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November 30, 2010


(2006, Dir. by J.T. Petty.)

I didn't know what I was doing when I started watching S&Man (or, Sandman, if you prefer letters).  I'd heard about it through some other horror fans, and I knew it was one of those indie horror films that had drawn the attention of many.  So when I saw that it was available to watch, I just blindly threw myself at it.

My decision is a lot like the one made by filmmaker JT Petty, who is behind the camera throughout the faux-documentary film.  Wanting to make a documentary about voyeurism, and losing his chance to talk to a real life voyeur, Petty turns to the next best thing - horror filmmakers.  He's not just going for everyday horror filmmakers, he's going for the people who make the goriest, trashiest, most insanely DIY horror films out there.

Petty's journey brings him across people like filmmakers Bill Zebub and Fred Vogel and scream queen Debbie D, the people who are involved in some productions that most people would find terribly sickening.  If you haven't heard of them or any of their films - whose titles range from Dead Ink to Maskhead to Forgive Me For Raping You - you're not alone; I'd never heard of any of them either.  Rest assured though, these are real people who make real trash, and are quite proud of what they do.  Petty also meets scholars, like author Carol J. Clover (who I had actually heard of due to her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film).  Each of these people, academic or not, have a statement to make about society's voyeuristic lust for murder, but they don't quite have what Petty was looking for.

Enter Eric Rost.  Eric is a seemingly normal fellow who is also behind a series called S&Man.  Unlike the works of the other filmmakers Petty meets, these films aren't about gore or nudity.  (If that sounds like I'm demeaning those films, know that Mr. Zebub comments at one point that "you will jerk off during one of my movies").  Rost's films are truly voyeuristic; choosing a victim, following them, entering their life unannounced, and seemingly erasing their identity.  When all hope seems to have been lost, Rost does the last thing his film needs - he kills them.  His approach makes his films appear similar to snuff films - the long fabled pornographic genre in which directors actually kill their victims - but surely Rost isn't that mad. Right?

I must say, first and foremost, that S&Man was an endurance test for me as a someone who is primarily a mainstream horror viewer.  (I'm from Iowa, cut me some slack.  We don't have enough sickos.)  One one hand, there's the films of Zebub and Vogel that are featured throughout the film, which are designed to be repulsive and/or exploitative.  On the other, there are Rost's films.  These episodes of his S&Man series seem innocent enough at first, because they're not in your face about killing, they don't come complete with special effects and nudity.  And yet, as we continue to see them, they become a little scarier by the minute...because they continue to turn more realistic.

As the film crescendos, Rost becomes one of the most disturbing characters on film in some time.  What seems like honest social ineptitude at the beginning of the film slowly dissolves, and what's left is an unsettling fellow who we just can't feel comfortable with.  Petty and his filmmaking companions also begin to have doubts, and it's then when S&Man - which had already grossed me out with the footage from the other filmmakers - really gets under the skin.

It's hard to feel comfortable recommending a film like S&Man, because it seems to speak against many of the escapist qualities I love in my horror.  That said, the documentary presentation does wonders for Petty and his film by really making the viewer think about what they want out of horror and at what point our lust for fear and blood becomes a voyeuristic trait.  That ability to provoke thought, mixed with the unique character that is Eric Rost, makes for a fine achievement.  If you think you want to gaze into the proverbial abyss, this movie might just get you there.  In the meantime, beware of what's gazing back at you.

November 29, 2010

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Press Release: Bleedfest Film Festival Returns!

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Elisabeth Fies, mastermind behind The Commune, is certainly one of the coolest people I've come across in the horror realm this year.  A true champion for women in horror, Ms. Fies and company has spearheaded a monthly festival highlighting the works of female filmmakers that is sure to make any horror lover proud.  After a successful debut this summer, Bleedfest will be re-opening its doors next weekend in Los Angeles - complete with a collection of competing short films, awards, and a killer feature!  Though FMWL can only support the ambitious Bleedfest festival from a distance, it's an honor to share what Elisabeth has up her sleeve for you crazy Los Angelenos on December 5th!

Here's the full press release from the Bleedfest crew:

Monthly Genre celebration BLEEDFEST FILM FESTIVAL announces schedule for its Thriller installment December 5th, 2010 

The schedule for the highly anticipated second BleedFest Film Festival has been announced. It includes a dozen female filmmakers' short films and concludes with international genre superstar's Caroline Du Potet's thriller feature IN THEIR SLEEP, her follow up to the sensational and disturbing INSIDE.

Special guests sitting in their own VIP section include World Famous Scream Queens/producers Michelle Tomlinson and Tara Cardinal, prominent journalist/filmmaker Heidi Martinuzzi, Emmy winning filmmaker Barbara Stepansky, and horror filmmaking duo Marichelle and Drew Daywalt.

The Bleedy Award, a bronze statue designed by Neal Harvey of, will finally be revealed in a video presentation at the Awards Ceremony. It will be awarded to the In Competition short voted on by the audience, and to the feature IN THEIR SLEEP. All films screened will receive an award certificate and Winner laurels to add to their publicity.

The In Competition category is comprised of five short films by female writer/directors. They are BAD GIRLS by the Soska Sisters (sensational feature films DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and AMERICAN MARY), ALGESIA by Cathy Alberich, DEAD BOYFRIENDS by Xstine Cook, MOCKINGBIRD by Marichelle Daywalt, and MORBID CURIOUSITY by Cindy Baer (acclaimed feature film PURGATORY HOUSE).

The Out of Competition block screens short films produced and/or written by women. December's BleedFest will feature SCREAM MACHINE written by Julia Camara (screenwriter of Spring 2010's Brazillian sci-fi blockbuster AREA Q), and UP UNDER THE ROOF produced by Danielle Stallings.

The Works in Progress section of BleedFest gives the audience top secret first looks at short films by several acclaimed female filmmakers including an Emmy winner, and are screening unofficially to get editing feedback from the audience of genre lovers and and generate buzz with BleedFest's press partners.

The festival will have two Open Bar sessions featuring free wine and beer, giving the audience a crucial chance to network. During these breaks, BleedFest will screen trailers of upcoming genre films (World famous Tara Cardinal's actioner LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER, and trailers of genre work that is now available online (Marion Kerr's acclaimed feature GOLDEN EARRINGS Music videos by Sophia Segal will also be played at this time.

BleedFest's coveted Partnership Award is bestowed each month to a male filmmaker whose genre film has captured the spirit of BleedFest in its unusual, bold, and refreshing female protagonist. The recipient of December's Partnership Award is feature filmmaker Dave Reda, whose music video THE HORROR OF OUR LOVE will screen.

BleedFest has a red carpet, an event photographer, a VIP Guest section, and an open bar for only ten dollars cash at the door. You may buy half price tickets at Goldstar the week before the event, and can get two tickets for $12 by donating to their IndieGoGo campaign or using the PayPal link on

Local renowned artist Kami Lerner will be present with a display of paintings and jewelry available for purchase.

Festival founders and directors Elisabeth Fies and Brenda Fies are a filmmaking duo whose critically acclaimed feature thriller THE COMMUNE was embraced by the genre community in 2009 and 2010. They are thrilled to be filling a hole in the community by providing access to fantastic genre content by indie female filmmakers, and to disprove the widely spread myth that there are no female filmmakers making indie genre. Explains Elisabeth Fies about the discrepancy between reality and industry attention for genre female filmmakers, "It's not even about being taken seriously. It's about being discounted to the point that you're invisible and told you don't exist. BleedFest aims to prove to the world that hundreds of us ovary-challenged filmmakers are here, and we're making bold, exciting movies filmlovers need and don't want to miss. We're positive, we're fun, we're in partnership with men, and we're unstoppable." The Fies Sisters thank everyone for the outpouring of support and excitement about BleedFest that helped them reach their IndieGoGo fundraising campaign in under two weeks. 
The BleedFest website will be updated Sunday November 28th 5pm Pacific time at with the full schedule, and include bio info and links for each filmmaker featured in the festival. There will also be a Paypal link to purchase tickets now at a discount of 40%. 
The lineup for the January 2nd BleedFest event will be announced live on the 5th, and includes a sci-fi western feature and a fairytale thriller. The schedule will be released to the press December 6th.

Submissions are free to filmmakers, and BleedFest is always looking for quality genre work. There is only one space left for the January and February screenings. Submit your film.
Tell us about a film we should screen 
Find out how you can participate, attend as a vendor, VIP, or support us with a donation

Sunday December 5th, 2010
TIME: 11am-3:30pm 
Location: CAP Theatre
13752 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
$10 cash at door for all day ticket and open bar

Schedule subject to change, personal appearances dependent on schedule:
11am-11:15 Mixer and greeting

Works in progress:
Titles are top secret and will be revealed at event
(32 minutes)

11:40-12:00 break (open bar)

In Competition:
ALGESIA by Cathy Alberich (15 minutes) Q & A
MOCKINGBIRD by Marichelle Daywalt (3 minutes) Q & A
MORBID CURIOUSITY by Cindy Baer (6 minutes) Q & A
DEAD BOYFRIENDS by Xstine Cook (7 minutes) 
BAD GIRLS by The Soska Sisters (7 minutes) 
(39 minutes)

Ballots collected from audience

Partnership Screening and Award:
THE HORROR OF OUR LOVE by Dave Reda (6 minutes) 

1:05-1:25pm open bar

Out of Competition:
SCREAM MACHINE Written by Julia Camara (15 minutes) 
UP UNDER THE ROOF Produced by Danielle Stallings (20 minutes) 

Reveal of the new Bleedy Award design
Bleedy present to the Audience's choice 

IN THEIR SLEEP (90 minutes)

By Caroline du Potet and Eric du Potet, the duo behind Inside. The film stars Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont, Thierry Fremont, and Jean-Hugues Anglade.
After the brutal death of her 18-year-old son, Sarah's life is in pieces. Late one night her car accidentally hits Arthur, a young man the same age as her boy, who suddenly emerges out of the forest and onto the road. Wounded and frightened, he is running from a mysterious assailant, hunting him down after Arthur caught him red-handed in the act of burglary...
Sarah sympathizes with him, taking him in, only to be tracked down by the burglar whose murderous rage towards Arthur forces her to take action. Unbeknownst to Sarah, things aren't quite the way they seem, but by the time she finally realizes, it is too late to turn back.

So, if you're in the area on December 5th, or if you just want to be supportive with a contribution; head on over and support the women who make horror their own!

November 28, 2010

Final Girl Film Club - The Initiation of Sarah

(1978, Dir. by Robert Day.)

By all accounts, I am a dude of the male persuasion.  In my experience as a male person, I've never come across many initiations.  When I was preparing for college I spent a summer night in a fraternity during orientation, but I quickly remembered that I didn't like alcohol or polo shirts, and got the heck out of there.  I didn't get to any initiation phase, and am grateful for that.

Sarah, played by Kay Lenz, is not fortunate enough to escape that easily.  Sent to college with her sister Patty by her adopted mother, Sarah is an awkward creature with crazy jowls and a mean stare.  She wants to get into the best sorority on campus, along with her sister, but she's not cut out for their sort.

That decision is made by witchy queen bee Jennifer - played by Morgan Fairchild - who then sets out to separate the siblings.  Sarah is accepted into the nerdy rival sorority, and thus contact between the sisters is not allowed.  Sarah goes off to her old-school sorority, which looks like your grandparents' house with Tom Noonan's House of the Devil furniture.  I don't know what her problem is, because that's my kind of sorority house!

(Also, I should mention that Patty is played by future Dallas co-star Morgan Brittany.  I bring this up only because Ms. Brittany has pretty much the most piercingly beautiful eyes in the history of beauty.  I recalled them instantly from that odd vampire flick Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, in which I also thought they were also piercingly beautiful, and now I feel safe saying that they kind of see through my soul and make my knees weak.  So yeah....where was I?)

Sarah has long had a strange ability to control objects with her gaze, which causes some tension when dealing with those who embarrass her.  This is when Shelley Winters enters as the house mother who wants to make sure that Sarah uses her powers to their maximum potential, even though she seems to be doing a good job on her own.  A mid film scene where Sarah stands up to Jennifer is a fantastic moment of self-confidence, but revenge is swift (and comes with an assist from Jennifer's hunky boyfriend, Airplane! star Robert Hays).  Despite her budding relationship with a wise psychology TA (Tony Bill) who enjoys leading half-cocked discussions on the duality of good and evil, Sarah wants to get a leg up on Jennifer. 

Since we're currently focusing on Mothers of Horror here at FMWL, I find it imperative that I focus a bit on Winters' character.  She might be just a house mother, but Sarah quickly follows her lead.  The house mother's first appearance is accompanied by ominous music and a mysteriously locked door - so it's pretty obvious that there's a darker side to her character.  That doesn't faze Sarah, and Winters' Mrs. Hunter ends up the Burgess Meredith to her telekinetic Rocky Balboa.  This is another example of a motherly character in horror who isn't exactly Mrs. Cleaver, though it makes for some great entertainment in the final act.

I know this sounds like it's basically Revenge of the Nerds meets Carrie...and it kind of is...but there's something magical about it.  We all ran into a bully or two when we were growing up, and The Initiation of Sarah harnesses those memories perfectly.  Fairchild is fantastically sadistic as Jennifer, and we really want to see her get what's coming to her.  But the film becomes even more interesting when Winters' character is played against the snooty sorority.  Caught in the middle, Sarah really seems like a lost soul who caught a bad break.  She rarely smiles (even when she's with her manfriend) and her stare of doom provides for some fantastic moments - especially in an early scene with a lifted piano.

There's not much to say about The Initiation of Sarah except that I kind of love it.  Maybe I was done in when I saw Ms. Brittany's eyes, or maybe it was the thrill of a suspended piano that just might crush someone at any moment.  Maybe it was Fairchild's gravity defying hair, or a possessed shower door.  Whatever it was, I loved it.  If you thought Mean Girls needed a few more cloaked sacrifices, this film's for you.

(Want to hear more about this rocking film - which happens to be on Instant Netflix, despite never making DVD? Then head over to Final Girl at some point on Monday and see what other Film Club Fanatics have to say!  In the meantime, stare into the eyes of Morgan Brittany and grovel.)

November 27, 2010


(2010, Dir. by George Tillman Jr.)

Faster really seems like it wants to be a gritty 1970s action film.  The Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vehicle borrows from car flicks like Vanishing Point and The Driver, and certainly has ties to the revenge films of that era.  Also reminiscent of drive-in features are the soundtrack (full of soulful music, though it's docked points for using "Just Dropped In" which is clearly The Big Lebowski's song) and the dialogue (which is offered only when absolutely necessary).  I'm not sure Johnson ever strings together multiple sentences during his time on-screen, he definitely jumps into "silent but deadly" territory here.

The story is as simple as can be.  Johnson plays a driver who is released from prison after a bank robbery gone wrong, and immediately goes on a hunt to dispose of those who killed his brother.  The opening scenes set a brisk pace - which you should expect from a film named Faster - and his first dose of revenge is earned within an hour of his release from prison.

On his trail are a pair of detectives played by Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino.  Thornton's cop is a divorced junkie who is just days from retirement, but he's devoted to seeing this last case through.  In the meantime, a thrill-seeking professional killer played by British youngster Oliver Jackson-Cohen is hired to track down the driver, despite his young lover (Lost's Maggie Grace) insisting he leave the business.  Each of the three men are addicted to their own vice, and the film goes out of its way to hammer home their dedication in every scene.  Also heard throughout the film is an evangelist who seems to be preaching the film's plot via radio (reminding me of Cleavon Little's turn in Vanishing Point), who might have the most dialogue of anyone in the script.

Faster also meshes with a lot of B-Action films of the '70s by taking its story very seriously.  There's little intentional humor in the script, which mostly asks Johnson to keep his shoulders wide and his gaze piercing.  The idea that the filmmakers had was probably to make the unnamed characters seem tough to the audience, and it succeeds most of the time because the action is well-handled and unforgiving throughout the first two acts.  The action scenes aren't full of flashy cuts or modern camera tricks (most of the time, a hospital shootout gets a little spastic), and the film simply offers some quick gunplay and the after effects.  Despite the title, there are also only a couple of car chases, and these too are handled pretty simply by the director.

Johnson eases back into being an action star after forays into children's cinema, and he seems well-suited to the bloody, R-rated film.  Though his mouth is what got him over with fans in his previous career, he fits comfortably into the role of silent anti-hero and still is an imposing physical presence.  Thornton (like his character) seems to be going through the motions in his role, and most of the supporting cast (which includes Gugino, Xander Berkeley, and Tom Berenger in a brief role as the prison's Warden) also don't seem to be stretching themselves in their roles.  Newcomer Jackson, who has Hollywood looks without the price tag of a Jake Gyllenhaal (or even a Matthew Goode), gets a lot of screen-time as the killer, but fails to make too much of an impact on the viewer.  This can partially be chalked up to the fact that the role is so oddly written, especially when his final scene comes around and his intentions are made clear.

The story seems to lose focus in the final scenes, and as a result the film loses a bit of its edge.  The films of past generations that it seems to emulate didn't need plot twists and didn't show restraint when the chips were on the table, and it feels like Faster takes its foot off the gas at the wrong moment.  The final result is still a fun piece of escapism that's got a harder edge than most modern action films, but it leaves a little to be desired.  I can see myself picking Faster up again for mindless entertainment, so I'll give this one a mild recommendation for the modern crowd who doesn't have access to copies of Vanishing Point or Death Wish.

November 26, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #47 - Stir of Echoes

I recently pointed out that I take this film for granted, and I'm totally making up for lost time here.  Lost in the shadows of that other "I see dead people" film of 1999, David Koepp's adaptation of Richard Matheson's Stir of Echoes is one of the creepiest films of the last twenty years.
Kevin Bacon stars as an average fellow named Tom, living an average life with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and son Jake (Zachary David Cope).  But an experiment with hypnosis at the hands of Maggie's sister (Illeana Douglas) leaves Tom with a more receptive mind - which means the pale spirit of a dark-haired young woman is now visible to him.  Jake, who was born receptive, also has contact with the girl, who's named Samantha and played by future House M.D. co-star Jennifer Morrison.  In the first minutes of the film Jake looks at the screen and asks her (and us) "Does it hurt to be dead?"  We don't know her response - heck, we don't even know she exists at that moment - but this small moment seems to set the tone for the rest of the film perfectly.
 That tone is key to Koepp's film, because a large amount of the film's haunting power comes from the moments when the receptive men in the family are seeing or hearing things and have lost control of the world around them.  There are unnerving surprises throughout the film, and Samantha and other dangers appear to the characters in a unique series of twists and turns.  At times it feels a little like the filmmakers were having too much fun in the editing room as the visions look like a video tape skipping or someone hitting the invert color button on their digital camera, but the story is interesting enough that these slips are easily overcome.  The result is a film that includes several haunting moments of supernatural tension.
I've always been a bit of a fan of Koepp, who was one of the darling blockbuster screenwriters of the '90s and '00s, working on films like Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Men in Black, Spider-Man and War of the Worlds.  His filmography as a director is much smaller, but The Trigger Effect has long been a personal favorite and his haunted rom-com Ghost Town was surprisingly fun.  Like most successful studio screenwriters, Koepp knows what to offer a mainstream audience, yet his directorial efforts do their best to pull them from this comfort zone.  Stir of Echoes is probably his greatest achievement in this regard; a film that skips the cheap shocks that were prevalent in horror of the late '90s and lets the story unravel in front of us.  Much of this is surely owed to Matheson's story - the author had a keen ability to connect hauntings to human sins (for another example, see/read The Legend of Hell House) - but Koepp seems to know that his story should come first.  (Unfortunately, Koepp couldn't replicate this success with his second horror outing, the Stephen King adaptation Secret Window.)
Bacon's lead performance is crucial to the film, and he doesn't disappoint.  The script mostly requests that he react appropriately to the phenomena around him, and his fear and frustration seems genuine throughout the film.  Cope is also a key cog in telling Matheson's story, and the young actor is very good when it matters.  I mentioned that the film's opening scene sets the tone, and the final scene of the film bookends this perfectly; leaving me wondering about what the future holds for these characters.  Also shining in a supporting role is veteran character actor Kevin Dunn (last seen in Unstoppable, most known from the Transformers films).  Though he appears in only a few scenes, he's given plenty of chances to flex his dramatic muscle, and does so effectively.
Stir of Echoes packs plenty of intrigue and chills as the story unfolds in a manner that's similar to the traditional haunted house film.  There are some great stylistic touches, particularly in Bacon's visions, but Koepp maintains a matter-of-fact approach throughout the film, letting the lead character unravel the mysterious happenings around him.  This is a story over style affair, and it's good enough in that regard - but the great visual moments make the film even more memorable to me.  The total product is a great horror tale that becomes a great horror film.

(One last thing: I need to mention how much I love that title screen that's posted above.  It's so simple, yet so effective.  The house looks ominous, the sky is dark, but the light is brightly shining, as if to say that this house - like the minds of the males who live within - is open for business.  Like I said, the tone is everything to this film, and it's set even then.  Love it.)

November 24, 2010

Book Review - The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

I'm gonna go all out to open this review, because my point here is simple: The Dead Path offers pretty much everything I love about horror fiction.  In fact, author Stephen M. Irwin wraps most of those things I love up in his lead character, a haunted, paranoid soul named Nicholas Close.  Nicholas seems to carry all the fears of the world on his person, as the supernatural  forces around him mix with his human fears; his wife's death, his family concerns, and even his sexual frustrations all play into his ordeal.  This is the kind of horror that movies can miss out on; the kind of thing that famed horror authors write but lose when their story hits Hollywood. 

With new characters popping up - each holding different pieces of Nicholas' puzzle - throughout the near 400 page hardcover text, it's easy for the reader to get a bit overwhelmed, too.  Irwin's tale, like his character, mixes differing themes into one narrative.  Again, human fears (such as child abduction) mix with supernatural forces (like ancient runes).  The Dead Path no doubt believes in an interconnected world, taking a somewhat existential approach to the town Nicholas lives in and the people who surrounded him.

The early segments of the novel draw obvious comparisons to films like The Sixth Sense, but Irwin has a lot more up his sleeves than just a protagonist who sees dead people.  The plot heavily relies on that ancient symbol in the middle of the cover (the vertical line with half-diamond that a nerd like me might just recognize from Halloween 6), and I won't spoil the direction the plot twists.  I do feel safe saying that the plot feels like something from Stephen King, as a band of folks from different mindsets come together against a seemingly unstoppable evil.  As I mentioned earlier, the mixture of characters and developments can be a little befuddling at times, but Irwin's characters lift the material up and make these issues obsolete.

Irwin also offers some fantastic descriptors throughout the book, particularly when discussing the woods that contain most of the story's terrors.  (Warning: Anyone with a fear of spiders will squirm quite a bit.)  I often found myself re-reading passages to get a better picture of the setting in my mind, but not due to confusion.  The amount of detail in each setting is pretty impressive.

But let's go back to where we began, because it's the command over human terrors that really propels us into The Dead Path's trap.  Nicholas Close's dilemma, his struggle to deal with the apparitions around him while face-to-face with unbelievable real world problems, is handled brilliantly.  Nicholas isn't a deep character, but we don't need to know much about him to understand that he's a man against the world.  The character reads like a tortured soul should.  I usually cast books full of Hollywood stars as I thumb through them, but I couldn't come up with anyone to play Nicholas.  The character mixes a unique frailty with foolish intensity, and by the finale I found that I really liked this character.  There weren't many good reasons to like him based on his personality, but the perseverance that Irwin gives him is incredibly admirable.  He's a tragic hero if there ever was one.

It took me a while to really get into The Dead Path - the story comes at the reader from a lot of angles early on, and it's difficult to keep track of them all - but once the game is set the plot escalates with each paragraph.  There are a lot of surprising turns, right up to the final page, and Irwin seems to have everything bundled together neatly.  By the time I got to the final chapters, the story had become as intense as any piece of horror in recent memory.  An impressive feat is achieved by first-time author Irwin, and I look forward to what he has coming up next.

If you'd like more info on The Dead Path, head over to Stephen M. Irwin's website or his Facebook page!

November 22, 2010

Hey, Midnight Warriors....Let's Talk About Mothers!

I've been doing a lot of thinking about mothers lately.  Specifically, mine.  She had a birthday this weekend, and by the time you're all reading this in the morning I'll be sitting nervously in a hospital as she fights against a second dose of The Disease Which Shall Not Be Named.  Of course, I know we'll come out the other side OK - any Masha awesome enough to birth me is awesome enough to beat this gunk - but it's still had me thinking. 
I know it will come as a shock to most of you, but when I think I tend to gravitate toward horror films.  And when I started to think about mothers and horror films, I was surprised to find that there aren't a lot of positive examples of awesome mothers.  I'm just rolling this off the top of my head, but they're a hard bunch to read.

Looking back at the Universal Monster films that most claim started the horror craze, there aren't many mothers to be found.  Frankenstein's Monster is perhaps horror's most famous motherless child, and we don't hear Bela Lugosi's Dracula waxing about his mother either.  Lon Chaney Jr. only has memories of his mother while papa Claude Rains has to deal with his Wolf side, and my beloved Creature from the Black Lagoon has no Gill-Mama to be found.  Considering that most of the films of this era were built to shock audiences that were less jaded than we are, perhaps the filmmakers felt mothers would provide unneeded security to the viewers.
Psycho is of course the home of horror's most famous mother.  You most likely already know that this film presents the mother as an overbearing and vicious character, and there's little love to be found.  What people don't often consider is that Marion Crane, whose actions set the film in motion, is also affected by the memory of her mother, going out of her way to point out that her relationship couldn't occur with her mother's portrait on the wall.  While we know that Norman Bates is influenced by his mom, it's safe to say that the guilt which leads Marion to crime could be at least partially due to the morals her mother preached toward her.  Hitchcock also focused on mother issues in his other horror film, The Birds, where Tippi Hedren's awkward relationship with Jessica Tandy adds to the tension of her situation.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s mothers stepped up in the horror world - just don't remind Night of the Living Dead's Johnny and Barbara, who were sent to their demise on an errand for their mother.  Rosemary Woodhouse might be as loyal to her Baby as any mother out there, even if she definitely had some trouble warming up to the role of mother.  The Exorcist's Chris MacNeil also went to extremes to protect her child, though she did end up turning the reigns over to not one but TWO Fathers when the soup hit the fan.  The Omen's Kathy Thorn unfortunately struggled to accept motherhood, and it's clear that little Damien didn't like the harsh words flung at his biologically mother. 
The modern slasher craze also neglected to give motherhood a positive spin.  Laurie Strode's mother does not appear in Halloween, and Michael Myers' mother just stares dumbfounded as her father unveils his first kill.  Jason Voorhees' mother is another dedicated mother, but her methods aren't exactly comforting.  I think we're best not to start on Ronee Blakely's take on motherhood in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Wes Craven would continue to blame mothers for their daughters' plights when Scream came around.

I guess my point is pretty obvious - Mothers don't seem to have the best track record in horror films.  But I also know that my gaze is pretty narrow when I'm spitballing.  So I want to hear from you, Midnight Warriors!  I don't really have a specific question here, so feel free to come up with whatever you can about mothers in horror.  Perhaps you have a favorite horror mother who I forgot. or want to sing the praises of an evil horror mother?  Maybe you have your own theories about why mothers seem to be so poorly represented in horror?  Whatever you got, I want to hear it!  Consider it Mothers of Horror time at FMWL!
As always, there are two ways you can participate.  If you have your own site, post something, send me the link, and I'll post it in a wrap-up post here.  If you don't, or if you'd rather not use your own site, just send me a write-up (Anything from one paragraph to a full post is welcome), and I'll post it here too!  Of course, all credit will be given to each Midnight Warrior who contributes, and sites can earn a spot in the list of previous Midnight Warriors listed on the right side of the page!  (If you want to see what The Midnight Warriors have done in the past, or want to find some Midnight Warrior banners and badges for your own use, CLICK HERE!)

I'll accept entries through December 5th, and in the meantime I'll be covering mothers in a few posts here too!  Just send your posts/links to The Mike at frommidnightwithlove gmail com by the 5th, and let's celebrate the good and the bad mother....


November 20, 2010

Not of This Earth

(1988, Dir. by Jim Wynorski.)

My first experience with the films of Jim Wynorski occurred when I was less than ten years old.  That might sound like a recipe for trauma, considering the filmmaker's background in exploitation flicks of the '80s, but I just happened to grow up with a strong love for Wynorski's The Return of Swamp Thing - which might be the only film the man made that didn't offer gratuitous nudity.  To be fair, I haven't gone through the man's entire filmography - which runs 87 films deep -  so maybe there are some kiddie friendly flicks hidden there.  But I know now that the odds were not in favor of a 9 year old being exposed to one of his films intentionally.

(And before you blame the parents or the cable, you should know I found the film at our public library.)

When I came across Wynorski again as a young adult - I believe through Cheerleader Massacre, which bothered me by not featuring any cheerleader costumes - it quickly became evident that this was not a director who focused on making cheesy comic films for children.  That's not a bad thing, partially because it's hard not to love a director who's used the fabulous Leone inspired pseudonym Arch Stanton, and mostly because Not of This Earth is a perfect example of the kind of '80s trash cinema that's actually a ton of fun.

A remake of a Roger Corman classic from 1957, this version stars notorious underage adult film star Traci Lords in her first "mainstream" role.  Though I'm not familiar with her previous career, Miss Lords shows a surprising talent for comedy in this nonsensical sci-fi tale.  It's clear from the start that the film isn't taking itself too seriously, and Lords' performance seems to carry the film's tone perfectly.  She may have been "classically trained" as an actress, but she learned how to present herself as a lively and attractive lead in the process and does so with ease in this case.  The other cast members are led by Arthur Roberts, playing the alien bloodsucker who employs Lords' nurse, and his heavy performance offers a fine counterpoint to the silliness that goes on around him throughout the film.

Since the film quickly establishes that there's little depth to it all, it became extremely easy for me to buy in to what Wynorski was offering.  With a quick pace, a fun synthetic musical score, and some ridiculous action, Not of This Earth is simple but effective.  And though Wynorski gets the nudity into the film (and does so often), the film doesn't dwell on it like other films in this vein I've seen did.  Maybe I'm more OK with recommending a movie that offers gratuitous nudity if there's a conversation about the plot going on at the same time, I guess.

Not of This Earth doesn't fit into that "good movie" category we've all been raised to believe in, but I had a good time watching it.  The effort put forth by Wynorski, Lords, and crew is quite visible, and the film succeeds within its resources quite nicely.  This is definitely trash cinema, but it's fun trash cinema that rises above the pile of trash I'm used to from the '80s.  Now restored on DVD by the amazing Shout! Factory, Not of This Earth should be a treat for fans of B-movies and those who want a taste of infamy from the late '80s.

November 19, 2010

State of the Midnight Address, Vol. 6 - From Midnight, With Thanks!

Hey everybody, welcome to another dose of ramblings from The Mike.  I have a busy weekend and week in front of me, and though I do have a couple of posts and reviews up my sleeve for then, I wanted to get into the Thanksgiving spirit before I missed the chance.  So here's a few things I'm awful thankful for at the moment.
The fine folks over at Kindertrauma, one of the world's most jaw-droppingly cool horror blogs, recently invited me to host an episode of their Friday tradition - Kindertrauma Funhouse.  As a big fan of both the blog and random horror puzzles, I'm extremely honored to have had this opportunity, and it was a lot of fun!   You can check out the game here, and of course check out Kindertrauma any time!  Big thanks to Unkle Lancifer and Aunt John for their support of FMWL!
In other outside ventures, near the end of October I participated in the Halloween Top 13 series of posts over at the fantastic blog The Lightning Bug's Lair!  Check out my contribution in which I rattle off 13 horror remakes I love (OK, maybe a few are more "kind of like"), and of course check out TL Bugg and the site in total!  Big thanks to him for the chance to contribute!
A big thanks has to go out to those who have provided FMWL with materials for review, whether they be books, trailers, or screeners!  Speaking of, don't forget that I've got a review coming up for Stephen Irwin's novel The Dead Path - which I recently gave away a copy of and can assure you is quite fantastic.  To those who have helped keep me in fresh material, thank you much!
Branching off from that, a thank you must be given to all the amazing independent filmmakers I've come across who have provided truly inspiring films. Among them are the Soska Twins of Twisted Twins productions, who will be releasing the trailer for their new film, American Mary on December 11at their official site.  I'm sure I'll be bringing it to you all as part of my new Indie Spotlight series!

(Speaking of our Indie Spotlight series, if you're an indie genre filmmaker who's out there looking for exposure, let me know and I'd be happy to cover your stuff!  Just grab our contact info of the side and let it rip!)

And naturally, I must give thanks for all the other blogs that have provided inspiration for me, and for you, our readers. I couldn't begin to name names without forgetting someone, but know that all of you have been a gift to me on a daily basis.  My primary goal at FMWL has always been to spread my love of genre and cult cinema, and having so many people appreciating these films and taking the time to read my thoughts has been a humbling and rewarding experience.  From the bottom of my Blob-loving heart, a big thanks to you all!

And with that out of the way...let the Thanksgiving Dance party begin!

November 18, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #46 - Assault on Precinct 13

Before Halloween, The Thing, They Live, and anything else we love him for (unless you're a big fan of Dark Star, like I am) John Carpenter made an action film that is perhaps his grittiest, most violent piece of work.  That film is Assault on Precinct 13, a gangland version of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo.  (In a fantastic move, Carpenter would later provide a commentary track on a Special Edition DVD of that film - further proof that it's a great time to be a cinema nerd.)
Assault has long been one of the least talked about films from Carpenter, and I understand where one could argue that it's an awfully simple film.  But I've always had an extreme respect for what Carpenter did here, because this is more than just a violent siege film.  It's a film in which the characters buck trends Hollywood has set for them, a film that - like Halloween later - focuses on making us scared of what we can't see.  Though this is certainly an action film at heart, it could easily become Night of the Living Dead or The Birds with a minor script change.  This is a survival horror script that's been stripped down, yet retains all the tension.
Opening scenes establish our plot quickly.  We learn that there are angry gang members - the result of a police massacre in search of stolen automatic weapons - and that the police are pretty sure that anyone who could get organized with those guns would be an unstoppable force.  It's set up that Precinct 13 is shutting down and has only a skeleton crew - led by a rookie African-American officer played by Austin Stoker - manning it.  It's set up that dangerous, yet wise, death row inmate Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) is on a bus in the area with a dangerously sick convict and an angry cop played by Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett from Halloween!).  The gang threat that we were told of is shown to us, as a multicultural gang rolls through town setting their sights (literally) on whoever they drive past.  When they decide to take down an ice cream man and a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, blood and ice cream are spilled.  Her shocked father - much like NOTLD's Judith O'Dea - takes a few shots and runs to the Precinct for help.  The game is set.
Game is a fine term for the action, because the shootouts play like the first person shooters that would rule the video game world twenty-thirty years later.  The gang members are a mostly unseen force, and long shots show us windows and walls being filled with bullets that seem to have a mind of their own.  Silencers are fair play, leaving us only hollow pings of metal to describe the action around us.  Carpenter fills the screen with action without becoming bombastic - though his film features all the gunfire of action films that would come later, there seems to be a simple poetry to his characters' fight to survive.
And those characters are something to behold.  Stoker's Ethan Bishop is an old-school and noble hero; though he's not above getting dirty when he needs to survive.  Joston's Wilson, on the other hand, is the perfect anti-hero.  Repetitive viewings over years of watching the film have made him one of my favorite film characters ever, and I'm not ashamed to say that I've copied some of his sly off-the-cuff remarks in my daily life.  Whether he's reminding us that we "Can't argue with a confident man", or whether he's shrugging off compliments with a simple "I have moments"; Wilson becomes a symbol of the value of humanity - despite the fact that he's been condemned as inhuman.
Don't worry ladies, because we've got something for you too.  Laurie Zimmer shines as the rough-around-the edges police secretary who holds her own at every turn.  An early scene in which she's grazed by a gangsters bullet and doesn't flinch before firing return shots builds her credibility, and she stands toe-to-toe with the men for the remainder of the film.  Carpenter seemed to focus less on building strong female characters as his career went on, but it's hard to top characters like Zimmer's Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode in Halloween; because they're two of the toughest and most empowered female survivors ever put on film.
I could go on for days about Assault on Precinct 13.  Even though I've seen the film dozens of times, it still gets my blood pumping every time out.  From its pulsating synthetic score to its tough-as-nails characters and its technically impressive standoffs, this stands as one of my favorite action films - if not one of my favorite films of any genre.  Carpenter gets a lot of publicity for his films after Halloween, but this one is not to be forgotten.  If you haven't given it a chance because it's not one of his horrors, I implore you to do so soonest.  Assault on Precinct 13's mixture of tension and action can stand alongside that of any horror film ever made, and I can't imagine the soul who can't get some enjoyment out of a thriller that's wound this tightly.

(I do have two questions that still remain unanswered about this movie. What does Cyphers' character mean when he tells Bishop that he "run(s) this place like chicken night in Turkey"?  And how exactly does one win at a game of Potatoes?)

November 16, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

(2009, Dir. by Tom Six.)

When I was in school, one of the assignments that came up was pretty simple - conduct some sort of scientific experiment.  As a farm child, I offered up a pretty corny experiment.  In fact, I tried to grow corn in foam cups filled with soil.  One cup was fed Miracle Gro on a daily basis, one was fed water, and one was fed Gatorade - I believe it was Lemon Lime Gatorade, to be exact.

(For those wondering, it's exactly what you'd think it is - the Miracle Gro produced a bigger stalk than the water, and the Gatorade - despite its electrolytes - produced no corn stalk.  And yes, I did this a full decade before Idiocracy happened.)

This has nothing to do with The Human Centipede, except to point out that my type of science is decidedly different from that of Dr. Heiter, played by Dieter Laser.  If you're at all familiar with the film, which has created buzz simply by being shocking, you know what his experiment is.  If not, I'll spell it out simply: Dr. Heiter wants to cut off some people's kneecaps, stitch their mouths to others' back ends, and created the titular Centipede.  Do not ask why, because I'm not even sure I can tell you that. 

When news of the film broke, I immediately chocked it up as one of those signs that I'm growing increasingly out of touch with the modern horror fan.  I've read some say that this film is "Frankenstein for the Saw Generation", and that sentiment makes me sick to my stomach.  What we have in The Human Centipede isn't a morality tale about the dangers of playing God, it's an attempt to be repulsive for the sake of repulsion.  Heck, The Human Centipede's lack of humanity makes Saw look like Frankenstein.

I know I'm coming off all sour grapes here, and my problem isn't the fact that the film exists. It's the fact that the film exists with so little actual drama to it.  There's no story here.  A couple of American tourists - both incredibly vapid - stumble upon the Doc's secluded home, an art deco setting that just has to be hiding something.  (To be fair, the set design is one of the few highlights of the film.)  Sure enough, the girls are roofied quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.  A film that was interested in building characters would take some time to develop the characters; to build a rapport with the Doctor before his sick mind is revealed to them.  This is not that film.

Soon enough, the girls and a previously captured Japanese man are sewn together, with the man who can't speak English in the front acting as the mouthpiece of the Centipede.  This leaves us with about an hour of film in which the man yells angrily in Japanese at Dr. Heiter, who speaks with an accent that's hard to get through, while the girls whimper as loudly as is possible while their mouths are tied to bums.  The performances of Laser as Heiter and Akihiro Kitamura as the man aren't bad, but they seem pretty wasted in an endless cycle of "YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON WHO'S TORTURING US!" (All caps denotes the Japanese language, naturally) and "Yes, I am torturing you, and you might die soon".

I guess the goal of the film is to gross us out, but I didn't find it very effective in that regard.  There are some gross moments dealing with the surgery and resulting infections, and that moment when we realize how bowel movements work creates some haunting thoughts, but the film played a lot tamer than I thought it would.  There are some gory moments as the film goes on that result in some impressive bloodletting, but it's nothing that should really get under the skin of anyone who would be interested in watching a film like this.  The final moments are effective on an emotional level, but seemed to emphasize the hollow nature of the film to me.

With little effect from the gore and no human drama (the characters are so poorly developed that I considered their fate the same way I would consider the fate of an animal), the only thing left for Six's film is the hope that it will make us think about the depravity we've seen and will inspire fear in that regard.  But the concept is inherently silly (and had been spoofed so many times before the film even hit DVD) that there's little to ponder.  Sure, it would be terrifying if a doctor stapled my mouth to an anus, but I'm not too worried about that happening in the near future.  (I've got too much junk in the trunk to make an effective Centi-piece anyway.)

I'd say there's an audience for this film, but only in the "Hey everyone, lets all watch The Human Centipede and have some fun with it!" regard.  This isn't a moral tale of horror or a haunting mind who plays God.  It's an endurance test for the viewer, one that's much easier to get through and much less interesting than I hoped it could be.  When Frankenstein happened in 1931, advertisements proclaimed that "To have seen it is to wear a badge of courage!"  Though The Human Centipede will be remembered for its one-of-a-kind idea, I wouldn't offer more than a badge of resilience for surviving this one.

November 15, 2010

Midnight Top Five - Horror Movies I Take For Granted

Sometimes a fine movie seems less than fine, and there's no good reason for it.  This seems to be one of the great struggles I have as a film fan, because sometimes I realize that I have - for whatever reason - been completely ignorant of just how much I enjoy a movie.  I never said I wasn't dense.

For example, I recently rewatched Deliverance with some friends who hadn't seen it yet.  I was in "Oh yeah, this is an awesome movie mode", but I hadn't seen the film in at least five years, and I'd simply lost my grip on just how much that film impresses me.  I didn't remember the intense moral dilemma, I remembered the shock scenes and Burt Reynolds' ridiculous wet suit and lack of mustache.  And that's just not right.

And now, here's five horror picks for things I occasionally take for granted.  It's not them, it's me.
The Lost Boys (1987, Dir. by Joel Schumacher.) - I was recently checking out a commentary on the film and its far-too-late sequels over at the fine young blog Malice of Horrorland, and was again reminded of how I devalue The Lost Boys among both horror films and the pop films of the 1980s.  I often think of it alongside films like Gremlins or Fright Night in the horror realm, or films like The Breakfast Club or The 'Burbs in '80s land, but The Lost Boys is really a totally different animal than any of those films that reside in my favorite lists. 

Whenever I actually decide to watch The Lost Boys, I always love it.  It's quick paced and funny, yet darker than most of those popular '80s films I love.  The cast meshes established talent and young talent well, and Barnard Hughes' Grandpa is one of my favorite side characters in horror.  (That final line he delivers is so freakin' money, and it doesn't even know it.)  But when I'm not thinking about it, I seem to just toss it aside with '80s horrors like Pumpkinhead or Hellraiser - films that I love in parts, but don't fully love - and The Lost Boys really doesn't belong in that category.

(On a side note, I also maintain that Lost Boys director Joel Schumacher, the whipping boy of 99% of cinephiles, might be the most unfairly criticized filmmaker of our times.  He ain't Orson Welles, but anyone who can make the likes of this, Falling Down, Tigerland, and A Time to Kill can't possibly be the worst director of all-time.  Yes, he screwed up Batman, but it's not like Tim Burton was doing great with the character either, despite what nostalgia tells you.  And I kind of liked The Number 23, too.)
Rosemary's Baby (1968, Dir. by Roman Polanski.) - "The 1970s were the golden age of horror."  That's what I say sometimes, thinking of the trend of mentally and visually revolting films that came out of that decade.  But when I get caught up in the likes of The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Sentinel - I tend to forget that the trend that brought me to this belief can be traced to the release of Rosemary's Baby in 1968. 

Polanski's film certainly has a more restrained pace than those films, but brings more than adequate amounts of chills and thrills.  Most of those moments come without considering the twists in the script, which turn likeable faces like John Cassavetes and Ralph Bellamy into instruments of fear.  Yet I seem to leave it off of my recommendations to others, and the only good reason I can think of is that it came out two years before the '70s started and I thus forget it.  (Needless to say, I work in mysterious ways.)
Stir of Echoes (1999, Dir. by David Koepp.) - I strongly considered listing The Sixth Sense here, because I remember loving the experience that was that film when it happened.  I remember being stoked about it being the first horror movie I ever remembered being nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  However, I also remember becoming completely sick of the movie afterward, when everyone and their mother was spoiling it for everyone else. (I helped do that for some, too.)  It's no secret that everything M. Night Shyamalan has done since (with the exception of Unbreakable, which I dearly love) has helped me block it from my memory, either.  I haven't watched the film since its video debut, in fact.

However, the fact that I'm thinking about The Sixth Sense first when thinking about creepy ghost stories of 1999 proves that the movie from that year that I completely loved - David Koepp's adaptation of Richard Matheson's Stir of Echoes - is the film I need to be thinking about.  Most lost it in the shadows of that Bruce Willis flick, and even I - who loved the creepy visuals and fascinating story that was Stir - have at times forgotten it entirely.  Should I forget a film I loved because a film whose reputation frustrated me overshadows it?  Of course not.  Sorry, Kevin Bacon!
The Child's Play Series (1988-2004) - I'm not sure that I can defend these films from a cinematic standpoint, though Tom Holland's original film is an extremely effective chiller.  But that's not where my mind's at here.  I mean, I've watched all of the Friday the 13th films multiple times.  I don't like the Friday the 13th films.  And these movies, which range from good to ridiculous but fun, are ones I completely ignore.

I've seen the original three or four times, which is probably half as many times as I've seen other series-starting horrors of the era like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13thwatch all the F13s repeatedly, I should give Chucky some attention, right?
Scream (1996, Dir. by Wes Craven.) - One of the character flaws I have that I'm well aware of is that I am occasionally intentionally ignorant to things that are extremely popular.  I'm not sure if my goal is to be "cool" by being different, but the times when I proclaim how much I love Scream 2 over its predecessor are about as rebellious as The Mike gets. 

Fact of the matter is, Scream is a technically proficient horror film with fine characters, good action, and an intelligent script.  It is every bit the game changer people say it is. (And also, Rose McGowan is ridiculously cute in it.  Like, ubercute.)  The sequel is a ton of fun, and Liev Schreiber and Timothy Olyphant (two of my favorite actors) are fantastic in it.  But if I were able to stop myself an think about both films, I'd probably admit that the original is a far more effective and relevant piece of horror. 

I still have the capacity to change, don't I?

November 12, 2010

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Darkness Within

(2009, Dir. by Dom Portalla.)

Like most independent horror films out there that are fighting for their chance, I had no knowledge of The Darkness Within until it showed up over at Planet of Terror - the place where independent horror films come to light.  Thanks to a giveaway on that site via the illustrious Cortez the Killer, a copy made its way to my doorstep and I sat down with the film by writer/director/editor Dom Portalla.

The Darkness Within starts off by introducing us to a happy young couple, Chad and Ashley, who are starting a new life in a new town.  They seem to be very in love with each other and don't have a care in the world - except that Ashley is terrified of spiders and Chad thinks the neighbor is spying on them.  The neighbor, played by Ken Flott quickly dismisses any concerns Chad has, and his young landlady and her friend with benefits - a couple of foul-mouthed, pot-smoking gamers - don't see anything strange going on either.  Chad becomes increasingly frustrated with his escalating predicament, and the film builds tension through his reaction to the predicament.  Is there someone watching him, or are there bigger demons that go bump in Chad's night?

The cast primarily consists of inexperienced young talent, but I found myself pretty pleased with them across the board. They know this isn't Shakespeare, and these actors and actresses do a fine job of presenting realistic dialogue that helps the film seem authentic.  I was especially fond of Stephanie Maheu as the foul-mouthed young landlady who, along with Sean Pierce as her cohort, did what was necessary to present all of the improper traits you'd expect from modern youngsters who don't bother being politically correct.  I've dealt with plenty of imbeciles professionally, and these two hit the spot in that regard.  Michelle Romano, as Ashley, seems to be forcing a little in the early scenes of the film, but by the end of the film her performance turned around quite nicely.  A similar commentary could be made regarding Jimmy Scanlon, who leads the film as Chad.  Both characters don't seem quite right in the early going, but as the plot unfolds the doubts I had about their performances began to make sense.  Like many horror films of late - the Paranormal Activity films come to mind - the twists in the plot change our perspective regarding the characters. In this case, I found myself recognizing a lot of the things that made sense about these performances as the credits rolled.

It's obvious that Portalla put this film together on the cheap (the sound quality of the film makes this very evident, but is a small price to pay for what the rest of the film has to offer), but it's easy to see that he knows his way around the camera.  While a lot of independent filmmakers settle into certain angles from which they'll always shoot certain areas, Portalla keeps the view fresh and changes the angle of view often, which is necessary for a film which wants to keep us considering the psyche of its characters.  The film is edited well, running briskly through 90 minutes of screen-time with little filler.  I already mentioned the everyday realism of the dialogue, but it bears repeating that Portalla has created a world that a viewer should easily relate to.

As the plot twists and turns to the finale, there might be some moments of disdain from the trained viewer, and I could see where one would think that it tries too hard to get an extra twist or two in.  But after some thought, I'm pretty content with what Portalla was selling.  I don't think the film treads a lot of new ground, and it's prone to the same traps that most independent films fall into, but there's something really endearing about it.  This is a bold piece of independent filmmaking that succeeds within its resources and provides solid entertainment.  Portalla and crew know how to tell a story and make it memorable, which means The Darkness Within should keep you thinking long after the finale. 

In a bold move, the final scene ties us into two of the greatest chillers ever made - but I think that confidence fits the film and its crew perfectly.  The Darkness Within is a horror film with heart; the kind whose creators must have always known where they were going with their project.  I'm glad I was here to find it, and definitely recommend it.

If you want more info on The Darkness Within, check out Portalla's company's website, Door Eleven Productions - where you'll find more info on how you can see the film and the people behind it!

November 11, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #45 - Cat's Eye

There's something I've been hiding from you all for the entirety of my blogging tenure.  It wasn't intentional, but it happened.  I just never thought it was important until now.  The fact of the matter is that I am, with 100% certainty, a cat person

I'm not talking the Simone Simon/Nastassja Kinski style cat person, but I am saying that I will take a cool cat over a mangy mutt any day of the week.  Growing up in the country meant that my family cared for at least 100 cats throughout my adolescence, and most all of them were great friends of mine.  I've yet to adopt my own cat as an adult - that's way too much time I'd have to commit to something that poops - but I still go out of my way to visit my friends and family's cats whenever possible.  They're just so darn awesome.
Which brings me to one of my childhood horror pleasures, Stephen King's anthology flick Cat's Eye.  Piggybacking off the success of other King films of the era - Cujo and Christine have cameos during the opening credits, and a scene from The Dead Zone is shown at one point - this trilogy of tales reunites King (who wrote the screenplay, his first) with Cujo director Lewis Teague and Firestarter star Drew Barrymore.  (BTW, if anyone ever figures out what the deal is with Firestarter, please let me know.  That flick gives me fits.)  Cat's Eye also bears a slight resemblance to that other King anthology that came before it, Creepshow.  If nothing else, the film is a living example of how popular King was at the time.  (Also, the bridge on which a first act scene occurs would reprise its role as a bridge in Maximum Overdrive!)
I called this an anthology before, and I suppose that I should call it that.  There are in fact three unique stories told, all tied together by the poor cat who has to suffer through them all.  It all starts in New York City where a businessman (played by no less than JAMES WOODS!) tries to quit smoking with the help of a sadistic cessation company, then moves on to Atlantic City where we meet a gambler on the ledge, then on to North Carolina where Drew Barrymore lives with her parents and bird.  But I like to look at the film as one story about one brave cat.
I know it's a stretch.  In the first act our feline friend is merely used as part of an example of what our gangster anti-smoking advocates are capable of, and in the second he's merely a red herring to a game of cat and mouse.  I'm not all that interested in these stories, though Woods' turn as a paranoid smoker going on ex-smoker is pretty fun and that segment has a few good comic turns alongside several unfortunately silly comic scenes.  The middle segment (starring Airplane's Robert Hays) is technically sound and is sure to be memorable to those with a fear of heights, but seems a lot like filler and features a payoff that is also silly.  I guess silly is an operative word for the film, but the final chapter is where it stops being annoying and starts being completely enjoyable.
In this segment, occurring after our heroic tabby cat - now named "The General" by Ms. Barrymore - has made this dangerous journey on paw, he comes face to face with his greatest nemesis - a six-inch tall troll who plans to suck the breath from a young girl.  Yes, apparently little Amanda's grandmother once warned her family that cats would suck the breath out of you if you let them in your bedroom while they sleep, and this troll just happens to show up and try to suck Amanda's breath at the same time The General arrives.  It sounds kind of ridiculous, and it is - but a live action horror in which a cat battles on the side of good?  THAT's something I want to see.
The diabolical troll is one of the most haunting memories from my childhood, and it still thrills me today.  The beady-eyed fellow with bells on his hat and a distinctive grunt is slightly amusing, but is no less frightening than the claymation creatures in the likes of Tibor Tikacs' The Gate.  The battles between cat and troll are surprisingly action-packed, and there's a good bit of blood for a film which arrived in the early days of the PG-13 rating.  The troll wields a tiny serrated blade that makes him even more menacing, and I remember checking my floor for tiny knives a few times when I was a kid.  I won't go anywhere near spoiling how the final showdown ends, but rest assured that it still leaves me pumping my fist in excitement.
I'm a little sad that the cat who stars went uncredited, because that little bugger went through heck in this film.  He's tortured by a slew of folks, from the fellows at Quitters Inc. to the Atlantic City casino bosses to that darn Candy Clark (who would appear later in the remake of The Blob!).  He's electrocuted, kicked, imprisoned - and all before he has to battle the troll.  Yet The General marches forward, riding hobo on trains and eating hot dogs with the homeless, because Drew needs a hero.  Like I said, I should call this an anthology.  But I'm telling you all that that cat - that darn cat! - is the star of this film, no matter what little Drew or James Woods says.  Kudos to you, General.  It's been an honor serving alongside your movie for over 20 years.