William Malone’s The Fair Haired Child is part of Showtime’s Masters Of Horror series from the early 2000’s, a brilliant compendium of voices in the genre gathering to spin spooky yarns in a fashion that feels episodic yet still standalone, the best form of horror anthology. Malone is a severely underrated horror filmmaker whose praises I have been singing for a long time; most know him as the dude who directed the House On Haunted Hill remake and FearDotCom, two films not held in high regard (I deeply love them both). Yet if you examine his career and really pay attention to the level of visual artistry and stark surrealism in those two films as well as two episodes of Tales From The Crypt he helmed in the 90’s, it becomes clear that he is a horror filmmaker and visual poet who is as much in control of a specific vision, style and tone as are the best atmospheric wizards in the genre like Argento and Lynch. I’m pleased he was included in the Masters Of Horror run and his effort here is terrific, a pitch dark, nightmarish fairytale that accommodates all his stylistic flourishes and hallmarks including pale, subconsciously influenced dream sequences and ghosts with horrifyingly staccato, eerily displaced body movement. His story here concerns a creepy couple (William Samples & the always awesome Lori Petty) who kidnap a high school girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) from a nearby county to use her in a sacrificial ritual they are performing with dark magic, offering up souls to a strange demon to bring back their son who drowned years earlier. Locked in a spooky basement, she finds she’s not alone down there as the couple’s half resurrected kid (Jesse Haddock) does his best to help her when he’s normal and becomes a terrifying otherworldly creature when he’s not. It’s a great setup for some hair raising suspense, punctuated nicely with flashbacks and dreams that tell the rest of their collective backstory. Now this has a runtime of 55 minutes and is part of the tv series so it doesn’t feel as singular or immersive a vision as Malone’s features, but the off kilter style and bizarre visual abstraction are still present, making for quite the unnerving experience. I’d recommend checking out his filmography overall if you like straightforward horror stories told by someone whose artistic methods and visual sensibilities are anything but routine or straightforward, and I’d recommend Masters Of Horror on the whole, if you can find each episode’s standalone dvd release which is how they distributed them.
I can’t picture a single festival screening of Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler that wouldn’t result in at least half the crowd walking out in revulsion. There’s just no way to put it lightly when describing the alienating, severely soul-disturbing kind of sickly atmosphere that hangs over the entire film like a radioactive blanket of surreal dread. The dvd cover barely suggests the beyond Lynchian, out to lunch, bugfuck nuts events which unfold, and instead hints toward a western with vaguely horror themed aspects. Couldn’t be more different than that. The conventional elements like plot and the theme of Western are dimly present, shaky railroad tracks for a train that careens straight into the subconscious of bizarro world, some of what we see even too messed up and disassociate for the hardiest of cultist buffs. Few films are able to capture the purely illogical and disjointed feeling of a dream, but this one nails it scarily well. Sentences don’t match responses, human behaviour is terrifyingly devoid of inhibitions, events repeat and come out of nowhere, and we really and truly feel lost, removed and detached from any kind of rational thought or action. Now the film doesn’t outright announce that it’s all a dream, save for a few hints embedded in the story, but it sure felt like one long nightmare to me, evoking psychological feelings which words really can’t describe. Dermot Mulroney does a ‘Man with no name routine’ as a vacant ex con who is released from prison and blows back into his one horse trailer park town. He does indeed have no name, now that I think of it, and is only ever referred to as The Rambler. Upon returning, he finds his volatile girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) has taken up with another man, and no one seems to want him around anymore. Time to hit the road, he figures, sauntering out into the acrid desolation of the southwest in a dead cool opening credits scene set to Terry Allen’s Red Bird, one of my favourite twangy tunes. From there it gets hard to describe, comprehend and stomach. He’s off in some John Waters style twilight zone of very unsettling characters, saying and doing things that make little sense and get increasingly shocking and vulgar. A mysterious girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) weaves in and out of the story and seems to be the only one besides him who is remotely coherent. A crackpot doctor (James Cady) shows him an extremely defective device that is supposed to look into people’s dreams. There’s ugly, misanthropic fiends running all about with nothing to say other than loosely strung together verbal diarrhea, and a constant nauseating film of unease over everything. I’ve read reviews wailing about how this film has less than nothing to say, and should have shut it’s mouth. But that’s the point to a nightmare; it doesn’t teach, enlighten or otherwise change us in any way other than to give our sense of dread a workout and provoke a cold sweat. Similarly, the film simply is there to scare, to induce the gag reflex and doesn’t strive for anything else, and in that sense it’s pure, primal and honest about it’s intentions. The very definition of not for everyone, this will even put off bands of counter culture cinephiles who scoff at anything mainstream. Deliberatly vile, constantly off its rocker and so far beyond the event horizon where bizarre ends and something truly indescribable begins, The Rambler will shake the shit out of anyone who claims to have seen it all. You have been warned.