CAM tells the story of a woman divided against other women, divided against herself.
Brett Leonard's FEED is a twisted vision of modern perversion, where fetish crosses the border from normal sexuality into the repetition of trauma.
Steven Soderbergh's UNSANE explores society's dangerous inability to believe women and victims.
Pascal Laugier's INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND works as a brutal horror, and also an examination of storytelling as a means of escape or survival.
Here are Father Gore's Top 205 Films of all time!
One of the most shockingly visceral horror films of all time.
Anything Richard Matheson-related is enjoyable. Climb on into one hell of a scary story.
Don't go into this one expecting horror. At best this is psychological horror, although there's still not enough to really categorise it as such.
Sisters. 1973. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by De Palma & Louisa Rose.
Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard Hughes, Mary Davenport, & Dolph Sweet. Pressman-Williams/American International Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Brian De Palma is a quality filmmaker. That quality hasn’t been kicking around much as of late. Doesn’t discount all the great work he’s done in a lifetime of film. He’s spent much of his filmography emulating Alfred Hitchcock, though not in a way that copies or borrows too liberally. No, De Palma has forged his own way through a wonderful career by using that Hitchcockian influence to dust the edges. There are some much lesser efforts out of De Palma than the masterpieces he’s known for – Sisters is not one of them.
This film has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I bought it up as soon as I could because I’d heard of it for years, always wanting to see it. Then once I had the thing, for some unknown reason, the copy sat lonely, unwatched. When I did view Sisters, I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. Honestly, this is an unheralded classic of psychological horror. Early on in his career De Palma already cemented himself as a natural heir to the Hitchcock throne. The directing, the editing, the Bernard Herrmann score (when he was semi-retired no less), the central performance of Margot Kidder with all its mania and depth; every last piece is like the perfect one for the puzzle. There’s lots of influence here, De Palma clearly emulating his idol in heaps. Rather than feel at all a copy off the Master of Suspense, Sisters was a fresh drop of horror in 1973, tinted with the suspenseful, tension-filled qualities you might have felt from Rear Window or Vertigo. Either way, this is awesome cinema that shouldn’t be overlooked.
So many great shots. Simple to complex. For instance, there’s a nice shot of shadows on the wall as a door closes that is obviously telling while also chillingly subtle that, along with a bit of score, takes us right into the pure psychological terror De Palma aims for through telling this story. This is just the start.
In a film such as this I have to mention the editing, in combination with the excellent writing. Not long after the shot of the shadows there’s this eerie little moment where the cake is having the names put on it, the icing squeezing out in the names Danielle and Dominique, cut against Danielle having this fit. Just those two names and the way she’s beginning to implode already, these shots perfectly set that up.
Furthermore you’ve got a nice use of split-screen. Certain film fans may not dig that. Others may love it. Personally, I find De Palma uses it appropriately. Because ultimately this is a film that has to do with psychology, fractured identity and perspective, so on. So the split-screen helps give the look a psychological angle all of its own. There’s an overall sense of strangeness that develops, between the various techniques used to tell the story and the story itself, filled with interesting characters and events. I love when the atmosphere of a film matches up so closely with the storytelling, it makes for exciting cinema. Sometimes when a horror, particularly when leaning into the psychological, goes for the grim atmosphere it doesn’t always connect directly to the plot, so much as it’s grim for grim’s sake. Whereas De Palma uses the different techniques to induce a very personal, psychologically driven perspective. In that vein, the story and the filmmaking line up to create an effective cohesiveness. That’s why I find the movie so successful, even as such an early effort by the great director. He showed the film world quickly that his sensibilities as director were well honed already, itching to expand.
A huge part of what makes the suspenseful moments and the tension work is that juicy, creepy score by none other than Bernard Herrmann; again adding to the Hitchcock influence, the composer having worked on some of his best films. There are absolutely bizarre moments, such as the brutal death of Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) where xylophones and the Moog synthesizer take you to some other plane of existence. Rightfully so. The greatest aspect of Herrmann’s work, as usual, is that it adds a totally whole other character to the film. It is another character. It shapes the atmosphere. These bizarre pieces of music allow De Palma to put us in the headspace of the main character, as she all but literally falls down the rabbit hole of psychological dread.
There’s also a couple genuinely shocking moments. When Philip is stabbed I actually couldn’t believe it. I knew something was coming, and something bad. But this was a really good scene. I’ve seen worse, there’s just something shocking about the moment that strikes so well. Later, the more quiet shock comes in the black-and-white flashback to a time when the Siamese twins are conjoined – or more so it’s a dream on the part of Grace (Jennifer Salt) imagining herself as the twin joined to Danielle (Margot Kidder). A very terrifying moment that doesn’t need to be outright horror to scare. It’s pitch perfect leading into the finale.
I have to say, Sisters is my personal favourite De Palma film. Hands down. He’s done some other fascinating work. I can’t shake this one. There’s an undeniably unsettling effect to the whole thing. Each moment that pulls you into the psychological viewpoint makes the end of the main plot feel that much more intense. As you draw closer to the finish there’s a sense of impending doom. The suspense De Palma employs, the tension he uses to work his audience over with is brutish at times, in the best sort of sense. In terms of talent you really can’t say that De Palma wasn’t shining nearly right from the get go in his career. Margot Kidder provides an emotional, manic performance as a woman torn apart by the bursting identities instilled in her through the loss of her conjoined twin. She is a great actor and I’ve enjoyed so many movies because of her alone. Not to say she’s the only one, just that her role and performance are the highlight in that arena. You can’t say you love De Palma and not see this one. Seek it out if it hasn’t hit your eyeballs yet. Not sure, after finally watching it awhile back, why I waited so long. This needs to be watched and watched and watched again. There is much to enjoy, much to fear. What an underrated psychological horror is Sisters! Let’s not forget it. Ever.
Berberian Sound Studio. 2013. Directed & Written by Peter Strickland.
Starring Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni, Cosimo Fusco, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Eugenia Caruso, Susanna Cappellaro, Lara Parmiani, Chiara D’Anna, Jozef Cseres, & Pal Toth. UK Film Council/Film4/Warp X/ITV Yorkshire.
Rated 14A. 92 minutes.
Peter Strickland is a director and writer filled with ingenuity. His films are odd, striking, intense. Only recently did I get the chance to view Katalin Varga, his first feature debut. I’d heard of it for a couple years, then was finally able to get hold of a copy. It is a tensely written ride into the darkness of grief; a low budget examination of what the past can do to mangle the present of a wounded person. Recently he directed and wrote an all-female film titled The Duke of Burgundy; I’ve put it to the Bechdel Test, it passed with flying colours.
Although before that Strickland moved on to this film, Berberian Sound Studio, a spectacular little movie that’s equal parts creepy and mesmerising. Each one of his directorial efforts looks different. Yet they’re all visually eye-catching, marked by a certain flair. This film calls to mind, obviously and deliberately, the giallo films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, even some of the works of Lucio Fulci, among others. The film within a film itself is also a giallo. Therefore, the imagery and the sound design of Strickland’s work mimics those which came before, and creates a hypnotic sort of atmosphere. The perspective of the main characters becomes our perspective, as is the case in all good psychological pieces. Whereas the plot is slow burning, Strickland keeps the pace up by making things feel thrilling. Such a psychologically based piece of work can either go hard for drama, or turn itself towards being an outright thriller. Berberian Sound Studio finds a way to straddle the line, dosing us with lots of head-tripping atmosphere from imagery to sound, and further making the latter part of the plot just as exciting as it is strange. This could have become a mess. At times it feels incredibly energetic in a way that doesn’t help, but it does. Give it time. Once the finale rolls around all that madness comes to serve as an overall metaphor for the way we make and engage in horror movies, all through the perspective of a man actually working on one. The metafiction of Strickland’s writing increases the surreal feeling of the story, as well as allows us a look inside ourselves as purveyors and fans of the genre alike.
Really dig the look at sound engineering for film, as well as a nice view into the world of the Foley artist, the ones who create that vivid world of sound behind the visuals of a film. All of this is unusual, simply due to the fact this is a view into the world of movies that we’ve rarely gotten over the years. Other than documentaries or featurettes on the Special Features of DVDs and Blu ray discs, you won’t see the Foley work of these sound wizards explored much through fictional stories. Outside of Blow Out, there are barely any movies I can think of that even touch the world of the sound effects artists and engineers. Giving us insight into the film industry is a fun way to make things even more metafictional than just the film-within-a-film aspect; we actually watch the Foley artists ripping, stabbing, smashing, punching fruits and vegetables and all kinds of objects in order to get the right sounds for the scenes. So right off the bat Strickland gives us something unique, a world that’s rarely ever understood by the general viewers who go to see movies (those of us who love film to death are already lovingly aware of the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to make cinema into what it is). Whether this succeeds in doing anything interesting for the movie as a whole, that is up to the viewer. Personally, there’s enough to at least be intriguing in that way that it’s a foreign job to most, and something that’s fun to watch. I’m still not sure if the pay off to the entire story is worth the journey. I do know the plot can sustain an audience’s interest with the story and its characters alone.
The psychological angle of the screenplay is what gives us something different than the thriller elements of a movie like Blow Out, for instance. That was much more a full-blooded thriller. Strickland’s film is further in the realm of the psychological, the psychedelic, the full-on weird. And that’s just fine. The character of Gilderoy (Toby Jones) finds himself falling through the cracks of reality and fiction, which is precipitated by the headlong dive into sound work – creating these fake sounds for real actions onscreen, his own reality begins to slip away. Moreover, Gilderoy is squeamish, he didn’t expect to be doing a violent horror film, one calling for so many nasty sound effects. So his morality is tested, questioning our own as the viewer and whether watching this type of stuff is also doing some sort of damage, even at the most basic level. Or perhaps it’s a question of whether these types of films, the down and dirty horror, are truly only meant for some people. Regardless of what the main theme or question at hand is, Gilderoy’s psychological state is affected by this division in reality he faces whilst working on the gruesome sounds of the giallo film for which he’s been hired. And the further he gets into the film’s production the worse off his sanity becomes.
That brings me to Toby Jones. He is a fine, talented actor whose star has only begun to shine really bright in the past so many years. He’s been in all kinds of movies, though so many moviegoers probably wouldn’t recognise him in some of those roles. This is a performance of his that I love dearly. Jones has the typical sheepishness of some other characters he’s played. But he is more tortured than ever, gradually tumbling into another level of reality while trying to do his job, while the job only makes things worse. It’s a solid character and one that Jones latches onto. He makes us feel that this is a real man going through a genuine psychological break, away from home and feeling lonely, wanting to do the job he loves but finding it increasingly difficult with the psychological strain bearing down on him.
Originally, I’d put this down as mediocre. Upon watching it the first time the whole thing didn’t catch me. Now, seeing Berberian Sound Studio for a second time, I feel this is much better than what I’d remembered. What I once found sloppy and a weak attempt at homage for the giallo films of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s actually a wonderful examination of the exploitation inherent in those movies, writer-director Peter Strickland opts to examine our relationship with horror and its often nasty imagery (and in this case, sound) and he tries to make us confront what sort of people we are when engaging in the act of viewing (or making) horror. Does it affect us? Is it really as innocent as we like to assume? I don’t believe horror affects us the way conservative minds might like to think. However, I do like exploring these types of ideas, and fictional stories are a way for us as a society to indulge those thoughts. Like good literature, film helps us understand and comprehend life, ourselves. This movie takes a sincere and eerie look at the effect movies can have on those making them, and in turn the audience that later watches them. Berberian Sound Studio is ripe with all kinds of beauty, darkness, excitement, and will bring you back to all those old giallo movies of the masters from decades prior. Love this movie and can’t believe I once thought this wasn’t any good. Just goes to show you, time is the measure of all things.
The Dark Half. 1993. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.
Starring Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Meyers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Glenn Colerider, Sarah Parker, & Elizabeth Parker. Orion Pictures.
Rated R. 122 minutes.
I’ve long said that George A. Romero and Stephen King go together like coffee and pie. Is that a thing, is that what people say? Well, I like coffee and pie. A nice treat. Just like I dig some Romero and King. They’re sweet together, as sweet as horror can get. You fans know what I’m talking about. Usually people associate Romero with the zombie sub-genre, and rightfully so: he single-handedly reimagined the zombie in modern terms giving birth to a trend that’s still going on today, which will undoubtedly continue until the end of time. Yet Romero made some really good work outside of the zombie structure. Long before 1993, too. But The Dark Half is one of those King-Romero collaborations that isn’t only interesting on paper. The whole film is a dark, gorgeous joy. Previously the two powerhouses of scary shit did well working on 1982’s Creepshow. Most will say that’s their best work together. I love that one, have it on the shelf alongside this and other Romero, as well as other King. I have to say, this one is my personal favourite of the two movies. Most of all because the book is so good, and for better or worse this adaptation nails most of the important aspects right on the head. The visual style is quite what we come to expect from the master of horror in Romero. King’s story matches the darkness of the director in his story examining duality, the lure of addiction in the sense of it creating an entirely other identity in one person, a quasi-monster movie about a man’s evil side literally appearing out of thin air. This is on the top of my lists for favourite King adaptations. There’s a lot to enjoy, even if it isn’t perfect. In the second half of the film things get riveting. Romero always goes for the jugular, this is no different.
Love the idea of duality. We’ve seen it many times before in literature, most famously in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s most interesting about the King novel and this adaptation is how we look at the dual identities of George Stark v. Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton v. Timothy Hutton). This is a parallel of several things. Of course on the surface there’s the idea of literally mirroring King and his own pseudonym, Richard Bachman. This whole film can act as a metaphor about how King and his feelings of the success involved with Bachman’s writing, in that it became this whole other entity that needed to be dealt with, and King’s wild imagination concocts this whole story. On a deeper level there’s the fact King wrote The Dark Half right before going sober. His own feelings of the drugs and the booze taking over, the addiction becoming an entire entity all of its own, his need to rein in control as himself and be a sober man going forward, these are the biggest drive for the ultimate differences between Thad and George.
The whole visual difference between Hutton as Thad and George is awesome. When I read the book I really got such a feeling of uncanny terror when imagining the two versions of this one man. Particularly later on when things get very intense, the practical makeup effects used make the divide between Stark and Beaumont bigger. Added to all that there’s Hutton. Now apparently he was a horror to work with, even quitting the production at one point. Can’t say he doesn’t play the part to near perfection. He has the feeling of a writer torn in two from the start, not sure whether to keep riding on the success of a part of his identity which clearly causes trouble in his real day-to-day life. Then as we get further into the plot Hutton’s able to seamlessly transition from just a writer in distress to a man having one devastating existential crisis.
Something I’m very interested in personally is the Eastern belief in the concept of tulpa. Essentially, this is the concept that the mind is so powerful that it can will something into existence through pure thought. Further than that there’s often the idea that collectively, enough people might be able to will something into existence due to the amount of people expending mental energy on conjuring it up. Such is the case today with phenomenons like Slender Man and others. Certain occult thinkers might suggest these entities can become real, of flesh and blood, if enough people believe in them and will it so. In a way, George Stark is such a tulpa. Thad has not only thought him up, he’s effectively become a real person in that Beaumont hands his work over to the pseudonym, making him a part of the world. Then there’s the fact Thad had a malformed twin in his skull as a boy, this plays into more ideas about duality and further almost twists this into a monster movie – horrific images in the mind conjured up concerning a leftover bit of brain, bits of human matter not fully formed, waking up and growing into a whole man, wreaking havoc on a town in Maine. King, adapted well by Romero, takes a wild look at what happens if a murderous, hateful, vengeance seeking guy like Stark were to be willed into existence. There’s an equal part of camp much as there’s depth to the story. It’s all great, though there is quite a good helping of a sort of 1950s-style. There’s nothing wrong with that. Mostly it comes in the form of Stark who is appropriately a sort of typical 50s gangster with a razor blade, a slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, kinda Elvis copy. He’s no West Side Story sort, he’s much more dangerous than that. Along with his creepiness comes an awesomely throwback sense of camp that adds a dark humour to many of the kill scenes. All in all, the way King’s story and characters bring out the idea of the tulpa is lots of fun. Romero does his best to make that work and does a bang up job.
I can forgive a movie’s mistakes if most everything is compelling enough. King wrote a great novel, one to which I found myself glued until the last page turned and that back cover slapped shut. The Dark Half is in good hands with Romero. His directorial choices match his capabilities as a writer, each side complimenting the other. More than that I think he does well with adapting King. Not everyone can fit a novel of his into one screenplay properly, though I’m inclined to feel as if Romero does just that. Rather than make this into a half-assed attempt at jamming every little idea King had in the novel into the script, Romero opts to choose the best material, condense it, then make sure the lead character and his story gets brought out powerfully. The adapted screenplay works, and Timothy Hutton sells the Thad Beaumont character, in turn doing a fantastic job with George Stark in a highly opposing role; all the duality rests on him here, he carries that responsibility nicely. Throw in some nice effects, a couple nasty horror kills and blood to boot, this keeps things on the level for those genre fans out there. I forget how good this movie is then each time I put it on I remember, so quickly. If you’ve not seen it and call yourself a King fan, or one of Romero’s legion, then get on it, now. This is better than many will try and tell you.
Eraserhead. 1977. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson, John Monez, Darwin Joston, T. Max Graham, Hal Landon Jr., & Jennifer Chambers Lynch. American Film Institute/Libra Films.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
One of my consistently favourite filmmakers is David Lynch. The first of his films I’d ever seen was Lost Highway. Then I moved to Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, and finally went for Eraserhead, his groundbreaking and eternally confusing feature-length debut. This started out as one of those old late ’70s midnight movies, not expected to draw out a huge crowd. Until it did. Today, it’s one of the most talked about debuts of any film director in the history of film, right up there with Citizen Kane. More than that, and especially due to the coy attitude of Lynch, it has remained one of the most inexplicable, hard to pinpoint films ever made. While part of its mystery can sometimes piss me off, mostly it is impressive. Because many artists, film or otherwise, are so eager to let the world know what their art means. In opposition, directors like Lynch, Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont, they challenge what we see as regular art by often defying any sort of ready made explanation. Not that there aren’t explanations. Likely, someone has guessed the meaning of Eraserhead, only Lynch prefers never to confirm, nor deny, and likes to let his audience determine meaning on their own. But to sit down and try extracting some type of definitive meanings from this movie is futile. Sure, like any great artistic experience there can be parallels, allusions, metaphors, many instances of symbolism. Here, though, Lynch keeps things just weird enough as to elude the easy grasp of definition. And in the process, properly disgusts, disturbs, as well as horrifies us on a physical and existential level all at once.
Obviously there are major portions of the film influenced by Lynch, his own personal fear of becoming a father, which also has to do with his daughter having trouble with clubbed feet after she was born. It’s easy to read this angle of Eraserhead. But there’s more than simply the fear of fatherhood. In our main character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is the overarching existential fear of life, the different phases, the various expectations which come along with it. Particularly when it comes to lower class living. Henry and his wife live in a veritable ghetto of industrialized America where the smokestacks rise up and spew their filth into the air, infecting both the atmosphere and the people surrounding it. So in a way, Lynch’s time in Philadelphia certainly plays a part in the story, and the bits of discernible plotline. The fear of giving birth to a mutant child is both a normal fear of fatherhood, as well as a fear of our external environments bleeding into the internal components of our life. As if all the fear and anxiety and horrible pollution of the outer world is expressed directly in Henry’s monster baby.
Above all, the fear of fatherhood is the fear of creating life. The fear of casting a new life you’ve made into the dark abyss of the modern world. All the terrors of becoming a parent by bringing life into a miserable world are on display; a dreary, filthy, industrially driven world that Lynch pushes forward both with the industrial city visuals, as well as the constant sound design of background sounds rattling and banging, the whistling of the radiator, a non-stop hum of white noise, the sounds of a partner’s teeth grinding in the night, an eye being rubbed as the socket bubbles around at the skin.
But the imagery concerning parenthood is downright frightening. First we see pups suckling at their mothers teets, the sound of them whining and sucking and trying hard to get at the milk is unnerving, as it’s right out in the open. Then there’s the baby itself, which is like an animal fetus and some sort of alien mixed together. Altogether a foreign object, as many children feel to parents after their birth; they feel unnatural, almost like a screeching little animal. Lynch personifies that sentiment here with a hideous, deformed creature.
And then later, one of the most significant fear of fatherhood images comes to us in the form of Henry’s head falling off, then erasers being mined from his brain. Whereas the pencil is the creator – a.k.a the penis, the organ which creates life – the brain is the eraser, in the sense that the brain is meant to be able to outwit the dick re: any big decisions, such as getting a woman pregnant, for instance. So, in effect, Henry’s eraserhead should have scrubbed clean the decision to have sex with Mary, clearly with reckless disregard, as it eventually led to the birth of a monster.
There are so many striking images in the film, it’s hard to pick one that is the most intriguing. The Man in the Planet by the window, pulling levers; a hideous, ugly god behind the scenes? Pulling levers in his sickly condition, running things below and putting people through the motions of their horrible lives in an industrial, almost toxic environment.
The man-made chickens – everything man made, including children, are bound to be fucked up in this Lynchian version of industrial Hell on Earth. So it’s no surprise there are some genetically modified, bloody chickens in here. As if to symbolize everything born is, at its core, a disgusting thing, from babies to chickens.
Finally, the image of the Lady in the Radiator onstage, singing, dancing, then stepping on the strange sperm-like creatures, maybe fetuses. This one is as striking as it is unsettling. My take is that this represents his inner mind, the voice speaking to him deep down. While she stomps on the strange fetuses, then sings “In Heaven everything is fine” this can be seen as the inner urge in Henry to kill his child; those dark, unmentionable feelings of wanting to shake a screaming child that’s disrupting life, making everything worse. As if in Heaven, the child will be fine. So stomp on it like those fetus things. And of course after dreaming of his head falling off and being mined for erasers, the Lady in the Radiator egging him on, Henry goes and kills the baby after removing its bandages. After Henry tries erasing his failed love life, but is effectively rejected, all his miserable failures are compounded by the laughing baby. He even sees himself as the hideous alien-like monster baby several times, once involving the woman across the hall with whom he imagined escaping the dreariness of his old life. So if he can’t figuratively erase that old life with Mary, the rest of his unhappy existence, he decides to be rid of the monster for good. That way, he also rids himself of the hideous part in him. But in doing so, Henry may just have killed the last remaining light in him, too, which is ultimately signified by the breakdown while he tries to kill it.
Yet after all is said and done, everything is fine for Henry, in Heaven, with the Radiator Lady. Because everything is fine, when you’re dead.
If there were maybe a few more concrete moments, Eraserhead would be flawless. While I love mystery and elusiveness, sometimes this movie gets frustrating, even as I love it to death, simply because there’s so much defying explanation. It is well filmed, acted with unsettling subtlety. The sound design and the mysterious of the imagery is all beyond compelling. A 4&1/2-star masterpiece of weirdness, that spans both a fantastical aspect, as well as a straight up examination of personal psychological horror. Do not think my explanation nor that of anyone else will get to the bottom of David Lynch’s debut masterpiece. Explanation, at least definitive and sure explanation, is basically futile. This experience is about taking away from it what you will, answering your own questions. Because Lynch only asks them, giving us the contents of his horrified mind in relation to the world around him through cryptic and usually eerie imagery. I’ve sat through this movie many a time and still can’t get a full grasp on it. Part of it makes me frustrated, yes. Most of it makes me happy to have a director and writer out there like Lynch, probing the dark heart of our cinematic minds one picture at a time.