Thyurl Varpenshield shouldered the mighty broadsword, NapeSplitter, and double-checked his provisions bag. “Old man!” he cried good-naturedly into the depths of the household.
From out of the kitchen, a gnarled, ancient figure emerged, wiping his hands on a dish towel. “What be on with ye now, yon whippersnapper?” he snarled cantankerously.
“Father, I am off!”
“Good with ye, then,” the wizened figure chortled crankily. “What be it this time? Giants? Orcs? Or be it that comely serving wench over at the Bard’s Uvula?”
“None of those,” Thyurl responded jovially. “I go to confront a motion picture: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.”
“Be it that spin-off chapter of the franchise I’ve heard tell about?” the old man groused darkly. “The one conjured specifically to court the Latino market, members of whom follow the series most assiduously?”
“Indeed it is!” Thyurl chirruped happily.
“Not at all,” Thyurl mused sunnily. “I fear this may be my undoing. I hath spoken upon my colleagues, Steven of the Biodrowski, Lawrence of the French, and Dan of the Persons, of the kingdom Cinefantastique Online, and they beheld bad tidings. Said Daniel, “Steve and I have checked out the first film of 2014, and found it ushers the New Year in not with bang, but with a decidedly derivative whimper.”
“Oddly worded,” the old man surled snarkily. “But such is the lot of the pre-technology movie critic.”
“‘Tis true,” Thyurl keened brightly. “This bane may prove my final match.”
“Pffft,” the old man spurted gnarledly. “Ye shall have a good snooze, and emerge refreshed, if not at all enlightened.”
“From your mouth to the great god Lowarken’s thorax,” Thyurl barked wittily, as he gathered his provisions. “Fare ye well, Father, I am off!”
“Hold up!” the old man snapped grouchily. “Have ye brought enough adjectives with ye?”
“I do believe so,” Thyurl replied replyingly, glancing within his sack. “I have mighty, vast, imposing, dark, twisted, menacing, gnarled, beautiful, bewitched, enchanted, bedeviled, ensorcered, and chipper.”
“That be enough for such a quest,” the old man cranked nonchalantly, waving an arthritic paw. “Off with ye now.”
Thyurl grasped the sack, and strode determinedly from his home, out into the bright sunlight of the kingdom of Thyrystia. Whereupon he was promptly run over by a runaway manure cart and died painfully several days later of dysentery.
In Cinefantastique’s final Black Hole Ultra-Lounge Podcast of 2013, Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski wrestle with the trailer for LEGEND OF HERCULES, travel to the end of Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor, examine the current slate of home video releases for Tuesday, December 31, and explore the public domain horrors of NIGHTMARE CASTLE (a.k.a. AMANTI DOLTRATOMBA [“Lovers from Beyond the Tomb”]), a 1965 Gothic chiller starring Queen of Horror Barbara Steele. The highlight is a review of TIME OF THE DOCTOR, in which Matt Smith winds up his tenure as the famous Time Lord and turns the TARDIS over to Peter Capaldi. Is it a worthwhile farewell or simply a gimmicky geek lovefest? Listen in to find out!
This short subject has been available online for a while now, but we wanted to offer it to those of you who have not been fortunate enough to see it yet. CARGO (a Tropfest Australia 2013 Finalist) depicts a rather dire situation with a father trying to get his baby to safety – after he has been bitten by zombie and knows he is inevitably fated to transform before he can reach help. It is, quite simply, ne of the best short subjects we have ever seen – as good as the best of anything we have seen in the past two seasons of THE WALKING DEAD.
This video tour of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood showcases the bloody mayhem of two walk-through attractions inspired by recent horror films: Evil Dead: Book of the Dead and the eerie shudders of Insidious: Into the Further.
Even if you did not care for the films themselves, you may get a kick out of the walk-through versions. Universal Studios’s annual Halloween attraction is known for meticulously recreating sets, scenes, and characters from the films, and the live aspect allows for an in-your-face approach you simply cannot get on the big screen. Thrill to the ghostly apparition appearing from behind a mirror! Shiver at the sound of chainsaws! Gag at the geysers of blood!
“You will know her name,” the posters have been telling us for I don’t know how long – a year? or is it two? – as if we did not already know Carrie White from Stephen King’s novel and Brian DePalma’s 1976 film version (not to mention a made-for-television remake). This assumption of cluelessness on our part did not bode well, suggesting that the filmmakers themselves might be more than a bit clueless about the challenges of remaking a classic property. Unfortunately, this ill omen is mostly born out in the new version of CARRIE, which is not nearly as bad as it might have been and yet never provides a compelling version for revisiting the well-remembered story.
In fact, CARRIE is almost a textbook case study in the pitfalls of remakes. The script for the 1976 film, adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen (who receives co-credit here) boiled King’s overwritten novel down to its essence, omitting superfluous material and a padded ending that stretched the book well past its climax. The dilemma facing the new filmmakers was essentially whether to stick to the previous adaptation or incorporate more elements of the book; they tried to split the difference, mostly following the old scenario while reinstating some parts of the novel.
The result is that this version of CARRIE includes both the essential elements – and some non-essential elements, just for good measure. Their presence here serves best to remind us why they were not included the first time out. Do we really need to know that Mrs. White thought her pregnancy was a cancer, right until the moment she gave birth? Or that Sue Snell is pregnant with Tommy Ross’s child?* Do either of these elements change our understanding of Carrie White’s story in a fundamental way?
On top of this, the casting of the new film is problematic. Judy Greer is a fine substitute for Betty Buckely as gym teacher Ms. Desjardin, but the rest of the supporting case looks like a bunch of also-rans: they’re not bad, but they are not distinctive. Ansel Elgort eventually warms up as Tommy, but Gabriella Wilde and Portia Doubleday never manage to etch distinctive portraits of the the good-hearted Sue and the vindictive Chris. (The innovation here is that the hair color of the characters has been reversed: unlike Amy Irving and Nancy Allen in the original, the good girl is now blonde, and the bad girl is brunette.)
In the title role, Chloë Grace Moretz makes a game effort, but her acting skills cannot hide the fact that she is badly miscast. Unlike Sissy Spacek, who figuratively disappeared into the role, Moretz is hampered by screen persona that includes the homicidal Hit Girl from KICK-ASS and the homicidal vampire from LET ME IN. She is too obviously pretty, and looks too much like a confident young woman with her act together, to convince us that she is a shy introvert victimized by her peers. When she dons her gown to attend the prom, any sense of transformation is lost: we are not seeing a new side of Carrie; we are simply seeing Moretz the way she has always looked to us – only the clothing has changed.
As Carrie’s mother, Julianne Moore would seem to be the only actress with even a chance of approaching Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated turn; alas, the film simply cannot elevate the character to the stature achieved in the old film. Part of the problem is the passing of time, which the filmmakers overlook (except insofar as adding texting, tweets, and YouTube videos to the script). Back in 1976, it might have been somewhat radical to portray a devout Christian as a religious nut; now, it’s simply old-hat – a safe target.
Surprisingly, in spite of the remake’s problems, Stephen King’s story is strong enough to shine through in the middle portion. You actually do get a little bit involved as Carrie starts to see a ray of hope in her life, and the film becomes entertaining if not essential.
But in the end CARRIE cannot pay off. The demarcation line between a great horror film and every other kind of horror film – good, bad, or indifferent – is defined by DePalma’s version, which achieves the almost unthinkable. When we pay to see a horror movie, we pay to see the good stuff – the horror – and we can’t wait for it to appear on screen. Yet, in the 1976 film, when Carrie and Tommy are crowned prom queen and king, you cannot help wishing – to the point where you almost believe it – that the Chris’s cruel prank will not go off as planned, and the bucket of pig’s blood will not destroy Carrie White’s dreams, turning her into a vengeful monster with lethal consequences for her classmates.
In CARRIE (2013), however, you really do find yourself wishing the bucket would fall and kick things into high gear; the film never makes you feel the sense of tragedy that would make you yearn for an alternate cut in which everything works out for its troubled teen heroine.
The mayhem, when it ensues, is marred by some CGI hijinx, which ups the ante on the level of destruction but lacks the visceral punch of the old film’s mechanical effects. Also, director Kimberly Peirce simply cannot orchestrate the chaos as well as DePalma, and the film suffers from blunting its horrors, killing off the complicit characters while letting the innocent live (as in the book, but not the DePalma film, Desjardin survives). It certainly doesn’t help that Moretz acts rather like a conductor at a symphony, waving her hands around as if using magic powers. Peirce should have reminded her that Carrie’s telekinetic powers are mental, requiring no prestidigitation. Portraying psychic powers on screen has always been difficult (how can the actor convey mental effort?), but this particular solution ill serves the film and the character. It makes Carrie seem too deliberate in her actions, when what we should be seeing is an uncontrollable rage that erupts on almost reflexive level. Yes, Carrie is getting even with those who humiliated her, but inside she’s not so different from the rest of us; fortunately, our explosions of mental rage usually dissipate without killing dozens of people, thanks to our lack of telekinetic powers. Making Carrie more deliberate in her destructive actions turns her more into a movie monster, making her less like one of us.
After that it’s all downhill, as the familiar mother-daughter relationship plays itself out, without proper context: the statue of St. Sebastian is missing, which undercuts the irony of Mrs. White’s being speared to death, and Moore’s last gasp hardly compares to Laurie’s orgasmic final exhalation. And just to top it all off, the filmmakers realize that they cannot recreate the original film’s memorable last-scene gotcha, so they substitute something else. It’s a shot that perfectly encapsulates the remake: it cannot recreate the greatness of the original, but when it tries to do something different, it is simply not as good. Footnote:
Strictly speaking, Sue merely worries she is pregnant in the novel, because her period is late. I suppose it’s possible that she really was pregnant, and when her period returns, its symptomatic of a spontaneous abortion, but I’m not sure that was King’s intention.
CARRIE (October 18, 2013). Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen and Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoe Belkin, Ansel Elgort, Samantha Weinstein, Karissa Strain, Judy Greer, Katie Strain, Barry Shabaka Henlsey. Rated R. 100 minutes.
A guided tour through a haunted house you have visited once too often
I’m a boy, I’m a boy,
But my mother won’t admit it.
I’m a boy, I’m a boy,
But if I say I am, I get it.
– from the song that should have been on the soundtrack, “I’m a Boy” by the Who
Those Paranormal Poltergeists are back; no, wait – I mean those Sinister Spooks are back; no, wait – I mean those Insidious Spectres are back, in the latest horror opus from Blumhouse Productions. Malefic forces once again display a remarkable aptitude for malevolently lurking in shadows, ominously opening doors, eerily activating toys, and judiciously picking just the right moment to jump out and say, “BOO!” However, their supernatural shtick is outwearing its welcome, and this sequel to INSIDIOUS (2010) has little to add to its predecessor, except back story – and story ain’t exactly the strength of these films, is it? Consequently, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 feels like a guided tour through a haunted house you have visited once too often:you see the same old scares, and the guide keeps boring you with background details you don’t really need – or want – to know.
BACK STORY: WHEN MORE IS LESS
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 falls prey to the dilemma that afflicts much of supernatural horror: the mysterious, the uncanny, and the unexplained provide a special frisson all their own, but the unexplained can also be dramatically frustrating; haunted house movies almost inevitably risk exorcising their own ghosts by explaining them away.* This problem is exacerbated in INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 because a sequel, by its very nature, is required to give us something we did not get before.
So now we learn that the haunting of the Lambert family did not begin with little Dalton (Ty Simkins) a few years ago; it began with his father Josh (Patrick Wilson in present day, Garrett Ryan in flashback), whose memories were wiped clean to erase the trauma. We also learn the identify of the ghost that Josh brought back with him at the end of INSIDIOUS and learn the murderous back story, involving enforced transvestism and a domineering mother, none of which really matters except to help pad the film out to feature length while avoiding the story that should be told: the story of how Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) reacts to the dawning realization that her husband is not, in fact, her husband.
In case you forgot [BRIEF SPOILER], unlike the father in “Little Girl Lost” (Richard Matheson’s episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Josh never made it back from the limbo world he entered to rescue the soul of his child; Josh’s spirit was left behind, replaced by that of the murderous “Bride in Black,” who turns out to be Parker (Tom Fitzpatrick), who killed only because his mother forced him to. The first act of the possessed Josh was to strangle psychic investigator Elise (Lin Shaye), because having found a foothold in the world of the flesh once again, the first thing a returning spirit wants to do is commit a crime that, in any logical universe, would put him behind bars for the rest of his unnatural life.
With the lamest of lip service, the police investigation of this murder is scuttled in the first reel of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2; even though Josh was the only person in the room with Elise when she was murdered, and even though the house was filled with other people who could attest to this, the police feel they need something more, such as a match between Josh’s hands and the imprint on Elise’s throat. Inexplicably, a phone call from the investigating officer later tells us there is no match, even though nothing in the film indicates that the size of Josh’s hand is physically altered by the spirit possessing his body.
All of this is just an excuse to circumvent the ending of the previous film, so that the screenplay (by Leigh Whannell) can get the Lambert family back into a haunted house again. Things predictably start going bump in the night, but rather absurdly, possessed Josh manages to silence everyone’s fears on this score; for some reason, his wife and his mother (Barbar Hershey) are too stupid to see that there is something wrong with a man who can blithely dismiss the supernatural – after all the havoc it wrecked on their family in the previous film.
Fortunately, Elise’s late co-workers, Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) make contact with the other side and start to figure out that something is not right. This leads to a long trip down memory lane – long enough to blame Parker’s homicidal habits on Mother (yes, just like Norman Bates) without ever really making Mother out to be anything more than a caricature. When she finally appears in the flesh (metaphorically speaking), Danielle Bisutti plays the character with an over-enthusiastic relish more suitable to camp than horror, as if channeling the ghost of Joan Crawford – or more precisely, Faye Dunaway playing Crawford in MOMMY DEAREST. (As she slaps her son for refusing to act like a little girl, you have expect her to start yelling “Wire coat hangers!”)
By this time, Renai is kinda, sorta getting a clue that her husband is not really her husband anymore. It is symptomatic of the script’s problems that she must explain this in the dialogue to her mother-in-law, because we never really see the moment on screen. We are left to wonder what took her so long, and the more unseemly possibilities (i.e., living on intimate terms with a man who is in reality a total stranger) are ignored completely.
Eventually, a few modestly interesting ideas arise: Parker and his mother, far from being evil conspirators, are at odds, Parker hoping for a chance to live the “normal” life his mother denied him. Some of the haunting in the house is due not to Parker and his mother, but to Josh himself, who is waiting helplessly in limbo, hoping to reconnect with his family. And the spirit of Elise lurks somewhere nearby, no doubt waiting for an appropriate moment to intervene.
The last two elements at least provide a break from the current horror formula, in which only malevolent forces have any supernatural power. Unfortunately, the script never thinks through the implications, so the relative strengths of the dearly – and not so dearly – departed vary according to what would keep the good guys at a disadvantage: for example, Ghost Josh can only tinkle a piano keyboard, but Parker’s ghost mother can levitate objects and knock Renai unconscious. Why is Parker’s mother so much stronger? Because she’s evil, I guess.
That really is about as much thought as Whannell put into the story. We also learn that Josh’s body is decaying because of the dead soul inside it. His mother’s ghostly spirit tells him he can prevent this by killing the Lambert family, although why this should help is never explained. Is she lying? Or did the script just feel the need to motivate Possessed Josh’s final-reel shift from incognito intruder to homicidal maniac?
In any case, lke Jack Torrance in THE SHINING, Josh goes full-blown psycho for the final reel, threatening to murder his entire family (he uses a fire extinguisher rather than an ax to break through the door his wife has locked). In one of the film’s few nice touches, Dalton realizes that the astral projection that caused him so much trouble in the first film can enable him to make contact with his real father and bring him back to this earthly plane.
Meanwhile, in another moderately interesting bit, Elise and the real Josh are in limbo, seeking the answers that will exorcise Parker’s mother. Limbo, it seems is not only beyond space but also beyond time, allowing Josh to ask a crucial question of his boyhood self. Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t really reveal anything that will be crucial in defeating the evil spirit, but who’s keeping track?
At least INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 resists the temptation to deliver another last-minute twist that makes nonsense of what came before. However, it succumbs to the urge to dangle a thread intended to set up CHAPTER 3.
AESTHETICS AND ATMOSPHERE
As in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, director James Wan shows an agile hand when it comes to manipulating the elements that go into making an atmospheric horror film. In this case, unfortunately, the familiar nature of the material and the script’s refusal to focus where it should, undermines the shudders, rendering one of Blumhouse Productions’s least effective fright films. As uninspired as the recent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels have been, not to mention SINISTER and DARK SKIES, those films at least delivered some good scares, here and there.
But little of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 matches the shivery sense of menace the infused its predecessor almost from beginning to end; in fact, you have to wait till midpoint for the first decent scare scene, when Specs and Tucker investigate Parker’s old childhood room – and find a child-size version of his spirit haunting the premises. (How this disembodied version of his spirit can be lurking in his old room, while Parker’s actual spirit is currently lodged in Parker’s body, is a question the film never bothers to address, because who cares?)
The cast is nice, but as hard as Patrick Wilson tries, he doesn’t quite have what it takes to suggest a sinister intelligence lurking behind a smiling facade: he’s at his most sinister, when showing up unexpectedly, framed in shadow; when he actually has to act scary, he’s okay at best.
Several of the characters appear in both old and young versions, with greater or lesser success. Older viewers probably know Barbara Hershey too well from her earlier work to buy Jocelin Donahue in flashbacks. Lindsay Seim, on the other hand, is so perfect that you immediately know she is the younger version of Elise, even if you don’t catch the name; the only problem here is a slight awkwardness about the dialogue, as if Seim were lip-synching to words recorded by Lin Shaye.
The emphasis on achieving scares with practical effects is welcome; for example, the afterlife is not some tour-de-force of CGI but essentially void, with faces and bodies appearing out of the darkness. But simply avoiding an over-used technique is not enough; you need to replace it with something else – something better. There was certainly potential here: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 could have been an ominous exploration of ambiguity, if it had focused on the reactions of Josh’s wife and children as his strange, new behavior forced them to ask, “Is this the man we know and love, suffering from post-traumatic stress, or is it a demonic entity in his guise?”
WHAT I LEARNED
Evil ghosts are more powerful than good ghosts.
Baby monitors are scary.
Children’s toys are scary when they move by themselves in a dark room, especially when there is fog inside the room.
Even with a dead body and a houseful of likely suspects ranting about evil spirits, the police will not arrest the man who is obviously guilty.
The guilty party’s wife will be in denial about her husband’s guilt – which is almost understandable – but so will the murder victim’s ghost-hunting associates, who should – maybe, just maybe – consider the possibility of demonic possession.
THE FINAL TALLY
Lacking originality or inspiration, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is slow and tedious; even the occasional well-executed scare-scene is not enough to bring this tired old ghost back to life. Sad to say, the new INSIDIOUS is hideous.
[rating=1] On the CFQ Review Scale: a strong recommendation that you avoid this one. FOOTNOTE:
J-Horror avoids this problem by eschewing explanations – a sore point when those films get remade for Western audiences.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. Blumhouse Productions: September 13, 2013. 105 minutes, PG-13. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Whannell. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Hank Harris, Jocelin Donahue, Lindsay Seim, Danielle Bisutti, Tyler Griffin, Garrett Ryan, Tom Fitzpatrick.
Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here… walk alone.
With Dan Persons on hiatus, the remaining Cinefantastique Podcasters, Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski, ditch the week’s nationwide release, THE SMURFS 2, and time travel back 50 years to lavish praise upon THE HAUNTING (1963), producer-director Robert Wise’s magnificent horror classic, based on the Shirley Jackson novel. Seldom has subtle black-and-white horror yielded such large dividends, creating a memorable chiller whose appeal has extended for decades and should continue to do so for many more to come. If you have experienced the terror, listen in to relive the frightful delights; if you have never visited Hill House, this may be the sales pitch that finally convinces you to spend a night in the haunted abode.
Hello, fellow movie cheaters! Hm, maybe that’s not the best way to describe fans of movie cheats, but it has a nice ring to it. In any case, I am back with another in an on-going series of the greatest movie cheats in horror, fantasy, and science fiction films. This one is a real gem – and long overlooked (even by me, who is deliberately searching for this kind of thing).
Please recall our definition of a “cheat,” which is a variation on movie terminology used when a prop or set piece is moved from its established position in order to create a more pleasing composition on screen (that is, when you move the camera to a new angle, you “cheat” lamp in the background to the left or right, so that it doesn’t seem to jump from one side of the character to another when the shots are cut together). In our usage, a “cheat” is a piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand that pulls a fast one on the audience, often violating the film’s own internal “reality.” Usually, a cheat works because the trickery is visible, though perhaps subliminal; if you couldn’t see it, the impact would be lost.
Writer-director Roman Polanksi’s 1968 film ROSEMARY’S BABY – based on Ira Levin’s novel, about a young married woman who believes her unborn child has been targeted for sacrifice by Satanists – is generally considered to be one of the great achievements in the horror genre – a subtle exercise in suspense that works because it remains grounded in the real world, its horrors suggested and ambiguous, its supernatural element possibly imagined. What has never been mentioned before (at least until it was pointed out to me*) is that the film features a remarkable movie cheat – one that may be unique. Before we get to the cheat, however, we have to take a look at the set-up.
Midway through the film, before the suspense has set in, the recently pregnant Rosemary (Mia Farrow) attends a party, where she chats with pediatrician Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy). In this scene, Dr. Sapirstein is photographed only from behind; in fact, it is hard to say with certainty whether we are seeing Bellamy or a body double with Bellamy’s voice dubbed in. Whatever the case may be, we get a good look at the back of Sapirstein’s head – enough to recognize the doctor from behind later in the movie.
This recognition takes place during a four-minute sequence during which Rosemary, convinced that Dr. Sapirstein is part of the Satanic conspiracy, uses a phone booth to contact her old pediatrician, begging him to see her. While Rosemary is facing toward camera, her back to the phone booth door, a man slides into view; the audience immediately “knows” it is Dr. Sapirstein.
Finishing her call, Rosemary turns and pauses in alarm when she sees the man. She closes her eyes in fear and desperation; when she opens them again, she is relieved to see that the man has turned around revealing not Dr. Sapirstein but just someone wanting to use the phone (a cameo by producer William Castle).
The scene is deceptively simple: a single, continuous take in close-up, with only a short camera move to emphasize the appearance of the man waiting outside the phone booth. But there is more here than meets the eyes – at least the eyes of the character. I have deliberately omitted a few frames in order to convey what Rosemary perceives, which might also represent the erroneous impression that a viewer could take away from the film: that there was a man who looked like Dr. Sapirstein from behind, but he turned around to reveal an unexpectedly innocent face.
What Rosemary does not notice is that, while her eyes are closed, the “Sapirstein” character walks off-screen, then walks back into the shot – or does he? It may not be apparent on first viewing, but if you go back and look again, the switch takes place a little too quickly for the man to have walked away, done a 180-degree turnabout, and come back.
Instead, this is what seems to happen:
After Mia Farrow closes here eyes, Bellamy (or his body double) exits to the left.
For a brief moment the “Sapirstein” character is off-screen, while Farrow plays Rosemary as if she is silently praying for deliverance.
The “Sapirstein” character appears to re-enter the frame – actually William Castle. It is hard to tell from the brief glimpse we get, but if you pause the film and look carefully, Castle’s hair does not quite match the back of Dr. Sapirstein’s head, confirming that a switch has been made.
As she opens her eyes, Farrow is blocking our view of the actor outside the booth, making it difficult to notice the switch that has taken place. When she finally turns, the movement of her head reveals not Bellamy’s Dr. Saperstein but the smiling stranger played by Castle.
What makes this cheat uniquely interesting is that it may not be a cheat at all. On a superficial level, the gag is that Rosemary and the audience think the man outside the booth is the sinister Dr. Sapirstein, but he turns out to be someone totally innocuous; the “cheat” is achieved by simply having Castle quickly replace the other actor. However, the switch takes place in full view of the camera, leaving the scene open to a second interpretation: that we are supposed to notice the switch, even if Rosemary does not; although we sympathize with her relief when she re-opens her eyes, we have to wonder whether she was right the first time: maybe that was Dr. Sapirstein, and he has simply gone off to alert the other Satanists that he has located Rosemary. In which case, the “cheat” of using Bellamy (or his double) to fool us into “seeing” Sapirstein is not a cheat at all but rather an accurate depiction of what happens in the scene.
There is a delicious ambiguity to this interpretation: Was it, or was it not, Sapirstein? Was it, or was it not, a cheat? And on a meta-level, was it, or was it not, Bellamy’s body double in either or both scenes?
As intriguing as these questions are, there is yet a third, equally intriguing interpretation of the scene. As much as ROSEMARY’S BABY is a story of witches, Satanists, and the Anti-Christ, the film is also a study in paranoia, with Rosemary driven to hysteria by fear for her baby. In the phone booth scene, she thinks Dr. Sapirstein has found her. She closes her eyes as if wishing him away, and it works: when opens her eyes, he is gone – like magic. What we may be seeing in the shot is an externalization of Rosemary’s inner mental state: her fear manifests as the appearance of Dr. Sapirstein; the appearance of the harmless stranger represents a return to a semblance of normalcy, a momentary quelling of paranoia, as Rosemary briefly gets a grip on her emotions that have been driven to extremes by both the events around her and the hormonal changes inside her body. In which case, we’re back to calling the scene a movie cheat, because two actors were switched right before our eyes to create an erroneous impression. The difference is that, in this new interpretation, the switch conveys not a mistaken identity but a paranoid delusion.
That’s an impressive amount of significance and meaning to pack into a single shot, making this scene worth a second look not only to spot a great movie cheat but also to appreciate the subtle tour-de-force machinations of a master filmmaker at work. Note: This article has been updated to explain our definition of movie cheats, in order to clarify that it is not a derogatory term. FOOTNOTE:
A tip of the hat to Ted Newsom for pointing out this overlooked movie cheat.
The final track on Deep Purple’s latest album, Now What?!, features a title that immediately endeared it to Cinefantastique: “Vincent Price.” That’s right: the late, great “Merchant of Menace” – the actor who portrayed Dr. Phibes, Prince Prospero, Roderick Usher, the Invisible Man, and many other memorable villains – is the subject of a hard rock song by the band that brought us “Smoke on the Water,” “Perfect Strangers,” and “Hush.”
The connection between Vincent Price and rock music may not seem obvious, but back in 1975, Price appeared opposite shock-rocker Alice Cooper in a made-for-television special; Price’s voice was also prominently heard on the accompanying soundtrack album, Welcome to My Nightmare. (This was several years before Price did similar service on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”) Perhaps not coincidentally, the man who produced Welcome to My Nightmare, Bob Ezrin, also produced Now What?!, and he shares a writing credit on the song with the members of the band: Don Airey on keyboards, Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, Steve Morse on guitar, and Ian Paice on drums. There is a certain Cooper-esque tinge to the song’s tongue-in-cheek approach to old horror, but to be fair, Ezrin is not the only one with a past connection to Price. The actor narrated bassist Roger Glover’s concept album The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, a live performance of which was staged and videotaped in 1975.
Whatever threads led to the creation of this song, by a group more well known for singing about a burning recording studio, the result is a delight that evokes the horror genre without descending into Halloween novelty territory (“The Monster Mash” – this definitely is not!). The music is a clever mix of thundering tones from the organ, a dramatic chord progression for synthesized choir, and the sort of heavy rock riffs on guitar and bass that are Deep Purple’s signature. Think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” with the underlying disco beat replaced by something that really rocks.
The lyrics are a bit confused, attributing to Price rolls and actions he never performed on screen; however, this becomes part of the song’s charm, capturing the nostalgic joy of sneaking out of bed, after mom and dad were asleep, to watch monsters movies on late-night TV – the various films mixing together in jumbled montage of childhood memory, until scenes from one film seemed to have been mentally edited into some other title.
Ian Gillan’s vocals are as strong as ever; Glover and Pace lay down the rhythm just like in the good old days – strong and steady, but with enough variation to keep it lively. Don Airey does an eerie job of evoking the keyboard work of the late John Lord (who died last year), and Steve Morse fills in perfectly for former guitarist Ritchie Blackmore; the crunch of the rhythm guitar, in particular, is a perfect match for Blackmore’s classic work, as is the synchronized guitar solo, which alternates between drawling expressiveness and virtuoso speed. In fact, if it weren’t for the credit sheet, a listener might be easily fooled into thinking this was the classic Deep Purple lineup at work.
As someone who co-wrote the Cinefantastique double issue devoted to Price’s career as a horror star, I was thrilled to see Deep Purple show an interest, and was even gladder to see the band felt strongly enough about the track to release it as the second single from the album, on June 7. (The first single, “Hell to Pay,” came out in March, a month before the full Now What?! album was released.) Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the music video.
Like the song, the video seems a bit confused about exactly what Price did and didn’t do as a monster. Most of the vid is in black-and-white, which is okay (Price did more than a few black-and-white thrillers), but the video is also presented as a silent film with subtitles. I guess we can forgive this to some extent (it allows the dialogue to be read instead of heard, which would have interfered with the singing), but it completely places the video in the wrong era.
Price’s career was solely in the sound era, and his greatest achievements in the horror genre were color films: HOUSE OF WAX, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. We get no clips from any of his films (not even the ones in the public domain); instead, we get a couple of teens wandering through a fun house, where someone wearing a tuxedo and a moustache impersonates Price – badly.
We get imagery pulled from classic 1930s horror films from Universal Pictures: creepy catacombs, a mummy, a knock-off of the Frankenstein monster, and the Price characters seems to be a vampire (he dissolves in sunlight).
At least that has something to do with the horror genre, if not with Price himself. Unfortunately, the video panders to the lowest common denominator, throwing in a pole-dancing vixen in a nun’s habit. I’m sure someone was having his private fantasy fulfilled the day that scene was shot, but couldn’t he have waited for a more appropriate venue?
What we don’t get, sadly, is much of anything to do with any of Price’s films, except for a brief bit at the end, with the band members frozen into mannequin figures, suggesting the victims from HOUSE OF WAX. Too bad they didn’t get Tim Burton to direct the whole thing in stop-motion, a la his wonderful short subject, “Vincent.” The visual potential t in combining this song with imagery from Price’s films is immense beyond imagining. It is all to easy to imagine some amateur editor – a true enthusiast for the actor’s work – putting together a far more satisfying tribute to Vincent Price.
Influential author and screenwriter passes away. Works included I AM LEGEND and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME.
Multiple sources (including io9 and the Guardian Express) are reporting that author Richard Matheson – the man Stephen King cited as the greatest influence on his work – has passed away at the age of 87. The news originated with a Twitter post by his daughter, announcing that her father had passed away after a long illness.
It is quite literally impossible to exaggerate the significance of this news. The world of horror, fantasy, and science fiction has just become smaller, now that one of its major lights has been extinguished. Although Matheson’s heyday as a novelist and screenwriter was decades ago, his work continues to inspire others. The recent hit REEL STEEL (2011), starring Hugh Jackman, was inspired by his work, and Matheson had been shopping his back catalog (over 150 novels, short stories, and screenplays) around to studios, with the plan of bring the material to the screen only with the author’s oversight and approval.
Matheson’s horror, fantasy, and science fiction novels include I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, Hell House, Bid Time Return, and What Dreams May Come, all of which were adapted into films, usually with the author working on the screenplay. His short stores filled over half a dozen paperback collections; many of them found their way in front of the camera, either for films or television.
Matheson got his break into the feature film business when Universal Pictures sought the rights to film The Shrinking Man, which became THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957). As part of the deal, Matheson insisted that he be allowed to write the adaptation. Although the final version was reworked by Richard Alan Simmons (to get rid of the flashback structure), Matheson received sole credit, and was pleased with the result, except for the ending, which he felt over-stated the point he made in his book, when protagonist Scott Carey shrinks to infinitesimal size but realizes he will not cease to exist because “to Nature there was no zero.” In the movie, the line became, “To God there is no zero. I still exist.”
I’m not sure whether it is on record anywhere, but Matheson’s attitude toward THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN mellowed in his later years. During a question-and-answer session after a screening in Hollywood a few years ago, he dismissed any ill feelings about the ending, saying it was essentially what he wrote. (Matheson may have “got religion” during the interim. His early science fiction novels have a strong existential streak running through them; his later fantasy stories often deal with life after death, particularly What Dreams May Come, which includes a legnthy bibliography of non-fiction source material.
After THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, Matheson went on to a busy career in films, which including adapting numerous other books and stories to the screen for such classic films as THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968, a.k.a. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE), starring Christopher Lee; BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962, a.k.a. NIGHT OF THE EAGLE), based on Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife; and MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961), based on two novels by Jules Verne.
For producer-director Roger Corman, Matheson stretched the work of Edgar Allan Poe to feature length, often expanding the short stories into what were essentially original screenplays: HOUSE OF USHER (1960), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), TALES OF TERROR (1962), and THE RAVEN (1963). The latter two added comedy to the horror mix, a formula Matheson attempted again with his original script for THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963), which was directed by Jacques Tourneur (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE).
For the small screen, Matheson penned numerous episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, including two starring William Shatner (“Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). He also scripted the STAR TREK episode “The Enemy Within,” which split Captain Kirk into his good and bad selves. His other episodic work includes WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE; HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL; THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR; THE GIRL FROM U.N.CL.E.; LATE NIGHT HORROR; JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN; Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY; CIRCLE OF FEAR; and Steven Spielberg’s AMAZING STORIES.
In the 1970s, Matheson wrote several made-for-television movies, beginning with DUEL, based on his Playboy short story. Directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Dennis Weaver as a driver mercilessly hounded by a big rig truck apparently out to kill him for no reason, the film is a classic thriller.
Matheson then teamed up with producer Dan Curtis, scripting such telefilms as THE NIGHT STALKER, about a vampire in modern day Las Vegas. Other collaborations included THE NIGHT STRANGLER; TRILOGY OF TERROR; and DRACULA (whose lost-love-reincarnation plot greatly influenced Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA).
Later work included TWLIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1982) and JAWS 3-D (1983). Most of his subsequent screen credits (nearly 20 since 1990) are for previously published stories that were adapted into films, such as the big-budget version of I AM LEGEND (2007), starring Will Smith. He also wrote the novels Earthbound (1989) and Now You See It… (the latter adapted from his stage play).
Matheson’s influence on the horror genre is incalculable. Outside of the 1950s science fiction films, horror and monster movies tended to use period settings; the traditional Gothic atmosphere seemed essential to establishing an atmosphere that would make the incredible events believable. However, this also established a distance between the cinematic events and the every day life of the audience. Matheson pioneered the art of placing horror in suburbia – not in a forgotten European castle, but right next door, and sometimes not as far away as that.
In Matheson’s novels, all manner of strange and bizarre things can happen in your very home- such as a daughter disappearing into another dimension in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Little Girl Lost.” Even when Matheson did opt for an isolated location, as in Hell House (which became THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE on screen), the setting was contemporary, and there was a patina of scientific verisimilitude that made the horror convincing. Besides the numerous official adaptations of his work, Matheson’s shadow extends far and wide, reaching all the way to the recent release of WORLD WAR Z. Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (about a world overrun by vampires, leaving only one human alive) provided the inspiration for George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) (which basically turned Matheson’s blood-drinkers into flesh-eaters). Romero’s later DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) expanded the first film’s narrow scope to an apocalyptic scale, suggesting that the walking dead were eclipsing humanity. This became the template for all the zombie apocalypse tales to follow, including not only WORLD WAR Z but also THE WALKING DEAD.
Sadly, the greatness of Matheson’s novel has never been captured in the official film adaptations, which shy away from the existential shock of the ending, in which hero Robert Neville realizes that, in a new world of vampires, he is the outcast; he is the monster:
Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man.
[…] To them he was some terrible scourge they had never seen, a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with. He was an invisible specter who had left for evidence of his existence the bloodless bodies of their loved ones. […]
Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. […] A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortresses of forever.
I am legend.
His fantasy novels What Dreams May Come and Bid Time Return (the latter adapted in 1980 as SOMEWHERE IN TIME) are marked by a deep commitment to romantic love – which is portrayed as strong enough to outlive time and survive death itself. The films, although earnest and sweet, do not live up to the source material, which in both cases strives to sell the potentially treacly ideas with genuine dramatic conviction. (Even confirmed atheist Harlan Ellison, in his Los Angeles Times review of What Dreams May Come, admitted that Matheson made a damn convincing emotional argument for the afterlife.)
That is the thought which I hold in my mind now, more than the handful of times when I saw him in person, affably answering questions about his work and autographic his books. I imagine him somewhere on the other side, whispering to us (or more probably to his surviving family members, like Robin Williams in the screen version of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME): “I still exist.”
Perhaps that is not quite the epitaph the author deserves. Better to note this profound truth:
For those of us with a Sense of Wonder, Richard Matheson was – and is – Legend.