Archive for the Mystery Category

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, ESP, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Murder!, Mystery, Plot Twists, Secrets, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth:




Review by L.L. Soares

With the recent boom of fake documentaries (otherwise known as “found footage” movies), especially in the horror genre (the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, etc.), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) constantly pops up in conversation as the influential flick that started this all. And it deserves the attention. The flurry of excitement that surrounded BLAIR WITCH when it first came out was sure to inspire a lot of would-be filmmakers. But a year before BLAIR WITCH, we got THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), which dabbled in this style first, and also shares a lot of similarities with a certain Blair Witch.

Directed and written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, THE LAST BROADCAST begins with filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) introducing himself and his movie, which is made up of footage from several sources, starting with a cable access show called “Fact or Fiction,” starring Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos), who also goes by “Johnny,” and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler). Their show explores paranormal phenomenon, but it didn’t really get much in the way of viewers until they decided to hook up a voice response system to their computer, so people could type questions and the voice would speak them aloud on the show. This little bit of audience response is enhanced by the fact that the computerized voice that reads the questions sounds rather spooky. One of the viewers, through this system, suggests they investigate the legend of the Jersey Devil.

Steven and Locus get the idea to film a live show in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; their plan being to exploit the Jersey Devil legend for big ratings that will maybe get the show out of cable access and into the big time. To help them out on their little camping trip into the middle of nowhere, the hosts bring along sound man Rein (pronounced “Ryan”) Clackin (Rein Clabbers), and a “psychic” that Rein knows named Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), who is sensitive to the “spirits” of the woods.

We learn early on that Jim Suerd has recently died in prison when THE LAST BROADCAST begins, where he was serving two life sentences for murder. We also learn that he was a bit of a loner who was obsessed with the Internet and magic tricks. The implication being that his “psychic” powers were fake, perpetrated by someone with a rudimentary knowledge of magic, and that Suerd was a bit unbalanced to begin with.

Fake "psychic" Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Fake “psychic” Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Suerd finds the other guys the “right spot” in the middle of the barrens, and they set up camp. There’s a disagreement at one point, when Rein is picking on Jim about his “psychic powers,” which turns into a shoving match (which becomes important later). Then the guys broadcast their show from deep in the woods.

But something goes wrong. Rein and Locus are murdered. Steven Avkast disappears (but they find his hat and a lot of his blood), and Jim Suerd calls the police (his 9-1-1 call begins the movie) to report that something has gone horribly wrong in the woods.

A year or so after the events in the woods, and right after Jim Suerd has died in prison under mysterious circumstances, David Leigh receives a strange package in the mail. Inside is a mostly destroyed VHS cassette, and a lot of loose tape. Leigh brings it to a data retrieval expert , Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to analyze. Through painstaking work on her computer, Michelle is able to isolate sections of the tape and recover the images, which turns out to be previously lost footage of Steven and Locus’s final broadcast in the woods. The more she deciphers, the closer she gets to revealing the true identity of the murderer.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

With the concept of a group of people in the woods, filming themselves, and the exploration of a local legend, you can see the parallels between this movie and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And THE LAST BROADCAST is just as compelling. In fact, I found myself getting pretty engrossed in the story, wanting to know more as it went along. The acting here is all believable (and I wonder how many cast members were actually professional actors), and the central mystery is very compelling. I really liked the cast of this one, which includes a bunch of other “talking heads,” people who knew the film crew, including the psychologist who met with Jim Suerd as a child (Dale Worstall), a film editor for the prosecution in Suerd’s trial (Mark Rublee) and a director who was hired by the “Fact or Fiction” team, who formerly directed soap operas and who looks a lot like Phil Spector, named Sam Woods (Sam Wells). All of the “witnesses” who talk on camera are interesting and help move the story toward its creepy conclusion.

In a time when the Internet’s domination of us all wasn’t as profound, THE LAST BROADCAST is notable for having both the Internet and videotaped footage play major roles in the film. For the most part, the videotaped footage works very well.

My only complaint is that there’s a coda at the end of the film that feels tacked on. For the most part, the points of view in the film make sense, and are believable. The movie should have ended at a scene where two characters come “face to face” (if you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean). But instead, there’s a last segment that suddenly breaks the rules of the “point of view” format that was used up to this point, and this final part almost ruined the movie for me. Almost. It’s not completely disastrous, but I found it unnecessary (and who is filming it?) In trying to creep the audience out, it goes a little too far to explain everything (instead of trusting the audience to “get it” at the scene where I think it should have ended).


THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT might get all the credit for starting the “found footage” genre, but THE LAST BROADCAST, a film that isn’t as well known, clearly got there first. In a lot of ways (especially because of its amazing marketing campaign at the time), BLAIR WITCH is the more memorable movie, the one that influenced so many other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, but THE LAST BROADCAST is just as effective, and deserves more credit than it gets.

Also, at several points, when the “Fact or Fiction” guys discussed tracking down the Jersey Devil, I kept wondering, “Why don’t they explain what the legend of the Jersey Devil is all about.” Well, this is not addressed in detail in the movie, but after the end credits, there is a short, related film that does just that – explaining the Jersey Devil myth pretty well.

I liked this movie a lot, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the “found footage” genre.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares



Horror-Mom’s Guide to Scary Movies Presents: THE GREEN MARKER SCARE (2012)

Posted in 2012, Animated Films, Horror, Horror-Mom's Guide to Scary Movies, Mystery, Sheri White Reviews, Teen Detectives, Twist Endings with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Film Review by Sheri White


When Graham Jones asked me to review his new online movie, he told me it was animated by children. So I thought it would be perfect for this column. Graham did tell me that although it was animated by kids, it was definitely not a movie for kids.

I was skeptical, because when I hear that, and then watch the movie, it’s usually pretty tame. And I thought that about THE GREEN MARKER SCARE for the first 45 minutes or so. Sure, it was a little creepy here and there, but nothing most kids couldn’t handle.

Noreen is a young girl whose father is killed in a car accident. His last words inspire her to investigate the crash, since it doesn’t really seem accidental. Her findings lead her to realize there is something evil going on in her small town, and her father knew all about it.

The entire movie is drawn in green marker. There isn’t a lot of movement in the characters, which is a little creepy in itself—most of the time, only the eyes move.

There is no sex at all in the movie, and no overt violence. The only violence is off-camera, but it’s still shocking.

So is this movie appropriate for children? That’s actually a difficult question to answer in regards to this movie, unlike if I were reviewing (something obvious like) THE EXORCIST (1973). The subject matter in THE GREEN MARKER SCARE is definitely not for little kids, but then again, little kids won’t really get what’s going on. This is not in-your-face horror, and most young children will be bored since a lot of the movie is dialogue.

Older kids probably won’t be phased by the subject matter, unless they scare easily or are brought up in a very religious household.

I think this is more of a movie for adults, not just because of its subject matter, but because it is so quiet and dialogue-driven. Most kids who watch horror movies like the loudness, the gore and splatter. But adults, and especially parents, will appreciate how the movie comes together to horrify the watcher.

This is an Irish movie and the characters have Irish brogues—it was a little difficult to understand some of the dialogue at times, but the movie was so well put together, that I was still able to follow the story.

Variety magazine calls Graham Jones  “a very talented director,” and after watching THE GREEN MARKER SCARE, I would have to agree.

I give it four knives.

To view the movie for yourself, go HERE.

NOTE: Although children drew this movie, they were unaware of the subject matter.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri White

Sheri White  gives THE GREEN MARKER SCARE ~four (out of five) knives!


Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.


The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Listens to THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Crime Films, Film Noir, Giallo, Mystery, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on August 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

What do you get when you take a respectable novel by a legendary writer, mix in a beautiful ex-Miss Sweden, and the world’s best known stripper (and musical theater role-of-a-lifetime)?  Go ahead and toss in the director of A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956) and numerous OUTER LIMIT episodes and the guy who penned the screenplay for FROGS (1972).  You get THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958), a whacked-out, nearly adults-only movie that skirts exploitation while titillating audiences with copious teasing moments.

Statuesque Anita Ekberg (ARTISTS AND MODELS, 1955 and KILLER NUN, 1979) stars as Virginia Wilson, an exotic dancer from New Orleans who is introduced to us taking a shower on the beach.  Va-va-voom!  Rusty, her dog, keeps barking at the bushes until he is killed by a madman with a huge knife who has escaped from an asylum.  As Virginia fights him off while he tries to rape her, her stepbrother shoots him dead with his shotgun!  She goes mad and is admitted to the Highland Mental Health Hospital.  She believes that she killed her attacker.  What an opening!  That’s the first four minutes, folks!

Through therapy, she gets better (or does she? Duh-duh-DUHHHH).  Even in the mental institution, she’s incredibly beautiful, and her psychiatrist falls in love with her, and the feeling is mutual.  “Please don’t leave me,” she begs, claiming she’ll do anything he says.

Meanwhile, her stepbrother, Charlie Weston (Romney Brent – THE VIRGIN QUEEN, 1958 and TO HELL WITH HITLER, 1940) teaches sculpture in New Orleans.

Virginia gets a job at a nightclub, El Madhouse, as Yolanda Lange!  The hostess of the club, Joanie, is none other than Gypsy Rose Lee, world famous stripper and the eponymous basis for the musical GYPSY.  Faster than you can sing, ‘Let me entertain you,’ we are in the nightclub and the Red Norvo Trio (oddly enough, actually a quartet) play jazz while the bartender yodels bad opera.  The waiters dance like the Nicholas Brothers.  Playing the hostess, Gypsy Rose—I mean Joanie—tells a customer to “Drink up!  My rent is due!”  She glad-hands the room before introducing Yolanda, who does an exceptionally erotic dance for the late Fifties, involving two ropes hanging from the ceiling.  It’s like Circus of the Stars with more bump and grind.  The crowd goes wild, which makes me wonder how strong their drinks were.

Anita Ekberg dances up a storm in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Joanie runs across the room to greet a journalist she knows, Bill Sweeney, played by Phillip Carey who was also in I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI (1951) and a longtime regular on (the soap opera) ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  He congratulates her on not getting raided yet.  Joanie tells him Yolanda is the greatest thing ever in nightclub history (whhaaaat?), and she introduces them.  They meet cute in her dressing room where she’s bought a new dog, a huge beast named Devil.

Yolanda and her Great Dane, Devil.

Bill interviews her thusly:

Bill Sweeney: How tall are you, Yolanda?
Virginia WIlson (aka Yolanda Lange): With heels or without?
Bill Sweeney: With anyone. Me, for instance.

Suave, Bill, very suave.

He discovers a twisted sculpture by her dresser, a woman contorted in pain, mouth open wide in terror.  She introduces her manager, Mr. Green, her ex-psychiatrist!  He’s played by Harry Townes, a veteran TV actor with more than 150 shows under his belt.  After the press leaves, he shoves Yolanda/Virginia and tells her she must always do what he says, no matter what, no questions.  He yells at her about having the sculpture; he’s told her to destroy it.  He wants her to make enough money so they can go to Europe, so no more men stare lewdly at her, so he can be a doctor again.  She is completely under his spell.

Cut to later that night—Yolanda is discovered in a state of shock, stabbed in the side and stomach, protected by her fiercely loyal Great Dane (“A great dame with a Great Dane,” one man calls her).  Bill gets her to the hospital, but something is bothering him, so he does what anyone would do—he takes a trip to the newspaper morgue.  Searching through old copy, he finds a story about another exotic dancer who was murdered a few months ago, and she was found with the exact same sculpture next to her when her body was discovered.  Hmmm…

While Mr. Green and Yolanda continue diving deeper into their toxic relationship, Bill tracks down the sculptor who created the Screaming Mimis, and it is none other than Virginia/Yolanda’s stepbrother.  He based the art figurines on Virginia when he rescued her, screaming, naked in the beach shower.  He insists the sculptures are a kind of therapy for him, but he was always sad that Virginia died in that hospital.  It appears Dr. Green and Virginia lied to him to get her out of the asylum and out of the country.

When Bill returns to New Orleans, he is seduced by Yolanda, despite the eternal interference of Dr. Green, who appears more fixated than ever on his former patient.  Will Yolanda run off with Bill and leave the obsessed psychiatrist?  Who killed the first dancer and attempted to murder Yolanda?  What is the connection of the Screaming Mimi statues?  It all comes to a head in a twist ending you’ll catch if you’ve watched carefully.  Don’t expect me to tell you who did it!

The legendary Gypsy Rose Lee introduces Anita Ekberg and Phillip Carey in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Mention must be made of the exquisite camerawork by the fabulous Burnett Guffey, who shot many great classics, such as FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), THE INFORMER (1935), and Hitchcock’s brilliant and underrated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940).  The winner of two Oscars, Guffey brings a really brilliant look to THE SCREAMING MIMI.  There’s a terrific seduction scene in a hotel with a blinking sign outside the window.  The room is lit only by the buzzing neon, and when it goes dark, it goes dark for a daringly long time, tightening the tension.  Is someone kissing someone or killing someone?  You actually find yourself squinting to see.  Also, Anita Ekberg is shot in a sort of halo-like light throughout the film, especially that long golden hair of hers, which could be a character itself.  It takes a somewhat pedestrian script and raises it to a whole other level.

The acting is uniformly fine.  Ekberg, no great actress, is quite good in this, although she seems to be in shock or catatonic through most of the feature (probably a good move on the director’s part), but it’s Harry Townes as Mr. Green who impresses the most.  He oozes sexual frustration and twisted morality.  Every line in his face is etched there by this woman he needs to protect, needs to own.  Hell, even Gypsy Rose Lee is fine.  She seems to be having a grand old time smoking and playing cards and insulting everyone.  She does sing an entire song in the movie at one point, and she proves she should stick to dancing and stripping.  The song, ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ is dreadful anyway, but with her off key mumbling, she should have been booed off the stage.  She does know how to work that fringe dress when she starts dancing, though!  Interestingly enough, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a novel, a thriller called THE G-STRING MURDERS in 1941, which was turned into a movie, LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943) starring Barbara Stanwyck!  Life does indeed imitate art.

Plus, if that great musical score sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the classic music from ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) by Leonard Bernstein!  Yes, sometimes even the most famous scores were recycled as library music by the studios, and THE SCREAMING MIMItook full advantage.

THE SCREAMING MIMI was based on a book by the legendary mystery writer Fredric Brown.

THE SCREAMING MIMI is a fun mystery that somehow straddles the line between the film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s.  It contains all the femme fatales, the luckless people pulled into bad situations, the shadowy streets and hotel rooms of the film noirs while exploiting the sordid sexuality and twisted psychology of the films of the giallo genre.

I give THE SCREAMING MIMI three beach showers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

The David Lynch Chronicles – Volume 2: BLUE VELVET (1986)

Posted in 2012, Classic Films, Crime Films, David Lynch, Intense Movies, Madness, Mystery, Nick Cato Reviews, Pabst Blue Ribbon!, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns, Suspense, The David Lynch Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2012 by knifefighter

(WARNING: The David Lynch Chronicles is an in-depth analysis of the films of David Lynch, and therefore contains spoilers. You have been warned…And now, on with the show!)


The Plain Weirdness of BLUE VELVET (1986)
By Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Nick Cato: Of all the films David Lynch has unleashed on the world, 1986’s BLUE VELVET is perhaps his most “normal.”  It plays out like a straight murder mystery and there are hardly any head-scratching clues or off-the-wall things happening in the background.  Everything is pretty much up front.  But what sets the film apart from your standard Hollywood fare are the characters.  While it’s set in present day, most of the cast seem to have a 1950s-retro vibe going on, especially Sandy Williams (played by Lynch regular Laura Dern) and night club crooner Dorothy Vallens (Lynch’s other favorite regular, Isabella Rossellini, in a ground-breaking performance).  The film’s protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) has an innocent, curious boyish charm, but doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of dangerous opportunities.  And unless you’ve been living on another planet these past 26 years, Dennis Hopper’s role as iconic bad guy Frank Booth is simultaneously terrifying and comical, threatening yet cool, a force of nature a hurricane wouldn’t want to mess with.  Lynch uses his cast here to their full potential before pulling out a few cameos to add just a bit of weirdness to the proceedings.

Jeffrey returns to his small home town to visit his ailing father in the hospital.  During his walk home through a wooded area, he happens to see something in the grass and discovers it’s a human ear.  He brings the ear to the police but is unsatisfied with their actions.  Eventually he gets info from Sandy, the police chief’s daughter, who points him to a seedy underworld Jeffrey never knew existed in his quiet home town.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: BLUE VELVET might be “normal” by Lynch standards, but I’d hardly call it a “normal” film. Lynch blends in some themes that are rather typical of his work. His characters live in the land of white picket fences, warm apple pies cooling on window sills, and cute girls with ponytails next door. This idyllic wonderland is juxtaposed against a dark place that threatens to rip apart the innocence. The thing that makes Lynch’s work truly magical is that he makes us question our own realities. Are we part of the half that’s good or the half that’s bad? Or is anyone truly immune from those dark places we try to pretend away?

Jeffery Beaumont lives in this 50s-esque landscape populated by Bermuda shorts-wearing folks who walk down the street without concerning themselves with drug lords or murderers or other unpleasantness. When Jeffrey discovers an ear bereft of its owner in an overgrown lot, his world is turned upside down. He also discovers a side of himself that he didn’t know existed. Jeffrey, an innocent college guy who initially tries to help imperiled songstress Dorothy Vallens, eventually finds himself treating her the way bad guy Frank Booth does. It’s a study in the wickedness inside all of us, even the pure and innocent.

Nick Cato: And it’s Sandy who tells Jeffrey that her father has been looking into Dorothy Vallens’s background, inspiring him to do his own investigating.  Jeffrey goes to see her at a night club (where we learn he’s a big fan of Heineken beer) and then follows her home.  He hatches a plan to sneak inside her apartment to spy on her and see if she may somehow be connected to his gruesome discovery.  Sandy reluctantly agrees to help him get in, and as soon as he does, BLUE VELVET begins an almost non-stop barrage of neo-noir suspense that lasts until the final reel.

While hiding in Dorothy’s closet, he watches her undress and is eventually discovered.  To his surprise, she doesn’t call the cops or throw him out, but insists he remove his clothes.  As soon as Dorothy begins to seduce Jeffrey, someone arrives home.  Dorothy tells Jeffrey to get back in the closet.  This is when we’re introduced to one of the most menacing villains ever to appear on film.  We learn Frank Booth (played with total anarchic chaos by Dennis Hopper) is holding Dorothy’s husband and young son prisoner somewhere, their safety depending on her bowing to Frank’s sexually psychotic demands.  As Jeffrey looks on, Booth forces Dorothy to pretend to be his mother as he inhales ether from a face mask he keeps stashed in his jacket.  It’s one of Lynch’s most disturbing scenes, and also one of his most fascinating.  Within seconds we understand Frank Booth can go in 100 different directions at once, we see Dorothy as both strong and submissive, and Jeffrey’s clean-cut image continues to crumble.

When Booth finally leaves, Dorothy tries once again to seduce Jeffrey…but when he refuses to hit her, she asks him to leave.  Again, within seconds, we see even more sides to these complex characters that drag us deeper into Lynch’s mystery.  We think that, for a second, Jeffrey is having some kind of sexual awakening, but his old self puts things on hold.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Lynch does a great job of developing Jeffrey’s good-guy image in the beginning. He befriends the police chief’s daughter to discover more about that peculiar ear he found. There’s obviously a romantic attraction between them, but Sandy has a boyfriend and, by golly, Jeffrey is such a gentleman that he does his best not to cross any lines. When Dorothy has a brutal sexual encounter with the terrifying Frank Booth (who could be the most terrifying villain of all time), he tries to soothe her. It seems like he wants to make love to her, but she wants him to be violent with her. He can’t bring himself to do it, and he leaves.

I think it’s an interesting dichotomy between the sweet, gentlemanly Jeffrey and the brutal, violent Frank. Even near the beginning, however, we get a glimpse of a yin-yang quality to Frank, which we’ll eventually see in Jeffrey as well. From time to time, Frank Booth, criminal, sadist, and drug addict, switches from being controlling and violent to babyish and submissive. He frequently refers to Dorothy as “Mommy,” and there are few hints that he and his cronies have brainwashed Dorothy’s kidnapped son into believing that his mother no longer wants him. Frank is now her baby. We often hear her on the phone, presumably with her child, reassuring him that he is her baby.

Nick Cato:  After finding out Sandy has a boyfriend, Jeffrey attends another one of Dorothy’s gigs and sees Frank Booth watching the performance right near the stage.  He’s playing with a piece of blue velvet he had ripped off her robe, while drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon (in contrast to Jeffrey’s beverage of preference, Heineken).  Lynch uses tiny details like this to begin building more tension between the two (who at this point in the film have yet to meet).  Jeffrey decides to spy on Frank, and over a couple of days discovers a pair of shady guys doing business with him.  When Jeffrey reveals this information to Sandy, they share a brief kiss, but Sandy feels too connected to her boyfriend and stops.  In turn, Jeffrey pays Dorothy another visit, although this time he knocks on the door first.  To his surprise, Dorothy claims she has been thinking of him and they indulge in sex.  She even convinces him to hit her, and while she enjoys it, we see Jeffrey is still uncomfortable with causing any more pain in her life.

When Jeffrey goes to leave, Frank comes down the hallway with his cronies and BLUE VELVET takes a rocket-leap forward in the suspense department.  The first time I saw this I was on the edge of my seat, and after a current theatrical viewing, I still had the same butterflies in my stomach despite knowing what was to come.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Now the suspense begins to build. While spying on Frank Booth, Jeffrey discovers that some shady dealings are going down between Frank and some guy in a yellow sports coat, one that makes him look alarmingly like a Century 21 Realtor. Another gent with a mustache also appears to be doing some less-than-savory dealings in Frank’s neck of the woods.

Not long after, Jeffrey returns to Dorothy’s place. When he tries to leave, Frank and his cronies meet him in the hallway and kidnap him in one of the most terrifying rides you’re likely to see. After intimidating Jeffrey, Frank and the gang decide to pay their friend Ben a visit. Ben (portrayed by Dean Stockwell, in what could be the creepiest role of his career) is holding Dorothy’s son and husband hostage. Frank tells him to play Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams,” at which point a spotlighted Ben lip syncs along in a scene that will ruin the song and your dreams forever. Frank gets angry at the song after a few minutes and screams at Ben to turn it off. Meanwhile, Dorothy is allowed to see her son, who is being kept in a back room. We continue to hear her reassure the child that she loves him and that he is still her baby. It occurs to me that perhaps this reassurance is what sets Frank off. He goes from being a menacing monster, scaring Jeffrey and intimidating Dorothy, to a weeping baby. Maybe he’s upset that his role as baby has been usurped or perhaps Dorothy’s love for her child reaches some emotion inside this evil man.

Once they leave, however, Frank goes back to being a professional bad guy. As they drive along, he starts sexually abusing Dorothy. Jeffrey, who is being held in the backseat by Frank’s henchmen, can’t handle this and tells Frank to leave her alone. Frank expresses his anger at being told not to get too hands-on with his woman, and Jeffrey gets beaten to a bloody pulp.

Nick Cato: WOAH! WOAH! WOAH!—let’s back up just a second here:  BEFORE Booth takes Jeffrey, Dorothy, and his cronies to Ben’s den of freaks, BLUE VELVET’s most iconic moment goes down: Booth stops at a local bar, and before they enter he asks Jeffrey what his favorite beer is, to which Jeffrey answers, “Heineken.”  Now despite the over-played response that comes from Frank Booth (it’s been plastered on t-shirts and even beer ads over the years), this is arguably the key moment where the audience understands what a true, uncompromising psychopath Booth is.  He tells the poor kid, “Heineken?  F**k that s**t!  Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

Having watched and meditated over this brief piece of dialogue for the past 26 years, the line manages to simultaneously crack me up and creep me out.  Booth’s comment sounds like a combination of an abusive father and a Marine drill Sergeant.  It tells Jeffrey his own personal choices are wrong and no longer matter because after all, he’s now a part of Booth’s world.

Its little sequences like this that set a David Lynch film apart from your regular, mundane Hollywood fare.  What could have been a simple, throw-away line has become a legendary comment that brings more meaning and menace to our villain the more you allow it to seep in.

In the middle of the party at Ben’s house, Booth becomes impatient waiting for the Pabst to be served … and it MUST be served in traditional beer glasses or YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE someone will pay for it.  Only Dennis Hopper could’ve made the relaxing act of sipping a beer take on a completely sinister dimension.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: All right, all right. The Pabst versus Heineken debate is an interesting point. You’ve got the good guy drinking his imported froufrou beer, and big, bad Frank Booth slugging down the workin’ man’s suds.

We know Frank Booth is the ultimate bad guy, not only because he demands that his brewski be served in the proper glass, but also because he drives the baddest car in the whole town. I assume no car in BLUE VELVET was built after 1970. Jeffrey drives the 1950s land yacht, like the good boy that he is. Frank Booth, on the other hand, has a Dodge Charger that burns up the city streets of quiet, idyllic Lumberton. It’s the classic good versus bad dynamic, but I think the two lines blur. Jeffrey discovers that he has a dark side. Frank is, in some ways, like the petulant toddler who must have his way or else he breaks down. Granted, this petulance is taken to the extreme, but he has a childish side to him.

Since we’re backtracking, let’s talk about the robins. When meeting up to discuss what each of them has discovered about Dorothy Vallens and Frank Booth, Sandy tells Jeffrey that she had a dream that the world was in disarray and everything was dark. A huge flock of robins brings in the light and makes everything okay. At the end, a robin is outside of the window, eating a bug. The good has crushed the bad. This aspect of the film made me happy. BLUE VELVET has its very dark moments, but in the end, love saves the day.

Nick Cato: And according to one of the extras on the BLUE VELVET DVD, they couldn’t get a real robin to perform properly, so a fake one was created just for that final sequence.  I have to say it looked pretty good, even on the big screen.

But back to the story: after a wild night of drinking and speeding down the highway with Frank and company, Jeffrey has his butt kicked and wakes up right where they left him.  After walking all the way home, he decides to pay a visit to Sandy’s father at the police station, only to find that her father’s partner is one of the shady men he had spied on while staking out Frank Booth.  And here BLUE VELVET gets a classic noir-type twist, adding even more of an old-school feel to the proceedings.  Sandy’s father listens to Jeffrey’s story, but asks him to stay away as to not spoil a proper police investigation he’s currently heading.

Then Lynch shifts into some classic Lynchian weirdness: Jeffrey and Sandy attend a dance, and are followed home.  But it’s not Frank Booth looking for more trouble: it’s Sandy’s boyfriend wanting to know what’s going on.  But before fists can fly, Dorothy shows up seemingly out of nowhere—filthy and stark naked—and looks to Jeffrey for comfort, mumbling something about them being secret lovers.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s nothing quite like a disheveled, abused, naked lady to really break up a fight. It also draws us into some serious histrionics from Sandy. Jeffrey pulls the nude Dorothy into his home along with Sandy. During his attempts to comfort Dorothy and hide her nudity, he lets it slip that his interest in Dorothy has been sexual. The expression on Sandy’s face is over-the-top. She’s so horrified that she can’t speak. Sandy lives in a world where premarital sex is a serious taboo, and the knowledge that the guy she has a crush on has been doing the mattress tango with this mysterious chanteuse is simply too much to handle. She eventually gets over it, though, and the two decide to work together to bust Frank and reunite Dorothy with her son and husband.

Speaking of mysterious folks, we learn that the guy in the Century 21 jacket that has been doing underhanded dealings with Frank Booth is actually a cop. Lynch did such an amazing job of keeping this fact hidden that it elicited gasps from people in the audience at a recent big-screen showing. This is when it gets really weird. Jeffrey puts two and two together about the strange mustachioed fellow he’d seen around Frank’s building, giving a briefcase to Century 21 guy. He rushes to Dorothy’s place to warn her that the guy was none other than Frank himself, only to be followed by Frank in the wig and mustache.

Nick Cato: The next-to-final scene at Dorothy’s apartment is a real pressure cooker.  Jeffrey finds Dorothy’s husband dead with a hole in his temple and (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) his ear missing.  He also finds one of Booth’s cronies in the apartment, standing in a sort-of daze, as if he has been zombified by some unknown means.  When Jeffrey goes to leave, he sees the man who has been following him coming up the stairs but realizes too late it’s been Frank Booth in disguise.  Jeffrey contacts Sandy’s father over the zombified crony’s walkie talkie, and lies about where he is in the apartment.  Frank Booth enters, having heard this on his own radio, and begins to call Jeffrey an idiot for giving away his location.  Jeffrey manages to hide in the same closet he had spied on Dorothy earlier in the film as Frank makes his way to the bedroom, where he hears Jeffrey’s walkie make noise.  Pissed off when he discovers Jeffrey’s not there, he comes out and fires his pistol sporadically, killing his zombified crony in the process.

Booth slowly approaches the only place Jeffrey can be—the closet—and as soon as he opens it, Jeffrey fires at point blank range with a gun he had taken off the crony, causing Booth’s brains to fly out the back of his head.  The grim image of Booth laying in his own cranium sauce looked doubly-demented on the big screen, and even as he lays dead, looking up to the ceiling, the man causes the viewer to be nervous.

BLUE VELVET then goes from sheer brutality to one of Lynch’s most charming conclusions.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: It’s amazing to me how the film ends on such a positive note. Everyone is happy, the robins are eating bugs, and Jeffrey and Sandy presumably live happily ever after in suburbia.

I read in an interview that Mr. Lynch grew up in this sort of tranquil wonderland but discovered horror when he learned that there were ants feeding on the pitch oozing from the cherry tree. That sums up BLUE VELVET pretty well.

BLUE VELVET is a ride through a clean-cut young man’s oedipal nightmare. We catch a glimpse at the very end of Dorothy playing in a park with her son. The cute guy gets the swell girl, and all is right with the world again. And isn’t that the fairy tale ending we all want?

Nick Cato: Believe it or not, I’ve always found this happy-happy, flowers and birds ending more disturbing than what precedes it.  Jeffrey and Sandy seem amazed that a robin has landed on the window sill, munching on a bug.  Is this a sign that good has conquered evil in their small town?  Or does it mean even the pretty things have dark secrets that the other person has to accept?  Despite how happy our couple looks, as well as Dorothy now being reunited with her son, Lynch manages to give even this bright, sunny conclusion a latent sense of unease.

If you’ve never experienced a David Lynch film before, BLUE VELVET is perhaps the best place to start: your mind won’t be too fried by the ending, and your appetite for his darker, more obscure works just may be kindled.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Even in a Lynch film, a happy ending leaves the viewer wondering when the other shoe will fall. We don’t know what’s going to happen after the credits roll, but we assume that the characters’ lives, at least the ones who make it to the end, go on in some manner even after we leave the theater and move on to other pursuits. Maybe that’s a sign of good filmmaking.

Perhaps the happy ending sticks out because it’s one of the few Lynch films that end on a positive note. Those who are familiar with the awesomeness that is David Lynch come to expect some warped, bizarre, or otherwise dark ending. If you’re expecting your protagonist to wake up only to discover he’s really a serial killer keeping a basketful of ears as souvenirs after living in a delusional world where he’s a good guy, it’s a little disorienting to find that everything wraps up in a nice little package at the end. There’s a clearer division between good and evil here than in many Lynch films. Good and evil blur in films like LOST HIGHWAY (1997) and MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001). There’s a merging of the two even in BLUE VELVET, but it’s more subtle.

Although most of Lynch’s work appeals to those with a thirst for the strange, BLUE VELVET would be appropriate for anyone who likes a good mystery told in a unique way.


© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) intimidates Jeffrey (he’s in the back seat of Booth’s car) as Dorothy (Isabella Rossolini) looks on in terror from the front seat.

Screaming Streaming: THE PERFECT HOST (2010)

Posted in 2012, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Psychos, Screaming Streaming, Suspense, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review:  THE PERFECT HOST (2010)
By Michael Arruda

 THE PERFECT HOST is not the perfect movie.

Sure, it’s entertaining, in a sugary “oh-aren’t-we-clever sort of way,” but that’s not the best recipe for a thriller, which is why, ultimately, this one simmers rather than boils.

Career criminal John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) has just robbed a bank.  He’s injured, on the run, and he desperately needs a place to hide, so he cons his way into the plush home of one Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce, who played Niles on TV’s FRASIER) by pretending to know one of Wilson’s friends.  John got the name of the friend from a postcard in Wilson’s mail.

At first Wilson declines to invite John inside, as he’s preparing dinner for guests, but he changes his mind, saying it would be rude of him to turn away a friend of a friend.  He even invites John to stay for dinner, an invitation that John grows anxious about when he learns that one of the guests is a prosecuting attorney who works for the D.A.’s office.

When news of the brazen robbery plays over the radio, John realizes his cover has been blown.  He holds Wilson at knifepoint and tells him he’s going to kill him, and the only way he’s going to change his mind is if Wilson does exactly as he says.  At first, Wilson appears to be terrified, but his behavior changes when John passes out, and Wilson announces that he had drugged his guest’s wine.

When John awakes, he finds that he is tied to a chair and discovers that his host is not the man he thought he was.  Suddenly, it’s Wilson who’s doing the terrorizing and John who’s the victim.  For a while, it seems as if Wilson is just a nutcase, but later, the plot takes several twists and turns, and we learn that there’s more to Wilson than his just being a lonely psychopath.


THE PERFECT HOST is a decent thriller that’s fun at times, but you really have to suspend disbelief to truly enjoy this one.  I found its convoluted story hard to swallow, and as result I never really bought it.  It’s a case where less would have been better.  David Hyde Pierce makes for a perfectly creepy psycho, and had the story left it at that, it would have worked better instead of the direction the movie ultimately takes.

You see, Wilson is not just some random psycho, which makes John’s stumbling into Wilson’s home by chance such a coincidence it doesn’t work.

But the movie’s not all bad.  The initial twist works, and there are a lot of fun scenes where Wilson torments John.  These scenes work so well because, by far, the best part of THE PERFECT HOST is David Hyde Pierce’s performance as oddball host Warwick Wilson.  He’s deliciously over the top, and he provides the movie with its best moments.  He makes a great psycho, up to a point.  One flaw is that he’s never as scary or as unsettling as he needs to be.  While I was certainly entertained by Warwick, I was never frightened by him.

As a result, THE PERFECT HOST is not much of a thriller.  It’s simply not dark enough to be taken that seriously, and it never really reaches the level of legitimate thriller.  It’s rated R, but for language, as the violence here is rather tame.

And while Pierce dominates his scenes, Clayne Crawford, who stars opposite him as John, lacks the necessary intensity to be a convincing criminal.  Also in the cast is Helen Reddy in a role that is about as integral to the plot as a loaf of bread.

There’s also something very cheap and low budget looking about this movie, as if it were filmed in the 1970s.  I wondered if this was done on purpose by director Nick Tomnay, because one of Wilson’s idiosyncrasies is his disdain for modern technology, and he doesn’t seem to have any modern electrical devices in his home, like a computer or a flat screen television, and he takes pictures with a Polaroid camera.

Come to think of it, John doesn’t carry a cell phone, and he drives a 1980s car.  Hmm.  Maybe it’s director Tomnay with the idiosyncrasies!

Tomnay also wrote the script with Krishna Jones.  Again, the first half of the story is fun, and I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, but as it went on and added more plot twists, I simply stopped believing it all.

On a grander scale, THE PERFECT HOST could have been the type of movie Hitchcock would have directed in his day.  There’s something very claustrophobic about the first half of the film as it takes place inside Wilson’s home, which would have suited Hitchcock just fine.  But Hitchcock’s twists would have had more meat to them, and his characters would have had to suffer more angst and overcome truer obstacles than the folks in this movie.

THE PERFECT HOST has its moments—most of them provided by David Hyde Pierce—but, ultimately, it’s a light entry in the thriller genre.  More entertaining than thrilling, and hindered by a plot that lacks credibility, THE PERFECT HOST would have benefitted from the perfect re-write.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Transmissions to Earth: THE VULTURE (1967)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bad Acting, British Horror, Hard To Find Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Mutants!, Mystery, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2012 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth: THE VULTURE (1967)
(Obscure) Movie Review by L.L. Soares

It’s been awhile since I wrote an installment of TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH, where I’ve been focusing on strange and often overlooked movies, but I recently saw a flick that fit this column perfectly. Too bad it isn’t very good.

THE VULTURE is an odd little British film from 1967, directed by Lawrence Huntington, whose first movie was way back in 1930 (AFTER MANY YEARS) and who directed most of his movies in the 40s and 50s with titles like WOMEN AREN’T ANGELS (1943) and THERE WAS A YOUNG LADY (1953). His specialty seemed to be low-budget mysteries and noir wannabes. The fact that nothing he did was all that famous is certainly a bad sign. THE VULTURE was Huntington’s last film as director, and a foray into horror and science fiction that is neither very horrific or very scientific, although it pretends to be.

It begins with a woman walking through an old  graveyard at night and seeing a grave open up, followed by the sound of flapping wings above her. The incident scares her so much to faints and her hair turns white (!). We find out later, when she recovers from “shock” in the hospital, that what she saw was a “great black bird with the head of a man.” Of course, nobody believes her. That is, until Dr. Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton) comes to Cornwall, England to visit his wife’s uncle Brian Stroud (Broderick Crawford) and gets wind of the strange occurence. Lutens is a man of science (back home in America he is part of the “Atomic Program”) and finds the story too irresistible to ignore, despite the fact that everyone around him thinks he’s nuts to pursue it. Everyone except his wife Trudy (Diane Clare), of course.

There is a strange parchment that tells of a curse placed upon the Stroud family by Frances Read, a sailor who owned a mansion a hundred years ago and who had a pet vulture he brought back from Easter Island. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Read was buried alive with his pet, vowing revenge on the descendants of the Strouds, which in current time include tycoon Brian, his brother Edward Stroud (Gordon Sterne) and Trudy Lutens, in that order. They are all marked for death.

There are also a few suspicious characters including Melcher, the Sexton (Edward Caddick) who sneaks around warning people not to interfere with the curse, and a German antiquarian expert named Professor Hans Koniglich (Akim Tamiroff) who walks with two canes after a “bad fall” and who finds Dr. Lutens’s theories about the mystery to be quite fascinating.

The incident at the gravesite turns out to include the theft of a box of ancient gold coins from the opened grave, and the “scientific” explanation of events that involve an experiment in teleportation (like THE FLY, 1958) and someone’s atoms being combined with those of the corpse of Frances Read and his pet vulture. And, like THE FLY, it involves someone who has acquired the appendages of an animal, in this case, the titular vulture.

The mystery isn’t all that hard to figure out, even if it does make no sense.The acting for the most part runs the gamut for serviceable to atrocious—with character actors Crawford (best known as the star of the TV series HIGHWAY PATROL from 1955 to 1959)  and Tamiroff, who had previously been in tons of the movies, including the Orson Welles films MR. ARKADIN (1955) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) being the big draws here.

The “horror” scenes, being what they are, occur mostly off camera, but we do occasionally hear the flapping of giant wings and see the talons of some giant bird swooping down and grabbing people, to carry them away to their doom. The talons are especially awful-looking and stiff, like they were made of papier mache. The Vulture himself, when his identity is finally revealed, is onscreen for mere seconds—the giant bird with the human head (and hands) —and isn’t convincing at all.

There aren’t any scares to be found in THE VULTURE, and the plot moves pretty slowly for the most part. The effects are dismal, and the “scientific” explanation is laughably absurd. So there isn’t much to recommend this movie. It is pretty hard to find, though, and I’d seen stills from it years ago and was always curious to find out what the movie was actually about. Of course, these kinds of movies rarely are as good as you’re lead to believe, and this one is no exception. THE VULTURE is pretty forgettable, except for some scenes of goofy dialogue and the completely silly solution to the not-so-chilling mystery.

Not worth the effort it took to finally track it down, but at least I finally saw it.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

91 minutes
Directed and Written by Lawrence Huntington
Starring: Robert Hutton, Akim Tamiroff, Broderick Crawford and Diane Clare

Beware! THE VULTURE will get you if you don't watch out!