Quick Takes: The Dead Zone, Rabid, The Brood

dead_zone_xlgThe Dead Zone (1983)
threestar

Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, Jackie Burroughs, Géza Kovács, Roberta Weiss
Directed by David Cronenberg

Having just finished reading the novel, this re-watch of The Dead Zone was definitely a different experience than when I first saw this many years ago. I was struck by how episodic the book is, without any overt attempts to drive home big themes or large-scale payoffs in the third act. It’s a completely different style of writing compared to anything King had published prior, more character-driven and “small” (especially considering it was King’s novel published directly after The Stand). The movie echoes this structure, except it cuts about half of the book and condenses the rest into a very potent, but still weird and not-so-fluid film. Christopher Walken is a perfect choice for King’s everyman Johnny Smith, and the rest of the cast is well chosen, too. I can’t say that Martin Sheen really represents the Greg Stillson that’s present in the novel, but they changed his character some so it’s not hard to roll with it. It is Martin Sheen after all. As a Cronenberg film, it’s missing his unique, almost avant-garde approach to horror, but his cerebral nature fits well with this specific King tale. Definitely recommended, although I think reading the book first will make the movie a richer experience, as you’ll be able to fill in the blanks caused by the shift in medium, as well as spot the subtle details throughout that recall specific moments or scenes of the book not given their full due in the film version.

Rabid POSTERRabid (1977)
AKA Rage
threehalfstar

Starring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy
Directed by David Cronenberg

Rabid, on the other hand, delivers a healthy dose of sick Cronenberg body horror. Rabid opens with a motorcycle accident near a plastic surgery center, and our heroine’s injuries are too much to sustain travel to a hospital more equipped to deal with her issues. No, she’ll have to go into emergency surgery, and since this place is on the cutting edge of plastic surgery, her burns are repaired via skin grafts of morphogenic skin (which can form itself into any type of body tissue, depending on where it’s grafted). Things go awry — oh, do they! — and while Rabid is definitely too abstract and low-budget for many viewers to get behind, I found it to be riveting entertainment. Marilyn Chambers may be known for her pornographic role in Beyond the Green Door, but her turn here as our skin-grafted lead is fantastic. She definitely could have had a fruitful horror career if the fates had aligned. Rabid also features FX work by Joe Blasco, and while there isn’t a ton of it, what’s here is incredibly effective. I’m being vague because it’s really better to just see Cronenberg and Blasco’s creations for yourself and revel in their fucked-up, “I’m never going to forget that” nature. Definitely seek this one out if you think you’ve seen everything a horror movie can deliver.

the-brood-posterThe Brood (1979)
AKA Chromosome 3

fourstar

Starring Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman
Directed by David Cronenberg

The Brood was Cronenberg’s horror follow-up to Rabid (the car movie Fast Company separates them), and it is a film of markedly better quality. Cronenberg’s signature cerebral tone takes center stage right from the opening moments, grabbing hold of your attention in a way that his previous films couldn’t quite manage. Where Shivers and Rabid feel like a good director finding himself in low-budget genre films, The Brood represents the dawn of a fully formed Cronenberg, ready to unleash the full range of his talents on an unsuspecting mainstream audience. The film is a very slow burn during its first half, though, and while it is always interesting I did find myself questioning if it should be classifies as a drama with horror elements instead of straight horror. It was right about at that point in the film when Cronenberg twisted the knife and the film never let up. It’s definitely a horror film! I’m sure some modern audiences would find the premise somewhat laughable or ridiculous, but I found it to be chilling and very psychologically engaging. I’ve slowly warmed up to Cronenberg over the last couple of years, but The Brood firmly cements my place as a big fan. I guarantee you’ve never seen a movie quite like this one!

Badlands (1973)

badlands1Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri, Alan Vint, Gary Littlejohn, John Carter

Directed by Terrence Malick

Expectations: Low, but very curious.

twohalfstar


Badlands may be the debut film of Terrence Malick, but it was much closer to a modern Malick film than I had expected. It’s not quite so experimental and detached as either The Tree of Life or The Thin Red Line, but it is pretty damn experimental and detached. It defies genre classification because where you might expect a thrilling cross-country chase, Malick instead chooses to have his characters sit around a lot, enjoying nature and reading the paper. That’s OK, all films don’t have to be similar and derivative, but it does make Badlands a bit baffling from a traditional narrative standpoint. Finally seeing it sheds some light on why many are so obsessed with Malick, though; he’s one of the most singular and unique filmmakers ever to play the game. I give him credit for knowing exactly what he wants and being able to deliver it, but I can’t say that I enjoy the end results all that much.

This is easily the most narrative-driven Malick film I’ve seen, but it’s doesn’t exactly feel narrative driven. Things happen, leading to other things happening, but where that would traditionally constitute a plot, in Badlands it doesn’t really. It’s much more organic and free-flowing, like a dreamy slice of life, playing out almost like a tortured, realistic fantasy. The basics are that a 15-year-old girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek) lives with her distant father that never really loved her (or at least never showed it much). One day she meets a 25-year-old ruffian, Kit (Martin Sheen), who sweeps her off her feet with his bad-boy charm and his cool car. They manage to sneak around without her father knowing for a while, but when he does find out, he doesn’t take too kindly to it. One thing leads to another, and soon Kit and Holly are racing down the road in search of a place to hideout and get away from it all.

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