The Dead Zone (1983)

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The… Dead, Zone?

The Dead Zone: A-

This is a great horror movie and one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made.

Christopher Walken plays a jolly English teacher who gets in a car accident and goes into a five-year coma. Somehow, this gives him psychic powers. His life is all fucked up because he was comatose all those years and these psychic powers help alienate the few people he has left because they all think he is a ranting wack-o with brain damage.

At the beginning of the movie, he reads “The Raven” to his class (I have audio of him reading the whole poem; so badass) and then assigns Sleepy Hollow (Walken of course, went on to play the Headless Horseman in Burton’s version). I think you are supposed to remember this later in the film. “The Raven” is about a really lonely guy who thinks a bird is bringing him supernatural messages; Sleepy Hollow is about a terrorized English teacher. His character fits well with this: an abandoned English teacher who gets supernatural “visions” of the future, visions that only bring him pain. Walken plays it straight; no garbled Walken-talk or deranged facial expressions.

Walken only uses his powers for good, saving lives and even helping the local sheriff solve a murder case. I like that the movie isn’t about the origin of his superpowers and how they work, but rather about what to do with the power that you have. This Spidermanian theme is at the heart of the film’s conflict: Walken meets a politician named Stillson who is running for senate. Stillson is a real piece of shit (in the book, one of the first things you read about him is this time he killed a dog for fun). In Stillson’s future, he becomes president and authorizes a nuclear holocaust just because he wants to be remembered in history books (depicted in a hilarious scene where Stillson is screaming like a lunatic while some absolutely inappropriate/cartoonish oboe music plays in the background). Stillson seems to “know” that this is his destiny and Walken has to decide if he wants to assassinate this prick or what. So what you get is this guy who only wants to use his powers to help people vs. this guy who wants to use his powers to incinerate people.

Cronenberg directs this movie and but it has zero crazy-Cronenberg carnage. Even though this movie is not saturated in gore and violence, it never seems slow. There is one scene where a guy lethally head-butts a pair of scissors though; what a fucking awful way to end it all.

Ultimately, the developed characters and the theme are what make this movie great. You actually feel really bad for Walken’s character and want him to succeed and you want to choke Stillson the whole time. Watch this if you think you would like a Stephen King thriller that is more about suspense than grotesque monsters.

REVIEW: Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

BerberianSoundStudio

 

Berberian Sound Studio: B

Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, a soft-spoken, genius sound engineer who is hired to work on a gory Argento-type Italian horror film in this psychological thriller. You never see a single frame of the movie he’s working on, but the anxiety and brutality that takes place in the sound studio is nerve-racking enough.

Gilderoy is a pretty gentle guy who has extensive experience working on cutesy nature films. He thinks he’s signing on to make a movie about horseback riding, so you can imagine how stressed out he gets when he is squirting hot water onto a skillet to make a sound for when the on-screen undead witch jams a red-hot poker up the vagina of one of her victims. He records women screaming and he massacres vegetables all day to create sounds for the movie’s apparently endless demand for gore-noise. He then must hunch over his console and devote hours to mixing the noises with 70’s sounding synths and pipe organ chords. Understandably, this erodes his sanity/happiness quite a bit. Sad Gilderoy.

Gilderoy’s mild-mannered gentility is a stark contrast to the demeanor of his co-workers’ who are all macho Italian dudes who have no problem putting in a ten hour day of chain-smoking, drinking, and sexually harassing the female voice talent. By degrees, he betrays his roots, dubbing sound for increasingly, wretchedly evil scenes that depart farther and farther from his placid nature movies.

The movie is a fascinating thriller but it abruptly unravels in a cluster-fuck swamp of surrealism of David Lynch proportions. I don’t want to give it away, but the last 20 minutes of the film are a multi-layered nightmare/metaphor and you should keep that in mind when trying to assign meaning to it.

Have you ever seen the last episode of Twin Peaks? Don’t ask me what the fuck happened there but compared to this movie, it makes perfect sense.

One obvious appeal of this movie is that it arouses in the viewer an appreciation for sound engineering and the creativity of behind-the-scenes production in film. It was really fun listening to the movie Gilderoy is working on and watching, not the undead witch cauterizing vaginas, but Gilderoy’s revulsion and distress. Ultimately it was a fun movie with an ending that had an sort of forced, awkward fit. Worth a watch.

 

REVIEW: Dream House (2011)

Dream House

 

Dream House: F

The only thing “Dreamy” about this movie is Daniel Craig. I mean, seriously, his eyes alone are Dreamy as fuck. They’re like two cobalt planets made entirely of virginal arctic ocean. Two shards of a warm autumn sky, just for you. Dim crystal tunnels that spiral to a world of passion where their cold gaze steams from an inferno of desire.

The rest of the movie is an pitiful labyrinth of horse shit…

Actually, there is a lot of good acting in the movie but the convoluted story and quintuple “twists” are simply too much and thus build the aforementioned maze of excrement.

Daniel Craig and his family move into the Dream House and they are happy. Then there’s weird dudes staring at the house all the time and some things going bump-in-the-night. Craig gets curious and he starts digging around in the past to figure out why people are malevolently staring at his house instead of lazily staring into his two azure skull-portals.

Cliche alert: You’ll never guess where his detective work leads him… TO A CREEPY-AS-FUCK MENTAL INSTITUTION!

Well then we have to ask ourselves if Craig might be a patient in the mental institution. Perhaps the Dream House is nothing but a delusion cooked up by that brain hiding behind Craig’s glamorous, flirty, cornflower whirlpools.

Go ahead and hold that thought for a fucking nanosecond because before you have time to explore that possibility, in comes Naomi Watts to spoil everything. Now the Dream House Fantasy is looking more like a Dream House Criminal Conspiracy or a Dream House Small Town Cover-Up.

“Well okay,” you think to yourself. “Maybe it is just a case of -”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” bellows the movie. Suddenly: ghosts. And fire. And hired assassins. And revenge killings. And duel-layered cases of mistaken identity. And ambient music. And more mental institution. And murderous psychos. And benevolent ghosts. And more coincidences than snowy flecks of white in Craig’s sexy sapphire marbles.

What a goddamn mess.

REVIEW: Compliance (2012)

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Compliance: B+

When I was a teenager, I used to make prank calls with my friends. We used to convince people of all kinds of crazy stuff. We had one really elaborate one that involved calling Denny’s and telling them that we were driving the pancake batter truck.

Before I go on, let that sink into your head.

Pancake.

Batter.

Truck.

Got it? Okay, so then we’d tell them that the truck crashed and there was pancake batter all over the road. One time, we even told them that the hot pavement turned it all into one giant pancake, and that pancake was blocking holiday traffic.

The best thing about these calls? We never had to struggle to get people to believe what we were saying. The argument would always come from us telling some poor assistant manager that they had to send somebody down to clean the stuff up. Nobody ever just hung up and told us that we were being stupid; instead, they’d argue that they couldn’t afford to send somebody down. Also, they’d get confused with the imprecise directions we’d give, as we always told them that it crashed on “the freeway near there” and would only repeat those directions in an annoyed, condescending manner when they questioned it.

What do pancake batter trucks have to do with this movie? Nothing. However, when you’re watching it, you might find it implausible that a simple prank caller can get people to do all kinds of stupid, twisted stuff. When that thought enters your head, think of two things: 1) this is a true story and the basic setup happened more than once, and 2) pancake batter trucks.

The point is, people are stupid. When I was a kid, I thought it was funny to get people to believe that there was a big pancake on the road. This movie taught me what I could do if I didn’t have a conscience, and I thought it would be amusing to get people to violate a young woman.

When you watch this, you’ll yell at the TV and want to find all of the real-life people that this was based on so you can beat the shit out of them – except for the victim, she’s already been through enough. I think I got a lead on one of those fuckers. Want to join me in busting some heads? I can pick you up in my pancake batter truck.

REVIEW: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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Rosemary’s Baby: A+

This is one of the best horror films ever made. It’s psychologically creepy as fuck and the writing/acting/direction are fantastic. Structurally, each scene is like a scene from a play with a beginning, middle, and end that all contribute to the overall plot. There is no wasted screen time or pretentious/frivolous scenes thrown in for the hell of it.

Rosemary and her struggling actor husband Guy move into a New York apartment building and befriend local weirdos Roman and Minnie Castevet. The four of them drink fancy cocktails, and swap stories by the fire with Guy and Roman having plenty of private after-dinner chats while Minnie distracts Rose in another room. I wonder what they’re talking about in there…

The film starts by getting you hooked on Rosemary. She is so sweet and charming it’ll make your face hurt! Guy, on the other hand, has all the charm of a pedophiliac car salesman, which is probably why Rosemary begins to suspect him of selling their first born to the Castevets in exchange for material wealth and success. After a few weeks of Guy and Roman’s private time, good news! Rosemary is pregnant! She is a little distressed when she wakes up with scratches all over her body and what feels like a roofie-hangover, with no memories of sex with Guy, only remembering how the night before, Guy was fucking FORCING HER to eat this creepy ice cream sundae that tasted like chemicals. But, regardless, she knows right off the bat that she is with child and this makes her super-stoked.

This paranoia she has about Guy, by the way, is so entertaining to watch because the events that inspire it increase in intensity exponentially, starting with really subtle pangs of doubt to full-blown suspicions of murder and occult rituals, making for great pacing for a psychological thriller. While at first, she is only weary of what appear to be coincidences, she starts to freak the fuck out because she thinks she’s uncovering a global Satanic conspiracy that centers on her baby! 

Guy’s career mysteriously takes off and his rival in the biz contracts a terminal illness. The neighbors all take a special interest in Rosemary’s pregnancy, feeding her funky herbs and monitoring her every move. The Castevets act even weirder and become obsessed with her baby and it seems like everyone is in cahoots, ganging up on Rosemary. People die and stuff.

This is a movie like no other and you owe it to yourself to see it.  

REVIEW: Hotline (1982)

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Hotline D

Wonder Woman works in a bar and gross men hit on her. Then one follows her home and breaks in while she’s sleeping to smell her hair or something, but he doesn’t hurt her. I actually kind of related to this, because I don’t want to hurt anybody, but there’s lot of hair I want to smell all the time all around me everywhere.

So she starts also volunteering at a psychiatric help-line for some reason, and she starts to get stalker calls from this guy whose first pitch is:

“Barber barber, shave a pig, how many hairs to make a wig?”

He wants to kill her and chop off her hair or something, which I also relate to because I really like long black hair and Wonder Woman, she has tons of it.

Once in high school, there was this girl with beautiful black hair on whom I had a big crush. She came to school one day with a short pixie cut, which was pretty sexy as well. But she asked me how I thought it looked, and I said:

“Great. But did you save the old hair?” and she said:

“No. Why?”

“I could’ve made a hand puppet out of it.”

Then I stared at her. And she laughed. She laughed because she thought I was joking. Then we started hanging, and we made out a couple of times and once went skinny dipping at midnight in this Irish guy’s pool in which we weren’t allowed.

And she let me hold her wet body afterwards ‘because it was so cold. I couldn’t close the deal, though.

Maybe I should give her a call.

Anyway, it’s a mystery and he keeps calling and her co-workers start calling him The Barber. He wants her hair and she doesn’t want him to have it so that’s the conflict.

The ending doesn’t make much sense, but it’s still cool because it’s not the guy who is openly obsessed with her for the whole movie who turns out to be The Barber. It’s actually open-obsessed guy’s best friend who hates her for not returning his friend’s love. And he wants make something for his friend out of her luxurious hair. And he’s her boss also.

And Frank Stallone’s in it.

If this was hard R (hard 80’s R) instead of made for TV it might have been good because there could’ve been a lot more detailed hair-fetish stuff and Wonder Woman could have gotten (tastefully) naked.