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!

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Starring Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Josephine Llewelyn, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey, John Gabriel, Warren Mitchell, Anne Blake

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Loving these Hammer movies, love the werewolf character.


Hammer continues to impress with this stunning rendition of an old, tired tale. Once again they choose to go in a completely opposite direction from the classic Universal film, delivering a film that is not only better, but incredibly so. How did they manage such a feat? By following their tried and true method of focusing on the characters. The Curse of the Werewolf is not quite epic in its scope, but it does seek to present a nuanced portrayal of a life in its entirety. This is the werewolf by way of Charles Dickens, and I loved it.

The first half hour or so is dedicated solely to setting up the origin of the werewolf in question. And not just his childhood, but the series of events leading to his conception! This is the first of many wonderful strokes of genius and is easily my favorite section of the film. A beggar seeks food and drink, but is turned away by the poor townspeople as all their food reserves have been given to the Marquis for his wedding day. One of the boisterous men jokingly suggests that the beggar should go to the party and seek his handouts there. The beggar, oblivious to the joke, decides it’s a better plan than any he’s had all day and sets out down the road. I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll stop here, but suffice it to say this is one of the best half hours I’ve ever seen in classic horror cinema. Perhaps it’s just my intense love for revenge stories and the hard extremes presented here. I can’t say for sure, but I thought it was brilliant.

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The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

Starring Lance Henriksen, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Stephen Lee, Frances Bay, Jeffrey Combs, Oliver Reed

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Expectations: Low. For whatever reason, my enjoyment of the previous Stuart Gordon films didn’t pump me up for this at all. I just had this overwhelming sense that it would be stupid for some reason.


 

Wow! It’s a state of shock and awe over here at the Silver household, as I am floored at the level of sheer awesome on display in The Pit and the Pendulum. I went into this film thinking absolutely nothing about it. I’ve enjoyed every Stuart Gordon film I’ve seen so far, but I’d never heard anyone talk about this one, so I suppose subconsciously I assumed it was shit. That couldn’t be further from the truth though as The Pit and the Pendulum is one of the most engrossing, tense movies to ever come out of Full Moon Entertainment.

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