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DIRECTED BY: Harley Cokeliss (as Harley Cokliss)
FEATURING: Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, Mark Greenstreet, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail
PLOT: Diana is about to get married to a Falklands War hero, but starts suffering nightmares as the date of her nuptials approaches.
COMMENTS: Leading lady Jemma Redgrave is the niece of cinema’s heavy-hitting grand dame, Vanessa Redgrave. Nicolas Cage is the nephew of cinema’s heavy-hitting director Francis Ford Coppola. I bring up this semi-coincidence to allow me to raise the following point: a movie as overblown as Dream Demon would have done much better with an actor as overblown as Nicolas Cage. As it stands, Jemma Redgrave provides a capable performance as bride-to-be Diana, but her energy level is far too wan—perhaps I might say too “English”—for the blood-splattered, creepy-staircase-laden, hard-to-follow nightmare on screen. Redgrave hovers at a “proper” Four, when Dream Demon demands nothing short of a Cage-ian Eleven.
Had Harley Cokeliss (who co-wrote as well as directed) pursued the story he should have, that kind of quiet nuance might have been appropriate. He falls into the trap that ensnares horror writers and directors all too often, however: wanting to graft ill-thought-out scares onto dramas that could have been more interesting in their own right. Dream Demon, in its real world portions, touches on a lot of issues worth exploring: the bilious nature of the British press corps in the 1980s, the strange flag-waving jingoism of the Falklands War, the culture clash of Los Angeles and London society, the manifestations of childhood guilt, and the fears of human sexuality as expressed by the subconscious.
Instead, there are dreams within dreams (within dreams, and so on). These dreams, as the title suggests, are invariably nightmares—and Dream Demon opens with a real doozie. During a full-on, hyper-Anglican wedding—replete with far-flung family and officer chummies of the groom—Diana gets cold feet at the last possible moment and refuses to say “I do” at the vicar’s prompt. Furious with embarrassment, the groom (Mark Greenstreet, doing the best impression of David Bowie‘s ’80s hair-cut I’ve ever seen) slaps her; she slaps him back, and his head explodes. The blood-spattered bride walks back down the aisle and outside into the crowd of paparazzi. Alas, anyone who’s anyone knows that this opening is not to be–and we see the bride-to-be awakening in the arms of her fiancé who showers her with the standard “Everything’s all right!” platitudes.
So Dream Demon skirts around full-bore madness while also ignoring the many issues it raises with its colorful cast of characters. (I wish to take a moment for a special shout-out to Timothy Spall; not for his performance within Diana’s dreams, but as the tremendous skeezeball photojournalist who at one point inquires, “[Your fiancé] murdered a lot of Argentinians. Does that turn you on?”) But overall, Dream Demon is an untidy mess of missed opportunities. If the craziness had been laid on as thick as the spoooooky sound cues, it might have been something.
Here’s the poll to vote in our latest weird Netflix watch party, scheduled for Saturday, August 8, at 10:15 PM ET. If you plan on virtually attending, please vote for the movie we’ll be watching below. We’ll screen the movie that gets the most votes. Your host, Gregory J. Smalley, will personally break any ties. Note that unlike our other polls, you can only vote once. Poll closes at midnight ET on Thursday, August 6. You may vote for multiple movies, but not for every movie (because that would be pointless).
PLOT: Amy is convinced that she will die tomorrow.
COMMENTS: Amy plays an LP of Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” over and over. She calls her friend Jane, who can’t come over because she has to go to a birthday party, but sounds worried about her. Amy drinks a bottle of wine, slithers on a cocktail dress, and climbs up on the neighbor’s wall with a leaf-blower—never a sign of good mental health. Jane finally arrives, and Amy tells her that she’s going to die tomorrow, and asks if Jane will ensure that her body is made into a leather jacket after she’s gone.
Kate Lyn Sheil carries the opening act of the film, mostly alone and silent, conveying a despair that builds to resigned madness. The opening features a lot of extreme close-ups of tear-filled eyes, a half-full wine glass, red blood cells; shots that suggest both loneliness, and an uncomfortable intimacy. This solitary mood is sustained about as long as it can be before Jane (Jane Adams) shows up to introduce a more dynamic note. Jane, an artist, dismisses Amy’s premonition of death as a self-pitying drunken ramble; but when she leaves, she begins thinking about mortality… and convinces herself that she, too, will die tomorrow. Jane then hauls herself to the birthday party, with predictably dire results.
If I were to assign a genre to She Dies Tomorrow, it would be “macabre drama.” Writer/director Amy Seimetz takes a simple irrational conceit—what if we were inalterably convinced that we would die tomorrow?—then it fully explores the dramatic ramifications through multiple characters. It’s the sort of idea that Luis Buñuel would have turned into a satire, but the tone here is forlorn. There is humor, to be sure—a conversation about dolphin sex, Jane’s panicky visit to an emergency room physician, Amy’s desire to be turned into a post-mortem apparel—but black comedy is not the predominant mood.
Neither is it a science fictional, “Twilight Zone” conceit; there are no firm answers given to why Amy is struck with a paralyzing consciousness of death. Scenes of rainbow-colored flashing strobe lights accompanied by the sound of garbled radio transmissions only confuse matters. The crucial fact that Amy’s morbid thinking is contagious converges with 2020’s pandemic, creating a layer of accidental relevance to contemporary times—one that you may find too relevant for comfort. A crowd-pleaser, She Dies Tomorrow is not; a worthwhile challenge for the brave and introspective, it is.
With it’s crushing sadness and lack of answers—much less solace—She Dies Tomorrow will frustrate the hell out of some viewers, which is a compliment. Seimetz is onto something desperately human here, a truth we’d rather avoid. We like to imagine that if we knew the date of our own deaths, we’d be freed to truly live life, not worrying about next month’s rent, pursuing our bucket list, renting a dune buggy. But Seimetz’s characters are instead paralyzed by knowledge of their impermanence, unable to enjoy their last moments on Earth or appreciate the simple beauty of a sunrise. The movie is an elegy for us all. True to its own despair, She Dies Tomorrow offers not a ray of hope.
She Dies Tomorrow counts Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson among its producers. Our readers will remember Amy Seimetz best for her performance in front of the camera in Upstream Color. This is her second feature film as director, and it’s a great leap forward from 2012’s promising but incomplete Sun Don’t Shine (which also featured Sheil as lead). Seimetz continues to act and direct TV projects, but she’s paid her dues, and let’s hope she doesn’t have to wait another eight years between features. She might die tomorrow, and that would be a great loss to the film world.
Last week, Amazon Prime; this week, we’re back to Netflix for our Weird Watch Party. We plan to alternate between the two services for the time being. Assuming there’s enough interest, our next Netflix party will be scheduled for Saturday, August 8 at 10:15 PM.
As always, we’ll be looking for five movie screening nominations from people who plan to attend. After we get the minimum five nominations and likely attendees, we’ll put up a poll.
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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…
Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.
IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):
She Dies Tomorrow (2020): Amy is convinced that she will die tomorrow. It’s weirder than it sounds. Debuting in drive-ins this week (which is cool), showing up on VOD next week. Our review coming soon. She Dies Tomorrow official site.
Lake Michigan Monster (2019): Read Giles Edwards’ Apocrypha Candidate review. An inventive microbudget comedy that’s like what would result if Guy Maddin remade a Roger Corman 1950s monster comedy (on a third of Corman’s budget). This is a special 24-hour virtual debut from distributor Arrow Video, complete with a Q&A with the cast and crew. The film (sans Q&A) is scheduled to show up on Itunes and on Arrow’s own streaming channel next week; we’d expect expanded distribution (including physical media) to follow soon. Purchase a virtual ticket through Altavod.
IN DEVELOPMENT (rumored):
Machete Kills Again… in Space (202?): In 2017 Quentin Tarantino released a trailer for this film (including appearances by Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Alexa Vega, maybe Justin Beiber and definitely not Leonardo DiCaprio) that looked like an April Fools joke (despite being released on Jan 2). The movie does have an IMDB placeholder page, though, and recent comments by Trejo suggest that the project is a real thing that’s still alive. We’re not huge fans of the Machete franchise or of the mock-grindhouse genre in general, but this one could be absurd enough to get onto our radar. Danny Trejo comments on Machete Kills Again… in Space at Dread Central.
NEW ON HOME VIDEO:
“Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz”: 3-disc Arrow set including Whirlpool (1970), Vampyres (1974), and The Coming of Sin (1978). Vampyres is a popular and sexy lesbian vampire shocker, but we’re more curious about Sin [AKA Sodomia], about a girl who dreams of a naked man on horseback who then appears to her and is described as “dreamlike.” This “Special Edition” Blu-ray set contains lots of extras, but is pricey; last year’s “Limited Edition” set is much cheaper, though it lacks a couple of interviews unique to this set. Buy “Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz” [Special Edition].
Dead Dicks (2019): Read our review. Richard can’t commit suicide thanks to the orifice growing in his apartment wall. On DVD or Blu-ray, with a director’s commentary track. Buy Dead Dicks.
“Galaxy Express 999, Collection 2” (1979-1980): Episodes 40-76 of the Japanese anime series about a 10-year old orphan traveling on the galactic railway in a quest for mechanical immortality. It’s got a link to a reader-suggested movie, since someone recommended Galaxy Express 999 (1979), which is a condensed version of Season 1. Collection 1 was released in 2019. Blu-ray only. Buy “Galaxy Express 999, Collection 2”.
“Gamera: The Complete Collection”: The complete run of the Japanese flying turtle series (popularized by Mystery Science Theater 3000), including one we’ve actually reviewed, Destroy All Planets [AKA Gamera vs. Viras] (1968). As a kid-friendly, cheapo competitor to Godzilla, the Gamera films are a special breed, and this set is pretty expensive. That said, Gamera vs. Guiron (1969), which mixes brain-eating aliens, a Hansel and Gretel storyline, and battles between a giant turtle a giant Ginsu knife monster is, in particular, a weird film (and let’s pray they kept the delightfully absurd original dubbing with the Southern accents and the repeated mistranslation of “planet” as “star”). Arrow’s 8-disc Blu-ray set also includes the three higher-budgeted films from the 1990s reboot. Buy “Gamera: The Complete Collection”.
“The Scare Film Archives Volume 1: Drug Stories!”: A collection of drug scare films curated by American Film Genre Archives from the Something Weird vaults. We’re not sure we’ve seen any of these, but the hysterical, moralizing atmospheres combined with low-budget attempts to replicate bad LSD trips tend to make these artifacts both campy and strange. Blu-ray only. Buy The Scare Film Archives Volume 1: Drug Stories!
The Tenant (1976): Read the Canonically Weird review! Shout! Factory has put out the third part of Roman Polanski‘s unofficial “apartment trilogy” on Blu-ray for the first time, with a heavy dose of bonus features including new interviews with the director and crew members, a commentary track by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, an archival audio interview with Roland Topor (who wrote the original novel), and more. Considering the shabby state of older releases, this is the one Tenant fans have been waiting on. Buy The Tenant.
The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968): A totally tasteless and defamatory mondo-exploitation “documentary” about the busty actress who died tragically young. Apparently Severin released this on DVD in June and we missed it; we caught this Blu-ray release, however. Includes an interview about Jayne with celebrity Satanist Anton LaVey and a little-seen mondo film called The Wild Weird Wonderful Italians (1963) as bonus features. Buy The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield.
Independent theaters are cautiously starting to reopen across North America at diminished capacity, although the big chains (and Alamo Drafthouses) remain shuttered. That said, we have a dribble of screenings to announce this week. We expect this section to continue to grow slowly throughout the summer, although we wouldn’t predict things to return to anywhere near normal until the fall, at the earliest. You’ll have to use your own judgment as to whether it’s safe to go to movie theaters at this time.
A word about this choice is in order. Despite the fact that no one has heard of it, Neighbor not only won the poll, but got five times as many votes as the runner-up and shattered previous records with 31 votes. This is because the director, who also nominated the film, ran an online campaign asking people to vote for it. While this is not against the rules, we fear it may set a bad precedent and will probably institute a rule in the future preventing people associated with a movie from nominating it for a screening. We plan to honor the vote this week, however, and see how it goes. Maybe the director and crew will be there to answer questions in real time.
Also, since the feature runs less than an hour, we’ll also screen a short film to go along with it: the 15-minute suspense thriller Wanderer (2015) (trailer here). Separate links will be provided for short and feature. Watching the short may be a good, low-time investment way for you to sample a Watch Party if you’re curious but have never taken the plunge. The madness starts at 10:15 ET tomorrow; as usual links will drop here, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
With that out of the way, next week we’ll also bring you a pair of reviews: Gregory J. Smalley covers She Dies Tomorrow (see “in theaters: limited release” above), and Giles Edwards dreams of Dream Demon (1988). And of course, we’ll also plan for a Weird Netflix Watch Party. Onward and weirdward!
What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.
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