Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a harrowing film, one with enough perverse psychosexual energy, dripping southern atmosphere, stalker suspense and domestic trauma to raise the dead from the swamps of North Carolina where it takes place. Technically a remake of an old 60’s black & whiter with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, I have to give Scorsese’s version the edge no matter how controversial that opinion may be, he just had the freedom to take it further and not have to be so tame as films were back then. He also benefits from having star Robert Deniro in the hot seat as Max Cady, a monstrous, homicidal lunatic out to get Nick Nolte’s Sam Bowden, the slick heeled lawyer who put him away for years. Disclaimer: this is a thoroughly fucked up, highly disturbing film that goes to places you don’t even want showing up on the fringes of your nightmares, and doesn’t shy away from showing these atrocities in wild screaming life. Cady is an extremely clever, resourceful southern gentleman when he wants to be, and when the facade comes off he’s an unabashed, mass murdering psychopathic beast who will get at Sam any way he can, including the harassment and abuse of his wife (Jessica Lange) and teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis). It’s a setup for a wild ride of a thriller that seldom lets up once the wheels are rolling, and flies towards a conclusion set on the bayou that will raise hairs. Lewis, in one of her earliest roles, was rightly nominated for an Oscar, her simultaneous terror and mesmerization when Cady eerily seduces her is magnetic. The Mitchum and The Peck have two fun cameos too, the former as a sceptical cop and the latter as a hilarious, bible spouting asshole lawyer who shamelessly defends Cady. Nolte and Lange are charismatic in their scenes, but this is Deniro’s show all the way, and he creates a villain for the ages. Whether he’s beating up the guys Sam hires to beat him up, cackling maniacally in a movie theatre to piss everyone off, giving off violent rapey vibes to both Lewis and Lange or using freaky disguises to follow them all around, he’s a charming, ruthless boogeyman that has since become iconic. This is one of the premier psycho thriller of the 90’s, an intense, evocatively shot southern gothic freak show that has only gotten better with age.
Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor is one of those lurid thrillers that got absolutely shit on by critics, but I’ve always enjoyed its steely, mean spirited edge and nasty central antagonist performance from Stephen Dorff. There’s also the atmospheric locales of rural Ontario that add to the vibe, as well as the high pedigree class of actors you wouldn’t normally see in something this knowingly low brow. Dennis Quaid plays Cooper Tillson, a family man forced to move to the sticks for work. He buys up an ancient house in the woods with a lot of history behind it and some psychological baggage that’s not forgotten so easily. Dorff is Dale Massie, previous inhabitant and local roughneck who hates the idea of big city boy Quaid and his clan taking up roost in his former digs, probably because it stirs up past trauma for him and induces the scary, pissed off state he spends most of the film in. Quaid’s wife (Sharon Stone) and kids including a very young Kristen Stewart, start to get routinely creeped out when Dorff shows up more and more, insinuating his way into their collective idyllic country lives, until he gets downright violent and Quaid is forced to unlock the secrets of the manor to protect his family. Christopher Plummer has a barely coherent appearance as Dorff’s bedridden, dementia addled father, a deeply unnerving cameo if I’ve ever seen one. Spunky Juliette Lewis plays the local hoe-bag who openly mocks Quaid & Clan too. Ultimately this is glossy trash and they marketed it with trailers that made it seem like a straight up horror or supernatural thing, when in reality it’s much more of a stalker thriller, which is alright too, if you have a villain as intense as glowering, seething Dorff. It certainly doesn’t warrant the shit storm of bad reviews it’s amassed though, there’s fun to be had if you approach it with a popcorn movie mindset, and with that cast alone at least you get to watch them do their thing. Hey, at least it’s light years better than that fucking Dream House thing with Daniel Craig.
Not too many films can claim to be as certifiably, outright insane as Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain. Crazy, off the wall, nuts, there’s plenty of that in Hollyweird,
but Cain is so thoroughly deranged that I’m curious how De Palma arrived at such a specific brand of left field lunacy when he sat down at his typewriter. Get this: John Lithgow pulls an overtime shift playing Dr. Carter Nix, a slightly disturbed child psychologist who shows an unnatural budding interest in his daughter’s upbringing, so much so that it unnerves his wife (Lolita Davidovitch) to a degree. I describe him as only slightly disturbed because his level of mania pales in comparison to his multiple emerging split personalities, which is where the trouble really begins. Carter’s father (also Lithgow) was a psychotic Norwegian doctor who had a habit of using children for bizarre mind control experiments, and it seems that one of Carter’s multiples has decided to take up his work. Soon there’s a rash of baby kidnappings in the area and all hell breaks loose. His wife is too busy having an adulterous affair with a hunk (steamy Steven Bauer) to really take control either. Sounds crazy in writing? The film takes it way further than you could ever imagine. Lithgow always seems a bit nuts, even when playing straight-laced characters we always get this vibe like he’s a court jester who has lost his marbles, and he revs that organic looniness into overdrive here. Frances Sternhagen is a hoot as the obligatory exposition here, a stern doctor who lays out Carter’s complex, condition to two cynical detectives (Tom Bower and Gregg Henry, both great) who try to keep up with this whole circus. I can understand why this film didn’t do too well, I mean… how do you even classify it? Almost everything about the subject matter is highly uncomfortable stuff that threatens to siege over into the lands of taboo, and there’s all kinds of freaky shit in this screaming haunted asylum of a flick. That’s the fun of though, if you’re able to have some. De Palmer has always had a gift for shocker material even when he’s not operating in the thriller genre. There’s a cold, caustic edge to this film that barely contains the sea of menace and mirth roiling beneath, which is an odd, off colour and chilling mix. See it for yourself.
How to even approach Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. For a guy whose career has spanned decades from golden age Hollywood to contemporary and etched out a few mile markers that have practically defined the medium, this is definitely both the odd duck and black sheep of the man’s career. There’s no way around it either so I’ll be blunt: it’s kind of a mess. But it’s an intermittently breathtaking mess, like someone spilt a can of turgid motor oil in their garage, but a few gold and silver flakes of airbrush paint snuck into the oozing puddle. There’s a noticeable Stephen King vibe here, with flippant Val Kilmer as horror novelist Hall Baltimore, struck with writer’s block and hiding out in a creepy Midwest town to try and get the creative juices flowing. There’s murder afoot there, in more ways than one, and soon he’s visited by the ghost of a girl (Elle Fanning, darkly ethereal) who guides him along a chain of memories that recall missing children from the past. The town’s gruff, obnoxious Sheriff (Bruce Dern) doesn’t appreciate Hall nosing around his neck of the woods and harasses him at every turn. There’s Skype seasons with his wife (Joanne Whalley, Killer’s real life ex) that feel suspiciously improvised, an appearance by Edgar Allen Poe himself (Ben Chaplin) and creaky narration from none other than Tom Waits. Ultimately it doesn’t really connect, and feels so fascinated by itself that it fails to coherently tell us the tale in a way that sticks. What does take hold, however, are some truly gorgeous and striking visuals, lit by stark silver moonlight, accented by crimson blood and brought to unholy life by tactile, riveting slow motion, like a dream sequence in which Kilmer observes a group of ghost children frolicking on an eerie riverbank. Much of it feels subconscious and free form or lifted out of an Evanescence music video, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It just needs the focus of the script to properly come across as a whole story, which, sadly, it mostly doesn’t have. Fanning makes the biggest impression as the ghostly waif, peering off the film’s poster and promising a poetic spook show, which… we kind of get. This has been seen as a shrill blast of emptiness by many critics, but there’s some fun to be had, and plenty of gothic eye candy to feast on, even if the brain goes hungry.
It’s always hard to find a horror flick these days that’s actually genuinely scary, not to mention fun as well. You have your endless found footage stuff, a consistent parade of ghost/exorcism fare, various creature features, and in the columns of hit or miss, unfortunately the latter weighs heavier. But once in a while there’s that terrifying ruckus of a haunted house flick that comes along and knows how to assault you on all sides with the creep factor, the laugh cannon and be a smart, well told and unexpected tale too. Ghost Stories is just that, a gleeful throwback to the BBC anthology horror of the 80’s that pulls the rug right out from you and frightens in a big way.
Set up in three distinct segments plus a kicker of a final fourth act, it follows a paranormal debunker (Andy Nyman) as he revisits three decades old spooky cases that have never been solved and haunt the afflicted to this day. The first and scariest sees a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) on shift at an abandoned asylum who’s plagued by a restless spirit. In the second, a young boy (Alex Lawther) is harassed by a devilish creature as he drives through a forest in a stolen car. Lastly, father to be Martin Freeman is terrorized by a poltergeist in his home. These stories work great on their own but they really serve as a tapestry of clues to what’s really going on, and later down the line there’s some chilling revelations that are far more disturbing than any ghost going bump in the night. This is like the best, strongest points of Twilight Zone, Tales From The Crypt and Goosebumps done right with just a flourish of Black Mirror on the side. Freeman gives the best work, becoming cheerfully psychotic later and injecting delirious amounts of extremely dark humour into every mirthful grimace and off the wall mannerism. This is what horror should be.
I first became aware of the work of William Malone when I saw his movie CREATURE. For most, all they see is just some cheap imitation of Scott’sALIEN – but there is much on offer if you give the flick more than a sideways glance. There exists the same thrilling, eerisome mood generated that marks all of his movies and which culminated in his remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.
Growing up in Lansing, Michigan and going to the same high school as NBA legend Magic Johnson, it would be music and not sport that would eventually see the young Malone make his way west to Los Angeles. But the music soon died and William found himself looking for work. He took a job at Don Post Studios doing make-up and costume duties before attending film school at UCLA.
His first film would soon follow, the cult classic SCARED TO DEATH. This was the beginning of a storied career of other great features like FEARDOTCOM and PARASOMNIA as well as work on the small screen in series like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, MASTERS OF HORROR and FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES.
It was great talking with William about everything from directing Klaus Kinski, his non-existent role of TV’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, having one of his scripts become a sequel toUNIVERSAL SOLDIER and the (I find it intriguing) story behind the making of the troubled SUPERNOVA, of which Francis Coppola mentioned to him that they should have stuck with Malone’s original script Dead Star.
Aside from being the world’s foremost collector of FORBIDDEN PLANET props and paraphernalia, William Malone is a fascinating movie-maker and a delight to chat with. I trust you’ll feel the same . . .
Guardian falls squarely into the ‘ancient relic B flick’, a well worn path in which some obscure archaeological dig unearths a crazy evil that plagues everyone and causes a monumental ruckus, or in this one’s case, a laid back low budget ruckus. The incident here happened during the Gulf war, in which special forces badass Mario Van Peebles witnessed something escape a tomb, something that’s now reared it’s head years later in inner city LA, and he’s now a detective who has to deal with it, assisted by his partner (James Remar). The beauty of making your antagonist a shapeless, invisible identity that takes over human hosts and jumps from person to person is that special effects aren’t even required and you can stay within budget restrictions (I imagine that was on Gregory Hoblit’s mind for Fallen, and he was able to save a few bucks for the wicked cast he scored) which in this film’s case is a concern that was probably paramount, this is about as scantly funded as they get. It’s scrappy, atmospheric and works well enough for something like this. Remar is underused for the first half as the classic wise-ass sidekick, until the demon jumps into him and we get to see some of that classic Remar menace take the controls from Peebles’s moody cop, he’s a guy I never saw the point in having as your leading man, the necessary amount of charisma just isn’t there. This actually makes a great Remar/Peebles double feature with another obscure horror called Blowback, in which cop Mario is hunting down crazed serial killer James. I’ll get to that one eventually. Oh yeah, Ice T has a small role as a gangbanger here too, almost forgot about him.