my life. In some ways, that book prepared me for things to come — good and bad.

I said all that to say this: reading that book made me hunt the movie adaptation DOWN like it owed me money. maxresdefaultSeeing the John Carpenter version was one of the first lessons I had in the art of adaptation; it was clearly not the book, but the heart of it was there. Christine in the movie may not have been haunted by the ghost of a horrible man with an unending fury, but she was born with it inside of her. Mallory Knox can sing all she wants about being “born bad” but she knew half as much about that as Christine did…after all, she was bad to the bone, or so George Thorogood would have us believe (and I do). Watching the film version, I understood that the book would always be the book and the movie would always be the movie; even if they were telling the same story, they were telling it in different ways. I kinda dug that. Realizing that the different mediums were just that, and had to be, was a big step in how I consumed, absorbed, and understood how stories were told. So having that bolt of lighting strike when I wasn’t even a teenager yet, that was a big step. One of the first I ever took in that direction, and I’m glad it was Christine I took the ride in.

As far as people’s reactions to it, I admit I’ve always been rather nonplussed as to the whole “it’s soulless; Carpenter’s heart obviously isn’t in it because he was just a director for hire” — something we previously discussed in our conversation on Starman, and it makes about as much sense to me here as it did there. Which is to say, not at all. It’s a remarkably effective movie, and yes — one has to get over what seems to be a ludicrous premise (a haunted car) that I don’t really find all that ludicrous. If you can handle a story with ghosts or hauntings or the like, you can handle Christine. Why a haunted car is any more ridiculous than a haunted house is beyond me; if you were a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic who couldn’t deal with ANYTHING regarding the supernatural without scoffing, it wouldn’t be “better” if it was a house. It’d simply be stupid. Thankfully, for those of us horror-loving folk, it’s just a cool idea that Stephen King told well in prose that Carpenter and his team then told through cinema. christine-1983-movie-wallpaperWhich they did superbly, I feel. It’s not a perfect film, but it works on the level it is intended to (sometimes even more than that), and considering how many flicks are unable to pull that off, I give John Carpenter and company all the credit they deserve. It wouldn’t be in my Top 5 Carpenter films, but I bet it’d crack my Top 10.

I think in recent years, people who were disappointed that it never reached the bar set by The Thing or Halloween or Big Trouble In Little China (really, just fill in your favorite JC flick) have, upon revisiting the film, have had a similar reaction to the one I find people having with Starman today. Which is that while, no — it isn’t one of his classic films — it’s a very solid film and an entertainment that is more than worth your time. John-Stockwell-christineI actually know a couple people who count Christine among their FAVORITE horror movies of all time, period. It spoke to them somehow, or simply scared the living shit out of them…how you gonna argue with that?

Gabby: I agree with the haunted house idea!

I love the way they use the car for many different purposes. The car is the haunted house in a much more confined space but it also explores other ideas. It is Arnie’s passion project. A project to work towards, to feel rewarded by. His way of connecting to something, as he is an outcast, a nerd. I think many people watching this movie can relate to this. Horror fans, movie fans. We have found a connection in movies that can be boarding on obsession.

How do you think the idea of obsession plays into the film?

Do you think there is a connect with the car being female in comparison with some people’s assumption that it is masculine or male to become absorbed with cars?

Albert: That’s a great point, how they use the car for various purposes at different points in the film; I think it kinda plays into the whole sense of falling in love and that person — or thing, in this case — fulfills every need you have and plays every role you desire from them. Christine provides Arnie with a sense of self he didn’t get anywhere else, and the confidence to be the person he believes he wants to be. That may not be the person he NEEDS to be, but as he is still a teenager yet, Arnie (like many of us at that age) has trouble differentiating between the two. In other times, as we see, she is his protector and his agent of revenge on those who have hurt him and threatened his relationship with her.

I think that would be where the theme of obsession reaching a point where it almost becomes possession comes in: you find something that makes you happy, helps you (or so it seems) to reach a place of self-actualization…and before you know it, that something takes precedence over all other aspects of your life. MMDCHRI EC002It’s the most important; that you know for sure. But importance is one thing whereas obsession can very easily turn unhealthy. Most people, when speaking of another, rarely say, “Oh, they’re obsessed with ______” and mean it as a positive. That’s because it rarely is, or stays that way anyway. Clearly, Christine did not stay a good thing for Arnie long. I always felt a certain aspect of the tragedy inherent in the story is that Leigh could have done for him what Christine did, just without the loss of friendships, familial relationships, and the overall copious amounts of violent death. The irony is, Christine is what gave him the confidence to approach Leigh in the first place (it’s safe to say that’s what we’re assumed to understand, I think) so she wasn’t ever fated to be what he needed. Another layer of sadness in what is, at its heart, quite a heartbreaking story.

In regards to the car being a “she” and why/how that would have a different impact on Arnie as opposed to, say, Leigh’s parents buying it for her or something, I think it comes back to that point in our maturation as adults. Sure, there’s plenty of grown men thrashing in the throes of a particularly robust mid-life crisis who go out, blow their kid’s college money on a slick set of wheels and maybe become attached to it in a way that isn’t exactly an uplifting, feel-good episode of your favorite heartwarming TV show. Christine-1983-2What I think Christine gets right is what that feels like as a young person, learning what it is to make your way in this world. She’s an anchor for Arnie, as vehicles are for many young men. Your first car is a tall, looming signpost on the road to adulthood for most people, but it certainly does seem to have bright blinking lights and neon when you’re a teenage boy. Arnie, I think, saw something that wasn’t just uglier than he was, as he said, but something that he could love unconditionally while believing he felt the same from it, never understanding that the car was capable of doing precisely that. Falling in love with a car is safer when you’re a loser; it’s virtually impossible to be rejected by it. As he said to Dennis in the first ten minutes of the movie in regards to sex, “You need a girl for that.” Well, maybe he can’t fuck Christine (I’m aware that, properly inspired, he could but I choose not to think much about it) but she IS female in his view. His car is a girl, and she loves him. One who’ll stay right by his side and will never leave him. She’ll never laugh at him or hurt his feelings or neglect him or lie to him. She’ll never cheat on him or betray his trust. She’ll kill for him.

I’m pretty sure most young dudes who think of their cars as girls, while having that reinforce their burgeoning masculinity in some way, don’t need that sort of negative attention in order to figure themselves out. Then again, some do. Luckily, here in the real world, cars don’t have minds of their own and certainly aren’t homicidal (as far as we know, that is).

I think all of that — which provides a strong subtext to play off of the surface pleasures of the film, another layer of the onion that is good storytelling — is certainly present but not obnoxiously so. Film and TelevisionAfter all, this IS a film about a car that is simply and inherently evil that drives around killing folks. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, say I. In my humble opinion, John Carpenter (armed with his signature classical elegance and style) told the story with a strong understanding of the value of restraint in such a picture. Not to mention the strong performances he got out of most of his cast (I’d say Alexandra Paul as Leigh probably fares the least well, but she’s more than serviceable and hardly sinks the film in any case).

Would you say that Carpenter — especially considering he was simply a director taking a job here — connected with the material in an effective enough way to overcome the assumption that he was going through the motions and produced an impersonal film? Or that the performances were strong enough to carry such material?

Gabby: I think that Carpenter is still on his game here. You can tell it is his film. You see the links with his other films. The masterful use of investment in characters and the build of suspense. Not being afraid of slowing down and taking in the atmosphere. I think this is why Christine still makes a great horror movie. The performances are grounded by Keith Gordon’s. It really is his movie. And the car itself. Wow what a car! I think it would also not work as much if we weren’t invested in his performance and had a bit of car envy going on!

Albert: I’ve rambled MORE than enough about this, IMG_20160203_054706but the bottom line is this: Christine is a great Stephen King adaptation, a strong entry in John Carpenter’s career of winners, and most importantly, a damn fine horror movie.

It’s got the look. It’s got the sound. It has the style…not unlike Christine herself, I feel. If you haven’t seen it, take a trip in this sleek ride into darkness. You won’t regret it.

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The Horrorfying Indefinsbles: Dominion (2005)

[Editor’s Note: This is the third and final entry in our second block of films, which was dedicated to scary movies. A lot of real life happened to some of us last October, so this entry was delayed. We’re releasing it now, and you can look forward to our fourth block of hard-to-defend films coming in early 2016. As always, thanks for reading. -JDW]

Jeremy: Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist. This prequel, set 25 years before Father Merrin declares his love for the demon Pazuzu at a New Year’s Eve party, tells the story of how fate brought them together for the first time on a road trip to New York. Wait… am I thinking of When Harry Met Sally?

Brett: When Merrin Met Pazuzu? I wish Exorcist wasn’t in the title. If it were just a movie called Dominion, it would be a spooky little thriller that turns into a ghost story. With the title as it stands, you are sitting there the whole time going “Yeah, it’s Pazuzu, we know. I saw the title.”

I don’t think the movie completely comes together. Not in a way that makes you say “this is garbage” but in a way that makes you say “It didn’t quite get there.”

Gabby: I agree. If it was just called Dominion, then it would have had a chance with audiences. Connecting it to a classic movie automatically burdens it with unnecessary prejudice. I find it does feel like its own little creepy and fun spooky horror.

Jeremy: I never thought about how the title spoils the movie. I’m sure Dominion would’ve been called Exorcist: The Beginning or something like it if this film hadn’t been shelved for an entirely new film made by Renny Harlin.Dominion3 (1)

Gabby: Jeremy, you picked this, can you tell us about why you are keen to talk about it?

Jeremy: I genuinely love this movie. It’s flawed, to be sure. You have to keep in mind that it never received a full post-production. It isn’t truly finished. The history of its troubled production is endlessly fascinating to me.

A big studio, Morgan Creek, gives Paul Schrader, an idiosyncratic director known for introspective, slow-burn thrillers, $30 million to make the fourth installment in a beloved – if musty – franchise. Then, they’re surprised when he turns in an introspective, slow-burn thriller, more of a character study than a horror movie.

I don’t get how Morgan Creek was surprised by the film Schrader delivered, or why they thought spending an additional $50 million dollars to reshoot a completely different film with most of the same actors and story elements would pay off, financially or critically. It’s a curious, depressing bit of Hollywood history – especially since this isn’t the first Exorcist film Morgan Creek took out of a director’s hands and screwed up.

Gabby: What are the elements that keep you coming back to this one?

Jeremy: It’s a meditation on faith that resonates with me, despite having no faith of my own. Stellan Skarsgård’s performance makes this movie for me, and I find something new in it on every viewing. His choices are subtle, thoughtful. You always feel the weight Merrin is carrying and how he wants to deny the forces at work around him. Ultimately, he can’t.

Early in the film, Merrin says, “I believed God let us decide between good and evil. I chose good. Evil happened.” The whole movie hangs on this moment. Even if Dominion is largely concerned with the loss and rediscovery of Merrin’s faith, Merrin always chooses good. Faith bolsters him, but his goodness starts from within.

Of course, there’s no way to have an Exorcist movie without God ex9and the Devil, but I feel Schrader is saying that our capacity for good and evil is both tied to and separate from these forces. Is God there the day the Nazis force Merrin to choose which of his followers will be executed? Maybe. Maybe not. The outcome would’ve been the same.

And that leads to my favorite moment in the film: Pazuzu’s offer for Merrin to revisit that day and do things differently, to die fighting instead of having to choose those victims. Pazuzu wants to seduce Merrin by taking his guilt away, but what Merrin finds in reliving that moment is a way to live with his guilt, because he discovers there was no way to be a hero. That would’ve been a foolish, selfish act, causing even greater suffering.

That’s an incredibly complex notion… and an ugly truth for a big studio release (or a movie that would’ve been a big studio release). The film never judges Merrin for his part in that atrocity. What did you think of that?

Brett: I liked that he was going to lose no matter what. I also liked that the demon let him off the hook by letting him know.

Gabby: I highly agree with the anchored performance from Skarsgård. His way of translating those inner reflections and struggles with his faith really make the movie resonant as we can all connect to and contemplate that feeling of doubt.

The use of Nazis is a way of making the Satan versus God dichotomy more, as you say Jeremy,dominion3 human. Intrinsically, we are always struggling with good and evil. What is wrong or right? If we are questioning it, though, I believe this differentiates us as caring and involved with what is around us. A longing to be good.

That moment of Merrin being forced into choosing who will live, that separates this movie into one that raises these ideas and in turn makes it a movie that overcomes its flaws. Intelligent debates being posed by filmmakers are so much more than a lot more forgettable average movies strive for.

How do you feel the location plays into the film and its themes?

Jeremy: They get a lot out of the setting, visually and thematically. Schrader has no interest in being subtle when drawing parallels between the Nazis and the British… and to a lesser extent, with Father Francis and his missionary work. Merrin and Rachel are the only white characters in the film who aren’t trying to exert their will or beliefs onto anyone they perceive as different.

Between the three of us, I don’t believe we have a nationalist bone in our bodies, but what did you think of the way the British were depicted in this movie?

Brett: I didn’t so much see it as Anti-British so much as general anti-imperialism. It just so happens that the Imperialistic dick-heads in this story happen to be Brits. It could have been Americans in 2006 Afghanistan, it could have been French in 1625 Ohio Valley.

Gabby: I agree with Brett. There is a universality in the way the characters behave. I think the way in which the British are portrayed feeds into that. It is more about people as a whole. Not nations.

Jeremy: Oh, I completely agree, but the film dwells on colonialism and religious indoctrination. I only bring it up because 97161252918280944560it’s a brave – and probably deliberate – choice for an American film made between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.

What did both of you think of Rachel and Father Francis? And the actors playing them?

Gabby: In all honesty, they didn’t do much for me. Even though I found Father Francis as a character interesting, they were neither memorable to me. I think I will come back to this one down the road to give them another chance.

Jeremy: I get that. Merrin has one too many scenes with both characters, where the same emotional beats are repeated. Gabriel Mann is fine as Father Francis, though stuck trying to find new ways to play the same note again and again. On the other hand, I find Clara Bellar captivating. The script does a good job of making her both strong and wounded.

And I admire the complexity of Rachel and Merrin’s relationship – possibly a little less than love, but something more than friendship. Since this is a prequel, we know they will give each other up. I appreciate that their goodbye isn’t some emotionally wrought moment. They acknowledge it’s the way things have to be.

Every time I get to the end of the film, I think to myself, “You know, Merrin, you could go Episcopalian. They can get married. It’s pretty much the same thing, right?”

Brett: Yeah, there is a sort of love story there.

Gabby: Overall, how do you come away from this movie?

Brett: This is, for me, a “You could watch this maybe.” Not the strongest recommendation, but I am glad I saw this and will probably watch it again sometime. If it’s on, leave it on. If you’re scrolling through your streaming service of choice and you see it, go ahead and click on it. I probably wouldn’t seek it out, but if I happen across it, I’ll watch it again.

Jeremy: I revisited most of the Exorcist movies this October. I’ve always liked the good entries in this series, but I didn’t realize how much until I watched them all so close together. Even if I see the religious aspects as allegorydominion_prequel_to_the_exorcist_3_0, I love the atmosphere and meditative tone of the original film, Exorcist III, and Dominion.

Objectively, Dominion is the weakest of the three. In many ways, though, it’s my favorite.

Part of it is the locations and period setting, but mostly, I connect with this interpretation of Father Merrin and the idea that the better angels of our nature can help us survive evil when it can’t be conquered whole. I don’t know what that says about me… but here we are.

True, Dominion’s never that scary – but if you’re willing to meet this film on its terms, you’ll find much to appreciate.

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Horror Reels: Psycho (1960) & The Wicker Man (1973)

Gabby: We talked about these two movies as an interesting contrast together due to some themes we were both interested to talk further about. These included hysteria, repressed sexuality and conservative group mentality. It is especially intriguing when paralleled with the reaction these films had on their initial release. There is something to that for sure. Both these films induced a wave of sensation. Perhaps tapping into that sexual fear that lay in the minds of the repressed middle class suburban society with Psycho. Also that paired with growth of the sexual freedom of the late 60s through to the 70s, which fed into Wicker Man.

What do you think of the way the audiences reacted in connection with these themes? And why do you think the sensationalism works so well in both due to their command of the horror genre?

Steve: I think it’s key that Psycho was released in 1960. After the end of WWII, it seems there was an aggressive desire on the part of most Americans to return to a sense of “normalcy.” Even though the Korean War took place from 1950-53, many Americans today don’t know a thing about it, and it’s commonly referred to as “the forgotten war.”Psycho I think that’s because most Americans at that time just couldn’t bear the thought of yet another war so soon after the last one. When I think of 50’s movies, a lot of them seemed to be the kind of escapist fare that we’re accused of churning out today. I know that’s not really fair, as the 50s also gave us great movies like The Searchers and Sunset Boulevard. But I see those as being exceptions. Another reason for the drive to escapism was the ongoing prospect of nuclear war – when faced with that fear, forgetting your troubles with a simple-minded comedy sounded pretty good, I’m sure. Then Hitchcock comes along in 1960 with Psycho. The 60s are remembered as being a turbulent decade, and in a way Psycho was the opening salvo. When “mother” whips aside that shower curtain, she’s pulling aside the curtain on a decade of repression and conformity. And audiences loved it. Psycho is still Hitchcock’s biggest money-maker. As much as audiences were unsettled by what they were seeing, they were fascinated by it as well. The response to Psycho showed that mainstream audiences were ready for this kind of provocative entertainment.

Psycho was a “grindhouse” movie that was safe for adults to see, in part because of the impeccable credentials of its director. As Hitch pushed every boundary he could think of, audiences were eager to see what he could get away with. Hitch was cracking open the door to more open displays of sexuality. The success of Psycho was a signal that the age of repression was over. Psycho didn’t just inaugurate the slasher film. It inaugurated a view of sex and sexuality that was not sniggering or juvenile. ps3That shower scene is justly famous, but in a way the walls of Jericho really fell with the first shot of Janet Leigh in her bra. Another reason Psycho resonated with contemporary audiences was their ability to identify with Marion and Norman. Both of these characters live with the kind of quiet desperation to which many could relate. Marion is a solidly middle-class woman who appears to live in reasonable comfort, yet has a dead-end job and a relationship that seems headed that way. Her material comforts are met, but her emotional needs are not. How many Americans in the “prosperous” 50s could identify with that?

Then there’s Norman. Before the major revelations about his character, our empathy for him resides in the sense that he is trapped by family obligations. I’m sure a lot of people in those initial audiences could identify with his desire to escape his tyrannical mother, and laud his sense of duty in staying with her.

One more thing about Hitch breaking through boundaries. I never realized until I saw the documentary on the Psycho DVD was the significance of the flushing toilet. The screenwriter Joseph Stefano indicated that he wanted to show the toilet as Marion is flushing her notes, because he thought it would unsettle the audience. He noted that he had never seen a toilet onscreen before. I wasn’t there to see, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if audiences did wince and squirm in their seats during that bit. It was again a sense that Hitch was transgressing by showing the toilet. Even though every person in that audience knew what it was and had been using one for years, actually SEEING it was a different story. Another moment when the forces of repression were defeated. What, after all, was the point of never showing a toilet before then? It suggests that we were meant to view that natural bodily function as something “dirty” where not only could you not see it, you couldn’t even suggest it. Not so different from some attitudes about sex and sexuality.

Gabby: There is a certain claustrophobia about the 50s. That use of entrapment in mother’s house used masterfully by Hitchcock taps into that as well as the wildness of the murder and sexuality of the film. What do you feel about the stuffed animals and its part in showing Norman’s psyche?

When I thought of entrapment, I saw those beautiful shots in the house that show the corridors and make you feel like you are unsafe, even as an audience member. Psycho-1960-Martin-Balsam-Mrs-BatesThat fever of being trapped, isolated as well as powerless is shown in both films. What do you make of the way they both use their locations to heighten this feeling? Also how do you feel this plays into the themes we have discussed and what makes it still resonate today?

Steve: That claustrophobic sense is conveyed in each film, in slightly different ways. In Psycho, the sequence leading up to Marion’s first view of the motel consists of a series of close-ups of Janet Leigh, each getting tighter and tighter as she feels the noose tightening around her via her imagined narration. The darkness all around her leaves just her face swimming in a sea of blackness. And the motel itself seems to rise up out of nowhere – at first we cannot see any of the surrounding countryside because of the dark and the rain.

In The Wicker Man, Edward Woodward is isolated by being essentially trapped on this island, where (as it turns out) everyone is in on the secret but him. He has his uniform and the imagined security of his position, but because of the remoteness of the setting these things do not offer any actual protection.

Concerning the stuffed birds: Hitchcock has used birds in his films to signify chaos and destruction (even as early as his 30’s film Sabotage). Norman’s stuffing of birds could be seen as his desire to capture and repress the destructive energies within. His comment that birds are “passive” is almost comical, because of the huge threatening owl positioned above him and Marion in the parlor.

I was speaking earlier about the 50s being a time of repression, a near-compulsive desire to feel “normal.” I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Richard Evans’s “The Third Reich in Power,” an analysis of what it was like living under the Nazis. One of the things Evans touches on is the Nazis’ treatment of homosexuals. Norman-Bates_zpsf008f186However, he also specifies that many countries criminalized homosexuality at that time, including England. He then makes the observation that although homosexuality in England had been criminalized for some time, almost twice as many prosecutions for it occurred AFTER WWII (the late 40s and 50s) as there had been in the 30s. I have to wonder if this is another sign of renewed repression after the war.

Back to the isolation conveyed by the films; I think this resonates today because one thing that reliably gives a person the creeps is feeling isolated and alone. Even if there are no overt threats, being isolated enhances our feelings of vulnerability, and challenges our notions of self-efficacy.

In The Wicker Man, our “hero” police officer is placed in a setting where all he really has to fall back on is his role as the voice of authority. But because he is alone, his assertions of authority become progressively more feeble and desperate as the film goes on. One thing I was thinking about The Wicker Man is how it depicts polarized views of sexuality and sexual energy. Woodward is the repression and denial of sexuality, while the islanders are the uninhibited expression of sex, even including taboo areas such as children. Each side is destructive and counterproductive, just in different ways. The children are ultimately used, (like so much else in these movies) to unsettle the audience. Nothing terribly wrong happens involving children in the movie, but simply having them in such a community feels transgressive – the audience can’t help but wonder what else might be going on with these children.

It’s interesting that Woodward and the pagans each view sexuality as something with almost mystical power. By his extensive repression, Woodward is tacitly asserting that sexuality is something potent to be feared. The pagans believe that in their indulgent expression of sexuality they are gaining power,howie and by sacrificing a “pure” man they will secure their salvation. Each time I see the scene with Britt Eckland (you know the one), I almost laugh at the stark fear Woodward is expressing. I want to say, “Good grief, man! You clearly want her and she’s certainly acting like she wants you – get over yourself and get to it, already!” (Sigh) but the victims in horror films never listen to me, anyway.

Gabby, have you seen the remake of The Wicker Man? One thing I find interesting is that in the original the head of the pagan community is a man (the wonderfully sinister Christopher Lee). In the remake, the community is run exclusively by women. I think the community is centered around bees because a bee hive is centered around the female while the males are clearly secondary.

While the original film relies on the tension between England’s pagan past and its repressive present, the remake seems more female vs. male. tumblr_lkib9w6S5R1qzsz6ro1_500The women “win,” but are seen as crazed and manipulative, while the men (not least Nick Cage himself) are morons being led by the nose. Of course, it was made by Neil LaBute, who seems to harbor equal contempt for both men and women (In the Company of Men skewers men, while The Shape of Things concerns one of the most hateful views of women I’ve ever seen).I think most people these days watch the remake ironically, to laugh at Cage’s nutty performance. But the sexual politics depicted are more interesting (and disturbing) to me.

Gabby: I have seen neither the remake of Wicker Man or Psycho. I am very happy to stay away from both of those. Psycho 2 however, I highly recommend. Going back to Psycho, Norman Bates has been said to be an image of a homosexual man from Queer theory texts. What is your opinions on this? The image of gay men, as we have touched on before, has often been linked to the criminal, insane and dangerous or deviant. Deviant sexuality in the 50s was basically any sexuality, especially anything that wasn’t between a husband and wife. This connects to that fear of isolation you brought up, that we can relate to when connecting to being different in general, in terms of sexuality or anything that could be slightly different to the strict social norms of a suburban society.

How do you think this contrasts with Woodward not acting on his sexual desires? Many homosexual men were fearing on acting on their desires not only because it was illegal, but because it was seen in such a negative light. Society was bigoted. Woodward came from this society, he was a man of the 50s views towards sex.
Any thoughts of it were wrong basically. Building to an unhealthy and sometimes devastating result in both these films. wicker-man-1973-002-stone-circle-dancers-00m-osv
I have never really thought about this before but do you think the film is punishing these characters for not expressing their sexuality? Instead of so many films, particularly in horror, which came before it, we could interpret that in these two films as being different. That it is due to the fact they have feared to greatly the expression of their true selves so they lead to extremes of conduct. This might be more fitting for the kinds of films these were, which were shocking, taboo breaking and scandalous. Even showing Janet Leigh in her underwear was shocking at the time. So when it comes to showing her in the shower, naked, being stabbed to death by a man dressed as his dead mother, who he has the corpse of in the basement, wow, no wonder it made such a wave! Then you have taboos in Wicker Man too. What are your thoughts of the way they use children in that film? And how do you feel the taboos in each film may connect beyond connecting to fears within us?

Steve: Norman’s mannerisms and body language could be read as a coded view of homosexuality. I think the main thing with Norman, however, is that his sexuality has been hopelessly screwed up by his suffocating upbringing. Norman clearly has sexual desires, but he has been taught to fear those desires by Mother. When Marion overhears (yeah that’s rich – the whole exchange is practically shouted) the conversation between Norman and Mother, we later understand that Norman is playing both parts. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he is simply repeating things his actual mother said to him. When Mother speaks of Marion appeasing her “ugly appetite” psycho-showeron both Mother’s food and her son, “she” is expressing a hatred and fear both of women and the sexuality they represent.

Robin Wood (a wonderful film critic I’ve mentioned before – if you have not already I would encourage you to check out his books Hitchcock’s Films and Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan) noted that when we see Norman and Sam facing each other in profile towards the end of the movie, Norman is like a distorted reflection of Sam. Sam has a relatively normal, healthy sexuality (not because he is straight, mind you, but because he openly expresses sexual affection towards Marion at the start of the film). By contrast, Norman’s sexuality is warped to the extreme.

Repression is a key theme both of Psycho and The Wicker Man, and like you pointed out, both films ultimately show this repression leading to disaster.

Ultimately, I think the reason both these films work so well is because they are targeting audiences who are themselves repressed. The filmmakers skillfully play on our own sexual repressiveness to unnerve us. The British audience for The Wicker Man would not see Edward Woodward’s character Howie as being a stuck-up repressed git – they would see him as a fairly noble reflection of themselves. Likewise, thewicker_man-04 American audience of Psycho would easily sympathize with Marion – the “good girl” – going “just a little bit mad” and chucking her boring life for a chance at true happiness with her lover.

Each film proves a safe outlet to let the viewer take a peek underneath our safe, “normal” facade and see what lurks underneath.

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The Horrorfying Indefinsibles: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Jeremy: Plan 9 from Outer Space: fearful of humanity’s destructive nature, aliens visit Earth to dissuade the human race from creating the ultimate weapon in the universe, Solaranite, by informing them of its existence and terrorizing them with an artisanal, small batch army of the undead.

Brett: So where do we actually start with Plan 9? Can we start with the disappointment that it’s not as terrible as advertised? I was handed that as received wisdom, it was in book that was published and everything.

Being called the worst movie ever made gave it a cache that it doesn’t quite live up to. I mean, I’d seen way worse movies than that on the TV 20 Thriller double feature. I’d seen worse movies by trolling the video store. Hershel Gordon Lewis makes Ed Wood look like William Shakespeare.

Jeremy: Oh, Plan 9 is as terrible as advertised.Plan9-4 It’s just made with love and enthusiasm. It’s memorable because of its own particular brand of awfulness.

Gabby: It has terrible things about it, but it has things to make it highly entertaining years later. To me that keeps it far from the worst list. There are too many movies that lack its joy. The ‘I’m game for this!’ attitude oozes out from everyone involved in this, I cannot resist its charms. I also cannot call it a terrible movie. It is bat shit fun. It is terrible, but entertaining to the point where you think, wow these people were awesomely crazy.

Jeremy, how did you first come to this movie?

Jeremy: My relationship with Ed Wood is typical for a film nerd in his early teens in the autumn of 1994. I discovered the Tim Burton biopic and MST3K within a few months of each other. My mind was blown by both discoveries – especially MST3K. I can’t recall a time before then that I purposely watched a movie because it was bad.

After seeing the Ed Wood biopic, I wanted to track down and buy all of his ‘50s films. Plan 9 was my first choice. I saved ten dollars for a VHS copy of it. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I discovered that Plan 9 was both as bad and not as bad as I expected (and to a lesser degree, the Burton film spoiled most of its surprises).

I enjoyed it enough to watch it the one time until now, and that was the last Ed Wood movie I bought. Despite my distaste for biopics, I still love the Burton film. And while I haven’t thought about the real Ed Wood in a long time, I still admire his passion and chutzpah.Plan9FromOuterSpace_1959_EitanVardi-poster But would I put one of his movies on for fun these days? No. There aren’t enough hours in a day right now.

Gabby: The Burton movie Ed Wood was my introduction as well. I found a movie of his in the library, Bride of the Monster. I wanted to have fun with it, but I didn’t. I want to revisit that as maybe I will embrace the wackiness of Wood. Plan 9 took me a while to warm up to that. But for some reason I really do have non-ironic fun with this.

So what are some elements that you guys think make it a good time?

Brett: There are so many little things. The cop who uses his gun as a pointer, or a head scratcher, or anything. The fact that someone has been murdered and SOMEBODY’S RESPONSIBLE!

The first time I saw Plan 9, I thought that it was a comedy. I thought it was a winking gag of a movie. When I learned that this was just the work of losers, I got self-conscious about it for a while. Eventually I decided that it didn’t matter. They made a movie, and lots of people watch it, so they can’t be that big a bunch of losers.

Jeremy: Plan 9 – the plan, not the movie – is to resurrect the dead and threaten to use them as an army against humanity if we don’t get our act together. And they carry out this plan by reanimating a whopping total of three people – two of them not exactly prime physical specimens, mind you – in a sleepy little town in 1950s America.

I understand not wanting to make any more undead soldiers than you really need – but the aliens needed to think bigger to get their point across.

Even better: this movie is basically a riff on The Day the Earth Stood Still… if Klaatu landed on Earth, invited three schmoes off the street into his spaceship, and told them, “People of Earth, I have come to stop you from inventing the ultimate weapon in the universe, Solaranite.

“Let me explain: take a can of your gasoline. Say this can of gasoline is the sun. Now, you spread a thin line of it to a ball, representing the Ea… Are you getting this down? I have a pen lying around here somewhere. After all, your Earth scientists are going to want to hear about this.

“Wait – put the gun down. Jeez, not only are you not writing this down, but you’re going to shoot us if we don’t stop reanimating your dead. I knew Earthmen were dicks, but you guys are the worst…”

It amazes me that, in the final moments of the movie, the aliens’ fears about humanity are proven true, and that’s where the movie ends. fullwidth.ca7f6c5bMaybe I’m asking too much, but all I could think as their flying saucer blew up was, “OK, Ed Wood… where are you going with this?”

It’s interesting – you both unintentionally picked movies released in 1959 for this round of films. If all of us hadn’t already watched my movie, I’d pick something from the same year for the symmetry.

When talking about The Wasp Woman, I mentioned that it kept stumbling onto big ideas and then didn’t know what to do with them. Plan 9, on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to say about atomic anxiety. It just swings for the fences and strikes out in the most ridiculous ways possible.

Gabby: I too love the way it riffs on The Day the Earth Stood Still. The way it does it though feels so ridiculous it is simultaneously a totally different kettle of crazy fish. It is about the same fears but has the opposite way of handling it. The sombre versus the childhood playground re-enactment.

I think that the enjoyment to be had at the badly written dialogue is also a shame. Imagine if this was a straight faced comedy? It would be brilliant. Despite this I still would love to be involved in a peformance of this. Deliver that clunky dialogue with gleeful sincerity. I think that says something at least for the vibes this movie communicates.

Jeremy: It’s fun, it’s stupid, and it means well. I’d enjoy it more if, when the alien commander calls the human characters “stupid, stupid, stupid”, I wasn’t thinking, “Well, yeah… Have you been watching this movie?”

Brett: In the end, I really enjoy this movie. It’s better with the Rifftrax running, but I enjoy it with a group without the commentary. There is aPlan9-6 larger discussion about things like MST3K waiting to happen here. While this was never a movie that was on MST3K, it’s the standard for their kind of movie.

I had seen a fair few of their movies before the treatment, but some I hadn’t seen until they were on the show. I learned about Russian fairy tale movies because of that show. The actual movies that Jack Frost, the Magical Voyage of Sinbad, The Day the Earth Froze, and The Sword and the Dragon are based on are frankly fantastic. You just have to see them in their original version without cutting or dubbing.

And it’s because of these innocent, just sort of bad movies, that I got to see the we wonders. Overall, I enjoy Plan 9 on several levels. Sometimes sarcastically, sometimes on its own merits.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. To close us out, here is my speculation of what Plans 1-8 were, going by the ridiculousness of Plan 9. In the spirit of Ed Wood, I wrote this in one draft during a quick lunch. Here goes:

PLAN 1: Irradiate four rotisserie chickens in the Macon, Georgia Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

PLAN 2: Clandestinely back every American Libertarian presidential candidate for the next 50 years.

PLAN 3: Beverage-sized ice cubes? Can humans survive without them?

PLAN 4: Killer Murphy Beds from Outer Space. (Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania area only.)

PLAN 5: Help the humans create the internet, then threaten to take their ability to transmit cute animal pictures away from them.

PLAN 6: Cripple the world economy and throw humanity into chaos by introducing the “extended warranty.”

PLAN 7: Replace all of Rhode Island’s ice cube machines with crushed ice machines. (Note: can someone tell Gary to lay off the ice cube related doomsday plans?)

PLAN 8: Has anyone considered not telling the humans about Solaranite and leaving them the hell alone?

Brett: I think my final thought is this. I like me some dumb movies sometimes. There is something oddly comforting about a Plan 9 style movie. Be it something that was on MST3K ortumblr_latjztiro51qazanuo1_500 just something from the 50 movies for 10 dollars DVD mega packs. You don’t have to pay attention, because A) you know all the words and B) it’s just not that important. These are the mac and cheese of movies, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the grilled cheese. When I’m sick, or depressed, or whatever, Ed Wood and Roger Corman are always there for me with plants that eat people and pie plate space ships.

Yeah, put that on the title card, this is the Mac N’ Cheese of movies.

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Horror Reels: The Babadook

Last year, one of the highlights for me was a horror film focusing on a single mother at her wits end with her restless son. The Babadook is a story she reads to him, before knowing what this book has in store for them.

Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai): The film works on a few levels. I enjoyed the depth of the story telling how all events get tied in together and it leaves it up to the individual to try and explain what happened. The performances were great and Jennifer Kent, the director, did outstanding as her first production. I’m impressed that this was a Kickstarter success story. Aside from being a talented actress she really shines as a story teller. There are some rough edges around the production but considering it’s a micro budget film its high quality.

Gabby: I was incredibly impressed by the film and the themes suggested throughout. I agree with you on Jennifer Kent. Fantastic performance, one that looks so very draining emotionally, which just made me emotionally invest in the film quite easily.

Jon: I like how Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has an obsession that turns out to be helpful and needed in the story. His mom, Amelia (Essie Davis), is struggling on so many levels, the death of her husband, providing for her son, her son’s difficulties and now her inability to sleep.the-babadook I was exhausted after watching this film. As a parent I connected with her dealing with her son’s needs. I have been there with her on dealing with a child that is out of sync with the rest of the world. It is incredibly hard. We are going to have to save what we thought about the ending for later but what did you want to explore first? The performances, production quality or story?

Gabby: I would like to talk first on the story by focusing in on something you mentioned, the many levels of struggle that Amelia is going through. With the combined elements you stated, it is no wonder that she would be desperate and it is easy to empathise with even not as a parent due to the sheer exhaustion felt of her growing inability to cope emotionally. Additionally though, there seems to be more to it than that.

I think there is an undercurrent of her struggling with mental health issues and the film uses the genre to deal with this in an incredibly effective manner.

The Babadook itself could even be seen as a metaphoric manifestation of her growing anxiety and depression. This is also paired with her difficulties of dealing with a child like Samuel, who also can be seen as a child with his own set of baba9-960x540difficulties, which would probably be diagnosed as somewhere along the Autistic spectrum. The guilt at this affecting mental health due to the huge pressures on mothers to be perfect and unconditionally loving towards their children poses a very brave dynamic from a film. Having children with difficulties doesn’t mean you love them any less than a parent with a child without them. It just brings some extra frustrations and issues. The outside world can be incredibly judgmental on parents with difficulties, let alone parents with added mental health problems of their own. How do you think the handling of these issues in the film fits with the horror genre, and do you think this can be connected to the look and production of the film such as the book itself, which is one of the creepiest things I have seen in a horror film in a while?

Jon: Horror movies do best by tapping into what people fear. People fear what they don’t know. The mental health crisis, in America at least, is one that needs more focus and attention on. There is a sub section of the horror genre surrounding mental health problems being the basis for the Horror. The Crazy people are the feared. It’s very harmful and continues to propagate the fear of mental health problems. But the Babadook gives her mental heal issue a form. We can separate the dark aspects from the person. She is completely engulfed by the darkness and with the help of her child she takes control of her issues. She maintains control of the problems not unlike many who suffer from mental illness. The filmmaker sets the viewer on edge; you can see that in the scene composition and the sound track. The performers also do well with making the interactions with other people as awkward as possible. You can see them completely cut off from everyone. Isolation and struggle make us connect with the main character because those are fear points built into our DNA. We feel the judgment of the people around her.

Putting the view in her shoes is a great way to give this problem a real context in everyone’s lives. The book itself was an excellent touch in making it incomplete and the story had more pages as the story went on. I always get freaked out when I utterly destroy a book and it shows back up on my shelf, I hate it when that happens. I really like how there were no lose ends. Nothing in the story was wasted or not utilizes in the story. Everything tied together so well that they had a perfectly complete story. What were your thoughts on the pace and flow of the story?

Gabby: I loved the pace as I thought the flow was elegant and incredibly effective. The way it builds, the look of the film too progressing with it, as well as the book and the gradual surfacing of The Babadook. I was sufficiently creeped out in the best way. I loved it. Not many movies achieve the goosebumps effect. download (1)The type of effect where the vibe lingers and your slightly spooked when it comes to turning the light off.

What do you think about these subjects being inappropriately handled before in American films and the fact this movie is Australian? I think it is very much its own film and in many ways original with its design and approach, as well as creative.

Jon: Very good point, the way its shot doesn’t ground it heavily in one country. It could be placed anywhere. That being said they use the mental illness as contributing factor instead of being at the root of the horror. Movies like this will start opening the door for understanding mental issues without stigmatizing the people who suffer.

Gabby: It could have been made independently in the US. The fact it is Australian though, makes it slightly different. Then there are the added elements: single mother, mental health, directed & written by a woman. That really is something.

Jon: Making a movie is very hard work, and doing all of the heavy lifting by founding sponsors is an achievement no matter what the gender of the filmmaker. She defiantly has a great feel for storytelling and handles these subjects with care in how she tells her story. She doesn’t diminish the struggle of any of those elements.

Gabby: The tone becomes part of that. It is special.

With the tone in focus, I want to bring up the Babadook itself. I think it is so effective as it is very similar in design and idea of a fear a lot of us had when we were Samuel’s age.

How do you think the film handles and plays with these fears?

Jon: It’s great at making the Samuel the hero and his odd behavior was actually all for a reason. 3531e4a9264dbb1c244a188afc248f0cHis base fear drove him to make these traps and they in turn helped save is mother. They use fear as a tool and that can be used as a metaphor in itself. We don’t have to feel bad about our fears if we use them to accomplish something.

Gabby: You stated one of them with the book coming back after being destroyed. Growing pages. I think we can all think of a story that we thought of like that when we younger. One that haunted us in nightmares. As a horror fan I feel an odd desire to reconnect with this fear.

Jon: It is fun to be scared and get the rush of adrenalin when we know it’s all a big lie on the screen or on the page. I am safe even if I have these feelings. What I like is that it didn’t let off the pressure because the creep factor was slowly building and the relief scenes were more of her not sleeping and that added to my agitation. She is still not doing well in real life and now she is dealing with the ominous force that is taking over her mind.

Gabby: There is an enjoyment there too. The film works on me. I can feel the fact it is a good movie. I love this feeling, even if it is because of being able to tap into personal feats of mine. It has the power to connect with something personal within me. This is a larger movie fan desire that is more understandable for non horror fans.

Jon: I have to make a confession here, I appreciate the film but it’s not one of my favorites. I really like what the movie is and what it communicatesThe Babadook but it didn’t speak to me as a viewer. I admire Jennifer Kent for her passion on this project and how she got it off the ground and the finished product. It is a great accomplishment but when I compare it to other in this category its average. That being said I think this movie has appeal to a wider audience than just the horror fans. Because its talking about being a single mother and dealing with issues in parenting and maintaining your own sanity. It speaks to a lot of people.

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The Horrorfying Indefinsibles: The Wasp Woman

Janice Starling is the founder of a giant cosmetics company whose her sales have dropped due to her aging appearance. She pursues on a mysterious miracle formula that has youth restoring elements including wasp jelly. However, with Janice’s need for quick results, she starts transforming into a murderous wasp.

Brett: I didn’t hate it, but I found it a little dull. The problem is, this movie is a better conversation starter than it is a movie. You could talk about all the ideas and problems in the treatment of women, but the movie isn’t so much interested in discussing them.

Jeremy: So Gabby, why The Wasp Woman?

I didn’t hate it, either. But you’re right: even at 72 minutes, it’s stalling for time until we get to the monster late in the movie. Even then, the last sequence in the corporate office is less about building suspense and more about stretching things out to hit a run-time. But it’s still a neat little riff on werewolf movies with some surprisingly weighty issues at the center of it. I’m curious to know if these ideas were deliberate or just stumbled upon thanks to Roger Corman’s “done by Tuesday” style of film-making. It has all the makings of a great Twilight Zone episode. And I don’t intend that as faint praise.

Gabby: The movie doesn’t approach the subject of attitudes towards aging women with much care, especially in terms of developing, discussing and criticising it in a way that would have made the running time much more dynamic.  screen-shot-2012-03-29-at-9-38-50-pmHowever, the very fact this subject is brought up makes this little movie interesting. Even though the filmmakers might not have been concerned, it nevertheless seeps through I feel. And that is still interesting. As Brett said, it is an interesting conversation starter, rather than a worthy enough movie for an inevitably complex and important cultural problem.

Jeremy, I agree with you that the weighty issues it brings up were surprising. Maybe that was the main element that made me really like it on the first viewing. I was aware of what it was, and that it wasn’t very good, but that element of surprise at the fact it made me think and it stuck with me made me give the movie more credit than it probably deserves.

It definitely could be a really great TV episode. The themes and the riff off the werewolf movie would work for that.

I wanted to ask you about a theme I saw reoccurring with your live tweeting through the film, the mad scientist. The science behind this is totally nuts. I find it nuts in an enjoyable way, and it seems you had a good time riffing on it. I can’t help enjoy this insane way in which that is handled. I think it is because it feels sincere in a way rather than merely offensively bad. It is to make it simple for time but it is also the very strange way of approaching the explanation of the wasp transformation.

Brett: The Wasp transformation is just bananas. The Mad scientist is really only considered mad because the movie kept having people tell us that he’s crazy. He doesn’t really act nuts. He actually seems pretty responsible and competent.

Jeremy: Yeah, Dr. Zinthrope is in kind of a Goldilocks situation. At the beginning of the film, he’s supposed to be researching royal jelly from bees for health food and beauty products.WaspWoman2 Instead, Zinthrope’s playing around with wasp royal jelly (not a real thing) to find the secret of immortality. The middle manager who visits him sees the dog that he’s supposedly turned back into a puppy and fires him on the spot. That’s not a terribly surprising reaction – but how much of a corporate stooge do you have to be to pass on a possible perpetual puppy serum without even contemplating the riches of that discovery for a second?

Zinthrop then falls in with our main character, Janice Starlin, and her cosmetics company. She gives him all the money and resources he could ever want without any oversight and, as it always happens in these movies, pushes for things to happen too fast without proper testing. It’s maybe not a new idea — but I like that this film presents the notion that scientific progress is probably at its best when it’s sitting comfortably between the mind-sets of “There’s no way that’s possible!” and “Now! Now! NOW!!! There’s money to be made!”

Brett: I think they were also making a statement about how Janice Starling was sort of to blame here. Felled by her own savage ego, because… you know… WOMEN! Am I right fellas?

Gabby: What do you guys think of the choice of wasps for the transformation animal? Relating to the issues of women in the work place I find it a particularly appropriate choice in terms of ugly attitudes towards them that have no place in modern society.

Brett: Oh yeah, I think there was an attempt to say something here.the-wasp-woman I just don’t think they gave it enough time or thought though. There could be a great remake here, where they examine a few of the ideas they just toss out here. Remake this with Ellen Page in age make up that gradually drops away and you’ve got something.

They do hammer away with the misogyny a bit, making the whole thing a little cartoonish. But on the whole, the idea of the woman as the wasp is pretty much spot on for how women in powerful positions are treated.

Jeremy: Yeah, it’s hard to miss the symbolism: she’s the queen of her own empire. I know this movie is from a different time, but I’d be more on board with it if she actually was the queen of her own empire, instead of constantly being contradicted and handled by everyone else around here – especially the men. And is there any logic to why/when she transforms?

Brett: Not that I could see. It was just her one moment and wasp the next.

Jeremy: OK, I’m glad I didn’t miss something. I’m fine with the creature design and makeup. Even if it’s obviously to save money on sets, I appreciate that all of her attacks occur within her company’s building – her hive, if you will. But I needed at least a little logic or justification for when the transformations come on.

I mean, I didn’t need a “Even a CEO who turns a profit and offers a flexible schedule without nights may become a wasp when the mansplaining blooms and the stress headaches are full and… brights”, but something – anything – to explain why she turns would be nice.

Gabby: I think the wasp is a really interesting idea at the centre of choosing a wasp. It definitely leads itself to tackling ideas of how women in the work place were seen. Take Joan Crawford and her involvement with Pepsi. And then look at how there are ‘binders full of women’ in politics or any other high positions. I think a way of dealing with Brett’s version would be to add elements of that attitude of how the glass ceiling has broken attitude with clear signs it hasn’t. Such as the beyond ugly and hypocritical attitudes towards older women.

I agree with the transformations. I think the reason why I wanted to defend it is much more about what this film could be if you took care and time to develop some fascinating social problems. What are your wrap around thoughts both of you?

Jeremy: To add on about mad science: I love bonkers science from movies of this era, where all you is “x” to make “y” to happen. In most cases, I’m happy to have a simple, fun premise if it’s a good hook. Person being bit by radioactive spider who became a friendly neighborhood spider-person. What’s not to love about that?

And this is a great hook that feels very much like a first draft. I kept coming back to the original Wolf Man in my head while watching the film. That film, one of my favorites, also has some muddled thematic elements, but that story is always focused on Larry Talbot and his father. We care what happens to them.

The same can’t be said for The Wasp Woman. I want a version of this movie where I’m interested in Janice Starlin and care what happens to her.bfi-00n-pvu

Gabby: Agreed! What about your final thoughts Brett?

Brett: I like that you could sit down after this movie and discuss it with people later. It wants say something, even if it’s a little clumsy at it. You can see the ideas working. Everything wrong with movie can be answered with “Eh, it was a Corman movie from the 50s, it was never going to be great. Genre and budget man, genre and budget.”