13 O’Clock Episode 6 – Bizarre Brothers: Stewart & Cyril Marcus and the Collyer Brothers

Ah, brotherly love. It’s an ideal we can all aspire to…unless your brother is anything like these weirdos. On episode 6 of 13 O’Clock, Tom and Jenny explore the eerie and tragic tale of the infamous Collyer brothers, whose eccentricity, failing health, and rampant paranoia led them to barricade themselves in their swanky Manhattan brownstone behind 140 tons of junk and innumerable booby traps. On the second half of the show, they also discuss the weird story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, the twin gynecologists on whom David Cronenberg based his classic 1988 horror film, Dead Ringers.

Download the audio file from iProject Radio here, or watch the YouTube version here. Also, don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

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The Goddess’s Ten Favorite Creepy Books from Childhood

I told you guys I’d be back to this blog shortly, and here I am. Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to acknowledge the horrible news I heard earlier this morning: one of Nick Cave’s 15-year-old twin sons, Arthur, has died in a tragic accident, falling from a cliff in Brighton. As I’ve written before, Nick Cave is a musical and literary hero of mine, and I cannot begin to imagine what he and his family are going through right now. For what it’s worth, I extend my most heartfelt condolences.

And now on to less soul-crushing subjects. It is perhaps fitting that I chose today to focus on childhood books I loved and that helped to shape my writing identity. These ten books, among the hundreds I read growing up, have stuck with me for various reasons over the years, and I would recommend any of them unreservedly to older children and adults alike. To make the experience more authentic, I even tried to find the cover art I remembered for each book, though I failed in a couple of circumstances, because the 60s and 70s were a long time ago, folks. So, without further ado, here they are, in descending order:

FaceOfDanger

10. The Face of Danger by Willo Davis Roberts (1972)

I have no idea why this little trade paperback made such a lifelong impression on me, but such are the quirks of the writer’s brain, I suppose. It’s not strictly a horror story, being more of a gothic thriller/mystery type of thing, and it’s not really for children either, I guess, but after discovering it in one of the towering piles of books in my grandfather’s old house, I read it over and over again in total and abject fascination. It tells the tale of a homely woman named Sharlee whose face is so drastically disfigured in a car accident that plastic surgeons are basically obliged to give her an entirely new face, one that is strikingly beautiful. I was transfixed by the idea of a lifelong plain Jane suddenly being thrust into the entirely unfamiliar milieu of the beautiful people (and all their fabulous gowns, not gonna lie), and the struggles that ensued. Sharlee is whisked away to a remote mansion by her new, wealthy suitor, where it comes to pass that there’s some pretty shady shit going on with the family she meets there, relating back to the woman whose visage hers was modeled after. I haven’t read this in years, but I remember it being pretty harrowing in a “dark romance novel” sort of way. Fun fact: While I was researching this blog post today, I discovered that Willo Davis Roberts also wrote one of my other beloved childhood books, the profoundly depressing child-abuse saga Don’t Hurt Laurie. I was kind of a morbid kid, you guys.

GhostOfOpalina

9. The Ghost of Opalina, or Nine Lives by Peggy Bacon (1967)

I must have checked this out of my elementary school’s library at least a dozen times. I adore ghost stories, and I adore cats, so a book that combined those things was of course going to be like a magnet to my wee, nugget self. It’s essentially a frame story about three children who move into a rambling old house and find a talking ghost kitty with glowing opal eyes in the attic. Opalina, as she’s called, tells them all about her nine lives and the people who had lived in the house over the decades. Even though I was never a huge fan of “historical” fiction growing up, I was absolutely spellbound with this one, and I remember the illustrations (done by the author) being charming as well.

WindyHill

8. The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla (1968)

This little blue hardback was a frequent resident of my backpack and bedside table after I bought it from one of those wonderful book fairs Scholastic periodically held at my school. If I remember correctly, there didn’t actually end up being a ghost in the story (and please correct me if I’m remembering it wrong), but there was a fantastic creepiness about it just the same: The old drafty farmhouse, the mysterious woman in white with her rag bag, the tragic Bruno and his horrible father. I have a vivid memory of the mentions of the spring house (which I had never heard of before and found intriguing), and the placing of bells on the doorknobs to try to catch the “ghost.” Good stuff.

WitchesOfWorm

7. The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1972)

More feline frights! Jessica is a cat-hating pre-teen who finds a blind, hairless little kitty she grudgingly adopts and contemptuously names Worm. But apparently there’s more to Worm than meets the eye, because soon afterward, Jessica begins behaving strangely, as if the cat is possessing her and making her do terrible things. Is Worm a witch’s familiar? Is Jessica projecting her own unhappiness and destructiveness onto the defenseless animal? It’s a fascinating psychological study that never clearly states whether there’s anything supernatural going on. As an aside, I believe this was the first audio book I ever listened to (on a series of cassettes, because I am old).

FieryEye

6. The Mystery of the Fiery Eye (Three Investigators Classics) by Robert Arthur (1967)

I was a big fan of the Alfred Hitchcock-sponsored Three Investigators series. They struck me as much cooler than the Hardy Boys books, which always came across a little too goody-two-shoes for me (I was also way more into Trixie Belden than Nancy Drew, but that’s neither here nor there). I read most of the 43 books in the series at one stage or another; I think I felt an affinity with chubby smarty-pants Jupiter Jones, and I absolutely fucking loved the idea of the investigators’ headquarters being in a trailer that was hidden under a pile of scrap in a junkyard and accessed through a series of tunnels. My favorites in the series included The Secret of Terror Castle, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, and The Mystery of the Silver Spider, but Fiery Eye was hands-down my jam. I’ve had a long fascination with gemstones anyway, particularly rubies, and I was also enchanted by the busts of historical personages that figured prominently in the mystery.

HeadlessCupid

5. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1972)

Snyder’s second appearance on the list. I first heard about this book on that old PBS show with John Robbins. Does anyone else remember it? He had one called “The Book Bird” and one called “Cover to Cover”, and he would feature a book or two on each episode (I distinctly remember White Fang, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sea Egg, The Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, and Misty of Chincoteague being highlighted). Excerpts of the book would be read and he would illustrate them. I loved the crap out of that show, and though I found a few episodes of it on YouTube, the episode lists on the internet don’t mention The Headless Cupid (or Ellen Raskin’s Figgs and Phantoms, for that matter, which I also swear I saw on there), so now I’m thinking my entire childhood was a lie and I don’t know how to behave. At any rate, this book had everything that preteen me loved: weird teenage girls, possible witchcraft, a ghostly mystery in an old house. The main character of Amanda, with her pet crow, crazy braids, and silver forehead triangle, was one of the aspirational figures of my youth. I thought she was the coolest chick ever.

GhostNextDoor

4. The Ghost Next Door by Wylly Folk St. John (1972)

I loved this book so much as a kid, and for a long time afterward I only remembered the cover and the general story outline, but not the title. But thanks to the miracle of Google-Fu, I was able to track it down and revel in the magic once again. A little drowned girl, a spooky blue rose, a cement owl with marble eyes, and that vague sense of ambiguity about whether the ghost is real all added up to a chilling read. Easily one of my childhood favorites, and one that still holds up when read as an adult.

Hitchcock

3. Alfred Hitchcock’s Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense by Various Authors (1973)

I wrote a post about another of these Hitchcock-edited anthologies, Stories That Scared Even Me, right here, but this one got just as many read-throughs, and I still own a worn hardback copy of it. There are only eleven stories, but all of them are great, and I have to give it props for introducing me to what is still one of my favorite short stories of all time, “The Triumph of Death” by H. Russell Wakefield (which I discussed a bit here). Other standouts include a second Wakefield story, “Mr. Ash’s Studio,” a rare Raymond Chandler tale called “The Bronze Door,” a creepy undertaker yarn called “The Pram” by A.W. Bennett, and a horrific model-train story by Alex Hamilton, “The Attic Express.”

WestingGame

2. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)

I liked all of Ellen Raskin’s books, but this one was my favorite by a mile. It’s more mystery than horror, but I was so delighted by it that for years I’ve been contemplating doing a similar puzzle-style story (it’s actually in the planning stages at the moment, though I still have a lot of bugs to work out). The characters are hilarious, the writing sharp, the mystery intriguing. I actually re-read it just a few years back and I enjoyed it just as much. A classic. Why hasn’t there been a big-budget movie of this again?

HouseClock

1. The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (1973)

If you read this previous post, you shouldn’t be surprised that this came out on top, because it’s easily my favorite young adult book of any era, and I don’t see that changing at any point in the future (sorry, J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman). Again, it hit all the right notes with me when I first read it: There was a creepy old house with secret passages and randomly changing stained-glass windows, witches and wizards, a hand of glory, necromancy, a scary countdown to doomsday, and those wonderful illustrations by Edward Gorey. Everything about this book was magical, and every time I reread it (which I do, quite often), I am transported back to that time in my childhood when all I ever dreamed about was ghosts and witches and hauntings and delicious creepiness that I wanted to utterly infuse my life forever (which it has, to a large extent, so I’ve got that going for me). I just can’t recommend this one enough; I wanted to live in its terrifying yet whimsical world, and if offered the chance to do so now, I would not hesitate to move right into that wacky mansion in New Zebedee and pile ice cream on my hat. Just talking about the book makes me want to dive back into it and forget about reality for a while, so I’m off to snatch up my purple-globe-topped cane, peer into my history-reenacting egg, and resurrect the corpses of some evil, long-dead wizards. If I don’t bring about the end of the world through these activities, I will return with more of my nostalgic and rambling posts very soon. So 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 Don’t Fear the Ripper

I thank the universe pretty much every day that I was born at the time I was. My formative years corresponded almost exactly with the explosion of punk and post-punk, the birth of MTV, the home video boom, and the expansion of cable television into more and more homes. Yes, despite my dewy youthfulness, I am, as the kids say, “an old.” And this almost goes without saying, but get off my lawn.

Cable TV, for all you whippersnappers out there, wasn’t really a thing until about the late 70s. I spent most of my very young childhood planted in front of one of those giant faux-wooden-cabinet televisions with a dial that you turned to change the channels, of which there were three (four if you count PBS). Later on we got another channel, Fox (which was channel 35 on the dial in my area), which back in the day showed pretty much nothing but “Sanford and Sons” reruns and Hanna Barbera cartoons.

But then, when I was about nine years old, my dad began working for our local cable company, and one of the perks of his job was that he got all the cable channels for free, including the new pay movie channels, like HBO and Cinemax. Gone was the dial; now there was a large beige box that sat on top of the TV and lit up (oooooooh!). It had a slider that you used to change the channel, and I remember being so excited that there were SO MANY NUMBERS on the slider. SO MANY.

OH GOD, IT’S LIKE AN ALIEN TECHNOLOGY.

OH GOD, IT’S LIKE AN ALIEN TECHNOLOGY.

I really only went into this brief history lesson to say that a great deal of the memorable movie experiences of my youth came about because of those magical, commercial-free movie channels we were lucky enough to have. Since HBO and Cinemax were fairly new and untested at that point, they tended to show older, B-grade, or forgotten films, often in rotation several times a day (which explains how I managed to see the wincingly terrible Kristy McNichol musical The Pirate Movie roughly four-hundred times before I hit puberty).

But they showed a heap of great movies too, and one of those is our discussion film for today. It’s not technically a horror film, though I’m not sure what you’d classify it as. A science-fiction thriller, perhaps? Regardless, it was and is a perennial favorite of mine, and true to the spirit of this blog series, it did have a few creepy scenes that stuck with me over the years. Onward.

VICTORIAN PIMPIN'.

VICTORIAN PIMPIN’.

1979’s Time After Time, directed by Nicholas Meyer, had an absolutely genius premise: writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), not content with simply scribbling about time machines, has actually built one that works, though of course he is pooh-poohed by the stuffy upper-class twits he has invited over to demonstrate it to. In the middle of the little snark party, a police constable shows up and tells them that Jack the Ripper has killed again, and clues have led right back to Wells’s home. After a search of the premises, it turns out that one of Wells’s guests and close friends, John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) has left behind a medical bag containing bloody gloves. Police search for him everywhere in the house, but if you know anything about movies, you know where that slippery serial killer has gone. That’s right, he’s hopped right into Wells’s time machine and boogied right into the future to escape justice. The only mistake he made was failing to snag Wells’s “non-return” key, so that after Jack the Ripper ends up in 1979, the machine automatically travels back to 1893, allowing Wells to follow the killer into the future to try to bring him back.

Much to his confusion, Wells ends up in San Francisco in 1979, not in London as he was expecting. Turns out that in 1979, the machine is part of a San Francisco museum installation about his life. After climbing out of the roped-off machine with as much poise as he can muster, clad in full late-19th-century regalia, he sets off in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. There are some amusing scenes as Wells tries to figure out what the hell is the deal with the mind-bogglingly disco-saturated twentieth century, but these are thankfully not as zany as they could have been, as McDowell brings such grace and dignity to the role that you mostly just kind of sympathize with him, even as you chuckle at his cluelessness.

He eventually finds Jack, all right, but along the way he also finds love. Wells, being no slouch, realizes that the Ripper will need to exchange his (very old) money for modern American currency, so he starts asking at the currency desks of all the nearby banks to see if another old-fashioned lookin’ dude with Victorian-lookin’ money has been in the joint. As luck would have it, the woman managing the desk where Jack changed his coinage is the gorgeous and delightfully forthright Amy Robbins (played by Mary Steenburgen, who actually married Malcolm McDowell the year after this movie came out, though they sadly divorced in 1989). Amy is allllll about Wells’s kick-ass vintage duds, his foxy upper-crust accent, and his gentlemanly manners, and so, being a liberated woman, straight-up asks him out. Wells, taken aback but pleasantly so (he had been an early advocate of women’s rights, after all), handles the situation with remarkable aplomb, and the two become entangled.

Wells tells Amy that the man he’s looking for is a murderer, but obviously does not tell her that they have both come from the past. However, as the story goes on, Amy becomes a target of the Ripper, and Wells is forced to spill the truth in order to save her life. Though she doesn’t believe him at first (who would?), a quick trip three days into the future and a newspaper with Amy’s murder on the front page is enough to convince her. There are a lot of tense moments, many women fall under the Ripper’s knife, but in the end Wells sends the Ripper into oblivion by essentially dissolving his atoms in the machine, and the thoroughly modern Amy has decided that she loves Wells so much that she wants to go back to 1893 with him.

HOW COULD SHE RESIST THAT SCOWL?

HOW COULD SHE RESIST THAT FABULOUS SCOWL?

All that aside, let’s get to the scene. I’m going to have to recap it entirely from memory, as I can’t find it on YouTube and don’t have the full movie available to me at the moment, so forgive me if some of the details are incorrect.* As I mentioned earlier, Wells and Amy know the day and approximate time of Amy’s impending murder, since they traveled a few days into the future and saw it in the newspaper. They plan for Amy to simply be absent from her apartment when the Ripper turns up to kill her, but several things conspire to prevent this from happening. For example, the clock in Amy’s apartment has stopped (I think I’m remembering that right), so it is actually much later than she thinks it is. Also, she has been waiting for Wells to arrive so that they can leave together, but he has mysteriously failed to show. Finally, when she realizes that her clock isn’t working and that the time of her demise is nigh, she throws some clothes in a bag and readies herself to get the fuck out of Dodge on her own. As she’s heading for her front door, she sees the doorknob turning. Panicked, she drops her shit on the floor and hides in a closet just as Jack busts into her apartment, big as life and knives a-gleaming.

Unbeknownst to Amy (no cell phones in 1979, yo), Wells has been picked up by the police and is in the process of being interrogated for the killings. See, turns out police find it a little suspicious when you appear out of nowhere – wearing strange clothes, bearing no ID, and calling yourself Sherlock Holmes thinking no one in the future will get the reference – and claim to know where the killer that’s suddenly plaguing the city is going to strike next. Wells tries pretty much everything he can think of to get the police to listen to him, growing sweatier and more desperate with every glance at the clock that shows that Amy’s murder is growing ever nearer. If I remember correctly, Wells first tries to convince the police that he is simply psychic, but after a while he gives them the whole story about traveling from the past to track down the Ripper. The investigator doesn’t buy this for a second, naturally, and keeps hammering poor Wells to admit that he’s the killer. Wells sticks to his guns, repeating over and over that he is from the past, and that Jack the Ripper is in San Francisco, and that a woman is going to be murdered at Amy’s address and WOULD THEY PLEASE JUST SEND A CAR OVER THERE TO CHECK, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?!? At one point he even confesses to the murders (“I killed them! I KILLED THEM ALL!”) to try to get them off his back. He begs, he pleads, he freaks out, but nothing he does seems to convince them. At last, he looks at the clock and sees that the time of Amy’s murder has passed. He slumps down in his chair, his eyes full of tears. “Please just send a car,” he weeps, defeated, and tells them her address again. “Send a car and I’ll sign anything you like.”

The interrogating officer, apparently moved by Wells’s sincerity and perhaps hoping to get a confession, finally agrees to send two officers over to Amy’s place to see what’s what. The officers arrive and find her door ajar. They peer inside, then one of them turns his head to vomit. For the inside of the apartment is completely painted with splattered blood; it’s just covering everything. And there, lying on the carpet amid the signs of an epic struggle, is a woman’s severed hand.

In the next shot, a somber (and slightly sheepish) police inspector is informing Wells that the murder has indeed gone down as predicted. “Please believe me, I am truly, truly sorry,” says the inspector, while Wells just stares blankly ahead. “You’re free to go.”

Wells, completely grief-stricken, begins wandering the dark, empty back streets of San Francisco. He walks through a park, an absolutely heartbreaking expression on his face. The only sound is the echo of his footsteps.

Then, another sound: the eerie chime of the Ripper’s pocket watch. And then, Amy’s ghostly voice, calling Wells’s name. Wells spins around and sees Amy standing by a wall, looking every inch a spirit or a figment of his tortured imagination.

But no, Amy is somehow alive. “He killed Carol, my friend from work,” she says. “I forgot I invited her over for dinner to meet you.” And then the viewer remembers that indeed, she had asked her co-worker over on Friday night, much earlier the film. We had forgotten all about that, but the screenwriter hadn’t.

Then, there’s a closeup of Amy’s white, terrified face. “The newspaper was wrong,” she intones, in a flat, echoey voice that always creeped me the fuck out. Jack appears from behind the wall, holds a knife to Amy’s throat, and threatens to kill her unless Wells gives him the non-return key. And from there the story builds to its final climax.

"SHALL I CUT HER THROAT NOW, THEN?" HE'S THE POLITE SERIAL KILLER.

“SHALL I CUT HER THROAT RIGHT NOW, THEN?” HE’S THE POLITE SERIAL KILLER.

I can’t tell you how much I adore this film. It played approximately five times a day on one or another of the movie channels, and every time I happened to stumble across it, I would watch it again. I have to mention that the chemistry between McDowell and Steenburgen is absolutely electric, and it was no surprise to me that they married shortly after the film’s release, as it almost seemed as though the actors were falling in love for real as their characters were falling in love on screen. In addition to that, I just loved the overall story, the gore, the fish-out-of-water element of prissy Wells harrumphing around 1979. David Warner also made a great Ripper: cold, calculating and ruthless, yet still somehow alluring. “Ninety years ago I was a freak,” he says to Wells at one point, as he’s flipping through TV channels showing various violent crimes and war atrocities. “Now, I’m an amateur.”

I wonder if the real Jack the Ripper, were he somehow transported to the modern day, would say the same. Goddess out.

*ETA: A few hours after I wrote this recap, the God of Hellfire was obligingly able to find the entire movie online, and we watched the whole thing through. My memory of the described scene was fairly accurate, but there were a couple of things I got wrong. For example, the actual reason that Amy was still in her apartment when the Ripper came calling didn’t have anything to do with her clock stopping. Rather, she and Wells had been up the entire night before, trying (and failing) to prevent the murder that took place before Amy’s. The following morning, Friday, it is 10:30am when Wells announces that he needs to leave the apartment briefly (he is going against his pacifist principles and going to a pawn shop to buy a gun to defend Amy, though he doesn’t tell her this), but tells her that if he isn’t back in an hour, she should register at the Huntington Hotel and he will meet her there. The freaked-out Amy (who saw the Ripper’s fourth victim being dredged from a canal the night before) unwisely takes a sedative and a few sips from Wells’s flask, thinking Wells will be back in plenty of time to wake her up. But as he is returning to the apartment, he is picked up by the cops, who find the gun he just purchased in his pocket. They haul him away as he is screaming up at Amy’s window. The zonked-out Amy doesn’t hear him, and doesn’t awaken until an hour before her murder was predicted.

I also misremembered Wells trying to tell the police he was psychic. I remembered it that way because earlier in the film, when Wells goes to the police to give them the Ripper’s description, the police ask him if he’s a psychic and he says no. When Wells himself is dragged into the interrogation room and accused of the murders, he tells them the truth right away, and keeps telling it to them until it’s clear that they won’t send a car to Amy’s place unless he agrees to confess. He doesn’t call Amy to check on her, because he has used his one phone call to contact the Huntington Hotel to make sure she checked in (which she didn’t, hence his panic).

Another thing I had mostly forgotten was the splendid chess-like pitting of the overly idealistic and morally upright Wells against the brutally realistic Ripper, who understands all too well that the utopia Wells thought he would find in the future was never going to be anything but a pipe dream. This gave the film a bit of added depth and edge; even though Wells “won” in the end by defeating the Ripper and saving his love, he also had his illusions of human progress shattered, as he realized that the Ripper had been damnably right about humankind all along. “Every age is the same,” Wells tells Amy at the end. “It’s only love that makes any of them bearable.” Truer words, Wells. Truer words. Goddess out, again.

The Goddess Picks Her Top Five Books and Stories That Desperately Need Film Adaptations

As we all know, the book is almost always a thousand times better than the movie, but sometimes that doesn’t stop me from seeing a movie in my head as I read and desperately wishing I had unlimited funds and some measure of directing talent so I could bring my vision of these stories to the masses. My choices may be a bit idiosyncratic, but if any Hollywood execs are reading this, you’d have at least one ticket sale right here, so think about it, won’t you? For the Goddess. Oh, and by the way, if any of you aforementioned execs want to option any of MY wonderful books or stories for film, give me a shout. We’ll have a cappuccino and a chat and then maybe you can fork me over a largish check. The movie can even suck, I don’t care, so no pressure on you from my end. Thank you, and on with the list:

andtheasssawtheangel

5. And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Nick Cave is like the mad genius of all media. He’s a singer/songwriter, film score composer, screenwriter, novelist, actor, and lecturer, and miraculously, he is ridiculously brilliant at all these endeavors. It’s really not fair to the rest of us, as infinitely less awesome mortals, but I content myself with believing that Nick is actually Satan himself and has chosen to capture human souls through the sheer dark force of the splendid entertainment he produces. Nick’s first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, is a whacked-out, Faulkneresque brew of Old Testament fury and Southern Gothic excess, and any adaptation would of course have to be scripted and scored by the man himself. I’m seeing it done in sepia tones, perhaps with a hand-cranked camera to give it that otherworldly feel; bonus points if it’s also done as a silent film (since main character Euchrid Euchrow is a mute). In theaters, it should be preceded by a short film: a sinister, stop-motion animation adaptation of Nick’s 1986 song, “The Carny.”

AmelieGautreau

4. Strapless by Deborah Davis

Perhaps an unusual choice, as it’s non-fiction, but I have long been enchanted with the story of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, the haughty society woman who posed for John Singer Sargent’s most famous painting, Madame X. (I even wrote an article about her on this very blog.) It could be a fascinating study of vanity and how pride goeth before a fall, and the set design and costumes would be FANTASTIC. In fact, I wanted to see this on film so badly that I actually wrote a (not very good) screenplay a couple of years ago that interwove Virginie’s biography with a modern tale of an unstable woman participating in an art heist, but screenwriting isn’t really my strong suit, so if anyone out there would care to take the reins, I swear I won’t be mad.

Drood

3. Drood by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons’s gigantic novel, a Victorian medley of supernatural horror, drug abuse, and fictionalized biography, sees Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins on the trail of the mysterious man-creature known as Edwin Drood (who was, in real life, the main character of Dickens’s final unfinished novel). This would be a fabulously spooky cobblestone-streets-and-top-hats film in the line of From Hell or The Prestige. Missed opportunity alert: back in 2009, Universal Pictures hinted at a Drood adaptation that would possibly be directed by Guillermo del Toro (TAKE ALL MY MONEY. ALL OF IT), but sadly, that project seems to have gone nowhere.

TheTriumphOfDeath

2. “The Triumph of Death” by H. Russell Wakefield

Early 20th century author Herbert Russell Wakefield is considered one of Britain’s finest writers of supernatural horror. His 1949 short story “The Triumph of Death” is one of my favorite stories of all time, and although it was adapted once for British television in 1968 as part of an anthology series called “Late Night Horror,” I really feel that its themes of cruelty, madness and revenge could be expanded to a feature-length movie. The story isn’t really set in a specific time or place, but I’d like to see the action unfold maybe around the 1920s, in either an English village or a small colonial-style enclave in Massachusetts or somewhere like that. It should be understated, but the flashes of Gilles de Rais-style torture shouldn’t be overlooked. The vile Miss Pendleham should be played like the high-collared stepmother from Disney’s Cinderella, but in human form, perhaps by Judi Dench or Maggie Smith. This is another story that I’ve actually been itching to write a screenplay for, and I even went so far as to try to contact various people about obtaining the adaptation rights, but I seem to have hit a dead end in that regard. More’s the pity.

HouseWithClock

1. The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

With the unbelievable explosion in popularity of films based on YA literature that occurred in the wake of Harry Potter, I must say that I am absolutely flabbergasted that no one has thought to adapt this as a film. This and The Westing Game were absolutely my favorite books growing up, and I read them again and again. They both hold up amazingly well even when read as an adult. There should probably also be a good, big-budget adaptation of The Westing Game, now that I think of it, but The House With a Clock in its Walls is such a wonderfully creepy and fun story, and it could be done super dark or a tad more lighthearted, either as live action or perhaps as Tim Burton-esque stop-motion. It would actually be great if a filmmaker could capture the eerie look of Edward Gorey’s delightful illustrations, which for me added so much to the magic of the book. I feel that it should be set in a sort of mythical 1950s, and that the main character of Lewis should be a straight-laced but likable boy whose chubby awkwardness makes him at once pitiable and relatable. Uncle Jonathan should be his affably wizardly self, and witch neighbor Florence should be like a cool grandmother type. I’m seeing the resurrection scene, when Lewis accidentally raises evil wizards Isaac and Selenna Izard from the dead, as super, super scary, like maybe with a Sleepy Hollow kind of vibe. Also, the house itself should be a rambling, creepy, Victorian pile (perhaps they could even shoot the film in the real-life house the story was based on, Cronin House in Michigan), and the interiors should be suitably gothic. The sound design would of course have to include the constant ticking of that terrible doomsday clock. It would make a terrific film for kids and adults, and it’s even the first book in a series (cha-ching, Hollywood execs), though the rest of the books didn’t grab me the way this one did. Amazingly, the only filmed adaptation of this book that I know of was as one lame, cheesy third of a Vincent Price-hosted 1979 TV anthology, “Once Upon a Midnight Scary.” YOU GUYS, THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN. Gather up all of your money and diamonds and cookies and gold bars and Red Lobster gift cards and send them to whoever can greenlight this. DO IT NOW. Thank you, and Goddess out.

A Sample Short Story: “Acacia”

Acacia_constricta_flower

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

The doorbell rang. “Too late now, isn’t it?” Debra laughed ruefully. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Kevin answered the door. Anna stood there, dark hair pulled into a bun, bottle of wine in hand. “Sorry, I just remembered she probably can’t drink this.”

Debra, standing behind her husband, smiled and took the bottle. “A small glass won’t hurt me, or the little resident.” She put her hand on her midsection.

Charlotte arrived next, then Jeremy. Once everyone was inside, Kevin disappeared into the kitchen. Debra followed him, but he shooed her out. “Go on, sit with the guests. Everything’s under control.”

Fifteen minutes later, the food was on the table, and wine had been poured into everyone’s glass except for Debra’s; she wanted to save hers for afterwards. “Thanks for coming, everyone. It means a lot to me.” She looked around the table at each of them in turn, with her warmest glance reserved for her husband. Kevin squeezed her hand.

“Least we could do, honestly,” said Jeremy. “I can’t even imagine the shitstorm you must be going through.”

“Well, we can sort of imagine it,” Anna amended. “But it must be a hundred times worse for you.”

As if on cue, there was a sharp banging on the windows, and then the sound of raucous, fading laughter and epithets. Everyone around the table was silent for a few moments, then there was an outburst of uncomfortable chuckling. “Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen,” said Debra.

“You two get this all the time?” Charlotte was by far the youngest of the group, as her guileless anxiety and acne-scarred face attested. She turned to Kevin. “Door’s locked, right?”

“Yes, it is. And yes, it’s been pretty constant, but it’s nothing we haven’t weathered before.”

Jeremy tore off a chunk from his dinner roll and buttered it thoughtfully. “This case was so much bigger than any of Debra’s others, though. Maybe you should think about going away for a while, or changing your phone numbers at least.”

“It’ll blow over soon enough. It always does.” Debra patted Jeremy’s hand. “Thanks for your concern, though.”

Jeremy smirked. “No problem.”

Later, once Kevin had cleared the dinner dishes and brought out the coffee, Charlotte said. “So how does this work? Now that the trial is over, are you allowed to talk about it?”

“She’d probably rather not.” Kevin gave his wife a sidelong glance. “The point of the party was to try and forget about all that for a while.”

Debra waved a hand at him. “I don’t mind. But there isn’t much to tell.”

“She wants to know if you think Cooper did it.” Jeremy was on his third glass of wine, and his pale blue eyes were shining.

“It wasn’t my place to determine that.”

“You are painfully ethical, Debra,” said Anna. “But I’m technically not a lawyer, so I can tell you I absolutely think he did it.”

Debra raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. “You’re in the majority, then.”

“I think you thought so, too. Just a feeling I got.”

Debra sat back in her chair and pondered this. Kevin asked her if she wanted wine, and she said she did, so he got up to get it. Charlotte got up also. “Excuse me, folks, I have to use the ladies’. Don’t talk about anything interesting until I get back.”

“Same goes for me, except I need the gents,” Jeremy said. He got unsteadily to his feet.

“Top of the stairs,” Kevin said as he went into the kitchen.

When everyone was back at the table, Debra said, “Honestly, I was kind of ambivalent about Cooper. I’m not sure he’s capable of the brutality he was accused of. But I didn’t like him personally. He gave me the creeps. I felt like he kept trying to push our relationship in inappropriate directions.” She frowned into her wine glass, and then laughed. “Was that diplomatic enough for you?”

“You can’t blame the guy, Debra. You are by far the hottest and blondest of all the defense attorneys in town,” Jeremy said. “I’m still sorry I fucked all that up.”

Debra’s voice was gentle and a little teasing. “Let’s not go there, Jeremy. No more wine for you.”

Jeremy ducked his head and mumbled an apology.

The clock struck ten, then eleven, and still the guests made no motions to leave. Jeremy had sobered up but kept mostly quiet as the others discussed topics other than the Cooper murder trial: Debra’s pregnancy, Kevin’s impossible class load, Charlotte’s master’s thesis, Anna’s dying mother. Debra listened and conversed pleasantly, but as the night wore on, the exhaustion began to take a toll on her. The party had been her idea, but perhaps the stress of the trial and the ensuing media skewering had affected her more than she thought. She gave an inward sigh of relief when Kevin finally said, “Let’s wrap this up, everybody. Debra’s about to pass out.”

“God, we’re so uncouth,” Anna said. “Sitting here yapping until all hours.” She grabbed her purse from under her chair and stood up, rounding the table to set a hand on Debra’s shoulder. “Get some rest, honey. You’ve really been through the wringer.”

Jeremy spoke at last. “Anna’s right. Matter of fact, you should blow off next week, let Anna and I handle things. Just until the frenzy dies down.”

Debra raised her hand to protest, but Kevin headed her off. “I’ll make her take a break, I promise,” he said, even as Debra was shaking her head. “Good night, everybody. And don’t you dare offer to stay and help clean up. I’ll do that tomorrow.”

“We weren’t going to offer anyway,” Charlotte said with a wink.

The guests dispatched into the night, Debra tumbled into bed at just past one without even brushing her teeth. She had no idea when Kevin came to bed.

When she awoke six hours later, the sheets were covered in blood.

****

“I’m not leaving you alone.”

Kevin stood at the foot of the bed, arms crossed, face bathed in morning light.

Debra propped herself up on her pillows, wincing at the pain in her abdomen. “I’m not an invalid, Kev. You took care of me all weekend. You’ve got your classes, it’s finals week. I’ll be fine.”

He sighed. “Debra, for Christ’s sake. This isn’t a biggest badass competition. You’ve been crucified by the public since that damn trial ended, and now this…” His voice faltered, but he recovered quickly. “You’re staying in that bed getting some goddamn rest like you should have been doing before, and I’m staying right here with you.”

Debra recognized the finality in his tone. Normally she would have countered this with a more commanding finality of her own and gotten her way, but she was too drained to argue with him. She had to remind herself that he, too, was suffering a loss. With a nod, she relented.

The next day, though, she put her foot down. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him around, but she disliked the feeling of being someone’s burden. Kevin grudgingly gave in to her, on the condition that she take the entire week off from the firm, as Jeremy had suggested. She wasn’t happy about it, but maybe everyone was right, and she was only hurting herself and others by trying to be superhuman.

Once Kevin had gone to work and the house was quiet, she found herself thinking of the potential child that had suddenly vanished on Saturday morning, in a torrent of blood and agony. The pregnancy had been accidental, and at first she’d been as ambivalent about it as she’d been about Kenneth Cooper’s guilt. But in the three months since she’d found out, the idea of motherhood had become more appealing, not least because Kevin had started to change too, rediscovering a tenderness that she hadn’t even realized she’d been missing from him until it returned. It wasn’t as though they had been having problems before, but there had been a distancing, perhaps inevitable given their demanding careers and long marriage. The baby, she thought, could have been just what they needed to draw them back together.

And now it was gone.

She pulled the covers up to her chin and closed her eyes. It wasn’t the end of the world, she thought. They could always try again. She surprised herself by smiling, and then drifted off to sleep.

An insistent pounding on the front door awakened her hours later. Scowling, she turned onto her side, but then noticed that her cell was flashing from the nightstand. She grabbed it, expecting another prank call, but instead there was a text from Jeremy: “Just me. Open the door.”

Debra shrugged into a robe and picked her way downstairs. When she opened the door, Jeremy was standing there in his trim gray suit, a green-wrapped pot of bright yellow, ball-shaped flowers nearly concealing his face.

Debra couldn’t help grinning as she leaned against the doorjamb. “You shouldn’t have.”

Jeremy peeked around the blossoms. “I would take credit for these, if they didn’t look like something Dr. Seuss dreamed up. They were delivered to the office this morning.”

“Who are they from?” Debra stood aside so Jeremy could bring the flowers into the house.

“I’ll let you uncover that fun fact.” He set the pot down on the dining room table.

She pulled the card free from its envelope and read the crabbed scrawl aloud: “Thank you for everything you did for me. And so sorry for your loss. Best, Kenneth Cooper.” She looked up into Jeremy’s face. “My loss? Does he know about the miscarriage? How would he know?”

“It’s the internet age, Ms. Thorne. Everybody knows everything about everybody.”

“Hm.” She brushed her hand across the flowers, sending a fine rain of yellow powder down onto the tabletop and the slight scent of cinnamon and vinegar into her nostrils.

Jeremy tilted his head. “I’m glad you took some time off. You don’t look so great.”

“Thanks, smooth talker.”

“You know what I mean. You needed the rest.” He paused, staring down at his shoes. “And I’m sorry. You know, about the baby, and about being kind of an asshole at your party.”

“You weren’t an asshole, and it’s fine. Don’t get sentimental, it gives me hives.”

He smiled, still not looking at her. “Same old Debra.” Finally he met her eyes. “I gotta split. Go back to bed. I don’t want to see you at the office until at least next week. Deal?”

“You men, always conspiring to keep a lady down. I promise to be scarce.”

“Good. Get better, sweetheart.” He gave her an awkward hug and showed himself out.

After the sound of his car engine had faded into the distance, Debra poured some coffee and stared at the cheerful riot of blossoms. She hadn’t heard from Kenneth Cooper since the trial had ended, but he was still thinking of her, it seemed. She pulled her robe tight and tapped her foot against the floor, not sure if this was a worrying development or not. Had the card simply thanked her, she would have written it off as genuine appreciation laced with a little flirtation, but the fact that he’d mentioned her “loss” was troubling.

She was still deep in thought when Kevin came through the front door, startling her. She looked at the clock and realized it was nearly eight. Kevin answered her unasked question: “I had some catching up to do, sorry I’m late. I stopped and got Chinese, figured you’d be hungry.”

She was. They ate at the table in silence as the yellow flowers bobbed softly between them. After a few minutes, Kevin pointed. “Should I ask?”

“They’re from Cooper.”

He plucked the card from the pot and read it. His brow furrowed. “He knows our address?”

“They were at the office. Jeremy brought them by.”

He looked at her. “Is this something we should be concerned about?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Kevin nodded. “Do you need me to stay with you while you’re home?” He paused a beat. “Never mind, I already know.” He laughed, a little sadly. “Just thought I’d offer.”

She reached for his hand and twisted his fingers in hers. “I appreciate it. But let’s not freak out just yet.”

“Okay. Just let me know.” He slipped his hand from hers and went into the living room. Debra heard the TV come on.

****

The next day Debra was beginning to feel almost back to normal, which meant she also felt unbearably useless. She woke early, shortly after Kevin left, and paced around the kitchen and dining room for an hour, the flowers always skirting the edges of her vision, reminding her of her enforced quarantine. At last she grabbed the blooms and took them into the garage, where she chucked them unceremoniously in the trash.

Then she called Anna, hoping there would be some catastrophe at the firm she’d need to sort out, but Anna was unequivocal: “We don’t need you, Thorne. Stay the hell home.”

Finally Debra gave up and collapsed onto the couch, flipping the TV on. Even now, all the news networks were still harping about Cooper’s exoneration, repeating the lurid details of the crime again and again: Pretty 22-year-old victim, found in her car with her head blown off, her body a horror show of bruises and stab wounds. Cooper admitting he’d dated the girl briefly, admitting he’d been enraged when she dumped him. Debra stared at the screen flatly as her own picture appeared beside those of Cooper and the victim. Here is the apex of the sick triangle, the news seemed to whisper, the woman responsible for the monster going free. Debra turned it off and went back to bed.

It was dark when she awoke, and the house was completely silent. Blearily, she reached for her phone. Nine-thirty. She scanned her messages; all were cranks. She dialed Kevin, but got his voicemail. “Where are you? It’s late.” She hung up, feeling disembodied.

An hour later, Kevin had still not replied. Debra threw on some clothes and grabbed her keys.

As she opened the front door, something white caught her eye. She turned.

Pinned there on the door was a baby bootie, splashed with red. She slammed the door and locked it.

She called Kevin again first, but he still wasn’t answering. Next she dialed Jeremy. “Can you come over here? I think something bad is happening.” She told the same to Anna, and both told her they were on their way over. Then she called Doug, an old friend in the police department, explaining tersely about the bootie, the flowers, Kevin’s uncharacteristic absence. Doug was audibly alarmed, and promised to send an officer right away. After that, there was nothing to do but wait.

Anna arrived first, followed closely by the officer and Jeremy. As calmly as she could, Debra repeated the events in a voice that sounded robotic to her ears. Spoken aloud, the string of incidents struck her as laughably insignificant: The flowers could have been a simple well-wishing gesture, the bootie could have been one of the innumerable crazies who had harassed her in the wake of the trial, Kevin’s lateness could have a million explanations. Debra regarded her three-person audience balefully. “Sorry to make such a big deal, it sounds paranoid.”

Jeremy began to protest, but was silenced by the simultaneous sounds of Debra’s phone chirping and the officer’s radio erupting in a burst of static. Debra snatched up the phone. “Got a call,” said Doug. “Body found in a car in a parking lot off 47th. Registered to Kevin Thorne. ID on the body is his too. I’m so sorry.…”

She ended the call without answering. The officer was talking into his radio, occasionally glancing at Debra with an expression of grim consternation mixed with pity.

Debra’s legs threatened to crumble beneath her, but she managed to stay upright. Her vision swam.

“Mrs. Thorne,” the officer said, “the victim was found shot and stabbed in a manner consistent with the Cooper murder. There’s an APB out for Cooper now. Victim’s wallet was untouched, but his keys are missing. Do you have somewhere else you can stay?”

Jeremy put his hand on her elbow. “She can stay with me for a few days.”

Debra was shaking her head before she’d even fully processed his words. “That’s not a good idea, Jeremy. Cooper knows you, and Anna. If he found me, he can find either one of you. I can’t put you two at risk.”

“A hotel then. I can stay with you,” Anna said.

Debra’s phone chirped again, startling her so much she nearly dropped it. She looked down at the screen. Charlotte. She answered, and immediately the young girl’s voice was a keening litany in her ear: “Debra, have you seen Kevin? I’ve been trying to call him for hours and he’s not answering and his secretary said she hadn’t heard from him since he left today and I…”

Debra interrupted, gently. She told Charlotte everything that had happened as coherently as she could, steeling herself against the hysteria that threatened to engulf her. There was a long silence on the other end when she had finished, so long that Debra thought she’d been disconnected. Then she heard a faint sniffle. “But I just saw him, Debra. In class today.”

“I’m sorry.” She wasn’t sure why she was apologizing, but there it was.

“Do you need to stay with me?” Charlotte’s voice was barely there, a forlorn ghost. “Cooper wouldn’t think to look for you here.”

Debra hadn’t gotten to know Charlotte as well as she could have over the two years she’d been Kevin’s grad student, but the thought of commiserating with someone who knew a side of Kevin that Debra herself rarely got to see was strangely appealing. “I’d like that.”

Debra went upstairs, gathered some clothes and went back down to the living room. The officer was posted at the front door, the radio on his shoulder crackling and squawking. Jeremy’s and Anna’s faces were distorted masks.

“We’ll find Cooper, Mrs. Thorne,” said the officer.

“Yes. All right.”

Jeremy offered to drive her to Charlotte’s, and she accepted. She hugged Anna, and allowed the officer to escort her to Jeremy’s car. Neither of them spoke on the short drive, and Debra was glad.

Jeremy waited on the curb until Charlotte had opened the door. She waved to him, and then ushered Debra inside. It was a typical student pigsty, littered with dirty laundry and empty food containers, but Debra barely registered the mess. Charlotte had clearly been crying. Wordlessly, she motioned Debra into the postage-stamp kitchen, where she poured them both a glass of wine. They drank in companionable silence.

“I’m sorry all I’ve got is the couch,” Charlotte said between sniffles, once her glass was drained. “I wanted to stay up and talk, but I think we both need to sleep. Maybe we’ll wake up and things will be okay again.”

Debra had been keeping tears at bay until now, but Charlotte’s bare naiveté pushed her over the edge. “Maybe so,” she managed to say.

Once she had settled onto the musty-smelling sofa and Charlotte had disappeared into her bedroom and closed the door, Debra found herself drifting off immediately, even though she had slept for most of the day. She dreamed of her picture on the news, in a lineup that also comprised Cooper and his first victim. There was also a fourth photo, of Kevin, but half his face was obscured by a spray of red.

She wasn’t sure what time it was when she awoke, with a stiff neck and what felt like a slight hangover. The first thing she became aware of was a cheery dash of yellow on the cluttered coffee table directly in her line of sight. She focused, with effort, but for a long time she couldn’t make any sense of what she was seeing.

It was a yellow, ball-shaped flower.

Confused, she tried to struggle into a sitting position, but her limbs felt leaden. She stared at the flower, comprehension slow in coming, and then noticed that beside the flower was a white baby bootie, and propped against that was a printed photo, a blurry image that looked as though it had been taken with a cheap cell phone. The flesh tones in the photo soon separated themselves into two naked figures, Kevin and Charlotte.

There was a sniffle off to her right, and she whipped her head toward the sound. Charlotte was leaning against the kitchen door, her face red and swollen. The pistol in her hand shook slightly, but it was aimed directly at Debra’s head.

“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said, her voice thick.

She pulled the trigger.

First in a Possible Series: The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Why the Fuck Does David Lynch Freak Me Out So Much?

Yesterday, as I was indulging in that great American pastime of frittering my workday away on the internet, I suddenly and quite inexplicably became obsessed with reading various publications’ rankings of the top 100 horror films and scenes. Unlike a large majority of the commenters on these pieces, I don’t so much read these types of posts to quibble with the films that were chosen or get into a lather about ones that were left off; I am, rather, simply very interested in what films other people chose and why they felt the way they did about them. The list I liked the best, incidentally, was this one from TimeOut London that was ranked according to votes from various horror heavy-hitters. It is, in my opinion, a great, diverse list that pretty equitably spans all genres and eras of horror and even threw in a few curveballs and non-traditional choices. Besides that, the recaps of the films were in-depth, informed, and insightful.

Reading all these lists inspired me to do a similar thing on this blog, though frankly I think I will stick to just calling out particular scenes in horror films that stuck with me through the years, and try to analyze why they made such an impact on me. That’s not to say that I might not do a “Goddess’s Top 100 Horror Films of All Time” one of these days, but at the moment I have a lot of other projects pending and don’t have enough free time to rewatch all the films I’d like to feature just so I can remember specifics. So consider this the first in a series of however many of my favorite creepy movie scenes that I’d like to write about. 🙂

The scene I’m going to feature first was a no-brainer for me; it was the first one that popped into my head when I decided to do this series. I have always said (to myself, mostly) that many of the scariest scenes in film don’t even come from what would normally be considered horror films. For a long time, I thought I was pretty much alone in this opinion, but then, in all my horror-list wanderings, I came across retroCRUSH’s 100 Scariest Movie Scenes. And right there, at number one, was SWEET VINDICATION.

WinkiesSign

Winkie’s. Fucking. Diner. *shudder*

If you have not seen David Lynch’s masterful 2001 mystery Mulholland Drive, kindly do yourself a favor and get on that shit tout suite. For real, I’ll wait. It’s a sinister layer cake of creepy-awesome that rewards multiple viewings, like a rich, nightmarish puzzle that taunts you with its dark, schizophrenic glamor.

The setup of the five-minute diner scene is mundane in the extreme. Minor characters Dan (Patrick Fischler) and Herb (Michael Cooke) are sitting in Winkie’s Diner in broad daylight. Dan is telling Herb about a recurring dream he’s had that took place in the very diner they’re sitting in. It all sounds fairly humdrum until Dan says that there is a man behind the diner. “He’s the one who’s doing it,” Dan says, though he doesn’t elaborate on what ‘it’ might be. “I can see him through the wall.” He then tells Herb that he hopes he never sees the man’s face outside of a dream, with the implication that the face is too horrible for him to describe. Dan looks sweaty and intense and apprehensive as he talks, haltingly. Later in the scene, Herb takes Dan outside in an attempt to show him that the man in his dream is not really back there, and this goes about as well as you’d expect.

PEEKABOO!

PEEKABOO!

What is it about this scene that gives me the heebie-jeebies every single time I watch it? It isn’t the most obvious “scare,” the sudden appearance of the nightmare man from behind the dumpster. That’s sort of freaky when it happens, in a jump-out-of-your-seat way, but it’s not particularly dread-inducing. No, the scariest part of the scene is everything leading up to that: Dan’s strangely rubbery facial expressions and lopsided nervous grins, the flat affect of his voice as he describes the dream, the way he seems to say a great deal without saying much at all. One particular moment that actually caused a chill to rocket up my spine was when Dan was saying that Herb had also made an appearance in the dream. “You’re standing right over there…by that counter.” The camera pans slowly over to the counter, at which no one is currently standing, then focuses back on Dan’s anxious face. “You’re in both dreams, and you’re scared.” A few minutes later, Herb goes to pay for their lunch, and thus actually is standing right where Dan saw him standing in the dream. The men share an extremely unsettling glance across the diner. Also rather nerve-wracking is the men’s walk out to the dumpster behind the diner. Every shot, every camera angle, every edit as they walk seems pointedly calculated to be as skin-crawlingly sinister as possible, but without being obvious or overtly frightening in any way. It’s a fantastic trick, and I wish I could figure out how Lynch so effortlessly achieved it.

The retroCRUSH rundown also pointed out that this scene should absolutely not be as eerie as it is, because Dan basically describes exactly what’s going to happen, and then it happens. Normally structuring a scene like that would only serve to take away any tension, but in this scene it’s precisely the opposite. There is an inevitability to the scene; both Dan and the viewer know that something bad is going to happen, but neither are able to prevent it, and the dread the viewer feels in Dan’s stead makes the scene, for me at least, very difficult to watch without looking away.

I am amazed that Lynch managed to film such an ominous scene out of elements that are anything but scary at first glance (other than the nightmare man’s horrible face, that is), but I’m even more amazed by the fact that he’s done it more than once. Lynch is a master at something I tend to call time displacement, for lack of a better term. He has filmed several scenes in which the line between reality and nightmare is blurred, of course, but he also seems to have a similar predilection for playing with overlapping timescales, characters being in two places at once, and that type of thing. In 2006’s Inland Empire, for example, the intensely freaky-looking Grace Zabriskie (as Visitor #1) points to an empty couch in Laura Dern’s house and tells her that if it was tomorrow, she would be sitting right. Over. There. And then suddenly it is tomorrow, and Laura Dern is sitting exactly where the old woman said she’d be sitting. There is also the famous scene from Lost Highway (1997), where a white-faced Robert Blake tells Bill Pullman that not only is he standing there talking to him, but at the same time, “I’m at your house right now.” Every single scene Lynch has filmed like this has freaked me right the hell out, and I can’t quite put my finger on why that might be. Perhaps because when done well, these scenes serve to undermine the fulcrum of reality and make the viewer feel completely adrift in a universe that makes no rational sense. Or maybe it’s the fact that Lynch, better than any other filmmaker in my opinion, is cursedly skilled at portraying the incongruity of dreams on film, so that we almost feel as though he’s directly tapped into our collective subconscious and forced us to look unflinchingly at what’s lurking there. Or it could be his consummate talent for utilizing slightly off-kilter facial expressions, camera shots, voice inflections, and background sounds to convey an unsettling mood. Whatever the reason, I suppose it just goes to show that in the right hands, traditional horror movie monsters and situations have nothing on a simple shot of the back of someone’s head, or a strangely intense glance, or a daylight stroll through a diner parking lot.