Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chris Claremont reviews SEIZURE, 1975

Yesterday, we brought you a lengthy interview with Jonathan Frid conducted in 1975 by comics legend Chris Claremont. The interview appeared in the final issue of Marvel's Monsters of the Movies magazine, which you can read in its entirety HERE if you already haven't. Also appearing in that issues was Claremont's review of SEIZURE, which is mostly notable as being director Oliver Stone's first and Frid's last. It's an interesting mess of a film, one I'm prone to be charitable toward because it's like nothing else. SEIZURE isn't a movie trying to fit into anybody's idea of a trend and is almost undefinable in its lack of focus. They don't make them like this anymore.

Below is a transcript of Claremont's review of the film, which is as fair an assessment as you'll find. It's not the writer's best work ... but it's more thoughtful and insightful than a lot of movie reviews you'll find from the same period. Meanwhile, you can find a restored version of SEIZURE on Blu-ray for sale HERE.

Monsters of the Movies #8, 1975


If any of you readers have been paying attention the last few pages or so, you may have noticed that Jonathan Frid and I are spending a lot of time talking about a film he has recently made—a film now in general release in various cities around the country and, according to Variety, the cinema business bible, doing fairly well at the box office; which is still harder than you might think, even in these days of recessed stagflation — a film entitled, SEIZURE. One assumes that you reading this magazine, being something of a horror film nut, will have already seen this film. However, when one got to thinking, it seemed equally logical to assume that there are those among you who might not have seen the film. And, consequently, might not know what the blazes Jon Frid and I are talking about. Which is a bad situation by any stretch of the imagination. I think.

Anyway. the least one can do is clue you all in on what this is all about; that is, the film. Which is what this insert is all about. Which brings us to the film in question, SEIZURE. Starring Jonathan Frid (Edmund), Martine Bestwick (Kali), Joe Sirola (Charlie), Christina Pickles (Nicole, Edmund's wife), and Hervr Villechaize (the spider) — along with others too numerous to name, such as Troy Donahue (Mark, a not-so-young stud who has the dubious distinction of being one of the first to get bumped off in this rather macabre dream of Edmund's). To continue, briefly, with the credits, the film was written by Ed Mann & Oliver Stone; and directed by Oliver Stone.

The film begins quietly, almost casually, with an opening reverse dissolve from black to the brilliantly colored autumnal shores of some North Michigan/Upper Peninsula lake nestled a fair distance out in the boondocks — near enough for civilization to be accessible but far enough away so that it isn't a constant annoyance/intrusion anymore.

After establishing the setting in this truly spectacular shot, we move to a rich-looking, comfortable old house set at one end of the lake. And there. we meet Edmund, a writer of some repute—the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American Literature, as we learn later in the film—a man trapped in a terrifying nightmare. He wakes from the nightmare, looking much the worse for wear, and stagger/stumbles into the bathroom, where he shaves and pulls himself together as best he can. It is Saturday, you see, and guests are coming.

Guests such as Mark Serge and his wife, Mikki—old Russian friends of Edmund's. And finally, Charlie and Nicole, a pleasant nouveau riche couple who we meet when Charlie Stops for gas at a remote filling station only to discover that the station owner won't take his American Express super-dooper hotshot gold-trimmed exclusive executive credit card. Charlie is upset, damn near fuming; the owner merely wants cash on the barrelhead. It's a minor scene but it sets Charlie's character for the film: a beer-bellied, sun-burned nose aggressive creep (used in decorous place of a word a trifle too basic even for this enlightened magazine in this enlightened age) who digs flashing his executive club credit cards and flashing his bankroll and putting people down with a capital "D".

And the day wears on and we discover that Edmund is having trouble with his latest book, which we hear is a sort of children's story, and that three inmates — one female, two male — have escaped from the state institution for the mentally insane, all people in the vicinity—a fair distance from Edmund's place—being warned to shut their houses up tight at night; and that Edmund's son's pet dachsund is missing— Edmund goes looking for it in the woods—and that someone mysterious is watching Charlie's wife, Eunice, swimming in the lake. Someone large and ominous.

Edmund finds the dog hung from a tree, hung by the neck until dead. He tells his wife but does not tell his son. Night falls. The teen-age girl at the house to help Nicole with dinner leaves for home; she doesn't get very far. A black giant with a scarred face, dressed in leather and looking scarey as hell, ambushes her. And then the giant and his two companions cut the phone lines leading out of the house, and steal the distributor caps on all the car engines. The house and all the guests are cut off, snd then they attack. A black giant, a dwarf and a beautiful, black haired, crimson lipped goddess-woman. Three of the guests die in the first moments of confusion; the rest are captured, trussed up like fowls.

Sentenced to death.

The woman, the Queen (Martine Bestwick), tells them they will all die, all save those who manage to survive until morning. The rest will be killed. The survivors do not believe this, even when they are forced to run a frightening race for life around the house—Edmund and Nicole make a break for their car, discover they can't start it, hurry to rejoin the race and catch up lost ground, because the last person over the finish line is a dead person. Everyone assumes that it will be Serge because of his lame leg. It isn't.

One by one the numbers are whittled down—Serge being led to an execution by the axe after he has explained the who and the what of the situation to Edmund. And to us. The woman is Kali, the Hindu goddess of Death; the Jackal (the black giant, played by Henry Baker) one of a number of mute black torturer/executioners favored by the Czar during the heyday of the Russian Imperial Monarchy; the Spider (Herve Villechaize, just before he went west to take up service as manservant/gambling opponent to a master assassin named Scaramanga, in 007's latest epic, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN— a film which has been discussed in greater detail in our sister magazine, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU), the embodiment of a French court torturer of some repute. This situation, it seems, is part of some great cosmic conflict between good and evil and the results are preordained; so all a man should do is accept his fate and go to it joyfully, knowing that death will only reunite the man with his God.

Edmund doesn't quite see it that way. But then, he was still alive, wasn't he? And so was his wife. Serge's wife had been one of the first to die, her face eaten away by acid. Edmund still had a chance.

Nicole knew better. She knew she was going to die, knew Edmund would betray himself to Kali and give the Death Goddess their son, Jason, as a sacrifice merely to save his own worthless life. And die she does, by suicide. And Kali does demand that Edmund make a choice, his son's life for his, one or the other. And Edmund does choose. And he ends up paying the ultimate price.

So, what have we got here? Not a great film, true. but a surprisingly good one, far, far better than the cheapjack, quickie flick horror nonsense that has been trickling onto neighborhood screens these past few years. The production values are excellent, the setting—the film was shot at Val Morin, Province of Quebec, Canada — very beautiful, the location photography doing justice to the lake and the forest and the house. Technically the film was very well done.

The acting was better than usual, too, with performance ranging from very, very good (Frid, Christina Pickles and Martine Bestwick being prime examples) to good (Herve Villechaize, Joe Sirola and Roger de Kovan) to ... not so good — but what the hell they weren't on screen that much, anyway — (Troy Donahue, Richard Cox, Lucy Bingham, Mike Meola). The direction seemed a trifle arty in some spots but it was well up to the  material.

The material was something else again.

Granted, horror is a much maligned medium, and granted that a lot of it has been done before and granted all the myriad excuses a person can make for a film of this genre — all equally valid — if it isn't quite up to snuff — anyway, it is in the script that the film comes up a fair cropper. Because the script is not that terrific.

Firstly, the basic premise of this film is that something horrible is happening to Edmund, a fact that is conveyed more by Jon Frid's performance than by any clues in the script. We see bits of his dream and see from his reaction after waking up that he's scared stiff by it. Or, at least, by something. Yet we never learn any specifics as to why this is all happening. At the end, during the final voice-over, we find out that he was the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American fiction — and that is supposed to justify/cover all the preceding two hours worth of strangeness and it doesn't. It seems like an afterthought. tacked on to give the film some point. If the fact that he is this kind of writer is important — perhaps crucial — to our understanding of the character and the situation what the hell is it doing at the end of the last reel. And if it isn't, it's gratuitous and misleading and it shouldn't be there at all.

This script never establishes any real emotional connections between audience and characters. We do not know more than a few isolated bits about these people — many supplied by the actors themselves—and consequently don't really care about them. Indeed, some we actively dislike and have no qualms about seeing get murdered —Uncle Charlie being the prime example. You're ready to cheer when he goes. until you realize how he's going. Yeech! But the horror in that scene is the physical action of the execution — the fact that this man's skull is being squashed like a ripe grapefruit or pumpkin — not that the man himself is being executed. He sort of deserves it and good riddance.

And, therefore, with the audience not really caring, except for a few isolated characters in a few isolated scenes, and not really involved, the film looses a great deal of its potential impact. Which is a pity because it has a lot going for it and it should have been a lot better. What separates it from the usual run-of-the-mill horror flick is that SEIZURE could have been a lot better. and one is angry that it isn't. One cares about this film; the rest are quickly forgotten.

Like the man said, you can't win 'em all.

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