[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]
Cult Women Conspiracies
The Wicker Man (2006)
The Dark Secrets of Harvest Home (1978)
Believe it or not, it is quite difficult to find very many films with women en mass conspiring to emasculate men. Considering most films are written and directed by men, it is rather surprising that this theme does not pop up more often. Sure, there is the evil asian ghost with long hair, or the jilted psychotic ex-lover come back for revenge, but consider the number of movies about satanist cults and other underground Masonic-type boys clubs, and it is rather odd.
The original Wicker Man (1973), considered by many (myself included) to be one of the great films of all time. An epic mash of folklore, mystery, religious ideology, music, suspense and finally horror, mainly dealt with Christianity and Paganism and how the two clash when a Scottish cop locks ideology with the local lord. The film, like many great horror films lately, was destined for a remake. The bafflingly bad result did terrible at the theatre, being released at the career nadir of one Nicholas Cage (and a downward slide for its director, former playwright Neil LaBute who achieved notoriety and success with the one-two punch of In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, films that took the battle of the genders to interesting places.) The remake drops the religion angle, and takes the paganism rather out out context to deliver a daffy Nic Cage vs. Women tale. There is a famous you-tube clip consisting of a collection of cold-cocks to the face and Sgt. Cage brandishing large handguns to the various female denizens of an island off the coast of Portland, who are practicing old century ways to keep their bees producing boutique grade honey. That Cage’s hangdog short-tempered investigator was dumped and abandoned by his fiancee (who retreated back to this island, and shows up here as a would-be ally) is only icing on the cake. While nearly everyone embarrasses themselves in an exercise of camp-in-slow motion including Leelee Sobieski, Frances Conroy and Molly Parker. The iconic Ellen Burstyn (no stranger to Horror iconography, having starred in the biggest horror picture of all time, The Exorcist) gives a solid but wasted turn in the Christopher Lee role. Sure, the pretty cinematography (just outside of Vancouver) make this a fun one-off viewing, even while it is takes a large crap on the power of the original. In the strained effort to set it in the United States instead of Scotland, much of the plot detail and other cultural motivation is rendered rather incomprehensible and certainly out of any historical context. Then there is the 21st century addition of lot of bad CGI bees which I suppose make the scene compliment Cage’s ‘mega-acting’ well enough. The remake ends with a giggle, not the soul chilling fires of people certain in their beliefs. It is the best parody of the 1973 classic that could ever be made, and it does it with a stony-straight faced earnestness. Camp Classic!
I still cannot forget the opening shot of Pang Ho-Cheung’s Exodus which opens on the cool staring eyes of a photo of Queen Elizabeth II and tracks backwards to reveal the beating of a man by a group of other men frog-suits. It is a powerful and farcical image for a movie that has trouble exactly what it is. When a late-career cop (Simon Lam at his most subtle) takes up the investigation of a peeping tom case, it leads (in a slow-burn fashion) to potentially a conspiracy of women — ALL WOMEN — against men and possibly a murderous apocalypse. I mean why do they always go into the bathroom in groups? A question which leads to another: How does one pull off this sort of logistically inane, and goofy concept? Well, by making it into a classic noir style picture while holding its cards right at its vest up to the last minute before dropping its hand on the table. This may be frustrating to some, indeed, upon my first viewing at the Toronto International film festival (in which half of the small press audience walked out) was frustrating, but it was a film that long lingered, and is quite rewarding of multiple viewings when you get acclimatized to its almost invisible form of deadpan and into its own private paranoia.
A tele-film way late into the career Bette Davis’ career, a decade and a half past What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, finds the iconic actress delivering a wonderful performance in film that rips off The Wicker Man and resets the locale to America far more believable than Neil LaBute’s remake. The Constantine family, Nick, Beth and their teenaged daughter Kate, on a driving trip outside of their usual New York stomping grounds, happen upon an isolated New England community (surrounded by rivers) who eschew technology and grow their local crop, corn, by adherence to a more old-fashioned (really old fashioned) set of traditions. There is a Christian church which gets good attendance from the locals but the as one of the younger farmers says at one point, tradition is more important than religion. Having recently come into a bit of money, they buy a local home from a the Widow Fortune – an ominously monikered Bette Davis, who turns in a performance that is both charming and scary (again, echoes of Christopher Lee). Beth stops going to her high priced therapy because the open air and household tasks bring a new vitality to her psyche, and their daughter seems to have kicked her asthma completely. Nick decided to start writing a coffee-table styled sketch-book of the region and discovers a long history of strange murder and secrets that eventually culminate in the Harvest Home festival. The film doesn’t really have the visuals, or the acting (despite some interesting character actors including Rene Auberjonois as a nutty peddler, pre-Growing Pains, Tracy Gold as the towns psychotic psychic little girl, and most strangely Donald Pleasance as the narrator of a series of audio-books played here and there over the 300 minute run time) but it does feature a few knock-out scenes, particularly the climatic harvest ritual that gets more sex and blood into it than one would think would be suitable on TV in the late 1970s. What is most fascinating is watching the central character getting more and more emasculated, at home, and in the community as the women put him in his place, while murdering anyone (even their own men) that endeavor to bring some modernity to the region, yet kick the crap out of pour Nick when he tries to be the stern and conservative father (New York writer/artist be damned!) to his budding daughter at the town dance. While Nick doesn’t do nearly as much punching as Nic (above) the film definitely does not pull any of its punches in the twilight-zone finale that plays like a mirror-world version of the Stepford Wives.