Tag Archives: horror

Mandy (2018)

Then I saw Mandy, and that… that was quite a thing. See, Nicolas Cage and his heavy metal-loving girlfriend Mandy live in the woods, idyllicly discussing things like what their favorite planet is and why her father made all the neighborhood kids kill baby starlings when she was young. Then, one of those weird ’80s Satanic cults comes to town, and the leader has eyes for Mandy. Except, unlike most ’80s Satanic cults, they can summon actual biker demons. Result: things go predictably awry for Mandy.

The only thing left for Nic Cage to do is borrow a crossbow and forge a weird halberd-shaped axe[1] out of a single piece of metal and go seeking bloody revenge. And… you know what, the problem with a concept this over the top is that they were too restrained. What this movie wanted, no, yearned to be was a rock opera. With characters straight up singing at each other while having their chainsaw swordfights. Is there such a thing as a metal opera? I’m guessing the answer is probably not, and that we came as close as we ever will with Mandy.

It’s a letdown, is what it is.

[1] Look, I know what you’re thinking. A halberd is an axe. But what I’m saying is, it’s a regular-sized axe, not a polearm, but with a halberd-like head for some reason. I guess the reason is because that’s what shape of mold he had lying around?

Pengabdi Setan (2017)

Today I learned that Indonesian horror cinema, much like the local version, sometimes goes back to the well. Because it turns out that Satan’s Slaves is a remake of the same title in Indonesian (although Satan’s Slave, singular, in English), made in 1982. I haven’t seen that one, but the IMDB summary makes it clear they’re related.

Anyhow, this version starts with the quiet grief of a family whose once-famous singer matriarch is withering away from a mysterious illness. Not only are they losing their mother (or, in one case, wife), but they’re also losing the things they own and quite possibly their house, in paying for her care. I guess mostly the medicines and old doctor bills, as the mother is in house and being cared for by the family, not a hired nurse or anything.

But then things get flickery at the edge of your vision ghosty, and then they get in your face ghosty, and then things get a lot worse than that, in unexpected ways. (Or, well, maybe not so unexpected, based on the title.) Despite a third act full of running and hiding and fighting with generally about triple the cast of anything that has gone before, the movie as a whole is quiet and meditative albeit with occasional actual scares (and more than a few attempted jump scares). Meditative on how families might dissolve, on the kind of loss that we all someday face, on falling away from your religion, and most especially on how the sins of the past must be paid, even if they weren’t your sins.

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Fantasy Island

If you’re like me[1], when you saw the preview’s for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, you thought, “Hey, awesome, someone is adapting the old Fantasy Island TV show as a movie, but instead of romance or whatever, it’s horror!” And this is largely exactly what happened. You have your people arriving at the island, you have Mr. Roarke greeting them all and promising that not only will their fantasies be fulfilled, but that it is mandatory to fulfill them to the [bitter] end, you have two A plots and two B plots interweaving amongst one another, now and then interacting. Which is a lot of plots for a TV episode, but about right for a movie I reckon? In any case, I got exactly what I expected, and honestly it was pretty good for what it is.

My caveat is, I never actually saw an episode of Fantasy Island. I saw a great deal of advertisements for it and its shared timeslot with The Love Boat in my misspent youth, but I largely gave both of them a pass. So I pulled up the Wikipedia article for a refresher[2] just before writing my review, and the wry twist is this: except for what are largely PG-13 horror trappings that only borderline at best couldn’t be shown on network TV, and definitely unairable R-rated language, I had completely misjudged my comparison. Because the TV show? “Instead of romance or whatever” doesn’t really apply. It actually already was more or less horror with fantasy-the-genre trappings, and it’s entirely fair to view this movie as a prequel in which Roarke as host of the island learns that it’s okay to intervene just a little bit, so people can have happy, or at least morally informative, or at the very least mostly non-fatal, endings.

Luckily, though, the movie works just fine under my initial misconception too. It’s just that I sort of regret that I never watched the TV show, now.

Lastly, apropos of nothing else in particular, it is important to note that Ryan Hansen’s lucrative career of playing Dick Casablancas in every role for which he is hired continues unimpeded.

[1] Disregarding the “awesome” bit, I mean
[2] Well, for a fresher, I suppose.

The Canal (2014)

When I started thinking last night about my review of The Canal, I was pondering whether I could really capture the spirit of the the movie’s slow disintegration of reality without delving deep into spoiler territory. See, there’s this sad faced Irish film archivist, played by a guy I had never heard of before a couple of years ago, but who plays an oppressed Jew in The Man in the High Castle and also the Watcher-equivalent in the Charmed reboot, and so basically he’s all over TV now, reliably playing the same sad faced character type (although to be fair the meat behind each of the characters is substantially different). And he learns that his house was the scene of a sensationally grisly century-old murder the same week he receives an emotional shock, which sends him into a haunted (whether literally or metaphorically is at the heart of what the movie is about) downward spiral.

It’s basically treading the same ground as Paranormal Activity, except if it’s not found footage so much as an external camera recording the guy creating the footage, and if it were crossed with a crime drama. Which, that’s not a “crossed with” I personally have seen before, and it’s fair enough. Only, while I was back at the beginning of the first paragraph thinking about how to explain all that in non-spoiler fashion, I came to an unexpected realization, which I can only explain by for sure getting into spoilers: it is that I don’t actually care about any of that, because of a critical flaw at the heart of the film’s conceit.

Thusly, a spoiler space break.

Continue reading

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

I scrolled to the tail end of my watch list on Shudder last night, because it’s been a minute or three since I watched anything there that wasn’t hosted by Joe Bob Briggs. The movie at the end was conveniently short (since I was halfway thinking about going to sleep early instead) and in English (since I wanted to get my outstanding review handled before the plot got very busy[1]), so perfect placement, and thusly did I watch Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, which is one of those recent modern movies with a heavy ’70s aesthetic[2]. Check the poster to your right, for example.

Despite the 20th C gothic setting, which is teenager gets away from her creepy stepdad by taking a summer job as caretaker for her mother’s shut-in sister who lives in a big empty house but refuses to leave her bedroom or for that matter even open the door to be seen by anyone due to agoraphobia and also she has a heart condition, despite all those horror movie trappings, this easily could have been mistaken for an awkward teen lesbian coming of age art film. Because there’s the alluring raven haired beauty at the grocery store, and wait, she’s interested in me, the quiet shy wallflower, as a person? And she’s a free spirit who doesn’t wear a bra when changing clothes into the flapper gear in the basement of the big empty house? And she’s maybe interested in me as more than just a person?

But this is a horror movie, and the shut-in aunt is downright creepy, and long story short there’s more going on than coming of age, and for that matter more going on than a plausibly haunted 20th C gothic empty old house. But like indie arthouse flicks in general, it is definitely more concerned with mood and atmosphere than it is with plot, and the result is I’m not entirely sure whether I was satisfied or not.

But I think so. The final shot of the movie does a lot of heavy lifting, is all I’m saying.

[1] Which goal, incidentally, I think I accomplished? I missed an early key transition, but since it had been expressed in the plot summary, no confusion!
[2] The House of the Devil, for example, although that’s more mid ’80s aesthetic.

Zombieland: Double Tap

I think this is the worst I’ve ever done. I’m over 90% sure I haven’t missed any reviews and this is the only old one, but damn. Did I read a book and later forget? Probably not, since I take my Hobb slowly, and because of the standard refrain of busy busy work towne, not to mention a board game convention and other various life distractions. Then again… uh-oh, I’d better check the Deathlands stuff. I think that was only while camping and has already been addressed.[1]

But seriously. This is awful. I also have not been updating Librarything with my possessions for like the past year maybe, and okay I actually haven’t purchased much either, but still, that is also a huge problem. I wish I could see an end in sight to this situation, but…

Also, though, at some point probably in October maybe, I saw a movie. Which was the ten years later sequel to Zombieland. And that ten years is definitely a thing. It is completely fair to say that Double Tap is an unnecessary sequel, and I went in with appropriately low expectations. Which is nice, because while it was unnecessary, it wasn’t unwelcome. It’s a zombie comedy meditation on the idea that your chosen family can require just as much work as your real family, and that putting in the effort can be worth it.

Of course, that’s an easier sell when the world’s population has plummeted and whatever family you’re holding onto or pushing away may be the last chance you have at it, but extremity, like wine, is a place where truth lives.

Also, it was still pretty funny.

[1] Update: oh good, that’s the previous review. But now I’m mildly wondering if I read a graphic novel in between. I’m… pretty sure not?
[2] I honestly don’t know whether that’s a good thing. Never saw it.
[3] That, on the other hand, is definitely a good thing, and explains Rosario Dawson’s character entirely, start to finish, soup to nuts. Which is totally a real thing that people have ever said.

The Institute

It’s nice to have read a book within a reasonable timetable for a change. I mean, sure, The Institute came out nearly a month ago, but I’ve only been reading for a week or two. (I think?) Since I’ve been taking a lot longer than that lately and for shorter books to boot, I’ll gladly accept the win.

My last impression is one of sadness. Because, okay, anyone can just be walking down the street and get plowed into by a bus van, and bam, lights out. That is the way of the world. But this is the first time I’ve seen an author photo of Stephen King and thought that he looked old. Which means there’s a time limit outside the confines of happenstance.

If I were terribly clever, I would now tie in the plot or theme(s) of the book into this sense of impending loss. And okay, maybe I could at that[3], but I don’t want to get too deep into spoiler territory. So, instead, let’s start over.

My first impression of the book was… well, okay, it has a pretty confusing intro. I say confusing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the visible plot of the book, as judged by the cover. And, in retrospect, this is 100% awkward. I don’t mind, because I will give the man a lot of leeway, but if you are really interested in the structure of writing, yeah, I cannot say this is a stand-out entry.

My middle impression of the book was extremely favorable! See, there’s the hyper smart kid, one of those people who is a supernova in a world of candles and light bulbs, right? I’ve met one or two of them, and while I don’t consider myself a dope, I’m smart enough to know the difference between me and someone like that.[1] And via a few dozen pages of plot events occurring, he finds himself in a prison for children who have certain small talents.

Everything else follows from here. Why was he taken? What do they want? What can he do about it? Everyone wants to compare this book to It, because the main characters are mostly children, and… I mean, that’s a true point of overlap between the books, but man are they nothing alike. And almost none of the things I love about that book are present here either. Some of the kids are outsider types, but some are not, and it is certainly not the meat of their friendships. There’s no sense of the sweep of a dark and disturbing history[2], no slice of small town life through a lens as warped as conservative ideology paints our mid-century past, only warped in the opposite direction. In all the ways that make that book matter, they’re nothing alike.

Which is not to say I did not like The Institute. It’s a lovely adventure story with characters I cared about. But it’s a fun book, not a great book. Which is okay! It’s just irritating to compare the books on the basis of “kids vs evil”.

Long story short: I hate writing reaction reviews, and I’m sorry that either of us had to sit through this one.

[1] Also, happily, it means I don’t have to dwell on how King didn’t write him nearly intelligently enough, what with the twin excuses of how would I know the difference past a certain point, and that, supernova or not, he’s still twelve.
[2] Although if the book were twice its length perhaps there could have been. This is not a thing I can recommend, though.
[3] Anyway, after further consideration, the thing I was thinking of doesn’t even really work.

The Walking Dead: Rest in Peace

I’ve been saying since… well, at least since the end of All Out War, that there are ways in which the Walking Dead as a series has outstayed its welcome. I kept reading because I still cared about the characters, but the story? Well, it has become at least a bit repetitive. Who was Negan but a better take on the Governor, and at a larger scale? The Whisperers were a good variant, but still ultimately not very different. And now the Commonwealth was gearing up to be a here we go again, but this time it’s different because, um… it’s geographically even bigger than the previous times?

You see my point, which is, come on Kirkman, get it together and find a new take or a conclusion.

What I did not expect (although the title perhaps should have been a giveaway[1]) was that, as of Rest in Peace, I’d learn that he has been listening to me and the story is now over. Of course, that was five years ago, but still.

With the benefit of hindsight: there have been too many characters to reliably keep track of, but except for that it was a pretty good five year continuation, and a quite satisfying end to the story, containing all the elements I personally deemed essential and pretty well sticking the landing. Go team zombie!, I guess? I mean from a literary tradition standpoint, not from a spoilers about how the story ends standpoint. That it ends at all is the one unavoidable spoiler in this post.

[1] Actually, it sort of was? Also, it’s a large volume. Between those, I had to check the collection info, and it ended at #193, so, nah, no way they don’t go to at least issue 200, for a big momentous event of some kind. Right? Right.

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)