The Initiation of Sarah

the morgan the merrier

 The Initiation of Sarah
aka En lo más profundo de la mente
Director: Robert Day
Released: 1978
Kay Lenz, Shelley Winters, Morgan Fairchild, Morgan Brittany, Tisa Farrow
Running time: 96 minutes
Genre: horror, thriller

Whenever you see the word “tact,” replace it with “bitchery.” Two lovely girls–sorry, one mousy girl and one stunning girl–kick it at the beach during what appears to be an eclipse (I have no idea how else to explain the simultaneous brightness and darkness in this scene [Bill: Day for night shooting and a blue filter on the camera? Fisty: All I know is it’s even worse than the opening scene of Dirty Harry.]), listening to some groovy tunes. It’s the last party of the summer, and the mousy blonde frets over going off to college on the morrow. A faceless dude comes up and offers to help our stunning brunette with her breaststroke, and they traipse off into the water, where he proceeds to grope and gnaw her, presumably leading to eventual rape in the ocean in full view of the party. Mousy girl watches in mingled fear and fury, before shrieking “Stop!” as Faceless Rapist falls on his ass into the water. While our stunner gets away, he can barely crawl out of the water. Wait, what just happened?

No matter. It’s the next day now, and our two girls are preparing to drive off to college on a beautiful day that glows in a way only days in the Seventies can. Mom dispenses some advice to the brunette beauty about impressing sorority bitches, gushing over what a wonderful time she wants her to have. “Oh, and you too, Sarah,” she adds. It’s now that we learn that the pair are the Goodwin sisters, half-sisters that is, somehow of the same age. They share a dad, so it’s a safe bet there were some shenanigans about eighteen years ago. The blonde is Sarah, a shy introvert, and the brunette is Patty, who has the world by its tail. That tail starts wagging as soon as the pair arrive at the picturesque liberal arts college campus of Waltham College, where Patty instantly enchants beautiful Bobbie Adams and OH MY GOD, IT’S MORGAN “TURKEY’S DONE” FAIRCHILD. Oh yes, there will be blood.

the turkey is done!

Bobbie reappears in the “freshman dorm” (apparently a quad inhabited by a dozen girls) to explain that tonight’s the big night: All the freshman girls get to go around and introduce themselves at the sorority houses. Once the girls are invited to join a house, they’ll make their choice of one, move in and go through a probationary period before a final Hell Week and initiation. It seems awfully early for that sort of thing–and why even have freshman dorms if practically everyone just moves right into sorority houses?–but I’m not complaining.

Outside the Alpha Nu Sigma house Patty hesitates, wondering whether maybe they shouldn’t forget the whole thing. Is it a sense of foreboding? Whatever, Sarah points out that they’ll just end up living in a dorm if they don’t check it out–oh, so they DO get lived in!–and they enter the Temple of Doom. Morgan Fairchild immediately introduces herself as “Jennifer Lawrence” (nice try!), and though Patty makes an effort to include Sarah, it’s clear that Jennifer is admiring only Patty’s good looks and antecedents. She bears Patty off to meet some actives while minion Kathy shepherds Sarah over to the refreshment table no-man’s-land and abandons her. Seeing Patty surrounded by the Chosen Ones, Sarah makes her way through the crowded room, a goldfish in a school of neon tetras, and awkwardly insinuates herself into the group. As Patty and Sarah excuse themselves, an ANS tactfully suggests they check out PED–Phi Epsilon Delta–a house Jennifer tactfully calls both very old and “intellectual,” then demonstrates yet more tact by “forgetting” Sarah’s name. Once the sisters leave, the ANS girls declare that they’ve got themselves a winner AND a loser. Ouch.

patty - 1, sarah - 0

Outside the PED house, the girls are suddenly menaced by a barking Doberman. While Patty cringes in abject terror, Sarah gives it a meaningful glare, accompanied by intense close ups of her eyes, and the confused canine runs off. The music reaches a crescendo, and we understand that Something has Happened. Inside PED, we find a much different scenario from that of ANS. Though the house is massive, there only seem to be three girls living there: twitchy Mouse, sardonic Allison, and orally-fixated Barbara. When Patty mentions this, Barbara declares that “rushing’s not [their] thing,” and that the others are all out … or busy … or something. Patty demonstrates some ANS-worthy tact by declaring the visit “interesting,” and drags Sarah out, but only after Mouse makes a meaningful connexion with Sarah.

As you might guess, Patty is invited to pledge three sororities, and chooses ANS, while Sarah’s lone invitation is to PED. Though until now Patty has made a determined effort to boost Sarah’s ego, the girls are on their own at this point, with everyone from Mrs Goodwin to ANS promoting the divide. Though Sarah finds real friends in PED, and makes nice with her Psych 101 TA, she’s also hurt by the way ANS forces Patty to disown her, even to announcing, “I will not associate with pigs, elephants, or dogs” right to Sarah’s face. Matters are complicated by Sarah’s growing awareness of her own powers and the involvement of crazy housemother Mrs Hunter, who encourages Sarah to strengthen them, but Sarah has her doubts. Tensions mount, with Sarah and Jennifer facing off publicly. When Sarah comes off the winner, she is motivated to encourage her PED sisters to really become a sorority again. But Jennifer plots to humiliate Sarah, and Patty is torn by her loyalty to her sister and her desire to remain pretty and popular. Mrs Hunter’s machinations, which may have killed a girl once twenty years before, bring this soup to a roiling boil of Mean Girl tact and downtrodden dork uprising with Satanism and witchcraft for some extra goodness.

the watcher on the stairs

An Imitation of Carrie? In the Seventies, you hardly had to see a movie in the theater, because sooner or later one of the networks would release a copycat right onto the airwaves for free. The Initiation of Sarah was ABC’s answer to Carrie, and remains a memorable example of that Seventies boom. Populated by pretty faces of the day (the dueling Morgans and Kay Lenz), featuring the late, great Shelley Winters, and helmed by capable director Robert Day, TIoS is a nifty little knock off that reminds you just how cool made for TV movies could be before Lifetime and Syfy cornered the market on them.

Bill: The Bermuda Depths, Don’t Go to Sleep, The Day After, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Satan’s School for Girls, The Initiation of Sarah… Man, the ’70s and ’80s kicked some made-for-TV ass. They used to pop out some fun little thrillers. The closest we get to quality TV flicks like those now are shitty TV remakes, whatever “mega reptile versus giant amphibian” movie Syfy can find a desperate enough has been to star in, and, of course, Lifetime movies starring Markie Post. I mean, I love the shitty Syfy originals and there’s occasionally something good that comes out around Halloween on, say, ABC Fam (who premiered the “reimagined” TIoS) but they are never quite as great as they used to be in pre-cable TV days.  It’s a shame, because I love the format. There’s just something so dramatically perfect about the music-cued fade to black followed by a fade in, book-ending the commercial breaks. Even without the commercials, they’re just perfect, like reaching the end of a chapter in a book and turning the page.

this is my scanner face

Fisty: And speaking of books, you left out Stranger in Our House, aka Summer of Fear, by the queen of Seventies/Eighties YA girl horror, Lois Duncan. (Note that Stranger was directed by Wes Craven and starred Linda Blair!) That’s a big fat FUCK YEAH because no one does scary for pre-teen girls like Duncan: Summer of Fear, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Stranger with My Face, Daughters of Eve, Killing Mr Griffin, Down a Dark Hall, the list just goes on and on. Seriously, you ought to check them out. Maybe it’s the adaptation of several of her suspense novels into tv movies, or maybe it’s just that overall spooky Seventies vibe, but TIoS has a distinctly Lois Duncan feel to me, which helps it to stand out as not just another piece of Carriesploitation.

Also great about made for TV movies are the familiar faces, from television stalwarts to new up and comers. In TIoS you’ll find Shelley Winters reprising her blowzy dame role as the creepy Mrs Hunter, the antithesis of cheerful tippler Mrs Mac in Black Christmas, blithely planning ritual sacrifices to SATAN. We’ve also got two of the most beautiful and famous faces of the Seventies, Morgan Fairchild and Brittany Morgan, the former demonstrating her usual porcelain bitch-goddess character, while the latter is just luminous as the has-it-all-yet-is-sensitive-too Patty. Also familiar are TV movie and show staples Talia Balsam and Nora Heflin, Airplane!‘s Robert Hays–oh! And did we mention TISA FUCKING FARROW? You know, Anne from Zombie?!

you got me on my knees, sarah

Farrow, by the way, is nearly unrecognizable as Mouse, whom she plays very twitchy and high-strung. And lest we forget, Sarah herself is played by Kay Lenz, who somehow buries her own usual radiant, if Gelfling-like beauty behind Sarah’s diffident loner mannerisms. Kay Lenz was absolutely a star in the television firmament, bringing home two Emmys and marrying the likes of David Cassidy (when he was all that and a bag of chips), not to mention her appearance in House. What does this all mean? In a nutshell, we’ve got an experienced cast who really sell their roles, every one of them, from the most silent ANS minion to the frat boy girl raters. It also means we’ve got some of the prettiest faces ever all collected in one neat package. I’d kill for Morgan Brittany’s hair. IT’S SO BOUNCY.

Bill: Robert Hays! He’s so great. It was nice that his character actually had a conscience, too. He totally faced that bitch Jennifer, and walked away rather than let her lead him around by the johnson.

"pinch hitting for pedro barbon..."

All I know about frats and sororities, I learned from watching movies. They can’t really be like that, can they? No one short of Joan Collins can bitch it up like Fairchild and she makes this Jennifer Lawrence person so cunty as to be near inhuman. Why would anyone want to be “sisters” with her?! Ugh. I’d much rather hang with the Omega Mu Phi Epsilon Delta girls, especially Barbara. Hellooooo, Barbara! Are TV movies supposed to be so obviously erotic? But, yes… Why would anyone want to be an ANS? Blah. Though, as we saw in the opening near-rape, Patty can be pretty naive. I mean, she all but climbed onto a pinball machine and did a Jodie Foster impersonation. If Sarah hadn’t been there … So, I suppose I can see her buying into Jennifer’s “charm.” It’s kind of funny that Sarah, who is supposed to be the socially awkward of the two, seems to have a much better idea of the nature of the people she meets than Patty. She even seems to try to shield Patty from the reality of how  snooty the ANS girls are, knowing that that sorority means a lot to her.

Fisty: See, what’s so great about La Fairchild as Jennifer Lawrence is that she actually DOES fake being human sometimes, like when she offers a pseudo-heartfelt apology to Sarah. Most movie sorority bitch stock characters wouldn’t bother, but she can and does. She knows that the only way to maintain a high level of bitchdom is to fake humanity. It’s easy to imagine her being super nice–as long as you’re not ugly and don’t cross her. That’s one of the nice things about what the writers for TIoS did with it, they really created solid characters from classic examplars of high school and college movies, from our beautiful mean girl Jennifer to rejected introvert Sarah. Day and Ingalls et alia focus on these strong characters and the atmosphere and story–without relying on clunky exposition, we never do quite get how the Goodwin family dynamic formed, and it’s only implied that Mrs Hunter is *ahem* more than she seems with respect to Sarah–rather than effects-driven scares, a strength that makes TIoS still a damn effective little movie thirty-odd years later.

solid character

Now, speaking of Carrie … though Brian de Palma’s film really laid out the foundations of the downtrodden-nerd-rises-up-and-has-revenge-with-possibly-tragic-consequences genre, none of the imitators have ever really come close. And not because it’s a perfect film (it’s not), but in part because of the intensity of the awfulness, the real tragedy of the story, they pale in comparison. That doesn’t mean they’re terrible (they’re not), and sometimes they’re much more, well, real in a weird way. In TIoS, Sarah isn’t really an outcast. Yes, she’s a shy loner, and her mother doesn’t really like her, but she isn’t the victim of unceasing torment and humiliations like little Carrie White. (Which, incidentally, cheapens the rip-off Carrie moment when Sarah is pelted with mud and garbage.) She’s not popular, but she does have friends in the PED girls, especially Mouse, but most importantly in Patti. Where TIoS is strongest is in the relationship between Patti and Sarah, a story as old as any in the Judeo-Christian world–after all, are not siblings born to squabble? With sisters, too, you always have the hot versus the not, the smart versus the dumb’; we love to dichotomize sisters (or brothers), to separate and pigeonhole into neat little categories. And it sometimes damages both individuals. Yet these two are close; Patti does her best to look out for Sarah and care for her, and if her love is tinged by pity, it is still love. And that Carrie White never, ever had.


TIoS is at its best when it’s about their relationship, which is tested by their entry into a foreign, adult world of college. And if Patti does something shameful, well, she isn’t alone in that. Who doesn’t have something for which they are ashamed? It’s an understandable mistake on her part, she wants to be accepted by her new ‘family,’ and by strangers, to prove her worth in the outside world, and Sarah is a vestige of her childhood. But in the end it comes back to the love between them. Sisterhood in general is central to TIoS, though. Sarah’s acceptance in PED, the way she ultimately strengthens their ties to one another, and the juxtaposition of their sorority to the toxic relations of ANS, the pretty hate machine all serve as the central motifs of Sarah’s story. And lest we forget, the longing glances shared between Mouse and Sarah speak of yet ANOTHER sisterhood.

Bill:Yes, it’s a damn effective little flick, but not perfect. I agree about the great way they handle the less-is-more style, like with the Goodwin-Hunter backstory you mentioned, and the is-Mouse-gay? subtext. (She is REALLY into Sarah, and that might explain her suicidal history. And there are a lot of longing glances getting thrown around between these girls.)

did somebody say, "subtext?"

But then there are a few silly moments of irrational behavior and general WTFness that could have an excitable person yelling at their screen. I refuse to believe anyone would actually let that creepy Mrs Hunter teach any class, let alone a class on Ritualistic Magic Among Primitive Peoples. Sometimes it seems like none of these people ever even go to classes. Or do any school work. I also doubt the guys hoisting a piano up on a string are going to be stupid enough to let people just wander around under it, much less loiter under there, looking like fucking Tanooki Mario pulling his statue routine. How retarded is Patty?! She just stands there with Damocles’ Piano hanging over her head, waiting on her sister to psychic that shit down on her. Everyone does that! They just stand still and wait as Sarah psycho-stares them in the face.  She’s not scanning them. No heads are going to explode. She’s not exactly Carrie, who didn’t have to stare at something for 5 minutes to get an effect, so anyone that knows about her power, like, say, HER SISTER, could just step out of the way when she’s aiming her psycho-glare. And why does no one except Mrs Hunter react to this girl’s power? You’d think Jennifer, having been forcefully knocked through the air by an invisible force after pissing Sarah off, would then cut her some slack rather than seek revenge and humiliate the girl that has deadly super mind powers.

what could possibly go wrong?

Fisty: Yeah, there’s definitely too much standing and waiting for those powers to get going. I love that piano gag, though, because it’s right up there with guys carrying an giant glass pane across a street: SOMEONE is going through that glass, just like SOMEONE’S gonna be under that piano. So dumb, but so funny. It’s not just people affected by Sarah, though, it’s Sarah too. Like when she’s getting humiliated outside the PED house–why doesn’t she just run back in? No, she just stands there screaming like a banshee. Nobody does that.

And the fresh meat playing backgammon in the first dorm scene? I have never in my life seen ANYONE play a game of fucking backgammon, nevermind any eighteen-year old girls on their first night at college. The whole college thing is pretty unrealistic–these writers were going on some aging Fifties memories, I’m guessing. I’m not sure how much of that is clumsiness, and how much is perhaps deliberate anachronism, with that peculiar love for the Fifties they had in the Seventies. But I won’t argue with with Mrs Hunter’s class, which I have totally seen in course catalogs. I’m just not sure why she’d be teaching it since she doesn’t even have a doctorate, unless it were Waltham Community College. Those are some pretty minor quibbles, though, and they even lend to a certain enjoyment of the film. (Bill: Amen. I only “quibbled” at all so that no humorless, stick-in-the-mud  can say we misrepresented the movie in our review.) I can revel in that sort of silliness, while also enjoying its good qualities. (Bill: “We,” Fisty, “We can revel in it!”) TIoS is really kind of a perfect nostalgia flick–even for a time I never experienced.

nostalgic ... for SATAN?!?

Unfortunately, due to the ephemeral nature of television commercials (trailers  for made for TV movies falling straight into that category), we’ve been unable to locate a trailer for The Initiation of Sarah. Rather than head into questionable territory by linking to scenes up on YouTube (they’re there if you look, or you can catch the whole thing on Netflix Watch Instantly), here are some authentic commercials from January 1978, just before TIoS premiered, to get you in the mood. You never saw cotton-reinforced crotches looking so good. 


on the rocks

aka Muerte en la Montaña
Director: Adam Green
Released: 2010
Starring: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Kane Hodder
Running time: 93 minutes
Genre: horror, survival horror

Worst case scenario: Longtime pals Dan and Joe, and Dan’s new girlfriend Parker, head up to the slopes of what are CLEARLY New England mountains and definitely NOT the Rockies, one Sunday to enjoy and afternoon of snowsports. Dan is teaching Parker to snowboard, while Joe prefers his skis to the faddish snowboards. They make a few runs, chitchat, grab some overpriced crappy snacks in the cafeteria, and head out for a final run before the slopes close for the week. An unfortunate coincidence leads to tragedy when they persuade (bribe) the lift operator to let them take one last, “wicked fast” run. Their guy is summoned by the boss, and in his haste, doesn’t make it clear that there are three riders still on their way up. When the replacement guy sees three skiers arrive at the bottom, he shuts down the lift and makes tracks, leaving Dan, Joe, and Parker alone, high above the ground, in an oncoming winter storm.

Their surety of being rescued slowly evaporates as first the lights go out, and then it grows colder and windier, and the horror of their situation begins to dawn on them: There’s a storm and the mountain will be closed until Friday. And no one knows they are up there.

going to mount blood, ain't ya?

It’s just a safety bar, it doesn’t really do anything: Green takes an excellent, naturally chilling scenario and creates a taut, anxiety-ridden survival thriller unfortunately weighed down by (mostly) mediocre performances, a little too much time, and one laughably silly element.

Fisty: Seriously, there are few sentences more frightening than “Nobody knows we’re here.”

Bill: What about, “He knows you’re alone?”

Fisty: Or, “The calls are coming from inside the house!”

But SERIOUSLY, survival horror is superscary. Any kind of survival theme like that, even a non-genre film like Alive! or 127 Hours, has a special element of terror to it … the thought that it could easily be you there. Trapped. Alone. It happened to DeWitt Finley. It happened to the Kim family. It nearly happened to Daryl Blake Jane. And Lifetime has made a cottage industry of movies based on real life in which couples reconcile after being trapped in life-threatening situations.

And that’s one of the strengths of Frozen, that Green captures the feelings of isolation and panic that are natural to such circumstances. Everything he does emphasizes the remoteness of the location, the height at which they dangle precariously, the cold and ice, the fear, the loneliness … . Brr!

objects on lift chairs are way higher than they appear

Bill: None of that would matter, however, had the movie been populated with assholes. Luckily, it isn’t. These characters are pretty likable. At the start of the film, you really do cringe and squirm a bit, knowing that things are not going to end well for these poor kids. Shawn Ashmore’s Joe, would, I suppose, be the “dick” of the three, except that he’s not. He’s a little jealous of his best friend’s girl, who is taking his pal away, but he does his best (even if he fails) to try to keep her from feeling like she’s intruding. And Parker, while she does want to spend time with Dan, is not some time-vacuuming bitchmonster. She doesn’t want to come between them at all, feels kind of guilty for even being there. The dynamics of their relationships all seem genuine and reasonable. Even when the stress levels soar and they snap at each other, they never drop too far into antagonism that they can’t recover and at least attempt to comfort one another. By the end of the movie, everything that you feared may happen has, plus some, and you do feel for the kids.

When the trailer was first released for Frozen, I thought it looked good and I had liked Hatchet, so I was excited for it. I shared the trailer online and got back responses like, “Bill, I’m sorry, but that looks dumb as shit. I’m gonna make a movie where a bunch of douchebags get locked on a roof with no escape for a week. Or a movie where a bunch of douchebags get trapped in a cave. Or a basement. Or a submarine.” And, “Douchebags + shitty script + dumbass naked teens and 20-something audience = Hollywood gold.” Well, guess what, motherfuckers, I was right and you all suck! These aren’t douchebag kids that do dumb white people stuff. They never really seemed like they were asking for trouble. Their dialog is believable, fun and even witty, at least until the shit hits the slopes and things get dark. That “douche+shit+naked” formula may apply to Hatchet (which was still fun) but it certainly doesn’t fit Frozen and a big hi-five to Green for being able to switch gears and deliver good flicks that are so completely different in tone.

no future?

How about, “Have you checked the children lately?”

Fisty: Nah, that one leaves me cold. Kind of like the characters. I have to disagree with you on them, because I didn’t care for them all that much. I didn’t actively DISLIKE them either, though, I did dislike how they were consistently being passive-aggressive  and manipulative all though the “getting to know you” opening third of the movie. Conning their way onto the lift sans tickets at the start, followed by a similar use of persuasion and bribery at the end (which of course led to their ultimate downfall) was stupid. Not only did it waste time–cutting out most of it, especially the opening con, would have considerably tightened the flick (who says a movie has to be ninety minutes–cut that shit!) and it’s already clear who these characters are without the lazy characterizations–but it also gave me reasons to dislike them as cheaters, and also implied a vague sort of morality. And this was a situation that called for no moral; it’s better that it just happens by chance. Terrible chance.

But! I will say that I (mostly) liked their interactions, despite passive-aggressive whinging. Shawn Ashmore particularly deserves a shout out for making his “dick” character truly likeable, a real person. I did kinda disapprove of him in some of his early behaviors and attitudes, but he was convincing enough that in the end, I liked him a great deal. I would have even rooted for him to get with Parker, but thankfully Green avoided unnecessarily bolstering his screenplay with any such nonsense. And Parker, too, was finely nuanced. Bell handled her uncertainty at charming the lift guy well, but unfortunately in later scenes she got too histrionic with her emoting and NEVER STOPPED. Though her monologue about her puppy was devastating. That poor puppy was all I could think about while these people were dying of exposure. Because I am THAT kind of dick.

really, we're okay kids

I’m also the kind of dick who will complain about other aspects of the movie, like THE FUCKING WOLVES. I’m resisting my urge to second-guess and nitpick everything the characters did after getting stranded (but I bet I would have gotten out), but WOLVES? Okay, not only are they totally (not) in New England (why DID Green do that? It would have been so much simpler to just have them in the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, or Cascades), which isn’t really known for wolves, but wolves hardly hever hattack people. Like, super rarely. Wolves are nice! Didn’t he read Julie of the Wolves? Or Brother of the Wolves? Granted, they are surely more likely to attack an injured/crippled person like what’s his name, boring innocuous whipped dude … Dan! That’s it. But it would also surely take much longer for them to get up the courage to approach. Yeah, I’m calling shenanigans on that one. At least Green resisted putting in any antagonist outside of Nature, like some crazed killer or something supernatural. (Though I LOVE Wind Chill, which features people trapped in a car in the snow and menaced by Evil!) Really, even a mountain lion (sorry, catamount since they’re so totally in New England) or a bear would have made more sense. Bears eat people every damn day.

how dare green malign this noble animal who only wanted to help?

Bill: Aw, Parker and the boys were just trying to save money! I have gone to a concert without having tickets, expecting to get some from a scalper when I got there and I have snuck into attractions, switched from one theater to another and all that sort of thing. I wasn’t judging them and I don’t think behavior like that is too uncommon. And those wolves? They were totally being nice.  They can smell death and knew who would make it and who wouldn’t, so they Kevorkianed some mofos. It was totally out of compassion. … Ok, maybe not. I guess I do agree about the wolves. It would’ve been totally more believable to have cannibals or sasquatchi (plural of sasquatch!) find them and attack. So it isn’t a perfect flick. Damn you and your picking of nits! I want to stab you in the throat with your nit pick. (Not really.)

Oh, but  speaking of wounds… Those wolves were pretty savage, but the cold was way worse. I winced at all the frostbite and frozen digits and tearing, sloughing, freezer burnt skin. And fuck metal and gravity, for real. The batterings and breaking and punctures and shreddings… Oh, that hurts my parts!

shoulda gone to cancun

Wait for it … wait … How about, “They’re here!”

Fisty: Oh, you’re giving me chills, dude! I agree about the nastyliciousness, too. The horrors of Nature unleashed were nicely used, inducing shivers and winces all ’round. Though–no, I will not nitpick. And do you know why? Because despite some flaws, Frozen is extremely effective. Green takes an entirely possible situation, and plays it fairly straight, from the naturalistic dialog to the very real inherent dangers. I was positively RIDDLED with anxiety, and that’s a good thing. Especially effective are all the aerial shots of the cold, silent countryside, and the hapless victims dangling in their precarious position. It’s minimal, as such a simple scenario should be, and solidly suspenseful.  Though Frozen is no masterpiece,  it is capably done and diverting, and I can’t not recommend it.

What about, “This was no boating accident?”

dude, double rainbow!

Bill: Meh, but it reminds me of the blurb on the poster. Can we please get past the Jaws/swimming thing already? It’s been thirty-five years. Find a new comparison.

It will do for skiing what … The Dark Knight did for district attorneying!
Titanic did for taking cruises in the North Atlantic!
Inglourious Basterds did for being a Nazi!
Lord of the Rings did for putting on rings that turn you invisible!

Frozen does for skiing what Friday the 13th did for going to camp!

We have options!

Hey, Fisty…

“We all float down here.”

so totally new england

Don’t Answer the Phone!

we could not complete your call

Don’t Answer the Phone!
aka The Hollywood Strangler
Director: Robert Hammer
Released: 1980
Starring: James Westmoreland, Ben Frank, Nicolas Worth, Flo Lawrence, and Pamela Jean Bryant
Running time: 94 minutes
Genre: horror, thriller

Smooth operator: A tubby Buffalo Bill-wannabe (think The Silence of the Lambs, not cowboys) stands shirtless in the dark, staring at himself in the mirror. He ties some panty hose around his neck and makes stupid faces while breathing heavy and sweating like, a lot.  An equally shirtless Jesus (think The Bible, not The Big Lebowski) observes from his vantage point on the cross hanging in the center of the mirror. Get used to seeing this kind of crap, because Don’t Answer the Phone! is full of it.

A pretty young nurse pulls into her driveway and the title comes up warning her what NOT to do.  We see her from the killer’s POV as she takes off her hat and shoes and … panties?! Why did she …? Is that standard disrobing behavior after a day of work, to take off your panties before you take off any actual clothes? The phone rings! She completely ignores the giant red letters that appeared over her car (with an exclamation point!!!) and answers it. It’s her mother or possibly some gentleman that she engages in very strange role play with, as it sounds an awful lot like a man. They talk about “Aunt Sophie” and being lonely and “Mom” wants to come over, but the nurse isn’t in the mood. As she talks, The Strangler creeps up behind her. She hangs up and spins around right into his hands, right round, like a record, baby. Now wearing the hosiery over his head, he grabs her throat and smacks her, carries her into the bedroom and strangles her with another stocking. After she’s lost consciousness, he tears open her shirt, exposing her breasts, and giggles as he sets to work on her.

you were warned about answering the phone

The next morning The Strangler, Kirk Smith, is cruising LA and looking for other women to attack or possibly take pictures of, as he’s a pornographic photographer. KVLA’s radio news informs us that last night’s nurse was his fifth victim. In the KVLA station, psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gale is about to begin her call-in talk radio program. Kirk calls in and pretends to be a headache-plagued Messican named Ramone. He’s a regular caller and obsessed with Dr. Gale, always calling to leave clues about his murders and targeting her patients, though she seems to be totally unaware of it. Back at the scene of the nurse’s murder Lt. McCabe and Sgt. Hatcher chitchat with the dickly forensics man and a crime scene photographer as they search for clues to the killer’s identity. These two head up The Strangler Task Force and they will do everything in their power to look like utter tools as they attempt to stop Kirk’s rape and murder spree before he kills his way up to his ultimate victim, Dr. Lindsay Gale herself!

Please hang up and try your call again: Originally called The Hollywood Strangler, but misleadingly renamed to cash in on the Don’t-title craze, Don’t Answer the Phone! is a perverted, mean, sleazy ’80s thriller from a one-time director/writer whose only other writing credits are a handful of episodes of Hawkins, Mannix and Renegade. Yes, THAT Renegade, the Lorenzo Lamas show.

Fisty: When I was in second grade, I was eating dinner (spaghetti and meatballs), and simultaneously teasing my dog Jesse (a golden cocker spaniel, named for Jesse the Body Ventura), never a good combination. I took it a wee bit too far, and he lunged and bit me on the face, took my jaw in his mouth and just chomped down. I screamed, he devoured my dinner, and I got a trip to the ER. No scarring, just a fat bloody lip (which was the subject of a Show & Tell in homeroom), a lesson learned about teasing dogs, and a feeling of mingled guilt and betrayal that lingers to this very day. Not unlike the aftermath of viewing Don’t Answer the Phone!.

I wanted to like Don’t Answer the Phone!, I really did. I thought I would love it. I should have loved it–I mean, it was chock full o’ elements dear to my heart: titties, terrible acting, imbecilic dialog, naked ladies, ludicrous situations, non-existent plot, titties, sleaze, rad Seventies ambiance, boobs, you know, all the good stuff. But I fucking hated it. WHY?

because it's ugly

Bill: One word: Presentation. Imagine you’re standing on your porch one morning and I walk up to you with a angry expression, grab your hand and shove a bloody bird carcass into it, then grunt and walk away. You’re going to be disgusted and you’re likely not going to call me back and offer me a glass of milk. However, if, while standing on your porch, an adorable fluffy kitty runs up with a bloody bird in its mouth and drops it on your foot before twining around your legs, rubbing on you and purring, you’re going to love him and be flattered by his gift and think he’s the cutest little savage ever and snuggle him and feed him and make silly cooing sounds as you do. We both offered the exact same gift, just presented to you differently. … and Don’t Answer the Phone! is no cute fluffy kitty.

Since you mentioned it, let’s look at the nudity in the film. Now, normally, that would be a joke (Haha, he wants to look at the nudity, big surprise!) and my segue into talking about all the sexy boobs ‘n’ butts (a very popular search phrase,) but I don’t really want to look at the boobs and butts in DAtP!. They aren’t sexy. Now, I don’t mean the actresses aren’t attractive, because they are, but their nudity wasn’t filmed sexily. It’s blunt. They felt they needed to show some tits, so they ripped open some shirts on camera. There’s no sense of innocent flashing like you’d get in a Friday the 13th movie or the relishing of a woman’s body you’d get from something like Strip Nude for Your Killer. Even in a movie like The Toolbox Murders, which is every bit as sleazy as DAtP!, or Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key, which is possibly just as misogynistic as DAtP!, they present the nudity … lovingly. The camera slides and dips and lingers like your eyes would on the form of a lover. It’s filmed as a visual caress, even if the scene itself is violent or humiliating (or on its way to being either.) It revels in the sexuality, the voyeurism. However, in DAtP!, it’s just filling a quota. No fun, no love, no innocence, no voyeurism. There’s nothing to enjoy about it.

nothing to enjoy here

But it’s more than the unlovely presentation of the nudity, it’s also the overall tone of the movie: How it shows the women as troubled and sad before brutalizing them, the flippant attitude of the cops, and the juxtaposition of the no-nonsense attacks with the goofiness of the police procedural aspects. The movie, as much as The Strangler, treats the women like something less than human. It makes you pity them more than desire them.I mean, why, after showing one soon to be victim crying and upset over the abuse she suffered as a child would you THEN show her rubbing her breasts? I don’t want to see that NOW! I want to see someone giving the woman a fucking hug!

Fisty: The whole bit with Carol, from her interaction with Dr Gale to her death, was a travesty. She’s just the most pitiful little thing, completely ashamed and bewildered. Watching her die is virtually like watching The Strangler rape and murder a child, as she regresses into the trauma of her father’s abuse. I’m not often disturbed by a murder scene in a movie, but that did it for me.

Dr Gale’s treatment of Carol is another moment where DAtP!‘s appalling treatment of women transcends simple misogyny and enters the realm of the truly absurd. As Carol confesses how her father came in at night, and forced her to undress before him , then fondled her, Dr Gale responds with, “And you let him? Did you always let your father have his way even though you knew it was wrong?.” Really? Insinuating that a child not only allowed herself to be abused, but that she should have “known better?” That she ought to have stopped her father, and is therefore not a good person because she couldn’t–excuse me, chose not to? Dear sweet baby Jesus.

this woman needs a hug!

Probably one of the worst failings of the movie is that the characters–with the exception of the victims–are so contemptible. Nicholas Worth munches scenery like it’s going out of style, turning in an over the top performance that almost saves the only convincing main character. But his motives and behaviors are so muddled that you just can’t care about him enough to even root for him–especially in light of the pathetic victims. The cops, particularly our ostensible “hero” McCabe, are thoroughly vile, too busy being dicks to care that women are being raped and murdered. But Dr Lindsay Gale is the worst, a real piece of work, depicted as the most wishy-washy weak liberal type, despised by the (somewhat) hardnosed and conservative cops, completely ineffectual and likely a menace to the safety and well-being of her patients. (Witness the above exchange with Carol.) Even when it comes time to talk a suicidal patient off a rooftop, McCabe has to step in and do it for her. Though director Hammer implies The Strangler is somehow stalking Dr. Gale, and he does target at least one of her patients, other victims are chosen apparently at random. She seems to exist in large part to hang the Don’t Answer the Phone! title on and to function as the simian-faced female half of the unconvincing love story with cocky jerkoff McCabe. Talk about self-defeating relationships. Bah.

Bill: I thought she was pretty. Awful, but pretty. The love match of her and McCabe totally didn’t work, maybe because they were both so completely unlikeable that I just couldn’t imagine either of them finding the other worth talking to.

living0dead0punk: I change my mind. Dr. Gale (goddamn it, why did that come out in offensive stereotype bad mexican accent?!) is not pretty.

I think you actually give DAtP! more credit than it deserves. Carol’s death didn’t disturb me so much as it generated contempt for the movie. “Disturbing” can be a compliment, but this flick doesn’t deserve any of those. And I wasn’t impressed with Worth either. Kirk ‘The Strangler’ Smith was the single most uncharismatic cine-maniac that I can remember. Ugh.  Kirk Smith? Really? That’s the best name they could come up with? They tried to make him into a sort of rape happy Travis Bickle with the stupid scenes of him lifting weights and talking in the mirror, but Worth lacks the looks, ability or intensity to pull it off. The Strangler is a flabby, fat, charmless, misogynistic nut with a receding hairline, an extensive porn collection, a dubious workout routine and delusions of superhuman strength. If I wanted to watch a movie about me killing people, I’d make one myself.

Stranglers are a pretty shitty killer for a horror movie anyway. No grue to revel in, no creativity to the kills. DAtP! could’ve been saved by some really great, gore gags, but the most you get is some blood on The Strangler at the end. At least Maniac offered some really great scalpings and exploding heads to go with the wimmin-hating and sleaze. For a movie so devoid of class with a slashery title like Don’t Answer the Phone! the lack of insides on the outside is unforgivable. They should’ve stayed with the original, less misleading Hollywood Strangler title.

this ain't no red dragon

Fisty: I don’t feel I’m giving it any credit; you know why that scene would particularly disturb me, Bill. (Readers, I won’t go into it and be a Debbie Downer, but use your imagination and think about statistics on those crimes in America. There you go.) I know it’s exploitation, but DAMN, that was ugly and cheap.

What I found most problematic about DAtP!, and what ultimately sinks it, it that Hammer can’t figure out what kind of movie he’s making. He vacillates wildly between a poor man’s Taxi Driver cum serial killer thriller and a schizo police procedural that can’t figure out whether it’s hardboiled or comedic. Mixing genres requires a certain aptitude that Hammer totally lacks (notice how he never directed again?), and the comedy is so inept that it’s not only disconcerting when contrasted with scenes of brutality, but totally unfunny to boot. (With the exception of the coke blowout in the brothel, and that’s funny for like, two seconds.) It’s also often boring, with pointless scenes of police procedure (like the superdull Strangler Task Force montage) occasionally interspersed with more forced humor. Lab Guy is a repeat offender, appearing at the police station only to argue with some police woman or social worker over just how inept the cops ought to be, in a TOTALLY UNINTERESTING scene that’s meant to be ironical and ends up just irritating. Worse yet is Lab Guy’s first appearance, at the nurse’s murder scene, where we’re treated to this cold exchange:

Did you get a shot of that breast?
Which one? She’s got two, you know.
The one that was nearly bitten off, goddamnit! Get me a mold of that breast, ’cause I wanna take some tooth impressions.
Hey! I already have … [leers] Very healthy lady …
You’re a very funny man, but the last thing I need in my life right now is a comedian, okay? Now, was she sexually assualted?
[whistles] … Every orifice she’s got.

dick doesn't just mean detective

This is right over the nurse’s corpse, too. These guys are too busy jabbing at each other and mocking the deceased to afford any semblance of dignity to the citizens they work for. It’s also interesting how The Strangler’s murder scenes are, as Bill mentioned, pretty colorless. Other than a little humiliation and psychological torment, the actual kills are accomplished pretty quickly and with minimal effect, murdering half the fun these movies are watched for. Lines like the above exchange, and McCabe’s “[T]he girl’s response is probably simulated sexual excitement. So he just twists the stocking, on and off, back and forth, like a water faucet. He must have kept her squirming for several minutes” serve to add color to otherwise indifferent murders. Are Hammer and Castle trying to convince us that we’ve seen that depravity? Had Hammer gone for it, and shown us instead of telling us, and had the final act not been so lackluster, DAtP! might have been saved.

And what is up with the psychic?

that's called a montage!

Bill: The psychic! Everything he said was spot on accurate, yet McCabe and Hatcher completely dismissed him and laughed about it, just like they initially did with Gale whe n she came to them with The Strangler’s phone calls. And what was with the overly long scene of them breaking into the wrong apartment and harassing a toy salesman?! Riggs and Murtaugh these guys are not. You’re right about the montage, too. Dullest montage ever. It was just officer extras sitting at their desks on the phone. Some of that should have at least been kooky enough to be comically WTF-worthy (and would’ve been in a less contemptible film,) but here it’s not. It’s just, like everything else in DAtP! … boring. The best thing about this movie, the only thing that I enjoyed about watching it, is that I can now check another flick off the list of  Don’t! titles.

Fisty: Other than the aforementioned dumbass coke blow up in the brothel, which provided one laugh, and some nicely seedy footage of a Hollywood Boulevard that only exists in my dreams, Don’t Answer the Phone! is so bad it’s bad: Boring and hateful, and really with nary a redeeming quality. The performances are lackluster, direction maladroit, and the story banal and painfully contrived. Any one of its bad qualities could have been salvaged, had director Hammer any panache, but alas. I would choose The New York Ripper, The Toolbox Murders, or even Maniac over this dreck anytime. Only for absolute completists of sleaze and exploitation. Or Don’t movies.

adios, crap

living0dead0punk: [the] screen caps make the movie seem better than it was.  haha

AfterDark HorrorFest Recaps, Part II: Slaughter, Wicked Little Things, Hood of Horror, and The Reeds

In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.

should be called euthanasia


Fleeing an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend, Faith relocates to a dingy apartment in the big city to find herself and like, do art. While out one night at a club, she meets-cute/creepy sassy Lola, a country girl with a twang this thick and bad luck with men. Lola lives outside the city on an apparently idyllic farm, complete with horses, pond, and slaughterhouse. The latter is operated by Lola’s father and brother, largely shadowy figures who lurk, sneer, and growl at Faith when she comes visiting. After her ex tracks her down, Faith decides to move out to the farm and room with Lola, but she starts to wonder about her new pal when she notices all the dates and sexing Lola has with random men who never show up again, leaving behind valuable personal effects. Faith begins wondering whether pigs are the only things being slaughtered on the farm, but her suspicions lead her to uncover a monster.

Fisty: Slaughter sucks. It just suck, suck, sucks. It’s tedious and totally lacking in the suspense that should be increasing during the painfully looooooong build up. The first forty-fiveish minutes are supposed to develop the characters of Lola and Faith, but it’s so poorly done that I could not have cared less about them. But it just keeps on chugging along to an incredibly anti-climactic climax, never building any sense of urgency or tension. Oh, and it relies on the absolutely lowest common denominator for a cheap end “twist”: child murder. Not for any real reason except they had nothing left to give and wanted to beef it up a bit, leave viewers with something more memorable than the turgid snorefest they’d sat through. Hopewell et alia attempt to deepen their shallow little flick with Statements about Women and Abuse, Women and Friendship, Women and Sexuality, blah blah blah, but it never comes off as more than broseph posturing in WS 101. And to add insult to injury, there’s an almost total lack of gore; the serial killings are all offstage and never more than incidental, and the finale deaths are pretty ephemeral. And the music is TERRIBLE! Don’t bother.

Bill: The first few minutes of Slaughter are constantly going in and out of focus and the camera jerks and jitters around. This is meant, I suppose, to be disorienting, to make the viewer feel like the poor girl being victimized. Maybe it even did make me feel like her, if she was just really, really annoyed at being killed. This is followed by boring driving/moving in scenes with dialog that sounds like it was read from a cue card and written by a 50 year old that wanted to sound hip and a boring club scene that appeared to have been shot in a smoky basement with one strobe light. Then the torture begins! Not in the movie, on my couch, as I realize how much time is left in this flick. (“Eighty five more minutes!?!!”) There’s plenty more to be annoyed by as well. Faith decides to stage an intervention for that sex-addicted slut Lola after seeing her have sex one time with one guy. Ugh. Repression ain’t just a river in Egypt, is it Faith? The establishing shots never quite fit right with the interior shots they switch to, making many of the transitions feel disjointed. Lola’s male family members, who are supposed to be threatening, never seem particularly menacing at all. Neither does Faith’s boyfriend, who should have been a real terror to have made her move to another city to avoid him. The scenes that are meant to be tense just aren’t. You only know that they were supposed to have been tense, because the music indicates that they would have been, had they have been scenes in some other movie. I have recurring nightmares about losing my teeth, so the tooth extraction scenes should have squicked me out, but they didn’t. It was all much too boring. The “disturbing” ending just made me happy. I was elated the whole thing was finally over. There is one thing about Slaughter that is well done and effective: It uses some tricky time distortion effects to make the whole movie seem like it’s occurring in real time. I mean, it’s 96 minutes long, but you will feel like you’ve been watching for days, even weeks!

I am actually angry at Fisty for making me watch this. She knew what is was like and she still let me watch it!

your eastern bloc roots are showing

Wicked Little Things

Superdramatic Old Timey Time! In a mine! Child labor! Tragedy! Flash-forward to the present, where recently widowed Karen Tunny is relocating herself and her daughters Sarah and Emma to her husband’s family’s old homestead deep in Pennsylvania mining country. Despite creepy warnings from a halfwitted hick storekeeper and the complete lack of livability of the house itself, the ladies move in. While Karen pores through scrapbooks and old photos, Sarah kicks it with local teens who mention the “zombies” in the hills, and Emma amuses herself with a new playmate Mary, who just might be dead. Warned to stay in at night by the creepy locals who don’t seem to mind the numerous disappearances int he area, Karne has some gnarly dreams about killer Old Timey children, and a helpful neighbor Mr Hanks paint their door with blood. It turns out the the ghosts of the miner children who died in a collapse haunt the hills as bloodthirsty zombies (!), preying upon any whose blood they don’t share. Karen is in danger because she’s an outsider, but the girls ought to be safe. That is until the presence of William Carlton, last descendant of the rapacious mine owner who caused the collapse riles them kids up. Emma disappears, people get eaten, and it’s all Karen, Sarah, and Mr Hanks can do to try to stay alive.

Bill: Hit Girl! Chloe Moretz makes a pre Kick-Ass and Let Me In appearance here and even says asshole. Seeing as how her calling a few guys cunts in the trailer for Kick-Ass contributed to that film’s success, “Chloe Moretz cursing,” should’ve been the tagline for Wicked Little Things. Another good one would have been, “Scooby Doo without the meddling kids and their dumb dog.” This movie has almost everything an episode of Scooby would need: scary local legend; weird caretaker-type character marking doors with blood; greedy land developer; eerie abandoned mine; revenge-seeking, zombie children standing in the fog with miner’s tools, looking scary… Though, thankfully, the supernatural in WLT is very, very real. The use of all these standard spook story elements are precisely what make the flick work. It has the feel of a real local legend or maybe a good campfire tale. In the beginning of the film, Sarah says that the woods remind her of Sleepy Hollow and she is so right. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or John Carpenter’s The Fog is exactly what WLT resembles. This would be a fun one to watch around Halloween. My favorite bit of dialog: Hanks, after he’d been asked if he was responsible for the smeared blood on the door, “You don’t have to thank me.”

Fisty: Dude, I totally laughed at that, too. Though it’s cliché after cliché loaded upon cliché, WLT is a pretty neat little flick. It takes bunches of longstanding horror conventions (creepy abandoned house, family relocating after trauma, superstitious locals, etc) and strings them together into a fairly tight package–and what’s more, an enjoyable movie. There’s not a whole lot going on, the script often stumbles (the deathless dialog occasionally approaches the transcendentally inane: “Are you coming?” “Yeah. I mean, sure.”), and there are numerous holes, but it is pretty to look at in terms of scenery (both human and natural), and it keeps moving at a good clip for the most part. The flesh-eating ghosts/zombie things–whatever you would call them–are an interesting touch, not common in Western tradition, and are more than a little disturbing. Overall, a worthwhile genre flick that does what it sets out to do.

bitch IS a movie

Hood of Horror

An animated opening segmizzle, a la Creepshow 2, tiz-ells the stizzle of Devon, a young gangsta who accidentally capped his sister with a stray bullet during a vehicular gun battle. When an emissary from Hiz-ell confronts him with his culpability in her death, Devon exchanges his life and service for that of his lil’ sista. Tasked with gathering souls for Tha Devil, Devon is branded with an HoH, marking him as the Hound of Hell. Switching to live action, the new Hound (played, of course, by the S to the N, double O to the P to the D, O, double G) narrates three ‘hood tales of greed, gore, murder, madness and supernatural mayhem: Crossed Out, featuring Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams, in which a young graffiti artist is granted the power to smoke some taggin’ ass fools by simply crossing out their tags; The Scumlord, with Ernie Hudson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Brande Roderick, which is a Three Stooges-like story about a privileged, racist, Texan busta who must live with his father’s old ‘Nam unit, all black men, for one year before he can come into his inheritance; And Rhapsody Askew, featuring Method Man, Diamond Dallas Page and Jason Alexander, about a young rapper, SOD, who blows up after meeting a fellow MC named Quan and lets the bitches and bank go to his head.

Bill: I love hood horror, so, naturally, I was excited to watch Snoop’s Hood of Horror and, now, I’m even happier to say that I loved it. The stories are predictable hood fables and there’s no real horror in the movie, at least not any effective horror. If this flick scares you, you really are a mark-ass busta. The production values seem to vary between segments, the script is silly, the whole thing suffers from a shot-on-video feel, and some of the acting is amateurish, if you’re describing it kindly. None of that matters, however, because the movie is still damn fun. If any of the following scenes appeal to you, you will like Hood of Horror: Snoop exploding an annoying chihuahua; a person having caviar forcibly pumped into them until their abdomen explodes; a pint-sized demon vomiting into a punch bowl; a human aerosol can; a gangsta slipping in the beer he just poured for his dead homey, faceplanting his own forty; or Winston Zeddemore pretending to be the lovechild of John Rambo and Jigsaw. Hudson is kind of slumming it with a flick like this, but it’s great fun to watch him. This movie is worth watching just for the awesome cast. None of them give the best or even coolest performances of their lives and they mostly have small parts, but it’s still wonderful to see them all together in one flick. Truly a boon for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon fans. Snoop has once again proven he deserves his spot as one of my personal heroes by giving me a movie where he delivers the line, “Pretty as a picture. In fact, bitch is a picture.” Fer shizzle.

Fisty: I was kinda disappointed by HoH. It capped the ass of our Hoodrat Horror mini-fest when I was sick last week, and I liked it the least out of the three movies we watched (other entries being Leprechaun in the Hood and Tales from the Hood)–but just barely. I love me a good anthology movie, and I love me some Snoop (because I am the whitest of white girls), but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. The gore was good, very cartoony and gruesomely fun, but it could have gone further. The humor was the same way, though I thought Snoop nicely channeled The Cryptkeeper. And there were NO TITTIES. There was like a half a side boob that we stared at, trying desperately to discern a nipple, but that was it. How is that even possible in a film with Snoop’s name on it? HoH really needed to be OTT–yeah, you know me. BUT! It had some very strong direction, and surprisingly high production values–and though the stories were somewhat mundane revenge plots, they also weren’t preachy, which was something TftH fell into at the end. Out of all Snoop’s forays into horror, Bones is still best, The Wash is still the most horrific, and Hood of Horrors is just fine.

donna appears nowhere in this film

The Reeds

Late twenty-something couples Mel & Joe and Helen & Chris set up their friend Laura on a blind date with Nick for a weekend boating trip in the Norfolk Broads. Though the expedition gets off to a rocky start when their reserved boat is unavailable, Joe and Chris persuade the crotchety boatman to rent them a different vessel, the Corsair Star. When they arrive at the all but abandoned boatyard that houses the Corsair Star, they find some hooligan/hoodlums hanging about all over the boat. Silent, but for a barking dog, they stare dully yet menacingly at the prospective boaters. Only after Laura chides a lovely redhead for running out in front of her car do they respond, following the redhead’s signal to leave the boat, still as silent as ever. Shrugging off that bit of weirdness, the group set sail, enjoying an afternoon of golden sunshine, wine, and silly antics. As the day progresses, however, they discover their map is woefully out of date, forcing them into uncharted territory. Spying another boat, they head into the reeds after it, but darkness falls and there is still no one else in sight. When a terrible accident grievously injures one member of the party and strands their vessel in the water, they are left vulnerable to the terrors lurking in the reeds.

Fisty: At risk of spoilering The Reeds (and getting a vicious beatdown from Bill), I want to defend The Reeds from detractors who claim it’s a rehash of Triangle. Now, I wasn’t Triangle‘s biggest fan–it was okay, but superobvious–but I don’t see the two as being particularly similar. There are two entirely different sets of circumstances going on in the two movies, and while Triangle approaches the concept from a very psychologically driven, post-modern angle (ha), The Reeds takes an approach that fits in much better with traditional folklore. And the twist ending isn’t all that twisty; too many people misinterpret it, which also leads to the erroneous comparison. Plus, it makes sense and is a conclusion viewers can easily draw from watching the movie. Is that too much? Other than that, The Reeds starts out very pretty and sunshiney, without too much of a sense of impending doom, which I think sometimes movies harp on a bit. The characters are pretty well developed rather than hateable interchangeable ciphers; even the token unpleasant chap isn’t that bad. It’s quietly compelling, and though it does falter here and there, has enough occasional eeriness and energy to keep a viewer’s attention.

Bill: Ponderous, man, really ponderous. The Reeds keeps you engaged. It’s not clear early on what is happening and things are muddied further as the movie progresses and yet more mysterious elements are added to the story. There’s something or some things stalking through the reeds, caged corpses sunken into the water, possible ghosts, untrustworthy locals and even stranger things still. there were a few times that I leaned forward and stroked my beard in thought, trying to figure out how it all fit together. It does, too.  All fit together, I mean. It doesn’t spoon-feed you explanations of how what happens is happening (or happened) but you do see why and when and how each event circles back to affect others. I do think the end is more open to interpretation than Fisty likes to present it. Unlike a lot of whiny bitches on the internet, however, I think this is a good thing. I want to watch the movie again just to see what clues I can spot about the meaning of the ending now that I know what’s going on. That’s not a bad thing, to watch a movie and still have enough interest in it and curiosity about it to want to watch again. Performances and atmosphere, as well as some gore gags, that transcend the film’s low budget, will keep things exciting as you take on the clue-sniffing second viewing.

That pretty much wraps it up for our reviews of Horrorfest movies past, but we’ll be sure to cover a few more next year. Check out this year’s offerings on DVD March 23rd.