The Monster (2016)

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The Monster: B-

How thou hast come again to find this Keeper – alone and withered as I am in the obsidian catacombs of VHS, in the ever-twisting silver maze of DVDs – I know not. I know only that I continue to watch!

And watch with horror, Dear Reader! I recently watched with mingled horror and amusement at this latest offering: The Monster, a tale of addiction, doom, and desperation only too familiar to your humble servant and Keeper of this tomb of terror!

Like the tale of King’s Cujo, here we have a woman trapped in her isolated and dilapidated vehicle, on a desolate road tucked in the remote and stormy woods, clutching her first-born daughter to her breast in abject terror. She quavers and sobs as a beast, driven by cruel hunger, stalks about the misty exterior, eyeing the isolated condemned with calculating hunger. The audience too is gripped with peril, unable to look away as the few unlucky enough to intervene – a towtruck man, a band of paramedics –  meet their bloody destinies as the Monster’s prey.

And what of this beast, this Monster? It is not man, oh no Dear Reader! Here we have a hulking brute with the frame of an ape and the head of a vicious shark. Its body is covered in the most loathsome scales that shimmer with a sable iridescence in this storm that besieges our poor woman and her babe. Like the terrible and famous Alien, the Monster is a massive chunk of unforgiving shadow and teeth that devours all in its path. 

And this, Dear Reader, is the film: The trapped and horrified mother and daughter, the malevolent stalking Monster. The darkness is its ally, a tent of horrible concealment into which the fiend retreats like a ravenous panther to pace about with vile stealth, emerging only to commit murder and strew the road with carnage. A weakness can be found in the Monster’s eyes which, like pebble-sized chunks of filthy glass, capture and reflect all lights shined directly into thus, inflicting the creature with a shocked instant of blindness and panic, inducing one of its enraged escapes into the surrounding night.  

At its core, this abomination is a symbol, a metaphor for the addiction to alcohol which grips the woman tighter than she grips her only child to her own ferociously beating heart. In a multitude of shadowy flashbacks, we watch (always, we watch, Dear Reader!) as this same woman pickles her sensibilities with destructive excess of drink. Her family bonds erode, her role as a mother diminishes, her daughter’s love vanishes completely. Between tear-choked gasps we learn that she realizes her folly, but can no more stop the rise of her arm to deliver the bottle to her lips than one could stop the rise of the sun which splits the dark horizon each morning. Alas, the bottle itself is a Monster, a Monster unchallenged! Thus is the eventual immolation of the Monster of the woods a cathartic extinguishing of the “Monster” of the bottle which restores the bond of mother and daughter that had nearly suffocated entirely in a tarn of the cheapest rum.

Dear Reader, I would be remiss if I did not concede that I, your cursed and eternal watcher, too have been ensnared by the intoxicating escape offered by strong drink. Many a poor horror film hath inspired my own arm to deliver the stinging kiss of the bottle until my wits fled my body and a Monstrous oblivion swallowed my being! ‘Tis true!

The aesthetic of this film offers no flamboyance of frivolity; the shadowy woods, the sheets of obfuscating rain, and pale headlights which slice the night all act in black congress to produce an atmosphere of stationary dread and isolation in which we can appreciate the stark delivery of this core metaphor for the battle with alcoholism, the battle against rum. The destructive bouts with the beast who comes crashing from the woods parallel the family’s war with our woman’s alcoholic abuse.    

Ultimately, a number of factors led me to bestow this “B-” to The Monster, which is worthy of your eye, Dear Reader: the design of the foe is all too familiar yet the beast is mighty and imposing still; the confined setting is familiar as well, but the atmosphere is one of constant and naked fear; repetition quickly renders the central metaphor of the film obtuse and obvious, yet there is admirable commitment to this thesis; the direction is superb; the acting and makeup are heart wrenching and real.

 

My Monster too, Dear Reader, is large and black and devilish. An abyss of VHS that threaten to swallow my mind and all!

Needful Things (1993)

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Needful Things: C-

This is a movie based on a Stephen King novel and it has been parodied so many times that even if you have never seen the movie or read the book, you sort of have even if you think you haven’t.

What’s ironic about the movie’s forced familiarity is that the actors populating this film have been typecast so many times in the 90s that you sort of know what they are going to do the whole time. Max von Sydow is in it and you already know he’s playing a devil who deals in haunted antiques; wherever old MvS shows up, you can bet there’s probably some hidden evil afoot. Ed Harris is the hero and, yep, you guessed it: he delivers a powerful monologue while his neck-veins pop out. Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction screeches and gets violent and the asshole mayor from Pleasantville plays an asshole assemblyman.

So we have a movie you have somehow seen starring actors who will somehow do exactly what you think they will. And the movie production and acting are not very good, so the movie is off to a rough fucking start once you get a few minutes in. Speaking of minutes: there are 120 of them in this movie! That’s a full two hours of layered Stephen King predictability; I would have sold my soul to trim this down to 80 minutes.

Also, there are so many characters that it’s hard to care when old MvS puts some Satan Antique Magic on them and they start murdering each other. He reveals he has delighted in stirring up conflicts throughout history that boiled over into some of the world’s most famous and bloody atrocities. Why he suddenly feels the need to use a magic thrift shop to torture and kill a handful of people in Maine remains the movie’s greatest mystery.

I dissed the acting, but Sydow is pretty good, all things considered. He does a great job of switching between Your Friendly Swedish Grandpa and Grandpa Satan Who Sells Evil Antiques. If you disagree, I’d like to see you keep a straight face while you sell Honey Bunny a haunted antique doll and three quarters of your lines are just the worst fucking puns ever.

There are scenes that seriously drag on to the point where you wish Satan would just open up a Hell-fire volcano in the town square and just be done already. There is one scene where Honey Bunny breaks into the Mayor’s house. Watch that scene and ask yourself if it was necessary.

Overall, this is a goofy 90s piece of horror clockwork that isn’t absolutely awful. There is some satisfaction in seeing a story play out predictably, I guess. If you are not a fan of 90s horror schlock or if you don’t have a soft spot for anyone on the cast, maybe avoid this one and see one of the (rarer) good Stephen King movies instead.