19 September 2008

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Exorcism of Emily Rose Two Movies In One?
By Kristin Battestella

Exorcism movies are few and far between-I can only think of a handful of films minus the weak Exorcist sequels. 2005’sThe Exorcism of Emily Rose is the most recent theatrical release dealing with possessions by you know who.
Laura Linney (Congo) stars as hot shot lawyer Erin Bruner. She’s won several high profile cases, and her firm promises to make her a partner if she takes on Father Moore’s (Tom Wilkinson) intriguing case. The church doesn’t want any bad publicity, and Erin reluctantly defends the Priest accused of murder during the exorcism of Emily Rose.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Unrated (Special Edition)
The exorcism is uniquely contained entirely in flashbacks and court testimony, a very intriguing concept from director Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno). Instead of an opening exorcism movie and a closing court room drama, the two are merged together. As witnesses recount Emily’s experiences, Erin also begins seeing things and having disturbing dreams. The storylines go hand in hand on some points and jar at others. Who is the film for-horror enthusiasts or Law and Order Junkies? Still, I liked the unusual style better than a thinly stretched exorcism movie with a confusing legalese sequel.
Linney holds her own Erin Bruner. The character actress does alright, but the trouble is her jack of all trades performances. She is neither horrible or stand out here, as in The Life of David Gale and The Truman Show. In what film has Laura Linney stolen the show? I don’t mean it as a knock, but any actress could have filled the role, and a bigger name might have given the picture more notice. Perhaps it was Derrickson and his handling of the dual performance? Is Erin a confident lawyer or a jittery and spooked girl?
Likewise we don’t see much of the film’s titular Emily Rose as played by Jennifer Carpenter. We meet her just before her troubles being-and everything from epilepsy to her evil big city college is blamed for Emily’s horrific episodes. Carpenter (Dexter) is rather run of the mill and thinking back, I’m not sure if she has any considerable dialogue of her own. Others say what Emily said, and her letters are read in court. More should have been given to Emily. The audience waits like the jury onscreen, hearing character witnesses describe Emily’s terrible condition and torturous exorcism. In this instance, the movie’s set up has backfired. We don’t really care about Emily. We can’t sympathize with her because we don’t really even know her.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose’s saving grace is Tom Wilkinson’s Father Moore. He is the character on which the film is rightfully centered. We know enough early on to realize evil bad, priest good. We want him to win the case and prove his exorcism beliefs justified. Based on his position alone, we believe his version of events to be true. Wilkinson perfectly hits the balance between the mission of truth and the anguish this whole sequence of events has caused. I’ve seen him previously in comedic films like The Full Monty. We like him despite the weight of the situation simply because Moore is a likeable guy.
The relationship that develops between Erin and Father Moore is also a highlight. Erin becomes his lone jailhouse parishioner, and when evil makes its presence known to her, Father Moore is there with information and confidence. His claim that 3 a.m. is the devil’s hour, a perversion of Christ’s 3 p.m. crucifixion, is the creepiest piece of info given. Now when I wake up during the night, I refuse to look at the clock.
Relationships could save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but what little effects are given could have been better. I prefer the ‘what you don’t see’ method best, but Derrickson shows too little and gives us nothing new. Cliché invisible forces crushing and slapping Emily around are too weak compared to any Exorcist film. Now let’s face it, a lot of horror films and especially exorcism films will always be compared to that 360 head spin and split pea soup vomit. The Exorcism of Emily Rose doesn’t measure up.

Again I come back to the split personality nature of the film. Looking at the effects and lack of scares, The Exorcism of Emily Rose isn’t really a horror film. Then again, intelligent law watchers will think the exorcism flashbacks ridiculous. Religious audiences might enjoy the moral and faith debates presented, but the ethical scenes are few and far between. A mature young adult church group might enjoy a good analysis of Emily Rose, but kids and prudes should avoid the naughty possession scenes. The only scene I found scary was Emily’s initial demonic encounter. Alone in a dorm hall at night any number of horrible things can happen. Pseudo rapeage by invisible evil I suspect is the worst.
We picked up the unrated version of The Exorcism of Emily Rose for a fairly affordable price, but the DVD had little to offer beyond one incomplete deleted scene. For exorcism collectors, the set is a must have, otherwise it’s hit or miss for horror or court room audiences.
In the end, smart performances cannot save The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and mainstream audiences are likely to label the film as my mother did, “Stupid.”

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Coppola’s Dracula is Indeed Bram’s

By Kristin Battestella

You know the story I’m sure. Bela Lugosi, the widow’s peak, creatures of the night! Even Leslie Nielson’s spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It shares those cliché vampire stereotypes. In a hundred years of films, only one Dracula film affirms to the spirit of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. In 1991 director and producer Francis Ford Coppola threw out the widow’s peak and presented the ambitious Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Gary Oldman (Batman Begins, Air Force One) stars as Dracula, the lovelorn count from Transylvania. After his first lawyer Renfield (Tom Waits) returns to England raving with madness, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is dispatched to the Count. Dracula grows obsessed with Harker’s betrothed Mina (Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice), and after arriving in London, Dracula preys upon Mina’s friend Lucy Westerna (Sadie Frost, An Ideal Husband). Lucy’s suitors Lord Arthur (Cary Elwes), Quincy P. Morris (Billy Campbell) and Dr. Steward (Richard E. Grant) are helpless against her ailments. Suspecting something unnatural, Dr. Steward contacts his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins).

You’ll notice there’s a lot more characters than your garden variety Dracula picture. Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart adhere as closely to Stoker’s novel as possible. Previous legal issues with the Stoker estate and stage productions forced dramatic changes and character combinations. Of the many actors, only Keanu Reeves seems out of place. Not far enough removed from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Reeves’ Tiger Beat persona did however appeal to teenage girls not likely to chance a period piece.

Despite her previous issues with Coppola, Ryder holds her own with Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins. Today’s actors don’t really look the part when making costume pictures. Hopkins, of course, fits in with perfection, as does The Princess Bride veteran Cary Elwes. I can go one about the entire cast-there is something to be said when an entire production clicks together; Fine direction, acting, story, and sets.

Naturally, Coppola had sound source material. If you don’t like Stoker’s gothic, yet erotic and horrific Victorian novel, this film version is not for you. Some lines and scenes are word for word out of the book, and Coppola pays homage to the writing styles of the book by actually showing the characters typing, dictating, or composing the letters that tell the story. Outside of the love story bookends created by Coppola, I don’t think any motion picture has ever been so faithful to its book or origin- except for staple productions of A Christmas Carol.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula has its fair share of blood- blood and sultry vampire brides. While the film is not in itself all that scary, the ideas presented are dangerous and somewhat frightening. Coppola captures Stoker’s original intentions in the character of Van Helsing. Hopkins strikes the perfect balance between kinky eccentric and fearsome vampire undead hunter. His narrations on sex, blood, vampirism, and other beastly incarnations remind us that Stoker’s original tale wasn’t to glorify Dracula-unlike modern takes on vampires in film and literature.

Not only does Oscar winning costumes and sets show off Dracula, impressive effects also highlight Coppola’s production. Misty ships, werewolf transformations, and all those slithery Dracula moves fit seamlessly with the spooky subject matter. All the gruesome scenes and decapitations are on DVD-forget watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula on basic TV. Too much is edited from the film to be appreciated.

Lighting effects and music cues spotlight Dracula’s attention to detail. Dracula’s castle is perfectly shadowed with candlelight, and the gaslights and early technical wonders of London add to the period atmosphere. Likewise the film’s score ups the creepy ante. The haunting work by Wojciech Kilar (The Pianist) enters every scene at the right moment. When the audience hears Dracula’s particular theme, we know something naughty is about to happen. When I heard the closing song in its entirety on the DVD, I knew it was Annie Lennox. As with her Oscar winning vocal performance for Return of the King, Lennox’s unique vibrato tops Dracula.

Of course, Dracula’s length and pacing are its only strikes. The slow pace and more talking less action sequences make the picture seem longer than its two hours and fifteen minutes. The finish however, is fast paced, and Coppola resolves his time traveling love triangle bookends-his only deviation from Stoker’s work.

Not a family film by any means or for the eyes of the squeamish or prudish, Bram Stoker’s Dracula also might not be enjoyed by the traditional period piece audience. Although there is no outright sex in the film, Coppola’s illusions to the vampire bite as penetration, heavy petting and nudity from the vampire brides, a touch of homoerotic undertones, and one count of potential bestiality rape might be too much for fans of films like The Remains of the Day. Quirky Ryder fans will no doubt eat up Dracula, as will Hopkins and Oldman fans. Horror enthusiasts, romance lovers, and proprietors of all things goth can enjoy Dracula with each viewing. Several editions of the DVD are available-from affordable older copies to new anniversary editions with features. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a must have in any budding horror fan’s library. You can’t be a definitive Dracula fan without it.

17 September 2008


Cursed Not As Bad As I Suspected
By Kristin Battestella

As if we needed another werewolf movie, Wes Craven’s 2005 wolf fest Cursed came and went at the box office. Plagued by actor pullouts, production problems, and script changes, the unrated edition of Cursed actually wasn’t that bad.
Christina Ricci stars as Ellie, a Craig Kilborn executive who’s trying to balance work, her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) and her on again off again flame Jake (Joshua Jackson). After a grotesque car accident and strange encounter with a dog like beast, the orphaned siblings develop super strength, keen senses, and an allergy to silver.
The acting isn’t that bad, but it’s to be expected, and nothing here will take home any Oscars. Cheesecake victims Shannon Elizabeth and Mya are fitting scream queens, and Judy Greer (Jawbreaker) is perfect as Ellie’s bitchy boss. Only Joshua Jackson seems out of place. I’ve never seen Dawson’s Creek, and Jackson’s good guy turn in Gossip only solidified my Mighty Ducks perceptions. His ambiguous portrayal of reformed entrepreneur playboy Jake does help the films werewolf guessing game. Is he a werewolf? Good? Bad? I only wish Jackson wasn’t so wooden or hokey.

Cursed (Unrated Version)
Christina Ricci has had far better success moving forward from kid roles. After Mermaids and Addams Family Values, Ricci turned to mature films like Prozac Nation and has developed a cult following with macabre films like Sleepy Hollow. Even though she always seems to be playing the same character, Ricci sells Ellie well, it’s not a stretch to believe her as the serious, intelligent executive who turns sexy, sassy, and spunky with here werewolf problems and powers. Ricci and Eisenberg look like brother and sister, and they play off each other well. Director Craven smartly focuses the film on the siblings and establishes their troubles early on. Craven balances the seriousness and humor here well. Craig Kilborn does make his appearance, but a sway towards total humor would make Cursed too hokey.

Craven has lost a step with some uneven Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, but the behind the cameras renaissance man has produced several quiet gems, including the remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. With all the trouble Cursed faced, Craven and final screenwriter Kevin Williamson have accomplished much. I’m operating from the unrated version, which seems to have more head chopping and a few extra moments of gore. The opening car wreck is impressive, and Craven smartly delays the werewolf’s big reveal until well into the film. Some directors become successful and forget their fans or underestimate their audiences. Not here. Craven appreciates his fans, even pays homage to his past with props from his earlier work decorating Cursed’s horror themed nightclub.

One very pleasant aspect of Cursed is the ending. Even though it didn’t fair well at the box office, Craven left no room for a sequel. Ellie’s story and the werewolf mysteries are resolved nice and pretty. We like Ellie and Jimmy-we’ve rooted for them, but I for one am glad there is a complete ending. No jump out monster or screaming before the fade to black ala I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s quite refreshing in this day of franchises.

The unrated DVD of Cursed is now quite affordable. Naturally it has the standard behind the scenes material and features from Craven. I wouldn’t have paid the price of admission at the movies, but Cursed is ideal for a chilly Halloween movie night.

Nightmare on Elm Street

Nightmare on Elm Street Still Scares The Sleep Out of You
By Kristin Battestella
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Yes, sure we all know of Freddy Krueger and the dozen of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher classic has spawned countless spoofs and imitation cut ‘em ups, but when was the last time you saw the original that started it all? Younger folks may not appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street but there’s no time like the present for a horror introduction.
Robert Englund stars as Fred Krueger, a child killer who has returned from the grave by stalking teen’s dreams. Tina (Amanda Wyss) dreams she will die, and soon her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) also dreams of death from Freddy. Their boyfriends Rod (Nick Corri) and Glen (Johnny Depp) are also on sleepless vigils, fearful of Freddy Krueger killing them in their sleep.
It’s a simple enough plot, but it is unusual and tough to explain without spoiling everything. At the time, Craven’s idea hadn’t been played to death. The thought of sleep, rest, dreams-the exact necessities for fighting evil- would be where our horrors come from gives the original Nightmare its edge. Even if you aren’t scared out of bed like you may have been twenty five years ago, the idea of sleep being the enemy is enough food for thought to keep you from dozing.
Writer and director Craven also confuses the viewer by blurring the line between dreams and reality in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A few transitions are obvious with time and repeated viewings, but you’re on the edge of your seat if you don’t know when Freddy may appear. Some of the boiler room sequences can still offer a jump or two. Again Craven uses smart sets like a dirty, dark, hot boiler room where numerous pains and dangers can come into play-contrasted with our teens’ upscale houses and cozy bedrooms. Where Freddy is concerned, all can be used to his advantage. Several eerie scenes will stay with you long after viewing, ad that creepy rhyming song still echoes in my mind decades after first hearing it. Whenever you want to be funny, spooky, morbid-just sing the first phrase: One, Two. Freddy’s coming for you….
Some of the effects for A Nightmare on Elm Street have not stood the test of time. On the other hand, some are still being copied today; the blood flow on the ceiling, that quicksand bed. The sequels had much to top, some areas they did, and others they didn’t. Technically Kruger isn’t the star of the film, Heather Langenkamp is. Craven smartly delays the introduction of Krueger and instead scares the teens with his creepy dream voice and nails on a chalkboard claw. The excellent early dream sequences twist and turn around the girls. ‘Tis better to show a person in fear than a monster of which we may or may not be afraid. Psychological impact far outweighs effects. Nancy’s parents take her to a doctor for tests. Is she crazy? All she wants is for someone to believe that Freddy is real. Langenkamp fits the role of the smart fighter teen perfectly. Not a bombshell, but not a nerd. Former fifties teen idol John Saxon has made a second career in slasher flicks like Hellmaster and From Dusk Till Dawn. The cast may seem unstellar or unimportant, but they help sell the idea that this clique could be yours. These could be your friends or honeys that Freddy’s after.
Two stand outs are of course Johnny Depp and Robert Englund. I still think of Englund as good lizard Willie in V before Elm, but look in stores now that it’s nearing Halloween. You still find Freddy masks, knives gloves, and even that ugly striped shirt. The tongue in cheek nature of his performance helps Englund keep Freddy scary. He enjoys what he’s doing-especially with girls who make the mistake of having sex in a horror movie. Englund actually has little onscreen time, but the seed is planted here for further developed throughout the film series. Likewise Johnny Depp shows his talent in his first movie. Sardonic lines, aloof yet precise looks, and a still cool final scene ensured Depp’s cult status before his recent macabre and Pirate work.
Subsequent films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series-namely Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors, Freddy’s Dead, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare have moments that touch the original, but none is as complete. Series fans and horror buffs will eat up every minute of course, but casual fans might not want to invest in the pricey collector’s set. A Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels are also available individually for an affordable price. I picked up the original for my honey, but thought he would find it dated and hokey. Not so! I wouldn’t say A Nightmare on Elm Street will be around as long as people have dreams, just nightmares.

Sharpe's Fury

Disappointed With Sharpe’s Fury
By Kristin Battestella

After all my Sharpe praise, I was a bit surprised by my dislike of Bernard Cornwell’s twenty first novel in the series, Sharpe’s Fury. By spending too much time on action and silly politics in the Peninsula War in 1811, Cornwall misses the mark.
After a prequel trilogy set in India, 2006’s Sharpe’s Fury returns the series to a gap in 1811. After being wounded by French Colonel Vandal, Sharpe has to put up with new Brigadier General Moon while recuperating in Cadiz. Sharpe and his riflemen are recruited by Britain’s Ambassador to Spain, Henry Wellesley, to clean up his adulterous scandal with a prostitute named Caterina. When Sharpe befriends garrison commander Sit Thomas Graham, he sets his sights on joining Graham’s campaign at Barrosa, hoping the battle will bring him close enough to take revenge on Vandal.
Sharpe's Fury: Richard Sharpe & the Battle of Barrosa, March 1811 (Richard Sharpe's Adventure Series #11)The biggest problem I have with Sharpe’s Fury is the misleading title. There actually isn’t very much Sharpe to be had, much less a furious Sharpe. Cornwell opens with a murderous Spanish priest. Not only have we seen this type in Sharpe before, Cornwell has to begin his story twice. I enjoyed the early chapters with Sharpe trapped on a wild Spanish river with Moon, but this adventure is abandoned for undercover operations in Cadiz. We never find out who the spy at the British headquarters is, we get one sentence of the crooked Spanish Admiral’s fate (I can’t even remember his name or find it online!), and it’s silly, but the book doesn’t end with the titular words as Sharpe traditionally has.

I enjoyed Richard Sharpe’s cloak and dagger work in Cadiz, but it seems as if we get three separate stories for the book’s three parts. Each one could have taken its time as one novel, but the battle of Barrossa does not play as a Sharpe battle, and its not even Cornwell’s best action writing. I had to keep looking at the maps in the front of the book to figure out who was who and where they were. We jump from theatre to theatre, hopping between the viewpoints of Graham, Browne, even French Marshal Victor for the last twenty pages. Every ten pages, we break the battle for a page of banter with Sharpe and Harper (and television add ins Harris and Perkins) walking along the beach, then its back to battle. A hundred pages of a battle in which Sharpe is not involved! And when he does finally arrive, the battle view still isn’t from his vantage. We get a lovely and detailed triumphant charge by the British, and I found myself asking, did Sharpe charge? Sharpe talks about being a soldier and doing what he does best, but we don’t get to see him do it, much less be angry and furious about it.
I prefer character driven novels. If I wanted to read about historical battles, I’d pick up a nonfiction Napoleonic book. We don’t have an epilogue in Sharpe’s Fury. It ends very abruptly, and Cornwell’s closing historical note admits he couldn’t resist indulging himself by having Sharpe in Cadiz. As a Hornblower fan, I find it ironic that with Sharpe’s Fury, there is now exactly twice as many Sharpe novels as there are Hornblower books. It’s as if Cornwell had contractual or writing obligations to complete Fury. If this were a first novel, I suspect Sharpe’s Fury would have a tough time finding a home or editor. Cornwell’s slipped into some very lazy writing here. “The Woman was… The soldier was…It was called Cerro de Busca, but he didn’t know that yet.” Instead of being in Richard Sharpe’s head with his thoughts and feelings and fury, I spent the last few weeks reading a historical tour guide from Cornwell.
Normally I feel sad when finishing a Sharpe novel and can’t wait to get the next book. Fury, however, seems to have lost its audience; I bought the audio book for $3, the hardback for $5. I was kicking myself when I saw the paperback for $2 in the Borders bargain bin. I heartily enjoyed the original Sharpe books: Eagle, Gold, Sword, Company, Enemy, Honour. But Cornwell has done the series a disservice by filling in his cannon with newer tales like Escape and Fury.
Sharpe is Sharpe and I will continue to read the series until I’m done, but I read because I like Richard Sharpe and his predicaments, not to be impressed by historical writing. Sharpe’s Fury has too much Cornwell and as I was struggling to finish I kept asking, “Where’s Richard Sharpe?” It was a disappointing read, and I have to take a break before I return to reading older, proper Sharpe novels.

The Innocents

The Innocents Not an Innocent Old Film
By Kristin Battestella

So my honey and I are having weekend horror movie marathons leading up to Halloween. Alone at 2 a.m., I discovered The Innocents on television. I’m not a Deborah Kerr fan, but I put The King And I aside for this scary 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.
Shocker of shockers, Kerr stars as young Miss Giddens, the new governess to a boy named Miles (Martin Stephens) and his sister Flora (Pamela Franklin). Their Uncle (Michael Redgrave) is always away on business and Miss Giddens is left in charge of the massive family estate, the children, and several servants. Stalwart maid Mrs. Grose (Meg Jenkins) is tight lipped about the previous butler Quint (Peter Wyngarde) but his iron fist is still felt in the household. Soon Miles acts out, and Miss Giddens sees Quint and the previous young governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) about the estate-though both died mysteriously the year before.

The Innocents
Kerr’s stuck up British Lady roles in films like The Grass is Greener and An Affair To Remember have always put me off, but here Kerr turns the persona into a voice of reason for her down spiraling charges-or so it seems. They say never act with children or dogs, but the pint size actors in The Innocents do well. Director Jack Clayton’s production is thoroughly British, and the children’s accents are very strong. The language twists, however, helps the atmosphere. People often find accents attractive, so when Quint finally appears to Kerr and the audience, we already know something about him; Strict, formal, yet rugged and alluring; the perfect mix of naughty and nice for a butler who is abusive in life and death.
I’ve been very tempted to read The Turn of the Screw since viewing The Innocents again. I love two other adaptations, 1994’s The Turn of The Screw starring Julian Sands and Patsy Kensit, and but of course, Dark Shadows introduced Quentin Collins as their spin on the possessive ghost Quint. As Quentin terrorized on Dark Shadows, Quint haunts and slowly takes over the children. The Innocents is black and white, so Clayton makes the most of every shadow and lighting trick in the book for Quint’s creeps. Fading light and darkness, blurry imagery, entire sequences of Kerr in the dark or only with a candle add to the spooks and gothic drama. Today’s films are so jammed packed with special effects, but sometimes being unable to see is best. Hearing what you can not see, the disorientation it creates; in the darkest scenes, Clayton turns up the ghost sounds, laughter, and storms. We’re as confused as Miss Giddens. You can’t see, but you know, or rather, you speculate with your own fear. This makes The Innocents down right creepy.

It may jar modern folks, but The Innocents uses the old fashioned extreme close up shot for another spooky layer. Instead of giving us some smoke and mirrors or jumpy photography, the camera is on Kerr, Quint, or the kids. The infinite possibilities and expressions of the human face far out way any sill effect that would not stand the test of time. When a person watches another person in fear, pain, or anguish, we can’t help but be drawn in-hooked and wanting to help. Likewise we recoil at Quint’s evil and edgy face. Still close ups of Kerr listening to the wind, her hair blowing ever so lightly-it’s all the ghostly hints one needs.
Good old time horror fans no doubt already enjoy The Innocents, but I recommend it for all classic buffs. Fans of other slightly kinky gothic films like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights will enjoy The Innocents. Victorian era fans will love the styling, too- even though you can see Kerr and those big hoop skirts in color elsewhere. If you can get them to sit still for a black and white picture, even kids might like The Innocents. There’s nothing overtly scary, sexual, or offensive for today’s wise tweens. And hey, they might learn a lesson about what happens to seemingly bad kids!
One point of concern for The Innocents is the ending. I don’t get it. Kerr and Martin Stephen’s performances are fine, but the film ends very abruptly. Intelligent audiences may be confused or enjoy the questions raised. The book of course, offers plenty of ambiguity as well. I won’t spoil anything by sharing my thoughts, oh no. Still, I would have liked five more minutes of resolution instead of a potentially unsatisfactory conclusion, but The Innocents is worth the view for spook fans. Indeed, multiple viewings to enjoy the subtleties are in order. Sure you may chuckle at a few old fashioned or Brit things, but once you’re into the film, you’re hooked. Look for The Innocents on dvd or catch a sample on television this Halloween.

05 September 2008


Candyman Still An Urban Treat
By Kristin Battestella

I picked up a used copy of 1992’s Candyman for my husband’s horror collection. Even though he hadn’t seen it, I was certain it was right up his alley. Indeed Candyman hasn’t lost its touch. Pre Urban Legends and Tales From the Hood, Candyman is still the film for urban horror.
Virginia Madsen (Sideways) stars as Helen, a Professor’s wife working on her own thesis. Her sleazy husband Trevor (Xander Berkley) belittles Helen’s research, so she sets out on her own to investigate Chicago’s own urban legend, Candyman. While photographing in the projects, Candyman (Tony Todd) appears to Helen. Her visions continue and gruesome murders follow Helen. Soon the authorities suspect Helen, and Trevor thinks she’s crazy.
I can list plenty of other projects with both Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, but for me, their definitive film is Candyman. Madsen’s ideal as the intelligent, determined yet oblivious wife obsessed with Candyman. Likewise Tony Todd is at his utmost creepy and somehow alluring as the unjustly tormented former slave. Madsen’s Oscar nominated turn in Sideways is nowhere near as memorable as her role here. Her initial calling of Candyman in her bathroom mirror and her final triumphant scenes are cult gold.


After I first saw Candyman, for years I had dreams in which the fur clad and hook toting menace appeared. Todd’s trademark role and deep voice are that creepy, and like Bloody Mary, every kid has called Candyman five times in his bathroom mirror. Fans of gore and creative, bloody murders will no doubt enjoy Candyman. What little effects given are along the lines of fire, blood, and more blood. The violence, however, is not excessive. Integral to the story, many of the spooks in the film are carried out largely by the actors. Helen trips in the dark, dirty, messy projects we know it’s a place where real and fictious horrors can happen. When Helen enters a rank and bloody bathroom-is crap everywhere? Of course not. The audience, however, knows the smells through Madsen’s reaction and the director Bernard Rose’s swift pans.
One intriguing concept from Rose is the lack of those herky jerky Blair Witch style cuts and crazies. The scene of the crime is always fully panned, giving the audience a panoramic view. It’s almost like a three dimensional video game pulling the viewer in. Likewise, Rose moves the camera shots up and away, as if we were swooning like the characters onscreen. The camera work and gore doesn’t take away from Candyman like so many modern films that over do it and deter from the story with unrealistic effects. Clive Barker’s source story is allowed to shine.

Rose also makes use of some very beautiful and haunting urban artwork. Candyman graffiti appears throughout the film. Bees also play a significant part in the film, and this subtle attention to detail makes Candyman work. The families in the projects fear the legend of Candyman and the hooligans who commit crimes in his name-and the audience feels this fear. Like it or not, the racial statements in Candyman help the fear factor. Within the film, folks gasp at the thought of a white woman in the projects. When Helen is indeed attacked, through our collective mind we plant the seed for what the gangs, gang bangers, and hooks will do. Candyman isn’t real, but this film of racial violence and black legends fills the void left by the mainstream media and run of the mill horror standards.

Despite a very satisfactory ending, two sequels followed Candyman. Both 1996’s Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman III: Day of the Dead (1999) are worthy for fans who still can’t look in their bathroom mirrors. Lessened by the loss of Madsen, and direct to video styles for film three, The Candyman chills have continued into the 21st Century.

Candyman is for any fan of the macabre, but particularly those horror buffs tired of the formulaic scare. Intelligent fans, underground enthusiasts, minority audiences-who doesn’t Candyman appeal to? No matter how artistically displayed, the buckets of blood, a touch of nudity and sexual innuendo aren’t made for the young kids or squeamish prudes. Also be warned that Candyman features several brief scenes victimizing children and dogs. Several editions of Candyman and its sequels are available on DVD at affordable prices, or even a bargain VHS. But do avoid Candyman cut up on television. If you’ve got a fur coat and a hook, Candyman is your perfect urban horror movie and it’s great Halloween costume.

02 September 2008


Cloverfield Is One Inappropriate Movie
By Kristin Battestella
I didn’t know much about the 2008 thriller Cloverfield when we got the disc from Netflix. I read the descriptions about aliens in New York ala Godzilla, but Cloverfield is definitely not Godzilla. Despite intelligent acting and filmmaking, Cloverfield turns out to be nothing more than an exploitation of New York and September 11th.

During Rob Hawkins’ (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girl Lily (Jessica Lucas) say their goodbyes as pal Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) videotapes the last hurrah. Rob, however, regrets not telling his best friend Beth (Odette Yustman) he’s in love with her, but disaster strikes the city. Something is attacking crowds and destroying buildings, but Rob receives a call from Beth. He’s going back to save her, and Hud and his camera are right behind him.

I do have some good thoughts about Cloverfield. Not since The Blair Witch Project have we seen such innovative direction and camera use-in addition to an ambitious and ambiguous marketing campaign. The first person handheld camera style, natural use of lighting, technology use on screen, and the slow reveal of the clover alien-these intelligent and witty contributions from director Matt Reeves give us a feeling of authenticity. Likewise, the relatively unknown cast is just that; unknown, normal people that this could happen to at anytime. They’ve got real issues, relationships, and problems. Writer Drew Goddard smartly spends a good portion of the film simply developing the clique of these kids. They’re afraid, they make the wrong choices, and unlike War of The Worlds where Tom Cruise never gets a scratch or has a hair out of place, people bleed in Cloverfield.

I would adore these essential and well done elements in any other disaster flick. Give me rival alien planets or disasters in fictitious cities and I might be more forgiving at the veiled portrayal of 9/11. It’s one of the things I love about genre films and literature. Often the big bad aliens hide our fears of communism or tyrannical rule, such as McCarthy era stylings like Monkey Planet and Starship Troopers, or more simply The Blob. Cloverfield, however, goes too far in blurring the line between fiction and reality. Who decides that they are going to have New York destroyed by an alien attack after September 11th? It will be cool! What effects we can make! Let’s make use of people trapped in subways and have people calling each other on cell phones pleading for help! We already saw all too real destruction created by human hands in Manhattan. It’s utterly callous of anyone to think we’d want to see thousands of people escaping across the Brooklyn Bridge be blown up.
Cloverfield is disturbing because its premise is quite true. How many recordings and tapes were in fact recovered from 9/11? I’m not so sure we were ready for authentic tales like Flight 93 or World Trade Center, and we certainly aren’t ready for misunderstood aliens (What the hell is a clover or a cloverfield anyway?) to come along and exploit such a delicate disaster. It’s exploitation at the highest (or lowest) level. When watching Cloverfield I constantly recalled where I was on that Tuesday seven years ago. Not that it’s ever been far from my mind, and I only watched it on TV from 100 miles away. I can’t imagine, however, a 9/11 survivor or any family member with nothing but a cut off cell phone call as a goodbye from a loved one could view this, let alone find any reason for Cloverfield having been made.

I’ve been harsh, sure, but we shouldn’t have to make hype and science fiction to keep disaster and human willpower on our minds. What’s next from producer J.J. Abrams? The Crystalline Entity from Star Trek is going to destroy a fictionalized New Orleans, where fictional black characters must step up against a lackluster but fictitious white government? Honestly. Cloverfield is inappropriate and unnecessary, to say the least. It’s like our initial rush after 9/11 to show patriotism- on everything from plates to thongs. Why did we eat off the Twin Towers and pick our asses with the American Flag?
CloverfieldMaybe some folks do need a fantastical recreation to express themselves. Understandable. Fanboys will eat up the effects and alien imagery features on the DVD, and yes, a sequel is in the works. But anyone who is touchy or sensitive about September 11 should skip Cloverfield. I would never have thought I’d put myself in the touchy/sensitive/prudish audience, but millions of us already watched September 11th, and I have no desire to see anything like it-real or fake-ever again. Cloverfield is not a triumph of art or the human condition, but rather an inappropriate disaster flick that says nothing beyond distaste.