Director Floria Sigismondi delivers a serious-minded, stylish and surreal fever dream

Somebody somewhere screwed up the story and spread the belief that all horror movies had to tear you to pieces, saturating the screen with sadism and nihilism and other sorts of negative isms. They forgot that once upon a time, people turned to darker filmed fantasies to immerse themselves in beauty, to experience a sort of sinister, out-of-body, sensorial trip; to lose oneself in a work of macabre imagination, of somber moods and grandiose imagery. I can’t be sure exactly when jolts and jumps and spoon-fed, mundane logic superseded aesthetics in horror, but I know how lousy I feel when the world shrugs its shoulders in the wake of the release of a film – and a filmmaker – who has NOT forgotten what the essence of the genre is.

Such a picture is THE TURNING, and such a director is Floria Sigismondi, the artist whose landmark work making videos for David Bowie and Marilyn Manson (and many, many others) defined the look and feel of darker rock ‘n’ roll in the 1990s. Her 2010 feature film debut THE RUNAWAYS was a logical extension of her love of sound and image, telling the story of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and the titular band in a visually flashy fashion. But that movie’s greatest power was when it dialed things down, when it focused on faces, inner voices and emotion. The brief sequence where a tired, homesick Currie hears Don McLean’s “Vincent” on the radio during a drive between gigs is in itself a small, moving piece of cinema as poetry and secretly encapsulates everything the movie is about. Her second film, the recently released THE TURNING is indeed a horror picture, yet another dive into the well-worn weird-world painted in Henry James’ novel “The Turn of the Screw”.  And while the trailer for this one speaks to appeal to the Friday night Blumhouse crowd, its PG-13 rating inviting almost all audiences in to see it, the actual film itself is something else, or rather it slowly, surely, becomes something else. In fact, THE TURNING has the ultimate effect of actually turning, of rotating, sensually, seriously. It’s a movie that begins as a whole and then sort of melts into a swirling death-pool of subconscious imagery and primordial terror. In other words, it’s the work of a great artist trying to remind the world of the real deal power of horror cinema and what it can do to its audience.

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In defense of George Bowers’ effective and classy 1980 haunted house thriller

1980 served as the dawn of a sort of American horror film and the last stop of another. With Friday the 13th‘s graphic gore, quickie and punishable-by-death sex and mechanical body count plotting baiting the box-office and birthing the unyielding, blood-spattered slasher sub-genre, the comparatively quaint ghost story was on the way out; 1979’s The Amityville Horror and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining – with their reliance on adult themes and dread as opposed to ultraviolence – serving as the final “big” blockbuster haunted house movies of the era.

Nestled among those terrifying titans was director George Bowers’s modestly-budgeted, PG-rated Crown International potboiler The Hearse. At the time, Roger Ebert famously called the movie a “garage sale” horror film, as it shamelessly cobbles and cribs its identity from those aforementioned hits as well as other notable spook shows as Dan Curtis’ Burnt Offerings and Peter Medak’s The Changeling. After a theatrical run, the film was well-rented on home video and became a staple on late night television throughout the ’80s and has since faded into obscurity, a chiller devoid of any serious respect and lacking any kind of cult that I’m aware of.

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