October was a busy month for me, but I did manage to squeeze in some quality moviegoing experiences at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Music Box of Horrors. Unsurprisingly, it was a month of fat villains and fat victims.
Behind the Mask: the Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, dir. Scott Glosserman)
This charmingly deconstructionist mockumentary features a group of journalism students who are following an up-and-coming slasher Leslie (Nathan Baesel) who aspires to follow in the footsteps of Freddie, Jason, and Michael. Once the stock character teens start to get murdered, though, interviewer Taylor (Angela Goethals) and her crew lose their professional objectivity and turn against their subject. One of Taylor’s goofball cameramen, Todd (Britain Spellings), nobly sacrifices himself by distracting Leslie. He lures the killer away form the main group and across a field, presenting himself as an easy kill and taunting him to chase after the “dough-boy.”
Maniac (1980, dir. William Lustig)
Speaking of slasher films, Maniac is 90 minutes of grimy, minimalist violence. The titular character is Frank (Joe Spinell, who co-wrote the script with C.A. Rosenberg), a fat man who murders women, dresses mannequins in their clothing, and uses their scalps as wigs. As the film progresses, it is revealed that the source of Frank’s madness is his problematic relationship with his mother (either she was a sex worker or there’s an Oedipal complex going on? I couldn’t tell, to be honest). Maniac felt to me like a spiritual sibling of Misery, as Frank’s violence is, like Annie’s, about maintaining the stasis of his little fantasy world. I should have taken notes on that theory right after seeing this, but it was a movie marathon and there was alcohol, so CPBS was on the back burner. C’est la vie. Maniac was remade in 2012 with Elijah Wood in Spinell’s role.
The Devil’s Candy (2015, dir. Sean Byrne)
A horror film that plunks likable characters into a story that practically throbs with foreboding. The best way I can describe the tone of this film via text is to tell you that Sunn O))) provided the score. A metalhead artist (Ethan Embry) and his family are stalked by the previous resident of their new house (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a large man who radiates sadness and vulnerability, but is also allegiant to Satan.
To Sleep with Anger (1990, dir. Charles Burnett)
Lovely, grounded character-driven drama about a black family in Los Angeles who carry on their rural Southern lifestyle. A visitor from their past, Harry (Danny Glover) shows up unannounced and begins to cause trouble in the community. His influence is as direct as inspiring other members of the community to drink and gamble, but also more mysterious, as the fat patriarch of the family, Gideon (Paul Butler) suddenly falls ill.
Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento)
Can Suspiria be spoken about without using a phrase like “visually stunning”? I think it’s a legal requirement. Anyway, an American dance student Suzy (Jessica Harper) attends a German boarding school that is run by a coven of murderous witches. Among the creepy and foreboding sights is a stout old woman, who seems eerily out of place among the young, slender dancers.