Male Bonding –

This weekend we went with most of my husband’s family to a resort in the Poconos paid for generously by my mother-in-law on her 75th birthday. Saturday night was ‘Hoedown Night’. Cowboy hats and kerchiefs provided by the lodge. My husband put on a hat and wore the kerchief bank robber style. A few thoughts came to mind. First, my husband is super hot. Second, it is nearly impossible to play “dangerous bank robber ala Robert Redford and shy schoolmarm ala Kathryn Ross” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with a five-year-old underfoot. Third, I love westerns.

My favorite western isn’t the typical riding the range kind it’s Rio Bravo (1959, directed by Howard Hawks) starting John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson. (And – a supporting role by one of the Kings of the Westerns – Ward Bond.)

The film has the feel of a stage play with majority of the action taking place in the jail between the main characters mostly taking to each other: John Wayne, the sheriff (and former gunslinger) Chance; Walter Brennan, the cranky, “crippled”, old codger deputy who calls ‘em as he sees ‘em Stumpy; Dean Martin, the deputy with a drinking problem Dude; and, Ricky Nelson, the hot-shot kid gunslinger-for-hire Colorado Kid.

Within the first few minutes, Wayne’s, character Chance arrests the no-good brother (played by Claude Atkins) of a ruthless, wealthy rancher.  The drama then becomes what will happen to this rag tag group lead by Chance when the brother sends an army of gunslingers to free his kin.

Wayne is the star of this film but the story to watch is Dean Martin’s. His character Dude is a drunk who because of his drinking puts things into motion and because of his stopping drinking helps put things right. His is the redemption story. (I don’t need redemption in a film but when it is done well it sticks with you. This stuck.)

As the four wait for the inevitable show down with the hired guns and as tension and  fear builds the men talk a lot about what stuff means in this world – this is also called ‘character development’ which I miss in films now days. A Hawks strong suit, given free reign here  – are that thoughts and emotions can be conveyed with just looks and other subtle human actions. (The pain on Wayne’s face as he watches Dude struggle to regain his tattered dignity.)

The men – three of them old friends –  know they only have themselves to rely on in this mess. To kill the time as they wait – they clean and sing songs (thanks to the talents of Martin and Nelson). They look out for each other, they talk about their feelings, life philosophies. They rag on each other. In other words, they care about each other. I think Hawks threw the sexy girl character Feathers in played by Angie Dickinson solely as a catalyst for these men to talk about love and honor and respect. 

It is a talky for a western. But, I like that. The only thing sexier than my husband dressed as a cowboy is when my husband tells me what he thinks and feels.

And, don’t worry there are plenty of kick ass scenes of the shoot-em-up-kind. Each of them gets their licks in and it is awesome.

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All Hallows Eve –

My nephew Thorin (Kari’s son) will be a great scary movie companion at some point. We were at the Halloween store this past weekend and there are several interactive dioramas throughout the store. Including a life size little girl from The Exorcist replete in vomit stained nightgown spins her head completely around. There is a phone in front of the killer from Scream and it reads, “Try me”. If you pick up the phone you hear that creepy voice and then blade noises. There was a really weird one of a rat eating a human. That was puzzling me and really anyone that walked over to watch. Thorin asked for “more” so as Kari was finding a pirate outfit for him, he and I walked from one gross out scene to another. And each time he did the same thing (which I do and pretty much all other horror fans do) he would get super scared and then laugh hysterically.

It is that space between the fright and the release that horror lovers love. Autumn is a lot of things and one thing that this season brings in spades is spookiness. Trees even start to look creepy right about now with their leaves gone and their pointy limbs exposed. Think of how many hearts have skipped a beat as the bare limbs of a tree along with the wind and darkness has created a phantom on the window pane. Tap, tap, tap.

Our first killing frost occurred in Maine in various towns over the past few days and the sun dips at around 6:30. Soon it will be 4:30 and then the night is long.

Stephen King lives in Maine and is one of the writers that brought me to this state. The first time I ever heard of Maine cities such as Portland or Falmouth was in the book Salem’s Lot. I have a clear memory of drinking Russian Tea at the Holbrook’s house on the river outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and both Caroline and I were reading copies of the book. The weather, humid and hot with the river breeze slowly making its way up from the banks but I was chilled to the bone reading about the vampire Barlow. Caroline was a faster and better reader than I so she was way into the book. Periodically she would snap the book shut smooshing mosquitoes between the pages. During that week of reading the book I would accidently pick up Caroline’s copy and would realize I had her’s when I came across a dried smear of an insect on the page.

Vampires don’t scare me so much anymore. The zeitgeist of vampire as ‘misunderstood youth’ is now so much part of the pop culture landscape that I think we’ve forgot just how terrifying they used to be.

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you get a good scare this most scary of all seasons. And then laugh, knowing that tap, tap tap on your window pane is just the wind and the bare tree limbs and the night playing tricks on you. Or is it? And thanks to Brother Dan for guest blogging. This most lovable man loves movies. I hope to see many more guest appearances from him.

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Scariest non-horror films or scenes – by Dan Gillotte (guest post to SATM)

The following guest post is by our  friend and surrogate brother Dan Gillotte. A favorite Dan memory is dissecting the film Pulp Fiction. I was an idiot – stating the film was “vapid”.  Dan responded nonchalantly, “Really? You should watch it again then.” I did and have about 30 times since. Thanks, Dan.

No Country for Old Men (2007) – I saw it at a late show on a Monday night. I was one of 
the only people in the theater and left to an empty parking lot. Drove home through deserted streets half expecting Javier Bardem to kill me at every intersection. The tension in that movie is insane. Gut-wrenchingly loaded with foreboding.

Reservoir Dog (1992) – Another tension fest, but the topper is the ear scene, when Mr. Blond is torturing the cop that is tied up and has his mouth duct taped shut. Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” is playing and Mr. Blond is dancing with a straight razor in his hand! Holy crap is that scene disturbing. I thought this was the most graphic thing I had ever seen, but when I watched it again over time, I realize that Tarantino really shows VERY little actual active violence. He just stuffs every frame FULL of menace and terror.

Black Sunday (1977) – My first John Frankenheimer film seen as a child, I have no idea why my parents let me watch it. It left a lingering fear of stadiums and snipers and terror of senseless violence coming out of nowhere.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – either the 50s OR the 70s version (though I like the, 1993, Abel Ferrara version too). The idea of being replaced by a look alike OR being left as everyone ELSE is replaced is terrifying to me. The end scene of the 70s version terrified me when I saw it on a 13” TV when I was 10 and every time since. Shrieking Donald Sutherland? Yikes!

Dan is a life long film lover with a desire to one day host a dystopian future film series.

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The Scariest Movies I Ever Saw –

But, first the scariest movie I never saw. In our little city, before there was Netflix and about a million other in-home film viewing choices there was (and is) Videoport on Middle Street. It seemed everyone who was cool, awesome and earnest in their love of films has worked there including my sister Betty. One afternoon I walked in to rent the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). It was several years after its release but Siskel and Ebert had just done a thing on best scary films or something like that.

Tony Reiger was behind the counter – Tony of the black pompadour and possessor of true kindness. I handed him the film or actually the VHS tape. Tony smiled and nodded his head looking at the film I picked and said, “Kari, I am not going to let you rent that film.” I laughed, “Ha, ha.” He wasn’t joking – “No, I mean it, put it back. I can’t do that to you. I’ve seen it and I know you can’t handle it and it would haunt you forever. And, it would be my fault. So, no.”

You know what, I knew he was right but still I persisted and said I would fast forward through the really gruesome stuff. He responded, “You like Jim Jarmusch. Get a Jim Jarmusch film.” And, so I left with Night on Earth (1991). Thank you, Tony. You were right; I could not have handled it.

One of the other films Siskel and Ebert talked about in that episode was The Honeymoon Killers (1969). Directed by Leonard Kastle it is maybe the bleakest film I have ever seen. (The day I rented it Tony was not working.)

It is based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck – known as the Lonely Hearts Killers – who murdered women Fernandez had conned into marry him. The film is shot in black and white with a grainy documentary-style look. The film has a heavy, smothering feel that is anxiety producing. In a word chilling. Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco play the creepy killer couple. Both are more than believable in their roles and they look like real people not beautiful actors. Stoler is amazingly terrifying as a killer without a speck of remorse. And, their victims are helpless. Stoler’s character is also a nurse. There is something sinister about a lady in a 1960’s nurse uniform killing people. I know Freddy Kruger is fake but this chick is for real. (If Stoler hadn’t been an over-weight plain looking woman she would have had the career she deserved. Too bad Hollywood can’t tolerate imperfection.)

So you don’t think it’s just a low-budget thriller – François Truffaut said it was among his favorite contemporary American films.

My first scariest film was In Cold Blood (1967). We had a TV in the basement of our house. The basement also housed a tool room, the furnace room and a room filled with plaster of Paris (our mother had a little in-home business making plaster molded knick knacks). I sat transfix in front of our crappy black and white TV watching a true life horror film – where two of the characters are killed in their basement – while two stories above my family slept.

In Cold Blood maybe the first of the true-life home invasion films. The Clutter family is slaughtered in the middle of the night by two ex-cons in their isolated Kansas farmhouse. The film is based on Truman Capote’s novel of the same title. Richard Brooks directs and the use of black and white film also lends a disturbing documentary feel to the movie. I knew the story so I knew the Clutters have no chance of surviving. Knowing that makes the film even bleaker, more frightening. When the teenage Nancy Clutter heart-breakingly played by Brenda Currin is killed not a drop of blood is seen and it is still terrifying. And, even a thirteen-old-like-me knew the murder of the father and his son in the basement was one kind of hell on earth.

Robert Blake, who went on to star in the TV series Baretta and in real life likely killed the mother of his daughter, played one of killers.

One thing I know about myself is I am always more frightened by real life horror stories. I also learned a lesson that Tony Reiger had recognized in me that day I thought I wanted to rent Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer. You have to know your limits.

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