One of the finest things about the horror genre is that it serves as an excellent platform for deep dives into philosophy and the human psyche. Many horror movies can be viewed as morality plays. If you do something that either society or religion consider to be bad, then you will be forced to atone for those wrongs, one way or another. Instant karma gonna get you, and a lot of cases, it carries a machete.
Seizure, the first film by multiple Academy Award winner Oliver Stone, wades into deep metaphysical waters. All the villains are archetypes, including a character known as the Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick) who may be the embodiment of the Hindu goddess of death, Kali. The main character, an author named Edmund Blackstone (Jonathan Frid), has found himself in the grip of a recurring nightmare, blurring the lines between dark dream logic and reality. There are discussions of faith, nihilism and materialism. It is also implied that the trio of villains, all three of whom were the subjects of Blackstone’s repeating dream, are actually tulpas, created by Blackstone’s subconscious.
Many of the ideas and concepts in Seizure are worth expanding and expanding upon. That doesn’t happen. This film does not take a deep dive into those areas, choosing instead to chop those cosmic thoughts into an obtuse word salad. “I believe in myself,” says one character during a discussion of the existence of God. “Therefore, I have faith in Him.” That character is killed off before any meaningful discussion of that kind of pantheistic narcissism can be had. No worries, though! There’s plenty of clove-smoking esoteric nonsense dialogue to go around.
As I watched the film, I was filled with a number of emotions, most of them involving how much I wanted every single character in this film to die a slow, horrible death. Yes, even the kid. After the first twenty minutes, I found myself pondering the tenets of sadomasochism. Did I hate myself so much that I would willingly subject myself to this experience? What have I become, my sweetest friend? Did I really care where this burning airplane of a film crashed?
Despite the bored yet impotent rage I felt while watching Seizure, there are aspects of it that can be admired. In a standard horror movie, villains who view themselves as moral superiors confront the protagonists with their secret sins. Those “good guys” are made to feel guilty, the pain of the consequences of their actions, before being brough to some poetically fitting end. [Hello, entire Saw franchise.]
Seizure forgoes that standard story point by introducing what Marc Summers would joyously declare a physical challenge. After interrupting the Blackstone weekend picnic, the bad guys gather everyone in the house to declare a foot race. Whoever loses the race gets killed first. There is a strong possibility that this sequence exists only to watch Mary Woronov run. Nonetheless, it’s a nicely twisted take on a well-worn trope.
Casting for Seizure is also slightly inspired. Besides Beswick, who turns in a menacing performance, the villains include a giant Black man called Jackal (Henry Judd Baker) and a small French person known as Spider, played by Herve Villechaize. Spider, dressed in red like a French dandy from the Revolutionary era, wears a necklace made of claws. His small stature makes him the most unlikely person to cut a bitch, but Spider is largely responsible for Seizure‘s body count.
Unfortunately, the first time we meet Spider, he is encouraging an elderly woman to use some sort of magical face cream that will allegedly make her look younger and reunite her with her dead husband. Those are hefty claims. It’s a good thing that woman died before Spider could lay out his Ray Bradbury-inspired MLM pitch.
Without question, the finest acting in the movie comes from Joseph Sirola as the abrasive and borderline-offensive Charlie. A man who flaunts his wealth as much as his chest hair, Charlie argues with gas station owners and women, emphasizes his points by thumping people in the chest with his index finger, and hits on the Blackstone family’s babysitter who is maybe 14 years old.
Imagine Robert Loggia staring into a series of mirrors, the reflected image becoming Loggia upon Loggia until there is no reality but an infinity of Loggias. Sirola takes that Loggia singularity, absorbs it into himself, and becomes something else entirely: the All-Loggia, both himself as an individual and the snarlingly beatific Godhead that is the universal Loggia. Sirola believes in himself, therefore he has faith in Robert Loggia.
Shit. Now I’m doing it.
Seizure thinks it is far more intelligent than it is, like a smug person who misses their shot to solve the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. Perhaps if Stone had opted to make Seizure more of a straightforward horror movie, trimming down the metaphysical aspects of the script, it would have been a stronger film. At the very least, it would have been less self-aware.
As it stands, Seizure is one of the oddest of 1970s cinema oddities. It runs circles around itself attempting to combine fear and intelligence until it eventually collapses. While some people have an innate attraction to viewing debris, there may not be enough here to hold your attention. You’ll start watching Seizure, but by the end, you’ll end up just looking at it.