Tag Archives: Shudder

Scare Me (2020)

Apparently, both films named Scare Me released in 2020, which makes it a lot harder to distinguish which one I’m talking about here than I’m used to. Even worse (although I suppose the title lends itself to this outcome), they’re both about the same thing, which is people telling each other scary stories. Worst of all, I have no idea whether I can distinguish this one from the other one by saying it’s the one that’s sort of funny in addition to being scary. …since I didn’t see the other one, you understand.

IMDb says this is horror and comedy, but I disagree. Even though the stories are mostly not scary, it’s also mostly not played for laughs. There’s a ton of snark, and it is well-mixed with a lot of genre self-awareness, but it’s not a comedy. The characters, as they tell their stories to and with each other, cause the lines between imagination and reality to grow ever more blurry, and this is the source of most of the horror and most of the humor… but not, you know, at the same time.

Irony meter: while this is not the first movie I’ve heard mention the Bechdel test, I’m pretty sure it’s the first one which, having mentioned it, proceeds not to pass it.

 

Spiral (2019)

Did you ever wonder how it would look if someone took a run at Get Out, but for gay people instead of black people? If you have… Spiral doesn’t quite get there, but that’s not to say there isn’t a movie worth watching here so much as that it’s a really high target.

Two men and their 16 year old daughter move to either a picturesque bedroom community or else maybe just the suburbs? It kind of varies. Also, it’s 1995. Once there, they are exposed to glarey-eyed old men, homophobia, nosy neighbors, and for the younger and more flamboyant half of the couple, a creeping dread and flashbacks to a gay-bashing experience that his high school boyfriend took the brunt of half a lifetime earlier.

So why doesn’t it quite reach the comparison it was (apparently) striving for? For one thing, Spiral does not have the targeted feel that it should, on a moment by moment basis. I could change very little of the movie and it would fit a heterosexual couple just as easily. For another, the entire premise is cast into doubt by an unreliable main character who may simply be off his meds. And on the one hand, when done effectively (and this was), the game where they keep you guessing if this is an internal or external horror movie is something I’m quite fond of, even if the writers choose “internal” all too seldomly[1]. But on the other, when your base premise is this good, you commit to it instead of waffling between it and a diferent good premise, because half your audience won’t be satisfied regardless of what you pick.

Still and all, pretty good movie.

[1] Man I want to name drop an excellent example of when they did, but it kind of ruins the entire movie if you know in advance.

Rabbit (2017)

The thing about Rabbit is, I feel like I have seen this exact movie before when they called it The Wicker Man or Midsommar[1], but this one has twins!, is the distinguishing feature. See, there’s this twin sister who is having visions of the other sister, with whom she has a complicated relationship but also the sister went missing a while ago, long enough that the rest of the family has held a funeral, which she did not attend due to not believing she’s dead but the family thinks due to the complicated relationship. But now the visions have come to a head, so she’s returned to Australia[2] to find the missing twin once and for all.

Which, to bring it back around, mostly involves wandering around a campgrounds area except people seem to live there instead of be camping, and also everyone keeps looking at her and/or each other meaningfully, which is my point about the comparison to the other movies.

Later, there’s a secret ending, which I will not spoil.

[1] The latter of which I have not technically seen at all, but it just feels like it’s the same thing, you know?
[2] I don’t know anything about Australian law, but I should mention that the sister has only been missing for like a year or something? It seems too soon to me for her to be declared dead, but what do I know?

Color out of Space

Color out of Space appears to be a modern but otherwise fairly direct adaptation of a Lovecraft story. I haven’t read the story, and I do not 100% know it exists, but it has that feel to it. In this story (or at least in the movie) there’s this guy who is a narrator a little and witness-bearer a lot to the strange events surrounding a remote farmstead outside Arkham that is host to a meteor strike.

You know what, this makes me want to play Mansions of Madness.

But so anyway, there’s a weird purply-pinky-maybe bluey(?) glow around the meteor, and then later around a lot of other things, to let you know that the creepy Lovecraftian shit is going down, and also there’s Nicolas Cage as the cityfolk patriarch of the newly arrived farmer / alpaca ranchers who live at this farmstead, and let’s be honest, his only job is to demonstrate creeping Lovecraftian insanity, but let’s also be honest, he’s Nic Cage, so you know he’s going to deliver.

There are definitely things that I did not understand at all, or at least have no confidence in my understanding, but you know, that’s also very much on brand. I think this may have replaced Event Horizon as my favorite Lovecraft-inspired movie. EH is the better movie, of course, but I think this provides the better feeling of reading a Lovecraft book.

One Dark Night (1982)

As much as I love the early ’80s for the explosion of horror movies, I must still acknowledge that for every Basket Case or Sleepaway Camp, there’s going to be a One Dark Night to temper my expectations.

There’s this guy, and he was apparently a semi-famous mentalist or whatever, and people wanted to prove he was a fraud, but other people thought he was for real life. Only he died, and a whole bunch of people were also dead in his apartment with him, and maybe he murdered them, but he’s dead too, so… whaaaaat?

And the guy has a daughter, who is married to Adam West[1], and some other guy who’s been lurking around the crime scenes wants to tell her about her dad, and how he was, in fact, for real life and not a fraud at all, but also maybe totes evil, which I suppose tracks with all the other dead people in the apartment, but since he’s dead too, who cares?

But then there’s a sorority hazing in progress, only I think it’s high school and it’s just three chicks in matching members only jackets instead of a sorority, and for the final hazing, the head sorority chick wants to send the prospect chick, who she hates because she (the prospect) is dating her (the head chick) ex-boyfriend, to an overnight in the mausoleum from Phantasm. Why the prospect chick thought it would be a good idea to join this not-exactly-a-sorority is not really explored with any rigor.

Speaking of rigor, though, it turns out that the mausoleum is where the dead evil mentalist guy is entombed, and now you see why the two unrelated plots are in the same movie. Except you’re wrong, because while the high school horror movie makes sense, the dead evil mentalist story never makes even the slightest lick of sense, and I think I’d rather have seen either a different and more traditional spend the night surrounded by the dead while other people want to prank you possibly to death, or else just gone ahead and watched Phantasm, which also doesn’t make a lick of sense, but man it does it with a lot more style.

[1] A fact that never rises to the level of even moderately important to the plot[2], but since at one point after his Batman fame ran out, he was considering taking a job as a human cannonball, this counts as good news for his career. Which… hooboy.
[2] By which I mean, if she had been unmarried, nothing would have changed. Much less if it had been someone besides Adam West.

Mortuary (1983)

Even though I liked the same movie[1] better when Christina Ricci was in it, Mortuary[2] was better than it had any right to be on paper. Like, the first twenty minutes are a bloody fonted title card splashed over a sunny Los Angeles backyard pool, a high school chick who is pissed at her mom for not caring (also: not believing) that her dad was murdered, some dudes playing grabass before picking up a pair of tires and then spying on the local mortician holding a Satanic[3] ritual in the same warehouse for some reason, a completely gratuitous roller rink, and Bill Paxton hitting on the original chick by inviting her over to listen to his new Mozart record.

It is important to remember at this point in the narrative that, being 1983, Bill Paxton is also in high school for these purposes.

Anyway, my point is, that’s a lot to recover from, for me to be saying favorable things at the end of the flick. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop here except to add I just watched one of the most memorable wedding scenes ever committed to film, and that I regret the sequel that will never be.

[1] Note: not actually the same movie. In most ways, they are extremely different movies.
[2] Not to be confused with the pre-Bollywood Indian film also released that year.
[3] I mean, I have no direct evidence that the ritual was Satanic, but they all had black hoods and five of them were regularly forming the points of a pentagram, and also this was made in 1981, so.

30 Miles from Nowhere

Did you ever see The Big Chill? It’s a seminal ’80s Boomer movie[1] about college friends who reunite for a weekend in the woods to commemorate their other friend who committed suicide. Along the way, they enjoy the soundtrack but are otherwise I think mostly shitty to each other? Who can remember.

Anyway, 30 Miles from Nowhere is pretty much the horror movie version of that. Yes, college friends, yes, shitty to each other, yes, a suicide, yes, a cabin in the woods… but now with bonus “is it a haunting, or a vampire, or creepy backwoods folk, or just jumpy city folk, or what?” going on.[2]

iMDB would have me believe this was a horror comedy, but I think there’s a distinction to be drawn between that and the kind of horror movie that has tension-breaking comedic scenes, and that this falls on the not-a-comedy side of that line. I mention this partly to pad out the review, but mostly because I think “comedy” gets thrown around way too often if a movie happens to be funny in some scenes. Nah, man. Dramas can be scary, horror movies can be funny, comedies can have sad montages, and none of it means that every movie is a crossover hybrid of multiple types.

Be reductive, that’s my motto.

[1] with honestly not much to recommend it aside from an outstanding soundtrack
[2] Plus no soundtrack worth much of anything, but that would have been maybe too unfair to the original, so.

The Shed (2019)

A few weeks ago, my niece and her partner were watching some movie on Shudder about middle-schoolers with a sword. I cannot fairly judge it since I only saw [most of] the last third, but I was not especially impressed with what I did see.

The relevance of this is as follows: I just saw The Shed, a movie which is nearly identical to the sword movie, but improved in every way that mattered to me. There’s this guy, see, and he’s attacked by a vampire, just enough to both turn into a vampire himself and to learn by example about things like staying out of the sun, with the result that he hides from his first dawn in (you’ll never believe this) a shed.

Then the relevant part of the movie kicks in, insofar as the shed is owned by a juvenile delinquent orphan and his authoritarian asshole grandfather. What follows is a slow burn story about the intersection of bullies and small town hopelessness that spirals entirely out of control in the third act, in the very best kind of way.

It doesn’t quite stick the landing. If anything, once the metaphor had been followed to its logical conclusion, it’s like the writer didn’t really know what to do about cleaning up the mess left behind by that metaphor. But it worked well enough for me up to that point that I don’t begrudge him being less good at writing monster movies.

Would recommend, for people who aren’t allergic to high school darkness.

Hellmaster

I was recently discussing how the horror movie as a genre nearly died between the mid-’80s and -’90s.

So, anyway, I just watched Hellmaster, released in 1992, only the cut I watched was dated 1990 and named Them, which imdb shows as a working title for the movie. There is an implication, therefore, that perhaps edits and reshoots were done between the version I watched and the version that was released to the public. Never having heard of the movie before, I couldn’t begin to guess.

Anyway, there’s this college, the Kant Institute of Technology, which purports to have a very high rate of graduates in the FBI and CIA, but at the start of the movie, the whole college is gathered in a normal-sized auditorium for the dean to take over teaching for a week, only there are maybe 30 students total. Also, the college only has one building, and it’s laid out like an old mental hospital[1].

I’m not sure if any of that is particularly relevant, but what does seem to matter is that a whole bunch of killers with crosses carved into their foreheads (among other things, in some cases, a la the video cover) are coming to kill the students for reasons that entirely eluded me. Also, John Saxon[2] has a three-pronged injector that he waves around menacingly in the midst of philosophical debates with the dean and some guy from six months ago (aka the prologue) who is bitter over losing his wife into the cross-head brigade and also I guess the surviving students at times?

I have rarely if ever had so little idea what just happened in a movie.

[1] Which, okay, is what it was, my accidental research has informed me. It’s possible I would not have appended “mental” if I hadn’t seen it in print, but it for sure looked like a weird old hospital, not a university building. Those, you see, are generally symmetrical.
[2] You’d know him if you saw him, assuming you’ve seen any significant number of ’70s and ’80s B-movies.

Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Imagine, if you will, that you make comics. Specifically, that you make horror comics based on a true life serial killer who for a period of time wandered an interstate corridor, and who was never caught. Imagine that your comics are wildly popular, and that you are nearing the end of your run. Imagine that as a publicity stunt you are making your way down that interstate, doing radio shows and convention signings and whatnot, to drum up interest for your big finish.

Imagine that suddenly people are being killed again along that interstate, based on images in your comic.

Random Acts of Violence tried a little too hard to be some kind of high-minded treatise on the line between art and violence porn, as though its creators felt guilty about their creation, even as they followed whatever compulsion it is that causes people to make a movie.

Which is a pity, because as a hook for a slasher movie, you would have a hard time finding an easier way to draw me in than with the comics motif. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone go this way before, and a unique take on horror is like breaking a record in baseball; even if it’s vanishingly specific, it’s still hard to actually accomplish.