Category Archives: Serial Killers

Horror and Suspense Films

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listed in alphabetical order by name of film

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

Setting the World on Fire:
The Girl with All The Gifts, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

When Children Scare You To Death:
Orphan, the Film

Not For Children:
The Horror Film The Orphanage

The World of the Living and The World of The Dead:
The Others, the Film

Slasher-Horror as Art Film:
Psycho, The Classic

Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe:
The Raven, the 2012 Film

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

You Are Now Entering the Cruel World:
Texas Killing Fields, the Film

Hansel and Gretel with a Video Camera:
The Visit, the 2015 Film

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Killing Others To Survive: Identity, the Film

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The 2003 psychological horror film Identity is not a direct adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel And Then There Were None, though the plot of Identity is structured like that classic novel. In both, “10 strangers arrive at an isolated location which becomes temporarily cut off from the rest of the world,” where terror and paranoia mount as the strangers are killed off one by one. Despite the fact that one of the characters in Identity tries to explain the unusual and downright scary events at the isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans who may be seeking supernatural revenge, there is nothing other-worldly about Identity and its scares. The real horror of Identity is even spookier than revenge-seeking ghosts.

John Cusack, Identity © Columbia Pictures

The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay), who is beyond annoyed at the fact that they end up stuck at some slimy motel.

Rebecca DeMornay, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Soon Ed, who is a former police officer, and the spoiled actress are joined by a family, including son Timmy, whose mother was injured in an accident.

Identity © Columbia Pictures

Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are also soon stranded at the motel, including a former prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), who is leaving Las Vegas and traveling to Florida to start a new life as a citrus farmer,

Amanda Peet, Identity © Columbia Pictures

a pregnant newlywed Ginny (Clea Duvall) who is insecure about her husband’s love and completely, irrationally superstitious on her best days,

Clea Duvall, Identity © Columbia Pictures

and another cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), escorting a dangerous convict, and who goes crazy when his convict escapes shortly after their arrival at the motel.

Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

When other people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious, paranoid, and defensive.

John Hawkes, Identity © Columbia Pictures

It doesn’t help that some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, that it’s raining and it’s the middle of the deep dark night, or that way too many of the stranded people at the out-of-the-way motel are awfully proficient in the use of firearms.

John Cusack and Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Now, throw in the story of a convicted mass murderer / serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from a judge and prosecuting attorneys

Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity © Columbia Pictures

because the convicted killer’s psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina)

Alfred Molina, Identity © Columbia Pictures

insists that his client-patient is not morally responsible or legally guilty of the crimes. Since Rivers is not mentally competent, Dr. Malick explains, it is irrelevant that Rivers’ body might have, in fact, perpetrated the murders that Malcolm Rivers was convicted of committing.

Bret Loehr as Timmy, Identity © Columbia Pictures

What does that convicted serial killer have to do with the people stranded at the isolated motel in the pouring rain? Are they his victims? Are we, in fact, seeing the killer’s memories of all the people he killed? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent, as his psychiatrist insists to the judge and attorneys present at the last-minute competency hearing?

You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at that isolated motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

Related Posts

#NoSpoilers

7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

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Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Actors, Halloween, Horror, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Psychological Horror, Serial Killers, Suspense

Murder, Anyone? In A Lonely Place, the Film

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Even if you’re a fan of the great Humphrey Bogart, you might find it hard to believe that he “played juveniles or romantic second-leads in drawing room comedies [in the theatre], and is said to have been the first actor to ask “Tennis, anyone?” on stage.” As a pre-teen, I watched his films on Saturday afternoons when a local television channel aired classics. I loved Bogart’s characters: the wounded cynic who was tough yet vulnerable, powerful yet caring.

His most memorable films reinforced his “Loner with a Heart of Gold” role: the private investigator with a femme fatale client in The Maltese Falcon (1941), a Noir classic based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; the self-sacrificing expatriate in Casablanca (1942), which was Bogart’s first romantic lead in film; and private investigator Phillip Marlowe in the complex and somewhat convoluted Noir The Big Sleep, (1946), based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.

Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele, In a Lonely Place ©

Until last month, when I first learned of Dorothy B. Harris’ 1947 Noir serial killer novel, In a Lonely Place, however, written in Limited Point of View from the perspective of the killer himself, and its 1950 film adaptation, I never realized that Humphrey Bogart had played a man suspected of being not just a murderer, but a serial killer. Bogart’s angst-ridden and angry character Dixon Steele in the film adaptation of Harris’ novel, is one of his most “fascinatingly complex” roles, one that has earned the film a place in multiple the Top 100 lists.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place ©

Bogart plays once-successful screenwriter Dixon Steele, who is being urged by his agent and colleagues to adapt a trashy bestseller into a script to get his own career back on track, i.e., earning money. Annoyed by the book’s banal content, Steele feels oppressed by the assignment. He attempts a shortcut: instead of reading the entire “epic” novel himself, he asks a young coat-check girl (Martha Stewart) at one of his favorite restaurants to come back to his place to tell him the story. When the two arrive at his apartment complex late at night, Steele glimpses the woman of his dreams, Laurel (Gloria Grahame), who is a new neighbor.

Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place ©

From that point on, Steele’s life is a tumultuous roller coaster ride. As he tries to write a screenplay for the book he doesn’t even like, he finds himself irresistibly attracted to the mysterious and somewhat aloof Laurel. Worse, he’s under investigation for violent crimes, including a gruesome murder.

Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, In a Lonely Place ©

Though the film seems to start somewhat slowly and has some inappropriate comedic moments, especially those involving the drunken actor who’s a friend of Steele, and many scenes with Steele’s agent (Art Smith), it mostly concentrates on the disturbing story of Steele’s vivid (albeit scary) imagination and his even more frightening rage.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, In a Lonely Place ©

The isolation, moral ennui, and angst driving Steele to desperate acts of savagery that begin to terrify even his long-time agent, the beautiful but restless Laurel, and close friends Detective Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) and wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell).

Jeff Donnell and Frank Lovejoy, In a Lonely Place ©

It’s not only the most intense performance Bogart ever gave, it’s considered by many to be his best: “revelatory, vulnerable,” and “unnerving.”

Because the film In a Lonely Place is only very loosely adapted from the novel, I wouldn’t recommend that you read the book beforehand, as the differences between novel and film will confuse you. Instead, watch the film — or read the novel — separately from each other. This film, called the “purest of Existential primers,” is available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.

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You Are Now Entering the Cruel World: Texas Killing Fields, the Film

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You are now entering the cruel world
bridge sign near The Killing Fields

Since the 1970s, at least 30 young women and girls have been abducted, disappeared, or been found murdered in an isolated and spooky 50-mile area of Texas bayou country dubbed “The Killing Fields.” Based on the true and never solved serial killings in that area, the screenplay for the 2011 film Texas Killing Fields, (also known as The Fields), was written by federal agent Don Ferrone, who investigated the killings and missing girls. Texas Killing Fields, despite any writing and production flaws, is an intense and creepy film, with strong performances by its principals.

Based loosely on investigators Brian Goetschius and Michael Land, respectively, Detective Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Texas Killing Fields ©

and Detective Mike (Sam Worthington)

Sam Worthington in Texas Killing Fields ©

become deeply involved in the cases of the missing and murdered girls after Mike’s ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain),

Jessica Chastain, Texas Killing Fields ©

who is also an investigator, albeit in another county, contacts Brian for help when a missing girl’s car is discovered at the boundary of the desolate area known as “The Killing Fields.”

Detective Mike, short-tempered and alcoholic, is initially not interested in getting involved in these cases since it is not in their jurisdiction. Detective Brian, however, feels more morally obligated to investigate them, as evidenced by the map and photos of missing girls he has hanging in his office.

Chloë Grace Moretz, Texas Killing Fields ©

The story of the murder investigation is interwoven with the story of Little Anne (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose mother Lucie (Sheryl Lee) flirts with prostitution, and whose brother Eugene (James Hébert) works and parties with his spooky pal, Rhino (Stephen Graham).

Stephen Graham, Texas Killing Fields ©

Detective Brian is familiar with Little Anne since he has clearly been attempting to save her from sinking into the moral and criminal abyss already inhabited by her abusive family.

Chloë Grace Moretz & Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Texas Killing Fields ©

The detectives get more emotionally involved in the case when Little Anne disappears, causing them to plunge into the wilderness of The Killing Fields in a desperate attempt to save her and to stop the serial killer.

The Killing Fields, Texas, © CBS News

Though compelling and creepy, Texas Killing Fields isn’t perfect. It’s never clear why Jessica Chastain’s character is in the film in the first place, and her character, although she provides some very minor backstory for Detective Mike, could have been completely eliminated without the film’s suffering from her loss.

Worse, the film has some serious lighting issues. While it might be “atmospheric” to have much of a serial killer film taking place in the dark, at night, in a desolate area that has no lighting whatsoever, when an audience can’t see what’s happening onscreen, especially during one of the climactic scenes involving Detective Brian, that’s a problem. In fact, the lighting problem may be one of the things that earned the film some of its lower reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.

Sam Worthington & Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Texas Killing Fields ©

The real killings on which Texas Killing Fields was based were never actually solved. Though law enforcement had a strong suspect, authorities were never able to find any evidence definitively connecting their suspect to the disappearances or killings. The film deviates from this fact, as well as from the facts about what happened to the character on which Little Anne is modeled, but that’s Hollywood: even in a movie about serial killers, Hollywood wants an (almost) happily-ever-after ending.

Even with its flaws, Texas Killing Fields is intense and worth watching. The performances of the principal actors alone, including young Chloë Grace Moretz, are strong and well-done.

If you’ve seen season 1 of True Detective, you’ll wonder which came first: TKF or TD. No matter that some of the viewer-reviews compare the film to True Detective season 1, Texas Killing Fields predates the HBO series by quite a few years, and it gets credit for that, at the very least.

Available on Amazon ($4.99 or free with a 7-day trial subscription to Starz) and YouTube ($5.99). Free for Starz subscribers.

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Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven, the 2012 Film

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I’m not sure why the 2012 film The Raven doesn’t have at least 9 out of 10 stars on popular reviewing sites because it is one of the best takes on Edgar Allan Poe and his stories that I’ve ever seen. If you know anything about Poe, you know he is credited with inventing the detective story, and he is famous for some of his scary tales, like “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” many of which were made into somewhat cheesy 1960s horror films starring Vincent Price. As a fan of Poe’s since I was 11, when I first read all of his works, I was surprised that I’d never heard of the film, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, in an interpretation where the drug-addicted and alcoholic writer is redeemed by his love and self-sacrifice for his fiancée.

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The film begins and ends with this enigmatic scene: Poe sitting on a bench in the middle of a public park, motionless, gazing upward. The scene then switches to officers responding to the screams of a woman. When they break into the locked boarding-house room, they discover bodies but no assailant; they find a window nailed shut. Viewers familiar with Poe’s work will immediately recognize the scenario from Poe’s  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Even if you’re not familiar with Poe’s tales, however, you can certainly enjoy the film, in which a literate serial killer seems to be trying to implicate Poe in murders that come from his published stories.

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Inspector Fields (Luke Evans, L) recognizes the stories from which the crimes are mirrored, and when he calls in Poe for questioning, it becomes apparent that the author is not the killer. Fields then enlists Poe to help him and his men solve the crimes.

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Poe’s involvement in solving the crimes is complicated by the presence of his fiancée Emily (Alice Eve), whose father, wealthy Captain Charles Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t know about their relationship or their secret engagement. Furthermore, Hamilton wouldn’t approve if he did know of their love. When the mysterious killer kidnaps Emily and gives Poe clues to her whereabouts, Hamilton is forced to work with Poe, whom he dislikes, and with the Inspector, to save Emily.

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The film is genuinely gripping suspense, even if you are familiar with the Poe stories on which the killer is basing his crimes. Additionally, though Cusack sometimes seems to be a bit unemotional in his delivery of some lines, his Poe is fascinating. Cusack’s Poe has a temper, he’s jealous of “hacks” like fellow-poet Longfellow, he’s experiencing writer’s block that prevents him from earning sufficient money to formally request Emily’s hand in marriage, but in The Raven, this Poe is transformed from a drug-addled failure to a clever, romantic hero of admirable proportions. In the 2012 film The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe is worthy of respect and admiration, no matter his personal failings.

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The Raven is airing Friday and Saturday 2-3 December on Starz, and is available any time on Starz on Demand. The film is also available for $2.99-3.99 on these providers: YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and GooglePlay.

Watch it with the lights out for best creepity effects, my Lovelies, and enjoy the official trailer.

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