Tag Archives: Rosemary’s Baby

Fright Club: Side Characters, Part 1

This episode is years in the making. We’ve talked about doing this, jotted down ideas and characters, debated — and now it’s finally here. Well, half of it, anyway. There’s just no way to reasonably fit the best side characters—those fully deserving a film of their own—in just one podcast. So here is our list, in alphabetical order (no need to rank them!). This one’s for the ladies.

Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould), Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Smartly dressed, thoughtful, loving, misguided, and as if a creature from an entirely different film. She made a decision and, sure, Angela probably should have been a part of that decision-making process. But it wasn’t Aunt Martha’s fault that Paul was a no-good cheater. Or that Judy was such an asshole. I mean, yes, that surprise at the end was due in large part to Aunt Martha, but as for the campers—they had it coming.

Mademoiselle (Catherine Begin), Martyrs (2008)

What a presence. Commanding, calm, wizened and weary, Catherine Begin’s Madamoiselle has such resigned decisiveness that it’s almost impossible to argue with her. She turns something that could have easily become torture porn into a mesmerizing glimpse at zealotry.

Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon) Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Ruth Gordon earned an Oscar as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse’s busybody neighbor Minnie Castavet, wife of Roman and nonplussed chief operations officer of the coven. Yes, Roman made a good figurehead, but somebody has to just keep things moving. And as long as she ate the mouse, everything’s fine.

Mother (Fons Rademakers), Daughters of Darkness (1971)

One of the many glorious things about Harry Kumel’s decadent 1971 vampire fable is the way it feels like two or three different films colliding into one elegant bloodletting. Mother casts a looming shadow over one of those storylines, that of a young, beautiful couple recently married, Stefan and Valerie. Even before they’re ensnared in Countess Bathory’s love web, Stefan (an irredeemable asshole if ever there was one) needs to figure out how to break the news of his nuptials to Mother.

Whenever a new character makes you simply need to hear an entirely other story, one focused on whatever they’re not telling you about that character, you know you have a winner. The way Fons Rademakers pets his butler’s head, holds court in the greenhouse, and wields unspecified but somehow sinister power over Stefan begs for its own movie.

Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), The Omen (1976)

From the moment she takes the screen, Mrs. Baylock is the new sheriff in town. She quietly yet immediately takes control of the Thorn household. If you didn’t know who was alpha, you only need to see who the dog listens to. Yep, Richard Thorn is in trouble. To say nothing of his poor, useless wife Catherine.

Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein), Poltergeist (1982)

Walks in the house, owns the place. Tangina is a force of nature with a soft little lilt and a no-nonsense approach to cleaning the Freeling house. Her confidence gives the character more than a huckster vibe, although there is a sense of showmanship to everything she does. But when she is addressing the living, it’s best not to give trick answers.

Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek), Pet Sematary (1989)

Scary as hell. Sure, the cat, little Gage, that guy with the brain on the outside of his skull—all of it has its horror charm. But the real nightmare in Mary Lamber’s adaptation of the Stephen King tale is Rachel Creed’s guilty memory of the sister who terrified and horrified her, the sister she believes died—at least in part—due to her own negligence and hatred. Thanks to the angular, monstrous vision of Andrew Hubastek in a nightdress, all contorting ribcage and spine, Zelda became easily the scariest thing in the film.

Fright Club: Hooray for Hollywood!

The Harvey Weinstein story is a horror film all its own, but there are echoes of it across the genre. When you are desperate to accomplish something and there are those with power who can manipulate your success, victimization is the likely result in horror. We salute the best films that see Hollywood ambition as death and corruption in the making.

5. The Neon Demon (2016)

“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

So says an uncredited Alessandro Nivola, a fashion designer waxing philosophic in Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Bronson, Drive) nightmarish The Neon Demon.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an underaged modeling hopeful recently relocated to a sketchy motel in Pasadena. Will she be swallowed whole by the darker, more monstrous elements of Hollywood?

Hollywood is a soulless machine that crushes people. The world objectifies women, a toxic reality that poisons everyone it touches. Small town girl gets in trouble following her dreams in Tinseltown. There’s nothing new here. To manufacture something, it’s as though Refn replaces fresh ideas with bizarre imagery.

The film is not without its charms. Like Only God Forgives, the longer you wander through this nightmarish landscape, the more outlandish the dream becomes.

And you know what? Keanu Reeves isn’t bad. Huh!

4. Starry Eyes (2014)

Sarah (Alex Essoe) is an aspiring actress in LA and a bit of a delicate flower. She lives in a complex full of other aspiring actors, but she doesn’t hang out with them or participate in their low budget indie circle – they believe she thinks she’s too good for them. Then she auditions for a part, does some things on camera for the audition she regrets, behaves weirdly in the bathroom, and is invited to meet The Producer.

On the one hand, Starry Eyes offers an obvious plot about selling your soul for success, dressed in a cautionary tale about Hollywood. But the writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are much more sly than that. Yes, the insights they provide about the backbiting lowest rungs of the Hollywood ladder abound, but they are far more compassionate than what you routinely see.

Also fascinating is the clever use of the protagonist Sarah – she begins as our empathetic heroine, our vehicle through the daily degradation of trying to “make it.” But the filmmakers have more in store for her than this, and Essoe uncomfortably peels layer after layer of a character that is never fully what we expect.

Look for outstanding, witchy appearances by genre veteran Maria Olsen, as well as a spot-on Louis Dezseran. They will make you uncomfortable.

3. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? Yes, please!

The two then-aging (just barely, if we’re honest) starlets played aging starlets who were sisters. One (Davis’s Jane) had been a child star darling. The other (Crawford’s Blanche) didn’t steal the limelight from her sister until both were older, then Blanche was admired for her skill as an adult actress. Meanwhile, Jane descended into alcoholism and madness. She also seemed a bit lax on hygiene.

Blanche winds up wheelchair bound (How? Why? Is Jane to blame?!) and Jane’s envy and insanity get the better of her while they’re alone in their house.

Famously, the two celebrities did not get along on set or off. Whether true or rumor, the performances suggest a deep, authentic and frightening hatred borne of envy that fuels the escalating tension.

Davis is at her unhinged best in a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination. Crawford pales by comparison (as the part requires), but between the hateful chemistry and the story’s sometimes surprising turns, this is a movie that ages well, even if its characters did not.

2. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Not Hollywood – Germany. But actors are putting their fate in the wrong hands for the sake of stardom nonetheless.

E. Elias Merhige revisits F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu with smashing results in Shadow of the Vampire. Wickedly funny and just a little catty, ‘Shadow’ entertains with every frame.

This is the fictional tale of the filming of Nosferatu. Egomaniacal artists and vain actors come together to create Murnau’s groundbreaking achievement in nightmarish authenticity. As they make the movie, they discover the obvious: the actor playing Count Orlok, Max Schreck is, in fact, a vampire.

The film is ingenious in the way it’s developed: murder among a pack of paranoid, insecure backstabbers; the mad artistic genius Murnau directing all the while. And it would have been only clever were it not for Willem Dafoe’s perversely brilliant performance as Schreck. There is a goofiness about his Schreck that gives the otherwise deeply horrible character an oddly endearing quality.

Eddie Izzard doesn’t get the credit he deserves, reenacting the wildly upbeat performance of Gustav von Wagenheim so well. The always welcome weirdness of Udo Kier balances the egomaniacal zeal John Malkovich brings to the Murnau character, and together they tease both the idea of method acting and the dangerous choice of completely trusting a director.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAn5uLNMmjk&t=10s

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Again, not Hollywood, New York. But how genius is this movie?

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Roman Polanski spins a tale of mid-run actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) who sells his wife’s womb for success. Dude!

Like so many of these films, Rosemary’s Baby sees the Faustian dilemma not in terms of carnal or intellectual pursuits, but the desperate drive for stardom. The fact that Guy doesn’t even have to sacrifice anything himself actually makes the evil that much more frustrating and horrifying.

Of course, Mia Farrow’s embodiment of helplessness and Ruth Gordon’s Oscar-winning turn as rouged busybody Minnie Castavet only give the film more and surprising layers. It’s a masterpiece of atmosphere and storytelling.





Fright Club: Social Anxiety Horror

You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films.

There are certain anxieties that plague us no matter the era. It Follows, for instance, brilliantly brought horror’s long obsession with underage promiscuity into modern focus. Unfriended, #Horror, Rings, The Den and dozens of others touched on our loss of control in a digital age. You could even read The Witch as a comment on the power of radicalization.

What horror films had their fingers most firmly on the elevated pulse of their respective times?

6. Hostel (2005)

In April of 2004, photos and videos from Abu Ghraib detention center created a previously unimaginable public dialog about the appropriateness of torture. And we knew that what we were seeing on the news had to be far less graphic and horrific than what we didn’t see.

The sudden realization that there were so many more people on earth who believed there were appropriate uses for torture – and that there were others who could so easily be provoked to indulge their bloodlust – sparked a real, palpable discomfort in the US.

Writer/director Eli Roth created a new subgenre with this his meditation on that very bloodlust. As his tourists hit Slovakia in search of wild times, they become the fodder for someone else’s hedonistic indulgence. Graphic and provocative, Hostel is hardly a masterpiece or even a classic, but there is no question that it touched a nerve.

5. The Wolf Man (1941)

By 1939, the second great war had begun. The tale of shadowy European villainy turning a good hearted American man into a monster felt somehow compelling to an audience seeing yet another generation of soldiers facing and contributing to the real horror of war.

Like most of the films on this list, The Wolf Man created a mythology many would copy. But writer Curt Siodmak’s take on the monster that lurks inside a good man differs from many because he pulled on his own experience with Nazi Germany to create an atmosphere. He’d seen firsthand what it looks like when apparently good people turn suddenly savage.

Lon Chaney, Jr.’s sympathetic performance only drove home the point that it could be anybody. You want badly for this decent-hearted man to somehow be saved, but you know that he’s done too much. There is no redemption left for him now.

4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The late Sixties saw cultural change like few eras before or since. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s tale mined more than a few, but it was the sexual revolution that most fed this picture’s dread.

The Pill was first approved for use in America in 1960. This led to some happy people, yes, but also a lot of worry. Whenever science steps into God’s territory, people get anxious. This tension fueled many horror films, but the way Polanski represents the female body as a reproductive tool entirely outside her own control is endlessly terrifying.

It helps that Mia Farrow is the picture of vulnerability, trying desperately and without success to regain power over her own body and future. Doctors are no help – they’re in on it. She can’t look to her husband because he benefits from this perversion of her biology as much as anybody. It’s a fascinating observation, filmed so that we can’t help but feel that we are voyeurs in her struggle.

3. Get Out (2017)

What took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Peele writes and directs a mash up of Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerRosemary’s Baby and a few other staples that should go unnamed to preserve the fun. Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2JbO9lnVLE

2. Night of the Living Dead (1969)

Romero’s first zombie film – the first proper zombie film – hit upon cultural anxieties aplenty. The generation gap that accompanied the era of social change had people seeing those of the other generation as aliens – or maybe zombies?

The war in Vietnam – televised almost constantly, and for the first time – was reflected in Romero’s onscreen broadcasts of unimaginable horror. He depicts the changing paradigm of the generations in the power struggle going on inside the besieged house.

More than anything, though, Romero hit a nerve with his casting. The filmmaker has long said that African American actor Duane Jones got the part as the lead because he was simply the best actor in the cast. True enough. But his performance as the level headed, proactive, calm-under-pressure alpha male – followed by Romero’s gut-punch of a finale – spoke volumes and is one of the main reasons the film remains as relevant today as it was when it was released.

1. Godzilla (1954)

Is Godzilla the best film on this list? No. But, more than any other film in the genre, it spoke directly to global anxieties, became a phenomenal success, and changed the face of horror.

As Japan struggled to re-emerge from the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Ishiro Honda unleashed that dreaded kaiju—followed quickly by a tidal wave of creature features focused on scientists whose ungodly work creates global cataclysm.

Far more pointed and insightful than its American bastardization or any of the sequels or reboots to follow, the 1954 Japanese original mirrored the desperate, helpless impotence of a global population in the face of very real, apocalyptic danger. Sure, that danger breathed fire and came in a rubber suit, but history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.





Fright Club: Pregnancy Horror

It’s nearly Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than to reminisce on the hell that is pregnancy? Oh, what our mothers go through just for us! The handicapping size, the fear of demonic possession, zombiism, blood-thirstiness…well, the list just goes on forever. And so do the horror movie options. Lucky for you (and your mom!), we’ve pruned that list to just the five best.

5. Jug Face (2013)

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle brings together a fine cast including The Woman’s Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter, as well as genre favorite Larry Fessenden and late-life scream queen Sean Young to spin a backwoods yarn about incest, premonitions, kiln work, and a monster in a pit.

As a change of pace, Bridgers plays a wholly sympathetic character as Dawai, village simpleton and jug artist. On occasion, a spell comes over Dawai, and when he wakes, there’s a new jug on the kiln that bears the likeness of someone else in the village. That lucky soul must be fed to the monster in the pit so life can be as blessed and peaceful as before.

Kinkle mines for more than urban prejudice in his horror show about religious isolationists out in them woods. Young is particularly effective as an embittered wife, while Carter, playing a pregnant little sister trying to hide her bump, a jug, and an assortment of other secrets, steals the show.

4. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is Hal’s a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVQkJJxjdIM

3. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not-shy Roxane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks.

It’s a ripe scene: sinners sinning at Christmas, inbred freaks, creepy dolls, impending childbirth.

The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance (or, performances, so to speak) offer the work of lunatic genius, and his time onscreen is never less than memorable. It’s the kind of horror movie you’ll only find in France.

2. Inside (2007)

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?





Fright Club: Best Witch Movies

Can’t imagine what it was that inspired us to run through the best witch movies. Oh wait, it was the spellbinding and unsettling The Witch, that’s what it was. So, celebrate that film and many a Black Mass with us as we count down the best films about witches, and invite Junior Emmy-Winning Corresponding Mike McGraner to hash out the pros and cons of The Witch. Listen to the full brawl…er…podcast HERE.

5. Starry Eyes (2014)

Sarah (Alex Essoe) is an aspiring actress in LA and a bit of a delicate flower. She lives in a complex full of other aspiring actors, but she doesn’t hang out with them or participate in their low budget indie circle – they believe she thinks she’s too good for them. Then she auditions for a part, does some things on camera for the audition she regrets, behaves weirdly in the bathroom, and is invited to meet The Producer.

On the one hand, Starry Eyes offers an obvious plot about selling your soul for success, dressed in a cautionary tale about Hollywood. But the writing/directing team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are much more sly than that. Yes, the insights they provide about the backbiting lowest rungs of the Hollywood ladder abound, but they are far more compassionate than what you routinely see.

Also fascinating is the clever use of the protagonist Sarah – she begins as our empathetic heroine, our vehicle through the daily degradation of trying to “make it.” But the filmmakers have more in store for her than this, and Essoe uncomfortably peels layer after layer of a character that is never fully what we expect.

Look for outstanding, witchy appearances by genre veteran Maria Olsen, as well as a spot-on Louis Dezseran. They will make you uncomfortable.

4. Suspiria (1977)

Italian director Dario Argenta is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school staff are freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argenta’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works beautifully to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

It’s a gorgeous nightmare, bloody and grotesque but disturbingly appealing both visually and aurally (thanks to Argento’s go-to soundtrack collaborator, Goblin).

3. The Witches (1990)

Roald Dahl can spin the most wondrously dark tales for children, and the tale that fits that description best is The Witches. Directed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man who Fell to Earth, Performance) from a screenplay adapted by Allan Scott, the film may pull a punch here or there, but it lands others unexpectedly.

Angelica Huston – always an imposing presence – leads a cast of witches whose dastardly plan to eliminate all the children in England is overheard by, well, a child in England. Now he has to save the world, even though they’ve turned him into a mouse.

While this is absolutely a family film, full of Honey I Shrunk the Kids style fun with the tiny mouse protagonist, plus a lot of slapstick humor, Huston is forever frightening, and the film takes an absolutely terrifying turn once all those witches remove their day-to-day faces.

No, The Witches may not be a true horror flick, but it was a terrifying experience for countless kids in 1990 and it definitely boasts some of the scariest witches in cinema.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Nearly 50 years after its release, this film remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Yes, that crazy pederast Roman Polanski sure can spin a yarn about violated, vulnerable females.

Back in ’69, Roman was interested in Rosemary Woodhouse, she of the fuzzy slippers who doesn’t want to be a bother. Tethered to aspiring actor/bad husband Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary moves into a Manhattan apartment building with a dark past and some peculiar neighbors.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet.

By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary, but when the film was released, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands? Not that Roman Polanski, of all people, can be trusted in such a situation.

1. The Witch (2015)

The unerring authenticity of The Witch makes it the most unnerving horror film in years.

Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, and isolationism and radicalization roil beneath the surface of the film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.

As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.

Every opportunity writer/director Robert Eggers has to make an obvious choice he discards, though not a single move feels inauthentic. Rather, every detail – whether lurid or mundane – feels peculiarly at home here. Even the most supernatural elements in the film feel appallingly true because of the reality of this world, much of which is owed to journals and documents of the time, from which Eggers pulled complete sections of dialog.

Equally important is the work of Eggers’s collaborators Mark Kovan, whose haunting score keeps you unnerved throughout, and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. From frigid exteriors to candle-lit interiors, the debilitating isolation and oppressive intimacy created by Blaschke’s camera feed an atmosphere ripe for tragedy and for horror.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.





Fright Club: Best Horror Films of the Sixties

The Sixties offered a turning point in horror, redefining and reshaping a genre that would explode the following decade. The era saw horror evolve from the atomic paranoia that informed schlocky Fifties fare to more politically challenging, artistically relevant work – work that would shape the modern genre. Here are the five best films horror had to offer in the 1960s.

5. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

The formula behind this film has been stolen and reformulated for dozens of lurid, low-brow exploitation films since 1960. In each, there is a mad doctor who sees his experiments as being of a higher order than the lowly lives they ruin; the doctor is assisted by a loyal, often non-traditionally attractive (some might say handsome) nurse; there are nubile young women who will soon be victimized, as well as a cellar full of the already victimized. But somehow, in this originator of that particular line of horror, the plot works seamlessly.

An awful lot of that success lies in the remarkable performances. Still, the power in the film is in the striking visuals that are the trademark of giant French filmmaker Georges Franju. His particular genius in this film gave us the elegantly haunting image of Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Her graceful, waiflike presence haunts the entire film and elevates those final scenes to something wickedly sublime.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGNFynNqJ2A

4. The Innocents (1961)

Quietly desperate and delicately high strung, Deborah Kerr’s performance is the perfect central image in The Innocents, the best of many screen adaptations of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Is Kerr’s hypersensitive governess turning delusional as she spirals toward spinsterhood, or are her angelic charges in danger of becoming possessed by the spectral lovers who seem to haunt the property?

Thanks to Kerr, the wickedly cherubic turn by Martin Stephens as young Miles, and Freddie Francis’s gorgeous black and white photography, this eerie ghost story is a glorious study in the shadowy line between reality and imagination.

3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

From the brightly lit opening cemetery sequence to the paranoid power struggle in the house to the devastating closing montage, Night of the Living Dead teems with the racial, sexual and political tensions of its time. An unsettlingly relevant George A. Romero knew how to push societal panic buttons.

As the first film of its kind, the lasting impact of this picture on horror cinema is hard to overstate. Romero’s inventive imagination created the zombie genre and the monster from the ground up. Beyond that, the film’s shrill sense of confinement, the danger of one man turning on another, and the unthinkable transformation going on in the cellar build to a startling climax – one that utterly upends expectations – followed by the kind of absolutely genius ending that guarantees the film’s eternal position in the annals of horror cinema.

1. Psycho (1960)

In making Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock made horror a legitimate genre by producing a movie that scared smart people, mostly by upending expectations. Hitch kills off his pretty lead in the first act, after letting us know that she has pre-marital sex and is capable of stealing large sums of money. What’s great about these revelations is that she isn’t judged for them. She’s treated as a sympathetic, likeable heroine – although the villain comes off as even more of an innocent. Anthony Perkins’s sexually confused, vulnerable, awkward killer is almost too sympathetic.

Hitchcock’s masterpiece is known best, of course, for the shower scene, and with good reason. But what changed history was his decision to give us a hero who is flawed and a villain (a full-on psycho, no less) that we can’t help but root for.

Listen to our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST for the whole bit.





Weren’t We Due a Little Something?

Devil’s Due

by Hope Madden

For the last few years, the first weeks of January have been littered with horror films. Last year it was Texas Chainsaw and Mama; in 2012, Devil Inside; in 2011, Season of the Witch (remember that piece of shit?!) and The Rite. What the correlation is between the bleak and miserable post-holiday winter and bleak and miserable films is hard to say, but 2014 continues the tradition with Devil’s Due, the second mediocre-to-poor horror flick of 2014.

It’s one of those found footage style films that follows newlyweds Sam and Zach through their first, unexpected pregnancy.

There are only so many ways a horror film can go with an unexpected pregnancy, the most common of which, like Devil’s Due, travels down Rosemary’s Baby Lane. So, you know in advance what terror lies ahead. At that point it’s up to the filmmakers to find new and interesting ways to generate those scares.

Unfortunately writer Lindsay Devlin and co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have zero surprises up their collective sleeve.

Ideas stolen from Rosemary, a smattering of Paranormal Activity films and scores of other, better movies are pasted blandly and unconvincingly together, with nary a jump, flinch or shudder to be found.

And do we seriously need two directors for this? Was there that much to do?

Devil’s Due is just another bad horror film, which means there’s little reason to explore cinematic integrity. And yet, here I go. The “found footage” approach in horror films is so, so tired that an actual artistic purpose for it rarely enters the picture anymore. In Blair Witch, someone discovered tins of film, and when those reels are watched, the mystery of three disappearances is revealed. In Quarantine, a newsman’s footage uncovers the terror of a hideous outbreak. In TrollHunter (if you haven’t seen it, you must), a TV news team receives and broadcasts footage shot of, well, trolls.

You see? If you have a found footage film, the footage has to be found at some point, explaining why we, the audience, are seeing it. Otherwise, the use of this technique is simply to avoid having to write a coherent story, provide character development or backstory, or learn the art of cinematography.

Far superior to the film itself, and much cheaper than a movie ticket, is the viral marketing video attached to it. Do yourself a favor and watch this (or watch it again) and skip the movie altogether.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

 

 





Weekend Countdown: Hard Labor for Labor Day

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we’ve decided to take a mo and celebrate the hardest labor of all. The pregnant kind. Here are our five favorite pregnant lady flicks.

5. Knocked Up (2007)

The Judd Apatow brand extends to films he simply produced, so he may be getting more creative credit than he deserves, but he had back to back writing/directing/comic gems with 2005’s Forty Year Old Virgin and this Pregnant Beauty and the Beast. Better for its ensemble than its leads, the flick boasts dead-on genius work from Leslie Mann, hilarious support from Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Kristin Wiig, and it introduced the world to the now constant comic presence of Ken Jeong. At least he kept his pants on for this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR4sXcMf_5o

4. Juno (2007)

Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Ellen Page enraptured us all with this quick witted, brilliantly cast, endlessly quotable comedy about a pregnant teen. Reitman and Cody would pair up again with the nearly flawless Young Adult, but their first collaboration remains fresher and funnier than you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vwv12d85u7A

3. Waitress (2007)

Soulful and funny, gorgeously filmed and perfectly cast, Waitress is the list’s underseen joy. Pie baking phenom Kerri Russell squirrels away money so she can quit her waitressing job and leave her husband, then finds herself pregnant and attracted to her new doctor. Writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s film offers a pitch-perfect supporting cast, a cleverly crafted script, and the remarkable ability to make you want to eat pie right now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cQ0WwcKCLk

2. Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Inside is not for the squeamish. This French horror flick pits a merciless villain against an enormous expecting mother. Though the film goes wildly out of control by the third act, it is a 2/3 brilliant effort, a study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOk5tiAkEdA

1. Rosemary’s Baby

If you’re going to see only one pregnant lady horror flick, make it Rosemary’s Baby. It remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Yes, that crazy pederast Roman Polanski sure can spin a yarn about violated, vulnerable females.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PewtQsgN5uo