Archive for the ‘Hell.’ Category

 

It’s been over a year since I updated this page.  A lot has happened.  I’d love to say I’ve been doing all my writing over at Daily Grindhouse, but the truth is, I haven’t done all that much writing in the past couple years. Trying mighty hard to change that. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get up in the morning and go to work and be there for my family and do the bare minimum required of me as a human being. It’s been that kind of a stretch. But there have been several things I’ve written at Daily Grindhouse and even a couple other places, so I’ll get back on track about sharing them here.

 

First, I’ll post my reflection on the movie MANDY, which I ran on Daily Grindhouse today. I saw the movie on my birthday, September 16th, and then again two more times on the small screen over the past two months before I was finally ready to write anything. Now I did, and it’s the one thing I’ve done in quite a while that I feel remotely satisfied with. I said what I wanted to say. Now I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

 

At best and at worst, movies serve as emotional prisms. Movies aren’t just stories, aren’t just artwork, aren’t just moving pictures with music. Movies are the baggage that we bring to them. A movie like MANDY, all baroque flourishes and deliberate broad strokes, is particularly revealing in the way it refracts its audience, splitting light in all sorts of directions. MANDY has been rapturously received by several. That’s an authentic reaction. But MANDY may not work for others, and they’re not wrong either. They can’t be. I’ve seen MANDY three times now and while I fall far more on the side of affection for it, even still, I’ve felt a little differently about it each time. How can that be? Some movies — maybe all — have a lot to do with the people watching them. A person’s reaction to a movie can and will vary, depending on whichever self shows up at in front of the screen on that day, at that time, in that exact moment.

 

The plot of MANDY is easily described, by design. A lumberjack named Red, when not working, lives a hermetic but harmonious existence with his girlfriend Mandy in the mountains of eastern California, an existence that is upended by the arrival of a would-be prophet named Jeremiah Sand, who becomes fascinated with Mandy and orders his acolytes to abduct her. When she rejects him, Sand murders Mandy horribly and grotesquely in full view of Red, which sets Red off on the bloody road to revenge.

 

With a storyline that elemental, the specifics are all in the presentation. That’s why the mileage varies so wildly.

 

The movie announces itself more like a 1970s rock record than a movie. In crimson, uncredited words appear on the screen, underscored by an electric-guitar overture: “When I die Bury me deep Lay two speakers at my feet Wrap some headphones Around my head And rock and roll me When I’m dead.” It took a little digging for me to find the source of that quote. Sure sounds like something a frontman might yell out to an arena while looking out at the tiny flames of a dozen-thousand cigarette lighters. But that’s not the source. Those were the last words of a murderer, just before he was executed for his crimes. In reality, in Texas, in 2005. So this florid, subjective, surreal film is grounded in a very distinct, very bleak place, though that would surely be lost on at least 99% of any audience, as it was on me.

 

The music opening MANDY is “Starless” by King Crimson, again placing this film musically and tonally somewhere between prog-rock and heavy metal. The visual world of MANDY opens as Red is completing a logging job, with a notably processed shot of a thick tree falling as Red turns from it to head to the helicopter airlifting him off-site. Red is a smoker. He tosses his cigarette away. He wears a baseball jersey with the number 44 on it. Shirts are important in this film. Inside the helicopter, a colleague offers Red a flask, but Red waves it away. Immediately that’s a detail that registers.

 

 

Mandy is introduced lips-first, as she takes a smoke. Her face is introduced alongside her painted artwork, currently in process. Red arrives home, turning off a radio playing a Reagan speech which pins the timeframe of this story in the early 1980s. A stylized, sparkling blue title card announces this is happening around the Shadow Mountains, ‘circa 1983.’ The Shadow Mountains are a real place which may sound like the name of a prog-rock or metal track title. When he enters the house, Red announces himself to Mandy with a knock-knock joke with no real punchline. He’s played by Nicolas Cage, instantly recognizable as such. Mandy is played by Andrea Riseborough, less world-famous, sure, but still a prominent talent, who here is unrecognizable by contrast. She shows him the painting she’s been working on, and he’s impressed, though not particularly articulate about it.

 

The scene shifts to the middle of the night, with a bluish glow reminiscent of the scene-setting title card. Red and Mandy lie together in bed, not sexually but intimately, talking of space and of the Marvel character Galactus. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb, already flush with color, takes on a new glow here — the movie is already parting from reality long before any of the characters partake in mind-altering substances. In the morning, Mandy wakes to the sound of an unidentifiable animal. She goes out to the woods alone, where she finds a dead fawn. Was this the source of the sound, or the result of it? Either way, Mandy sheds a tear. That night, she shares with Red a troubling story about starlings from her childhood. Between small birds and small deer, Mandy appears to empathize with the peaceful creatures of the world. She identifies with the animals who are often prey. At the end of her story, Red says only, “Oh baby, come here,” and embraces her. It’s notable that what little personal background we get of these characters comes all on the side of Mandy. We don’t know anything of Red’s past, save one detail from which we can infer plenty.

 

 

Mandy goes for a walk and a smoke along a mountain road, which is where she encounters the van driven by Jeremiah Sand’s Children Of The New Dawn. The scene is filtered red, and everyone inside the van appears to be varying degrees of stoned. The heretofore idyllic score by Jóhann Jóhannsson turns malevolent. The screen freezes on Mandy’s face as she passes the van and her eyes meet Sand’s, in a stylish flourish that could just as well have come from an early Tobe Hooper film.

 

The narrative is hijacked here by the movie’s villain, a la PSYCHO or MANHUNTER, and not just the narrative, but the filmmaking style itself. In an interview with Rue MorgueMANDY director Panos Cosmatos reveals Linus Roache was not the first choice for Sand. In fact, he was thinking of Nicolas Cage. For sure, Jeremiah Sand is a role anyone can imagine Cage playing, with relish. Cage would not be the obvious choice for a taciturn character like Red, and likewise, Linus Roache, a fine actor, is not who any genre fan would have expected to play a deranged cult leader. In some ways, his performance is the boldest and most inarguably creditable aspect of the film. Roache invests the role with exactly the level of histrionic high-low ferociousness that Cage would have done, and he’s excellent.

 

Sand sends his henchmen after Mandy. One of them, Mother Marlene, played by Irish stage actress Olwen Fouéré, first approaches Mandy at the convenience store where she works, posing as a friendly customer. Mandy mentions she lives “up by Crystal Lake,” the naming of which cannot be a coincidence in a film like this one. Meanwhile, another henchman, Brother Swan (also played by an Irish actor little known to American audiences, Ned Dennehy), uses an instrument called the Horn Of Abraxas to summon up fearsome figures from deep in the woods, who resemble something that could have resulted from a collaboration between George Miller and Clive Barker. These men are the Black Skulls, and the first time I saw this movie, it didn’t even occur to me that these characters WEREN’T supernatural in origin, which I think is probably the point. If MANDY is a film that exists apart from reality as we perceive it, the Black Skulls, whose closest cinematic precedents are the Gimp from PULP FICTION and the Plague in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, feel like they exist from a reality even apart from MANDY, if that makes sense. They arrive by sound first, monstrous, and pull up on motorcycles and ATVs. Their faces are masked in leather and they snarl inaudibly. Brother Swan is visibly terrified by them. The Black Skulls accept a human sacrifice, taking one of Sand’s more expendable followers with them for undisclosed purposes, before proceeding to siege and befoul Mandy and Red’s sanctuary of a home.

 

The abduction is a horror-movie scene, and a violation of the sanctity of the three-act structure to boot. The movie’s inciting incident comes at the midpoint, if not precisely then intuitively. This disregard for convention, the kind of convention that is traditionally comforting, I think is the main reason some people are turned off to MANDY. Others call it pretentious, or predictable, and while I can’t disagree, I perceive a sincerity in the making of this film that allows me to buy into it whole-heartedly.

 

From here, the film takes a hyperdrive warp into psychedelia, as Mother Marlene “prepares” Mandy for Sand by dosing her with a sting from a [noticeably fake-looking] giant wasp. As Mandy reels from the intoxicating effect, one of the film’s most indelible, disturbing, hilarious, and temporarily gratifying scenes transpires, as Sand plays Mandy a track from his terrible folk album (where he sings lyrics extolling his own greatness) and then literally exposes himself to her. It’s disgusting and weird and upsetting, which is why it’s such a hero moment when Mandy laughs in his face, spurning his music and his speeches and his dick.

 

The victory is short-lived, because that’s when Sand and his followers burn Mandy alive, with Red bound and gagged and forced to watch the entire destruction of the love of his life. This is an odd moment to bring up the matter of costuming, but I’d like to point out that in Mandy’s final scene, she’s wearing Red’s “44” jersey, while Red is wearing a black-and-red jersey (not for nothing, the same colors as Red’s truck), emblazoned with the face of a tiger. Again, these small details register. Swan hands Sand the “Tainted Blade of the Pale Night” — these people have florid names for all of their belongings — and Sand stabs Red in the gut, vowing he and Mandy will see “the cleansing power of fire.” The viewer realizes we’ve already seen Mandy for the last time, since the Children of the New Dawn carry her out of the house inside a burlap sack, which they string up and set ablaze. The camera hones in on Red’s tormented face, all the more painful because Mandy has already been turned into an inanimate object — neither Red nor we the viewer get a chance to say goodbye.

 

Again, mileage may vary, but for me this scene works as intended, not least because of the force of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score — sadly, his last — which in this moment is equally sad and horrifying. If MANDY is a film that intentionally aligns itself with music, it’s impossible to overstate the heavy lifting this film’s score provides. Also interesting is how Cosmatos and Loeb handle the aftermath. The music subsides, and the lighting goes more “natural” and less apocalyptic. Sand and his people get into their cars and drive away, leaving Red tied up and bleeding, but alive. To me, this is how trauma feels, the way the most mundane observations of sight and sound register after one’s entire world has been altered forever.

 

Red frees himself and watches as the wind blows away the ashes which are all that remain of Mandy. He staggers inside, clad only in his tiger shirt and tighty-whities, and sees that the TV is still on. It’s playing what has already become MANDY‘s most meme-worthy (and in some quarters, maligned) element, the “Cheddar Goblin” commercial, for which Cosmatos recruited Casper Kelly, the absurdist mind behind “Too Many Cooks.”

 

 

Red mutters, “Cheddar Goblin,” and lies down, passing out. In a weird way, this was a relatable moment to me on par with the moment in this year’s HEREDITARY, the aftermath of the accident in which Peter realizes what’s happened to his sister Charlie and is stunned into catatonia. I’ve been there. I hope you haven’t been.

 

One more time, the very substance of MANDY alters as Red has a vision of Mandy in death — presented in a brief animated segment, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since KILL BILL. And then Red wakes up. He grabs a bottle of vodka and still bleeding, storms into the bathroom, screaming gutturally in grief and drinking. He sits down on the toilet, still wearing only that tiger shirt and his underwear, and cries. This, to me, is the heart of the film. As I said up top, any one movie can be a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, MANDY is a story about a relapse.

 

 

 

Red goes to the trailer of his friend Caruthers, who is played by the estimable Bill Duke, an under-heralded filmmaker and creative force best known as a character actor, who I revere for his work in PREDATOR. Red tells Caruthers what happened, and says he’s come “for The Reaper.” All of this is bizarrely exciting because it suggests some odd backstory we can only invent for ourselves — how does Red know Caruthers? Why is Caruthers holding a weapon for Red? Why do these guys name their weapons? (And does that make them too different from the Children of the New Dawn?)

 

Another highly-stylized chapter heading comes on screen — Mandy’s name, in the form of red veiny lines that almost appear to be transforming the name into a beating heart. It’s also the movie’s title — here now, over an hour into the film, only now does the title screen appear. Red speeds out in his truck in search of the Black Skulls. It’s telling to note that what was for an hour’s time a dreamy romantic reverie and a phantasmagoric horror show has now transmogrified into MANDY in its most crowd-pleasing form, a full-on action-revenge picture, with action-film icon Bill Duke serving as its herald.

 

As Red tears through the Black Skulls in a fit of fury and blood, he cracks one-liners and absurdist Cage-isms (“You’re a vicious snowflake!”)  and snorts some of the coke they’ve left lying around their lair. Again, this is a relapse. The violence is relapse. That it’s the movie’s most entertaining mode is what makes it disturbing — again, to me. There’s a sort of release in relapse. It’s thrilling to rip shit up, even if what you’re ripping up is your own life, or someone else’s. It’s clear by now that Red has been holding back — declining to drink, committing no violence worse than cutting down trees, and choosing instead to love and live with Mandy — but the loss of her has given him permission to unleash whatever fury he’d been holding back. If this were an Oscar-minded drama about the struggles of alcoholism, we would not want to see Red drink again, but since it’s framed as a revenge picture, we crave the relapse as much as he does. And that’s upsetting. It’s upsetting in the pleasure of it.

 

 

Also intriguing is how Red is wearing the “44” jersey in the scenes where he tears through the Black Skulls. The last time we saw that shirt was on Mandy. Really, this is the movie’s least noticeable but most notable break from “reality” — how is Red wearing a shirt Mandy had on when she died? It makes no sense, unless you maybe want to consider that Red is now Mandy’s avatar, acting out the physical equivalent of the laughter she’d leveled at Sand. In other words, the only sense it makes is movie-sense.

 

After killing all the Black Skulls, Red makes his way to their drug supplier, The Chemist (Tom-Petty-esque character actor Richard Brake), whose warehouse includes a tiger in a cage. The Chemist introduces the tiger as “Lizzie,” and as Red glares at him, covered in the blood of dead enemies, The Chemist seems to get the message, and sets Lizzie free. (Remember Red’s tiger jersey?) This particular symbolism may appear to be peripheral, but it isn’t too subtle.

 

Red continues to travel north, and when he stops to rest, he has another animated dream, this time of a nude Mandy caring for a wounded and bloody half-tiger/half-man. She reaches inside his wounds and pulls out a glowing green diamond, and then Red wakes up. He continues on to his final battles, all of which transpire in a canyon which absolutely could have doubled for a FURY ROAD set. The most gore is yet to come. Red splits Brother Swan’s head apart to interrupt him when he references the quote, “Better to burn out than to fade away” (guess Red isn’t a Neil Young fan), engages in a duel of oversized chainsaws with Sand’s most formidable henchman that ends as you might expect, enters Sand’s triangular temple and beheads Mother Marlene, and crushes Sand’s skull with his bare hands. The last two victims both offer Red sex in an attempt to persuade him to spare their lives, but Red has no interest in anything but destruction. After killing them all, Red burns the entire place down.

 

Even during my first screening of MANDY, all this climactic violence felt inevitable. Though it’s never uninteresting to watch, not remotely!, the movie is long since out of surprises. That has significance. From that first absurdist knock-knock joke to Mandy’s harrowing story about the starlings, all of the mystery, all of the reward, was in the relationship between Red and Mandy. Once that’s destroyed, it’s not hard to predict where the movie will go. Without love, without hope, there’s nothing but death. In the final moment of the movie, as Red drives away from the battlefield still caked in blood so thick his skin itself appears red(!), he first flashes back to the very first time his eyes met Mandy’s — the film’s sole flashback — and then he has a vision of Mandy, looking at him from the passenger seat. She’s holding a cigarette and smiling. Many viewers will look at this moment as a last visit with an avenged loved one, a bittersweet moment, such as we get in films like THE CROW. That’s what I’d like to see. That’s not what I see.

 

In the film’s final moment, Red turns to his vision of Mandy and bares his teeth in something approximating a smile, but in truth he’s no longer capable. She’s gone. His hope is gone. The end credits roll without music, possibly only the first or second time the movie has been without it. There’s nothing left for Red. It’s over. This is why you fear the relapse.

 

All of that said, at the very end of the credits, you can hear starlings chirping. And after the credits, the final image we see is a portrait of Red, as done by Mandy and left on her drawing table. She’s not gone, not completely. There’s something left. There always is.

 

 

 

 

 

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HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)

 

Certainly as a director and a little less so as a star, Clint Eastwood has worked in just about every genre there is. One glaring exception is horror, or so it would seem. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER comes pretty damn close. It’s a genre rope-a-dope. You see the star of THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY and he’s riding a horse and carrying a six-shooter, so you think you know what kind of a movie you’re expecting. And then you get hit with something else entirely, but not right away.

 

 

 

Here I find myself in the unfortunate position of spoiling a movie early on simply by describing it in terms of the horror genre – since for a long stretch, the story of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER would not lead one to conclude it should be filed anywhere other than the Westerns shelf of the library.  

 

 

But, at the very least, Clint Eastwood as director and star uses some elements of the ghost-story genre in the construction of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER.  The unnamed gunslinger appears out of the haze of the frontier heat on his way into a town that he eventually paints blood-red (literally) and re-names “Hell,” and the wailing score by Dee Barton of PLAY MISTY FOR ME is at all times more horror-movie than Morricone 

 

 

Clint’s second film as director after the aforementioned PLAY MISTY FOR ME, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER was heavily influenced by the styles of Clint’s mentors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone.  Unlike PLAY MISTY FOR ME, which was a then-contemporary thriller, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER would have seemed like a return to familiar genre terrain for Eastwood. But this was no usual shoot-’em-up. It was the first of many sly and bold deconstructions of his own “nameless gunfighter” persona – this is no hero, but a ruthless avenging angel.  And maybe “angel” isn’t remotely the right term.  

Actually it definitely isn’t.

 

 

Written by Ernest Tidyman, creator of SHAFT, and moodily lensed by Eastwood regular DP Bruce SurteesHIGH PLAINS DRIFTER lets you know almost immediately that this isn’t Gary Cooper territory. The townspeople of Lago are nervous about a trio of murderous outlaws, led by Stacey Bridges (played by Geoffrey Lewis), who once terrorized the place and are rumored to be on the way to do it again. So when a mysterious stranger, in a familiar tall, dark and handsome form, rides in from the desert and shoots down some nasty customers, it would seem he’s the answer to Lago’s prayers.

 

 

But when a well-dressed blond lady tries to meet-cute with the stranger by bumping into him, he forces her into a barn and not very ambiguously forces himself on her. This is within the first fifteen minutes of the film. It’s startling and upsetting, and while there are indications the woman seems to enjoy it, that only makes it more difficult to process. Our movie’s hero has done one of the worst things you can do to anyone to a seemingly innocent person. And we’re still supposed to root for this guy? Can you imagine the Salon thinkpieces if this film were to come out today?

 

 

Of course, as it turns out, nobody in Lago is innocent or pure. But we don’t know that at the time of the sexual assault. And even once the truth is revealed, this moment still doesn’t sit right. Nobody deserves such a violation, and even if logic were perverted and contorted enough to make rape seem justifiable, does that make things better? Is anything really resolved? And why are we watching in the first place?

 

 

Twenty years later, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Science awarded Clint’s film UNFORGIVEN for its canny deconstruction of the star’s own persona and that of basically every American action hero of the past century. But — not to take anything away from UNFORGIVEN, which is a favorite — HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER proves Clint had been doing that all along. The gulf between what an audience expected from Clint in 1973, when he first rides into this movie on a white horse, and then what he proceeds to do in short order, is unfathomable. It’s still shocking today. No action star before or since had been so daring with their onscreen persona. No movie star period would risk such a vicious reversal of expectations.

 

HPD

 

 

Like HIGH NOON, this story is about a lone gunfighter preparing to face off against three outlaws in a frontier town. Like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, the story finds a town hiring a mercenary to teach them to fight against invaders. But in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, the hero abuses the authority he’s given: He assaults a woman, drinks up the town’s booze, appoints a little person (Billy Curtis, who is excellent in the movie) the town sheriff, defaces the scenery, and ultimately abandons the people in their supposed time of need. He’s an unchecked anarchist at best.

The Western is maybe the single genre where American audiences most expect our heroes to be heroes. Clint Eastwood used the Western to make us ask ourselves what that means.

 

 

 

— JON ABRAMS. 

 

 

ME

 

 

 

 

Manborg

The bad news is that sometime in the near future, the armies of Hell are coming to Earth.  Mankind simply does not currently have the resources to withstand their necro-technological might.  The seas will run with the blood of billions and the SuperBowl will presumably be cancelled.

The good news is MANBORG.

A soldier who is mutilated and left for dead by the ravenous hordes of Hell, the hero who will be come to be known as Manborg is reconstituted and outfitted with a cybernetic weapons system powerful enough to turn the tide.  He is re-captured by the Hell armies and forced to fight in an arena alongside a trio of super-powered martial artists — #1 Man, Mina, and her brother Justice — who will become his new friends and help him combat the overwhelming forces of Count Draculon, and at this point I admit I kind of lost the plot, but who cares?  MANBORG is so silly it’s beautiful.

This is a real movie I’m describing. I’ve seen it.  (Three times now!)  It wasn’t a dream.  I’m awake, and stone-sober.  MANBORG is an actual thing that exists.  You can experience it too, and I highly suggest that you do.  I can’t answer all of the questions you will probably have.  For one thing, the origins of the film remain hazy to me, as if shrouded by Hell-fog or the smoldering fires of an infernal battlefield.  IMDb lists the film’s creation date as 2011.  It traveled the festival circuit in 2012.  It appeared in stores on DVD in 2013, where I grabbed it immediately.  Could you resist that poster artwork?

MANBORG was made by a Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6. They’re a bunch of guys who make movies on the cheap, pitching in on each others’ projects in every function including stepping in front of the camera.  The director of this particular outing is Steven Kostanski, who shows an impressive command of genre-cinema film-checking.  The movie, like Manborg himself, is a lumbering patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of other movies: ARENA, HARDWAREROBOCOP, TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK, ROBOT JOX, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MORTAL KOMBAT, G.I. JOE, and TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.  To name only a few.  If you, like me, spent countless sugar-fueled late nights in front of a TV screen mainlining action movies, you will be in hog heaven with this flick.  It’s not quite accurate to say that MANBORG is a snug fit on a shelf with some of the more esteemed films on that list, but it would be absolutely true to maintain that MANBORG completely captures the giddy rhythms of euphoric movie-love.  The way you felt when you were talking about these movies, the way you still may feel when talking about them; that’s the spirit in which MANBORG was made.

Another thing about the making of this movie:  The production budget for MANBORG was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.  That probably wouldn’t even cover the price of the yellow tarp for a Scientology tent on a Tom Cruise movie.  It’s hardly any money when you’re talking about mainstream filmmaking.  However:  In absolute sincerity, I insist that this is incredibly impressive work for that budget.  Sure, it’s goofy-looking, but that’s intrinsic to the charm of the thing.  It says a lot about these filmmakers that they could stretch the money as far as they do.  It suggests that they have a future in so-called serious movies, if that’s what they want, although I kind of hope they don’t.  I want to see more movies like this one, although I’m fine with re-watching this one until then.

There’s something fantastically charming about this movie, the way it simultaneously feels like a bunch of film-fanatic friends getting together to make a movie and still invites just enough suspension of disbelief to enjoy as a somewhat corny, bizarrely sincere addition to the ranks of bizarro action movies.  In other words:  Even as you know it’s a goof, you still feel like going with it.  Because it’s just more fun that way.  And I don’t know, man — there’s even something touching to me about the fact that I could walk into Best Buy and see MANBORG sitting on the shelf.  Right in between MAGNUM FORCE and MARS ATTACKS!  This is one for us.  The weird kids.  The movie freaks.  The up-all-nighters.  We made it!  Feels like home.

 

P.S.  Be sure to stay through the credits for the trailer for… BIO-COP!

 

Read more about MANBORG at the official MANBORG site: http://www.astron-6.com/manborg.html

 

Listen to Brian Wiacek’s authentically-radical score here:  http://manborg.bandcamp.com/

 

 

And say hi to me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

manborg  ManborgTeaser_Mina Scorpius

lilguy   Baron

superbeasto_dvd.preview

Now here’s a strange duck:  A hard-R horror-comedy adult cartoon feature from musician/director Rob Zombie, featuring the usual voice suspects and a couple surprise voices. The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto is a filthy, funny, deranged mess of a kitchen sink of a movie that will please a certain kind of person, ideally in a certain state of mind (if you get me), and will turn off the straight-laced. For my part, I’m just glad that something like this exists – it’s comfortable knowing that there’s a place in the world for adult animation, even if it’s not exactly my flavor.

The story, as much as I can collect it all in one column, goes a little something like this: El Superbeasto (voiced by comedian and co-writer Tom Papa) is an insanely horny luchador – somewhere between Santo and Dirk Diggler – who is the big cheese in the titular Haunted World, a geek-dream dimension where zombies and werewolves and strippers coexist in constant hysteria. As soon as El Superbeasto falls for the town’s alpha-stripper, Velvet Von Black (voiced by Rosario Dawson!), she is abducted by the misleadingly named Doctor Satan (voiced by Paul Giamatti!) and his long-suffering gorilla henchman. El Superbeasto is aided in his rescue attempt by his younger sister, Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her hopelessly infatuated robot sidekick (Brian Posehn.) At the end of the day, this is all about high school: Doctor Satan was the school nerd, in love with the head cheerleader (Suzi X) and constantly tormented by the school bully (El Superbeasto.) Doctor Satan will have his revenge, and hump it too!

El Superbeasto is fairly described as Heavy Metal meets Ren & Stimpy (the design, pace, and much of the voicework is heavily indebted to John Kricfalusi’s surreal/absurd classic series.) It’s also probably fairly described as Rob Zombie’s most fun movie, even his best. I’m on record as saying that I root for Rob Zombie’s cinematic endeavors – he loves a lot of the same things I love (rock n’ roll, old horror movies, pretty girls, badass character actors, monsters, and mayhem) and he brings a competitive energy and enthusiasm to the horror genre – but his movies have thus far turned out unnecessarily unpleasant, even sadistic, in finished form. (Haven’t seen his Halloween 2, but that goes back to the old cliché about not wanting to put my hand back on the hot stove that burned me once before.)

El Superbeasto, thankfully, plays out differently. It has its excesses – who am I kidding? It’s ALL excess!  But there’s a sense of gleeful anarchy and a swinging swagger that permeates the whole thing and makes it never less than watchable. For me, there were two elements to elevate it:

1)      The voice work by the unconventionally wonderful movie stars Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson is unconventionally wonderful. If I didn’t see from the credits that they’d be featured, I might never have guessed. Is there such a thing as Method voice acting? Giamatti and Rosario are completely and unrecognizably committed to their wackadoo characters, and the results are weird and funny, truly superior voice acting.

2)      The movie features several original songs by Hard N’ Phirm, the comedy team of Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman. The songs are by far the funniest part of the movie – they’re exactly the right tone and vibe and they smartly comment on the action and the more blatantly exploitative parts of the story. It makes certain scenes that might have been creepy to watch hilariously creepy. I’ve seen these guys do their thing before live and they’re great – it was a fun surprise to enjoy their contributions here.

So whatever it says about me, I watched the whole damn thing. I probably wouldn’t watch it again but I’m happy to have watched it once. It’s crazy in its own very specific way and I can respect that. However: If you’re the kind of person who is offended by cartoon boobs or cartoon sex, be forewarned. Stay away. It’s understandable, but you won’t want to see what happens here. As for the rest of you maniacs? Eat, drink, and be merry.

@jonnyabomb

Originally written on October 10th, 2009.

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find.  But I could be wrong.  (See?)  It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating:  Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is.  I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience.  I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly.  Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself.  I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face.  On top of all of that, I grew up with movies.  I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more.  It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind.  I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice.  It’s certainly harder to be funny that way.  And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

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If the new sci-fi horror flick Legion is to be believed, God is a woman.  We get a brief glimpse into Heaven late in the film, and it looks like a Calvin Klein perfume ad, complete with blue-eyed, white-winged angel men who speak in soft British accents.  Not only is that the kind of scene She seems to be into, but God is also as prone to decisions based on rash emotional reactions as any mortal woman can be, only to [spoiler alert!] ultimately change her mind and be willing to make up after the outburst.
See, Legion is about God losing faith in humanity, and sending an army of angels to wipe us off the face of the planet.  You wouldn’t think God could be so flighty as to make such a momentous decision and then take it back, but this isn’t a movie for the literal-minded.  The guy sitting behind me leaned over to his companion and whispered, “God wouldn’t do that,” and I guess he’d know, so if you’re super-religious you may want to skip this movie.  It’s not based in reality.

What it is largely based on, instead, is other movies.  In particular, Legion writer/director Scott Stewart should look out for James Cameron, because they’re both out on the promotional trail right now and Legion borrows very heavily from the Terminator movies (among many, many others).  Dude, if Cameron finds you, you better hope he’s flattered.  When renegade angel Michael touches down in an alleyway, it’s not wrong to expect that he’s a T-800 or T-1000.  He’s not though, as we learn when he hacks off his wings.  (Think those might have come in handy later on, bud?)  Michael is not played by John Travolta, as fans of garbage ‘90s comedies might fairly expect – instead, he’s played by Paul Bettany, who’s always reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris if he loved girls more than showtunes, or the guy from Coldplay if if he loved girls more than showtunes (ha ha!).  Bettany is by far the best thing about the movie; he’s a convincingly unsentimental and competent action lead.

Legion also sports a fairly impressive supporting cast, all of them saddled with thankless roles that are thoroughly standard for the many genres that Legion encapsulates – horror, action, disaster movie, etc.  There’s the spiritually adrift young waitress whose pregnancy may be the key to the whole future of humankind (played by Adrianne Palicki with an accent that disappears during her first scene and only occasionally returns.)  There’s the meek young mechanic (Lucas Black) who loves her without getting any return on that investment, who unsurprisingly will be called on to prove himself before story’s end.  That character’s name is Jeep, which sounds like something Sarah Palin would come up with.  But no, Jeep’s dad is none other than Dennis Quaid, who’s way too good to have to be playing this many stereotypes at the same time – he’s a grouchy diner owner who’s developed a problem with booze after a ruined relationship and a troubled business.  He’s lost his faith: can he regain it in time?  Can I write movie tag lines?

There’s also the God-fearing dishwasher who recognizes the spiritual implications of what’s happened right away – and says he knew it was coming!  If that wasn’t standard enough, this guy even has a hook where his left arm should be.  Did you guess that he’s a black guy?  Of course he is!  Welcome to the Cliché Diner, hope you survive the visit!  This character is played by Charles S. Dutton, another strong actor who I would have thought was beyond roles like this, but I guess since he’s done it a hundred times now, there’s no one better qualified to play them.  Also, because a movie with this much going on can’t have just one black guy to kill off before all the other white characters (spoiler!), Tyrese Gibson is in the movie too.  He plays a mysterious young brother who is involved in a custody battle and who keeps a gun on him at all times.  In a stroke of inspiration, this character is from Vegas, not South Central.  See, don’t think you can predict this movie.

Finally, there’s an uptight family of white people who are stranded at Quaid’s diner in the middle of nowhere because something went wrong with their Mercedes.  These people are played by Jon Tenney (a well-known stage actor who I didn’t even realize was in this movie until I checked IMDB just now to write this article), Kate Walsh (that great-looking red-headed broad from Grey’s Anatomy who I would have thought was too big a TV star to have such a waste of a role in a genre movie), and some girl named Willa Holland as their teenage daughter.  Don’t worry about that character; the screenwriters didn’t.  (It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie character written out of a movie off-screen.)

On the side of the bad guys, there’s Kevin Durand, a great character actor (from Lost, among other things), who is thoroughly wasted as the “evil” angel leading the extermination effort.  Durand deserves better roles, although at least here all he has to deal with are giant wings and a fruity accent – at least they didn’t stick him in an unconvincing fat suit like that abominable Wolverine movie did.  There’s also Doug Jones (Abe Sapien!) as an evil ice cream man, whose evil power is to make his jaw get really, really low, like Jim Carrey in The Mask.  Look out!  It’s Giantjaw!  Don’t let him…. breathe on you, I guess.  (There’s not much to be afraid of here, there’s not a single supernatural heaven-sent villain in this flick who can’t be easily mowed down with tons of bullets.)  There’s also that potty-mouthed old lady from the trailers.  She’s probably the most fun part of the movie, and definitely the first and last point where you feel like the main characters are in danger from anything other than their own clumsiness and stupidity.

Legion plays pretty much how you’d expect, right down to the letter.  The best part is the way that the bad guys attack the diner where the good guys are holed up, and then after being shot at for a while, retreat so that the good guys have enough time to talk amongst themselves.  I’m glad I don’t play drinking games, because if I had to drink every time one character solemnly recounts their backstory to another in over-dramatic exposition… well then I’d be Dennis Quaid’s character.  (Maybe that’s what Quaid was doing on set to keep it fun!)  My single favorite getting-to-know-you moment belongs to Tyrese and it begins like so:  “When I was a shorty…”

I’m hitting Legion pretty hard with the sarcasm hammer, but I actually had a great time watching it.  With a packed theater, it was not at all a waste of time.  The crowd I was with hollered at all the expected moments and at a lot more of the unexpected ones.  It’s always fun when an audience takes a movie in the spirit it deserves, and just goes with it.  (Except for the aforementioned guy who thought the Lord was acting out of character.)  Nobody expected this to be a serious drama with important ideas, nobody expected artistry or poetry, and nobody expected it to even be as good as the movies it awkwardly imitates (Terminator, Terminator 2, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight).  When faced with such mediocrity, you can either whoop it up or get pissed off, and that second option is better left to JC.  That’s James Cameron, not… you know.

Or maybe I’m just in a good mood because Taimak was in the theater with us at my screening.  You know, Taimak = the man who played Leroy Green, a.k.a. Bruce Leroy, in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.  If you’ve been paying occasional attention to anything I’ve said ever, you may have picked up on my overwhelming love for The Last Dragon.  It’s no lost classic but it’s an energetic, entirely unpretentious movie with a good heart and a better soundtrack.  When Legion got too formulaic and predictable to bear, I had a great time trying to imagine what thoughts were running through Taimak’s head as he watched the same movie.  Was he, too, comparing it to the anything-goes bizarre excellence of The Last Dragon?  Was he, too, imagining how he would play the Bettany role, or even imagining how the movie would be improved by the literal return of Bruce Leroy?  (It sure couldn’t have hurt!)  Was he, too, wondering how Bruce Leroy would fare in battle against the armies of Heaven?

A far, far better movie Legion could have been were it to have answered any of those questions.  For me, anyway.

Get right with me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

TV Trailer: MRS. EASTWOOD & COMPANY.

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Clint, Hell., TV

I’m going to work really hard not to leaven this posting with my own typically arch commentary, since most days it feels like this website is a Clint Eastwood fan blog and that’s not an accusation I work too hard to dispel.  I can’t NOT address that this thing is happening, but I’m going to be as respectful as possible since it should be clear to all casual readers that I am a massive admirer of the film career of Clint Eastwood, one of the greatest movie stars ever, definitely the greatest actor-turned-director ever, and an unquestioned living legend.  I have no interest in talking smack about one of my lifelong creative heroes or any of his family members.  But they’ve been busy recently.

Clint’s wife and some of his children will be appearing on a reality show on E! Entertainment Television, the channel that brings us Keeping Up With The Kardashians and all of its spin-offs.  The Eastwood show is called Mrs. Eastwood & Company, and while it promises to have brief appearances from the man himself, the main focus on the show is said to be on two of the Eastwood daughters and their personal lives, and then also on the South African boy band (!) that Mrs. Eastwood manages.

Here’s the ultra-brief promo that E! has been running:

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This article breaks down that promo in some detail.  (I also cut-and-pasted the official press release at the bottom of ths post.)  It helps to make this enterprise a whole lot more understandable…

Daughters want some spotlight.

The Mrs. wants to get her musical group out there.

Dad has a bit of fame to spare.

All of this is leading toward a truth I hold to be self-evident:

Women can be pretty persuasive, even if you’re Clint Goddamn Eastwood.

I was curious about what “Overtone” might sound like, so I looked them up on YouTube:

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Can you imagine what poor Clint thinks about while he has to listen to that, politely gritting his teeth into a faint smile?

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

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[via press release from E!] E! ANNOUNCES NEW SERIES “MRS. EASTWOOD & COMPANY” TO DEBUT MAY 2010 Episode Half-Hour Series Takes Viewers Inside The Fascinating World Of The Eastwood FamilyLos Angeles, CA, March 13, 2012 – Chronicling the lives of Dina Eastwood, the wife of Oscar-winning film legend Clint Eastwood, and their daughters Francesca (18) and Morgan (15), and the all-male six member vocal group from South Africa managed by Dina, “Overtone,” “Mrs. Eastwood & Company” is an unprecedented look at the surprisingly normal extended and blended family behind one of Hollywood’s most iconic superstars. This series invites viewers to witness their lives and proves that familial bonds are shaped by more than DNA. Developed by Executive Producer Jeff Jenkins for Bunim-Murray Productions, the series follows Dina, Francesca, Morgan, the six members of “Overtone,” and those intimately involved in their world, wherever their lives may take them, from their hometown of Carmel, CA to Los Angeles and beyond. “Mrs. Eastwood & Company” premieres Sunday, May 20 only on E!”Nothing is more important to me than family – no matter how you define that,” said Dina Eastwood. “People might be surprised by how we live our lives and our unconventional approach, and I also believe that it’s hard not to fall in love with my band, ‘Overtone.'””I’m really proud of my family,” adds Clint Eastwood. “They are a constant source of inspiration and entertainment.”

“‘Mrs. Eastwood & Company’ offers an exceptional look at a rarely seen side of pop culture and we’re thrilled to bring this wonderful family to our viewers,” said Lisa Berger, President, Entertainment Programming, E! “This refreshing group delivers on the network’s promise to present fascinating personalities who have compelling stories and unique points of view.”

MEET THE FAMILY

A California native, Dina is a former news anchor who, in 1993, was assigned an interview with Clint Eastwood. She certainly got more than she bargained for as the reporter and the actor/director married three years later. Beautiful and boho-chic, she is a constant fixture in her daughters’ daily lives and works to create as harmonious a home as possible. That’s not to say that the exuberant brunette doesn’t have a hobby: in fact, she has SIX. While in South Africa with Clint three years ago, Dina discovered a six-man vocal group who call themselves “Overtone.” Moved by their talent and star-potential, she re-located all six young musical men to Carmel, CA and has been acting as their mentor, mother and manager ever since.

Opinionated and artistic, Francesca Eastwood is the daughter of Clint Eastwood and Frances Fisher, though she also calls Dina “mom.” A bit of a ‘free spirit,’ Francesca is in a serious relationship with her 29-year old boyfriend, famed photographer Tyler Shields. She is his muse, he is her passion. Deeply in love, the couple has been together since 2011 and as a result, Francesca’s world and her relationships are changing.

High-school student Morgan Eastwood is compassionate with a heart of gold. She loves her mother very much, but is at that age where mothers and daughters don’t always see eye to eye and she is constantly surrounded by her group of close friends. Occasionally embarrassed by Dina’s behavior, Morgan is experiencing watershed moments of her adolescence from learning how to drive to finding her own voice. Watching Francesca become an adult and being surrounded by the older boys in “Overtone,” Morgan is now on the brink of womanhood.

Comprised of six sexy young men – Emile Welman, Eduard Leonard, Tino Ponsonby, Ernie Bates, Riaan Weyers and Shane Smith – “Overtone” is one of the most popular acts in South Africa and has performed with A-list musicians such as Corinne Bailey Rae and One Republic. Emile is tall, dark and handsome and is the front-man of the group. He and Francesca have a distant history of flirtation…though no one knows the real story. Tino is recently engaged and his charismatic, yet ornery, behavior sometimes causes tension within the group; Eduard is the heart and soul of the group, sweet and sensitive; Ernie can play almost any instrument and has been making music since childhood; Riaan is the “animal-whisperer” of the group – he can woo almost any creature- four legged or two legged and Shane is the crew’s self-described “ladies man.”

Dina Eastwood and Bunim/Murray Productions’ Jonathan Murray, Gil Goldschein, Jeff Jenkins and Russell Jay serve as Executive Producers.

The new E! series “Mrs. Eastwood & Company” premieres May 20 on E!

About E! Entertainment

E! is television’s top destination for all things entertainment and celebrity. E! is currently available to 98 million cable and satellite subscribers in the U.S. and the E! Everywhere initiative underscores the company’s dedication to making E! content available on all new media platforms any time and anywhere from online to broadband video to wireless to VOD. Popular programming includes E! core franchises, “E! News,” “The Soup,” “Chelsea Lately,” “Fashion Police” and “True Hollywood Story,” as well as the network’s hit series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Khloé & Lamar,” “Kourtney and Kim Take New York,” “Ice Loves Coco” and “Kendra.” Additionally, E!’s “Live from the Red Carpet” signature events keep fans connected to their favorite stars on Hollywood’s biggest nights. E! is a network of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, a division of NBCUniversal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news and information to a global audience.

About Bunim/Murray Productions

Bunim/Murray Productions is the leading producer of innovative entertainment content. The Emmy Award-winning company is widely credited with creating the reality television genre with its hit series The Real World (25 seasons for MTV). Bunim/Murray continued to innovate with the first reality game show, Road Rules (MTV), in 1995; the first reality sitcom, The Simple Life (E!), in 2003; and the first reality soap opera, Starting Over, in 2003. Bunim/Murray’s current programming includes The BadGirls Club, Love Games and the upcoming Best Ink (Oxygen), Keeping up with the Kardashians, Kourtney & Kim Take New York and Khloe & Lamar (E!), The Real World and The Challenge (MTV) and Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars (Lifetime). Bunim/Murray Productions has launched additional entities including M Theory Entertainment, BMP Films and M Music. BMP Filmsproduced Pedro (MTV) and the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical (HBO). Based in Van Nuys, CA, Bunim/Murray Productions was founded in 1987 by Jonathan Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim. The company joined Banijay Group in 2010.

Read more at http://www.thefutoncritic.com/news/2012/03/13/e-announces-new-series-mrs-eastwood-and-company-to-debut-may-20-441212/20120313e01/#G02CDuV4xSc4XgDf.99

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For a very long time, Carrie has been a noticeable empty spot on the list of major horror movies I’ve seen.  There’s actually a pretty good reason for it:  Carrie is so entrenched in pop culture by now that it’s one of those movies that everybody knows, with or without seeing it.  If you’re a horror fan, there’s a chance you may not know it as Stephen King’s first novel, but you’d know it as Brian DePalma’s breakthrough mainstream film.  If you don’t know it as Sissy Spacek’s star-making role, you know it as John Travolta’s first major movie role.  If you don’t know about the whole telekinesis aspect, you’ve probably heard about the prom and the pig’s blood.  You don’t need to know who Piper Laurie is to have heard Adam Sandler’s impression of her classic line from Carrie, “They’re all going to laugh at you!

In short, there aren’t a lot of people who know about movies but aren’t very familiar with this image:

At this point, it can be fairly called iconic.  It’s the climax of the movie, yet there’s no book, documentary, magazine article about horror movies that seems to have neglected revealing this image.  In a way, that’s a dick move — being shown this image kind of ruins a major moment of the movie for those who haven’t seen it.  If you know the scene pictured above is coming, you can’t help but wait for it.  But the spoiler is understandable too — I mean, what better single image encapsulates the history, politics, sexuality, conflict, the impact of the entire horror genre than a pretty girl covered in blood standing in the middle of a blazing inferno?

As I’ve been immersing myself in horror movies this month, I decided it was time to start filling in those gaps, or at least to finally see this movie.  Once I did, I realized that there were still some surprises left on the picked-over craft services table that has been the critical acclaim and endless popular referencing which surrounds Carrie.  And I realized how I had some misconceptions that were ripe to be disproved.  Here are some:

The movie Carrie is about the character of Carrie.

Well, it is, obviously, but also it kind of isn’t.  The story follows Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), a high school girl raised by an insanely religious mother (Piper Laurie).  Carrie is tormented at school by a group of popular girls, ranging from Sue Snell, the nicest (Amy Irving) to Chris Hargesen, the meanest (Nancy Allen), with PJ Soles from Halloween and Stripes falling somewhere in between on the meanness scale.  When Carrie experiences the first blushes of puberty, it coincides with a growing and dangerous telekinetic ability.  Noticing how Carrie is having such a hard time, Sue Snell takes pity on Carrie and has her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) invite Carrie to the senior prom.  Unwilling to let this go off without a hitch, Chris Hargesen and her own boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta) plot the world’s goriest practical joke.

The movie begins in a strange way, if we’re meant to align our sympathies with Carrie.  It starts in gym class, where Carrie has yet again embarassed herself in the eyes of the other girls during volleyball practice.  Which is standard enough high school stuff, but then that credit sequence happens.

It’s a slow-motion pan through a fogged-up locker room, with Pino Donaggio’s orchestral score playing up the romance of what in other movies would be pretty damn gratuitous, as we see all the pretty girls in the class frolicking with each other, some wrapped in towels, some not at all.  It’s a partial lesson in 1970s grooming practices, is what it is.  I dug up Pauline Kael’s review, where she complimented DePalma for blending “old-movie trash and soft-core pornos to provide ‘heart’ for a thriller.”  That’s definitely true, although the effect of all this youthful beauty is that, by the time the camera arrives at Carrie’s corner of the showers, she seems like all the more of an outcast.  Carrie is alone, huddled in the shower, hands between her legs.  Having seen Prime Cut, I can vouch for the fact that a young, unclothed Sissy Spacek is not at all an off-putting thing, but in Carrie it becomes the first creepy image of the movie — having everything to do with how Carrie sees herself and how the other girls see her.  Carrie is terrified to find blood between her legs (that first blush of puberty), and runs towards the other girls, begging them to help her.  This makes Carrie an outcast not only to her schoolmates, but to the viewer as well!  I can’t speak to how a female audience would interpret this scene, but I think I understand how a male audience is supposed to see it — she killed our buzz.  We were enjoying all that softcore, and then this one weird girl had to go freak out and end the scene.  The first time I saw Carrie, I didn’t get why DePalma would start the movie this way, but now that I think about it, it makes sense.  This is one way to estrange the audience from Carrie, who in any other high school movie would have our sympathies for the volleyball scene alone.  With the locker room scene, we’re told right from the start that there’s something not right with Carrie.

Which explains why, for a movie with her name in the title, Carrie isn’t exactly the point-of-view character.  We care about her, because she’s played by Sissy Spacek, but we’re also creeped out by her, because nearly everyone else in the movie is, including herself.  The story frequently shifts between its principal characters; in other words, Carrie’s not in every scene.  Certainly, the most memorable scenes are the ones in which she does appear, but the script by Lawrence Cohen (based on King’s novel but making digressions with DePalma’s input) has several scenes depicting the actions and conversations of the other characters, most of whom are talking about or plotting against Carrie.

So yes, we do get all the scenes of Carrie being terrorized by her mother (“They’re all going to laugh at you!”) and demonstrating her emerging psychic powers, but we also get scenes that are entirely carried by the rest of the cast, whether it be Sue Snell persuading Tommy Ross to cut Carrie a break and escort her to the prom, or Chris Hargesen and Billy Nolan scheming to ruin it.  Which brings me to my next preconception/misconception…

Travolta is in this movie.

Everybody’s favorite Scientologist is part of it, but not as much as I was led to believe.  He’s definitely in there, but really just serves as Chris Hargesen’s ridiculously-coiffed henchman.  DePalma eventually got great leading man work out of Travolta, in Blow Out, but this was Travolta’s first major movie role, where he’s cast as the pretty boy, actions playing against looks as he takes part in some cruel business.  I was surprised to see that the way Chris and Billy get that pig’s blood is to actually slaughter a pig.  Kind of unexpectedly awful.  Like this hairdo.

Speaking of which, why did no one warn me about what’s going on on top of this dude’s head?

And he’s this movie’s notion of a dreamboat.  No wonder it’s classified as a horror movie.

One more misconception:

Nancy Allen is not a total babe.

This is incorrect.

I’m most familiar with her from Out Of Sight, where she’s portrayed as middle-aged, and Robocop, where she’s dressed this way:

Here’s Nancy Allen in Carrie:

Glad we cleared that one up.

But let’s get back to the horror movie talk.  Here’s something about Carrie which a lot of people seem to think, but I was surprised to find untrue after my first viewing:

The movie is scary.

Not really.  It’s a lot of great things, but scary it is not — to me, anyway.  Maybe that has something to do with the impact of the prom scene being lessened by its familiarity, as I discussed earlier, or maybe it’s because every time Carrie uses her telekinesis, the highly-recognizable violin shrieks from Bernard Herrmann’s score to Psycho play briefly, constantly reminding the viewer [me, at least] that it’s only a movie.  There’s one great jump-scare that I have no intention of ruining, but that ties into another misconception I had about the movie.

The prom scene is the end of Carrie.

It isn’t.  It’s the climax.  There’s a denouement.  Meaning: Other important things happen, even after Carrie burns down her senior prom.  The prom scene is probably remembered as the culmination of the movie because it’s the big extended setpiece, and the moment of collision of all the most disturbing aspects of the movie.  In his recently published (and highly recommended) book Shock Value, Jason Zinoman writes of the moral ambiguity that makes Carrie’s revenge so unsettling.  She doesn’t just wipe out her tormentors  — in fact, Chris Hargesen and Billy Nolan aren’t even in the gym when it burns down — but she actually wipes out scores of innocents, all those faces in the background we never met, along with teachers such as Mr. Fromm (the likable Sydney Lassick from Alligator and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and Ms. Collins (Betty Buckley), the one teacher who tried hardest to defend Carrie.  Carrie’s vengeance is not righteous.  In fact, her vengeance against Chris and Billy, which is the vengeance we would have most wanted to see, is far more impersonal than what she does in the prom scene.

This is why that prom scene is so indelible.  This is what is so unsettling about the movie.  It’s set up as a conventional story of a high school outsider who has her moment and triumphs over her bullies, but as the audience we never quite root for her the way we should, and her ultimate revenge is way more horrible than we ever wanted.  Carrie isn’t as much viscerally terrifying, spooky or eerie, as it is psychologically unsettling, maddening and unforgettable.  I’d say it more than warrants the high regard which surrounds it.  It’s a classic.

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