Tag Archives: Sissy Spacek

All In the Family

Sam & Kate

by Hope Madden

Film right now is littered with “geezer teasers” – lowish budget action flicks with inflated cameos from aging actors who were once the world’s biggest box office draws. Bruce Willis and John Travolta have one right now. Mel Gibson has one every other week.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a film that casts veteran actors in challenging roles that respect the actor, their age, and the audience? Yes, it would. The proof is called Kate & Sam.

Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek co-star in the indie dramedy about resilience, grief and family. Hoffman’s Bill, a boisterous widowed veteran, lives modestly with his good-natured son, Sam (Jake Hoffman, coincidentally Dustin Hoffman’s actual son).

Father and son fall, almost simultaneously, for Spacek’s Tina and her daughter, Kate (Schuyler Fisk, coincidentally Spacek’s daughter – not that you could miss it with that pointed little nose).

As much as the family ties may seem like a gimmick, the truth is that they bring unmistakable depth and rapport to the pairings. Writer/director Darren Le Gallo mines this repeatedly in large and small ways to create a believable, rich environment for pathos and love. Even small details breathe with authenticity touched lightly by nostalgia. You can imagine Bill’s recliner and afghan perhaps belonging to Le Gallo’s own father, while the stash of family photos clearly, sweetly come from the Hoffmans.

Le Gallo never condescends, mercifully. His small town is possibly hipper than most, but the way the film expresses a healthy respect for vintage materials is impressive.

Spacek is the adorable, natural presence she’s always been in a film that looks without mockery but with humor at the toll life takes on us all. She and Hoffman are, as expected, excellent. But they never outshine their kids.

Fisk’s elegant, frustrated Kate is a solid anchor for the film’s drama, but Jake Hoffman is its heartbeat. With him in the lead, Le Gallo is able to make a lot of subtle points about fathers and sons, masculinity and acceptance. Most of all, the film balances loss and resilience beautifully.

Le Gallo’s first feature delivers grace and goodwill in ways that are genuinely uncommon. It doesn’t tell a big story, but the story it tells resonates. Yes, he lucked into a dream cast, but they may have been luckier still to have him.

Fright Club: Blond(e)s in Horror

We want to thank Cati Glidewell, also know as The Blonde in Front, for joining us to talk through some of the best blond(e)s in horror. There’s a lot of names here, but I think we may have proved that—with a few really bloody exceptions—blondes do seem to have more fun in these movies.

The Dudes

6. Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), Manhunter (1986)

Tom Noonan’s entire career is defined by a mixture of tenderness and menace. It begins with his unusual physical appearance, including his almost colorless locks, and ends with performances that realize everything broken and horrifying about a character—especially Francis Dollarhyde. The terrifying chemistry between Dollarhyde and a blind Joan Allen’s is heartbreaking perfection.

5. Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), Peeping Tom (1960)

Like Norman Bates across the pond, England’s Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is an innocent. Boehm’s blank stare, his frightened mouse reflexes, his blond locks all contribute to a character so tender you can’t help but root for him—although it would be great if he’d stop murdering women.

4. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), Ichi the Killer (2001)

A bleach blond in a Japanese film will automatically draw the eye, but Kakihara’s not just here to catch your attention. Genius filmmaker Takashi Miike and Tadanobu Asano created this badass to upend your expectations. He’s the baddie, right? And man-child Ichi is the innocent? Or is Miike toying with you?

3. Gage (Miko Hughs), Pet Sematary (1989)

Get the Kleenex ready because the ridiculously cute Mike Hughs has a date with a semi. A toddler when he filmed this movie, Hughs really turns in a remarkable performance, whether he’s tugging your heart strings or slicing through Fred Gwynne’s Achilles tendon.

2. David (Keiffer Sutherland), The Lost Boys (1987)

Hubba hubba. The rock star duds. The homoerotic relationship with Jason Patrick. The mullett! Keiffer Sutherland’s bad boy David was so cool you couldn’t help wanting to hang out with him. Eating maggots seems like a small price to pay, really. Nobody said the cool kids’ table would be tasty.

1. John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), The Hitcher (1986)

There are those with a thing for bad boys, and then there are those with a thing for Rutger Hauer. He’s not a bad boy—he’s not even in the same zip code. His John Ryder will make you feel all kinds of weird things because he’s not your garden variety dangerous character. What he will do to you, to that nice family in the station wagon, to your new girlfriend, is more awful than anything you can think of.

The Women

6. Chris Hargeson (Nancy Allen), Carrie (1976)

When De Palma launched the ultimate in mean girl cinema, Nancy Allen delivered the ultimate mean girl. Chris Hargeson’s bloodthirsty princess energy has to convey something horrifying if she is to properly offset what poor Carrie White has to content with at home. Luckily for us (not so much for Carrie), she does.

5. Tomasin (Anya Taylor Joy), The Witch (2015)

Watching The Witch, you realize that writer/director Robert Eggers chose everything: every sound, every image, every color. And while Tomasin’s family looked like gaunt, hard working, colorless cogs in God’s wilderness wheel, Thomasin did not. Even as we open on Anya Taylor Joy, confessing her sins and begging forgiveness, she is lit from within. A beacon. It’s just that her light has caught the wrong kind of attention.

4. Casey (Drew Barrymore), Scream (1996)

The genius Wes Craven and his producer Drew Barrymore pulled an incredible and soon-to-be endlessly copied sleight of hand with Casey—the spunky female played by the biggest star in the cast. With this character, Craven introduces the meta-movie-commentary that defines this film while simultaneously upending our own unconscious investment in those tropes by killing Casey off in Act 1.

3. Carol (Catherine Deneuve), Repulsion (1965)

We went back and forth. Would it be Deneuve as gorgeous seductress Miriam in Tony Scott’s 1983 vampire film The Hunger, or innocent driven to madness Carol in Polanski’s Repulsion? (He does know how to torture innocent young women, doesn’t he?) Deneuve’s performance in Repulsion is so compelling and difficult—playing primarily alone for about half the film—that it won out, but either way, she’s a blonde to be reckoned with.

2. Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), Friday the 13th (1980)

The OG Karen (to steal a phrase from this episode’s co-host The Blonde in Front), Pamela Voorhees has a plan and she’s sticking to it. This funny business among the camp counselors needs to be addressed, corrected. Enough is enough. Betsy Palmer’s performance is spot-on, so comforting and in control before it goes completely batshit. Jason may get all the love, but Mrs. Voorhees took care of business first.

1. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), Carrie (1976)

Like his idol Hitchcock, Brian De Palma had a thing about blondes—what that fair hair represented, what it could mean. For De Palma, it might be the bombshell of Angie Dickson’s character in Dressed to Kill, or the innocence of Carrie White. Of course, Sissy Spacek’s Oscar nominated performance in the film was what really sold this sheltered, shell-shocked little lamb, but you can’t deny she had that look.

Geriatric Horseman

The Old Man & the Gun

by George Wolf

Even if this doesn’t end up being Robert Redford’s final film as an actor, it’s understandable why he’d be tempted to make it his swan song.

Redford’s decades-long status as a screen icon has always leaned more on charm than range, and The Old Man & the Gun wears that strategy like a favorite pair of broken-in boots.

Director/co-writer David Lowery adapts a magazine article on a likable rogue named Forest Tucker, who broke out of San Quentin at the age of 70 and earned his folk hero status with a string of brazen bank robberies.

Tucker (Redford, natch) plots the heists with his grey-haired gang of two (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) and flirts with the farm-living Jewel (Sissy Spacek) while lawman John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on his tail.

And the old scalawag couldn’t be happier while doing it.

The story is light and whimsical, but thanks to the veteran actors and the slyly understated direction, it’s got a frisky heart that won’t quit. Watching Redford and Spacek together is a joy in itself, as Jewel’s bemused-but-curious reaction to her new suitor only brings more twinkles to his eye. Then there’s Affleck easily filling Hunt with the perfect strain of frustration-laced respect, and Waits delivering some deliciously dry one-liners.

But it’s Lowery who may be the real wonder here. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story, he again shows unique storytelling instincts no matter what tonal gears he’s shifting. This film is a satisfied mosey, one that serves as a sunset ride for a Hollywood legend while letting the exploits of a charming bandit reinforce the value of just loving what you do.

For Tucker, it was robbing banks. For Redford, it was being an iconic leading man.

Lowery makes sure they both get a proper sendoff.

Fright Club: Best Stephen King Movies

We greet an honest to god expert for this week’s podcast, as Dr. Neil McRobert (you may know him better as NakMak!) joins us to talk about Stephen King films. Neil’s doctoral thesis concerned itself in part with King’s writings, and yet, somehow Hope decided she was still the more appropriate choice to determine the rankings of King films. Listen in and let us know who does a better job with the list. The whole conversation goes on HERE.

5. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Taylor Hackford helms this generational saga of women in a man’s world. Not truly a horror film, it follows the tale of stern Mainer Dolores (the magnificent –as-always Kathy Bates), who’s been accused of murdering her contemptible boss, Vera Donovan (an outstanding Judy Parfitt). Dolores’s estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns to the Maine island of her birth to support her mom from being railroaded, as the entire town believes Dolores has already gotten away with murder once.

The film is an achievement in casting above all things. Bates is brilliant, and so is David Strathairn, playing against type as abusive white trash husband and father. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay is delicately faithful to King’s novel, a character-driven drama that boasts some excellent lines – most of them landing in Parfitt’s mouth. Luckily she’s up to the challenge and makes it look easier than it should to be a bitch.

4. Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates had been knocking around Hollywood for decades, but no one really knew who she was until she landed Misery. Her sadistic nurturer Annie Wilkes – rabid romance novel fan, part time nurse, full time wacko – ranks among the most memorable crazy ladies of modern cinema.

James Caan plays novelist Paul Sheldon, who kills off popular character Misery Chastain, then celebrates with a road trip that goes awry when he crashes his car, only to be saved by his brawniest and most fervent fan, Annie. Well, she’s more a fan of Misery Chastain’s than she is Paul Sheldon’s, and once she realizes what he’s done, she refuses to allow him out of her house until she brings Misery back to literary life.

Caan seethes, and you know there’s an ass kicking somewhere deep in his mangled body just waiting to get out. But it’s Bates we remember. She nails the bumpkin who oscillates between humble fan, terrifying master, and put-upon martyr. Indeed, both physically and emotionally, she so thoroughly animates this nutjob that she secured an Oscar.

3. The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont really loves him some Stephen King, having adapted and directed the writer’s work almost exclusively for the duration of his career. While The Shawshank Redemption may be Darabont’s most fondly remembered effort, The Mist is an underappreciated creature feature.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head to town for some groceries. Meanwhile, a tear in the space/time continuum opens a doorway to alien monsters. So he, his boy, and a dozen or so other shoppers are all trapped inside this glass-fronted store just waiting for rescue or death.

Marcia Gay Harden is characteristically brilliant as the religious zealot who turns survival inside the store into something less likely than survival out with the monsters, but the whole cast offers surprisingly restrained but emotional turns.

The FX look good, too, but it’s the provocative ending that guarantees this one will sear itself into your memory.

2. Carrie (1976)

The seminal film about teen angst and high school carnage has to be Brian De Palma’s 1976 landmark adaptation of King’s first full length novel, the tale of an unpopular teenager who marks the arrival of her period by suddenly embracing her psychic powers.

Sissy Spacek is the perfect balance of freckle-faced vulnerability and awed vengeance. Her simpleton characterization would have been overdone were it not for Piper Laurie’s glorious evil zeal as her religious wacko mother. It’s easy to believe this particular mother could have successfully smothered a daughter into Carrie’s stupor.

One ugly trick involving a bucket of cow’s blood, and Carrie’s psycho switch is flipped. Spacek’s blood drenched Gloria Swanson on the stage conducting the carnage is perfectly over-the-top. And after all the mean kids get their comeuppance, Carrie returns home to the real horror show.

1. The Shining (1980)

It’s isolated, it’s haunted, you’re trapped, but somehow nothing feels derivative and you’re never able to predict what happens next. It’s Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece rendition of Stephen King’s The Shining.

Though critics were mixed at the time of the film’s release, and both Kubrick and co-star Shelley Duvall were nominated for Razzies, much of the world’s negative response had to do with a needless affection for the source material, which Kubrick and co-scriptor Diane Johnson use as little more than an outline.

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrence’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding the film never shakes.

What image stays with you most? The two creepy little girls? The blood pouring out of the elevator? The impressive afro in the velvet painting above Scatman Crothers’s bed? That guy in the bear suit – what was going on there? Whatever the answer, thanks be to Kubrick’s deviant yet tidy imagination.

Next week we will look at the best Canada has to offer the genre.

The following week, we are thrilled to tackle our sophomore effort at live recording the Fright Club podcast! We will unspool The Orphanage (2007) at Gateway Film Center on November 11, counting down the best Spanish language horror at 7:30, just prior to the 8pm screening.

In the meantime, help us prep for upcoming podcasts. What filmmaker, actor or actress deserves an entire podcast? Let us know on Twitter @maddwolf, on facebook @maddwolfcolumbus, or leave us a comment here.

Halloween Countdown, Day 14

Carrie (1976)

The seminal film about teen angst and high school carnage has to be Brian De Palma’s 1976 landmark adaptation of Stephen King’s first full length novel, the tale of an unpopular teenager who marks the arrival of her period by suddenly embracing her psychic powers.

Sure, the film opens like a ‘70s soft core porno, with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room and therefore chose to depict the one in his dirty, dirty mind. But as soon as the bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in Mean Girl Cinema. The “plug it up” refrain, coupled with Sissy Spacek’s authentic, even animalistic portrayal of panic, sets a tone for the film. Whatever Carrie may do, we (the voyeurs, no doubt more like the normal kids than like Carrie) are to blame.

This film exposes a panic about the onslaught of womanhood. The same panic informs The Exorcist and dozens of others, but De Palma’s version offers more sympathy than most. King’s tale may link menstruation with female power and destruction, but De Palma mines the story for an underdog tale that more foreshadows Columbine than Jennifer’s Body.

Spacek is the perfect balance of freckle-faced vulnerability and awed vengeance. Her simpleton characterization would have been overdone were it not for Piper Laurie’s glorious, evil zeal as her religious nutjob mother. It’s easy to believe this particular mother could have successfully smothered a daughter into Carrie’s stupor.

Senior prom doesn’t go as well as it might have for poor Carrie White or her classmates. Contrite Sue Snell (Amy Irving) – who’d given up her own prom so her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt and his awe inspiring ‘fro) could take Carrie – sneaks in to witness her own good deed. Unfortunately for Sue, the strict rules of horror cinema demand that outcasts remain outcasts. Sure, Sue shouldn’t have been mean to Carrie in the first place, but being nice was the big mistake. Only bad things would follow.

De Palma and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen wisely streamline King’s meandering finale. From the prom sequence onward, De Palma commits to the genre, giving us teen carnage followed by the profoundly upsetting family horror, finished with one of cinema’s best “gotcha” moments.


What’s in a Name?


by Hope Madden

Back in ’76, Brian De Palma brought Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, to the screen and a terrifying vision of persecution and comeuppance emerged. But that was almost twenty five years before Columbine, and the image of the bullied and confused wreaking bloody revenge at a high school has taken on a different tenor.

That’s no doubt why King’s tale made its way to television in 2002 with a fresh take on the horror. But things in high school have changed again, and the story of Carrie White takes on particular tragedy in a wired time where another innocent high school girl takes her life almost weekly due to bullying. Perhaps that’s what drew filmmaker Kimberly Pierce, whose Boys Don’t Cry also outlines the tragedy that befalls a young woman violently unaccepted for who she is.

In Pierce’s hands, Carrie offers more stripped down drama – none of the scenery chewing of the De Palma original. There’s no humor to be found in the reboot, but realistic performances and updated context give the film enough bite to keep you watching.

Chloe Grace Moretz takes on lead duties as the youngster whose first monthly flow triggers all manner of havoc, from the most unconscionable bullying to telekentic powers. Oh, and her mom tries to kill her. So, not the blessing those Health Ed books try to tell us it is.

Moretz has a big prom dress to fill, and though she has always been a reliable talent, her turn here is unconvincing. Sissy Spacek truly was that innocent, a girl so repressed by her religious mother that she had no conscious knowledge of appropriate social behavior. Moretz is a cute, shy girl the mean kids dislike. It’s not the same.

The always exquisite Julianne Moore actually has an even larger task cut out for her. The role of Margaret White is a juicy one. Even the TV version drew the great Patricia Clarkson to the project. And Moore is characteristically strong, clearly defining the role in a terrifying yet almost sympathetic way. But she’s no Piper Laurie.

Laurie brought such vitality and insanity to the role that the prom became almost secondary, and her chemistry with Spacek was eerily perfect.

The updated context casts a truly saddening shadow over the film, making a major thematic adjustment without even trying. Stephen King wrote a story about hysteria over the dawning of womanhood. But today, the story carries an even darker message. Carrie is a cautionary tale about sending your kids to high school.