Friday, October 31, 2014


Hey, just kidding. That was sort of a trick. 

Now, here's the treat. The images I'm sharing with you are indeed graphic, but not in that gross and gory sort of way. Instead, I'm sharing with you a series of the original caricatures I've drawn over the past couple of years of some of my favorite horror icons. I hope you enjoy these 'graphic images'!

Good evening! Yes, it's the Master of the Macabre himself, hoping your Halloween comes off without a hitch. He's done some wonderful horror like THE BIRDS (1963) and what some consider the greatest horror movie of all - PSYCHO (1960). 

Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors, and nobody dominated horror films the way he did. Here he is in one of his best, as the title character in THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH from 1964. His best role ever? As the murderous Shakespearean actor in THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). Rent both!

Sigourney Weaver saves the cat in the original ALIEN (1979). This caricature was done for Blake Snyder's blog about screenwriting called "Save the Cat" ( His book argues that heroes should do something heroic, like save an animal early in the film, to get the audience on that character's side. Weaver's Ripley is a caretaker throughout, and makes sure she saves the cat from the alien space creature as well.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) may be a silent movie, but it's still an incredibly creepy one. The story of a carnival side show attraction and its murderous proprietor and somnambulist attraction has some of the most nightmarish images in any film.

The scariest movie I've ever seen was THE EXORCIST (1973), mostly because it seemed all too real. Interesting as well was the fact that for the first hour of its running length, it's a rather straight-forward story about a girl's psychosis. It's discovered to be Satanic possession in hour two, and that's when all hell breaks loose. 

It may be a TV-movie but THE NIGHT STALKER was one of the scariest films ever. The portrayal of vampirism, personified by the well-suited Janos Skorzany (Barry Atwater), will haunt me forever. If you see it, it will do the same to you!

My all-time favorite horror movie is JAWS (1975) starring (left to right) Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider. Every time I stumble upon it on TV, I have to watch it. Still.

Glenn Close played one of the scariest characters ever in the horror movie/thriller FATAL ATTRACTION (1987). She was a sympathetic 'monster' in many respects, with Michael Douglas' philanderer perhaps being the true villain of the piece. 

Alistair Sim created film's most definitive Scrooge in the 1951 A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Funny how the world's most popular Christmas fiction is a horror movie, what with those ghosts and all.

Finally, GONE GIRL may be a thriller but it's also more than a bit of a horror movie, as argued here recently ( And Rosamund Pike is my pick for the best 'monster' in a movie this year. (Pictured here with Ben Affleck.)

I hope you enjoyed these scary portraits. And have a happy Halloween, everyone! 

Monday, October 27, 2014


One of the lobby art cards from the original release of SISTERS in 1973
Halloween is this Friday, October 31, and many horror fans will be renting scary movies this week and settling in with their significant others for some entertaining thrills and chills. But if you’re the kind of moviegoer who wants something that will truly cause nightmares, here are five films to consider that you may not have even have heard of, let alone considered. Nonetheless, these five will truly leave you utterly unsettled.

“The Poughkeepsie Tapes” is one of those movies that likely will not ring a bell. That’s probably due to the fact that this horror indie has never been officially released in theaters. Or on DVD. Or in any streaming platform. Why? There is no “official reason” on the books, but it may have something to do with how incredibly disconcerting it is. Sitting on the shelf since 2007, with fits and starts regarding its opening and distribution, this mockumentary will send chills up your spine and throughout your skeletal system. And it’s available for free on YouTube.

One of the disturbing images from THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)
It’s the fictional story of a serial killer who’s still at large. The authorities have found his home and confiscated the 800 plus videotapes he had in his house. This maniac managed to record virtually every element of his crimes: the kidnappings, the torture, and the eventual murders. Written, produced and directed by the Dowdle brothers, John Erick and Drew, their story not only shows us the killer’s chilling and grisly ‘home movies’ but also creates a creepy documentary around them.

In fact, the most affecting and terrifying scenes are the interviews with the detectives, parents of the victims, and witnesses to the horrific crimes. Hearing them speak about the horrors is where this one becomes truly harrowing. And just when you think this visceral thriller can’t burrow any deeper into your marrow, one of the killer’s victims is discovered alive and gets interviewed as well. You might not sleep after hearing what Cheryl, his last known victim, has to say. This dark and disturbing little thriller deserves an audience, and YouTube hopefully is just the start.

“The Descent” (2006) is as masterfully done as any horror movie from the last 20 years, with an 85% fresh rating from, so how come you’ve never heard of it? Well, maybe because it’s British and it contains no stars. Still, it’s a nail-biter that will grip you in an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia its entire 99-minute run.

Six women enter an unmapped cave system in the sticks, where they become trapped, and then hunted by flesh-eating humanoids living underground. These modern cavemen are vicious and craven, and yet so are the six women who are at each other’s throats from the start of the excursion. The title refers to their expedition, yes, but it also comments on their fall from decency and humanity during their vacation together. The film explores dark, cavernous chasms in the caves and the human mind.

The tight tunnels and jagged rocks here look incredibly real yet were brilliantly created on a soundstage at Pinewood Studios in England. It’s some of the best production design you’ll ever see in a movie, and director/screenwriter Neil Marshall has made an exceptional horror film that should ascend towards the top of any horror aficionado’s list.

Margot Kidder as the Siamese twins in a flashback scene in SISTERS (1973)
When you think of Brian De Palma, you probably think of classics like “Carrie” or “Scarface”. As disturbing as those films are, a more unsettling pick from his oeuvre is “Sisters” (1973). It stars Margot Kidder in a role about as far away from her Lois Lane from 1978’s “Superman” can be. Here, she plays conjoined twins Danielle and Dominique, now severed, and living as roomies. One is good, the other – not so much. When Dominique kills a suitor with a cake knife, a reporter happens to witness it from her apartment window. It starts a cat & mouse game that riffs on “Rear Window”, Jekyll & Hyde, as well as Our Bodies, Ourselves, that legendary woman’s tome from the late 70’s. (Yes, this film has a lot to say about the feminine mystique.)

What makes “Sisters” so unsettling is its subject material, as well as Kidder’s two performances. Just watch the new season of “American Horror Story” if you don’t think Siamese twins still hold fascination with horror fans. And Kidder’s work here is her best ever. Somehow she makes both characterizations eerily discombobulating. They have a blowsy Manson girl vibe to them, equal parts love child and killer. De Palma brilliantly uses the split screen filming technique here too, just as he did in “Carrie” so effectively; only here it also serves as a metaphor.

 Another unsettling psycho/sexual thriller is Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965). It stars Catherine Deneuve, one of cinema’s most luminescent stars, though she’s anything but glowing here. She plays a troubled young woman who finds aggression all around her, from the vulgar men who come on to her on the streets to the pushy customers she waits on at the beauty salon where she works. And when a leering landlord makes advances on her, she begins a downward mental spiral. Suddenly the whole world is grabbing at her, even the walls. Why is she unraveling? You’ll have to wait for the very last shot of the movie for the answer. Polanski focuses on a framed photograph in her apartment that tells you everything. It’s utterly unsettling. And it will haunt your home too.

Finally, there are those that see David Lynch’s masterpiece “Mulholland Drive” as merely a thriller, but made a very convincing argument that the movie could and should be seen as a horror movie ( Of course Lynch’s films have always had their nightmarish themes and qualities to them. Robert Blake’s villain standing next to Bill Pullman at a party and answering his home phone simultaneously in “Lost Highway” is one good example. This one is no exception. This story, however, is far more disturbing than anything he’s ever done and much more terrifying than most horror genre fare.

“Mulholland Drive” (2001) is also an eerie art-house film that can be interpreted in any number of ways. Is it a fever dream in the mind of the failed actress Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts)? Is it a searing indictment of Hollywood’s penchant for discarding female talent after a certain age, like a companion piece to “Sunset Blvd”? Absolutely. But it’s also about the illusions of dreams, whether they are the hopeful kind in Tinseltown or those in our imaginative brains.
Naomi Watts and Laura Harring are the stars of MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
No matter what you think, and the director himself encourages multiple interpretations, this movie is a dreamy vision of Hollywood old and new, juxtaposed against the ugliness of show biz. The Diane character imagines being a hot, young ingĂ©nue taking the town by storm, but that’s a pipe dream. Along with that illusion, the film also explores the loss of power in a town that is all about it. The klutzy hit man can’t get his assignment without taking out a number of innocent bystanders, and the arrogant, young director clashes with the mob over who gets cast in his film. All of this suggests that Hollywood itself is a monster movie with reasons to scream at every turn.

And then there is the literal monster that Lynch shows us in the famous Winkie’s Diner scene. It is one of the most terrifying scenes ever in a film as a disturbed man and his friend venture behind the eatery to see if there is a monster behind the dumpster. As they take their cautious steps, Lynch proves he’s the modern master of the macabre. They seem to float, the sound design from Angelo Badalamenti builds to a feverish conclusion, and you’ll find yourself devastated by what is shown. If nothing else, that makes this one unsettling horror movie. (See the scene in the embedded video from YouTube below.)

 If you like tamer frights, you can always watch one of the many “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Paranormal Activity” sequels. However, if this Halloween you’d like to challenge your goose bumps, see something you haven’t seen before. See a horror movie that proves that man is always the much more monstrous than any vampire, zombie or alien. These five films may make you question your faith in humanity. They’ll certainly make you lose some sleep.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Original caricature of Meryl Streep by Jeff York (copyright 2012)
Whenever there’s another ‘scandal’ about another Hollywood star’s plastic surgery, I’m always reminded of Isabella Rossellini’s line in 1992’s DEATH BECOMES HER. In that black comedy, she played Lisle Von Rhuman, a sorceress with a magic potion, who promises aging actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) that it will keep her young forever. Literally. She won’t die. But then, after the desperate star drinks it, Lisle issues a warning. Madeline implores, “Now, a warning?!”

Lisle tells her, “Take care of yourself. You and your body are going to be together a long time.” Of course, Madeline doesn’t heed that warning. She doesn’t take care of herself and instead commits one epic fail after another. She falls down the stairs, breaks her neck, and has a vicious, physical battle with her enemy played by Goldie Hawn. It leaves Maddie maddeningly bruised, busted, and twisted into some zombie version of herself. And she’s stuck with those errors of her judgment, for the very long time that is immortality.

Which brings us to Renee Zellweger. 

Renee Zellweger then and now. 
The blogosphere is abuzz this week with outrage about the apparent alterations that Zellweger has made to her appearance. They're screaming that she's ruined her face, that she's unrecognizable, that society demands too much youth and beauty from women in Hollywood and on and on. It's become the story in Hollywood this week, and yet surprisingly, the only real surprise should be that there's no real surprise here at all. 

Now, did Zellweger have plastic surgery? Or too much Botox? Is she merely getting older and we can't handle it? You'd think she committed a crime by the way some are overreacting, but it does appear that she is different looking. It's hard to find those identifiable Zellweger features (the pouty lips, the squinty eyes, the apple cheeks) that characterized her since her launch into stardom as the fresh-faced, all-American girl from JERRY MAGUIRE. Where did that Renee go? Talk about your GONE GIRL.

But this isn't really all that much of a news story. This kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood. Cher, Joan Rivers, Mickey Rourke, Courtney Cox, Bruce Jenner, and on and on. If Zellweger wanted to beat the clock with some artificial means, that is just par for the course. There may be some news in how it affects her career, but that will take a while to tell. It could rob her of choices like it did for Jennifer Grey or Meg Ryan. And hopefully, Zellweger won't become a bad punchline like Heidi Montag and Kenny Rogers did after their unfortunate alterations.  

Zellweger does cop to looking different now, admitting that there were times in the past when she wasn’t at peace with her looks. She says she's happy and healthy now though, and if that's really the truth, good for her. If it hurts her access to roles, that may quickly change. 

Of course, an actress' age and looks shouldn't be such an issue, but they are. And they always have been. It comes with the job. It does with most jobs. For men too, though obviously not as much. It's a sexist world and a vicious one at that. But there is not much surprise in that fact. Certainly not enough to create the reaction of  abject horror to Zellweger's new face by so many. It may be an ugly part of the game that is Hollywood, but it's a game that no one should be naive about. Not in a town that usually has the word "Tinsel" in front of it. 

If anything is a shame it's that we're not talking more about all the terrific movies coming out now during Oscar season including such buzz worthy entries as BIRDMAN, THE IMITATION GAME, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, NIGHTCRAWLER, ST. VINCENT, INTO THE WOODS, and BIG EYES, among others. We should be talking about the art of movies, not the art of looking younger.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in SUNSET BLVD. (1951)
As William Holden’s Joe Gillis pointedly told aging actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in 1951's SUNSET BLVD., “There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five!”

A tragedy, indeed. And not much different now than it was then. End of story.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


David Fincher’s thriller GONE GIRL virtually tied with ANNABELLE, the horror movie prequel to THE CONJURING this past weekend at the box office. Both took in over 37 million, and both prove that the nation’s audiences love to sit on the edge of their seats at the Cineplex. And, not surprisingly, GONE GIRL has a lot in common with the horror genre too. In fact, if Fincher’s SEVEN brushes up against terror, his GONE GIRL could be considered such a genre entry as well. Here are five reasons that suggest so. (Note: there will be plot spoilers ahead so you have been warned!)

Its antagonist is monstrous
First and foremost, the antagonist in GONE GIRL goes way beyond the normal femme fatale one would find in a thriller. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has a lot in common with the dangerous female characters from film noir. She could be a Hitchcock blonde with her icy beauty and sophisticated allure. However, her diabolical agenda renders her less Tippi Hedren and more Hannibal Lecter. Amy’s actions go way beyond what passes for vengeance in most pulp fictions. She’s not just vile; she’s villainous. And her deeds are more than just self-preserving. They’re sociopathic.

Its main setting is a haunted house
David Fincher loves to work with the extraordinary cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. In fact, Fincher’s recognizable signature  - low, warm light and lots of shadows – is a staple of noir and horror. And in Fincher’s thrillers, Cronenweth is an absolute expert at making the maximum out of the mystery by painting the light with his disquieting darkness and eerily still camera work. The DP has proven in everything from FIGHT CLUB to GONE GIRL that he knows how to place suspect characters in suspicious settings, and make the modern world as scary as anything supernatural.

Just look at how he shot THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Cronenweth photographed the characters sitting at a boardroom table, practically static as they gave depositions, and made it look as dangerous and terrifying as anything Phillip Marlowe ever discovered in a darkened alley. In GONE GIRL, Cronenweth shoots the Dunne’s beige, bland suburban house like it’s a well-decorated prison. The home of hapless husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is vast, lonely and filled with secrets. Has track housing ever been so disturbing? Cronenweth’s shadowy geography kept Nick in the dark in GONE GIRL, both physical and metaphorically. And the audience too.

The creepy music would make Dracula feel right at home
Film composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose have collaborated with Fincher on two other occasions – THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – and both times they produced moody scores that added to the eeriness of those edgy stories.

With their music for GONE GIRL, they’ve made even more out of such dismaying tones. The chords are sultry and yet foreboding throughout. It’s spooky in the film and as a stand-alone soundtrack as well. Such a score could easily accompany a modern vampire tale. And in many ways, that is exactly what GONE GIRL is.

The murder and mayhem is truly terrifying
Say what you will about the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, but antagonist Jason Voorhees was basically a big, dumb killing machine. He was practically a shark in a hockey mask, driving forward from one inevitable bloodletting to the next. In GONE GIRL, Amy Dunne is so calculating, cold and vicious that she’d make a Manson girl blush. The death on display in GONE GIRL is simply shocking. And somewhere, Eli Roth and John Carpenter are covering their eyes behind their hands.

The lethal combination of sex and murder is a horror staple
The female vamp archetype has always driven screen thrillers. Bad girls like Barbara Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY and Kathleen Turner in BODY HEAT made homicidal tendencies haute, hot and horrifying. But seldom has film noir seen a villain as unstoppable and ferocious as Amy Dunne. Her peer group is more like horror’s Freddie Krueger and Norman Bates. In fact, if the mother from “Aliens” had a showdown with the ‘Amazing Amy’, I’d bet on the 5’8” stunner vanquishing the space creature in a minute flat. That’s how horrid the antagonist of  GONE GIRL is.

The movie title itself works on a couple of levels, and one clearly points to horror. Of course it refers to the so-called ‘disappearance’ of Amy Dunne since she is perceived to be a possible kidnap victim in the first hour of the film. More importantly however, the title points to how far Amy is from what everyone thought she was. Amy was never really the beautiful, erudite and loving woman that her husband, friends and family thought she was. Instead, she’s hovering on the fringes of societal norms as her humanity has long vanished. What’s left is an utter monster.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


On Friday, the American Film Institute announced that Steve Martin would receive their 43rd annual Life Achievement Award. AFI CEO Howard Stringer described the new recipient as “an American original” and he went on to further laud the actor, comedian and writer by saying, “From a wild and crazy stand-up comic to one who stands tall among the great figures in this American art form, he is a multi-layered creative force bound by neither convention nor caution. His work is defined by him alone, for he is the author – and a national treasure whose work has stuck with us like an arrow in the head."

Martin is an inspired choice. He’s perhaps the major, singular comic voice of the last 50 years. From his time as a writer on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the late 60’s, to his sold-out stadium stand-up days in the 70’s, to his influence on “Saturday Night Live” and the generation of comedians who’ve come after him, Martin’s legacy is unarguable. We could not have had Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell or Jimmy Fallon without him. Martin was the comedic voice of his generation and he turned that into movie gold as well.

Starting with “The Jerk” in 1979, Martin was able to blend the sophomoric with the intellectual, and that one-two punch has made most of his films both uniquely silly and intellectual simultaneously. On its surface, “The Jerk” may appear as all broad caricature and sight gags, but Martin injected his story with plenty of biting commentary on the American class system and racism.

In films like “Roxanne” and “All of Me” the outrageousness of the slapstick visuals that Martin excelled at like few others were juxtaposed against the comedian’s scathing indictments against prejudice and sexism. In “Roxanne”, perhaps Martin’s best film, he not only updated the story of “Cyrano de Bergerac” to show that expectations of beauty and manliness haven’t changed that much since the 17th Century, but he brought a pathos to the whole shebang that was worthy of Charlie Chaplin. 

 “All of Me” showcased Martin’s incredible physical grace as two personalities took over his brain, fighting for control of his body. Throughout, Martin wove sexual politics into the laugh-out-loud farce. Clearly, he had learned well in his early days, writing Emmy-winning sketches for the liberally adroit Tom and Dick Smothers, and throughout his career, Martin added gravitas to the lightest of fare. He was a serious man, who was serious about comedy, and serious about making the comedy have true bite.

Martin could be a triple threat, writing, directing and starring in his scathing satire on Hollywood moviemaking with “Bowfinger” and he was a formidable serious actor as well. He played self-centered cads (“Pennies From Heaven”), unlikable Hollywood sorts (“Grand Canyon”), and corporate villains (“The Spanish Prisoner”) in straight projects that had nary a sense of humor. One of his greatest onscreen performances was in John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” where his priggish ad exec is forced to travel with a gauche salesman (John Candy). Of course Martin gets the laughs, but he also aces the pathos, particularly in the last act when he realizes how much his companion has been an asset on their journey home for the holidays.

Martin exhibited a rich, haut cool on screen when needed, like in “Shopgirl” of “It’s Complicated”, but he could also play an utter ‘everyman’ and gave terrific performances in films like “Parenthood” and “Father of the Bride”. Even in efforts like his attempts to reboot “Sgt. Bilko” and “The Pink Panther”, Martin demonstrated a sense of comic timing and physical hilarity that cannot be taught, even if it didn’t exactly save those misfires.

What may be the most important part of Martin’s film legacy was his ability to master comedic language and physicality equally. There are few true great comedians in film today, and even fewer who could play both anywhere close to Martin’s capabilities. Throughout his work, especially in film, his tongue is as funny as his body. And in movies like “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, Martin is hilarious whether he’s talking the talk or walking the walk, or sitting in a wheelchair faking paralysis.

All in all, the AFI has made a shrewd and worthy choice in choosing Martin. There can never be enough accolades for comedic stars that too often get the brush when it comes to such awards. Every actor will tell you that comedy is harder to do than drama, but the number of Oscar-winning comedies is inconsistent with that, and that’s somewhat of a tragedy. Indeed, the AFI failed to honor the likes of Chaplin, Groucho Marx, and Blake Edwards in their time, and it’s great to see such comedic standouts as Martin, and Mel Brooks a few years back, getting their just due from this venerable institution.

The only troubling thing about choosing Martin now is that many others that were due, and older, were not called. Stars that started their sterling movie careers in the 1960’s, like Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall, have yet to be called and may never be called now as the AFI seems to be culling from the 70’s and later periods. It’s also a shame that no ‘below the line’ stars have been lauded yet, including a household name like composer John Williams. He is most certainly worthy of the AFI Life Achievement honor, but whether the Institute will be that bold remains to be seen.

Still, Martin is a bold choice. The Academy Awards never saw fit to nominate him for an acting award for “All of Me” or “Roxanne” even though he’d won tons of critics awards for them. To see Martin get both an honorary Oscar last year, and now be pegged for the AFI’s most prestigious honor, says a lot about not only the man’s enduring legacy but also about the due that his comedy, all comedy, truly deserves. Wild and crazy, isn’t it?