Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Halloween 2015: September 22
The Good Son (1993)
During last year’s Halloween Horrorfest Blog-a-thon, I reviewed “The Bad Seed.” So it seems appropriate that I watch its early nineties equivalent “The Good Son” this year. I remember seeing the trailers as a kid and being mildly spooked by them. My mother would never let me see it because she found any horror movie involving children to be disturbing. “The Good Son” is an interesting comparison to “The Bad Seed.” Aside from the subject matter, both share a similar melodramatic DNA. The newer film balances that a little better though.
Seven year old Mark is traumatized by his mother’s death. He’s especially confused by her dying promise that she’ll “be with him always.” After his dad leaves for a business trip, Mark is left with his aunt and uncle. There he meets Henry, their seven year old son. He may appear angelic but Henry is actually a budding sociopath with murder on the mind. When Mark becomes part of the family, a jealous Henry begins to target his own sister and mother. Mark is the only who sees Henry’s true self but nobody believes him.
“The Good Son” was mostly sold on the novelty of seeing Macaulay Culkin play a psychopath. Coming off the huge success of “Home Alone,” Culkin was undoubtedly the biggest child star of the time. In a funny way, Henry mirrors Kevin McCallister, the famous kid hero of “Home Alone.” Both build weapons and traps out of everyday objects around them. Kevin drops bricks on bandits’ heads. Henry shoots a dog with his home-made crossbow. Both have a sadistic side. Honestly, if Kevin had targeted his family members instead of robbers, the movies wouldn’t be much different at all. Culkin was a talented kid actor. Though his line delivery isn’t always convincing, he does bring an appropriate coldness to the character.
“The Bad Seed” came to the groaningly obvious conclusion that psychopaths are born that way becomes of faulty genetics. “The Good Son” has more complex insight into the nature of evil. First off, it seems slightly undecided if Henry even is evil. The child psychologist, an important supporting cast member, says she doesn’t believe in evil. Henry’s matter-of-fact decision to murder his siblings, or anyone who threatens his worldview, may seem evil. Yet a later scene suggests otherwise. He’s jealous. He wants his mom and dad all to himself. While no reasonable person would ever suggest cold-blooded murder as a solution to this issue, it provides insight into the disturbed child’s world-view. Ultimately, the only difference between Henry and a normal kid is that Henry seems incapable of learning empathy. The cruel indifference that all kids exhibit never went away. Instead, the immoral freedom afforded to him by his lack of a conscious showed him how much fun it is to fuck with people. Though still relatively simple, “The Good Son” has some interesting ideas behind the psychology of a child sociopath.
Elijah Woods plays Mark. As their grown-up work has proven, Woods is undeniably a better actor then Macaulay Culkin. The occasional false moment that hampers Culkin’s performance is nowhere to be seen in Woods’ assured, focused performance. That’s not the problem. Instead, the script sticks with the hackneyed device of no one believing the kid. It’s somewhat understandable, as Mark is still processing his mother’s death. Yet the movie goes to ridiculous lengths to make sure the parents doubt Mark’s story. The set-up provides some decent suspense, of the “racing against the clock” variety, but this is still a narrative device I have little patience for.
They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
When I popped in the Movie Macabre version of “They Came from Beyond Space,” I assumed it to be just another low budget alien flick. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the name Freddie Francis appeared in the credits. By jove, this is an Amicus movie! While Amicus could never hope to dethrone Hammer as Britain’s most beloved horror studio, the company has a style and following all its own. “They Came from Beyond Space” was one of Amicus’ most cheaply produced film. Freddie Francis himself called it one of the worst movies the studio would ever make. Though the reputation isn’t entirely undeserved, the movie’s still not bad.
The film is based off the novel “The Gods Hate Kansas,” which may have one of the best titles of all time. Despite that awesome title, the movie is set in the British countryside. Strange meteorites rain down on a patch of forest. A group of scientists are assembled to investigate. However, when they approach the rocks, they are blinded by a strange wave. Their minds are taken over by an alien force. The possessed people quarantine the area and begin building something ominous within. The silver plate inside Dr. Temple’s makes him immune to the alien’s influence. He sets about trying to stop whatever it is the unusual forces are up to.
It Came from Outer Space,” with the similar story of an alien intelligence possessing people in a rural location. As in that movie, I was half-expecting the aliens to be harmless visitor with the humans being unwitting aggressors. This would certainly explain why Dr. Temple is so belligerent. When confronted by the alien barricade, he repeatedly attempts to get inside. He threatens to run over some people with his car. Despite his (now possessed) love interest denying their attraction, he kidnaps her and continues to romance her. Of course, Temple is right about the aliens. They are malevolent invaders. But that doesn’t change how much of an unlikable ass he is.
Also weakening “They Came from Beyond Space” is how slow it is. The movie’s first half borders on tedious. For about an hour, we’re treated to the main character attempting to make it into the compound. He fails, comes back the next day, and tries again. So much attention is paid to the electrified fence that you might think it’s a main character. Since Temple can’t make it into the alien compound until the plot says so, “They Came from Beyond Space” has to fill its run time with other stuff. Thus there’s a subplot about the Crimson Fever, a plague that sweeps through the town, knocking people unconscious and leaving red splotches on their faces. Where the fever comes from, what it does, and how it connects to the aliens isn’t well explained.
Though it’s real slow to start, “They Came from Beyond Space’ eventually develops into an entertaining sci-fi spectacle. The wild sets and off-beat story help make up for the jerky protagonist and sluggish pacing. As a Movie Macabre episode, it’s pretty good too. Elvira gets a call from John Paragon’s Breather, gets punched out by someone in the movie, cracks jokes about a metal cup, and looks as ravishing as ever. The cheapness of the set, lameness of her jokes, curves of her body, and spooky synth of her theme song are really starting to feel like home. [6/10]
Jealousy, infidelity, and revenge are probably the most commonly reoccurring themes in “Tales from the Crypt” and “Forever Ambergris” is no different. Dalton is an experienced war photographer. Once considered the definitive name in the field, now Dalton is washed-up, coasting on his previous success. Meanwhile, Ike is an up-and-coming photographer, his powerful images making a name for himself. Though the two are friendly, Dalton secretly resents Ike. He also lusts after Ike’s sexually voracious girlfriend Bobbi. While working in a South American hellhole, Dalton sees the perfect plan to get rid of Ike, steal his work, reap the benefits, and take his girlfriend too. This being “Tales from the Crypt,” it doesn’t quite work out that way.
“Forever Ambergris” tries to break up the established “Crypt” formula. The guys aren’t immediately fighting over a girl. Ike actually seems willing to let his girlfriend see other men, though she’s totally devoted to Ike. Instead, it’s a professional rivalry. Dalton, though he puts up a friendly face, grows increasingly angry at Ike’s success. The script is decent though it's really the actors that make this fun. Roger Daltry plays Dalton. Though Dalton is better known for his rock star credentials, he’s underrated as an actor. Seeing him play such an angry, horny, bitter character is interesting. Steve Buscemi is fine as Ike, playing him as some intuitively insightful hippy. It would have been cooler to see Daltry and Buscemi trying to kill each other all episode but it wasn’t meant to be. Lysette Anthony is weirdly flat as the girlfriend, though nice to look at.
This is the second “So Weird” episode in a row to be set in a high school. Hope Springs High School, where Molly went as a teenager and where Annie and Jack are going now, is opening up a time capsule. Molly, along with an old school friend Steve, didn’t put anything in the capsule. Despite this, an item is handed to them, two mysterious watches. Jack and Annie take the watches intended for Molly and Steve. Afterwards, the two teens are stuck in a pocket dimension where a never-ending detention is watched over by a shrewish teacher.
“Detention” shows the “So Weird” writers trying. I suspect re-focusing the show on a high school setting was part of Disney’s insistence that the program become more light-hearted. The horrors Jack and Annie face in the eternal detention aren’t very intimidating. They have to fill a room-sized chalk board with writing or scrap huge globs of gum from the bottom of the desks. The creation of this situation is hard to swallow. The science teacher invented the watches, accessing the alternate universe, in hopes of getting Molly and Steve together romantically. But the writers are trying, using the set-up to comment on Jack missing his sister and his fear that Annie is replacing her. (That’s a feeling the audience can relate too.) Unfortunately the ending, where Jack and Annie escape detention by learning to like each other, is heavy-handed. This, along with the lengthy coda where Annie flute-jams with Molly, seems like another attempt by the writers to make us like this new character. It’s still not working but the episode is better then the preceding two. [6/10]