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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:

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western #20, 'rashomon.' [another day, another movie.]

Rashomon was a story of an apparent murder and rape, told after the trial in which four people tell four different versions of what happened, and who each person blames for the murder isn’t who you’d expect.

It was more proof that Kurosawa was amazing. I could say the same things about this movie that I said about the others.

After the 30 days of 30 Westerns is over it won’t be long before I’ve watched all the Kurosawa I can get my hands on.

He was making movies in the 50’s, for mainstream Japanese cinema, filled with beauty, wisdom, and ambiguity; movies that challenged the assumptions and ignorance of his time, his movies even questioned themselves.

He also worked a lot with the same cast members, which is fun both because you get to see characters take on such different roles, and it also feels like seeing old friends again.

Rashomon made fun of sexism, but in a way that for most of the movie it just made you wonder if he was being sexist. And, in a brilliant “fight” scene Kurosawa also made fun of men pretending they are far tougher and stronger than they are.

The movie was subtle and perfect.

Americans, get over your aversion to subtitles and watch some damned Kurosawa!!

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western #8, 'seven samurai.' [another day, another movie.]

Holy shit, this movie was magnificent! Everything about it was nothing short of amazing.

There is no possible hyperbole when praising Kurosawa. This is only my third film from his catalogue, but I am just blown away by his ability to visually tell a story. The stuff he was doing in the 50’s… it’s just unbelievable.

Seven Samurai is poignant, sweet, sentimental, brutal, hilarious, and filled with depth and wisdom. It was absolutely stunning, this story of tender warriors, protecting the innocent, some making the ultimate sacrifice willingly.

The acting was also fantastic. It was brilliant across the board, but none more so than in the case of our old friend Toshiro Mifune. He exhibited an amazing ability to act hilariously insane and unhinged, and then suddenly become the emotional anchor of a moment, sometimes in the same scene.

This movie was spellbinding. I really can’t believe how good it was. I genuinely felt for each character, even though each was developed with a wonderful subtlety. I have no clue as to the backstory of most of the characters, outside of the fact that they were ronin, and yet Kurosawa’s skillful writing and directing, coupled with amazing performances simply worked each character into my heart.

It was around three and a half hours long, and I was sad to see it end. Easily my favorite movie so far.

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western #1, 'yojimbo.' [another day, another movie.]

The month of westerns is underway, and Mr. Akira Kurosawa kicked things off in style.

There are loads of popular westerns. Some are as popular and famous as the “Man with No Name” trilogy (or the “Dollars” trilogy as it is sometimes called), but there are none more so. Popular culture still offers frequent homages and tips of the cap to Clint Eastwood as the main character in three films which can be understood as the adventures of one lone wanderer, whose name we never learn.

Eastwood obviously starred in more westerns, many of them argued as better than the “Man with No Name” films, but those big three, culminating in the prequel of sorts, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, are the best known.

The first of that trilogy was A Fistful of Dollars, which will be Western #2, and that film is a punch for punch adaptation of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It is just one of many occasions in which some of the most significant films about the American west were directly adapted from Japanese cinema.

Let me tell you folks, Yojimbo is legit. I loved every damned minute of it.

Kurosawa was influenced by Irish American director John Ford, who directed western classics such as The Searchers, Stagecoach, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The first two of those three are on AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” list, cataloguing the 100 greatest and most important films of the first 100 years of cinema. He took the western theme and set it in Japan, turning cowboys into samurai.

However, while he was largely influenced by American westerns, it was he who is largely responsible for the trend in westerns to tell the story of one lone man beating the odds and a load of bad guys in the process.

Yojimbo is responsible for that trend.

The main character is fantastic. We never learn his name, although he makes a name up while looking out the window at Mulberry Fields, calling himself “Mulberry Fields, Age 30.” He is the ultimate badass, often to hilarious results.

Every scene is remarkably well shot. The score is great. And as alluded above, Toshirô Mifune, as the mysterious, masterless samurai, is brilliant. If I didn’t have so many westerns to watch this month, I would probably watch this one again pretty soon.

I can’t wait to watch more Kurosawa, and if the rest of the month holds up like day 1, this ridiculous idea will also go down as one of my best.

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