Monday, October 14, 2013

Voodoo Dolls (1990)

... aka: School, The

Directed by:
Andrée Pelletier

How's this for a frightful proposition: a Canadian cheapie directed by one of the victims from NAKED MASSACRE (1976), co-written by the director of the bad movie classic Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) and produced by the same guy who backed NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER (1990), an insufferable slasher spoof so bad it went unreleased for nearly 20 years. Yikes. Filmed entirely at College St-Laurent in Quebec, Canada, this very low-budget effort didn't receive much of a release in the U.S. (the VHS I watched was on the obscure Astral video label). In the black-and-white prologue set in 1951 at the Hanley School for Girls in Louisiana, troubled young student Lisa King (Flavia Carrozzi) stumbles upon the object of her desire in bed with not one but two different ladies. Enraged, she grabs a knife and proceeds to slash them all to death in bed. Cut to current day as pretty, shy new transfer student Vanessa Forbes (Grace Phillips), who's just lost her father, arrives from Beverly Hills with her snobby mother to enroll in the same school's drama program. The hunky, skirt-chasing dean, Matthew Hanley (Howard Balaban), promptly tells them a little about the history of the place: something about the school being built upon supposedly cursed land where no crops would ever grow. Nevertheless, Vanessa decides this is the school for her.

As soon as our heroine settles into her room, things begin to move around all on their own, which is blamed on the floors being uneven. She's befriended by the outspoken Ingrid (Nathalie Gauthier) and "quirky" closet lesbian Rickie (Beth Lachance) and meets her roommate; loud, obnoxious party girl Laura (Maria Stanton), who tells her the blood-soaked history of the school and brands the dean a pervert; claiming he tries to get into all of the students' pants (and yet, she still wants to be his newest conquest). Lots of extremely strange things soon begin happening. Vanessa starts having visions; the murderess Lisa (who committed suicide shortly after the original murders) standing in the hallway holding a red ball, worms on her dinner plate, etc. And she's not the only one who seems to be affected by the school. Drama teacher Miss Sayers (Nicole Jacqueline) stumbles upon a play written by Lisa in the school's basement and seems to become possessed. She insists the students put on this play - which is re-titled and said to be anonymously written at the dean's request - instead of the planned Twelfth Night.

Holy convoluted storytelling, Batman! This thing's all over the freakin' place. There's a monotone black handyman (Graham Chambers) with a pet tarantula who is frequently seen in brief flashes painted up in white beating drums, dancing and chanting, a nosy cook (Jessica Dublin, later a Troma regular) lurking around acting weird and a retarded voyeur janitor (Daniel Varga) who sits around reading skin mags and watches girls in the locker room through a peephole while drooling all over the place before eventually wandering downstairs into the boiler room where he's eaten alive by a bunch of tiny reanimated voodoo dolls! The lesbian character slashes her wrists in the bathroom after being rejected by a female peer, mirrors crack all by themselves, zombies appear in the swimming pool, a shower sprays blood, a heart is removed during the WTF climactic voodoo ritual and the music score fluctuates between wholly inappropriate generic blues-rock and Caribbean-flavored island music to bell chimes.

Though I cannot recommend this to those looking for a good horror film, I can recommend it to people who love inept, weird, obscure films. It's a huge mess with an unfocused, schizophrenic story line that never can decide what it wants to be, but there's always something bizarre and entertaining going on to keep your attention. Performances range from faintly adequate to comically wooden. Lead Phillips is not only a real stunner with extremely striking blue eyes, but also a decent enough actress (no surprise she moved on to bigger and better things). Writers Ed Kelleher and Harriette Vidal (who adapted their own novel "The School") also scripted the Roberta Findlay films LURKERS and Prime Evil (both 1988). Director Pelletier was an actress who racked up four Canadian Genie nods through the 80s before becoming a writer and director. She hasn't worked on a film since 2003.

Though IMDb lists this as having been filmed in 1989 and released in 1991, the VHS says 1990 and the only date found in the end credits actually says 1984.

1/2  SBIG

Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1966)

... aka: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken

Directed by:
Gene R. Kearney

The short story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is perhaps the best-known work of American poet and writer Conrad Aiken. It was written in 1934 and is often included in classic fantasy and horror anthologies. Aiken was a celebrated writer during his day, winning a PSA Shelley Memorial Award in 1929, a Pulitzer Prize in 1930 and numerous other prestigious awards; eventually ending up as Poetry Consultant of the Library of Congress and earning the title of Poet Laureate. To get some insight into the author's work, which is heavily symbolic and psychological, one only has to only take a brief look at Aiken's biography. When he was just 11-years-old, his father - a wealthy, respected brain surgeon in Savannah, Georgia - suddenly and without warning or provocation, went crazy and murdered his wife before turning a gun on himself. Aiken had heard the gunshot and discovered both bodies. It was one of those inexplicable tragedies that sometimes occur in life and there were no clear cut answers to why it occurred. Afterward, Aiken went to live with an aunt in Massachusetts, but the incident clearly shaped him as both a human being and as a writer.

This long-forgotten attempt to visualize the story (directed, shot, edited and co-written by Kearney) is also full psychological vagaries and elements of the unexplained. It involves a young boy named Paul (Simon Gerard) who begins to change for the worse; suddenly losing complete track of time and becoming withdrawn from the world around him. He can no longer pay attention in school (except for in geography class when the North and South Poles are discussed) and is often caught daydreaming and staring out into space. He shrugs off playing with friends and becomes distant and eventually hostile toward his parents, especially after they have a doctor come to check in on him (all "hostile presences" to him). All Paul can seem to think about is snow; a secret world of snow, and that world (and the voice he hears within) preoccupies all of his thoughts. Paul awakens every morning listening to the mailman's footsteps outside and hopes to one day no longer hear those steps clicking across the sidewalk...

Just like with the story, one can make what they want of out of all this. I've seen interpretations as varied as the boy simply and consciously rejecting the cruel world around him ("Snow growing heavier each day, muffling the world, hiding the ugly...") or, because of the voice he hears, that he suffers from a mental disorder (namely schizophrenia). Others have tried to find the meaning behind all of the snow, or just the color white (Paul becomes just as entranced by a crystal chandelier and a glass of milk), that seems to give Paul solace and peace. Either way, the boy clearly is internally retreating from the world at large for one reason or another.

This 17-minute short was filmed in black-and-white on a very low budget, but it's a noble, effective attempt at the story. There's an eerie score from George Kleinsinger, with lots of out-of-tune string plucking, and though the acting is pretty amateurish, Michael Keene does an excellent job narrating (basically a read-through of the story). Director Kearney cut his teeth producing the nudie movie The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964) and went on to pen scripts for Games (1967), the giant bunny camp-fest Night of the Lepus (1972) and the TV movies The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973) and Crime Club (1975). He received an Emmy nomination as writer of the series Kojak (1974-78) and also adapted Silent Snow again in 1971 for the TV series Night Gallery. That version was narrated by Orson Welles.

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