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halloween movie fest for the whole family. [halloween movie fest, 2020.]

“If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up.” – Neil Gaiman


Just like Christmas, Halloween seems like it was designed in a think tank made up entirely of children. I mean, c’mon, it culminates in a glorious day when kids are encouraged to dress up as whatever they want, and adults are required to give them free candy.

Yet, as great as that part is, there’s more to find if you look beneath the surface.

Christmas gets all the credit for being a season of imagination and wonder, full of the metaphors of hope, belief, generosity, community, and reconciliation. But Halloween has an enchantment of its own. It, too, is full of imagination and wonder, it’s just that the metaphors are often darker, with stories of ghosts and monsters exploring themes like fear, grief, and death.

They’re themes parents often, understandably, shield kids from. Yet, fear, grief, death, and the like, are part of life. Stories, including film, can be a way for kids to get a safe exposure to those darker parts of life. Fiction does an endless number of things, and one is that it allows us to experience difficult things in small doses, which can help us face them when we experience them in potentially lethal doses later on. You know, like slowly developing an immunity to iocane powder.

I don’t have kids, so I can’t vouch for this as a parent, but I can do so as a former child, and as someone who thinks about story way too much.

Anyway, here are five movies to watch this Halloween with some kids you love – or on your own. And fear not, they don’t all explore darker themes, and they don’t all have a macabre imagination. One explores courage in the face of fear; one explores grief, loss, family, and acceptance; one is about disillusionment and identity; one is about finding a home where we least expect it; and another is just silly fun. I’ll let you figure out which is which.





My five-year-old nephew associates me with two things: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Coco. Needless to say, I love this movie. It’s a wonderful story, beautifully told, and I can’t get enough. I’ve seen it more times than I should probably admit, and I cry every. time.

Seeing as how the plot hinges entirely on Dia de Muertos, it’s the perfect movie to watch on Halloween night.


Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has everything: cheese, amazingly bad puns, Gromit, the cutest bunnies in cinema history, vegetable-based sexual innuendo [that stays vague enough that you won’t feel bad watching it with little kids], and the smarts to poke fun at the tropes of the werewolf sub-genre.

I give it four out of five wheels of Wensleydale.





Coraline is officially the first film featured on two Halloween Movie Fest lists this year. First, because it’s a great horror fairytale, and now, because it’s another perfect movie to watch with the kids you love this Halloween. Or, you know, by yourself as an adult. No shame, baby. No shame.

As I wrote before, this stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.

If I had kids, I’d be so excited for when it was finally time to share this movie with them.



Bedknobs and Broomsticks


If we’re being completely honest, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a shameless attempt to capitalize on the success of Mary Poppins, albeit seven years later. But ripoff or no, oh my god did I love this movie as a kid. If I could have, I’d’ve taken the film’s climax – you know, when the armor comes to life and fights Nazis – and mainlined it right into my veins.

I mean, come on, what’s not to love? It’s got Angela Lansbury. It’s got David Tomlinson playing the polar opposite of his character as the dad in Mary Poppins. It’s got people turned into rabbits. It’s got some decent songs (“Portobello Road” gets stuck in my head on a quasi-regular basis). It’s got a magical bed that can take characters anywhere in the world. It’s got a soccer game between humans and cartoon animals.

And did I mention armor comes to life and fights Nazis?! Because it does. Angela Lansbury sing-casts a spell for ‘substitutiary locomotion’ and an entire army of old armor comes to life and fights off an incursion of the Third Reich. Where and why was there an entire army’s worth of armor laying around in a tiny English village? Who knows! But there was, and it came to life and fought Nazis, and it was amazing.

As family-friendly Halloween-ish movies go, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a solid choice.

Oh, and the spell for substitutiary locomotion is “Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum, Satis Dee.” It might come in handy, what with Nazis making a comeback over the last few years #themoreyouknow



The Nightmare Before Christmas


The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow seamlessly combines Halloween and Christmas into a single glorious whole. This is a great service to humanity, seeing as how science has objectively proven that those are the two best holidays of the year. #thanksgivingsucks.

Henry Selick’s stop motion musical masterpiece is darkly enchanting and genuinely creepy, leaning all the way into those Halloween punches, while also telling an earnestly hopeful story that fits right in with the Christmas ethos.

It’s a moving story of identity, disillusionment, curiosity, and discovery, that has made Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, into one of the all-time great characters of both Halloween and Christmas.


Honorable mention: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; ParaNorman; Corpse Bride; Monster Squad; Labyrinth; Monsters, Inc.; The Boxtrolls; and Frankenweenie.


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.



five horror fairytales to watch this october. [halloween movie fest 2020]

Once upon a time, all fairytales were horror fairytales. Murder, cannibalism, torture, dismemberment, necrophilia, and all sorts of other nasty bits fit right in, and even happy endings were likely drenched in blood. It’s a reminder that, while often dismissed as a genre, horror plays no small part in the tradition of human storytelling.

The same goes for the history of film, where horror can always be found at the vanguard of style and innovation. [1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is perhaps the most famous early example of a horror film that changed the medium forever, but examples date all the way back to the 1890s.]

To this day, horror is still an unsung pillar of storytelling and film, and in the hands of gifted and imaginative filmmakers, great horror bedtime stories are still being told. Here are five you should watch this October.


Tigers Are Not Afraid



“But the prince couldn’t become a tiger, because he’d forgotten how to be a prince.”

Set in a nameless Mexican city ruled by drug lords, Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid is a heartbreaking fairytale about children trying to survive in an ugly, violent world. A clear descendent of writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s work [get used to del Toro showing up on this list], the film is darkly imaginative, using supernatural horror and fantasy to tell a story in which real monsters are human, and defenseless kids are treated as so much collateral damage.


The Lure



“Help us come ashore. There’s no need to fear. We won’t eat you, my dear.”

Ever wonder what it would be like if Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was told as an erotic-horror-musical about man-eating mermaids, who take jobs working as adult entertainers at a club in Poland? Of course you have, and now you finally have your answer.

Whatever you’re imagining, I assure you the film is significantly more bizarre – and gleefully so. This one definitely isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell isn’t like anything you’ve seen before.

Fun Fact #1: The original Polish title is Córki dancingu – which translates as Daughters of Dancing – because apparently the working title for Hans Christian Andersen’s original story was “Daughters of the Air.”

Fun Fact #2: This is director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s feature length debut, which left me sooooo curious to see what craziness she’ll create next. Turns out, it’s going to be a science fiction opera featuring the music of David Bowie. So, you know, sploosh. [Mermaid phrasing, boom!]





“She’s got this whole world where everything’s better. The food, the garden, the neighbors. But it’s all a trap.”

Horror, myths, and fairytales are all firmly situated in Neil Gaiman’s wheelhouse, so I can’t imagine anyone being surprised to see his work on this list.

This stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.

Combine the imagination of Neil Gaiman with the magic of Henry Selick, and — *chef’s kiss* — perfection.





“I won’t harm you, but if you ever tell anybody about what you’ve seen tonight, even your own mother, I will know of it, and I will kill you.”

If you’re into classic Japanese cinema, then Kwaidan is the horror fairytale film for you. Drawing its title from an archaic Japanese word meaning ‘ghost story,’ legendary director Masai Kobayashi’s film – consisting of four stories based on Japanese folk tales – is a consensus masterpiece.

The film is one of Guillermo del Toro’s favorites of all time, and a huge influence on his work. That’s a big deal, because – as I’m about explain – del Toro is king.

[Pro tip: if the film’s 182 minute runtime spooks you, you can watch the self-contained stories episodically. #themoreyouknow]


Pan’s Labyrinth


“My mother told me to be wary of Fauns.”

Guillermo del Toro is the master of horror fairytales. Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Shape of Water fit on this list in their own right, but Pan’s Labyrinth is the one film to rule them all – and by ‘them all,’ I’m including not just his filmography, but all the horror bedtime stories ever committed to film.

The film is the platonic ideal of a del Toro film. Every hallmark of del Toro’s storytelling sensibilities is distilled down to its purest form. Remarkably imaginative, beautifully horrible monsters populate a tale of violence, cruelty, power, and innocence, illustrating humanity’s capacity for both ugliness and beauty. Del Toro’s work is proof of the power of storytelling and imagination.



the (triumphant?) return of halloween movie fest.

My sweet, sweet Halloween Movie Fest. How I’ve missed you. You were once an annual rite of fall, but I’ve left you neglected. I’ve watched the films, but left their glories unsung. It’s an injustice I can’t let stand any longer. This year, if you’ll have me, I return to your cold, dead embrace.

That’s right, my friends, for the first time since 2017, Halloween Movie Fest returns – and it’s going to look a lot different than ever before! After so many years, HMF grew stale, maybe even a bit boring. It lacked the life it once had – and not in a fun, undead way – so this year I’m bringing an entirely new format to the proceedings.

I started Halloween Movie Fest in 2009 because I wanted to remedy my lack of experience with horror films. I was a scaredy-cat, which is fine, but as a self-proclaimed film super-fan (#99), I was missing out on far too much – including some of the consensus greatest films ever made! So, I decided to watch 11 horror (and horror-ish) movies in 11 days. I loved it, and it did exactly what I’d hoped, lighting a spark of appreciation for horror that would grow considerably in the years that followed.

I’ve tried to hold to that same spirit since. I always begin HMF the way I did that first year, doing research to curate a list of films I’d be watching for the first time (a list which is always supplemented by returning favorites). The goal was to find new films to love, and to share them with you; taking myself into weird, dark, interesting, and underappreciated corners of the film landscape. I wanted to go places I’d never have gone otherwise. And it’s worked. I’ve seen so many great movies I never would have seen, and gone down rabbit holes I never would’ve discovered. I saw for myself how great horror can be, and it totally changed my viewing habits year-round.

This year, instead of researching and curating a single month-ish long list of films for me to watch, I’m going to curate a bunch of smaller lists instead. My hope is you can use them to do a Halloween Movie Fest of your own. It feels like a fitting way to enjoy the fruits of my labor (of love), and to share that with you. I would’ve loved to have these lists back in 2009, so maybe someone out there wants them in 2020.

There will be all sorts of lists, and each one will have a theme, i.e. ‘Five Horror Fairytales,’ ‘Horror Films for Trump’s America,’ etc. I’ll even do a ‘Halloween Movie Fest for Scaredy Cats,’ for the horror-phobic folks out there.

Anyway, I hope the lists bring you as much enjoyment as making them has brought me.


halloween movie fest 2017, movies 22-26.

Well, well, well. What do we have here? It’s a post about Halloween Movies nearly two weeks into November. Maybe I should just keep HMF going until the world itself isn’t quite so horrible anymore. At least the horrors in a movie end after the credits roll, instead of the waking nightmare in which we find ourselves IRL at the moment.

Enough with the depressing shit, on with the movies about death and stuff! Cheers to another fun year of HMF.

Movie Twenty-Two – The Haunting

“Haven’t you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just… catch something out of the corner of your eye?”

The Haunting is one of those films I might never have watched if not for HMF. It’s another debt I owe to my past self for dreaming up this pointless cinematic odyssey.

I said pretty much everything I’d want to say when I wrote about this one previously. This is another film that will make another appearance if I can dream up a fresh way to approach HMF in the future.

I’m currently listening to the book, and it’s even better than this beautifully crafted film. Shirley Jackson is such an underappreciated writer as far as the wider public is concerned.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely. I actually bought it this time around.

Where Can You Watch It? No one is streaming it right now.

Movie Twenty-Three – Pet Sematary

“Dead is better.”

The majority of this movie is… bad. The acting is horrible — with the notable exceptions of a solid performance by Brad Greenquist as the recently deceased Victor Pascow, Miko Hughes as the adorable and terrifying Gage Creed, and some cat as Church the cat. Otherwise, this was 80s TV movie acting of the worst kind, but without the excuse of it being a TV movie.

The story was also mostly nonsense. I’ve never read the book, so I’m assuming it’s better, however the fact that King himself wrote the screenplay makes me wonder. I get that there should be suspension of disbelief, especially in horror, but this is beyond the pale storywise. Can’t there at least be some throwaway line that tells us why the town does nothing about the trucks barreling through at dangerous speeds, or why the parents let their kids play so close to such a dangerous road, or why an otherwise benign old man suggests the magical burial ground knowing full well that anything brought back to life will be an vicious murder monster? Also, was it called Pet Sematary only because “Not So Much the Pet Sematary, but an Ancient Burial Ground Located a Seven Mile Hike and Mountain Climb Away From the Pet Sematary” was too long as a title?

Not to say it was all bad though. Spoilers follow, although, can you really still spoil Pet Sematary at this point in history?

Once Gage comes back as an evil death toddler, the movie is much stronger. The final scenes in Crandall’s house are really creepy and fun. How a film can be this bad throughout the majority of its runtime and still deliver such an amazing movie monster in just a few minutes at the end is hard to understand, but there you go. Gage Creed was one adorably creepy little fucker.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No, but maybe I’ll watch the ending again.

Where Can You Watch It? Amazon Prime

Movie Twenty-Four – A Girl Walks Home Alone

“If there was a storm coming right now, a big storm, from behind those mountains, would it matter? Would it change anything?”

My love for this film is unambiguous. Exhibit A: At the time of this writing it’s the image on the header of this blog.

It’s interesting, original, visually captivating, and sparse in all the right ways. The first time I saw it I said I could watch it on repeat and it’s still true. I just want to keep looking at it.

Again, I need to come up with a new way to do HMF, and I’ve already written about this one in ways I still wholeheartedly agree with, so if you want to see my take check it out here and here. Seriously though, check those out, and watch this movie!

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely. I am now the proud owner of the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray.

Where Can You Watch It? Kanopy, if your library partners with them.

Movie Twenty-Five – Shaun of the Dead

“You know what we should do tomorrow? Keep drinking. We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, a couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here then BANG, we’re back at the bar for shots. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”  

To be honest, this is probably the movie that started it all for me HMF-wise. I don’t remember why I was so interested in it when it came out, as I hadn’t seen Spaced yet. But I somehow convinced Emily to go see it with me, and my love for this cinematic experience in some Hudson Valley movie theater played a big part in making me wonder why I’d seen so few horror and horror-related films.

It took five years to fully materialize, but the wonderful boys Pegg and Wright’s love of horror turned out to be contagious for my 22-year-old self.

This year we got to see a screening at Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn with a bunch of super-fans, and it breathed even more life into one of my very favorite films of all time. I’ve written about this movie a bunch of times, including a post about revisiting the whole trilogy again and again.

This movie will always have my heart.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ve seen it upwards of 15 times and I’m not planning to stop anytime soon.

Where Can You Watch It? Showtime

Movie Twenty-Six – The Devil’s Backbone

“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.”

Back in the days when I didn’t really watch horror, I still loved movies about ghosts. Ghost stories captivated me as a child, just as they have captivated civilizations throughout history. When someone would tell me a good ghost story, my spine would tingle, my skin would prickle, my eyes would water in some kind of weird fear response.

Side note: the watery eyes thing is something I’ve never understood — Google led me to discussion boards where lots of people are equally confused because they also experience it, but I haven’t found any real answers.

Anyway, my love for ghost stories makes Guillermo del Toro’s ghost masterpiece the perfect way to end HMF this year. Tragic, romantic, full to the brim with everything that makes GDT great. As with so many of these other films, I’d just be repeating myself to write much about this within the current format, so here is what I wrote for HMF 2010 and here is 2015.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely. GDT, baby. GDfuckingT.

Where Can You Watch It? No one is streaming it right now.


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.


halloween movie fest 2017, movies eight through fourteen.

Let’s keep it rolling! Here are seven more movies:

Movie Eight – The Shining

“Wendy… darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash them right the fuck in!”

This film is a masterpiece. A fucking masterpiece!!

Nicholson is at his most brilliant and insane. It’s probably weird to say a performance like this is a joy to watch, but it’s true — especially on repeat viewings. I smile and laugh almost continuously while watching him do his thing in this movie.

Even more, Kubrick is fucking killing every aspect of the filmmaking game here. This is next level shit. I feel like if I learned more about filmcraft, I’d be even more in awe of every frame of this film than I already am.

Where is The Shining even taking us? What do all the background images and spooky tangents mean? What is Kubrick trying to communicate? Damned if I know. But with this level of meticulous filmmaking, it’s so easy to get lost in the mystery over and over again. It gets better each time.

Bonus: one of the greatest outcomes of starting to do HMF all those years ago is that this year, Emily watched The Shining and loved it. So… yeah, my life is set.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely. What’s the over/under here? Ten more times? Fifteen? The smart money is on ‘over.’

Where Can You Watch It? No one has it streaming for free right now, but I own it, so come on over.

Movie Nine – Room 237

As mentioned above, The Shining is a pretty mysterious movie. Unlike most films, the mystery intensifies as you watch the film more closely and on repeat viewings. You notice more imagery, color choices, dialogue quirks, background props, etc., and the whole thing just keeps getting stranger and stranger. Like the Overlook Hotel, the film is one big impossible labyrinth, in which the dimensions and shapes don’t add up quite how they should.

Room 237 is a documentary featuring interviews with various devotees about their theories as to what the hell this movie is about. Mostly, their theories work to an extent, but become insane when taking to such an exacting degree.

It illustrates how immersive and mesmerizing this film is. The calculated brilliance of Kubrick’s filmmaking makes it easier to believe that each detail, no matter how small, means something in the larger whole. Details that would be accidents or errors in another film are more likely intentional in a Kubrick film, which intensifies the devotion from fans trying to find meaning and read themselves into the art they love, as we all do.

My favorite part: when an interviewee explained his creation of a print of the film that overlays the film playing forwards and backwards simultaneously. The clips they showed were amazing. I don’t see how Kubrick could have intentionally made the film work that perfectly, even he wasn’t that meticulous, but it was pretty eerie how some moments lined up. Someone please let me know if they hear of a screening of that print.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No, but it was totally worth checking out.

Where Can You Watch It? Hulu

Movie Ten – The Void

“This isn’t the end.”

If The Thing, HP Lovecraft, and a book about dealing with death and loss had a horrible nightmare baby, it would look a lot like The Void. Obviously, this means the movie is super weird and dark as fuck.

The Void had its weaknesses, but overall I found it an engaging, solid, low-budget horror film. It leaned way into what it wanted to be, never pulling any punches, which really helped me root for this one to work.

Grounded performances contrasted with insane monsters and violence helped the interdimensional madness land.

The real star of the show was the practical effects. The reliance on CGI far exceeds what filmmakers can currently do with CGI — even in big budget films — and the result is a whole lot of films getting hamstrung by cheesy-ass effects. Filmmakers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski leaned heavily into practical effects and gore, and the result is so much more immersive. 

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Probably not, but I’m glad I chose to include it.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix

Movie Eleven – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

“I just can’t take no pleasure in killing. There’s just some things you gotta do. Don’t mean you have to like it.”

This movie spawned an entire sub-genre and inspired countless films and filmmakers afterward. It’s on 13 official lists on iCheckMovies, so the cultural influence is clear.

To be honest, this isn’t really my thing, but I’d gone too long without seeing a movie of such iconic status.

I don’t have much to say about this one.

Where Psycho took its inspiration from Ed Gein and dove way into the weird relationship with his mom, Texas Chainsaw Massacre went hard into the whole ‘grave robbing and making housewares and clothes out of people’ aspect of Gein’s story.

I was actually a little intimidated — which explains why I waited so long to see it — because I don’t enjoy watching torture scenes in any genre. When that’s the point of the whole movie, I was prepared to spend 83 very uncomfortable minutes. As it turns out, this film is so tame by today’s standards that I had built it up to be far more disturbing in my mind than it was ever going to be in reality. I actually found it less scary and more silly, at times even annoying.

At least now I can say I’ve seen it, and for a completionist movie nerd, that’s no small thing.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No.

Where Can You Watch It? Amazon Prime.

Movie Twelve – Beetlejuice

“As soon as we get settled, we’ll build you a dark room in the basement, okay?” 
“My whole life is a dark room.” 

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!

Hm. I thought maybe that would cause weirdo Michael Keaton to come help me write this entry.

Remember when Tim Burton was actually inventive and interesting? Or pre-Batman Michael Keaton? Or when Alec Baldwin was super skinny? Or when Geena Davis was rising to the peak of her fame? Ok, I was too young to be aware of Geena Davis as a rising star, but it’s all been recorded.

I think the biggest takeaway I got this time was that this was really a movie for teens — or at least that’s how it plays to me watching it now. Since it came out when I was six, I never really got that.

Anyway, remember the cartoon?! That was a thing that happened.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Maybe?

Where Can You Watch It? Nobody has it streaming for free right now.

Movie Thirteen – It

“Derry is not like any town I’ve been in before. They did a study once and, it turns out, people die or disappear at six times the national average. And that’s just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.”

This one launched onto my radar because its huge critical success.

The tone and production are a little cheesy early on. Also, as opposed to The Void‘s practical effects, It features many scares that rely solely on CGI. For me, that drained the terror right out of any scene leaning heavily on less-than-stellar computer animation, which includes the opening murder. If you love obvious CGI in a scary scene, this movie will be your jam.

Negatives aside, It really is a solid film.

All the fear and foreboding that isn’t rooted in CGI was superb. The cast of kids were charming and their terrifying adventure worked perfectly at the heart of the story. I would assume King’s source material should get the bulk of the credit for how real and well-drawn the kids were. The nostalgia came from how close this felt to my own school-age summer vacations. Obviously, I mean that on a relational level, not as a claim that my friends and I fought a fear monster who likes to take the shape of a clown, because that’s all still classified by the government… er, I mean… because that never happened to me as a kid.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ll definitely watch this again.

Where Can You Watch It? In theaters.

Movie Fourteen – Phantasm

“You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished. Now you die.”

This is one of those fan favorites that I just couldn’t get into. I think things would have been different if I’d seen it as a kid, because it really is an R rated kids movie about coping with death and loss. Since I didn’t see it when I was a kid, it’s just a big incoherent mess.

The story doesn’t make sense, the biggest moments in the movie make even less sense than the overall story, the things that work don’t happen enough, and I feel like Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man character was unintentionally hilarious instead of haunting — although, maybe that’s part of what people love about it, which would be far more understandable.

Some stuff I read after watching it defends the nonsensical story by saying it’s intentionally dreamlike, but to me that seems like more of a weak defense for a terrible story. In part, my enjoyment suffered from the comparison to House, which really was a nightmare logic, but took the absurdity to such extremes, which is why it works.

JJ Abrams can name and design Star Wars characters based the franchise all he wants, I’m still not going to understand what people love about this movie.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I doubt it.

Where Can You Watch It? Shudder, otherwise no one else has it streaming for free right now.


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 twenty: the witch. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.”

Another year of Halloween Movie Fest in the books.

The Witch was a great way to finish things off.

So different and unexpected, The Witch is eerie, dark, and saturated with bleakness and doom. It’s amazing how perfectly rendered it is. Quietly immersive, there are no big, over-broad strokes to show us the mythos and feeling of this time period, but every detail adds up to a sum greater than the parts. This is worldbuilding, but not in the sense than that word is often used.

This movie certainly isn’t for everyone, maybe it’s not even for most, but it is so singular and sharp. Robert Eggers seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do, and then executed that to perfection. This is a home run.


Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ll definitely revisit this one. I feel like it can teach me a lot about how to create a story with a distinct vision, mood, and feeling.