Sunday Nite Surreal: The Sentinel (1977) Even in Hell, Friendships often Blossom into Bliss!

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“THERE MUST FOREVER BE A GUARDIAN AT THE GATE FROM HELL…”

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THE SENTINEL 1977

I’ve written enough here at The Last Drive-In, to sort of feel more relaxed about letting it rip sometimes. I’m hoping you’ll indulge me a bit while I go off on a tiny rant… I hope that’s alright…

Michael Winner’s film was a failure at the box office. So what!

You will have undoubtedly read 9 out of 10 reviewers who will make too convenient a statement about The Sentinel being a Rosemary’s Baby rip off. In terms of how I experience this film there’s more too it than just a pat dismissal and a flip accusation of being derivative. I had first read Jeffrey Konvitz’s book when it was published in 1974, and then went to the movies to see his adapted screenplay The Sentinel during it’s theatrical release– I was a  ripe 15 year old who was captivated by the grotesque and eerie imagery. I also saw Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz 1971.

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Perhaps there is a conscious connection or homage made by director Winner between the devilish residents of the infamous Bramford Arms with it’s history of murderers and deviants –the facade filmed of New York Cities Dakota with birds eye view of Central Park as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into their house of Hades in Rosemary’s Baby 1968, perhaps my favorite film.

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Alison Parker (Christina Raines) does come in contact with a similar Gothic building filled with oddball characters who wind up being the ghosts of murderers who once lived in the impressive Brownstone. I imagine the gateway to Hell would attract an evil ensemble of nasties. And to counterbalance Alison as the women-in-peril who must fight off the paranoia and heady mind games are the devil and his minions who toy with Alison in order to drive her mad enough to once again try commit suicide. Rosemary Woodhouse has a perseverance to keep her devils at bay and hold onto her precious baby even if he was to carry on his father’s legacy. Either way, it’s both buildings filled with eccentrics and the fog of paranoia that tie the two films together for me, but that’s where it ends.

As an amateur film buff and classic horror film aficionado I think I have some authority when weighing in on whether director Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is just derivative dreck and/or dribble.

And I discovered that it’s not just the average chimer-in nudnik on IMBd who feel the need to review this film in such a simplistic way that making the comparison to Rosemary’s Baby feels like just a cop out to me.

It is even referred to as such in writer John Kenneth Muir’s entirely comprehensive book Horror Films of the 1970s– citing two film reviews during the time of The Sentinel’s theatrical release…

Look, as far back as it’s theatrical release and the critique was, to lump all ‘devil’ in the city, good vs. evil tropes with the 1968 seminal film by director Roman Polanski based on Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby.

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“…a crude and obvious imitation of Rosemary’s Baby, but much creepier and more bizarre. The unnerving ending obliterates the memory of the rest of the film… makes good use of several past-their prime actors in small roles but attempts at psychological insight, subtlety or believability fall flat (it’s a horror story not a autobiographical story of Aimee Semple McPherson for crying out loudbelievability.) The great special effects at the end justify the film’s faults however.” Darrell Moore. The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Horror films, Crowne publishing 1983.

I say to that, we leave believability outside our un-conscious abject fear chamber that is our most hidden dread drenched mind when partaking in a little collective anxiety ridden purge, right Dr. Jung?

And if critic Darrell Moore is talking about Ava Gardner–a gorgeous 55 year old woman is NOT past her prime, I hate when sexism and agism rears it’s ugly head!, I’m heading toward the number, which continually amazes people, I read these kinds of misdirected comments all the time, some critic or person saying ‘she’ looks so good for her age-40ish!, does that imply that  Ava and I should be embalmed already? Geesh, but in the words of Sophia Petrillo, I digress…

February 12, 1977 from The New York Times written by Richard Eder—“The confrontations are supposed to be terrifying but the most they offer is some mild creepiness… Mr. Winner has sweetened the mess with some nudity, a little masturbation and a dash of lesbianism.”

Interesting that the one bit of titillation Richard Eder manages to pluck out is the lesbianism. In fact that seems to be of most interest to many reviewers. Well, it’s 2016 and if a lesbian pops up in a film, it’s now about as outmoded and the shock obsolete as the landline and mullets… well I have seen people still sporting mullets.

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And I’d like to say there’s more than just mild creepiness, there are absolute moments of mind jolting terror. The exquisite color palette and the eye for detail that supports the sense of mystery such as the fabulous Houdini poster in Michael’s apartment -a center piece in plain sight that one might miss though it is there to instruct us on our journey through the dark maze of the storyline

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If anything, the film lies closer in relationship to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) where another protagonist Trelkovsky portrayed by Polanski himself, is being mentally tortured by a group of people (Shelley Winters, Lila Kedrova and Jo Van Fleet) in his building that may or may not exist ultimately driving him to attempt suicide. The fact that our heroine Alison is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless yet strange and quirky neighbors, that are actually, unholy denizens of hell definitely evokes comparisons in my mind with Roman Polanski’s equally disturbing THE TENANT (1976).

The fact that the main protagonist is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless but, actually, unholy tenants brings forth comparisons with Roman Polanski’s equally unappetizing in THE TENANT (1976)

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I’d even go as far as to compare director Michael Winner and writer Jeffrey Konvitz’s film has something of a Alejandro Jodorowsky flavor to it, with the grotesque imagery and surreal processional. Or might have influenced the very hallucinatory Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that deals with a soul’s nightmarish journey through unfathomable realms of consciousness that conjures demons and angels alike.

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With The Sentinel some people are fascinated, some are repulsed and some just think The Sentinel is truly a retread of Polanski/Castle’s superior masterpiece.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)

First off, my impression of classical 70s horror is that it’s hard for that decade to be derivative when it started an entire trend of moody, pseudo-violent social commentary’s that had a limitless freedom to go down an adventurous road. If 70s horror took its cue from older decades and genres, perhaps a nod to Tod Browning, Val Lewton, French New Wave cinema and the surrealists like Jean Renoir and René Clément, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini. But please arm chair critics that spend time comparing a 70s horror gem to a a film without the constructive reasons to support it, or to even hold it up against a contemporary film by saying it lacks a good body count and special effects, I hope I don’t offend thee, but –please!!! You’re out of your element– stick with Saw and films like The Conjuring by James Wan… You don’t understand the 70s decade of horror and it’s unique contribution. Sorry to be so snotty here…

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Now it’s even been compared to The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) as well. I suppose where ever the devil lurks, it’s automatically a Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist, Omen rip-off. Well… the element of paranoia exists in the film as Alison Parker goes through a nightmarish journey through a maze of surreal events, while she devolves toward her ultimate fate. There are elements of minions from Hell that lurk and groups of diabolical characters that come in and out of Alison’s orbit. And like The Omen and The Exorcist, the film does open up in Italy with a sense of ancient religious underpinnings hinting at the inner workings of the church. It then brings us to a church in New York City where Monsignor Franchino and a colorful group of acolytes convene in a ceremony, with a quick cut to Alison posing in a post-modern sheer black flowing cape as if moving Martha Graham style, a dark looming allegorical winged bird or augury swathed in black like the angel of death.

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The juxtaposition of the old and the modern is a nice touch. BUT… that’s where the comparison ends. The film has it’s own unique story. It has been blamed for being too simplistic a story. Okay fine. Perhaps, too many mainstream contemporary narratives have gotten so convoluted and disorienting that a simple plot is not enough. Then again, there’s the complaint that it’s predictable. Well, then don’t watch it, if the journey isn’t worth the end result. Plot holes is another gripe– Well, perhaps during that simplistic story, they weren’t paying attention. The film explains as much as it can, within the visual narrative. And that’s enough…

The Sentinel is perhaps one of the most engrossing, nightmarish, surreal a horror film as any of the 1970s… with it’s origin based on the story of the Garden of Eden and the angel Uriel who was entrusted to guard the entrance from the Devil. Alison Parker (Christina Raines) has been chosen by providence and by lot for her past transgressions, her two suicide attempts–now to be groomed by the secret order of the Catholic church to redeem her damned soul, taking the place of the blind priest Father Halliran and become the new Sentinel, Sister Theresa to guard over the gates of Hell in– Brooklyn Heights.

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Dante Alighieri wrote his allegorical epic poem between 1306 and 1321. Virgil is the guide who takes the reader through the author’s examination of the afterlife, which travels through the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Heaven).-source wikipedia

The Sentinel 1977 is another extraordinary occult film whose ambiance benefits from being shot on location in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan. 10 Montague Terrace in Brooklyn Heights with the Promenade off Remsen Street. The building is still there…

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As writer Jack Hunter describes in his chapter Flesh Inferno from Inside Teradome: The Illustrated History of Freak Film he talked about Federico Fellini’s Sartyicon 1969 and immediately The Sentinel floods into my mind- 
—“His vision of Petronius’ ancient Rome, Fellini willfully fills the screen with a succession of grotesqueries, images both beautiful and bestial, ghastly and gorgeous.”

Aesthetically, the scattered surrealism works, because it supports the religious mythology and dark fantasy of the oddball characters and the story. The moody camerawork by Richard C. Kratina and sense of realism within the disorienting story offered by set design Ed Stewart works to create a surreal atmosphere of anxiety and ambivalence. No one will believe that she isn’t just having another emotional crisis.  The building reveals its dark origins, the entire film is decorated with dread and kitschy late-seventies embellishments filled with hallucinogenic moments of abject agony (a la Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini Satyricon 1969, Juliet of the Spirits 1965) soul tormenting— ominous and sinister visions and flashbacks, profanity, debauchery, cannibilistic malevolent Milton’s Inferno and Dante’s Divine Comedy as archetype and the ‘fallen woman’ as fetish.

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Dante’s Inferno is a weary journey emblazoned with fire and perdition… a landscape occupied by devil’s, lost souls and shades.

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Divine Comedy opening verse—the plaque in the basement of the brownstone that Michael uncovers reads as follows

THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE CITY OF GRIEF. THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE PAIN THAT IS ETERNAL. THROUGH ME YOU GO AMONG PEOPLE LOST… ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Now the hint that the brownstone is the gateway to Hell and she has been chosen as the next sentinel to guard over it, as a way of redemption for her past suicide attempt cutting her wrists in a graphically bloody scene while she’s wearing her Catholic girl short plaid skirt white blouse and penny loafers, Mary Janes or black and white saddle shoes. is chosen by a secretive and distant association of Catholic priests to be the next “sentinel” to the gateway to Hell, the idea of blinding these Sentinels is to prevent their eyes to fall upon evil horrors that might induce fear and influence them away from their guardianship. All sentinels had tried to kill themselves, now priests or nuns in the files. They didn’t exist until after their attempted suicides showing up as clergy. Raines’ father is a gnarled, bony old man and he is shown so scrawny as to be suffering from pernicious anemia and putrid bile, his cadaveric screeching mannerisms like a vicious desiccated old buzzard.

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Both the operatives of good and the minions of evil, work to try and get her to either take up the mantle of guardian or try to kill herself and become another soul won over by the devil, thwarting the secretive group of the secret sect of the Vatican to protect the gates of Hell from re-opening, watching over her to keep her from being terrorized into another suicide attempt.

Writer Jeffrey Konvitz Produced and wrote the screenplay for the film Directed by Michael Winner (The Nightcomers 1971, The Mechanic 1972, Death Wish 1974) the film was scripted by Jeffrey Konvitz (Silent Night, Bloody Night 1972—-The Stone Killer (1973)) based on his 1974 novel which the film does an excellent job of paying tribute to. The story unfolds beautifully with twists and turns and an extremely creepy and campy bizarre ambience.

Composer Gil Melle created the resplendent orchestral vibe, majestic horn section,haunting woodwinds and resonant strings that cry out. Les Lazarowitz is credited as the sound recordist who creates a sonic landscape of terrifying wails, metallic splashes and waves of dark moody textures.

And Richard C. Kratina (camera work on Midnight Cowboy 1969) worked on the interesting camera angles and cinematography. Costumes and wardrobe by Peggy Farrell, Set Design –Ed Stewart. Film editors Bernard Gibble (The Man in the White Suit 1951) and Terence Rawlings (Our Mother’s House 1967, The Devils 1971, The Great Gatsby 1974, Alien 1979)

Someone on IMBd pointed out that Michael Winner’s audio commentary for the UK DVD spotlights the director regaling you with the tale of how Universal head honcho Ned Tanen rejected Martin Sheen and insisted on Chris Sarandon for the lead only to wonder who was “that awful Greek waiter.”

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Director Michael Winner, Chris Sarandon and Christina Raines on the set of The Sentinel 1977 image courtesy of Horrorpedia.

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Director Michael Winner caught a lot of flack when it was realized that he had used actual disfigured people who were born with physical disabilities instead of special effects to represent the demons rising up from the bowels of hell. Something that Tod Browning experienced when he released his film Freaks in 1932. Or consider director Erle C. Kenton’s characters adapted from the H.G. Wells story of Island of Lost Souls (1932). Why Tod Browning’s film Freaks was banned for over 30 years, when in retrospect Browning portrayed his ‘freaks’ as sympathetic heroes that we not only saw as very human but empathized with, the accusation that the film was exploitative seems unwarranted.

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Dick Smith did the make up which interspersed the real life ‘freaks’ with the make up costumed damned souls from hell. There’s a man who has testicles for a beard, I’d like to know if he was that way real life or created to as one of the denizens to shock. One of the sideshow ‘devils’ also appeared in the Thomas Tryon adapted film directed by Robert Mulligan —the incredibly atmospheric The Other (1972)

With special make up designed by legendary Dick Smith who also worked on The Exorcist 1973 and music by Gil Melle special effects by Albert Whitlock (The Birds 1963, Earthquake 1974, a few episodes of Star Trek, The Thing 1982, a few episodes of Star Trek) additional Make up by-Robert Laden —although people with real facial deformities were also utilized… -a whole crowd of real-life freaks and disabled extras as the denizens of hell.  real-life freaks (some of whom are said to have also featured in Jack Cardiff’s THE MUTATIONS [1974].

Without giving away a few secrets, I can say that the climax is riveting as the devils and damned start to pour out of Hell, unleashed by Chazen at their side.

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As John Kenneth Muir aptly puts it, about the controversial use of real life people with actual deformities to plays Hellish monstrosities “it is no doubt the strongest in the film, “The idea of physical deformity (i.e.”evil”) is one of The Sentinel’s more powerful conceits.”

The Sentinel is one of the most definitive horror films of the 1970s decade. The cast of characters, and the story-line, the imagery and the intensity play out like a grim yet colorful nightmare, without shock value for the sake of just being graphically violent.  I do have a bit of an uncomfortable time watching a certain scene with Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra who performs a sexual act on herself while Sylvia Miles goes to get the tea, in order to shock and upset Alison. I wish the scene had been more suggested and toned down, it still would have served its purpose. I understand that the idea was to be vulgar and offensive in order to express how profane these characters were to develop but it makes my skin crawl to watch it, as it’s only moments it seems to last forever until the look of ecstasy and climax washes over the beautiful actresses face. This is an extremely awkward moment for Alison and a very unusual welcome to the building to watch the couple fondle each other in their leotards and wild teased out coiffed hair.

Charles Chazen matter of fact tells Alison as he points with his own flamboyant style “This is where the lesbians live,” and exchanges like Alison asking Gerde “What do you do for a living?” She answers “We fondle each other.”

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I suppose in 1977 even the allusion to the idea that lured and sexually explosive lesbians existed on screen was in itself a titillating and provocative notion, today the use of them as a ‘fetish taboo symbol” has lost its luster to shock and tantalize..

Christina Raines plays a young model with an afflicted soul –Alison Parker. Her boyfriend is portrayed by Chris Sarandon as the smarmy mustachioed sketchy Lawyer who was marvelous as Leon -Sonny (Al Pachino’s) lover who wants a sex change so bad, Sonny’s willing to rob a bank for the money–it’s a true story also set in NYC of course I’m talking director Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Sarandon apparently was not happy with the film post production.

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Then there’s José Ferrer as a “Priest of the Brotherhood” Arthur Kennedy as Monseigneur Franchino , the magnificent Ava Gardner in a short cameo is sophisticated and outré Vogue as Realtor Miss Logan who I believe to be literally an ‘outside’ agent in the true sense of the word, working for the secret Catholic society trying to strategically ensure that Alison will be in place and ready to take over as the Sentinel because on the appointed date Father Halliran (John Carradine) who is now fading psychically too weak to uphold his task as Guardian over the Gates of Hell will need a successor. John Carradine looks decrepit and spooky with his fixed gaze and staring off white eyeballs, and although he has a distinctive voice we all love, he has no dialogue in the film which works.

Burgess Meredith  -Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner.

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And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone episode Printers Devil and Torture Garden 1967. He also played a malevolent character along side Eileen Heckert as Arnold and Roz Allardyce in Dan Curtis’ equally creepy Burnt Offerings (1976).

While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s non humorous gem he’s splendid as the spiffy little eccentric cultivated Charles Chazen.

Veteran supportive actor Martin Balsam the scatterbrained scholar, Professor Ruzinsky, who translates the Latin passages into English for Michael Lerman, Beverly D’Angelo plays Gerde’s girlfriend Sandra a mute pixie, the guttural Sylvia Miles (Murder Inc 1960, Naked City 1961-1963, Midnight Cowboy 1969) plays Gerde the guttural pythoness who adds that bit of titillation everyone seems to like to point out, as they are vulgarian Lesbian ballerinas lazing in their leotards.

And of course the uncomfortable scene where Beverly D’Angelo delightedly pleasures herself in front of Alison while Gerde is getting the tea. When she comes back with the tray and finds Alison getting up to scram -Gerde replies like a Diva “It’s very rude to drink and run” I particularly loved this description of the classic actress- “featuring predatory Teutonic lesbian Sylvia Miles.” I just adore both actresses!

Fred Stuthman who has appeared on more television and theatrical features than you can imagine plays Alison’s horrible, skeletal, degenerate father and an even more repulsive looking damned soul, blueish toned, white eyeballed phantasmagorical corpse.

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Eli Wallach plays the sarcastic cynical New York City homicide Detective Gatz who has believed in the guilt of Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) who has some secrets and sins in his life meaning he might have killed his first wife. Jerry Orbach plays a director of commercials Alison is working on. Jeff Goldblum plays Jack a fashion photographer.Tom Berenger, the wonderful William Hickey plays the a professional safe cracker Perry that Michael (knowing his share of shady characters and criminals as he’s a defense lawyer) hires to break into the church and grab the files on Father Halliran , and Christopher Walken as Rizzo, Detective Gatz’s partner, who utters this telling line “She went to a party with eight dead murderers” and Deborah Raffin plays Alison’s best friend Jennifer. Hank Garrett plays Brenner the private investigator Michael hires to dig into the back story about Father Halliran and the involvement with the Catholic church.

Kate Harrington plays Mrs. Clark who was at Jezabel’s birthday party and appears in the mug shot that Gatz and Rizzo look at. She murdered her boyfriend violently. Then there’s the Clotkin sisters, Lillian and Emma played by Jane Hoffman and Elaine Shore murderous cannibals and hedonists. All the neighbors become menacing, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. The decorated apartments, wind up being revealed as vacant shells in disrepair.

Christina Raines (The Duelist 1977, Nashville 1975) plays an afflicted soul–Alison Parker a high fashion model in New York City who also does shampoo commercials, who lives with but can’t make a commitment to her boyfriend lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) She craves her independents and holds Michael’s proposal’s of marriage at bay. Soon after an argument with Michael about moving out on her own Alison gets word that her father has passed away at her family home in Baltimore, which triggers memories of her childhood trauma, leading to her first suicide attempt. After the funeral she returns to the city and finds an advertisement for a lovely Brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.

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So goes to meet with the chic Realtor Miss Logan (the voluptuous Ava Gardner) unaware that she is being followed by a priest. She finds that the apartment is unbelievably reasonable for a New York rental which is owned by the Catholic church —She agrees to take the place from Miss Logan who obviously wants Alison to move in, dropping it’s price from $500 to $400 as if Alison heard it wrong the first time she complained that it was out of her price range — “I can’t afford $500.” Alison says, with which Miss Logan misses no time in saying  ”$400 is not excessive.”

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… The beautiful layout is in Brooklyn Heights right across the water from Manhattan, decorated with gorgeous Gothic furniture, high ceilings and ivy growing up the sides of the building and a blind priest Father Francis Matthew Halliran (John Carradine), who just sits and appears to be looking out the window on the top floor. Although the Brownstone was a steal, and furnished as well, somehow it managed to be lensed by Dick Kratina with a sense of eerie and dangerous foreboding.

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Alison’s response to learning that occupant of the top floor is Father Halliran a blind priest “Blind? Then what does he look at?”

Once she moves in, she starts to meet very odd and mysterious tenants who begin to give her the pip and the whim whams. First she meets the droll little character in 4B Charles Chazen…

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Alison’s sense of independence starts to deteriorate after a series of disturbing events. Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith — or the little dapper ‘devil’) is played to the hilt by wonderful character actor Burgess Meredith who runs rampant with his nifty asides and axioms, who has a sovereign reign over his legion of “devils.”

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The door bell rings. The animated little puck like old man, which a yellow parakeet on his shoulder and tuxedo cat in his arms flashes his delightful smile at Alison…

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“Chazen is the name Charles Chazen. I’m your neighbor in 4B and this is Mortimer. Um he’s from Brazil. And this on the other hand so to speak… this is Jezebel. Say hello to that nice lady Jezebel. (Meowww) That’s it darling. She’s got indigestion.”  Alison introduces herself, “Well hi I’m Alison.” Charles Chazen-“Really, may we uh, (he enters her apartment) oh! what a lovely apartment. Absolutely lovely.” Alison-“I was wondering when I was going to meet my new neighbors.” Charles Chazin-“My, you’re so pretty. Haven’t I seen you before, on television? Now don’t tell me I know you’re in a ” Alison answers – “I’ve done some tv commercials.” Charles Chazen responds unenthusiastic–  “Oh… really, I thought you were an actress…[…] Oh my dear your taste is impeccable. I wish you’d help me redecorate my poor place someday would you, hum?…Were you waiting to go out?” Alison- “I’m waiting for a friend.” Charles Chazen-“Ahh well, friendships often blossom into bliss as they say, and speaking of bliss Mortimer loves his belly rubbed would you..” Alison-“Do you know any of our neighbors”  Charles Chazen-“Yes I know all of our neighbors and they’re very nice, except that priest who lives above me, he’s a… (waving his hands dismissively) well however he’s quiet most of the time.”

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Charles Chazen leaves a picture in a gold frame on her fireplace mantle, leaving with her some mirthful advice, “remember you eat and drink in moderation my dear.”

Alison also meets the lesbians Gerde and Sandra…

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As soon as she moves into the building her sleep is disturbed by loud footsteps and clanging sounds that make the chandelier swing back and forth. Alison meets the Realtor to find out more about the neighbors in her building, in particular the person occupying the floor above her, as their heavy footsteps and loud banging kept her up all night.

Alison goes to inquire about the tenants and the person who occupies the apartment above her telling Miss Logan about the noises that kept her up all night. Logan is shocked to hear about this as the only tenants in the building are supposed to be Alison and the blind priest, the only tenants who have inhabited the building for years. Alison is disturbed by this news and returns home to find that Mr.Chazen’s apartment is truly vacant and the dust tells the story that it’s been sorely neglected by time.

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“My dear Miss Parker aside from the priest and now of course you, nobody has lived in that building for three years.”

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Miss Logan and Alison take a cab back after having the conversation in the cafe about being kept up all night by someone making so much of a ruckus on the floor above her. Monsignor Franchino stands behind the blind priest his hand grasping a cobweb covered statue baring an insignia ring belonging to their secret sect, he tells Father Hilliran “I am here holy father I have come so that you may shed your burden in peace.” and Alison takes Miss Logan through the apartment building, showing her vacant furnished rooms that looked cob webbed and dust covered as if it has been neglected for years. Alison informs Miss Logan –“This is where the lesbians live.”- Miss Logan hands Alison the keys dropping them into her hands with a gesture of skepticism before she opens the door.- Miss Logan handing Alison the keys- “Be my guest.”

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the continual shot of the stairs leading upward seem symbolic of spiritual ascension and the death journey of the soul as in the story of Jacobs Ladder.

As Alison and Miss Logan begin to walk around the room she tells her that the furniture was different in there before. “Oh come now Miss Parker these pieces have not been touched in years.” Miss insists that she has to get back to the office, but Alison takes her to 4B where Charles Chazin lives, staring out the window she sings to herself, “Happy Birthday dear Jezebel… believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night… for a cat.” Miss Logan smiles with a superior air  “Sorry I missed it.”

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Then Alison urges Miss Logan to let her into Father Halliran’s apartment as she wants to see the old priest, but she tells Alison that it would be highly improper. The priest is taken care of by The Diocesen Council of New York sees to his needs. Monsignor Franchino breathing a sigh of relief that Miss Logan hasn’t let Alison into the priests apartment.

We then see Alison on a commercial shoot where she has her first fainting spell, begins to suffer from severe migraines, begins looking pale as death.

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Charles Chazen throws as sort of a welcoming party for Alison and introduces her to the rest of the odd tenants in the odd old building.

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He invites Alison to the birthday party he is throwing for his black and white cat Jezebel, before he takes her inside to meet the guests, he blindfolds her with a red scarf. Jezebel is a perfectly delicious name for a devil’s cat. “Black and White cat… black and white cake…” -quoted by the murderess Mrs. Clark -Jezebel the tuxedo cat wears a pointed birthday hat with streamers at the top, very slick element to the quirkiness of the ghostly damned tenants.

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Later on that night Alison hears more clamorous noises from the floor above her apartment which is supposed to be vacant. Alison starts to experience weird happenings in the apartment as well as her health starts to deteriorate as she begins getting striking headaches, looking paler, anemic and practically deathly.

Michael is becoming concerned for Alison’s safety and hires a private investigator James Brenner (Hank Garrett) to keep an eye on her.

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We experience her past by way of flashback. Alison has a history of emotional distress, two suicide attempts, once as a teenager, after she saw her father’s sexual antics— a bacchanalian orgy— explicit menage a trios scene with assumed ladies of ill repute and then some time after Michael’s wife apparently committed suicide though detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) has been daunting him since it happened, believing Michael had something to do with her untimely death and it might turn out to be murder!

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Alison’s strained relationship with her creepy philandering father who used to bring prostitutes home to the house and gallivant around the house with them, when Alison comes home from catholic school and finds them cavorting with cake and wine… In a protest to her religious schooling Alison’s father rips her silver crucifix from her neck and tosses it on the floor. She quickly runs to the bathroom and slices her wrists.

Since her past childhood trauma, her connection with religion and failed suicide attempts, she leaves her faith and the Catholic church behind.

Alison chases phantoms all through the building like Alice in Wonderland. It is more than mildly creepy as written, it is all out frightening as hell, and still is…

That night begins the first of horrifying visions that assault Alison’s world. Visions of her decrepit father who lurks and lunges in the shadows. Armed with a butcher knife and a flashlight she decides to go investigate the vacant apartment above her. When she sees him!

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She is suddenly smack in the middle of a nightmarish sequence as she encounters the specter of her father, a ghoulish corpse, lensed with quick cuts to project an eerie type of movement by the phantom who spurts from behind the bedroom door of the apartment upstairs first hidden in shadow then walking quickly without an awareness of her presence at first, then he appears to come after her prompting her to slash at him with her knife, the blood sputtering out of the bluish corpse.

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Slashing at her father’s ghost, she runs screaming out into the night blood splashed across her white slip, as people gather around her. Detective Gatz questions Michael the next day. Michael puffs on his Italian cigarette, “This isn’t police business” Detective Gatz “A girl running through the street at 4am saying she’s knifed her father, blood on her, that’s police business.” he shrugs staring out the window. He gives Michael Lerman a dig, making a comment an inappropriate hand gesture about his wife’s supposes suicide plunging off the Brooklyn Bridge. “The mistress of the bereaved husband took an overdose… but lived.”

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Alison is resting at the hospital unable to respond for quite as she’s been drugged to keep her calm. Back at the police station Det. Gatz is discussing the case with Rizzo “She’s in the hospital blurbing about neighbors that don’t exist… except one, a priest, and he wouldn’t know if the building burnt down.”

Yet another theme has been developing that of paranoia and the protagonist experiencing alienation and disbelief by everyone surrounding her.

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An un-credited Joe Hamer plays the detective who recognizes Anna Clark’s name. “It’s funny I know that name from somewhere.” Gatz tells him it’s one of the invisible neighbors. Cut to a book with crime history filled with murderers and a photograph headlining the infamous Anna Clark. Michael shows Alison the photo and ask if she’s seen that face before. “That’s Anna Clark she was at Charles Chazen’s birthday party.”  Michael reads, “Mrs. Anna Clark convicted murderess, sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing March 27, 1949 for the murder of her lover and his wife.” Jennifer takes the book from Michael and continues reading  “when he refused to leave his wife, she chopped them up in bed with an axe… charming.”

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The quality in terms of how powerful The Sentinel holds up to a big production like The Omen or the vastly mimicked but never successfully redone William Peter Blatty /Director William Friedkin’s striking masterwork that is The Exorcist, The Sentinel is a self contained little jewel that must be seen through a very warped kaleidoscope of horrors. It’s tropes of good vs evil, secret religions sects, and the devil in the city exists for sure, but it’s bursts of horrors from the Id and unsavory characters create a world inhabited by a different set of innocents, angels and demons.

Perhaps the most startling vision in the film aside from the climactic ending which as said I won’t reveal here, is the moment her cadaveric father lurks behind her bedroom door hidden at first by shadow, in an almost paused moment in time, as if appearing from another realm, his movements otherworldly and alien, as she recognizes this ghoulish apparition as her recently deceased bastard of a father. I know it still rattles me to this day. It’s a gruesome scene as she stabs at his face, glazed over whitened fish like eyeballs and deathly comatose stare she thrusts away slashing at him with a large butcher knife.

The night she sees the ghost of her father she also has a lucid vision of killing her recently deceased father by slicing into his face, cutting an eyeball (the surrealist short Un Chien Andalou 1929) and cutting his ghoulish blue nose off!

They find Brenner’s body dumped in a land fill, with the exact wounds described by Alison claiming she inflicted on her father. They also find Alison’s file and Michael’s name in Brenner’s office, connecting them to his murder.

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She goes to Church and seeks out counsel from the priest who has been secretly trailing her the entire time. Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy) tells her that it’s time to ‘embrace Christ’ and that the lord has a purpose for her.

Alison goes to church and lights a candle and prays. Monsignor Franchino who has been secretly trailing her comes to her side, he tells her that it’s time to ’embrace Christ’, “You came to be heard.”

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What winds up being revealed is that Alison really killed Brenner and not the apparition of her father, it was the private Brenner hired by Michael. Detective Gatz and Rizzo. (Wallach and Walken) make connections between Michael Lerman, his hysterical girlfriend and now two murders, seem to link them all together some how. During her waking nightmare, running out into the dark streets collapsing in her scant white nighty drenched in her own blood, holding the knife, she is now suspected of murder along with her boyfriend the sleazy attorney Michael Lerman.

Drawing attention to herself by screaming out in the streets all blood soaked leads police detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) and partner Rizzo (Christopher Walken) to investigate both Michael and Alison with certainty that it all somehow leads back to Michael Lerman’s first wife who supposedly killed herself. Detective Gatz  has an eternal hate on for this hot-shot lawyer who once showed him up in court regarding the whole wife’s suicide. That case is really a motivating factor is Detective Gatz’s dogged approach to finding out whose blood was really on Christina and if Michael Lerman has anything to do with it. Alison is taken to the hospital that night.

While the police do some investigating from the descriptions and names of the party guests Alison gives them. The cops uncover that one of her ‘imagined’ party guests and supposed neighbor is Anna Clark , a murderess who went to the electric chair for chopping up her boyfriend and his wife with an axe.

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Michael starts to believe that Alison is experiencing some kind of uncanny paranormal phenomena, when she returns home he begins to quiz her randomly pulling out books from the shelf of the vacant apartment 4B… As he shows her pages, she begins to fluently read Latin phrases though it appears to her as being written in English. Of course Michael is suspicious of Father Halliran mysterious blind priest on the top floor. When he tries to question him, there is no answer and the door is locked.

Back at the brownstone she shows Michael the vacant apartment, pulling select books off the bookcase, “The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, Techniques of Torture by Illard.. you’ll like this one for variety, all the pages are the same.” Michael, “Alison there’s nothing strange about this book.” “What do you mean?” “All the pages are different.” “All the pages are the same… all of them!” “Alison either one of us is lying or one of us is seeing something that isn’t there now, tell me what do you see in this book” She slams the book closed… and insists “Latin, I see nothing but Latin, everything in there is Latin” Michael takes a pen out of his pocket and tells Alison to write down exactly what she sees. Michael points with his finger, words like “Though the Church and superstitious” Alison begins to write down what she sees-“TIBI SORTU…” etc. “Jesus Alison you really are seeing Latin.”

They try to get inside Father Halliran’s apartment, but the lock has been changed.

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Michael then takes the translation to the dotty absent minded Professor Ruzinsky (Martin Balsam) “You know when you phoned I thought you had a serious problem something challenging. A few word more and I’ll have it Eldridge” Michael corrects him, “It’s Lerman, Michael Lerman” Ruzinsky agrees, “Yes, Eldridge Lerman… there we are, well, -‘to thee thy course by lot is given charge and strict watch that to this happy place no evil thing approach or enter it.’-“

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“It’s been a long time Mr. Lawyer you take a high chance.”

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“William O’Roarke Father Halliran William O’Roarke disappeared July 12, 1952 after attempted suicide. “ Perry-(Hickey) says “They’re the same man. William O’Roarke became a priest named Halliran.” “Yes but why?” Perry shrugs-“I just open doors” Michael digs through each file expounding- “Before Halliran there was Father David Spinetti,who started life as Andrew Carter declared missing, Carter reappeared as Spinetti  and died the day that Halliran started life as a priest. Before him Mary Thorne becomes Sister Mary Angelica. All of these people going back for years lived ordinary lives and then became priests or nuns. All of them sometime or another… attempted suicide…. […] if these files are right Father Matthew Halliran dies the same day that Alison Parker disappears and becomes Sister Theresa.” (insert sweeping Gil Melle style strings…)

So he hires offbeat character actor William Hickey as Perry the safe cracker and ace lock picker to break into the Diocese and lift the files on the quiet Father Halliran. Before becoming a priest, he too had tried to commit suicide, just like Alison. Michael also finds a file on Alison Parker who is next in line to become Sister Theresa who is due to take over– tomorrow!

This as writer John Kenneth Muir brings out how it begs the question about redemption, does Alison have free will? Was she chosen by God to be a servant or did her fall from grace, her suicide attempt cause her to owe her life to Christ?
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Detective Gatz –“Rebecca and Malcolm Stinnet, Sandra (Narcotics Addict) Gerde Ingstrom, Emma and Lillian Clotkin, Anna Clark, all people the Parker girl said she met.” Rizzo-“All killers all dead. She went to a party with 8 dead murderers.” Gatz heartily replies- “Doesn’t everybody?”

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Michael goes on to investigate further, rummaging around the old brownstone he finds a boarded up plague in the basement that tells the opening saga of Dantes Divine Comedy revealing that the building has been built over the portal to Hell and the lost souls who wander there. Michael finally goes up the stairs to confront Father Halliran strangling him to death then he himself is struck down by an unseen figure in the shadows who cracks him over the head with a religious statue.

When Alison returns home, she finds Michael there, who proceeds to explain that she has been daunted by ‘devils’ and that she is to be the next Sentinel.

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And this is where I will leave off…

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The ending is a grotesque morality pageant that might terrify or even offend certain people, but if you’re willing to investigate a rare 70s horror story with a dark atmosphere and a visual journey into darker realms… dare enter!

John Kenneth Muir Horror Films of the 1970s
“Seventies films such as Frenzy (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) were also more explicit, and far more intense, than previous horror productions had been. This was a result of the “new freedom” in cinema to freely depict graphic violence and bloodletting and a shift to the paradigm of existential ‘realism’ over the romantic ‘supernatural.’” continuing Muir writes “Seizing on this spiritual doubt and vulnerability was another blockbuster movie trend of the 1970s, the religious horror film. The Exorcist (1973), Beyond the Door (1975), The Omen (1976), and The Sentinel (1977) and many more that found stark terror in the concept of that the Devil was real, and that mankind’s eternal would was in jeopardy from demonic possession and the Antichrist, among other iconic boogeyman”

A term used called it ‘savage cinema’ and was unique to the 70s although not much anymore since the rising of the ‘torture porn’ movement.

The climax has very disturbing imagery, not unlike a parade of oddities and gruesome atrocities you’d see in a Jodorworsky (El Topo 1970, Santa Sangre 1989 or nightmarishly gory visions of hell from Lucio Fulci.

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Once again from Muir’s book he at least insightfully makes the connection between The Exorcist 1973 and The Omen 1976 by endowing the type of good vs evil films coming out of the 70s as they “set forth a conspiracy in the Church, a kind of possession by evil, the corruption of the innocent,and other common elements of 1970s Hollywood supernatural flicks. The Sentinel is not as powerful a film as either The Omen or The Exorcist, but it does feature some startling moments and is a solid horror film despite an overload of clichés. The film’s greatest power comes in its jolting, surprising revelations.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I’ll be standing watch all night long on Halloween, wishing you and yours a happy and healthy candy binge!

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Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil

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Directed by the silent film era auteur Maurice Tourneur, (father of Jacques Tourneur Curse of the Demon 1957, Cat People 1942, I Walked With a Zombie 1943, Out of the Past 1947 ) this fantasy- horror film creates a tumultuous Mephistophelean voyage of surreal and striking imagery.  This film has fast become one of my favorite fantasy/horror films….

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Carnival of Sinners or La Main Du Diable (The Devil’s Hand) is a brilliant and hilariously dark morality play about being careful what you wish for and what is the meaning of life and the pursuit of physical pleasure and earthly desires, if you must lose your eternal soul in the end.

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With an incredible score by Roger Dumas, that lends a magical sound track to the story!

Based on Gérard de Nerval’s novel, the film creates a hallucinatory world of monochromatic imagery, with noir like edges & shadows, Gothic & theatrically macabre masks and a gruesome narrative about a disembodied charmed left hand. Palau’s amiable little grinning devil is perhaps one of my favorite portrayals of Old Nick as he reveals himself to others as a mild mannered civil servant in a bowler hat, when he is actually on a duplicitous mission to abscond with the soul’s of desperate men.

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As synchronicity often rears it’s playful head when I do companion posts Carnival of Sinners also frames a gathering of people, much like the later post’s ‘angry women villagers’ who set the tenor for both films as something fantastical

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It opens with a small village tavern filled with people who have been detained by an avalanche. These characters are comical and colorful as they all want to eat, and are suspicious of Roland, who we haven’t been introduced to yet. As they wait to be fed, a strange man dressed in black carrying a wrapped package under his left arm, his immovable hand gloved in stiff black leather storms into the tavern with a gust of secrets and urgency at this back. They immediately have mistrust of this man, as he is not amiable and does not wish to mix with them at all. He acts as if he is being pursued by the devil himself.

Well maybe he is… hhm. He is called to the phone by someone asking for him by name. Once at the phone, the lights go out, and when they come back on and the chaos settles, the package is missing. He panics of course.

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As it is a tradition at this tavern to be told unbelievable stories by Monsieur Notary. They plead with Roland Brissot to tell them what has brought him here. And so he begins to relate an incredible story…

Pierre Fresnay  (The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934, Le Corbeau -The Raven 1943) is french artist Roland Brissot, who can’t get the girl or sell a painting until one night after Irène (Josseline Gaël) storms out of the little cafe frustrated with him for not being a success and a bore,  Mélisse the cook (Noël Roquevert ) brings over a bottle of wine and offers to help the down and out painter. He tells Roland that he possesses a Talisman that he’d like to sell him for merely one sous. That it would bring him great riches, love and success!

When Roland follows him up to his room, he shows him a small wooden box, inside the curious box is an animated severed left hand. Mélisse explains to Roland that he purchased the Talisman a while ago, but he fears going to hell, and wants to save his eternal soul, so he must pass this gift onto another man who is willing to buy it full knowing the contract. Desiring to make Irène his own, and stop doing portraits of dogs. Roland agrees and pays the sous to the cook. At that moment, Mélisse’s left hand is severed and mysteriously wedded to Rolands left forearm, and he is now the new owner of the Talisman. Of course all his wishes come true and Irène comes back in total awe of her man. He becomes a great renowned painter and has riches beyond his wildest dreams. But with all these cautionary fables there is a kink in the chain. A chain that I will get back to in a short while.

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Brissot goes to a palm reader who immediately sees that he is damned… She insists that he leave… never to return

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A peculiar little man (Le petit homme– who is wonderfully enacted by Palau (Children of Paradise 1945, The Devil in the Flesh 1947, Le Corbeau 1943) is actually the devil himself who has been offering this deal for quite a while now and since it has been a year to the day that Roland made the wager of his immortal soul for the Talisman, he has come to collect.

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From the moment Roland obtains the Talisman, women flock to him, his dog runs away in fear, and Irène cannot resist him to the point that he no longer can stand her smothering love by the end.

The little man shadows his every move, playing little tricks on Roland so that he couldn’t possibly buy back his soul. He changes the time on the clock, he steals money so that Roland must scramble to put the fee together which doubles with every day that it’s come due. His life falls apart, his wife becomes less desirable to him and they become strangers, and all he wants is to be free of his left hand which is the harbinger of doom for him.

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Will Roland Brissot find the next sinner to buy the Talisman from him… or will the Devil get his due?

As the he relates his story, it unfolds like a marvelous dark fairytale, lensed with visual splendor dipped in a wonderful folkloric narrative and marvelous characters… including the other souls who lost their left hands and formed a special chain in the links of fate.

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We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.
We, the links in the chain-Joined like the fingers of a hand.

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Roland’s journey is whimsical and harrowing, beautifully filmed by Arman Thirard  who photographed such masterpieces as Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique 1955 and The Wages of Fear 1953 two of the best thrillers of all time!

Carnival of Sinners 1943 belongs with some of the great fixtures of ‘wagering your soul to the devil’, with William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, and F. W. Murnau’s Faust 1926,

Roland has an enormous painting of Goya’s nightmarish diversion into hell hanging in his palatial mansion. It is the one of Colossus devouring his son. You would have to watch this film several times to catch all the wonderful details and devilish black humor!

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Continue reading “Sunday Nite Surreal: Daughter of Darkness (1948) & Carnival of Sinners (1943)-The Right Hand of God/The Left Hand of the Devil”

Sunday Nite Surreal- Eye of the Devil (1966) The Grapes of Death!

“Catherine it’s our belief in something… that makes that thing… for a moment, or forever-DIVINE…” -Phillippe de Montfaucon

EYE OF THE DEVIL (1966)

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Directed by J. Lee Thompson’s  (Blonde Sinner 1956, Tiger Bay 1959, Cape Fear 1962, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 1975) the outre surreptitious  Eye of the Devil (1966) is an atmospheric smorgasbord of uncanny & haunting images encircled by the air of clandestine and provocative underlying forcefulness. With ease the film pulls you into an esoteric world of ancient rites and beliefs and primal fears and urges to prevail against or more aptly in honor of the pagan notion of the rule & reign of the old ways, and the dominant elementals. It’s a bit of a cryptic occult meditation on reverence, immortality, sacrifice and reaping what you sow.

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Niven urbane and resolute in his stature as Patriarch of the French family who comes home to the ancestral chateau to tend to the vineyards, (the past season’s crop has suffered) and take his rightful place during the rites of the ceremonial harvest. Phillipe must not only observe the deadly family secrets that have survived for centuries but more horrifying than that, it must continue to be passed down to his children.

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Philippe’s Aunt The Countess Estell “ Christian Caray is a very wicked boy and his sister Odile is no better”

Eye of the Devil, works so well to capture our ideologies by the throat partly because of the convincing performances by the enormously talented cast who inhabit this secret world, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Flora Robson (Beast in the Cellar 1970 ) as Phillipe’s Great Aunt the Countess Estell, Donald Pleasence as a malefic cleric Pere Dominic with shaved head and solemnity, David Hemmings, Sharon Tate, and Emlyn Williams.

Both Sharon Tate and David Hemmings play two beautiful yet sinister figures lurking about. David Hemmings went on to do Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow Up (1966) and Sharon Tate whose first movie this was, went on to do Roman Polanski’s originally called Dance with The Vampires, now called The Fearless Vampire Killers, a comedic romp through the classical vampire story, though a little numb possessed a few hilarious moments. 

The film is an adaptation of Philip Lorain’s novel Day of the Arrow

Once again absolutely stunning visual frames from cinematographer Erwin Hillier

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Erwin Hillier combined with J. Lee Thompson’s directing style is tense and well focused gaze creating a closed world of authentic dis-ease. Beautifully photographed with slight suggestions of The Wicker Man. There is an intoxicating ambiance perfectly underscored by the simplistic yet alluring music by composer Gary McFarland. Hillier’s close ups capture fertile images of evil & arcane sensuality.

David Niven is the marquis Philippe de Montfaucon who is the owner of a historic Vineyard. When a dry season hits the harvest he is summoned to the castle Bellenac. Deborah Kerr plays his wife-Catherine de Montfaucon who is told to remain in Paris with the children, but she follows him anyway. And for her troubled she is assailed in the woods by very ominous figures in hoods which makes for a very potent scene… which does not cease even up to the end’s shocking climactic conclusion.

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The opening frames are quick cuts which utilize the sound of a speeding train, cut away frames between reveal shots of a sharp arrow, we hear the train sirens, a lavish cocktail party in high society, an old world looking bearded man on the train, the arrow is raised- it pierces the heart of a white dove, the woods are filled with hazy black hooded figures, eerie and ominous they stand by the trees. A cross of branches is set on fire. Close up on Sharon Tate then close up on Hemmings then the screen goes black and the credits roll…..

It’s a post modern and riveting way to open a film about an esoteric narrative …the film’s title is set against the speeding train it’s windows like eyes themselves staring back at us.

When Phillippe the Marquis arrive in Bellenac the villagers all seem to revere him, lifted their hats to him, heads downward, humbled and proud. He meets up with the cleric Pere Dominic (Donald Pleasence) the mood and furnishings give one the idea of an Orthodox Christian sect.

Some thought he would not return to Bellenac the butler knew he would return… Phillippe asks how about you father?

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“Ive never doubted the path you have chosen” Phillippe-“What makes you think I’ve chosen it?”

Pere Dominic-“You came back didn’t you”

The priest places an elaborate amulet on the table. Phillippe picks up the amulet Dominic tells him “I think you have chosen it Phillippe my son.”

Family friend Jean-Claude Ibert (Edward Mulhare) sits by the fireplace in Paris talking about Phillippe’s trip back to Bellenac. Catherine tells him the first time she was there after their wedding she says it was the most frightening place almost as though they were back in the Middle Ages. Jean-Claude tells her that Phillippe had always been obsessed with the place as if he was trying to solve it’s diabolical secret.

Once at the castle Philippe seems distant as if he is following a mysterious compulsion guided by the pervading force of a cult that recognizes ancient pagan rituals, and perhaps sacrificing his own life in order to save the vineyard. Catherine can do nothing to change her somnolent husband’s mind to leave and come back with her and the children to Paris.

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Both Sharon Tate as the luminous Odile de Caray and David Hemmings as the impish Christian de Caray play two beautiful yet other-worldy and sinister figures lurking about with bow and arrows. Turning toads into doves, and is fixated on the children.

Odile mesmerizes both Jacques and Antoinette She asks if they believe in magic, then she demonstrates her powers by changing a frog on a lily pad into a dove. Could she be using the art of hypnosis to create an illusion?

Catherine does not want her brother Christian killing anymore doves on the property and isn’t happy to see her influence over her children. It begins to rain. But Odile tells her that they are not life giving clouds and that it will pass quickly. Catherine asks why she is at Bellenac. Odile tells her that she and her brother come there often… Then Christian appears and shoots an arrow into a tree right next to Catherine. The siblings wander through the landscape like other-worldly minions.

Phillippe begins to pull away consciously from his wife and children, he tells her to take them and leave. She pleads with him to come home with her and that she can help him. In a sense it’s all begun and even if she tries to make a fuss afterwards, no one will either believe her or come forward to help her.

She says he must be mad, that he’s dying for nothing, walk away from this stupid evil.

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“I’m dying for what I believe.”

“No one can help me, not even you. You don’t understand you could never understand”

He is preparing for a glorious pilgrimage of the soul. He is beyond being reached. He is prepared for the festival of ‘The Thirteen Days” or rather The Thirteen Dancers…

Alain de Montfaucon (Emlyn Williams) tells Catherine that he expects to be a living God, and that Pere Dominic is more than part of it… He is all of it. He is a Pagan. And Bellenac is… A Fortress of Heresy…

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IMDb fun fact:

Originally Kim Novak was cast in the role of Catherine de Montfaucon. Filming began in the fall of 1965 in France. Near every scene had been filmed when Kim Novak fell from a horse and wasn’t able to complete her scenes. Deborah Kerr was hired to take over and every scene that featured Miss Novak had to be re-shot with her replacement.

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The film’s opening credits read-Introducing Sharon Tate
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J. Lee Thompson on the set with Sharon Tate

HAVE A SO-REAL SUNDAY NITE- FROM YOUR EVERLOVIN’ MONSTERGIRL!

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Sunday Nite Surreal: Serrador’s The House That Screamed: Elegant Taboos in the Gothic Horror Film-The Fragmentation of Motherhood, castration and the enigma of body horror

THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969)

“TEACH HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME LIKE YOU DO” — Luis talking to his mother ‘Madame Fourneau

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Before there were shows like Criminal Minds, CSI or Dexter where I learned about dis-articulation, the graphic motif used in the human marionette themed Season 8 episode 10  of Criminal Minds ‘The Lesson’ directed by Matthew Gray Gubler (Meow!) not only for me, the most adorable, desirable nice guy, and brilliant quirky actor but outstanding director as well. Just watch Mosely Lane or the afore mentioned episode starring the equally brilliant….Brad Dourif as Adam Rain the Marionette Master who creates living puppets to re-enact a childhood trauma. I never heard of ‘Enucleation’- or removing the eyes with a highly sharpened melon baller until Criminal Minds.

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“The Lesson” episode of Criminal Minds directed by Matthew Gray Gubler. Starring Brad Dourif one of THE most underrated actors… It doesn’t get more jaw tightening than this-!

This is all the stuff that gives me… yes me!!!!, MonsterGirl the heebies, the pip and the whim whams and perpetually horrific nightmares for days, months even. BUT!!!

Before there was such contemporary graphic violence pouring forth from the television screen, or feature scare films deemed ‘torture porn’... that it could almost wear your psyche down to it’s raw unsheathed fibers… there was a beautiful elegant, and mind bending kind of psychological horror.

With The House That Screamed, the fear and anguish mixed with the exquisitely restrained performances by the ensemble of actors is more powerful than movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel which merely brings you excruciatingly close to realism and as violent as a trip to the slaughterhouse.

There ARE certain films that remain a haunting experience… but in a way that serves as an emotional release not a shock to your sympathetic nervous system.

The House that Screamed

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One film in particular will always be one of my favorite classical horror films of all time. The House that Screamed (1969) directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador  starring IMHO one of the finest actresses Lilli Palmer is rife with so many social taboos yet still maintains its elegance. Filled with images of Sado-Masochism -the archetypal Devouring Motherhood, the effects of repression, and young nubile beauties’ whose libidos are firing off sparks all over the boarding school. The untenable gap between adults and children, a brutal secret society of Sapphic sadists, an Oedipal complex brought to an eventual disturbing climax fit for modern screening.

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“This is a boarding school not a prison…” Madame Fourneau ” If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one.”

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Lilli Palmer is wearing Revlon’s “repressive salmon’ lipstick–that special color that just says–Yes I’m a ball buster and a closet lesbian to boot!

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“Don’t you understand that none of these girls are any good. By the time they bring them to me they’re already marked… Or they’ve done worse things and then they hand them over to me…{…} In time Luis, in time you’ll find the right girl, you’ll marry her. You’ll have your own home. These girls are poison… You need a woman like me who will love you, take care of you, protect you. We’ll find her… you’ll see… you’ll see.”

Lilli Palmer’s (Body and Soul 1947, Mädchen in Uniform (1958), The Boys from Brazil 1978) is Madame Fourneau, the headmistress of an all female school for ‘troubled’ or ‘unwanted girls’.

Lilli Palmer as teacher Maria Rohmer in Mädchen in Uniform, had a heady lesbian theme running through it’s narrative which here is reprised in a spanish horror film that reaches back to Grand Guignol. 

The rigid and stale institutionalized environment of The House that Screamed molds ‘good girls’. In this repressive sexual confinement it bursts wide open into a sensationalist breeding ground for the lesbian as predator trope. The repressed older woman being taken in by the beautiful innocence of a wild girl who defies her rules, pushing back against Palmer’s obvious infatuation, she makes Palmer’s character suffer as a voyeur as she awakens out of the nubile young adolescent into her sexual primacy as a seductive maiden. Palmer’s pain is exquisite. 

Her son Luis is played by the eternally cherubic looking, if not eerily handsome John Moulder-Brown. (known for his stint in a few 70s psycho-sexual thrillers like, Deep End 1970 & Forbidden Love Game 1975 directed by another underrated Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia.

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John Moulder-Brown
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The film also co-stars Mary Maude who’s natural earthy beauty reminds me of Barbara Hershey as Irene ( Crucible of Terror 1971, Scorpio 1973)
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The lovely Maribel Martin... will she escape the finishing school? Here is Martin as Isabelle she also starred in (The Blood Spattered Bride 1972
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Ironically, it is Madame Forneau’s rigid obsession with controlling everything around her (as she glides through the school in her starched white blouses-a facade to her self-constraint) that creates the grisly puzzle to the plot, which I will not divulge here.

The House that Screamed is epiphanic of the thing that dreams and beautiful nightmares are made of… not these latest hellish journeys through graphic violations of the mind, body and soul, obliterating, annihilating any patch of humanity left to detect, without a purpose, a meaning nor cathartic release…

If I see one more woman’s mouth slashed from ear to ear like Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs (1928) A story filled with poignant heartache with layers of gut reaction not a story with a sense of regurgitation. But I digress….

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This film is an elegant horrifying waltz, textural, voyeuristic Spanish thriller and timeless late 60s horror film… an absolute master-work of art. From the acting, cinematography, Neo-Gothic art & set direction, the incredible use of lighting, music, sound design (each frame exists with it’s own individual cue that mark the scenes with a spine-chilling ambiance, a chorus of whimperings & glossolalia) and the fabulous period wardrobe designed by Víctor María Cortezo.

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Cristina Galbó as Teresa arrives at the finishing school and greeted by Madame Fourneau

The film begins with Teresa (Cristina Galbó What Have You Done To Solange? 1972) being dropped off at a remote, finishing school for said “problem” girls run by the severely domineering Madame Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), whose impish son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown) is held captive himself, by his mother’s doting maternal iron hand. (Moulder’s outre boyish expression is creepy in and of itself.) Yet it bares out the ironic theme of pure evil laying in wait behind the mask of purity. Luis is left to scour the perimeters of the school, voyeuristically gazing through small peep holes observing and befriending certain girls, like a rat who scurries behind the walls, he manages to arrange clandestine rendezvous with certain of the nymphs he chooses, while watching them during their weekly shower ritual–nightgown on–nudity is NOT an option unless you beg the wrath from the headmistress! (It throws her into a hypnotic-homophobic/homoerotic fugue)

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There are several disappearances assumed to be a case of the girls being runaways as they are known for their sexual liaisons with delivery men, but there is something much more sinister lurking at ‘Le Residencia’- The Finishing School the alternate title to The House that Screamed 1969.

The narrative, the film’s oxygen is apprehensive. As tautly wound as one of Teresa’s mother’s (the prostitute) corsets. Driven by the beauty of a frightening impressionist painting, the cinematography, (Godofredo Pacheco & Manuel Berenguer ) and the applied use of color, conjuring the film’s atmosphere like a Gothic masterpiece of terror. Colors which are also very emblematic of the works of Mario Bava having given his films a lush surreal dream like quality to them, making work like Black Sabbath 1963 a memorable walk through a lush nightmare. The House That Screamed evokes a world of repression, decay and an unseen menacing eye that is brushed with vibrant liquid like colors.
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The rigid yet pulsing tempo of the pace that is leading us to the horrifying conclusion, the haunting exquisiteness of the score by Waldo de los Ríos , its beautiful simplicity which leaves me humming for days… the visual perspective that allows us to participate in the claustrophobic, repressive quality of tristesse about the school. The eroticism is so very self contained. It’s this type of eroticism that I find more compelling than any literal sexual exploitation and B nudie flick unless the point is ‘exploitation’ (which I’m a complete fan of )and beauty is not the operative function. The psycho-sexual elements and the horror story are not overstated, they are trembling below the surface waiting to hyperventilate from all the tension. This is one gorgeous horror film that never gets old for me.

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Guillermo Del Toro who is probably the only auteur I think could attempt a re-make having used a similar eye with Pan’s Labyrinth 2006 and The Devil’s Backbone 2001 which had that sensibility that allows horror to appear beautiful. As of late I’ve become a fan of Eloy de la Iglesia and his style of storytelling. I’ve given these kinds of films the more powerful title of “Fable horror” The stunning and quiet sensuality which bring you just to the edge but does not indulge your fight or flight response.

If you haven’t seen The House that Screamed, and are curious about a film that led the 60s out with an elegant scream, and if you’re a fan of Lilli Palmer then take a stab at this one. Oops sorry for the ironic cliche there. I think you’ll be able to watch it without one hand over your face and no threat of nigh terrors either… If you want nightmares, just watch Criminal Minds  while eating a large bowl of pasta at 10pm then go straight to bed… I promise it’ll be far worse than anything you’ll experience from Serrador’s incredible The House that Screamed!

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It’s been Sunday Nite Surreal… Have a light hearted Sunday Nite from your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl

Simply Double Creepy Sunday Nite Surreal: Just Leave the Rotting Bodies in the Spare Room!

Both films have that right amount of reductive 70s horror enchantment….!

CRIMINALLY INSANE 1975

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Priscilla Alden is Crazy Fat Ethel…

Now let me say right here and now, that I do not advocate fat-phobic themes and story lines. I avoided watching this film for that very reason.

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“She’s 250 Pounds of Maniacal Fury” -tagline

But on one particular insomnia ridden night, I felt the urge to try and embrace a 70s horror trope for the sake of being well versed in my classic horror knowledge. I have to say that I was truly impressed by the simplistic and claustrophobic view with which I experienced Priscilla Alden’s performance. An unstable woman who is released from an institution after she is deemed ready to face society again. The film is directed fluidly by Nick ‘Philips’ Millard

The opening titles have such a purely creepy simplicity to it, it makes me think of Saul Bass doing a film school project. It sets up the moodiness and the isolation that is pervasive throughout the film.

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And what I took away from this very elementary vision of madness was this… This gem of a horror film is NOT about fear of fat girls, or conflating obesity with mental illness. What I got from the story was that Ethel Janowski is just a mentally ill woman, whose food represented her comfort, her freedom and her identity. And when the interfering people in her life, like her uptight Grandma Janowski (Jane Lambert) or slutty cocaine sniffing parasite of a sister stand between Ethel and her happiness or freedom… Watch out!!!! I won’t even say that Ethel is a likable anti-hero, she’s belligerent, self absorbed, anti-Semitic and homicidal!

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One could say that the food is used as a prop to make Ethel appear more grotesque … Or it might be a commentary on how our culture of excess has unleashed a sort of madness

That’s about it. The idea is that people should be allowed to do what they want even if it’s perceived to be unhealthy for them. Let them eat 6 boxes of Nilla wafers and a gallon of milk. Don’t lock the kitchen cupboard or empty out the refrigerator, don’t be the delivery boy who insists that $4.50 isn’t gonna cover it,treat them like imbecile children nor a nosy neighbor be.

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“Did you know they tried to kill me… that goddam Jew doctor gave them orders not to give me enough to eat… two lousy boiled eggs and a piece of dried toast for breakfast… they were trying to save money and starve me while they were at it…”
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Grandma-“Dr Gerard just wants you to lose a little weight” Ethel- “Why what do I need to lose weight for?”

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I never saw Ethel as crazy because she was overweight. It’s everyone else in the film who identifies her illness as being connected with her being ‘fat. I see her as just another off-balanced damaged soul on that old rickety Ferris Wheel of life., who gets triggered by the people around her to go even more crazy when she feels threatened or out of control.

The mood is fabulous, I think of Don’t Look in The Basement the very stark and realistic tone of the plain environment, that still holds a sense of strange & lurking weirdness. Thanks to the cinematography by Karil Ostman and the sound by Ronald Gertz that works so well to conform to the queasy atmosphere and Ethel’s derangement.

THE CANNIBAL MAN 1973 or Week of the Killer

or (US dubbed release “The Apartment on the 13th Floor”-again misleading as all the murders take place in Marcos’ little historic house that keyholes the backdrop of modernity and the high rise apartments of the nouveau riche.

The Cannibal Man

Directed by Eloy De La Iglesia known for his interesting To Love, Perhaps to Die 1973  with Sue Lyon, Christopher Mitchum, and Jean Sorel.

Just a word of warning there is a very disturbing scene in the beginning that takes place in the slaughter house. Those of you as sensitive to animal cruelty or killings like myself would advise you to skip the first awful minute and get into the wonderful jazz score by Fernando G. Morcillo that leads you out of the charnel house and into the openness of the city.

First to clarify one thing about The Cannibal Man… the film has nothing to do with cannibalism, and it is unfortunate that such a moody psychological film should be anchored with a label that would give the wrong impression of the story. I am a fan of Spanish horror films, and I am actually adding this one to my list of favorites, having navigated around the title and sitting with the film on it’s own terms. A film about an alienated man, who is surrounded by a landscape of modernity taking over the quaint and a pervading sense of loneliness and futility. Marcos is a tragic figure in a very bloody play.

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Vincente Parra is perfect as the virile yet detached Marcos… a fascinating character. the archetypal outsider who stumbles into a whirlpool of trouble in a single moment of fate that makes him spiral into a fog of Sisyphusian madness, filled with a diss-associative savagery that lifts the film out of ordinary gore into art-house butchery.

Marcos works for the local slaughterhouse. One night while on a date looking for a taxi with his girlfriend they find a very nasty and violent cabby who kicks them out of his cab when he gets offended by the couple kissing in the back seat. Marcos argues with him and refuses to pay for the ride. The driver actually physically punches Marcos and then assaults Paula (Emma Cohen) In a fit of rage and legitimate self defense Marcos picks up a large rock and kills Goyo Lebrero the taxista.

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Marco manifests a strange neutrality around the situation. Back at Marco’s house Paula insists on going to the police and telling them what happened. Marco begs her to understand that the police won’t believe it was an accident. “Don’t you see Paula, if I go to the police they will never listen to someone as poor as I am…”

Marcos says that her parents will be furious that she’s been seeing him and he just can’t afford to get into trouble. But… she refuses to listen to him. She breaks it off with him, telling him that she won’t be made a fool of, and marriage shouldn’t be based on lies. You can see Marco begin to uncoil at that moment. “So I can go to the police… or I can go to hell right!”

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Marco places the dead Paula on his bed as if she is sleeping. An act of remorse and his growing confusion….

Marco kisses her as his hands crush the life from her throat, we see her struggle, a close up of her green eyes and Marcos with a somnambulist sense of self preservation, a killing machine that must operate to keep himself one step away from the horrible incident with the cab driver and the insanity that has been let out of his head.

What makes the film so eerie and realistic is this nightmarish cycle, this spiraling out of control pace where Marco must continue to remove all obstacles that threaten his sense of autonomy as an outlier in the world. Even from the beginning we get the sense that he is not as interested in marrying Paula as she is about marrying him.

Once his brother comes to the house, his brother’s fiancée looking for him and her inquisitive father show up, oh and the nice local waitress Rosa (Vicky Lagos) who has had her eyes on Marcos, he must continue to kill each one in order to protect his secret.

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Marcos’ simple little house becoming the ‘killing field’ is more than a bit unsettling.

He begins posing the bodies in his sparse bedroom, using as much room freshener as he can, before the smell of death becomes too obvious. Yet on the outside he acts as if nothing has happened, or that there are several rotting bodies in his bedroom. He then takes them to the slaughter house piece by piece in his duffel bag.

The ordinary look of Marcos’ simplistic home, the bachelor setting, his wall of tools, no frills, no style or I should say money for such privileges is perhaps necessary for the very trappings of an under class worker in the early 1970s. There is an overt sense to the film about classist friction …

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Marcos’ humble working class house….
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Néstor ‘s opulent apartment complex that towers over Marcos little home… the disparity between the classes is an obvious stresser and sub-text to the narrative…

Of particular interest is the relationship that develops between Marcos and the handsome bourgeois Néstor (Eusebio Poncela )who lives on the 13th floor of the high rise behind Marcos humble little cottage. Néstor’s interactions with Marcos allow him to be free of the fear and frenzy he is submerged in. There is an element of homosexual attraction for both men. It’s a poignant chemistry and adds a layer of realism in the midst of the bloody fugue of Marcos’ environment and identity. At one point Marco speaks of his bad memories… Néstor suggests that he should perhaps “bury them’ already. It leaves us wondering if the tranquil authoritative and voyeuristic fellow knows what the mysterious Marcos has been doing but is a silent admirer out of love.

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Néstor perhaps speaks the most telling idea of the story when he tells Marco who warns him about the dangerous wild dogs that roam the area, while walking his Boxer who is in heat… “There’s no danger, a well fed dog is always stronger than the hungry ones”

This has been your everlovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ in any case, never run out of air freshner!

Sunday Nite Surreal-The Premonition (1976) Carnival Clowns & Deathly Dreams

THE PREMONITION 1976

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Directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer and written by Anthony Mahon, Schnitzer and Louis Pastore? Okay… While I’ve never seen anything else by Schnitzer, this moody, surreal, haunting and often frenetically disturbing reverie has remained with me all these years. Some people think it’s a weak film, not even a horror movie. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I think it’s a genre gem!

What’s really strange about this hidden terror film is cinematographer/director Victor Milt ( Run Stinky Run, Sex Wish) has done some weird really obscure stuff after working on The Premonition and director- writer Schnitzer hasn’t done anything I can talk about here either. So how did this remarkably creepy film become what it is??? I wish I knew the answer, but there have been memorable films created by one time feature film directors like Herk Harvey’s who usually did shorts or documentaries who envisions the gorgeous dreamlike Carnival of Souls 1962. At least writer-actor Richard Blackburn did Eating Raoul 1982 after his unbelievable Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural 1973. (Coming to the Last Drive In soon!)

Great character actor Jeff Corey plays the investigating Police Det. Lt. Mark Denver. There’s even a gypsy woman, played by Wilmuth Cooper. 

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Jeff Corey plays the investigating Police Det. Lt. Mark Denver.

I saw The Premonition when it first arrived in theaters in 1976. It frightened the bejesus out of me then, with it’s nightmarish segments in particular Jude’s (Richard Lynch) and Andrea’s (Ellen Barber) uncontrollable fits of rage. Their joint psychosis was a very powerful elixir as part of the carnival set piece. Their relationship alone could have made for an interesting story of madness, obsession and self-destruction.

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This film was my introduction to the interesting actor that is, Richard Lynch. The film has stayed with me. I’ve read other people’s reviews who think the script is ridiculous, muddled and the pacing is choppy. Still it has a haunting quality to it, especially Lynch and Ellen Barber’s performances. The music by Henry Mollicone is fantastical for the vibe of the film and fascinates me, now I have to see his musical performance in the fascinating documentary The Face on the Barroom Floor 2013.

The lens has a ghostly haze over it. with a low drab subdued tonality. The music brings you in like a soft waling of an otherworldly siren. An eerie Glossolalia , the fluid vocalizing of the tormented Andrea. Reminding me of the amazing Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance.

The institutional green bus pulls over and Andrea grips herself looking toward something. The clear pale blue sky hovering over Andrea feels chilly. She is beautiful yet strange, walking slowly toward the carnival grounds. A flutter of birds let out into the air, the vocalizing continues and Ferris Wheel comes into focus with another stomach turning carnival ride. These daydreaming machines add the color to the midway landscape. It is desolate here.

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It somewhat creates a colorful version of Carnival of Souls the haunting set pieces of desolation, and otherness that play on our deepest thoughts. The impressions effervesce in fair grounds and we construct fantasies.

Dulcimer and glistening piano bring forth Jude, a cigarette hanging out of his oddly angular face and lion like blonde mane, he’s almost sexy ugly. The film still lensed in cold aqua greens and pale blue. He steps out of his trailer, we see he’s wearing white ballet slippers like a mime. The piano rolls magnificently. Henry Mollicone is a virtuoso. With electronic music by Pril Smiley.

Jude steps out onto the pavement, wearing suspenders he begins a series of theatrical movements. Moving dramatically with his scarf.

Jude expresses with his body more fervently as if he hears the grand piano playing. He reaches up to the blue sky so vivid so crystalline blue. As Jude it is a lonely dance for a sad solitary clown. As he bends downward he sees Andrea standing there. It a portent, life is about to be turned truly upside down.

The story is a simple and unreserved one, gripping and nightmarish for all the players and we who witness a small girl being hunted psychically by her dangerously unstable biological mother who is traveling with a carnival.

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The scene cuts to them sitting in his trailer she’s looking at photographs through a spy glass. He says “Look at those eyes, Andrea, and the mouth… see that. I saw her yesterday when I took the photograph. This time I’m positive I know it’s her” “You sure her name is Janie” “Yeah I’m sure, here look” He flips the photo over and the name and age is on the back.
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“Janie Bennett the age is right… it all figures… it’s gotta be her” Andrea asks, “Where does she live?” Jude tells her, ” Dover about 5 miles from here.”

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Jude begins to put on his heavy white grease paint. Andrea goes to the board and touches the photo of Janie…
She turns to him… ” I thought you’d forgotten about me Jude” ” I told you I’d call you as soon as I found something didn’t I?” “Jude what if its not her, what if it’s like all the other times… what if we come out with nothing what then?” Then we wait and we keep on waiting until we find her”

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When Andrea shows up at Janie’s school, the music becomes a flutter of wings with flute as the children run free from their inside captivity. Andrea fingers the metal holes in the fence moving slowly, waiting for her little girl to appear. Finally Janie is standing before her she calls to her, then Janie runs to her adoptive mother Sherrie who is waiting in the car.

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Back in Jude’s trailer-Jude says, “We were lucky it couldn’t of taken years to find her” “It did take years… five stinkin’ years in that rotten pit” Jude answers,”Oh it wasn’t all that bad, I mean we wouldn’t have met otherwise.” 

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Andrea’s horrible beer drinking tv junkie landlady in curlers

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The use of ‘red’ in this movie is distinct. It is the characteristic color that symbolizes Andrea’s passion, madness and self destruction. Red is Andrea’s COLOR… down to her lipstick

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The window impresses me as a Mark Rothko painting. The color red is very impressionistic and so vital to the film’s narrative.

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The use of ‘red’ in this movie is distinct. It is the characteristic color that symbolizes Andrea’s passion, madness and self destruction.

Jude tells Andrea that he has found a house. A small house in the woods, a nice place to settle down with the kid.

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Andrea glows a weird smile emerges at first “Settling down!” Then clenching her teeth as she drags the comb through wet raven tresses. “What are you talking about settling down for… what are you talking about. Sometimes I just don’t understand you Jude. Settling down for what…?this comes first! “

But Jude explains that they can hide out in that house til things blow over. She walks away towel drying her hair.

He remains on the topic “nobodies lived there for years. they’ll never find us”

Jude lays on the bed smoking a cigarette while Andrea in red bathrobe, plays a beautiful piece of music on the piano.

The scene switches to Miles talking to Dr Kingsly his associate about parapsychology as she instructs a small class-

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“The Clairvoyant reality is totally rejected by science and finds expression only in our art, music religion”

“The Clairvoyant reality is totally rejected by science and finds expression only in our art, music religion”

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At the same time the film is juxtaposing images of Andrea having a primordial psychic meltdown. Not even maternal scream, just a core anaphylactic roar from deep within.

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Sherri begins to see visions of a volatile confrontation between Jude and Andrea. On the spectral plane it comes across in distorted yowls and negative film images. It’s quite a frightening effect. I remember being terrified by these scenes in the darkness of the theater. Like little shock treatments to a burgeoning MonsterGirl mind…

For people who think there isn’t enough explanation to the narrative Sherri’s friend hints at the idea when spending the night telling Sherri that she had heard of two minors who had been trapped for several days, they began sharing the same hallucinations. In this way, her question about Sherries disturbing visions somehow being linked to Janie’s bad dreams is true.

A psychic storm is brewing from the rage and unrequited desires from both Jude and Andrea. Janie and Sherrie naturally begin to form a single wave length that tunes into this frequency. At least this is the premise of the film. The one link is Janie the child… and who will be the conquering mother?

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While Miles is not working late with the attractive professor Kingsly, he’s eating cotton candy and riding the merry go round with her.. hhm… at the carnival-definitely research related… as she suddenly looks down at Mile’s wedding band her happy expression fades away.

Meanwhile Andrea and Jude pull up in that fabulous green pick up. The crickets and chorus frigs are singing their night song. Jude shuts the motor off. In her red dress, nails and oz slippers like the witch of the west Andrea creeps or slithers into the house to take Janie.

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the frame appears to give an almost fun house effect with the striped wall paper that disorients us
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Andrea’s presence on the stairs casts a dark menacing shadow along the wall, reminiscent of Nosferatu

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The use of electronic sounds is excellent.

Andrea’s casting a darkness, shadowing the wall is reminiscent of Nosferatu. Andrea is almost as icy as a dead thing herself… wanting to lure the child back, it looks and feels vampiric. Yet this is Janie’s biological mother, which creates some ambivalence for me as she deserves to have at least guided contact with her daughter, otherwise why let her out of the mental hospital?

It creates the effect of psychic static the use of sound used whenever the camera focuses on Andrea’s movements.

And the framing of Andrea looking back into the den while Sherri sleeps utilizes the striped walls as they also become as distorted as fun house room. Very disorienting.

The last remnant of shadow left from andrea creeping up the steps is eerire as Sherri sleeps as if under a spell. Once again… a notion of Nosferatu. Andrea even has a dark complexion that could even be considered eastern European gypsy, like Bela Lugosi.

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The use of electronic static, noise represents Andrea’s state of mind at the moment. The use of low lighting and color is well placed and create a surreal atmosphere of worlds colliding.

The electronic noises that represnet Andrea’s madness and presence are like a metalic insect. As if she hisses and slithers into Janie’s room. Everything is back lit. Andrea’s color is hot reds, and Janie is cool blue.

Sherri wakes up to the sound of the rocking chair in Janie’s room.

No body can tell me that this film isn’t an eerie, haunting little story, that stays with you… If it doesn’t deliver on the kinds of gruesome gory chills you’d expect from a 70s horror story then you’re watching the wrong film. But this film is highly underrated and often shot down by critics who feel it falls short. Oh well… The rest of us who know it’s strength will continue to advocate for it…Back to the film….-MonsterGirl 

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Andrea runs down the stairs taking one of Janie’s dolls  after fighting with Sherrie who is clinging to Janie on the bed. Andrea screams up to Sherrie… “She is Mine… she will always be mine-!!!!!!” Her voice is strained, powerful, almost magnetic.

Back at Jude’s little house in the woods, Andrea is holding Janie’s doll as if it were her.

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“You are such a pretty baby” Andrea says to the doll. Jude staring out the bleak window of the little house looks on with a worried stare. He rips the head off the doll as it squeaks Andrea screams and cries. Jude has become more unhinged himself. It has been brewing in him since the beginning. But it is not working out the way he had envisioned. He can’t control Andrea, and she obviously doesn’t care for him the same way. Two mentally ill people fighting over their own neurosis.

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“What’d you do to my baby?”
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“Your baby, your baby is back in the goddam house with its mother”

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“What’s it to you? You’re not her father!! You are nobodies father. And you’re never gonna be anyone’s father… You aren’t even a goddam MAN!!!!

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Andrea destroys Jude’s manhood as if she took a knife and thrust it in.

Jude looses it… we hear screams.

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At the same time…Sherrie gets cold in the bathroom, the mirror freezes over. She cannot see herself. It’s a supernatural event that begins to connect the events surrounding the players involved.

Jeff Corey the investigating cop shows up at Janie’s biological father’s house to ask some questions about Andrea.

I’ve noticed the narrative uses a lot of frames where people are either looking out windows or doors or standing in the doorframe looking in. It’s that tout to parapsychologies’ introspective plane of existence…the within powers that surround all of us on a personal level. The character look inward, we’re watching them look inward and we wind up looking inward with them…

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Danielle Brisebois makes her debut playing Janie Bennett the wee one who is being visited by her psychic/psychotic mother through horrifying visions like a vampiric wraith filtering through the ether reaching outward to contact her little girl who was given away to foster parents while she was in the mental ward. But Janie is terrified and wants to remain with her foster parents Prof. Miles and Sherri Bennett played by Sharon Farrell  (Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive 1974) and Edward Bell. Farrell is always good at playing adorable cheap, neurotic and a little over the edge. Brisebois was still really cute at this stage before she became Archie Bunker’s annoying niece, until she grew up into a sexy rock singer.

I have to admit that seeing this film in the theater when I was an impressionable teenager really freaked me out a bit. The images were quite startling, and in retrospect anything Carnival related is wonderfully creepy and wonderfully eerie, as it attains it’s own self contained world. The vision of the crazy Andrea Fletcher are quite stunning as well, so as far as the pacing being muddled or uninteresting, I suppose those people who hated this film were looking for more 70s bloody, axes, psycho-sexual mind games, animals attacking or devil children. This story is a bit of a childlike nightmare amidst, Folie à deux insanity, loss, possession, motherhood and longing. The narrative slips between a mordent sense of all these themes, as it expands beyond the literal world and works on our unconscious participation in moral ideals of motherhood, rights of and the boundaries that separate us all by a psychic thread.

Andrea (Ellen Barber  who plays Mickey Roarke’s secretary in Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) comes to Janie’s school to try and grab her, but Janie’s new mommy Sherri has a premonition and manages to arrive just in time to save Janie. Andrea lives with her wildly menacing boyfriend, a clown named Jude. Yikes, as if Lynch wasn’t frightening on a good day, wearing white face paint and painted on tears… it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

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Andrea is obsessed with getting Janie back, and Jude will do anything for his nutty girlfriend. The pair manage to kidnap Janie leaving the Bennetts in a panic who then seek out the help of a parapsychologist Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy) a colleague of Miles. They hope that she can decipher Sherries terrifying visions, as she also has a psychic link to Janie she must try and track her down before the unstable Andrea loses it completely and harms her daughter.

The story makes it hard for us to sympathize with Andrea as a protagonist longing to be reunited with her daughter, because she herself is such a threatening figure. She’s been recently released from an institution and is still emotionally volatile. She met Jude while she was hospitalized. Jude keeps a watchful eye out for Janie, working for the carnival he’s in the position to see a lot of children pass through. One day he spots Andrea’s daughter with Sherri.

He tells Andrea that he’s seen Janie which is the catalyst for a wave of psychic visions that beset Sherri. Dr Kingsly tries to guide Sherri to use her powers of ESP to find Janie and connect with her to track her down and bring her back.

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Jeff Corey is on the scene talking to the landlady helping to locate the kidnapped Janie

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Filmed in Mississippi the look has a haunting rustic and starkly Gothic feel to it. There’s an untouchable sense of dreamery, a trance like aura that surrounds the frames. It disconnects us from all things being easily explained, but dreams are like that and the atmosphere of the eerie and urgent narrative compensates for the lack of cohesive and sensible plot design.

In the 70s not all things were explained coherently. Sometimes the figures floated upon landscapes that were nightmarish and made no sense. As in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death 1971, and yet it was this ambiguity that created the mystique, the mystery and the mood.

What makes a story a thing that is haunting are visions not clearly defined, nor affirmations said aloud. The outstanding theme that jolts you into a sense of agony is the pull between two mothers, one who is emotionally destructive yearning for her child, and the other, desperately trying to protect the child she believes is hers now.

Caught in between is Janie who can only feel the thrust of possession surrounding her, the vivid nightmares and fears of innocence and unknown. Also tangled in the web of possession is Jude who is merely being used as a means to procure Janie for Andrea. His frustration turns outward like the rage of a tornado. Lynch’s face reveals his turbulence well. Andrea taunts him until he is so wounded that he keeps the child even when he doesn’t have to. If I say more I will give away part of the story…

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There are some truly shocking moments-The painting crying blood when Dr Kingsly tells Sherri just to let it flow when trying to teach her to hone in on her psychic insights. -Andrea wearing  a ruby red evening gown soaked in blood appears in Janie’s bedroom with rocking chair (turtle lovers look away) it is extremely eerie and somber. Her hands seem like talons, once again The Monstrous Feminine arrives on cue.

There are a few visions or apparitions of Andrea drenched in blood and the recurring forming of ice on those iconographic mirrors. Mirrors, the pathway to see ourselves is clouded by ice in order to obscure Sherri’s view into the psychic world.

The climax is a mesmerizing sequence, one that will either have you laughing and dismissing this film completely as others have done, or it will stay with you as it has with me, a beautiful little nightmare.

Sunday Nite Surreal-A Reflection of Fear-William Fraker’s directorial foray beyond The Outer Limits into a Psycho-Sexual miasma

A REFLECTION OF FEAR 1973

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A Reflection of Fear 1973

Please forgive the quality of some of my screen capturs. Alas… I do not have a good copy of the film.

If a movie lingers… if it stays with you for hours… days, then it has done something right. I think this film is perhaps as uniquely disturbing as it is underrated & thoughtfully done. Though there are details and subject matter that most will consider too perverse, it’s still a potent yet slightly murky thriller. Perhaps provocative in a way that might turn many away as being a revolting little psychodrama. One with an eerie, queasy mood amidst the ornate set design and restrained performances.

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The 70s were so good for giving us these kinds of surreal, sinisterly captivating and unsettling themes. The House That Screamed, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Silent Night, Bloody Night, Lemora, Blood and Lace, What’s The Matter With Helen, so many, too many to mention. Films rife with taboos, power struggles, narratives questioning psychosis, ritual murders and deviance.

Directed by William Fraker (cinematographer on Rosemary’s Baby ’68, Bullitt ’68 uncredited on Incubus ’66 for Roger Corman, The Day of The Dolphin ’73, Looking for Mr Goodbar ’77)

A Reflection of Fear was hacked to pieces in order to receive a PG rating for Columbia Pictures. Fraker made his feature debut as cinematographer on one of my favorite psychological thrillers – Curtis Harrington’s cat and mouse thriller GAMES 1967 with Simone Signoret. He was the camera operator for my beloved fantasy 60s series The Outer Limits TV series 1963-1965. No wonder why this film’s atmosphere is a hazy dreamy landscape that transcends the outward appearance of reality.

László Kovács (Easy Rider ’69, That Cold Day in the Park ’69) enhances the look and feel of the film as Director of Photography. A Reflection of Fear is based on a novel by Stanton Forbes called Go To Thy Deathbed with a screenplay by Lewis John Carlino (Seconds 1966, The Mechanic 1972, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea 1976).

Blogger David Furtado from his fabulous Wand’rin’ Star cites in a post From Sondra Locke’s autobiography The Good, The Bad and The Very Ugly- A Hollywood Journey

“Then came a film which was a landmark, professionally and personally: A Reflection of Fear, directed by promising filmmaker William A. Fraker, who had been nominated for several Oscars as a director of photography, and who had directed Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin and Jeanne Moreau, one of the last great and underestimated westerns. Sondra Locke plays the mysterious and unbalanced ‘Marguerite’, a girl of sixteen.

As 'Marguerite' in A Reflection of Fear (released in 1973).

As ‘Marguerite’ in A Reflection of Fear (released in 1973).

Once again, Gordon and her plotted a scheme to get Fraker interested, since they both thought the role was almost perfect for her. Gordon Anderson even played the “voice” of ‘Aaron’, Marguerite’s alter-ego. Unfortunately, the film was butchered by Columbia since it dealt with themes deemed too strong for the general public. Locke found the attitude ridiculous, even more so because, at that time, “audiences were enthralled with the young girl in The Exorcist, spewing vomit and masturbating with crucifixes”. Nonetheless, she became longtime friends with the director and his future wife Denise, who was very supportive when Locke had serious health problems.”

This is the underrated cult film star Sandra Locke’s first film… She was perfectly unorthodox as the odd Agatha Jackson alongside Colleen Camp in DEATH GAME 1977 where they hold actor Seymour Cassel hostage as they play mind games with him. As Marguerite she is perfectly chilling in her debut.

Sandra Locke is the captivating young sylph Marguerite, Robert Shaw portrays her estranged father Michael. Mary Ure  (Shaw’s real life wife at the time) is her mother Katherine. Swedish actress Signe Hasso lurks as Marguerite’s sinister grandmother Julia, a harpy like matron who seems to be the locus of the askew matriarchy that treats Marguerite like a sickly princess caught in a closed universe. It plays like a dark fairy tale where initially she appears to be at the mercy of wicked women.

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Mary Ure is absolutely gorgeous, seductive yet refined, Signe Hasso is a marvelous actress whom I’ve admired for a while now, she’s elegant and quite regal though imposing as the character called for. Both Ure & Hasso exude an unsavory perfume.

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Richard Burton and Mary Ure in Look Back In Anger 1959

Quirky and affable Sally Kellerman plays Michael’s fiancé, Anne, who worked with Fraker on The Bellero Shield with Martin Landau airing on Feb. 10th 1964. One of my favorite Outer Limits episodes with the bifrost alien. Fraker also worked on the set with Signe Hasso on Outer Limits’ Production and Decay of Strange Particles  yet another superb entry in the short lived yet transcendently brilliant series.

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Chita Rivera, Sally Kellerman and Martin Landau in The Bellero Shield- The Outer Limits- William Fraker was on camera crew
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George Macready and Signe Hasso in Production and Decay of Strange Particles -as part of  The Outer Limits 60s TV series

Gordon Anderson (also the voice of Ratboy 1986) is the voice of the imperceptible Aaron, doll or boy I won’t tell…

Fred Myrow (Soylant Green 1973, Scarecrow 1973, Phantasm 1979  is responsible for the haunting musical score that is dizzying with lilting harps and mandolin, low muted french horn, music box shimmer and eerie wavelengths of noise. Joel Schiller  is the art director (Rosemary’s Baby, The Muppet Movie) and Phil Abramson’s (Bullitt ’68, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ’77 and Raging Bull ’80) does the creepy and suffocating set design which is perfect for the sense of repression, dread and decay.

A Reflection of Fear has been referred to as a proto-slasher. There is the use of a caped hooded ‘masher’ Perhaps this film set off a slew of slashers to come, but several reviews have cited a correlation between this film and Hitchcock’s Psycho ’60. Quite frankly I do not see this at all.

If I were to disclose anything because I love a good hint- I could say the closest the film’s story line comes to is actually an episode of Journey to the Unknown “Miss Belle” 1968 with George Maharis and Barbara Jefford, but that’s all I’m sayin…. if you know the one I mean, I’ve just given you a golden crumb to nibble on.

And if I were to argue this point or to relate any similarities to another film or early 70s tv series, I might give the ending away. Perhaps it’s the bright child with a mother complex instead of taxidermy she likes Horticulture. Anyhoo, as an obscure 70s psycho-sexual thriller, it has it’s very own universe to spin around in so making connections for me is well… inconsequential…

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The multi-layered narrative surrounds a disturbed and alienated sixteen year old girl named Marguerite (Sondra Locke), who exists in a private world of dolls that she talks to and who in voice-over talk back in the quietude and opulent isolation with her affluent mother (Mary Ure) and grandmother (Signe Hasso) at an exclusive Inn somewhere in Canada. Marguerite is not only held captive by mother and grandmother but to my impression is seemingly a willing recluse who yearns for the love of the father she’s only known by the various books he sends her on art, flowers etc.

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Grandmare Julia-“I hardly think he’s coming again for you my dear she’s his daughter after all” Mother Katherine-“We’ve been so careful mother” Julia-“A glimpse would perhaps satisfy him for another fifteen years” Katharine-“A glimpse would hardly satisfy Michael of Marguerite” Julia- “Would you stir his curiosity? And… Marguerite seeing Michael might tempt her certain idolatry of the man.”

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Something is not right within the family dynamic but when Marguerite’s father Michael finally arrives this particular languid summer to ask his wife for a divorce so he can marry Anne (Sally Kellerman) The vitriol comes out as Grandmare (Signe Hasso) turns the knife in as Michael exclaims, and Mary Ure refuses to set him free, unless he agrees to never see Marguerite ever again.

Once Michael sees his wisp of a daughter he’s never known in the flesh a peculiar gaze is set forth. He finds her enchanting. He actually says so several times. Yet he is concerned about the way his wife and mother in law are holding the child prisoner. As he considers rescuing the child, the dynamic starts to invade on Anne’s future life with Michael, and the brutal murders begin to ensue.

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One of the central mysteries is whether Marguerite is being driven mad by her mother and grandmother, is she delusional or if there truly is an Aaron – either way the concept is provocative as it is malefic. Always lensed in darkness it adds to the creepiness of the matter at hand. “You keep me cooped up in here like one of the dead dolls in your trunk“-whispers Aaron

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The painting of the figure in black with a large staff looks similar to the life size doll of Aaron that Marguerite keeps in her bedroom

The local police come to investigate. Mitchell Ryan plays the cop who suspects the father,  Michael of the murders. The lovers Michael and Anne are to remain close to the crime scene, so they move into the estate as sort of an unspoken house arrest.

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Sondra Locke who manages to catch my gaze with curiosity at her queer sort of whimsical prettiness, more odd than sensual. here as childlike, gaunt and pale as schoolhouse chalk which works for the character of Marguerite. She carries on creepy Socratic dialogues with her decrepit dolls.

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Marguerite presence is both disturbing and sympathetic as she plays at being a fay prisoner, kept isolated by her grandmare and mother, while exhibiting extraordinary intelligence and a primal burgeoning sexuality.

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the image of Aaron slowly arises in the frame in pure shadow- it’s a very powerfully eerie moment in the film.

Marguerite lives in a fantasy world, she’s brilliant, owns microscopes, a pond filled with amoebas, full knowledge of horticulture, stamen and pistils and all that, has rooms filled with myriad of creepy dolls in tatters and decay, a specie of cannibal fish which she finds quite natural in the natural order of things.

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Something that girlfriend Ann (Sally Kellerman ) will invoke when trying to describe how Marguerite is trying to ‘devour’ her father. Consume him, which he allows, as part of the odd liturgy of perverse underpinnings of the narrative. Incest, sexual repression, sexual mutilation, castration anxiety, oedipal lust, castrating females-Misandry (women hating men) “don’t ever let a man touch you, it’ll mean death.” Her mother tells Marguerite in voice-over flashback.

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Her main confidant is a doll… or is he… named Aaron a very belligerent spirit either way, who is quite possessive of Marguerite and seems to be destructive, antagonistic and malevolent. Neither the mother nor grandmother believe he is anything more than a doll. Or perhaps they know more then they are willing to disclose to father Michael, when he comes to visit after 15 years. He wants to marry the lovely Anne, but Marguerite’s mother refuses to give him a divorce as a way of punishing him. Using it as a weapon to keep him from seeing his daughter again.

During his visit, the odd relationship is shown, depicting father and daughter in sexualized frameworks. It’s painful to watch as Michael doesn’t discourage Marguerite’s advances, not even in front of Anne.

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‘Aaron’ begins to become more violent as the father and his lover Anne intrude on the opulent, isolated nether world these women seem to inhabit. Fraker who was the director of photography on D.H Lawrence’s story The Fox 1967 directed by Mark Rydell is really good at capturing the visual sense of place surrounding alienation and the immortal triangle. A world that is quiet, when all at once an intruder turns everything into chaos.

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The film is rather brutal and grotesque even within the kaleidoscopic colors and hazy shadows that both Fraker and Kovács  manifest to murk and lurk and obscure what we see. This heightens the horror of the thing rather than impinge on it. The incandescent lighting and subduing of colors of the photography by László Kovács using filters and gels create a hazy shadowy landscape that’s as enigmatic as the story. By now you know that my second nick name should be Shadowgirl….

The murders are savage, phallus driven mutilations and speak of sexual repression and hatred toward women.

Marguerite is referred to as ‘enchanting’ more than once. Her skin is translucent and her Alice in Wonderland exterior purposefully dress her up to look as if she’s falling through the rabbit hole at any minute might be a way to draw attention to the underlying turmoil of growing sexual awakening. Once her mother and grandmother are out of the way, she begins to wear more adult clothing. She also injects bottles of what is supposed to be insulin, but the labels have been removed from the bottles. Curiouser and curiouser.

At one point she asks her father to give her the injection so that it won’t hurt as much. In retrospect I think this is a pretty clear allusion to Marguerite’s desire to have her father penetrate her.

Sandra Locke’s performance is quite chilling, with her child like, almost socio-pathic lack of affect, it comes across as an eerie sexualized pubescent blond droid, rather than a child who has been secreted away by the older women in her life, in a clandestine garden paradise with malefic forces afoot.

Her voice is part of the characterization of a frail, wispy spirit with no earthly substance, dressed in little girl finery spouting factoids about sea life and flowers but baring no resemblance to a real child of this world. Initially, her dolls have more breadth to them. But Marguerite begins to awaken by the presence of her father.

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Marguerite’s dolls represent her closed world, some even mimic the people in her sheltered life… Herself, Grandmare and father…

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Marguerite’s mother and grandmother are cold, and uncommunicative. There’s no sign of nurturing although her mother calls her ‘chéri‘.

The two women obviously hate men and have done a good job of keeping little Marguerite from coming in contact with anyone of the male species. Even the male fish get eaten by the stronger female of the species.

Sally Kellerman is the one character that buoys us to the normal ‘outside’ practical world. As she sees all the subversive deeds and perversions that are rampant around the old estate but still refuses to walk away from the man she loves. She is the one stable witness to the madness as it unfolds.

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William Fraker and screenwriters Edward Hume and Lewis John Carlino (who also wrote the screenplay for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea in ’76 interesting enough this too dealt with disturbed children with higher intelligence),allow the repulsive sexualized relationship between father and daughter to flourish til we’re completely uncomfortable as uncomfortable as Anne.

I must warn anyone who might be interested in seeing this film that there is a very edgy scene where Marguerite, who’s room is next to her father and Anne, masturbates while the couple are making love. Marguerite calls out ‘father’ while she climaxes so that the couple can hear her cries. Anne finds this entire experience vile, though by now she shouldn’t be surprised by the odd child’s behavior and finally almost leaves Michael yet still remains in this sick environment.

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The film is apparently heavily cut due to censorship in order to secure a ‘PG’ rating for its original U.S. theatrical release in the early 70s. I’d love to see the unedited version someday.

The shocking twist ending was a bit muddled in terms of visual realization but finding out that the film was badly modified due to censorship might explain some of the jagged continuity. I don’t mind the obfuscation of various key scenes as they add to the sense of mystery and concealment. But the reveal at the end did not come to full fruition as it could have.

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Sadly, Mary Ure died suddenly in her sleep in 1975 after an accidental overdose of pills and booze. The imposing and ever larger than life actor Robert Shaw suffered a massive heart attack in 1978 and so joined her in death.

This film is not for everyone, especially those that find psycho-sexual thrillers objectionable because their pathology are usually based on some kind of subversive wiring in the brain or dysfunctional or arrested development of the family structure. But if you’re like me, who just can’t devour enough obscure 70s dark and delectable lunacy then try and catch this one some night… bring your favorite doll.

This has been a reflection of -Your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl

MonsterGirl’s – Sunday Nite Surreal: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) “You can’t see me but I can see you”

“The mansion… the madness… the maniac… no escape.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Alternative title “Night of the Dark Full Moon”

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This is perhaps one of my favorite classic horror films of the 70s– A gloomy tale of incest, madness, depravity and revenge. I’ve chosen not to give away any of the plot twists or uncover the secrets of the story. I will not spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen this obscurely surreal gem.

Though the film is considered a cult hit by many of us, it’s still obscure and deserves a first look for those who might be interested in seeing it, or because they are drawn to the newly discovered beautiful moments that occur in such a low budget horror film.

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Directed by Theodore Gershuny (Sugar Cookies 1973) Silent Night Bloody Night was actually filmed in 1970 but not released until ’72. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, SNBN predates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas by 4 years. Silent Night Bloody Night plays like an eerie and odd nightmare. I know It gets compared to Clark’s Black Christmas which is an undisputed masterpiece but SNBN was filmed in 1970 and came out two years before. And has it’s own very unique story to tell.

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Woronov acts as a sort of tour guide/witness narrating the opening sequence, telling of Butlers death on the day before Christmas 1950 to the gruesome story that unfolds surrounding the Butler house and it’s legacy.
“One last time I’ve got to see this ground one last time…. it’s beautiful now as if nothing had happened here.{…}For twenty years that house lay empty, exactly as Wilfred had left it”

Based on Jeffrey Konvitz’s story. Konvitz wrote yet another of my top favorite horror classics of the 70s The Sentinel starring the superb Burgess Meredith as a very cheeky devil. I read both books which were equally chilling as they were enthralling, back when reading the novel was as thrilling as then going to see it on the big screen.. Silent Night, Bloody Night is being re-released on DVD on December 10th restored from 35mm. This excites me indeed! My copy has already been pre-ordered.

IMDb touts a remake to be released in the US in February. The film will be called Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming. This I am not so excited about. I love this particular original too much to want it re-envisioned with the current careless and gory lens. NOTE: There are exceptions to remakes… I won’t get into that here and now.

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What made SNBN so richly evocative for me was it’s uniquely creepy un-selfconsciousness. Dealing with heavy themes, it managed to come across as a startling fairy tale ‘like’ bit of blood letting with an authentic 70s flare. I don’t need a more hideous version of this movie with hacked body parts as a way to reintroduce this story. This does not frighten me, nor disturb in a good way. I imagine it might become like every other violent blood show with effects and body violation that will detract from the moodiness of the original.

Patrick O’Neal opens the original film playing a brief role as a big shot realtor John Carter who gets axed to pieces in bed with his lover. Cult film star Mary Woronov plays Diane Adams daughter of the Mayor. Walter Klavun is the town Sheriff, Bill Mason.

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John Carradine plays mute curmudgeon Charlie Towman who publishes the weekly newspaper. Apparently his croaks and grunts were dubbed in afterwards. Walter Abel (Fury 1936, Mr Skeffington 1944) plays Mayor Adams. And Fran Stevens plays Tess Howard who operates the switchboard.

Plus, the film is back-dropped with an assortment from Andy Warhol’s acting “Factory.’ Mary Woronov was at one time married to director Theodore Gershuny), supporting players Ondine, Candy Darling, Kristen Steen, Tally Brown, Lewis Love, filmmaker Jack Smith, and artist Susan Rothenberg. And character actor Philip Bruns plays the patriarch of the estate now deceased, the eccentric Wilfred Butler.

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James Patterson  who plays Grandson Jeff Butler (Lillith 1964, In The Heat of The Night 1967) died of cancer shortly after principle shooting was completed. They substituted Patterson’s voice with another actor. Grandson Jeff played by Patterson has a sort of veiled flirtation with Woronov who is the mayor’s daughter.

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Henry Shrady’s  art direction was responsible for the wonderful sense of claustrophobic ambiance that becomes part of the pervasive madness as he created later on with Jack Palance’s and Martin Landau’s hilariously frightening performances in Alone In The Dark in 1982. Shrady also did (Cry Uncle 1971 and Squirm 1976)

In a small rural New England town, (I recently lived in New England for two years and can tell you that writer Stephen King has his pulse on a very real provincial and closed society that keeps it’s secrets and it’s turmoil quietly buried underneath the pristine beauty of the landscape) Wilfred Butler, played by Philip Bruns, is the patriarch who reigns over his mansion secluded away from the small town and then dies on Christmas Eve 1950 as he runs from the place set on fire.

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The film’s prologue shows Wilfred Butler running from the mansion enveloped by flames, Then we are dropped into the present day when realtor John Carter (O’Neal) arrives at the house with his gorgeous lover Ingrid (Astrid Heeren). Carter comes to finalize the sale of the house with the town elders. who are four sullen and a strangely nervous bunch. The excellent casting and presence of these somewhat distressed characters add a nice layer to the creepiness that builds. Fran Stevens as Tess Howard is perfect. Abel as the Mayor, the ubiquitous Carradine as the mute Towman and Walter Klavun as Sheriff Mason are equally well suited to play this strange and secretive quartet.

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“Tess…. I’ve come back” says the creepy whispering voice on the phone

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The Butler house once opulent, inhabited by Wilfred and his young daughter sits for years uninhabited and abandoned. The current horrible events unfold during the Christmas season twenty years later. Grandson Jeffrey inherits the creepy place, but someone deadly and deranged is lurking within the mansion and around town. As Christmas draws near, the four members of the town are lured to the old house and butchered.

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Although the film has the appearance of that 70s ‘low budget’ feature, what has emerged for me as I revisit these films with a sense of nostalgia and the clarity of retrospection I find that many obscure films like this one can be considered classical masterpieces because of their sparsely framed environments, authentically offbeat characters and a realism that doesn’t get covered up by opulent set pieces and star billing.

The scratchy gritty low lighting that creates an eerie darkness, presents it’s own unease for us. It will be fantastic to sit and re-experience the film without some of the poor quality of the print hindering the scenes.

Still, SNBN is undoubtedly one of the most atmospheric horrors of the 70s. Like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. It’s a self contained world of distorted truths, hysteria and a claustrophobic bit of vintage nihilism and yet again a distorted tone of American values.

We aren’t thinking “will the characters survive?” as it is not a linear story in the sense that we follow along and grow frightened for the protagonists on their journey through the plot. Because every aspect of the story sort of lies within the looming darkness, we’re left to be frightened for ourselves. The question of escape doesn’t enter into it. The question of ‘what is really going on here?’ does…. and it becomes progressively disturbing.

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Which leads perhaps to one of the most memorable flashbacks of 70s horror films for me. Performed in murky sepia and wide angle lens to add to it a sickly decrepit tone of the archaic mournfulness of a disturbing past. As it shows us what happened long ago at the Butler Estate in the 1930s, it’s one grotesque fête. A creepy sequence that for me is unforgettable and for po-mo junkies it’s filled with Warhol minions.

The one plot setback that I read by critics more often than not is that it takes a while for the excellent story to finally unfold. Well I think there’s too much atmosphere for me to need constant movement or disclosure at every frame. It lends to the claustrophobic vibe.

Patrick O’Neal, who plays lawyer/real estate agent Jack Carter, comes to the small town of East Willard in order to sell the Butler house. He reeks of sophistication and arrogance as he carries on with his girlfriend while spending the night in the house, ultimately getting themselves hacked up. Grandson Jeffrey Butler comes to town as well to sell off the estate. The locals begin to appear agitated and to make the story a bit edgier there’s a nearby insane asylum inmate who has escaped and is on the prowl.

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Gershuny and Adam Giffard frame the plot at times from the POV of the mysterious killer stalking the house and the town folk. Once again SNBN predates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas point-of-view of the killer, and the freakishly terrifying voice on the phone and of course the grisly murders.

Patterson who plays grandson Jeff Butler was dying of cancer at the time. He has an interesting defined face, like Tommy Lee Jones, partially sensuous and just a bit menacing.