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Fright Fest: Shock Waves (1977)

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Shock Waves (1977)

[85 minutes. PG. Director: Ken Wiederhorn]

(It’s 40 years old, but I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING anyway)

There are literal and figurative streams of consciousness at work in Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn’s most well-remembered film.

It’s not a great film – at least not as great as my childhood mind remembers – but makeup designer Alan Ormsby’s suggestion on the Blu-ray commentary track, that the film is possessed of a “dreamlike quality” is not inaccurate. And that’s arguably where it acquires its power.

It’s a film that takes place primarily on water, with the midsection set in an abandoned hotel on a desert island.

There are scenes where characters paddle toward escape – through narrow, knotted thickets; through shallow ocean waters on the way out to sea – and don’t say much. They don’t need to, really – they know their situation is inexplicable and absurd, so what’s the sense in fevered rationalizations? By the end, the lone survivor of the ordeal, Rose (Brooke Adams) has been rendered catatonic by what she’s seen, reduced to writing gibberish in a journal.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Piranha (1978)

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I remember back in the late eighties, a school friend of mine let me borrow a pirate VHS tape he had.  He wanted to borrow my copy of Robocop and so was offering his tape in exchange.  I loved horror as a kid (no shocker there) and back in the days before people really paid attention to the certification in shops etc., I used to frequent my local newsagent to rent videos (for a whopping 50p a go!) which going by the often gory and bloody cover art I was far too young to be watching. Nonetheless, I rented video nasties without issue and so at that point I had seen a lot of films already, but the two on this tape were new to me, even if initially I thought it was a single film.

Piranha slugs? Never heard of it,’ I said, looking at the handwritten scrawl on the label.  Continue Reading


Creature Features in Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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Awe, the 90s. Nothing quite hints that you are venturing into the realm of 1990s cinema like introspection, mad science (or fear of science), and Val Kilmer. 90s movies are also grouped into that category of not so cult classics with few actually becoming cult classics, sometimes rightfully so, others…not. Actually, truth be told, there are quite a few 90s flicks most consider to be bombs I, for some off reason, rather enjoy. The Ghost and the Darkness is a great example of a wonderful film that has fallen into obscurity. Lions, Douglas, and The Val Kilmer!!! What more do you need? Some 90s horror flicks are more serious than others, such as The Relic. And others are more comedic, like Tremors. And there are some 90s films too great, too fantastically wrapped in speculation that it ascends all others. I am of course referring to the 1996 debacle that is The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Before we continue, shall we recall this delectable movie?

After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that its inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange-looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.

Have I mentioned how much I love those IMDb synopsis?

Well, they are not entirely wrong. It just feels…horribly vague compared to the drama that surrounds and infuses The Island of Dr. Moreau. What drama you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, lets break this sucker down, shall we? So yes, there is a rescue out at sea when one Edward Douglas (played by the always charming Brit David Thewlis) is on a life-raft set a drift. And our survivor is not alone, there are others with him, and as the movie narrates for us, the survivors are fighting each other over the quickly diminishing supplies. Thus, this very short and easily missed scene establishes for us perhaps what the question is that we’ll be wrestling over, human nature and violence in the ugly face of survival, or so one would think…

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Anyhow. Our survivor is soon rescued and brought to a private island where he can radio for another boat brave enough to venture to this very isolated and secretive island. And just who was his dashing rescuer? Who is the hero who pulled him out of the sea? Val mother f-king Kilmer, playing the role of one Dr. Montgomery, who is questionably a doctor; more a veterinarian. We need to perhaps discuss a little more on Mr. Kilmer. I know there are not too many fans left around seeing how he’s been reduced to playing in horribly produced b-movies nowadays, but this was a shy over twenty years ago (feeling old?). He was in his prime. Some may question if he’d ever had a prime, but I say boo boo to those naysayers. Kilmer was a fantastic actor, from high flying jerk in Top Gun to sociopathic killer turned armed robber in Heat. He’s done drama and comedy and everything in between. Not to mention his stint of the cape crusader in Batman: Forever. Perhaps not the most beloved Batman film, but certainly not the worst. His role as Montgomery felt strangely in tune to the insanity hanging over not only the island but the production as well. Playing both mystic hippy and savior to psychotic and oddly stoic. For me, his Montgomery is one of the better parts of the movie.

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The movie begins to kinda take off at a sprint around the time when our survivor is locked in his room by Montgomery. And one would think there ought to be some feeling of mystery or dread here, give me some lightening and rain, but sadly no. At best, Douglas acts as some spoiled brat, ungrateful for his rescue, and “breaks out” as a teenager escaping being grounded to his room. In fact, let us surmise something important here and now. When I first screened this movie back in the 90s, I was all about seeing Douglas, the survivor and moral judge of the film, as the hero. I was young and understood the world very little. In my mind, he was the good guy because he was simply the protagonist. The soon to be discovered “beasts” were the villains only because they were…well…beasts. Horrible, I know, but hey…I was naive. Watching the movie today, I found myself shouting victor for…everyone else. Even the quack scientist/wanna be god, with a small g, Dr. Moreau (played by an aging and supposedly uncaring let’s collect our paycheck Marlon Brando).

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Not to get ahead of myself. The film does get a little catwampus from here. Douglas goes for a stroll after escaping his room and happens upon some strange sounds. He investigates cause…I guess that’s what you do when you hear strange noises. He soon discovers the source of those macabre screams. It seems one of the locals on the island is giving birth. But this is no normal birth and those physicians, aside from Montgomery, are no normal people. To Douglas they seem like upright horrors with fur and large teeth. Even the soon delivered baby has some rather haunting eyes and a screech that is no utterance of any human baby. To be perfectly honest, this scene is just about perfect and does ring of terror. They baby…whatever it was, mere-goat, looked grotesque and chilling, as if screaming, “Why have you made me?”

Why indeed.

Douglas, terrified, runs off into the woods. He runs into Aissa (played by bug eyed beauty Fairuza Balk) who promises him, what sounds like, a way off the island as long as he promises to take her with him. But that’s not what she does and even if she could, the only ship there is invested with rat-people, very small very CGI rat-people. Anyways, this is where things get kinda of confusing. Aissa leads Douglas to Sayer of the Law, some kind of blind man-goat preacher (played by the always badass Ron Perlman), but why? You’d think maybe the Sayer was some sort of resistance leader against their “creator.” But he isn’t. Sayer preaches the Master’s gospel of non-malevolence. Why did Aissa bring him there if she wanted to escape? Did she even want to escape? I’m so confused…

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And that’s about the summation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Confusion laid on top of more confusion. Especially when Douglas is “captured” and has a long talk with Dr. Moreau about what the good doctor has done and without much build up that Douglas was even religious starts in on this whole blasphemy stick. Crimes against God, with a big G, and so on. I understand the argument, this was the 90s after all and cloning was in the news a lot, something about a cute little goat being cloned and the religious right was on the warpath. But if you’re going to make that argument, you have to lay in some ground work first. Let the audience know Douglas is zealous.

Or not.

Which they didn’t.

And folks like me got really confused over Douglas’s moral standing.

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The confusion perhaps could have something to do with the direction of the movie verses producer expectations. In fact, there’s an entire documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Yup. A over an hour long documentary was made on the strange and confusing tale of turning H.G. Wells literary masterpiece of the same title into a movie. Scandal be damned, it’s actually really good. And informative. Needless to say, changing directors and actors mid-stream can create…confusion. I’m actually surprised an actor as iconic as Brando stuck around, unless of course he needed the paycheck.

However…

If given the chance and ignoring some of the confusion its not that bad of a movie. My perspective has certainly changed since my original screening back in 1996. As well it should. Given the twenty some years, my perspective had damn better change some. On Dr. Moreau’s strange island of human-beasts, I first saw them as villains, as monsters, because they looked like monsters. Now I know better. Now I know its not what’s on the outside that make’s us beasts, its what’s on the inside. In our struggle to survive on life boats or how we present ourselves to the world it is our actions that define us. Good or bad. If a movie can teach us that, well…then that’s a pretty damn good movie in my opinion. And besides, its got the Kilmer in it, how could you NOT like it?

My rating: 3.5 out of 5. 

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Jaws (1975)

What is your greatest fear? Everyone is afraid of something, everyone. Some people are skittish about insects, usually particular ones like roaches or spiders. I for one get bugged out, forgive the pun, over roaches. I don’t know why there’s just something about those six-legged bugs that freak me the hell out. Maybe it’s because they are so intrusive. Maybe it’s something on an instinctual level, something to do with the fact that roaches have been on the earth far longer than humans have. They’ve survived greater tests, while we humans, on the other hand, have fundamentally just begun our evolutionary journey. To be perfectly honest, roaches are not my greatest fear. I’m not really afraid of roaches. I get freaked out by them, sure. But to say they conjure from me that primitive nonsensical non-rational feeling of terror, they do not. Do you know what does? The ocean. More particular, sharks. Have been since I was young. And I blame two things for my unconditional dread of the deep blue, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week program…and Jaws. Why? Why not! Have you seen a shark? They are the apex predators in the water. And me, personally, I’m rather fond of land. Irrational or not, sharks are bloody huge with jagged rows of sharp teeth, the quintessential image of horror. And I’ll leave it to our guest author to tell you why Jaws is probably one of the most terrifying of all Creature Features.

Jaws (1975)

By: Chad A. Clark

In the history of cinematic scoring, there has been a ton of legendary work. The landscape is about as rich and varied as the movies themselves. However, one theme stands out above all the rest as one of the most evocative, one that, whenever you hear it, you’re going to have a reaction. And the composer, John Williams, managed to accomplish it with two notes. Daaaaa-dum.

Daaaaa-dum.

Seriously, chances are you already know what I’m referring to, just by reading it. It’s a movie theme that will stay with us until the end of time. And if you are roughly of my generation and disposition, it is a movie that has forever scarred you whenever you dare to swim in open water.

The irony about Jaws is that many people likely don’t even consider it to be a horror movie. Maybe because, instead of serial killers or vampires or zombie clown nazis, it’s about a fish.

And yes. Sharks are fish, not mammals.

Don’t lie, you were thinking it.

Anyway, while Jaws might not be a film that people would classify as horror, there has been no other film that has had such a long-lasting effect on my psyche. I wasn’t lying or being sarcastic at the outset. I have never been comfortable swimming in anything other than a pool. Even in fresh water ponds and lakes, I’m usually convinced that a twenty-five-foot shark is poised to drag me to a watery grave.

The shark in Jaws is no different than any other horror movie monster, it just happens to be based on a real world animal. But real sharks don’t act like that. Real sharks don’t have those kinds of proportions. Or at least, they’re very rare. The shots in the film of Richard Dreyfuss’ character underwater in the shark cage? They did that by putting a tiny person in a miniaturized cage to make the sharks look bigger than they really are. The shark in Jaws is a caricature.

It’s a monster. Of the worst kind.

Jaw’s (I’m just going to start using that as if it’s the shark’s name) is unrelenting. Jaw’s don’t give a damn who you are, what your hopes and dreams are. Jaw’s looks at you and he sees a warm-blooded, walking and talking snack. He sees you when you’re blissfully unaware, paddling away until those teeth clamp down and that’s all she wrote. Jaw’s comes along as a massive metaphor for our own mortality and takes anyone in its path and turns them into digestive material.

You can’t control him. You can’t fight him. You can’t beat him.

Well, unless you’re Roy Scheider. Then you can beat him. I guess.

I think part of what makes Jaws brilliant as a creature is how little we see of him in the film. Other than some images of his face and head, some teeth gnashing and blood and gurgling, we don’t really see him until the very end of the film. Otherwise, he is mostly an ominous presence in the water, something that can show up at any time.

One of my favorite moments in the film is so terrifying and graphic but at the same time is so straight forward, you almost miss it. It’s the shot of the boy being attacked while on his inflatable raft. It happens far off from shore and all you see, through the crowd of other swimmers is something come up out of the water. He’s knocked off the raft and as he rolls, there is this fountain of blood up into the air. It happens in a few seconds and almost goes unnoticed. There is this moment of shocked silence before the whole beach becomes bedlam as everyone scrambles for shore. That moment in the film has stayed with me for so long. Just seeing a casual, relaxing environment turned instantly into a killing field is classic and brilliantly done. The speed and viciousness of the kill is still chilling to watch for me, even after so many years.

I have been scared plenty of times by movies. The slasher movies of the eighties scared the crap out of me and there have been plenty of supernatural based films that have had me up at night. But for the most part, the effect of those films is temporary and fades with time. I have never lost the inherent, fundamental fear that was planted into my root programming by seeing Jaws. It is a movie that forever changed me, as well as my ability to ever comfortably swim again.

Thanks, Spielberg.

Chad A. Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses and Jeepers Creepers. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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Split (2017) and the RETURN of Mr. Shyamalan?

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Reviewing new movies here on Machine Mean is a rare opportunity. Typically, we keep to the oldies but goodies, and even oldies but not always goodies. Every now and then though a new box office movie will lurch across our spectrum. Since the previews for SPLIT started airing, I knew I had to see the movie. M. Night Shyamalan is a topic of many interesting conversations. Lots of love and hate floated his way, so much so that anything new he puts out is usually met with suspicion. Here’s a short history. In 1999, he wowed audiences with The Sense Sense, begging the question of many moviegoers, “Who the fuck is M. Night Shyamalan?” And for better or worse, we would soon find out. In 2000, he broke our expectations with Unbreakable (see what I did there?), and for many Unbreakable became an easy favorite. He gave us Signs in 2002, not just with the movie but also the precarious slip he would find himself falling into as a screenwriter and director. I find it very humorous that Shyamalan played the role of  Ray Reddy, the drunk who killed Rev. Graham’s wife in an accident, his “falling asleep behind the wheel” is a somewhat prophetic scene given what he would eventually do to his own “self” created sub-genre, the “twist ending,” or the “Shyamalan Effect,” as it were. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Signs, but you have to admit the ending was kinda bullshit. In 2004, The Village wasn’t a bad place to visit, but you can’t really go back once you know the truth. 2006 is when it all came apart. Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was studio pressure of creating box office hit after box office hit…whatever it was Lady in the Water was probably one of the more arrogant films I’ve ever seen. In 2008, Shyamalan collapsed completely with one of the worst movies I’ve ever forced myself to watch with The Happening. It was a horrible story. And it had horrible acting. The premise was built on solid ground, but it spiraled and it spiraled hard. And as for The Last Airbender and After Earth…I’ve seen neither films nor do I care to.

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There are two movies, however, not included above, both of which that I believe have brought about the return of M. Night Shyamalan. In 2010, Devil released to theaters. Not a lot was known about this movie. Shyamalan did not direct nor did he write the screenplay. According to IMDb, Shyamalan is only credited as a “story” writer. Overall, audiences were about so-so on it, as with horror movie nerds. But even with only about a 50% approval rating, still significantly better than Mr. Shyamalan’s previous movies. To me, Devil was his way, or maybe the studio’s way of “testing the waters,” so to speak. Shyamalan may not be credited for directing or writing the screenplay, but you can tell he had a part. There are plenty of Shyamalanisms present to know its one of his. And Devil’s partial success led to the start of his return. In 2015, he wrote and directed The Visit. Talk about a big risk. Late to the game of steady-cam pictures, The Visit was a surprise success among horror fans. Plenty of dread and suspense and it was topped off with his trademark Shyamalan Effect. Very risky, if you ask me, but one that paid off. After we were done Visiting grandma and grandpa’s, many of us (those who probably spend way to much time thinking about horror movies) were wondering when the next Shyamalan would be. Would there even be another?

Don’t worry, I’ll give fair warning whenever I’m about to spoil anything.

That being said, we need to talk about Split.

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For starters, bravo to the team who had put together that trailer. Not too much was revealed; just enough to wet our whistle. Perfect balance of information and intrigue. Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). There remains a 24th personality who has yet to materialize. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him…as well as everyone around him. With a synopsis like that, who could resist? Split dominated the box office over the weekend, pulling in some 40mil nationwide, but I wonder if a majority of those sales were from Saturday and not from Friday. As in, were movie goers cautious and when reports of how good it was surfaced on social media, people flocked to theaters the next day? Seems plausible. I for one went on a Saturday and every movie showing according to the board had been sold out. 

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Can you believe that? An M. Night Shyamalan movie selling out. When was the last time that happened? Had it even happened before? We’re probably talking Sixth Sense or Unbreakable era Shyamalan…which is interesting because that is the vibe of Split. I didn’t get new Shyamalan vibes, I got Unbreakable…borderline Sixth Sense vibes. Split wasn’t scary, per say, so don’t go into it hoping to jump out of your seats. And I actually appreciated the film more because of that. When the biggest horror movie to come out on a Friday the 13th is called Bye Bye Man, it makes me really fucking sick of the whole jump scare bullshit fad among younger audiences. Cheap thrills trumping solid storytelling and the artistic buildup of dread. And dread is exactly what the vibe was throughout Split. There were some def moments of lag, but that’s okay, or it’s okay if you’re like me and you enjoy getting to know the characters, glimpsing backgrounds and history that WILL play a larger role in the movie down the road. Not only is the storytelling really solid on this one, but the acting, oh my, the acting was freakishly great. And I mean great as in compared to Shyamalan’s previous work. Split isn’t groundbreaking, though it is certainly good. The loudest applause has to go to McAvoy. Even in the previews, I had a good feeling he was going to knock this role out of the park. He did NOT disappoint. Playing a character with multipersonalities can end up in two ways. Coming off as a big nasty stinking poop OR coming off as a big awesome creepy as hell pleasure to watch. If you haven’t yet indulged, I suggest you do, especially if you’ve seen and enjoyed his Sixth Sense, Unbreakable era films.

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Now on to the SPOILERS.

I was satisfied with the flashback sense with Casey Cook, played by up and coming actress Anya Taylor-Joy. I found myself wondering throughout what her role was. She was set apart from the others. Her responses were different. From the get go we get a sneak peek at what her history may intel when she whispers hastily to one of her “friends” to pee herself as she’s being dragged off by one of Kevin’s more OCD personalities. That’s not really something someone would normally rush to blurt out unless said person had experienced some sort of similar situation before. I also thought for a little while if she was part of the kidnapping. But seeing her reactions, trying to escape, left me searching for other clues. And this searching aspect is a big plus for me, it invites participation. We’re not just witnesses, we’re players. However…there was no twist ending. There was only revelation.

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The lack of a Shyamalan twist did not hinder my enjoyment of the film. It was still fun trying to guess what was going on. When more of Cook’s history was revealed, we learned why she was reacting differently from the other girls with her. We see this sweet little child who loves her father. But then we see her lifelong abuse from her uncle turned guardian, both tragic and heartbreaking. Yet in the end, her scars is what saves her from The Horde, the 24th personalities persona, who views the suffered as pure and those who have not suffered as impure. The Hordes logic is somewhat intriguing. Through suffering, we are made complete, evolved from a non-suffered, non-touched, non-spoiled perspective. The evolution of one’s character through suffering is a relatable philosophy, one that has a sort of religious connotation. This evolution is made manifest, according to The Horde, physically.  For Cook, it was her scars, and not just her ability to survive, that thwarted The Horde’s advance. Throughout the movie, we’re also given this idea of near superhuman abilities multi-personality disorder patients can implement. Blind being able to see. A weak person becoming incredibly strong. Even the most minute, a diabetic personality in an otherwise non-diabetic body. For Kevin, while many of his personalities exhibit extraordinary “powers,” it is his final personality, The Horde, in which exhibits the peak of human evolution.

Who mouthed WTF when The Horde started climbing the walls? I certainly did. It’s another one of those intriguing thought exercises, that if The Horde is the peak of human evolution, why is he so animalistic? He behaves and feeds like an animal. And Shyamalan spared no time at the end showing us how much of an animal this personality is. Tying it off with the revelation that they were being kept in the maintenance tunnels below a zoo, provokes further thought and begs the question of mankind, are we more than beasts?

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And I’d be amiss not to mention the cherry on top of this sundae. The last scene, at a dinner and the news, re-telling this crime, gives the name of the “still at large” murderer, calling him The Horde. People are talking and connecting the strange name to another infamous murderer. They can’t remember his name, only that he was in a wheelchair or something. And the camera pans to Bruce Willis who knows who these people are talking about, the name Mr. Glass. I couldn’t believe the connection. A very nice surprise to end the movie with. One I hope pans out to a sequel.

Split, for me, marked the return of M. Night Shyamalan. Everything made sense, even the extraordinary. There was nothing arrogant about the movie, in fact, it was actually kind of tragic in its own right, somewhat similar in a way to Sixth Sense. Split could have easily been his third film. It has that feeling of fitting in as an evolution to Unbreakable. This is of corse just my two cents. for those who’ve seen Split, what are your thoughts? Has Shyamalan returned? Or was Split another dud?

My rating: 5/5

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

You can get Reinheit for only $2.99 on Amazon!

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Creature Features in Review: Jeepers Creepers (2001)

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Maybe I’m a bumbling fool to have forgotten to post this most excellent addition to Creature Features in Review…or perhaps a certain kind of mad genius. For those State-side and for those abroad, our neighbors to the north and our neighbors to the south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and it’s not all that terrific), the world awaits the inauguration of our (America’s) 45th President. Controversy. Disunity. Anger. Resentment. Strife. Uncertainly. It all feels at the moment to seep from the fabric of our country. That hidden fear of the unknown, the same fear H. P. Lovecraft spoke of in his many works, has captured, or should I say strangling, our attentions. This same mood thrives in the electrical grid of most Creature Features, especially Jeepers Creepers. There may be some criticisms and creepiness surrounding the infamous director Victor Salva, but separating the art from the artist, Jeepers Creepers (for me) is a perfect example of a modern American gothic tale. You can literally watch this movie in black and white and still enjoy it, probably more so. The moral compass of puritanism and rational versus irrational is present throughout the entire film. And it’s one of Justin Long’s best performances. Here to help us navigate these precarious times and this very precarious movie is our esteemed guest writer, Chad Clark.

Jeepers Creepers

By: Chad Clark

When Jeepers Creepers came out in 2001, the cinematic horror landscape seemed to be in an interesting place, and not all of it was necessarily good. My memories of this time period were of mainly reboots and PG-13 horror films. Other than Final Destination, there seemed to no longer be such a thing as horror franchises anymore and even in the case of FD, there had only been one installment. So it was within this environment that I was generally suspicious of Jeepers Creepers. The way it was marketed and the vibe I got from it was that this was just another glossy, hollow interpretation of what made horror movies great. I remember seeing ads for this while it was in the theaters but I wasn’t sold and gave it a pass.

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Spoiler alert: that was a mistake.

I finally took the plunge with Jeepers Creepers, via the newly created online rental company at the time, Netflix. There wasn’t any streaming, only waiting for the physical DVD’s to arrive in the bright red celebratory envelopes. I was skeptical but to be honest, the first half hour or so of the film is one of the best openings I have ever seen. It starts out so innocently with a brother and sister leaving for the long drive home from school. Before they can get there, the movie takes a turn for the dark side and they quickly find themselves the target of a powerful creature that they don’t fully understand.

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The monster in Jeepers Creepers is fantastic and it seemed like they took a lesson from Jaws in that we don’t see it in its full glory until late in the film. What is great though is that even seeing quick flashes of it early on, it’s still scary as hell. I love the image the brother and sister arguing and then the brother (Justin Long) sees this thing dumping what looks like human bodies down a huge pipe in the yard of an old church. By all appearances, it’s just a tall guy wearing an overcoat and a large, wide-brimmed hat, but the design of that costume is incredibly creepy and evocative.

The pacing of the movie is very well done as the monster proceeds to chase the two of them across a rural landscape. Along the way, they get some bits and pieces of information that may give them some insight into the thing and how powerful it is. But mostly, I think we just gradually figure out how screwed they really are. I can tell you this, before seeing this movie, I would have never guessed that the song, Jeepers Creepers would ever feel foreboding. That said, they managed to accomplish that very thing, to the point that I can’t help but think of the film whenever I hear that song.

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The movie also has some pretty good acting, something that is occasionally glossed over in the horror franchise as being less important. The cast of actors was pretty much unknown at the time but I thought they all managed to fit in together pretty well. This was especially true with the main players, in that they managed to create two characters that I genuinely cared about and rooted for.  It’s a cliché, but I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for these two all throughout the movie, all the way up to the ending, which was brutal and brilliant. I don’t want to give anything away but the movie ends with a slow zoom out to a point and a perspective that left me with my jaw hanging open. It really was that good.

I’m not normally a viewer who pays a lot of attention to things like costume and makeup but I thought they did a phenomenal job making the monster authentic and scary. In a world that was increasingly becoming about CGI, this was a monster that felt physically present and the makeup department did a great job bringing a feeling of grittiness and gore to the monster.

In short, if you are looking for a great example of the modern monster movie, I would definitely start with this one. Jeepers Creepers is a fun film that gives you all the visceral escapism that great horror movies should provide. I can’t recommend it enough.

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There is an elephant in the room here, namely that of Victor Salva. He was the director of Jeepers Creepers.  Salva was convicted early on in his career for child molestation. I am not going to go into the specifics of his crime. If you are already aware of it, I don’t want to take column inches rehashing common ground. And if you happen to be unaware of what he did, Google can get you there in less than a minute.

The reason why I bring it up is because it has been commonly argued that Salva’s movies should be boycotted. And I want to make sure one thing is clear before I go on to state my position on this. I think that what Salva did was despicable. In no way would I ever want to imply support for or endorse that kind of behavior. I want to make sure that is absolutely clear before I move on. I also believe that he should have received a harsher punishment. The sentence passed down by the court was laughable and that doesn’t even take into consideration that he didn’t serve the full sentence that he was given. I think that a reasonable case could be made for not allowing him to work in movies, mostly due to the fact that he used his power and position as a film director in order to do the things he did.

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All that said, he was convicted in a court of law and he served the sentence that was passed down to him by our judicial system. I don’t think that this was right. I don’t think it was justice. And I absolutely support the victim and everything he does to try and make himself healthy again.

Still, I cannot bring myself to support the notion of a boycott, and my reasoning is as follows.

If there was a way to financially hurt Salva and only him, I think that would be one matter. But the fact is that when you were talking about a big budget Hollywood film, we aren’t talking about just Victor Salva anymore. There are literally hundreds of people employed in the process of developing and releasing a feature-length film. Obviously, there are the actors but also all the individual departments that are responsible for the physical look of the film as well as the process of filming. You have the people who spend countless hours with the actors in their studios applying makeup and costumes. There are the people who take the time to set up and dress the sets, keeping things in motion as production moves along. There are the musicians who develop a score for the film, one of the most important parts and record all of that music. Even the caterers who provide food and the marketing firms who promote the movies. There are a lot of people here.

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I have always thought that directors got a little too much credit for what ends up on the screen. They function as an organizing force with a global perspective, but there are a lot of different people who work hard at the ground level to make that finished product. The director is responsible for the totality of the thing but it is rarely their hands actually on the product, crafting it. So if I felt like a boycott would be destructive to Salva and only Salva, I might be more inclined to go along. But because of the countless other people who worked their butts off in order to create this film, I can’t support it.

Jeepers Creepers is a brilliant film, and my compliments go to all the cast and crew that dedicated themselves to the creation of it.

chadclark

Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night w/ Chad Clark

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Not unlike me, while slasher movies weren’t invented in the eighties, the eighties was when slasher movies became great. See what I did there? In all seriousness, though, ask anyone to name a slasher movie and chances are, most people will name one of the big three, Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street or Halloween, all of which have been remade over the past ten years or so. And all of them really took root in the consciousness of our culture in the eighties. Still, there were a number of other examples that rose out of this period and jumped on the bandwagon. Many of them were standalone films, or simply lacked the power of the majors, but there are still some good ones in there. For me, coming across these movies at the time, at the age I was, it made a huge transition in my life. I had loved movies up until that point, but it was more for the fantasy of it, the spectacle and the majesty.

This was the first time that a movie scared the shit out of me.

I never considered that film could have such a powerful, emotional effect. For the first time, I didn’t really feel safe in the theater, or on the couch. And it was from there that my love for dark fiction was born. Not because I thought the carnage was cool (although often it was) but because I loved that experience and the impact that images and words could have.

One last thing I will say in general before we get to the heart of this is one important aspect of slasher movies in the eighties. And that would be the sex. I don’t mean this in a titillating way, although at a young age, this was some of my first exposures to sex and the female anatomy. What I’m talking about is the function that sex played in the story.

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In the eighties especially, sex was like the redshirt for horror movies (sorry if you don’t get the reference here but Google is only a click away). Characters who had sex on film were almost certain to meet their grisly demise shortly after. It wasn’t unusual for someone to actually meet their end mid-coitus. The message often seen in these films was pretty plain to see.

Sex equals death.

We’re going to come back to this point so hold on to it, okay? Put a pin in it.

That brings us to the movie of the hour. Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The movie starts out with the main character as a child. After visiting his grandfather in a nursing home, Billy is forced to witness his parents murdered in front of him by a man dressed in a Santa suit. His emotional damage is furthered while living in a foster home under the supervision of a tyrannical nun, Mother Superior.

As an adult, Billy is talked into dressing up as Santa Claus for the store he works at. At some point during the night, he witnesses an act of sexual violence between two coworkers and he is triggered into launching a killing spree in the town.

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This film was the embodiment of the idea of sex leading to death. As a child, Billy is battered with Mother Superior’s influence that immoral people have sex and should be punished. This clearly has an impact on Billy as he ends up killing several people either immediately after or in the act of having sex. He literally becomes a kind of uber-violent puritanical, acting out his hatred for those who choose to engage in the sins of the flesh.

And I suppose for being naughty?

He is Santa Claus, after all.

This film was pretty controversial when it first came out, even though it was hardly the first of its kind. I think that a large issue with the public was the fact that the film was actually released during the holiday season. Also, the promotional material for the film placed a heavy emphasis on the fact that the killer was dressed as Santa Claus.

The moral outrage evidently became so outspoken that Gene Siskel actually took time out of their program to call out members of the crew by name, just so he could point his finger and say, “Shame on you.” As a result of public pressures, TriStar Pictures did end up pulling the film from theaters. It would be re-released early the next year by a smaller studio, exploiting the controversy around the film in order to promote it.

Say what you will about the movie, there was enough of a following to justify four sequels and a loose remake that came out in 2012. Interesting trivia note – the Silent Night remake featured one Malcolm McDowell, who starred in another classic horror reboot, Rob Zombie’s Halloween in 2007.

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I honestly can’t say if Silent Night, Deadly Night is that great of a film. It certainly is exploitative, loaded full of nudity and sex and graphic violence. The story is a bit on the cheesy, trope-heavy side, the innocent child drove into becoming an insane murderer by the cold, overbearing nun in the foster home. The killer who sees himself as a kind of moral avenging angel. At moments, it has the feel of an over-the-top after-school special in that it tries a little too hard to be earnest and isn’t particularly subtle.

But being honest, I don’t think that you should reasonably expect anything else from a movie like this. It would be like complaining that you got heartburn from the taquito you got at the twenty-four hours greasy taco truck. It’s a fun movie and I think that should be taken into consideration when evaluating it. If you enjoy the gore of horror movies and watch it for the kills, you’ll probably like this one.

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For me, this film is more important in relation to the point in my life in which I crossed paths with it. It was one of many films lying around in the stack of VHS tapes at home and it was when I was in grade school that I first saw it. It was scary, but there was also that thrill of watching something you weren’t supposed to see, the taboo of the thing that made it exciting. I have made a point to not rewatch this over the years, choosing to preserve my fading memories of the film as opposed to reconfiguring my viewpoint by watching it now.

Silent Night, Deadly Night will always be locked away in a memory box for me. It was a time when I was first introduced to the irreverent potential of storytelling, the emotional impact that movies could have as well as the realization that there was a whole new world out there, just waiting to be discovered on the back of a good video store membership.

chadclark

Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

And you do not want to miss this box set from dark fiction author Thomas S. Flowers. Still on SALE for $0.99!!!

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