I’ve previously penned about William Castle’s cinematic escapades, specifically regarding THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and the influence of Castle on Joe Dante’s work (and THE TINGLER? Definitely an influence. You can see it not only in MATINEE, but also GREMLINS 2).

Yet again, my favorite local arthouse theater — the Music Box — hosted another Castle screening by the same folks (this time presented in Percepto! Whatever that is!), all interactive and enthralling!

If you are or have been an avid MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 viewer, you’ve seen THE TINGLER before. They, well, they do eviscerate it. Despite a rocky premise and a number of clumsy lines and awkward special effects, it’s far smarter than they give it credit.

The always magnanimous Vincent Price is a scientist who is investigating the physiological logistics of fear. He postulates that fear is imbued by a creature — the titular Tingler — that only manifests itself when one is terrified. He sets out to prove his point, and matters escalate.

I don’t need to tell you that Price is amazing here — he always shows up and gives his all, no matter the material — but the film is surprisingly gorgeous, especially the print that we saw. The contrast of blacks and whites are measured but effective; there’s a surprising amount of center-framing, and well, everyone just looks splendid, even the Tingler! (Yes, the Tingler definitely is poorly puppeteered, but the design is great and it glistens like it’s real!)

What is most astounding about this work — and unfairly discounted — is its reliance on a deaf and mute individual. This is one of the earlier genre films I can think of that utilizes ASL and deafness as a plot point without belittling the character. Said character is the wife of an older man, and together they pointedly run a theater that exclusively shows silent movies. Her husband mostly communicates with her via ASL, despite the fact that she can read lips.

(I will note that this film does slightly disparage her by briefly labeling her as ‘deaf and dumb’. She is not dumb.)

This is a film that explicitly asks you to scream at certain points. (I’ll note, everyone at the Music Box gamely participated, myself included! It was a lot of fun!) However, the crux of the film is centered around a woman who cannot scream, who has no voice, who can only communicate via visual motions. What’s more filmic than that?

Castle gets a lot of shit for being a schlocky, gimmicky director. Yes, he definitely more than leaned into that, but hell, so did Hitchcock. Did Castle rig up electrical shocks in theater seats to thrill audiences? Yes. Did I attend a screening featuring a number of campy interactive performances, solely meant to titillate? Yes. However, the work does have an empathic heart beating under the schlock.

If you do choose to watch THE TINGLER, please bear that in mind.


What if I were to tell you that there’s an episode of TV that features Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. trek out to a Chicagoland hotel to brainstorm horror ideas for a cooperative project?

You might not believe me. It sounds like something a horror fanboy would either pitch, or get their friends together to make a homemade version of said idea.

It absolutely exists. It was an episode of the hit TV show ROUTE 66 entitled Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing and was the fourth episode of the show’s third season.

PETER LORRE: “What frightened them in then in the dark ages, it still frightens now. Fear is born into people […] And don’t you sell it short, Boris!”

I wrote about ROUTE 66 a few years back so if you’d like to read a deeper dive on the series, I’ll point you in that direction.

If you are pressed for time, here’s a brief summary: NAKED CITY and THE NAKED CITY TV show creators Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Silliphant pitched the idea of two younger men — the over-educated Tod and the suave lady’s man Buz — band together and tour the U.S. and picking up odd jobs along the way to fund their efforts. Unlike just about every TV show at the time, each episode was shot on location, turning ROUTE 66 into a weekly U.S. travelogue.

Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing does take place in Chicagoland.* As previously mentioned, Lorre, Karloff and Chaney Jr. want to brainstorm a project together. Lorre suggests meeting at an innocuous conference Chicagoland hotel ‘The O’Hare Inn’ and they agree. Karloff suggests that they replace their surname with reversed versions of their first name because, sure, that’ll fool everyone.

It just so happens that Tod and Buzz have wrangled a job at the inn as Junior Executives in Charge of Convention Liasons. The job thrills them — especially Tod — as the inn is hosting a large ‘Executive Secretaries of the Midwest’ conference and features a number of attractive women.

TOD, remarking on the number of young women exiting a bus: “What makes you think it’s a convention group?”

BUZZ: “When two or more girls get together and there’s no guy in the group, it’s just got to be a convention.”

TOD: “Buzz, there are things carved in marble with not the one-tenth of content of that last authoritative remark.”

While Tod and Buzz work on wooing secretaries, the three horror maestros finally meet up. Lorre requests a very specific coffin from Tod before Karloff arrives, so he can give Karloff a special reveal.

Tod quickly sees through Lorre’s scheming and suggests that Lorre and Chaney Jr. try their own brand of old-school terror on the secretaries. Chaney Jr. makes himself into one of his classic monsters and matters escalate. Meanwhile, Karloff consoles a secretary who pines for a love who left her.

It’s roughly fifty minutes of self-satisfying indulgence for writer/creator Silliphant but, happily, is also a raucous and memorable crowd-pleasing episode. This might not be the venue we wanted to see all three of these masters together for, but it is a lot of fun.

I rarely link to full episodes, however, if you’re in New York City, you can also watch it for free at the mind-blowing New York Paley Center which is exactly the first work I watched upon my initial visit.

  • To Chicago residents like myself, there is a difference between Chicago and Chicagoland. A lot of folks who live in Chicago suburbs often say they live in Chicago. Chicago residents often classify those who live outside the radius of Chicago’s L train support as living in Chicagoland.


I am someone who considers themselves a horror fan — even though it took me a long time to become one — but there are some franchises I never glommed onto. CHILD’S PLAY’s one of them. I watched the first, maybe the second, and while they never took themselves too seriously, I didn’t find much to intrigue me.

Then I watched BRIDE OF CHUCKY.

Obviously, CHILD’S PLAY is Don Mancini’s babydoll, but it feels like he was a bit tired of the formula after three sequels and thought it was time to shake things up. Consequently, he took inspiration from one the greatest horror films of all time: BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

While James Whale’s masterpiece is inferred in the title and, hell, even featured in BRIDE OF CHUCKY, Mancini puts his own spin on it, namely making the bride the unbridled star of the show and leaning into outright horror-comedy.

Jennifer Tilly exudes gleeful darkness and mayhem as Tiffany, Chucky’s prior paramour. She’s been pining for him for a decade and finagles Chucky back to life in hopes they’ll get hitched and live happily ever after. Chucky laughs in her face upon hearing her nuptial dream. Tiffany dumps his ass, locks him up with a wedding-dressed doll, and tries to move on. Chucky gets free, kills her, but she ends up trapped in said doll. The two coerce two teen star-crossed lovers into transporting them across state lines to get Chucky’s talisman which will allow them to escape their plastic bodies. Matters hilariously escalate.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY is far, far more irreverent and cutting than prior CHILD’S PLAY films. There are a lot of winks and nods — including one quip from Chucky noting that, if he had to describe the circumstances that got him where he is now, it would take a movie and two or three sequels — but they all are fun, witty, and hilarious. This is a well-steered lark of a film that entertains on every level: great set-pieces (not one, but two grandiose vehicular explosions), savvy dialogue, imaginative kills, and a jaw-dropping ending.

While Brad Dourif gamely reprises his role as the voice of Chucky, the real star here is Jennifer Tilly. I wouldn’t say that Tilly is underrated, but she is often under-utilized, shoehorned into ditzy, insubstantial characters. (Not always, of course. Watch BOUND!) That’s not the case here. Tiffany has agency. She’s the guiding force here. Is she obsessed with serial killers and death and violence and havoc? Yes. However, she is a lot of fun and she takes no shit, she’s determined, she’s smart and capable and she knows how to get what she wants.

Tilly plays every single facet with aplomb, from faux-seducing her weak-willed asshole goth, to making an overstuffed meal of voicing ‘doll Tiffany’. Without her, this film would be forgettable. With her, it’s iconically memorable.

I need to note that this was Rated Q’s October screening. I’ve previously written about Rated Q but, if you are unfamiliar: Rated Q is a monthly film event at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, organized by local misfit Ramona Slick. They solely program queer and cult films. Each screening features three drag performances that intersect with the film’s fashion and soundtrack. It’s not for everyone but — for me — it’s a chance to revel in joyous performances and be around like-minded individuals and laugh and grin and feel elated for two hours.

I am noting this because these screenings are my favorite monthly event and I will never shut up about them, but also because usually most folks attending these screenings are extremely familiar with the work. That was not the case here. While exiting the theater, I overheard so many folks exclaiming that BRIDE OF CHUCKY was so much better than they expected; far funnier than they’d anticipated; so much smarter than they thought it’d be when they bought a ticket. Everyone left glowing and happy and elated, and that’s exactly the experience Rated Q — and BRIDE OF CHUCKY — provides.

MANHATTAN (2014-2015) [RERUN]

I’ve been a bit burned out due some of the intensity of the drafts I’ve been working on so, since OPPENHEIMER was just released, I thought I’d call your attention to my 2020 post regarding MANHATTAN, the little-known series from WGN America who very briefly broadcast a number of critical acclaimed prestige shows, including UNDERGROUND as well as MANHATTAN.

MANHATTAN tells the tale of the nucleus of the creation of the atom bomb and the environment and folks it took to construct it. Essentially: OPPENHEIMER before OPPENHEIMER.

MANHATTAN featured an embarrassment of creative riches, including an astounding cast and writers, such as Rachel Brosnahan (THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL), Harry Lloyd (DOCTOR WHO, GAME OF THRONES), Olivia Williams (RUSHMORE), as well as writer Lila Byock who has since gone on to work on amazing serialized works such as THE LEFTOVERS and WATCHMEN and CASTLE ROCK.

It’s a shame that the show never garnered the attention it deserved, but WGN America gave us two seasons, which is one more than I thought we’d ever get.

While my initial write-up is several years old, it’s still available on a number of the streaming services listed, and both seasons are available on DVD.

BOUND (1996)

Apart from perhaps CLOUD ATLAS (which is technically a Wachowski/Tykwer film adaptation), the Wachowski sisters’ BOUND is probably their most under-seen and under-appreciated work which, sure, given it’s their first film, but still! It a very queer neo-noir that, while stylish, doesn’t rely on the gonzo effects of their later films. In fact, one of the most effective shots simply involves buckets of white paint, squibs, and a body.

The fact that it isn’t heralded more is a shame because it’s certainly an iconic queer film, and it’s also my favorite of theirs.

I’m getting ahead of myself. BOUND is a very simple neo-noir with a small cast, smaller locales — almost all of it takes place in two Chicago apartments which, I’ll note, has appropriate trim — and some smoldering, absolutely perfect casting.

Corky (Gina Gershon) is a very butch ex-con who served five years and is now reworking apartments for the mob. She meets the apartment’s next-door neighbors, the sexpot femme Violet (Jennifer Tilly, doing what she does best) is entangled with low-level mobster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano before he was on THE SOPRANOS). Corky and Violet get lustily involved via a number of very heated scenes and, as always, watch how they handle hands. Violet decides she wants to leave Caesar and be with Corky, so Violet fills Corky in on Caesar’s task to pick-up and hand-off over $2.1 million dollars to his mob bosses.

Corky brainstorms a plan to steal the money from under Caesar’s nose. It sounds like the perfect plan.

As this is a noir work, it is not the perfect plan. Matters escalate, and quickly.

It’s worth noting that half of this film works because Gershon and Tilly have amazing chemistry and an amazing wardrobe and suits each perfectly: Corky is all leather, tight white t-shirts and dirty pants and Violet is often dressed like Marilyn in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, all glamor dresses and finely coiffed hair. The other half is because of the Wachoswkis’ script — which is far more funny than I remember — but also because of the way they visually frame Corky and Violet’s tryst; it’s restrained, knows when to linger and when to cut away, but is still tantalizing.

I’ll grant that you can see a lot of the Coen Bros. in BOUND, from some Sonnefeld zooms and heightened close-ups to the humor, but out-of-the-gate you can tell these are more-or-less nods, and that the sisters have their own voice and approach.

Lastly: as usual, I saw this at the Music Box Theatre — it was a personal print from the Wachowskis! — as part of the Music Box’s ‘Rated Q’ series, which explicitly is — in the words of Rated Q’s programmer/director Ramona Slick — “A Celebration of Queer, Camp, & Cult Cinema”.

At the time of writing this, it’s Pride month and Chicago’s Pride parade is only a few days away.

Obviously, the screening was completely overflowing with queer folk and it was glorious.

The screening opened with a pre-film, brazenly and enthusiastically over-the-top drag show in the main theater: a lot of torn clothing, a lot of skin, and folks stuffing bills into the performers’ works or throwing money at them. (I’m not 100% sure that the Music Box is zoned for all that I saw, but I will not complain!) The audience was so, so very game for it.

When the film started? Folks went bonkers but, as is the Music Box way, no one ruined the experience for everyone; there was a lot of hooting, a lot of laughter, a lot of veiled recognition at foreshadowing and villainous characters, and a lot of clapping (and even some snaps). In other words, the perfect communal viewing experience.

If you read the interview with Rated Q’s Ramona Slick, they discuss how formative cult and queer films were for them, as they lived in a small town without much of a queer community. Now they’re helping to introduce others to these films in a way that interweaves performance with projection. It also gives a venue for those who love these films and want to see them with likeminded folks instead of alone in a scuzzy dorm room on a tiny cathode ray TV and an exhausted VHS tape.

I know I endlessly beat this drum, but the Music Box has been firing on all cylinders as of late. They’ve slowly pushed back to being a repertoire theater instead of a new-release indie theater, and it’s paid off handsomely for them as practically every older film I’ve attended there has been packed to the ceiling. While that’s not the Music Box I grew up with — they have been around since 1929, and their repertoire period pre-dates the late 90s — I embrace the change. It fills a much-needed absence in the local film scene, and every screening has been a delight.

Corky: “Know what’s the difference between you and me?”

Violet: “…no.”

Corky: “Neither do I.”


I’m not sure how many folks remember William Castle nowadays, given that he did most of his most intriguing work in the 50s and early 60s but, if you are a horror fan, you are probably aware of him (and you’ve probably watched Joe Dante’s love letter to his sort of theatrical gimmicks via his brilliant film MATINEE).

That said, myself and a friend went to my favorite movie theater — Chicago’s Music Box Theatre — to see a 35mm print of Castle’s THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL that also promised to involve Castle-esque gimmicks, such as actors roaming through the audience and skeletons.

Reader: they did two screenings and the one I attended — at 9:30 on a Thursday night, nonetheless — was sold out.

I’ve seen THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL more than a few times. Vincent Price is exceptional in it, as always, and it’s chock full of schlock, including all of the standard ‘haunted house’ tropes, such as falling chandeliers, senseless locked doors, and plenty of fake-outs. (It definitely owes a debt to James Whale’s THE OLD HOUSE (1932), which Castle remade later in his career.) Is it a great film? No. Does it make much sense? No. Is it populated by B-grade actors not quite giving it their all? Yes.

Is it a memorable film? Fuck yeah. It has a fantastic set, serviceable lighting, and striking set-pieces.

I realize I’m extremely lucky to live in a city where my favorite film palace loves to show horror, and even luckier that they go to the trouble of recreating gimmicks. They even talked to Castle’s daughter to get points of reference and her blessing. These folks are doing the work.

While THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a blast under any circumstances, seeing it in a fully sold out thousand-plus seat theater with a group of very-game audience members who were all very well-mannered while still being appropriately rambunctious was one of the best post-pandemic screenings I’ve attended. It reminded me of the controlled chaos of The Vic’s Brew ’n View (R.I.P.) where everyone’s there to have a good time and respond to the screen appropriately, be it laughing, clapping, or blurting out something legitimately funny (instead of play-acting MST3k).

I know I often say this, but nothing can recreate the feeling of seeing a movie in a theater, and when you encounter these very sort of specific circumstances, it’s extremely special. The Music Box created an experience that those who were there will be dining out on for years, and they deserve every accolade. I only hope that you can find a similar theater that you can call a home-away-from-home.


(Miss the first part? It’s available here!)


(tubi) All you need to know about SIREN OF THE TROPICS is that it’s the feature film debut of one Josephine Baker who, in the late 1920s was the most popular American entertainer in Paris, mostly because of her erotic dancing. Baker went on to star in a number of other French films before retiring from acting to bring her focus back to live entertainment, and then she went on to become a prolific activist and humanitarian.

Sadly, SIREN OF THE TROPICS is not even close to a grand showcase for Baker, not even for its time. It’s a very middling, very colonial silent film whose only worthwhile moments are those when Baker appears on screen. TROPIC doesn’t just perk up when Baker breaks into dance, but it comes to life whenever she’s in the frame; she deftly wriggles and lithely leaps around and all over the set, as if the boundaries of the screen can’t contain her. When she does break out into dance, especially for her extended Charleston number, the film becomes transcendent and you get lost in her enthusiasm, exuberance, and sheer joy of movement.

Ebertfest brought in renowned composer Renée Baker who has a history of drafting up untraditional silent film scores, and her contribution to this screening was an aural delight. While Renée rarely tampers with the visuals of a film, she did take it upon herself to bookend TROPICS with an extreme slow-motion close-up of Josephine during her solo on-stage dance and, as Renée stated post-film, to celebrate the magic of Josephine Baker.

KRISHA (2016)

(fubo/Showtime/VOD) When is the best time to watch a brutal emotional rollercoaster of a film? Certainly not in the morning, when one’s brain is still somewhat fogged, or when one’s stomach may be churning its way through breakfast. The mid-afternoon? Perhaps not, especially if it’s a beautiful day outside. Even if one doesn’t like lounging in the sun, it’ll be there to accost you upon exiting the screening.

I prefer mid-evening when dealing with works that focus on trauma. The mood feels right, and it’s early enough that you can put some distance between it and that night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a smaller film festival, you don’t have the luxury of opting for a later screening. In the case of Ebertfest’s screening of Trey Edward Shults’ crowdfunded debut feature KRISHA, you either watched it right after a light lunch, or not at all.

It’s not as if anyone going into KRISHA is doing so unaware of what they’re getting into: KRISNA is explicitly about Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), a troubled middle-aged woman with a history of addiction which led to an estranged son. Krisha swears to her sister that she’s cleaned up her act, and she’s invited to the family Thanksgiving get-together, which includes her son. Matters escalate, wildly and horrifically, in a way that feels like Gaspar Noé’s take on a severely dysfunctional family homecoming.

Despite being a relatively young entry in the genre, Shults’ film (based on a short that he filmed a few years prior) is widely acclaimed as one of the rawest depictions of addiction, partially thanks to how personal the material is to Shults, the involvement of his family in the production — a number of them, non-actors all of them, are parts of the core cast — as well as the aural and visual literacy of the film. You would not know that this film was shot on a shoestring budget, as the throbbingly sound design expertly builds tension, and ghostlike camera work cranes up stairs and peeks around corners.

Following the screening was a discussion with Krisha Fairchild, who went into great detail about the pre-production and shooting process, as well as demystified a few facets of the film such as what was the impetus behind Krisha’s missing appendage, details behind certain facets of the house, as well as the reasoning behind some of the character names. I highly suggest watching the discussion yourself, made available by Ebertfest for all to see!

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021, B&W Cinematic Version)

One of the guest tentpoles for Ebertfest 2022 was the black-and-white version of Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and both of them were slated to fly out for a post-film discussion. Unfortunately, halfway through the festival it was announced that del Toro had to undergo non-emergency surgery and would have to attend virtually, which was a bummer, but not completely unexpected. (Similarly, a number of actors from GOLDEN ARM were slated to attend their screening, but had to bow out at the last minute due to conflicting schedules.)

The show went on, a bit later than its announced 8:30pm time. While introducing NIGHTMARE ALLEY, Chaz noted the lateness of the festival’s final screening and assured everyone that we wouldn’t have another ‘Herzog’ incident. Apparently, more than several years ago at a prior Ebertfest, Werner Herzog talked with Errol Morris until well beyond one in the morning. Very few made a preemptive exit, but many of the attendees were worse for wear the following day.

As I’ve grown older I’ve found it increasingly difficult to stay awake during evening screenings, even early ones. Add into the mix the woozy warmth of wearing a KN95 mask, compounded with the exhaustion of exploring a new area and the emotional rollercoaster of a week of brilliant-but-difficult films, and I was running on fumes when the projector flickered to life.

Long story short: I fell asleep about an hour into the film and, apart from a few glimpses of an office here, an underground tunnel there, woke up about twenty minutes before the closing credits. Embarrassing, I know. I can say that the first act hews closer to the original film adaptation than I expected, that what I saw of the back-half of the film was far darker than I expected (probably because I have yet to read the source material), that Bradley Cooper is surprisingly well-suited to his role as an over-confident confidence man, and that I still think the latitude of the black-and-white lacks the contrast that would best fit the film. Apart from that, I’m waiting to watch it in full before I say anything more about the film proper. My apologies if you expected otherwise.

To circle back to del Toro and Morgan: not to worry, del Toro is fine. Also, if you’ve heard him speak before, you know he’s very excitable and loves to talk at length about cinema. Add his wife into the mix, and they can chat for hours without interruption.

While they didn’t quite talk until 1am, I didn’t exit the Virginia Theatre until around midnight. Bleary eyed and more than a little groggy, I left the venue feeling sleepily satisfied. I technically bought my tickets to Ebertfest 2022 way back in 2019, as while Ebertfest 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to COVID, they still honored my initial ticket purchase. This trek was a long time coming, one I should have attempted far earlier in life, but I could hardly ask to attend a better first post-lockdown film festival. Here’s to Ebertfest 2023!

If you’d like to watch any of the panels or Q&As, each and every one has kindly been made available via Ebertfest’s YouTube channel!


(Fubo/peacock/Shudder/tubi/Vudu) GINGER SNAPS is an extremely Canadian production from John Fawcett (co-creator of ORPHAN BLACK) and Karen Walton. Fawcett had the concept and directed it, Walton scripted it, but ultimately it was a collaborative effort. It’s about two goth sisters living together in the basement of their idyllic, overly understanding Fitzgerald parents (Mimi Rodgers and John Bourgeois), struggling to make it through high school ridicule. The older sister is Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle, who has had one hell of a TV career, and she glows in AMERICAN MARY), an extremely confident, very protective-yet-belligerent redhead to her younger sister, Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) who is the quieter, less confrontational but more bookish, sibling.

I don’t know why I’m wasting words when the opening title sequence showcases their dynamics and interests perfectly. Even if the rest of the film was garbage, it’d be worth watching for this perfectly executed bit (which is also really NSFW). (Mike Shields’ amazing opening theme also does a lot of heavy lifting there! )

To summarize: dogs in the Fitzgerald’s suburban neighborhood are repeatedly found torn to shreds, but no one really pays much mind. The two Fitzgerald sisters head out to play a prank against a fellow classmate which goes horribly awry. Ginger has her first period at the same time, informs her sister, and is then is grabbed and scratched by something large and wolflike in a wildly Raimi-esque sequence. The two escape to a road, almost get run over, but youthful drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche, who had a small role in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and does a fair amount of TV work now) accidentally runs over the beast with his ambulance.

Brigette drags Ginger home, tends to her wounds and, almost immediately, Ginger is a different person, a different species, growing hairier, more bloodthirsty from there, but handwaving it away as cramps until she’s full werewolf and embodying a vengeful Carrie.

Brigette tries to keep Ginger on the down-low, but … she’s uncontrollable. Matters escalate.

GINGER SNAPS wasn’t the first horror film I’d seen that was a woman transformation parable — that’d be Neil Jordan’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES but it was almost certainly the first I was overtly aware of, and it was quite the revelation.

A lot has happened since then, so here are a few links:

Karen Walton reflects on GINGER SNAPS, 20 years later.

Apparently, it’s slated to be rebooted as a TV series soon, which I hope will be brilliant.


(fubo/VOD) Yes, I know: everyone has seen THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Even if you haven’t, you are almost certainly aware of it and the broader beats. This is just a light-hearted horror-adjacent personal story about attending a screening of the film when it was released but, for the spoiler-adverse, I will note that it does include a detailed description of the final shot of the film.

It’s Chicago, August 1999. I’d been living in Chicago for few years now and was renting a cramped, very basic studio on an elevated floor in a large Lakeview complex, just a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field. It was one of the few places that allowed dogs — I did not have a dog — and was next door to a grade school — I did not have a kid — but was routinely woken by either dogs barking or screaming children or both.

Anyway, back to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I was familiar with the film well before it had been released, partially because of the internet hubbub but also because the studio had promotional folks hitting up the local goth/industrial club nights, including one event they had at Chicago’s long-gone SPIN nightclub, of which I walked away from with both a t-shirt and CD soundtrack — both of which I still have.

A few days after that promotional event, Chicago underwent a massive power outage and vast sections of the North Side of Chicago went dark for several days, during some of the hottest temperatures we’d suffered from in some time. I got used to taking cold candlelit baths and adding a pocket-sized flashlight to my keychain so I could navigate the concrete stairwell to-and-from my apartment, as opposed to taking the elevator like normal.

Given the extreme heat, the woman I was seeing at the time and I decided to do what most people with a few spare coins to rub together do during a heat wave: we went to the movies, and as we’d just attended a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT event, we thought that sounded like a good idea, which it was, because that film was a game-changer. It still stands as one of the best films of the found-footage genre. The final shot of the film, where you see Mike staring at the concrete corner of the room, then thud and Heather’s camera falls to the floor and then her camera’s pulldown mechanism breaks down, well, that’s one of the most effective horror endings of all time.

We reluctantly left the air-conditioned theater and headed back to my studio. By the time we arrived, dusk was upon us, and the entryway was pitch black. We fumbled our way through as I tried to get my pocket flashlight working, both grasping at each other as we struggled to make our way to the stairwell.

The flashlight finally lit up, and I found myself staring directly at a concrete corner. She screamed, then I screamed, and then we huddled together, laughing at the situation.

The next day the lights flickered back on in my studio, waking me up, and I felt the cool air of the built-in air-conditioner fall over me. Normality, restored!


(fubo/kanopy/Showtime/VOD) Josephine Decker’s films always take a bit of time for me to come to terms with. I remember seeing MADELINE’S MADELINE as part of a self-imposed triple-feature at the Music Box during a particularly stormy Chicago day, and it left a sour taste in my mouth, as if the characters I’d seen writ large on the screen weren’t being portrayed fairly.

Then, after haunting my memory for a month or so, it clicks. I realize why the actions were made, no matter how selfish, how distasteful, how the film couldn’t be any different.

(Also, it helps that her films are uniquely surrealistically stylized in a way that most indie filmmakers eschew nowadays, and it’s a style I can’t help but love.)