Babysitters and horror are a match made in purgatory. Many a film has chronicled the trials and tribulations of the unsuspecting caregivers subjected to pointless terror while nobly defending the tots they’ve been retained to look after. Trouble is, most of the stories follow a similar blueprint that generally ends the same. On the flipside, occasionally you’ll see the babysitter placed in the role of aggressor, terrorizing the family (think The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), further cementing every parent’s nightmare. But even to this end, the stories tend to be pretty similar.
Emelie is a bit different. While it skews towards the latter theme, the antagonist here relies far more on out-and-out skull-fuckery than physical mayhem. Actress Sarah Bolger thrives as Anna/Emelie, the multi-faceted meanie that terrorizes the Thompson family in ways that range from clever and cutesy to grossly inappropriate and precarious.
As the somewhat stiff Thompson parents plan a last-minute date night, they seek out the services of Anna, a babysitter they’ve never met. But before Anna even meets the family, she’s kidnapped and replaced by “Emelie,” who assumes her identity. (The kidnapping scene is a standout for its stellar staging and shocks.) At first, things go well. “Anna” is courteous and reassuring when meeting the family, but as soon as the parents leave, things begin to slowly unravel. Emphasis on sloooow. Director Michael Thelin injects a healthy shot of tension into the proceedings that builds gradually, creating a myriad of purposeful kinks to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Emelie is calm but mean-spirited, coercing the kids into destroying furniture, feeding the family hamster to a python and other niceties. She also flirts and drops sexual innuendos with the 11-year-old Jacob, confusing and confounding the young man throughout—this, taking a most uncomfortable turn when she asks him to unwrap a tampon for her while on the toilet. But things take an even darker turn when she let’s the children view their parents’ homemade sex tape. Thelin wisely keeps the graphic stuff out of view, but the implied activity heightens the creepiness of the scene in spades.
Since a major part of the film’s premise was given away at the onset with the kidnapping, the heavy lifting to provide purpose and context falls squarely on the filmmakers to pay things off with subsequent chapters. Thelin does an effective job in moving the story along, partially due to the shock and awe that Emelie cooks up.
But even though the film thrives on tension and atmosphere, the final payoff pales a bit in comparison. While I won’t spoil it for the uninitiated, the ending doesn’t quite match the killer bits of the first three acts—Home Alone quickly comes to mind, which throws things off a bit. But Sarah Bolger is excellent as the deranged babysitter, all smiles and sweetness at first, her character becoming believably more twisted unhinged as the film progresses. With a depth and range that carries the film well, she’s one to watch for in future outings.
Aside from a couple corny points, Emelie is shocking and suspenseful, but not in a gruesome way, making it a fresh take on an otherwise tired subgenre. (Dark Sky Films)
More Horror and Such
Panic in Year Zero
This 1962 Cold War thriller uses the threat of nuclear apocalypse as its main driver. A family leaves Los Angeles just before the H-bomb hits and now must deal with the fall-out—comprised of brutish hoodlums out to rip them off and generally make their lives difficult. The film stars horror vet Ray Milland as the hapless dad and works decently as a corny but paranoid period piece—the upbeat and mismatched soundtrack music being a standout. (Kino)
Journey to the Seventh Planet
Decades before Austin Powers, the swinging ‘60s had invaded Sci-Fi as evidenced in this campy-as-hell little flick. When a group of cocky astronauts land on—you guessed it—the planet Uranus, they are surprised to find that it’s inhabitants include a bevvy of buxom females that seem oddly familiar…and some deadly secrets. Oozing with color, including its outlandish costumes and sets, this new hi-def transfer does the film right, even if it lacks the substance of some of the A-list Sci-Fi films of the time. (Kino)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
While not a horror or suspense film in the traditional sense, this one thrives on mental cruelty and scathing head games. Based on a well-known play by the same name, this Oscar-winning biggie was pretty different for its time as it focused on the darker side of marriage and family. Elizabeth Taylor is absolutely unhinged as an unhappy wife who constantly tangles with her equally annoying, drunk husband (Richard Burton). Out-of-print for seemingly eons, the whole miserable and claustrophobic affair is now available in pristine hi-def. (Warner Archive)
The ’80s were rife with campy horror and Sci-Fi films aimed at titillating viewers with cheap shocks and predictably easy scares. But, those unsatisfied with such fare opted to make their own competing films, upping the ante on the irony and exploitation aspects. Filmmaker Larry Cohen was one such auteur, and The Stuff (1985) is one of his hallmarks.
When railroad workers discover a gloppy white substance bubbling up from the ground, they find that it’s not only tasty (Mmm), but addictive. Soon, it gets marketed as “The Stuff” and sold like ice cream. But, a mysterious conspiracy lurks behind the scenes, one that oozes with political overtones, zombies and more. True to form, Cohen does a fine job in telling the story with tongue planted firmly in cheek. (Arrow Video/MVD)
Cinema Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood
This ace documentary chronicles the odyssey of more than 800 Jewish filmmakers, actors and others who fled Nazi Germany between 1933-1939 to head for Hollywood before the worst of it went down. The list of luminaries is vast, including the likes of Billy Wilder, Peter Lorre and others, many of which would achieve iconic status in the film industry. It’s a fascinating view and further illustrates just how extra tragic all of it was, given that this bunch would go on to create horror and film noir classics like Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Casablanca and Double Indemnity. While not horrific in the traditional sense, this doc does a fine job at covering a very dark period—and the great art that came out of it. (Warner Archive)
The Zero Boys
Whether an homage or insult to the nationalistic attitudes rampant during the 1980s, Greek horror filmmaker Nico Mastorakis’ The Zero Boys fits right in with the times. A pro paintball team takes a trip to the mountains only to find itself at war with hostile locals. Now, they must use their faux fighting skills to full effect if they’re going to survive. With references to the likes of Rambo and Delta Force films that capitalized on the fervor stirred up by the Reagan ’80s, the film’s cheesy acting, dialog and stunts are fun in a nostalgic kind of way. This new transfer takes the long-sought-after rarity to new heights in a pristine hi-def transfer. (Arrow Films/MVD)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK