Martin Scorsese on "brutal judgmentalism"

Martin Scorsese recently penned an oped for The Hollywood Reporter where he expounds on the nature of criticism in the digital age, with particular scorn heaped on obsessing over box-office results, Cinemascore, and Rotten Tomatoes. There is, of course, a nugget of truth to what Scorsese is talking about here. Discussions of film are too often sidetracked by box-office numbers or aggregate scores. On the other hand, it's 2017, and a lot of this article comes off like Scorsese has only now discovered that the internet is a thing that exists.

He even mentions that Cinemascore started in the 1970s (almost 40 years ago) and it's worth noting that Rotten Tomatoes isn't exactly a recent phenomenon (it began in 1998). And Scorsese isn't alone. Hollywood had a really poor summer, with many big tentpoles flopping or at least underperforming. Their scapegoat? Rotten Tomatoes. This makes no sense. Several highly rated movies (War for the Planet of the Apes and Logan Lucky are both at 93% fresh) still managed to do poorly at the box office, while many "Rotten" films found audiences (The Hitman's Bodyguard is at 39% and yet it's the only film to be #1 at the box office for three weeks in a row).

Even Darren Aronofsky's ambitious and divisive mother!, ostensibly the movie that drove Scorsese to write the oped in the first place, ends up certified "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit, not overwhelmingly so at 68%). Of course, Scorsese seizes on that film's "F" Cinemascore in that instance, but most of what I've seen about this dreaded score is that while it's devastating for a movie to get that grade (as it means the marketing wholly failed to represent the movie and thus pissed off audiences, usually resulting in poor box office), it's also something of a badge of honor. If you look at why this movie received some polarizing scores, you find that most people are responding to exactly the sort of things Scorsese values in the film.

It was so tactile, so beautifully staged and acted — the subjective camera and the POV reverse angles, always in motion … the sound design, which comes at the viewer from around corners and leads you deeper and deeper into the nightmare … the unfolding of the story, which very gradually becomes more and more upsetting as the film goes forward. The horror, the dark comedy, the biblical elements, the cautionary fable — they're all there, but they're elements in the total experience, which engulfs the characters and the viewers along with them. Only a true, passionate filmmaker could have made this picture, which I'm still experiencing weeks after I saw it.
Most reviews, even the harsh bloodsport ones, don't deny the skill and craft of the film. I certainly don't! I'm super happy that the film got made at all, and that I got to see it at a local theater (rather than making the long and expensive trek to an art house theater). I have a lot of respect for a filmmaker who swings for the fences like this, and again, the skill on display is astounding, but the film still falls into the realm of "interesting failure" for me. That doesn't mean it shouldn't exist or that you shouldn't watch it though, and it's probably worth checking out over many of the bland pixel stew blockbusters out there. It doesn't surprise me one iota that this film did poorly. It's a difficult film to watch, almost by design.

Much of this comes down to a matter of perspective. As a filmmaker, much of this data is used against someone like Scorsese. He mentions how preview screenings can give studios license to meddle, which must be frustrating. I assume he gets slapped with other aggregate measurements used to undermine his efforts too. I'm not sure if it's still a thing, but there was a time when Video Game companies would actually judge their employees based on their game's MetaCritic score, which seems like an awful idea. But as a viewer, I'm able to recognize the usefulness of something like Rotten Tomatoes. It's true, those scores shouldn't be treated as absolutes, but as a starting place, there is indeed some upside here. Similarly, people are interested in things like Box Office performance because they want to see more of what they like, and if a movie they like does well, it means that perhaps we'll get more of that (or conversely, when a movie they don't like does poorly, it hopefully means we'll see less of that). This summer has been brutal for huge franchise efforts (that aren't superheroes, which seemed to be the lone bright spot for Hollywood), but a lot of smaller or more ideosyncratic films like Dunkirk and Baby Driver found audiences. I think it would be great if we saw more of those sorts of movies next summer, rather than yet another Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean movie.

Scorsese's rumblings are nothing new. Indeed, much of the current marketing landscape around films has evolved as a way to combat once-powerful critics. Back in the day, you could argue that movies were made or broken by the thumbs of two critics, Siskel and Ebert. Hollywood reacted to powerful criticism and growing online sentiment by front-loading movies and leaning heavily on marketing, so much so that many movies that severely disappoint audiences still manage to do well at the box office because the film was released in 3000 theaters and word of mouth couldn't spread fast enough, even in the digital age. Rotten Tomatoes is partly a response to that, and Cinemascore is a purely marketing-focused metric.

Criticism has been around since the dawn of art itself. Find a 30,000 year old cave painting, and there was probably some moron named Grog who complained about it. The state of criticism today is probably different than it was ten or twenty or a hundred years ago, but there will always be great critics and worthless hacks who just want to tear things down. In the end, audiences just want to watch a movie they'll enjoy. Scorsese doesn't seem to care about audiences though:

Good films by real filmmakers aren't made to be decoded, consumed or instantly comprehended. They're not even made to be instantly liked. They're just made, because the person behind the camera had to make them.
Personally, I don't think you need to be so narrow in defining what is "good" in film. When I first consumed Taxi Driver (99% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!), I instantly liked it. That doesn't mean that after years of rewatching it and decoding various aspects of the film, I didn't find additional depth there. Yes, some of these things can't be instantly comprehended (I had to decode them first!), but not everything needs to be that way, does it? There's not one type of good movie, is there? It's possible to make art with the audience in mind, right? Sometimes it feels like movies have bifurcated into Hollywood fluff and heavy, artistic slogs, with that middle ground of well-crafted entertainment suffering as a result. Of course, they're still there, you just have to hunt them down. Hey, maybe if enough people supported those movies, we'd get more of them. Let's go check Box Office Mojo...

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Link Dump

As per usual, some links I found interesting whilst perusing the depths of ye olde internets:
  • Teller Reveals His Secrets - Always fascinating to see what the guy who doesn't speak has to say. Some neat observations about misdirection and magic, this one being my favorite:
    Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can’t cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat. More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.
    This sort of thing doesn't just apply to magic. How many people assume security in situations when someone could painstakingly figure out a workaround? Think about those tedious CSI recreations or even how the Allies were able to identify German radio operators based on each operator's distinctive style of transmitting Morse code. It seems like more trouble than its worth, but it turns out that such machinations are worth quite a bit.
  • Why is there cardboard in Dracula? - I never noticed this before, but there's an ugly piece of cardboard attached to a lamp in a series of shots in the movie. It was always assumed to be a mistake, but it's hotly debated, and there's a surprising amount of discussion about why it would or wouldn't be a mistake...
  • Matt Talbot's Horror Movie Posters - Every year for Halloween, this artist does a bunch of alternate movie posters for horror movies, and they're fantastic.
  • Come on, Stranger Things, no one ever got that far in Dragon's Lair - This is so very true:
    In a premiere episode that saw titanic hellbeasts looming over a fire-choked horizon, a young boy perilously trapped between reality and a grim alternate dimension, criminal teens evading the cops with their psionic abilities, and a high schooler driving a bitching Camaro, Stranger Things’ second season has already strained credulity with a single, ludicrous scene: There is no fucking way anyone ever got that far in Dragon’s Lair.
    Damn straight.
  • Why I keep being concerned about the rise of streaming services - MGK went through Edgar Wright's list of his 1000 favorite films to see how many were available on streaming services. Spoiler, only 200-300 are available on a service, with another 400-500 or so available for "rental", leaving a couple hundred completely unavailable. A couple of caveats: This is in Canada, and things are a little better in the US. And it's worth noting that Wright's taste can be somewhat... eccentric. I'm sure some of those movies aren't even available on DVD. However, none of this changes the original point: Streaming services are nowhere near comprehensive, even when you add them all together (and trust me, the fragmentation and difference in quality between the top tier of these services and the rest is pretty high). We are still a long, long ways off from a comprehensive service.
That's all for now...
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6WH: Speed Round

Time flies when you're terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. Six weeks in, and as usual, there are a whole slew of movies 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. As of this writing, I've seen 48 films during this year's marathon, which means I've already outpaced last year's efforts (only by one, to be sure, but still), and I haven't even gotten to the big day yet (at least two or three more films are forthcoming). And that's not counting TV viewing, though that's somewhat lessened this year. So here are some quick thoughts on the bevy of horror movies I've seen, but not covered yet:
  • The Void - Carpenter-esque tale of a police officer who escorts a blood covered man to a hospital, only to find that it's been surrounded by weird cult-like people wearing triangle masks. Also, people are starting to transform into... something. Enjoyable enough with solid practical effects (none really beat the classics though, and at least one doesn't work as well as it could), but the story is half-baked and can't really support the film proper. There's hints of depth involving loss and grief, but it never fully achieves those ambitions. Still worth a look. **1/2
  • The Girl with All the Gifts - A half zombie girl goes on the run when the full zombies attack her secret military hospital home. Mild spoilers, I guess. I'm not a huge zombie fan, but this one puts some interesting twists on the formula, and I think the ending is surprisingly good (the legacy of Matheson's I Am Legend looms large...) **1/2
  • Chopping Mall - Post-Terminator, pre-Robocop tale of mall security robots running amok, I definitely remember seeing this on late night cable in my youth, and it's actually pretty great 80s schlock.
    Killbots on the loose
    The robots deal out ED-209-esqe quips while shooting lazers that sometimes blow a head off, and other times just sorta lightly singe their clothes. The heroes are mildly resourceful and represent a good mix (they go shopping at a sporting goods store called Peckinpah's!) It's all in good fun, and the Amazon Prime transfer is shockingly good (as you'll see below, this is often not the case). **1/2
  • Chastity Bites - Mildly diverting take on the whole Countess Bathory legend. The spin this time is that an immortal serial killer that survives by bathing in the blood of virgins has taken up residence as the local abstinence councilor. A little hamfisted in its politics, but again, diverting enough. **
  • Frenzy - Minor Hitchcock about a serial killer who strangles his victims with a necktie. The police have an obvious suspect, but this being Hitch, he's the wrong man! Solid stuff, not top tier Hitch, but that's a high bar. This is worth checking out... ***
  • Scream 4 - I watched this for the 6WH a few years ago and really enjoyed it, and still do. I think it's my favorite of the Scream sequels, and while some of the tech stuff has aged really poorly (and frankly wasn't much of a thing even then), some bits land really well (I particularly love the fakeouts at the opening). **1/2
  • Messiah of Evil - Woman tries to find out what happened to her dad in a weird town with quasi-zombies. Or something. It's totally nonsensical and hallucinatory and my copy was pan-and-scan crap, so it didn't even look that great. I would love to try sleeping on that suspended bed thingy though. **
  • Death Spa - One of the two seminal fitness themed horror films of the 80s (the other being Killer Workout, a film I now need to track down), this one has a sorta ghost in the machine vibe to it, as the spirit of a woman wreaks havoc on a partially automated fitness club. Fun 80s cheese. **1/2
  • Severance - Slasher-esque story of a company retreat that gets sidetracked into a murderous compound or some such. Has some nice darkly comedic elements, but it isn't quite a full horror comedy (as it's sometimes billed). Uneven but enjoyable. **1/2
  • Ms .45 - Quintessential rape revenge movie about a mute seamstress who is assaulted and raped not once, but twice in one afternoon, after which she goes on a murderous revenge spree. First heard about this in Carol Clover's essay "Getting Even" but at the time, it was hard to find. Then Drafthouse films did a restoration a few years ago, and it now looks great.
    Ms 45 deals out some revenge
    Really stresses the uncomfortable male nature of the city, and gets you into the revenge, and Zoë Lund does a great job. Lots to chew on here. **1/2
  • Happy Death Day - The notion of a horror version of Groundhog Day has been done again and again, but this one is actually pretty darned good, with some slasher-like elements (great mask on the killer) and some decent enough twists on the normal formula. **1/2
  • Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI - I've opined on this film often enough, I think, but it's my favorite of the franchise, and it holds up pretty well. So when an actual Friday the 13th came around, I figured I had to watch it. ***
  • Video Nasties: Draconian Days - Watched this after the Video Nasties themed week, and it gives a good overview of the whole situation that lead to the nasties and censorship in the UK, as well as the underground VHS scene. Directed by Jake West, who made a couple of great, trashy horror films himself, but has been suspiciously quiet the last few years. Would love to see more from him. In the meantime, this is interesting enough. **1/2
  • What We Do in the Shadows - This comedic mock-documentary still works absurdly well, and is one of the movies I was really excited to revisit this year. ***1/2
  • Friday the 13th Part III - This one kept showing up on TV and I caught it one random night. It's the sort of thing that I genuinely wonder what it would be like in a full 3D theatrical performance, as the movie is so shamelessly and blatantly pointing objects at the screen and so on. And the ending is so derivative of itself that it circles back to being kinda interesting. **
  • Primal Screen - Short documentary about the creepiness of ventriloquist dummies and dolls made by Rodney Ascher (who made the great Room 237 and The Nightmare), it's pretty good. I'm not entirely sure what the deal is though, as it's listed as a TV series, but this appears to be the only episode. **1/2
  • Gerald's Game - Damn, there's been a lot of new Stephen King adaptations this year, and this appears to be one of the better ones, which is interesting because the story doesn't seem particularly cinematic. Director Mike Flanagan has proven himself again and again of late, though, and at this point anything he makes is a must-watch. A woman (played by the always great Carla Gugino) is handcuffed to her bed for some kinky times with her husband, but he (a shockingly ripped Bruce Greenwood) promptly dies, leaving her trapped. Again, works surprisingly well. ***
  • The Manitou - A vaunted selection for Kaedrin's Weird Movie of the Week, this one has a great summary: "A woman gets a weird growth on her shoulder. As is often the case, it turns out to be a fetus." Not the most culturally sensitive film, but it has enough batshit elements and goes completely off the rails (in a good way) towards the end. **1/2
  • Mother! - Darren Aronofsky's divisive latest, this is an amazing display of talent in service of a rather uninspired biblical allegory. It's an audacious effort and a good counter-example of Hollywood's normal tendencies, totally worth checking out, but it's kinda ugly and not very easy to watch. Adventurous stuff, even if it didn't really rock my boat. **1/2
  • The Mutilator - Slasher comfort food, kids go to a beach house are stalked by one of the kids' absentee father. Or something like that. Really good gore and kills, but little else distinguishes this film (also, transfer on Amazon Prime is pretty bad and pan-and-scan), but that's kinda the joy of the slasher film, amiright? **1/2
  • Jaws - Stone cold classic, and you shouldn't need me to say anything else about this. ****
  • Curtains - More slasher comfort food, this one has much more meat on the bone and it feels like one of the more underrated efforts on the sub-genre. An actress gets herself committed to an asylum because she's a crazy method actor. Lo and behold, her partner (the director of the movie) up and abandons her, and then sets up a weird casting call of six actresses in a remote mansion. Naturally, a masked killer shows up. The final girl isn't immediately obvious (or, at least, the obvious choice feels a bit like a red herring), which is appreciated, though by the end, you probably have a pretty good handle on what's going on. Standout performance from John Vernon (best known as the crusty old dean from Animal House) as the sleazy director, but all the performances stand out for the genre. Craptacular Amazon Prime video is at 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but then there's visible boom mikes in several shots, making me think that instead of doing pan and scan, they just didn't mask to 1:85:1 or something like that. It's crappy, but it was free. And the movie is an above average slasher with less focus on gore, but still creative enough to keep things interesting. ***
  • The Third Eye - A contender for the Erika Blanc themed week, I caught up with it later because Blanc's role was comparatively small here. This is a pretty blatant remix of Psycho, with some additional Hitchcock elements thrown in for good measure. Domineering mother, taxidermy, surprising early deaths, lookalike blondes, there's lots of familiar stuff here. Blanc's role is relatively small though, and Franco Nero is only barely managing to sell the premise. **
  • The Love Witch - Anna Biller's gorgeous and well composed tale of a witch who is determined to find a man who loves her, but ends up driving them all crazy in the process. Interesting and visually stunning, it ultimately feels a bit hollow and pointless, though there's a lot of threads to chew on here if you look for them. **1/2
  • The Babysitter - A boy who is in love with his babysitter finds out she's some sort of satanist murderer and has to escape her cult of teen followers. Goofy little tale, decent amount of humor, nice gore, but not exactly scary. Still, its a diverting little movie, dumb fun, and worth checking out if you're in the mood for such a thing. **1/2
  • Scream: The TV Series (Season 2) - I really enjoyed the first season of this show last year, but this second season leaned into the series' worst habits. Lack of communication, never talking to the cops, people constantly splitting up, a nigh omniscient killer, and a bunch of dumb, repetitive subplots that are repetitive. The last few episides liven things up a bit, but it all feels a little too outrageous at this point. Looks like it's coming back for a third season, and the cliffhanger is kinda interesting I guess, but I suspect the series has worn out its welcome. Part of why the first season worked so well is that it completely jettisoned all the normal Scream mythology and started from scratch. This sequel is so beholden to the mythology that it's starting to fall apart...
  • Slasher (S2, E1) - It looks like this series is going the anthology route, with season 2 having nothing to do with season 1. This time around, a group of camp counselors reunite five years after they murdered another camp counselor. Only had time for the first episode, which was ok, but nothing to write home about, and some pretty dumb cliches. Still, I might have to check out more...
  • Stranger Things 2 (S2, E1-4) - I was a big fan of season 1, and so far so good on season 2. I'm only four episodes in, and it seems a bit unfocused, but still entertaining. Some strain is showing here, but this could still turn out great, depending on where they go. So far, there's been a few dumb bits (like, really, you find a tiny creature that doubles in size every day and you think it's cute?) and they've done that thing again where a bunch of characters are separated, but I'm betting things will get back on track quickly. Each episode has a great cliffhanger ending that just begs you to watch more, such that I suspect I might even finish this thing before Halloween is done...
  • Trick 'r Treat - Haven't watched it yet, but will probably check it out before/on Halloween! ***1/2
  • Halloween - Duh. ****
I'm probably going to watch a couple of other things before the big day, but this is basically the end of this year's festivities. Already looking forward to next year!
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6WH: Season's Readings

Just catching up on some of this Halloween season's readings. I've already covered Stephen King's Christine and Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs (and their corresponding filmic adaptations), but here's the rest of what I read:
  • Death Count: All of the Deaths in the Friday the 13th Film Series, Illustrated by Stacie Ponder - As a big fan of the recently revived Final Girl blog and Stacie Ponder's associated offerings, I was happy to see that she decided to collect her artwork from the Death Count blog into a fancy schmanzy book.
    Jason in his high school yearbook photo
    Ponder's artwork is distinctive and generally fun, even when depicting horrific scenes of terror (some choices are absolutely inspired), and her short writeups of each movie are well done. Most of the actual content is still available online, but fans of the Friday the 13th series might want a copy all for themselves.
  • Deep State by Christopher Farnsworth - I've long been a fan of Farnsworth's Nathaniel Cade books, particularly Red, White, and Blood. For the uninitiated, Cade is a vampire who is magically bound to serve the President of the United States. It's ridiculous, of course, but a whole lot of fun. The series has been on a bit of a hiatus since Farnsworth switched publishers, but he's published a couple of novellas, including this most recent one, which actually picks up after the cliffhanger at the end of Red, White, and Blood. A nuclear missile silo has gone dark, and the president calls in Cade to resolve the matter. The only problem is that he needs a handler for the vampire, and no one seems up to the task since Zach Barrows was unceremoniously fired during the events of the previous book. So the president finally admits his mistake and rehires Zach, then they go fight some vegetal monsters and save the world. Again. Spoilers, I guess, but Cade is kinda like a superhero - you know he's going to win. It's great to see the duo paired up again. This wasn't quite the continuation of the story I was expecting, but the greatest part of these stories is the esoteric bits and pieces of horror lore, not the overarching meta-story. Someday I hope Farnsworth can free himself from whatever legal bonds are preventing him from a proper, novel length Cade story. In the meantime, this is a decent story (and better than the previous short offering, The Burning Men) and worth checking out for fans.
  • Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon - This is a hard one to talk about without spoiling anything, but if you like Sturgeon and horror-adjacent psychological stories, it might be your bag. It doesn't seem like much at first. Told in an epistolary format, it initially covers a sort of auto-biography of George Smith, followed by some correspondence and documentation from his psychiatrist, who manages to deduce Smith's true nature. It makes for a good companion piece to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, only instead of focusing on physical explanations for vampirism, Sturgeon goes into psychological reasons, positing a non-supernatural vampire. It takes a while to get there, but overall the story is very short and strays considerably from whatever you might expect from the description above. It's slow and oddly structured, but I kinda appreciated that and ultimately really enjoyed the book for what it was.
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager - I originally picked this audiobook up because I thought it was the next book on this list (the titles both involving "Final Girls" in some way), but I immediately realized my mistake when I started listening. But hey, both are literary takes on my beloved slasher sub-genre, so that's fine by me. The story follows one Quincy Carpenter, lone survivor of the Pine Cottage massacre that claimed the lives of five friends. The ever considerate media thus associated her with two other women who had survived similar ordeals, thus dubbing them "The Final Girls". Ten years after her traumatic experience, Quincy is doing ok for herself. A popular food blogger with a loving boyfriend and a support network that includes Lisa (one of the other Final Girls) and Coop (the cop who saved her life that fateful night), she almost feels normal. Then Lisa turns up dead, an apparent suicide. And Sam, the only other remaining Final Girl shows up at Quincy's doorstep. Is someone trying to finish off the Final Girls? It's a neat premise that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, Quincy isn't the greatest protagonist, constantly filled with self-doubt (understandable!) and getting herself into obviously dumb binds (not so understandable). Sager does a great job implicating just about everyone we spend time with in the story, such that any of them could turn out to be the killer in the end... but there aren't enough characters for this to entirely work, and she makes these ambiguities so conspicuous that by the time she actually does reveal the killer, it's not as surprising as it could be, since we've already been considering that person the whole time (and we're never quite able to really rule anyone out). Still, despite dragging a little in the second act, the finale works well enough. I admit I was hoping for something more slasher-esque, but this doesn't really deliver on the potential of its premise, even if it was a diverting enough read.
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones - Lindsay, homecoming queen, has just survived a typical slasher movie style massacre at the hands of a madman wearing a Michael Jackson mask. But the killer's body was never recovered, and it seems like the replacement homecoming court is in for a bumpy ride. Now this is more like it, a story that is drenched in slasher tropes and explicit references, sorta like Scream on hallucinogens. The prose style is unusual though, and I'm not entirely sure it works. It's kinda like a hybrid movie script and novel; explicitly specifying camera movements and cuts, but adding a little literary flare too. It does imbue the story with momentum, but clarity suffers a bit. There's not a ton of exposition, so some stuff feels a little unexplored, and it's hard to keep the characters straight. Stephen Graham Jones clearly knows his stuff though, and not just the big names of the sub-genre. And so do his characters, who all know they're in a slasher film and have seen enough to know the ins and outs. The final revelations are, perhaps, a bit too twisty, but this is definitely better than the previous book on the list in that respect, and this one's a lot shorter too. Fans of the sub-genre could enjoy this, assuming they can get past the odd formatting... I certainly did.
  • Shutter by Courtney Alameda - Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing line, and she continues their monster hunting ways. Her weapon of choice? An analog camera, which can capture spiritual energy on film. A seemingly routine haunting turns complicated when her entire team (including herself) is infected with a curse that could kill them all in seven days if they don't exorcise the ghost that infected them. Cut off from the Helsing organization, they must find this powerful ghost and figure out a way to defeat her. A decent, light YA novel with some creepy atmosphere and imaginative creations, it also struggles a bit with exposition (not a huge deal in my book, honestly) and there's simply not much here that we haven't seen before. It's a little formulaic, but well executed and generally fun. Not something you need to rush out and read, but it'd be a good introduction to many of the tropes it relies on. Those of us already steeped in those tropes might find it a bit staid, but you could do worse.
We're in the homestretch now, stay tuned for a Speed Round of short reviews of all the movies that didn't make it into the weekly (usually themed) recaps...
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I've been pretty good about cobbling together themes for a given week over the past few years, but every once in a while inspiration fails me and I end up with a week like this where I've watched a bunch of movies with no discernible theme. These things happen.
  • Don't Do It (short)
  • Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (trailer)
  • Green Room (trailer)
  • Murder Party - On Halloween, a lonely schlub finds an invitation to a "Murder Party" just lying there on the street and decides to attend. Unfortunately, it seems that he's the one who is deemed to be murdered by a bunch of struggling, pretentious artists hoping to secure grant money from a sadistic academic. On the other hand, art isn't easy and it turns out that killing this guy is besot with mishaps and accidents. This was Jeremy Saulnier's (of Blue Ruin and Green Room fame) first full length feature, and it's a bit of a hoot. Sure, it shares a certain dark streak with his other films, but this also introduces quite a bit of humor into the mix, making for a generally enjoyable experience. It's clearly low budget and visually not up to par with his later efforts, but you can still see the same DNA in the structure and unfolding of the story. It's got some nice horror elements to it, lots of practical effects that mostly look great.
    Baseball Fury and his murder party
    The villains are fantastic snobs (and their costumes are great, particularly Pris and the Baseball Fury); one gets the feeling that Saulnier spent lots of time around pretentious artists, as this film is a pretty scathing look at that whole world (even the "normal" artists we see later in the film are pretty douchey). But it's all in good fun, short and sweet, it never wears out its welcome and has a pretty good finale too. Most enjoyable and it works as a Halloween night watch if you're on the lookout for something new or different that has the right holiday atmosphere... ***
  • Village of the Damned (trailer)
  • Children of the Popcorn (Robot Chicken)
  • Bloody Birthday (trailer)
  • Cathy's Curse - A young girl is possessed by her aunt's spirit and proceeds to go on a profanity laden rampage. What a bizarre little film. It's, well, not very good, but it sorta rockets past its limitations and eventually lands well into So Bad It's Good territory.
    Cathy using her doll as a weapon
    It's always fun seeing a little girl curse, and I'll admit that the actress portraying the eponymous Cathy does a great job conveying the campiness of the story, in an unintentionally humorous way. There are lots of weird choices here and the plot, such as it is, is borderline incoherent, but it somehow still manages to entertain. I can see why this film has garnered a bit of a cult following, as it is really something to behold. I'm not sure if I'm entirely sold on it, but it seems like the sort of thing that would get better and better every time you watch it. **1/2
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: Nightmare Cafeteria
  • Ravenous (trailer)
  • No Power (Robot Chicken)
  • Raw - A teen raised as a vegetarian goes to a veterinary school, meets up with her sister, befriends her gay roommate, and gets a taste for meat. Human meat! Alas, the film is not as schlocky as my description makes it sound. Impeccably crafted and shot but a little slow and aimless, the film has a surreality to it that works well enough. That, or French veterinary schools are way more intense and borderline abusive than most other schools. I mean, it is filled with French people, and they're the worst (I kid, I kid, I am actually the one who is the worst), so there is that.
    A vegetarian who eats humans
    The cannibalism theme mostly bubbles under the surface, as our heroine is slow to even try animal meat. The first time she tries human meat is a really strange sequence that doesn't seem to have much in the way of consequences (well, a trip to the hospital is involved, but then nothing, strange). Indeed, consequences seem beside the point in this movie. At one point someone causes a car accident that kills two people, but we just sort of cut away. It's all a bit incongruous and confusing for most of the film, though the ending clears things up a bit and that last coda did score back a few points the movie had lost in my book. Not really enough to make me love the film though. So it's got some positives, but it's ultimately not really my thing. **
And we're in the homestretch. I seem to have mistimed things a bit, as we'll have a few extra days at the end of the marathon before Halloween (Six and a Half Weeks of Halloween doesn't quite flow well...), but next weekend I'll finish things up with the traditional Speed Round of stuff not covered in the weekly roundups. Also, look for some season's readings reviews on Wednesday...
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6WH: The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs has slowly but surely established itself as one of my favorite movies and it's something I've rewatched far more than I would have expected when I first saw it (around 25 years ago, sheesh). Despite loving the movie, I had never read Thomas Harris' novel until recently. Last week, I looked at John Carpenter's adaptation of Stephen King's novel Christine, a typical instance of the book is better than the movie even if the movie is worthwhile on its own. This time around, Jonathan Demme's filmic adaptation of Thomas Harris' book is one of those rare the movie is just as good as the book, if not better type situations.
Silence of the Lambs First Edition Hardcover Artwork
The film follows the novel very closely, so much so that a detailed comparison isn't particularly useful. True, the novel does go into more detail, but while the film streamlines some components, it doesn't feel like anything is lost. There's a subplot involving Jack Crawford's sick wife (not in the movie at all), more detail on the transexual elements (or rather, the lack thereof, which is the point), some additional tension around the possibility of Starling missing too much class time and being "recycled", more sequences with Senator Ruth Martin and a bunch of other side characters like Barnie, Starling's roommate Ardelia Mapp, or their firearms instructor, and, um, in the book Lecter paired an Amarone, not a Chianti, with his census taker's liver. If that last one didn't tip you off, all of these are minor changes and snips, and in fact their removal might actually have improved the movie.

The story is centered on Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee played by Jodie Foster in the movie, and her enlistment of the menacing but imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in trying to hunt down another serial killer. Again, the movie follows the book closely, hitting every major beat, and mostly leaving the story alone.
Starling in an elevator Starling surrounded by gawking policemen
It does, however, make ample usage of the visual medium. Starling enters an elevator at the FBI academy and is immediately dwarved by taller, broader men. Starling, alone, surrounded by gawking local police officers at a funeral home. I'm not usually one to comment on the concept of "male gaze" but it's apt here, both almost innocently, as when some classmates turn their head during a jog, and much more menacingly, as Buffalo Bill stalks his prey with night vision goggles. The role of gender in the film could easily have been overplayed, but maintains a good balance. Hannibal Lecter's reveal, seen from Starling's POV is perfectly executed. The production design of Lecter's cell and they way he is later transported on a handtruck with custom restraints, all unforgettable details that you don't really get on the page. Lecter's garish staging of his victim. And one key addition to the movie (that would probably not work in a written medium) is the way Demme cross cuts from an FBI raid to Buffalo Bill hearing the doorbell. It's a cheat, maybe, but the best kind of cheat.
Hannibal the Cannibal reveal Hannibal in his travel gear
For her part, Jodie Foster does an exceptional job portraying a woman making her way through a man's world who nonetheless manages to project more confidence than she probably feels. She's clearly intelligent and knows exactly what she's getting herself into, but sometimes self-conscious of her background, a point immediately seized on by Lecter. Speaking of whom, Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter is an enduring creation, despite not having nearly as much screen time as Starling. Cold and calculating, you never really know how much you trust him, but because of Starling and Lecter's relationship, you find him almost likable (he's helping her, after all, and seemingly understands her plight better than anyone else), despite the fact that he's quite literally a monster. Comparatively, Ted Levine's Buffalo Bill is perhaps not as chilling, but still represents a more deviant threat. There are some who laugh off his performance with a sort of ironic hipster detachment, but he does a good job. Most of the other supporting performances, even itty bitty ones like Frankie Faison as the competent orderly Barnie or Anthony Heald's slimy turn as Dr. Chilton (his bumbling, inappropriate attempts to proposition Starling are particularly relevant at the moment, I think, as is his generally self-serving demeanor, actually), turn out to be surprisingly memorable. This is no accident.
Starling in night vision
Despite being so similar, I also enjoyed the book quite a bit. Perhaps it's just my fondness for rewatching the movie that made reading the book (well, listening to the audiobook, actually, which did have a great narrator in Frank Muller) so enjoyable. Ok, maybe some of the expanded bits were interesting too, but I honestly don't see them as necessary. Harris' prose is straightforward but well suited towards the story. As Ted Demme's visual style is not showy or grandstanding, yet still extremely effective, so too does Harris' prose work to keep the story moving without calling too much attention to itself.
Lecters ghastly staging of a victim
Plus, it's not like the movie didn't inherit Harris' well constructed plotting, which is what gives it such a propulsive pace. Clocking in at nearly two hours, it never feels like it's too long, and yet Demme finds time to linger on the certain elements of the story in a way that helps generate a generally unsettling tone. This isn't a traditionally action-packed story (though there are a couple of solid set pieces), so these more restrained approaches fit, while still keeping the viewers and readers engaged. This movie hits that goldilocks zone. Red Dragon was a little too lurid and sloppy, Hannibal way too ugly and disturbing (though, I will note, I'm only going by the Ridley Scott adaptation on that one), Silence of the Lambs is just right. A combination of high and low in perfect proportions. Lurid and disturbing, but leavened by insight and depth. Involving and frightening, Silence of the Lambs will probably outlive its siblings, and will almost certainly join the ranks of the horror classics (if it already isn't there, which it should be and certainly is in my book).
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6WH: Week 5 - Found Footage

Is Found Footage dead? For the uninitiated, it's a sub-genre in which a film appears to be assembled from actual camera footage recovered from an event. More broadly speaking, I suppose you could slot it in as a type of fake documentary (mockumentary) as well. While its origins run deep (the ur example usually cited is the 1980 Italian schlock-fest Cannibal Holocaust), the genre didn't hit the big time until The Blair Witch Project became a sensation around the turn of the century.

Since then, the sub-genre has waxed and waned a few times, at least in the mainstream, as low-budget contenders come and go, with the occasional revitalizing effort keeping the concept alive. The J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield hit a solid 8 years after Blair Witch, but it was Paranormal Activity that really kept this approach on the radar. All through that time, though, Found Footage has remained a constant in the horror niche. The reasons of this are varied, but they aren't going away. The unending march of technology, social media, and our compulsion to document everything we do goes a long way towards answering one of the frequently begged questions of the sub-genre: why the hell were they filming this crap? The approach can lend a sense of verisimilitude to an otherwise hoaky concept (though let's be honest, that's still easier said than done). It's a low budget aesthetic that will continue to be a mainstay of horror cinema.

The approach doesn't come without its challenges. The aforementioned issue of motivation still remains a key question (why would you keep filming!?) For the most part, you have to be willing to cut the filmmakers a little slack when it comes to this sort of thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it emphatically does not. The handheld aesthetic, while imparting a sense of realism, is also easy to overdo. I can't think of anyone who really likes shaky cam, even if you can occasionally justify its use. Funnily enough, I think a big part of the Paranormal Activity series' success is its innovation of using a tripod through the majority of the films. Another thing this approach tends to rely on is improvised dialog, which often turns out abysmally. I think it was fine in the original Blair Witch Project (though I get that a lot of people hate it for that), but they walked a fine line in that movie, one that most found footage can't pull off.

Found Footage may not be making current waves at the box office, but it continues to be common amongst indie horror offerings and is here to stay. For this installment of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, I caught up with three lesser known examples of the sub-genre, so let's dive in:
  • Willow Creek (trailer)
  • The Bay (trailer)
  • The Last Broadcast (trailer)
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes - The FBI discovers hundreds of video tapes in an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, NY. The tapes depict decades of a serial killer's exploits, especially focusing on one victim. Last year, whilst revisiting The Blair Witch Project, I mentioned that it was odd that most found footage movies simply consisted of the footage itself and no context, no interviews with experts, etc... Well this movie is exactly what I was talking about. It's a mock documentary that is roughly split evenly between the eponymous tapes and talking head interviews with investigators, experts, victims' family members, etc... For the most part it's an effective approach, and the film is genuinely unnerving.
    Talking Head Interview in The Poughkeepsie Tapes
    It does come off a bit disjointed, but that's to be expected given the conceit and actually serves to reinforce the feeling that what we're watching is real (I mean, it's not, but still). Some of the individual episodes are very well done. At one point, the killer approaches the mother of one of his victims and tells her to "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help" and at first, the woman just politely responds, but then you see something dawning on her face and the killer runs away, giggling. Some of the stalking and torture sequences got under my skin as well. There's one segment in which 9/11 plays a part that is surprising and effective. One bit with a victim that was recovered after years of being the killer's slave is very disturbing and sticks with you. There's no real jump scares or gore, just a general tone of dismay that serves the film well. There's lots to like here, but some flaws drag it down a few pegs. The actual video footage is very poor quality. I realize this is supposed to be VHS from the 90s, so the quality isn't going to be great, but I think they overdid the wavy VHS distortions. Also, every clip is preceded by an annoying audio buzzing click noise that is distracting. I get what they're going for here, but it's just weird. For one thing, the video is presented at 1.85:1 (just like the rest of the movie), while most video cameras of the era would be 4:3. Why do that, but keep the quality so crappy? Some of the acting in the interviews is a bit off as well, but nothing too jarring. Sometimes it feels like we're being told to be scared than we're actually seeing something scary, but on balance, the film works. It's a genuinely unnerving film, even if it doesn't feel particularly satisfying in the end. **1/2
  • Paranormal Activity (trailer)
  • Paranormal Pactivity (Robot Chicken)
  • The Last Exorcism (trailer)
  • Lake Mungo - A young woman disappears and her grief-stricken family begins to think she's haunting their house. Another faux documentary comprised mostly of talking head interviews and various other recordings. The proportion is more focused on the interviews than the actual footage that was found, and since all of this has clearly happened in the past, there's not much tension (and some of the footage turns out to be less reliable than originally thought, which also puts a damper on things). The video footage is mostly better here, though it's still quite unclear at times (but at least that has to do with zooming in on an image rather than the whole thing being manipulated to look poor quality).
    The family from Lake Mungo
    Unfortunately, most of this doesn't add up. The film is well made, but lacks a bit of focus on what it really wants to get at. It does a reasonable job exploring the grief the family is going through, but there's a lot of tangents that open more questions than they answer. In fact, the titular Lake Mungo doesn't even show up until pretty late in the movie, and while we do get a couple of interesting developments there, it still feels anticlimactic. The movie never really coalesces beyond the grief plot, despite trying for some supernatural angles (that can get mildly creepy at times, but are almost always undercut by some other development, with the notable exception of the ending which attempts something kinda weird). On the other hand, I suspect that this will stick with me more than originally thought. Only time will tell on that front though, for now I'll just stick with this is a decent exploration of grief with some neat supernatural speculation. **1/2
  • The Blair Witch Project (trailer)
  • How the Blair Witch Project Should Have Ended (short)
  • Troll Hunter (trailer)
  • WNUF Halloween Special - Imagine discovering a long lost video tape of one night's local TV station's Halloween broadcast, complete with a full news program (with the anchors in costume and everything), commercials, and a "special" where a film crew enters the infamous Webber house, the site of a gruesome local legend. This is a fascinating format for a movie and a novel approach to the sub-genre. It captures the 80s-style local broadcast shockingly well. I doubt it'd really convince anyone it was real (too much of a focus on the local environs and businesses with no mention of anything else), but on the other hand, they did an astonishing job imitating the period and its tropes and excesses.
    WNUF Halloween News Broadcast
    A certain type of viewer will definitely appreciate this nostalgic tone; the types that go hunting for cheesy old commercials on YouTube will also get a kick out of it. Some of the news segments are great (the one with the dentist is pitch perfect), the commercials are dead on, and the trumped-up exploration of a supposed haunted house is a good idea. Unlike the previous two films, this one takes a more comedic tone. Local television personality Frank Stewart is fantastic and mostly hilarious, all while playing it straight. The husband and wife paranormal team and priest are a little less successful, but Stewart keeps this all on track, even as unexpected things start happening. There are, perhaps, a few too many commercial breaks, the video quality ain't great (still better than The Poughkeepsie Tapes though), and the finale goes a bit off the rails, but everything fits together in the end. This is a unique, nostalgic take on the Found Footage genre and worth checking out. **1/2
Maybe I was being too hard on these movies, but I had a lot of fun with this weekend. These weren't perfect, but they were certainly interesting... Up next is another book/film adaptation combo on Wednesday, followed by, hmmm, I don't have a theme for next weekend yet (and frankly, I haven't done a "no discernible theme" week in a while...)
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6WH: Christine

I have long been a fan of John Carpenter's Christine and consider it his most underrated work. I had not read Stephen King's novel of the same name until now, and while it's hard to call any Stephen King work underrated, it doesn't seem to come up as one of his most popular books either (call it top of the middle tier King?) As an adaptation, Carpenter's film makes drastic changes while retaining the basic themes and shape of King's story.
Christine on the assembly line
The changes are apparent immediately, as the movie starts in a car factory where a red 1958 Plymouth Fury is being constructed. As it rolls down the assembly line, an "accident" mars one of the workers. Soon after, another worker enters the car and promptly dies. This does an effective job of setting the car up as some sort of inherently evil presence that is nonetheless able to attract certain types of people. The book begins when the car is sold to teenage dork Arnie Cunningham two decades later, and the car's malevolence is driven more by its previous owner than the car itself. It's a key change, but one that I think works well enough.
A Broken Down Christine
The aforementioned dork, Arnie Cunningham, spies a dirty and broken-down version of the car, but with a for-sale sign in the window. He immediately falls in the love with the car (which is named Christine, of course), takes it to a shop to fix it up, and starts to act very differently with his family and even his best friend Dennis. He finds confidence in his new purchase, which allows him to ask out the new girl in school, but also leads to a more hot-headed, dismissive attitude in day-to-day interactions. The car makes him feel stronger, but he's really just becoming more cruel and mean. Also, it seems that Christine has fallen in love with him as well, and has taken to prowling around at night all on her own, taking out various bullies who have threatened Arnie.

When laid out like this, it sounds like a silly premise and I guess that it is, but both King and Carpenter are able to ground the story in the mundane at first, only gradually introducing the more fanciful elements as the story proceeds. King has always had a knack for imbuing conventional, every-day perks of modern life with something more sinister. Here, it's a car. In The Shining, it's a hotel. In Cujo, it's a dog. And so on. There's something archetypal about this sort of thing that King is able to capture, and that Carpenter is able to maintain in the adaptation.

Both versions of the story do a reasonable job portraying the superficial pleasures of teenage, suburban life. There's a cynicism that underlies this that could be obnoxious, but both King and Carpenter are able to touch on these ideas without completely drowning the story in misery. As befits most fiction, the relationships and interactions are a bit exaggerated, but not so much that you can't relate. Characters are flawed and not totally likable, but you can still empathize with them.
Christine Book Cover
King's book obviously allows much more time to establish Arnie and the gradual descent he undergoes as he's driven by Christine (irony!) or, more accurately, her former owner, Roland D. LeBay. It never really drags, and King does a good job capturing the community and families involved as well as the main characters. We get a lot more about Christine's previous owner and his troubled history (before and after the car). Arnie begins to talk like him, act like him, and Dennis even notices that Arnie's signiture has changed (implying that he's sort of possessed). Christine drives around by herself, but really it appears to be LeBay's spirit that's doing the driving, and as the story progresses and Christine picks up more power, people start to hallucinate in the car, even seeing things like the rotting corpse of LeBay.

Carpenter's adaptation neatly simplifies all of this, directly imbuing the car with malevolence. It's a choice that works while still allowing the movie to hit many of the same beats as the book. Obviously much of the story is cut out and that does have an impact, particularly when it comes to the third act, which does feel rushed. Still, Carpenter is able to cleverly devise visual treatments to emphasize Christine's nature without resorting to anything particularly showy. Lots of steadicam shots, low angles, and great nighttime cinematography of headlights suddenly appearing in the darkness and so on. The car looks fantastic, and Carpenter lingers just long enough to let your mind wander. Are we, the audience, just as attracted to the car as Arnie? It's a restrained but very effective approach. The use of music on the radio in the car can be a bit on the nose, but it's a reasonable device to use for the medium and it's not overdone. The sequence where Christine rebuilds herself, which relied on practical effects, is well conceived and perfectly executed (were this made today, I'm sure the inevitable reliance on CGI wouldn't be nearly as effective).
Show Me
Ultimately, this conforms to the standard book is better than the movie situation, but the movie does a good enough job to justify its existence and even ranks pretty highly among adaptations (King or otherwise). Given the size and scope of the book, I can't imagine a better adaptation, and Carpenter's formal precision and visual prowess nearly carries the day. The film falters in the finale, but manages to hold on well enough for non-book-readers. Still, I suspect even book-readers could appreciate the film, as I certainly did.
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6WH: Week 4 - Video Nasties

The "Video Nasties" were a group of 72 horror movies that were banned in the UK for... reasons? There didn't appear to be any real criteria for inclusion on the list, though it's generally cited as just "Violent content" or some such thing. It partly had to do with loopholes in home video laws that let some of these movies sneak onto shelves without going through the UK's normal censorship regime, but even then, it seems like a rather odd list. Odd, but certainly interesting from a horror historian's point of view, as it's a neat little time capsule of the era. The lurid titles (Killer Nun!) and tantalizing video covers that promised oh-so-much are a good encapsulation of what it was like to peruse the horror section of your local mom-and-pop video store in the 80s (not that I had a ton of experience at that, to be sure, but still). Ultimately, like a lot of censorship schemes, the films on the list ended up gaining an allure not otherwise earned by their actual quality (another example of the Streisand Effect). The movies on the list range from "Why would they ever ban that?" to "Dear Lord, why isn't this still banned?" Or so I'm told, as I've only seen about 15 of the movies on the list. Let's increment that number a few times, shall we?
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Driving Lessons - Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
  • The Boogeyman (trailer)
  • Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain) - An escaped mental patient heads back to his childhood home as he struggles to recall the trauma that set off his murderous impulses. A sorta hybrid slasher/serial-killer film, it does drag significantly for most of the running time, but it has a decent, slasher-ish finale. It doesn't really follow the slasher rules though. No real final girl (the protagonist is a little boy that no one likes), the killer actually murders a kid at one point (I mean, like, sub-ten-year-old kid, though at least it doesn't really happen onscreen), he only puts on his mask in the finale, and so on. For all its tedium, there are some memorable bits. The kills are few and far between, but most earn the "Video Nasty" designation with their explicit gore. As a fan of fake movie computer setups, this movie has a phenomenal example. It's got five monitors, four of which are just constantly displaying the same mugshot of our killer.
    Look at this cheesetastic computer setup
    The fifth is a computer screen that shows text in, like, 72 pt font (it only fits 5 lines per screen). The computer is basically an all-powerful AI too. At one point he's reading a police report about a stolen car that mentions that the driver is presumed dead. Our policeman asks it "Why presumed dead?" and it proceeds to answer. It does all sorts of cross-referencing and even predicts where the killer is going (Florida!?). My other favorite bit was the scene in which the Mother's boyfriend tries to comfort her by explaining the plot of Blow Up (then realizes that, no wait, this isn't comforting at all). Overall, I don't think these bits really make up for the bland plotting and pacing of the film. It's interesting in some ways and maybe worth checking out for students of the genre, but that's about it. *1/2 (Also of note, the Amazon Prime version of the movie is a craptacular pan-and-scan transfer that is awful - I could see this being a bit better if it were better presented).
  • Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
  • How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
  • Bay of Blood (trailer)
  • Bloody Moon (aka Die Säge des Todes) - A guy with a deformed face kills someone at a party, but does his time at a mental hospital and is discharged in the care of his sister. They go back to her language school, where, naturally, a bunch of kids start disappearing/dying. This is another sorta slasher/giallo hybrid, though at least this one has a few twists and turns and a genuine whodunit component (it's pretty obviously not the deformed face mental patient guy, even though he does a bunch of creepy stalker type stuff). The kills aren't as creative or gory here and the pacing is still pretty languid, but it hits more slasher tropes and ends strong. Like with Nightmare, there are some really odd bits that are memorable. The costume party starts off with a killer wearing a Mickey Mouse mask (I have no idea how they got away with this).
    Check that wetsaw, make sure it is sharp enough to decapitate
    The one kill with the wetsaw is cool, though they perhaps drag it out too long (and it ends with the killer running down a witness with his car - but the witness was a little boy! I guess they don't call these movies "Nasty" for nothing...) This was made in Italy and that does add some flavor to the slasher tropes, but it's ultimately still not particularly accomplished. Interesting in some ways, but not really worth going out of your way to see. **
  • Jack Chop (short)
  • Evil Dead (trailer)
  • The Toolbox Murders (trailer)
  • Absurd (aka Monster Hunter, aka Horrible, aka Zombi 6, aka Anthropophagus 2, aka Rosso sangue) - This movie has at least six different titles. It's directed by Joe D'Amato, but he uses a pseudonym here (Peter Newton). All in service of a pretty hacky Halloween ripoff. Supposedly a sequel, but one that seems to rely very little on its predecessor, this one is about a man given strange, X-Men-like healing factor in an experiment run by the Catholic Church. Naturally, the process instilled him with murderous rage, so he hacks his way through town until he sets his sights on one particular house, all while a cop and a priest try to track him down. I was kinda interested in this whole Church-led genetic experimentation program, but that bit is pretty much dropped after the first act, in favor of poorly paced stalking and kills. Some interesting stuff, but at this point, all these movies are starting to blend together. Like the above mentioned movies, there are some memorable bits, including a sequence where the killer holds a woman in an oven and bakes her face. It's cross-cut with a young girl removing some bed restraints, but it goes on for, like, ten minutes. Insane.
    This image is probably a spoiler, but who really cares?
    The very last shots are also pretty spectacular and ultimately made me like this more than anything else I watched this weekend. I'm pretty much spoiling it with the screenshot, but since no one reads this blog and since even those few that do will probably never watch this movie, I don't feel bad about it. Not a particularly great film, but you could do worse. **
Phew, that was not a particularly enjoyable series of movies. I like a good, gory sleazefest as much as the next person, but these just didn't weren't doing it for me... Hopefully next week's theme, Found Footage, will fare a little better. In the meantime, we might hit up some book/movie adaptations. After that, who knows? I don't have a plan for the last week of the marathon yet...
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A few years ago, I did a week themed around sequels to slasher movies. Much fun was had. Alas, there really aren't a ton of sequels to slasher movies once you get past the big three franchises (i.e. Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street) and the ones that do exist tend to be difficult to find. We're in a weird period where DVDs are mostly out of print, BDs have never even particularly aspired to be comprehensive (and rarely go after long tail movies like 30 year old sequels to already obscure movies), and streaming is totally unreliable. That said, I managed to cobble together two second installments to slashers that aren't from the big three, which seems good enough for a mid-week checkin.
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Friday the 13th Part 2 (trailer)
  • Scream 2 (trailer)
  • Slumber Party Massacre II - Courtney, the sister of the final girl from the first Slumber Party Massacre (a movie I thought was fine and really wanted to like, but never entirely connected with), takes off with her rock band to visit a condo for the weekend, jam and write music, mess around with boyfriends, play with a blow-up doll, usual teen stuff. Oh, and a "rockabilly" driller killer sporting a ludicrous guitar that incorporates the infamous drillbit from the first film who comes out of nowhere and starts picking people off. Like, literally, I have no idea where he came from.
    Rockabilly cheese and his drillbit guitar
    Look at that 80s cheese. LOOK. I can't decide if he's actually that much better than the killer from the original, what with that guy's fearsome denim outfit, but he's certainly not boring. Anyway, this guy makes no sense whatsoever. It is, perhaps, part of that 80s obsession with imparting a dreamlike quality to horror films, making you wonder if it's happening at all. I suppose this skirts close to being something of a musical, as there are a number of sequences that are just performances (even the rockabilly dude gets one), but it doesn't particularly work. As far as these things go, it's a fine, if unremarkable experience. It's definitely energetic and features lots of fun little bits here and there that students of the genre would appreciate. Released in 1987, it seems self-aware enough to know it's not particularly good, which perhaps lends a bit of charm to the proceedings. But then, it's still not particularly good. Much has been made about this series' feminist origins, which feels a bit overplayed, but hey, there aren't many movies made with female directors and writers, and this series has three of them, so there is that. I'll give it points for originality, but it's still utter nonsense. Ultimately, it's got some campy appeal, but I think I like the original better. **
  • Halloween II (trailer)
  • Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (trailer)
  • It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II - In 1957, rebellious prom queen and quintessential bad-girl Mary Lou Mahony is accidentally burned alive by an errant stink bomb thrown by her jilted boyfriend. Cut to thirty years later, and goody two shoes Vicki Carpenter stumbles on Mary Lou's tiara, sash, and cape in an old storage trunk, accidentally unleashing her spirit for some prom-themed mayhem and vengeance. This is basically a sequel-in-name-only affair, not connected with the original in any way other than taking place around a high school prom (supposedly the script was not written as a sequel at all, and the Prom Night moniker was slapped on after t he fact), and it is a whole lot better than that would imply. Even in the crappy pan and scan transfer that's on Amazon Prime*, it's clear that the film is visually well composed and effective at setting mood.
    Hello there, Mary Lou
    The kills are creative, with solid setups and payoffs (in particular, a sequence starting in the gym shower and culminating in the locker room is well conceived and executed, combining taboo elements with horror in ways that elevate this above most of its contemporaries). The characters are actually somewhat involving, for a slasher movie (i.e. you're generally not rooting for the killer), and the supernatural components of Mary Lou work well. This is another movie that is in love with imparting some dreamlike qualities, but it is done far better here than it was in the aforementioned Slumber Party Massacre II (a standout is a rocking horse in Vicki's bedroom, whose eyes start glowing demonically and then it grows a lolling tongue). The filmmakers were clearly fans of horror, namechecking many famous horror directors in character names (i.e. Carpenter, Henenlotter, Craven, etc...), evoking the likes of The Exorcist and Carrie, and so on. As someone who is inexplicably in love with the slasher sub-genre, this is a hidden gem, perhaps due to it's 1987 release (well outside the bounds of the golden age of the genre). More mainstream audiences might not be as in love with this, and to be sure, this isn't exactly fine cinema, but it works well enough that it could have been one of the crossover hits, appealing to horror hounds and more mainstream audiences alike. I, for one, really enjoyed it... ***
If all goes well, we might even get to a Slasher Part Threes post at some point. Fingers crossed.

* I found a screenshot elsewhere and used that instead of giving you a cropped screenshot from the crappy transfer. You're welcome.
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