‘The Sender’ (with notes from script supervisor Sally Jones)

senderposter
Film: The Sender (1982)
Rated: R
Written by:
Thomas Baum
Directed by:
Roger Christian
Starring:
Zeljko Ivanek as John Doe
Kathryn Harrold as Dr. Gail Farmer
Paul Freeman as Dr. Joseph Denman
Shirley Knight as Jerolyn, The Sender's Mommy

By Rob R.

Pre-screening memories: The Sender was a film that was one of those under-the-skin creepouts that truly affected my young mind.

By the time I was able to catch it on my friend’s HBO, I had already been exposed to the blood and guts of Friday the 13th and that ilk, which I appreciated more for gore and special effects.

As an aforementioned devotee of Fangoria, I had my horror cherry popped at an age shared only by early American frontiersman and the Palin children. I was therefore able to distance my mind from the more splatter-centric brethren of the horror genre. They occupied my interest on a purely technical level.

The Sender, though, was one I recall being something that “could actually happen.” I remember there being long periods of silence, which allowed a young mind to ruminate over what was being shown to it. Of course, now two decades later I cannot remember but a few isolated scenes:

drowning* The opening in which lead (played by a young Zeljko Ivanek, whose name I committed to memory even way back then), walks directly into a public swimming beach in an attempt to drown himself. The sheer terror of his near drowning had one of those lasting ‘Jaws‘- like impacts on my land-lubbing psyche.

mouthrat* The other scene involved a rat exiting the mouth of one of the characters. I do not recall the circumstances that would precipitate a large rodent to dwell in one’s esophogus, but on a freak-out scale, it was off the charts.

loonybin* I recall a female psychologist trying to help poor Zeljko, and in my mind’s eye I can only remember Kelly McGillis, but that is most likely due to my decidedly un-Amish-like crush I held for her at that time, thanks to the double threat of Top Gun and Witness.

*There was also some climactic scene with electroshock that rivaled Jack Nicholson’s in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but with much more gore.

Memories of the film play  more like a dream, which I’m sure have more to do with the psychosis suffered by its lead, but I’m happy to revisit electroshock of nostalgia just the same.

New memories: Man, did I have good taste as a kid. Not only was this film still creepy, but the performances still held up, music was haunting, plot deeper than I remember. And all this from the guy who directed ‘Battlefield Earth?’

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Download Natsukashi’s ‘The Sender’ podcast

or you can return to Sender with Rob and Count Vardulon right on this page:

Our ‘guest’ Script Supervisor Sally Jones:

Sally is entering her fourth decade in film, overseeing scripts from a wildly diverse lot of films.  As the supervisor, Sally’s job was to help interpret the words of the script into physical action, and she was present throughout the filming of The Sender.

Included in her long list of supervisory credentials are a few you may have heard of, such as:

  • Return to Oz
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • Withnail & I
  • Willow
  • Patriot Games
  • Braveheart
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Vanity Fair
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • Mamma Mia!

Jones is currently working again with The Sender director Roger Christian on the horror-mystery Prisoners of the Sun, starring David Carvet, John Rhys-Davies and Emily Holmes.

We thank Sally for sending us her Sender memories.

‘Hellraiser’

Hellraiser (1987)
Rated: R
Written and Directed by: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton
                Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton
                Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
                Doug Bradley as Lead Cenebite (aka Pinhead)

Tagline: It will tear your soul apart!

By: Shelley Stillo

Pre-screening memories: The thing I remember most about viewing Hellraiser as a pre-teen is precisely how much it didn’t effect me. I got started as a horror fan young. I was raised by a group of pop culture mavens who compared family members to characters from Poltergeist and Children of the Damned, who let me stay up late and watch Tales From the Darkside on overnight visits to their houses. By the time I was 10, I’d had the good sense to become best friends with the video-store lady’s daughter.

In those pre-blockbuster days, the horror shelf in the video store was a special place—a vast undiscovered country of illicit sights. Today, as most people order their dvds from Amazon based on movies they’ve already seen or heard of, or worse yet, they `flix everything they watch, DVD cover art is a pretty sanitized business. Actors you recognize, a scene from the film, the promo poster you’ve seen a thousand times. Mid-80s VHS cover art was different, especially in the horror aisle. Intense color and extreme graphics were the only ways to give your film a chance to be seen, especially in an era when many horror films were independently produced or released direct to video. VHS covers could be downright terrifying. A trip down the horror aisle at the video store could often be an act of bravery for my 10-year-old self, and, unfortunately, most often a much richer artistic experience than viewing the films inside those Technicolor cases.

But it was also an act of pure pleasure, as I anticipated my weekly visits to the horror aisle with an insane glee other children reserved for Disneyland. In the three or four years during which my best friend’s mother worked at the video store, my friend and I burned through every horror film on the shelf, each of our family’s taking weekly turns at playing host to our all-night bloodbath versions of the pre-teen girl sleepover.

Back then, Hellraiser was just another movie to add to the list of horror films I’d seen. Even though “Pinhead” was already an iconic figure in the genre by the time I’d encountered him, he left little to no impression on me. I liked that he was a cool-looking villain, but I didn’t know why he got so much attention in all of those horror documentaries I watched. And while this lack of effect was in part a consequence of my attraction to more kid-friendly horror—the comical Freddy films that spewed forth from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and PG-13 Stephen King adaptions chief among them—it wasn’t like I had no appreciation for more mature horror. I also counted Nosferatu and The Haunting among my favorite films. But Pinhead and his “magic box” never meant anything to me, besides the occasional ability to quicken my heart—and my step—when I saw their images on a VHS box.

New memories: I was recently able to view Hellraiser on the big screen, and my immediate reaction was “I’ve never really seen this movie before.” Even though Hellraiser has most likely made numerous appearances on my horror viewing lists (which haven’t stopped growing), I never really saw the movie until I watched it this year. This is obviously due to the fact that as a pre-teen horror fan, I had no capacity whatsoever to understand the erotic dynamics of a horror film that explicitly delves into the world of sado-masochistic pleasure (“Demons to some, angels to others” indeed). But because I’ve heard countless talking heads ruminate about Barker’s use of this subject matter over the years, I really thought I had a sense of this film—what it was about and how it worked—even though I hadn’t seen it for at least ten years. But I really had no idea, which can be a bit of a surreal experience, to realize that something you honestly believed to be familiar is actually an absolute unknown.

Obviously, as someone enthusiastic about rebel art (an enthusiasm that was only stoked by Barker’s own live introduction to the screening I saw, which included blow-job jokes and a raspy “Art should never be made for the man. Art should be made to take down the man.”), I was impressed by the frankness with which this film approached the topic of pain as pleasure. But the film seemed to go even further than that by criticizing, or at least portraying as equally horrific, the “normal” sexual couple. Kirstie’s father’s and boyfriend’s obliviousness to possibilities that don’t conform to their narrow view of the world seems as problematic as Uncle Frank and Stepmother Julia’s (if you can’t tell, there’s also a bit of an incest plot here, which only adds intensity to the atmosphere of the film) violent fantasies.

The other thing that keeps this film resonant and current is how well the special effects have held up. As a frequent attendee of midnight movies, I can definitely say that special effects rarely hold up. But despite the outrageouness of some of the imagery Barker tries to capture—the aforementioned skinless Frank and the “meat board” are two notable examples—you never laugh or flinch at an outdated technique watching this film. Perhaps it is actually because of Barker’s outrageousness that these visual moments hold up. The depths of imagination it takes to conjure such images guarantees that they’ll shock and disturb, even at more than 20 years old.

I can’t end this review without a word about the cenobites. They’re inventive villains, even to a 10-year-old who has no grasp of their meaning. In context (or, more accurately, when the context is understood), they’re the kind of characters that attach themselves to your psyche, and may never be completely shaken loose. The rich dialogue they’re given helps (quotes), but their visual characteristics truly are the stuff of nightmares. And as much as Pinhead is still a cool looking villain, it’s the sound of those chattering teeth that keeps me up at night today.

Is Shelly still interested in raising ‘Hell’ after all these years? Listen to the podcast, or dowload it here.

‘Silent Rage’

Silent Rage (1982)

Rated: R
Director: Michael Miller
Screenplay: Joseph Fraley
Starring: Chuck Norris as Sheriff Dan Stevens
                Steven Furst as Deputy Charlie
                Ron Silver as Dr. Tom Halman
                Toni Kalem as Allison Halem

Tagline: “Science created him, Now Chuck Norris must destroy him.”

By: Rupert Pupkin (as told to Rob Rector)

Pre-screening memories: Before Braddock, before Braddock, before hawking gym equipment, before countless disfiguring facelifts, even before shilling for Mike Huckabee, Chuck Norris was in a Silent Rage!

Hot off of seeing Good Guys Wear Black, a young Rupert Pupkin swore he was born to be a karate man. His aspirations may have superceded his ability, but that failed to stop his desire from trying.

Take, for example, one particular day in grade school when young Rupert decided to test his abilities. He honed in on a pair of metal double doors that would be the inanimate recipient of his as-yet-untested high kick. In all his years, he knew these doors to be open and would swing wide under the pressure of his forceful foot.

As his running start grew to an airborne leap, Rupert extended his legs to blow open these metal barriers and thus demonstrate to the school his agility and perhaps one day follow in the deadly footsteps of his cinematic hero. Sadly, the doors were locked shut, thus ending Rupert’s short-lived dream to be a six-time karate champion like his then idol.

This did not stop him from spending time in the darkened theater with his matinee idol, though. And within months, he was back in the box office, relishing in another roundhouse romp in Silent Rage. But Rage was quite a different beast, he soon realized, and what he thought was to be a 90-minute class in ass kicking actually struck fear in his young heart, perhaps solidifying in his mind that the martial arts was not on the path of his future.

What struck fear into the heart of this young lad, and how has it affected him today?

You can download it here, as well.

‘Monster in the Closet’

Monster in the Closet (1987)
Rated: PG
Directed by:  Bob Dahlin

Starring
Donald Grant: Richard Clark
Denise Du Barry: Professor Diane Bennett
Claude Akins: Sheriff Sam Ketchum
Howard Duff: Father Finnegan
Henry Gibson: Dr. Pennyworth

Tagline: It’s Out! It’s Out! It’s Out!

By Jason Plissken

Past Memories:  The last time I saw this movie, I was in 7th or 8th grade.  Being somewhat of a geek, I always looked forward to watching monster movies on the weekends.  There was a period of time during the late 80s that Channel 17(Philadelphia’s first-ever UHF station, WPHL) would show late night monster movies.  (Ed. Note – This is where I, too, developed my love for monsters in rubber suits and such, since it aired many a Godzilla movie, as well as the series Ultraman and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot).

I think the segment was called “Friday Night Frights” (hosted by Bill “Wee Willy” Webber).  Saturday afternoons on Channel 48 often would play monster movie matinees during its Creature Double Feature as well.  My favorite presentations were the seemingly endless stream of Godzilla movies with the model cities, toy tanks, and excrutiating dubbing.
I watched Monster in the Closet on a Saturday afternoon.  I believe my first encounter was on HBO (back when they were none-too-discerning what they showed during the afternoon).  The movie actually freaked me out pretty bad, and had a lasting impact on my psyche.  I thought the monster suit was pretty creepy looking… at least creepy enough for a 12 year old.  The death scenes also seemed pretty gruesome to me as well, from what I recall.  Most of the titular monster’s victims were grabbed unsuspectingly and yanked or dragged into a child’s most feared corner of his or her bedroom. It was there they would meet an agonizing death, filled with screams of terror from the victims and elation from the beast.  I can also recall its Alien-like mouth that protruded out of its primary gaping mouth when it was ready to attack.
One particular scene involved a seeing-eye dog being hung (by its guide-grip) on the inside of the closet door when the creature was through with it. The scene disturbed me then, and the thought actually still does today.The film, for whatever reason, stayed with me years afterward.  I can remember that, for years afterwards, I always had to have my closet door closed before going to bed.  By the time I was senior in high school, I was finally able to let go of this closet door phobia.
Is Jason now twitch-free when he slides open that door to retrieve his Oxford shirts or shoebox full of Star Wars trading cards?

 You can download the episode right here.
  

‘X-tro’

Dowload the podcast of X-tro: Episode I: \’Xtro\’

Title: X-tro
Released: January 1983
Rated: R

Peronal pre-screening recollections: I recall my father going to take me to see this when I was but a young lad. Being the kind, loving father that he was, he knew the film had aliens (that loveable ET was at his zenith in popularity), UFOs and scares in it — all the things that preoccupied my pre-teen brain. But as most fathers, he never really checked out anything else about the film (little details like alien rape and a grown man crawling out of a woman’s holiest of holies). Details of plot and characters are all a bit sketchy to me, not because I was not paying attention (far from it, I was dodging and weaving my dad’s sheltering hands like Smokin’ Joe Frazier), but because I never had the chance to finish watching the damn thing. This was actually the first film I ever walked out on (again, not my decision, as I was getting quite an anatomy lesson).

So for me, X-Tro is like one giant elipsis in my mind. What I recall equally shocked and thrilled me, so it is with much pleasure that I return to the film more than 20 years later, prepared to finish this heretofore unwritten chapter in my mind. Continue reading

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