By Kristin Battestella
You know we love us some psychotic slashers, demented families, and asylums!
Deranged – You’ll never look at Home Alone the same way again after seeing Roberts Blossom in this 1974 AIP slasher! Deaths simmer thanks to fine build ups, suspense, and pursuits – not to mention the gross necrophilia possibilities, skin wearing, morbid transvestite extremes, human bones about the house, and au naturel instruments adding to the macabre ambiance. The sense of dementia, local language, warped small town unassuming, and backwoods suggestion create an ironic old time quaint, accented by bent organ music and askew religious views. Corny narrator Leslie Carlson (Black Christmas) appears in early scenes as an onscreen reporter recounting the Ed Gein true story genesis, but the fourth wall breaks smartly disappear as the second half escalates. Brief nudity and lingerie work with the appropriately dark humor as well while over the top quips, chubby women, fake séances, and bungling sex innuendo match the sinister planning and delicate but twisted craftsmanship. The acting and cast may not be in everyone’s style today, yet the performances fit the material and tone perfectly. Thanks to the sense of past isolation for contemporary audiences, the very effective mood, atmosphere, and disturbia here has aged fairly well, making this one a must see study for horror fans or criminal and psychology scholars in comparison to other Gein inspired pictures.
Stoker – A cryptic start, bizarre opening credits, distorted visuals, a superficial avant-garde, and CGI that’s a little too noticeable interferes with this 2013 family creeper penned by Prison Break alum Wentworth Miller and starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode (Brideshead Revisited). Fortunately, the abstract setting, older radios, cool cars, symbolic saddle shoes, retro fashion, cursive ink, and operatic flair create a mid century affluence – the camerawork need not call attention to itself thanks to an already intriguing funeral and awkward relations. Photography placing the dark and red ladies in competition or in suggestive poses with the ominous man of the hour does much better, and quick editing between multiple locations builds criminal suggestion, helping to balance the waiting for something to happen pacing and unevenly kinky and murderous tone. Brief cell phones and flat screen TVs airing obviously parallel animal predator programs spoil the mood a bit, but a solid phone booth appearance makes up the difference. Director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) does layer too much style over substance, but this is indeed a straightforward first time script too reminiscent of other thrillers. Wasikowska’s India is a pretentious small game hunter turned anti social peas in a pod, and her escalating killer instinct, sexual awakening, and hunter versus prey reflection are no great surprise. Throwaway relatives toppers and a flashback history that could have started the picture are tossed in late despite fine fifties innuendo, familial catalysts, interesting characters, repeat viewing requirements, and the potential to dig deeper. Ironically more Hitchcockian and Grace Kelly-esque than her ill-received Grace of Monaco, Kidman is clearly in saucy pursuit of her brother-in-law, but she’s not as stupid or desperate as she seems. Goode, of course, is the noticeably creepy uncle feigning sexy older cool while being even more skivvy via dialogue laced with subtext and French flavors – gardens with soft soil for digging deep, young wine not ready to be popped, and all that. Though not horror per se or really all that scary, this is worth seeing through to the end thanks to the macabre, old school feeling and quirky, entertaining disturbia.
The Ward – Director John Carpenter (Halloween) keeps the suspense, mystery, and twists going in this 2010 psychological thriller. Yes, I would have liked more sixties in the 1966 setting beyond a few cool cars, some music, and old school nursing. Granted, Amber Heard (Pineapple Express), Mamie Gummer (Evening), Danielle Panabaker (The Crazies), Lyndsy Fonseca (Desperate Housewives), and Laura-Leigh (We’re the Millers) do well for the most part but still seem too modern for the decade onscreen. Absolutely, wise horror viewers will shout at the television over the physical impossibilities, obvious connections, unoriginality, clichés, and plot holes from writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (Dark Feed) – if I say what films this is almost exactly like, it will spoil the whole thing! Fortunately, Jared Harris (Mad Men) is a quality, ambiguous mix of helping and hurting as the therapist of the hour, and there is some sharp editing, smart camerawork, and a hint of mid century fashion to set the scary mood. The sinister mental hospital with drugs, hypnosis, vengeful ghosts, undead possibilities, and of course, electroshock therapy also adds to the creepy atmosphere. Perhaps some of Carpenter’s tense scoring or an elder classic horror actor might have brought the heavy needed here, but I feel this should also be seen twice for full effect. Though there are still too many recent horror hang ups keeping this from being Carpenter’s best, the action doesn’t resort to today’s expected major gore, sex, or nudity and remains a step above recent slice and dice crazy pictures thanks to his stylized mental explorations, crisis, and fears.
You’ll Go Mad if you Watch…
Psychosis – I must say, recent horror movies that start with long, cool credits montages are always a bit iffy, and this 2010 Charisma Carpenter (Buffy and Angel) creepy goes downhill from there. I’ll give it a plus for decent gore, but grungy folks with a killer in the middle of a snowy nowhere- it feels like every new horror film start out this way, replete with a driving montage to boot. We wise horror viewers know what’s going to happen, even if the script is confusing and not forthcoming behind the typical rich American woman crime writer with mental history in a foreign country with a creepy old house whiff. The Brit slang and styles are goofy, too, and the entire design is very dated with old technology and no cell phones. Three lame make outs, sex scenes, a boyfriend faux scare, and exploring scenes in the first half hour don’t help the plot and premise and only lead to stupid scary movie cliché character mistakes. This isn’t slow, foreboding mystery, just poor development and a seriously erroneous husband element. Carpenter’s fans can enjoy her wow youthful 40 here, but the nudity won’t be whom they want to see. Actually, the cheap tease nature here feels almost PG-13. It takes awhile to find out what in the hell is happening with all this mess, about an hour and twenty minutes. Unfortunately, it’s a 90-minute movie.