Cleansing the Doors of Cinematic Perception, for a better worse

Monday, September 17, 2018

Erich K's HEREDITARY Witchcraft Conspiracy DSM-IV Reader


I'd forgotten about all about conspiracies, Saturn, Satan and schizophrenia until I finally saw HEREDITARY, which brought it all cascading back, buckling the thin walls of sanity I'd set barely nailed up after exiting the paranoid conspiracy zone writing some of the posts linked below. Not that this amazing new horror movie is just conspiracy paranoia-tingling, no, no no! It's also a deep character study that takes its time to get going and, true to the name, rides the raft of inherited mental illness all the down the DNA river into the tributary to the sea of true madness. There's a recently deceased mother with "a lot of secrets" and a whole family tree of suicides and despair and then Toni Collette, the daughter, and also the scariest yet most sympathetic mother in a horror film since Essie Davis in The Babadook, coming to terms with things like her son not trusting her just because he once woke up one night to find himself and his sister covered with turpentine and mom standing over them while they slept with a book of matches in her hand. She was sleepwalking! He doesn't believe her, not even now. We don't see it, but it's a haunting slow burn image that ranks with those moments in Paranormal Activity as far as making all our unconscious eight-hour stretches in bed suddenly seem so unsafe we wonder how we ever managed to sleep at all. (If you've ever encountered a sleepwalker, then you know how terrifying it is, that flat dilated black pupil look in their eyes). This movie does what great horror movies do, it takes these nuggets of forgotten uncanny everyday living and slowly compiles them alongside enough sudden calamities and random bits of disturbing 'accident' that it's much more than a mere thrill ride, it's something that slowly builds until it turns by extension your life into a horror movie, like a virus. While you were distracted by one narrative, it snuck around behind you with another, and pushed you out of your safe viewing distance into something like terrified rapture.

The debut feature from young Ari Aster, the film successfully gets the whole "there is no difference between inherited paranoid schizophrenia, manic depression, and witchcraft" route (the kind mastered in Rosemary's Baby and duplicated almost nowhere else since... until now). Treading so close on our actual fears it crosses the line where imagination becomes insanity, like that normal-seeming friend confiding in you all sorts of paranoid-sounding statements, like someone is breaking in at night to move boxes around in her closet (am I the only one with weird friends like these?). This is the kind of film wherein a roster of DSM IV-spiked beliefs start to dovetail with the Old Testament, making us wonder if the ultimate conspiracy theory paranoid schizophrenic manifesto might be the Bible. Is it so hard to believe that, once the blinders on our perceptions are opened through chanting, stress, sleepiness, magical potions, or prolonged trauma conditioning (PTC), the witchcraft can begin in earnest. Maybe we can only fly when no one who doesn't believe we can is watching. Maybe if we can let go of our bodies we don't need a broomstick; when no one is around to listen, the sound a tree falling in the woods makes is like music in the eye of a screaming demon.


Here lie some links to past conspiracy writing should you be a glutton for madness, or need more ideas for similar mind-benders afterwards:

The Goat of Menses and the Fox in the Atheist Hole: THE WITCH
(March 2nd, 2016)

"So see the movie and understand at last why patriarchal science and religion are both such hardheaded dicks about the unknown and supernatural, and why Christian zealotry has never not been on the rise and why women are always considered a zone outside of western rational objectivity. Only in one or two other films have we seen beautiful women materialize out of the darkness of the woods or the gleam of the bathtub, as irresistible as a warm slug of whiskey in an unfriendly wilderness, our willpower long gone, we lower our lips towards their hearth and then suddenly these figures grab onto us as if with clawed tentacles and thorny paws. They are not hot and young at all, but decomposing and very old. You've been tricked, son of Adam! The distance of time between that first kiss, the wedding bells, funeral chimes, cold ground worms boring through rotten pine box walls collapses into a single Donald Sutherland death rattle.

This powerful motif, the 'young-old predatory woman' reflects the tradition of the sidpa bardo in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the level of purgatory where you see and notice only undulating lovers like flames in an otherwise all-consuming darkness. If you let yourself be drawn too close to them you run the risk of finding yourself stuck like a fly in the frozen web of the woman's newly-fertilized embryo, like being sucked over a waterfall. Then devouring demon rock below shreds your current construct of self into a million pieces which sink or scatter in the rapid current below; only the core I AM remains trapped in that sticky embryonic web- and soon you've forgotten you were ever anywhere else-- the 'you' you believed yourself to be is shaved away like your hippie hair under the electric razor of a FULL METAL JACKET barber." (more)

The Illuminati, Hypnosis, Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Kubrick, and Tom Cruise 
(DP - May 2016)

As per Zizek via Lacan (or vice versa), the Big Other's whole purpose is to remove the 'constituent anxiety," to make sure there is no "traversing" the fantasy which would dislocate the subject from its void-circumscribing orbit. In EYES WIDE SHUT, Ziegler's positing Dr. Bill as an outsider who will never be a member of this exclusive shadow society, no matter what mask he dons, is doing him a massive favor, because this forbidden society exists solely in order to exclude him, and thus perpetuate constituted (rather than constituent) anxiety. It's a gift, son! This lack of a gift is the best gift he can give.

A similar effect occurs with UFO crash sightings wherein the military steps in, harasses and bullies witnesses into silence, and reports it was a weather balloon or crashed satellite, then hauls it away never to be seen again. In doing this they perpetuate the revolution around the desire. They fan the flames of the need to know, and so perpetuate the illusion that they have this thing well in hand. If they announced a spacecraft was found, the world press would swamp them and create panic, but by simultaneously threatening witnesses and lying to the press they create a subliminal consolation. Instead of worrying about aliens (which is terrifying - coming with a sense of total powerlessness and vulnerability) we're angry at the government for not telling us the truth. We always feel protected when denied knowledge. It brings us full circle back to the feeling of invulnerability we had as five year-olds bugging our mom about where babies come from, free from any worry she might actually find out, that she'd lie to protect us from the whole bloody-terrible besital truth. (full)

Genealogy of Flies: LORDS OF SALEM (2013), HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2008) + My own Salem Witch Connections
(September 2013)

 I have to mention, as always when discussing Salem and genealogy (characters here are descendants of the hung witches and/or judges and executioners) that all these descendant movies are fascinating on a personal level for me because the one side of my family tree that kept immaculate records is from Salem, having arrived in Boston in 1631 (with fellow passenger Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island): This side of my tree includes nuggets like these (copied direct):
The family of John Perkins 1583-1654 - freeman 18th May 1631
Married Judith Gates, born Newent, Gloucestershire, England
Children: 
1. "Quartermaster" John - b. 1614 0 d. Dec, 14, 1686
2. "Deacon" Thomas 1616-1686 (not the witch hunter, he died before that)
3.  Elizabeth 1618-1700 / married William Sargent (5 children)
4. Mary 1620-1700 - "She was accused of witchcraft, sentenced, but the execution delayed and the citizens recovered from the delusion." (+5 more)
The Family of Elisha Perkins (born - 1656 - Topfield) died - 1741 in Methuen
Married Catherine Towne - 1680
--
Children:
(9 total), including: John (third son) born Aug. 12, 1685 - died June 22, 1750
married Mary Easty (whose mother Mary Easty and Aunt Rebecca Towne Nurse were hanged for witchcraft) --etc.

Age of Asherah: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)
(May 2014)

"In conveying Rosemary's gradual awakening from compliance ("you're gonna think I really flipped,") Polanski exploits our willingness to grant power to unseen forces, and thus allows us to see the link between paranoia and pregnancy, and how the patriarchal condescension in the big city can completely dominate even a free spirited young woman from Iowa whose determination to be hip is both her saving grace and undoing. Taken in total, her story has devils of both the psychoanalytical interpretation variety (paranoia brought on by hormonal surges due to pregnancy) and the physical arrival, up from the subconscious realm, of a devil ("Hail Satan!"), in other words, Rosemary's Baby is the opposite of a film like Inception - which is a story about people invading other people's dreams. Baby is about a dream incarnated into living tissue, the rip in time is the rip in Rosemary's womb from which out claws the Elder God.

When we sense something is being kept from us, whatever it is gains in power as our fears project onto it and projection is exactly how the coven operates: they chant together and use combined mind projection to astral travel along an associative nine-dimensional curve via an item belonging to the victim into that victim's nervous system (like following a DNA print through space the way a cell phone signal follows a chip). This is the same 'reality' that paranoid schizophrenics and remote viewing agents live in (tiny microphones in their teeth, men following them in brown town cars, etc); it's an ocean wherein all dreamers are linked together, are as fish, surfers, sailors, drowners, whales, or dolphins, in a matrix of nonlocal consciousness. The Satanist sails on the surface (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a Naval officer, like Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control); the psychedelic shamans surf until they're wiped out or transcend the ocean altogether; unconscious dreamers bob in the waves; and the schizophrenics drown but do not die, just hover in that agitated drowning panic until medicated or the spell subsides. Rosemary's dream begins on the ship and winds up bobbing, then sinking, before clawing her way back to land (finding the secret passage between the apartments). In the end she joins with the cult because her maternal instinct is too strong to resist. (Besides, she wasn't even invited before). "What have you done to its eyes?!" she asks, horrified. "He has his father's eyes," Castavet answers. And its the eyes of Guy's rival for his coveted part that are affected by the telepathic sabotage of the coven - the windows to the soul. (more)

(October- 2013)

Cinema's pagan devil culture can't quite capture the ephemeral chain of cause-and-effect karma ouroboros-boomeranging to the point just watching a film creates bad luck, but it can generate a feeling of unease through depiction of the most sophisticated or banal of circumstances if it but tweaks them with little uncanny ripples of fatalistic coincidence that benefit or harm as befits 'the bargain.' With Satan there's usually a gruesome payoff after the subject sells his soul for a drink, where he learns he's "always been the caretaker," and so forth. Ask not whom is sacrificed on the ancient altar, because if no one told you else it's going to be, then it's you. You're doing both the killing and the being killed. Two ends of a scroll slowly rolling towards each other, when they meet, your text has disappeared.

So is there free will in a Satanic model of reality? Maybe the one who has 'always been the caretaker' can play Christian the way a closeted gay guy can play straight i.e. stunting his own potential and becoming far less than he was meant to be, or he can let go of the handrails and let Satan's vacuum suction pull him towards the full realization of his unholy destiny. If your Christian family would rather have you as a stunted straight than a fully blossomed gay person then they are the cursed, not you. Thus the devil exists only in advocate position --where there is hypocrisy he brings truth; where there is repression he brings exultation.

If we apply that logic to the actual making of these films, wife Sharon Tate is doomed the moment husband Roman Polanski helps her get the part in EYE; Polanski is doomed to exile the moment he shoots a scene wherein a woman is drugged and date raped by Satan. It all connects, from the devil's murky fatalistic machinations within the story--recreating itself through helping Guy get the part in that play (as, fittingly enough, a cripple)--to the reality of its makers (Castle's kidney stones, etc). The devil's happy to crib off your paper, so to speak, to make reality out of the image you made of him. It's as if film was little more than a halfway point, the equivalent of a pie cooling on the windowsill before its opened up and devoured, except the windowsill is a mirror, and the pie sliced open is a young and lovely actress.

On the other hand, even if for the moment we believe all this fateful 'nonsense,' it's mighty fuzzy logic. Impossible to confirm by any one set of truths, its also impossible to deny--and thus like all fiction that explores this realm, dangerous. The best way to approach it is as a true skeptic, which means you don't scoff at either side, because unlike the pragmatist, you know your own eyes and ears are easily fooled, and unlike the believer, you're not a chump. Thus, a Satanist who believes in an actual physical devil is as dogmatic and rigid as the rationalist who denies the devil's existence, even as a metaphysical concept. Both are doomed by the rigidity of their thinking. When corporeal reality tries to limit itself to expression within such dogmatically narrow parameters, there's always nightmare overflow. Satan never singles out the open-minded for his mischief. It's always the sure and pious ones who draw him, their unsullied souls sticking out like bleached whites in a soiled soul sea, and the ones who are so sure he's a living being succeed in--as far as their own direct experience is concerned--making him one. (More)

(October 2013)

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG is on TCM in the background: an audience of power elite have assembled to watch a demonstration: an automaton girl is standing before a series of mirrors (which I've just learned they use in Monarch mind control programming), singing that she's under a spell and delivering an almost exact description of sexually subjugating mind control techniques (including having the demonstration occur before an assembled audience, which mirrors our standard dreams of being exposed naked at a school exam). Coincidence?


Maybe nyoets, for if there was a blueprint for mind control it would probably be geared to work towards reproducing--as close as possible--the iconography of normal subconscious dreaming, allowing the programmers to tap into the unconscious' control state with maximum ease, programming their automaton women, the "standard pleasure model" ala BLADE RUNNER, DR. GOLDFOOT, etc. (see CinemArchetype #16 - the Automaton) to fall in love with whatever billionaire diplomat is breezing through town for a weekend. These girls wouldn't even know they had microphones in their teeth to record any business secrets that might get spilled in pillow talk, or which could be used for blackmail. They wouldn't even remember being there.

I don't believe this was what CHITTY was trying to achieve (then again, Walt Disney was a 33-degree Mason) but it shows you that once you let this paranoid stuff into your mind, it mutates and transforms even dishwater dull children's movies into rabbit holes of horrifyingly vast circumference. (full)

Caretake Sparkle: ROOM 237
October 1, 2013

Call the critics in ROOM 237 paranoid, overreaching, seeing too deeply, perhaps paranoid schizophrenic on some level. At least theyknow how to look deeply into the crystal ball, and as long as it’s well written I’ll read good crazy over banal sane any day, To the average bore, a crazy person is merely one who really sees just how awfully close death and blood and pain is to the surface of our skin-thin reality at every given moment. The problem is, the schizophrenic goes crazy because he can’t shut it out of his mind; it doesn’t go away after eight hours like it does for the humble tripper. Maybe our teeth really are used by someone as crystal sets to receive our thoughts…Stranger things are used for stranger purposes every day.

It’s only madness when you lack the self awareness necessary to distrust your senses.As the Yogi says, any man who only believes what he can see right in front of him, should be fleeced immediately via Three-card Monte. Never give a sucker an even break.

Daze of our Lies (or "As the Reichstag Burns"): SECRET HONOR, HITLER (1962), UFO HUNTERS, Lord Lhus!
(September '11)

If you surrender to Hall/Nixon's fever dream rant (and you may as well since there's nothing else going on in the film) you enter a pretty spooky world, a U.S. with the curtains ripped back to reveal giant white owls devouring a pile of gutted mice and money. Presidents like Nixon (and now Obama) are just brought in as straw dogs to take all the shit the manipulated American public cares to volley after being robbed and deluded by the previous office holders (who conveniently step down right before it hits the podium). Watergate was Nixon's way of reversing the straw dog parabolic mirror. Instead of the plan to throw Nixon to the wolves so his puppeteer overlords could sneak away into the redwoods unmolested, Dick snags up the strings by pretending to fall off the stage, derailing their entire evil plan... for now.

Meanwhile we see the paintings of Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jefferson on the oval office walls, and they all seem twisted and arcane, as if swirling reptilian pan-dimensional aliens were, even now, within the confines of a portrait on television on television, writhing and breathing and corrupting the deepest tissue of man's democracy and soul with Martian spider eggs(full)

CinemArchetype V: The Human Sacrifice
(Feb. 28, 2012)
In the movies the sacrificial subject creates a great unease because it hits so close to home; the death is intrinsically tied into the act of viewing itself. The tribe always gathers to watch the sacrifice, otherwise what's the point? Watching these sacrifices now stirs up deep archetypal responses from our past lives still seeing through the two-way crystal ball eye. If the film is clever about it, the whole process sneaks up on us and suddenly, too late to do anything about it; we feel the big black body bag suddenly close over our heads and the credits roll us right into the cremation furnace. Sometimes we're led by the nose ring of desire, sometimes we're manacled unwillingly to the Satanic altar, either way it's like a spin the bottle game where sooner or later the bottle is going to point to us... and then when it does we're always hoping for that last minute rescue and when that last minute's up we try one last gambit: take my wife, please. If that doesn't work we just try to get away and all those members we would have so willingly held down had the bottle not pointed at us now hold us down. We can't even complain it's not fair, since we've already killed so many in just this same way. Every cult member knows this truth - every innocent drop of blood spilled is just another interest payment on the massive carnivorous debt we owe that dark insatiable thing below.  (full)

The Primal Scenesters: TWIN PEAKS
Nov. 2016

Consider the implication in a lot of these stories (THE INNOCENTS and THE HAUNTING in particular) that deep cover memory repression of dark events provides the current that activates the dark ghost 'residual energy' captured in the walls, so that traumatic moments in the past keep repeating. That energy stays there, up for grabs to anyone with the right wireless router to tap into. And who has that router? Free-floating demonic spirits--formless and powerless usually, like inactive ions or dried-up flies in the corners and basement doorways--the trauma recorded in the stone provides the energy jolt back into corporeal existence (on some higher or lower frequency from the spectrum of most human's perception). Be the energy coming from the trauma of past dark crimes or--in the case of poltergeists--boys or girls hitting puberty. The huge amount of psychic disturbance shocks the inert magnetic anomaly some choose to call Satan into our dimensional spectrum.

In other words, incest or similarly abominable crimes are like a wave generator that gets the boat of consciousness bobbing, allowing the usually unseen barnacles on the lower hull to rise above sea level. Thus the unseen barnacles whisper to sleeping seamen above them through the wood, bidding them to obscenely vile doings. (full)


Dentist Chair Don Juan: Love Radio and the Scaly Father
(C-Influence - March 21st, 2011)
...mystical visions can trick you... In September of 2006 I was meditating one afternoon after work, when I felt the sky and wall dilate open behind me an a giant electromagnetic hand touched my shoulder, enlightening me instantly in a profound holy 'beyond duality' glow. For two months I was completely egoless and in tune with love for my fellow man. But I got carried away, got cocky as  cult leader, and would up making a pass at this girl I was infatuated with, too soon, and who--rather expertly-- rejected me, depositing me in a vast swarm of subway commuters so that I couldn't get over her to try and kiss her goodbye--I saw her wry smile (though she was too deft to reject me directly to the point I might get violent or sullen-- a real pro!) and I felt that inner God voice I'd been following (and which had led me to all sorts of secret gifts prior to) sneering and laughing at me the whole subway ride home. I was so shaken and abashed I missed my stop and rode it to the end of the line. That laughter was heartless and terrifying. It was as if everything from the hand of God moment had been a way of conning me into risking my soul for this girl and getting shot down -  it was Trickster God 101 shit - and I'd fallen right into it (Hamlet's friends were, you may remember, worried the king's ghost was just such a trickster). Now that I was in such heartsick misery, I felt the god feeding off me, like I was a slot machine that he'd been rigging up and now was paying off big time - all that holy soul energy he'd cultivated he now stripped off me like he was expertly rolling a sleeping drunk.

Now maybe I was just 'imagining' all this - it was 'magical thinking' - but at the same time, so what? It's all just perception--all of it-- and we have to go on what feels more than real, especially if we're writers and artists who want to depict more than the boring surface of the world. Whole months can go by these days that don't seem as real as that godly hand on my shoulder, or the glowing demon in the bookshelf. There's a certain assumption among left-brained scientists that hallucinations are somehow 'less' than reality, but it's the opposite: they're more. They spill through when our perceptions overheat and dilate, letting in more information than is normally good for us. Our senses have 'blinders' on them that filter out up to 90% or so of all the information coming at us. Hallucinations and visions could be said to be moments when the blinders fail and dreams and reality leak into one another-- but isn't this in a way a much more 'real' situation? As we spend 1/3 of our life sleeping aren't we rather too quick to dismiss everything we experience with our eyes closed as just fluffy nothing? Are Van Gogh's electric color bands 'false' hallucinations since 'sane' normal people don't see them? Meanwhile memory and reflection change even the most concrete experiences, shrouding and distorting the more we record, write, and relay them. (full)

Bad Acid's Greatest: 70s Paranoid Feminism Edition
(Oct. 2009)

Made at a time when psychedelic drugs had changed the face of American culture, LET'S SCARE .... DEATH (or LSD!) is nothing short of elegant in the way it blurs the line between subjective and the “real" to demonstrate how paranoia can bend the nature of reality itself, exposing even the most realistic objectivity as a paranoid conspiracy. Polanski set the bar high for this in ROSEMARY, by having Mia Farrow's paranoia be utilized to cast doubt on the reality of her situation (she's hallucinating!) at the same time as we know the supernatural is behind it all. Polanski and Jessica prove you can unsplit the difference between the real and the delusional, and that in fact, the difference is--as quantum physics proves--literally all in your head either way. (full)

(July 10, 2010)

Take it from me, the first time you run into 'The Lollipop Guild' (while astrally traveling the psychedeli-brick road) is enough to give even the gutsiest space cowboys the yips. They're like those little weird demon guys in the bottom corners of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which scared me as a four year-old (back when first hearing the full alien weirdness of Harrison's sitar on side B, was terrifying beyond any palpable physical threat). When in college I began to read the work of the pioneering psychonaut Terence McKenna on 'the machine elves' -- common mushroom and DMT hallucinations-- small, elvin beings that exist in alternate dimensions but are nonetheless real, dancing in lockstep unison as they paint the plurality of worlds onto the time/space canvas like a curtain of slow motion paint bristle soft shoe- both hilarious and terrifying, edifying and mortifying. When I saw them during my own travels in college (and after), they were even wearing plaid like the Guild (which came first, is of course your immediate question - did I see them like that because of the movie or did the movie make them like that because they were commissioning, so-to-speak, a self-portrait through the wardrobe designer's unconscious?!!) They had garden hoes instead of lollipops and lacked that terrible gold hair, but otherwise - good lord. Good thing I'm a drinking man. Or was. I'd nah go down that road again unarmed with an escape chute. 

Thus as an LSD-quaffing college kid I found the living link wherein Eastern mysticism, indigenous shamanic vision quests, and Western schizo paranoia are all linked. When I learned that the Monarch 7 program used Oz imagery during their hypnotic programming, I wasn't a bit surprised. But in thinking about it, I also wonder where the line between hypnotic programming and mythic archetypal psychology intersect. Saying the iconography of Oz is used in a ritual that is itself possibly fiction, makes it the definition of myth (in my mind), 'possibly fiction' or a reflection of some truth so large normal reality cannot encompass it, and in this case meta-myth. (full)


ALSO

Blue Testament: History Channel's Hot Hot Hell. 
(DV, 2011)

Occult Streams of the Amazon: 13 Witchcraft-y Recommendations Free on Prime:
Blood-Orgy of the She-Devils (1973), Haxan (1922), Southbound (2015), Witchouse (1999), Satan's School for Girls (1973), The Church (1989), Burn, Witch, Burn (1962), Voodoo Man (1944), Chandu and Magic Island (1934), Little Witches (1999), Mark of the Witch (2014), The Eternal (1998), etc.
(Oct. 2016)

Guide to Cable's Paranormal / Ghost-Hunting TV Shows

(DP - August 2012)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Angels of Death VIII: The Good, the Bad, and the Beyond


Part of Acidemic's ongoing series, rounding up another 15 cool broads, evil characters unafraid to rip a man's manhood clear out like a weed, or smart able heroines unafraid to butch up when things are going to hell rather than whining for a man to help. They don't need to be abused, tortured, harassed, belittled and traumatized before fighting back ---they're not victims, not excuses for the actresses playing them to get all self-righteous about firearms, or manipulate situations through tears or accusatory whining. Nor do they go all higher ground mortified when they kill someone or thing. Be they good, evil or beyond good and evil, we celebrate the deadly dames who don't need a personal reason to decimate whole rows of frats or snickering jock locker rooms. Kill! Kill!

It's a sad thing that classics like FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL and SWITCHBLADE SISTERS were one-offs for their auteurs, cult hits that may or may not have been hits at the time, and at any rate by the time their culthood was established, they were long gone and hard to see. It's as if there's a higher power of microphallic patriarchy that's deathly afraid of women who aren't afraid of men. They had to censure them in 1934 with the dawn of the code, so Babs and Jean went from unpunished manhunters to devoted wives and martyrs; and they punished Jack Hill for SWITCHBLADE (it bombed under its original title, THE JEZEBELS) - it ended his career for the rest of the decade. Meyer's reward for PUSSYCAT was only enough money to switch to color and follow relaxed censorship into softcore nudist bedhopping comedies, where the girls are still refreshingly aggressive but they don't run over people while issuing flatly shouted quips - more's the pity. And, as I say a lot, good luck finding those TV shows that reimagine the world as a matriarchy with men subservient - STAR MAIDENS or ALL THAT GLITTERS anywhere. Even John Carpenter was punished with a major flop when he depicted a Martian matriarchy in GHOSTS OF MARS. He hasn't made another film of any note since (you can't really count the tired WARD, as that could be by anyone). Meanwhile dumbasses like Zak Snyder sink fortunes into junk like SUCKER PUNCH that try to show badass chicks but just show a thin glaze of fanboy schoolgirl fetish nonsense over a mile wide subtext of deep-seated misogyny.

Times are tough, man, despite the strides --so cool lady characters who don't take any shit, who step hard and don't have some liberal reticence towards using violence even in self-defense, showing thick animus-dominated idiocy --they must be celebrated! So here's another round-up of 15 badass female characters and actresses who embody them. Salut! Vive les femmes forte!

the beyond:
1. Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman - 
HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

The tone may be a slightly too self-aware, but that doesn't stop this college campus Scream 2 x Groundhog Day horror-comedy hybrid from being wittily thrilling, thanks largely to the self-reliant, confident performance of relative newcomer Jessica Rothe in the lead. Forced to live the same day and night over and over -- it starts waking up with a post-blackout hangover in a strange freshman's dorm room and ending in her death at the hands of some maniac in a baby mask-- to get on with her next day of living she needs to move from wryly snooty sorority girl to a more balanced compassionate person, willing to go the extra mile to throw the pillow under the frat pledge about to pass out and hit the ground in the middle of the quad and not be bitchy to pledges. As in another strong-female centered horror film of a few year's back, the Diablo Cody-scripted, Karyn Kusama-directed horror film, Jessica's Body, the girls are the strong characters, the boys in the supporting roles; and the boy who ultimately wins her love is a shock to her vacant sisters (technically she's way out of his league, but we like him since he sports the poster from Criterion's Repo Man above his desk, knows the names of all the movies her situation evokes, and doesn't take advantage when she's drunk). Meanwhile, someone in a baby-faced mask (the school mascot) is still out to kill her, and no matter what she does, this killer finds her and offs her before the night is out. 

One of the things that makes Rothe's character such a badass is that she's never really trying to win any boy's favor or earn some external source of approval - and once it hits her to investigate her enemies (there's quite a list for up-to-now she's been a typical mean girl snob), a bouncy montage song begins and she's snooping with the deftest of aplomb, intentionally dying when trails dry up and hardly giving a shit about the immanent pain. Gradually the noose tightens, leading her to a hospital corridor and hallway showdown, dead cops, and so forth, but always she's in control of her emotions, and looking good - even her eventual romantic heterosexual pair bonding isn't a sell-out to the boy's club patriarchy but another step forward. Throughout, her growth as a person is so gradual yet so profound it becomes quite moving and it's to Rothe's credit that even on this transformative journey she never wavers in her absolute confidence, ease-in-the-skin and general air of assured triumph. Her growing respect for the weak and normal, and a more profound sense of compassion and self-respect only increases her ballsy courage, and makes her Xmas Day Scrooge euphoria that much more engaging, even if--fighting wise--she's one of those who hits once, then runs, rather than hits again and again, until the killer is dead or unconscious. Can't have everything. But almost! 

2. Angela Pleasance as Emily Underwood
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974)

She's got a fine aura of eerie stillness, an alien face, perfectly round head with elf ears pointing out above her perfectly straight thin hair and such a strange assertive calm that you want to hang out with her, even if she kills you when you fall asleep, just because you know her and her dad (Donald, here as a dotty, lovable pencil-selling war vet) are undoubtedly a blast to be around, either on and off camera. While they're at the kitchen table, she sings weird, eerie little Wicker Man-ready children-folk songs and dotes on the friendly but misguided henpecked war hero (or so he says) played by Ian Bannen in one of the better segments of this Amicus anthology. Initially bonding with Pleasance over (fabricated) war stories he's soon won over by daughter Emily, to the point he disposes of his current family to make room. Generally, genuinely and totally, she's so good that when her segment is over  we kind of lose interest in the rest of the stories, preferring to look her up in imdb.com and see what else is out there with her name on it. So many 70s British folk-horror movies would have been better with her in them --the mind boggles. She was in some Shakespeare and the gorgeously photographed Symptoms. But there she's just another cracked dame gettin' gaslit by her own suppressed lesbianism and latent schizophrenia. That ain't as fun, though she's great in it.

3. Anitra Wash as Jill
MARK OF THE WITCH (1970)

With a unique energy and uncanny look that might make you think this was some alternate reality grown-up version of Virginia Weidler (the witty little sister in Philadelphia Story), Anitra Walsh stars as Jill, a sweet young co-ed lured into buying an old spell book and resurrecting a 300 year-old witch at a college party hosted by the reincarnation of the man who stood idly by while said witch was hung all those years ago. Some things never change, am I right, future self? Possessed on the lip of time, she kills some folks, forces some doofuses to vow to submit to Satan body and soul, but I bet Daniel Webster could get them out of it. The boys need to interrupt her black magic initiation of them, and have to do so using no more special effects budget than a disco ball and a silver cross. I don't know how such a thing can be, but Walsh seems to be having a great time, her voice slightly pitch-shifted so she sounds like one of the witches in Welles' Macbeth. 

The print on Amazon Prime is gorgeous HD - part of the Code Red catalogue which seems to have been imported sans fanfare onto Prime lock stock and B-roll barrel - a lot of it is un-color corrected but not MARK OF THE WITCH - it looks fantastic. The boys have that overfed mid-60s pre-hippy college kid vibe where the extent of emerging radicalism is still just slightly longer sideburns than usual, but Walsh is clearly enjoying herself, and feminist evil wins handily, for most of the running time anyway.

4.a. Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica
DUNE (1984) 
4.b Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth
MACBETH (1971)

Though for the first half of DUNE she wears her hair in an unflattering tricorne bun, when Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and her son (Kyle McLachlan) crash into the desert of Arrakism her hair comes flowing down over her dusty, ribbed burnt umber Fremen suit, they become a very attractive, well-dusted mom-son pair. She's taught him 'the weirding way' and--upon seeing the ease with which she defends herself and overpowers their security detachment--the manly man leader of the underground rebel colony asks her, the mom!, to train their armies! That's so badass. Not Jeffrey, but mom gets the official request. When she later gives birth it's to the great Alicia Witt as the strange little mad-psychic homicidal imp (given far too little screen time compared to the endless gluttony and homo-sadism of the Harkonens), she, alas, goes bald, like her weird sisters in the order. Even then, however, clad in drab Spanish-inquisition-style robes after birthing the Witt, Lady Jessica is still a badass.

As Lady Mcbeth in Polanski's 1973 film, Annis first appears happy and sinister only in an early reel of the Wicker Man sort of way -- her long golden hair free-flowing free against orange magic hour sun and thick clouds like a highlands fairy tale Druid nightmare. With her little snub of a nose and low resonant way with lines like: "this is the very painting of your fear", "screw your courage" and "your face is like a book in which one may read strange matters," Annis conveys a quiet, strong power that doesn't need to underline things and add histrionic flourish for the back rows (3). In other words, this is Shakespeare for the big screen, the small gesture carries large. Especially enchanting is the way her eyes light up with pleased astonishment, like an infant --no sense of the cruelty --- as fighting dogs are set upon a baited bear (where they got the bear in Scotland I'm nah sure - they went extinct around the same time Macbeth is presumably set. Maybe that was the last one.)

Taken together almost as a part one and two (how did she ascend to power in Dune?) Annis conveys a refreshingly young but assertive form of ladyship that's regal without being stuffy, quiet without being meek, riveting, super sexy and strange without being over the top, deadly without being callous. Alas, as is his wont, Lynch spends way too much time focusing on the blighted canckerous debauched evil of the Baron Harkonen --played with venomous over-the-top villainy by Kenneth McMillan as a kind of meth-addicted gay syphilis-stricken meth-headed over-the-top version of Michael Gambon's sadistic gourmand in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.  And Shakespeare, well, don't forget that after the Banquo banquet scene, Lady M. fades to the background until she winds up insane and hallucinating. As I've written in the past, more films need to be made with such complicated ladies front and center. 

5. Angela Featherstone as Veronica Iscariot
DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT (1994)

Sure, Featherstone isn't the greatest actress in the world, but what she lacks anyone can learn; what she has--the ability to project complete confidence and emotional vacancy at the same time--is unteachable. Her flatline reading of dialogue like "I've always wanted to witness people coupling, Max, but I never thought it would move me so much," is so spot-on you realize better (or worse) actresses would never be able to match it --they'd either try to be sexy (and come off campy), imperious (and come off stuffy), mean (and come off buzzkill sour) or tough (and come off laughable), but Featherstone's assertive confidence and deadpan demeanor is so despite-itself sexy she gets away with the actor equivalent of murder, which is just right for Matthew Freeway Bright's genius tale of one of Satan's minions longing to explore the surface world of mortals (she winds up in an Americanized Romania - where the film was shot). And when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm, just for her doctor lover, it is, despite the fakeness--or because of it in some Satanic school play directiness--reassuring, as is her matter-of-fact way with wrapping human hearts in newspaper to feed her dog Hellraiser. I've only ever seen that kind of deadpan female genius--commanding both adoration and respect--in German science fiction film female characters from the 70s (as in STAR MAIDENS in the west, ELEOMA and IM STAUB DER STERNE in the east). It's sad America has never been able to duplicate it. Why there wasn't a sequel (judging from the double title more than one was planned), I don't know, unless of course it's the damn patriarchy. (more)

6. Sheeri Rappaport as Jamie 

I imagine this tried to ride the success of the very similar high school girl clique coven flick, The Craft. Much as I like that film and much as critics disparage this one online (a scant 3.6 on imdb), I think I like Little Witches better. The only advantage The Craft has is Fairuza Balk and a gift for CGI snake hallucinations. Well, this one has a great evil witch performance too, from the lovely dark-haired Sheeri Rappaport, who rocks an insane midriff and bares her (thankfully un-augmented) breasts with diegetic abandon (but sans schoolgirl-fetish ickiness). While Balk was a scruffy little monster with wild eyes and a terrifying scruffy dirtbag edge, Rappaport is quite a dark heart-stealer, and the diegetic opposition is way less extreme. The good girls less good, the bad less bad, and the Skeet Ulrich douchebag factor not even present.  Instead this adheres more to a Satan's School for Girls format: set an all-girls boarding school (this time Catholic and less LA-baked), it's got a similar, setup but the only boy is an unobjectionably dumb hunk construction guy with the hair and demeanor of a zonked teenage Joe Dellsandro, whose excavation crew discovers a walled-off room under the campus rectory, within which waits a deep well/pit to caverns leading to the sea, and a gaggle of skeletons of missing girls from decades earlier. The (living) students left behind for Easter holiday (aka spring solstice!) are bored and under-chaperoned enough to find themselves returning to the uncovered room in the dead of night, again and again, driven to perform unholy rites for reasons that wouldn't make sense to the sober layman (dormant evil has the ability to prey upon your idle boredom and make you think summoning spirits is your own idea - don't let your ego be fooled by demons mimicking your unconscious). What they invoke is an ancient witch, who Jamie dubs "Miss Illuminati 1896." Man, Jamie's so cool. 

Typically the more conventional sites spit on our Witches. Rather hostilely, Arrow in the Head notes "the sex is too soft (no lesbian scenes or sex scenes) to satisfy the [XXX] hounds and the horror too weak to thrill the genre fiends. I don’t even know if the film is supposed to be a comedy or not." But to some of us, oh Arrow, that's what makes it great! Once it's one thing or the the other, a comedy, a sex film, a teenager PG spook show or an R-rated gore fest, it's boring. What Little Witches has that's unique is its comfort with playing in-between the lines. I also appreciate the hard-to-duplicate naturalistic Hawksian overlapping rapport between the girls, and the film's refreshing freedom from all the typical characterization shorthand we associate with the boarding school supernatural misadventure. In the midst of it all, watching Rappaport's Jamie go from just Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted wild to truly beyond good and evil Lovecraftian monstrous is really a thrill (I'd go more into detail, but the damned thing isn't on streaming anymore - WTF!)

the bad:
7. Hope Stansbury as Monica 
in THE RATS ARE COMING, 
THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE!
(1972) Dir. Andy Milligan

Perhaps there's nothing quite as matter-of-taste as Andy Milligan, the theater geek's Ed Wood, a master of getting Victorian era value out of random corners of modern NYC and London (actresses in Victorian era costume walking past historic building in an off-peak hour so there's no anachronistic pedestrians or traffic - clever lad). Like some poor cousin to Dark Shadows (with more gore), most scenes are single shot set ups between two hammy actors trying to stretch short dialogue exchanges to tedious length, no matter how slight the onus, if you'll forgive my Latin. When enough scenes accrue, there's a rushed, poorly edited climax of gore and blood that happens so fast that after the glacial pace of the rest your head spins along with the camera. Milligan's habit of shooting on 16mm then blowing up the final work to 35, wisely but not too well, gives all the whites a death green pallor and the costumes, lousy with chintz, often take on the creased appearance of being made out of cardboard. It's on Amazon Prime, along with a host of other Milligan "gems" (see item #12 on the 'Taste the Blood of Dracula's Prime" list, THE BODY BENEATH)  

But in the midst of it all is this overly eye mascara-ed madness is a willowy brunette named Hope Stansbury. She plays Monica, the wild jealous daughter in the family of repetitive werewolf decadents. A sexy morass of Jill Banner in Spider Baby and Mary Woronov in Hollywood Boulevard, whether flitting around taunting her chained up wolf brother, or whirling out of a closet trying to stab her sister only to fall and burn her back on a cross, or heading downtown to buy a horde of man-eating rats so she can shout "Tear 'em up!" as was the big catch phrase of 1972 in case you forgot (1), she's sensational.  No matter how horrid the rest of the film is, there's some Woodsian splendor in watching this emotionally arrested wolf woman posing as what she imagines a sophisticated Dickensian upper crust adult would behave like while buying the rats in a disreputable back room; and there's the great sun-drenched outdoor scene between the emotionally arrested Monica and her similarly childlike neighbor friend Rebecca (Lillian Frith) as--in the same real time scene--they move seamlessly from affirming undying friendship confessions to Monica cutting Rebecca's arms off with an axe since she started implying blackmail. Hurrah for small miracles!

8a. Ania Pieroini as Ann, the Babysitter
8b. Ania Pieroni as Music Student / Witch
INFERNO (1980)

Playing more or less the same enigmatic character in each film, Pieroni rarely speaks, but her eyes speak volumes. Just seeing her drive by or appear in the music class in tandem with the letter in INFERNO is to get an exciting chill that unfortunately the rest of the movie can never quite match. It might be her best role, just staring at Mark Elliott in music class with her white cat - then disappearing in a gust of wind. She shows up in an array of Argento films in small roles, from a catty fellow ballet student in SUSPIRIA to a shoplifter stalked by a horny deranged homeless vagrant (and then killed by someone else) in TENEBRAE. Though that film is marred by a 'just doesn't get it' ponderous score from Rick Wakeman (he's no Goblin, he). In all her work for Argento she has a wild, untamed ferocity that beams out of her bewitching eyes like a cat's claw slashing open reality. Her American equivalent for this is perhaps only Brinke Stevens, but with that dark allure cranked to eleven.

In HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), Pieroni gets a substantially bigger but equally enigmatic role (though as so often happens - she's eventually killed). As the nanny for a family moved into the haunted house of a deranged undead doctor still working in the locked basement, her ominous silence contrasts with the incessant generic small talk of Lucy, the family's neurotic mother. Anna's eyes seem to say 'cut the crap' with every glare: "What a shame you didn't come with us to the restaurant last night" Lucy says, for example, as Anna is cleaning the floor. This gets a knowing, vaguely contemptuous and cuckolding reaction shot stare that could be read many ways, as its no doubt meant to - is there something going on between Anna and her husband, or is she just paranoid? Later, Lucy comes out onto the street with a bag of groceries and we think we see Norman driving by in the car, but he doesn't see her or pull over to help her, and just drives on. Did Lucy drive the car and he stole it, leaving her to walk home with two bags of groceries through the woods in order to have some quick tryst time with Anna?

It would be unfair to make Fulci account for the lack of resolution in all this unspoken 'let's drive the wife insane' red herring anymore than in the 'almost affair' between Richard Harris and Monica Vitti In Antonioni's Red Desert. There's no trope or cliche that sits still in this uniquely Italian form of heroine/censor gaslighting; the things that normally allow us to situate ourselves as viewers into what kind of movie genre tropes to anticipate are missing, which again maddens yet placates the censors, so a paranoid neurotic hausfrau narrative hovers in the air. If you submit to the alienation ambiguity as intentional, it makes the later horror events seem further and further abstracted, so that when they finally cohere from the ambiguity, they come too close to home for easy laughing off, kind of the way an actual nightmare works. Like Antonioni's Blow-up or Godard's Prenom Carmen, House seems to exist in a molten state, a film ready to become any genre, follow any thread, but finding that all threads in the end, are broken, lead back to the starting spot, or merge into the infinite (and what's the difference?). Is death really the same as waking up? Somehow, though, Pieroni's eyes are still watching us, still somehow mocking and daring us all at once. (more)

9. Amber Heard as Miss Antonio

Amber Heard (i.e. the Mandy Lane that All the Boys Love) revels in her every frame a CIA double agent, playing handler to Danny Trejo's Machete (at the request of president Charlie Sheen - if only) all while busy snagging the title of Miss San Antonio Texas at some never-seen beauty pageant. She's so statuesque in that form-fitting blazing red pageant gown she exceeding the known limits of badass drive-in babe potential. I'd go so far as to say Heard might well be our century's Tiffany Bolling! She's the most badass female in the film (and one of Rodriguez's strengths is that he usually packs in a lot of them), so badass in fact that even in her glittering, gorgeous gown, sash and tiara she's cooler and tougher than Michelle Rodriguez in all-black and eyepatch. I was rooting for Heard in their big final showdown; Rodriguez seems--as in the Furious movies--to be just marking time, making weird smiles like her teeth are trying to escape. Heard, on the other hand, never met a cliche she wasn't happy to rend to shreds with just a wave of that flawless hair. 
 
10. AnnaLynne McCord as Liza
Sheila Vand as Monica
68 KILL! (2017)

Played in a lion mane of a hair-do with eyes wild by AnnaLynne McCord, Liza is a super confident, cash-hungry predator but she seems to love her doe-eyed boyfriend Chip, to actually care about him, despite leaving him ravaged by her love punches and claws of passion. After a long crazy car chase (after he rescues and runs off with an innocent witness she's about to consign to a harrowing death) she's still ready to forgive him because she's had a wild time chasing him. She's the alpha bitch as she later explains to her new rival--the gravel voiced meth-addled den mother Monica (Sheila Vand), a kind of Daria from Hell, tweaking the cooler-than-thou punk alpha bitch persona and elevating it to a whole new plateau of deadpan madness and euphoric meth-spiked malice-for-malice's-sake. The shocks keep escalating until even we, the jaundiced audience--so used to these kind of outlaw couples cable movies--pop our eyes open and begin whooping for joy, and genuine unease. (full)

11. Terry Liu as Princess Dragon Mom
INFRA-MAN (1975)

All hail Princess Dragon Mom. A shape-shifting, whip-snapping, go-go boots wearing master of monsterdom! A Shaw Brothers version of Japanese Kaiju kids movie, INFRA-MAN is wisely wrought with a sexy villainess or two (Many of the Shaw Brothers' films are remarkably feminist - with badass females on both sides and in the middle of their sagas). Dragon Mom is so cool all other evil supervillains of kaiju movies pale in comparison. Sending out her spies, monsters and hypnotized sleeper agents over to Infra-Man HQ to steal away their big scientific genius for her own nefarious ends, she's just about perfect (though I'm not too keen on the shrill voiceover dubber for her who sounds genuinely angry and scary rather than just 'fun' sexy evil). There's no denying she projects real menace and as far as sexy looks seems like she could easily be chasing some Buggle around a Sid and Marty Kroft- style evil lair one minute, chaining Batman to a water heater after stunning him with poison lipstick the next, then blowing herself up to Godzilla-size and becoming a dragon to level Hong Kong after that. She's versatile! And her monster minions are great too, all of them in a row, waving their appendages around in great paroxysms of relish in their own evil while she issues orders from her grand psychedelic throne. And when it's time for her to fight, she just turns into a flying monster to make it less awkward for our gallant hero to kick her, which is good because by then he's starting to sag along his sponge foam shoulder padding so it's time to call it a day. If she wasn't enough, Dragon Mom has compatriot hot female with a dinosaur skull helmet and big eyes painted on her hands that shoot lasers. Sigh, If we had DVDs in the 70s growing up, I would have watched this every single day after school and love it more than Ultra-Man, Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot, and Space Giants combined, and I'd be having all sorts of prepubescent sadomasochistic daydreams over Princess Dragon Mom and her snake-like whip arm. All I can do now that I'm all old, discovering this in vivid color on Amazon Prime, is wistfully hit 'play from beginning' one more time. Either way, sharp, abrasive voice or no, she's agelesss. 

the good:
12. Louise Marleau as Col. Stella Holmes
CONTAMINATION (1980)

Got to love a movie about NYC getting hit by a massive influx of giant alien seed pods (shipped over in containers from Costa Rica as alleged coffee) that explode your body outward if you're too close to one when the randomly burst open, all meant to evoke ALIEN's eggs (and look similar), and like Fulci's ZOMBIE is part of a whole wave of early-80s / late-70s Italian horror films set in both Manhattan at the zenith of its crime, grime, and poverty and some sunny third world locale. But hey, Goblin did one their wildest scores, Cozzi is in a rare coherent mood, and a cool, relatively mature Louise Marleau plays the chief investigating operative--Col. Holmes. She runs the NYC CDC and leads a special team of an astronaut (laughed out of the service for telling a story of green eggs on Mars) and a city police detective down south to the Costa Rican coffee plantation, disguised as importers. Once they all arrive, the two men come to admire and respect this lady, even as they kind of good-naturedly jostle for pole position, and Marleau handles the job of colonel as to the academy born, taking a slap from the astronaut with gusty aplomb, "if I have to die with the rest of the world, I want to have a nice dress on and clean underwear" which makes the extended scene where she's trapped in the bathroom with one of the egg/spore things, while the men wonder where she is and she pounds at the door, all the more painful (even capable as she is there's nothing she can do except try to slowly screw the door off the hinges while the egg makes weird noises and gets ready to burst open). With more than a few women in high-powered positions (including the evil alien's right hand woman and the lead scientist at Defense 'Team 5' ), this is a feminist-friendly revamp of two or three familiar genres twisted up in a sleek, fast-moving product that will remind discerning fans of everything from Species 2 to Lifeforce -- and that thumping, ominously breathing Goblin score  spackles in every crack with sizzling electric portent and woozy diegetic electronic spore/egg breathing noises (are they diegetic? who knows?), and the quality of Holme's character and assertive but unbitchy performance make it weirdly endearing, especially once the Martian cyclops shows up.


13. Tammy Lauren as Alexandra Amberson
WISHMASTER (1997)

Though clearly modeled after Sarah Connor, Alexa Amberson is her own woman and quite a character in this FX-laden Wes Craven-esque genre hybrid. A genuine professional (art restoration management at a Sotheby's-style auction house) she's a single independent woman not defined by her family or the absence of one, who's able to build friendships with men wherein her youth, intellect and charm is lubricant to social-business interaction, hardly just a green light for one lame hitting on after another. Her platonic BFF gently pushes she values his friendship too much to go farther (2) and--as with the men in her business world (Robert Englund as a highbrow gallery curator, for example), she's able to let them down easy, without damaging their tender egos. Instead, for relaxation, she coaches a varsity girls' basketball team after work and does a pretty damned good job. Lauren really seems to have looked into how to do this, though it's just 'character development' in a horror film, her connection with the girls and investment in the game feels lived in and earned, like she actually embedded herself in the team for research. And when she needs advice on what a djinn is she doesn't go to some old dude in a library, she goes to frickin' badasss Joanna Cassidy as the requisite archeological expert - damn right - a woman!


As with Julien Sands below, the idea at work is that this very ancient and terrible being is out to wreck human life, or all life, or the universe, or god, or at least create hell on earth, or some mischief, and this heroine doesn't have a time traveling good guy to assist her here, she has to do it all more or less herself. Aside from some fleeting aide from the BFF, some cops and art security guards, it's her vs. an all-powerful evil genie. And she ultimately wins through guile and a deep understanding of the nature of Monkey's Paw gotchas. That she ends up entertaining her BFF's incessant attempts to be 'more' is the only drawback, in my grandiose opinion. But such is life --at least he's not a dick about it.

14. Lori Singer as Kassandra 
WARLOCK (1989)

Another one of those 'hot but doesn't know it' vaguely klutzy girls who tends to talk to themselves in the second person while staring in the mirror, Singer gets a lot of flak over her dazed approach to acting but I love her, especially here, where she brings an earnest natural loping grace where you can kind of tell she plays a lower registered string instrument in real life (in this case, she's a prodigy cellist). She has that kind of deer-in-the-headlights sweetness with a dash of Nordic strong-jawed strength we all want from our Sarah Connor-modeled "ordinary girls compelled into extraordinary deeds by a guy from the future or the past who's pursuing some unstoppable time-traveling fiend" movies. Singer holds her own against two quality British actors who each know just how to have maximum fun with their roles - Richard E Grant as the fur-clad hero (with whom she has a good friendship bond with a tinge of romance that goes unfulfilled, to the film's credit) and Julian Sands, who gives the evil warlock the maximum playful drollery - terrifying in his disregard for human life, but endearing that he never loses a certain Vincent Price-y enchantment with his own odium (his malice comes not from hate of victims but from love of the malice itself). Also, got to love the instant rapport formed when Grant's witch hunter instantly breaks through to the Amish father who's been waiting for generations for this moment, with the Amish farmer's son all weirded out that what he thought was just an inter-generational superstition is real, but that the dad just rolls right into it as if the Con Ed man is here to read the meter.


And Sands' warlock goes right to the source, a hip new age bookstore and sham spiritualist (Mary Woronov!) for his link-up with his spiritual father Satan, who gives him his big purpose in life (assemble the grimoire). I like the lack of sexism from dark ages witch hunter Grant, who never tries to shelter Kassandra or keep her out of danger; and when he's forced to stay behind and give aid to the stricken Amish dude, it's Singer who must take out after the evil Warlock as he tries to escape on a passing train. Following along (even as she rapidly ages through a very terrifying spell), trying to get her charm bracelet back, hammering nails into his footprints and sending poor Warlock to the sandy ground in howling pain - I wish Noomi Rapace could watch Sand's brilliance with handling agony here- how we believe and feel his pain but at the same time can hear he's having fun with it - as an actor. After all, Noomi - we don't go to movies like this to be bummed out! But try telling that to her in Prometheus

15.  Alyson Croft as Inspector McNulty:
TRANCERS (1984) TRANCERS II (1991) 

Howard Hawks would be delighted at the idea of McNutly, a hardboiled police chief from the future inhabiting the body of a young girl ancestor of his in the distant past (our present), popping over to issue orders and updates to her/his similarly time-traveled officer, Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson). Croft's letter-perfect "don't make a big deal out of the fact I'm a ten year-old girl or I'll bust you down to traffic detail" droll way with the role almost overshadows the deadpan cool of Thomerson, no easy feat, especially as we watch Croft herself leap through time via the seven year-gap between the two films. Incidentally, both have other strong roles for women in them, including a breakout early work from Helen Hunt as the girl Deth falls for in our present, and Megan Ward as his future wife sent back in the past on a parallel mission hunting a different set of 'trancers' who winds up stuck in a suspicious mental institution (until her zingy rescue). Add McNulty, now a teenager, riding her bike over after breakfast on a Sunday afternoon with the news on the latest trancer movements-- Croft still displaying all the more that deadpan chief of detectives no-bullshit nonchalance--and you have one sequel I'll be happy to watch again real soon. The sight of these actors kicking it on the front lawn of a massive estate in their robes and suburban wear, as a mysterious trancer hit squad comes slowly at them--disguised as landscapers--is one of the highlights of the Charles Band catalogue, not for anything in particular, but in the genius laid back way where, as in the best Hawks' settings, we feel like we're there hanging out with people who are both cool and good and all is right with the world even though (or maybe because) the abyss is never more than a false step away.

NOTES:
1. Willard was a huge hit, hence all the Kiss of the Tarantula-style bullied loner raises flock of ravenous vermin to do his or her bidding and off the oppressors movies that came right before the Jaws craze. In fact, one might speculate that Jaws itself was the spawn of Willard or at least its children. Funny how thoroughly then, Willard and sequel Ben and the later remake are ignored by both mainstream and classic fans. Personally I haven't even seen it because frankly, I don't like rats or Bruce Davison or movies about anguished loners... too close to home? 
2. Longtime readers know I feel strongly on this issue, lazy writers and inadequate males presume the 'just friends' card is code for either 'she's not interested and stringing you along' in which case you're a dope for hanging around, or on the other foot, 'he secretly likes you and is just too shy to ever bust a move' in which the girl thinks you're secretly gay or something and winds up shacking up with some guy who's beneath her because she's bored of waiting for you to man up. The result of this either/or in movies is that one's lovers are made jealous and insecure when one has BFFs of the opposite sex --the final result of the mainstream media's maligning of the male-female platonic friendship when it can be so very valuable (another trick to keep the feminine hamstrung?) All my friendships with women are either long-lasting and full of good will (because they stayed platonic), or I slept with them and now we cross the street to avoid each other, despite both being cosmopolitan people of the world who swore we wouldn't let anything ruin our friendship. I'd rather keep a friend for life than a lover for a night, though not all dudes feel that way, or at least don't say so - guy peer pressure being what it is. Ah well, check out my middle sub-rant on Babes of Wrath, or read Robin Wood's excellent treatise Sexual Narratives in Popular Film.
3. No knock on Jeanette Nolan in Welles' 48 version, whose thick accent and expressionistic postures impress me more and more over repeat viewings)
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