Movies, Music, and TV

Terrifier cover

So, here is a rarity: a modern slasher that largely avoids the traps its contemporaries often fall into. Terrifier echoes the eighties classics when the violence was ridiculously over the top, and the antagonists had personalities distinct enough to make them equivalents to today’s superheroes. It was hard to take those movies too seriously, yet they were still suitably scary and macabrely entertaining, without going borderline snuff like many do today.

Terrifier’s seemingly straightforward plot is set during Halloween, with Tara and Dawn (Jenna Kannell and Catherine Corcoran) getting ready to head home from a party. On the way to the car, they encounter a silent clown whose behavior switches between being playful (albeit creepily so) to giving dead-eyed stares. As the clown’s actions grow increasingly bizarre, the girls head off to the car, only to find their tires slashed.

If the setup sounds like a slasher trope, it’s because it is, yet Terrifier is a stylish entry to the genre. Director Damien Leone has a background as a makeup artist, and he has put his talents well into use with Art the Clown (as his name is). The character looks downright demented.

Art and a future victimArt the clownFuture victim, part 2

Visually, too, the movie is well executed. The apartment building where the brunt of the movie takes place is claustrophobically filmed. The narrow hallways and sharp corners are aesthetically similar to many Italian gialli, and particularly Dario Argento’s Deep Red looks to be an aesthetic reference point.

David Howard Thornton’s performance as Art is terrific. The actor is a trained mime, and he shows a natural comfort with a clown’s movements and mannerisms, giving the character a real menace. Art shows similarities to an early Freddy Krueger—macabrely funny, with just the right amount of ominousness thrown in—and Thornton channels his inner Robert England well.

It is too bad there is one scene in Terrifier that is unnecessarily cruel. One can claim that’s the nature of the slasher, but the best of the genre tend to go over the top to where it is hard to take it seriously. The scene in question (and you’ll know it when you see it) is a distraction from the many things that make this a good movie, which it really is, sitting at 73% certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a film that seemingly was designed not to be a mainstream hit.

Bonus trivia!

Terrifier is a sequel, of sorts, to All Hallows Eve, an entertaining anthology film not unlike Tales from the Crypt. There was an actual sequel to it, too, but it was produced by a different team, and Art is not featured in it.

Images borrowed from IMDb.


The Body

Movies, Music, and TV

The Body cover

Twelve months; twelve holidays; twelve horror movies based on them. Add it up, and you get Into The Dark, an anthology produced by Blumhouse for Hulu. The series kicked off last October with The Body, a thriller which works well outside the confines of Halloween’s usual tropes.

We follow Wilkes (Tom Bateman), a hitman who has just performed a contract kill, and, as he transports the plastic-wrapped body to the car, finds his tires slashed. While mulling over what to do next, a group of partygoers spots him and compliments him on what they perceive to be his costume and prop. They agree to give Wilkes a ride to his next destination, on the condition he will accompany them to a party for a quick drink. Wilkes acquiesces, and, unsurprisingly, things deteriorate from there. The content of the package is revealed and subsequently lost; the group (sans a girl who is fascinated with Wilkes’s profession) runs off, and the chase begins.

This isn’t the type of movie cinema blockbusters are made of, and as Blumhouse is raking in cash and Oscars with the likes of Get Out and Whiplash, it makes sense to put lower budget fare into an anthology like Into The Dark. I doubt people would have lined up around the block to watch The Body, but I can see it becoming a sleeper cult hit on Hulu. It’s laudable, really: only ten years ago, The Body would have struggled to find a direct to video distribution deal. These days, thanks to streaming, studios seem more willing to take chances on offbeat films, and experiments like Into The Dark exposes the audience at large to a broader array of movies.

The Body was co-written by Paul Fischer (the author of the fascinating A Kim Jung-Il Production) and Paul Davis, and the script is solid. Particularly Wilkes and his admirer are well fleshed out characters, and their dialogue is captivating. Wilkes might have a warped view on society, but he is almost convincing in using it to justify his actions.

I’m guessing the film’s budget was limited, but Davis, who also serves as director, works with what he’s got, and The Body has a clean, concise look. The cast delivers a commendable performance, and I’d put The Body in the higher tier of V.O.D. movies. It’s an entertaining watch.

Into The Dark kicks off on a high note, then, and I plan to sit through everything it has to offer. I doubt it all will be of the The Body’s pedigree, but I’m all about being proven wrong.


The King of Comedy

Movies, Music, and TV

The King of Comedy cover

The trailer for Joker dropped today, so what better time to take a look at its spiritual predecessor, The King of Comedy? Martin Scorsese’s criminally overlooked 1982 box office bomb brought in a paltry $2.5 million on a $20 million budget ($6.5 million and $52 million when adjusted for inflation), and it is understandable the movie hasn’t stuck to the public consciousness as much as Raging Bull or Taxi Driver have, if only because it ended up being flatly ignored. Now, with Scorsese producing and Robert De Niro co-starring in Joker, The King of Comedy is ripe to being appreciated for the strange, black comedy it is.

We follow De Niro’s Rubert Pupkin, a man as obsessed with late-night host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) as he is with becoming the new king of comedy. Managing to finagle his way into Langford’s limo after a show, the host, seemingly more than used to dealing with wannabe performers, gently pushes Pupkin aside with promises of listening to tapes of his performances. Send them to my producers, is something most of us will accept as a brush off; Pupkin takes it as a guaranteed promise he’ll be on the show.

Of course, the self-proclaimed comedian doesn’t have any tapes—he has never performed his act outside of his mom’s basement. There he has a fake talk-show set where he yucks it up with Liza Minnelli in front of hundreds of fans. For Pupkin, there is no separation between reality and fantasy. If it happens in his mind, it is the truth.

Pupkin is not a sympathetic character, and he can’t blame his behavior on having been dealt a bad hand in life. He has a good job, and his mom, from what we hear from her, sounds like a reasonable woman. The fact that he’s thirty-four and lives in her basement says more about him than anyone else. Pupkin feels he deserves to reach the top without working for it. You gotta start at the bottom, Langford says, to which Pupkin responds, well, I’m already here.

As reality and fantasy start melding, Pupkin’s behavior becomes unhinged. After convincing a girl he is personal friends with Langford, the couple shows up at the host’s weekend house for a dinner party that only was to take place in Pupkin’s head. Soon, it becomes apparent even to Pupkin that he never will get a shot at performing, which leads him to the only logical next step: to kidnap Langford, and force the producers to put him on the show.

The King of Comedy is darkly funny. You won’t laugh out loud, but De Niro, Lewis, and a young Sandra Bernhard, nail their roles. Jerry Lewis is best known as the over the top comedian who inexplicably hit it big in France (and in my household growing up), but with The King of Comedy, he shows restraint and menace. His character clearly is a jerk, and no matter how off-kilter Pupkin is, it’s hard to show Langford much sympathy.

Lewis’s input to the movie was significant, from improvising scenes with De Niro to directing a scene, and even naming his character. Going by Jerry, the crew could stealthily film him walking down the street, people cheering his (and his character’s) name as he passed by.

The movie is cleverly edited, and it’s hard to know what is real and what is happening in Pupkin’s head. The last few scenes are entirely up to your interpretation. What actually happened to Pupkin? Is what we’re seeing fantasy or reality?

I truly enjoyed The King of Comedy, and consider it Scorsese’s finest work. It’s a fitting companion piece to Taxi Driver—Pupkin and Travis Bickle both lack a grip on reality—and it will be interesting to see if Joker falls in line like many of us expect.

The King of Comedy, meanwhile, is a classic all on its own, and it’s streaming for free on Prime right now.



Movies, Music, and TV

Absentia cover

I never intended to watch Mike Flanagan’s entire oeuvre, but here we are, and as I’m four movies in, the completionist in me won’t let me stop now. His recent films and TV shows have, after all, been uniformly good. Absentia, one of the director’s earlier works, is also worth a watch, despite being filmed a budget that never could prop up its ambitions.

Produced on a shoestring $70,000—a third or so of which was Kickstarted —Absentia follows a fairly standard plot on the surface: Tricia is forced to declare her husband dead in absentia after he has been missing for seven years. Soon after, she starts having nightmares and seeing apparitions. Her sister has similarly strange experiences in a nearby tunnel, a place that is… Well, it is something, including the center of the movie.

In the grander scheme of Flanagan’s works, Absentia isn’t among his best. The foundation is there, but the story doesn’t live up to what the plot sets up. Overall, the production is high on the indie-on-a-budget spectrum, which is just fine, but the execution isn’t as polished as what Flanagan achieved with Oculus and Hush. (I also assume those had a slightly larger budget; The Haunting of Hill House obviously had a bottomless pit type of budget.)

Yet, Flanagan and crew make it work. The lo-fi æsthetics give Absentia a gritty feel, and as the story unfolds, the mythology it sets up is intriguing, even though it doesn’t entirely pay off. Had they filmed it today, the movie would likely have been more Haunting… than Oculus.

Overall, though, Absentia is a must watch for anyone who enjoys Flanagan’s recent work, and thanks to Netflix, that’s many. The path from then to now is interesting, plus Absentia is a good watch on its own merits.

Bonus! Our deep-dive into other Flanagan movies: