A regular feature (we hope) by guest fans of H P Lovecraft. Some of these guests will be authors, editors, reviewers, publishers or just plain fans. All will be welcome to promote any projects that they are involved with, Lovecraftian or not.
This week I am delighted to publish an essay by Brian M Sammons: editor, author and reviewer.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) – movie review
By Brian M. Sammons
Director: Adam Robitel
Writers: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan
Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang
Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of direct connections to H.P. Lovecraft in this movie. Sure, some people see HPL’s influence everywhere, and for good reason: the man casts a long, dark, lantern-jawed shadow. Now there is a bit here that can be tied to HPL with just a little effort and knowledge of some of his lesser-known tales, but I’m not going to spoil that for you. I’m going to let you discover it for yourself, or not. It’s a subtle connect, to be sure, but don’t worry, even if it flies right over your heard, there is more than enough good about this movie to warrant you watching it.
What really makes this movie stand out from the typical horror fare is the wonderful weird vibe that it has. That is weird as in weird fiction. It is not as cosmic as some other stories that would be right at home in the venerable Weird Tales magazine. This film is grounded in more terrestrial history and folklore, but still at its heart it remains undeniably, wonderfully weird. Combine that with a plot that plays with expectations, the clever use of a format that is often uninspired, amazing acting by all involved, solid direction, and an ending that is just, in a word: wow, and you’ve got a hell of a movie that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. Yet so many people have still never heard of it, let alone seen it. Well I am here to help fix that egregious error and hopefully turn some new people on to this underrated gem of a weird horror film. This is my nickel tour of The Taking of Deborah Logan.
The plot of this film involves a small group of college students looking to document a woman’s sad, slow decline into the horror of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a found footage film, and this setup gives us a believable reason for the way-too-overused format. Furthermore, its pseudo-documentary style adds a palatable creepiness to the narrative, as opposed to the quick and cheap feel so many other shaky cam flicks have.
Back to the story. Pretty soon the elderly woman, the titular Deborah, is no longer thought to have the dreaded disease, but suffering from something even worse when she starts showing the classic signs of demonic possession. I mean, everyone has seen The Exorcist and the countless knock-offs that followed it, so we all know what to look for, right? Well before you write this movie off as yet another possessed by Satan flick, know there is a lot more to this film than that, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
First there is a good mystery to be solved here, as it quickly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem, even if what it looks like is as strange and otherworldly as spiritual possession. The truth is much weirder, and horrific, than that. The backstory to what’s going on is expertly laid out during the course of the film, piece by piece. There is never any great exposition dump here. Instead you are given clues to the mystery as the story unfolds, and only at the end does everything fall into place and make sense. This is good story telling, folks, this is how it should be done. Sadly, few other movies take the time to do it so well.
Then there are the actors, each and every one does an excellent job here, and the characters they are portraying are expertly written and realized. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, but for me, the one that takes the top honors is Anne Ramsay as Deborah’s long suffering daughter, Sarah, and mostly
because of the subtle way her sexuality is handled in this film. While it is never outright said, it is pretty clear that she is a lesbian, but unlike the vast majority of movies, that is not her sole, defining characteristic. In many films if a character is gay, then they are GAY! They are gay first and foremost above all other traits, because most films think subtlety is a dirty word. Here, Sarah Logan is a real person with worries, fears, and flaws that, oh yeah, just so happens to be a lesbian. While this is a little thing overall, and not integral to the plot, it’s just one example of how this movie takes care to do everything right. Here a supporting character is better written and fleshed out than the majority of main characters in so many other movies, be they horror films or not.
Then there is Jill Larson who plays the afflicted Deborah Logan, and she absolutely kills it here. She has the Herculean task of realistically portraying someone slipping into Alzheimer’s and not just play up the stereotypes of what people think of when they hear that insidious disease’s name. Then she has to take that performance and tweak it just subtly enough so that the audience begins to wonder if is she is suffering from dementia, or something even worse. And even then this actor’s job is still not done, because she has to portray the clichés of being possessed by the devil, and yet still add something more, something just off enough so even that starts being questioned. That is a tall order for an actor, and Jill Larson not only rises to the challenge, but overcomes it in grand style.
The Taking of Deborah Logan is a damn good movie, able to stand shoulder to shoulder with any film regardless of label. I wish more horror films were made this well, then maybe my favorite genre wouldn’t still be seen as a cinematic ghetto by many. The story has a wonderfully measured pace, a great mystery with occult overtones (shades of Angel Heart came to me when I watched this movie, and that’s a very good thing in my book), and believable characters you will actually care about. Yeah, that’s something else many modern films (especially horror movies) seem to forget, but that’s a rant for another day. It grabbed my attention from the start and didn’t let go until the very end, which actually had a scene in it that me say out loud; “What the hell?” A bigger compliment than that I could not give this movie. If you have yet to see The Taking of Deborah Logan, do so at once.
Currently I have two anthologies from two different publishers going on at Kickstarter. The first one is from Golden Goblin Press and is for the book: Between Twilight and Dawn. The book collects eleven horror and weird fiction short stories totaling just over sixty thousand words. The theme of the collection is as its title says: all the stories begin at sunset and resolve by sunrise. Darkness and the horrors that hide within are what these tales are all about. These stories take place in a wide variety of locations and historical periods and deal with the Cthulhu Mythos, folklore, urban legends, and more.
Then from Dark Regions Press there is The Arkham Detective Agency, a Lovecraftian-noir tribute to the late, great C. J. Henderson. C.J. was a hell of a writer, a good friend, and he did tough P.I. vs. the Cthulhu Mythos stories like no one else. He left us way too soon, but his literary legacy remains, to be enjoyed by countless readers, and to inspire authors to follow in his footsteps. Here you will find four C.J. classics about the Arkham Detective Agency, and 15 all new tales, set in that noir-tinged Cthulhu Mythos world by some of the best writers around.