Tag Archives: 1973

Throwback Thursday: the trailer for the original “Westworld” (1973)!

Today’s Throwback Thursday is something that I don’t actually remember — the trailer for 1973’s “Westworld” was a bit before my time.  But this was too good not to share.  (I’ve been on a weird “Westworld” kick lately — probably because I recently happened across this quite promising trailer for the brilliant HBO remake’s third season.) 

It’s funny seeing the same plot setup and motifs for the campy-looking original film (which was, surprisingly, written and directed by Michael Crichton).  I must say that Yul Brynner looks like he made a pretty decent bad guy, though.

 

“Hereditary” (2018) is an expert horror film that I’m not sure you should see.

“Hereditary” (2018) is a difficult movie to review.  It’s an exceptionally well made horror film, enough for me to rate it at least a 9 out of 10.  But its content is so disturbing that I’m not sure that I can actually recommend it to others.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is almost perfect.  It’s an astonishingly good first feature film for writer-director Ari Aster, it’s gorgeously shot in the hills and deserts of Utah, and it’s masterfully directed.  The performances are uniformly perfect.  If I were to name each actor who hands in a fantastic performance, I’d simply be reading its cast list.  I can’t remember the last time I watched a feature film in which every single major performance was exemplary.  And “Hereditary” gets damned scary in its third act.   (Seriously, give it time.)

The only flaws that I can think of are extremely minor.  The pacing isn’t perfect.  (The story occasionally seems to slow when events should be accelerating.)  I had problems with the way that one key character was portrayed, and there was one plot point that gave me trouble.  (I can’t say more for fear of spoilers.)  But these things are so forgivable that they hardly merit a mention here.  You simply can’t argue that this movie was expertly assembled.

Yet I didn’t always enjoy “Hereditary.”  I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t state that.  I shut it off more than once, and then came back to it when I felt more able to stomach the brutal events it depicted.

“Hereditary” is more than a “dark” movie; it’s gut wrenching.  Even if you have read its reviews and you’ve seen the movie’s marketing, then you still aren’t anticipating what will transpire on screen.  (I’d even go so far as to say that the film’s marketing was misleading, but I can’t specify why here.)  Yes, there’s a obvious “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) vibe, and it’s sometimes reminiscent of “The Exorcist” (1973), but the movie pushes well past the boundaries of those films, and it does so fairly early on.  If I, a lifelong horror fan, was turned off by this, then I’m willing to bet that it would also be too much for a lot of casual film goers.  (And indeed, while critics loved this film, audiences last year generally hated it.)

I’m closing with a little bit of trivia.  Toni Collette gives a tour-de-force performance here as the troubled mother.  If she looks familiar to you, that might be because she’s also the mom in another well known supernatural horror film — M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999).

 

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A review of Season 1 of “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018)

Ghosts seldom scare me, because I’m never 100 percent clear on what sort of threat they present to the protagonists of a horror film or TV show.  They’re not like zombies, vampires, werewolves or serial killers, all of which will do predictably horrible things to their victims.

Can ghosts … kill you?  Injure you?  That usually doesn’t make sense, given their non-corporeal nature.  Can they … scare you to death?  How would that work?  Would they cause a heart attack?  Or drive you mad?  That’s fine, I suppose, but here they’ve taken a back seat to the demons of horror films since 1973’s “The Exorcist” spawned a sub-genre with far more frightening supernatural baddies.  Are ghosts supposed to inspire existential dread, by reminding the viewers of their own mortality?  For me, that backfires — their existence would strongly suggest the existence of an afterlife, which would be paradoxically reassuring.

It’s therefore a testament to the quality of Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018) that it’s frequently so scary, even to me.  We find out in the first episode that its ghosts indeed do more than frighten the story’s protagonists, but it’s the show’s writing, directing and acting that make it so memorable.  It’s an a superb viewing experience, and I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.

The cast roundly shines — but especially Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (even if his performance was a little understated).  Catherine Parker is deliciously evil in a supporting role as the house’s most outwardly vicious spirit.  The best performance, for me, however, was the young Victoria Pedretti as the traumatized Nell — she was goddam amazing, and deserves an Emmy nomination.

Mike Flanagan’s directing was perfect — his use of long angles and colors to make lavish interiors disorienting reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s similar sensory trickery in “The Shining” (1980).  Michael Fimognari’s cinematography was beautiful.  Even the makeup effects were damned good.  (Nothing beats Greg Nicotero’s work in “The Walking Dead” universe, but the work here is sometimes horrifying.)

I’m not the only one who loved this show either.  It is broadly praised in online horror fan circles (though I’d recommend avoiding most of those for spoilers).  I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel that is its source material, but a bibliophile who I trust assured me that the show is even better.

Sure, there were some things that didn’t work for me.  “The Haunting of Hill House” actually does take a while to get where it’s going; it favors in-depth, flashback-heavy character development over advancing its plot, in much the same manner as “Lost” (2004 – 2010) once did.  And some viewers might feel the same frustration here as they would for that show.

Its story and supernatural adversaries are also distinctly Gothic.  (Your mileage may vary as to what’s a comfortably familiar trope and what’s an archaic cliche.  I myself was more interested the more modern and three-dimensional interpretation of ghost characters seen in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”)  I’d even go so far as the say that the first ghost that we see in any detail is actually disappointing — the otherworldly figure connected with the bowler hat felt too cartoonish for me, like something we’d see on Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion” ride.  (Trust me, they get more intimidating after that.)

Give this show a chance — and stay with it if you think it’s too slow, or if you find its characters a little unlikable at first.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weird world: if the diffident, sometimes off-putting character of Steven looks familiar to you, it might be because that’s none other than Michiel Huisman, who plays the charismatic Daario on “Game of Thrones.”

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (1973)

I was only a baby when ABC debuted the original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” in 1973, but I caught it when it was rebroadcast around the end of the decade, when I was … six or seven years old?  And dear GOD did it scare the crap out of me.

Since then, it’s become a minor legend in the horror fan community as one of the rare made-for-television movies that is easily as scary as something you’d see in a theater.  This was the film that was remade in 2010, produced by Guillermo del Toro and with Katie Holmes in the lead role.  (And I thought that the remake was a fun horror fantasy, even if it wasn’t terribly scary.)

I actually caught the film again about ten years ago, courtesy of Netflix’ DVD-by-mail service.  And it was still creepy enough.

 

Cover to “Superman” #261, Nick Cardy, 1973

DC Comics.

Some trivia — the lady depicted here is Star Sapphire, Hal Jordan’s ex-girlfriend-turned-celestial-nemesis.  (Hey, we’ve all been there.)  She was traditionally a Green Lantern villain.  I’m not sure why she’s in Metropolis giving Superman a hard time — although she’s sufficiently super-powered to conceivably be a decent adversary for him.)

 

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“The Addictions of Sin: W. H. Auden in His Own Words” (BBC Four)

I’m linking here to a terrific documentary produced by BBC Four to celebrate the centenary of W. H. Auden’s birth in 1907.  It’s a superb biopic — thanks to Youtube user Andrey Shulyatyev for uploading this.

One thing that occurred to me as I watched this was the resilience of Auden’s pursuit of love and beauty despite his first-hand witness of the most terrible and ugly things — the violent rise of fascism in Germany, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the devastation of post-World War II Germany. And this resilience was reflected in his work ethic even until his death in 1973.

 

A review of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” (2017)

A show like “The Exorcist” must be difficult to write.  It stands in the shadow of some of horror’s greatest films (William Friedkin’s 1973 original and the third movie in 1990).  Its plot device is inevitably redundant.  (How many possessed innocents can we see strapped to beds while priests pray at them?)  It seems easy to stray into camp.  And it seems like a story concept that is tough to structure into a serialized format.

But the second season of “The Exorcist” was … fantastic.  It surpassed the first season, and I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

The ten-episode arc wisely changes things up a bit from Season 1, which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the films.  Our priestly dynamic duo are on the road in America’s northwest, and on the run from a Vatican that has been infiltrated by followers of the demon Pazuzu.  (As stupid as all of that sounds, the show actually depicts it quite well.)  As the story proceeds, there are a couple of surprise plot developments that will contradict most viewers’ expectations.  (I won’t spoil them here.)

The characters are all likable and all well played.  Ben Daniels remains possibly the show’s strongest asset as the senior priest; he’s just a superb actor.  John Cho also gives a fine performance as the head of a foster home where a demon runs amok.  Alfonso Herrera is quite good as the apprentice priest — his character is better written this time around, and isn’t saccharine to the point of annoyance.  And Herrera himself seems more comfortable in the role.  The kids are damned cool — all of them, and their interaction with their foster father was surprisingly sweet and funny — which raises the stakes emotionally when the entire household is besieged by a sadistic force.

The weaknesses here were minor.  I think the ten episodes could have been shortened to seven or eight, to make them tighter.  (I realize I write that about a lot of shows, and I’m not sure why.)  The first five episodes were tightly plotted, while the second five were a little loose.  I think better editing would have entirely excised the flashback scenes depicting Daniels’ character and this season’s new female exorcist, played by Zuleikha Robinson.  (Yes, that is indeed Yves Adele Harlow from “The Lone Gunmen” and “The X-Files.”)

The flashbacks were cheesy, even if they gave Daniels a chance to show his range.  They depict his tutelage of Robinson’s character decades prior, complete with some cliche pulp novel stuff.  (Ugh.)  We’re shown that the priest is younger because of his blond, surfer-esque haircut.  (Really?)  The flashbacks were out of place, and a little too campy.  They reminded me of the comic book style of the “Highlander” films and TV series — this show could have done without them.

I also found myself slightly annoyed by a dearth of exposition about the process of exorcism itself.  After the films and now two seasons of the show, I wanted to know more about the key actions here that affect the story’s resolution.  Do some prayers or methods work better than others?  Then why not use them all the time?  Why are some interventions more lengthy or difficult?  We are told that the demon attacking this family is different than Pazuzu, who we’ve seen in the past (though Pazuzu still puts in an appearance this season).  Can the demons coordinate their efforts, or at least communicate with each other?  If not, why not?  These seem like logical questions to ask, both for the characters and the viewers.

But there is something more that bothered me.  If a demon is intelligent and wants to harm people, then why make its presence known — and why torment or kill only a few people?  Why not remain undetected until it can commit a mass murder?  Or even perpetrate an act of terrorism, and harm far greater numbers of people by causing riots or wars?  That would suit evil’s purposes far more than the garish individual spectacles we find them performing in horror tales like these.  (Maybe I’m just analyzing too much.)

Anyway, I cheerfully recommend “The Exorcist.”  It might be the most grownup horror show on television.

And one more thing — there’s some fun to be had here recognizing actors from other roles.  Daniels was a member of the Rebel Alliance in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016).  And there is actually another “The X-Files” alum here — even if it was only a small role.  I thought that Harper’s mother looked familiar — the actress playing her was Rochelle Greenwood.  She’s none other than the teenage waitress who witnessed Walter Skinner getting shot waaaaay back in 1996’s classic episode, “Piper Maru.”  (Can I remember faces or what?)

 

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