Tag Archives: Serial Killers

Book Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams

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Rating: B-/ The writing in Ruthless is good, not great, but the interesting backstories of the two main characters and breakneck pacing make it more than worthy of a reader’s time. The plot revolves around Ruth Carver, a seventeen-year-old rancher’s daughter who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Ruth is so hot-tempered that some of the girls who work for her father on the family farm call her ‘Ruthless,’ behind her back, of course. The conflict wastes no time whatsoever getting started, with Ruth waking up with a head wound in the back of a man’s pick-up truck. Continue reading Book Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams

Movie Review: Flowers (2015)

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     Rating: D-/ Flowers is a very strange film, and not in a good, Eraserhead way as much as a ‘why-the-fuck-am-I-watching-this’ way. Although it is almost entirely devoid of redeeming qualities, I enjoyed watching it, the reason being that I got three of my best friends over to watch it and we kept up a running commentary of it’s pointlessly self-indulgent ridiculousness. I’m thankful for my friends and their crazy senses of humor for making this even watchable. Continue reading Movie Review: Flowers (2015)

Movie Review: Hush (2016)

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Rating: B-/ Hush is a fairly typical home invasion/slasher flick with a intriguing twist- the victim of the unfolding mayhem is more or less completely deaf, making her easy pickings for an unhinged thrill seeker with a neck tat and a bad attitude. Or so he thinks. Maddie (actress/ co-writer Kate Siegel) is a kind and independent hearing-impaired young woman who’s retreated to a cabin in the woods to finish her latest novel.All the wants is some peace and quiet while she tries to overcome her crippling bout of writer’s block, but the otherwise unnamed ‘man’ (John Gallagher Jr.) has other ideas, as he stalks Maddie with a crossbow, intent on not only murdering her but also making her life a living hell before doing so. Continue reading Movie Review: Hush (2016)

Movie Review: Apartment Zero (1988)

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Rating: B/  Colin Firth is an infinitely watchable lead. I have yet to see him give a performance I didn’t care for. Apartment Zero is one of his earlier roles, in which he plays a kind of Norman Bates incarnate, a uptight, somewhat simpering young man named Adrian DeLuc who is utterly disinterested in other people but endlessly fascinated by the old black-and-white films. Continue reading Movie Review: Apartment Zero (1988)

Monster (2003)

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Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) always knew she’d be famous for something. Who knew that her claim to fame would be as America’s first female serial killer? Life pisses all over Aileen, she’s a sexual abuse victim from a crappy home and a crappy family who turns tricks as a cheap roadside whore for a living. About as white trash as it is possible to get, Wuornos is played by Theron with prosthetic teeth and excess flab in a Academy Award-winning performance born of pure grit.

Monster is a rather eerie and disturbing movie that forces you to sympathize to some extent with a beastly human being with little to no compassion for her victims. Monsters are made, not born. I really believe that 99.9% percent of the time, that’s the case. A woman of limited resources, low intelligence, and poor self-control, Aileen’s first murder is self-defense; shooting a sexually abusive john who tries to rape her. When she gets a taste of that power, though, she embraces the life of a killer.

Aileen has a girlfriend named Selby (Christina Ricci,) a pixyish young lesbian with a crooked smile and an easy way about her. Maybe Aileen is gay. Or maybe she’s just sick of men treating her like shit. Aileen’s only friend is Thomas (Bruce Dern,) a homeless war vet who offers her half a sandwich and doesn’t ask anything in return. This is Aileen’s life. It’s not pretty, but that doesn’t mean it’s a side of America that doesn’t exist. Selby wants to be treated like a princess, and Aileen offers that in the form of murdered johns’ money. Selby doesn’t know, or pretends not to know, about Aileen’s murderous nighttime habits. Aileen wants to quit the life, but every opportunity seems to lead to a dead end for this dim, volatile nut bag of a woman.

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The first thirty minutes or so are oddly touching, a mix of hopeful and even unexpectedly sweet emotions that make the film’s plunge into the abyss of murder and misery all the more jarring. We get to see the halting baby steps in a love affair, one that is skewed but still real and heartwrenching.Theron looks like shit but this lends her some credibility as an ‘ordinary,’ ‘blue-collar’ person. She looks like one of those dodgy types lurking outside of Wal-Mart with a cigarette and a tattoo, and she sells it, too. Christina Ricci also impresses with a deft mix of vulnerability and manipulation. In the end, we don’t know which one is a more fucked-up or unlikable person; and yet we can’t dismiss them entirely. We go on a trip into utter desolation and horror with them, and we cannot hate them as much as we want to; and probably should, their descent into hell seems all too plausible.

As Aileen wreaks destruction on those around her, I admired the film’s refusal to justify or condemn, Aileen’s such a sad little creature that her descent into psychopathy doesn’t shock us as much as it probably should. This is the kind of woman we ignore. This is the kind of woman we avert her eyes from. This is the kind of woman we don’t notice until she turns up on headlines all over the country and we shake our heads in disgust and say, there are some crazy people in this world. We can’t understand Aileen unless we’ve been in her situation, but at the same time, we can’t justify her actions, especially her murder of the particularly unfortunate final victim (Scott Wilson.) This is the kind of movie you view as an outsider, and then you thank God you’re just that.

This movie doesn’t paint a pretty picture of men, women, or society in general, it attempts less to draw a social or moral conclusion and more just to paint a character portrait of some very screwed up people; a woman ugly inside and out, and her manipulative enabler/lover. When Aileen tries to get a job, we see a woman of low morality and intelligence getting by the best way she can. You can’t spin crap into gold, but at the same time, you see a little of the girl who couldn’t do anything right in this broken woman. She wanted to be a star. She got her name out to the press in the end, but not in the way she expected. As Aileen herself says, Life’s funny. Basically, if you like dark psychological character studies starring characters with severe mental illnesses/ personality disorders, this is the movie for you. If you don’t like the idea of a disturbing movie about a sexually abused hooker waxing her johns, you’ve been warned. There’s plenty of crazy to go around here though, for fans of intense character-driven storytelling and abnormal psychology.

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Phenomena (1985)

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There is one great moment in Phenomena, Dario Argento’s frustratingly Schizophrenic fright flick. In this sequence, which stands head and shoulders above the rest in an otherwise incomprehensible movie, a pet chimpanzee named Inga rushes to warn her human daddy John (Donald Pleasence) that a killer has broke into his house. Alas, John is paraplegic, and as he slides down the stairs on his device built for wheelchairs to let the poor simian in, the killer, cloaked in shadow, pushes the button on the control panel to trap  him on the staircase.

It’s a tense moment, punctuated by the screams of the frightened ape. But the rest of the movie is a shoddy mess, with jarring metal music and terrible acting. This is my first Dario Argento horror film. Maybe I should have started with something else? There are times that Phenomena is so bizarrely put together, like a pastiche of hellish themes and images, that is almost becomes so bad it’s good. Almost. Argento had an amazing idea, but it’s ultimately all for naught. Could this be a classic horror movie actually in need for a remake? Purists would shudder to think of this film being refurbished, but I think it is actually a distinct possibility.

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Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly, in a very poor performance) is a teenaged schoolgirl neglected by her wealthy actor father. She is sent to boarding school at the beginning, and while she might seem like your everyday debutante with too much money on her hands and not enough to do with it, she is anything but ordinary. Firstly, she is much more down-to-earth than the other girls in the academy, but that is not what sets her apart. Jennifer can communicate telepathically with insects, and this might come in handy with a serial killer on the loose. With girls dropping like flies (no pun intended), Jennifer befriends John (Pleasence,) an entomologist studying the part bugs play in the decomposition of corpses. Not creepy at all, right? He also has a pet monkey, who’s kind of important, as she turns out to be much more deserving of the title ‘hero’ than Connelly is.

Phenomena has an abundance of imaginative images and ideas, but ultimately it comes off as an unintentional comedy. Part of this is the acting; while Pleasence is competent at his craft as always Connelly can barely deliver her lines in a convincing manner and the rest of the cast is  just terrible. Heavy metal songs by artists such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead cut into the action at the most unsuitable times, and the film has a definite MTV vibe to it. You practically expect Beavis and Butthead to be commentating in the background. Yeah, Jennifer Connelly is… hot. Motorhead is… cool. Uh-huh-huh. In fact, America’s two favorite idiots would be easier to take seriously than this movie. Forget how powerful Connelly was in Requiem for a Dream. Watching her here is positively painful. It’s like seeing the ass-to-ass scene from Requiem a billion times back-to back. You just want to cry for her. And not because of her aptitude for the craft, either.

The last twenty minutes are almost worth watching just for the crazy turns the plot takes, but they’re not enough to sit through a hole-filled, badly acted, and yes, boring story. Why is this school open when girls are constantly dropping dead? Why does John send Jennifer to find the killer all by herself? Why does the killer kill? No seriously, did someone just happen to overlook the villain’s motivation? Why can Jennifer talk to insects but not larvae? Why does the little boy look like that? The reason for all of these, of course, is because. Because that’s the loony-ass direction the plot takes. Terrible actors, dated music video-style sequences, characters we don’t give a damn about; Phenomena is a muddled mess. It’s high point is that it should provide some unintentional comedy for undiscerning viewers. No wonder the ape was the only one I liked.

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Halloween (1978)

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It may seem unconventional to review a slasher movie called Halloween in the midst of the Yuletide season, but I’ve never been much good at these things, so please, bear with me.

On Halloween night fifteen years ago, a six-year-old boy and very sick cookie named Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a steak knife. Cut to present day, it’s Halloween once more, and Myers is on the prowl again, returning to his native town of Haddonfield, Illinois in search of new blood. The only thing that stands between brainy teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and unspeakable evil is the dedicated shrink Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence.) Loomis thinks Myers is sick, incurably sick and he’s determined to stop him from killing again if it’s the last thing he does.

Of course, a killer in a film has to have victims, and these are helpfully provided by Laurie’s ditzy, slutty friends (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles,) who go down in a classic scream queen fashion- usually partially or entirely undressed. What Myers didn’t count on was Laurie being a startlingly formidable opponent and knitting needle-assassin, doing her best to keep herself and the kids she’s babysitting (Kyle Richards and Bryan Andrews) alive while Loomis rushes to get there in time.

  Halloween has an absurdly simple premise and it’s done on a modest budget, but it’s one of the most successful horror movies of all time. Why? Well, John Carpenter’s sleeper has a few killer tricks up it’s sleeve, including spooky cinematography, a chilling score, and an extraordinary final girl in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. It lacks the graphic gore and  showy bodily dismemberment of it’s peers, doing well by keeping most of the carnage to your imagination.

Rather than being a fallible human  opponent or tragic victim of childhood mistreatment (as he is portrayed in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the same name,) Michael Myers is a unstoppable force of nature- an entity of almost supernatural evil who is determined to kill… and kill again, no matter how many bullets and sharp implements pierce his malevolent hide.

Poor, long-suffering Loomis has his work cut out for him- and his toil continues for an extensive line of sequels. Myers’ unbeatable and ambiguous nature makes him both a fresh and terrifying villain and a bit of an annoying plot device; a villain who can’t be killed puts Loomis and Strode in a kind of a frustrating position, and the audience in a bit of a bind themselves- what the hell is he? That odd bit of uncanny might be invigorating for some horror fans, but for me it kind of boggled my mind in a bad way, and I tended to annoyance at his invincibility and often wanted to scream “Die, you fuck, Die!” at my big-screen TV.

However, Halloween is a shining reminder that you can make a superior movie with an inferior budget. The actors shine (with the frustrating exception of Nancy Kyes as the more aggravating of Laurie’s two friends, who’s mannered inflection and practiced flaky attitude in the stuff of nightmares.)

    Halloween has it’s truly creepy moments and the film managed to introduce three iconic characters- Myers, Strode, and Loomis, who is dedicated to cleaning up a shitstain of a situation- somebody has to- but is not without his moments of humor, like when he stands outside the Myers house and scares the crap out of some adolescent boys; just for funsies (!)

   Halloween isn’t the best or scariest horror movie of all time, but it’s a vital addition to a genre that doesn’t always contain the most high quality or intelligent movies. For all it’s slashings and demented antics from a masked, seemingly motiveless killer, it is a smart film; it knows what scares you, and incorporates those fears into an utterly ordinary suburban environment, where nice middle class citizens work and play.

The idea, of course, is that if it happened to them, it could happen to you; a chilling concept partially or totally absent from horror films with more fantastical elements. If you have a soft spot for horror but don’t like loads of blood and Hostel style torture over atmosphere and restrained terror, look no further than John Carpenter’s spooky classic, the sleeper that defined a genre. No horror fan’s collection is complete without the movie that started it all.

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