Tagged Hitchcock

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 5: “Dreams Die First”

While Norman loses track of mother, Dylan struggles in his new life with Emma because of the Bates family secrets.
Meanwhile, Marion Crane steals a briefcase full of money & heads to her lover Sam Loomis.

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Civic Duty: Paranoid Delusion in Post 9/11 America

Civic Duty. 2006. Directed by Jeff Renfroe. Screenplay by Andrew Lanter.
Starring Peter Krause, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey, & Richard Schiff. Christal Films/Sepia Films/Landslide Pictures/Movie Central.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.

POSTER Jeff Renfroe’s first debut feature One Point O is a thriller built on mystery and paranoia, so it’s no surprise Civic Duty is similarly styled. Although, this film digs into the paranoia of the right-wing after the events of September 11th. Of course this goes to an extreme, but that’s the point. Renfroe does a solid job directing this through its mentally twisty-turny corridors. The cinematography from Dylan Macleod captures a psychological perspective and plants us firmly in the middle of the main character’s head. With good directorial choices, as well as solid editing from Renfroe himself, plus the camerawork, as well as an amazing score that spells CLASSIC, Civic Duty pulls us into the post-9/11 hysteria that felt ready to pop in America.
Watch it nowadays and it takes on new life again, as the Syrian refugees come into America and Canada. Here in the North, even people I never thought of as racist/xenophobic are terrified of increasing immigration in light of ISIS. Considering the phobias and irrational fear after large events in the name of terrorism, Renfroe’s movie is interesting and it provokes some genuine thought. Not to mention the last few minutes, which have divided people (though if you’re paying attention it comes as obvious). Either way, this is a crackerjack little film with a heavy theme with an impressive performance out of Peter Krause.
Terry Allen (Peter Krause) is an accountant. Or, he was. Recently he got laid off, which he has to tell his wife Marla (Kari Matchett) at home. She’s supportive at first, and knows that he’ll get back on his feet. But during the day at home, Terry is bombarded by news, media constantly flying at him with George W. Bush decrying terrorists all around America, supposedly lying in wait for their chance to strike. Then a young man named Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga) moves in downstairs in the building where Terry and Marla live. Terry starts to believe Gabe is actually a terrorist, hiding among the normal residents of the complex. Slowly, Terry starts to dive further and further into paranoia, beginning to see things he suspects are suspicious. He even follows Gabe now and then.
When Terry finally calls the FBI and meets Agent Tom Hilary (Richard Schiff), things get serious. And once both Agent Hilary and Marla express their belief that Terry is only paranoid, he decides to take things into his own hands.
The focus on the money in Terry’s hands early in the film, as he gets his change back after buying postage at the post office, is a strong little point. Because this sort of throws us into his perspective, seeing things from his point-of-view. You can feel the stress and the pressure on him with this close, tight frame on the American dollars exchanged.
Also interesting is an early conversation between Terry and his wife. He refers to a man as “Middle Eastern“, and you can obviously tell she has a slight problem with the way Terry says it. While yes, it isn’t racist, the fact is clear: Terry sees people in terms of race. He could’ve used other words to describe the man, but chose those first.
Civic Duty is a paranoid thriller, often reminiscent of a Hitchcock film, both in the way it is shot, as well as how the score plays. When people call this a post-9/11 Rear Window, there’s a very good reason for such a comparison. So many scenes are even better for how the music ratchets up the suspense and the tension, as we ride alongside Terry and his paranoia. The editing helps, too. Almost every second scene has FOX News or a similar station playing reports on Muslims, terrorism, immigration, and of course – George W. Bush spouting off the written lines of rhetoric he was given. These elements combine to make the whole film uneasy, which is great because we’re, at times, not sure where the conclusion is headed. Going in, we almost assume the outcome will be that Terry is overreacting; a massive overreaction. But there are points the plot sucks us into his head, then the editing style, the score, the way things are framed and given to us, everything points to: how can you really know? So without a doubt the entire aesthetic of Civic Duty is a major part of its success.
Above all else, the film gains strength in its discussion of tough issues. Particularly, once Gabe and Terry engage in a truly strenuous conversation that these things come out to the fullest. Gabe starts bringing up all the conflicts in which America has been embroiled, mostly by their own choosing and intervention (wanted or unwanted), from Vietnam to Cuba, to all sorts of others. Most importantly, once we discover the truth of what’s been happening (re: Terry) it makes an excellent statement about paranoid racism and right-wing extremism. I specifically began to think of articles and other literature written about how times of economic downturn can make the right-wing extremists get even worse, pushing people to become more racist, more opposed to immigration, and so on. While I don’t think the very end is the best ending, something had to happen. Not that the conclusion is unwarranted, it’s merely a bit of a stretch; nothing major, just a little too convenient in some sense. The result of what happens to Terry could still have gone the same way without needing him to commit a particular act. Either way, this ruins nothing, and the message of the film comes across as strong as it can. And best of all? The last scene really hammers things home, while also making us wonder what will come of Terry, down the road.
Civic Duty‘s a definite 4-star film. While I could’ve used a bit more in certain senses – the pace lag at a few points, the screenplay could’ve drawn things out a slight bit more and added another 10-15 minutes to make that happen – overall, this is an excellent thriller built on fear, paranoia, and also on lies, deception. Part of this movie speaks to the fact many out there expounding upon their racist views often have something in their lives making them feel negatively about themselves yet turning it outward into the world. With a bit of twisting and turning, Jeff Renfroe does good work making us wonder and also making us think. If you need a nice, quick thrill, this is certainly one movie you ought to check out.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is Celluloid Terror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  1974.  Dir.  Tobe Hooper.  Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen.  Vortex.  18+.  83 minutes.


Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general.  It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike.texas1z.png I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.

There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-75Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
THE-TEXAS-CHAIN-SAW-MASSACRE-1974-450x252All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.