Thursday, February 5, 2015

Binge and Purge 2015 - Part 3: The Stepfather, Family Demons, and The Dead Inside

The Stepfather
(1987 - dir. Joseph Ruben)

I had my suspicions after watching him on Lost, but now that I’ve seen The Stepfather I’m utterly convinced that Terry O’Quinn is a serial killer. No one can give that flawless a performance as a seemingly wise and charismatic father-figure who is, just below the surface, one toe-stub away from gnawing off the nearest face. If I saw him in public, I wouldn’t know whether to ask for his autograph or flee for my life.

I knew the premise going in: O’Quinn wants the perfect family, so he serially marries single mothers with kids and, when they inevitably fall short of his standards, murders them all and changes his identity. I assumed the movie would gradually reveal his true nature; at first there would be some ambiguity about him--maybe a second act where you’re not sure if he’s really psycho or if everyone’s just paranoid. But no, The Stepfather ain’t got time to fuck around with that bullshit. It opens with a blood-spattered O’Quinn shaving off his mountain man beard, changing into a suit, and stepping over murdered children on his way out the door.

Watching it, I thought the early reveal would ruin the tension, but the opposite was true. Knowing from the beginning what this guy is instills a deep dread as you see him work his mojo on another unsuspecting family. It’s not a question of if, but when he’ll go all Jack Torrance. And somehow, when he does, it still comes as a shock.

Verdict: Keep DVD and watch it 50 times to make up for not seeing it in the eighties.

Family Demons
(2009 - dir. Ursula Dabrowsky)

I heartily agree with the growing opinion that we need more female horror directors. However, Ursula Dabrowsky is not one of them.

Okay, that was mean. It’s also unfair. I just thought it was a funny line and couldn’t resist. Seriously though, this isn’t a good movie. Ms. Dabrowsky’s inexperience bleeds through every frame. There’s a difference between slow-burn horror and a horribly slow film. A master filmmaker can use a scene where nothing much happens to build anticipation and heighten the emotion of what’s to come. A lesser filmmaker uses it to pad the runtime.

There’s some good ideas in Family Demons, and as an allegory for child abuse, this could have been a really powerful film, but the actors never sold me on the reality of the situation. Still, let’s give Ms. Dabrowsky credit for telling a different kind of horror story. I’ve got a soft spot for indie filmmakers, and it looks like everyone’s trying really hard to make a good movie. C- for effort?

Verdict: Unceremoniously booted from my collection.

The Dead Inside
(2011 - dir. Travis Betz)

I honestly have no idea what to make of this movie. It opens with some very prosthetic-looking zombies standing in front of a locked door, one wearing a tux, the other a dress. One says to the other, “Did you try the knob?” What follows is a lengthy conversation, between zombies, about how to get at the tasty human in the room beyond.

Then the movie shifts gears and we’re looking at a computer screen where protagonist Fiona is writing the scenes we’ve just witnessed. Turns out she writes zombie novels and can’t get her head past this locked door any better than her zombies.

Her boyfriend Wes gets home, complains about the monotony of his wedding photographer gig, she complains about her writer’s block, then they both burst into song. I must have glossed over the part on the synopsis that said The Dead Inside is a musical, so the jarring effect of the spontaneous eruption into singing blew my mind a little.

The first two songs are pretty great, the first a hilariously vulgar number about feeling, you guessed it, dead inside, and the second a tropical-tinged ditty about how great it would be if the zombie apocalypse finally happened. That one’s going on this year’s Halloween mixtape for sure. After that, the songs become less novel, and while they reveal the characters’ inner dialogue, feel more obligatory than necessary.

From there, The Dead Inside tells the story of a couple torn apart by possession. Fiona’s body is taken over by a ghost with some unfinished business, who has also fallen in love with Wes and wants to seduce him into forgetting about Fiona. Problem is, Fi was the coolest chick imaginable (when Wes gets home, she playfully commands, “Come and lay on the floor with me, bitch!”), whereas Emily, her ghostly invader, is more traditionally feminine and just plain boring. However, she’s not really evil, and as Wes gets to know her better, he risks losing Fiona.
In the end (okay, aside from the ending, blehh...), The Dead Inside kind of won me over with its characters and genuine emotion, but it still seems like a pretty damned silly movie. But will it improve or disappoint on repeated viewings? Does it even merit repeated viewings?

Verdict: Keep it, just in case.

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