The Vanishing

Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu and Johanna ter Steege in The Vanishing

What scares you the most? If you chew on that question for a while, then imagine a narrative that gets you to that terrible place, your story might be a little like the one in The Vanishing. Completed in 1988, this downbeat thriller didn’t make it to the U.S. until a couple of years later, when it coincidentally landed in New York within weeks of The Silence of the Lambs. The Vanishing isn’t, strictly speaking, a serial-killer movie like Silence, but it shares that film’s deep interest in the psychopathology of its villain. Like a good (and by “good,” I mean “lurid”) true crime book, its interest is similarly piqued by the painful, quotidian details of an abhorrent crime.

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Blow Out


Blow Out begins with a broadly visual joke, nearly four minutes long, about filmmaking. It ends with a second joke on the same subject, this one more complex, pointed, and black as tar. Over the course of the narrative, the material has turned rancid, so discoloured and malodorous that it’s hardly funny. That’s because, between the two grand gestures that bookend the film, writer-director Brian De Palma has traced a hero’s journey from idealism and optimism to disillusionment and despair. If cynicism were a superhero franchise, Blow Out would be its origin story.

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The Killer Inside Me

Casey Affleck in <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>

It’s impossible to really film The Killer Inside Me. It’s a question of medium — you can’t replicate the book’s suffocating interior monologue, the puffed-up rant and ramble of a serial killer, because as soon as you dramatize the events in question for a movie camera you make them real in a way that they’re not, quite, when they’re still sitting on the page. It’s the old question of show versus tell.

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A Perfect Getaway

Steve Zahn, Chris Hemsworth, and Marley Shelton in <em>A Perfect Getaway</em>

More of an exercise in narrative gamesmanship than an actual thriller, A Perfect Getaway pretty much douses its first half’s methodical build-up of suspense with its second half’s bucket of contrivance. That’s not to say it isn’t a lot of fun — it is, with a sly sense of humor and sharp dialogue that makes clever, reflexive reference to the characters’ presence in a comic whodunit. (“He’s really hard to kill,” declares one, doting lovingly on her boyfriend, who may or may not be half of a couples serial-killing team.)

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The New York Ripper


The box art for this Lucio Fulci sleazefest describes it as “The Most Controversial Horror Film Ever Made,” which is a stretch. “Notorious” would be a better word. The New York Ripper‘s main claim to fame is its reputation as a sadistic, gory, and generally misogynist giallo—the Italian term referring to a combination of the crime and horror genres (basically a whodunit with slasher elements) that became popular in the 1960s and endured through the 1970s. Released in 1982 and styled after the psychologically ambitious thrillers of Hitchcock, it bears roughly the same relationship to the gialli film cycle that, say, Touch of Evil does to film noir. If the Fulci film isn’t exactly as self-aware as the Welles one, it still functions as a capper, a fitting culmination of a particular form.

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The American horror movie, so vital in the 1970s, is still enjoying its recent and long-running resurgence in popularity, although the market is glutted with skillful but unambitious exercises in nihilism (The Strangers, the Final Destination series) and dull rehashes of existing horror properties (examples are too numerous to mention, but the recent My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th reboots are basically what I’m talking about). So with the whole genre keeping a safe distance from anything like risk or relevance, it’s a relief to see a movie like Orphan, which is on fucking point from its very first scene. If you’ve seen the trailers and TV spots, you know that Orphan is ostensibly the story of a very bad little girl. But this film is really about Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga), a very sad Connecticut Mom who was profoundly traumatized by the stillbirth of her third child, and it opens with a harrowing nightmare sequence that begins with Kate going into labor, making her way to the hospital, etc. Events on screen quickly turn gruesome. It’s an effective horror-movie gambit. If the film is this unhinged from the first reel, the audience wonders where else the director might be willing to go before it’s over.

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Either it runs in the family or Jennifer is one hell of a mimic, because there’s an unmistakably Lynchian undercurrent to much of the goings-on in Surveillance, which lends some juice to a somewhat pulpy yet dry and familiar scenario. During the opening scenes, as Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond show up at a tiny police precinct wearing the kind of blue suits that denote FBI badgeholders, the younger Lynch adds an otherwordly soundtrack drone to the activity that flashed me right back to the first reel or so of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

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My review of Untraceable on Blu-ray Disc is online at

The makers of Untraceable never acknowledge their film’s own

ranking on the torture-as-entertainment scale. Instead, they’re

hell-bent on the idea that the online masses, guilty of exercising poor

taste, are somehow complicit in the worst kinds of crimes that might be

committed somewhere on the Internet by some sicko craving an audience.

The hectoring is so relentless that Untraceable obviously means

to send that message to its own audience–the sort of sick fucks who

would pay to see this movie in the first place. (For whatever reason,

moralizing filmmakers from Michael Haneke on down the line often fail

to implicate themselves in that downward spiral they so disdain.) D