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Around 3 a.m. last night, I couldn’t break free from my bed. I tried to, multiple times, each effort feeling increasingly impossible. I was beneath mounds of quicksand, essentially; the comforter and sheets smothering me like tar. The only way the whole experience could’ve have been more terrifying would have been if Freddy Krueger showed his face and revealed that the ordeal was of his doing. But, of course, it wasn’t. Instead, I was stuck in authentic nightmare territory, a direct result of a film I watched only three hours prior. The movie was an old Italian giallo from 1976, The House with the Laughing Windows, a minor cult favorite from director and co-writer Pupi Avati. While the film was playing, I was certainly into it, but far from enamored. There are these murky church organs that dominate the soundtrack, and are quite effective. Before this nightmare, those keys were the scariest thing about Avati’s picture; the denouement, a disturbed GOTCHA moment, punctuated by a slight cross-gender twist, for the film’s hero  Stefano (Lino Capilicchio, a James McAvoy lookalike), is more haunting than full-on scary. But as those organs play over the enigmatic final shot, The House with the Laughing Windows settled into my head, something awful. The nightmare was inevitable.

I swear on the names of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci that this bad dream was one of the worst I’ve ever had. It all felt so damn real; I heard the organs, lifted straight out of Avati’s work, and I saw the film’s two endgame antagonists, the Legnani sisters, an embodiment of the two peripheral figures commonly seen in paintings of St. Sebastian’s final moments. My bedroom, lit only in the shadows peeking in through the windows, became a tomb; my attempts to simply rise out of bed turned into a broken record spinning devil music. Up and down, up and down; “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me,” “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me.” 


The House with the Laughing Windows takes the St. Sebastian imagery into its own fictional world, envisioning the traditional picture as an impetus for supernatural hub-bub. Stefano is hired to restore the unfinished work of Legnani, a deceased painter cloaked in mystery; he was dubbed the “painter of agony,” due to his penchant for drawing those near- and in-death. As Stefano gets to work, the townsfolk get more ominous by the second, and bodies start dropping. This all commences with patience. The film’s pacing is slow; it’s one of those creepy-crawly horror stories that zaps you early on, lets the dread marinate and then pulverizes you with third-act devastation. Not all of Avati’s film works; clocking in at 110 minutes, the flick would benefit from a solid 15-minutes-off edit. Yet, the bookends are powerful enough to salvage the entire thing. Consult Netflix immediately for this, if only to check what is easily one of the most Satanic opening credits sequences out there. All-red screen, those organs-from-Hell, a slow-motion reenactment of St. Sebastian’s encounter with razor-sharp knives, sprinkled with blood-curdling screams and yelps, all before an eerie voiceover that’s up there with “Simon” from Brad Anderson’s awesome Session 9. Even if the entirety of The House with the Laughing Windows had sucked, the beginning credits would justify its cult status.

Hell, the opening credits, paired with the film’s final five minutes, did me in more than any other horror movie in recent memory; the closest parallel I can draw is the sleepless effects that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had on me as a little kid watching it for the first time. In no way am I saying that Avati’s film is on par with hat Kubrick masterpiece; there’s merely an inexplicably common force between the two, in terms of their unsettling tones. 

I may have to buy The House with the Laughing Windows on DVD just to come to grips with this nightmare. Dissect the pic until I uncover the direct cause of a truly horrific nighttime experience. Or, just to swoon over Francesca Mariano, the film’s beautiful female lead. Face-wise, she’s remarkable. 

Scenes from the film—- specifically the opening credits, footage of sexy-ass Mariano and the spoiler-heavy final minutes—-after the jump: Continue Reading »

One of the many perks of living in the Tri-State area is the ease in which I can visit the IFC Center in downtown Manhattan, a wonderland of independent and foreign cinema. Ever since the otherworldly vibe I felt while watching David Lynch’s Inland Empire there in the winter of 2006, I’ve loved the place. Over at Reel Loop, I’ve jotted down my thoughts on a new French film playing at IFC, Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard

Give it a read, if you can….

LINK: Reel Loop review — ‘Bluebeard’


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a damn-good Swedish thriller that opened here in America a couple weeks back, without any real promotion or word. Meaning, this is most likely the first time you’re hearing about the damn thing. Click the link below to learn more about it, courtesy of a review I’ve penned for Reel Loop:

LINK: LATE PASS Review — ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’


The stench was pungent from the very first scene. I sat down, endured some pretty lousy trailers (I’ve seen the Death at a Funeral remake preview a dozen times now and it somehow gets worse with each round), and eagerly anticipated a spin in the Hot Tub Time Machine. The reviews have been predominantly upbeat, and the cast all but promised enjoyment. Craig Robinson and John Cusack, side by side? Foolproof, I thought. But five minutes in, I nearly slapped my forehead in disbelief. Robinson’s character, Nick Webber-Agnew (having taken his wife’s last name, because he’s the emasculated Ed Helms/’Stu’ member of the film’s all-dude quartet), works at a dog training-and-grooming spot, ‘Sup Dawg, after a failed singing career left his days as the frontman of Chocolate Lipstick as historical inventory. A customer (the usually spot-on Thomas Lennon) brings his sick pooch in for a look-over, recognizes Nick from his crooner days and then gags as Nick pulls the canine-owner’s car keys out of the dog’s ass—-fecal matter as a bonus topping. And in that instant, I realized a painful truth: Hot Tub Time Machine was going to be an excruciating 100 minutes. 

Little, if anything, convinced me otherwise by the time Rob Corddry’s just awful Lou pops up in the final scene as the lead singer in a fake Motley Lue video. The impetus, of course, is that he and his pals were sent back to 1986 after getting sloshed in the title jacuzzi, and the old butterfly effect came into play, allowing Lou to use his foresight to conceptualize Lougle (Google) and front Motley Lu (Motley Crew, obviously). It’s a somewhat clever ending to a altogether unfunny film. Ineffective use of its inner 1980s motif is made, other than a running joke with Back to the Future costar Crispin Glover, tons of shiny clothing and scattered peripheral imagery. Focus is put on gags where one heterosexual guy is forced to give his also hetero boy oral sex, or hand soap is splattered all over one’s face to look like ejaculated spooge. Cheap tricks, dragging down a premise that could have spawned endless humor. Guy-on-guy blowjobs are the easy way out, of course, and will always induce a giggle or two from audience members. Nobody (myself included) buys a Hot Tub Time Machine ticket and expects high art, but unexpected punchlines and intelligent one-liners? Shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I’ve spoken with a good amount of people who’ve seen Hot Tub Time Machine and loved it, so perhaps I’m screwing up here. I’m no flawless filmgoer, being the same cat who owns Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man remake on DVD, by tongue-in-cheek choice, though that doesn’t matter in the bigger self-respecting picture. I’ll duel to the death on point, though—-Rob Corddry single-handedly ruins the film. One of the most over-the-top performances I’ve ever seen; manic beyond the point of entertainment. It’s tough enough that the majority of his lines are stale dick-and-ball jokes; he could have been delivering Ricky Gervais-written bits and I still wouldn’t have liked a mere second of his work. One reviewer called him “the next Zach Galifianakis,” an attempt to parallel Hot Tub Time Machine to last year’s infinitely superior The Hangover. Toss that comparison out the window, right away. Galifianakis’s presence in The Hangover succeeds thanks to an alternately subtle and bizarre demeanor; Corddry, however, bullies his way through every scene on a tailspin. There’s a stark difference between a humorous guy and one who seems on the verge of self-destruction, or, worse, gone-postal violence. Spitting out words like a cocaine fiend. Unfunny words, at that.

I know, I know… the film is called Hot Tub Time Machine, so I should just loosen up my britches. Put my analytical side on hold. Go watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo instead (which should be the move tonight), or Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard (tomorrow evening), if I’m craving a real fix. Believe me, that was the intention all along, until Rob Corddry ruined everything. If not for him, I could have even given ‘Sup Dawg another try.

Over at Reel Loop, I’ve weighed in on the this weekend’s newly released erotic drama Chloe.

Give it a look…. it can’t hurt, right?

LINK: Reel Loop: Review – ‘Chloe,’ Sexual Force Proves Impotent, Says Matt


I wish I could somehow recline in the mind of David Lynch for just a few hours, no perversion included. Simply a desire to figure out how the one-of-a-kind filmmaker’s brain ticks, where the insane ideas pour from, why he’s so adept at constructing cinematic puzzles that have no easy-does-it solution. There’s a distinct power at play in any film that forces its viewers to revisit the picture in its entirety in order for them to discern just what the fudge is exactly going down, and that’s a magnetism that doesn’t need to be rewarding to earn its rightful place. I’ve watched Lynch’s spell-binding Mulholland Drive at least ten times at this stage of my life, and I still can’t decide on a straight-and-narrow synopsis. Every fresh watch pokes holes through my then-existing analysis. But, the thing is, I love that ongoing thought process. Coin it as being a tad masochistic; fine by me.

Far too few celluloid experiences pack the discomfort and open-mouth gapes that accompany Lynch’s first work, 1977′s black-and-white Eraserhead, which I caught earlier on the Sundance channel. Guess is,  the fifth time I’ve seen the film. The aftermath is always the same—-brain sodomy. Essentially, this one’s about a nearly-mute weirdo, Harry Spencer (the by-God’s-own-hands unsettling Jack Nance), who sports a pre-Christopher “Kid” Reid pencil-top hairdo and is deathly afraid of becoming a father, and the neurosis he undergoes when his girlfriend gives birth to a disfigured baby. Only, you don’t get your standard daydreams filled with dinnertable scenes starring multiple rugrats; Lynch’s treats feature little alien-like creatures convulsing, or spewing blood, or living in heaters, not to mention, as a sweet bonus, bearded ladies singing showtunes.

Reports state that Lynch made the film using a slim $10,000 grant he received from the storied AFI Conservatory and IOUs he grabbed from friends and odd-job employers. Shows the then-31-year-old wannabe-director’s determination and honed vision. Something tells me, though, that Eraserhead wouldn’t be any less abstract if he’d been given a grant 20 times that amount; like all of his films, Lynch’s debut remains such a singular vision 23 years after its premiere, you can only enjoy it in guiltless bafflement. And that, folks, is precisely the skill that I’d love tap into somehow, some damn way; the ability to create give-me-your-undivided-attention fiction, stories and live-action deals brimming with all-my-own imagination. Of course, no one will ever manage to replicate a David Lynch film, but that’s not even my point; I’m itching to learn how he so brilliantly digs into his own unique sensibilities and translates them into works that equally polarize and astonish.

Eraserhead is by no means a masterpiece, or even one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s up there amongst the strangest and most invigorating, however; one of many offbeat films I re-check often, when I’m searching for inspiration.

Fatherhood is nowhere in sight, so I can’t sympathize with poor Harry Spencer; I am paranoid as hell in other areas, though, namely within a professional pit of quicksand I can’t seem to crawl out of. Could bearded songbirds and mini-ETs get their metaphors on over that? Should they even, for that matter? Not at all. I need to visualize my own what-the-fuck imagery, just as David Lynch did back in 1977.

Distance absolutely makes the heart grow fonder. Having left the once-highly-active Theater of Mine a dust-filled cesspool of lost dreams forfar too long, I’m back in effect, hungrier than ever. The balance of dollar-free passion here and pays-the-bill, necessary passion there is a tight rope stroll, but it’s time I regain some traction. More than before. Work a good amount of literature coverage into the pot; show the world what I’m gassed about in the 2-0-1-0. It’s like that.

And what better to stick a needle in inspiration proverbial ass than a trashy zombie film from the early 1970s. Last night, I finally caught up with the late Bob Clark‘s schlock pseudo-classic Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), an early no-budget gem from the man who’d go on to direct the great Black Christmas (1974), Porky’s (1982), Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and the interminable A Christmas Story (1983)—–yes, the one with Ralphie and those damn Bumpus hounds.

Written and directed by Clark, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is my favorite of his films (that distinction goes to Black Christmas), but it certainly falls above the Red Rider BB gun flick. The characters are awful, a large amount of the dialogue grates like fromage, and the gore effects are a mere step away from using cherry Kool-Aid in the place of authentic life liquid. The first two acts slither along like a finger digging through marshmallow, and the scares are telegraphed. Somehow, though, through all of this ineptitude, Clark emerges as a magical auteur, yanking heaps of entertainment from the lame-brained festivities. That I was never bored throughout the film’s lean 85-minute duration speaks volumes.

The late Bob Clark

Continued after the jump: Continue Reading »

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