SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Produced by: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Screenplay by: William Gray, Diana Maddox
Story by: Russell Hunter
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood,
Cinematography: John Coquillon
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
If, teenagers being stalked and slashed by a crazed non-speaking maniac are your preference, then you probably would not enjoy the classic ghost story, The Changeling (1980). However, if you are rivetted and chilled by expertly crafted cinematic horror, built on a compelling screenplay, excellent performances and fine cinematography, then this is a film for you.
Not to be confused with the kidnapping thriller, Changeling (2008). The Changeling (1980) feels like one of those older films which created the mould for many other contemporary ghost narratives. A few examples include: The Woman in Black (2012), Candyman (1992), the Ring series and more recently, Hereditary(2018). Such films often feature genre tropes like:
Grieving or vulnerable lead protagonist(s).
A vengeful ghost or spirits who were murdered or done wrong when alive.
A creepy house or location which holds a dark secret and becomes a character in it’s own right.
A detective plot structure which finds said protagonist attempting to solve the mystery of the ghost’s past.
Lots of creepy supernatural comings and goings that ultimately lead to the ghost’s redemption or a successfully chilling retribution.
Of course, the model for such conventions lay in the pages of classic literary ghost stories, however, having not seen The Changeling (1980) for over thirty-years, I felt like I was watching a masterpiece of the supernatural film genre. It doesn’t hurt having Oscar winning actor, George C. Scott, subtly playing the lead as grieving John Russell, a musical professor trying to come to terms with the death of his wife and child. Moreover, the mature approach to pacing and direction by Peter Medak slowly builds the terror to a real crescendo. The horror within the plot, involving a murdered child, is ably imbued by the compelling score, elegant editing and John Coquillon’s exquisite camera movement and lighting composition. Ultimately, I enjoy a good slasher film, but give me a classy supernatural tale such as The Changeling (1980) any night of the week.
I’m continuing the Shudder film review residency here on my site with this post. However, as I watched so many horror films on the channel recently, I have decided to break them down into categories. This one is called Extreme!
Essentially the films reviewed here are — because of their content, style or both — prime examples of nasty, violent, sickening and in some cases extremely depraved horror movies. So, be warned do not watch these films, unless you have a strong emotional constitution and actually enjoy witnessing graphic scenes of gore, sex and bloody mayhem.
For your information, the films are reviewed in order of my rating, which as usual is out of eleven.
REVENGE (2017) – DIRECTED BY CORALIE FARGEAT
Featuring a B-movie rape and revenge plot, this exploitation story is raised way above its subject matter due to ultra-stylish direction, gorgeous cinematography and a compelling lead performance by Matilda Lutz. She portrays Jen, an aspiring actress, who is on a weekend getaway with handsome boyfriend (cheating husband), Richard (Kevin Janssens). He seems very well off as their break takes place at a stunning isolated villa location. However, things go awry when two of his hunting buddies turn up, and one, Stan (Vincent Colombe) attacks Jen while Richard is out. From then on events twist from incredibly bad to worse for Jen, and she finds herself being hunted down in the blazing heat of the desert. The film looks absolutely incredible with amazing photography and colour design. Overall, what it lacks in story and characterisation though, it more than makes up for in stunning action, searing violence and a powerful critique of toxic masculinity.
Mark: 8 out of 11
TERRIFIER (2016) – DIRECTED BY DAMIEN LEONE
I saw this horror film appear in a post on the YouTube channel What Culture Horror. So, the story of a demented clown who never speaks and slashes people to death on Halloween definitely piqued my interest. It’s both extremely violent and low-budget, having been made for around $100,000. However, it is in fact impressively shot and edited for such a small amount of money. The gory effects are amazingly effective too, summoning up memories of 1980’s prosthetic film effects. There is no real subtext or thematic strength, but I was pretty tense and sickened throughout. Moreover, the clown called Art is a memorably monstrous creation. He kills without reason and purely for his own entertainment. Nihilistic in tone, the director sure knows his horror and delights in presenting many sick ways of murdering his characters. Thus, if you like disembowelling, strangulation, burning, beheading and other gruesome movie deaths then, Terrifier(2016), is worth watching from behind the safety of the sofa.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) / THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) – DIRECTED BY LUCIO FULCI
Filmmaker, Lucio Fulci, is often found lurking in the shadow of Italian horror filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, however, he truly knows how to frighten and sicken the life out of an audience. So much so he has been given the nickname, ‘Godfather of Gore’. As well as directing many films, notably, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) andThe New York Ripper (1982), he is infamous for his “Gates of Hell” trilogy which included: City of the Living Dead (1980), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The Beyond (1981). I re-watched the first two recently and while not as terrifying as when I saw them in the past, they still have the power to shock. While lacking coherent plots, containing pretty bad acting and some chronically dreadful dubbing in places, paradoxically Fulci’s films can arguably be considered surreal horror classics. They may not make any narrative sense, but his ability to create stunningly violent set-pieces is legendary. Memorable scenes include: the spewing of intestines, crawling maggots, hanging priests, drilled brains, chopped heads and monsters rising from basements and graves. Such imagery and dreaded moments — all set to a creepy synth soundtrack — make Fulci’s movies unsettling viewing experiences.
Mark: 7 out of 11
ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) – DIRECTED BY NICO MASTORAKIS
Not only is this one of the sickest films I have seen, it is also one of the most appalling I have sat through. Having said that, that is in fact what Greek director Mastorakis, based on what I’ve read, set out to do. The story, if you can call it that, focusses on a couple called Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) who go on a sex-driven-kill-crazy-honeymoon-rampage on the Greek island of Mykonos. If you can get past the couple having sex in a phone booth while telephoning his mother, and stomach Christopher raping a goat before killing it, then do watch the rest of this conveyor belt of pornographic sex and violence. By the end, I was stunned to silence at how sick the film was.
Mark: 1 out of 11
TETSUO – THE IRON MAN (1989) – DIRECTED BY SHINYA TSUKAMOTO
Lauded as a low-budget Japanese extreme body horror cult classic, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), is either the work of a genius or a complete madman. Filmmaker, Shinya Tsukamoto, deserves so much praise for literally making most of the film in his own house and paying for it out of his own pocket. Yet, the thumping industrial soundtrack, jump-cutting-stop-motion style and story of metal invading the body, soul and mind of various characters was too f*cked-up, even for me. I know it gets mentioned as a work of genius, but it was frankly unwatchable. Thankfully, it’s only sixty-seven minutes of hell to get through.
One of the main reasons I watch films is because I love a good story. I especially like working out the ins and outs of the plot lines too. So, it stands to reason that some films may have inconsistencies in their story or even plot holes. I would define a plot hole as a gap in the story which remains unexplained by the writer or writers. Sometimes these can spoil the film, but more often than not it can add to the enjoyment. They may in fact be known to the writers, however, they may have left it as an enigma for the audience to work out. Either that or the writers made a mistake or they could not be bothered to, or were unable to close the hole. In fact, they may be hoping we don’t notice or care.
There are so many films out there and I’m sure one could nitpick holes in most stories. Here I have picked out six of my favourites. I have chosen well known films so as to differentiate between good and just plain bad storytelling. Moreover, I have also omitted horror films where people just make stupid decisions. Likewise fantastical, surreal and dream logic narratives are avoided. Lastly, the major Marvel franchise plot hole is skimmed. You know the narrative hole that occurs in the stand alone entries. E.g. in Spiderman: Far From Home (2019), if the world is being threatened why don’t the other Avengers help poor Peter Parker? Oh, they’re conveniently busy. . . hmmm. Anyway, here are six of the best plot holes I like. If you can think of more please let me know.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
KING KONG (1933 / 1978 / 2005) – how did they get King Kong back to New York?
This question is not always one that is brought up as an obvious plot hole. However, think about it. Kong is captured on Skull Island, but is suddenly revealed in New York. How did they manage to find a boat big enough to carry him to America? And what if he woke up? He would destroy any ship carrying him with a yawn and stretch. Plus, because we do not SEE him being transported a massive hole in the narrative occurs.
HALLOWEEN (1978) – who taught Michael Myers how to drive?
It chills the bones when Donald Pleasance’s Dr Samuel Loomis finds on a dark evening on October 30th, the day before Halloween, his most feared patient, Michael Myers has escaped from a maximum security facility. Myers has stolen a car and sped off into the night. The big question is, given Michael was six when he committed the murder, how the hell did he learn to drive? Obviously given Myers is a manifestation of pure evil, he somehow mastered driving through psychic force.
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – the V’Ger probe would be coded as Voyager!
Talking of William Shatner masks, Star Trek is a wonderful science fiction television series and film franchise. It’s loved by many and given the numerous narratives involving time travel and alien species there are no doubt more plot holes in there. I mean the number of aliens who talk English and look human is quite something. However, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), there is a major plot hole involving the “V-Ger” probe. Indeed, the entire twist of the plot centers around “V-Ger” actually being “Voyager,” as demonstrated by the corroded name plate on the probe. It seems weird though that nowhere in its programming (or anywhere else) did Voyager have its name recorded. It would be like if a label of a computer, say “Dell”, had the “D” covered up, the boot-up screen would not read, “ell” during post, it would still read, “Dell”! Thus, the plot hole is entirely illogical, Captain.
THE TERMINATOR (1984) – why not just destroy the time machine and stop Kyle Reese going back?
There are loads of plot queries in James Cameron’s classic sci-fi thriller. The one I like the most is more paradoxical than plot hole, but similarly this illustrates flaws in Skynet’s overall plan. Given Skynet and The Terminator have detailed files on everyone, why didn’t they know Kyle Reese was John Connor’s father? If so, just destroy the time machine to stop him going back. If killing Sarah Connor in the past stops John from ever being born, perhaps killing Kyle or stopping him time travelling would have the same effect.
SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) – when Andy escapes, how does he put the poster back so perfectly?
This is one plot hole I love and is in fact, given Andy Dufresne’s incredible struggle to escape, one you can certainly understand. I mean, thematically speaking, Andy is coded as a spiritual Christ-like figure throughout the film. It’s very subtle, but it is there. Thus, perhaps, he had some divine intervention during his escape. He definitely earned it. Lastly, I also love that it is literally a plot hole and Andy escaped right through it.
SIGNS (2002) – why did the Aliens raid a water-based planet when it hurt them?
While the director has had his fair share of critics, I generally enjoy most of his early films and some of the more recent ones. Signs (2002) is a fantastic sci-fi thriller with themes of faith, family and alien incursion. The major hole is the aliens have to be incredibly stupid to want to invade a planet that is 70% their biggest weakness. However, as some have pointed out, it wasn’t an invasion, but a raid to get some people. However, given people are made up of water and water is in Earth’s atmosphere, perhaps Shyamalan should have made their weakness alcohol or even actual acid. Still a very entertaining film though.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell etc.
Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
****** SPOILER FREE ******
“What is this, CSI: KFC?”
Rian Johnson seems to have been writing and directing for years, but interestingly, KNIVES OUT (2019), is only his fifth release since his debut film, Brick (2005). His last film Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, a massive hit across the galaxy. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling.
Indeed, I was shocked that such a meta-filmmaker as Rian Johnson, with such a unique approach to genre, was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking talent was too offbeat and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver), it did not work as a Star Wars story.
With his latest film, a murder-mystery-comedy-thriller, Johnson is on more solid ground. His penchant for quirky characterisation, irreverent jokes and wicked twists is more than suited to an Agatha Christie pastiche. Especially because this one has more tricks up its sleeve than the Magic Circle. I personally love the detective genre and Johnson successfully pays homage and deconstructs the murder-mystery tropes with a brilliantly funny script. Aiding Johnson is a star-studded cast, all of whom run with the joke superbly.
The plot begins in a traditional fashion; with a heinous “crime.” The story then spins into a complicated and devious web of lies and double-crosses. It concerns famed author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and his family of sons, daughters and grandchildren. A multi-millionaire writer and owner of a publishing empire, he has managed to upset every one of his family members. So, you can guess what happens to him on his 85th birthday celebration.
Following Harlan’s apparent suicide, Lakeith Stanfield’s police detective investigates, with the assistance of famed sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). With a ridiculous Southern accent, Craig, seems more parodic than the other actors. But, he gives a fine comic performance nonetheless. Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer are also on great form. But, a playing-against-type Chris Evans, arguably steals the show as the overgrown, spoilt rich kid.
Overall, this is film is a so much fun. It should be viewed firstly as a comedy, although the murder mystery plot itself is full of ingenious plot reversals. With everyone a suspect, the fun derives from trying to work out who did it and seeing if there are any holes in the plot. All kinds of satirical, political, sight-gags and murder-mystery in-jokes are brilliantly delivered by a committed set of A-list movie actors too. Moreover, from the big mansion setting, to the costumes and the meticulous set design, it was a lovely film to look at too.
To conclude, Johnson is back on the form he showed with the incredible sci-fi film Looper (2012). Because, Knives Out (2019) definitely has the force with it, working brilliantly as a fast-paced, witty and intricate work of, admittedly style-over-substance, entertainment.