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A Retrospective of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

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Danny DeVito in Batman Returns 1992

Thunder roars as sheets of rain ravage the exterior of a Gothic mansion; a woman in childbirth screams in agony from within. Soon, a second scream joins the chorus of pain; a child—but something’s wrong. A trained midwife recoils in abject terror and even the attending physician finds himself crippled with nausea. A monster is born.

This grim and grisly scenario sounds like the beginning of an R-Rated thriller, but it’s not; it’s the opening scene from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, released in 1992 and starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Not only is Batman Returns often forgotten on lists of subversive Christmas movies, it’s altogether deceptively bleak and harrowing, nearing the borders of legitimate horror.

From a gray, utilitarian aesthetic and admissions of psychopathy to scenes of mass shootings that would have an entirely different resonance if released today, Batman Returns is more of a non-traditional horror movie than your typical Tim Burton romp or superhero flick. For starters, we’re presented with a consistently overcast, decaying Gotham City where, despite an energy surplus, day-to-day existence resembles life in a crumbling former Soviet bloc state.

Our hero Bruce Wayne/Batman (Keaton) has always been moody and brooding, but the character acknowledges his dark side, making a self-comparison to the likes of Norman Bates and Ted Bundy. While plenty of caped crusaders live dual lives, few would group themselves with notorious serial killers. It hints at something truly dangerous lurking in the tortured playboy’s psyche.

Similarly, the anti-hero Catwoman (Pfeiffer) is unlike any other manifestation of the feline night-stalker. The canonical origins of Selina Kyle describe an orphan who took to thievery in order to survive life on the mean streets of Gotham. In Batman Returns, however, Catwoman is a revenant or a zombie. After behind murdered for being too smart, Kyle is resurrected by a gang of alley cats who literally breathe life back into her. Cats have long been associated with witchcraft and were even regarded as emissaries of Satan. Batman Returns insinuates a post-death barter with Old Scratch where Kyle traded her immortal soul for a chance to return to the Land of the Living—for revenge!

The true villain of Batman, though, is a fiend of rare cruelty and depravity. The fact that DiVito is a celebrated comedian is cheap subterfuge for a truly abominable heart. After surviving an attempted infanticide (his parents dumped him off a bridge like garbage), Oswald Cobblepot reemerges from the icy sewers as Penguin: A deformed monstrosity whose rise to social prominence hides nearly Biblical wrath.

Throughout Batman Returns, Penguin performs a litany of atrocities. He nearly bites a man’s nose off for what he perceives as a condescending attitude. During his run for Mayor, he molests a young staffer and, later, decides to kill Catwoman for denying his sexual advances; “You gave me all the signals!” he bemoans before sending Kyle off to her death (luckily, she has lives to spare).

Penguin/Cobblepot is a crime boss who organizes several terrorist plots against the city of Gotham, employing a gang of circus freaks (an extra terror for those suffering coulrophobia). This culminates in an attempt to kidnap and murder every first-born child in Gotham, a scenario reminiscent of God’s final plague upon Ancient Egypt. When this plot is foiled, he attempts to launch a missile assault on Gotham, an act which (if successful) would rack up a whopping 100,000 casualties! It’s a body count that would have put Jason Voorhees and his ilk to shame.

Penguin’s physical attributes are as twisted as his evil soul; his mouth oozes slime like the decaying gob of a drug addict and his flipper hands could be an allusion to a rash of birth defects suffered by children born to mothers who took the morning sickness drug thalidomide. It only takes a hint of real-life social tragedy to give a fictional character profound (and, in this case, terrifying) resonance.

Other connections between Batman Returns and the horror genre include the participation of FX legend Stan Winston (Aliens, Pumpkinhead, and Wrong Turn among many others) and body actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) plays the “Thin Clown”. It’s also worth noting that Christopher Walken’s corrupt character is named Max Shreck; it’s a shout-out to Max Schreck, the actor who played the Count Orlok in 1922’s Nosferatu, and this speaks to the character’s metaphorical blood-sucking.

While Christopher Nolan would steer the world of Batman into even darker territories in the 21st Century, Batman Returns is nonetheless more sinister than most manifestations of the seminal superhero. While Burton’s madcap methods of storytelling and Danny Elfman’s soaring score suggest a jaunty, adventurous experience, the film hides more terror in its subtext than most slasher flicks wear on their sleeves.

If it’s been a while, check out the trailer and synopsis for Batman Returns below. Viewed through modern lenses with an eye for horror, it’s a wellspring of intense terror and devious delights. Consider giving it a fresh watch for a subversive Christmas story like none other.

Synopsis:
The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to topple the Batman (Michael Keaton) once and for all. But when Shreck’s timid assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out and Shreck tries to kill her, she is transformed into the sexy Catwoman. She teams up with the Penguin and Shreck to destroy Batman, but sparks fly unexpectedly when she confronts the caped crusader.

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DVD and Blu-ray Releases: January 23, 2018

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After a few weeks of smaller lists, this week should be a welcome breath of fresh air, with 12 pretty solid releases.  There are mainly recent films this week, but there are a couple of classics thrown in the mix as well.

Probably our top release of the week, Jigsaw will be hitting shelves on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD.  I found myself wondering recently if they will still be making films from this franchise when my son (who is a toddler now) is able to get into R-rated movies.

Up next is The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.  If you didn’t get your fill of Christmas last year, you can check out this clip for one last holiday hoorah.

In terms of classics, Dario Argento’s Opera will be heading our way as a Blu-ray release from Scorpion Releasing.  Additionally, you can check out Robert Englund in 1992’s Dance Macabre, brought to us as part of the Scream Factory collection.  Lastly, if you’re a Linda Blair fan, 1987’s Grotesque will be available on DVD this week as well.

I also have to give a nod to Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.  I’m not going to say it’s the best zombie movie ever created, but a few years back I happened upon a used DVD copy at a cool book store/café in New Haven, CT.  I didn’t go into it expecting anything miraculous, but for a very dated living dead movie it was worth the three dollars it cost me.

Keep checking back each week.  We’re going to be seeing an uptick in the quantity of release listings over the next month at least so you won’t want to miss a thing.  Pleasant viewing.



MOVIES

Dance Macabre (1992)

Starring:

Robert Englund

Synopsis:

A dance instructor brings his dance troupe to Russia for training. What his dancers don’t know, however, is that he has a dual personality–and his hidden personality is a serial killer.

BUY IT NOW!


Devil’s Well, The (2017)

Starring:

Bryan Manley Davis, Chris Viemeister, David Alexander, Kristen Seavey, Anne-Marie Mueschke

Synopsis:

Karla Marks mysteriously vanishes while conducting a paranormal investigation with her husband into the Devil’s Well, an underground location reported to be a gateway straight into hell, and the site of ongoing strange phenomenon. A year after her disappearance, a group of investigators go back to uncover the truth about Karla, and are faced with evil forces greater than they ever imagined.

BUY IT NOW!


Grotesque (1987)

Starring:

Linda Blair, Tab Hunter, Donna Wilkes

Synopsis:

A gang of crazed punks breaks into a typical American family’s vacation home in the mountains and slaughters the entire family, except for one daughter who gets away in nothing but her pajamas. As the gang pursues the girl through the outside elements, they slowly realize that a murderous creature is chasing them all!

BUY IT NOW!


Hot Tub Party Massacre (2016)

Starring:

Chrissy Cooke

Synopsis:

The sisters of the Delta Omega sorority won a free weekend at a luxurious hotel & spa. They planned on having a fun and steamy weekend. However, things go from steamy to bloody when an escaped serial killer checks in to the hotel and crashes their party. The heat will be on at the Hot Tub Party Massacre!!!

BUY IT NOW!


Jigsaw (2017) (Blu-ray + 4K)

Starring:

Hannah Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles, Tobin Bell, Brittany Allen

Synopsis:

Bodies continue to turn up when the notorious Jigsaw killer returns for the eighth installment of one of the most successful horror franchises in history!

In the latest terrifying installment of the legendary SAW series, law enforcement finds itself chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade, embroiled in a diabolical new game that’s only just begun. Has John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw Killer, returned from the dead to commit a series of murders and remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a different killer with designs of their own?

BUY IT NOW!


Killing of a Sacred Deer, The (2017)

Starring:

Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Alicia Silverstone

Synopsis:

Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

BUY IT NOW!


Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

Starring:

Cristina Galbo, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy

Synopsis:

A young couple in love is travelling along the English countryside. While they plan their next stop, a man who has been dead for several days attacks, to be followed shortly thereafter by a full-scale zombie invasion which could very well be a result of the agriculturist’s distribution of ultrasonic radiation. In the end, a cop figures out the countless murders are not the work of the young couple, but the living dead.

BUY IT NOW!


Lost Tree, The (2017)

Starring:

Thomas Ian Nicholas, Michael Madsen, Lacey Chabert, Scott Grimes, Clare Kramer

Synopsis:

The Lost Tree is centered around Noah (Nicholas), who is guilt-ridden for the death of his wife. He travels to an isolated cabin in search of peace and isolation. But he soon learns of the dangerous surroundings of the area.

BUY IT NOW!


Opera (1987)

Starring:

Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, William McNamara, Antonella Vitale

Synopsis:

When young opera singer Betty takes over the leading role in an avant-garde presentation of Verdi’s Macbeth, she triggers the madness of a crazed fan who repeatedly forces her to watch the brutal murders of her friends. Will her recurring childhood nightmare hold the key to the identity of this psychopath, or does an even more horrific evil lay waiting in the wings? Legendary horror maestro Dario Argento delivers a savagely stunning thriller featuring some of the most shocking sequences of his entire career.

BUY IT NOW!


Planet Dead (2017)

Starring:

Charles Adames, Joe Debartolo, Raven Oscar Flores, Larry Greene, Emilie Jolie

Synopsis:

The world falls into chaos after a rogue scientist unleashes a virus that turns the living and the dead into flesh eating monsters. A Special Forces Team is sent into a growing danger zone to recover the cure from the scientist, but as they enter the hot zone they must seek refuge in a nearby nightclub with a few civilians as they wait for the rescue chopper to arrive. Armed with limited ammo they must battle the ever growing number of once human monsters. Mankind will pay for the nastiness of it’s inhabitance.

BUY IT NOW!


Punk Fu Zombie (2017)

Starring:

Stephane Messier, Xavier Dumontier, Tommy Gaudet, Caroline Danserau-Loiselle, Jonathan Simon

Synopsis:

In 2028 a zombie invasion, coupled with a thermonuclear war, plunges the world into a new darkness. Now, in 2048, the so called leader of the original movement has a new nemesis: his son Zack. Trained in kung-fu since his childhood by his robot friend, nothing could prepare the young Zack for the political adventure waiting for him, filled with trials, love, politics and ultra-violence.

BUY IT NOW!


Red Krokodil (2012) (Director’s Cut)

Starring:

Brock Madson, Valerio Cassa, Viktor Karam

Synopsis:

Red Krokodil is the story of a man (Brock Madon) addicted to mind numbing drug, Krokodil. He suddenly finds himself alone in a post-nuclear city similar to Chernobyl. His physical decay, caused by the massive intake of drugs, is mirrored in his inner world, as reality mixes with hallucinations. The breakup of the body that this drug causes, is sever in it’s graphic and yet, slow destruction while he is slowly falling into madness as his addictions to the drug, runs out of control. This movie deals with many themes, from the environment to the use of drugs, but the story is just an excuse that director Domiziano Cristopharo uses to focus on a psychological condition that brings a total detachment from oneself and from the surrounding world. A dark trip that shows no way out.

BUY IT NOW!

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Rapid Eye Movement Trailer Forces You To Stay Awake

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I would really love to go on vacation to New York City, so I’m damn jealous of the cast and crew of the upcoming movie Rapid Eye Movement, which was filmed almost exclusively in Times Square. In the film, a radio DJ is forced to stay awake for over eleven days after being threatened by a deranged caller, which begins to have serious effects on both his physical and mental well-being.

Rapid Eye Movement is directed by Peter Bishai and stars Francois Arnaud, Reiko Aylesworth, Chloe Brooks, Godfrey, Jamie Jackson, David Rhodes, Stelio Savante and Danny Ramirez. We don’t yet know of a release date, although we are happy to share the trailer along with two stills below.

Rapid Eye Movement Official Synopsis
In the heart of Times Square, radio DJ Rick Weider is driven to the edge of insanity as he tries to break the 11-day world record for staying awake. The stakes rise considerably when a deranged caller, who wants Rick to raise $5 million for charity, threatens to kill him unless he succeeds. With his life on the line, Rick unravels physically, emotionally and mentally, forced to confront his own demons while trying to outplay his seemingly powerful and unbeatable enemy.

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Horror is Strongly Represented at This Year’s Oscars!

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The nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards have been released and both The Shape of Water and Get Out have received some serious nods in major categories!

Jordan Peele’s socially conscious horror/thriller got noms for Best Director, Lead Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Original Screenplay, and Best Picture! For a directorial debut AND a horror movie, it’s amazing to see this film get some richly deserved love. Peele even tweeted, “I just spoke to Daniel. You know when you’re on the phone trying to disguise the sound of an ugly cry? I failed at that.

Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro’s delightful fantasy creature feature The Shape of Water racked in this impressive list: Best Picture, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing (Sidney Wolinsky), Sound Editing (Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira), Sound Mixing (Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern), Production Design (Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau), Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), and Costume Design (Luis Sequeira). WHEW!

Having seen The Shape of Water just recently, I can assure you that it deserves every one of those accolades. It’s a gorgeous movie that kept a smile on my face through pretty much every single moment.

Other nominations that are equally important for us are the Visual Effects nods to both War for the Planet of the Apes and Kong: Skull Island and the Day of the Dead-themed Coco getting attention for Best Original Song and Animated Feature.

Congratulations to all nominees and we can’t wait to see what happens this March!

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