For tonight’s excursion into the world of televised horror, we have an episode from the 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone.
In The Pool Guy, Richie (Lou Diamond Philips) is a pool cleaner with a problem. While his clients appear to believe that Richie is living a glamorous life straight out of a bad suburban melodrama, Richie actually feels as if his life is going nowhere. He’s never even gotten seduced by a bored housewife! Maybe Richie just isn’t a very good pool guy…
However, Richie has another problem, on top of all that. A man keeps mysteriously appearing and telling him to “Wake up!” before then shooting him. Immediately after getting shot, Richie wakes up somewhere else, just to once again be approached by the same man.
What is going on and why is Richie being charged $12,000 for the experience!?
Over the years, there have been quite a few attempts to revive The Twilight Zone and the results have always been mixed. The 2002 revival featured Forest Whitaker as the host and was canceled after just one season. That said, The Pool Guy is actually pretty good. Philips gives a good performance and the episode’s central mystery is an intriguing one.
This episode originally aired on October 16th, 2002!
I have to admit that I’ve watched so many horror films that I’m sometimes tempted to get a little bit jaded about them.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the genre. I love watching horror movies. I love analyzing horror movies. I love writing about horror movies. It’s just that, after you’ve watched a few hundred of them, it becomes easier to pick up on all the little tricks. For instance, I now know not to worry whenever anyone hears a strange sound in the kitchen because it’s inevitably just going to be a cat in a cabinet. Instead, it’s only after the cat has run by and caused everyone to jump that you have to start worrying about something terrible to happen. I also know that there’s a good chance that the first chase scene is going to turn out to be an elaborate nightmare. As such, I sometimes I get cynical about whether or not I can really be frightened anymore.
But then I watch something like The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe back in Decemeber. It was two in the morning. I was alone in the house. It was raining outside. I was having trouble sleeping so, of course, I decided why not sit in the dark in my underwear and watch a horror movie? At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I was essentially putting myself in a classic horror movie situation. It was only later, when I was lying in bed with all the lights on and freaking out about every little noise that I heard that I realized my mistake.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe takes place in a morgue in a small town. The body of a woman has been brought in. It is believed that she died in a house fire but there are no signs of trauma on her body. Her finger prints are not on record. No one knows who she is. Over the course of the night, coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), examine the body. With each incision, the mystery of Jane Doe’s identity deepens. The inside of her body is as damaged as the outside is perfect.
As the night continues, strange things start to happen inside the morgue. It’s small things at first. Strange sounds are heard. Austin thinks that he sees something out of the corner of his eye. A storm starts to rage outside. Austin says that they should stop the autopsy but Tommy says that they have to finish what they’ve started…
And things only escalate from there.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe sneaks up on you. It starts out as a collection of small scares and subtle hints that all is not right. At first, you’re kind of like, “Yeah, it’s weird noises and shadows in the corner. It’s a horror movie. Of course, that’s going on…” And then suddenly, about halfway through the film, you realize that you’re totally tense. All of those small scares have added up, leaving you wondering when the big scares are going to start. And when those big scares do arrive, they deliver. By confining the movie to one location, director André Øvredal creates a palpable atmosphere of claustrophobia and impending doom. It helps that Brian Cox is one of those older, paternal actors who you always expect to be in control of things so seeing him in a situation where he has no control carries an unexpectedly strong emotional impact.
If you doubt the power of horror, The Autopsy of Jane Doe will make you a believer.
It Comes At Night is yet another film about people waiting for the end of the world. In this case, the end is due to the outbreak of a mysterious disease. It Comes At Night is a film that I meant to see in theaters when it originally released but I never got a chance. It Comes At Night was acclaimed by critics but generally hated by audiences. (Some of the comments on twitter, from people who had just returned from seeing the film, were incredibly angry.) To be honest, it’s really not surprising that audiences didn’t embrace the film. Having recently watched the film myself, I can tell you that It Comes At Night is one of the most depressing movies ever made.
Seriously, remember how depressing the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Abigail Breslin zombie film Maggie was? Well, compared to It Comes At Night, Maggie might as well have been a musical comedy.
It Comes At Night opens with a former school teacher named Paul (Joel Edgerton) executing his father-in-law. Paul’s wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and his teenage son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) understand that Paul had no choice. There’s been an outbreak of a disease and the old man was infected. The only way to keep everyone else in the family safe was to kill him and burn his body.
Paul and his family live in an isolated cabin. At all times, the front door remains locked. Only Paul and Sarah are allowed to carry the key. No one is allowed to leave the house at night and under no circumstances are strangers allowed to enter the house. Sometimes, after the sun goes down, Travis thinks that he can hear sounds in the surrounding woods. It’s a reminder that people are out there but the majority of them are either slowly dying from the disease or scavengers trying to survive.
Paul ruthlessly enforces the rules but then, one night, a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) attempts to break into the house. Will swears that he’s not infected. He was just trying to find food for his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and his son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). After Paul determines that Will does not have the disease, he agrees to let Will and his family stay with them. If the house is ever attacked, Paul and Sarah figure, Will and Kim will provide an extra layer of defense.
And, for a few weeks, everything is fine. The two families bond. But Travis is still having vivid nightmares in which he sees men and women who have been infected and who are living in the woods. And he is still hearing sounds at night…
The inevitability of death hangs over minute of It Comes At Night. From the film’s first scene, you know that things are probably not going to end well. When the two families do start to surrender to their paranoia, it’s upsetting but not particularly shocking. It’s depressing because it all seems very plausible. I think we all know that, if the world really was ending, it wouldn’t bring about peace or reflection. Instead, people would keep fighting until the final second. That’s just human nature. What makes It Comes At Night so sad and disturbing is that there are no traditional heroes or villains. There’s just six people trying to live their lives in a world that’s rapidly coming to an end. They think they can beat the darkness surrounding them but the audience knows better.
I know, I know. You just read that paragraph and you thought, “Yeah, Lisa, that sounds like a really fun movie.”
And you’re right. It’s not a fun movie. I would seriously warn anyone struggling with depression to be careful about watching It Comes At Night. It’s definitely not going to cheer you up. I spent the first half of thid 90 minute film convinced that I was probably going to stop watching because it was just too dark. But I ended up watching it to the end because, even if it was depressing, it was also a very well-made film. It sucks you in, even though you might not want it to. The entire cast does a good job but special praise has to be given to Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who gives a searingly vulnerable performance as Travis.
It Comes At Night is a well-made, disturbing, and heartbreakingly sad movie and probably not one that I’ll have any desire to watch again for quite some time.
For the crime of having murdered over a 100 people, “Meat Cleaver Max” Jenke (Brion James) is sentenced to death and sent to the electric chair. Even though everyone thinks that Max was electrocuted, his electricity-fueled spirit is still alive and pissed off. If this sounds familiar, that is because it is the exact same premise that was used in Destroyer. The only difference is that Max is not haunting a prison and killing a film crew. Instead, he is living in a basement and seeking revenge on Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen), the cop who arrested him.
Lucas is already tightly wound. There is a scene where Lucas is watching as his family laughs uproariously at a late night comic who is telling a not very funny joke about then-Vice President Dan Quayle. When Lucas thinks that he sees Max on TV, he pulls out his gun and shoots the screen. His wife, son, and daughter will probably never laugh at another joke about any vice president. Soon, Lucas is seeing and hearing Max everywhere. Max says that he is going to tear Lucas’s world apart and he means it.
That The Horror Show is going to be a mess is obvious from the opening credits, where the screenplay is credited to Alan Smithee. The credited director is visual effects specialist James Isaac but most of the film was reportedly directed by David Blythe. Isaac stepped in when Blythe was fired by producer Sean S. Cunningham. Full of false scares and scenes where people go down into the basement for no reason other than to become Max’s latest victim, The Horror Show is usually boring, except for when it is violent, gory, and mean-spirited. There are moments of strange attempts at humor that do not seem to belong. In the middle of all the carnage, there is a subplot about McCarthy’s son (Aron Eisenberg) ordering case after case of Nestle Quick. Did Nestle pay for the product placement? Were they happy to be associated with a movie where Lance Henriksen has a nightmare that his daughter (played by DeeDee “sister of Michelle” Pfieffer) is pregnant with Max Jenke’s baby?
The Horror Show provided both Lance Henriksen and Brion James with rare starring roles and they did their best what they had to work with. Also keep an eye out for veteran tough guy Lawrence Tierney as the warden who supervises Max’s execution.
Roger Corman satirizes himself in CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to create one of the most wacked-out goofy drive-in flicks ever filmed, that gets even goofier as it goes along. We’ve got goony gangsters, a lovesick spy, beautiful babes, and the silliest looking monster you’ll ever see.
Rapid Roger had just wrapped up shooting THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH in sunny Puerto Rico, and since the weather was so beautiful, decided to quickly churn out another picture. He got screenwriter Charles B. Griffith to whip up a monster movie spoof (having had success with Griffith’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and retained the previously shot film’s stars. Actor Beach Dickerson designed the sea creature out of a wet suit, with ping-pong ball eyes and covered in an oil cloth to give it that straight from the depths look. Hokey looking…
Today’s horror scene that I love comes from the absolutely terrifying 1922 silent film, Nosferatu.
Directed by F. W. Murnau and featuring Max Schreck as Count Orlock, Nosferatu is often cited as being the first vampire film. That’s actually not true. There were apparently film adaptations of Dracula that were produced years before Murnau gave the world his “unauthorized” adaptation.
However, I do think it can be argued that Nosferatu is the most influential vampire film ever made. Every vampire movie released over the past 95 years has been a direct descendant of Nosferatu and it remains a truly nightmarish work of horror art. One need only compare it to Universal’s first Draculafilm to see how well Nosferatu has aged.
It’s a legitimate question. Alien itself is such an iconic horror film that, 38 years after it was first released, blatant rip-offs like Life are still being produced and, in many case, are still doing pretty well at the box office. When John Hurt died earlier this year, he left behind a long and distinguished filmography but almost every obituary opened by discussing his role in Alien.
Alien: Covenant received a good deal of pre-release publicity, mostly centering on the fact that Ridley Scott was not only the filming the latest installment of the franchise but that this was going to be a true Alien film, as opposed to a strange hybrid like Prometheus. Personally, when I first saw the trailer, I thought it looked like something was a little off about it. The spaceship looked way too clean and, for that matter, so did all the humans. Whereas Alien and Aliens were all about sweaty, profane men and women stuck in dark and cramped locations, the humans in Alien: Covenant just looked too damn perky. In at least one of the trailers, they were all smiling. No one smiles in space, at least not in an Alien movie. Still, everyone else seemed to be super excited about the trailer so I figured that maybe I was just being overly critical.
Then the movie came out. It got some respectful but somewhat restrained reviews, though it did seem like quite a few critics were more interested in praising the longevity of the series as opposed to actually talking about the film itself. At the box office, it performed a bit below expectations during the first week but then again, that’s pretty much been the story for almost every film that’s been released in 2017. But then, during the second week, it plunged from being the number one movie in America to being the number four movie in America. In the third week, it plunged again and, in the fourth week, it left first-run theaters and headed for the dollar cinemas. When a widely anticipated film like that — especially one that is part of a historically popular franchise — heads to purgatory after only four weeks, the only thing you can blame is word of mouth.
Why did Alien: Covenant fail?
Well, there’s several reasons why this film failed to connect with audiences.
First off, the plot is rather familiar. In the future, the crew of a spaceship picks up a radio transmission for a nearby planet and the captain (played, in this case, by Billy Crudup) sends down an expedition to investigate. Of course, it turns out that the planet is full of facehuggers and xenomorphs and all the other stuff that audiences typically expect from an Alien film. Also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the replicant who is the sole survivor from Prometheus. (Fassbender actually plays two roles in Covenant. He also plays Walter, another replicant. One is bad and one is good.) Basically, Covenant takes the plots of Alien and Aliens and mashes them together. But it never answers the question of why audiences wouldn’t be better off just watching the originals.
The humans themselves are rather blandly written and somewhat interchangeable. There’s no one who is memorably quirky like Bill Paxton or Harry Dean Stanton. Katherine Waterston makes for a bland substitute for both Sigourney Weaver and Noomi Rapace. Usually, I like Danny McBride but he seems out of place in an Alien film. Genuinely interesting actors, like James Franco, Amy Seimetz, and Carmen Ejogo, are all dispatched far too early. Probably the best performance in the film comes from Michael Fassbender but, for anyone who has any knowledge of what usually happens with replicants in the Alien franchise, there’s no surprises to be found in either of his characters.
But ultimately, the main problem with Alien: Covenant is that it just wasn’t scary. Some might say that this is due to the fact that we’re no longer shocked by the sight of aliens bursting out of people’s chests. However, I recently watched Alien. I watched it with the full knowledge that, as soon as John Hurt sat down to eat, that little bugger was going to burst out of his chest and that blood and bones were going to fly everywhere. I also knew that Harry Dean Stanton was going to end up walking right underneath the alien. I knew that Tom Skerritt’s radio was going to go dead. I knew that the alien would be waiting for Sigourney Weaver in the escape pod. I knew all of this and Alien still scared the Hell out of me, as it has every time that I’ve watched it.
And I also had the same reaction when I recently watched Aliens. Yes, I knew that the space marines weren’t going to be able to fight the aliens. I knew what was going to happen to Paul Reiser. I knew that Bill Paxton was going to end up chanting, “Game over, man!” I knew that aliens were going to be bursting off of chests all over the place. I knew it was all going to happen and yet, turning out all the lights and watching Aliens still left me feeling shaken.
The difference between those two films and Alien: Covenant is that the first two films felt authentic. The ships felt lived in. The characters felt real. Both films were full of rough edges and small details that invited you to try to look closer. You could watch those films and imagine yourself on those ships and talking to those characters. You got scared because you knew that there was no way you’d be one of the survivors. Everyone pretends that they would be Sigourney Weaver but most of us know that, in reality, we’re going to be Veronica Cartwright, sobbing and useless.
Alien: Covenant, on the other hand, is a very slick movie. Nothing about it feels real and there’s no real emotional impact when the aliens show up and start killing people. You never feel as if you know the characters, beyond whatever feelings you may have toward the actors involved. “Oh,” you say, “the alien just burst out of Billy Crudup’s chest. Well, he’s got another movie coming out so he’ll be fine…”
For all of the technical skill that went into making it, Alien: Covenant has no soul. And, for that reason, it’s never scary. (Sadly, Life felt like a better Alien movie than Covenant did.) Hopefully, if there is another Alien film, that soul will be rediscovered.
The Horror of Rylvania is a text-only adventure. You and your best friend from college, Carolyn, are backpacking across Europe. When the two of you cross into the backwards country of Rylvania, you are both attacked by wolves. Carolyn is gravely injured and you have no choice but to leave her behind and go to a nearby village for help.
The Horror of Rylvania was written by D.A. Leary, who provides concise and vivid descriptions of each location in the game. Go to the Inn and you can listen to villagers talk about wolves and vampires. Find the doctor’s office and you can lead him back to Carolyn. You can even stop and pray, with different results for different locations.
What you cannot do, at least on the Internet Archive, is solve the Horror of Rylvania. The version on the Internet Archive is just a demo. Once you have done everything that you can do in the village, there is a cliffhanger and a suggestion that, if you enjoyed the demo, you should send $20.00 to a post office box in Maryland to get the full version. Since the message was written in 1993, I am going to guess it would not do me any good to mail the money.
If this was 1993, I would gladly send the twenty and I would probably add another ten just to make sure that the game arrived on time. That is how good the demo was. Instead, I guess I will just have to make up my own ending to The Horror of Rylvania.
Though it’s been a while since we last did so, we occasionally like to share old educational and promotional films here at the Shattered Lens. For some reason, we always seem to end up sharing quite a lot of them in October. Something about the over-the-top educational format just tends to bring out the ghoulish melodrama in some aspiring filmmakers.
Take Case Study: LSD, for instance! This 3 and a half minute film is from 1969. It was made to dissuade viewers from experimenting with LSD but I get the feeling that I probably just mostly inspired people to try to recreate the infamous hot dog scene.
It’s a good film for October, though. Plus, I like looking at all the hippies in their hippie clothes. GET A HAIRCUT, YOU HIPPIES!
Believe it or not, Case Study: LSD has a page over at the IMDb but no director is listed. Judging from the film’s use of still frames, I’m going to guess that it was directed by Chris Marker.
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.
This October, I am going to be using our 4 Shots From 4 Films feature to pay tribute to some of my favorite horror directors, in alphabetical order! That’s right, we’re going from Argento to Zombie in one month!
Today’s director is Mario Bava, the maestro of Italian horror and one of the most influential and important filmakers of all time!