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 Demi├ín 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.