"Misery" is a Horror Masterpiece

3/17/2019

The novels of Stephen King have been made into several movies and TV shows with varying degrees of success and quality.  “Misery” is one of the good ones second only to “The Shawshank Redemption.”  “Misery” gathered together the best talent in all aspects and created a modern horror masterpiece.  

Kathy Bates’s role of Annie Wilkes won her the Best Actress Academy Award for 1991.  Her portrayal of an unhinged and delusional super fan of romance novelist Paul Sheldon was simply amazing and terrifying.  James Caan, who is usually cast as the tough guy, plays a sensitive writer who upon finishing his new novel crashes his car in the snowy Colorado Mountains.  This setting made me think of the “The Shining” another King masterpiece.  When Paul comes too, we hear Annie’s words echo “I’m your number one fan”.  Paul’s injuries leave him bedridden, but Annie, a former nurse, takes care of him.  She seems sweet and innocent wearing a gold cross around her neck, but her behavior gets increasingly erratic.  Upon reading Paul’s new manuscript and the fact that he has killed off Misery, the female heroine of his romance novels, Annie goes a little berserk.  She has Paul burn the pages and re-write “a better story”.  Paul needs to build up his strength and formulate a plan to get out.  He has Annie go to the store to get a certain kind of paper which allows him and his wheelchair to get out of his room and explore the house.  Although when she finds out this leads to one of the best and most cringe-inducing scenes of the film.  Annie Wilkes is one of the great female horror icons for which there are very few.  She is right up there with Mrs. Vorhees from “Friday the 13th”.  She is a very human and complex character who is extremely disturbed.  

Buster the local sheriff is an old-timer played by Richard Farnsworth.  He and his clerk/wife Virginia pretty much make up the police force of the small sleepy town.  They have some really nice scenes together, but when he goes to investigate the Wilkes house he is in for a few surprises.  It’s up to Paul to save himself and when Annie has reached the end of her rope its do or die.

The movie is about these two characters and the cat and mouse game they play.  Both actors turn in brilliant performances.  The script was written by the legendary William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner.


"The Eyes of My Mother" is a Must See!

3/2/2019

The art house horror film has really flourished in the last few years with several filmmakers making really great films that hope to breathe new life into the often tired and overworked horror genre.  “The Eyes of My Mother” is the debut film from Nicholas Pesce and is a searing look into one woman's grief and loneliness.  The film is presented in black and white not as a cheap gimmick, but as the best way to tell this quiet, stark and stripped down story of its characters.

Set in a country farmhouse in about the 1950s or 60s a young girl named Francisca is fascinated by a butchered cows head, her mother an eye surgeon indulges in her daughter's curiosity.  Later while playing outside a drifter comes by the house and starts up a conversation with little Francisca.  The man looks to be in his twenties and is dressed like a bible salesman, but as they say, he don't look right.  Francisca’s mother comes out right away, the man then asks to use the bathroom and she reluctantly agrees.  The man is outright creepy and as one might think he is a psychotic killer, who drags the mother into the bathroom at gunpoint.  When Francisca’s father comes home, he finds the man in the bathroom with his dead wife.  Although Francisca is still alive she is deeply traumatized.  Instead of calling the police, they hand out their own form of justice and keep the man, who they call Charlie, chained up in the barn.  Flash forward about 10 years and Charlie has become this blinded feral beast and Francisca’s pet and only friend.  Her father is a very quiet and reserved man and when he finally dies it is the last straw in Francisca’s desperate life.

In some ways, this movie is a female version of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.  Unable to deal with her father’s death she keeps his body and bathes it and sleeps with it.  She does make an effort to reach out to others as she goes to a bar one night and brings a woman back to her house but in short, time creeps the hell out of her.  As the woman tries to leave Francisca smacks he over the head.  We then see her putting little wrapped packages into the refrigerator.  This film can be subtle in its depiction of its nastiness, but also very overt when it wants to be.  Francisca is a very complex character with tremendous internal struggle.  Her fear of loneliness and abandonment has been eating away at her for years with no way to express herself.  In another attempt at intimacy, she unchains Charlie, bathes him and has sex with him.  She wakes up and finds him gone, she finds him staggering along in the fields outside the house.  She catches up with him and kills him.


Now is where the story gets even more disturbing.  She needs a new pet, so she hitches a ride from a young mother with a baby.  When they get to the farmhouse she asks to hold the baby and takes off with it.  The mother runs after her and into the house, where Francisca sets a trap and knocks her out.  She then blinds her and chains her up in the barn.  We flash forward again and the baby, Antonio, is now about five.  His is curious about what is in the barn and despite Francisca’s warning about going in there, he must investigate.  Although he is frightened, he shows love and compassion for this dirty long haired creature who is his real mother.  One night he leaves the barn door open and she escapes.  This is the downfall of Francisca and the end to her painful and tortured life that started at the hands of a mad man.  Although this is a very short film, about 75 minutes, it doesn’t waste a second in telling its sad and disturbing tale.  


"Piercing" Gets Right to the Point

2/22/2019
*This review does contain Spoilers*

This short little film, barely running 80 minutes, is the second film from director Nicolas Pesce whose debut film “The Eyes of My Mother” was a dark and disturbing art house horror film that won rave reviews.  “Piercing” is based on a book by Ryu Murakami, who also wrote “Audition” which was made into the celebrated cult classic film of the same name.  Both novels and films lie in a sort of taboo world of sex and violence.  Pesce also adapted the novel for the big screen and although I have not personally read the novel, his film has this sort of retro stylization aesthetic that reminds me of a young Tarantino.  Although it seems like most young filmmakers go through a phase like this, Pesce’s use of this style creates a unique world that these characters live in.

As we pan through a vast forest of high rise apartment buildings of what looks to be Tokyo or some other megacity we are introduced to Reed, played by Christopher Abbott, a young husband and father who we notice is a little unbalanced as he holds on ice pick above his infant son, only to be startled by his wife, who is none the wiser.  Reed is going off on a “business” trip in which he plans on killing a prostitute with the aforementioned ice pick.  He is quite delusional in that his baby speaks a line in a demonic tone, “You know what you have to do”.  It’s hard to decipher the time period that the story takes place in.  It looks like to be an ultra-modern future but with old technology.  There are no cell phones or computers and the use of touch-tone phones and phone booths are widely used.

Reed checks into his room and goes through the motions of how he is going to kill and dismember his victim.  He even tests out the bottle of Chloroform that he brought.   He is very cautious about touching things which could be to eliminate fingerprints or as it turns out he is a bit of a germaphobe.  He gets a call from the escort service that his girl will be there within in the hour.   We then meet Jackie, played by Mia Wasikowska, who lives alone in another modern looking apartment, she gets a call from her pimp to packs up her things to meet with Reed.  As we come to find out Jackie and Reed are not all that different and his carefully thought out plan goes to pieces almost from the start.  Jackie looks to be the one in control right from the start and you start to wonder exactly who is playing who.  These are tortured characters who look fine on the outside, but start peeling away the layers are you find something dark and deeply disturbed.  This is the start of an intense S&M relationship that sees Reed drugged and beaten (by a can opener) and Jackie abusing herself all in the service of some greater need to feel.  In one of the films final scenes Jackie pierces her nipple “as a way to remember this”.  The last scene is of a ball gaged Reed finally giving into Jackie and a sort of communal relationship and understanding is formed.


The Best Horror Film in the last 10 Years! "Hereditary"

2/7/2019

*Spoiler Warning*  Key plot points and events will be mentioned

“Hereditary” is one of the most intensely frightening and all-consuming stories of terror to come out in the past decade.  It was at the top my list of best films for 2018 and it's a damn shame that Toni Collette did not get a best actress academy award nomination.  Although she is nominated for another award that actually still matters, The Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress.  This is also the feature film debut for writer/director by Ari Aster.  So excited for this guys future and for the films yet to come.

“Hereditary” opens up with an obituary for Ellen Taper Leigh, which immediately sets an ominous tone.  We then venture through an art studio with doll houses and into a room that seamlessly morphs into a real room.  We have here your average American family Mom, Dad, teenaged son and younger daughter.  They are going to the funeral of their grandmother from their mother's side.  Annie, played by Toni Collette, is an artist who constructs lifelike miniature dioramas of things that have happened in her life, very similar to real life artist Laurie Simmons.  Her husband is some sort of doctor and least used character of the film.  The kids Peter and Charlie are seemingly normal although Charlie is a bit strange and something is definitely going on with her.  Peter looks to be a regular dude who hangs out and smokes pot with his friends, he also has a strained relationship with his mother.  Annie was also estranged from her mother as well and mentions their troubled relationship in her eulogy.  Annie reluctantly shows up at grief counseling group were she mentions her families history of mental illness and her brother's suicide.  This is only the beginning of Annie’s grief.

Peter wants to go to a party but in order to use the car he must take Charlie with him and he agrees.  Charlie keeps to herself and doesn’t seem to every fit in anywhere.  She dresses in an oversized red hoody and likes sweets.  It is also mentioned earlier that she is allergic to peanuts, this comes back to haunt as the chocolate cake she eats has nuts in it.  Her throat starts to close up and panic ensues,  she finds Peter and they race off the hospital.  In a panic, Charlie sticks her head out the windows as Peter swerves to avoid a dead animal in the road.  Charlie is decapitated by a telephone pole.  This film means business and the WTF meter goes off the charts for most of the film.  In a state of catatonic shock, Peter just drives home and goes to bed.  The next morning Annie finds her daughter's headless body in her car and totally loses her shit, which is completely earned.  There are seemingly no cheap or unearned scares or emotions, everything comes along organically and makes it that more frightening.  The film keeps reaching new levels of grief and emotional intensity.

 While in the parking lot of another group counseling meeting, she is flagged down by a woman named Joan who wants to help Annie cope.  Although not immediately Joan becomes this strange and sinister character and we find out that their meeting was anything but coincidental.  We see that Annie’s mother had an interest in the occult when she goes through her boxed up things.  It can be shocking and frightening to find out things about a family member or loved one who you thought you knew but has this hidden secret life.  We keep seeing this particular design or logo everywhere, from necklaces to graffiti and all over her mother's things.  Its meaning becomes clear in the end.

Joan introduced a supernatural phenomenon to Anne and proves that she can connect with Charlie just like she connected with her own deceased loved one.  It works but then Annie also seems to be on the brink of a full mental collapse.  She shows this to her increasingly skeptical family and they just think she has lost it and needs help.  But is she really on to something.  This film is all about the horrors of family dynamics.  Relationships between people who you are bound to by blood whether you like it or not.  This is a very extreme scenario that eventually ventures off into the supernatural, but it strangely all feels completely natural and plausible.    

This film requires multiple viewings to fully process everything, seemingly random shots and stills have a much larger meaning within the whole context of the film.  The film as a whole has this intensely heavy atmosphere throughout.  The score and clever use of sound is not something you usually comment on but here it was done masterfully.  I’ve seen this movie a number of times and still love every minute of it.  It still holds that strong emotional pull to it as well.  I don’t buy man blu-rays anymore but this one is going into the collection for sure.


Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift" is Quite the Chore

1/30/2019

Stephen King’s “Graveyard Shift” in another scary story involving demonic animals, this time it’s rats.  Released in the fall of 1990 and years after the golden era of horror films that was the 1980s.  “Graveyard Shift” is shall we say one of King’s least admired adaptations.  I have not read the short story on which the movie is based, but I’m sure something was probably lost in translation.

As per usual the story takes place in a small New England Town.  This time an old textile mill that is overrun with rats is the focus of the horrific events to come.  The rats seem to work as a team and controlled by a large mutant mother rat that for some reason has large bat wings.  The story is filled with colorful over the top characters starting with the Exterminator played by Brad Dourif,  he is a Vietnam vet and is very into his job.  He reminds me of Dale Gribble from the show “King of the Hill”.  Our hero is a drifter that blows into town looking for work and the mill is looking for people to clear out their basement.  John Hall is his name an he looks and acts just as bland as his name suggests, but does have a certain quiet dignity about him.  

The Bachman Mill as it is called is in reference to Stephen King’s writing pseudonym Richard Bachman, for which he wrote the story under.  The Mill’s foreman, Warwick, is another crazy shady character who is your typical tyrannical businessman.  The movies flow or lack thereof becomes an issue, it feels like it was edited by about six different people.  The acting is, of course, way over the top and comical at times, we never really get to know any of the characters in any important or interesting way.  What I did like though was the set design and the wet dreary atmosphere of the dilapidated mill.  The pieces are there for a good movie but the execution just misses the mark completely.  


Our group of mill workers make their way through a series of tunnels in the bowels of the old mill each of them eventually being picked off one by one by the mutant rat-bat.  We end up with John finding the creature’s lair, a giant boneyard of skeletons and leftovers.  He then leads is up to the giant industrial cotton grinder and the rest writes itself.  If you're in the mood for some stupid mindless horror with the Stephen King name then this is the movie for you.  The early to mid-90s was a dark time for scary movies as the idea tank was bled dry.  Although that being said 1990 was also the year that the two-part miniseries“It” hit T.V. screens.