Last night, I watched a couple of basic home invasion horror movies. The first was Death Game, a 1977 movie starring Seymour Cassel (the dad from Rushmore), Sondra Locke, and Colleen Camp.

Then I watched Knock Knock, which just came out; it’s directed by Eli Roth, and stars Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, and Ana de Armas.

Death Game is about a family man whose family leaves for the weekend, and then he gets a knock on the door: it’s two cute girls who can’t find the right address to a party they want to attend, and they’re drenched in rain and freezing. He lets them in, they seduce him, and then they reveal that they’re completely insane. They torture him, wreck his house, and commit a murder, before returning to the dad-torture. Knock Knock is about a family man whose family leaves for the weekend, and then… well, it’s a remake of Death Game, so I won’t go through the whole thing. It’s updated and changed for a modern era, to include social media and cellphones, basically; also, it can get way more explicit and gross:

It also has some kind of weird ideas about youth culture. Let’s get into it first with Death Game.

Spoilers ahead. Yarr. Ahoy.

Seymour Cassel is fantastic as the dad in the movie. He’s rockin’ the 70s old-man dad bod and moustache, and his house is perfect: really nice stereo, everything in muted 70s earth-tones and not a lot of natural light, shrubbery all around the front door. He’s celebrating his 40th birthday, and sees his wife and kids off for the weekend. That night, the girls show up, he lets them in, rebuffs a couple of advances, and then succumbs to their wily charms. That succumbing, by the way, is so weird and hilarious– straight-up porn music starts blaring, and then there’s about five minutes of double-exposed film, usually a long-shot of writhing bodies and a close-up of a face or an arm or something; it’s clearly meant to be hellaciously titillating, but it ends up looking like a weird flesh-tone squid occupying two or three dimensions at once, especially because the source film for this movie never had any sort of preservation or cleaning measures taken. The soundtrack pushes it over the edge into weird absurdity.

The next morning he wakes up and the girls are making breakfast. He joins them, and then it becomes clear that they’re straight-up insane, picking up eggs with their fingers and not using napkins and dredging pancakes through eggs and jelly and all manner of transgressions against polite society. The whole time during breakfast, the old man is quietly and civilly smoking and ashing into a little saucer. You know, like a grown man does. Until he tells them that they’re behaving like animals.

They start destroying his furniture and playing his stereo too loud and beating the shit out of him. He threatens to call the cops, but they tell him that they’re both underage. They tie him to a bed and continue their rampant destruction. This continues pretty much unabated for the rest of the movie. Locke and Camp both manage to strike a weird balance between malevolence and wide-eyed naivete: Camp, at several points, proclaims her actual fondness for the man that they’re victimizing, and Locke’s character seems to be operating as pure id, chaotic but not necessarily evil (except for a few points).

This movie’s kind of hard to pin down, thematically.

Maybe it’s about the 1970s perceived breakdown of social order, as represented here by the sheer barbarism of an untended bottle of ketchup pooling and spilling, splattered on the base of a fine silver serving platter, and staining the tablecloth:

A shot which, no shit, lasts thirty-seven seconds. I know because I timed it.

Perhaps it’s a message about the things that go wrong when the lecherous older generation preys on the younger, as represented here by a shot of a rotten banana trailing up and down a milky-white thigh.

Maybe it’s about the new generation having no respect for the old, as represented by this shot of Max Fischer’s dad getting drenched in foodstuffs:

But in actuality, I think it’s probably just a weird exploitation movie that’s taking advantage of the relatively recent home invasion and multiple murders of the Manson Family, and the willingness of Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp to disrobe. That super-weird five-minute, flesh-toned, porno-soundtracked montage at the beginning defies any other description.

Oh, yeah, spoiler: in the last five seconds of the film, an SPCA van literally swerves around a corner out of nowhere and mows down both girls.

Now let’s move on to Knock Knock.

I have some problems with Eli Roth in general. He hasn’t made any movies that I have thoroughly and unabashedly loved. Don’t get me wrong, here, I like his movies just fine, especially Cabin Fever, but it always seems like there’s a running thread through all of them of cruelty for the sake of cruelty. The times when it works the best are the times when you, as an audience, have a character to empathize with– in Hostel, Paxton was a swaggery but ultimately good-natured character through which to encounter the mindless cruelty of the movie, and it made that movie much more palatable.

The problem is that all of Roth’s movies, aside from Hostel, fail to give you that empathetic character. Cabin Fever has Karen, but she’s the first to go, and then we’re stuck with a bunch of assholes. Hostel 2 never intends to let us empathize with any of the characters– it’s just intended to be a cartoonish, grisly murderfest from minute one. Knock Knock continues that trend, with weird douche-dad Keanu Reeves (whose wife and kids are the only decent characters in the movie, and they’re only onscreen for the first ten minutes).

The opening shots of this movie are a slow tracking shot through the house, where literally every wall has huge photographs of Keanu and his family. Literally every wall. I can’t even tell if this is supposed to paint a picture of a family that’s deeply tied together and wants to display it to the world; or a deeply weird and narcissistic family member demanding representation; or just tell us that the family is tone-deaf when it comes to what normally passes for domestic decoration. I just know it’s fucking weird and immediately makes me wonder who these weird people are and dislike them. One row of pictures on the mantel? No problem. A few hanging pictures throughout the house? Hey, fine by me. Three-foot by three-foot studio shots on literally every wall in your house? There’s something wrong with you.


Ten minutes of footage showing us the happy family, blah blah, they leave for a weekend at the beach, blah blah, the girls show up at the door. He invites them in, blah blah. The one part of this movie that was really novel and fairly clever was that it actually incorporates modern technology in a legitimate and encompassing way– he calls the girls an Uber (or Uber-alike) and tracks its progress on his phone; because it’ll be a while, it gives him a chance to interact with them more, and turn down their initial advances.

Eventually blah blah he bangs them both, blah, then he wakes up, breakfast, blah. Then his wife FaceTimes him, and he runs out into the yard to take it. There’s an actually really well done hilarious moment where the two girls attempt to photobomb by doing the lady-front equivalent of a pressed ham:

Then blah blah blah, jailbait revelations, can’t call the cops, torture, bondage, makeup…

Throughout the torture, the two crazy girls are perpetually snarling at Keanu for being a philanderer and a pedo, which, you know, they’ve got a point. They’ve got none of the goofy naivete of Death Game here: these girls are psychopaths, cruel and smart and mean. Their motives are a bit more clear than in the original– they’re clearly taking revenge for something they’ve endured. There’s a running thread about de Armas’ character’s childhood that’s disgusting and awful.

At one point, they throw a mock trial, and Keanu defends himself by talking about how they threw themselves at him, referring to the girls’ showing up at his door unannounced and pressuring him into sexual compliance.

So, none of the main characters in this movie warrant any empathy at all. An SPCA van could have swerved around a corner halfway through this movie and mowed all of the characters down, then backed up and done it again until they were a patch of jelly on the road, and I wouldn’t have really cared. They’re all eminently unlikeable.

The reason this movie isn’t 100% hot garbage is just because of its use of technology: the Uber, the FaceTime, the cellphones-as-cameras, and then a “Twilight Zone”-y ending bit where the girls upload a sex tape to Facebook and Keanu has to sit there, buried in the dirt, and watch the comments roll in from all of his friends and loved ones. In an era where there’s a movement to 1) make a period piece to avoid modern tech altogether; 2) contrive extenuating circumstance to separate characters from their tech; or 3) inexplicably have all cell providers collude to provide “no service” areas when a phone is needed most, this is refreshing in that it full-on embraces modern technology and actually uses it in interesting ways to further the plot.

Now, some general notes on both movies, and a compare-and-contrast.

In Death Game, the old-man dad smokes as a signifier of maturity, while neither of the girls smoke. In Knock Knock, both girls smoke, a signifier of immaturity, while none of the adults do.

Another interesting saving grace in Knock Knock: they don’t hurt his pet. In Death Game, the girls hurt the dad’s pet, which is always among the cheapest, shittiest moves a horror flick can do to win empathy / sympathy / horror, and which almost always enrages me. Knock Knock sidesteps that, which is a point in its favor.

Keanu’s character is older than Cassel’s, but looks about twenty years younger. Chalk it up to all Cassel’s Cassavettes movies, I guess.


Today we’re going to look at another lady-driven monster movie, this one about an Iranian vampire. The movie is Ana Lily Amirpour’s…

This is a weird one. It calls itself an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western,” but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. The director was born in Britain and lives in America. It was filmed in California, using primarily American (well, Iranian-American) actors. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie… but this is an American movie. And ugh, this is a bullshit tangent that doesn’t matter, because this movie is beautiful and amazing. Amirpour channels Jarmusch, Tarantino, and Coppola (well, primarily Rumble Fish).

Everything’s filmed in high-contrast black and white. It’s slow and extremely stylish.

There are a few strange choices. There’s an Iranian pimp, the true antagonist of the movie and a real shitbag. He steals the main character’s car as payment for his father’s heroin debts. He takes all of the earnings from one of his hookers and then forces her into demeaning situations. All fairly standard “bad-guy-pimp” behavior. The odd choice is that the dude looks exactly like the dude from Die Antwoord. Face tattoos, weird crappy moustache, hi-top fade. Also– spoiler alert– he gets eaten in the first half-hour of the movie, and the rest of the movie follows the unfolding and intersecting of the remaining characters in the vacuum left behind by his death, in a very Tarantino-esque inevitable collision.

The characters, by the way, are pretty fascinating. Arash is a young man who works as a general handyman, who exudes that 50s-white-T, James Dean, Rusty James-type cool. His father (played by Marshall Manesh, who you’d recognize if you saw) is a junkie, deep in debt. Saeed is the gross-ass pimp (who steals Arash’s convertible). Atti is a hooker (played fantastically by Mozhan Marnò, who you’d also recognize). These characters are all racked by tumultuous inner turmoil, and the most racked of all is the titular character, played beautifully by Sheila Vand. At points, she seems to be projecting Renée Jeanne Falconetti from The Passion of Joan of Arc, all huge winsome eyes, suffering, and tragic circumstance.

Other times, that tragedy is tempered by fun.

And lest you forget, she’s a vampire. She murders a few people, threatens a few more, the entire time looking beautiful and exotic, eyes all kohl, black lipstick, chador acting as an impromptu (and effective) black cape.

So: outstanding cast; incredible cinematography; great style; excellent pacing. This movie’s got a lot going for it already. What brings it all home, and actually manages to make the whole thing cohere, is the soundtrack.

The movie opens with expansive twangy spaghetti instrumental Western music from Portland band Federale, which carries throughout. Periodically, Persian music makes appearances– Iranian bands Kiosk and Radio Tehran knock it out of the park as well. But the heart and soul of this movie is in the New Wave / Post-Punk stuff, mostly by British band White Lies. This soundtrack is really fucking good, especially in conjunction with the beautiful imagery.

I really liked this movie, and I’m really, really looking forward to her next one (The Bad Batch, which she calls a ‘postapocalyptic cannibal love story,’ and which stars Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, and Jim Carrey. What?). That said, I can’t give this a full perfect score– I feel like the influences are too heavy on her sleeve. I kept seeing slow sky shots and thinking of Rumble Fish, or bloody close-ups and thinking Kill Bill, or lingering interpersonal reactions and thinking Stranger Than Paradise. The decision to base Saeed so heavily on the Die Antwoord guy pulled me out of it the entire time he was onscreen– even if it’s interpreted as a choice by this character to adopt that specific look, it broke the narrative for me every time (and yes, your mileage may vary on that score).

Still: watch this movie anyway. Watch it for the cinematography, the cast. Watch it for the inimitable style. Watch it for the soundtrack.

Watch it for the cat, who is awesome, and nearly steals the show in more than a couple scenes.


The other night, I watched a double-feature of two new horror movies featuring ladies as monsters: When Animals Dream, a Danish movie about a young girl who discovers that she is a werewolf, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, an black-and-white American movie filmed in California, set in Iran (and with dialogue in Persian), about a woman who is a vampire. They were both very good. Today, I’ll talk about the former, and tomorrow, the latter. Let’s get into it.

When Animals Dream starts off with a series of beautiful clouded vignettes featuring remote Danish locations and no people, over which the opening credits are shown. They’re beautiful and strange, showcasing a tiny nameless Danish fishing village. Odd living-room tableaux. Darkened moors, a small lantern bobbing in the distance. Fields of scrubland, sparse clumps of vegetation. Tiny houses set off on dirt roads, featureless expanses beyond to the horizon.

It’s a beautiful introduction to the strange world in which this movie takes place, glowing and cinematic and slow, before we even meet any of the characters.

The main character of When Animals Dream is Marie. She’s a late-teens girl living with her father and her mother, who is nonverbal and wheelchair-bound. We see her feeding her mother, and we see her father bathing her mother and periodically giving her injections. Marie gets a job at a fish cleaning and packing warehouse, where things quickly start to get a little rough.

The basic outlay of this movie is fairly well-trodden territory: it’s the story of Carrie. A young girl faces societal pressures, which build until those pressures unleash something hidden within her. It’s a revenge movie, basically, which takes all of the pressure off of the plotting, and allows for the visuals, pacing, and acting to really take center stage.

Once Marie starts working at the fish packery, her co-workers start to haze her. They push her into a pond full of rotting and fetid fish heads and skeletons.

When she’s hauled out by the foreman, she gets a round of applause from all of her co-workers, giving the sense that this is a mandatory rite of passage for all employees of the plant; but then the hazing continues in a much more unpleasant manner, that leaves no doubt that she’s been targeted for ongoing abuse.

Meanwhile, she discovers a small rash on her chest. She sees the doctor, who tells her to let him know if it spreads or gets worse. It starts to (very quickly) sprout a thicket of hair, which she shaves off with a small pink disposable razor. Her eyes start to do this weird thing:

When I was watching this movie, I kept thinking about the Jezebel review of the Carrie remake, bemoaning the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz (who is a wonderful actress, but too beautiful to play outcast Carrie White) and referring to Sissy Spacek as an “actual feral prairie ghost.” Sonia Suhl is the Danish equivalent of that actual feral prairie ghost, all angular features, wide-eyed timidity, and grasping, vulnerable loneliness.

Eventually, Marie begins to understand that her mother is feared and reviled by the members of the village community, and that the injections she receives are designed to keep her sedated and near-comatose. After sprouting more hair, Marie is confronted by her father and her doctor, who attempt to give her an injection.

I’m loath to give more away here, because the way it unfolds is satisfying and fascinating. I’ll keep going with the screenshots, and discuss the movie in more general terms.

These days, a lot more horror movies seem to have no problem taking their time, which is a development that I absolutely love. After an inundation of movies that leap straight to the horror (I’m looking at you, Saw), it’s nice to see a return to the slow introduction. I’ve always been a firm believer in the Stephen King adage that horror doesn’t really work unless the audience actually cares about the characters. Hack’n’slash movies have their place, but they function more as gruesome spectacle, and rarely inspire actual horror. Here’s a quote from King’s Danse Macabre that has stuck with me from a young age:

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.

As a clarification: terror is the emotion leading up to a horrible occurrence– that sense of dread, anxiety, and impending doom. Horror is the mixture of empathetic fear and nauseous disgust that happens after the horrible occurrence.

This movie deals primarily in terror. You can see the impending crash of awfulness, but first-time director Jonas Alexander Arnby somehow dodges expectations, and the actual moments of shock and awfulness often come out of left field– and then they end up piling back onto the inevitable stack of dread, allowing that anxiety and dread to continue.

When hell finally breaks loose, it’s almost a relief.

Actual Danish tidal-pool ghost Sonia Suhl, who plays Marie, really shines throughout, and continues her incredible performance once she sheds her humanity and becomes a werewolf. There’s no longer even any hint of personhood there, and Marie really becomes an animal, an exemplification of revenge, and the explosive, inevitable violence of cornered ferocity.

And then, the aftermath: a mirroring of the beginning. A series of tableaux, this time of the aftermath.

This movie is beautiful and strange and striking. I recommend it.


So, after all these half-century-old flicks, I figured it was time for me to turn my attention to some more recent entries in the horror genre. There have been some great ones this year, including some truly wonderful movies– I’m thinking specifically here of It Follows and Spring, both incredible new horror movies. There have also been a number of movies that I just haven’t seen yet– so now I will.

Last night, I watched Final Girls. It’s been getting a fair amount of interest, and it stars a lot of people I really like: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Ackerman, Thomas Middleditch, and Adam Devine, and Alia Shawkat, among others. I know the majority of the people in this flick from alternative comedy stuff, so I knew full well that this was going to be a campy comedy-horror flick. I know Taissa Farmiga from American Horror Story, where she acquits herself admirably, and can clearly hold her own in the legit horror world.

This movie was well worth the seven bucks. I highly recommend it.

So, I’m the kind of weirdo who actively avoids any spoilers at all. I won’t even watch trailers, if I can help it. I just take interest when movies hover into my field of interest enough for me to take notice of them– which isn’t hard, because I follow a lot of film and media bloggers. All of this is by way of saying that I’m not exactly sure what’s common knowledge about the premise of this movie and what’s not. I didn’t really know the basic premise of this movie at all before I watched it. I just knew that it had been getting good reviews (and also that Thomas Middleditch fails to jump over a velvet rope). So if you’re the kind of weirdo who, like me, prefers his movie-viewing experiences to be relatively unspoiled, you might want to quit reading.

So, the premise of this movie is basically that a small group of high school students actually enter a 1980s campground slasher movie, and have to contend with what they find there. That’s a rough encapsulation; one of the girls is the daughter of one of the stars of the movie, who has since passed away; there are somewhat complicated relationships between some of the characters, et cetera, et cetera. The important bit, the high-concept, is that a small group of modern teenagers enter a 1980s slasher flick.

And man, the whole thing is pretty stylish, and pretty meta. They keep encountering things like the original credits, and the original title screen:

At one point, one of the original characters in the 1980s movie starts spinning a flashback, and then all these weird icicles drop from the ceiling and encircle everybody:

Before whisking them back in time to the movie’s flashback (which is in black-and-white), complete with title card displaying the date. The title card is actually part of the scenario they have to interact with, stepping over it to get around it.

I’m a sucker for little metatextual bits like that. There are all kinds of little flourishes like that– at one point, Malin Ackerman’s character says something like “She always says the best thing in the world is smoking pot and doing it on a waterbed,” which is a direct reference to the movie Pieces, a terrible early-80s slasher flick I saw (and blogged about) a little over a week ago. I’m sure there are dozens more of these direct callbacks that I missed. This movie is wry and self-aware and deeply knowledgeable of the source material that it’s not-exactly-parodying.

Because it’s packed with all these amazing comedy actors, there is no shortage of really funny moments, both visual and textual. Alia Shawkat is a master of the ol’ dry-and-wry, and her talents are on full display here. Malin Ackerman can spin on a dime, from earnestly playing the 80s horror heroine to deadpan delivery of terrible horror-movie staple dialogue, which is hilarious. Thomas Middleditch and Adam Devine were clearly given a lot of room to improvise, which leads to all sorts of bizarre exchanges and hilarious moments.

Oh, and there’s no shortage of visually interesting violence.

The thing that surprised me most about Final Girls is that it actually has some emotional impact, and it comes in some pretty unexpected forms. There’s a cheesy striptease that actually manages to be sad and meaningful and really touching. A sad striptease. Not in the gross Requiem For a Dream sad way; not even in the gross Closer way. It’s sad in a new way, a way you’d more commonly associate with Pixar movies (the sad striptease summoned the same emotions BingBong did in Inside Out, if that means anything to you). It literally, legitimately made me tear up a little bit.

As I said, well worth the seven bucks. I recommend it.


After the amazing spectacle that was Blood and Black Lace, I decided I needed to get more familiar with the director of that film, Mario Bava. He was a cinematographer for a dozen years before actually stepping up to direct, albeit uncredited (Ulysses, a retelling of The Odyssey starring Kirk Douglas, five years before Spartacus). He did a bunch of westerns, a bunch of peplum (sword-and-sandals) movies, he basically started the giallo movie trend, directed several science fiction films, slasher films, and gothic horror movies.

This one is The Whip and the Body, released a year before Blood and Black Lace. I’ve grown a little weary of giallo movies, so I decided to roll with this one– it’s a gothic horror movie starring Christopher Lee, and Lee always maintained that it was one of his best movies.

Hoo boy, it’s a doozy. This entire blog is basically an excuse to show you these beautiful, beautiful pictures.

Lee plays Kurt Menliff. The opening shots feature him riding up to a castle. It’s beautifully lit and framed. When he gets there, he’s greeted with trepidation and downright animosity by his father and his brother. He left years before, apparently, after driving the daughter of one of the housekeepers to suicide. The housekeeper, by the way, still works there– and still has the dagger her daughter killed herself with. She swears that before she dies, she’ll see Kurt impaled on it.

Kurt’s there purportedly to wish his brother congratulations on his new marriage. It turns out that Nevenka, the woman Kurt’s brother just married, used to be Kurt’s special lady. They used to have some kinda thang goin’ on– and the next morning, when Kurt finds her on the beach, that thang just keeps goin’.

The thang is, basically, he whips the crap out of her, she loves it, and then they knock boots.

He leaves her there and goes back to the castle, holding her riding crop, which he claims he found outside the castle. They ask him where she is, and he claims not to have seen her– he was just out riding around. Then he drops this hot potato:


In other news, the castle is beautiful. The costumes, the sets, the lighting, the color. This is precisely what a beautiful technicolor gothic horror castle should look like.

Anyway, Kurt gets murdered with that dagger.

Then his ghost starts showing up on a nightly basis, menacing Nevenka (and sometimes whipping the shit out of her for sexual pleasure).

These scenes are pretty bonkers, you guys. I mean, there’s one in particular where Christopher Lee is just going nuts on Nevenka with a riding crop and she’s rolling around moaning in ecstasy, and I straight up could not believe this was a major motion picture in the 1960s.

I mean, apparently it never made it through unscathed– the US-released version cut out all of the weird S&M stuff– about fifteen minutes’ worth, a full sixth of the movie– and was retitled “WHAT?!,” presumably because it now made zero sense, and left audiences confused and scratching their heads.

Strange footprints appear in the weird creepy castle. Kurt’s father is also murdered with the same dagger.

Holy shit, the sets are beautiful, especially when bathed in Bava’s peculiar and magnificent color and lighting.

Eventually, they dig up Kurt’s corpse. To make sure he’s dead.


As they dig him up, he appears to Nevenka again, telling her that because they’re about to open his coffin, she’ll never see him again, and demanding that she come with him.

Then they set his moldering-ass corpse on fire!

Man, this movie is beautiful.