Archive for the 'Horror' Category

20
Sep
14

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

When I first heard someone had filmed a horror movie at Disneyland, I thought ‘how the heck did they get away with that?’ After seeing the trailer for Escape from Tomorrow, I became impossibly intrigued. I’m already a person with an intense distrust of all things Disney, so a film using the theme park as a stage for horror sounded like the perfect idea. My only fear was that my expectations were way too high; nothing could possibly live up to the horrific ideas I’d created in my head.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

Then, we waited. A few months passed by and people stopped talking about it. Every now and again, Q and I talked about whether or not we should pick up a copy (at Target of all places) and for whatever reason, we didn’t. Until we did. And then, it sat there, in the middle of a pile of movies we intend to watch in the possibly distant future. There are, after all, an awful lot of movies to watch out there! Then, one fateful night we finally decided it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, my fears were totally unfounded. I was incredibly impressed with this film!

Jim and Emily White are a terribly typical couple. Their kids Sara and Elliot haven’t fallen very far from the tree. Today is the family’s last day at Disneyworld, and Jim is determined to enjoy himself in a very Clark Griswold kind of way, despite the fact that he spent the morning on the phone getting fired from his job. Naturally, Jim doesn’t share this information with his wife, and the family sets off for one last “great” day of vacation.

On the way to the park, the Whites share a shuttle with other happy-go-lucky folks, including two too-young French girls. Jim, doofus that he is, can’t take his eyes off of them. The girls seem to know what he’s interested in, and coyly swing themselves around a pole, almost taunting the poor goober. The exchange isn’t lost on Emily, either, but she is pretty sure it’s just harmless attraction.

G-O-O-B-E-R

G-O-O-B-E-R

Things only get stranger from there; while on one of Disney’s famously irritating rides, Jim sort of blacks out: the dolls seem to become evil before his very eyes, and his family turns on him. Eventually things turn back to normal, but Jim is clearly shaken. It seems as though this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and while I wouldn’t have let my prone-to-blackouts-husband take my only son alone in a giant theme park, that’s exactly what Emily does; what else are you supposed to do when your kids can’t agree on what ride to go on next?

Unfettered from his wife, Jim spots the two French girls and, like a total idiot, blatantly follows them around the park. The girls take notice, and so does Elliot, especially when his dad makes him ride Space Mountain just so he can keep up with the girls! The boy vomits all over himself and Jim, naturally, is in very big trouble with his wife, who has yet to allow him to kiss, hug, or even touch her at all. The parents exchange kids and Jim takes Sara around the park, this time meeting some other weirdos, including a nurse who warns Jim of an impending Cat Flu epidemic, and a former Disney Princess, who lets Jim in on a few secrets of the Disney Princess trade…

That is a terrifying child!

That is a terrifying child!

The first half of this movie is so extraordinarily anxious and claustrophobic, I could barely stand it! Even without the evil dolls, it is so frightening with the anticipation of something really, really bad happening. Will Jim lose the kids? Will he actually approach these French girls? What’s up with that creep on the scooter? As the movie progresses, and Jim walks around the park in a swirl of drunkenness, the anxiousness turns into terror, confusion and conspiracy. At a certain point, the film turns into a real mindfuck and goes in some very strange directions. I don’t want to give away all the film’s secrets, so I’ll let you discover some of the strangeness for yourself. I definitely recommend you do.

I really, really loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious and terrifying at the same time, a feat that is never as easy to achieve as it seems. I must say I am very surprised at its negative reception; only 58 on metacritic? It does such a great job of capitalizing on the average Joe’s fears of loss, rejection, and sickness all while being filmed at ‘the happiest place on earth,’ I’m surprised more people aren’t legitimately horrified by it. Perhaps they were expecting an axe-wielding Mickey, a psychopathic Minnie, or maybe Goofy in a skin-suit? I think by preying on the simple fears of the typical American white dude (i.e., the fathers of Disney’s target demographic) is what makes this movie so

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection...

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection…

effective. Personally, I think watching it is a lot more fun than any expensive trip to Disneyworld would be!

I can’t rightly publish this post without mentioning just what a marvel it is that they were able to actually complete the thing. Somehow the filmmakers were actually able to pull off shooting the film guerilla-style in a place that is heavily guarded and surveilled. That in itself is an achievement to be lauded, and knowing what difficulties they may have encountered doing so is enough to forgive the obvious green-screen shots. No matter how clear it was that a particular shot wasn’t actually taken at the park, I never felt removed from the setting. I was definitely there, in Disneyworld, living a nightmare.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the film, except that I’m not quite sure why it takes some of the strange turns it does. The answer may actually be that they had to make it more obviously a parody in order to avoid legal issues with Disney. As it is, I’m shocked they got away with releasing the film at all, let alone on DVD and on sale at Target.

20
Sep
14

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

The world of horror movies can be very alienating to the uninitiated. Unless you’re used to decapitation and blood-curdling screams, I suppose a horror flick might actually seem, um, scary. Even so, in the end a movie is just a movie; we can throw out our exorbitantly-priced popcorn and call it a day. But what must it be like for the uninitiated folks working behind the scenes on such a film? Peter Strickland explores this idea in Berberian Sound Studio, a film about a British sound editor whose been recruited to work on an Italian production. Unfortunately our hero failed to get all the details before traveling to Italy…

BerberianSoundStudioPosterGilderoy (Toby Jones) is an older gentleman; shy, but very skilled at his job. Usually, he works on sound-editing for educational documentaries and children’s programming. Seemingly out of the blue he is called upon by some Italian folks working on a film called The Equestrian Vortex. Assuming this is just another nature documentary, Gilderoy travels to Italy. Of course, he is stunned to discover the film is about as far from documentary as you can get! Instead of benignly educating its audience, The Equestrian Vortex is a cookie-cutter giallo film out to make them squirm!

Gilderoy attempts to convey his discomfort, but the members of the Italian production team are completely uninterested in hearing any of his complaints; they’re far too wrapped up in their own egos and drama to worry about a milquetoast Brit like Gilderoy. The poor fellow can’t even get anyone to reimburse him for his flight out to Italy; the receptionist out front is insufferably rude, and the folks inside the studio are pushy to say the least. Without much of a choice, Gilderoy is thrust into the world of horror filmmaking, and let’s just say the two weren’t exactly made for each-other. He becomes intimately familiar with all manner of fruit and vegetable; what lovely squashing sounds they make! Seems benign enough, but more unsettling are the guttural grunts and moans of “The Witch,” the screeching horror of “The Goblin” and of course, the incessant and ever-disappointing screams of actress after actress; all of which Gilderoy must record and mix with painstaking accuracy and attention.

The only comfort Gilderoy enjoys after a hard day’s work of screaming and fruit-crushing are letters from his Mum back home. She anxiously awaits his return so they together can enjoy the nest of baby chicks that have made their home on the front porch. He smiles to himself each night as he reads his mother’s letters, but there’s always a bit of dread behind that smile, because he knows tomorrow will be another difficult day with the Italians. The only other person who seems to sense his extreme discomfort is Silvia, one of the lead voice actresses in the film, and notably the only other non-Italian involved in the production. Silvia is the only one to treat Gilderoy kindly, and tells him the only way to get anywhere with “these people” is to demand the things you need.

Seemingly from a dream, Gilderoy takes Silvia’s advice and marches up to the receptionist desk to demand the BerberianSoundStudioSilenziomoney for his flight to Italy. Unfortunately, he is quickly shut down and loses his gumption, but even still, something has changed in Gilderoy. This new attitude, coupled with a tragic letter from Mum about the downfall of the chicks (‘it must have been the magpies’) is where the film really starts to get strange. From this point forward, We’re never quite sure what’s taking place on the screen; are we seeing inside Gilderoy’s head? Is he having a dream? Or is what we’ve seen prior a dream? We see scenes we have already seen, but with a different audio track; this time Gilderoy speaking fluent Italian. Instead of being removed from the action, he is integral to it – not only behind the scenes, but in The Equestrian Vortex itself. This is where that whole ‘blurring the lines between reality and fantasy’ comes in, and it’s a real head trip.

Berberian Sound Studio is a movie for movie nerds. It helps if you’re familiar with the trashy world of Italian 70’s giallo – there are definitely a lot of winks and nods that you just won’t get otherwise. But I think anyone with an interest in filmmaking (particularly sound-editing, natch) will find the film intriguing. What I liked most about it is that with all the suggestion of blood and violence, there’s absolutely none to be seen in the film. It is of course heard, and clearly the mere suggestion is what seems to drive our old boy Gilderoy mad.

In one sense, I saw the film as a comment on how the horror film can draw the innocent outsider into its fold; kind of like recruiting new talent into a shady cult. At first Gilderoy is unsure and resistant, but soon (perhaps due to the magpies and the realization that the world is full of horror, and he is already a part of it?) he seems to feel as if he’s belonged here all along. What better way to convey this than by replaying previous scenes with a different audio track? Not only does that make the audience rethink what we’ve already seen, but it points out just how important sound is to the film experience, something I’m sure many casual moviegoers don’t give a second thought.

The trouble is, for all its great ideas, I feel like the movie could have been executed better. It got the atmosphere right, but I felt throughout the whole thing as if something was missing. And, truth be told, at the very end of the film I was so stunned that it was over, I had to rewind it to make sure I hadn’t missed something important. That’s the one thing that rubs me the wrong way about Berberian Sound Studio; nothing really happens in it. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it may even be a little boring. Immediately after the film I felt disappointed that it hadn’t done a better job. It wasn’t until days afterwards that it started to gel in my head. So, I think it’s a better movie in theory than in practice. Still, I would love to watch it a second time, knowing what I know now, and seeing if it makes a difference. Definitely worthwhile, but slightly disappointing. I just wanted it to be a little bit better.

14
Aug
14

Patrick (1978)

I once had a quest to watch all the Australian horror I could get my hands on. Then I saw a Mark Savage movie and decided perhaps I didn’t have to be so completist about everything. This is going to sound strange coming from me, but sometimes it is in fact good to have standards. At any rate, this quest first introduced me to Patrick, and it blew me away the first time I saw it. Now, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but the second time it wasn’t as awesome as I’d remembered it, but it still stands up as a pretty decent horror flick. Anyway, they’re always better with Aussie accents.

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Patrick is one of those guys who kills his mom and her lover and never quite recovers from it. The boy’s been in a coma ever since the “accident” happened. The doctor and nurses at the hospital where he resides believe him to be brain dead, and some of them even debate on whether or not it’s a good thing to keep him alive. That all changes when Kathy, a young woman recently separated from her husband, gets a job there. Though the battle-axe head nurse Matron Cassidy begrudgingly offers her the position, she makes no secret of her distaste for the newly ‘liberated’ woman’s situation. Kathy takes what she can get though, in the name of independence.

Clearly Cassidy has it out for her, because she assigns Kathy to room 15, a room she won’t even consider going into herself. This, of course, turns out to be Patrick’s room. Most of the nurses are used to Patrick’s room by now, what with the weird, seemingly random spitting episodes and his empty stare. They have no trouble going about their business while watching him, changing his bed, administering medications, etc. But Kathy is a little different; in fact, she thinks Patrick’s brain is still very much alive.

Kathy doesn't know what she's in for.

Kathy doesn’t know what she’s in for.

First, it’s just a feeling Kathy has. Patrick seems to be listening. Then, suddenly, her typewriter starts sending her messages that claim to be from Patrick himself. Soon, she asks Patrick to communicate with her; a spit twice if yes, once if no kinda deal. When Patrick follows her directions, Kathy has a hell of a time getting any of the staff to listen to her concerns. It doesn’t help that her personal life is in such disarray; the neurologist she’s dating can be kind of a dick, and her husband keeps turning up in her apartment! But things are weirder than that; it almost seems as though Patrick is jealous of the men in her life as strange things start happening to them. Can Kathy prove Patrick is using telekinetic powers to control his environment, or will everyone think she’s just a tramp and a quack?

A surprisingly good little flick, which might be the reason why it stood out in my head as really good the first time I saw it. I wouldn’t say it’s really good, but

Nurse nasty nun.

Nurse nasty nun.

it is better than average, and definitely worth a watch. What it is really good at is creating a legitimately creepy atmosphere with plenty of what-the-fuck moments, which is always a nice thing to have in a horror movie. Patrick’s stare is definitely the stuff of nightmares, and the filmmakers do a great job of maintaining the atmosphere throughout the whole film. A fast-paced gore-fest this is not; it shouldn’t surprise you to hear it’s more of the psychological thriller than a straight-up horror flick. The plot reminded me a bit of Romero’s Monkey Shines, which wasn’t made until a decade after Patrick. It definitely does different things, and scares in different ways, but there is an undeniable similarity there.

The drag is, I’ve only ever seen the film with the original score. It looks like there’s an Italian version out there with Goblin doing the soundtrack, and I can only imagine that makes the movie 10 times better, especially considering there are moments where the original score isn’t so great. So, if possible, get your hands on that version, and let me know how it is!

09
Aug
14

Hellbenders (2012)

Few things please me more than browsing a used-dvd horror section; I’ve stolen away with quite a few gems in my day, attracted by an actor’s name, art on the box, or an intriguing plot. Seeing as how I don’t keep up with the times and have no idea what’s good or bad in horror these days, I’m shooting in the dark when it comes to picking the good from the bad. So, when I saw Clancy Brown’s name in a film called Hellbenders about priests who sin like crazy so they can drag demons into hell, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

It’s really too bad you can only sort of tell a film’s tone by its packaging. I knew we were in trouble once we watched the trailer; an in-your-face punch-fest with too-cool one-liners. Uh oh. Turns out Hellbenders is like a post-Boondock Saints version of Ghostbusters with a hard-on for The Big Lebowski. A strange trio of influences, but they’re all there in spades.

So as I briefly mentioned before, the movie is about a group of priests called The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints. Their job is to blaspheme and sin their way through life so they’re always “damnation ready” in preparation for that big exorcism where they may have to kill themselves in order to drag the demon at hand into hell. Stephen keeps the books, tracking each sin committed by the group. The sins have to be bad enough and frequent enough so that they’d be damned to eternal hellfire any time they might die. Though they may take many bonghits and fornicate day and night, some are better at sinning than others.

Angus (Clancy Brown) is their leader, perpetually dressed like Jeffrey Lebowski, he swears his way through the

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

movie, counseling the lesser sinners in the art of damnation. Then there’s Larry (Clifton Collins Jr.) a rather milquetoast guy who seems to think drinking constantly and cheating on his wife with fellow Hellbound Saint Elizabeth will be enough to get him into Hell. There’s a few others, but they aren’t given enough substance to write about here, except I will mention one of them is a Polish dude who’s always wearing sunglasses that reminds me an awful lot of Walter Sobchak.

When they’re not toking away at the bong, taking shots off each-other’s bellies or fornicating, they’re off fighting demons. Occasionally the bishop line rings and they’re off to the races – but only if they’re damnation ready. It’s too bad the b-team got sent on what seemed to be a routine exorcism but ended up being a real doozy of a demon! Elizabeth and Macon (quiet, least badass priest who unfortunately spends the rest of the film in a body cast) try to cast the demon out, but find out they’re dealing with far more than your garden-variety evil. In fact, it’s Surtr they’re fighting: killer of gods, bringer of Ragnarok! Oh, shit! Surtr has no trouble possessing Elizabeth and soon the demon is loose in New York City, wreaking a lot of Ghostbusters-like havoc.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Angus is pissed off that Elizabeth wasn’t ready to take a demon down into hell, but all Larry can do is whine and moan that this chick he slept with a year ago is gone. He wants to save her! What a terrible time for the pope to die and the bishops to send out their auditing crew! In walks Clint, a mix between Walter Peck from Ghostbusters and Brandt from Lebowski who is just appalled by the blasphemy and insists on shutting down the group, even though they’re the only ones who can save the world from the fire of Ragnarok! How will they get out of this one?

Ooof, this movie is a confused mess! I think it’s trying a little too hard to pander to a crowd thirsty for cult hits and ultraviolence; there are many scenes where someone is being beaten senseless, and then when they’re a bloody pulp, they’re beaten again. It’s almost as if JT Petty, the writer/director of the thing, thought he heard someone somewhere once say “I wish Ghostbusters had more senseless violence and cursing but none of the charm!” The problem is, I don’t think anyone ever said that. That’s where the “post-Boondock Saints” comment comes from; while I can’t say I

Elizabeth's looking a little rough these days.

Elizabeth’s looking a little rough these days.

remember much from that movie (in fact, I’m pretty sure I turned it off because it’s a stupid piece of shit) I do remember a lot of stupid violence played for laughs and a curse word every ten seconds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a square, but there’s a time and a place for violence and pottymouths, and the answer isn’t always everywhere, all the time. It just comes out forced, weak and insincere.

I guess I understand why someone would want to make a movie like Ghostbusters; it is after all one of the most entertaining movies ever made. But all of the things that make it good are lacking in Hellbenders. Add to it the weird fetish with The Big Lebowski; one look at Angus and Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is immediately evident: the long hair in the face, the shitty robe, the weird pants. There’s even a scene where Angus pisses in a carton of half-and-half. There are other Lebowski-like moments, but no need to catalog them here. Suffice it to say if you watch it, take a shot after every Lebowski reference and you won’t be able to drive home.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.'s performance. Wha? Meh.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.’s performance. Wha? Meh.

But perhaps the weakest link of the film is Clifton Collins Jr., an actor I’ve never seen or heard of before, but turns out stars in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. You don’t say! His performance is completely anemic; there’s no gusto behind his curse words, which makes their frequency seem all the more forced. Q thinks his role would have been played better by Lou Diamond Phillips, but personally I think it was meant for Robert Beltran!

Sadly, this selection is going to be sold back to the store where it came from. Clancy Brown, you’ve failed me, but I won’t lose faith in you. Just make better decisions next time!

09
Aug
14

The Faculty (1998)

The Faculty is one of those movies that had been lying in wait for me to watch for a long time. I’d always heard, though I can’t for the life of me name the sources, that it was much better than anticipated; a smarter than the average horror movie. So, when we came across one of those 8-in-one DVDs with it on there we figured it was worth a gamble.

Poor Casey, he's just so misunderstood! If only the whole school knew what a great guy he was!

Poor Casey, he’s just so misunderstood! If only the whole school knew what a great guy he was!

All I gotta say is: ugh. I’m sure I’ve written this before, perhaps even in the very same words, but there is nothing worse than a movie that thinks it’s clever, but in reality is predictable and exhausting. I guess Kevin Williamson, the guy that wrote the screenplay, figured he could use the same formula he did for Scream, only this time it’s not a horror movie, it’s a sci-fi movie!

Welcome to Herrington High. It’s one of those high schools that’s exactly like adults think high schools are like: Delilah (Jordana Brewster) the captain of the cheerleading team and editor of the school newspaper is a total fucking bitch, but we’re still supposed to root for her. There’s Casey (Elijah Wood), a dork who crushes hard on her, even though she treats him like shit. There’s Stokely, an angsty loner who reads science-fiction novels (those will come in handy later!) who everyone calls a lesbian because… it’s 1998? There’s Stan the quarterback, who is tired of being loved for his athletic skill and wants to quit the team so he can focus on his… studies. There’s Deke (Josh Hartnett) the entrepreneurial drug and porn dealer who’s repeating his senior year, to sell more drugs, I guess. Finally there’s Marybeth Louise (Laura Harris, that blonde chick from Fifteen, remember that shit?), the new girl who’s bright, cheery, blonde and friendly.

So angsty. Wouldn't she look better in lavender?

So angsty. Wouldn’t she look better in lavender?

The only thing that could bring this unlikely group of cliches together is aliens taking over the school! No, seriously, like Casey and Delilah totally saw Piper Laurie and Robert Patrick suck the life out of Salma Hayek in the faculty lounge! Casey gets the cops involved, but of course they don’t believe him (he’s so misunderstood!) and Delilah goes “incognito” by, you know, putting on a pair of glasses or whatever, and won’t back him up because, uh, I don’t know, it’s not good for her reputation or something?

Could it be the faculty’s strange behavior and a weird, new species Casey finds on the football field are related? It certainly seems that way when the creature bites everyone’s favorite teacher Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart), Mr. Edward Furlong (ha ha, get it! Get it?) and dude goes apeshit trying to infect Deke! That’s right, it’s this alien creature that’s been infecting the faculty, and the students one by one, in hopes of taking over the whole town! It’s a damn good thing Deke’s drugs are nothing more than No-Doz in powder form;

Eddie Furlong goes apeshit.

Eddie Furlong goes apeshit.

see, the aliens thrive on water, and the diuretic drug dries them out! Now the ragtag group of shitty teens has their weapon. Can they defeat the alien invaders?

Well there’s certainly no way they’d be able to win if it weren’t for Stokely and her vast knowledge of science fiction stories. She knows deep in her geek brain if they kill the mother alien, all the rest of the folks who have been inhabited by the alien will turn back to normal and everyone can be happy again! In theory. Now the trick is to find the mother of them all…

I don’t find Williamson’s cast of characters or how they relate to one-another interesting or innovative in any way. I suppose it’s possible the film just hasn’t aged well; perhaps in 1998 his choice was, oh, I dunno, edgy or some bullshit like that, but now it seems boring, flat, tired and predictable. Worse still is what happens to the kids after everything’s over: Casey is heralded a town hero, and only then does Delilah find him acceptable to be around. Am I supposed to cheer that Casey gets the girl; the bitchy, shitty girl that I fucking hate, in the end? Perhaps worse, Stokely, the black-clad geek kisses her new boyfriend Stan at the end of the film. Am I supposed to be happy that she’s not a lesbian? Now that she’s got a man, I guess the dreariness of life has lifted and it shows; she’s wearing a fucking lavender sweater. What the fuck are you trying to tell us,

She's infected... with bitchiness!

She’s infected… with bitchiness!

Williamson? If we use our geek knowledge for good we can be happy? That in the end no one really wants to wear black? Fuck it, let’s all go out and buy fucking lavender cardigans! I call fucking bullshit. It’s pretty much Ally Sheedy’s transformation at the end of the Breakfast Club; “you know, you look a lot better without all that black shit under your eyes.” At least she had the balls to say she liked all that black shit. This is all the more troubling being that the alien’s reason for attempting to take over the high school was because it knew the students wanted to belong; all it needed to do was exploit their lack of self-confidence in order to gain their submission. And what happens in the end? The alien hasn’t won their submission, but society has; they’ve given up their individual strangeness in favor for playing for team normal. And that is some lame-ass bullshit.

Perhaps Williamson was going for some sort of irony with the ending; a weak attempt at turning the genre on its head and pointing out all the faults with horror, sci-fi and teen films. But I don’t buy that. By the time we get to the ending, it’s far too late to attempt this kind of recovery. While Scream may have been a clear shot at meta filmmaking, The Faculty isn’t as much. It’s much more of a straight-forward horror/sci-fi flick that just happens to reference its source material. It makes its stabs at humor, but they rarely work and they certainly don’t color the movie as some sort of self-aware horror/comedy. Nope, I think this is just a shitty movie more interested in gaining the approval of the normal kids than appealing to the weirdos. It lost me. I think I hated it. Yes, pretty sure I hated it.

 

05
Aug
14

Freaks (1932)

FreaksPosterDear readers, welcome to Schlock Wave’s 300th post! I never thought we’d make it this far, especially given the forty-film backlog that sits mockingly on my computer’s desktop, but here we are. Having so many films to choose from I felt I had to pick the one that was just right for #300, and the choice was quite easy. While the films covered on this blog are by no means consistently cult-y, b, or horror, that was my initial intent, and as a result I felt Tod Browning’s Freaks was a most appropriate choice for this landmark post. So, here goes, and thanks for reading!

I’m not quite sure how I first caught wind of Freaks. How the heck did anyone learn about anything before the internet? The answer is probably USA’s Up All Night, or some other such nonsense that has, for good or for ill, shaped the person I am today. At any rate, I probably didn’t know the weight of what I was watching the first time I saw it. As an adult with the wisdom of a small handful of decades behind me (and a husband who teaches a cult film class) I have at least some sense of the importance of Freaks in the cult film canon. That adds an interesting bit to the brain while watching Freaks today, and ultimately makes it a more interesting movie than it would be standing on its own.

The film tells the story of Cleopatra, a beautiful but detestable trapeze artist traveling with a carnival. She’s having a torrid and secret love affair with Hercules the strong man, and together they laugh and mock the sideshow freaks. But publicly, Cleopatra claims to love Hans, a little person with a large inheritance. Despite the fact that Hans is quite loved by his fiancee (another little person) Frieda, he ignores her and the warnings of the other ‘freaks’ and agrees to marry Cleopatra.

Although Hans’ cohort has their suspicions about Cleopatra, the flowing champagne must have got to their collective head, and in an effort to show they have embraced Cleopatra in all her normalcy, they offer her up a toast. Their chant of “We accept her, we accept her! One of us! One of us! Gobble-gobble!” is anything but welcoming to the nasty Cleopatra, and she flips the fuck out, throwing wine in their faces and shouting about how disgusting they are. But Hans sticks with her, and though she mocks him and his crew, he heads back to the wagon with his new wife.

It doesn’t take much for the freaky crew, and Hans himself, to discover that Cleopatra is slowly trying to poison Hans to death. Hercules has plans of his own for some of the nosier “normals” who are sympathetic to the freaks. Once the freaks catch wind of it all, they plan their final, horrible revenge: as the carnival heads out to their next destination, under cover of storm, they amass and attack the nasty Cleopatra and turn her into a freak show of epic proportions.

I think it is pretty safe to say that Freaks is the quintessential cult film, not just because its subject matter relegates it to the weirder corners of film, but also because its main focus can arguably be said to describe its audience. After all, we’re the rejected weirdos who sought out such a thing. What’s freakier than wanting to watch a bunch of freaks band together and exact a terrible revenge on an uppity normal?

That, of course, could not have been Browning’s objective in making this film. But what was? Browning himself joined the circus at a young age, so perhaps part of what he wanted to show his audience was that a carnival’s sideshow freaks are just as normal as you and me; they eat, sleep, dream, and love. This would explain Browning’s focus on the ‘freaks’ going about their everyday lives (rolling cigarettes with their mouths because they have no limbs, using a fork with their toes because they have no arms, etc.) eating up a lot of screen time. In the end, though, it feels pretty exploitative, like the sideshow itself must have been, and certainly marks Freaks a product of its era. A film such as this couldn’t be made today, at least not in the same ways, and if it were, it would most likely be reviled by all, even perhaps the small subset of cultists who were meant to embrace it.

But if Browning had intended to humanize these ‘freaks,’ why then would he turn them into vengeful monsters at the end? And really, does it matter what Browning’s intention was? I would argue it’s the cult audience that lends the true meaning to a film. And while I wouldn’t dare speak for an entire group of people, I will venture to say I’m probably not the only one to cheer when the freaks overtake Cleopatra and indeed make her “one of us.” And being the type of person who actively attempts to convert “normal” people into freaks every day by forcing them to sit down and watch a cult film, of course I’d celebrate Cleopatra’s metamorphosis!

07
Jun
14

It’s Alive (1973)

What’s that you say? Larry Cohen directs a horror film steeped in social commentary bordering on black comedy? Oh, yes, and this time it’s your new baby in focus!

Honestly, the first time I saw It’s Alive I was underwhelmed. That is likely because I watched it at a time in my life where all I wanted to see was technicolor gore. We get a little bit of that here, but most of the horror in It’s Alive is psychological.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

Frank and Lenore Davis weren’t so sure they were going to go through with this pregnancy; they already have an eleven-year-old boy (Chris), and Lenore had been taking contraceptives prior to this “accident.” But together they came to the decision to give it another go, and when the big day finally arrives, the whole family is sweetly excited. After dropping Chris off at a family friend’s home, Frank and Lenore innocently drive to the hospital. That’s where the nightmare begins.

Lenore knows it before the baby is even born: this one is different. Her doctor insists it’s just a very large baby, and after heavily sedating and numbing her up, thinks the birth should be a piece of cake. Well, it was easier on Lenore than it was the doctors and nurses; none of them survived, after all. Seeing the Davis baby in all its malformed glory, the doctor tries suffocating it to no avail. After the massacre, the baby escapes and Lenore, tied to her hospital bed, is scared, confused, and drugged the hell up.

This baby's made Frank famous!  He loves it.

This baby’s made Frank famous! He loves it.

It’s not long before the police arrive, with a “doctor” in tow, who offers great medical advice, and is quite interested in discovering exactly how long Lenore had been taking her contraceptives, and if, perhaps, she’d been extensively x-rayed in recent months. Rather than consider Lenore’s opinion in her baby’s future, the lieutenant, doctor and husband alike agree it’s easier to sedate her than listen to her prattle on about motherly instincts and other such nonsense.

Frank experiences a different kind of torture. When he and his wife are named the progenitors of the murderous beast, his job at a public relations firm is lost to him, and he numbly accepts the responsibility of killing his own progeny. In hopes of showing the world how “normal” he is, he feverishly hunts down his own flesh and blood.

I'd be 'hysterical' too, if I gave birth to a monster.

I’d be ‘hysterical’ too, if I gave birth to a monster.

What can I say, I just love Larry Cohen’s style. His takedown of society’s shit attitude and expectations in this flick is so perfect. The Davis baby is simply a product of society; good old American marketing and consumption – everyone agrees its deformities must be a result of smog, medicine, tainted food, or some other untested evil unleashed upon the American public by companies hoping to gain a buck. The hunt for the child, and the father’s apparent zest to be the one to destroy it all point to how American society tends to reject the very monstrosities it is responsible for creating.

I’m not sure Q is completely convinced that Frank’s character isn’t a total dick. He is pretty dicky throughout the whole movie, but I think that’s because the man really had no choice: you’re either for us or against us, right? And if he blithely accepts the symbol of American fucked-upedness, he’ll surely never get his job back, let alone the respect of his neighbors and peers. That’s not to say I excuse his behavior, but maybe I pity the guy.

"It kills like an animal. When we find it, we're going to have to destroy it like one."

“It kills like an animal. When we find it, we’re going to have to destroy it like one.”

And let’s talk about Lenore for a second: the woman is nearly mute. Never do the doctors or cops ask her how she feels about the tragedy of birthing a monster, or how she feels about that monster’s right to live. Instead, she’s expected to stay within the confines of her bedroom, forbidden even to walk downstairs in her own home, and questioned as to why she doesn’t keep taking the sedatives the kind doctor has prescribed her. Now, I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but there are certainly a great number of folks who accuse the medical establishment of treating pregnant women and babies as commodities. I think Cohen captures that pretty perfectly here, not to mention how women were (in 1973) and still are (in different ways, perhaps) considered secondary players in their own lives.

So, yes, I really liked this movie. It’s not amazing, but if you’re familiar with anything else Larry Cohen has made, you can guess what to expect. And if you haven’t seen any of Cohen’s stuff, this is as good a place to start as any. But, perhaps you should hold off watching it if you’re in your third trimester.

 




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Old Wave


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