A breakdown of six horrific films that invaded our homes and left us uneasy.
By now, we've all seen our fair share of films concerning unlikely house guests who proceed to turn the lives of their gracious hosts into a veritable hell, so to speak. Often it's treated as a comedy of errors, as with films like 'Houseguest', 'What About Bob?', 'Uncle Buck', 'The Man Who Came to Dinner', 'Madhouse', and 'Neighbors'. You either get stuck with a neighbor, a relative, or a friend that just won't leave, proceeds to drive you crazy, and oversteps every bound a screenwriter can muster. The worst part is that the hellraiser is so kind that you don't know how to tell him off or spirit him away. This kind of genre is usually played for laughs.
But what if this new found “friend” wearing a disguise of kindness and love actually harbored ill intentions for the family he's popped in upon? What if with the smiles and niceties lied a smirk of evil salivating at the impending wrongdoing to be undertaken? Not to be confused with the date-from-hell movies like 'Fatal Attraction', 'Swimfan' and 'Audition', these are films in which the cunning wrongdoer silently follows executes his long held plans to either destroy the family he's preying on or to fundamentally change the familial dynamic. Here is a small list of some of the highlights of this devious little genre, some alternating between hilarity and horror, all wearing an impish, ironic grin on their seemingly unctuous faces.
(Yes. Spoilers ahead.)
Brimstone and Treacle
|"Don't you know who I am?"|
In a Glass Cage
|"White Castle!!! I should have known better!"|
Easily the most shocking film of the list, this 1986 Spanish drama directed by Agusti Villaronga depicts anex-Nazi turned serial child rapist and murderer named Klaus. After a failed suicide attempt, he finds himself confined to an iron lung for life support, cared for by his despondent wife Griselda and daughter Rena. Knowing of Klaus' evil deeds full well and due to her own self disgust, Griselda frequently shuts the machine on and off, forcing Klaus to flirt with death regularly. Enter Angelo, a young man claiming to be a male nurse and offers to care for Klaus, with ulterior motives. Griselda is suspicious but Klaus insists Angelo should take over. Angelo even forms a brotherly bond with Rena, providing a peer and sibling she never had. Unbeknownst to all but Klaus, Angelo has a dark secret, one that will change the lives of all involved forever. Inarguably “In a Glass Cage” brings audiences closer to the heart of human evil that most films dare to comprehend. The despair and ugliness on display is, at times, nearly unwatchable. It's opening scenes of violence against minors committed by Klaus are enough for most viewers to decide whether or not they want to continue watching. John Waters himself freely admitted 'I'm too scared to show it to my friends'. View this hell spawn of a film at your own risk, but don't say I didn't warn you.
|"That's not a knife!!|
This is a knife!!!"
Takashi Miike's postmodern remake of Pier Paolo Pasolini's “Teoroma” (which will be discussed later) is a slick direct-to-video DV picture (reportedly shot in a week) about a disgraced news reporter and his broken home. He's lost sexual interest in his wife, herself a victim of incessant domestic abuse from their teenage son. Mother and son bear mutual drug addictions, with the mother turning to prostitution to fund her habit while the son is mercilessly bullied by fellow classmates who fire roman candles at his home and throw rocks at his windows when they aren't beating him up. They also have a teenage daughter turned prostitute who ran away from home. Enter the Visitor, a cool hipster armed with a hand-held DV camera. After striking the reporter on the back of the head with a large rock, he is invited into the dysfunctional household and subtly exhibits a series of changes on the family. The film alternates between Miike's detached perspective and cinema verite footage shot by the visitor. A surreal, darkly comic tonal shift begins, opening slowly on a quiet note of discomfort before erupting into lunatic mayhem as Miike piles on atrocity after atrocity with goofball glee. The film also uses heightened, saturated colors with cartoonish sound effects to amplify the anarchic mix of the horrific and absurd. Not since David Lynch's “Blue Velvet” has perversity been treated with such a thick tongue firmly planted in cheek. While not for everyone and certainly provocative with it's slew of taboo imagery, Miike's film is a curious, devilish delight that is strangely conservative in it's focus on familial reunification, for good or ill.
|"My ball. Touch it."|
Michael Haneke's 1997 German horror film/social statement (remade 10 years later for the US by Haneke) is either a home invasion thriller or a smug rebuke of the spectator watching it. It depicts a family with a young son driving up to their summer vacation cottage on the lake. Their tranquil existence is interrupted by the arrival of two well dressed and groomed young men claiming to be friends of the neighbors. They wish to borrow some eggs, only to continuously drop them and ask for more. As their obnoxious behavior grows more antagonistic, the family is besieged when the two men attack the father and enact a series of 'funny games' involving whether or not they'll murder their son. Haneke exploits all the cliches of the thriller genre including the usual motifs of hopeful escape and even an obligatory chase sequence.
Here is where viewers get offended: the killers regard the audience with impish winking, looking directly into the camera and asking what we'd like to see happen. At one point one of them grabs a remote control and rewinds the picture. A shootout splattering blood on a TV set reinforces the notion of violent entertainment and, therefore, our compliance with the killers. Less interested in fearing for the family than insisting we're getting off on the proceedings, Haneke's smug experiment is designed to implicate the viewer and state Hanake's superiority over the view. Understandably, the film sharply divided viewers, some reading it as an uncompromising thriller while others found it's smart nosed arrogance insulting. While 'Funny Games' provides genuine terror missing from other thrillers of it's ilk, Haneke's own assertion he intended the film as “sarcastic punishment of the audience” can't help but insinuate we've paid 2 hours of our time for a sharply extended middle finger.
|"Your cheek tastes like|
Nicolas Roeg's 1988 “Track 29” is an American film produced by George Harrison about a doctor named Henry (Christopher Lloyd) obsessed with trains and his depressed wife Linda (Theresa Russell, a regular in Roeg pictures) who laments having passed on her son to adoption at birth. Distance between the couple has grown, with Henry engulfed in an affair with a fellow nurse as he further burrows inside his cavalcade of train sets overtaking the household. Out of thin air appears Martin (Gary Oldman), a mysterious British drifter who happens upon Linda with claims that he is her long lost son. Written by British playwright Dennis Potter prior to the aforementioned “Brimstone and Treacle”, one senses this is another one of the mercurial Martin's sneaky little games. Linda is skeptical until intimate details are recited by Martin proving his identity. Hints are dropped about Linda's mental state and whether or not Martin is a figment. For instance, her son was sired from a rape by a man who looks curiously like Martin.
Less a home invasion thriller than a psychological drama, “Track 29” features a rare and inspired performance by Christopher Lloyd in one of his most beguiling and oddly humorous roles to date as Henry, who on his downtime thrives on his bare bottom being spanked with rubber gloves by his mistress fellow nurse. Roeg's dependably fearless actress (and former wife in her 6th Roeg collaboration) Theresa Russell provides a strong performance as the possibly unhinged and hysterical Linda. Gary Oldman's Martin (as opposed to Sting's 1982 Martin) is a strange mixture of peculiar creepiness and, at times, unbridled scenery chewing. Of Roeg's efforts, however, this is oddly one of his more straightforward efforts for an otherwise loose filmmaker typically ready to leave his viewers with more to deal with than they're prepared to. Martin himself was a more interesting and fully developed character in what would eventually become Dennis Potter's most notorious play. That said, it's an interesting effort and a rare collaboration between two of British cinema's most cantankerous and fearless artists obsessed with exposing life crawling beneath the rocks.
|"My look is much more sinister than this foot."|
Iconoclastic Italian film director, poet, intellectual and gay icon Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1968 “Teorema” is the quintessential home invasion film which would spawn many imitations and a postmodern remake with Takashi Miike's 'Visitor Q'. By now, the plot is simple: a mysterious visitor played by Terence Stamp materializes and befriends a bourgeois home of well to do people. The visitor, with casual debonair, gradually manages to seduce every member of this family, irrespective of their sexual orientation. After the visitor parts ways with the family, it's members are transformed in varied degrees ranging from the miraculous to the self destructive. Much like Pasolini's fellow works, the film is divided into chapters giving allegory to the proceedings. Pasolini's desire to provoke and confound would invite praise and derision alike, including condemnation from the Vatican and Italian courts charging Pasolini and his producer with obscenity. Wherever your own theories on the film's validity lie, it undeniably features Mr. Stamp in a role he was born to play, a confident and cool player oozing with sex appeal and a curious hint of wisdom about his place in the world. Much like the others who would draw from his performance, is the visitor a larger than life figure with spiritual powers, or is he merely a perverse predator. Pasolini's film doesn't provide the answers but is eager to raise endless debate about him and his effect on those he's come into contact with.