Time flies when you’re terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. Yes, the Six Weeks of Halloween is just about over, with just that most hallowed of e’en coming up tomorrow. In accordance with tradition, this is when we engage in a Speed Round of brief thoughts on films I watched during the marathon, but haven’t otherwise covered. Usually because it didn’t fit with a weekly theme. Or maybe I just didn’t have much to say about it. Or I had too much to say about it, but the moment and/or inspiration has passed. Or it’s a rewatch of an all time classic (or, uh, a non-classic) and you don’t need anyone, let alone me, telling you more about it.
As of this writing, I’ve seen 54 horror (or horror-adjacent) movies during this Halloween season. This is basically comparable with last year, which was way down from the pandemic-fueled record of 71 movies. Nature is healing, etc… It’s nice to get back to pre-pandemic levels of socialization interrupting movie watching plans, not to mention the sudden emergence of Philadelphia sports excellence. Sports!
Um, anyways, we still have lots of things to cover in this here Speed Round, and we’ll wrap things up next Sunday with a Halloween Reading Roundup (it’s not all movies during the 6WH, after all). Anywho, let’s get to this speed round:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Speed Round
Invaders from Mars (1953) – Another classic 50s Sci-Fi flick infused with Cold War paranoia, very entertaining with some memorable visuals. Not the best version of this sort of thing, but really quite solid and it’s another classic I inexplicably hadn’t caught up with until now. ***
The Spine of Night – Heavy Metal-esque adult animation that indulges in more than a little bit of the old ultraviolence. An ode to Ralph Bakshi and other rotoscope animators who made cartoons for adults. The brutal violence and cartoon dicks get old after a while, but it’s an interesting movie for sure. **1/2
Plan 9 from Outer Space – Infamously one of the worst movies of all time, it doesn’t quite live up to that label. There are far worse films out there, and there’s something delightfully odd about this, such that it’s not a surprise that it’s gained a cult following. I mean, it’s not exactly good and sorta defies a normal rating, but it has its moments. ???
Practical Magic – Young Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as cursed witches, sits comfortably in that weirdly unique 90s silliness that inflects a lot of movies of that era. It’s lightweight but somehow more than it seems. **1/2
The Shining – Kubrick’s classic still holds up and looks better than ever in the new(ish) 4K transfer. This isn’t a movie for everyone, but something about Kubrick always gets under my skin, and this movie has so many unsettling images and ideas.
There’s something to be said about adaptations that veer far from the source material, but this is a case where it’s all for the best. ***1/2
Invaders from Mars (1986) – Tobe Hooper’s remake of the 50s classic isn’t quite as successful as the other 80s remakes of 50s classics (like The Thing and The Fly) and I think the original is better, but this updates some things well enough, while almost leaving too much of the original in tact (and thus feeling a bit out of place in the 1980s). **1/2
The Addams Family 2 – It’s hard to believe that the mediocre animated Addams Family movie garnered a sequel, but here we are, a sequel that’s equally mediocre. That said, I kinda have a soft spot for The Addams Family as a general concept and enjoy spending time with them. Not great or anything, but it’s nice to mix in some lighter fare during the 6WH, which can get a bit morose after a while. **
Candyman (2021) – Gorgeous and well appointed sequel/reboot/whatever that suffers from modern horror’s tendency towards messy grasping for relevance and a desperate need to be didactic about Something Important. Still, there’s a solid throughline and some of the ideas they threw against the wall stuck, such that this remains a solid bite of genre fare with lots to chew on. **1/2
The Entity – The infamous ghost rape movie, it’s interesting how seriously they take the premise, such that it doesn’t feel as exploitative as it could have been. Indeed, this is a 1982 movie steeped in the experience of survivors, and this should work well given current Horror fans’ obsession with trauma. It’s repetitive, far too long (over 2 hours), repetitive, and devolves into weird histrionics later in the film, but it’s all firmly grounded and on point. **1/2
The Silence of the Lambs – An annual rewatch at this point, I’ve already said my piece on this, but it remains a classic standby. The newish 4K release is only a minor improvement over the Criterion release, but it still looks great. ****
Blood Red Sky – Interesting little slice of German vampire schlock highlighted as a Netflix programmer a while back (and similarly languishes in their archives, mostly undiscussed). There’s a fun premise here that is somewhat subverted by trying to be dark and more realistic. Fine for what it does, but it could have been more of a fun romp (but this is complaining about the movie I wanted it to be, not the movie it’s trying to be). **1/2
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions – More of the same, all in good fun. It looks good and has decent little puzzles strewn throughout, and the overarching conspiracy grows more and more ludicrous, but in a fun way. This should spawn a long-running series, and despite my distaste for sequels, this is exactly the kind of thing that begs for a franchise, and I’ll totally watch at least a couple more of these (which are presumably coming soon). **1/2
No Exit – Low-budget, snowy locked room mystery with Hitchcockian vibes that morphs into full-on, mean-spirited violence and gore in the third act. It’s a little overheated, derivative, and predictable at times, but they put this premise through its paces and execute well. Underseen 2022 release worth a look. ***
Hellraiser (2022) – It’s the best Hellraiser movie since Bloodline! Alas, that’s not saying much. It’s far too long, festooned with overly dark cinematography, and not nearly horny enough for a true Barker-like experience. Overstuffed with modern horror tropes (why is there a whole addiction subplot here?), it also takes some liberties with the mythology (not necessarily bad, given how far they’ve strayed). It does have some bright spots though! The new cenobites are great (er, when you can see them), and the Epstein stand-in villain was a nice touch. In the end, it feels a little safe, but perhaps that’s what the series needed. It does seem like there’s more Hellraiser stories to tell, so maybe we’ll get some more interesting stuff in later installments. **1/2
Se7en – David Fincher’s slice of 90s serial killer mayhem holds up really well. Everything still fits and the clever conceits work well. One thing that struck me in watching this (especially in close proximity to the new Hellraiser) – darkness in the cinematography here looks so, so much better than the modern digital dull mess that so many more modern movie (and shows) engage in. The darkness is actually used well here, but you can still see things you need to see. Imagine that! ***1/2
Werewolf by Night – Marvel tries to evoke classic Universal monster tropes in this short, 55 minute thriller, to middling success. It comports itself well enough and was a nice, fun, short watch. You’d think that Monster Hunters would have better succession planning though. **1/2
Hell House LLC – Rock solid found-footage movie that doesn’t quite crack the top tier, but is certainly top of the middle tier of the sub-genre. Interesting setup, and just enough reliance on interviews and news footage, etc… It does suffer from the usual found-footage problems, but not excessively so. Well worth a watch. ***
My Best Friend’s Exorcism – A bit of a tonal mess, this does smack of an adaptation that can’t quite encapsulate everything that’s going on in the book (which I have not read, to be sure, but it feels like there has to be a lot more here). That said, once it gets established, it comports itself well enough and some of the bits work pretty well. The comedic elements aren’t particularly well incorporated and undercut the scary stuff, but on the other hand, I did chuckle a few times. Perfectly cromulent, but not going to blow you away. **1/2
Prophecy – Prophecy’s screaming bear walked so that Annihilation’s screaming bear could run. This was one of those VHS covers I always saw at the video store, but never really pulled the trigger on… John Frankenheimer tries his best to keep things grounded and focus on the environmental politics and other 70s values, but it’s all injected into a pulpy monster bear narrative that’s kinda silly. Glad I finally watched it and it has lots of interesting elements, but is a bit too muddled to be fully successful. **1/2
Bird Box – Another Netflix programmer that suffers from its very nature. Derivative in the extreme (clearly generated by an algorithm – it’s The Happening meets A Quiet Place!), overlong, it was a popular hit for about a week, and has summarily disappeared from the cultural consciousness since then. That being said, it’s elevated a bit by performances from stars like Sandra Bullock and John Malkovitch, and there are a couple of interesting ideas floating in the mush. **
Elvira’s Haunted Hills – Part of Joe Bob’s Haunted Halloween Hangout, it’s always fun to hang out with Elvira. The movie is nothing particularly special, but it has some fun stuff going for it, I guess. Worth it if you enjoy Elvira’s schtick. **1/2
Christine – The bullied nerd breaks bad theme of Halloween Ends made me want to watch this movie, which does it better, in my opinion. I think it’s one of Carpenter’s more underrated efforts. Some real classic moments here. ***
The Black Phone – This feels a bit like a YA pulp short story padded out to feature length. A bit too much of the alcoholic father and bullies and some other superfluous plot points, and not enough of Ethan Hawke’s suburban boogieman (the movie does get a lot of mileage out of Hawke’s admittedly great mask, but there was clearly more there). The supernatural gimmick works well enough, once it gets going. Remember talking on the phone? Scaaary! **1/2
Footprints on the Moon – Strange slice of Giallo involving a woman who wakes up not remembering her last three days. As she tries to solve that mystery, she has flashbacks to a weird movie within a movie about astronauts being stranded on the moon. Some interesting stuff and gorgeous to look at, but a little too slow and doesn’t quite earn it in the admittedly neat (but nonsensical) ending. **
Frankenstein (1931) – Still a classic, what struck me most this time around is that it’s only 70 minutes long (and 2-3 minutes are spent on stuff like showing the credits twice and having someone introduce the film and inform the audience that what you’re about to see will be shocking!), meaning that this is about the length of a lot of prestige TV episodes these days. ****
The Invisible Man (1933) – Part of the first Universal Monsters 4K boxed set I bought last year, but never got around to rewatching. It’s grown on me upon repeat viewings, and the new 4K transfer looks great too. ***
Popcorn – The other half of Joe Bob’s Haunted Halloween Hangout, this is one of those meta exercises where a group of film students puts on a horror-movie-thon of old movies featuring William Castle-like gimicks like schocked seats in the theater and a big remote-controlled mosquito. The fake 50s horror flicks you get glimpses of were all created for this movie, and they are fantastic. The reference to an old art film with a tragic history is interesting, but after a while it does feel like there’s a lot of stuff being crammed into this movie. Still, I had a lot of fun with it. **1/2
The Bride of Frankenstein – One of the better sequels of all time, but I still prefer the original. New 4K boxed set of Universal Monsters dropped a while back and I never noticed until too late in this marathon, but this one looks great, and I’m sure I’ll get to the others soon enough. ***1/2
The Midnight Club – Mike Flanagan continues to produce interesting stuff for Netflix, but man, it’s like he heard all the complaints about monologues in Midnight Mass and was like, I hear you, but what if there were more monologues? I’m only a couple episodes in, but it’s interesting enough so far, even if it still feels like it might be better as one 2-3 hour movie rather than a 10 episode series (but then, maybe I haven’t seen enough).
Tales From the Crypt (Season 2) – I’ve basically given up on these showing up on HBO Max (apparently it’s hampered by a hideous tangle of rights issues), so I went ahead and grabbed the DVDs. I really appreciate the short, 30 minutes or less, episodes, especially given more modern tendencies towards excess. I still haven’t finished the entire season, but I’ll be making my way through them in future 6WH for sure.
And still plenty left to watch. I have Scream Factory’s new-ish 4K transfer of Halloween (curious to see how it compares to the previous 4K release) and I really wanted to try out Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities as well.
It’s been a grand ol time these past six weeks, and of course, we still have next week’s recap of season’s readings to come, so stay tuned.