On a dark and stormy night…

Dominic Baez/Managing editor


The Hills Have Eyes, 2006


I hate it when people stand too close to me in the line at the grocery store; I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if I were stalked while lost in the middle of the desert. But that is what happens in the recent adaptation of “The Hills Have Eyes.”

In the middle of the desert, a fuel station run by an elderly man services customers. Ethel and her husband Bob are traveling from Cleveland to San Diego for their anniversary. Also present are their daughter Brenda, son Bobby, eldest daughter Lynn, her husband Doug, their infant daughter Catherine and the family dogs, Beauty and Beast. While the father talks to the gas station manager, a mutant, Ruby, grabs a red sweatshirt out of the car and runs away. At the same time, Bobby is about to relieve himself when he sees someone watching him through the window. Panicked, he exits the stall and blames the incident on his sister. After that, the attendant tells Bob of a shortcut through
the hills.

After driving a few miles along the shortcut, the SUV’s tires are punctured by a bullet belt; you don’t see those everyday. Bob walks back to the gas station for a tow truck, and Doug walks the opposite way to get help. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the family are being spied on by someone through a pair of binoculars, which is slightly disturbing to watch. Beauty runs off into the hills, and Bobby chases after her, eventually finding her gutted corpse. Frightened and distraught, Bobby runs off, but slips and falls, knocking himself unconscious. Ruby comes across him. As her brother chews on the dead dog, she safeguards Bobby from him and watches him until he regains

Later, Bob makes it back to the station and finds the hysterical gas station attendant committing suicide. In fear, Bob tries to flee from the scene. As he starts the car engine, he is taunted “Daddy… Daddy…Daddy! … Oh Daddy” by the leader of the mutated family. But before Bob can flee, the mutant attacks Bob. And to think, we’re only, like, 30 minutes into
the movie.

When Bobby awakes, he returns to the trailer and is told that Beast has gone missing. Doug returns with no news. As they try to sleep, a mutant sneaks into the trailer and finds Brenda and muffles her screams when she awakens. Outside the trailer, Bobby wakes up Doug and Lynn, telling them about the people in the hills and of Beauty’s death. Suddenly, an explosion in the distance draws their attention. Discovering Bob has been tied to a tree and set on fire, Doug runs into the trailer to fetch a fire extinguisher. A mutant slips inside, unnoticed, and rapes Brenda while another mutant investigates the baby in
her bed.

Doug manages to put out the fire and untie Bob, but he is already dead, while Lynn returns to the trailer. She’s greeted by a mutant, who is holding the baby and a gun. After Lynn hits him with a frying pan, he disarms her and threatens Catherine with the gun. Ethel enters with a large flat rock, attempting to pulverize him, but another mutant calls out to warn him, and he, spotting her, shoots her in the stomach. Lynn then stabs him with a screwdriver, but he shoots her in the head. Both mutants flee
the trailer.

Doug and Bobby return to the trailer and realize Catherine has been taken. Not long after, Doug finds an abandoned nuclear testing village and enters the house where Catherine is being held, but is knocked unconscious by yet another mutant, who he thought was busy watching television. He awakes in an icebox, panics and bangs on the plastic cover knocking it loose. He returns to his task of finding Catherine, only to encounter another bad guy. After this mutant tells him the story of the mutants, he begins laughing. The mutant then attempts to kill Catherine, but he is killed by Beast.

A mutant runs after Bobby to the trailer, where Brenda releases gas from the propane tanks as Bobby runs inside, attaching a strip of matches to the sliding door behind him. Bobby binds the mutant’s hand to the window. After he and Brenda escape, the mutant breaks free and opens the sliding door, which strikes the matches and ignites the gas inside the trailer, resulting in a most excellent

In the hills, Ruby is about to return Catherine to Doug when the other mutant attacks. The final battle ensues at this point, one from which Doug is victorious.

Bobby and Brenda walk through the ruins of their trailer and find the mutant still alive, though impaled. Brenda kills him with a pickax. Brenda then spots Doug with Catherine and Beast, and the five are reunited. As they celebrate their victory, a pair of anonymous binoculars watches from the hills.


Saw, 2004

“Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” Creepy, right? This is the pretense of “Saw,” a delightfully twisted film that shows the inner psyche and how far people are, or aren’t in certain cases, willing to go to save
their lives.

The film begins with Adam waking up in a bathtub filled with water. While trying
to escape, his foot catches and removes its plug;
as the water drains, a glowing blue object can be briefly seen to be washed away with it. Quite the ominous beginning for him, I would say. It turns out he’s not alone in this decrepit room; Lawrence is on the other side.

Both men are chained to pipes at opposite corners of the room. Between them, out of their reach, is a corpse lying in a pool of blood, holding a revolver and a microcassette recorder. Both men discover envelopes that contain microtapes in their pockets. Lawrence’s also holds a bullet and a key that, at first, serves no immediate purpose. Adam, with Lawrence’s help, manages to snag the player from the corpse with which they play their tapes. Both tapes convey the same creepy voice.

Lawrence’s tape reveals he must kill Adam before 6 p.m., or his wife and daughter will die. Nice choice.

Hacksaws are soon discovered, though neither is sufficiently sharp to cut the chains. Then the realization sets in: The hacksaws are meant for their feet.

The movie is stuffed full of flashbacks that help to explain more about Jigsaw, the designer behind these brilliantly horrid traps. They add quite the delicious touch.

Back in the bathroom, Lawrence discovers a box holding cigarettes, a lighter and a note suggesting he dip a cigarette in poisoned blood and use it to kill Adam. The men attempt to fool the camera by faking Adam’s death with an un-poisoned cigarette, but a strong electric shock is sent through Adam’s chain, proving Adam is still alive. The box also contains a cell phone that cannot make calls, but receives them.

Here is where the plot becomes juicy.

It seems as though a deeper connection is present between Adam and Lawrence than what first meets the eye. Just as this realization is made, the clock strikes 6 p.m. Flung into a desperate temporary insanity, Lawrence attempts to follow his instructions by sawing off his foot and shooting Adam with the revolver.

As Adam recovers from his non-fatal gunshot wound. Lawrence crawls away to seek medical attention, promising to return with help. Adam searches for a key to his chain and finds another microcassette player instead. As the climatic scene of the movie, the corpse lying in the center of the bathroom lets out a long breath. As Adam watches, the until-then presumed dead body peels off a layer of latex and then slowly rises to his feet. He is John Kramer, a terminal brain cancer patient of Lawrence’s. Jigsaw, whose voice is in fact quite feeble, informs Adam that the key to his chain was in the bathtub; remember the little glowing blue object that fell at the beginning of the
movie? Yeah.

Adam reaches for a gun to shoot John, but is stunned with electricity; this triggers an extended flashback sequence that runs through the vital shots of the movie in roughly 30 seconds.        

Just before he flicks the lights off in the bathroom for the last time, John says, “Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” He then shouts “Game Over!” before slamming the door shut, sealing Adam in the bathroom forever, screaming his despair over
the credits.


The Shining , 1980

Throw together a little bit of psychic ability, a secluded location, a crazed main character and murder, and you get the concept for “The Shining.” This movie will mess with your mind in more ways than you would care to count.

The terrifying plot unfolds as such: Former teacher and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance,  interviews for a caretaker position at the Overlook Hotel in an effort to rebuild his life. The hotel manager warns Jack and his family of the potential for cabin fever from being shut in by snow through most of the winter. The manager drives the point home by recounting a season when a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, went crazy and brutally killed his wife, daughters and himself. Jack acknowledges the warning and accepts the job. That’s just the first of many mistakes to haunt
this family.

Meanwhile, Jack’s son Danny has a vision of blood rushing out of an elevator in the hotel, a most iconic motif that resurfaces multiple times.

Upon Danny’s arrival at the hotel, the head chef recognizes that Danny is telepathic. He explains he and his grandmother both had the gift. Because pictures sent telepathically seemed to glow, his grandmother referred to this communication as “the shining.”

Jack’s mental health rapidly deteriorates as soon as the family is alone in the hotel. He goes crazy little by little. Awesome, right?

One day, Wendy, Jack’s wife, comes running from the basement at the sound of Jack’s screams. She comforts him as he tells her he had a nightmare where he used an ax to chop her and Danny to
pieces. Before she can react, Danny appears at the other end of the room, looking beat-up, disoriented and sucking his thumb. Angrily, she accuses Jack for this and takes the child back to
their suite.

Jack is furious about the accusation. He storms around the hotel, making his way to the Gold Ballroom. Not long after, a frantic Wendy enters; Danny claims to have encountered someone in the hotel with them in room 237. Jack goes to investigate.

His exploration of room 237 is a tipping point for two characters: Danny and Jack. When he reports back to Wendy, Jack denies anything amiss in room 237. Wendy suggests they take Danny to a doctor. Jack becomes irate, lecturing Wendy on her thoughtlessness, blaming her for everything that has gone wrong in his life. Insisting  they can’t leave the hotel because of his obligation to his employers, he storms out, returning to the Gold Ballroom, which is now the scene of an extravagant party with guests dressed in 1920s fashion. He is served a drink and goes to mingle. We are introduced to Grady, who advises Jack on how to correct Danny and Wendy, if she interferes.

At the Overlook, Wendy arms herself with a baseball bat and goes searching for Jack, she is taking Danny from the hotel, with or without him. During her search, she spots his manuscript next to the typewriter. She reads what he wrote. It was hundreds of pages of a single sentence: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” She realizes Jack has gone mad. About time, but I digress…

Jack approaches from behind and a confrontation starts as Jack demands to know her intentions regarding leaving the hotel with Danny. A knockdown, drag-out fight ensues for the rest of the movie. All in all, Jack goes out-of-his-mind crazy and tries to kill his wife and son. What follows is a creepy run-and-hide sequence, most likely resulting in some people never wanting to stay in a nice hotel ever again. Let’s just say the good guys win this one.

Right before the ending credits, the audience sees a photograph that was hanging in the hotel the entire time. In the center of the picture is a young Jack. The caption reads, “Overlook Hotel, July 4th
Ball, 1921.”


The Silence of the Lambs, 1991

I don’t like borrowing other people’s clothing; I don’t think I could borrow their skin, much less wear someone’s face in order to escape arrest or to murder people. But that’s just me. Maybe Hannibal Lecter feels differently?

In “The Silence of the Lambs,” FBI Academy student Clarice Starling, is pulled from her training by Jack Crawford of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, who tasks her with presenting a questionnaire to the notorious Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant forensic psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial murderer.

After learning the assignment relates to serial killer Buffalo Bill, Starling travels to visit  Lecter. Here’s a kicker: He’s not some crazed lunatic, but a sophisticated, cultured man restrained behind thick glass panels and windowless stone walls. During this encounter, Lecter offers Starling clues, which always result in grotesque and startling events.

Following that, Buffalo Bill abducts Catherine Martin, the daughter of United States Senator Ruth Martin. Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps profile Buffalo Bill and rescue Martin. Instead, Lecter begins a game of quid-pro-quo with Starling, offering comprehensive clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for events from Starling’s traumatic childhood.

As the manhunt for Buffalo Bill begins, Starling travels to Lecter’s special cell in a local Tennessee courthouse, where she confronts him about false information he gave the senator. Lecter refuses Starling’s pleas and demands she finish the story surrounding her worst childhood memory. After recounting her arrival at a relative’s farm, the horror of discovering their lamb slaughterhouse and her fruitless attempts at rescuing the lambs, Lecter rebuffs her, leaving her with her case file before she is escorted out of the building by security guards.

Later that evening, Lecter escapes from his cell. The local police storm the floor, discovering one guard barely alive and the other disemboweled and plastered against the cell. Paramedics transport the survivor to an ambulance and speed off while a SWAT team searches the building for Lecter. As the team discovers a body in the elevator shaft, the survivor in the ambulance peels off his supposed face, revealing Lecter in disguise, who kills the paramedics and escapes to the airport. It can’t get any better than this.

After notification of Lecter’s escape, Starling
goes through her case file, analyzing his annotations before realizing the first victim, Frederica Bimmel, knew Buffalo Bill before he killed her. Starling travels to Bimmel’s hometown and discovers Bimmel was a tailor and has dresses with patterns identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill’s victims.

Realizing that Buffalo Bill is a tailor fashioning a “woman suit” of real skin, she telephones Crawford, who is already on the way to make an arrest. Crawford instructs Starling to continue interviewing Bimmel’s friends while he leads a SWAT team to James Gumb’s business address in Calumet City, Ill. Starling’s interviews lead to the house of Jack Gordon, who Starling soon realizes is actually Gumb, and draws her weapon just as Gumb disappears into his basement. She pursues him, discovering Martin in the dry well just before the lights in the basement go out, leaving her in complete darkness. Gumb stalks Starling in the dark wearing night vision goggles, preparing to shoot her when Starling, hearing the machinations of his revolver, swivels around and shoots him first.

The creepiest part, though? Days later at the FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a call from Lecter. He assures her he has no plans to pursue her and excuses himself from the phone call, remarking that he’s “having an old friend for dinner,” as he follows Dr. Frederick Chilton through the streets of a
village. Gross.

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