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Friday, October 14, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 9: I, Madman (1989)

HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.

Written by David Chaskin
Directed by Tibor Takacs

Jenny Wright:  Virginia
Clayton Rohner:  Richard
Randall William Cook:  Dr. Alan Kessler / Malcolm Brand

I think I remember this one coming out when I was fourteen years old, but it flickered out of the public consciousness within seconds of its release. Turns out people don't want to go to the movies to watch someone read a book, I guess. It's too bad. Being a habitual used bookstore browser myself, I remember liking the milieu of this one when I caught up to it on VHS.

First, a tidbit about Tibor Takacs:  He's a Hungarian filmmaker who scored big in the genre with 1987's The Gate, a kid-friendly horror movie about accidental demon summoning that scored massively at the box office and wound up with a sequel where idiot teens use a tiny demon to grant wishes that literally turn into shit. Well, around the same time someone else was directing a sequel to his kid-friendly horror hit, Takacs decided that a super-lurid, pulpy body count movie featuring a mad doctor from an obscure horror novel would be his ticket to the really big time.

This went on to not happen. Takacs kept directing movies, but of the direct-to-cable monster flick variety more than anything, as well as what I hope is a really bent holiday film called Once Upon a Christmas that stars Kathy Ireland as Santa Claus' daughter Kristin. He's also got plenty of single episodes of various TV series on his resume, so at least he kept busy after this movie bombed hardcore (making about $150,000 in its entire North American theatrical run--which is a DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION FOR NEXT MOVIE card for the director). Interestingly enough, the makeup effects for the mad killer were created by the man who wears them in the film; he talked the director into letting him perform under the prosthetic effects that he designed. And Randall William Cook continued working in effects and behind the scenes for decades after this film (among other things, he was a storyboarder and designer for the Lord of the Rings films). Perhaps Peter Jackson, who made two horribly violent movies as calling cards for what he could do with a bigger budget, is privately tickled to have had the I, Madman guy on staff designing orc faces and planning shots for his gigantic movie trilogy.

Once the credits (plain orange lettering in what I've always thought of as the "Cast a Deadly Spell" font on a black screen wrap up, it's time to see where things are going with the narrative. In Los Angeles, a rat-faced middle-aged white dude leaves a cheap hotel (with a uniformed desk clerk reading a copy of the Hollywood Reporter that has a "NOV. BOX OFFICE TOPS IN 1959" headline, so we know about when things are going down. If it'd been a month later this could be another whack-ass movie to stand alongside Gremlins and Die Hard in the canon of Christmas movies for people who are tired of bog-standard Christmas movies. The deck clerk bids goodbye to Dr. Kessler as the unlovely man walks out the front door of the hotel. A complaint about animal noises in one of the rooms leads to the manager ("Get me a Bob Balaban type!", the casting director must have ordered) to tell the desk guy to go see if someone's got an unauthorized dog in their room.

The desk guy knows it's Dr. Kessler's room, though, and doesn't want to go check it out. Which means the manager is the one to open the door and see what's going on, which makes him the Threat-Establishing Casualty when he pokes around in Dr. Kessler's mad science lab / takeout Chinese food container archive and opens the huge locked trunk with air holes punched in the top. The manager's death is a mix of stylistic influences--the room getting washed with red light from the hotel's neon sign outside makes it look like a Mario Bava film while the stalker-cam POV shot of the bipedal rodentlike monster that scores the movie's first kill belongs more in the post-Halloween slasher genre. At any rate, it would appear that Takacs is proudly showing off his influences in the scene.

And maybe we can add The Princess Bride to those influences, because the manager's scream ends abruptly and the film smash cuts to a young woman wearing a nightgown, who is reading in bed. She lives in one of those massive Movie Apartments with huge open spaces. She gets up to investigate when she hears a scratching, snuffling noise from one door inside the apartment, which gets sucked inward via a supernatural wind blast (or something) before that rodent creature kills her as well. Then we wind up seeing Virginia, a young woman wearing lingerie and reading on the sofa while a Movie Thunderstorm rages outside. The book she puts down with a shudder has the totally boss title Much of Madness, More of Sin and is written by one Malcolm Brand. Virginia calls her boyfriend Richard to see if he can come over and soothe her jangled nerves (or just Netflix and chill) but just gets his answering machine. Turning back to her couch she spies a single red rose on the floor of her apartment and puts it back in a vase that held only yellow ones.

Meanwhile, a security guard at the piano repair place across the street gives some diegetic music to score the scene of Virginia turning back to her book and getting drawn into the narrative again. It's hours later when she finishes the book (apparently in a single sitting, which I haven't done very often in my own life of constant and obsessive book consumption). When Richard buzzes to let his best girl know he's there it startles her quite a bit, and she tidies up her place quickly and efficiently (she also throws some clothes on over the lingerie, which means Richard won't get the wrong idea when she lets him in). 1989 isn't too early for Richard to look like John Constantine on purpose, and that's the first thing I thought of when the guy in the rumpled suit and tan trenchcoat showed up at Virginia's apartment door. Richard's perceptive enough to know that Virginia sounded shook up on the phone and she doesn't quite want to admit how spooked she was from her used pulp book. Richard also reads the jacket copy in a sarcastic manner, which marks him as a jerk in my book. Sure, I planned to do a dramatic reading of some of the goofier sections of Gila!, the novel that unfortunately is not the basis for the Jim Wynorski movie of the same name, at B Fest last year. I was going to do it out of love rather than snark, though, and that makes all the difference.

Virginia snuggles with Richard on the couch as he correctly deduces that she freaked herself out reading pulp and wanted a big strong protector there after she finished the book (which sounds like a good deal for Richard, too; why would he complain about having to do that?). They make out for a little while after Virginia draws an analogy between her preferred reading material and potato chips (they aren't any good for you, but they're addictive!). Richard's at least polite enough to ask what happens during the book (which is about a genetically spliced jackal-human-hybrid creature created by a mad scientist who tries to raise it as his own son). As it turns out, jackal-human-hybrid monsters can't be controlled and it runs away, full of loathing for its creator. Once Virginia wraps up the synopsis of the book, her boyfriend turns off the light and they let things progress from there. 1989 being a little bit too late in the game for lead-actress nudity, it's a softer-core scene than one might have expected from a horror film from that decade. Maybe having Tibor Takacs as the director instead of Jim Wynorski had something to do with it too.

The next day, Virginia is working at a used book store (which is probably partly a job for her and partly a paycheck recycling service as she tracks down more old goofball pulp horror novels). She talks about her relationship with Richard with a coworker. Virginia doesn't want to be tied down with the battleship chains of marriage; she'd rather play the field. Or at least not think about getting hitched to someone she's only been dating for six weeks. Mona, the coworker, tells Virginia that she thinks more handsome men will wind up in a bookstore than smart people at a fern bar. Take that, handsome people who socialize easily in public places! Of course the movie has to have a nerdy fat dude walk in the second after Mona says that, but what the heck. I'm not watching this movie for its subtle nuances.

Virginia brought her copy of Much of Madness, More of Sin to work because it's one of the two books that Richard Brand wrote--she's trying to track down the second one. I bet you can guess the title. That's right, it's Atlas Shrugged I, Madman. She also says she's been looking "everywhere" for the second Richard Brand novel but only read the first one the previous day. I don't know how much everywhere you can cover when you're working a full shift at your day job, but that inconsistency's hardly going to break the fiction.

Of course there's a steamer trunk in the store's attic that hasn't been catalogued yet, and of course there are also soft scratching noises coming from the inside when Virginia goes to look through it on a hunch that her book's going to be in there. In fact, the holes punched in the top of the trunk show that it's the same one from inside the novel Virginia was reading earlier, which means a fictional artifact has snuck into reality while nobody was looking. Virginia checks the contents of the trunk (mostly books, but also a creepy doll and some crumpled up newspapers) but doesn't manage to locate the book. She sees a sinister figure wearing all black in one of the strategically placed mirrors that the store uses to watch for shoplifters, but all she knows is that it's a furtive weirdo in a store that's probably a magnet for such people. The viewer recognizes that man as Dr. Kessler from the novel-inside-the-film scene at the very start of the movie, though, and that absolutely cannot be good news.

After work, Virginia stops by an acting workshop where two students (Colette and Michael) are acting out a scene that ends with the man smothering the woman with a pillow to the general acclaim of the rest of the class--though one actor says there's a lot of people that would like to smother Colette, so maybe they're just happy to see that play out. Colette turns out to have landed a part in a television movie (much to Virginia's simmering anger); her scene partner, who doesn't get a name at this point, grumbles that class is going to let out before he and Virginia can do a section of Cyrano de Bergerac--and he sprung for a colossal fake nose in anticipation of getting to run through that. After acting class Virginia stops for groceries and goes home--this scene makes her the first person in Hollywood history to not have a foot or so of a baguette poking up from a paper grocery bag to signify where she was and what she's carrying--and there's a Book City bag leaning up against her apartment door when she gets home to a message from Richard saying he's on a stakeout that night hoping to catch drug dealers, so they're not going to be able to get together for dinner. The sting from the message gets ameliorated seconds later, when it turns out that Mona dropped off a copy of I, Madman for Virginia earlier that day. Heck, I'd be happy if someone gave me a book I was looking forward to reading too.

As soon as Virginia starts reading the second Brand novel, there's another Movie Thunderstorm going on outside the apartment. Of course. She starts to imagine herself in the novel, the costume changes and old Fifties-style kitchen appliances cluing the audience in as to what exactly is going on. I really have to praise the set design in the film, too; even for the brief segment at the beginning at the hotel, everything looks really appropriate to the time period that it's supposed to be taking place in. The kitchen in the Fifties flashback has a great looking starburst clock on the wall, and the stove and fridge both look like they should have tailfins. The bookstore, too, was a great lived-in looking place (I suspect a location shoot rather than a set, especially because there was an attic for Virginia to go to and the books were crammed all over the place in a manner that suggested decades of increasing inventory rather than a harried production designer trying to dress the set quickly).

Virginia sees herself as Anna (or possibly Emma), the protagonist of I, Madman, who has been courted by an obsessive creep that got rejected for his looks. Why aren't I sure what the character's name is? Because you need lips to make an M sound and this guy sliced his off (along with his nose) for not being good enough for Emma (or maybe Anna). The shriek of the woman in the book narrative blends into the noise of Virginia's teakettle letting her know it's time to steep another cup of Darjeeling and she goes back into the real world just in time to hear a knock at her door followed by the knob rattling and finally the door creaking open slowly. She grabs a fireplace poker to attack the invader--who, of course, is Richard (who brought a pizza for a late night meal, because he's pretty considerate). Trying to clobber your boyfriend with a poker is a great way to enter the "This isn't what it looks like" competition, and when he spots the copy of I, Madman on the kitchen table Richard instantly realizes what led to his girlfriend getting all worked up and almost clobbering him with a blunt instrument. The piano guy across the street is performing again that night, which provides a nice counterpoint to the couple going to bed.

Virginia's pillow talk goes to a whole weird area when she asks Richard if he loves her enough to cut off one of his ears. I think that might be van Goghing a little too far, myself, but Virginia explains what's going on in her mind by explaining the back story of Dr. Kessler from the books she's been reading lately. Oh, and it's "Anna", not "Emma", that Dr. Kessler fell in love with. Also, according to Virginia's plot synopsis, Kessler used anaesthetic to numb his facial features before slicing them off. Sensible!

Richard thinks it's creepy and dumb to remove one's facial features and thinks Virginia shouldn't be reading odd pulp horror because it freaks her out and keys her up. He does, however, offer to cut himself shaving the next morning to prove his devotion to her (and I found that offer to be legitimately cute). And after Richard's out cold, Virginia wakes back up to get through a couple more chapters of I, Madman while there's someone next to her keeping her emotional state grounded. Kessler sounds like a textbook stalker when he goes on and on about Anna's beautiful hair that he only gazes upon from afar. Actually, he's got a lot to say about lots of women's hair--almost poetic as he fuels his particular fetish.

Kessler goes off into the fog-shrouded night to kill a red-headed woman he saw leave a bar while stalking Anna and there's a super-atmospheric sequence of the nameless woman running and Kessler pursuing. All the scenes that depict things going on in the novels have a pulpy sense of heightened reality to them--super-dark shadows, billowing fog, slashes of light in the interiors and the inky black of Kessler's beret and clothing (he favors a long overcoat and scarf that conceals the wreckage of his face). He sedates the redhead after she almost gets away into her apartment. Unfortunately the synth-heavy score clashes with the vintage Fifties look of this sequence, and it's quite a misstep for a movie that's been quite assured of what effect the director wants it to have at various points. We don't see exactly what Dr. Kessler's doing to his victim (just a medium shot of him sawing away with a straight razor while blood pools), but of course he wanted to take her hair. Virginia decides to put the book down at that point and get some sleep before work the next day, but she's got I, Madman with her when she goes to the bus stop in the morning. She hallucinates an encounter with Dr. Kessler that morning, with the man's face repaired courtesy of several different victims' facial features sewn crudely in place. It's a brief look at the character that packs a real wallop, followed shortly thereafter by a genuine Spring-Loaded Cat appearance at the bookstore (Mona found and adopted a cat to help keep the pest population down).

Mona already said she's been putting in sixteen-hour days at the book shop, but with that estate shipment waiting to be unpacked it looks like she's going to get even more familiar with the store than she already was. She takes over the front counter while Virginia goes to unpack more of the upstairs inventory and get it prepped for sale. While going through the contents of that steamer trunk with the holes punched in one side, she finds a couple tomes (one on alchemy and one on reconstructive surgery) that have "Ex Libris Malcolm Brand, M. D." book plates inside them. The paperwork attached to the order says there's about 1500 volumes from Dr. Brand's estate waiting to be sorted but at this point Virginia's only concerned with one. She's even more concerned about it when Mona says she never tracked it down and dropped it off outside her coworker's apartment.

I'd be concerned too.

And I'd be still more concerned if, like Virginia, I saw a newspaper headline while walking to the bus stop after my shift and realized that a classmate from my acting workshop had been killed and scalped. Remember Colette? Well, plenty of people in Hollywood are looking at her head shot now but it's because she's the latest fodder for a local tabloid's appetite for destruction. She calls Richard at work--repeatedly--because she's either overthinking things quite a bit or a character from a book is out killing people she's tangentially related to after she read about similar occurrences in an old pulp novel.

Hell, at this point, most of the horror fans in the audience are overjoyed that the mutilations are starting--it's about halfway through the film and though I found it charming and involving, it's very likely that the Fangoria crowd doesn't care about Virginia working at a book store or the security guy at the piano factory doing an impromptu performance every night. I think it gives the more grounded, real-world sections of the film a lived-in authenticity but if all you want out of your horror movie is slashings and mayhem the first forty-five minutes of an eighty-nine minute movie would have you climbing the walls in frustration or popping the tape out of your VCR to watch something with a snappier sense of pacing.

Virginia drifts off into a nap while listening to the piano player, and is visited by Dr. Kessler (who has a nice full head of red hair now); the costume change to the turquoise dress she had in the imagining-the-novel-events scene from earlier suggests it's a dream but the piano music wafting through the Fifties-style apartment might well mean that on some level, the appearance of Dr. Kessler is actually happening. Kessler calls her "Anna" and says she'll come to love him. Virginia says she never will, but doesn't say that her name isn't Anna. Her fugue state ends when she hears her apartment door close and she sees Kessler walking into the elevator, followed by his silhouetted form walking into the piano repair warehouse. She calls 911 but she's too late to do anything more than scream at the apparition of Dr. Kessler that she closed the book (which I guess she thinks would stop him from being able to act). The piano player gets his throat slashed and Kessler takes a piece or two from him to help restore his face (and his silhouette on the shades grows huge as he moves closer to the window before he starts carving on the man's body, which looks totally awesome and states the threat that Kessler poses handily).

Richard, of course, is the detective assigned to the case. And he realizes that the woman who called 911 to report the killing had to be living somewhere with a window that faced the piano repair warehouse, which means Virginia can help him solve the case. Although when she tells the sketch artist (who is using an overhead projector and transparencies with facial features on it, which is a detail too awkward and goofy not to be real) that the suspect doesn't have a nose (as Virginia puts it, "He doesn't have one yet,") and then babbles about details from her book it goes rather poorly. The cops are also really interested in how she knows this mystery killer is the same one who murdered her acting classmate as well.

For some reason the police aren't willing to entertain the notion that a character escaped from the book that Virginia's been reading and is wandering around Los Angeles killing people and suturing their facial features to his ruined visage. I guarantee that Richard's going to hear about this from the rest of the department for a long, long time. He sends Virginia packing and then tries to salvage some part of his investigation with his superiors; of course, once the elevator opens on the ground floor of the cop shop Kessler is waiting there with a pair of ears sewn to his face (it's quite cool to see how the makeup job changes each time Dr. Kessler makes an alteration to himself, and I can see why the creator of the look wanted to be the one who wore it onscreen--there's even a slight difference in the skin tone on Kessler's new scalp and on the parts of his face that he didn't slice off).

Once she's alone in the elevator with Kessler, Virginia understandably panics, but once she tells Kessler that she isn't Anna and that he should just kill her to get it over with she collapses in the corner of the elevator, sobbing. If she's hallucinating, she's hallucinating Kessler leaving through the elevator door once they get to the ground floor of the police station, but if Virginia isn't imagining it, then a six foot three man dressed all in black and sporting horrific facial scars just walked out of the cop shop without attracting any attention. Even in Los Angeles, that's a bit of a tall order.

While pulling herself together in the police station lobby (and bonus points to the soundtrack guys who made sure at least some of the voices in the background were speaking Spanish), Virginia takes another look at her copy of I, Madman and sees that it was listed as non-fiction (!) and that the publisher is right there in Hollywood. Time to talk to Sidney Zeit, of Sidney Zeit Publishing, Inc. next, I would say. The movie agrees, so Virginia sneaks off to a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that has peep shows and porno theaters (which means that it's going two for two with this part of Hollyweird along with yesterday's feature, The Howling; I love the accidental synchronicities of HubrisWeen). A one-room office that's decorated with old pulp cover art and reeks of cigar smoke turns out to have Sidney Zeit his own damn self arguing with a printer over the phone when Virginia walks in. He tries to blow Virginia off until she shows him the copy of I, Madman that she's been reading and gets a little bit of the author's back story from the publisher.

The little bit that Sidney Zeit knows about the esteemed Malcolm Brand is that the man wrote two horror novels that he published a quarter century ago, he was institutionalized for the last year of his life, and after escaping from the asylum where he'd been kept he died on the streets of Los Angeles (and, since it took the police weeks to find Brand's body, it had been torn apart by stray dogs by the time it was discovered, or so the official story would have you believe). Zeit also says that Brand's delusions were of a very particular sort--he thought the characters in his books were real, crossing over into the real world, and hated him. The jackal-human creature from Much of Madness, More of Sin allegedly chased him out of L. A. for a little while, to hear the publisher tell it. And the two books were published as non-fiction on the author's insistence, which Zeit simply thought was a sales gimmick at best and a way to placate some poor mentally ill schmuck at worst. Apparently Brand claimed to have actually done everything in the books (including slicing off his own facial features, according to Zeit).

Well, even if the real Malcolm Brand did all those things he'd be in his sixties at the youngest in 1989, assuming four years of college, four more of medical school and half a decade or so of blasphemous experiments that Mankind was not meant to perform. The publication dates on his books were the late Fifties and the film takes place in the (then-) present day of 1989. So the "rational" explanation is that the characters from Brand's two novels have fixated on Virginia and are slowly working through their narratives to get to her. She tries to call Richard at work to tell him that another killing will occur that night (probably her friend from the acting class, because he's just about the only male in the film to have had any dialogue other than Richard, the killer, and that one scene with Sidney Zeit). Richard doesn't have time for that shit right now and tells Virginia in no uncertain terms that skipping ahead a chapter in a book does not constitute an actual investigative technique. Thanks to the best phone technology 1977 had to offer (the police don't have very good equipment) Richard hangs up on his girlfriend and she goes off to catch a bus.

Lenny, her acting-class amigo, shows up as well (I was right! He's next on the list to get the chop!), wearing sunglasses at night to go with his Canadian tuxedo. Virginia uses Lenny as bait for the killer, since the book listed someone getting his nose sliced off after leaving a bar. The scene is presented so ambiguously that I don't know for sure that Virginia realized the olive-skinned guy with a Roman nose from the book was alluding to her friend or not, but she runs off to save him once it's too late to help and sees Dr. Kessler, backlit in a massive fog bank, slicing Lenny's nose off and leaving him to die of blood loss and shock. At least this time Virginia sticks around to give a witness statement, but the homicide cop who got the call recognizes her from the fiasco of her original attempt to help after the piano player was killed.

Richard shows up after the fact and gets an I-told-you-so-but-it-sounded-nuts-so-you-didn't-listen rant from his girlfriend. She stomps off in a huff and then makes Richard read the book (regardless of whether he believes in fictional characters becoming real, any homicide detective in the city of dreams would be familiar with copycat murderers who get inspired by movies, television or books). The next big plan is to figure out who the next victim is going to be, so that hopefully they'll be able to do something other than mop up the blood and call for a morgue attendant when Kessler makes his next move. It's a "lonely librarian" depicted in the next chapter as Kessler's murder victim, with the statues of lions outside the main branch of the L. A. P. L. described. Richard definitely thinks there's something to this "copycat" business, and then asks the question that hadn't occurred to him yet:  What happened to Anna in the book? Virginia tells him that Anna gets her heart sliced out of her body and Dr. Kessler wears it around his neck as a grisly token of lost love.

Back at the bookstore, Virginia gets a call from Richard that a stakeout's going down at the main branch of the library; Mona's not thrilled that she has to leave early and that Virginia hasn't done anything she was supposed to at the store that day. I find it completely unforgivable that Virginia didn't tell her coworker and friend about the sheer number of killings that had happened on the periphery of her life. I was expecting Mona to become a victim while the police were protecting the librarian, but a curveball got thrown at me when the librarian faints and Virginia takes over as bait for Dr. Kessler. Maybe if he goes after "Anna" out of sequence it'll break his pattern? At any rate, Virginia's wearing a mike and does wind up getting followed by a menacing figure. The cops run in at some length and find that it's a janitor who walked slowly through the dark. The stakeout is a bust, at least for that night. And when Virginia suddenly says it could be somewhere else or another library branch or something the movie's cheese slips right off the cracker as far as I'm concerned. The whole narrative has been about setting up things in a certain way and with fifteen minutes to go the protagonist starts changing the rules. Boo, movie. Boo, I say.

Virginia gets sent back to Richard's apartment while the justifiably skeptical department head takes the detective away from his paperwork and chews him out for wasting department resources on a stakeout that didn't work. And back at her boyfriend's place Virginia makes the connection way, way too late to save Mona at the bookstore. She calls the police station and one of Richard's coworkers takes a message for him to get to the bookstore as fast as he can. But another of his coworkers intercepts the message because he thinks the detective's crazy girlfriend has wasted enough of the homicide investigators' time and energy for one day.

Which means Virginia goes back to the bookstore and looks for her friend that she did not warn about the psychotic murderer stalking her friends and acquaintances in the stacks. Of course Mona's dead, and of course her lips have been sliced off by Kessler and stitched to his own face, and double of course he's still in the store. Somehow or other Virginia's locked in the store thanks to burglar bars at the front door (but she got in the store just fine), so it's time for her to go all Ripley on the killer at the end of the film in order to keep her heart in her ribcage, where it belongs.

She doesn't turn a fucking light on anywhere, though, or use her knowledge of the store's layout to protect herself. She just sneaks around and gets grabbed from behind. At least she's smart enough to ditch her coat and run, but falls down the stairs going to the attic / storage space in a tidal wave of old books. It's important in situations like this to flee to a place that only has one exit so the monster can get you. She doesn't even save herself at this point--but Richard shoots Kessler three times, causing him to collapse on top of Virginia as he dies. It's a shithouse conclusion to the narrative, and even more so when Kessler turns out to be a lot less dead than one would expect after taking three rounds to the heart. While Virginia searches for Richard's discarded revolver and the madman tries to strangle Kessler, the stop-motion jackal human hybrid beast jumps on Kessler and goes for the old claw / claw / bite attack for 1D4, 1D4 and 1D8 damage on the bad guy. A fire extinguisher to the face and a half-pane of window glass just about kills the jackal monster but its top half knocks Kessler out a window in a burst of book pages to blow away on the wind.

Okay, now that's a real shithouse ending.

It's really too bad, because right up until Lenny gets sliced by Dr. Kessler, it's a really cool mood piece that has some enjoyably pulpy dialogue and a really memorable makeup design for the villain. But once things become more like a routine slasher movie in the third act, previously clever and capable characters start acting dumber and dumber just to make things happen in the narrative. And Virginia shouldn't have needed a cop and another monster to save herself--if you're going to have her turn stupid and useless in the third act, why does she get to live? I have the feeling lots of different parts of three or four drafts of the screenplay all got cobbled together for the ending, because things move much faster after the false scare at the library but they don't move intelligently or coherently. I can see why this film was such a flop in the theaters--audiences that stuck around past the slow first hour found their patience punished rather than rewarded by the last twenty minutes of the film or so, and word of mouth on this one had to be utterly toxic.

You can do worse, but not that often. Sorry, Tibor. I remember kinda digging this one when I saw it in high school but I'm not in high school any more.

"It's not all bad. You lucked out with two movies in a row with cool used bookstores, Tim. Plus I get to cosplay as Dick Miller, even if that was really more for yesterday's movie than the one you reviewed today."


  1. To touch on the tangent of non-standard Christmas films from the top of the review: The Lion in Winter. Honestly-- 'an estranged couple gets together at the holidays for one last chance at mending bridges between themselves and their kids' is a perfectly good synopsis for it, even if it fails to mention the historical setting, the dynastic intrigues, and the threats of stabbing and walling-up in dungeons.

  2. Gremlins and Die Hard are my favorite Christmas movies. Iron Man 3 isn't too bad either.