PERPETRATOR (2023)

CAVEAT

This was a while ago, but I did take video art classes from PERPETRATOR director/writer Jennifer Reeder back in my college days. She wouldn’t know me from Adam now — I’m simply noting it out of a sense of responsibility. She’s a great teacher who now teaches at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and I will never forget screening my first extremely personal and intensely overworked short video piece in her class, which one fellow student exclaimed after viewing it: “That gave me a migraine.”

I also saw PERPETRATOR at the Chicago premiere, with a ton of the crew in the audience, as well as with a post-film Q&A between the always awesome Katie Rife and Reeder, so I can’t deny that the entire audience was completely on-board for what they were about to see.


I will try to keep this short and succinct for once, because this is one of those rare films that I feel requires a second viewing, but it’s rolling out on screens this week and I want to boost it!

Director/writer/auteur Jennifer Reeder loves genre conventions, but is also firmly ensconced in experimental works. Her prior feature — KNIVES AND SKIN — is very much about teen girls and high school and cliques and being pursued, but also embraces how these girls get to know their bodies and everything that entails, including how others view and abuse them, and she films all of this through a teen haze; events happen around and to you and they don’t often make sense, but you just roll with it because you don’t know any better. While it shares a lot of DNA from TWIN PEAKS, it is still its own thing.

PERPETRATOR follows in the same vein, but it’s far, far bloodier, far more disturbing, and features far more orifices than her prior film. It’s disturbing, certainly, but it does what I think horror does best: detailing the confusion of body and personality transformation but also how folks simply adjust and accept or reject it. While it is fundamentally a narrative genre feature, it is not afraid of diverging into more surreal and nebulous areas.

I know I’m not doing the film justice with this post. (I will circle back with a later post detailing the rest of the cast and crew!) Hell, I may even be misrepresenting it; it’s that kind of film. I’m a huge fan of her and still I went into this film knowing nothing about it and I’d suggest doing the same. It’s a shocking, provocative, singular film that feels like nothing else out there.

Nonetheless, here’s the trailer, and if you have a SHUDDER subscription, you can watch it there soon, or if you live in NYC or LA or Chicago, you can catch it on the big screen, which is really how you should see some of the puckering.

Halloween 2022 Programming: Cult

For over a decade, my wife and I have had a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: contemporary, classic, and cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year.

Due to timing and circumstances, I provided our contemporary first yesterday, and now it’s time for classic and cult. This is cult! I’m also including some personal notes to provide context.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)

“While passing through a vacation resort, a newlywed couple encounters a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide.”

A stylish, surreal cult queer vampire film, featuring the brilliant Delphine Seyrig.

NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)

A loosey-goosey adaptation of a mediocre Stephen King novel that’s stuck in my mind since I watched it many years ago, mostly because it’s extremely chaotic for King. It’s probably not quantifiably good, but it’s a lot of fun. Max von Sydow as the devil — what more could you want?!

NEW NIGHTMARE (1994)

“Proto-90s post-modern horror. I’d say SCREAM before Wes Craven’s SCREAM, but that infers that it’s a lesser film than SCREAM whereas I think it’s one of the smartest self-reflexive horror films ever made; it’s an author reckoning with the perils of creating a horror film franchise that spirals out of their control, while still being an absurdly entertaining, winking, surreal and horrifying film. Smartly shot and absolutely ruthlessly paced — every scene expertly blends into the next — it’s Wes Craven besting himself.

“A brilliant film, even if you haven’t seen prior NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, but so much better if you have.”

PROM NIGHT II: HELLO MARY LOU

The first PROM NIGHT is a pretty standard slasher, whereas PROM NIGHT II dodges into bonkers supernatural territory. It’s quite inventive — more like HELLRAISER — and lot of fun.

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982)

“MASSACRE was penned by Rita Mae Brown, a well-known feminist activist and writer, and Corman picked it up and gave it to Amy Holden Jones to direct, but only if she’d play it straight. It features wall-to-wall women, all more capable and unique than you’d normally see in a slasher film, and the film leans so heavily on the male gaze that it’s intentionally absurd, a sly way of gaining Corman’s approval while hoping others would recognize it as visually subversive.”

It’s a very smart, knowing, but also still fun, film which I find rare with slashers. You wouldn’t have SCREAM without it.

Trailer (warning: it’s very NSFW and gives everything away):

THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (2013):

“Returning home from a business trip to discover his wife missing, a man delves deeper and deeper into a surreal kaleidoscope of half-baked leads, seduction, deceit, and murder. Does anyone in the building know something?”

Throwback giallo from the filmmakers of one of my recent favorite films: LET THE CORPSES TAN. One of those films I’ve listed in the past, but haven’t watched for myself because it’s too visually demanding.

Halloween 2022 Programming: Contemporary

For over a decade, my wife and I have had a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: contemporary, classic, and cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year.

Due to timing and circumstances, I’m providing our contemporary first today, then classic and cult tomorrow. I will note that I have not seen all of the contemporary suggestions, but most of those that I have seen will have links to prior write-ups. I’m also including some personal notes to provide context.

HATCHING (2021)

“A young gymnast, who tries desperately to please her demanding mother, discovers a strange egg.”

Trailer, but I’d suggest passing on it as it gives a lot away:

THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

“On a secluded farm, a man is bedridden and fighting through his final breaths while his wife slowly succumbs to overwhelming grief. Siblings Louise and Michael return home to help, but it doesn’t take long for them to see that something’s wrong with mom—something more than her heavy sorrow. Gradually, they begin to suffer a darkness similar to their mother’s, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that an evil entity is taking over their family.”

Been in my queue for a bit, but haven’t watched it yet.

THE LOVE WITCH (2016)

“A modern-day witch uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her, with deadly consequences.”

A delightfully colorful feminist work masquerading as a campy 70s throwback.

SLAXX (2021)

“A possessed pair of jeans is brought to life to punish the unscrupulous practices of a trendy clothing company. Shipped to the company’s flagship store, Slaxx proceeds to wreak carnage on staff locked in overnight to set up the new collection.”

I’ve been meaning to watch this campier version of IN FABRIC since it was released, but have yet to.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

“A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.”

That description makes it sound like a thriller, but it has more in common with THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE (2018)

“Merricat, Constance and their Uncle Julian live in isolation after experiencing a family tragedy six years earlier. When cousin Charles arrives to steal the family fortune, he also threatens a dark secret they’ve been hiding.”

A fine adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s final novel of the same name.

THE WOLF HOUSE (2018)

“Tells the story of Maria, a young woman who takes refuge in a house in southern Chile after escaping from a German colony.”

A stop-animation marvel that I’ve been meaning to watch for some time.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)

“While passing through a vacation resort, a newlywed couple encounters a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide.”

A stylish, surreal cult queer vampire film, featuring the brilliant Delphine Seyrig. Very giallo, prioritizing sensation over plot, like most quality vampire films.

MAD GOD (2022)

(Shudder/VOD) A post-apocalyptic vision from Academy Award winning visual effects expert Phil Tippett that was thirty years in the making. You can see that effort on the screen, in every absolutely filthy, disgusting stop-motion frame. Think: the Brothers Quay, but with far more bodily fluids.

MAD GOD harkens back to the days of the illustrated magazine and cult film HEAVY METAL. It’s wall-to-wall visual phantasmagoria, but the type that — while disturbing — also often inspires.

It’s utterly indescribable, often not-quite coherent; a complete marvel. It is not for everyone — especially for those who are squeamish or prefer their horror to not feel like an exquisite corpse experiment — but you will never see anything like it.

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)

(epix/Prime/Shudder) MESSIAH OF EVIL was the first film from power-couple Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who went on to pen AMERICAN GRAFFITI and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (and HOWARD THE DUCK, which almost certainly killed their Hollywood careers), but you wouldn’t quite know it from the ramshackle structure of the film.

MESSIAH OF EVIL feels like a very padded CARNIVAL OF SOULS by way of George Romero; it almost feels like outsider art at times. It’s barely cohesive, it’s clearly borrowing from Italian giallo films — to the point where I was shocked to see an Los Angeles-based Ralph’s appear — but I found it to be a fascinating work, partially due to its use of Godard-ian pop art, splashes of paint, and flashy production design. It’s not a great film, but it’s an extraordinarily striking horror film, and that’s enough for me in October.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

Filmmaker Ti West is back in the news, due to the surprise announcement that his X-Factor film series will be a trilogy, which is great! I loved X, just saw PEARL, and am looking forward to MAXXXINE!

However, if you haven’t seen his debut — THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL — you should rectify that immediately. I’ve seen a lot of modern (and I use that term loosely given that it’s a decade-old film) throwbacks to 80s satanic horror films, but it is fantastically emblematic of what Ti West does with horror films: namely, embue character into them. Simply put: this is a nightmare babysitter gig, but the victims aren’t ‘Co-Ed No.1’. They have names and are fully fleshed out folks, ones with their own conflicted motivations.

I’ve heard a number of complaints levied at THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and they all boil down to: ‘Yeah, this film enacted this plot twist before.’ That’s not what West is interested in. He wants to make it substantial, to make it something relatable. There’s no better example than the dance sequence from THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, featuring THE FIXX’s ‘One Thing Leads to Another’:

It’s a singular scene about how one acts when they feel they aren’t being seen, until they feel that they are not. It has far more depth than any of the films others have said West has ‘ripped off’ and utterly justifies the film’s existence.

Trailer:

RESURRECTION (2022)

(Theaters/VOD/Shudder soon) Horror films have been pilloried recently by so-called genre fans for works that they feel focus too much on personal trauma. Films like HEREDITY have been dismissed as over-wrought projected therapy that shouldn’t exist, solely because they prioritize emotional trauma.

That thought is preposterous. Horror as a genre, especially in film, has always been about reckoning with trauma. One of the first iconic horror films, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, displays the cultural guilt of a post-WWI Germany. The noir horror/thrillers of the 40s grappled with post-WWII anxiety regarding gender, male displacement, and general PTSD. Atomic horror films of the 50s were born from nightmares of nuclear destruction. Slashers of the 70s were creations of the senselessness of the Vietnam war and even more PTSD. Slashers of the 80s inherit from the 70s, but turn reactionary in the same way as noir horror of the 40s with male anxiety towards women, and women being seen solely as prey. So much of 80s and 90s horror is based on the (lack of) reckoning with the AIDS pandemic.

SCREAM, as I’ve previously noted, opens with Sidney already being a survivor. That entire franchise is an ouroboros of media-centric trauma.

Horror has always been a safe space for reckoning with personal and cultural trauma, and it will always be one, allowing for works like RESURRECTION to exist.

That said, placing yourself in these spaces is often not a pleasant experience.


A post-film text to my wife:

“Why the fuck do I put myself through this?”


RESURRECTION is the second feature from NANCY, PLEASE director Andrew Semans, and fully features Rebecca Hall (CHRISTINE, THE NIGHT HOUSE) as Margaret, a successful higher-up at a pharmaceutical company and single mother to a daughter who is about to head off to college. Margaret has an intern who she recognizes is in a bad relationship and helps to ease her from the toxicity, as she recognizes the symptoms. Margaret appears to have it all, someone who has it all figured out and deftly navigates her career and life, at least until she sees ‘him’ again at a work conference.

The interloper — ‘him’ — is David (Tim Roth), a scientist friend of Margaret’s parents who worked on an expedition of theirs when Margaret was traveling with them as a teen. While being a lauded scientist, he’s also an expert in coercion, and thanks partially to the pre-occupied eyes of her libertine parents, Margaret and David became entangled.

It’s been years since Margaret has seen David, and she presumed him dead, but he then appears everywhere. She believes he’s stalking her, but then he reveals why he’s been appearing, and it has to do with the monstrous events that occurred in her past.

He then falls back in line with his prior behavior, gaslighting her, playing with her, and she falls in line, following his instructions, feeling powerless.


A follow-up text:

“(Don’t answer that question. This was just a bad idea in general.)”


A lot of digital ink has and will be spilled about the absurdity of the events portrayed in RESURRECTION, and how only an actor of Hall’s caliber could sell them but, as I was watching, I found it all too relatable. I’ll restrain from detailing the film any further, but if you’ve lived through even an iota of what Margaret has been put through, it feels too familiar.

Regardless of how you read the film, how real the events are or aren’t meant to be — Semans has gone on record as saying that it’s up to audience interpretation — the character of David appears out-of-nowhere and completely upends Margaret’s life. If you’ve lived with trauma, abuse, or persistent anxiety and memory recall, it will feel all too relatable. RESURRECTION absolutely nails that inscrutable feeling of someone who will always have some command over your life, whether they’re physically there or not. You are endlessly haunted by them. They will always follow you. They will always find you.


Horror as a storytelling genre is fundamentally about confronting the darkest depths of what people are capable of, but it’s also about how those entangled in those webs react. While horror works are often written off as cautionary tales, it feels like we’ve culturally progressed to a point of acknowledging that there’s no avoiding being harmed. You will be hurt. You will be abused. You will be taken advantage of, and you will be haunted by those who have taken advantage of you, and all you can try to do is what Margaret does, which is to recognize and rebuff, and then dig deep and tear asunder, even if those around you don’t understand your actions.

Hopefully you have friends and loving families, but if you don’t, you have fictional works like RESURRECTION to allow you to keep your head above water, reminding you that you are not alone, that it’s okay that you feel haunted, that you hurt, that you will not forget, even if you desperately want to.


POSTSCRIPT

I highly recommend reading Katie Rife’s piece on RESURRECTION which is a far better review than mine.


GINGER SNAPS (2000)

(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.

Halloween 2021 Programming: CULT

As previously noted, my wife and I have a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: Contemporary, Classic, and Cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year. Today features cult horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her. And yes, I know, defining what is horror and what is considered ‘cult’ horror is like splitting hairs, but rule of three, folks!

Again, apologies for leaning on prior works. Again, Halloween weekend! I have other terrors to read, watch, and write!

HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987, AMC+/hoopla/peacock/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) or PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990, YouTube)

Previously suggested. “The first PROM NIGHT is fine, but mostly remembered because of how bare Jamie Lee Curtis gets, and for riffing on CARRIE. PROM NIGHT II twists the first film’s premise and goes for broke — also, a rare woman supernatural slasher, and they were clearly hoping some of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET would rub off on the film — and PROM NIGHT III turns the franchise into an amazing, albeit often puerile, horror-comedy. They’re both very entertaining and smart in their own ways.”

PROM NIGHT II trailer:

PROM NIGHT III trailer:

Shh, don’t tell anyone but, as it’s practically impossible to stream a legal version, here you are:

MATINEE (1993, Starz/VOD)

A Joe Dante (GREMLINS, INNERSPACE) work, which means warm-hearted love for misfit youths and being scared by B-movies, while still having a subversive political voice and viewpoint. It was one of the first post-lockdown films I saw at the Music Box, but it’s endlessly re-watchable.

READY OR NOT (2019, VOD)

(Editor’s note: I cheated a bit here, as I normally would consider this contemporary and not cult, although I fully believe it’s destined to become a cult film. I also lifted most of it for my write-up.)

This one really surprised me: it’s a darkly comic fusion of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with an amazing cast that includes Andie MacDowell, Samara Weaving (Thea, from BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC), Adam Brody (probably don’t need to write this but: from THE OC, JENNIFER’S BODY, GILMORE GIRLS), Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna in WYNONNA EARP), and Kristian Bruun (Donnie from ORPHAN BLACK). It’s a surprisingly well-executed film. I recently happened upon a promotional READY OR NOT shirt I received for the film when I left a 24-hour film fest early last year, and opted to keep it as a nostalgia shirt, sitting alongside my BLAIR WITCH PROJECT shirt.

Even though I don’t believe in spoilers, I would stop the trailer after the first minute. There are a ton of fun surprises in the film that work great with the trailer, but even better if you experience them in the film itself.

Tomorrow: CLASSICS!