13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: Maggie

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Horror Double Feature: Clown and Mercy

Today’s double slice of Netflix horror goodness runs the gamut from scary killer clowns to…well, scary killer grandmas. I never said it was a particularly wide gamut, did I? On we go.

So, back in 2010, cheeky monkey movie-writing-and-directing dudes Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford made a fake trailer for a fake horror movie called Clown, which to the surprise of no one, was a poignant, tasteful, and poetic tribute to the grim determination of the men and women who survived the Great Depression.

Just kidding, it was about a child-eating clown demon.

Anyway, these two scamps had the large brass cojones to put, “From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth” right there in the credits of their trailer, even though Eli Roth had absolutely never heard of these miscreants in his entire life. But there is a lesson here, folks: Namely, that sometimes if you’re ballsy and sneaky enough, you can sometimes get what you want, whether you really deserve to or not. Point being, this little stunt they pulled got back to the actual Eli Roth, who was amused by their brazenness and intrigued by the concept of the fake movie, so when Watts and Ford decided to make Clown for real, Eli Roth agreed to be one of the producers.

The 2014 film has a fairly straightforward premise: Main character Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) is a realtor as well as a lovable husband and dad, and he has booked a clown for his clown-loving son Jack’s (Christian Destefano) birthday party. Unfortunately, there is a mix-up at the clown-renting establishment, and the party clown can’t come. Kent (very fortuitously) stumbles across a clown suit in the property he’s been fixing up for sale, and he slaps that bitch on and entertains all the kids at his son’s party, Dadding like a boss. His wife Meg (Laura Allen) is so pleased with him that she even gives him a little clown lovin’ later that evening, which is frankly a sentence I thought I’d never type, but here we are.

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The problem arises on the following morning, as Kent slowly begins to discover that the clown costume refuses to come off. The rainbow wig has grown into actual hair, the clown white cannot be scrubbed away, and the bulbous red nose takes most of his actual nose with it when Meg yanks it off with one of her dental tools. Kent has also developed an unbelievable appetite, and his stomach makes disgusting gurgling noises as if he’s still hungry even after he’s eaten everything in the house (and left a giant mess in the kitchen for his poor wife to clean up, I might add. MEN, amirite?).

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Kent’s condition begins to deteriorate rapidly, and when he eventually tracks down the brother of the previous (deceased) owner of the suit, a man named Herbert Karlsson (Peter Stormare), he discovers that, obviously, the suit is not a costume at all, but the skin and hair of an ancient child-eating demon called a clöyne. Herbert has a scary hand-drawn book about the critter, as you would, and he informs Kent that the only way to get rid of the demon is to behead the person wearing the suit, which in this case would be Kent. Kent is shockingly not down with the beheading, and fights his way out of Herbert’s shop, but he soon begins to realize that the demon is quickly taking over and that he suddenly has an insatiable desire to eat children. Don’t we all? (No.)

In order to protect his family, he goes into hiding at one of his more down-market properties, but the hunger is beginning to gnaw away at him (heh), and at some stage he decides he’s going to have to kill himself. As grim as that sounds, it’s actually pretty hilarious watching clown-Kent trying unsuccessfully to blow his brains out with a pistol and getting nothing but a gaudy spray of rainbow-colored blood on the wall for his efforts, and then rigging up a super-elaborate rotating-saw contraption to try to lop his own head off (which unfortunately only succeeds in breaking the saw blade, which flies off and kills a nearby child, which Kent then eats).

Oh, and I forgot to mention that apparently, the clown curse can be broken if Kent eats five kids. Meg figures this out by discovering that Herbert had once worn the suit and turned into the demon himself, but had reverted back to normal after his cancer-doctor brother fed him five terminally ill kiddoes. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, this ain’t.

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At the climax of the film, clown-Kent goes on a bloody child-munching spree in a Chuck E. Cheese’s, of all places, and his devoted wife Meg, who still believes that Kent can be saved, actually kidnaps a young girl she sort of knows with the intent of her being the fifth sacrifice that will bring Kent back to normal. But Kent has other plans, and wants his own son Jack to be the fifth kid, which of course Meg is not on board with, leading to the final showdown between mallet-wielding Meg and kiddie-snacking clown-Kent.

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As a movie, Clown is obviously not a grand artistic statement or anything, and yeah, killer clowns are kinda played, but I actually thought this flick was a lot of fun. The premise is amusingly ridiculous, the clown transformation is well-handled and delightfully squicky, and you have to give props to a movie with the stones to kill and mutilate children with such wicked glee. As body horror goes, I’ve seen way grosser, but the gore here is nicely done and should satisfy fans of blood and guts.

The humor is also rather subdued, which I liked a lot, as I think it made the movie funnier than it would have been if they’d gone over the top with it (I swear, I laughed for five minutes at that rainbow blood when Kent shot himself in the head, and also at that framed black and white photo of the kid that had been picking on Jack…as the God of Hellfire pointed out, “Look, it’s his bully portrait”). Besides all that, the main character of Kent remained believable and even sympathetic up until the end. Like I said, not a deep metaphorical horror story or anything, just a big, dumb, fun flick to watch with your friends while cramming popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, and delicious children into your mouth-hole.

Next up, a movie from Blumhouse that somehow kinda flew under everyone’s radar, even though its pedigree would have suggested a much wider release and much more hoopla. Mercy, which was dumped straight to VOD in 2014, is based on Stephen King’s short story “Gramma” (from 1985’s Skeleton Crew collection) and stars Chandler “Carl Grimes” Riggs from The Walking Dead.

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Obviously, the movie takes some liberties with the source material, as “Gramma” was a fairly compact, simple tale about an eleven-year-old boy who gets left alone to look after his terrifying grandmother, and after she “dies,” discovers that she might be housing a demon. While Mercy keeps this general outline for the final portion of the film, a whole bunch of characters and plot intricacies are added in to flesh out the story, and not all of these additions were completely necessary, in my opinion.

One thing I did like about Mercy was that the titular grandmother (Shirley Knight) was actually portrayed at first as a sympathetic character, if somewhat witchy, and that her grandson George (Chandler Riggs) was shown as being best friends with her. It is only as the movie progresses, as Mercy gets older and has to go to a home after having a stroke, that Mercy’s demon possession becomes more pronounced and she turns into a monster.

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In brief, George, his mom Rebecca (Frances O’Connor) and older brother Buddy (Joel Courtney) have to move back to Gramma’s house in the country to take care of her after she becomes bedridden and the nursing home can’t handle her bizarre outbursts anymore. George is excited to see his beloved Gramma, since he hasn’t seen her in a year, but he is disappointed to find out that his Gramma is a lot different than he remembered.

Over the course of the film, we discover that Gramma Mercy actually sold her soul to a demon named Hastur when she was young, because she was infertile and desperately wanted children. Indeed, she soon got the children she wanted, but the cost was that her goodness slowly began to erode away, and it got to the point where her husband couldn’t take it anymore and committed suicide (by splitting his own face in half with an ax, no less, which is quite a feat if you’ve never tried it).

George (and his mom, to a lesser extent) wants to believe that the good Gramma is still in there somewhere, but the local priest and George’s drunken uncle Lanning (Mark Duplass of the previously-discussed Creep, in easily the film’s most entertaining performance) believe that the evil has completely taken over, and maybe even that Mercy was always evil. After George is convinced to water down Gramma’s meds with saline solution, thinking the meds are what is making her batshit, she starts acting up in all kinds of crazy ways, doing creepy Satanic chants and killing Lanning (and a few others) stone dead.

The final act of the film follows Stephen King’s story pretty closely, as George’s brother Buddy gets wounded and Mom has to take him to the hospital, leaving George alone with his now completely possessed Gramma, who dies on his watch before various other demonic shenanigans ensue. Much like the original story, we’re not entirely sure whether the demon actually succeeds in getting passed on to George, or whether he ultimately defeats it, though it’s suggested that the latter scenario is the case.

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This movie…I admit I’m kind of ambivalent about it. It looked fantastic, and I love witch/demon stories, especially ones with a bit of a Lovecraftian flair like this one has. The general cinematography was gorgeous and evocative, the “weeping book” imagery was cool and a rad addition to the story, the performances were pretty strong throughout (except Chandler Riggs, who is not bad, but just Chandler Riggs-y, y’know, and hey, don’t hate, I love The Walking Dead). I just thought that the story could have been simplified and streamlined more, which I guess is a pretty weird thing to say about a movie that was only 78 minutes long, but in a way, the fact that it was so short meant that maybe they should have expanded more on a few ideas instead of just giving short shrift to all the extra concepts and unnecessary characters they had rattling around in there.

Like, for instance, as much as I love Dylan McDermott, who was his character exactly in relation to the main family, and why did he need to be in this, and what was the point of the flirtation between him and George’s mom that never came to anything? What was with his character’s apparently Satan-worshipping wife with the scary demonic paintings? What was with the creepy black dog/hellhound deal? Why the crazy aunt escaping from the asylum only to get killed instantly? And was she the one who sent the verbena? And why was it necessary that George have a ghost/imaginary friend? (I mean, I guess I understand that the girl was supposed to be his Gramma’s pure soul before she got possessed or whatever, it just seemed a strange way to get that across).

See what I’m saying? A lot goes on in this thing, and because there are so many characters and plot threads in what is essentially a pretty straightforward demon-possession story, a lot of the tendrils are just kinda left hanging and underdeveloped. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie…it’s definitely not. Hell, it’s not even a bad Stephen King adaptation, and Lord knows there are shit-tons of those. It’s enjoyable enough, and creepy and entertaining as this type of thing goes, but I didn’t feel like it was anything particularly special. Just fair-to-middlin’, as my own (non-evil) Gramma used to say.

That’s all for this installment, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

13 O’Clock Episode 51 – Haitian Voodoo and Zombies

Zombies are pretty ubiquitous in pop culture, what with all your Walking Deads and your George Romeros and what not. But the origins of the zombie, of course, lie in the voodoo practices of Haiti, and are less about flesh-eating ghouls than about using death-mimicking drugs to enslave your enemies. On this episode, Tom and Jenny explore the curious world of the Haitian zombies, including the famous case of real-life zombie Clairvius Narcisse, the study of the supposed “zombie powder” undertaken by anthropologist Wade Davis, and various other aspects of the zombification process as well as mythology surrounding the procedure and various digressions about zombie movies and the differences between zombies and vampires. Call the bokor to resurrect you from your grave, because it’s time for episode 51.

Download the audio podcast 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. And be sure to check out our list channel, 13 O’Clock In Minutes! AND SUPPORT US ON PATREON!!! For iTunes listeners, here is a link to the new feed.  Songs at the end: “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” by Alien Sex Fiend and “I Am Legend” by White Zombie.

The Goddess Picks Her Top Five Most Emotionally Wrenching Moments from “The Walking Dead”

As much as I like to use this blog to discuss older and lesser-known horror films, TV shows, and books, I have to confess that I, like millions of others, am endlessly captivated by The Little Zombie Drama That Could. Every Sunday night during the season, the GoH and I can be found piled in our recliners in front of the TV, bouncing up and down with anxious excitement to see what awful shit is gonna go down this week with characters that at this point almost seem like members of our own family.

I actually find it really cool that a straight-up horror series—with copious gore and a decidedly gray morality—has made such deep inroads into popular culture. Twenty or thirty years ago, proposing a serious drama based on a comic about a zombie apocalypse would have got you laughed out of every TV exec’s office in America, and yet today, “The Walking Dead” is the most successful cable television series OF ALL TIME, regularly pulling in millions and millions of viewers in its Sunday night time slot and even more on DVR. I think the secret to its success, aside from the admittedly awesome gore and violence, is the terrific acting, the depths of the relationships portrayed, and the way it gives viewers the chance to put themselves in the middle of the terrible moral decisions the characters have to face and wonder what they would have done in the same situation. At least that’s what I’ve always liked about it.

I’ve not yet had a chance to read the comics, so I don’t have a point of comparison for the scenes I chose as the most emotionally taxing for me. I don’t care if it didn’t happen that way in the comic, or if it was so much better in the comic, or whatever. This is based on the TV series only, and I guess it goes without saying, but there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS below. You have been warned. Onward.

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Tyreese Goes Out for a Bite

This is the most recent scene that slayed me, having only occurred on last night’s (as I write this) mid-season premiere of season five. At this point in the show, I really like and root for all the remaining main characters (except maybe Father Gabriel), so ANY death is gonna have me reaching for the tissues, no matter whose it is. This couldn’t have been said for previous episodes, by the way, as Beth’s end earlier this season, while kind of a bummer, didn’t really bother me that much, and Andrea’s death at the end of season three had me cheering, because come on. It was Andrea. Nobody liked Andrea.

Anyway, last night’s episode, titled “What Happened and What’s Going On,” saw Rick, Glenn, Michonne, and Tyreese traveling to Richmond, Virginia to take Noah back home to his family. Noah had helped Beth when they were both prisoners at Grady Memorial, and Rick felt that completing her mission of getting Noah home would be the best way to honor the departed Beth. Unfortunately, this being the show it is, things very quickly turn ugly. The walled neighborhood where Noah had been living has been raided and overrun, and everyone is dead. Noah insists on going into his house to see his dead family, and Tyreese insists on accompanying him. While inside, Tyreese is distracted by photos of Noah’s twin brothers, and is set upon by a walker, who bites him on the forearm (at which point both I and the GoH screamed, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” simultaneously). The zombie fever begins to set in, and Tyreese starts to hallucinate many of the dead characters, who either chastise him for his failings or tell him that everything is better now that they’re dead. The episode toys with your emotions big time: Tyreese was only bitten on the forearm, you think, and Michonne is right outside the house with her katana. If they find Tyreese in time and chop off his arm (as they did with Herschel’s leg), then maybe he can still survive! COME ON, SHOW, DON’T KILL OFF TYREESE!!! And indeed, the gang do find Tyreese and cut off his arm, as you would. They fight through a horde of zombies and pile Tyreese into their waiting SUV. Rick radios ahead to Carol and tells her to get everything ready so they can cauterize the wound. TYREESE IS GONNA MAKE IT, YOU GUYS!!! YAAAAYYYYY!!! But then, Tyresse begins hallucinating the dead characters again in the car. Uh oh, you think. And indeed, I’m sad to say, your “uh oh” was justified. The next scene shows the SUV stopping in the middle of the road, and the gang dragging the dead Tyreese out of the back seat. Cut to his funeral, with Father Gabriel presiding. Fuck. FUCK. I liked Tyreese a lot, and I felt like he was just coming into his own as a character. FUCK. Rest in peace, ya big teddy bear. Sigh.

Note: There was a lot of foreshadowing in this episode, what with all the zombie torsos in the truck, and the hint that the town was taken down by a group of bloodthirsty humans. Readers of the comic are already speculating that this could portend the introduction of big bad Negan and/or the zombie-skin-wearing Whisperers, so we’ll see how that goes.

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Rick Goes Full Shane, Gets His Teeth Into It

Holy shit, this scene. Coming from the season four finale, “A,” which was one of the very best episodes of the series in my humble opinion, this stunning sequence sees Rick, Michonne, and Carl camping out in the woods on their way to Terminus. They are set upon by the assholic Claimers, who are seeking revenge on Rick for killing one of their gang. It’s looking pretty bad; our heroes are outnumbered and outgunned, and it looks like both Carl and Michonne are gonna get a raping, and that all three of them are then gonna get blown away or beaten to death. But then Daryl, who had been traveling with the Claimers but had been hanging back in order to make his escape, intervenes and tries to give his life for Rick’s. The Claimers ain’t having it, and proceed to beat the stuffing out of Daryl. But Rick, sent into a Shane-worthy rage by the sight of some fat fuck attempting to rape his son, head-butts main Claimer Joe, then gets the drop on him and TEARS THE GUY’S THROAT OUT WITH HIS TEETH. Holy SHIT, y’all. In the ensuing melee, the good guys kill all the Claimers, and Rick takes the would-be rapist and slowly guts him from stem to stern. Brutal and amazing, and the point at which Rick comes completely to terms with the world as it is now. A great, GREAT scene, and the one that caused the loudest screams from the GoH and myself when we first saw it.

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The Problem With Lizzie

Let me just say that Carol is one of my favorite characters on the show. She started out the series as such a shrinking violet, but she has had the most interesting character arc by far, simultaneously embodying the caring mother figure while also being completely willing to make and act upon the hardest decisions when no one else will do it. While I still question her pre-emptive murder of Karen and David at the prison in order to try to stem the influenza outbreak, I feel like her heart is always in the right place, and I think the group needs her to take care of business, particularly when that business is morally repugnant and awful. In a way, she’s almost like a good-guy version of Merle, in that she’ll step up to do the “dirty work,” but with a much more defined moral center and a highly developed instinct to do what she feels will be best for the group.

Her resolve is tested, though, in another of the all-time best episodes, season four’s “The Grove.” Carol and Tyreese have been heading toward Terminus with three children in tow: Lizzie, her sister Mika, and Rick’s baby daughter Judith. There have been hints for several episodes that Lizzie is really not right in the head, but so far Carol and Tyreese have been able to keep her mostly under control. However, it soon becomes clear that Lizzie’s strange ideas about the walkers and her sadly broken brain are making her a terrible danger. While Carol and Tyreese are distracted, Lizzie kills her sister and waits for her to turn, in order to demonstrate to her caretakers that the walkers are still people. She also seems set to murder Judith next. Carol, holding back tears, plays along with Lizzie’s delusions in order to get her into the house and away from the baby. A heart-wrenching conversation with Tyreese ensues, in which they come to the conclusion that Lizzie will have to be eliminated for the safety of everyone else. Can you imagine having to make such a decision about a child in a world in which there is no longer any help or resources for treating mental illness? Carol, badass woman that she is, takes on the mantle of responsibility, telling Lizzie to “look at the flowers” (which was Mika’s calming phrase whenever Lizzie was having one of her panic attacks) and then shooting her right in the head, execution style. Devastating. And not only that, but in this episode, Carol also confesses to Tyreese that she was the one who killed Karen, and bravely hands Tyreese a gun and tells him that he may kill her if he cannot forgive her. Tyreese does forgive her, and they live to fight another day. I fucking love Carol.

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Herschel Loses His Head

It’s really ironic, because when the character of Herschel Greene was introduced in season two, I really couldn’t stand the dude. He was unpleasantly rigid, delusionally religious, and willing to put his own family and Rick’s group in danger because of his stupidly unrealistic ideas about the walkers. Sure, he saved Carl, and his medical expertise was a tremendous boon, but to be honest, if Shane had killed him after the barn clear-out, I wouldn’t have been the least bit upset about it. But then, dagnabbit, Herschel came to his senses and turned into the awesome, grandfatherly, moral backbone of the show, a man who was happily willing to sacrifice his own life to save others and who was always there to take the high road and get things done when Rick lost his shit after Lori’s death. I loved Herschel so much in the later seasons that I actually felt bad that I had once rooted for his demise. And of course, because I loved him, the show had to fuck all that up.

The good guys, still holed up at the prison, fall prey to a second incursion by the Governor, who has taken Herschel and Michonne hostage. Rick tries to reason with the man (never a great idea), telling him that they can all live in the prison and work together for the common good of Rick’s people and the innocent people of Woodbury. The Governor, being a psycho, doesn’t want any part of a sissy-ass compromise, and to demonstrate his commitment to general evil and craziness, grabs Michonne’s katana and chops off Herschel’s head right in front of the horrified heroes. The shots of Maggie’s and Beth’s screaming faces behind the fence was almost too much for me to take, and I ain’t ashamed to admit it. Poor fuckin’ Herschel. He was such a fantastic character, so necessary to the group’s cohesion, and to have him taken out in such an ignominious way was like a punch in the gut. It made me hate the Governor even more (which I suppose was the intention) and feel tremendous satisfaction at his eventual death. Damn. I really should stop watching this shit; I think it’s giving me a hint of PTSD.

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The Search for Sophia

The first half of season two was all but consumed with the endless search for Carol’s lost daughter Sophia, and though some viewers complained that it went on for an unrealistically long time, I think that particular plot arc was an important catalyst for a lot of the interpersonal dramas playing out among the characters. The search finally brought the aloof Daryl completely on board with the group, for example, and it brought the group closer than ever before as they banded together to pursue a noble goal. Besides that, it gave everyone something to hope for, a purpose. It also brought the conflict between the brutally practical but unstable Shane and the still-trying-to-be-the-good-guy Rick to a tragic head as they struggled over leadership and direction of the group.

In “Pretty Much Dead Already,” Shane, who despite his batshittiness is actually correct that the search for Sophia is taking up too much of their time and resources, has learned that Herschel has been keeping (and feeding) a bunch of walkers that had once been his family members and neighbors. The zombies are all locked up in the barn, and much conflict ensues as the group try to reconcile Herschel’s wish to keep the walkers with their own wish to, y’know, not have a horde of zombies milling around only yards from where they sleep. Rick hems and haws, not wishing to piss off Herschel and alienate the only man who can safely deliver Lori’s baby, but finally Shane has had enough and decides to take matters into his own hands. He gathers up the guns and a few people in the group who agree with him, busts open the barn, and mows all the zombies down.

At the end of the carnage, we think the barn is empty, but just then, the door opens a little, and out emerges…a zombified Sophia. She has been dead in the barn for the entire time the group have been looking for her, and if that revelation didn’t hit you like a freight train, then you’re probably dead inside. Rick steps up and tearfully shoots Sophia in the head while Carol howls in grief in Daryl’s arms. Holy SHIT. This scene codified so much of the ensuing story; it made Rick question his leadership, it justified a lot of Shane’s previously questionable opinions, it woke Herschel up to the fact that the world had gone to shit and he’d better pull his head out of his ass and deal with it. It also unified the group once and for all, and directly led to the final showdown between Shane and Rick, which ended up with Rick having to take on some of Shane’s less savory characteristics in order to keep his people alive. Pretty much all the badass character traits that everyone took on in later seasons was directly attributable to that one scene, and as such, it is probably my favorite of the entire series.

Honorable Mentions: This post was long enough as it was, but I also wanted to give a shout-out to two more scenes that got me right in the feels. First was the scene in which a horribly distraught Daryl has to kill the zombified Merle, who had redeemed himself before his death by taking out a bunch of the Governor’s henchmen. The other scene was, surprisingly, the death of Lori. I never really liked Lori as a character, as many viewers didn’t; I thought she was a manipulative bitch who purposely set Rick and Shane against each other for her own bizarre reasons. But the scene where she tells Maggie to go ahead and perform the Cesarean section that she knows will kill her was pretty damn hard to watch. Maggie’s reaction, Lori’s final speech to Carl, and the subsequent reaction of Rick when he first lays eyes on the baby and realizes that Lori is dead, were pretty fucking shattering. So there’s that.

Agree? Disagree? Fight it out in the comments, if you’re so inclined. Until next time, Goddess out.