6WH: Week 3.5 – Now Playing

The Six Weeks of Halloween has past the midway point and tonight, we tackle a couple of films now playing in theaters. Yes, I know that the big horror dork movie of the season is coming up, but you don’t need me to tell you anything about the Halloween sequel and probably have your own deep thoughts on how it impacts the continuity of the series, whether or not the term “sidequel” applies (and the requisite rabbit-hole debating whether or not “sidequel” is a proper neologism or a sure sign that communist Leprechauns are running a Gramscian program of influence to weaken the horror nerd community by introducing memetic attacks to our lexicon (I think you can tell which side I’m on in this vital conversation)), whether “prepper Laurie Strode” is better than “drunken PTSD Laurie Strode” from H20, or if we should call this new installment H40, amongst other deathly important topics. However, I’ve recently watched two movies in theaters that aren’t exactly doing awesome at the box office, but which are actually quite fun and worth checking out (given my readership, this could result in a sizeable $0-$10 bump in ticket sales, so please humor me). I’m sure I’ll get to the Halloween sequel soon enough, though frankly, I’m not especially excited for it. This sometimes augers for a pleasant surprise, but I tend to be hard on sequels (as well as, naturally, anything supported by communist Leprechauns). Of course, both of the below flicks are rather derivative, but that doesn’t bother me as much for some reason. So let’s get to it:

  • Hell Fest – It’s Halloween, and a bunch of teens descend upon a horror theme park to celebrate. Also in attendance is a killer dressed as one of the park’s attractions, so as to blend in as part of the show. I’m sure everyone has gone to such events or at least a haunted attraction or two (though perhaps not one as elaborate as depicted here), and had the thought that a real murder could occur in plain sight because everyone would just play it off as being part of the show. No? I’m the only nutser who’s had this thought? Fine then, be that way. Um, anyway, it turns out that this is actually a decent premise for a slasher film, especially since they didn’t skimp out on the extras and atmosphere. The grand majority of the movie takes place in a crowded theme park filled with rambunctious teens (unlike, for example, The Funhouse, which happens after-hours in an empty park). The park itself is wide ranging, featuring tons of haunted houses and the like, similar enough to what we’ve probably seen ourselves, but just at a much larger scale. This provides cover for the killer and makes our protagonists question if what they’re seeing is real or just part of the act, rather than immediately tipping them off (meanwhile, we in the audience know it’s for real). The setting also provides for lots of jump scares and “Boo!” moments that, while technically still cheap thrills, are reasonably well executed and more importantly, organic. The characters themselves, while not completely devoid of drama, are surprisingly affable and the filmmakers wisely avoid common dysfunctional tropes. For example, our protagonists are roughly comprised of three couples… and yet there are no love triangles and no one is cheating on their partner with one of the other friends. They actually like each other! This goes a long way in a movie like this. The kills are backloaded towards the end of the movie, so they only really have to peel away one or two characters earlier, and they come up with plausible enough excuses for the separation. Plus, those are mixed in with some red-herrings, so you are at least kept on your toes.
    Be vewy, vewy quiet. Im hunting wittle teenagers.

    The killer is suitably creepy, as a decent look, and I really enjoy the fact that he has no real backstory (something that did not work in the recently discussed Final Exam, but works well here). They actually do a good job with him and manage to maintain tension throughout the film. There aren’t that many actual kills in the movie, but there’s a couple of big gore moments that will keep horror dorks satiated while not going so overboard as to scare off the normals (but then, I’m mildly jaded when it comes to this sort of thing, so take that with a grain of salt). There’s a nice little capper at the end of the movie too; it’s not your typical twist (or even particularly a twist at all), and it works well. Look, fine cinema, this is not, but it’s a perfectly cromulent and seasonally appropriate flick. This movie is doing really poorly at the box office, but if you’re a slasher fan, you should totally check this out (and maybe even if you’re not!) ***

  • Driving Lessons – Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
  • Horror Movie Daycare (short)
  • Goosebumps (trailer)
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls – Recently orphaned ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his uncle in a creepy old house. It turns out that magic is real, his uncle is a Warlock, their neighbor is a witch, and there’s a mysterious ticking sound emanating from the house. Hijinks ensue. This movie has an interesting pedigree. Most notably, it’s a PG rated kids movie directed by Eli Roth, who has also directed things like Hostel and The Green Inferno (i.e. violent gore-fests). Next, it’s got a screenplay from Eric Kripke, best known for creating and writing for the absurdly long-running Supernatural TV show (a CW staple that isn’t exactly child friendly either). The story is adapted from a classic novel by John Bellairs, a sorta proto-young-adult horror author along the lines of R.L. Stine. Speaking of which, this movie stars Jack Black, who is also in the Goosebumps movies (of which, another is coming out in a few weeks). Like the first Goosebumps movie a few years ago, I had initially assumed this would be a soulless pixel stew of a movie. Also like that Goosebumps movie, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I mean, sure, there’s plenty of pixel in the stew, but there’s also a little heart and some genuinely interesting ideas in the mix. And, like, maybe they used a dutch oven instead of a crock pot, thus ensuring a deeper, more robust flavor, even out of the pixels. That’s how food works, right?
    Cate Blanchett owns every scene she is in

    Plus, Cate Blanchett pretty much owns the screen whenever she shows up, and actually has pretty good chemistry with Black and the little kid. She gets plenty of screen time and her own arc, so it’s not quite the thankless sidekick role I initially feared it would be. Jack Black is his usual self and comports himself well enough, even kinda-sorta holding his own against Blanchett (though not really, because who could?) Child actors are a tricky thing, and Owen Vaccaro stumbles a few times, but he otherwise manages just fine. Again, this isn’t the sort of thing I’ll be thinking about when it comes time to compile a top 10 of the year or anything (though Blanchett will probably get nominated for a Kaedrin Movie Award or six), but it’s a lot of good-natured, spooky fun. This has actually done moderately better business than Hell Fest, but if you find yourself feeling a bit down whilst scarfing down bitter horror flicks this Halloween season, this is a nice, palate-cleansing antidote and could probably still use your help. Well worth checking out. ***

So there you have it. I will probably see Halloween at some point, but for now, I’m just happy that they seem to have figured out that releasing horror movies in September/October makes sense… Stay tuned for our next post on Sunday, where you’ll get Four Themes for the Price of One! It’s a deal you simply can’t pass up.

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