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The Family That Slays Together: Ten Domestic Slashers

The Family That Slays Together: Ten Domestic Slashers (photo)

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If you feel like you’ve seen this week’s new slasher flick “The Stepfather” before, you probably have, even if you’re not a fan of the 1987 original starring “Lost”‘s Terry O’Quinn. That’s because the family-bands-together-to-fend-off-the-one-member-who-turns-on-the-rest trope is at the heart of dozens of horror movies.

Need proof? Here’s a list of ten different types of immediate and extended family members and a notable cinematic example of each going medieval on their loved ones.

Killer Mom

I’d wager that everybody has said “My parents are crazy!” at least once in their lives. But the filicidal mother in 2008’s “Baby Blues” is so far gone into Crazytown that she’ll make you want to call your own mom to apologize for ever implying she was nuts. Colleen Porch plays the killer in question, an exhausted mother of four with a truck-driving husband, who snaps one day and begins picking off her own children slasher movie-style; at one point, she even chases her offspring into a corn field, then tries to run them down in a thresher.

Things aren’t all that terrible for Mom when she snaps — sure, the baby cries and her kids play too rough sometimes, but she’s got a supportive, if busy, husband, and a helpful older son Jimmy (Ridge Canipe) — which makes her psychotic break all the more creepy. Ultimately, “Baby Blues” is upsetting not because you’re terribly concerned for the characters, but because you’re legitimately worried about the psyches of the young child actors who had to act out scenes in which they get savagely murdered by a woman pretending to be their mother. To let your child take part in a film involving scenarios that disturbing is its own sort of crazy parenting.

10152009_TheShining.jpgKiller Dad

“Dad? You would never hurt Mommy and me, would you?” Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) asks his father Jack (Jack Nicholson) in “The Shining.” Chillingly non-committal, Jack’s response is to ask back “What do you mean?” Already insane, Jack’s been driven mad by a toxic mix of writer’s block, cabin fever, alcoholism and ghostly possession by the spirits of The Overlook Hotel. Shortly after that ominous conversation with Danny, Jack wakes from a nightmare — the worst he’s ever had, as he describes it to his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) — in which he kills his family by cutting them up into little pieces. Soon, the ethereal guests of the Overlook urge him to make his dream a reality, and Jack, armed with an ax and a mean Ed McMahon impression, tries his darndest to please them.

Director Stanley Kubrick famously forced Nicholson, Duvall and the rest of the cast to perform scenes upwards of 50 times, a grueling technique designed to achieve a more accurate on-screen representation of madness by slowly driving the actors themselves crazy. It sounds borderline criminal, but it worked; many of Nicholson’s most famous moments, including the classic “Here’s Johnny!” announcement, were improvised after dozens of prior takes. Though widely regarded by critics and horror fans as a classic of the genre, original author Stephen King has never cared much for Kubrick’s movie. Maybe it’s because King’s book argues that a father ultimately wouldn’t be able to kill his child, while Kubrick’s version suggests that, under the right amount of pressure, anyone could kill anyone.

10152009_ToDieFor.jpgKiller Spouse (Non-Children Division)

The first year of marriage can be a trial when your fame-obsessed, porcelain-skinned wife is an unholy combination of Barbara Walters and Charlie Manson. Ask Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon) from “To Die For,” who received a bullet in the head for tying the knot. This lively dark comedy from Gus Van Sant displays Nicole Kidman at full wattage, playing the hollowed-out Suzanne Stone with the bobbing head and scrunched nose of a demented chipmunk.

Suzanne’s only wish and conscious thought is to appear on television, and she’s cobbled together an exterior of plasticine charisma to cover her lack of an identifiable self. Kidman deftly navigates this soulless wonder, adapting her personality to her surroundings, able to switch with the flick of an eyelid. She’s variously a sinuous vixen, a doting domestic wife, a pushy careerist and cold-hearted manipulator, whatever it takes to convince Joaquin Phoenix’s dopey teen to rid her of this vexing husband problem. Kidman gives a tour de force performance that belongs alongside that other legendary idiot box idiot, Peter Sellers’ Chance in “Being There.”

10152009_TheOmen.jpgKiller Son

Even if you have absolutely no interest in apocalyptic prophecies, “The Omen” can scare the hell out of you. That’s because it’s as much about the failings of absentee parenting as it is about the rise of the Antichrist in the form of a cherubic little boy. In either case, the film’s a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of apathy. On one level, Richard Donner’s killer kiddie classic is a Biblical horror film about a kind married couple (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) who fail to recognize the true nature of their Satanic offspring Damien (Harvey Stephens) until it’s too late; on another, it’s about two disinterested parents too busy enjoying the luxuries of their pampered lifestyle to notice that the caregivers they leave in charge of their son are woefully unqualified, if not dangerously insane.

Even after Peck’s Robert Thorn is finally convinced that his son might be pure evil, he still leaves him in the care of Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), a woman who showed up at his doorstep one day and announced herself the new nanny after the previous one hung herself at Damien’s birthday party. If your last nanny commits suicide in front of your child, shouldn’t you should be extra selective picking the new nanny? Hell, that’s how you wind up with a…

10152009_HandThatRocksTheCradle.jpgKiller Babysitter

Standard operating procedure for movies about new members of families who appear perfect but slowly reveal themselves to be homicidal sociopaths goes like this: new member of family enters, our protagonist begins to suspect trouble before everyone else, airs his or her suspicions and is ostracized before eventually being proven right and saving the day. But there’s nothing to be gained by playing coy with killer family member movies, because every trailer and ad for the film always makes it perfectly clear what’s ultimately going to happen. No one goes to a movie like “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” to see a nuanced domestic melodrama about people balancing the responsibilities of work and home.

Which is precisely why “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” works so well — it never beats around the bush. We know from the start that Peyton Flanders (Rebecca De Mornay) is not just the Bartels’ pleasant, thoughtful nanny. She’s actually a woman out for revenge, the widow of a doctor that Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) accused of sexual assault. Well before the family uncovers the truth, we know the whole story; well before they see any of her true craziness, director Curtis Hanson gives the audiences terrifying glimpses, like the scene where Peyton steals some of Claire’s husband’s (Matt McCoy) paperwork, tears it up, flushes it, then begins smashing everything in sight with a toilet plunger. The windows into Peyton’s dementia add a squirmy undercurrent to every scene of seemingly innocent domestic bliss. The tension builds until Claire finally discovers Peyton’s true intentions and gives her a hellacious smack to the face, delivering a deliciously cathartic moment.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.