Film Review: The Girl On The Train (dir by Tate Taylor)


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Before I get around to talking about The Girl On The Train, I’m going to tell you a little story about myself.

A few years ago, I used to make a point of riding the DART train.  (DART stands for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.  Large sections of Upstream Color were filmed on a DART train.)  Every weekend, instead of driving out to the Dallas Angelika or the Dallas Museum of Art and contributing to climate change or whatever it was that I was supposedly doing whenever I drove my car, I would hop on the train.  It was a little inconvenient but I was saving the world.  Or something.

It was about a 30 minute ride from my local DART Station to downtown Dallas and I have to admit that I actually used to enjoy it.  I would always look out the window and watch as Dallas passed by.  I got to know all of the buildings and houses on the route pretty well.  Thanks to riding the DART train, I discovered that there’s a house on Forrest Lane that’s been boarded up for five years and counting.  Near Spring Creek, there’s a two-story house that I wouldn’t mind owning.  It’s a two-story glass house and it has a really nice deck that looks out over the creek.  I would always look at those houses and, in my mind, I would make up lurid stories about the people who lived there.  For a while, it was great fun.

(Unfortunately, it eventually stopped being fun but that’s a story that will have to wait for whenever I finally get around to reviewing Ms. 45…)

As I watched The Girl On The Train, I started to think about those times on the DART train.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every story that I came up with while sitting on my DART train was a hundred times more interesting than anything that happened in The Girl On The Train.

Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson.  Rachel is an alcoholic.  She got divorced from Tom (Justin Theroux) after she discovered that Tom was having an affair with their real estate agent, Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson).  Tom and Anna are now married and have a baby.  Rachel, meanwhile, is a blackout drunk who has been unemployed for a year.  She spends her time on a train, drinking and ride back and forth between Connecticut and New York.

Every night, the train stops near Rachel’s old house.  Rachel looks out the window and she stares at her former home.  Occasionally, she sees Tom and Anna celebrating their new life.  Rachel also finds herself obsessing on the house next door.  Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives at the house and works as Tom and Anna’s nanny.  As Rachel discovers from looking out the train’s window, Megan is cheating on her husband with a mysterious, bearded man (Edgar Ramirez).

(Rachel has a really good view from her window seat.  Admittedly, I’m notoriously near-sighted so I might not be the best judge, but I could never actually see what was happening inside any of the houses that I stared at.  Rachel, however, must have super vision.  Maybe she was Supergirl before she turned into an alcoholic.  Who knows?)

One day, a drunk-off-her-ass Rachel forces her way off of the train and stumbles towards her former home.  She thinks that she sees Anna jogging and chases after her.  “Whore!” Rachel yells before passing out.  When Rachel regains consciousness, she can’t remember anything that happened.  But she has vague memories of being involved in some sort of struggle…

Eventually, Rachel learns that Megan is missing and presumed murdered.  Even worse, Rachel is the number one suspect.  The main detective (who is somewhat inevitably played by Allison Janney) suspects that Rachel mistook Megan for Anna.  It turns out that Rachel has a history of erratic behavior.  She even tried to kidnap Tom and Anna’s baby!  Seriously, lock Rachel up!

Trying to figure out what happened and clear her name, Rachel approaches Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans) and pretends to be a friend of Megan’s.  It turns out that Scott was an abusive husband.  Soon, he’s both confiding in Rachel and encouraging her to start drinking again.  Rachel starts spending more and more time with Scott and it becomes obvious that she’s trying to live the life that she once imagined that Megan and Scott had.  There’s an interesting subtext to both Rachel’s obsession with Megan and her attempt to start a new relationship with Scott but it’s never really explored.  Instead, it’s brought up and then abandoned a few scenes later.

In fact, as a film, The Girl On The Train never really explores anything.  (It only grudgingly hints at the complexity of the book on which it was based.)  As opposed to similar films like Gone Girl or Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, there’s not much depth or insight to The Girl On The Train.  I’ve read some reviews that have complained that The Girl On The Train is “melodramatic” or “trashy,” but, if that were the case, it would at least be a fun movie to watch.  This is one of those films that thinks it’s a lot deeper than it actually is.

The Girl On The Train was probably doomed as soon as Tate Taylor was hired to direct it.  Taylor previously directed both The Help and a musical biopic called Get On Up.  Tate Taylor is one of those directors who goes out of his way not to challenge his audience (The Help is one of the most positive films about systemic racism that I’ve ever seen) but The Girl On The Train needed a director with more of a subversive edge.  The Girl On The Train needed a director who would embrace the film’s pulpy sensibility as opposed to one who would go out of his way to sand away the story’s rough edges and create an inoffensive and bland product that would be perfect for mass consumption.

And then you’ve got the film’s cast, which is full of talented performers who all seem to be uniquely uninspired by the material that they have to work with.  Emily Blunt did such good work in Looper and Sicario so why is she so boring here?  Why does Justin Theroux seem to be eagerly awaiting the end of the movie?  Why are both Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson reduced to playing characters who feel as if they’ve sprung out of a misogynist’s daydream?  What is Edgar Ramirez even doing in the movie?  Or Lisa Kudrow?  Or Laura Prepon?  Why is it that every world-weary female authority figure has to be played by Allison Janney?  Why?  Why?  Why!?

So, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with The Girl On The Train.  I think I would have been more entertained if I had just hopped on the DART train and let my imagination do the rest of the work.

Channel Zero: Candle Cove Season 1, Episode 1, ALT Title – The Tooth Fairy is Real … Real Hungry!


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Gentle Readers, it’s time to take a break from my stand alone film reviews and get something we can all sink our Teeth Into (you’ll get the pun later).  It’s the Syfy Channel’s return to their awesomely dramatic roots.   I will begin by writing that they delivered!  If you dig suspense, good writing, and intricate plots, this show is not a bad bet.

Cold Open:  A nightmare.  Mike Painter, America’s Child Psychologist, is being interviewed by an asshole.  The host pries deep into Mike’s private life and how his twin brother disappeared, several children were murdered in 1988, his blood type, and pictures of his colon – ok the last two were false, but the interviewer is a jerk.  The host gives Mike water that has a dying fly in it.  He puts Mike on the spot to talk to a creepy kid on the phone… who says “Why are you afraid to go home?”  Then, the cameraman is a mannequin.  What we got here is an unreliable narrator.  We smash to the first of many odd smash cuts: a scarecrow on fire.

Mike heads home and briefly talks to his mom.  She’s concerned that he is looking into the murders.  He lies and says no.  Mike goes to the Sheriff’s office and it’s a bit of exposition time, but not too bad.  We learn that Mike’s buddy has become Sheriff and that the Sheriff’s son is a bit of a misfit.  Mike wants the files on the murders.  Mike dissembles that he’s writing a book about the murders.  Sheriff wants to makes sure the book will be respectful and mentions that the victims were missing their teeth. YEECH!  Sheriff is worried that his son is a weirdo and offers to trade files for some free psychoanalysis…. as you do.  We also get a clue as to weirdness: there are reports of a person breaking into homes, but not stealing anything.  Yikes!

Dinner Party:  They discuss how the kids are watching too much tv.  Mike checks in on Katie – the Sheriff’s daughter – who is watching a creepy puppet show.  Mike mentions this when he returns to the dinner table.  The show was called Candle Cove.  The same show that they watched as children in 1988. It has a super creepy host called Jawbone – a puppet skeleton.  The adults discuss the show some more and Mike leaves abruptly.

 

Mike has a flashback to bullies messing with his brother and he does nothing.  They go home and the tv turns on and it’s the creepy puppet show Candle Cove.  This show really ratchets up the creep factor.  Seriously, you will be scared.  We flashback back to Mike’s childhood room.  He wakes and sees Jawbone in his room and Mike approaches him. When he touches Jawbone, he wakes in a field looking out at the woods.  He notices a man in the woods as well.

Diner:  Mike runs into his old English teacher and she quizzes him on grammar.  We cut away to Katie’s room.  She’s vanished.   This show’s creep factor really goes up and up and up.  A search party forms to look for Katie.  Katie’s mom Jessica confronts Mike because she’s learned that he was not home for five hours the previous night.  We learn that he was in psych ward a week ago.  He begins to rave that it’s the show that somehow took Katie away.  She rationally calls for help and he disappears.  Mike is convinced that he can find Katie.

Mike goes to the Sheriff’s house and sees Dane the Sheriff’s son.  Dane says, “She said you would ask”  Taking a moment. This is becoming The Ring, Ju-on, When a Stranger Calls levels of creepy.  Mike is convinced that he knows where Katie is.  He flees into the woods towards a place called “Crow’s Nest”.  We see a number of cutaways of burying bodies and hooks to the chest.  Yep, hooks to the chest.

Mike sees Jawbone and reaches to touch it.  Jawbone flees and leads him to Katie.  Mike rescues Katie and when they leave, we see the MONSTER: a Thing Covered in Teeth.  The Tooth Monster reaches out where Katie was sitting and takes away two bloody teeth.  You wanna be scared, watch this series!

They have thrown Mike in jail because he rescued Katie…come again?  Well, he’s in jail and gets released.  When he gets home, he mentions Candle Cove to his mom.  She responds that show was just static.  We cut to all of the children of the town watching Candle Cove.

This show is absolute gooseflesh inducing.  Where Stranger Things was dripping with nostalgia and gothic horror, Channel Zero taps into sheer Hitchcock suspense and Rod Serling terror.  It’s a great show for October and just a great Thriller!

 

 

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 4.4 “Seance”


Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 4th episode of the 4th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt.

In Seance, two con artists (Cathy Moriarty and Ben Cross) make the mistake of trying to cheat a wealthy man played by John Vernon.  Things don’t go as planned and, as so often happens when things get complicated, it all leads to a fake séance that turns out to be not quite as fake as was originally believed.

Seance is a lot of fun.  Despite being in color, it’s shot in the style of an old school film noir and nobody played heartless with quite as much panache as John Vernon.

Seance was directed by Gary Fleder and originally aired on July 4th, 1992.

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Demons (dir by Lamberto Bava)


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“What the Hell happened to Rosemary?”

— Tony The Pimp (Bobby Rhodes) in Demons (1985)

A lot of what you need to know about Demons, an Italian horror film from 1985, can be summed up by the fact that one of the leading characters is named Tony the Pimp.  Demons is a very self-aware film, one that is not only over-the-top and ludicrous but which is cheerfully aware that it’s over-the-top and ludicrous.  Considering that Demons is an apocalyptic film that ends with nearly the entire cast dead, Demons is a surprisingly good-natured horror film.

The film opens in Berlin.  There’s a mysterious man hanging out at a subway station.  He’s wearing a silver half-mask and, from what we can see of his face, he appears to be heavily scarred.  Interestingly enough, the man is played by Michele Soavi.  (Though Soavi is now best remembered as the director of Dellamorte Dellamore, he was an actor and assistant to Dario Argento when Demons was produced.)  The man doesn’t speak.  Instead, he hands out flyers to random people, inviting them to attend the premiere of a new horror film.

The man obviously does a very good because a truly diverse group of characters show up for the premiere.  There’s a wealthy blind man who comes with his assistant.  (The assistant is played by Dario Argento’s oldest daughter, Fiore.)  There’s an older couple who keep shushing everyone in the audience.  There’s Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), who ends up sitting next to the handsome George (Urbano Barberini, who would later co-star in Dario Argento’s Opera).  And, of course, there’s Tony the Pimp (Bobby Rhoades) who shows up wearing a white suit and with two prostitutes.

The film-within-the-film is a horror film that plays out like an homage to every Italian horror film released in the 1980s.  It deals with four teenagers who stumble across the grave of Nostradamus and end up transforming into blood-thirsty demons.  One of the teenagers is played by Michele Soavi, though it’s never clear whether the teenager and the man in the mask are supposed to be the same person.

As they watch the movie, something strange starts to happen in the audience.  One of the prostitutes scratched her face when she put on a prop mask.  When the same mask appears in the movie, the cut on her face starts to throb.  Soon, she is transformed into a … DEMON!

JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE!

Needless to say, the arrival of a real-life demon leads to a panic in the theater but guess what?  The doors are locked!  There’s no way out!  When Tony the Pimp breaks into the projection booth, he discovers that there’s no projectionist and the movie cannot be stopped!  On top of that, getting scratched by a demon means that you transform into a demon yourself!

In other words — remember the debate about whether or not horror movies can turn their viewers into murderous monsters?  Well, Demons says that they definitely can…

Demons was directed by Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Mario Bava, and it remains one of the most popular Italian horror films of all time.  With a script that was co-written by Dario Argento (who also produced), Demons is a fun and exciting horror film that cheerfully dares you to take it too seriously.  Watching this energetic film, you can tell that Bava was having a lot of fun with the idea that the world could end as a result of watching just one horror movie.

Demons was a huge box office hit so, naturally, there were hundreds of unofficial sequels.  Though Michele Soavi’s The Church was a Demons film in every way but name, the only official sequel was Demons 2.  We’ll look at that film tomorrow.

Halloween Havoc!: BLACK MOON (Columbia 1934)


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I thought I’d seen, or at least heard of, all the horror films made during the 1930’s. I was wrong. BLACK MOON was new to me when I viewed it recently as part of TCM’S Summer Under the Stars salute to KING KONG’s  main squeeze, Fay Wray. It’s a voodoo tale also starring square-jawed Jack Holt and Pre-Code favorite Dorothy Burgess . The director is Roy William Neill, who would later work with genre giants Karloff (THE BLACK ROOM), Lugosi and Chaney (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN), and helm eleven of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.

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The film open with the pounding of jungle drums, and we see Nita Lane (Burgess) is the one pounding them in her luxurious home. Nita grew up on the Caribbean isle of San Christopher, where her parents were murdered during a native uprising. Hubby Stephen (Holt) is against Nita returning to the…

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Horror Film Review: The Invisible Man (dir by James Whale)


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The 1933 Universal horror film, The Invisible Man, never seems to get as much attention as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, or The Mummy.  Perhaps it’s because the invisible man really isn’t a supernatural monster.  He’s just a scientist who has turned himself invisible and is now going mad as a result.  Or maybe it’s because there have been so many crappy films that have used invisibility as a plot point that the reputation of the original Invisible Man suffers by association.

For whatever reason, The Invisible Man never seems to get spoken about in the same breathless, gleeful manner as some of the other Universal monsters.  But I have to admit that, though I usually can’t stand movies about invisibility, I rather like The Invisible Man.

Based on a novel by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man opens with a mysterious man (played by Claude Rains) arriving in a small English village.  He checks into a small inn and soon, everyone in the village is scared of him.  It’s not just his haughty attitude or his habit of ranting about his own superiority.  There’s also the fact that he is literally covered, from head to toe, in bandages.  He always wears gloves and dark glasses.  He insists that he’s doing important research and demands to be left alone.

The inn keeper (Forrester Harvey) and his histrionic wife (Una O’Connor) put up with the mysterious man until he falls behind on his rent.  However, once confronted, the mysterious man announces that he’s not going anywhere.  When the police and a mob of villagers arrives, the man starts to laugh like a maniac.  He unwraps the bandages around his head and…

THERE’S NOTHING UNDERNEATH!

Well, there is something there.  It’s just that the man is invisible so no one can see what’s underneath.  It turns out that the man is Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who has been missing for several days.  He’s created an invisibility serum but he can’t figure out how to reverse the effects.  Even worse, the serum is driving him insane.  Griffin’s fiancée, Flora (Gloria Stuart), and her father, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), are searching for Jack but Jack doesn’t particularly want to be found.  Jack is more interested in exploring how he might be able to use invisibility to conquer the world…

The Invisible Man is historically important because it was the film that brought Claude Rains to Hollywood.  Rains has previously made films in the UK but this was his first American film.  Think of how different film history would have turned out if The Invisible Man had, as originally planned, starred Boris Karloff.  Without Claude Rains coming to America, who would have played Louis in Casablanca?  Who would have played Sen. Paine in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or Alex Sebastian in Notorious?  Of course, we don’t really see Claude Rains’s face until the very end of The Invisible Man.  Instead, we just hear his voice but what a voice Claude had!  He delivers his dialogue with just the right amount of malicious sarcasm.

I like The Invisible Man.  For modern audiences, it’s not particularly scary.  (Though I do find the idea of being unknowingly followed by an invisible person to be a little unnerving…)  However, unlike a lot of other old horror films, you can watch The Invisible Man and see why it would have been scary to an audience seeing it for the very first time.  In 1933, a time when film was still a relatively new medium and audiences had yet to become jaded by special effects, here was a man unwrapping his bandages to reveal that there was nothing underneath!  That had to have freaked people out!

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale and the film features the same demented sense of humor that distinguished The Bride of Frankenstein.  The villagers are portrayed as being so hysterical that you can’t help but think that maybe Griffin has a point about being surrounded by fools.  By the time the local constable declares, “What’s all this then?,” you can’t help but start to sympathize with Jack Griffin.

There’s been a lot of  bad invisibility movies made but The Invisible Man is not one of them.  It may not be as well remembered as some of the other Universal horrors but it’s definitely one worth seeing.

4 Shots From Horror History: The Strange Door, The Black Castle, The Maze, House of Wax


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we look at the start of the 1950s.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Strange Door (1951, dir by Joseph Pevney)

The Strange Door (1951, dir by Joseph Pevney)

The Black Castle (1952, dir by Nathan H. Juran)

The Black Castle (1952, dir by Nathan H. Juran)

The Maze (1953, dir by William Cameron Meznies)

The Maze (1953, dir by William Cameron Meznies)

House of Wax (1953, dir by Andre De Toth)

House of Wax (1953, dir by Andre De Toth)