Saturday, August 5, 2017

a doll's house

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957; d: Jack Arnold, written by Richard Matheson)

What, how...oh.  Just when I thought it might all have been a nightmare...the laundry. That's it, I'm lying in our dirty laundry.  Butch must've snuck back into the house at some point, and I came about as close as a man can to becoming cat chow.  And evidently I was knocked cold when I took a long fall into the basement.  If it hadn't been for this pile of clothes...that's twice today that I've cheated death. Well, I suppose the cat's the least of my problems now, down here.

I guess it all started that day out on the boat, on our vacation. Things had gone wonderfully that week, just about all you could ask for from a relaxing getaway with the wife.  We had the ocean, we had each other—and we were still very much in love. It had all been so perfect, thinking back now.  But then one afternoon as we sunbathed, everything changed.

Just as Louise had gone below deck to fetch me a beer, a strange, heavy mist crept in...

There was something in that mist, some kind of pernicious, possibly irradiated dust that clung to my skin after it was gone.  It had passed over by the time Louise surfaced, but six months later, when my pants stopped fitting and I'd gone to see a doctor, we'd both remembered that afternoon.

It's a bewildering thing, the moment you find out you're getting smaller. You don't really believe it, because it isn't something you can believe. But after awhile, well, you settle into the certainty that, despite everything you know, despite the history of the human experience until now, something is making you slowly disappear. And that's about the size of it, really—I'm disappearing, much like in a magic act, only this takes a little longer and there'll be no fanfare when it's finished, because who will know?

Sometimes I can't help but think, well, that perhaps there's a bit of karma to this, that maybe in some way I'm being punished for my abominable behavior to Louise. I didn't mean for things to happen this way, but once I started to shrink, every lousy fear and undermining emotion I ever had in my life began to creep to the surface.

"Did you tell them who you're married to—the incredible Scott Carey, the shrinking freak!"

I think just about every man hides away a weak, corrupted, wretched little piece of his heart that pulls in all the wrong directions, bent on sullying and corroding his thoughts with notions of insecurity and doubt. It's the stuff that leads kings to tyranny—and drives women away from their husbands.  I suppose I hadn't counted on it piling on to my already grim predicament.

When the newsmen began sniffing around, and it became obvious that if I didn't sell my story they'd report it anyway, I became an instant celebrity.  And that is when a tense situation in the Carey household suddenly became much worse.

And now, I am.  And down here there's no food, no Louise, and precious little time remaining.  It seems that, without nourishment, the shrinking process speeds up considerably.  And poor Louise, my darling—she's stood by me through it all, and now of course she'll be thinking the worst, and blaming herself for Butch getting back in.  

Down here, in the gathering gloom at the foot of these stairs, it's easy for a man to realize the full measure of his life. Through all the trials and tribulation, all the mental hurdles and lost hope of these past few months, I seem to have forgotten the sense of what I'd had, of just how far Scott Carey had come in this world.  And maybe I'd never fully understood what it all means.  If I ever get out of here, Louise, we'll make it right again.  If not in this life,, we'll make it right.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

bring it on home

DEATHDREAM (1974; d: Bob Clark, written by Alan Ormsby)

Just below its veneer of cut-rate drive-in confection and requisite supernatural scares, DEATHDREAM seethes with a very real anger.  

It's an anger for a protracted, senseless war, and the futility of the generation gap. Anger after years of Nixon and the draft.  Anger at the lie in the heart of the American ideal, at the lies we tell ourselves.

When we send our children to the other side of the world to kill or die for reasons we can't quite articulate, what should we expect in return?  What might we deserve?

DEATHDREAM begins in the jungle night, a pair of weary soldiers tentatively pressing onward, nearby mortar blasts casting doom—their instincts telling them it's all wrong, this movement.

And like so many young men before him, Andy Brooks will die on a lonely battlefield far from home.  But as he lay there in the mud, shot through the back and breathing his last gasps, a familiar, far-away voice pleads, “No, Andy, don't die...”

Sitting around the dinner table, the Brooks family finish their prayers and settle into a casual discussion as they begin eating.  It's obvious mom is fixated on Andy's returnunhealthily soand Charles Brooks and his daughter Cathy are clearly worried. 

And then, a knock...

“I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.”

“I'm sorry, Charles...if there's anything I can do.”

“It's Andy...”

“No...It's a lie! It's a lie!”

Later that night, Charles wakes up to find himself alone, his wife's voice carrying from the next room over in a strange, hypnotic drone...

“You can't die, Andy...You can't die.”

A searing, coruscating modern rehash of “The Monkey's Paw”, DEATHDREAM spins that old fable on its head, taking aim at one of the longest, most contentious wars in American history—and those it deems, in whatever capacity, complicit.

Later that same night, Charles is again aroused from sleep, this time by his daughter claiming to hear somebody poking around downstairs.

And against all reason, what they find creeping around in the dark is none other than their dear departed boy, Andy, only hours after learning of his demise.


So in a short span of minutes, we witness the Brooks family veer from total devastation to the sheer elation of finding out it was all a terrible mistake; their boy is not only alive, he's finally home.  Only this emotional roller coaster isn't over yet. It seems Andy isn't quite the young man they remember.
With emotions sputtering every which way, a lesser ensemble would've been in over its head.  Leading the way, John Marley and Lynn Carlin also played husband and wife in John Cassavetes' indie classic, FACES.

“Oooh, I'm gonna call everybody up and we're gonna have a big celebration.”

“Let's wait awhile, mom.”

“Do you know they actually sent us a telegram tonight?  A telegram that said you were killed?!”

“They actually said that my son was dead.”

“I was.”

And he lets the words hang there, unsettled, until a strange grin breaks the tension.

If tonight's odd behavior is a little off-putting, tomorrow and the next day will test the bounds of their love.  Because Andy came back for a reason, and it isn't to begin civilian life anew. He's brought some of the war home with him, and with it, a kind of reckoning.

Following a long day of exceedingly bizarre, anti-social behavior from their son (who's refusing to eat and spends most of his time in a rocking chair in his bedroom), Charles and Christine Brooks have it out.

“Well, I went it through it too, but when I came back I didn't act like that.”

“Well, you're not Andy.  You don't have his kind of sensitivity...all you've ever done is pick on him and criticize him and ride him. If it hadn't been for you, he wouldn't have enlisted in the first place!”

“He enlisted because he didn't want you to turn him into a goddamn mama's boy. And he was right!”

The family dog is the first to notice something wrong about Andy, and the first to incur his wrath.

DEATHDREAM has been referred to as a “shocker” for any number of reasons, though none quite as unsettling as when (the following afternoon) Andy strangles the family dog in front of the neighborhood children. It's grueling, nasty stuff, and sets the tone for all which follows.

And so it's revealed their boy, desultory and bleeding sensitivity prior to enlistment, has a newfound ferocity they'd thought him incapable of—as well as a new set of marching orders.