Yup, I’ll be watching this. (Although, I must confess, I’ve never read the comic. Something I plan to remedy post-haste.)
Night Six: Bubba Ho-Tep
“Damn straight! He comes in here tonight, I don’t want him slapping his lips on my asshole.”
As it turns out, Elvis Presley and JFK aren’t dead, but live in a rest home in Texas (or are they just crazy people?). Elvis (Bruce Campbell) switched places with an Elvis impersonator and went on to live a life of obscurity impersonating himself, while JFK (Ossie Davis) was shot, lobotomized to replace a portion of his brain with sand, and dyed all over his body to look like a black man so no one suspects he is who he is. When old people at their rest home start dying one by one, it is up to the former king and the former president to find out what sort of supernatural shenanigans might be taking place at Shady Rest Retirement Home.
Taking itself just seriously enough to add to the awesomeness, this movie is mostly absurd, is at times bizarre, and while it starts off a little hit or miss, it is really funny once it gets going. Although, to be fair, if a movie’s third act is full of vintage Bruce Campbell oneliners like, “Come and get it, you undead sack of shit,” and, “Your soul suckin’ days are over, amigo!,” I’m going to enjoy my time watching said movie.
There is even some good stuff in here about the indignity that can come with old age, and the importance of never losing our will to live life to the last drop.
Bonus Movie: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Wilbur Grey: Well that’s gonna cost you overtime because I’m a union man and I work only sixteen hours a day.
McDougal: A union man only works eight hours a day.
Wilbur Grey: I belong to two unions.
Comedy as it is today wouldn’t exist without Abbott and Costello. “Who’s On First” is still probably the most famous bit in our nation’s comedic history.
Of their film work, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the most critically acclaimed of the lot. It holds up pretty well, both between the 1940’s and now, and between the last time I saw it when I was in college and now.
Night Seven: Halloween
“Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. You can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.”
You probably can’t spoil a movie this iconic, or this straightforward in plot, but just in case, spoilers follow:
I didn’t really enjoy this film at all. I would say it is overrated, but only if I say that as something to be taken with a grain of salt. In my opinion, the tons of people who love it are seeing something I don’t see, and I think it would be really arrogant for me to just unilaterally claim that it sucks, and I’m right, and they are stupid for finding entertainment in it. That’s how most pop critics work, and I’m not sure where the value is in it. If you love Halloween, I would genuinely love to hear why, to try and understand. That is, as long as you can explain it with passion for the film, and not misplaced rage toward me for having the nerve to disagree with you.
Here is my take: I have no idea what is groundbreaking about this movie. It wasn’t the first slasher film, so it didn’t invent anything in that sense. I wonder if maybe it was just the one that found the commercial success necessary to spawn the huge rush of slasher films that followed in the 80’s. Some say it is responsible for the “morality plays” that some claim the slasher genre to be, in which all the teens who do naughty things are murdered. This seems like bullshit to me. The reason the teens do naughty things in these movies is rooted in sexual violence, because if the women are all having sexy parties when they die, then they are naked when the slasher murders them. This is troubling, and was remarkably obvious in Halloween. All three women murdered in this film were naked, or nearly naked. I don’t understand that, but it is pretty common, because uber-popular shows like all the CSI versions and Law and Order: SVU do the whole sexualized violence thing every week, so this isn’t a nerdboy thing, this is a human thing. That’s best left for an essay in another form.
I think the primary thing I didn’t like about Halloween is actually the fact that I didn’t believe a single moment of it, to any degree. I don’t mean things have to be realistic, I actually enjoyed Nightmare on Elm St. much more, and that is hugely fantastical. However, Halloween isn’t supernatural fantasy, and it isn’t asking for suspension of disbelief, it is dressing up in a clown costume and repeatedly stabbing suspension of disbelief over and over and over.
How does Michael escape to steal the car early in the film to begin with? Why, when a dangerous patient escaped a high security mental institution, is no one out looking for him? When he kills the guy driving the pickup, why doesn’t he start using that car instead? How does he drive around in a car with the mental institution logo on the side without anyone noticing? Why is a lone psychiatrist the only person interested in catching the escaped lunatic? How does a kitchen knife impaled in a cheap wall of faux-wood paneling hold up a grown male indefinitely? Why don’t the neighbors call the cops when a teenage girl is screaming and banging on their door? (Your average person might not open the door and let her in, but they would definitely call 911, if only to get her away from their house. We aren’t talking bystander apathy, that doesn’t come into play when someone is actively trying to break down your door.) Why does Jamie-Lee Curtis assume Michael is dead and drop a weapon within his reach TWO SEPARATE TIMES? Why isn’t Michael (a normal, human psychopath) at least somewhat physically impaired after being stabbed deeply in the neck by a knitting needle, stabbed in the chest by a knife, and then shot like a billion times before falling out a second story window? That’s just a list off the top of my head.
Also, with the exception of “death has come to your little town” line, the dialogue is really, really horrible. The acting is just as bad. And anything I’ve read people say was “innovative” was just taking things folks like Hitchcock invented and using it in exactly the same way. That’s not bad in itself, every filmmaker borrows and steals from those who came before. My issue is with it being praised as groundbreaking when it wasn’t. There is significance to putting the audience in the role of the killer, by using so many first person shots (especially in that impressive steadycam shot to open the film), as well as having us here Michael’s “fat guy breathing” during those shots. That doesn’t make Halloween the Citizen Kane of ‘lone killer’ movies, which many seem to believe is the case.
Night Eight: A Nightmare on Elm St.
“Tina, you either gotta cut your fingernails, or ya gotta stop that kind of dreaming. One or the other.”
I’m assuming that this film was meant to be funny and not just scary, and if that is the case, it is pretty hilarious, and my favorite of the three primary slasher films I watched for this year’s HMF. The scares don’t hold up, so if it was every supposed to be genuinely scary, that part is long gone. However, the laughs have only increased over time. The general premise is great, but the plot is flimsy and poorly executed, and the acting is so very bad. From the pacing, to the camera work, to the bad acting (I know I already mentioned that, but it really was so, so bad), A Nightmare on Elm St. is basically an after-school special from hell.
I think I enjoyed it more than the other two because the female lead was smart and tough, unlike Halloween, and since Freddy was pretty much all-powerful in these kids’ dreams, the murders didn’t require the victims to be massively stupid, unlike Friday the 13th. Also, the fact that it was funnier than the other two made it easier to find it entertaining.
Night Nine: The Innkeepers
“Never skimp on bread; you’ll always regret it.”
I had high hopes for this one, but was left really disappointed.
Ghost movies scare me the most. For whatever reason, they interact with my psyche in a way that just leaves a more lasting impression on me than other sorts of scary movies. I suppose that is in large part because they are based purely on fear of supernatural forces, so storywise, they have to rely on pure fear of the unseen. When I watch other sorts of scary movies, I might be tensely waiting for the next jump scene, which is fear I suppose, or squeamishly worried about what sort of gross death is about to happen… but once the movie is over, case closed. However, the creeped out feeling I get watching ghost movies, or even hearing ghost stories, really sticks with me. During a shower, I don’t check the other side of the curtain for zombies; however, I do check for fucking ghosts. Completely irrational, but still true. (Although, I do always check the back seat of the car for serial killers when I get in the car at night… but that’s just being practical). I have more to say about ghost stories, but being that this is just supposed to be a blurb about The Innkeepers, I should move on.
All that to say, a good ghost movie really messes with me. I wanted The Innkeepers to be one of those. It wasn’t. I was willing to look past a lot of things since the movie was made for like 35 bucks, but it wasn’t just the bad acting and a leading lady who is really irritating every time she is scared (not a good thing in a movie that requires her to be scared much of the time). This movie just didn’t offer anything that interested me or engaged me at all. A few cheap jump scenes, a pretty by-the-numbers ghost, and an unsatisfying ending left me underwhelmed.
Sad. I’ll have to find my ghost scares somewhere else. I wonder how Stir of Echoes holds up… that movie scared the bejeezus out of me when I was in high school.
Night Ten: Friday the 13th
“You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday.”
With A Nightmare on Elm St., I’m pretty sure that it was supposed to be funny a lot of the time. However, with Friday the 13th, I’m pretty sure all (or at least most) of the humor was unintended. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much from a film that was just trying to cash in on the success of Halloween, but still… c’mon guys!
Early on, it’s not terrible. Sure, the teenagers are remarkably annoying, but maybe that is just so that we are ready for someone to start killing them when the time comes. Once our primary cast starts dying, the film is fairly subdued, as the slasher quietly kills teens one by one. However, once the final act arrives, it just gets ridiculous. The whole time, the murderer is a lady at the end of her middle age, who lost her mind when her son drowned due to counselor neglect decades earlier. The fight scenes between Mama Voorhees and the final intended victim are hilarious. So bad.
It’s also amazing that Jason Voorhees, the franchise’s primary contribution to popular culture, he the supernaturally powerful killing machine, with his signature hockey mask, doesn’t even really show up in this film. By the way, there is no satisfying explanation for how Jason is a grown fucking man for the rest of the franchise. I’ve read various people trying to explain it, and maybe the franchise itself attempts to later on… but nothing makes sense.
I should have been high when watching some of these movies.
I’m scared, because important people keep leaving this project midstream, which could be really bad. Yet, I can’t help but get excited by this gameplay trailer.
Night One: Shaun of the Dead
“Who died and made you fucking king of the zombies?”
Shaun of the Dead was a way to kick things off by watching a movie that isn’t just one of my all-time favorite horror-related movies, it is one of my all-time favorite movies, period. It is largely responsible for my foray into all things zombie, as well as one of the primary reasons for HMF. I’ve seen it many, many times, and while I think that I will take a break from it for a few years after having seen it at least once a year since it came out, I know I will see it many, many times more.
Night Two: Frankenstein
Henry: “Look! It’s moving. It’s sha — it’s… it’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive! It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive! It’s ALIVE!”
Victor: “Henry… in the name of God!”
Henry: “Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!”
Among the most censored movies in history, in its time it was hugely controversial. The State of Kansas originally wouldn’t let the film be screened within its borders unless nearly half the film was edited out. That’s smart thinking, because when people watched the full version they went around throwing little girls into lakes, choking professors, burning down windmills, digging up corpses… it was anarchy. Since watching the film, I’ve already tried to reanimate monsters on four separate occasions. That wouldn’t have happened if I could have watched the cut-down Kansas version, which I imagine is just a story about a guy who gets really stressed out with some unseen experiments, burns out, gets nursed back to health by his fiance, has a super fun Bavarian wedding party, after which the village celebrates, Lakers fan style, by burning down a windmill.
One of the primary edits was that when Frankenstein achieved success and shouts, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”, Universal had to cover that up with a thunder peal, leaving the line unheard by the general public for a number of years. It was an important line. It helped hammer home a point about what happens when scientific progress is divorced from morality. Yet, The Man wanted it removed. It just goes to show you that censorship is a mature, intelligent response to things that make us uncomfortable.
Watching as the film version of Frankenstein’s monster is on screen for the first time, I wondered what it would have been like to be in a theater in 1931, seeing the monster for the first time. I grew up with the monster firmly embedded in popular culture, and in a very different time technologically and culturally. I’ve seen far scarier things than Frankenstein, and I’m far less sheltered from cultural artifacts that might be troubling or traumatic. That wasn’t so in 1931. I can only imagine the impact it would have had on me, if I’d been able to witness the unveiling of the monster with virgin eyes. It’s fun to go back and watch the birth of something that forever changed the course of future pop culture forever, even if in this case the plot is almost entirely nonsensical in a complete departure from the book. Once you see that the name of the main character is changed to “Henry Frankenstein,” (They mix up everyone’s names for seemingly no reason.), you know that things are going to be a little silly. Still, visually the film brings a lot to the table, and its impact on the rest of film history makes it more than worth the 70 minute runtime. By all accounts, Bride of Frankenstein is a superior movie, I am hoping all accounts are accurate.
Night Three: Bride of Frankenstein
“Made me from dead. I love dead… hate living.”
This movie is a classic, but it is a classic within the monster movie genre, so it will certainly have more shortcomings than some other classics from the same period.
Still, even with this in mind there were some massive misfires, the primary example being the little people Doctor Pretorius grew in jars. What the fuck? Maybe if they were bizarre, creepy little people, grotesques of some kind, they would have fit the film thematically, but they were just normal looking little people who squeak like cartoon mice. It was unreasonably stupid.
Also, if everyone knows that Henry Frankenstein created the monster out of corpses, why is he not held accountable when so many people are killed? This angry, irrational mob is pretty quick to ignore any link between Frankenstein and the body count. Maybe they are a more forgiving, gentler angry mob?
Still, while there is plenty of narrative absurdity at play, and there is tons more I didn’t even mention, it’s still pretty fun to see the growth of the monster movie. And Doctor Pretorius was a really great mad scientist when he wasn’t in a scene with tiny people in jars. He was delightfully creepy and amoral. There is a lot to look past, but if you can, there is a movie with some decent heart and some enjoyable visuals. Karloff was able to portray a homicidal monster you could really care about… you know, invite over for dinner and a smoke, leave your kids with while you went out for a dinner with the spouse. Bride also upped the ante on violence from the first one, which is perhaps just because there was no onscreen child violence. Seriously though, Frankie really fucked some dudes up in this one, especially the murderous assistant.
Side note: Apparently, it is culturally appropriate to refer to both the Dr. and the monster as Frankenstein, both are enough a part of the cultural vernacular to be considered proper uses. I always just thought it was misuse, but wikipedia points to three legitimate sources that claim otherwise.
Night Four: The Cabin in the Woods
“Cleanse them, cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe in the crimson of… Am I on speakerphone?!?”
As I’ve said before on this very blog, Cabin in the Woods is “a smart, original, scary, hilarious, crazy fun deconstruction of the genre.” It isn’t the first movie to make light of the ‘college kids go away to party at a cabin in the woods and get killed off one by one’ sub-genre, but it is my favorite. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a straightforward cabin in the woods movie, just movies playing with it in unconventional ways (like: Evil Dead 1 & 2 and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.) I’ll have to think about that more to confirm it.
Anyway, now for spoilers:
I won’t go into an long essay about the topic, but I think my reading of the film is that we are the angry gods that demand violence and punishment. I know, we are already clearly supposed to be the folks in the control room detachedly watching the brutal killings, but I think it is also to placate something dark and sinister, not deep inside the earth, but deep inside us as a species. I’ve never derived joy from watching people die on screen, even when I enjoy movies where that happens. I’ll never be the guy who gets into so called ‘torture porn’ movies like Hostel. Yet, I know it is pretty common throughout history for humans to demand violence and death, whether it be through straightforward human sacrifice, capital punishment, or gladiatorial combat. It isn’t God or gods that demand sacrifice for our transgressions, it is our own bloodlust and psychosis. Yet, maybe that is just my affection for gay, Catholic theologian James Alison talking. (Seriously though, read him, he’s amazing.)
It is we who fear that our own violent tendencies will overflow and destroy us all if we do not find an outlet for them.
“Good job, zombie hand.”
Night Five: Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face)
“They’ve removed all the mirrors, but I can see my reflection in the glass when the windows are open. There are lots of shiny surfaces… a knife blade, varnished wood… My face frightens me, my mask frightens me even more.”
Eyes Without a Face is a French film released in early 1960 in France, and in 1962 in the US. It is a quiet, poetic, subdued film revolving around genuinely disturbing acts.
After being the one to blame for an auto accident which massively disfigured his daughter’s face, Dr. Génessier begins abducting pretty young women in the hopes of transplanting a new face onto his daughter. Two of the main characters in the film commit unspeakable evil in such a matter-of-fact way, detached from how genuinely horrible their actions are. Yet, the film’s near stillness is lyrical, adding a contrast that can be seen in all sorts of similar films since. If this movie were made today, it would most likely be torture porn, upping the ante throughout the film to try and disturb the audience more and more. Yet, while Franju definitely has some off-putting shots by 1960 standards, the focus always remained on the psychological and relational aspects of what was happening, not on the gore. Personally, it’s not a film I’ll return to year after year, but it is understandable why this film is so firmly rooted in the horror canon. It’s certainly another reason I’m glad I do this every year.
I’ve gone back and forth with whether or not to try and post regularly here again, but since seeing this yesterday, I’ve been realizing it’s just too great not to share it. Even if everyone else on the internet already has.
Ever since I stopped posting on RtM, people have been clamoring for the blog’s return. I can’t tell you how many people have just been begging for more posts.
Okay, so, actually, no one even noticed I’d stopped. I’m actually coming back for one reason, and one reason only: Halloween Movie Fest 2012. It’s that time of year when I will watch a different Halloweenish movie every day for two weeks to expand my genre horizons. For those new to the fest, it started back in 2009, because I had very little experience with horror movies, but I knew good ones had to be out there waiting for me to watch them. I decided to watch a different horror movie every day (along with some non-horror, but similarly themed, so that my wife could watch one or two as well). HMF2009 was so great, I decided I always needed to do Halloween Movie Festivals, and that I needed to try the same thing with various other genres.
This year, I’m taking some chances on films I wouldn’t normally watch, both to increase the number of films I’ve never seen before, and because that seems to be in the spirit of the original HMF. Yet, looking back on past lists, it reminds me how many great movies I’ve seen this way that I haven’t rewatched in too long. Maybe I will make HMF2013 a greatest hits, spending the month of October watching all my favorite thematically appropriate fare. Although, don’t get me wrong, I still included a few of my favorites for this year’s list.
For 2012, this is going to be a pretty low-key blog series. I have too much to write for school to be writing a lot about each film. I’m still hoping I’ll actually have time to watch one of the films every day. Yet, at the very least, I’ll throw together a mass post at the end with a response to every film I watched for this year’s celebration of all things spooky, or creepy, or scary, or whatever.
As usual, Brian will be my trusty sidekick through much of the series, but I am also hoping other people will come along for the ride. There is a pretty wide variety of films, that cater to lots of different folks, whether they be interested in getting scared (which is always more fun in community), or in watching family fare with a macabre twist, or everywhere in between. I’m also adding more movies than there will be days, in the hopes that as Halloween gets closer I can get in the holiday spirit by watching two or three in a day, then maybe have a “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” dance party.
Here is the (slightly tentative) list for this year, not necessarily in the order they will be watched:
- Cabin in the Woods (2012)
- Frankenstein (1931)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- Halloween (1978) [I’ve never seen any of the old slasher films, so I figure I might as well check them out some time. Maybe drinking will be needed to make it more interesting?]
- Nightmare on Elm St. (1984)
- Friday the 13th (1980)
- Pontypool (2008)
- Shaun of the Dead (2004)
- Eyes Without a Face (1960)
- The Descent (2005)
- Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
- Zombieland (2009)
- The Innkeepers (2011)
- ParaNorman (2012) [This is assuming it is still playing at The Crest next week.]
- Frankenweenie (2012)
- The Invisible Man (1933)
- Ringu (1998)
- The Exorcist (1973) [I’ve never seen this movie. Part of me is still scared to watch it.]