Monday, July 6, 2020

A Dream Is a Wish Your Serial Killer Cell Neighbor Makes

For those who prefer horror discussed orally, my podcast occasionally dives into the genre and recently, my cohostess and I decided to subject ourselves to the full catalog of Masters of Horror. If you can take yourself back to the simpler times of 2005, Season 1 gathered some of the true legends of the genre: John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Takashi Miike, William Malone--

Wait! You might have said, especially if your name is Emily. William Malone of FeardotCom? William Malone of The House On Haunted Hill? THAT a master makes?

I approached his episode, The Fair-Haired Child, with a fair amount of apathy. Watching a run of truly terrible episodes -- series creator Mick Garris's Chocolate and the incredibly problematic John Landis's Deer Woman -- my hopes were low. Imagine my extreme shock at discovering this odd little Monkey's Paw adaptation was easily one of the show's very best.

This sparked a new interest in Malone's filmography, and what better way to dive in than with the project he cared so much about that he financed the whole thing himself?

Quick Plot: A well-dressed Sean Young about to enjoy a rooftop meal receives a call, listens for a few seconds, and calmly walks herself off the ledge.


Somewhere else, we meet Danny, a freshly dumped Pacer-driving art student and record store clerk. While visiting his friend in a terribly nonsecure rehab facility, Danny wanders to the psych wing where he finds a few wards of interest: Byron Volpe, a mysterious murderer whose eyes and voice have the ability to hypnotize others to do his bidding (like wife Sean Young) and Laura Baxter, a beautiful young woman suffering from a rare condition where she can only be awake for a few minutes. 

Danny is an easy mark for the charms of a sleeping beauty. When he discovers her impending transfer to a research laboratory known for its poor patient treatment, Danny springs into action, sneaking a mostly comatose Laura out to his lonely apartment.

Spending most of your life in a hospital bed doesn't do much for your social skills, and Laura proves to be quite a handful...especially when the instructions of her former cell neighbor Volpe kick in, causing her to stab a few neighbors and policemen who come too close.

Danny is soon on the run, a situation that gets even more tense when Volpe escapes. Laura, you see, had been something of a project for the powerful serial killer. Volpe could take over her dreams, turning her world into a Hellraiser 2-ish landscape of broken mirrors and Fair-Haired Child-ish goblins. Now with his chance to be with her in the real world, Volpe orchestrates a high stakes finale that involves automatons, angel wings, Jeffrey Combs playing Russian roulette, and a baby Allison Brie on the cello!

Parasomnia was a passion project for Malone, who put up his own money for financing only to have the finished project sit on a shelf for a few years. It's a shame because you know what? It's good!

There's a strong Paperhouse element to the story and details, with Malone's signature visual style making the film not quite look like what you were seeing in 2008. Much like House On Haunted Hill, Parasomnia is filled with gray clouds and almost campy color choices. Malone designed and helped build some of the film's more creative visual elements, including some steampunkish figures and a twig-haired ghost creature that haunts Laura's dreamscape. 

I enjoyed the look of Parasomnia, but more excitingly, I enjoyed the story. I had concerns about Laura's agency, but the film manages to address it in a very satisfying way. Patrick Kilpatrick makes a menacing, almost Shocker-ish villain as Volpe that feels both familiar and fresh. It manages to be ambitious in some of its ideas and visuals, but small enough to understand how to make its limited budget work. 

High Points
There's something wonderfully sweet about Parasomnia's ending. In an era where torture porn and found footage was giving us mostly cruel sendoffs, Malone's sense of empathy is refreshing, both in the fate of his main characters and how their own friends come to support them

Low Points
For as hard as the film works to make it work, there's still something inherently icky about a dude falling in love with a beautiful woman who hasn't been able to say three words to him without falling back asleep

Lessons Learned
Pretty things always have a tragic end

When introducing someone to solid foods, remember that an ice cream cone requires far more motor skills than you probably want to challenge at first bite

It's hard to have a successful musical career if you don't fly (and sometimes harder if you do, when you consider the number of musicians who died in plane crashes...)

Parasomnia showed up on Shudder just as I said to myself, "I should try more William Malone content." The timing was perfect and I'd definitely recommend you take advantage. While there are certainly elements here from other films, Parasomnia has a lot of surprises, and most importantly, is made with true care.

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