Category: Scary stories Page 1 of 2
These short stories in 3 volumes are centered on the sins and crimes punished at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”
Now seems like a good time to mention the film “Parasite.” It’s being hailed as one of the best films of the year and is playing at the local Davenport theater(s), even though it is sub-titled because the South Korean leads speak only that country’s language. It is a new offering from fifty-year-old director Joon-ho Bong as Bong Joon-ho. (The rest of the names don’t get any easier, so bear with me). Since the film obviously managed to get widespread distribution, why not dub it for English-speaking audiences? (No idea what the answer to that may be.)
As we left the theater, one of the theater employees tasked with cleaning up, asked, “Is it any good?”
With only a second or two to respond, I said, “Yes, it’s worth seeing, as long as you don’t mind sub-titles. It’s original.” Indeed, it has been described with many other superlatives, including “brilliant,” “hysterical,” “astonishing,” “amazing,” “inventive” and whatever other positive terms you care to select. It did well at Cannes and has had 23 wins and 26 nominations in various competitions. I was told by a friend whose opinion I respect that it was her “favorite film at TIFF.” (Toronto International Film Festival)
So, having warned my companion that we were in for a foreign language film, but one with a director responsible for “Snowpiercer” (2013), “Okja” (2017) and now this, we were not unhappy viewing the original tale of a South Korean family and how they schemed together to fleece their rich employers. Line from script: “If you have a plan, nothing works out at all.”
If you watch the trailer, you will see that the family was not living on easy street. In fact, they weren’t living ON a street at all, but in a sub-terranean sub-basement of sorts that looked awful (especially after a heavy rainfall that floods it). The mother and father and their nearly adult son and daughter are out-of-work. They are shown folding pizza boxes to make money early on in the film.
One thing you can learn from this film is what the job market is like in South Korea. The answer is that, for every chauffeur job that opens up, there are roughly 500 college graduates waiting to fill it. Getting an education is stressed as very important and the idea of hiring tutors, which is essentially Asian, aided me immensely in my nearly 20 years as the owner of a Sylvan Learning Center.
Because the job market is so tight, and because North Korea is so close to its neighbor, this film might not be as easy to move from its South Korean setting to a setting in the United States. Why not?
Ninety per cent of the plot hinges on the house where the rich family lives—a family which ends up hiring all of the poor family’s members, without even knowing that they are related. Only the small boy in the well-to-do family figures out that they all smell alike, and he isn’t really given that much credit for having figured out the poor family’s secret connection. The son is a spoiled brat of a rich kid, yes, who paints primitive paintings that his doting family hangs on the walls and who insists on camping out in the back yard inside his American Indian teepee, but the small child’s perceptive realizations (“And a little child shall lead them”) are largely ignored by his family until disaster strikes.
The out-of-work have-nots get a foothold in the rich family’s good graces through their son, who goes to work as a tutor for the rich family’s daughter. After that, the now-trusted tutor brings in his sister (who is told to say her name is Jessica and that she attended art school at Illinois State) as an art therapist for the seemingly disturbed little brother in the home. One humorous scene involves the boy’s framed art work, which the young tutor assumes is of a monkey, only to be told that it is the young child’s “self portrait.” (“The schizophrenia zone is the lower right corner.”) Eventually, the tutor’s father becomes chauffeur to the household and the tutor’s mother replaces the old housekeeper.
Getting Mom into the house as the new housekeeper means getting rid of the old housekeeper. The old housekeeper’s allergy to peaches is used as a method to discredit her in the eyes of the master of the house, with the suggestion that she has contagious tuberculosis. She doesn’t, of course, but she does have a husband hiding in the basement of the home, a key point in the second and third act development of the plot.
We wondered if the owners of the house were fully aware of this subterranean underground home that rests beneath the main house, or if its existence was not admitted to them by the famous architect who designed the home with this “fail safe” bunker, in case North Korea were to launch rockets aimed at South Korea.
It is this plot detail regarding the hostile North Korean neighbors to the north that makes me wonder if this film’s plot could easily be lifted and moved to America, as was done with “In the Order of Disappearance” when it became “Cold Pursuit” with Liam Neeson. In that case, the Scandinavian setting was replaced with Denver and Las Vegas, which didn’t really work for me, but this film has to have a house with an underground tunnel-like bunker built beneath it. That underground house, as it turns out, has become home to the housekeeper’s unemployed spouse, who has lived there for three and one-half years!
The husband of the old housekeeper is “kewl” with living underground and rarely venturing forth because he is also unable to claim a government-funded pension when he grows old. The reasons have to do with the way the South Korean government operates. I don’t pretend to understand all of that. It reminded me of a report on “Sixty Minutes” about Chinese families who had more than one child and that “illegal” child becomes “stateless” because the government used to have an “official” policy of only one child per family. You might liken it in this country to being an illegal immigrant who has no documents of the sort that American workers are expected to have, such as social security or Medicare/Medicaid cards. Undocumented workers probably exist in every country to some extent (Arabs working in Israel, for example), but, in this case, it is his bleak future as an unemployed and unemployable worker that keeps the old housekeeper’s husband happily imprisoned in a downstairs series of rooms where much of the second-half of the film’s action takes place.
The film is obviously a commentary on the “haves” of South Korea versus the “have nots.” Bernie Sanders would fit right in decrying the status of the “have nots.” The down-and-out family that is taking advantage of their rich benefactors represent way too many people on the planet, and the wealthy 1% represent “the Korean dream.”
In that context, the oldest son does, in a sense, eventually achieve the Korean dream, but at what price glory? Script line: “If you make a plan, life never works out at all. With no plan, nothing can go wrong.” Or right.
I saw “Us” here in Austin, where it premiered on March 8th. Don’t read any further if you don’t want to have plot details ruined (spoiler alert).
I’m still letting my thoughts on “Us” and its meaning percolate. Here are 10 possible explanations for plot points in “Us.”
- It has been pointed out by someone other than me that “Us” is, basically, “U.S.”, i.e. United States.
- There seems to be a rather large not-very-veiled message about racism in America. This isn’t surprising, since the main cast is African American. I’ve read that Jordan Peele admires Spike Lee, who is outspoken in his films and in his life, and speaks and writes bluntly about the black experience in America. It’s clear that Spike feels that the black race has been put down and short-changed; I’m not arguing with him. (I actually heard him speak “live” once at Augustana College and just a quick look at his films will support me here. Personal observation: I think it’s one of the reasons Spike Lee didn’t even get an Oscar nomination until this year and didn’t win for Best Picture (although the script did snag an Oscar). Spike’s been making movies—-some of them terrific—-for 30 years or so, but has never been recognized until this year, and he is a somewhat prickly character known for a few famous feuds. He was even prickly during his speaking engagement and “does not suffer fools gladly.” In fact, I remember reading that Spike Lee got the assignment to do “BlackKKlansman” because it was first offered to Jordan Peele, hot off of “Get Out,” who suggested it would make a great Spike Lee joint film. A line from late in the film (when what passes for an “explanation” of the doppelgangers is being given): “Your people took it for granted. We’re human, too, you know.” Given the United States’ history with slavery, the concept of a “race” of people relegated to living in subterranean squalor while those above ground live the good life seems to fit, historically. Here’s a line that Lupita Nyongo’s character speaks: “The tethered saw that I would deliver them from their misery.” And the Lupita Nyong’o double says, to the girl who encountered her in the fun house all those years ago: “You could have taken me with you.” Here’s another line regarding the red-robed figures who seem to have risen up in some sort of terrorist overthrow of the city of Santa Cruz (and beyond, judging from the uninterrupted line of them, holding hands, that we see stretching into the distance of the mountains with helicopters hovering overhead): “I didn’t need to just tell you but to make a statement that the world would see. It’s our time up there.”
- There is much made of a Bible verse in the film: Jeremiah 11:11 (King James Version) “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”Not only is the verse held up by a random man on a placard at the beginning AND the end of the film, at one point Lupita’s son points to the clock in his room, which is on 11:11 at that time. Fits in with Point #2, as to how African Americans, who were brought over on slave ships and forced to work in the cotton fields of the South and treated inhumanely, feel it is “their” time. It also has a nice duality.
- What about the rabbits? [We have to assume that they aren’t just left-over props from “The Favorite.”] They’re white. One of the doppelgangers cuts the head off a small white rabbit doll. Draw your own conclusions. Here in Austin, on the Red Carpet, Jordan Peele claimed that he finds rabbits very creepy, with eyes like a psychopath.
- As has been said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
- What about the “hands across America” 6.5 million strong of May 25,1986? It was largely a symbolic gesture, since it raised $84 million, but, after expenses, only $15 million was actually donated. In this way, it falls in line with a lot of other “symbolic” but largely ineffectual gestures that we, as Americans, participate in, like the record “We Are the World.” (Remember, at one point, Lupita’s red-robed character says, “We are Americans.”)
- There is also the matter of the house of mirrors changing, by film’s end, from having an American Indian atop it with the words “Shaman’s Vision Quest: Find Yourself” to a Wizard figure with a different name. Treatment of American Indians goes into the “shameful” category, along with slavery and Japanese interment in WWII. In this way, the use of the Indian imagery but the change later seems to “gloss over” America’s crimes of conscience in the same way that hyped “feel good” events like “We Are the World” or “Hands Across America” were ineffectual gestures that did little to solve real problems or stop real abuses, but were offered up by the PTB (usually, white men) as stop-gap feel-good largely symbolic and self-congratulatory gestures.
- The red-robed killers remind of nothing so much as “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu, outfits which signal repression and injustice; both sexes wear these red outfits. Supposedly, like the pods in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movies, there is one red-robed thing for every inhabitant of the U.S. [This seems extreme and unlikely. What does a doppelganger do all day underground? How does a doppelganger secure sustenance beyond raw rabbit meat? Unlikely that this movement of this magnitude could be kept secret and one of the weaker plot points,—-if that is, in fact, a plot point.] The speculation centers on the U.S. government having had some sort of “pilot” experimental program to duplicate every citizen, which was scrapped when it was discovered that the person’s “soul” could not be cloned.
- The doppelgangers who have been “kept down” have lost their voices entirely or are barely able to speak in a whisper. They aren’t heard. They aren’t listened to; they are essentially inarticulate. There is speculation that the reason Lupita’s character does all the for the group of four in a hoarse croak is that she “remembers” how to speak from before. (If you don’t know what I mean about “from before” think of the twist ending of the film.)
- Now, how does the “surprise” ending of the film fit with Point #2, above? As I was walking to my car, a young man was talking and said, “How does all of this fit, now that we know that the bad one is the good one and vice versa?” How, indeed. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you about “spoilers.”)
- It has also been pointed out that the main message of the film doesn’t have to be racial, but can also be simply “haves” vs. “have nots.” Very true.
So, see it and figure out what YOU think it all means and let me know.
In the 1989 original film“Pet Sematary” pets buried in a spooky backwoods cemetery come back to life. When a tragedy befalls a child of Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), the lure of having their dead child returned to them by reburying the body in the Pet Sematary is too great to resist. [*Don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to know one of the movie’s major plot twists in advance; it’s a “spoiler” moment].
As the plot for the Stephen King 1983 novel and the original film, (released almost exactly 30 years earlier to the day) put it: “With dreams of a better life, a young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family—wife Rachel, their 9-year-old daughter Ellie, and their 3-year-old toddler, Gage—move to their new home in the small rural town of Ludlow, Maine, alarmingly close to a busy highway. However, when Rachel’s cherished tomcat, Church, is inadvertently killed in an awful accident, a desperate Louis will reluctantly take his friendly neighbor’s advice to bury it in an ancient Micmac graveyard—a mystical burial ground imbued with re-animating powers. Despite the terrible results and insistent warnings, a tragedy-stricken Louis in the wake of the death of his child, goes back to the Indian cemetery, hoping that, this time, things will be different. But can the dead return from the grave?”
Despite the lure of having a loved one come back from the dead, the tag line for this movie is, “Sometimes, dead is better.”
There are changes in Matt Greenberg’s treatment of Stephen King’s original concept. As the directors told the audience, onstage, following the World Premiere as the closing film of SXSW, “I was a big fan of the original. You know it exists. It was an influence on us. There were homages, but there comes a time when you have to start making your own film out of it.”
Jason Clarke had not seen the finished product until this night. He described himself as “very proud and very freaked out” and said, “I enjoyed the experience” commenting on the thrill of seeing a film at the theater in a large group. When Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie in the film, was asked if she found playing her part frightening, she answered, “It was really cool. I wasn’t that scared because I was one of the scary ones.”
One audience questioner wanted to know why there wasn’t more gore shown in the child’s death scene. Answered the directors: “You gotta’ be really specific about how you show blood. With the child’s death, the horror is reflected in the looks on Jason’s and Amy’s faces.”
Q: How did the 3-year-old twins who played Gage (Hugo and Lucas Levoie) deal with the scary stuff?
A: With them, it was all just playing—like it’s a game. They thought it was a game and had a great time.
Amy Seimetz remarked, “I think what’s interesting about this is that it’s a meditation on the source material. We’re all gonna’ die, so we can all meditate on that.” She added, “Having been in a lot of genre films, it is everything I want in a genre film.”
The film respects the essence of the 1983 novel, but refreshes it for a new generation. As one of the directors said, “Let’s get under the skin of what’s happening with death.” The directors said they have heard that Stephen King appreciates it when other artists bring their own artistic visions into play and added, “It was validating to hear that he was a fan of the film.”
Jete when asked if she had seen the original 1989 film version of “Pet Sematary,” said, “I think if I saw the original, I might not have as many creative ideas.”
The mood of the piece is appropriately creepy. Music by Christopher Young is relied on heavily and it delivers.Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer seemed to know what they wanted to achieve; their previous film “Starry Eyes” (2014) was a bit of a Faustian rip-off, so refashioning an older tale is not new to them.
With actors as good as John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you know that they will do a good job. The children are also up to the task.
One producer was asked about his fears when doing the remake, “Well, you know what they say about filming with children and animals. (laughter) Also, dogs train well. Cats—not so much. But we had such great child actors.”
That last statement was definitely true. Young Jete and the twins who played Gage did a great job, alongside three seasoned veterans (Clarke, Lithgow and Seinmetz). The cat from hell was appropriately diabolical, as well.
The set that represented the pet cemetery was well done, although you really had to wonder how the actors could climb the wall of sticks and brambles that were supposed to keep the bad vibes in or out without injury.
The end of the piece will leave you pondering. There are film endings that provoke thought; this is one of them. What will become of this family? What will Louis Creed’s co-workers reaction be when he shows up for work at the clinic ? Or Ellie Creed’s fellow students at her elementary school? (Another film, perhaps? Maybe even a dark comedy?)
While the music was good, it might have been relied on too heavily at times, to produce “jump” scares. You know the kind: the teenager is going to the basement or the attic. The adult is approaching a large wardrobe or closet or door and we are all waiting to find out what is behind the door.
The heavy fog was so thick that it made me think of the 1971 Academy Awards when the theme from “Shaft” was played onstage as a nominated song and the performer singing it (Isaac Hayes) completely disappeared. There’s fog in low swampy places and then there’s Major League Fog, all the time, everywhere, as in this Pet Sematary. (*Odd thing I noticed in the film: when Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) types in Pet Cemetery to his computer, he misspells it–again— as Pet Cemetary. It’s all e’s all the time.)
There was a lot of graphic violence during the last one-half hour, as opposed to a relatively bloodless first two-thirds of the film. Audiences today may demand such graphic gore; I always admired the Hitchcock touch. Hitchcock gave the impression of a knife being used to dispatch Janet Leigh in “Psycho’s ” shower scene but, through clever cutting of the film, the knife never is really shown being plunged into the victim. A little less plunging and twisting is fine by me.
I didn’t feel that there was anything excitingly original or new being shown us in this film, but the end result was a perfectly acceptable genre film, buoyed by the good performances of the cast. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, from the stage, sarcastically called the movie, “The feel good movie of 2019.”
If this film were a baseball game, nobody would be saying it was “a home run.” But the movie was a good solid hit—at least a double—maybe even a triple. For me, the all-around superlative performances of every actor involved– child or adult—carried the film through familiar territory that we all have covered before, since the original film thirty years ago and the novel 36
years ago. The attempt(s) to secure a new “twist” or ending were successful, (although I kept wondering what Dr. Creed reporting for work the next day at the clinic would be like. Or Ellie Creed’s return to school. Maybe another movie?)
As genre horror movies go, this one is superior to most. It’s no “A Quiet Place,” but it’s good. It opens wide on April 5th.
Glass: Please be warned that I may talk about the end of this movie, so don’t read on if you’re saving up to watch it and be surprised. I saw “Glass” the day it opened and it’s still keeping a slim hold on the #1 box office spot for the third week. Estimates are that it has earned an additional $9.5 million in ticket sales, which would bring its total earnings to $88.7 million.
I’ve been trying to decide what to say about “Glass,” M. Night Shymalan’s return to the big screen after “Split” 3 years ago (2016). I loved “Split.”
I was very happy that the director who gave us “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Unbreakable” (2000); “Signs” (2002); “The Village” (2004), and “Lady in the Water” (2006) was back with a winner in 2016 and, hopefully, “Glass” would be the winner in 2019. I may not be quite as fanatical about Shymalan’s success as the two screenwriters who wrote “A Quiet Place,” Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. They showed pictures on Twitter of every ticket stub for all of M. Night Shymalan’s pictures since the very beginning. [“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs” have sold over $1.3 billion in ticket sales, and Shymalan also was the creative mind behind television’s “Wayward Pines.”]
I’m a Shymalan fan, but I have to confess that my loyalty waivered a bit after “Lady in the Water” with Paul Giametti and Bryce Dallas Howard. I was only too happy to get back on the bandwagon after “Split” hit theaters 3 years ago. I was truly rooting for “Glass” to be just as good as “Split.”
The performance by James McAvoy in “Split” was nothing short of fantastic. “Glass” would revive the character with 24 multiple personalities that McAvoy brought to life so vividly in “Split.”
Fortunately for me here in Austin (Texas), a history” of the inter-relatedness of the characters was shown at the Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane just before the main feature. “Glass” was a merger of Shymalan’s biggest hits: “Unbreakable” with Samuel L. Jackson and his case of osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disorder) and Bruce Willis as a hooded superhero survivor of a train wreck with McAvoy in “Split.” We also got a now-grown-up Spencer Treat Clark as Willis’ son. [Clark expressed gratitude that Shymalan was so loyal to his actors and had re-cast him as an adult after his first appearance as a child in “Unbreakable.” (He laughingly said he expected to hear that one of the Australian Hemsworth brothers got the role in 2019).]
So, it is with a great deal of reluctance that I have to say that I was disappointed in “Glass.” There is one scene where Anya Taylor-Joy goes to the sanitarium where James McAvoy is confined and asks to talk with him. It is strange that she would WANT to talk to him, since he held her prisoner in “Split” and terrorized her, but she survived.
The head psychiatrist, played by Sarah Paulsen, is heard telling the young girl from the film “Split” that she cannot possibly talk to her former captor—and then, in a complete reversal, there Anya is, talking to him. Why? How? What?
Then there is the scene in “Glass” when all three of the bad guys are brought into the room to talk with Paulson (see a slight amount on the trailer above).
Only one of the three is chained, and that is Bruce Willis. Why wouldn’t James Mcavoy be chained, as he is clearly the most dangerous of the three? (Jackson is in a wheelchair and appears to be catatonic) Also weird: the drum music used in the background; the pacing of the entire scene gave us a very draggy scene.
For the keen of eye, the usual cameo—a la Alfred Hitchcock—is Shymalan at a stand that sells cameras. He says he “used to hang out with some shady types at the football stadium in his youth.” Thanks to the Alamo’s history lesson, I remembered that, in the movie “Unbreakable,” his cameo appearance cast him as a drug dealer at the stadium where Bruce Willis’ character David Dunne is a guard.
So, the scenes in Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Hospital were generally difficult to explain or understand and some key scenes really dragged. David (Bruce Willis) is being treated for delusions of grandeur. He remains locked up until a scene where he inexplicably takes 3 runs at the metal door and manages to break free. (Say what?)
Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass has everyone convinced he is practically a vegetable when, in reality, he seems to be able to get out of his cell at will (something that is also never really explained.) And the operation Glass is to undergo on his brain, we are led to believe, is ineffectual because he switches out some glass lenses in the equipment the night before. Highly unlikely. He’s brilliant, yes, but he’s not a physician (although all 9 of Shymalan’s family, including his wife are either MDs or PhDs.)
The fight outside the sanitarium between Willis and McAvoy seems extremely unrealistic and hokey, especially when Willis’ son shows up and is about as ineffectual at helping his father as humanly possible and with McAvoy loping along like he is in a “Planet of the Apes” sequel. Who really thinks that the much younger McAvoy (i.e., “the Beast”) is going to be truly challenged by Willis? The “precipitating event” that we see (i.e., a scare in the water when he was a young boy) is anti-climactic.
Shymalan likes comic books. This script says, “Superheroes are based on people like him” and, “Everything can be explained away, yet it exists. Some of us can bend steel and don’t die from bullets.” But, later, this line is inserted, “There just can’t be gods among us.” Paulsen’s specialty is treating patients who think they are super-heroes. (I wondered if there was a lot of work for a psychiatrist who only treated Superhero wannabes.)
The camera work at the end, when three characters are shown sitting in the Philadelphia train station, was off-putting and jerky. One wonders how anyone is going to know to come flocking to the train station in the first place. Way off the chart of believability.
Shymalan is well-known for surprise or “twist” endings and tries for a double twist here, which I won’t reveal, although he has said, “The negative thing about the twist (ending) is that it’s all people are occupied with; all the gentleness in the movie is being overshadowed by the flashy cousin in the sequined vest taking center stage.” In this film he tries for a double surprise ending as we come to learn that Mr. Glass was much smarter than his keepers. It may be for the best that both Samuel L. Jackson’s character and Bruce Willis’ character are dispatched by film’s end, but it seemed pretty arbitrary. Still, I’m glad that he bit the bullet and did not leave us thinking they’d show up again in a film this implausibly plotted.
IMPORTANCE OF MOVIE THEATERS
One thing that I do agree with Shymalan about is the importance of the movie-going experience. I recently answered a question on Quora (about whether I’d take a million dollars if it meant I could never watch a film at a theater again) in direct opposition to 5 other responders. I don’t ever want to see movies go away, and I said so. Shymalan agrees, saying:
“I’m going to stop making movies if they end the cinema experience. If there’s a last film that’s released only theatrically, it’ll have my name on it. This is life or death to me. If you tell audiences there’s no difference between a theatrical experience and a DVD, then that’s it, game’s over, and that whole art form is going to go away slowly. Movies will end up being this esoteric art form, where only singular people will put films out in a small group of theaters.”
Shymalan also went on to share this anecdote:
[on the power of cinema] “I once wrote an article about the Nuremburg trial and on the evil of the Nazis. These people were animals. And their faces throughout the trial were like ice, except for the moment when they showed a movie in the courtroom. When the lights went down and they showed the footage of the bodies being pushed into the pits, their expressions changed and they became emotional. They were watching the events on the screen through the eyes of everyone in the theater. They were having a joint experience. They were all connected, and they saw the horror, saw that their victims were human beings, and they changed.”
I recently spoke to a roomful of 3rd and 4th graders at a Young Authors’ Day on January 24th. The students were polite and generally attentive. When I switched to the trailer, projected on a large screen, for my book series (“Ghostly Tales of Route 66”) and showed a short film clip of the route, I was in the back of the room, scanning the crowd. They were mesmerized, enraptured, totally “with it,” whereas I had to contend with Susie sharing her lunch crackers with Janie and whispering to her when it was just me trying to share stories of my experiences driving from Chicago to Santa Monica gathering ghost stories. (www.GhostlyTalesofRoute66.com).
As for his reaction to the luke-warm critical reception of “Glass,” Shymalan said:
“It really doesn’t bother me because my aspiration, as I said, isn’t necessarily acceptance. But I always want to understand what’s going on. What are the principles behind the tension or the miscommunication? I want to totally get that. Then I can choose not to react to it, or react to it. My constant, in self-analysis, is to try to figure out: Am I complicit in this situation? How did I create this situation? What is my role in it? Do I want to continue that role? Do I want to change the course of that role? As long as I understand it, I’m much more comfortable with it. And I feel I’m in a strangely decent place of wanting that amount of passion [and debate] people have when they speak about the movies, and the expectations. My obligation is to figure out the bridge so that I don’t just let go of me and please them. That would be the disaster.”
He added, ruefully, referencing critics in general:
“It’s human nature. Twenty-six people love the movie, and the 27th person hates it, and the only thing you can think about is the 27th person.”
Just received word that my screenplay based on Book #1 of THE COLOR OF EVIL trilogy (series) has won another Los Angeles Screenplay competition, this time the L.A. Edge Film Awards. Having also just gone out to see “Hereditary” with Toni Collette, which I will review momentarily, I want to quote the June 18th issue of “Time” magazine which heralded “Hereditary” as “among the films forming the swell of a new wave in horror, pictures that are smart, subtle and artfully made.”
The article goes on to say that this is not to put down the “Saw” or “Halloween” more overtly horrific films of yesteryear, but that those who say they don’t “like” horror movies means “you have haven’t met the right one yet.”
SXSW proved this to be true with the smash opening of “A Quiet Place,” which, in Mexico, they described as “alien on a farm.” My interview with the two young writers of that film (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) convinced me that I should go home and write a screenplay based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, which I did in 3 weeks, while reviewing SXSW.
My script (whose ending I reworked 3 separate times) was checked over by producer John Crye for content and looked over for formatting errors (up to page 57, anyway) by founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School and AFI Film School graduate Dan Decker and then off it went to many festivals, which are now weighing in on (yet another) horror film that taps into the zeitgest of the nation right now. It has won two, is a Finalist in several, and is running above a 75% acceptance rate. (Woot!)
“Time” said of “Hereditary”, “It’s a movie about feeling small and inconsequential in the larger pattern of danger churning all around us.” Those who have been horror afficionados for years will remember that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was often said to be a film about Communism and the cold war threat, although that was denied by the writer and director. Nevertheless, it was films like that one (which was remade several times to varying degrees of success) that captured the mood of the moment.
Whatever your opinion of it, horror is hot, right now.
If anyone out there is reading this: I’ve got literally hundreds of short stories that can be made into great onscreen movies, part of my 50+ year love affair with film and residing in such collections as “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 and 3) and “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.”.
I also wrote THE COLOR OF EVIL, 3 novels that follow a young boy with the paranormal power of Tetrachromatic Super Vision (a real thing, by the way) and put him in peril because others don’t understand that it isn’t necessarily a predictive power. By book three, when we’ve followed Tad (McGreevy) and Stevie (Scranton) and Jenny (SanGiovanni) and Janice (Kramer) through their junior and senior years of high school and on into adulthood, you’ll feel that you know them well.
Set in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2003-2005, the books are right in touch with today’s mania of the moment, and I hope those of you in a position to see for yourself check out the e-book boxed set (THE COLOR OF EVIL series by Connie Corcoran Wilson) and find out for yourselves.
Acclaimed Director William Friedkin came to the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, May 12th, at 7 p.m. with his 70 minute documentary “The Devil & Father Amorth.” It screened to a packed house that came as much for the Q&A that followed as for the dry examination of the Vatican’s exorcist, whom Friedkin described as “the most spiritual man I ever met.”
The film, shot in 2016, was the first time an actual exorcism was allowed to be filmed, but the permission came with restrictions: only Friedkin could be present. No cameramen. No lights. And little action, as it turned out, except for the exorcism of a 31-year-old Italian architect named Gabriela Amorth, who had been unsuccessfully treated 8 times previously. The actual exorcism, on May 1, 2016, was filmed by Friedkin using a small handheld camera and what he termed a GoPro, which, he said, is often used with drones. He certainly has experience in actually shooting scenes himself, as he proved during the shooting of “The French Connection” when he wrapped himself in a mattress in the back seat of a car driven at 90 mph and shot on the fly through the streets of New York City, (with no formal permissions to do so).
Amorth was 91 at the time of the filming and Friedkin said he did not set out to film an exorcism. “I had no intention of making this film. I was in Lucca, the birthplace and home of Puccini, getting the Puccini prize for filming his operas. I was just there for 8 days in Lucca and I learned that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was only 30 miles away. From there, you could get a direct flight to the Rome airport, a one-hour flight.” Friedkin said he sent an e-mail asking if it would be possible to meet with Father Amorth, the world’s most famous exorcist, and he received the tentative yes, with conditions. Graydon Carter of “Vanity Fair” magazine (the recently retired publisher) urged Friedkin to go to Rome and interview Amorth and write an article for the magazine.
Friedkin did, in fact, write a 6,500 word article for “Vanity Fair” and shot the film we saw this night, which was far from the fiction of “The Exorcist.” He stressed that the Vatican has a very “hush hush” policy about exorcisms, so there really is no way to find out the truth of whether they work or not. But, after observing the 9th such attempt to rid the pretty architect of her demon, this film, dedicated to William Peter Blatty, who died in 2017, was the result. Asked if he thought Blatty would like the film, Friedkin said, “I think he would love it, which is why I dedicated it to him,” but he also noted that Blatty thought Amorth was a charlatan.
With 62 million people in Italy, 500,000 of whom ask for an exorcism to be performed annually, Blatty is not as quick to throw out the idea of an exorcism being ineffectual. Far from being an agnostic, as Wikipedia says he once was, Friedkin professed to believe in Jesus and said, “Who is anybody to say there’s no God? We don’t know. There are so many myths in the Bible, but there are billions of people who believed Jesus Christ was the son of God, because emotion trumps logic every time.” Friedkin went on to cite non-believers like Christopher Hitchins, who spoke out against the canonization of Mother Theresa, but, asked if he would banish religion and replace it with rational thinking if he could, he repeated,“Emotion trumps reason every time. It’s why you have religion. You cannot banish religion.”
During the Q&A, in addition to sharing that Father Amorth was an avid critic of the Vatican, but never experienced blowback from the Holy See because he was so popular, he was asked about the state of filmmaking today.
Said Friedkin, “They’re not for me,” of today’s movies, calling them spandex movies. “There’s never any real danger or real suspense. It’s opium for the eyes. There’s very little being done that I like.” He did, however, cite “A Quiet Place” as one of the few movies he’s seen that he liked very much.
When asked if anything weird or supernatural occurred during the filming of the 1972 classic “The Exorcist” Friedkin recalled how he received a phone call at about 4 a.m. from his D.P. (production manager) saying, “Don’t come to work tomorrow. The set burned to the ground about 2 hours ago.” Friedkin said that insurance did pay for the catastrophe and that some theorized that a pigeon (there were birds flying about in the area and on the set) may have flown into a light box, but, he noted, “there was a watchman sitting outside” and he thought the entire set burning down was unusual. “I did not make the film as a doubting Thomas,” he said. “I made the film as a believer.”
The chatty Friedkin (whom the interviewer/moderator referred to as “Billy,” which struck me as odd, since the man is 82) probably would have stayed and talked to us for hours, or so it seemed, but the staff needed to clear the hall for the influx of theater-goers coming to see the original “The Exorcist” on the big screen.
Meeting William Friedkin in person (and giving him a copy of “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now“ was a real thrill for me. The man has made 15 films in 53 years and given us such classics as “The French Connection” (he was the youngest director to win Best Director at age 32 and the film also won as Best Picture), “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer” and many, many more. I hope he continues to thrive in life.
The film ended with film of the funeral of the subject of the film, 92-year-old Father Amorth, who caught pneumonia and died very shortly after this documentary was made. The testimony of various psychiatrists and psychologists and the news that the very condition of being possessed is now termed ‘disassociative personality disorder- demonic possession’ was mentioned several times. Said Friedkin, “After I filmed it, it occurred to me that I should take it to 2 or 3 of the best brain surgeons in the world and let them debunk it. The psychiatrists now recognize demonic possession, although they’ve removed a few disorders from the books, like homosexuality and narcissism.” He noted, with a nod to the current political climate, “I guess they feel that everybody from the top on down in this country has that.”
One thing that came out of the evening was that Blatty’s book was sheer fiction, because Blatty couldn’t find any way to break the church’s policy on letting anyone witness an exorcism and the only two reported ones in this country occurred in the 1922 in Early, Iowa, and in 1949 in College City, Maryland, which is the one that “The Exorcist” was based on. Said Friedkin, “The church does not really want people to know that there are people out there who have gone through it (an exorcism) and it has not been successful.” He described his own emotional experience while witnessing Gabriela’s exorcism as “terrifying” saying, “The fits come and go, like epileptic fits.” He also shared the fact that John Paul II was an exorcist in Poland before he became Pope and passed on 2 cases to Father Anorth when he ascended to the top position in the church hierarchy. And, said Friedkin, his life was threatened for the only time in his 82 years when Gabriela’s boyfriend demanded all the film he had shot of the exorcism back and Friedkin refused, causing her boyfriend, a member of the sinister Pyramid Cult, to threaten to kill him and all of his family. (Friedkin did not return the film.)
As a parting thought, Friedkin said, ‘There is a far deeper dimension to the Universe. If there are demons there must be angels.”
“Shelf Unbound” magazine has named THE COLOR OF EVIL boxed set to its list of the BEST INDIE E-BOOKS of 2017. (p. 44).
Type in The Color of Evil by Connie Corcoran Wilson to go to the Amazon ordering site for the 753 pages that comprise “The Color of Evil” (Book 1), “Red Is for Rage” (Book 2) and “Khaki = Killer” (Book 3).
In the Notes from the Author section on page 44 of “Shelf Unbound,” Connie mentions that the inspiration for the series came from a short story that appeared, originally in Volume I of her short story series “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 & 3).
For trailers and reviews of each of these series go to www.TheColorOfEvil.com and www.HellfireAndDamnationTheBook.com. Enjoy!
I’m here at SXSW Film Festival (for the 3rd year) and the Opening Night film, “A Quiet Place,” written by two Hitchcock-loving Bettendorf, Iowa, 34-year-old filmmakers, (with some contributions from Director and Star John Krasinski of “The Office” fame), is wowing the critics and the crowds.
I was fortunate enough to grab a few minutes to speak to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods about this big-budget Paramount film the day after it premiered. It is not difficult to see how these two young Iowa graduates, who have been collaborating since junior high school (and throughout college at the University of Iowa) have helped create a suspenseful thriller that is destined to become a classic. It’s the start of something big, career-wise. Their next film “Haunt,” currently in post-production, is one they both wrote and directed.
The filmmakers were articulate, congenial, diplomatic and enthused about the audience’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes response to their film about a family of four that must remain totally silent in order to keep some scary underground-dwelling creatures from killing them. They’ve survived in a dystopian world (no further explanation) where any loud noise will bring these “things” down on the family of Krasinski, his wife Emily Blunt, their deaf teen-aged daughter Millie (played by a lovely young actress, Millicent Simmons, who is deaf in real life), a son of about 10 and a younger boy who looks just about ready for kindergarten in a normal world.
But, when the film opens, they are not in a “normal” world, but are searching for drugs in a ruined drugstore, where the youngest of the brood finds a noisy toy that he’d really like to keep. You know this bodes ill for the family, which has resorted to using sign language to communicate, has sound-proofed their dwelling and has an extensive camera and light set-up to try to protect themselves from the blind, armored creatures in an attempt to try to stay alive. There is also a tower that the father (Krasinski) lights a fire atop at night. We see two other fires in the distance, so we know there are at least a few other survivors. The set design and special effects are extraordinary, reminding of the “Alien” days, (when we finally see this threat—which isn’t for a long time). Marco Beltrami’s score is great and–most importantly—the acting from all is terrific.
The log line for the film is: “A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.” That is an original premise that has not been done before. It leads to one of the most spare scripts in Hollywood history. Not only do the actors seldom speak (they sign or whisper or mouth the words), we don’t get to “see” the monster(s) until quite late in the film. And they are “Alien-” quality when we do.
There is not one “down” or boring scene, always the goal for a screenwriter, but difficult to achieve. No unnecessary exposition or wordy speeches. Just good old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense from a screenwriting team that mentions “Vertigo” as one of their favorite movies and have been making films since they were six years old.
I met up with them at a Starbucks the day after the film and wrote a piece giving the local ties to the Quad Cities of Iowa, which appears above this one. To achieve that, I had to embarrass myself and climb over about 8 other movie-goers in my row to go to the microphone during the Q&A. Where, exactly, were these two talented young men? Fortunately, my willingness to go that extra mile led to a brief but informative meeting the very next day.
The film’s extraordinary quality is leading to this recommendation: if you like suspenseful, well-acted, well-directed films, beautifully-shot films where you care about the characters and root for them to escape, even against overwhelming odds, you’re going to love this movie.
Most of those present on Opening Night did, and the remark I heard made most often in the lobby following it was, “This was so much better than last year’s Opening Movie.”
Last year’s opening film was Terrence Malick’s “Song by Song” with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and some other “A”-list talent. Perhaps Malick should have hired Beck & Woods to script the thing, as that renowned filmmaker’s work, which was often wonderful, was not well-received because of its meandering storyline.
The film opens wide in the U.S. on April 6th and, yes, it IS that good. Take it from someone who’s been reviewing film for 47 straight years.
Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place,” the Opening Night Film at the 25th SXSW Film Festival, which is now SXSW Festival and Conference(s).
How in the world did two young men from Bettendorf, Iowa, wind up scripting the Opening Night film of one of the most prestigious film festivals and conferences in the country, SXSW, with a blockbuster film (“A Quiet Place”) from Paramount Studios? I asked the pair exactly that question in an interview conducted at a local Starbucks the morning after their film triumphed at the SXSW Opening Night Premiere on Friday, March 9th, 2018.
The two filmmakers, thirty-four year old Scott Beck (the redhead) and his childhood friend Bryan Woods have been making movies “since we were six years old.”
They told me this in Austin, Texas, the day after their film, “A Quiet Place,” (starring and directed by John Krasinski of “The Office” and his actress wife Emily Blunt) wowed audiences at its Paramount Opening Night. Both have been interested in film since they were very young, but it was junior high school at Bettendorf Middle School that paired the dynamic duo.
Scott Beck is the son of Ken and Linda Beck of Bettendorf, and Bryan Woods (the redhead) is the son of Dennis and Lynn Woods of Bettendorf, although Scott’s IMDB profile notes that he was born in Denver, Colorado, on October 22, 1984, while Bryan was born in Davenport on September 14, 1984.
Before meeting at Bettendorf Middle School, Bryan attended Armstrong Elementary, while Scott went to Mark Twain Elementary. Each gave credit to teachers they had at Bettendorf Middle School (“We were just kind of allowed to do it”), naming Ethel Hagemann of the Tech area of their middle school and Roger Wilming, who, said Scott, “really connected and bonded with his students.”
After high school, they attended and graduated from the University of Iowa. Scott described taking a lot of writing courses as an undergrad. He said the criticism he received in those classes was helpful, noting, “Every now and then you can distill it. Critical feedback is helpful.” Scott also noted that, speaking diplomatically, in the world of Hollywood “You have to learn to back your opinion up with evidence. Within the politics of the industry you have to make sure that whatever your vision is, you can work with the producers and director.” During his college career, Scott continued his interest in film He placed in the 2004 Project Greenlight Top 50 director’s competition, sponsored by Miramax and Bravo and was a finalist in the MTV Best Film on Campus competition in November of 2004. He won MTV’s Best Film on Campus competition in December of 2005 (his junior year), resulting in a development deal with MTV Films. In the intervening 13 years, Scott wrote “Nightlight” (2015).
Bryan Woods was born on September 14, 1984 in Davenport, Iowa, USA. He is a writer and producer, known for The Bride Wore Blood (2006), Yearbook (2002) and Her Summer (2004).He placed in the 2004 Project Greenlight Top 50 director’s competition sponsored by Miramax and Bravo, was a finalist in the MTV Best Film on Campus competition in November of 2004 and also won MTV’s Best Film on Campus competition in December of 2005, which resulted in the development deal for “Beck and Woods” (as Krasinski referred to them from the stage).
What kind of movies did they admire, as they were growing up?
Favorites were Alfred Hitchcock, especially “Vertigo” for Bryan. He said, “I love how mysterious and gorgeous “Vertigo” is. It’s about obsession and that’s something Hitchcock knew a lot about.” Scott singled out Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and more recent directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and added, “I like stories that conceptualize,” mentioning films that focus on artificial intelligence.
It was tough finding the two to interview them in person. Although they were on the Red Carpet, [as shown in the photos with the SXSW backdrop], it wasn’t listed that they would be present, and I could not initially find the correct representative for them, even after calling the SXSW press office. The failure to honor those who created nearly the entire concept (Krasinski also contributed and gets a writing credit) is not atypical in Hollywood. Max Allan Collins described his difficulty in getting enough tickets for him and his family to attend the Oscars when he had written “Road to Perdition,” which was up that year. As Rodney Dangerfield might put it, “Writers don’t get no respect.”
After the showing of “A Quiet Place” film, I went to the microphone and announced to the assembled audience, “I’m from Bettendorf, Iowa, (the crowd whooped loudly and shouted “Yay, Bettendorf”) and I’ve come a long way to interview Beck and Woods, but I can’t find them. Will you meet me in the lobby after this is over?” To be brutally honest, my former business (Sylvan Learning Center #3301) was located in Bettendorf, while I reside in East Moline. But Scott’s bio says he was born in Denver and Bryan’s says he was born in Davenport, so it was a bit misleading, but it got a big shout-out to Bettendorf from the crowd. I found the two and their P.R. representative and I conducted a whirlwind interview Saturday morning, as they were scheduled elsewhere almost immediately.
Their film was extremely well done. It is an original concept, which I will write about in a separate review when the film’s release date nears. The spare film dialogue was top-notch. It is definitely one of the films with the least dialogue ever, because of the nature of its plot.
As I left the theater I heard more than one filmgoer say, “This was so much better than last year’s film.” Last year’s film was Terrance Malick’s “Song by Song” with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and a host of “A” list celebrities. Word from the front was not good. I ended up attending Sam Elliot’s “The Hero” instead, but not until I waited 2 hours in the rain, sat on a cactus while lounging on a planter near the entrance (by accident, of course), and hired a rickshaw driver to transport me from the Paramount Theater to the Zach Theater.
The word about THIS film: there is not a single “dull” moment onscreen. I’m predicting it will take off like a rocket, helping “Beck and Woods” receive even more (deserved) recognition.
The two are currently in post production on “Haunt,” a script which they both wrote and will direct.
When I asked how their parents were handling the news that their sons may well become the next Steven Spielberg after “A Quiet Place” (Spielberg is premiering a film here tomorrow, “Ready Player One,” that was literally announced at the last minute), both said, “They’ve been so supportive all along. They’ll be at our New York City Premiere on April 2nd.”
Well-deserved congratulations to two former Quad City natives making it in the big leagues. I hope we meet again.