Friday, November 04, 2016

Dreams of Dark Shadows

As a child, I grew up fascinated by the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. It came on in the late afternoon, so I was often able to catch it now and then after school. Nothing could be more perfect than a daily show that featured vampires, werewolves, ghouls, ghosts, and the like for a kid who was obsessed with horror movies and monsters.

King of the Dark Shadows collection of monsters was none other than Barnabas Collins. If his vampire character was on the screen, nothing else mattered. Played with amazing reserve, Barnabas is the most understated, likeable, and down-right scary vampire I had to pleasure to hide behind furniture from. Jonathan Frid played the character of Barnabas for years and became a hero to us Monsterkids who grew up during that time.

Now, I have been aware of today's movie, Seizure, for a few decades because of Jonathan Frid's starring role as its focal character. When I was much younger, I thought, "Why is Barnabas playing someone who isn't Barnabas?" I understood that Frid was just an actor, but he had painted such a bold image for his vampire character that I just could not fathom him playing another role. Seeing pictures from Seizure in my monster magazines just left me confused.

Add to this mix the knowledge that the director of Seizure was Oliver Stone. This fact made little impact on me until I stumbled out of the theater after seeing Platoon and was horrified and stunned by what I had just witnessed. I suddenly (though this was many, many years ago) wanted to watch EVERYTHING Oliver Stone made.

Here we are in 2016, and I finally got around to watching Stone's first feature film release. I can definitely say that he has GREATLY improved since making Seizure, but the film does merit some consideration. Let's take a look, shall we?

Jonathan Frid plays a writer, Edmund Blackstone, who is working on a children's story that deals with three characters who have been haunting his nightmares for a number of days. He and his wife invite a number of family friends up for a fun weekend to help lift the writer's spirit. However, the three figments of his imagination manifest themselves in our world and proceed to play lethal games with the hosts and their guests. But are the three really creations of the writer's imagination, or are they three dangerous escapees from a mental facility? 

Seizure is a fairly disjointed affair with a lot of focus on characters other than Jonathan Frid's. This wouldn't be a problem if the film didn't seem to attempt to be an exploration of death and how we approach it. Ideally, there would be a more even distribution of focus for each character so they could represent how death is viewed, be it viewed in fear, acceptance, indifference, or lovingly embraced.

Yet we are constantly being pulled back to Frid's character and his weak heart and his on-going nightmares that are all the same; none of which has anything to do with Charlie Hughes and his lust for money, of which we are given at least 2 drawn-out sequences as evidence.

Yet, in spite of the few hiccups the film experiences, the film has a definite dream-like quality with scenes that almost seem to randomly happen but ultimately pull together until the audience has no one and nothing left to contemplate except Edmund, his absolute fear of death, and how far he is willing to go to avoid his fear, no matter who suffers as a result.

I find Seizure to be a stronger film than Stone's next feature, The Hand, but The Hand is far more fun. In Seizure, you see a filmmaker who is attempting to balance the fantastic with common fears of death and strangers. He works at bending the Last House on the Left home invasion concept into something with enough weight and power as to comment on Mankind and Emotions and those other lofty ideals. Oliver Stone succeeds when he isn't distracted by supporting characters who are strong enough to carry their own film.

Now I can pop in The Hand and revel in Michael Caine's gradual, and then sudden, descent into over-acting greatness.

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