Horror 365, Movie(ish) 86: Vehicle

Beware the Ides Of March. No I’m not talking about Shakespeare. This is about the band The Ides Of March. What does that have to do with a horror blog? Depends on how closely you listen to the lyrics of their 1970 hit, “Vehicle.” Don’t get me wrong. I loves me a good horn band. Blood Sweat And Tears, Chicago (before they went all wimp rock), even the horn segments on Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare” and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s “Fire.” But “Vehicle,” well, let’s just pause here for some analysis, shall we?

I’m the friendly stranger
in the black sedan.
Won’t you hop inside my car?

irmaUh, no. First off, how is that not creepy? Second, ain’t much of a leap from that to Tom Waits’s super-predatory song “$29.00” from his Blue Valentines album. And third, some of us were “fortunate” enough during our formative years to have Irma Joyce’s nightmare fuel Golden Book, Never Talk To Strangers.

If you’re mailing a letter to Aunt Lucille
And you see a car with a whale at the wheel,
Stay away from him and his automobile.
Never talk to strangers.

See? No cars! Or apparently whales.

But along comes “Vehicle,” flaunting not only conventional wisdom but also every phobic utterance our mothers ever made about cars and strangers. You remember: heartwarming parables about being drugged, kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, and god-knows-what-else, then ending up disposed of in the woods or. Or, to borrow one of my dear late mum’s favorite admonitions, “You wanna end up dead in a ditch somewhere?” Ah the 70s. Such carefree, feelgood times.

Moving on.

I got pictures, got candy. I’m a lovable man.

Is it just me, or does “lovable man” take on a fairly twisted context when combined with the pictures/candy thing? Like, “candy from strangers” or “Hey little girl…” I mean, seriously. And pictures? Of what exactly? Anything else while we’re at it? Duct tape maybe? Chloroform? Clown mask?

Okay, the clown mask may have been a step too far for some of you. Apologies. Feel free to contact me if you can’t sleep tonight. Pretty sure I’ll still be up too.

If you do need something to occupy your time later because you find yourself awake and terrified by visions of Pennywise, look up the films of Sid Davis. He made a whole slew of those classroom scare flicks from the 50s through the 70s. Kind of a little paranoia buffet. The Strange Ones (which already sounds like a horror movie) offers some particularly timeless and, shall we say, invaluable insights:

You never know when there might be a Strange One around.
There’s no way to tell.
The Strange Ones look just like everyone else.

Could have come right out of Never Talk To Strangers. Wonder of he and Irma knew each other. Come to think of it, she did write for Golden in the 60s.

Anyway, we end with this:
I can take you to the nearest star.

Nearest star. Riiight. Or at least to the nearest secluded cabin complete with a concrete-lined basement room lit by a single bare light bulb hanging  by a cord from the ceiling.

Ugh. Feel like I need a shower. Glad I sleep with a hammer next to the bed.

Horror 365, Movie 85: Commune

Cross the haunted past aspect of The Shining with Jaume Balagueró’s To Let. Toss in some creepified fairy tale references then strip the whole thing bare. You may very well end up with something like Tom Perrett’s Commune.

This is actually a semi-repost from a number of years back in an earlier (2016) iteration of this blog. I saw a recent post from Tom Perrett recalling his short film, so I thought it a good idea to revisit my original review. Here’s how the whole thing started.

Blogferatu has a page on The Twitters. We’re all in this together, so I follow many of the blogs, podcasts, indie authors, and indie films/filmmakers I come across. Pretty much as a matter of course, I followed Commune.

To this day I am so glad I did.

First, I got a polite, fairly standard acknowledgement for following plus a link to the trailer. The trailer has a simple enough jumpscare, but it worked, so I just had to see the whole thing.

I messaged Commune’s Twitter page asking where I could see the film. Much as I’d love to have caught the premiere screening back then at the London Independent Film Festival, that was/is kind of a haul from Norfolk, Virgina. Perrett responded saying they were hoping to get the film into some US festivals, but I could see the online screener if I was up for reviewing it.


“Lots of space, interesting décor”

The scenario is, again, simple enough. One might be tempted to say too simple (Perrett himself suggests, on one level, it’s “a man walking around an old house”). It would be unfortunate to succumb to such temptation.

Commune opens with an agent letting the protagonist, Tom (Tom Weller), into a house. A voicemail from The Guardian Agency describes the house (built in the 1930s), Tom’s duties (basically keep out squatters), and mentions the place once housed a commune.

The interior is a shambles, but there’s a sense that the house has been occupied a number of times (and recently) since the 1930s: board games strewn about, a fairly new looking ping pong table, a baby carriage (that can’t bode well).

“Join us”

Weller is good. His character is ill at ease and more than a little at that. I fully buy into his apprehension which Perrett capitalizes on with effective use of some techniques horror gamers will be familiar with.

For one thing, everything creaks: walls, floors, ceilings, doors, bookshelves.

Everything. All the time.

Like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, sound in Commune maintains Weller’s (and our) constant atmosphere of menace. The bending and blurring of the scenes that accompany the appearance of the malevolent spirit is another unsettling technique in games like Amnesia and Hektor. It’s even better here.

Our dread is further reinforced by things that go unexplained: the squatter Tom encounters, the attic, the commune alluded to in the first minute of the film (and its creepy Rosicrucian-like flyer similar to the ads in the tabloids my grandmother used to read).

Nor is there any clarification of what is a dream or a flashback showing the haunter. Either is arguable, but I’m inclined toward dream. It starts after Tom turns in for the night, and there’s a disconcerting Alice In Wonderland image.

Dream, flashback, interestingly it doesn’t matter. We don’t need to know definitively. Both work.

It’s worth noting that there are other references to fairy tales and children’s stories. In the dream sequence, there’s a children’s book, The Wolf And The Seven Little Kids, itself a Grimm’s fairy tale. As in so much myth, fairy tale, and folklore, it takes the wolf three tries to get into the house and devour the goats. Perrett mentions being “enchanted by the magical storytelling of films from an early age.” Small wonder, then, that the story in Commune unfolds over three days.

All of this got me so caught up waiting for the film’s climax that I never saw the resolution coming. Not for a second. Obvioulsy I’m not about to discuss that. When I finished Commune, I was already impressed. That was only amplified by finding out it was shot in one weekend and cost £5000.

Some time has passed since I first wrote this, and I remain confident we’ll see more and bigger things from Perrett.

And I can’t wait.

13 (for many reasons, not the least of which being a fine example of what can be done on a minimal budget)
1 offscreen
Available on Vimeo and YouTube

Horror 365, Movie 84: Death Game

Well before Don’t Breathe, Hush, The Strangers, Funny Games, and so on, there was already a slew of home invasion kinds of movies–things like When A Stranger Calls, Straw Dogs, and the wildly overrated Last House On The Left. In the midst of all this came the much lesser known Death Game (1977) which is also well before Don’t Fuck With Cats. Trust me. It all makes sense.

This is one weeeeiiiirrrrd flick, and discussing it requires a megadose of spoilers.

First, there are six characters, but only half actually matter. We have husband and wife Karen and George Manning, housekeeper Mrs. Grossman, Donna, Jackson, and a delivery boy. We’ll get to the actors later.

So–here we are in 1975 San Francisco. Karen has to fly off on a family emergency leaving George on his own for a weekend. His first night alone, there’s a knock on the door. He answers to find two soaked young women, Donna and Jackson. Turns out they’re looking for a party and have gotten lost. They ask to use George’s phone, and he lets them stay and dry out, dry their hair and clothes (he gives them robes), and hang out until a friend comes to pick them up.

Well, before you know it they’ve ended up seducing him. Never saw that comin’ didja? What follows is an tedious, cringe-worthy three-way sex montage that goes on for far too painfully long and is underscored by some stereotypically porny “bow-chicka-wow-wow” riffs. The “friend” never shows up, so Donna and Jackson stay the night. In the morning, they make breakfast and start misbehaving like a couple of ill-mannered high schoolers.

Eventually George gets fed up and threatens to call the police. This is when Jackson reveals that they’re both underage. After much shrill yelling and argument, they finally decided that George can drop them off in the city. He does, stops for some groceries, and goes home only to find that his new friends are already back waiting for him. Never saw that comin’ didja?

What ensues is a night of torture, shrill laughter and shrieking, humiliation, a mock trial, an unconscious delivery boy drowned in a giant fish tank, and a cat that Donna launches through a closed window (this is surprisingly important it turns out). Reading back over this synopsis might tempt one to think, “I’d watch that.” This would be an unwise assumption. On one hand, it’s interesting that Donna and Jackson are the only ones with any agency in the movie. On the other hand, the entire proceeding comes off as disjointed, annoying, directionless, and downright silly.

The sad irony is that what’s most interesting about Death Game is who’s involved with it. Let’s start with the three main characters.
George Manning– A 70s porn-stached Seymour Cassell who’d go on to appear in a number of John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson films.
Donna– A very young Colleen Camp. If you wonder where you’ve seen her, it was probably some character part somewhere, such as Julie’s mom in Valley Girl.
Jackson– Sondra Locke in an unusually non-Eastwood production. That’s not entirely true as the screenplay is by frequent Eastwood collaborator Jo Helms.

But wait! There’s more.

Also involved in the writing was Don Bluth who brought us All Dogs Go To Heaven, Thumbelina, The Secret Of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and a bunch of other thankfully non-Disney animated features.

I’ve saved the best for last. The production designer was Jack Fisk which is not all that noteworthy. However, one of the set dressers was his wife–Sissy Spacek. Working alongside her was a very young Bill Paxton who started out as a set dresser at 18.

And there is even more irony to be had! At dawn, Jackson makes as if she’s about to take a cleaver to the hurt, trussed up George, then purposely misses. Inexplicably, she tells Donna, “It’s time to go,” and they leave. Remember that cat? Well, as Donna and Jackson skip across a street, they are mowed down by an oncoming van. On the side of the van are the letters SPCA, and the credits roll to the sound of barking dogs.


And there’s today’s lesson–Don’t Fuck With Cats. Told ya it’d all make sense.

13 (admittedly I was torn. It’s not an Unwatchable 1 because it’s not totally unwatchable. It’s not a Watch It Forget It 4 because I’ll certainly never be able to get it outta my head. It’s not a Fun Entertaining 8 cuz it’s not fun, Definitely Well Worth Seeing as a 10, a Damn Fine Bit Of Cinema at an 11, nor anywhere close to Perfect at a 12.5–this leaves me no choice but to make it Required Viewing. Cuz damn).
2 women
1 drowned delivery boy
1 defenestrated cat
Available in poor quality on YouTube