Ghostbusters (2016/1984)

I started watching the Ghostbusters remake Friday night. I’ve seen the original Ghostbusters approximately 1.7 million times, so I figured I’d watch it afterwards. Nowadays I have trouble sitting still during movies, and I was having a tough time until I took my new anti-depression meds, which – FUN FACT – were used as horse tranquilizers just a few short years ago! Luckily, not many people read these reviews, but I will delete this very soon anyway.

After taking my meds I really enjoyed the Ghostbusters remake. Please note that I’m not being snarky, here; I genuinely enjoyed this movie. In case you can’t tell, I also wrote parts of this review under the influence of my meds, and only wish I could keep all the misspellings and misplaced words, because it more accurately conveys my Friday night experience.

The new Ghostbusters isn’t a scene by scene remake. The first scene of the original Ghostbusters takes place in the New York Public Library, while the first scene of the remake takes place in a historical building. They both feature evil ghost women, though. Other differences: in the original Ghostbusters Bill Murray is a professional bullshitter, while in the remake Kristen Wiig is a real physicist who wants to get tenure, but her nutty friend Melissa McCarthy messes it up. Since everyone’s read the screenplay, they decide to team up and hunt ghosts together with Kate McKinnon, who’s the team’s techie. The Ghostbusters can’t afford the abandoned firehouse of the original movie so they bunk in the top floor of a Chinese restaurant. They’re joined by Leslie Jones, who works for the MTA. Chris Helmsworth is the eye candy secretary who’s a total airhead.

Anyway, plot stuff happens. I don’t remember much of it, but I enjoyed it while it was happening. I recall a creepy mannequin and a flying green demon. The villain’s master plan involves electrocuting himself, which he does with great relish. Did I mention that he’s pretty stupid? There are cameos by original cast members all over the place. I was happy to see Slimer, along with Mrs. Slimer. Slimer drives the Ghostbuster Mobile about as well as my cat, if I gave my cat the keys to my Toyota Corolla.

The head ghost looks like Popeye. When the Ghostbusters shoot him in the balls he flies back into the vortex with the Puritan ghosts and Mr. and Mrs. Slimer. BTW, did you know that John Belushi was originally slated to star in the original Ghostbusters? Bill Murray took Belushi’s role after his unfortunate passing, but he lives on as Slimer!

For some reason the Ghostbusters remake caused controversy. Apparently, the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters cast offended certain segments of male fandom, who made their feelings known by spewing homophobic/misogynist/racist garbage on Twitter. 2019, everybody! Well, back then it was 2016, but things have gotten even worse!

A short paragraph of my impressions of the original Ghostbusters: everyone smokes! The original movie’s cinematography is better, with nicer shots of New York City architecture/skyline. This is a Bill Murray vehicle, while the remake functions more as an ensemble cast.

Best line of the original: dogs and cats, living together!

Best line of the remake: don’t be like the mayor in Jaws.

 

 

 

 

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose

My new hobby is watching scary YouTube videos before bedtime. My personal favorite is the creepy clown subgenre. There are few things better in life than watching drone footage of a guy dressed up as a clown running through a Nebraska cornfield.  Anyway, most of these videos are goofy. Some are obvious fakes. A few are genuinely disturbing, although maybe not in the way you might think.

Like YouTube videos, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is very loosely based on EVENTS THAT REALLY HAPPENED. Hollywood is way too free with the phrase ‘based on true events,’ btw. You could say Godzilla is based on true events – the fire-bombing of Tokyo really happened. There was no enormous radioactive lizard, which is a pretty big omission, but whatever.

From my point-of-view, what really happened in The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that a mentally ill woman died while undergoing an exorcism. Other people think differently, of course, which is fine, because it’s supposed to be a free country and all that, but when the person in question might have died because of medical neglect then it becomes a different story.

There was a court case. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on that court case. It’s totally fictional, obviously, because the filmmakers want us to believe that Ms. Rose is possessed by a devil(s). Of course, maybe I believe Emily is mentally ill because I’m biased. The Catholic Church has devils of its own. A good example of that is here.

Anyway, the movie wants us to believe Emily was possessed. So she was possessed. Emily is a farm girl who goes off to medical school on a scholarship. Her family is religious – the house is full of cats (11 of them!) and religious memorabilia. The actress who plays Emily is great. She shrieks and grimaces and contorts. I was impressed by the contorting –did you ever notice how people possessed by Satan or whatever are great at yoga? Because that’s what they’re doing. Full wheel seems to be the pose of choice. I find this to be irritating, because I did yoga for years, and there’s nothing demonic about it, so maybe movie directors and artists should stop picking on other cultures!

Since The Possession of Emily Rose takes place in the 20thcentury, there are medical explanations for Emily’s issues that don’t include demonic possession. Epilepsy, mental illness, malnutrition, starvation, dehydration. There’s even the possibility that Emily’s meds are making her hallucinations worse, and also hindering the exorcism, which leads to her stopping those meds. I can buy the first explanation, but the second is bogus.

From what I know about exorcism – mostly gleaned from reading Malachi Martin’s execrable Hostage to the Devil – the host is not responsible for any actions committed while possessed. The host is totally powerless and thus does not dictate the outcome. The fight is a mano-to-mano clash between priest and demon; being powerless, the victim is also extraneous and may not even be aware of what’s happening. What’s the difference if they are medicated? BTW, Mr. Martin was a Catholic priest who supposedly performed a number of exorcisms. Later in life he left the church, so take what you will from that.

The prosecution’s argument is that the priest a. caused Ms. Rose to stop taking her meds and b. didn’t provide adequate medical treatment while she was under his care, making him responsible for her death. I think this is a great argument, but the movie never takes it seriously. Ironically, Ms. Linney (the defendant’s lawyer) is agnostic while the prosecutor is deeply religious. He’s not Catholic, obviously.

The Possession of Emily Rose is effective at what it does. It doesn’t hold a candle to The Exorcist, the granddaddy of exorcism movies, but what does? It scared the crap out of me, even though I thought a few of the plot points were melodramatic and silly. Ms. Linney’s character is troubled by things that go bump in the night, as is the priest who performed the exorcism. At one point Say-tan even kills an important witness in a car crash. I didn’t know his Satanic Majesty cared about court cases, but I guess I was wrong.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose has believability issues. I don’t mean the exorcism. Plenty of people believe in demons and exorcisms. No, there were other things in the movie that drove me nuts. Ms. Linney is supposed to be a hotshot attorney, yet she’s woefully unprepared. She’s surprised about witnesses and doesn’t even know her client’s full story. Other believability issues: the movie is set in America in a religious community and it’s the Catholic church. The good Father wouldn’t be spending his evenings in the klink, and they’d have to move the case somewhere else because of possible bias. Are these nitpicks? Sure. Did they hinder my enjoyment of this movie? No, not really.

However, The Possession of Emily Rose’s biggest flaw is that it treats Emily’s pain and suffering as some sort of half-assed plot device, a flaw mirrored by many, many exorcism books and movies. This is exploitation, especially since many of the victims of demonic possession seem to be women. As Paul Tremblay correctly pointed out in his excellent novel A Head Full of Ghosts, many depictions of exorcisms seem to boil down to a creepy old guy tying a younger woman to her bed. Like I said, earlier – disturbing, although maybe not in the way you might think.

 

Poltergeist (1982)

I saw Poltergeist for the first time at a drive-in movie theatre in Matamoras, PA. It was summertime. Everyone should see a movie at a drive-in during the summer. Anyway, Poltergeist scared the shit out of me. I’ve seen it about a million times since then, so now it’s about as scary as a rerun of Cheers.

Die Handlung: The Freelings are a typical American family. Mrs. Freeling wears mom jeans. Mr. Freeling reads biographies of Ronald Reagan. Their kids have a shit-ton of Star Wars toys scattered all over their bedroom. They even have a dog, a scene-stealing golden retriever. They live in a nice development. All the houses look the same, but that’s fine because it was the 80’s and now it’s a rule that people should have all the uniqueness bled out of them.

However, all is not as it seems. At night Mom and Dad smoke dope. We witness brief glimpses of Dad’s DONALD DUCK FETISH. Thankfully, we don’t get to witness their depraved sex lives, but that combined with the fact that they walk around their own house half-naked and don’t wear suits and dresses at the dinner table leads me to suspect that they’re COMMIE DEGENERATES.

Just kidding. Since it was the 80’s, they’re obviously SATAN WORSHIPPERS.

The weirdness commences at 2:37 a.m. when the TV signs off. That’s right, kids, TV stations used to sign off for the night. This was when we had seven channels on our TVs. And you know what? WE LIKED IT. Just kidding. It sucked.

The weird shit bursts into the Freelings’ lives like a bomb. Moving furniture. Man-eating trees. Creepy clowns. I will give our suburb dwellers this. The ghosts strike fast, before the Freelings have time to react. Before you know it, their youngest daughter is trapped inside the TV.

A bunch of science types come from the local university to help get Carol Anne (their daughter) out of the aforementioned TV. Actually, she isn’t in the television. It’s sort of complicated and the movie doesn’t really explain it. I refer you to the novelization of Poltergeist, which fills in a bunch of plot holes. I don’t recall any of what I read, mind you, but I’m pretty sure the novelization does fill in the backstory.

That’s about as much of the plot as I want to give away. Poltergeist is a great movie. It made me vaguely proud to be an American, because the filmmakers definitely aren’t satirizing Reagan-era America. There’s no way they’d do that. Why are we talking subtext shit anyway? This is a great horror movie! Tobe Hooper didn’t make many movies, but the ones he made were insanely influential.

Wait a second! Did I say Tobe Hooper and not Steve Spielberg? Yes, that’s right. Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist. I can see why people would think this is a Stephen Spielberg movie, though. The scene where the guy decides to cook a steak is Tobe Hooper, but the scene afterward, which shows us the EXPRESSIONS OF PURE WONDER on everyone’s faces as the ghosts parade down the stairs, is pure Spielberg. To me, those expressions sort of make them look like cows at the slaughterhouse, but YMMV. Maybe Spielberg directed that scene. Or maybe he told Tobe Hooper: Tobe, what this movie needs is MORE PURE WONDER. I dunno.

Anyway, go see Poltergeist. Ideally, you should be fourteen years old and watch it in a drive-in, but nothing in life is perfect. If you can’t do that, you should see it anyway!

 

 

The Amityville Horror

I read The Amityville Horror when it first came out, back in the wild and wooly days of the early 1980’s. Even as an impressionable youth (12 years old!), I knew this supposedly true book was full of shit. More on that later. I wish I had some enjoyable anecdote to share about the reading of The Amityville Horror as a young man, but nothing comes to mind. Honestly, I was nervous rereading this book. Was it as bad as I remembered? Would it be worth my entertainment dollar?

Reader, I needn’t have worried. I haven’t laughed so much reading a book in years. One of the joys of The Amityville Horror lies in its plethora of bizarre details. Where else can I learn about George Lutz’s diarrhea, or the particulars of the Lutz’s sex life (nightly, until their stay at 112 Ocean Avenue!), or how George and Kathy practiced TM? These are things that I – the reader – want to know. No, I’m going to go a step further: these are things that I DESERVE to know.

A short synopsis: The Amityville Horror is the supposed true story of one family’s experience in a haunted house. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in this house (located in Amityville, NY) in 1974. George and Kathleen Lutz and her three children moved into the selfsame house a year afterwards and fled twenty-eight days later, claiming their former abode was full of poltergeists and demons, including a devil pig with laser beam eyes.

The Amityville Horror purports to tell the tale of what happened in those twenty-eight days. Here are some fun facts. The house was frigid. There were flies in the sewing room and black smelly goop in the toilets. A four-foot ceramic lion menaced the family. An invisible demon wearing cheap perfume hugged Kathy Lutz in the kitchen. George Lutz spent most of his time in a stupor, only rousing himself to throw logs into the fire and beat his stepchildren. More on this last point later.

Author Jay Anson is a hopeless exclamation point (!!!) addict. I can just imagine his editors, egging him on – ‘Jay, we’ve decided that this book needs more exclamation points. Oh, also more devil pig with laser beam eyes.’ I will give Mr. Anson credit for this. After finishing The Amityville Horror, it became clear to me that something was wrong with George Lutz. That something has nothing to do with literal demons, though.

The Amityville Horror is written like true crime, but it is clearly fiction. The influence of The Exorcist and The Shining shine over this book like twin moons; Jodie the laser beam devil pig is The Exorcist’s Captain Howdy while the ceramic dog mirrors the hedge animal scene in The Shining.

The attention to details is what’s supposed to make The Amityville Horror realistic. In better written books this can work; in this case, not so much. That doesn’t stop Mr. Anson from flooding the book with trivia, though. George Lutz wakes up at 3:15 a.m. every night; the coroner determined that the Defoe Familly died at 3:15 a.m. (wow, they’re good!). The DeFoes slept on their bellies; now, the Lutzes sleep on their bellies! Missy’s (Kathy Lutz’s daughter) pig friend’s name is Jodie and he’s male. Father Mancuso – the priest who blessed the Lutz’s house – was stricken with the flu by Devil Laser Eye Pig, and his temperature was 103 on such-and-such a night! Unfortunately, we never learn whether the good father had diarrhea.

Sometimes this attention to detail works against the author. In one of his nightly jaunts to the boathouse at 3:15 a.m., George Lutz sees his stepdaughter Missy standing in the window by the light of the full moon. LaserPig is standing behind her. This event happened on December 25th. Too bad the full moon was on December 18th; the 25this the date of the moon’s last quarter. Abraham Lincoln supposedly won a court trial by consulting an almanac about the phase of the moon, and what’s good enough for Honest Abe is good enough for me! Props to Mr. Anson for getting the day of the week correct (Christmas 1975 was on a Thursday), though.

Here is the source I used to look up the phase of the moon:  https://www.calendar-12.com/moon_phases/1975

I could go on and on about this book, but I won’t because I want to say a few words about the movie. The original Amityville Horror is a movie everyone should see, if only to witness the MOST AWKWARD LOVE SCENE IN THE UNIVERSE, courtesy of Margot Kidder and James Brolin. I don’t know what happened between these actors, but it sure wasn’t love, and their total lack of chemistry isn’t an act.

A final word: what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue was not demonic in nature. It was child abuse. Danny Lutz gives a detailed account of his ordeal in the documentary My Amityville Horror, released in 2012. While I am not sure whether Mr. Lutz believes in demons –the filmmakers clearly do, so he gives it lip service – he makes his point about his relationship with his stepfather crystal clear. When asked why he’s smiling, Mr. Lutz says – because  George (his stepfather) is dead and I’m a free man.

Truth.

Postscript: here’s a snippet of an interview with Margot Kidder (in Rolling Stone) regarding that love scene. I knew something was up!

“You should have been here earlier,” she said. “You missed some sizzling love scenes. Bright lights on me, Jim Brolin on me, and fourteen men standing around watching. In twelve movies, I’ve never had to do a love scene, and I started getting some funny thoughts, like, ‘How do you act like you’re a good lay?’ I don’t want to look like some fat New Jersey housewife. Last night I was pretty nervous about how I was going to look, so I ate an entire box of chocolate Ex-Lax, thinking I’d lose a lot of weight real fast. Well, I lost about six pounds, but it was all water weight and diarrhea. Boy, I feel terrible!”

Source: https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/the-education-of-margot-kidder-630259/

 

 

 

The Others

It’s hard to write a review of The Others without spoilers, and I don’t want to spoil this movie for anyone. To make matters worse, I’m not sure what to say about The Others. I figured out what was going on about halfway through but I still liked it. Objectively, not a lot happens but the movie still kept me interested.

La parcalle: Nicole Kidman plays Grace, an overwhelmed British woman with a pair of kids. It’s 1945, and her husband is M.I.A. in Europe; for all intents and purposes she’s a war widow. Grace lives in a creepy old house, and her kids are a handful. She needs help.

The servants come later that morning (the old servants left). Grace takes them through the house, explaining that her children are allergic to light, so the house must be dark at all times. Trouble starts when Anna, one of the aforementioned children, starts seeing intruders in the house. Grace doesn’t believe her, but it soon becomes clear that it’s more like Grace doesn’t want to believe her. And that’s as much of the plot as I want to give away.

The Others relies on atmosphere and pacing. The conflicts in this movie are mostly interpersonal. There are lots of creepy/scary scenes that made me jump, which is not a high hurdle to clear. Grace’s kids act like real kids, not like pint-sized adults. The servants know more than they’re saying. If you like atmospheric ghost stories, you will adore The Others. If you like lots of action in your movies, not so much.

***

I mentioned that the acting is good, right?

***

One of the things that happens when you read a lot of these kinds of books and watch these types of movies is that you realize that, plot-wise, there are only a limited number of scenarios. You know that character who seems to serve no purpose? If it’s a mystery novel, she might be a red herring; if it’s a movie, she’s probably the key to the plot. People aren’t stupid and pick up on these things, although perhaps not consciously.

I think about these things all the time. That might be why I don’t enjoy reading or watching movies as much anymore. I tend to dissect what’s happening, and since that uses another part of the brain, it feels too much like work. I used to read and watch movies to relax.

***

One of the plot threads of this movie involves a mute servant named Lydia. Grace is curious and asks Mrs. Mills – another servant and the brains of the outfit – about the cause of her muteness several times, and every time Mrs. Mills is evasive. Later we learn why Lydia is mute, and the reason why Mrs. Mills couldn’t tell Grace. I wondered why Mrs. Mills didn’t lie, and then it struck me that Mrs. Mills doesn’t want to lie to Grace, which is kind of sweet. It’s also a nice character moment.

***

Mr. Tuttle (the gardener), on the other hand, is a shady character who looks like he pinches snuff at every possible opportunity. Check the liquor cabinet!

Paranormal Activity

Chris Rock made a joke about The Blair Witch Project that goes something like this – ‘they say The Blair Witch Project cost $50,000 to make. What I want to know is, what did they do with the other $49,000?’

I mention this joke because Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make, and also because it reminded me a little of The Blair Witch Project. Oh, there are superficial differences. Instead of three people arguing over a map, we have a couple arguing over a video camera and later a Ouija Board. But both movies are cheap, and nothing happens.

I don’t mean this in a bad way. Found footage flicks are a guilty pleasure of mine – I adore the goat vomit green lighting, the shaky camera work, the horrid acting, all of it. One of my favorite found footage movies stars a middle-aged guy with a habit of filming himself in his boxer shorts. He bought a haunted house at auction and can’t resell it at a profit because, well, it’s haunted. The director (who also starred) made the movie on his iPhone.

Paranormal Activity takes place inside a house. There are four different characters. Micah is an asshole who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. His girlfriend, Katie, has bad taste in men. Katie’s sister doesn’t appear much, the subtext being that she doesn’t much like Micah. The psychic character appears twice, and has one of the more memorable scenes in found-footage history, on par with The Ghost Detector in Archivo 253.

The plot: Micah buys a video camera to get to the bottom of the weird shit that’s been plaguing his girlfriend Katie for years. He films them when they’re sleeping, and doesn’t seem to realize or care that filming your, er, Nocturnal Activities is some Grade A Weird Shit. Katie calls in a Psychic, who tells them they need a Demonologist. Meanwhile, the stuff that happens at bedtime gets weirder and weirder and Micah grows ever more fascinated. I missed this on the first viewing of the movie, but it’s the camera that escalates the situation. Wittingly or unwittingly, Micah invites the entity in.

By the time Micah realizes he has no control over the situation it’s way too late and the damage is done. Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but I’m sure Micah was a dudebro in college, drinking beer bongs and picking up sorority chicks with his awesome pecs. Katie’s big sin is that she’s too passive and lets Micah browbeat her. Part of the reason for that might be because Katie’s an English major and Micah’s a day trader, which means she has no money and he owns the house. The power dynamics of their relationship are one of the more interesting things about this movie.

Overall, I thought this movie was okay. The effects are non-existent and the demonic stuff is uneven, but there are still a few jump scares. My main impression of Paranormal Activity is that I found Micah to be super annoying. If I might stand upon my soapbox for a moment, I believe that wannabe alpha dudes cause a lot of the problems we face in our world today. It’s Micah’s refusal to admit that he’s in over his head that dooms them both.

 

Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado

I don’t like Poe.

I freely admit that might be because I was forced to read him in high school. Does anyone like the writers they’re forced to read in high school? The only writer I recall liking was Kate Chopin. I guess I liked Mark Twain, also. I was too busy reading Stephen King to give a shit about literature.

I’ve always found Poe to be a very wordy writer. His philosophy seems to be, why use one word when you can use twenty? I do like his poetry, though. When I think of Poe’s stories, usually movie remakes come to mind – Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death, Bela Lugosi in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Dario Argento’s kick-ass version of The Black Cat in the movie Two Evil Eyes.

I guess if I had to choose a favorite Poe story, it would be The Fall of The House of Usher, although The Masque of the Red Death is good also. Hey, want to try something fun? Read the end of The Fall of the House of Usher, and then read the end of Moby Dick. Think Melville read Poe? Props to my college professor thirty years ago for pointing that one out.

My other Poe problem has to do with the fact that I’ve read a billion Poe clones in the slush pile. These stories are invariably visceral with minimal character development, because the writer is too busy plastering the hair on the wall with a trowel to care about nuances like characterization. That’s not Poe’s fault, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but –

What about these stories? My favorite is The Black Cat.  I don’t think the narrator of The Black Cat is a psycho, btw. He’s a violent drunk who kills his wife and then tries to cover it up, just like a lot of assholes nowadays. There’s a giallo called The Psychic that’s basically a remake of The Black Cat. Holy crap, I just looked on the Internet Movie Database and Lucio Fulci directed The Psychic! I didn’t know that.

The Cask of Amontillado has been imitated countless times.  I’ve read a thousand revenge stories like this in the slush pile.  Usually they’re a lot more graphic. The technical term for the narrator in this story is prickly asshole. There’s not much nuance here. Lots of Poe’s stories are claustrophobic.

I vividly recall reading The Tell-Tale Heart in my high school English class. I don’t recall wondering what type of psychosis the narrator suffered from; I recall wondering when the bell would ring so I could get the hell out of class and go to lunch. Sorry, I’m just being honest.

What do I think when I read Poe now? I find reading him to be a chore, which is a real shame. Poe was way ahead of his time. The thing that struck me most upon reread is how he writes violence. Poe’s violence isn’t always realistic – I’ve never heard of an orangutan wielding a straight razor – but it’s blunt and unadorned. Poe doesn’t sexualize violence and murder. His world is naturalistic, totally without pity and mercy. The world eats your mother and then it eats you.

Brutal!

Joyride

I didn’t like Jack Ketchum’s Joyride. This essay will give the reasons why. Please note that this review contains spoilers of Mr. Ketchum’s Joyride and Off-Season and the comic version of The Walking Dead.

My first problem with Joyride is that it is domestic (family-based) horror, and this particular subgenre tends to have a nasty moralizing streak that I find very unpleasant. An example – in the Walking Dead comic, Lori Grimes thinks that her husband Rick is dead so she takes up with his friend Shane. After Shane dies and Rick returns Lori discovers she’s pregnant, and it’s not clear who the father is. In a later issue, Lori and her baby die horribly. Was this piece of cosmic irony intentional on the author’s part? I don’t know, but I’d say that the symbolism is pretty clear.

In Joyride Carole and her lover kill her husband, and cosmic retribution comes in the form of Wayne the Psychopath. I won’t dwell on the fact that plot-wise, divine payback makes a lot more sense than the only budding serial killer in Barstow just happening to witness Carole bashing her ex-husband’s brains in with a rock. Still, one wonders if God’s Middle Finger was intentional on the author’s part. You could miss the connection, but it’s there. That’s #1.

My second problem with Joyride is that it’s not very well-written. Mr. Ketchum head-hops like a frisky bullfrog leaping from lily pad to lily pad. The book isn’t edited very well and character development is paper thin. There’s a reason this reads so quickly. I wonder if Joyride was originally a screenplay treatment converted into a novel.

Mr. Ketchum doesn’t much care about plot, using real life as the starting point for many of his stories. This isn’t a critique. Dostoevsky got the idea for Crime and Punishment from a newspaper clipping. Mr. Ketchum states in his afterword that the idea for Joyride came from a pair of serial killers culled from the book Bloodletters and Badmen. I won’t say Mr. Ketchum’s material is derivative, but it’s easy to see his influences.

Thus, the fact that much of Joyride flunked the believability test in many places is a real problem. Some of this has to do with plot (see Paragraph #3), but I found the characters’ motives to be unbelievable. To me, Carole’s asshole ex Howard is the most fully fleshed out character of the bunch. He was totally believable. I found the actions and the motives of the other characters harder to believe and understand.

Ketchum tends to hone in on his characters’ weaknesses and most unpleasant characteristics and treat that as character development. Susan dates Wayne the Psychopath because…well, I don’t know why. From Susan’s description of him, he sounds like the grumpiest, most unpleasant fuck in existence, and that’s before we learn that he’s a budding strangler and serial killer. I’m sorry, there’s no way anyone would want to date this guy, and that to me is a real believability issue.

Here’s another example. One of the main characters of Joyride is Carole, who has been abused by her ex-husband. The particulars of Carole’s marriage are depressing and awful; domestic horror also tends to rub the reader’s face in wretched excess. I don’t believe that a writer needs to treat his/her characters with kids’ gloves, but if they become punching bags with no agency, that’s a problem.

Case in point: it is Lee, Carole’s lover, who decides that they must kill Howard and Carole goes along with it. To me, this is important because it strips Carole – the most likely candidate to be the main character of Joyride –  of anything resembling agency. Carole kills her husband because Lee botches the job. They bash his brains in with a baseball bat and then a rock and throw his body into a creek, where he floats off downstream to be discovered by a perverted Eagle Scout.

The final deal-breaker is Joyride’s message. When I read Jack Ketchum’s Off-Season I saw a writer interested in sadism. The opening scene of Off-Season features a character being whipped. The introduction to Joyride is all about hurting people, also. This is fine, except the author seems to think there’s some sort of profundity in such statements as (paraphrasing) LIFE IS PAIN or THE WORLD EATS YOUR MOTHER, when these statements are in fact eye-rolling hogwash. Nihilism disguised as philosophy is still nihilism.

 

Se7en

I saw Seven once, years ago. Watching this movie a second time brought me back to the good ole’ days of the 1990’s, when listening to Nine Inch Nails was a great way to shock Grandma at the Thanksgiving dinner table. On a related note, the man who directed Seven also directed music videos by Foreigner, The Hooters and Loverboy (among others). I am not making fun of the director, because I adore two of those three bands and he does a great job with the visuals of Seven. I didn’t much like the source material, but that’s not his fault.

I was struck by how gritty Seven was. See all that grit? There’s a scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation, my favorite movie on earth, where Clark Griswold says – see all that plight, kids? The characters in Vacation are about a hundred times more realistic than the characters in Seven, who talk like they’re reading dialogue written by a guy who’s spent a lot of time immersing himself in – you guessed it – grit. If I could’ve gotten away with watching this movie with the sound off, I would have, but I’m a wimp who just can’t take that much GRIT.

In Seven, it’s always raining and none of the lights work. Everything’s dirty and smelly. There are buckets of puke and human heads in boxes. People talk tough. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt bicker! People call their co-workers assholes! Brad Pitt nuzzles Gwyneth Paltrow! And Kevin Spacey channels the Brilliant Serial Killer Trope, playing a brilliant serial killer obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins.

I forgot how educational Seven is. There’s a Merchant of Venice reference – pound of flesh; a Paradise Lost reference – long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to the light; and a Dante’s Inferno reference –Dante fucking piece of shit. One of the best parts of Seven is the scene where we learn that the FBI monitors certain library books. Whether or not this is true, the fact that this is how our heroes almost catch the killer is really clever and I liked it. The rest of this movie reminded me of a nihilistic Image comic book. The chase scene is Exhibit A – this scene looked great, but if they dropped a dime and called for back-up they could have gotten about a hundred cop cars to chase the one guy fleeing on foot.

Honestly, I am not sure why I disliked Seven so much. I think it’s because the Brilliant Serial Killer trope really pisses me off. Heath Ledger’s Joker is probably the best-known example of this wondrous trope. The Brilliant Serial Killer is beloved by everyone, just like Santa Claus and The Shmoo. He has some sort of half-assed philosophy that inevitably has to do with nihilism; he’s also smarter than everyone else, just like one of those villains in 70’s TV cop shows who robs a bank and then changes his clothes so that he looks like a priest, fooling everybody!

People with real mental illnesses don’t like the Brilliant Serial Killer, because he – let’s face it, the BSK is usually a he – is so fucking stupid. What can I say? It’s true. People with real mental illnesses don’t act anything like the Brilliant Serial Killer, who is more often than not a fucked up Mary Sue of the collective ID of the general public, who like their nihilism WELL-DONE. Yes, Seven is well-done, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to despise the philosophy these types of movies espouse – life sucks and then you die and then you get hit by a truck, which drags your body cross-country where it’s eaten by wild dogs, etc., etc., etc.

 

 

 

Taxi Driver

True confession: I’ve never seen Taxi Driver. Thus, you may be surprised to learn that my first thought on watching this movie was holy shit, it’s Rorschach! That’s right, Alan Moore based one of the characters of his ultra-bleak, ultra-nihilistic graphic novel Watchmen on Travis Bickle. Actually, I’m being kind here – Rorschach is a blatant rip-off of Travis Bickle. Later this semester we will be reading Mr. Moore’s Killing Joke, a graphic novel which has somehow become a classic in certain quarters.

Oh well, onto Taxi Driver. It is obvious from the start of this movie that taxi driver Travis Bickle has problems. His first problem is that he’s pissed off; his second problem is that he can’t connect with anyone, especially women; his third problem is that he has no social skills. Separately none of these problems are insurmountable; combined, they are fucking fatal.

Travis Bickle is a stalker. I am not necessarily talking about women here, although Bickle has a weird, fidgety energy that makes people – especially women – nervous. No, Bickle stalks both men and women. He stalks and attempts to kill Senator Palantine, which parallels Arthur Bremer’s attempted assassination of George Wallace in 1972. Years ago I had to read Mr. Bremer’s diaries for a school assignment, and I believe that the character of Travis Bickle is partly based on Mr. Bremer.

Bickle tries to connect with campaign worker Betsy but they are worlds apart, education, social class, income level. It’s so cute when people say that things like that don’t matter! Also: Bickle has no social skills. When they meet at the diner she doesn’t get his jokes and instead of laughing it off he gets pissed off. He later takes her to a pornographic movie on their first date. Back in the 70’s couples actually went to X-rated movies, but it’s not something you did on a first date. It’s an honest – on revision I eliminated the word stupid – mistake on his part.

I don’t think Bickle’s mental wires are crossed. He knows he has problems. One of my favorite scenes in Taxi Driver is when he talks to Wizard, a salt of the earth type who is really an idiot in disguise. Look at it in this context: everyone wants their life to mean something. Bickle’s life means nothing. It’s sad. Taxi Driver is like his disastrous date with Betsy, ad infinitum – he’s trying but he keeps fucking up. Maybe it’s just his nature.

Digression: boy oh boy, that scene in the convenience store is totally mental.

Taxi Driver is a very grim movie, but there are a few funny parts. Bickle has an off-the-wall sense of humor that gets more unhinged as the movie progresses. Meet Henry Krinkle of Fair-Lawn, NJ! He doesn’t even try to get the zip code right.

The music was one of the few negative points of Taxi Driver for me. It reminded me of 1970’s sitcoms and Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer TV show. The cinematography is amazing. Let me repeat: the cinematography is amazing. Look, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is playing! This movie brings back the New York City of my childhood, when 42nd Street was full of porn stores, the subways were filthy and New York City wasn’t some sort of glorified Disneyland. Nowadays, walking down 42ndStreet, past the Panera’s and the M&Ms Store, thinking – you used to be dangerous.