I have thought long and hard about how to write this post. I went into Hereditary completely blind, I just knew that my Twitter feed was exploding about this movie. When I left the theater, I realized a spoiler-free review would just read, “I liked it. It was good.” So, beware, there are spoilers yonder. I hate to tell people not to read my words, but it was so great seeing this movie with no clue what was going to happen. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to read spoilers, then turn back! Or else Spoiler Pirate Cat will make you walk the plank. Seriously, spoilers will be happening below the picture of the cat!

Hereditary is directory Ari Aster’s feature-length debut. Briefly, the movie is like if The Exorcist had a baby with Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man.

Toni Collette stars as Annie Graham, a miniature artist who makes models based on her life. I swear, if Toni Collette doesn’t get ALL the awards this season, I’m going to riot.

The movie opens with the death of Annie’s mother and the uncomfortable eulogy that Annie gives, where she’s straightforward about what a contentious and secretive woman her mother was.

Gabriel Byrne plays her husband, Steve, who’s just trying to hold the family together. Alex Wolff (John Backderf in My Friend Dahmer) plays their son, Peter, and Milly Shapiro plays their daughter, Charlie. Charlie is mildly mentally disabled.
While at a grief counseling session, Annie lays out her family’s legacy of mental illness. Her father starved himself to death in a fit of depression induced psychosis, her brother was bipolar and killed herself. In his suicide note, he accused their mother of trying to put people in him. Annie’s mother was diagnosed with disassociative identity disorder and dementia in her final days.
I love the theme of grief in this movie because, at least in western culture, it’s not something we speak about frequently. This goes double for complicated grief, when the bereaved had a fraught relationship with the deceased. How do you mourn someone that you don’t like, let alone love? Especially when society tells you that this person is someone you’re supposed to love more than most other people. As someone who’s studied death and grieving, complicated grief is some of the most difficult grief to deal with.
What I like about this movie is that Annie isn’t necessarily a sympathetic character. She’s not reaching out to her family and crying or doing anything that we associate with sympathetic feminine grief. Instead, she throws herself into her work, recreating her struggles with her mother in miniature. There’s a brittle anger to her that reminds me of Amelia from The Babadook. I like it. I’ll almost always support a movie with a mother who isn’t perfect.
Peter gets invited to a party. Annie insists that he take Charlie, even though it’s clear that neither one of them want her to go. Charlie has a severe allergic reaction to cake with nuts in it. She dies in an incredible freak accident while Peter drives her to the hospital. This scene is one of the most brutal scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie, even though it’s mostly bloodless. I don’t want to go too deeply into it, let me just say it isn’t her allergy that kills her. Peter hides in bed instead of calling 911 or telling his parents. Annie finds Charlie dead in the car. The audience doesn’t see this but hears her reaction as she goes down to the car and finds the body. It’s one of the most emotionally raw scenes I’ve experienced in a movie.
The family is irreparably shattered from this moment. It’s clear that Peter and Annie blame each other and, if we’re being realistic, they both own some of the blame. Charlie didn’t even want to go to the party, Annie basically forced her to go. And one of the last things Annie said to her was to call her an idiot. Peter was driving while high. This leads to another, incredibly uncomfortable scene, where Annie and Peter basically lay bare their anger and resentment of each other.
If the movie cut out any mention of the supernatural, it would still be a tense domestic drama. Annie tries grief counseling again where she befriends Joan (Ann Dowd). Joan tells her about a method to contact the other side and Annie becomes consumed by trying to reach out to Charlie. She thinks she’s reached her but the spirit’s actions are increasingly malevolent, especially towards Peter. Has she really reached Charlie and does the girl’s spirit just want vengeance for her death? Or has she reached something older and more dangerous? The last fifteen minutes of this movie are absolutely insane. Let’s just say that grandma was involved in something deeply evil that ruins not only her husband and son’s lives, but also the lives of Annie’s entire family. Let’s also say, that Charlie’s accident isn’t so much a freak accident, as it was probably orchestrated by grandma. Evil wins in this movie and it’s not at all like the end of The Wicker Man, when Sergeant Howie is such a jerk that you don’t feel bad about what happens to him. Not one, but two families are destroyed by the grandmother’s actions.
This movie is a slow-burner. Don’t go into this expecting a very fast pace. It’s very subdued and domestic until Charlie dies. That being said, the movie is incredibly tense. Don’t expect jump scares galore, it’s more like you become very invested in this family and everything that happens to them becomes a devastating blow. The score heightens the tension, ranging from a traditional orchestral score, to low drumming like a heartbeat, to silence punctuated by the clucking noise Charlie would make.
Aside from grief, the movie’s major theme is how much of a burden it can be dealing with a terminally ill or mentally ill/disabled loved one. This is doubly difficult when you don’t particularly love the loved one. Annie is clearly overwrought and exhausted by the time her mother dies. There’s a strong chance her family would have fallen apart even without the supernatural influence.
The visuals remind me of The Exorcist, especially towards the end when Annie is possessed. The way she moves in her white outfit is reminiscent of Regan MacNeil. Parts of the ending also reminded me of Audition, you’re not going to look at wire the same way again.
The plot reminds me of occult literature from the turn of the century. I’m thinking of the malevolent paganism from The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen and the weird stories of Algernon Blackwood. I haven’t actually watched True Detective but I’ve read The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, which I know was the influence on season one. This movie resembles these turn of the century stories. It’s not just the plots about sinister cults and pagans, but because they’re all slow to start. There’s usually a straight-laced narrator explaining how he got involved in such shocking supernatural doings, and it’s a solid forty pages before anything remotely freaky happens. You won’t be disappointed if you remind yourself it’s not a Blumhouse film, and there aren’t going to be puppets and jump scares every fifteen minutes.

Posted in 21st century, cults, demons, possession, psychological, satanism, supernatural | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chopping Mall

I’m so excited to finally be able to write about 1986’s Chopping Mall.

If you know me you know I’m a sucker for a title card with a cool font.

The movie follows four couples as they stay overnight at the Park Plaza Mall (Really the Sherman Oaks Galleria). The mall recently installed security robots to protect the mall and added intense security doors.

Unfortunately, a lightening strike makes the robots evil and they kill their technicians.

Gerrit Graham, reading a book edited by director Jim Wynorski

Then they kill the janitor, Walter Paisley (Remember Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood? Yup, he’s reprising that role).

The teens realize they’re in trouble when they see Leslie (Suzee Slater) get her head blown off by a robot.

They formulate a plan where the guys try to booby-trap the elevator and the girls try to escape through the air vents. Unfortunately, the killer robots have access to the climate of the mall and turn the heat on in the vents.

Barbara Crampton as Suzie Lynn.

The teens are picked off one by one until the only couple left are the slightly nerdy and adorable Allison (Kelli Maroney) and Ferdy (Tony O’Dell).

I’d seriously be so happy watching a 50s monster movie with a guy.

At seventy-seven minutes, the movie manages to be campy and fun without overstaying its welcome. It also works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, with lines like, “I’m sorry. It’s not you, Ferdy. I guess I’m just not used to running around a shopping mall in the middle of the night being chased by killer robots.” The synth score is pretty much perfect. It’s funny that movies and shows today are aspiring to this sound.
I also love the movie because it’s an inadvertent time capsule of mall culture. I was just so incredibly nostalgic for the days of hanging out at the mall while watching this. Am I the only one who daydreamed about sneaking in overnight at the mall?
As someone who’s worked in retail for way too long, I can relate so much with the sassy retail coworkers rolling their eyes at the robot demonstration.

They’ve probably heard every dumbass idea from corporate. Boy, do I know that feeling.
I know this is a cheesy Corman movie but I like to think about movies in the context of when they were made. The 80s were the tough on crime era. If a mall back then could have security robots, I bet they would.

Posted in 1980's, comedy, creatures, crime, cult classics, killer robots | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

It (2017)

I watched the It remake last night and, boy, am I ambivalent about it.

I know a lot of people my age love the miniseries. It is a beloved book although, to be honest, it’s not my favorite Stephen King book. My criticisms of the book and miniseries are pretty much the same–they’re both too long and the parts with the adults are boring. That being said, I’ll take either the book or the miniseries any day of the week over the remake. I truly, madly, deeply don’t understand the adulation that’s been poured on this movie by the horror community. I have a copy of Rue Morgue magazine next to me right now and they voted It as the best feature of 2017. Was it just the hype machine? I don’t think I’ve ever been so ambivalent about a movie.
The plot is similar to the miniseries and the book. The events have been moved to 1988 and 1989 from the 1950s. Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) is killed by Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård), the assumed form of a Lovecraftian entity that feeds off the town of Derry every twenty-seven years. Georgie’s brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) tries to fight what killed Georgie and other children in the town with the help of his gang of friends.
I liked the mood of the movie and some of the scenes were striking. I particularly liked the scene where the t.v. show tells the bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) to kill everyone. Actually, I found that all the bullies were genuinely menacing. That being said, many scenes were very derivative of better horror movies. The fight scenes with Pennywise felt like alternate takes from fights with Freddy Krueger from the first Nightmare on Elm Street. The scene where Bev (Sophia Lillis) pulls out the measuring tape full of blood and hair out of the drain felt like something taken from Ringu.
I genuinely liked the music. I especially liked what was playing in the scene when they were first exploring the creepy abandoned house. The movie veers from orchestral to eighties synth licks to a few songs from the eighties in a way that works well. I wish I could say the same for the CGI. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is iconic. He’s scary because of his acting and would still be menacing if you stripped away the makeup. Bill Skarsgård is good and brings a new take to the character but his performance is overshadowed by CGI that resembles a video game cut-scene.
My main issue with this movie is the sexualization, objectification, and victimization of Bev. In the book, King has the Losers have sex with Bev in the sewer after they defeat Pennywise the first time, when they’re desperate and lost in the sewer. The scene is incredibly controversial, although King writes it in a loving and not salacious matter. King has said this regarding the matter;

I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.Source

Bev having sex with every member of the Losers when she’s eleven feels much less gross than the fact that Bev is objectified by literally every male character she encounters in the movie, including her father. I actually like this incarnation of Bev, she’s tough and funny. But it’s creepy that everyone from her closest friends to the neighborhood pharmacist look at Bev lustfully, that Bev uses her sex appeal to get what she wants (Whatever sex appeal a preteen can have), and that the lighting and music changes when she’s onscreen and if she is onscreen with the other Losers they’re usually all staring at her. It’s a weird choice because in the book she’s so clearly just one of the guys except to Ben. In the book every member of the Losers brings something to the group that makes it strong–Bill is the leader, Ben is great at building things, Mike knows the town’s history and connects the past with the present, Stan is the skeptic, Eddie has an amazing sense of direction, and Bev is an amazing shot. Bev is actually the one who shoots Pennywise. In this movie, Bev is reduced to being an object of lust and someone to be rescued.
I’m not sure if the sexualization and objectification of Bev is an attempt to demonstrate how rotten Derry is because of Pennywise’s influence. If it is, then this isn’t established enough in the movie. One of the main points of the book is that Derry looks like a nice small town but it isn’t really a nice place to live in. Pennywise corrupts everyone so that normally good people are complicit with evil and he makes bad people even worse. There’s a brief scene where Ben begs for help and is ignored when Henry is attacking him but that’s about it.
In this movie, she’s reduced to a victim needing rescue after Pennywise kidnaps her and serves as a plot device to bring the Losers back together after they have a fight. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Ben is able to bring her back with a kiss after she looks into Pennywise’s deadlights.
My other main issue is the erasure of Mike Hanlon (Played by Chosen Jacobs) from this movie. Mike has a robust role in the book, even though he’s the last to join the Losers. On a personal note, Mike Hanlon is my favorite of the Losers. I love the Stephen King Universe and I think that it’s cool that Dick Halloran from The Shining knew Mike Hanlon’s dad and used his power to save him when the Maine equivalent of the Klan tried to burn down The Black Spot. I love that Mike is the history buff that connects the dots about Derry’s history with his dad’s photo album. I love that Mike stayed behind and remembered the horror that he witnessed and saw the horror starting again. He’s a cool black nerd who is aware of his blackness because Henry Bowers hates him the most of all the Losers because of his skin color. Sadly, his role is very reduced in this adaptation and, for some reason, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) knows the town’s history, despite the fact that he’s new in town. I don’t understand how a movie released in 2017 can have less progressive roles for women and people of color than a book released in 1986.
It’s very frustrating that director Andy Muschietti took source material about the power of belief, loss of innocence, and how growing up changes people, and turned it into a movie about beating up a clown monster with rebar.
I liked the kids’ performances but, since that was one of the only high points of the movie, I don’t know if I’ll bother seeing the sequel since it will have a new, adult cast. Jack Dylan Grazer was particularly great as Eddie Kaspbrack. He really stole the show. As a Stranger Things fan I wish I liked Finn Wolfhard more as Richie Tozier. Richie’s lines were funny but I think Wolfhard lacked commitment. Richie thinks he’s the funniest person in the room so his lines need to be said with this confidence.
There were aspects of this movie that were enjoyable but, for me, the problematic parts outweighed the entertaining parts. I don’t understand how an ABC t.v. movie from 1991 with a $12 million budget can have more nuance than a movie from 2017 with a $35 million budget. I’m hoping that the success of Black Panther is a sign that the era of using woman and people of color as tools for white people plot advancement is dying.

Posted in 21st century, creatures, famous movie monsters, monsters, supernatural | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Killer Bees

Happy Friday and welcome to Scarina’s Vault of Bee-Themed T.V. Movies. Tonight’s offering is 1974’s Killer Bees (I’ve also seen it listed as The Killer Bees).

This was an ABC t.v. movie directed by Curtis Harrington. Harrington directed multiple t.v. movies, including The Dead Don’t Die and Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell. He also worked with Roger Corman and was mentored by a voodoo priestess. Overall, he seemed like a cool man. The movie stars Kate Jackson (Sabrina from Charlie’s Angels!), Edward Albert, and frickin’ GLORIA SWANSON. Amazing. Apparently, Bette Davis was the first choice to be in the movie. She was friends with Carrington. Her doctor warned Davis against taking the part due to her bee allergy. Swanson is amazing in this but I also wonder what Bette Davis could have done. Last week, I watched Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare and this movie couldn’t handle the subject matter any more differently. Killer Bees isn’t on VHS or DVD so I found a print on YouTube. It has some tracking issues but I found that charming. That’s why my screencaps aren’t so hot.
Edward Albert plays Edward Van Bohlen, the black sheep in the well-to-do Van Bohlen family. The family started a vineyard in California and the town they live in basically grew up around the vineyard. They’re very powerful and the whole town seems to fear them.

Edward hasn’t been home since he went to school and is only going back at the insistence of his girlfriend, Tori (Kate Jackson). Not only are they engaged but she’s pregnant.

Going home means winning the approval of Edward’s domineering grandmother and the matriarch of the family, Madame Van Bohlen (Gloria Swanson).

The Van Bohlens, while a powerful influence in the town, are also incredibly isolated from it. The vineyards are fenced off from the outside world with signs to discourage trespassers and a huge gate barring access to their mansion. The rest of the family consists of Edward’s father and brothers. No one is happy that he brought a girlfriend who is clearly beneath their social class and they’re even less happy when they realize that Edward is engaged. Tori is trying to make a good impression but it’s so clear that no one in the family is happy that she’s there. The tension culminates with Madame dying.
An aura of menace surrounds their visit from the very beginning. A salesman (played by Jack Perkins) trespasses on the Van Bohlen vineyards and is attacked by a swarm of bees in his car when Edward and Tori first arrive. Then, a lineman who witnessed the accident and is helping the police is also attacked while on an electrical pole.

The bees are ever present at the Van Bohlen estate. Madame maintains a swarm of African honey bees. Honey is an essential component of Von Bohlen wine. And Madame is utterly unafraid of the bees.

Apparently, the bees were kept on dry ice before filming and placed on Gloria Swanson. As the lights went on the bees warmed up and started to become more active.
Tori skips Madame’s funeral so as not to aggravate the family any further. A swarm of bees shows up at the service and becomes aggressive when an altar boy attacks them. The swarm goes straight back to the Van Bohlen house where they attack Tori.

Tori is initially overwhelmed but then embraces the power of bees.

Edward runs to rescue her but when he gets to the house, he finds Tori unhurt and acting very strange. Her demeanor is entirely different and she soon sits in Madame’s chair. Yes, she’s clearly being possessed by the spirit of his grandmother.

The pacing of this movie is much slower than Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare. Deadly Invasion is mostly powered by sheer “What did I just see?” ridiculousness. Killer Bees is the more thoughtful of the two narratives.
The purpose of Deadly Invasion was clearly to raise awareness about what was considered an impending ecological crisis. Killer Bees is a character study of a pathological family. The threat from the bees isn’t because they’re African, it’s because they carry out the whims of Madame. African honey bees are known for their aggressiveness and willingness to defend their hives and queen. In this movie, Madame is the queen. It’s not subtle that all that remains of her family are male relatives and that she’s infuriated by a female interloper. There’s even a model of the Van Bohlen mansion that’s frequently shown covered in bees.

This movie is both a seeing is believing kind of movie but is also genuinely good. What’s not to love about menacing bees psychically controlled by an old woman?
It’s easy to forget that t.v. movies were a way for aging actors to continue working. Gloria Swanson is amazing in this. She manages to be menacing without raising her voice. The performances are consistently good, especially Kate Jackson. The switch from put-upon girlfriend to the new Madame is quite entertaining. I just wish this had a proper release.
I’d also like to credit Are You in the House Alone?, a book edited by Amanda Reyes. It’s a selection of essays about t.v. movies and reviews/recaps of t.v. movies from the 1960s through the 1990s. It even has a special section for Stephen King miniseries. It’s a great resource for anyone who loves t.v. movies as much as I do and is leading me towards some new, interesting movies that I don’t think many people talk about.

Posted in 1970's, eco-horror, possession, psychological, supernatural, television, thriller, tv | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare

I’m back! I’m not sure how I feel about my first post of 2018 being about a made-for-t.v. killer bee movie, but, I’m back! A couple of days ago, I read about 1995’s Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare and I knew I had to see it. I remember when people were genuinely scared about killer bees. I saw news reports about it when I was little, in the late 80s or very early 90s. I was six or seven at the time. In fact, I spent an afternoon in my family’s screened-in porch once after seeing a story about killer bees. Not like I had anything to worry about, I grew up in New Jersey.
This movie caught my attention because of its release date. Surprisingly, it’s hard to find information about its production but it was released in 1995 and that seems sort of late for a killer-bee fear movie. Also, it has a young Ryan Phillippe in it. Please excuse the picture quality, some kind people have uploaded this movie on YouTube but the picture quality isn’t great.
The movie opens with about ten different facts and warnings about bees. Inaccurate facts. Killer bees are actually a crossbreed of European and African honey bees. A scientist was trying to create a breed of bees that were better adapted to tropical conditions than the European strains being used. Twenty-six swarms were accidentally released in the late 1950s and they’ve been moving north ever since. Sorry, I should rename my blog BEE FACTS.
Anyway, I forgave this movie when I saw this warning.

The movie opens with a sheriff’s deputy trying to warn people in a dangerous abandoned house. Instead of going inside through the door like a normal person, he kind of wedges himself into an open window and is trapped. We then get a POV shot from the perspective of a swarm of bees attacking his mouth. I was hoping the movie would hold up this momentum but it doesn’t.
The movie follows the Ingram family. The parents are very busy, important business people who recently moved to southern California. Dad is a lawyer (Played by Robert Hays, aka Ted Striker from Airplane), mom’s an interior designer, and they recently bought an orchard that they want to make their primary business. They have three children and they’re busy living a very early 90s Laura Ashley-looking lifestyle. The parents are both on the phone when we meet them. The dad’s talking about depositions and the mom’s talking about fabric. They both have very distinct, different-looking phones in their hands, but there’s this weird gag where they accidentally switch phones and talk to the wrong person. But we never see them put the phones down. It’s so weird. This movie is a little strange.
Dad first becomes aware of killer bees when he sees a Department of Agriculture woman putting out traps for them. But then he talks to dreamy, Fabio-esque beekeeper Ken (Michael A. Nickles), who beekeeps while wearing a chambray shirt, and he feels better.

Ken is so chill around bees that he signs paperwork with his hand all covered in bees.

The family continues with their lives unworried about bees until two classmates of their children are killed by killer bees. Technically, the teens went to make out near the town billboard and didn’t notice there were killer beehives nearby and the bees started stinging them. They tried to drive away but get hit by a truck. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the bees entirely for that. The guy had been drinking and driving earlier in the movie. This is maybe 70% the bees’ fault but 30% his fault.
Ryan Phillippe plays Tom, a friend of the Ingram’s son and the teen who’s killed. He harbors a grudge against the bees and flings rocks at the hives as they’re BEE-ING destroyed (Oh god, I’m so sorry).

The parents also meet Pruitt Taylor Beauchamp (Dennis Christopher), an eccentric entomologist whose job it is to make the mom even more terrified of killer bees.

Beauchamp is like every member of the Lone Gunmen rolled into one person and we only get five minutes of screen time with him. He just kind of wanders up to where the killer beehives are, wanders away, and then speaks very loudly at a cafe. Him and the dreamy beekeeper are basically the best characters in the movie.
Deadly Invasion originally aired on Fox, the home of The X-Files, and it isn’t lost on me that there are even some X-Files-style government agents that are toeing the government’s line about killer bee policy. The audience os clearly supposed to be outraged that the government isn’t doing more to fight the killer bee threat.

This movie’s purpose is basically to make the public aware of killer bees. There will be normal dialogue but then the actors will get all stiff and weird and start spouting out BEE FACTS.
The movie culminates with Tom taking vengeance on the bees by shooting hives at the family’s orchard with a gun. In this movie, if you need someone to do something incredibly dumb then you just need to call Tom over. The family winds up trapped in their house because of Tom.

This movie is such an odd little time capsule. Possibly one of the last made for t.v. movies from the major networks. I don’t watch current t.v. movies because they’re schlocky on purpose and that’s not fun. This is from the end of the era of earnest t.v. movies.
This movie is cheesy fun. That being said, don’t expect a high body count. The deputy and the teen couple are the only people who die. The Ingram family’s youngest daughter gets stung at one point and the mom just recites, “Five or six stings on a child her size!” which is basically word for word something Beauchamp said earlier.
This movie is so clearly trying to make us aware of and scared of killer bees, I can’t help but love it. Aside from the low body count, my main criticism is that the ending with the family escaping their house is the most boring part of the movie. Escaping a house full of killer bees shouldn’t be boring!
But then the movie redeems itself with this;

Posted in 1990's, eco-horror, thriller, tv | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Children of the Corn (1984)

Remember that time I reviewed the Children of the Corn remake? That was terrible! I was browsing Netflix and saw that they actually have the original and decided to watch it for the first time in twenty years. Parts of it haven’t aged so well but I still thought this was a good watch.
There are some scenes from scary movies that permanently embed themselves in your mind. I always remembered this one scene from a movie of a man having his hand forcibly stuck in one of those deli meat slicers. Turns out it was from this movie. So I guess this movie was successful at burning that scene in my mind.
The movie is interesting because it’s narrated by a child, Job (Robby Kiger, who was also Patrick in The Monster Squad) and it starts three years before the events of the movie. The main antagonist is Isaac (John Franklin), a preteen preacher who has a revelation from He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
Isaac’s main allies are Malachai (Courtney Gains) and Rachel (Julie Maddalena), they both fervently enforce Isaac’s will.

There’s bloodshed within five minutes of this movie starting as the children poison and stab the adults of the town.
Job and his little sister, Sarah (AnneMarie McEvoy) don’t participate. Their parents dislike Isaac so they weren’t present when Isaac had his revelation. They’re mostly excluded from the Activities of the Corn but they’re not allowed to leave. Also, Sarah has visions of the future that she draws, so Isaac mostly allows them to be left alone.
Three years later, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton!) are driving across country to Burt’s new job. True fact, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton were together for a year in the early 80s. If there was any animosity between the pair, it doesn’t show. They have much better chemistry than the actors in the remake. They manage to bicker without it becoming uncomfortable, the way it was in the remake.

Look, a copy of Night Shift on the dashboard! If only they had read it they would know to avoid Gatlin.

They hit a child while driving through Gatlin, Town of the Corn. Turns out the kid had his throat slit because he tried to escape before they hit him. They arrive in the town and find nothing but desolate cornliness. Seriously, there are little corn totems and stalks of corn everywhere.

There’s even a corn church.

Vicky, very sensibly, wants to go to the next town, Hemingford, but Burt is stubborn and insists on looking at every corner of this ghost town for an adult. From here, they encounter the children and realize how sick the town is.
What keeps this movie entertaining is the constant creepy imagery and the desolation. There’s a very Wicker Man-feel to the attempted sacrifice of Vicky and the effigy of The Blue Man.

In the end, Malachai and Isaac learn what happens when you try to double cross He Who Walks Among the Rows. And we’re treated to this truly awful CGI.

The movie fails towards the end. In the novella, Burt and Vicky die. It’s okay if the movie doesn’t follow the story exactly but the movie ends with these cheesy sitcom jokes about taking off with Job and Sarah. Then Rachel tries to kill them and there’s even more laughter. It’s like the ending of a particularly dark episode of Diff’rent Strokes. Most of the movie holds up well but the ending just doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the movie. I wonder if the filmmakers tried to temper the darkness of the opening? Apparently, Stephen King wrote a draft of the script that was rejected. I’m curious to see what that draft was like.
I still think He Who Walks Among the Rows is Randall Flagg. I’m basing this mostly on Mother Abigail’s experiences in Hemingford Home after the superflu, when she senses the evil in the corn. That being said, my only knowledge of the Randall Flagg mythos is based on The Stand because I haven’t read The Dark Tower series.
This movie mostly holds up but I’m also a sucker for a killer kids movie. It’s 90 minutes, so, aside from the ending it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. And everyone can agree with the message of the danger of false prophets.

Posted in 1980's, cult classics, cults, killer kids, slasher, supernatural | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bad Ronald

Oh boy, I am so excited to have a chance to write about Bad Ronald today. I first heard about this cult made-for-t.v. movie from 1974 during an episode of Ugly Betty, of all places. Betty’s roommate, Amanda, blames everything bad that she does on Bad Ronald. I looked the reference up and discovered one of the strangest t.v. movies I’ve ever heard of. It has everything! Made for t.v. movie seventies styles and a killer kid.
Please excuse the quality of the screencaps. The only DVD of this available is a Warner Archive Collection bare-bones release from 2009 and everything’s a little muddy. I’m not sure if the movie looked like this when it first aired. This movie is begging for a Scream Factory release with a nice, clean transfer and loads of extra features.
The movie stars Scott Jacoby as misfit Ronald Wilby. He’ll look familiar if you’re a fan of The Golden Girls because he plays Dorothy’s son, Michael Zbornak.

Ronald is a nerdy outcast with a controlling mother played by Kim Hunter, who’s best known as Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire.

Ronald dreams of going to medical school so he can become a doctor and cure his mother’s unspecified illness. He also loves to paint and draw and is fascinated by an imaginary kingdom that he created, Atranta.
After being humiliated while asking out his crush, he accidentally bumps into her little sister, Carol Matthews (Angela Hoffman). They trade insults and this quickly escalates to violence and he pushes her, making her fatally hit her head on a cinder-block. The descriptions I’ve read about this movie emphasize the accidental nature of Carol’s death but I tend to disagree. It’s a fierce attack by a boy at least five years older than this girl. It’s creepy how quickly Ronald snaps.
Ronald buries Carol and confesses to his mother what he’s done. They take the door and door-frame off of their spare bedroom, and plaster and wallpaper over it, creating a secret room. They create a little door in the pantry to slide him food and his mom tells everyone that Ronald ran away.
Their plan works until the mom has to go into the hospital and get gall-bladder surgery. She dies and Ronald is trapped in the house. He becomes more and more isolated and drills peepholes all over when he realizes that realtors are showing the house (The realtor is played by John Fielder, who played Dorothy’s plain-looking but good in bed boyfriend, Eddie, on The Golden Girls). He spends most of his time drawing more pictures of Atranta and trying to hide from nosy neighbor Mrs. Schumacher (Linda Watkins).
Eventually, a family with three daughters moves in and Ronald becomes fixated on the youngest, Babs Wood (Cindy Fisher).

He’s also enraged when he realizes the oldest sister is dating Duane Matthews, Carol’s older brother. Babs has never liked the house and the rest of the family has started noticing weird noises and missing food.
At one point, Mrs. Schumacher sees Ronald and dies of shock. He hides her body, leaving her house empty.
The movie ends with the parents leaving the girls alone for the weekend. Ronald tries to kidnap Babs when she’s alone but she escapes and he locks her in Mrs. Schumacher’s basement. He tries to make it look like she ran away and that’s what the police think when Babs’ sisters report her missing. They don’t believe she was kidnapped until middle sister, Althea (Cindy Eilbacher) accidentally discovers the peephole.

The movie ends with Ronald being arrested.
This movie has great atmosphere and is really good at being creepy. The last moments when the girls realzie someone has been spying on them are very tense. Scott Jacoby is great at showing Ronald’s mental deterioration. Kim Hunter is also quite good in this and it would have been great to see more of her.
The movie clocks in at just over an hour long. The movie’s main flaw is that it doesn’t really establish Ronald’s relationship with his peers or his relationship with his mother. I wish it were just twenty minutes longer to show Ronald being bullied, so his reaction to Carol would make more sense. It would also be great seeing his mother being more overbearing and how unhealthy their relationship is. I know some people consider “remake” a dirty word but this movie could stand a good remake.
The movie’s main plot hole is that no one seems to notice the missing room. Babs’ mother comments that it’s strange that a four bedroom house only has one bathroom (The other bathroom is walled up with Ronald’s room). It’s strange that the realtors don’t notice this missing room. The outer dimensions of the house wouldn’t match the inner dimensions.
What saves the movie from being bad is its short run time. It’s long enough to tell a story and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It does have some unfortunately generic t.v. music. A great score could have really elevated the tension. This movie’s fun for cult movie fans but isn’t necessarily for everyone.
I’m going to end this review with a gallery with some of Ronald’s creepy artwork.

Posted in 1970's, cult classics, killer kids, psychological, television, thriller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments