Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dead Boys Reviewed on Indie Reviews

Zach Tyo at Indie Reviews posted a four-title review of Halloween books yesterday. Besides Dead Boys, he also reviews Infected by James Schnannep, How I Met My Monster by R.L. Stine and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. So, yeah, good company.

Thanks for taking the time to review my collection, Zach.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: The Seventh Victim

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I'm re-posting my review of the 1943 Val Lewton thriller, The Seventh Victim. The review was originally published on January 12, 2009.

After watching one of his films, a friend of Val Lewton asked the director, "What is this film trying to say?" Lewton's alleged response was simply, "Death is good." A hard sell to audiences even today; but Val Lewton produced nine horror films unlike anything audiences had ever seen back in the early 1940s. RKO Studios was looking to produce a series of horror movies to cash in on the trend that had made Universal Studios so much money in the 1930s. Lewton was hired to produce these films; but saddled with strict budgetary requirements and a string of titles chosen by the studio (ranging from the corny The Cat People to the unintentionally hilarious I Walked With a Zombie ... both recommended, by the way). Val Lewton chose to use these restrictions to his advantage, using shadow and ambiguous plotlines to suggest horrors that he could never afford to actually show.

In The Seventh Victim, Mary (Kim Hunter) is a young woman who goes to New York in search of her missing sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks). What she uncovers is a cult of devil worshipers. At one point, it is revealed that, in their past, the cult has murdered six people in order to protect their secrets and Jacqueline may well become the seventh.

The Seventh Victim is a film that deals with contradictions. The devil worshipers, although portrayed as evil, are also pacifists (acknowledging that violence can turn on itself and accidentally accomplish good). It turns out that Jacqueline is both suicidal and fleeing for her life. By the end of the film, it could be argued that everyone gets exactly what they want; but none of them are happy.

Val Lewton's low-budget scare tactics are still effective today and still used (with varying success) in both low- and big-budget films. The use of shadows, both real and thematic, places The Seventh Victim in the film noir category of that time.  The sophisticated devil worshipers in Greenwich Village bear more than a passing resemblance to the Satanists who graced the screen some thirty years later in Rosemary's Baby. It's a moody piece that unsettles without any overt violence and well worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Kissed

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I'm re-posting my review of the 1997 film, Kissed. The review was originally published on October 21, 2008.

This is the most touching and genuinely sympathetic film you are ever likely to see on the subject of necrophilia. The first half of the film follows the more or less solitary life of Sandra (Molly Parker, who later achieved more mainstream recognition with roles on Deadwood and Six Feet Under), a woman compelled to make love with corpses. Her detailed recollections and well-explored motivations elevate what at first looks like a sick fetish to something spiritual and transcendent. By the time she meets Matt (Peter Outerbridge), we have seen the world through her strange eyes and his initial fascination seems crude.

The story becomes less sensationalistic and more subtle as Sandra and Matt struggle with a problem common to most couples: seeing the world through one another's eyes. It becomes a story about Sarah trying to explain your unique worldview to a man who doesn't (and perhaps can't) share it. Matt's attempts to understand and support Sandra also continuously backfire tragically as we see a man genuinely trying to understand and reach out to a woman whom most of the world would simply turn away. Ironically, as his attempts grow more extreme, he begins to behave like a stalker and ends up presenting a far more disturbing character than the necrophiliac.

The film is based on a short story by Barbara Gowdy entitled, "We So Seldom Look on Love". The title of the story is, in turn, taken from a line of Frank O'Hara's poem, "Ode on Necrophilia". Also, I have no idea what the producers told Sarah McLachlan when they requested the rights to her song for the closing scene ("We're making a film about necrophilia and we thought of you."); but "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" is just the perfect song (with a most appropriate title) to act as a coda for what both main characters are trying to accomplish. This is a story about love: how it can be physical, spiritual, addictive and, to the outside observer, indescribable.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: The Collector

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I do a book-to-film comparison of The Collector. The review originally ran on July 28, 2008.

Before the onslaught of post-Silence of the Lambs films and novels that glorified the serial killer to anti-hero status, there were few films that offered a truly sympathetic view of the psychopathic mind. The Collector (both the 1963 novel and the 1965 film) has the distinction of being cited as being a personal favorite by more than one real-life serial killer.

The story (although relatively bloodless) is chilling for what it says more than what it shows. The story and movie open with a butterfly collector (played by Terence Stamp) kidnapping a 20 year-old art student (played by Samantha Eggar in an Oscar-nominated performance) and locking her in his cellar. The collector's goal is to make this woman fall in love with him. To this end, he has fashioned the cellar dungeon in the style of a lavish apartment and provides her with whatever items she might desire, frequently referring to her as his "guest". In a modern world that includes men like Josef Fritzl (who kept his daughter and the children they had together locked in a cellar for twenty-four years), the story might seem either horribly prophetic or humorously quaint.

Both the film and the first half of the novel follow this strange premise to its logical conclusion, as the woman's attempts to escape grow more intricate and desperate. At first, the collector seems genuinely embarrassed and addresses his captive with an almost endearing shyness. But the cracks in his proper British facade reveal this social awkwardness as a symptom of a psychopathic mind, unable to understand the wrongness of his actions.

The major difference between the film and the novel comes in the second half of the book, which switches the point of view from the collector to Miranda Gray, the art student whom he has abducted. You read excerpts from Miranda's secret diary where she describes her early life and her attempts at making an identity for herself. Both characters are unformed personalities, neither really understanding what it means to love, but we can believe that at least Miranda has the capacity to learn and grow emotionally (unlike her captor). Some fans of the novel complain that the film, in essence, took away the victim's voice by removing her inner monologue. While the film is still effective, I would certainly agree that the novel has more depth because of this section.

This was the first novel written by John Fowles (who later went on to write The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, among others) and the screenplay was adapted by Stanley Mann and John Kohn (which earned them an Oscar nomination). It is both famous for its three Oscar nominations (the third being William Wyler as Best Director) and infamous for allegedly inspiring the works of several serial killers (including Leonard Lake, Christopher Wilder and Robert Berdella). Take a look for yourself and see what it does for you.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: The Mother of Tears

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I finish rerunning my review of Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy with the third film in the series: The Mother of Tears. The review originally ran on July 7, 2008.

The Three Mothers trilogy wraps up thirty years after it began with The Mother of Tears, the bloodiest, nude-iest, and unintentionally funniest of the three films. It opens with a coffin marked in witch symbols and wrapped in chains being unearthed in a church courtyard. Inside are three demon statuettes and an old sweater. If you're thinking these demon statuettes are talismans of black magic which will be used to bring about a new dark age ... you're completely wrong. Turns out the Second Age of Witches will be brought into being by a sleeveless sweater decorated with glitter-glue. A woman is disemboweled by three demons and a monkey (don't ask, it's never explained) and we're off on another of Dario Argento's nonsensical odysseys of beautifully-shot violence.

The city of Rome becomes a nexus of evil as witches from around the world converge to celebrate the Second Age of Witches with their queen, the Mother of Tears. No trouble spotting the witches – they're the Goths with eighties hair strutting through airports, train stations and the streets of Rome. Stuck in the middle of this retro nightmare are Asia Argento and a supporting cast of disposable co-stars. Apparently, the secret to fighting the Mother of Tears lies in finding an old man who has the answers; but he is brutally murdered before he can do anything besides mutter a few cryptic clues that lead to another old man; but he is also brutally murdered before he can do anything besides mutter a few cryptic clues that lead to still another old man; but he is ... well, it becomes pretty obvious where this is all leading. At one point, I swear to you, the film rips off the plot line of Harry Potter word for word (on an unrelated note, I'd love to see a Harry Potter movie directed by Dario Argento).

Frankly, this film is an homage to eighties horror. The violence in this film is tempered by the fact that it's so over-the-top that you can't help but chuckle. There are spilled intestines, corpse-filled pools, gouged eyes, cut throats, severed limbs and a spear that ... well, the spear scene is just the scene where you either leave the theatre or start to laugh.

The nudity is also so gratuitous that, like the violence, it's just easier to take it as a joke. The witches in general are fond of exposing their breasts and the Mother of Tears spends a lot of time strutting through her lair wearing nothing but platform shoes, a wicked smile and way too much make-up. The only genuinely creepy moment in the film is Asia Argento's shower scene ... and this is only disconcerting when you realize that it's Asia's father, Dario, who's directing it.

If you've been following the work of Dario Argento this far, you'll get The Mother of Tears. Not overly disturbing or horrifying (although there are a few "jump out of your seat" moments); but the kind of fun, outrageously bloody horror movie that used to litter the local cineplexes twenty years ago and best seen with an audience laughing and screaming all around you. Definitely enjoy this one at the theatre.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Inferno

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I continue rerunning my review of Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy with the second film in the series: Inferno. The review originally ran on June 30, 2008.

Inferno (1980) is a sort-of sequel to Dario Argento's classic horror film, Suspiria (1977). Ask almost anyone (this reviewer included), and you'll be told that it's just not as good. On the other hand, you're probably not going to find movies that look like these being produced by anyone else. Even Argento doesn't seem to be making films like Suspiria and Inferno any longer, having slowly drifted towards a more realistic style that (while he does it well) no longer looks like his signature. Just like Suspiria, Inferno is the kind of movie that you might see in a dream. Unfortunately, this time the dream logic is taken to an extreme.

Where Suspiria had a threadbare plot surrounded by beautifully shot scenes of violence and exposition, Inferno doesn't seem to have any plot at all. It is rather a series of interconnected vignettes involving a New York hotel and a trio of witches. The three witches are known as the Mother of Sighs (who terrorized the dance school in Suspiria), the Mother of Tears (who haunts Rome in the 2007 film of the same name) and the Mother of Shadows (who's at the center of this film's conspiracy). Their secrets are outlined in a book entitled "The Three Mothers" and anyone who gets too close to learning these secrets dies horribly. That's pretty much the plot. We don't spend enough time with any of the potential protagonists to feel any sympathy for them.

Oh, but the things they see before they die ...

Once again, Dario Argento has us so dazzled by bizarre scenery and surreal behaviors that we barely notice until it's all over that none of it makes any sense. The opening underwater scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie (just as the opening murder in Suspiria managed to do). Occasionally, the surrealism grows so absurd that it threatens to pull the viewer out of the story entirely (like the attack by flying cats or the face of death that looks suspiciously like a rubber mask), but it all works if you get yourself into the right state of mind.

The biggest let-down on the sequel would definitely be the change in soundtrack. The Goblins do not provide music for Inferno and they are sorely missed as the sound moves between serviceably creepy and so over-the-top it's funny instead of scary. That's Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer doing the music, by the way.

Inferno was not as successful as Suspiria and is not as readily available on DVD, but if you enjoyed the themes of power and gender (as well as the striking visuals) of the first film, this one is worth a look.