Posts Tagged ‘secrets

04
Oct
15

Pet Sematary (1989) Love and Agony or What Scares You?

artwork by Matt Ryan Tobin

artwork by Matt Ryan Tobin

a Primal Root review

“The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.” – Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary 

Recently a friend of mine proposed this question, “What horror film really scares you?” Of course, several gents responded with the standby response, “Horror movies don’t actually scare me,” but I took a moment to ponder this. The first film to come to mind was Mary Lambert’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. It’s not the jump scares, or the grisly visages of death returning from the grave to haunt, taunt, and ghoulishly murder the living. Sure, that stuff is down right sickening and terrifying on a visceral level, but for me, the true horror is the idea of losing the ones we love. The moment that still breaks my heart and  has left the deepest scar is the presentation of the sequence where the cute as a button toddler, Gage (Miko Hughes) is run over by a speeding semi outside the family home in full view of his mortified parents and little sister. We hear the agonized screams of Gage’s Father, Louis (Dale Midkiff), as we images of Gage’s all too short life flash before our eyes. In all the horror films I have ever seen, this scares the ever loving shit out of me. This is pain, this is suffering, this is pure horror. It is not played for laughs, it does not rely on special effects, it relies on our empathy and the knowledge that we as viewers understand this grief and dread it everyday. It’s unthinkable, but we always know deep down, that the ones we love can be unceremoniously ripped out of our lives without a moment’s notice. This is primal terror. This is life. Life is horror.

Sorry to go off on a tangent there, but I used to not like Pet Sematary at all. Honestly, it just never appealed to me as a teenager. But one day I decided to give the film another shot and it was like a sucker punch to the gut. I was older now and suddenly Pet Sematary made absolute sense to me and chilled me to the core. Horror can be an exceedingly powerful genre, and at it’s very best, it crushes audience expectations and explores societal taboos. What Pet Sematary explores is the inevitability of death. The journey ends for all of us, sooner or later and we’ve created elaborate myths we call religion around death in order to make some sense out of it. That life goes on somewhere beyond our short time here on Earth that there is an eternity in Heaven or Hell, or that we are reincarnated, or turned into Star Childs, etc.  We will get the answers one day, and I sincerely doubt it is anything any of us will ever expect. I can’t wait to laugh my ass of when it all fades to black and there;s simply nothing just like there was before I was born. But, I won’t be able to. Because I am gone.

pet-semetary41

Pet Sematary plays out like a Greek tragedy. The Creed family moves into their gorgeous new home out in the country or rural Maine. it’s miles from town, but is located near a very busy road where huge semi’s cannonball down it day and night. Also on their property down a wooded path is a Pet Sematary, they are show this by a long time resident and neighbor, Jud Crandall (played by the legendary Fred Gwynne). On Louis’s first day at work as the resident doctor on the local college campus, he treats a jogger, Pascow (Brad Greenquist) who was mowed down by a car and dies on Louise’s operating table. That night, Pascow returns to Louis as a spirit and warns him to not visit that Indian burial ground that lays beyond the Pet Semetary. He warns, “The barrier was not meant to be crossed. The ground is sour.”

When Louis and Rachel’s daughter Ellie’s cat, Chuch, is run over on the highway, Jud leads Louis out beyond the Pet Sematary to bury Church on the Indian land. The next day Church returns, but is now malicious and smells of death. It is not the cool cat the family knew before getting creamed out that means stretch of road.  Louis is given precious little time to ponder what has just happened when a far greater tragedy occurs. While flying a kite on a beautiful sunny day, their youngest child, Gage, wonders onto the highway and is crushed under the tires of a speeding truck.

Stricken with sorrow and regret that he could not save his son in time and Gage is gone forever, Louis considers unearthing his dead son’s body and entering it in the “sour” ground of the Indian burial mound. Over the objections of both Jud and Pascow’s spirit, Louis bury’s little Gage in the soul of the Indian burial ground and it isn’t long before Louis and Jud must face the reckoning of their decisions.

Pet-Sematary-1989D

In the horror genre death is a given. Characters are killed off all the time to the point we actually look forward to seeing how folks are going to meet their maker. Franchises like Friday the 13th, The Omen, Saw and the like revel in the graphic depictions of the splattery deaths of people we don’t know or really care about.  It has become the punchline to a joke for the majority of slasher horror cinema and it’s played for thrills, humor and entertainment. This is perfectly fine, horror can be a damn good time and a way for us to let loose, experience something visceral and know that no one actually got hurt or died. It was all for the nasty fun ride and then we get to go home safe in knowing this shit will probably never, ever, happen to us. Rarely do horror films so well conceived staged and vetted that they ask us to confront death head on. Pet Sematary is takes a meaningful, deep dark look into the nature of death, and in the very place we fear it the most, our immediate family and ask us what we will do on that day we lose someone we cherish.

So, yes, I would say Pet Sematary is the one horror film that truly, honestly fills my heart with dread and scares me like none other. Just like it’s source material, it is a story built upon the hardest, most horrible of human experiences and languishes in them. Grief, anguish, desperation, they’re all accounted for. The supernatural elements are intriguing and there, but at the end of the day, it’s the honesty in the human element of Pet Sematary that gives the film it’s power to disturb and to horrify. It is a film that has always stuck with me. It reminds us to cherish every moment with those we love. Every smile, every laugh each and every spine cracking bear hug, because we all know that one day, we will never touch these people, hear their voice, know their warmth, these souls  so close to us, so dear to our hearts, ever again.  It’s the inevitable tragedy of life. We must learn to except loss. We must grieve and move on. Like the wise, warm and lovable character Jud Crandall says, “May be she’ll learn something about what death really is, which is where the pain stops and the good memories begin. Not the end of life but the end of pain.”

I award Pet Sematary FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy!

-Root

25
Jun
13

Sleepaway Camp (1983): The Importance of Boating Safety

Sleepaway-Camp-Poster

a Primal Root written review

There are certain movie watching experiences I”ll never forget; the first time I laid eyes on Jessica Rabbit at the Grand 10 Theater in Winter Haven Florida,  witnessing Tim Burton’s darkly imaginative take on the after life in ‘Beetlejuice’,  and witnessing the adorable mogwai after their pupal-stage lay siege to Mrs. Peltzer’s kitchen before being blown to bits in her microwave. Yes, there are some moments that stay with you forever.

‘Sleepaway Camp’ is one of those films. Loaded like a revolver during a game of Russian roulette, Sleepaway Camp delivers some pretty disturbing jolts as the trigger clicks through some nasty slasher movie shocks and then, at the very end, the movie’s hammer makes contact with the story’s primer and sends a bullet of shock so mind blowing it left a deep seated scar I carry with me to this very day. I can remember renting ‘Sleepaway Camp’ from a local Mom & Pop video store in Fort Pierce Florida back in the late mid to late 90’s and expecting a tongue in cheek, not so serious slasher film.  And it just about has you fooled with it’s opening sequence involving a young father, his two young children(a little boy and girl the same age) and a ludicrous motor boating accident leaving two of the three dead in the water.  I;m still not exactly sure if this sequence is being played for laughs on purpose or not, but the dead pan reactions to the horror that’s unfolding coupled with one teenage girl who witnessed the accident’s hysterical cries for help makes it hard to interpret any other way.

Or maybe I was, and still am,  a cynical kind of kid.

Then again, I had grown accustom to watching these kid of slasher movies with pretty sizable groups of my childhood and teenage buddies, which kind of imbued us with the power to laugh and make fun of the horrors shown to us in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of impunity. Nine times out of ten, the horror was goofy, not very scary or shocking,  and wasn’t tapped into the true stuff of nightmares.   Hell, a lot of the time the movies seemed to make fun of themselves.  However you slice it, I was not prepared for what ‘Sleepaway Camp’ had in store for me.

sleepaway camp John-Dunn

Kid after my own heart.

Like the original Evil Dead, I watched Sleepaway Camp by myself, in a pitch black living room at about two in the morning so the movie’s horror had no filter. No peanut gallery to help soften the blow. It was just me, who started out chuckling at a poorly staged, but somewhat surreal opening inciting incident which introduced us to sweet, naive and incredibly quiet Angela  and her cousin, the cool kid with serious anger management issues and a potty mouth to match, Ricky.  Angela is the one child who survived the tragic boating accident who killed both her father and sibling. These two tweenagers are being packed up and shipped off to Camp Arawak by the slightly comical, slightly unnerving Aunt Martha. Again, this scene can be taken as bizarrely comical or somewhat creepy. There is something off here, something wrong with this family dynamic.

Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha, can you say "Red Flag"?

Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha, can you say “Red Flag”?

Ricky, who is no stranger to Camp Arawak, has taken it upon himself to be Angela’s caretaker and protector, as this is her very first year and she clearly has some deep seated issues we as an audience are not exactly privy to.  As the kids arrive at camp we are immediately introduced to the cooking staff who gather on the lawn an watch as all the children stream off the buses  and run towards some undisclosed location.  Do kids ever run off the bus when they get to camp as it is illustrated here and in countless other summer camp movies? Where the Hell are they going? Anyhoo, of course, the cooking staff is headed by a slimy,  beefy, blonde and bearded pedophile named Artie, who ogles the little girls running by and affectionately explains to his fellow staff members that where he comes from they call these little objects of his carnal lust “baldies”. His cohorts just laugh it off as good matured child rape humor, but something about the way he chews on that stick and leers at the little girls in their tiny jogging shorts tells us this man’s intentions might not be to tickle his staff, but to tickle his pickle in a very tiny pickle jar.  *shudders*

As you might guess, he makes his first move on tiny, silent, Angela who he is asked to give ice cream to. He takes her in a back room and asks her “see anything you like?” as he saunters towards her, unbuckling his belt and drooling like a dog staring at a bag of “Beggin’ Strips”.  Angela simply stares at Pedo Man as Ricky takes this moment to rush in, grab her hand and get her out of corn hole alley! Snidley Rapist screams at them that he will kill them…and then begins making the tallest pot of boiled corn on the cob ever conceived which, thanks to an unseen assailant, he ends up soaking in at it’s peak boiling point as retribution for almost raping a pre-teen child. It;s a fitting, yet undeniably painful, fate for such a slimy child fucker. The last we see of him he is being rolled off on a gurney and covered head to toe in gauze. Thankfully, there is a police detective nearby to explain that every nerve in his body must be on fire and that he is probably experiencing the worst pain that could ever be imagined.  Why, thank you, detective!

Hard Boiled Pedophile. Well, that's one method of reform.

Hard Boiled Pedophile. Well, that’s one method of reform.

There are enough scumbags and assholes employed and/or attending Camp Arawak to give any concerned parent pause. Actually, you know, there’s an equal distribution between mentally deranged employees, cocksucking teenage boys, cont faced teenage girls, and sweet folks genuinely looking for a good time and not trying to harm anyone.  Sleepaway Camp is smartly designed in the “whodunnit” format and there is a pretty good list of suspects to choose from, although it gets whittled down pretty damn quickly as asshole after asshole ends up meeting his or her maker in grisly and imaginative fashions.  The one thing they all have in common? They were all dicks to Angela. Which just about everyone seems to be, so there’s quite a big pool of victims to chop into meaty, bloody, bits for the audience’s pleasure.

Karen Fields as Judy plays one of all time great cunt faces of cinema! At least she's got a way with words.

Karen Fields as Judy plays one of all time great cunt faces of cinema! At least she’s got a way with words.

One of the most memorable, and one of my favorite characters in the movie, is Camp Arawak’s resident uber bitch, Judy. Judy is played by a well developed actress, Karen Fields, who was a good bit older than the rest of her pre-teen cohorts. It pays off though! Because this lady turns in one of the hands down BEST over the top performances in the annals of horror. The way she mugs through infinitely quotable lines such as  ” She’s a real carpenter’s dream! Flat as board and needs a screw!” and makes it her mission to turn Angela’s summer camp experience into a living Hell. In fact, Judy even gets a jerkola camp counselor by the name of Meg to assist her in that unholy mission, and in one depressing scene, even pick Angela up and throw her in the lake to drown, I guess, seeing as Angela can’t swim.

By the grace of pure rage these two villains get what’s coming to them. Meg gets sliced open in the shower and Judy receives a perverse  death that is left almost completly to the audience’s imagination as our killer knocks the bitch out with a well placed right cross, lays her out, spreads her legs and then…in shadow, lowers a piping hot curling iron down towards her…well…down towards her area. The curling iron is opened up, lowerd and the unmistakable sound of sizzling flesh is heard as Judy’s muffled screams of agony fill the air and she raises the “hand of desperation” in the air before succumbing to the deadly hot curling iron, which we can only assume, was shoved up her love cavern. Personally, I imagine the super hot and girthy portion went up the HOOHA and the clippy part of the machine got inserted into the pooper zone.

A police officer is shocked and horrified after witnessing the aftermath of the Judy Curling Iron Massacre. It was so disturbing  his mustache transformed into sculpting putty.

A police officer is shocked and horrified after witnessing the aftermath of the Judy Curling Iron Massacre. It was so disturbing his mustache was transformed into sculpting putty.

By films end, just about every major player who “had it coming” has received his or her just deserts which sets up a final rendezvous with Angela and her little love interest Paul down by the lake.  As the police and camp counselors begin discovering bodies of various victims in age ranging from 6 to 87  strewn all over camp with arrows through their throats, churned into coleslaw in their sleeping bags, or impaled through the vajayjay with curling irons, Angela suggests she and Paul get nekkid lake side…which sets up one of the most mind shatteringly brilliant twist endings in the history of horror cinema. Certainly in the slasher sub-genre. Hell, M. Night, Shyamalan has nothing on the end of Sleepaway Camp.

****SPOILERS, MOTHER FUCKER, SPOILERS!****

As two counselors approach Angela on that darkened lake shore, we can barely make out the shape of Angela sitting on the sand, Indian style, with Paul’s head in her lap. The counselors call out to her, Angela rises, Paul’s decapitated head rolls to the ground and there Angela stands. Naked. Growling and inhuman growl, face frozen in a terrible wide eyed, open mouthed face of total insanity and…what’s that dangling between her legs? That a set of cock and balls.  Turns out it was the little girl who died in the boating accident, and her brother survived to be taken in by his Aunt Martha. But aunt Martha, being the unhinged woman that she is, already had her son Ricky and decided she would rather have a girl…and so she dressed this boy up as a girl, treated her like one, and for all intent and purposes transformed her into Angela. Angela was killing all these people not only to protect her/his secret, but out of sexual confusion/frustration.

****END OF SPOILERS! YOU ARE SAFE!****

There I sat in the darkened, empty living room as the end credits began to roll over Sleepaway Camp. I couldn’t move, I was so shocked and disturbed by the finales revelations. I was used to the sting in the tail ending by this point thanks to ‘Carrie’, ‘Friday the 13th’, etc. but ‘Sleepaway Camp’ packs much more than a simple jump scare. The final five minutes of Sleepaway Camp and the chill it sent down my spine that night, the chill that revisits me every time I watch it, are what transform this film from passably good slasher movie to a bonafide cult classic. This flick is packing the goods.

What the fuck is happening here?

Made you look!

It’s honestly one of the most shocking and clever twists I’ve ever witnessed. And just when they reveal this the movie ends while you try to catch your breath and wrap your mind around the reveal. Christ, just telling you about the ending is giving me goose flesh.  Sleepaway Camp follows the summer camp slasher flick formula pretty damn closely, but what sets it apart is how natural these kids and their interactions with one another are. It’s casual, honest, and it gives the proceedings a bit more credibility than other slashers who follow the summer camp formula. Hell, even the majority of the campers are PLAYED by kids. and aren’t played half badly either.

The story isn’t exactly ground breaking, but due to the film’s twist, going back and rewatching ‘Sleepaway Camp’ viewers see things totally differently and can detect every single moment that is setting off the killer and prompting the murders. Everything takes on a new meaning as soon as you know who the killer is and what their motivation was. Sleepaway Camp stands as one of the very best of the Summer Camp slasher films of the 1980’s. If I were being totally honest, I might just confess I enjoy ‘Sleepaway Camp’ more than I do either ‘Friday the 13th’ or ‘The Burning’. It’s a well done piece of summer camp slasher Trash Cinema and one I HIGHLY recommend everyone see at least one. And after you’ve finished watching it, you may want to go back and just watch it one more time, for your own sanity’s sake.

Perverse, darkly comical and quite unsettling, The Primal Root can’t help but give Sleepaway Camp 5 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

Family circus was REALLY funny this morning.

Family circus was REALLY funny this morning.

08
Apr
12

Castle Freak: Inherit Madness

a Primal Root review

Inheriting a castle in Italy has to be pretty dang cool. Finding out you’re descended from royalty? That’s the icing on top of the hoity-toity cake to which so many aspire. Yeah, it all seems great on paper until you take your horrendously dysfunctional family there to assess the situation and sell that hunk of junk off to the highest bidder.  It’s drafty, dull, dusty and, making matters worse,  your wife hates your guts no matter where you take her and the one surviving kid is still blind and your single digit son is still pavement pizza due to your dumb, alcoholic ass driving the family mini…vehicle over a small hill and flipping the vehicle at 25 MPH.  Or 85 MPH in sped up film time…

And then, of course, there’s a horrifying, psychotic, mutilated freak chained up in the castle’s basement. Buyer beware.

TOUCHDOWN!

Castle freak is, at it’s very core, the story of a family dealing with a heart crushingly tragic incident where the family patriarch and reformed alcoholic, John Riley (played pitch perfectly by Gordon collaborator Jeffery Combs) managed to get completely shit-faced before picking up his teenage daughter and 5 year old son during a torrential down pour and then swerving off road resulting in the death of the son and blinding daughter,  Rebecca (played by a very game and sympathetic Jessica Dollarhide).  Of course, there are some resentment issues between John and his gorgeous wife, Susan (always reliable Barbara Crampton) who apparently lives to torture and be spiteful towards John every second of every single day therefore turning his life into a Hell on Earth of guilt, regret, and shame.

As you can tell, the story is already pretty dreadful before there’s even a freak for the family to contend with.

The Reilly’s  move into their new castle after the old woman who was living there died in her bed from a heart attack after beating the chained up freak in the basement within and inch of it’s life which looked to have been a long standing supper time tradition and Casa de le Freak.  This poor creature has obviously never known affection, love or humanity living a life of agony chained up and naked down in the dank bowels of The Reilly castle. Much like John Reilly himself, who is living a life of pain due to his past mistakes and the fact his wife reminds him about it on a near minute by minute basis that he’s responsible for the death of their son.

Castle Freak is a far cry from the what we’ve come to expect from a Gordon, Combs, Crampton, collaboration. Typically fun,m over the top and colorful, Castle Freak is drastically different. Thee pacing takes it’s time, and the whole story is just gruelingly sad. This is not Re-Animator or From Beyond by a long shot. In fact, it’s a very dark and honest look at redemption, forgiveness and family as John must defend his family from what could be seen as his horrific doppelganger, his id or symbolizing the young Reilly boy whose memory they still cling to and is tearing the whole family apart.  There are no laughs to be found here and  no easy outs in Castle Freak.  This is straight ahead horror dealing with some pretty real issues. Only these real issues are set against the backdrop of an Italian castle with a freak looking to molest your cute little blind teenage daughter and frame you for the murder of a hooker and your housekeeper. For a freak, this guy is surprisingly crafty.

Castle Freak Foreplay: Not nearly as fun as you'd imagine.

One night, after Susan gives John a particularly vindictive verbal thrashing, John heads to a local watering hole where he quickly jumps off the wagon. And who can really blame the guy? He takes shot, after shot of some kind of counterfeit rot gut and ends up taking a whore back to his castle’s wine seller where he eagerly chows down on her bowl of “Down South” spaghetti.Again, you can totally understand his need to feel the touch and connection to another person.  Trouble is, he happens to be performing in front of a captive audience as the Castle Freak studies John’s moves like he’s preparing for the S.A.T.’s.  And you know castle freaks, they are more than happy to go after the sloppy seconds…

As our hooker goes to leave the castle, it’s resident freak abducts her, chains her up and has his way with her including a graphic nipple eating and a sickening reveal of the Freak’s genital region that’s sure to make your stomach churn. In fact, the film seems to focus quite liberally on the Freak’s disturbing genitals which, I suppose, does make some sense since that is kind of the Freak’s motivating factor. Looking for affection, someone to be close and have sex with.  Or, director Stuart Gordon could have simply just wanted to showcase a little something for the ladies. Soak it in, girls! Still, even though the Freak, in my estimation, is only looking for compassion, tenderness and a connection to another living creature, he can;t for the life of him understand how to give these things. Remember, this is a person whose entire life since birth has been spend locked away, abused and mutilated only ever understanding violence and pain.  How Freak goes about violently raping the hooker, yet mimicking what he witnessed John do to her, furthers this point. That violence begets violence.

Feel the Excitement!

But, I digress, at the threat of spoiling the whole sleazy, blood encrusted, drippy scrotum flopping affair, let’s just say Castle Freak is a one sad, violent, and effective story of redemption. The story of one man’s quest to find meaning and forgiveness in a world that refuses to see past his mistakes and misdeeds and see the man who is in need of compassion and just wants to feel human again. Now, am I talking about John or the Castle Freak of our title or both?

Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak pulls off an impressive feat in capturing some very deep, dark, human situations and maintaining a fairly well paced and interesting story. As a viewer you grow to like most of the characters, and even the unlikable few are at the very least, you can understand where they’re coming from.  And for a film made in a creepy castle with a miniscule budget, Castle Freak works thanks to some spot on performances, creative shot compositions, great make-up/gore effects and also gains a lot of atmosphere from the genuine Italian castle where the action is set. Which just happens to be owned by the president of Full Moon Pictures.

Castle Freak isn’t exactly a fun, crowd pleasing movie experience but is still a fine piece of trash cinema. One that will certainly speak to anyone who has ever made a grievous mistake and feels they are destined to pay for it the rest of their lives.  Even if we can;t directly relate viewers will empathize and come to understand that there really are a number of fates that can feel worse than death. Only through love, forgiveness and understanding can we ever truly regain what makes us human.

And a good bit of reconstructive surgery and upper plate dental work in the case of The Castle Freak…

Love may be blind but she can still smell you, Freak.

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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