Film

'Seizure' Rides on Oliver Stone's Name

Oliver Stone's feature film debut is a wicked little horror movie that predicted the home terror films of later eras.


Seizure

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Mary Woronov, Joseph Sirola, Hervé Villechaize, Christina Pickles, Troye Donahue, Henry Judd Baker, Alexis Kirk, Richard Cox
Length: 94 minutes
Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Year: 1974
Distributor: Scorpion Releasing
MPAA Rating: PG
UK Release Date: Import
US Release Date: 2014-09-09

The main draw to check out the new Blu Ray release of 1974’s Seizure is the fact that this semi-surreal horror film happens to be the directorial debut of Academy Award Winning A-List director Oliver Stone. This fact may be even more noteworthy because Stone’s second film, The Hand (1981) was also a weird horror movie (imagine “Thing” from The Addams Family as a legitimate diabolical threat), his third film, Salvador (1986), was a complete box office flop and his fourth film, Platoon (also 1986) won seven of the eleven Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director.

How does one go from Seizure to Platoon in just four movies (albeit within a twelve year timespan)? Further, how does the director of Seizure go on to direct films like Wall Street (1987), Talk Radio (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Doors (1991), and JFK (1991)? (Then again, it might not be that big of a stretch that the director of Seizure also directed Savages [2012] and Natural Born Killers [1994].)

This is partly because Seizure is, on one hand, a relatively standard and often predictable low budget '70s horror film with not a lot to help it stand out in the crowded field of its peers. On the other hand, Stone’s first feature is a remarkably sadistic and often disturbing little film which predicted such later home terror flicks like The Strangers (2008) and Funny Games (1997), as well as the 2007 remake of the latter.

Seizure centers around a famous horror writer named Edmund Blackstone. If his career doesn’t make him noteworthy in his creepiness alone, then the fact that he is played by Jonathan Frid (the Vampire Barnabas Collins from TV’s Dark Shadows) should complete the bill for you. Blackstone has moved, along with his wife and his son, to a huge, somewhat gothic lakeside cottage in the country so that he can continue his horror fiction. Blackstone could be bounded in a nutshell, and count himself a king of infinite space, were it not that he has bad dreams.

The author’s nightmares include a trio of evil and bloodthirsty beings led by “The Queen of Evil” (Martine Beswick) and rounded out by a dwarf called “Spider” (Hervé Villechaize) and a monstrous and disfigured executioner called “Jackal” (Henry Judd Baker). Believing that these are only dreams, Blackstone invites a large group of his friends (including the familiar faces of Mary Woronov, Troy Donahue and Richard Cox) to his country abode for the weekend. Then, as you can guess, the evil trio arrives uninvited and begins to entrap and murder his family and friends with the intent of leaving only one alive. In short, they aren’t terribly nice people or gracious houseguests.

Stone does a fine job of keeping the mysteries of the story firmly in the realm of the unknown. Are any of these apparitions real aberrations or still a product of Blackstone’s nightmare-tortured mind? Could Blackstone be the only one who sees them and could the early horrors be his own insane doing? At first the audience is kept completely in the dark, but around the mid-point of the film everything becomes both apparent and even obvious.

The fact that Seizure is rated PG illustrates that, even for the time (when such films as the viscerally terrifying The Legend of Hell House received a PG rating), there would be somewhat minimal sexuality, gore and violence (as compared to, say, the previous year’s The Exorcist). However, much like Hell House, Seizure is disturbing on a deeper, more primal level. That said, the blood that does taint the screen is pretty damned disturbing.

Stone was experimental in his first film and that potential helped to lead directly to his later Hollywood successes. Here, many of the experiments do work, while others fall flat and feel predictable and silly. Even for the time, the “surprise twist ending”, though twisted, is not much of a surprise to the attentive viewer. In spite of this, although not too much causes Seizure to shine against the backdrop of its contemporary competitors, there is also very little in this film that makes Seizure look worse than its peers. Stone’s experiment is executed as professionally as similar films of the day, like Blood Mania (1970), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), Dead of Night (1974) or Virgin Witch (1972). Seizure is well lit, usually well acted, and professionally recorded for a quality sound mix.

The 2014 Scorpion Releasing Blu Ray features a very fine transfer of the film itself with quality sound. However, the occasional blemish and scratch continues to mark and mar the odd frame. This is, of course, taking into consideration that Stone intentionally left (or inserted) some grindhouse-style film scratches in some of the more chilling and fast-paced horror moments to enhance the discomposure of these scenes. Further, Seizure is one of a breed of post-Hammer style films that celebrates the lavishness of gothic horror with natural darkness. This tends to make Seizure look very dated compared to today’s films (especially those by Stone), but Scorpion was wise enough to leave out the digital enhancement and to preserve the original film as it is.

Extras on the Blu-ray include the original trailer as well as a very telling interview with vixen Mary Woronov, followed by a similar talk with Richard Cox. Woronov’s sharp-tongued interview is blunt about every cast and crew member (including Stone) and goes into detail about her other films (many of which she is critical of, including those filmed by her ex-husband Theodore Gershuny). Cox also goes into greater detail about his career at large and seems to be completely incredulous at the fact that many of the movies he is least proud of are now being released on Blu-ray.

The extras do provide a great deal of information (not to mention a few laughs) and the theatrical trailer is welcome, but it’s hard for fans of the film (and Stone’s career in general) to not hope for a bit more in the Bonus Features area. Still, with the trend leaning toward bare bones releases lately, Scorpion should be congratulated for what they include.

As for Seizure itself, its main notoriety continues to be the fact that it was Oliver Stone’s first film (based on his original concept and co-written with Edward Mann). There are moments of potential and even flickers of brilliance in this brutal little movie, but in the overall final analysis Seizure is merely a “pretty good” time passer. Without the curiosity of Stone’s involvement it’s hard to imagine this film being considered much of a classic.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image