The Great Movie Catch-Up, 2018 Edition

As the year winds down, I always scramble to catch up with the year's most ballyhooed movies. This almost always results in a handful of discoveries that I'd never have watched if left to my own devices (these days, sometimes literally, *ahem*), but which I wind up loving. Alas, that tends to be a relatively small proportion of these year-end cramming movies, but for the most part, I find the process worthwhile (and to be sure, many of the the films I don't necessarily love aren't bad, per say, just something that didn't connect with me the way it did with others). So here's a list of films I'm looking to watch over the next couple of months, in preparation for the traditional Kaedrin Movie Awards and Top 10 list.... (Oh, and for the record, I keep a running tally of the films I have seen at Letterboxd, so if you don't see your personal favorite on the list, it might be because I've already seen it...)
  • Eighth Grade - This is one of those movies that doesn't seem at all like my thing, but which could totally surprise me... or it could confirm my doubts. Regardless, this is universally hailed as one of the best of the year, so I'll give it a shot.
  • Three Identical Strangers - One of those quirky little documentaries that I don't know much about, but which seems like it could be up my alley. Something about adopted guys finding out they were triplets that were split up at birth.
  • American Animals - Dumb kids come up with some sort of cinematic heist idea? This could certainly go either way for my sensibility, and it totally seems worth checking out.
  • Tully - I was generally mixed on the last Reitman/Cody/Theron collaboration (Young Adult) and this didn't look much better, but from what I've heard, the marketing doesn't give away something more fantastical that happens later in the movie. Or something? I mean, I haven't seen it, but I've heard enough to know that maybe I should check it out.
  • Red Sparrow - This actually got mixed reactions back when it came out, but Cold War throwback spy thriller seems cool to me. I've been meaning to catch up with it, so now's the time.
  • Super Troopers 2 - Another one that wasn't exactly lighting the critical world on fire, but critically lauded films tend to be grueling and watching a bunch of them in a row can be draining, so it might be nice to sprinkle in some dick and fart jokes for the sake of levity.
  • Let the Corpses Tan - Seems like a Giallo-esque premise about some thieves trying to lie low somewhere, but getting caught up in a deadly game of cat and also-cat. Or something like that. Could be fun.
  • I Kill Giants - I know very little about this and can't remember anyone really talking about it when it came out, but it sounds like it could be interesting.
  • The Death of Stalin - Armando Iannucci is usually worth checking out, and a profane, quasi-comic take on Soviet power struggles could be interesting.
  • Peppermint - Not expecting much out of this revenge flick, but it could be good fodder for the "Best Hero/Badass" category of the Kaedrin Movie Awards.
  • Alpha - This film came and went with little marketing or fanfare, but it actually seems like it could be decent?
  • The Night Comes for Us - Sounds like a bonkers action film from Indonesia, which has a pretty good recent pedigree for that sort of thing... Available on Netflix now!
  • Suspiria - Pretty sure I'm not going to like this, but you never know, and its supposedly coming to Amazon Prime, so it'll be easy enough to find...
  • Roma - Alfonso Cuarón's latest is in limited release now, but will be coming to Netflix soon enough. Doesn't really tick my checkboxes, but again, those are sometimes the big surprises of the year.
  • Cam - One of those Netflix releases that seemed destined to disappear into the ether when Stephen King gave it a shout out, thus reviving its chances of being seen (I might not have heard of it otherwise). Seems like a Twilight Zone style premise, which could be fun.
  • Vice - Not sure I really want to watch this, but I enjoyed The Big Short way more than I'd have thought, so there is that. But it feels like this movie is, like, 10-15 years too late.
  • High Life - Not sure if this will even be available to watch in time, but it sounds bonkers.
  • Dragged Across Concrete - Making some festival rounds now, not sure if it'll be available to watch anytime soon, but anything from S. Craig Zahler is going to be on my watchlist...
  • Third Kind - Thirty minute SF short film about researchers returning to earth to investigate a mysterious five tone signal (presumably an allusion to Close Encounters of the Third Kind). A hit at Cannes, it doesn't look like it's available anywhere at the moment, but it sounds interesting.
  • Shadow - Zhang Yimou's latest has been called a return to form, which sounds great... if we ever get to see it (not sure of release details).
Well, that's twenty movies, which seems more than enough for now. I will almost certainly not watch all of these (if only because some are unlikely to be available at all) and will probably also see some things not on this list. Such is life. Suggestions welcome!
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Link Dump

Odds and ends from the depths of ye olde internets:
  • Ricky Jay's 52 Assistants - RIP Ricky Jay, this hour long show is well worth a watch.
  • Secrets of the Magus - And a New Yorker profile of Ricky Jay, featuring one of my favorite anecdotes:

    Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”

    Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”

    Jay told Mort to name a card, any card. Mort said, “The three of hearts.” After shuffling, Jay gripped the deck in the palm of his right hand and sprung it, cascading all fifty-two cards so that they travelled the length of the table and pelted an open wine bottle.

    “O.K., Mort, what was your card again?”

    “The three of hearts.”

    “Look inside the bottle.”

    Mort discovered, curled inside the neck, the three of hearts. The party broke up immediately.

    Of course, Ricky Jay anecdotes like this are a dime a dozen, so they're all favorites.
  • Man Abducts Scientist To Make His Dog Immortal - It's always a Florida man.
  • The First Film Version of Frankenstein, Newly Restored! By the Library of Congress. Still looks tattered, but it's from 1913 after all, and it looks better than I've ever seen it. Plus, film preservation is a worthy cause.
  • ‘Something doesn’t smell right’: Farting controversy clouds dart championship - Alright, fine, I'll read your stupid article.
  • Wait For It - Just watch it, it's short. Kid can fly. And now I'm down a rabbit hole of similar videos...
And that's all for now folks.
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SF Book Review: Part 30

Catching up on reviews for recently read SF (check here for some Halloween Season's readings as well)...
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin - A secret government attempt to breed super-soldiers only succeeds in creating what are basically vampires. As all secret government projects are wont to do, this one fails spectacularly and unleashes a hoard of vampirism across the country (and probably the planet). Various enclaves have survived, like the Colony, a small refuge of humanity protected by massive banks of ultraviolet lights that keep the vampires at bay. But a century or so later, and the technology is starting to wear out. Enter Amy, a mysterious young girl who shares the vampire's immortality, but lacks the bloodsucking monstrous parts. Does she represent hope? It's a nice spin on the vampire mythologies that we all know and love, especially for those who don't like the whole sexy sparkling brooding emo vampires that became common for a while there (one review mentions that you won't be seeing any "Team Babcock" tshirts anytime soon, though I think they'd actually be pretty cool (Babcock is one of the original twelve vampires in The Passage)). I like the background and there are some later revelations about how they work and what their community is like that are really interesting. Unfortunately, those bits tend to be drowned out by endless, inchoate chapters of characterization. With a massive, sprawling cast of characters, this is sometimes fine, but ensemble pieces always suffer from unevenness, and this is no exception. Cronin's longwinded style drags things out longer than is probably needed, and it doesn't help that a lot of these character bits are about people going through something dysfunctional if not downright traumatic (and this is before we even get to the vampires). The first third or so of the novel works pretty well, but then things shift dramatically and unexpectedly (an interesting development). We're shifted to an entirely new set of characters and this is where things bogged down for me. Eventually they got moving again, and I think the novel ends strong. Ultimately, I loved the vampire bits, but found it a bit overlong and bloated. There are two more books in the series, but I'm on the fence as to whether I'll get to them...
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells - The second in Wells' Hugo winning series of novellas concerning a Murderbot who only wants to sit around binging TV shows, but ends up getting sucked into human affairs and protecting foolish humans from themselves. In this one, our Murderbot protagonist makes another AI friend and meets up with some naive scientists who want to recover their data from murderous, bloodsucking corporate suits (but um, not Passage-esque vampires, I'm being more metaphorical here). It's a lot of fun. I like the new AI companion, and Wells is decent enough at the whole corporate intrigue thing too. Along the way, we find more about Murderbot's mysterious past, and Wells does a good job blending those elements into the novella without overwhelming the rest of the story. I'm pretty excited by this series, and will most certainly be checking out future installments (which have been coming at a pretty steady clip).
  • The Uplift War by David Brin - The conclusion to Brin's Uplift Trilogy, but then, each book is pretty much a standalone, with only small direct connections (though, all taking place in the same universe, we see lots of indirect overlap). In this universe, most alien races were originally non-intelligent creatures that have been "uplifted" by one of the higher races in the galaxy. Once uplifted, a race must serve it's patron for a long time before they are permitted to uplift other species on their own. However! Earthlings appear to have developed their intelligence all on their own, which upsets the galactic society to its core. Where the first book, Sundiver, concerned a mostly human story, the second mostly followed the human-uplifted dolphin race, while this third book mostly focuses on human-uplifted chimpanzees. Now, this is a tough book to judge, because the second book in the trilogy, Startide Rising, is phenomenal and thus represents a tough act to follow. In truth, this didn't really reach Startide's heights, but it remains good on its own. The story, about one of the affronted alien races attempting to invade a human/chimp planet in order to blackmail humans into revealing more about their recent discovery of an ancient Progenitor ship (an event from the previous book), is mostly self contained, and while kicked off by the whole Progenitor angle, doesn't really do much to progress that overarching story (I assume this is addressed in future books of the series). But the self-contained story is done well enough by itself, and most of the characters are likable and competent in their own right. Like previous books, this story seems enamored with what I like to call Earthican exceptionalism, but given the more downbeat titles of current SF, this actually represents something refreshing to a modern reading. That being said, the ending does make you feel a little bad for the invading Gubru, who are so thoroughly defeated and humiliated by the humans (and their trickster-like Tymbrimi allies) that you just can't help it. On the other hand, the Gubru are presented as being humorless, entitled, and petulant (as, indeed, are a lot of alien races in this universe, making you wonder how they've all become so powerful in the first place), so take it with a grain of salt. The overarching narrative that spreads across all three books doesn't move very much in any of them and is not resolve here, but I assume it is in the later books... Ultimately, while the whole Uplift Trilogy is pretty darned good, the real gem remains Startide Rising. I've enjoyed these all enough that I'll probably get to the sequel trilogy at some point, and obviously Brin has written lots of other stuff as well.
  • Head On by John Scalzi - This sequel to Scalzi's Lock In mostly represents an improvement on its predecessor, if only because the universe is established and thus Scalzi can focus on the mystery of the week bit of the story rather than the worldbuilding (which is a little clunky to start with, and which was poorly established in the first book). The mystery itself is, once again, a pretty decent take on a futuristic detective procedural (i.e. better than your typical CBS crime show, but not exactly even reaching for the top tier of literary mysteries). It's nothing that's going to win awards (at least, it won't be making my Hugo nominating ballot), but it's a fun and entertaining read. While this isn't my favorite setting, I enjoy spending time there well enough and Scalzi is good at fast paced plotting and snappy dialogue, making the pages turn quickly. Well worth checking out.
  • The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell - Captain John "Black Jack" Geary is a legendary war hero presumed lost in the early days of a war between the Alliance and the Syndics. The war isn't going particularly well for the Alliance when they miraculously discover Geary, who survived in hibernation. Geary is shocked to learn that he's revered as a hero, but resolves to do his duty, whip his fleet into shape, and dodge the onslaught of Syndics coming his way. This is basically a military "long retreat" story adapted to work in space, and it's a surprisingly good fit. Geary makes for a good protagonist and the situation he's in generates plenty of fodder for internal conflict that must be overcome before the external conflict with the Syndics can be properly dealt with. Again, this is a pretty enjoyable spin through military SF tropes, even if it's not exactly breaking new ground. Then again, "strategic retreat" isn't a particularly revered military SF trope, so props to Campbell for going with this unsung but important angle. There are more books in the series, and I'll mostly likely seek them out at some point (always a good sign for me, as I tend to be sequel averse...)
So there you have it. I've got a whole slew of SF novellas and a couple novels I want to get to in the next couple of months as well, so maybe the next one of these will come sooner rather than later...
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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.
    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.
    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...

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.
    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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