Film Review: ‘Housebound’ (2014)

Housebound Film Poster

Repeat offender Kylie is caught during a botched cash point raid and is placed on an eight month house detention in her childhood home. There she must deal with her fractured relationship with her mother and a potentially haunted house.

Kylie, Miriam and Graeme in Housebound

Kylie disrupts Coronation Street night.

‘Housebound’ is the debut film from director Gerard Johnstone who also wrote the screenplay. It is a cross-genre piece which combines elements of comedy, gross-out horror, haunted house and murder mystery. The dynamic cuts of the opening establishing sequence (it takes all of five minutes for Kylie to be caught, sentenced and arrive back at home) are very Edgar Wright but once the film proper kicks in, it finds its own style as the camera creeps around Kylie’s old home and grounds.
Much of the initial scenes are dominated by Kylie’s mounting claustrophobia. She is unable to leave the perimeter of the grounds or she will alert her parole officer which forces her to endure the company over her overbearing mother Miriam (played for full comic effect by Rima Te Wiata). Miriam is convinced the house is haunted while Kylie thinks it just was her childhood imagination working overtime when she was younger. As they mystery unfolds, Kylie discovers the true nature of her house and various figures in her life, both past and present; are drawn into the plot. As events reach their dramatic conclusion, it becomes apparent the haunting is more real than anyone imagined.

Kylie and Miriam in Housebound

Kylie and Miriam face up to some bloody family secrets.

This is an unusually successful melding of genres, far too often comedy-horrors just aren’t funny enough to warrant the comedy tag or just aren’t scary enough to be classed as a proper horror film. ‘Housebound’ manages to achieve just the right amount of comedy (“Kylie, Thursdays and Fridays are Coronation Street nights”) and genuine scares (the film boasts one of the creepiest childhood teddy bears in a long time) to be both.

Demon teddy bear in Housebound.

Not suitable for children. Kylie’s childhood teddy just wants a hug.

The two lead performances are very strong. Morgana O’Reilly has the toughest character- Kylie a very broadly drawn surly 20-something who is very unlikable for the first half of the story. As the mystery of the house begins to engage her, she starts to become a character worth caring about by the end of the film. Rima Te Wiata is a joy to watch and injects something funny into almost every line she has. She has a great sense of physical comedy too. There’s some great supporting roles too, particularly from Cameron Rhodes as Kylie’s dubious counselor.

Cameron Rhodes as Dennis in 'Housebound'

It’s behind you. An uninvited guest during Kylie’s in-house counselling session.

The film given seal of approval by New Zealand’s own film royalty, Peter Jackson. The quirky NZ humour here is certainly reminiscent of Jackson’s own splatter classic ‘Braindead’ (1992). I thoroughly enjoyed the film and if you’re looking for something both genuinely funny and creepy, check this one out!

10 Of My Favourite Dysfunctional Film Families

Nothing is more enjoyable than watching a fucked up family. It can make a good film great. Here are some of my personal favourites from a cross-genre selection (beware spoilers):

“He’s not ugly. He’s completely unattractive”

Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Noah Baumbach's Margot At The Wedding

Sisterly tensions in ‘Margot At The Wedding’

Margot & Pauline in ‘Margot At The Wedding’ (2007) Dir: Noah Baumbach

Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is getting married to Malcolm (Jack Black) at her old family home in Long Island. On the eve of the wedding her sister Margot (Nicole Kidman) arrives with her teenage son Claude (Zane Pais). Once there the tensions between the sisters begin to grow. This is one of Nicole Kidman’s more underrated performances; Margot is a highly neurotic, highly strung and often very unlikeable character. A successful writer, she draws openly on hinted abuse suffered by her and Pauline at the hands of their father but in a key moment walks out of a bookshop interview when challenged on this. Margot disapproves of Pauline’s engagement and subtly begins to emotionally bully everyone in the house including Claude. Even when Pauline confides to her she is pregnant, Margot promptly passes this information onto her son, commenting she expects Pauline will miscarry. A hard character to like but her indignant attitude towards every situation makes for some very funny moments. The films never quite reaches the heights of ‘The Squid & The Whale’ but it’s interesting viewing if you like a good indie. I liked the bit where Nicole Kidman climbs the tree and can’t get back down:

“What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts”

Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Kirsten Dunst and the cast of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999)

The Lisbon family.

The Lisbons in ‘The Virgin Suicides’ (1999) Dir: Sofia Coppola

The tragic Lisbon family form the centre of Sofia Coppola’s debut film based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel. Told from the point of view of an adult looking back on his teenage years in the seventies, we see the disintegration of the family from the outside. The trouble starts when the youngest Lisbon daughter, Cecilia (Hannah Hall) attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. As with the group of teenage boys in the film who are bewitched by Cecilia and her four sisters, we are never privy to what caused her to make the attempt. As the film progresses, we watch the sisters try and continue on after Cecilia’s death but after middle sister Lux (Kirsten Dunst) stays out all night, their parents ‘severe lockdown’ becomes too suffocating. Mr and Mrs Lisbon are brilliantly played by James Woods and Kathleen Turner who are both cast against type. The whole film has a hazy, dreamy quality which is elevated by the wonderful score by Air.

“I’ve had three chicks of my own. Only three I grant you Karen, but natural good manners told me when to put the plug in”

Bette Davis, Shelia Hancock and the cast in a black and white still from The Anniversary (1968)

Mrs Taggart (Bette Davis) and the family celebrate.

The Taggarts in ‘The Anniversary’ (1968) Dir: Roy Ward Baker

Mr Taggart has been dead for years but every year Mrs Taggart still insists on gathering her three sons together to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary. It’s not much of celebration, more of an excuse for the deliciously tyrannical Mrs T to twist the knife into her sons at every opportunity. This year it all kicks off as unbeknownst to her all three sons are hiding secrets from their mother. ‘The Anniversary’ is an oft seen Hammer production based on a play. It suffers from being shot in extremely flat, boring way but benefits massively from having Bette Davis as Mrs Taggart. The cast are great (look out for a young Shelia Hancock as the long suffering wife of middle son Terry (Jack Hedley)) but Davis walks off with the film. Davis was apparently as domineering off screen as her character was on it- she fired the original director shortly after joining the project. Mrs Taggart is a striking lady with a very severe hairdo and only one eye. Terry accidentally shot her other eye out when he was a child and his mother has never let him forget it. With the gaudy eye-patches Mrs Taggart sports (all colour coordinated with her outfits of course), how could you? Bette Davis’ unforgettable entrance must be seen to be believed:

“Go to your closet and pray, ask to be forgiven”

Piper Laurie as Margaret White and Sissy Spacek as Carrie in a black and white still from 'Carrie'

‘They all laughed at me’ Margaret comforts her daughter.

The Whites in ‘Carrie’ (1976) Dir: Brian DePalma

Religion should bring comfort to those who practice it. This cannot be said for Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) as her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) wields her Christian fundamentalism like a weapon and repeatedly beats her with it both figuratively and literally. The White home is decked out in all manner of religious paraphernalia and worst of all is the dreaded closet where Carrie is repeatedly locked inside and forced to pray for her sins to a statue of Saint Sebastian. As we all know, Carrie’s biggest sin was simply reaching her sexual maturity, something which Margaret had kept her ignorant of for most of her life. Ironically her first period kick starts a chain of events which culminate in Margaret’s death. In a truly macabre death scene, Carrie users her telekinetic powers to skewer her mother with kitchen utensils leaving her looking just like that Saint Sebastian statue. My favourite moment? Margaret’s deathgasm:

“What’s a mother to do? Lazy brat sits in her room all day, sewing dolls. Children misbehaving in the basement! And one in the wall, doing his business God knows where. You kids will be the death of me!”

Wendy Robie and Everett McGill in The People Under The Stairs Wes Craven 1991

‘How dare he come into our happy home’ Children are a constant disappointment to Mommy and Daddy.

Man & Woman in ‘The People Under The Stairs’ (1991) Dir: Wes Craven

Another nameless couple, they go by ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in the credits but lovingly refer to themselves as ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’. They’re actually brother and sister slumlords living incestuously in their own private Fort Knox. Played brilliantly by Wendy Robie and Everett McGill from ‘Twin Peaks’, Man and Woman are quirky to say the least. Woman is obsessed with cleanliness while Man likes to dress up in leather gear and hunt the feral children they keep locked in their basement. They also have an ‘adopted’ daughter, Alice (A.J. Langer) who has avoided joining the basement children by complying with all the household rules. Much of the film is played for black comic laughs especially the scenes with McGill decked out in his gimp suit chasing escaped children through the walls of the house. Even though they’re doing horrible things throughout, you can never really hate Mommy and Daddy because McGill and Robie are just too much fun to watch.

“You look ugly. You’ve hardened. For the first time, you look vulgar to me”

sam-neil-Isabelle-Adjani in the possession 1981

The knives are out in this family. Literally.

Mark & Anna in ‘Possession’ (1981) Dir: Andrzej Żuławski

There are messy divorces and then there’s Mark and Anna. Anna (Isabelle Adjani) wants a divorce from Mark (Sam Neil), she won’t say why but their marriage is certainly on the volatile side. Mark is constantly away on mysterious business trips whilst Anna is the dictionary definition of hysterical. Arguments descend into bouts of mutual self-mutilation and they barely notice their young son exists. Infidelity is nothing new, Mark has his suspicions but what he couldn’t anticipate is that Anna is not only having an affair with another man but also with a nightmarish creature she keeps hidden in an apartment downtown. To complicate matters further, doppelgangers of both Anna and Mark are thrown into the mix. This would test any marriage to its very limits. ‘Possession’ has earned its place in cult film history primarily for the sheer intense ferocity of Adjani’s performance as Anna, specifically in one prolonged seizure scene.

“Here’s to the man who killed my sister. To a murderer!”

Ulrich Thomsen as Christian in 'Festen' 1998

The most uncomfortable family birthday celebration ever.

The whole family in ‘Festen’ (1998) Dir: Thomas Vinterberg

During celebrations for Helge’s (Henning Moritzen) 60th birthday party, his son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) announces both he and his twin sister Linda were sexually abused by their father. The abuse has already driven Linda to suicide and Christian also accuses his mother (Birthe Neumann) of being complicit in what her husband was doing. ‘Festen’ is one of those deeply uncomfortable films that seem to cover all those social taboos (incest, child abuse, racism, suicide) that go perfectly at a family gathering. ‘Festen’ was also produced according to the Dogme 95 rules of film making (no artificial lighting or sound, location shooting, handheld cameras etc) which make it all the more confrontational. The film is actually a lot funnier than I’m making it sound but one must have a taste for extremely dark humour. Watch Christian’s speech and shift uncomfortably in your seat below:

“My family’s always been in meat”

The dinner time scene in the texas chain saw massacre

It’s dinner time in Texas!

The farmhouse dwellers in ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massarce’ (1974) Dir: Tobe Hooper

Surely one of the most nightmarishly dysfunctional families in cinema history, they became the Sawyers in the sequels but in Hooper’s peerless original they’re almost nameless. We have Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, Jim Siedow as ‘Old Man’, Edwin Neal as the hitchhiker and John Dugan as Grandfather. Hooper holds these four up as a grossly distorted family unit with Leatherface as mum, Old Man as dad, the hitchhiker as the unruly teenager and of course, Grandfather the stately patriarch. Loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein, the four share a ramshackle farmhouse filled and decorated with grave robbed body parts. In true Scooby-Doo style, some pesky kids come poking around are promptly dealt with by Leatherface and some trusty household implements. The worst is famously saved for final girl Sally (Marilyn Burns) who is captured and endures one of the most unpleasant family meals ever. Poor Sally is tied to an arm chair (with real human arms) and repeatedly hit over the head by Grandpa while the rest of the family laugh and mock her screaming.

“Make daddy happy”

Perry Benson and Dido Miles in Mum and Dad 2008

Lena is welcomed to the family in ‘Mum and Dad’

Mum, Dad & the children in ‘Mum & Dad’ (2008) Dir: Steven Sheil

An English twist on some of the themes in ‘The People Under The Stairs’ but here Mum (Dido Miles) and Dad (Perry Benson) are two thoroughly nasty and unappealing characters. Mum and Dad live near Heathrow with their two ‘adopted’ children Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and Elbie (Toby Alexander). Hidden upstairs is the couple’s biological daughter (rendered physically and mentally disabled due to birth complications) who is trotted out on special occasions such as Christmas. It’s Birdie’s job to bring home vulnerable young people for Mum and Dad to instigate into the family. Birdie brings home the unfortunate Lena (Olga Fedori) from her job as an airport cleaner who spends the rest of the film unable to speak, fending off Dad’s sexual advances and just generally trying to escape the insanity of the home. Despite how grotesque this film is, I couldn’t help enjoying it. I think it was the British sensibility and the Christmas day climax which was very reminiscent of the dinner scene in ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’. Although I could not decide what was more horrifying: the bit where Dad forces Lena to snog a severed head or the state of the airport toilets during the opening scenes.

“Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog”

Dogtooth movie still

How do you get rid of a cat? You bark at it.

Father & Mother in ‘Dogtooth’ (2009) Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

How far would a set of parents go to protect their children? That is the question seemingly posed by ‘Dogtooth’. Father (Christos Stergioglou) and Mother (Michele Valley) have gone to bizarre extremes. Their three nameless children (two daughters and a son) are young adults but have never left the grounds of their isolated house and do not even think leaving is possible. Their parents have deliberately taught them the incorrect meanings for words and such odd notions that planes in the sky are tiny and cats are deadly to humans. It’s the sex situation that brings the situation to a head in this household. The father routinely brings a female security guard, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to help relieve his son’s sexual needs. Unfortunately after she introduces sparkly hairbands and videos of Jaws and Rocky to one of the girls she’s banished from the house and beaten with a video player for her trouble. The children are frequently made to compete with each other throughout the film and once Christina is out of the picture, the two daughters compete to have sex with their brother. The meaning behind the title is explored in the watch-through-your-fingers climax. The children are taught they are only ready to leave the home when they lose their dogtooth so one of daughters decides to use a small barbell to try and perform some DIY tooth removal. Father teaches the family about cats in the video below:

There it is folks. From the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in-between. Do you have a favourite dysfunctional family? Do let me know.

A Nightmare On Elm Street Retrospective Part 2: Revenge Is Sweet

UK Quad Poster For A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

The Freddy’s Revenge UK quad sheet.

That difficult second album. Wes Craven signed all the rights to ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ over to New Line Cinema in order to get the film made. Riding the wave of a surprising critical and commercial hit, and with a lack of original projects, ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ was born.

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge Title Card

We open on a school bus making its way through the suburbs of Springwood. Then we’re hit with one of the worst title cards in cinema history. The ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ logo is passable but the ‘FREDDY’S REVENGE’? Huge metallic block capitals consume the screen- a jarring effect indeed. Who signed off on that? We may never know.

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge Title Card

1985’s answer to Comic Sans MS?

We find our protagonist, Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) sat awkwardly near the back of the bus. We know he’s our man – he already looks sleep deprived, greasy and is not dressed in bright colours like everyone else on the bus. Robert Englund makes his first appearance in the series (minus the Freddy make up) as the bus driver in this scene.

Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton)  rides to school in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) in a game of ‘spot the awkward protagonist’

The suspect bus driver has very kindly let all of the local kids off the bus, leaving just Jesse and two girls. He then veers off into nearby desert terrain and night quickly falls. We’re slap bang in the middle of our first nightmare sequence and it’s pretty nightmarish. The bus takes on a nice demonic quality (prefiguring Dan’s demon motorbike in ‘The Dream Child’) and a wonderful fantasy element takes hold as the ground begins to give way to a mammoth hellish chasm. The school bus is ultimately left balancing precariously on two rocky spikes.

Freddy drives the school bus into hell in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Freddy shows off some dubious parking skills in the opening scene.

Then we get our first real glimpse of Freddy. During the course of the journey, he’s replaced the bus driver and great effort has gone into making him scary. The scene is nicely lit and Freddy advances slowly, slicing through bus seats as he prepares to go in for the kill. The good news? This is one of the most imaginative scenes in film, showing a hint of the expansive dreamscapes to come in later entries in the series. The bad news? Imagination is in short supply in this film so enjoy it while it lasts.

As Freddy swipes, we cut to an extreme close up of a beef tomato being sliced for breakfast by Mrs Walsh (Hope Lange). Jesse screams himself awake, gets up very sweaty (a recurring theme in the film is aligning Freddy’s attempts to enter the real world with the increasingly sweltering temperature in the house) and takes time to adjust his cock before heading downstairs. We meet the rest of the Walsh clan – hapless dad Ken Walsh played by the wonderful Clu Gulager and little sis Angela Walsh played by Christie Clark making her big screen debut.

The Walsh family have breakfast in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

The Walsh family. As American as apple pie!

The Walsh family have moved into the old Thompson homestead, it’s five years since the events of the first film and the house is now looking decidedly chintzy. I didn’t really care for the Walshes. There was not a hint of dysfunction at this breakfast table. Ken Walsh calls his wife ‘mom’- that was the only odd thing I picked up on. I like to imagine there were some sort of adult baby sex games going on in their marriage. I really missed Marge Thompson. If she were here, she wouldn’t be searching the cereal box for Fu Manchu fingers, she’d be pouring vodka on that cereal like it were fresh milk. Jesse heads off to school with the strict instructions that he must have his room tidied by tonight still ringing in his ears.

Jesse heads to school with Lisa played by Kim Myers – an economical version of Meryl Streep. At school we meet Lisa’s perpetually horny friend Kerry (Sydney Walsh) who asks Lisa: “Are you getting any yet Lis?” during archery class. Kerry doesn’t have much to do in this film. We also meet one of the film’s most notorious characters during gym class: the very mean looking Coach Schneider played by the very lovely Marshall Bell. I suppose Schneider is the beginning of the gay (sub)text of the film. It is often argued that the film can be read as Freddy representing Jesse’s struggle with his sexuality and desire for his friend Ron Grady (Robert Rusler). I’m always on the fence with this one. Writer David Chaskin has since said it was intentional subtext which became text during the production of the film. Whether this is the case or not, it sadly doesn’t make it a better film. We meet the previously mentioned Grady in this scene too. During baseball practice, a fight breaks out between Grady and Jesse which starts with a gentle slap then escalates to some violent de-trousering (“Nice ass” purrs Kerry). Coach Schneider is understandably unhappy with this unruly behaviour and gets the two guys to “assume the position” which to the uninitiated means press-ups in the hot sun. During detention, Grady gives Jesse the gossip on Schneider: “He hangs around queer S&M joints downtown. He likes pretty boys like you.” According to Grady, Schneider gets his rocks off on torturing teenage boys by making them do exercise.

Mark Patton and Robert Rusler in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Jesse and Grady (Robert Rusler) assume the position.

Elm Street gets its first mention in the series when Grady and Jesse change to go home. Grady begins to fill in some superfluous backstory in a desperate attempt to form a link between the first two films. Nancy’s imprisonment and Glenn’s death are briefly mentioned.

Later that night, we enter nightmare territory again. Jesse can’t sleep. He ventures downstairs for a drink but finds someone (possibly Angela) has done that annoying thing where you know it won’t fit in the fridge but you close the door anyway and leave it for the next person to deal with. So now Jesse is faced with smashed glass and orange juice all over the kitchen floor. Before he can clean up, he spots a figure lurking outside. He decides to commit the cardinal horror film sin: to go out and investigate. In a nice back-lit shot (Jacques Haitkin shot the sequel as well as the first film) Jesse sees the basement boiler ignite as Freddy removes a familiar looking bundle from the furnace. Heading back into the house, Jesse opens the basement door and sees Freddy’s shadow moving towards the stairs. He shuts the door and calls for Mr Walsh before running slap-bang into Mr Krueger.

Jesse (Mark Patton) and Freddy (Robert Englund) in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Jesse meets the man of his dreams.

This is our first proper look at Freddy in the film (and the entire film conspires to keep him in the shadows as much as possible) and to the hard-core Nightmare fan there are notable changes to his appearance. Freddy now has burns on his non-gloved hand, the make-up has been redesigned (the nose is more hooked, the skin darker, the cheekbones more pronounced), the sleeves of his jumper have gained stripes and he even has newly orange coloured eyes.

Close up shot of Freddy (Robert Englund) in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

All the better to see you with…Freddy sports some swanky new contacts in this entry.

Kevin Yagher took over make-up duties from David Miller on Part 2 and completely redesigned the look. Some of these changes would stay with the character for the duration of the series (the burned hand, the stripes on the jumper) and some (the contact lenses) wouldn’t. Freddy tells Jesse he needs him and that they have special work to do together. In a classic Freddy moment, he peels the skin from his skull revealing his pulsing brain beneath to make a kind of visual pun. Jesse wakes up (screaming) to the consternation of Ma and Pa Walsh.

Freddy (Robert Englund) in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

“You’ve got the body and I’ve got the brains” geddit?

We then cut to a rather redundant classroom scene. The science teacher is giving a lecture on the digestive system (complete with fart noises from Grady), Jesse nods off and awakens to find a snake wrapping itself around his neck. The music cues play like this is going to be a nightmare sequence but it transpires that Grady has released the snake as a joke. What does this scene add to the film? Nothing. Does it progress the story? Not really. Maybe it’s the blossoming of Grady and Jesse’s bromance? Even when Jesse gives him ‘the finger’, he seems to be enjoying the attention.

Jesse (Mark Patton) in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Hating the game but loving the player. Jesse gives Grady the finger.

At the 18:50 mark, we enter legendary territory: the dance. To the initiated, I need say no more. To the uninitiated, Jesse (forced to stay in and unpack his room rather than go to Lisa’s and swim in her huge pool) does an impromptu dance routine to “Touch Me (All Night Long)” by Wish featuring Fonda Rae. Words cannot really describe how excruciating it is, although I am tempted to download the song. Jesse shuts a draw using his arse cheeks. Jesse dons a pair of gold sunglasses. Jesse pops his cork.

Jesse (Mark Patton) dances in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

A watershed moment in the Nightmare series. Jesse’s dance routine takes no prisoners.

This was a mere two years after ‘Risky Business’ (1983) and the craze for dance sequences in films was clearly showing no sign of abating throughout the decade. If you are brave enough watch it below:

Jesse is rudely interrupted by Lisa (I love Mrs Walsh entering his room doing the international symbol for ‘your music is too loud’) as she comes by to help him unpack. This is another famous ‘spot the gay stuff’ moment in the film, so for the sake of posterity we have: a ‘no chicks allowed’ sign on Jesse’s door, a can of jock-itch spray and a board game called ‘Probe’ in the wardrobe, or should I say closet?

Lisa (Kim Myers) in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Oscar winning stars and those embarrassing adverts they did before they were famous: Meryl Streep says ‘no’ to jockstrap irritation.

Also coming out of the closet in this scene is one dusty diary by Nancy Thompson. Or was it written by Basil Exposition? Firstly, although the downstairs layout of the house is pretty close to the first film, Jesse’s room and Nancy’s room are not the same. Secondly, the diary entries are pretty dire and just designed to get the plot moving.

That night Jesse wakes to find various soft plastic items in his room are melting. He heads down to the basement and finds Freddy’s glove. Freddy appears, urging him try it on and kill for him. Jesse trips over, wakes up but finds the glove on the floor beside him. Back at school the next day, Jesse confides in Lisa telling her he was sleepwalking. Lisa takes Nancy’s diary to study. Kerry turns up to confirm she’s attending Lisa’s pool party this weekend. Thanks, Kerry – but why are you dressed as Minnie Mouse? Does Grady remember his dreams? Only the wet ones, Jesse! After talking trash about Coach Schneider in the locker room, Grady and Jesse are back in detention following an impeccably timed: ‘Hello dirtballs’ from Marshall Bell.

Things take a turn for the worse at the Walsh house that evening. Ever wondered what would happen if the vengeful spirit of Freddy Krueger took over one of your beloved pet parakeets? That’s a right – a shit storm of non-scary feathered antics. While the Walsh family wilt in the heat, one parakeet attacks another, then turns on Ken and then explodes into a shower of unsinged feathers. Various theories, such as cheap seed and bird rabies (this was pre bird flu), are tossed around but Ken ultimately lays the blame at Jesse’s door. Kids today: always blowing up family pets for a laugh. Wes Craven famously hated the bird scene when he was offered the film and it’s easy to see why. It doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

The Walsh family are attacked by their pet bird in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Help, Freddy Krueger has possessed my parakeet and it’s trying to kill my family!

Unable to sleep following the bird mania, Jesse heads downstairs and out into the seedy underbelly of Springwood. This is after lightning inexplicably strikes the dishes in the kitchen. Jesse ends up at local dive bar ‘Don’s Place’ which is full of the requisite trannies, hookers and pimps. Jesse enters soaking wet, still in his pyjamas and orders a beer from Robert Shaye (dressed in his finest fetish gear). Bob apparently lost out to the role of Grady’s father and was stuck with the bartender instead. Even with no lines he manages to fumble this role – what self-respecting bartender would leave his bottle opener behind? Before Jesse can take a sip of his Bud, Coach Schneider rocks up in his finest fetish gear! Cut to Jesse doing laps in the gym then hitting the showers. Coach Schneider doesn’t seem at all worried he’s bumped into one of his students in a gay S&M bar. One would think a sensible reaction would be to not draw attention to one’s self. Schneider takes things one step further by actually bringing Jesse back to school and making him shower and work out.

Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Hunky Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) in his best ‘come hither’ attire.

It’s a scandal in the making. Luckily, Schneider gets attacked by some possessed balls (get it?) and dragged into the communal showers by some demonic skipping ropes. Strung up and stripped, he then gets his arse whipped by phantom towels. Then, who should emerge from the steam but….Freddy Krueger. But wait, is that actually Freddy Krueger? No, it’s some lumbering robot in a Freddy outfit that shockingly made the final cut of the film.

Freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

In this scene the part of ‘Freddy’ will be played by Frankenstein’s monster.

When production ramped up, New Line were still ignorant of the physical presence Robert Englund brought to the character and didn’t want to stump up for his fee. Assuming any stuntman could play him, some early scenes were shot without Englund but the difference was plain for all to see. “Freddy” slices into Schneider’s back, leaving Jesse screaming after discovering that he was wearing the glove all along. Jesse is returned home by the police after being found wandering naked on the highway. Ken assumes he’s riddled with drug addiction.

So the first death scene comes rather late into the film. Nearly halfway through and it’s yet another perplexing scenario. Was Jesse sleepwalking? Did Freddy possess him in his sleep and force him to kill Schneider? Did Schneider meet Jesse in the bar and take him back to the school? Did Jesse have the glove on him all along? Why does Freddy want to kill Schneider? Does Freddy represent Jesse’s repressed homosexual desire for Schneider? Answers on a postcard or comment below please!

Jesse heads to school (Ken still wants to send him to the dreaded meth clinic but then settles for a good kick in the butt) and finds out Schneider was ‘wasted’ the previous night. Later that evening, Jesse finds the glove in his desk drawer. He stalks the house, discovering Angela skipping and singing the jump rope song in a random bedroom filled only with toys and wicker furniture.

Another irritating aspect of this entry is the ‘kill for me’ subplot. Freddy needs Jesse; he’s using him. So Jesse is in no real danger from Freddy, meaning absolutely zero tension. As for Lisa and Grady, they’re just not integrated well enough into the plot for the audience to feel they are at any risk from Freddy for the majority of the film.

Another morning, another family breakfast at the Walsh house fraught with accusations, arguments and flaming appliances. Jesse decides to pin his dad down on the sordid history of the house and Ken cracks, admitting he knew everything but hey, got a great deal on the price. It’s news to Mother Walsh and Angela is getting upset. Then, just when things couldn’t get any more heated in this overheated hotbed of a house, the toasted ejects flames from its twin slits rather than delicious crispy bread.

Jesse makes a swift exit and Lisa takes him on a mystery tour. On the way she denounces any potential involvement Jesse might have had in Schneider’s death (“Just because you dreamt it, doesn’t mean you did it”) and directs them to a nearby abandoned power plant. Lisa has done some ‘reading up’ on ‘our friend’ Fred Krueger and reveals he kidnapped twenty children prior to his death and brought them to the power plant’s boiler room. Inside the power plant, Jesse feels no psychic connection and all they find is a rat.

We cut to one of the more inspired shots in the film: we see the boiler in the Walsh basement erupt into flames then a POV shot leads us up the stairs, around the house and into Angela’s room. We hear Freddy wake her up, but it just turns out to be Jesse who tells her to go back to sleep, but tucks her in with Freddy’s glove. Jesse hits the ‘sta-up’ pills.

After a brief interlude at school (really just to establish that Grady is grounded – Robert Rusler impressively does the entire scene with his mouth full) it’s the night of Lisa’s party. Everyone is there in their best pool party gear, Lisa’s dad is on BBQ duties (he’s ‘Mr Wonderful’ according to his apron) but Jesse is not having a good time. Lisa’s parents head off to bed and Lisa tries to talk to Jesse. Kim Myers’s performance in the film is quite sincere. You get the sense that she genuinely cares about Jesse, but her character just isn’t strong enough to reach the heights of some of the more well-loved franchise heroines. As Lisa’s parents turn their lights off, the thumping eighties pop music is turned on and everyone spontaneously jumps into the swimming pool. Meanwhile, in the cabana, Jesse and Lisa get down to it. Sadly, Jesse’s attempt to prove his heterosexuality is rudely interrupted by a phallic looking grey tongue that pops out of his mouth, ruining the moment completely.

Jesse (Mark Patton) with Freddy's tongue in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Is that a large grey tongue in your mouth or are you just possessed by Freddy?

I’m assuming this is Freddy’s tongue, even though his tongue was never this rubbery. Is this another example of Freddy representing Jesse’s deeply repressed and resented sexuality? Perhaps – as Jesse runs away from Lisa he almost literally (thanks to the chronic editing of these two scenes) lands on top of Grady in bed. How about a few establishing shots of Jesse outside Grady’s window or even showing us how he got into his bedroom in the first place?

Robert Rusler and Mark Patton in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Jesse and Grady’s bromance heats up.

Jesse confesses to killing Schneider and tells Grady there’s something inside of him making him kill which switches to “Something is trying to get inside my body” moments later. Get your story straight, Jesse. Grady responds with the immortal line: “She’s female and waiting for you in the cabana and you want to sleep with me?” and Jesse sort of does, in a way. He wants to sleep while Grady watches over him, protecting him with his big strong jock arms. Or something like that. As Grady decides to ignore Jesse’s plea and not watch him whilst he sleeps, we come to the standout special effect. The big transformation. Freddy’s blades grow from Jesse’s finger tips, his arm flesh splits to reveal Freddy’s jumper.

Jesse and Freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Freddy breaks out of Jesse in the big transformation scene.

Freddy begins to push out of Jesse’s chest and then uses the blades to release himself, literally stepping out of Jesse like he was an old overcoat. All this while Grady has hysterics trying to open his bedroom door. Freddy certainly looks very menacing in this scene and savagely kills Grady, his blades coming through the door. Freddy is now merely Jesse’s reflection as Jesse is left covered in blood, crying over his dead potential boyfriend.

Jesse (Mark Patton) in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Jesse is confronted with the aftermath of Grady’s death.

Jesse unbelievably manages to escape the scene of the crime despite the amount of police activity you can hear in the background. It seems the money they spent of the transformation scene left very little money to pay for a decent slashed chest for Grady as he merely looks like he’s had a run in with a playful cat.

Jesse goes back to Lisa’s and confesses to his latest kill. Despite him being literally red-handed, Lisa seems to be in denial somewhat. Jesse rants about being ‘owned’ by Freddy and tells Lisa “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!” It’s all getting too hot to handle, especially outside where the pool is starting to simmer, the sausages are exploding and the beer cans are popping. Lisa (letting Jesse sit on the sofa, despite the blood) explains that she has finally gotten to the end of Nancy’s diary and has discovered Freddy’s energy comes from fear, and that Jesse just needs to stop being afraid of him. Before Lisa knows it, the house has locked itself tight and Freddy is on the loose, mercilessly attacking any ornament in his path. Lisa attacks Freddy with a knife, responding to Jesse’s voice from Freddy’s lips pleading for death. Freddy then announces his love for Lisa. What?! Is Jesse still in there somewhere? Can the power of love save the day?

Kim Myers and Robert Englund in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Lisa must choose between her love for Jesse and her duty to protect her party guests from Freddy.

Freddy jumps through the French doors, disappearing (Lisa won’t be having any more house parties) and all is calm for a few moments before he reappears and begins to attack the party going kids. Flames erupt, the pool boils violently and Robert Englund looks a little small and unthreatening next to some of the guys, no matter how many tables Freddy overturns or chairs he throws into the pool. The best kill is obviously the guy in the blue t-shirt who tries to reason with Freddy. Freddy then delivers probably the only line that made it into the pantheon of classic Krueger quotes which is the: “You are all my children now” although the group he delivers it to are a mixed bunch. Expression-wise, they range from scared to bored. Lisa’s dad tries to off Freddy with a shotgun but she stops him, sensing her Jesse under that charred surface. Freddy then wades through the Bermuda shorts and camel toes to disappear through the fence.

Robert Englund as Freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

“You are all my children now”

Lisa heads to the power plant (why does Freddy go back to where he died? He’s back in the real world now, he can do whatever he likes) only to encounter some Rottweilers in Halloween masks guarding the place. I always start to lose my patience here – having Freddy in the waking world with dream-world powers is bad enough, but these unimpressive demon dogs make no sense at all.

Lisa (Kim Myers) faces demon dogs in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Cujo they ain’t. Lisa faces two of the least scary dogs in cinema history.

Lisa makes her way through the vast power plant (whoever found this location should be shot, it’s enormous and really lacks the grimy, claustrophobic quality of the original boiler room) and begins to hallucinate ants crawling over one of her wounds from her earlier fight with Freddy. She encounters a rat which turns briefly into a demon rat before being eaten by cat which then turns into a demon cat. So far, so hand puppet.

Lisa bumps into Freddy and he corners her. She calls for Jesse and Freddy begins to bleed from his stab wounds as she declares her love. So does love conquer all and defeat Freddy? It would seem so. As Lisa prattles on about Jesse escaping and how she’s not afraid of Freddy anymore, he decides to sit down and helpfully burn to death. It’s a bit of limp little climax all told. The catwalk they’re on decides to burst into flames for no reason, Freddy’s cheek melts a bit and then he just sort of slumps over. But hurrah! Jesse emerges from Freddy’s crust and embraces Lisa.

Kim Myers and Robert Englund in  A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Lisa defeats Freddy with the power of love. I think.

So to the epilogue then: Jesse emerges from his house and practically skips onto the school bus. Kerry is sat behind Jesse and Lisa. Everything is fine until Freddy’s glove bursts out of Kerry’s stomach and the school bus heads off into the scrubland.

In reflection, this is definitely my least favourite entry in the entire series. The original contained so many oddly disturbing moments. This doesn’t. I struggled to find any. The plot is all over the place and so many things were left unresolved. Going back to re-watch the film for the purposes of writing this (long overdue part two of my) retrospective, it became clear the biggest problem was abandoning Freddy’s original mission and focusing on the possession of Jesse. I think that storyline would have been more interesting if Jesse had become evil rather than fighting Freddy throughout. This would have forced Lisa’s character to take a more proactive and interesting role. The core concept of the original is also left behind: the nightmares- the idea of dying in your dream and dying for real. The nightmare sequences in Part 2 are incidental at best. The first half of the film is average family besieged by supernatural forces in their new home. The second half drops that subplot completely and shifts to the possession aspect of the film and ends just standard slasher fare.

If you’re newcomer to the film, watch it and tell yourself Freddy represents that part of Jesse that loathes and struggles with his sexuality and the feelings he’s having for Lisa and Grady. It will make the film slightly more interesting, but doesn’t cover up the underwhelming acting, plot holes or (mostly) embarrassing effects. The next entry in the series would take Freddy back to his roots whilst expanding his backstory. In the meantime, anyone for a game of Probe?

February 2015

Kim Myers in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Lisa prepares to ‘probe’ Nancy’s diary.

My 10 Favourite Horror Film Endings

What makes a good horror film ending a great horror film ending? My criteria were simple: heart-stopping, nightmare-inducing or just mad as a box of frogs. Horrible spoilers ahead:

“I guess I just slept heavy…”

‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984) Dir: Wes Craven

The epilogue to Wes Craven’s 1984 shocker was an infamously contested affair. Conceived as a happier ending more in line with Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) turning her back on Freddy (Robert Englund) and taking away his energy, it was rejigged multiple times by producer Bob Shaye to contain a sequel hook. Shaye pushed for Freddy to be driving the car but a possessed car with a red and green striped roof was ultimately the compromise (Freddy was at the wheel of the school bus in the opening sequence of Nightmare 2). This ending makes the list for its decent shock moment (if albeit a slightly ridiculous one) of Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley) being pulled through the tiny, tiny window in the front door and the nice creepy shot of the singing girls as the car drives away.

nightmare on elm street, freddy car, freddy krueger, johnny depp, wes craven, heather langenkamp, ending, final scene

Driven away into the fog of a never ending nightmare. Some things never change for Nancy.

 

“There’s chaos in the streets”

‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979) Dir: Lucio Fulci

The coda to Fulci’s eyeball-splintering, gut-munching, shark-battling gore fest makes it on to this list due to its sheer audacity. As our heroes Ann (Tisa Farrow) and Peter (Ian McCulloch) sail back to New York with newly bitten Brian (Al Cliver) locked up below deck as proof of their vile holiday on Mutul, the radio bleats out some shocking exposition: the city has been taken over by zombies! This is accompanied by some fantastic shots of corpses walking across Brooklyn Bridge (the traffic is still whizzing along below despite the state of emergency). Ann and Peter don’t seem overly bothered by this, maybe they’d decided to change course to somewhere less zombie ridden? The radio announcer gets the best line ‘I’ve just been informed zombies have entered the building! They’re at the door! They’re coming in! ARRGGHHHH!’ Brilliant. Such a great score too. Fulci, I doff my cap to you.

zombie, zombie flesh eaters, 1979, horror, lucio fulci, new york zombie

THEY ARE GOING TO EAT YOU! Fulci’s undead stalk New York.

“BRIAN!”

 ‘Brain Damage’ (1988) Dir: Frank Henenlotter

The ending to Henenlotter’s trashy; drug addiction saga is probably the most bizarre on the list. After hallucinogen producing, brain injecting, turd impersonating parasite Aylmer has been crushed to death by Brian’s (Rick Hearst) bitter old neighbour, Brian’s brain starts to have a meltdown of epic proportions. Leaking blue liquid from scalp, Brian’s forehead begins to distend in a none too healthy fashion. They say one can do some stupid things when high and Brian decides the best way to deal with this leaking boil on his head is too shoot it off with the nearest gun. When found by New York’s finest and his brother, Brian is missing a huge chunk from his forehead and is emitting a rather startling beam of light from the hole in his head. He certainly seems a lot calmer. The film ends there leaving Brian’s fate unresolved.

brain damage, 1988, frank henenlotter, aylmer, horror

Too much of the blue stuff. Brian pays a high price for the Aylmer addiction.

 

‘Come on, you devils’

‘Kill List’ (2011) Dir: Ben Wheatley

After the priest, the librarian and the MP hit man Jay (Neil Maskell) must face the hunchback. It’s at this point in ‘Kill List’ that its moved away from the seedy-hit man-hard violence territory and segued into full on crazy cult/paganism horror like Summerisle and all the residents are tripping. The horrible revelation that Jay has just stabbed his wife (MyAnna Buring) and son (Harry Simpson) to death is made even more horrid by the grin plastered all over her face as she’s dying. Also re-watching the film, the scene is acted out as a playful family rough and tumble with foam swords very early on in the first half which makes the ending even more grim. Roll on ‘High Rise’. No picture or clip I’m afraid but here’s a shot of the creepy foreshadowing scene:

kill list, Ben Wheatley, 2011, myanna burring, horror, hitman, neil maskell, british

Jay hones his hunchback slaying skills in ‘Kill List’.

 

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!”

‘Tenebrae’ (1982) Dir: Dario Argento

The ending of ‘Tenebrae’ is full of shocking twists and turns. We’ve just found out that our former hero, novelist Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is actually the razor killer having taken over from the original killer half way through the film. Detective Giermani (Giuliano Gemma) and Peter’s lovelorn assistant Anne (big screamer Daria Nicolodi) turn up at his latest crime scene only for Peter to gruesomely slit his own throat in front of them. While Anne waits safely in the police car, Giermani returns to the house only to find Peter had faked his death with a bloody squirting razor! My favourite moment is the detective stooping to pick up a hanky to suddenly reveal Peter looming behind him. He’s quickly on the receiving end of an axe in the back. Argento turns the insanity up to 11 when Anne returns to the house and is saved from certain death by an out of control piece of eighties deco sculpture! Peter is impaled by a spike to the stomach and his hands are too bloody and slippery to pull it out of him. What a way to go…

Daria Nicolodi, tenebrae, 1982, giallo, dario argento, slasher film

Who knew eighties sculpture could be so scary? Daria Nicolodi screams her heart out in ‘Tenebrae’.

 

“And you will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored”

‘The Beyond’ (1981) Dir: Lucio Fulci

Back in the twisted world of Fulci for number 5. ‘The Beyond’ is by far my favourite Fulci film for all its nonsensical plotlines and unconvincing spiders. The ending makes no sense whatsoever but I’d argue furiously that it has a wonderful haunting quality helped by another memorable Fulci score. Liza (Catriona MacColl) and John (David Warbeck) have only barely escaped the hordes of random zombies who rudely turned up at the local hospital when they find themselves back in the flooded basement of the cursed hotel where all the trouble kicked off. Understandably confused, they wander into some basement fog and find themselves trapped inside the Beyond itself. Resembling Schweick’s (Antoine Saint-John) bleeding painting from earlier the film, the Beyond is a truly terrifying landscape, populated by grey decaying bodies portrayed by local homeless people rumoured to be paid in alcohol by the production team. The sight of the Beyond turns Liza and John blind and they slowly disappear as the music swells.

the beyond, lucio fulci, italian horror, italian splatter, grindhouse, catriona mccoll, eighties horror, video nasty

John and Liza are trapped in the Beyond. Moral? Don’t buy a hotel built one of the seven gates of hell.

 

“We confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death”

‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) Dir: Robin Hardy

Is there a moment more chilling in the history of British horror than our first glimpse of the titular sculpture as Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is dragged over the hill towards his fate? The fact that Howie has been so blindly wrong about everything since he arrived on the island and only realises the true nature of his purpose there in the final moments of the film compounds the horror of the ending.  He can’t get through to any of the islanders and completely breaks when he realises they really are going to burn him alive. The Wicker Man itself is terrifying, having gone through many designs incorporating faces before finally arriving at the chilling, featureless effigy. The shot of the Wicker Man’s head collapsing and revealing the sunset is both beautiful and devastating. One of the bleakest endings ever captured in the daylight.

wicker man, 1973, British horror, Christopher lee, Edward woodward, robin hardy, pagan horror, classic horror, 70s horror

“It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man”

 

“I’m a friend, I won’t hurt you”

‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) Dir: Nic Roeg

One of the most troubling endings in all of horror film history: John (Donald Sutherland) discovering the figure in red coat is not the ghost of his drowned daughter, not a figment of his imagination but actually a murderous dwarf who promptly buries a butcher knife in his neck. Roeg’s mediation on loss, grief and mental disintegration is a masterpiece of recurring sounds, symbols and imagery. The last scene, when John finally realises he has made a terrible mistake, brings all the repeated imagery together in one final shattering montage. We see elderly blind Heather (Hilary Mason) screaming in agony (she foresaw danger for John), we see the slide that warned John of Christine’s (Sharon Williams) death early on in the film but this time we disturbingly spot the red coated dwarf sat in the picture all along. The terrifying bells give way to Pino Donaggio’s beautiful score and we realise the funeral barge carrying Laura (Julie Christie) and the sisters that went past John earlier the film was actually a premonition of his own death. A faultless exercise in terror and deep sadness.

don't look now, 1973, nic roeg, horror, slasher, venice, donald sutherland, julie christie, dwarf, red coat

Grief reveals its true face in ‘Don’t Look Now’.

 

“I wouldn’t let her go to the funerals”

‘Carrie’ (1976) Dir: Brian De Palma

Arguably stolen from the conclusion of ‘Deliverance’ (1972), the combination of Amy Irving’s hysterics, Sissy Spacek’s bloody arm, Brian De Palma’s skilled direction and a nerve shredding final musical cue from Pino Donaggio make this emerging hand ending the one all others are measured by. Traumatised by both survivor guilt and that she (with the best intentions) put poor old shit-eating Carrie White in the situation in the first place, Sue Snell has been confined to bed rest, watched over by her daytime drinking, soap loving mom (Priscilla Pointer, Irving’s real life mother). Sue dreams of placing flowers on Carrie’s grave. De Palma famously shot her walk to the gravesite in reverse (you can just spot the car going backwards at the bottom of the hill) to give it a surreal, dreamlike quality. Carrie’s grave is located on the site of the destroyed White house and I love the way the makeshift grave seems to grow to huge proportions as Sue approaches it. When Carrie’s hand makes the grab, Sue wakes up with her arm frozen in the same position as she convulses. Nice touch De Palma! The ending of Kimberly Pierce’s 2013 hit and miss remake has some of the same elements (Sue Snell, Carrie’s vandalised grave) but sadly turned out to be the cinematic equivalent of a shrug.

carrie, 1976, shock ending, sue snell, sissy spacek, stephen king, brian de palma, teen horror

‘Carrie White burns in hell’. Heed the graffiti Sue!

 

“Matthew…?”

’Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ (1978) Dir: Phillip Kaufman

My favourite horror film ending has it all. Its downbeat, it has Donald Sutherland and it turns your blood to ice. After losing the battle against the pod people, Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) seemingly accepts his only option is pretend to be emotionless, blend in and work from within, apparently with a view to resist the invasion. He’s lost his best friend (Jeff Goldblum), his newly discovered true love (Brooke Adams) and he’s even lost Leonard Nimoy to the pods. During a routine blending-in, Matthew is spotted by fellow escapee Nancy (Veronica Cartwright). As she calls to him, Matthew freezes, raises his arm to point her out and emits the all too familiar high-pitched pod person scream. He wasn’t pretending! They got him too! Nancy becomes hysterical and the film ends. Donald Sutherland manages to contort his face in such an ungodly way that when combined with his scream, I nearly soiled myself. Plus the end credits have no music- just a horrible silence that leaves you reeling. Kaufman’s film was the first of three remakes of the 1956 original and remains the best of the bunch. Once you see Donald Sutherland screaming it pretty much stays with you forever. One day I will approach someone I know and they will turn around, point and begin screaming at me. This is what Donald Sutherland has done to me.

invasion of the body snatchers, 1978, remake, donald sutherland, pod, sci fi, horror

Donald Sutherland haunts my nightmares.

 

What amazingly chilling endings are missing from my list? Comments welcome folks.

 

November 2014

 

Film Review: ‘Demons’ (1985)

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and Kathy (Paola Cozzo) are two happy, carefree college students until they accept mysterious free cinema tickets from a mysterious masked stranger. Watching an extremely worrisome horror film about four teenagers poking around the tomb of Nostradamus, a local prostitute in the audience (who has cut her face on a prop replica mask from the film in the cinema lobby) is transformed into a fanged demon. With the patrons trapped inside the cinema, the stage is set for an orgy of violence, fangs and green pus.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

Would you accept a cinema ticket from this man?

‘Demons’ is one of those films I remember staring at the cover of in my local VHS rental dungeon when I was about 8 years old in the days before Blockbuster Video came to my one horse town. I’m 30 now so have (admittedly) taken a long time to get around to watching it.

‘Demons’ dispenses with any coherent storyline very quickly and what little storyline it has is never really resolved. We don’t learn much about heroines, Cheryl and Kathy. We know they go to college. We know Kathy hates horror films. What we don’t know is how they even make it to the foreboding cinema in the first place as they are very quick to announce they’ve never heard of it before.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

The unfortunate cinema goers of ‘Demons’

Once they (inexplicably) rock up at the cinema, we get to meet the array of characters that will be dying horribly within the next 20 minutes or so. Great mix, I have to say. Highlights include the sinister blind man and his oversexed daughter, the elderly couple out on their anniversary, the world’s most evil looking usherette (Nicoletta Elmi- sinister red haired child in Argento’s ‘Deep Red’)  and my favourite character of all: Tony the pimp (Bobby Rhodes) and his two hookers – Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo) and Carmen (Fabiola Toledo). Sinister blind man is the first to sense the demon mask hanging off the motorbike parked in the foyer is evil but it’s too late- party girl Rosemary is already wearing it for shits ‘n’ giggles.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento, tony, bobby rhodes

Rosemary, Tony the pimp and Carmen. If they only knew the horrors that await them.

I was never able to ascertain the name of the film that is being screened but I can confirm it was your classic four teenagers in a crypt kind of thing. One finds a mask (very similar to the one in the film) that cuts his face after being worn and he transforms into a demon. It’s during this troubling scene that our Rosemary rushes to the ladies in time for the cut on her face to explode in a shower of pus. Yes! Rosemary has become a demon.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

Cinema nacho cheese. You don’t buy it, only rent it. Rosemary finds out the hard way.

Rosemary the demon wastes no time in infecting Carmen. And then the plague spreads like wildfire. The remainder of the film is spent inside the cinema with Cheryl and possible new beau George (Urbano Barberini) fending off demons left, right and centre. Tony the pimp takes charge for the first half of the film, shouting helpful things like “QUIET! QUIET! LISTEN TO ME! Let’s find the emergency exits!”, “If we stick together no one gets hurt!” and “Hey look, there’s a body here. Give me hand to throw her into the stalls!” I was extremely upset when Tony became a demon.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

Tony barking orders in ‘Demons’

The film never really makes clear what is actually causing the evil. Is it the building, the mask, the film or something else? Who was the masked man and why did he give out the cinema tickets only to turn up at the very end to be dispatched horribly? Why did the usherette seem so evil in the opening scenes? How did Kathy and Cheryl find the cinema? What was the name of the film being shown? When did Cheryl get infected? Why did a helicopter fall through the cinema roof? Why were a motorbike and a samurai sword on display in the lobby?

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento, helicopter

Some idiot dropped a helicopter through the roof!

‘Demons’ presents a lot of unanswered questions. On the plus side, it had some wonderfully gruesome special effects moments (highlight- Kathy giving birth to a demon from a hole in her back) and a wonderful eighties rock soundtrack.  As always, a great release from Arrow Films.

demons, 1985, lamberto bava, dario argento

The irony being, Kathy didn’t like horror films and then her life became a horror film.

Favourite Characters #2: Delia Deetz

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz, catherine o'hara

“I will not stop living and breathing art just because you need to relax”

‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) will always be remembered for many things.  For introducing the now trademark style of Tim Burton to a mainstream audience, for leading to the Burton/Keaton collaborations in ‘Batman’ (1989) and ‘Batman Returns’ (1992), for giving Winona Ryder her big break at the tender age of 15 as the disaffected Lydia Deetz and as a showcase for the talents of Alec Baldwin in his ‘leading man’ heyday.

My favourite character isn’t Lydia the goth, Beetlejuice the bio-exorcist, Juno the caseworker, Otho the interior designer, the smoking ghost, the shrunken head man, the weird hanging run-over man or even Adam Maitland (did I mention the sterling work from Alec Baldwin?), it’s the artless artist: Delia Deetz played by the always irresistible Catherine O’Hara.

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz,catherine o'hara

Delia Deetz. She lives and breathes art.

We first meet Delia as she greets her new home for the first time. No one likes moving – Delia glides in with a face like slapped arse – and she wastes no time in marking out her territory (the entire house) like a pissing dog (if the dog pissed spray paint and wore yuppie chic). “A little gasoline, a blow-torch, no problem”- Delia has brought Otho (dearly departed Glen Shadix), her personal designer, with her to fix the myriad of design challenges this ‘giant ant farm’ presents.  As a child I was quite confused as to who Otho was- Delia seemed to like him much more than her husband and I mistook her for a bigamist. Poor Charles Deetz (Jeffery Jones) is almost cuckolded by her devotion to her truly tacky artistic vision and only gets one room left untouched for him to enjoy. Or as Delia screams it: “I’m here with you. I will live with you in this hellhole, but I must express myself. If you don’t let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane, and I will take you with me”

Who would argue with that?

Catherine O’Hara is on fine form making a completely humourless character very funny indeed. Delia loathes the house (despite the opportunity it affords her to “finally cook a decent meal”) and Connecticut (Charles has clearly had some kind of nervous breakdown forcing the family to leave New York) and doesn’t show much love towards her significant others. Her primary way of showing affection is to lick Charles in public. That’s just not right.

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz, catherine o'hara, jeffery jones, charles deetz

“Then go do it quietly dear and let Otho and I think” Delia shows Charles some love.

As mentioned, art is number one in Delia’s life – “I could start sculpting again, you know I’m only truly happy when I’m sculpting” she deadpans during their first family meal in the new house. Her sculptures are truly monstrous – they nearly kill two people and that’s before Beetlejuice brings them to life at the climax of the film – comic highlight? Delia getting pinned to the garage door by one of her creations – this is her art and it is dangerous! Delia’s agent Bernard (Dick Cavett) can barely bring himself to look at them or speak about them when she tries to tease out his opinion. Luckily Delia answers for him in the affirmative: “He likes them”.

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz, catherine o'hara, art

“This is my art and it is dangerous. Do you think I want to die like this?”

This is all leading up to of my (and many others I’m sure) most favourite moments: Delia leads her chic dinner party guests (except for Lydia, they’ve all been in Vanity Fair) in an impromptu mime and dance along to Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song. A YouTube favourite to this day.

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz,catherine o'hara, day-o

“No! I am sick of that subject. I would rather talk about…DAY-O, DAY-O. Daylight come and me wan’ go home”

What becomes of Mrs Deetz? Well, after the Beetlejuice debacle, she starts sculpting him (in snake form), gets coffee table book published and changes the home back to its former drabness. A pretty large U-turn but I guess a sandworm crashing through your lounge celling while your stepdaughter is being forced to marry a perverted bio-exorcist who’s far too old for her can do funny things to a person. Or at least make one rethink one’s decorating choices.

beetlejuice, tim burton, delia deetz,catherine o'hara, art

Delia Deetz. Sculpting again and no doubt truly happy.

I cannot really sum up Delia better than her own agent who pulls no punches as he leaves after the dinner party possession fiasco: “Delia you are a flake. You have always been a flake. If you insist on frightening people, do it with your sculpture”. He promptly exits leaving Delia aghast as she utters a quiet but hilarious “I’m dead”. Talk about destroying someone! But she ends up with her own book so that shows what little he knew. Although he probably got some kind of percentage from the sales, the bastard.

I leave you, dear reader, with an open letter:

Dear Mr Burton,

If you really are to make a ‘Beetlejuice’ sequel, please make sure the cast includes Catherine O’Hara. She’s so much funnier than Alec Baldwin.

Kind regards,

All at the Mantle Clinic.

——————————–

Who’s your favourite ‘Beetlejuice’ character? Tell me below after you check out that classic dinner party scene one more time.

Film Review: ‘The Ordeal/Calvaire’ (2004)

the ordeal/calvaire, 2004, film poster

Cabaret singer Marc (Laurent Lucas) is driving to a pre-Christmas function when his van breaks down in the woods during a storm. He reaches a nearby inn with the aid of dog-obsessed Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard). Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) the innkeeper is delighted to learn of Marc’s profession (his absent wife Gloria is a singer, Bartel himself a former comedian) and sets about ensuring Marc will remain at the inn permanently.

“The Ordeal” is a delightfully bleak little film about one very lonely and extremely unstable innkeeper. Bartel is the films most fleshed out and therefore most sympathetic character. Marc may be the lead role but as his ordeal continues, he becomes a blank canvas of suffering for Bartel and the villagers to project their desires and frustrations on to. Even when Marc has the opportunity to take a gun from one of his attackers, he passively complies with the man’s delusions.

the ordeal/calvaire, Jackie Berroyer

Mr Bartel. Former comedian. Part time innkeeper. Full time psychopath.

Marc’s profession is key to the early scenes of the film (the film has no formal score, the opening shot is accompanied by Marc humming to himself as he prepares for a show- and what a show!), it inspires lust and devotion to anyone who hears it. Hearing Marc’s singing voice is ultimately what drives Bartel to use him as a replacement for his absentee wife Gloria (grimly shaving his hair and forcing him into a dress). However, Bartel is clearly somewhat unstable prior to this, he a nice line in Annie Wilkes-style fake telephones and treats Marc possessively from the outset- stopping him going to the village, going through his things, inventing reasons for him to stay.

the ordeal/calvaire, Laurent Lucas, marc

Marc suffering his ordeal.

The film is littered with connections to its horror film heritage- the “Don’t Look Now” inspired children in their red coats appear briefly and the backwoods villagers recall “Deliverance” (as does the vicious male rape scene). The village is notable for its lack of women (the only two women in the film appear early on, are poles apart in age and both try and seduce Marc rather awkwardly), Gloria has left Bartel and the only other female character mentioned is Boris’ dog Bella who never shows up. Boris must make do with a calf during the hellish “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” inspired dinner sequence- all mocking screaming and extreme close ups of Marc’s eyeballs.

The climax of the film is set in some nightmarish forests as Marc is chased through swamp land. Marc comes across a crucifixion image (mirroring the nails driven through his wrists by Bartel earlier in the film) then almost forgives a would-be attacker as he’s left alone to wander the wastelands having assumed the role of Gloria.

the ordeal/calvaire, marc, bartel, Jackie Berroyer, Laurent Lucas

Marc adopts a christ-like post for Mr Bartel.

The majority of the filmed is shot in a naturalistic way save for two key trick shots (a double zoom that passes through Marc’s windshield and the impossibly high overhead shot as Marc is raped by the villagers). Benoit Debie directed the photography and also worked on Fabrice Du Welz’s follow up “Vinyan”.

“The Ordeal” is a blackly humorous, nasty little film which reiterates that age old horror film lesson: if you break down in the woods don’t go looking for help from the local inn/farm/house. Call the RAC and sit very tight, clutching a weapon.

Film Review: ‘Grace’ (2009)

grace (2009), film poster, horror

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968), ‘It’s Alive’ (1974), ‘The Omen’ (1976), ‘Eraserhead’(1977), – nightmarish children and the fear of new life are horror film staples and Grace, a baby who will only feed on blood is an interesting addition.

Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) is eight months pregnant when she loses her husband, Michael (Steven Park) in a car crash. The accident kills their unborn daughter but Madeline insists on carrying her to term. Immediately after the birth, the baby returns to life in Madeline’s arms. She names her Grace, takes her home but soon discovers there is something very wrong with her miracle child.

Grace, grace 2009, horror, jordan ladd

Madeline prepares for birth.

Primarily, Paul Solet’s film is concerned with the theme of decay – Madeline’s house is painted in sickly green, fruit slowly rots in the kitchen as Grace takes over her life and the first things Madeline notices about her are the flies she attracts.

More jarring are the various parallels the film presents: Madeline is an enthusiastic vegan yet the television in her kitchen is permanently tuned to the animal channel. Shots of animal slaughter echo the death and bleeding of sleazy doctor to feed Grace later in the film, kittens breast feeding (her attempts to feed Grace breast milk) and a dog over run with fleas (emphasizing Grace’s parasitic nature). She tries to feed her cat soy milk as Grace ultimately rejects breast milk in favour of blood.

grace, grace 2009, horror film, jordan ladd

Madeline gets dinner ready.

‘Grace’ ultimately struggles to sustain the initial concept into the second half of the film where the plot lulls as we await the discovery of Madeline’s secret by Vivian (Gabrielle Rose) her domineering mother in law. And while the final line and parting shot are impressively unpleasant, overall the ‘Thelma and Louise’ style ending doesn’t sit well with what has gone before.

Where the film succeeds is in its excellent sound design and some memorable imagery – Grace bleeding as Madeline tries to wash away the smell of decay, Madeline decanting supermarket meat blood into a baby bottle, Grace’s bedroom covered in flypaper.

grace, 2009, grace 2009, gabrielle rose

Gabrielle Rose as Vivian.

The film’s best performance is from Gabrielle Rose as the controlling Vivian. After proudly proclaiming her long term mothering skills in the opening scenes, she provides the most impressively sick moment as she breastfeeds her husband to deal with the loss of her son. ‘Grace’ is well worth a watch for her performance alone.