Around this time of year, I usually make up a list of 2020 movie releases to catch-up on, but this year? The pandemic obviously had a huge impact on movies this year, in some cases pushing up releases and making them more accessible through streaming, in other cases pushing them back to next year. As of this moment, I’ve seen 66 movies that could be considered a 2020 release, which is significantly less than what I’d seen at this point last year. Is that because there’s less to see?
After a brief spin around the moviesphere, I observe that there are a lot of movies that I could catch-up with. Standard disclaimers apply: I consider some 2019 releases a 2020 release if it didn’t get released in the US until 2020. This list is not comprehensive. I probably won’t watch everything on this list. And so on. Let’s get to it:
Tenet – Christopher Nolan’s latest is an obvious must, and I guess I’m part of the problem that theaters are facing, because I never got off my arse to watch the thing in theaters. I don’t want to make this a referendum on theaters though, so I’ll just say that duh, yeah, I need to see this movie before I put together a 2020 movie recap/top 10.
Update: I’ve seen it! It’s great, just… don’t ask me to explain it. It’s certainly part of Nolan’s cinematic puzzle tradition, and everything seems to fit together… but I may need to watch it again. And again. (It’s worth noting that I actually do want to watch it again. And again. Which I think says something important.)
Wonder Woman 1984 – Another movie I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I really enjoyed the first movie and in a year that’s lacking in superhero flicks, this one kinda corners the market, right? Update: I have also seen this! It’s… not great. Or, at least, very disappointing. The thing that kept it afloat for me is the performances, innate charisma, and chemistry between all the stars. The first hour is decent, if a bit disjointed, but it’s not a solid foundation for the rest of the movie, which just continually devolves. I don’t know that it’s quite the disaster that some are portraying it as, and it’s eminently watchable, but it does have some troubling interpretations and whatnot, and it definitely just doesn’t fit. A big letdown from the first movie.
Soul – Pixar’s quality level has dipped a bit from its heyday, but I’ll always give a new release a look. This one is getting some good early buzz and it’s not a sequel, so I’m looking forward to it.
Hamilton – I guess I should finally watch this thing. It’s cultural dominance over the past few years is a bit of a turnoff, but I always appreciated the idea behind it, so I’ll most certainly have to catch up with it.
The King of Staten Island – I know what you’re thinking – is this really a blockbuster? Well, in 2020 it probably counts as such. I’m hit or miss on Judd Apatow’s directorial efforts and I don’t have much love for Pete Davidson, but I’m guessing this movie will at least be worth the watch…
On the Rocks – Sofia Coppola’s latest and a reunion with Bill Murray, the biggest thing holding me back from this is that it only appears to be available on Apple TV+, which I don’t have and dammit, how many streaming services do I need to subscribe to? This one alone might not get me to subscribe… but then…
Greyhound – Another Apple TV+ exclusive. It’s a Tom Hanks led WWII naval battle movie that seems like it’d be right up my alley, even if it has no real chance of channeling the C.S. Forester source material.
Let Them All Talk – Steven Soderbergh is always worth a watch. Even if he doesn’t seem to be working in the genre or mode that I tend to love from him. HBO Max exclusive.
The Devil All the Time – Netflix thriller that seems like it could be a step above the usual Netflix mediocrity, maybe?
My Octopus Teacher – Netflix documentary about a filmmaker’s relationship… with an octopus? Sounds like my preferred mode of documentary filmmaking.
Anything for Jackson – Shudder is one of the more underrated streaming service. So I’ll definitely make time for some of their exclusives, including this Satanist jam.
Independent and Art House
Possessor – Brandon Cronenberg is following in his father’s footsteps? This sounds great and for some reason, I just haven’t caught up with it yet. This will be rectified in the near future!
She Dies Tomorrow – Amy Seimetz’s tale of a contagious feeling that you’re going to die tomorrow sounds interesting enough.
First Cow – I guess I should watch this, as it’s at the top of nearly every critic’s list. Director Kelly Reichardt doesn’t usually work for me, but who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised.
Small Axe – Is it a movie? Is it a TV show? Is it a TV show that consists of episodes that are actually movies? Does it matter? Another critical darling from Steve McQueen, I guess I should watch at least a couple of these.
Another Round – Four teachers launch an experiment to see how their lives will be improved by a constant, low-level alcohol consumption. The perfect 2020 movie concept?
Miscellaneous, Genre, &c.
Alone – Sounds like a rock solid thriller about a woman escaping from her kidnapper. Looking forward to this one.
Archive – Small science fiction flick that sounds interesting enough. This has been on my radar for a while, not sure why I never got to it.
Ava – This Jessica Chastain action vehicle has been getting mixed reviews, but it sounds great on paper at least.
Save Yourselves! – Some Brooklyn hipsters go on vacation to escape their phones, only to realize that they missed an alien invasion or something. Sounds like fun…
The Pale Door – A horror western with train robbers and witches, what’s not to like?
Time to Hunt – Korean flick about a dystopian world and a heist or something, sounds interesting…
The Call – Another Korean movie, this one has a high concept serial killer thing going on that sounds like it could be good.
Bulbbul – Indian horror flick about a town plagued by mysterious deaths…
News of the World – Tom Hanks teams up with Paul Greengrass for a western? Sure, why not?
So there you have it, 25 movies that I am going to try and catch up with before doing the traditional year end movie traditions.
Ringing in the holiday season with a few interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:
Death of the Author (& Beyond) – The notion that an author’s intent is unimportant to your interpretation of their work can make for an interesting discussion, but people generally take the concept much further. This guy just put a name on half of the poor takes we see on social media (I particularly like “Weekend at Bernie’s of the Author”)
Nickelback – Trying Not To Love You – Wait, so, Jason Alexander was in a Nickleback video where he plays a barista who gets into a competition with a fedora and ascot wearing version of himself? How was I not aware of this? Oh wow, it wasn’t that long ago? This is weird. Like, good weird? I don’t know? I’m so confused by this video. How did this happen?
Alienware – Three armed humans? (Honestly though, what were they thinking with that design?)
Two years ago, I watched all of the films in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. This post was started at that time, but for reasons beyond remembrance, I never posted about this absolutely insane series of movies. I probably missed the Christmas window and who wants to read about killer Santas in February? I mean, sure, I do and I’m betting a significant portion of the people reading this do, but there’s only about five of you, so that’s not saying much. Anyway, when I upgraded the blog earlier this year, the draft of this post is surfaced every time I bring up the WordPress dashboard, and this is the perfect time to cover the lunacy of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. Buckle up, it’s gonna get weird.
Silent Night, Deadly Night – I covered the original during the Six Weeks of Halloween a little over a decade ago. I wasn’t particularly impressed back then, but I liked the Christmas setting and loved the grizzled old man that tells young Billy that “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!” After a decade of exploring other Santa slashers and some repeat viewings, I have to say that this movie has grown on me. I still can’t really claim it’s good, but as these movies go, it actually has some things on its mind. It’s not just controversy and sex and gore; it genuinely tries to explore things like repression and guilt. Lilyan Chauvin’s performance as Mother Superior drives the point home with a straight-faced intensity that contrasts the silly material in a way that can be offputting at first, but which I have come around to.
Indeed, the whole film is a study in contrasts. The joyous nature of Christmas versus the nudity and violence of a slasher? It’s mean spirited but somehow also feels good-natured? Again, I can’t claim it’s great at that and the filmmakers were certainly well aware that they were working within an exploitation framework, but they were at least trying something. Also of note: an infamous Linnea Quigley performance. Small, but memorable. Look, if you’re still reading this, you’ve already seen this and know that the really weird stuff happens later in the series.
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 – I first watched this around the same time as the original, and was severely disappointed. It turns out that approximately 50% of this movie is just clips from the first film. Low-budget 80s sequels did stuff like this all the time, but this is excessive even by those standards. As the story goes, the producers actually wanted to stitch the entire sequel together with old footage. Director Lee Harry claims he was able to convince them to pony up some cash for new scenes. And that stuff is bonkers.
Eric Freeman gives an outlandish, truly unhinged performance, and the “Garbage Day!” sequence has rightly become a cult classic in its own right. As such, it has risen in my estimation over the years… but I’m still annoyed by the first half of the movie. Maybe it would work better if you hadn’t just watched the first movie? This is objectively bad in most respects, but it’s a sorta fascinating and wildly entertaining failure.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! – This movie should be so much better than it actually is. I’m going to describe a bunch of stuff about this movie, and it’s going to sound awesome… but it is emphatically not so. Unlike the first two movies, whose inadequacies are somehow endearing, this one just plods limply to the finish line without anything of real interest. So here goes: The infamous “killer Santa Claus” Ricky Caldwell has miraculously been kept alive in a coma for six years by a mad scientist/doctor experimenting with ESP. Inevitably, he awakes from his coma and sets off to kill a young woman who has some psychic connection to him, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake.
It’s directed by Monte Hellman! It stars Bill Moseley as Ricky! Both of those guys are great! Robert Culp shows up as a cop chasing Ricky! The character design of Ricky replaces the entire top of his head with a glass dome, revealing his brain! Hell, just writing this makes me want to revisit this. It can’t possibly be as bad as I remember, can it? And yet, I’m virtually certain it’s even worse than my memory of it. That I’ve, like, repressed how bad it is. The best thing I can say about it is that you might be able to watch this closely and analyze enough of it to figure out what NOT to do in a slasher movie.
Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 – At this point, the series basically abandons any pretense of being a sequel. This is one of those I can’t get this script made unless I pretend its a sequel to an existing franchise sorta jams. As such, there’s no connection whatsoever to the previous three movies. It’s about a reporter who stumbles upon a coven of witches that worship some sort of satanic bug larvae or somesuch. It does take place during Christmas, but it’s barely got any of that sort of atmosphere.
It’s actually all just an excuse to Screaming Mad George’s bizarre FX and concepts. As such, this movie gets really grody. Along the way, we’re treated to a quintessential Clint Howard performance as Ricky, the gross errand boy of the witches. So this isn’t really a sequel in anything but name, but it does bring the whole “interesting failure” component back to the franchise. It’s hard to recommend because it’s just so… grody (which I already said but it’s really the one word review of this movie), but if you’re into that sort of thing…
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker – This is it, folks. The series culminates in one of the most bizarre takes on Christmas horror ever put to film. Like Initiation, this has no connection to the first three films and is basically a sequel in name only, but it has more Christmas atmosphere and yes, even some form of ambition. It’s a sorta mashup of Santa Slasher and… Pinocchio?
Mysterious killer toys are being delivered throughout the land, and a young boy who witnesses the death of his father becomes too traumatized to speak. His mother must try to get him past his trauma. Perhaps with the help of local toymaker, Joe Petto and his nefarious son, Pino. Oh, and Joe Petto is played by Mickey Rooney. Clint Howard kinda/sorta reprises his role as Ricky, though he’s not a grody servant of witches anymore (or yet? Is this a prequel to part 4? I mean, it doesn’t really matter, but still.)
And that’s just the beginning. This thing gets more and more bananapants as it goes, leading to a truly insane finale. I might be building this up a bit too much in my head right now, but this movie was the thing that convinced me that writing a post like this would be a worthwhile affair. Like, really, this is a terrible movie, but I love it. That’s kinda the story of the entire series, and this one is a prime example.
So there you have it, five truly awful movies… with lots to love if you’re a fan of bad movies, which I apparently am. If you want to put yourself through this, all of the sequels are available for free (with commercials) on Tubi (at least, as of this writing). As for me, I’m making preparations to watch the remake/reboot/whatever this year. I’m sure it will be terrible. I’ll probably enjoy it. I don’t know if I have the stomach for the fan-made Silent Night, Deadly Night 6: Santa’s Watching, but you never know. Merry Christmas!
Between Halloween Season’s Readings and a bunch of non-fiction, I’ve been slacking a little on my SF reading. I’ve definitely not kept up writing about it, but that’s what we’re here for now. Let’s get to it…
Network Effect by Martha Wells – The Muderbot Diaries series of novellas are great, and author Martha Wells has now made the leap to novel-sized tales. Murderbot is just minding her own business, catching up on her favorite television shows, when her human associates are attacked and some captured. It turns out that a sorta friend from her past is also in trouble, so Murderbot has to abandon her TV shows and save everyone.
This is par for the Murderbot course, which is to say, it’s very good. The transition to novel-length has not dulled the characters or the story much, and I still quite enjoy seeing the interactions between the characters and moody AIs. For fans of the series, ART (named so by Muderbot, an acronym for Asshole Research Transport – they’re kinda friends) shows up and requires Murderbot’s assistance, and while Wells is always able to generate conflict between the characters, it always feels more like a good natured thing. Everyone likes each other, but they can get on each other’s nerves at times.
Lots of well plotted and executed action sequences keep the pace moving briskly. Murderbot is also quite clever at times, even (especially?) when she’s got limited resources. The ultimate villains aren’t particularly notable, just the standard Corporate hacks, though some particularly deadly technology is deployed at times. All well and good for the first novel, but I’m hoping for more substantial villainy in future installments. If I get around to nominating for the Hugos next year, this will definitely be on my list. It’s probably a shoe-in for at least a nomination as well. (If you’re at all interested in the SF fandom’s culture wars, this series in general is something that could appeal to all, I think.) While this is the first novel and you could probably read it as a standalone, I’d still start with the preceding novellas, which add background and depth (and they’re really good too!)
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer – An alien spacecraft lands near a museum and a spider-like, 8 limbed alien pops out, enters the building and politely requests, speaking in perfect English, that the security guard take him to a paleontologist. After some discussion, it turns out that the aliens have discovered that three different races on three different planets have all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at about the same time. This includes things like the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, making it unlikely to be a coincidence. When a threatening supernova is observed, aliens and humans alike wonder if another cataclysm is on its way…
Sawyer is trying to flip the debate on creationism here by positing scientific evidence of an “intelligent designer.” The visiting aliens all believe in God, while the human paleontologist represents atheists in the debate. Now, when I say that the aliens believe in God, let’s be clear that it’s not the Christian God or really anything represented by organized religion. To underline that fact, Sawyer introduces a couple of bumbling fundamentalist Christian terrorists, one of whom is literally named Cooter. Anyway, it’s all interesting as a thought experiment, though I don’t think that Sawyer’s aliens demonstrate the proof they say they have for God’s existence. Still, there are some speculations that do tip things towards an intelligent creator guiding creation (and the ending leans even further).
The book primarily consists of conversations. Sure, they’re between a spider-like alien and a human, and they are discussing genuinely interesting concepts, but as storytelling… it’s the sort of thing only a Science Fiction fan would love. Fortunately… I’m a science fiction fan. Sawyer’s bald style is unlikely to win converts from the literary crowd, but science fiction fans would enjoy the interplay of ideas here. I enjoyed it, but I totally get why some would be turned off by it
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I: Chaos Rising) by Timothy Zahn – Alright, let’s get this straight. Timothy Zahn kicked off the modern Star Wars era in the early 1990s with Heir to the Empire (first in a trilogy of novels taking place after Jedi). It was a great continuation of the series (better than all of the subsequent films, that’s for sure) and Zahn introduced a great villain: Grand Admiral Thrawn. A military genius, he collected the shattered pieces of the Empire and organized them into an effective threat. A clever idea, and Thrawn represented a different but still memorable and interesting villain.
Since then, Zahn has periodically returned to the character of Thrawn. Especially recently. There was a trilogy covering Thrawn’s joining the empire and rise through the ranks… and now, we go further down the prequel path to cover Thrawn’s rise through the Chiss Ascendancy. As per usual, Zahn is a workhorse who puts out reliably entertaining stories, and the story here is as effective as any of the recent books… But I can’t help but think that we’re really just treading water here.
Thrawn is a great character, but his genius makes it difficult to tell the story without surrounding him with other characters who have to react to him. Zahn is good at this and manages to tell fun stories, but Thrawn is less and less of a villain in these stories, and thus it feels like we’re losing something. I still hold out hope that we’ll see Thrawn in cinematic form some day (and yes, I’m aware, that’s almost certainly happening soon, but I’ll avoid spoilers here). Anyway, this book is fine, but it’s sorta disposable entertainment rather than vital.
Axiomatic by Greg Egan – A collection of short stories ranging from Egan’s trademark diamond-hard-SF mode to more humane explorations of technology to some fantastical premises that seem uncharacteristic. As with most collections, there are some stories that work better than others, but as a whole, it explores a lot of fascinating, sometimes scary ideas. Take “A Kidnapping”, which I’ll try not to spoil here… and thus, can’t really talk about. But once it becomes clear what’s happening, it’s devastating. A lot of the concepts here show up in Egan’s other work, like the idea of “neural mods”, which crops up in a couple of stories.
Uploaded human minds play a big role in Egan’s work and there are a few stories here that explore that territory well. The notion of a neural implant called a “Jewel” is an interesting take on this idea. It’s a small computer inserted in the brain at birth. It monitors and simulates brain activity such that, by the time someone reaches adulthood, it has learned to mimic brain behavior perfectly. At this point, the brain can be switched out in favor of the Jewel, which will operate in basically the same fashion (and which, effectively, confers a form of immortality and even a kind of continuity of consciousness).
Lots of good stuff here, weighty and sometimes scary, it nevertheless entertains. I still think Quarantine is Egan’s best, though stuff like Permutation City and Diaspora are more ambitious and challenging. I need to keep exploring Egan’s work, is what I’m saying.
Yendi by Steven Brust – The second novel in the Vlad Taltos series, this one concerns a sorta gang war. Take traditional high fantasy tropes and layer Goodfellas style gangster wars on top of it, and you’ve got Yendi. It’s very entertaining, and Brust has done a good amount of worldbuilding, so the fantasy folks will enjoy that side of things well enough. I found myself more intrigued by the nuts-and-bolts of the warring criminal enterprises here though, and Brust does a great job fleshing out some of the more procedural aspects of that. Again, pretty good mixture of that procedural stuff and magic and dragons and stuff. It’s been a while since I read this, and I took quite a break between the first and second books in the series, but I suspect it’s a series I’ll dip into again sometime.
After a spin through some of the more obscurehorror films of 1978, the 1978 Project resumes its normal, lumbering schedule. For the uninitiated, I’m doing a deep dive into the cinema of the year of my birth. At this point, I’ve seen 77 films that were released in 1978, which is a pretty respectable number. That being said, I keep finding new and intriguing pockets of films that I want to watch, so I’ve got at least 10 more movies to go.
At some point, we’ll do our traditional roundup of Movie Awards and a Top 10, but it might still be a while. Or maybe January? Instead of doing 2020 movies (since so many are on hold), maybe I’ll do 1978? Only time will tell. I’ve actually seen a fair amount of 2020 flicks, perhaps enough to justify the exercise. But I digress, let’s check out some 1978 movies (fair warning, I watched some of these before the Six Weeks of Halloween started, so my memory has faded a bit and thus my thoughts might not be as insanely insightful as usual).
The Star Wars Holiday Special – I’ve seen bits and pieces of this notorious abomination before, but I’ve never sat through the entire thing. I wish I could say that the experience was worthwhile. That it’s so bad it’s good. But really, it’s just plain bad. Maybe the tragically ironic hipsters could find a way to enjoy it, but I suspect even the most devoted would break down by the end.
It starts off kinda promising, with the Millenium Falcon being chased by some Star Destroyers, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re just using remaindered footage from the movie, and that nothing seems quite right. Then we’re introduced to Chewbacca’s family, which consists of a few Wookies grunting at each other (with no subtitles) for nigh-on 10 minutes. And, like, they’re not fighting the empire or anything. It’s just mundane domestic activities. From there, we get various musical numbers, psychadelic bits, more musical numbers, a four-armed space-Julia-Child cooking segment that goes on for about 5 minutes, and some terrible animation that is the only part of this thing that has any sort of plot (it is famously the first appearance of Boba Fett).
It’s mind-blowing that anyone thought this would be a good way to follow up on the massive success of Star Wars, even if it’s only a TV movie. *
Magnificent Bodyguards – Early Jackie Chan vehicle that stifles Chan’s natural charisma by forcing him to play it straight. Chan plays a bodyguard who is protecting a wealthy woman and her clan as they travel to find a doctor for her sick brother. What follows is a by-the-numbers kung-fu flick that is perfectly cromulent, but really pales in comparison to the rest of the thriving Hong Kong action scene at the time. This was apparently released in 3D at the time, but obviously that’s not what I was watching. The sound effects are particularly glaring here, though one scene works well enough I guess: a fight enters a building and the sound effects continue even though we can’t see it anymore. Ultimately, though, this won’t come anywhere close to the top of 1978, even when restricted to purely martial arts movies (of which there were a ton). There are far better Jackie Chan vehicles in 1978 alone. **
Flying Guillotine II: Palace Carnage – Speaking of better 1978 martial arts films, this is another in a long line of Flying Guillotine sequels (depending on how you count the unofficial entries, this could actually be the fourth installment?) The emperor has expanded his reign of terror, aided by his squad of Flying Guillotine carrying troops. A band of rebels has devised a novel defense against the undefeatable and deadly weapon, but they don’t know that the emperor has commissioned a new version of the Flying Guillotine that is deadlier and undefeatablier. Unlike a lot of these films, the plot here is actually pretty engaging. The pacing is action packed and the decapitations are plentiful. There’s an all-female guillotine squad dressed in pink, iron umbrellas, lots of well choreographed spear battles, a massive body count, and a climax that tops the first film. I can see why there are so many of these films, and this is a fantastic sequel. ***
Cleopatra Wong – Part of the Phillipino exploitation boom, this is grindhouse kung-fu mixed with Bond-esque globe trotting and action. Star Marrie Lee was given the surname of Lee because Bruce Lee was insanely popular at the time and apparently when fans would greet her, they’d tell her that they enjoyed both her movies and her brother’s too. Lee plays the titular Cleopatra Wong, Singapore’s top policewoman who is working with an Interpol task force to take down counterfeiters. The ring is traced to Manila where the counterfeiters have taken up residence in a monastery populated by gun-toting nuns.
Look, this isn’t exactly fine cinema. It’s the product of cheapo, guerrilla-style filmmaking and it shows. Once you get past that, it’s pretty damn fun. The martial arts are nowhere near its Hong Kong contemporaries, but they make up for it by having Cleopatra blow up a helicopter with exploding arrows or shooting a four-barreled shotgun. It’s silly, but kinda fun if you can get on its wavelength. **
Silver Saddle (aka They Died With Their Boots On) – A young boy sees his father gunned down, but manages to kill the assassin. Years later, he’s become a feared bounty hunter, but now he’s discovered some secrets from his past… One of the last major Spaghetti Westerns, it’s a good example of why the genre was dying. It’s not terrible or anything, but there’s absolutely nothing new or even particularly distinctive here. It doesn’t look bad, but it pales in comparison to other Spaghetti Westerns. Director Lucio Fulci must have been restrained in some way here, because there’s no over-the-top violence or gore (though I suppose both are present). There’s not even a Fulci-trademark eye gouging scene! So yeah, not a bad movie, but a mostly forgettable one that doesn’t really rank anywhere near the pantheon of Spaghetti Westerns… **
I do feel like I’m coming down the homestretch of the 1978 Project. I could probably cobble together a credible Top 10 right now, but there are definitely 2-3 contenders, and maybe 10 more films I’d like to watch before really trying. Alas, some of these are more difficult to track down (which is partly why this project is taking a while). If not January, the 1978 Movie Awards will probably happen in February or March. Stay tuned!
It’s been a while since I put together a list of things to read from the book queue, so it doesn’t really matter if I do so now, but I’m going to do it anyway. You’re welcome. We’ve got some interesting non-fiction on the list, a holiday offering, some candidates for Vintage SF Month, and the usual smattering of nerdy literature.
A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi – This one should be a lighter, more fun read for the holidays. I’m guessing this contains a bunch of things that Scalzi has already posted on his blog (and thus I may have already read), but it should be fun.
Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold – It’s another Penric & Desdemona novella and they’re always good…
Master of the Revels by Nicole Galland – This is the sequel to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.. Galland collaborated with Neal Stephenson on that first book, but is apparently on her own here. Of course, the cover emphasizes Stephenson more than anything else, which is funny. I’m never clear on how author collaborations actually work, but as I understand it, Galland did the bulk of writing on the first book, so hopefully she’ll be able to keep it up on this one. I’m actually quite looking forward to this, since the first book ended sorta weird.
The Lincoln Hunters by Wilson Tucker (1958) – Time travel about a historian sent back to record a Lincoln speech, but he finds out that he’s been sent back before. Or later. Something paradoxy like that. This was on my list for Vintage SF Month last year, but I never got to it. I think it’ll make the cut this year. Or, er, next year.
Alrighty then, that should keep be busy for a couple months…
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.