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All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

The Stepfather (1987), A Film directed by Joseph Ruben, starring Terry O’Quinn; Psychological Thriller Slash Slasher

Sometimes, ever so rarely, a movie will come along from a junk genre, like exploitation–I’m thinking Texas Chainsaw Massacre here or, possibly, Wolf Creek–or slasher–Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street–or Blaxploitation–Across 110st Street and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a movie that transcends it’s genre and wades into mainstream cinema. I have a soft spot for such films because they exceed the purpose of their existence, which is to make money at the expense of a less than discerning audience.

The Stepfather is one of these films and from the opening shot it represents. It’s like a basketball team that executes the pass, pass, PASS shoot! fundamentals to the extreme. (Those teams can be murder to play, by the way. You get run ragged, while they barely get winded.) The Stepfather takes you by surprise. It’s not supposed to be that good.

The opening credits flash in red block letters on a screen of black, as keyboards clang, jumping from minor chord to minor chord. A man, pretty much dripping with blood, cleans up in a bathroom sink. He washes the blood streaks from his face and then removes a fake beard. Then he steps into the shower. He’s naked. There’s a brief shot of tasteful, frontal nudity.

Then the camera hoovers and sweeps above a fall afternoon on an upper middle class street. The leaves of the trees are red and the homes are tidy; the music is cheerful yet, the day is gray.

A wholesome, high-school girl pedals her old-school ten-speed windingly, dreamingly down the street. She steers her bike into the driveway, disembarks and leans it against wide boards of a nice house. Then she skips around the corner of the house…

And her mother throws a bucket of leaves in her face. And they wrestle…

In the leaves.

The mother, Susan, (Shelly Hack) warns her daughter, Stephanie, (Jill Shoelen) to settle down when she is threatened with her own medicine–a bucket–literally teaming with leaves. She is only half kidding, you know, the way that mother’s do. She tells Stephanie she had better get cleaned up before Jerry gets home.

Stephanie recoils and makes a face. She clearly doesn’t like Jerry. She tells her mom she thinks he’s weird. Susan tells Stephanie to give Jerry a chance and glides toward the house. Stephanie dumps the bucket of leaves onto her own head. Just before Susan goes inside, Jerry turns the corner and it’s the guy in the mirror.

You know, the one with the blood streaks and the fake beard.

Yeah. Tasteful, frontal nudity guy. He’s not half bad, either. Nicely dressed. Nothing showy, just good quality casual wear. He’s got a decent haircut. Then he opens his mouth…

And Stephanie’s right. The guy’s weird.

Of course we know that already. Remember the blood streaks? The fake beard?…and I didn’t even mention the butchered family that Jerry literally steps over on his way out of their upper middle class home and his fake identity, when his name was Henry.

You see, Jerry–or whatever his name is–is a family annihilator, like that guy John List. You know that super wholesome guy that killed his whole family (and there were like six kids) in the affluent suburb of Westfield New Jersey?…yeah, that guy.

Jerry surprises Stephanie with a new puppy before he tells her to go wash up. She loves the puppy but doesn’t tell Jerry thank you. Her mother tells her to. She does, reluctantly, and then goes into the house.

Jerry tells Susan he hopes Stephanie doesn’t think he’s trying to buy her love.

That night, at the dinner table, we learn that Stephanie is having trouble at school, getting into fights, talking back to teachers that kind of thing. Jerry can’t believe that girls get into fights.

After dinner Stephanie holds up in her room with her new puppy. She’s pretty bummed. It’s only been a year since her dad died unexpectedly. That was bad enough. Now she’s gotta contend with a stepfather. Mr. Perfect. To make matters worse, he has taken over the house. Her dad’s house.

Plus, Mr. Perfect’s a real horn dog. She can hear him and her mother in the room next to her’s.

She puts on her headphones and wishes she was dead…

You get the gist. In the parlance of the 80s, The Stepfather is wicked. It’s smart and sophisticated too, in its own way. It doesn’t soak us in satire the way that American Psycho does; no, it rolls in the hay with it, and with us instead…and then it slams on the handcuffs and puts a knife to our throats, lest we forget that Jerry is a psychopath, a serial killer and that we are watching a slasher film.

Journeyman character actor Terry O’Quinn is astonishingly good as Jerry/Henry/ Bill. He threads eye of a fine needle, blending melodramatic villainy and Leave it to Beaver humor into the psychology of Father Knows Best gone guano crazy. Director Joseph Ruben, Dreamscape, Joy Ride, True Believer sticks with the slasher template, but cloaks it in respectability, with good acting, a smart script and beautiful photography (John W. Lindley).

Even so, something’s a little off. The blood’s a little too red…too watery. A raised eyebrow lingers a bit too long, the rouge in the cheek is a bit too rosy and we laugh. And we forget, just for a moment, what we’re watching and The Stepfather lets us have it…

With a two-by-four.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures, a Filmography by J.R. Jordan

I hate to be a kicker

I always long for peace

But the wheel that squeaks the loudest

Is the one that gets the grease

–Josh Billings (1870)

He struck an impressive chord with his designer frames, tailored button up shirts and v-necked sweaters; his slacks sharply creased, his shoes polished new. If he erred, he erred on the side of class. He was even tempered and sported a businessman hair cut.

Robert Wise grew up in small town, middle America. He grew up loving movies. But it was his older brother that made the foray to Hollywood where he landed a big-shot accounting job at RKO studios.

When the Wise family fell on hard times during the Great Depression, Robert quit college where he was studying journalism. He followed his brother to Hollywood and got a job at RKO sweeping floors, changing light bulbs and running errands.

With a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic, Wise caught the attention of the sound effects editor who hired him as his first assistant. From there he worked his way into film editing and became the studio’s premier editor editing two Orson Welles masterpieces, Citizen Kane, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Robert Wise’s first foray in the director’s chair was with The Curse of the Cat People (1944) where he replaced fired Gunther von Fritsch who was behind schedule. Fittingly, this is where J. R. Jordan’s meticulously researched book, Robert Wise The Motion pictures, kicks in.

Jordan goes behind the scenes and takes us into the machinations of the production. We learn that famed RKO horror producer and script writer Val Lewton was a notoriously cheap and demanding task master. Yet, Wise endured himself to Lewton with his artfully concise and understated style. The Curse of the Cat People earned Wise a directing contract with RKO.

Thus began the long and illustrious career of an artist who would rise from the low budget horror basement of RKO where he directed legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lougosi in the eerie adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher (1945) to the terrific, twisty film noir Born to Kill (1947) with Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney.

Wise fondly reminisced about RKO as well as Born to Kill’s clever script. “It was just fine working at RKO,” he said. “It was one of the smaller studios, but very good, and they got some good properties. It all depends on the property and that script. If you’ve got the right script and you cast it right, and you get enough time and money to make it, it’ll turn out…Born to Kill was a step up for me; better script, better picture, better cast…everything was considerably up.”

Robert Wise The motion pictures – pg. 56

Wise carried this humble understated quality with him to the greener and more prestigious pastures of Twentieth Century Fox where studio head Darryl F. Zanuck personally tapped him to direct The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) which would become one of the most acclaimed and influential science fiction films in cinematic history. J.R. Jordan takes the reader onto the iconic set and into the script with a superb interview with Billy Gray, best known as “Bud” on Father Know’s Best, who played Bobby in the film.

Gray tells of experiences working with Lock Martin, the 7 foot 7 giant (his height is disputed; Wise said he was 7 foot 1) who played the immensely powerful Gort. We learn that in life Martin was, sadly, anything but powerful. (Martin died, probably from Marfan syndrome, in 1959 at age 42.)

“He was a big guy but not a very vital person. Actually he was kind of frail. He could only be in the suit for about ten to fifteen minutes. If conditions ever became too hot, he would then request to be released from the suit. The crew had him on a watch list, so to speak, in order to prevent him from fainting and toppling over.”


Billy Gray pgs. 123-24

Robert Wise would famously go onto to win Oscars for Best Direction and Best Picture twice with the films West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). West Side story swept the Oscars with eleven nominations and ten wins, captivating critics and fans alike and The Sound of Music would become an American cultural touchstone, bonding generations of fans swept away by Wise’s inspired direction of panoramic spectacle, song, courage and fidelity earning a jaw dropping 2.5 billion dollars world wide when adjusted for inflation.

Perhaps the most astonishing and defining aspect of Wise’s career was his chameleon directorial style in which he produced critically and commercially successful films in every genre save animation. Paradoxically, this characteristic would be used against him by critics who insist that a directors trademark radiate from every frame.

Wise’s trademark–that of devotion to the script, allegiance to the characters and to the actors who portrayed them, along with a commitment to unembellished realism–binds his films together. His Oscar wins, particularly The Sound of Music, are the films that most define his career, yet, they are the least emblematic of his style.

Take the gritty noir boxing melodrama The Set-Up (1949) for example. Wise researched the subject by hanging out in the dressing rooms of a seedy boxing arena where he observed the mannerisms and rituals of its low rung fighters. He absorbed atmosphere of the arena, the grim pageantry of the fight, the sound of gloves hitting sweat soaked skin and social construct of the crowd, even casting famed crime photographer “Weegee” as the time keeper. Then he painstakingly duplicated his observations on screen in what is considered one of the most realistic depictions of boxing in all of cinema while provoking the best performance of character actor Robert Ryan’s career.

Nine years later, Wise took his commitment to realism leaps and bounds further when he attend an execution in California’s gas chamber while researching the script to I Want to Live! autobiographically based on convicted murderer Barbara Graham.

“There’s an outside section where the witnesses sit, and there’s an inside section where the warden and the doctor and the guys who do the acid are. I was inside with the doctor. I didn’t know if I could watch without getting sick. The prisoner was a young man who’d killed two women in Oakland and, like Barbara in her day, he’d run out of appeals.

Robert Wise – The Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1998

I Want to Live! (1958) earned Robert Wise an Academy Award nomination for Best Director and under his direction Susan Hayward won the award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the condemned party-girl. The final scenes of the on again off again execution as the lawyers lobby for Graham’s life while she, finally, bravely, resigned to her fate, makes her walk into the chamber only to be hurriedly removed and then brought back again, are agonizingly intense. Her final moments, right before and after the pellets are dropped, are even more so.

“After Barbara gets a whiff of the gas,” Wise says, “you presume she doesn’t feel anything anymore. A couple of times I cut to her hands twitching. But in actuality that twisting and fighting the straps goes on for seven or eight minutes. There are so many systems in the body it takes that long for them all to shut down. Terrible to watch. Terrible. After the young man died, I thought to myself, ‘What the hell good is this doing?’ ”

Robert Wise – The Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1998

And yet, for all his success, both commercial and critical, Robert Wise is often herald as the greatest director you’ve never heard of. J.R. Jordan’s compelling filmography, Robert Wise The Motion Pictures, aims to right that miscarriage of anonymity. A must read for the cinematically astute, it is a labor of love, consisting of forty chapters detailing the forty films of a master filmmaker, a humble and elegant artist who approached film-making as a team sport allowing integrity, subtlety and good taste to be his directorial signature.

Robert Wise The Motion Pictures is available for purchase at Amazon.

Liberty and Justice for All

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
African American Soldiers of the Union–Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Politics of Sadism and Covid-19

In general, I don’t enjoy talking about or writing about politics. I rarely discuss them with my friends and family because–shock, shock–I have friends and family with opposing views on the subject matter; views that differ from my own.

Is that selfish?

Yes, it most certainly is.

In fact, I’m so selfish that sometimes I refrain from talking politics with my husband even though our views are remarkably similar.

Why?

Because I don’t want to argue about it.

Those who know me would be surprised by that, as I am known to be an opinionated person. And opinionated people tend to be argumentative.

I could give some anecdotal examples of my argumentative tendencies and for the sake of good writing, I should–but, I’m too exhausted, disheartened and fed up with all the arguing, the divisiveness and the demonization of “the other” to be chatty.

This isn’t lighthearted stuff. It’s not funny.

And, yes, I’ve tip toed around this subject matter before on this blog. My series “How’d He Get This Way? (A Profile In Narcissism)” about a nameless despot/master of the universe type is a case in point.

But I’m through tiptoeing around.

So even though it goes against my grain and I’ll make enemies out of some who use to be friends, I’m going to share this. And even though I know sharing it probably won’t convince anyone, that it won’t change anybody’s mind and that my voice is small, still, I have to use it.

I have to speak out. Too many people are dying.

Dr. John Gartner is a practicing Baltimore psychologist of world renown who specializes in the treatment of borderline personality disorder. He served as a part time assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore for 28 years. He graduated magna cum laude with a BA in psychology from Princeton University, received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, completed his internship at Bellevue/NYU Medical Center and his post-doctoral training at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical School.

The following is an excerpt of an April 25, 2020 article and interview of Dr. John Gartner by writer Chauncey Devega for Salon online magazine entitled, Psychologist John Gartner: Trump is a sexual sadist who is actively engaging in sabotage 

Donald Trump’s behavior is very predictable. He has a very simple mind. Why do so many people treat him as some type of mystery? Why do they claim to be so “surprised” by his vile behavior?

Yes, Donald Trump is simplistic. But an atomic explosion is also very simple.  

How does the human mind remain in denial about Trump’s nature when on an almost daily basis he reveals his true nature through his cruelty, lies, violence and other anti-social behavior? There are many Americans who oppose Trump who continue to claim that they are somehow surprised by his behavior?

Malignant narcissists are very sick people. They are sick in such a deep, disturbed and dark way that a normal person cannot comprehend such behavior. Therefore, normal, mentally healthy people cannot imagine or understand the mind of a malignant narcissist.

As a mental health professional, what do you see when you watch Trump’s so-called briefings about the coronavirus pandemic?

Trump is both denying responsibility by saying things such as, “I take no responsibility. We’ve done everything right.” But at the same time, Trump is also sabotaging the efforts to stop the coronavirus pandemic. This is a very important aspect of Trump’s behavior. Trump is not just deflecting blame onto the governors, he is actively interfering with the governors’ ability to do their job. Trump is not just incompetent. He is actively engaging in sabotage.

How does someone with his type of mind reconcile claims like “I have total power” with “I take no responsibility”? He has said both things within a few days of each other.

That is a function of how the psychology of a malignant narcissist is structured. When Trump says things such as, “I have total power,” that’s the grandiosity. “I’m in total control” is a function of Trump’s paranoia, where everything bad is projected outward. Therefore, anything negative or bad is someone else’s fault.  Bad things are other people in Trump’s mind. The grandiosity and “greatness” are all him. Trump’s mind runs on a formula which bends and twists facts, ideas and memories to suit his malignant narcissism. This is why Trump contradicts himself so easily. He lies and makes things up. His fantasies all serve his malignant narcissism and the world he has created in his own mind about his greatness.

The fourth component of Trump’s malignant narcissism is sadism. That part of Trump’s mind is more hidden. People such as Trump are malignant-narcissist sadists because they, at some deep level, are driven to cause harm to other people. Trump’s life is proof of this. He enjoys ripping people off and humiliating people. He does this manically and gleefully. He has lied more than 16,000 times. He threatens people online and elsewhere. I believe that Donald Trump is also a sexual sadist, who on some basic level enjoys and is aroused by watching people be afraid of him. In his mind, Trump is creating chaos and instability so that he can feel powerful.

Professor of psychiatry and psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg called that phenomenon “omnipotent destructiveness.” The bullying, the violence, the destruction, frightening people, humiliating people, getting revenge and the like — such behavior is what Donald Trump has done his whole life. It is who Donald Trump really is. Unfortunately, too many people are still in denial of that fact.

If Donald Trump is primarily obsessed with omnipotent destruction, how is that fueling his behavior?

Donald Trump has to create a field of negative corrupting energy around himself. For example, he pressures the scientific experts to bend the truth to his dreamworld during his press conferences. The scientists are basically Trump’s hostages. The American people are hostages as well to Donald Trump. We are being abused by him. We know that Trump is lying. We know that he’s doing nothing to help us. We feel helpless to do anything to stop him. It is causing collective mental despair. In this way Donald Trump is inducing feelings of rage and outrage — and he keeps doing it. It is not that all Americans are suckers or dupes, it is that Trump is a master at such cruel and manipulative behavior. Donald Trump knows exactly what he is doing to the physical and emotional health of the American people.

I envision Donald Trump as a megalomaniacal puppet master. The American people are his little marionettes. The American people must acknowledge that relationship to cut the strings.   

That is a great analogy. Donald Trump is a master at getting negative attention, and the more people he can shock and upset, the better. Donald Trump has been doing such a thing for years.

The pandemic has provided Trump with the opportunity to use his skill at doing such things into overdrive. America, with this coronavirus crisis, is now “The Trump Show.”

Society is a type of family. Leaders are fathers, mothers, and other types of parental authority figures. In that role, Donald Trump is abusing the American people.  

Yes, the American people are being abused by Donald Trump. This is a key dimension of sadists. I also believe that Donald Trump is democidal. I would even go so far as to say that he is a “democidal maniac”. If you look at human history there is one trait that all malignant narcissistic leaders have in common: They kill mass numbers of their own people. Why would Donald Trump be any different? 

Trump has had many public moments where one can see the convergence of his rage, misogyny and violence. Trump’s press conferences have been a showcase for his pathologies. There is so much rage when a reporter makes clear that Trump is lying or asks him a basic question that challenges his self-delusions and fantasies. Trump’s rage at women who challenge him, in particular nonwhite women such as PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor, is palpable. 

It is probably not lost on Trump that the people who are being disproportionately killed by the coronavirus are people in Democratic blue states and cities: nonwhite people, poor people, other marginalized people in this society, working-class people. These are the people who Donald Trump sees as “less than,” inferior to him, the types of people he likes to grind down under his heel.

In the course of a week, we literally had Trump’s cultists, his spokespeople, saying, “People should sacrifice themselves for the economy.” Literally go out and die. Of course the real meaning there is, “I want you to go out and die so that I can be re-elected because I’m dependent on the economy.” Trump and his allies have been telling people to go out and risk their lives as an act of loyalty to “the economy.” And of course Trump is willing to see people die to ensure — at least in his mind — that he will be re-elected. In many ways he is positioning himself as a god who demands human sacrifice.

Such behavior and beliefs are common among malignant narcissists. Malignant narcissists like Donald Trump view other human beings as kindling wood to be burned for their own personal enrichment and enlargement and expansion.

Beyond mere negligence, much of Trump’s and his regime’s behavior is malevolent. Trump and his sycophants knew that potentially millions of Americans could die but chose to do nothing. His administration has gone so far as to purge people from the government who were trying to warn the public.

Again, that behavior is part of the psychology of malignant narcissistic leaders. They are democidal. Malignant narcissistic leaders kill many of their own people through wars and political terror, but also through willful incompetence. These types of leaders actively do things that will kill large portions of the population. Causing harm is a type of addiction for them. Donald Trump’s addiction is only getting worse.

Donald Trump is a human predator. That is what he does. He will not change. At this point, I hold the American people, the news media, the Republican Party and its voters ultimately responsible for the calamity that is Trump’s reign. 

The 2020 presidential election will decide either the life or death of America.

What would you tell those Americans and others who would object to your analysis of Trump and the danger he represents? Because many people would protest that whatever Trump’s flaws may be, of course he loves America, and it’s inconceivable we would have a president who would actively seek to harm the American people.

Follow the facts to the obvious and true conclusion. If all the facts show that Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist with these powerful sadistic tendencies, this omnipotent destructiveness, where he’s getting pleasure and a sense of power from dominating people and degrading people and destroying people and plundering people and laying waste to people, both psychologically and physically, then to deny such obvious facts is willful ignorance.

What do you think Donald Trump will do if, shortly before Nov. 3, it appears clear that he is going to lose the election?

Rather than making a prediction as to Trump’s specific actions, it is more helpful to describe the type of actions he will take. Rather than trying to say, “This is the move he’ll make.” Like in a relationship, Donald Trump is the abuser. He is the husband or father who is abusing his partner or children or other relatives. The American people are like a woman who is leaving her abuser. She tells her abuser, “That’s it! I am done with you!” She has her keys in hand and is opening the door of the house or apartment to finally leave. What happens? The democidal maniac Donald Trump will attack us, badly. Make no mistake. Donald Trump is going to find a way to attack and cause great harm to the American people if he believes that he will lose the 2020 election.

 

 

Let Me In, A Film directed by Matt Reeves; Horror (2010)

Before zombies, vampires were the ghouls who ruled. And some of them were quite sexy.

For instance, I found Frank Langella’s portrayal of the Transylvanian count very appealing. Then again, I was thirteen when I saw Dracula (1979) and much like my taste in cuisine, my opinion of what constitutes sexiness has changed. So, for sake of authenticity–and experiment–I watched a portion of the film the other night.

Frank Langella still holds up. The movie?…not so much. I had to bail.

Then there’s the vampire Jason Patrick–that’s the actor, not the vampire’s name–in Lost Boys. Now that’s a sexy vampire.

Chris Sarandon is sexy too, in Fright Night, (1985) but he’s too-too diabolical to be full blown sexy. (I know. The too thing is a bit much, but I’m keepin’ it. Obviously.)

But vampires aren’t always sexy. Nosferatu, the 1922 original, comes to mind.

The vampire in Matt Reeves’ 2010 psychological/romantic horror film, Let Me In, isn’t sexy either. And that’s a good thing since she’s a twelve-year-old girl.

Of course vampires are no tellin’ how old because they are doomed to sameness of their birth until someone puts a stake through their hearts or until the sunlight burns them to a crisp. In this regard, Abby (Chloe Grace Mortez) is no different from her ilk.

But she is unique.

For one thing, her skin emanates a hue of blue. Not that she’s the color of a smurf or–God forbid–of a humanoid Avatar. No. She’s more the color of an infant born without enough oxygen in the blood. The illness is called blue baby syndrome and the discoloration is subtle.

Abby is subtle too. She wears a drab hoodie and appears to be always cold, except that she isn’t. She walks barefoot in the snow without so much discomfort as most us have walking barefoot on the beach in 90 degree weather.

Oddly, the boy who lives next door to Abby has the same blue pallor. He too is twelve and, like her, he is an only child living with a single parent in dreary apartment complex. His name is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Owen’s not a vampire. But he is creepy. He likes to spy on his neighbors with his telescope.

Okay, that’s a no-no, but it’s not beyond the pale of early adolescent boyhood–or so I’ve been told. (I have girls.) It certainly doesn’t justify his complexion.

All right. Then try this on for size:

Owen likes to don a Michael Myers mask while he’s spying on his neighbors and he soothes himself by lunging at imaginary school girls with a butcher knife.

So yeah, this kid needs help.

And that’s too bad because he’s not going to get it from his mother, who is on a fundamentalist Christian/alcohol induced tear, or from his father, who is too preoccupied with the terms of their divorce to listen to the language of his son’s off kilter angst. What’s more, he’s a skinny little loner with big eyes and a pretty mouth, which makes him the easy target of a sadistic bully with homosexual urges.

One evening, Owen is taking out his frustrations on a tree with his newly purchased pocket knife.

“Are you scared? Are you scared little girl?” he jeers as he stabs the bark of the tree.

When he turns around, Abby is standing there.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he answers.

“Just so you know, we can’t be friends,” she says.

“Who says I want to be,” he answers.

But, of course, he does. Desperately.

Owen has observed this strange, pretty girl before, but this is first time they’ve talked. Little by little she warms to him. And before long they are holding hands and he is giving her gifts. She reciprocates with a gentle kiss on his cheek.

Meanwhile, a disheveled detective (Elias Koteus) is investigating a series of ritualistic murders perpetrated by a man in a mask made out of a garbage bags with cutout eye holes. Two teenagers from Owen’s school have fallen victim to the fiend.

Then a neighbor and object of Owen’s voyeurism is murdered. Though the murder appears to be unrelated to the ritualistic killings, it draws the detective to Owen’s door and into the orbit of all-consuming first love.

And perilously close to the duplicity of evil.

Director, Matt Reeves insists that Let Me In is not a remake of Thomas Alfredson’s critically acclaimed 2008 Swedish film, Let The Right One In. He doth protest too much.

That is not to say that his film is subpar. It isn’t.

Where Alfredson’s film is artfully stark, Let Me In is stylishly sleek. The difference is as American and as subtle as an electric blue IROC Z28.

And that’s a good thing.









How’d He Get This Way?(A profile in Narcissism) Part: IV

He wanted to remove his suit jacket but driblets of sweat running down the middle of his back deterred him. It unnerved him too, though he refused show it. There was no way he was going to allow himself to look like that idiot who jumped on tables and waved his arms around like a lunatic on crack.

You’d think a guy with sweat circles from here to China should have sense enough to keep his arms down.

People are stupid like that.

He adjusted the vent so that it was aimed right at his face. The relief was almost instantaneous.

The Lincoln Aviator’s air conditioner was exceptional. The legroom too. The ride as smooth as tempered glass.

In fact, over all, he liked the Aviator better than the Escalade and that surprised him. Like his father, he had always been a Cadillac man.

That said, he would have preferred to be in a BMW X7, but these days his touring vehicles had to be American. Just optics, of course. Everybody knows there’s no American made cars anymore.

Well, anyone with half a brain knows it. All the parts are manufactured in China. Or Mexico.

His right hand girl briefed him. He could hear her voice, gentle, even-toned, but he had no idea what she was saying. She put papers on the attache in his lap for him to look over because he refused to use an I-Pad.

Sometimes she got on his nerves–like right now–but he rarely raised his voice to her. She was supremely loyal. And very smart.

She was beautiful too, though she had been putting on weight lately.

Just the other day he came this close to saying something about it to her, but he stopped himself. Women are so sensitive about the weight thing. And he couldn’t afford to loose her.

She took care of everything for him–no matter how big or how small. It didn’t matter what time of day or night he called, she always answered. Quickly. No more than five–six–rings at the most.

So he just gave her the look.

Immediately she had put her head down and adjusted her blouse. Pulled down her skirt. Afterwards he noticed her eating carrot and celery sticks. Obviously she had gotten the message.

Five, maybe ten pounds more and she’d get the wink and the thumbs up.

Women, especially, liked that.

Up ahead a man standing in the turn lane abruptly started walking across the street. A cascade of brake lights gleamed through the windshield as the driver suddenly slowed the Navigator.

“Sorry about that, sir,” the driver said.

He nodded solemnly. “You have to be very careful, Ritchie,” he warned. They’ll walk right out in front of you.”

“Yes sir,” the driver said.

Normally they would be in a limo and he would have no contact with the driver, but this was his idea. Low profile. No motorcade. He wanted to see it like it really was.

Bums. Prostitutes. The homeless.

Boarded up buildings. Liquor stores. Beauty supply shops. Convenience stores…

More like smoke shops than convenience stores…Independent ones. No national chain would want to open up here.

Blocks and blocks of it.

He turned his attention back toward the driver’s broad shoulders, his muscled neck and perfectly etched hairline, cut so short it was more shadow than hair.

Ritchie was black. But not like them.

Ritchie was tall, too. Taller than him. And he didn’t like that.

He didn’t like looking up to any man. White or black.

“What’d you think, Ritchie? What needs to be done here? How can we turn this around?” he asked in his most concerned voice.

“Jobs, sir,” the driver said decisively. “Jobs, jobs and more jobs. Opportunity, sir. Job training. Good schools.”

He nodded. “Opportunity. Hmm. Yes. Opportunity’s good,” he said.

He looked at the driver in the rear view mirror. He hated the blacked out sunglasses the man wore.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“Grocery stores, sir,” the driver said. “I haven’t seen a grocery store for miles.”

He nodded and turned his attention back toward his window. It was just like he expected. Jobs. Schools. He knew the guy would say that before he asked.

They always said the same thing.

Yeah, the grocery store thing caught him a little bit off guard, but the guy was right. No grocery stores.

At least there were convenience stores…Well, they were more like cigarette stores…Smoke shops. But still…

Into The Flame

Into the flames are thrown

promises

broken

bone, life

taken

And breath

Yet, hands that fan

wag fingers

Forgive

Forgive

Obey

The Naked Kiss, a Film by Samuel Fuller; Noir (1964)

Kelly is in a bind. She drugged her pimp and beat him up.

She didn’t roll him, but she took back the money he stole from her. To add humiliation to bumps and bruises, she yanked down her headshot from the gallery over his mantel and tore it to pieces.

Now she has to get out of town. So she lands in nowheresville.

Nowheresville is quaint. Very mom and pop. There are lots of houses with immaculate lawns and white picket fences. There are pleasantly plump old ladies with platefuls of cookies too–and little kids with balloons, skipping.

Lots of skipping.

When Kelly gets off the bus, she looks perfectly respectable. Her dress is stylish and well made, more for business than pleasure. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Her hair is mid-length, combed away from the face with very little bounce. She carries decent luggage.

Never in my wildest dreams would I suspect that Kelly’s a prostie. But I’m not a cop either. Griff is. He’s the head honcho cop of Grantsville, the real name of nowheresville.

And since Griff’s a cop, he naturally hangs out at the bus stop. As such, he has access to state-of-the-art-high-class-call-girl radar. All cops have it in noirwheresville.

I know. You’re welcome.

Kelly has her own top-of-the-line cop radar, so when they exchange hellos they practically short out the electrical grid with all the sparks flying. Still, they come to terms–20.00 introductory rate (remember, it’s 1964)–and go to his place.

Afterwards he sprawls on the couch while she sits on the floor. They chit chat about the prostitute business.

Griff brushes Kelly’s hair. She tells him it’s just now getting to the length she prefers since her pimp shaved it off as punishment for an indiscretion. Griff is horrified. He offers to introduce her to Candy, the madam across the river in a “wide open” town.

He informs her that he drops by Candy’s on occasion to visit her “bonbon girls.” If she’s going to set up shop there, he’ll drop by more often. But he warns her not to do business in Grantville. It’s not that kind of town.

Then he leaves Kelly alone in his apartment while he gets back to cop business. She needs to freshen up and he trusts her. He knows she’s not that kind of a call-girl from chit chatting with her.

While Kelly is putting on her makeup she takes a good long look at herself in Griff’s mirror (because…well, that’s what us girls do when we put on makeup and she’s at his house.) In spite of her perfect cheekbones and respectable hair, she doesn’t like who she sees.

She decides she doesn’t want to become a “bonbon” girl at Candy’s in the “wide open” town across the river. So she rents a room in a pleasantly plump little old lady’s boarding house instead and gets a straight job as a physical therapy assistant in a children’s orthopedic hospital.

Kelly’s really good at being a physical therapy assistant. (So good, I was impressed. I thought about going into the field myself after my knee surgery, but there was too much math and science involved.) She’s nice but tough. She doesn’t let kids slide because they’re disabled.

Everybody at the hospital likes her. Even the tough as nails, masculine head nurse. ( I wasn’t as impressed with that, but that’s just me.) There she catches the eye of the well-healed J.L. Grant, Griff’s best friend and the philanthropic namesake of the town and hospital.

Griff is none too pleased. It’s not so much that he’s jealous, it’s just that he’s decided that, in spite of the chit chatting, Kelly is that kind of a call-girl. He threatens to tell J.L. about her very recent past despite all the good that she’s done: teaching crippled kids to walk, giving a knocked up nurse some money so she can start a new life without having to resort to an abortion, beating Candy to a pulp for trying to recruit “bonbon” girls from the nursing pool.

But Kelly beats Griff to the punch. She tells J.L. about her past and…he barely bats and eye! They embrace–and he gives her a naked kiss.

No, not that kind of naked kiss…the naked kind of a kiss..

Let me explain.

A naked kiss is a perverted kiss. It’s a subconscious thing. If you’re a guy and woman gives you a naked kiss, you probably won’t give it a second thought because you’re a guy.

But, if you’re a woman and a man gives you a naked kiss, there’s a good chance you’ll get that “hair on the back of my neck stood up” feeling. It’s our intuition and it’s a God given protection mechanism.

Sometimes the woman’s intuition is sabotaged by her naivete and kindness. She feels something is wrong, but she puts it out of her mind. Especially if the guy is an upstanding, well educated member of society. Or if she convinces herself that he’s really good and that she’ll help him change.

But, of course, Kelly’s anything but naive. And it’s not her first naked kiss, either.

She’d do well to mind her intuition…as we all would, ladies.

As we all would.

  • Kelly – Constance Towers
  • Griff – Michael Dante
  • Candy – Virgina Grey
  • Head Nurse – Patsy Kelly
  • Miss Josephine (pleasantly plump little old lady) – Betty Bronson
  • Cinematography – Stanley Cortez
  • Written by – Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller and Constance Towers

The Naked Kiss (1964); The Opening Sequence, directed by Samuel Fuller; Cinematography by Stanley Cortez

There’s always jazz in film noir–in black and white classic film noir, that is. Even in the post classic noir era of the 60s when rock and R&B inspired pop was du joir, it’s always jazz.

That’s because the film directors were old guys. (With the exception of Ida Lupino, God bless her). Jazz was the music of their youth. It was subversive to them, anyway.

So when Kelly (Constance Towers) beats the blankety-blank out of her pimp in the pre-credit opening sequence of Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, the jazz is a blarin’. Maybe that’s because Kelly turns the radio up so nobody can hear the pimp pleading and whimpering while his masculine nick-nacks are being smashed to smithereens…

No. It’s the old guy thing.

While the jazz isn’t subversive, that’s about only thing that isn’t in this opening sequence. Everything else is as stunning as Constance Towers is.

Whoa! Those cheekbones!

The sequence opens with Kelly looking directly into the camera with a furrowed and sweaty brow, mid wallop. She’s using her purse as a bludgeon and she’s in her brassier, a skirt and stilettos–of course.

Okay. I’m predominately a realist. Men are physically stronger than women. Sorry.

(Believe me, no one is sorrier about that than I am. There is almost nothing that I would like more than to have a figure like Raquel Welch and the physical strength of Lou Ferrigno. Not happening. Either or. And yes, I’m getting on up there too–hence my references.)

Anyway, there’s no way a man is just going to take a beating from a woman wielding a patent-leather clutch like a battleaxe unless he’s incapacitated. And, yep, it turns out Kelly’s pimp is just that. She’s slipped him a mickey.

But that doesn’t stop him from getting in a few licks of his own.

Samuel Fuller is known for his realistic physical violence sequences. In the opening, famed cinematographer, Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter, The Amazing Ambersons) strapped a camera to a cameraman who was tethered to a production assistant acting as an anchor. (Movie cameras–especially those from that era–are extremely heavy.) Fuller told Towers to literally wallop the camera with her purse.

The effect is staggering. And unprecedented. The viewer takes on the perspective of the pimp getting the blankety-blank beat out of him.

During the melee, the pimp pulls Kelly’s hair and–holy smokes!–her hair is a wig. It comes off! She’s bald!!!

True. Not that big of a deal, certainly not befitting of three exclamation points–these days. Remember, this is 1964. (Refer to my previous post Prelude to The Naked Kiss.)

Sooo…yeah…

!!!

Kelly finally, realistically, gets the better of her pimp. She straddles him. She throttles him. Then she grabs one of those bottles–a martini bottle, I think it’s called–and sprays him with it for good measure.

Then she goes through his pockets. He’s got a bank roll of 800.00. That’s a good chunk of change circa 1964. But Kelly doesn’t take all of it. Just the 75.00 he’s cheated her out of. She stuffs her brassier with it.

With all due respect to Ms. Towers–it could use a little stuffing. Nobody’s perfect.

After all that, she gives him a final kick in the ribs, snatches up her wig and gets herself together in front of his dresser mirror. Now the credits roll and the music changes into feminine melodramatic swells as she refreshes her makeup and combs out her wig. She’s a little worse for wear, but still beautiful. And still defiant.

And it’s just the opening sequence.

No exclamation points needed.

To be cont’d…

  

 

Prelude To The Naked Kiss

All right ladies and gentlemen. Today we are boarding the way back machine. We will be traveling back to the year 1964.

Consequently, I am not your captain. I am your stewardess. Ha!

Our captain is most assuredly male because we don’t want to cause a social crisis when we land. Heh!…The fact that his control panel consists of only a dial–much like an “oven” dial–is irrelevant. Ouch!

The purpose of our journey is to observe the mores concerning the day to day life of the typical American woman circa 1964.

…Excuse me?…Why 1964?

Because that’s the year the film, The Naked Kiss came out. And this will all tie into to to my next post about the film. Rest assured. So “wait for it.”

Now then, if everybody will have a seat and buckle up we’ll be there in the time it takes the captain to turn the oven to 350°…I mean the dial back to 1964. Ha ha!…

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve landed. What?…Yeah, it’s fast. It’s 2020. Or Not!

The captain has asked that everyone stay together so nobody gets left behind. Okay. Everybody out…Ladies first. Ha!

American women! This is your life circa 1964!Circa 1964You are married. That is, unless you want to be a social outcast. A whopping 80% of the citizenry think single people are immoral, neurotic and sick. This especially applies to women.

You’ve married young-probably by the age of 20, giving birth to the first of your 2.5 children by age 25. If you desire less than 2.5 children you can now take the pill, but it’s only prescribed to married women. Keep in mind that in Connecticut and Massachusetts there are laws–rarely enforced, but still on the books–prohibiting even married women from using contraceptives.

Your only diploma is from high school. Only about 7% of women have a bachelor degree or higher. The few women who obtain a college degree do so to make themselves more attractive to socially upward men. I’m working on my MRS, is a common saying among the few ladies on college campuses. Should you desire an Ivy League education, you’re out of luck. With the exception of Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, Ivy League schools do not admit women.

You can’t get a credit card without your husband’s signature. There are exceptions. Liz Taylor, for example, has her own credit cards.

Uh. What?…Yeah…Okay…Uh huh…Yeah…I GOT IT!…

Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please…Ladies and gentlemen there has been a sudden change of plans. The captain has ordered everybody back on board…Excuse me…EXCUSE ME! Everybody listen up! We have a situation here. SO PAY ATTENTION! If you don’t want to be left behind circa 1964 you better get your ass back on board! NOW!!

Panic

So, whew!…Ladies and gentlemen I’m sorry about that…I really am. I want to apologize for loosing my temper but I had to get everybody back on board because we had a little emergency on our hands. We had to interrupt our trip and comeback to 2020 a bit early because several of our ladies started having panic attacks. Myself included…

Even though I don’t have a college degree…was married at the age of 20…had the first of my two children at 25…and never took birth control pills…

Personally, that thing about the credit cards really threw me for a loop, but it’s all terrible. 

Thank God we’re here!

 

 

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