Psychological

Gossip (2000)

 

Just a short review today because I have been super busy moving house (and I’ve got a cold).

 

gossip

Whilst not technically a traditional horror film, Gossip has nevertheless earned its place on this blog for not only the subject matter (rape) but because of the worrying fact that it could happen in real life. Gossip tells the story of how a rumour can quickly gain a life of its own and the disastrous consequences it could have.

Three college students, Derrick, Cathy and Travis played by James Marsden (X-Men), Lena Heady (Cersei  Lannister in Game of Thrones) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) respectively decide to make up and trace the track of a rumour for their final psychology project.  When Derrick oversees Beau (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) pressurising his girlfriend Naomi (Kate Hudson, The Skeleton Key) into having sex at a party before Naomi passes out and Beau leaves her to sleep it off, the three have the perfect situation to test their theory about gossip. Before long the rumour takes a dark turn and mutates into Beau raping Naomi which he (obviously) denies. The film soon spirals down a dark path with both Beau’s and Naomi’s lives ruined by the rumour as he gets arrested and she has a nervous breakdown. However more interesting than the unfortunate plight of the two lovers is the effect that this rumour has on the trio that began it all of who react in very different ways revealing their true character.

The film has a very interesting and stylistic aesthetic, based in New York everything is dark with no soft corners. What I find most telling is the couch in Derrick’s loft which he shares with Cathy and Travis. The couch is painted (presumably by Travis who has the tortured artist thing down to a tee) with a portrait of the three friends but only Derrick has a mouth, the other two just have blurred regions and it was ultimately Derrick’s idea and it is by his lead that the three let the rumour continue to the dramatic end.

Don’t watch Gossip if you are looking for out-and-out scare fest or gore but if you are in the mood for a thought provoking and slick film then Gossip is right for you.

Rating: 4/5

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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the final in Dario Argento’s Animal trilogy, the previous two being The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails. The film is named after the four flies imprinted in the retina of one of the victims. The film follows Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) a drummer in a rock band who, after being stalked by mysterious stranger accidently stabs and kills the man. Whilst this isn’t bad enough, the act is captured on camera by a second (masked) stranger. It soon becomes obvious that the masked man doesn’t want to take the incriminating photos to the police, rather torture and blackmail Roberto and his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer).

Roberto cannot turn to the police (after committing murder) and instead confides in God (short for Godfrey) played by Bud Spencer, a hermit-like figure who lives in a shack by the river with a parrot called Jerkoff and an eccentric  layabout referred to as ‘The Professor’ played by Oreste Lionello. On the recommendation of God, Roberto hires a private investigator, Gianni Arrosio (Jean Pierre Marielle) who has never yet solved a case. Unfortunately for Arrosio this case breaks his unlucky streak but the killer catches up with him before he can tell anyone. The film climaxes in Roberto confronting the killer after waiting for the killer in his darkened house, this scene is possibly the first instance of high-speed camera equipment being used to follow the trajectory of a bullet.

Everything in the film is used to increase the tension. There are long sequences where a camera follows a single character in silence, spinning and panning around them, disorientating the viewer. The film is full of disappearing crowds where one minute normal life is going on only to be deserted the next second creating an isolated and ominous feeling. Unlike many films when filming at night there is no extra ‘movie’ ambience light, leaving the viewer straining to see what is going on. In contrast to the dark night scenes are Roberto’s dream sequences which fill the screen with white light which gradually fades to reveal an execution.

Despite taking itself seriously there are a number of slightly bizarre scenes and touches, the aforementioned Jerkoff and a meeting between God, the Professor and Roberto in a funeral convention featuring a lot of very odd looking coffins. The lightness of these scenes serve to keep the film from becoming too bogged down.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a fine example of the Giallo genre, an Italian genre of suspense thriller/horror films from the 1960s and 70s. Despite the far-fetched science that lends the film its name, it is a blemish in a believable (if very 70s) film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the very end. I would recommend this film to anyone and it has encouraged me to watch/re-watch more of both Argento’s films and films in the Giallo genre.

The Sender (1982)

the sender pic

The film starts dramatically with an unsuccessful suicide attempt on a public beach. The young man who tried to drown himself has no memories, including his name and he is assigned the name John Doe #83, played by Zeljko Ivanek (Argo, Hannibal). The story centres around Dr Gail Farmer (and her large 80’s perm), played by Kathryn Harrold (Desperate Housewives, Raw Deal) who treats John Doe at a state mental institution. Dr Farmer starts to notice strange things occurring in relation with the new patient, including a bathroom scene in which blood starts pouring out the taps and mirrors and a bedroom full of rats.

I did not massively enjoy this film, finding it in many ways predictable with limited (if any real) scares. It relies on many horror film favourites, including the creepy old man C.O.M, a troubled mother-child relationship and a ‘twist’ at the end (that I predicted half an hour into the film). It does however call into question the way mental illness was treated in the 1980s, for example the use of electroshock therapy as a cure for severe depression. Dr Farmer and Dr Denman (Paul Freeman), Dr Farmer’s boss, have a conversation about the treatment (Dr Farmer against, Dr Denman for) in which Dr Denman states that no patient has ever reported any pain to which Dr Farmer counters with not that they remember. When John Doe undergoes the treatment, all the staff in the room administering the electroshock therapy are lifted off the floor and electrocuted, experiencing the pain that it causes, showing how it feels and why it is no longer used.

The C.O.M in The Sender is in fact a creepy old woman, played by Shirley Knight (who goes on to star in Desperate Housewives alongside Kathryn Harrold). The C.O.M is in fact John Doe’s mother who, as well as knowing more than anyone else has the annoying habit of unexpectedly disappearing (and appearing) without a trace.

The acting in the film is very well done, with Ivanek’s John Doe convincingly confused and child-like and Harrold’s portrayal of Dr. Farmer as a substitute mother figure is first class. The Sender is directed by Roger Christian, who also directed Battlefield Earth which is regarded as the worst film ever made, winning Worst Director, Worst Picture, Worst Picture for the Decade and Worst ‘Drama’  of our first 25 years (and 5 others) at the Golden Raspberry Awards. Whilst The Sender does not reach these dizzying heights of badness, it does not encourage me to watch more films by Christian.

Maybe it is because it is not what I expected that I did not enjoy this film. When I read the description of this film I was expecting an evil demonic man who controls the people surrounding him into making them commit horrific acts. However, the ‘villain’, John Doe, is a misunderstood, frightened young man whose fears are projected onto the people around him. I would classify this film as a horror film in only the broadest sense, rather I think it is better thought of as a psychological thriller.