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With Lady Pam De Graff

Lady Pam De GraffCASE 39 (2009)
WRITTEN BY: Ray Wright
DIRECTED BY: Christian Alvart
FEATURING: Renée Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, and Adrian Lester
RATING: 6 PINTS OF BLOOD (out of a possible 10)


PLOT: A social worker rescues a little girl from criminally insane parents who stuffed her in an oven, and learns the hard way that maybe the parents were neither criminal, nor insane after all.

COMMENTS: I really enjoyed Case 39 and I think it's a good movie. I think it is one horror fans should know about, and will want to watch, but because this picture is not as original as some I have highlighted, I am going to be harsh for the sake of those more demanding viewers.

Case 39 is another entry in a long list of The Bad Seed, The Exorcist, Something Evil, The Omen, The Good Son, Orphan, and Joshua, child from hell movies. I say this with no fear of spoiling the film, because I figured out that the kid in question is a righteous little bitch at the ten minute mark. I'm not usually so adept at predicting where things are going in a movie. If I figured it out, you would have too. To it's credit however, Case 39 moves right along, offers some good effects, and has a nice visual look to it. This is its salvation, because it plods through very familiar pasture.


When Little Miss Brimstone and Treacle (her character's name is Lilith [Ferland]) is shoved in an oven by her terrified parents, meddling social worker (I jest) Emily Jenkins (Zellweger) rescues her in the nick of time and subsequently adopts her. Oh gosh, is she in for a surprise.

After Emily takes her home, Lilith snoops through her private stuff, asks nosy questions, and suddenly people attached to Jenkins begin to die horribly. (Personally, the latter could be useful to me at work, and the former is no prob as I keep my stash and sex toys in a small safe, but I digress.)



Lilith is some kind of malevolent ... something or other, and like the bureaucratic customer service reps at my cell phone provider, enjoys creating as much anguish and suffering as she can, just for it's own sake, which is not much of a motive, but is a jolly good excuse to "put butts in seats," as Hollywood phrases it, for some entertaining CGI special effects.

These visual magic tricks are creatively conceived and well done in Case 39. The film itself however, is pretty formulaic and derivative. To wit: Each character hallucinates their deepest fears, then dies because of actions taken in reaction to their fright. The evil force "feeds" on kindness and benevolence (whatever the heck that's supposed to mean).

The demon can read minds, foretell the future and has supernatural powers, but can be easily killed for some reason, and yet no one has the guts to just rush up and bust it upside the head. Etcetera, etcetera. In it's favor, the individual shocker scenes in Case 39 have a reasonably fresh feel. In light of the clichés I just enumerated above, they'd better.

There are creep-outs and several moments that make your skin tingle and your flesh crawl. Not many, but some. There are also nice sets and location photography, and the overall story is relatively convincing for a mainstream horror movie. It's what we would expect from a mid-level budget, major studio production, sans the usual goofy feel of a movie like Drag Me To Hell, but Caae 39 also lacks the cleverness and hard edge of an independent film like Subject Two.

Case 39 does have some fun with the warm, soft fuzzy/anger management-through-healthy-outlets, and mustn't-spank-children mentality clung to by an industry of admirably humanitarian, but dreadfully misguided nimrods who make a living perpetuating the romantic myth that all evil is the result of bad environment. These are the geniuses who recommend Ritalin for normal youthful exuberance, blame teachers for their students' poor grades, and want to send parents to jail for dishing out a little much-needed corporal punishment at home.

Satisfyingly, the tables turn in Case 39 when a hugs-and-understanding social worker tastes the challenge of raising a psychopath. (In the film's favor Jenkins is actually pretty reasonable, a requirement if we are to like her, but the profession the writer created for her was no accident; he is making a point.) Her friends turned against her, her career tarnished, her home totaled, suddenly Jenkins isn't so empathetic, smug and huggy. She wants to butcher the little miscreant.

A 27 million dollar budget, good direction, and decent acting in Case 39, make a virtue of a necessity, which in this case is a competent, but not great script. For the most part, Case 39 does not insult the viewer's intelligence, does not patronize him, nor does it rely on too many trite gimmicks (like throwing a black cat at the actors accompanied by unrealistic cat screams, or zapping the audience with sudden, loud sound effects orchestrations to accompany non-critical surprises.) There are a few gratuitous scares such as a snarling police dog suddenly banging against a window during a conversation, but one can't expect the studios to forfeit all of the trusses that they must rely on to shore up family-friendly, intellectually non-threatening, mainstream scripts.

Case 39 is well paced and fun to watch, but the resources committed to this latest offspring of evil project could have been better applied to a somewhat darker, more clever script, something along the lines of Tom Tyron's The Other (1972), or Alfred Sole's Communion (1976). When it comes down to it though, I was just glad to find something better than Killer Clowns From Outer Space, or another slasher like the Halloween remakes. But then the filmmakers who produced Case 39 had to have at least minimal plot standards in order to realize a profit, because like a news media account of some judge's lenient juvenile crime ruling, we've seen this all before.




You can also stream this film for free on Amazon Prime!

Lady Pam De GraffTHE RESIDENT (2011)
WRITTEN BY: Antti Jokinen and Robert Orr
DIRECTED BY: Antti Jokinen
FEATURING: Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean, Lee Pace, Christopher Lee, Aunjanue Ellis
RATING: 6 PINTS OF BLOOD (out of a possible 10)

PLOT: When a young professional moves into an unusual new apartment, her life takes a frightening turn for the worse in this lurid thriller.

COMMENTS: Derivative in the extreme, but entertaining and well produced, The Resident is about a terrorized woman in jeopardy. A river of malignant voyeurism, secret spaces, and sick obsession swirls to the depths of the psychotic plain in this visually stylish suspense picture. Hilary Swank is frequently almost nude, with some shots of her so sensually and intimately revealing as to make the observer feel guilty for watching. Disconcertingly, viewers may sense they have become unwitting accessories to the voyeuristic crimes about to unfold.




I can't resist being a bit flippant in describing this film's set-up since it is so familiar, however I have some serious observations as well because The Resident is actually quite good. Swank plays Dr. Juliet Devereau, a brilliant and beautiful heart surgeon (I know, it's being a laid on a bit thick right from the get-go, but hang on, we can get past this). The good doc is looking for a new pad after breaking up with her boyfriend. That's because he cheated on her in her own bed! Yechh! Now she has to find a whole new place to get away from the awful taint.



After getting a humorous glimpse of the difficulty in finding anything remotely inhabitable in NYC for less than a few $100K a year, Juliet gets a call (how convenient) from a fetchingly pulchritudinous guy named Max (Morgan) who is restoring an historic building with an interior resembling a Gothic mansion (sinister orchestration please). The first catch: it's in Brooklyn. (It could be worse -it could be Staten Island.)



The apartment in this grand manor turns out to be quite agreeable, except for the fact that there is poor cellphone reception (Ta dum! Now how could this drawback ever present a problem?) Oh, and there are subterranean tunnels right underneath the apartment house where a noisy subway train sets off a magnitude six tremor every time it passes. In fact, the splendid old edifice is riddled and rotten with secret passageways, trapdoors, panels, hidden crawl spaces, utility service corridors and enough peepholes to make The Beatles' "Day In The Life" Albert Hall in Blackburn Lancashire seem like an impenetrable block of solid concrete by comparison. To make the situation even more precariously uncertain, there is an enigmatically macabre, leering old neighbor (Christopher Lee), Max's grandfather who takes an unhealthy shine to Juliet. What more could an insecure, yuppie-girl on the go ask for?



It could be a possible spoiler to tell you that Max, the mansion's owner/landlord develops a sick obsession for Juliet, but probably not, because this one is easy to guess from the start. The writers don't try to hide the fact for long, nor do they surprise us with the revelation. Knowing it early doesn't make The Resident dull, because it is not so much that Max is a sleazy, creeping, peeping pervert, but how he chooses to go about it.

The real charm of The Resident is the unique manner in which the story unfolds, as well as the odd and unusual events within. Creatively, the plot involves a temporal shift with flashbacks at the midway point in which a collage of cuts from earlier in the film provide an epiphany that fills in some gaps. These cinematic lapses, not evident until revealed, have provided part of the suspense, and their sudden discharge sets the stage for a new round of nail-biting apprehension when the full nature of Juliet's entrapment becomes apparent.

Max's methods are quite ingenious and eerie, but when we see him doing awful, squirmy things like arousing himself by sensuously enjoying brushing his teeth with Juliet's toothbrush, almost as if the act is a substitute for performing oral sex, we want to run out of the theater. Other of Max's pastimes include masturbating in her tub, and spiking her wine with narcotics. His deviant endeavors evoke a delightfully crawly-skinned ICK! factor.

The old house has quite a hidden dimension of maze-like passages in its walls, with grotesquely grated circular wall vents in the tile near the tub, tailor-made for a leering pervert, very similar to the shower room peepholes in The House That Screamed aka La residencia (1969), and The Silent Scream (1980). The residence's ancient labyrinthine nature, hidden entries, two-way mirrors and other surprises are imaginatively captivating.

Victorianesque and time worn, intricate, creaking and groaning, foreign to Juliette, the habitation is almost alive. After living in it awhile, even Juliet comes to believe that the personal problems beginning to plague her, such as oversleeping by hours each day, are somehow related to her apartment being "creepy."

Juliet's abode is visually engrossing with it's direct-on-view of the pilings, substructure and underside of the approach span of the up-lit Brooklyn Bridge just outside her window. The living space is hardwood floored, wood panel walled, and elaborately laid-out, with French window partitions, and gentle breezes billowing the curtains. But there are also unsettling sounds emanating from the crawl spaces, the utility tunnels, the subway below and perhaps - from something else.

At night, the residence acquires a distinctive personification, and some artful, almost beautifully atmospheric cinematography captures every bit of Gothic essence and all the uncanny qualities. There are the warm tones of the exotic paneling, incandescent lighting and the decorative complexity of woodwork trim, as well as interior glass pane dividers from a bygone era. This is an apartment many of us would die for. But there are also menacing shadows, disturbing movements, and a feeling that one is somehow not alone within these walls.

In this way, the dwelling seems to be an entity unto itself. The mixture of peculiar cadences, hums and patter such as the rattling subway, and the startling sound of a great old ventilation fan intermittently sparking to life seems like a threatening orchestration. It is as if the very building has its own plan, a design by which its mechanical machinations comprise a malignant collaboration to Max's devious purpose. The scary old house becomes the literary antagonist, at least until we find out that the landlord is the real culprit.

Well acted, The Resident is one of the new Hammer productions and this explains its great look and rapid tempo. Chic, sleek art design and high production values visually distinguish this well-acted, highly derivative thriller. The fast-paced story stabs right to the marrow, and quickly clips along from start to finish. There is neither wasted time nor superfluous scenes. The Resident might have benefited however, from a tad better character development.

For instance, there are allusions to a previous family murder/suicide, complete with old newspaper clippings and aged portraits. Grandfather makes some cryptic remarks about Max's parentage and how it led to Max's character flaws. Max notes that he wants to escape from only being able to relate to women as a voyeur. Since he is charming and handsome, we wonder why he has girl-trouble, and it would have been interesting to see these story aspects more fully expanded on. Sadly, Christopher Lee's intriguing and menacing personification of the family patriarch lasts a mere five minutes.

There are a couple of convenient plot stretches, such as how Max becomes aware of Juliet in order to solicit the loft to her. There are also a few of the usual clichés, such as when someone we think is dead springs back to life to resume an attack. The Resident is nevertheless much better than many of its peers in this regard. While the contrivances are well-worn, they are not used in a way that overly insults our intelligence. Despite its flaws, the central premise successfully carries the movie, and The Resident soars above other major releases in the theaters.

Audiences are familiar with movies about terrorized single women, particularly those in which the distressed damsel is gaslighted by some sort of miscreant in her own house (Gaslight [1944, although Bergman's Paula Alquist was technically married in this one]; Black Christmas [1974]; When A Stranger Calls [1979]; He Knows You're Alone [1980]; Crawlspace [1986]; Single White Female [1992]; etc.). Despite such an established cinematic precedent, The Resident is sufficiently well executed to be worthy viewing for most fans of this particular thriller genre. Two post 1980 films with similar themes will please such audiences even more: the offbeat Hider In The House (1989) in which a homeless, off-kilter Gary Busey plays a loner who lives in the walls and attic of a woman's new suburban home, and Sliver (1993) in which William Baldwin owns a ritzy condo tower and has cameras installed everywhere to scrutinize a comely Sharon Stone.




You can also stream this film for free on Amazon Prime!

Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2019

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Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor