Tag Archives: horror podcasts

Fright Club: Maybe a Vampire

So many vampires – so many! And then there are all these other guys who may or may not be. Sometimes it’s hard to say. Sure they drink blood, but do they really need to? Let’s explore.

5. Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Sure, Nicolas Cage is a whore, a has-been, and his wigs embarrass us all. But back before The Rock (the film that turned him), Cage was always willing to behave in a strangely effeminate manner, and perhaps even eat a bug. He made some great movies that way.

Peter Lowe (pronounced with such relish by Cage) believes he’s been bitten by a vampire (Jennifer Beals) during a one night stand. It turns out, he’s actually just insane. The bite becomes his excuse to indulge his self-obsessed, soulless, predatory nature for the balance of the running time.

Cage gives a masterful comic performance in Vampire’s Kiss as a narcissistic literary editor who descends into madness. The actor is hilarious, demented, his physical performance outstanding. The way he uses his gangly mess of limbs and hulking shoulders inspires darkly, campy comic awe. And the plastic teeth are awesome.

Peter may believe he abuses his wholesome editorial assistant Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso) with sinister panache because he’s slowly turning into a demon, but we know better.

4. The Transfiguration (2016)

Milo likes vampire movies.

Eric Ruffin plays Milo, a friendless teen who believes he is a vampire. What he is really is a lonely child who finds solace in the romantic idea of this cursed, lone predator. But he’s committed to his misguided belief.

All this changes when Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), another outsider and the only white face in Milo’s building. A profound loneliness haunts this film, and the believably awkward behavior of both Ruffin and Levine is as charming as it is heartbreaking.

The Transfiguration is a character study as much as a horror film, and the underwritten lead, slow burn and somewhat tidy resolution undercut both efforts.

Still, there’s an awful lot going for this gritty, soft-spoken new image of a teenage beast.

3. The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Writer/director Philip Ridley has a fascinating imagination, and his film captures your attention from its opening moments.

Seth Dove lives with his emotionally abusive mother and his soft but distant father, who run a gas station in rural Idaho sometime after WWII. Seth’s older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) is off serving in Japan. Seth has decided that the neighborhood widow Dolphin Blue (a wonderfully freaky Lindsay Duncan) is a vampire.

Positively horrible things begin to happen, each of them clouded by the dangerous innocence of our point of view character.

The film plays a bit like a David Lynch effort, but with more honesty. Rather than the hallucinatory dreaminess Lynch injects into films like Blue Velvet (the most similar), this film is ruled by the ferociously logical illogic of childhood.

With this point of view, the realities of a war blend effortlessly with the possibility of vampires. Through little Seth Dove’s eyes, everything that happens is predictably mysterious, as the world is to an 8-year-old. His mind immediately accepts every new happening as a mystery to unravel, and the jibberish adults speak only confirm that assumption.

This film is a beautiful, horrifying, fascinating adventure unlike most anything else available.

2. Cronos (1993)

In 1993, writer/director Guillermo del Toro announced his presence with authorty by way of this tender and unusual “vampire” flick. Del Toro favorites Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman star. Luppi is Jesus Gris, the elder statesman, an antique store owner, loving husband and doting grandfather.

Perlman plays Angel, a thug – what else? Angel’s miserable but very rich uncle wants an Archangel statue from Gris’s store, but the real value has already found its way into Gris’s veins.

A vampire film of sorts, it’s a beautiful story about faith and love – not to mention the real meaning of immortality. Performances are wonderful, and watching this masterful filmmaker find his footing is the real joy.

1. Martin (1978)

Martin (John Amplas) is a lonely young man who believes he’s a vampire. He may be – the film is somewhat ambivalent about it, which is one of the movie’s great strengths. He daydreams in black and white of cloaks, fangs and mobs carrying pitchforks.

Or are those memories? Does Martin’s uncle hate him because Martin, as he claims, is really in his Eighties, as his uncle would surely know? Romero has fun balancing these ideas, tugging between twisted but sympathetic serial killer and twisted but sympathetic undead.

Romero’s understated film is more of a character study than any of his other works, and Amplas is up to the task. Quietly unnerving and entirely sympathetic, you can’t help but root for Martin even as he behaves monstrously. It’s a bit like rooting for Norman Bates. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but you don’t want him to get into any trouble!

The film’s a generational culture clash wrapped in a lyrical fantasy, but quietly so. It’s touching, gory at times, often quite tense, and really well made. That, and it’s all so fabulously Seventies!


Fright Club: Evil Steps in Horror

The evil stepmother has been a source of fear and dread for eons. The Grimm brothers knew it – they disliked stepmothers as much as they disliked wolves. Horror has picked that same scab again and again over the years, but it’s not just that mom-substitute that you need to worry over. As we discover this week, stepdads – especially the heavily bearded, axe-wielding variety – are just as problematic.

5. The Stepfather (1987)

Years before Terry O’Quinn gained a following on Lost (or West Wing or Alias or Millennium), he crafted a memorable villain out of a weakly written toss-off of a horror flick, creating, in turn, a movie worth a second look.

With an idyllic suburb-turned-nightmare hellscape, the film opens like John Carpenter’s Halloween, the camera wading through the falling leaves and quiet street before stopping on the window of one particularly unpretentious little home. Inside, O’Quinn quickly and effectively establishes character. This is an actual character, not a cookie cutter psycho, and on the strength of his performance, this bloody confection of 80s family values works.

O’Quinn’s Jerry Blake marries into fatherless homes, ever seeking the perfect family. As soon as he sees the reality of familial bliss, he decides his family is a disappointment and slaughter ensues. As the film unspools, Jerry’s new brood, including Charlie’s Angel’s Shelley Hack, as well as Jill Schoelen, as her 16-year-old daughter, show signs of fatigue already.

Stepfather explores ideas of the exclusivity of the American dream and the inexplicable popularity of shaker knit sweaters. Mostly, though, it mines that same tension that worked so well for the Brothers Grimm: the fear inherent in taking on a step parent, in that they not only represent the finality of the loss of a beloved, but the possibility that the new household head to which you must submit will actually bring you danger.


4. Amityville Horror (1979)

Back in the Seventies, Long Island residents Kathy and George Lutz caused quite a stir with their tale of a diabolical house that nearly killed their whole family. The cultural hysteria they stirred led to a bestselling book, at least ten feature films and a documentary. The most famous of the cinematic efforts was the 1979 flick, a picture that followed the Lutzes as they took one step inside 112 Ocean Avenue and screamed, “Oh my God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

But, the house was really cheap, what with the former tenants having all been slain by their oldest son/brother Ronald DeFeo, so the Lutzes turned a blind eye to the hideous décor and moved right in.

James Brolin and his hair star as George Lutz, newly married to Kathy (Margot Kidder), new father to her three kids, serious wood cutter. George goes a little nuts, and who can blame him? There is obviously not a single decent barber in all of Long Island, and he’s sunk his life savings into a lovely home that sits atop the gateway to hell. (Honestly, though I always thought Tiffin, Ohio was the gateway to hell, the actual gateway lies beneath Columbus, OH. It’s true. Look it up.)

The film seems like low-level exploitation for director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke), whose approach is more melodramatic than horrific. He rode the cultural hysteria to big box office, but his effort feels a little silly now. Maybe it’s the red-eyed pig out the window?

3. The Snowtown Murders (2011)

John Bunting tortured and killed eleven people during his spree in South Australia in the Nineties. We only watch it happen once on film, but that’s more than enough.

Director Justin Kurzel seems less interested in the lurid details of Bunting’s brutal violence than he is in the complicated and alarming nature of complicity. Ironically, this less-is-more approach may be why the movie leaves you so shaken.

An unflinching examination of a predator swimming among prey, Snowtown succeeds where many true crime films fail because of its understatement, its casual observational style, and its unsettling authenticity. More than anything, though, the film excels due to one astounding performance.

Daniel Henshall cuts an unimpressive figure on screen – a round-faced, smiling schlub. But he brings Bunting an amiability and confrontational fearlessness that provides insight into what draws people to a sadistic madman. There’s not a false note in his chilling turn, nor in the atmosphere Kurzel creates of a population aching for a man – any adult male to care for them, protect them and tell them what to do.


2. Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A lurid Korean fairy tale of sorts – replete with dreamy cottage and evil stepmother – Jee-woon Kim’s Tale of Two Sisters is saturated with bold colors and family troubles.

A tight lipped father returns home with his daughter after her prolonged hospital stay. Her sister has missed her; her stepmother has not. Or so it all would seem, although jealousy, dream sequences, ghosts, a nonlinear timeframe, and confused identity keep you from ever fully articulating what is going on. The film takes on an unreliable point of view, subverting expectations and keeping the audience off balance. But that’s just one of the reasons it works.

The director’s use of space, the composition of his frame, the set decoration, and the disturbing and constant anxiety he creates about what’s just beyond the edge of the frame wrings tensions and heightens chills. The composite effect disturbs more then it horrifies, but it stays with you either way.

Tale masters the slow reveal, and the dinner party scene is a pivotal one for that reason. One of the great things about this picture is not the surprise about to be revealed – one you may have guessed by this point, but is nonetheless handled beautifully – but the fact that Tale has something else up its sleeve. And under its table.

1. Night of the Hunter (1955)

Robert F. Mitchum. This may be the coolest guy there ever was, with an air of nonchalance about him that made him magnetic onscreen. His world-wizened baritone and moseying way gave him the appearance of a man who knew everything, could do anything, but couldn’t care less. And perhaps his greatest role in definitely his best film is as serial killer/preacher Harry Powell in the classic Night of the Hunter.

The iconic film noir sees Mitchum as a con man who cashed in on lonely widows’ fortunes before knocking them off. He’s set his sights on Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), whose bank robber husband had been a cell mate before his execution.

What unravels is a gorgeously filmed, tremendously tense story of Depression-era terror as Powell seduces the widow and her entire town, but not her stubborn son. Many of the performances have that stilted, pre-Method tinge to them, but both Winters and Mitchum bring something more authentic and unseemly to their roles. The conflict in styles actually enhances an off-kilter feel director Charles Laughton emphasizes with over-the-top shadows and staging. It gives the whole film a nightmarish quality that, along with Mitchum’s unforgettable performance, makes Night of the Hunter among the best films of its era.