Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year in Review: My 2014 Superlatives

1. Favorite Book: The Goldfinch
When Goodreads emailed me my "Year in Review" last week I felt like a complete failure. I have finished exactly four books this year. I am deeply ashamed of myself but I'm placing the bulk of the blame on Donna Tartt's shoulders. How can a book be so whimsical and also so heartbreaking? So evocative? So tangible? It's a great feat of storytelling but it's also a sensitive meditation on life and death and the ways that we connect with the art that we love. How was anything else I started reading this year going to measure up to all of that?

2. Favorite Concert: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, DAR Constitution Hall
Ok, not gonna lie, this was actually the only concert I attended this year. But it was really, really great. Not as good as the one at the Ryman in 2013 (because acoustics) but still better than pretty much anything I've ever experienced. Nick Cave is phenomenal. A great singer, songwriter and performer. Even under less than perfect circumstances he never fails to impress.

3. Favorite Hike: The Old Stone House Ruins, GSMNP
I'd read accounts from fellow hikers about going "off trail" and finding these ruins. I was a little hesitant to stray from the designated path but it turned out to be much easier than I expected. And what a payoff! Astonishingly beautiful ruins situated in the heart of a rhododendron thicket. It doesn't get more storybook than that.

4. Favorite Internet Distraction: My Sad Cat
I love the way Tom Cox marries sadness and humor so perfectly. I fully believe in the absurd narrative, and the oddly appropriate personalities, that he's created for his felines. The Bear speaks to my soul.

5. Favorite Knoxville Moment: The TAMIS "Say it Loud" Screening at ETHC
If you were there for this amazing, one-of-a-kind screening last September you'll understand how powerful, indeed magical, that night was for Knoxville. If you weren't there I'm not sure I can adequately describe it. Just know that TAMIS is doing great work and making an effort to tell the complete story of Knoxville's history. And for that they should be celebrated.

6. Favorite Meal: Dyer's Burgers on Beale Street, Memphis
Burgers cooked in grease that's over a hundred years old. That either appeals to you or it doesn't. If you understand the language I'm speaking, by all means, get thee to Dyer's. You won't regret it.

7. Favorite Movie: Boyhood
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors and Boyhood is one of those movies that was hyped beyond belief, given the unique manner in which it was made, but managed, for me, to transcend its gimmick and become a truly powerful moviegoing experience. Like a lot of Linklater's best movies it's dialogue driven and nothing truly spectacular ever happens but it's all about the journey, man. Watching Ellar Coltrane's Mason grow from a boy to a young man (so seamlessly that you barely realize it's happening) on camera feels like a minor miracle of filmmaking. As the credits rolled I was flooded with emotions because it felt like, in a few brief hours, I had laughed, cried, grown and lived for years with Linklater's characters. 

8. Favorite Museum Experience: Baltimore Museum of Art
They let you sit on the art! Enough said.

9. Favorite New Obsession: Perfume
I really, really love scent. I'm kind of obsessed with it. I think it's powerfully evocative and intoxicating and I have had such a good time investigating this phenomenon this year. Thank goodness there are places like Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, that create hundreds upon hundreds of intriguing scents, inspired primarily by movies, mythology, seasonal celebrations and literature, and offer them for very reasonable prices. 

10. Favorite Performance, Female: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
I adored the book when I read it. I thought the movie was the book's equal (it maybe even improved upon the source material) and Rosamund Pike was the Amazing Amy of my dreams. Cold, calculating, complicated and endlessly entertaining. She gave an intricate, complex performance that held my interest at every turn (and the infamous scene with Neil Patrick Harris cemented her reputation as one of the great modern-day femme fatales).

11. Favorite Performance, Male: Blake Berris, Days of Our Lives
Blake Berris proved, this last year, that soap operas can tell stories that are every bit as powerful, impactful and brilliant as any you'll see on the most celebrated prime time dramas. His Nick Fallon was maddening, pitiful, intelligent, heartbreaking and utterly fascinating. The fact that Berris delivered consistently great work on a daily basis for months on end speaks to both his work ethic and his tremendous talent. We need more fine, sensitive performers like Berris. He's marvelous.

12. Favorite Phenomenon: Serial
I was late to the Serial party but I finally got on board, played catch-up and went nuts for it like almost everybody else did. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes unintentionally humorous but always fascinating.

13. Favorite Single Moment of the Year: When Blake Berris Walked Over, Sat Down and Talked to My Friend Gayle and Me During the Cocktail Party at the Atlanta Days of Our Lives Fan Event
Imagine your favorite fictional character of all time. The one you love above all others. The one you love as much as the real people in your life that you love. The one, if you're as self-centered as I am, that you love as much as you love yourself. Imagine the actor who portrayed that character walking over to you while you're sitting in a crowded hotel ballroom, teeming with hundreds of other fans, sitting down next to you and your friend and striking up a conversation. Imagine you're so starstruck, so intoxicated (literally and figuratively) that you can barely form sentences. And even though you may have behaved rudely, or been mildly inappropriate, your bad behavior is overlooked and met with patience, charm and kindness. This is why I will always adore Blake Berris. Even when I did the wrong things - like drink out of his cocktail or yell at him to get off of his cell phone - he just continued to be his gracious, generous, wonderful self. He is not only a fine actor but a fine human being.

14. Favorite Style Icon: Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive
Tilda is always fabulous but in Jim Jarmusch's hip, melancholy vampire romance she's even more Tilda-rific than usual. Her hair, her clothes, her calm and cool but always empathetic and sensitive demeanor. She is a goddess. If I ever grow up I wanna be just like her.

15. Favorite Taxidermy: The Red Fox in the Shoe Department at Bass-Pro Shop
I love good taxidermy. I love foxes. This little one is so beautifully rendered that I was hard pressed not to tuck him under my coat and take him home with me when I saw him last week.

Biggest Loss: Philip Seymour Hoffman
This still hurts so much. I can't look at images of Hoffman or clips from his movies without tearing up. He was one of our finest actors and I imagine his absence will continue to be felt for years to come. I can take solace in the wonderful work that he's left behind but I'll always miss him.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Reasons

It's been seven months since Nick Fallon was murdered and I still miss him terribly. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that he usually crosses my mind at least once a day. And I can't count the number of times I've re-watched his final week on Days of Our Lives but, no matter how many times I see it, I'm still moved to tears by Blake Berris's heartfelt, heartbreaking performance. Nevertheless, I can't get on board with the fans who pine on social media for a Fallonator resurrection. Here's why:

1. I went through a serious mourning process when Nick died. As bad as (or, possibly, worse than) any I've ever gone through for a real person that I've lost. I realize this sounds absurd but there's no denying it. I wore all black for weeks. I'd think about Nick during the day and spontaneously burst into tears. I still maintain the Nick Fallon memorial shrine in my parlor. Losing him was terrible and it hurt. A lot. If Nick were to come back I wouldn't trust the show not to just kill him off again at a later date. And I simply do not think I could ever go through that again. 

2. I had my problems with the writing for Nick over the years but I really believe Days delivered at the end. Nick's final week was flawless. His death resonated in a way that no other fictional character's death has ever resonated with me. If he is resurrected it will diminish the emotional impact of those final episodes and undermine their artistic integrity. I would hate to see that happen. Nick is not a Stefano Dimera-style cartoon villain who can just come back from the dead whenever he likes. He was nuanced, layered and entirely believable; his death needs to be treated with the appropriate respect and, unfortunately, for that to happen, he needs to stay dead.

3. Nick's story has been told. If he returned I believe the writers would probably just tell the same story, or a very similar one, again. If Nick became a long-term character on Days I don't believe he'd be allowed to grow and change all that much, considering the lack of growth and change that occurs with characters who've been on the show for decades (not really a criticism, it's just the nature of soaps - they're redundant). I think Blake Berris is far too talented, intelligent and creatively curious to be tied to one character and one storyline for a long period of time. He needs to be challenged with new and different material. And I want to be challenged as a fan by new and different material, too. I mean, have you seen some of the stuff he's working on at the moment? It all sounds fantastic and I, for one, am really excited to see where his career will go.

I will never stop loving Nick Fallon and I'll probably always miss him. But I can't foresee any scenario where he could return to Salem in a manner that would be satisfying for me as a viewer. His story, as told, stands on its own just fine. No need to try, try again when it succeeded beautifully the first time around.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

A random sampling of some of the things I've been most thankful for this year. Some silly, some serious, all true. Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

1 - affordable perfume oils (BPAL, Firebird, Loreto)
2 - an awesome job & great co-workers
3  - Blake Berris & his former alter ego (RIP Nick Fallon)
4 - Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus
5 - Donna Tartt
6 - Fourth & Gill
7 - friends with cable who invite me over
8 - friends who give me spontaneous gifts
9 - friends who let me bum cigarettes
10 - friends who let me come over and raid their liquor cabinets
11 - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
12 - the hot bar at Three Rivers Market
13 - inexpensive red wine
14 - Jack Neely
15 - Leonard Cohen
16 - Maira Kalman
17 - Maria Popova's Brain Pickings
18 - Maker's Mark
19 - Molly Crabapple
20 - my cowboy boots
21 - my parents
22 - my patient, long-suffering husband
23 - my pets
24 - Nick Cave
25 - Right On Ladies Book Group
26 - road trips
27 - Roomie, Kev & Shmoopy
28 - smoked cheese
29 - Stock & Barrel
30 - WHY MY CAT IS SAD on Twitter

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bon Anniversaire, Nick Fallon!

Eight years ago today Nick Fallon made his first appearance in Salem. He was sweet and smart and dorky and I fell for him almost immediately. Over time Days of Our Lives made him increasingly obsessive and unpredictable. They gave him a drug addiction and a prison sentence. He was subjected to unspeakable horrors and he was ostracized by most of the town and, eventually, he became controlling and frightening. But, at his core, I know he was always that lonely, offbeat young man who just wanted to connect with someone and feel loved. And I loved him. And I still mourn for him. 

Nick Fallon's birthday was never celebrated in Salem. I know not every character on Days gets a birthday and, honestly, I have no idea what a Nick Fallon birthday party would have been like. Probably a sad affair, because who wants to celebrate the birth of the town pariah? Most likely Julie would have taken him out to dinner. She'd buy him a cupcake, which he would pick at but not finish, and he would sip a beer and quietly plot the downfall of his many enemies. He would pine for Gabi Hernandez, the woman he'd deluded himself into believing was his soulmate. He'd go home afterwards, alone and dissatisfied.

Despite everything that happened and the way that it ended I adored Nick's stint on Days. And November seventh will always be a date I celebrate because it's the date that the show gave us this complex, beautiful, damaged character. That's why I've chosen this date as Nick's unofficial birthday. It may not be canon but I'm alright with working with what I'm given. So, Happy Birthday, Nick Fallon. I don't even know how old you'd be. I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that you were amazing and I still miss you. I hope you've found some measure of happiness in whatever afterlife soap opera characters are afforded. You deserve it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Random Thoughts While Watching The Lost Boys Last Friday

I have zero objectivity when it comes to The Lost Boys. It was so much a part of my childhood that it feels like it's completely corrupted my DNA. When I watch it I become my middle school self again, trying so hard to be cool and looking to these kids to show me the way. These gorgeous, nihilistic punks that did exactly as they pleased. And did it with such style. The Lost Boys doesn't have an overly artsy, avant-garde aesthetic like Suspiria but it definitely has a style that is distinct and beautiful and unforgettable. It romanticizes the west coast and, in particular, the seedy beachside tourist communities that were so far out of my reach as a kid. For me the town of Santa Carla was full of glamour and intrigue and brutal romance. I wanted to live in this world because it was so far removed from my own. Part of me still wants that.

This movie is so much a product of its time. A strong sensory imprint of an era. The clothes, the hair, the smart, snarky dialogue. It was the first movie I saw that said horror doesn't have to be just horrible. It can be fun. Funny, even. It's self-aware but in a subtle way. It lulls the viewer into a false sense of security because the first half is so light-hearted and when the heavy stuff starts happening, towards the end, it has even more of an impact. 

The vampires in The Lost Boys are the quintessential cool kids. Who doesn't wanna be David? He's the ultimate. Kiefer Sutherland absolutely rocks my world in this role. I was eleven when I first saw this movie and I knew. I got it. No sparkles, no musty tombs. Just raw, animalistic, sexy menace and attitude. I think he's the sexiest vampire there ever was or will ever be. His vamp buddies are pretty irresistible, too. So when the fangs finally come out and we're confronted with David's true nature we're forced to deal with that. He's a remorseless, wretched thing, but one that we've been seduced by; his grip is so strong, his pull so seductive, that it's hard for me not to root for him, even though he's a horrible, brutal monster.

This movie also benefits from a bangin' soundtrack and nice supporting performances from Dianne Wiest and Barnard Hughes. It features the two Coreys, good ol' Haimster and Feldog, at the absolute peak of their success and they are adorkably appealing. The Lost Boys will always have a special place in my heart.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

East Tennessee Shiver Tonight!

Tonight's the night, my little hobgoblins. The East Tennessee Shiver takes over the WDVX airwaves at 10:00 PM and I promise it will be a memorable evening filled with mischief and mayhem. Get into the Halloween spirit with me and my co-host Bradley Reeves. We're so excited for this show that we've decided to be in costume at the station. Yes, fancy dress for a radio broadcast. That's how much we care.

East Tennesseans can find us at 102.9 or 89.9 on their FM dials and everybody else, world wide, can tune into WDVX.com and listen online. Check it out. It's gonna be frightfully fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth


Last Thursday I had the opportunity to catch a screening of the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth at the Fine Arts Theatre in Asheville and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am a devoted fan of Mr. Cave and I really didn't think it was possible for me to love him more than I already did but this movie charmed and inspired me in ways that I'm still trying to process. Cave is one of the finest lyricists around, the only other artist I'll dare mention in the same breath as Leonard Cohen. Seriously, those two men never cease to amaze me. I don't know where talent like that comes from but I'm thankful they've got it and that they share it with the rest of the world.

I have read and listened to interviews with Cave in the past and I've always found them fascinating but that still didn't prepare me for the portrait of him that 20,000 Days on Earth paints. Cave's insights into his own creative process are brilliant and he's an exceptionally gifted storyteller. He's thoughtful and eloquent but also incredibly funny, especially when he's cutting up with bandmate Warren Ellis. It's a riot when the two of them get together and start swapping stories about Nina Simone and her strange stage antics. Over the course of the movie Cave interacts with his therapist and various friends and colleagues and each exchange sheds a light on a different facet of Cave's personality. Some moments, like the ones with Ellis, are extremely amusing while others are poignant, personal and deeply moving. 

The movie concludes with an excerpt from Cave's concert at the Sydney Opera House, an ecstatic performance of the song "Jubilee Street" that is nothing short of astonishing. It comes close to capturing the wild, cathartic energy that emanates from the stage at an actual Bad Seeds concert. It's a fitting end to a fabulous film. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Re-Animator

How do I love thee, Herbert West? Let me count the ways. I love that you look and act like the sick, twisted, hilarious lovechild of Norman Bates and Ashley J. Williams. You're brilliant, you're creepy, you're slightly campy and, to me, you are the perfect make-believe horror movie boyfriend. I love your drive and focus, the way that you pull out all the stops in order to achieve your goal of bringing the dead back to life. There's a purity to your pursuit; you're not seeking fame or fortune, you aren't trying to resurrect a lost love, it's not personal for you, you just care about scientific advancement. I admire the single-mindedness of your obsession.

You were birthed from the brain of H.P. Lovecraft back in the 1920s but you seem right at home in the mid-80s setting of Stuart Gordon's enthusiastically, unapologetically gruesome Re-Animator. You're a synth-pop, post-punk Victor Frankenstein. Your roomate, Dan Cain, is arguably the fella the audience is supposed to be rooting for but, make no mistake, my love, you're the one I'm invested in, you're the one running the show and you're the main reason that I enjoy revisiting this movie. Your antics always make my toes curl. 

It's not that I don't appreciate the crazy black humor, the lurid subplot involving Megan and Dr. Hill's re-animated head and the aforementioned boatloads of gore. I love all that stuff. In fact, Re-Animator is about as close to perfect as a horror film can get. But you, Herbert West, are the mad, marvelous glue that binds the whole bloody, sordid affair together. And that tiny flash of humanity you exhibit at the end of the film? Nice touch, my pet. Just when I think I have you pegged you surprise me. You're a brilliant character and you're played, brilliantly, by the insanely talented Jeffrey Combs and you, and this movie you inhabit, absolutely rock my world. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The House of the Devil

College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) answers a flyer posted outside her dorm room inquiring after a babysitter. The terms seem simple, easy money for the cash-strapped coed, but they are slightly askew, enough at least to give Sam's best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) pause. Turns out the family in question doesn't need Sam to watch a kid, they want her to watch an elderly shut-in mother. Don't worry, Tom Noonan's dutiful son assures Samantha, his mother will most likely sleep throughout the evening. Again, easy money. And, since she was given such short notice, she'll be getting paid double. How on earth could she refuse?

Megan drives Samantha out to her babysitting gig, which is, frankly, out in the middle of nowhere. The house is lovely but isolated and Megan is dubious and concerned for her friend's safety, though Sam is quick to dismiss her friend's concerns. It's worth noting that there's a lunar eclipse occurring on the night of this gig, which may or may not play into the evening's events. 

The House of the Devil was made in 2009 but it relies, heavily, on the 80s aesthetic that it's referencing and the "Satanic Panic" phenomenon that was so prevalent during that decade. It makes me feel old to refer to a movie set in the 80s as a period film but The House of the Devil is very much a period homage to that era. The high waisted acid washed jeans! The feathered hair! The Walkmans! It all seems seems like yesterday to this Gen-X kid but it was decades ago. How strange. The House of the Devil probably wouldn't work as well for me if it didn't rely on nostalgia, specifically a nostalgia I'm hard wired to connect with on a personal level. A nostalgia that places it cozily before the self-aware teens of Wes Craven's Scream, who know they're in a horror movie and act accordingly. Poor sweet Samantha takes everything at face value. 

The House of the Devil is, quite frankly, awesome. Mostly because it sets out to do one specific thing and it does it beautifully. It's exploitive, I guess, to a degree, and unapologetic. There are no rosy resolutions here. It's just one sweet, decent girl trying her darnedest to survive one harrowing night, which is the ideal set-up for fun, horrible greatness. It's compelling and nihilistic but also self-referential and lots of fun. This one definitely delivers.

Soulmate

"He won't let go. He's always in my head. It's like he's haunting me."

After her husband dies in a car accident Audrey (Anna Walton), consumed by her grief, tries to kill herself. Her attempt on her own life is thwarted by her family but despite their concerns Audrey decides to retreat to the Welsh countryside, where she rents a cottage in a small village and shuts herself away from the world with her violin, determined to rebuild her life and focus on her musical career. She befriends an older couple in the village, Theresa (Tanya Myers) and Dr. Zellaby (Nick Brimble), who inform the young woman that the cottage she's staying in belonged to a man named Douglas (Tom Wisdom), who killed himself thirty years earlier after the love of his life left him. 

It's no time at all before Audrey is hearing noises coming from a locked, upstairs junk room and seeing mysterious lights shining in the windows. Is she being haunted by the cabin's former tenant, or is her mind deceiving her owing to her grief and the very strong antidepressants she's been prescribed? I like that Soulmate gives a plausible reason for Audrey hanging around the house once she begins to suspect that it's haunted; the young widow, who has still not come to terms with the death of her spouse, initially believes (hopes) that the spirit in the home is her husband's. Plus, I think the fact that she has a mystery of sorts to solve lifts Audrey out of her funk. It's heartening to see the young woman come back to life over the course of the film. Audrey was a heroine that I liked from the outset, partly because Anna Walton is absolutely captivating to watch. She's so lovely, such a unique, slinky, feline-like quality to her appearance, but she also projects the nuances of a woman who is feeling broken and incredibly fragile in the face of a horrible tragedy. Despite this, there's a steely resolve to the character that's evident from early on and only becomes more pronounced as the movie progresses.

Everything else about Soulmate, the locations, the interiors of the fine country homes, even the posh little dog that accompanies Dr. Zellaby on his walks, is as beautiful to behold as its leading lady. The prettiness of the whole thing came close to distracting me from the actual story but, fortunately, the movie went in interesting, unexpected directions and easily held my interest throughout. Soulmate is more a haunting, supernatural character study and a meditation on the nature of loss and grieving than an outright frightfest. And it is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Quotable Quotes: Marty - The Cabin in the Woods

"People in this town drive in a very counter-intuitive manner."

"Society needs to crumble, we're all just too chickenshit to let it."

"I don't think it knows about money; I think it's barter gas."

"Well, good luck with your business sir. I know the railroad's coming through here any day now, that's gonna be big. Streets paved with actual street."

"It was pioneer days. People had to make their own interrogation rooms."

"I dare you to make out with that moose over there."

"Guys I'm not sure it's awesome to be down here."

"Maybe we should go back upstairs. I dare you all to go upstairs."

"Ok, I'm drawing a line in the fucking sand here, do NOT read the Latin."

"This is so classy."

"Can we not talk about people in pieces anymore tonight?"

"I have a theory about all of this . . ."

"You're not seeing what you don't wanna see . . . puppeteers . . . PopTarts? Did you say you have PopTarts?"

"We are not who we are . . . I'm gonna go read a book with pictures." 

"Nemo, man, you've gotta wake up. Your shit is topsy turvy."

"He's got a husband bulge."

"I thought there'd be stars . . . we are abandoned."

"Oh my God. I'm on a reality TV show. My parents are gonna think I'm such a burnout."

"Yeah, I kinda dismembered that guy with a trowel . . . what have you been up to?"

"C'mon! Fuckin' Zombie Arm!"

"Good work, Zombie Arm."

"Yeah, Dana, you feelin' strong?"

"I'm sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world."

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is a movie that I could watch over and over again. It's currently my default go-to title. It's the one I fire up when I can't decide what I'm in the food for, the one I turn to when I just want to enjoy myself by watching a quality film. It's the cinematic equivalent of a juicy, perfectly cooked cheeseburger and a bottle of Maker's Mark, or a great night out with very dear friends. It is satire and social commentary but, more than that, it's an affectionate homage to the horror and slasher genre that it parodies. 

The first two acts of The Cabin in the Woods play out like any other film in this particular sub genre of horror might - five coeds head out to a rustic, secluded vacation spot for a weekend getaway, mayhem ensues - but there is a secondary side plot running parallel to the first one. One that involves spies, surveillance devices and men in lab coats watching the kids, from an undisclosed location, on monitors and tweaking their environment in order to achieve certain results. Are our unsuspecting heroes the unwitting guinea pigs in some nefarious scientific study? Are they, as stoner Marty (an endearing Fran Kranz) muses, on a reality television show? Or is it something else entirely? The two strands of the story converge in the film's final third, when all the answers are revealed and all hell breaks loose in gleeful, gory, self-aware fashion. And it's a hoot every time I see it.

The Cabin in the Woods works well because it's smart and fun, with snappy, quotable dialogue and characters that still manage to feel real even though they're essentially playing assigned, archetypal horror victim roles. It's a critique, not only of the horror genre but also the moviegoers who flock to these kinds of films, but there's no malice or finger-wagging in the movie's criticism. It's made by people who obviously love these kinds of flicks themselves and know them well enough to reference them, meticulously, throughout the story. For a genre that can sometimes be derivative this film tries and succeeds in breaking new ground.

Monday, October 20, 2014

East Tennessee Shiver


Ghouls and goblins! Witches and werewolves! Be sure to tune into WDVX next Thursday, October 30th, at 10:00 PM when the "East Tennessee Quiver" becomes the "East Tennessee Shiver." Get into the spirit of the season with this extra special Devil's Night broadcast, featuring an eclectic array of creepy tunes, memorable horror movie clips, ghost stories and atmospheric, spine-tingling dramatic readings! I'll be co-hosting with Bradley Reeves and we are terribly excited for this show.

Local peeps can check us out on 89.9 FM and 102.9 FM; the rest of you little monsters can join the party by listening in at WDVX.com. I guarantee it will be great fun. Don't miss it!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Annabelle

I absolutely adored last year's The Conjuring and, while I figured the prequel, Annabelle, would be hard pressed to live up to the awesomeness of the previous movie I was still very excited to see it. And while I don't think this new film is quite as engaging or frightening as its predecessor it is entertaining and well made and it offers plenty of impressively creepy moments that had me covering my face and peeking at the screen through my fingers. 

Annabelle was a footnote in The Conjuring; she was a doll that the paranormal experts, the Warrens, needed to contain because she was possessed by an evil entity and posed a terrible threat to anyone who came in contact with her. The movie Annabelle is the deadly doll's origin story. We learn that she was purchased by John Gordon (Ward Horton) as a gift for his very pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallace). Mia is an avid collector of rare, antique dolls and this is the one she's been searching for for ages. A crazed couple who belong to a satanic cult break into the home of the Gordon's neighbors one night; the woman, Annabelle, is the couple's estranged daughter. After they murder her parents Annabelle and her boyfriend proceed to the Gordon's home where the man stabs Mia in the stomach (both mother and unborn child survive the attack), fights with John and is ultimately shot by the police when they arrive on the scene. Before she can be taken into custody Annabelle kills herself. She dies holding Mia's antique doll in her arms. As a result the doll becomes possessed by, if I understood this correctly, both Annabelle's damned spirit and the demonic force that Annabelle and her boyfriend were trying to summon. Like any self-respecting sinister force the demon attaches itself to the Gordons, determined to claim their infant daughter Leah's soul.

Like The Conjuring Annabelle wears its horror movie references on its sleeve. The most obvious inspiration is Rosemary's Baby. The earlier film's influence can definitely be felt during the second half of the this movie, after Mia, John and Leah have moved out of their suburban home and into a chic apartment building in the city, in both the locations and the relationships between the characters. Most of the demonic activity occurs when John, a doctor, is at the hospital, so when Mia shares her concerns with her husband he chalks them up to Mia being exhausted, or a result of the post traumatic stress she suffered after their occultist attack. John and Mia's priest, Father Perez (Tony Amendola) is more empathetic but Mia's best ally is Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), an intuitive, compassionate bookstore owner, who arms the young mother with an arsenal of books to help her understand her evil adversary and, hopefully, give her the answer for how to defeat it. 

There are some fantastically creepy moments in this movie. The scene when Mia first spies Annabelle's ghost in Leah's nursery is startling and the anxiety-inducing slow dread of the basement storage scene, when Mia first sees the demon that wishes to consume her daughter's soul, is masterfully executed. The visual effects are well done and effective and the sound effects are sublime. It took me a while to warm to Mia but once the bad vibes kicked in and she started to get wise to what was actually happening I realized I liked her quite a bit. And I adored Alfre Woodard, whose smart, sensitive performance made Evelyn a character I could easily care about. The ending of the movie was a bit pat and I felt let down by it but my disappointment did not diminish my enjoyment of the movie outright. I think Annabelle's strengths outweigh its weaknesses and it definitely provides plenty of frightening fun.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Frighteners

Before he tackled the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just after he'd given us the brilliant, fantasy-laced matricide thriller Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson directed a delightful, campy creep-fest called The Frighteners. It features some horror cinema heavyweights (Dee Wallace and the Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs), it's scored by Danny Elfman and it stars Michael J. Fox, an actor that I sometimes forget was an integral and much beloved part of my childhood thanks to Back to the Future and Family Ties. The special effects, which look a tad clunky by today's standards, were ambitious and groundbreaking back in 1996 and are still very impressive. The characters are quirky and charming. It's got that old fashioned, B movie at the drive-in feel to it, a sweet, whimsical quality that definitely establishes it as a horror comedy with an emphasis on the comedy. But what it lacks in scares it makes up for in sheer weirdness.

Fox plays Frank Bannister, a widower who loses his wife after a car accident but gains the ability to communicate with the spirit world. Frank befriends three ghosts who help him stage hauntings throughout his community; his spectral associates go into an unsuspecting home, move things around, cause mayhem and then leave Frank's business card behind so that the terrified marks will hire Frank to exorcise the entities and cleanse their house. But when the ghost of serial killer Johnny Charles Bartlett (Jake Busey) decides to up his body count by continuing the murder spree he began before his death Frank must step up and use his powers to try and put a stop to the otherworldly rampage.

The Frighteners is the cinematic equivalent of the funhouse at the fair. Walls and floors turn to putty as spectral apparitions push against them. Frank's ghostly pals continually drip ectoplasm and whenever Frank sets foot inside the cemetery all the spirits are on full display, hovering over their graves (and being presided over by R. Lee Ermey, who's basically playing the same character he did in Full Metal Jacket but in ghost form). The performances are as madcap and fun as the effects. Dee Wallace brings a raucous intensity to the role of Patricia Ann Bradley, lover and accomplice to Busey's Bartlett, and Jeffrey Combs just about steals the show as Milton Dammers, the sniveling, simpering, deeply troubled FBI agent who comes to town to investigate the recent rash of murders. 

In the midst of all this campy fun there's Michael J. Fox, whose performance as Frank brings enough understated depth to The Frighteners to keep the whole thing from devolving into full-blown parody. Frank's just the sort of scruffy, unlikely hero that I love to root for and Fox is delightful in the role. This really is an odd, nifty little flick and I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fright Night

How fun is the original Fright Night? What a terrific love letter to campy, late-night creature-feature cinema. You can practically feel the warmth and affection radiating off of this movie, which is smart, sexy, funny and gleefully disgusting. I saw Craig Gillespie's remake back in 2011 (in large part because I wanted to see David Tennant on the big screen) and it's a perfectly decent movie but it takes itself too seriously. I much prefer the humor and charm of Tom Holland's original version.

When high schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) realizes his charming new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), is a vampire he tries, in vain, to warn the people closest to him of the danger. Charley's mother (Dorothy Fielding), preoccupied with work, doesn't have time to indulge her son's fantastical imaginings; his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and his friend "Evil" Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) both think Charley has lost his mind. The desperate young man finally reaches out to the one person he thinks will believe and help him: Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), legendary horror film star and host of Charley's favorite show, "Fright Night," a serialized showcase of B movies. It never occurs to Charley that Peter might not be as skilled at vanquishing the undead as his cinematic counterpart. In Charley's mind Peter Vincent is a fearless vampire slayer, not a burned-out, past his prime actor who's cash-strapped and desperate for work.

Like many of my favorite horror films, Fright Night holds up well, in large part, because its characters are memorable and appealing. There's an every-boy quality to William Ragsdale's Charley that makes him relatable and a bravery, along with an inherent sense of decency, that makes him admirable. The same could be said for Amanda Bearse, who's so fresh-faced, sweet and sassy that it's easy to see why Charley is crazy about her. Chris Sarandon is equal parts charming and oily as vampire-next-door Jerry and Roddy McDowall is absolute perfection as Peter Vincent. Like Charley, there's a sense of decency at the core of McDowall's character; it's heartening to see these two underdogs find their inner reserves of bravery and join forces to protect their community and the people they care about. And speaking of underdogs I have a particular soft spot for Charley's pal Evil Ed, a character who starts out as obnoxious (but effectively amusing) comic relief and becomes something much more unforgettable and tragic by the end of the movie. Stephen Geoffreys is adept at projecting Ed's false sense of bravado as well as his vulnerability. 

Another thing I love about this movie is the variety in the vampire death scenes. Just like The Lost Boys two years later, no two vampires go the same way in Fright Night. The effects during the blood-sucking bloodbath at the end of this movie are gory, goofy and wonderful. Vampires transform into wolves, bats and one of them, after being staked dissolves into a pile of green goo and, inexplicably, sand. Like everything else about Fright Night the ick factor is equal parts horror and humor. But the hijinks never come at the expense of the characters, who are the heart of this great movie.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Evil Dead

I enjoy all of the Evil Dead titles but Sami Raimi's original flick, about five college students vacationing at a cabin in the woods who unwittingly unleash a bunch of demons and get themselves possessed one by one, remains my favorite. It's frightening and it's fun. There's a gleeful, manic energy that permeates Raimi's debut feature and his filmmaking choices are incredibly creative and appropriate. The Evil Dead also introduced horror movie lovers to the brilliant Bruce Campbell and, even though it's the sequel that cemented Campbell's cult status, I have a soft spot for the more traditional "Final Girl" performance Campbell gives in this first film. And the fact that The Evil Dead was shot on location in my own back yard, in Morristown, is a tremendous source of pride for me as an East Tennessean.

There's very little that needs to be said about the plot of The Evil Dead; it's straight-forward and basic and, given all the imitators over the years, it's more or less become horror cliche at this point. Five Michigan State University students, siblings Ash and Cheryl Williams, Ash's girlfriend Linda, his friend Scotty and Scotty's girlfriend Shelly, venture into the remote backwoods of Tennessee for a little R&R at a rustic, isolated cabin. The friends discover a Book of the Dead in the cabin's basement, along with audio recordings of spells and incantations that, when played (unbeknownst to them), release the demonic forces within the forest. Once the recordings are played and the demons unleashed Cheryl, Shelly, Linda and Scotty become possessed one after the other by the evil entities, leaving Ash to fend them off and fight to survive the night with his life, and his soul, intact.

For a movie made thirty one years ago The Evil Dead holds up incredibly well. There's a creepy, unnerving quality to the location which is heightened by the camerawork, particularly the eerie tracking shots that race through the forest and are meant to represent to the demons' point of view. Shot for peanuts, the low-budget movie has a crafty, homemade quality that enhances both its horrifying nature and its charm. It's the etsy of the horror genre. Even the more outlandish and unbelievable effects towards the end of the movie, the stuff that looks like outtakes from an 80s-era Peter Gabriel video, still hold up because they are so wonderfully odd. And Bruce Campbell is truly delightful and lovable as Ash, the movie's very reluctant hero. His reaction shots throughout the story are hilarious. He seems less afraid and more repulsed and exasperated by each terrifying turn of events. But there's genuine warmth and affection in Campbell's performance as well, which keeps the character from backsliding into snarky, ironic parody. 

The small-scale, intimate nature of The Evil Dead makes the terror feel more real and immediate. It also makes this movie endlessly endearing. This one's a real gem.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Carrie (2013)

I liked the new version of Carrie so much more than I thought I would. I remember being cautiously excited when Julianne Moore and Chloë Grace Moretz were cast but then disheartened when the lukewarm reviews started popping up. That's why I held off on seeing it until today and why I went into it with very low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised when this remake turned out to be warmer, smarter and more sensitive than I was expecting it to be.

I'm not sure if this version is more faithful to King's story than Brian De Palma's version, mostly because it's been such a long time since I've read the novel, but I know that both movies, in terms of actual plot, are very similar. There's something about this remake that seems perfunctory, like it's going through the motions. I think it lacks the charm of De Palma's version but the filmmaking is decent, if not distinctive, and the characterizations are absolutely wonderful. Every major player in this new Carrie has a chance to share his or her point of view. I felt like I understood everyone's motivations, even Chris's, better in this version. 

I also felt like Carrie and her mother were more savvy, less like country bumpkins, in this remake. There's a relatableness, with the mother in particular, that I loved. And Carrie's relationship with her mother is warmer. Her mother actually seems, in her own way, to love her daughter, which didn't entirely come across in De Palma's film. Sue and Tommy are also utterly charming. I like that they get to be sexier, that we actually see more of the physical aspect of their relationship, instead of just seeing them as squeaky-clean do-gooders. I also love that Sue's plan grows out of a genuine spark she sees between Carrie and Tommy in class. My biggest problem with the original movie version was the characterization of Sue, which felt very half-baked. It's easier to understand her motivations in this version, just like it's easier to empathize (up to a point) with Chris, who seems less vindictive and mostly just thoughtless, bratty and impossibly immature in this version of the story.

I really liked the depth of the characterizations in this new Carrie. And the casting was outstanding (Judy Greer, as the gym teacher, does some especially impressive work). But, still, there's something compulsory about the whole thing. There's not much, in terms of filmmaking, that sets this apart from De Palma's very memorable adaptation. Still, it's worth watching. And I'm glad that I checked it out.

Candyman

Candyman probably makes the cut for my list of desert island titles. It's another of those movies that I can watch over and over again and always enjoy. I've been reluctant to write about it in the past because I really want to do it justice. And whenever I profess my love for it to people who've never seen it they usually roll their eyes and try to keep from laughing in my face. I think Candyman, which spawned two sequels, is often written off by those who haven't watched it as a mindless supernatural slasher flick; a popcorn thriller with very little to offer aside from jump scares and gore. The TV spots I remember for it certainly played up those aspects of the story but there is so much more to Candyman than that. 

Candyman is based on "The Forbidden," a short story by the brilliant Clive Barker, and while the movie remains more or less faithful to its source material director Bernard Rose opted to make some crucial changes for his cinematic adaptation: he moved the setting from Barker's native England to the United States and he made the Candyman into a black character. By changing the location of the story from an English council estate to a Chicago housing project, the infamous Cabrini Green, and by changing the color of his monster's skin Rose was able to insert another layer of meaning into his movie. Candyman deals with the class distinctions that "The Forbidden" addressed but it also explores the racially charged tension that exists between its characters.

Candyman is the story of a graduate student, Helen Lyle (the awesome Virginia Madsen), who is researching local urban folklore for her thesis. Her studies lead her to the story of Candyman, a mondern-day hook-handed monster who is said to haunt Cabrini Green. The crimes that are committed there are attributed to the "Hook Man," who has attained a revered status as both a deity and a fearsome boogeyman within the community; Candyman has become a convenient scapegoat for pimps, drug dealers and all other manner of troublemakers in the housing projects. Helen feels like she's hit a goldmine when she begins investigating the story but she never, for an instant, actually believes it. Her doubt eventually brings her face-to-face with the real Candyman (an excellent Tony Todd), who begins to set her up for his heinous crimes as punishment for her lack of faith.

The juxtaposition between real and imagined horror in Candyman is fascinating. Viewers who aren't ordinarily frightened by tales of the supernatural can still be incredibly concerned for Helen as she traipses around Cabrini Green, gathering information about the crimes that have been committed there and inadvertently setting herself up as a threat, a problem to be dealt with, for the criminals. And it's easy to care about what happens to Helen since she's played by the incredibly talented and heart-stoppingly beautiful Virginia Madsen. Helen's ambition and enthusiasm for her work, her drive to make a name for herself in the world of academia, made her a character I cared about and really rooted for because she's so smart, so capable and so passionate. She's one of the most dynamic horror geroines around (and one of my personal favorites).

Tony Todd is equally compelling as the Candyman, who must surely be one of the most handsome and charming monsters in horror history. In Rose's adaptation the character is given a tragic back story. In life Candyman, the educated son of a former slave, was a talented, celebrated artist who was cruelly mutilated and murdered by an angry lynch mob after falling in love with (and impregnating) a young white woman whose portrait he'd been commissioned to paint. His heartbreaking history doesn't make him any less terrifying but it certainly makes his motivations at least somewhat understandable. It helps that Todd's menacing performance is laced with nobility and a deep sadness. It also helps that he and Madsen have dynamite chemistry. Despite the fact that he's hellbent on destroying her life there is something about Helen that seems to touch whatever remnant of Candyman's soul remains. According to the filmmakers and the actors Madsen was placed under hypnosis before filming her scenes with Todd and there's a dreamy, seductive quality about all of Helen's encounters with her adversary. I find theses moments to be utterly irresistible. 

Candyman also features fantastic supporting players who make the secondary characters memorable in their own right. Kasi Lemmons is very appealing as Helen's close friend and colleague Bernadette, Vanessa Williams is a powerhouse in the role of Anne-Marie, a young mother who is struggling to protect her baby boy and create a decent life for him in a challenging environment, and DeJuan Guy is fantastic as Jake, a smart, straight-talking little boy that who befriends Helen and reluctantly agrees to help her research the Candyman. All of these characters feel real to me, as do the urban legends swirling around Cabrini Green. It's easy for me to be drawn into the world of this movie because it's so fully realized. And I have to give kudos to composer Philip Glass for crafting a hauntingly beautiful musical score that heightens the eerily romantic tone of the film.

Candyman is pulpy enough that it probably does qualify, technically, as a slasher film. But it's certainly more thought-provoking, sensitive and intelligent than many of the offerings that that genre of movie-making is known to produce. There's a lot of beauty under its beastly exterior. That's what sets it apart and what keeps me coming back to revisit it over and over again. I love this movie so much.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gone Girl

I'm taking a quick break from my month-long celebration of all things Halloween and horror to rave about the movie that everybody else is raving about. 

I spent the better part of Gone Girl, David Fincher's exquisite adaptation of Gillian Flynn's exceptionally entertaining thriller, in a dizzying state of euphoria, a giant grin plastered across my face. I'd heard that Fincher and company more than did justice to Flynn's source material and my expectations were ridiculously high but the movie still managed to exceed them. There's not a single misstep in this production. The filmmaking is impeccable. The screenplay, adapted by the author herself, is taut and sharp. The score (oh my God, so gorgeous), by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is nervy and jarring and heightens the considerable tension in the film's most tense scenes. Everyone brought their A game to this one. And they absolutely knocked it out. This movie is a remarkable gift. 

Gone Girl's greatest strength, however, is its actors. While I was reading Flynn's novel I certainly had a type in mind for Nick Dunne, the handsome, affable man who may or may not have murdered his wife, Amy, but I never really pictured a particular actor in the role. When Ben Affleck was cast as Nick I was thrilled. I like Affleck and I think he's a fine director; I've never been bowled over by his work in front of the camera but I knew he could deliver the goods as Nick. And, oh boy, did he ever. Affleck was born to play this role. His easy charm is undercut by something that feels a little off, a little disingenuous. Is he hiding something or does he just appear to be hiding something because his family and the media are scrutinizing his every move? 

I first saw Rosamund Pike in Joe Wright's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I thought she was absolutely luminous. She radiated warmth and sweetness every time she was onscreen. She was just so likable and appealing. Unlike Nick, I did have an actress in mind for Amy when I read Gone Girl: Gwyneth Paltrow. But Gwyneth Paltrow from ten or fifteen years ago. So when Pike was announced, again, I thought she was an excellent choice. Like Paltrow, Pike can play the perfect, polished princess. The golden girl. But her acting choices seem subtler and gentler. She makes you fall in love with her and that is absolutely essential during the movie's opening act. But what Pike is required to do for this role goes way beyond that. I couldn't help but be reminded of Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive while I watched Pike slip with ease from one persona into another. She's essentially playing four or five different characters and she is equally convincing as all of them. She owns this movie and she took my breath away.

The supporting players are equally strong. Carrie Coon (a scene-stealer in her own right on the first season of HBO's The Leftovers) is gritty and sassy and wonderful as Nick's twin sister Margo. Tyler Perry is a hoot as Tanner Bolt, the high profile criminal defense attorney Nick hires, and his one-liners had me cracking up. And Neil Patrick Harris is terrifically pathetic and creepy as Desi Collings, a former flame of Amy's who still carries a torch for his unrequited love. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit, the law enforcement duo assigned to Amy's case, round out the principal cast and are both very watchable, entertaining and appealing.

Even though I knew where Gone Girl was going the craftsmanship of the story was so flawless that I got swept up all over again. It wasn't that I forgot what was going to happen so much as I couldn't wait to see how I would react to it unfolding on the big screen. It's a dark, twisted story in book form and in movie form it's even crazier, hotter and more darkly hilarious and thrilling than I ever could have imagined. Bravo Fincher and company: That's definitely the way to do it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Double Feature: Cannibalism in Polite Society

We Are What We Are, a melancholy tale about an isolated family with some very taboo religious practices, is a beautifully crafted movie that features fine, sensitive performances. I found it to be an uncommonly thoughtful horror film, one that I look forward to revisiting, as I imagine its subtleties will hold up well and offer new insights upon repeat viewings.

The story of the Parker family, father Frank (Bill Sage), sisters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) and baby brother Rory (Jack Gore), begins with the sudden death of their matriarch, Emma (Kassie DePaiva, excellent in a very brief role). While the family works through their grief Frank remains adamant that they continue to adhere to their particular, peculiar religious customs. That means observing periods of fasting as well as slaughtering and eating human victims. With their mother dead Iris and Rose are expected to take on additional responsibilities when it comes to the practice (namely, they must kill and dress what their father catches). This, understandably, causes the girls to grow increasingly conflicted over their family's cannibalistic tendencies. 

Iris and Rose's emotional turmoil provides most of the delicious tension in We Are What We Are. As they begin to question their family's actions their animosity towards their father grows. They also make efforts to connect to other members of their community. Are the girls capable of turning their backs on their upbringing, the only way of life that they have ever known, and making their way in the world on their own terms? And, if so, what will those terms be?  

The French film Trouble Every Day, directed by Claire Denis and featuring the impossibly awesome Béatrice Dalle, approaches the subject of cannibalism from, pretty much, as different a perspective as a movie-goer could hope to find. We Are What We Are is grounded in faith and tradition while Trouble Every Day is focused on pure animal lust. Dalle plays Coré, a woman who compulsively seduces men and cannibalizes them. Coré's husband Léo (Alex Descas) covers up his wife's crimes but also attempts to keep her out of trouble by imprisoning her in their home. 

The primary focus of Trouble Every Day, though, is a newly-married American man, Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo), who has come to Paris on honeymoon with his bride, June (Tricia Vessey) but is also there to find Léo, a doctor who has done extensive research on the human libido. Shane suffers from the same condition as Coré and he hopes that Léo will be able to offer him medical assistance before his illness causes him to harm his lovely young wife. 

Claire Denis is a fine filmmaker and Trouble Every Day is as languorously gorgeous as anything else she's made. The overall tone of the movie is chill and dreamy, which makes the cannibalism scenes, when they do occur, all the more jarring and horrific. While I was very intrigued by the movie's premise and I typically adore a quiet, slow-burn cinematic experience I felt like Trouble Every Day was a little half baked. It's like two thirds of a great movie. But it's still worth watching because it's great to look at and because Béatrice Dalle is awesome and oh so watchable. Having seen her in Inside and now this I'm officially a fangirl. She's tremendous.

Cannibalism fascinates me and stories that focus on cannibalistic individuals who live within societies that are considered civilized are especially interesting to me. Both We Are What We Are and Trouble Every Day explore this storytelling terrain in fairly interesting, intelligent ways.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cannibal Holocaust

So, here's the thing about me and horror movies (and maybe it's like this for other people, too, but I wouldn't presume to speak to anybody else's relationship with the genre): I watch a lot of horror movies. So many that I've gotten to the point where I kind of want to up the ante and test myself with more challenging material. At the same time, I still think of myself as that scared fourth grader who was traumatized by the Stephen Gammell illustrations in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. I'd say I have a pretty high threshold for movie gore at this point but that doesn't stop me from pausing to think "Can I really handle this?" when I come across especially celebrated and infamous horror titles.

Cannibal Holocaust is, most likely, not a movie I'd have sought out for myself. I've read plenty about it and I was certainly a bit curious but that's as far as it went. It wasn't so much the gore factor that made me stop short but the fact that actual animals were killed for the movie. I've seen animal killings in movies before but the ones in Cannibal Holocaust sounded particularly callous and unsavory. So when I happened across the movie during a routine check for horror titles on Hulu Plus I kind of freaked out. It was easy enough to steer clear of a movie that was difficult to obtain through the usual rental channels but now here I was in my living room with Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most legendary Video Nasties around, a mere click away. I didn't want to see it. I didn't think I could possibly stand to see it. But I couldn't resist. So I watched it. And I really liked it.

I guess it never really occurred to me that Cannibal Holocaust might have something more to offer than shocking scenes of bloody violence. The story of a group of documentary filmmakers who go missing, while attempting to film footage of indigenous cannibal tribes, in the Amazonian Rainforest and the parallel story of both the search party that recovers the doomed crew's footage and the network executives who wish to air the material makes for a pretty engaging story. Having mistakenly assumed before I watched that the movie was nothing but gore for gore's sake I was pleased that there was a basic message, that the "civilized" members of the film crew are as savage, if not more so, than the tribes they're documenting, in the midst of all the carnage. And while the animal killings were definitely unpleasant they were more or less comparable to what I'd seen in other movies and nowhere near as sadistic as I'd imagined they would be. The special effects, on the other hand, delivered just like I'd hoped they would. It's easy to see why director Ruggero Deodato faced accusations that he'd created a snuff film. I really do think practical gore is an awesome art form and the effects in Cannibal Holocaust are incredibly impressive.

It's certainly not for everyone (but, then, what is?) but I'm glad Hulu made this title available and I'm glad that I watched it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Inside

It's Christmas Eve and Sarah (Alysson Paradis), recently widowed and very pregnant, is home alone. A woman (Béatrice Dalle) comes to her door demanding to be let inside. Sarah turns the stranger away and calls the police, who find no trace of the mystery woman on the premises. After assuring the soon-to-be mother that everything is fine and, promising to send a patrol car by to check on her later, they leave. As you can probably guess, everything is not fine. The rest of the movie Inside, set in this one location over the course of this single Christmas Eve night, is a battle of wills between Sarah, trying desperately to protect herself and her unborn child, and the woman, determined at all costs to take the baby for herself.

I watched Inside as a double feature with Martyrs because they are both considered fine examples of the new French wave of extreme horror. Like MartyrsInside is relentlessly brutal. It is one of the bloodiest movies I've ever seen (seriously, there is so much blood in this film). But Martyrs is very much grounded in reality and the tone, throughout, is deathly serious and sober; Inside, by comparison, is a bit surreal and dreamy, unfolding more like a sick, twisted fairy tale for strong-stomached adults. There's an almost supernaturally indestructible quality about Dalle's antagonist, who is able to dispatch police officers, and other well intentioned people who happen to stop by Sarah's house to offer the young mother assistance, with minimal effort. Sarah and the woman could very easily be modern day versions of Rapunzel and Dame Gothel, or Snow White and the Queen. There's also a slight undercurrent of pitch-black humor running through Inside, especially evident during some of the death scenes (which come close to straining credulity with their over-the-top presentation) that manages to keep the horror from feeling entirely real. 

Maybe it's because I was still reeling from Martyrs when I saw it but I found Inside to be highly entertaining. That's not to say that it's devoid of genuinely harrowing moments; it's been a few weeks since I've watched but the final scenes, which I thought were heartbreaking, have really stayed with me. I'm not a mother and I've never really wanted children of my own but I had no trouble empathizing with Sarah as she fought to keep her baby safe. Sarah starts out as a woman numb with grief, still reeling from the loss of her husband, and becomes, by the movie's end, a force to be reckoned with, both resourceful and resilient. And Béatrice Dalle is wickedly compelling as the woman. Clad all in black, smoking an endless chain of cigarettes, she's a cruelly determined but incredibly chic and seductive angel of death. Paradis and Dalle give this pulpy material their all and the result is a very grim, very fine film indeed.