Horror 365 Movie 235: The Special

For the most part I try not to deal with movies that are fairly recent. There are exceptions here and there, like I Care A Lot, but I try to give a movie at least a couple years before so much as watching it much less writing it up. Sometimes, though, events conspire in such a way as to make a particular title unavoidable.

Such is the case with the visceral, jaw-dropping 2020 movie The Special which I watched for the first time last night. See, in the process of writing yesterday’s Most Beautiful Island post, I looked up some stuff on IMDB, and there, under More Like This, sandwiched between Demon (which I’ve seen) and Sandpaper (which I haven’t) was The Special. It was the tagline, “Fatal Attraction meets The Blob” that sold me.

It seems The Special has flown way under folkses’s radar so far, and I gotta say right up front that it most assuredly ain’t for everyone. I hasten to add that if you have not seen The Special and find yourself curious, stop reading Right. Now. I went into this movie cold, and I can scarce overstate what a fine decision that was. Even the poster gives away more than I’d like (I managed to find one that didn’t). That said, I’ll also be diving in soon with some spoilers.

First off, if Cronenberg-style body horror ain’t your thang, then don’t even bother with this. Second, when I say visceral, I’m not just visceralin’ Dixie. Oh there’s plenty of blood, slime, and oozy drippy ick to goo around, especially in the final set piece. But it don’t take long, y’see, for Jerry to establish himself as a self-absorbed, condescending, misogynistic dickbag (literally, as time goes on), and as such he delivers some gut-punch relationship moments as well.

Right, so, during an evening of drinking, Jerry’s friend Mike reveals that Jerry’s wife Lisa cheated on him. This may or may not be true. Mike further suggests it’s a moral imperative for Jerry to respond in kind, so he takes Jerry to Madame Zhora, a psychic whose business is a front for prostitution. There Jerry meets Zhora’s 3 comely sex workers, Erin, Nada, and Syn. Mike, however, points out that none of them are “the special” for which Jerry is here.

This “special,” it turns out, is a wooden box with a hole in it, much like a bird house, kind of a variation on the glory hole idea. All one is required to do is insert one’s phallus into said box and receive the greatest, most mindblowingest sexual experience of one’s life. Kind of appropriate since, for lotsa of dudes, that’s all a vagina (or “box” to use some bygone yet extant vulgar parlance) is for.

Well wouldn’t y’know, the encounter doesn’t go to plan, and Jerry ends up passing out. He’s carried to Mike’s car by the very imposing bouncer Ivan and Mike. Madame Zhora warns Mike never to bring Jerry back and delivers the cryptic but it turns out prophetic line “He is what it wants.”

If I have any complaints about The Special, it’s the sound. One might even go so far as to call it mumblecore horror–mumblecorror? On the other hand, if you turn the captions on, you get to see [squelching] pop up at the bottom of the screen a good many times. Me, I think it adds to what is already some superblack comedy going on here.

Ultimately, that’s what The Special is. How could it not be? It hinges on the not completely inaccurate cliché that most men will fuck anything. Along those lines, guy gets off fucking a box, turns his life upside down to be with it, lavishes more attention on it than on his wife, neglects his job, and ultimately becomes one (in a way) with the very thing he desires.

Like I said yesterday, I’m sure much can be made in terms of subtext here, especially as it concerns misogyny, male power, addiction, sexuality, risky behavior, fidelity, and obsession. As for “Fatal Attraction meets The Blob,” I mean, it’s not INaccurate. But a better description might be soft-core porn meets Lovecraft meets The Fly meets It Follows meets Liquid Sky. Come to think of it, there may be some weird shades of Little Shop Of Horrors in here as well. Dudes…ugh.

   SKULLS- 10
   BODIES- 4 onscreen (well, almost 4)
   Stream- Prime, Tubi
   Rent- Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

Horror 365 Movie 234: Most Beautiful Island

This is strange one but good–one of those movies where you suspect there’s some kind of deep & heavy symbolic, philosophical, sociopolitical point or commentary being made, but you can’t quite grasp what it might be. Movies like this sometimes irritate me because I’m never sure if the problem is me, the movie, or both.

I want a good analogy for this. The best I can do is this–imagine a box full of puzzle pieces. You’re told there are enough pieces for 2 complete pictures, but you aren’t given the pictures, just the puzzle pieces. Ready? Go. Could you do it, or would you decide it’s not worth the effort? Would you feel stupid if you couldn’t do it, or would you decide the missing information creates an unreasonable cognitive burden?

That’s how I feel about a number of movies, and the results vary. It made me hate The Lobster. To be fair, alotta stuff made me hate The Lobster. On the other hand, it didn’t bother me so much with Most Beautiful Island.

In this case, lack of information makes the threatening underground aspect of the story even more compelling in the sense that we don’t know any more than the participants do.

The movie starts with the plight of Luciana, an undocumented immigrant from Barcelona. Apparently there’s some dire family situation there that she refuses to go back to, face, or deal with. This leaves her scrambling for menial cash-only gigs to try to get by. Before long this catches up with her as she suffers a series of financial difficulties.

In the midst of all this, she meets Olga. Sympathetic to Luciana’s plight, Olga gives her an address and tells her to show up in black dress but doesn’t provide further details on the gig itself. The desperate Luciana accepts and shows up at the specified location where she receives another address and a locked purse.

The tension starts immediately once we know that Luciana is more or less in hiding. It continues to ratchet up throughout the movie’s lean 80 minutes. The thing is, it’s a slow build that centers specifically on both lack of information and lack of control. Doesn’t hurt that it’s got shades of Hostel, especially Hostel 3 as this is an underground betting setup.

I’m gonna stop the plot summary right here because if you haven’t seen this is a well hidden little gem of a movie, it’s well worth diggin’ up. I will say that events don’t lead where many of us likely suspect they will. For some folks (you’ll know who you are when you get to the nature of the betting pool), where the plot actually goes will be far worse than where you probably thought it was going.

As for deeper meanings, there are so many directions to take this. We can start with the potentially fatal nature of the unknown. In other words, what you don’t know could kill you. There’s the plight of undocumented immigrants and the idea that being poor undermines your ability to even get a job. For example, Luciana has to con a store because she can’t afford the required dress and later a driver because she has no cab fare.

Luciana itself means “light,” and she does have a significant flash of enlightenment. It’s easy and apropos to read Luciana as “lucky” too. There’s also belly of the beast/journey to the underworld undertones along with exploitation, objectification, and the idea that the rich capitalize on people’s desperation (especially immigrants) for their own entertainment and derive joy from rendering people powerless. Kinda like, I dunno, Republicans.

Uplifting ain’t it?

   SKULLS- 10
   BODIES- 1 offscreen (and it’s terrifying)
   Stream- AMC+, IMDBTv, Kanopy, Pluto, Vudu
   Rent- Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, YouTube

Horror 365 Movie(s) 233: 5 Movies That Did Not Age Well

It’s easy to look back at the past and criticize or ridicule things people believed, how they thought, or the ways they acted. Cuz people are stupid. I have to wonder what we believe that someone somewhere will look back on in 500 or so years and say “Can you believe they really thought that??” Like, “They lived all that time in a simulation and never knew it! Can you imagine??”

In some cases, it can be beneficial to remind oneself of these things, especially in cases of language use, symbolism, etc. On the other hand, some things from the past just didn’t age well and expose some at best unfortunate, at worst flat out harmful attitudes and assumptions.

This can be especially true in horror. Since horror is already dealing with extremes, any sociopolitical, psychological, and/or sexual stereotypes just get magnified. So here are 5 Movies That Did NOT Age Well (along with, obviously, some spoilers).

#5 Cannibal Holocaust

At first I wasn’t gonna dignify this overrated, overhyped piece of barely coherent shit on this list at all (or almost any list anywhere on this blog if I can help it). I hate this movie for a lot of reasons, and to say it didn’t age well might mistakenly implied that it once had its place and may have been a good example of something. This would be an unwise assumption.

Saying this movie didn’t age well in this case means it just went from already bad to that much worse. First was all the publicity over Deodato and his “missing” cast–a cheap trick that would, like a dead whale, break the surface again with The Blair Witch Project. But even worse is the exploitative animal cruelty. It was unacceptable 41 years ago and unforgivable now. Plus, at least for me, when much to-do is made about a movie being banned in this place and that place, it seldom lives up to its own sensationalism.

#4 Mondo Cane

Like the previous entry, this just doesn’t live up to its own hype. A great deal of it comes off as condescending, mean-spirited, and exploitative. The stuff that was considered shocking then could only be shocking today for someone who hasn’t been on the internet ever. Dog eating, drunk people behaving badly, Hawaiian tourism, the making of foie gras, running of the bulls–a mere sample of the tame, uninteresting crap you could now find for yourself (along with far worse) all over just regular YouTube and without even touching The Dark Web.

#3 Arsenic And Old Lace

On one level, Arsenic And Old Lace is one of my favorite horror comedies. Two elderly aunties poison lonely old me and bury them in the basement. What’s not to love? Well, a number of things. First off, I’m not a big fan of Frank Capra. His portrayals of women are unfortunate, and this movie is no exception.

From the first scene it’s established that a woman’s main goal is to land her a man for the purpose of gettin’ hitched. When it comes to his new wife, Mortimer (Cary Grant) is dismissive and condescending. Finally mental illness is both feared (Mortimer is relieved to find out he’s adopted and won’t “inherit” the family insanity) and reduced to a caricature, kind of an endearing personality quirk.

   SKULLS- 8

#2 Dressed To Kill

David Denby called this “the first great American movie of the 80s.” Oops. I mean, it was good in its day, but it wasn’t that good. Anyway, the killer is a man who wants to be a woman. Specifically, Bobbi is a woman trapped in a man’s body. They want their therapist, Dr. Elliott, to sign the papers permitting Bobbi’s sex reassignment surgery, but Herr Doktor refuses.

That’s because Dr. Elliott and Bobbi are the same person. Naturally, when a woman arouses Dr. Elliott, Bobbi kills her. So if you’re trans, there must be something wrong with you is part of the message here, plus the fact that the “unstable” side of Dr. Elliott’s personality is the stereotypically hysterical (another unfortunate term) female side.

   SKULLS- 9

#1 Sleepaway Camp

It pains me, truly, to include this movie because I do still genuinely love it. That said, if you’re wasting your time reading this blog, well on one hand, kisses/hugs. On the other, you’re probably aware of The Big Reveal at the end of Sleepaway Camp. Almost everyone even remotely associated with the horror community knows by now. It’s wwwaaayyy over the top as well as straight up life-scarring. Ultimately, though, it’s also transphobic as all get-out. See, Peter, Angela, and their father were involved in a boating accident that killed Peter and Dad.

Except it didn’t. It killed Angela.

Peter ends up in the custody of Aunt Martha (another quirky  “crazy auntie”). Since there’s already a boy in the house, Martha’s own son Ricky, Martha decides that it makes perfect sense to raise Peter as a girl, specifically as Angela, his dead sister. Like ya do. Actually when put that way, it almost sounds like a Greek Tragedy. Through the lens of the present, however, the whole thing becomes a fucking mine field in terms of both sexuality and mental illness.

   SKULLS- 13

Okay–seems I had a lot to get off my chest there. What movies do you still watch that don’t stand up well under the test to time? Let me know in the Comments.