One of my favorite things about the Halloween Horrors series is that, while there tends to be numerous entries submitted each year on the classics and near-classics of the genre, there are frequently a few entries each year focusing on lesser-known gems just waiting to be discovered by new viewers. Black Past, one of the films covered in yesterday’s Halloween Horrors post, is a perfect example of this.
Today’s topic may be another example. Despite high critical praise and even a few festival awards under its belt, 1997’s The Ugly is not one of the more common titles mentioned when you ask the casual horror fan (and more than a few hardcore fans) to name the biggest and best horror films of the 1990s. My good friend (and H&S’s official cheerleader) Brian Kongsvik returns for a 3rd year of the series with the intention of helping to change that oversight.
I was very stoked by this year’s topic. Pick a film and the year that film came out is off the table for everyone else. What a great concept! There are so many great films that one could choose and, inevitably, other great films would be blocked.
For me, it was a toss-up between several films, but I decided on the 1997 Australian film, The Ugly. This has been a favorite of ours that we’ve watched several times over the years. It seems to be a film that is seriously under the radar with horror fans and I am hoping to change that.
When it comes to horror movie villains and killers, you immediately think of Jason, Freddy, Michael, Leatherface, etc… Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Simon!
The Ugly stars Paolo Rotondo as “Simon Cartwright”. He’s a serial killer that’s being held in a mental institute and has been for several years. He is up for a trial to determine whether or not he is insane or if he can be released. He asks to be evaluated by an independent doctor, Karen Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs).
We learn very early on that Simon is abused by the guards that work there. There are only two guards that you ever see and they seem to work 24/7. The head of the Institute, “Dr. Marlowe”, is played to creepy perfection by Roy Ward.
Karen starts her evaluation. What takes place next is a series of flashbacks throughout Simon’s life from a small boy to a man in his early twenties, who is a vicious killer with a penchant for using a straight razor on his victim’s throat. The flashbacks jump from small boy to adult to teenager, and not necessarily in that order. I like this, as it keeps you on your toes while watching and makes it that much more engrossing.
Simon is raised by a twisted mother who abuses him from youth. She has driven Simon’s father away because she is, basically, bat shit crazy. The father tries to write Simon and tell him that he wants to get him away from her, but Simon can’t read. His mother lies to him, saying that his father is a sick person who wants to kill them both. Simon trusts his mother, but wants to believe that this isn’t true.
As a young teen, we see Simon as a depressed kid who has no friends and is bullied by classmates. They chase him after school one day and push him down and taunt him, calling him “Simple Simon” as they know his struggles with reading. One of the bullies pulls a book from Simon’s bag; it is The Ugly Duckling. Jeering him for reading books that a small child could read, the bully rips it up. What is left is half a page which shows “The UGLY.”
A classmate named Julie goes to help Simon after being pushed down and bullied. He’s limping and has suffered an injury on the right side of his face which requires bandaging, so she helps him home. Julie is attracted to Simon, as he is to her. His mother immediately brushes Julie off as a threat to her control over him.
One day, Julie visits Simon at his house while he is healing from his wounds. His mother comes home and thrashes Julie, throwing her out of the house. In the course of these events, Julie’s glasses are knocked off her head. Simon sneaks off at night to bring them back to her.
Returning home, he sees his mother standing in the doorway with a strap, waiting to beat the holy hell out of him! (This is a pretty creepy scene.) He is beaten by her to the point where he decides to start listening to “The Ugly“; the voices in his head. Mommy is his first victim! He slits her throat while she sleeps and just gazes over her bloody corpse. He spends 4 years in a psychiatric institute due to this and is released when he is 17.
One thing to note is that the blood in this movie is black which gives it a more visceral appeal to me. His killings are so violent, and as stated earlier, almost always involve slicing the throat… so, red would have been over the top. Kudos to the director for going this route!
Yes, Simon calls the voices in his head “The Ugly”. He has no self-esteem and feels like everyone is laughing at him. Every time Simon looks at his reflection, he still sees his scarred face from when he was beaten up by his classmates. He sees himself as an ugly person. Every time, except one….
He is shown killing random women and men throughout the flashbacks because, as he tells Karen, “I like killing people”. Simon also has a weakness for other wounded people. After killing a man in an alley, he notices that a young girl has seen him commit this act. He gives chase, catching her after a few minutes. As he is about to kill her, he notices that she is deaf. Simon realizes that she is just like him: wounded, scarred and damaged. He also stops to help a dog that has been hit by a car while he has a freshly killed body in his back seat. He brings this dog to a vet and discovers his middle school crush, Julie, is working there.
Despite turning her down for a drink (due to the victim in his car) Simon goes to visit her shortly after. He sees Julie on the porch and then sees a man walk up and embrace her. Simon thinks this is a boyfriend, when, in fact, it is her brother. Not knowing this, Simon waits for Julie to leave for work, then kills him. Simon ends up seeing her about a month later and they go on a date. He kills her as well, the voices are too strong for him to resist. They taunt, telling him to “Kill the Bitch”. The “visitors”, which is a name that Simon makes up, show up multiple times and are pretty creepy. They are all of his victims, and as his death toll rises, so do the amount of “visitors”. This makes it harder for him to ignore their taunts.
Back at the Institute, Karen has let down her guard with Simon. His handcuffs are off and she is pushing him to tell her “why” he kills people. He is pushed “over the edge” and attacks her. After attacking Karen, he is beaten by the guards. They challenge him to try what he tried on her. He resists, but then asks if the challenge is still open. He kills both of the guards quite easily and gruesomely. Simon walks out of the facility while the head doctor watches.
After escaping, he is seen in Karen’s bedroom as she sleeps. She awakens to see him in front of her and pleads with him to not kill her. He slits her throat, but she wakes up to realize it was only a nightmare. Then, it shows her lying in bed with her throat silt and Simon standing over her. Reviews on this movie talk about the ending and how it leaves things up for interpretation. I’m pretty sure he kills her. He killed his mother and his middle school sweetheart, so The Ugly wouldn’t have any problem killing the doctor he had virtually no connection with. This is also the only time he sees his reflection and it is not scarred.
I highly recommend this movie. It’s well-acted, has a great storyline, excellent kill scenes, and a few scenes that really mess with your head. Simon is a vicious killer, but also feels for those that are weak and wounded both physically and emotionally. This doesn’t make his actions justifiable, but it definitely makes you feel for him on some level.
Side note: Paolo won Best Actor at Fantafestival in 1997 for his portrayal of Simon.
1997 was actually a decent year for horror flicks, but The Ugly takes the cake in my book.
Honorable mentions for 1997- Event Horizon, The Relic, Scream 2, Wishmaster, Alien: Resurrection