The Addiction (1995)

A black and white (but mostly black) arthouse vampire movie. Being a big fan of talky French cinema and a moderate fan of avant-garde, non-narrative films, I always hesitate to use the word “pretentious,” but it kind of seemed pretentious. Maybe I’m just afraid of philosophy, and since the lead character is getting her PhD in philosophy, there was lots of Sartre and Heidegger and the like.

With Edie Falco, who I didn’t recognize with long hair:

It’s full of great ideas, though, and maybe it’s because I was weak and sick while watching, but I found it moving by the end. College student Lili Taylor (in that brief period between Short Cuts and I Shot Andy Warhol when she seemed like a movie star) is bitten in an alley then left alone. She get no underground vampire dance clubs or Lost Boys camraderie – she has to figure it out on her own. Clever metaphors to STD’s and drug use abound (she steals blood from homeless dudes using a syringe, ugh) along with the pondering about the nature of being. She does briefly (oh! too briefly) get a mentor in the form of Christopher Walken, second-billed for his three minutes of screen time.

With the teacher she’s about the seduce and then bite:

Lili graually infects classmates and professors, then holds a graduation party that turns into a bloodfeast. I think she dies from taking sacrament soon after, but she’s in the hospital all torn up so maybe she was dying anyway. Movie was “presented” by hip-hop/comedy producer Russell Simmons for some reason and written by Nicholas St. John, who wrote most of Ferrara’s previous movies but not Bad Lieutenant, his previous killer combo of horror and catholicism.

With some girl she just bit:


Body Snatchers (1993)

Watched this on a whim since it was on netflix streaming, not expecting much from Ferrara’s studio horror remake (the movie he forgot about when criticizing Werner Herzog for remaking Bad Lieutenant), but it was great – excellently creepy and so stylishly shot – one of the few times throwing a big-budget thriller remake at an artistic filmmaker has paid off (sorry, The Departed). Paid off for me anyway – if IMDB is to be believed, it was a royal bomb in theaters. In competition at Cannes though, beaten unfairly by The Piano (and fairly by Farewell My Concubine). Third of four Body Snatchers movies. I knew about the Kevin McCarthy and the Nicole Kidman, but not about the one with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy.

All Things Horror points out: “Sure, it’s not perfect. There’s a bit of annoying narration that seems completely unnecessary, some unfortunate blue screen, a goofy big explosion-filled ending,” all valid points. I’d like to add that the scene where suspicious doctor Forest Whitaker is driven to suicide by approaching aliens was pretty over the top, and if I didn’t already know Whitaker is a great actor, I would not have guessed it from this scene.

Awesome move setting the story on an army base, a location where everybody is trained to act like a pod person anyhow. R. Lee Ermey is looking good with his little mustache as the local general. Young Marti (Gabrielle Anwar of Flying Virus and iMurders) reluctantly moves onto the base with her boring dad (he’s so boring) Terry Kinney (founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater), evil stepmother Meg Tilly (Psycho II) and observant little stepbrother. Marti immediately stars hanging out with a couple bad influences: hot, emotionless chopper pilot Tim (Billy Wirth of The Lost Boys) and general’s daughter Jen (Christine Elise of Child’s Play 2). Once the snatching starts, Tim’s post-traumatic stress disorder proves extremely useful in blending in with the aliens. Particularly creepy was the wide-mouthed pointing scream the baddies used as an alarm once the base had been mostly snatched.

Soon after that starts, Marti’s dad goes in search of help. And suddenly Guy Pearce is on an airplane? Then some Lebanese guys welcome Don Cheadle to Toronto?? Oh man, netflix has started playing the movie Traitor instead, probably to make a funny movie-snatchers joke. It’s hilarious, but I had to go rent a proper DVD of Body Snatchers and watch the last half hour a few nights later.

Writing assistance by both Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen – along with Ferrara that’s an entire unholy trinity of 80’s cult filmmakers. No wonder I liked it.

“Nothing worse than a horror movie geek.”

My three-year quest to see every Jacques Rivette film is slowly ongoing, my five-or-six-year quest to see every Luis Bunuel film proceeds at one title per year, but I thought it was best to push those cinematic luminaries aside and watch everything by Stuart Gordon, creator of classic 80’s horrors Re-Animator and From Beyond. Why is that? Because during SHOCKtober it’s nice to have someone you can rely on. While I admit there was nothing special about Daughter of Darkness, his Masters of Horror episodes have always been good, and this one, from the quickly-cancelled and rumored-to-be-crappy season 3 (aka Fear Itself) was excellent.

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Starts out promising, setting a creepy horror mood off the bat, with a shadowy, rattle-shaking voodoo prisoner Dwayne (horror regular Stephen Hart) loaded into a police station jail cell for the night, the station lights flickering so badly that I’m thinking the episode’s budget didn’t include lighting and sets.

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Our protagonist, eager rookie Bannerman (Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss) is a horror fan, turned on by proximity to Dwayne, wants to hear more about his crimes. I figured it’d go in a more Silence of the Lambs direction here, but there’s no time for quiet spooky conversations about fava beans – Dwayne “escapes” by possessing the bodies of the other cops, saving her for last. Interesting horror tactic – we don’t see any killings, just find bodies left behind, like the ending of Halloween, hidden all over the place. Bannerman is trapped in the locked station with a cannibal psycho killer and is definitely going to be eaten, so she eats rat poison, so when he catches up and takes a bite out of her neck, it kills them both.

It’s not like Gordon to have such a shocking, depressing ending, but it works. Anyway he didn’t write the episode – the guys behind WTF story The Washingtonians did. Nicely done, extremely tense little flick (maybe a tad underlit) with a great supporting cast. Witness:

Stephen Lee, star of Dolls over 20 years ago and still kinda looking the same
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Russell Hornsby, whom I loved as the boyfriend in Stuck
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Nick Sobotka, star of The Wire season 2.
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Why, right after watching the classic original Dracula, would I waste time on a cheapo 80’s made-for-TV vampire thriller? Because it’s one of only two unseen titles on Stuart Gordon’s filmography, and SHOCKtober seems like a good excuse to tackle the last of them.

It’s a rare film indeed which stars Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend) – looks like after Ferris Bueller it was mostly this and Timecop. She shows up… somewhere… Romania? I shouldn’t have waited three weeks before writing this. I’ve fallen behind, you see. The question comes up often, “watch movies or write about movies?” and watching them wins. So three weeks ago I watched a crappy vampire movie starring Mia Sara… in what country did it even take place? Let’s say Romania.

Ferris’s girlfriend and her enchanted necklace:
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Friendly cab driver Max, “Americans and me, we kill many nazis,” drives her around as she seeks her long-lost father. She has a dramatic encounter with Anthony Perkins (in between Psychos 3 and 4) who says her father is dead, which clearly means Perkins is her father. Writer Andrew Laskos apparently didn’t think we’d figure that one out.

Perkins and Grigori:
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Oh, but I said it was a vampire movie and I mentioned Romania. Yes, Perkins is a good vampire, and Mia’s love interest Grigori (Robert Reynolds of Howling 6: The Freaks) is a bad vampire. The former wants to protect her, while the latter wants to have sex with her and create a race of super half-vampire babies like Blade or Ultraviolet.

Anthony Perkins, sunburned vampire:
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There’s a vampire war (a very minor one), Perkins is left in the sun, Mia rescues him, he saves her from Grigori killing them both, oh and the cab driver from before turns out to be a vampire crony. The movie apparently thought it now needed to rescue the derailed romantic subplot, so it pairs Mia up with an American ambassador (current Heroes star Jack Coleman), who has only been grudgingly nice to Mia for the entire flick.

“Shut up, I’m your new love interest!”
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Wonder if this was Stuart Gordon’s sole interesting contribution or if this was in the script… the vampires don’t have fanged teeth, they have little toothy mouths in the tips of their tongues, like the girl’s breasts in Trapped Ashes.

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Movie looks very made-for-TV, which it was. Gordon must’ve needed work after Dolls, and fortunately (in the long run) didn’t get himself tied up in the Puppet Master series.

Based on the story of the Texas woman who hit a homeless man who wedged, still alive, in her windshield and instead of helping him she parked in the garage and let him die over a period of a few days, then went to jail when the story broke. Only now, in Stuart Gordon’s hands, the man escapes from the car and gets his bloody revenge! I had high hopes, and this movie did not let me down.

Seconds before the accident
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Mena Suvari (the object of desire in American Beauty) is a partying nurse at an old folks’ home with a cheating drug-dealer boyfriend (Russell Hornsby of Edmond) and a horrible, manipulative boss (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon in her eighth S.G. picture). Stephen Rae (V For Vendetta and every Neil Jordan movie) is a hard-luck dude who can’t get a job and just got kicked out of his apartment. Anyone watching this has seen the film poster or video box and knows what’s coming when Rae is looking for a place to sleep at 3AM while Mena is driving home alone on liquor and ecstacy.

There’s some web-controvery over Mena’s cornrows – apparently the true-story driver was black, so why not cast a black actress?
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But instead of turning this into a David Mamet psychological drama with our two characters conversing in the garage, Gordon expands the part of the original story that horrified people, which is not the accident but the fact that she did not try to help him, the lack of compassion. He spreads that lack of compassion Edmond-like across the city, showing all the people who could have helped poor Rae but did not: a cop who wouldn’t turn around and look at the car, the 911 operator who doesn’t try too hard to locate the garage (Jeffrey Combs audio-cameo), the next-door neighbors who wouldn’t get involved for fear of cops showing up and deporting them, the dude whose dog comes out of the garage covered in blood but he only worries about his clothes getting dirty, and of course the landlord and the employment-agency drone who help Rae into this position in the first place. But most of all we’ve got the woman from the newspaper story herself, who looked a dying man in the eye and opted not to help him. This is portrayed not just by Mena Suvari, who hits Rae with a plank of wood to shut him up and finally tries to burn her garage down to cover up the crime, but by her boyfriend, sent to assassinate Rae after getting challenged on his tough-talking, ending up defeated by a ballpoint pen to the eye. Gordon’s brand of horror is going in an intriguing new direction, keeping the suspense and the outrageousness and applying them to real-life situations, like the urban crime-horror of early Abel Ferrara.

He actually doesn’t drop the match – the girl lights her own stupid self on fire
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Unusually great acting for a Stuart Gordon picture – I especially liked Russell Hornsby as the awful boyfriend, always trying to cover his ass, a perfect match for Suvari’s character. Plenty of gory bits – a windshield wiper in Rae’s side, the ballpoint pen, a broken leg with a bone sticking out, and the dog, oh jesus the dog! I tried to get Katy to watch this with me, but it’s a good thing she didn’t.

Russell finally offers to smother the dude with a pillow
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Gordon: “that’s the world we are living in now. People are very selfish and afraid.”

Speaking of selfishness, the DVD is missing ten minutes of the movie and has no special features, so it’s sort of an anti-special-edition DVD. That is no fun.

Purdy-Gordon with co-worker Tanya
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Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!

Late into SHOCKtober (Oct. 18th), I have finally unpacked my office enough to uncover the disc holding season two of “Masters of Horror”. Katy’s little brother is joining me for the celebratory kickoff screening, so I choose episode eleven, Stuart Gordon’s entry. It’s been a Gordon-filled month and his stuff is always either effective (“Dagon”) or entertaining (“Dolls”) or more usually both (“From Beyond”). Disappointingly, what we’ve got here is a slow-moving period piece that failed to impress or entertain.

The movie is supposedly based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”, but it’s actually an “Edgar Allen Poe In Love”, where we watch Poe’s visions and dreams that inspire him to write “The Black Cat”. Poe fans on the IMDB comment board enthusiastically rave about all the references to Poe’s life and stories scattered throughout the movie. Sort of a condensed look at Poe, implying that Gordon and usual co-writer Dennis Paoli will not be exploring each Poe work in-depth (this is the second after “Pit and the Pendulum”) as they have been doing for HP Lovecraft (seven films and counting).

Never heard of most of these actors and the only thing that turns up on IMDB is that half of them have been in the “Highlander” series for some reason. MoH trademark eye-gouging is here, but no nudity and I suppose an enthusiastic Jeffrey Combs will have to be our token celebrity casting.

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Part three of my Stuart Gordon run during Shocktober 2007. Never thought I’d rent Dolls, but here I am. This movie predates Puppet Master by two years, Dollman and Demonic Toys by four and five years. Of course, stuff like Devil Doll has been around forever, but I used to see the box art for Dolls and assume it was a Puppet Master ripoff… guess not.

This is a gory horror movie for little kids. I’ll bet it didn’t do very well. A doll-loving little girl with an active imagination has a neglectful father and a wicked stepmother. Their car breaks down outside a huge house in the country owned by an elderly dollmaker couple. Coincidentally, a big doll-loving man-child and two brit-punk hitchhikers he picked up are in the same situation. Who will survive the night? Hint: only those who are pure of heart, treat children with respect, love dolls and don’t attempt to steal from the elderly.

Disturbingly, instead of (or in addition to?) outright killing people, the dolls capture them and turn them into new dolls, with awful little apple mummy heads behind their gentle ceramic faces. There are some doll-sized stabbings and shootings, but sadly no Puppet-Master blowtorches or drill-heads. Story really does play out like a children’s tale, which is just confusing. Kinda cool movie overall, cute and short.

The writer of this thing later co-wrote Honey I Shrunk The Kids with Gordon and Yuzna, and is now writing those badly-animated christian movies.

One britpunk girl starred in A-Ha’s “Take On Me” video. The manchild played the Big Bopper in La Bamba and costarred in Gordon’s Pit and the Pendulum. Gabriel the old man played Toulon in four of the Puppet Master films (heh, typecast as a murderous puppetmaker). The stepmother, awesome at being a completely horrible person, is the electroshock-giving evil doctor in From Beyond who gets her brain sucked out her eye socket by Jeffrey Combs. And the bad dad appeared in the Charles Band-written classic Terrorvision.

Movie starts the same way as Dagon… family vacation threatened by a suspiciously sudden thunderstorm.

Since I enjoyed From Beyond, here’s another Stuart Gordon / Brian Yuzna / HP Lovecraft movie, Dagon (pronounced “DAY-gun”) which was released straight to video in the U.S., for some shameful reason.

Whole new cast and crew for this one, which was set/filmed in Spain. Sadly no Jeffrey Combs, just a nerdy Ezra Godden (who later starred in Gordon’s first Masters of Horror entry) and a lot of Spanish actors, including Francisco Rabal: the film director in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down… the voice of Luis Bunuel in 100 Nights of Simon Cinema… a hit-man in Sorcerer… the guy monica vitti dumps at the start of L’Eclisse… the guy Viridiana ends up with… somebody (dom morel) in The Nun… Father Nazarin… and in his final role, a drunken old man, the only human survivor in a small Spanish town overtaken by the cult of DAGON.

More serious and faithfully Lovecraftian than From Beyond. Some unfortunate-looking digital effect shots of the boat, but all the makeup effects and sets are very good. It’s not exactly a tense, rapid-fire battle of wits and strength, but rather semi-competent Ezra (channeling Harold Lloyd) versus an army of slow-moving dull-witted fish creatures.

Oh yeah, so Ezra is sailing off the Spanish coast with his girl and another couple when a storm hits. He and the girl raft to a deserted town for help. Ezra returns to the boat to find his friends gone (he later turns up skinned to death, she turns up minus one leg and raped by fish-creatures), then returns to land to find his girlfriend gone. He hides at the hotel until the cult comes calling, hilariously escapes using his limited physical abilities and a pocketknife, then crashes with Francisco Rabal who fills him in on some back-story about the townsfolk’s demon-worshipping and eventual devolution into fish-beasties.

Ezra, of course, turns out to be the son of the high priest in this town, and his half-sister is the gorgeous mermaid he’s been dreaming of, who wants him to stay with her and have dirty incestual hot mermaid sex (which may actually be possible, since her legs are just sorta tentacles, it’s not the full-on fish fin). He fights this idea at first and tries to rescue his girl from being sacrificed. When his girl is raped by and then eaten by Dagon, Ezra is given another chance, but opts to set himself on fire instead. Fortunately (for those of us perverse enough to have hoped for such a thing), he’s extinguished and goes on to live eternally underwater with the half-human half-sister in the kingdom of DAGON.

Ezra (left) with girlfriend and evil priest:
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High priestess:
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Francisco Rabal, a fine actor whose final scene in his final film had his face getting graphically ripped off by the evil priest:
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Mermaid love:
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Dagon (left):
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From Beyond fits in nicely with other 80’s horrors featuring characters who explore the outer limits of bodily experience, like Brain Damage (1988), Hellraiser (1987), Society (1989) and Teen Wolf Too (1987). Maybe it was a topic on everyone’s mind, or maybe they were just getting around to ripping off David Cronenberg. This one has an S&M-tinged sex theme to its body horror (as opposed to the blatantly S&M-drenched sex theme in Hellraiser or the hallucinogenic drug theme to Brain Damage). Movie never takes itself seriously, dialogue and character behavior a bit on the stupid side, still totally worth seeing.

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Movie stars everyone’s favorite lunatic Jeffrey Combs as a research assistant to weirdo Dr. Pretorius in a big spooky house. They succeed in their attempts to create a crazy machine that magnetically taps into the pineal gland, psychically revealing a new dimension of reality where swimming, bitey eel creatures and larger, darker things lurk. One of these things bite Pretorius’s head off, and Combs is committed to an ethically unsound institution by some questionable cops. He is released into the care of an even more ethically unsound psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine (the hot girl from Re-Animator), and taken along with somewhat-competent cop Ken Foree (from Dawn of the Dead!) back to the old house to reignite the experiments for no clear reason. They just hang out doing experiments until Pretorius reemerges all messed up from the alternate dimension and starts to gain control over everything. Oh, also our heroes’ newly-awakened pineal glands make ’em want to have kinky lite-S&M sex with each other.

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The horror and monsters escalate towards the end, there’s a sidetrack visit back to the hospital (where our psychiatrist is just rescued from shock therapy), Ken finally dies (eaten by a million black insects), and Jeffrey and Pretorius destroy each other in the end. Final shot is pretty great, Dr. Katherine going mad, just like Jeffrey apparently did at the end of the opening sequence.

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Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna have built their careers on filming HP Lovecraft stories… you could certainly find worse things to do with your time. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this screenplay isn’t very close to the source material, especially the funny/campy parts.

Wikipedia: “The pineal gland is occasionally associated with the sixth chakra (also called Ajna or the third eye chakra in yoga) or sometimes the Seventh (Crown) chakra. It is believed by some to be a dormant organ that can be awakened to enable telepathic communication.”

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