Pan’s Labyrinth is known for being the best-reviewed movie of the 2000s, which sets it apart from the rest of the more low key famous films we’ve covered about this month. It’s director, Guillermo del Toro, is also well-celebrated on this blog and everywhere except in Hollywood executive offices. My point is that I don’t have a lot to add at this point, especially in comparison to other insightful critics who actually made the time to watch this film more than once. So instead I’ll share one of those, check it out after the jump.
Yes, that’s right. Another Cronenberg movie. Though I suppose Dead Ringers is a natural conclusion to the string of films directed by David Cronenberg that we’ve reviewed. Because even though I already professed to being far from an expert on the director’s work, from what I can tell, this is about the point where Cronenberg started to stray from the horror genre entirely. And at this point, it’s probably safe to say that he doesn’t seem intent on returning to the genre he made his name on any time soon. Continue reading
A lot of the times, both in the movies and in life, you find that the scariest things out there aren’t bogeymen or Frankensteins or guys dressed in masks, but just normal dudes. The Vanishing explores this idea – the idea of an ordinary guy with a heart of darkness lurking underneath, and how that darkness can manifest in disturbingly inhumane ways. It also explores how one reacts to a moment in time that seems fleeting at the time, but will come to haunt you for years to come. But most of all, its defined by its peculiar structure, and the way it’s used to wring tension out of a very real kind of horror. Continue reading
I remember the first time I watched Videodrome. I was excited about the prospect of seeing a film so crazy. Not unlike sleazy cable programmer Max Renn (James Woods) and his excitement for the latest lurid TV show. Then I actually watched the film and I was bored and confused. Now I’ve watched it again and was less bored but just as confused and didn’t realize this film was kind of misogynistic too, but damn if I don’t love watching James Woods pull a gun out of his stomach.
One of the more potent topics in all of movies, and one in which I’m guessing the argument is pretty slanted in one direction is “is it ok to kill a dog in a movie?” The obvious answer is almost always “no”, because why on Earth would someone want to watch a dog die onscreen? They’re one of the most unabashedly affectionate creatures on Earth, even if some of them seem to misplace their ragged-eared enthusiasm in the form of ripped up newspapers and traumatized mailmen half the time. White Dog, however, aims to point the argument in the other direction, even as hard a task as that may be. Because, yes, dogs are great. But they also tend to reflect their masters, so what do you do when a dog becomes the walking embodiment of man’s worst instincts?
Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is a homeless man barely keeping himself alive. He sneaks around a mall food court, stealing scraps from abandoned trays. When he takes a seat to eat his pitiful meal, he overhears a woman call him disgusting. In that instant, his attention shifts to her and she collapses in terrible pain. Cameron runs, sparing the woman’s life, but he’s pursued by trenchcoated goons. Just when it looks like he’s about to escape, he’s tranquilized. He is awakened by a scientist called Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who explains to Cameron that he is a “scanner” a psychic with the powers of telepathy and telekinesis!
I remember someone, I think it was Roger Ebert, patron saint of Mildly Pleased, discussing once the idea of star ratings. Specifically, this person was explaining that when critics rate a film, they rate it based solely on its potential. If The Accidental Tourist gets four stars and School of Rock gets four stars, it does not mean they are equally good, but they are both as good as Ebert could have imagined them being. I bring this up because Dressed to Kill is stylish and pulpy, and watching it was easier than Straw Dogs and certainly not an equivalent torment to Salò. But I would never recommend this movie to anyone.
Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a sexually frustrated housewife who uses fantasies to get through being so romantically bored with her husband. One day, after discussing her situation with her therapist (Michael Caine), Kate goes to a museum and starts playing a game of cat and mouse, chasing and being chased by a man there. They leave together and she awakens that night satisfied and goes to leave a note, only to find out that the man had VD and never told her. Horrified, she hurries out of the building, only to remember at the last second that she left her wedding ring. So Kate gets back in the elevator and a blonde woman appears and slices her to death with a straight razor.
This start is the first of many obvious homages director Brian De Palma makes to Hitchcock’s Psycho (Hitch himself called it a “fromage”), to the point where it may be better to call Dressed to Kill a remake. After the murderer escapes, the story shifts its focus to the only witness: a prostitute named Liz (Nancy Allen). Liz picked up the murder weapon, so even though the detective in charge (Hill Street Blues/NYPD Blue detective guy Dennis Franz) doesn’t think she did it, he still says he’ll arrest her in a few days if they can’t find another lead. Bizarrely, she ends up teaming up with Kate’s genius son (Keith Gordon) to solve the case.
It ends up being the case that the blonde woman is actually the therapist played by Michael Caine. The way Dressed to Kill explains it, being trans meant that she had both genders living inside of her, and her male side would not allow her to undergo a gender reassignment operation. So when she becomes aroused, her female side takes over and she murders the object of her attraction. That’s why she killed Kate, because her talking about being bored and horny turned her on too much.
A lot of movies, maybe especially in the horror genre, punch down. People of color, the sexually promiscuous, the mentally ill, the awkward, and the weird are all common victims of the monsters that dominate this type of story. And I’m aware that, as a Psycho homage, Dressed to Kill was probably going this way. However, that character in Psycho is presented as a multiple personality, the fact that one is female doesn’t matter. Moreso, I worry movies like this, whether they intended to be transphobic or not, are dangerously normalizing of bigoted attitudes. This character probably wasn’t meant to stand in for all trans people, but that’s hardly an excuse for purposefully misunderstanding and misrepresenting. Plus, this movie isn’t particularly great to women or people of color either. In this case, Criterion, I think Dressed to Kill should have stayed in the dresser.