halloween movie fest 2017, movies fifteen through twenty-one.

Happy belated Halloween! The good news is that I was able to watch 26(!) movies for HMF17. The bad news is that I never got around to writing about half of them before the actual holiday.

Fortunately, there are no rules on RtM so I can just post Halloween themed content well into November.

Movie Fifteen – Don’t Breathe

“There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no god.”

I don’t have much to say about this one. I liked Alvarez’s direction, but not his writing. Aside from the interesting premise and terrific performance by Stephen Lang as the villain, the rest of the story felt weak in the midst of an otherwise well-crafted film.

Mostly I just didn’t care what happened to these characters. In a larger slasher film, that’s beside the point. We actually only need to care about and root for the final girl. Whether or not we care for the more ill-fated characters or instead are meant to enjoy watching them die is up to the filmmakers — both are common. Don’t Breathe is different. If I’m going to spend the majority of the film trapped in a house with two characters trying to survive, I need to give a shit about them in a way that isn’t rooted entirely in cliches.

Unexpected aside: I’m realizing I need to change the format of Halloween Movie Fests and ‘Another Day, Another Movie’ for future installments (if there are any). The whole point of this blog — when I’m actually writing it — is that I don’t waste time on stuff I don’t like or care about. Partly because it’s a waste of energy unless I’m offering some genuine critique in a larger cultural context, but even more because I’d rather learn from someone who loves a movie I didn’t get than shit all over a film someone else really loves, quite possibly for great reasons. This is especially true regarding classics I didn’t like or see the appeal of.

It’s not that I never want to be critical, it’s just that it requires more care and thought than what I have time to offer in this format.

I think I might try to think of a way to lean more heavily into the curation — which is what I actually like doing to begin with — for future HMF’s, instead of boring my friends with uninspired complaints about films.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No.

Where Can You Watch It? Starz.

Movie Sixteen – Tetsuo: The Iron Man

And here I thought House was bonkers. Tetsuo is fucked up — intentionally so. A gonzo body horror metaphor about the replacement of the natural world with the industrial world, the film is less a well-drawn story and more a series of horrifying moments and images following three characters as a man is mysteriously transformed into a metal monstrosity after a hit-and-run.

Super low budget in the best possible way, this is the perfect example of how wide-ranging the possibilities within film are.

Tetsuo is full of gross out scenes that go way over the top, it’s dark and violent, getting more and more insane with each of its 77 minutes. It definitely draws inspiration from films like Eraserhead. 

This is one of those ones that felt like it nailed everything it was trying to do perfectly, even if personally it’s not the sort of movie I want to rewatch again and again.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Maybe as part of a more in-depth film study, but probably not for fun.

Where Can You Watch It? Kanopy (if your library participates).

Movie Seventeen – XX

“I have made my contribution. I like to believe that I’ve made a difference in all of this. I have been blessed to watch over you all these years, and to watch over Andy, to prepare the world for this glorious day! There’s nothing to be afraid of Cora. It’s his time, is all. Praise, praise his darkness.”

XX is an anthology of four horror shorts, all written and directed by women — including St. Vincent. As is almost always the case with anthologies like this, it was uneven, but solid overall.

What I really want to write about is Karyn Kasuma. Last year I absolutely loved her film The Invitation during HMF, and her segment in XX just confirms to me that she is a filmmaker we should all be really excited about.

Her short, “Her Only Living Son,” brilliantly uses the Rosemary’s Baby concept, in large part wrestling with white male privilege and how it creates and feeds monsters. That sounds like the short is really political or preachy, but it isn’t. It’s just the sort of horror that tackles the horrifying things in ordinary life by exaggerating it with a horror lens.

I have to go rewatch The Invitation now, but I also can’t wait for Kasuma to do more.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Probably just the Karyn Kusama segment.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix.

Movie Eighteen – Coraline

“Hush and shush, for the Beldam might be listening.”

On their own, Laika animation company’s stop-motion films and Neil Gaiman are among my very favorite things. Combine them, and I’m obviously all over it!

I love dark fare created for kids — not that you need to be a kid to enjoy this film. Kids need stories with fear and darkness in them, especially when the hero prevails. Reading scary stories and watching scary shows and movies can be like an inoculation for the greater fear of life. The world is dark and scary, and it’s far better to practice dealing with those themes in small doses, in a safe environment with clearly established frames for where the story begins and ends.

Stories can teach us to be brave, empathetic and compassionate, resilient, and hopeful. I want all kids to experience as much of that as possible.

Here’s Gaiman himself on writing Coraline:

“When I [started writing] ‘Coraline’, I thought, ‘I am going to make my villain as bad a villain as I can… and I’m not going to give Coraline magic powers, and I’m not going to make her some kind of special Chosen One, and she’s not going to be a secret princess or anything like that — she’s going to be a smart little girl who’s going to be scared and is going to keep doing the right thing anyway, and that’s what brave is. And she is going to triumph by being smarter and braver.’” (transcription credit)

Classic Neil. I love that guy.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Most definitely.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix.

Movie Nineteen – Bedknobs and Broomsticks

“Treguna, Makoidees, Trecorum, Sadis Dee.”

When I was a little kid, around the age of ten or eleven, my brother and I did the same thing almost every weekend. When we arrived with our mom in Wallkill, after she would retreat to her room for the majority of the time until Monday, Matt and I would watch Newsies and Bedknobs and Broomsticks almost every Friday night. Over and over, weekend after weekend.

I didn’t think of it much at the time, it’s just what we did.

Looking back, I thought more about what was happening with all of these revisitations. I realized what I was doing was immersing myself in stories about orphans who find a place where they are wanted and celebrated. Both films are about lonely people who become part of a family that isn’t about blood, but belonging. It salving a wound that I couldn’t possibly understand fully at that point.

Watching it as an adult, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is silly, and at least one set piece too long. And still, I’m moved by what the movie meant to me as a child. That realization years later played no small part in the decision to make my entire master’s thesis about the power of fiction in our lives.

This film was a security blanket for me as a child, providing a familiarity and sense of home for two hours at a time.

Also, the scene where all the old armor and weapons fights off the Nazis was my favorite scene from all of collected cinema for a solid two or three years of my life. Remember when Nazi hatred was the least controversial stance possible?

Will I Ever Watch It Again? If I ever have kids, we’re watching this movie. Also, fuck Nazis.

Where Can You Watch It? No one has it streaming for free right now.

Movie Twenty – What We Do in the Shadows

“Wait, let’s kill them.”

Well let’s just see what other safety points they have… and then maybe we’ll kill them.”

I wrote about this one for last year’s fest, and it’s all still true. Here’s a slightly edited rehash:

“What We Do In the Shadows is hilarious, smart, clever, impressively filmed, and never overstretches its premise. That last bit is miraculous, given how quickly this could have either gotten old or gone overboard — especially with the mockumentary format.”

It’s tricky to make a sweet, silly, endearing comedy about the murderous undead, but Clement and Waititi nail it.

I can’t wait for Thor: Ragnarok, when the world at large will finally be aware of how amazing Taika Waititi is. His work is sharp and funny. He revels in the flaws and awkwardness of his characters, which is such a huge part of the joy I find in his movies.

I have a soft spot for stories about the search for belonging and identity, and no one does it better that him.

I am decidedly pro-Taika!

Will I Ever Watch It Again? At least once a year, ad infinitum. This is one of those few movies where when I see it available on a streaming service it takes a conscious choice not to just click on it and watch it again.

Where Can You Watch It? Amazon Prime, or come over to my place because I fucking love this movie.

Movie Twenty-One – The Babadook

“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.
I’ll wager with you
I’ll make you a bet.
The more you deny,
The stronger I get.
You start to change when I get in.
The Babadook growing right under your skin.”

File this one under perfectly executed, creepy ass horror films that make me cry.

This movie hits home for me in a way few films ever have. As I wrote for HMF15, “as someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and severe insomnia, as well as being someone who grew up as a child with too many parallels to Samuel, this film was both difficult and therapeutic. The last time I felt this much deep internal connection between my own childhood and the thematic territory of a film was Where the Wild Things Are.”  

After a second viewing the film was just as powerful and moving for me. I was even more impressed this time around with Jennifer Kent’s writing and direction. She hit this way out of the park, Aaron Judge-style.

Gorgeous filmmaking, and I can’t wait for her next film, The Nightingale.

I’d love it if you read my thoughts on what The Babadook meant to me when I watched it the first time, HERE, just scroll past Frenzy. 

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely. It resonates inside my soul and I’d hate to stay away too long.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix and Showtime.