The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter feed exploded as people realized that there was a 1980 made-for-tv movie called The Legend of Sleepy Hollow starring a young Jeff Goldblum. People were really into the sultry VHS cover. I really can’t blame them, I was fascinated by it too.

If you know me then you know I’m a sucker for tv movies and I love Jeff Goldblum so I thought this would be a match made in made-for-tv heaven! The verdict? I guess I was just naïve to think that NBC would show a decapitation in a movie from 1980 that I’m pretty sure was filmed using old Little House on the Prairie sets.
Here’s a rundown of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, for everyone who’s unfamiliar with the story. Washington Irving wrote it in 1820, it’s a good example of early American literature that isn’t a religious sermon. Ichabod Crane is a nervous and superstitious school master who moves to Sleepy Hollow, a town near Tarry Town (This is based on a real place, Tarrytown, in the Hudson River Valley). He competes with Brom Bones, a popular man in town, for the hand of the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. Brom Bones plays a series of pranks on Ichabod Crane. The Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian soldier from the Revolutionary War that lost his head to a cannonball. The story culminates with Ichabod Crane seeing what he presumes to be the horseman and there’s a big chase as he tries to outrun the horseman to the covered bridge and then he disappears.
There are certain tropes essential to the story. Nervous Ichabod Crane, a headless horseman, a flaming pumpkin head, and a covered bridge. This tv movie only delivers the nervous Ichabod Crane.
Jeff Goldblum is basically the high point of this movie and is at Peak Goldblumyness as the stammering, nervous Crane. Interestingly enough, he also happens to be a skeptic, which is unusual for the story. He’s usually superstitious, the only other skeptical Ichabod Crane I remember is Johnny Depp’s Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
The movie is heavy on physical comedy. When we first meet Crane he’s instantly treed by some dogs that belong to Brom Bones.

I’m sorry for the screencap quality. I found a version of the movie on YouTube and it has all the original ads, so these are screencaps of a transfer of a 38-year-old VHS.
Brom Bones is played by Dick Butkus. That’s kind of amazing. He instantly dislikes Crane and makes it his mission to torment him. Brom Bones has driven out every school master to arrive in Sleepy Hollow and the people basically believed that he killed the prior school master, Winthrop Palmer (Michael Ruud). I have no clue why the people of Sleepy Hollow tolerate this shit, I guess they’re okay with their children being illiterate.

Meg Foster of They Live is Katrina Van Tassel.

She’s basically stringing Brom Bones along and, honestly, is kind of mean.
The problem with this movie is that it spends more time on the love triangle (Or quadrilateral, I guess) between Katrina, Brom, Ichabod, and Thelma Dumkey (Laura Campbell), Katrina’s rival, than it does on anything remotely scary. Brom likes Katrina, Katrina kind of likes him until she falls for Ichabod, Ichabod likes Katrina who gets over her initial dislike of Ichabod, and Thelma likes Brom. A lot of time is spent with Thelma’s father trying to convince Ichabod Crane to marry her.
There’s also a lot of time spent on Winthrop Palmer.
It turns out he’s not as dead as the people of Sleepy Hollow thought he was (Seriously, why are people okay with this?) He’s just insane and is producing some of the activity that the people attribute to ghosts.
You know what all this time devoted to love triangles and insane former school masters means? There’s very little time devoted to the Headless Horseman. The Headless Horseman (When it isn’t Brom Bones or a kid accidentally pranking Ichabod) has maybe thirty seconds of screen time.
Do you like movies with three sets? Then this is the movie for you. We get to see the school-house, Squire Van Tassel’s (James Griffith, one of the high points of this movie) estate, and a church. I’m pretty sure that the sets and the music were recycled from Little House on the Prairie. The music doesn’t match the action except at the last chase, that’s the only point I noticed where the music was really good.
I love a good tv movie and I try to be understanding of budgetary constraints and tv standards that can limit what can be shown but this movie is just missing so many essentials of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s not scary, not even a little spooky. The pacing isn’t great and the version I watched was over an hour and forty minutes with the ads. A very slow hour and forty minutes until the last five minutes. There isn’t even a covered bridge chase. This movie is just missing so many Sleepy Hollow elements.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. I honestly can’t even recommend this for kids because I think they’d be bored. You can show little kids the really good Disney cartoon The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That was one of my favorites when I was little and I think that influenced my love of horror. If they’re older you can just show them Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I’d say to watch this for Jeff Goldblum and the novelty only if you’re a tv movie completist like me. Here’s a link if you’re really interested. It has all the old ads which is kind of fun, until the political ads start, then everything starts to feel a little Roger and Me. There are also constant reminders of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Anyway, I know the real reason anybody is reading this–to see pictures of Jeff Goldblum in a tricorner hat. Here you go.

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Posted in 1980's, famous movie monsters, ghosts, television | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween (2018)

“There are three choices when you’re traumatized–die from it, run from it, or face it.” Jamie Lee Curtis, 92Y, October 7, 2018
I was very lucky to be able to see an advance screening of the new Halloween with a talkback with Jamie Lee Curtis and director David Gordon Green that was moderated by Rolling Stone‘s David Fear. I’m working really hard to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I’m not going to discuss specific events, but be careful reading this if you want to go into the movie blind. Most of what I reference is information you could get from the trailers.

The movie is set forty years after the original Halloween. It’s a direct sequel, the events from Halloween II aren’t referenced and don’t exist in this universe. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode. Her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) is strained by what happened to her forty years ago, although she’s close with her granddaughter, Allison (Andi Matichak). The movie follows three generations of Strode women dealing with the escape of Michael Myers (Nick Castle reprises his role with James Jude Courtney).
Halloween: H20 had Laurie Strode faking her death and changing her name to hide from Michael Myers. This iteration has her prepared to face Michael.
This is a movie about trauma and obsession in the guise of a slasher movie. The fates of Laurie and Michael, as victim and victimizer, are intimately linked. It’s a movie about how you move on from trauma. Laurie has chosen a proactive approach, that isn’t necessarily healthy (Although I also strongly agree, that Michael Myers is a threat as long as he’s alive). Her entire life revolves around fighting Michael to the point that her relationship with her daughter is strained and her whole family is used to her obsession.  People who have been victimized know the fear that they may never be safe again as long as their abuser is alive.  In a way, Laurie is the new Dr. Loomis. People didn’t listen to him either and thought he was being hyperbolic about Michael Myers.
The main point is that a legacy of trauma never goes away when you’re dealing with interpersonal violence, it just changes hands. The effects get passed down from generation to generation. Laurie calls Michael Myers the Boogeyman but he’s a way to show how sometimes random, awful violence just happens to people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no attempt to explain or rationalize Michael Myers, although Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) thinks he’s up to the task as Loomis’ protegé. What I appreciate is that the filmmakers chose to eliminate the sibling connection between Laurie and Michael. He’s not targeting his sister, she was a stranger the first time he tried to kill her. It’s just random, horrifying violence and Laurie Strode was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The other message of the movie is that monsters don’t always stay dead and you shouldn’t dredge up the past unless you’re prepared to face it. In the movie, two true crime filmmakers (played by Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) try to interview Michael. Narratively, they serve to inform the audience of the past events (Why haven’t you seen Halloween already? Go home and watch it right now) but they’re also a catalyst. I’m not sure if it’s on purpose but I think this can be seen as a critique of true crime culture. I read a lot of true crime but I never listen to podcasts and rarely watch the documentaries on Netflix because they seem really salacious and it’s like they forget that there are actual victims of the killers they talk about and that the families of the victims are still alive.
Watching the movie in the context of the political events of the last two years in my country felt very cathartic. Now, I know some of you are going to be saying, “Keep politics out of horror!” Horror and politics are linked, whether you like it or not, since filmmakers are influenced by what’s happening around them. You can take a gross movie like Street Trash and see the commentary about the homeless in it. Watch They Live and tell me it isn’t about politics. Look at this shot from Silence of the Lambs and tell me it’s not a comment on who gets to be in the FBI.

Whether the filmmakers meant to or not, they have an entire film about a victim confronting their abuser that happened to be released at a time when we’re having a nationwide conversation about confronting abusers. Jamie Lee Curtis herself has noted Laurie Strode’s resemblance to Christine Blasey Ford. If you’re a woman who’s tired of seeing victims being treated like they’re crazy or had it coming, then this movie is going to feel good. It’s a profoundly feminist movie in its commentary about how female victims are dismissed as crazy or hysterical.
I’ve seen on my Twitter feed how some fans are worried about the quality of this movie as part of the Halloween franchise. It picks up very respectfully from the original.
The first thing I noticed was the presence of Dr. Loomis, Donald Pleasence. He isn’t brought back with CGI, thank god. You see him in courtroom sketches and hear his voice in a way that is very respectful to someone who was such a huge presence in the series.
The Halloween theme returns but the music is like variations on a theme, without being just a replay of the original music.
There are callbacks to the original that I appreciated. Michael has a damaged eye, left over from the original. P.J. Soles plays a teacher. There are shots that are composed in a way that’s similar to the original but also different and that’s all I can say without spoiling the delight, you’ll know them when you see them. Certain lines reflect past dialogue. There’s one really spectacular tracking shot early in Michael’s killing spree that’s incredibly beautiful and reminiscent of how revolutionary the original Michael Myers POV shots were. There’s a true sense of menace. According to David Gordon Green, it took eleven takes to perfect and the craftsmanship shows. It’s the kind of shot you reference when you’re arguing with someone who says horror isn’t art.
The movie is set in the present but there’s a vaguely seventies feel to the set decoration and costuming. Not overwhelming but enough to remind the viewer that the original was set in the late seventies.
I think it differs from the original because it’s more gory. Michael finds his knife after escaping but he’s willing to kill people with hammers or just bash their heads in with his bare hands. There’s something more intimate about bashing someone’s head in or choking them to death with your own two hands as opposed to using a weapon. It makes the violence more intimate and scary. There’s also more of a sense of humor in this one than the original. I appreciate a horror movie that tempers horror with humor since real life is so often scary and funny at the same time. In the end, I strongly recommend this movie.
Jamie Lee Curtis was amazing at the talkback. Here’s my very blurry far-away picture that I took.

I’ve been to a lot of talkbacks with authors and actors and you can tell when someone is just going through the motions. She was spontaneous, funny, tough, and vulnerable at the same time. It was a treat hearing her talk about why she decided to work on the original Halloween–because Laurie was on every page of the script and the t.v. shows she was working on at the time were lucky to have a single line for a woman per episode. She also spoke appreciatively about John Carpenter writing a role in The Fog for her. What she’d have people take away from the character of Laurie Strode is never give up. That’s what I have always taken from her. There weren’t a lot of widely known women superheroes when I was growing up so Final Girls are a big deal for me.

Posted in 21st century, classics, slasher | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The VVitch


I’m so lucky that I managed to remain relatively spoiler-free about The VVitch, Robert Eggers’ 2015 directorial debut. I was so excited when I saw it on Netflix’s Recently Added list. I may have screamed when I saw it. And I loved it from the moment that amazing title card popped up.
The movie takes place in 17th century New England. It’s spoken entirely in Jacobean English. I watched the movie with subtitles but I watch most movies with captions on since I’m secretly 80-years-old. William (Ralph Ineson, aka Dagmer Cleftjaw on Game of Thrones) and his family are exiled from the Puritan plantation they live in over a difference in interpretation of Scripture.

The family leaves the Plantation, hopeful that they’ll be settling God’s chosen land. Things go well at first. The mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie, another Game of Thrones actor, who played Lysa Arryn) even gives birth to a baby.

Their eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is watching baby Samuel when he goes missing. They search the woods for a week but never find him. Meanwhile, we see a witch slaughtering a baby and making a balm of its fat.
Tensions rise as Katherine is increasingly hostile towards Thomasin. Their harvest isn’t good and William is trying to trap animals to supplement their meager stores. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), their oldest son, goes missing while in the woods trapping with Thomasin. It’s impossible for the family to not notice that all these bad things are happening when Thomasin is around. Caleb had their only gun and horse so the family is truly in danger now. Thomasin is the one who finds Caleb, insensible and babbling about witches. Their creepy younger siblings, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) accuse Thomasin of bewitching them and making them forget their prayers.

The lack of supplies and death of Caleb pushes the family to its breaking point. I don’t want to give too much away about whether or not there really is a witch and who the witch could be.
The number one thing that struck me about the movie was the cinematography. It made me really grateful that I took some art history classes because scenes frequently reflected 17th century Dutch paintings and 17th century woodcarvings. This may be accidental. The use of light is a major trademark of Dutch painting and, according to the cinematographer, the movie was lit primarily with natural light. Anyway, here are some shots that I though resembled the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer.

This scene of the Governor and prominent men of the plantation judging William and his family reminded me of the painting “Syndics of the Draper’s Guild” by Rembrandt.


There’s this popular image of the Puritans wearing all black clothes. This idea came from the fact that so many portraits are of prominent people wearing their best clothes. I appreciate that the family in this movie wears colored clothes and it’s just the Governor and his colleagues in what are probably their best clothes.
Here’s a shot of the family leaving the plantation.

The light and clouds resembles Rembrandt’s “The Stone Bridge.”

This shot of Thomasin at work reminds me of Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” because of the lighting and “Portrait of a Young Woman” because of the way Thomasin is looking at the viewer.



I’m not saying these pictures were consciously used to influence the look of the film, but I think the filmmakers may have had these pictures in the back of their mind as they formulated the look and feel of the movie.
That being said, Eggers has stated how influenced he was by the works of Goya. I think “Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat)” is a clear influence for Black Phillip, the creepy black goat that Mercy and Jonas whisper to and sing about.

“Black Phillip, Black Phillip, king of sky and land…”


<sup>Source


I don’t want to post screencaps from the movie because I want you to be surprised but I think the engravings of Durer and de Gheyn II influenced the look of the possible witches.

“The Witch” by Albrecht Dürer
Source


“Witches’ Sabbath” by Jacques de Gheyn II
Source


The shots are frequently very symmetrical until the end, when the movie becomes very chaotic. Thomasin is frequently the focus which makes sense since so many characters are focused on figuring out if she’s truly the witch or not. Here are some shots that I liked.






So, are there really witches in the woods tormenting this family? The ending is somewhat ambiguous for me, only because of this one detail I noticed. At one point, the father is holding up an ear of corn. It looked funny. I thought it was just Indian corn but then I thought it might be ergot, the fungus that’s blamed for much of the witch trials.
The thing to remember about this movie is that regardless if there really are supernatural forces afflicting the family, they truly believe they’re afflicted. They’re in dire straights, without enough supplies and winter is coming.

There’s an eerie hare that seems to appear whenever there’s misfortune.

They believe that even one misstep can cause them to lose favor in God’s eyes. They’re part of a faith where even baby Samuel may be doomed to Hell because he’s unbaptized and everyone is born with sin. Consider this, at one point Caleb lies to his mother, telling her that he was in the woods looking for an apple tree. Then, when Caleb is having a fit, he coughs up an entire apple. Is this a reminder to him and his family that lying is a sin? That God has indeed turned his back on them?

Aside from the cinematography, the movie features an incredibly strong performance by Anya-Taylor Joy. You can’t help but be drawn in as the conflict with her family grows.
What really helps keep this movie tense is the amazing score. It mixes choral chants with traditional instruments. Some of the drumming resembles the Japanese drumming in season two of Hannibal.
While not necessarily scary, the movie is incredibly tense. It’s beautiful and not like any other movie in the genre except maybe Häxan.

Posted in 21st century, cults, psychological, thriller, witchcraft | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hereditary

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