A Trio of Female Frights
by Kristin Battestella
This trio of lady horrors past and present provides plenty of paranormal revenge, quirky fatalities, and bizarre terrors for these women young or old.
Dark Touch – Barking dogs, crying babies, thunderstorms, and young girls fleeing into the rain open this 2013 international co-production written and directed Marina de Van (Don't Look Back). Tongue injuries and unexplained bruises further belie the pretty Irish landscapes, and this contemporary, harsh, monochromatic house doesn't match the countryside. Yuppie doctors and reassuring adults calmly explain away why their daughter is traumatized in this home despite ringing in the ears and muffled screams inside the window. Flickering lights, footsteps, shadows, and locked doors build an ominous mood as children are told not to be afraid before they cry in bed over the subtle but no less nasty suggestions. Although nighttime blue lighting is a little too dark, clever editing makes the banging objects, moving furniture, chandelier frights, and crafty kills more terrible amid police discovery, tip toeing social workers, and acting out at the hospital. It will take time to adjust, but ongoing whispers, fear of belts, and back to school structure don't help heal this trauma. People are trying to help and see to our survivor's needs, but the awkward disconnection persists alongside secret photo albums, missing medical records, locking oneself in the bathroom, and refusing to bathe except fully clothed. Are the buzzing lights, breaking dishes, and garage mishaps something paranormal or uncontrolled telekinesis reacting to abuse? Other children are brutally honest in some refreshing exposition, and creepy sing songs lead to nearby abusers and gory retributions as a yellow patina shapes this surreal atmosphere where the fantastic allows hurt children to take matters into their own hands rather than suffer what goes on behind closed doors in this close knit, superstitious community. Adults insist it isn't this girl's fault that bad things happen, but they suspect worse as she recoils from any compassion and child's play becomes harmed dolls and fiery birthday parties. Trances and school barricades come full circle, but the well intended adults only question what they didn't know about the people closest to them when it's too late. At times, the slow pace and frequent screaming drag, and the supernatural aspects are also misleading. The artsy finale will be confusing as well, but the mix of nightmares real and horror make for interesting metaphors and conversations on the frightening truth and who really has the titular mark.
Office Killer – Carol Kane (Taxi), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), and Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct) star in photographer turned director Cindy Sherman's 1997 dark satire of magazine deadlines, office downsizing, and meek but murderous co-workers. Phone gossip, bossy dames, cigarettes, big computers, and older fashions invoke a quirky noir feeling amid the mundane ticking clock and a greasy higher up man who's giving all the ladies his cold. The copier ink explodes on hard working Dorine with the crookedly drawn eyebrows, everyone forgets her name, and she's stuck at home making tea for her crabby old mother amid laptop upgrades and learn or get left behind memos. Late night tech support, power outages, red lighting, and orange glows make the office a little scary before creepy convulsions, thunderstorms, poison in the inhaler, and crossed wires frying associates. Morbid winks layer scenes amid well-filmed bungling crimes, messy mail room slices, and a homeless man catching one hauling out the deceased, but Dorine gains confidence in talking back to that mean corpse while the cat plays with the bodies piling up in the basement. Bloody flashbacks with sixties wagons suggest our mousy employee already had some sociopathy in her, but the trickle down office blame mixes the real world stinky of the ignored worker who sees all with horror, distorted camerawork, kaleidoscope effects, and twisted perspectives. Would she have killed if she had been treated nicely? Mom yearns for the days when a man ruled the house, and mean girls, jealousy, frienemies, and calls to the bitchy wife of the deceased from the girl he was smooching in the office create multi-faceted women's interplay. Sure let's go to lunch – so I can knock you out with a crowbar! Our little lady is pretty crafty when she wants, using primitive emails to get back at stealing accountants or cleaning decomposing bodies with Windex and making unique décor with body parts. Dorine trades tightly wound buns for better make up – letting her hair down as she receives the workplace respect she deserves. Is one hateful co-worker right to not take her sob story at face value and accuse her of playing on everyone's sympathy? It's one woman's word versus another, but the macabre, likable moments ultimately reveal how disturbed the seemingly mild-mannered Dorine truly is. The satire may be uneven, too on nose for some and not outright horror enough with bemusing violence and cut away splatter. However, the innocent, unassuming start results in flies buzzing, smelly discoveries, and a sinister character parable with shrewd commentary on women's relationships, workplace environments, childhood dynamics, social shapings of psychoses, and more.
Trilogy of Terror – Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) leads this 1975 made for television anthology from director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) and writer Richard Matheson (Somewhere in Time) beginning with the campus bells, bell bottoms, and coeds of “Julie.” One stud student wonders how hot this frumpy teacher would be with hazy fantasy intercuts and steamy suggestions as he spies on her undressing. Classroom talk on Faulkner rape and Fitzgerald violence lead to a spicy French vampire movie and a dollar for two large root beers at the drive in – spiked of course. It's surprising they got away with such disturbing date rape on mid-seventies television, as a check-in at the hotel as “Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Harker” leads to dark room photography and threatening notes forcing a woman to “meet” some of his friends before good old fashioned “I have the negatives” blackmail. Who is controlling whom? Newspaper scrapbooks and surprising revelations lead to the black and white reels and button up repression of Segment Two “Millicent and Therese.” Voiceover journaling recounts the family innuendo, cunning sister, fatal accidents, and satanism books on the shelf, but our prudish sibling won't let these perversions continue. All the lewd, sordid mentions are just talk done in one room confrontations – leaving enough saucy to the imagination in this near one woman show as a little voodoo puts the sibling rivalry into her own hands. Sure, it's obvious what's happening by time we see this tawdry sister in hot pants and platform shoes listening on the phone extension. However, it's taut fun, and I wish there were more star of the week, one actress in small set piece presentations today. “Amelia” adds one ugly little but cute in its own twisted way Zuni fetish tribal statue with a miniature spear, sharp teeth, and instructions on not removing its gold chain or the spirit inside will be released. .Awkward chats on the phone with mom provide comforting exposition while building drama – she wants to move on with her wild seventies kitchen, seriously floral wallpaper, shiny orange appliances, and bright teal carpet. Our tiny guy disappears under the couch, and initially, the talking to oneself is bemusing until bloody ankles, low camera angles, and tracking zooms across the floor create fear. Our young woman is home alone with scary sounds, hissing, and blood on her white robe. Yes, it is just a puppet, but the frenetic editing creates scares as this little sucker climbs up the bedskirt and sticks a stolen knife under the door. How does one explain this emergency when calling the police for help? Wrapping him in a towel or holding him under the water won't do the trick, but trapping him in a suitcase just might! Though hysterical as much as it is scary, this little battle makes for a memorable and wildly entertaining finish.