FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 5, 2016

VHS Week Day 4: ANGUISH (1987)

I am shocked–shocked, I tells ya–that it's taken me so long to see Anguish. Lo, it was a video store staple back in The Day. This GD cover haunted me from the shelves every time I went a-browsin', and my friends and I would rent anything remotely resembling a horror movie. Why oh why did I never take it home?

I kind of left it behind in the rental era; in recent years, whenever it'd enter my brain space, I'd think "Oh, I've seen that and I wasn't wild about it." However, that thought was actually regarding Monkey Shines–my brain done mixed up those striped monkey pants and the swirl over Zelda Rubenstein's face. Stupid brain! (side note: should I give Monkey Shines another chance?)

Anyway. Now, at long last, I have seen Anguish. To be honest, although the film had some surprises in store, my life pretty much feels the same as it used to.

Anguish starts out in Total Weirdsville as we meet Mother (Rubenstein) and John (Michael Lerner). They keep birds and snails in their cramped apartment. John eats his bananas-n-milk in a slurpy disgusting's just one of those classic skeevy mommy and middle-aged son cinematic relationships. Things get weirder when mom busts out the hypnosis swirl and puts John in a bit of a trance, then sends him out to murder those who have slighted him in any way. He doesn't just murder them, though–he cuts out their eyeballs, rinses them off, and adds them to his collection

We take a sharp turn into Oh That's Pretty Cooltown when it's revealed that we haven't been watching Anguish–we've been watching The Mommy alongside an audience. Yep, it's the ol' "movie within a movie" trick!

On-screen happenings bleed into real life as the hypnosis swirl induces nausea and odd behavior in viewers, and it's not long before an ardent Mommy fan begins killing off members the theater crowd. The two realities intertwine and we often can't tell if we're watching Anguish or The Mommy or both or neither. The obvious parallel to draw here is to Lamberto Bava's Demons; Anguish shares the nesting doll-style conceit and a similar feel, although it's more in the slasher vein than the supernatural. As viewers of The Mommy grew increasingly uncomfortable and cautiously looked around the dark theater in fear, it struck me that it must have been something to see Anguish on the big screen. All meta-like and shit, you know?

At times I hailed Anguish as a lost gem and lamented that it took me so long to discover it, particularly since I'd passed it over so many times when a-browsin'. It's got a creepy vibe, it's gross, it's a bitchin' idea...I was ready shout SEE ANGUISH NOW from the blogtops. By the time it was over, however, I was more than a bit fatigued. The film stagnates about 3/4 in as various bits are repeated and rehashed: one audience member cries and cries because The Mommy scares her so much, another one escapes and tries to convince a man to help her...these same few scenes play out again and again and you just want Anguish to get on with it already. So look, I'm not shouting "see Anguish now" but I will definitely say it. Although it may not be a lost gem, it's absolutely a lost novelty that deserves a lppk. And I had some seriously bloody dreamception dreams after watching it last night where I could no longer discern whether or not I was actually awake–maybe Zelda Rubenstein's hypnosis swirl worked on me after all!

May 4, 2016

VHS Week Day 3: MIKEY (1992)

Reader, I am hollow. Mikey was exactly what I expected it would be, and yet here I am, unsatisfied. I feel like a big whiny loser who never gets anything she wants, and yet I also feel like a big whiny winner who gets everything she wants. It's as if I sit atop a pile of jewels–the biggest pile of jewels in all the world–and instead of doing log rolls down the pile and laughing with utter delight, I simply rest my chin in my hand for I've realized that it's all meaningless, How could Mikey reduce me to such? Why, but a few days ago I was all set to turn this place into a Mikey blog!

Ultimately, I think it's just that Mikey brings absolutely nothing new or unusual to the table. It hits every familiar beat in the "killer kid" genre and the "stranger in my house" genre, and unless this is the first film you've ever seen, you know exactly what will happen. Stop me if you've heard this one a million times...
  • Mikey kills his family but acts the victim when the cops show 
  • Mikey acts all sweetness and light, fooling the cops, the social worker, the psychiatrist, and his new adoptive parents
  • Everything's great, Mikey is a dream child
  • Mikey doesn't get what he wants and starts acting up
  • A friend of the family thinks Mikey is really bad and probably killed his last family
  • No one believes Friend of the Family, so she digs around in Mikey's history and find some evidence, then goes to present said evidence
  • Fight fight fight
  • It's over, it's finally over
  • OR IS IT 
Mikey hits all of these notes in a perfectly serviceable made-for-TV-esque fashion. The cast is full of familiar faces and the acting is, you know, equally serviceable: Hellraiser's Ashley Laurence is here, along with a few "hey I've seen that person in a bunch of things" actors and actresses. Former child star Brian Bonsall manages to do both the "I'm sweet" and "I'm evil" things well enough. And you've got JOSIE BISSETT OF TELEVISION'S MELROSE PLACE AND ALSO THE LIFETIME MOVIE BABY MONITOR: SOUND OF FEAR, whose star power deserves all those capital letters as far as I'm concerned. And then there's the kid from a bunch of 90s trash flicks (like A Nightmare on Elm Street 5), the one who looks like Courteney Cox in Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video.

I mean, it's all fine. You know? But when the killer kid bar has been set so high...when you've got murderous solar eclipse babies and possessed kids and the spawn of Satan out've just gotta do something to stand out. "All fine" may be all fine, but it certainly does not stand out. Bonsall was just a kid and so I can't necessarily expect the sort of intense performance you get in a similar thriller like The Stepfather. Maybe some extra special murders? I don't know. I feel weird being all blasé and not finding a kid beating his dad to death with a baseball bat to be enough of a thrill, but here we are. It's so lonely and boring here atop all these jewels!

May 3, 2016

VHS Week Day 2: THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)

On a brutally stormy night, five rain-soaked travelers seek shelter in a gloomy Welsh manor that's home to the wildly eccentric Femm family. In short order we're introduced to brother Horace, who seems more afraid of dangers lurking within the house than those without; sister Rebecca, who warns against "fleshly love" and all manner of blasphemy; towering, mute, disfigured manservant Morgan; withered, bedridden patriarch Sir Roderick; and...whomever is locked away in a tiny room on the top floor.

Winds howl, floorboards creak, candlelight flickers, and shadows loom large as the night wears on. Horace grows increasingly fearful and paranoid as he refuses to wander upstairs. Tales of murder, suicide, and sinful siblings abound. Despite a warning that Morgan can't touch alcohol as he's a violent drunk, Morgan gets drunk. Then he unlocks that door on the top floor.

Yes indeed, The Old Dark House is at times truly suspenseful, a classic...well, a classic old dark house picture. It's particularly remarkable that with this film, James Whale simultaneously creates a genre and provides a cheeky take on the same. Sure, sure, there are frights lurking about here and there. but even more prevalent are the laughs: it's as much a black comedy as it is gothic thriller. (Incidentally, Whale would perfect this combination a few years later in Bride of Frankenstein.)

The Femm house is full of secrets and weirdos alike, and the result is a film that feels way ahead of its time. Gender-bent casting (though billed as John Dudgeon, it's Elspeth Dudgeon who portrays Sir Roderick), gay subtext, talk of sex and sin, piousness and atheism render The Old Dark House positively transgressive. It never quite approaches camp levels, but it teeters on the brink. Actors have a grand old time with the material, in particular Ernest Thesiger, who would reunite with Whale and give a memorable performance in Bride. Here, as Horace, he's an absolute delight who manages to make "Have a potato" a line worth quoting forever and always.

While The Old Dark House is certainly lauded, it also tends to be a bit overlooked when the great Universal horror films are discussed. It's the sibling locked away in the rafters, the oddball who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the family...but really, that just means that it needs–and deserves–even more love and attention. Have a potato!

May 2, 2016

VHS Week Day 1: INCUBUS (1966)

Before I popped Incubus in my VCR, I popped on my Coat of Many Questions.
  • There are plenty of great languages to choose from, including English, French, and Klingon; why in the frig was Incubus filmed in Esperanto? 
  • Incubus is billed as a "long lost cult classic." It was missing in action for about 30 years, but a print was found and restored and should it have remained long lost and is it really a cult classic?
  • William Shatner?
Now that I've popped Incubus back in its cardboard sleeve, allow me to pop on my Coat of Many Answers.
  • Unlike English, French, or Klingon, Esperanto is an artificial/invented language. Incubus is largely an allegorical tale, and Esperanto (supposedly) helps create an "otherworldly" feel.
  • I don't think it's a cult classic–it's more of a footnote "Oh yeah, that Esperanto movie." It doesn't really get the affection afforded cult classics, does it? I don't think the Cool Kids have paid it much mind, with or without irony. I'll say it, though: I'm glad it's long lost no longer.
  • Well. *shrug* 
Kia (Allyson Ames) is a beautiful young succubus who's quite good at her job: leading corrupt men to their dooms so the Lord of Darkness can claim their souls. She's feeling restless, however, and realizes she's stagnated on her career path. Where's the challenge in seducing these men if they're already hellbound? It doesn't really speak to her demonic skills, she's just sort of expediting the process. But to corrupt a man who is pure of heart? To lure him to the dark side? Now that would get her name engraved on the Succubus of the Month plaque in Hell's employee break room. Surely she'd gain the notice of her master and, like, get a promotion or something.

She sets her sights on Marc (Shatner), a pure-of-heart war vet who lives with his sister on a small farm near a healing spring. Kia arranges a meet cute, pretending to be lost, and before five minutes pass she and Marc are making out and Marc declares his love for her. Kia proposes they get naked together ASAP, but Marc insists on marriage first.

And so the battle of the wills commences. Good and evil duke it out, but who will prevail? Will Kia successful corrupt Marc with evil, or will he corrupt her with love? Along the way to the answer, we're treated to a solar eclipse, the birth of an incubus, some good old fashioned virgin defilement, a star turn by one of Black Phillip's ancestors, and liberal use of a fog machine.

As I said, Incubus is meant to be an allegory, a myth, a fairy tale; characters are archetypes who talk about Big Ideas. Unfortunately, in terms of the script this simply means that characters will repeatedly talk about good and evil and good vs evil and souls and love and evil and good and souls and I'm sure you get it. The seriously honeybaked ham-fisted dialogue that's made all the worse by the Esperanto, which feels as stilted and unnatural as you might imagine, and clunky conversations are rendered...super clunky.

So why I am glad Incubus was saved from history's slush pile of the lost and the damned? Because thanks to the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood, Marathon Man), this film is frequently stunning to behold and nearly achieves the arthouse vibe sought by writer/director Leslie Stevens.

It's a real beaut, and I daresay that if the script and acting had been a smidge better ("Oh, is that all?" - you)–or maybe if Esperanto had truly taken the world by storm–Incubus might truly be a cult classic, lauded alongside films like Carnival of Souls.

What can I say, Incubus has plenty of shortcomings, but sometimes Satanism wrapped in a pretty package is all it takes for me to be well satisfied. This film led me to my doom quite easily, thank you!

Apr 29, 2016

Adjust your tracking...

...and gird your loins, my friends, for on Monday begins...

It's true! I found a bunch of tapes in a box in a closet and what good are they if they are not getting in my eyeballs ASAP? None, no good at all, that's what I say. So now we will all be treated–"treated"–to a whopping 14 days of VHS delights and garbage.

"14 days," you say. "Does she not know how many days constitute a week? Has she never heard of a fortnight? Does she not know how to add?"

The answer to all of those questions is NO, but that's beside the point. The point is, come Monday I'm gonna VHS until my brain melts. If you've got any interest in what I'll be writin' 'bout when–assuming, you know, all the tapes work–here's the schedule. Add it to your Palm Pilot so you don't miss a hot minute!

Mon 5/2 - INCUBUS (1966, Leslie Stevens)
Tues 5/3 - THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932, James Whale)
Wed 5/4 - MIKEY (1992, Dennis Dimster)
Thur 5/5 - ANGUISH (1987, Bigas Luna)
Fri 5/6 - THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970, Dario Argento)
Sat 5/7 - THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971, Peter Duffell)
Sun 5/8 - RABID (1977, David Cronenberg)
Mon 5/9 - THE GRANNY (1995, Luca Bercovici)
Tues 5/10 - PARASITE (1982, Charles Band)
Wed 5/11 - DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965, Silvio Narizzano)
Thur 5/12 - THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977, Richard Loncraine)
Fri 5/13 - THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971, Emilio Miraglia)
Sat 5/14 - THE ATTIC (1980, George Edwards & Gary Graver)
Sun 5/15 - MARTIN (1977, George A. Romero)

Why, there's some good, classic stuff in the list that I can't wait to watch. Yes, I'm talking about Mikey. It stars Josie Bissett of television's Melrose Place, of course I'm excited about it. Hmm, now that I think about it, I should just do 14 days of Mikey!

Mar 21, 2016

"I love you. I really love you."

Whether you are an American or not, if you're following the political scene here in the United States–I mean, how can you avoid it?–then you're likely mortified, depressed, terrified, nonplussed, and just plain worn the fuck out. Then you remember the election is still 236 days away and you think about renting a convertible, finding the nearest canyon, and Thelma-and-Louise-ening yourself into sweet oblivion. On the other hand, you don't really feel like leaving the house today so you simply opt to curb your Internetting and social mediaing. You should probably do that regardless.

On the upside of this garbage, all the recent AIDS in the Reagan era news talk got me thinkin' about and revisiting Todd Haynes's other Carol* in 1995's Safe.

I fully admit, when I saw Safe in theaters back in The Day, I wasn't super satisfied. I was disappointed, even. I didn't get it. Mind you, that reaction had more to do with my own preconceived notions of what the film would be than with any of its actual shortcomings, if it even has any. But I went into it expecting some horror-flavored Outbreak-style disease flick (we all had contagious illness fever back then, you see), and Safe...isn't that, despite the fact that Carol White has an environmental/chemical sensitivity and sickness. Or does she?

Safe asks that question of the viewer, and many more besides. The truth and right-or-wrong of everything is kept just out of reach, constantly teasing, and it remains that way until the last frame. All of those questions raised and not a single answer given–what frustrated me upon first viewing ("Where are the exploding faces and people bleeding out, dammit?!") now tantalizes. I gave the film a second chance a few years ago and it clicked and since then, I've delighted in unraveling the layers, plucking at all the threads to see where they lead.

While Carol Aird of Carol and Carol White of Safe are both women concerned with identity and finding their place in the world, they approach these issues from radically different places. Carol Aird knows who she is and what she wants, it's simply a matter of having the courage to claim both and live true to herself. Carol White, on the other hand, hardly exists. She takes up no space. Her voice barely projects–she speaks not from her diaphragm, but from the slightest vibration at that top of her vocal cords. You can be sure she leaves no impression on a mattress when she gets off of it. She is dwarfed by her monstrously large upper middle class surroundings, by her marriage, by everything.

It's easy to read her sudden illness as a rejection of all of this as she tries to finally figure herself out, but again, Todd Haynes doesn't give us such a nice, neat little metaphorical package. We're never given any indication that Carol has an inner life or engages in soul searching whatsoever, and ultimately it's impossible to gauge her motivations. She is simply an empty vessel adrift. She was isolated in her domestic life, but she only leaves it to find herself further isolated–this time quite literally, as she takes to living in a germ-free domicile in a remote desert community of like-minded sufferers. Is she now happy? What does happiness mean to Carol White? Would she even recognize it?

By 1995, Julianne Moore was beginning to emerge as an Actress of Note, One to Watch after turns in Short Cuts and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle–and she is remarkable in Safe. Moore and Haynes provide a great example of that wondrous and rare director-actress synergy that is so rewarding to watch. She knows this character, she gets what he's written, and he lets her work. Every frame of the thing is worth savoring and the production is perfectly 1987. The colors, the puffiness! A nightmare in pastel.

If you've yet to see Safe, fucking see Safe already. I realized in that theatre that it's not "horror", but in the years since I've figured out that it's existentially horrifying, so what's the difference? Play it fast and loose with genre conventions, man, and unravel those threads.

*YES I am still completely obsessed with Carol and I am sure I always will be, so you just count yourself lucky if I don't go ahead and turn this dump into a Carol blog once and for all

Mar 4, 2016

The Final Frame

Haven't done one of these in quite a while! This is the final frame from which horror film?