The Things You Find On Netflix: Hush (dir by Mike Flanagan)


Let me start by stating the obvious.  I have seen a lot of horror movies.  I love horror as a genre and, in fact, it was my love of horror that first led to me becoming a film blogger in the first place.  I have seen a lot of scary and shocking images onscreen.  I know the experience of watching a movie and screaming.  I also know the experience of watching a horror movie and being bored out of my mind.

I have also seen a lot of home invasion movies.  The home invasion genre is not a complicated one.  A group of people are isolated and trapped in their home while, outside, some terrible menace tries to enter the house.  Night of the Living Dead is a home invasion film.  The final 20 minutes of Straw Dogs (both the remake and the original) are home invasion films.  Michael Haneke made two of the ultimate home invasion films with two separate versions of Funny Games.  And, of course, we can’t talk about the home invasion genre without mentioning the brilliant You’re Next.

The home invasion genre works so well because, at its center, is a very real fear: the fear that, even within our own home, we are not safe.  When I get home, I am practically obsessive about checking to make sure that I always close and lock the door behind me but really, what good would that really do if someone was determined to get in?  Like everyone, I chose to believe that things like a locked door or a closed window is going to keep me safe but, honestly, if someone wants to get in, they’re probably going to find a way.  Locks and alarms and calls to 911 can only do so much.  Perhaps for that reason, home invasion movies always frighten me.  I can watch a zombie graphically devour someone in an Italian horror film and it doesn’t bother me at all.  But a well-directed home invasion movie?

That’ll keep me up for a week!

(And I know what you’re saying: “Lisa, if home invasion movies scare you so much, why do watch them?”  It’s a legitimate question and it’s something that I’ve often wondered myself.  I think, ultimately, it comes down to this: the only way to conquer our fears is to face them.)

With all that in mind, allow me to now come to the point of this review.  Last night, I watched Hush, which was just recently released by Netflix.  Hush is a home invasion movie.  Kate Siegel (who also co-wrote the script) plays Maddie, a writer who has been deaf and mute since she was 13 years old.  Still dealing with the a bad break-up, Maddie lives in an isolate cabin in the wilderness.  By day, she works on her second novel and occasionally visits with her neighbor.  And by night — well, on this particular night, she finds herself being watched by a man.

The Man (who is played by John Gallagher, Jr.) wears a white mask that gives him a permanent smile.  He carries a crossbow with him, a crossbow that has 8 notches on it.  When we first meet the man, he’s stabbing Maddie’s neighbor, Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), to death.  And now, he’s turned his attention to Maddie…

I say this without hyperbole: Hush is one of the scariest home invasion movies that I’ve ever seen.  The plot may occasionally seem familiar but director Mike Flanagan keeps things moving at an almost unbearably intense pace and he creates an atmosphere of such dread that you never feel truly safe assuming that anyone is going to survive the movie.  John Gallagher, Jr, who speaks with a deceptively soft voice, is terrifying as the Man.  The fact that he has no motives beyond his own sadism makes him all the more frightening.

But, ultimately, the reason the film works so well is because of Kate Siegel.  Kate Siegel gets an introducing credit in this film.  According to the imdb, Hush is not her first film but that introducing credit still feels appropriate.  Siegel is wonderful in the role of Maddie, giving a performance of such ferocity and empathy that Hush announces that a major talent has arrived and that Kate Siegel is a force to be reckoned with.

Hush is not always an easy film to watch.  The violence is visceral, the often spurting blood looks real and, when bones were snapped, it sounded disturbingly authentic.  Throughout the entire film, I found myself wondering what I would do if I was Maddie.  I cheered whenever it appeared that she might be able to escape the Man and I screamed whenever it became clear that she would not.  This is an intense and frightening home invasion film and one that all horror fans should see.  Hush captures our most primal fears and makes us wonder if we have what it takes to conquer them.

Hush will undoubtedly give me nightmares but I’ll take them.

The Fabulous Forties #13: Scared Stiff (dir by Frank McDonald)


Last night, as a gentle rain fell outside, I watched the 13th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set, 1945’s Scared Stiff.  (The version in the box set appeared under the title Treasure of Fear, which was what the title was changed to when the film was later re-released.  However, the film was originally entitled Scared Stiff and that’s the title that I’m going to use.  Scared Stiff is just a better title and I happen to like the Scared Stiff film poster, featured above.  So, just remember that if you ever find yourself watching an old movie called Treasure of Fear, you’re actually watching Scared Stiff.)

As I attempted to watch Scared Stiff, I was reminded of some of the problems that occasionally come with watching a film that has slipped into the public domain.

On the one hand, the public domain is great because it makes it a lot easier to watch old movies.  And while it’s true that many public domain films aren’t exactly classics, there are a few gems to be found.  For instance, since I started watching the movies in the Fabulous Forties box set, I’ve discovered The Black Book, Trapped, and Jungle Book.

On the other hand, being in the public domain means that virtually anyone can duplicate and sell a copy of the film.  As a result, many of these films are available (and frequently viewed) in versions that are of an extremely poor quality and which have often been haphazardly edited.

That’s one reason why it’s going to be difficult for me to review Scared Stiff.  The version that I saw was, even for a public domain B-movie, rough.  The picture was slightly fuzzy and the sound quality was not the greatest.  I don’t think you can ever truly understand that importance of a clean soundtrack until you listen to a scratchy one.

As for Scared Stiff itself, it’s a comedic murder mystery and thankfully, it’s only 65 minutes long.  Jack Haley plays a reporter who covers chess tournaments for his uncle’s newspaper.  Unfortunately, Haley’s not a very good reporter so his frustrated uncle orders him to go to Grape City so that he can cover a beauty contest, apparently believing that there’s no way that Haley could possibly screw that up.

However, Haley manages to do just that.  He gets off the bus at Grape Center, instead of Grape City.  He finds himself stranded at an inn that’s run by two twins (both played by Lucien Littlefield).  The twins hate each other for reasons that aren’t clear.  However, they do possess a chess set that was once owned by Marco Polo!  One twin owns the white pieces while the other owns the black pieces!  Haley wants to buy all the pieces but things get complicated when it turns out that a gang of thieves are also in town and they want to steal the set for themselves.

But that’s not at all!  One of the passengers on the bus is found murdered and he has a chess piece in his hand.  Of course, everyone suspects Haley.  So, Haley has to get the chess pieces, clear his name, and hopefully get to Grape City before his uncle fires him.

Scared Stiff is way too frantic for its own good and I have a feeling that I would feel the same even if I had seen a version that didn’t sound scratchy or often look fuzzy.  That said, it is interesting to see Jack Haley, who is best known for being The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, play a human being.  Also of interest, to film noir fans, was that Haley’s girlfriend was played by Detour‘s Ann Savage.  Both Haley and Savage gave good performances but it was not enough to save this misbegotten little film.