With Uncle Caleb in the basement, Norman has to navigate between Chick & Mother to figure out how best to handle the situation.
Norman goes on a double date, though clearly he has a thing for Madeleine Loomis.
Is this to be a fatal attraction?
Norman & Mother continue their relationship beyond the grave.
Vacancy. 2007. Directed by Nimród Antal. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith.
Starring Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, & Scott Anderson. Screen Gems/Hal Lieberman Company.
Rated 14A. 85 minutes.
Some of the most effective horror movies go after basic fears. Certain films like Jaws prey on the general fear of something as simple as deep water, and what lies beneath; Spielberg used that to turn that story into a cinematic exercise in gruesome dread. Then there’s the supernatural horror sub-genre, which goes after everything from religious faith to the irrational though emotionally tangible torment of ghosts/demons/whatever. Horrific thrillers such as the amazing When A Stranger Calls and recently the creepy though uneven Emelie go for the jugular of everyday societal concerns, like worrying about the people with whom you’ve charged babysitting your children.
The 2007 horror-thriller Vacancy is effective to me because I’ve always found staying in a motel unnerving, even a hotel for that matter. Because first off, you’re sleeping where somebody else, many other somebodies of whom you’ve got no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve done, has also slept. Doesn’t matter how many times they change those sheets, things linger. And I’m not just talking about the nasty fluids people spill in hotels and motels all over the world. Not talking about ghosts either, but sometimes an unsettling atmosphere can permeate a place without being supernatural. Just the spectre of bad things, a scary history can make a place worrisome. Secondly, anybody working at a motel can walk right inside your room, at any given moment. Even someone who doesn’t necessarily have clearance to be messing around with room keys can still get their hands on one, if they work there. So the prospect of being in a room where any number of people potentially also have the key, not just you like it is at home, can itself be crushing.
Vacancy doesn’t always deliver. What it does is keep things eerie, uncertain, and tries its best to follow in the vein of the slasher sub-genre. And despite the mistakes, this is a fun little flick. It will suck you in if you’ve ever let those thoughts about motels creep into your brain, wondering if anything bad could happen in one of those places.
Well, bad things do happen. And Vacancy wants to show you some of them.
One thing I do admire about Mark L. Smith’s screenplay (same guy who mind bogglingly wrote The Revenant) is that instead of lumping a couple of standard victims into the mix, he opts to have the main protagonists be a divorcing married couple. Not like it’s reinventing the wheel of slasher horror, they aren’t the first couple of their type in a movie of this sort. But it makes for good tension between the two characters. Starting off, their whole time together is simply aggravating. You can feel the tension so quickly and without being force fed that the relationship between Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale feels pretty natural. Immediately their chemistry works, you get the sense this is a marriage deteriorating rapidly, on its way to smouldering ashes. And y’know, there’s some decent emotional resonance. The nearly divorced couple finds legitimate perspective on their marriage, the apparent loss of a child. Who wouldn’t when psychotic killers and a sinister motel owner are trying to put you in a snuff film? Sure, it’s a tad heavy handed. Not so much that it’s overwhelming, and that’s a forgiveable sin in my books.Plus, aside from the tension between characters director Nimród Antal does a decent job drawing out the suspense and terror of Smith’s writing. At times it is most certainly cliche, and you’ll probably roll your eyes once and awhile. But there are genuinely scary horror moments, as well as a couple nasty slasher stabbings and, well… slashing. What I enjoy about Antal’s directorial choices are that he makes this (mostly)one-location thriller into an exciting, at times unpredictable horrorshow. In a space like the motel, with its parking lot and small row of rooms, there could easily be some boring, stagnant moments. For all its flaws, Vacancy is at least an exciting thrill ride for the majority of its swift 85 minutes. Antal and Smith craft their terror out of the claustrophobia of the solitary setting, as well as the aforementioned fears of motel living. Together, this is a nice recipe for slasher territory to be cooking with.
A nice addition to this sub-genre flick is Frank Whaley, a vastly overlooked actor that’s been in tons of stuff yet just doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s a solid character actor that I’ve enjoyed in a bunch of stuff (The Doors, Ray Donovan, his directorial debut Joe the King). Here he’s a super creeper and injects an old timey Hollywood feel of horror with his character, while also being a sort of contemporary guy with his snuff film business out the back door of the motel.
There isn’t anything new in Vacancy. Sometimes there’s an over reliance on jump scares, which don’t effectively get me going personally. Only starts to piss me off eventually once there’s not enough genuine scares Although, its advantages lie in a decent screenplay, one that does well with a lonesome motel setting. Additionally, you’ve got Frank Whaley in a macabre role, alongside the decent pairing of Beckinsale and Wilson.
I can give this one 3&1/2-stars without feeling bad either way. It’s entertaining. There are actually a few good scares, including a bit of blood and nastiness, some fun editing and just as fun camera work. Chilling enough, you could do a lot worse for a popcorn horror flick on a rainy night.
Don’t Go In The House. 1979. Directed by Joseph Ellison. Screenplay by Ellison, Ellen Hammill, & Joe Masefield.
Starring Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci, Robert Osth, Dennis M. Hunter, John Hedberg, Ruth Dardick, Johanna Brushay, Darcy Shean, Mary Ann Chinn, & Lois Verkruepse. Turbine Films Inc.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Still banned in certain countries to this day, Don’t Go In The House was filmed in 1979 then released the following year to become one of the infamous Video Nasties. It ended up on the original list, though managed to avoid prosecution after certain cuts were made and the film saw a release in ’87. And while there’s a certain part of me which understands why some might find themselves horrified by this movie, it isn’t all shock and awe. Of course, for a movie about a man who burns women to death in his basement with a flame thrower it’s natural there are gruesome scenes. The entire concept and the plot is truly horrifying, a reason why this film has endured in the hearts of genre fans for years. Quentin Tarantino for one is a huge fan of the film having played it at his film festival several times, as well as mentioning the movie had an impact on him when he first saw it. Because for a slasher horror with a gimmick this doesn’t back down. It both delivers the goods any slasher demands, serving up lots of the sub-genre killing we’d expect, and also provides a decent enough view into the lead character, whose complex psychology brings about a series of destructive consequences that eventually lead to a violent catharsis. Underneath its meager
slashburn-and-kill premise, Don’t Go In The House looks at a man damaged by the psychopathy of his mother, and also encapsulates the end of a decade into the beginning of another with the ’70s fading in the rear-view while 1980 reared its head.
Working at an incinerator, Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) witnesses a man almost burn to death in front of him. Freezing, unable to help, he’s ostracized by his boss. A co-worker named Bobby (Robert Osth) befriends him to try and make sure Donny doesn’t blame himself for anything. But while Bobby tries to be Donny’s buddy, the latter is busy out doing other things. Or well, he stays at home a lot. Because down in his basement Danny decided to build a special room. It’s lined with steel sheeting. In the middle hangs a chain. And at night Danny brings women home, chains them in his little room, then sets them on fire with a flamethrower.
See Danny has issues with his mother – the one sitting dead and dried up in his house, the one he still talks to casually, every day. The more women he takes home and burns to death, the crazier he gets. And going to the disco with Bobby just can’t seem to get him out of the habit.
For a time without the elaborate special effects of today, Ellison does a good job in ’79 making directorial choices so as to not have to focus on anything that might look less than stellar. Sure, it still looks like a film out of the late ’70s, in both good and bad ways. But the burnings especially are carried out with precision to make the scenes more effective, rather than having them come off as disingenuous, making things look terrible and campy, in the wrong sense.
There’s an interesting change in the film where we go from disco music to rock. This is ultimately the shift from the ’70s to the ’80s. Granted, there was plenty electronic music and other New Wave stuff to come from the 1980s, but what it means is the death of disco, a shift – even if only part of the way – back towards rock n’ roll again. A new era begins, the disco inferno burning out with Donny’s flamethrower. Finally, it is also the burning in effigy of his mother. Naturally those are what his victims stand in for, the memory of her, the things she did to him as a boy. Yet further than that the shift from disco music Donny played earlier to the rock n’ roll he falls asleep to, before having hallucinations of his mother and burned corpses, is another symbolic gesture of his departure from dear old mom. Similar to Norman Bates, this psycho has himself a mommy problem. Obvious enough, but the script and the direction together make this an impressive character study of a man driven to sick compulsions all due to the relationship he had with an abusive, domineering mother.
The film’s brutality is astounding. And yet there’s only truly graphic scene throughout the entirety, which is the first time Donny tries out his little fire room, a.k.a the oven, as I call it. We get what would come after this as the obligatory 1980s slasher horror nudity, but then comes the savagery when he burns the woman in his room alive. Even while it’s graphic, the editing and Ellison’s choices as director make the whole burning sequence disturbingly memorable without any gore. And like I mentioned the effects come off well because of this effort. Even though there’s plenty more to creep us out the movie’s violent horror elements hinge on this kill. Upon revisiting this one, a major reason why it left an impression on me is because for what’s technically a slasher sub-genre flick, Ellison’s movie drums up tons of terror with only one actual graphic murder. Usually these types of horrors are based on a body count. Instead of going with what would become a major trend in the ’80s, Ellison kicks off an important decade for the genre with one of the most atypical and enjoyable slasher movies out there.
For me, this is one of those movies that only gets better every time I see it. Almost every time I forget about how eerie the dream sequences are, then they hit me like a ton of bricks. Don’t Go In The House has more to it than meets the eye. It presents as another Don’t-titled generic horror that’s ready to offer up all the same trappings of most every film in the sub-genre. Director-writer Joseph Ellison went another way, studying the character of a fragile young man that turned into an adult killer while also ushering one decade out and saying hello to the next one.
This little flick has the goods and is all too often passed over as a lesser offering in horror. I say that is nonsense. Give this a chance, look at it closer. But mostly, let it wash over you, from the disco to the dark subject matter and the fire – oh, the fire! It’s all glorious.
Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.
Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 2: “Home Invasion”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Pilot” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Murder House” – click hereThe opening sequence to Season 1’s second episode is an absolute killer. Sorry for that brutal pun, but it truly is an excellent piece.
Again, we’re already seeing the series use famous horror movie scores and nodding to a few of the greats. For instance, in a flashback to 1968, a strange man enters the house (where the Harmons now live) under false pretences. Nurses live there, and a bunch are out for the night. He attacks one and takes them both hostage. As soon as he turns rancid, the Bernard Herrmann score from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho begins to play. Further as the sequence progresses, before coming back to the present, more of the music continues, as well as a NASTY kill on one of the nurses; she is stabbed in the back, some of the shots nearly mirroring the famous murder of Marion Crane – except this one takes place on a couch instead of a shower. The whole thing has a very Ted Bundy feel.
When we’re whisked back to present day, the memories of the 1968 murders linger.
Even while Tate (Evan Peters) and his trusty psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) conduct their latest session, it’s still hard to shake the savagery of the opening scene.Big shocker, as a woman – obviously the one Ben cheated on Vivien (Connie Britton) with – calls Ben and tells him that she’s pregnant. So quick into the season and we’re already really past the tipping point with Ben and his infidelity. Which is interesting, because while the house is obviously twisting their lives up and we want to feel bad for them, it’s tough to make Ben, in any way, out to be the victim.
A reference to Peter Medak’s The Changeling, after Ben finds Addie (Jamie Brewer) playing in the basement, laughing seemingly to herself. Once he clears her out of there, we watch the ball she’d been rolling around come rolling back out of the darkness by itself. I mean, the colour of the ball and everything resembles that scene, I can’t help but feel as if it was definitely a reference to the Medak haunted house classic.
Ben has a young lady coming to see him now as a patient, Bianca (Mageina Tovah), who is having dreams about trying to escape a stalled elevator and then being cut in half. She clearly has another fascination with being there other than psychiatry, there’s something about her totally affected by the house, as if she knows all about it, the history and such.
There’s so much perfectness between Addie (Jamie Brewer) and her doting yet also hateful mother Constance (Jessica Lange). While at times Constance is an outright bitch in the way she talks to Addie, there are so many instances of how much she does care for her daughter. I love that Falchuk and Murphy aren’t afraid to bring characters to life here who are complicated. Aside from all the infidelity stuff, we’ve got a wonderful actress like Brewer playing a character whose own mother is resentful of her disabilities. It’s tough stuff, however, I find it incredibly intriguing, especially in a horror-based show. Their relationship, obviously, will flesh out more and more with every episode, and it’s something I end up enjoying a great deal about Season 1.Ben is in trouble. Hayden McClaine (Kate Mara) his supposed one time mistake is back in his life, full-time now, with the prospect of a child. Unfortunately, Ben is not only keeping secrets, he now has the horror of the house and the insanity of Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) being pumped into him. It’s dark stuff where this will all be headed.
Another dynamic I enjoy is the one between Vivien and her daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Britton and Farmiga are both great. Their acting here is on point and I found their relationship, the whole season, to be extremely believable. Violet is beyond spiteful, as she tells her mother “I think you’re weak,” and we can see that she’s as much hurt by her mother’s inability to walk away from her cheating father as she is by his unfaithfulness. Probably not fair, however, ultimately I think it’s mostly because Violet is sad. She only lashes out because, as we all once were, she is a teenager and believes her knowledge – supposed knowledge – is the right kind. Britton and Farmiga do well together in their scenes, really have a family feel going on, which doesn’t come off as forced.
Sneaky Ben has snuck off to see Hayden (Kate Mara). She’s supposed to be having an abortion, which they’ve both determined is best for them in the long run. While some might look at Hayden, believing her to be in the wrong or that she is clinging to Ben, I see the character as a girl who was duped into thinking there could be more eventually between them. Ben tries to avoid responsibility, much as he possibly can, but eventually things will catch up with him.Back at home, Vivien begins to experience something similar to – or exactly a copy of – what the nurses in 1968 went through on that fateful night at the hands of a strange and murderous man. Bianca (Tovah) was merely casing the house in her session with Ben, and along with Fiona (Azura Skye) and Dallas (Kyle Davis) they plan to recreate the murders. I mean – WILD! Love it, plus today in the sick society we’ve developed, I can totally see a twisted copycat style murder like this happening. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. This trio is like a deplorable serial killer cult, worshipping the man who killed those nurses in the ’60s; they’ve even got one of the objects used in the crime, bought off E-Bay, in order to bring further authentic and ritualized sense to their present day murders.
I won’t spoil any more of what happens, but we see so many things come to play – one of the cupcakes Addie and Constance made earlier, the ghosts lurking in the basement, as well as the tenacity of both Vivien and her sassy daughter Violet. Amazing scenes here. Tense, suspenseful moments. What’s even worse is the fact Ben is off with Hayden, as his wife and daughter have to deal with the titular home invasion.
Wildly shocking scene between Addie and Constance later in the episode. I mean, I couldn’t get over how witchy Constance comes off at this point. Locking Addie in a closet so she can have peace and quiet with her hunky, young boyfriend, Constance puts her in there – only surrounding the poor girl are mirrors, tons of them, reflecting her appearance right back into her eyes. Obviously Addie doesn’t like looking at herself much, which Constance knows. This part broke my heart – Constance walking away, Addie screaming bloody murder in the closet. Terrifying and sad all at once.
Again, the horrors of the house, from top floor to basement, come out in fine fashion for “Home Invasion.” The murderer hopefuls who broke into the Harmon house in order to reenact those 1968 killings experience the worst of what creeps amongst the shadows. In an act of retribution, the murdered nurses – victims of the serial killer they were there to worship and to whom they wished to pay tribute – are the ones who come back, ghostly and grisly, to take fresh souls for the house to keep.
Furthermore, we also get to start seeing how Constance, Tate, and Moira are all linked to the house. Not in the sense we’re given a ton of expository dialogue, or any exposition beyond what we’ve already started to think ourselves. Merely an effort on their parts, together, to clean up the basement after the would-be killers are dispatched by the living dead nurses. I thought that was a nice, slight touch. Instead of spelling things out too easily for everyone, it’s a brief nod for us to understand – okay, this is going somewhere, these three are up to something. What? We’ll find out.Next episode is “Murder House” (what this first season has been retroactively dubbed after each season seems to be given a subtitled name), which is directed by Bradley Buecker whose work includes other work later with American Horror Story, as well as Nip/Tuck and more.
Ich seh, Ich seh (English title: Goodnight Mommy). 2015. Written & Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz.
Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, and Lukas Schwarz. Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH. Rated R. 99 minutes.
This is a film I’ve anticipated ever since first hearing the premise. Almost had sort of a fairytale-like feel to it. Finally getting a lucky chance, I was able to experience this dark and dreamy feature film. Goodnight Mommy, a superb Austrian film, indeed has atmosphere like that of a fairytale story. Within a horror there is a deep family drama – two boys against their mother, or whoever might have taken her place. Surprising me at nearly every turn, Goodnight Mommy has the ability to shock, but the script is wonderfully complex and the characters just as strong.
While I say that it can shock, I don’t mean that it’s an “arthouse shocker” as it is described on the poster. I think that’s a bit of a misleading label. There’s nothing arthouse about this one. That being said, there are plenty of surrealist moments present throughout, as well as a ton of horror imagery. But I think by calling it arthouse that not only misleads audiences, it also misrepresents this film overall. There is both psychology and horror at play in Goodnight Mommy, and it just so happens there is plenty of atmosphere and style in heaping portions, which helps everything else along quite nicely.
The movie starts as two twins, Elias and Lukas (played by twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz), are about to see their mother home for the first time since her cosmetic surgery. Out from the darkness of her room comes their mother (Susanne Wuest) bandaged beyond recognition, bits of her swollen face showing puffy through the wraps here and there. However, she doesn’t seem to them to be the same mother she always was, and there is something very much Other about whoever this woman might be.
As we twist and turn through the dreamy world of directors/writers Severian Fiala and Veronika Franz, the twin brothers plunge into a world this mother – or Other – and the darkness surrounds them all, leading to a shocking and most horrifying conclusion.
The two male siblings are like inseparable twins out of folklore tales. Introduced into their world is a mother whose face is unrecognizable – at least in the beginning – which begins the film’s exploration of identity, attachment, trust, and truth. Right away the family plays a game – everyone takes turns putting a sticky note on their forehead & trying to guess who they are – which automatically seems to set the two boys in stark opposition with their mother. As if she isn’t even their mother at all, but an impostor. I thought the scene was surprisingly tense for such an early juncture.
There’s an excellent tone from the start, as we’re thrown into a family dynamic which was obviously a little flawed to begin with. However, even before the boys somewhat confirm any supspicions there’s a feeling that something is out of place. Everything feels a bit strange. Helps cultivate a nice mood of dread.
I love when a film can throw me off and subvert my expectations. Around every corner of each frame, it feels as if there lurks the unimaginable. We move along in a feverish dream state, just as the boys seem to; caught between sleep and reality. The boys, outside and free, feel in the land of the living. Their mother looks to be stuck in a nightmare, locked in her room and gazing at her new self in the mirror.
The juxtaposition of the darkness versus the light in Goodnight Mommy is astounding and works perfectly. In the world of those shadows, the boys’ bandaged and Other-ish mother is Queen. Outside in the fresh air and the light, the boys are happy and safe. Inside with their mother and the darkness, the air is threatening.
“Show us your birthmark”
Then comes a beautifully twisted scene in the form of an actual dream. Highly creepy. It involves the mother in the woods; don’t want to say much more, you must see it for yourself. There are several macabre and wonderful dream sequences, spooky bits. What I enjoy so much is that at times it’s tough to initially distinguish between the genuine dreams and the dream-like atmosphere of the film’s reality.
To say any more about the film’s plot would be to do it/anyone reading a disservice. I’d not expected all that came out of Goodnight Mommy, when so much intense and wild stuff did I found not knowing much of anything heading in made the experience much richer. There’s a lot happening here and it isn’t simply a bit of shocking horror, there’s real substance. Above all else, Goodnight Mommy has the earmarks of pure existential horror. What starts as a worry their mother has changed because of her cosmetic surgery becomes, for her sons, an existentialist struggle when they feel under threat.
“Where is our mother?”
The final 30 minutes are certainly disturbing, intense, and downright horrific at times. From a dream-like state we are brought abruptly, raw into a bright and realistic world now where the boys are King, instead of the shadows where they near cowered earlier. I thought that’s one of the biggest strengths of the film. It reminds a bit of Proxy, which in turn reminded me of Psycho, in terms of how the story’s structure and focus almost seems to realign itself over the course of the film. With Goodnight Mommy, we start in one perspective, but by the last half hour we’re ready to switch over to the other side. By the film’s finish, this is a truly effective method which the directors used and I think it ultimately paid off.
Some might believe the end twist is foreseeable. Honestly, I never once saw it coming. Masterful storytelling. While it’s a similar ending to other films we’ve seen, the end is justified by its means. You watch and get sucked into everything that’s going on, then the climax crashes down on top of you. The journey is what it’s all about – the end simply hammers home the psychological reality of all the horror happening surrounding the boys and their mother.
Acting is fantastic, from the boys, as well as the mother.
Especially in the first half of the movie, I thought both Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz did a wonderful job as the confused and fearful twins. They really did great work here, as you can feel the bond between them while also seeing how lost in a confused haze they’re becoming, not sure if their mother came home or if this person really is some Other. This is the only film these two kids have ever done, as far as I know, so that’s something else pretty amazing. I’ve seen reviews say their performances were flat, however, I don’t see it that way. Certainly once the ending hits you, the retrospective look at their characters provides enough to understand why the boys are the way they are. So give it time, they’ll grow on you and get you by the finale.
Even more so, Susanne Wuest is absolutely unbelievable in Goodnight Mommy. Her role, as well as those of the boys, twists and turns. At times, mostly at first, you’re never sure where her character will go. By the middle and a little further, you’re pretty sure; even if you’re not, the results are terrifying. She did a lot of excellent stuff while her face was bandaged, but definitely once they’re off she pulls out an emotional, intense performance to match the plot’s own intensity tenfold.
Hands down, a 5 star drama-horror with some surreal elements.
I’d waited so long to finally see this and it was well worth the wait. Cannot wait until this gets a wider release, as well as a nice Blu ray. I’ll be snatching that up as quick as humanly possible. When I get the chance to see this again, it would be great to examine it more at length, see it a couple times. It’s that great a film. Again, some say the ending is like “all the others”, and in a way it is, but the entire thing is so refreshingly inventive and interesting that it makes the entire journey worth it. An incredible ride, all on “glorious 35mm” as it says in the end of the credits. See this once you can and enjoy every last mortifying second.
Proxy. 2014. Dir. Zack Parker.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, and Alexia Rasmussen. IFC Midnight. Unrated. 120 minutes.
Previously, I’ve seen Zack Parker’s work with his earlier film Scalene, which I actually really enjoyed. Perhaps enjoy is not the best verb to describe the experience of that film, but either way it was effective, and I knew I wanted to see more from Parker. While filmed in 2013, this didn’t hit Canada until 2014. This is by far one of the best movies I saw last year. There is no doubt. Parker provides not only several gruesome moments to make this partly a horror film, he does an excellent job of intertwining several stories into one overall plot and allowing it to flow together coherently. A lesser filmmaker might get lost trying to wrap a few stories into one thrilling plot, Parker does so with a lot of grace, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to bring up its similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Proxy starts off with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) walking home after a check-up appointment with her doctor, as she’s very far along in her pregnancy. On the way, Esther is knocked out by someone in a red hooded sweatshirt, and terribly assaulted; the attacker smashes her belly in over and over with a brick. The baby is pronounced dead, but Esther survives. Afterwards, having no real family or friends, Esther goes to support groups where she ends up becoming friends with a woman named Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who says her husband and little boy were killed by a drunk driver. However, Esther sees Melanie in a department store later yelling that her son has been kidnapped, looking for help. After Melanie leaves the store, though, Esther sees her bringing out the very alive boy to be “found”. From here, things begin to spin out of control, as Melanie is exposed, and Esther herself is not everything she truly seems.
Soon, one vicious event begins a domino effect that ultimately affects the lives of everyone involved with both Esther and Melanie.
To say anything else about the plot of this film would be to ruin the movie for anyone who has yet to see it. While I’ve said a bit, the best comes once things really kick into gear after Esther sees Melanie with her child. I honestly had no idea where Proxy would end. This is one of the few films to really throw me for a loop. This is great because the plot structure really reminds me a lot of Psycho. Whereas the Hitchcock classic begins focused on Marion Crane and then grimly switches gears when Norman Bates is introduced into the mix, Proxy also begins with a character who sort of walks us cinematically into the real plot of the film when Esther finds out her friend Melanie is a con-artist, and then everything unfolds. It’s a beautiful way to structure things.
I know there are similarities to other films, but I really believe Parker fixed in on some great Hitchcock-style techniques, specifically those in Psycho. For instance, the score is really gorgeous and dark and sneaky. There are moments where tension ratchets up because Parker has such an enormous, sweeping score that makes those emotional and tense moments come across even more effectively. Just as Hitchcock had those strings in the right places for Psycho, as does Parker here with his film. I think, these days, suspense and tension are often left by the wayside in the hands of certain directors. Parker is not one of those. He keeps things very unsettling and you’re never sure of the ground you’re treading on. This film keeps coming and coming until there’s nothing left to your nerves.
I’ve always liked Joe Swanberg, and while there are some great performances by both Anika Barön, as well as Alexa Havins, I think he really does some of the best work going on in Proxy. The story is centered on the women of the film, however, Swanberg is one of the characters most affected by everything which happens in the plot. Without ruining too much, you really see the pain in this character come through in Swanberg. He’s great at playing normal people. That probably has to do with the fact he directs his own stuff, and acts in a lot, almost constantly. He does a lot of films. And most are highly independent, so they usually go for a quite realistic approach. I think this makes Swanberg a great fit for the role. His performance is nice and subdued. The overall plot made me feel bad for his character, but his abilities as an actor make things all the more sympathetic. Really great stuff.
Alexa Havins has to be mentioned, as well. It’s impossible not to comment on her great acting. The character she plays, Melanie, is absolutely warped – beyond belief. I think the character could have easily come off much to theatrical and overblown. Havins plays this great. There are times she really comes across as a scary monster; I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there so consumed with a need for attention to the point they would do the most awful things imaginable. It’s an effective performance, and the character’s story really draws you in with Havins playing it so appropriately.
This is one of the best films from last year, but it’s also one of the better movies I’ve seen in the last decade. Especially films in the horror genre. There are plenty of wild moments, in terms of blood and otherwise, however, this film really works on a horror level like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Parker does throw in a more than acceptable amount of blood and gore. Mainly what he does is make things into a psychological nightmare. While we begin the film feeling as if certain characters are the worst of the ensemble, later events come to change those opinions, and it’s just a really interesting character piece wrapped up in horror & thriller elements. This is flawless. A great modern horror masterpiece, and I continue to wait on more great work by Zack Parker.
Psycho. 1960. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.
This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).
I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.
The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.
The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.
I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.
Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.
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. 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.
Even 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.
All 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.