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seven horror movies from the golden age of practical effects (aka the 80s). [halloween movie fest 2020.]

It may be 2020, but the 1980s are alive and well. Neon lights and retro logos are in, synths and new wave are ascendant, and pop culture is saturated with nostalgia for the shows, films, and franchises of the decade.

Now, any celebration of 80’s culture would be incomplete if we left out the incontrovertible truth that the decade was the golden age of practical effects in horror. The era was hugely significant for the genre because of the other incontrovertible truth, practical horror effects are vastly superior to their CGI counterparts. This is known.

Seriously, you go find all the outdated CGI that’s still scary, and I’ll go find all the old practical effects that are still horrifying, and we’ll compare lists. It would be a fun exercise, because after you can’t find any examples we can just watch 80’s horror movies all night.

On second thought, let’s not waste time, and instead skip right to the part where we watch 80’s horror. Here are five movies from the golden age of practical horror effects you should watch this Halloween.





Okayokayokay, I know, Alien came out in 1979, but I’m including it because, a) it’s a brilliant movie with terrifying practical effects, b) it’s part of the dawn of the golden age, and it transitions out of the 70s, a decade with amazing practical effects in its own right that set the tone for what was to come, c) I can do what I want.

Obviously, the chestburster scene is one of the most iconic moments in film history, but it doesn’t end there. All of the physical realizations of H.R. Giger’s disturbing artwork of phallic alien monstrosities are scary as hell. Alien is the precursor to a decade that would use practical effects to give us monsters that still haunt our nightmares in 2020.


The Thing



The Thing is an all-timer, featuring one of my favorite final scenes, ever.

John Carpenter effectively immerses you in the horror and paranoia of being trapped in the middle of Antarctica with a monster who can look like anyone. A monster who just so happens to be hellbent on killing and assimilating you and whichever of your friends are still actually your friends. Even worse, it will then use your likeness to get back to civilization and murder the whole planet.

As great as the concept is, the deep psychological horror is rooted in how terrifying the Thing itself is to behold. Without Rob Bottin’s remarkable effects, the movie would likely have fallen flat and become another example of a potentially great sci-fi horror film ruined by visual inadequacies and limitations. Instead, Bottin and his team delivered one of the most horrifying monsters ever committed to screen.

In the case for the supremacy of practical effects, The Thing is Exhibit A.

Not so fun fact: Bottin worked so hard that he ended up in the hospital from exhaustion at the close of filming.


An American Werewolf in London


If you ever come across a list of great practical effects in film that leaves off John Landis’s 1981 horror-comedy, throw it right in the trash.

An American Werewolf in London features the undisputed greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time. Almost four decades later, with huge leaps forward in what can be rendered onto our screens, and no one else has even come close.


The Fly



He’s the master of body horror, so David Cronenberg’s entire filmography is a cornucopia of disturbing practical effects. Videodrome and Scanners are notable mainstays on ‘best of’ lists, but for my money, The Fly reigns supreme.

It’s overflowing with disgusting practical effects, with each gross-out scene topped just moments later by something even more horrifying. But what I love most is that it’s all used to tell a focused, tragic, character-driven story of a man’s transformation into a monster.

Bonus: we’re living in the midst of a glorious Jeff Goldblum renaissance, so whether you’d be revisiting The Fly or experiencing it for the first time, now is a great time to watch one of his absolute best performances.


The Evil Dead films



Practical effects aren’t just superior in films aiming to shock viewers for genuine scares. They’re also best when it comes to horror more interested in being darkly silly and ridiculous with its gore, and there is absolutely no better example than the Evil Dead films.

These movies are so over-the-top, so delightfully and unrelentingly insane, and the practical effects are what make the whole thing work. CGI never could have done justice to the vile, unholy magic of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis

It should also be noted that Bruce Campbell is the human embodiment of practical effects. The world would be a sadder place if it didn’t have Ash Williams in it.


Bonus: 1992’s Braindead [aka Dead Alive]

Okay, this one isn’t an 80s movie, but if we’re going to talk about practical effects creating absurdly gory slapstick, we have to mention the bloodiest practical horror film of all time: Braindead (released as Dead Alive in the US).

Before Peter Jackson became internationally famous for adapting The Lord of the Rings, he made The Frighteners with Michael J. Fox, an underrated bit of genre fare that would fit right into any Halloween Movie Fest.

But before that, he made one of the dumbest, goofiest, weirdest, most ludicrously over-the-top gross-out gore-fests of all time. Try to imagine what that would look like and you still wouldn’t be close. Forget the same ballpark, you wouldn’t even be in the same galaxy.

Anyway, the film reportedly used 80 gallons of fake blood, making it objectively the bloodiest movie of all time. The lawnmower scene alone makes that easy to believe.



halloween movie fest 2017, movies one through seven.

Halloween Movie Fest is well underway, and it’s glorious.

After so many years, I’m to a point where I could make an entire month-long movie a day stretch using just films I discovered and fell in love with via HMF. Obviously, part of the joy of this annual exercise is to discover new (to me) films I might not otherwise watch, so I’ll probably never do that. Yet, while I’ll never go that far, this year I needed some familiarity in my life, so I brought back a large number of old favorites. In fact, for the first week of movies, there was only one film I hadn’t seen before (House). It was totally worth it. Upcoming weeks won’t have so many re-viewings.

Movie One – Housebound

“You cannot punch ectoplasm.”

A good horror-comedy is a thing of beauty, and Housebound belongs in the hall of fame. Add in What We Do in the Shadows and it’s clear that New Zealand really has their shit figured out in this regard.

For his debut film, writer/director Gerard Johnstone threw a mystery, a family-life comedy and a haunted house story into a blender and the resulting concoction is funny, quirky, charming and original. And as a bonus, it has one of the funniest and most unexpected death scenes I’ve ever seen — watching it for the first time with a small group of people was a genuine delight.

Sure, there are a few hiccups where the story stops making sense in order to keep things moving, but the movie is such a good time that it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience for me.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Indeed.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix

Movies Two, Three and Four – The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness

“Hail to the king, baby.”

No one is really a stranger to these films, right? This is one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time, featuring perhaps the most iconic hero in the history of the genre.

Constantly referenced in other films, especially in the horror and horror-comedy genres, these movies are part of the DNA of everything that came after. What can I really say about these demented and beloved films? You might not love them, but you definitely love a movie that’s been influenced by them.

The first movie is certainly the most earnest of the three, although it is still insane. After that they just keep getting wackier as they go.

These are those rare movies where what works and what doesn’t work all somehow still add to the overall score. Insane, over-the-top dialogue and acting? 1,000 points! A near complete disregard for continuity between movies? 250 points! Silly, low-budget special effects? 3,000 points! A chainsaw hand? 1,000,000 points!

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Of course, preferably in large groups.

Where Can You Watch It? Evil Dead II is streaming on Shudder. Otherwise you need to pay to rent these.

Movie Five – 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.”

Another previous favorite I revisited this year, this one holds up really well on second viewing. I can’t say much in case you haven’t seen it. It Follows is better if you know very little about it when you watch it, which you should absolutely do!

As I said the first time, during HMF15: “David Robert Mitchell has created a film that is moody, atmospheric, and wonderfully creepy. Also, Maika Monroe is fantastic as Jay, the terrorized lead. This is a film that will be a genre classic, and I expect to see this referenced, honored, parodied, and copied in coming years.”

Watching it for the second time — as in, without being on edge and creeped out the whole time — it was even more evident how great the filmmaking is. I really love the camera choices Mitchell made. Without going into plot details, I’ll say it would have been easy in a movie like this to use that lazy trope where filmmakers cheat to get jump scares by utilizing the limited frame of the camera lens. Just because something just jumped into frame doesn’t mean the characters wouldn’t have seen it well before the reveal. This officially renders that particular jump scare fake news. It’s everywhere in horror movies — and movies in general — these days. Mitchell doesn’t do this. He uses long takes and camera movement to create a full sense of the space of the scene, immersing the viewer more legitimately in the terror of being followed by a mysterious entity. He creates scares via skillful filmmaking, not cheap tricks.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely. Viewing two confirmed my theory that this is immensely rewatchable.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix.

Movie Six – 28 Days Later

“Look, if someone gets infected, you’ve got between ten and twenty seconds to kill them. It might be your brother, or your sister, or your oldest friend — it makes no difference. And just so you know where you stand, if it happens to you, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”

One of the primary themes at work in most zombie fare is humanity consuming itself. In Romero’s genre-spawning Living Dead films, the reanimated dead are pure mindless hunger. When left to their own devices after the collapse of civilization, those still living are even worse. The monsters are us. Romero started it all by making small stories in the midst of the end of the world, where our prejudice, paranoia, consumption, and militarism are our downfall.

In 28 Days Later, Boyle follows the template, albeit with the living dead replaced by living people infected with pure rage. Boyle dives even harder into the idea that our civilization is a thin veneer. Maybe the world isn’t actually ending, but people still use any excuse to become monsters.

The basic takeaway from most zombie movies is that individuals might be cool, but people on a large scale are the worst, whether they’re alive or undead.

Quibble all you want about whether or not it’s fare to call this a zombie film — which is stupid, because Romero himself wasn’t the one who started calling his living dead monsters ‘zombies,’ plus the word zombie comes from a totally different thing — but thematically this is a by-the-numbers zombie story exploring the worst parts of humanity.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I own it, so chances are good, even though for some reason I liked it less this time around.  

Where Can You Watch It? You can stream it on Cinemax right now if you have a password. If you need to borrow one, mine is jkyoucanthavemypassword.

Movie Seven – House

“She eats unmarried young girls. It is the only time she can wear her wedding gown.”

Ho. Ly. Shit. This movie is, to borrow a phrase from Pierce Hawthorne, crazytown bananapants. 100% bonkers.

Killer pianos, decapitated heads biting butts, magical murder cats, people being transformed into piles of bananas, and a surprising amount of kung fu are just a few examples of what this film has to offer. It’s surreal and dreamlike. It’s a horror film by way of a child’s nightmare — although with more boobs, because the 70s.

And you know what? It somehow completely worked for me. Obayashi got all the ideas from conversations with his young daughter about what she thought was frightening, and then told the screenwriter what he wanted based on that. The special effects were often designed to look silly, like a child created them, but that was spliced in with inventive filmmaking techniques that showed Obayashi was actually a gifted filmmaker and all the craziness was intentional.

If I’m being honest, there were times watching the movie where I didn’t even know why I was captivated by it, but I absolutely was. After finishing it I immediately jumped into some bonus feature interviews with the director to keep the experience from ending. Always a good sign.

Bonus: here’s an interesting video essay I found after I watched it:


halloween movie fest 2017 is here (and not a moment too soon)!

You wouldn’t know it from the weather in Brooklyn, but the time has come for another Halloween Movie Fest. Or, as my great-great-grandather always used to say, “Thank God, it’s Halloween Movie Fest!” Or, TGIHMF. (How would I trademark that? I feel like it’s definitely going to catch on with a wider public.)

HMF is my favorite annual glorious waste of my own time. I really need it this year, because the world is falling apart and depression is a fucking asshole.

I am so ready for this excursion into the familiar world of Halloween and its related cinema, a tradition that began for me in 2009.

I love Halloween, with its deep reliance on story and myth. For me, it’s like an entire holiday dedicated to telling ghost stories around a fire on a chilly autumn evening. HMF has come to be a means of extending that feeling throughout more of the month.

For previous fests, I would select a specific number of films and watch a movie a day. [That’s always the format for Another Day, Another Movie]. However, this year I’ve chosen 31 films, one for every day of the month, and I’ll get through as many as I can. I hereby promise all four people who read this blog that I will watch no fewer than 21 films. However, I doubt my schedule will allow me to watch a movie a day for the entire month of October. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try, but odds aren’t great.

The 2017 list includes some straight scary fare, a few horror comedies (because obviously), some lighter Halloween-friendly films, and Room 237, a documentary about interpretations of The Shining and the intense devotion to the film’s many mysteries (I might be stretching my own premise a bit with that last one).

19 of the 31 are films I’ve seen before, so obviously I’m leaning into some favorites I’m in the mood to rewatch. Many are films I loved after seeing them for the first time during previous Halloween Movie Fests.

Here are the films, in no particular order:

  1. Shaun of the Dead
  2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  3. The Shining
  4. Room 237
  5. Under the Shadow
  6. Don’t Breathe
  7. The Void
  8. XX
  9. 28 Days Later
  10. What We Do in the Shadows
  11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  12. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
  13. It (2017)
  14. The Haunting
  15. House
  16. Phantasm
  17. Beetlejuice
  18. Dead of Night
  19. Pet Sematary
  20. Housebound
  21. Pontypool
  22. Cabin in the Woods
  23. The Babadook
  24. Let the Right One In
  25. It Follows
  26. The Evil Dead
  27. Evil Dead II
  28. Army of Darkness
  29. Coraline
  30. The Devil’s Backbone
  31. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some movies to watch.


night eleven: pontypool. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Oh, God. You’re gonna eat me soon, aren’t you?

Goodbye vampires, hello to the rest of HMF. It’s been fun bloodsuckers, but it’s time to move on to all the other tricks and treats Halloween has to offer.

First, one of my very favorite HMF films of all time: Pontypool. I wasn’t sure I would watch it this year, but Emily had never seen it and was finally willing to give it a go, and there was no chance I was going to let that opportunity pass by.


I’m not entirely sure what else to say about this one that I haven’t said the other times it was included in previous Halloween Movie Fests. Like here, and here.

With genre and sub-genre, it’s so exciting to see someone do a good job of taking old tropes and conventions and shift them in unexpected ways. Pontypool is the epitome of that for me. In every respect, this film works better than you’d expect it to if I just laid out the concept for you.

If I made a HMF canon, this would be an automatic entry. Also, that’s a great idea. I need to canonize my favorite HMF films of all time.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Again, and again, and again.


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. 


halloween movie fest, 2015: nights 1-6.

And so it came to pass that the first six nights of Halloween Movie Fest 2015 were completed.

And it was good.

Far more than I’d expected or hoped, adding this structure back to my movie viewing habits has reminded me how much I love film. It’s hard to describe how one can forget that, especially someone like me, with a long track record of a passion for movies. I was genuinely wondering if I would ever get that old passion back. This last week, I’m remembering how life-giving film can be for me. The films themselves, along with going back through old iterations of Another Day, Another Movie, have stirred those embers, and it turns out there is still enough heat left to make fire.

I’m waking up, and HMF is playing no small part in that!

On with the movies:


1. Night One: The House of the Devil


“After tonight, everything will be complete.”

The first film of this year’s HMF is Ti West’s 2009 homage to vintage horror movies. It succeeds by being such a perfect recreation of creepy, atmospheric devil worship films of the 70’s and 80’s. Yet, it doesn’t offer anything new or have anything interesting to say.

West’s joy at celebrating and recreating the styles, editing, cinematography, and stilted acting of late 70’s/early 80’s horror is contagious, but also instantly forgettable.

The House of the Devil is a slow build of menacing tension. Taking its cues from films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, we find a story where the devil is real, and people do terrible things to follow his will.

I liked this film enough that it was worth a viewing, but it never becomes anything special. I wish that West would have done something different with the genre. In a world where films like Shaun of the Dead and Cabin in the Woods exist, a skillful homage to a beloved genre or sub-genre isn’t compelling without distinct style or the infusion of something new. West recreated the film styles he is celebrating perfectly, but never adds a voice of his own. The story also never gets particularly interesting, but is more paint by numbers devil worship yarn.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I can’t imagine I will. There are just too many amazing films to revisit to waste time on the decent ones.


2. Night Two: Dawn of the Dead [1978]


“Don’t do it until you’re sure I am coming back.
I’m gonna try not to… I’m gonna try not to come back.”

This is the one that really started it all. Sure, Romero created the genre in Night of the Living Dead in 1968, with flesh-eating corpses (Romero never called them zombies) rising from the grave in hordes to terrorize the world. Before that we had all the voodoo zombie films and Ed Wood’s 1959 “worst movie of all time,” Plan 9 From Outer Space, featuring corpses revived by aliens to take over the world (although they didn’t eat flesh). But it is this one, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, that is responsible for the zombie DNA we know and love today.

I wrote about this one for HMF ’10, and I’m still just as impressed that Romero got so much right here that folks are still recreating scenes and moments from this film almost 40 years later.

It’s dated. The blood is all bright red. The acting is clunky and ham-fisted. The zombie make-up is pretty silly much of the time. The soundtrack bizarrely tips over into an episode of the A-Team once or twice. Still, with all that, Dawn of the Dead remains compelling and relevant. This is one of the cultural artifacts portraying the rotting underbelly of nineteenth and twentieth century American life.

I do wish I could see it with the ending as it was originally written though. **Spoiler Alert** — Where Peter actually shoots himself and Francine puts her head in the helicopter blade in despair, then the film’s credits roll over the helicopter blades as the gasoline runs out and the blades stop rotating, showing they wouldn’t have made it anywhere if they’d tried. It’s a dark, fitting end to the story, even though they decided against it.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely, yes. This one is in the canon.


3. Night Three: Day of the Dead

 BobDOTD“Take me man, take me! I don’t want to be like one of them!” 

This was my first time watching the third film in the Dead series. Romero says it’s his favorite of those first three films.

Of the original trilogy, it is the angriest and the goriest (the makeup and gore effects age far better from this installment). The final act has some of the most intense, grotesque zombie mayhem in movie history. The horror of being overwhelmed by a zombie horde was fully realized and depicted.

Day of the Dead also features the worst acting of any of the three films… seriously bad acting. Oh man, so very bad.

I haven’t seen Land of the Dead yet, so I can’t speak to the human journey in that one, but in the first three there is a really satisfying movement of the human characters in general. This is true even though there are no recurring characters in any of the films. Night of the Living Dead is a siege film, it captures the panic and confusion of the initial outbreak. Dawn of the Dead is depression and despair, humanity is realizing that things aren’t going to get better, they are trying to adapt in various ways to the new world. Day of the Dead is rage and madness, the human characters have long since been pushed beyond their breaking point and left to live in that no-man’s land indefinitely.

The human on human violence in Dawn of the Dead contains a certain amount of perverse joy, people reveling and pillaging in the destruction of the old boundaries and rules that kept us civilized. But in Day of the Dead, the human violence is all frenzied despair. Characters might whoop and laugh, but it is an empty playacting, a hollow shell to cover their blind rage and hopelessness. We see more and more Romero’s assertion that there has only ever been a thin veneer that separates the living from the living dead.

Obviously, the films also do far more than that in terms of satire and commentary, but that was a huge takeaway for me after my first viewing of Day.

I do still need some time to decide if I’m on board with the whole ‘learning zombies’ thing. For me it might stretch the internal credulity of this world’s logic a bit too much. In time I might continue to warm to it though.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely.


4. Night Four: The Haunting


“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.”

THIS is the sort film that reminds me why I fell in love with doing various versions of Another Day, Another Movie. The Haunting is really, really good.

It’s hard to call a movie that Martin Scorsese listed as the scariest movie of all time underrated, but I think this one is. This should be on more lists of historically great films.

An adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting on Hill House, The Haunting is one of those films that could be enjoyed without volume. That’s not to say anything negative about the dialogue or music, it’s just that this film is so visually captivating, the cinematography so well-crafted, that the story would come across without audio. Every frame in this movie is beautiful, but not an empty beauty, each frame is also meaningful. Freeze and capture any frame and you’ll still be able to sense the anxiety, the madness, the terror, and the tension in each scene. Robert Wise, in-between directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music, used lighting effects, shot framing, contrast, and blocking beautifully. This is a great director delighting in a change of pace.

Some plot holes aside, The Haunting was a joy to watch, and unnerved me far than I expected.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Oh my god, yes. This joins films like Peeping Tom as one of the most delightful surprises I’ve come across in my time doing HMF. This is a new favorite.


5. Night Five: Kairo


Help… help…. help… help.”

Kairo is a 2001 Japanese horror film written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Ghosts have crossed over into the world of the living and are using our technology against us.

The writing is uneven, at times the allegory of how our technology isolates us instead of bringing us together is too on the nose. Other times, the story gets convoluted and confused. As is always the case when subtitles are involved, there is the possibility that things were lost in translation. I have a suspicion that was at play for Kairo. 

Yet, even with the writing issues, Kairo succeeds because of how effectively unnerving it is. When they’re on their game, and hell, even most times when they’re not, J-Horror directors craft atmospheres and visuals which are creepy as fuck! Kurosawa is really good in this regard. All the terror in this film is from nuance and details. No gore, no cheap jump scares created with manipulative music and lazy lunging villains. Every scene is imbued with dread and menace because of the way the camera moves to reveal something which has appeared in the frame but wasn’t there a moment before. Even the scenes that would be horrifying anyway are made all the more creepy by framing and movement.

This won’t be in the running for my favorite ‘new-to-me’ film from the HMF ’15, but it was definitely an enjoyably creepy way to spend two hours.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Perhaps. First I need to see more of the J-Horror films I’m missing, as it’s a sub-genre I’m underexposed to.


6. Night Six: Byzantium


“I had eyes that cut through lies, I had lungs that breathed eternity. I felt I’d lived my whole wretched life just to prepare me for that moment.”

I really enjoyed this one. A small gothic horror tale of mother and daughter vampires. Like House of the Devil, this doesn’t really do anything to offer a new twist. Nothing is added to vampire lore. The difference is that Neil Jordan has a distinct visual voice on display here. The story is compelling, the film is stylish and beautiful to look at, the actors all offer absolutely wonderful performances, and the writing feels like a good novel, it’s warm and inviting and made me want to curl up and keep watching these dark, violent characters well past the film’s runtime.

I love well crafted, dark, romantic stories (in the 18th century Romanticism sense, not the romance novel sense) about the nature of life and death and terror and awe. Byzantium was very much one of those stories.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’d love to. For a long time I’ve wondered what possible genre or sub-genre I could pick to do another original ‘Another Day, Another Movie’ series. I think I just realized it needs to be a week or two of beautiful gothic horror and related films. Crimson Peak is coming up soon in that same vein!


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.



halloween movie fest, 2013: nights 6-10.

Night Six: Dead Alive

“Your mother ate my dog!”

“Not all of it.”

braindeadOh, what a ridiculous movie. So over the top gory, but in the most cartoonish way imaginable… like a Loony Tunes short from hell. This isn’t just the bloodiest movie I’ve ever seen, based on the amount of movie blood used, it is actually the bloodiest movie of all time. Although, since blood is all CGI now, that stat means less and less.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this film is played for laughs. Jackson & Co. are trying to get you to either bust a gut or empty your guts… or both. This movie is insane. I actually kind of liked a lot of it.

Highly influential on zombie films since. The lawnmower scene is essential viewing for the cinematic history of zombie carnage.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? This falls into the “high, and with a group of people” category.


Night Seven: Citadel

“If you don’t wanna get dead, hold my hand.”


At times it transcends its small budget, decent tension occasionally, strong performance by the leading man. Otherwise, underwhelming. There are a few legitimately creepy moments I enjoyed, but they never coalesce into anything satisfying. I think this needed a few more treatments before it was ready.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Probably not.


Night Eight: The Awakening

“It’s never darker than when we close our eyes, and yet we keep them shut.”


Mediocre, with a cheap twist, but the film was worth my time because there are some winning moments, some genuinely eerie tension at times, and a few wonderfully creepy scenes (like the second dollhouse scene).

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Nope, but I don’t regret watching it once.


Night Nine: Mama

“Daddy, look! There’s a woman outside the window. And she’s not touching the floor.”


Even after watching a few more HMF13 films in November, this will stand as the biggest disappointment for me from this year’s list. I looked forward to it for so many reasons: I love good ghost stories, Guillermo del Toro produced it, Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are in it. Alas, my hopes were dashed.

For one, the film isn’t scary or creepy like a good ghost film should be. The titular entity was CGI and looked downright silly instead of scary, absurd more than anything else. She was kind of like the silly (awesome) ghosts from The Frighteners, but played straight, that doesn’t work.

Much of the film was insensible, with that common problem horror films run into where people do stupid shit for no reason other than that it creates scarier atmosphere. Why is some guy investigating a house out in the woods in the middle of the night when he could easily have gone in the afternoon? Even if he didn’t believe a ghost haunted it, it’s stupid from a sheer practicality standpoint, but they wanted to create an underwhelming photo flash set piece for a ghost encounter, and alas, inexplicable decisions are made.

The end was also infuriating, but that could just be me.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely not.


Night Ten: Pontypool

“For your safety, please avoid contact with close family members, and refrain from the following: all terms of endearment, such as ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’; baby talk with young children; and rhetorical discourse. For greater safety, please avoid the English language.

Do not translate this message.”

pontypoolAnd on Halloween night, I finally reached #10. The Halloween tradition for the last five years is to watch a movie that we already know and love, instead of trying a new one.

What else can I say about Pontypool that I haven’t already said here, and here? I’ve been telling you to watch this movie, and you probably still haven’t. Your loss… loser.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ve seen it four times now, I will watch it at least four more.



halloween movie fest 2013 is happening.

It’s been like 47 billion years since the last time I posted on Roused. Or two months. Although, if time isn’t linear, that may be the same thing. I digress.

I should be sleeping right now, yet, here I am. Every time I quit Roused, it pulls me back in.

This time I am back because I just don’t want to live through an October without a Halloween Movie Fest. After all these years, it just feels wrong. I could do it without sharing it on the internets, but that just doesn’t feel the same. Thus, here we are. I’m doing this, and I am sharing it, just in case you’re interested.

This year’s fest will be two weeks long. As always, I am bringing back a few favorites (i.e. Pontypool, 28 Days Later) and watching a whole bunch of new ones, some classics, some new, all in the hopes of expanding my understanding of the genre. Yep, I’m a nerd.


14 films in 14 days. Here is the list:

  1. Pontypool
  2. 28 Days Later
  3. Let The Right One In (original) / or / The Shining (haven’t decided yet what I want to fill that last favorite slot with.)
  4. Dead Alive
  5. Repulsion
  6. Re-Animator
  7. Les diaboliques
  8. Citadel
  9. Frankenweenie
  10. Mama
  11. The Awakening
  12. Peeping Tom
  13. The Descent
  14. Carrie (2013)

That’s all for now. More to come. You’ve been warned.



zombies, run! 2.

qfyeBVCA full ‘Zombies, Run!’ post has been a long time in coming. The time is now, and this is the perfect week for one, because they’ve just released ‘Zombies, Run! 2’. So far, the second version appears to be a massive upgrade for an already outstanding app.

‘Zombies, Run!’ is a smartphone app available for iPhone and Droid in which your jogs are accompanied by a fictional zombie apocalypse that adds just enough extra fun and motivation that it could just be what gives you that extra push you need to get off of your ass and run.

I started using the app when I realized just how fat I was getting, combined with the fact that all research shows that regular exercise is really good for helping with depression. This was last May, and since then I’ve run around 370 miles (it would have been even more if not losing two months to illness), and lost over 20 pounds! I can’t overstate just how out of shape I was when I started.

When I bought the app, I was hesitant to spend the $7.99 it was going to cost me. That’s a lot for an app! In hindsight, based on how helpful the app has been, I would have paid $40 or $50 happily. I’m not exaggerating. The app has been that important in helping me keep going out there consistently, helping me build the habit that now can sustain itself without the app’s help. FYI, right now the app is on sale for $3.99!

The app includes all of the features a normal running app features. It keeps track of distance and time, maps your run, syncs with a website you can use to track your progress on your computer, etc.

What ‘Zombies, Run!’ offers that other running apps don’t is extra gamification that turns boring runs into mini-adventures. With a solid voice cast, the folks who created this game have written an episodic story surrounding Abel Township, a small group of survivors trying not to succumb to the zombie plague. You are Runner 5, a newcomer to Abel who has to prove yourself and earn your keep, running outside the town gates to collect resources, lead zombies away from town, and complete other various missions, all with your trusty guide Sam Yao speaking into your headset from the communications tower.

The game also includes an interval training feature called ‘Zombie Chases’. When turned on during a run, there will be random moments when you are alerted that zombies have been detected in the area. You then need to pick up your pace to get away from the horde. If you speed up enough for the right duration of time, you escape the zombies. If not, then you need to drop supplies to distract them, which isn’t something you want to do.


You need those supplies, which you will “pick up” randomly as you run, as they are used to keep improving Abel Township. The base building feature on the new version of the app is so much more fun than the original, and it appears they’ve got some tricks up their sleeve that will create enhanced importance for how your base will impact your runs.

Season One of the episodic story had 23 episodes, and Season Two promises to feature more than double that when you include new side missions. The new season will include some free episodes, and some that require purchase, and all will be released over time in truly episodic fashion. I bought access to the entire second season as it becomes available  for five bucks, but that is half price, and will go up after this week. Definitely worth it to me.

Even if you aren’t into zombies, you should consider getting this app. It’s not scary, just fun, and is largely responsible for for me being in wildly better shape than I was this time last year, with even more improvement on the horizon!

Hooray for Zombies, Run!