Friday, August 22, 2014

TGIF: "SEIZURE" compared to THE EXORCIST, 1977

If you ever want to confront the limits of language, try explaining the 1974 movie SEIZURE to someone.

SEIZURE is a weird movie, but the word "weird" doesn't quite do this film's oddball sensibilities justice. "Weird" is a word we use to describe the taste of that milk in the fridge that's on the verge of spoiling, but is still OK to drink if it means not having to make a trip to the grocery store. "Weird" is what you call that stand-up comic who pretends to have serious mental problems on stage, but seems well-enough adjusted after the show to pose for selfies with fans. "Weird" is just too tame of a word to use as a short-hand explanation of SEIZURE.

Even though it's difficult for me to believe, SEIZURE is coming to Blu-ray in a few short weeks. It's not exactly a good film (there's that language barrier again) but it's uniquely fascinating. Many of the people you'll see on screen in this film had previously been part of cultural groundswells so massive that they remain influential even today. Mary Woronov had been a part of Andy Warhol's "Factory" gang, and had been a dancer for the Velvet Underground's live "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" performances. Former teen heartthrob Troy Donahue was fresh off a performance in THE GODFATHER: PART II. Martine Beswick had appeared in THUNDERBALL, a film so successful that it's still in the Top 10 grossing James Bond films to this day (and might even top the list, if adjusted for inflation.)

And, of course, there's Jonathan Frid, who had been a living cultural touchstone during his days on DARK SHADOWS. His face was on trading cards, board games, comicbooks, posters, records and just about anything else that Dan Curtis Productions could attach his likeness to. For a few years, he was arguably the biggest star on television.

On the opposite end of the career spectrum is director Oliver Stone, who was making his feature film debut with SEIZURE. I'm not sure Stone's fans will see much of the director in this film, but the collection of personalities on both sides of the camera make SEIZURE an irresistible experience for movie buffs.

Below is a 1977 story from the UK publication, "The House of Hammer," a magazine that primarily focused on the films of Hammer Studios. This story mentions the "limited" availability of SEIZURE in the UK, as well as another film from the same mysterious distributor, THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON. That film featured an appearance by DARK SHADOWS alumnus Thayer David, for those of you keeping score at home.



(NOTE: Many of the images used for TGIF: Thank God It's Frid-Day, are courtesy of Elena Nacanther, who is part of an effort to get Jonathan Frid nominated to Canada's Walk of Fame, a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that recognizes Canadians who have excelled in music, sports, film, television, and other artistic endeavors. You can find the NOMINATE JONATHAN FRID TO CANADA'S WALK OF FAME Facebook page by clicking here. Please pay them a visit. You can see more selections from Elena's scrapbook each Friday here at the Collinsport Historical Society.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Podast: DARK SHADOWS VS. CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY


So, what the hell is CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY?

Well, here's how the game's creators describe it:

"Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you've played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.  The game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card."

Back in June, we uploaded free, printable "booster decks" for it, bringing dozens of DARK SHADOWS references to the gameplay. CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY is easy, fun and almost always a little lewd. Shoots and Ladders it ain't.

Recently, Patrick McCray got together with some friends and recorded a session of CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY using our DARK SHADOWS-themed cards. The episode begins with a short explanation of the gameplay, followed a full session of the raunchy game. A scaly manfish with a mild erection makes a cameo appearance.

If you want to play the game for yourself, you can find download links for everything you need HERE. Many of the DARK SHADOWS cards were suggested by readers. If you'd like to contribute to a future deck, leave your ideas in the comments section below!

Listen to the episode streaming above, or download it as an MP3 by clicking HERE.

And subscribe to THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY podcast on iTunes for free by clicking HERE!   

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monster Serial: SLEEPAWAY CAMP, 1983


by JIM MACKENZIE and SARAH GIAVEDONI

What kind of a summer camp lacks so much supervision that its campers skinny dip and smoke weed and get murdered? What kind of camp also has open pedophiles on staff? The answer is Camp Arawak, the setting for 1983’s SLEEPAWAY CAMP, a relatively bloodless horror film from the golden era of slasher flicks. 

Oh, and did we mention the DVD set for this film violates the Geneva Convention?

Wait. What?

When we were considering SLEEPAWAY CAMP, our friend said, “Hey, I’ve got a copy you could borrow. You have to be careful with it, though. It’s a collectible.”

She wasn’t kidding. Apparently, the first design for the box set of SLEEPAWAY CAMP DVDs (yes, there are 3 1/2 original movies — the fourth was so bad, the entire crew dropped out of the production halfway through) had to be recalled. The box cover was designed to look like a first aid kit, complete with the crimson plus sign, bloody gauze, scissors, and smeared handprint. After its release, the Red Cross sent Anchor Bay Entertainment a “cease and desist” letter, demanding the box set be taken off the shelves. According to them, an impersonation of the Red Cross symbol was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

It’s a good thing they recalled the box set. Wouldn’t want anyone to think a masterpiece such as SLEEPAWAY CAMP was officially sanctioned by the Red Cross.


We had such high hopes in watching the illicitly issued DVD copy we borrowed. But through most of the movie, we were left wondering what all the fuss was about. Then came the final scene of the film. The scene that changed the whole tone and made SLEEPAWAY CAMP a cult classic.

The film opens on a summer day in 1975. Two children, Angela and Peter, are boating with their father on a serene lake. The boat capsizes, and an amateur speed boater runs straight over the floating family. There are screams and shots of shocked faces, then the father’s body is seen floating atop the lake in a puzzlingly bloodless manner. We always thought getting diced in a rotor blade would create more of a splatter spectacle.

Flash forward eight years. Little Angela has grown up and now lives with her crazy aunt and cousin, Ricky. Surviving the boat accident has apparently left her near-catatonic. And guess what — she’s being sent off to summer camp to live near a lake. Who decided sending a girl with PTSD to live near a body of water was a good idea? Oh. It’s also the same lake where she watched her father die eight years earlier? Just brilliant.

While at camp, people ask Angela direct questions, and she stares, wide-eyed at them. This kid probably shouldn’t be away for the summer. She should be somewhere supervised by people with PhDs.

You can guess what happens next. Campers and counselors start dying off, one by one. Some of the death scenes are novel. It is fun when the pedophile gets dipped in a giant, boiling vat of corn cobs. Another person is killed instantly by honey bees. Yes. Instantly. Honey bees. Improbable? Of course. But the hilarity factor was off the charts. 

Then, Angela meets Paul, the one boy who gets through to her. His voice brings her out of her near coma. There is even some pleasant interactions between them, including light kissing, but Paul eventually meets his untimely end as well, so don’t start planning to hear any wedding bells in their future.
 

If you think guessing the movie killer is part of the fun, here’s a hint: go really obvious. The film should feature a flashing, red arrow that says, “This is the killer.” But even though you know who it is, you can’t figure out a logical reason why the killer would do it. Then you remember how illogical the rest of the movie is, and making sense of the killer’s motivation doesn’t matter.

This flick ignores the technique of enshrouding anything in mystery. Somehow, it holds all its cards until the last five seconds. If a twist ending right before the credits is your kind of thing regardless of the previous 87 minutes, this film is for you.

This movie did bring us back to a more innocent time, when food cooks could smoke cigars in kitchens, and it was okay for muscular men to wear shorts so diminutive, you can almost tell if they’ve been circumcised.

One kitchen scene took us back even further, to a time before the Civil Rights movement. After the head chef/resident pedophile is practically boiled alive, the camp’s owner, Mel, takes Ben and the rest of the camp’s cooks aside - the only people of color in the entire film - to offer them money for their silence and threaten their jobs if they open their mouths.

Innocent conversation about covering up a brutal attempted murder? Or most racist dialogue we’ve ever heard in a movie not about race relations? We couldn’t come to a consensus, and you’ll have to hear it to make your own judgement. But Sarah sure thought Ben had a nice, mellifluous voice that sounded very familiar.

Quick! To IMDb!
 

Ben was played by Robert Earl Jones, father to the famous James Earl Jones and patriarch of the Earl Jones acting family. Robert Earl Jones may be the only actor in the film you recognize, if only for his family resemblance and that deep, baritone voice.

However, the scene did bring us the second biggest question of the movie (after, “What did we just watch?”.) Mr. Earl Jones, how does your son — who did STAR WARS six years earlier — let his father sign up for this movie? We thought his son should’ve pulled some strings with George Lucas and gotten his dad at least a cameo in RETURN OF THE JEDI.

In one of the movie’s more improbable subplots, Mel, the 60-something-year-old camp manager is seduced by a beautiful, young counselor gal who is probably around the age of 19. When Mel finds her lifeless body in a shower, he chooses not to stoop and examine her, seeing if she is alright. Instead, he decides to stand over her, waving his fist in false umbrage, declaring out loud to seek vengeance upon her killers. Perfectly improbable.

Horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s had a peculiar element we don’t see very often in contemporary horror. Many movies of that era, including SLEEPAWAY CAMP, featured their own theme songs, written specifically for the movie, complete with moderately-relevant lyrics and bad hair.

1981’s MY BLOODY VALENTINE features a theme song that sounds eerily like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

Who could forget “Ben” by Michael Jackson?

1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD had the totally rad tune “Tonight, We’ll Make Love Until We Die.” Very fitting for the zombie movie that started the whole “Braaaaaaains” craze.


One of the highlights of horror rock is The Ramones’ “Pet Sematary” for the movie of the same name. They are one of Stephen King’s favorite bands and they totally nailed this horror theme. We hope the master of horror was pleased.

Of course, even some of the greatest rockers succumbed to the awful side of the ‘80s. Most notable was Alice Cooper’s song “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask.)” It was for the 1986 film FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES. Lots of bad acting in the video and lots of bad synth in the song. We’re sure Alice doesn’t pull out this tune too often when his fans scream for the hits. 

In some ways, this musical tangent brings us back around to the cult classic, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, a low-budget ripoff of FRIDAY THE 13TH. From the bloodless killings to the screaming, scheming counselors, it took a while for the film to come into its own definition and set itself apart from the films that came before it.

You literally have to wait until the last scene for the entire movie to pay off. It’s not until the final seconds, when the credits roll, that you understand why your friends have been telling you for years to watch this movie.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!

The major problem with “splatter” films like SLEEPAWAY CAMP is they are only possible in universes where the smartest people have the IQs of chimpanzees. The dialogue is hard to swallow and the performances are amateurish at best. It’s as if the casting director put up some “Actors Wanted” flyers at a local New York all-night diner and gave jobs to whomever showed up. He certainly didn’t censor anyone for their heavy accents.

But that amateur quality and accidental hilarity is also why movies like this are so memorable. And that’s also why the film’s ending takes its audience completely by surprise.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP has secured its place among the best cult films, and rightly so. It’s a sleeper movie in the best sense — stringing viewers along as it traipses through the woods, spooking campers and counselors alike. Then, out of nowhere — seriously, where did this plot line come from? - the film throws you a curve ball and hits you right in the jugular vein.

If you haven’t made a drinking game out of SLEEPAWAY CAMP by the time Angela’s crazy aunt sends her and Ricky off to camp in the second scene, then you’ve missed a prime opportunity to earn a first-class hangover. And that’s probably the best way to enjoy this film. In a group of friends, drinking and laughing. If horror can’t bring us together and help us enjoy life, then what’s the point?



JIM MACKENZIE and SARAH GIAVEDONI are the creators of StuffMonstersLike.com and two self-proclaimed movie lovers and hijinks creators extraordinaire. Stuff Monsters Like (SML) is the most comprehensive, satirical anthology of stuff monsters like on the web, highlighting the various themes common in many horror flicks. The blog is also the proud sponsor of Intergalactic Hug A Monster Day and the prestigious annual Monstey Awards. When they are not writing about monsters, Jim and Sarah are devoted to watching horror films, running a completely unrelated nonprofit, and making money at their respective full-time jobs. Connect with SML on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: DARK SHADOWS, THE HARVEST OF SOULS

By WALLACE McBRIDE

The producers of Big Finish’s DARK SHADOWS line of audiodramas are on a crusade to redeem the long-lamented “Leviathans” storyline.

For those of you arriving late: The Leviathans story is widely believed to have been moment when DARK SHADOWS jumped the proverbial shark. Combining elements of H.P. Lovecraft, Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jack Finney’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the show’s ratings began a decline during this story that never fully righted itself. Fans continue to nurture a lingering resentment for the Leviathans, and think of it as the Yoko Ono of DARK SHADOWS storylines.

And, as with Yoko Ono, the Leviathans are little more than a scapegoat for less visible problems. While DARK SHADOWS made several critical missteps during that storyline, it also got a lot right. And Big Finish refuses to throw this monstrous baby out with the bath water.

Spoilers ahead.

THE HARVEST OF SOULS is a sequel to two previous (and mostly unrelated) episodes, THE HOUSE BY THE SEA and BEYOND THE GRAVE. The stars of those individual episodes, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Colin Baker, are united in this bleak tale that finds their characters at staggeringly low points in their lives. Following the events of BEYOND THE GRAVE, Maggie Evans (Scott) decides she’s had her fill of Collinsport — and life, in general — and is drowning her misery in pills and booze. Her efforts to commit suicide are thwarted by an acquaintance from the past: Warlock Nicholas Blair, now wearing the face and skin of another man.

Blair is again in the service of the Leviathans, and it’s revealed they have a surprising connection to Collinsport. Blair explains that life first crawled from the ocean in the place that is now Collinsport. Naturally, the Leviathans have an almost-nostalgic affection for the town, and have abandoned their goals of world conquest if it means they can regain control of their former home. This means the current inhabitants have to go … someplace else. Blair is given the chore of serving Satanic eviction notices on the town’s residents, who are seduced away from their homes (and this plane of reality) in exchange for a lifetime of dreams.

THE HARVEST OF SOULS functions as an interesting dissection of Maggie Evans and Nicholas Blair as characters, though one of these is much more explicit than the other. Scott’s performance here is incredible, and had me thinking about how well these kinds of stories would work as live readings. While Baker is essential to the story (as is Jonathon Marx as the late Sheriff Jim Hardy), THE HARVEST OF SOULS is almost a one-woman show. Scott takes her character on a heartbreaking tour of past disappointments. Maggie has always had an almost saint-like ability to endure tragedy, and this story finally sees the character reach her breaking point. There’s a subtle cruelty to the episode’s vignettes, which have Maggie visiting moments in her life where she almost found happiness, only to have life snatch it away. THE HARVEST OF SOULS is a revelation, courtesy of Scott’s performance and a terrific script by James Goss.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Nicholas Blair, a quasi-sociopath who seems almost immune to his own suffering. Blair has convinced himself that he’s doing a good deed by stealing away the residents of Collinsport because, like Maggie, life has nothing to offer them but hardship. He needs Maggie to complete his pact with the Leviathans, and it’s his own warped sense of compassion for her that eventually damns him. After a fashion, both characters find hope in each other, though it’s clearly a relationship not built to last.

It's eerie how well Baker understands Nicholas Blair. While he never apes the mannerisms of Humbert Allen Astredo (the actor who played Blair on the TV series), he manages to convey the mischievous, cocky swagger we're familiar with. We're lucky to have Baker in this role.

It’s not a perfect story, though. There’s probably one flashback too many, and Marx isn’t given much to do besides being oppressively nice in his every scene. There’s a saccharine flavor to his sides of the script that I’d like to chalk up to Maggie’s own biased memories of the character, but we never see anything of Sheriff Hardy besides a pleasant smile. He’s less of a character than he is set decoration. Again, it might be intentional on the part of Goss, but it doesn’t make Hardy any more interesting.

For continuity buffs, there’s a treasure trove of detail to be mined from THE HARVEST OF SOULS. It provides a compelling explanation for Maggie’s blonde phase from early in the original TV series, and even manages to connect the Leviathans and the 1840 storyline in a manner so brilliant that it seems almost obvious. This is definitely among my favorite DARK SHADOWS offerings from Big Finish.

Monster Serial: MURDER PARTY, 2007


By Danny Reid

The horror genre has been the entryway for directors over the last few decades. Horror films have the ability to succeed even with no budget, cheap special effects, and a lack of star power as long as they have the ability to at least seem spooky. With just a short tap dance on an underexploited nerve of the public conscious and one good ad campaign, and you’ve got a phenomena —I mean, how else do you explain the likes of SAW?

This has resulted in an entire subgenre: the calling card movie, crafted by up and comers looking to break into the industry while demonstrating their own creativity. Hollywood’s been kind to the true craftsmen who’ve exploited that path, even if those directors go on to make overripe screeds like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL or three 10-hour-long HOBBIT movies.

But many people decide to hop into horror to make their mark, eager to hit the HALLOWEEN, BLAIR WITCH, or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY pay dirt. The problem always seems to come from the novice writers and directors getting to step one—make a horror movie—and then completely skimping on step two: make it unique. For every person who sits down and tries to create a horror movie that’s scary or, god help them, funny, another five would-be directors go, “Has there been one with a psychotic lumberjack set on Arbor Day yet?”

(The answer? No there hasn’t, and I have dibs on that idea, so back off.)


MURDER PARTY’s hook takes that idea and runs with it: “What can we do that hasn’t been done?” It’s a movie deeply obsessed with artists trying to find their own voices and the deep insecurities they have in regarding one another. As the body count increases, the film reveals how deep artists’ pathological hatred for one another can grow. It’s a movie about the creative itch, and the people who must scratch it with an axe.
The main character and all-around-loser of MURDER PARTY is Christopher, a male meter maid in New York. He is alone on Halloween. His cat, Sir Lancelot, won’t even heed his command to get off his recliner. His entire life is an empty pointless charade, and he’s an utterly safe person. When he decides to throw caution to the wind and attend a party whose random invitation he finds, he dresses up: a knight costume made from cardboard and a pair of khakis.

MURDER PARTY understands how Halloween has become a safe holiday — its opening is filled with children laughing and cookie-cutter Wal Mart decorations blowing in the breeze. Christopher rents a stack of horror movies (on VHS, naturally), but when he finally decides to do something daring with his night, he hits the subway and heads deeper into the jungles of New York City. Away from the brownstones and families, there is the murky miles of warehouses, slums, and debris.


Arriving, Christopher learns that he’s the guest of honor! It turns out that an artist’s collective has decided to celebrate Halloween by murdering a random person and using that as inspiration. A painter paints it, a photographer photographs it, a sculptor—okay, he mostly drinks. The artists themselves are a broad range of neurosis, from insecurity to obsession. For all the members of the collective, they’re suffering from a unifying lack of imagination, as their sexual and religious identities are worthless and success is their only goal.
They’re all slaving under the ringleader Alexander, a smug promoter who promises a big wad of grant money to whoever produces the most daring piece of art. While the others begin to get nervous at the idea of murdering a random person, Alexander reassures them: “Don’t think of this dildo as a victim. Think of him as a collaborator. It’s his privilege to be here.”

This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!
The collective becomes a den of liars and backstabbers as blind desperation mixes with ambition. The film seems to push the idea that artistic success requires a complete detachment from empathy—something the cast and crew of thousands of films can relate to. During the unhinged debauchery, one line explains the film’s own feelings on creativity in a succinct way:

“Now when I go to a good movie or a great exhibit, I hate it. I just want everything to be bad, because when something’s good, there’s no room for me. I used to love art but now I just hate it, I want it to suck.”
Things go south pretty quickly for the group, as poor life decisions lead to a number of them dying accidentally. As the corpses pile up, the film’s only competent artist finally snaps and begins to complete the objective of the murder party, with only Christopher and his meager set of wits left to survive.

He ends up in a room with a series of naked women painted in gold and a sign on the wall that simply reads “Art?”. Shortly thereafter it gets splattered in blood (a lot of people die at this murder party; in that way it is quite successful), giving the audience the film’s message on a platter. Are goofy horror movies filled with blood, guts, and bad jokes art?

Fuck yeah they are. Nice try, movie, you didn’t stump me there! 

With CGI effects so cheap and YouTube such an easy way to demonstrate success, the calling card film is fading. The horror market has become so flooded with low-budget, low-quality entries that a director’s chance of breaking out have become negligible.  It hasn’t helped that over the years the streaming video marketplace has come to resemble less a videostore with a vast selection and more a Walgreens $2 bin of unwatchable shit. Murder Party still stands out as a funny and weird outlier.
Is it pretentious? Yeah, probably, but it’s also fucking funny and starkly different. It’s proof that a person with an idea may not change the world, but can make a movie with ideas and a sense of humor.

DANNY REID lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

See HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS on the big screen!


It's not every day that you get the chance to see HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS on the big screen. It's even more unusual to get to see that film in an actual 35mm presentation, and even rarer to find the film showing at an honest-to-god drive-in theater.

In September, all three will come to pass at the "Go Digital" Classic Retro Horror Weekend event in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. Nostalgic Drive-In Theater Newspaper Ads is co-sponsoring the retro drive-in horror marathon at The Pike drive-in theater. Gates open at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19 and 20. The show begins at 8:30 p.m. beginning with a selection of horror shorts and trailers, followed immediately by screenings of WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOW,  THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (aka DEATH WEEKEND) and DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT. I've been assured the organizers have secured solid 35mm prints of these movies.

The same four films run both nights at The Pike, located at 5798 U.S. Route 15, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, 17752. If you're able to attend, make sure to come back and tell us about the experience!

Monday, August 4, 2014

New DARK SHADOWS serial scheduled for 2015

Note: This art is something I knocked together to get your attention.
News about DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST has been slowly leaking from Big Finish during the last few months. Writers and producers for the DARK SHADOWS line have been hinting at the possibility of a long-form storyline since last year, and it looks like the project will become a reality at the start of 2015.

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is a 13-part miniseres set to begin in early January, with two MP3 installments in the series scheduled to be released weekly on Tuedays and Fridays. The series will later be collected in two compact disc collections.

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST will see the town of Collinsport unravel as a tragic death causes repercussions for all its inhabitants – human, vampire, werewolf and ghost. Written by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells and Joseph Lidster (who have all been guests on The Collinsport Historical Society podcast), it's interesting that the official plot summary from Big Finish invoking the V-word. Will the storyline feature the return of Barnabas Collins? And will actor Andrew Collins, who played Barnabas in the company's earliest DARK SHADOWS audio dramas, be far behind?* Let the speculation begin!

While I'm confident Flanagan, Howells & Lidster have the storyline hammered out (if not entirely scripted) by now, there are a lot of details yet to be disclosed. The series has its own hub at the Big Finish website with links reserved for all 13 episodes, but the cast is still listed as TBD. It's going to be fun to watch this production unfold, and even more fun to see how the fans embrace the serial format.

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is available to for special pre-order prices now, including a download subscription and bundle of the two collections

(*I'm genuinely asking. While I've got a good relationship with Big Finish, I don't press them for too many details about unreleased stories. If I don't know any secrets, I don't have to feign ignorance.)

Monster Serial: EXORCIST III, 1990

 

By Desmond Reddick

“This I believe in ... I believe in death. I believe in disease. I believe in injustice and inhumanity, torture and anger and hate ... I believe in murder. I believe in pain. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing ... every possible ugliness and corruption, you son of a bitch. I believe ... in you.”
Though, it’s probably not something a lot of people would admit, I have a few things in common with Jeffrey Dahmer: outcast status in high school, excessive drinking in the first year of university, great hair, and an aversion to locker rooms. 

As it turns out, I’ve discovered another thing I have in common with the late cannibal. We both share a deep and abiding love for THE EXORCIST III.

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t my favourite movie, not in a world where CASABLANCA, TOUCH OF EVIL, and AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD exist. It’s not even my favourite horror movie. Messrs Carpenter, Fulci and Cronenberg would have something to say about that. What  THE EXORCIST III does for me, however, is scratch an itch that no other film can.

THE EXORCIST III is undoubtedly a flawed film, but I believe it is the CITIZEN KANE of flawed films. In fact, it is one of the few films whose flaws end up working for it. So, after years of answering Negative Nellies with derision, I’m honored to be able to stack my appreciation for this film all in one place.


First: context.

William Peter Blatty wrote the novel, and its subsequent Academy Award-winning screenplay adaptation, The Exorcist. I don’t believe he ever had any desire to be involved in a sequel to the film or novel, but I suppose watching 1977’s EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC can inspire feeling of “I can do better than that” pretty readily. He eventually began to work with William Friedkin developing a story that would lead to a falling out and the film being thrown into limbo. Not Catholic Limbo, mind you. Movie limbo: surely, a much worse fate.

Blatty then said “screw it!” — though, he may have never used those exact words, and gone instead with “tarnation” or “fiddle faddle,” but I like to think of him as a pretty chill dude —and turned the story into his novel LEGION. He turned the novel, a success, into a screenplay and got the interest of Morgan Creek. Morgan Creek told him he could direct, and voila!

Well, maybe not. But we’ll get to the studio interference with the film in a little bit.

The great thing about THE EXORCIST III, LEGION, or THE EXORCIST III: LEGION (if you’re nasty) is that it doesn’t negate anything in EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, despite popular opinion. It just doesn’t have anything to do with it. The first sequel to THE EXORCIST follows the MacNeils and Father Merrin a few years after those horrific events from the original film. I think much of the flack Blatty’s film gets stems from the facts that a.) most people never gave the film a shot after the previous film, and b.) people kind of loved Linda Blair, and she is barely mentioned in this film. This one follows Lieutenant Kinderman, Father Dyer and Damien Karras. However, what Blatty chose to do in the third film was a stroke of genius; he made a direct sequel to the original novel.

Much of the novel THE EXORCIST was based on dealt with characterizing one Lieutenant Kinderman, played by Lee J. Cobb in that film. Unfortunately, the character gets short shrift in the film version where it was tightened into a family drama with severe supernatural religious implications. It works for that film, obviously seeing as it is considered by many to be one of the best horror films of all time.


The Kinderman we get in  THE EXORCIST III, played brilliantly by George C. Scott, is a man who has clearly reckoned with the events of the first film so many years prior, and come out defeated. The best part is that it is not done through portraying Kinderman as a self-loathing alcoholic, brooding alone in a dark room. George C. Scott’s Kinderman is a loving husband and father, a good friend to Father Dyer, and a gruff but amiable co-worker to those in the police force. Behind all that is the haunted man who cannot come to terms with the evil that man is capable of, the evil he has seen manifest one too many times. But much of that is below the surface.  When he acknowledges it in the film’s climax by delivering the monologue quoted under the title of this essay, he tells us what he sees and believes. It is important to note that his character is so well defined that he sees and believes these things, but he refuses to let them ruin his life. And, while this sub-textual existential dread does not drive the film, it pervades its every moment.

What does drive this film is maturity. It’s a breath of fresh air for a genre so often consumed with jiggling naughty bits and sharp things driven through heads, which are good things too, don’t get me wrong. Kinderman is an amazing viewpoint character. He is an older man in the lead of a horror film (which you don’t often see) whose relationship with his wife is one of a worn-in familiarity and lived-in warmth (which you don’t often see) who, with his best friend that he met during a time of great trauma, shares conversations about cinema over dinner instead of the all-pervading cosmic horror that brought them together (which you don’t often see.) It’s all steeped in reality.

For so long, movies have given us single-minded characters driven by a single force. It’s not always wrong either. Some of the greatest movies have that as a driving motivation: JAWS, DIRTY HARRY, MRS. DOUBTFIRE. However, when we do see something different, it truly sticks out.

I’m not one of those people who refuse to call horror films horror films if they are intelligent. I don’t reserve the term thriller for intelligent horror films, and Pazuzu knows I’ve seen my share of dumbass thrillers. THE EXORCIST III, on the other hand, spends much of its time dancing through so many genres that my head would spin if it would stop being so engrossed. It’s a drama, it’s a black comedy, it’s a police procedural, and, yes, it’s a horror film.
 
In fact, it contains the single most effective jump scare in cinematic history. Those who have seen it will agree or be prepared to fight. I’ve seen this movie a ridiculous amount of times and I jump every single time.

A jump scare, however, does not an effective horror film make. It is also littered with horrific imagery, some of which has been ceaselessly copied in lesser flicks. I’m talking to YOU old lady crawling on the ceiling. But the real moments of terror come when Kinderman fears for his family’s well-being in an extremely effective edge of your seat race to get home and in a quiet moment where he pretends to be a radio repairman for a senile old woman who matter-of-factly delivers one of the movie’s freakiest lines of dialogue.

In fact, the film delivers so well on the scares and atmosphere that I’m sure it would be considered a classic, right up there with its granddaddy, if it didn’t have such a wildly and insanely uneven third act.

And, boy-oh-boy, what a third act! The murders Kinderman is investigating appear to be those of the Gemini Killer, who died in the electric chair 15 years ago. Well, how do you explain the mysterious Patient X in the dangerous wing of the psych ward who claims to be the dead serial killer? That’s not all! Astute film fans and even the most casual of viewers of the original The Exorcist who have not seen this film would have been confused by my earlier mention of Damien Karras. Sorry to spoil one of the most famous films in the history of cinema for you, but Damien Karras dies as a very important plot point of the first film. Why, then, does Jason Miller – the original actor who played Father Karras – portray the inhabitant of Patient X’s cell? As we learn in this film, the man in the cell is not a man, but many men, and his name is Legion.

It sets up an intriguing rework of the story’s third act. Rightly or not, Morgan Creek demanded there be an exorcism at the end of the film. I suppose that it makes sense for a film with the word “exorcist” in the title. There ought to be an exorcism or two. The changes and reshoots Morgan Creek demanded of Blatty add a bizarre and head-spinning end to a film that has already achieved a relentless atmosphere of unease.


As a result, the actors portraying Patient X snaps back and forth between Jason Miller and the great Brad Dourif, who Blatty wanted originally. Miller was added only after Morgan Creek wanted another actor from the first film. Miller then performs the role of Karras as well as the host of demons inside his body, while Dourif tends to play the role of the Gemini Killer inside Karras’s body. Then, when you add in the myriad of vocal effects added to both actor when they speak, there is an endless barrage of crazy wrapped into the film’s last forty minutes. I adore it.

Now, I’ve spent much of my word count here pounding into your head how serious and grim this movie can get – and it can – but there is also an insane element of fun. Fun is an essential ingredient to the enjoyment of a film for me, hence my love for those movies with jiggling naughty bits and sharp things driven through heads. This movie has it in heaps. Fabio plays an angel! Patrick Ewing plays the Angel of Death! Blink and you might miss cameos from Samuel L. Jackson and Larry King! The best, however, has to be the great visual gag as homage to Dourif’s more iconic horror role from CHILD’S PLAY.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!

A lot of hoopla, yes hoopla, is made of studios meddling in the creative process and ruining otherwise decent films, especially now when we are so aware of when films go into reshoots and release dates are constantly being pushed back. This film is one of those, but even as a flawed film, at least a little bit deviated from the writer/director’s original vision, it works on so many levels. Its status as a neglected child in the series of Exorcist films is definitely unearned. Especially when you look at the fact that this one wrapped the story up so neatly they had to go the prequel route when they of course went back to the well in 2004 … and again in 2005. Talk about flawed films! I think it’s fair to say that if you want a sequel to THE EXORCIST that is a great film, you have to go with Blatty’s THE EXORCIST III.

There isn’t likely to be a better film in the series unless, of course, someone comes up with the original excised footage from Blatty’s cut. Everybody seems to be sold on the fact that the original footage from the film is lost, but if The Wicker Man and NIGHTBREED have taught me anything, it’s that one can never give up hope. Especially since Morgan Creek said NIGHTBREED’s excised footage was lost, and, lo and behold, we’re on the cusp of that being released. At the very least, we can say that I have a much better chance of seeing the director’s cut of the film than Jeffrey Dahmer does.

DESMOND REDDICK is a writer, teacher, podcaster and horror fan who lives on Vancouver Island with his tolerant wife, two savage sons, four vicious chickens and one neurotic female duck named Howard. Check out his podcast at www.dreadmedia.com where he offers his unsolicited opinion on all kinds of different genre movies weekly. Send more whiskey!
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