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Tag Archive: Skeleton Key


Review by C.J. Bunce

The best way to watch Get Out is to know nothing about the film’s conflict.  It’s enough to know that it follows an African-American man named Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) whose Anglo girlfriend of five months named Rosie (played by Allison Williams) takes him home to a secluded, forested town to experience the time-honored ritual of “meeting the parents.”  Chris’s best pal back home, Rodney (played by LilRel Howery), who works for the TSA and is watching his dog and his apartment, warns him not to go just like any friend who is looking out for his buddy.  What follows is your typical, awkward first meeting of the parents, which corresponds with an annual town party where Chris gets to meet all the locals.

But is this really a typical encounter?

One by one, elements of the town don’t seem quite right.  Is Chris just being paranoid?  As with Midnight Special, we’ll hold back on the rest of the details, even the true genre, although you can expect something of the dark drama or horror-thriller realm from the title and posters alone.  This one is excellently creepy.

Peele dances with issues of race and culture peppered throughout the story in a very real, imaginative, and thought-provoking way.  Fans of the more unusual horror films of 1970s will love this film–you might think you’re seeing bits and pieces of movies evoking anything from The Stepford Wives to Skeleton Key to Wicker Man to The Watcher in the Woods to Coma and Fallen.  Or you might see it as all-out horror, but without all the typical genre gore and violence.  Ultimately director Peele will give you only what you need to know, when you need to know it.  Best of all, Peele has that skill that so many filmmakers mess up:  He knows how to end a story with a satisfying conclusion.

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Intruders

BBC America has been advertising the new series Intruders for months now but this extended trailer should be all you need to know this is a series pilot not to be missed.  So stick around after Doctor Who’s big premiere episode with the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi Saturday night.  It looks like Kate Hudson’s Skeleton Key and Daniel Radcliffe’s The Woman in Black meets Marchlands and Lightfields.

As thrillers go they got this preview right, with pretty heavy doses of creepy–just right for a late night show with the lights off.  How can they go wrong, with stars like John Simm–star of Life on Mars, one of the five best television series of all time–and Mira Sorvino, Oscar winner and versatile actress most recently dazzling us as a cop on Psych?  Add in James Frain and Robert Forster–Frain a more recent character actor showing up everywhere, and Forster a genre TV staple–and this show just begs to be seen.

Check out this extended preview for Intruders:

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Simm in intruders

Put together Academy Award winning actress Mira Sorvino and star of the British mega-hit Life on Mars John Simm, add in Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez and The X-Files executive producer Glen Morgan, and what do you get?  It’s the new BBC America series Intruders.  Based on the novel The Intruders by Michael Marshall Smith, Intruders has the dark and creepy vibe of The X-Files and the supernatural horror of Skeleton Key.

The sci-fi/paranormal thriller is set in the Pacific Northwest and follows Simm as Jack Whelan, a former LAPD cop with a troubled past whose quiet life is shaken when his wife (Sorvino) Amy vanishes.  Whelan is consumed by the investigation into his wife’s disappearance as an underworld society is enmeshed with the pursuit of an assassin and another case involving a missing girl.

Why will Intruders be worth checking out?  If you watched Life on Mars–the British original, not the U.S. remake–you’ll know how brilliant John Simm can be as the lead in a mystery tale.  You may also have seen him in State of Play (the original British series, not the American movie remake) or as The Master in Doctor Who.  Mira Sorvino will also be a welcome addition to television.  In the TV realm we’ve only seen her recently at the tail end of the Psych series (in a great, quirky role) and before that in a guest spot on House, M.D.

Sorvino in Intruders

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jason McClain is a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s writing.  He’s mentioned his appreciation for Brubaker’s Sleeper books here at borg.com more than once.  So when I saw the enticing noir cover art on the first issues of the new series Fatale, I figured this was a good place to start.  I picked up Issues 1 and 3-5 and it took me awhile to track down #2 so I only this week could read the first story arc straight through.  The new story arc starts with the next issue, coming out soon.

Based on the noir covers I was looking forward to what I have found in my favorite film noir–Otto Preminger’s Laura, Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Dial “M” for Murder and Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart in Call Northside 777, also Sorry, Wrong Number, Elizabeth C. Bunce’s fantasy noir Liar’s Moon, and in a strange way, even the voiceover version of Blade Runner.  For the most part these are all crime noir stories.  A dangerous damsel–the Femme Fatale as in Double Indemnity–plus a Dana Andrews-looking character in a gray fedora who is usually a cop or newspaper reporter, and a dangerous city full of secrets and dark, wet streets–all of this is the stuff of noir.  But I was thinking about this all wrong.  I had no idea Ed Brubaker and artist partner Sean Phillips were creating a supernatural 1950s pulp horror/thriller, not a noir pulp crime novel.  None of my favorite film noir has anything supernatural so from only a few pages in I was thrown a bit.  Fatale is noir, but it is just as much supernatural horror.  So I read the story once and was confused a bit.  Then I figured out what genre I was reading and read it again.

If you like supernatural horror and you like the 1950s underworld as your setting, Fatale is a very interesting read–almost like revisiting a lost story type.  The supernatural bits remind me of the TV series Medium, which often contained surprisingly dark and gory crime moments juxtaposed with the lives of good, caring people.  Same goes here.  Like the movie Skeleton Key, where a man and woman use voodoo to switch bodies and live forever, and like Rosemary’s Baby and The OthersFatale’s characters are sucked into shocking and frightening situations and as readers we aren’t supposed to know all that is going on until the end.

Fatale has the requisite fascination of an otherwise boring man with an attractive, inaccessible, mysterious woman.  Nicolas Lash meets Josephine at the funeral of his godfather, Hank Raines.  Raines once knew Josephine back in the 1950s.  She’s blackmailed by a detective in the 1950s world of the story, Walt Booker, and both Josephine and Walt have this unnatural power over each other.  Is Josephine a “pusher” in the X-Files sense or does she just bring out something in others innocently?  What are these occult priestly fellows in red showing up dead everywhere and this fanged beast who kills Raines’ wife?  I’d need a few more re-reads to really catch the complexity of what happened here.  Each issue from #2 on has a lead-in paragraph at the beginning to explain what happened in the prior issue.  I found myself puzzled by these summaries, as in “oh, is that what happened last issue?”  Since I read these through in one sitting, I’d think I shouldn’t be surprised by a summary of what I just read, yet I was.  Usually if stories suffer it’s through too much “telling” and not enough “showing.”  Here I think this story has the reverse problem, but only a bit, and could stand to explain a little more plainly what the heck is going on with the mass suicide, magic dagger, old novel script and some pile of papers that need translating.  At times I felt I was totally in sync with the story–there was a 1960s James Bond aura at different points along the way that created a cool vibe.  Then with the symbology and strange beast who was also a leader that looked like Hitler, I was out of sync again.

Without question, the best part of Fatale is Sean Phillips’ 1950s style art.  If I wasn’t following a scene from the dialogue then I could usually get there with the visual storytelling.  Fatale looks like the noir I’d expect to see, for most of the scenes.  Dave Stewart’s coloring creates a world familiar to fans of Edward Hopper’s paintings.  I think the storytelling has some jarring moments, however.  Things like expletives that seem out-of-place and -time bothered me here.  It could be because, even if people used expletives in the real 1950s, 1950s movies never did, and so the aura of 1950s drama seems more accessible to me than what might have been real-life lingo (although I refuse to believe folks in 1950s swear as much as, and with the exact same colorful metaphors as, we have today as this work reflects).  So I love the look of Fatale, but am not sure of how much I like the story and whether I would recommend it to others not familiar with this genre.  The “voiceover” parts were quite good (the “it was a dark night in the city when I first met her” kind of thing).  Are Brubaker and Phillips’ other works supernatural horror like this?  I’d be willing to try more of their works to find out.

Fatale did make me think a lot about characterization, mood, and what makes something a crime novel vs a horror novel vs a supernatural thriller.  In a different kind of way, it made me think about complexity of story much as I did reading and watching the Watchmen graphic novel and film adaptation.  Anything that makes you think like that is probably a good thing.

Fatale is available at Amazon.com for pre-order in a trade edition titled Death Chases Me.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

To be honest, this was a challenging list for me.  On the one hand, there is nothing I love better than a really great ghost story, so you’d think I’d be able to rattle off a list of ‘em just like that.  But that’s the thing—the really great ones, the ones that well and truly conjure up that perfectly spooky atmosphere and transport me wholly to the Hallowe’en, ahem, spirit… well, they’re pretty rare, actually.  I’m a little bit critical; I acknowledge that.  But that’s another reason to love these lists: I’m always on the lookout for the next The Others or Watcher in the Woods.

For me, atmosphere is everything.  Strike the right spooky ambience in a film, and you can overcome any number of shortcomings—including the total lack of an actual ghost in the story.  So here’s an assemblage of ten films that get the mood right, at least, making them excellent viewing when the lights are off and the late October wind howls outside.  In no particular order…

1.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Ok, I hear you.  A Harry Potter movie on a Hallowe’en list?  Well, bear with me here.  Everything franchise-related aside, Azkaban has everything you’d want in a Devil’s Night creep-fest: the redesigned, gothic Hogwarts; the ghostly manifestations of the dementors haunting the castle and campus; the homicidal maniac on the loose; and oh, yes, the werewolf!  The film also drips with backstory and dark secrets, another element paramount to a great spook story.  And did I mention the werewolf?

2.  The Others (2001)
This one is creepy almost without trying.  Nicole Kidman plays the harried and pathologically overprotective mother of two light-sensitive children, occupying a remote English manor house in the days following World War II.  Though the scares here are primarily psychological, skin-crawling elements abound (what is up with those creepy kids? And those servants! Egad!), and the story has one of the best twist endings you’re likely to find.  So pull the blinds, get away from the windows, and watch for the seriously unsettling appearance of The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, as Kidman’s estranged (or something) husband.  I can almost guarantee you’ll want to watch this one again, straight through from the beginning, when it’s over.

3.  Watcher in the Woods (1980)
For me, this film is the archetype of everything I want in a ghost story (erm, absent the actual ghost, I mean).  This 1980 Disney offering was based on a young adult novel by Florence Engel Randall, but this is a rare case of the film eclipsing (no pun intended!) its source novel.  It follows a pair of young American sisters who are renting a haunted English manor house for the summer, and who awaken the property’s chilling secret—and its chilling landlady, Mrs. Ayelsworth (Bette Davis).  Many years ago, Ayelsworth’s daughter disappeared from the estate, in a secret ritual her now-grown friends have sworn to keep silent.  But the past won’t be buried, and the apparent ghost of Karen Ayelsworth tries desperately to communicate with our heroines.  The setting here is pitch perfect, from the foreboding house to a murky lake, to the chapel ruins with ravens stirring through the dead leaves.  I loved this movie as a child, and it’s lost almost none of its wonder, atmosphere, and suspense. (Extended DVD scenes notwithstanding.)

4.  Rebecca (1940)
This 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner is a faithful rendition of the Daphne du Maurier novel by the same name. Du Maurier’s writing, Alfred Hitchcock’s direction, and George Barnes’s Academy Award-winning cinematography are so skillful and subtle that you will swear you’ve seen the ghost of Rebecca de Winter haunting Manderley yourself—though she makes no actual appearance in the film.  While the entire cast (particularly stars Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier,) turned in top-notch performances, the disturbing heart of the film is the unforgettable performance by Star Trek alumna Dame Judith Anderson as the first Mrs. de Winter’s devoted lady’s maid, Mrs. Danvers—the archetype for every creepy British servant to come.  This is psychological horror at its best; an exploration of how our own memories are the most frightening ghosts to put to rest.

5.  Skeleton Key (2005)
I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I wanted to, but the fact that someone in our house bought the DVD, and our TV is mysteriously tuned to this movie every time it airs on late-night cable, should count for something.  Set in rural Louisiana, Skeleton Key drips with Southern Gothic creep-factor: Spanish moss, an old plantation dank with rot, an aging Southern belle, evocative voodoo set-dressing, and the unmistakeable tinge of old racism.  Add a smart heroine in over her head in something she doesn’t understand, plus a satisfying twist ending, and you’ve got a solid haunter with staying power.

6.  The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shamaylan’s career has been so utterly panned by now that it’s hard to remember that we all loved The Sixth Sense, and couldn’t stop talking about one of the best Gotchas! in horror film history.  Debate all you like, but this measured, thoughtful story of a boy with a problem, and the child psychologist who goes to unparalleled lengths to help him, is a mastery of mood, pacing, and misdirection.  You can watch it as a straightforward drama, and it’s a perfectly solid film.  The characters are skillfully drawn and acted with sincerity and subtlety, and you feel for the plight every single one of them is going through: the haunted boy, the caring therapist who can’t understand that his marriage is over, the lonely wife, and the desperate mother struggling to understand her troubled son.  But it’s in the moments we peek inside the child’s terrifying world that the horror of this story comes home, and whether or not you see dead people (or saw the ending from a mile away), you know you were a little skittish walking into your kitchen alone.

7.  The Ring (2002)
In the immortal words of Bravo’s Hundred Scariest Movie Moments, “There’s nothing creepier than a decrepit eight-year-old.” And while the combined lists on borg.com seem to bear that out, this is the decrepit eight-year-old you definitely don’t want to see climbing out of your TV late at night.  It’s not immediately obvious why this adaptation of the classic Japanese thriller is so frightening—is it the disturbing iconography in the underground video?  The ghoulish backstory?  The jarring cinematography and special effects?—but it all adds up to seriously unsettling viewing.  Bolstered by a strong mystery, a determined and believable lead, and the chilling ordinariness of her investigation, the contrasting horror seems all the more convincing, no matter how far-fetched a haunted videotape may sound.  Trust me: you’ll be glad you ditched your VCR.

8.  The Turn of the Screw (1999)
Henry James’s dark, “are they or aren’t they?” tale of two haunted siblings and the devoted governess desperate to protect them has been baffling audiences for 123 years, but that hasn’t stopped people from making movies out of it.  1961’s The Innocents, penned by no less a scribe than Truman Capote, is considered a modern classic, but this 1999 BBC version starring the brilliantly-cast Jodhi May in all her sloe-eyed anxiety captures all the frightening bewilderment of the original.  It’s never entirely clear what’s bothering the children in her care.  It could be ghosts, it could be pedophiles, or it could be the overactive imagination of the governess herself—but it’s from that uncertainty that the horror emerges.  With no true resolution to the tale—no laying to rest of the ghosts, no cozy denouement now that the danger has passed—The Turn of the Screw is ultimately unsatisfying, leaving you vaguely uncomfortable yet somehow wishing for more.

9. The Fog (2005)
At first glance, there really wasn’t an obvious reason to remake John Carpenter’s classic tale of a seaside town getting a belated and ghostly comeuppance.  But unlike ill-considered remakes before and since, The Fog loses nothing in translation—and even manages to surpass the original.  One of the most vital elements of a ghost story is arguably its backstory—the chilling past that rises to menace the present—and this 2005 adaptation gets it absolutely right.  The story of a town’s ill-gotten fortune at the cost of a doomed ship of lepers comes alive (or undead, at least) in rich period details, elaborate sets and costumes, and a powerful enriched storyline, all of which combine to create a pretty much perfect ghost story.

10.  Dead Again (1991)
This may seem an odd choice for a Hallowe’en list, but this 1991 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film deftly blends film noir, gothic romance, and the paranormal in a gripping, genre-bending mystery thick with atmosphere and suspense.  In two parallel storylines, Dead Again explores a post-war Los Angeles murder mystery that continues to haunt two people into the modern age.  Playing dual roles, both Branagh and Thompson excel, first as doomed lovers Roman and Margaret von Strauss, and as their modern counterparts, trying to unravel the secret of how that epic romance ended in a gruesome murder.  With its edgy, atmospheric soundtrack racing to a shocking twist ending, Dead Again is another film that will have you hitting the “replay” button on your remote as soon as the end titles roll.

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