Don’t Blink (2014)

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If I ever needed a lesson in cinematic contrast, a whiplash-inducing transition from sublime to sucky, it could be had in seeing this Nothing Burger after my epiphany experience with The Babadook. “Nothing” is our word for the day, as in, “There is NOTHING happening in Don’t Blink and it has NOTHING to recommend it.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Ten reasonably attractive friends arrive for a Rocky Mountain winter holiday at a tacky, pressed board condo that looks like it was built from a kit an hour before filming started. There is no one around to meet them. The loser lodge is a veritable Marie Celeste, with meals left half-eaten on the table. And they can’t leave because all three cars are almost out of gas.

One by one, the vacationers start to vanish. Once that happens, you can choose your own adventure, and it will undoubtedly be a big improvement to the dramatic course charted by writer/director Travis Oates.

Don’t Blink stinks. It stars Brian Austin Green and Mena Suvari and is easily one of the most half-baked, pointless exercises I’ve seen this century.

The Babadook (2014)

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Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Badadook is one of the most emotionally devastating horror movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s quite a brilliant film that manages to be both a dark, heroic fairy tale and a grimmer-than-grim slice-of-life family drama about an overworked mother who tries, but can’t cope with her eccentric son’s disturbing behavior anymore.

It’s also about a terrified young boy who’s mother might be going insane.

Amelia (Essie Davis, who shines like a young Jessica Lange) is the harried widowed mother of Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a clever but damaged young boy who doesn’t fit in at school or with friends. Amelia’s husband died in a car accident on the way to the hospital the night she gave birth, so she too has a dark cloud of unresolved issues that follows her around like a nervous dog.

Mother and son clearly love each other, but their life is difficult, to say the least. One night, during the evening bedtime story, Samuel selects the wrong book and an evil spirit is loosed in the house.

As if they didn’t have enough trouble…

The combination of Amelia’s waking, working nightmare of a life, and the additional strain placed on her by the malign presence that’s settled in her home creates an unrelenting pressure cooker that would crumble a commando.

The Babadook is without gore and very little violence, yet it’s brutally draining, recalling both Polanski’s Repulsion and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist for its merciless plunge into the sea of madness.

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent presents us with a tale that cuts uncomfortably close to the bone, because she had the nerve to invent two characters who are believable, likable, sympathetic—and profoundly haunted.

True, in the past, I’ve griped about movies that waste time on character development when all we really want is mayhem. The Babadook is exactly the opposite. It’s a realistic character-driven story in which we hope that misfortune can be averted because we’ve grown emotionally attached to the protagonists.

The bottom line, that bad things happen to good people, is more horrifying than a thousand dead campers.

The Red House (1947)

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This is one of those crazy old films that I must have seen five or six trauma-inducing times as a kid, and had heard nothing about since. Thanks for reuniting us, Hulu Plus! Warning: This film is in glorious black and white. There’s no need to adjust your sets.

Written and directed by Hollywood utility man Delmer Daves (The Petrified Forest, Dark Passage, A Summer Place, Destination Tokyo, 3:10 To Yuma, among others) and based on a novel by George Agnew Chamberlain, The Red House is a legitimately creepy, rural gothic, coming-of-age mystery.

It’s also a master-class in acting taught by Edward G. Robinson, a man mostly remembered for his snarling gangster roles, such as the sadistic Johnny Rocco in the Bogart/Bacall thriller Key Largo.

Amidst a wild and bucolic countryside sits the sprawling Morgan Farm, where we find Pete Morgan (EGR), his sister Ellen (Dame Judith Anderson), and their (more or less) adopted ward-daughter-person Meg (Allene Roberts), who has a crush on Pete’s new hired hand, her high school classmate Nath (Lon McCallister).

One night, Nath decides to take a shortcut home through the woods, despite frantic warnings from Pete. While the lad insists that he must go through the woods to save time, Pete has a convincing anxiety attack, warning him about screams in the night coming from … The Red House! (dun, dun, Dun!)

Meg continues to moon over Nath, who’s in an unsatisfying relationship with Tibby (Julie London), a trampy rich girl who only has eyes for the brutish town poacher (Rory Calhoun, who wears an Elvis Presley pompadour several years before the King himself).

Meg and Nath find themselves thrown together, and decide to find that mysterious Red House in the woods.

While not horror per se, The Red House is thoroughly marinated in dread, with atmosphere to burn—including a surprising amount of smoldering teenage lust.

Certainly one could read Meg and Nath’s obsessive quest to find the “Red House” in the woods as the buildup to a sexual awakening.  I’ll have you know, I studied this shit in school!

The dreamy score by legendary film composer Miklos Rozsa (Ben-Hur, Spellbound, Double Indemnity, among others), guides every scene to delirious heights, and the outré ending haunted my sleep for years. Or months, maybe.

And Edward G. Robinson is sublime as a basically decent man with too many secrets—and a slippery grasp on reality.

The Red House is the perfect movie to pull out on a night when everybody swears they’ve seen everything.