Tag Archive for Eyes of Laura Mars

Weird-O-Ween 2017

Andy Kaufman in "God Told Me To" (1976)

Better Late Than Never

Sadly, we missed 2016, but last week marked the end of Weird-O-Ween 2017 here at WeirdFlix.

My wife (“J-Dogg”) and I each picked four selections for our Halloween stay-cation, for a total of eight films to screen over the four days. Some are films we hadn’t seen before, others are beloved classics. In the end, we had a few surprises from both categories. Seen any of these or have recommendations of your own? Please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Here is a quick rundown of the films and pairings:

Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Forced Isolation

The Belko Experiment (2016) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "The Belko Experiment" (2016)

Movie Poster for The Belko Experiment (2016)

Having had plans for Halloween night, we got started earlier in the day with a pair of more modern horror films, ones that wouldn’t be as impaired by the autumn sunshine and noise of city workers tearing up the neighborhood. Our first two films were both new to us, but selected because of our shared admiration of the filmmakers, Greg McLean and James Gunn and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, respectively.

The Belko Experiment manages to nail both corporate culture and the frailty of human civilization quite well, but its unrelenting cynicism may be too much for some viewers. It is fairly well constructed and doesn’t waste a lot of time on unnecessary why’s and wherefores, but these concessions also expose some shortcomings in story structure. For example, there are a few scenes where decisions seem to be made “because protagonist” rather than for a narrative or character-based purpose. Overall, though, if Battle Royale meets Office Space is your particular cup of tea (or company coffee, natch), this film delivers on its singular premise.

Resolution (2012) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "Resolution" (2012)

Movie Poster for Resolution (2012)

After digging The Endless at Fantastic Fest this past year, my wife and I thought it would be groovy to catch up on the films of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Resolution is their first feature, and it is a trippy little bit of sci-fi horror that keeps you off balance with twists and laughs in equal measure.

The cast is limited but solid, and the film primarily focuses on drug addict Chris (Vinny Curran) and his well-meaning best friend Mike (Peter Cilella) who handcuffs him to a pipe in a half-finished shack in order to help get him clean cold turkey. Zahn McClarnon (Bone Tomahawk) also stands out as the menacing Charles.

This is definitely a more psychological and thought-provoking film than scary or action-oriented, but for those who appreciate the work of Nacho Vigalondo, Adam Wingard, or Ti West, this is indie genre fare at its finest.

Wednesday, Nov. 1 – Aliens Do What?

Lifeforce (1985) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "Lifeforce" (1985)

Movie Poster for Lifeforce (1985)

The kinkiest Quatermass Experiment ever.

It’s easy to see why Lifeforce wasn’t more successful. It’s a distinctly British, very old-fashioned sci-fi/horror film, but with copious nudity, violence, and some deeply anti-Thatcher political themes. This limited its target audience to a seriously narrow niche, but we are admittedly very much a part of that niche.

Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby’s adaptation of Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires covers a lot of the same ground as O’Bannon’s Alien screenplay in its first act. Once we return to Earth, however, the movie takes a dramatically different turn and leans hard into its Dracula inspiration. As it goes along, Lifeforce does feel like three films smashed together in an homage-a-trois, but the whole is largely successful outside of some questionable effects and awkward exposition. As far as vampire apocalypse movies go, you could do far worse.

God Told Me To (1976) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "God Told Me To" (1976)

Movie Poster for God Told Me To (1976)

Writer/Director Larry Cohen doesn’t hedge, and he doesn’t compromise. I can only imagine some of the conversations during the production of God Told Me To, a film that couldn’t care less about your views on humanity, authority, and faith. Cohen delivers a transgressive gut-punch with spree killers, alien abductions, and virgin births, and yet, it all somehow hangs together for one of the tighter takes on this sort of material.

All of the performances sing, and Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making gets some wonderful reactions from unsuspecting New Yorkers. An emotionally-charged scene between star Tony Lo Bianco and Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) certainly stands out. God Told Me To is not a happy-go-lucky bit of b-movie cheese, and it’s likely to upset or offend some viewers, but if you’re willing to be challenged and made uncomfortable, it’s a thoughtful and interesting film. Highly recommended.

Musical Interlude – Better Than Babs

“Gold Dust” – Tori Amos

Thursday, Nov. 2 – Giallo

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978)

Movie Poster for Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Hard to believe it’s been over five years since we last took a look at this film.

Controversial but celebrated fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is having visions of murder, seen from the eyes of the killer himself. This, of course, makes her the prime suspect. Thankfully, smitten police detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) believes her inexplicable story.

Whodunit? Is it the ex-con chauffeur played by the incomparable Brad Dourif? Or her flamboyant agent played with aplomb by René Auberjonois? Or is it her trophy ex-husband who followed her from San Francisco (Raúl Juliá at his slimiest)?

I’ll never tell, but with a supporting cast stacked with such genre heavyweights, John Carpenter’s ode to Dario Argento as directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) is a shamelessly sleazy but stylish 42nd Street treat.

Suspiria (1977) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "Suspiria" (1977)

Movie Poster for Suspiria (1977)

We’ve sustained our Dario Argento kick through the last two years and have caught up on quite a few of his early films. I was disappointed then that we didn’t get to catch the 4K restoration of Suspiria as it made the rounds of the festival circuit, so I thought it’d make a good revisit during Weird-O-Ween this year. Sadly, my disappointment was only beginning.

I realize I haven’t seen what is largely considered Argento’s masterpiece in over twenty years, since back in the VHS era. And, I have to admit, there was an obvious reason I hadn’t revisited it in all that time since I found I didn’t enjoy the rewatch as much as I had hoped.

Sure, it’s often visually stunning and the score by Goblin is iconic, but Suspiria is full of embarrassing indulgences as well. Monster effects (dog and bat puppets) are subpar and more reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s work than Argento’s typically tight staging. In fact, the whole film feels like a Mario Bava tribute by way of Fulci. Udo Kier is wasted in an unnecessary exposition dump scene. The dance academy setting doesn’t really figure into the proceedings and never feels truly authentic. It could’ve been a convent or an opera house or whatever.

There are also some digs at Eastern Europeans that narrowly avoid overt antisemitism or pejorative treatment of Romani people. These bits get under my skin more than any of the imagery. It would be easier to overlook if any of the witchcraft material had any depth, but it doesn’t. It’s just lip service, and from a director that helmed some of the more tightly constructed giallo murder mysteries, it seems unconscionable to just phone in this Alice in Wonderland plot.

In the end, we can’t say we hated Suspiria. It was an okay highlight reel of directorial tricks, lighting effects, and set design. It’s certainly not Argento’s best by our reckoning. We can’t really recommend it, since, if this is your jam, we’d likely be preaching to the choir at this point.

Friday, Nov. 3 – Kid or Ghost?

A Dark Song (2016) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "A Dark Song" (2016)

Movie Poster for A Dark Song (2016)

A Dark Song quickly sets up a wonderful premise. A mother enlists an occultist to help her contact her dead son and ask a favor of her guardian angel. The occultist, in turn, will also get the opportunity to request a favor. The rite, held in a sprawling rural manor without heat, will be grueling, dangerous, and sacrifices will have to be made along the way.

Unfortunately, all of this is squandered in the middle act as Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) vacillates between impatience, doubt, resignation, and rage without a clear arc. It’s almost as if these scenes are just thrown in with a random sequence. This could play into the film’s idea that time has lost its linearity, but they are sprinkled in amongst scenes of cliche and tired lo-fi spookies (a spectral barking dog, “bumps in the night”, finding a sentimental object in inexplicable places, a voice on the other side of the door that clearly is not her son, trying to just literally walk away from the house only to end up coming back up the walk in a truly derivative riff, etc.).

The film doesn’t seem to so much build and escalate as run out of ideas until it delivers on its promise of angels and demons in underwhelming fashion. It’s probably best to leave the unimaginable as just that. The CGI divine just doesn’t cut it. Another disappointment, sadly.

The Innocents (1961) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "The Innocents" (1961)

Movie Poster for The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents is an adaptation of the gothic ghost story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Deborah Kerr plays governess Miss Giddens, hired to care for little Flora and her brother Miles at the rambling English country estate of Bly. There, amongst its countless empty rooms and seemingly endless gardens, she becomes convinced that a pair of dead lovers are possessing the siblings, and she will do whatever it takes to save them.

This is dark, disturbing, even transgressive material for a black-and-white studio film from 1961, let alone a Victorian novella, but despite its embarrassingly sensationalized trailer, The Innocents handles the tale with an artistry that strands the viewer in Bly along with Kerr. Director Jack Clayton and legendary Hammer cinematographer Freddie Francis manage to make the wide aspect ratio (filmed in Cinemascope) and elaborate sets still feel claustrophobic with shadows or foliage obscuring the boundaries.

I loved The Innocents when I first saw it on TCM several years ago, and I liked it even more this time around on Criterion Collection DVD. It’s a chilling story well told and a fitting close to this year’s Weird-O-Ween.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track and do this again next year (and manage to post the results more timely). Any suggestions? Let us know! Until then, “sights and sounds… pull me back down… another year.”

Happy Birthday, René Auberjonois!

René Auberjonois

René’s Early Work

René Auberjonois was born in New York City on this day in 1940. Despite being a native New Yorker, René was treated as an outsider in school, due in part to his exotic name and having spent part of his early childhood in Paris. Being funny may have begun as a defense mechanism, but the positive attention drew René to the theatre.

While his family lived in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, New York, René made the acquaintance of fellow residents and actors Burgess Meredith and John Houseman. After college, René traveled from coast to coast, working with a number of prestigious theatre troupes. In 1968, René made his Broadway debut and secured a Tony Award just one year later.

René’s first big break in film came in the form of Robert Altman’s comedy M*A*S*H (1970), where he played Father Mulcahy. He would turn down the role in the subsequent television series, choosing instead to focus on a wide range of characters in film and television. In 1976, René played geologist Roy Bagley in the much maligned Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong.

Eyes of Laura Mars

In 1978, René took the role of Donald Phelps, agent to the title character in Eyes of Laura Mars. The John Carpenter screenplay was originally purchased by producer Jon Peters as a vehicle for girlfriend Barbra Streisand, but Babs found the material too violent and kinky. She did have a huge hit with the love theme, “Prisoner”, which eventually reached #21 on the Hot 100 charts. The title role went to Faye Dunaway, fresh from her Oscar-winning performance in Network.

Eyes of Laura Mars Movie Poster

Movie Poster for Eyes of Laura Mars

Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a controversial fashion photographer, famous for mixing sex and violence in her shoots. Just as a coffee table book of her provocative photos is about to be published, Laura has a nightmare in which the editor, Doris Spenser (Meg Mundy), is murdered. The nightmare rattles Laura, not only because of visions of her friend’s death, but because it was experienced from the killer’s point-of-view and the crime scene closely resembles one of the photographs in her book. As Laura soon discovers, the nightmare was not just a figment of her fevered imagination, but a psychic vision, as Doris was murdered while a sleeping Laura helplessly watched.

Doris is only the beginning, however, and soon the bodies of Laura’s female friends and colleagues start piling up, each preceded by another disturbing first-person vision. This would seem to make Laura either the key witness or the killer, but when she explains that she saw a murder take place blocks away, the police grow predictably suspicious.

A quick perusal of her new book by detectives shows visual connections to a number of unsolved murders, creating a sort of chicken/egg scenario. Are her layouts influenced by a psychic link with a serial killer or is the killer influenced by her photos? This forms a recurring “media violence” theme in the film, questioning whether art imitates life or vice-versa, and to what sinister purpose?

As agent Donald Phelps, René is called upon to bring a very nuanced character to the screen. He is very directly linked to Laura on a professional level. Clearly, he cannot afford to stand by and watch her career disappear under a wash of madness and murder. On the other hand, he is a trusted friend and confidant, personally troubled by Laura’s plight, which puts him directly in harm’s way by proximity. Unless, of course, he’s the killer in question, and that’s a possibility that René’s performance has to convey as well. After all, in a supernatural thriller such as this, everyone is under suspicion, even the title character. Lieutenant John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the investigation with Laura’s driver Tommy (Brad Dourif) and ex-husband Michael (Raúl Juliá) joining Donald on the list of plausible suspects.

Besides, it’s not just any actor who can be asked to dress up like Faye Dunaway and be convincing. René is certainly more believable in drag than Willem Dafoe in The Boondock Saints. Don’t fret, it’s not much of a spoiler. Watch the movie to see the bizarre context for this choice.

Faye Dunaway and René Auberjonois in Eyes of Laura Mars

Faye Dunaway and René Auberjonois in Eyes of Laura Mars

Legacy of Laura Mars

Despite mixed reviews, the film nearly tripled its $7 million budget. John Carpenter would go on to write and direct both Halloween and Someone’s Watching Me! (for NBC television) in 1978 and find success with both. Director Irvin Kershner’s work on Eyes of Laura Mars so impressed former student George Lucas, that Lucas tasked him with directing the sequel to the wildly successful Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has said of his selection, “I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures… I was trying to build something.”

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos paid homage to the film on her 2002 concept album, Scarlet’s Walk in the song “Gold Dust”:

And somewhere Alfie cries
And says, “Enjoy his every smile
You can see in the dark
Through the eyes of Laura Mars”

As the final song on the album, “Gold Dust” capably echoes the reflective melancholy of the film. Life is fleeting and the future uncertain. “How did it go so fast?” indeed.

René’s Subsequent Projects

After Eyes of Laura Mars, René Auberjonois settled down for steady television work as prissy chief of staff Clayton Runnymede Endicott III on the political sitcom Benson. He also broke into voice acting with work on saturday morning cartoons including Smurfs, Snorks, SuperFriends, and the Rankin/Bass animated feature The Last Unicorn. Of his performance as The Skull, Last Unicorn author Peter S. Beagle said, “He could have played any role in that movie and I would have been happy… He’s that talented.”

When René’s friend, Nicholas Meyer, took the helm of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, René was offered a cameo role months before shooting began. The unbilled cameo turned into a key role as Colonel West, a conspirator who attempts to assassinate the Federation President while disguised as a Klingon. Unfortunately, his scenes were cut from theatrical release, but later reinstated for home video and some television broadcasts.

This would not be René’s last foray into the “final frontier,” however. As the shapeshifting Constable Odo, René was one of the core cast members through the entire run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Executive producer Ira Steven Behr recalls, “I was told six months before the series began that Odo was going to be a Clint Eastwood type, and when we started creating the first couple of episodes, we sent writers off to write Clint Eastwood. And then I was told Rene Auberjonois. And I said, ‘Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Does not compute.’ And then I saw what he brought to the role, and I had to call up a whole bunch of writers and say ‘Guys, I apologize, but this is better than we even imagined.’” René reportedly had doubts as to whether or not he could play the role, but his daughter Tessa had no such concerns. “Oh dad, yeah, this is yours,” she said, “you’re gonna get this.”

Odo carried on a tradition began with Mister Spock and Data as the nonhuman cast member who gives us an outsider’s perspective on humanity. It was a role he found “completely challenging and fulfilling. I never thought it would go seven years, frankly. I’m thrilled that it has, but I’m also ready to set sail on some new seas. It’s been a wonderful journey.”

When DS9 wrapped at the end of the 1990s, Auberjonois continued to play guest parts and do voice work for television before settling into another steady gig as senior partner Paul Lewiston on Boston Legal. While Lewiston often served as the voice of authority on the show rather than as a fully-formed, three-dimensional character, he lent an air of authenticity to the fictional law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. While a main cast member for the first three seasons, Paul Lewiston was reduced to a guest slot for the final two.

Whether as Donald Phelps or in his many other film and television roles, René Auberjonois often brought wit, style, and panache to the screen. We salute him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.