website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘horror’

Media Log 01.23.12

(cinema) The Innkeepers, d. Ti West, 2011. “Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.” That’s a funny line from this horror movie that is playful in its script without ever degrading to farce and stupidity. It is the lobby level of Innkeepers where the movie works, at least for the first three quarters. Two slacker clerks in a New England hotel kill time on their long shifts by trying to record proof the old place in haunted. Besides the funny banter between the clerks there is the role of the horror movie “last girl” presented here as quirky, nerdy, and on time with her slap stick. You don’t see girl characters like this in any kind of movie except for maybe one with Drew Barrymore. Kelly McGillis also makes a strong appearance as a psychic guest in the hotel who warns the clerks against waking up spirits. Yep, Kelly McGillis was the sex object in Witness and Top Gun back in the 80s who never did anything again except come out of the closet. I don’t know if I can say McGillis is slumming now in indy horror. The cast is the best part of The Innkeepers. The worst part is the proposed ghost story. That fourth quarter is fairly suspenseful, scary and bloody but the back story on why the place is haunted never comes together. ๏ ๏ ½

Media Log: 01.20.2012

(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the

Ezra Miller as Kevin

scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the

Miller in Afterschool

sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏

Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.

Media Log: 01.14.2012

(cinema) Drive, d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011. I just watched Drive for the second time. On closer inspection I figured out that if this movie with the same L.A. crime underworld story had been edited too fast and too furious and amped with a soundtrack of Kidd Rock anthems it would have come off as total trash. As one gangster character who used to produce low-budget films says, “One critic called them [movies] European. I thought they were shit.” For Drive the filmmakers adopted highly stylized and deliberate editing with brilliant, catchy, 1980s sounding synth music are these are the two elements that hide all the flaws in this movie and make it so captivating. As produced, Drive is brilliant in its turns between the actors subtleties and violent action excesses. Drive is the best movie I saw in 2011 and goes on a list of great of great American films. ๏ ๏ ๏ ½… The Mothman Prophesies, d. Mark Pellington, 2002. Richard Gere is a recently widowed reporter who inexplicably wakes up in a West Virginia town four hundred miles from home. He starts encountering townspeople who are having their own paranormal encounters with a moth-like man who whispers warnings of a looming catastrophe. Mothman is a successfully weird and suspenseful thriller that never tries to over-explain its phenomena. We are never told exactly what is going on between life in the town and whatever dimension the Mothman comes from, nor is it resolved why reporter id dragged into it. I like that these mysteries stay in tact. I like that we don’t really know how much of what is transpiring is just shadow of the reporter’s unresolved trauma. Is he imagining everything? Is he Mothman? In the end it’s a well acted drama about the reporter trying to move beyond his tragic past. But this is a false ending as we find out there really is tragedy about to collapse on the town. Apparently the story is adapted from an investigation into a real incident in 1968 where a West Virginia bridge collapsed and killed forty-six people. That part of it may be factual but it didn’t make for a better ending. One other issue with this film is the terrible casting of Laura Linney as the town cop and love interest for Gere. I love Laura Linney in everything else. Would Elizabeth Taylor have made a good Barney Fife just because she was a good  actress? If the movie had got its priorities straightened out it could have been a modern classic.๏ ๏ ๏… (television) Star Trek DS9, THE STORYTELLER. O’Brien and Bashir visit a village of idiotically superstitious Bajorian yokels who think only O’Brien can save their village from the wrath of a giant cloud entity that looks a lot like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. In an equally idiotic subplot, a teenage ambassador, negotiating for the future of her own village, gets the best advice from the only other kids on DS9, Jake Sisco and his Ferengi chum Nog. This episode plays like it was written for and by children. Not the worst of the first seasons episodes, but quite irritating.

BSD Movie Log: Borderland

Borderland (2007, d. Zev Berman)

Three impulsive and illiberal students, awaiting grad school,  take a bro-cation to a tenderloin, Mexican border town. Although  looking for  dope and hookers, they accidentally find themselves the prey of a violent drug order/religious cult.  While one bro is being tortured and strung up by his castanets, the other two come after the well-armed gang with a tire iron and get their gringo culos handed to them.  They should have turned around at El Paso and headed straight back to Stanford.

Based on a true story, Borderland is a case where a better movie is lurking just beneath the one we’re unfortunately watching.  The American douchebags are neither sympathetic characters nor well cast actors.  More interesting to me is the gang of drug-smuggling orphans who kidnap virgin male tourists for their Jim Jones-esque leader.  A guy who performs a sadistic Santeria ritual upon the victim in the belief that such blood sacrifice will render him invisible to narcotics law enforcement.  Now that’s entertainment!

BSD Movie Log: My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine (1981, d. George Mihalka)

After a 20 year moratorium, a small coal mining town plans to relaunch their once traditional Valentine’s Day dance, even though the day is scarred with the memory of  a serial killer who brutally murdered V-Day revelers.  Then real, dissevered human hearts, in heart-shaped candy boxes, start getting delivered to the town’s elders – the same modus operendi of the legend.  Has the Valentine’s murderer come back or has someone else picked up his trademark? A group of young partiers end up in the bowels of the local coal mine, trapped inside with the spiteful Valentine’s Day killer.

I don’t know why this guy came to hate Valentine’s Day so much.  Maybe he thought he was the only one in town who wasn’t getting any.  Anyway, the motivation for all the killing is really secondary to the joy in seeing innocent people cut into pieces, no?  Murder qua murder. My Bloody Valentine isn’t like the high-tech torture porn of today’s horror cinema.  It’s just gory, suspenseful, cheap, idiotic and cool.

BSD Movie Log: I Bury The Living

I Bury The Living (1958, d. Albert Band)

A businessman is obliged to serve a rotation as administrator of a company owned cemetery.  While on site he finds a wall-sized map of the reserved grave plots.  He also discovers, to his consternation, that inserting a ball-head pin in a plot will cause the intended plot owner to die mysteriously.  Is it coincidence?  Is someone playing an evil trick on him?  Or is there some paranormal phenomena orrcuring?

I Bury The Living is a fun, creepy idea, although the concept doesn’t necessarily call for a feature length movie.  It’s sort like of a good Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 70 minutes.

BSD Movie Log: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Freddy's Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, d. Jack Sholder)

Teenage Jesse and his family move into the same house on Elm Street where the teenage girl of the first movie was terrorized in her dreams by the psychotic spector Freddy Krueger.  Now Freddy is haunting Jesse’s dreams and wants to make Jesse his living avatar for murdering people in the living world.

After successful use of the familiar “last surviving girl” motif, the first Nightmare on Elm Street sequel went with a story centered around terrorizing a teenage boy.  Not a bad direction to take, but horror movies are cathartic fantasy and male protagonist victims always come off a little gay.  If they didn’t mean for it all to come off gay here they should have maybe cut the scene where the teenage boy in the gym shower psychokineticly strips his bondage fetishist coach naked and lashes him to death with jump rope.  There are a lot of weird homoerotic scenes if you like that.  Otherwise this is below average material.

BSD Movie Log: Pulse

Pulse (2006, d. Jim Sonzero)

A computer hacker commits suicide and his girlfriend starts looking into a mysterious, mind-controling virus he may have downloaded.  It spreads first among her friends, then across her college campus, until she finds herself one of the last survivors up against  a powerful, malevolent force that is rapidly taking over entire world via the Internet.

Pulse has little character or plot development with its initial LAN of college friends, and then it streams at high bandwidth into a story about the demise of civilization.   It is a concoction of one part 28 Days Later and two parts The Ring, two enormously better and more successful horror movies.  In particular Pulse was a really late dropper in a spate of horror movies inspired by Ring style technophobia.

BSD Movie Log: Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark (2002, d. K.C. Bascombe)


A 12 twelve year boy old lives with chronic phobia of dark places.  Is it a psychological disorder, immaturity, desire for attention, or does the boy see really see terrifying things in the dark that can’t be seen in the light?  His torment comes to zenith when one stormy night he and his older teenage brother are at home alone during a blackout.  Evil spirits come from the walls to attack the boy, and big, macho brother starts to see  them too.

This is a horror movie that falls in-between being to0 scary for kids, and too arrested for any adult with an IQ above 80.

Paranormal Too

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010, d. Tod Williams)

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” went to #1 on the Billboard charts twice.   His sequel “Let’s Twist, Again” only made it to #8.  Paranormal Activity, from 2009, was derivative of other horror movies using hand-held video and a found-footage conceit, but it was a creative twist.  As for Paranormal Activity 2, I’m sorry, but sequel, prequel… whatever, you don’t get credit for making the same movie twice.

A married couple brings their newborn baby home to their suburban dramatization, and unhealthily video tapes every living moment of their unextraordinary lives.  After the house is curiously vandalised, but not robbed, they install an elaborate security camera system that documents every inch of their  laminate and Oak Express interiors.  So, most of the found-footage from this point on comes via those cameras (which actually helps to address a lot of the “if their so freaked out why do they keep filming it?” criticisms).  What we see, from our fly on the wall view,  is the hour by hour behavior of some evil apparition, a demon in the house,  gradually more and more ornery.  Mostly the demon comes in the form of a crescendo of audience-jarring noises.  At the beginning of the movie we hear a snap.  By the middle is ascends to a crackle.  And finally, near the end, the intense pop!  My question is, if the demon is so pissed off, why doesn’t he just start terrorizing the family at full volume?  Eventually it’s revealed that the demon is after the baby.  Well, he should just ask for it.  Instead we have 90 minutes of the same wondering when something’s going to  happen , the same zombie lady standing around possessed for hours sped-up – all the same spooky tricks used in PA1.  In between there’s the continuation of the vague, cursed family back story that has really nothing to do with what’s happening in front of us.

Paranormal Activity 2 operates on this marinating model to build dramatic impact.  That would be fine if it weren’t the exact same drama building device they used in the first movie.  I don’t dislike Paranormal Activity 2.  I just think my movie dollar should stretch farther.

Patchwork of Horrors Under The Stairs

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

The People Under the Stairs

Between numerous sequels of Nightmare On Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes, horror director Wes Craven came up with this wild, little urban-horror fairytale.  It is a horror movie, but a patchwork of just about everything horrible under the full moon: sadomasochism, poverty, injustice, incest,  slumlords, economic exploitation, OCD, racism, child abuse, castration anxiety, haunted houses, gore, slapstick, violence, and animal cruelty.

Fool, a 13 year old boy, gets involved in a  home robbery with two adult burglars.  Fool is looking for a rumored coin collection, the value of which could prevent his family from being evicted and pay for his mother’s lifesaving cancer surgery.  The coin collection belongs to a wealthy, racist and a bizzare man and woman who are also the family’s landlords.  After breaking into the fortress-like surburban house, the burglars discover that it is full of passageways between the walls, deadly traps, and a vicious guard dog.  Also, the homeowners are holding their teenage daughter captive as well as a dozen or so teenage boys in a cage under the stairs, and their tongues have been cut out.  The homeowners themselves are a nerotic folie a deux, alternately compulsively clean and prone to wanton destruction of their own property; alternately sexually perverse and obsessive about their daughter’s chastity.  Chased by the couple and their flesh eating dog throughout the house and it’s hidden chambers, Fool befriends the teenage girl and her imprisoned, mutilated consorts, and they help him escape with the coins.  His family’s financial crisis solved, Fool makes a deadly decision to return to the house and liberate all of the teen prisoners.

The People Under The Stairs isn’t great horror movie or a great movie period.  But its unique story and the story telling is intriguing.   It has a fairytale quality and a lot of juvenile  humor, yet adult themes.  It has slapstick and farce, but it’s also effectively violent and gross.  The bawdy comedy and gore is definitely intended for a broad theater audience.  However dumb it was, I have to confess it worked on me.  The bad guys lose and the audience wins.

The People Under The Stairs (1991, d. Wes Craven)

BSD Movie Log: I Monster

I, Monster (1971, d. Stephen Weeks)

A turn of the century British doctor is on the verge of a medical breakthrough: he’s devised a drug capable of releasing deepest inhibitions. But when the good doctor uses the drug on himself, he releases a dangerous alter ego. With each transformation, he becomes more powerful and hideous. The doctor is caught in a deadly struggle with his inner self.

If this sounds to you like a movie version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, you’re spot on, as the British would say.  In addition to starring both the greats of Hammer Horror Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it’s a fairly loyal translation of the original story, accept for the main character’s names.

If anybody knows what happened with this movie in getting made with the name change, please comment.

Haunted Home

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

Burnt Offerings

The literary antecedents of the haunted house movie go back  to 18th and 19th century gothic novels and the underlying mythological matter probably from further than that.  I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies this month and hadn’t fully realized how frequently the device of the haunted house is used.  Real estate marketing parlance has infected our contemporary culture in the use of  the word home for house, to conflate an ideal with a place.  The idea being that home is about values – family, comfort, safety, legacy – and that a house is the thing that will provide all of that for a negotiated  price.  It doesn’t.  The home/house conflation is a hollow notion.  Maybe that’s why when talking about movies where people find their new place occupied by restless dead people, demons, and unsettled spiritual grudges we prefer not to have the residence of these terrible stories called a haunted home.  The haunted house as depicted in Burnt Offerings I think symbolizes a deep uneasiness with the excepted idea that for every family, house is where the home is; that the values of home can always to be found through accumulation and consumption.

some unseen force tears this family asunder

The family of Burnt Offerings isn’t wealthy.   They are a  middle-class family stumbling across a home that is not too nice for them, but rather too much, too big.   When they assume the role of being able take control of the house, they discover too late that the house is consuming them.   Marian and Ben, with their teenage son and septengenarian aunt in tow rent a neglected and decaying gothic mansion as their summer getaway.  They are told by the off-beat  sister and brother who own the house that the couple can have it all summer for $900.  They only need the couple to provide care for their invalid mother who resides in the attic.   Marian volunteers to be the one who looks after the old woman and set meal trays outside her locked door.  The family moves in, but Marian begins to be obsessed with the photographs and antiques and spends long periods in the old woman’s parlor.  She overreacts when the the boy accidently breaks a crystal bowl and admonishes him not to touch “beautiful things.”  Meanwhile Ben begins to be feel depresssed.  He and Marian stop having sex.  He is haunted by terrifying memories of his mother’s funeral.  He has disabling visions of a old fashioned hearse driven by a creepy, spectral  chauffeur .  Ben’s disorientations lead to a scary incident where he uncontrollably tries to drown his teenage son in the swimming pool.  The aunt, at first animated and full of vigor, quickly declines into lathargy and ill health.  As the family falls to pieces, the aging old house starts to repair itself; the gardens bloom and the shingles and siding literally fall off like old skin to be magically replaced by fresh painted materials underneath.  The house thrives like a destructive parasite on the family’s youth and vitality.  The family is dying physically and emotionally, so that the house can live.  By the time they figure out it’s the  house that’s killing them, they also learn that the house will not allow them to leave.  The dream house becomes a prison and a death trap.

It’s a critique on the idealization of American dream. In trying to live the dream, this family learns that the cost isn’t just $900 for the summer, but the hidden costs of moral and familial values that would make such a dream worth living.  Even if you don’t buy into the critique, Burnt Offerings is still a great horror movie.  The scenes with the ghost hearse and the family trying to escape are all effectively frightening.  But the growing uncertainty in what these formerly nice people are going do to each other, as their inner rage manifests, is the scariest part.

Burnt Offerings (1976, Dan Curtis)



What's EATGNU? (or Jeepers Creepers! Its The Gay Bogeyman!)

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended features are:

Jeeper Creepers (2001)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

I finally watched both of the  Jeepers Creepers movies for the fist time after seeing a post that including them among The Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies [link].  I have to admit both were great, though not because they were unintentionally gay.  In fact, calling Jeepers Creepers unintentionally gay would be like saying the Kennedy assasinations were the result of unfortunate accidental gun discharges.  The serial of these films is most assuredly about a man-eating monster who favors the flavor of men.

In Jeepers Creepers a young brother and sister couple are driving home on break from college on a desolate country road.  Darry is bringing his laundry home to mother, who we are told dotes on him.  Trish is taking time off from her boyfriend to pepper little brother with jibes about his full masculinity and the suggestion that maybe people “know something you don’t.”  They cross paths with a menacing truck driver, who has the vanity license plate BEATNGU.  They witness the guy dumping sheet-wrapped bodies down a drainage pipe.  The kids sneak back to investigate the pipe and Darry daringly crawls in.   At the bottom he uncovers the body of a naked young man who has had his torso dissected and resown.  Further into the cavern Darry finds hundreds of dismembered corpses sewn into the walls like a quilt.  Darry and Trish drive to a roadside diner where they contact the police.  In the meantime, the killer has been tracking the couple.  Darry had used a pair of his dirty underwear, unintentionally died pink in the laundry, to tie down the broken trunk of their car, and this served as an unintentional baiting device.  The killer breaks into the car to enjoyably sniff the laundry and confirm that Darry has something he wants.  A policeman arrives and is escorting the couple’s car home when the patrol car is attacked and the kids get their first good look at The Creeper.  Despite attempting to  disguise himself with a wide brim hat and a tattered black duster, The Creeper is a tall moth-like monster with scales on his skin, and wings.  He is a creature who looks somewhere between Japanese kaiju horror monster Mothra and Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider.  In a demonstration of sadisitc homoeroticism, The Creeper decapitates the male police offficer with a home-forged hachet, and bites the tongue out of the severed head.  Darry and Trish escape to a police station where a local psychic, who has also been following them in her visions, catches up to notify them of what she’s learned from the dreams.   The Creeper, who aparently emerges from dormancy every 23 years for a 23 day feeding period, sniffs out people for specific body parts that he desires and eats.  She also implies that Darry, despite his denial, already knows what the monster wants of him.  I won’t spoil the movie, but suffice it to say that the end is more proof of The Creeper’s specific interest in male bodies and homoerotic voyerism .  I read this as an allusion to the idea of gay men may fetishizing male body parts, that they want to build a fantasy male from the combined parts of different men.

We get another clue what The Creeper has  desire for in the beginning of  Jeepers Creepers 2 when he swoops into a cornfield and flys away with an attractive, toe-headed teenage boy.  Nearby a school bus is  transporting a boys high school basketball team, and a few of their cheer girls, down the same country highway a few days after the incidents of the first Jeepers movie.  Where Jeepers 1 was a stand alone horror story, Jeepers 2 begins more similarly to what I would consider a copycat teen slasher movie: a lost group of teen characters are hunted and methodically killed according to an implicit order of punishment for boorish behavior and/or fornication.  Here, The Creeper disables the school bus on an isolated road and kills all the adult chaparones to enhance a sense of helplessness and  fear on behalf of the teens.  We learned in the first movie that fear emanates some scent The Creeper uses to identify which victims present the most desirable body parts.  In a scene I can only describe as out of the ordinary, The Creeper, while hanging upside down in the bus window points through the crowded alies of the bus at each of the teens he intends to consume, like picking live catch from a restaurant aquarium.  If the implication in the fact that each of his menu selections are male is still unclear, he advertizes his interest in the last boy with a disgusting, erotic sweep of his steaming tounge.  As The Creeper begins to tear apart the bus and pick off his selected male victims, the teens argue over whether they are safer on or off the bus, and whether they should take the doubtful step of dividing themselves into groups as The Creeper’s chosen and unchosen.  Ultimately this debate is of little value as when the kids make a run for it, The Creeper finds his marked boys and wings away with them anyway.  What they fear most is unavoidable.

To my surprise this teen horror movie turns far from the copycat rythm as the teenagers spend much of the time defending themselves not only from the attacks of the monster, but from the prejeudices of their peers.  In the midst of crisis some kids show the character to see the importance of being a team, other fall into patterns of self-preservation and bigotry.  There are unsubtle opinions raised about race, social status, and explicitly in the other boy’s suspicion of the “gay” kid.  The high school sports journalist Izzy, is frequently accused of being gay, “Izzy or isn’t he?”  As in the first Jeepers film, homosexuality left in question is ultimately more important than getting a definitive answer.  Where analysis of teen horror film often proposes a subtext of adolescent anxieties about sex, procreation, and marriage, Jeepers Creepers is a unique mainstream discourse in male anxiety about suppressed homosexual feelings.  If you are a regular boy and a gay monster, after smelling all your peers, selects you, what does that say about you?  Does the monster know something you don’t?  In the story the alleged real gay boy is actually overlooked by the The Creeper and survives to act heroically.  The Creeper is not only an eroticised homosexual killer, he violently demonstrates the terror of a sexual monster within, the fear of what happens to men who are tempted by underlying homosexual desire.

Its worth noting that despite being a different kind of text for a horror movie, the classic feminist critique of an ever present male gaze continues to stare longingly.  It’s just looking in the mirror now.  The Trish character in the first movie and the cheer girls on the bus still have little agency in these stories.   She is now just a bystander as opposed to the obect of male fetishism.  As a selection for the Halloween Movie Club, there are other reasons to like the Jeepers movies besides the feminist critique and the homoerotic text.  Both movies are sharply written, genuinely suspensful, and well acted.

Finally there is public information available about the film director having spent time in jail for child molestation before these movies were ever made.  I think knowing that may be prejudical to first time viewing although it opens the discussion to some other interesting analogies.  I recommend watching the movies before looking deeper into the director’s biography.

Jeepers Creepers (2001, d. Victor Salva)

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003, d. Victor Salva)

Top 25 Horror Movies Ever

More Halloweeny movie thrills.  The Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time from the IGN blog.  The opinions of that blog are not necessarily those of your humble servant.  And a lot of their choices are just plain wrong.

link:  Top 25 Horror Movies of All-Time – Movies Feature at IGN.

BSD Movie Log: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, d. Roman Polanski)

A young couple moves into a new apartment and find themselves overwhelmed by peculiar neighbors and unsettling coincidences. When the wife becomes pregnant, she also becomes paranoid that the neighbors are witches and that the coincidences are parts of a plot to kidnap her unborn child for use in Satanic rituals.

Considered by many to be a horror classic, and even a cinema classic, I like the movie but find it disappointing on two levels.  The first is a fault in the construction of the film in that it seems to have no middle part.  It’s more than 2 hours of anxious build-up with a rather silly payoff in the last few minutes.  The second disappointment I suspect stems from being sui generous and controversial in its time.  But it’s been imitated so much that now that it comes off as trite.  I suspect people at the time of the movie’s release found it an indicting treatment of the upper-middle class and bourgeois professionals.  It just doesn’t seem shocking now.

BSD Movie Log: Clownhouse

Clownhouse (1989, d. Victor Salva)

Just back from an unsettling night at the circus, and home alone, three young brothers are terrorized by three escaped mental patients dressed as circus clowns.  This movie is about confronting childhood fears, identity questions, and sexual anxiety.  Taking it more logically, I didn’t understand why the clowns wanted to get into the house or why they thought disguising themselves in white face and hoop-waist pants would make them inconspicuous.

This movie became notorious years after its release when one of the young cast members came forward that the director had molested him during production.  Somebody who wants to pick it apart will find a lot of analogous behavior between  the scary clowns and the decision by  the director to frequently show the tween boys in their underpants.  It left me feeling a little dirty.  But to anybody who pervs on that, I say. “Bon appetite, Short Eyes!”

Kill More, Talk Less

My Soul To Keep (2010, d. Wes Craven)

The reason I never really followed the Nightmare On Elm Street horror series beyond the first movie was because the concept never attacked  me, so to speak.  I know people enjoy their serial killers, or blood and mayhem but I have to believe in what I’m watching for 93 minutes.  Nightmare, directed by Wes Craven was about a serial killer, Freddy Kreuger, a nine-inched nailed spector who hunts teenage victims in their dreams.   The teenagers are the surviving children of a mob who burned Kreuger to death because he had murdered children (molested in the 2010 remake).  It’s a pretty simple, although supernatural,  slasher concept that was understandably popular and basically repeated for 10 sequels.  I, personally, found it too simple and too separate from my anxiety portfolio to ever be interesting.  Craven has returned now with something called My Soul To Take and comparing the coherency of this new concept makes Nightmare On Elm Street read like “Ulysses.”

Here goes.  A guy who has been mis-diagnosed as schizophrenic, stabbs seven people  to death, stealing their souls, while in unconscious thrall to his evil personality nicknamed “The Riverton Ripper.”  When he is captured and demobilized, the souls within him escape and infiltrate the bodies of seven babies born that same night at Riverton General.  Fast-forward 16 years.  The Riverton Seven, now teenagers, are marking the solemn anniversary of Ripper Day by participating in a ritualized puppet show that is supposed to call The Ripper back for a confrontation.  Among the seven is Bug, the fearful, perhaps schizophrenic, perhaps telepathic, surviving son of The Riverton Ripper (Bug, doesn’t know he’s the son, but everybody else in town does).  Someone wearing the ugly, lifesize Ripper puppet costume, acquires the Ripper’s signature weapon, a fold-out knife with  the word “vengence” engraved, and starts the business of murdering the Riverton Seven one-by-one.  As it appears The Ripper is finally coming for him, Bug goes through a mild metamorphosis and decides to face his fears.  When only Bug and his best friend Alex are left, they accuse each other of carrying the inhabitant soul of The Ripper.  Bug, stopping to explain in great deatail how he traced back Alex’s movements, proves how only Alex can be The Ripper.  He stabs Alex in the abdomen with The Ripper’s knife.  Bug, once the object of everyone’s quiet pity is now a hero for rescuing Riverton from The Ripper, even though everyone The Ripper returned to kill is now dead.

Come to think of it, an ugly, vengeful killer returning from the dead to possess people and murder a circle of impartial teenagers is the same story as A Nightmare On Elm Street!   But what’s most ironic about this convoluted supernatural/natural movie is the amount of time dedicated to having characters try to explain it to the audience.  The murders aren’t very gory and The Ripper’s appearances are never much of a surprise.  Given all of Craven’s experience in depicting bloody murder and horror cinema’s advancements in senseless torture, I find the killings here rather uninspired.  Yet, characters take an inordinate amount of on-screen time explaining what they’re going to do, what they’re doing as they’re doing it, and why they did it.  There is a lot of dialoge but I’m not sure what it’s ever  in service too.  It doesn’t help much in combing out all the tangles over who The Ripper was, who The Ripper is now, and what’s really bugging Bug.    I’m not a fan of violence for violence sake, but this movie would have benefited from not taking itself so damn seriously, telling less, showing more, and hacking up more pre-maritally lustful teenagers.

By the way, My Soul To Take was cynically released as 3D.  There’s not much real 3D in it.  It was a trend-driven afterthought, added to bump the ticket price up by $4 and probably is not the least of  reasons why it flopped at the box office.  Don’t fall for it either.  Any of it.

BSD Movie Log: The Uninvited

The Uninvited (1944, d. Lewis Allen)

A British bachelor and his sister discover that the beautiful gothic seacoast mansion they’ve purchased houses a disruptive ghost story.  To rid the house of it’s spirits, they must help a young woman resolve a murder mystery from her family’s unsavory past.  Combines horror and romance but doesn’t provide enough of either.  Although Ray Milland is always great, and particularly droll.

La Vampire Boheme

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

Let Me In (2010, d. Matt Reeves)


I think it’s bad that vampires have lost their pseudo-European offbeatness.  Dracula was a genuine weirdo who slept all day in a creeky coffin.  The Count on Sesame Street suffers from a common manifestation of OCD, uncontrollably counting things, and yet he is never compelled to clean his cobweb quilted castle.   Lestat and Louis from Interview With A Vampire want the same legal rights afforded to corporeal couples, but they also want to live as artists in The French Quarter and raise their immortal daughter on human flesh.  Now, because of Buffy, Twilight and oodles of copy-bats,  vampires have become all vamp and no bite.  They drive Volvos and wear Burberry.  I understand Twlight’s hip Cullen kids are frequently spotted living-it-up at Seattle Marriner’s night games (although they are invisible on the Diamond Vision screen).  Maybe all that is why it seemed relevant to the fillmakers of Let Me In to set it in suburban New Mexico, early 1980’s.  Perhaps they wanted to construct a feeling  of innocence and nostalgia.  Maybe they wanted to take us back to a time when vampirin’ wasn’t cool.

 

"Is that dress a Vivienne Westwood?" - Let Me In

 

12 year old Owen’s nerdy kidness will be familiar to all because we all knew one or were one like him.  His hair is greasy.   He looks permanently sewn in to his oversize, dirty, fake-fur parka. He’s smaller than his classmates and frequently the object of ridicule and pummelings on behalf of a trio of school bullies.  Owen and his single mother live in a rundown apartment complex.  He has little to do but spy on his neighbors through a toy telescope.  One snowy, winter evening Owen watches a barefoot girl, about his age, moving her box of possessions into the unit next door with the help of an unkempt, middle-aged man. Slowly, over several night time encounters in the apartment courtyard, the girl, Abby, starts up an awkward friendship and juvenile romance with Owen, over the objections of the man.  Owen begins to figure out that Abby is not what she appears to be but rather an ageless vampire in the body of a twelve year old.  The unkempt man  is not Abby’s father either, but rather her longtime mortal consort, dating back to his own childhood.  His duty is to look after Abby by going about the murders of young men.  He collects their blood in a plastic bottle and keep his vampire mistress fed.  Eventually the man’s nocturnal activities are accidentally exposed.  He dies and  the trail of murders leads back to the apartment.  Abby must move on,  although she helps Owen in a final violent showdown with the school bullies.

 

Let The Right One In - these sweaters were more Dale Of Norway

 

 

Let Me In is a loyal remake of the sucessful Swedish movie Let The Right One In from 2008.  In terms of story and tone the two movies are nearly idential and both are great, although I think the American remake offers some important improvements.  I find the child actors in the American remake to better actors, and there is a more convincing, eerie chemistry between them.  Also, the Swedish version employs an ill fitting sub-plot about a group of local alcoholics who are both victims of the vampire misdeeds and the source of public exposure.  In Let Me In, that group is swaped out completely for a gritty homicide detective who is putting together the clues of the murders.  This makes it more crime-thriller.  Also, the American version of this movie folds in an interesting homoerotic subtext that brings some texture not present in the first version.  Owen is confused about his male image, particularly in his associations with the bullies, whose taunt him as a wimp and call him “little girl.”   Abby is confused with her feelings toward Owen, saying that she is neither a girl nor or boy.  And the man stalks active young men for Abby, when more yielding victims could be easier prey.

A mild objection I have is over the choice of setting for Let Me In.  It makes sense to me that vampires who burn up in sunlight travel to long Swedish winters where they might not even see sunlight for a few months out of the year.   Los Alimos, New Mexico averages 310 days of sunshine a year.  Look it up.

Both movies succeed in telling a compelling and sad story that leaves fascinating mysteries to the imagination.  Why does the man object to the children’s friendship?  He may be acting like a  jealous lover or he could be protecting Owen from Abby and the circumstance that befell his own youth.  Does the middle-aged man risk the danger in murdering young men because that’s what Abby prefers, or is he acting out on some projected self-loathing, or even sexual frustration?   Does Abby really love Owen or is she killing him softly, selfishly grooming him to become her new life paramour?   The viewers are challenged with these unanswered questions and by the  morality in our sympathy toward Abby.  She is a pretty, 12 year old girl, who is also a human predator.  Yet, her station is to live forever, from consort to consort, in an unforgiving existential transience – a shattered, improverished eternity.  The Cullen’s are Whole Foods.  Abby will always be strictly whole blood.


Let The Right One In (2008, d. Thomas Alfredson)

BSD Movie Log: Blood and Lace

Blood and Lace (1971, d. Philip S. Gilbert)

Ellie, a teen girl, who witnessed the violent murder of her prostitute mother, is sent to an orphanage run by a mentally unstable woman.    The girl uncovers a secret that the sadistic woman is murdering the children and storing the dead bodies in the basement freezer, as to continue collecting a local county subsidy.   Ellie must protect herself from becoming the next victim at the orphanage as well as hide from her mother’s hammer-wielding killer.

It might be acceptable if Blood and Lace weren’t all that scary or gory, but it also isn’t even camp.  It’s just a dumb idea, poorly administered.   It might have been more effective to find actors to play the callow, terrified orphans who didn’t all look age 35.  Even jail-bait perverts will be disappointed.  The movie does feature the late Vic Tayback, although the material he’s given is pretty dull.

BSD Movie Log: Cat's Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985, d. Lewis Teague)

An anthology of three shorts based on stories by Stephen King and written for the screen by Stephen King.  The connecting device is a stray cat that is traveling to save a little girl.

Quitters Inc. –  A cigarette smoker attends a quit smoking clinic using mafia-like intimidation methods on its clients.  If Dick smokes a cigarette, violence will befall his family.  Ultimately he can’t resist the temptation.

The Ledge –  A former tennis pro is about to run off with woman whose jealous husband is a ruthless crime boss.  The husband kidnaps the lover and blackmails him into a wager that he can’t walk the exterior ledge of  a skyscraper penthouse apartment.  This is the best of the three shorts.

The General –  The stray cat is adopted by a little girl, and must protect her from a malevolent troll who’s trying to steal the sleeping child’s breath.  This is definitely the worst of the three shorts.

BSD Halloween Movie Club: Amityville II, The Possession

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club.

Watch today’s movie and posts your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


Today’s recommended feature is:

Amityville II: The Possession (1982, d. Damiano Damiani)

If you’re a fan of the original Amityville Horror movie from 1979 or the 2005 remake, this sequel is the prequel.  If you’ve never seen The Amityville Horror, this one works as a stand alone as well.  The first Amityville Horror was based on the  terrors of the Lutz family who moved into the Long Island, pumpkin-eye windowed, Dutch Colonial house unaware that it had recently been the site of the grizzly Defeo family murders.  Amityville Possesssion is drawn from the story of the Defeos, although there isn’t any reference to the Lutz incidents and there’s no indication in the script or art direction of time setting.  The real Lutz incident is to have taken place in 1975; the preceding Defeo murders in 1973.

Standing in for the Defeo’s are the fictional Montelli’s, who also purchase the Amityville house for a dime and soon become the surprised victims of it’s aggressive behavior.  Then the teenage son is overtaken by a demon and goes on a shooting rampage inside the house.  A family priest feels responsible for not trying hard enough to save the family.  The priest kidnaps the teenager from police custody and takes him back to the house to perform an unauthorized exorcism, a dramatic showdown between good and evil.

Amityville Possession is a paint-by-number haunted house movie, another in a long list of The Exorcist copycats, and you don’t need a degree in psychology to break down the obvious metaphor between evil spirits and sexual temptation.  However, they did a great job with scary effects and sound.  Also,  there are some big surprises in the last third of the movie that all happen after family is murdered.

If you want to watch The Amityville Horror before or after, the 2005 version is an excellent remake, made almost beat-for-beat, accept for the ending.  I prefer the 1979 version because the filmmaking is grittier. Rod Steiger is great as the family priest and James Brolin is a slow-boiling kettle of phycho.

There are a also a bunch of Amityville sequels I haven’t seen.  Some apparently continue the story of the house, some are just sponging from the name.  A guy buys a stapler from the Amityville house estate sale and now his office is haunted sort of thing:

Amityville 3D: The Demon (1983)

Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)

The Amityville Curse (1990)

Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)

Amityville: A New Generation (1993)

Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

Feel free to comment on this post if you know any of these to be good.

————————————————————–

The Amityville Horror (1979, d. Stuart Rosenberg)

The Amityville Horror (2005, d. Andrew Douglas)

BSD Halloween Movie Club: "Let's Scare Jessica To Death"

The Brown Shoe Diaries Halloween Movie Club. Track down today’s movie and post your comments.   Good?  Lame?  Scary?  Not scary?  Bring it.


 

Today’s recommended feature is:

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971, d. John D. Hancock)


When I was a a hyperactive kid in the early 1980’s one of the local tv channels ran a packaged, late-night movie show every Friday called “Shock Theater.”  I can’t imagine what my mother was thinking in allowing me to stay up for it, especially because I was already such a fraidy-cat spaz.  I’ve gone back to some of the movies from that show that I recall really freaking me out.  Some don’t hold up to adult discernment, Let’s Scare Jessica does.

Jessica has just been released from a 6 month stay in a New York City mental hospital.  Her devoted husband, Duncan, cashed in their savings to buy a bucolic farm house and abandon orchard in the hope of building a more tranquil life for Jessica.  Upon arriving at the house, they find Emily, a squatter who says she’s been living in the old house “for a long time.”  Being groovy people, the couple invite Emily to stay on with them.  Not being what she appears to be, Emily begins to discretely terrorize the already nervous Jessica and seduce Duncan.  When Jessica starts to wig-out, and grows unable to separate reality from illusion, Duncan goes to a nearby town to find help.  But the townspeople are hiding a dark secret about Emily and the old farm house. When Duncan doesn’t return, Jessica must fight for her sanity and her life.  Who is Emily?  Is Emily really even there or is Jessica going mad again?

Let’s Scare Jessica is from a period of independent filmmaking in the 60’s and 70’s, between the campy creature features and horror cinema’s exasperating decline into vulgar, repetitive slasher sequels.  In that era, filmmakers combined novel stories of demonic possessions and the occult with stark, European inspired neo-realism.  Let’s scare Jessica is brilliantly stark, moody, non-professionally cast, and actually scary.

BTW, listen for awesome sound effects work in the movie.  Sometimes what you hear is freakier than what you can see.

P.S.  I can’t find any information about “Shock Theater.”  I always that it was put together by the local station in my home town but am told that it may have been a syndicated service.  It was on in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Let me know if you remember it and what your favorites were.

 



BSD Movie Log: Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, d. Samuel Bayer)

Remake of the first NES from 1984.  A group of teens are haunted and hunted in their dreams by a vengeful serial-killer who wields a glove with knife-blades embedded in the fingers.   One-by-one he kills them in the dreams, resulting in their bloody real deaths.

Liar, Liar

The Last Exorcism (2010, d. Daniel Stamm)

Most faux documentaries are phonies.  I don’t mean to state the obvious.  I mean to say that a sub-genre of horror films (and an innovation in internet marketing) was started in 1999 with the Blair Witch Project.  Blair was the first, to my knowledge, to incorporate elements of cinema vérité, reality television, and teen-oriented horror into a truly different kind of scary movie.  It spawned many off-spring most of which are either Blair knock offs – The Last Horror Movie, June 9 – or routine horror narratives wearing a hand-held camera for post-modern disguise – Cloverfield, Rec, The Fourth Kind. What was neat about Blair, and what I like about The Last Exorcism is that the phony documentary conceit isn’t just a different way of telling a story, it’s that the making of a supposed documentary and the fictional filmmakers themselves are the story.  The Last Exorcism doesn’t exhibit the, now overdone, “true story” or “found footage” artifice.  There’re all fake.  We know that.  In this one the hand-held camera, in real time, is our voyeuristic guide into a very weird mystery.  We also identify with the documentary filmmaker characters themselves who get over their heads in dilemmas of ethics and personal responsibility, and in attempting to determine what is real.

Cotton is an evangelical preacher who has had a crisis of religious doubt. He is now an admitted huckster in his longtime use of magic tricks, con-artistry and performance, particularly in the stagecraft of demonic exorcism.  Cotton is getting out of the phony exorcism business and brings in a video crew to document his last exorcism; his last production.  Cotton and crew stumble into helping a rural Louisiana family, whose teenage daughter has been slaughtering livestock while purportedly in the trance of a demonic possession.  Cotton attempts to sell an effective exorcism but circumstances reveal the girl and her family have very complicated psychological and inter-personal problems.  The documentary from this point explores a numbers of mysteries:  Is the girl’s so-called possession in actuality the product of abuse or mental illness?  Are members of her family and people from the local town representing themselves truthfully?  Most important, is she really possessed by a demon or is the video crew capturing her performance; her lie?  The layers of mystery within the confines of the story are as thick as a Bayou swamp.  And don’t forget the film’s mediated interaction with us, the audience.  It’s only pretending to be a documentary.  This is a lie horror fans have apparently now come to accept without other truthy marketing gimmicks, as would the audience of a musical or professional wrestling.

An interesting thing about The Last Exorcism in its unrehearsed documentary abstraction,  it’s also an excellent piece of screen writing.  The plot and the dialogue have a very sophisticated way of keeping you wondering what in Hell is going on, trust me.  That being said, I don’t want to say too much.  I’m docking the movie half a point on my scale for its ending.  I think the story leads its characters into a very difficult moral trap.  That’s the challenge of good drama and I have to say that the last two minutes feels tacked on and, well, artificial.  I’ll be positive and call it the shocking last twist.  I’m putting The Last Exorcism on my list as qualifying for the top 10 movies of the year.  Can you believe that?

Fish, Fish, I Got My Subconscious Wish

Piranha 3D (2010, d. Alexandre Aja)

And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. -Genesis 19:28


Spring break at Lake Victoria is a retreat for young people who worship water, sun, and public self-indulgence. But nature has pronounced judgment on this debauchery; a plague of thousands of man eating fish; piranha with teeth like jackals.  Survival or death is gauged largely by one’s moral rectitude.  Jake is a good, local kid who serves as a surrogate parent for his little brother and sister while his mother, the town sheriff, is out busting bad-boys.  Jake isn’t as muscular or cocky as the big knuckleheads who party all day at the beach.  When Jake naively gets hired away from babysitting to chaperone a pornographic film crew on a boat cruise, he doesn’t know that the piranha are coming for he and the girl he likes, and for his family too.  Confronted with temptations of money, drugs, and underwater lesbians, Jake is spared the grizzly, ichthyologic death of his peers by choosing family over fantasy.

This is a seeming twist on a popular theory in horror film criticism, that of the “last surviving girl” as proposed by Carol

"Men Women and Chainsaws"

Clover in her book “Men Women and Chainsaws.”  Through most of Piranha, Jake is the unguided but innocent victim of monsters.  The monsters aren’t just the prehistoric, blood-thirsty fish.  Jake is victim of the macho beach bullies, the sleazy porn producer, his masculinized and absent mother (way out of her acceptable feminine role), and his adolescent sexual impulses.  But by denying these impulses, he survives to become the hero who reconstructs his family and kills all the evil fish.

The use of a male character as victim-hero is only a seeming innovation on the form. The preponderance of female nudity, male prowess, excessive gore, and history of the genre would still indicate a typical young male target audience.  But Jake isn’t like other boys at first.  He is initially effeminate, virginal, a baby-sitter.  In terms of male identification, Jake becomes a hero over this emasculation.  As the collective fantasy of a fully bacchanalian paradise at the beach is literally eaten to pieces in a horrific lake of blood, the audience has Jake, to teach male virtue, to overcome his Freudian father beating (the fish), and survive for an inevitable sequel.  Piranha plays like a Biblical size catastrophe.  The angels save Lot from the doom of the sinful citizens of Sodom.

Personally I don’t care for these kinds of movies so I have a slight objectivity problem.   To me they are just pointless, sadistic voyeurism from a safe vantage.  Despite all the nudity and sex the whole genre is repressed, sexually retarded, and culturally conservative in its stereotypes, conscious and unconscious.  Such films are little more than regurgitated mythology that allow viewers to experience forbidden desires and then displace their punishment onto morally simplistic characters.  Despite the apparent twist in gender roles, the real exercise of Piranha is to advise young males on their castration anxiety.  If you dip your penis in the bloody lake it will become bait.   It will get bitten off.  This is another Freudian complex demonstrated at one point  by a floating, three-dimensional, dismembered penis which gets eaten by the piranha.

In terms of pure filmmaking – the effects, the 3D, a pretty good cast – Piranha is the best made of this genre I can think of.  It’s definitely the grossest movie I’ve ever seen.  For blood and gore it’s the best of the worst.