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BADLANDS

BADLANDS-United States-1973

Martin Sheen as Kit

Sissy Spacek as Holly

Warren Oates as Father

Written and Directed by Terence Malick
This is one of those films that I agonize over. I know that when it comes time to review it that nothing I say will do it justice. My words will sound like complete bullshit and will fall off the page like a man hanging from a ledge by one fingernail.  This is the motion picture as pure art, lyrical in its storytelling and poetic in its imagery. The fact that it is a debut film makes it all the more astounding. Terrence Malick has crafted as beautiful and compelling a film about love, death and the loss of innocence as we are ever likely to see in this lifetime. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are superb as Kit and Holly. Kit is Charles Starkweather by way of James Dean; walking with the bravado of Brando and killing everyone in sight. Spacek is wide-eyed innocence onscreen; yet her voice betrays her as she narrates with the flat tone of a detailed confession. She is Natalie Wood, Bonnie Parker and Caril Ann Fugate all rolled up in a red-haired, freckle-faced package.

Badlands is the motion picture as National Treasure. Its influence has been felt through the years in films like Monster, True Romance and the highly underrated Kalifornia. The first lines of Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska are awash with imagery of the first meeting between Kit and Holly.

 

I saw her standing 

On her front lawn

Just a twirlin’ 

Her baton

I and she went

For a ride, sir

And ten innocent people died…

 

Yes, the song is about Starkweather, but the imagery is all Terrence Malick and Badlands.

Finally, and it should go without saying, Badlands is the motion picture as a masterpiece. I’m just going to leave it at that.

TRIVIA

The actor that originally had to play the man that rings at the rich man’s door did not show up, so Terrence Malick played it himself, although the intention was to use this part only temporarily.

Although Charlie Starkweather had been executed when the movie came up for production, Caril Fugate was still alive and facing parole, prompting the filmmakers to change the names of the principal characters to avoid a lawsuit.

Don Johnson auditioned for the part of Kit.

 

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CARRIE

CARRIE-United States-1976

Sissy Spacek

 

John Travolta as Billy Nolan

 

Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen

 

Amy Irving as Sue Snell

 

William Katt as Tommy Ross

 

Piper Laurie as Margaret White

 
 
Directed by Brian De Palma
 
Screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen
 
Based on the novel by Stephen King
 

I graduated in 1980. I was a decent student; I got fair grades, and I had enough friends that I could put up with and whom would put up with me. I dated a few girls here and there. I never went to prom, however. Looking back, I wonder if Carrie had anything to do with that. In fact, looking back at the film in the thirty-six years since its release, one could view Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel as the perfect anti-bullying propaganda film.

Sissy Spacek is phenomenal in the titular role of Carrie White, the young girl whose life sucks worse than Battlefield Earth (pointless L. Ron Hubbard jab and shameless John Travolta film reference). Not only does she put up with the day to day torment forced on her by her peers (PLUG IT UP!! PLUG IT UP!!), but she has to go home to an over-zealous religious freak of a mother who locks her in a closet with a hideous looking glow-in-the-dark figure of Jesus. Add getting dowsed in pig blood and it’s no wonder she goes the Psychic Friends Network version of sex-nuts and retard-strong (equally shameless Clerks 2 reference).

I’m not entirely sure if Carrie is Brian De Palma’s best film. I still need to re-watch Blow Out and Dressed to Kill before I make that call. I will say, however, that it is truly one of his most ambitious films and that after nearly forty years is still one of the best interpretations of a Stephen King novel ever put to celluloid.

TRIVIA

Sissy Spacek wasn’t considered for the role of Carrie until her husband, art director Jack Fisk, convinced director Brian De Palma to allow her to audition. Until that, De Palma was wedded to the idea of Amy Irving playing Carrie; when Spacek got the part instead, De Palma gave Irving the smaller role of Sue.

The name of the high school is Bates High, a reference to Norman Bates from Psycho. In addition, the four note violin theme from Psycho is used over and over in the film.
 
 The pig’s blood dumped on Sissy Spacek was karo syrup and food coloring, although she was willing to have real blood dumped on her.
 
 

Nancy Allen claims that she never realized that her character was going to be so evil until she saw the finished film, she thought that she and John Travolta were playing such self-centered, bickering morons that they were there for comic relief. Piper Laurie also thought that the character of Margaret White was so over the top that the film had to be a comedy.
 
½
 
 
 
 

AN AMERICAN HAUNTING

AN AMERICAN HAUNTING-United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Romania-83 Mins. 2005

Donald Sutherland as John Bell

Directed by Courtney Solomon

Screenplay by Courtney Solomon and Brent Monahan

Based on the novel “The Bell Witch: An American Haunting”

This film holds a special place in my heart. I know that may sound corny coming from a 49 year-old man, but the reason is because it was the very first date between myself and the beautiful woman who is now my wife of almost 4 years. There were so many reasons why I was so excited to see this film. The aforementioned first date, of course, but also because this film had so much going for it. It had two of the finest actors of past, present or future in Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland in the lead roles of Lucy and John Bell. There was the performance of Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell that, while not Oscar worthy, was able to hold her own against the likes of Sutherland and Spacek.

Then there is the story behind the film. The story of the Bell witch is the most documented haunting in American history. It is the only reported case in which a spirit has caused the death of a living human being. The first time I remember reading about the Bell witch was in the pages of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery. I was enthralled with the story of this vengeful entity who made life a living hell for John and Betsy Bell. Can you see why I was so stoked to see this film?

The first part of the film moves along rather nicely. It grows a bit tedious in some places, but for the most part is a faithful adaptation of the events that took place on the Bell farm in Adams, Tennessee from 1817 to 1820. The scenes of the haunting and the torture of Betsy Bell by an unseen force are well filmed and well acted and Sutherland and Spacek are at the top of their game. I am enjoying the film and intend to recommend it to friends the first chance I get. That is until the ending causes all that came before it to come crashing down like a house of cards.

Throughout the entire course of this film director/co-writer Courtney Solomon leads us to believe that he believes in the legend of the Bell witch. The ending that is tacked on to this film is like a slap in the face. Why does there have to be a rational explanation for the Bell witch? Why were the filmmakers not satisfied with what could have been an intriguing adaptation of an amazing legend in American history? The supernatural is not a rational thing, so why treat it as such?

Thank you, Courtney Solomon, for ruining a legendary tale. At least you didn’t ruin my date.

TRIVIA

The movie is actually based on a true story. Andrew Jackson is quoted as saying, “I would rather take on the entire English Fleet than stay one night at the Bell House.” He later formed a group of men to test the rumors of the Bell haunting. Their findings are documented in M. V. Ingram’s 1894 book, An Authenticated History of The Famous Bell Witch. This movie was based on the book by Brent Monahan,The Bell Witch: An American Haunting the Famous Bell Witch.

Rabid

RABID-Canada-1977

Rabid

Written and Directed by David Cronenberg

Cast

Marilyn Chambers as Rose

Frank Moore as Hart Read

Joe Silver as Murray Cypher

Howard Ryshpan as Dr. Dan Keloid

Also starring

Patricia Gage

Susan Roman

Roger Periard

Rabid is a film directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Dead Zone). It stars Marilyn Chambers (yes, the late adult film actress) as Rose. Frank Moore plays Hart Read, Roses’ boyfriend. The two of them are traveling on Hart’s motorcycle when they are involved in an accident. Hart suffers a dislocated shoulder. However Roses’ injuries require plastic surgery and she becomes the “guinea pig” of Dr. Dan Keloid. Dr. Keloid performs a new type of plastic surgery on her in which her intact tissue is grafted to the burned areas of her body on the hope that it will differentiate and replace the damaged area. The operation is a success…kind of. Rose heals, but she also develops a need for human blood. She doesn’t bite her victims in the way of the traditional vampire. Under her armpit is a new orifice that hides a phallic-like stinger that she injects into her victims to draw their blood. The ones that survive have no recollection of what happened to them and after a period of about 8 hours they show the symptoms of rabies (rage, foaming at the mouth). They attack others and pretty soon there is an epidemic going on and martial law is declared to keep things from getting too far out of hand. Throughout all this Rose continues to stack up victims of her unnatural thirst and seems to have no idea that she is the Patient Zero who started the epidemic.  I’m not going to give away the ending. If you haven’t seen the film check it out and let me know what you think. If you have then let me know how I did summarizing it and point out any mistakes I may have made.

David Cronenberg is a director whose central theme in his films has always been the monster within us, not the monster without. He is known as the Director of Venereal Horror. Rabid is his second feature film and was preceded by Shivers aka They Came from Within.

TRIVIA

Sissy Spacek was David Cronenberg’s first choice to play Rose. Ivan Reitman suggested Marilyn Chambers because he wanted sex appeal.
Frank’s motorcycle which he restores after Rose’s crash is a 750cc Norton Commando.
The song that plays on the radio in Hart’s workshop is Marilyn Chambers’ own disco single “Benihana” (about 25 minutes into the film).
½
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