Stephenson's Fall (Redux)

You folks remember, like, three years ago, when some digital spelunking on my part uncovered that Neal Stephenson's next novel would be called "Fall" ("pitched as a high-tech retelling of PARADISE LOST featuring some characters from REAMDE"). After a slight detour with The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., it looks like Fall has finally panned out. Harper Collins and Amazon both have listings for Fall, Or Dodge in Hell, with the same description:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon returns with a wildly inventive and entertaining science fiction thriller—Paradise Lost by way of Phillip K. Dick—that unfolds in the near future, in parallel worlds.

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife—the Bitworld—is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . .

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

That's a fascinating little SFnal departure from Reamde's distinctly non-SF roots. Still not entirely sure how it parallels Lucifer's quest and the angelic wars that comprise Paradise Lost, but one suspects liberties were taken (though the description does indicate more possibility in that direction, I guess). The character of Dodge wasn't exactly my favorite from Reamde, so I'm hoping more of the supporting cast shows up at some point.

It comes out in June, 2019 (still no cover released), so gird your loins, Stephenson fans. That's 3 Stephenson novels in around 4 years, which is actually a step up in his production. Fingers crossed that he keeps this up... (Hat tip to Kaedrin friend and fellow Stephenson fan Ilya for the pointer on this new info)

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Link Dump

The usual links from the depths of ye olde internets that you might find interesting:
  • Evil in the Mirror: John Carpenter’s Revealing ‘Prince of Darkness’ by Joshua Rothkopf - An interesting retrospective on John Carpenter's career and an in-depth look at one of his more unsung films.
  • My HALLOWEEN Audience Reaction AUDIO (1979) - Somebody took audio recorded at a screening of Halloween in a Hollywood Boulevard movie theater in 1979 and then spliced it together with the film. This is only a short clip, but it's still fun.
  • A Defense of Mrs. Bates - Maybe Mrs. Bates was, in fact, a good woman and mother smeared by her son, one of cinema's great unreliable narrators.
  • Man arrested for putting fake arrow decals on the floor in IKEA and for creating a labyrinth with no exit - Man is also a genius. "Police received dozens calls from people reporting that they were locked in IKEA and they couldn’t get out."
  • Video Game Blacksmith Struggling To Compete With Random Chests Full Of Free Armor All Over Kingdom - The Onion is still great.
  • Panasonic designed human blinders to block out open-plan office distraction - More evidence for just how bad open-plan office designs are.
  • You've been granted one wish by the Douchebag Genie. - Some guy on Reddit asked people to make wishes, and then, acting as genie, he "takes advantage of people's poor wording when making wishes to screw them over." And he does a pretty good job of it too. Someone asks for "pefect memory recall" and he responds "You're given a new copy of the DVD 'Total Recall' but the shitty one with Colin Farrell."
  • The Apathy Party - A interesting, but perhaps too glum examination of why so many people avoid politics.
    that’s why most political polls in the United States of 2018 don’t mean much. So many people have joined the Apathy Party, turned off the television news, purchased apps promising “you will never again see a Donald Trump pop-up on your phone,” and plunged instead into the worlds of erotic macramé, Japanese baseball-card collecting, lesbian fetish cruises to the Dominican Republic, and every form of escapist fiction from gothic horror to Bigfoot porn, that a large chunk of the population never gets polled at all. They don’t take polls. They decline. They don’t wanna talk about it and they don’t wanna think about it. Their mantra is “I don’t do politics.”

    They’re disgusted. Disgusted by the people, disgusted by the issues, disgusted by the language used and the way the world is constantly divided into Us vs. Them. They turn it off at 8 a.m. because they want to feel good at 9 a.m. They’ve read the Harvard Business Review article that says “individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”

    And who can blame them?
And that's all for now...
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6WH: Speed Round and Halloween

Time flies when you're terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. After six weeks of marathoning horror movies, there are a bunch of films that I've watched that I didn't write about. Maybe because it didn't fit in a given week's theme, or perhaps I just didn't have that much to say about it, or maybe I do have a lot to say about it but didn't have the time or inclination to do so. As of right now, I've seen 61 movies during this Halloween season, a significant bump over recent years (I usually finish somewhere in the mid to high 40s). Part of this increase is driven by a corresponding decrease in watching horror-themed TV shows (despite several of note that I should really catch up with) and only a moderate amount of spooky reading. Another part is my continuing focus on films made before 1950 (I made a resolution to watch 50 films made before 1950 in 2018), which in the horror genre, often means watching lots of 60-75 minute long features, which are naturally easier to consume than two-hour affairs (though one of the interesting things about horror movies in general is that they are much more likely to straddle the 90 minute mark than 120). So let's get to it, here's a bunch of movies I watched in the last six weeks or so that I haven't covered yet:
  • The Devil Commands - Early on in the 6WH I noticed that a whole slew of Boris Karloff mad scientist flicks were being added to Amazon Prime, so I took a flier on this one, about a scientist working with brain waves who becomes obsessed with the idea of communicating with his dead wife.
    The Devil Commands
    Neat, fun, breezy little SF thriller with some pulpy spooks thrown in for good measure. Clocking in at 65 minutes, it flows quickly and Karloff is great, as always. I ended up watching a bunch of these throughout the marathon, and they're all similar, but really fun. (1941 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • The Brood - I watched this during the Criterion Collection week, but didn't cover it in that post because I'd seen it before (I mentioned it in a Speed Round 8 years ago, though I hadn't watched it yet at that time either). It moves a little slower than remembered, but the central conceit is interesting, the, uh, broodlings are interesting little monsters, and that ending remains effective and bracing. Not Cronenberg's best back catalog piece, but still above average. The Criterion BD is amazing, as per usual. ***
  • Operation Avalanche - More a conspiracy thriller than a horror movie, this one is a found-footage flick about four CIA agents sent undercover as a film crew at NASA. They discover some surprising things, get caught up in conspiracies, etc... Much of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it eventually brings the conspiracy to a full fever pitch, at which point it feels somewhat worthwhile. Still highly flawed, it might be worth a watch for conspiracy nuts. **
  • Pumpkinhead - This Stan Winston directed Lance Henriksen vehicle has a lot to recommend it. Great atmosphere, a cool backstory for the monster, decent effects and monster design (though it clearly falls behind other similar designs - it seems noticeably reminiscent of Giger's Alien designs, but clearly inferior), and a generally fine execution. Not an all time classic or anything, but good Sunday afternoon fare. **1/2
  • Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings - The odd sequel that doesn't really bring back any of the stars from the original, this one actually probably fares better for that decision than the sequels that have to shoehorn in weird ways to get the original folks back in the mix. It keeps many of the successful things from the first movie, while adding a few wrinkles of its own (I particularly enjoyed the poem that Andrew Robinson recites about Pumpkinhead, apparently a real poem that inspired the original movie but did not make it into the movie proper). Also of note: A Linnea Quigley sighting; just a bit role, but this was completely accidental and somehow lined up perfectly to her 6WH week. Ultimately more of the same, but pretty great for a sequel. **1/2
  • Satan's Little Helper - A naive little boy makes friends with a serial killer on Halloween day, not realizing that the costumed killer is for reals. It's more comedy than horror, which results in some tonal weirdness, but it's probably worth it for the scene in the parking lot where they run over people with a shopping cart. There are some interesting twists at the end that nonetheless strain credulity and eventually fall flat. Not highly recommended or anything, but there's a sorta goofy, mean-spirited charm at work here. **1/2
  • Mayhem - A virus spreads through a corporate office building, causing white collar workers to go insane and attack their coworkers. Nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before, but a reasonably well executed version of this sorta zombie-esque corporate satire thing. **1/2
  • Deep Blue Sea - Dumb movie about smart sharks taking over an aquatic research facility. Most notable for a scene where a monologuing Samuel L. Jackson gets wrecked by a CGI shark, this certainly has its moments and a certain dumb fun feel that carries the movie, but is not particularly great. **
  • The Silence of the Lambs - A classic that I covered in depth last year, so not much else needs to be said, except that Criterion's handsome new(ish) blu-ray release is fantastic and looks great. I may watch this yet again before the Six Weeks are over, with the commentary track on this time (though I think it's the same disjointed commentary track from the original Criterion DVD release). ****
  • White Zombie - Rote pre-Romero zombie tale involving some dude using zombies to court love or something. Not terrible, but I didn't really connect with it. Bela Lugosi is great though, and I regret not watching more of his stuff during these six weeks. (1932 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • The Blackcoat's Daughter - Two girls are stuck at boarding school during Christmas break when some spooky stuff goes down. It's an interesting story and it's got a visual flare that works well, but it's a bit too glacially paced, and there's a subplot about a young girl traveling that feels a bit like a cheat in the end, though it ultimately still works. Worth a watch for fans of deliberate filmmaking. **1/2
  • Anaconda - Dumb movie about smart snakes attacking a national geographic film crew, with a totally trustworthy local snake hunter on board for mischief. Like Deep Blue Sea, there's a sorta dumb fun component to a movie like this, but it's ultimately nothing special. **
  • Freaks of Nature - I've always had this idea to do an alien invasion movie where the aliens come down and promptly get devoured by the monsters humans also fear (but know how to deal with). This movie... is not that, but it has some similarities. A town where humans, vampires, and zombies live together in "harmony" is invaded by aliens, and each faction has to get over their prejudices to fight back. Or something. It's more of a comedic take on the premise, which isn't great news since it's not that funny, but it is still functional and there's a surprising amount of talent on board. **
  • The Man They Could Not Hang - Another Boris Karloff mad scientist tale, this time concerning cryonics. When one of his patients is lost, he gets sentenced to hang, but if he can perfect the cryonics process, he can come back from the dead and get vengeance upon those who condemned him. Pretty neat little tale, and the last act seems like it could have influenced later films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes or even the Saw movies. Karloff is great, as usual, and this more villainous take on the mad scientist provides plenty of opportunity for him to monologue about science and the short sighted nature of the authorities, and it's all great fun. (1939 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Before I Hang - Yet another Boris Karloff mad scientist riff (also involving a hanging!), this one presents a distinctly more mild-mannered Karloff scientist, one who is sentenced to death row for a mercy killing, but who the prison seems lenient on, to the point of allowing him to continue his experiments. Convinced he's on the right track, but despondent at his lack of time, he tries an experimental anti-aging serum on himself, since if it doesn't work he'll be hanged in a few hours anyway. Naturally, the governor orders a stay of execution, and Karloff is eventually released... but his serum... changed... him. These things are starting to get repetitive, but Karloff is always great and gets lots of nice little speeches here too. (1940 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Mandy - Super simple revenge plot that is elevated by the trippy visual style of director Panos Cosmatos and the manic performance by Nicolas Cage. Is is definitely bloated and indulgent and I couldn't help but think that a movie where Nic Cage forges some crazy battle axe and fights reptilian demon bikers and religious cults with chainsaws should be more enjoyable than it was, but it has a lot going for it.
    Mandy
    Plus, there's the Cheddar Goblin, which is one of the best things in any movie all year. **1/2 (or maybe *** - I keep going back and forth with how much I like this).
  • Innocent Blood - An incredible amount of talent is assembled here for a middling vampire flick in which a bored French vampire accidentally turns a mob boss into a vampire. And "middling" might be too generous. It's attempting to mashup vampire movies, mob movies, and comedies, but it doesn't particularly nail any one aspect, which leaves it feeling a bit flabby. But again, lots of great "hey, it's that guy/gal!" actors and actresses (including a teensy tiny Linnea Quigley sighting, amongst lots of other small cameos). **
  • Nightmare Sisters - Three nerdy sorority sisters (played by the 80s trinity of scream queens, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens) have a party and invite some frat bros. During a seance, they become possessed and start killing the guys. Pure 80s sleaze, tons of nudity and gratuitous violence, it's pretty fun, but not quite the best even amongst its peers. Worth it for 80s cheese fanatics. **
  • The Ninth Configuration - Utterly bizarre, singular story from William Peter Blatty (of Excorcist fame) about a psychologist and commanding officer being posted at some insane asylum in a literal castle. I don't know, this movie doesn't really make sense. It's part comedy, part existential drama, as the psychologist and one of his patients argue about the existence of God and whether someone can commit a truly selfless act. There's some spooky elements too, notably a nightmare that a crazy astronaut keeps having. All these components don't really mix too well. This may be something that works better on the page than it does on film, but the movie does capture some real standout moments, particularly a scene in a bar where Stacy Keach beats up an entire bicycle gang. An A+ for originality and ambition, but it doesn't quite live up to what it promises. A movie I admire more than I actually like, it's probably still worth checking out for the adventurous. **1/2
  • In the Mouth of Madness - John Carpenter's underrated movie about an insurance investigator hunting down a missing Stephen King-like author whose delirious horror stories... seem to be more reality than fiction. It's a genuinely unusual story with lots of unsettling components. I've always enjoyed it, but it seems to be getting better with age and more repeated viewings. The new-ish Scream Factory release is also pretty fantastic, which helps. ***
  • Pieces - One of the more bizarre slasher films ever made, it's kinda endlessly watchable because of it's sheer absurdity. I've seen this before, but I rewatched this through The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder, who provies his usual insightful context and anecdotes. Some of the scenes still slay me - in particular the "Bastards! You Bastards! Bastaaaaards!" sequence is just astounding. A must for golden age slasher fans. ***
  • Isle of the Dead - More Karloff; he's not a mad scientist this time, but rather a military man trapped in an island quarantine for the plague. This is one of Val Lewton's RKO horror programmers, which are always more interesting than they might seem on the surface, though this is probably on the lower end of these types of movies. It was fine for what it was, but I preferred Karloff's mad scientist films greatly to this one. (1945 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • Halloween (2018) - It's fine, I guess? There are some things I really like about it, such as the reinstatement of Michael Myers as an evil force of nature, a shark, always moving, always killing, rather than just a dude who's going after his sister or working at the behest of poorly drawn druids or a bullied redneck from a broken home. Indeed, I think it's great that everyone in the film who is trying to get inside Michael Myers' head and understand his motivations are summarily killed. I don't know that it's intentional, but it does feel almost like a commentary on all of the dumb explanations for Myers over the years (and particularly Rob Zombie's over-explained version of the character).
    Halloween 2018
    Having three generations of Strode women fight Myers is a pretty interesting idea, but in practice it just means that none of the three get enough to do. Jamie Lee Curtis is decent enough as the PTSD prepper version of her character, Judy Greer is the counterpoint to the prepper mentality, but still feels like she doesn't have enough to do (though she does get the one great crowd-pleasing moment of the film, so there is that), and Andi Matichak is fine, but also weirdly separated from the rest of the story (it feels like there was some stuff cut from the film perhaps? The climax feels a little loose and weird, and I expect the ending was changed in some way...) Most of the new characters are also decent, but some are eye-rollingly unnecessary (I mean, the podcasters? Really?) Will Patton's police officer feels very at home with the series, almost like a returning character. Some of the kids are pretty good too, but the standout is Jibrail Nantambu, the young kid being babysat that steals every scene he's in. Also, whoever wrote this is so uninformed about firearms that it makes Laurie Strode's prepper background feel a bit stilted and unearned. It's really weird though, because the movie is actually pretty pro gun? But when Laurie goes looking for Michael Myers inside a house and has her pick of literally any weapon, she takes a... lever-action long rifle? Without a pistol backup? But! At least we get to see Michael Myers being himself, and there are several sequences that are quite effective on that front. Unfortunately, it all feels a bit disjointed and the movie as a whole doesn't really add up to anything beyond "typical sequel to slasher movie". Like all the sequels to Halloween (and the remake), this one struggles in comparison to the original. That's maybe not fair, but I dunno, I'm not the one trying to ape a near perfect film. I was not in love with it, but it's worth a watch for fans of the series, I guess. Curious to see if the big success of this movie ignites another wave of remakes or long-gap sequels of other series. They've been promising another Friday the 13th for years, but somehow keep missing the boat on that. **1/2
  • The Monster Squad - This movie is so much fun and I always enjoy revisiting it during the Halloween season. Even given the resurgence of "kids on bikes" horror in recent years, this holds up pretty well. ***
  • Summer of 84 - One of the aforementioned "kids on bikes" movies that's come out recently, this one nails the aesthetic and the interactions between the kids, but perhaps doesn't get to the meat of the story for too long. A decent enough premise, but we've seen this sort of thing before and it treads water for far too long given the straightforwardness of the premise (it might be another story if there was some sort of twist or subversion of the normal take, but there really isn't). Once it gets there, though, it's a lot of fun. Straightforward, but well executed. ***
  • The Man with Nine Lives - Yet another Boris Karloff mad scientist tale, this time dealing with Cryonics. Wait, so does The Man They Couldn't Hang? It's actually remarkably similar, but hey, don't mess with a working formula, I guess. Karloff is great as always, and the situation gets appropriately dire when needed. I'm giving all of these three stars I guess, but they do get a bit repetitive, so take it with a grain of salt. (1940 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) ***
  • Slither - James Gunn's gross-out alien invasion flick strikes an interesting tone throughout, and I always enjoy revisiting this one too. Now that Gunn is off of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, maybe he can make another one of these goofy small films? ***
  • Flesh Feast - Veronica Lake's final screen performance is ultimately a barely watchable garbage heap that's almost redeemed by the delirious, absurd ending that I fortunately did not have spoiled for me (even though, for example, the IMDB plot summary completely ruins the ending). This is exactly the sort of thing that'd be ideal fodder for a remake, though it would require a lot of reworking to reduce the lame first hour of the film. *
  • Dark Angel - A movie that I always knew as "I Come in Peace" when I was growing up. It's... not a great movie, but it is still super entertaining, and while it's not exactly a high budget affair, they don't skimp on the explosions, which are plentiful. A sort of last hurrah of 80s cheese that infected the early 90s action cinema. Also: great ending one-liner delivered by Dolph Lundgren. **
  • The Return of the Vampire - Another Bela Lugosi vehicle, this time basically ripping off his Dracula in all but name. The story actually has a pretty odd structure, starting just after WWI, then jumping forward to WWII for the rest of the film. Lugosi plays a vampire who was temporarily dealt with, then comes back when the German's bomb his cemetary. Or something. It's not terrible, but it's super derivative and doesn't really go anywhere special. (1943 - this is a 50 under 50 movie) **
  • Phantasm - I've repeatedly opined on this film's virtues. It's inexplicably one of my favorites, despite a lot of not so great elements. But the stuff that is good is great. Another almost annual rewatch for me, always a good time. ***
  • Vampire's Kiss - A not so great movie that is completely justified due to Nicholas Cage's completely unhinged performance. I definitely saw this when I was younger, but I may not have seen the entire thing, start-to-finish before. Obviously there are some standout sequences that are impossible to forget, such as the ABC rant or his chanting of "I'm a vampire", but what I noticed the most this time is that he's affecting some sort of bizarre accent throughout the movie that's just crazy all by itself. It's worth a look, if only to see Cage's performance. **1/2
  • Halloween (1978) - Duh. The annual rewatch gets an upgrade to 4K this year, and it looks great. ****
  • Trick 'r Treat - This has joined Halloween as an annual night-of tradition, and I don't really get tired of it. There's been consistent rumors of a sequel for the past five years or so, but alas nothing has materialized as of yet. ***1/2
Unlike recent years, I only watched 2 episodes from a horror themed TV show during the matathon, but for whatever reason, never really got back to them. They were both good though, and I will probably catch up with and finish Netflix/Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House and Ash vs Evil Dead... Anywho, that just about covers it for this year's Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon. It's been great, and I'm already thinking of ideas and themes for next year's marathon. In the meantime, well, I'm not sure what we'll be covering in the next few weeks, but stay tuned, I'm sure it'll be awesome.
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6WH: Week 6 - Netflix

For the sixth and sadly final week of the Six Weeks of Halloween, we'll continue our exploration of media purveyors, this time going with another primarily digital distributor in Netflix. While I'm still one of the grumpy holdouts that still has the disc plan, it's not like I'm a luddite or anything and I embrace the streaming when it's available (my primary motivator for the disc plan is not so much the type of media, but for the availability of titles). Netflix was the first major outlet for streaming video, but things have changed dramatically over the years. Driven by drastic increases in licensing fees, Netflix's selection has waxed and waned considerably over the years, and starting a few years ago, they embarked on a plan to create their own exclusive content. Why deal with greedy studios and exponential increases in licensing fees when you could own the content yourself? They started slow, but have ramped up considerably. The sheer number of Netflix exclusives this year has been staggering and impossible to keep up with, but here are three that I've wanted to watch for a while (alright, so, one of these is not an exclusive, but I really wanted to watch it, and it's not free anywhere else, so there).
  • Triangle (trailer)
  • Spring (trailer)
  • Resolution (trailer)
  • The Endless - Two brothers escape from a cult, only to be drawn back in when they begin to suspect that their "culty" beliefs may not be as crazy as they once thought. Ultimately, it plays like a focused, two-hour standalone episode of Lost. Lots of mysterious happenings, plenty of interpersonal drama, with dabbles of science fiction and horror here and there. It's definitely got some horrific elements, but it feels more like a supernatural drama than a straight up horror flick. This is a fine line that filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson seem to specialize in. Does everything fit? I dunno, maybe? There are some (alright, lots of) open questions at the end, but nothing that is blatantly contradictory. Along the way, there's lots of great visuals and some genuinely creepy moments (the Civil War era tent, in particular, is terrifying).
    The Endless
    I'm being deliberately vague as to the plot here though, as I don't want to spoil anything. As it turns out, this movie is a sorta unofficial sequel to an earlier film called Resolution, in which two of the bit players in The Endless have a much more in-depth story (that hits some similar themes, but is clearly not as well developed or mature as it is in The Endless). I didn't really know this going in, and I do wonder what it would be like to watch Resolution before The Endless, but the latter is clearly far superior to the former. Whatever the case, I loved The Endless and would recommend it for sure. ***
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
  • Wet Nightmares (short)
  • Freddy Krueger: Registered Offender (short)
  • Before I Wake - A young orphan's dreams manifest out here in the real world while he sleeps. Unfortunately... so do his nightmares! It's a pretty straightforward premise, but Director Mike Flanagan imbues the film with visual style, patient editing, and spooky atmosphere leavened by a few well executed jump scares. The emotional core is also pretty well established and meshes well with the child's unexpected powers, leading to some touching moments before the more typical horror tropes take hold.
    Before I Wake
    Unfortunately, the ending leaves something to be desired. I'm apparently unusual in that I don't mind happy endings, but this ending seemed to be a bit too sappy, even for me. Maybe it would have worked better if it wasn't so overly expository or built on a coincidence that viewers would never be able to pick up on earlier. That said, I could see what they were going for and it's certainly functional (I had some feels, for sure), if a bit clunky and ham-fisted. It's still an above-average spooky flick thanks to the craft with which the film is made, and well worth a watch if you're in the mood. Flanagan has certainly been on a roll with Netflix releases. After an early studio success with the neat haunted-mirror movie Oculus, Netflix acquired Flanagan's next few films, including the excellent home invasion film Hush, the surprisingly good adaptation of Stephen King's Gerald's Game, and then this one, which Flanagan shot in 2013 but which sat on a shelf until Netflix rescued it (somewhere in their was a studio prequel that was apparently very good - I hope to catch up with that one soon too). Flanagan is currently enjoying quite a bit of success with Netflix's latest horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, which appears to also be well worth watching (I've seen one episode and enjoyed it quite a bit). So Before I Wake isn't exactly the one you should seek out first, but it's still a worthy watch. **1/2
  • V/H/S/2 (trailer)
  • Red State (trailer)
  • The Sacrament (trailer)
  • Apostle - A man travels to a remote island populated by a religious cult that has kidnapped his sister. Naturally, there's more going on than meets the eye. Writer/director Gareth Evans is best know for his bonkers Indonesian action flicks The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, though he did contribute a segment to V/H/S/2, and this movie more resembles that segment than his other work (though we are treated to a few glimpses of the ol' ultraviolence and wincing gore). Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the mashup of The Wicker Man and The Raid that you'd really want to see.
    Apostle
    It's more deliberately paced than that would imply, a little bloated in the middle, and it takes some really strange turns throughout, such that I'm having trouble parsing my response. I should really enjoy this more than I did. There's some nice bits of business in the beginning, as our intrepid (but drug addled) hero figures out a way to get to the island without being detected. It's almost like a period spy thriller at times. Maybe that's the issue. There's so many disparate elements in the film, including the kidnapped sister spy plot, the religious cult angle, something supernatural about the island, a completely separate espionage subplot, a tale of star-crossed lovers; all interesting elements that never transcend the sum of their parts. It's slow upfront, but picks up a lot in the latter half. Ultimately glad I watched and probably worth it for fans of really specific niches of horror (i.e. period horror about a cult on a supernatural island), but certainly not for everyone...
I can't believe it's been six weeks already. Next up is the big day on Wednesday, when we'll engage in our typical Speed Round of short glimpses at all the other junk I watched during the marathon...
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6WH: Season's Readings

Coming down the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween, it appears that my movie consumption is higher than normal (I've already far surpassed the last few years' marathons, and there's still a week left). However, this has come at the expense of other activities like watching horror-themed TV shows and reading horror books. That being said, I've still read a bunch of seasonal stuff, so let's take a look:
  • True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking by Don Coscarelli - Longtime readers of Kaedrin (all four of you) know of my inexplicable but abiding love for the movie Phantasm. I've seen the movie around, oh, let's just say we've probably reached triple digits at this point. So this memoir from the filmmaker behind that movie was a welcome diversion from the normal seasonal fare. Covering his path to the director's chair (which he does not sit in, for reasons I will not spoil) from a humble childhood to initial flirtations with the studio system, to less fruitful interactions with studios, to his consistent return to independence, the book is full of bite sized anecdotes from a storied career in indie filmmaking. Some early luck coupled with later, distinctly unlucky occasions lead to an interesting career for an unheralded filmmaker. He's one of my favorites and by all accounts is a really likable guy, and this book illustrates his demeanor well. Some of these stories we've heard before (i.e. how did they film the famous silver sphere sequence in Phantasm?), others we haven't (his face caught fire while filming a shotgun blast), and yet more we never heard of because the movie never panned out (I would have loved to have seen Coscarelli's take on Stephen King's Silver Bullet). He apparently knew Quentin Tarantino when he was but a lowely PA (and gave QT terrible advice on Reservoir Dogs). His longstanding relationships with Reggie Bannister and especially the late Angus Scrimm are quite touching. It's a great little read for fans of film and I suspect it would work even for folks who aren't horror fanatics, well worth checking out!
  • Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias - Enforcer and drug dealer Fernando gets jumped after work one night, and a coworker is cut to bits and fed to... something. This ultimately turns out to be much more of a crime thriller than a horror novel, though it does imply some demonic happenings here or there, and as Texas-based drug dealer thrillers go, it's pretty decent. I still found myself craving more of the supernatural elements here though, and what's there is really quite sparse. Iglesias also peppers the prose with a lot of Spanish language which, well, I only took two years of Spanish. I could follow some stuff, and I could certainly look up a word here or there, but I suspect some of the story was lost in (my admittedly poor) translation. That being said, it's short and sweet, and a pretty decent little page turner. Not sure it really tickled my seasonal itch, but it was still an entertaining read.
  • We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix - Kris Pulaski is a former heavy metal guitarist for Dürt Würk, a band that was once poised for success, but which collapsed when lead singer Terry Hunt quit the band and started his own solo career as Koffin. As the title implies, there's something mysterious about the band's dissolution, and it does have something to do with the selling of souls. Spoilers aho! The wrinkle that Hendrix throws on this is that Terry Hunt doesn't exactly sell his own soul, but rather those of his bandmates (and, later, audiences). The entity to which he's dealing with, dubbed Black Iron Mountain, is also a little different than your typical crossroads demon, adding new flavor to an old story. Hendrix clearly knows his stuff when it comes to horror (see below), but he also appears to have a great affinity for Metal music in all its various forms. I like Metal just fine, but am hardly an expert, so I suspect some of the references went right over my head, and Metal does have a, well, reputation for cheesy pretentiousness, which suffuses the book. For instance, there's lots of quoted fictional verses of corny material. If that isn't your jam, you probably won't like this, but I enjoyed it just fine. It's pretty straightforward but I wasn't entirely sure where it was headed. The ending works a lot better than I would have ever thought, though it's ultimately still a little unclear what the deal is with Black Iron Mountain or how successful our protagonists actually were in that fated performance. In the end, I enjoyed the book. It didn't blow my mind or engage the imagination in the way the best horror does, but it's an entertaining yarn that's worth checking out, especially for metal fans (who may get more out of this than I did).
  • Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix - Speaking of Hendrix, this little non-fiction compendium of the boom in horror fiction set off by the likes of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Other, culminating with the serial killer craze when authors started to eschew the "horror" label in an effort to become "respectable" and thus kinda "boring". In between, we're treated to all sorts of cuckoo nutso novels featuring things like horny Bigfoots, Nazi leprechauns, killer maggots, and rabbis blasting KGB demons with super-shofars. It's all a bit surface-level, with only the major entries getting real depth, but he does reach a wide breadth of work, even if he can't devote too much space to the lesser works. I have not read a ton of these, but as an avid horror movie fan, many of the kookier examples of the genre have, in fact, been adapted to film (stuff like The Manitou, which has a plot best described: "A woman gets a weird growth on her shoulder. As is often the case, it turns out to be a fetus.") It's all in good fun, and the book also has a ton of great artwork (also a staple of the genre at the time) that's just a blast to look at.
    The Little People by John Christopher, a paperback from hell if ever there was one
    I mean, they say not to judge a book by the cover, but damn, these covers represent something of an exception (though Hendrix does go to pains to explain that sometimes the covers truly are better than the books they're supposedly portraying). I do wish there was a little more in the way of concrete recommendations (there is a chapter about this sort of thing at the end, but it leaves something to be desired), rather than the full firehose of horror novels the book references. Still well worth checking out, and even if you never get to read the Nazi Leprechaun book, you do get to know that it exists, which is a miracle in itself.
  • Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz - Koontz was the first author that got me reading for pleasure (i.e. reading even when it wasn't required for school!), so I have a soft spot for him. That being said, I've never really been able to recapture that initial burst of enthusiasm for his work. Perhaps it's because he does tend to get repetitive and since he's super-prolific, his books have a hit-or-miss quality to them. While it seems like most of my recent attempts to find something new-to-me from Koontz that I love have mostly failed, it hasn't stopped me from trying. This book didn't exactly rekindle my love, but it was still a pretty easygoing read with some creepy atmosphere appropriate for the season. Slim MacKenzie has a sorta psychic power which lets him see what he calls "goblins", fowl creatures who are able to disguise themselves as humans, but who live off the misery and pain of others. We meet him as he joins up at a circus, a venue that attracts lost souls like himself and his later girlfriend/wife, Rya Raines. There's some interesting components here, but the nuts-and-bolts storytelling bits are askew. For one thing, it almost feels like two separate novellas (or maybe novels) were sorta glued together in the middle. For another, much of the background of the goblins is interesting, but delivered in a pretty clunky section of exposition. This section is capped off by a nice little twist, but the twist does sorta just get glossed over. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would be so easily resolved. Again, the whole thing can get a little repetitive and overlong and repetitive, so it's not Koontz's tightest work. It seems that the hunt for new-to-me Koontz that I'll love continues, though I will say that it's not like this is the one book that caused me to give up or anything. It's cromulent enough, in that respect. If you ever do want to check out something that I do love from Koontz, try Lightning, Phantoms, Midnight, Strangers, or maybe Intensity.
  • The Professor's Teddy Bear by Theodore Sturgeon - It's a short story about a time-bending vampiric maybe-alien Teddy Bear (I linked to a copy right there). It's a bit mind-scrambling and makes for a nice little seasonal read. Check it out.
And that's all for now... stay tuned for the last week of The Six Weeks of Halloween, featuring some Netflix movies, and the final installment on Halloween, with a speed round of all the things I've watched that didn't get covered yet...
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6WH: Week 5 - Shudder

Coming down the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, this week, we're going to shift focus away from physical media (a theme that's dominated the first half of the marathon) and embrace the future with a streaming service, Shudder. It's a niche site focusing on horror and thriller titles and as such, it's pretty much a necessity for any modern horror movie fan. They have their own website and apps, but since their reach is somewhat limited, I actually just subscribe via Amazon Prime (update: As of a couple of days ago, Amazon is apparently, um, shuttering Shudder from their subscriptions, so I would no longer recommend this option. For their part, Shudder is doing their best to make good for folks already subscribed, which is mighty nice of them.) It's not super expensive, and it provides lots of exclusive and interesting stuff. This Halloween season, they've got some mainstream classics, like several movies from the Halloween franchise, plus a whole slew of Hitchcock favorites. Also of note is The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs, a revival of Briggs' long-defunct TNT Monstervision series in which he shows movies, interrupting briefly for various bits of commentary, etc... (on TNT, it was during TV breaks, but on Shudder, it's commercial free). There was a 24 hour marathon earlier this summer, but it was so popular that they're bringing it back this fall (alas, not before Halloween). The list of movies during that July marathon is great and well curated, and Briggs is his usual knowledgeable self, and it's all still available on the Shudder app. A funny, recent addition to the service is the Ghoul Log, which is just a video of a Jack O'Lantern with spooky sounds in the background (a la the Yule Log). Finally, there's also the offbeat, the obscure, the foreign releases, and the indie flicks that don't get much exposure... such as the three movies I watched this week! All three are listed as "Shudder Originals" as well, so you might not see them elsewhere either...
  • It Follows (trailer)
  • JU-ON: The Grudge (trailer)
  • Real Monsters Meet Samara (Robot Chicken)
  • Terrified - As a fan of horror movies, it's easy to become jaded and even desensitized to the violence and gore the genre so often revels in. Some wear such attitudes like a badge of honor, but I try not to fall into that trap, so when a movie like this Argentinian ghost flick comes along, I'm happy to report that it snuck past my defenses and actually scared me. I went into it knowing almost nothing and, truth be told, there's not a whole lot to the plot. There's a neighborhood that is experiencing some sort of haunting phenomena, and naturally some deaths attract investigators (both paranormal and police). Fortunately, writer/director Demián Rugna has crafted some supremely well executed sequences that managed to get under my skin and stay there. It's a rare movie that keeps me up at night, but this one managed (at least for a little bit).
    Terrified is terrifying
    Unfortunately, the writing leaves a bit to be desired. It works well up front (the opening sequence is quite effective), and the second act shows great promise (introducing some non-linear narrative elements and implying some underlying mythology), but ultimately there just wasn't anywhere for the story to really go. There are also a couple of contrivances that also seemed a bit unwise, such as the notion that all of our investigators would split up and investigate each house separately (anyone who's seen a horror movie knows how that's going to end up). Fortunately, everything else is well executed and creepy as hell, and clocking in at a svelt 89 minutes, it never drags at all. While nothing is especially resolved, it does have a cool little stinger at the ending too. I'd certainly recommend this haunted house flick, but try not to be too jaded going into it. I've always found that if you go into a movie whilst daring it to scare you, you will inevitably be disappointed when it's only so-so scary. I was fortunate enough to go into this blind, so it worked out really well for me. Give it a shot! ***
  • The Last House On The Left (trailer)
  • I Spit On Your Grave (trailer)
  • Jennifer's Body (trailer)
  • Revenge - The rape-revenge sub-genre is interesting in that, while there's only so much you can do within the confines of what must be a pretty straightforward story, the responses and reactions and controversial takes can be wildly divergent. The same movie could be denounced as misogynist trash on the one hand, or empowering feminist anthem on the other. As a guy, I tend to find such stories unpleasant, but also important to confront and interrogate. Unfortunately, I almost always come up short on answers, which is perhaps why these movies keep getting made. For its part, this French take on the sub-genre is written and directed by a woman, Coralie Fargeat, which is certainly a differing perspective than you usually see in the sub-genre (the most famous examples of which, like Last House of the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, and Mrs. 45, are directed by men; rarely do you see one directed by a woman, though I do think Jennifer's Body is underrated).
    Vengeance is hers
    Of course, as already mentioned, there's only so much you can diverge from the standard formula, but Fargeat brings a few things to the table that we haven't seen much of before. One is an artistry and visual flare that is not common in the sub-genre (many of the examples already mentioned are severely low budget affairs and look that way, though they are able to emphasize a certain rawness that is still quite effective). Another is the way the rape scene is filmed, which is still incredibly visceral and disgusting, but not as graphic or extended as some other examples. In some ways, the restraint of the scene, which relies more heavily on sound than anything else, is even more disturbing than the more graphic examples. Of course, once the tables turn later in the movie, the revenge component works well too. Some of the survivalist bits are hammy at best, but the vengeance is cold and sweet. It gets pretty gruesome too, so it's sure to satisfy gore hounds. People are giving this a lot of credit, though to be honest, besides the tweaks mentioned above, I don't see this as transcending the more famous entries in the genre. Still a very interesting watch and well worthwhile. **1/2
  • How the Blair Witch Project Should Have Ended (short)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VIII: Easy-Bake Coven
  • Suspiria (trailer)
  • The Witch in the Window - When I first saw this title, I thought of a sorta YA take on a haunted house story. I distinctly remember reading a book when I was a kid (and still a scaredy cat who couldn't watch horror movies) and it was one of those things where a bunch of spooky stuff happens but it turns out that it's a friendly ghost and everyone lives happily ever after. This movie is not that. Now, it's not entirely not not that, as it's a movie that has a surprising amount of heart. Just not any friendly ghosts. (I should note that this title thing is entirely my hangup and not the fault of the filmmakers at all and indeed, I loved the movie, so there's that too.)
    Son and Father
    Simon and his twelve year-old son Finn are fixing up an old house in Vermont. It appears that with each repair they make, the house's former inhabitant, a witch named Lydia, gets stronger. Most of the movie deals with the relationship between Simon and Finn, which is well drawn and effective. The ghostly creepy bits are effective but not exactly numerous, which could leave some horror fanatics a bit dry I guess, but I loved it and thought the ratio was well balanced.
    If you look closely, there is a witch in that there window
    Some of the spooks are rather understated, such as the hint of a figure in the background, or the way the camera movies and frames certain characters. When the more explicit scares come, the film manages a lot of tension, and the witch herself is a creepy visual. While the film relies on a fair amount of exposition to give the history of the house, the character who provides the background (an electrician who lives down the street) is compelling enough to pull it off. Plus, they drag out some of the more sinister reveals. It all works well, and it serves the ultimate point of the movie, which is the relationship between father and son. Indeed, it provides a lot of depth for a movie that is only 77 minutes long. A bit of a slow burn, but I was really quite taken with the movie. ***
So there you have it, Shudder is definitely worth pursuing for the horror nerd. And I'm normally not up for subscribing to yet another streaming service (I refuse to sign up for CBS All Access, for instance), but in this case, I really appreciate their, um, appreciation for the genre. Up next for the Six Weeks of Halloween is probably going to continue the streaming theme with a few movies that are on Netflix... In the meantime, we'll hit up some Season's Readings on Wednesday, so don't stray too far.
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6WH: Week 4.5 - Sergio Martino

A few years ago, I did a series of weeks themed around "Obscure Horror Auteurs" and one of the candidates for that year was Italian filmmaker Sergio Martino. I'd heard lots of great things about his Giallo movies, but alas, many were not readily available at the time. A few years later and a couple of them pop up on Amazon Prime, so I figured I'd finally point my eyes in their direction:
  • Torso - Spooked by a few gruesome murders around town, a group of teen women seek safety in a remote country villa. Naturally, the killer follows them. This movie is basically just sex and murder, and well, I guess that's effective? There's not a whole lot to it, but Martino knows his way around the camera and manages to craft some memorable sequences and visuals. I suppose there's some typically confusing Giallo nonsense plot points featuring red and black scarves (or are they bland and red scarves?!), but that's almost part of the charm of these movies.
    Torso
    There are a couple of really effective sequences, and I must admit to a pretty big surprise when a bunch of folks wind up murdered offscreen. As a proto-slasher, this hits a few of the tropes pretty well. The killer wears a ski-mask (echoes of The Toolbox Murders), there's some POV shots, a half-baked whodunit, and so on. Still, it's pretty well executed for what it is, and some moments are really fantastic. In particular, the scene where the final girl attempts to escape a locked room using the whole newspaper/key retrieval trick is spot on (I also appreciate how she tries to throw the killer off by hiding all hints as to her existence as well.) It's ultimately a lurid, trashy, comfort-food giallo. It's not doing a whole lot new, but it's generally well executed and entertaining. (The title "Torso" is fine and all, but the original title is ever so much more Giallo: "The Bodies Present Traces of Carnal Violence") **1/2
  • Blood and Black Lace (trailer)
  • Deep Red (trailer)
  • King in the Box (short)
  • Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key - Great title or greatest title? Even amongst Giallo films, which are known for their elaborate, baroque titles, this is a doozy. A burned out writer lives on a big estate, holds bacchanalian parties where he indulges in hedonism whilst humiliating his wife. Later, when the crowds have left, he beats and rapes his wife. A real pleasant fellow. Then he's implicated in a murder and I started to fear that the movie would ask us to sympathize with him, as it's clearly heading towards a twist where it's revealed that he was framed. I won't spoil it, but there's more going on here than just that, in a typically convoluted Giallo way.
    Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
    There's a nice little pre-Shining typewriter gag (if a bit less creative - the killer just types "Vendetta" over and over again with varying typeography, but it fits well enough). Some nice shots here too: a woman runs away from the killer and the camera follows, a body slides down the steps, an advertisement featuring a white heart splattered with blood. The ending is a nice bit of business, a series of twists that even makes sense (a rarity for this type of film), and a final wrinkle seals the deal nicely... It's fantastic, but does it make up for the first thee quarters of the movie? I'm not sure about that, but it does redeem the film enough that I'm glad I watched it, and it left me on a high note that is making the movie stick around in my mind better than it probably should. **1/2
Ah, it's always nice to catch up with the cinema of my people. Anywho, stay tuned, on Sunday I'll have a post up featuring movies from that venerable streaming service, Shudder.
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The Six Weeks of Halloween reaches week 4, where we will watch 4 movies that serve 4 different themes. After weeks focusing on releases from The Criterion Collection and Scream Factory, the original impetus for this week was to highlight yet another purveyor of high quality physical media, Arrow Films. A British company established in 1991, they are an independent distributor of world cinema, arthouse, horror, and classic films. They didn't make much of a splash, however, until 2012, when they revamped the brand to focus on "high-quality presentations of classic and cult cinema" in the manner we are now accustomed to with Criterion (i.e. new transfers, oodles of special features, great looking packaging and artwork, etc...) Among their imprints are Arrow Video, which specialized in the video nasties, and Arrow Video USA, which, you guessed it, brought many of their region-locked UK releases to the US. Longtime readers may remember a pair of Giallo movies I covered a couple years ago that were released as a handsome two movie set that Arrow put out (this was, more or less, my first exposure to Arrow. Also of note, the third movie I covered that week? Also available on an Arrow disc).

Whilst perusing Arrow's catalog, I came across a few films that I always thought would make a great theme week. In the early sixties, AIP hired Roger Corman to make some low budget quickies, and Corman proposed an adaptation of House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. It was a phenomenal success (critically and commercially), and Corman followed it up with a series of additional Poe adaptations, thus creating what has become known as the "Poe Cycle". Not all of these films starred Vincent Price, but all of the ones I watched this weekend did, so there's the fourth them of the week.

Caveat Emptor: These particular movies are region locked to B, so unless you have a region-free BD player, they won't work on your region A player. I was able to rig something up to make it all work, but it was a bit of a pain.
  • House of Usher - Philip arrives at Usher mansion looking for his love, Madeline. Unfortunately, both Madeline and her brother are suffering from your standard, run-of-the-mill family curse. Corman's first Poe adaptation has a lot going for it, starting with the source material. Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is emblematic of everything that makes Poe special, and Corman, with the help of screenwriter Richard Matheson (of I am Legend fame), takes full advantage. In particular, he makes great use of atmosphere, with the creeky old mansion and wonderful gothic production design. Costumes and makeup are nice too, but it helps that the three major parts are well performed, led of course, by Vincent Price, looking a bit unconventional with his fabulous blonde locks and lack of facial hair.
    Behold Vincent Price and his fabulous blonde hair
    His performance is great, full of melancholy and subtle menace. Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey are an attractive couple and hold their own. Unfortunately, the story does drag a bit at times. Even at just 79 minutes, it feels a bit padded out and the mysteriousness that works well in a short story doesn't entirely translate to the screen. Then again, this is probably as good as you could get in filmic form without entirely transforming the story, and this is actually a fairly faithful adaptation. Some of the sequences are particularly great, such as when Price recounts the exploits of more nefarious members of the Usher clan, each illustrated by an evocative painting. Overall, while a bit stilted to modern eyes, I can still see why this kicked off a whole series of successful flicks. The Arrow disc has lots of special features, including a commentary from Roger Corman (I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it seemed informative enough, and Corman is generally pretty compelling), interviews with Joe Dante (a former Corman apprentice) and a gothic horror expert, a video essay comparing the film to the original story, and some archival Vincent Price footage. As usual, great packaging with new artwork (and a reversible sleeve featuring the original artwork) and a booklet with essays and excerpts from Price's autobiography. **1/2
  • Shining (Fake Trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • Black Sunday (trailer)
  • Pit and the Pendulum - A man goes to investigate his sister's death. Her husband, the son of an infamous torturer of the Spanish Inquisition, is less than forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding her death. The second of the Poe films and probably my favorite of the weekend. It features the same great Gothic atmosphere, costumes, and production design. I particularly enjoyed the matte shots in this one (though all of these films make good use of them).
    Beautiful matte shot
    The plot is similar at first, but a bit twistier as the film progresses. As expected, the performances are fantastic. Price projects a grief-stricken timidity (eventually leavened with madness!) and John Kerr's incredulous hunt for the truth works well (for instance, he gets a good monologue debunking a seemingly supernatural occurrence). Barbara Steele shows up too, fresh off her performance in Mario Bava's Gothic classic Black Sunday; perhaps not as iconic a role, but she does well given limited screentime. Returning screenwriter Richard Matheson strays from the original story considerably, but did an admirable job with the dialog and plotting while returning to the source material in finale, a sequence that sets this movie apart from its contemporaries. The visual of the torture device put into action is memorable, and the final shot prefigures the horror genre's tendency for a stinger at the end. It's quite fitting.
    Look at that pendulum go!
    It still suffers a bit from the padding issues of Usher, but it comports itself better on that front, and again, the climax leaves you on a high note. The Arrow BD comes in a handsome steelbook with great art (there's also a regular BD with different new art). Extras include two commentaries, one with Corman, one with a film critic, a new documentary about the making of the movie, and archival footage of Vincent Price reading Edgar Allen Poe stories to a live audience. It's a great little package. ***
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror: Bad Dream House
  • The Raven, read by Vincent Price
  • Vincent Price Wine Cooler Commercial
  • The Tomb of Ligeia - At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if watching all of these movies back to back was the best idea. It might also be that this one is not quite as good as the previous two (this was Corman's last Poe Cycle movie), but there's so much similarity between each installment that I probably should have spread these out a bit. Another Gothic tale of lost love and grief, this one seems to be just sort of going through the motions. I mean, they're good motions, and this still works reasonably well, but after watching two superior takes on similar material, this one suffers a bit.
    Behold my fabulous sunglasses
    The performances are still good, Price is excellent as always, and Corman was trying to imbue the production with some differences in terms of setting the film largely outdoors or during the light of day. There's even one sequence at Stonehenge! And the flame soaked finale works pretty well (these big stone castle certainly seem more flammable than you'd expect). Worth a look for fans of Gothic horror, but not quite the standout that the previous two films were. The Arrow release has lots of extras, two commentaries, new interviews with cast and crew, and the usual new artwork with reversible sleeve. **
  • In the Mouth of Madness (trailer)
  • Fishmen (short)
  • The Call of Cthulu (trailer)
  • The Haunted Palace - After six installments of the Poe Cycle, Corman tried to stray a bit from the formula and adapt an H.P. Lovecraft story, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". These days, Lovecraft is well known name, having influenced all manner of books, games, toys, movies, and TV shows, but at the time, Lovecraft was considered too obscure. So they grabbed one of Poe's poems with an evocative title ("The Haunted Palace") and had Vincent Price read a few lines at the end of the film and presto! A new Poe Cycle entry. But the story is still Lovecraft inspired and I believe it's the first cinematic adaptation of his work to reach the screen (even if it's marketed as Poe). Like the other entries in this post, there's a lot of Gothic imagery and great atmosphere and some similar plot elements, but the Lovecraftian bits do add some variety to the mix. It droops a little in the middle act, but the opening is great and the climax has its moments too. I was particularly taken by the cursed, eyeless people in the town, and while this doesn't have great special effects, the indirect invoking of the Old Ones is reasonably effective. After having watched three Poe adaptations, it was nice to get a little Lovecraft injected into the mix.
    Artwork for the The Haunted Palace BD release
    The Arrow disc again features lots of good extras, including a commentary track from Vincent Price's biogrophers, an interview with Kim Newman, who covers Lovecraft on screen, and an interview with Corman, plus the usual reversible sleeve featuring both new and classic artwork. **1/2
So there you have it. Arrow video does it right, but make sure you get the proper Blu-Ray region! At least some of these films are available (sometimes with similar or even the same special features) in the US.
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6WH: Week 3.5 - Now Playing

The Six Weeks of Halloween has past the midway point and tonight, we tackle a couple of films now playing in theaters. Yes, I know that the big horror dork movie of the season is coming up, but you don't need me to tell you anything about the Halloween sequel and probably have your own deep thoughts on how it impacts the continuity of the series, whether or not the term "sidequel" applies (and the requisite rabbit-hole debating whether or not "sidequel" is a proper neologism or a sure sign that communist Leprechauns are running a Gramscian program of influence to weaken the horror nerd community by introducing memetic attacks to our lexicon (I think you can tell which side I'm on in this vital conversation)), whether "prepper Laurie Strode" is better than "drunken PTSD Laurie Strode" from H20, or if we should call this new installment H40, amongst other deathly important topics. However, I've recently watched two movies in theaters that aren't exactly doing awesome at the box office, but which are actually quite fun and worth checking out (given my readership, this could result in a sizeable $0-$10 bump in ticket sales, so please humor me). I'm sure I'll get to the Halloween sequel soon enough, though frankly, I'm not especially excited for it. This sometimes augers for a pleasant surprise, but I tend to be hard on sequels (as well as, naturally, anything supported by communist Leprechauns). Of course, both of the below flicks are rather derivative, but that doesn't bother me as much for some reason. So let's get to it:
  • Hell Fest - It's Halloween, and a bunch of teens descend upon a horror theme park to celebrate. Also in attendance is a killer dressed as one of the park's attractions, so as to blend in as part of the show. I'm sure everyone has gone to such events or at least a haunted attraction or two (though perhaps not one as elaborate as depicted here), and had the thought that a real murder could occur in plain sight because everyone would just play it off as being part of the show. No? I'm the only nutser who's had this thought? Fine then, be that way. Um, anyway, it turns out that this is actually a decent premise for a slasher film, especially since they didn't skimp out on the extras and atmosphere. The grand majority of the movie takes place in a crowded theme park filled with rambunctious teens (unlike, for example, The Funhouse, which happens after-hours in an empty park). The park itself is wide ranging, featuring tons of haunted houses and the like, similar enough to what we've probably seen ourselves, but just at a much larger scale. This provides cover for the killer and makes our protagonists question if what they're seeing is real or just part of the act, rather than immediately tipping them off (meanwhile, we in the audience know it's for real). The setting also provides for lots of jump scares and "Boo!" moments that, while technically still cheap thrills, are reasonably well executed and more importantly, organic. The characters themselves, while not completely devoid of drama, are surprisingly affable and the filmmakers wisely avoid common dysfunctional tropes. For example, our protagonists are roughly comprised of three couples... and yet there are no love triangles and no one is cheating on their partner with one of the other friends. They actually like each other! This goes a long way in a movie like this. The kills are backloaded towards the end of the movie, so they only really have to peel away one or two characters earlier, and they come up with plausible enough excuses for the separation. Plus, those are mixed in with some red-herrings, so you are at least kept on your toes.
    Be vewy, vewy quiet. Im hunting wittle teenagers.
    The killer is suitably creepy, as a decent look, and I really enjoy the fact that he has no real backstory (something that did not work in the recently discussed Final Exam, but works well here). They actually do a good job with him and manage to maintain tension throughout the film. There aren't that many actual kills in the movie, but there's a couple of big gore moments that will keep horror dorks satiated while not going so overboard as to scare off the normals (but then, I'm mildly jaded when it comes to this sort of thing, so take that with a grain of salt). There's a nice little capper at the end of the movie too; it's not your typical twist (or even particularly a twist at all), and it works well. Look, fine cinema, this is not, but it's a perfectly cromulent and seasonally appropriate flick. This movie is doing really poorly at the box office, but if you're a slasher fan, you should totally check this out (and maybe even if you're not!) ***
  • Driving Lessons - Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
  • Horror Movie Daycare (short)
  • Goosebumps (trailer)
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls - Recently orphaned ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his uncle in a creepy old house. It turns out that magic is real, his uncle is a Warlock, their neighbor is a witch, and there's a mysterious ticking sound emanating from the house. Hijinks ensue. This movie has an interesting pedigree. Most notably, it's a PG rated kids movie directed by Eli Roth, who has also directed things like Hostel and The Green Inferno (i.e. violent gore-fests). Next, it's got a screenplay from Eric Kripke, best known for creating and writing for the absurdly long-running Supernatural TV show (a CW staple that isn't exactly child friendly either). The story is adapted from a classic novel by John Bellairs, a sorta proto-young-adult horror author along the lines of R.L. Stine. Speaking of which, this movie stars Jack Black, who is also in the Goosebumps movies (of which, another is coming out in a few weeks). Like the first Goosebumps movie a few years ago, I had initially assumed this would be a soulless pixel stew of a movie. Also like that Goosebumps movie, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I mean, sure, there's plenty of pixel in the stew, but there's also a little heart and some genuinely interesting ideas in the mix. And, like, maybe they used a dutch oven instead of a crock pot, thus ensuring a deeper, more robust flavor, even out of the pixels. That's how food works, right?
    Cate Blanchett owns every scene she is in
    Plus, Cate Blanchett pretty much owns the screen whenever she shows up, and actually has pretty good chemistry with Black and the little kid. She gets plenty of screen time and her own arc, so it's not quite the thankless sidekick role I initially feared it would be. Jack Black is his usual self and comports himself well enough, even kinda-sorta holding his own against Blanchett (though not really, because who could?) Child actors are a tricky thing, and Owen Vaccaro stumbles a few times, but he otherwise manages just fine. Again, this isn't the sort of thing I'll be thinking about when it comes time to compile a top 10 of the year or anything (though Blanchett will probably get nominated for a Kaedrin Movie Award or six), but it's a lot of good-natured, spooky fun. This has actually done moderately better business than Hell Fest, but if you find yourself feeling a bit down whilst scarfing down bitter horror flicks this Halloween season, this is a nice, palate-cleansing antidote and could probably still use your help. Well worth checking out. ***
So there you have it. I will probably see Halloween at some point, but for now, I'm just happy that they seem to have figured out that releasing horror movies in September/October makes sense... Stay tuned for our next post on Sunday, where you'll get Four Themes for the Price of One! It's a deal you simply can't pass up.
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6WH: Week 3 - Scream Factory

Taking my cue from week one's celebration of physical media and The Criterion Collection, this week I'm watching three films from Scream Factory. A sub-label of Shout Factory starting in 2012, Scream Factory focuses on releasing classic and cult horror films on discs. While not having the storied history of Criterion, their releases feature many of the same selling points. Most releases are new transfers/remastered/restored and feature gobs of extra features. Only in this case, many of the films are obscure, low-budget genre releases that wouldn't normally garner such attention, which has certainly endeared them to certain segments of fandom. Look, sometimes you need to rescue an art-house staple from obscurity, sometimes you need to make sure there's a pristine 4K transfer BD of Ninja III: The Domination. These people are doing God's work. Of course, there's a wide range of stuff that they put out, ranging from the grand majority of John Carpenter's filmography, to a gorgeous looking special edition of The Babadook, to fancy schmansy steelbook editions that also look great, to schlocky 80s fare like Dark Angel (aka I Come in Peace) or Halloween III. Seriously, the notable examples are too numerous to list out here. For my choices, though, I tended to go with stuff that's more obscure (after all, I've already seen a lot of the high-profile stuff), so let's dig in:
  • HELL NO: The Sensible Horror Film (short)
  • The Wicker Man (trailer)
  • Day of the Triffids (trailer)
  • Island of Terror - A remote island community is overrun with mysterious tentacled creatures which liquify and eat bone and multiply at an exponential rate. I have faint memories of being terrified of this movie as a child. Something about the eerie sounds that accompany the monsters (and perhaps, like, the notion of monsters sucking your bones out of your body) struck a chord with me. As an adult, this is perhaps not quite as horrifying, though the sound design of the attacks (a disgusting slurping sound, as if they're drinking your bones through a straw) is still pretty effective. The look of the monsters, dubbed Silicates, is also memorable and somewhat unique.
    A Silicate
    A sorta mix between the blob and triffids, they have one big tentacle that they use for their bone-sucking attack. They're not exactly fast moving, but they are somewhat sneaky and nigh indestructible. The characters, led by the always great Peter Cushing and the square jawed Edward Judd (rumored to have been in the running for Bond), are likable enough, and director Terrence Fisher does good, unshowy work. Fisher and Cushing are known for their collaborations in Hammer horror films, but this was their sole non-Hammer effort together. The solution to the problem is not exactly animal-friendly, but mildly clever. Naturally, there's a horror stinger at the end that works pretty well (were this made today, it would probably be seen as a sequel setup, but that's not what it feels like). This isn't exactly a classic movie, but it's just the sort of thing that Scream Factory excels at rescuing. A solid little thriller with a unique monster that deserves an audience. The Scream Factory BD is pretty great, featuring a good transfer, a new commentary from some film historians (a little dry, but informative), and the usual trailers/stills. One feature not mentioned yet is that the BD art is reversible, and Scream Factory has a good art style that fits well with this one (the original poster is a bit too disjointed for me, so I actually flipped the art to the new version on my BD). This is the sort of movie that wouldn't normally get such a treatment, but it seems worth it. **1/2
  • It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • The Prowler (trailer)
  • Final Exam - This one has the most complicated plot I've ever seen in a slasher: A few kids are left on campus for exams when a killer shows up. Ok, so maybe I exaggerated a little about the plot. This is seriously one of the most perfunctory slashers I've seen, barely even bothering with a lot of the conventions. It's saved, however, by a series of absolutely bonkers moments throughout the film. First, you've got a college professor who claims to have a sniper in the clocktower of the school who will shoot anyone who is cheating. Second, mere minutes later, a bunch of masked terrorists assault the school with fully automatic weapons. It turns out to be a prank by a Frat house that was meant to distract the teachers so their friends could cheat on an exam. I'm not sure if this was particularly tasteful in 1981, let alone the absurdity of watching this in 2018. Third, there's a hazing scene that is pretty goofy and is capped off by a local security guard finding the hazed student strapped to a tree - rather than helping the student, the guard pours whiskey into his underwear. Alas, the killer is a pretty lackluster nothing of a character. Unlike a lot of slashers, there's no history here, indeed not even a "escaped mental patient" news report. He wears no mask, is a bit overweight, and has a crappy, deeply unscary haircut. For a good portion of the film, that actually doesn't matter, because we only catch glimpses of the killer, usually obscured.
    This is the best shot in Final Exam, a good reveal of the killer
    After the initial murder of two necking students, there's almost an hour of bland filler before the real killing starts. Some of this stuff isn't necessarily a problem, but the "stalking" that goes on here is nowhere near as effective as, say, the stalking sequences in Halloween. Anyway, the fourth weird moment is when the killer has our heroine cornered, but some rando hunter with a bow and arrow shows up and shoots at the killer, who apparently has superhuman reflexes and catches the arrow mid-flight (then uses the arrow to stab the guy - ok, so that was pretty cool, I guess). The fifth and final fascinating thing about this film is the character of Radish, a clear precursor to Randy from Scream, he spouts knowledge of serial killers, makes untimely jokes about Nixon, and sports a bunch of genre movie posters in his dorm room (notably The Toolbox Murders). This isn't a wholly uncommon trope in slasher films, but something about Radish just works better than normal. Perhaps it's because despite the fact that he's a pretty classic slasher nerd character, he also seems to be male hero, and the final girl seems to be pretty into him. Ultimately, these are all just sorta disconnected elements and the rest is mostly forgettable, though slasher fans will get a kick out it for sure. The Scream Factory transfer looks pretty darned good. The disc also has a commentary and a bunch of interviews (which I have yet to actually explore). Again, this is the sort of film that I'd never guess would get such a good BD release, but here we are. **
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Scream (trailer)
  • How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
  • Cherry Falls - Coming at the tail-end of the post-Scream slasher revival, this movie suffered from censorship and a lackluster release. It never played in theaters, premiered on basic cable, but ultimately found a bit of an audience on DVD. This is a pretty standard post-Scream production, with teen actors famous from TV, a slick visual feel, and the requisite meta-commentary on slashers. This time around, the killer targets virgins, a neat inversion of the normal slasher line about punishing the wicked (though, to my mind, that sort of thing is overplayed by those with an ax to grind). Once that fact comes out, it does lead to a rather goofy third act featuring a proposed orgy as scared kids figure that if they lose their virginity, they'll be safe. It's hard to attribute thoughtfulness to a production like this, but it seems to be making some sort of statement about teen sexuality that was uncommon in the genre (which usually just veers towards titillation and exploitation). Not a deep or particularly well established statement, but it's a statement nonetheless. The slasher kills are pretty light-handed in the gore department, though that apparently had to do with censorship (the MPAA does not go in for the mixing of sexuality and violence in general, and especially at that time). I won't spoil anything, but the reveal isn't much of a surprise, and the film barely even tries to hide the identity of the killer (I mean, there's usually at least a couple of red herrings; here there's practically none). That being said, the killer's look is pretty effective, and the backstory has more depth than you'd think. Brittany Murphy is an interesting choice for the final girl, and plays her as vaguely goth and a bit jittery. Michael Biehn plays her father, the town sheriff. Not much of a stretch, but Biehn is good at it, as usual.
    Cherry Falls
    There's a sequence between them where, once the killer's preferred target becomes clear, Biehn has an incredibly awkward conversation with Murphy that culminates in the bizarre line of "Are you disappointed I'm not a virgin?" That's some weird writing, right there. Ultimately, there are some interesting ideas here and it's worth a watch for the small pocket of neo-slasher fans out there, but I suspect this could have been better executed. As it is, though, it's enjoyable enough fare. As a recent-ish release, the transfer is already good, but the disc also features a new commentary with the director, and new and vintage interviews with cast and crew. This is exactly the sort of movie that could benefit from the Scream Factory treatment. **1/2
So there you have it. Scream Factory puts out some great stuff, including a nice steelbook edition of last week's Night of the Demons, a fantastic 3-disc set of Army of Darkness, and a rerelease of the steelbook for Carpenter's The Thing. Also of note is the upcoming boxed-set for the Critters series (maybe worth a revisit for next year's 6WH). As mentioned before, they put out too much great stuff to list, so I'll just stop now. Next week, we tackle another purveyor of physical media that just happens to align with several other themes. Stay tuned.
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