Sinister Summer 2020 – SCREAM

“Do you like scary movies?” Master of horror Wes Craven redefined the boundaries of horror with what many argue is the definitive example of meta horror SCREAM. Although I argue in my Sinister Summer 2019 article that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was the first to explore the idea of meta horror, there is no doubt that SCREAM is the more popular and truly more meta film. One that not only comments on itself, but on the slasher genre specifically. With the recently greenlit SCR5AM sequel, I thought it would be fun to start out my Sinister Summer 2020 series with the OG! Scream is among my favorite horror properties because you can tell that Wes Craven simply loves the genre and finding new paths to original stories. There are plenty of reasons to love SCREAM. If, for no other reason, it boasts the most brilliant and shocking opening in–not only horror movies–but movies in general. Craven took what Hitch pioneered in Psycho, and amped up the speed at which a popular actress is killed. Whereas Marion Crane was killed off within the first act. Craven kills off American darling Drew Barrymore in the prologue of the film! Still to this day, the opening scene in SCREAM is still the most terrifying opening ever. By killing off Drew Barrymore at the beginning, this communicated to the audience that all bets are off. With the general public, let alone horror fans, becoming all too knowledgable of the rules of horror films thus possessing the ability to predict the outcome and plot turning points, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven crafted a horror film that changes the rules by using them as a plot device to completely deconstruct the American horror slasher film genre.

But more than a satirical horror film, this film is equally scary. Whereas Scary Movie (the original title to Scream) would do similar things but through parody, slapstick and dark comedy, SCREAM maintains a serious tone throughout the film and never falls into parody. This serious approach is one of the reasons why this innovative film performed incredibly well then and still holds up today. Highly entertaining! This film holds your attention from beginning to end through an incredibly well-developed plot, complex characters, and conflict driven by the actions of the characters. This plot is simple–brilliant–but simple. By relying upon the characters to carry the story, the movie contains more subtext and substance than many others. When you have a character-driven plot, you need solid actors to bring it to life. And all the performances by the principal characters are absolutely perfect for the film. Everyone is so committed to their respective characters. Like bookends, the ending and beginning answer one another.Just as shockingly intense the opening scene is, the climax of the film is surprisingly noteworthy as well, and threw audiences for a loop as it abandons more conventional endings.

As you may know, Drew Barrymore was offered the role of Sidney Prescott. And this was in the mid 90s at the height of Barrymore’s star power. By her taking on the role of the lead character, her name would draw in even more people than would already be excited to see another Craven horror film. After reading the script, Barrymore suggested that she play the role of the opening death. She predicted many people would believe she would survive until the end, and audiences would be shocked by her character’s early demise. And you now what, she was right AND made horror history! Placing Barrymore prominently on the front of the poster, the studio featured her heavily in the various promotional campaigns, leading audiences to believe that Barrymore was the lead in the film. This marketing technique, taken right from the Psycho handbook, reinforced the twists and turns that SCREAM would deliver throughout the film. After that opening scene, audiences knew that all bets were off and that no one–not even American darling Drew Barrymore was safe.

Not only was SCREAM a pivotal horror film that redefined the versatility of the genre, but Sidney stepped into the shoes of all the legendary final girls before her, and took the role in a new direction that cemented her in with the likes of Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and others. Unlike other Craven final girls, she stands as the only one to survive a Wes Craven franchise. Yes, Nancy is brought back in New Nightmare but she is killed off in Dream Warriors. While the final girl conventions had been well-defined up to this point, Wes Craven used the character of Sidney as a conduit for the audience since the rules of slasher horror were all too cliche at this stage in the evolution of the American horror film.

Much like with past final girls, Sidney is resilient, resourceful, sensible, and has an uncanny survivor’s reflex that is so incredibly well developed that she can simultaneously manage life’s complications and death with demonstrable hyper-focus. Furthermore, Neve Campbell’s Sidney was a powerful character for women because she demonstrated strength amidst adversity and responsibility when faced with difficult decisions. However, Sidney is not always the “good girl.” One of the longtime tropes of a final girl is one whom is chaste, but Sidney has had sex with her boyfriend prior to her mother’s brutal murder; however, she chooses when and only when she is good and ready, and when she isn’t dealing with the demons of her past or the serial killer of the present. Much like in the vein of Nancy Thompson, Sidney’s ability to outwit and survive Ghostface is based upon her cunning, not how “good” she is. She is ready and willing it fight for her life, and will stop at nothing until she rescues herself. 

Prior to SCREAM, slashers rarely targeted a single victim. For example, Laurie Strode happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Halloween, the same can be said for Alice in Friday the 13th. Less so with Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street where Freddy eventually targets Nancy because she discovers his vulnerability. Even different from how Nancy was eventually targeted, Sidney was the sole focus of Ghostface from the very beginning. This target on Sidney means that killing her is the singular focus of Ghostface; and like Sidney’s internal need to survive, Ghostface will stop at nothing until Sidney is dead. But because Ghostface (Billy and Stu) has a flare for the theatrical, he torments, manipulates, and singles her out until Sidney finally fights back in that climactic third act where she turns the tables on Ghostface by using his own tools and knowledge against him. From using his own voice modulator on strategically creepy phone calls to using his own costume to frighten him, Sidney makes intentional decisions that greatly effect the balance of power. While Ghostface holds significant power in the beginning, Sidney erodes that power and takes it for herself.  She proves that she has an even greater understanding of horror movies than Ghostface himself, or perhaps the versatility of the rules. Eventually audiences witness Last House on the Left levels of revenge. Interesting because Last House on the Left is Wes Craven’s breakout writing-directing project and redefined the genre with its sexploitation revenge plot.

While a lot of the attention paid to Sidney involves her relationship and confrontation with Ghostface, she is the conduit through which we explore the power dynamic in romantic relationships as well. And the fact that her boyfriend is also her tormenter, offers bountiful material to explore. In many ways, the relationship between Billy/Sidney and Ghostface/Sidney parallels one another. Ghostface wants to penetrate Sidney with his knife, but she refuses to give up on resisting; likewise, Billy desires to penetrate Sidney with his own weapon but she withholds until she has worked through her personal demons. Billy attempts to make Sidney feel guilty for not engaging in her “girlfriendly” duties, as a misogynist such as Billy would put it; likewise, Ghostface tries his best to make Sidney feel guilty for the death of her mother. These parallels are why Sidney defeating Billy/Ghostface is so important and meaningful. Not only does she kill the demons that are presently haunting her, this defeat also allows Sidney to finally close the book on the demons of her past trauma.

There is more to a great slasher that the final girl and villain; those elements alone do not a classic make. Although there were many fantastic horror films in the 1990s, I argue that SCREAM is THE decade defining horror film. Other significant contributions to 90s slasher horror are I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, and The Faculty. Because of how well it holds up, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly twenty-five years since SCREAM began terrifying audiences around the globe. With witty dialogue, twisted plot lines, and pop culture references, SCREAM has earned its tenure amongst other classic horror motion pictures. The strength of SCREAM is in the screenplay by Kevin Williamson brought to life by the brilliant Craven direction. In any film, the screenplay is responsible for the very framework of the film. More than a map between the beginning and end, the screenplay dramatizes conflict and manifests ideas in either a linear or nonlinear storytelling structure. Think about it: a screenwriter is the very first person to see a movie–even before the director. He or she knows this cinematic story inside and out. And it’s the challenge of the screenwriter to take the cinematic vision from his or her mind, and translate it for the screen in an effective method for crafting an emotional and psychological connection between the audience and characters.

Screenplays are responsible for crafting a compelling narrative out of otherwise disconnected ideas, simple plots, or premises. This is where the very foundation of a motion picture lies. Without a well-crafted screenplay written by a writer who cares, the characters lack motivation, there is little cause & effect or meaning to the plot devices. The words of a thoughtful screenplay form visual statements that allow for the motion picture to be supported by subtext or purpose. One of the most important elements in a screenplay that so often gets overlooked is the task of creating a cast of extremely likable and realistic characters that the audience instantly becomes invested in. Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM screenplay offers audiences an exciting film with ample twists & turns, with an almost whodunit quality about it. As mentioned earlier in the article, SCREAM is one of the first horror films to approach horror from a meta perspective. The film takes a self-referential look at horror cinema by poking fun at the clichés for which the genre is well-known while simultaneously playing into almost every single one of them. But the film never patronizes its audience nor acts as if the audience is not in on the joke.

Often imitated, but never replicated, SCREAM is a pivotal horror film that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre and cinema at large. It represents the third time that Wes Craven was instrumental in redefining the genre: the first time was Last House on the Left then A Nightmare on Elm Street and lastly SCREAM. More than any other director, Craven has been the most pioneering in the genre. While he may have more box office flops than successes on his filmography, his films consistently sought to be trailblazers. In terms of studio history, he quite literally saved New Line Cinema from closing when he wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street. And one could even say that Craven saved the slasher genre from extinction with SCREAM.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994) Film Review

Catch a falling star and put him in your movie. “What a picture.” As many horror and horror-adjacent movies I’ve seen over the years, I am still finding those that I am familiar with–yet–have never taken the time to watch. And Ed Wood is one of those movies. Even if you know the story, and have even seen clips of the movie in your cinema studies class, believe me, you want to seek out this brilliant motion picture about the dark side of show business. There is perhaps no greater example of posthumous notoriety and success in cinema than the late filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famously known for Plan 9 from Outer Space and casting the great Bela Lugosi in his final screen appearance. While his Z-grade movies were laughed at during their day, these movies provide inspiration to artists everywhere that you can pursue your dreams even when your harshest critics and financiers dismiss you. Ed Wood was a creator with a passion for bringing joy through entertainment into people’s lives. Perhaps his films were poorly produced, written, directed, and virtually everything else, but what this films demonstrate is a love of filmmaking and respect for great talent that flew in the face of a “town that chews you up and spits you out.” Ed Wood was in motion pictures for the art and love, not for the business. Tim Burton’s quasi biographical film about the production of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space, and the relationship between Bela Lugosi and Wood is a beautiful portrait of love and respect. Of all the fantastic performances in this film, Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi is a command performance that rightly earned him an Oscar for Supporting Actor. If you’ve ever had a dream, this film serves as inspiration and provides darkly comedic anecdotes that shine a light on the lengths independent filmmakers have to go in order to find a way to finance and produce films. This film is a sort of ode to all the misfit creatives out there, and probably the most sincere and personal film that Burton has ever made.

Because of his eccentric habits and bafflingly strange films, director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is a Hollywood outcast. Nevertheless, with the help of the formerly famous Bela Lugosi (Landau) and a devoted cast and crew of show-business misfits who believe in Ed’s off-kilter vision, the filmmaker is able to bring his oversize dreams to cinematic life. Despite a lack of critical or commercial success, Ed and his friends manage to create an oddly endearing series of extremely low-budget films. (IMDb)

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All the technical elements scream classic Tim Burton! From the moment the movie opens, even if you did not know that this was a Burton film, you would instantly identify the stylistic opening as quintessentially Burton. And not just the choice to make the movie grayscale, but the production design has a gothic poetry to it. Burton was able to successfully capture the look and feel of 1950s Hollywood. He was careful to recreate the world of Ed Wood, all the way down to the character blocking in the movies within the movie. For example, you can compare the recreated Ed Wood movies within this biopic to the real deal, and many are practically carbon copies. I appreciate this because it makes the filmmaking we see in the movie feel all the more real when what’s being shot in the movie is the same as was shot in real life. Perhaps Burton didn’t shut down Hollywood Boulevard like QT did for OUATIH, but he painstakingly transports the audience of the then 90s and even today’s audience to an era of independent film production that produced movies that look like they belong on an old UHF station.Most of the scenes are set in dank, warehouses or the empty streets of a nondescript section of the city. Other scenes are simply in a humble home. The filmmaker Ed Wood never shot a frame that he didn’t like; moreover, this practice was so extreme that he would ignore complete technical blunders and horrendous acting that was so bad that it achieved a kind of grandeur or cult status that can be appreciated decades later because Wood’s love of movies and movie making shines through in every frame of his masterful disasters.

Just as Ed Wood loved every frame of everything he ever made, the visual design of this film has got to be loved by Burton. His signature is on every scene. No mistaking it, there is more to the reasons for recreating Ed Wood’s Hollywood than just making an accurate biopic. Much like Norma Desmond took audiences on a journey into the life of a faded once-great(est) star of the silent era, It’s in these very dark corners and abandoned places where the true love of motion picture making lives, where the only reward for wrapping a picture is the love of the work itself and the cheers of those whom stood by you and helped take the idea from concept to screen. Ed Wood represents geek culture of the 1950s, future icons of horror and science-fiction are featured as unappreciated in their time. Fortunately today, geek culture is alive and well, and even celebrated. Yeah, there are obnoxious stans out there, but most of us movie and horror geeks simply love the medium and enjoy having fun with movies that still capture our imaginations. The director Ed Wood was not unlike many of us; he had a dream, and stopped at nothing to realize it. While I do not care much for Burton’s work after the 80s and 90s, he is a filmmaker that showed audiences through BeetlejuiceBatman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, and Ed Wood that he loves the art of motion pictures. When you went to a Burton picture in the 80s and 90s, you knew that you would witness the hand of the artist. In both Ed Wood’s and Tim Burton’s films, there is an effervescent life, a joy in their films that technically and critically “better” pictures only wish they had.

We cannot talk about Ed Wood without spending some on Landau’s Oscar-winning performance as Dracula himself Bela Lugosi! I was blown away by how sincere the performance was. What we saw Renee Zellweger do with Judy Garland in last year’s Judy, Landau did with Lugosi in Ed Wood. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that I was watching Lugosi in this film. Both vocally and physically, Landau transforms into the famous Hungarian actor. From the moment we first see him laying in the coffin (creative latitude on Burton’s part), Landau captures our imaginations. Landau delivers a performance of a faded film star that Gloria Swanson would be proud of. In many respects, the characters of Bela Lugosi and Norma Desmond are similar. While Norma wasn’t living in near poverty, she was living in a world in which the parade of fans long sense passed her by; likewise, Lugosi fell into such obscurity that even people in the business thought he was dead. Landau embodies the mind and soul of someone that feels completely abandoned by the world and the fans that once loved to see his pictures. And it wasn’t the fame or money that Lugosi missed per se, but bringing joy to millions and simply the feeling of being wanted or needed is what Lugosi missed most. While Landau received negative criticism from the family and friends of Lugosi because his family said that Lugosi never used profanity or slept in coffins, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest performances of Landau’s career and in biopics.

Everything about this motion picture works brilliantly! I’m only disappointed that it took me this long to finally make time to watch it. Even though there is something in this movie for everyone, I feel that it impacts cinephiles and filmmakers the most. Though, there is a high degree of relatability for anyone that has ever had a dream and stops at nothing to continue to pursue it. Amid the recreation of all the tacky filmmaking and notoriously bad acting, there is a warmth and charm that will stick with you long after the credits role.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Top 10 Most Memorable Movie Moms for Mothers Day

With Mothers Day this weekend, I thought I would count down my Top 10 picks for most memorable movie mothers! Some moms are endearing, some are overbearing, and others are terrifying. But they all have one thing in common: how well we remember them. Some have become such a part of the zeitgeist; so much so, that people who haven’t even seen the movies, know precisely who these mothers are. Whether they are winning our hearts through their steadfast love or through their incredibly close, protective relationship with their kid, there is something to be loved about each and every one.

10. Helen Parr (The Incredibles): Helen Parr is one of the most memorable mothers from movies because she both figuratively and quite literally holds her family together. I admire her for the endless support she shows Bob and the kids. Whilst maintaining her role as a mother, she also saves the world. Holly Hunter’s voice work is outstanding, such a charismatic performance. Like any good mother, she takes the time to listen to her kids’ needs and wants. And while she is empathetic and flexible, she is willing to stretch in order to provide the best possible care and guidance for her kids and husband.

9. Molly Weasley (Harry Potter): “Not my daughter, you bitch!” What a delivery by Julie Walters! Molly is a woman of considerable talent and skill to run a large household and remain one of the most powerful witches in the Harry Potter universe! She has the superpowers of a marvelous mother and a brilliant witch. Yet, she never flaunts her talents or accomplishments in front of anyone. While many skillful, powerful people would seek to impress and control others with their abilities, she remains a humble caregiver. However, if you threaten her kids, then she will turn into a mother tiger and pounce on you.

8. Aurora Greenway (Terms of Endearment): Played by Shirley MacLaine, Aurora puts her beloved, and at times estranged, daughter Emma before anyone else. She would do anything for her daughter, even though her methods may come across as abrasive and ridged. She is a feisty widow and mother whom won’t bat an eye before she tells you what she thinks. Her comebacks are witty, brutally honest, and fast. Even though she may get lost in her own anxiety over things that she cannot ultimately control, she will remain by her daughter through thick or thin. Her level of loyalty and love runs runs deep as the ocean.

7. M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias): That graveside funeral scene is one of my favorites in all of cinema! The emotionally charged conflict with her own grieving and her friends is electrifying! I love how M’Lynn takes audiences through the entire stages of grief in just a few minutes. M’Lynn is completely devoted to her family, especially her daughter Shelby and her battle with Type-1 diabetes. M’Lynn is the very definition of a steel magnolia because she is as complex and beautiful as a delicate flower, yet she is incredibly strong, withstanding all the pressures of being a mother and friend. She is the very glue that holds her family together. While she is strong, even she is not immune to the tragedies of the world. But she demonstrates resilience in order to remain an anchor for all those around her.

6. Peg Boggs (Edward Scissorhands): There is perhaps no more prolific movie mom than the incomparable Diane Wiest! I was able to visit the home of Peg last summer when I decided to locate the neighborhood from the movie since it was shot near Tampa, where I live. And there it was! THE house and neighborhood. She is a mom whom is generous with time, resources, and the love she demonstrates. More than a caregiver, she sought to truly understand Edward and provide the motherly love and attention that he lacked. Talk about magnanimous. She opened her home and heart to a neighbor in need, even though he looked different than her and certainly stood out in that perfect little slice of suburbia. Peg believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at pursuing their dreams!

5. Morticia Addams (The Addams Family): While there have been many iterations of Morticia Addams, my favorite is Angelica Huston! Morticia Addams is one of the most proud mothers ever. Not proud as in haughty, proud as is her unyielding belief in her family and all their quirks. I love her perfect balance of elegance and homespunness. She consistently encourages her family to pursue their dreams, whether altruistic or morbid. While some moms may forget that they can still be sexy, sensual, and romantic, Morticia keeps the romance alive with her and Gomez. Whenever one of her kids has a problem, she never lets them feel defeated. Instead, she picks them back up and gives them encouraging words, in a very Addams fashion of course, to get right back up and try again. A constant source of morbid positivity, Morticia is never afraid to state her opinion, but when she does, you can be assured that she will state it with utter politeness.

4. Ellen Ripley (Aliens): “Get away from her, you bitch!” Sigourney Weaver’s career defining role of Ellen Ripley demonstrates that you don’t have to be a biological mother to provide the protection and care for a child! While she may not technically be a mother, she is every bit a mother as the best of them! We first meet Ripley in the original practically perfect motion picture and horror classic Alien, but it’s not that portrayal that lands her on this list, it’s her role as Ripley in the sequel that sets her apart as one of the most memorable mothers in all of cinema. Even though Newt isn’t the biological daughter of Ripley, she adopts her as her own and protects her with everything she’s got! Whether Ripley is protecting her from schoolyard bullies or nightmarish aliens, Newt is safe under the protection of a final girl who’s also a complete badass that won’t ever back down. And c’mon, the was she commands that transformers like suit, is timeless.

3. Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest): “No wire hangers–ever!” “Tina, bring me the axe.” Faye Dunaway’s tour de force performance as one of Hollywood’s Golden Era greats has been met with constant criticism from the day she took on the iconic role of Joan Crawford. Fortunately, it’s not the performance that anyone questions but the vicious content and accusations the movie makes of Joan and her daughter. The reason that Joan Crawford breaks the Top 3 on this list is because there is perhaps no greater or more widely known over-the-top, campy performance by a mother than in the cult classic Mommie Dearest. I mean, it’s in the very title of the film! This movie is a truly terrifying exploration of the warped psyche of a once great star that is fading into obscurity as she struggles to provide the love that Tina needs. $300 dresses and elaborate birthday parties aren’t what Tina wants–she simply wants to be loved by the movie star. Joan Crawford was obsessed with her career and with the idea of being a mother. But those are two things that she cannot ultimately control. And it’s that lack of picture perfect control that drives her to absolutely terrorize Tina.

2. Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th): “You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday” “kill her mommy, kill her.” Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees remains one of the most original and fascinating villains in slasher movie history! Spoiler alert: she is the killer in the original Friday the 13th, not Jason. Of course, if you’ve seen SCREAM, then you know that already. Mrs. Voorhees is completely devoted to her son Jason. She was his protector. When fellow campers teased him, she was there to defend him and dry his years. He was her entire world. Mrs. Voorhees would do anything for Jason in life or death. She proves that nothing, absolutely nothing is stronger than a mother’s love. Borrowing from a line from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, “revenge is better than Christmas.” Mrs. Voorhees is driven by revenge. She will make sure than all horny camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake will pay for the sins of their predecessors because they were making love while her “sweet Jason” drown. The connection between Mrs. Voorhees and Jason is so incredibly strong that not even death can break it. That’s the power of this mother.

Twitter mentions: I put this topic out on Twitter, and I heard from Gidgit VonLaRue of the RetroCinema Podcast, and she simply stated “Diane Weist. Any movie. Any role.” Simple yet highly effective, as Diane is the most prolific mother to ever hit the screen.

1. Norma Bates (Psycho): “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” The most memorable of all movie mothers is Norma Bates! Even though she isn’t in a single scene (except for her corpse), she maintains an oppressive, overbearing presence in every frame. She controlled Norman when she was alive, and she continues to pull the strings in her death. Much in the same way Mrs. Voorhees inspires Jason to kill, Norma forces Norman to kill whenever she feels that her relationship with her son is threatened by an outside force. Mother Bates also maintains a watchful eye over everything that happens at her house and motel. Always watching for potential threats to her poltergeist-like existence. Norma loves Norman, but perhaps she should have loved just a little less. The love Norma had for Norman possesses an almost supernatural element to it. Of course, all of this is in Norman’s head, but that doesn’t take away from the very real presence Mother has throughout the entire motion picture. Mother is Norman and Norman is Mother, they are one in the same. Matricide is perhaps the saddest, most disturbing crime there is, and when Norman killed his mother and her boyfriend, he could’ve live with himself. So he brought her back to life! And even though she isn’t breathing, she is incredibly real. The single greatest scene in all of cinema features the most memorable mother in all of movie history!

I’d also like to take a moment to give a shoutout to my mom! While she may not be a mom from a movie that you can see in the cinema, she is the mom in the movie of my life. Ever since I can remember, she has always been a constant cheerleader for me and my dreams. Never once has she discouraged me; however, she will offer up her wisdom or opinion on decisions I make or directions I choose to go. Even when I’ve screwed up, she was right there to help me through it and make sure I learned my lesson. She’s always put her family before anyone else, even herself. When I was very young, and my dad was still in graduate school, I remember my mom doing without on birthdays and Christmasses so she could give her kids the very best. It’s not the things that I remember as much as it is the waves of generosity, support, and love. Even though I live nearly 500 miles from my mom, she is always right there when I need her. I absolutely love and look forward to our trips to our favorite restaurants when I am in town, watching movies together, and helping her with video production to support her music class at the school where she’s been teaching for more than twenty years. My prayer is that I never take one moment with my mom for granted, and cherish every last minute. From trips to theme parks to simply going to the supermarket, she is the best mom I could have ever asked for.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“I See You” (2019) Movie Review

See this spellbinding enigma! I See You is a beautifully and cleverly crafted horror-adjacent psychological thriller that combines the horror of a People Under the Stairs urban legend with the police procedural stylings of SE7EN and Along Came a Spider with Lynchian influences. An official selection at last year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, this movie is now included with Amazon Prime and available on other streaming services. Even since movie theatres had to close in the wake of COVID-19, I have been struggling to identify films to watch for purposes of a formal review. While selecting rewatches and select new watches for pure entertaining and passing the time has also been a struggle, I meet with a paralyzing indecisive quandary when browsing VOD selections for a film to review. Perhaps I am in the minority on this, but I depend on theatrical releases for structural, filter, and priority purposes. But after not releasing a new article last week, I knew that I needed to watch and review something. At the recommendation of a friend of my sister’s, I checked out I See You, and I am glad that I did! Starting out in a very Lynchian fashion with sweeping birds eye view camera shots over a sleepy, yet affluent hamlet, the seemingly supernatural tedious first act gives way to terrifying reality told through an enigmatic nonlinear narrative device in the second and third acts. To get into plot specifics would deprive you of the thrill of a first-time watch, but don’t believe everything you think you see in the film. Playing around with points of view, trauma, and the breakdown of a family, this film delivers the twists and turns you desire from a psychological thriller while concurrently delivering a depiction of what happens when trauma festers in the mind and soul without a constructive way of resolving it. In retrospect, some of the logic of the plot doesn’t quite make sense, and there are some elements that you simply have to chalk up to the suspension of disbelief. But the rollercoaster of a showdown finishes in a brilliant crescendo that feels like something that Wes Craven and David Lynch would have written together.

Strange occurrences plague Greg (Jon Tenney), a small town detective, and his family as he investigates the disappearance of a young boy whom appears to be the victim of a copycat serial killer. With the specter of a man sent to prison that may have been innocent, Greg is also dealing with the recent affair of his wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) and the unbridled anger exhibited by his son Connor (Judah Lewis) over his mother’s affair.

The nonlinear plot of I See You employs Hitchcockian misdirection with subjective vantage points and audience expectations versus reality. Quite the brilliant combination for a psychological thriller. After the diegetic catalyst of a young boy being violently ripped from his bicycle–literally thrown into the air–sets the melancholy, ominous tone for the movie, the first and second acts of the film tell the same story, but from two different perspectives. The malevolent force witnessed in the opening scene seems to follow audiences to the unnerving confines of the Harper house that is spatially large, but an ominous presence takes the palatial house and makes it feel like a prison. In retrospect, the breadcrumbs are all too obvious; however, many of these conspicuous clues go unregistered by the audience because of the more exciting prospect of a supernatural force at work. I appreciate how the main action and subplot compliment the themes of reconnecting with estranged family members, guilt, resentment, and trauma. Moreover, the search for the missing boy parallels Jackie’s search for her estranged son whilst dealing with her ideal family image hiding dark secrets.

During the first act, we receive a great deal of exposition; fortunately, the subplot backstory of Jackie’s transgression (which we learn is a recent affair for which she is genuinely remorseful) is delivered primarily through dramatic character reaction and supplemented with dialogue. While the familial drama provides a tantalizing subplot, it’s the search for the missing boy believed to be the victim of a sadistic pedophillial copy cat serial killer that is the main action plot of the film. And the backstory for the action plot is creatively delivered through the police procedural headed by Greg. We learn everything that we need to know in order to understand the plot in the first few scenes. While some of what we learn is intentionally designed to misdirect our attention–think of it as a magician focusing our attention on his right hand while it’s the left hand that is creating the magic–it is still valuable information that will all come together in the end. After the big reveal in the epilogue, everything that unfolded throughout the movie becomes even more sinister.

Over all, you’ll find strong performances by the three lead cast. The top-billed Helen Hunt, while starting out as the central character, quickly becomes a chief supporting character to Tenney and Lewis. However, she delivers the strongest performance out of the three. Not that the other two do not command the screen, Lewis is able to showcase his acting chops that provide evidence that he is shaping up to be a diverse actor capable of the young adult comedy of The Babysitter and the shocking anger of his character in this film. Screenwriter Devon Graye and director Adam Randall demonstrate an outstanding comprehension of story craft that simultaneously embraces horror/thriller tropes and subverting the genre expectations. Creatively expressing the story for the screen is the stylistic cinematography that effortlessly switches modes from subjective to objective without disorienting the audience. The editor takes a page out of the David Fincher color pallet and technique to showcase the neo-noir tone of the film. Editing is one of the most undervalued technical elements in a film–undervalued by the general public–because the best editing is the kind that doesn’t become a spectacle but supports the narrative by communicating the plot and emotion of the story. Communicating the unsettling tone and shocking moments in the film is first-time composer William Arcane. From the writing to acting to the technical elements, this film provides a highly entertaining, and at times terrifying, story!

I See You may not be for everyone, but the intended audience will definitely enjoy it! The types of people that will enjoy this most are those whom already enjoy the non-supernatural Lynch, Craven, Hitchcock, and Craven movies. With the nonlinear storytelling, there was such a possibility of failing in the execution, but director Randall crafts an excellent thriller that will have you wanting to rewatch it to see all the clues you missed before. Even though it is definitely rewatchable once, I do not feel that it is the kind of movie that will be continually rewatchable through the years. However, it is certainly a solid selection for your enjoyment, especially if psychological thrillers are your thing.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” (2020) Horror Short Film Review

Tell-tale signs of outstanding cinematic talent right here! I don’t often choose to write a formal review of short films for which I receive screeners. Usually, I Tweet my thoughts on the film when I receive a request from an eager filmmaker who’s interested in what Professor Horror, as I’ve come to be known on #FilmTwitter, has to say about his or her motion picture endeavor. Writer-Director McClain Lindquist crafts a wholly original expression of the familiar macabre tale. While there have been many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this is arguably one of the best and freshest interpretations of the masterful storytelling of Poe. I appreciate this adaptation for its fresh take on a familiar story whilst delivering the visceral horror and intellectually-driven elements of the bizarre tale of murder. Every nuance of Poe’s short story is depicted with sheer reverence for the source material, while delivering an original expression of the timeless literary work.

Lindquist reimagines this story through the lens of a David Lynchian approach (with the color pallet of David Fincher), delivering vibes of Muholland Drive. While there are clearly some cracks in the veneer related to the time period in which this story takes place, these cracks are insignificant enough not to detract from the overall cinematic experience. Lindquist should have selected either a modern or gothic period in which to set his adaptation. Actor Sonny Grimsley (what a great last name for horror) not only brings the words of The Narrator to the screen, but he talks to the audience with such incredible sincerity that the utter madness of it all is visualized beautifully. One of the points I hammer in my screenwriting class is dramatize don’t tell. Dramatizing means more than showing the audience the story, it means finding the conflict in every beat of every scene. Fortunately for this adaptation, Grimsley brilliantly dramatizes every word spoken in such a manner that you will be completely enveloped in the twisted tale to which he beckons you to listen.

Both the cinematography and stylistic editing are on point, and compliment the tone wonderfully. Although there are a number of standout moments from the film, I want to highlight how the duality of the narrator was expressed dramatically through the use of costuming and set design as well as a mirror. It would be all too easy for The Narrator to express his duality through verbal exposition (as this is taken from a short story), but the creative choice to couple the words of Poe with these striking images shows a strong knowledge of how to effectively go from page to screen. Often short films suffer from poorly executed technical elements, but I am pleased to report that all technical elements demonstrate an exemplary understanding of the art and science of cinematic storytelling. In addition to the technical elements is the haunting and unsettling score by Joel Pack. Lacking a true score is all too commonplace in many short films; not so with Lindquists’s The Tell-Tale Heart, Pack’s score is a character in and of itself. However, it never steals the scene, which allows the audience to become fully wrapped up in everything The Narrator says and does. I love seeing practical effects in all films, but especially horror. Thankfully, there are plenty of gruesome special makeup effects in this film for even the most insatiable appetite for gore, which never falling into the gratuitous category.

Lindquist certainly knows how to capture the madness in The Tell-Tale Heart. In many of Poe’s works, madness is often represented a lack of sufficient reasoning for committing murder or some other undesirable behavior. Lindquist illustrates The Narrator’s madness through the unreasonable rationale he uses to justify the murder of his roommate. Not only do we hear about the attempt at rationalization, it is dramatized for the screen. The only reason the narrator provides, in an attempt to justify the murder, is the simple fact that the roommate’s blind eye covered with a murky blue film bothers him a great deal–haunts him, even. He goes onto explain that he feels that he is being watched all the time. Being angered by the man’s eye is such a petty reason for the narrator to murder him, which proves that he is mentally unstable. Developing his plan for over a week, his madness is further represented through the meticulous premeditation of the method of murder. Furthermore, when The Narrator initially proposes that the “vulture eye” is his motive for murdering his roommate, he is not even fully certain that this was indeed his reason for committing the murder. And through the direction of Lindquist and the impeccable performance by Grimsley, we get into the mind of a madman in terrifying ways that are sure to induce nightmares.

Lindquist’s The Tell-Tale Heart is evidence of a future successful career as a horror filmmaker. I am eager to follow his filmography as he will hopefully use this short film as a springboard to write and direct original content, because we need more original storytellers in this sea of remakes and reboots.

The Tell-Tale Heart plans to release on select streaming platforms Fall 2020. Checkout the trailer!

  • Director: McClain Lindquist
  • Cinematographer: Joseph Olivas
  • Editors: Joel Petrie & Raymund Delmar
  • Sound Effects: Jacob Proctor
  • Makeup Effects: Ambira Powell
  • Music: Joel Pack

Social Media for The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry