Kitschily scaring up our bathroom since last weekend. ‘Tis the season…
I’m so happy.
“But Anne,” you’re already saying, “Requiem for a Dream is a drama.” Trust me, that doesn’t make it any less frightening.
Watcher beware! If you can get beyond the fact that this movie is about four people destroying their lives through various addictions- but surviving- it also contains two instances of onscreen vomit, one instance of a needle entering an open wound, ECT, increasingly frequent and increasingly gross CUs on a track mark, strangely sexualized forcefeeding, and at least one use of the N word from a white man. You can see about half of these coming a mile away; the other half occur during montages in which we cut quickly between each character.
With two exceptions, every sexual relationship in RfaD is heterosexual and monoracial. The two exceptions are presented as desperate, disgusting, and horrific. Thematically, it comes with a large dollop of the virginity myth. You’ve been warned.
I believe novelist Hubert Selby Jr’s initial goal with Requiem for a Dream was to write about people we already know. Harry, our younger-20s protagonist, is working his way up in the world, bolstered by his best friend Tyrone and his designer girlfriend Marian. Harry’s mother Sarah, an empty nester, finds herself getting increasingly hooked on a health-based talk show. You could easily have gone to school with the younger squad- I know I did- and Sarah is very much your average “retired” stay-at-home mom. Darren Aronofsky, for his part, put together an incredible live cast to match the written characters, pulling out both Jared Leto’s and Marlon Wayans’ best performances to date.
Requiem for a Dream is a painfully believable story. You not only know everyone by sight, you sympathize with them from the beginning. Their thought processes are understandable even as they cross lines ours wouldn’t. Of course an older woman struggling with weight loss might start a miracle pill regimen, which might begin to wear off. Of course an up-and-coming fashion designer would do anything to raise cash for her first storefront, and obviously her boyfriend would be campaigning right beside her. Of course young people struggling for dosh turn to monetizing their interests first; sometimes they’re interested in heroin. So it goes.
In four story arcs and three seasons, we watch Sarah, Harry, Marian, and Tyrone pursue their dreams with chemical interference, sometimes for better, mostly for worse. Everyone makes it out alive… somewhat. Body parts, mental health, safety and integrity fall to the wayside as we watch them grow increasingly dependent on their substances of choice, positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’ll help them grow and improve as individuals. It’s terrifying- not in the “boo” sense but in the “oh God I need my partner NOW” sense. Ultimately, it’s a fairly existential discourse in how to gauge your self-worth. I humbly recommend not to do it like this.
Requiem for a Dream has been included on Ghoul’s Errand for high sequences that lean heavily on experimental possession horror. Voices distort, cams go shaky, stereo sound indicates that something we can’t yet see is heading right towards us. Among the credited employees is a “refrigerator puppeteer”, and there’s a related song that I’m pretty sure is used as background music in hell. When the high scenes aren’t scary, they’re realistic even for the relatively sober; I’ve downed enough Benadryl to recognize when and why peoples’ speech would suddenly go wonky. It’s a home-hitting, sophisticated scare- certainly not for everyone but worth a look if your mental health permits.
Watcher Beware! The Sixth Sense is how I discovered the term emetophobia: fear of vomit. Unfortunately, a minor character’s plot thread depends on her illness, and she jump-scare appears puking the first time we see her. She’s the third “visitor” to the Sears’ apartment, and the hints that she’s coming are pretty clear. This movie also contains implicit child abuse and a brief image of self-harm. It does not pass the Bechdel Test, and the only Black character with a speaking part (in a movie set in Philadelphia… come on, now) is given a brief but painful “soul sister” monologue.
I imagine there’s only about two of you out there who either have not seen The Sixth Sense or have not had the ending spoiled for you anyway. (I was in elementary school when it was released, and even the kids who hadn’t seen it were spouting “I see dead people” as attempted referential “humor”.) Thus, this is more of a musing than a straight review. I rewatched The Sixth Sense for about the fifth time last night, and I must say it holds up well, considering that it’s two parts TV14 post-divorce schmaltz to one part abject terror.
Back when I was too young for the R rating, I routinely named The Sixth Sense as my favorite horror movie- and back in 1999, it was marketed as the scariest ride in theaters, a Four Loko that would sour with age rather than the young wine it turned out to be. Having since substantially expanded my repertoire, it retains an honored spot in my top ten for two reasons:
1. My childhood bedroom had French doors in place of one full wall. The night my parents rented The Sixth Sense was particularly windy. The Ghost Behind The Door scene shook me up pretty badly anyway… but then, rather than being able to sleep, I was treated to more door banging all night long. I was terrified. I loved it.
2. If you ask five people who the scariest or most unnerving ghost in this movie is, you’ll get five different answers. My aunt picks the housewife suicide victim, an old friend the gun accident child. Being emetophobic, Mischa Barton always took first place for me, followed closely by Behind The Door Guy. But the ghosts get notably less scary and more tragic with each watch. I’m no longer too frightened of any of them- I’m not positive that you’re meant to be- but the hanged mixed race family makes my heart hurt the most.
This is the first viewing in which I really noticed Toni Collette, straight-playing Lynn Sear, a mother who unabashedly loves her kid. (It would be another decade before Collette had her own; I’m very impressed that she pulled off a performance this strong without experience in the field.) Noticing that Cole is down while they’re shopping, she “races” the cart until he laughs. They share an ongoing game of describing their ideal days rather than the ones they’ve had. She talks in her sleep, threatening the people she thinks are hurting Cole (see what I mean about schmaltz?). The effect on Haley Joel Osment’s performance speaks for itself- Cole Sear is an unbearably considerate child, in a constant state of agony but as aware of his blessings as his curse. Unable to communicate with Dr. Crowe at all, Lynn’s vivacity erases any doubt he has of abuse at her hands.
I recommend The Sixth Sense if you’re one of those two people who haven’t seen it: it’s literally the only good M. Night Shyamalan movie. Nearly twenty years later, it has depreciated only in tonal expectations, but it may be better to consume it now, lest the wine become vinegar after all.
Reader Beware! This book is forty years old and has age-related troublesome language. “Cr*pple” is used openly, and poor Harry Earles is almost exclusively referred to with the m slur in front of his name. Several movies of the era used yellowface, particularly for antagonists; this is mentioned, occasionally with black and white photos, but neither praised nor condemned.
I wanted to like The Horror People, I really did. Moments of it alternate between fascinating (most of the people featured in it actually consider themselves fantasy auteurs) and screamingly funny (Christopher Lee received a badly translated fan letter exulting him as a “terrible” actor) but I kept finding myself taking larger and larger grains of salt. For every Horror Person featured, there are three equally important ones left out. At first I thought that was due to its age (1976) and author John Brosnan’s points of reference (he’s Australian, writing from London) but, lo and behold- there’s a directory at the end acknowledging the bigger names that were deliberately skipped over. Thus Lon Chaney gets possibly the best chapter in the book, and Peter Lorre merely gets a substantial footnote. Polanski and Romero have the same treatment; our old friend Ed Wood gets a single line in a chapter divided between Lugosi and Karloff. Hitchcock doesn’t appear at all.
Given that many of these actor/director/producer/screenwriters are now late, I do find The Horror People worthy as a time capsule piece. Christopher Lee’s earlier, enthusiastic interviews are readily found; Brosnan presents him in his fifties swearing up and down that he’ll never do Dracula again (and Karloff openly doubting him). Reading Robert Bloch speak in the present tense is deeply interesting, and his dedicated passage is entirely too brief. Elsa Lanchester is the only actress who gets a passing nod, receiving about as much attention as the actors’ wives, praised by them as asides while they describe their careers. The story of Hope Lugosi, Bela fangirl turned Bela’s wife, gets a more intricate passage.
The Horror People sits behind a facade, presenting itself as an omnibus when it’s closer to a “for Dummies” title. I learned several factoids and some deeper information about people I greatly respect; my appetite is enhanced but nowhere near satisfied. I recommend it as a beginner’s book, but maybe don’t drop $10 on it like I did.
Watcher Beware! Ed Wood has a handful of uses of “f-g” and related slurs, and an uncomfortable spoken description of a transwoman.
Edward D. Wood Jr. is a stand up guy. He doesn’t take no for an answer, quickly learns from his romantic mistakes, and does his very best to help his friends in need. He’s admirably comfortable in his own skin. He’s driven by his dreams and an expert at making do with what he has. He is also the creator of some of the worst films ever made- but he’s sure the next one will do better.
In a nutshell, that’s Ed Wood, arguably the best existing vehicle for both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. In a single word: it’s fun. Ed and company’s production romps look like nothing so much as teen filmmakers with their first camera and scripts they think will change the world. They’re not entirely wrong.
A low level production assistant in 1950s Hollywood, Ed overhears some coworkers discussing a producer buying the rights to a transwoman’s biopic. Ed tracks down the producer and presents himself earnestly as the perfect director- he is, he cheerfully confides, a closeted transvestite. Convinced the role was made for him, and vice versa, Ed writes, stars in, and records Glen or Glenda in record time, without permits, and mostly in single “perfect” takes. In the process, he ends his engagement (she was unaware that the closet existed) and strikes up a legendary friendship with an aged Bela Lugosi.
From there, Ed Wood follows his career through Plan 9 From Outer Space, capturing highs and lows and the ever-growing ragtag production company (including Bill Murray, Jeffrey Jones, and Lisa Marie as Vampira). Pacing is excellent with several in-jokes- consider the colorblind cameraman in a black and white movie- and intelligent use of set pieces.
Ed is extremely likeable if painfully misguided; it’s a difficult story to watch, and requires some suspended disbelief to truly enjoy. If you’re willing to hold your breath and your judgment, it’s a very worthy ride.