It might only be the third weekend of January, but the new horror flick Mama is already in the running for worst film of the year. These type of children obsessed ghost stories (dating back to The Ring) are a dime a dozen, and they are usually awful but harmless. Mama, on the other hand, refuses to rest on its clichéd laurels, and instead defies all logic and genre conventions to deliver not one, but two, overly convoluted (and downright stupid) back-stories to explain its improbable tale. Which isn’t to say the film (if it can even be called a film) doesn’t shove every cliché down our throat from the creepy kid (times two!) to the insane-for-no-reason-other-than-the-plot-mother to the weird-noise-making-bending-backwards-ghost.
Inspired by the fan-boy raving over at Condemned Movies and in anticipation of the June release of Ridley Scott’s prequel/not-a-prequel hybrid Prometheus, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Scott’s iconic Alien and Cameron’s raucous Aliens.
I have such fond childhood memories of Scott’s Alien. Even though I first watched it at a very young age (I think it must have been around the time of Aliens‘ release so I would’ve been about seven), it’s not memories of the film scaring me that I remember most, but memories instead of my parents telling stories of how it scared them when it came to theaters in 1979, also the year of my arrival into the world. There was pent-up giddy kid-wild anticipation in the Schleicher household as our parents regaled tales of the shock and horror and the downright badass spookiness of Alien – a film that took old-school monster-movie horror and melded it with a new wave of gritty futurism. It was both a throw-back film and pop-avant-garde. And I remember feeling truly special when my parents finally let us watch it. The initial shock of the chest-bursting scene lasts with me to this day as well as fractured fairy-tale memories of a an android that bled milk, an acid-filled face-hugging bug, a pretty girl in her underwear, and a kitty that must be rescued! Continue reading
There’s an interesting moment about twenty minutes into Drew Goddard’s debut film, The Cabin in the Woods (co-scripted by Joss Whedon) where an inanely bad CGI bird comes gliding down into the open space outside a mountain tunnel and crashes into some kind of invisible electrified grid imprisoning any living thing that travels through the tunnel. As if the weirdly mundane pre-credit sequence featuring Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford wasn’t enough to clue viewers in…this moment reminds us that something conspiratorially massive is afoot. Is this “snarky and attractive college kids are about to get stalked and killed in the woods” flick really just some sadistic reality show? Is it all just an overly elaborate set-up for a modern-day spin on yee olde human sacrifice game?
But the bad CGI bird hitting the electrified grid is deliberately misleading because it doesn’t prepare you at all for Goddard’s gleefully bonkers denoument…a rollicking special-effects laden and gore-strewn twenty minutes of balls-to-the-walls horror show fun. I don’t know how else to describe it but to say it’s as if the ”Imaginationland” episodes of South Park went live-action meta-horror. The whole thing is wonderfully paced to lull you into thinking it’s going through the genre motions only to defy every expectation you have of a modern horror film. Continue reading
In a telling bit of dialogue about a fourth of the way through Cary Fukunaga’s impeccably directed adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a brooding Rochester (Michael Fassbender) asks the alarmingly beautiful Jane (Mia Wasikowska) to tell him her tale of woe. You see, all governesses have tales of woe. They make great stories.
While Jane Eyre targets the refined literary crowd with its tale of woe and romance, the surprisingly adept but still a bit creaky contemporary haunted house tale of woe, Insidious, targets the not-so-fickle horror crowd.
Nineteenth century feminist literature is not typically my cup of tea. I’ve not read Bronte’s tale. Nor have I ever seen any previous film adaptation, and they are legion. But like the works of Shakespeare, I know the story. Rave reviews, including a most excellent piece from Wonders in the Dark‘s own Sam Juliano, peaked my interest. Superb production values, understated but quietly sweeping cinematography, and a note perfect score from Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli help make this a world-class endeavor.
But the greatest appeal of this latest adaptation (apart from the uniformly excellent performances) is Cary Fukunaga’s direction. Continue reading
Looking at the poster above, you would think the new sci-fi horror flick Splice was some kind of cloning-era mish-mash of Alien and Species. Based up the trailers, you would think that too. On the surface all would point to this. Well, golly, who knew you would be so wrong?
The film opens with a terminally hip power couple turned scientists-du-jour (Oscar winner Adrien Brody and indie film darling Sarah Polley) working for a pharmaceutical company (headed by a cold and demanding French woman played by Simona Maicanescu) splicing away to create a new species that can be used for the harvesting of therapeutic and disease curing genes. Upon threat of being shut down and not allowed to continue their experiments, Polley’s character has the awful idea to splice in some human DNA on the sly — just to see if they could’ve done it, you know, that old song and dance. The result — you guessed it — is a fast growing super-freaky French mutant (Delphine Chaneac) with wings and a long-tailed stinger who likes to play Scrabble.
But lurking underneath the guise of this well-worn Frankenstein-style think piece is a depraved little piece of American Gothic hullabaloo complete with hysterical women and family secrets. Continue reading
***This is the first post in a new feature I plan to showcase here at The Schleicher Spin called Spotlight on the Independent Arts.
The goal is to give exposure to, encourage collaboration with, and provide honest critiques for independent artists. I hope to feature filmmakers, writers, photographers, painters and musicians. As an independent author, I feel it’s important to support and celebrate those working independently to forge their careers in the arts.
If you are an independent artist interested in having your film, book, music or art considered by The Schleicher Spin for a Spotlight feature, please submit a comment.
The first entry will focus on the IFC film, The Skeptic, written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell.
Independent Film: The Skeptic
The Lowdown: An emotionless lawyer (Tim Daly) inherits the creepy, old house of his recently deceased aunt. To get away from his crumbling marriage, he moves into the house and quickly encounters strange occurrences and uncovers family secrets which challenge his militant skepticism of all things paranormal. Continue reading
Finally…a horror film for old people. Remember back in the early 1990′s when Columbia (do they even exist anymore?) tried to revive the old Universal Horror Films by using Francis Ford Coppola’s gloriously trippy Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their flagship film? I can recall being a precocious kid and seeing the film with my parents when it opened in the theaters around Thanksgiving. And I remember the audience being half filled with senior citizens who were all enthralled, half achy with nostalgia and half scared out of their wits. My parents, the old folks, my friends and I…we all ate it up back then. It was a hip, fun, scary ride totally tricked-out with every old-fashioned cinematic trick Coppola could conjure, loaded with sex and gore and over-the-top scenery chewing performances. Dialed way down and about fifteen years late, but brimming with that same sense of fogged-covered nostalgia mixed with modern gore, Joe Johnston’s gleefully un-hip update of The Wolfman would’ve been the perfect follow-up film to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Heck, we even have Anthony Hopkins — Van Helsing himself — chewing more scenery than we’ve seen him chew in years as the senior member of the cursed Talbot clan. Continue reading
The Schleicher Spin now proudly presents:
A Guide to a Great Halloween Horror Film Festival
Step One: Set the mood with the classics.
- Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932) — Though religious persecution was a dominant theme in Dreyer’s canon, this moody piece of work was his one attempt at pure horror. This plays like a filmed night-terror and contains so many dreamy, spooky, and downright bizarre images that you’re left with but one choice: surrender to the Dane’s macabre vision. The corpse’s-eye-view of a funeral procession is a special delight that has yet to be matched in nearly 80 years of cinema. Continue reading
Summer was coming to a close in 1985 and in the fall I would be starting kindergarten. I was five years-old when my parents took my brother and me to the drive-in one Saturday night to see Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. On the screen behind us, they were showing the vampire flick Fright Night in an otherworldly silent glory against the backdrop of a moody moonlit sky. I can vividly remember sitting in the folded down backseat of my mom’s hatchback car and stealing every single shot of Fright Night I could between nervous chomps of pretzel sticks and sips from juice boxes before the folks caught on. There was something magical and exciting about getting a peak at those gloriously fiendish and gory scenes from Fright Night completely disembodied from any plot or dialogue while Pee Wee Herman did his bit in the background much to our annoyance. By far, those scenes in that context were the scariest things I had ever laid eyes on. It’s a memory the movie-lover in me will never forget.
Flash forward almost twenty-five years later, and here comes Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, which just might be the most fun I’ve had at the movies since that night at the drive-in lying under the covers in the hatchback dreaming of the days when I would be old enough to watch movies like Fright Night whenever I wanted. Continue reading
Henry James’ classic novella from 1898, “The Turn of the Screw” opens with a group of friends discussing ghost stories:
“I quite agree–in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was-that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have been concerned with a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children–?”
“We say of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that two children give two turns! Also we want to hear about them.”
Whereas Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula is most thought of as the ultimate example of a horror story expressing the dangers of Victorian Era repression, there is no tale more subtly crafted around the theme than Henry James’ ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.”
What has kept readers like myself up all night lost within its pages is the slow, methodical pacing and build-up that lead to a shocking climax. Part of the suspense is in laboring through James’ carefully constructed, sophisticated, overly wordy, and charmingly antiquated prose. You read on because you get a creeping sense of the disturbing subtexts while waiting almost painfully for something to happen at the end of all this analysis and talk.
Reading the novella in turn brought me to watch the 1961 film adaptation The Innocents. It astounds as one of the best examples of a film honoring the spirit of its literary source material while standing alone as something purely cinematic. It’s also creepy as hell in that very reserved old fashioned Victorian Era kind of way. I highly recommend reading the novella first, and then viewing the film to compare and contrast.
CAPTION: Oh, let’s not get hysteric. What would Freud say?
Atmospheric Translation of Classic Ghost Story, 5 May 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is a wonderfully atmospheric film translation of Henry James’ classic Victorian Era ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.” Highlighted by stunning black-and-white cinematography from Freddie Francis (who later worked on David Lynch’s The Elephant Man) and fabulous set designs, The Innocents stays very close to James’ text while adding a few cinematic elements (like the music box, highly suggestive visual symbolism, and the reading of a macabre poem) as it weaves its tale of a governess (Deborah Kerr) trying to unravel the mystery surrounding some strange apparitions on a lavish country estate where she cares for two young children displaying some odd behavior.
The brilliance of the film and the original story is in the ambiguity. There are two logical interpretations: the governess is slowly going mad, or the estate is haunted. Regardless of which interpretation you take, there is still plenty of room to intertwine the disturbing Freudian subtexts involving the governess’ repressed emotions and what the children have actually seen, heard, known, or experienced. I can’t think of a more refined or subtle exploration of what happens when an adult transfers or projects their own psychological hang-ups onto children in their charge than James’ quietly suspenseful potboiler.
The performances are a bit melodramatic at times, but note perfect in their proper context, with Kerr prissy but sympathetic and the children expertly performing the sudden turns from innocent angels to sinister manipulators. The Innocents does feature some dated sound effects that come across as annoying rather than creepy, but the visuals and the shrieking climax are what will stick with the viewer. Unlike recent (and for the most part very worthy) modern updates on the story like The Others and The Orphanage where a twist ending reveals the only true interpretation of the ghastly events, The Innocents leaves it all to the imagination of the viewer. The imagination, it seems, can be a very dangerous thing with which to play.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: