"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.


"Firestarter" is a Smoldering Mess

1/24/2019

In May of 1984, just a few months after Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” was released, “Firestarter” came to theaters.  Starring the young Drew Barrymore who was just coming off her big break in “E.T.”  “Firestarter” did not perform terribly well at the box office just barely making its money back, but it the years since it has more than made enough.

David Keith plays Andy McGee you average dude who looks a lot like Patrick Swayze.  In his college days, Andy and 9 others take part in an experimental drug trial run by a secret government agency called The Shop.  There he meets his future wife Vicky, played by Heather Locklear.  The drug called “Lot 6” is administered to some while others just get a placebo.  Andy and Vickie discover they can talk to each other through telepathy, while the other subjects have more violent reactions.

Years later Andy and Vicky have an eight-year-old girl named Charlene or Charlie (Barrymore), who also has special powers.  She can start fires when she gets angry.  Andy and Vicky have been constantly on the run from The Shop agents who want to terminate the two remaining subjects of the failed experiment.  They do however desperately want Charlie before she can fully develop and control her powers, which could literally destroy the world.  The Shop is led by Martin Sheen’s character Captain Hollister and his right-hand man John Rainbird played by George C. Scott.  John gets to Vicky and is killed while Andy and Charlie are eventually captured.  They are both put through a series of tests and John goes undercover to gain Charlie’s affections.  He ends up coming off a creepy pedophile uncle.  This film has numerous flaws and just utter craziness that makes it my opinion a complete misfire.

“Firestarter” felt a lot a really bad version of “Carrie”.  A young girl with telepathic powers that will be fully realized at puberty and ends in a fiery armageddon.  The acting is completely over the top and ridiculous especially from Sheen and Scott.  While attempting to capture Charlie a team of silver-suited spacemen from the 1950s runs after her.  I get it they are supposed to be fire suits but it just looks super cheesy and low rent.  Although the fire and effects were good for the time, I’m sure they could make an effective remake of the film.  Drew Barrymore is quite the little actress and outdoes all of her older counterparts.

With all of Stephen King films released in the 1980s, “Firestarter” in my mind was a miss.  They can’t all be classics, but for some people, they do have a nostalgic love for the film.  A year later in 1985 Drew has another part in the Stephen King anthology film “Cat’s Eye”.  If you looking for “Firestarter” it does have a special edition Blu-ray release from Shout Factory.


Take a Ride with "Christine"


1/15/2019

Stephen King has brought us stories of possessed Dogs, Cats, and werewolves, now we move on to inanimate objects like the bright red 1957 Plymouth Fury in “Christine”.  Can a car have a mind of its own? Most definitely, but can it kill people, well that would make for a good story.  Directed by the master of horror himself John Carpenter, who just 5 years earlier debuted “Halloween” that changed horror movies forever.

Arnie Cunningham, played by Keith Gordon, is the epitome of the nerdy high school student, even his hame screams dorkiness.  Although he is best friends with Dennis the quarterback of the football team.  Arnie then has a serious run-in with the school's motorhead bullies with their leader the ironically name Buddy.  Buddy, who looks about 30 years old, whips out a switchblade and terrorizes Arnie only to be saved by Dennis.  Dennis drives a hot muscle car and Arnie wants to get one for himself.  He finds a rusted out and beat to hell ’57 Plymouth Fury in an old man's junkyard and has an instant connection with it.  The 20-year-old car has a history, in the movies opening scene we see the car rolling off the assembly line and taking its first victim.  Arnie’s parents are not too keen on him having the car and forbid him from keeping it at the house, so he brings it to a big garage where he can restore it.  He strikes a deal with the gruff and greasy shop owner and Arnie gets to work.  

Although the premise of “Christine” sounds a little ridiculous and in the wrong hands could be really bad, Carpenter and writer Bill Phillips turn Kings novel into a decent movie.  The idea that people, especially men, can get obsessively attached to their cars to the point that it changes their attitude and behavior is quite believable.  Arnie eventually restores the car to like new condition.  Arnie also starts to change, he does away with his glasses and adopts an edgier and rebellious personality.  He also starts going out with the prettiest girl in school, Leigh, played by Alexandra Paul.  Noticing Arnie’s transformation and new reputation with his hot new car, Buddy and the guys absolutely trash Christine an even take a crap on the dash (nice touch!).  Furious and defeated, Arnie looks to get revenge and nobody wants it more than Christine, who in a bit of cool 80s special effects fixes and restores herself.  Arnie is completely under Christine’s spell and nothing else in his life matters.  The bullies start showing up dead and detective Rudolf Junkins, played by Harry Dean Stanton, start poking into Arnie’s business.  When they see their friend going off the deep and acting all crazy Dennis and Leigh try to help Arnie, but is too far gone?  Has Christine claimed yet another victim?

“Christine” is an interesting movie in that it's not really a horror movie, it’s not gory or all that suspenseful, but it has strong characters and is a well-written teen thriller.  They wanted the movie to be rated “R” so they actually had to add in a lot more swearing and dirty language to achieve it.  It’s a movie that a lot of people who grew up in the 1980s can remember seeing and like a lot of other Stephen King movie holds a special place in peoples lives.


Stephen King's "Silver Bullet"

1/12/2019

Continuing on our tour of Stephen King films from the 1980s.  “Silver Bullet” was released in 1985 and is your classic werewolf story.  Like most of the films in the King Universe, this story takes place in a small New England town and features kids battling supernatural evil.  Stephen King himself adapted the novel for the screen while Dan Attias directed the film.

Although the main character of the film is Marty (played by 80s teen star Corey Haim), a teenage boy in a wheelchair, the story is presented in voiceover from his older sister Jane years later.  Deep down this is really a story about the relationship of a brother and sister.  Marty’s wheelchair is called “The Silver Bullet” as it looks to be a combination of a wheelchair and a go-cart.  Marty also has this crazy goofball of an Uncle named “Red” played by who else Gary Busey.  When the townspeople start to die off, especially after a kid is killed, an angry vigilante mob is formed.  The people are being hunted by a werewolf, which is obviously a man in a suit but the make-up and effects are decent for the time period. There are a couple of transformation sequences that are well done and fun to watch.


Red builds Marty a new even more badass Silver Bullet chair that goes like 50 mph and also gives him a bag of fireworks, does Red trying to kill Marty or what’s the deal here?  Marty breaks curfew and goes out by himself at night with a werewolf on the loose to shoot off his fireworks.  Of course, he is stalked and nearly attacked by the wolf but he is able to shoot a rocket into his eye.  Now he and Jane just need to find the person in town with an eye patch and it’s the person you would least expect, Reverend Lowe.  Nobody including Red initially believes in werewolves, but after a crazy car vs wheelchair chase and some convincing evidence, Red gets a silver bullet made of the kids' necklaces.  The suspense and terror obviously comes from the fact that Marty is in a wheelchair and his seeming inability to fight back, but he is a very smart and resourceful kid.  The situation also brings him closer to his sister as they have to work together to survive.  To wrap this story up Red is able to get the parents out of the house and during the next full moon, they get ready for the final showdown with Reverend Lowe.  The whole movies kind of plays out like an essay on “What I did on summer vacation”.  “Silver Bullet” is not one of my favorite King adaptations but it does have its charms.



Stephen King's "Pet Semetary (1989)"

1/6/2019

“Pet Semetary” is another classic Stephen King adaptation that debuted in theaters in the late 1980s.  What might be a little shocking is the fact that this horror film was directed by a woman. Director Mary Lambert, who was known for directing music videos was hired for the job and almost 30 years later female directors in any genre are still in the great minority of the male driven movie biz.  Although that’s a topic for another time, I thought it was important to point out.

“Pet Semetary” is a movie about death and the supernatural.  More specifically the way children learn about death and how adults must find it in themselves to let go.  Just like the poster's tagline says “Sometimes dead is better”.  The Creed family has moved out of the busy urban jungle of Chicago and into the quiet rural town of Ludlow, Maine.  Louis, his wife Rachel, and their two young kids Gage and Ellie are a model of your typical family.  Upon arrival to their new home, they immediately notice that the road in front of the house has an almost constant stream of big rig trucks flying down it.  Their new neighbor Judd, a big older gentleman is there to greet them and tell them about the road.  Although Judd seems like a nice old grandpa type, there is something a little more sinister going on under those overalls.  He takes them up to the “Pet Semetary” and shows them all of the dead pets that the road has claimed.  It was created by and for the children of the area, hence the misspelling of cemetery.  It’s a place where children learn about death and say goodbye to their beloved companions.  Daughter Ellie has a cat named Winston Churchill or Church for short, who in a short time will make a visit not this cemetery but an even more special one.

When the rest of the family flies back to Chicago to visit Rachel’s parents, Louis is left to care for the house and Church.  I think we all know where this is going.  In short time Louis gets a call from Judd, Church has been found dead in his yard, another victim of the road.  Not wanting to break his daughter's heart Judd takes him on a hike beyond the Pet Semetary to an ancient Indian burial ground.  Oh my God did they not see “Poltergeist”.  Church is buried there and the next day he shows up alive at the house, but smelling like a rotting corpse.  This is only an appetizer of what is to come.  While on a beautiful sunny afternoon picnic the family and Judd are having a good time when tragedy strikes.  Two-year-old Gage is flying a kite when he drops the handle and the wind keeps dragging it towards the street.  Louis who only turned away for a second now sees his son about to run into the path of one of those annoying tanker trucks.  He runs after him but doesn’t make is and Gage is run over.  After the funeral Louis is unable to rid himself of the guilt and torment, along with the nudging of Judd, he decides to dig up Gage’s little body and rebury him in the special cemetery.  Yeah, I would say that’s a bad idea but he has already kind of lost his mind.  This is where the movie gets really creepy and scary, Gage comes back and is like a “Chucky” doll.  Louis’s inability to deal with death weather with Church or  Gage has put everybody’s life at risk.  You would think that being a doctor and all Louis would be the kind of person where this wouldn’t be a problem.  This movie is not without its flaws but its still a fun and entertaining film to watch.

There are also a number of different subplots that I haven’t mentioned that make this film a more fully rounded and terrifying film.  This was a movie that was extremely scary when it came out and has lost a little bit of its punch over the years but there are a few scenes that are absolutely timeless and frightening.  The ending of the film also takes the storyline one step further and actually introduces a bit of humor to the whole thing.  There is a remake coming to theaters in the spring of 2019 and it should be interesting to see this new interpretation.




The Trailer for the 2019 Remake