Another Halloween has come and gone! Those of us at the Shattered Lens hope that all of our readers and writers have had a happy and safe holiday and that everyone got plenty of treats and not too many tricks! We also hope that all of you have enjoyed this year’s horrorthon at the Shattered Lens!
by Virgil Finlay
Whether you got candy or a rock this Halloween, we hope you had a great October and have an even better November!
Well, Halloween and this year’s horrorthon are both nearly over.
Since I started things off with The Curse of Degrassi, it only seems appropriate for me to end my part of it with Degrassi of the Dead! This 10 minute film takes a non-canonical look at what would happen to everyone’s favorite Canadian high school if there was a zombie apocalypse!
(By the way, I know what you’re thinking but this was actually made in 2007, long before the premiere of The Walking Dead.)
That is the question at the heart of the classic 1987 horror thriller, The Stepfather.
Most of the people who know Jerry (brilliantly played by Terry O’Quinn) would say that he’s just a really nice guy. He’s responsible. He’s a good employee. He can be trusted. He works in real estate and spends his days selling perfect homes to perfect families. Jerry always has a friendly smile and hearty manner. He’s the perfect neighbor, precisely because he’s so boring. You don’t have to worry about Jerry not taking care of his yard or throwing a loud party or … well, doing anything anyone else would do. Sure, Jerry seems to be a little bit old-fashioned and sure, sometimes he’s a little bit too good to be believed. But what’s wrong with that? I mean, the man makes birdhouses! Jerry is so dedicated to creating perfect families that he even tries to make the perfect home for the birds in his back yard!
In fact, the only person who seems to have any doubts about Jerry is his new stepdaughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). Stephanie is a teenager so, occasionally, she’s less than perfect. Sometimes, she gets into a fight at school. Sometimes, she talks back. To be honest, to me, nothing she does seems like it’s really that big of a deal. But Jerry simply cannot handle the fact that Stephanie is making his new family just a little less than perfect. When Jerry catches Stephanie and her boyfriend sharing a very chaste kiss, he freaks out. KISSING!? Why that could only lead to one thing…
But it’s not just that Jerry is kind of controlling and seems to be living in a 1950s sitcom. There’s also the fact that sometimes, Jerry goes down in the basement and just starts yelling and throwing stuff. That’s what Jerry does when he gets angry. He hides in the basement and he totally loses control. When Stephanie overhears him, Jerry just gives her a bland smile and says that he was blowing off some steam.
Stephanie suspects that something’s wrong with Jerry but, of course, no one believes her. However, we know that Stephanie’s right to be suspicious. At the start of the film, we saw Jerry walking out of his old house, leaving behind the dead bodies of his wife and children. At that time, of course, Jerry’s name was Henry Morrison. Henry’s previous family disappointed him so he killed them and then vanished, changing his identity and marrying Stephanie’s mother, Susan (Shelley Hack).
Jerry wants everything to be perfect. He’s an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values and, whenever anyone disappoints him, he kills them and changes his identity once again. He’s the type who will kill you but then make sure that your seat belt is fastened when he puts you back in your car. “Buckle up for safety,” Jerry says.
There’s a 2009 remake of The Stepfather. For some reason, it regularly shows up on Lifetime. Ignore the remake and track down the original. Long before he played John Locke on Lost, Terry O’Quinn gave a simply amazing performance in the role of Jerry Blake. Jerry is so friendly and likable that, even though we know he’s a murderer, it’s still hard not to fall under his spell.
Why, we wonder, can’t the world be as perfect as Jerry wants it to be?
Because Jerry’s world is not the real world. In the real world, family are never perfect but they love each other anyway. In Jerry’s world, it’s more important that things appear to be perfect than that anyone actually be honest or, for that matter, happy.
The Stepfather is a chillingly effective thriller, featuring a brilliant performance from Terry O’Quinn. If you haven’t seen it, see it!
Now, admittedly, that dialogue is never heard in the 1975 British horror film, I Don’t Want To Be Born. However, if I had heard that particularly exchange in this film, I would not have been surprised. That’s just the type of movie that I Don’t Want To Be Born is. It’s a thoroughly ludicrous, totally ridiculous movie and what makes it all the more memorable is that it doesn’t seem to realize how silly it all is. This is a batshit crazy movie that tells its story in the most serious way possible. This damn film is almost somber, it’s so serious.
Lucy (played by Joan Collins) is a stripper who performs her act with a perverted dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon). When Hercules tries to force himself on Lucy, he is tossed out of the club by Tommy (who is played by John Steiner, a good actor who somehow always turned up in movies like this one.) After she and Tommy make love, Lucy is confronted by Hercules who curses her, telling her that she will have a baby “as big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!”
Oh, Hercules, you weirdo.
9 months later, Lucy’s life has somehow completely changed. She’s no longer a dancer. Now, she’s married to a rich Italian named Gino (played by Ralph Bates, speaking in a bizarre accent). When Lucy has her baby, it’s a long and difficult delivery. The baby is huge! Not only is he huge, but he also has a bad temper and unnaturally sharp nails. The first time that Lucy holds him, he attacks her. Whenever the baby is introduced to anyone new, he responds by biting them. When Tommy drops by to take a look at the baby that might be his son, he ends up with a bloody nose!
But that’s not all this baby can do! Anytime he’s left alone in a room, the room ends up getting destroyed. Eventually, he apparently figures out how to climb trees and how efficiently slip a noose around the neck of anyone who walks underneath him. And don’t think that you can escape this baby simply because you’re taller and faster. One unfortunate person is decapitated, even though he’s standing at the time. How did the baby reach his neck? Who knows?
Does this baby need an exorcism? Lucy’s sister-in-law, Sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), certainly believes that it does! As Lucy thinks about whether the baby’s behavior is in any way odd, she glances over at the baby and — OH MY GOD! The baby has Hercules’s face!
And it just keeps going from there. Again, I feel the need to repeat that this film is meant to be taken very seriously. The script may be full of awkward and clichéd dialogue but most of the cast attempts to act the Hell out of it. Speaking of the cast, there’s a lot of familiar horror people in this one. Along with John Steiner, there’s also Caroline Munro and Donald Pleasence. Those three give performances that somehow manage to remain credible, perhaps because they had the experience necessary to understand what type of movie they were in. But the rest of the cast … you feel bad for them because they’re just trying so hard.
It’s a terrible movie but it’s so weird that I have to recommend that everyone see it once. If for nothing else, see it for the scene where Hercules responds to an attempt to exorcise the baby by swaying drunkenly on the stage. It’s weird and it’s hard for mere words to do it justice.
“No wonder this baby didn’t want to be born!”
That line is also nowhere to be found in this movie. It’d be nice if it was, though.
I have to admit that I’m always a little bit surprised to discover how many people really don’t like the 2010 film, The Wolfman.
I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that it may not have been the greatest film ever made but the amount of negative feelings that this film has managed to generate over the years seems, to me, to be a bit out of proportion. Essentially, it’s just a silly film about a werewolf.
Yes, it is a remake of The Wolf Man and we’re all honor-bound to dislike remakes but, if we’re going to be absolutely honest, the original Wolf Man was sometimes pretty silly too. If anything, the original’s success is largely due to the heartfelt work of Claude Rains in the role of the Wolf Man’s father. Yes, the original Wolf Man is a classic but remaking it is not exactly sacrilege.
In the remake, Benicio Del Toro takes over the role of Larry Talbot, who is reimagined as a Shakespearean actor who has a history of mental instability. Del Toro is not exactly convincing as an Englishman, though the same could be said of Lon Chaney, Jr. However, nobody broods with quite the panache of Benicio Del Toro and that’s what was needed for the remake’s version of Larry Talbot. If Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry as being a dumb lug, Del Toro plays Larry as being a tortured artist.
Anthony Hopkins takes over the old Claude Rains role. Just as it’s difficult to imagine Del Toro as being English, it’s next to impossible to imagine him sharing any DNA with Anthony Hopkins. And yet, I’m really glad that Hopkins was cast in the role. Of course, in the remake, the character of John Talbot has been totally reimagined. He’s now something of a bitter and sarcastic alcoholic, a negligent father who always seem to be amused at some mean-spirited joke that only he can understand. I imagine that if I asked Hopkins, he’d say that he did this role for the money but there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of Hopkins’s best performances have been the ones that he subsequently claimed to have done only for the money. Freed from any obligation to give a nuanced or subtle performance, Hopkins goes totally over-the-top and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch. In The Wolfman, Hopkins turns the delivery of bitter bon mots and erduite insults into an art form.
Watching the film’s first half, we all know what’s going to happen. Gypsies are going to show up in the woods near Talbot Hall and paranoid villagers are going to blame them for everything that happens. Larry is going to get bitten by a werewolf and transform every night when the moon is full. Larry is going to fall in love with Gwen (Emily Blunt) but, for her own protection, will try to send her away. An arrogant but clever inspector, Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving, playing a version of the real-life detective who inspired the role played by Johnny Depp in From Hell), is going to arrive from London to investigate all the recent deaths…
About halfway through, The Wolfman takes a totally unexpected turn. I won’t spoil it here, just in case you haven’t seen the movie. I know a lot of people don’t care much for the big twist but I happened to love it. Yes, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense and it’s all a bit overdone but so what? It’s exactly the type of weird twist that a movie like this needs. It all leads to a final confrontation, one that is as exuberantly silly as the original’s conclusion was somber and tragic.
The key to enjoying The Wolfman is to accept it for what it is, an occasionally dumb and definitely not-to-be-taken-seriously movie that features some appropriately atmospheric cinematography, gorgeously gothic production design, and some very talented actors. (I especially enjoyed Weaving’s performance as Abberline.) A classic it may not be, but it’s still a fun little movie if you’re in the right mood for it.
I cannot let this Halloween end without recommending Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen, David Grove’s biography of one of horror cinema’s most iconic stars.
As you can probably guess from the title, the focus of this book is on the start of Jamie Lee Curtis’s career, when she was almost exclusively appearing in slasher films. Beginning with her starring role in Halloween and going all the way through films like Terror Train, Prom Night, Road Games, The Fog, and Halloween 2, the book shows both how Curtis dealt with suddenly being a horror icon and how she eventually left the horror genre behind in an effort to show that she was capable of doing more than just screaming and running. Eventually, as the book details, she reached a point where she could return to horror with Halloween H20 but, for a while, her horror work was truly a double-edged sword. It made her famous but it also kept her from being considered for the type of roles that she truly hoped to play.
That said, this book takes refreshingly positive look at her early film career, providing both serious analysis of and fascinating behind-the-scenes details about all of Curtis’s horror films. Yes, even Prom Night.
In fact, the two chapters devoted to Prom Night were probably my favorite part of the book. Though Curtis herself was not interviewed, several members of the cast and crew were and their recollections of their work on this not-very-good but oddly watchable film provide an interesting portrait of life during a low-budget movie shoot. Of course, everyone focuses on how in awe they were of Jamie but, at the same time, they are also open about their own personal feelings and recollections about the shooting of this movie. Their hopes and dreams, many of them destined to be unfulfilled, come through just as vividly as their memories of watching Jamie Lee Curtis film the famous disco scene. The passages dealing with Casey Stevens, who played Jamie’s Prom Night boyfriend and subsequently died of AIDS, are especially moving. In the end, Jamie Lee Curits; Scream Queen is not just a biography of Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s a tribute to both movies and the people who make them.
If you’re a lover of the horror genre or a student of film history, this is one of those book that you simply must have. It’s got just about everything that you could possibly want.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorite films.
The place is Green Town, Illinois. The time is the 1920s. The carnival has come to town but this is no normal carnival. Led by the sinister, Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), this carnival promises to fulfill everyone’s dreams but at what cost? Double amputee Ed (James Stacy) gets his arm and his leg back. The lonely teacher, Miss Foley (Mary Grace Canfield), is young and beautiful once again. Mr. Dark may bring people what they want but he gives nothing away for free. Only two young boys, Will (Vidal Peterson) and Jim (Shawn Carson), realize the truth about the carnival but no one in town will listen to them. Mr. Dark wants Jim to be his successor and Will’s only ally is his elderly father, the town librarian (Jason Robards).
As much a coming of age story as a horror film, Something Wicked This Way Comes takes the time to establish Green Town and to make it feel like a real place and its inhabitants seem like real people. When Mr. Dark shows up, he is not just a supernatural trickster. He is not just stealing the souls of Green Town. He is also destroying the innocence of childhood. Jonathan Pryce is both charismatic and menacing as Mr. Dark while Jason Robards matches him as the infirm librarian who must find the strength to save his son. The confrontation between Pryce and Robards, where Pryce tears flaming pages out of a book, is the best part of the movie. Along with Robards and Pryce, the entire cast is excellent. Be sure to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Royal Dano, Jack Dodson, Angelo Rossitto, and especially Pam Grier, playing the “Dust Witch,” the most beautiful woman in the world.
Based on a classic novel by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the only Bradbury adaptations to do justice to its source material.
Many years ago, back in the 80’s I believe, I spent a week on Martha’s Vineyard. It was early in the morning on a gorgeous summer day, and as my friend was still crashed from the previous evening’s debauchery, I decided to walk down to the beach and catch some rays. I strolled past a particularly marshy stretch when, out of nowhere, a seagull buzzed by my head. Then another. And another. And soon there were about ten of the nasty flying rats swooping down at me, screeching and dive-bombing toward my long-haired dome (this was back when I actually had hair!). I ducked and dodged, yelling and snapping my beach towel at the airborne devils, and ran as fast as I could away from the area, scared to death one of these buzzards was going to peck my eyeballs out! It was like something straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s