The Babadook Review

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 (Contains Spoilers)

‘If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of… The Babadook’.

Grief is one of the most powerful experiences a human can go through. It can manifest itself in a myriad of different ways. It could for example lead to you to resent and dislike your own child, to see the ghost of your dead husband and relive his death over and over again, to subconsciously invent a demonic figure that represents all your pent up feelings, to unknowingly draw a picture book in which you are depicted as murdering your dog and child, to possibly actually murder your dog and child. These are all possible interpretations of what happens in The Babadook, an Australian horror film released last year that was written and directed by Jennifer Kent. Or maybe The Bababook is a real supernatural entity and the whole thing is a more cerebral version of a million ‘family in peril’ haunted house films (a sub-genre that truly recently bottomed out with A Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia). Or maybe it’s both.

The number of explanations and analyses one can have over the events in The Babadook isn’t a criticism. Being spoon-fed every tiny detail and clue to mystery is boring, unentertaining and a little bit insulting. The Babadook is not boring, it entertained the hell of out me and it assumes its audience has an IQ higher than that of a turnip (Three counts which Ghosts of Georgia definitely failed at).

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The plot centres on single Mum Amelia (Essie Davis), who tragically lost her husband in a car crash while he was driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son. Seven years later, and she hasn’t even begun to come to terms with it. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a handful and ‘different’ to other children. He is obsessed with and terrified by monsters and yet one day a book appears in his room called The Babadook. It’s as if Tim Burton designed a Ladybird book and it is chilling. Once the book has been read, Mr Babadook starts infiltrating Amelia and Samuel’s lives in a fashion that is very unsettling (and isn’t a series of pointless jump scares for 90 minutes. Yeah, it’s possible. Who knew?). Amelia dismisses Samuel’s sightings of The Babadook as overactive imagination, until strange things start happening to her as well. The book reappears from the bin with some new chapters, which now contains graphic pop ups of Amelia murdering Samuel and their dog, Bugsy. She burns it and attempts to get help from the police, but to no avail. Her sister doesn’t want to know as Samuel pushed her daughter out of a tree house (well deserved push though, she was a right little brat). Alone in the house with Samuel, the presence of the Babadook gets more and more pronounced until Amelia, now ‘possessed’ by the creature kills the dog and attacks Samuel. Borrowing from the Nightmare on Elm Street school of trapping bogeyman, the plucky lad has rigged up a series of assaults for his Mum/Babadook. He ties her up and convinces her that she can fight the demon inside her. Having expelled the Babadook mother and son retire to bed. But the creature will not give up that easily. When he attempts to take Samuel Amelia’s mothering instinct finally kicks into gear and she defeats the monster. Only to keep it in the basement and feed it worms while her and Samuel finally have a happy life together where he gets a birthday party and is amazing at magic and she finally moves on from the death of her husband. Fin.

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That is a very linear, mainstream account of the film, and one that makes it sound like the Babadook is a lot more prominent of a character than he actually is. And no, the explanation that the Babadook is a manifestation of Amelia’s grief and resentment towards her son and was never really ‘there’ anyway is so un-taxing that you don’t even need to be able to spell ‘psychology’ to work it out. The film has more layers than that. And most of them belong to Essie Davis who is fantastic in her portrayal of Amelia. She really does deserve all the plaudits that are being thrown her way for this role. It’s a shame horror films are never recognised by film award ceremonies as she would sweep the lot in my opinion. Her Amelia is terrifying, both as a fragile, struggling woman who has been enveloped in her grief for several years, and as a ‘possessed’ monster intent on killing her son. I put ‘possessed’ in inverted commas as it is too simplistic a term for what happens to this character. If she is possessed by anything it is not by the Babadook itself, but by severe mental breakdown accumulated over the last several years.  Noah Wiseman, who plays Samuel, faces the challenge all child actors must in a horror film. Namely to not be so annoying that you spent most of film’s running time wanting to punch them in the face. And he succeeds, in a very believable performance. In fact, even when he was being annoying, it works as it helps hammer home how trying and frustrating raising this ‘different’ child must be for Amelia. The film is shot beautifully, with lots of muted colours and dark, shadowy corners – Amelia and Samuel’s home, the place where they should feel most secure, reflects their own states of mind, and is not a welcoming or safe environment for either of them. The Babadook himself, although we rarely see him, put me in mind of Noel Fielding going to a fancy dress party dressed as Papa Lazarou as drawn by Tove Jannson. That sounds silly, but he is anything but, and I actually really like the design for the creature. The alternate viewpoint, that The Babadook was a real monster and was really terrifying the small family, until it’s eventual defeat and then incarceration in the basement is a valid theory. But I think it’s just not as interesting and isn’t giving Jennifer Kent enough credit for the very scary and very real world that she has created. That’s why I like the idea of both theories being true. A monster who prays on an emotionally unstable person and exploits her mental anguish in order to do her and her son harm. Whichever interpretation you decide to go with, The Babadook remains a genuinely scary and incredibly well made film and is highly recommended. Definitely one to watch when home alone, with all the lights off…But if you hear knocking don’t let him in.

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5 Semi Obscure 1980’s Slasher Films That Are Worth Checking Out

While slasher films may have their roots in the 1970s with such fare as Bay of Blood, Black Christmas, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Halloween, the sub-genre was at its prolific height in the 1980s. If you ask most folk about slasher films from that era most of the responses will focus on the two titans of terror that are Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees and Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Kruger. And possibly the terror of mediocrity that was some of the sequels to these original gems ( Personal Rant Sidebar Alert: while Halloween 3 – Season of the Witch as managed to become somewhat of a cult classic, despite the lack of Michael Myers, the same will never be said of Friday the 13th Part 5 – A New Beginning.). But what about other teenagers in peril films that the decade came up with? Don’t they deserve their time in the sun as well? Here are, in no particular order, 5 Semi Obscure Slasher films that I think are worth anyone’s time checking out… (Spoilers ahead, even though these films are all 30 plus years old internet etiquette doth demand it!)

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5) April Fool’s Day

April Fool’s Day (1986), directed by Fred Walton is a film that seems to divide viewers straight down the middle into ‘Loved It’ or ‘Hated It’ camps. Essentially a retelling of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians but with hot American teenagers it tells of the tale of a group of friends going to a remote island for an end of college celebration but one by one they fall victim to an invisible killer. Or do they? Well, no actually. In this case the clue really is in the title of the film. No one dies. The killings were set up by their host Muffy (Deborah Foreman) as a test run for a Murder Mystery night she wants to set up. Many horror fans were angered by the ending, branding it a cheat (which doesn’t do wonders for the reputation of horror fans as blood thirsty ghouls who just want to see maiming and tits). However, I think if it weren’t for this angle the film would not be remembered at all. In the original ending of the film a real killer did show up pick the characters off. This ending wouldn’t be nearly so effective in my opinion. The acting is decent, it features genre favourites Amy Steel (Ginny from Friday the 13 Part 2) and Thomas S Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future films) and while it may not have many scares, the script is punchy and pacey, the characters are for the most part likeable and it holds up to multiple viewings, long after you know ‘the twist’. In fact, if you do feel ‘cheated’ after watching this film you can blame the marketing department as it was sold to audiences in such a way to piggy back off the success of other ‘holiday’ based horror films of the time such as Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Graduation Day, Happy Birthday to Me, Silent Night Deadly Night and so on. If it doesn’t work as a by the book slice and dice slasher that’s because it isn’t one really. If looked as a dark comedy/mystery/slasher it actually works on all of these levels. Whether it is a ‘pure’ slasher’ is something that can be debated on internet message boards until the cows come home, and it will be, because this is the internet after all! It’s inclusion on this list is somewhat of a wild card, but I feel it’s earned it place. It did something different and unexpected with a genre that was starting to feel a bit stale by the mid-1980s, so I definitely give it points for that.

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4) Sleepaway Camp

Sometimes known as ‘Nightmare Vacation’ in the UK, Sleepaway Camp (1983) also has a surprise ending. I won’t spoil this one, because it’s one you really have to experience for yourself. Angela Baker (Felissa Rose), an incredibly shy and awkward girl who lost her parents at a young age, is sent to summer camp with her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Once there, a series of brutal killings terrorize the camp. Sounds very standard slasher doesn’t it? But suspenseful direction from Robert Hiltzik and some inventive kills (the nastiest of which has to be death by curling iron in a place a curling iron has absolutely no business being) rise above standard. Felissa Rose is very effective as the painfully quiet Angela, you really feel for her as the other campers make her life hell. This is one of the those slashers were the unlikeable characters get it bad (I admit the term ‘unlikable’ is fairly tame when one of the characters in question in a paedophile chef) The occasional lacklustre acting from the rest of the cast is more than made up for with Angela’s unhinged Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould), who seems to have wandered in from a John Waters film by mistake. This is a film, like April Fool’s Day in fact, that you really need to introduce someone who hasn’t seen it so you can watch their reaction to the ending. Whether you find it creepy as all hell or slightly laughable, it will stay with you. There are a number of sequels to Sleepaway Camp, which stray into more macabre comedy territory (the first two certainly) which are also worth checking out, but I remain loyal to the original on this one. Creepy, creative and with plenty of nasty bits to make you squirm, (if curling iron death doesn’t do it for you, there’s also scalding water and bees. Not at the same time, I hasten to add), Sleepaway Camp is definitely high on the list of best slashers of the 1980s for me.
P.S – Worth a watch for the hilarious 1980s fashion on display alone. If the film doesn’t appeal you can always play ‘count the bulge’ given the number of tiny shorts and crop tops on display, all worn by men. And you are very welcome for that tip, Ladies.

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3) The Funhouse

Directed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper, The Funhouse is a grim little affair. And I mean that as a compliment. A group of teenagers go to a travelling carnival and decide it would be japes to spend the night in the Funhouse. It is not a spoiler to say that they are wrong about this impulsive decision. They are attacked and killed by the Funhouse operator’s son, a mentally deficient, deformed man child who wears a Frankenstein mask and isn’t a sort of rip off of Jason Voorhees at all. (Ahem). This kind of works for the film though, as it has many references to other horror films. Psycho and Halloween are both referenced in the first five minutes. The special effects makeup is courtesy of the maestro Rick Baker (best known for his jaw dropping and still totally amazing to this day work on An American Werewolf in London) and hold up very well. When you see the villain unmasked it truly is a dreadful sight, if slightly reminiscent of Sloth from The Goonies. The quartet of idiots, sorry, intrepid heroes who venture into The Funhouse are just about likeable enough that you don’t want them to meet the business end of horrible, gruesome death. The acting is a little shaky, but very passable by slasher standards. The setting of a carnival is a great place for a horror film, with all the flashing lights, whirling rides and weird sideshow characters adding a surreal atmosphere to proceedings. Like Jason Voorhees the villain has a certain amount of sympathy to him, an unfortunate freak of nature who has been laughed at and abused all his life. While this is nowhere near the league of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper ‘s direction builds up a decent amount of tension, using the eeriness and darkness inside the closed Funhouse in contrast to the bright nights and noise outside it to great effect. He very capably brings The Funhouse to life (and then various deaths).

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2) Mutilator

I have discussed this film at length in another post I made but I still think this is one is overlooked so am adding it to this list. The Mutilator (1985) is a rarity in the slasher cannon in that the killer is known from the beginning of the film. It centres on a group of college kid spending their Fall Break (is that even a thing? It’s even the alternate title for the film) at the beach house of one of their fathers. Unfortunately, said one accidentally killed his Mother years before on his Father’s birthday and now Dad has gone, for want of a better term, utterly deranged. (As in, runs people over with his speedboat and then keeps a framed picture of his victim in his house, that sort of deranged). He then proceeds to pick them off one by one. This is actually, quite a fun little film. While not by any means a classic, it seems odd that this film is relegated to obscurity while many other films from the period are held in much higher regard. The characters are actually not complete dickheads down to a man. This is a group of people you could actually believe were friends. In modern horror films, the group of delectable young things are usually such utter bastards, mostly to each other, and you just could not conceive of these people being mates. Or even having any friends at all. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was devastated beyond all belief when any of them died, I wasn’t actively cheering the villain on. The effects are pretty good, and I believe this film had some of the gorier scenes cut before release, which is a shame. Not because I’m a gore hound, but because you would expect a high level of blood and guts from such a film, and I think this time it would have added to the film. There is a lack of suspense that you would inevitably feel when the killer is known from the very beginning, there’s no mystery there, so the film makers need to use other tactics to hold the audience’s collective interest, which it does with a fast pace, likable characters and inventive kills (special mention going to the notorious ‘fish hook’ scene. Both genders will cross their legs protectively with that one) Jack Chatman, who plays the insane dad, gives a good performance just the right side of full blown ham, and he stalks the screen menacingly enough. The script, while slightly clunky, is decent, as is the directing by Buddy Cooper.
P.S – It also has a weirdly catchy theme song, called (what else?) ‘Fall Break’ The song is great in that 1980s tragic way, like someone heard Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ and tried to meld it with some Bruce Springsteen. I make that sound awesome actually; the song is not as good as that.

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1)The Burning

The Burning (1981) is perhaps best known as being the first film produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, and for the early appearances of future stars Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander. Or for being caught up in the Video Nasty debacle of the early 1980s. Or maybe some people just know it as Friday the 13th rip off with no merits. Well, it definitely has merits, and as much as it follows the well-worn path of slashers before it, it does come up with a couple of new ideas of its own. Based on an urban legend that originated in New Jersey, The Burning tells the tale of an unpopular summer camp caretaker who is brutally burned when a prank played on him by some campers go awry. Five years later, the caretaker, Cropsy, returns to get revenge on the campers. Although not on the kids who accidentally set him on fire. Or at the camp where it actually happened. But I think we can assume an angry crispy fried dude wielding garden shears probably isn’t of sound mind. One of major aces in The Burning’s hand is Tom Savini, who turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 to work on the special effects for this film. Savini’s work is universally loved by horror fans, and for good reason, he clearly adores what he does and he does it incredibly well. His effects (for the most part) always stand the test of time, and if they haven’t there’s still something very charming about the hokey ‘spotting the strings’ way they were executed, and…I can feel myself about to dive head first into a rant about practical effects vs CGI so I shall shift back to talking about The Burning. Unlike other slashers that get straight into the killing The Burning is more of a slow burner (pun intended!) After the initial act of violence against the unfortunate Cropsy there are no kills until about the 40 minute mark, which is unusual for such a film. This means until then the film has to rely on character development and tension build up as Cropsy stalks the campground. Except for the usual smattering of unlikeable, bullying cretins that populate these films the characters are a likeable and well executed bunch (way nicer than the crew of little Hitlers that went to Sleepaway Camp), especially Jason Alexander’s Dave and Brian Matthew’s Todd. Once the gore does start flowing it is really flows, especially during the infamous raft scene. Also interesting is the fact that the climatic duel at the end is with two boys against the villain, instead of the unusual ‘Final Girl’ trope. I find this quite refreshing; as it lends a different dynamic to the end of the film and helps it start out against other slashers of the era. And hey, if The Burning hadn’t been made and kick-started Miramax, we never would have had such cinematic classics as She’s All That and Highlander: End Game. So, er, thanks for that The Burning.

Abominable Anthologies: Trilogy of Terror (1975) Review

And now for something a smidge different. This is the first of series of posts I am going to write about the myriad of horror anthologies that are out there. These bite sized tales of terror, often stand alone fables bookended by a framing narrative structure, have been scaring audiences since far back as 1919 (Eerie Tales, directed by Richard Oswald is often credited with being the first). They enjoyed a brief burst of popularity in the 1960s, with the release of Black Sabbath (1963), Dr Terrors Night of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), among others. In 1982 George A Romero and Stephen King bought us the incredibly fun Creepshow, which has become the touchstone of the sub-genre for all modern releases of such films. The first film I am going to look at falls in the middle, having been made in 1975. Let’s dive in then, to the Trilogy of Terror (Spoilers To Follow)

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Trilogy of Terror is an anthology of three unconnected tales of terror all starring the sadly recently departed Karen Black, with the also sadly departed Richard Matheson on screenwriting duty. It is slightly unusual in that is a TV movie, as opposed to a cinematic release. Not many of these achieve any sort of fame or have people even remembering them the week after they were aired, but Trilogy of Terror is different. As decent as the other two stories are, its place in the cinematic world is all thanks to one tiny, but horrifically memorable, little fellow (anyone who has seen the film will have no doubt who I am referring to). But his story comes later. First, there’s a woman I’d like you to meet by the name of Julie.

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Julie Eldrich is a shy, bookish teacher. She prefers to stay in and work and has no interest in dating. ‘You could be attractive’ her lovely supportive friend tells her. I’ll point out now that Karen Black is stunningly pretty and has merely been given the classic uglyfication objects of glasses, an up do, and long skirts to showcase her apparent lack of attractiveness. These holy affects of hideousness do not put off student Chad (Robert Burton) however. He thinks he’s glimpsed something there, and makes it his mission to bed the teacher, despite the misgivings of his friend Eddie (James Storm). Chad pursues Julie in a way that can only be described as ‘enthusiastically rapey’, and eventually she agrees to go to see a movie with him, for which he wears possibly the world’s nattiest outfit. Things get a lot more rapey very quickly when Chad spikes Julie’s drink, takes her to a motel (checking them in under Mr and Mrs Jonathan Harker, in a not so subtle Dracula reference), and photographs the unconscious Julie in a variety of provocative poses. Then Chad removes his jacket and it is inferred that he gets actually rapey and I want a rabid dog to take a massive chunk out of his balls.

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Chad continues down this path of me wanting all the plagues to rain down upon him, and his testicles, by blackmailing Julie with the photographs he took, claiming he would say that she seduced him and therefore ruin her reputation and life. She agrees to go along with his twisted desires. Which seems to include turning her into his personal sex slave and pimping her out to his friends. Did I mention I really don’t like this crotchfruit? His comeuppance cannot come soon enough.

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My blood lust does not have long to wait, as Julie reveals her true colours. It was her who masterminded the whole thing. She planted the idea of sexually pursuing her in his mind, and manipulated him into it. “Did you really think that dull little mind of yours could possibly have conceived any of the rather dramatic experiences we’ve shared? Why do you think you suddenly had the overwhelming desire to see what I looked like under ‘all those clothes?’ Don’t feel bad… I always get bored after a while.” she coldly states, as she dispassionately watches Chad in his death throes, having poisoned his drink. She drags his dead body into the darkroom and sets fire to incriminating photographs. Later, she is back in Demure Julie mode and mourning Chad’s death. Once alone, however, she cuts out the article regarding the death in the newspaper  and adds it to a scrapbook containing clippings of reports of young men who also suffered at her hands. As she does so there is a knock at the door. Behind it a young male student in need of tutoring. “I’m sure we’re going to be great friends”, says Julie pleasantly, inviting him in.

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I actually didn’t see the twist coming, and I thought it was well played. The transformation of Demure Julie to Murderer Julie is ably portrayed by Karen Black, although she almost comes close to scenery chewing when Murderer Julie fully comes to the fore. The method with which she manipulated Chad is a bit vague. There doesn’t seem to be any supernatural element to it, although Julie’s surname is Eldrich, which is close to ‘Eldritch’ (an old word for ‘strange’ or ‘uncanny’), a word associated with witchcraft. While some think that Julie merely used high levels of manipulation, and had the talent to subconsciously  implant thoughts in the boy’s mind, while others have theorised that Julie was a witch, and that was how she invaded her victims minds. Speaking of victims. How much of a victim was Julie in her dealings with Chad? It is implied he committed some terrible acts on her, but was she colluding on it the whole time? What about when he possibly raped her when she was unconscious? She apparently just implanted the idea of seducing her with her mind. Could she possibly of foreseen what he was going to do? Chad being the victim at the end flips the situation on head somewhat, but I couldn’t feel much sympathy for him, unless Julie totally brainwashed him and made him do all the things he did, he was still a reprehensible person. Well directed and tightly written, it is an engaging first story in the trilogy.

Millicent and Therese

On the day of her fathers funeral, Millicent writes in her diary about her sister Therese. Therese is involved in Satanism, drugs and sexual deviancy and drove their father to his death. A friend visits the house and Millicent pours out her heart to him. Therese is evil. She seduced their father when she was 16 and had an incestuous relationship with him for years, before killing their mother. The friend is unconvinced, until Millicent tells him that she knows about the unsavoury things that he and Therese did together. When he leaves Millicent phones her doctor and begs him to help her, saying that Therese is out of control. While Millicent is brunette, prudish and up tight, Therese is a seductive and confident blonde. When Dr Ramsey (George Gaynes) comes to the house Therese is there alone. She laughs off the doctor’s concerns and makes him leave.

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Millicent, driven to despair, resolves to take care of Therese permanently, by using a voodoo doll that her sister used in her devil worship. She gathers all the things she needs to complete the ritual; hair, nail clippings and the like. She rings Dr Ramsey and tells him that Therese won’t be a problem any more, despite the Doctor’s frantic protestations. When the Doctor gets to the house he finds Therese’s dead body, with the voodoo doll lying next to her. When the ambulance arrives he asks to see the body before it is taken away. He rubs off the red lipstick and removes the blonde wig to reveal Millicent. Millicent Therese Larimore suffered from the most advanced form of multiple personality disorder he had ever encountered. Millicent created Therese in order to cope with the fact that she had slept with her father. So the ‘murder’ of her sister was actually a suicide.

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Or was it? Dr Ramsey states that the cause of death is ‘unknown’. So there is the chance there was some sort of supernatural element involved, and the wee voodoo doll does look pretty menacing. This story was weaker than the first, with the twist being glaringly obvious in the first couple of minutes. Karen Black tries her best with the dual roles but over sells the Therese role, doing better in the part of Millicent, making her brittleness seem both believable and unnerving, albeit in a Whatever Happened To Baby Jane type way. The dialogue is pure fromage in places, and the whole segment is very soapy and chock full of camp, but is none the less entertaining for it. The lazy twist just ruins it somewhat.

Amelia

Amelia is a young woman who has recently moved out of her overbearing mother’s house and into her own apartment (well, subletting it anyway) in an attempt to be more independent. Its Friday night and she has a date with her new boyfriend for his birthday. She’s bought him a gift, which is lovely and thoughtful isn’t it folks? It’s in a box, so she opens it up and takes the gift out to admire it, I bet she got him something really nice, and…HOLY FUCK WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?? It’s only what is probably the scariest doll ever conceived from a human brain. Well, technically it’s a Zuni warrior fetish, all sharp teeth, evil little eyes and grotesque face, he is a mean looking bastard. He’s clutching a spear and has a good chain wrapped around him that keeps the Zuni hunter’s spirit trapped inside the fetish. Should the chain break…well, he’s called ‘He Who Kills’, so what do you think would happen? Amelia seems to think the thing’s adorable. She rings her mother to cancel their regular Friday night plans so she can go on her date. He mother proceeds to give Amelia what can only be described as a contender for the biggest guilt trip of all time. From what we can hear from Amelia’s side of the conversation, she sounds like an utter, controlling nightmare. Disheartened, Amelia  goes to get ready for her date. As she leaves the room the gold chain falls off the fetish.

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After preparing her dinner and putting it in the oven she returns to the living room to find the doll gone (cue the entire audience looking fearfully under their chairs). Odd noises sound throughout the apartment as Amelia searches for the doll, but she finds only it’s spear, on which she cuts her finger. When she returns to the kitchen to clean up she notices the knife she used to cut her steak is missing. She is starting to get more and more disturbed and returns to the living room nervously. Suddenly the doll attacks her, viciously stabbing at her ankles in a bloody frenzy of violence and high-pitched tribal screams. Terrified, she tries to get away but it’s incredibly persistent and chases her around the apartment, attempting to stab her all the while. She manages to get to the bedroom and ring the police and in a massive clunker of a line of dialogue claims she doesn’t know where she lives. I suppose she could have been out of her mind with pure terror but when she was on her phone to her mother earlier she stated she’d been living in the apartment for 6 months so I’m just going to put that down to a badly written line. The fetish manages to get to the doorknob and gets into the room. Amelia flees to the bathroom, where she manages to trap the doll in a towel and then proceeds to try and drown it, to no avail (here’s a tip. It’s made of wood. Get something very heavy and smash the little fucker to pieces).

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The doll gives chase again. Amelia tries to leave the apartment but finds the doll has somehow bent the dead lock back, trapping her in the flat. She seeks refuge in a cupboard, where she manages to catch the thing in a suitcase. The creature still has it’s knife though, and is still very tenacious. It starts cutting into the suitcase to try to escape. Amelia retaliates with a bigger knife, but when she opens to suitcase to check it is dead, it leaps out at her, eventually cornering her in the kitchen. When it launches itself at her and bites into her neck she manages to grab it and hurl it into the oven, and keeps the door shut as the fetish goes up in flames. When it’s tortured little screams have faded, she slowly opens the oven door, only to be engulfed in black smoke… Amelia phones her mother again. She apologises for the earlier phone call and invites her to come over to the apartment for dinner. She then rips the lock off the door and crouches down in corner, clutching a knife. As she starts to stab the floor with the knife in a steady rhythm she smiles, revealing the terrible, jagged teeth of the Zuni fetish, whose spirit has taken over her body. It’s a chilling final shot.

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And thus a generation of childhood nightmares was born. What a nasty little sod that doll was. When I’ve read reviews of this film it is always this tale which a) people remember and enjoy the most, and b) shit up a load of folk who first saw this film when they were children, scaring them stupid. I actually wish I had seen this when I was little, as I can see how terrifying this doll would be to young eyes, as I was when I first saw Gremlins when I was about 7. If I’d seen this film when I was that age I would have been paralysed with fear, as nature intended. Having seen it for the first time as an adult, as long as finding it creepy and grotesque, I also kind of want one as a pet (what that says about me I don’t know!) In some ways the doll was more disturbing when it wasn’t moving. As when it’s animated, with it’s frenzied, relentless attacking, and high-pitched little battle screams, it has to walk the fine line between being scary and being silly. And for the most part it succeeds in being scary. Karen Black is at her best in this performance, throwing everything into it (and apparently she added her own ideas to the story, such as her character having the Zuni’s teeth at the end). The direction is tight and well done, and so much credit to the effects guys and cinematographer for making the fetish come to life and go mental without it looking like an obvious puppet. It is very well written by Richard Matheson (except for maybe the line about Amelia not knowing where she lives), and was adapted from one of his own short stories, called Prey. It is wholly down to this segment that the film is remembered as fondly as it is (or at all), for as well made as the first two are, they have nothing in them as memorable as the Zuni fetish, and it’s nasty little ways.

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Amelia is definitely the best segment in the film, with Julie being the second best and Millicent and Therese being the weakest of the three for me. Karen Black is impressive in all four of her roles, and the direction by Daniel Curtis is consistently good, keeping the stories zipping along at a rattling speed, whilst still finding time for some slow build up, such as the scene in Amelia as she tentatively moves around the apartment before she sees the fetish alive for the first time. The musical score veers slightly into over the top territory at times, and put me in mind of the music used in the Hammer films. Overall it is a very entertaining anthology, and the fact that it is was originally a failed TV pilot turned into a TV movie of the week makes it durability throughout the years an impressive feat, even if most of that is down to what must be the worst birthday present ever.

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(Apparently you can buy models of the Zuni fetish. I’m seriously considering adding one to my Christmas list!)