Thursday, October 11, 2012

Silver Bullet (1985)

I was flipping through the television channels on Direct TV this morning when I was delighted to see that AMC was showing this entry in the Stephen King film series. Though it’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down in front of it – try about eleven years or so – I was tickled pink to see that it was being broadcast, albeit in a slightly truncated form. I didn’t care, though because my favorite time of year has just kicked off. I just adore October – all the cool channels on cable start busting out classic slasher films and it’s fantastic to see which channels show which films. Everything from the endless Friday the 13th and Halloween movies to the more random cult favorites peppered out amongst the other networks (Sleepaway Camp 2 on Logo tonight, anyone?)

I was first introduced to this film in late 1985 while I was in the seventh grade, but first in the form of Stephen King’s novella, Cycle of the Werewolf. During those years, my family did not even remotely entertain the idea of going to the movie theater for any reason whatsoever, and from the first moment I’d seen the television spot, I had this obsession with wanting to watch it. Primarily because I wanted to be on the same level as the cool kids whose parents had taken them to the local cinema or drive in to give it a gander, but at the same time there was something about the storyline that intrigued me. My grade-school best friend had been subjected to hearing the ranting and the raving about not being able to go to the theater to watch it like everyone else so he went as far as to keep it from me that he’d gone to the theater with his father to watch it the weekend it was released which, of course, devastated me.  But, he went out of his way,  as only a childhood best friend knows how, to hunt down the book and presented it to me the week the film was released so I could keep up with the cool kids and be able to join in on the ‘playground talk’. I mean, I believe every kid who was a horror nut during the 80’s was at one point a Stephen King fanatic. King at that time was the epitome of everything horror, everything definitive when it came to the phantasmagorical.  There wasn’t anyone like him in the world at the time and everything he released in the 80’s still has yet to be matched. Though I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that not only was Cycle of the Werewolf a very short book, it was illustrated as well, something I wasn’t expecting. I took me one night to read it and I can tell you it wasn’t enough. I would stay up late at night and see the TV spots on the local affiliates and silently act out this little fit of anger within me as I had to surrender to the idea that being able to sit in front of this film was completely out of my reach.

I got a nice surprise two years later during one winter as the eighth grade was about to let out for the Christmas Break of 1987, though, as Mrs. Glasgow, the eighth grade American history teacher wasn’t up to putting up with us on the last day of classes. When we got to class on that day’s period, I was pink with barely controlled glee when I saw the school’s TV and VCR sitting at the front of the room with the rental box for Silver Bullet was lying on the tape deck. Boy, did I love the advent of VHS! This was the moment I’d been waiting for. So I pushed through everyone to make my way to the front of the class that was already seated on the floor in front of the television. As excited as I was, and as I sat down, I’d become oblivious to the fact that period only lasted for fifty-five minutes…which meant that I was only able to get just over half-way done with the film before the bell rang to let us out. I was heartbroken. I actually didn’t get to sit in front of this film again until after I graduated from high school and secured my first video rental membership at the local H-E-B Video Central. The first two movies I ever rented on my own at the age of eighteen were Friday the 13th and Silver Bullet. I rented them both that same day; on a weekend my folks were out of town and knowing that I would have the house to myself. I was ready to finally sit in front of this in its entirety.

The film opens up with a narration by Jane Coslaw, the eldest of a family living in Tarker’s Mills, Maine. She is the eldest of two children, the other being her younger brother, Marty (played by 80’s cutie Corey Haim) who happens to be a paraplegic. Their relationship has its ups and down and is very strained but soon begins to change after a bizarre series of murders rock their sleepy town. After several murders, including a railroad worker, and pregnant woman (who’d planned to commit suicide), the father of Marty’s girlfriend and Marty’s best friend, the town decides to take matters into their own hands before more murders occur? But who’s the one responsible for killing off the townspeople? Being led by the town’s gun shop owner, the townsfolk form a local vigilante justice group in order to find the killer. As the local sheriff (the always hot daddy that is Terry O’Quinn) and his only deputy attempt to stop the mob from carrying on its mission, the father of Marty’s best friend who was mutilated by the killer changes their minds and they set off. But not before Reverend Lowe – who has been presiding over the funerals of the slain victims – tries to stop them and prevent any other bloodshed. As the group enters the forest to search for the assailant, they are brutally attacked including Owen, the owner of a local bar who carries around a baseball bat engraved with the words “The Peacemaker”. Those who survive keep the incident to themselves and deny seeing anything out of the ordinary. But then the film gets going when we see the funeral taking place for the victims and as the reverend gives the service, everyone in attendance including the dead victims, begin transforming into werewolves right before him. He wakes up in a sweat-filled terror and asks God to “let it end”. Does he know more than he lets on?

The local authorities put a strict curfew in place in order to protect the town and when the local carnival’s fireworks show is cancelled due to the unsolved murders, the family decides to have their own celebration in their backyard and here is where we get to meet the kids’ charismatic, alcoholic and family outcast uncle Red (brilliantly played by Gary Busey). Having a deep love for his nephew, he builds Marty a brand new motorized wheelchair dubbing it the “Silver Bullet”. Knowing how much the fireworks show had meant to Marty, as well, Red brings him a bag of fireworks to have his own private show and has him keep it under wraps from everyone else. So when Marty goes out to have his own fun on a small bridge quite away from his home, the fireworks his Uncle gave him light up the night sky. But little does Marty know that he’s being watched. Something is looking at his every move and slowly begins to approach the wheelchair. And before the next set of roman candles could be lit, Marty is confronted face to face with the perpetrator: a werewolf. Frightened, he takes a bottle rocket and lights it, having it go off directly into the eye of the monster. He flees and leaves the creature behind. This part of the film is a now-classic scene in werewolf cinema.

Scared beyond belief, Marty enlists the help of his sister to go around the town to collect bottles and cans while looking for anyone in town with an injured eye as this would immediately pinpoint the identity of mysterious killer. As she carefully looks for any signs of eye trauma in every member of the neighborhood, she comes across Reverend Lowe at the church to turn her bottles in and as she goes into the garage to put the bottles with the others that have already been collected, she sees an object under a stack of cans. As she slowly pushes the cans aside, she reveals Owen’s baseball bat, the one labeled “The Peace Keeper”! In sheer fright she stumbles back in horror to be confronted by the Reverend himself. And what do you know? His eye is missing! I love how this scene is executed. This part always makes me scream and giggle in pure glee. Now that both siblings know the identity of the creature, Marty begins to send anonymous notes to the poor eyeless reverend, teasing him and letting him know that they know who he really is and suggesting that [Reverend Lowe] commit suicide so that the killings can cease. So one day as Marty is out with the “Silver Bullet”, he suddenly and frighteningly becomes involved in a terrifying cat-and-mouse chase with Reverend Lowe hot on his tail and determined to make him pay. He manages to drive the wheelchair off the road and into a condemned covered bridge. Here is where we hear the truth for the very first time: the Reverend states that he is clueless to when he turns into the world, that it isn’t his fault, and that he’d killed the others to preserve their souls.  He also states that he would never carry out Marty’s wishes of him committing suicide, stating that would be the greatest sin of all. So when he tells the boy that he’s next, he looks out into the distance and sees a farmer who he screams out to for help. Reverend Lowe then disappears.

Here is where the siblings confess to their uncle about their letter-writing and that Lowe is the werewolf and that it tried to kill Marty at both bridges. So Red does a little investigating of his own and discovers paint from Reverend Lowe’s car on the wheelchair. He then goes to the Sheriff and persuades him to do his own investigation as Red is slowly starting to believe that Marty’s story could possibly be true. Skeptical, but desperate to find the killer, the Sheriff goes to the Reverend’s home to investigate and see just really what is going on. But before he can arrest him, the Reverend turns into the monster and kills him. With the sheriff now dead and out of the way, the siblings are now convinced that they are next. They give their uncle their silver necklaces and ask him to have a real silver bullet made as, according to the folklore Marty had been researching, this would be only way to dispatch of the creature once and for all. Red grants them their request and enlists the help of a local gunsmith to make them one shiny silver bullet, and they plan to take the Reverend out.

That night, it being Halloween with a full moon, the creature comes to their home with a mission to murder them all. Having fallen asleep in front of the television whose channel has just signed off, Red burns himself with the cigarette that was in hand and the threesome see the wolf outside hunting them in which now Red believes everything the children had ever said to them. Leaving them in complete darkness by cutting the electricity off outside, the monster smashes his way into the house and terrorizes them. The silver bullet falls out of the gun and into a furnace grill, leaving the siblings to try and retrieve it as Red fights off the werewolf. Just as it seems all hope is lost, Marty grabs hold of the bullet, places it in the gun and shoots the monster in the other eye, killing him instantly. The three of them hover over the body in horror as they watch the corpse morph back into Reverend Lowe. The siblings then profess their feelings for each other, realizing that what they’ve gone through together has made them stronger.

There is warmth to this film that isn’t felt in many conventional horror films. There’s a sense of community and a sense of family that makes me love this film in the manner that I do. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Busey at all, but I really like his character in this film. There’s an esteem that he has for his niece and nephew and a devotion to them that makes the viewer believe that he really does love them. The way he surprises Marty with the new wheelchair and bag of fireworks, the way he pays attention to them – though up until the end he doesn’t believe anything they’re telling him – he sticks by them until the very end. The siblings look up their uncle, as well, knowing that though what they have to say is absolutely absurd, they can trust him. Haim plays the perfect Marty and he becomes the character so well that you can’t help but love the guy and his plight of wanting to be normal like the other kids, and his plight to win the love of his older sister. The film does a great job of setting up the small little town of Tarker’s Mills and you feel the sense of small-town sensibility among its inhabitants and a great job of setting up and presenting us the Coslaw family and their own relationships with one another. The murder scenes are set up and executed well and though not overtly gory, they are presented in a very terrifying manner. And though the film doesn’t exactly follow the original novella, it is worth multiple viewings.

I really need to find this DVD and get it into my collection. It’s been on my “Saved” Netflix list for the last year and half so I’m not sure if it’s out of print or just hard to locate. I have to admit thought that I’m not a fan of the whole werewolf genre. I’ve seen Wolfen, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London but I will say that this one is probably my favorite entry in this type of film. Maybe because there isn’t a whole lot of screen time given to the beast? Maybe because there’s more of a story that drives this film that just creature make up? Or is possibly because the characters in this film are so relatable and likeable that you root for them for the duration of the movie? Hands down, I love this film. If you don’t already have it/seen it, you need to. This is back when horror films were actually memorable, not like these modern-day PG-13 shit fests. Enough said. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Killing Hour (The Clairvoyant) (1982)

I recently spoke to – well, actually ‘instant messaged’ – a fan of this here bloggo who was telling me how much he loved to read what I had to say. As flattered as I was by that much-welcomed compliment, what intrigued me was how the only complaint that he had was that I don’t update it enough. Though he admitted the prior was a selfish statement, he was absolutely right. And though I have admitted here on occasion that I don’t have the time to devote myself to this little piece of handiwork as much as I’d like to, one of the real reasons I don’t – or in this particular statement, can’t – update it as much as I’d like to is because with the monstrosity of a collection I have, there are many a night when I want to stay up and write but have the bloody hardest time choosing which film to review next. Should I go for a classic? Or should I try and maybe take a shot and review something a little modern? I can’t tell you how many times I will sit in front of my shelves and cases of endless slasher booty and just spend hours – literally – trying to decide which one to sit in front of next? There are many of those nights where I get so frustrated that I just give up and go to bed, telling myself, we’ll try this again tomorrow. Yeah, right.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I’d like to take a quick moment and say ‘thank you’ to all of you that have taken time to read this little ditty. Within the last few months, my hit count has skyrocketed into the atmosphere and I know that it’s because of you all that it’s been possible. You guys send me the greatest emails and messages telling me how much you enjoy reading LL80’sH so for that, again, I extend my gratitude. It’s great to see that there are people out there not only reading what I have to say, but both relating to it and enjoying it. Mil Gracias! And I do have to pause and say thank you to Jay Rinella and John Gibben for hooking me up. You guys rock.

I did not know anything regarding The Killing Hour until about a year ago when I was doing some research online about the giallo genre and came across it in another horror blog. I had seen the cover to the DVD before at the San Jose Rasputin’s but never bothered to pick it up. I did a little bit of reading on this one and decided that I would seek it out, as everyone knows I love a good thriller. I also read that it was very minimal on gore which piqued my interest even more as some of the best fright films out there have little to no gore at all. They rely on set pieces, atmosphere, mood, and character development. Most of all, they rely on a good story and this one fits that bill like a glove.

The film opens up with an art class in session. An unseen student is sketching a nude model on her pad as police pull a handcuffed body of a dead woman out of a lake. Suddenly, student’s hand begins to sketch on its own and reveals a drawing of the same cuffed hands. The art student is beautiful Verna Nightbourne (Elizabeth Kemp) who has a special gift of seeing things and sketching them as they’re happening somewhere else. We then cut to the interior of a gymnasium’s swimming pool and watch rather voyeuristically as a man is frightened by having the lights in the building shut off as he is doing his laps. He calls out into the darkened room and is immediately taken underwater by an unseen assailant who handcuffs his ankle to the ladder under the surface, trapping him there. The slayings continue, with the third victim having been electrocuted while working in a manhole next to a local diner.  With the modus operandi being exactly the same in each murder, the police force, albeit with not much evidence to go on, begin to investigate.  The case is being led by officer Larry Weeks (Norman Parker) who has a penchant for stand-up comedy and impersonations of classic comedians.  For fear that the murder spree will turn into an uncontrollable media circus, the chief forbids any sort of communication with the media. But not before local talk show host Mac McCormack (the always unbelievably gorgeous Perry King), who just happens to be a personal friend of Weeks’, approaches him in the hope of getting the ‘inside scoop’ on the case. They make a deal: In exchange for information on the investigation, Mac will attempt to bring Week’s comedic talents to the TV network he’s employed by. Having obviously disobeyed a direct order from the Chief, he agrees to give Mac inside information on the now-dubbed “Handcuff Killer”.

Verna, convinced that she is able to see and draw the murders in this case as they are happening, is convicted to go to the police and aid them in their search for the killer. She presents them her sketches and they begin to analyze them in hopes of somehow using them to piece everything together. Weeks begins to date her, as does Mac and she soon becomes a part of both their lives. The only setback is that Mac wants her to appear on his television show to show the public what she can do and how closely it’s connected to all of the murders. This is not part of the deal that Weeks had intended and threatens to cut him off from any and all information regarding the investigation if she appears on his show. She agrees to appear just as a third victim is murdered, being handcuffed to the bottom of a freight elevator shaft and killed. The victim appears close to the beginning of the film in a hotel room with the likes of a Latino thug named Willie who actually becomes a very red herring at this point. Because it doesn’t make sense how – and why – he would be the one responsible for the murders. The police’s question now is, if a handcuffed woman was pulled out of the lake, why are all these victims of the same style of murder all men? We begin to wonder now if any – or all – of the victims had a connection to the woman from the lake. Who was she? And why is it that Verna can see – and draw – the murders as they are happen?

One day as Mac is returning to his apartment, he is attacked by Willie and beaten to the ground. When Mac’s housekeeper comes in and interrupts the altercation, Willie flees the scene and leaves a set of handcuffs behind. Mac immediately showcases them on his show and tells the police that he could very well have the identity of the Handcuff Killer. The police begin a manhunt for Willie and find him in his apartment and gun him down, thinking he’s the culprit. But, he isn’t. Well, at one point he very well could be because once Verna does appear on the show and draws the shape of a hand grabbing hold of a steering wheel, we see that someone assaults a friend of hers at the exact time she draws it and ties her up in her own car as she is going home from work and has her car tossed over a body of water. The film never really says who killed her but the only other person it could have been was Willie. Maybe because she was starting to ask so many questions about Verna’s drawings, was he afraid she would go to the police?  

I’m going to admit here that though the story as intriguing as it is, it’s very slow paced. If you’re expecting any kind of action or tension of any kind, you’re not going to find it right away. One of the reasons that I sought this film out is because it was recommended to me by a friend who claimed it was a ‘American-made giallo’ and that I would instantly fall in love with it. I hate to tell that friend that he was wrong…well, at least for the first half of the film. I will have to agree with him though that if this film had been made in Italy with Italian actors, it would be a giallo right on track with films such as Short Night of Glass Dolls and Who Saw Her Die? It concentrates on character development and story and if you’re not the type of person who can tolerate a slow-moving movie, you’re going to be very disappointed here. The murders aren’t gory. They are more implicit than explicit. But, one thing I will tell you is that if you love thrillers of any sort, don’t make the mistake I almost made and turn the film off! (I will confess that at about the hour mark, I was ready to turn it call it quits. Not so much because it’s very slow paced but because I’d decided to sit in front it during the late night hours and couldn’t keep my eyes open for much longer – and even Mr. King with his piercing eyes and fantastic body was somehow managing to lose my attention.) This is one of those films that you have to really sit in front of without any sort of distraction and one to definitely not watch in pieces. You have to pay attention to what’s going on in order for everything to make sense. Director Armand Mastroianni does a good job here of setting up the plot and silently begs you to just sit back and give the movie a chance. It’s not going to disappoint you. This is one of those films in which you have to be patient and wait for the goods to make themselves known.

So one night, Verna decides to have a glass of wine at Mac’s house and show her the latest picture that she’s drawn. It’s a drawing of all the victims so far and he begins to push her to draw her next one, but she can’t. With everything that’s been going on, she doesn’t have the mental energy to push through and draw and flees to the bedroom. It is here where the entire film begins its unexpected and amazing rush: Mac picks up the drawing while enjoying a glass of wine and begins to stare at the objects that she’s drawn. As he does, the police are looking at the other drawings that Verna has given them. They have been able to connect the sketches together to correspond with each of the victims. But there is one drawing that they can’t decipher. What is it? Is it a drawing of the inside teeth of one of the handcuffs? One of the detectives takes another look at it and suggests that it also looks like the inside of a crab’s claw. And when the scene immediately reverts back to Mac’s apartment to reveal Verna lying on his bed…next to a crystal sculpture of a crab’s claws on the nightstand…the film takes an amazing turn. We see Mac in the living room holding the sketch and we are immediately taken to a particularly disturbing flashback scene of a black-haired woman being handcuffed and tied to a bed in a random hotel room. She is obviously a hooker and she is surrounded by three burly men who are preparing lines of cocaine with the intention of gang-banging her silly. Her feet are being bound to the bed and as one of them unzips his fly and takes his pants off, inching to the bed and taking her head in his hands to bring her in close, I suddenly realize that the men are all the victims that were killed by the Handcuff Killer! And I seriously instantly emit a loud scream of shock when I see that the fourth man who slowly lies down on top of her and rapes her brutally as he kills her while the others watch is none other than Mac himself! What the f—k?!

Everything suddenly made sense. The woman found in the lake was the hooker whose body they’d disposed of in hopes that nobody would find out. Mac hired Willie to take out the other three either to throw the cops off or in case there was any chance of them going to the police. And once news had reached Mac that the other’s had been killed, he approached Weeks to get the inside scoop so he could know exactly what was going on, hoping that maybe Willie would take the fall for him. He’d asked Verna to come on the show out of his own disbelief that she would have known anything about the murders as they were happening and the more he got to know her, the more terrified he’d become that she was telling the truth! That’s was why he’d asked her to his home…to see exactly what she was going to draw next. He was afraid that she was about to figure the whole thing out! In pure shock, he squeezes and breaks the wine glass, spilling it all over the sketch.

At that moment, she realizes that she is next and flees to the bathroom as he comes after her. She hides in the shower after fooling him that she’d gone out the window and when he steps outside, she closes the window and makes a break for the outside hall of the apartment building. Mac sees her from the outside hall window and breaks it, sending her down up the stairs to the roof where he finds her and proceeds to kill her once and for all. Finally, dramatic and suspenseful tension! Just as we think she’s a goner, here comes Weeks to her rescue.  The two men wrestle it out and Mac ends up hanging over the edge of the tall apartment building, being held onto by Weeks. Knowing what he’s done and knowing that now there was no escape from death, Mac whispers softly. “Let me go” and Weeks reluctantly grants his wish as he watches him fall to the pavement. Nice!

The film ended up being much more entertaining than I had expected. You really had to follow the film and have patience with it and that’s one I need to stress about this film: Have patience! Not many casual movie watchers would be able to forgive the extent of its slow pace but it pays off in the final twenty minutes of the film. If you’re a giallo fan, such as myself, you will actually see many elements of the giallo genre in this film, right down to red herring(s), the use of black gloves, the obligatory twist reveal that it was one of the main characters the whole time, the altercation between the good guy and the bad guy, and lack of denouement. It’s too bad that this one is as underrated and overlooked as it is.

The DVD I have from Blue Underground is fantastic – as all the discs from BU are. The picture was clear, the sound was great and it had the original trailer. But, as I did research for this one, I read somewhere that the original VHS and subsequent DVD releases – even the original issue by Anchor Bay – had many scenes missing. This release has all the deleted scenes intact, most of them are extended pre-murder sequences that, in my opinion, explain more regarding the behavior and minds of the victims. Those missing minutes actually are quite essential as they would have given the story just a little more kick. I would love to see a special edition one day that has all the missing scenes put in with the rest of the film, just as it was done with My Bloody Valentine and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Maybe BU will give us a re-release. I’ve only seen this film on the store shelves once so I’m not sure if the BU version is already out of print – as I would only assume the AB version is already el-kaput. Before I went out and bought it, I was able to rent it off Netflix so if you’re the least bit interested, try to pick up there and take a look for yourself. It’s not going to be one of the best movies you will ever see, but it is definitely worth one viewing. Especially for the last twenty minutes where everything just comes together. (Pause) Well, okay…for the chance to see Perry King at the height of his 80’s heartthrob heyday. If you’re into that sort of thing (wink).