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Burnt Offerings, Psycho II and III, High Life, The Orphanage, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Weekly Horror Bulletin Newsletter 230
We still have more oldies for you this week, some real overlooked classics this time.
This week, we’ll start with “Burnt Offerings,” a sort of haunted house film from 1976. Then we’ll catch up with Norman Bates in “Psycho II” and “Psycho III” from 1983 and 1986, then we’ll find out “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” From 1962.
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For our bonus films this week, we also have:
“High Life” (2018), a sci-fi movie about a shipload of criminals and major isolation issues.
“The Orphanage” (2007) a film about ghosts and missing children.
We’ve got two announcements this week pertaining to our books:
FREE! Horror Bulletin Monthly Issue 20 is now out. This, as always, has all our previous month’s reviews inside, but this month, we’re offering the ebook version (in PDF and ePub) absolutely free! Check out https://brianschell.com/collection/free-books for this one and more!
FREE! The Horror Guys Guide To The Halloween Films is available now, exclusively at our web store, https://brianschell.com/collection/free-books. The eBook version is completely free. Enjoy! Note that it’s also available as a paperback, but that one’s obviously not free. Also note, that there are a couple of other free books on the site as well!
Check out all our books!
The Horror Guys Guide to:
Here. We. Go!
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by William F. Nolan, Dan Curtis, Robert Marasco
Stars Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Bette Davis
Run Time: 1 Hour, 56 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This one builds nicely, gradually revealing what’s going on, and there’s a satisfying conclusion. The cast is great, and it still holds up well after all this time. It’s a worthy watch.
Marian, Ben, and David drive to the big house in the country. It’s a huge old place, and they’re all surprised at the size of it. Walker, the handyman, lets them in; they are expected. It’s all very nice inside, but the outside is totally neglected. Marian repeats “such waste.” The house is hundreds of years old.
Roz Allardyce comes downstairs and bosses Walker around; they snip at each other. Roz says they’ll need to tend to the place and maintain it. “The house takes care of itself,” she says. That said, it’s an unbelievably cheap rental: $900 for the whole summer.
Roz’s brother Arnold rolls in a wheelchair. They both love the old house and say it’s practically immortal. Ben keeps waiting for “the catch,” as the price is crazy low. The catch is that the Allardyce’s ancient mother needs to stay there too. She lives upstairs in her own suite, and all they need to do is feed the old woman three times a day.
Walker carries in a dead plant, but Arnold tells him to look again; it’s not as dead as he thought it was.
Ben and the family leave to discuss the situation. He swears the deal is too good to be true. Marian gets all whiny, and Ben gives in, so they take the deal. The family returns, along with Aunt Elizabeth, Ben’s old aunt. When they arrive, the Allardyce duo have already left with a note on the door, and they aren’t there.
Marion checks in on the old woman who lives upstairs. We don’t see her, but she’s apparently in her bedroom, and her sitting room has a zillion old photos. Marion tells Ben and Elizabeth not to go up there as the old woman will be her responsibility.
David shows Ben how to start up the pool pump, so then they have to clean up that mess. Later, the two find an old graveyard full of Allardyces on the property. Once again, Marion finds the food she carried up to the old woman is mostly uneaten. We never see the old woman. She’s barely eaten in a week (and no one assumes she’s sick or dying?). Still, some of the food’s being consumed.
Ben finds a broken pair of glasses in the swimming pool, which disturbs him for some reason. Ben and David start wrestling in the pool, and Aunt Elizabeth gets upset. Ben gets very carried away and nearly drowns David. Meanwhile, Marion is in some kind of trance in the old woman’s attic room and misses the whole thing.
That night, Ben has nightmares about his mother’s funeral. He and Marion then argue; he feels terrible about hurting David. He admits that he wanted to hurt David, but he doesn’t know why. He wonders at his own sanity.
The next morning, Marion tries to distract Ben by setting up an office for him. David is terrified of Ben now. Ben invites Marion to the pool, and he wants to get frisky, but she’s not into him anymore. He tries to make love to her, but she begs him not to– but doesn’t explain why not. She always starts hanging out in the old woman’s room, but we don’t know if she’s ever actually met the old woman who supposedly lives there.
Aunt Elizabeth and Marion have a talk about Marion’s new gray hair. Elizabeth is feeling old and tired since coming to the house. Ben has a waking flashback to the creepy chauffeur from his mother’s funeral.
Ben wakes up that night and smells gas. He breaks into David's room, where the gas is running wide open. He carries David out and smashes a window to let the gas out. In the morning, Elizabeth says she looked in on David last night but would have remembered if she’d opened the gas vent. Probably. She seems confused, and her hair is much grayer. Marion gets positively nasty with Ben’s now-sickly old aunt.
Ben takes Elizabeth’s side and confronts Marion about it. Ben wants to meet the old woman whom Marion spends so much time with. He senses that something isn’t right with his wife.
Ben points out that the summer is almost over, and that Marion’s entirely too attached to the house; they’ll have to leave soon. He suggests leaving right away, but she flips out on him. David screams; Elizabeth is dying in her room. Ben tries to call every doctor in town, but all the numbers are busy– even the operator.
We watch as Marion takes another tray of food up to the old woman’s room, and then she eats it herself. Ben and Elizabeth both see the creepy chauffeur in her room, and he rolls a coffin at them. Elizabeth dies in reality, and they all go to the funeral, except for Marion, who doesn’t want to leave the obviously non-existent old woman upstairs alone.
Ben gets angry and demands that Marion open the old woman’s door. He insists that they pack up and leave the house. Marion is obsessed with her job as caregiver for the old woman.
It starts to rain, and Ben watches the boards and tiles outside falling off and being replaced by new ones. The house is regenerating itself. Marion, up in that room, watches Ben and David run out to the car. They don’t even slow down for Marion, but they do stop when a tree falls and blocks the road. Ben goes out to move the tree, and he’s grabbed by vines that won’t let him through. Marion catches up to them and drives them back to the house. “You’re a part of it,” he snarls, and she doesn’t deny it.
Marion calls the doctor for Ben, who is feverish in bed. The doctor says she’ll need to take him to the hospital in town tomorrow, and from the look on her face, we know that’s not gonna happen.
The next morning, Ben is catatonic. David decides to show off his non-existent swimming skills, but the whole pool gets really wavy. Ben wants to jump in and save him, but he can’t move. Marion sees what’s happening, but can’t get out of the house fast enough– the doors won’t open. As Ben watches helplessly, Marion finally gets to the pool and pulls David out.
All three of them decide it’s time to leave this place. They pack up the car, and Marion says she needs to go tell Mrs. Allardyce that they’re leaving. She goes upstairs and knocks on the old woman’s door.
Ben gets nervous and goes in after her. Ben goes into the old woman’s room and finds the old woman sitting in a wheelchair. When he turns her around, he sees that it’s really Marion, completely possessed. Ben then swan-dives off the fourth floor window onto the car, traumatizing David once again. That’s OK, because the old chimney crumbles while regenerating and buries David under tons of bricks.
The Allardyce siblings talk in voice-over while panning over the perfect, renewed house and grounds. They’re so glad their old mother has returned to them. Of course, that’s Marion, now possessed by the old woman. And we see that they have been added to the huge collection of photos in the sitting room.
The house here is the same one used in “Phantasm,” “A View to a Kill,” and “True Lies,” among others.
It’s a creepy old house, and although we see weird things happening, and no one behaves normally, we really have no idea what’s going until the very end.
It still holds up pretty well, and it’s very good.
Psycho II (1983)
Directed by Richard Franklin
Written by Tom Holland, Robert Bloch
Stars Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly
Run Time: 1 Hour, 53 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This is a years later sequel to the first “Psycho” movie. Norman is all better and is being released. The Bates Motel and the overlooking house are still there waiting for him. And things get more complicated from there. It’s heavy on mystery and drama, and nicely done. Very entertaining and a worthy sequel.
We open with the famous shower scene from the original “Psycho.” Credits roll.
We come back to a courtroom. Lila Loomis is there, and she’s got a petition with more than 700 people who don’t want Norman Bates released from the mental hospital. The judge asks her to leave and then he releases Norman, who is declared sane and cured. Dr. Raymon declares that Norman is fine now, but Lila isn’t having it.
Norman goes home to the motel, which is still there. Mr. Toomey has been running the motel in Norman’s absence. The doctor warns him that memories are more likely to return with him living here, but he knows how to deal with that now.
Almost immediately, he finds a note from his mother and hears her voice. He’s so afraid that he drops his clothes down the steps.
He goes to a diner in town where he’s gotten a job as a cook’s helper. He meets Myrna and Mary, waitresses and Ralph, the cook. Mrs. Spool is the manager. He hears Mary arguing with her boyfriend on the phone and learns that she doesn’t have anywhere to go. He offers her a room at the motel.
Mr. Toomey comes in and Norman meets him for the first time. Norman finds drugs in the office as well as people having sex in the rooms. Norman’s not pleased. Toomey shrugs, “They stay a few hours, and they leave.” It’s that kind of hotel, and Norman fires him. Toomey’s not nice about any of it.
Norman and Mary have sandwiches, and she hands him a great big shiny knife, and he’s all weird and nervous about it. She’s a little nervous about him and thinks he’s up to something. Mary knows a little of Norman’s history, so he tells her half the story. He then begs her to stay because he’s afraid to stay by himself tonight.
He shows her to her room and leaves her alone. She goes to bed with a chair under the doorknob. Nothing happens.
The next morning, Mary comes to work and tells Norman that she’s going to live in town with a friend. Toomey comes in, and Norman isn’t happy to see him. He’s also rude with Mary, accusing her of spending the night with Norman. He presses the point, and argues with Norman. Norman finds another note from mother, and gets upset. No one else sees the note, and Ralph sends him home.
That evening, Mary comes back to stay at Norman’s again. She goes upstairs and takes a shower. Nothing happens, but we see someone peeping through a hole in the wall. Toomey, obviously drunk, starts yelling outside. Norman gets a phone call from “his mother,” and he thinks it’s Toomey.
Toomey turns around and sees someone in a dress. Someone in a dress with a big knife. Someone who kills Toomey.
Dr. Raymond turns up the next day, wanting to know why Norman quit the diner. Norman says that he fired Toomey and is running the motel himself now. Mary finds the hole in the wall, and it leads to Mother’s room. Raymond goes to see Sheriff Hunt and they talk about Norman. Raymond wants them to tap Norman’s phone and listen for “Mother’s” calls, but Hunt says he can’t do that.
Norman, down at the motel, sees his mother standing in the window up at the house. He runs there, but doesn’t find anyone inside. We cut to some kids breaking into the basement of the house; they’ve done this before. They hear something in the next room— it’s the knife-wielding, dress-wearing person. The girl gets away, but the boy becomes meat.
Mary lets Norman out of the attic; he was locked in. He says it was whoever had been pretending to be his mother. He says there’s a note, but she doesn’t see it. The police come to the door; the girl told them that she saw her boyfriend murdered in Norman’s basement. Norman says he doesn’t know anything, and when they all go down there to look around, there’s nothing to find. In fact, everything is tidy and cleaned up now. Mary lies and says she cleaned up several days ago. The sheriff tells Mary more about Norman’s past and then leaves. Norman thinks “It’s all starting again.”
Lila comes to town and talks to the sheriff. She wants to know why he hasn’t been arrested for the murder of the boy. Sheriff Hunt says Mary was with Norman at the time, and there’s no body or any kind of evidence. She wants to know if he’s dragged the swamp.
Mary goes down to the motel office, and she runs into Lila, who is her mother. Mary tells Lila that there’s no way Norman killed the boy in the cellar. “He couldn’t have done it.” “What difference does it make? We want him re-committed. Mary, people don’t change.” Mary says she thinks there’s someone else in the house, and that she thinks Norman is trying really hard to be sane now. Lila is less than supportive.
Mary knows there’s someone in the house, and she pulls out a pistol. She calls Lila, but she hasn’t gone back to her hotel. Norman swears his mother is in the house, but Mary tries to talk sense into him.
Dr. Raymond comes by for another visit the next morning, and he brings up Lila Loomis. He warns Norman that she’s Mary’s mother. He says they’re trying to undermine Norman’s sense of reality. That’s the least of Norman’s worries now that his mother is back from the dead. Raymond says that Mary or Lila has been dressing up and calling and sending notes. Norman is doubtful.
In town, Mary accuses Lila of those same things, but Lila denies it all. Mary doesn’t believe Lila’s story; she thinks her mother is behind all this.
Dr. Raymond has Mrs. Bates’s body exhumed to prove to Norman that she’s really dead. Norman goes home and tells Mary what Raymond said. Norman gets a phone call from his mother, and Mary says there’s no one there. Has he really gone crazy this time?
Norman comes to the conclusion that Mrs. Bates isn’t the one calling him, it’s his real mother. Mary comes clean about Lila and their plan.
The deputy comes to take Norman to the swamp. The sheriff has found Mr. Toomey’s car in the swamp. Mary asks the sheriff if he knows if Norman was adopted.
In town, Raymond starts to follow Lila. She goes into the Bates’s house and puts on a dress and wig. Except someone else in a dress and wig comes up behind her and kills her. Raymond goes inside after her and Norman finds him down there. Norman tells Raymond about his real mother, someone completely different from Mrs. Bates; she told him that on the phone.
Mary comes to Norman, and she wants them both to leave town before they get connected to Toomey’s body and car. Norman talks about his real mother to her as well.
Dr. Raymond calls from the motel and says that the calls to him have come from the motel office. Norman has a long talk with “mother” after Raymond hangs up.
Mary runs to the basement and grabs the dress and the wig. She comes up stairs dressed as Mrs. Bates. She orders him to hang up the phone, but it looks like he’s gone completely mental this time. Dr. Raymond grabs Mary thinking to catch her in the act, and she stabs him to death, mostly by accident.
Norman says he’ll cover up for his mother, and she stabs him a couple of times. They find Lila in the cellar, and she blames him. The police come in, see Mary in the wig brandishing the knife, and shoot her.
The sheriff tells what happened. Mary and Lila Loomis killed Toomey, Raymond, and that boy in the basement, and Mary killed Lila. He says, “Right to the end it, she was saying it was Norman who was crazy.”
The sheriff drives Norman home; he was the victim in all this.
Night falls, and Norman’s mother walks up to the front door. No, it’s Ms. Spool, the manager of the diner in town. He says he was expecting someone, he just wasn’t sure when. He makes her tea, and we see that he pulls down the box of poison. She’s Mrs. Bates’s sister and his real mother.
She gave the baby to her sister to raise since she was going through some mental issues herself. By the time she got out of the hospital, Norman had already been locked away. The poison is kicking in, but he whacks her over the head with a shovel to hurry things along. He carries her body upstairs to Mother’s bedroom. She wants to sit in her chair and watch out the window.
It’s multiple levels of plots and schemes.
The sheriff is surprisingly reasonable and handles everything exceptionally well, which is surprising for a portrayal of a small-town sheriff. Dr. Raymond seems way more hands-on than any psychiatrist I’ve seen in movies.
It’s definitely more of a whodunnit or did-he-do-it than a pure horror film, but it’s really good. The ending is perfect. “Only your mother truly loves you.”
Short Film: Coffee (2023)
by Deformed Lunchbox
Run Time: 2:36
Joe goes to Mr. Keller’s house for “an opportunity.” Keller slurps his coffee loudly and offers Joe a cup. “It’s my special blend. Very special.”
Joe likes sugar. “I’m kind of known for my sweet tooth.”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
Oh! That is very special coffee. I’ll try some of the dark roast please!
“Deformed Lunchbox” doesn’t have any actor or filmmaker credits, so I didn’t list them here. The acting isn’t great, but both characters are pretty odd guys, so that’s probably fine. In retrospect, the story is predictable, but I didn’t see it coming.
I like my shorts like I like my coffee. Short and dark!
Psycho III (1986)
Directed by Anthony Perkins
Written by Charles Edward Pogue, Robert Bloch
Stars Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell
Run Time: 1 Hour, 33 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
After the second movie, Norman is living his best life at the motel and with mother at the house. It’s interesting seeing it so out in the open to us this time, and how Norman deals with the people who come into his life. Things still don’t necessarily go like we expect. It was the least successful of the Psycho movies financially, and reviews at the time were mixed, but The Horror Guys liked it quite a bit. You’ll get more out of it for sure if you’ve seen the first two movies.
We open up to Maureen, a nun, screaming “There is no God!” She climbs the church tower and gets ready to jump to her death. Maureen doesn’t jump, but she does knock the helpful nun to her death below. The nasty nun yells, “You’ll burn in Hell for this!” Credits roll.
Maureen sits by the side of the desert road, still distraught, and walks until she’s picked up by Duane Duke, a musician. He’s all over her pretty much instantly. He’s talkative, and she seems deeply depressed and in shock.
It gets dark, and a storm hits, and he doesn’t want to drive anymore. He wants to make out, but she’s been a nun for years. She gets out in the storm and runs away.
It’s morning at the Bates Motel, and a bunch of birds eat from the feeder and then die. Norman has poisoned them for his taxidermy hobby. We see in a newspaper that Emma Spool, from the previous film, is still missing. Duke honks his horn to get Norman’s attention; he saw the “help wanted” sign in the window and is interested in the job. Norman doesn’t even care about an application; he’s hired. Duke says he’s not planning on staying around for too long, but he’ll do it for a while.
Over at the diner, Statler and the Sheriff talk about Mrs. Spool’s disappearance. There’s a woman there who says she drove all the way from L.A. to see Norman, and the two men stick up for Norman. “The guy just wants to be left alone in peace.” She’s Tracy, and when Norman comes in, she wants to interview him about “The Insanity Defense.”
In the middle of the interview, Norman watches Maureen get off a truck and is distracted by her. She resembles Marion Crane, the woman he killed in the shower all those years ago. Maureen walks to the motel and runs into Duke, who apologizes for last night. Duke overcharges her and keeps the difference. Duke gives her cabin number one, which makes Norman nervous.
Norman has a talk with Mother upstairs, and she picks on him. “You can’t get rid of me,” she says. Duke meets Tracy at the town bar, but they don’t get along until she finds out that he works at the Bates Motel. She fills him in on Norman’s history.
Meanwhile, Norman uses the peephole to watch Maureen undress. “Mother” comes into Maureen’s room as she bathes, but finds that Maureen has already slit her wrists. She hallucinates Mother as the Virgin Mary, with the knife being a dazzling shiny cross. Maureen wakes up later in the hospital. They tell her that Norman found her while taking fresh towels to her room. He offers to let her stay at the motel for a few days to get her head right.
Duke brings a girl home from the bar, and we see that he’s redecorated his room to look like a porn set. They have sex and then argue— he throws her out afterward. Mother kills her before she can call a cab.
Maureen talks to Father Brian, and they discuss her lack of faith and her desires. He points out that God saved her from suicide twice now. At the Motel, it’s Homecoming weekend, and the place is crowded for once. Tracy wants to know more about the voices coming from Norman’s house, and he asks her not to come back again.
Tracy checks out Mrs. Spool’s house and finds the phone number for the Bates’s Motel on several notes. Norman and Maureen go out to dinner, and he shows her how to dance, “My mother taught me.” They go back to her room. Maureen is ready for some earthly pleasures, but Norman says that wouldn’t be right and leaves. Mother calls Norman a, “dirty, dirty, dirty boy.”
Mother wants to kill Maureen, but Norman doesn’t want to. Mother does go to the motel to kill one of the homecoming partiers. Norman finds the body soon after.
The next day, the police come to see Norman; Tracy fills Maureen in on Norman’s history. The police are looking for Patsy, one of the guests from last night who didn’t come home. The sheriff has a warrant. Norman runs up to Mother’s room, but she’s not there. The police look around, but don’t find anything suspicious.
Tracy and the sheriff argue, and they’re standing right next to Patsy’s dead body in the ice machine and don’t notice. Maureen gives Norman an airtight alibi, but she wants to leave and go stay with the priest. Norman goes back home and looks all over for Mother.
Norman finds a note, “I’m in cabin 12– Mother.” That’s Duke’s room. Norman goes there and Duke sings him a song about his mother and then reveals that he stole the body from upstairs. Duke has blackmail on his mind. There’s a fight, and Norman kills Duke.
Tracy goes to see a man in a nursing home who recalls that Mrs. Spool spent a bunch of time in an asylum— and that she had a son. She does some more research and learns quite a lot about the Bates family history.
Back at the motel, Norman works to dispose of a couple of bodies in the swamp - it’s not a clean job when Duke isn’t really dead and goes down fighting.
Maureen returns while he’s away and goes up to the house. When he comes back, she sorta-kinda-accidentally falls down the stairs and dies by being impaled.
Tracy comes to the motel in search of Maureen but finds her room empty. She comes up to the house, but Norman sees her. She comes inside and finds Maureen’s body and Norman, dressed as Mother. Then she finds Mrs. Spool’s in the bedroom, as Mother protests the truth. As she tells what happened between the crazy Spool and Norman’s real mother, he has a moment of clarity and stabs the mummy to death.
Next morning, the police take Norma away, back to the asylum. He’s got a big smile on his face. “I’m finally free,” he says as they drive him away. Except he’s still got a souvenir…
To fully appreciate the third installment, you really should see the first two. And all three in order.
Anthony Perkins directed this one, but he didn’t feel that it came out as well as he wanted it to. I thought it was really well done, but this was the lowest-grossing of the Psycho movies.
It’s well paced and doesn’t drag anywhere. It’s fairly clear what’s going on; there’s no conspiracy this time around.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Henry Farrell, Lukas Heller
Stars Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Run Time: 2 Hours, 14 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
The acting is amazing and it’s all-around considered a classic, pretty much universally loved and adored on every “must see” movie list. Horror Guy Kevin is going to blaspheme a little and say it’s all that plus a bit too long and tedious.
In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson has a sold-out show. She’s the “The Diminutive Dancing Duse from Duluth,” a child singing and dancing star of the stage. They sell dolls of her in the lobby. Her sister Blanche does not look impressed. Jane throws a tantrum in front of a bunch of women, and they aren’t impressed either.
In 1935, Jane gets into Hollywood, but she can’t act and is a raging alcoholic. There’s a clause in her contract that states for every picture Blanche is in, Jane must be in one as well. The producer says that Blanche is the biggest thing in movies today. The producer wants to dump Baby Jane completely, but that’s up to Blanche. We see that there’s an “accident” with her car where Blanche winds up in a wheelchair and Jane winds up in an institution. Credits roll.
In the present, Liza and her mother, Blanche and Jane’s next-door neighbors, talk about them. They talk about never seeing Blanche, and Jane is fat and weird.
Meanwhile, Blanche is watching TV from her wheelchair, and Baby Jane looks like a seventy-year-old drunken child. The two clearly don’t get along. People still watch Blanche’s movies, but Baby Jane is mostly forgotten.
Blanche’s nurse, Elvira, says Blanche needs to talk to Dr. Shelby about Jane, and Blanche makes excuses for her. Elvira tells Blanche that Jane is keeping her fan mail from her. “She’s sick, and she’s not getting any better. In the past month, she’s getting a lot worse.” Blanche talks about selling the house, something that Jane wouldn’t like.
Jane gets drunk and imagines her doll singing. Blanche, upstairs, hears her insane sister singing downstairs. The old woman does the whole act from when she was a child star, and it’s pathetic.
Blanche tells Jane that they’re out of money and will need to sell the house. They can’t afford to keep it. Jane pulls the plug on Blanche’s phone. Jane serves Blanche her dead pet bird for dinner.
Jane goes out the next morning, and Blanche wants to make a phone call, but she can’t get down the stairs. Meanwhile, Jane goes to the newspaper and puts an ad in the “Personals” section. Blanche throws a note out the window (why not just yell?) to Mrs. Bates, but Jane intercepts it.
They argue over who bought the house. First, Jane says her father bought it for her, then Blanche says she bought it, so then Jane changes her story to say she bought it. She also insists neither of them will ever leave this house.
More and more, Blanche is becoming a prisoner in her own home as Jane torments her. Jane pays Elvira and tells her to take the week off before feeding Blanche a dead rat. Jane cackles evilly.
Elsewhere, Edwin Flagg plays the piano and circles Jane’s ad for an accompanist for a showbiz act. He comes over for an interview, and once again, Blanche doesn’t make a peep. Edwin has no idea who this crazy old bat is, and she sings terribly, but he needs the money and goes along with her.
Jane takes Edwin out to dinner, meanwhile, Blanche is upstairs starving. She finds the checkbook and learns that Jane has been forging her checks. She eventually tries to crawl down the stairs to get to the phone, but she’s too slow; she calls Dr. Shelby just as Jane returns. He agrees to come right over, but Jane kicks Blanche unconscious. Jane calls the doctor back right away and, impersonating Blanche, tells him to forget about it.
Elvira comes by, and Jane fires her. She doesn’t give up that easily and lets herself in. She finds the buzzer disconnected and Blanche’s bedroom door locked. Jane returns and the two women argue. Elvira enters the room and finds Blanche, bound and gagged, hanging from her traction machine. Jane then kills Elvira with a hammer.
Edwin comes over to practice, but she refuses to let him in and tells him he’s fired. She loads Elvira’s body into her car as Mrs. Bates drives in. Edwin whines to his mother about the situation, and she remembers Baby Jane trying to murder her sister with her car.
The police call Jane, which sets her off again, and she ungags Blanche, who wants to talk about the accident so many years ago. The police bring Edwin, who’s drunk, to Jane’s door. She invites him in for drinks as she promises to get him a check real soon now. When Jane comes out and shows him a Baby Jane doll, he realizes that his mother’s story was true. He puts the doll in Blanche’s wheelchair.
Blanche pushes over the bedside table, and Edwin hears it. He goes into her bedroom and finds her tied up. “Please, help me,” she whispers. He runs downstairs, outside, and down the street.
Jane panics and runs upstairs, calling for Blanche, “Please help me, Blanche!”
She then wheels her sister out to her car and drives her to the beach.
In the morning, they announce on the radio that Blanche has been abducted by her sister Jane. Also, Elvira’s body has been found. Meanwhile, Jane’s making sandcastles at the beach next to a nearly-dead Blanche.
A couple of cops stop at the ice cream stand by the beach and find Jane’s abandoned car. Blanche wakes up and admits that Jane didn’t run over her with the car; Blanche was driving. Jane was too drunk, so Blanche wouldn’t let her drive. Blanche hated her sister and tried to run her over but hit the gates instead and broke her own spine. She managed to crawl out of the car, and everyone just assumed it was Jane’s fault because she was so drunk and confused.
The cops spot Jane buying ice cream and ask her about her sister. The crowd is so big that all Jane does is dance for them like she used to. Then they find Blanche.
Blanche could have screamed out the window for the neighbors at any time. She also had several opportunities to get downstairs to the telephone but instead waited too long. When she finally did call the doctor, she could have simply said she’d been kidnapped or held hostage, but she doesn’t.
Still, the acting is good, if not completely believable. It started a whole genre, “hagsploitation,” with scary old actresses. I’d call it more of a thriller than a horror movie, but it’s got many of the same elements.
We don’t know if Blanche was alive or dead at the end.
High Life (2018)
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox
Stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre 3000
Run Time: 1 Hour, 53 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s very quiet and slow-moving for the most part with some lively moments. A lot is unexplained, including the ending. We couldn’t decide if it was brilliant or dull. Somehow it manages to be both at the same time.
We open on a garden, and we hear a baby crying somewhere. The baby, Willow, is inside in a playpen while her father, Monte, is in a spacesuit, outside, working on the spaceship. The baby starts screeching in his headphones, and he loses a tool.
He comes inside and feeds the baby from plants grown in the garden. He takes the baby for a walk, and the lights go out momentarily, and he looks concerned. He reports to the computer about saving energy and his and the baby’s health is fine. It seems like he’s on the ship alone with the baby.
He goes into the cold storage room, and there are bodies in there. He dresses them all in their space suits and helmets and dumps them outside the ship. Credits roll at the 17-minute mark.
As Monte does things, he gets brief flashbacks of other people doing random things. It’s obvious that being alone is getting to him.
We cut to a professor talking about inmates being used for extreme experiments in outer space. They aren’t being told the truth that they will never come back, and he thinks that’s morally wrong.
We then switch to an extended flashback, where we see that Monte and his shipmates were criminals who volunteered for a long-term space mission to see the effects of pregnancy at high-acceleration space travel. And something about harvesting the energy from a black hole to serve humanity. The babies continuously die from the radiation, but Dr. Dibs thinks it can be done. We get a creepy-weird sex scene of Dr. Dibs with a dildo in “The Box,” a strange masturbation booth. She’s also constantly handing out pills to keep the crew calm and semi-sedated.
Monte’s not into sex or donating his sperm, so everyone picks on him for abstinence. He prefers to work in the garden. We’re told that they’re accelerating to the point where time passes more slowly for them than the people back on Earth, so everyone they’ve ever known has died of old age.
They were at the halfway point to a black hole; the closest in the galaxy. They start to decelerate to reach the black hole in about four more years.
Elektra gives birth to a baby, but it soon dies; so does she.
Chandra has a stroke, so Dibs cuts the transponder out of his finger and uses it to file the reports that the ship requires regularly or it will shut down. Then she euthanizes him.
Ettore tries to rape Boyse, and there’s lots of screaming and fighting, culminating in him getting stabbed to death.
Dibs admits to Boyse that she murdered her own children and husband. She sneaks into Monte’s room at night while he’s sedated and rapes him. She takes his “sample” and impregnates Boyse with it. A baby is eventually produced. Boyse thinks it was Ettore’s rape attempt, and Dibs doesn’t try to correct her.
We cut back to the “present,” where baby Willow is now a teenager, and they’re approaching the black hole.
Flashing back again, Nansen, the trained pilot, plans to board her shuttle. Instead, Boyse takes her place and gets into the small shuttle and flies outside very near the black hole to commit suicide. Or perhaps she thought something cool would happen. What happens to her is messy, not cool. They almost immediately lose contact with her, and the experiment is not successful. They find Nansen’s body later; Boyse killed her to take her place. Mink, Nansen’s lover, beats Dr. Dibs with a shovel in revenge for everything.
Monte watches on the monitor as Dibs walks out the airlock, admitting that Willow is his child.
Tcherny talks about why he took this mission; he did it for his wife and child, but they didn’t understand it. He goes into the garden and dies. Monte is ready to do the same, but he decides to raise the child instead.
Years have passed, and the ship is now mostly dark. Monte and teen-Willow try to keep the ship working, but it’s a losing battle. They spot another ship exactly like theirs near the black hole. Could there be other people over there?
The two ships connect, and Monte crosses over to the other one. The place is a mess, and there are dogs running loose. Some of them are dead, but there are puppies. Willow begs for a puppy and says leaving it over there to die is cruel. He doesn’t relent
They look at the black hole, and Willow thinks he should try it now. They prepare another shuttle. They both go out in the little shuttle and fly into the black hole. The visuals suggest they don’t necessarily die.
This is a ten-minute short film stretched out to almost two hours. It’s incredibly long and slow-moving. It’s an hour and half before they spot the other ship; everything before that is character-driven flashback.
Who would put a husband-murdering, child-smothering, psycho doctor in charge of a mission like this? Why did they decide to fly into the black hole at the end?
Throughout the film, I kept having deja-vu flashbacks that made me feel as if I’d seen this before. I still couldn’t swear that I hadn’t seen it before, but it’s so forgettable that nothing stuck.
The ending is moderately interesting, but it took way too long to get there.
The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by J. A. Bayona
Written by Sergio G. Sanchez
Stars Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep
Run Time: 1 Hour, 45 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a bit of a complicated story, some of which didn’t seem to make sense the first time through. But it’s well made, does keep your attention trying to figure things out, and it’s full of ghosts. So it’s worth the watch. Maybe even worth a second watch.
We open on children playing outside. It’s the Good Shepherd Orphanage. The lady inside gets a call about Laura, one of the children, being adopted. Credits roll.
Simon cries at night, and his mother tells him to go to sleep. He asks if she was afraid when she was little, and she says no, there was a gang of kids then. Also, back then, the lighthouse worked, and they liked that. She tells him that the lighthouse still actually works, but the light protects them invisibly.
He asks why the special children are coming, and she says they need special care. Simon has imaginary friends, and his father thinks those will stop when the new children arrive.
Simon and Laura go to the beach, and he explores a cave, alone. She finds him in there asking someone unseen to come to his house to play later. He says it’s another boy. They just assume that it’s another imaginary friend, but we see real footprints in the sand.
Benigna, a social worker, comes to the house unannounced about Simon. Laura tells her that she grew up in an orphanage and wants to take in 5 or 6 children who have no one else. Simon has a disease, and the old woman says there are new treatments, but Carlos, her husband, is a doctor, and she knows all about it. We see in the reports that Simon is HIV positive, which in 2007, is more likely a fatal condition than today. He’s being administered daily medication, and they dodge telling him how serious it is.
That night, Laura hears someone banging around in their shed, and she goes out to investigate. It’s the old social worker hiding out inside, and she quickly runs off. That ain’t right!
Laura is surprised with a drawing of children that Simon made. There’s a weird child with a yellow head. Laura and Simon play a strange treasure hunt game. Simon’s new “friend” is Tomas, who told him that Laura’s not really his mother.
Laura and Carlos have a talk with Simon about him being adopted. They have a “welcome” party for the new children that seems to include everyone from town, and everyone wears creepy masks for some inexplicable reason— that’ll make all the special-needs kids feel right at home, right?
Laura spots a kid at the party wearing a burlap mask over his whole head. He loots a lot like an evil clown. He smashes her hand in the door and locks her in the bathroom. She thinks it’s Simon, but she can’t find him anywhere. She sees him in that cave, but the tide is coming in, and she breaks a leg. Carlos stops her, but he doesn’t see anything.
That night, at the hospital, Carlos says they searched the caves, and he wasn’t there. Pilar comes in, and she’s a psychologist working with the police to help find Simon. She says there’s no such social worker named Benigna, so she may have kidnapped Simon.
At night, Laura hears loud noises upstairs, but she’s in a wheelchair now and can’t investigate herself.
Six months pass. Laura feels that somehow, Simon’s imaginary friends are hiding in the house. She joins a support group of parents with missing children. She doesn’t believe Simon is dead, but Carlos does.
Laura and Carlos spot Benigna on the street, but the old woman is almost instantly killed by a truck. She has a doll that looks like the weird kid from the party.
Pilar later says they searched the old woman’s house and she has a picture of Laura back in her orphanage days with the woman who ran the place and many of the children. Benigna worked there as well, and she’s in the photo. She worked there briefly, and she had a severely deformed son named Tomas. A bunch of children lured Tomas into the cave and took his mask off. He refused to come out without it and drowned at high tide. Laura swears that he was the child who attacked her in the bathroom. There’s even an old video that shows his deformed face.
Laura goes to a supernatural convention and listens to a man talking about doppelgängers. It’s been nine months, and she talks to Balaban, the lecturer, about finding an exorcist for the house. She believes Simon’s murderer is a child who has been dead for thirty years. He suggests a medium.
Aurora, the medium, comes in to investigate, along with Balaban and Pilar. She brings an assistant, Enrique, who explains everything. Balaban hypnotizes Aurora, and she hears children. She says she sees five very sick children; they’re dying. The monitors all go blank, so Balaban brings her out of the trance, right back where she started.
Aurora says that people who are close to death are more able to see ghosts— like Laura and Simon. Pilar thinks this is all a fraud, and Laura throws her out. “Only you know how far you will go to find your son,” Aurora proclaims. Carlos wants to move out. He thinks the psychics were fake too.
She finds a hidden place with dolls of the children of the old orphanage inside. There’s also a photo of her and Simon. She then goes on another nonsensical treasure hunt in the house which eventually leads her to a locked door in the shed where she found Benigna that night. She finds….a jawbone and then bags of bones and ashes.
Laura comes to the conclusion that the children killed Tomas, and Benigna murdered them all in retaliation and then came back to better dispose of the bodies. For some reason, the ghosts wanted Simon. Meanwhile, Carlos is all packed; he’s leaving, but Laura won’t go. She wants two days alone.
Once he’s gone, Laura rearranges everything in the house to be like it was back when she was a child. She even makes a snack for all the ghosts/dolls, but none of the ghosts really show up, and she’s getting discouraged — until they do.
The five ghosts want to play hide-and-seek, so she chases after them. They lead her down to the basement, where she finds more drawings of children. There are a bunch of metal poles blocking the door. She finds Simon, alive and well, but then he’s suddenly gone again.
And then she finds Simon’s body there in the basement, where he was accidentally locked in almost a year ago and probably starved to death.
That night, she tells the house that she wants Simon back. She looks outside and sees the old lighthouse running as it should. She sees Simon back to normal again. He says he wishes she can stay and watch over all of them. She sees all of the dead children, who gather around happily once they recognize her.
Happily ever after? Not if you’re Carlos. He comes to visit their memorial stone later. He goes through the old orphanage and senses her presence.
There are two “treasure hunt” scenes in this film, and neither makes any sense— these are never explained.
The sets and locations here are really interesting, the acting is good, and the cinematography is excellent.
There’s a reference to Peter Pan having Wendy watch over the children early on, and that’s the key to the weird ending. She went back for the children, but that also probably involved her own death, but we’ll gloss over that.
It’s good, but quite a bit is left for us to puzzle out.
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