Shock (1946) Psychological-Noir – The mind is a delicate fragile thing, it’s almost as intangible as faith.

SHOCK (1946)

Directed by Alfred Werker (The House of Rothschild 1934, He Walked By Night 1948, The Young Don’t Cry 1957),  screenplay by Eugene Ling, based on a story by Albert DeMond. Cinematography by Glen MacWilliams (The Clairvoyant 1935, King Solomon’s Mines 1937, Lifeboat 1944, The Spider 1945) and Joseph MacDonald  (The Street With No Name 1948, The Young Lions 1958, The Sand Pebbles 1966) Art Directed by Boris Leven and Lyle R. Wheeler. Set direction by Thomas Little.

Shock stars Vincent Price as Dr. Dick Cross,Lynn Bari (Nocturne 1946, The Amazing Mr. X 1948) as Elaine Jordan, Frank Latimore as Lt. Paul Stewart, Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, Michael Dunn as Stevens, Reed Hadley as O’Neil, Renee Carson as Mrs. Hatfield, Charles Trowbridge as Dr. Harvey and Mary Young as Miss Penny.

Shock was Vincent Price’s first starring role for 20th Century Fox. It was originally slated as a “B” movie, but it’s unexpected success created openings in better movie houses. Vincent Price possesses an enigmatic sensuality that in my view makes him the complete leading man, tall and romantically brooding with his velvet intonations and his striking features and dramatic flare.

Shock falls into the category of the psychological film noir, where the lead antagonist is a psychiatrist who has committed a crime, and is able to use the resources of his craft to manipulate the chaos created by his act, in a way that sustains his secret. The subject of this tightly woven narrative is a young woman who is portrayed as hysterical and possibly losing her mind, evincing the idea that she is not to be believed. The mise-en-scène is also primarily set in the sanitorium.

 

“The films identifiable as psychological noirs offer much more extreme interpretations of this anti-traditional style. The mise-en-scène of psychological noirs can be classified as operating within two distinct modes, the surreal and the inexplicable. Surreal mise-en-scène refers to overtly artificial visual elements within psychological noirs that are often achieved through the use of special effects, while inexplicable mise-en-scène designates elements that can be either real or not, within the context of the narrative, and only make sense to the viewer once the film’s narrative has been fully revealed”– Matthew Ducca –Film Noir in Context-Psychological Noir

“Here’s one of the best of the season–and I’m referring to Shock, a terrific little picture that , without any particular ballyhoo, steps into the same category as Lost Weekend and Spellbound for intelligent, engrossing entertainment… {Price} is terrific as the psychiatrist-murderer –smooth, menacing and as dangerous as a tiger’s paw.” –-Los Angeles Herald Examiner, March 7, 1946

“…{Price} makes a sufficiently deadly menace…” –Variety

In Shock, Vincent Price plays a prominent psychiatrist Dr. Dick Cross who is having an affair with his nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari). During an argument with his wife who is willing to give him a divorce but goes to pick up the phone threatening to ruin his reputation, infuriating Cross who loses control and winds up beating her brains out with a silver candlestick. Price is marvelous as he straddles the moral fence between going to police and reporting what he has done and being completely led by the conniving Elaine who is more the pure villainess of the story. Cross states that he didn’t mean to kill her, there was no-premeditation but now that he’s put the body in a trunk and shipped it off to his lodge, he shouldn’t have listened to Elaine and called the police instead. Elaine is ruthless and Janet will talk, only if Dick Cross lets her.

In film noir fashion Elaine drives Cross to his ruination as the film’s malevolent femme fatale. Cross manifests a sort of sympathetic anti-hero, ambivalence with his tormented conscience and his attraction to the alluring temptress who doesn’t have an ounce of humanity in her beautiful bones is finely portrayed with Price’s iconic eloquence and his stylish restraint. Cross is torn between his feelings of guilt for what he’s done and fearing that the police will find out that he is responsible for his wife’s death.

At the center of the story is Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, waiting for her husband Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore) who was believed killed in the war, when actually he was in a Japanese prison-camp. While sitting up in the hotel room, Janet overhears the argument between Cross and his wife, about his mistress and him asking for a divorce. Janet, walking out onto the balcony, witnesses Cross striking his wife with a large silver candlestick and immediately goes into shock.

Janet becomes the film noir figure as the ‘un-believed’ who is in a semi-hysterical state an unable to articulate calmly what she she saw. Ironically is overseen by the one person she has to fear the most, her doctor who is the murderer! Everyone buys into the belief that Janet has in fact gone mad. The paralyzing sense of persecution that envelops poor Janet creates a world of paranoia and confinement.

In one chilling scene later on in the film, shot with a restricted light source stemming from the lightening storm and narrowing warning shadows by cinematographers MacWilliams and MacDonald, one of the patients, the deranged Edwards, at the sanitorium whom the doctors have come to believe is too dangerous to be kept at their facility has hidden a key, sneaks out of his room and enters Janet’s room, where he tries to strangle Elaine. Once Cross arrives in time to save her, Janet comes out of her hypnotized stupor and begins screaming that Cross is the man she saw murdered his wife. Of course the staff just assumes it’s the ramblings of a mad woman who needs to be committed.

Back to the beginning of the film. When Dr. Cross is first called in to consult on the Janet’s condition, he realizes that her room is directly across from the window in his hotel room. He asks her “Did you walk out on the balcony?” when she responds yes, he understands that she witnessed him killing his wife which mostly likely is the cause of her trauma.

Finally, Paul has had enough and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

Cross explains to Janet’s husband Paul, “The mind is a delicate fragile thing. It’s almost as intangible as faith.”

Dr Cross convinces her well-meaning husband Paul to commit her to his sanitorium for treatment, where he can watch over her progress and keep her in a catatonic state, sedating, hypnotizing and trying to control her memories of the murder. While under the influence of drugs, Cross tries to convince Janet that she imagined the quarrel and the brutal murder.

Finally, Paul has had enough of not seeing his wife and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

“She Knows Elaine, she remembers!”

“Don’t leave me here, he’ll kill me!” Elaine sedates Janet

Cross in a move to illustrate how many of his patients feel paranoia about their surroundings. He explains to Paul that she’s “filled with delusions” even going as far as introducing Paul Stewart to the old oddball Miss Penny who decries that everyone at the institution are murderers and out to kill her! She suffers from Dementia Praecox or Precocious Madness, delusions of grandeur and feelings of great persecution.

To Elaine, it’s the perfect crime, allowing everyone to believe Janet is crazy when she’s really telling the truth. She gleefully tells him, “Well, smile darling, it’s fallen right into our lap.” As Cross becomes more desperate, he does takes on a more sinister role, telling Janet, “You’re losing your mind Mrs. Stewart, you’re losing your mind!” 

Paul isn’t as gullible to just go along, he asks to call in a consultation with Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) who happens to be Cross’ mentor. Of course Cross consents as to not call attention to his motivation for keeping Janet as the hospital so long. Cross also denies access to Paul, informing him that the shock of seeing him might cause her more harm than good. Even the staff thinks that Janet is having hallucinations.

Paul brings Dr Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) in on the case

While Cross wavers between keeping the young woman quiet and under his control, Elaine’s cold blooded nature urges him to actually give Janet an overdose of insulin. “If a man wanted to, he could get rid of her and no one would ever know… I could give her insulin shock treatment, give her an overdose.” Then they’d be safe. Elaine prods him, “why not… is her life more important than ours.”

But while Cross wavers between menacing moments and weakness which Elaine detests, he does feel sorry for Janet, feeling that he just can’t trick the poor child anymore, that there’s a limit to which even he can’t go. As Elaine takes Cross down memory lane of the first time they made love, he pleads with her, “I can’t do it Elaine, I won’t!”

Biting at Cross’ heals is D.A O’Neil invoking a prototype of Lt. Columbo for me, as he keeps coming back to Cross asking questions and slowly but surely leading him to his capture, by getting a court order to exhume his wife’s body, and telling him they’ve arrested a tramp in the same vicinity of where they found his wife’s body. The drunken intruder who clubbed  another women to death for her jewels, and they found traces under the microscope of silver and wax on her body, the coroner coming to the conclusion that the murder weapon is a silver candlestick! O’Neil asks Cross, “Do you have candlesticks at the lodge?”

Reed Hadley as D.A. O’Neil is as persistent and suspicious as Columbo asking all the small questions that would worry a murderer!

 

Cross is torn between the law closing in on him, his own inner conflict and the seduction by Elaine who wants Janet dead so they can finally be together. After Cross disposes of his wife’s body, put inside a trunk and shipped to their lodge, he dumps the body off the cliff and drives back home, meeting up with Elaine. “Driving back, there was a time to think. I got to thinking about you. I asked myself, is she worth what I’ve done.” Elaine whispers suggestively, “Well?” Cross embraces her passionately, as she utters, “That was a very satisfactory answer.”

in Lucy Chase Williams’ wonderful The Complete Films of Vincent Price- she points out that there are plot elements that are “reminiscent of Price’s great stage success Angel Street-as the smooth, charismatic therapist, Price sits on the girl’s bedside, quietly convincing her that she’s losing her mind.”

Fox’s creative publicity department sent out this statement, “Price’s days at the studio were spent under the supervision of a psychiatric technical advisor. Most of his evenings were spent rehearsing for the Theatre of Romance radio show on which he reenacted the same role in Angel Street that he made famous on the New York stage. ‘So you see,’ laughed Price, ‘I was a mental case both day and night’…

“Although Vincent is rapidly becoming known as ‘Hollywood’s most wicked man’ what with murdering practically every feminine contract player at 20th Century Fox–for films only, of course-he wants to play comedy.” ‘Ah yes,’ punned Price, ‘I’m getting to be quite a lady killer. But you wait and see, one of these days I’ll be killing them with love and murdering women with laughter.’

From Vincent Price (Classic Images, June 1992)

“Shock was an experiment, actually. The studio was spending too much money on films and taking too long to make them. Something had to be done to boost output and cut down on costs. So they asked me and Lynn Bari if we could make a film in twenty days and still have it look like a first-class production. I read the script and thought it was pretty good. I said, ‘Certainly we can do it, if you don’t change the script and louse it up for us’. And so they agreed… The Film did very well at the box office, so Twentieth was very pleased.”

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying Happy Noir-vember and don’t be ‘shocked’ if I scare up a few more good film noir gems to celebrate the month!… and all my love to the charismatic Vincent Price.

 

First Look: The Dark Pages’ Latest Issue

There’s no better place to indulge your passion for Film Noir than The Dark Pages!

Speakeasy

Image result for body and soul 1947 poster

Hot off the presses is the new issue of the original publication for noir movie fans, and as a regular contributor, I love to tell you what’s in it:

  • In-depth looks at noirs new on disc for your collection, this time covering The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), Black Widow (1954), The Spiral Staircase (1945), and more
  • My regular noir-on-TCM calendar for two months of viewing
  • Karen and I each pick one noir you should see on TCM
  • Body and Soul (1947)
  • Actresses who played against type as femmes fatales– Gene Tierney, Marilyn Monroe and others
  • Kansas City Confidential (1952)
  • White Heat (1949)
  • James M. Cain’s final novel, The Cocktail Waitress
  • a trivia quiz

… and this is your reminder that the theme for this year-end GIANT issue is GREAT COUPLES OF NOIR. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact thedarkpages [at] yahoo.com

The Dark Pages’ creator and editor…

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Postcards from Shadowland no. 17 🌀 The Twilight Zone edition

“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” Season 3 Episode 14-Stars William Windom, Susan Harrison, Murray Matheson, Kelton Garwood aired December 22, 1961 Teleplay by Rod Serling.
“The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” Season 1 episode 4 aired October 23rd 1959-stars Ida Lupino and Martin Balsam, Jerome Cowan, Ted de Corsia and Alice Frost as Sally. Written by Rod Serling
“Black Leather Jackets” Season 5 Episode 18 aired January 31st 1964-stars Lee Kinsolving, Shelley Fabares, Michael Forest, Denver Pyle, Tom Gilleran, Michael Conrad and Irene Hervey.
“Elegy” Season 1 Episode 20 aired on February 19th, 1960 directed by Douglas Heyes and written by Charles Beaumont. Stars Cecil Kellaway, Jeff Morrow, Don Dubbins and Kevin Hagen
“Eye of the Beholder” Season 2 Episode 6 aired on November 11th, 1960 directed by Douglas Heyes and written by Rod Serling. Stars Maxine Stuart, William D. Gordon, Jennifer Howard, George Keymas, Joanna Heyes, and Donna Douglas -revealed
NOVEMBER 11: Twilight Zone episode ‘Eye of the Beholder’, written by Rod Serling. makeup by William Tuttle. Originally broadcast on November 11, 1960. Season 2, episode 6. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
“Nothing in the Darkness” Season 3, Episode 16 aired January 5th, 1962. Stars Gladys Cooper Robert Redford and R.G. Armstrong
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” Season 5 Episode 3 aired October 11th, 1963 directed by Richard Donner written by Richard Matheson, Starring William Shatner, and Christine White

“The Howling Man” Season 2 Episode 5 aired November 4, 1960 directed by Douglas Heyes written by Charles Beaumont and Rod Serling. Stars John Carradine, H.M. Wynant, and Robin Hughes

“It’s a Good Life” Season 3 Episode 8 aired aired November 3rd, 1961. teleplay by Rod Serling based on a short story by Jerome Bixby. Stars John Larch, Cloris Leachman, Don Keefer, Bill Mumy as Anthony, Alice Frost as Aunt Amy, Max Showalter, Jeanne Bates, Lenore Kingston and Tom Hatcher.

“A Most Unusual Camera” Season 2 Episode 10 aired December 16, 1960. Starring Jean Carson, Fred Clark and Adam Williams written by Rod Serling
“Little Girl Lost” Season 3 Episode 26 aired March 16, 1962 directed by Paul Stewart and written by Richard Matheson. Stars Sarah Marshall, Robert Sampson and Charles Aidman
“Living Doll’ Season 5 Episode 6 aired November 1, 1963 written by Charles Beaumont and Rod Serling. Stars Telly Savalas, Mary LaRoche and Tracy Stratford

“The Midnight Sun” Season 3 Episode 10 aired November 17, 1961 Written by Rod Serling. Stars Lois Nettleton, and Betty Garde
“Mirror Image” Season 1 Episode 21 directed by John Brahm written by Rod Serling. Stars Vera Miles, Martin Milner, Joseph Hamilton and Naomi Stevens
“Mr. Garrity and the Graves” Season 5 Episode 32. Aired May 8th, 1964 directed by Ted Post, with a teleplay by Rod Serling. Stars John Dehner, Stanley Adams, J. Pat O’Malley, Norman Leavitt, Percy Helton and John Mitchum
“Mr. Denton on Doomsday” Season 1 Episode 3 aired October 16th 1959 written by Rod Serling Stars Dan Duryea, Martin Landau, Jeanne Cooper, Malcolm Atterbury, Ken Lynch, Arthur Batanides, Robert Burton and Doug McClure
“A Stop at Willoughby” Season 1 Episode 30 aired May 6, 1960 directed by Robert Parrish written by Rod Serling. Stars James Daly, Howard Smith and Patricia Donahue, Jason Wingreen, and Mavis Neal Palmer.
“Nick of Time” Season 2 Episode 3 aired November 18, 1960 Written by Richard Matheson and Rod Serling Stars William Shatner and Patricia Breslin
“Night Call’ Season 5 Episode 19 aired February 7, 1964 Directed by Jacques Tourneur written by Richard Matheson and Rod Serling. Stars the great Gladys Cooper, Nora Marlowe and Martine Bartlett.
“Nightmare as a Child” Season 1 Episode 29 aired April 29, 1960 written by Rod Serling. Stars Janice Rule, Sheppard Strudwick and Terry Burnham as Markie
“Twenty Two” Season 2 Episode 17 aired February 10, 1961 Directed by Jack Smight written by Rod Serling from Famous Ghost Stories- Stars Barbara Nichols, Jonathon Harris, and Fredd Wayne
“One for the Angels” Season 1 Episode 2 aired October 9, 1959 Written by Rod Serling. Stars Ed Wynn, Murray Hamilton as death, Dana Dillaway as Maggie
“A Penny for your Thoughts” Season 2 Episode 16 aired February 3, 1961 Written by George Clayton Johnson and Rod Serling. Stars Dick York, June Dayton, Dan Tobin, Cyril Delevanti, and Hayden Rorke
“People are Alike All Over” Season 1 Episode 25 aired March 25, 1960 Stars Roddy McDowall, Susan Oliver and Paul Comi
“Long Live Walter Jameson” Season 1 Episode 24 aired March 18, 1960 Written by Charles Beaumont. Stars Kevin McCarthy, Edgar Stehli, Estelle Winwood and Dodie Heath
“Queen of the Nile” Season 5 Episode 23 aired March 6, 1964 directed by John Brahm written by Charles Beaumont and Rod Serling. Starring Ann Blyth, Lee Phillips, and Celia Lovsky

“Spur of the Moment” Season 5 Episode 21 aired February 21, 1964 directed by Eliot Silverstein written by Richard Matheson. Stars Diana Hyland, Marsha Hunt, Philip Ober and Roger Davis.
“The After Hours” Season 1 Episode 34 aired June 10, 1960 directed by Douglas Heyes written by Rod Serling. Stars Anne Francis and Elizabeth Allen
“The Dummy” Season 3 Episode 33 aired May 4, 1962 directed by Abner Biberman teleplay by Rod Serling. Stars Cliff Robertson, Frank Sutton, George Murdock, John Harmon and Sandra Warner.
“The Fear” Season 5 Episode 35 aired May 29, 1964 directed by Ted Post written by Rod Serling. Stars Hazel Court and Peter Mark Richman
“The Grave” Season 3 Episode 7 aired October 27, 1961 Written and Directed by Montgomery Pittman Stars Lee Marvin, James Best, and Strother Martin, Elen Willard and Lee Van Cleef
“The Hitch-Hiker” Season 1 Episode 16 aired January 22, 1960 Teleplay by Rod Serling based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher. Stars Inger Stevens, Adam Williams, Lew Gallo and Leonard Strong as The Hitch-Hiker
“The Invaders” Season 2 Episode 15 aired January 27, 1961 Directed by Douglas Heyes written by Richard Matheson. Stars Agnes Moorehead in a completely dialogue-less performance.
“The Lonely” Season 1 Episode 7 aired November 13, 1959 Directed by Jack Smight written by Rod Serling. Stars Jack Warden, John Dehner, Jean Marsh and Ted Knight
“The Man in the Bottle” Season 2 Episode 2 aired October 7, 1960 directed by Don Medford written by Rod Serling. Stars Luther Adler, Vivi Janiss, and Joseph Ruskin
“The Masks” Season 5 Episode 25 aired March 20, 1964 Directed by Ida Lupino written by Rod Serling. Stars Robert Keith, Milton Seltzer, Virginia Gregg, Brooke Hayward and Willis Bouchey
“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” Season 1 Episode 22 aired March 4, 1960. Written by Rod Serling. Stars Claude Akins, Barry Atwater, Jack Weston, Jan Handzlik, Amzie Strickland, Burt Metcalfe, Mary Gregory, Anne Barton
“The New Exhibit” Season 4 Episode 14 aired April 4 1963 Directed by John Brahm written by Charles Beaumont and Rod Serling. Stars Martin Balsam, Will Kuluva, Margaret Field William Mims
“The Shelter” Season 3 Episode 3 aired September 29, 1961 directed by Lamont Johnson written by Rod Serling. Stars Larry Gates, Joseph Bernard, Jack Albertson, Peggy Stewart, Sandy Kenyon, Michael Burns, Jo Helton, Moria Turner, and Mary Gregory
“Time Enough At Last” Season 1 Episode 8 aired November 20, 1959 Directed by John Brahm and teleplay by Rod Serling based on a short story by Lynn Venable. Stars Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis
“To Serve Man” Season 3 Episode 24 aired March 2, 1962 Teleplay by Rod Serling based on a short story by Damon Knight. Stars Lloyd Bochner, Susan Cummings and Richard Kiel
“A Passage for Trumpet” Season 1 Episode 32 aired May 20, 1960 Directed by Don Medford written by Rod Serling. Stars Jack Klugman and John Anderson
“Walking Distance” Season 1 Episode 5 aired October 30th, 1959 directed by Robert Stevens and written by Rod Serling. Stars Gig Young, Frank Overton and Irene Tedrow and a young Ronny Howard
“Two” Season 3 Episode 1 aired September 15, 1961 directed by Montgomery Pittman written by Montgomery Pittman and Rod Serling. Stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson
“Third from the Sun” Season 1 Episode 14 aired January 8, 1960 Teleplay by Rod Serling based on a story by Richard Matheson. Stars Fritz Weaver, Edward Andrews, Joe Maross, Denise Alexander and Lori March
“What You Need” Season 1 Episode 12 aired Deccember 25, 1959 Stars Steve Cochran, Ernest Truex, Read Morgan and Alrene Martel
Season 1 Episode 1 aired October 2nd 1959. Written by Rod Serling. Stars Earl Holliman, James Gregory, and Paul Langton,
“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” Season 2 Episode 28 aired May 26, 1961. Directed by Montgomery Pittman written by Rod Serling. Stars John Hoyt, Jean Willes, Jack Elam, Barney Phillips, John Archer, William Kendis, Morgan Jones, Gertrude Flynn, Bill Irwin, Jill Ellis and Ron Kipling

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge!

3 Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir: Life’s Rough “You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”

Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir

“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)

The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.

In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.

Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.

Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.

In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.

“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity

Caged! (1950)

You don’t know women until you know them without men!

Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.

Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).

Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.

American actress Eleanor Parker acting in the film ‘Caged’. USA, 1950 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.

Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.

Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.

Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.

Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.

The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.

Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)

Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.

When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira

Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.

THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (1950)

“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!

Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord  (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)

Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.

Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.

The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.

Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.

Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.

Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”

Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute.  She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.

Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.

Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.

Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.

She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.

The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!” Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”

Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.

Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?”  referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.”Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.

Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”

Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.

In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him.  But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”

Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna,  “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.”  As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.

Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.”  But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”

A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”

Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.

Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.

Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.

Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.” 

Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.

In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.

He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”

In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and  shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.

The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.

Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two”Tougher to get out” Cop one“Wouldn’t you?”  Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”

Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)

Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”

Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head

Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.

Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.

Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.

When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.

He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.

But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.

Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.

Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”

Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”

Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”

Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”

Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!

Happy NoirVember!, Joey

Playground of Dark Dreams: The Nightmare World of Dante Tomaselli

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

“I’m on fire to transcribe my nightmares through cinema and music. After creating four films and four instrumental albums, I’m pregnant with The Doll, my next horror picture and it’s clawing at my insides. The upcoming horror shocker concerns a haunting at a family owned wax museum in Salem. Co-writer Michael Gingold and I recently completed the screenplay and had a couple of false start-ups, like all my films have had – but I’m very close now to securing the proper funding. As a cult filmmaker, I don’t go to Hollywood for my financing. I live in a world where independent films are funded through private investors. It’s an unstable realm for sure and I plan to get to the point where I can fund my own films as well as other independent filmmaker’s works. As with all my projects, I’m purchasing and acquiring some of the special fx and props before actual official pre-production. Right now I’m working with a sculptor, Jason Bakutis, on the the doll itself…An antique porcelain doll. Jason created the eerie ancient tribal mask that Jimmy, the lead character wore in my last film, Torture Chamber. My projects may take years to mount but I’ve learned that if my intentions are pure and I visualize the film and soundtrack enough the universe has no choice but to open the gate. It’s just a matter of alignment. Every one of my films has been a struggle to create and if I would have given up then there would be no DESECRATION, no HORROR, no SATAN’S PLAYGROUND or TORTURE CHAMBER. I see THE DOLL looming when my eyes are open…or shut. The film is always projected like slides in my inner eye. Not to mention, the sounds…I tend to plan my actual soundtracks before filming. I did it on every one of my films. The sound…first. Which I guess makes sense since I have sound-color synesthesia. When I was younger and the very loud school alarm would go off – I’d see little grey spirals, like mini tornadoes, every time. The sound induced the patterns, the visuals. One time I saw what looked like three giant dragonflies hovering over the side of my house. There was bombing going on in the neighborhood and the explosive sound produced these strange blobs of color. I thought they were real flying giant-sized insects and I remembering running in terror. The sound of rain…I don’t need to see rain, just hear it…and it’s involuntary…I see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of light.” —Dante Tomaselli

I first stumbled onto Dante Tomaselli’s work when I purchased a VHS copy of Desecration from one of the oldest video rental houses in Madison Wisconsin, known for their extensive collection in Indie, obscure and art house films. I was struck by the artwork on the cover and the story seemed fascinating to me since I’m a classic horror film nut who will always remain faithful to the sacred classical horror genre style from Mid 80’s all the way back to the Silent Era.

One of the many things that strikes me about Dante Tomaselli’s work– is the Nightmarish Beauty that feels vintage. The Hallucinatory, Religio/Horror style is how he manages to create a perfect sense of place in his film’s surroundings, that is not only otherworldly in ordinary spaces but also possess a throw back to earliest horror films without being derivative.

There is a reminiscent atmosphere of older films as if he’s found a conduit to the good old days and his own appreciation for the classical style of horror film-making in his own work and succeeds in adapting it with an original flare on screen. The effective and evocative sound design is also something that creates another layer to Tomaselli’s films. Even the sets are meticulous, Tomaselli has a grasp of how to set the scene that hints at another time period. This is also what makes Tomaselli’s films more frightening than most contemporary horrors. Satan’s Playground truly has the authentic feel of a late 70s early 80s classic horror film, I mean he used a wood paneled station-wagon in Satan’s Playground, it doesn’t get better than that! not to mention his eye for casting special actors that fit his characters perfectly. The same goes for all of his other three feature films, Desecration, Horror and Torture Chamber.

In particular I have come to adore Irma St. Paule who sadly passed away in 2007. Irma has presence. She added something special to Desecration 1999 as Grandma Matilda and as the wicked Mrs. Leeds she was superbly macabre in Satan’s Playground 2006.

Dante Tomaselli has tapped into his primal dark spot, his id and found a way to connect the dots to the outer world. Upon re-watching all four of his feature films, I became reacquainted with some of the elements that drew me to his work in the first place. Tomaselli within all four works has created one continuous nightmare realm. A Möbius Trip of time and space. A string of interconnected events, interchangeable, with their own symbology and iconography. One connected journey with thematic threads that weave a familiar tapestry– painting the entire picture as a unified message, and an alternate realm that is woven together with pieces from the same puzzle. Hallucinatory, non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic, visceral, east coast Americana Gothic, a 70s vibe with raw simplicity, transcendental & primal horrors. There is a definitive pattern, a cyclical nihilist fate where none of the characters manage to survive their journey, their ordeal. There are no real protagonists, just puppets in a modern Greek tragedy.

Sound in Dante Tomaselli’s masterful works are extremely key to the aura of his work. He painstakingly sculpts each soundscapes that breathe, lo-fi undertows, waves and tones that shade the atmosphere along with his dynamic color palate. The use of color and lighting is also reminiscent of great horror films of the 1970s & 80s, I might add.

Tomaselli also prolongs his character’s sense of ‘outsider-ship’ The Outsider theme is also continuous throughout his work, in particular the gangs of children, forgotten and disaffected children, angry, having suffered at the hands of abuse and torture, they band together with their collective angst, as in Horror and Torture Chamber. While society is trying to cure them, or figure them out, or repress their identities, or force salvation on them –they are caught up in their private hell again and again.

And there is a perfect sense of place that Dante Tomaselli establishes in all his films…

As in the old abandoned house filmed in the Pine Barrens featured in Satan’s Playground, the simple woods, a place of the natural world becomes an almost unreal hellish domain. A rustic limbo-land. And what I’ve come to realize, but I must give first credit to my partner Wendy who watched this chilling film with me together once again, this haunted Halloween month is that Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her demented kinfolk don’t even really live in that broken down abandoned place.

She gets the sense that the house really is empty, it’s uninhabited for real. She figured that they only appear when someone comes knocking at the door. Then the hellish realm opens up and they materialize, like phantoms, like demons. And you know what! –I believe she’s right.

Because getting to know Dante Tomaselli’s work, means realizing that there are dimensions, levels of hell here on Earth. The creepy Leeds clan are just like the elusive Jersey Devil himself, swooping in and out of the picture to take people out of this life! Even as poor Sean Bruno falls into the hole in the ground (much like Bobby in Desecration-again revisiting common themes) it’s like he is being sucked out of life and down into the bowels of hell, or falling into ‘nowhere’. And one of the most striking observations for me was Tomaselli’s use of Trees… trees representing the ‘natural world’. which Dante and I will discuss further into this post. There are trees uses as figures, as the embodiment of an elemental force in each of his four films.

From Matthew Edwards essay The New Throwback: The FIlms of Dante Tomaselli “…watching Poltergeist, how many people would feel comfortable keeping a doll of a clown in their room? In both Desecration and Horror, Tomaselli likewise uses familiar objects, or childhood toys, as a means of driving conflicting emotions.”

There are many moments of recurring iconography throughout Dante Tomaselli’s four timorous mind-blowing works of art. ‘The Devouring Mother Archetype”-Christie Sanford who is fantastic continued her demon mother entity in Desecration’s respective sequel Torture Chamber. In all four films, Sanford’s incarnation displays this rabid motherhood, not only with the symbol of a little boy trapped in a cage and the religio-horror aspect but her character Judy’s maniacal abduction of Paula’s (Ellen Sandweiss) baby, Anthony in Satan’s Playground, and then her violent Folie à deux relationship with the vicious Reverend Salo Jr. (Vincent Lamberti) and their treatment of Grace in Horror.

There is the re-appearances of the goat (a symbol of arcane Gods & supernatural significance), boils (damnation from hell) boy size cages, used in Desecration as the badly abused Bobby is imprisoned in one in his dreams, as is Jimmy in Torture Chamber. The torture rack used in Horror is brought back in Torture Chamber once again, illustrative of the themes of agony and punishment. There is a dark swirling, gaping black vortex, a circular menacing field that not only appears in Satan’s Playground out in the dark sky in the night time woods and we see it once again in Torture Chamber inside the castle structure. There are invisible bogs, holes to nowhere that Danny Lopes continues to get sucked down into, in Desecration and then again in Satan’s Playground. And of course there is Atmo Royce’s incredible artwork that Tomaselli commissioned specifically for his films, that are significant to each story. Even the puzzle that Grandma Matilda (Irma St. Paule) works on at the dining room table in Desecration has a story to tell, it also contains the grassy oubliette that Danny Lopes falls into.

Dante makes the lower-budget work to his advantage. Films with vast amounts of surplus funds wind up having no soul, yet Dante Tomaselli manages to convey what’s in his head by staying close to the art of intuitive style and not by using big money shocks. He is not restricted at all, but stays true to his vision.

I see Dante Tomaselli’s work as uniquely his own imaginary / hallucinatory vision. Dante’s collective works are like little filmic exorcisms, for childhood fears. Where the danger surrounds anyone who is young, and the adults become the monsters. Where religion becomes the monster, and where fanaticism, repression and abuse, drives people toward possession, damnation, and inevitably to Hell, or a hellish nightmare world where there is no escape nor salvation.

Yet on a very Americana landscape, with a truly east coast American Gothic narrative due to the fixation on suburban Catholicism, with Medieval emblems, Italian east coast Catholicism and the ordinary American family, the fixture of the church as in Desecration , Catholic idols and statuettes of the virgin Mary, all surrounding childhood fears, perversion of religion, fanaticism and madness. This all seems to manifested into these surreal nightmarish paroxysms on screen.

I also see amidst the imagery…agony, fixation, rage, desire, craving, cruelty, revenge, frenzy, hysteria and desolation, and outsider-ship as the proponents of the narratives, in Desecration (1999) Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and ultimately Torture Chamber (2013).

There’s an authentic American angst about ours sins swallowing us up and spitting us out into Hell. In Dante Tomaselli’s dream world, there exhibits a charismatic starkness, which exposes us down to a raw nerve and makes us feel closer to what might be a more straightforward Hell, than the depictions from classical paintings and literature.

it will continue to brand Tomaselli a hallucinatory auteur and broaden his landscape a bit more, but does not scale back on the schadenfreude emotional shivers and psychic acrobatics that his earlier works cause the viewer to go through, definitely me for sure.

Dante Tomaselli was born October 29, 1969, in Paterson, New Jersey- is an Italian-American horror screenwriter, director, and electronic score composer. He studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree in Advertising there. His first film was a 23 minute short, called Desecration which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals.

Later on, Dante Tomaselli expanded his screenplay Desecration into a feature length film and in 1999, the film premiered to a SRO audience at the prestigious Fantafestival in Rome, Italy.

The release of Desecration (1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment was praised by reviewers for its unique vision for a independent horror production.

“I’m just this guy from New Jersey who has odd visions. I do have an obsession with replicating childhood nightmares, fears, anxieties. With my films, I’m trying to construct some kind of nightmare where we experience the protagonist’s damnation.”

It’s no wonder that he’s “just this guy from New Jersey with odd visions” and a life long supernatural / horror aficionado considering himself as a ‘supernaturalist, NOT a ‘satanist’, who also happens to be the cousin of film director Alfred Sole the director who brought us the edgy , cult Catholic themed horror favorite , Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which I loved the atmosphere of dread and that iconic clear mask of the killer, the yellow raincoat… The entire vibe is memorable.

Dante’s 2nd feature film, is Horror (2003) began it’s initial filming in January 2001 in Warwick upstate New York, which was Tomaselli’s first commercial success, and has maintained a wide release on DVD.  Tomaselli also has a keen eye for casting the right people for her work. In an interesting & quite nostalgic maneuver the film cast celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin who maintained notoriety as ‘Amazing’ in the 1970s! Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment.

Tomaselli then made Satan’s Playground (2005), It stars 70’s and early-80’s cult-horror icons Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The film is set, and was filmed in, New Jersey’s infamous Pine Barrens Forest that truly has its own eerie mythology in real life.

In his fourth installment Dante Tomaselli released  Torture Chamber (2013) yet another of his nightmarish journeys exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation. Torture Chamber had its World Premier at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain.

Dante Tomaselli’s work is being featured in an excellent edited volume released by the outstanding publishing company McFarland — FILM OUT OF BOUNDS. There’s a chapter (pg. 112-125) titled: The New Throwback: The Films of Dante Tomaselli.

Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers by Matthew Edwards

From IMDb – About Dante Tomaselli’s musical compositions link below to his music company.

Dante’s Halloween Haunted Attraction

The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ”Scream in the Dark” (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ”The Doll” (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth and most successful dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.

Desecration (1999)

“You Will Burn in Hell!”

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. With cinematography by Brendan Flynt, film editing by Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Michelle Lang, Production design by Michele La Rocca.

Stars Irma St. Paule ( 12 Monkeys 1995, Trees Lounge 1996, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her 2000) as Grandma Matilda, Christie Sanford (Horror 2003, Satan’s Playground 2006, Winter of Frozen Dreams 2009, Torture Chamber 2013) as Sister Madeline / Mary Rullo, Danny Lopes as Bobby Rullo, Salvatore Paul Piro (Joe’s Apartment 1996, Sleepers 1996, Night Falls on Manhattan 1996, The Sopranos (199), Find Me Guilty 2006, Satan’s Playground 2006) as Mr. Rullo, Vincent Lamberti as Brother Nicolas, Maureen Tomaselli as Sister Rosemary, Gene Burke as Father O’Leary, Ruth Ray as Reverend Mother, Helen Palladino as Mrs. Cannizzaro the psychic, Nora Maher as Sister Rita, Mary Fassino as Sister Veronica.

Desecration is an eerie psychological chiller about a young 16 year old boy named Bobby Rullo played by Danny Lopes. It also stars Tomaselli regular Christie Sandford as Sister Madeline/ Mary Rullo (Bobby’s mother) Sandford brings a certain ‘arresting presence’ to both characters.

The setting for Desecration is appropriately placed at St. Anthony’s Catholic Boarding School-St. Anthony is the Patron Saint of the Lost. And Desecration is the story of one lost boy’s journey through Hell! The film winds around a non-linear movement and flashbacks with soundscapes that are striking.

Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) is an outsider, a loner. He is emotionally scarred by his mother’s sudden death. Christie Sanford, simultaneously plays Sister Madeline and Bobby’s mother Mary. The two women it could be said are one in the same, both are Bobby’s tormentors.

16 year old Bobby Rullo suffers from a repressive and outright abusive Catholic childhood. He seems lost within the emotional turbulence since the unexpected death of his mother when he was five. 11 years later, at his Catholic boarding  school, while playing with a radio controlled plane, it collides with Sister Madeline causing blunt force trauma to her head and killing her instantly on the grounds of the school. It is deemed an accident, but Bobby is failing school and he is told to pack his bags and go home. Bobby quietly utters- “Some people are blessed and others are just cursed.”

It is only after he inadvertently causes the death of the nun, that it unleashes a series of brutal and supernatural chain of events. As a premonition, at the opening of Desecration, during mass, sister Madeline can not get her candle to light, she runs out of the room seemingly afraid and ashamed, as the other nuns stare at her. There is an expression of shock and of dread on her face as she is not meant to be blessed, but as Bobby says, some people ‘are just cursed.’

Bobby begins his journey through Hell, where he sees visions of the dead nun and his dead mother. Bobby’s descent summons demons, and evokes powerful childhood nightmares and primal fears.

Desecration acts as a set piece for our childhood fears, and the overpowering influence of abuse, fanaticism and repression, which wreak havoc on our innocence. Desecration is in effect a film you experience from the inside out. You’re not supposed to make sense of it. There is no sense to one’s madness or one’s descent into a nether regions of Hell while the gates open wider. The dead sister Madeline who becomes more grotesque with time as she is book-ended by demon clowns who stand at the ‘gates’. She taunts Bobby with visions of her lurking about the grounds.

Bobby is also mistreated by Brother Nicolas (Vincent Lamberti who is quite intimidatingly sinister in this role and as Reverend Salo Jr. in Horror 2003 with his well chiseled fiendish grin) who manhandles him and slips him a Valium to relax, a queer thing to do as an elder figure of the church. Bobby asks him, “Can priests take Valium?” With a menacing tone he tells Bobby, “priests can do many things…” 

Bobby becomes groggy, he begins to hallucinate, as he looks at the painting of a nun, it morphs into a blurry face like sister Madeline who appears to the Reverend Mother out on the grounds, faceless, then the painting of the nun becomes an unearthly skull. The use of Atmo Royce’s paintings is perfection, as a pinion to the surrealism of the film.

Bobby begins to hear the voice of a priest, “No description can be adequately revealed to the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” The sins of the mother, not the father  are exacted on the children. The transformation of the nun painting becomes a skull as its final transformation, turns itself into a clown’s face.

Bobby wanders the halls in a daze, he gazes through the window of the classroom door and sees brother Nicolas’ eyes burn demonic as he turns to look at Bobby. Finally as he makes his way back to his room, lights a candle and says his prayers, he falls asleep and vines and dirt begin to envelop the room. The earth and the natural world are trying to swallow him up. He dreams of sister Madeline in her most frightening incarnation standing at the entrance of a gate, in between a set of demon clowns. Sister Madeline is now trapped in Hell and Hell is coming for Bobby. He is marked for damnation by the evils of the world.

Bobby has only one person he can trust and that is his dauntlessly pious Grandma Matilda who is wonderful in the role. Matilda’s devotion to her Catholic faith drives her forward to try and protect Bobby from his mother, her own daughter Mary who is haunting and terrorizing him from the grave. Grandma Matilda is part of the supernatural events that were triggered by his killing sister Madeline. Madeline is grotesque in death, but Bobby’s mother was an abusive monster in life, and how he processes the abuse he endured as a little boy is dreaming of her having locked him in a cage. Bobby’s father mentions how he’d come home and find his hands and feet tied to the playpen.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Grandma Matilda is putting together a strange puzzle that is an odd painting of trees in the woods, almost a primitive style artwork. There’s is one piece left to fill in and suddenly it becomes Bobby’s face as he is about to sink into a hole, another premonition of things to come. Grandma Matilda also discovers her daughters spirit in the house, “She’s a here (with an Italian accent, though Irma St. Paule is from the Ukraine, she does a wonderful job as an old world Italian Catholic) She’s a here!!!”

There is also a great sequence where Matilda wants to consult the psychic she plays Bingo with to help try and find Bobby who is missing. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “I see a very deep hole” Matilda-“the hole in the puzzle” “Yes it is a puzzle” Matilda also asks if his mother Mary has him, Mrs. Cannizzaro is fearful of the energy she is picking up on, the psychic is afraid to proceed. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “Your daughter is using him to escape” “Escape from what?” “From Hell!”

Bobby is run through a maze of physical persecutions and emotions. During biology class he sees the dead nun, drive up in a hearse and beckon to him to get in. Bobby hates confinement, he complains that there are no locks on his bedroom door at the school. We see a flashback or dream/nightmare sequences that he was kept in a large cage in his bedroom as a little boy. The room is filled out with creepy toys, clowns and an even creepier giant Humpty Dumpty doll and balloons and a hovering mother who reeks of inherent sadism and evil, as she is holding balloons and a bottle of formula while he is trapped in the cage crying.

It is a disturbing image as we see Bobby at 16 years old, lying in the fetal position in the cage, his mother splashing the baby formula all over him and cackling. When Bobby tells his Grandma that he had the worst dream about his mother again, and wants to know why there aren’t any photographs of her around the house. It is Bobby’s father who doesn’t want any pictures of his wife in the house! We hear Bobby’s father (Salvatore Paul Piro, who is fantastic as Bobby’s ill-tempered father) talk about his wife having had a breakdown after he was born and that “She was sick!”

While running in the woods, surrounded by trees, (trees which I’ve come to learn are very significant as a trope in all of Tomaselli’s films) he meets up with his friend Sean who suddenly falls into a hole. Bobby can hear unholy growling coming from the abyss. Or is it Bobby himself who has fallen in the hole?

There are moments of the right amount of gore, when sister Rita is looking through sister Madeline’s art portfolio, she sees the dead eyed nun outside the window, then the statue of the Virgin Mary falls off the shelf. Suddenly, sister Rita is attacked by a pair of shears, and she is literally stabbed to death, by these ordinary scissors that are animated by an unseen force, her wrists and limbs slashed and her throat stabbed. Perhaps this horrifying moment is as evocative as a moment from Lucio Fulci, yet Dante Tomaselli never cannibalizes other directors work, the mood is quite original and very much his vision. An abject sequence of fright that is startling, with each frame of Desecration a photo-play in classical horror. There is such a raw absence of adornment with Brendan Flynt’s cinematography which is alternatively balanced with the surrealism of the nightmarish sequences.

Desecration is not only Bobby’s journey through Hell, it encompasses everyone in his orbit. His grandma Matilda told him, “you were an angel Bobby” but is this enough to save him from being damned?

Horror (2003)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli, with music by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Timothy Naylor, film editing Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Maze Georges, production design by Jill Alexander, costume design by Nives Spaleta. And some amazing special effects, make up and evil pumpkin head puppetry by Monsters, Madmen and Mayhem Make-up Creations.

Horror stars Kreskin as Reverend Salo, Lizzy Mahon as Grace Salo, Danny Lopes (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Luck, Vincent Lamberti (Desecration 1999) as Reverend Salo Jr., Christie Sanford (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Mrs. Salo, Jessica Pagan as Marisa, Raine Brown as Amanda, Kevin Kenny as Kevin, Chris Farabaugh as Fred, and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp 1983) as the Art Therapist.

Horror (2003), utilizes some of the same imagery as Desecration, in fact Danny Lopes plays one of the characters, a troubled delinquent teenage drug user named Luck.

Horror, is a visually striking masterpiece of well–horror, about a group of runaway teens who escape from a drug rehab facility. Luck (Danny Lopes) shoots and kills the guard and takes his gun and a huge bag of candy and magic mushrooms which the van of teenagers proceed to partake in on their way to the Salo farm. In another nightmarish odyssey the teens encounter demonic forces at the rural family farmhouse owned by two sadists who imprison their daughter Grace, inject her with drugs to keep her compliant. Reverend Salo Jr is a phony preacher and faith healer and possibly the pair are murderers who run an odd religious cult.

Like so many of the scenes in Horror, there is another powerful sequence where Grace is looking out her bedroom window at her father holding one of his fire and brimstone sermons in the snow, during the cold white light of day, while people with crutches and boils are gathered round in a circle. Her father looks up and points at her, and that singular moment sends shivers up my spine. Lamberti is absolutely menacing as Revernd Salo Jr. And while the scene takes place in broad daylight, there is a feeling of claustrophobic terror and dread because Grace is truly trapped.

There is a hint that they might have even abducted Grace (she finds a strange scrapbook of pictures, one with a little girls legs sticking out of a bag, I think that’s the impression I got), who are these people, are they the Salo’s victims and are these photos trophies?)

And are they keeping Grace drugged so that she will not remember her past before she was abducted. The opening scene illustrates a form of abduction, as she is knocked out and brought back into the house. I also consider the fact that her Grandfather who was a mentalist and could hypnotize people, bending their will to his might have played a part in her captivity. Did Reverend Salo Sr. brainwash her into believing that they were family? Grace seems to have a psychic connection to her Grandfather, but is that because he has imposed his will on her consciousness.

There are flashback sequences of the Amazing Kreskin performing his mentalist act, the presence of this nostalgic celebrity adds another vintage sensation that we’re watching an authentic older horror film from the 1970s decade.

From the starling opening of Horror, Grace is stringing Christmas lights up on the front of the quaint little house, when she is accidentally shocked by a live wire and burns her hand, and as she comes down the ladder, she is struck by a dark figure who puts her in a body bag, throws her over his shoulder and dumps her on a bed like a rag doll, while her mother (Christie Sanford) laughs with a streak of cruelty. Her abductor we come to learn is the Reverend Salo Jr. her own father. The scene is chilling and brutal in it’s old fashioned simplicity. Again, Dante Tomaselli manages to bring me back to that eerie & uncanny sensation you get when watching a good 70s horror flick.

My first impression of this sadistic couple and Salo Sr (Kreskin) was the name that instantly made me think of the nightmarish fascist torture film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by Pasolini. I asked Dante if my association was correct and this is what Dante told me-I was looking for a name that conjured depravity and Salo matched the vibration of the characters” (Reverend Salo – (Kreskin) and Reverend Salo Jr. – Vincent Lamberti)

After the opening where the pale and melancholy Grace (Lizzy Mahon) is attacked by her father and back inside the house and injected with a hypodermic to keep her submissive because she is acting up again (meaning –being independent of their will only by leaving the house and decorating for Christmas), eventually the teenagers who have escaped cross paths with Grace and the terrifying circumstances at the farmhouse intersect.

There is the presence of a black goat who is fixated on Grace, coming into the house and gazing at her. There is also a goat headed hooded figure in the woods that attacks one of the teenagers, yet another chilling scene.

The two disturbing narratives begin to integrate into one converging nightmare. The teens had escaped with the promise that Reverend Salo Jr would lead them and its the beginning of a new life, while handing out magic mushrooms in their shopping bag of goodies and a pamphlet from the Reverend with words that say- the End is near, Famine and the Anti-Christ.

While the teens are tripping out on hallucinatory drugs, we are getting images of the abuse Grace has been subjected to, and the collection of cult followers who are ravaged by boils and become almost zombie like. In fact, the teens, Luck Amanda, Marissa, Fred and Chris succumb to their own nightmare out in the woods, surrounded by violent visions, drug induced or supernatural forces at work both are simultaneously true.

Once in the farmhouse the violence continues, and Grace has a vision of the painting of her Grandfather Reverend Salo Sr (the amazing Kreskin) morphing into a frightening visage, as she discovers a hidden room in the attic with church candles and an Iron Maiden! Is she hallucinating from the drugs or was this where she was subjected to a medieval style torture –we see her being stretched on a rack, screaming in pain until she passes out. The rack will be seen once again in Torture Chamber (2013). The duplicity of religious fanaticism and hidden sadism and child abuse is ever present in Horror.

Again Atmo’s artwork plays a stunning visual role in the film. The painting in Grace’s room morphs into a savage visage of Grandfather Salo The Reverend Sr. The use of paintings that metamorphose into horrible versions of their former image puts me in mind of the Pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, in the first installment the wicked and murderously greedy Roddy McDowall kills his wealthy uncle (George Macready) and is then plagued by the painting that keeps changing to show his uncle climbing out of his grave and pounding at the front door of the estate, coming back in death to claim his revenge on his murderous bastard nephew. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Horror is an atmospheric & disorienting chiller, another hallucinatory journey that coils around you like a snake head devouring it’s own tail–where it begins and where it ends is like any nightmare, where reality melts into horror and is as visually frightening as nightmare one can have.

Satan’s Playground (2006)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Music by Dante Tomaselli, Bill Lacey and Kenneth Lampl. Film editing by Marcus Bonilla and Egon Kirincic, Art direction by Pete Zumba, Costume Design by Erika Goyzueta.

on the set of Satan’s Playground

Stars Felissa Rose as Donna Bruno, Salvatore Paul Piro as Frank Bruno, Danny Lopes as Sean Bruno, Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead 1981) as Paula, Irma St. Paule as Mrs. Leeds, Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974) as Leeds boy, Christie Sanford as Judy Leeds, Ron Milkie as Officer Peters, Robert T. Zappalorti as cop/camper, Chris Farabaugh as stoner, Raine Brown as prostitute, Garth Johnson as Red Hooded man, Jesse Hodges as Lost Teen, Maureen Tomaselli as reporter, Emily Spectre as nurse, Paul LeRoy as truck drive/worshiper, Michael Ryan as the whipping boy and a slew of worshipers.

“SATAN’S PLAYGROUND is a supernatural shocker chronicling a family’s spine-tingling odyssey in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens region. En route to a wilderness camping retreat, their car inexplicably breaks down. As darkness falls, panic sets in. Then the marooned family stumbles upon an ancient and seemingly abandoned house. And it is here that they meet the bizarre Mrs. Leeds who lives there with her equally unhinged children. Offering no assistance, she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the forbidding countryside. Soon, the family will encounter a supernatural evil older than the woods themselves. SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…a place where deadly myth becomes gruesome reality.”– review by LDMediaCorp

Satan’s Playground has the true feel of the late 70s early 80s, exuding an Americana Gothic atmosphere with the backwoods, the netherworld of the Pine Barrens that cinematographer Tim Naylor creates with Dante Tomaselli at the helm. The sense of isolation and dread taps into all those primal fears of strange and unmerciful families that are outliers in society who kill people as part of their family routine, as ordinary as doing the chores.

This theme as always worked in films like Tobe Hooper’s dark adult fairy tale about a cannibalistic family in  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), John Hough’s repressed, isolated murderous religious fanatics portrayed to the hilt by Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo in American Gothic (1987), or even a cult favorite of mine, about a psychotic family of outliers in Spider Baby (1967)

Satan’s Playground is as dark as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale… and perhaps my favorite of Dante Tomaselli’s films.

What is so frightening is that families like The Leeds seem to be able to circumvent the law and social morays for long periods of time, as primitive as rabid animals who kill with a blood lust and not merely for survival. Added to this is the mythology of the Jersey Devil who has haunted our nightmares from the Pine Barrens for decades. He lurks and preys on random characters in the film, who are unlucky enough to be out in the woods, swooping down and slashing them to death or carrying them off to some hidden lair. The flapping of it’s wings are present in Satan’s Playground, while the hooded Satanists who are seen whipping their human sacrifice seem to be the least of the dangers in the story.

The story, chronicles another nightmare journey of a dysfunctional family who are headed through the Pine Barrens to enjoy a family camping trip. En route to the wilderness of the wooded nether regions Donna Bruno (Felissa Rose) her husband Frank who keeps falling asleep at the wheel (Salvatore Paul Piro) their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes) Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and her new born baby Anthony, break down when their wood paneled station wagon gets stuck in the mud.

Paula hears the flapping of wings, but it’s Sean who seems to have the hyper awareness that something isn’t quite right, he has a keener senses about his surroundings, trying to point toward the danger, with no one paying attention to him, because the other members of the family are too busy airing their frustrations. As darkness falls, panic sets in and the need to seek help sends each one out into the night.

As each one goes looking for help, they stumble upon an abandoned house, boarded up and in obvious decrepitude yet each family member knocks on the door looking to use a phone. Satan’s Playground has the feel of a macabre fairy tale of hapless victims wandering into dangerous spaces, at the mercy of an evil in its most pure form.

Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule not the kindly Grandma she once played but in the role as a most wicked witch) opens the door.

Right from the moment we enter the strange house, the layout tells us there is something off kilter. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the set design works incredibly well. It is here that each Bruno family member, one by one meets the otherworldly crone and the bizarre Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds boasts of her 13 children some who have died young, the rest worthless or developmentally disabled. She lives with her two unhinged children, the twisted Judy (Christie Sanford) who is mute and her son (Edwin Neal) who is also a violent psychopath.

Mrs. Leeds does fortunes to make money, or so she says. She offers no assistance and stalls while each Bruno keeps asking to use her phone. Mrs. Leeds warns of the violent unseen forces lurking in the forbidding countryside, not to mention the Satan worshipers. As she offers tea that is laced with some kind of drug, each one is knocked off by Judy who uses a large mallet or meat tenderizer. to brain her victims. Judy steals little Anthony, another childhood fear –of fiends coming in the night to steal children from their safe place. In Satan’s Playground there is no safe place.

The Bruno family comes face to face with inherent evil perhaps older than the woods, where they each face their own gruesome end. Does Mrs. Leeds even really exist in this world and is her 13th child, the Jersey Devil?

Torture Chamber (2013)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Music by Dante Tomaselli, Kenneth Lampl and Allison Piccioni. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Art design by Ian Salter, Costume design by Lisa Faibish

Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore (‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in The Sopranos 1999-2007) as Dr. Fiore, Christie Sanford as Mrs. Morgan, Lynn Lowry (The Crazies 1973, They Came from Within 1975) as Lisa Moreno, Ron Millkie as Dr. Thompson, Carmen LoPorto as Jimmy Morgan, Richard D. Busser as Father Mark Morgan, Ellie Pettit as Heather, Raine Brown as Hope, and Danny Lopes as Ralph.

from Out of Bounds: “… a restrictive moral, a kind of reactionary “medieval’ Christian vision du monde sneaks in. And is truly frightening.”

In Torture Chamber the story is revealed through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. Its about a metaphysical bond between a mother and her two sons.

There are Medieval emblems like Christian statues, the Iron Maiden in Horror and the Rack in both Horror and Torture Chamber.

From Horror Movies.ca Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It’s probably the first serious independent horror film in a long time that’s in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon is called Baalberith, which, if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder,” he told the site. “Jimmy Morgan is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. This Catholic boy’s family is crawling with religious fanatics. His mother believes he was sent from the Devil to set the world on fire. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. Because of this, the troubled boy is sent to an Institution for disturbed youths. While there, Jimmy has a Charles Manson-like hold on the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That’s where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.

Jimmy is a young boy who is a burn victim, badly abused by his fanatical religion mother (Christie Sanford) who in order to drive out his evil, subjects him to exorcism by his older brother who is a priest. When Jimmy escapes from the institution with other children who are burn victims, he wreaks revenge on his persecutors who then become the persecuted. Jimmy and his companions are a band of outliers to are hell bent on torturing their victims. Lynn Lowry as Lisa Marino who experiences her nightmares in flashback is a treat to watch, I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her performances in Romero’s The Crazies (1973), the outre bizarre Sugar Cookies (1973) co-starring cult favorite Mary Woronov and Cronenberg’s They Came From Within (1975).

Again, Dante Tomaselli’s film is non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic , hallucinatory, the soundscapes are footprints that lead you to the torture chamber. It’s a visceral and disturbing journey of a young boys retribution. A Gothic, transcendental horror as is Dante Tomaselli’s  Desecration. Dante Tomaselli collection of films create a frightening world as he purges his scorn for religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.

Atmo Royce’s brilliant paintings from Torture Chamber (2013)

My conversation with Dante Tomaselli!

Joey – “I’ve seen TREES in all your films. They are a fabric of each film throughout each piece, trees seem to be very significant to you. Do they represent “a natural force”? and ‘elemental’ forces that go with the supernatural overtones…”

Dante Tomaselli-  “Yes, I purposely place trees…woods in every single one of my films. I think trees are beautiful beings and I can stare at them endlessly. I do see these entities as sacred and elemental forces…rooted in the earth itself. Whenever I’m scouting woods locations for my films, I walk around in a trance and try to find the trees that seem to be calling out to me. The different personalities…textures…energies…Landscapes are real important to me…I like for the atmosphere to dominate. The Tree of Life twists…what gave life now takes it away. When I was growing up I would go deep into the woods and get myself lost. Where I lived in New Jersey there were endless woods in my backyard and I’d spend many hours out there alone with time just dissolving. I’d let my imagination run free and fantasize all kinds of sadistic and surreal landscapes and horror scenes. Sometimes on these excursions I feared I would disappear and never return.  The trees were my refuge and represented safety and protection but at times, mainly in the dark, the same exact trees could be supremely frightening…their faces, energy…It’s chilling…a forest transformed into a place of evil…It goes against nature. That’s why that scene of evil woods in Wizard of Oz is so effective. You know, when I saw the trees come alive in The Evil Dead in theaters in 1983 when I was 13, it really pushed a button.  And to have Ellen Sandweiss, who endured the ultimate scary trees… starring in one of my films – well…I’ve come full circle.  For sure, in my independent movies I try to portray the woods as teeming with supernatural menace. In HORROR the woods were harboring the living dead or hypnotized souls…There are Satanists lurking in the Pine Barrens of Satan’s Playground, not to mention an invisible flying demon and…deadly quicksand. Torture Chamber’s abandoned castle was surrounded by whispering woods and there’s a burning gift leading to a glowing red hole to hell in the woods of Desecration.”  

Joey- “Sound is one THE most significant enticements in your films. I’m wondering about the use of ARTWORK, not just Atmo’s incredible paintings but artwork as Symbolism. Desecration and Horror used his paintings. But there was also Irma’s puzzle in Desecration, in Torture Chamber there was the tribal MASK and even in Satan’s Playground there was the painting of the goat. I’m sure there are more hints of this, but these stand out. What is the greater gist of why these elements were so substantial in your work?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I like to paint with sound. I like glacial, pristine sounds mixed with low throbbing tones. The music is 50% of the film’s equation and even when I’m sculpting a song on an album like Scream in the Dark, where I was going for an amusement park Funhouse, dark ride vibe, I aways wanted the soundscapes to depict the vision that I experienced in my mind.  I have to see something in order to score it. If I’m dry then there’s nothing at all but if the images are flowing then I’m fanatical about facilitating or scoring the vision. You can hear me cackling like a witch, that’s my own voice with no effects…in the first section of Dark Night of the Soul. To me, that track conjures the image of a violent storm cloud looming.  It’s all about regret…guilt. Someone did something deeply wrong…and now there’s the fear of what’s coming next. 

The paintings by artist Atmo Royce were commissioned by me. The images were straight from my screenplay, my imagination. I wanted a stern nun, a blurred nun, a skull nun and a clown nun. I wanted the images to have a Tarot card-like feel. They were to represent the desecration of religion…the hypocrisy, the flip side of faith where evil is cloaked in religion. Atmo Royce, who now lives in Germany also painted the changing preacher portraits for Horror which had a similar idea. I had an entirely different artist illustrate the changing pope portraits for Torture Chamber where Vincent Pastore is hallucinating while staring at a portrait of the pope in a homeless shelter. The painting by Mark Jones, commissioned by me, actually it’s pastel…it morphs into a grinning blood soaked character while we detect profane words on the crumbling walls. In all these cases, it’s about the Devil poking through. Evil winning.”

Joey- “Did you realize before hand or was it a natural progression to interweave identical symbols throughout each film. There are threads that connect all 4 films. There are sequences that re-haunt the next installment like one continuous dream. I will mention those in my piece, but I was curious if it evolved as each film opened up to you, or if this was something that was very purposeful before you even sat down to sketch out the framework of the films after Desecration?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I consciously set out to create an encompassing world of doom that is interchangeable from film to film; I see it as all one tapestry. I draw swirling mazes and I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. My films are never a celebration of violence. They’re really more about the sensitivity to violence. The confusion of being alive.”

SELECT REVIEWS OF DANTE TOMASELLI’S WORK

BLOODY DISGUSTING REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER: DANTE TOMASELLI’S ‘TORTURE CHAMBER’ TAPS INTO ANCIENT FEARS

BLOODY DISGUSTING:DANTE TOMASELLI’S TORTURE CHAMBER REACHES THE SHORE LINE by Evan Dickson

FANGORIA REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER BY CHRIS ALEXANDER

HORRORFUEL REVIEW of DESECRATION-BLU-RAY

Review of Torture Chamber by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Review of Torture Chamber -Justin R. Lafleur, Icons of Fright and

Desecration by Dvdverdict.co, plus Chris Alexander of Fangoria

Review of Satan’s Playground -Variety Magazine & Horror by John

Fallon of JoBlo.com

Review of Horror by Scott Wienberg, eFilmCritic.com and

Review of Desecration by Sean Abley at Chiller

Reviews of Desecration by Steve Puchalski, Sci-Fi Magazine &

Chas Balun, Deep Red Magazine

Review of Horror by Dennis Harvey, Variety Magazine &

Rob Galluzzo, Blumhouse.com

Review of Satan’s Playground by Jeremiah Kipp of Slant Mag

Review of Satan’s Playground by BeyondHollywood.com

from KINO LORBER REVIEW DESECRATION (SPECIAL EDITION ) RELEASE ON BLU-RAY

“A Code Red Release – One of the most original horror films in recent years, Desecration is an eerily dazzling and genuinely frightening psychological chiller about a beyond the grave relationship between a teenage boy and his long dead mother. Bobby, a 16-year-old loner, has been emotionally damaged by his mother’s early death and a repressive Catholic upbringing. The boy accidentally causes a nun’s death, triggering a chain of supernatural events and violent mayhem that leads Bobby into Hell to confront his mother. Powerful childhood demons are exorcised and unleashed as the gates of Hell open in this gripping, hallucinatory film. First-time feature film writer/director Dante Tomaselli has created an incredibly atmospheric and terrorizing film that he has described as “being in the psychedelic fun house.” With its mist-shrouded ambience, photography and trance-like soundtrack, the film, almost subliminally, creates an unsettling mood that crawls beneath the skin. A sensational young talent, Tomaselli has taken the horror genre in a new and exciting direction.”

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT-DESECRATION

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT FOR SATAN’S PLAYGROUND

The remake of cousin Alfred Sole’s beloved 70s horror masterpiece ALICE SWEET ALICE remains in development for now Dante is more focused on his upcoming feature  THE DOLL which is about a violent haunting at a family owned wax museum.

“I am planning an Alice, Sweet Alice re-imagining with my cousin (Alfred Sole). I am so completely focused on my next film, THE DOLL – which has a low budget ($500, 000)”

Hae Ree Choi is the illustrator on each of Dante Tomaselli’s albums!

SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment

THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment

NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment

FANGORIA “NIGHTMARE SOUNDS” article by Tyler Doupé

WITCHES (2017) TuneCore

PERSONAL QUOTES

I am not a Satanist. I am a Supernaturalist!
I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.
I’d see multicolored streaks in the atmosphere. And I didn’t do drugs. Sometimes I could see sounds. They were different colors. I could taste color and touch sound.
I love performers from horror classics; I can’t help myself. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with actors from landmark horror films. The trend needs to continue with me…and the possibilities are endless. Jamie Lee Curtis, can you hear me?
It’s ambient filmmaking…told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. I was going for something completely out-there…not censoring myself…allowing my imagination to run wild.
I think I pulled the images from the dark pit of my childhood, my nightmares. Growing up, I had so many nightmares and was always wondering if what was happening was actually true. Or was it a dream? I didn’t use drugs. I know…that’s a shock. If anything, I was repressed and probably needed drugs to open me up. Everything I kept bottled up in the day would explode out of me at night. All of the negative debris of the day…it would all come popping up, so strongly in my nightmares.
I guess it has something to do with how I grew up, my background being Italian American and having two very religious grandmothers. But, really…I just think organized religion is a very scary thing. It gives me a feeling of paranoia. One group against another, thinking the other one is wrong and they are better, holier. Religion causes wars. It has a dark force that can’t be denied. Also, as you know, my cousin, Alfred Sole, directed “Alice, Sweet Alice,” the infamous Catholic slasher. I saw it at a very early age and it is forever embedded in my psyche.
In 1975, I was 5. In 83, I was 13. So, I got to see all these great horror movies, the golden age of true horror, while I was a little kid growing up. It was an incredible time to be a horror fanatic. I was like the boy in Romero’s Creepshow. My mother actually took me to see these 70’s, early 80’s movies because she knew how much I loved them. She enjoyed horror films too, actually. I’d cut out Ads from the newspaper, for movies like…It Lives Again, Prophecy, Phantasm, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and just…stare at them. I was in love with all of this stuff from early on.
I starting writing it right around the end of 1999, when there was all that end-of-the-world talk going on. I wanted to harness that feeling…that we all could be predestined for a horrible, violent death. The idea that the threat of violence can strike at any moment.

FURTHER LINKS

https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/film-out-of-bounds/

http://www.fangoria.com/new/torture-chamber-movie-review/

http://www.beyondhollywood.com/torture-chamber-2013-movie-review/

http://www.mondo-digital.com/torturechamber.html

http://www.avmaniacs.com/blog/2014/new-reviews/troy-howarth/torture-chamber-dvd-review/

http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/content.php?3583-Torture-Chamber

http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2014/04/torture-chamber-review-available-on-region-1-import/

http://www.examiner.com/review/crawl-into-the-torture-chamber

http://aisleseat.com/torturechamber.htm

http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/347435-movie-review-torture-chamber/

A link to Dante’s Music & Sound Design on Youtube

 

OGDENSBURG, NJ 06/04/2010 Dante Tomaselli on the set of “Torture Chamber,” a movie he is directing, at Sterling Hill Mining Museum. MICHAEL KARAS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Thank You for sharing your thoughts with me, Happy Birthday Dante Tomaselli, I anxiously await your next wave of hallucinatory chills & your brilliant machinations come to life in vivid color!-May we find peace and transcendence through art, Love Joey

 

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! 11 terrifying tidbits from 1980-1983

THE ATTIC 1980

“Louise’s life downstairs is a living hell… and upstairs lurks a haunting nightmare!- She’s Daddy’s Little Girl … FOREVER!” 

Carrie Snodgress has always been an actress possessed of great dimension, just watch her as Tina Balsar the persecuted down-trodden housewife in director Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife 1970. In The Attic Snodgress is yet again a repressed character Louise Elmore, this time a Librarian who is caring for her cruel and ruthlessly controlling wheelchair-bound father Wendell portrayed by a particularly nasty Ray Milland.

Milland toward the end of his career had started appearing in some of these low budget horror/exploitation films like X, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes 1963, Daughter of the Mind 1969, Frogs 1972. The 80s started to really slide into a kaleidoscope of cheap themes and shock value moments. It doesn’t detract from Milland’s contribution to film history, nor does it malign either his or Snogress’ depth of acting. Director George Edwards  ( produced Frogs 1972 with Milland, Queen of Blood 1966, Games 1967, How Awful About Allan 1970, What’s the Matter with Helen? 1971, The Killing Kind 1973, Ruby 1977 – all these films with the exception of Frogs, Edwards worked with Curtis Harrington as the director.

You can see Harrington’s influence on The Attic as it represents a small enclosed family environment creates psychological demons, mental disturbances or what I call director Harrington’s The Horror of Personality. With most of Harrington’s work the narrative is less centered around supernatural forces building it’s framework around the product of mental illness and the dysfunctional family trope acted out within closed in spaces, where relationships over time begin disintegrating, with acts of cruelty, despair, loneliness, fear and repression- the family then, becomes the monster…

The Attic is an angry, aggressive and psychologically sadistic film, where Snodgress is yet again persecuted and trapped in a dreadful life. The hapless Louise is jilted by her fiancé and left at the altar leaving psychic scars, where she begins to go in and out of reality. Calling the Missing Persons Bureau on a regular basis looking for her lost love. She begins to fantasize about rejecting her abusive father whom she must do everything for. After 19 years of being left alone, Louise doesn’t find much joy in life, accept for drinking and dreaming about trips she’ll never take, committing arson at the Library and spending time with her pet monkey Dicky the Chimp. She is befriended by a co-worker who tries to help bring Louise back into the real world again, but the shocking truth that lurks in that creepy attic won’t stay locked away forever!

The Attic also stars Rosemary Murphy who is usually scary in her own right, at least she scares me since You’ll Like My Mother 1972!

PROM NIGHT 1980

“…Some will be crowned, others will lose their heads”

This is one of the earliest masked killer slasher movies where sexually active teenagers are being stalked on the night of their prom because they were responsible for the death of their classmate years ago. Prom Night features Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis who set the trend for good girls or The Final Girl trope… you know- the one who survives because of their integrity, purity and smarts! Also starring one of my favorites Leslie Nielsen and Antoinette Bower.

SILENT SCREAM (1980) us release

“Quick! Scream! Too late! You’re dead”

During her first semester at college co-ed Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding) is one of several college students who rents a room from Mrs. Engels, the Junoesque Yvonne De Carlo. But there is something very strange going on at this seaside mansion/boarding house–even murder! Mrs.Engels lives at the mansion with her weird neurotic son Mason (Brad Rearden) Scotty is joined by Steve Doubet (Jack Towne), Peter Ransom (John Widelock) and Doris Prichart (Juli Andelman). When Widelock is stabbed to death out on the beach, Police Lt. Sandy McGiver (Cameron Mitchell) investigates and uncovers the family secret. Silent Scream is more eerie and less typical 80s slasher flick, perhaps its due to the weight of the strong cast that inhabit their roles, in what might be a predictable script still possesses that ability to convey the dread in a quietly stylish manner. Co-Produced by Joan Harris

Silent Scream has a claustrophobic melancholic atmosphere instead of utilizing gore it relies more on it’s Gothic gloomy sensibility, a sense of creepy voyeuristic camera work that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Two names -All you need to know to see this eerie obscure 80s gem Yvonne De Carlo as Mrs. Engels and Barbara Steele as Victoria Engels.

DEADLY BLESSINGS 1981

“Pray you’re not blessed”

Director Wes Craven delves into American rural Gothic horror

After her husband Jim an ex-Hittite (Doug Barr) who has been shunned by his people for having moved away, and marrying an outside. One night after they’ve moved back near the neighboring sect, Jim goes outside to find the word Incubus painted on their barn, and then is mysteriously crushed to death by his tractor. A series of grisly murders ensues mostly in broad daylight, as Jim’s widow Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) feels increasingly threatened by the sinister neighboring religious community led by the enigmatic Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine) who seems to be fanatically obsessed with the idea that Martha is an ‘incubus’ and must be dealt with fire and brimstone!

Deadly Blessing also plants a figure of a dated trope–the ambiguous gender & sexuality of one of the characters. That trope, stems from a time when gay or transgendered characters were represented as obsessive, neurotic & at times, dangerous. I don’t endorse this weak and disparaging area of the plot, yet I allow myself to experience Wes Craven’s provocative film as a slice of horror history from a decade that hadn’t gotten it quite right yet. Where the film could have taken a bold step in expanding on this subplot instead it is fueled by subversive incitement.

Craven’s film ultimately relies on the supernatural subtext that is fueling the horror and leaves the other theme to hang out there on it’s own to be (justifiably to some)- offensive. Too many films with gender fluid characters in past films, were represented by psychos, deviants and killers.

Deadly Blessings co-stars a young Sharon Stone, popular 70s actress (and one of my favorites) Lois Nettleton, Susan Buckner, Lisa Hartman and familiar Craven regular Michael Berryman. Directed by Wes Craven

Some IMDb Trivia

Sharon Stone’s first big speaking role in a theatrical feature.

The name of the isolated rural farm where the farmers and Hittites lived and worked was “Our Blessing”.

Wes Craven compared his work with actor Ernest Borgnine to John Carpenter’s work with Donald Pleasance in the original “Halloween”. He states that Borgnine was the first “big name actor” he had worked with and was at first intimidated by the actor.

Ernest Borgnine had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury following a mishap involving a horse and buggy. Moreover, Borgnine returned to the set to continue acting in the film three days later.

Actor Ernest Borgnine, who had won a Best Actor Academy Award for Marty (1955), which also was Borgnine’s only ever Oscar nomination, was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor for Deadly Blessing (1981), but lost out on the Razzie to Steve Forrest for Mommie Dearest (1981).

THE INCUBUS 1981

“The dreams. The nightmares. The desires. The fears. The mystery. The revelation. The warning: He is the destroyer”

WARNING: Though not overtly graphic Incubus is suggestive of rape. For anyone who might be triggered by sexual violence in film, I would advise for you to skip this portion of the post and/or the film entirely!

Back in the day when I read a lot of horror fiction, I have a vague recollection of Ray Russell’s (Mr. Sardonicus 1961, Premature Burial 1962, X-The Man with The X-Ray Eyes 1963), novel knocking me out with it’s supernatural mythology and it’s brutality. Of course when it was adapted to the screen in 1982 directed by John Hough (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, The Watcher in the Woods 1980, American Gothic 1987) you know I was there with my milk duds, raisinets, popcorn and large icy cup of Pepsi expecting something powerful and Incubus collided with the accepted one-gendered fiend that I had grown up seeing within the constraints of a fairly “cultural conservative” as Carol Clover puts it, driven classical horror industry, stories like werewolves, vampires, mummies, phantoms and mad doctors turned into vile fiends.

As Carol Clover states in her Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film-“stories that stem from the one-sex era, and for all their updating, they still carry with them, to a greater or lesser degree, a premodern sense of sexual difference…}…{and some people are impossible to tell apart (the figure in God Told Me To who is genitally ambiguous -the doctor did not know what sex to assign, the pubescent girl in Sleepaway Camp who turns out to be a boy, the rapist in The Incubus whose ejaculate consists of equal parts of semen and menstrual blood.”

Incubus is a supernatural film that sneaks into the 80s but carries with it the demonology sensibility of the early-mid 1970s, The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976). Adapted from Ray Russell’s disquieting novel about a demon with an dangerously sized phallus who can incarnate in human form, committing several savage sexual assaults and murders in the small California town of Galen. John Cassavetes plays Dr. Sam Cordell who examines the survivor of one of the assaults and is disturbed by the violence of the attack, learning that her uterus has been ruptured. When the local librarian is killed, John Ireland is his usual brackish self this time playing Sheriff Hank Walden and team up believing that these brutal attacks are the work of only one perpetrator and not a gang. Kerrie Keane plays a reporter Laura Kincaid who insinuates herself into the investigation and begins an affair with Sam. Erin Flannery plays Sam’s young teenage daughter Jenny who is dating Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh) who has nightmarish visions of the attacks while he is in a sleeping state. His Grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes -Storm of the Century 1999 tele-series) tries to convince her Grandson that he is not responsible for these horrible events, but she knows more than she is telling, about the arcane secret the town is hiding and the true history of the venerable family name of Galen.

NIGHT SCHOOL 1981

A is for Apple B is for Bed C is for Co-ed D is for Dead F is for Failing to keep your Head!

Aka known as Terror Eyes

Night School has an unnerving tone, an almost oppressive atmosphere that looms over the film. The 80s was fertile for the slasher films that were popping up in variations of the same narrative, using different methods of death as the centerpiece to highlight the story. In this film, a mysterious killer is decapitating students at a night school for women. I won’t reveal the killer, but I will say that there is misogyny afoot. Originally picked to direct was Alfred Sole, best known for his phenomenal psychological horror masterpiece Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) which would have most definitely improved on the depressing aura the film give off. Directed by Ken Hughes who wrote the screenplays for The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960 and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968. He direction was superior in the dark and dogged Wicked As They Come 1956 starring Arlene Dahl and Phillip Carey.

Night School stars Rachel Ward, Leonard Mann and Drew Snyder.

ALONE IN THE DARK 1982

“They’re out… for blood! Don’t let them find you!”

Along in the Dark is a highly charged psycho thriller that wants to be a black comedy. The inmates on let loose upon an unsuspecting town and mayhem ensues when they target the home of Pleasance’s (Dr. Leo Bain) therapist Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) psychiatrist. During a statewide black out, a group of 3 particularly nasty homicidal maniacs get free from their maximum security ward at the mental Institution and set out on an adventure. Alone in the Dark opens with Donald Pleasance as a short order cook who has gone berserk and wielding a meat cleaver. Martin Landau is splendid as crazed Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff who likes to set things on fire. Then there’s Erland Van Lidth (from The Wanderers 1979) as a sex maniac Ronald “fatty” Elster with a penchant for younger kids. The best psycho next to Landau, is Jack Palance. The Special Effects are by Tom Savini.

Alone in the Dark is a frenetic ride and you must watch out for the scene when Preacher insists he wants the mailman’s on the bicycle’s hat!

CREEPSHOW 1982

“The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have… BEING SCARED!”

An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s. Directed by George A. Romero, with the original screenplay by Stephen King. Stars include Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Stephen King,

HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH 1983

After the failure of Halloween II (1978) to excite people at the box office, John Carpenter decided to put a different twist on the creepy goings on for Halloween III (1983) and adapt a script from Nigel Kneale who wrote the Quartermass series, who removed his name from the credits, leaving Tommy Lee Wallace as the writer. I do not hate this film in the way that other fans do. I rather like the odd and malevolent tone of the film, like a dark Halloween fairy tale journey. The idea, children all over America can not wait to get their hands on 3 frightfully popular offerings of rubber masks for Halloween. The jingle for the TV ad alone is enough to send suspicious shivers up a more discerning eye. There is a plot run by an old Druid toy-maker (Dan O’Herlihy) who is perfectly menacing and wants to actually harm the children once they wear the deadly masks, in order to bring back the olden days of black witchcraft and magic. There’s also a sense of a vengeful bitter spirit in Conal Cochran (O’Herlihy) toward consumerism and the misguided exploitation of Halloween.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch also stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin.

THE SENDER 1982

“Your dreams will never be the same.”

This is British director Roger Christian’s first feature film he had worked as assistant art director on the tense thriller And Soon the Darkness (1970)

The Sender works on so many levels, first of all it stars an impressive cast of accomplished actors, Shirley Knight, Kathryn Harrold and Zelijko Ivanek. 

From Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies talks about the trend that began with Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) “created a briefly popular horror movie sub-genre, the ‘Psichopath’ film. Damien Thorn and Carrie White, like Jim Hutton in Psychic Killer (1975), Alan Bates in The Shout (1978), Lisa Pelikan in Jennifer (1978) Robert Thompson in Patrick (1979) and Robert Powell in Harlequin (1979) are ‘Psichopaths’, seemingly ordinary individuals with hidden, awesome paranormal powers. The wish fulfillment fantasy element of the Psichopath film is obvious.The usual formula finds the Psichopath humiliated, abused and pushed beyond endurance, whereupon immense mental powers are unleashed in an orgy of mass destruction.”

I would also include Brian DePalma’sThe Fury (1978) featuring Amy Irving who possesses the psycho-kinetic powers.

When The Sender (Ivanek) is sent to an Institution after a public suicide attempt, psychiatrist Kathryn Harrold as Gail Farmer realizes that he possesses the ability to channel his frightening and often volatile visions to receptive people on the psyche ward. There are truly enigmatic hallucinatory segments of the film which creates real apprehension and shivers. One particular scene where they are juicing Ivanek with electro shock therapy, his mental waves send a storm of havoc through his personal pain. In the midst of this theme there lies an even dark more disturbing element to the story. There are ghostly visitations from his creepy mother played by the amazing Shirley Knight as Jerolyn.

I have followed Shirley Knight’s underrated and outstanding career from her divine performance as Polly in Sidney Lumet’s The Group (1966), tv series Naked City 1962, The Eleventh Hour 1963, as the gently Noelle Anderson in The Outer Limits 1963 episode The Man Who Was Never Born co-starring Martin Landau. The Defenders 1964, The Fugitive 1964-66, Petulia 1968, The Rain People 1969, The Bold Ones, Circle of Fear, Streets of San Fransisco 1973, Medical Center, Marcus Welby, M.D, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order 1991 and more… The gravity with each of Knight’s performances has a quality that draws you into her orbit –experiencing her as genuine and engaging. Even as the wraith like mother figure who comes calling on her son- The Sender, Knight makes you believe in the low-key, spine-chilling moments on screen. She is the catalyst to The Sender’s secret dilemma.

At times The Sender sends it’s universe into mayhem, at other times it’s a very creepy, restrained atmospheric horror story that is perhaps one of the best films of the 1980s.

CURTAINS 1983

The one impression I took away from Curtains is the iconic sinister hag mask that the killer wears and the scythe or sickle they wield as they creepily skated across the small pond. It’s the kind of moment from a moment that stays in the brain forever!

This stylish Canadian horror film is directed by cinematographer Richard Ciupka (Atlantic City 1980) Curtains stars John Vernon as the typically caustic alpha male Jonathan Stryker director and British Scream Queen Samantha Eggar  (The Collector 1965, Doctor Doolittle 1967, The Dead Are Alive 1972, A Name For Evil 1973, All The Kind Strangers 1974, The Seven Per-Cent Solution 1976, The Brood 1979) who plays Samantha Sherwood an actress who has always gotten top billing in Stryker’s works and in his bed. Samantha believes she is getting the role of a lifetime, the chance to play ‘Audra’ in his next film. Stryker insists that Samantha inhabit the role, to bring out the realism of Audra’s character by having herself committed to an asylum as background research. (It seems Audra was a psychiatric patient.) Stryker is a sadist and leaves Samantha in the hospital for an indeterminate amount of time, while he auditions other young actresses- each who have their own motivations for desperately wanting the part.

Samantha escapes her confinement and goes back to the menacing old mountain cabin during a snow storm, where Stryker is putting the various women through their acting trials.

Interesting that the character of Samantha in studying the mindset of a mentally ill woman, becomes too well aware of insanity during her own ordeal. The film does a particularly effective job of projecting the intensity that actors experience when trying to lose themselves in a role, keeping their footing in reality.

At the center of this interesting chamber piece is the psychopath in a nightmarish old hag mask who begins killing off the women!

Curtains also stars Linda Thorson (Tara King in The Avengers 1968-69), Anne Ditchburn, Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas 1974) Sandee Currie, Lesleh Donaldson, and Deborah Burgess. 

According to Mark Allan Gunnells in his essay in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen-Curtains took 3 years to make it to it’s release due to reshoots and rewrites. “It is suggested that a lot of the problems stemmed from producer Peter Simpson who, having produced the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Prom Night, wanted another straight forward horror flick. Director Richard Ciupka, on the other hand, chose to go against the established slasher grain, bringing more European sensibility to the production. The original screenplay even had a supernatural element, with a creature designed (but never used) by makeup legend Greg Cannom (…) As Gunnells points out about the films many chilling scenes, a few that stand out are the dream sequence with a creepy life size doll and the chase scene that involves a hiding place that winds up becoming a “deathtrap.”

 

This is Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ See ya round the snack bar! Save me a big box of Raisinets!

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! The Bat People (1974)

THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) aka It Lives By Night

“After the sun has set and the night wind has died comes the hour of the bat people!”

Directed by Jerry Jameson (The Mod Squad 1968-1972, The Over-The Hill-Gang 1969, The Six Million Dollar Man 1974, Mayberry R.F.D 1968-1970, Airport ’77) and Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti who was director of photography on Poltergeist 1982, Breaking Away 1979 and more- check out his impressive IMDb page. With make up by Stan Winston.

This is an obscure 70s low budget horror film, the likes which were cropping up all over drive ins and little art house movie theatres in the mid 1970s.

The Bat People stars Michael Pataki as Sgt.Ward who begins to investigate and hunt down the vampire bat people. Stewart Moss (who did a lot of television from  1960s-1990s) plays Dr. John Beck who studies bats and Marianne McAndrew (again, lots of tv series and tv films) is Cathy Beck, John’s new bride.

Dr. Beck is bitten by a bat while exploring Carlsbad Cavern (location used on many sci-fi films of the 50s-70s) , and then begins his transform into a hybrid man/bat, who doesn’t want to bite innocent people for their blood. Will his wife be able to help or will she become infected too!?

The Bat People has the perfect stylistic look of a great obscure made for television 70s treat though it had it’s own theatrical release. It’s a guilty pleasure for those of us that enjoy rare looks at 70s drive in oddities!

Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying we’re going batty over here at The Last Drive In!

Parallels & Paradoxes in Cultural Iconography: The Milk of Human Kindness & The Spawn of the Devil

Goodbye to the sublimely brilliant & beautiful Jeanne Moreau July 31st 2017

Feature to follow here at The Last Drive In

We Mourn the Loss of a Truly Great Actor: Martin Landau 7/17/17

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Martin Landau, who died today 89, was an incredibly nuanced actor. He was intense, unique, and controlled, and gave his characters depth. He was a beloved recognizable character actor. He was in Outer Limits (giving poignant performances in “The Man Who Was Never Born,” and “The Bellero Shield”), Columbo’s “Double Shock” as murderous twins, and in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. Among his more quirky portrayals was Byron, the psychopathic preacher (an escaped mental patient with a menacing laugh), in Alone in the Dark (1982), and Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, and the 1960s television show Mission Impossible.

It’s always sad to see an actor of his talent, but he’s left a magnificent legacy. I’ll watch some of his shows and films today in tribute.

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