Friday, October 18, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Time for the Reckoning

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A supernatural carpenter, purity, cannibals, and a stalker.


The Carpenter is a film that most people probably haven't heard of, or if they heard of it they don't remember it very well. But it's a movie that has lingered in my mind for thirty years. I remember renting it when I was a young kid, when it reached VHS in 1988 or '89. It took me until 2019 to have a second viewing of The Carpenter, but even though I wasn't watching it during those decades, I would still think about it occasionally, remembering that I had once watched a pretty cool movie starring Wings Hauser as a homicidal carpenter.

Directed by David Wellington from a screenplay by Doug Taylor, The Carpenter stars Lynne Adams as Alice Jarett, a woman with a dull, cheating husband named Martin (Pierre Lenoir). After Alice suffers a nervous breakdown, everyone agrees that moving into an isolated house in the countryside will be therapeutic for her. This house needs a lot of work, though, so there are construction workers making home improvements all day every day. And then there's this carpenter who only seems to work at night... Enter Wings Hauser as the titular character, a supernatural being who is sweet to Alice but violent to anyone else who crosses his path.

The carpenter scores his first kill less than 30 minutes into the movie, sawing a man's arms off right in front of Alice. She has no reaction, and not just because the guy probably would have raped her if the carpenter had stepped in. She witnesses this murder with a completely blank expression, then goes to bed at the carpenter's suggestion. She clearly still has some severe mental issues.

The more Alice is drawn to the carpenter, the more people he kills, using a variety of tools to increase his body count. Alice loves the work he's doing on the house, but tells him "You really should do something about that temper of yours" when she catches him mutilating a corpse with a drill.

I shouldn't have let thirty years go by between viewings of The Carpenter, but now that I have finally gotten around to rewatching it I found that I still agree with my first impression of it. It's a good movie, entertaining and strange. 


The creative duo of Paul Davis and Paul Fischer got the first season of the Hulu / Blumhouse series Into the Dark started with their Halloween horror tale The Body, and they helped wrap up the season by crafting the story for the season finale with director Hannah Macpherson. This season of Into the Dark consisted of twelve feature films released to the Hulu streaming service on a monthly basis, each one having something to do with a holiday or otherwise notable day in the month of its release. Macpherson's Pure was released in September, and the story was inspired by a holiday you don't hear about very often: Daughters Day.

Pure is all about the relationship between fathers and their daughters... and unfortunately, since this is a horror story, the relationships in this film are quite twisted. The setting is a camp run by Pastor Seth (Scott Porter), a man who also has a gun holstered on his hip and a Christian who mixes a Jewish legend into his sermons. He tells his congregation the legend of Lilith, the first woman, who was cast into Hell and replaced by Eve because she cheated on Adam with an angel. Pastor Seth uses this story to help convince the fathers in flock that they have to be mindful of their daughters' purity; they don't want their daughters to end up like Lilith because of sexual desires. Fathers and daughters gather together at Pastor Seth's camp to take part in a "purity ball", where the girls will pledge their dedication to their fathers' wishes and sign a contract promising to remain virgins until their wedding night.

That's super creepy. These dads are way too preoccupied with the thought of their daughters' sex lives, and that in itself makes for an unsettling horror movie. But then Macpherson and her collaborators bring a supernatural element into the picture as well.

The girls at the center of the story are Shay (Jahkara J. Smith) and Jo (McKaley Miller), teen girls who have just discovered that they're sisters - it seems Jo's father Kyle (Jim Klock) cheated on Jo's mother when Jo was just an infant, and that affair resulted in the birth of Shay. Shay has only known Kyle for a couple months, as he has taken her in after the death of her mother, and she's going along with this purity ball and religion stuff so she can bond with him. Jo, on the other hand, is a rebellious one, and she's fascinated with the story of Lilith. Every year she performs a ritual attempting to summon Lilith as a way to entertain herself while she's at Pastor Seth's. But this time it actually works. Lilith's vengeful spirit is summoned to the camp. And the fact that the ritual worked seems to have something to do with the presence of Shay.

Pure takes Into the Dark season 1 out on a great note. It's a clever and satirical film that gave me flashbacks to my childhood, as I got my education through Christian schools - where I was told things like watching horror movies makes people more susceptible to demonic possession. So I'm familiar with situations and mindsets like the ones at Pastor Seth's camp. Macpherson tells the story well, and it all builds up to a climax that reminded me a bit of Carrie. It's not as awesome as Carrie, but it was satisfying in its own way.

I'm really glad that Hulu and Blumhouse have gone forward with a second season of Into the Dark, because I had a lot of fun with this first one.

The following reviews originally appeared on

DARLIN' (2019)

Pollyanna McIntosh first played a feral cannibal known only as "The Woman" in Andrew van den Houten's 2009 film Offspring, an adaptation of a novel written by Jack Ketchum. The film was underwhelming, but McIntosh delivered such an impressive performance in the role that the wise decision was made during production that The Woman needed to return for a sequel. Directed by Lucky McKee, who wrote the screenplay (and an accompanying novel) with Ketchum, that follow-up was titled The Woman, and was such a messed-up, disturbing movie that the gut-munching title character turned out to be the hero by the end of it. Eight years later, The Woman is back in Darlin', which was written and directed by McIntosh herself, and I find it to be very cool that she chose to bring this character back for her feature writing and directing debut.

Unlike Offspring and The Woman, Ketchum was not involved with the crafting of the story for Darlin', this was purely a McIntosh original, although Ketchum did give the project his blessing and was able to visit the set before he passed away in January of 2018. Having read his cannibal series, it does seem unlikely to me that The Woman would ever do what she does at the beginning of this film, which is seek the help of the civilized world by bringing the title character to a hospital, especially when she doesn't seem to have a life-threatening ailment. But the set-up does open the door for Darlin' to be a different sort of movie than The Woman, as that was a different sort of movie than Offspring, so at least this franchise isn't just "cannibals attack the civilized folk" over and over.

Viewers who have seen The Woman may remember that Darlin' was the name of a little girl The Woman brought into her lifestyle at the end of that film, along with a couple other characters. Now a teenager, Darlin' is played by Lauryn Canny, and while the movie will address exactly why she was brought to the hospital and what happened to the other survivors of The Woman, it's going to make you wonder for a while. Those answers don't come until more than an hour into Darlin's 101 minutes.

Up to that point, we follow Darlin' as the hospital hands her over to St. Philomena's Group Home for Girls, where Sister Jennifer (Nora-Jane Noone), who grew up in the home herself, works with the feral girl in an effort to get her to start speaking. Best known to genre fans for her role in The Descent, Noone made her screen debut in the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which dug into the horrific experiences women had at the Catholic-run Magdalene asylums, so it's interesting that McIntosh cast her in another film that deals with the dark side of the church.

Sister Jennifer isn't an antagonistic character, but the Bishop (Bryan Batt) who runs Philomena's certainly is, and obviously is from the moment we meet him. His primary goal with Darlin' is to make a show of this "feral child converted by God's love" so Philomena's won't lose its funding. He'll even go so far as to play up how feral she is, like telling Sister Jennifer to put some dirt on the girl for a video he's shooting. And yeah, it's no surprise that this guy also molests the girls who are in his care. Batt very effectively makes the Bishop thoroughly unlikeable even before we're shown how much of a scumbag he really is.

As the title indicates, Darlin' is much more focused on Darlin' than it is on The Woman, and Canny does some incredible work as the character. Darlin' evolves over the course of the film, going from being a wild child who can only growl and thrash to re-learning how to speak and becoming a sweet innocent we can sympathize with. She makes friends, finds religion, and begins to believe that the devil is literally inside her, while the Bishop takes advantage of her naivety. By the end we've come to care for Darlin' and hope this situation will turn out well for her.

And just like in The Woman, we start rooting for The Woman to give characters some violent, gory comeuppance. There's an unexpected, incongruous humor to The Woman's side of the story here. She obviously expected Darlin' to be released from the hospital rather quickly, and when she finds that the girl is gone she goes searching for her - a search that includes a car ride, during which The Woman sticks her head out the window and enjoys the wind like a dog. More goofiness enters the picture when The Woman befriends a group of off-kilter homeless women.

In the time between The Woman and Darlin', McIntosh played a character on several episodes of The Walking Dead. She cast some of her Walking Dead co-stars in this film, most notably Cooper Andrews as Tony, a nurse who starts to care for Darlin' even before the audience does. Andrews plays one of my favorite characters on The Walking Dead, and he makes Tony a very endearing guy, too.

McIntosh cast her film exceptionally well, and the cast's performances make Darlin' interesting to watch even when the story isn't exactly enthralling. The pace of the film is odd and meandering, and it isn't always clear what exactly the point of some of the scenes are. There is an aspect of social commentary to it, but in the end it feels kind of empty, like it all could have simply been a set-up for the sight gag of Holy Communion, the offering to consume the "body of Christ", turning into an opportunity for a cannibal to have a snack.

The cast does their best with the material, but can't get Darlin' higher than just being a decent, middle-of-the-road movie. It's a step up from Offspring, but not on the level of The Woman, and there's not a whole lot to recommend about it, other than the fact that it gives you the chance to see some good actors at work.

Now someone needs to get around to making an adaptation of the first novel in Ketchum's cannibal series, Off Season. In the right hands, an Off Season movie could be awesome.

BLIND (2019)

Director Marcel Walz's Blind is a film that has a lot going for it, starting off with the fact that it stars genre regular Sarah French and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 icon Caroline Williams. French takes the lead as Faye, an actress whose career was going strong until she was blinded by a botched Lasik surgery. Faye has now left her acting dreams behind her and is still trying to put the pieces of her new life together, and French does a fantastic job of conveying the character's emotions as she struggles to deal with all of this.

Williams provides capable support as Faye's friend Sophia, a woman who has been blind since birth and is part of the support group Faye has joined. Sophia is a fun character who spends most of her screen time trying to arrange a hook-up between Faye and their pal Luke, a mute man who is only able to communicate with them through an app on his phone. Luke is played by Tyler Gallant, another actor who does fine work in the film. Since his character can't speak, all of Gallant's acting is done through eye movements and facial expressions, and that's all he needs to get across that Luke is a genuine, good guy. We start to care about him and root for Sophia to be successful in turning Faye and Luke into a couple.

It was unexpected that the romantic drama side of this horror thriller was the most effective aspect of it, but that's how it turned out.

Horror comes into the picture through the presence of a mysterious masked man who hangs out in a lair that's lit with colorful string lights and sometimes dances with a doll while imagining that his dance partner is Faye. We know about this creep within the first 5 minutes of the movie, and Walz frequently cuts away from Faye's story to see what he's up to. Eventually he leaves his lair to stalk Faye and start killing the people around her... and as the situation got more and more horrific, I found that the movie gradually fell apart.

Walz managed to capture an appealing, captivating dream-like tone for Blind, aided by the fact that both Faye and her stalker have active imaginations, and enhanced by Thomas Rist's cinematography. The killer's lair isn't the only colorful location; when night falls at Faye's the image becomes saturated in a blue-green light that's pleasing to look at while also giving scenes a feeling that they're occurring just outside of our reality.

I was on board with this movie for most of its running time, even when it started fumbling and falling short of potential. I was with it right up until it went off the rails in the final seconds. What could have been described as a stylish, dreamy slasher I now have to describe as a frustrating viewing experience because the ending is so unsatisfying and comes with a "what the hell?" visual that isn't explained and probably never will be.

Scripted by author Joe Knetter, Blind is great at the set-up, great at letting us get to know and care about the characters, and then doesn't deliver enough of a payoff. It has an ending that might have worked for a short, but when the viewer has sat through 83 minutes of something we need more than what Blind has to offer to make it worthwhile. This movie was so good for so much of it, it's a shame it ended in a way that left me disappointed.

Blind is worth checking out, but be prepared to come up with your own answers and ending.

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