Memoir: The Island of Nicolas Cage

A true tale of the strangest (and best) celebrity encounter I’ve ever had

When I look back on my days as editor-in-chief of the mighty FANGORIA, I’m overwhelmed with anecdotes; true tales of mad adventures on the fringes of movie culture. Very often, those adventures took me from the fringe into the mainstream, or maybe sometimes it was the mainstream coming out to visit me. Very often we met in the middle.

In the case of my connection to the inimitable Nicolas Cage, we collided in the Bahamas over a slimy snail penis.

Buckle in, reader. This yarn’s a doozy.

Now, I was always a Nicolas Cage fan, an obsessive before it was cool to be one. The first time my mom and I saw PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, when the world – my mom included – was clicking its tongues and saying how Cage’s oddball mannerisms and nasally voice ruined the picture, I was like, no way. Cage is what MADE the picture. Sure, Francis Coppola’s sweet romantic fantasy shines because of its central vibrant Kathleen Turner performance, but you REMEMBER it because of Cage mangling THE BEATLES’ “She Loves You” (“she loves you, ooooh ooooh ooooh…).  You remember his lazy-lidded stare, his wounded hound dog face and his sudden bursts of manic, spastic, over-boiled-cauldron dramatics. Soon after that, we saw RAISING ARIZONA and we loved that too, but here, the universe the Coen Brothers create around Cage is just as wild, if not wilder, so he sorta blends into it. It feels organic. No, it was in films like PEGGY SUE, MOONSTRUCK, FIREBIRDS and IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU that Cage really stuck to me, movies where his alien charisma is injected into the natural world, turning a “normal” entertainment into a sort of divine mutation.

Later, I lived for the “showcase” Cage movies, those signature slabs of cinema that were sort of built AROUND his talents. Like David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART or, perhaps most astonishingly, Robert Bierman’s VAMPIRE’S KISS, perhaps the ultimate Nic Cage joint. Cage was and remains my favorite living performer and as a horror fan, I always felt like he was channelling some sort of expressionist, silent-shocker stylization into his work. Later on, he would come right out and say that he was doing just that, that even his single-handed lovelorn baker in MOONSTRUCK was a riff on the frantically gesturing mad scientist in Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS.

My first encounter with Nic came after a screening of Werner Herzog’s brilliant BAD LIEUTENTANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS at the Toronto International Film Festival. I stumbled into a small press scrum at some fancy hotel and while other critics were asking him about NATIONAL TREASURE and CON AIR, I stood up and asked him about VAMPIRE’S KISS. He lit up. I asked him to say my favorite line, “Am I getting THROUGH to you, ALVA?!”. He did. I recorded that. Email me if you want to hear it.

Later, we connected to discuss Alex Proyas’ ludicrously underrated sci-fi chiller KNOWING for a Toronto Star feature I was writing and then, a bit later, when Disney released their bonkers THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE movie, I locked him down on the phone for a chat. I had recently taken over FANGORIA and had developed a friendship with his equally brilliant brother, the filmmaker Christopher Coppola. Christopher was then writing for me in fact and he and I would spend many hours on the phone discussing our love of horror movies and transgressive, experimental film. I told Nic about this and, at the time, he and his brother were having some family issues and weren’t speaking. But when he found out I was the “FANGORIA guy” and that his big bro was scribbling for us, he went crazy, wanting to talk about FANGORIA and how much the two of them loved it in the ‘80s and how important it was to them.

Soon after that, word got ‘round that Nic was making another GHOST RIDER movie. I liked the first one. Didn’t love it. But I liked it and though Cage was fantastic in it, especially his improvised additions to the Blaze character, like his fondness for jellybeans and monkey-centric television shows. And as a kid, I LOVED the comics and they were certainly part of my entry point into horror and dark fantasy culture. Since my mission was to almost always write every single FANGORIA cover story myself and make it PERSONAL, I thought, why not use this GHOST RIDER sequel as my hook to do a career retrospective cover story on the power and brilliance of Nicolas Cage? So I reached out to Sony, they reached out to Nic. Within a day, Nic fired back and said not only would he do this cover story interview…but he wanted to do it at his house. Live. In person.

Continue reading “Memoir: The Island of Nicolas Cage”

On THE CABINET OF CALIGARI

A look at the obscure and surreal 1962 Freudian thriller

There’s a song by Trent Reznor’s electro-outfit NINE INCH NAILS, the B-side to the single “Sin”; it’s a grinding cover version of the classic QUEEN song “Get Down Make Love”, that opens with one of the most memorable film samples in industrial music history.

It goes like this:

“How old were you when you first let a man make love to you?

Next, who was he?

Next, how did you feel at the time?

Next, how did you feel afterward?

What did you feel, what did you think, were you pleased, frightened, ecstatic, disgusted?

What did he say, what words did you speak, that’s what I want to know, now, tell me, now, now, all of it, now, yes! Yes!

For years, no one I knew had a clue as to the origins of that sample.

I certainly hadn’t the foggiest.

Eventually, I forgot about both the sample and the song.

That is until a few years ago, when I found a copy of the 1962 film THE CABINET OF CALIGARI in a discount bin at a used record store.

That’s right, the 1962 film THE CABINET OF CALIGARI. Note the absence of the word “Doctor”.

I had no idea this film existed.

Taking it home excitedly and excitedly researching it, I learned much of its origins and, while watching and grooving on it, I was floored when, in the middle, the film’s titular antagonist leans into his victim and barks out that very same NIN sample.

So there it is. Mystery solved. But there’s much, much more to THE CABINET OF CALIGARI than a simple pop music sound bite.

The film was directed by TV vet Roger Kay and produced by THE LAST MAN ON EARTH’s Robert Lippert, an adaptation of an untitled Robert Bloch (author of the book on which PSYCHO was based) screenplay that was written in the wake of PSYCHO’s success. Lippert had acquired the rights to the original, groundbreaking 1920 German expressionist silent film by Robert Wiene, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and, because of this, Lippert saddled that screenplay with the CALIGARI title, much to Bloch’s dismay.

Continue reading “On THE CABINET OF CALIGARI”

On Rod Serling and THE TWILIGHT ZONE

A look at nine of Serling’s most personal episodes from his signature television series

If you’re a serious fan of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (and I most certainly am), it’s vital to not only remember Rod Serling’s classic, influential dark fantasy television series and each key episode’s unforgettable and forever-discussed third act twist, but to muse on Serling’s morality and humanity, the likes of which propelled almost every aspect of the show.

Serling was, in effect, dark fantasy television’s premiere auteur and THE TWILIGHT ZONE was first and foremost a vehicle for Serling to deliver provocative parables. He was writer with something urgent to say, someone who deeply cared about the plight of his fellow man. After earning awards and accolades for his pioneering dramatic teleplays in TV’s formative years, Serling’s attempts at deeper comment on subjects ranging from war atrocity to America’s blatant racism were met with censorship. The answer to this nervous sponsor-induced silencing and word-butchering was indeed THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which Serling saw as a way to tell the tales he wanted to tell but cloak them in sugar-coated fantasy pills.

And while some of TZ’s greatest episodes are beloved for their overt horror and science fiction sheen and exploitable elements, several of the series’ finest installments were portals directly into Serling’s soul; haunting stories about loss, alienation, death, regret and a yearning for simpler times.

Here then, are 9 of TZ and Serling’s most haunting, personal episodes.

WALKING DISTANCE (Season One)

The most affecting and personal of Serling’s first season efforts, this one stars Gig Young as a middle aged man who inexplicably wanders back in time into his home town, 30 years earlier. There, he meets his parents and the youthful incarnation of himself. Melancholy, profound and expressionist in its presentation, this is Serling weeping for the sweet days of his childhood long lost and then ultimately, making peace with and embracing the present. Gorgeous Bernard Herrmann score too…

THE LONELY (Season One)

Jack Warden stars as James Corry, as an unjustly convicted man in the near future, imprisoned alone on a desolate planet. While he sweats away his days and battles back his own endless loneliness, an empathetic supply ship captain stopping by on his quarterly run, drops off a crate containing a fully realized android female to keep him company. Initially, Corry balks at this mockery of femininity but, when the robot proves itself sentient and sensitive, he falls deeply in love with “her”. A moody, dreamy, poetic episode about the penal system and the illusion of love, armed with a sad, unforgettable finale.

Continue reading “On Rod Serling and THE TWILIGHT ZONE”

On INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Remembering Philip Kaufman’s superior 1978 remake of a science fiction classic

In 1978, I was 4 years old. I had plenty of comic books and one particular, well-worn and generally mistreated issue of BATMAN, issue #309 to be specific, in which Bats battled a brute named Blockbuster at Christmas time, had, on its back page, a reproduction of the theatrical poster for a new movie called INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

Here’s the cover and the poster in question:

As you can see, that original poster is black, sepia-brown and white with gentle red traces on the title font and depicts four running silhouettes trying to outdistance their own shadows and though I did not understand the image per se, it was abstract enough to disturb and obsess me for many, many months to follow.

And, save for the cover, I remember nothing of the comic itself.

Flash forward to 1979.

A local television channel, Toronto’s CITY-TV, began running ads for their network premier of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, to be aired that very Friday night, the same Friday night my parents were going out to see APOCALYPSE NOW at the theatre. They were aware of my jittery desire to see BODY SNATCHERS and gave my babysitting aunt explicit instructions not to let me do so, to ensure that I was in bed and as far away from a television set as possible when the picture unspooled.

Well, she did a fair job of seeing that mission through but, much to my delight, she managed to also fall asleep by 9pm. Total pass out on the sofa. Lights out. It was at this point I sneaked into the living room, flipped on the television and channel advanced just in time to see what would be an instantly life altering sequence. In it, a wet, writhing man lay on the ground, covered in gossamer webs, his exact double hovering above with a hoe in his grip. The upright, curly-headed and considerably more sentient version of the man then raised his arms above his head and brought that otherwise innocuous garden tool squarely down upon his twitching twin, caving in its head and spilling out thick, bloody discharge while other humanoids convulsed and heaved in the peripheral parts of the frame.

Continue reading “On INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS”

On DEMON SEED

A closer look at Donald Cammell’s psychedelic Sci-Fi horror masterpiece

There’s a look, a tone and visual texture to science fiction films from the early to mid 1970’s; a sanitized glimpse of a future that, seen today, exists only as a perversion of the past. The blinking light boards, silly tubes that lead nowhere, whitewashed walls, turtleneck wearing intellectuals, the list goes on. Think of the great glossy glimpses into ersatz tomorrows of that era – THX 1183, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, SOYLENT GREEN, LOGAN’S RUN, CLONUS – and you’ll see what I mean. But outside of the curiously antiseptic funkiness of their art direction, 1970’s sci-fi was also incredibly thoughtful and bold, criticizing politics, people and modern technology with a somber humorlessness and nightmarish immediacy that suited the material beautifully.
Then Star Wars came along and fucked it all up.

But the very same year that George Lucas and his company of Goodwill-garbed action figures were saving Hollywood’s waning box office takes by demolishing sophisticated cinema, wobble-psyched British filmmaker Donald Cammell was unleashing his own mind-bending glimpse at a far grimmer future. A loose adaptation of a very early and only so-so same named Dean R. Koontz pulp thriller, Cammell’s seminal (and I mean that literally) 1977 technology run amok masterwork DEMON SEED has never gotten its dues as a serious piece of sci-fi / horror cinema. Don’t get me wrong, the film has its fans, but, I mean, I’ve never seen anyone prancing about with a picture of an electrode wearing Julie Christie on a T-shirt or anything. But if you follow me down into prophetic disco-era cyberspace for the next few paragraphs, you may just find yourself wanting one.

Continue reading “On DEMON SEED”

Interview: Lone Fleming on TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and more

In conversation with an icon of Spanish horror

Legendary Spanish horror actress Lone Fleming on her role in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and its sequel ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD.

There was a period, a golden age for European horror, one that coincided with a demand in the US for grittier, sexier material, a wave launched post BONNIE AND CLYDE and one that evolved right in the middle of the visceral media coverage of the Vietnam war. With the MPAA loosening their belt, a wave of “new guard” young filmmakers emerging and the movies at the drive-in mirroring the real sex and shenanigans that went on in teenagers back-seats, European distributors saw an opportunity to make some money by injecting their fantasy films with grand dollops of suddenly commercial and permitted sex and violence, while never sacrificing that patented atmosphere, eccentric narrative arcs and textural sensuality.

In the middle of that wild wave came Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s terrifying and surreal 1971 chiller LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO or as it was known in the US and other English language territories, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (or in the truncated AIP version, simply THE BLIND DEAD). Often dismissed as a Latin redux of Romero’s groundbreaking zombie classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TOMBS is something richer, darker and ripe with mythology. In it, three friends – macho Roger, his girlfriend Virginia and her college friend Betty – go for a pleasant train ride into the Portuguese countryside. However, as the ride progresses, we learn in flashback that Virginia and Betty had a lesbian relationship in school and now, as Roger and Betty appear to be getting a little chummier that she’d like, Virginia has a momentary breakdown, jumps from the moving train and wanders to the ruined nearby church nestled at the foot of the hill.

And that’s when the terror begins.

Virginia’s comely presence rouses a mummified sect of blood-drinking, centuries dead Templar Knights, their skeletal, eyeless and hooded visages shambling out of their graves in a mass of fog, wielding swords, riding equally desiccated horses and looking for victims. Shot in gauzy slow-motion, the Templar attack sequences are the stuff nightmares are made of and the horror film that supports their appearance is equally eerie.

Ossorio’s signature magnum macabre opus would spawn three more Templar companion films 1973’s ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD (aka RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD), 1974’s THE GHOST GALLEON (aka HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES) and 1975’s NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS,  but none would reach the heights of fright that TOMBS offers in its finest hour.

At the center of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD’s humanity is a compelling turn by actress Lone Fleming as Betty, a strong woman whose love for her murdered friend spurs her on to solve the mystery of the blind monsters. And Fleming is no stranger to horror. Along with TOMBS, she would star in Ossorio’s ATTACK OF THE BLIND DEAD and his 1975 EXORCIST clone, DEMON WITCH CHILD as well as others like Mario Sicilano’s BLACK CANDLES and 1973’s IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN directed by her husband of many years, HORROR EXPRESS legend Eugenio Martin.

With her blue eyes, strong features and earthy sensuality, Fleming’s presence always added a kind of intelligent beauty to whatever picture she graced and it’s that intellect that makes her one of the most interesting survivors of the Spanish horror boom.

Now in her 60’s,  Fleming looks fantastic, embraces her cult movie past and now has a successful career as a fine artist, working in paint and sculpture.

ALEXANDER: Let’s go back to your early days in cinema. What was the climate in Spain like at the time, creatively speaking? Was it hard to find roles? Did you have to audition a lot?

FLEMING: You know there were a lot of films going on when I came to Spain. Really, it was almost an industry because we had a lot of comedies, a lot of terror or horror films. Everybody was really working and we didn’t get a lot of money. You know I started from the bottom but I’m very professional and that is one of the most important things for you to get the role. If you’re good, if they like you and you’re professional then it’s much easier.

ALEXANDER: At what point did you meet your husband? Was it during a film?

FLEMING: We met on the film, as you call it in United States, DEATH AT THE DEEP END OF THE SWIMMING POOL  (aka THE FOURTH VICTIM) with Carroll Baker and Michael Craig.

ALEXANDER: Ah, so you met on set. That’s fantastic. What was that initial connection? Was it love at first sight?

FLEMING: Yeah it was. And then we went out and it went on and off and I went to Denmark and I came back and it went on and off again for many years and of course it was a secret.

ALEXANDER: Do you ever go back and watch any of your older films?

FLEMING: Sometimes if I have to go to a festival and I know they want to ask me about something then I go in and have a look at it. I never like myself in films.

ALEXANDER: Why is that?

FLEMING: I don’t know (laughs). When you do a role you sink yourself so much into it that you don’t know how you’re going to come off on the screen. I never think about if the light is correct on my face, if I look better this way, I just jump into the role and I couldn’t care less if I’m not pretty from that side or the other.

ALEXANDER: The late Jess Franco spoke often about how hard it was to make these kinds of films in Spain initially because of General Franco’s pious rule. Did you feel any effect of that? Did it adversely affect the arts in your opinion?

Continue reading “Interview: Lone Fleming on TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and more”

Interview: Paul Koslo on THE OMEGA MAN

Late, great character actor discusses the making of a horror fantasy classic

In 1971, late actor Paul Koslo starred in director Richard Sarafian’s existential 1971 automobile thriller VANISHING POINT. But that same year, Koslo also starred in the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s influential novella I AM LEGEND, THE OMEGA MAN, whose magnificent Ron Grainer score we discussed here last week.

In THE OMEGA MAN, Koslo plays the laid back Dutch, a motorcycle riding refugee of a dead world inherited by a legion of deranged, hooded mutants intent on destroying any trace of humanity left on the planet, chiefly two-fisted survivor Robert Neville (Charlton Heston).

And though Koslo would also star in many other notable ‘70s film, including the TRUE GRIT sequel ROOSTER COGBURN, the Charles Bronson vehicle MR. MAJESTYK, Jack Starret’s THE LOSERS and Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE, it’s his tales of fighting side by side with the larger than life Heston in Boris Sagal s brilliant THE OMEGA MAN that concerns us today.

Here’s some words I once had (excerpted from a longer chat I published in the pages of FANGORIA) with Koslo, who we lost in 2019 and who remains one of the greatest character actors of 1970’s cult cinema.

ALEXANDER: Can you tell us about your humble beginnings?

KOSLO: Well, I was born in Germany during the end of the war and, you know, the whole country was decimated, totally destroyed; so all of our parents were like disoriented, like, what the hell happened?” and the kids, well, we were running amok. I was 4 or 5 and there was tanks rumbling down the street and the Brits and Americans were throwing out Wrigley’s spearmint gum and Hershey bars and the kids were going crazy. We had no supervision. We started to fantasize about America, about cowboys and Indians, or what we thought were cowboy and Indians. Then, when I was 7 we immigrated to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. This is in 1951. We couldn’t speak any English so in school they would say stuff like “Germs are bad I thought they were saying Germans. I ended up fighting with people a lot. We were like aliens. We were always in trouble.

ALEXANDER: Did your parents embrace your decision to become an actor?

KOSLO: Actually, my dad was a career soldier and so was my grandfather and my great grandfather. He was a hard guy to get to know. So I up and left home when I was 13 and never looked back. See, to him, I was never an actor. It didn’t matter that I had been in over 100 TV shows and movies. He wouldn’t hear it.

ALEXANDER: Let’s talk about how you ended up as the other last man on earth in one of my favorite films, THE OMEGA MAN. Tell me about Charlton Heston; what did you learn from him?

Continue reading “Interview: Paul Koslo on THE OMEGA MAN”

On THE OMEGA MAN

Why Boris Sagal’s 1971 pulse-pounder is a terrible adaptation of a perfect book, but still a great movie.

I got to know iconic author and genre-lit icon Richard Matheson during the last stretch of his life and, while I’m forever grateful for that 11th hour connection, the version of Matheson I met was anything but cheerful in regards to his work. And really, he had many reasons to be irate. When Matheson first began self-adapting his stories for Rod Serling in THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Serling left the author alone to transpose his own tales to fit the show’s format. Later, TV horror hero Dan Curtis (DARK SHADOWS) also ensured Matheson’s many scripts remained untouched (THE NIGHT STALKER, DRACULA etc.) and the resulting pictures speak for themselves. The reason guys like Serling and Curtis did this was because they fully understood just how good a scribe Matheson was and how well he was able to bring his words to simple, cinematic life.

Among that trove of tales and tomes penned by the late, great Matheson, its his terrifying, cerebral and existential 1954 novella I AM LEGEND that has perhaps most greatly defined his legacy. I AM LEGEND pioneered a gap-bridging between science fiction and Gothic fantasy, with its lurid, skin-crawling story of a plague that eliminates the living, only to resurrect them as blood-hungry vampires. In it, only one human has inexplicably remained immune to this apocalypse, a suburbanite named Robert Neville, who boards himself up at night with mirrors and garlic to ward off the monsters who want to drain him, while sifting through the city by day and staking the ghouls in their lairs. It’s a sparse set up for a book, but at its core its an epic tale of one man’s journey into his own soul, a personal, harrowing, meditation on loss, love, loneliness and what it is to truly be “alive”.

The novella (my favorite book of all time, incidentally) is written, in typical Serling fashion, practically, with a few key locations and characters (both living and undead); a packaged gift to Hollywood, elemental to adapt, economical to produce. Really, all one needs to make a proper screen version of I AM LEGEND is faithfulness to the story, a sense of style and mood and one helluva a central actor to embody Neville and his exhausting evolution.

Matheson knew this.

“So why does Hollywood keep fucking it up?!” he said to me back in 2003.

That’s the eternal question. The answer is anybody’s guess.

Britain’s Hammer studio hired Matheson to adapt his text as NIGHT CREATURES in the early ’60s, but the project died after the UK censor pre-banned it for being too violent in concept alone. Annoyed by this, Matheson took his script to producer Robert L. Lippert who took it to American International Pictures and mounted a low budget Italian/American picture called THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Matheson was told Fritz Lang would direct, but instead he got Sidney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona, with AIP standby Vincent Price starring as Neville, who was inexplicably renamed Robert Morgan during re-write. More changes were made to the script against Matheson’s wishes, causing the exasperated writer to slap his pen name Logan Swanson on the credits. The resulting film is – despite Matheson’s sneering – an excellent little horror drama and embodies much of the soul of the source book. But the changes that ARE made are so odd and pointless, one wonders why they were done at all.

Continue reading “On THE OMEGA MAN”

On MUTANT

John “Bud” Cardos’ underrated eco-ghoul film still packs a punch

The dawn of the 1980’s saw more than its share of eco-minded, human monster movies, a sub-genre spawned most likely by the one-two-punch of George A. Romero’s ghoul virus 1978 masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD and James Bridges shattering and successful 1979 thriller THE CHINA SYNDROME. Films like director Graham Baker’s Meg Tilly and Tim Matheson vs. Freudian-zombie vehicle IMPULSE (itself somewhat reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s 1975 breakthrough exploitation film SHIVERS) and Hal Barwood’s underrated 1985 toxic-zombie chiller WARNING SIGN; movies that mixed corporate cover-ups with sacrificial small-town paranoia, usually dealing with some sort of spill that mutates average people, causing them to do terrible things to any non-infected person within biting distance.

One of the best of this lot is KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS helmer John Bud Cardos’ lean and mean horror gem NIGHT SHADOWS, widely released on home video and cable in the 1980’s as MUTANT, a title it retains to this day.

It’s a shame its distributor decided to slap that moniker on such an eerie, urgent and earthy horror film; MUTANT is the alternate title for Roger Corman’s ALIEN ripoff FORBIDDEN WORLD and the packaging for Cardos’ film had that handle displayed, widely-spaced letters a la ALIEN and even featured a Giger-like fanged face on the front. In some European markets it was even released as MUTANT II.

Those looking for a deep-space shocker in line with Ridley Scott, were bound to be bummed.

MUTANT does have a dose of science-fiction at its core, but it’s the maddest kind of science, spawned by man, not the stars. Rather, the movie is an atmospheric, unpretentious down-home horror flick that, more often than not, feels like Meth-fueled remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1979 TV movie adaptation of Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT.

Continue reading “On MUTANT”

On CRISIS

Sprawling drama takes on the horrors of the opioid industry

Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s mesmerizing anti-opioid film CRISIS is being marketed as a thriller, which it is, I suppose. Structurally, its triple-arc, multi-character, puzzle-box narrative behaves like many drug-centric thrillers that have come before it (Steven Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC being the obvious comparison) and certainly, it occasionally has some of the dizzying flash of a Scorsese film as it zips around explaining the mechanics of an international narcotics operation, complete with narrated expository sequences slathered in The Rolling Stones. But really, at its core, CRISIS is a kind of horror movie; a human tragedy where the monster is not the drug itself (as in something like, say, Darren Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, where the smack was the villain) but a kind of banal, socio-economical bottom line; one exploited by fringe-dwelling hustlers, status-quo intellects and corporate kingpins alike. And while CRISIS shines lights on the grafters and amoral parasites who push these pills around, its focus is mainly on the victims of their trade, who sell their souls and who are often duped into doing so while trustingly filling a prescription.

Armie Hammer (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) stars as Jack Kelly, a dangerously deep undercover DEA agent posing as the middle man for a Canadian/Armenian opioid drug cabal that has wound its way into America and who lives in constant fear of his ruthless associates discovering his true identity. Meanwhile, in Detroit, straight-laced professor Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman, late of MANK) slowly begins to realize that a supposedly safe painkiller his University has helped develop is anything but. And elsewhere at the same time, architect Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly, ANT-MAN) is shattered when her teenage son is found dead after an apparent Oxycontin overdose, a truth that doesn’t sit well with her when an autopsy reveals that he has in fact been battered about the skull, the pills potentially poured down his throat instead of being ingested willingly. All three of these tenuously connected stories come together in ingenious ways to hit home a singular truth: our society is in the grip of a passive, silent enemy that infested the corners of our lives like vermin and, if not addressed soon, will continue to breed and evolve. A crisis, indeed.

Continue reading “On CRISIS”