Friday, October 28, 2016

The Halloween List: We Are Still Here

After I finished The Guest, I got on the elliptical and loaded up Netflix. By pure coincidence, We Are Still Here was next in my queue, and opened… on a couple coming home after the death of their son.

We Are Still Here is still a very different movie – the couple begin experiencing strange phenomena around their house, like pictures their son hated falling over and cracking, or voices in the basement. It turns out this is a new house they’ve just moved to, hoping to get away from some of the grief, but they suspect something has followed them here. But the locals explain that horrible things once happened in this house, and they’ve always found it eerie. We begin to question what is watching them.

What unfolds is one of the finest recent haunting movies outside James Wan’s The Conjuring series and The Wailing. While this is also a period piece, set in the 1970s, We Are Still Here uses the visual style of film rather than digital, and has best-in-class costume design and make-up. Characters often felt familiar to me because I knew adults like them in the early 1980s when I was a child.

There’s a great charm, too, to casting so many actors with fading looks, receding hairlines, and other touches of age that the crew don’t cover up. They feel aging in a way that Hollywood tends to hide. It nails its period better than any other Horror movie I’ve seen since House of the Devil.

The house they’ve bought also lacks glamour. The ground and upper floors are both worn, not in need of repair, but with the scuffs and chips of time. It brought me back to times spent in old Maine houses. Only the basement seems odd, with its hole in the wall that might as well lead directly to Hell.

Especially if you have Netflix and are craving a haunting for Halloween, this is a great pick. Indie Horror seems to be grasping period pieces better than ever before.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Halloween List: The Green Room (AKA Patrick Stewart?!)

Patrick Stewart plays the leader of a ground of backwoods skinheads trying to kill a Punk band.

Patrick Freaking Stewart. Captain Picard. Professor X. On his evilest day he was Captain Ahab, which was fine because that guy came out of a classic novel. The moment that Stewart walks into The Green Room and casually asks for the situation before instructing his fellow skinheads on the best way to break into a locked room and kill off the rest of the witnesses, it is jarring. This is Stewart barely changing his accent, just dropping a little of his warmth to fit in with the other drug runners.

The simple plot follows a never-gonna-be Punk band playing in the least popular venues. After doing an afternoon show at a taco hut, they drive into the woods for a rural bar. In a movie with several awkwardly funny moments, they open their set with a song deriding Nazis, while skinheads in the crowd check their swastika shirts and SS tattoos. I don’t believe in blaming victims, but at a certain point you might be asking to be the victims in a Horror movie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Under the Skin Vs. It Follows (Vs. Sexuality)

Today's is going to be a long post. Instead of just writing independent reviews of the two hot-topic films, I want to talk about them in relation to each other. If you haven’t gotten to them yet, I won’t spoil the third act of either. But Under the Skin and It Follows are very interesting Horror movies to have come out so close to each other – they’re both films about victimization, but from opposite sides of it. They’re both about predators hijacking sexuality for their own unknowable ends.

But most people I know like one and loathe the other. When they condemn whichever of the two they dislike, they label it sex-negative. I disagree with that reading for either film. Rather, both feel rooted in Horror’s history of finding something desirable and finding a way to make it terrifying. Friday the 13th did that with cabin vacations; Jaws did it for swimming; and it’s easy to forget, having grown up with John Carpenter’s Halloween, that the holiday wasn’t always so blood-soaked, but rather that movie helmed a change in cultural attitudes around the holiday.

Unfortunately Halloween also helped cement tropes about sexuality in Horror. The tropes are unhealthy, and even baffling when you find the liberal attitudes of their screen writers and directors. John Carpenter and Wes Craven were startled when people confronted them about things latent in their work. It's why Craven went out of his way to subvert some of those tropes in Scream.

So when Horror turns sex into an actual theme, it has to be mindful. Slasher Movies didn’t originally intend to punish teen sexuality, but it became a tradition, and one that It Follows deliberately fights back against. Under the Skin goes for something weirder.

Let’s look.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Halloween List: The Guest

The Guest s another of those movies I watched knowing nothing about. It's such a pleasure to take recommendations from friends and find out the premise of a movie as it unfolds. This is a particularly nimble film with a very sticky opening, and if you want to just dive into a Thriller this weekend, The Guest is a good shot.

My vague first paragraph out of the way: The Guest is about a family mourning the death of their oldest son, and are interrupted by a mysterious stranger who says he deserved in the military with him. He quickly ingratiates himself with stories and awkward politeness, and whenever their other children get in trouble, he's there to help. Except in breaking up a fight, he's surprisingly vicious. Often we catch him watching the family with dead eyes, like everything he's doing is an act. But if it is, then why is he here?
It feels like a piece of 80's B-cinema, a worthy successor to The Stepfather, except the dangerous man is this time filling the empty role of a brother. It's greatly helped by a synth-heavy soundtrack that tickles at the Stranger Things part of your brain.
He's not just a stalker - he intervenes with a school principle, local drug dealers, and a misbehaving boyfriend as though he really has the family's best interests in mind. But he'll kill to preserve those best interests. You're waiting for either a secret malice or his overprotectiveness to boil over when the family's daughter calls the military. Just one phone call scrambles people through the chain of command, until Fringe's own Lance Reddick shows up to rein the mystery man in. It's a lot of fun pretending the movie is a secret episode of Fringe.
You can go back and forth over whether this is Horror - it's more of a cheesy Thriller with moments of high intensity, and that happens to take place on Halloween. But by the end, it completely validates itself as an October watch. We have to hunt a bad guy through the school's freaking Haunted House display!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Halloween List: Train to Busan and Flu

Today I’ve got two hot films from Korea, including one of the biggest Horror movies of the year. It’s going to be a good day.

But before we start, I have to talk about an unfortunate parallel. Our first movie, Train to Busan, is fictional Horror about zombies on a train headed to one of South Korean’s biggest cities. But this October, the real Busan was struck by a massive typhoon. If you have any spare money, please consider donating to relief efforts.

Train to Busan

For all the buzz this has gotten as Korean revitalizing the zombie genre, I’m almost surprised to report that Train to Busan is… just another zombie movie. There is no great innovation in Horror or change to the zombie formula in this movie. Instead, it’s two hours of people stuck on a train, trying to fend off zombies from the rear cars. If somehow you are craving more zombie-smashing and tragic losses of survivors, then this is for you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Halloween List: Creep and The Good Neighbor

Today we're talking about two movies I knew nothing about. These were recommended by good friends and I went in completely ignorant. Particularly in Creep's case, knowing nothing so greatly helped. I can't imagine enjoying that movie as much if I'd watched trailers full of bits from throughout the run time. I'll be sensitive about exposing too much of the plots of these movies, because if they sound fun to you, they're much more worth discovering as you're watching.

Creep (streaming on Netflix)

The great test for a Horror story is this: if the story was stopped at the end of any given scene, would you want to start it back up and see what happens next? In my little parade of Horror Movies so far, only Under the Skin and Pontypool have been this good at acing the test. Creep is expertly designed, a tight Found Footage movie running just 1:17.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Halloween List: Shin Godzilla is a Return to the Soul of Kaiju Film

It’s a two-second shot that defines the movie. The camera points up a cramped street as wreckage overflows into it, literal tons of boats and cottages rolling up the pavement like waves in a hellish river. A single young man runs from the camera and the tide of destruction so fast that his limbs are losing coordination. We don’t see him escape this street, and we never see him again. We can only hope he made it out of here. Shin Godzilla is an angry movie, angry that government has failed to save us, and insistent that it do better.

Shin Godzilla is the most political entry in the series since the original in 1954, which was an allegory for the horrors of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually kaiju film became more about giant monsters and robots fighting each other, and while fun, Shin Godzilla is from an older school. Godzilla has always been a hybrid of metaphors, and this movie shares influences from the 3/11 earthquake, Fukushima reactor incident, and recent tsunamis. It’s unnerving from its haunting score, to the camera so frequently switching to the point of view of his victims seconds before they die, to the pure nightmare fuel of Godzilla’s new appearance.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Halloween List: Tremors and Bone Tomahawk

Today is another one of those weird coincidences. Both of my movies were set out in the west - Bone Tomahawk attempting to blend Westerns and Horror, while Tremors is wonderfully cheesy Horror simply set out in the lesser-populated parts of Nevada. These are two movies that definitely wouldn't talk to each other at a party.

Tremors (streaming on Amazon Prime)

From the distant past of 1990 comes Tremors! A favorite of mine that I hadn’t watched in over a decade, and it ages very well.

Tremors is a classic 90’s B-Movie, cheesy and earnest, with an absolutely wild monster design. The “Graboid” is a prehistoric monster that tunnels under the ground, with an elephantine body, a mouth guarded by carapace mandibles, and inside lurk multiple obedient snakes that serve as biting tongues to drag prey down inside the beast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Halloween List: Pontypool and Southbound

Welcome back to The Halloween List! I'm already overjoyed with this project, as it's giving me fascinating movies to watch during otherwise grueling exercise sessions. I'm gradually rebuilding my lung capacity on the elliptical, which is great to do, but flares up my neuromuscular syndrome. A good show or movie takes my mind off things, and today's features definitely did that. I'm still thinking over the strangeness of Pontypool.

"What's Pontypool?" you ask. Well...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Halloween List: Attack of The The

It's my first week of Halloween movies and I'm already joyous. By pure coincidence, I watched all the movies beginning with "The" in a row. Today we're going back in time, to a dark forest in Japan, before stopping off in a doomed Korean fishing village. It's going to be a good time. Well, mostly.

The Final Girls (rentable on Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube for 2.99)

Imagine if Hot Tub Time Machine and Cabin in the Woods collided. The result is a punchy, funny Horror Comedy that has more heart than either of those two movies. It’s an unexpected delight that I’m still mulling over.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Halloween List

It’s my favorite time of the year! The air smells of falling leaves, the forest grows beautiful in color, the sunsets are richer, and all the cool movies show up on TV. I love Halloween from Jack O’Lanterns and costumes and candy for kids, to haunted house tours and the uptick in macabre media.

In the spirit of the season, I’ve made a little list of movies I want to catch up on this October. Most are from the last few years, as I’ve missed so many. I’ll be blogging my thoughts on them as I go along, and I invite you all to join me. The current list is:

  • The Final Girls
  • The Forest
  • The Wailing
  • Southbound
  • Pontypool
  • Green Room
  • He Never Died
  • Train to Busan
  • Flytrap
  • Under the Skin
  • It Follows
  • Mind's Eye
  • The Good Neighbor
  • Under the Shadow
  • The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Tremors (a rewatch, to share the glory with a friend)
  • Don’t Breathe

While I’ll be doing thoughts-posts on 3-4 movies at a time, I want to devote a day to just Don’t Breathe. There’s so much to unpack, especially with the ableism it slams up against with its blind killer, and I am boiling over with thoughts.

I’ll be back Wednesday with thoughts on The Final Girls, The Forest, and The Wailing. For now: what are you reading and watching this October? And is there anything you’d recommend I add to my big list?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Blair Witch Problem

Horror Fan 1: And then what happens?

Horror Fan 2: That morning she thinks she finds his tongue outside her tent! But that night she hears him calling for her again! It’s so creepy.

Anonymous Nerd: (walks up) What are you talking about?

Horror Fan 1: We were talking about our favorite movies and Blair Witch Project came up. She loves it.

Anonymous Nerd: You know the problem with that movie? None of them were trained camera people so they couldn't keep it steady. And they should've gotten better actors, and came up with an actual script. Plus you just can't go a whole movie without showing the monster like that. It just makes it lame.

Horror Fan 2: It's fascinating that you could pinpoint all the problems in that movie, but noticed none of the problems in how you butted into this conversation about my favorite movie.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Six Great Movies Still Coming Out in 2016

September is half-over and Christmas decorations are starting to crop up in department stores. 2016 is a dying beast, and some people are already writing their Best Of lists. But there are books (yo, Wall of Storms), games (yo, Mafia 3), and even movies yet to be released that we’re craving. I just knocked off Don’t Breathe, which I have many, many thoughts on.

But that can wait. Let’s talk about cool movies that are coming out alarmingly soon.

1.     The Mermaid

You might not have heard that The Mermaid is the most popular film in the history of China. Releasing earlier this year, it has already doubled Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s lifetime box office, and is heralded as revolutionizing Chinese Fantasy films.

The Mermaid is a remix of Chinese folklore through the unique lens of director Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer). Trailers promise a comedy about a lovable loser being harassed by a mermaid, or a tragic love story of that same duo being pulled from each other by a cavalcade of figures from Chinese folklore. Despite the CG battles, I’m hoping for more of a comedy, because no director has Chow’s knack for oddballs.

You probably haven’t heard of it, though, because it was licensed by Sony Pictures. The company released it on just 35 theaters across the entire United States. Fortunately, it’s received an On Demand release.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Three Pieces of Good News!

I'm packing up for Worldcon right now, but I have three pieces of good news to share before I go!

1. I'll be making my second appearance at Daily Science Fiction later this year with "Where I'm From, We Eat Our Parents."  I'm flattered to be back, this time with a story of a tentacle monster and his purely consensual relationship with a nice human girl.

Forget all the rumors you've heard about tentacle monsters - he's polite, even sweet, though he's nervous now that he has to meet her parents. After all, her dad served in the war of the worlds.

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