TNB Night Owl–The Reflecting Skin

Halloween Candy. photo by Luke Jones.

“It’s the nightmare of childhood, and it only gets worse.”

A lot of horror movies center around childhood. Either you end up with monstrous children like THE BAD SEED (1965) or you have the innocent who is the only key to saving his town, ala INVADERS FROM MARS (1986). The reality of childhood, though, is that kids are small humans who fall somewhere in the spectrum of good and evil. Tonight’s Friday movie looks at THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990) where childhood is far from idyllic.

Although it’s an English movie, THE REFLECTING SKIN is set in 1950s rural America. It’s an America through the eyes of someone who probably hasn’t seen it, but watched a lot of movies and read a number of books. Everything is either dirt roads, dilapidated wood houses, or fields of wheat. Endless fields of wheat, stretching for miles into the horizon. This is the America in which eight year old Seth grows up. Since there is no school in sight, Seth and his friends are desperate for something to keep themselves occupied. Sometimes it’s casual cruelty to animals, sometimes it’s cruelty to the mysterious young widow, sometimes it’s cruelty to each other. Parents are only background players and often too drunk to offer any real guidance. Instead the kids are left to figure out the world for themselves.

Seth’s monotony is broken when a mysterious black car drives through town. The passengers are leather-clad men who ooze exotic coolness. Soon after one of Seth’s friends disappears. The police immediately question Seth’s father who, decades earlier, had been caught in a homosexual tryst with another young man. Distraught that he cannot seem to escape his past, his father kills himself in a fiery suicide–all in front of a stunned Seth.

Seth never thought it was his father who was guilty. Instead he assumed it was the widow. Only, through Seth’s ignorant and innocent eyes, he sees her as a vampire. After all, she always wears black, speaks with a strange accent, and keeps her late husband (specifically mementos) in a black box. Even when Seth sees the men from the black car grab another friend right off the road, he refuses to see the widow as anything less than a blood sucking fiend.

Enter Cam, Seth’s older brother, who came home from the army to attend to their mother who had become a basket case. Seth was hopeful that Cam would become the parental figure he desperately needed. Instead Cam focused most of his attention on the widow. Despite Seth doing everything he could to warn Cam away from “The Vampire,” the two become romantically involved. Eventually Seth reaches a turning point where he has to face real evil and face his own heart.

THE REFLECTING SKIN is one of those kinds of horror movies that rely on mood more than gore. That’s not to say there aren’t disturbing images–once Seth’s friends have all disappeared, his only companion is a mummified fetus. Still, the on-screen violence is minimal. Instead, you have the sense of isolation and dread found in the best ghost stories.

THE REFLECTING SKIN isn’t an easy film. There are a lot of questions left open for the viewer to decide on themselves. If you’re up for that, or for a creepy flick that’s unlike almost anything else you’ve ever seen, give it a look:

Question of the night–what’s the most isolated place you’ve ever visited?

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