"Alice Sweet Alice" is a Forgotten Horror Classic!


9/13/2020

Looking back “Alice Sweet Alice” was ahead of its time as it was a slasher film released in 1976, a number of years before the horror renaissance of the 1980s.  It features a masked killer taking people out with a large butcher knife, similar to Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic “Halloween”.  It also has religious-themed horrors somewhat reminiscent of “The Exorcist”. “Alice Sweet Alice” is a true sleeper hit of the horror genre that needs to be rediscovered.

Paula Sheppard plays Alice whose sister Karen (Brooke Shields) is murdered in the church before her first communion.  Although we do get a number of character building scenes beforehand.  Their parents are divorced and they live with their mother in a small apartment. Alice feels jealous and left out most of the time as younger sister Karen is the focus of the attention of her mother and from Father Tom, the priest who gives her a cross necklace for her upcoming first communion.  Alice torments Karen in a number of ways, stealing her creepy weird doll and scaring her in a similar mask that the killer wears.  So when Karen is eventually murdered Alice becomes the prime suspect.  

Good slasher films always have a memorable killer.  In “Alice” the killer wears a yellow raincoat and a frosted clear face mask with a large butcher knife as their weapon of choice.  Alice has a number of run-ins with the apartment buildings landlord Mr. Alphonso.  A nasty and morbidly obese pedophilic creep who has murder victim written all over him.  Since we are shown a lot of evidence that Alice is possibly the killer, we get the feeling that at some point she will kill him.  To help her mother cope Alice’s aunt Anne is staying with them and she and Alice do not get along.  So it’s not all that surprising when Anne is attacked in the stairwell and stabbed in the leg.  She survives and is convinced that Alice did it.  Alice comes off as such a defiant brat you wonder if she really did do it.

Alice is taken down to the police station and given a polygraph test.  When she says her dead sister Karen in responsible it shows that she was telling the truth.  Alice is sent to live at a children’s shelter and talks with a psychiatrist  During this time Alice’s father, Dom, is also helping her mother deal with things.  When Dom gets a call supposedly from Alice to come to an abandoned building he sees a person in a yellow raincoat and follows them only to get stabbed and bludgeoned to death.  We then find out who the real killer is.  I won’t completely spoil it but it is shocking to find out that it’s not Alice, you find yourself saying, her?  We get a little back story on her motive and now fear for Alice’s safety as she is now a prime target.  Mr. Alphonso is finally killed off but not by the person we thought it would be.  The film wraps up back in the church and in front of the whole congregation, Father Tom is stabbed in the neck during communion.  During all the commotion Alice places the knife back in the paper bag from which it came from and gives an emotionless stare into the camera.  Even though Alice was not “the killer” we find out that she really is not all that innocent either.


If Your Looking For a Good Fix "Go Ask Alice"

9/12/2020

*Contains Spoilers*

This short little made for TV movie aired in 1973 and was based on the controversial book of the same name by an anonymous author, found out to be Ruth Roman.  It's about a 14-year-old suburban girls descent into drugs and addiction.  Very much a shocking cautionary tale for young people when drug culture was at an all-time high (pun intended).  The film, directed by John Korty, was nominated for two Emmy Awards but didn’t win.  Now, this film while campy and cheesy still delivers a strong message for those who are open to listening.

Jamie Smith-Jackson plays Alice as your typical middle-class suburban teenager navigating the horrors of puberty.  She keeps a diary and narrates a series of voice-overs throughout the film.  Like a lot of teenage girls, she worries about her weight, making friends, and what to wear.  She makes friends Beth and they get along perfectly throughout the school year together until summer vacation comes along and Beth is off to camp.  Once again Alice is left bored and lonely.  She becomes friends with a girl at a clothing store and this begins Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole.  The film's title “Go Ask Alice” is taken from the Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit”.

Alice is invited to a party and unknown to her drinks a soda laced with LSD.  She has her first trip and becomes friends with an older guy named Richie.  Alice spends the summer with her new druggie friends getting high, stealing pills and cash.  When fall comes around and its time to go back to school she is a different person and good ‘ole Beth is no longer in the picture.  Alice starts dealing pills even too little kids at the middle school.   It is only a matter of time before her parents find out, her dad is played by William Shatner.  Instead of going to rehab, she splits town with one of her girlfriends.  They take all of Richie’s money and hit the road with no plan or destination in mind.  Alice’s journey is sad and depressing, she sells her body for drugs, sleeps on park benches, and is constantly strung out and just out of it.  She is a prisoner to her addiction with seemingly no way out.  Drugs are way bad.  After hitting rock bottom and looking for a way out  Alice meets a priest, played by Andy Griffith, who takes her in.  She calls her parents and returns home.

Alice is now clean but the stigma of being an addict haunts her.  Back at school she now has a bad reputation and is mocked and teased by the other kids.  Her former druggie friends are pressuring her not to narc on them.  The pressures to stay clean are immense and she has some slips up.  She ends up in the hospital after overdosing during a babysitting gig, the baby was not hurt as she locked herself in a closet.  She goes to a group therapy session but she doesn’t think it will help her.  She finds a new boyfriend in Joel, who is her dad’s teaching assistant and everything looks to be back to normal.  She says goodbye to her diary, her steady companion for these crazy years.  The film ends with her going into school, but with a shocking and ominous epilogue.   We are told that Alice died of an overdose one year later and was only 1 of 5000 deaths that year.  It's obvious that drugs are not just a problem of the 1970s but of the human condition as a whole.   The whole “War on Drugs” efforts of the 80s and 90s were a joke and didn’t change a thing. Criminalizing addiction is not the answer but what is?  While there are now better efforts to treat addiction this is not something that will ever just go away.  We can just take it one day at a time.

Watch The Whole Movie Right Here!

"The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" Starring Jodie Foster

 8/26/2020

This is a strange little movie that came out of the 1970s that starred a 13-year-old Jodie Foster, released the same year as her break out role as Iris in “Taxi Driver”.  In this film, she co-stars with Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, and Scott Jacoby, all of whom deliver great performances in this uneasy and disturbing story of a young girl who is diabolical and smart beyond her years.

Foster plays Rynn Jacobs who has just moved back to the area to live with her father, a famous poet, in a big house down the lane.  She had previously been living in London.  It is Halloween and also her 13th birthday when she is visited by the creepy and lecherous Frank Hallet.  His mother Cora has leased the house to the Jacobs' for a period of three years.  Frank has a reputation around town as a pedophile but who also has two kids of his own.  He makes a number of advances towards Rynn but she is quite mature for her age and brushes him off.  The clothing and soundtrack of the film are pure 70s with its bright colors and funky score.

The next day Rynn is visited by Cora who drives up in big green Bently.  She barges her way in and when Rynn refuses to help her in getting some glasses from the cellar she is annoyed and just beside herself, such a rude little girl!  Rynn does seem to be hiding something and we have yet to see her father as she gives numerous excuses why he can’t be bothered.  Rynn also doesn’t attend school, which Cora is going to look into.   She ends up leaving empty-handed and in an angry huff.  Rynn then makes a trip into town and runs into Officer Miglioriti who offers her a ride home.  He also is looking for her father and Rynn provides yet another excuse.  From now on it seems to be constantly raining.  The next day Cora makes a return visit and things get heated as she refuses to leave until she sees her father.  Rynn fires back with threatening to tell the cops about Franks's unwanted advances towards her.  Taking matters into her own hands Cora opens the cellar door, which under the kitchen floor, and is horrified by what she sees.  The door slips and smashes her on the head.  Cora is dead and Rynn covers it up.

We are then introduced to Mario, the policeman’s nephew, an older teenager who rides by on his bike dressed as a magician with a long billowing cape.  She sees Rynn trying to move Cora’s Bently and stops to talk with her.  Mario walks with a cane and says he is a cripple.  They seem it hit if off and Mario returns after his magic show and moving Cora’s car.  Rynn has made them dinner and they are having a good time.  Mario is the perfect cure for Rynn’s loneliness and boredom.  Officer Miglioriti knocks at the door and comes in for a brief moment.  He mentions that Cora is missing and Frank might come snooping around asking questions.  Soon after Miglioriti leaves, Frank does show up and this time he wants answers.  It a shocking and controversial scene Franks tortures and kills Rynn’s pet hamster then tosses it in the fireplace.  He terrorizes the kids but Mario and his sword cane have Frank eventually leaving.

Rynn then confides in Mario as to what she’s been up too, they bury Cora’s body.  Rynn then helps Mario take a bath (awkward).  Then it’s implied that they have sex in front of the fireplace.  The next morning Miglioriti is back and insists on talking to Rynn’s father, who miraculously appears and walks halfway down the stairs.  They briefly chat and he signs a book for him.  Miglioriti apologizes for not believing her and leaves.  We then find out it was actually Mario in disguise.  Then we come to the most WTF scene of the movie when in her bedroom Rynn strips naked and gets into bed with Mario.  Now it’s obvious that there is a body double used because Jodie was actually 13 during filming but the audacity by the director to put in a scene like this takes some pretty big balls.  This whole movie walks an uneasy line with sexuality in general.  Rynn is a sort of femme fatale, Lolita-esque type character who plays with the hearts and emotions of all of the characters.

To wrap things up Mario gets stuck in the hospital with pneumonia and Franks takes one last shot at Rynn.  He gropes her chest while grabbing a safe deposit box key that is on a chain around her neck.  He wants answers and finds evidence that Rynn has killed Cora and her own mother.  In a scene earlier foreshadowed with Mario, Rynn makes them some tea with once cup spiked with cyanide.  Frank thinks he knows what she is up to but winds up playing right into her hands and drinks the poison.  We end on a very long take on Rynn’s cold and blank expression as the credits roll.

"Afterschool" Starring Ezra Miller

8/22/2020

Writer/director Antonio Campos first came upon the scene with his 2008 film “Afterschool”.  This painfully authentic early portrayal of teens and how the new internet and cell phone culture affects the students at a prestigious prep school.  When tragedy strikes the student body seems desensitized and indifferent to the violence that has occurred.

The film follows one such student named Rob, played by Ezra Miller, who is a shy and withdrawn kid who can be usually found in front of his computer watching violent Youtube videos, porn, or playing violent video games.  He is meek and introverted but has these violent outbursts that show his inner struggle and anger.  The alienation, depression, and loneliness he feels comes across in a very honest way.  The rich all-white prep school culture is brutal and looks worse than any public high school.  The pressure is immense and unrelenting and Rob looks to be on the brink.  When looking for an elective class he chooses video production and is partnered with Amy for a project.  There is an awkward scene where they talk about sex and this leads to a disturbing realization of how modern teenage boys learn about sex from internet porn.  The line between reality and fantasy is quickly becoming blurred.  This is one of the main themes of “Afterschool”.

When filming an empty hallway for his project Rob inadvertently films two girls who burst forth in obvious distress.  The twin girls Anne and Mary are quite popular and Rob calmly and quietly continues to film them overdosing on some tainted drugs until they stop moving.  He does nothing to help them as other students and teachers come to their aid, but it's too late.  Rob is interviewed by the police and then the school psychologist about what he saw.  He seems to be in a state of shock but not grief-stricken or sorry about what happened.  While in a therapy session he volunteers to make a memorial video of the girls.  Rob always seems to be in a melancholic state of confusion.  He has awkward sex with Amy in the woods, well more awkward than normal teenage sex I guess you could say.  Rob’s inability to express his emotions or to develop any kind of personality is frightening because he is in a way a model of thousands of teen boys his age.  What's even more bizarre is the memorial video he ends up creating.  When screened for the headmaster all he could say was “is this a joke?”  The film is a disjointed, jumbled mess of poorly edited clips and photos of the girls, completely lacking in empathy or any kind of human emotion.  You start to really think there is something seriously wrong with Rob but you don’t know exactly what.  The movie's final scenes are absolutely chilling but are they real or just make belief?

Watching “Afterschool” now more than 10 years after its release has lost a bit of its punch since it was such an “of the moment” comment on teens in the pre-social media smartphone era. Although the idea of how the internet can create socially awkward and desensitized teens is still an issue.  If you liked Ezra Miller in “Afterschool” he plays an even more messed up psychopathic teen in Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin” Which I reviewed a while back.

   

"Christine" is the Unforgettable True Story of Christine Chubbuck


8/7/2020

“Christine”, not to be confused with the Stephen King story and subsequent movie, is the shocking and heartbreaking true story of Christine Chubbuck, a woman fighting her internal and external demons in the broadcast news business of the 1970s.  This film was directed by Antonio Campos, who previously directed the amazing 2008 film “Afterschool”.


Rebecca Hall plays the title role of Christine a news reporter for a small station in Sarasota Florida.  Christine lives with her mother after an incident at her previous job in Boston sent her packing.  She obviously has some mental health issues, but in the 70s this was extremely hidden and taboo to talk about openly, and still is to some extent.  On her time off Christine performs puppet shows at the local children’s hospital.  These shows look to be an emotional outlet for her as she uses these characters to express her deepest feelings to the only people that actually pay any attention and listen to her.

Working in a white male-dominated industry Christine is a tough as nails workaholic.  Always itching to do more important she is constantly given demeaning cream puff stories.  That station on the other hand is struggling to find and keep its viewers.  They must start to subscribe to the new “if it bleeds it leads” concept of journalism if they plan to stay in business.  Christine also begins to have severe abdominal pains which she tries to brush off as stress, but this eventually leads her to a doctor's office.  She will need an operation to remove a cyst along with one of her ovaries, making it difficult to get pregnant in the future.  The overarching theme of loneliness is present in every scene she is in.  Christine is not an easy person to get to know and comes off quite cold and standoffish.  She has a crush on the lead anchor George, played by Michael C. Hall of Dexter Fame.  George is a nice guy, but kind of dumb.  He is obviously not as outlandish as Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy, but you can see a sliver of it now and again.


Christine buys a police scanner in hopes of tracking down juicier stories and runs out to a fire in the middle of the night and captures this emotional and ironic story of an older man who won’t stop smoking even though his house has burned down more than a few times.  She is proud and excited about this new work and upon bringing it to her boss is shot down for not shooting the fire itself.  Christine starts to spiral down a familiar path as she argues with her mother, who has found a new boyfriend.


Bob Anderson the station owner is looking for two people to work at a much bigger station in Baltimore and this looks to be the big break Christine has been looking for.  She has also started to become friendlier with George, first at a drunken Fourth of July party, then a bit later he asks her out to dinner.  At the end of this dinner, he brings her to this new age support group for people to work through their problems, which was a little strange.  To boost her profile for the possible promotion Christine fakes a flat tire in order to talk to Bob at his home.  She also requests to be a co-anchor for a trial run from the station director in which she is constantly feuding with and surprisingly he agrees.  Although Christine hears that George has been selected for the promotion and he doesn’t choose her to go with him.  This is the last straw and something breaks in Christine’s psyche.  She’s thinking that everyone is against her and is bound for a lonely barren existence for the rest of her sad pitiful life.  So she buys a gun she was looking at earlier on, a .38 snub nose.  The day comes for her big on-air time and there is a technical problem leaving her on air with nothing to say, so she reads a prepared statement of her own, takes the gun out of her bag, and shoots herself in the head on live television.  She briefly makes the news herself and the sad tragic story of Christine Chubbuck comes to an end.  


“Christine” is a powerful character study of a woman who was chewed up and spit out by a society that refused to change.  It's also an early indication of how important a person's mental health is and how we treat each other.  Christine was by no means a bad person, she worked tirelessly in the hopes of making a difference.  In hopes of being listened too and recognized as a valuable and worthwhile person.  The story of Christine Chubbuck cannot be easily forgotten after watching this film.  


Willam H. Macy is "Edmond"

7/30/2020

Director Stuart Gordon’s 2005 film “Edmond” was adapted from a play by David Mamet who also wrote the screenplay.  It’s a short little film, 82 minutes, about a middle-aged man going through a mid-life existential crisis in the same vein as Michael Douglas’s character in the movie “Falling Down”, except with Mamet’s keen use of dialogue.


Willam H. Macy has made a career out of playing the down on his luck everyman and the role of Edmond is the perfect fit for him.  He is a bland suit and tie businessman past his prime who on a whim visits a psychic and gets a tarot card reading.  The old lady tells him “You are not where you belong”.  This seems to flip a switch in his brain and he goes home to his wife and calmly and quietly tells her “I can’t live this life anymore” and leaves her.  Edmond then sets off on a journey through the streets of New York.  He talks to a man in a bar (Joe Mantegna) who spouts off this racist allegory and tells him to go to this strip club.  Edmond is kicked out of the club for being a repressed cheap bastard and his journey continues to a peepshow.  All the while he is looking for an authentic human connection with each of the sex workers he encounters.  His desperate loneliness is palpable.  He tries to bargain on price with each of them, even to the point of trying to use a credit card with a woman at a brothel.  Back on the streets he is approached by a pimp and they come to an agreement for one of his girls but Edmond is not surprisingly robbed.  What is surprising though is that he fights back and stabs the pimp all while berating him with racial slurs.  Feeling invigorated and alive he goes to a bar for a drink and strikes up a conversation with the young waitress Glenna (Julia Stiles).  He actually persuades her to go back to her place where they have sex.  Edmond then flies into a sort of manic rage eventually killing a terrified Glenna with his knife.


Edmond is consumed with a racist, misogynistic rage that has been long buried.  He has another such encounter with an older African-American lady on the subway but she is able to escape.  Further wondering the streets he is drawn to an all-black church and seems entranced until he is approached by a policeman and the women he harassed on the train.  He tries to talk his way out of it using his white privilege but is arrested and taken to the station for questioning.  Upon interrogation, he is blindsided when they ask him about the murder of Glenna.  He confesses with the twisted rationale of a mad man.  The third act has Edmond in prison with a cellmate who quickly makes him his bitch.  He makes a full stereotypical prison transformation as he shaves his head and gets a teardrop tat. The film ends with him and his cellmate having a long existential talk about hell and the afterlife.


Writer David Mamet is known for his talent for writing strong dialogue that my review here can’t accurately express.  It’s very raw and biting and not for everyone.  “Edmond” is a character study of a vile man who could be your next-door neighbor.  Since he is such a bland everyman he could literally represent a vast number of people who are also hiding a deepening rage against society as a whole and when the wolf decides to shed its sheep’s clothing this can be utterly terrifying.


Stuart Gordon's Final Film "Stuck"

7/27/2020

*Spoilers Ahead*
Director Stuart Gordon passed away in March of this year.  He left his mark by being one of the great contributors to the 80s horror scene.  The iconic Dr. Herbert West, played by Jeffrey Combs, in “Re-Animator” put Gordon on the map.  His next feature “From Beyond” which also starred Combs also drew wide acclaim from fans and critics alike.  To round up his amazing trio of films was “Dolls” in 1987.  He made a number of poorly received films in the 90s but his last two in the mid-2000s “Edmond” and “Stuck” were a return to his earlier form.  Here we will take a look at his last feature the “based on a true story” film “Stuck”.

Famed Irish actor Stephen Rea adopts an American accent to play Thomas Bardo, a down on his luck schlub who is being evicted from his scummy apartment.  With nowhere to go, he is cast out onto the streets to fend for himself.  When trying to find a job at the state unemployment agency he runs into nothing but bureaucracy.  With an armload of clothes and nighttime upon him, he makes his way to a park bench to mull over his future.  Meanwhile, we meet Brandi Boski, played by Mena Suvari.  She works in a nursing home and is the favorite nurse of Mr. Binkley and has literally shit the bed again.  After work, Brandi and Tanya (a friend from work) go to a club and meet up with Brandi’s boyfriend Rashid.  They all take some ecstasy and party the night away.  Drunk and high Brandi decides to drive home, obviously, this is not going to go well for her.  While chatting on the phone with Rashid (another nasty no-no) she hits a homeless man pushing a shopping cart.  This is, of course, Thomas who was kicked out of the park by the police, then was gifted the cart by another fellow homeless man.  Thomas’ leg is broken and his body becomes lodged in the windshield, hence the title Stuck, but the title is sort of a double meaning as we’ll find out.  In a moment of panic and darkly comedic drama Brandi makes her way home with the man on her hood.  She even passes by a policeman who fails to notice her.  Then makes a feeble attempt to drop him off at a hospital but drives away.

Amazingly she arrives home undetected and a moment of truth is upon her, what should she do next?   She doesn’t seem to be an inherently bad person, but her refusal to accept what is happening and take responsibility is her downfall.  Thomas then wakes up and pleads for help, obviously in agonizing pain, blood streaking down his face and a bone protruding ever so slightly from his broken leg.  Brandi is frozen in terror and disbelief and leaves him as Rashid arrives at her front door.  Brandi tells him about the accident, but not the fact that he is currently in the garage.  Rashid laughs it off and tells her to forget about it.  We then cut between a sex scene and Thomas writhing in the windshield.

The next day Brandi goes to work but is late, she tries to act like things are normal but is wracked with guilt.  Her guilt is more about what will happen to her if she is found out that what is happening to poor ole Thomas.  Before leaving for work she whacks him over the head with a 2x4 to stop him from screaming.  Later on, Thomas awakens still alive and kicking and gets the attention of a neighbor boy by screaming for help.  The boy runs home to tell his mother and when the father gets home he decides not to intervene since they are illegals and could be deported.  Thomas’s situation becomes so ridiculous that the film could be seen as a dark comedy.  He is eventually able to wedge himself free and splinter his leg.  When Rashid goes to finish him off he is ambushed and killed.  Thomas almost escapes but Brandi knocks him out and drags him back.  She then decides to douce everything is gasoline and set it ablaze.  Once again Thomas is awakened and gets the drop on Brandi.  He is able to start the car and pin her to the wall.  Brandi’s attempt to shot him backfires as the shot ignites the gas and burns her alive.  Thomas emerges from the flames a broken but free man.

“Stuck” is a low budget, well-acted B-movie that really brings the goods.  It has gore, sex, dark humor, and people making stupid decisions.  All based on the true story of Chante Jawan Mallard, a Texas woman who received 50 years in prison for the murder of a homeless man, Gregory Biggs.  Yes, the movie does take a bunch of artistic liberties, I mean Thomas surviving and getting his vengeance makes the movie.  Stuart Gordon’s last film while not earth shattering brought back the feeling of those mid-80s classics he is so famous for.

A Loud Disapproval of "A Quiet Place"

“A Quiet Place” is a horror film that takes things in a bit of a different direction than your average scare-fest.  Director and actor John Krasinski is primarily known for his comedic role on the TV show “The Office”.  He is playing against type in both respects as actor and director.  His journey into the horror/thriller genre is a welcome surprise as he brings a new voice and energy into an often tired and overworked genre. 

Although names were not mentioned during the film (except for one), John plays a father and a husband named Lee Abbott.  His on-screen as well as off wife, Evelyn Abbott, is played by Emily Blount.  They have three children among them, two boys and a girl.  The oldest girl, Regan, is played by Millicent Simmonds who in real life is hearing impaired, this makes for an interesting pairing with the plot of the film which I will mention later on.  Her two brothers, Marcus and Beau, are played by Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward respectively.  The overall cast is kept to a minimum and reinforces the feeling of isolation the family feels.

The film starts out with a title card stating “Day 89” and we see the family scrounging around a desolate drug store in a post-apocalyptic landscape.  They tiptoe around with the utmost silence.  Beau the youngest boy eyes a toy space shuttle, but it’s quickly taken awake because of its potential to make noise, however upon leaving Regan lets him keep it, this a very bad thing.  We find the family walking along a path of ashes and crossing a bridge when the toy starts blaring, everyone turns around in horror as Beau is swept away by a big insect looking, creature.  We then flash forward about a year with another title card.  We see that Evelyn is pregnant which is foreshadowing a pretty obvious plot point to come.  Their lives are lived in silence as any noise will bring the creatures to their door.  They have efficiently adapted everything they do to reduce sounds.  They use sign language to communicate and even roll dice on a mat when playing games to eliminate any sound.  Only when Lee brings Marcus to a fast-moving stream or waterfall are they able to talk in their normal voices.  To further eliminate noise when inside or out everyone is barefoot.  Their clothing is minimal and reflects that of your average middle-class family, laundry is still being done as we see so things are not terribly desperate as of yet. They are still up on their cleanliness and appearance.

In a film with little to no verbal dialogue, it turns into a modern-day silent film.  This means the acting has to be good and contrary to your typical horror movie acting this film is definitely a step above.   The acting came through in the facial expressions of the actors.  When Evelyn was trapped in the house having to keep silent while also going into labor was pretty amazing.  Relaying all of the complex emotions she was going through was quite a feat.  The fact that Regan is deaf in real life and in the film looked to make her job all the more difficult.  She crafts a great character communicating all her emotions from angry and annoyed to anxious and terrified.  Her dad tirelessly works on new hearing aids for her without having much success, but his latest configuration is in the end a key to repelling the creatures.  Also contrary to most horror films we really care about these characters and want them to survive.  They are not just generic bodies to be gruesomely murdered by the hero monsters.

The post-apocalyptic scenery is something that has been used to death in modern films and TV.  “The Walking Dead” for example has cornered the market on this.  The most effective use of this in my opinion was the 2009 film “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen.   Although not a horror film in the traditional sense, the film (and the book it is based on) looks to transcend the genre and make it something more.  I think that is what “A Quiet Place” is aiming for and in a way does that.  The family has to adapt to their new way of life and we stay pretty much within their little area of the world the whole time.  They make use of their natural surroundings and anything they can find to make themselves invisible from the creatures.  

This film relies entirely on sound and the manipulation of it.  While the characters themselves are silent for a good majority of the film, the score by Marco Beltrami plays a huge part.  The score emphasizes the scary points and increases the levels of suspense.  Although when it is silent every little noise becomes magnified and of utmost importance.  When Evelyn or the kids and walking on the wood plank stairs or opening a door, you cringe hoping that the creatures won’t hear them.  While the filmmakers manipulate the audience with sound the same is true of the characters who use it to draw the creatures away.  When Evelyn is under attack, the boys light off a bunch of fireworks as a last resort to draw them away.  As is typical of a lot of horror films the lighting is minimally and there are a bunch of scenes that take place at night.  The family has rigged a lighting system around the perimeter of their living area to warn of danger.  If the lights are white all is good, if they are red then danger is amongst them.  Fires on top of their silo are also used to signal other encampments in the area.  The kids' use of flashlights also comes into play when they are in the cornfields. 

While this film was better than your average horror film I don’t think it’s as great as the extensive praise it has received.  Some of my issues with the film might be a little picky, but it did interfere with the story in my mind.  Where exactly were they getting their electricity?  Normal human activities ended over a year ago and they seem to use a lot of power, if they had a generator I’m sure the excessive noise would attract trouble. Secondly, the fact that Evelyn is pregnant is purely to serve the plot, but seriously can’t you wait to have a baby until after you figure out how to kill these things.  After the baby is born they due have plans to minimize the crying fits but come on a baby will cry at the most inopportune times (and does).  Next on my list is that stupid nail on the steps, Evelyn steps on it originally, ouch! But then it seems to be a non-issue when everybody else goes down them.  At least try to mention it or point in out when your kids go running down them.  Finally, the creatures themselves, what are they and where did they come from? I’m sure this will be dealt with in the many sequels and prequels to come.


"Quarantine" with This High Octane Horror Film

7/8/2020

The 2007 Spanish film “Rec” created such a stir in the horror movie business that it only took about a year for the American remake “Quarantine” to hit theaters.  The films are an excellent and effective use of the found-footage horror sub-genre made popular by “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999.  Although with bigger budgets and more refined production.

“Quarantine” stars Jennifer Carpenter, who at the time also starred in the horror series “Dexter”  on Showtime.  She plays Angela a reporter who is spending the night shadowing a Los Angeles fire station.  Everything we see is from her cameraman’s point of view and like most found footage movies, you get a lot of shaky camera moments.  Angela gets to know some of the firefighters at the station but we primarily follow Jake, played by Jay Hernandez.  After a number of jokes and lightheartedness a call comes in and we jump on an engine and head to an old apartment building.  There is no fire but its a medical call for a sick old lady.  As we quietly enter the apartment of Ms. Espinoza we see her and there is definitely something wrong with her.  After a quick interaction, she jumps on one of the officers and takes a bite out of his neck.  From here on out the action, suspense and tension never let up.  The frenetic movement of the camera adds to the insane panic that is felt by all.  As people try to leave the building they find that they have been locked inside by the CDC and have been quarantined inside, hence the title of the movie.  Armed guards surround the place and cover the windows with plastic sheeting.  As we will see later they mean business.

The apartment residents are pretty stereotypical and just serve the purpose of a higher body count but it works in a movie like this since the only quiet character moments were in the first ten minutes.  We have the mother and young daughter, the immigrant couple, the drunken asshole businessman, the young single girl, and a single guy who happens to be a veterinarian.  After witnessing some sick people they find out that the virus is some form of rabies, that spreads quickly and turns people into hyper-aggressive fresh eating maniacs, naturally.  At one point one of the infected is bludgeoned to death by the camera, very cool.  The resident all end up turning one by one.  The little girl, played by now horror veteran, Joey King has a great little scene as well.  As I mentioned before the action and suspense are non-stop and your at the edge of your chair for every minute of it.  Eventually, Angela and her cameraman are alone and make their way up to the attic to find several animal cages and information on bio-warfare.  Then in the green night-vision, we see a tall skeletal like being moving around.  The tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife, Angela then finds herself alone with the final scene of her being dragged off into the darkness.  “Quarantine” was one of my favorite horror films of the last decade and the best example of how you do a found footage film right.


"I Think Were Alone Now" with Peter Dinklage

7/4/2020

Reed Morano’s 2018 film “I Think Were Alone Now” is not a biopic about 80s pop singer Tiffany, but a story of a man making a life for himself after a world-altering event that has left him completely alone, or so he thinks.  There have been numerous movies that deal with the apocalypse or the last man alive scenario.  From drama, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, just about every genre has gone after the story in a different angle. 

The magnificent Peter Dinklage plays Del, a man who has made the public library his new home.  He spends his days going from house to house in his suburban neighborhood cleaning.  He wraps up and removes bodies when needed and takes supplies such as food and batteries.  He also takes family photos out of their frames which he keeps in file folders back at the library.  Del is a quiet mannered man who goes about his business keeping a routine in a world that no longer exists.  What motivates a person to move forward when everything seems so unnecessary?  Humans are such social beings, living a life of solitude takes a certain type of person.  Del seems to have found a new purpose that drives him forward, but the loss of human connection is always with him.  Until he hears the blaring of a car alarm, he approaches with extreme caution, gun drawn, and finds a passed out teen girl, this is Grace (Elle Fanning).  In this new world, there is a risk in helping anyone, but Del cautiously helps her out anyway.  He locks her in a room until she awakens and then they form an understanding.

While Del still very much keeps to himself he does show Grace how to clean and clear houses.  Grace even finds a dog and brings him to back live in the library.  There are a number of questions that linger around.  Where did grace come from and why does she have a bandaged scar on the back of her neck?  We keep coming back to house number 13, is this Del’s old house? Also the biggest question as to what happened to all the people?  We get some answers but the seconds half of the film is considerably weaker than the first.  Del is such a fascinating character as Dinklage gives him such humanity and feeling.  Del is one of the few people who actually sees his situation as a sort of blessing in disguise.  He has not actively sought out any other survivors until Grace literally crashes into his life.

The second half of the film takes a more sci-fi route as one day Grace’s “parents” find her and want to bring her home.  It’s obvious that these are not her biological parents and it starts to explain the scar on her neck.  Grace is taken away and Del is powerless to stop them leaving him alone, again.  But this time he is prompted to take action and leaves his little neighborhood to find that there is actually a populated city going on like normal.  He finds Grace in a house hooked up to some medical equipment with an electrode cap that is playing around with her thoughts.  The Dad appears and we find out he is working on a machine that will eliminate grief, sadness, anger, and bad memories.  No deal Dr. Frankenstein, Del shoots him dead and like a freed prisoner the Mom runs out the front door.  Del rescues Grace and we get a tired and cliche ending of them driving into the horizon.  The way the movie was shot and the lens used to give everything this dreamy quality especially if you pay attention to the edges of the frame that are always slightly out of focus.  This is a decent movie that definitely could have been better, but if anything see it for Peter Dinklage’s performance.  If you looking for more Dinklage other than “Game of Thrones” of course, take a look at his break out role in “The Station Agent” which I have previously reviewed.


Sean Penn is "Milk"

7/1/2020

“My name is Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you”.  This was the rallying cry of San Francisco Gay rights activist Harvey Milk.  His impassioned speeches to crowds and protesters demanded equal treatment for not only gays and lesbians but for all marginalized people.  Sadly, like many civil rights leaders before him, he was gunned down by an angry bigot with a gun.  Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film “Milk” was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Sean Penn and his spot-on portrayal of Harvey.

The film starts out with Harvey talking into a tape recorder with the purpose of leaving a record of his thoughts in case he is assassinated.  This acts as a sort of narration throughout the film as we keep coming back to it.  Right away we are then told of the death of Harvey and San Francisco Mayor Moscone at the hands of an unlikely assassin.  That was in 1978, we are then brought back to 1970 to show us how we got there.  Milk has just turned 40 and feels like he has not accomplished anything (join the club pal).  Living in New York he meets Scott Smith (James Franco) in the Subway and falls in love and things start to take off from there.  Together they move to San Francisco and open up a small camera shop called Castro Camera.  Harvey becomes an active social leader within the community and makes the shop a safe hangout spot for gays and lesbians.  Milk then takes it a step further in protesting the unfair treatment of the gay community by the police.  Eventually deciding to run for City Supervisor, but loses not once or twice but three times.  Although gaining more support and votes after each run.  

The outright fear, paranoia, and bigotry of gays ran from coast to coast as Harvey faced off with Anti-gay activist Anita Bryant and Senator John Briggs.  The film also chronicles Harvey’s relationship with Dan White another up and coming politician but one much more conservative than Harvey.  In 1977 things changed in how San Francisco was divided up and Harvey finally won a seat as City Supervisor.  The first openly gay man to be elected to any office in the whole country.  Dan White was also elected City Supervisor in a neighboring district and the two were at odds with each other.  Harvey didn’t play “the game” of politics and this angered White who eventually resigned his seat.  Ten months later white wanted his seat back but was denied by May Moscone.  White then coldly and callously brought a gun and extra ammunition to city hall and gun down both Moscone and Milk.  He was found, arrested, and booked for murder.  His trial was a complete failure of the justice system as he only served five years in prison.  Two years after is released he committed suicide.

The filmmakers of “Milk” gave credit to the 1984 Academy Award-winning Documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” in which several scenes are re-enacted.  “Milk” is an engaging and emotional story of a man who fought like so many others before him demanding equal rights only to be killed for them.  This is simply an amazing film with Sean Penn giving a career-defining performance but still for some people the subject matter will be an issue which is a shame.  If you watch this film you will no doubt be touched by the life of Harvey Milk.