The Whispers: Give Us Your Children or Zero Hour Revisited

publicity poster for The Whispers
Three episodes into the ABC series The Whispers and it is clear that the network have a winner on their hands. In some ways the show feels like an odd twist on religion’s “Give us your children,” quote with a bit of Ray Bradbury’s Zero Hour revisited, which in essence it is, since the show is based upon that short story from The Illustrated Man. Other comparisons spring to mind, The Village of the Damned, sans George Sanders, alien impregnated small town wives, scarily high intelligence and a hive mentality look-a-like kids, or even, a perverse version of Drop Dead Fred, Phoebe Cates’ invisible friend, played by the late brilliant Brit comic Rik Mayall. One could even find a bit of Starman in this “kitchen sink” program that still manages to captivate.

Thus far, there are two couples whose lives are intertwined to an alarming extent. The reason for the word alarming is that one of them, Milo Ventimiglia (John Doe, who is really Lily Rabe’s character’s husband) is running around getting messages from the lights and helping an alien lead children into the sort of mischief that will not only get them in trouble but also blow up a large part of the US.

The show starts with a dark haired and cute moppet, who could almost be the new Dakota Fanning, she plays a game with invisible playmate Drill. This fun pastime consists of almost killing mommy, but the cute little girl is still happy as she, Harper, has won. Later, Drill will return to make the little one’s mother better.

Other children are approached, Minx, daughter of Kristen Connelly‘s character who hacks into daddy’s top secret account and allows the spawning of a possible disastrous event. The threads of all the characters and the plot weave together with the taut precision of a spider’s web.

Lena Lawrence (Connelly) and husband Wes (Barry Sloane) are on the outs because he had an affair with FBI coworker Claire Bennigan (Rabe) whose husband, Sean, (Ventimiglia) disappeared on a test flight and was pronounced dead. Now, Sean is back, but has no idea who he is or who Claire is, and he is taking orders from the same lights that the children are.

The clever bit about The Whispers is how all the kids that Drill approaches are a piece of “Sean’s” puzzle. One child, who lost his game by blowing himself to bits, starts the whole chain off. His “target” was a worker who intended on reporting a faulty pipe system in a nuclear reaction plant. Next in the puzzle is Harper (played by Abby Ryder Fortson who was a series regular on Transparent and really is the current Dakota Fanning crown holder, she is a delight to watch) whose game with mommy end with her in a coma in hospital and brings Harper’s nuclear head of safety father rushing home before possibly learning of the faulty pipe and Minx, whose access to daddy’s files ticks the final box of actions needed by “Sean.”

Right up until the scene in the petrol station toilet, with his hostage and unwilling aide de camp Dr. Maria Benavides (played brilliantly by Catalina Denis) it seemed that Drill and Sean were one in the same, but now it looks like Sean was appearing to the kids but following orders from the lights, just as the children were. If all that sounds confusing think Starman and it starts to make a bit more sense.

The last child approached is the formerly deaf son of Sean and Claire. He is given his hearing back and can now talk although “it’s a secret.” Grammy Starling (played by “ET’s mum” the iconic Dee Wallace) almost rumbles the kid when he’s playing an interactive game instead of sleeping. Just what Drill and daddy want Henry to do has not been revealed.

This is another of those shows to get excited about. When I first saw the trailers The Village of the Damned was my first thought, George Sanders thinking of a brick wall as the blond-headed super-genius kids try to crumble it, and, self admittedly, I passed judgement on the show pre-viewing and left it alone.

Big mistake. The show, created by Soo Hugh (The Killing, Zero Hour) has been tightly crafted and promises enough suspense and mystery, along with a hearty does of science fiction, to keep even the most jaded fan interested. The Whispers airs Sundays on ABC.

Watch it.

Living in the Real Desert: Fact Resembling Fiction

Quartzsite, Arizona mystery mobile home graveyard

Riding to town this afternoon I decided to take an alternate route to the main strip leading to town. A quick decision was made to take a dirt road where the surface was hard packed enough to make the bike tires move fairly well despite the lack of asphalt. It was this detour that made living in the real desert suddenly become “fact” eerily resembling fiction.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’ve been binge watching all my DVD horror collection. Three of these films were watched back-to-back; the first being Wes Craven’s 1977 The Hills Have Eyes with the delightful Michael Berryman and “Lassie’s mom” Dee Wallace, and the last two being the damned good remake of the original film and the 2007 The Hills Have Eyes II that deviated from its Craven roots by a lot.

Screen shot from The Hills Have Eyes II 2007
The Hills Have Eyes II 2007

So it was with something resembling trepidation and downright creeped out fascination that I observed what appeared to be a sort of graveyard for mobile homes, aka trailers, RV’s and boats off the side of the road. On the opposite of this dirt road is a recycling business.

Boats, truck and propane tanks
Boats?

Slowing to a stop, I took some pictures and observed that apart from a couple of different sized watercraft vehicles there was also an old propane truck, complete with tank on tow behind it. A few RVs and a big trailer with a semi, or Mack” cab set up to pull the silver monstrosity if its tires weren’t flat.

More RVs...
Please forgive the blur, pictures taken “on the run.”

The whole thing had a sort of “horror film feel” to it. Especially as the first trailer/mobile home had a shadowy figure lurking behind the big window in the stripped “living room.”

Creepy.

It really felt like fiction had become fact, behind that tall fence in the “real desert.”  Although arguably these skeletal remains of holiday vehicles and abodes did not resemble the “nuke town” in The Hills Have Eyes II.

In front of the odd assortment of “dead” tin human receptacles is an old RV park that has had a “closed” sign on it since I got here at least. This derelict “Winnebago” version of the Bates Motel, looks to have been closed for some time. No stuffed animals or murderous mummy’s boy named Norman here…

Hopefully.

However, this place looks like an old deserted drive-in theatre, the site has old electrical hookup standing lonely and disconnected next to small rectangles of gravel and what appears to be a water outlet of some sort.

Tour trailer derailed
No “Highway to Hell” for this tour vehicle…

There is a “reception” building that looks as deserted as the old damaged denizens of the graveyard behind it, but there are a couple of dirty cars in front of the structure and about 500 yards away from it, next to a wash, or arroyo, is a washing line and the drying clothes hanging there change regularly.

Someone is washing their clothes and apparently living in the rundown and creepy looking old RV park with all those dead occupants scattered behind it…

It honestly creeped me out and after taking a few hasty pictures with my trusty iPhone, I got the hell out of there in case Papa Jupiter came after me with his family trailing behind. This living in the real desert lark does sometimes feature fact that certainly resembles fiction and vice versa. A little hard on the nerves of an older “big kid” with an overactive imagination.

15 February 2015

The Lords of Salem (2012): Subtle Zombie

Unknown

Heavy metal impresario Rob Zombie exploded on the movie scene with his first feature film House of a 1000 Corpses in 2003. Already a veteran behind the camera from directing his music videos, his first film (and his second) featured a lot of “heavy metal” montage shots and utilised an almost guerrilla style of film making.

Zombie then went on to re-imagine the Halloween verse in 1 and 2. He next film, he told interviewers, would be a sort of Ken Russell directs The Shining. Far be it from me to argue with Mr Zombie’s own definition of what his film is, but I would argue that it is more like Ken Russell meets Rosemary’s Baby.

I will not go any further down that particular road as I don’t want to give anything away.

Written and directed by Zombie, The Lords of Salem stars Sherri Moon Zombie as Heidi Hawthorne. She is a local radio personality who works as part of a three person team in Salem Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem witch trials. A wooden box is left for Heidi at the radio station’s reception desk. It contains a record by a group called The Lords.

When the record is played on the air, it affects the female listeners of the audience, causing them to have visions of the olden days in Salem. Heidi is very affected by the music (which, for the record, would never have been featured on American Bandstand) and after she’s heard the music her landlady invites her to meet two old friends.

The film was obviously shot on location in Salem as the statue of television’s Bewitched character  Samantha Stevens (aka Elizabeth Montgomery) can be seen no less that three times. It’s as if Zombie wants to remind us that this is really about “fake” witches in Salem.

Zombie's cinematography made Samantha Stevens look a lot scarier in the film.
Zombie’s cinematography made Samantha Stevens look a lot scarier in the film.

Besides this reminder running through the film, a lot of black and white films play in the background in a few scenes. Heidi is watching an old “cop” film (featuring that loveable old heavy Jack Elam) and later when her boyfriend/radio partner Whitey  (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is watching a film, he is watching something with Charles Laughton (better known as Captain Bligh and Quasimodo).

There is, in fact, a lot of black and white themed sets in the film and Heidi’s apartment features a lot of black and white pictures and patterns. I’m not clever enough to know what the director is aiming for with this preoccupation with this particular colour scheme, but it’s obviously a clue of what is happening in the film. Perhaps it’s yet another allusion to the “olden days?”

The character of Heidi is a good one for Sherri Moon Zombie and she adds a depth to her acting that hasn’t been seen before. The film has a lot of Zombie’s “stable” in it. Sid Haig, Michael Berryman and Ken Foree are all Zombie “regulars.” The film also boasts the legendary Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Meg Foster. Most of his films feature a cadre of genre stars from old horror movies.

Quinn, Wallace and Geeson, Three scary ladies.
Quinn, Wallace and Geeson, Three scary ladies.

It was nice to see Andrew Prine  after he had to step in for the late Richard Lynch due to health issues.

Zombie has hit a level of subtlety that has, till now, been missing in his films. Where he has relied on over-the-top violence, blood and gore with villains that came close to being almost cartoonish; Salem strikes a sly and almost underrated  performance from all the key players.

A quick shout out to Bruce Davison as local Author Francis Matthias. He shines in his short performance and it was a pleasure to watch him in the film.

All the actors delivered exceedingly well and although the film had a bit of an ambiguous ending (to me at least) it kept me glued to the screen until the end credits had finished.

This may not appeal to the “normal” Rob Zombie fan. If you are expecting his usual fare of Heavy Metal Horror, you’ll be disappointed. But if you are ready to see a Rob Zombie who’s learned the art of insinuation and easing his audience gradually into the horror at hand, you’ll enjoy this latest effort.

I’d have to give The Lords of Salem a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve taken the .5 off only because the ending left me a little baffled. Despite my shaving off a half point, I don’t doubt that this will become a cult favourite.

Bravo, Rob Zombie.

Rob Zombie.
Rob Zombie.