Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Coma (1978, Michael Crichton)


Okay for a merely very good and entertaining horror thiller from the 197os this movie has a pretty awesome cast. Tom Selleck, Ed Harris and Rip Torn all appear in this film and they aren’t even the stars or major characters. Heading the film are Michael Douglas, Geneviève Bujold, and legendary actor Richard Widmark. Famous Bond girl Lois Chiles also makes an appearance as a woman who suffers misfortune, because well it’s a 70s horror thriller set in a hospital. Nothing good ever happens there.

Susan Wheeler and Mark Bellows (Douglas, Bujold) have trouble in their relationship. They also have trouble at the hospital they work at, Boston Memorial, where normal healthy people are falling into comas for no reason. Susan has her suspicions while Mark is convinced it’s nothing. Desperate, she confides in Dr. George Harris (Widmark), who tries to keep her out of trouble. Things spiral from there of course, and there are many tense and crazy scenes that are well crafted. I particularly loved a freaky moment in a clinic that is straight out of a David Cronenberg movie. Funny considering this was made during his early period, and I have to wonder if it helped inspire Dead Ringers. 

coma1978crichton

Furthermore the last act is a bit outlandish if not completely paranoid driven, and yet it works. The movie is largely an exercise in slow burn and the payoff is worth the film’s solid runtime. Douglas and Bujold have great chemistry together, and Crichton actually shows talent as a director. Maybe more writers should make movies, or perhaps just certain ones can direct. Also the film has some interesting commentary on sexual politics (Susan would probably be more easily believed if she was a man or not in the 1970s) and some thoughts on the medical profession.

Widmark’s monologue is fantastic and crazy, a sample of it being: “Our society faces momentous decisions. Decisions about the right to die. About abortion. About terminal illness, prolonged coma, transplantation. Decisions about life and death. But society isn’t deciding. Congress isn’t deciding. The courts aren’t deciding. Religion isn’t deciding. Why? Because society is leaving it up to us, the experts. The doctors.” I guess in all of the madness I forgot that this movie is very well written and has some quality dialogue. Nice.

Auto-Erotic, Accidents, and Almost Death: A Look At Crash


In 2005, I experienced a car crash that was absolutely brutal and completely life changing, to say the least. I was hit from the side, t-boned as they called it, so I lived while sustaining a concussion. My friend, who was a passenger and who lived while being only slightly injured, had to tell me what happened that day because I don’t remember. A day in my life is gone forever, and all I have left are pictures of a terrible moment that almost killed me. That’s a scary thought, one that I have never forgotten.

Some say your life flashes before your eyes when death approaches, yet that didn’t happen for me. I’m sure there was no white light, or the singing of angels, or anything else. Just that moment where I probably thought to myself “Oh shit, I’m going to die” as the other car rammed into my driver’s side, pushing me off the road and into a small plot of green grass resting next to the strip of hot July asphalt that ran on the far side of town. Next to a Country Kitchen, in fact.

Side Hit

This is my 1997 Ford Taurus-I took this and other pictures of the aftermath at the local junkyard. The car was completely totaled, and I woke up the next day having spent half the day in the hospital, and the entire rest of the night puking and wondering what the hell had happened to me. Not a good experience.

So with a tad hesitation I viewed David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), not to be confused with the movie about racism that won Best Picture and which I never bothered to watch. Cronenberg in the 1990s decided that after over two decades of doing body horror he would tackle something new and fresh, and this can actually be considered a cousin to Naked Lunch in that both films tackle the artist and certain weird levels of making and creating something with one’s own hands. In this case with Crash though the art is achieved with car accidents, some staged, others that happened merely viewed and remembered by those obsessed with the horror and the spectacle, with sex involved too.

Which is not surprising, since many of Cronenberg’s movies have deal with sexuality and the human body one way or another. There is even elements of body horror in this film, moments that are quite stark and rather provocative , hence the NC-17 rating that was unfairly earned in my opinion. Why is that violence is so often given a pass, yet sex brings in the censorship police? It’s a tad silly how so many Americans are prudish when it comes to the subject matter of sex, and that’s why I think that Cronenberg included it in so many of his films. Arousal is a weapon even in these movies, especially when it comes to man vs. women sexual politics.

Back in 1996 I’m sure the movie was far shocking to people than it is now, and the fact that films such as Blue Valentine have also displayed sex graphically makes Crash a tad dated. For some reason I felt the film doesn’t go far enough, and maybe that’s because if had gone completely over the edge there is no way that it would have been released. However Crash does a fantastic job overall of giving you the sense of that deer in the headlights, that feeling of Death starring you in the face as you spiral head on into a tangled web of violence and bodies, metal and glass, plastic and rubber.

Not to mention you still get his thoughts on technology-its mutilation of the body, the graphing together of steel and human flesh. Disturbing, sure, powerful absolutely, and completely engaging to the last frame. No one quite makes films like David Cronenberg, and perhaps that’s a good thing because his vision remains unique and absorbing. Perhaps even absolute, a lasting take on modern society and the human psyche.

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