Hey, you know a great way to start the Halloween season? With a review of a horror movie. You know an even better way? A review of a horror movie you watched while sitting next to a real life psychopath. Come on in and I’ll tell you how I almost got Mark murdered for Halloween.
It would be difficult to tell this story without explaining my current state of financial affairs. I was laid off at the beginning of August, so I have been out of work for about two and a half months. Since the economy is shit right now, few companies are hiring, so I’ve been living off of savings and a tiny severance package that is now long gone. So I’m on what I refer to as “financial lockdown.” No extraneous expenditures. Mark has been my friend for a very long time, and has seen me in the midst of prior lean times, and as he will tell you, when I go on financial lockdown I really mean it. I announce it openly so that people know not to bother asking me to do anything that costs money.
When I have ample cash I will spend it in often ridiculous ways without much thought, a flaw for which I am often rightly criticized. But when I decide not to spend, I’m serious. And movies are just about the biggest waste of cash I can think of. Any movie is a gamble that you’re even going to enjoy yourself, and even if you do, you have nothing to show for it afterward, and have spent money on gas getting there and the ticket getting in. In times of need a movie ticket is a thoroughly bad investment. Survey says: NO DEAL.
So if Mark calls me up and asks me to go to a movie, he is telling me that he’s willing to pay. I’ve got to hand it to my friends: when I’m in need they really step up. I owe the other Sci-Fi Guys so many slices of pizza and white cardboard cartons of Chinese food that I couldn’t begin to count it all. But Mark and Jon take the cake. If they’re hungry and I’m at their house, there’s a huge plate of food for me, too. If they’re going out to eat, I’m invited without a second thought. So when Mark called me up and asked me to go see Quarantine, I mentally added another notch onto the already lengthy “I owe you one” tally, and accepted.
STIMULUS – Mark is paying for yet another outing that I cannot afford.
GUILT LEVEL 1
Another somewhat less than spectacular part of my life right now is my bathroom. It’s had to undergo an unexpected and unavoidable renovation, and when Mark called I was in the middle of the last phase of the non-cosmetic construction. Pa Sci-Fi and I have ripped out the toilet, upgraded the plumbing, replaced a section of the floor which was quickly rotting away, and installed electrical outlets so that I don’t keep having to charge my beard trimmer in the kitchen.
What this week has felt like.
You may be thinking that during a period of unemployment is not the ideal time to discover that one’s toilet was installed by a substandard Cro-Magnon plumber and is slowly making its way through the floor on its inevitable path to crashing into the basement, and you would be correct. But I wasn’t left with a lot of choice. I knew we were finishing up, though, so I told Mark it would be no problem meeting him for the cheaper afternoon showing. Unfortunately projects of these kind often take a LOT longer than I think they will, so half an hour before showtime I had to tell Mark that I was going to be late, eliminating the possibility of catching a matinée.
STIMULUS – I run very late, forcing Mark to either miss the movie or pay more for it.
GUILT LEVEL 2
So after a LONG time, I make it to Mark’s place, where he and Jon decide that Mexican food is in order. Out we go.
STIMULUS – More delicious free burritos.
GUILT LEVEL 3
And then to the movie…
STIMULUS – Mark pays for my full price movie ticket.
GUILT LEVEL 4:
Mark and I made our way into a fairly crowded theatre where Mark spotted some seats on the end of the aisle. He grabbed them, putting me on the end seat. Not only do I hate looking at a movie screen off center, but I recently got glasses and I’ve been dying to see a movie with them now that I don’t have to squint to make out fine detail. You read that right: I’m an out of work sci-fi geek, my bathroom is torn up, I’m fat and broke, and now I’ve got glasses. Please, ladies, one at a time.
Since I got these glasses I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen shit that’ll turn you white. But I hadn’t seen a movie. I really wanted to test these glasses out on the big screen, so Mark and I moved one row up and into the center of the cinema. Great seats… or so I thought. Halfway through the trailer for Saw V, I see Mark staring at me out of the corner of my eye. I turn and am greeted with the single most disturbing rictus of terror I’ve ever seen on the face of someone who wasn’t a victim of Smilex. He was looking at me as if I had turned into Pennywise and had tarantulas crawling out of my mouth. His head started trembling from side to side, and bit by bit I came to realize that he was doing a muted, terrified version of the “look in that direction” head bob to indicate, judging by the expression on his face, something so horrific it would give Cthulhu nightmares. Little did I know he was pointing out a psycho killer.
The guy behind him was a dumpy and greasy. Stained white t-shirt, vacant stare, and a perfectly round belly that, on a woman, would have had you wondering how far along she was. He looked like a loser, but I couldn’t see the big deal. Why was this unfortunate creature being pointed out to me? I was about to ask Mark what the hell his problem was when I heard it. It was quiet, subtle, but it was there.
“Huh! Charmer charmer. Rigatoni headroom!”
Dude was talking to himself. Impressively so. The finest computer algorithm couldn’t have more randomly select bits of the English language, nor presented them so confidently to my unsuspecting ear. I did a quick check for a Bluetooth or similar headpiece. Nothing. He was having a conversation that only he could hear. I’ve known Mark for nearly twenty years, and he has never been one to cause a scene. There are only two things one can do in a circumstance like this: run screaming, or laugh nervously to yourself as you wait to be murdered. Mark, in his ever present discretion, chose the latter. I looked back at him and he broke out in gales of nearly inaudible laughter, either from the situation or from the look of astonishment on my face, or both. Throughout the remaining trailers this continued. I couldn’t make out many of the words, but I heard the guy back there talking, and Mark’s occasional whimper of fear and laughter. I took one last glance before the house lights went down to verify there were no ear buds, no phones. Nothing. This guy was legitimately crazy.
SPOILER ALERT: This is Mrs. Espinoza.
When the lights went out he stopped. I thought maybe he was going to reign it in. But just before the lovely face of Jennifer Carpenter, fellow Kentuckian and the star of Quarantine, appeared before us, Slingblade decided to break the silent darkness with a new proclamation:
“Yeah yeah! Hmm. Ho ho.”
Jesus. This dude was off his rocker. Mark laughed again, almost silently, and I listened as that laugh dwindled, drawing itself into a monotone plaintive whine, then to a pleading, barely vocalized “Oh my god…” I didn’t know if he was talking to himself or to me. Or maybe to whatever merciful deity might have been listening. He may have actually been praying for all I know. People do odd things when they sense the end is near.
I knew absolutely nothing about this film going into it. I had only seen the trailer twice, on TV, and neither time did I see the complete commercial. I think that really helped my appreciation of the movie. I also think that having an A-1 nutjob lurking about in the theatre set a good tone and established tension, seeing how I was not only trying to enjoy the film, but was also constantly on the lookout for a maniac with a butcher’s knife trying to kill me in the dark. Since I’m shit at remembering names even when I’m not keeping an ear open for the crazy mumblings of Jack The Ripper behind me, I’m just going to make up names for the characters.
The movie started out with Jennifer’s character Hottie McTanktop and her cameraman, Steady Cam, a two person TV crew filming at an LA firehouse to see what firefighters’ work is really like. Steady Cam is going to perform some very unrealistically well balanced handheld camerawork as the movie progresses, but since more realistic camera shaking resulted in some of the nigh unwatchable scenes we were treated to in Cloverfield, I welcomed the break from accuracy. Steady Cam was also a constant voice of reason, unlike the moronic douchebag camera monkey in Cloverfield, who I could not see die soon enough. Steady Cam, you can be my wingman any time.
There’s something to be said for the kinetics of sexiness. I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of Jennifer Carpenter while preparing this review, and none of them comes close to capturing her true physical appeal. She looked fantastic in this movie, but some of the online screengrabs are downright unattractive. Don’t judge her by these stills. I think she’s someone you have to see in motion in order to fully perceive her beauty. Several times during this movie I was overtaken by desire to kiss her. Maybe this was just my everyday lasciviousness at work. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was certain I was going to die right there in the theatre and never again know the gentle caress of a woman. Either way, this girl is easy on the eyes.
We soon meet the people our heroes will be with all night; a hunky, young nice guy we will call Slater and his partner Pornstache. The movie goes through the usual bullshit of establishing that Hottie and Slater are attracted to each other and that Pornstache is a dickhead. Yada yada. Eventually they get a call, and the whole cast speeds off to an apartment building on a medical emergency. Ah, the plot begins.
SPOILER ALERT: No one cried when this douchebag died.
Suddenly, from my right, I hear hissing, sharp speech. “Hey!” It was Mark whispering at me. Whispering urgently. I leaned over and Mark said the words I’d been subconsciously dreading but somehow expecting.
“He keeps saying ‘Hannibal Lecter.'”
Of course. Norman Bates amped up the crazy, and was mumbling the name of the world’s most famous cannibal. This is it. This is how I die. Well, I wasn’t about to make it easy on him. From this point on it was clear that vigilance was in order, so I checked over my shoulder every few minutes. Meanwhile, in the world of Quarantine, Hottie and the firemen arrived at the apartment building to find Black Cop on the scene. Black Cop was a black cop played by a black actor who was paid to act stereotypically black. It was annoying, and more than a little racist. I was glad when he was finally killed. While Black Cop blackly ordered people around the apartment building without any clear plan, I checked on the loon behind us. He was murmuring, but calm. He seemed relatively harmless. But I knew that could all change in an instant. This guy was gonna snap, and the headlines would read ‘MAN SLAYS FIFTEEN IN THEATER SHOOTING.’
“White people be crazy, ya heard?”
Onscreen things were getting tense as well. The medical emergency was Mrs. Espinoza, an elderly woman on the second floor who had freaked her neighbors out by moaning and screaming until they called for help. Black Cop lead the group upstairs where they finally get a look at her. VERY effective acting and makeup. You don’t see foaming at the mouth often enough. It’s a good symptom of something gone horribly wrong and is woefully underused these days. Was she a zombie? She didn’t follow normal zombie protocol. She didn’t try to walk up to anyone and eat them. She was crying and hysterical. And foaming. But she was covered with blood and giving out intermittent zombie moans. It was a well done effect, one of the more disturbing monsters I’ve seen on screen in a long time, mainly because she still looked so human and scared.
A few minutes after Mrs. Espinoza tries to attack the gang and is wrestled to the ground by Pornstache, everyone heads downstairs to try to calm the rest of the tenants down, only to find that the doors are locked from the outside and the CDC and the cops have sealed the place. Then, and this made me jump, Pornstache lands face down on the tile where he was presumably thrown from the second floor by Mrs. Espinoza. The sound of him landing and cracking his skull on the tile was amazing. That was probably the most gruesome impact I’ve ever seen a human body make on film. It was like hitting a wet ham with a spatula while snapping a chicken bone. It sounded disgusting and chillingly accurate at the same time. Kudos to the Foley artists on that one.
This still was taken from the film before the digital effects were added. In the finished movie Pornstache’s head is in the center of a rapidly expanding pool of blood.
More weird shit went on after that and the people finally realized there was some sort of biological threat in the building. One of the tenants is a veterinarian – CONVENIENT – who puts the pieces together and realizes what they are dealing with is some sort of altered, fast acting strain of rabies that is turning people into quasi-undead killing machines. I’m glossing over a great deal, so if all of this sounds forced or rushed, it’s my fault entirely. The movie was actually quite good. I was just preoccupied with the manslaughterer behind us, who had been more and more active. His mumbles were getting louder but not more intelligible, until, without warning or apparent cause, he offered up this gem:
“Dave? Ha! Dave doesn’t live here. Dave’s in West Virginia.”
With the exception of Mrs. Espinoza, I don’t remember the names of any of the characters in the movie. But I know goddamned well there was no one named Dave. Nutbag was getting worse. His ramblings were getting louder, more lucid, more aggressive. As were his apocalyptic visions and psychopathic urges to kill, I wagered. I looked at Mark, who was hunched over in his seat to one side, as if to avoid a blow to the back of the head. A wise precaution.
Suddenly there was a rustling, and I realized that the guy was rummaging around in a plastic bag and, based on his body language, he was pulling out something heavy. Quite possibly something dangerous. I looked at Mark, back at the guy, and reviewed the ridiculousness of this situation. And as I thought about the fact that Mark was almost certainly about to be murdered, a stomach churning revelation took hold of me.
This was all my fault.
Had I just told Mark I didn’t want him to pay for my ticket he would have never come there. Mark doesn’t see movies alone. If I had not been late with the bathroom repairs we would have seen a different showing and Mark would never have been in the same theatre as this guy. If I had not wanted to check out my new glasses in a better seat, Mark would never have been seated in front of this maniac. Every step of the way I had unwittingly brought my friend closer and closer to the instrument of his destruction. He was going to die, and his blood would be on my hands. I would have to be the one to tell his parents and brothers and Jon what happened, and I would have to see the looks of anguish on their faces. And I would be to blame for all of it.
STIMULUS – I have placed Mark, who has watched out for me in my time of need, directly into the path of a crazed killer, and I am about to watch as he is slaughtered.
GUILT LEVEL 5
=WARNING: GUILT THRESHOLD REACHED! IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED!=
Some wacko is going to off my friend? Fuck that. Not on my watch. The thing about being a guy is that our scale of what you do for a friend is balanced differently than the one women use. Women are, generally speaking, smarter than us. They make realistic plans comprised of realistic steps, which lead to consistently realistic results. A woman would have just told her friend to move. Because they think for success. Not us males. No, ma’am, we work on a different system entirely, thank you very much. We are creatures of action. Big, stupid, unnecessarily dangerous cartoon action. Mark has fed me and paid for entertainment numerous times since I was laid off, and is sitting in the hot seat because of me, and now some lunatic is pulling something out of a bag to kill him with. Nope. That’s my hit to take.
I turned and made a quick scan to get the lay of the land, as if I actually knew how to do that. The way the theatre seats were staggered from row to row, the guy was sitting behind, above and slightly to Mark’s right, which was not in my favor. I assumed. He was too far away for me to intercept a blow if he was fast. However, if he was as slow as he looked, I had a chance. You know, because of my incredible martial prowess.
Pictured: Me, in my own head. Only I’m not just Batman. I’m all of them.
Mark and I are both large men who appreciate our elbow room, so there was an empty seat between us. I could use that to my advantage, I told myself with wholly unearned confidence. I’m not trying to sound like I think I’m a badass or anything, but I’m more agile and quicker on my feet than you would expect from a guy my size, and I can get moving quickly when I need to. At least I am convinced that is the case, having never tested the theory. If I could swing up out of my chair and get a foot up on that empty seat for leverage, I could boost myself over Mark, like the lithe savannah gazelle I am. If the guy brought a knife down I could get my left arm between the blade and Mark, which would buy me some time. And, yes, in that moment, I didn’t just believe I could do all this; it was happening.
My plan was to use my right hand to grab the guy and throw him over the seats in front of us… because apparently in my mind I’m a fucking judo grandmaster who can just toss enemies through the air with one arm. If he pulled a gun, I could hopefully get ahold of the gun hand’s wrist in time to raise the gun so that Mark, and all the other movie patrons, would be out of his line of fire. I was a goddamned action hero. There was nothing I couldn’t handle.
Me. Me all day.
Counting on this guy to be batshit crazy and caveman strong, I figured the best bet would be to use my right hand to gain control of the gun instead of trying to grapple with him. It wasn’t a perfect plan, my finely honed combat analysis told me, but my opponent had the high ground in the dark and I’m not a trained combatant. It was the best I could come up with on short notice. Probably.
I twisted in my chair to face the guy, putting my feet under my seat as best I could to correct for my center of gravity and allow me to spring to action as quickly as possible. God damn, this was going to be impressive. I got a good grip on the right arm rest to help swing myself up and around. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. All my years of no training whatsoever had led to this one moment. It was now or never. If he saw me he gave no indication. He was intent on his task of unbagging whatever it was he was planning to kill Mark with. And then, as I spun myself out of my seat like a cobra leaning into its strike, he pulled it. The would be murder weapon.
A two-liter bottle of orange soda. Yeah.
I am entirely aware that at this point I looked just as crazy as that guy sounded. I was coiled around in the darkness staring down a total stranger who’s biggest crime was that he liked sugary soft drinks. He was reaching for a beverage, and for that I had been plotting all the ways I was going to take him down. Now who was crazy? Still, I wasn’t the one answering an invisible phone and taking nonexistent messages for Dave in West Virginia, so I’ll make the judgments, if you don’t mind. Dude was nuts. I’m not going to apologize for being on my guard around the mentally unstable. I don’t want to end up a lampshade in some creepy apartment.
The rest of the movie went really well. I’ve read that Quarantine is based on a Spanish movie called [REC] and that there are a lot of complaints about the remake, but I don’t know if either of those things is actually true. I liked it, and the entire theatre seemed to agree with me. Lots of verbal reactions in this audience, which always works well in a horror flick. Hearing the people around you being disgusted and terrified in real life always enhances the group experience of watching people being disgusted and terrified on film. There was a cute brunette to my left, another selfish reason I chose the seat that I did, and she was curled up in her seat half sobbing near the end of the movie. She was terrified. I’m fairly certain I could have emptied her bowels had I grabbed her arm and screamed at her. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted. I almost did it. But I had other things to do.
Even though I was fairly certain he wasn’t going to kill Mark with orange soda, I was still keeping my eye on Crazy McBasketcase. Near the end of the movie he traded in crazy rambling for crazy chewing. I looked back to confirm my suspicion: he wasn’t chewing anything. He was just chewing. There was no food in his hands, and there didn’t appear to be anything in his mouth, either. Maybe he was chewing orange soda. Who knows? He was just moving his jaw up and down in the dark, doubtless savoring the illusory taste of human flesh in his whacked out mind.
After the movie was over and the lights came back on Mark and I did what you would naturally do when you suspect someone is a dangerous psychopath – we followed him around and listened to him crazy talk all over the place. We followed him out of the theatre. We followed him in the parking lot. And then we followed him once we were in the car. With him on foot and us in a vehicle, we finally had the advantage. We followed him as he walked very near a group of teenage girls hanging around outside a nearby mall, and I was certain we were going to see him try to eat one of them. Instead he somehow walked into the mall, which had been closed for half an hour, and never walked back out.
I don’t have any answers, and I offer no theories as to where he went or what happened to him. But he’s out there right now, walking around, talking to himself or to whichever voice in his head is trying to get in touch with Dave in West Virginia. I’ll bet he kills someone by Halloween. I just hope its not me.
Quarantine would warrant 7 out of 10 normally, but I’m giving it an 8 out of 10 since it was an extra good Halloween flick. Bump that up to a 9 out of 10 if you watch it with a real live crazy person. That shit is hard to beat.