A mystery box is an effective way to get the audience into the characters’ head space. We want to know what the answer is. They want to know what the answer is. We are instantly on the same team.
The fact that the mystery box is empty is extremely handy because it ensures that nobody can guess the ending ahead of time. Just keep tabs on the fan theories and you can stay way out in front of them. If you do have any particular plans in mind, and somebody gets close, throw out your plan and throw a new element into the story which voids that possibility. If asked directly whether a theory is correct, say no. By definition, it can’t be correct — because it was asked. And because there is no solution. Relatedly, a mystery box makes it very difficult for anybody involved in the production to leak the ending.
And finally, obviously, a mystery box saves you some (but not all) of the work of constructing the story in the first place. You have a solid beginning, you have some sketch ideas for the middle, and… you’re done. This is an especially efficient use of your time if your project is, for example, a television show with a strong possibility of being cancelled before it goes anywhere, or the first film in an ongoing franchise.
The Answer to Why Humans Are So Central in Star Trek – I don’t remember what made me look this up again, but this is some classic Star Trek nerd humor (that is genuinely funny, not, like, sad or something). I’m glad someone collected all the ancillary thoughts too. For the record, the actual original post is here.
That Federation vessels in Star Trek seem to experience bizarre malfunctions with such overwhelming frequency isn’t just an artefact of the television serial format. Rather, it’s because the Federation as a culture are a bunch of deranged hyper-neophiles, tooling around in ships packed full of beyond-cutting-edge tech they don’t really understand. Endlessly frustrating if you have to fight them, because they can pull an effectively unlimited number of bullshit space-magic countermeasures out of their arses – but they’re as likely as not to give themselves a lethal five-dimensional wedgie in the process.
The Decay is Real: Streaming Films on Netflix (and others) Lose Viewership Very Quickly. Interesting data here. Kinda resembles movie theater blockbuster performance, only dropoff from week to week seems even steeper. I have to wonder how much of this is driven by Netflix’s advertising and curation strategy (i.e. when a movie is first released, Netflix pushes it hard by making it the first thing you see when you fire up the app… but then it disappears and gets harder and harder to find as time moves on…) While interesting, this is still based on a very small dataset, but it appears to be better than the “anecdata” that Netflix releases themselves…
The Six Weeks of Halloween isn’t just for movies, it also includes some season’s readings. In accordance with this year’s record-setting pace of movies watched, I’ve also set some sort of record for number of books read. This is due to basically the same reason, which is that there’s a raging pandemic on and thus I’ve got more time for reading/watching. I love books and movies, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I’d rather not do the same next year! I’m going to try to get through all of them in this one post, so they probably won’t be as in-depth as normal (not that these recap posts are usually that in-depth, but still).
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Season’s Readings
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin – Struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives a too-good-to-be-true offer to supervise the construction of and co-captain the grandest steamboat the Mississippi has ever seen. While wary of the mysterious benefactor making the offer, one Joshua York, a pale aristocrat who keeps strange hours, Marsh ultimately can’t resist. As the boat makes its way down the Mississippi, Marsh starts to notice even more suspicious behavior from York and his strange friends.
This was definitely the best thing I read all season and maybe even this year. While not quite as ambitious or intricate as his Song of Ice and Fire, it holds plenty of similarities. Lots of historical detail, this time placed on the 19th century riverboat trade. Strong, likable characters facing malevolent villains you love to hate. And of course, plenty of lovingly described feasts for our main character. Look, some of the digressions might rub folks the wrong way, but Martin is a consummate storyteller and it shows here. He also manages a spooky atmosphere that was perfect for Halloween season. Take this line, thrown off early in the book:
Once a raft came by, a fire burning on its deck, and they heard the raftsmen calling out to them, vague faint cries that echoed over the river before the gray swallowed raft and sound both.
So spooky. As usual, Martin has his historical ducks in a row, and he references all sorts of riverboat lore that is no doubt fascinating all on its own (i.e. the phantom steamer of Raccourci is briefly mentioned, and it turns out that it’s a real thing), then adds his own twisted tale of chills to the misty river. Plus, unlike the Song of Ice and Fire, this one is self contained and has a satisfying ending. Recommended!
Night Shift by Stephen King – Speaking of consummate storytellers, this collection of short stories was a pretty solid read during the season. Here’s the thing with Stephen King: Even when I don’t like the story, or the characters are awful, or something silly is happening… King finds a way to pull me in and turn the page. Only a few of these stories really standout in my mind as great, but all of them are supremely well written.
This is one of the reasons that so many King adaptations fail to translate on the screen. A lot of times, the story itself is rather silly (i.e. “Trucks”, “Battleground”, “The Lawnmower Man”, etc…), but King is such a virtuoso writer that he can make them work… That makes it difficult to adapt, for sure. Still, some of these stories are great. I really loved “The Boogeyman”, “The Ledge”, and “One For the Road”, but really almost all of them were interesting in one way or another. I go back and forth on Stephen King and short story collections are often uneven, but this book has convinced me to check out more of King’s short story collections.
14 by Peter Clines – Nate’s a down-on-his-luck schmoe who lucks into a cheap apartment. The only problem is that his apartment has some odd features. Weird mutant cockroaches, a light fixture that only emits blacklight. And hmmm, it looks like his neighbor’s apartment also has a mystery or two. And so does his other neighbor. Soon, Nate and his new friends are full-on investigating the mysterious building. What shall they find!?
It’s a fun little read. Take J.J. Abrams Mystery Box concept, apply to an apartment building, and sprinkle a little Lovecraftian cosmic horror on top, and you’ve got a fun little dish to eat for Halloween season. It’s not going to blow you away and the characters, while not exactly deep, are a likable enough bunch. The conclusion gets a bit kooky, but hell, it’s far better than the ending for Lost! It’s sorta perfect audio-book fodder.
The Fold by Peter Clines – In the same universe as 14, this is a mostly independent story (there are a couple of brief mentions of some of the events in 14 and some characters show up, but otherwise completely separate story). Mike Erikson is whip smart and he’s got an eidetic memory. That’s why he’s hired to audit a team of DARPA scientists who have invented a device they call the Albuquerque Door. It’s basically a teleportation device. It appears to work perfectly, but the team is not very forthcoming with any details and they refuse to release to the public until they complete some additional tests. Mike’s job is to figure out if they’re blowing smoke or really onto something. Naturally, the device doesn’t quite work perfectly, and soon, more mysterious and troubling things come to light.
Like 14, this is a fun read. It veers a little more into science fiction territory this time, which might not satisfy the hardcore SF reader, but should hit the general audience just fine. For my part, the moment someone mentioned that the Albuquerque Door relied on some sort of Quantum Mechanics, I know almost down to the last detail what was wrong with the project. That being said, Clines is a decent enough storyteller to keep things moving along and entertaining, even to a dork like me who thinks he knows everything. There are apparently additional books in this series that are out (or coming soon), and I’d actually be curious to check them out, which is usually a good sign. Again, not going to blow you away, but it’s entertaining and fun and again, good audio-book fodder.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay – When fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display aberrant behavior, her family tries everything to help, eventually turning to the Catholic Church for an exorcism and hiring a reality television crew to document the strange happenings. Fifteen year’s later, Marjorie’s younger sister recounts the whole experience to an interviewer.
I can certainly see why this book turned some heads (it infamously garnered high praise from Stephen King), and there’s a lot to like about it. I can’t say as though it hit on all levels for me, but I’ll give it points for ambition and putting a new spin on a hoary old tale. Tremblay manages this both with plot devices but also an unconventional narrative structure, which includes straight recapping of the possession, interview segments, and blog post excerpts reviewing the television episodes. It’s an effective mashup of stylistic elements and story, with an ending that I did not see coming. Ultimately, I’m not sure it worked perfectly for me, but I’m glad I read it.
Weaveworld by Clive Barker – Barker has long been a staple of my Halloween season’s reading, but I’ve long since exhausted his excellent Books of Blood short story collections, so now I’m working back to novels that I haven’t caught up with yet. This one features a lot of Barker’s appeal… but it also feels a bit like an inferior take on several of his other stories. In particular, I remember Imajica being a much better version of a similar sort of tale… But then, I haven’t read Imajica for decades, so the details escape me.
Still, this book about a hidden world and various attempts to capture or protect it, has some interesting things going for it. A meditation on memory and the past’s pull on the present, it hits those themes hard. However, it does perhaps drag on a bit too long and while Barker is always stylistically impressive, it’s not quite enough to save the flabby plot. Clocking in at over 700 pages, it somehow feels even longer than that, without really justifying the length. It became repetitive at times, and I dunno, maybe I was just turned off by the more fantastical elements, which aren’t particularly well defined here.
I didn’t hate this or anything, and maybe if I had read less Barker in the past, it would have hit me better… Still, I’ll probably continue to explore Barker’s oeuvre and dammit, wait for the third Book of the Art (which he’s been talking about for going on three decades)…
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron – Another short story collection, this one a bit less successful than the King, but then, that’s a high bar. Still, this is my first experience with Laird Barron, and I’m not entirely sure I’m on his wavelength. The collection starts out strong, with the story “Old Virginia,” a creepy tale of a CIA project in the 1960s that touches on the Roanoke Island disappearance and eventually gets into cosmic horror. Next is “Shiva, Open Your Eye,” which is short but all style over substance, again with the Lovecraftian cosmic horror element that’s actually pretty effective.
From there, things start a downhill slide. Some of these should work, but almost all of them go on for far too long (even for short stories, they feel more like novellas sometimes) and aren’t quite as satisfying. The only exception would be the titular Imago Sequence, which is a strong way to end the book.
So I didn’t love all the stories, but there’s plenty to like, even in some of the lesser stories. Lots of creepy imagery and Barron’s overly descriptive style sometimes helps accentuate the scares. There are some commonalities to the stories as well. Tough guys who are normally competent getting thrown for a loop when presented with cosmic horror. Curiosity killed the cat, and apparently also leads humans to investigate things beyond their ken. There’s a cyclical feel to a lot of these stories. Stuff that’s happened before and will happen again. Unfortunately, that last aspect, while sometimes neat, isn’t always particularly satisfying, especially when you don’t like the characters involved. Ultimately, I’m a bit mixed on this book, and despite the stories that I liked, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to read more Laird Barron (though it’s not completely out of the question, I guess).
Draculas by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson – Man is this book just totally trashy stuff. A rich guy on his deathbed purchases a creepy old skull found in the Romanian countryside. It’s a strange archeological find and the rich guy basically just grabs it and rips his own throat out with it. His nurse and research assistant act quick and take him to the hospital, where he turns into a vampire and starts turning the staff/patients.
From there on out, it’s pure trashy action. Lots of blood and gore and there’s a clown vampire and people who take down vampires with chainsaws and so on. It’s not really good, but it’s trashy and fun. It might be more fun if I liked some of the characters more, but whatever, this book really isn’t that concerned with being realistic or anything like that. Not the worst thing in the world, but probably not something I’d recommend.
Hunted by Darcy Coates – A woman disappears while on a hike. Her camera is discovered with a series of strange pictures that vaguely suggest she was being stalked by… something. As her family and friends head into the woods to find her, a detective starts to piece together other parts of the puzzle. Not a bad setup and I will admit that it gets better as it goes, but wow did this thing start off on the wrong foot.
In particular, there’s this character named Todd that is just… why on earth would we ever want to have anything to do with this guy? He’s basically a stalker who is in love with the woman who disappeared, but is so creepy that I think she’d be better off not being found. Honestly, all of the characters are just awful stereotypes and caricatures and I don’t especially like any of them, except maybe Carla, the detective. She’s got all sorts of baggage that the author thinks will help us like her, I think, but it’s so cliched that I didn’t really connect with her until she started actually doing her job. Which she’s actually good at once she starts doing it, and thus the book does end much stronger than it begins. The twists at the end are welcome, I just wish that I cared about the characters at least a little bit.
Still, the whole exercise really isn’t worth it, and you’d be much better off watching The Wolf of Snow Hollow which had a similar vibe and is much, much better. In the end, it’s a pretty silly book, and unlike Stephen King, Darcy Coates can’t quite sell the silliness.
Phew, that’s a lot of spooky books. We shall return to our more SF inflected reading soon enough…
It’s tradition around these parts to finish off the Six Weeks of Halloween with a Speed Round of brief thoughts on films I watched for the marathon, but haven’t otherwise covered. Maybe it didn’t fit with a given week’s theme. Perhaps I just don’t have a lot to say about it. Or it may be that I have too much to say about it and just don’t have the time or inclination to organize my thoughts.
As of this writing, I have seen 69 horror (or horror-adjacent) movies during this Halloween season. This turns out to be a record pace here at Kaedrin (the previous champ was 61 films a couple years ago), so this Speed Round is going to be jam-packed. It turns out that a global pandemic cuts down on the social activities that normally cut into my movie-watching time. As much fun as it is to break a record, I’d rather this one stand for a few decades if not forever. I did watch a bit of television too, but as per usual, movies tended to drown that out.
These six weeks went by in a flash. As always, time flies when you’re terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. Let’s dive in:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Speed Round
The Monster Club – After Anthology week, I took a flier on this late stage Amicus anthology with a pretty interesting wraparound premise. A vampire attacks a man on the street, then recognizes him as a famous Horror author. As a gesture of gratitude, the vampire (played by Vincent Price) takes the author (John Carradine) to the titular Monster Club, where all the ghouls and goblins hang out. It’s a neat idea, and some of the segments are pretty solid. The only real drawback comes in the musical performances at the Monster Club, which are dreadful (and, uh, not in the good way). Along for the ride are Donald Pleasance, Britt Eklund, and moar. Solid, though far from the best of the Amicus run. **1/2
Blind Woman’s Curse – More of a horror inflected Yakuza flick than straight up horror, it involves a woman whose eyes were slashed in some Yakuza fight. A black cat licks the wound and I dunno, confers enough supernatural powers for a blood-soaked revenge spree? As per usual with Yakuza flicks, the plot is convoluted and hard to follow at times, but then, it’s got a neat little supernatural element to move things along.
It’s also very pretty at times, which is nice. Not a must see or anything and not especially spooky, but I’m glad I watched it. **1/2
Crawl – Killer alligator flick that just delivers a tight 90 minutes of tense, entertaining action. I have to admire Alexandre Aja’s commitment to using his obvious talents to elevate trash into pure entertainment. A surprisingly fun little flick. ***
Corridors of Blood – A morose Boris Karloff vehicle about an 1840s doctor experimenting with anesthesia, it doesn’t come close to Karloff’s best run of mad scientist movies, but it does have a more serious tone and, like, actual themes and stuff. That does make it less entertaining, but it does provide some food for thought I guess. It feels weird to say that 86 minute long movie is too long, but hey, the aforementioned mad scientist movies got in and out in 65 minutes flat and to my mind are much better. **
The Addams Family – I found this Animated take on a classic property to be perfectly cromulent low-stakes entertainment, though it’s definitely a sorta bland cash-in that goes for the lowest common denominator too often. That said, there are some fun moments, and this sort of thing is always a nice break from true horror movies, which can get a little too bleak at times. **1/2
Scoob! – This, on the other hand, is an awful, soulless abomination. It’s also not even remotely spooky, despite sorta approaching things that should be that way. *
Summer of Fear (1978) – This Wes Craven directed TV movie pits Linda Blair against a Teen Witch from the Ozarks. Decent enough for what it is and Craven always manages to find something that’ll burrow under your skin, though in this case, there’s not a ton of that. Still, some kooky stuff in the third act, and Fran Drescher shows up and steals some scenes. Maybe worth watching for completists, but not going to blow anyone away. **
Bloodsucking Bastards – Dumb comedy about literal corporate vampires. It’s uninspired, but it sneaks a few laughs in and there’s lots of bloody effects, especially towards the end. Not good enough to recommend, but there’s worse stuff out there. **
The Cabin in the Woods – Still holds up. Funny, entertaining, scary, and bloody. And the escalation in the conclusion always gets to me. Still recommended! ***
Evilspeak – A bullied military-school student (Clint Howard, in absolutely perfect casting) turns to a computerized Satan in order to exact revenge. A kinda all-male Carrie ripoff, but it establishes some personality of its own, and is surprisingly well made for what it is. The conclusion is really something. **1/2
In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ’80s Horror – Pretty solid overview of 80s horror movies that covers all the classics and then some, but the talking heads format combined with what is essentially a checklist of horror titles gets old, and eventually you start wondering where your favorite obscure 80s horror movie is… Like, come on man, why no love for Friday the 13th: A New Beginning? Why is Slumber Party Massacre not covered well (or even correctly – it only shows up in a discussion of male-written movies – it was written and directed by a woman)? So yeah, it goes on for forever and isn’t going to compel you to watch the whole thing in one sitting… but the format does allow you to jump in and watch a little at a time. **1/2
Vampires vs. the Bronx – A typical Netflix programmer that showed up in-season and will be immediately relegated to the forgotten backcatalog. Slick but uninspired, it’s unobjectionable and bland. That said, it’s fine and has some charms to it and it’s not like I hated watching or anything. **
The Babysitter – McG’s surprisingly fun little movie does beat the Netflix programmer standard for sure, though it’s not exactly anything special. I was pleasantly surprised by this a few years ago, and it’s got some real bright spots, notably Samara Weaving. It’s not strictly necessary, but it’s a fun little flick during the Halloween season. **1/2
The Babysitter: Killer Queen – I was surprised to see a sequel show up, and while it contains many of the same elements from the first movie, that’s not actually good because it’s just repeating itself in ways that are inferior to the original. Which, like, wasn’t that great. One of the things that made the first movie work was the genuine relationship between Bee and Cole, which is missing in this movie. Also, not enough Samara Weaving here. It’s not unwatchable or anything and it’ll entertain you well enough, but… hmm, can I really call this disappointing? Was I really expecting that much out of it? **
Secret Window – A writer, raw from a recent divorce, is terrorized by a stranger who claims the writer stole one of his ideas. Based on a Stephen King story, it’s an object lesson in how King is able to sell things through his writing that can’t be easily translated to the screen. That said, the talent quotient keeps everything watchable. Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Charles S. Dutton, and Timothy Hutton all give decent enough performances and there’s a nice twist that you can probably see coming a mile away but which doesn’t quite fit… it’s a fine movie, but not great. **
The Silence of the Lambs – I’ve watched this movie a lot over the past few years, and it has really emerged as one of my favorites. I’ve already said my piece on it, so I’ll just mention that the Criterion Collection disc is great and the commentary track, while being one of those stitched together things that incorporates commentary from separate sessions, is still pretty great. ****
Hubie Halloween – A typical lowbrow Adam Sandler vehicle. Not destined to become a holiday classic or anything, but I suspect Netflix will trot it out every year and see good returns. I chuckled a few times and I like the Halloween atmosphere.
The usual parade of Sandler friends and cameos was fun enough, I guess. It’s not great cinema or anything, but it’s better than most of Sandler’s Netflix stuff and I had enough fun with it. **1/2
Slaughterhouse Rulez – A British boarding school flick with some monsters and yeah, this doesn’t work so well. It maybe skirts by on its cast, which features the likes of Michael Sheen, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg, along with a solid cast of child actors. Still, it can’t quite balance its “message” with the goofy horror aspects of the story, and is a kinda slog in the second act. **
Motel Hell – Bizarre flick about a farmer who owns a motel and makes barbecue out of some of the more objectionable guests. One of the all-time-great taglines though: “It takes all kinds of critters to make farmer Vincent’s fritters!” There’s some pretty bonkers stuff in this movie, and it strikes an odd but surprisingly appropriate tone. ***
Jason X – I don’t know why my first Friday the 13th movie this year was this “Jason Goes to Space” installment, but I dunno, I think it’s a lot of fun. I think I gravitated towards this one because my old BD collection only had parts 1-8, so I hadn’t seen this one in a while. Also, the new ScreamFactory set is great, but we’ll get to that later in this post. Anyway, always love seeing David Cronenberg show up in this and pondering how on earth it happened. Also, some A+ kills in this one (i.e. the frozen face smash, the sleeping bag callback). They need to resolve that stupid lawsuit and get back to making more of these dumb movies. **1/2
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark – It’s dated and goofy, but you can’t help but enjoy Elvira. She’s delivers dumb one liners and double entendres with enough gusto and enthusiasm to sell even the worst pun. Some of the recognizable “that guy/gal” faces that show up here are great too, notably Edie McClurg who is fantastic as a townie busybody. It doesn’t exactly hold up, but for folks of a certain age it will scratch a nostalgic itch. **1/2
American Scary – Documentary about the classic horror hosts, most of which were well before my time (Elvira and Joe Bob are barely mentioned), but it is interesting to see just how goofy and low-fi all of this stuff was. It’s another one of those documentaries that is all about reminiscing and it basically amounts to a checklist of horror hosts. So it’s not super entertaining, but it holds some interest. I think Joe Bob’s run on Shudder shows that we could be in line for a comeback of other horror hosts, which could be interesting. Alas, the big streaming services don’t seem very keen on this sort of thing… **
Satan’s Slaves – Stylish Indonesian ghost story about a family haunted by the Matriarch’s decisions. And maybe also the Matriarch herself. I had originally intended to make this part of a mid-week post of Indonesian horror directed by Joko Anwar, but I never got to the second flick. Anyway, there’s not a ton that’s new in this movie and you’ll recognize the conventions, but it’s a well executed take on the ghost story with some genuine scares. **1/2
Haunt – A rewatch as part of Joe Bob’s Halloween Hideaway, it’s a solid little Haunted House movie. That’s, like, a haunted house attraction, not a house that is actually haunted by ghosts. Anyway, Joe Bob’s commentary was fine and the hideaway set was a nice change of pace, but I have to admit that I didn’t love the more negative tone. They had this running gag where crew members were disappearing and complaining about working conditions and I dunno, it makes sense, but it wasn’t as fun as last year’s Halloween Hootenany.
Hack-O-Lantern – Another rewatch thanks to the Halloween Hideaway, I already talked about this Jag Muhndhra joint because I reviewed one of this other movies that same weekend. It’s such a bizarre movie, and Joe Bob’s commentary does go a ways to explaining why it is the way it is… though again, the segments weren’t as fun as last year. Like, look, I get that Darcy the Mailgirl wants Halloween III on the show, and this is the perfect time for it, but the joke has gone on a little too long. Still, the reveal that she’s the one killing off crew members was kinda fun, I guess.
Books of Blood – Clive Barker’s actual Books of Blood series of short story collections have long been a staple of my Halloween reading, but they don’t translate to the screen very well. This is a valiant attempt coming from Brannon Braga (better known for his work on Star Trek TV franchises) and it’s certainly better than the last attempt at this sort of thing. There’s some creepy stuff here, but it’s ultimately lacking. Apparently there’s a Books of Blood TV series in the works, which could be interesting, but the general history of Barker adaptations does not encourage… **
The Mortuary Collection – Another anthology, this one altogether more successful than Books of Blood. Written and directed by Ryan Spindell, this movie shows a lot of promise. Each segment is well crafted and spooky. As usual, there’s a little unevenness, but the filmmaking is all good, and I expect Spindell to go on to bigger and better things.
Also, loved Clancy Brown in the wraparound segments, while Caitlin Custer plays the foil in a fun way. ***
Death Becomes Her – This is such a great, campy, wacky movie and I had completely forgotten that it was directed by Robert Zemeckis, but it makes sense given the crazy effects sequences. Still, the weird body horror aspects are surprising coming from him, but the goofy, slapstick tone is perfectly calibrated. Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are amazing in this, and Bruce Willis is totally game. Also of note, Isabella Rossellini having a ton of fun. There’s a great sequence of cameos that is very Zemeckis (an instinct that will curdle in Forrest Gump, but is still great here). Recommended! ***
The Witches – And the new Zemeckis. It’s an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, and it’s a pretty fun little family flick. It doesn’t quite hit the highs that Zemeckis is capable of, but it’s a solid effort.
Anne Hathaway turns in a great performance as the head witch. Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci are always great and do a lot to sell what’s going on. It’s not a classic or anything, but it’s a perfectly cromulent spooky season effort. **1/2
Blood Diner – What on earth did I just watch? This is one of the more bonkers movies of this year’s marathon. A sorta spiritual sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, this one amps up the lowbrow dark comedy and slapstick while retaining the gore and effects. It’s more of a farce than anything else, and it’s pretty entertaining if you can get on its wavelength. **1/2
Friday the 13th Part 2 – So Scream Factory released a Boxed Set of all the Friday the 13th movies (including both Paramount and New Line installments), and they did a bunch of new transfers, including Part 2. I’ve always been mixed on this movie, but man, it’s never looked better than it has here. The 4k transfer really looks amazing. It’s also got the best final girl in Ginny (played by Amy Steel) and while sackhead Jason isn’t as great as hockey mask Jason, it’s still fun. Really, the only thing that bothers me about this movie is that nonsense of an ending, which just makes no sense. I mean, technically the whole thing doesn’t make sense, but that ending is just a bridge too far (it almost feels like there’s a missing reel). **1/2
Friday the 13th Part III – This movie, on the other hand, is still not one of my favorites. I like that Jason gets his mask, and I guess if you’re going to do 3D, then just pointing a bunch of stuff at the camera is kinda fun, but I dunno, it just looks flat. Still, some decent kills and whatnot, but it’s not my favorite of the series. **
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – Ok, so I’ve seen all these before and probably talked about them during the 6WH before too, so I will note that this I did this rewatch with the commentary track from fans and filmmakers Adam Green And Joe Lynch, which is actually quite fun. I don’t understand why more DVDs/BDs didn’t include fan or expert commentaries like this, which are often more fun than the usual director/actor commentaries, but since streaming is basically killing commentary tracks, I’m guessing we won’t see any sort of change in the future. Still, this commentary was fun and I appreciate the inclusion. **1/2
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning – Also watched with a Green and Lynch fan commentary, this one a little less informative, but still pretty fun. Part V is one of the more reviled entries in the series, but I actually like it just fine. I mean, it’s not the best by a longshot, but it’s a fascinating movie. It’s certainly the trashiest and horniest movie in a series that isn’t exactly light on those components. **1/2
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – And my favorite of the Fridays, which again has a fan commentary with Green and Lynch, but this time director Tom McLoughlin is along for the ride, and it’s a good commentary for a surprisingly good movie. I meant to get to more F13 movies this year, but ran out of time… still, I really enjoyed these fan commentaries. ***
One Dark Night – Speaking of Tom McLoughlin, this is one of his earlier efforts, and it’s also pretty solid. It has a reputation as an underappreciated gem, though not necessarily a classic. And for sure, it’s not super original. A girl is spending the night in a mortuary as part of an initiation, when spooky stuff starts to happen because a psychic vampire was recently interred and he’s trying to come back to life. It’s a little slow and messy at times, but it’s actually pretty neat. ***
Monster Party – Some thieves try to rob rich folks at a party, only it turns out that the party is for recovering serial killers. Neat idea, falls down a bit in execution, but there are some eye opening moments for sure. Not a classic or anything, but it has some interesting stuff going on. **
Next of Kin – Gorgeous Ozsploitation flick that’s a little slowly paced, but has a great mood. Almost all the action happens off screen and the twists don’t quite have the impact they should, but I got on its wavelength early on and quite enjoyed it. ***
Ghostbusters – Classic horror comedy comfort food. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that though. Always fun to revisit. ****
Creepshow Animated Special – Shudder dropped this last week, and it’s an interesting episode, though far from the best. The two stories, one from Stephen King and one from Joe Hill (who is King’s son) are fine and the animation is more of a motion comic thing than full-on animation, but it still looks pretty good. I wasn’t in love with either segment, but it was short and sweet and a welcome addition to the series. **
The Haunting of Hill House – I talked about the first half of the series earlier in the marathon and I won’t say much more, but it did stick the landing. You could argue that it’s a little bloated, but it’s far from the worst offender on Netflix and I think Mike Flanagan has earned the benefit of the doubt. Looking forward to Bly Manor next year… ***
Santa Clarita Diet – On a whim, I sampled an episode of this and immediately got hooked. Why was I so hesitant to watch this series? It’s so much fun! Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are great, the jokes are plentiful and funny, and while it’s not scary per say, the premise is plenty spooky. I’ve pretty much burned through the first season, and will no doubt finish the rest in the next week or two. I understand it was sorta canceled before it ended, but hopefully going in knowing that will help… ***
Trick ‘r Treat – And now we’re in annual Halloween night traditions. I still think this is one of the better anthologies out there, and I like the way it plays with time and that everything fits together so well. Plus, the Halloween atmosphere is just great. ***1/2
Phew, that was a lot of damn movies (and a little tv). Here’s to another successful Six Weeks of Halloween Speed Round! Already looking forward to next year. I think I may have strayed a little too far into the obscure this year, so I might try to rectify that next year. Anyway, stay tuned, for I still need to cover the books I’ve read during the spooky season, which should be up next week…
1) Ricky Vaughan or Nuke LaLoosh? (question courtesy of our main Maine monster, Patrick Robbins)
Ricky Vaughan. For whatever reason, I really enjoy Major League and watch it almost every year, whilst I’ve never really connected with Bull Durham. That said, I probably prefer Tim Robbins as an actor… but now I’m not answering the question asked.
2) Best moment in the Friday the 13th film series.
The few regular readers of this blog know that this is a near impossible question for me. For some inexplicable reason, I absolutely love this entire series. Even the bad entries, which is probably most of them. So yeah, I’m not going to give one answer here, but here’s a few that immediately come to mind:
Crispin Glover’s delightfully bizarre dance moves in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (actually, Glover’s entire performance and line deliveries, like “TED! HEY, TED, where the hell is the corkscrew?”)
The opening sequence of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, culminating in the Jason/James Bond parody. Actually, I could probably pick out a top 10 moments from this movie alone. Even dumb throwaway stuff like a child’s reading choice whilst sleeping at Camp Crystal Lake (sorry, Forrest Green). Actually, the fact that there are kids there at all is a great aspect of this movie (and, I think, it’s the only movie that does so).
To choose a totally off the wall moment from the most obscure Friday film, anything with Creighton Duke from Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, but particularly this exchange, which happens on a “Hard Copy” style TV show interview with the Bounty Hunter who specializes in Jason:
Robert Campbell: I’m going to say a couple of words to you and I want you to say the first thing that comes into your mind.
Creighton Duke: Okay.
Robert Campbell: Jason Voorhees.
Creighton Duke: That makes me think of a little girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a doughnut.
Alright, we could do this all day, and I haven’t even gotten into the kills, some of which are very creative and fun to discuss.
3) Henry Hull or Oliver Reed?
Sometimes these movie quiz choice questions have a sorta hidden theme behind them, but I can’t really detect one here, and I’ve seen more Oliver Reed, so I think he wins by default.
4) What is the last movie you saw in a theater?
As answered in the previous movie quiz from May, the last movie I saw in the theater was The Invisible Man (which was great!), but it’s been a while. It may have been The Way Back (which I’m a little more mixed on). I saw them both on the same week, so I don’t remember which came first…
5) Best movie casting for a real-life baseball player, or best casting of a real-life baseball player in a movie.
My first thought was Bob Uecker as the announcer in Major League, and that’s probably the best choice. Unless you count Kurt Russel, who played in the minor leagues during the 70s before shifting gears into acting…
6) D.B. Sweeney or Ray Liotta?
Ray Liotta, mostly because Goodfellas, but he’s always good when he shows up, even in bad stuff…
7) Given that the fear factor in 2020 is already alarmingly high, is there a film or a genre which you would hesitate to revisit right now?
I’m obviously not scared of horror movies, seeing as though I’m in the final stages of The Six Weeks of Halloween, during which I’ve watched nothing but horror movies (and related TV). However, I will say that I was probably leaning more towards the lighter side of the genre. I certainly wasn’t seeking to fill out gaps represented by films like Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom or A Serbian Film, so there’s two things I was hesitant to watch. But then, I’ve always been hesitant to watch them (as evidenced by the fact that I have not seen them).
8) The Natural (1984)– yes or no?
Yes. Always yes to these movie quiz “yes or no” questions, but I do know that for some reason, The Natural has strident anti-fans. I do genuinely enjoy the movie, though I have not seen it in ages.
9) Peter Cushing or Colin Clive?
As Dr. Frankenstein? Colin Clive! As a general actor? Peter Cushing, who has a much larger filmography. Or, at least, I’ve seen much more of him and I always like seeing him show up in things.
10) What’s the lamest water-cooler hit you can think of? Of course, define “lamest” however you will, but for “water-cooler hit” Dr. Savaard is thinking about something zeitgeist-y, something everyone was talking about the weekend it opened and beyond, something everyone seemingly had to see—The Other Side of Midnight residing at #1 in 1977 for two weeks is not what the professor has in mind.
Despite the long description, I’m not entirely sure how to answer this movie quiz question, but maybe Avatar? It was certainly very zeitgeist-y at the time, and one of the most successful movies of all time, but it’s largely vanished from the cultural conversation (its most frequent contribution in the cultural conversation these days is whether or not it’s still relevant, which is kinda funny). While the movie itself is very pretty and well made, the story is derivative and rather trite, such that it’s not surprising that no one really cares about it. But who knows, maybe when Avatar 2 comes out in 2030, things will change. I suspect I’ll still think of it as lame though.
11) Greatest single performance in horror movie history.
Such questions are impossible, so I’ll just go with the first thing I think of, which is Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II.
It’s certainly the best physical performance. I’m sure someone can find some dramatic performance that is more meaninful or something, but I dunno, I think Bruce at least warrants conversation here.
12) Ingrid Pitt or the Collinson Twins?
I guess Ingrid Pitt because I’ve seen her in things, but I will say that Twins of Evil sounds like a hoot, so there’s room for change if I ever catch up with that.
13) Name one lesser-known horror film that you think everyone should see. State your reason.
It’s a movie for the information-overloaded internet and texting generation (you could consider me on the outside of that, I think, but not so far outside that I can’t appreciate what this movie is going for). Referential, manic, kinetic, goofy, this thing makes Scott Pilgrim look like an Ozu film. Smash cuts, whip pans, excessive cross-cutting, flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, on-screen text, and did I mention how referential this movie is?
14) Do the same for an underseen or underappreciated baseball movie.
Baseball movies aren’t exactly the most prized films out there, so the pickins of underseen/underappreciated are slim. But maybe Knuckleball! fits the bill. It’s a documentary, so I’m guessing it’s underseen, and it’s great baseball content that’s actually about baseball, and not some dramatic personal arc or something (which a lot of baseball movies are actually about).
15) William Bendix or Leslie Nielsen?
I have to go with Leslie Nielsen for nostalgic reasons, and while I’m not super familiar with his more dramatic roles, he’s such an incredible straight man in 80s comedies that I have to go with him. Bendix is great though, and I enjoy his noir flicks. I have’t seen Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, but I guess I should have, because several folks mentioned in these questions seem to have starred in it!
16) Would you go back to a theater this weekend if one reopened near you?
I don’t know, maybe? Theaters were open for a few weeks there, before they closed again, but I wasn’t really in a rush. From what I can tell, movie theaters aren’t as bad as some other social options out there and there hasn’t been any real evidence of super-spreader events at movie theaters (it’s more restaurants in that boat)… so maybe? I mean, there’s not much playing these days, which I gather is more why they’re closed than anything else.
17) Your favorite horror movie TV show/host, either running currently or one from the past.
Joe Bob Briggs‘ The Last Drive in is great and has been a boon during the whole lockdown period. I really enjoy his commentary (going back to his MonsterVision days) and I think that he’s demonstrated that there’s a market for this sort of thing, even on streaming services like Shudder. Given the intractable curation problems that streaming services have, I’d think that having some random (but entertaining and informative) hosts curate a selection of movies that’s available on a given streaming service would be a relatively cheap way to garner more viewership, especially as a way to surface back-catalog original stuff.
18) The Sentinel (1977)—yes or no?
Emphatic yes. I haven’t seen it in a while, but I remember it being weird and fascinating stuff.
20) Disclaimer warnings attached to broadcasts of films like Gone With the Wind and Blazing Saddles— yes or no?
I generally think such things are unnecessary, but insofar as it means that we don’t just memory-hole the work in question and it remains widely available to watch, I guess I’m going to say yes (because the alternative is worse). Incidentally, this is something that a movie host could address in a more natural manner than some warning screen.
21) In the World Series of baseball movies, who are your NL and AL champs?
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, from the ScreamFactory boxed set with the “Fan Commentary” by Adam Green and Joe Lynch. The movie is one of the more reviled in the series, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s clearly flawed and the MPAA cuts are a bit obvious, but I still like some of the ideas, even if they’re not exactly executed well. Green and Lynch dole out some interesting info in the commentary, and as filmmakers themselves, they notice some of the nuts and bolts stuff that us normals don’t (in particular, they delve into the use of zooms in the film, some of which were clearly used to skirt MPAA restrictions)…
23) Geena Davis or Tatum O’Neal?
Geena Davis is the clear answer, though I think Tatum is great in Paper Moon.
24) AMC is now renting theaters for $100 – $350, promising a more “private,” catered party-movie experience. What do you like or dislike about this idea?
If it keeps a meager revenue stream coming into movie theaters such that they won’t just disappear altogether, I’m all for it. I’ll also note that this was an option before the pandemic, though it may have been more expensive. I’ve definitely seen people book a theater for some sort of event, especially during off periods. My work did that for one morning during the week (presumably a down time for the theaters).
25) Name the scariest performance in a baseball movie.
Not so much scary and not a movie, but I just really want to mention The X-Files episode “The Unnatural” as it’s great and I guess it’s a little creepy at times, but also kinda goofy, in that weird mixture that only the X-Files can manage. I’m sure we can bend the movie quiz rules to account for this one, right?
26) Second-favorite Jack Arnold movie.
Revenge of the Creature, with the original film as my favorite… though he does have a few others that I’ve seen and enjoyed, I just like the Gill man.
27) What would be the top five films of 2020 you’ve seen so far?
28) What are your top three pandemic-restricted movie viewing experiences so far in this… unusual year?
The aforementioned The Last Drive In series on Shudder was a real boon that happened to roughly coincide with lockdown. As implied above, having a movie host kinda imbues a sense of community that was obviously otherwise absent during lockdown, so it was really nice to have something like that. After that, It’s really just watching fun movies. The Six Weeks of Halloween has been really fun. It always is, but especially this year. If I had to pick a third experience, maybe that weekend where The Old Guard and Palm Springs were both released? That was fun and reminded me of when this sort of thing would happen often (i.e. two good movies coming out at the same time). Sadly it’s not often in the age of streaming and no theaters…
Phew, that’s another movie quiz in the books. And actually, I think this might be the first movie quiz ever where I didn’t need to take a mulligan. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
For the uninitiated, the Holy Trinity of 80s Scream Queens consists of Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens. We covered Linnea Quigley during the 6WH a couple years ago. Michelle and/or Brink sometimes show up in those movies too. Unfortunately, for actresses with 150-200 movie credits to their name, it’s more difficult to find good examples of their work (that I have not already seen) than you might think. They show up in some very high profile movies, but when you look into it, you see that they’re playing “Girl in Bathroom #3” (that’s Brinke in De Palma’s Body Double).
Of the three movies I watched this weekend, only one is a real showcase for the scream queen in question. That said, the two remaining films are actually kinda interesting, so it’s not a total fail. If you are looking for true showcases of their work and don’t mind watching absolute trash (*ahem*), a good double feature would be Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and Nightmare Sisters (all three are prominent in both). You can add in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers for a bonus, though it only has two of the trio… Anyway, let’s take a look at what we watched this weekend:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 6 – The Holy Trinity of 80s Scream Queens
Creepozoids – A group of deserters from WWIII in a post-apocalyptic world take shelter from acid rain in what turns out to be an old scientific research facility. It soon becomes clear that they’re not alone! This is utter trash cinema. If you’re in the right mindset, it can be a little fun in a so-bad-its-good kinda way. There are only really two highlights though. One is Linnea Quigley, who (spoiler!) doesn’t exactly make it to the very end of the movie. She’s prominent, but doesn’t exactly get a ton to do. But then, most of the actors don’t get much to do either. Neither, really, does the monster. It’s that kind of movie.
The other is a pretty cool end stage monster design. I mean, both monster designs are derivative, but the second, baby-like design is actually pretty effective. The first, more Alien-like design with the oblong head and claws is pretty much exactly what you expect in an ultra-low-budget 80s movie: a dude in a plastic suit who has a limited range of motion. The baby is weirdly detailed and occupies a place in the uncanny valley that actually works in the movie’s favor.
There’s otherwise not much to recommend this movie, and it’s clearly the worst thing I watched this weekend. It might be fun for bad movie enthusiasts, which is certainly a thing that exists. Plus, at 72 minutes, it’s not going to waste too much of your time. But there’s movies that are far worse/better that I’d recommend ahead of this one. *
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge – In 1941 Berlin, a lowly puppeteer named Andre Toulon attracts the attention of Nazis. They obviously don’t like the dissident themes of Toulon’s puppet shows, but are fascinated by his seeming ability to bring inanimate objects to life. In their bumbling attempts to steal Toulon’s secrets, they kill his wife. Enraged, Toulon unleashes his army of reanimated puppets on the local Gestapo troop.
The first two Puppet Master movies are pretty damn trashy stuff. What’s interesting about this movie is that it seems to have an actual point-of-view. It’s surprisingly ambitious, delivering a backstory and real pathos to Toulon (who was previously just a generic boogeyman and excuse for murderous puppet action). A big part of this is the performance of Guy Rolfe as Toulon. He provides depth and personality and would reprise the role in future installments. Director David DeCoteau also transforms a Universal backlot into Nazi Germany in a pretty convincing way. The whole thing has an almost dreamlike atmosphere that serves the film well. Funnily enough, DeCoteau also directed Creepozoids, though his heart was clearly not in that one the way it is here.
Look, I don’t want to oversell this movie. It’s still low-budget trash, but in the best way possible. The puppets are put to gory use in dismembering Nazis (always a fun target for this sort of thing), and the designs and puppet powers are as effective as ever. The old favorites are there and there’s a new six-armed puppet who is naturally called Six Shooter. That said, the Blade puppet doesn’t get nearly enough screen time (though the way he is deployed, mirroring the look of the Gestapo villain, is great).
What’s more, we also get a backstory for the puppets, each possessing the spirit of a slain Jew from the war. That this movie is even attempting to grapple with the plight of oppressed peoples is admirable. Once again, they’re taking the silly premises established in the previous movies and trying to imbue them with some sense of gravitas. That they succeed at all is impressive, even if the result is still corny. I’m usually pretty hard on sequels, and doubly so on prequels, but this is oddly one of the best examples of a sequel/prequel I can think of…
I was hoping Michelle Bauer would have a more substantial role here, but it turns out to be more of a cameo than anything else. Ultimately, this was the biggest surprise of this year’s Six Weeks of Halloween. It’s not exactly fine cinema, but it’s doing much more than it gets credit for. ***
The Jigsaw Murders – A down-on-his-luck detective must catch a serial killer who preys on erotic models before his daughter becomes the next victim. Indian director Jag Mundhra produced a string of cheesy exploitation flicks throughout the 80s and early 90s. These infamously included Hack-O-Lantern, one of the stranger Halloween movies ever made. Those that tuned in to Joe Bob’s Halloween Hideaway on Friday night got to see it interspersed with commentary around the particulars of the movie that provide at least some context to the film’s odd choices.
The Jigsaw Murders could perhaps use such commentary. It’s an odd little film. It really wants to be a serious police procedural, but it’s almost like Mundhra gleaned everything he knew about American police from cheesy 80s movie clichés. Still, at least some of the clichés are subverted. The police captain isn’t some angry maniac constantly yelling at the detectives about how they’re rogue cops or whatever (he’s actually pretty supportive.) At one point our detectives conduct an illegal search, and as a viewer, I’m like, yeah it’s a movie, I guess I can go with that. But then there’s a discussion of “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and the killer goes free. So the movie is certainly trying. It’s not exactly succeeding, but I appreciate the effort.
Chad Everett plays the alcoholic detective well enough and Michelle Johnson is fine as the daughter-in-peril (who gets in a nice turn-the-tables moment at the end). But the real scene stealer is Yaphet Kotto as the demented medical examiner. He’s only in the movie for a few scenes, but he’s fantastic. I mean, you’ve seen this character before. He’s eating a jelly donut whilst working, that wacky medical examiner! But it’s Yaphet Kotto, so it’s much better than normal. Brinke Stevens is, alas, barely in the movie, playing one of the models for our sleazy photographer suspect. It turns out that Michelle Bauer is also in the movie, sorta. She’s the model that appears on the titular Jigsaw Puzzle, which we get glimpses of from time to time. Ultimately, this is kinda interesting for how weird and cheesy it is, but it’s not exactly great. **
I can’t believe we’re already at week 6 of the Six Weeks of Halloween. While the whole Holy Trinity of 80s Scream Queens thing was a bit of a bust, I still think that, on whole, we’ve had a very successful six weeks. And we still have a couple more posts coming up! On Wednesday, we’ll tackle a Halloween season movie quiz. And next weekend is the big day, plus the traditional Speed Round of movies watched but not yet covered. Oh, and we’ll probably continue into November, because I never got around to posting about what I read during the spooky season, so that’ll be on the agenda too…
It seems I’m not the only lunatic that is practicing in the Halloween ways, so let’s take a look at our fellow travelers. You will recognize a few of these as mainstays of the Halloween game, but I’m trying to branch out to some newer folks this year too. Let’s take a spin through ye olde internets and see what people are doing to celebrate the Halloween season.
Film Thoughts – Zack has been a long time practitioner of the Six Weeks of Halloween, and as per usual, he’s watching at an even higher pace than I am and doing writeups nearly every day. This year, he’s been tackling a crapton of the Amityville Horror movies, some Coffin Joe, and much, much moar.
Final Girl – The quasi-annual Shocktober is another countdown of user-submitted votes resulting in… 951 different films. Just blowing previous polls out of the water. Anywho, lots of good stuff going on over there, including some deep dives into particular lists, which is a nice touch.
Horror Movie a Day – Brian Collins doesn’t post a review every day of the year anymore, but he appears to be doing so during the Halloween season. He’s always got an interesting take. HMaD is always a good reference as well, and I do still refer to his book when seeking out themes or more obscure movies to watch. If you find yourself looking for movies beyond the recognized classics, the book is worth checking out!
The Dwrayger Dungeon – Seems more focused on spooky television, like this excellent episode of The Twilight Zone called The Howling Man. But will also tackle horror movies like The Beyond. All good stuff, and it appears to strike a good balance between familiar and obscure stuff.
Cinema Crazed – Another blog doing a Halloween Horror series of posts including reviews, like Scare Package, and various roundups, like this roundup of Horror Shorts (which may come in handy while I’m trying to schedule the shorts between movies, as I like to do).
LimerWrecks – A series of horror movie themed poetry, complete with screenshots. The movies covered seem to be classics, including a recent bevvy of RKO/Val Lewton favorites.
Countdown to Halloween – If you’re still craving that Halloween punch, this blog has a long list of blogs participating in some form of Halloween marathon. (The new and severed hands in this post mostly came from here.)
Phew, hard to believe we’re already in the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween. This weekend, we plan to watch a few movies starring the Trinity of 80s Scream Queens. However, depending on how Joe Bob’s Halloween Hideway goes, I might call an audible and cover that. I’ll be watching both, so don’t worry. Whichever one I don’t cover on Sunday, I will cover in the traditional Speed Round (just in less detail)).
This is perhaps a misnomer since these movies probably aren’t playing now in movie theaters (if theaters are even open at all), but since we just watched a bunch of films from 1978, I figured it was time too look at some things released this year. The one movie I wanted to get to and is legitimately only playing in theaters is Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor. It sounds like a hoot, but it’s not actually playing anywhere near me and oh yeah, there’s a pandemic on. It’s supposed to come to streaming… in early November (which is no good for Halloween viewing!) In any case, I did manage to rustle up three relatively recent releases, all of which are pretty great.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow – A series of murders coinciding with the full moon stresses out a small mountain town’s police force. What a strange little beast this movie is. Too dark to be a comedy, but too funny to be scary and too wacky to be dramatic. And yet! It’s all of those things and more. It might take a while to get on writer/director/actor Jim Cummings’ wavelength, but once you’re there, this movie is fantastic. I suspect, though, that this movie will alienate a lot of folks.
Still, the pitch black parody of 80s ski-lodge comedies works well, and as Cummings’ character enters a full-on breakdown, he puts on a Tim Robinson-esque performance that is, well, an odd but perfect and surprisingly funny choice. The supporting cast, led by elder statesman Robert Forster and the quietly proficient Riki Lindhome, do their job well too, finding a similar dark balance. The movie also looks great, and perhaps it’s that craft that helps sell the weirdly contradictory aspects of the film. For instance, some of the attack sequences are cross cut in a way that is simultaneously scary and funny and yeah, this is a difficult movie to describe. And that’s before we get into the family drama and addiction stuff! I had a ton of fun with it and all the math added up for me… but your mileage may vary. This may be the one movie in this post that is now playing in theaters, but it’s available for purchase on a bunch of streaming sites as well… ***1/2
Sputnik – During the Cold War, a Soviet spacecraft encounters something odd and crashes back to earth. A psychologist is brought in to examine the lone surviving cosmonaut and begins to suspect that he may have brought something back from space. A neat little Russian monster flick, it starts slowly and establishes a grim sense of dread. This is paid off once the monster is revealed, though as the film progresses and revelations are doled out, the pacing suffers a bit. Some of the choices are cliched and I don’t think the final revelation lands quite as well as desired, but it’s ultimately a very well done monster movie.
The creature design is great, and the effects are just good enough to get by. It obviously owes a debt to Alien, a comparison that does it no favors (i.e. few films can compete with Alien) but as these things go, this is a pretty good take on the alien parasite sub-genre. It’s certainly better than the more recent Alien movies and I think it compares favorably to stuff like Life.
Basically, it’s a perfectly cromulent trip through well tread territory. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll enjoy this. It’s the only movie I watched this weekend that played its premise straight, which was also nice. ***
Extra Ordinary – Goofy tale of a driving instructor with the magical ability to manipulate ghosts, a lonely man with serious dead-wife issues, and a musician who wants to sacrifice a virgin to get another hit. This actually came out last year, though it didn’t make it to the U.S. until earlier this year. It’s certainly not a conventional comedy, but it is clever and very funny. It strikes me as the sort of quirky movie that could find an audience, if only it were more widely known (or available – it is on Kanopy if you’re interested).
Will Forte is probably the most well known actor involved and his performance is certainly big and showy and fantastic. But the real standout is Maeve Higgins, who plays Rose the driving instructor with a perfect balance of reluctance, resign, and yet hope. The other lead is played by Barry Ward, who gets ample opportunity to ham it up when possessed by ghosts. It’s quirky and it’s weird and it’s probably the best horror comedy I’ve seen all year. ***1/2
I can’t believe we’re already 5 weeks into the 6 Weeks of Halloween. Coming down the homestretch! We’ve got some 80s Scream Queens coming. After that, we’ve got the traditional Speed Round of stuff I’ve watched but not otherwise covered… Plus the usual Season’s Readings! Keep your eyes peeled. Or, uh, don’t. That sounds painful.
Continuing this week’s theme of 1978 movies, here we’ll cover two Giallo films of that era. Giallos have been a recurring topic during the Six Weeks of Halloween for the last decade or so. As such, I’ve already covered the origins and severaliterations of the sub-genre. The real golden age of Giallos was in the early 1970s. The genre was running out of steam in 1975 when Dario Argento put out Deep Red, which reinvigorated things for a few years. Even then, by 1978, Giallos were at the tail end of their popularity. When combined with other factors influencing the Italian film industry (rising competition from television, etc…), the decline became more precipitous in the 80s and 90s, though the genre limped along with temporary boosts from Argento (Tenebre in 1982) and Lucio Fulci (The New York Ripper in 1987).
Still, in 1978 there was enough juice in the engine to crank out 6 Giallos. Availability is limited though and indeed, one of the films I’m watching has never had a good home video release until recently. None are available on any sort of streaming service (even for purchase/rent), though I’m sure less *ahem* reputable sources could be found. That said, Kaedrin’s procurement department was able to rustle up some glorious physical media to view, so let’s get to it:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4.5 – The Giallo Films of 1978
The Bloodstained Shadow – Two brothers get caught up in a rash of murders on an island near Venice. The murders seem connected to a 7 year old unsolved case, and our heroes are desperate to figure out what connects the victims. Not a well known Giallo, but it features all the hallmarks of a good one. A murder mystery with lots of red herrings, everyone has something to hide, the obligatory J&B whiskey appearance, incompetent police, and a cascade of revelations towards the end that might not entirely make sense, it’s all here.
The filmmaking craft is on point as well. Venice is a setting that provides a more interesting canvas than most giallos, and director Antonio Bido takes full advantage. The funky rock music is from the infamous Goblin, which always stands out (though perhaps not as much as in Deep Red). The performances are all pretty good, though the traditional Italian practice of dubbing (it’s unusual at first, but the more giallos I watch, the more it’s become endearing) sometimes makes it difficult to tell.
Look, it’s not the best giallo out there and coming later in the cycle means that this one has some repetitive elements compared to earlier giallos, but it’s well done and I think probably a bit underrated. It’s a deep cut for fans of the genre and I think there’s plenty to love about it, even if it can’t quite reach that top tier. **1/2
Rings of Fear (aka Red Rings of Fear aka Enigma rosso) – A young girl is found dead in a river and the inspector assigned to the case traces her back to an all girls school where some of the girls are receiving threatening poems. One by one, they start experiencing mysterious accidents, resulting in injury or even death. Will the inspector put together enough clues to stop the mayhem?! Spoiler alert: yes he will! And you probably won’t see it coming!
Part of a sorta unofficial “school girls in peril” trilogy started by writer/director Massimo Dallamano, who made one of the most well regarded giallos in What Have You Done to Solange? Unfortunately, Dallamano died before he could complete the script to this, so the end result is perhaps a little more messy than his earlier entries, but replacement director Alberto Negrin does just fine. Still, you can see the seams here and there. There are some plot threads, such as a subplot involving our inspector’s girlfriend, that are suddenly dropped for seemingly no reason. I suspect there was more here that didn’t make it in to the finished film (the relatively short running time of 87 minutes seems to support that).
Like the Bloodstained Shadow, there isn’t a ton here that is really new to the giallo, but it does manage a few standouts. One is a solid lead performance from Fabio Testi, who starred in the aforementioned Solange as well as another 1978 flick from a waning sub-genre, the spaghetti western China 9, Liberty 37. The score composed by Riz Ortolani is a little more swanky than the Goblin type soundtrack, but it works really well.
And finally, this movie is really, truly, deeply sleazy. Even to jaded eyes, this movie has some grody stuff. There is one notable scene where an abortion is cross cut with an orgy where young women are being slapped with a giant dildo and woof; maybe this isn’t the sort of innovation the giallo needed and that’s why it was dying out. Look, giallos have never been subtle, especially when it comes to sexuality, but I think they may have vaulted a little too far past the line on this one. It certainly stands out, even if I don’t think it’s exactly a good thing.
On the other hand, this is worth watching for the scene in which Testi interrogates a suspect by dragging him onto a rollercoaster and haranguing the poor guy as they whip around the tracks. I also think the double-fake-out ending, which I definitely did not see coming, was pretty solid stuff. I do sorta question Testi’s inspector is all that dedicated to his job though, as he basically just lets a murderer go with a laugh and a head pat. Aw shucks, you wacky murderer, you got me this time!
One last note, which is that one of the reasons this film is so obscure is that there really wasn’t a decent copy of this film available until the 2018 Blu-Ray rescued the film, restored the proper aspect ratio (apparently this movie really suffered from the pan-and-scan treatment), and so on. I’m sure at some point the transfer will start showing up on streaming services somewhere, but the BD is pretty fantastic and includes an informative commentary. Yay physical media! Ultimately, this is probably only of interest to confirmed giallo fanatics, but despite my misgivings and lowish rating, it’s a pretty interesting film. **
So there you have it, lots of 1978 giallo schlock to go around, for sure. Next up for the Six Weeks of Halloween will probably be a more modern set of flicks, perhaps even stuff made this year. Movie Theaters aren’t exactly in great shape these days and there’s a couple of things coming out that I want to catch up with that aren’t playing very widely, but I’m sure I can find a few 2020 movies to watch…
About a year ago, I embarked on the 1978 Project, a deep dive into the films of a single year (guess which one?!) There were indeed some horror heavy hitters that year, including the likes of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the surprisingly good remake), and Magic. The problem here is that I’ve already seen all of those classics (some for the 6WH itself). Plus, I’ve already covered some of the smaller stuff too. Highlights include Coma, The Fury, and The Eyes of Laura Mars. So what we’re left with is obscure, but actually pretty interesting. I don’t think any of these will rival those classics, but I’m glad I caught up with them.
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4 – The Horror Films of 1978
The Grapes of Death – A woman gets stranded in mountainous wine country where there happens to be an outbreak of zombieism. That’s pretty much it, and I think you can fill in the rest. It’s an atmosphere-heavy, episodic film, with our heroine bumbling from one infected vineyard to the next, encountering people in all stages of the zombie sickness. Also, they’re french zombies, so there’s lots of angst and ennui to go around. Like most zombie movies, there’s some ham handed social commentary, this time it’s that pesticides are, like, really bad. It feels a bit tacked on, with bits at the very beginning and end, like director Jean Rollin realized he had made a pretty simple zombie flick and needed to inject something “important” in there. Because zombies are the blankest of slates, it’s pretty easy to project whatever thematic elements you want onto the story. So a quick scene of people spraying pesticids and boom, you’ve got yourself an eco-terror flick.
I suppose I’m being a little hard on this movie, but it is actually quite well made. The landscapes and vistas in whatever wine region they filmed at are gorgeous and well photographed. The makeup and gore effects are also well done. The disease manifests as blister like welts all over the body which pulse and ooze and it’s all very gross (as it should be). It’s not exactly Dawn of the Dead (which features some of Tom Savini’s best effects), but it gets the job done.
Like a lot of episodic films, some of the episodes are better than others. There is one sequence where Brigitte Lahaie is a sorta uninfected queen of the zombies. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the dreamlike atmosphere is effective and, like, Brigitte Lahaie is nice to look at too. (Apparently she was an adult films actress who successfully made the transition to mainstream.) Ultimately, it’s par for the zombie course. If you’re into that sort of thing, you may like the uncommon French arthouse aesthetic applied to the usual low-art zombie tale. I found myself respecting the film on an intellectual level without getting too worked up. **1/2
The Evil – A doctor buys an old dilapidated mansion with the intention of renovating it for his practice. To help clean the place up, he enlists friends and volunteers. Naturally, there’s a reason the place hasn’t been occupied for decades and our hapless heroes get trapped in the house by an unseen malevolence.
This starts out as pretty standard, by-the-books haunted house stuff. A little slow to start, but it picks up once the ghost starts his attacks. He seems to enjoy setting people on fire, but there are some other methods mixed in for good measure. Richard Crenna plays the stubborn, unbelieving doctor and gets plenty of opportunities to overact. Some other members of the cast, notably Andrew Prine, try their best to keep up with Crenna’s hammy performance and mostly succeed. Joanna Pettet plays Crenna’s wife, who is a little more open-minded and figures out what’s going on pretty quickly. Which is fortunate, because Crenna’s pig-headed character is pretty much the cause of most of the problems.
For most of the movie, I was thinking that this was fine, but it needed an extra little something to push it over the edge into “good” territory. Until the ending, which goes a little off the rails into batshit bonkers territory. In, uh, a good way. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the sort of thing that will either work for you or make you burst out laughing. Either way, it helps make the movie something a little more unique, even if there are better evil-locked-in-its-prison stories out there. It’s a love it or hate it ending that will make or break the film for you. Fortunately, I kinda loved it. I just wish it didn’t take so long to get there. **1/2
The Legacy – An architect heads to England for a mysterious job with her boyfriend. They stumble into a sprawling mansion in the English countryside where a rich patriarch has assembled the potential heirs to his legacy. His… satanic legacy! This is an odd, messy little movie that doesn’t entirely make sense… but I do kinda like it? It has a pretty great cast and is directed by Richard Marquand, he of Return of the Jedi. I can’t say as though he’s a groundbreaking auteur or anything, but he’s competently shot a visually interesting little film.
It’s got lots of fun elements. Wealthy satanists! Nazi factory owners! A sinister nurse who is also somehow a cat?! Actually, lots of cats! Cats galore! A sensitive 70s horror movie theme song! Crossbows?! Rings that, once put on, won’t come off! The smoldering power couple of Stepford Wife Katharine Ross and Roadhouse bouncer Sam Elliot! Wait a sec, is that… Roger Daltrey from The Who?! Did… did he just choke to death on a ham bone?! You bet he did!
Look, I’m not sure if this is a “good” movie, but it sure is a strange agglomeration of haunted house movies, satanists, kinda reminiscent of The Omen (without any evil kids), you know, that sort of thing. The ending here isn’t quite as banana-pants as The Evil, but it is certainly an eye opener and the whole thing is all just very 1970s. I certainly had fun with it, but your mileage may vary. **1/2
So there you have it. Keep an eye out for Wednesday’s post where we’ll cover a couple more 1978 movies. I’m sure I’ll also have a couple others in the traditional Speed Round at the end of the Six Weeks marathon as well…
While the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon is mostly about watching horror movies, it’s also nice to dip our toes into the realms of television from time to time. I suspect the whole “Golden Age of Television” thing has passed, but there is truly an astounding amount of great television to catch up with. Even for horror nerds, which is a little surprising. Every year, I watch some horror television shows just to switch things up, and this year I’m finally catching up with a few programs that have been on my watchlist for a while now…
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3.5 – Horror Television
The Haunting of Hill House S1: E1-E4 – I watched the first episode of this back when it came out, and while I was mostly impressed, I never quite followed through to the rest of the episodes. That first episode is a good introduction though. There are a lot of characters in this show, and we move back and forth through time enough that things could get very confusing, but it’s all handled reasonably well. There’s some skillfully crafted horror sequences and a really great button on the end of the episode that sets up the rest of the series well.
The next few episodes are a little less successful. While we got a good introduction, the characters and timelines do get a bit fuzzy at times in the ensuing episodes. Still, there’s great atmosphere and set design; you’re constantly scanning the screen looking for things happening in the background… and often finding things that are worthy of our attention (even if they’re not noticed by the characters in the scene – we notice them, and that produces some tension in and of itself). After a good first episode, though, it does feel a bit like the series suffers from the typical Netflix disease of being a little too long for the story it’s trying to tell. Then again, as we’ll see below, this might all just be really good setup for the rest of the series.
Mike Flanagan is the creator and director of all the episodes, and he’s been doing a lot of unsung work in the horror genre for a while now. I’m glad he’s found something of a patron in Netflix, who has given him a bunch of great opportunities over the past few years.
The Haunting of Hill House S1:E5 “The Bent-Neck Lady” – I wasn’t going to give up on the series or anything, but it was starting to become something of a slog… until I hit this episode. I’ve been deliberately avoiding plot descriptions here, in part because it does get very complication, but also because I don’t want to spoil anything. Still, in this episode, a lot of threads that may have seemed random in earlier episodes start to get pulled together. It turns out that a bunch of the spooky scenes in earlier episodes aren’t just there to provide a convenient scare in the moment, but also build towards a larger revelation and narrative purpose.
This is the episode that really hooked me. It being halfway through the series does seem to indicate that maybe there are too many episodes, but perhaps other threads will be tightened in a way that justifies the length further. As I reach further in the series it seems less bloated and more like a generous sharing of screentime for all characters. Anyway, this episode was good enough to justify separating it out from the rest of the pack though, so here we are.
The Haunting of Hill House S1:E6 “Two Storms” – And I’m separating this one out too, just in recognition of the technical achievement. The entire episode consists of three long-take shots. This sort of thing can be gimmicky and showy and maybe too much style over substance, but I think this episode warrants the effort and the result really is a compelling episode. It is, of course, not the most pleasant story we’re engaging with here, but it has its spooky moments as well as a few well-placed emotional punches. I’m looking forward to finishing off the remaining episodes.
Ash vs. Evil Dead S1:E1-E4 – In the spirit of perhaps finding something a little lighter and more fun, I fired this series up. It doesn’t quite have the same energy that Raimi brings, but it does an adequate job imitating that style. I generally like the character of Ash, so I think the initial view of the character that we get is a bit of a turnoff, but it gets better as the series goes on. Bruce Campbell is great, as always, though perhaps not quite the amazing physical talent that he was in the early films (not that anyone could expect that, but still).
As an overall narrative, I’m not entirely sold, but really, the story and plot are not what make the Evil Dead universe so much fun, so who cares? I’ve only watched a few episodes, so I’m not sure it can maintain and improve where its at, but I’m optimistic. I’m having fun with it, even if it’s not the most amazingest thing evar.
What We Do in the Shadows S1 and S2 – Speaking of amazing things, this show has really won me over in a big way. Like Ash vs Evil Dead this is a television spinoff of a movie, but one that seems to have really found its feet. The first few episodes of season 1 are a bit repetitive, featuring some of the same bits from the movie. But as the season progresses it slowly but surely starts to assert an identity of its own. By season 2, they’re really firing on all cylinders.
A lot of this is due to an incredible core cast of five actors. Every single one is perfect for their respective role and you quickly fall in love with them. This is an overall more comedic treatment than Ash vs Evil Dead but its parody comes from a place of love (whereas a lot of this sort of thing could be mocking its subjects). It’s really just nice to have a show that has some vampires but isn’t an existential slog of angst and ennui or overly gory, dark violence. If it touches on such topics it manages to do so with a comedic bent that really helps. Recommended!
Up next on the horror television docket (once I finish Hill House) will be Dark, a show that I’ve heard great things about (but which will apparently require every ounce of attention available and is, um, probably quite thematically dark.) And then, of course, there’s also The Haunting of Bly Manor, a sorta anthology-like follow up to Hill House by Flanagan and team (apparently being released this weekend). The cup truly runneth over with good horror television shows.