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Existence is Horror: “The Neon Demon” & “Bad Ronald”

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Let’s face it, when it comes to horror there’s a lot of garbage floating around out there. Just like with heavy metal, there’s a huge market and money to be made and shit getting thrown at the wall left and right in hopes that something might stick. My goal with this column is to shine light on one quality new release, accompanied by a dig through the dumpster filled with VHS copies of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” to find a lost gem also worthy of checking out.

—Rick Giordano

”The Neon Demon” (2016)
“The Neon Demon” is a new movie from “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” director Nicolas Winding Refn, currently in a limited theatrical run, and must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. The visuals are often even louder and bolder than the distorted buzzing of the excellent synth-heavy score, composed by longtime Refn collaborator (and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer) Cliff Martinez, and the juxtaposition of its still shots and extended silences are even more awkward and jarring while sitting among strangers in a movie theater. Refn’s ability to pair unnerving visuals with gorgeous music has long been one of his greatest skills as a director. His choice to score the gruesome violence of “Drive” with sparkling synth-pop helped revitalize interest in Italio Disco and has gone on to serve as aesthetic template for horror themed musicians like Perturbator.

“The Neon Demon” begins with a fresh faced 16 year old girl named Jesse settling into her new life as a model in Hollywood (what could go wrong?), where the other female characters get increasingly competitive and vindictive as the males get more sinister and abusive. The ensuing events grow steadily more bizarre and unsettling until the bat shit crazy final act, which although pretty goddamn unique, will undoubtedly remind many horror fans of a certain Dario Argento film also about similarly evil, plotting women.

Yes, at times the film may feel a little too much like “Suspiria,” but I believe this is an acceptable offense. After all, if you shunned any band that sounded a little too much like Black Sabbath or Slayer, half the records in your collection would disappear. There are also several beats that could be accused of being borrowed from “Black Swan,” but in general this is a much better film, and far more suitable for horror fans. It also holds the high honor of being one of only two films in my life to ever cause me to have a panic attack in a movie theater. Highly recommended.

“Bad Ronald” (1974)
Now that Netflix, Hulu, and Tivo are the predominate ways people are selecting their movies these days, does anyone still stumble upon some random hidden treasure they’ve never even heard of on a local TV station at 4am? For me, “Bad Ronald” was one of those late night discoveries. I’m quite grateful that nothing else was on and I couldn’t sleep on that night however many years ago, because I may not have come across this uniquely creepy made-for-TV movie. Originally aired in 1974, “Bad Ronald” has an unusual grimness that’s much darker and more violent than the “Little House on the Prairie” vibe that comes with most ’70s television.

After an exceptionally disturbing scene where teenage Ronald kills a young girl by bashing her head against a rock, his mother comes up with a plan to tell the police that he’s run away and to hide him in the walls of their house. Confined in this small space and forced to remain quiet, Ronald gradually gets lost in a fantasy world that he’s created. His mother takes care of him, providing his meals and offering the occasional company. But things take a turn for the worse when his mother suddenly dies, and Ronnie completely loses his shit. A new family moves into the house, not knowing that B-Ron is still living inside the walls, watching them at all times and talking to himself like a fucking nutbag. He eventually decides to emerge from the walls, convinced that the family’s youngest daughter is the princess of this fantasy world and he is the prince. You’ll never believe this, but they’re not all super psyched to see him.

In the chapter titled ‘The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History’ of his book “What Were They Thinking?,” author David Hofstede ranked the airing of “Bad Ronald” at number 90. Fuck you, David Hofstede. This movie rules. You’re a fucking putz. VHS copies of the movie are obviously long out of print, but a DVD copy can be ordered online from the Warner Archive Collection. Definitely worth seeing.

Rick Giordano screams in St. Louis sludge outfit The Lion’s Daughter. He writes about horror film for Invisible Oranges.

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