All about the reel librarians in ‘All About Evil’ (2010)

A tale of two reel librarians in this indie horror cult classic

Continuing the scary season during the month of October, this is a time when I focus on analyzing reel librarian portrayals in horror movies, thrillers, etc. And I have a super-scary, super-sized analysis post this week about the reel librarians in the 2010 cult classic, All About Evil.

If this title sounds familiar to you already, it’s probably because I’ve mentioned it already on this blog before: “Killer librarians” post from 2012, “Librarians in horror films” post from 2014, and “Serial killer librarians” post from 2018. Last year, on my second guest post on the Maddwolf Fright Club podcast with Hope Madden & George Wolf, I also expressed how much I wanted to get a copy of All About Evil:

Me: I haven’t seen this film [yet], but I want to see it. I couldn’t find a copy of it, but I’m intrigued by the 2010 … indie horror film called All About Evil. And Natasha Lyonne stars as a librarian who inherits a movie house, and she then — from what I’ve read about the description, because I haven’t been able to track it down — she then starts making snuff films… Do y’all know this film?

Hope: We’ve heard of it as well. It is impossible to get. I’ve been trying. I mean, how delightful does that movie sound? If you watch the trailer, it really looks like a hoot! It looks like so much fun, and yeah, I’ve been trying for years to track it down… We’re dying to watch it!

Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait that long! This past summer, Hope let me know that All About Evil was getting a special Blu-ray release! I promptly pre-ordered myself a copy, and the timing was perfect to analyze it for this scary season!

Here’s the summary from the back of the special edition Blu-Ray:

When a mousy librarian takes over her late father’s struggling movie theater, a series of grisly murders caught on camera will transform her into the new queen of indie splatter cinema.

Here’s the original teaser trailer from 2010:

The All About Evil Teaser Trailer” by Peaches Christ, Standard YouTube license

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

Since Natasha Lyonne, the star of the movie, is present throughout the entire film, I really cannot analyze this movie without divulging MAJOR plot spoilers, including the ending.

Also a spoiler? What Hope and I both hoped about this cult classic is TRUE: This film overall is delightful. It is a hoot. If you love horror and camp — and classic cinema in general — you will very likely lovelovelove this movie.

However, I do feel I need to point out that there is a shocking and abrupt scene of violence against an older Asian woman in the film. While this scene is used to demonstrate the depravity of a specific character, this kind of violent act is even more sensitive today due to the rise of anti-Asian violence. This scene also stands out more in this film because of the relatively little racial diversity in its cast, as all of the leads are White (or White-presenting) actors. I felt compelled to include this as both as a spoiler and as a trigger warning.

And if you are a real-life librarian, you are probably going to feel alllllllll the emotions with this one… because, well, this movie does NOT hold back with what happens to librarians who break the rules. And both librarians break the rules in this movie, in different ways.

And yes, there are TWO major reel librarian characters in this movie. More to analyze! In fact, I am going to structure this analysis post by exploring the journeys of these two reel librarians: Deborah “Deb” Tennis and Evelyn.

Let’s get to the killing, shall we?

The tale of Deborah Tennis || The tale of Evelyn || Tales of classic lit + movie posters || Tales of trivia + Easter eggs

The tale of Deborah Tennis (from stage fright to stage star)

The lead character in this movie is reel librarian Deborah Tennis, played by Natasha Lyonne. Her “origin” story begins the film, as we start with an external view of the Victoria Theatre in 1984, showing The Wizard of Oz. Debbie’s father owns the theater and is seen as supportive, telling Debbie she has “star quality,” while her mother, Tammy (dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West) is cruel and taunting. Debbie, dressed as Dorothy, starts singing nervously to the theater full of children and accompanied on the piano by her father. When taunted by the children – and her mother – her bladder lets go and drips onto the cord of the microphone. Debbie electrocutes herself, which causes the streak of grey in her reddish hair. 

Cut to present day, outside of the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library, and we learn about Deb’s commitment to the movie theater and her father’s legacy as she locks up the library and chats with Evelyn, another librarian. [More details about this conversation in Evelyn’s tale, below]

External view of the San Francisco Public Library's Presidio Branch Library
External view of the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library

First kill

Deb then opens up the theater, and we meet the projectionist, Mr. Twigs (played by Jack Donner). Deb reads a book while staffing the concession stand. Her hair is in a messy bun, and her outfit is drab, with an olive skirt, brown button-down shirt, and tan cardigan. 

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

At 11:44 minutes, her mother (played by Julie Caitlin Brown) confronts her about wanting to sell the movie theater, demands that Deb sign the papers, and insults her AND her profession.

Tammy: Now you listen to me. You are nothing but a boring, little librarian with big, big dreams and hideous little looks. Besides, you read too much. You’re a loser, just like your fat ass father was.

Tammy then assaults Deb by holding Deb’s hand by the hot popcorn maker. Deb takes the pen and holds it like a weapon. Her mom scoffs at her.

Tammy: Face it. Your father knew deep down inside that you were useless. You’re one of those plain girls living in the world of the bland. You lack any sort of star quality.

Deb: Fuck you, Mother! [stabs her in the neck with the pen]

First kill!

The camera then cuts over to grainy security footage. (Is it odd that the concession stand counter kind of reminded me a library’s front desk counter?) And then we witness Deb’s transformation in self-confidence (and serial killing) begin as we see her shake out her hair from its messy bun – an interesting play off the Naughty Librarian’s signature move. 

Deb [now laughing]: Blood! The wicked bitch is dead! [unbuttons her blouse] Star quality. 

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

What an introduction and transformation to this central librarian character! 

The audience starts shouting at them to start the movie, and Deb rushes upstairs to project the movie. She accidentally starts playing the security footage onto the movie screen. Mr. Twigs, who had briefly gone out to the corner store, quickly dons a red blazer and announces on stage that this was an original short film. Deb then helps Mr. Twigs stash her mom’s body in the movie theater’s attic.

Deb revels in the praise for her “short film,” including after Steven, a high schooler and movie horror fan (played by Thomas Dekker), compliments  her “surveillance slaughter.”

Second kill

At 20:42, we see Deb back at the concession stand, but this time dressed in a trendier lace-trimmed top, and her hair down in waves. This is when Peaches Christ (a drag queen persona created by the film director Joshua Grannell) makes a cameo. Steven explains how major it is that Peaches, “the queen of the midnight movie scene here in San Francisco,” has come to the movie theater. 

I immediately said out loud, “No one better harm Peaches!”

Deb then encounters Veronica (Kat Turner), a Goth girl, who is talking on the phone while she orders a soda. An annoyed Deb, a quick thinker herself, puts a sleeping powder into Veronica’s soda. We are witnessing more of Deb’s transformation as she clearly sees opportunities (for murder) and takes risks. This is also the first time that Deb introduces herself as “De-BOR-ah,” an affectation that continues throughout. 

Veronica wakes up in a deserted theater. Deb and Mr. Twigs lure her down to the theater’s basement, where she runs into Deb, dressed up like Marie Antoinette and knitting. Deb recites the immortal first line of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” There is a guillotine in the corner of the room. However, Mr. Twigs cannot fit the girl’s head through the hole.

Even in the midst of murder, Deb reveals her inner librarian.

Deb: You idiot! Fool! I said a proper guillotine. I gave you the book… Did you even read the book?

Did you even read the book?
Did you even read the book?

Deb then has an idea, and we cut to a movie poster, “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” and a long line outside the theater. Deb – looking glamorous with straight-ironed hair, eyeliner, and lipstick and outfitted in a 1940’s style black dress, similar to Joan Crawford or Bette Davis – introduces her new short film as a reminder for the audience to silence their cell phones during the movie. “Or else.”

Killer research

Evelyn then comes to the movie theater to find Deb and leaves a note for her. [There are more details of this scene in Evelyn’s tale below] Mr. Twigs brings the note to Deb, who’s sitting in the movie theater and reading another book (The Scarlet Letter) and taking notes. My librarian spidey senses lit up – she’s doing more research! 

Deb complains that Evelyn is too loud. Deb also reveals that she never went back to the library and that she’s not a librarian anymore. Rather, she’s an actress and a filmmaker. 

Just so we’re clear: According to Deb, talking in a movie theater is rude, but ditching your job without an explanation is not. Ok, then.

I'm not a librarian anymore
I’m not a librarian anymore.

Deb then reveals that they need more help. The camera then pans to a closeup of a newspaper with a front-page story of “Killer Twins Prepare for Release: Diabolical duo slaughtered entire family at age 7” and another article entitled “Trampsylvania” about how homelessness is up 12% from last year. A copy of A Tale of Two Cities is also visible. Next, we see a copy of a police report about the “killer twins” (played with almost-silent relish by real-life twin sisters, Jade Ramsey and Nikita Ramsey).

I was right – more research by this killer librarian! Deb may say she’s no longer a librarian, but she’s obviously still using her librarian skillz. There’s a saying in the library world that I think applies here: Once a librarian, ALWAYS a librarian.

A Tale of Two Cities and a newspaper, research for a serial killer librarian
Research for a serial killer librarian!

Deb then poses as the twins’ aunt as she and Mr. Twigs bring the twins back to the movie theater. On the way back to the movie theater, they spy Adrian, a violent man who is homeless, and their murder crew is complete. 

At 39 minutes into the movie, Deb lays down the rules to the crew at a diner, further cementing her transformation:

Deb: There’s magic in movies. I learned that from my father. You are entering into a code of conduct here, an artist’s secret society, and there are rules. I am in charge. You will do as I say, and in return, I will give you a life most people, they only dream about. This is the business we call show. And I’m your manager, your publicist, your agent, and your directress. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Just a reminder that even though Deb no longer considers herself a librarian, she is still fixated on RULES. You can take the lady out of the library…

Third kill

The next scene, at 42 minutes into the movie,  involves the crew walking up to the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library at closing time. Their next victim for their next short film? Evelyn, the noisy librarian! [I go into more detail about the ensuing chase in the library in Evelyn’s tale below.]

The murder crew arrives at the Presidio Branch Library
The murder crew arrives at the Presidio Branch Library

In the next scene, the high schooler Steven is talking with his mom (played by Cassandra Peterson, who plays the iconic Elvira!!!) and reveals that he thinks he’s in love with “an older woman.” In a cheeky Easter Egg, his mom looks up to a poster of Elvira on his wall, but we know that he’s talking about Deb.

We next see Deb introducing her new short film, as a way to convey the movie theater etiquette of not talking during the movie – these moral lessons come at a deadly price, y’all. 

Fourth kill

Before the short film premiere, Steven’s date, mean girl Claire (Lyndsy Kail), is rude about Deb and drag queens. Claire also interrupts Deb’s introduction of the new short film by announcing that she has to go to the bathroom. Ever the opportunist, Deb dispatches Claire forthwith – and we get to see the shot that made it to the special edition’s Blu-ray cover! We also get another fun literary allusion – the clapboard reads “The Scarlet Leper” (The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne).

Deb closes in for another kill
Deb closes in for another kill

We then revisit Evelyn, who’s tied up in the movie theater attic – and again, those details are in Evelyn’s tale, below.

At just over an hour into the film, we next hear about another literature-inspired short film, as Deb and Mr. Twigs review footage in the projection room. They reference “The Slasher in the Rye” (The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J. D. Salinger). Deb is feeling and sounding more self-confident… arguably over-confident by this point.

Because by this time, the high schooler Steven is getting suspicious by Claire’s sudden disappearance, and his friend Judy (Ariel Hart) pretends to be a reporter who wants to interview Deb. I’ll just say that we don’t hear from Judy again until the end of the movie, and her disappearance convinces Steven that “something is rotten” at the Victoria Theatre….

Meanwhile, Deb metamorphoses again, this time with a Clara Bow-type pout. A local reporter, Peter, interviews her, and Deb is referred to as a film director. Deb’s celebrity continues to rise, along with her ego.

Deborah Tennis, film director
Deborah Tennis, film director

At 1 hour and 12 minutes into the movie, the movie theater is advertising a “Soup Kitchen Matinee,” and we quickly see how this event is a cover for Deb to scout out potential victims for upcoming films.

Steven arrives with a police officer, Detective Woods (Nicholas Bearde), to ask to search the theater for Judy. Deb refuses and accuses Steven of being an “obsessed fan.” Detective Woods leaves to get a warrant (“We gotta do this by the book”… just a different book than Deb uses for inspiration, hah! 😉 ), and Deb confronts Steve outside the theater. 

Final kill

This conversation sets the scene for the finale and the premiere of Deb’s first feature-length film, “Gore and Peace.” They hand out complimentary beverages to the audience members – including Peaches Christ! Again, nothing better harm Peaches!!! – and tell them to wait until directed to drink it. Steven’s mom shows up, in an effort to better understand Steven’s interest in Deb and in horror movies, so Steven feels he has to stay to protect his mom and to find out what happened to Claire and Judy. 

Deb is dressed in her most avant-garde outfit yet, with her highest hair. Her ego has risen in tandem with her hair volume.

Deb's highest hairstyle
Deb’s highest hairstyle

Deb announces that they’re going “to make film history tonight” by premiering “the debut of a brand new type of cinema.” No one pays attention at first to Steven’s pleas to not drink the complimentary beverages (which are poisonous)… and then all hell breaks loose. The audience realizes they are locked into the theater, and the decomposing victims start dropping out of the attic through a blood-soaked grate. [Yes, Evelyn’s body is one of them… but again, more details about that in Evelyn’s tale below.]

Finally, at 1 hour and 30 minutes into the movie, Deb, Steven, and his mom end up on the roof, with Deb threatening Steven’s mom with a knife. Deb has a wild look in her eyes, and you can tell Natasha Lyonne relished every over-the-top facial expression she got to give during this climactic scene.

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

Steven and his mom taunt Deb about her lack of “star quality,” which sends Deb over the edge… literally. Deb falls onto the spotlights outside the movie theater. A star til the very end…

That was indeed a journey with reel librarian Deb, from stage fright to stage star to finally becoming a victim to her own success and ego. And even though she rejected being a librarian, she couldn’t shake her research instincts, which we witnessed her employ in order to find members of her murderous film crew as well as to create short films that played off classic works of literature. 

Deb’s reel librarian role + significance

What role and character type did Deb serve in the movie? She is the lead of the movie, so this movie definitely qualifies as a Class I film, in which librarians are lead characters, and their occupations serve as a catalyst or are otherwise integral to the plot. In a way, you could argue that Deb is a Naughty Librarian, one who is considered unsuccessful in their profession and finds an (illegal or unethical) outlet to express their unfulfilled desires. Deb does embrace her “femme fatale” persona throughout the film.

However, I think Deb is more akin to a Liberated Librarian, as she becomes more confident and assertive through the course of the film… but the twist (of the knife) is that contrary to most Liberated Librarians, who find liberation through being a librarian, Deb finds liberation from the library by killing people. But in her mind, she doesn’t just murder people for fun… she murders them for a reason, because they break “the rules,” her rules. Yet in killing them, she becomes the ultimate rule-breaker herself.

The tale of Evelyn (from cats to (body) cast)

The role of Evelyn is played by actress Mink Stole, who has appeared in every film directed by John Waters.

First sin

Evelyn first appears after the title credits as the screen pans to the San Francisco Public Library, present day. We get our first glimpse of both Evelyn and Deb on the steps outside the front doors. The two reel librarians have clearly just locked up the library for the night and have paused for some introductory exposition. Their conversation reveals Deb’s situation with the movie theater, and we also learn more personal details about Evelyn. Evelyn also criticizes Deb and her interests, casting her first sin — at least in Deb’s eyes.

Evelyn: So how are you really, dear?

Deb: I’m fine.

Evelyn: You know, I’m concerned, Deb. Ever since your father passed, well, you need to talk about it. It just kills me to think of you sitting over there, running all that horror nonsense. Those are not real movies.

Deb: The plan is business as usual.

Evelyn: Honey, I know what it’s like to feel alone. No husband, no children. Just me and the cats.

Evelyn says it's "Just me and the cats"
This should be a meme.

Deb: I’m sorry, Evelyn. I need to get to the theater before the –

Evelyn: Deb, I’m serious. Don’t take on your father’s showbiz debts and burdens. Honey, I know you were close, but, well, there’s no future there.

Deb: My father invested everything he had into the Victoria Theatre. He truly loved the movie experience, and above all else, Daddy was a showman. Years of blood, sweat, and tears went into the business he loved so much, the business of show. He never wanted me to be a librarian. I was to be a great Hollywood actress. Well, I may have disappointed my father in life, but I’m gonna do my absolute best to make him proud, even in death. It’s like Daddy always said, the show must go on. 

Another meme-worthy moment: Here’s how Evelyn reacted when Deb stated that her dad never wanted her to be a librarian. INDEED.

Evelyn's reaction when her colleague Deb says she was never supposed to be a librarian, but a Hollywood actress instead.
Another meme-worthy moment after a fellow librarian says she was never supposed to be a librarian.

Second sin

Half an hour later, at 33 minutes, we see Evelyn walking to the movie theater and knocking loudly at the locked front doors (her second sin is being loud). She is wearing casual clothing, including a straw hat, a floral canvas jacket, and a chunky necklace. 

Evelyn finally leaves a note and card for Deb under the ticket booth window.

Evelyn knocks at the movie theater entrance
Evelyn knocks at the movie theater entrance

Mr. Twigs brings the note to Deb, who is researching. Deb has a negative reaction to Evelyn’s note (and knocking), and we learn more about her dynamic with Evelyn.

Deb: I know. I heard her. Everyone heard her.

Mr. Twigs: She’s old.

Deb: It was Evelyn, the librarian. [She opens the letter.] She’s worried about me. I was scheduled to work at the library and haven’t shown up. I can’t go back there. I’m not a librarian anymore. You know, Evelyn doesn’t know me at all. How dare she come here and bang on the door? I mean, she was banging, right? Not knocking. She’s always so loud. I have work to do, Mr. Twigs. I can no longer sell tickets and shovel popcorn. I am not a concessionnaire. I’m an actress. I am a filmmaker. How dare she.

Uh oh. Watch out, Evelyn! No one likes a loud librarian! Rogue, rule-breaking librarians need to be stopped!

And Evelyn has indeed become the target of Deb’s next movie… and murder. At 42:37 minutes, the new crew is walking up to the library at night. I have a bad feeling about this…

Shushing the librarian

Next we see Evelyn behind the library counter, dressed in a bright print top and chunky necklace. (I admit, I admire Evelyn’s sense of style. She’s not afraid of bold colors and prints!) We can see a cart of books and tied-up newspapers and books behind her. Evelyn then walks through the library and calls out, “Good night, books.” (I found this quite charming! I can neither confirm nor deny that I have done the same thing. 😉 ) We also see a closeup of a row of books with call numbers and barcodes. Those little details reveal how this was filmed at a real-life library. (You can see past photos of the Presidio Branch Library here, and you can tell it’s the same library.)

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

Evelyn hears a noise and looks around. And Evelyn’s tale here also becomes a tale of shushes, as this reel librarian gets shushed a total of 7 times (!) during this scene.

Evelyn: Hello? Is there anybody there? 

[Deb: Shhhh] 

Evelyn [to herself]: You are really crazy, lady. Now you’re hearing shushes. 

[Deb: Shhhh] 

Evelyn: Hello? I said the library’s closed.

A spotlight flicks on, and Deb runs around to see the camera crew and Deb in her French Revolution wig and costume.

And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh
And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh.

Evelyn [clearly shocked]: I said the library was closed.

Deb: And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh.

Evelyn: Who are you? What is this all about?

Deb: Perhaps my lady does not understand ye olde English. Shhhh means shut the fuck up, bitch! [slaps her]

Reel librarian fight!
Reel librarian fight!

Evelyn runs into a bookcase corner and pulls out a pair of scissors from her tote bag. (I admit, I was impressed by Evelyn’s pluck and resourcefulness.)

Deb grabs Evelyn through a bookcase, still taunting Evelyn.

Deb: So you can be quiet. My lady was quiet as a mouse. 

Evelyn stabs Deb’s hand with the scissors but is confronted by the twins, both of whom shush her!

Evelyn then pushes out a row of books to escape through a bookcase, but she drops the scissors. Deb picks up the scissors, and the lights come up. Evelyn finally recognizes Deb.

Evelyn puts up a good fight

This chase scene in the library ends at 45:30 minutes and last 3 minutes total.

Two minutes later, at 47:46 minutes, we return to the library, where Deb has brought out a sewing kit and prepares to sew Evelyn’s mouth shut. (And probably used Evelyn’s scissors to cut the thread. Oh, the irony.) The camera is rolling as Deb continues to chide Evelyn for being loud.

Deb: As victors of my silence cannot boast, I was not sick of any fear from thence. For I impair not beauty, being mute, when others would give life and bring a tomb.

Evelyn: Oh, Debbie, please. You don’t have to do this. Listen to me, whatever this is all about, we can get you some help.

Deb: All done? Shhhhh.

Deb then proceeds to sew Evelyn’s mouth shut (FYI, they used a prosthetic for this). Switching to grainy black and white, we see Deb turn to the camera.

Deb: You’re getting this in close-up, right?

You're getting this in close up, right?
You’re getting this in close up, right?

Deb then drives home the message to the audience.

Deb: My movie theater shall be silent as a library, a managerial promise made to thee. Silence whilst the movie screens, for if thou speech is deemed undo, you too shall star in “The Maiming of the Shrew.”

My movie theater shall be silent as a library
Library film set

The library scene ends at 49:40 minutes, lasting two minutes. The complete library scene with Evelyn, comprised of both the chase scene and final filming scene, lasts a totality of 5 minutes.

The final insult

About ten minutes later, Deb’s newest short film premieres to a full house. The camera then pans to the movie theater’s attic, where we see that Evelyn is still alive, still tied up and her mouth still sewn shut! She is surrounded by other bodies. While the film plays, she starts screaming and tears open the threads on her mouth. Mr. Twigs realizes what has happened and comes up with an axe.

Evelyn: Somebody! Help me! [sees Mr. Twigs] You motherfucker. You let me out! You hear me, you ignorant old fuck! Let me out of here, you illiterate old fuck!

Mr. Twigs [swinging down the axe]: She told you to shush.

Yes, Evelyn the librarian gets shushed one last time, EVEN AFTER DEATH. The indignity, y’all.

Steven goes out to the lobby and congratulates Deb on her new movie.

Steven: Your new movie’s amazing! Seriously, it’s like they just keep getting bigger and better. Who was that lady? She was rad.

Deb: Thanks, Steven. She’s an old friend.

We know “that lady” and “an old friend” is Evelyn. I’m going to react here by channeling Evelyn’s facial expression from earlier:

Channeling Evelyn's librarian stare
Channeling Evelyn’s librarian stare

There is one more scene featuring [parts of] Evelyn. All hell breaks loose for Deb’s feature film debut. A local reporter describes it as, “Filmmaker Deborah Tennis is conducting a real life movie massacre.” As everyone is screaming and trying to get out of the movie theater they are locked in, the decomposing bodies start dropping out of the attic through the grate. Evelyn’s hand – a very realistic-looking prosthetic, props to the prop department! – drops into Peaches Christ’s popcorn. [That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!]

Adrian then comes at Peaches with a cleaver, and Evelyn gets her final revenge. Her beheaded body drops from the ceiling… and lands on Adrian’s own head, suffocating and killing him.

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE LIBRARIANS, Y’ALL. 😉

I did pause and cheer for Evelyn’s final revenge! (I also couldn’t help but laugh because it reminded me of the Thanksgiving episode of Friends when both Joey and Monica wear the turkey on their heads.)

So that is the tale of Evelyn the reel librarian… from cats to (body) cast. 

Evelyn’s reel librarian role + significance

What role did Evelyn serve in this movie? Her character held some surprises for me. Sure, they made a point of highlighting that Evelyn was single and had cats – a hallmark of the lonely, Spinster Librarian character type – but she also looked like a woman happy with her life choices. She also cared about Deb and was worried about her — although she expressed this in a nosy, judgmental way (“Those are not real movies”) — and took the time to try and contact Deb in person. Evelyn also showed pluck and resourcefulness in how she fought against the murderous crew in the library, brandishing her scissors and crawling through bookcases. She was also viewed as a rule-breaker (at least by Deb) for being loud.

Because a lot of her role, especially the beginning scene, filled in expository details, I think Evelyn partially serves as an Information Provider. Dressed in brightly colored, patterned clothing and jewelry, I think her characterization also plays against the Spinster Librarian character type (but is still informed by that stereotype). And based on all those shushes and the body-dropping final shot of her time onscreen – which is a hilariously campy and suspension-of-disbelief kind of moment – I would also argue that Evelyn also partially serves as Comic Relief.

Surprisingly (to me!), I would also argue that Evelyn could be seen as an Atypical portrayal, as well. We see her outside the library, when she walks to the movie theater, and we witness her personality and intelligence, like when she fights in the library and when she continues to yell at Mr. Twigs at the very end. She doesn’t have that much screen time, relatively speaking, but Mink Stole soaks up every minute she does get onscreen and has truly created a memorable reel librarian character in Evelyn.

Tales of classic lit + movie posters

The movie credits feature posters of more movies directed by Deborah Tennis, all based on classic literature title puns! Two of the posters, “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” and “Gore and Peace,” were featured in the movie, as I mention above, but the other posters are new. (Interesting that “The Slasher in the Rye” was mentioned in the movie but isn’t featured here.)

  • A Tale of Two Severed Titties (A Tale of Two Cities, a novel by Charles Dickens)
  • Gore and Peace (War and Peace, a novel by Leo Tolstoy)
  • The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (a literary mashup from The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and Frankenstein, a novel by Mary Shelley)
  • The Satanic Nurses (The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman Rushdie)
  • I Know Why the Caged Girl Screams (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou)
  • MacDeath (Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare)

Tales of trivia + Easter eggs

Most of the trivia below comes from the special features and documentaries included in the special edition Blu-ray.

  • The title, All About Evil, comes from the 1950 classic movie, All About Eve, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. (I love that this movie references both classic and cult classic cinema!)
  • The director, Joshua Grannell, grew up loving horror movies and studied film production at Penn State. His first short film, “Jizzmopper” also featured the origin of his Peaches Christ drag character. 
  • Grannell moved to San Francisco after college and became a theater manager at a local single-screen movie theater, The Bridge Theatre, and began the “Midnight Mass” stage show in the late 1990s. 
  • Grannell made a short film called “Grindhouse” that All About Evil is based on… and “Grindhouse” was included in the special edition Blu-ray!
  • Mink Stole was the first celebrity guest for the “Midnight Mass” stage show and agreed to be in the movie without reading the script.
  • Cassandra Peterson (the iconic Elvira) was jealous of Mink Stole’s part in All About Evil!
  • Grannell envisioned Deb’s character as similar to Doris Wishman, who was an American film director and screenwriter, particularly in the sexploitation film genre… and Natasha Lyonne, Grannell’s dream choice for the lead, had actually met Doris Wishman in real life!
  • The movie was scheduled to shoot at the Bridge Theatre, but had to find a different location 10 days before shooting began. The Victoria Theatere served as the actual set in the film.
  • Peaches Christ was not originally meant to be in the feature film. Joshua Grannell spent 8 days of filming as Peaches, which he revealed were the hardest days for him, as he had to apply the drag makeup before he came to set. He was known as “Peachua” on those days.
  • The film’s premiere was at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2010, and they did a “Peaches Christ” road show with the movie to introduce it across the U.S.
  • Mink Stole, an indie film pro, started taking charge in the library scene to hurry up production!
  • The “Behind the Evil: 2010 Making of” featurette reveals several behind-the-scenes shots of the library scene and reel librarians!

Continuing the conversation

As I mentioned above, All About Evil is based on Joshua Grannell’s 2003 short film, “Grindhouse.” This original short, which is 13 minutes long, is featured on the Blu-ray special edition, and I watched just enough to find out that the short film’s lead character is still a librarian. The light bulb went off in my head… so I will follow up next time in November with an analysis post about the original short film, “Grindhouse.” Let’s continue the scary season, shall we? 🙂

I also thought it would be interesting to compare the serial killer librarian in Chainsaw Sally with the serial killer librarian Deb in this movie… what do y’all think about that idea for a future post? Cage match between reel librarian serial killers!

Have you seen All About Evil? Is campy horror your thing? Are you intrigued by the two reel librarian characters in this movie? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

An ‘abandon’-ed reel librarian

“You fell asleep in an old library, which is terrifying under the best of circumstances.”

Continuing analysis of scary movies during this month of October… next up is 2002’s Abandon, starring Katie Holmes as a brainy and beautiful college student… named Katie. (Big stretch.) The film was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who was fresh off an Oscar win for writing the screenplay for 2000’s Traffic. This film was his first time to direct, and the story was “suggested” by the novel Adam’s Fall by Sean Desmond. Gaghan admitted in the director’s commentary that he just couldn’t get the script right, that he was rewriting until the first day of filming — and honestly, you can tell while watching the film. But it is an interesting film to watch, and it includes several scenes in the library!

College senior Katie (Holmes) is dealing with exams, finishing her thesis, doing job interviews, when a cop, Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), starts investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing Embry again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? A few scenes highlight the socially awkward “Mousy Julie,” a student library assistant played by Melanie Lynskey, who provides insights into how Katie attracts male attention.

Roger Ebert’s review of the film gave it 2.5 stars out of 4, saying it was ultimately unsatisfying, mainly because it had to be a thriller. He called Lynskey’s character “snotty know-it-all.”

Here’s a trailer for the film. Interesting to note that Mousy Julie makes the trailer, as does the library. Its rows of bookcases (and lack of sight lines) makes for dramatic scary moments!

Abandon (2002) Official Trailer #1 – Katie Holmes Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Library scene #1:


Six minutes into the film, we get a closeup of Katie working on her thesis in a study carrel, and then the camera pans over rows of bookcases in the college library, where we glimpse the cop. He has gotten microfilm to look up articles about the college student, Embry, who has disappeared. Old school research alert! One of the newspaper photos includes a shot of Larkin with his girlfriend, Katie, which leads the cop straight to Katie.

A cop researching in the library
A cop researching in the library
Microfilm research!
Microfilm research!

I also rewatched the film with the director’s commentary. Stephen Gaghan is refreshingly candid on the commentary track! Here’s what he had to say during this bit of the scene:

This is one of my favorite sequences in the whole movie. I just love it… you come back to Katie, and she’s just going about the business of being a student.  You’re not really getting hit over the head with anything in particular, just feels sorta real to me. He’s doing his thing, he’s in a very cold blue institutional light, isolated. She’s in a very cold blue institutional light, and completely isolated. She’s down in the basement of the library, and I think it’s the first beginnings of these, hopefully, it feels sort of sinister without calling attention to itself.

The next scene returns to Katie at her library cubicle, tired and rubbing her head. And we get our first glimpse of “Mousy Julie,” who is dressed in a lumpy sweater. Here’s their first conversation, and you can tell Julie is socially awkward:

Mousy JulieHi, Katie Burke. There is a message for you. Your thesis advisor, Professor Jergensen’s office, they said I should find you. So I did. Here’s the message. […] It says for you to come to Jergensen’s house. That’s scary. How’s your thesis coming anyway?

KatieIt’s almost done. How’s yours?

Mousy Julie [with a smirk]:  Turned it in. 

Meet Mousy Julie
Meet Mousy Julie

The director’s commentary during this part of the scene reveals that they had to build this part of the library set!

Here’s that library again that we were talking about before. That cold light versus the warm light. This is a set that we then link up with a location. The production designer did an incredible job. He built this thing that looks incredible, and I don’t you really feel the seams. […]

Melanie Lynskey, tremendous as “Mousy Julie.” This was a very interesting problem that we had. We had to build this section of the set… we had to build the library carrel set to match something in Montreal, and it was a big problem, I remember. I really wanted to shoot all or most of this movie on location. […] In this particular case, when we were looking at that library set, we didn’t have enough books to build the real maze that we wanted, so we ended up kind of doing it in pieces between different locations.


Library scene #2:


Eighteen minutes into the film, Katie is back in the library working on her thesis. Detective Handler comes up behind her, addresses her as “Ms. Burke?” This is in contrast with Julie, who says, “Katie? Katie Burke?” Handler keeps asking Katie about Embry and the possibility of him killing himself.

Meeting cute in the library
Meeting cute in the library

Next, Katie’s friends (played by Zooey Deschanel and Gabrielle Union) come up behind her and scream, “We need to be quiet… in the Library!

We also get confirmation from her friends that Katie is often in the library:  “10:30 on a Friday night. I wonder where Katie is?

Hey, Zooey! Funny meeting you here in the library.
Hey, Zooey! Funny meeting you here in the library.

Her friends then drag her to a party — again, a study in contrast to the previous library set!


Library scene #3:


Almost 40 minutes into the film, Katie’s back in the library! (Remember that previous director’s commentary that he purposely reiterated these scenes? He wasn’t kidding!) We see a bird’s-eye view of her cubicle, which is filled with books, post-it notes, wadded-up paper, and multiple cups of coffee. Her private study space reflects her increasingly frazzled inner state of mind.

Messy study cubicle in the library
Messy study cubicle in the library

As Katie takes out her laptop and looks through library books, she hears squeaking behind her. We then see Mousy Julie pushing a squeaky library cart — librarian prop alert! — and wearing another dumpy sweater cardigan. Julie waves at Katie, who turns around and suppresses a laugh.

Hello to you, too, Mousy Julie
Hello to you, too, Mousy Julie

Director’s commentary during this scene:

Trying to make her [Katie] feel more isolated. Also trying to messy up the cubicle to reflect her state of mind, like she’s not caring.


Call numbers + scary thrills:


Katie feels drowsy and puts her head on her arms — but then wakes up suddenly with a whisper, “Katie.” She checks her watch and then notices a call number scratched into the top of her desk:  851.1 .D192i

Dewey call numbers collage
Dewey call numbers collage

Katie then walks down the rows of bookshelves looking for the call number.

Side note:  It’s interesting to note that this is a Dewey Decimal call number, which is an odd choice for a college/university library. Usually, college and university libraries have larger collections and therefore use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system.

So y’all know I had to look up this call number, right? RIGHT. Turns out it’s the call number for Dante’s Inferno (Embry’s last student production was “Trip Hop Inferno” — spooky!). Then I had to look up where this scene was filmed, and it was in a library at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. That then led me to look up the book in the McGill University’s library catalog — and they use the LC classification system, NOT the Dewey Decimal system! So CLEARLY this whole call number sequence in the movie was created just for the film. Odd.

Back to the film… Katie then tracks down the call number, which is when she sees a pair of eyes staring at her over the tops of books on the shelf. Classic scary movie library scene! She runs away and finds herself in the library’s basement.

Call numbers and scary thrills in the library
Call numbers and scary thrills in the library
Running scared in the college library
Running scared in the college library

Director’s commentary during this call number scene:

Here, now we’re on location. You could see how well Gideon matched them. This was in a student library, library in McGill. But it was small. It’s a very small space, and I always wanted this to feel like a labyrinth, you know, like someone could really be lost, and I wanted to take advantage of all the things a labyrinth could give you, mystery, sense of being lost, and we just didn’t have it. We never got it in the locations, and I think it was a mistake although I think Gideon did a great job.

This scene works well because of the hand-held movement, I think. I think once we went into that, we graduated to another level in this scene emotionally. It’s probably the best scare in the film.

I joked several times that we were making a new sub-genre of film called the “thrill-free” thriller, until I learned the catchphrase “mystery.”


Therapy and scary libraries:


Katie then relates this incident to her therapist, played by Tony Goldwyn, who flat-out states that old libraries are “terrifying under the best of circumstances.” Gotta admit, I was IMMEDIATELY biased against this character. 😦

Dr. David SchafferAnd he was locked inside the library with you? … But you hadn’t seen him in two years?

Katie. I know how this sounds.

Dr. SchafferKatie. You fell asleep in an old library, which is terrifying under the best of circumstances. You’re facing your graduation, the completion of your thesis, job interviews, life-changing transitions. You need to make allowances for the emotions that this will bring up.


Library scene #4:


Almost an hour into the film, we see Katie back in her library cubicle, frantically typing away at her thesis. And Mousy Julie again interrupts her to make space for another socially awkward conversation.

Mousy Julie, is that your library sweater?
Mousy Julie, is that your library sweater?

JulieKatie. Hi Katie Burke. Do you know anything about somebody being in the tunnel? Because the door was open and it’s not supposed to be open and it’s to remain closed at all times unless you’re maintenance and you haven’t been around to ask about it and I’m supposed to ask.

KatieNo, I don’t. I’m busy. Goes back to typing.

JulieThat’s not very nice. Should I tell you what I know? I was going to, but now maybe I’ve changed my mind.

KatieWhat are you talking about?

JulieHarrison Hobart is missing. That’s two, isn’t it?

[Note:  Harrison is a friend of Katie’s who had a crush on her.]

Reel librarian glare
Reel librarian glare

Director commentary during this scene:

And Mousy shows up. And heaps more shit on her. … There’s a fatigue from being inside in these dank locations, and there’s a cumulative effect. … [W]e just keep coming back down to these same spaces that are just bleak. I hope it has a tonal effect, cumulatively.


Library scene #5:


Although this next scene in the library follows close on the heels of the previous library scene, at a little over an hour into the film, it serves a very different purpose and has a different look and feel, switching from cold blue tones to warm tones. This next scene is tucked into a little office in the library and features a conversation between Mousy Julie and Detective Wade Handler and the disappearances of Harrison and Embry and their connection to Katie. Mousy Julie ultimately comes off as very observant and also very jealous of Katie.

Mousy Julie gets her say
Mousy Julie gets her say

JulieI’m sure he was in love with her. Harrison is a good guy. He mooned around, but he was sweet. He got his name on scientific papers when he was about 12. So, what did he know about anything?

WadeDo you think it was odd that he still liked a girl who hadn’t shown him any real interest in over two years?

JulieI thought it was the opposite of odd. Guys are drawn to her like bugs around a bug lamp.

[At this point, Julie switches a window on her computer, which was originally set to an article about grief, but she quickly clicks over to an article about electronic journals available on campus.]

Library web page closeup
Library web page closeup

JulieFor four years, I’ve had the privilege of watching it.

WadeThat bother you, Julie?

JulieThink you see the horns of jealousy?  You got my angle? You might want to ask yourself why you’re so interested in her. They think it’s a coltish vulnerability, but it’s just self-obsession. The pea brain says, “She needs saving,” and the pea brain says, “I can save her,” and then she doesn’t notice them. So, they go crazy. It’s about the missing dad… and validation. She just needs a friend.

Reel librarian stare
Reel librarian stare

Very insightful!

Here’s the director’s commentary for this last scene featuring Mousy Julie:

This we used an abandoned elevator foyer to make this little room. I think it looks right. It’s like Mousy Julie’s mousy cubby hole.


Private libraries:


Just a quick note that while watching the film, I noticed that there quite a few private library collections featured in the film, too, including rows of books in her thesis advisor’s office, the counselor’s office, and detective’s home, plus there are book collections in both Katie’s and Embry’s dorm rooms. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan definitely filled his film with different kinds of libraries and book collections!


Deleted scene in the library:


The bulk of the film was shot at a library at McGill University, in Montréal, Québec, Canada. In a behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD, writer/director Stephen Gaghan admitted that he wanted the multiple library scenes to be “ominous and oppressive” — and Montreal provided that!

The DVD’s special features included deleted scenes, which included a scene in the library. We see a bored woman (played by Joan McBride) at a large desk in the middle of the library floor, and Benjamin Bratt looking through a sheet on a clipboard on the counter.

Deleted library scene
Deleted library scene

Library assistantCan I help you?

WadeYeah, I’m, um, looking for a student. She’s not at her carrel and I can’t find her in here.

Library assistant:  If she’s not in the book, she’s not in the library.

Director’s commentary during this deleted scene:

I just love this woman and how she delivers this line.

The architecture of the library is quite stunning.

Library architecture from deleted scene in Abandon (2002)
Library architecture from deleted scene in Abandon (2002)

Reel librarian roles:


Abandon lands in the Class III category of reel librarian films, as it features reel librarians as supporting characters.

Melanie Lynskey in the recurring supporting role of Mousy Julie primarily fulfills the character type of the Information Provider. She is there to be a contrast to the central role of Katie, and to relay information and suspicions to the audience. That last scene with Julie, the conversation she has with the detective, reveals a more personal side to Julie, in which she displays jealousy of Katie — and perhaps her own wistfulness of not attracting male attention herself? In this way, she subtly plays off the role of Spinster Librarian, albeit a more modern, younger version of the stereotypical character type.

The library assistant from the deleted scene is clearly serving a role as Information Provider. The credits also list Robert Burns in the role of Archivist, but I honestly cannot recall seeing or noticing this role. I’m assuming it was a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo kind of role. (I obviously blinked and missed him, both times I rewatched the film.) Regardless, this role serves as another Information Provider.


Sources used:


  • Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002.
  • Ebert, Roger. “Abandon.” RogerEbert.com. Accessed 17 October 2017.

A closer look at the reel librarians in the original ‘Ghostbusters’

The film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

Opening scenes in the library:

The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.

One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)
One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)

The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books.  The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!

Reel librarian screams
Reel librarian screams

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme” video uploaded by Dan Baierl is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:

At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.

This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:

First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)
First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)

Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:

Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters
Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters
Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.

Alice:  I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.

Peter Venkman:  Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?

Alice:  My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

Peter Venkman:  I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?

Alice: No. [horrified]

By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.

Peter Venkman:  No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.

Roger Delacourt:  What has THAT got to do with it?

Peter Venkman:  Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

The library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)

The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!

Paranormal book-stacking
Paranormal book-stacking

They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!

The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)

A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.

When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)

The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”

The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!

As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.

Did you see it? What was it?

We’ll get back to you.

WHAT?!

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)

The role of the librarians:

Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.”

This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).

I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:

  • Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
  • Hair in a bun? Check.
  • Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
  • Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Little boy lost
Little boy lost

His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research:

The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.

Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.

Venkman:  There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.

Stantz:  I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.

Spengler:  I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.

Stantz:  Spates Catalog.

Spengler:  Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.

Their research pays off! 😀

Need more Ghostbusters?

Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters” video uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:

Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.

Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂

Sources used:

Reader poll write-up, Spring 2017: ‘Teenage Mother’

“That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.”

The 1967 film Teenage Mother won the recent reader poll, squeaking past at the last minute due to my husband’s shameless promotion. He gets the credit blame for this post, as he wanted to watch ME watching this film, just for my reactions. I had some. 😉

My DVD copy of this film is from Something Weird Video in Seattle, with a “special edition” DVD. Something Weird promotes itself as “the very best in exploitation cinema,” and that rings true for Teenage Mother. The back of the DVD case has Handsome Harry Archer’s complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens with stating it as a “textbook example of classic old-school exploitation.” The film was directed by Jerry Gross, who would later direct the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

DVD case for Teenage Mother (1967)
DVD case for Teenage Mother (1967)

The basics:


Here’s the basic plot, such as it is:  A new health teacher is hired to teach sex education in a high school and gets blamed when a student turns up pregnant. Except the student isn’t actually pregnant. She just told her boyfriend that so that he wouldn’t leave her and go off to medical school. Winners, all. And there’s footage of a live birth at the end. And an extended musical interlude in the middle. Cue the sweet anticipation!

As my husband said:

When you have a 70-minute film and only 40 minutes worth of plot, you HAVE to fill it with musical interludes and a live birth at the end!

To be clear, this movie is NOT good. It is bad. I knew it would be bad. But the question in my mind was this:  Was it SO bad that it would turn out to be awesomely bad? Unfortunately, NO. But as my husband quipped:

It’s the kind of bad that almost feels like a cultural moment.

The film starts off with footage of a stock-car race. Because WHY NOT.

Title screen from Teenage Mother (1967)
Title screen from Teenage Mother (1967)

Introducing the books and the school librarian:


Fifteen minutes into the film, the coach gets to introduce the new health teacher, Miss Erika Petersen (Julie Ange), who dives straight into the required and supplemental texts for the new “anatomical biology” course.

Fun fact:  This film was the film debut of Fred Willard, who plays the coach!

Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in Teenage Mother (1967)
Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Two texts are required reading for this course. The first, Moreline’s (?) Basics in Human Anatomy is the best for our line of work. In fact, most colleges use it today. This will be supplemented by Caracola’s (?) Adult Sexual Behavior. Both of these books have been ordered, and we should have them for you early next week.

Miss Petersen:  If any of you would like to do additional reading on this subject, I strongly recommend Saucer’s (?) Male and Female. I’m sure your school library has a copy available.

Tony [a student]:  I’ve already checked the library, and Miss Fowler, the librarian, told me it wasn’t available.

Miss Petersen:  That’s very interesting, Tony. I didn’t know you knew of this book.

Tony:  Well, I’d like to become a doctor. In fact, our family physician Dr. Wilson told me to read this book last year.

Miss Petersen:  And Miss Fowler didn’t know of the book? Well, it’s fairly recent. Perhaps she didn’t notice it in the book publisher’s catalog.

Tony:  She knew of it. She said it was indecent for our library.

[classroom erupts in laughter]

Miss Petersen:  Nonsense. At least 90% of all colleges and universities have this book in their libraries, and as many as 50% of all high schools. I’ll discuss this matter personally with Miss Fowler.

The bell rings, ending this scene after a couple of minutes.

Editor’s note: There were no captions available, and the actress’s “European” accent (dubbed?) makes it hard to understand the authors’ names she was saying, which explains why I put in question marks beside names in the quotations above. I couldn’t find any record of the first two books she mentions in this scene. Also, in the scene above and in the later scene with the school librarian, Miss Petersen clearly states the supplementary book, Male and Female, is by an author whose last name sounds like “Saucer” and that it has been newly published. I searched WorldCat — ’cause y’all know I would, right?! — but could not find any book published by that title in the late ’60s by an author with a similar last name. There was, however, a well-known text in this field, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, written and published in 1949 by Margaret Mead. And interestingly, there was another edition of this book published by Penguin in 1967, the same year of this film. So why use the same title but change the author? Just another question among many when it comes to this movie!


School library scene:


At almost half an hour into the film, we get the library scene. It’s a very short scene, lasting a minute or less. But it is memorable. I have also nicknamed the school librarian “Fowler the Scowler,” as you shall soon see why.

School library and librarian in Teenage Mother (1967)
School library and librarian in Teenage Mother (1967)

The scene begins with a wide shot of the school library — the film was filmed at East Rockaway High School in Long Island, so I assume this was also their school library — and the school librarian (an uncredited role) is checking in or filing cards in card catalog drawers. The school library is (surprisingly?) filled with lots of students and lots of books.

Miss Petersen walks in, and they make nice for about 5 seconds.

The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in Teenage Mother (1967)
The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Good morning, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  Good morning, Miss Petersen. Can I be of some assistance?

Miss Petersen:  Yes, one of my students, maybe you know him, Tony Michaels. He told me he was unable to find Saucer’s Male and Female on file here. You do have the book, don’t you?

Miss Fowler:  Most certainly not.

Miss Petersen:  Why not, Miss Fowler? It’s one of the most standard texts on anatomical hygiene.

Miss Fowler:  It’s a filthy book.

This outburst and Miss Fowler’s high-pitched exclamation catch the attention of nearby students! Miss Fowler clears her throat.

A startled student in the school library in Teenage Mother (1967)
A startled student in the school library in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Filthy?

Miss Fowler [in a lower voice]:  Yes, filthy! I wouldn’t allow one of our students to even leaf through it. The illustrations are positively vulgar.

Miss Petersen:  They only show the beauty of the human body.

Miss Fowler:  Teenage children are not meant to see such things.

Miss Petersen:  That’s just the point. These youngsters are not children any longer. Their bodies are the bodies of young adults, with all the needs and desires of young adults.

Miss Fowler:  I wouldn’t know about that. [turns her head and looks down, rapidly blinking her eyelids]

Librarian closeup from Teenage Mother (1967)
Librarian closeup from Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Apparently not. These young people have the right to know about the facts of life. which you say they cannot read. This is a free country, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.

Miss Petersen:  Let’s hope that’s not too long.

“Fowler the Scowler” then adjusts her glasses and goes back to filing her cards, an even more pinched look on her face. She ends as she begins the scene, as an uptight, sexually repressed librarian whose mind is closed to new ideas. An uplifting cinematic message for all librarians. 😦

The school librarian goes back to filing cards in Teenage Mother (1967)
The school librarian goes back to filing cards in Teenage Mother (1967)

I put together a collage of facial expressions to illustrate the reason for my “Fowler the Scowler” nickname of this school librarian:

Fowler the Scowler
Fowler the Scowler

Town meeting and attempted censorship:


The rest of the film delves into the Tony’s relationship with his girlfriend, Arlene Taylor (played by a real-life Arlene, Arlene Farber), the one who lies about being pregnant in order to trap her boyfriend. She attempts to run away, and her friend confesses the (fake) secret pregnancy to Arlene’s dad, who somehow has the clout to call an immediate “town meeting” at the high school in order to get Miss Petersen fired.

Here’s one memorable line from the town meeting scene, in which the principal defends his decision to hire Miss Petersen:

If your daughter became pregnant, it wasn’t because of anything she read in a book.

Oddly, “Fowler the Scowler” is NOT at that meeting, which I found disappointing. A missed opportunity! In my head, it would have been an awesome ending to have Miss Fowler also join the attempt to get Miss Petersen fired — and then the reverse happens! It would close the loop on Miss Petersen’s final words in the library scene, that she hopes it’s “not too long” before Miss Fowler is gone.

And that’s what this film does:  It makes a real-life librarian root AGAINST a reel librarian. 

In the excellent and thorough reference book on reel librarians, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, which I reviewed here in this post, the Tevises sum up the censorship message of the film and the ultimate contrast and conflicting messages of the school principal and the school librarian:

Teenage Mother is one of the few films that confronts the topic of sex education materials in secondary schools. Although the principal of the school is progressive, the librarian scorns the value of sex education. Without the support of the librarian, whose responsibility includes obtaining the appropriate learning materials to support instruction and student research, the program’s success is problematical. The film depicts the librarian as the high school’s moral watchdog who uses her power to censor library materials. (p. 122)


Spinster Librarian role:


So what role does Miss Fowler play in this film? I would say most definitely the Spinster Librarian character type, with her uptight manner and closed-minded outlook on collection development. The midpoint of her conversation with Miss Petersen — the self-confession of “I wouldn’t know about that” in response to the health teacher’s remark about the body’s “needs and desires” — clinches the deal.

Also, all of the stereotypical physical traits are there:  an older white woman, hair pulled back in a bun, glasses on a lanyard, high-necked blouse, etc. Even though her time onscreen is short, “Fowler the Scowler” is memorable, landing her librarian role and film in the Class III category.

The 30 seconds of “Fowler the Scowler” in Teenage Mother almost rival the 30 seconds of Spinster Librarian infamy in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.


Final review and trailer:


Here’s an excerpt from Ian Jane’s DVD Talk review of the film:

Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it’s been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it’s obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.

And finally, I’ve linked to that spectacularly misleading trailer below. I usually like to begin a film analysis post with a trailer, but this trailer needs to come AFTER the film, not before. Also, this trailer IS graphic — as it warns, it includes footage of the live-birth scene from the end of Teenage Mother.

Teenage Mother (1967) Trailer,” uploaded on April 18, 2016, by Vulture Graffix, is licensed under a CC BY license.

Sources used:


Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Revisiting one of the first posts I ever wrote on the Reel Librarians blog

As we get closer to Christmas, I thought it would be good timing to revisit one of the first posts I ever wrote on the Reel Librarians blog, a post analyzing the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Screenshot from It's a Wonderful... Stereotype? post on Reel Librarians
Screenshot from It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype? post on Reel Librarians

My post, entitled “It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?” was first published on Sept. 21, 2011. I have reprinted it below in its entirety. Enjoy!


It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a wonderful movie, truly. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.

In the film’s nightmarish second half, George gets a rare second chance to see how life would have been without his presence — a concept that’s been seen time and time again, but it still feels fresh and raw every time I rewatch this movie. And I still find tears in my eyes toward the end when everyone chips in to save good ol’ George Bailey, and when James Stewart whispers, “Attaboy, Clarence” and winks after the bell rings on the Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m tearing up right now even typing about it!

But…. how do you solve a problem like Mary?

Mary is George’s wife and one true love, played with intelligence and warmth by Donna Reed. We see lots of her in the film’s first half, through childhood adventures and young adulthood until George finally realizes he’s in love with her. Throughout these scenes, she is quite lovely and open and trusting and displays a great sense of humor. She is his equal in every way. And she MUST be believable as his one true love in order for the second half of the film to work, because what she becomes is the straw that finally breaks George. Throughout the nightmare he witnesses in the second half — his brother dying, his mother withdrawing into a bitter old woman — it is the scene with his wife that finally gets to him, that breaks him.

And what does Mary become if George is out of the picture? A Spinster Librarian! Sigh.

Her scene as the Spinster Librarian is only about 30 seconds long, but that image continues to haunt librarians. Just look at the physical before-and-after:

Screenshot of Mary (Donna Reed) in 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
Mary in the first half of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946). This screenshot from the film is in the public domain.
Mary as the Spinster Librarian in 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
Mary as the Spinster Librarian in the second half of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946). This screenshot from the film is in the public domain.

In the first half, she looks lovely. Modern hairstyle, flattering clothing, fresh and clean. But without George, she suddenly loses her sense of style?! Glasses, sensible clothes, hat, hair pulled back, gloves, no makeup. She is so covered up, almost hiding, with the hat and the gloves and the buttoned-up clothes. This image is the stereotypical prototype for all Spinster Librarians. This does make sense, as the Spinster Librarian is one of the character types that heavily rely on stereotypical visual cues:  the severe hairstyle, glasses, and prim clothing.

But worse than that is the change in Mary’s personality. In the first half, she is warm and funny and sweet. In the second half, she has become shy, furtive, non-trusting, and scared of men. A typical Spinster Librarian, right? (Sigh.) Mary clutches her purse, and finally screams and faints when he declares her to be his wife.

Clarence telegraphs the change in Mary:  “You’re not going to like it, George. She’s an old maid. She’s just about to close up the library!”

Clarence…Where’s Mary?” video, uploaded by plurp7, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

What’s so disturbing about this scene — again, only about 30 seconds long! — is the uncomfortable undertones of this scene (at least for librarians). That without men in our lives, the ultimate nightmare for women is… to become “old maid” librarians?! That if we get married, we are spared from this oh-so-terrible fate? Again, sigh.

I know this scene is taken to extremes for the sake of the plot. George is near breaking point, and he needs a shock to get him to appreciate life again. And Mary becoming an “old maid” highlights the point that they are each other’s true loves — that without the other, they are not truly whole. Plot-wise, this scene makes sense. But emotionally, as a librarian, it is hard to swallow.

So this movie will continue to be a personal favorite — but a personal favorite with an asterisk.


Sources used:


  • It’s a Wonderful Life. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers. RKO, 1946.
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