Artwork of the Day: Balloons


by Joshua Hoffine

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A Suspenseful Insomnia File #30: Still Of The Night (dir by Robert Benton)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If last night, at 1:30 in the morning, you were having trouble getting to sleep, you could have turned on the TV, changed the channel to your local This TV station, and watched 1982’s Still Of The Night.

Still of the Night actually tells two stories.  The first story  deals with Dr. Sam Rice (Roy Scheider), a psychiatrist who is living a perfectly nice, mild-mannered, upper class existence in Manhattan.  His patients are rich and powerful and his sessions with them provide him with a view of the secrets of high society.

One of Sam’s main patients is George Bynum (Josef Sommer), who owns an auction house and who is a compulsive cheater.  George tells Sam that he’s haunted by strange nightmares and that he is also worried about a friend of his.  George says that this friend has murdered in the past and George fears that it’s going to happen again.  When George is murdered, Sam wonders if the murder was committed by that friend.  He also wonders if that friend could possibly have been one of George’s mistresses, the icy Brooke Reynolds (Meryl Streep).

The second story that Still of the Night tells is about our endless fascination with the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  Still of the Night is such an obvious homage to Hitchcock that it actually starts to get a little bit silly at times.  Almost every scene in the film feels like it was lifted from a previous Hitchcock film.  At one point, there’s even a bird attack!  (Add to that, Scheider’s mother is played by Jessica Tandy, who previously played Rod Taylor’s mother in The Birds.)  Meryl Streep is specifically costumed and made up to remind viewers of previous Hitchcock heroines, like Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, and Tippi Hedren.

Unfortunately, considering the talent involved, Still of the Night never really works as well as it should.  Both Scheider and Streep seem to be miscast in the lead roles.  If Still of the Night had been made in the 50s, one could easily imagine James Stewart and Grace Kelly playing Sam and Brooke and managing to make it all work through screen presence along.  However, Scheider and Streep both act up a storm in the lead roles, attacking their parts with the type of Actor Studios-gusto that seems totally out-of-place in an homage to Hitchcock.  Scheider is too aggressive an actor to play such a mild character.  As for Streep, she’s miscast as a noir-style femme fatale.  Streep’s acting technique is always too obviously calculated for her to be believable as an enigma.

That said, there were still some effective moments in Still of the Night.  The majority of the dream sequences were surprisingly well-done and effectively visualized.  I actually gasped with shock while watching one of the dreams, that’s how much I was drawn into those scenes.

According to Wikipedia, Meryl Streep has described Still of the Night as being her worst film.  I think she’s being way too hard on the movie.  It’s nothing special but it is an adequate way to kill some time.  Certainly, I’d rather watch Still of the Night than sit through Florence Foster Jenkins.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.10 “The Prediction” (dir by John Brahm)


For tonight’s episode of televised horror, we have the tenth episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller!

In this episode, Boris Karloff not just hosts but also plays the main role, a mentalist named Clayton Mace.  Mace has always been a self-admitted fake but suddenly, he starts to have real visions, all dealing with the death of people that he knows.  Even worse, his predictions keep coming true…

As we all know, Karloff’s was the best and he definitely elevated this episode!

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Terminal Man (dir by Mike Hodges)


Check out the poster for 1974’s The Terminal Man.

Look at it carefully.  Examine it.  Try to ignore the fact that it’s weird that George Segal was once a film star.  Yes, on the poster, Segal has been drawn to have a somewhat strange look on his face.  Ignore that.  Instead, concentrate on the words in the top left corner of the poster.

“ADULT ENTERTAINMENT!” it reads.

That’s actually quite an accurate description.  The Terminal Man is definitely a film for adults.  No, it’s not pornographic or anything like that.  Instead, it’s a movie about “grown up” concerns.  It’s a mature film.  In some ways, that’s a good thing.  In some ways, that’s a bad thing.

Taking place in the near future (and based on a novel by Michael Crichton), The Terminal Man tells the story of Harry Benson (played, of course, by George Segal).  Harry is an extremely intelligent computer programmer and he’s losing his mind.  It might be because he was in a serious car accident.  It may have even started before that.  Harry has black outs and when he wakes up, he discovers that he’s done violent things.  Even when he’s not blacked out, Harry worries that computers are going to rise up against humans and take over the world.

However, a group of scientists think that they have a way to “fix” Harry.  It’ll require a lot of brain surgery, of course.  (And, this being a film from 1973, the film goes into excruciating details as it explains what’s going to be done to Harry.)  The plan is to implant an electrode in Harry’s brain.  Whenever Harry starts to have a seizure, the electrode will shock him out of it.  The theory is that, much like Alex in A Clockwork Orange 0r Gerard Malanga in Vinyl, Harry will be rendered incapable of violence.

Of course, some people are more enthusiastic about this plan than others.  Harry’s psychiatrist (Joan Hackett) fears that implanting an electrode in Harry’s brain will just make him even more paranoid about the rise of the computers.  Other scientists worry about the ethics of using technology to modify someone’s behavior.  Whatever happens, will it be worth the price of Harry’s free will?

But, regardless of the risks, Harry goes through with the operation.

Does it work?  Well, if it worked, it would be a pretty boring movie so, of course, it doesn’t work.  (Allowing Harry’s operation to work would have been like allowing King Kong to enjoy his trip to New York.)  Harry’s brain becomes addicted to the electrical shocks and, as he starts to have more and more seizures, Harry becomes even more dangerous than he was before…

The Terminal Man is a thought-provoking but rather somber film.  On the one hand, it’s a rather slow movie.  The movie does eventually get exciting after Harry comes out of surgery but it literally takes forever to get there.  The movie seems to be really determined to convince the audience that the story it’s telling is scientifically plausible.  On the other hand, The Terminal Man does deal with very real and very important issues.  Considering how threatened society is by people who cannot be controlled, issues of behavior modification and free thought will always be relevant.

Though the film may be slow, I actually really liked The Terminal Man.  Judging from some of the other reviews that I’ve read, I may be alone in that.  It appears to be a seriously underrated film.  As directed by Mike Hodges, the film is visually stunning, emphasizing the sterility of the white-walled hospital, the gray blandness of the doctors, and the colorful vibrancy of life outside of science.  Though he initially seems miscast, George Segal gives a good and menacing performance as Harry.

The Terminal Man requires some patience but it’s worth it.

Horror Book Review: House of Horror, edited by Jack Hunter


If you love horror films, you have to love Hammer Films, the British studio that was responsible for some of the best horror films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  It was Hammer who brought Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy back to life and who introduced a splash of color to the formerly black and white world of horror.  It was Hammer that first brought horror together with pop art.  And, of course, it was Hammer that made stars out of actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

House of Horror was originally published in 1973, as a tribute to Hammer in its waning days.  The copy that I own is a revised edition, one that was published in 2000.  I found it at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas.  (That was quite a shopping trip, by the way.  Not only did I buy House of Horror but I also bought A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis.)

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Hammer Films, then this is one of those books that you simply have to own.  Not only does it contain interviews with the big four of Hammer (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Terence Fisher, and Michael Carreras) but it also provides a in-depth analysis of Hammer’s Dracula series, its Frankenstein series, and its lesser known science fiction productions.

At the end of the book, there are biographies of some of the members of Hammer’s stock company.  There’s also not only a full list of every film that Hammer ever produced but even a list of Hammer project that never reached the filming stage.  If, as I am, you’re obsessed with film trivia, this book is a must have.

Horror Film Review: Strange Invaders (dir by Michael Laughlin)


In 1983, two years after the release of Strange Behavior, director Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon teamed up for another “strange” film.  Like their previous collaboration, this film was a combination of horror, science fiction, and satire.

The title of their latest collaboration?

Strange Invaders.

Strange Invaders opens in the 1950s, in a small, all-American town in Illinois.  Innocent children play in the street.  Clean-cut men stop off at the local diner and talk to the waitress (Fiona Lewis, the scientist from Strange Behavior).  Two teenagers (played by the stars of Strange Behavior, Dan Shor and Dey Young) sit in a car and listen to forbidden rock’n’roll music.  A lengthy title crawl informs us that, in the 1950s, Americans were happy and they were only worried about three things: communists, Elvis, and UFOs.  On schedule, a gigantic UFO suddenly appears over the town.

Twenty-five years later, mild-mannered Prof. Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) teaches at a university and wonders just what exactly is going on with his ex-wife, Margaret (Diana Scarwid).  In order to attend her mother’s funeral, Margaret returned to the small Illinois town where she grew up.  When she doesn’t return, Charles decides to go to the town himself.  However, once he arrives, he discovers that the town appears to still be stuck in the 50s.  The townspeople are all polite but strangely unemotional and secretive.  Charles immediately suspects that something strange is happening.  When the towns people suddenly start shooting laser beams from their eyes, Charles realizes that they must be aliens!

Fleeing from the town, Charles checks all the newspapers for any reports of an alien invasion.  The only story he finds is in a cheap tabloid, The National Informer.  The author of the story, Betty Walker (Nancy Allen), claims that she just made the story up but Charles is convinced that she may have accidentally told the truth.  At first, Betty dismisses Charles as being crazy.  But then she’s visited by an Avon lady who looks just like the waitress from the small town and who can shoot laser beams.

Teaming up, Charles and Betty investigate the aliens and try to figure out just what exactly they’re doing on Earth.  It’s an investigation that leads them to not only a shadowy government operative (Louise Fletcher) but also a man (Michael Lerner) who claims that, years ago, he helplessly watched as his family was destroyed by aliens.

Like Strange Behavior, Strange Invaders is a … well, a strange film.  I have to admit that I prefer Behavior to Invaders.  The satire in Strange Invaders is a bit too heavy-handed and Paul Le Mat is not as strong a lead as Michael Murphy was in the first film.  I was a lot more impressed with Nancy Allen’s performance, if just because I related to both her skepticism and her sudden excitement to discover that her fake news might actually be real news.  I also liked Micheal Lerner, so much so that I almost wish that he and Le Mat had switched roles.  Finally, I have to say that Diana Scarwid’s performance was so bizarre that I’m not sure if she was brilliant or if she was terrible.  For her character, that worked well.

Strange Invaders gets better as it goes along.  At the start of the film, there are some parts that drag but the finale is genuinely exciting and clever.  If the film starts as a parody of 1950s alien invasion films, it ends as a satire of Spielbergian positivity.  It’s an uneven film but, ultimately, worth the time to watch.

 

Horror Film Review: Strange Behavior (a.k.a. Dead Kids) (dir by Michael Laughlin)


I want to tell you about one of my favorite horror films.  It’s a strange one and I think you might like it.

It’s a movie from 1981.  It was filmed in New Zealand, even though it takes place in a small town in the American midwest.  It was directed by Michael Laughlin and the screenplay was written by Bill Condon, who has since become a director of some note.  This was Condon’s first screenplay.  In Australia and Europe, this movie is known as Dead Kids.  In America, the title was changed to Strange Behavior.

Here, watch the trailer:

It’s a pretty good trailer, actually.  That said, as good as the trailer may be, it doesn’t even come close to revealing just what an odd film Strange Behavior actually is.  If David Lynch had followed up The Elephant Man by directing a slasher movie, chances are the end result would have looked something like Strange Behavior.

Here’s another scene that I want you watch.  It’s kind of a long scene, clocking in at 7 minutes.  But I want you to watch it because, in many ways, this scene is the epitome of Strange Behavior:

Strange Behavior is perhaps the only 80s slasher film to feature a totally random and totally choreographed dance number.  It comes out of nowhere but, in the world that this film creates, it somehow feels totally appropriate.  Of course, the nun is going to announce that she’s not wearing any underwear and then pretend to stab a guy in the back.  Of course, the cowboy’s going to throw up and then want to go out to his car with his date.  And of course, a bunch of people in costume are going to end up dancing to Lightnin’ Strikes.  In Strange Behavior, the strangest behavior is the only behavior that makes sense.

As for the film itself, it’s a mix of small town melodrama, slasher horror, and gentle satire.  Teenagers are being murdered by other teenagers and no one is sure why.  The chief of police, John Brady (played by character actor Michael Murphy, who gives a quietly authoritative performance that counters some of the weirdness of the rest of the movie), is trying to solve the crimes while trying to cope with the mysterious death of his wife.  His son, Pete (Dan Shor), is going to the local college, where classes are taught by a professor (Arthur Dignam) who died years ago but who filmed a few lectures before passing.  To make extra money, Pete does what many of the local teenagers do — he volunteers for medical experiments.  Researcher Gwen Parkinson (Fiona Lewis) oversees the experiments, handing out pills and occasionally administering a hypodermic needle to the eyes of a test subject.  Gwen is always cool, calm, and collected.  When one irate father draws a gun on her, Gwen quips, “I can’t stop you.  I don’t have a gun.”

But there’s more to this movie than just medical experiments and murder.  Strange Behavior is full of wonderfully eccentric supporting characters.  Other than John, there’s really nobody normal to be found in either the town or the movie.  Pete’s best friend, Oliver (Marc McClure), is cute and dorky.   Barbara (Louise Fletcher) just wants to marry John and live in a town where dead bodies don’t turn up in the middle of corn fields, propped up like scarecrows.  John’s best friend and fellow cop, Donovan (Charles Lane), has been around forever and has a great, no-nonsense approach to even the strangest of things.  When it becomes obvious that John is not going to be able to solve the murders on his own, big city cop Shea (Scott Brady) shows up and wanders ineffectually through the movie, spitting out hard-boiled dialogue like a refugee from a 1930s gangster flick.  And finally, receptionist Caroline (Dey Young) sits at her desk in the clinic, gossiping about the patients and smoking cigarette after cigarette.  Caroline is probably the smartest person in the movie.  As an administrative assistant, I appreciated that.

It’s an odd little movie, which is why I love it.  Laughlin, Condon, and the entire cast created a world where everything is just a little off-center.  It makes for terrifically entertaining and weird movie, one that works as both satire and straight horror.

Strange Behavior is a film that deserves to much better known than it currently is so my advice is go watch it and then tell you friends to watch it too.