Friday, June 23, 2017

Seizure (1974) with Jonathan Frid

While I've been reacquainting myself with Jonathan Frid as Barnabas over at Dark Shadows Before I Die, I started wondering about other roles he may have played. I decided to investigate his work outside of the Dark Shadows universe, and recently picked up the only two non-DS movies he appeared in, The Devil's Daughter, and today's feature, Seizure. I was surprised to learn that it was the first feature film Oliver Stone directed.

This is the strange kind of horror tale you'd expect to come out of the 1970s. It reminds me of Let's Scare Jessica to Death, in that it's up to the viewer to determine if events are actually happening, or if they are in the mind of the protagonist. If you enjoy low budget horror from this era, then you might want to check this one out before I tell you how it ends.

"It's as if I'm dreaming everything. You, me, us, this whole weekend. I've seen it before."

Jason goes to wake up his dad to tell him the guests are coming, and his startled dad wakes up with a scream. Writer Edmund Blackstone (Jonathan Frid) is having bad dreams, but that won't stop him from inviting his ill mannered friends over to spend a weekend at their country home. He goes to the bathroom and fills the sink with water to shave, as his wife Nicole (Christina Pickles) comes in and asks how he is. He tells her he had the dream again.

Mark Frost (Troy Donahue) is the first guest to arrive, as announced by Nicole's brother, Gerald (Richard Cox), who is drinking booze on the couch. Mark is quite chummy and Nicole seems very excited to see him. Edmund greets him warmly. Charlie (Joseph Sirola) and Mikki Hughes (Mary Woronov) are a loud and obnoxious couple who are sniping at each other at the gas station. Charlie gives the gas station attendant a hard time for not allowing him to pay with his credit card, going on about how rich and powerful he is, and he and the wife continue arguing as they drive off. You've got to wonder the kind of people Edmund and Nicole are to have friends like these that they would invite to their home.

Nicole: Drinking already, Gerald?
Gerald: It makes the day go faster, sister darling.
An enormous advantage when one has guests like yours
for the week-end.

Mark: Hello, Edmund. I hope you
don't mind me screwing up the scenery.
Edmund: Of course not, Mark. You are the scenery.

Mikki: Don't eat that crap, you're getting fat.
Charlie: Why don't you shut up!

Serge (Roger De Koven) and Eunice Khan (Anne Meachem) are an older couple, who seem quite reasonable and out of place. As they arrive, Edmund tells Serge that he's writing a horror story for children but he doesn't have an ending yet. Serge suggests that the characters should all perish or live happily ever after. We're left to wonder how this one will turn out.

The group gets together for lunch by the lake, and as Mikki goes for a swim, we get a glimpse of someone watching from the trees. As the friends chill by the lake, they hear a report on the radio about the escape of three inmates from the Joliet Psychiatric Institute. Charlie is making passes at the teenage maid, Betsy, while Edmund is making sketches of some odd characters. The family's little dachshund, Aziz, begins barking and takes off into the woods. Jason chases his little doggie through the woods, but can't find him and goes to get help from his dad.

Edmund searches for Aziz in the woods while Nicole goes to take a nap on the bed. While napping, she dreams of being tied up on the bed while a masked woman with a torch comes into the room and carries Jason off. Edmund hears flies buzzing and turns to see his poor little doggie strung up to a tree with his tongue lolling. I hate it when that happens.

Mark is reclining shirtless on Mikki's bed and she tells him to go back to his room because Charlie is coming. She agrees to meet him in his room later that night for more action and tells him she has a surprise for him. Mark goes downstairs and sees Charlie hanging up the phone, and they trade insults.

A figure runs through the woods and closes the hood on a car. The group is dining together while Mikki flirts with Mark, and Charlie runs his mouth off. Edmund catches a glimpse of the character he was sketching earlier, peering in at them through the window. He excuses himself and asks Serge to meet him in the study later, as he has something important to discuss with him.

Jason is sitting on the floor with a mini guillotine and Edmund picks him up, saying it's time for him to go to bed, which is kind of a weird thing to do to a kid his age. He says he wants Aziz back. Eunice is saying goodnight to the group and Serge explains that she takes a long time getting to sleep because every Saturday she has a talk with her late husband. Mark also excuses himself, saying he'll meet Nicole on the patio at 9, and pointedly tells Mikki not to let the bedbugs bite. 

Betsy is wandering through the woods for no apparent reason as a wolf howls. She runs into a very large guy and takes off running through the woods in typical victim fashion. He catches up to her and she begs him not to hurt her, promising she'll do anything. He caresses her face.

Edmund is tucking Jason in bed, and he tells his dad he looks scared. Edmund says he's scared of something in him, but when the kid asks him what that means, he says it means he loves him as much as mommy. Nicole sees the front door standing wide open and looks outside, but sees no one and closes it. She goes upstairs to look in on Jason and finds him cowering in the corner. He tells her that he's scared of daddy.

Edmund explains to Serge that something terrible is happening to him and that it seems as if he's dreaming everything. He explains that he feels he's seen it before in a dream, where friends gather for a weekend and three frightening strangers appear. He says he sensed it beginning again when Jason came in to wake him before they arrived, but wasn't sure until he found Aziz hanging dead from a tree. He says that then a teenage girl is killed, and Serge says that should relieve him since there are no teenagers around. I guess he didn't notice Betsy. He tells him he saw the face of a character that he invented looking in through the window, and shows him the sketches he made.

Eunice is talking to her late husband while she brushes her hair and looks at herself in the mirror. She updates her departed hubby on her latest doctor visit and says old age doesn't bother her as long as he's around, and asks if he'll always be there. A voice answers yes, which surprises her. He tells her that someone is in the room with her who has a magic ointment that will give her eternal youth and that he doesn't want her to be afraid when she sees him. The man from Edmund's sketch produces a jar and applies the iridescent ointment to her face, saying she'll be young again. He tells her to lie down and wait for her dead husband.

Nicole is tucking Jason in as he lies with pillow and blankets in a closet, and she closes the closet door. Mark is in the dark telling Mikki he was about to fall asleep and she shushes him. She tells him not to touch and he says she's being mysterious, so it's odd when we see Mikki reading a magazine downstairs while Charlie and Gerald play chess. Charlie directs their attention to a noise upstairs and they all listen, but the sound stops. He looks up and sees the man's face at the window smiling.

Mark realizes that it's not Mikki he's playing around with, as an unfamiliar woman looms over him and strangles him with her belt.

Downstairs, a window is broken and the character from Edmund's sketch jumps into the room. Charlie asks who he is and tries to get Gerald to help him fight him, but Gerald runs away and Charlie gets pummeled. Mikki runs away screaming while Nicole grabs a fireplace tool to fight the creature. Edmund and Serge are stuck in the study, and as Gerald runs to the study door, Edmund shoots through the door to get it open, accidentally hitting Gerald in the head, who manages to call him a stupid bastard before he keels over.

They run into the room to see the little guy choking Nicole on the floor, and Edmund is too stunned to shoot when he sees the character from his sketches. Serge goes at him and gets knocked down, while the disfigured giant from the woods picks up Edmund and tosses him. He falls unconscious.

When he wakes, they are each bound at the wrists, and The Queen (Martine Beswick) is telling them not to ask who they are or where they come from, saying their only purpose is death and that they'll all do as they're told, "though nothing will make sense." She tells them that Mark, Eunice and Gerald are already on their way to darkness, and that one after the other, the rest of them will die, and only one of them will be left alive at dawn. The camera focuses on each character to allow the viewer to consider who will be the last one standing.

The group is tethered by their necks with a long rope and led out of the house for some evil survivor games. The Spider (Hervé Villechaize) tells them the first challenge is to race around the house five times, which will be supervised by Jackal (Henry Baker), who is mute. The person who finishes last will be executed. Serge predicts that he will be last since he is the oldest and weakest of the bunch. The Spider sets them off and they take off running.

Meanwhile, Eunice is kneeling by her bed and praying to God while Spider stands by and asks if she thinks God cares about her prayers. He calls her ugly and says God hates her. He starts speaking with her dead husband's voice and tells her to lift her head as he holds a mirror to her so she can see her ruined face. She sobs and jumps out the window, her body tumbling into the bushes below.

Back at the races, Charlie grabs his chest and stumbles and falls. Edmund and Nicole run to the car and try to escape, but the car won't start and Jackal comes after them, forcing them back into the race. Mikki is helping Charlie, but when they both fall she asks why she should do anything for him, and struggles out of his grasp and her skirt, which he is still holding, forcing her to run in her halter top and panties.

Serge comes in first, followed by Edmund and Nicole. Serge walks over to the house and finds Eunice's body in the bushes and cries. Charlie is crawling on the ground and comes across dead Betsy just as Jackal comes up behind him.

Young Jason exits the closet and peers out the window to see his parents and half naked Mikki doubled over on the lawn. Jackal has Charlie slung over a shoulder and dumps him in front of the Spider. He offers him a million dollars and writes him a check, telling him to kill the rest and let him go. The Spider tears up his check so Charlie tries to buy off Jackal, as Jason continues to watch from upstairs.

The Queen gets tired and orders them to kill him. The Spider gets out his knife and advances on him, but when he turns his back on him to gloat, Charlie knocks him down and begins kicking him on the ground. Jackal grabs him by the head and begins squeezing. We hear a crunchy, squelchy sound and Nicole faints. Jackal's hands are covered in Charlie's brain goo. It's pretty disgusting.

The Queen is not pleased with Spider and slaps him around. She notices that Mikki is nowhere in sight and tells him to get her. Mikki is running down the road, while Jackal locks Edmund and Serge in the study, and the Queen dumps unconscious Nicole on her bed, where Jason hides underneath.

Mikki makes it to the gas station and sees someone working under a car and begs for help, as the Spider rolls out from underneath wielding a wrench. Serge tells Edmund a story about a prince named Louis the Cruel who was a dwarf that tortured people and earned the nickname, The Spider. He goes on to say that the name Jackal could be a variation of a Russian word that means executioner. Edmund is frustrated by Serge's supernatural explanations and rejects them, saying they may be the ones who escaped from the institution.

He asks how he would explain the Queen of Evil, and Serge says he thinks she is the Hindu goddess, Kali, and goes on at length about her. Edmund says that he is mad and that his only friend has deserted him. Serge says Edmund is the Faust that brought her into being and that it's his evening. He says he's seen these creatures before in his nightmares and drawings and that he is the one who created them.

The Spider comes for Edmund and leads him to the patio where the Queen sits waiting. Jackal brings Mikki in and the Queen tells her if she kills Edmund, she goes free. She gives each of them a knife. Mikki wastes no time going after Edmund and takes him down with a kick in the crotch and then cuts him behind the ear. They grapple for a while until Edmund finally stabs her. The Queen tells him to kill her, but when he hesitates, she decides to slice her throat herself.

Edmund is in his bed when the Queen enters. He asks what she's done with his wife and says he'd like to see her and his son. She unbuttons his shirt and puts the moves on him while kissing him, but he eventually pushes her away and says he wants his wife. She tells him few men or women have refused her over the centuries, and that she'll give him two hours with his wife, but then he'll be hers forever.

He goes to the attic and finds Nicole holding Jason in a rocking chair. He tells her they have two hours before they come looking for him and they have to hide him. She lays Jason in a chest and tells him he must promise not to go to the funny little man, the great big man or the bad lady. Edmund closes the chest.

Not the first time Frid's closed someone up in a box.

He and Nicole go to their room and she lets him know exactly how she feels about him. She tells him that whatever is happening is born from his dream and that he alone is in control of it. She asks if he would let anything happen to Jason and he says no, as she has a vision of Jackal carrying Jason away screaming. She tells him she realized tonight he's a coward, then says they're running out of time, and removes her robe. While they have a quickie, images of the Queen flash by.

He wakes up alone and finds a message on the bathroom mirror. A bloody razor is in the sink. The Spider walks Serge out of the study as Jackal waits outside to execute him. Serge talks some more about God and faith and such, saying death is a companion, until the Spider tells him he babbles too much and leads him outside to the chopping block, where Jackal makes it quick and painless, at his request.

The Queen tells Edmund that Serge was the best of all of them, along with his wife. She says that now he and his child are left, but there can only be one survivor. He asks what she would do with him and he has an image of her tossing Jason's body into the fire. Edmund starts talking to himself in his head, saying his life was a dream, and that his love for his friends and family was only an author's love for his own creation and that he can create others. He seems quite content to tell her Jason is upstairs in the attic.

They all go to the attic and he points to the chest. She opens it and it's empty. The Spider and Jackal begin tearing through the room and the Queen says he lied. She tells the Spider to strangle him. He gets away and she tells the boys that if they find him before she finds the child, he's theirs.

They run after him and Edmund chops into Jackal with a hatchet and then runs away screaming. The Spider chases him through the woods while music that reminds me of Dawn of the Dead plays.

The Queen creeps around the attic looking for the kid. She finds him and grabs him by the hair. She picks him up and he kicks and screams. Nicole's body is visible across the room and she says to leave her child alone, and tells her to put him down, which she does. She tells Jason to go to his room, and he does. The Queen says Edmund is hers, and Nicole tells her to take him.

Edmund is running through the woods, but the Spider catches up to him and begins to strangle him. Edmund sits up in bed screaming. He tells Nicole he had the dream again and it was clearer than ever, but she remains covered in bed and just groans in response. He gets out of bed and looks outside, noting that it's dawn, and says it's over. He reminds himself it was a dream.

Edmund goes to the bathroom and fills the sink with water to shave. When he looks into the mirror, he sees the message written in blood is still there. He runs back to the bedroom and throws back the covers, calling Nicole, only to find the Queen before she's performed her morning routine, who responds, "Yes, my darling." He screams as she advances on him, and images from the evening replay in his mind.

It's dawn and the milkman drives up in a van and leaves bottles out by the gate and drives off. Nicole comes out to get the milk and watches Jason running in the garden with Aziz. She tells him to go wake his daddy up and tell him the guests will be there soon. Jason runs upstairs to go wake his dad and Gerald passes by him on the stairs.

He goes into the bedroom and finds his pale faced dad in bed with eyes staring, as we hear an announcer report:
The Edgar Allen Poe of modern American fiction, writer illustrator, Edmund Blackstone died today at his Joliet County home of a heart attack. He was 47 years old and leaves behind his widow, Nicole, and his ten year old child, Jason.


I thought this was a creepy, enjoyable film that certainly feels like a bad dream. It seemed as though some of the scariest scenes were edited out. The scenes with Mark and the Queen, Edmund chopping Jackal, and Betsy's encounter in the woods, among others, appear to have been cut short. How come we never see Nicole's suicide? It could be that Stone intentionally did this to keep a PG rating, or to allow the viewer to fill in the scary bits in their own mind, or even to provide the disjointed feel of a nightmare. While I appreciate horror that is suggested, I feel that in this case it would have been a much scarier film if those scenes were complete. In addition, the nighttime scenes are overly dark and it's difficult to discern some of the action. That may be due to the transfer on the Scorpion DVD I watched. Despite these flaws, it is still an entertaining film.

There are some deeper issues that are being addressed in this film, if one cares to dig through the weirdness to get to them.

"You will do as you're told, though nothing will make sense.
Some of you will seek an answer in what follows,
and some of you will find it. But for the others,
there will be darkness, damnation,
and a meaningless death." -The Queen of Evil

What's most clear is the idea of the author as creator with godlike power. Both Nicole and Serge tell Edmund that he is the one in control and is responsible for creating the maleficent characters from his dreams. It may not be a new idea, but may lead one to wonder why Edmund didn't create a different ending for himself. It was surprising to see how cheerfully he gave up his son so that he could live.

Hervé Villechaize really stands out in his role. Henry Baker, who also appears in four episodes of Dark Shadows in 1969, was a frightening executioner. Martine Beswick's Queen of Evil is a domineering character who reminds me of Leslie Taplin's Lemora. It was a pleasure to see Jonathan Frid play a character other than Barnabas, and though it may not have been a role well suited to him, he carried it off well. Although it was obvious, I enjoyed finding out he was still dreaming after initially appearing to wake up. It leaves open the possibility that he was continuing to dream about his death announcement at the end. As Edmund says, "An artist is without end. He can never die. He is not allowed to die." It's not a film for everyone, but it has grown on me. It would be a good movie to watch over the weekend at a lakeside home with a group of obnoxious, unpleasant friends.


John V said...


Great post on an interestingly executed, if ultimately flawed, film. The comparison to Let's Scare Jessica To Death (one of my favorite fright films from the 1970s) is definitely apt. Thanks for covering this movie: I saw it long ago and should re-visit it. As for The Devil's Daughter, it's an enjoyably retro 70's telefilm, and worth a look. There's an interesting cast in that one: in addition to Frid, there's Shelley Winters, Joseph Cotten, Abe Vigoda, Robert Foxworth and Belinda Montgomery.

Christine said...

Thanks, John V! I also enjoyed The Devil's Daughter, especially for the great cast. The only disappointment is that Frid plays a mute chauffeur, which I thought was a bit of a waste of him. Still fun to watch though.