The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Down in the Mines with Mina

One of the main underlying themes of a lot of these blog posts is an examination of why particular moments in horror film, literature or music made a lasting impression on me while others did not. Why, for example, was I terrified by the bubbling cauldron sound at the beginning of “The Monster Mash”? Or the schlocky scene in My Bloody Valentine where the homicidal miner pops out of the closet with the pickaxe? Or the part in Fright Night where Amy reveals her horribly wide terror-mouth? I still have no idea, but it’s been fun reliving all this stuff from my wayward youth and trying to find some kind of perspective on it, or contemplating the threads that might tie all these disparate things together.

The next scene I want to discuss is another one of those that, for whatever reason, has stuck with me for 35 years, even though I don’t remember much about the rest of the film. The scene itself was only a couple of minutes long, but I can still vividly remember the heart-stopping shudder that traveled through my body the first time I saw it, and further recall how I studiously covered my eyes during the scene on subsequent re-watches of the movie.

Before I get to the main feature, allow me another short commercial break. I still have a Patreon campaign going to fund my writing work, and there are lots of neat rewards just for pledging a few bucks a month, so check it out, won’t you? Thank you. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Seems to me I live my undeath like a candle in the wind.

Seems to me I live my undeath like a candle in the wind.

John Badham’s version of the classic Dracula (1979), starring Frank Langella as the titular Count, came out around the same time as a few other vampire films, notably Werner Herzog’s elegant remake of Nosferatu. Badham’s adaptation wasn’t horribly reviewed, but apparently audiences were experiencing some vampire fatigue, and it only did so-so business at the box office. I was only seven when it was released in theaters, so I didn’t catch it until it ran on television a year or two later; in fact, I’m fairly sure it was the first of the major Dracula film adaptations I ever saw, even before the more-famous Bela Lugosi and Hammer versions.

Like the 1931 Bela Lugosi film, Badham’s Dracula was based on the stage play rather than the novel, and followed a lot of the tropes of the Universal version. For example, Dracula is portrayed as a seductive, romantic figure rather than a ratlike monster as in the book, and the entire first part of the novel (where Harker is kept prisoner in Dracula’s Transylvanian castle) is scuttled, allowing the movie to start with the Count’s arrival on English shores. Something the Badham film does that I thought was odd, though, is that it reverses the characters of Lucy and Mina; Mina is the first one attacked and vampified by Dracula, for example, while Lucy is Harker’s fiancée, and is attacked later but ultimately saved when the vampire is staked. The film also portrays Mina as the daughter of Van Helsing and Lucy as the daughter of Dr. Seward. These changes don’t ruin the story or anything, but they also don’t really add to it, so I’m not sure why they were made. Perhaps because some characters were eliminated for brevity (like poor old Quincey Morris, who hardly ever gets a part in these adaptations), the screenwriter thought it would increase the drama and emotional coherence of the characters to make them all related somehow, but I’m just speculating about that. Still doesn’t explain why Lucy and Mina were reversed, but whatever.

Pictured: Identity crisis.

Pictured: Identity crisis.

As I said, I don’t remember a great deal about the film as a whole; I remember enjoying it, and being quite taken with Langella’s graceful performance as the Count, but even though I saw the movie several times when I was about nine years old, very little of it made a lasting impression. Except for that one, very brief scene.

If my quick Google search is any indication, I’m not the only one that has had this scene burned into my memory for more than three decades. I’m not entirely sure why the scene is so memorable; it could be simply because in the context of the film, it is so shockingly unexpected. This version of Dracula, after all, was marketed more as a supernatural romance than a horror film, and played rather like a staid English parlor drama (with fangs). There was little to no gore that I remember, and nothing that was outright frightening. But then this happens:

The lovely Mina (Jan Francis) has been exsanguinated by the foxy Count one night while her friend Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is out tramping it up with Jonathan (Trevor Eve). It makes me feel weird to even type that, you guys. It’s like they were cheating or something, what with the character reversal and all. Though now that I think about it, how great would a Mina/Lucy catfight scene have been? Anyway. The next morning, Mina is pale and gasping for breath, and dies as a horrified (and guilty) Lucy looks on. Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance) has no idea what could have killed Mina, and summons Dad Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) to help solve the mystery.

It’s clearly lupus.

It’s clearly lupus.

No slouch, Van Helsing immediately jumps to the most obvious conclusion, that eine nosferatu is running loose in the vicinity. As an aside, though, this is Van Helsing we’re talking about. He probably blames a vampire every time one of his socks disappears from the washing machine. Sure, he was correct in this case, but even a stopped clock, yadda yadda.

I’m not saying it was vampires. But it was vampires.

I’m not saying it was vampires. But it was vampires.

Anyhoo, Seward and Van Helsing visit Mina’s new grave in the cemetery, and find that her coffin is not only empty, but contains a ragged hole where she presumably dug herself out. The hole leads underground into some old mining tunnels, and they crawl down there to investigate, pretty sure of what they’re going to find. As they peer into the darkness, visions of the beautiful Mina probably uppermost in their minds…

Like so.

Like so.

…they begin to hear a shuffling sound coming toward them. They raise their lamps or candles (I can’t exactly remember which, and can’t find the scene on YouTube to check), and there, emerging from the darkness, is this horror, reaching for them and begging for a kiss:

At least she has a good personality. Well, aside from the bloodsucking.

At least she has a good personality. Well, aside from the bloodsucking.

This shit scared me SO BAD, you guys. And in this sense maybe it was a sound storytelling idea to make Mina Van Helsing’s daughter, because the tragedy of the scene is very apparent here, and underscores the horror with great effectiveness. The figure of the undead Mina is terrifying but also heartbreakingly pitiful, and the viewer really feels it when Van Helsing has to put down the monster his daughter has become. The rest of the film isn’t nearly as powerful, but that one scene is a stunner.

Keep watching this space for more of my horror-related wanderings, and news on my upcoming poltergeist book! Until then, Goddess out.

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Ankhs for the Memories

I have to admit that, as a rule, I’m kinda over vampires these days. Like all self-respecting darklings, of course, I was all about Anne Rice back in the day, and my first (terrible, unpublished) novel was actually a painfully angsty vampire love story along those same lines. If only I had known that years later, someone would write Twilight and make all the money in the world, I might not have been so quick to shame-toss my manuscript in the garbage, but on such lack of foresight doth the vagaries of fate turn, or something.

On the other hand, though, as an unrepentant goth chick for nigh on three decades, I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t be seduced by a genuinely great vampire film, especially if it was stylish as fuck, starred three of the best-looking people on the planet at the time, and boasted an opening scene featuring one of my favorite bands performing the grandaddy of all goth-rock anthems. By now you should have guessed that I’m talking about this gothic wet dream right here:

And who will we be having for dinner this evening?

And who will we be having for dinner this evening?

Tony Scott’s The Hunger (loosely based on an okay novel by Whitley “I Was Anal Probed by Extraterrestrials” Strieber) has been dogged by criticisms of style over substance pretty much since its release in 1983, but in my opinion, time has been very kind to it, and I would happily defend it as one of the very best vampire films of the 80s. Not only was it gorgeous to look at and chock full of fantastic acting performances, but it also took the tired vampire schtick and did something fairly original and arty with it (though of course much of the concept of interpreting vampire tropes through the lens of modern genetic science was present in Strieber’s book).

The Hunger is the story of beautiful, centuries-old vampire Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) and her understandable but ultimately cruelly selfish quest to find a companion who will be with her forever. Her latest consort, John (David Bowie) has been with her for two hundred years, but John soon learns that Miriam’s promises of eternal youth were a lie when he begins to rapidly age, due to an apparent incompatibility between human and vampire blood that takes centuries to manifest.

Oh, did I neglect to mention that you'd spend eternity as a shambling living corpse? My bad, honey bunch.

Oh, did I neglect to mention that you’d spend eternity as a shambling living corpse? My bad, honey bunch.

John and Miriam enlist the services of cutting-edge gerontologist Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) in an attempt to reverse the aging process, but all to no avail. After the feeble John kills the couple’s young music student, hoping that her blood will revitalize him, Miriam tenderly carries his still-living but disintegrating carcass into the attic. There she places him in a coffin along with her other former lovers, all of whom are enduring the same living death. It is this aspect of Miriam’s character that makes her monstrous: she is so desperate for companionship that she will strategically neglect to mention that the vampire gift she is bestowing comes with eternal life, yes, but not eternal youth. She will also keep her lovers alive and with her forever, even though they are suffering terribly.

Grief-stricken and lonely after John’s confinement, Miriam then sets her sights on Sarah and begins to groom her as her next companion. The pair exchange blood during a languid, gauzy, and super-hot sex scene, but Sarah discovers soon enough what Miriam’s gift entails. At first she refuses to accept her new blood-drinking nature, preferring to starve herself of the sustaining red stuff, but eventually her willpower fails her and she ends up killing her boyfriend Tom and feeding on him. Miriam thinks that Sarah is now on board with the whole vampire thing, but Sarah’s steely resolve is such that she attempts to cut her own throat with Miriam’s purpose-made ankh pendant rather than spend the next few hundred years at the vampire’s side. The distraught Miriam attempts to save her, but evidently Sarah’s attempted self-sacrifice has rallied the troops, so to speak; all of Miriam’s rotting former lovers rise from their coffins, kill Miriam, and fall to dust upon the floor, finally finding the sweet release of death that they had been denied for so long.

Exactly what about this whole scenario doesn't appeal to you???

Exactly what about this whole scenario doesn’t appeal to you???

There is then an odd coda to the film that doesn’t really make any sense in terms of the story, as we see briefly that Sarah has survived her suicide attempt and is now living as a vampire with a male and female consort of her own. Susan Sarandon has reported that she was not happy with this tacked-on ending, as it negated the whole arc of her character and the point of her rebellion, but there was little she could do about it, since the producers apparently wished to leave the film open-ended in case they wanted to make a sequel down the line (sigh). The scene is only a few seconds long and doesn’t spoil the film, but it is kind of a WTF moment.

All that aside, though, let me take a moment to rhapsodize about all the great things this film does. Casting the impossibly beautiful and elegant Deneuve as a vampire was a stroke of genius, as her quiet gravitas and cold yet seductive grace lend a sense of timelessness to her portrayal that makes it very easy to believe, not only that she has been alive for millennia, but also that she could easily embody the conflict of genuine loving feeling existing alongside such fiendish cruelty. Susan Sarandon’s character is a perfect counterpoint, a thoroughly modern woman whose pragmatism and independence is the polar opposite of Miriam’s needy heartlessness.

OMG, stop being so pretty.

OMG, stop being so pretty.

Bowie is likewise great as the doomed companion, putting in a restrained and perfectly balanced performance in which the struggle between his deep love for Miriam and his anger at her betrayal of him are readily apparent.

At least Ann Magnuson got to be felt up by David Bowie before her tragic exsanguination.

At least Ann Magnuson got to be felt up by David Bowie before her tragic exsanguination.

The set design is also gorgeous, soft-focused and romantic, with billowing white curtains, shafts of dim light illuminating flocks of doves, and the spectacularly old-world interiors of the Blaylocks’ tastefully appointed New York townhouse brilliantly contrasted against the sterile environment of Sarah’s medical clinic. I’ve heard many people complain that The Hunger looked more like a music video than a movie, and I understand that assessment, but I feel as though the entire look of the film is a crucial part of its enduring charm. Its aesthetic flair was certainly one of the things that first drew me to it in the 1980s, and to be frank I think it looks even better now that we’ve had more than thirty years’ perspective on it.

Holy shit, I would live in this house so hard.

Holy shit, I would live in this house so hard.

The fact that the film also has such a dynamite opening, with the vampiric Peter Murphy in a cage intoning “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” with his band Bauhaus, is simply the pitch-black icing on the darkly glamorous cake that is this movie.

Undead to the third power.

Undead to the third power.

Unlike many other vampire films of the period, The Hunger is more concerned with artistic visuals and exploring the relationships of the characters than it is with outright horror or gore. That’s not to say that there aren’t some intensely bloody scenes, and the final shots of Miriam’s ancient, skeletal companions rising up against her are fairly horrific, but fans of more in-your-face horror may find the film far too cerebral for their tastes, and that’s as it should be. Different strokes, and all that.

WHATCHOO TALKIN’ ABOUT GODDESS? (SORRY, HAD TO.)

WHATCHOO TALKIN’ ABOUT GODDESS? (SORRY, HAD TO.)

Until next time, Goddess out.

The Goddess Revisits Season Two of “Masters of Horror”

Just as a quick reminder, I’ve put up a Patreon campaign to raise some much-needed funds for my writing endeavors, so take a look if you missed my previous post, and give something if you can, would you? Thank you.

Now, since I went into the specifics of “Masters of Horror” in my previous post about season one, I’m just going to jump right in and begin discussing season two, the rewatch of which I just completed. The quality of the second season of Mick Garris’s generally excellent series was a lot more consistent than the first, in the sense that there were no particularly terrible episodes, but there weren’t really any jaw-dropping, “Imprint”-quality ones either, though many of them were quite good, and all were at least decently watchable.

The season two revisit has been a little more fun for me and has provided a slightly different perspective on the show, since the God of Hellfire became interested in this fucked-up series I was obsessively watching and decided he wanted to watch some of it too. So I’ll be providing a little of his insight on the episodes, when he provided it. And now, onward.

MastersOfHorror2

THE DAMN GOOD

There were two episodes that, for me, stood out as being the best examples of what season two had to offer. The first was “Family,” directed by John Landis and featuring the lovable George Wendt (of “Cheers” fame) playing brilliantly against type as a suburban serial killer and corpse collector. I’m not entirely sure if the concept for this story was at least partly inspired by Miriam Allen deFord’s 1961 short story “A Death in the Family,” which it strongly reminded me of and which was made into an episode of “Night Gallery” back in 1971. John Landis’s “Family” ends up going off in a different direction entirely, though, and has a great twist ending. George Wendt imbues his schlubby, lonely bachelor psychopath with such pathos that it’s hard not to feel bad for him, even while he’s killing little girls and old ladies to deflesh and add to his happy skeletal family. Twisted, tragicomic, and great.

Norm realizes the folly of storing the hydrochloric acid on the shelf right next to the lavender bath oil.

Norm realizes the folly of storing the hydrochloric acid on the shelf right next to the lavender bath oil.

The second standout of season two, the Rob Schmidt-directed “Right To Die,” recalled the furor over the Terri Schiavo case and starred the terrific Martin Donovan, who I’ve been a fan of since his numerous appearances in Hal Hartley’s films in the eighties and nineties. Donovan plays a dentist who has been cheating on his wife with his buxom assistant; shortly after the wife finds out, she and her wayward husband are involved in a terrible car accident in which all of the wife’s skin is burned off. Initially engaging in a legal battle with his mother-in-law for the right to turn off his wife’s life support, Dr. Adulterer soon changes his tune when it comes to light that his wife is now able to open up an enormous can of supernatural scorned-woman whoop-ass whenever she flatlines. Since I’m always down to see a cheater (and worse, as it turns out) get his just desserts, this episode was a satisfying, gory, and somewhat surprising ride.

In an attempt to be edgy, Smokey Bones new barbecue menu took things just a bit too far.

In an attempt to be edgy, Smokey Bones new barbecue menu took things just a bit too far.

THE PRETTY DAMN GOOD

Several of the other episodes, while not quite to the caliber of the aforementioned, were still reliably entertaining. “Sounds Like,” directed by Brad Anderson from a short story by Mike O’Driscoll, was in the words of the GoH “like a really, really good ‘Twilight Zone’ episode,” and recounted the sad tale of a suburban middle-manager type guy who loses his son to a rare heart condition and subsequently develops hypersensitive hearing that eventually drives him insane. Very low-key in the gross-out department, but a nice slow burn of suspense and escalating tension.

“Pro-Life,” John Carpenter’s taut tale of a determined, fifteen-year-old pregnant girl and a demonic battle in a besieged abortion clinic, was also pretty fantastic, with Ron Perlman giving a chilling performance as the girl’s fundie nutbag father. Intense, violent, and genuinely frightening, even if the whole “devil-baby” angle is a touch cheesy.

Dario Argento’s “Pelts” was the Italian maestro’s second contribution to the series, adapted from a short story by F. Paul Wilson. The somewhat ridiculous premise sees a fur trader (played by Meat Loaf!) getting his hands on some beautiful raccoon pelts that magically make everyone who works with them do unbelievably gory things to themselves that mirror what was done to the dead animals. Squicky, over the top (it IS Argento, after all), and lots of fun.

He would do anything for love, including giving you the shirt off his back, or the skin off his torso, or something.

He would do anything for love, including giving you the shirt off his back, or the skin off his torso, or something.

The Joe Dante-directed “Screwfly Solution,” while not nearly as stupidly overblown as his first-season “Homecoming,” still tackled hot-button sociopolitical issues (feminism and male aggression, in this case), but in a far less obnoxious way than his first foray in the series. I thought it was still a bit too glib and a tad on the overly obvious side for my taste, but overall I quite enjoyed it, and the GoH chose it as his favorite episode of season two, so in deference to him I decided to place it in the “pretty damn good” category. The GoH is a big fan of apocalyptic-type scenarios in horror that are just barely plausible, so this tale of an unknown biological agent that ramps up male hostility to the point where the men are killing off all the women on earth, was right up his alley and scared him more than any of the other episodes. Also, SPOILER ALERT, it was aliens all along, and aliens are pretty much the GoH’s favorite thing in the whole wide galaxy, you guys; you don’t even know. I forgot to add that this episode featured both Jason “90210” Priestley AND Elliott “M.A.S.H.” Gould as high-echelon environmental scientists, which is probably something you can’t say about any other movie in history. So there’s that.

Also decent was “We All Scream for Ice Cream,” directed by Tom Holland from a short story by John Farris (with a teleplay by the great David J. Schow). Bearing shades of Stephen King’s It, this straightforward tale of supernatural revenge sees a mentally-slow but well-liked (and clown-clad) ice cream man “accidentally” killed by some miscreant children. Years later, a sinister ice cream van prowls the small town’s streets at night, seeking to revisit the sins of the fathers upon the sons, as it were. Well-executed and fairly creepy.

Rounding out the “pretty damn good” category, Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of “The Black Cat” featured Jeffrey Combs as a tormented Edgar Allan Poe living out (or is he?) a couple of his more famous short stories. I thought the ending was something of a cop-out, but I’ll forgive it (this time) because the performances and gore were solid (BAD KITTY!) and the episode as a whole was pretty great, with some brilliant comic touches. Likewise with “The Washingtonians,” directed by Peter Medak from a short story by Bentley Little. The premise was so utterly bizarre, and the execution so overdone and absurd, that it circled all the way around to being awesome again. Intensely gory, and one of the funniest—and easily the wackiest—episodes of the series.

American History Blechs.

American History Blechs.

Also quite good was the final episode, Norio Tsuruta’s “Dream Cruise.” Glacially paced, and pretty standard J-horror all around (complete with long-haired female wraith), but with a story that held a few surprises, lovely cinematography, and a nice creep factor. A worthy end to the series.

THE JUST OKAY AND THE DISAPPOINTING

A few of the episodes, while not bad per se, were just not as good as I was expecting, given the talent involved. As much as I adore the stories of Ambrose Bierce, for example, the Tobe Hooper-directed adaptation of “The Damned Thing” (with a teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson, no less) was not particularly engaging or memorable, making me question the decision to make it the inaugural episode of the second season.

masters-of-horror-serie-tv-s-2-the-damned-thing-04-g

You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting!

Also a disappointment, and for similar reasons, was “Valerie on the Stairs,” directed by series creator Mick Garris from a terrific short story by Clive Barker. I’m a huge fan of Barker’s stories and novels, but his fantastical creations are somewhat hit or miss when adapted to screen, and this one seemed more miss than hit. Tony “Candy Man” Todd played a fetching demon, and Christopher Lloyd was his pleasingly manic self, but the episode seemed flimsy, slightly repetitive, and a tad silly, with an anticlimactic ending let down by cheesy special effects.

The Mick Garris-directed “The V Word” (and I hate to say it, but Garris was kind of 0 for 3 on his own episodes of the series he created, in my opinion) was not a total waste of time, but not an experience I’d care to revisit, either. The V could have stood for literally anything else—vagina, perhaps, or velveteen, or vivisection, or even Vivian Vance, for fuck’s sake—and I would have enjoyed it more, but since the V stood for “vampire” (oh…those), I was less than enthused, especially when whiny teenage boys were added into the mix. Watchable, but overall, meh.

v_word

Soooooooooooo high.

And thus completes my revisited rundown of “Masters of Horror!” Agree? Disagree? Care to start a virtual fistfight over which were the best episodes? Let me know. Until then, as ever, Goddess out.

The Goddess Revisits Season One of “Masters of Horror”

We’re now in 2015, believe it or not, and jokes about when we can expect to be receiving our hoverboards aside, hopefully it will be a better one than the last. I realize I’ve been neglecting this blog a little, but as with most of you, I was busy over the holidays with just general holiday stuff as well as some of the more personal issues I briefly mentioned in a previous post, and I just never got around to updating this thing as often as I should have. But I’m resolving to do better, and to that end, I’ve decided to do something slightly different with my Favorite Horror Scenes series by discussing the 2005 television show created by Mick Garris, “Masters of Horror” (all episodes of which are available on Hulu for free, if you somehow missed them). This year marks the tenth anniversary of the show’s debut, so it seemed an opportune time for another run-through.

masters_of_horror_wallpaper_1024x768_2

I distinctly remember there being a lot of buzz about this series in the horror community when it was first announced. I mean, these were going to be hour-long, uncensored, hardcore horror films based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale! Directed by legends like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento! AND IT WAS ALL GONNA BE ON TV, YOU GUYS. Pay TV, sure, but TV nonetheless. There had really never been anything quite like it on television before, and I for one eagerly settled in to watch the moment it was available online.

At the time I enjoyed most of them quite a bit, though I found that ten years later very few of them had made a lasting impression. I had forgotten even some of the better episodes, so it was instructive to watch them all again, and gratifying that many of them were far better than I had remembered.

Just a pale wingless angel taking his eyeless Japanese man out for walkies, no biggie.

Just a pale wingless angel taking his eyeless Japanese man out for walkies, no biggie.

THE GOOD:

Case in point: Episode eight, the John Carpenter-directed “Cigarette Burns.” I hadn’t remembered anything about this episode at all, but on the rewatch it instantly moved into my top three of season one. A great deal of my enthusiasm may be due to the presence of Norman Reedus, who of course in subsequent years went on to megastardom for his role on “The Walking Dead,” but everything in this episode hit the right notes for me this time around. Udo Kier was his wonderful scene-chewing self as a reclusive squintillionaire who hires a man to procure the single remaining print of a mysterious film called La Fin Absolue du Monde, the first and only screening of which ended in madness and murder. There is genuine suspense, an eerie, menacing tone permeating the whole enterprise, and gore galore, including a memorable moment in which Udo Kier’s character threads his own intestines through the projector after his long-awaited viewing of the cursed film. Top notch.

Also very good and worth a mention: The Stuart Gordon-directed “Dreams in the Witch-House,” which very effectively captured the spooky, otherworldly feel of the Lovecraft tale it was based upon. There was also John Landis’s “Deer Woman,” which I remembered disliking the first time around but appreciated much more this time. It’s far more black comedy than straight horror, with a rather absurdist premise based on a Native American legend, but there was plenty of blood, and Brian Benben’s snark-spitting protagonist was hilarious. Lastly, and surprisingly, was Dario Argento’s “Jenifer,” which starred Steven Weber (who also wrote the teleplay, based on a Bruce Jones story). I’ve always been a big Argento fan, but I think we can all agree that his more recent output has been somewhat less than stellar. This episode, though, is quite decent, even though it honestly could have been directed by anyone. It dragged a bit in parts, but the story—about a man being slowly bewitched by a deformed succubus—was suitably disquieting, and the gore was nicely excessive.

The tragic consequence of epic beer goggles.

The tragic consequence of epic beer goggles.

THE BAD:

Episodes I could have done without included, sadly, Mick Garris’s contribution to his own groundbreaking series. “Chocolate” had a flimsy story, lame execution, and just an overall feel of why-bother-ness. Boo. The only other episode I found unforgivable was Joe Dante’s “Homecoming.” Zombies as political satire can be done well, but this came across as so heavy-handed as to be utterly ridiculous, even though I happen to agree with the film’s political stance. Added to that is the fact that the subject matter, current at the time, now comes across as terribly dated and not very relatable. Thea Gill’s ballbusting Ann-Coulter-alike was amusing (and her fate at the end satisfying), but otherwise, damn, tone it down some. You can actually make a point without smashing us upside the head with a wrecking ball, y’know.

He returned from the dead to vote, but the miracle of his resurrection was nothing in the face of Diebold.

He returned from the dead to vote, but the miracle of his resurrection was nothing in the face of Diebold.

THE OKAY:

I enjoyed most of the others, though they didn’t stand out as much as they probably could have. The David J. Schow-written, Larry Cohen-directed “Pick Me Up” was pretty good, with a decent premise (competing serial killers), some genuinely tense scenes, and the always-welcome presence of Fairuza Balk. “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” directed by Don Coscarelli from a story by Joe R. Lansdale, was also very watchable and included a fantastic turn by Angus “Tall Man” Scrimm. Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl” was creepy-crawly fun, with a pleasingly awkward performance by Angela Bettis as a lovelorn lesbian entomologist. The Clive Barker adaptation “Haeckel’s Tale,” directed by John McNaughton, was good, but could have been better given the source material. Same with “Dance of the Dead,” which, given the status of all those involved—story by Richard Matheson, teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson, direction by Tobe Hooper, the appearance of Robert Englund as a depraved club owner— should have been incredible, but instead was just serviceable and somewhat disjointed. “The Fair-Haired Child,” finally, was entertaining but ultimately not all that memorable.

You would tell me if I had something on my forehead, right?

You would tell me if I had something on my forehead, right?

THE AMAZING:

You didn’t actually think I was going to leave this one off, did you? Slated to air as the last episode of season one, Takashi Miike’s “Imprint” was already notorious well before its air date, because Showtime (who carried the series) refused to broadcast it, due to its highly disturbing subject matter and intensely graphic violence. It was released to DVD in the latter part of 2006, and is now available on Hulu as part of the regular series. It’s easy to see why Showtime balked (even though they should have known what to expect from Miike, frankly), but it’s also sort of a shame, because this is the best episode of the series by a mile.

Komomo realized, upon reflection, that bobbing for knitting needles was perhaps not the best idea she'd ever had.

Komomo realized, upon reflection, that bobbing for knitting needles was perhaps not the best idea she’d ever had.

Pretty much the entirety of the story takes place inside a Japanese brothel, where an American journalist (played by Billy Drago) has traveled in search of the great love of his life, a prostitute named Komomo who he had promised to rescue and take back to America. Instead, he finds another prostitute with a disfigured face who tells him the increasingly convoluted tale of what happened to the doomed Komomo. The flashback scenes of Komomo’s torture (for supposedly stealing the madam’s jade ring) are horrific, and even a seasoned horror hound like myself could barely get through them, wincing and turning my head away more than once (and yes, you may call me a weenie all you like, but aaaaaaggggggghhhhhhhhh). Additionally, the deformed girl’s recounting of her own wretched childhood, particularly the scenes of her mother dumping aborted fetuses out of a bucket into a stream, were intensely uncomfortable for me, since I had been through my own abortion only a few weeks prior and was still feeling a little strange about it. At the end of the episode, I felt as though I had been run over by a bus, in a good way, if that makes any sense. The best horror should, after all, shake you out of your complacency, and touch you in places where you’d rather not be touched. “Imprint” succeeded on that score in motherfucking spades. A genius piece of filmmaking, but one I probably won’t watch again for another ten years or so, if ever.

Hopefully you enjoyed this rundown! I’m on the third episode of my season two revisit, so keep watching this space for another fun summary to come. Until then, happy 2015, and Goddess out.

 

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Kin To A Mannequin

I’ve talked on this blog before about the concept of the “uncanny valley,” how things that look almost like humans—but not quite—are intensely disturbing to most of us. I think this aspect of human psychology is one reason why horror films featuring dolls, dummies, realistic robots and the like are so common, and more often than not, end up being pretty effectively scary. With that in mind, today I’d like to discuss a lesser-known gem from the 1970s that does something a little different with that tried and true horror standby: creepy dolls, or in this case, creepy mannequins. (And no, I’m not referring to that Crow T. Robot favorite starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall, so get that out of your mind right now.)

While the underrated Tourist Trap (1979) may fall into the very common horror genre of “group of sexy teenagers gets lost in a remote area, slaughter ensues,” its premise is actually fairly weird and its imagery creepily effective; even its goofball musical score lends to its offbeat charm. The five young people in question have been driving through the desert to some unspecified vacation destination, utilizing two vehicles. The first vehicle, containing Woody (Keith McDermott) and his girlfriend Eileen (Robin Sherwood) gets a flat, and Woody blithely rolls the likewise flat spare tire off to find a gas station. We see him enter what appears to be an abandoned store, calling out for service. He hears something in the back, and because this is a horror movie, he goes to investigate. He sees what appears to be a person under a blanket, but when he touches the person the blanket falls away revealing a freaky-looking and apparently spring-loaded mannequin. Then shit starts to go REALLY awry, as more cackling mannequins start popping out of closets and in through windows, the door locks by itself, chairs and other furniture start rattling around like in one of those poltergeist videos on YouTube. A cabinet starts opening and closing, and then glass bottles start flying out and smashing all around Woody’s head, and the fun part is, he can’t move, because his arm is through a hole in the door and someone seems to be holding him in place. At last, an iron bar that’s been shimmying around on the floor shoots toward Woody and impales him through the side. It’s an unsettling scene, and effective because you’re not quite sure what’s going on here…is there some supernatural force at work? Or does some killer get off on setting up elaborate pranks like some kind of murderous funhouse?

Well, are you having fun yet?

Well, are you having fun yet?

We sort of find out what’s up as the story progresses. Eileen gets a ride with the second vehicle in the caravan when it passes by, and the four remaining vacationers head off in search of the wayward Woody. They see a sign pointing toward some sketchy-looking museum and surmise that he must have gone that-a-way, but before they get there, their Jeep also breaks down in a clearing. As the sole male, Jerry (Jon Van Ness) gets stuck trying to figure out what’s wrong while the women wander off and naturally end up skinny dipping in a lovely waterfall-fed pool that’s hidden back in the woods. As they thrash around all naked and gratuitous, they notice that a kindly-looking but shotgun-wielding old man is watching them from the bank, with much amusement. From just above his down-home overalls, his pretty mouth tells them that his name is Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), that he runs the little museum they saw the sign for earlier, and that no one has really been around there since the new highway got put in and he’s really kind of bummed out about it. He actually seems a pretty nice fella, and he doesn’t seem to mind that the girls are sloughing their boobies through his pond, though he warns them that they should probably get out before it gets dark because the pond is full of water moccasins. He then heads back into the woods as the women make Mr. Yuck faces at each other and haul ass out of the snake-water.

The look of a woman who just imagined what it would feel like to have a poisonous serpent swim up her jacksie.

The look of a woman who just imagined what it would feel like to have a poisonous serpent swim up her jacksie.

When they get back to the car, Mr. Slausen is helping Jerry with the Jeep. He says he needs his tools from the house, and offers to give the youngsters something to drink and a place to chill out if they’ll all just pile into his truck and come back to his house/museum. Red flag? Sure, but Slausen does seem like a genuinely nice man, and he actually hasn’t done anything the least bit sinister, so even though the kids are a little reluctant, they end up going with him, because there would be no movie if they didn’t.

And here we finally get to the creepy-ass part of the flick, because Slausen’s little house is just full of kinda-cool-but-also-fairly-disturbing animatronic mannequins. Some of them are gunslingers that turn and shoot at each other, one is a pretty lady in a white dress tucked into a lighted shrine that turns out to be a representation of his late, much-adored wife. It’s initially sort of weird, but the way Slausen talks about his wife and breaks down crying is so sincere that at least one of the women, Molly (Jocelyn Jones), really starts to feel bad for him.

Portrayed: Daddy issues.

Portrayed: Daddy issues.

Of course, you can see where this is going. One by one, the youngsters wander off alone for one reason or another and get either straight-up murdered or taken captive by a heavyset dude in a wig and an eerie-looking mannequin mask. It’s here that the movie is really at its most effective, because the killer, as well as the shadowed shots of the mannequins, are intensely skin-crawling. It’s also worth noting that the killer, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, has telekinetic powers, and can sic mannequins on people and make their mouths drop open in a really, REALLY unsettling way.

Like so.

Like so.

Although for the bulk of the movie’s running time, you’re meant to believe that it’s Slausen’s crazy brother who has suddenly snapped and started offing people and adding them to his mannequin collection, viewers will not be surprised to learn that it was actually Slausen doing the killin’ all along.

This is actually a good look for him.

This is actually a good look for him.

Despite the movie’s obvious telegraphing, the whole atmosphere of the thing is what makes it great, and I have to say that Chuck Connors puts in a really noteworthy performance here, since his character really does believably seem like a sweet but slightly addled old man who then turns out to be a raging psycho by the end. Though he gets his just desserts at the hands of Final Girl Molly (who was of course the most prudish of the group, and also the one who showed the most compassion for Slausen), the closing scene makes it clear that Molly was all but broken by her horrible experience, as she tools down the highway in a convertible with a freaky grin on her face AND THE MANNEQUINS OF ALL HER DEAD FRIENDS IN THE CAR WITH HER. So yeah. The 70s were a strange time, kids.

A strange time with strange drugs.

A strange time with excessive amounts of strange drugs.

Until next time, keep reading, keep watching, and try to keep away from any run-down mannequin-centric museums, okay? Until next time, Goddess out.

 

What’s Scarier in a Horror Movie: Realism or Supernaturalism? Also, The Goddess Picks Her Top 20 Scariest Supernatural Films

Beware of house prices that go bump in the night.

I have loved the horror genre for as long as I can remember, and I have been a skeptic of the supernatural for almost as long. But therein lies an interesting contradiction, for as regular readers of this blog will no doubt have gathered, I am most often frightened by horror films featuring supernatural elements, particularly ghosts, demons/the Devil, and witches, even though I emphatically do not believe that any of those things exist.

Why should this be? Logically, you would assume that people in general would be most terrified by a film that portrays something that could actually happen, or that they at least believe could actually happen. By this criteria, for example, movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, Wolf Creek, or The Last House on the Left, by virtue of being realistic, should be far scarier than anything that features a white-clad wraith drifting through the halls of a decaying Victorian mansion.

This is not so in my case, and I’m curious as to whether it’s true with other fans of horror. Please do not take this to mean that I’m not a fan of more realistic horrors, because I definitely am. I do not, however, find these movies particularly frightening, and I’ve always wondered why. Why should I be so disturbed by situations and images in film that I’m certain will never happen to me in real life? Is it because I have a greater handle on reality than I do on my own subconscious? Is it simply because I’m more terrified by the unknown than the known-but-horrible? I’d really like some insight into this conundrum, so here’s a poll that you may participate in if you’re so inclined:

Also, if you’d care to expound upon any theories as to why you feel the way you do about the horror movies that scare you the most, then please share them in the comments, because I really am curious and would like to get a discussion going.

And now, because I want to, I present a collage of my Top 20 Scariest Supernatural Movies, in no particular order. How many can you identify? Again, answer in the comments! Until next time, Goddess out.

Web

 

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Evil E.T.’s Eggcellent Adventure

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the sci-fi genre or of horror/sci-fi crossovers. There are some exceptions, of course—the Alien franchise, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers—but on the whole, aliens are not really compelling baddies for me. So it was with some degree of meh-ness, on Halloween night, that I agreed to give a lesser-known British sci-fi horror flick from the 80s a whirl; the film was the God of Hellfire’s pick for the evening (our other two Halloween screenings included more traditional horrors, The Omen and The House That Dripped Blood, in case you wondered). Despite my initial trepidation, though, I have to say that I am now rather glad that the GoH exposed me to this hidden gem, because I would have likely never sought it out on my own, and it is deeply, intensely fucked up, but in the best possible way.

Released in 1983, the bewilderingly-titled Xtro was directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, and was presumably made to cash in on the wave of popular sci-fi films of the period, like E.T., Alien, and Videodrome. It was pretty resoundingly panned on its first release, but became something of a cult film in the ensuing years, spawning two sequels so far (though the sequels don’t have much of anything to do with the original movie). It’s not difficult to see why the film slowly found an audience, because there is some very, very strange shit going on in this thing, and though it’s a fairly low-budget affair, the special effects are actually quite good for the time, and some of the imagery is pretty disturbing.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, BUT IS THERE ANY WAY I COULD MAYBE GET A RIDE TO THE CHIROPRACTOR?

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, BUT IS THERE ANY WAY I COULD MAYBE GET A RIDE TO THE CHIROPRACTOR?

Xtro tells the story of a boy named Tony (Simon Nash) who is playing with his dad Sam (Philip Sayer) in the yard of their farmhouse when suddenly an intense light blazes out of the sky and apparently drags Sam away with it. Cut to three years later. No one really knows what happened to Sam, but Tony and his mom Rachel (Bernice Stegers) have had to move on with their lives, and now live in London with Rachel’s new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and a hot French nanny named Analise (Mariam d’Abo), who was presumably shoehorned into the film to provide the requisite titty shots.

Meanwhile, a light shines out in the woods again. Two people driving down a dark country road hit a freaky-looking creature with their car (in one of the movie’s creepier scenes, and in fact one that made the rounds on YouTube labeled as a “real” monster sighting), and stupidly go into the woods to try to find it. The creature kills the man, goes back to the car and takes care of the woman, then circles around to a house. It attacks the woman living within and impregnates her. Her belly swells to gargantuan proportions in minutes, and then a fully-grown, blood-slick Sam comes crawling out of her monumentally wrecked vagina. After heading back into the woods and stealing the clothes off the car-driving dude he killed, Sam heads to London to try and track down his family.

Here’s where the whole thing gets a little more bizarre. Sam picks up Tony from school, so when Rachel comes to get the boy, she is told that his father has already taken him. She chases them down, and sees that Sam has indeed returned. She’s glad to see him, but angry that he seemingly left them three years earlier with no explanation. He says that he doesn’t remember anything about what happened, so Rachel feels bad for him and takes him back home. Tony is overjoyed to have his father back, but naturally Joe, the new boyfriend, is far less enthused, especially when it becomes clear that Sam doesn’t really have any intention of leaving and Rachel doesn’t have the heart to tell him to take a hike. Joe eventually sort-of moves out, though he’s still sharing the photography studio where he and Rachel both work.

So it’s all a very awkward family drama into which more weirdness soon manifests itself. Tony wakes up in the middle of the night covered in blood that isn’t his. The next day he catches his father eating the eggs of his pet snake, has a freakout, and hauls ass out of the house. Sam chases after him, reassures him that everything is fine and that he just needed to eat those eggs because he’s different now, and wouldn’t Tony like to be different too? Tony seems to relent, because hey, that’s his long-lost dad, so Sam creepily puts his lips on the kid’s neck and either starts sucking blood from him or inserting something into the blister he makes there.

HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, DON'T DRINK SO MUCH RED TEMPERA PAINT BEFORE BED???

HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, DON’T DRINK SO MUCH RED TEMPERA PAINT BEFORE BED???

ALIEN DADS WHO GIVE THEIR SONS HICKEYS: NEXT ON MAURY.

ALIEN DADS WHO GIVE THEIR SONS HICKEYS: NEXT ON MAURY.

Later on, back at home, Sam tells his son that he has powers now, and can pretty much do anything he wishes to do, and that now Tony can too. Predictably, the first thing the kid uses his powers for is revenge: Tony’s pet snake escapes and turns up in the apartment of their busybody downstairs neighbor (played by Anna Wing), who chops the hapless reptile into pieces. Tony uses his newfound alien magic to animate a toy soldier and make it grow life-size, so that it can troop down to the busybody’s flat and poke her to death with a bayonet. It’s a weird, unsettling scene, not least because it doesn’t make much sense, and also because the actor playing the life-size toy soldier has some creepily inhuman movements to go with his plastic, unmoving face.

KNOWING HOW TO STAB YOUR NEIGHBORS IS HALF THE BATTLE.

KNOWING HOW TO STAB YOUR NEIGHBORS IS HALF THE BATTLE.

Tony also brings one of his clown dolls to life in the form of a sinister little person (Peter Mandell) who does his bidding. When Rachel decides to take Sam back to the farmhouse to see if he remembers anything about the night he disappeared, she leaves Tony in the care of the often-shirtless nanny. Analise wastes no time in inviting her boyfriend over for some afternoon delight, but Tony keeps pounding on the bedroom door, insisting she play hide and seek with him. Finally she agrees to a short game and begins searching the apartment for the boy, at which point Tony and his creepy clown henchman hit her on the head with a mallet and then drag her into the kitchen, where we later see that she has been attached to the wall in some sort of cocoon. Squishy eggs are squelching out of an ovipositor-type tube where the bottom half of her body was. The clown midget takes these eggs and places them lovingly in the refrigerator after coating the inside with some lumpy green goop. Analise’s boyfriend, by the way, is first chased and shot at by a toy tank, then attacked and eaten by a black panther that is inexplicably wandering the halls. Because aliens.

PREPARE TO TASTE TINY HELL.

PREPARE TO TASTE TINY HELL.

Back at the farmhouse, Rachel and Sam are going at it, but suddenly Rachel notices that Sam’s skin is starting to rot off. He takes off into the woods toward a bright light, and Rachel runs after him. Joe has brought Tony out to the farmhouse after he finds the kid running around outside the apartment alone and everybody else dead. Sam starts alien-ing like crazy, turning back into the creature we saw at the beginning. He makes a high-pitched shriek that apparently ruptures something in Joe’s brain, killing him. Then Sam gets to the light, and he has Tony with him, and Tony is starting to alien out too, hand in hand with his dad, and then they both disappear and Rachel is standing there in the field where the light just was, wondering what the fuck just happened. She doesn’t wonder long, though, because later on, she gets back to the apartment, finds the eggs in the upturned fridge, stupidly picks one up and stares at it until a little hand thing shoots out of it and attaches itself to her face and kills her.

IN 1980'S ENGLAND, OMELET EATS YOU.

IN 1980’S ENGLAND, OMELET EATS YOU.

So everybody dies, pretty much, except for Sam and Tony, who I guess live happily ever after on some alien planet far away, where they fill their days with telepathic toy control, big cat training regimens, and reptile-egg feasts. Did I mention this was a weird-ass movie? It’s kind of like a low-rent Cronenberg flick, what with all the goop and tentacles and vaginal imagery and creatures with backwards legs and what not, and even though the guy who played Joe kept reminding me of a lost member of the Romantics, I actually enjoyed the thing a great deal more than I thought I would. As I said, some of the images—the first sight of the creature scuttling across the dark road, the full-grown man emerging from the woman’s torn hoo-ha, the eerily grinning clown doll come to life—are really effective, and I quite liked the very downbeat, bleak drama of the whole family dynamic, which I guess is pretty typical of British films. It’s definitely an odd little film, but one that I’d recommend to fans of the genre. And with that, until next time, Goddess out.

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or ‘The Vision Thing’

In my previous post on The House of Clocks, I told you guys I was gonna get into some more under-appreciated Lucio Fulci goodness, and here I am making good on that promise, so don’t say I never gave you anything, okay? Okay. As I mentioned in the previous entry, Fulci could make a pretty decent film in any genre you’d care to name, and as fun as his horror gorefests are, some of his best movies fall more into the giallo or thriller genre. One of these, probably my favorite of his thrillers, is the subject of today’s post.

I'M WATCHING YOU. WATCHING AND JUDGING.

I’M WATCHING YOU. WATCHING AND JUDGING.

Sette Note In Nero, aka Seven Notes In Black, aka Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes, aka The Psychic (damn those foreign distribution deals!) came out in Italy in 1977, though it wasn’t released on DVD in the US until many years later. It’s a tight little supernatural murder mystery that deftly maintains an air of heightening tension throughout the entire film, keeping you on that fabled edge of your seat until the very end. In addition, the set design is gorgeous, and the performances from leads Jennifer O’Neill and Gianni Garko seem to be excellent (the dubbing is a little distracting, but not nearly as bad as some other Italian films of the period). There is very little gore, other than an amusingly Fulci-an moment in the opening flashback scene where a suicidal woman repeatedly sloughs flesh off her face as she jumps to her death off a cliff; other than that, the only blood that appears accompanies a couple of not-terribly-graphic head wounds. So if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing, you may feel free to watch this movie while digging into a huge, glistening bowl of spaghetti marinara; you’ll probably be fine.

MANGIA MANGIA.

MANGIA MANGIA.

The Psychic, like several other gialli, utilizes a plot device I’ve always liked; I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but I’m going to call it “partially spoiling the outcome.” In other words, the viewer already knows more or less what’s going to happen, but the suspense of the film is generated by seeing the way in which the inevitable will come to pass. Even though the film is structured this way, it’s actually still full of surprises, which is one of the reasons I’ve always admired its rather clever screenplay (written by Dardano Sacchetti, who incidentally also penned a bunch of Fulci’s most beloved gore films, like City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery).

Jennifer O’Neill plays Virginia Ducci, an American interior decorator who has recently married a hotshot Italian playboy named Francesco. It is established in the first scene that Virginia is a clairvoyant; we see a flashback of her as a schoolgirl having a vision of her mother’s suicide. Back in the present, she drops her dashing husband off at an airfield for a business trip, and then drives down a highway punctuated by long, dark tunnels. As she drives through one of the tunnels, she suddenly has a disjointed and unsettling vision. Aspects of her vision include:

  1. Shafts of red light, and what appears to be someone placing a brick in a layer of mortar.
  2. A pretty but sinister little tune, like something from a music box.
  3. A cigarette with yellow paper balanced on the edge of a blue ashtray.
  4. A magazine with an attractive dark-haired woman on the cover.
  5. A yellow taxi parked on a dark street.
  6. A broken antique mirror.
  7. A sumptuously decorated room containing an overturned bust with a letter underneath it.
  8. A glimpse of a man’s feet as he walks with a decided limp.
  9. The clearly visible face of a man with a mustache, emerging from the shadows.
  10. An obviously dead old woman with blood all over her face and head.
  11. A room with a floor lamp with a red shade, and beyond that a wall with a substantial portion of the masonry removed.
BAROQUE AS FUCK.

BAROQUE AS FUCK.

I'VE FALLEN AND I CAN'T GET UP.

I’VE FALLEN AND I CAN’T GET UP.

REALLY ADDS A NICE "CASK OF AMONTILLADO" VIBE TO THE DECOR, DOESN'T IT?

REALLY ADDS A NICE “CASK OF AMONTILLADO” VIBE TO THE DECOR, DOESN’T IT?

After seeing this seemingly nonsensical collection of images, she awakens on the side of the highway with a police officer knocking on her window and asking if she’s all right. She snaps out of it pretty quickly, but is still troubled by what she’s seen and heard. Despite her unease, however, she continues on to her first destination, the office of her friend Luca Fattori (Marc Porel), who is a parapsychologist and has apparently been counseling Virginia about her visions for many years. She tells him about her latest vision and he records it, though he doesn’t believe it has any particular significance.

"cagna, si prega di"

“CAGNA, SI PREGA DI.”

Virginia’s next destination turns out to be an old palazzo that is owned by her husband Francesco. He hasn’t lived in it for several years, and it looks all but abandoned, but Virginia has decided that she is going to surprise him by starting to restore the beautiful old place. The caretaker lets her in and she begins poking around. In what was previously Francesco’s bedroom, Virginia starts removing the covers from the furniture and stops cold when one of the items revealed is the antique mirror she saw in her vision. The mirror isn’t broken as it was in her psychic episode, but it’s clearly the same one. Disturbed, she starts pulling off other covers, and yes, here is the floor lamp with the red shade. She glances over at the wall behind the lamp, which of course had a large section missing in her vision. It looks normal now, but she gets closer to inspect it. At first she doesn’t see anything and laughs at her own folly, but then she notices a very faint yellowed line and what appears to be a hairline crack. Still not completely sure she should be doing this, she finds a pickaxe in the basement and goes to town on the wall. It takes her forever, and the movie almost makes us think that there’s not gonna be anything back there, but nope, Virginia’s vision is vindicated (alliteration, bitches). She finds a skeleton and summons the polizia.

It seems clear that Virginia has seen a vision of the murder that ended up with a body walled up in her husband’s palazzo. She assumes that the victim was the dead old woman she saw, and that the murderer was the limping, mustachioed man lurking around on a staircase. So she’s a little put out when her husband is picked up for questioning as soon as he arrives back from his business trip. The cops and her lawyer assure her that this is just a formality, since the skeleton was found in Francesco’s house. Virginia is certain that he is not the murderer, not only because she saw another man in her vision, but also because the estimated time of death of the victim partially overlapped with a point in time, several years earlier, when Francesco was provably out of the country. Virginia is determined to clear her husband’s name, enlisting a couple of lawyers, Luca, Luca’s perky secretary Bruna (Jenny Tamburi), and Francesco’s sister Gloria (Evelyn Stewart) in this endeavor.

NOT TO WORRY, THE ITALIANS ARE ON THE CASE. THEY HAVE PIPES. AND PROBABLY MOB TIES.

NOT TO WORRY, THE ITALIANS ARE ON THE CASE. THEY HAVE PIPES. AND MAYBE MOB TIES.

Things get confusing pretty quickly, though. First of all, it’s discovered that the skeleton behind the wall is not that of an old woman at all, but of a 25-year-old woman named Agneta Bignardi. Upon seeing a photograph of her, Virginia realizes that she is the dark-haired woman on the magazine cover in her vision. Francesco admits to having a relationship with her several years back (uh-oh). And that’s not the only fact that seems to contradict her vision: she also sees the old woman, very much alive, outside her window one night and gets several phone messages from her in which she insists she knows something about the murder. Turns out that Francesco’s sister smokes cigarettes with yellow paper, and also gives her a watch that plays the sinister little tune she heard in her vision. The man she saw in her vision that she assumed was the murderer, Emilio Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti), doesn’t have a limp, though he does seem to know something about the girl’s death and acts sinister as fuck. She finds a photograph of Agneta that was apparently taken several months after Francesco left Italy, meaning that the girl was probably killed by Rospini. Or was she?

SYMBOLISM (PROBABLY).

SYMBOLISM (PROBABLY).

The tense, nail-biting fun of this movie is seeing each of the images in her vision turning up one by one in reality, and trying to piece together how everything fits. The coolest aspect of this narrative structure (and this is a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT) is that for pretty much the first half of the movie, both the viewer and the film characters assume that Virginia’s vision was of the circumstances of the past murder. But as the story goes on, we slowly begin to realize, along with the characters, that Virginia’s vision was actually of the future, and the suspense gets more and more intense as the details begin to fill in and we realize what’s likely to happen and what exactly is at stake. It’s a self-contained and very satisfying narrative, and even though the very end leaves you going a little, “Wha…?” it’s still a taut, enjoyable ride.

Until next time, Goddess out.

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Double Your Pleasure

Twins are a well-established feature of the horror genre, and understandably so. Is there anything quite so unsettling to us singular folks as two people who appear more or less identical, but at the same time are still separate entities? Growing up, I had two sets of identical twins in my family (a pair of aunts and a pair of cousins), and while I never found them weird or scary at all, I was always fascinated as to what it would be like to have a clone of yourself living in the same house as you. Would you pull all sorts of switcheroos and other twinly shenanigans? Be able to communicate in your own invented language, or even telepathically? Murder a person and then accuse your twin, just for shits and giggles? The possibilities are staggering.

Obviously I’m not the only person who is intrigued by this stuff, judging by the plethora of horror films that feature creepy twins in either a central or peripheral role. Twins in film are generally made even more disturbing by the addition of some sort of psychic link between the pair, or perhaps a kind of bizarre incestuous relationship, or the designation of one twin as good and the other evil. A short list of films that make good use of this motif would include The Shining, City of Lost Children, The Dark Half, Basket Case, The Other, Twins of Evil, The Black Room, Jack’s Back, and, of course, the twin (ha!) subjects of today’s post.

Sisters_DeadRingers

Two of the best films in the twin-horror canon, I think we can all agree, are Brian De Palma’s Sisters (1973) and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988). Both feature a profoundly screwed-up set of identical twins played by the same actor (Margot Kidder in Sisters and Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers), both bring up some uncomfortably creepy psychosexual issues between the siblings, and both feature a sort of good/evil dichotomy between the twins, with Sisters being the more obvious example of this trope.

GUESS WHICH “TWIN” THIS ONE IS.

GUESS WHICH “TWIN” THIS ONE IS.

Sisters was not Brian De Palma’s first film, but it was the first of the fantastic Hitchcockian thrillers that he would become so renowned for, and it already shows a director with a surefooted grasp of his material. He certainly got a bravura performance out of Margot Kidder, who is absolutely astonishing and wholly believable as French-Canadian model Danielle Breton, complete with spot-on accent. Early in the film, Danielle appears on a New York game show where she meets handsome ad salesman Philip (Lisle Wilson) and charms her way into a date. The pair seem to be hitting it off, though there is the small matter of Danielle’s ex-husband Emil (William Finley) following them around, and then there’s that large, unsightly scar on Danielle’s thigh. But love finds a way, sort of, and Danielle and Philip have an enjoyable night back at Danielle’s apartment in Staten Island.

The next morning, though, things look quite a bit stranger. Philip awakens to what sounds like Danielle arguing with another woman in French. She disappears into the bathroom and scarfs some red pills, then tells Philip that she would really appreciate it if he could just pop down to the pharmacy and get her some more of the drugs, pretty please. He asks what the deal was with the French arguing, and Danielle tells him that her twin sister Dominique has come over to the apartment because it is their birthday, and Dominique is upset that Philip is there. He feels bad and offers to leave, but Danielle tells him to hang around. He agrees to come back after his pharmacy errand, and leaves the apartment. While he’s out, he spots a bakery, and being a considerate kinda guy, he ducks in there and buys a cake for Danielle and Dominique’s birthday.

Meanwhile, Danielle is back at the apartment and doesn’t appear to be doing too well. She’s screaming at someone on the phone that she’s out of pills, she’s writhing around on the bathroom floor as if she’s in terrible pain; the whole thing is just not looking terribly kosher. When Philip returns, he finds Danielle (or at least he thinks it’s Danielle) sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the living room. He quietly lights all the candles on the cake, gets a knife out of the kitchen to cut it with, then sets the cake down on the bed in front of the sleeping “Danielle.”

Wrong move, Philip.

I’M DIABETIC, YOU INSENSITIVE ASSHOLE!

I’M DIABETIC, YOU INSENSITIVE ASSHOLE!

Poor Philip gets ventilated pretty effectively, but before he dies, he manages to crawl to a window and write “help” on it in blood. This turn of events is witnessed by a neighbor across the courtyard, Grace Collier, who happens to be a journalist working for some two-bit newspaper but aspiring to much greater things. Said aspirations had previously prompted her to write a whole newspaper series on police corruption, so as you can imagine, when she calls the cops to report the murder in her apartment building, they’re reluctant to listen to her. They eventually show up, grudgingly, and she argues with them in the lobby. Meanwhile, utilizing one of his beloved split-screen effects, De Palma shows us that Danielle is apparently shocked at the carnage that Dominique has wrought. Her ex-husband Emil, who of course had been watching her the entire time, snaps into action to help cover up the murder. They roll Philip’s body into the hide-a-bed, clean up the blood streaks on the floors and windows, and generally get everything spic-and-span. By the time the cops come knocking on Danielle’s door with a squawking Grace in tow, there is no apparent trace of the murder at all, other than a single blot of blood on the back of the sofa that the annoyed cops don’t even notice. Grace tries to sneak around and do her own investigation, but the cops keep getting more and more pissed off because they don’t see any evidence that a murder has taken place. Grace plays the racial angle, accusing the cops of not caring about the victim because he was a black man killed by a white woman. As she’s snooping around, she finds the birthday cake with both sisters’ names on it in the refrigerator, and tries to bring it out to show the cops in order to claim that the charming Danielle is covering up for a twin sister who is not present. Wouldn’t you know, it, though, Grace slips on the just-cleaned floor and drops the cake before the cops can see what it said. Heh heh.

The remainder of the film has Grace bound and determined to nail Danielle for the murder, even going so far as to hire a private detective (played by Charles Durning) to break into the woman’s apartment and later follow a moving truck that took away the telltale sofa the day after the murder. During Grace’s investigation, she discovers that Danielle’s twin Dominique had actually been a conjoined twin (hence Danielle’s scar), but had died a year previously after the surgery to separate the women. So now we understand that Danielle has taken on the mantle of both the good twin and the evil, and without her pills, she manifests Dominique’s psychopathic tendencies without being aware that she is doing so.

The creepiest part of this film comes toward the end, as De Palma takes us in an unexpected direction. Grace is following Danielle and Emil, and she ends up at some sort of open-door psychiatric hospital out in the country. She watches through a window as Emil drugs Danielle with a syringe. Grace goes into the hospital and tries to use the phone to call the cops, but she is thwarted by staff and by the crazy patients. Emil appears and tells a staffer that Grace’s name is Margaret, and that she is a new patient. Grace, of course, violently protests that she is crazy, but like a dumb ass, she has left her identification in her car, so no one believes her, and the more she protests, the crazier she seems. Emil takes her away, drugs her, and hypnotizes her, giving her a post-hypnotic suggestion that she saw no body and no murder.

YOU SAW NOTHIN’, CAPISCHE?

YOU SAW NOTHIN’, CAPISCHE?

There then follows a very disturbing sequence wherein a drugged Grace has a dream in which she stands in for the insane Dominique, reliving the trials of the conjoined twins’ separation a year earlier. She sees herself on a hospital bed in an operating theater, and as she glances over, she sees that she is attached to Danielle.

WELL, HEY. DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE YOU THERE.

WELL, HEY. DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE YOU THERE.

Emil is hovering over Danielle lovingly, and the two kiss and make out while Grace/Dominique sulks on one side of the bed. “Make her go away,” Danielle begs Emil, and then Grace looks around to see all these freaky-ass looking people in the operating theater, passing a cleaver from hand to hand. Turns out that the twins were ultimately separated because Danielle was miscarrying and would have died if her sister was not detached. It’s all very nightmarish and disturbing, and it all ends up with Emil chopping the sisters apart with the cleaver, and then Danielle killing Emil with a scalpel and freely confessing to his murder (but not Philip’s), and Grace being rescued from the hospital by the police, though the post-hypnotic suggestion Emil gave her stays in effect, and she keeps vehemently insisting that there was never any murder and no body. The final, somewhat farcical shot is of the sofa containing Philip’s body sitting at an abandoned train station.

DON’T WORRY, DETECTIVE MOO MCLANAHAN IS ON THE CASE.

DON’T WORRY, DETECTIVE MOO MCLANAHAN IS ON THE CASE.

As good as Sisters is, however, it can’t begin to approach the skin-crawling weirdness of the quintessential creepy-twin movie, Dead Ringers. David Cronenberg, of course, is the undisputed master of squicky sexual perversion and gross-out body horror, his particular fascination lying in the myriad ways the body can go horrifically wrong from within, through parasitical infection (Shivers), disease (Rabid), disfigurement (Crash), techno-biological enhancement (VideodromeeXistenZ) or some other type of bizarre transformation (The Fly).

Dead Ringers, though, focuses less on the physical and more on the psychological (though there are plenty of uncomfortable Cronenberg flourishes in the form of gynecological instruments for “mutant women”).

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A GREAT DIRECTOR WHEN WE CAN TELL IT’S YOUR MOVIE FROM JUST A SINGLE STILL.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A GREAT DIRECTOR WHEN WE CAN TELL IT’S YOUR MOVIE FROM JUST A SINGLE STILL.

Jeremy Irons turns in a staggering (and award-winning) performance as twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle; his portrayal of the two characters is so effective that the viewer can ALWAYS tell immediately which twin is which, even though they are both played by the same person. Beverly is bookish and sensitive, while Elliot is cocky and borderline sociopathic. Despite their differing personalities, though, the pair are inseparably, creepily attached to each other, living together in a swank apartment and often taking one another’s place with no one around them being the wiser. “Listen. You haven’t had any experience until I’ve had it too,” Elliot tells Beverly at one point, and as the movie progresses, we see the sort of twisted dynamic these two have going on, and witness the havoc it wreaks around them.

HOW EMBARRASSING! WE BOTH WORE THE SAME THING!

HOW EMBARRASSING! WE BOTH WORE THE SAME THING!

The famous Mantle twins are lauded as geniuses in their field, showered with awards and accolades. They own a world-renowned fertility clinic in Toronto, and it is here that they meet the agent of their eventual unraveling: a beautiful, tragic actress named Claire Niveau (Geneviéve Bujold), who is in town shooting a movie. Claire desperately wants a baby, but has had no luck at any of the other fertility clinics she has visited because she is the possessor of a rare mutation, a “trifurcated cervix.” The Mantle clinic is her last hope to get pregnant, but unfortunately, even they can do nothing to help her, although Elliot, cad that he is, is quite happy to seduce her and then pass her on to Beverly when he grows tired of her. Claire, who is from out of town, has no idea that Elliot and Beverly are two separate people, and becomes involved with what she thinks is one sexy (if vaguely schizo) doctor.

Later, Claire is at lunch with a friend who has heard about her dalliance and asks her which of the Mantles she’s been seeing. Claire is shocked at the news that there are two of these freakazoids, and figures out pretty quickly that she’s been unknowingly acting as the gooey filling in a Mantle-twin Oreo. On her next date with Beverly, she asks to meet Elliot. He balks at the idea, but she insists, and in the next scene, we see her sitting down with both of them in a restaurant, clearly ready to tear them both new assholes. “There’s really no telling you apart, is there?” she says as she looks from one to the other of them. Elliot makes a joke about being a bit taller, and Claire says there’s a better way to tell them apart. “Beverly’s the sweet one, and you’re the shit.” She then tells them that she’s been through some creepy things before, but this really takes the whole perverted enchilada, and then she asks them if they have a whole routine going, where Beverly softens up their dupes with his sensitivity and then leaves the girls to be finished off by the cold Elliot, but Elliot lives up to his reputation by saying, cruelly, “Actually I fucked you first, but I passed you to my baby brother because you weren’t very good.”

APPLY OINTMENT LIBERALLY TO BURN AREA.

APPLY OINTMENT LIBERALLY TO BURN AREA.

Claire throws a drink in Beverly’s face and storms out. Elliot thinks it’s all very amusing, but then he notices that Beverly is crying. Yes, Bev has actually fallen for Claire and is heartbroken at what has transpired. Later on, he is able to convince her to give him another chance, but after she leaves town after the movie she is working on is finished shooting, Beverly spirals into depression and sinks further into the drug addiction he’d been exploring with Claire. He begins having delusions about mutant women, inspired by Claire’s cervical mutation, and has frightening-looking tools commissioned so that he can ostensibly work on these women. After attacking one of his patients with one of the tools, Beverly is suspended along with his twin. Elliot tries to straighten Beverly out, but only ends up getting addicted to drugs himself. Claire comes back and Beverly seems to get his shit together, but now Elliot is screwed. In a final, chilling sequence, the twins celebrate a “birthday” with cake and ice cream, Beverly kills Elliot with one of the gynecological tools in a symbolic gesture to “separate the Siamese twins,” and then it transpires that Beverly actually cannot live without his other half, and he dies in his brother’s arms. Creepy, creepy shit.

NOT JUDGING, BUT THEY MIGHT BENEFIT FROM SOME FAMILY THERAPY.

NOT JUDGING, BUT THEY MIGHT BENEFIT FROM SOME FAMILY THERAPY.

Twins, I suspect, are effective in horror movies because as natural döppelgangers, they can encompass the good/evil, Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy in a very direct, compact way, either as both good and evil fighting it out in the same body (as with Sisters), or being split between two “half-people” who cannot survive as individuals (as in Dead Ringers). In any case, I’m sure the twin trope isn’t going away any time soon, as it’s such an easy method to explore universal themes of the light and dark side of human nature. Hope you’ve enjoyed this two-fer post, and as always, until next time, this is the Goddess (and her evil twin) signing off.

I'M CLEARLY THE CUTE ONE.

I’M CLEARLY THE CUTE ONE.

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Time Ain’t on Your Side

Despite my oft-repeated love of subtle, atmospheric horror, I will also admit to being something of a gorehound. And I’m assuming that my fellow gorehounds will be intimately familiar with the works of the legendary Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci. Although Fulci made movies in pretty much every conceivable genre (comedies, westerns, thrillers, cop dramas), he is today primarily remembered as The Godfather of Gore, and widely beloved for scenes like these:

I’M HALF THE MAN I USED TO BE

I’M HALF THE MAN I USED TO BE

HEAD LIKE A HOLE

HEAD LIKE A HOLE

ANDALUSIAN DOGGY STYLE

ANDALUSIAN DOGGY STYLE

NO GUTS, NO GORY

NO GUTS, NO GORY

However, true to my contrarian nature, I’d like to discuss one of Fulci’s lesser-appreciated horror films, one that is perhaps not as colorful as the above examples, but serves as a reminder that the cranky, bespectacled Italian was more than capable of producing a disturbing, relatively low-key scare experience without necessarily resorting to buckets of blood and entrails.

1989’s The House of Clocks (aka La Casa nel Tempo) was actually filmed for Italian cable television, but was considered too violent for TV. It never aired, and was later relegated to direct-to-video hell. Briefly, it tells the chilling story of an elderly couple, Victor and Sarah (Paolo Paolini and Bettine Milne) who are set upon by a group of three robbers in their palatial home in the country. The gang sort-of-accidentally murders the oldsters during the attempted heist, but then they begin to notice that some weird-ass shit is going on in the spooky old mansion. The countless clocks around the place all mysteriously stop at the exact moment the couple are killed, and thereafter follows a bizarre narrative where time itself appears to be running backwards. The crotchety codgers seem to return from the dead to take revenge, but then they are apparently killed again, and then other people are returning from the dead, and then it turns out that the robbers were just high the whole time and never even entered the house at all, but then they get killed in a car crash before the robbery even happens, or something…? Anyway, like many Italian horror movies, the plot doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but if you can just go with the flow and soak up the unsettling, well-constructed atmosphere, then I think you’ll find that House of Clocks is a wonderfully eerie and underrated film in Fulci’s vast canon.*

and if you disagree, someone has a bone to pick with you.

one, you lock the target.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about this movie is its use of one of my favorite horror tropes: Malevolent Old Folks. Sure, lots of movies have spooky children, but fewer utilize the other end of the age spectrum in such an effective way. Creepy old people are creepy, I assume, for one of the same reasons that creepy children are: namely, that people tend to view both children and the elderly as rather innocent and harmless, so when they go bad, it fucks with our sense of perspective about how the world should work. Old people, though, also have the additional creep factor of being far closer to death, thus subconsciously reminding us of our own impending decline and inevitable expiration.

Victor and Sarah are a prime example of this. I find that I almost want to compare them to the evil Castavets from Rosemary’s Baby, though where the Castavets lured the Woodhouses into their web using a sort of potty charm and conscientiousness that bordered on bullying, Victor and Sarah feign a doddering helplessness to throw the gang of robbers off their game. The suspense in House of Clocks comes from the fact that viewers are aware right from the beginning that the old folks are not the sweetly genteel grandparents they appear to be. In the very first scene, for example, the sexually-ambiguous housekeeper creeps around the mansion with clear trepidation, and eventually stumbles upon a hidden chapel containing two rotting corpses in wedding clothes who have been stabbed through the throat with huge nails. And the next scene shows Victor, in his gentlemanly black suit, entering the dining room for breakfast. He picks up and pets a kitty cat, then he notices a pretty little bird sitting on the open windowsill. He feeds the bird some toast and coos at it, looking lovingly down at the tiny creature just seconds before he smashes it to death with his cane. And directly afterwards, there’s a really disturbing sequence where Victor and Sarah are in the chapel with the dead bride and groom. Victor casually hammers the bride’s throat-nail in deeper, and then brushes some dust off the groom’s coat. Sarah peers through her glasses and shakily reapplies the bride’s lipstick, then kisses her forehead. All the while, the geriatric pair are sadly lamenting to the corpses (who are their nephew and his wife, it turns out) that they were ungrateful little shits who were only after the couple’s money. So yeah, Santa and Mrs. Claus these two ain’t.

we could have just put lumps of coal in your stockings, but we decided to throat-stab you instead.

we could have just put lumps of coal in your stockings, but we decided to throat-stab you instead.

By now, you’ve probably got the gist that these fossils are definitely not to be trifled with, but Fulci isn’t done. The very next scene shows the housekeeper, Maria (Carla Cassola) approaching the greenhouse. She passes one-eyed groundskeeper Peter (Al Cliver), who appears to be digging a grave in the garden. She then goes into the greenhouse and finds Sarah fussing over her flowers. She informs Sarah that she will have to be leaving the couple’s employ to care for her mother. Sarah takes this all in stride, making sympathetic and understanding noises right before swiftly turning, grabbing some kind of spear-like garden implement, and stabbing Maria right in the delta of Venus.

YOU CAN’T QUIT, I’M FIRING YOU!

YOU CAN’T QUIT, I’M FIRING YOU!

The cool thing about the first twenty minutes of the film is that Fulci takes his time setting up the couple’s murderous streak in spades, so when the robbers show up, you’re thinking, “Oh man, did you dipshits pick the wrong house to plunder.” But then he toys with our expectations by having Victor and Sarah get blown away almost immediately.

YOU THINK A GAPING CHEST WOUND IS GONNA STOP THIS LADY? HELL NO. SHE’S A PISTOL, THAT ONE.

YOU THINK A GAPING CHEST WOUND IS GONNA STOP THIS LADY? HELL NO. SHE’S A PISTOL, THAT ONE.

It is only then that the viewer realizes that not only can the feisty seniors handily kick ass in this life, but also apparently can bend space and time to their will, making them able to fuck your shit up before you even did anything. There should be some kind of hardcore AARP for these two to join, is what I’m saying.

Also, is it weird that I sort of wish Victor and Sarah were my grandparents? Sure, you’d never, ever ask them to borrow fifty bucks to cover your electric bill, but if you were super nice and appreciative they’d probably have you over to their wicked-cool mansion for tea and scones, and if anybody ever messed with you, your beloved Nana and Pop-Pop could take care of your little problem with a minimum of fuss, even returning from the dead to do so if necessary. Just a tip, though: if Victor and Sarah do you the favor of gorily eliminating one of your sworn enemies, the least you can do is call them on their birthdays or bring them a case of Ensure or tape that Matlock marathon for them or something, for heaven’s sakes. You know, give something back, that’s all they ask.

should have given nana those coffee coupons, shouldn't you? she did ask nicely.

should have given nana those coffee coupons, shouldn’t you? she did ask nicely.

Until next time, Goddess out.

*If you’re a Fulci fan, keep watching this space, because I eventually want to do a writeup on another of Fulci’s underseen gems, 1977’s The Psychic (aka Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes).