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I knew nothing at all about "Black Swan" before watching it, other than glancing that it was a Best Picture Nominee in 2010 - one of only a handful of horror films to be nominated for Best Picture (*) - that was good enough to attract my attention. To be honest, although I knew the name Natalie Portman very well, I don't think I'd ever seen her before - she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in "Black Swan," and it seemed reasonable that she was at least nominated (although this is certainly not one of the most memorable performances I've seen). One problem for the viewer in this film is that there are several divas at work here, and they all look a lot alike - yes, even a 39-year-old Winona Ryder. I understand that ballerinas are largely cut from the same mold, but it would have been nice to help the viewer visually - maybe with an actress of color? For example, I'm *still* not quite sure to whom, early in the film, Nina mistakenly said, "Congratulations," thinking that she (Nina) had lost the part to this other ballerina - Nina was wrong, of course, and the other ballerina furiously came back and dressed her down. Was that Lily? (Mila Kunis?) I don't *think* it was, but I wasn't familiar enough with the characters to be sure - whomever it was, it was *extremely* out of character for Nina not to have hunted her down and apologized profusely, which she never did. I've never seen "Swan Lake," so I was pleased to get a little synopsis of the plot. That said, I suspect there are ballet aficionados out there who loathe this film, for various reasons - refer to "Shine" and piano, which I detest with every fiber of my being. Writing this a day later, I'm already forgetting aspects of this film - I suspect that a year from now, I'll remember almost nothing about it, which may say more about me than the movie. Still, this was not an unforgettable motion picture experience. I wish I had a vote for the Academy Awards - it wouldn't change much (one vote never does), but it would at least be a fair, intelligent vote that isn't wasted. (*) It should be noted that, of the six "horror" films to be nominated for Best Picture, only three are pure horror films: "The Exorcist," "The Sixth Sense," and "Get Out." The other three, "Jaws," "Silence of the Lambs," and "Black Swan" are either thrillers, or (in the case of "Black Swan") psychological dramas.
I cannot believe it! I saw "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" when it was released in theaters in 1986 - right at the beginning of my "art-house theater period," when I was going to great lengths to expose myself to culture other than Del Taco. Or perhaps it was in 1990 after the rating changed (see below). By chance, I happened to look up Merle Dixon - one of the primary characters on "The Walking Dead" - and saw that his name was Michael Rooker. I didn't recognize the name, and like I usually do, I looked him up on Wikipedia, only to have my *jaw drop* when I saw that he was *Henry*! I couldn't (and still can't) believe it! I saw *Merle Dixon* thirty years ago in an art film! You just have no idea how shocked I am to find this out (I just found it out twenty minutes ago, and immediately rented the movie on Amazon). Warning: I remember "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" as one of the more violent, disturbing pictures I have ever seen, so even though it's an "art film," it's a no-holds-barred, well, it's a no-holds-barred portrait of a serial killer, so if you're disturbed by films such as "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover," you might want to stay away from this. This film was originally rated "X" for its sheer brutality, but that got changed to NC-17 when that rating was implemented in 1990, so ... fair warning. It was shot in less than one month with a budget of $110,000, and is widely (though not universally) critically acclaimed. Most importantly, it is *not* a slasher film despite its brutality. I just started the movie, and I can't believe I'm watching Merle Dixon at age 30! Damn! One of the first things I recall is that I remember "Henry" as being a somewhat diminutive man; whereas "Merle" is a large, imposing figure - in reality, Michael Rooker is 5'10", which will probably come as a surprise to viewers of The Walking Dead: They portray him very well as a bigger man (and someone who you would not want to mess with). About halfway into the movie now, and I'm having a bit of trouble separating Henry from Merle, but Michael Rooker is an *excellent* Henry. Unlike so many other films dealing with this type of subject, there's no offsetting humor, no laughs (not even dark laughs), no letup of the grungy lives being portrayed, no remorse or complexity of character (other than the obvious: Henry was most likely severely abused as a child, but the way he tells it, we're not entirely certain because his story has holes in it) - this film is just straightforward "portrayal," and it's because of that, that it seems so bone-chillingly real. These are people that, under no circumstances, would you want to try and "reform" or "help"; you'd just want to stay as far the hell away from them as you possibly could. Henry just "introduced" his prison friend Otis (Tom Towles) to murder, and from what I remember, Otis is going to begin enjoying it very shortly, There is seemingly a hint of honor in Henry sticking up for Otis's sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), when Otis crosses the line in the way he touches her - Becky (who has just left an abusive husband) is quite taken by Henry, as the two have child abuse in common, and Henry, in turn, seems to be somewhat moved by Becky's fondness for him - so we're dealing with 99.5% evil; not quite 100% evil ... at least not yet. On the other hand, Otis is revealed to be a sociopath perhaps even more depraved than Henry (I know that sounds impossible, but it's true) - whereas Henry's "illness" is deeply ingrained in his soul, that of Otis is closer to the surface, and more obviously hedonistic and perverse - he is the type of person society needs to have eliminated at all costs (they both are, but Otis's newfound fetish is even more repulsive than Henry's psyche). I didn't exactly remember the ending, but close enough. This is one intense movie. This is considered a "psychological horror" film, and the psychology behind it lies in the fact that, while you're watching it in the confines of your living room, there are people out there - maybe right outside your house - just like Henry and Otis, who are going to commit another random murder that evening. Wherever you are in an urban area, there's probably a murderer within two miles of you - if that isn't terrifying, nothing is.
*** SPOILER ALERT *** (Please do not read this if you're planning on watching the film for the first time.) I haven't seen "Rosemary's Baby" in decades - the only thing I remembered about it was that it starred Mia Farrow giving birth to the devil's spawn, and now that I'm prompted, that it was directed by Roman Polanski. The year that I've recently concentrated on was (coincidentally) Roger Ebert's first year as a critic, 1967, and Rosemary's Baby is from 1968, making it right after what I consider to be one of the most significant years for Hollywood. Incidentally, I've read Ebert more posthumously than I did when he was alive, and although I don't always agree with him, I consider him to be one of the greatest critics in any field that I've ever read. My father used to *love* "Siskel & Ebert & the Movies" - "This is the best show on television," I remember him joyfully telling me, repeatedly - as my father became older and more feeble, he rented 2-3 movies a day, every day, for several years - besides my mom, movies were my father's great love when he got older, and he saw more of them than anyone I've ever known. As a second tangent, I remember very well Mad Magazine's movie satire, "Rosemia's Boo-boo" - not the details (I was only 7); just the fact that it existed - the cover is pretty funny: One amazing thing is that Rosemary's Baby only came out five years before "The Exorcist" - it seems like a *lot* longer to me. There are several movies I distinctly remember my parents making a big deal out of going to see: The Exorcist was one, and "The Godfather" was another, both being around the same time. I was "treated" to seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" when it came out the same year as Rosemary's Baby - I didn't appreciate it at all, but I remember the usher selling pamphlets, walking around the theater before the film started, hawking, "2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001: A Space Odyssey - Get the official brochure for 2001: A Space Odyssey" - it's funny what kids remember, and what they don't, because that had - by far - the greatest impact on me. I don't remember another time when I've seen an usher hawking brochures in a theater before a movie like that, but my memory doesn't mean much. I love the subtlety of John Cassavetes in this film, although much of that was probably due to the screenplay of Polanski - he changed from being a completely human cynic, to an agent of the devil, and the viewer is unable to pinpoint exactly when this change happened - although in retrospect, it happened early on. Right when Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) reaches her breaking point about the quack, Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), and the pain she's been in for an extended period of time, the pain instantly goes away - that's a brilliant ploy on the part of the Devil. This isn't the first film to juxtapose raw evil with a child (I can think of "The Bad Seed," and also "The Twilight Zone" episode, "It's a Good Life," both of which used pre-adolescents, but neither of which used a fetus or neonate) - so this might be one of the first-ever movies to impose Satanism on a pregnant woman, certainly running parallel (and opposite) to the Virgin Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus. I just now this afternoon had a piano lesson, and I mentioned to my teacher that I naturally think polyphonically, so the very second I heard "The name is an anagram," I was sure I knew what it meant: The "tanas" root would redirect as "Satan." - but, of course, I was wrong, as the root is spelled "tannis"; the real meaning of that cryptic instruction is much more clever. Rosemary also taught me a new word: "covens." Man, I hate to say this, but when Rosemary has sequestered herself in her apartment - attempting to flee her creep-o husband, Guy, and Dr. Sapirstein - when she's on the phone, and the two sneak by her in the background, they look *exactly* like something out of Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks." Now try and see that scene - supposedly fraught with tension - without laughing your ass off (the movie is free with a Hulu membership, and the scene takes place with 20:30 remaining in the film). Goodness, I'm at the part with the Asian gentleman with the camera. Ugh. I actually *still* don't know what's going to happen, although it has already been revealed who the baby's real father is; we just haven't seen "little Adrian" yet. Wow, I just finished the film: *Very* well-done ending. I was fearing that they'd show the baby, and that would have ruined everything - you can't show pure evil, but you can imagine it. I also thought Rosemary might have been carrying a second knife, and was going to kill the baby (without showing him), which would have been a brute-force outcome; as it turns out, maternal bond(age) wins out in the end - no matter what. In 2014, the Library of Congress selected Rosemary's Baby for preservation in the National Film Registry; I suspect if Rosemary had killed the baby at the end - which I believe would happen had it been filmed for today's audiences - the film would not be such a classic.
"The Babadook" has received near-universal acclaim. While I grant that it's scary as hell, I'm also going to venture into the heretical by saying that it's overrated (being "overrated" doesn't mean it's not a terrific film; it just means it's overrated). That said, the two principal actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, are fantastic - just about perfect in their roles - and writer-director Jennifer Kent is surely a name to remember going forward. A fusion of "Rosemary's Baby," "The Sixth Sense," "The Exorcist," "Halloween," "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," "The Shining," "The Thing," and "Poltergeist," my primary beef with The Babadook is that it's a "best of" melange from all (no, really: ALL) of those films, without any truly original ideas - it's this reason, plus the ending (which simply doesn't work for me), that make me say critics are being too hasty in doling out their unchecked praise. When you finish watching it, go back over my list of films here, and think about how it was influenced by each and every one of them in terms of thematics (instead of "Poltergeist," to take one example, I could have listed any of twenty haunted-house movies, but there's at least one "trait" from each of these films that is strongly represented in "The Babadook" - it's like a highlight reel of horror). If you like a good, intelligent scare (but don't enjoy body horror or gratuitous violence, because this has relatively little of those), "The Babadook" is a good choice for you - I found it on Netflix, and it's apparently elsewhere as well. And definitely don't let my "overrated" comment mislead you - I absolutely recommend this film. William Friedkin, director of "The Exorcist," wrote, "I've never seen a more terrifying film than 'The Babadook.'" "The Babadook" on rottentomatoes.com "'The Babadook': The Scariest Movie of 2014 is Now on Netflix" by Olivia Armstrong on decider.com "On "The Babadook," "It Follows," and the New Age of Unbeatable Horror" by Noel Murray on avclub.com