Stars Do Thrills and Kills!
by Kristin Battestella
Some big names past and present take on murder, mayhem, slashers, and suspense in these intriguing mysteries and fun horrors.
The Eyes of Laura Mars – Barbara Streisand (Guilty) power ballads and photo negatives open this 1978 mystery directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) starring photographer Faye Dunaway (The Three Musketeers) and cop Tommy Lee Jones (Stormy Monday). Hazy point of view scissors, saucy magazines, fur coats, and stabbing knives contrast the Deco bedroom accented with multiple mirrors, reversed symmetry, white nightgowns, and strategic lighting glows. The swanky pads come complete with vintage photography, huge cameras, light boxes, print sheets, cases of Polaroid film, and a copy of the titular photography book. Despite dreams of killer crimes, the gallery galas must go on thanks to pushy reporters questioning the steamy, violent photos and whether such photography is just an incendiary fad compared to real artistry. Such topics are immediately fascinating to study then when nudity was relatively new onscreen and now as today's auteur photographer has taken a backseat to instagram filters and cameras everywhere. The edgy pictures here, however, are said to be a reflection of the world – recognizable selling points for our former war zone photojournalist. Funky music and great disco tracks contrast murder questioning as lingerie, lace, and garter belts accent the photo shoot montages with babes pulling each other's hair and cars on fire in the street. Editing matches the rapid fire shutter clicks until blurry visions and more death interfere with the couture and upscale time capsule. Violent stabbings and blood in the eyes overtake the viewpoint as the audience thinks we see more than what is actually shown thanks to the believe what you see or what I tell you duality. The ugly green, harsh police station and its neurotic smoking counters the glamorous scene and the slim, sexy campaign while unpublished crime photos suggest a copycat and cast suspicion on Laura's handsy ex-husband Raul Julia (The Addams Family). Sophisticated friends think she shouldn't mention these psychic visions, however the conversations happen while we're looking through the lense or at the billboards, for the images are distractions from driver Brad Dourif's (Lord of the Rings) rap sheet and details agent Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine) isn't telling. Laura is no nonsense at work but reliant on the men around her once something goes wrong, and the models are to be looked at, used, or killed. Hard line cityscapes, industrial scaffolding, and massive windows are places where a lady can get hurt. Above and below chases, stabbings, shootouts, staircases, and filming through railings harken Hitchcock and Bava as deadly action happens in both the voyeur and the victim's perspectives. Video cameras and television screens filming the sex and violence as titillation layer the within within visuals while pictures within pictures and photographs provide both foreground and background subjects. More through the blinds peering and intercut editing match the slicing crimes as funerals begat admonishing sermons, intruding reporters, and hecklers blaming Laura. Trysts amid the trees and bed of furs zoom in and out of focus, and our photographer is taught how to aim, point, and shoot with a gun instead of the camera. Reflective wrapping paper reveals a picture of the receiver when he wasn't looking before he sings “I'm a jolly good fellow” and decoys of decoys, tails being tailed, and men dressed as women lead to screams, car crashes, and red herrings. Each frame is like looking at a wall of mirrors, creating tunnel vision where the audience, voyeurs that we are, see what we want to see until the double vision becomes one with elevators, shattered windows, slashed throats, and cracked mirrors. Imitators and wise viewers make the finale twists obvious now, however this should be seen more than once for the doubts on what we see as face value and not noticing what's hidden in plain sight.
The Last Horror Film – Cape wearing cabbie who still lives with his mother Joe Spinell (Maniac) fantasizes about directing scream queen Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972) to awards glory while stalking her at the Cannes Film Festival in this 1982 filmed on the fly slasher also called Fanatic. Boobs, red lights, hot tub shocks, and electrocution screams garner screening room praise amid vintage theater projectors, old film reels, and retro film equipment in a great visual capsule of New York streets, Riviera scenery, and topless beaches. Posters of the day – including the giant, unmistakable legs of For Your Eyes Only – and sly festival cameos contrast radio reports about Jodi Foster's stalker and creepy collage shrines of Munro as Jana Bates. Our obsessed wannabe blends in with the wild parties, filming within filming set ups, and crowded red carpet for his hefty but then innocuous on the shoulder camera is just one of many like today's fan encounters never in the moment but via the ubiquitous smartphone. Calls to the producer with script ideas for his leading lady mirror today's chance for anybody to @ a celebrity on social media while love triangles parallel the life imitating art relationships on and off screen. There's 212 phone numbers, too – no 555! Busy vignette filming with night clubs and neon slow the shoestring plot, yet the obviously bad toppling heads, slit throats, and slow motion scares blur the film within a film wink. Prophetic throwaway mentions of women wanting to talk film business pushed aside by producers looking for nude starlets accent debates about not needing security because the audience understands the difference between reality and illusion, actress versus character, and violence or bad influences onscreen. It's chilling how easy it is for one man to gain star access, but police suspect the crimes supposedly being committed must be performance art promotion for a horror movie – again not unlike today's fine line between PR and real life with social media photoshop and accidentally on purpose pap strolls. Babes frolicking on the beach taunt the weirdo who wants to watch before blinding spotlights in the cinema, silhouettes against the blank screen, and gory ax slices as the intercut editing merges the fantasies of our horny, disturbed director with onscreen stabs, gouged hearts, and fake blood everywhere. The audience eats popcorn while he bursts into the bathroom ready to pop the cork on his champagne, and the soundtrack fits the frenetic mental state. Lack of awareness on any wrong doing and rejection from his favorite star lead to chases through the festival wearing nothing but towels – and the cheering crowd doesn't help because they think such a fabulous entrance must be a publicity stunt. Lookalikes and security can't stop the backstage abductions as the old school horror leaves the festival for country villas and an over the top candlelight vampire meets chainsaw finale. The varying versions' gore contrasting Cannes unevenness and horror versus humor mixed tone add to the somewhat frustrating haphazard filming, however the winks come together in the end with the open for interpretation saucy, bemusement, and entertainment.
Spinning Man – Sunny lakeside fun turns into ominous docks and police blotters in this 2018 thriller starring professor Guy Pearce (Prometheus), detective Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye), and wife Minnie Driver (Phantom of the Opera). Foreboding flashes, yellow tape, and photos of the deceased keep restarting the story alongside snippets of seemingly happy family fun, pieces of conversations, and disjointed exposition. The professors debate hypothetical opportunities with young students and guilt versus objective reason, but working out while the students look leads to crushes, stolen glances, and unspoken flirtations accented by the camera's focusing on a smile longer than it should or lingering on the long puff of a cigarette. Family collisions, questioning versus alibis, and rival smooth, however, are enough without unnecessary hot and heavy fantasizing and back and forth intercuts. Sometimes our professor is cool, yet other times he protests where there seems to be no reason. The detectives insist this is all routine, but the viewer understands the interplay without the story resorting to sensationalism as many crime and procedurals often do. Paralleling police mirrors or the man made small and isolated in the frame visuals accent interrogations while careful editing matches the police questioning and family arguments. Again unnecessary flashes of running in the woods break the suspect or family man tension when in the classroom philosophizing and literal versus figurative plays on words build better suspicion. It's easy to talk one's way out of anything if you interpret truth as subjective, and whispers about previous students and patterns of behavior mean treading carefully in the semantics with our pesky yet thorough detective. They're both searching for the truth, but the close to the vest police unnerve their suspect with their own existential theories. The timelines don't add up, and the impounded vehicle certainly points to our professor. Lawyers, however, provide realistic doubts on the circumstantial evidence – runaways instead murder despite suspect lipstick and traps lying in wait. Awkward family trips acerbate the narcissistic blaming and maybe maybe not memories ironically a la Memento. No one says what they actually mean and a mother must protect her children even if she doubts her husband. Perception on who's guilty and deception that doesn't make one look good provide duality, for hiding suspect behavior may be as innocent as putting up missing posters for a child's pet you know to be dead or as bad as rationalizing a scandal that puts the entire university in jeopardy. A son may put on a cape and pretend to be someone else but as adults we choose the destructive facades we wear. While this straightforward did he or didn't he doesn't underestimate the audience, it is slow in some spots thanks to the round and round. Viewers looking for tense a minute will also be let down as this is really a character drama misrepresented as a thriller. Fortunately, the fine ensemble and dramatic performances provide mature introspection as the lies and what is believed to be the truth come full circle.
I Didn't Finish this Skipper:
Slasher Season 2: Guilty Party – This eight episode 2017 installment now billed as a Neflix original gets off to a very rough start with shades of Friday the 13th and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Hip camp counselors take a snowy drive with rad music to revisit a past crime before torches and a hazing gone wrong lead to a bloody picnic blanket, dumping bodies, and screams. Unfortunately, everyone is an immediately unlikable horror stereotype deserving of what comes to them. Supply stop cliches and warnings from the experts add more seen this horror movie before deja vu, and summer staff lacking in proper outdoor clothing inexplicably know how to drive snowmobiles after complaining about how much they dislike winter activities. Now the retreat is a commune with likewise trite tree huggers suspicious in their lack of suspicions, as apparently they don't hear the loud arguing and x marks the spot map where the counselors fear a new developer putting in tennis courts will discover their buried secrets. Sudden chainsaw action and gruesome eviscerations are tough to appreciate when far too many characters are throw at the screen amid more contrivances for the obvious unknown witness and/or family member revenge. From taking a vote to call the police after saying murder is not a democracy to the drinking game for each time the hysterical snob tells everyone else to calm down and everybody telling each other to “fuck off” like it's “goodnight” on The Waltons – terrible dialogue acerbates the intercut unevenness between the shouting killer crowd versus the happy whispering commune. The original camp flashbacks are more interesting than the present but the back and forth also undercuts any current tension. Strung up skeletons and ominous tracks in the snow wouldn't sustain a weekly viewing if this were a traditional series nor can the scary shocks hide the laughable action and intestines wrapped around a snowman preposterous. Emo counselors crying wolf and making themselves the victim repeatedly ask why someone is doing this – because the “I know you killed her” bloody writing on the wall isn't explanation enough? Sabotaged vehicles, bloody packages, and stupid people who don't know they are in a horror movie thinking a thirty mile hike in the winter night is better than staying in a safe building create inexplicable motivations while brief wolf perils, frostbite, being lost in the woods, and a hitherto unknown medical expert among the crowd are no surprise. Dual timelines and the all over the place ensemble can't compensate for the too thin for eight episodes derivatives. Most disturbing, however, are the racist undertones over a seriously problematic love triangle with a black man and Indian girl desperate to fit in with the white Mean Girls. After two episodes, the only person dressed for the outdoors is the somehow unseen killer in a bright orange parka, and gouged eyes or snapped necks have no deeper, vengeful meaning beyond varying the gore. There's no reason to care about who lives or dies, and reading the remaining episode summaries provides cannibalism, rape, more characters who happened to visit the isolated retreat, a just missed it plane flying by rescue, and conveniently found old camp files among yet more numerous reasons to tune out ASAP.