The Tenant (1976)

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Although overshadowed by director Roman Polanski’s more famous horror efforts, REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY, the more obscure THE TENANT is actually their equal and in many ways their superior — a haunting, mesmerizing tale of a man’s loss of identity and descent into madness.
Polanski himself stars as Trelkovsky, a Polish immigrant looking for an apartment in Paris. A potential vacancy occurs when a woman named Simone Choule leaps from her apartment window — an apparent suicide attempt. Visiting the hospital to see when horribly injured Choule will finally expire (technically, the apartment still belongs to her until she dies), Trelkovsky meets Choule’s friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani). Wrapped in bandages like a mummy, Choule seems to recognize Trelkovsky, and lets out a scream of horror before dying. Trelkvosky moves into the empty apartment and starts an affair with Stella, but his weird neighbors soon drive him to distraction. He suspects they may have driven Choule to suicide, and he suspects they are doing the same to him. Gradually, he begins to take on Choule’s personality traits: at first, they’re simple things like inadvertently taking Choule’s favorite seat in a cafe; later, they extend to buying wigs and cross-dressing. Eventually, the loss of his own identity and his fusion with Choule leads him to recreate her suicide attempt. Awakening in the hospital, he finds himself wrapped in bandages like a mummy and opens his eyes to see two visitors: Stella and…himself — exactly as when he visited Choule in the hospital. Trelkovsky opens his mouth and screams…
THE TENANT is short on typical horror movie action: there are no monsters, and there is little in the way of traditional suspense. That’s because the film is not operating on the kind of fear that most horror films exploit: fear of death. Instead, THE TENANT’s focus is on an equally disturbing fear: loss of identity. Like Carole Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve) in REPULSION, Trelkovsky is a person alone in an apartment slowly going mad. The difference is that Carole seems to suffer from some vague but overpowering form of paranoia that makes her afraid to go outside, while Trelkovsky is slowly losing his own personality. Both think someone is out to get them, but Carole turns her deathwish outward, murdering a man in an insane fit, while Trelkovsky ultimately turns his own dark fears upon himself by attempting suicide.
Like REPULSION, the pacing of THE TENANT lacks urgency, because it is about a slow descent into madness that works toward what, in retrospect, seems like an inevitable conclusion. And yet, the film maintains a curious, hypnotic hold upon the viewer. Again like REPULSION, THE TENANT tries to bridge the gap between audience and character, using bizarre, surreal flourishes to put the viewer into the mind of the madman, such as a bouncing “ball” outside Trelkovsky’s window – that turns out to be a head. One particularly evocative and disturbing (if seemingly inexplicable) visual moment occurs when Trelkovsky looks through his apartment window (which gives him a good view of a window to the building’s communal restroom across the courtyard) and sees a nightmarish vision of someone in bandages — as Simon Choule was, in the hospital — slowly unwrapping them to reveal herself.
Fortunately, these hallucinatory interludes are more than gratuitous visual flourishes; they are more like sign posts marking the major turning points on the road to dementia. The nightmarish vision of Choule’s unwrapping herself evokes traditional horror imagery (the bandages suggest the Mummy, and the revelation of a hidden, possibly disfigured face is an iconic element of the genre at least since 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), but the scene’s overwhelming power stems from its apparent irrationality – it seems to make no sense, and we feel as if we too are losing our grip on reality, along with Trelkovsky. And yet, the image actually has a point not that hard to divine, designating the moment at which the Choule personality, formerly only teasing at the edge of awareness, emerges full-blown into Trelkovsky consciousness, like a re-awakening phantom – or, more accurately, like a guilty conscience that refuses to stay under wraps.
Equally unsettling is Polanski’s bizarre monologue, in which he recalls a newspaper account of a man who lost his arm in an accident and was refused permission to performa a burial service for the severed apendage. He seems disturbed by the concept limbs like arms and legs are no longer considered an intrinsic part of a person after they have been disconnected from the brain: “What right does my head have to call itself me? What right?”
Polanski’s horror film is not a shocker — you won’t find yourself leaping out of your seat as a monster or masked killer lurches into frame — but it is genuinely frightening on a deeper level, living on in your mind like a bad nightmare that refuses to be forgotten. THE TENANT creates its own strange Kafka-esque landscape, where inexplicable events breed and give birth to ominous portents lurking in the shadows of the mind. The fact that it’s someone else’s dream offers little comfort as the lights come up and you leave the theatre…


Director Roman Polanski stars as the film’s protagonist, Trelkovsky, but his name does not appear among the actors’ names on screen — a rare case of an actor going without credit for playing the lead role in a film. At the time of the film’s release, Polanski explained that it would look too egotistical to take credit for his performance, because his name was already on the credits as writer and director.
THE TENANT is the third installment of a loose trilogy that includes REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY. All three films deal with characters living in apartments who gradually succumb to paranoia, believing themselves to be victims of persecution. In the case of ROSEMARY’S BABY, Rosemary’s paranoia turns out to be justified (although whether her baby truly is the Son of Satan is an open question). Polanski’s later historical drama THE PIANO PLAYER takes a similar approach, although in that case the persecution is so clearly genuine that the word “paranoia” no longer applies.
THE TENANT (Le Loctaire, 1976). Directed by Roman Polanski. Screenplay by Polanski & Gerard Brach, based on the novel by Roland Topor. Cast: Roman Polanski (uncredited), Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Bernard Fresson, Michel Blanc, Shelley Winters.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski


Dexter: The Third Season – Blu-ray Review

Though controversial among fans, Season Three once again demonstrates the writers’ tight control of the subject matter.

WARNING: The following contains Season 2 spoilers.
When last we left Dexter Morgan, not only had he narrowly escaped being exposed as the Bay Harbor Butcher (after his long-time dump site was discovered by divers), but he managed to set up the very officer that suspected him, Detective Sergeant Doakes, to take the fall. Dexter’s brief affair with the psychopathic Lila, his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor with a soul almost as dark as Dexter’s, intensified once she got wind of his nocturnal activities. Planning on framing Doakes, Dexter imprisons him in a remote cabin, only to have Lila find her way there using Dexter’s GPS. She walks in on a caged Doakes and kills him, thinking that she’d be helping to set Dexter free. Realizing that he never really knew just how dangerous Lila was, Dexter decides to make her the Butcher’s next victim. Lila discovers his plan, however, and traps him in her burning apartment while she goes after Dexter’s girlfriend Rita and her two children. Of course the ever-resourceful Dexter manages to save the day (eventually catching up with Lila in Paris to finish the job), and with the authorities satisfied that the Bay Harbor Butcher’s reign of terror has come to an end with the death of Doakes, Dexter is free to indulge his Dark Passenger once again.
Season 3 of Showtime’s Dexter begins with a slate clean enough for microchip-manufacturing for its titular character; thankfully, it’s a temporary situation. In the premiere episode, “Our Father”, Dexter (Michael C Hall) targets Freebo, a neighborhood drug dealer sidelining in murder. Walking in on a struggle between Freebo and a second man, Dexter startles the pair, allowing Freebo to escape while the unknown assailant lunges for Dexter – forcing Dexter’s hand (the one holding the knife) and breaking his foster father Harry (the great James Remar)’s cherished code of only murdering those who kill the innocent. Dexter’s problems intensify when his latest victim turns out to be the younger brother of Miami’s hotshot Assistant D.A. Miguel Prado (Season 3’s guest star, Jimmy Smits) who will stop at nothing to bring the killer to justice. Dexter remains hot on Freebo’s trail, which is noticed by Prado, forcing Dexter to feign a real, human interest in catching the youngest Prado’s killer to justify his interest. With Prado and Dexter both desperately searching for Freebo for decidedly different reasons, it’s only a matter of time (the second episode to be exact) before they’re fated to collide; Dexter gets to him first, and after dispatching him in the usual manner almost collides with Prado outside of the room containing Freebo’s still-warm body. Thinking that his run has finally come to an end, Dexter starts fumbling for an excuse, and just after managing to stammer out, “ was self defense,” Prado embraces him and tearfully says, “Thank you.”
Thus begins the wonderfully twisted relationship that forms the core of Dexter’s third season. The first half carefully builds the cautious relationship between Dexter and Prado, with Hall turning in fantastic work (as usual) while Dexter slowly and believably becomes enamored of having a friend with whom he can share his secrets, even as the spirit of his father warns him against violating one of the pillars of the all important code. These “chats” with Harry represent another major change over previous seasons, which had Dexter remembering Harry only via flashback. While this generally worked, it allowed the actors to share only a few brief scenes (in which Hall had to wear a pretty unconvincing teenage wig – c’mon guys, this would have been the ‘90s and I don’t think Dex was in The Beatles), and if the idea of a long-dead character discussing plot points with the living sounds like a writer’s get-out-of-jail-free card, it also allows longtime fans of the show to see Hall and Remar act together on a consistent basis.
This past season also gave Hall another great partner in Jimmy Smits, an actor too often find floundering in TV dreck who is capable of great things when given a chance (the few folks who saw John Schlesinger’s criminally unloved The Believers will remember his brilliant, tortured performance). Watching his believable navigation of Prado from an upstanding ADA to a serial killer in training is a rare treat. His scenes with Hall have a complex emotional agenda (Dexter actually gains humanity through their association, while Prado slowly loses his own), yet somehow they manage to play utterly naturally and crackle with chemistry.
While Dexter keeps busy with ADA Prado, there’s another serial killer loose in Miami, the Skinner, whose method is self explanatory, but whose past is tied into the Freebo-Prado case. Over at Miami Metro, the Skinner case is being headed up by newly minted Detective Sergeant Angel Batista (David Zayas), along with Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and the ribald forensics expert Masuka (C S Lee). Watching over all is Lt. Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), whose budding friendship with crusading attorney Ellen Wolf places her in an awkward position with old flame Miguel Prado over the handling of the Skinner case. Dexter’s family life is also moving rapidly forward, as girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) discovers that there’s a little serial killer on the way – how will a man incapable of genuine human emotion handle the notion of fatherhood?
Dexter’s third season was somewhat controversial among the show’s fans, with many not cozying up to the supposed domesticating of their favorite serial killer. But for us, the season demonstrated once again just how tight a hold the writers and directors (a group that includes Ernest Dickerson and Keith Gordon) have on the show’s reigns. They’ve dangled the titular character over the precipice of human feeling for 36 episodes without violating his core sociopathic nature (and Dexter’s internal monologs remain the funniest deadpan comic dialog on television). It was inevitable that the show’s horizons would widen, lest it begin to repeat itself – in content if not form – and while some rejected the third season’s formula change-up, we found it necessary to Dexter’s longevity. And anyone not looking forward to seeing Dexter as a daddy in a few weeks is simply crazy.
Paramount’s Blu-Ray set (under the Showtime branding) offers all 12 episodes spread out evenly over 3 discs. Dexter is shot on location in Miami with digital cameras, making for bright, crisp daytime images and gorgeous nighttime photography without having to over-light the area. This provides the show with freedom to be more adventurous with their night shooting, while always allowing the Miami cityscape to play a large background role (much as it did with Michael Mann’s shot-on-digital Miami Vice in 2006); as with the previous seasons, the city itself is one of Dexter’s most vibrant characters. The striking 1080p Blu-Ray image accurately represents the show’s sumptuous visual palate. There is a slight layer of grain – particularly with the night shots – that some have commented on, but this is a direct result of the digital cameras and not an imperfection with the disc itself (and lets all be thankful that Paramount made no attempt to digitally ‘smooth out’ the image). The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is also unusually active for a television show.
Our only disappointment are in the lack of extras present on the set. Glancing at the back cover, one sees interviews, book excerpts, and bonus episodes of The United States of Tara and The Tudors, but the catch is that everything is available only through BD Live, requiring an internet connection and compatible player. We have no problem with studios offering a few extras in this manner to hype their service, but putting all extras online and none on the disc itself is a terrible notion, instantly leaving out a good chunk of purchasers who just don’t feel like connecting their player to the Internet and going through the laborious process of creating an account. For the purposes of these reviews, we have gone through those steps only to be unable to connect to the service half the time. We attempted twice to preview the supporting materials and were vexed each time.

The Collector opens July 31 – Watch the Trailer

Freestyle Releasing unleashes this horror-thriller from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the screenwriting team behind FEAST and the recent SAW sequels. If nothing else, the premise – a combo of crime-thriller and torture-porn – is certainly intriguing: a thief named Arkin (Josh Stewart) breaks into his employer’s house but finds that the inhabitants have been taken prisoner by a deranged psycho, forcing Arkin into the role of reluctant hero. Marcus Dunstan directs. Madeline Zima, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth, and Juan Fernandez fill out the cast.

Repulsion (1965) – Horror Film Review

Although it cannot quite live up to its reputation, Polanski’s startling psychological horror film is a bona fide genre classic.

Repulsion (1965)Back in the day when newspaper and magazine critics had some influence, Roman Polanski’s REPULSION was one of the few horror films (along with Alfred Hitchock’s PSYCHO) that earned any respect. Variety called it “a classy, truly horrific psychological drama,” while the New York Times Bosley Crowther warned, “Prepare yourself to be demolished when you go to see it – and go you must, because it’s one of those films that everybody will soon be buzzing about.” At a time when British horror consisted mostly of colorful Victorian-era Gothic tales produced by Hammer Films (a company with a reputation as profitable entertainers rather than artistic visionaries), Polanski’s startling, black-and-white depiction of homicidal madness, set in swinging London, was just the sort of thing to make critics sit up and take notice, assessing REPULSION as an artistic achievement rather than a routine genre effort. It certainly didn’t hurt that Polanski had established his artistic bona fides with his 1962 feature film debut KNIFE IN THE WATER; shot in his native Poland, that three-character drama identified Polanski as an upcoming European auteur who would not be dimissed as just another genre filmmaker when he made his English-language debut with psychological horror movie.
Unfortunately, the supremely high level of adulation for REPULSION (which continue to this day, with a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes) is not altogether warranted; as good as it is, the film is not perfect. Fortunately, in spite of its flaws, Polanski’s dark little gem deserves to be regarded as a mini-masterpiece, because it merges horror conventions with art house aesthetics (one of the first films to do so – after George Franju’s 1958 EYES WITHOUT A FACE) in a way that creates a nightmare all the more disturbing because it is crystal clear and contemporary, carefully establishing a believable sense of reality (instead of Gothic atmosphere) before turning on the thumb-screws.

Carole is ready to resist advances from her landlord (Patrick Wymark)
Carole is ready to resist advances from her landlord (Patrick Wymark)

Co-written with the agoraphobic Gerard Brach, REPULSION depicts the psychological disintegration of Carole Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a disturbed young woman working in a salon. Isolated and withdrawn, Carol is barely clinging to her sanity when we first meet her, living in an apartment she shares with her sister Helene (Yvonne Furneaux). Exactly what is wrong with Carol is not specified, but we have no doubt it is sexual in nature, a point emphasized when we see her lying in bed at night, listening to Helene and her boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) make love in the next room. When Helene and Michael depart for a vacation, Carole’s tentative connection to reality is severed, and she succumbs to paranoia. A sleazy landlord (Patrick Wymark) makes sexual advances; Carol kills him with a pair of scissors and barricades herself inside. The abyss of madness yawns before her, and into it she plunges, succumbing to nightmare visions that seem completely.
Carole (Catherine Denueve) imagines hands emerging from the walls.
Carole (Catherine Denueve) imagines hands emerging from the walls.

Using the simplest of resources, director Roman Polanski manages to convey Carole’s descent into madness, in a way that invites audience inside her head even while giving viewers the creeps. Much of the imagery is memorably revolting (a rotting rabbit) or surreally disturbing (hands emerging from the walls to fondle the hallucinating woman).
Nevertheless, REPULSION does not sustain full tension for its entire length; the later scenes grow repetitions, and the carefully wrought camera set ups and methodical pace border on boredom as the film wears on, slowly charting the disintegration of Carole’s last shred’s of sanity. Although Polanski makes good use of the limited space to convey Carole’s gathering claustrophobia, which climaxes in a scene wherein the walls seem to press in on her, one cannot help noticing that the space islimited. With the last half of the film set entirely in the Ledoux’s apartment, the visual possibilities tend to run dry. One loses count of the number of times the degenerating character’s psychotic solitude is interrupted by the ringing telephone, always shown in the same close-up camera angle. When Carole finally cuts the phone’s cord, it’s supposed to symbolize her final break with the outside world; instead, you want to cheer, “At last!”
The visual monotony is combined with a storyline that wears down rather than amps up. Yet strangely enough, this ultimately works in REPULSION’s favor, leaving the audience without the catharsis of an explosive climax. The “morning after” scene – a return to normality in conventional horror films, like awakening from a bad dream – is rendered here in dark and distressing terms, suggesting that the nightmare never ends. Nearly comatose, Carole is carried out of her room by Michael, but the scene plays less like a rescue than a prelude to confinement. (Ian Hendry’s briefly glimpsed expression is hard to read: is it smirking satisfaction that the unwanted third wheel will be gone from the apartment, or does he seem to have some kind of designs on Carole?).
We are denied even the satisfaction of a last-minute revelation regarding Carole’s unhinged mentality. Polanski’s camera merely zooms in on a photograph of Carole as a young girl, staring angrily at her father, suggesting that the seeds of her madness were planted in childhood, perhaps buried forever, never to be fully explained. (It has become common to interpret the photo as evidence that Carole was sexually abused by her father, but Polanski has denied this in interviews, stating that he merely wanted to show that Carol had been disturbed from a very early age, without offering an exact explanation). 
These minor quibbles are not meant to argue against REPULSION’s reputation as a classic but rather to point out that certain films seem to get a fairer shake from critics than others. This is especially true in the horror genre, where a little bit of artistry goes a long way toward earning favorable reviews that less ambitious but sometimes equally effective films also deserve. However, it would be unfair to suggest that the critical consensus is totally exaggerated; it is merely blind to the minor blemishes that mar this otherwise excellent work.
repulsion1REPULSION may not be perfect, but it is an excellent example of the “horror of personality” sub-genre. Its imperfections tend to fade from memory with the passage of time, eclipsed by the haunting memory of Carole’s malaise. This is a horror movie that is not afraid to shock, but the shocks are few and fleeting; instead, Polanski wants to get inside your head and make you feel the dementia troubling Carole. The director has cast a light upon the inner darkness in the twisted corners of a human mind, but instead of exposing an enlightening truth, he casts more shadows – shadows that persist long after the theatre curtain has dropped and the lights have gone up.
REPULSION (1965). Directed by Roman Polanski. Screenplay by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach; adaptation and additional dialogue by David Stone. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux, Patrick Wymark, Renee Houston, Valerie Taylor, James Villiers. Helen Fraser.

Dexter: The Complete Second Season – Blu-ray Review

Here I sit, trying to imagine the pitch meeting for Dexter…

“We’ve got this cop, working for the forensics department of the Miami Police Dept.”
“Go on, I’m loving it…”
“His specialty is hunting serial killers that he feels are especially deserving.”
“Serial killers, too?!? That’s fantastic, I think we’re gold. What about babes?”
“Well, he’s a sociopath, so he really doesn’t like girls all that much. Plus, being a serial killer himself, there isn’t much time for dating. Hello? Hello?”

Dexter is certainly the best television show to ever celebrate murderous anti-social behavior. With HBO still paying off karmic debt for pulling the plug on Rome and Deadwood, Dexter has dramatically raised Showtime’s decidedly sketchy history in the world of premium cable original series. We rolled our eyes back in 2006 at the thought of yet another serial killer-themed entertainment clogging the cultural zeitgeist, but Dexter is a very different animal indeed, and makes us think that network television may have forever given up the quality program mantle to cable. Dexter is based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay dealing with the most prolific serial killer in Miami – who also happens to be the police forensics expert – and was brought to Showtime as a series in October 2006. It’s been one of the few times we can recall a film or television show feel somehow truer than the source material on which it was based. We started reading Lindsay’s “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” after first being immersed in the show, and were amazed to find that the series actually had more depth than the books. What seemed too much like a cold, dramatic invention on the page is made into a fully-formed, flesh and blood character on television thanks to excellent writing, slick location photography, and a truly amazing lead performance.
Dexter (Michael C Hall) was adopted as a small child by patrolman Harry Morgan (James Remar) after finding him in the midst of a brutal crime scene – literally bathed in the blood of his deceased mother – who was dismembered by a chainsaw in front of his eyes. After catching Dexter killing small animals, Harry soon realizes that his son was exhibiting the textbook early warning signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Realizing that there’s little that he can do to prevent Dexter from becoming a killer, he instead trains him in police methods so that he’ll never leave a trace; but more importantly, Harry imparts a code in Dexter to only kill people who are murderers themselves and may otherwise escape justice.
As Season One began, both Dexter and adoptive sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) had joined the Miami Police Force, with Dexter’s deadly talents having helped him excel at his work in blood spatter analysis. Dexter still feels disconnected to the people around him, but his father’s advice about “fitting in and looking normal” convinces him to date Rita (Julie Benz), a victim of domestic abuse with two children and a threatening ex-husband, Paul (Mark Pellegrino) looking for more time with the children. At first, Rita seems like the perfect girl for Dexter, as her pervious relationship has left her distrustful of men and unable to be physically intimate. But things change when another serial killer begins stalking Miami’s sun-bleached streets, a cold, methodical murderer dubbed the ‘Ice Truck Killer’ for his preferred method of transporting the bodies of his victims. Dexter marvels at the cleanliness of the crime scenes, with the victim’s bodies neatly wrapped and tied and not a drop of blood to be found (forcing the ‘blood spatter’ expert to come up with increasingly flimsy excuses for being at the scenes.) Dexter’s relationship with the Ice Truck Killer takes an unusual turn when he begins to leave messages for Dexter in his own apartment, suggesting a connection between them. Dexter’s familiarity with the Ice Truck Killer creates suspicion on the part of lead detective Doakes (Erik King), who regards Dexter as a freak and suspects that he knows quite a bit more about serial killing than he lets on. Meanwhile, Debra begins dating Rudy (Christian Camargo) a designer of prosthetic limbs who also happens to have a dark secret of his own.
In deference to those not yet familiar with events of Dexter‘s first season, we’ll end the discussion there. Suffices to say that the show manages to miraculously tie up the various plot threads without compromising the dark side of its lead character’s nature. Season 2 opens with Doakes more convinced than ever that Dexter is hiding a more lethal side. He tails Dexter everywhere while off-duty, making it impossible for Dexter to apply his trade. Adding to Dexter’s stress on the home front is his distraught sister’s decision to move in with him following her entanglement with the Ice Truck Killer. Rita’s ex (set up by Dexter and returned to jail on a drug charge in the previous season) is killed in prison, but not before planting the seeds of doubt in Rita, repeatedly telling her that Dexter planted the heroin on him that got him locked away. Rita confronts Dexter, but instead of guessing at his true nature, she mistakenly assumes him to be a drug addict, and tells him to get help or get out. But rehab isn’t all bad as Doakes tails him to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and assumes that Dexter had been merely hiding a drug addiction from his fellow officers. It’s at a NA meeting that Dexter hooks up with a sponsor, the raven-haired Lila (Jamie Murray), a metal sculptor, recovering meth addict, and sometime pyromaniac. Lila thinks she’s found a kindred spirit in Dexter’s dark side, and even Dexter thinks that he may have found a soul mate, but his attentions have turned to a new serial killer gripping the Miami area – dubbed the Bay Harbor Butcher by the newspapers. The area in the bay where the Butcher had been dumping his victims has been discovered by divers; the neatly wrapped parts of dozens and dozens of victims cause a ripple of fear to run throughout the city in everyone but Dexter – because those pieces happen to belong to his victims! The FBI bring in Special Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) to catch the Butcher, who promptly recruits Debra for his joint task force.
The above events compromise roughly the first half of the season, and once again, we’re loath to discuss anymore because of the large number of people without Showtime that catch up with the show on video. As with the first season, Dexter continues the difficult juggling act of keeping the main character psychologically true while maintaining audience sympathy. Credit for that goes largely to Michael C. Hall, whose wickedly smart portrayal is simply astonishing.
For three seasons Hall has successfully played a character who has to fake connections to the people and world around him and all the while wearing a thin, occasionally shaky mask of sanity that hides a ruthless killer. Whatever else the show is, it would have failed utterly had the central performance leaned too far into the overly campy, Hannibal Lecktor territory, or simply uninteresting; but after watching our first episode of Dexter last year, it was instantly unimaginable to have anyone else in the title role. The second season gives Hall much more to play off of, having to deal with issues of paternal betrayal that force him to question his cherished “Harry’s code” imparted to him by his father.
The second season also gave supporting cast member Erik King more to chew on as well; Doakes’ hatred and suspicion of Dexter was the only through line in the first season that we found ourselves losing patience with, but that obsession reached a necessarily brutal conclusion here that we found very satisfying. Jennifer Carpenter’s Debra is also put to more interesting use here, her close call with the Ice Truck Killer driving her deeper into Dexter’s life. She also begins an unlikely romance with guest star Carradine, in magnificent form as the dedicated FBI agent. Their April-October romance seems unusually organic, and Carpenter’s game is raised considerably when she shares the screen with him.
Miami, too, plays a distinctive role in Dexter, as much a part of the fiber of the show as New York is to Law & Order. It will be interesting in later years to compare Dexter with Miami Viceto chart the changes that the city has gone through. The show is shot on digital video, but the vagaries of cable broadcast mean that the show is invariably compressed to a degree (at least as it flows into our house), so the Blu-Ray release gives us the opportunity to see the show as it was originally shot. There are some occasionally heavy filtering effects used, but this does appear to be an accurate representation of the filmmaker’s intent. Even those accustomed to Showtime’s HD broadcast will be wowed by the 1080p picture here, wringing out heretofore unseen details. We only hope that Showtime/CBS see fit to release the 3rd season Blu-Ray day-and-date with the SD-DVD; for a show as visually stimulating as Dexter, it’s frustrating to have to wait this long for the HD version.
Extras are as follows:

  • Tools of the Trade video game
  • Trailers
  • Blood Fountains Featurette
  • Dark Defender – Season 2 Short Films
  • Michael C. Hall Podcasts
  • First 2 Episodes of United States of Tara

While this looks impressive, be warned that with the exception of the silly trivia game and the trailers, the rest of the bonus features have to be downloaded via the BD Live service (a process that our PS3 doesn’t seem to like at all).

Slaughter – After Dark Horrorfest Review

slaughter-poster-copyDo not buy a ticket to this movie. Do not rent this movie. Do not watch this movie for free. If you have a choice between seeing this movie and being incarcerated in Guantanamo, choose the latter, because sitting through this suckfest is such torture that it qualifies as a crime against humanity that should be punishable under the Geneva Conventions.

No doubt you think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the movie. If you did, you would feel differently. In fact, if you go and see it in spite of my warning, you will probably hate me for not trying hard enough to convince you not to. So here goes:

It is becoming increasingly clear that After Dark Films will include any old shoddy piece of junk as one of their Horrofest’s “8 Films to Die For.” That we’re seeing a crass exploitation film is not the issue; it’s a given. What is the issue is that SLAUGHTER fails miserably, even by the low standards of grindhouse cinema:is.

The pace is unforgivably damn boring, rolling along as if it were some kind of drama with interesting characters and a story worth watching. Horror and suspense are almost non-existent till near the very end, when we finally get  a glimpse at what must be the reason for the film’s inclusion in the After Dark Horrorfest: a sequence in which our heroine has her teeth pulled by the film’s psycho killer. As far as dental horror goes, it is a good deal more grizzly than MARATHON MAN but not nearly as effective.

Till then, you have to sit through tedious story about some city chick hiding from her stalker boyfriend by moving to the country, where she rooms with a country chick next to a barn where piggies are slaughtered. When the country chick proclaims that “men are pigs,” you can easily surmise the reason we never see her one-night stands a second time, but the city chick never gets the hint. (Now you may consider this last bit of information a spoiler but trust me – it is impossible to spoil something that is rotten to begin with.)

The psycho-killer is one of the least intimidating screen presences ever thrown up on the big screen by filmmakers with naive expectations that viewers would actually be scared. The method of dealing death is – get this – strangulation (big whoopdie deal!), but the killer doesn’t look strong enough to outmanuver my grandmother, let alone the leading lady. And check out the terrifying back story that explains the killer’s homicidal proclivities: childhood abuse consisting of naughty photographs showing the victim – gasp! – wearing a t-shirt and shorts. (I can just feel the scars of pyschological trauma forming in my brain, can’t you?)

The “climax” suffers from pointless repetition (capture, escape, repeat) that is further undermined by a SEINFELD-like narrative device that has the two separate storylines (stalker ex-boyfriend, psycho roommate) colliding with each other. (At least in SEINFELD, this kind of thing was treated as a joke.)

As if all this were not bad enough, the film ends with a final “turning the tables” moment that is supposed to shock us with its unexpected shocking shock effect, but the action is staged so badly that the only shock is how shockingly laughable it is: the character with the upper hand – and the shotgun – lets her opponent get the drop on her in a way that screams out how little anybody making the film gave a shit about anything – she might just as well have handed the gun over and stuck her head in the noose.

But nevermind that. We’re supposed to believe this garbage, but the titles tell us it is based on a true story. If you’re stupid enough to believe that, then you deserve to drown in this cesspool.

Amy Shiles as Faith
Amy Shiles as Faith

SLAUGHTER (2009). Written and directed by Stewart Hopewell. Cast: Amy Shiels, Lucy Holt, Craig Robert Young, David Sterne, Maxim Knight.


Interview: Psycho Star Anthony Perkins

Thanks to the enduring popularity and critical respect afforded to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), the character of Norman Bates has emerged as one of the premier icons of the horror genre. Norman is memorable because he appears, at first, to be shy and sympathetic – a lonely boy-man under his mother’s thumb. Even when he turns out to be a murderer, we still feel sorry for him, because he is the victim of a mental illness (split personality) that he cannot control; in fact, the murderous portion of his personality is so distinct that he seems almost to be possessed by the spirit of his dead mother – leaving the “normal” part of his Norman self untainted.
That is the concept created by screenwriter Joseph Stefano, based on the character in Robert Block’s novel PSYCHO (which in turn was loosely inspired by the real-life case of serial killer Ed Gein). However, much of the credit for the character’s success belongs to actor Anthony Perkins; in fact, the screen version of the character was written with him in mind. Initially, Stefano was not sure he could make the book’s character (a somewhat sinister reprobate) sympathetic, but director Alfred Hitchcock told him to forget about the novel’s presentation and imagine Perkins in the role.
Perkins brought his own contributions to the character (such as the nervous stutter). Much of his success in the role was due to confounded expectations: he seemed so likable and harmless that it was a genuine shock to learn the truth about Norman.
Unfortunately, those very qualities that initially made the revelation about Norman a surprise, soon became clichéd markers identifying on-screen psychos, and to a large extent Perkins’ later career was dominated by his identification with Norman. Not only did he reprise the role in three sequels; he also played variations on the character in films like PRETTY POISON and CRIMES OF PASSION (which ends with the Perkins character in drag, just like Norman).
Yet Perkins was never resentful of the character; if anything, he seemed pleased by the recognition it afforded, and he had the sense of humor to spoof his image. While hosting a televised performance at the Comedy Club, he drew laughs simply by lapsing into the familiar Bates mannerisms, pretending to mistake a blond woman in the audience for Janet Leigh, and his Saturday Night Live sketch “The Bates School of Motel Management” is a classic piece of comedy. Posing for a magazine cover to promote PSYCHO 3 (which he also directed), Perkins went so far as to wear pink trousers, as if deliberately mocking the dark image of his on-screen alter ego.
“I do have affection for Norman as a person,” Perkins said. “He does the best he can out of the diminished circumstances with which his personality stranded him, and […] Norman’s childhood was difficult and traumatic. Norman is, at heart, a benevolent soul, with a dark side, but Norman’s conscious mind is always on the positive things in life.” Perkins did not feel constricted by the recognition and fame he earned as Norman: “I think it’s identified me. I think that people who see me and think of me in terms of this role usually, as they’re talking to me, will also say, ‘Oh but I also liked you in this or that.’ So I think it’s better to be identified with one role and then jog someone’s memory into remember another role, than it is to see a celebrity or an actor coming at you down the street and saying, ‘Oh, there’s um…he was in…” [There’s that] empty feeling that the actor has about not really being remembered for anything except for being a face on the screen somewhere, so I prefer this.”
Perkins claimed that Norman was not only his most famous role: “I think it’s my favorite role as well. So many thousands of people have come up to me on the street and in hotel lobbies and in department stores and have shared their experiences of seeing the films with me. It’s always been with the greatest amount of pleasure that they’ve done so. They’ve told me stories about the dates they had with their future wives, and they’ve told me stories about sneaking out of the bathroom window and seeing it against their parents orders — and many stories like that, which have imprinted it into their minds. Always with a feeling of having been entertained and having been taken in by the story and having a good time. Of course, I enjoy that.”
Of reprising Norman Bates in three sequels, Perkins was upbeat, stating that the character was interesting enough to warrant revisiting: “I don’t want to use the quote again, but it’s never failed me, so I will: it is the Hamlet of horror roles, and you can never quite get enough of playing Norman Bates. It’s always interesting. And pursuant to that, when you read a script, when you read a PSYCHO script, a sequel, and you see dialogue that’s been written for Norman to say, if it’s right, it pops right of the page, and if it’s wrong, there’s something off about it. So he’s a character who has really emerged in a dimensional way. And of how many characters, how many screen characters can that be said? You know it’s a great compliment to the original concept by Hitchcock.”
Because of the classic status of the original film, the subsequent sequels tended to be held in somewhat low regard by critics, even though PSYCHO 2 proved to a commercial success. Some critics, including screenwriter Joseph Stefano, even suggested that PSYCHO 2 and PSCYHO 3 had taken a serious tragic figure and turned him into a campy character. Perkins, of course, disagreed:
“I think that Norman shows a progression in his personality. In the second PSYCHO picture we saw a Norman that was far more aware of his potential for violence than in the first film. In the third film, we saw a more saddened Norman who found himself revisiting not only the scenes but the temperatures of the first two films, so I think the development of the character keeps it from being a carbon copy of the original.”
Anthony Perkins with Janet Leigh in PSYCHOAs for the alleged camp, Perkins said, “I don’t think you can look at either of [those] two sequels […] and point to and correctly identify any elbows in the ribs or any camp humor in them.” As for any black humor, Perkins insisted that it had existed all the way back in the original. He recalled that, during the initial release of PSYCHO, audiences “laughed so hard that Hitchcock was so dismayed and wanted to take the film back and remix some of the dialogue scenes so that they would be heard. […] they laughed almost throughout the picture. Hitchcock claimed that it was the first time that an audience had gotten the jump on him – the first time he hadn’t been able to read his audience. Finally, he gave into it and used to call PSYCHO a comedy. Whether or not he originally thought of it as a comedy, I don’t’ now. But I was with him in Chicago and New York when it opened, and you could hear the words [because] they laughed so hard.”
Still, whatever humor and/or sympathy the character engendered, Perkins acknowledged that Norman would always retain his menacing quality: “That will always be the basis for any PSYCHO film. Norman hasn’t changed that much – he still has a bad side.”
The actor concluded, “Of course, Norman’s problems couldn’t be solved – that wouldn’t be fair. Norman’s case is a tragic one, and the pictures are tragedies. Therefore, the only way that you could really resolve Norman’s problems would be to kill him off.”

Interview: Psycho Screenwriter Joseph Stefano

The man who adapted Robert Block’s novel discusses his contribution to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film.

As told to Steve Biodrowski

Joseph Stefano has a long list of credits of various shapes and sizes (including his work as a songwriter), but he will always be fondly remembered by genre fans for two outstanding projects: he produced and wrote many episodes of the original version of the television show THE OUTER LIMITS, and he adapted the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film PSYCHO from the novel by Robert Bloch. (Stefano’s screenplay was re-used, virtually word for word, in director Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of the film.)
Curiously, Stefano is not a devotee of horror and science-fiction, but he does have an interest in Freudian psychology, which he put to good use in his genre writing. Unfortunately, his success in that area somewhat typecast his as a writer of dark, horrific thrillers and science-fiction, leading to scripts for features like THE KINDRED and stints writing for television’s STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, SWAMP THING, and the revived OUTER LIMITS in the 1990s. Fortunately, he has managed to put some non-genre credits under his belt as well, including 1995’s TWO BITS, a nostalgic drama starring Al Pacino, which Stefano also produced.
In the 1990 interview below (conducted at the time of PSYCHO IV), the Joseph Stefano discusses his contribution to the PSYCHO series, both on the original Hitchcock film and on the 1990 “prequel” that explored the origins of Norman Bates’ neurosis.
When I start writing a movie, I ask myself three questions. Why am I beginning with a certain character? Why on this particular day in his or her life? What crisis will that character confront? Those were the questions on my mind that day in 1959 as I drove to Paramount to meet Hitchcock to discuss adapting Robert Bloch’s Psycho.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Hitch didn’t want to talk to me — he hated meeting with people he might have to reject. As it turned out, someone, maybe his agent, insisted that he interview me.
I read the novel the night before our meeting but was unimpressed. With the exception of the ending, it’s a story that’s weak in writing and characterization. It starts with Norman and focuses on him too much. I was sure that no audience was going to like Norman enough to stay with him throughout an entire movie.
During that car ride, the idea suddenly struck me to begin with Marion, suggesting that the movie would be about a girl who steals $40,000. Audiences would be sucked into a character who did something wrong but was really a good person – they would feel as if they, not Marion, had stolen the $40,000. When she dies, the audience would be the victim!
And that’s just how it worked. With so much early emphasis on Marion, no one dreams she’ll get killed. When it happens, people are blown away. It’s like Hitch and I were saying we’ve stolen your central character!
The idea excited Hitch. And I got the job. Killing the leading lady in the first 20 minutes had never been done before! Hitch suggested a name actress to play Marion because the bigger the star the more unbelievable it would be that we would kill her. From there, the writing was easy. The only difficulty was switching the audience’s sympathies to Norman after Marion’s death. Bloch’s book treats him as a kind of reprobate. When I discussed this with Hitch, he said, “Put that out of your mind and picture Tony Perkins.” I knew then I could write the character.
Hitch wasn’t always patient, but he was helpful and generous; he answered my questions gladly. Before I’d even written a word, we spent four weeks brainstorming the story, especially the shower scene. We talked about having Saul Bass do storyboards, and planned how to film the murder without actually seeing the knife enter the flesh. We were mainly concerned about nudity — how much could be shown in 1959 and how much would convey, without being gratuitous, the terror of being attacked naked and wet.
Hitch was interested in what I had to offer, like one of my background ideas for Norman’s upbringing. I imagined a scene – which people will recognize from Psycho IV – here Norma is horsing around with his mother. When she notices he has an erection, she becomes rabid. To teach him once and for all that’s he’s not supposed to do that, she forces him to put on a dress, smears lipstick on his face, and locks him in a closet. The incident had no place in Psycho, but I told Hitch anyway, and he was fascinated – very curious about things of that nature, Freudian psychological backgrounds.
Hitch asked for only one change in my script: the scene when Marion is stopped by the policeman. I said it might be fun if the cop came on to her, and, of course, she’s terrified because she’s stolen the money. He liked the idea but felt we’d better get on with the suspense. He said, “Why don’t you try him more matter-of-fact.” I said, “How about if he’s menacing?” Hitch thought of putting the officer in dark glasses, which made the cop sinister rather than pleasant.
There was another scene I wrote which was cut for length. It’s where Marion’s sister and fiance become convinced that she’s dead. Taking place at the motel, it would have been a nice touch. The film’s editor, George Tomasini, added a few of his own, like the barely noticeable superimposition of a skull over Norman’s face at the end of the film.
When I signed on, Hitch didn’t know quite what to offer, so he asked my last job’s wage. I told him I’d been getting $1500 a week at Fox, and that’s what Hitch gave me. It was high for 1959, but I only got it for as long as I worked, which was eight weeks. Psycho was such a low-budget movie that almost everybody made scale. Even though the studio grossed a fortune at the box office, Bloch was paid only $6000 total for the rights to his novel and all subsequent options.
I haven’t seen him in years. When I won the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America Award for Psycho in 1960, he presented it to me. I wish Bloch still had the rights to Psycho because II and III wouldn’t have turned out so bad. Those films changed Norman from a sensitive and pitiful – if not sympathetic – villain into a laughable figure. Unfortunately, Perkins didn’t help to stop that transformation. Of course, I could never imagine anyone else playing Norman Bates since Tony gave so much to that character, like the stutter and the candy corn – and especially a timidity that can’t really be scripted.
Despite all that, Psycho III is a real tragedy — and I mean that as a movie. That dreadful piece all but buried Hitch’s original concept. Having that severed arm in Norman’s jacket was like something out of a slasher movie. Tony was against the idea, but Universal insisted.
Psycho 11 and III say, in effect, there’s no way to survive with a psychological problem. If you’ve got it, the law can keep you locked up because there’s no chance for cure. I thought, “Vile!” I don’t think l need that message. It’s just not true.
Unless a sequel could bring Norman out and show the effects of 20 years of therapy, I felt it would be nothing more than crass commercialism. When the studio put out floaters to see if I wanted to write Psycho II, I made my feelings clear: I could’ve done it a hundred times. After Psycho’s release, I was bombarded with requests to write similar movies which I refused because I didn’t feel any need to do it again. I’ve spent my career turning those imitations down.
I wasn’t approached for Psycho III because Tony worked with III’s writer, but I was invited to the set. I took up the invitation, and as my wife and I were leaving, I noticed a flat on which one of the crew had jokingly scrawled “Save for Psycho IV.” We laughed, and I said the only way to do it would be to make a prequel. When I was approached a couple of years later, that thought came back. Filming a prequel would be a good opportunity to delve into the past, not just for the occasional flashbacks but for the whole story.
At the same time, I realized a very strong contemporary narrative was needed. Without that, the movie would end with the shower sequence in Psycho. What other high point was there in Norman’s life? Clearly, I had to develop the present-day Norman, which pleased Tony and the producers, who wanted him to reappear.
Gearing up for Psycho IV, I decided to ignore the two sequels – like the business in II about Norman’s mother. Instead, I based my script on background material I’d had in my mind for over 30 years – information that couldn’t be in the original without giving the ending away. I wrote five drafts, making changes because of time and budget constraints. Thanks to the director Mick Garris, my vision was on screen almost intact.
In Psycho IV, the time is five years after III, and Norman is out of the hospital. He’s a married man, and he’s finally learned how to love somebody and have natural sex without killing his lover. But when Norman’s wife becomes pregnant, there’s a crisis. His fear that his illness will be passed on to a new generation prompts him to call into a radio talk show focusing on matricide. As the film progresses, he resorts to the only neurosis that ever worked for him.
The question might be asked why, if Norman is cured, does he revert back to his old ways? I think he explains when he says, “I’m cured, as I’ll ever be, but I’m still me.” No matter how cured we are of certain psychoses, we revert when the chips are down. The film couldn’t just be about Norman getting cured. It had to be about that cure coming undone.
As in the last two sequels, the producers have attempted to drum up a “don’t-tell-the-ending” campaign. I disagree with that policy because it sets up expectations for something that will not be there. It’s not like the original movie where you thought it was the mother committing the murders, but it was actually the son. I don’t think it’s possible to create the kind of shock today that we created in 1959. And I don’t even want to try.
So far, audience reaction has been good, and I’m pleased. With the exception of Variety, which called the movie “Psycho-babble,” the reviews have also been strong. Norman Bates has a crisis, but the resolution leaves everyone glowing – which is not the reaction you’d expect after seeing a Psycho movie.
People may be surprised at the ending I chose, but if you’ve done your homework, I think it will seem natural. Any other way would have been preposterous – just one more dreadful Psycho sequel. It will end as life would have it end.

–Copyright 1990 Steve Biodrowski

Zodiac – Film Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: With all the annual “Top Ten Lists” lists sending our memories racing back to the best that 2007 had to offer, we thought this would be a good time to post a review of a fine borderline genre film that we had previously overlooked because it came out early last year, before Cinefantastique Online powered up. 
David Fincher (director of SEVEN) returns to serial killer territory with this fact-based movie about the infamous Zodiac murderer, who taunted police in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Based on two non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith, the lengthy scenario tries to pack in as much information as possible about the search for the killer, whose identity was never determined. (No one was ever indicted, much less convicted, for any of the Zodiac’s crimes.) Early sequences – which depict the handful of murders definitely attributed to Zodiac (he claimed numerous others) – are grim and horrifying, playing upon audience awareness that these are real people who died. Later, the film slides into a bit of a rut as the case grows cold and the efforts to solve it fall to Graysmith (played by Gyllenhaal), a newspaper cartoonist-turned-amateur-sleuth, who refuses to give up the search. Nevertheless, ZODIAC displays an admirable attention to the details of the case and the era, emerging as a solid effort to capture a piece of history on celluloid.
Continue reading “Zodiac – Film Review”

Crazy Eights (2007) – After Dark Horrorfest Review

crazy-eights.gifA laudable attempt at atmosphere and a handful of creepy moments are not enough to redeem this muddled mess, one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest. Unlike most of its brethren in the fest, CRAZY EIGHTS has a few familiar names and faces in the cast: Dina Meyer, Frank Whaley, Gabrielle Anwar, and Traci Lords. Any hope that this will increase the dramatic intensity is dashed by a screenplay that barely manages to tell a story. The fragmented opening is supposed to be intriguing, but instead is frustrating: we get a flashback about a mental hospital where some questionable experiments on children took place decades ago, followed by introductions to two of the main characters, but how these scenes relate to each other is left wide open; we hope for the pieces to come together eventually, but the hope is mostly in vain. A handful of characters wind up together at a funeral for one of their comrades, whose last wish was that they recover a “time capsule” they buried years before as children. This leads to an old chest that contains not only mementos of the past but also the body of a long-dead child. Unable to find their way back from the deserted area, the group ends up in an abandoned facility, which turns turns out to be haunted.
The question is what does any of this have to do with the prologue, and why are these characters involved? You won’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the revelations coming long before the characters figure them out, but you will need to be Kreskin to understand how any of it makes sense. The revelations raise more questions than they answer; script drops hints left and right, but none of them add up to a satisfying explanation. It becomes obvious rather early on that all the characters are former inmates of the asylum, and that a guilty secret from their past has caught up with them decades later. The problem is: we figure this out long before the characters, and when the film gets around to explaining how they could have forgotten all this, the script can barely be bothered to offer up any details that might be convincing. The aura of contrivance lays so heavily over the proceedings that it blankets them in incredulity, muffling the attempt to generate any real thrills.

The scares are curiously muted. Since this is a ghost story, one might expect a suggestive rather than a graphic approach, but what we see looks more bungled that subtle – as if something gorier were intended but the filmmakers shied away, either on set or in the editing. In fact, a couple of the “big” moments fly by so fast you almost wonder where they went; in at least one instance, the resulting case of “sudden death” borders on the comical (what looks like little more than a hard knock on the back of the head turns out to be instantly fatal).
The cast struggle to make something out of it all, but they are thwarted by a story that never establishes a solid foundation that will ground the horror in a believable sense of reality. Lords is okay as long as she doesn’t have to emote too much. Anwar does a nice turn as the fragile woman who seems doomed from the outset, but there’s no where to go with the one-note character. Meyer starts out strong, until the script calls for her to lapse into melodramatic hysterics; with the emotions never having been earned, her reactions seem overwrought. Whaley comes off best as the arrogant self-centered jerk of the group. His final moments, aided by some nifty fragmented editing (cutting back and forth between different bits of action as he carries on a lonely conversation with himself) seem dropped in from another, better movie.
By the time it all winds down, the audience no longer cares; the result seems too inevitable, and the film has given us no reason to care: it is not as if we are watching some dramatic tragedy with a sympathetic character felled by fate; it’s just one more victim for the pile. The film then has the nerve to stick one more flashback on the end, as if this will somehow be the final piece that completes the puzzle and makes sense of it all. Or maybe not.
It is nice to see at least one ghost story included in this year’s After Dark Horrorfest, but there are certainly better ones than this available. One should also note that, despite the R-rating, this is a rather tepid stew: there is no nudity, little gore, and the violence all takes place off-screen. One would like to applaud the filmmakers for eschewing the explicit approach, but cutting away from the carnage is not enough to make a great horror film. Even if it is just a shadow on the wall, you still have to show something that inspires terror – something that creates the image in our brain of what we are not seeing on screen. In CRAZY EIGHTS, what we do see is not enough to make us fear what we don’t.


In the film, the term “Crazy Eights” has nothing to do with the well-known card game. Instead, it refers to the name of a baseball team in which the characters played as children. Of course, eight is one shy of  the number necessary for a ball team; presumably the missing ninth member is the corpse found in the trunk.
CRAZY EIGHTS (2007). Directed by James Koya Jones. Written by Dan DeLuca, James Koya Jones, Ji-un Kwon. Cast: Dina Meyer, Frank Whaley, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar, George Newbern, Dan DeLuca.