Now Playing: Barbarian & Smile

It’s always a good idea to check out what’s now playing in theaters at some point during the Six Weeks of Halloween, but the last few years have proved difficult on that front. Naturally, the pandemic was not exactly conducive to movie theaters for a while, but even before Covid, there were plenty of times when it seemed theaters were lacking great horror movie options in the weeks leading up to Halloween (or, like, they’d release something on Halloween day).

But something’s in the air this year. Hot Horror Fall is upon us! We’ve already had stuff like Bodies Bodies Bodies and Pearl, not to mention the two movies we’ll be covering below (Barbarian & Smile), and even horror adjacent stuff like Don’t Worry Darling and See How They Run have been coming out. Of course, I haven’t seen all of these, and some might not be worth seeing, but options have been plentiful and I haven’t even mentioned Halloween Ends yet (though frankly, I’m not terribly excited for that given the ambivalence I’ve had for the last couple entries, not to mention general sequel fatigue.) Anyway, there have been a couple of really solid flicks that I’ve caught up with in the past couple weeks, so let’s get to them!

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3.5 – Now Playing: Barbarian & Smile

Barbarian – Due to an Airbnb scheduling snafu, a house in a bad neighborhood in Detroit has been double-booked. A young woman arrives to find a strange man already staying there. Due to circumstances, they end up staying in the house together and attempting to mitigate the fraught situation, only to find that there’s more going on in the house than meets the eye.

I’m going to leave the plot summary there because this is a good movie to go into whilst knowing as little as possible. Rest assured, it’s a fun ride with an unconventional structure and some well balanced tonal shifts between humor and horror. While it touches on some subversive and taboo elements and is not suitable for the faint of heart, it never reaches Don’t Breathe turkey baster levels (to reference another movie that makes good use of Detroit’s decrepit environs). That doesn’t mean there aren’t shocking surprises or anything, and it is rated R for a reason, but it doesn’t go too far (but what do I know, I’m a little jaded by all this horror movie watching, ymmv). Mild spoilers will follow, but I’ll try not to stray too far into that territory.

Barbarian

About halfway through the movie, just as our two protagonists discover something shocking in the basement of their rental home, we smash cut to Justin Long driving along the highway in California. He’s a famous Hollywood actor that’s about to fall from grace as the result of a Me Too controversy. In a desperate attempt to scramble up capital for his defense fund, has to liquidate some of his assets… like that rental property in Detroit!

This represents a huge shift not just in the overall narrative, but in the tone of the film. This whole section is played mostly for laughs. When this character discovers the secret murder rooms in the basement, his first thought is not the inherent terror of the situation… but rather the extra square footage that he can claim whilst selling the house. Naturally, his character is somewhat less than sympathetic, and even though you sometimes have hopes that he might turn things around, this is not a movie where a bad man is rehabilitated. When he gets what’s coming to him, it’s pretty damn satisfying (in part because he demonstrates his true character a bit too often).

Writer/director Zach Cregger displays an admirable control of both pacing and tone, especially as the narrative turns from one character to another, or we take a quick but illuminating flashback, or as tone shifts wildly from horror to comedy and back again. Thematically, it shows a deft hand in critiquing the dread “toxic masculinity”… well, at least compared to most attempts at this sort of thing, which are usually more didactic, overly-literal, and ham-fisted. I mean, it’s not exactly subtle, but it’s not a lecture either.

It’s not a surprise that traditional studios all rejected this (or requested that Cregger remove all the things that make it unique), but I will say that it is remarkable that they were not only able to (eventually) make the movie they wanted, but that the marketing was restrained enough not to give away the twists and turns (and most folks have been pretty good about not spoiling it on social media too, a rarity in this day and age). I know I’m kinda spoiling it now, but I’m leaving a lot out.

It’s still in theaters now, but will likely not be lasting much longer. If you’re still reading this and haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeing in the theater (I suspect audiences will be sparse at this point, but it’s nice to not be the only person gasping in the theater). ***

Smile – Rose is a psychiatrist who witnesses one of her patients commit suicide right in front of her. The patient was tormented by smiling delusions. Soon, Rose starts to experience odd occurrences that are suspiciously familiar to her patient’s descriptions. Is she suffering from her own PTSD episode, or is something else at work here?

Smile

A lot of modern horror and indeed, a lot of modern pop-culture in general, is obsessed with trauma. Smile is a movie that literalizes that tendency, but then slots it into a more traditional, studio-friendly jump-scare framework. It’s a weighty theme, but the enormous glut of trauma-focused narratives we’re seeing these days makes this an also-ran, even if it does ask some interesting questions. What does society owe traumatized people? What do traumatized people owe society? You can interpret this movie as a critique of the current obsession of trauma, but you could also see it as advocating for despair in the face of a difficult issue. Either way, you’re still amplifying a common theme.

Smile clearly wears its influences on its sleeve, notably The Ring (not as much Ringu) and It Follows. Both of those earlier films also feature trains of, for lack of a better term, infection. The infection is spread through differing methods; a videotape/technology, sex, and in the case of Smile, trauma. This sort of thing makes for an effective driving premise, but often leads to an unclear resolution. It Follows, in particular, doesn’t really know what to do with the dilemma it’s set up, and Smile suffers from a similar lack of clarity in the “rules” of the curse (or whatever you want to call it). I will say that Smile, at least, devises more clever workarounds once the basic rules are established, even if it loses its footing in the endgame. It’s one of those things where you could go with a happy ending or a sad one, but at this point – both approaches are played out, so you have to really thread the needle to make an impact. There was one way I thought of that would have been a sorta “win”, but also be a bit of a downer that could have fit, but the movie didn’t go that way…

I guess a lot of the above could be interpreted as a mixed review, but this is ultimately a really good time at the movies, and it’s thought provoking stuff. It’s very well crafted and while it does lean heavily into jump-scares, it is actually quite good at that sort of thing. It’s not exactly a fresh approach, but it doesn’t feel stale either. The premise offers an element of existential dread that the rest of the movie does deliver on, and it’s visually impressive as well.

There’s a phrase that has emerged over the last several years to describe a particular brand of films called “elevated horror.” This is a somewhat annoyingly vague phrase, as what most of its proponents describe as hallmarks of “elevated horror” are not unique to the films that have garnered this label. This, of course, leads to Joe Bob Briggs’s snarky definition, which is that “elevated horror” is the term that people who hate horror movies use to describe horror movies they like. Whatever the case, there’s a bunch of movies that seem to be almost embarrassed of their horror genre trappings, as if the filmmaker is saying something to the effect of “I really wanted to make a movie about trauma, but the only way I could get a budget to make this downer of a movie was if I said that a demon was involved” (I’m looking at you, Hereditary!) Anyway, Smile might be the sort of film that earns an “elevated horror” moniker, but it’s definitely not embarrassed by its genre roots. There’s some genuinely crazy stuff in the film, and it revels in all its jump-scares and face ripping glory.

It’s certainly a bit derivative and it’s yet another film that focuses primarily on trauma, but it’s well crafted and effective stuff. ***

There you have it. I’ll probably cover the new Halloween movie in the speed round at the end of the marathon, but in the meantime, we’ve got some good stuff coming your way. I think this weekend will focus on movies with the word “Don’t” in their title (I’ll explain more on Sunday), but plenty of other things going on. If you’re still craving more reviews and horrorific fun, don’t forget Zack’s Film Thoughts, as he’s been cranking out reviews of multiple movies almost daily.

Golden Age Slashers

It’s officially October, so it’s time for some pure horror comfort food. I have an inexplicable fondness for slasher films and indeed, this very theme has shown up in the Six Weeks of Halloween before (amongst other related themes). The true Golden Age for slashers was probably that 1980-1983 corridor, but while I have certainly not seen every slasher made during that time (apparently there was rarely a week without a new slasher release during that time), I have seen most of the higher profile ones, so I’m expanding the range to be 1978-1983. Unfortunately, at least one of these isn’t especially slashery and another is borderline, but it was still a good weekend!

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 – Golden Age Slashers

Girls Nite Out – The students of a remote university are preparing for the annual all-night scavenger hunt, but it turns out that they’re the ones being hunted… by a deranged killer wearing the school’s bear mascot outfit!

Girls Nite Out - bear mascot

This starts out as your typical, bog-standard slasher and proceeds along those lines for a while, but eventually derails into something that’s actually pretty interesting… but only for slasher fanatic types. I suspect most normals will just see this as a stiff, awkwardly paced slasher with a silly killer costume (because, to be fair, that is what it is). But if you’ve seen tons of slashers and are down with the formula, the rule-breaking in the third act is pretty cool.

Of course, it takes a while to get there. The much touted scavenger hunt doesn’t even start until halfway through the film, and we only get about 20-30 minutes of standard stalk and slash type stuff (there’s a couple of kills earlier on, but they’re short and feel tacked-on). The bear mascot suit is pretty goofy, but I actually kinda love it, and the killer whips up a bear claw weapon comprised of steak knives taped together between the fingers (a full two years before Freddy donned his infamous glove). There’s some decent buildup before the kills start to flow, but the kills themselves are somewhat unremarkable.

Knife Hands

Then something odd happens. Spoilers, I guess! So our final girl discovers a body and calls the cops. Then the cops actually show up and actually act like responsible adults. They cancel the scavenger hunt, and everyone goes home. For the next ten minutes, the film turns into something of a procedural whodunit, as Hal Holbrook tries to unravel the historical underpinnings of the night’s mayhem (his character’s daughter was murdered by a lunatic in the bear costume many years earlier). Then one girl gets kicked out of her house and is being chased by the killer. She calls the final boy, and they end up in the killers lair, where we find out that the bit character from earlier in the film is actually the twin sister of the historical murderer and Hal Holbrook figured that out and shows up and… then the film just ends. If this sounds a bit rushed and confusing, you’re not alone.

It never really reaches the consistently bonkers level of fun that the best unhinged slashers manage (i.e. this movie can’t compete with something like Pieces), but slasher aficionados might appreciate the weirdness of the third act. **1/2

Effects – A film crew in a remote cabin begin to suspect that some of the “kills” in their low-budget horror flick are actually real, and that the director is an infamous producer of snuff films.

George Romero’s Pittsburg troop of collaborators got together and made this cheapie in the wake of Martin and Dawn of the Dead, notably including star Joe Pilato (of Day of the Dead fame), makeup FX legend Tom Savini, and several other bit players and crew members.

Effects

Movies about making movies are one of those meta exercises that can get old fast, but while the first act of this drags a bit and there are some repetitive gags, it eventually takes its ideas to a logical extreme that is surprising and impressive. There’s some rote horror sequences that turn out to be a scene the characters are actually filming for their movie, a fakeout gag that gets old… until it doesn’t. It’s a deceptively simple premise, and while there’s a little too much of the crew just hanging around drinking Iron City beer, doing blow, and chatting, it’s actually cut pretty tightly, and at 84 minutes, never really wears out its welcome.

There’s a film-within-the-film that a few folks sit down and watch about halfway through that is genuinely unnerving, and after that point, it’s pretty much off to the races. The simple fakeout gags from earlier in the film grow more complex, such that you don’t know if you can trust what you’re seeing, and there are several surprises that I truly did not see coming. It’s often referred to as a slasher, but it certainly doesn’t follow most of those conventions. This is a little more unique than that.

It’s clearly a low-budget affair, but there’s a core set of ideas that they commit to heavily, such that this sticks with me a lot more than the more recent spate of mumblecore horror (mumblegore), which often strike me as boring. This has more on its mind than that, and it’s really grown on me (and it’s only been a couple of days). ***

Fade to Black – Eric Binford is an obsessive movie dork who snaps and starts acting out horror scenes from his favorite movies. Hijinks ensue!

This is one of those fun little referential exercises that actually earns the references. Dennis Christopher gives a great performance as the movie nerd who is growing more and more unhinged over time, and he captures a certain melancholy that keeps the whole film grounded. He’s almost like a nerdy Travis Bickle, and the focus on his character plays with slasher conventions in a unique way. The classic makeup and costumes he embodies lend the film some credibility, even if it’s just drafting on the iconography of old Hollywood.

Fade to Black

There are a few other notable appearances in the film too. Tim Thomerson’s cocaine-fueled dumbass cop psychiatrist performance is truly something to behold (there’s this harmonica jam that just comes out of nowhere, but is utterly spellbinding), and I’m not entirely sure it fits with the rest of the movie, but who cares, it’s a lot of fun. Mickey Rourke also shows up in a bit part and gives it his all. Linda Kerridge does a cromulent Marilyn Monroe impersonation too.

I have to wonder if all the short clips of classic Hollywood films would cause a legal headache if the film were made today (indeed, I’m surprised it’s even available these days, they must have been diligent about clearing all those clips). It’s the sort of technique that doesn’t work 9 times out of 10, but this is that one exception that nails the execution.

This is probably the most conventional movie of the weekend, but it’s got a lot going for it, especially if you’re a cinephile. Which, if you’re reading this, you probably are. ***

The Six Weeks of Halloween will keep chugging on Wednesday with a look at some current theatrical releases, and next weekend? Not sure yet, but I’m leaning towards killer kids…

Netflixing the 6WH: The Munsters and Day Shift

Back in the before times, the long-long ago, movie theaters used to have films called “programmers” or “B-movies” (or in countries trying to stimulate local film industry, “quota-quickies“) that would fill gaps in cinema schedules and support higher-profile, more expensive features. These programmers were cheaper, shorter, and usually genre exercises that were formulaic but crowd-pleasing. As time went on, these sorts of flicks shifted to television, drive-in theaters, grindhouses, and they sorta raised their own profile and morphed into exploitation cinema, cult movies, and whatnot.

Netflix’s insatiable desire for data-backed content to dump on their platform essentially represents the modern form of programmers. Sure, they’ve produced the occasional prestige film for Oscar consideration or to build big-name director relationships, but they’re mostly just chasing an algorithm. Think of the sorta Hallmark-esque Christmas movies they put out – cheap, formulaic, lowest-common denominator stuff that’s easy going and pleasant. They show up on Netflix, maybe pop on the main screen for a couple days, then get lost in the black hole of Netflix archives. Occasionally, Netflix splurges for bigger name stars and spends a lot more money… but they aren’t treated much differently. Maybe a teensy bit more algorithmic exposure here, a token theatrical exhibition there. These are effectively $200 million programmers (i.e. The Gray Man). Granted, budget numbers are a bit misleading due to the way movie financing works, but still.

The upshot of all this is that most Netflix-produced movies come and go without much fanfare at all, and the cultural impact (a vague phrase, to be sure) is almost always negligible. Anecdotally, you might hear people talking about it for a weekend, but then it disappears from the discourse forever (with the only exception being the discourse around how these films tend to disappear from the discourse (which, it should be noted, is not limited to Netflix – witness the enduring debate about Avatar)). This might be due to the formulaic algorithms they use to select and guide content or the overall quality of the movie or just the general model. Whatever the case, it’s sometimes interesting to take a look at these things, even if no one will remember these movies in a couple years (sanity check: Ah yes, I watched a couple of Netflix movies for the 6WH back in 2019 and I’m pretty sure I haven’t hear anyone mention either of those movies since then).

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2.5 – Netflixing The Munsters and Day Shift

The Munsters (2022) – Have you ever wondered about Herman Munster’s origin story? How he was created? How he met Lily? How they got married and why they moved from Transylvania to California? No? Well too bad, because that’s what this movie is all about.

I’m being overly snarky here and this is exactly the sort of movie that I’m predisposed to hate. The trailer did not inspire much confidence and while I think Rob Zombie is always an interesting filmmaker, I rarely love his work. That being said, I do have a certain nostalgia for The Munsters TV show and while my expectations were low, I do try to keep an open mind and I always go into a movie wanting to like it. As such, this wasn’t as bad as I feared… but that’s a very low bar. I’m a little conflicted about almost every element of the movie.

The Munsters

For example, the film is going for a bright-colored campy aesthetic that is actually an interesting approach. There’s definitely a sorta digital flatness that permeates throughout, and sometimes bright colors can only do so much before they start to feel silly, but it’s better than the drab, lifeless, dull affect that seems so popular these days. A surprised character is shown in closeup with a kaleidoscopic background? Neat. Oh, are they going to keep doing that lightning bolt wipe to transition between scenes? Hmmm. I have a certain respect for what’s being attempted visually, even if it doesn’t always work.

Tonally, it’s also doing some strange things. Zombie is known for his more mean-spirited, redneck vibes and very little of that shines through in this PG rated movie (which is smart, I should add), but there are a few moments where something leaks in that doesn’t feel quite right. Similarly, there’s an odd strain of cultural references that seem more relevant to the 60s TV show than to a movie made in 2022. Does anyone really get a Bobby Darin reference? Even the Sonny & Cher bit, which is culturally ubiquitous enough I guess, is still a stretch. This is clearly an intentional choice and it isn’t necessarily bad… but I feel like it’s not that great either?

The Munsters TV show wasn’t exactly highbrow humor, and I think there’s something to be appreciated about puns and terrible dad jokes, but the humor here also feels a bit… off. Look, there’s nothing less funny than analyzing why something is (or is not) funny, and so much of what makes humor and laughter work is involuntary in nature, so I’ll just note that I chuckled a few times. On the other hand, some jokes are cringey, and not just in the fun dad joke or punny way. And oh, did they just accentuate a joke with a slide whistle? Oof.

The performances have a similar erratic feel to them. Everyone is absolutely going for it, but there are times when things seem a little too strained. This could also be due to the runtime, which does feel long. I suspect some of this would go over better if various segments were tighter. Plotwise, there’s not really much to go over, and it does play more like an overlong pilot episode than a movie (the actual first episode of The Munsters doesn’t even really cover this ground, they just trusted the audience to piece things together).

In an alternate universe, a butterfly in Brazil flapped its wings an extra two times, resulting in several minor differences during the production of The Munsters, turning it from a mixed bag mediocrity into an utter masterpiece that fires on all cylinders. Unfortunately, that’s not our universe, and honestly, I’m not sure what exactly hampers this universe’s version of the movie. That I don’t entirely hate it is impressive enough, but again, that’s a low bar and it’s not exactly good either. Another one of those Interesting Failure type of movies, I think. I don’t exactly recommend this, but there are worse ways to spend your time. **

Day Shift – A vampire hunter has a week to come up with some cash to pay for his kid’s tuition and braces, so he joins up with the local vampire hunting union and gets partnered with a by-the-books desk jockey.

Day Shift

I will admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for vampire lore and stories about vampire hunters, so some of the things that might bother normals about this movie didn’t bother me that much. The info dumps about the different types of vampires are certainly clunky and not well incorporated, but I did find myself wanting to know more about the different types of vampires. Some lore was subtly incorporated, like the way vampire lairs tend to be over-air-conditioned – it’s never explicitly mentioned, but it’s communicated clearly in a visual way. On the other hand, the stuff about Union codes and business of vampire hunting is perhaps a little less effective. And the humor is, well, it’s no Munsters. The villain of the piece, a real-estate developer with ambition, doesn’t really do a whole lot for me either.

The action sequences are reasonably effective though, which is good, because that’s where this movie’s bread is buttered. There are obligatory action set-pieces at the beginning and end that are perfectly cromulent, but the real highlight comes about midway through the movie, when our vampire hunter hero, played by Jamie Foxx, links up with a couple of Armenian vampire hunters or something in order to take out a nest. It is, by far, the best sequence in the movie. The action is clear, well staged, well shot, and well choreographed. Scott Adkins plays one of the Armenian brothers, and he comports himself like the king of DTV action that he actually is. Unfortunately, that scene is only about 10 minutes of the movie and we never see Adkins’ character again. It really feels like the filmmakers knew the movie was flagging and they, like, saw Scott Adkins on an adjacent soundstage or something and were all, “Hey Scott, you wanna come over here and punch up a quick action scene?”

In some ways, this is rote, by the numbers stuff. Not really bad, it does have that one great sequence, but not especially great either. It fits the idea of a $100 million Netflix Programmer to a tee. The elements all feel like they came out of an algorithm, so they made it, it came out, and for a few days people were like, oh cool, a Jamie Foxx vampire hunter movie featuring Snoop Dogg and Dave Franco? I can put that on while I’m doing my laundry. Sadly, such is the fate of most Netflix programmers. **1/2

So there you have it, two movies destined to disappear into the algorithm forever. Perhaps in, like, 40 years, there will be some boutique physical media provider like Arrow or Scream Factory that picks through the carcass of the then-long-defunct Netflix and rescues some of these films from obscurity and puts out a pristine holographic print that will look great on our giant wall-sized screens and the special features will have some nerd going on and on about how Netflix financed their movies and why their budgets appeared high but comparisons to traditional theatrical films are not apples to apples. In the meantime, the Six Weeks of Halloween will march on this weekend with… hmmm, I haven’t quite decided yet. Golden Age Slashers? Killer Kids? Don’t? Only one way to find out!

Giallo Essentials

A recurring theme on these Six Weeks of Halloween marathons has been the continuing exploration of the seemingly endless throngs of Italian Giallo films. Whether it be obscure, forgotten examples, movies from a specific year, a focus on directors, actresses (other actresses), or just random selections, I’ve watched a bunch of these movies but have only really begun to scratch the surface. As such, in prepping this year’s themes, I had one film already on my radar, and I noticed that it was part of this handsome Giallo Essentials (Red) collection from Arrow (physical media: also a common theme of the 6WH). As a collection, it actually covers the evolution of the Giallo pretty well, so let’s pour some J&B into a fucking highball glass and dive in:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2 – Giallo Essentials

The Possessed – A depressed writer visits a resort with the intention of finishing a book, but really it’s to reconnect with a woman he was infatuated with… a woman who worked at the resort. However, it appears she died under mysterious circumstances while he was away, and he must untangle a web of familial intrigue and jumbled memories to get to the truth.

The Possessed

This 1965 entry is an early example of the Giallo, actually more of a proto-Giallo that incorporates some tropes from Mario Bava’s earlier The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963, arguably the first “official” Giallo) or Blood and Black Lace (1964). Indeed, it feels more like an arthouse noir movie than a Giallo. Sure, the visiting writer unravels a seaside town murder premise is a surprisingly common one, the mystery is somewhat lurid and seemingly (but not really) convoluted, and there are other hallmarks of the genre like a short glimpse of a gloved hand wielding a straight razor. But it’s like the volume is turned down on all of these elements.

There is much more focus on fuzzy memories and dreamlike sequences, black and white photography, and arthouse ennui. Think of the deliberate, mannered films of Fellini and Antonioni more than the excesses of Argento or Fulci. This doesn’t make the movie dull or anything, but it’s certainly not the cavalcade of schlock that a lot of Giallo movies embrace. Director Luigi Bazzoni clearly has a good eye, and the stark, contrasting visuals of the black and white photography are striking, particularly when it comes to scenes that take place near the glimmering lake.

The dreamlike nature of the plot, as our protagonist frequently has daydreams or flashbacks or hallucinations or just straight up nightmares, has you wondering if any of what you’re watching is actually happening. The editing sometimes emphasizes this uncertainty, as you move from one conventional scene to a dream sequence and back again without much fanfare. Sometimes you get the standard jolting awake in bed to indicate a dream sequence, but the transition isn’t always that clear. That sort of disorientation is clearly part of the point, emphasizing the unreliability of memory and how an event can spiral out of control. It’s a difficult line to walk, but the artistry on display here is up to that task.

It’s an early, transitional example of the genre that does illuminate how the Italian cinema scene was evolving at the time. It’s probably not the best introduction to Giallo movies, but the elements are all there, even if they are somewhat restrained. **1/2

The Fifth Cord – A journalist investigates a series of attacks and murders that seemingly implicate him as the killer. Now this is a quintessential Giallo film with all the trimmings.

The Giallo sub-genre had been emerging in the 60s, but really took off with the release of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970. This movie, which was also directed Luigi Bazzoni and came out in 1971, owes a big debt to Argento, and it represents a fascinating contrast with The Possessed. Lots of similar elements, but the volume is turned up to 11 here.

The Fifth Cord

All the standard boxes are checked: The gloved killer, fisheye POV shots, people chugging J&B Whisky, red herrings galore, a Hitchcockian “wrong man” premise, Franco Nero sporting a bitchin pornostache, a swanky Ennio Morricone score, and exceptional cinematography from the Oscar winning cinematographer of Apocalypse Now (amongst many others). Everything you could possibly want out of a Giallo is here, with the possible exception of an overly convoluted story with an almost nonsensical conclusion (and alright, maybe the title could be a tad more baroque). For a film with such a dense list of characters and relationships, it’s got a pretty conventional plot, but they compensate with the aforementioned visual flare.

You know how noir films are infamous for using Venetian blinds to symbolize the bars of imprisonment? Well The Fifth Cord amps that up to the nth degree – there are an absurd amount of shots in this film that emphasize the window blinds or other symbolic bars that surround and imprison the characters. One other thing that struck me about watching these films this weekend was how they contrast with the current overuse of greenscreen techniques – it’s a real treat to watch a movie that is clearly shot on location. And not just any location; these are all visually striking and memorable locations. These also play into the use of extreme wide shots, emphasizing the isolation of the characters.

A wide shot from The Fifth Cord

This is clearly the best film in the Arrow set, and it’s a pretty great example of the genre. It’s certainly not my favorite Giallo, but it still rips. ***

The Pyjama Girl Case – In Australia, a retired police inspector investigates a half-burned body found on the beach. Also, a woman named Glenda sleeps around, gets married, continues to sleep around, and complications ensue. How will these two stories connect?

By 1977, the Giallo was starting to flame out. Still plenty of examples being released, but the formula had grown stale and more and more films were deviating considerably. This is a pretty good example of that sort of thing, and it’s a movie that takes some pretty big swings. In particular the seemingly disconnected dueling plots are interesting, even if it does mess with the pacing a bit.

Ray Milland in The Pyjama Girl Case

The procedural bits are reasonably well done, especially Ray Milland’s performance as the grumpy inspector who’s seen it all coming out of retirement for one last case. The plot surrounding Glenda harkens back to a more arthouse character, albeit one with a much more horny and lurid bent than most such things. There are two big twists in the film, one of which happens midway through the movie and is genuinely shocking, while the other was not entirely unexpected but represents a worthwhile conclusion.

Along the way, there are several frankly bizarre sequences. The most famous sequence in the film is when the police, still unsure of the murder victim’s identity, put her nude, partially burned body on display for the public. It’s almost portrayed like an art exhibit, and the film is clearly trying to indict its audience for its lurid curiosity in watching movies like this. Or it just wants to be as sleazy and ludicrous as possible. This, in turn, speaks to the objectification that Glenda receives on her side of the plot. Another infamous sequence is when some guy hires a prostitute, says his nephew is too young to participate, but invites him along to watch anyway. So gross it’s almost hilarious. I don’t want to make too much of this film’s commentary on misogyny because there’s so much of it on display that it becomes an almost have your cake and eat it too situation.

Usually when someone says that a film takes “big swings”, the “and missed” is implied… and I don’t know that this is really any different. Maybe they made contact, but it was a foul ball? Or something? It’s one of those interesting failure type movies that could go either way. I’m not entirely sure it belongs in a “Giallo Essentials” set, but I’m also glad I watched it and there’s a lot to chew on here. **1/2

As usual, the Arrow discs are jam packed with special features, including informative commentary tracks (I have not watched/listened to all of them, but what I sampled was good), solid new interviews with experts and critics, and great looking transfers. I continue to be fascinated by the sub-genre, and you’ll probably see at least one weekly theme every year for a while (and Arrow has several other Giallo Essentials sets, hmmm). Anywho, stay tuned, we’ve got some recent releases coming up on Wednesday…

Quatermass

Professor Bernard Quatermass is a fictional scientist featured prominently in a series of early 1950s BBC science fiction serials. He’s the head of the British Experimental Rocket Group and he continually finds himself dealing with strange alien plots to take over the world or destroy humanity. There were three 6-episode serials aired on BBC television in the 1950s, and each of them were condensed and remade by Hammer Film Productions for the cinema. There have been a couple of revivals and remakes over the intervening decades, but it actually seems ripe for a more modern interpretation.

I first heard of Quatermass from an interview with John Carpenter a while back. I can’t find that article anymore, but Quatermass clearly made an impression on a young Carpenter, who would go on to make a few films that clearly show that influence (notably Prince of Darkness and maybe even The Thing). It all certainly sounded intriguing, so let’s take a look at a couple of these suckers:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 1.5 – Quatermass

The Quatermass Xperiment – The first manned British spacecraft is presumed lost in space until it crashes into a farmer’s field. British authorities arrive, led by Professor Quatermass, and manage to pry open the craft, finding only one of the three crewmembers. The sole survivor is unable to speak and appears to be going through some sort of agonizing physical metamorphasis. What happened to the other two crewmembers? What will become of the survivor? Only Professor Quatermass can save the day!

The Quatermass Xperiment

An early example of British Sci-Fi, this does predate a lot of things that are more famous. For instance, the Cold War assimilation themes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are featured here in a similar way (albeit, to my mind, in a less effective manner). There’s just something quaint about this era of science fiction film. Scientists in suits battling rubber monsters, luddite politicians and cops, retro futuristic technology, it’s all in good fun.

All that being said, it’s not the most exciting film, especially in the early proceedings. Lots of jabbering and exposition, which, to be fair, is a hallmark of the genre, but there are more effective versions of that sort of thing. The pacing gets a bit tedious and it doesn’t really pick up until the end, which is suitably engaging. There are some interesting ideas tossed off here and there that could certainly fire up the imagination, such that it’s easy to see how so many future filmmakers were inspired by this series. Fans of early Doctor Who will probably also get a kick out of this, a clear precursor to that more famous series.

The actor they got to play Quatermass was an American named Brian Donlevy, which may have helped Hammer sell the film more effectively in foreign markets, but was definitely controversial back at home. Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale infamously hated the decision, and I will say that I think I can see his point. Donlevy would reprise the role in the sequel, but was eventually replaced, and it does seem like a clear case of miscasting.

Ultimately, it’s interesting that this micro-budget British SF B-Movie casts such a long shadow and displays a considerable influence on the genre, but it does seem like one of those things that would only be of interest to students of the genre. There are pleasures to be had here, to be sure, but I was certainly hoping for more. **

Quatermass and the Pit – A construction crew working in the London Underground unearth an ancient Martian spaceship. As Quatermass and team explore its mysteries, it appears to exert a psychic influence on those around it. Will the same fate of these doomed Martians befall humanity?

Quatermass and the Pit

Made a dozen years later, this film boasts several improvements over the first movie. Quatermass is now played by Scottish actor Andrew Keir, who seems to be almost universally recognized as a better fit for the role. Director Roy Ward Baker also does a bit better with the visuals, despite a clearly limited budget. This is in color, which isn’t inherently better than black and white or anything, but it does look more appealing and you can tell why Hammer is known for its vivid colors. This does still retain that early Doctor Who hokeyness, and the pacing remains a bit sluggish at times as well.

Even though the effects aren’t particularly great, and the Martian creature designs are a bit lacking, the psychic playback of the last days of life on Mars is genuinely unnerving and even a little surreal. That otherworldly quality is captured a few times throughout the film, and it can be quite effective. As with the first film, there are some interesting ideas explored here.

Again, this is a favorite film of filmmakers like John Carpenter and Joe Dante and you can see the influence in their work for sure. While this is an improvement over the first film and is generally regarded as the best Quatermass, I still think it is mostly of interest to students of the genre or folks who want to trace influence within science fiction and horror. Which, like, I am, so I enjoyed myself well enough, but it’s not something I’d recommend over other classic 50s alien invasion flicks. **

I did not get to Quatermass II, but feel pretty confident that I would have a similar feeling about that one. This basically wraps up the Hammer Horror portion of this year’s Six Weeks of Halloween. Next up: Giallo Essentials, the cinema of my people! See you on Sunday…

Six Weeks of Halloween 2022: Hammer Horror

The word Halloween is a contraction of the words “hallowed” and “evening” (or “All Hallows’ Evening”) and dates back to 18th century Scotland. Naturally, there were several interim contractions on its way to the word we know and love, like the way “evening” became “eve” or “e’en” then eventually dropped the apostrophe in the eternal way that language mutates and evolves.

Around these parts, we celebrate that Hallowed E’en by watching a veritable plethora of horror movies (and reading some spooky books as well) for the six weeks leading up to the big day. Why six weeks? Well, that used to be two weeks better than most folks’ marathons, but it seems like people have been engaging in a little seasonal creep of late, and now this is just sorta de rigueur. Regardless, it’s always a fun time to engage in such a marathon, with the season already being festooned with mutilated gourds, decorative corpses, ornamental headstones covered with ironic puns, and picturesque cobwebs adorned with grotesque plastic spiders, amongst other nominally ghastly traditions. Not to mention that the pumpkin spice must flow. I look forward to this season more and more every year, and I’m so happy it has arrived.

It’s traditional to start the marathon with a theme that is a little more venerable and classy than usual. Which is not to say that it won’t be schlocky fun, just that there will be some element to the theme that hints towards respectability. Things like silent moviesforeign filmswell curated flicksclassic anthologies, and the like. This year, we begin our marathon with a series of Hammer Horror flicks. This was originally a planned theme way back in 2009, but I only really got to two of the more famous entries in the company’s catalogue.

Hammer Film Productions started as something of a generic studio built around “quota quickies“; cheap, domestic B-movies designed to fill gaps in cinema schedules. They are most famous, however, for their series of Gothic horror films and revivals of the old Universal Monster movies – now in vivid colour! Quite honestly, I’ve always been more interested in their non-Dracula/Frankenstein efforts. I’ve come to love the originals so much that the Hammer takes, while interesting, don’t do a whole lot for me. So we’ve got three Hammer originals and one Universal Monster update this week, let’s dive in:

Week 1: Hammer Horror

The Devil Rides Out – This textbook tale of Satanic Panic tells the story of two aristocrats investigating their protegé, who seems to have fallen under the spell of an occult plot to summon the devil. Fortunately, the Duc de Richleau knows his black magic and devises a plan to counter the deadly Satanist, Mocata. Hijinks ensue.

The Devil Rides Out

So we’ve got the standard Hammer horror gothic visuals, always effective, mixed in with a tale of mediums, mystics, Aleister Crowley-esque cults, and the goat-headed Devil Himself. Hammer regular Christopher Lee leads the charge as the suave but hard-edged Duc de Richleau, a surprising turn as a hero given Lee’s usual portrayal of sinister monsters. It’s all effective in its own, old-fashioned way, though I suspect it might not connect with modern audiences quite as well as it did at the time. This has a reputation of being top-tier Hammer, and I can see why, even if I’m not entirely in love with it. Still, there are lots of things to love.

For instance, the circle of protection sequence is visually striking and tense. The effects are clearly dated, but just the general geometry of the shots is effective enough. One of the funny things about this movie is that everyone is a filthy rich aristocrat, such that when they need to create this 20 foot pentagram on the floor, of course there’s a giant room in the house that’s seemingly tailor made for such a purpose.

There’s a long series of Duc de Richleau novels written by Dennis Wheatley and apparently Christopher Lee always wanted to reprise this role in additional adventures, but alas, no sequels were made. In any case, I enjoyed this quite a bit. Though it’s clearly an old-fashioned tale in many ways, it still has some effective stuff going on and it made for a good intro to the Six Weeks of Halloween. ***

Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear) – A wheelchair-bound young woman returns to her father’s estate after ten years away. She’s told that he’s away on business and that he’s been feeling ill of late. Suspicious, she explores the grounds at night and sees a vision of her father’s dead body. Naturally, no one believes her and it appears as if her seemingly friendly (but obviously wicked) stepmother and the local doctor are plotting something nefarious. Will she overcome their schemes?

Taste of Fear

Hammer is known for their vivid colors and gothic imagery, but this is more of a modern (er, for the 1950s) thriller and it’s filmed in black & white. It looks great and it channels more of a Hitchcockian feel than most of Hammer’s catalogue. Actually this feels even more like a play on Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique, what with the water-logged corpse and all (mild spoilers, I guess, sorry). Weirdly enough, I also got a pretty strong Giallo vibe out of this, especially the last 20 minutes or so, when the twists and revelations start flying with reckless abandon. There’s an absurdity to the whole thing that should annoy me and trigger nitpicking impulses, but instead I just found myself utterly delighted.

The first hour is perhaps a tad slow, though there’s a well established atmosphere of mystery and growing dread. The sequences where she sees her dead father, but then gets gaslit when she tries to convince everyone around her – they are effective but maybe a bit repetitive. But it’s all worth it for that ending. As the film’s tagline implores: FOR MAXIMUM THRILL . . . WE EARNESTLY URGE YOU TO SEE THIS MOTION PICTURE FROM THE START!

I don’t want to oversell the ending or anything, but this was clearly my favorite movie of the weekend and probably my favorite Hammer Horror flick too. It’s a shame it’s so hard to find – it doesn’t appear to be available on any streaming service. I watched it on Indicator’s excellent Blu-Ray, which has both UK and US versions and tons of special features. If you’re a physical media nut and you like this sort of stately thriller, it’s worth a splurge. ***1/2

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter – When several young girls are found dead, mysteriously aged and drained of blood, the local doctor calls on his old army friend Captain Kronos, an infamous vampire hunter, for help. With the aid of the hunchbacked Professor Hieronymus Grost and a local peasant girl, Kronos and the good doctor set about ridding the area of the vampiric menace.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

There’s this thing that lots of movies do where they scoff at the existing vampire lore that we all know and love, instead laying out a new series of rules that are treated as if it’s always been that way (e.g. “Of course vampires don’t care about garlic, you watch too many movies!”) But Captain Kronos takes a genuinely unique tact in positing that every piece of vampire lore you ever heard of is true, it’s just that they are attributable to different strains of vampire. As such, the first task of the vampire hunter is to figure out what type of vampire you’re dealing with, find its weaknesses, and only then do you strike. It’s a sort of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario, because it allows Kronos and his hunchback sidekick to throw out weird lore you’ve never heard of, while also not betraying what you already know. It’s actually a pretty effective approach.

In practice, this does sag a bit in the middle as they try to zero in on the vampire. On the other hand, there’s a great deal of swashbuckling and horse riding going on throughout which can be fun. There’s one sequence where Kronos is confronted by a local group of cutthroats that he quickly dispatches with his samurai sword. It’s one of those sequences where you only see him pull the sword, then almost immediately the sword is back in the sheath, cut to a wide shot, where you see the bad guys collapse from their wounds. Indeed, most of the action takes place in creative ways rather than utilizing special effects. A more modern take would have done the thing where one of the cutthroats staggers back and then the top half of his skull slides off and blood squirts everywhere. Blood and gore have their place, but this movie takes a more restrained approach and it’s actually kinda refreshing to see things happening in reflections or shadows.

Since we’ve reached the mid 1970s with this one, there’s also a fair amount of skin on display. Kronos spends a fair amount of time shirtless and hanging out with Caroline Munro, whose long hair is often… strategically placed (a la the Austin Powers gag), which I guess was somewhat risque for the time. At this point, Hammer was running into financial issues, so a Kronos series never materialized, but this does seem ripe for a sequel or remake for sure. This isn’t exactly top tier stuff, but it’s quite enjoyable. **1/2

The Mummy (1959) – Archaeologists discover the 4,000-year-old tomb of Princess Ananka and almost immediately begin to perish in mysterious accidents and murders. It appears that someone has enlisted the help of a mummy to take revenge on those responsible for the desecration of the sacred tomb, and the last remaining archaeologist must find a way to survive the mummy’s wrath.

The Mummy

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Universal classic of the same name, but this does strike me as an improvement over that original film, even if it does fall victim to similar hammy tendencies. Still, Peter Cushing brings a classy refinement to the proceedings and Christopher Lee plays the mummy in an imposing and menacing way. I love Boris Karloff, but if I remember correctly, he spends an awful lot of time not in mummy form… Even George Pastell, who plays the keeper of the mummy, stands his own when facing Peter Cushing.

This is ultimately standard mummy fare, slightly elevated by better effects and the vivid Technicolor that Hammer is famous for. I’m glad I caught up with it for sure, though it’s not exactly top tier stuff. **1/2

A pretty great start to the marathon here, stay tuned for some more Hammer on Wednesday, and next week, Giallo Essentials!

Heat 2

I don’t love sequels. This shouldn’t be a surprise for regular readers, but to quote the late great William Goldman, the impetus for a great movie “is always this: creative. The pulse for a sequel is always this: financial. So they are never of a similar quality.” Of course, attempts to boil storytelling down to a simple rule are probably doomed to failure, and there are always exceptions to this rule. Fortunately Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner’s Heat 2, a novelized sequel to Mann’s 1995 movie Heat, is one such exception.

Heat 2 book cover

Technically, this novel is both a sequel and a prequel. It picks up right where Heat left off, with Chris Shiherlis (played by Val Kilmer in the movie) on the run from the police, led by robbery-homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). But the story also flashes back to 1988, with Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) leading his crew on a daring raid of a cartel stash house. There are naturally new characters abound, on both sides of the law, some seemingly familiar (such as a Waingro-esque villain that seemingly has 9 lives) and some completely new.

While it is telling that I felt the need to include the actors who portrayed the characters in the original movie, I do suspect that this novel could work pretty well even if you haven’t seen the movie. Still, having the actors and their memorable performances in mind certainly does add to the experience. Mann and Gardiner are able to reprise the characters in a consistent and meaningful manner. Everyone acts mostly like you’d expect them to act, though that doesn’t mean they’re completely static and unchanging either. Both Neil and Chris go through dramatic character arcs throughout the book.

I’m always curious about how collaboratively authored novels like this come about. In this case, I’m suspecting that Mann had the overall story beats mapped out (probably long before he even made Heat), but that Gardiner handled the nuts and bolts of the composition. I had read a few of Gardiner’s other thrillers before, and this certainly represents a step up in terms of procedural detail. I’m guessing more time was spent on research here than usual (or that Mann’s got a deep repository of contacts and anecdotes that Gardiner could explore.) This is all speculation though.

Whatever the case, the collaboration was a fruitful one. The novel captures the film’s aesthetic well. The cold, urban, professional atmosphere set in a visual form can’t be easy to capture in prose, so this is a genuine accomplishment. As a procedural process junkie, the detailed way each organization operates is much appreciated, and there are a variety of different organizations portrayed, on both sides of the law. These aren’t carbon copies of the heists or investigations in the movie, but they retain a similar flavor of professionalism and competence that always works for me. There are some interpersonal relationships that are also peppered throughout, which helps retain the human element. Think of Hanna’s question in the diner: “What are you, a monk?” Mann and Gardiner may be more focused on the mechanics of the plot, but they don’t forget that they’re portraying human beings here.

The sequel/prequel nature of the story is a little unclear at first, but the timelines are woven together well in the end, with some well crafted crossovers that keep you wired into the whole world that Mann created. There are some nits that could be picked, I suppose. Some of the dialogue can be over-the-top or cheesy at times, but that’s also right in line with the movie and it’s one of the things that becomes endearing after a while (is Pacino’s performance overly hammy in the movie? Yes, and also I love it and wouldn’t change it in a million years). There are a lot of descriptions about the adrenaline rush these folks experience when in the midst of their work that can get a bit repetitive, but again, this basically just became endearing to me.

There are rumors that this will be made into a movie, but I am a little more skeptical of that project than the novel. It turns out that this book was kinda the perfect way to do a prequel and/or sequel to Heat. I’d worry that recasting these parts would be too difficult given how iconic the original performances were. On the other hand, I would love to see the cartel stash house/hotel rat maze action set piece. It probably won’t be as great as the original Heat gunfight, but that’s an unbelievably high bar and this would be different enough that it could work.

Ultimately, this book is something of a miracle. A lot of this shouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t completely wrapped up in the story almost immediately. I tried to ration it and didn’t want it to end, which is always a sign of a great read. If you’re a fan of Heat, this comes highly recommended. Fans of pulp fiction, crime, cops & robbers type stories would also get a kick out of this as well. I loved it, and am curious to see where Gardiner goes next (and Mann too, for that matter).

Hugo Awards 2022: The Results

The Results of the 2022 Hugo Awards were announced last night, so it’s time for the requisite joyful celebrations and/or bitter recriminations. I jumped back on the participation bandwagon this year, though I didn’t really end up reading much beyond the novels (which, in my mind, were something of a mixed bag). In any case, congratulations are due to all the winners! For those who want to really nerd out and see instant-runoff voting in action, the detailed voting stats for the 2022 Hugo Awards are also available (.pdf).

Best Novel

A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine takes home the rocket, the second book in the series and the second Hugo win. Good for Arkady Martine, and I enjoyed this novel just fine (it was third in my ranking), but book series are difficult when it comes to awards. All things being equal, I tend to prefer standalone works (or maybe works that are starting a series, though I guess some series are comprised of basically standalone entries that are only loosely affiliated, like Becky Chambers Wayfarer’s books).

A Desolation Called Peace

Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki is the runner up, which actually fits my ranking, but Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir, came in dead last (it was my #1). More indication that I’m not exactly in lockstep with the rest of the Hugo voter community… Then again, it did reasonably well in the first pass of voting (#3), so there is that.

Short Fiction

As mentioned above, I didn’t read much of this year’s short fiction (certainly not enough to vote), so I don’t have much to say here, other than that we do see a lot of familiar names. Typical for a populist award like the Hugo, but given that my tastes don’t run particularly close to other Hugo voters’, I think I’m entering a bit of a fallow period when it comes to participation.

Best Series

Wayward Children, by Seanan McGuire wins best series, which is interesting because I feel like Seanan McGuire is the most nominated author over the last 15 years or so, but this is only her second fiction win. Congratulations! I have not read anything from this series, but I’ve always enjoyed McGuire’s work. Still, the thought of being able to read enough of each series nominated in order to make an informed vote is daunting, which has always been my biggest complaint about this category…

Best Dramatic Presentation

Often a strange category, but this year the answer was pretty obvious and the voting went pretty much as expected: Dune takes home the rocket, as it should. Naturally, the two finalists that are the most off the beaten path, The Green Knight and Space Sweepers, come in at the bottom of the voting. I suppose it’s reward enough that they got nominated at all. Anywho, pour one out for Werewolves WithinI’m Your ManFinch, and Malignant, amongst others not nominated (even in the longlist of nominees, only I’m Your Man had any traction, and it was pretty low on that list).

Other Thoughts on the 2022 Hugo Awards

Cora Buhlert takes home the award for Best Fan Writer, which was nice (she was #1 on my ballot), and there’s a few other winners that I was pleased to see (Naomi Novik won the Lodestar YA award, and I’ve enjoyed several of her novels, so it’s nice to see some recognition for her). Congrats again to all the winners. Given the nature of the awards, I have access to nominate next year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I will not want to participate much next year. As usual, I’ll probably keep an eye on things, but as mentioned above, I feel like my preferred style is not in fashion much these days, but I guess we’ll see what the future brings.

Weird Movie of the Week: Brian and Charles

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, Jesus showed us the way to the highway (whatever that means). This time around, we meet Brian and Charles:

Brian and Charles

Brian is a lonely inventor in rural Wales who spends his days building quirky, unconventional contraptions that seldom work. Undeterred by his lack of success, he soon attempts his biggest project yet. Using a washing machine and various spare parts, he invents Charles, an artificial intelligence robot that learns English from a dictionary and has an obsession with cabbages.

This was an audience favorite at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and apparently represents something of a modern (seemingly more comedic) retelling of Frankenstein. It’s certainly a shoe-in for a Kaedrin Movie Award nomination for Best High Concept film, once I get around to actually watching the thing (it’s just hitting streaming now, but is still in the premium/purchase phase of release.) And who knows, maybe even the Hugo Awards would recognize it, if voters take a chance on indie stuff.

2022 Hugo Awards: Final Ballot

The voting deadline for the 2022 Hugo Awards is this week, so this is about as final as my Ballot will get. The categories I’m voting in are a bit on the slim side this year, but you only have time and motivation to do so much. Let’s take a gander:

Best Novel

  1. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir [My Review]
  2. Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki [My Review]
  3. A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine [My Review]
  4. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers [My Review]
  5. She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan [My Review]
  6. A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark [My Review]

Everything after #2 could shift around a bit depending on my mood, and a part of me thought about throwing a “No Award” at #3 and leaving it at that, but that’s unfair. These are all solid books, even if some are not especially my cup of tea. I have no idea what to expect when it comes to the winner. Project Hail Mary seems to be getting a lot of criticism because there’s too much science and math (in Science Fiction? No way!) and not enough character, but it’s always hard to tell how representative such sentiments are…

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Dune
  2. The Green Knight
  3. WandaVision
  4. Space Sweepers
  5. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  6. Encanto

Harder to complain about voters’ tendency to favor bland blockbusters over anything artistic or weird when you’ve got The Green Knight as a finalist. Even Wandavision takes some pretty bold chances (even if the ending rubs me the wrong way). Still, pour one out for Werewolves Within, I’m Your Man, Finch, and Malignant, amongst others.

Additional Categories

  • I took a look at some short fiction categories, but didn’t get anywhere close to having read enough to actually vote.
  • I might catch up with the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form episodes I haven’t seen yet (but I doubt any would surpass For All Mankind: The Grey.
  • I might also catch up with some of the fan awards (Fan Writer and Fanzine both have folks I already follow, so might as well make it official).

And that about covers the 2022 Hugo Awards Final Ballot… stay tuned in a few weeks for the results!