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halloween movie fest, 2015: nights 7-12.

The second third of this year’s HMF was a mixed bag. A few underwhelming films, two favorites I was revisiting, a trendsetting classic in the horror genre, and a film that will become that in time. Let’s just get right to the films:


Night Seven: It Follows


 “It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.”

It Follows is a really great movie. It is also one of those movies that may be impossible to talk about with folks who have never seen it before. For one, the film is pretty spoiler-friendly. If I explain anything about the premise to someone who hasn’t seen it, then I will ruin the early build of tension and strangeness. And two, the film doesn’t have a clear narrative point. It has a lot to say, but not in simple allegory. It Follows engages many ideas concerning sex, death, relationship, family, absentee parenting, and coming of age. Yet it doesn’t engage any of those ideas in a way that offers answers or morals, but instead insinuates mercurial questions and open-ended thoughts.

David Robert Mitchell has created a film that is moody, atmospheric, and wonderfully creepy. Also, Maika Monroe is fantastic as the terrorized lead, Jay.

This is a film that will be a genre classic, and I expect to see this referenced, honored, parodied, and copied in coming years.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Yes. This feels like the sort of movie that can be watched again and again with varying takeaways and reactions every time.


Night Eight: Pan’s Labyrinth

pan's labyrinth

“Me? I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.
I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am… I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness.”

This was my third time watching Pan’s Labyrinth, but the first time in quite a while. The computer effects are certainly more dated now, but the film is still as darkly beautiful and moving as I remember it to be. This is Guillermo del Toro’s rendering of how story and imagination can sometimes be our only salve in a violent, often ugly world.

Escapism can get a bad rap when it comes to stories and art, but Pan’s Labyrinth illustrates the reality that sometimes escape into story is our only hope.

As Tolkien said about the scorn escapism faces: “Evidently, we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

The escape story offers can function in two possible ways. In some instances, it can actually help us escape from our prejudices, small-mindedness, fear, anxiety, etc. In others, we are powerless to change our circumstances, like Ofelia. Then, story and fantasy might be the most sane way to respond and keep hope burning in a hopeless situation. Story might not always save us, but it may be the only thing that makes the impending darkness bearable. Pan’s Labyrinth remains one of my two or three favorite artifacts of this idea.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Obviously. Del Toro’s work is the sort that reminds me of the power of storytelling.


Night Nine: The Devil’s Backbone

santi“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”

Revisiting another del Toro film. I saw this for the first time during a previous HMF, which I wrote about here. The Devil’s Backbone is the lens through which I see del Toro’s work, as it’s an early film for him, it took him 16 years to develop, and he described it afterward as the first time he was fully satisfied with the final product of a film (which is in itself an amazing thing to say when your first feature length movie was fucking Cronos).

There are so many similarities between Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, and I believe it is because they are the closest to the DNA of del Toro’s heart and his storytelling sensibilities. In both, we see the themes of violence, cruelty, power, innocence, gender, and humanity’s capacity for both monstrosity and beauty. In both we have scary supernatural elements that pale in comparison to the terror of what people are capable of doing to each other.

This time, rewatching both del Toro films, a primary thing that struck me was that each had a villain who was truly horrible, but complicated. Even though it doesn’t go into detail, each film’s villain had a rich subtext, the implication that a deep wound was the source of their ability to do evil things. It didn’t act as an apology or justification for their actions, but it made the characters richer and more satisfying. It made the fairly binary separation between good and evil in the films easier to buy into. The human ability to do monstrous things is so often rooted in our own fear and brokenness. 

Whenever I rewatch things I previously loved I’m worried I’ll see new cracks or weaknesses that will ruin it for me, but I was happy to see that The Devil’s Backbone stands up as a beautifully crafted story and film.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? See above.


Night Ten: Witching and Bitching


“What’s she doing with the broom?”

“Not sweeping up, that’s for sure.”

Witching and Bitching is a crazy film from Spain that I wish I liked more than I did. After a jewelry heist, some robbers and hostages are on the lam when they run afoul of some evil cannibal witches.    

It’s really weird and original. It has a lot of enjoyable energy. At times it’s hard to tell if the film is sexist, or challenging sexism, which I think is actually a strength.

In the end the storytelling just gets a little too cartoony for me to keep enjoying it. For example, two characters fall in love because they need to for the filmmakers to make certain jokes and points, even though those characters had previously only been in the same room for maybe twenty minutes, none of which involved believable emotional connection.

Witching and Bitching felt to me like they ran with the kernel of a good idea with abandon, when they should have spent more time solidifying things early on. The energy and craziness were good, but without the needed foundation and structure that makes films like Shaun of the Dead or the original Dead Snow work so well

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No, but I didn’t feel like once was a waste of time.


Night Eleven: The Wicker Man [1973]

Robin HardyÕs THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

“Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.”

The Wicker Man has been referred to as the Citizen Kane of horror films. Mostly, this is simply a hyperbolic way of praising it by comparing it to one of the few films that is always on the shortlist as greatest film of all time. However, there are ways this comparison is actually accurate. Citizen Kane set a new standard for visual storytelling, and The Wicker Man was a new way of making a horror film. Robin Hardy abandoned the horror sensibility of the time. Gone were the broad strokes and gaudy make-up and melodramatic overacting, replacing them with creepy subtlety and weirdness. The perfect microcosm of this is horror star Christopher Lee’s appearance as your friendly neighborhood cult leader.

The movie is definitely weird, for example it has a nude musical number by one character. It needs to be weird to throw the audience off balance along with the protagonist.

The plot definitely has a few major holes in it, and the main character is so hard to like that the stakes and danger never felt real to me. Yet, for the most part the film is still compellingly well-crafted in terms of visuals and atmosphere. From the slow burn of the film’s opening act to the impressive final shot, The Wicker Man is a solid movie that deserves its place in the cult film canon.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Eventually. This will be a good one to revisit for film and genre study.   


Night Twelve: Dead Snow 2


 “The operation was a success. We managed to put your arm right back on.” 

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is so over the top and insane that it’s hard to fault it for being so empty and nonsensical. As a movie to watch with some friends to laugh at its ongoing self-aware absurdity it is worth the price of admission. However, it pales in comparison to Dead Snow and other similar films.

The movie revels in its over the top gore and cartoonish violence as much as the original, but it lacks all the internal logic and structure that made the first one so satisfying. The first film was full of fairly interesting characters, ultimately ill-fated but tough enough to be competent in a zombie fight, in part thanks to their film knowledge. The second film had mostly annoying characters who didn’t make much sense.

This was fun while it lasted, in the right context, but lacks all the craft of the first film.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ll watch Dead Snow again, repeatedly. I imagine this will be my only viewing of Red vs. Dead. 

The end

ice cream soul food: rewatching the three flavours cornetto trilogy.


As promised a very long time ago now, here is the first post where I explore the reasons I revisit something over and over again. As was also promised, first up is the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, aka the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy.

For the uninformed, the Three Flavours trilogy is comprised of the three films directed by Edgar Wright, written by Wright and Simon Pegg, and starring Pegg and Nick Frost: Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Each film represents another flavor of the delicious Cornetto ice cream treats. Shaun of the Dead is Red (strawberry): blood, gore, horror. Hot Fuzz is Blue (original/plain): cops. The World’s End is Green (mint, my favorite flavor of Cornetto): apparently science fiction was also referred to as green fiction at one point. Each film actually features the delicious ice cream treats, altough in the World’s End it doesn’t happen until the very end, and even then it’s only the wrapper (I was actually consciously starting to worry as the film was clearly winding down that there wouldn’t be an Cornetto reference).

The third film came out just last year, so obviously I don’t have years of revisitation for that one, but the first two films are the sort I come back to over and over. On average, I watch them a little more than once a year, and while there are times I worry I’ll get sick of them, it just never seems to happen.

This is why, as I was rewatching The World’s End recently, I couldn’t help but start wondering what it is that brings me back to these movies specifically, and to my favorite movies, shows, and books in general.

As I said in the last post introducing this idea, the reasons we love the things we love are too numerous and complex to flesh out with any certainty or finality. We can say things about this topic that are true, but that truth is never exhaustive. So, here are some true things about why I just can’t quit Edgar and Simon and Nick, at least when all three are together.

I don’t have to look very hard to see what first drew me to these films. Right on the surface, these are beautifully made movies. For all their levity and silliness, there is a technical skill at play that makes it easy to watch them again and again. Their combination of creativity/innovation and homages to the great films Wright and Pegg love is unparalleled. Here is Tony Zhou singing Wright’s virtues:


It’s so fun to watch someone do something they’re really good at. These guys are really good at making movies, and they are even better at displaying their love for the medium of film in general. It started with Spaced and has just kept on going. In this case, as with Tarantino, there is also such a deep, wide well of movies being referenced visually that as I continue to widen my exposure to the history of film I’ll catch even more of those references with each viewing.

Another reason I return to this films, as I mentioned in the intro post, is that these movies function like security blankets or comfort food. These films are familiar and comfortable. Yet, they still have the power to move me and inspire me. All the jokes still make me laugh, even though I quote them constantly in daily life. The sweetness and lovability imbued into all the characters by Wright and Pegg’s writing, as well as the acting, makes it feel like having dinner with old friends. And just like old friends, they feel safe, but still have the ability to surprise me.

These films are also nostalgic for me. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz each connect to moments outside the film entirely. So many memories are associated with these films. Brian, one time (and maybe future?) RtM writer, and I could probably communicate fairly effectively with each other using only lines from these movies. And I don’t just mean barebones communication either. We can communicate humor, frustration, distress, sadness, and most importantly affection fairly well using Cornetto dialogue, combined with the decade of layers that added on since we started watching these movies together. Fortunately we don’t have to, because we have a massive catalogue of dialogue from other movies and shows that we use in addition to those from the trilogy.

Technical skill and artistry, beloved material, and nostalgic connection to my past: just one of those would be a good enough reason to rewatch. Yet, I think the biggest reason I rewatch them, or at least the reason I am rewatching them right now, is the way they engage life in general, and my life in particular.

These movies are about zombies, or weird secret murderous cults obsessed with having the ideal village, or alien invasions, but more than that they are about growing up. Not coming of age in the traditional sense, where young folks learn about love or death or friendship or loss for the first time. These coming of age stories are about growing up in the current millennium, where a great deal of our growing up happens in our 30’s and beyond. It’s the sort of growing up that feels close to my own story, or more accurately, my own insecurities and frustrations.


Shaun of the Dead is about zombies, but it is also about moving deeper into your 30’s and still having nothing in your life figured out. It’s about fear and lethargy and how too often we live life by default instead of making choices.

Hot Fuzz is about murderous village conspiracies, but it is also about having trouble being close to people, and how an overactive brain can make connection and intimacy difficult.

The World’s End is about a robotic insurgency created by aliens, but it is also about how hard it is to be an adult who never lived up to the potential everyone thought you had when you were young, to feel like all your friends have passed you by and you are the pathetic one, the embarrassment. It’s about the need to take responsibility for ourselves.

In other words, these movies are about me, which is the amazing thing about stories, because obviously they aren’t about me at all. Wright and Pegg have never met me before, which means these connections I see to myself are a result of something else. Partly, these connections appear by coincidence, or because of ideas and feelings common to our culture and times as well as those more specific subcultures I’m a part of. More importantly however, these connections are there because of the human tendency to read ourselves into stories, and to read stories into ourselves.

This is one of the amazing abilities story has, and a huge reason why we rewatch and reread and relisten. When I revisit the Cornetto Trilogy, I feel less alone. I see I’m not the only one wondering who the hell I am, and how on earth I can become a better version of myself for me and the world and the people I care about. I find reassurance and comfort, which leaves me with at least two potential options: I can sink into that comfort and continue living the version of my life I’m disappointed with, allowing continual visits to Cornettoland to keep me pacified, or I can use that comfort and sense of connection to help me be less afraid and paralyzed, to take a new step forward and grow up a little. As I said, rewatching the Cornetto Trilogy is a bit like dinner with old friends, and just like old friends they can either shackle us to who we used to be, or inspire us to always be moving onto better things.


The end

the revisitor.

Recently, I’ve been rewatching the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). That in itself is unsurprising, even inevitable, as I’ve done that on average more than once a year (for the first two, at least). Yet, this particular round of rewatching has me thinking about all the reasons why so many of us rewatch things at all. Why watch something, as some us do, not just twice, but five or eight or twelve times? As often as people offer lazy, oversimplified answers as to why we might watch or read something over and over again, there is simply no catchall reason. The reasons why I revisit 30 Rock are different from the reasons why I revisit Wes Anderson movies, and the reasons my brother and I watched Newsies and Bedknobs and Broomsticks every weekend as kids differ quite a bit from the reasons my friends and I watched Swingers over and over again in college. I don’t just mean that these reasons differ in the obvious and specific ways, the particular characters and strengths that vary with each example. I mean they differ in profound philosophical and psychological ways. They are different in the way my need to sleep differs from my need for water; I require both to stay alive, but each serves a very distinct purpose.

I’m definitely not the only one who returns to old favorites again and again, either. Revisiting stories is as old as stories. Myths, religious liturgies, fairy tales, oral histories, and the timeless tradition of theme and variation are all examples of the way we return to certain stories over and over again, retelling and rereading as we remake our tales and they remake us. As is the case with anything that has been central to the human experience for as long as there has been evidence of language, it would be a mistake to try and oversimplify it or nail it down conclusively. The reasons are countless, they are nuanced and overlapping, and some are hidden in the realm of the individual and collective unconscious where Jung’s archetypes reside.

Even at just a passing glance I can identify some of the more obvious reasons why we keep returning to favored stories.

We rewatch seeking a relic that remains the same for us as everything else becomes unfamiliar and strange. In other instances, the opposite is true, we rewatch a film or show because it is new every time we return to it, since we are never the same when we experience it and thus will see it with new eyes every time.

We rewatch for a version of comfort food or a security blanket. The familiar characters feel like family, the cherished jokes still make us laugh, or a film is linked to a formative time in our lives and we feel a unique nostalgia connected to a particular cultural artifact. These stories then become a connection to a home we can’t otherwise return to. This particular category would be the easiest in which to identify attracts us to keep rewatching. Yet, even though there are some obvious reasons we can see, each is most likely entwined with more subtle and nuanced factors that keep calling us back.

Other things we return to because of how brilliantly constructed they are, because the beauty of some scene or moment or performance or shot or writing, or combination of all those elements, just won’t let go of our imagination, won’t stop triggering a deep feeling of wonder and so we go back to it again and again to suck all the marrow out. Yet, even these examples are more complicated than that, the beautiful construction was probably a vehicle for a thought or sentiment that connected with us very personally. There are so many well-crafted movies, and not all of them connect with each of us to the same degree. While the artistry is a huge part of what draws me toward the work of Kurosawa, there are other factors at play that make his films impact me the way they do.

All of that to loosely illustrate that there isn’t a final answer we can land on to explain the human habit of continually revisiting some collection of cherished stories again and again. We can say things about it that are true, but that truth is never exhaustive.

I don’t know exactly what is happening when I find joy in seeing a movie for the eleventh time. What I do know is that there is goodness to be found when we acknowledge that there is beauty in something and pore over it. It can reveal beauty that is in the artifact itself, and it can reveal beauty from within us by showing what we find to be admirable and worth returning to again and again. We can learn by looking closely at the things we find worth celebrating, or emulating.

Thus, all these thoughts I’ve had about why we rewatch things, combined with a recent desire I’ve had to thoughtfully return to many of my favorite stories, has led me to start a new theme here where I revisit an old favorite and attempt to discern some of what it is that I cannot escape. For example, as I rewatch the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy again, what are some of the true but not exhaustive reasons I return to these movies again and again? That will be the first post in this theme, so stay tuned.

The end