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halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 11-15.

Night Eleven: Oculus

“I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and he is me.”

Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star in Relativity Media's OCULUS.  Photo Credit: John Estes ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I liked this one. It plays back and forth between two nights, 11 years apart, as a brother and sister attempt to destroy the cursed mirror that claimed their parents when the siblings were children.

It screws with your head, subjecting the viewer to the same perception skewing madness that the evil mirror causes for the film’s protagonists.

There were parts of the film that I loved and hated for the exact same reasons, and I can’t explain more about that without spoiling stuff. I can say more in conversation with folks who have either seen the film, or don’t care if it is spoiled.

Will I ever watch it again? Yup. At the very least, this one will most definitely make appearances at future Halloween Movie Fests.


Night Twelve: We Are What We Are

“We have kept our tradition in its purity, and seek our reward in the hereafter. Amen.”

We Are What We Are (2013)

This is a dark, twisted, beautifully crafted film. Just like with Come Out and Play, I realized too late that this was a remake, or I would have watched the original first. Although, in my opinion, this film is vastly superior to Come Out and Play, so I wasn’t as disappointed that I watched the adaptation first.

For most of We Are What We Are, the film is stark and subtle, and it is all the more horrifying and creepy for all that subtlety. From the outset, Jim Mickle’s direction and some wonderful performances by the leads create a sense of quiet dread that gets under your skin and stays there well after the film is over.

Will I ever watch it again? Absolutely. I found myself putting this one off night after night because I knew it was going to be a disturbing one. While it was just as disturbing as I’d imagined, it wound up being one of my favorites from this year’s fest.


Night Thirteen: Repulsion

“I must get this crack mended.”


This film is almost as sad as it is chilling. A story of the impact of sexual abuse, Repulsion is about a woman whose childhood trauma is causing her sanity to quickly unravel, with murderous results.

Polanski’s film is full of images drawing attention to all the various fabricated manifestations of masculinity and femininity, with most making it clear how unhealthy our perception of gender identity is.

Sexual commentary aside, the film is not without its horror. It moves with the slow rhythm of the dark heart that beats at its core. The first of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, Repulsion is a claustrophobic depiction of a chilling descent into madness.

Will I ever watch it again? Most likely.


Night Fourteen: Suspiria

“Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”


I’m always careful when sharing negative opinions on this blog. Especially about classics. I hate when I hear people state their negative opinions as facts, which is often done with a tone implying that the holder of the negative opinion is so much smarter than all the rubes dumb enough to think the cultural artifact in question is good.

I didn’t like Suspiria, but I’m aware that it probably has more to do with me than the film itself.

The plot is loosely connected and unexplained nonsense. A fact most people agree on, which is why Edgar Wright described the movie by saying, “It’s like a dream you’ve had when you’ve eaten too much cheese.” That’s not necessarily a fault, it can work really well when horror is intentionally trying to feel like a nightmare. It just fell short for me in this instance.

Much of what was keeping me from enjoying the film was sound related. The dubbing is terrible (a common problem in Italian films of this era), but I could have easily loved the movie in spite of the bad dubbing, like some of my favorite spaghetti westerns. The bigger sound crime was actually the score. Many love it, and I appreciate its bizarre quality and originality, but hated it in the context of this film. It was way over the top, constantly trying to overwhelm the viewer and make them uncomfortable. Lots of moaning and ghostly yells within the score, with no connection at all to the events in the film. It was confusing to me in a film about listening for the sound of snoring and strange breathing and footsteps going the wrong way. I would think that called for a minimalist score, leaving the viewer stuck with those disconcerting and barely audible sounds, as opposed to a score that seems desperate to force you into believing something scary is happening, even when someone is merely leaving an airport lobby.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not. Yet, I would be willing to watch it again with someone who loves it, in the hopes they can open my eyes to the film’s qualities.


Night Fifteen: The Conjuring

“Want to play a game of hide and clap?”


This was the movie I was most excited to watch. It was wildly well received upon release, and as I’ve mentioned before, I love ghost stories. Sadly, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.

The good: Early on there were an impressive number of enjoyable scares. Old school, haunted house style scares. It’s really well shot, and the creepiness and dread are solid early on. Some genuinely scary shit happens in the first third.

The bad: It’s really woodenly acted, which is strange with such a solid cast. It also goes off the rails in the final half because it does such a faithful job honoring what Ed and Loraine Warren were really like, which means their entire role as demonologists was a big evangelical push for the roman catholic church. The more time you spend trying to convince me this all really happened and it was the devil’s fault, the less time you’re spending trying to scare me.

Basically, all the stuff of the family being terrorized was great. All the stuff about the Warren family was boring and too earnest.

More creepy games of hide and clap! Less proselytizing!

Will I ever watch it again? No. However, I do need to try Wan’s film Insidious to see if that gets all the scares and less of the this allllll reaallllly happpeennneedd, woooooooooooo! 

The end

halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 6-10.

Night Six: Peeping Tom

“Whatever I photograph, I always lose.”


Peeping Tom is another one of those brilliant encounters I’ve had with great cinema thanks to HMF. As I’ve written before, it’s also a great example of why critics often suck, since they didn’t just say it was a bad movie originally, they acted like it was going to tear down society as we know it. Eventually, they changed their minds, thanks in no small part to Martin Scorsese championing the film as a masterpiece decades later (I fucking LOVE that guy).

The story of a murderer who films the final horrified moments of his victims was way ahead of its time in 1960, and the film shares quite a bit in common with another ahead of its time horror film from that year Psycho. 

On my second viewing, I was struck even more by the film’s ability to have a main character who is at once creepy, evil, and heartbreaking.

One of my favorite HMF finds.

Will I ever watch it again? Yes. This was the second time, and there will be plenty more where that came from.


Night Seven: Come Out and Play

“We started to hear voices around 11:30 last night. It was as though all the children on the island awoke at the same time. They all started giggling. And then screaming. They packed into the houses. Among their screams we also began to hear the adults, screaming in horror.”


I didn’t realize this was a remake, and I should have watched that first. The story of a couple visiting an island town in Mexico before the birth of their third child, and find that the children of the town have playfully murdered almost all of the adults.

Come Out and Play is stark and unnerving, visually it is really solid, but in the end it somehow failed to really hit me the way it could have. It creates atmosphere and dread well, but then fumbles at the goal line in a way I can’t entirely put my finger on yet.

Will I ever watch it again? No, I’d try out the original adaptation instead.


Night Eight: Grabbers

“If we taint our blood with booze, we’re poisonous to eat.”


Grabbers was both enjoyable and a disappointment. It was good, but I feel like it should have been much better. So much more should have been done playing with the premise, which had tremendous potential.

Said premise being that an amphibious alien species crashes to earth off the coast of a small Irish island, requiring blood and water to survive. The monsters start feeding on the local humans until the humans realize that blood with alcohol in it is toxic to the aliens. Thus, the only way to survive is to be drunk.

The actors were lovely, there were plenty of very successful, very Irish jokes, but the film was flatter than it should have been with so much to work with.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not, even though early on in the film I was really hoping this would enter the canon.


Night Nine: The Changeling 

“What do you want from me?! I did every thing I could!”

changeling_2After tragically losing his wife and daughter in an accident, a composer moves back to Seattle to take a teaching position at his alma-mater (UW) in the attempt to move on with his life. He leases a mansion owned by the historic society and then, as one would reasonably expect, it’s ghost time.

Ghost stories have always been my favorite. When I was young, I loved and hated stories of hauntings and unexplained sightings of grey ladies, restless spirits, paranormal hotels and the like. It’s a different sort of fear than the visceral response to slasher films and the like. Stories around a campfire, paranormal installments of Unsolved Mysteries, looking forward to Snick every week for Are You Afraid of the Dark… I was attracted to anything that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, that sent shivers down my spine, or created that odd pressure in my eyes that comes from a good ghost story, even though it would always make it impossible for me to walk down a dark hallway alone. It’s rare to find a good ghost story.

This one, for all its weaknesses, at least delivered the creepy goods several times because it didn’t rely on the usual over the top antics most “scary” movies use today. So many of the hauntings were so run of the mill and ordinary that they were creepier, because they felt more grounded in actual day to day experience.

Plus: George C. Scott!

Will I ever watch it again? Probably. Not for several years, but probably.


Night Ten: You’re Next

“I stuck a blender in his head and killed him.”


Brutal, and darkly funny, You’re Next celebrates but deconstructs the slasher/last girl standing genre. It does this by showing us what it’s like if you dropped a badass who isn’t a complete idiot into the usual group of buffoons being offed one by one by homicidal maniacs.

It’s fun when the heroine turns the tables and the line between hunter and hunted, or slasher and slashee, gets blurred.

This one was a really fun time. Thumbs up!

Will I ever watch it again? Absolutely. This will be an every few years in October sort of film.

The end

halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 1-5.

Night One: Freaks

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble gobble! Gooble gobble!”

freaks 1932

Set in a circus, Freaks is a tragedy where greed and cruelty are the true deformities, but also, where people with physical deformities have some kind of weird code and they will fuck your shit up if you mess with one of them. So, you know, a laudable message wrapped in an antiquated way of dealing with different sorts of people.

In the execution of its drama, this film is as dated as one would expect. In the execution of its horror, albeit brief, this film is about as far ahead of its time as a movie can be. Unfortunately, it was so ahead of its time that people lost their shit and when the various censors were done with it a third of the movie had been chopped off. That thirty minutes of cut footage is now lost forever. The remaining film is a bit nonsensical in parts as a result, but is still impressively edgy.

I so wish I could see the original cut, especially the footage from the film’s climax that included more disturbing visuals, including implied castration… in 1932! Sadly, director Tod Browning’s career was derailed by the film’s controversy and resulting failure.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not, unless someone unearths the lost footage.


Night Two: Uzumaki 

“Come into the spiral.”


Visually, it’s creepy and interesting. Uzumaki is imaginative and fresh. The film is also downright weird, both in ways that I enjoyed and in ways that were completely lost on me, but that could be a cultural thing.

To a certain degree it is like a David Lynch film, but it makes less sense. Yes, you read that right, it makes less sense than a David Lynch film. I think much of what made the film incoherent in most narrative aspects is a translation thing. Something got lost in the translation from the manga [by most accounts brilliant] to the screen, and something got lost in translation from Japanese to English.

So, while everything is tied together visually by the malevolent spirals, we are never sure why they are malevolent… aside from something about the words for mirror and serpent being pronounced the same way, and ancient mirrors being dredged up from the bottom of a lake. All of my confusion could be purely the result of a bad subtitle transcriber.

Will I ever watch it again? No, although I’d change my mind if it turns out there is a superior subtitle track a la Let the Right One In. 


Night Three: Sightseers

“The police announced today that they’re pursuing a ginger-faced man and an angry woman in connection with inquiries.”


A twisted comedy that succeeds because it delivers its insanity so subtly. The violence and comedy mix so well because each are played so straight. Lowe and Oram are brilliant (especially Lowe).

By today’s standards, the gore is fairly tame and the body count fairly low. The film is droll, but not over the top slapstick. So the tone of the violence needed to match the tone of the humor. One way they accomplished this was by making most of the murders take place in slow motion with no native audio, but a song playing over the scene, which somehow helped keep the tone even.

Will I ever watch it again? Not soon, but ask me again in a year or two


Night Four: The Blob (1958)

“Doctor, nothing will stop it!”


Oh, The Blob. Everything you expect from a B-Movie is here. Inept cinematography, strange pacing within scenes, confused acting from a silly script. Fantastic. This one also happened to launch a young Steve McQueen. So, on behalf of The Blob, you’re welcome, America.

My very favorite B-Movie trope on display here was the unintentionally hilarious dialogue. I’d share some of the lines with you, but they wouldn’t really land without the delivery by the actors in a given moment.

This one was a late addition to the list for HMF.

Will I ever watch it again? Maybe under some sort of influence and in the right company.


Night Five: Carnival of Souls

“It’s funny… the world is so different in the daylight. In the dark, your fantasies get so out of hand. But in the daylight everything falls back into place again.”

carnival-of-souls-originalIf Uzumaki is a film I found harmed by its lack of narrative cohesion, Carnival of Souls is a film that is actually enhanced by it. It’s another film that is very Lynchian, although this one being a film that influenced Lynch instead of the other way around. In Carnival of Souls the loose narrative contributed to the nightmare feel of the film, constantly keeping the viewer off balance.

An independent film from 1962, some limitations are clear, especially in terms of the acting, and awkward editing and direction much of the time. I think there is a solid chance we see here the DNA that would later result in David Lynch fetishizing bad acting so often, especially as a way to add to a particular sort of creepy atmosphere.

The creepiness they were able to create with such limited resources is impressive. Along with the fun little winks and metaphors that are never oversold, but are left subtle. Too often storytellers are worried you’ll miss a symbol so they beat you over the head with it, Carnival of Souls just leaves it there for those with eyes to see.

The strengths and weaknesses both make it obvious why this is a cult favorite. It’s tailor-made.


The end

i return, with the last five movies i’ve watched.

Needless to say, the blog challenge seems to have gone the way of the buffalo. I just haven’t had the brain space this last week for consistent blog writing, and I just missed so many days. Still, it does seem the this jumpstarted me back into blogging again, so perhaps it will remain semi-regular. I’d like that, because even if it is a huge waste of time, I enjoy my little stream-of-consciousness ramblings here.

I guess a ‘Last Five Movies’ post is a good way to get my brain juices flowing again, rejuvenate the mind-grapes if you will.


1. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon


This tiny little movie by the Duplass brothers certainly isn’t perfect, but by the end, I was really glad to have watched it. It had a sweetness, and enough insightful moments to carry its forgivable (in my opinion) weaknesses.



2. Killing Them Softly


I really wanted this movie to work to a higher degree than it did. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it could have been really special.

The performances were really fantastic, straight across the board, and director Andrew Dominik showcased those talents with some really engaging monologues throughout the film. I’d understand if people thought there were too many, but I felt that it seemed to work as part of the style of the film. The movie also had some beautiful shots and filming sequences scattered throughout.

Where the movie did fall short for me was in the way Dominik tried to tie it all together using the American economic crisis. The forced metaphor just got too heavy handed, didn’t hold up, and then you lose the glue he was trying to use to keep the whole thing together. It would have worked better as a subtext, but instead we just got repeatedly beaten over the head with it.

Again, there really are some fantastic moments, and I’d love to watch those a few more times, maybe without sitting through some of the sloppier bits again.

Sometimes, less is more.


3. Hitchcock


This was just sort of flat and uninteresting to me. Touching on deep personality issues and psychological baggage, without actually engaging them. There is some really dark stuff half depicted, and then just glossed over as if it is no big deal. I guess either don’t depict, or actually engage it, otherwise you just look confused, no? They also did a lot of hinting at his brilliance without actually revealing some concrete places it manifested. They failed the ‘show don’t tell’ test. There was also a constant cartoonish feel that isn’t really appropriate for this sort of biopic, it was just illogical for the subject matter. It worked really well in Ed Wood, but in soooo many ways, this was NOT Ed Wood. 

Among many things, the primary thing I didn’t understand was the score. You’d think the score would either be influenced by Pyscho, or by the tone they were trying to set with Hitchcock. Instead, after an opening scene that used the music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the rest felt like it was from a family movie about a haunted mansion or or a bad remake of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Weird shit.


4. Oblivion


Far from perfect, but a solidly entertaining summer sci-fi movie. The things I could nitpick aren’t really things I need perfect in a summer blockbuster. After all, there are different movies made for different reasons, and we should embrace that for what it is. If the weaknesses were fixed, it would have elevated Oblivion from pretty good to spectacular, but pretty good is enough for me in this case. It’s really beautiful to look at, it’s smart as long as you don’t pick it apart too thoroughly (fair enough if you do), and brings together lots of sci-fi tropes in ways that aren’t particularly deep, but are pretty fun.

Also, M83’s score was satisfyingly and unsurprisingly epic.


5. Easy Money (Snabba Cash)


So, most of these movies I’ve basically said are good but not great. Well, here is the exception. No reservations, this movie is just great. A really well-told story. The acting is fantastic, which is important, since these characters are always toeing the line between sympathetic and unsympathetic. It is largely the performances that keep them human and keep us caring what happens to them. The direction and cinematography is also really beautiful, the pace is perfect, the film is quiet in the right moments and explodes at just the right times, it hits all the right notes… I really liked this one.

A really, really spectacular crime drama filled with thrilling and heartbreaking moments. I could have just watched the movie twice on repeat.

Now they just need to release the sequel in the US!

The end

warriors with iron fists and urbanized attraction syndrome. [the last five movies, 4.9.13]

I did a ‘Five Things’ recently like this, and I enjoyed it, so I decided to make it its own thing. A short rundown of the last five movies I’ve watched.


1. The Warriors


I’ve got to admit, this movie was pretty entertaining in a terribly cheesy 70’s kind of way. Sexist, and at times otherwise offensive, but not so much that I thought it wasn’t worth my time. It’s one of those cult movies I’d never seen, so it was fun to watch it and finally get a ton of references (from shows like Community and Archer) that I’d never been able to place before.

** Spoilers From the First Fifteen Minutes Follow**

I think the premise is actually pretty great. The Warriors are a small but respected gang in a near-future (that is, the near-future of the late 70’s) somewhat post-apocalyptic New York. The city is run by a bunch of hilariously over-the-top gangs, including a group of guys who wear face-paint, dress in baseball uniforms, and carry bats (no, seriously).

Anyway, The Warriors represent Spike Lee and Yasiin Bey’s Brooklyn and run Coney Island. They’re invited to a summit, during a city-wide cease-fire, where nine representatives from every gang in New York are being drawn together by an enigmatic leader with a new proposal to unite against the police. Here are the spoilers… said leader is assassinated at the meeting, The Warriors are wrongfully accused, and they have to make their way across the city while every other gang in New York tries to hunt them down. Take that plot, add in the cheesy absurdity, make a bunch of guys try to act tough while dressed like members of The Village People, and you’ve got an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.  


2. The Man with the Iron Fists


Sweet sassy-molassy. This movie was terrible. I thought it had a decent chance to be at least mildly entertaining. Written by the RZA and Eli Roth, directed by the RZA, produced by Quentin Tarantino. I thought that at the very least it would embrace its inner schlock and wink at itself from time to time. But, no, it was earnest, and horrible.

Was someone lacing the RZA’s weed with something stronger? Seriously, this movie had nothing at all to recommend. When it was trying to be funny, it was painful. When it was trying to be serious, it was… well, not even funny, just even more painful. I literally don’t think there is another way the movie could have failed.

Meh, they can’t all be winners.


3. The China Syndrome


I would never have watched this one were it not for iCheckMovies, specifically the AFI’s ‘100 Years, 100 Thrills‘ list. It’s the story of a human interest news team no one takes seriously who visits a nuclear power plant and inadvertently witnesses a major incident, then shit gets really cray.

Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda are great in the film, but the really remarkable performance is Jack Lemmon. He’s so great!

Sure, the film stretches credulity a few times, but The China Syndrome is underrated historically and should get far more respect.


4. Fatal Attraction


Apparently, this list is brought to you by Michael Douglas. Two out of five.

This movie is famous enough that everyone knows what it’s about. Glenn Close’s performance lives up to the hype (she is terrifying), the movie is tense even if you are familiar with the iconic scenes, and it has probably legitimately kept men from having affairs (Glenn Close is that terrifying). Whatever your sexual mores might be, this film does point out the reality that when you have sex with strangers, try to at least make sure they are sane. Otherwise, you have no idea what sort of shit you might activate in their brains. Remember the words of George Bluth, Sr. “Never promise crazy a baby.”


5. Urbanized

urbanized_poster2This documentary about the current state of and future possibilities for the cities of the world, as populations continue to explode, is both depressing and inspiring. There are some truly remarkable people innovating and dreaming of what the future of cities can look like, and it’s a beautiful thing. Cities are the future whether you like it or not. However, we need to start cooperating with these innovators, or else within the next 40 years, over half of the world’s population will live in terrible slums. The documentary looks at things seriously, but shows that there is real hope to be had. Still, it can only whet one’s appetite to learn more, it can’t possible get into the details needed to truly understand the insane complexity of urbanization.


The end