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halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 6-10.

Night Six: Peeping Tom

“Whatever I photograph, I always lose.”


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

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

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

One of my favorite HMF finds.

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


Night Seven: Come Out and Play

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


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

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

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


Night Eight: Grabbers

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


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

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

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

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


Night Nine: The Changeling 

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

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

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

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

Plus: George C. Scott!

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


Night Ten: You’re Next

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


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

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

This one was a really fun time. Thumbs up!

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

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previous halloween movie fests.

A few folks were curious about the earlier editions of Halloween Movie Fest, so here is a convenient little compilation of links for anyone who cares.

2013 Nights 1-5
The Descent
Les diaboliques
Peeping Tom

2013 Nights 6-10
Dead Alive
The Awakening

2012 Nights 1-5
Shaun of the Dead
Bride of Frankenstein
The Cabin in the Woods
Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face)

2012 Nights 6-10
Bubba Ho-Tep
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (Bonus Movie)
A Nightmare on Elm St.
The Innkeepers
Friday the 13th

2012 Nights 11-15
The Invisible Man
The Exorcist
The Fog

Halloween Movie Fest 2010
Night 1 – Let the Right One In
Night 2 – [rec] 
Night 3 – Brotherhood of the Wolf
Night 4 – Slither
Night 5 – An American Werewolf in London
Night 6  – Dawn of the Dead
Night 7 – Pontypool
Night 8 – The Devil’s Backbone
Nights 9-15 –
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Monster House
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The Fly (1986)
Shaun of the Dead
Dead Snow.

The Inaugural Halloween Movie Fest 2009
Full List, including:
1. 28 Weeks Later
2. Let The Right One In
3. The Orphanage
4. Ghostbusters
5. Poltergeist
6. Night of the Living Dead
7. Evil Dead
8. Drag Me to Hell
9. Trick ‘r’ Treat
10. Dead Snow
11. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
12. Shaun of the Dead

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halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 1-5.

Night One: Freaks

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

freaks 1932

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

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

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

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


Night Two: Uzumaki 

“Come into the spiral.”


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

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

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

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


Night Three: Sightseers

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


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

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

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


Night Four: The Blob (1958)

“Doctor, nothing will stop it!”


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

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

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

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


Night Five: Carnival of Souls

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

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

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

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

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


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american horror story.

Ecran_Titre_d'American_Horror_StoryI’ve finally gotten around to starting American Horror Story. Another one of the countless shows that have been on my ‘To Watch’ list for years. October seemed like a great time to get started.


I expected to like it, but I LOVE it. It was a genuine struggle for me each night to not start another episode and just stay up all morning binge watching. The first season, now referred to as American Horror Story: Murder House is such a great haunted house story. Now I’m halfway through season two American Horror Story: Asylum. 

I like everything about the show, but the acting is the most impressive to me so far. Across the board the acting is solid, Evan Peters and Frances Conroy quite notable, but everyone takes a back seat to Jessica Lange. During her first scene I had the same moment I had seeing Kevin Spacey in the first episode of House of Cards, in which I realized it was a performance I could watch forever. It isn’t just great acting by Lange, there is something magnetic and uncommonly captivating about the performance. Genuinely remarkable.

At this rate, I’ll probably catch up with the show before the current Freak Show season finishes.

If you haven’t seen AHS yet and there is any chance you can watch a horror themed show you should watch it immediately!




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before midnight.

I’m pretty sure the trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight is the greatest love story ever told in film. I would need to think about this for a while to confirm I’m not forgetting about some glaring omission, but at the moment, that’s my opinion on the matter.

It’s just so real, so brilliant, and cuts so closely to the heart of romantic love and what it really means to be a person in the world. I think what I love the most about these films is that it is first and foremost about being human, about all of our own ideas and doubts and passions and contradictions. The love story is central, but somehow also very secondary. First comes each of these characters as fully realized individuals, then comes their relationship.

These are interesting characters in their own right who also happen to come into one another’s lives. They make each other better, with the way they encourage and challenge one another. Yet, they are two people who choose to share some of their life with the other, not one weird amalgam where neither can be fully herself/himself and both are sucked into a weird enmeshed rat king.

I wish there were more relationships like this in media, instead of the plethora of nauseating variations of unhealthy nonsense that normally gets perpetuated as true love, but is really just some degree of either naive wish-fulfillment or poorly disguised cynicism pretending to be a family sitcom. 


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the year you can start complaining about george r.r. martin.

I made a mistake yesterday, I read comments on the internet. Every time I do, no matter what the comments are about or where they are found, I promise myself I will never practice such an enraging and depressing exercise again. Yet, every few months, I backslide. Nearly every time the reason I read comments is absentmindedness. They are sitting there at the bottom of an article I just read or a book I was just checking out on Goodreads,  and I am reading a few comments before I even realize what I’m doing. Mistake. Every time.

Yesterday, the comments I started reading were at the bottom of the Goodreads page for Patrick Rothfuss’s upcoming book, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. For the uninitiated, Rothfuss is the author of a fantasy series called Kingkiller Chroniclewhich is successful in every measurable category: fans love it, sales are great, and critics rave about it. Fans of the series have been waiting for the third and final installment for several years, growing more impatient as time passes. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a short book that takes place in the world as The Kingkiller Chronicle, but is not the long awaited final book. This led to some folks in the comments section railing about how Patrick Rothfuss is basically the worst person of all time, and should be ashamed of himself for not finishing a book they are looking forward to… concluding a story that he invented… featuring characters he imagined… and shared with them.

Many of them started calling on the name of George R.R. Martin as an example of how terrible artists can be for not creating art on a customer’s timetable. But here is the thing, as Neil Gaiman now famously wrote six years ago, “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” The fact that you bought something an artist created doesn’t mean you somehow now own a portion of their soul and can forevermore dictate how they spend their time and what their schedule looks like.

Would you really want Martin or Rothfuss or any other artist you love to crank out a bunch of shit just to satisfy your impatience? Would you rather wait for a really long time in the hopes that a satisfying conclusion will someday come, or get a terrible conclusion immediately that you now have to live with forever?

I mean, think about what these writers are dealing with! The pressure on them is immense, and then they have to do one of the scariest things in the world and sit down in front of a blank screen or page and make something good. It makes me think of the feeling I get at a sporting event when fans boo a hometown player who is struggling. Every time I want to get up on the jumbotron and chastise the fans, “Yeah guys, that’s really going to help. He’s already having a miserable time so let’s heap more pressure and shame on him… that will help him turn things around.” What if folks like Martin and Rothfuss actually read these comments on some terrible day? Now, as a fan who supposedly loves this fabricated world, you have taken active steps to make it harder for the artist to finish the story you want to hear the end of.

It’s asinine.

In Martin’s case, the pressure just grows and grows. The success of the series and scrutiny he faces has grown astronomically in the almost two decades since the release of the first book. Which led me to an idea that, while not helping Rothfuss much, would at least help Martin lighten the load a bit.

Let’s make things fair! Martin’s first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series came out in 1996. Just about everyone I know who has read the books didn’t start until 2011 when the HBO show started. This means that most fans waited a minimum of 15 years before picking up the first installment. 15 years! And all fans have to do is read the books, Martin has to fucking write them! What I propose is that fans aren’t allowed to bitch about how long Martin is taking until they have been waiting for the next book for as long as it took them to pick up the first one. This means that the vast majority of you will be able to start complaining in 2026.

Sure, it would be better if people just stopped being assholes. If folks think it’s so easy to write the entirety of a satisfying story then they should just go and do it. Or, they could imagine what their work life would be like if they were subjected to similar sorts of scrutiny and criticism. Since that isn’t going to happen, maybe we can at least make things even in the sense that you can be expected to wait as long as George R.R. Martin waited for you to buy one of his books.

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