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Dear Flixster Community,

After seven fabulous years with you all, we are sorry to let you know that we're going to be retiring the Flixster Community site on September 30, 2014. Please note that you can still access your ratings, reviews, and quizzes on Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes using your same login. We have had so much fun building this community with you.

Thanks for all the memories,

All Ratings for Pamela De Graff (LittleMissBloodAndGuts)

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Movie Rating Review Date   Your Rating Match
Oculus - R September 12, 2014  
Where the Devil Hides - PG-13 September 12, 2014  
Coherence - Unrated August 30, 2014  
Prisoners - R Seriously unrealistic and utterly fictional depiction of police and "police work," but an entertaining and convoluted, though unlikely mystery. I don't know if Gyllnehaal's neck and finger tattoos and eye twitches are real, or part of his character, but his limited character development in the story didn't warrant them. August 5, 2014  
Blood Oath (Prisoners of the Sun) - R August 4, 2014  
Kill List - Unrated KILL LIST (2011) UK
WRITTEN BY: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
DIRECTED BY: Ben Wheatley
FEATURING: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer, Struan Rodger
TAGS: thriller, mystery

PLOT: When a mysterious syndicate hires a pair of ex soldiers to assassinate several targets, they wind up involved in a world of perverted priests, snuff films and sacrificial paganism.

COMMENTS: Imaginative and hard hitting, Kill List is an unusual horror film because it's a genre-bender. The film begins as a crime thriller about two hit-men, but it twists its serpentine way through drama and mystery until finally smacking into the sulfurous bedrock of the Occult.

Kill List is about two ex soldiers, Gal and Jay (Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell) who contract with a wealthy, and potentially mentally ill client (Struan Rodger) to carry out a series of assassinations. The assignment turns out to be anything but ordinary. The targets, including a priest and a member of Parliament, actually want to be killed. Oddly, the men on the kill list recognize Jay, even though he's never met them and they thank him for executing them.

Obviously there's something pretty weird going on. Gradually we learn that there's not only a lot more to the Jay and Gal's mission, there's more to the movie as well. Director Ben Wheatley brought us the offbeat odyssey, A Field In England (2013), and he brings some of the enigma of that story to fashion Kill List into a conundrum. Every good mystery must offer the audience clues, and there are plenty of subtle, yet definite giveaways along the way in Kill List. Gal's wife Fiona (Emma Fryer) draws cryptic symbols on the back of Jay's bathroom mirror to set a hex. Jay and Gal's client eerily refers to their hit list as a "reconstruction." While it's obvious these leads hold significance, Wheatley is cagey about what he reveals. We don't see how it all fits together until the end, but the nature of the little indicators foreshadows something larger than life and utterly abominable.

Ben Wheatley's directing style feels like a mixture of Stanley Kubrick's arty, raw, shock style in The Shining, combined with Julian Jarrold's solemn, existential production method in UK Channel 4's Red Riding (2009) serial killer trilogy. Kill List is pensive and plodding. It has the serious feel of a carefully planned story. A solemn, minimalist score, maddeningly slow and deliberate sequences, and gradually building dialogue that takes its time to reveal its point, are broken by sudden outbursts of savage violence.

All of this is unconventional for a horror movie. But then Wheatley has said, when speaking of Kill List, that while it is horror movie, he also considers Elem Klimov's Come and See (1985), a World War II odyssey about Nazi atrocities in Belarussia, to be a horror movie. "I think my understanding of what a scary film is, is kind of broader than the straight-up genre definitions of what a horror film might be."

Referring to Kill List, he says, "I think it's psychological horror, and those kind of things are not necessarily within the realms of the supernatural, but they'll get into the audiences' head and play with those kind of feelings." What happens in Kill List indeed enters the realm of the supernatural, and does so in a sick, almost subliminal way. To understand how it accomplishes this, one must not let the studious, voyeuristic tone of Kill List become a distraction from the clues.
July 31, 2014  
Tucker & Dale vs Evil - R I'm usually not into slashers or horror comedies, but this one was pretty decent, with some genuinely funny moments and good kill gags. July 29, 2014  
La Maschera del demonio (Black Sunday) (House of Fright) (Mask of the Demon) - R July 24, 2014  
The Bleeding House - Unrated THE BLEEDING HOUSE (2011) independent
FEATURING: Patrick Breen, Alexandra Chando, Nina Lisandrello, Betsy Aidem, Richard Bekins, Charlie Hewson, Victoria Dalpe
TAGS: horror

PLOT: Bedlam ensues when an enigmatic stranger with a dark agenda drops in on a troubled family.

COMMENTS: Borrowing plot devices and character traits from other films, the Bleeding House is a fresh but flawed independent effort, producing an unusual story without breaking new ground. It's an entry in the serial killer home invasion genre which is populated by films such as Dead Calm (1989), and Funny Games (1997). The Bleeding House creatively refreshes derivative elements, but there are some plot holes. Despite this, writer/director Phillip Gelatt captures our interest by creating a compelling protagonist, brought to life by engrossing character actor, Patrick Breen. To its credit, The Bleeding House is colorful enough to drive one's imagination to a number of morbid "what ifs."

Breen plays a Bible-thumping, Tidewater surgeon name Nick, whose Night Of The Hunter style religious fervor is matched by his sinister charm and manipulative skill. Barely keeping in check his zeal for what must surely be an ulterior agenda of low skullduggery, Nick is reminiscent of Matthew Goode's Uncle Charles in the movie Stoker. Drawling like Tom Hanks's Professor G.H. Dorr in the Coen Brothers' 2004, The Ladykillers, clad in a white linen Tom Wolfe suit, and employing the shakiest of excuses, Nick machinates his way into the remote abode of a banished suburban family.

The Smith family has had a bit of...unpleasantness. Shunned, humiliated, but presently unable to relocate, they have shut themselves away from an unlikely tragedy like an ostrich burring her head. An emasculated father (Richard Bekins), and son (Charlie Hewson) take orders from a domineering matriarch (Betsy Aidem). They live in awkward unease, disgraced by an ungraceful daughter, Gloria (Alexandra Chando) who suffers from a severe nonconformity issue. Like Mia Wasikowska's character, India, in the film Stoker, Gloria is a morbid little creep. In fact, she's downright bat-crap nuts. Like a crippled creek, a tainted undercurrent of mental illness oozes through the family bloodline; Gloria's mother allegedly torched a sleeping family in their beds, just like Beau Bridges in his schizophrenic role of Jesse, in the 1976 psycho romance, One Summer Love.

These dark and spicy characters and story components are familiar to us from other movies about deranged characters pursuing uneasy alliances. Gelatt churns them together like pressing seasonings through a sausage grinder. What comes out the other end is interesting but awry.

The Bleeding House has logic gaps. Nick gains unlikely entry to the Smith household on the flimsiest of grounds. For him to succeed requires Mrs. Smith to undergo an abrupt character change. It's fascinating to observe Nick's mixture of decorum and deviance, ala the cultured and debonaire murderer, Harry Roat in Wait Until Dark (1967), but Nick has a conflicted and inconsistent moral compass. His motives are unclear and under-developed. While Nick assumes the alpha role in all that ensues, the troubled Gloria unexpectedly drives the action. Home schooled, frequently locked in her room, she vacillates between being stupidly compulsive and impulsively cunning. The Bleeding House concludes with an effective climax, but the ending is as illogical as that of Stoker; the characters forgo more viable options and succumb to their most basic instincts.

In the end, The Bleeding House is about underestimation. All of the characters consistently and repeatedly underestimate each other, with horrid consequences which deflect back and forth like a ricochet bullet. We can forgive the bit of confusion its inconsistencies generate because the movie, in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, chronicles what happens in a collision of people who follow their own bloody rulebooks.
July 20, 2014  
Under the Skin - R UNDER THE SKIN (2013) UK
WRITTEN BY: Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer based upon the novel by Michel Faber
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Glazer
FEATURING: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden
TAGS: horror

PLOT: An alien cruises Glasgow in a panel van, picking up single men who won't be missed.

COMMENTS: Dispensing with the backstory and black satire of Michel Faber's offbeat novel, screenwriter Walter Cambell and director Jonathan Glazer convey simple horror with artful cinematic formalism, telling with pictures, a story which is mostly unfettered by more than incidental dialogue. In fact, the screen adaptation of the story is so simplified that less adventurous viewers will yearn for more detail to flesh in the epithelium.

Under The Skin opens with an abstract, symbolic sequence of images. The viewer is expected to do a little work, using his imagination to interpret a genesis and a transportation. It's quite clever because it means Under The Skin will not become dated as quickly as so many other sci-fi yarns. Without a speculative 2013 conception of what an alien spaceship should look like, or how an alien dons a simulation of human form, Under The Skin communicates the arrival of our protagonist, an alien femme fatale (never named in the film, but called Isserley in the novel) who assumes an alluring facade which just so happens to be sexy Scarlett Johansson.

After assembling some tarty club-wear and procuring the sort of panel van with which popular culture associates predatory criminals, Isserley is off to make the rounds of Glasgow, picking up young men whom brief, flirtatious banters indicate won't likely be missed. This is for good reason, because when Isserley seduces the ego-prone studs, they fall parcel to her sinister agenda which is presented with such stylish design that we almost need to rub our eyes and take a second look to comprehend it.

Johansson meanwhile, in a state of undress and semi-undress throughout, glides across an inter-dimensional plane as her sexuality hypnotizes and draws along would-be suitors like some pornographic Pan's flute. Nude, but in shadow, Director Jonathan Glazer cloaks Johannson's form through multiple gradations of rich greys in a black and white tonal range, as if to present her as the lustrous still life subject of a study of luminosity and Cimmerian shade.

Coasting about in her rolling stag trap, continuing unfettered to ensnare quite a succession of amorous paramours, Isserley's mission is merciless, yet she reveals that she's more than a mere unthinking agent. As in a Greek tragedy, Isserley's Achilles heel might be her emerging sense of human empathy.

Under The Skin is a different kind of science fiction horror movie. There are no laser-shooting spaceships, bug-eyed, head chomping aliens, or elite storm troopers. Under The Skin is an art film, quiet, thought-provoking and almost philosophical. Without explicit gore or violence, Glazer forges more lofty literary elements into a sublime horror which is as gruesome and shocking as it is pensive and poetic
July 14, 2014  
Enemy - R ENEMY (2013) Canada
WRITTEN BY: Javier Gullón based on the novel by José Saramago
DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve
FEATURING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Joshua Peace, Tim Post, Kedar Brown
TAGS: horror

PLOT: A man entangles himself in an obsessive quest after discovering his exact double.

COMMENTS: Enemy is about the uncertainty of losing one's sense of self, leading to dangerous masquerade. Based on José Saramago's offbeat novel, The Double, Enemy is due to be released on DVD on June 24th. The picture is about a dowdy poli-sci professor, Adam, (Jake Gyllenhaal) who fixates on a man who looks just like him.

Given Adam's humdrum existence of routine university duties, a conventionally uninspired apartment, and an emotionally disengaged wife, ordinary Adam is primed to seize upon the intrigue promised by this extraordinary revelation. Adam is...just plain boring. Unremarkable aside from his academic credentials; uncreative in bed, conservative in his personal life, he doesn't even take pleasure in watching movies. He makes an exception when a coworker cryptically recommends one. In its cast, Adam catches fleeting glimpses of an extra drifting about the background. The actor, named Anthony, looks just like Adam.

Adam succumbs to an unwholesome drive to learn everything about Anthony. It gives way to clumsy stalking efforts culminating in a direct confrontation.

The concept of doubles and bi-location has been around since Pythagoras. Ghostly duplicates manifest themselves in Egyptian mythology and Norse folklore. Testimony of bi-location intermingles with accounts of miracles in Catholic religious history.

More recent incarnations appear in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; in the film Dead Ringers (1988), about the the discordant relationship between two twins (Jeremy Irons) -SPOILER- one of whom proves to be the mad other's alter ego; in The Dark Half (1993) about a man (Timothy Hutton) obsessed with his evil twin who may or may not be real; and in David Lynch's 1997 film Lost Highway, about parallel planes in which a "Mystery Man" (Robert Blake) appears in two locations at once.

The theme of duplicate people thrives in the sci-fi films Doppelganger, AKA Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969) about a mirror version of Earth in which an astronaut's double (Ian Hendry) has organs on the wrong side of his body, and in Another Earth (2011) where a young woman (Brit Marling) seeks absolution via the conviction that her double on a mirror Earth hasn't committed her crime.

The term, "doppelganger," and it's description of a supernatural exact double may have been coined by German author Jean Paul in 1796 in his novel, Siebenkäs. Word and concept appear again in E.T.A. Hoffmann's Gothic, 1815, The Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil's Elixirs). It is in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1846 novel, The Double, that the idea merges into popular culture. The Dosoyevsky's doppelganger is the one we know; a precise duplicate in appearance of a feckless protagonist, yet the exact opposite in personality -confident, competent, and menacing.

We encounter this malevolent doppelganger in the films, The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), about a business executive (Roger Moore) whose self-assured, risk-taking double steals his life; in Tom Tyron's novel and fim adaptation, The Other (1972), about a cherubic lad (Lee Montgomery) whose murderous twin may or may not reside among the living; in Doppelganger (1993) with Drew Barrymore, about a young woman stalked by her homicidal duplicate; in Doppelganger (2003), when a timid man's doppelganger employs unorthodox methods to advance him; in The Double (2013), based on Dostoevsky's novel about a man upstaged and manipulated by a better version of himself; and in Bilocation (2014), about a woman whose strident duplicate seeks to slay her.

Enemy is no exception to the trend. It begins inexplicably with a surreal scene in a clandestine, Hellfire Club sex salon where a woman gives birth to a tarantula. Enemy moves on to short scenes establishing Adam, and the introduction of his doppelganger, whose life Adam awkwardly infiltrates.

Anthony is forceful and provocative. His life is action-oriented, his apartment chic, his girlfriend a fertile tempest. Intrigued, the academic Adam seeks an analytical resolution. Thespian Anthony, a professional experiencer, seizes upon the encounter and forcefully machinates a psycho-sexual scheme to impose himself into Adam's existence.

Revelations of key information which Adam loses the stomach to pursue suggest numerous potential outcomes. Tension builds as the characters' interrelations are fractured by Adam and Anthony's intersection. The collision fosters a perpetual, latent sense of apprehension. The unease permeates scenes in which the quietly desperate characters barely suppress an undercurrent of squirming emotions. Adam is the fulcrum of the turmoil, alternately fueling it through his actions, and at its mercy as he copes with a divorce from his reference points of self.

Director Denis Villeneuve's cinematography is a carrier wave for Adam's de-actualization. It's duplicitous of Atom Egoyan's ethereally leaden filming style. Darkly tinted, dimly-lit, crypt-like interiors, and voyeuristic framing, as if spying through windows, distinguish the picture throughout. Enemy sports prolonged shots, maddeningly wrought with a sustained deliberation. They confront the unpleasant, and head unwavering right into the middle of it.

Densely developed Toronto provides an imposing backdrop with its austerely utilitarian metropolitan condos. The honeycombs of residences overflowing from the looming edifices coalesce like cells constructing a larger organism. The creature is a stoic, detached urban entity, dwarfing and indifferent to its citizens and their dramas playing out within its crevices. The city holds its occupants as would a web, and it's representation suggests a schizophrenic's impression of reality as a being a gloomy, gargantuan machine seeking to grind him up in its gears.

Like a life-after-people setting, exterior camera angles are shifted upward, cropping out signs of human occupation such as traffic and pedestrians. A solemn score bypasses the customary tapestry of urban background sounds and interior room presence.

A couple of brief shots in the film suggesting hallucination or cinematic asbsurdism clandestinely foreshadow enemy's sudden, surprise ending. The next to final frame is the climax and brings the story full circle to the twisted logic of its opening.

The media is already abuzz with interpretations of this finale. which combined with several minor story elements, has triggered hypotheses of symbolism. These facets of the movie, such as Adam's university lecture about totalitarian social control, are merely passing nods to themes which The Double author José Saramago explores in his other works. These elements add to Enemy's enigma, but they are murky, and too incomplete to substantiate effective allegory

Enemy provides the most impact if one takes the ending literally; the opening sequence supports it. Doing so dramatically chorales the horror and irony.
July 14, 2014  
Darkening Sky - R DARKENING SKY (2010 ) independent, AKA Darkening Skies
FEATURING: Rider Strong, Danielle Keaton, Danica Stewart, Charley Rossman, Daniel Kirschner
TAGS: sci-fi, horror

PLOT: In this severely underrated independent gem, reality spirals into the dangerously surreal for a young man and his companion hot on the trail of their UFO-abducted lovers.

COMMENTS: What happens when our culture becomes disaffected and so intellectually irresponsible that it no longer provides reality checks to screen our darkest fantasies?

Darkening Sky is an offbeat thriller about a man, Eric Ranier (Rider Strong), obsessed with logically dispelling the UFO myth. But when his girlfriend disappears in an apparent UFO abduction, Rainier falls headlong into the true-believer's world of alien horror.

Writer/director Victor Bornia takes us on a claustrophobic journey of mounting uneasiness and dread which climaxes with an easily understandable, but ambiguous twist ending. The twist is a topper to this fresh treatment of a familiar plot device, and what makes Darkening Sky a real joy to watch is that Bornia tops the topper with an additional warp. The ending is more than appropriate because Darkening Sky is a movie that's all about ambiguity and it's frightening ramifications.

Darkening Sky opens with an unsettling collage of UFO culture images -X-rays of bodies, old news clippings, Area-51 photos. But more significantly, to a background score which suggests government radio signals and ethereal static, there are microwave transmitting stations, suburban homes with their on-the-roof TV aerials, and overhead high tension lines. They're all suggestive of our modern, high-speed data transmission -the electronic hubris of our user-generated popular culture. It's strongly reminiscent of scenes from John Carpenter's 1987 sci-fi occult story, Prince Of Darkness, when researchers tap into shaky broadcasts from the future transmitted backwards in time on tachyon particles.

The effect is disorienting and sets the stage for an ensuing psychological quandary of doubt and double meanings.

Like the montage from Lost Weekend (1945), in which an alcoholic Don Birnam (Ray Milland) floats down Gin Lane, his consciousness reduced to a mere bleary-eyed acknowledgement of an endless cornucopia of swirling neon bar signs and martini glasses, Eric Rainier is similarly overcome. Forming an uneasy alliance with a tag-along companion named Beth (Danielle Keaton), a dangerously enabling Goth slacker whose boyfriend went missing under the same circumstances, Eric is now obsessed with finding the "truth."

The pair plunges into a morass of conspiracy theories as they make the rounds of well-known UFO evangelists. The duo becomes not unlike a frustrated Harry Houdini on his serpentine sojourns to a succession of "psychics," dispelling each one's charlatanism in turn as he vainly struggled to find a genuine medium to channel the spirit of his dead mother.

From eerie sightings, to ghastly probes, to bloody organ snatchings, Ranier and Beth run the gamut of weirdos and fakirs until their twisted quest leads them to a discredited researcher (Ezra Buzzington) who seems to know what's really going on.

Or does he?

Because by now, having surrounded themselves with characters subscribing to some very whacky belief systems in a post-modern culture which rejects qualified authority and objective reality, Eric and Beth see their world through a distorted window. They have long since abandoned any reliable reference points by which to triangulate the real from the unreal. The misguided duo is lost in a surreal hinterland in which the line between fantasy and reality blurs in an otherworldly nightmare as fetid as the steadily mounting pile of alien-mutilated bodies.
July 14, 2014  
The Seventh Victim - Unrated

WRITTEN BY: Charles O'Neal and DeWitt Bodeen
DIRECTED BY: Mark Robson
FEATURING: Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Evelyn Brent, Erford Gage, Ben Bard, and Hugh Beaumont
TAGS: noir, occult,
PLOT: A woman tries to locate her missing sister who has vanished under sinister circumstances.

COMMENTS: The Seventh Victim is eerie without being violent or explicit. The film creates a tensely pernicious, balefully enshrouding atmosphere of dread. Relying on the power of allusion, insinuation, and the visual presentation of rich, black mattes, The Seventh Victim's singular story and guileless treatment of verboten subject matter sets it apart from modern movies when compared to current methods of creating horror.

When Mary Gibson (Hunter) ventures to Manhattan in search of her missing sister Jacquelin (Brooks), she enters a foreboding world of corruption, poison, mental illness, knife-wielding assassins, murder and suicide. It seems that dear ol' sis stopped paying Mary's tuition, and so Mary, bright and full of hope sets out to determine her whereabouts. But none of Jacquelin's friends have seen her.

We see her though. Jacqueline is striking and somber under her jet black hair and sharply planed bangs. Quiet, watchful, morose, her captivating visage thrusts onto the screen like a stiletto with her grave countenance and almost funereal presence.

Mary locates and enters her sister's apartment. She finds it unfurnished except for a hangman's noose suspended over a chair. It's not an encouraging development. Worse, Mary discovers that without asking for payment, Jacqueline signed over her successful salon and cosmetic business to a -well, shall we say to an assertive, independent woman with whom she had an evidently rather chummy association. Being made in the 1940's the film declines to further explore the exact nature of that relationship. But is seems there is a locked room at the cosmetics facility and Mary wants to know what's in it.

In trying to find out, Mary runs into a couple of private detectives who are looking for Jacqueline too, one of whom issues a warning and one of whom winds up dead. Before you can say, 'speak of the devil,' a shady doctor (Conway) shows up who knows all about Jacquelin, but isn't saying much. He's scared of something. Something unspeakable. And he knows that "sinister" means "left," but he sure isn't keeping to the right.

In addition to the doctor, there are some mysterious professional types in the area of Jacqueline's last known whereabouts. They all know each other, knew Jacqueline and are aware of something else. But what? They sure are tight lipped. Just what is everyone so afraid to talk about? And why do they all dress to the nines, some of them in black, to meet in a dimly lit apartment late at night?

The Seventh Victim is a spooky film noir made with wonderful use of black and white film's deep range of subdued tones. The cinematography creates a veritable study in angular shadows, gritty textures and plush charcoal, chocolate tints. Basement cafes grace the screen with low angle lighting. Street lamps' luminescent oases punctuate a sheet-like viscous velvet of gloom.

Distinctive about the The Seventh Victim are it's dark atmosphere, even for a noir, and its refusal to conform to Hays Commission requirements in its frank, unconventional treatment of a variety of morbidly taboo material. An eerie shower scene precedes Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho, and there are some hints at subversive feminism. Even the film score ends on a minor key. All of this is pretty racy for 1943, making The Seventh Victim a unique, precursor to the noir genre.


The character of Dr. Judd appears again in Val Lewton's Cat People. Actress Jean Brooks was thought to be quietly married at one point to Erich von Stroheim. Despite a couple of principle roles, stardom eluded her. Brooks's unique presence was never adequately exploited by Hollywood. The thespian's later years are as enigmatic as some of her characters. Fading into the billowing silver mists of off-screen obscurity, Jean Brooks's after-cinema life is shrouded in mystery and alcoholism. Her premature 1963 death in Costa Rica was overshadowed by the Kennedy assassination, and went unrecorded in Hollywood.

July 14, 2014  
Stoker - R STOKER (2013)
WRITTEN BY: Wentworth Miller
DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park
FEATURING: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
TAGS: psycho-thriller, mystery

PLOT: Upon her father's untimely death, a morose teen forms an uneasy alliance with her enigmatically sinister uncle, who is at once adversarial, controlling, and incestuously supportive.

COMMENTS: A thriller about psychopaths and sick agendas, Stoker's title summons connotations of the Dracula author. With its Gothic romance novel visual design, a moody anti-heroine right out of the Twilight craze, and a shower masturbation montage borrowing visual cues from Psycho, Stoker presumes to deliver a power-punch of stormy atmosphere and unsettling, offbeat storytelling. Provocative and lurid, artfully photographed, that atmosphere is indeed present in Stoker, as is its departure from the beaten path of mainstream studio fare.

The picture pulls its knock-out upper-cut however, by betraying a derivative (though not over-worn) story and a not-so-novel revelation of its mystery. The plot is essentially Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), but this is a good one, full of potential for delightful and interesting variations, such as the wickedly disturbing 1966 Let's Kill Uncle with Mary Badham of To Kill A Mockingbird fame.

In Stoker, troubled India (Mia Wasikowska) reminds us of Wednesday from The Addam's Family. Wealthy, privileged, doted on, but misfit, morbid, and sporting a damningly annoying overbearing of sophisticated, anti-social charm, India is grudgingly and minimally cooperative. She's resentful, and seething with some inner grievances, but we're never made privy to what they are. There's a good and evil struggle within her, offset by a chronic, clear desire to be elsewhere. But rather than take action to affect change, she grumpily goes through the motions, while internally swimming against the current.

In East Of Eden, Cal Trask (James Dean) beguiles us by revealing an inner turmoil and a jagged chasm of obviously anguished, and likely twisted emotions. The feelings never have to be explained. It's sufficient that Cal's facial expressions betray them. Our imaginations run wild to fill in the rest. Similarly in Stoker, with her obviously charred soul, India is virtually a plot element unto herself, and the most intriguing one in the film. As with the old inmates' adage, family expectations and social constraints may imprison her, but in her mind she's free, and "they" can't take that away from her.

Or can they? India is stewing in repressed passions but we don't know what they are. Nor will we, for while we eventually receive simple explanation for the root cause of her condition, Stoker never explores the deep, murky waters of that bottomless pool personality behind India's ink-well black eyes.

There's a lot of masquerade in Stoker. While there's obviously more to India than we can fathom, and we want to know all about her, there's also more to her uncanny, disingenuous paternal Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), and upon meeting him, neither we, nor India, are so sure we want to take a sounding. Charles makes the scene following the funeral for India's father whose very untimely death occurred in an equally unlikely accident.

Despite being extroverted and ingratiating, there's something just not right about Uncle Charley. He exudes a facade of Mormon-esque, overly enthused, positive cheer which nearly overshadows a subtle undercurrent of ruthless self-service. But maybe that's just India's cynical outlook rubbing off on us. Either way, Uncle Charley's here to stay, and after inviting himself as permanent house guest, he begins brazenly courting India's bereaved, yet bored and impulsive, emotionally vulnerable mother (Nicole Kidman). Vanquishing from the household all who might oppose him, such as the loyal housekeeper (Peg Allen) and India's suspicious great aunt (Jacki Weaver), we can only assume he's after the family fortune, but disturbingly, he seems to have deeper designs. These include India's very corpus corporis and mens mentis, as she openly defies Uncle Charley's attempts at domination until he discovers a way to manipulate India's, um, unusual susceptibilities.

At first resentful of Charles's intrusion. and put in an adversarial relationship with her mother who seems to be completely malleable to his will, India becomes jealous, but soon begins to bond with Charles. India's a gloomy, stifled little sexpot and she secretly craves the attention. The trio form a dangerous triangle, which sweeps them in a churning cat-and-mouse-play set of rapids toward the tumultuous falls of total bedlam. This is where Stoker shows its potential to become something original, to reveal fascinating, horrible things, to surprise us, and make us wonder, to keep us guessing on the edges of our seats.

It doesn't.

What could be a captivating web of competing, ulterior motives and petulant scheming never materializes. What could be an engrossing character portrait of India slams flat. We never get that coveted insight into India's motivations, how she sees the world or why she sees it that way. India is simply toxic and contrary with little explanation until the end, at which point she defies her own cunning nature and selects, in lieu of more interesting, profitable, and clever options, an irrational, self-destructive course of action.

Even so, Stoker is still pretty good. It's a satisfying change of pace from the patronizingly conventional and downright silly horror releases lately issuing from Tinseltown like effluent from a landfill, and most Gothic thriller fans will want to see it.

South Korean director Chan-wook Park is best known to fans of the weird for his bizarre, gory cult movies such as Oldboy from The Vengeance Trilogy. With Stoker, he makes his mainstream, US debut. To do so requires that he "sell-out" a little to the conventions of Hollywood marketing, and I suspect this is why he didn't tamper with co-producer, Wentworth Miller's script, even though its deficiencies beg to be tweaked. Stoker more or less works for non-discriminating audiences who can be dazzled by a bit of flash without being driven to look deeper. Park's penchant for the absurd and the gory is still subtly evident. Importantly, Stoker demonstrates Park's trustworthiness to competently direct conventional cinema. With Nicole Kidman on board, and an appeal to the current Twilight-style popular trend, Stoker will, we hope, allow the director to establish himself on the big-budget launching pad from which we anticipate more intriguing work to soar off in the future.
July 14, 2014  
Emperor of the North Pole (Emperor of the North) - PG The site synopsis misrepresents the tone of this movie. While Emperor Of The North Pole uses bits of comic relief and a larger than life, folksy musical score to break the tension, in no way is it any sort of comedy. To the contrary, it is dark, grim, and extremely violent.

Emperor Of The North Pole

AKA Emperor Of The North
WRITTEN BY: Christopher Knopf
DIRECTED BY: Robert Aldrich
FEATURING: Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Keith Carradine, Charles Tyner, Malcolm Atterbury, Simon Oakland, Harry Caesar, Hal Baylor, Matt Clark and Elisha Cook Jr.
TAGS: brutal, violent, gruesome, horror, weird

PLOT: A maniac conductor sadistically stalks hobos along his Depression era freight, smashing their skulls with a club hammer when they try to ride the rails. NO ONE rides his Number 19 train for free. Evil incarnate, he exists only to hunt men.

COMMENTS: Emperor Of The North Pole may not have the requisite look, feel, or scary music, but it is very much a horror movie. Instead of the supernatural, the monsters are men. The killer is no cloaked slasher striking by night, but a crazy-eyed, obsessed railroad man, insane with twisted rage, filled with frothing blood lust, armed with cruel and unusual instruments of punishment. He gets his kicks by smashing in skulls and he strikes in broad daylight unrestrained, with complete impunity. This incongruency - a horrifying film that masquerades as a suspense drama by telling an unconventional, real-world story -makes for a truly weird viewing experience. Adding to this larger than life archetypal characters, bizarre, colorful monologues, and a deceptively simple plot about a symbolic evil vs. slightly-less-evil struggle, results in a riveting, original movie.

Pastoral Oregon locations set an illusorily bucolic tone in the opening shots of Emperor Of The North Pole as a steam locomotive winds its way through rural woodlands. This is Union Pacific's Number 19 freight and it has a madman on board.

It is 1933, the depths of the Great Depression and 1/4 of Americans are unemployed. Many of those are literally starving to death. A mobile army of homeless men roams the country looking for temporary work, stealing rides on the railroads. They are nomads who live by no law but their own and dedicated to their destruction is the Railroad Man. On the Portland route, that man is Shack (Borgnine), a ruthless conductor who takes the "paying passengers only" rule with deadly reverence.

Railroads don't like it when you stow away on board or trespass on their tracks. Today they employ a battalion of federally licensed, armed railroad detectives to catch you, and these men behave like real bastards when they do. But in 1933 even the railroads were hard up. His actions condoned by underfunded, undermanned, corrupt law enforcement, Shack takes the job of controller, making sure that no one rides for free. Drawing from his own sadistic black book of dirty tricks he patrols his train like a monstrous gargoyle, perpetually on the lookout for bums.

Relentless and Argus-eyed, Shack is a real-life Terminator; he can't be reasoned with, he can't be bargained with, he has no mercy to appeal to, he is hard to kill, and he will never, ever stop. Shack has a savage arsenal of bizarre, creepy weapons at his disposal, but his favorite is the engineer's heavy, double-headed club mallet.

When Shack, creeping along the speeding 19's boxcar catwalk finds a tramp riding on the frame of a hopper car, he sneaks up on the hapless man. The bum, enjoying a sandwich, is blissfully unaware of the danger. With a fell swoop of the club hammer, Shack smashes the man's skull. His head laid open, dangling between cars, the hobo begs for his life before being sucked under. In a spectacular, graphic sequence the rail cars' sharp under-hangs ensnare the tramp and violently wad him up like a piece of garbage before the heavy wheels slice him in half like a biscuit.

For the Railroad Man, his pension and gold watch are at stake. For the hobo, it is a matter of survival. But for both, there is also pride. Shack is determined the hobos not see him as a free ride. He is humiliated and taunted by the hobo community when they marginalize him by defying his rules.

The hobos hate Shack, but they also want to prove themselves to each other. To be a master hobo, a skilled man of the road who can survive in style and avoid arrest is to become "Emperor of the North Pole," king of the tracks. The term is a cynical self-deprecation. Penniless, desperate, with no past, no future, no clout and nobody to vouch for them, the hobos perceive that they lead a futile, near meaningless, existence. The significance of the distinction is that anybody presiding over the North Pole would be emperor of a worthless desert.

In this context, the alpha male tramp of the West Coast hobo "jungle" camps is the admired A-Number One (Marvin). A#1 is determined to prove himself Emperor Of The North Pole by successfully riding notorious Shack's Number 19 all the way to Portland. He is dogged by a swaggering, inept, tag-along, upstart named "Cigaret" (Carradine). Using numerous tactics to sneak aboard and avoid detection on the 19, A#1 is caught between Shack's criminal tactics, and Cigraret's malicious recklessness. Despite A#1's paternal attempts to mentor him, Cigaret continuously betrays A#1 out of a sense of misguided competition.

In trying to derail Shack, A#1 and Cigaret nearly derail the entire train. To distract Shack and misdirect him, A#1 and Cigaret do their best to compromise and professionally ruin him with a series of sidetracking stunts. But the stunts are not mere jokes. They are heavy, malicious felonies which endanger the hobos, other trains, and entire crews with imminent bloody death.

While the "'Bo's" believe Shack deserves killin', their actions justify Shack's murderous rampage as well. Like a runaway train, the perverse feud escalates beyond the boundaries of any sensible limits. The locomotive steams and roars, The whistle shrieks. The pistons churn. The black smoke streams into the sky, The trio of enraged men highball over the steel rails. Their murderous plots against each other descend into a maelstrom of frothy, blood-soaked madness. As they barrel along among the swaying cars of the speeding train, the inflamed trio hurtles toward an ultimate gladiatorial showdown to determine who will be Emperor Of The North Pole.


Christopher Knopf's deceptively minimalist script was tailor made for Robert Aldrich's now familiar themes: men in their primal state squaring off against each other, ultimate confrontation, man against environment, life as arena, life as a game, men and machines. The characters are simplistic and archetypal, and the space they occupy, like a gladiatorial ring, is really very small -the area enclosed by two rails. The universality of these simple building blocks enabled Knopf to forge an engrossing adventure that audiences can easily relate to.

Knopf considered the political tempo of the times, the populist social attitudes of the downtrodden, the quest for survival, the attitudes of the elites; i.e. the fabric of society and its rules. He rendered these factors down into a raw story about a conductor who won't have hobos on his train and the two hobos bent on defying him. The result is powerful and directly accessible without being dumbed down.

Every shot is carefully assembled as if it will be a still photo submitted for exhibit. Each frame showing a character is an artistic portrait. The selection of shots and the way they are edited is expressive and precise. Additionally, Aldrich used a fine grain film stock which reveals very sharp detail, The resulting visual impact dramatically emphasizes the action. This gives everything about the film a larger than life feel, and reinforces the concept of simple archetypal characters in an archetypal situation.

Emperor Of The North Pole was re-released on DVD in 2006. The DVD reflects that the original film print was carefully preserved. The re-release has dazzling sharp picture quality.

Emperor Of The North Pole was inspired by Jack London's On The Road and From Coast To Coast. It was shot along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern short line railroad near Cottage Grove, where Stand By Me (1986) was filmed in 1985. Viewers who see both will recognize the distinctive countryside. Stand By Me was the last of several motion pictures to be filmed on these tracks. In 1926, the first was The General, Buster Keaton's famous period piece about a Civil War locomotive chase.

Surviving for over 90 years, the Oregon Pacific and Eastern was constructed in 1901 to bridge Cottage Grove southeast to the Bohemia mining district. The last train ran the line in the mid 1990s.

The steam locomotive and trains used in the filming of Emperor Of The North Pole were part of the actual working stock of the railroad, still in use in the the 1970's. Shack's Number 19 locomotive featured in the movie is a 1915 Baldwin 2-8-2. It pulled excursion trains well into the '70's along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern (pictured below).

Old #19, Oregon Pacific and Eastern - photograph by John Goldie

Number 19 still runs today, pulling the "Blue Goose" excursion train on the Yreka Western Railroad between Yreka and Montague, California.

The terms "hobos," "tramps," and "bums" have been used interchangeably in this recommendation for purposes of convenience. This is actually not correct usage as the names have distinctly different meanings. Here is the rule for remembering them: A bum sits and loafs, a tramp loafs and keeps moving, but a hobo works and moves, and he is clean.

July 14, 2014  
Johnny Got His Gun - Unrated July 6, 2014  
Johnny Got His Gun - PG July 6, 2014  
Caterpillar - Unrated July 6, 2014  
Magic Magic - R July 4, 2014  
The Double - R THE DOUBLE (2013) independent
WRITTEN BY: Richard Ayoade, and Avi Korine based upon the novell by Fyodor Dostoevsky
DIRECTED BY: Richard Ayoade
FEATURING: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn
TAGS: black comedy

PLOT: A meek suitor faces new challenges when his dashing double steals his would-be girlfriend and takes credit for his efforts at work.

COMMENTS: Since we've been exploring doppelganger movies this past month, I want to mention the newly released and still in theaters, The Double (2013), a gloomy, sardonic chiller.

The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a dowdy, mousy data clerk, marginalized by his boss and co-workers, ignored by his love interest, Hannah, (Mia Wasikowska) and criticized by his family. His world turns upside down when a new employee arrives who's his physical duplicate, but his psychological opposite. The interloper is charming, assertive, and immediately popular. Even his name, James Simon, is an inverse of Simon's name. James promptly takes Simon into his confidence, manipulating and exploiting him so as to court Hannah and assume praise for Simon's professional efforts.

As their misunderstandings and collisions mount, Simon and James square off, resorting to attempts at one-upmanship, with varying results. While The Double is a thriller, it's also darkly wry, full of existential allegory, and wrought with frustrating ironies and unfortunate coincidences reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's 2004 black comedy, After Hours. Departing from The Dostoevsky novel on which it's based, The Double focuses less on Simon's professional rivalry with James, and more on their romantic competition. As it does so, The Double become less and less comic as it barrels into a morass of ambiguity, finally succumbing to tragedy.

Fans of such films as Brazil and The Hudsucker Proxy will enjoy The Double's production design, a blend of noir elements and art deco steam-punk. Simon's world is a mixture of industrial Manchester and 1930's technologically-challenged Russia; it's a frustrating, malfunctioning labyrinth of imposing smoke stacks, steaming radiators, rattling pipes, dripping faucets and banks of obsolete office equipment, all presented in perpetual urban night ala Alex Proyas's 1998 Dark City.
July 3, 2014  
Doppelganger - Unrated DOPPELGANGER AKA: Dopperugengâ (2003) Japan
WRITTEN BY: Ken Furusawa and Kiyoshi Kurosawa
DIRECTED BY: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
FEATURING: Kôji Yakusho, Hiromi Nagasaku, Yűsuke Santamaria, Masahiro Toda, Hitomi Satô

PLOT: A scientific researcher's assertive, meddling doppelganger takes it upon himself to make the researcher more successful, but will his unorthodox methods prove to be a blessing or a damnation?

COMMENTS: Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yakusho) is a meek inventor who's reached a career slump. His research is going nowhere, he's frustrated with his job, his employer marginalizes him, and he doesn't have the courage to approach his pretty romantic interest, Hiromi Nagasaku (Nagai Yuka).

Doppelganger follows the classic Dostoevsky model (see the review of Enemy below), in which a daring double confronts an ineffectual protagonist. Acting on a self-proclaimed mission to straighten out Hayasaki's affairs and make him a success, a man physically identical yet psychologically opposite to Hayasaki barges into his life. He turns everything upside down. This new Hayasaki is willing to take the imitative that Hayasaki lacks.

He does...whatever is necessary. He seizes that which Hayasaki desires, but which Hayasaki lacks the courage and initiative to acquire. The trouble is, the new Hayasaki's methods are more than a tad unorthodox. As the two Hayasakis manage their co-existence, they conflict over the doppelganger's actions. The double is dangerous and his avaricious strategy, employing seduction, murder and destruction, proposes threatening ramifications

Doppelganger is about determination, alter ego, the ways in which we define ourselves, and the question of what identity really is. It is also about will. Self-referential elements cement Doppelganger's themes. For instance, Hayasaki's research project is a mechanical device mentally operated by an individual's will. Hayasaki's girlfriend Yuka is herself haunted by her dead brother's doppelganger, who takes the initiative to finish the novel on which her brother gave up.

Hayasaki enjoys the fruits of his double's contributions -money for research, getting him out of his fruitless job situation, winning over cute Michio, in short, power and control. Yet the moping Hayasaki despises his doppelganger for being everything he isn't.

The implication is that confronting one's idealized self forces an acknowledgment of one's limitations. The option is to either be intimidated and to shy away from the better version, or to emulate him. Dostoevsky;'s incarnation of the doppelganger fuels drama by associating dynamism with arrogance and ruthlessness. The more aggressive incarnation of oneself, the double with the moxie to accomplish unrealized aspirations, can't be as trustworthy -or as harmless as the original. Pitted in an increasingly adversarial alliance with his double, Hayasaki is pulled in both directions at once. It's a volatile dynamic surely barreling toward a savage showdown.

Emphasizing notions of duality by utilizing mirrors and reflective surfaces, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa implements an economy of shots which are packed with supplementary information. For example, Hayasaki's denial of his situation is often revealed by what we see in his surroundings. Koji Yakusho portrays Hayasaki and his double so effectively that both characters are readily distinguishable without using gimmicks such as contrasting wardrobes. But Kurosawa tricks us when we see them alone. As Hayasaki's double asserts an increasingly negative influence upon him, Haysaki's undergoes a personality shift. As the story progresses, are we seeing Haysaki himself, or his doppelganger?
July 2, 2014  
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Nightmare) - Unrated DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973 and 2010)
WRITTEN BY: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins (2010), from, the 1973 script by Nigel McKeand
DIRECTED BY: John Newland (1973); Troy Nixey (2010)
FEATURING: Kim Darby, Tamara De Treaux, William Demarest, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Robert Cleaves (1973)
Bailee Madison, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Jack Thompson, Garry

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973 and 2010)
WRITTEN BY: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins (2010), from, the 1973 script by Nigel McKeand
DIRECTED BY: John Newland (1973); Troy Nixey (2010)
FEATURING: Kim Darby, Tamara De Treaux, William Demarest, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Robert Cleaves (1973)
Bailee Madison, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Jack Thompson, Garry McDonald, Alan Dale, Julia Blake (2010)
TAGS: mystery, haunted house, demons
RATING (2010 version): 5 PINTS OF BLOOD
RATING (1973 version): 8 PINTS OF BLOOD

PLOT: Upon the breaking of a seal in a long disused basement, tiny devils escape and seek to murder the house occupants.

COMMENTS: If you're looking for scary movies to watch on Halloween, the Screaming Room has two for you this week which fit the bill very nicely! Guillermo del Torro (CRONOS [1993]; MIMIC [1997]; SPLICE [2009]) has written an update of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, a 1970's horror movie which achieved cult status. It's well-produced, bold, loud, visually spectacular, and worth seeing, although it loses some of the essence of what made the original so good. For purists, the first version is also available, newly digitally remastered. The two films nicely compliment each other.

The late 1960's and early 1970's brought a number of high quality, made for TV network horror pictures, especially those produced for ABC Movie Of The Week. Considering they were made for television and aired during family hour, these efforts are original and imaginative. What's more, they're actually scary. The movies had a lot of atmosphere, the characters died awfully, and the stories didn't always have the happy endings so requisite today.

Examples include films such as PICTURE MOMMY DEAD (1966), DAUGHTER OF THE MIND (1969), HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLEN (1970), SEE NO EVIL (1971), THE STONE TAPE ( 1972), THE EYES OF CHARLES SAND (1972), ALL THE KIND STRANGERS (1974), and DON'T GO TO SLEEP (1982). Asserting what a profound impression it made on him, filmmaker Guillermo del Torro felt compelled to reinterpret the 1973 TV movie DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. .
In the original, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, Kim Darby (Mattie in the first TRUE GRIT [1969]) plays yuppie homemaker Sally Farnham, who's plagued by demons she unwittingly unleashes from an ash pit underneath a sealed-up basement fireplace. With major plot elements repeated a year later in The Exorcist, and makeup characterizations which reappeared in the PUPPET MASTER films, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK provides chills and Freudian undertones unexpected in a family hour TV movie of the time period.

As the goblins' maliciousness becomes increasingly aggressive, Sally's behavior grows correspondingly erratic; her friends and power-attorney husband are convinced she's gone mad. The little ones want Sally body and soul. After assaulting a naked Sally in the shower with a straight razor, they ineptly kill her decorator by mistake, leaving Sally as the suspect. When her distracted husband leaves town on business, Sally's left alone with her demons -literally. She finds herself in a bind when the demented Lilliputians tie her up Gulliver style, and drag her short-skirted, quivering, moaning form to the cellar for God-knows-what.

Artfully filmed in shadow and light, the premise works better than you might think. It's one that must be handled skillfully lest it become funny for the wrong reasons, with a silliness akin to the Evil Monkey hiding in Chris Griffin's closet in the animated TV sitcom, Family Guy. Writer Nigel McKeand (in whose McKnight-Hill style Victorian home DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was filmed) and director John Newland pull it off almost as frighteningly as Stephen Spielberg executed a nearly identical premise a year earlier in the chilling and shocking 1972 made-for-television, SOMETHING EVIL.

In the 2010 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, as would be expected in anything authored by Guillermo del Torro, the elements are enhanced and grotesquely larger than life. The manor is huge and Gothic, the small amount of violence is bloody, and the pit under the basement fireplace becomes a bottomless chasm to hell. The film begins with a backstory which is only alluded to in the original. Sadly, del Torro drops the ball later in the film by trying to explain too much with his characteristic love of mixing myth with "history." The haunted mansion's original patriarch is enslaved to the goblins, and our first encounter with him has him yanking out his maid's molars and feeding them to subterranean demons as an offering.

Despite it's R rating (there's no nudity), DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2010) is a kid's movie. In this new version, Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is a taciturn, pouting little girl who moves to a mammoth country estate with her recently divorced dad (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes). Imposing sets and dreamlike cinematography are right out of a demented Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. This child's eye view technique is typical of del Torro. The optical footprint of DON'T BE AFRAID is what most distinguishes it. It's overdone, but visually spectacular in exactly the sort of way you would expect a big budget haunted house yarn for kids to be.

There's artistic use of visual continuity. The elaborate latticework of Sally's headboard compliments the brass screens of the air vents and the artfully carved antique benches on the manor's grounds. With camera angles such as one in which Sally finds herself standing in a ring of toadstools, and another in which her face is framed by a tangle of vines, the implication is clear: Sally is webbed in.

Like the perpetually foreboding and gloomy skies overheard, the mansion's cathedral-sized interiors are almost always cast in shadow. Akin to catacombs, duct work entwines its way through the walls. Creaking and groaning like a giant bellows with its myriad of ornamental grated heat ducts leading to an abysmal, possessed basement incinerator, the very edifice itself seems complicit in what is to transpire.

And what transpires is that Sally is either very naughty, or has the IQ of a stringbean, because after the demons in the sealed-up basement incinerator whisper some very nasty, sick things to her in their hoarse croaks, she of course unbolts the damn thing and lets them out. Slowly, sardonically, all hell breaks loose in the Hurst household.

Sally's phantasms embark on a malevolent series of destructive endeavors, for which Sally gets the blame, widening an already tense divide between Sally and her elders. As a result, Sally perversely attempts to bond with the goblins out of frustration. The plan backfires, and a child psychologist makes the scene as the situation spirals horribly out of control. The little entities really want to kill Sally. She's trapped in the mansion with them, and nobody will believe her. Sally will have to scheme her own salvation.

You'll see some stock conventions in this 2010 version which will remind you of frivolous, campy movies which were likely inspired by the 1973 original: Greminlins, Ghoulies, Beasties, The Puppet Master franchise, etc. The plethora of films about tiny hellraisers in our collective memory tames the fright factor in Guillermo del Torro's version. That's a shame because there's nothing lighthearted about the DON'T BE AFRAID movies. They're deathly serious and the premise works.

In the re-make, thanks to 21st century technology, the demons are impressive and scary, They get a lot more camera time than in the original. Sometimes less is more however. The goblin chill factor in the second film contrasts with the way the original cultivated our fear. In that one we caught for the most part, only fleeting glances out of the corners of our eyes, of the darting poltergeists. The known is never as frightening as the unknown.

Which version of this story is the best? Both have their merits. The 2010 release has a contemporary feel and it's family-friendly. It's a big-screen extravaganza. The 1973 DON'T BE AFRAID is more intimate and is aimed at grown-ups. Despite the impressive special effects in the remake, the 1973 film's economy of sensation makes it the more sophisticated effort.

In the 2010 film, Del Torro does a clever job of expounding upon the plot elements and story essence of its predecessor, making it bolder and more colorful. While this second DON'T BE AFRAID is solidly in the horror genre, with lots of loud, malevolent action, the first film is more subtle, features some genuine chills, and achieves its horror agenda by building an atmosphere of slowly mounting dread. The 1973 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK has just been digitally remastered on DVD.

Both DON'T BE AFRAID movies make a good Halloween package, but if you're trying to decide between one or the other, here's a final thought: When the studios redo a solid film, they often rearrange some of the details, such as who does what, and what happens to whom. This keeps the updated version from being a predictable duplicate. It also tends to weaken the story. The writers usually got it right the first time.
July 2, 2014  
Sublime - R June 30, 2014  
Wake in Fright - R June 30, 2014  
The Best Offer - R Saw the end coming in the first 10 minutes. June 30, 2014