Not rated, but it is a horror movie. But it's also a horror movie from 1942 that was shown in theaters across America. Yes, there's death, but it all happens in shadow. Probably the most objectionable thing is that it is just xenophobic enough make your hair stand on end, pun intended. Also, there's an emotional extramarital affair. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Jacques Tourneur
I had to watch this! I mean, no one forced me. I suppose in some metaphysical, existential way, you made me watch this. Actually the more I think about it, there's an alternate universe where I didn't have a blog so I would never have watched Cat People. That would be a sad universe indeed. But when I was picking spooky season movies this year, I wanted to vary the types of horror movies I watched this year. I wanted an old fashioned monochromatic classic that slipped under my radar. I know. Some people haven't heard of Cat People. But I have and so have a lot of other folks and I consider it a crime that I haven't seen Cat People up to this point.
I don't know how I feel about Cat People. In terms of how movies are made now versus movies made in 1949, that's probably a lot of the basis of my read on the movie. Contemporary horror movies need regular scares. If they don't have regular scares, like a Paranormal Activity or something, they need to be build up to a giant third act to compensate for little happening in the rising action. Cat People doesn't do that and it comes across as charming. I'm never mad at Cat People. (Okay, the weird justification for infidelity really bugs me and I hope to remember to write about that later. ) I mean, a lot of older horror is about ambiance. Honestly, while I kinda like Bela Lugosi's Dracula, not much scary happens in it. It's kind of just creepy as opposed to outright scary. The same thing is true about Cat People.
This is a broad stroke and I can't even confidently stand by this claim, but Cat People, like a lot of horror movies from this generation, are more about neat ideas. This seems incredibly dismissive and I don't want to slag off an entire era of film just because sensibilities were different. But Cat People seems like the idea tossed around a party. "What if there was a race of people who couldn't fall in love because they're possessed by cats?" That's it. Instead of expounding on that or really exploring what that would mean, that's what's filmed. Sure, there's a story. But instead of Irena growing and making her the protagonist, the movie is obsessed with Oliver being the hero of the story. The meat of the narrative shares biology with the werewolf story. She is this self-sacrificing character, knowing that any moment, she can tear down her own life by submitting to the things she wants. It's actually a little bizarre that she lets Oliver into her life considering what her character arc in this movie is. (I mean, I know why she does it. There would be no story if she didn't indulge Oliver's flirtations. It's just odd that she's so willing to accept Oliver's courting rituals, but can shut down her sex drive to keep the beast at bay.)
But instead, it makes Oliver, who is absolutely the worst, the focus of the movie. Call it the patriarchy in 1942 and the fact that we can't make a foreigner a hero over good, ol' fashioned American willpower. But I don't think I've ever rooted for the monster harder. Even Frankenstein, I'm like...I get why the monster needs to go into that windmill. But Cat People, Irina is 1000% the character that needs all of our love and attention. Irina tells everyone the issue with this situation. She has made it very clear that her family has had to deal with this situation for her entire life. Now, it sounds absurd. But then she agrees to Oliver's suggestion that she seeks counseling. Then the doctor completely acts irresponsibly and tries seducing her and keeps calling her crazy to her face. Now, I can get how Irina still might be unsympathetic at this point. After all, in reality, we'd want Irina to come to grips with the problems of the narrative that she's dealing with. (Okay, the seduction is inappropriate, but that in all earnestness doesn't come until later.)
But then Alice,who is apparently the real love interest of the story, confesses her undying love to Oliver. She does it in a friend way. Yeah, it's not like Oliver and Alice sleep together, but Alice has no right to confess anything like that. I don't care what realization she's come to and if it is only awakened because of Oliver's marriage to Irina. Oliver is married and you had your shot. It's not emotionally healthy at all. Now, this is where I get really mad at Oliver. Oliver, who swears that he is going to respect the process that Irina is going through and says that he's going to support her, acknowledges that he's really in love with Alice. There's this moment where Oliver is given a choice (which is not the binary choice that the movie claims to be). He can either send Irina off to a mental institution (which is an odd choice, considering that Alice was attacked by a giant cat before this scene and is absolutely convinced that Irina is a cat) or get the marriage annulled so Alice and Oliver can marry. To give Oliver some degree of nobility, he says that the morally right thing is to institutionalize Irina because that's the morally right thing to do. You know, after he tells Irina that he loves Alice.
There's an odd sexual fluidity and dissolution of marriage in this story that I can only beg to be intentional. This is 1942. The notion of Chrisitianity as the one true faith is thrown around a few times in this movie. It's not like we're looking at a community of swingers in this town. But Cat People treats marriage like it is the most fluid thing in the world. I'm both a prude and not a prude at the same time. I'm more rallying over mixed messaging in this movie. The doctor trying to seduce Irina --at least I get this vibe --is meant to be disguisting. That's why he dies a horrible death. In fact, he might be the only death of the movie. But Oliver and Alice are the good guys? I refuse to believe that the movie is being criticial of these characters. I don't know why they need to the surviving characters to be in love. The story, oddly, might work better if Oliver and Alice weren't in love and that Irina's attacks on Alice are spawned by blind, irresponsible jealousy. But Oliver and Alice survive the events of the story because of Oliver's choice to take care of Alice? I know. I'm putting Friday the 13th morality over a movie that predates Friday the 13th by three decades.
But is it effective? The movie mostly works really well. It's the right time limit. One of my favorite thing about this spooky season is that a lot of horror movies know to cut the line at an hour-and-a-half. Cat People works mostly because it knows to get out before it gets into it. There are some of those shots that are gutsy and fun. Like, Irina's hallucination of King John and the cats, while probably goofy to my students, hits just in the right way. It's the same thing that the trippy sequence in Vertigo does for me. Some people could hate that. Not me. That's my bread and butter for a movie. Get a little weird. I like that kind of stuff. Also, when Irina full on embraces her homicidal cat side, the movie picks up. The scene that people probably remember (which is the only scene that I saw before watching Cat People outright) is the pool sequence. Mainly, it's one of two action scenes and it is probably the most effective scene in the movie. It's kind of silly that Alice knows she's being stalked and she jumps in the pool to hide. If her logic is, "Cats hate water", slow clap. But I don't know if Alice is that linear of a thinker to put those concepts together. I mean, she might think that it is harder to get attacked in a pool. Unless the stalker had a gun. Then that wouldn't help at all. If anything, it might hinder.
Can we talk about the misuse of quotations? Old movies be loving fancy pants sounding quotes. There are some real stretches with this one. There are multiple shots where a quasi-smart sounding tangentially-related quote appears on screen. There are characters who drop knowledge left and right as if people are just throwing witticisms back-and-forth. But it's a lot. Normally, I don't raise an eyebrow to this, but this is...this is a lot.
Cat People is on those lists of greatest horror movies of all time. It's not terrible. I can even say I like it. But we might be too forgiving because it's dated and people claim that they love it. It's better than other horror movies from the era, but there are some weird choices being made in the movie.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
PG-13. A PG-13 horror movie will either be amazing or terrible; nothing in-between. This is a movie that is all bottled and weaponized suspense. It deals with child death, violence, and possession. It's more upsetting for its gnarley creature effects and some of the visuals, but nothing that it too offensive in any way. This might be on par with Jurassic Park in terms of fright, but just more of it.
DIRECTOR: Brian Duffield
I drop Henson's name a lot during spooky season. He really gets into it. Again, I'm a guy who almost wrote off spooky season altogether because I didn't want to wade through a lot of the garbage horror movies that are out there. But Henson doesn't mind garbage horror movies in the hopes that he stumbles upon something great. Really, Henson was a sweet resource in this case because I didn't have to wade through anything. He just told me that this movie was great. Okay, he said the first thirty minutes were great and that the rest was very good. I'm going to disagree. I think, start-to-finish, this movie knocks it out fo the park.
Yes, even the gutsy end.
I don't think that I normally lose my mind for alien abduction or alien invasion movies. I remember, growing up, that people would lose their minds over Fire in the Sky. My real take on Fire in the Sky was that it had some upsetting visuals and a pretty weak storyline. Even going beyond that, I often think of the alien invasion movie as an action sci-fi blend, like Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds. That's not a problem. I love sci-fi and I love sci-fi action. I remember liking War of the Worlds. And if I had to put No One Will Save You next to War of the Worlds in terms of beats, yeah, that would really work as a double feature. But No One Will Save You embraces the scary nature of alien stuff. It took all of the distilled energy from an episode of the '90s Unsolved Mysteries and made a straight up hunted horror movie with it. It's Ready or Not with aliens and I'm on board.
But No One Will Save You (despite having real Last Night in Soho vibes), is simple in scope, yet still absolutely surpised me multiple times. I mean, that means I have to talk about the ending. It's weird, because the movie is so much more than its ending. If anything, the ending is just a welcome bonus to a movie that absolutely nails suspense. But I want to talk about the ending becuase, in a million years, I never saw it coming and it absolutely works. With a story like this, in my mind, Brynn only had a few options. The first option was the most realistic option in my head. I thought that this would end tragically. With a title like No One Will Save You, there's a little bit of an implication that Brynn's story will be sad. After all, everything in her story implies that things will go badly. Also, this is a reactionary story. Everything that Brynn does is in response to being attacked. She's not quite Ripley. Sure, there's the moment when she realizes that the spaceship is going to attack her imminently. But even that plan is kind of weak compared to what Final Girls traditionally do. So the notion that the movie isn't going to be Brynn vs. the World is incredibly likely. The other option is precisely that. There's a version of the story where Brynn takes down the alien horde and that almost seems against the DNA of this movie.
But then the real end is that Brynn basically sells her soul. Brynn's got this huge emotional background to her. She's carrying her baggage around. Her internal conflict is continually externalized by the fact that everyone treats her like garbage. But Brynn is given that ol' Nexus story from Star Trek: Generations. Instead of possession being this horrible Hell where your personality is wiped clean, there's something seductive about possession in this one. It seems like people exist in a state of bliss if inhabited by one of these alien spore creatures. I mean, it makes me wonder why more people aren't fighting these aliens because it doesn't take Brynn very long to realize that this world is false and she chooses to return to the hellscape that is her reality. But that's what makes the ending oh-so-much better. In her possession, she realizes the falseness of Maude being alive. Sure, Maude being alive and well, and also her friend, would be tempting. But it is also a constant reminder of the unreality of the entire experience. So Brynn choosing a world stripped of free will is so shockingly evil.
Brynn is aware that there is no happy ending for her. Imagine, potentially, that Brynn took down all of the aliens Independence Day style. There's this cure all that destroys all of the aliens on the planet. Sure, disappointing, but a lot of movies would go down that route. But even in that scenario, she has to live in a town that constantly reminds her that she messed up when she was a little girl. Yeah, the morally right answer is to fight the aliens until you win or you die. Instead, Brynn chooses the morally corrupt answer that gives her solace. She has a world where she knows that everyone isn't real, but they instead are new people. I also love that the aliens are aware and possess a level of empathy to this girl who clearly feels horrible for what she did. Honestly, when she was abducted, I didn't know how this movie was going to end. I saw the character written into a corner because her luck had been spent up to this point in the movie and I couldn't imagine that she got any more lives to spare. But there is this bliss. She just desperately wants to be part of a society.
And points towards this. I knew the movie was quiet. I didn't realize that there was almost no dialogue in the movie. My wife would hate it. She's a big fan of movies with dialogue. She gets mad when she can't look at her phone. But that ending where the silence takes a new form is troubling. I can see people reading that ending as a joke. Instead, Brynn has shaped the world into a perverted version of utopia. I love that juxtaposition between the Pleasantville styled world of where she lived and what the reality of that moment is. It's way darker than either ending I conceived of. Honestly, I really thought that Brynn would choose some kind of honorable death and the movie was going to end with the systematic destruction of Earth. But feeling like, "Yeah, we kind of deserved it" is a way more haunting ending than sheer death or the continuation of the fight. (Seriously, how did I realize that there was no dialogue in the movie shy of Brynn yelling for Maude? My student immediately picked up on it.
And this is where the basic form of film fan comes out. Parts of this movie are sick. Like, they are absolutely beautifully choreographed that I just guffawed while watching it. Brynn dispatches some of these creatures in the most amazing ways ever. There are three major alien kills in the movie and all three work. The first kill is what got me to really sign on for the movie. I want to talk about the significance of that first kill in a bit. But the other two, the car kill and the crucifixion kill are both bananas to me. I know that there might be one more. I just remember what I remember, okay? When it comes to talking about the rad moments, the kills are great because the creature effects and designs are awesome. I really dig the long limbed aliens. I know that has to be impractical for the creatures to exist the entire time like that. But if you are going for "spooky alien", mission accomplished, okay? So good. And then barbecuing the alien with his limbs all pinned down inside the car was a work of genius. Now, the crucifixion of the alien inside the house is genuniely great, but the tag on that moment where Brynn smacks his head makes that scene work.
But I got on board with the model belltower to the head. Now, that scene surprised me. I thought that this was a movie about the consequences of accidentally killing an alien and no one believing them. Instead, the movie ties in far more clearly with the reveal of Brynn's crime. The entire time, I thought of more bleak stuff. After all, the entire town hates her. I thought we were going to have another We Need to Talk about Kevin moment. But instead, there's this fight that quickly got out of hand. Brynn is 1000% at fault, but there's that whole thing where Brynn is 12 and people forget how stupid 12-year-olds can be. I do love how the genocidal aliens are all sympathetic, which scans. But in that moment, it's a rock to the head as an impulsive reaction. The reason why I really love the belltower to the head is that it mirrors the exact thing that got her into trouble to begin with. These are two moments without thought. Instead, they are both reactions to being attacked. With the Maude thing, there's the implication that there was a moment to think about it. But Brynn is nothing, if not consistent.
Guys, I gushed about this movie. It might be my 2023 horror movie and it's a gosh-darned PG-13 movie. I'm showing the movie to my film class for Halloween because they need time to work on projects, but some of them are done. But they're digging it. Sure, it's a little hard to see if you have a glare on the TV. But the movie works so darned well as just an adrenaline nightmare that I applaud it.
PG-13...kind of. 1971 didn't have the same rating scale that we have today. But Paramount+ rated this PG-13 and that's good enough for me. There's some blood and people die, but it is a pretty tame horror movie. There's some implied off-screen sexuality, both marital and extramarital. But this is an incredibly tame, almost to the point of boring, horror movie.
DIRECTOR: John D. Hancock
Okay, I'm pretty sure that they forgot to film the important parts of the movie, but really got coverage on the unnecessary stuff. That's my entire take. I'm going to drone on and on about this fundamental concept. Like, so much. I think I got angry watching this movie. When I found out that this movie was only "meh" and oddly has a cult following, I thought that made sense. I don't know how my brain worked picking this movie. I can take a guess. The title is sick. The aesthetics of the era are just perfect. That title card? Perfection. But in terms of making a movie, what happened?
I mean, I read the Wikipedia page. I had to know the behind of the scenes of this movie. According to the Wikipedia page, this originally was meant to be a spoof of a horror movie starring a bunch of hippies. When John D. Hancock got on board, he restructered it into being a traditional horror movie and, even though the product is not good, I kind of get it. I'm going to be throwing around the word "insufferable" a lot. Please, get used to it. The irony of this is that I will probably get insufferable in the process of describing this movie. I'm aware and I'm just wearing it proudly. The notion of a horror hippie comedy sounds pretty insufferable. Do you know why I think this? It's because the characters being toned down for the sake of this movie are already insufferable. It's really weird. I really love the Woodstock documentary. (Note: Weebly's getting really crashy, so if this becomes disjointed...there's a reason.) I love the Woodstock documentary and its celebration of a culture of peace, love, rock 'n roll, and burning down the establishment. It's my favorite. I even like hippie movies. I want to preach the BBS films and their raucous look at hippie culture. But man alive, these characters are too much.
I don't know what makes the characters in this story too much. I think it is the complete lack of functionality that they have as people. Jessica is not mentally well. That's part of the story and it's actually part of the story that I really liked. It makes the whole notion of "Is something going on?" far more of an issue than it would be fore most characters. But Duncan was part of the philharmonic. He has a very specific skill that is tied to urban centers. The fact that they got rid of all of their money to sink into this house, a house that doesn't seem like they explored or researched at all, is silly. Their goal to get money? Find something around the house to sell. Now, because this is a a movie and movies are allowed to make their own logic, they find an antique dealer (despite not getting help from the town) and that antique dealer stresses that he's struggling compared to when he was working in New York. Still, he's excited to buy a bunch of stuff from them. The only thing that I really bought is that he lowballed them. That's it. But these people shouldn't be able to survive on a farm. None of them are farmers. They have to plant and wait for harvest to get any kind of income. What is their plan? The town hates them. Who is going to buy their unwanted hippie apples?
Now, for a while, I thought that Boomers were the worst generation (I'm basing this all on the Trumpians who have been giving me nightmares for a while.) Before you start spouting off, some of my favorite people are Boomers. But Boomers, as a generation, have been kind of dangerous people. Ironically, they are the same hippies that I've been revering at Woodstock, so who am I to comment on anything? But Let's Scare Jessica to Death argues against the notion that Boomers are terrible. It's apparently just older generations. (Again, not my read. This is Let's Scare Jessica to Death.) For a chunk of the movie, the major threat to the hippie heroes are the townspeople, comprised entirely of grumpy old men who are honestly filmed like they're Cobra Kai. They make a point of walking up and intimidating people. (I mean, post-Trump, all this scans.) They defile the hearse / ambulance and take the "Love" off the side of the car. Maybe old people, when given free reign and something to hate, become unruly and terrible people. That part could be cool if...
...ANYTHING IN THIS MOVIE MADE SENSE! We get nothing. Nothing. We get this little tease that there might be a ghost haunting the house and the lake. That is a potential answer to why things are happening. It's implied that Emily is Abigail, the girl who drowned at the beginning. But then why is she acting so normal for a lot of the movie. The title is Let's Scare Jessica to Death, implying that there was some malice and forethought to take a mentally ill person and have her die of natural causes. Okay, if I take the title of the movie into play, that ghost story is just part of Emily's plan to drive her insane. The town is in on it. So is her husband. The only person who is not in on it is Woody, who dies a horrible death because he wants nothing to do with torturing Jessica. He even called Duncan out, telling him to take care of his wife. But then, why? Emily was there as a plant. She was always meant to be found by Jessica and she was supposed to be planting seeds of distrust. But then, the old people all have scars on their bodies, implying something. Then Duncan has the scar, as does the boatman? What are the scars? We didn't talk about scars. Can anyone be turned into one of these killer people? Are they trying to turn Jessica into one of them? Nothing makes any sense.
And it's not like the movie didn't have the space to tell a compellng story. The movie almost wastes time in the film. Jessica has lots of thoughts on the farm and making friends with Emily. Boy, a lot of the movie is dedicated to determining whether or not Emily should stay or not. And then there's the mute girl. The mute girl is eerie and meant to be a bit of a red herring. We find out that the mute girl may be one of the few moral characters in the story. You think that she's the ghost of Abigail, but really, she's there to warn Jessica. I know that because Jessica's thoughts are screaming throughout the movie, including, "She was just trying to warn me". But about what? Why is that girl mute? Who is she? What was she trying to warn her about? Injury people? There's so much left to just be filler. Are people always evil in this movie or are they changed? They mention that Abigail was thought to be a vampire, but all those injuries are not bite marks. They're just...injuries.
I'm about to rail big on something dumb. If this was a back-and-forth conversation, someone would tell me to get over it. But I'm paying for domain space, so I can go off on this as much as I want and who is going to stop me? That's not a mole. Nope. There's a cerain degree of pretend that this movie has, like when my friends and I were making student projects in high school. We didn't have a prop, so we would pretend that stupid things were props. But one of Jessica's happiest moments is when she finds a mole. Jessica is insufferable. I don't know who would get excited to find mole. While kind of cute, they are horribly ugly in the face. But do you know what Jessica actually found? A mouse. Maybe Hancock knew that the original print of the movie would be blurry enough to pretend that a mole was a mouse. But that is definitely a mouse. And if all you could find was a mouse, why not just change the line to "a mouse" instead of "a mole"? Maybe they filmed later scenes where you couldn't see the mouse and then had to settle for a mouse instead of a mole? But that seems pretty dumb continuity wise. A lot of the movie goes out of its way to not show a mole.
The thing is...there's potential for something genius here. I want to talk about how people don't listen to women about mental illness. I want to talk about how a group of people were marginalized because the winds of politics had shifted. I know that I'm putting elevated genre storytelling on an era that infamously just created exploitative entertainment. But the building blocks of great storytelling were there. It just felt like this movie gave up on the fundamentals in exchange for an atmosphere that honestly wasn't that effective. I don't know why I thought that this was a classic. Shy of a few moments, this movie does nothing right. It's so bad, guys. It's so bad.
Yeah, it's rated R. The first thirty minutes are almost trying to be offensively shocking. There's violence, gore, nudity used in the context of pornography, sexuality. It's a hard R. If the entire movie followed the tone of the first half hour, the movie might have even gotten an NC-17. The whole thing is pretty R-rated, but if you can make it through the first half hour, those edges get smoothed out. R.
DIRECTOR: Joe Dante
I have so much I want to say about this, but the most important thing that I have to communicate right now is that Robert Picardo plays the alpha werewolf. Full head of hair, ripped bod...Robert Picardo. I mean, good for him. That guy is amazing. It's just that I kept on looking for Robert Picardo when I saw his name in the credits. At a certain point in the movie, about 60% of the way through, you realize that you've met every character. It was in that moment where I was, like, wait...that's Robert Picardo? Some of you don't know who Robert Picardo is. That's okay. You have a wonderful journey ahead of you watching this legend. He's a Star Trek guy, if that helps. But also, that was a satisfying reveal. Good on you, Picardo. Good on you.
When I watch horror movies, I tend to stay away from werewolf movies. It's a dog / cat thing. You're either vampires or werewolves. I tend ot find vampires fascinating and find werewolves to be kinda meh. But then, I might be wrong on that one. I always thought that I just liked one werewolf movie, namely An American Werewolf in London. But this spooky season has been about seeing what all the hubbub is about when it comes to tried and true horror movies. As much as I've seen the classics, I haven't seen all of the cult classics. As part of that, I've never seen The Howling. I'll tell you, despite having a rough start, The Howling is kind of great. The twist got me. I think as a conceit, it works really well. I'm dancing around it, so I'll just get to it. I love that the entire Colony is a place for werewolves. I love that Doc was responsible for the whole thing and that he's somehow this noble werewolf who let morality slip through his fingers. I love the notion, also, that you can have a werewolf who enjoys being a werewolf so much that he perpetuates this serial killer narrative around himself. That's nifty.
I think the problem I always had with werewolves is the narrative that we keep coming back to the victim storyline. Yes, I'm thinking of An American Werewolf in London again, but I'm also thinking of The Wolf Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I'm going to talk about what The Howling made me realize. Fundamentally, if we're talking about deeper meaning to werewolves, it's all about repression. Vampires tend to enjoy being vampires. I know, that's not an across the board read of the characters. It's just that maybe The Howling is doing what I like about vampire stoires. They tend to embrace the evil within themselves. But with werewolves, there's something daunting about the whole thing. When a vampire unleashes and embraces its dark side, their faces sometimes change, but they are still fundamentally themselves. When a werewolf embraces that evil inside of them, it's a full on different creature. There's no nuance or subtlety. If a werewolf is chasing someone, it's a tank going after them. Rooms get destroyed. Everything is in disarray. It's running away from a tornado. That makes for a fun movie.
It's odd, because The Howling --potentially accidentally --does something interesting. It seems like that the rules for lycanthropy in The Howling doesn't change your personality. It just becomes about saying "yes" instead of "no", with the exception of Karen White. Don't get me wrong. That ending is near perfect for The Howling. At first I think the movie goes on too long. But it is all worth it watching Karen go full wolf on network television, only to be executed before a live feed. But the rest of the wolves, including and especially Bill, still stay who they are but also go ham on being a wolf. Like, Bill oddly becomes unfaithful before being bitten by Marsha. He allows the kiss to happen and then gets insensed after, claiming the moral high ground. But when he's attacked by werewolf Marsha, infecting him, he almost is given a pass to his animal desires. Lycanthropy is a freedom from moral norms. It's why that constant reminder that Bill is a vegetarian is important. He avoids meat, implying a moral responsibility to save animals and whatnot. But when Bill eats meat, it doesn't raise too many red flags. His reasoning? If he's hungry enough, he'll eat anything. He doesn't change his personality. It's just that he'll turn right instead of left.
So why does Karen turn on the werewolves? I honestly think that it is all chalked up to the torment she went through. Bill has it pretty easy before he's turned into a werewolf. He's seduced and leaves sexually frustrated by the entire situation. When he's a werewolf, that burden is removed from him. But Karen's entire interaction with the wolves is so toxic that it makes sense that, even devoid of the responsibilities associated with marriage, profession, or even just humanity, she is willing to sacrifice herself on live television. Sure, I'm sure that Joe Dante just wanted a rad ending. But that ending honestly works. If Eddie hadn't tortured her and stalked her, giving her PTSD, I can see her potentially being a happy werewolf the way that Doc wanted her to be. Actually, this leads to one of the odd flaws of the movie. It's kind of the same intellectual question that I have with haunted house movies. Why would the wolves torture her first?
We get hauntings in stories because we're watching a movie. There needs to be a structure where the rising action, or escalation, leads to a crescendo where the protagonists have to fight an enemy head-on. But there's this party where Bill and Karen are welcomed to the Colony. Knowing what you know at the end of the movie, about how all of the members of the Colony are actually all werewolves, it almost doesn't make sense how they act. Again, this is for the sake of storytelling. But there are multiple interpretations for the purpose of this scene. I can see that some people might want to warm Karen up to the notion of lycanthropy. It's odd, because she was traumatized by Eddie, a member of the community. I don't know why she's even at the Colony if she wasn't bitten. But okay, forget that. We need a story. It's when Marsha starts becoming this toxic element in the meet-and-greet that I don't wonder why they don't just turn her then. Instead, there's this odd seduction of Bill that has to happen first. Bill is go-with-the-flow. He hunts with the werewolves, despite never having hunted before. It seems like there's odd motivations for having Karen there for so long before revealing themselves in the worst possible of ways.
But, remember, I'm a guy who likes this movie. That final sequence when everyone doesn't believe that Chris has silver bullets is perfect. I mean, add the Homelander quote right here because it is so satisfying seeing all of these wolves go ham on the protagonists at the same time. Also, I honestly thought that the end was going to be anticlimactic with the burning of the wolves in the barn. But then the final sequence kept going. Man, that ending just kept on surprising me with just another element that I was not ready for. Honestly, sometimes that would annoyed me. I normally say that more doesn't equal better. But with a movie like The Howling, Dante understood the promise that he kept making. Again, we're looking at Hitchcock's defintion of suspense. It's not the bullet being fired; it's the anticipation. For the entire movie, I thought that Dante was afraid to show werewolves. Like the shark in Jaws, the notion of keeping these werewolves off camera seemed like a practical thing that we were never going to see. But the effect is "I really want to see a werewolf." Then we see a werewolf and it seems really expensive. (It's not perfect, but it's 1981 good.)
But when they revealed that everyone but the main characters are werewolves, Dante completely delivers on this promise that we're going to see a bunch of werewolves go ham. It's great. And those characters take some damage. Even within the sequence, I thought that Dante was going to hold back, just exposing teeth and claws. Nope. Like, five werewolves attack the car at the same time and Karen gets a big ol' bite in her. It's a fantastic final act that is effectively scary and action packed at the same time. It works really well.
One thing that I don't understand about werewolf movies is the following: watching the transformation. I mean, since American Werewolf, we've felt the need to watch this thing slowly transform into a wolf. (Okay, The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. did that first. But in terms of making it a little gory and practical, that might have been American Werewolf.) But at one point, Eddie has Karen in a room and he really wants to scare her by going full wolf in front of her. He wants to give her the whole show and he does a willful transformation. But the cool thing about werewolf transformations is that they are really slow and really gory. Why does she just stand there? He seems like he's really uncomfortable and unable to move. She just watches him for what seems like three minutes. That's three-minute head start in my book. Or, you know, hurt him then while he still has soft human parts? I know why she doesn't run. She's the avatar. We see what she sees. We want to see the whole transformation, so Karen has to be there. But in reality? Nope. Get out of there. Don't just stand there looking horrified. It doesn't look like that's one of her fight/flight/or freeze responses. She waits for him to change before boning out of there.
Anyway, the movie works way better than I thought it would. I don't know if I would watch it again. But I can now preach that The Howling is one of those top tier werewolf movies and that maybe werewolf movies have a solid place in my horror canon.
Not rated for no reason outside of the fact that it was not released in theaters. Listen, it would be R. Normally, I don't try to speculate. There's lots of gore, violence, and completely unnecessary nudity. If I had to make anything say "Hard-R", but not "NC-17", it's this. It's a horror movie that often uses violence to shock. Still, since there is no rating, I have to maintain that this is still in the blue font category.
DIRECTORS: David Bruckner, Scott Derrickson, Natasha Kermani, Mike P. Nelson, and Gigi Saul Guerrero
Come on, V/H/S franchise. I used to say that you were the franchise to follow. Henson's big on these horror movies. Years ago, I watched the first two V/H/S movies and thought that they were doing some amazing things with the found footage subgenre. But since the franchise moved to Shudder (a streaming service that I have only seen when watching with Henson), these anthology movies just feel rough. I know that there was talk that V/H/S/85 was a return to form and super fun. I don't know, man. A lot of this just kind of felt like a burden. It's not like the whole thing was awful. There were moments when I was having a good time. But the reality of the situation was that these segments look cheap and felt like they were aimed at the lowest possible denominator.
Anthology movies are tough to write about, especially when they are directed by different people. You want to judge the work as a whole because there's connective tissue between all of these segments. But I also know that it is almost unfair to judge individual elements because they are with the lot. I'm just being fair. I'm being fair. Also, how would you write about anthology movies? Exactly.
"Total Copy" -Okay, this is one of the more successful ones. I think part of what makes V/H/S work as an anthology (which is why I got more annoyed by V/H/S/99) is that it is almost a time capsule from the era. It's not perfect. None of them are perfect. But I think that "Total Copy" hits the mark of what Fox during the '80s and '90s looked like. Like, it feels like this could have been a real expose on a trash news show. I mean, it's absurd that this would be covered, but that's not what is being argued. This is a horror anthology and our brains have to shut down. Now, I'm so torn by the end of this scene. "Total Copy" is the big one that is the connective tissue between the scenes. It's broken up. We actually get a sense of time passing. There's something to invest in, which is kind of impressive for an anthology segment. The actual monster is a little undercooked. It's supposed to be this shape shifter, but I spend a lot of time not really knowing what I'm looking at. There's a scene --and I laughed a bit at this --that the monster Rory is shapeshifting into Gary. Gary is annoyed at this because he's just being oppressed by a job that he hates. But the thing is...it didn't look like Gary. I don't know how that worked. I know that we were supposed to make the connection, but I was put out that we should have had a Gary double. Honestly, the shapeshifting element is rough in this. It almost has nothing to do with the story. If anything, this is a story about a monster that mimics, like Doctor Who's "Midnight". That's the story. The joke is really funny at the end, but also kind of takes the bite out of an effective climax. So I'm torn. This might be the best of the group.
"Dreamkill" -This is the Scott Derrickson one? This is a professional director. His is probably the biggest name on the roster and this movie just looks bad. I went into this tirade with Saw: The Final Chapter. If you don't give people money to make movies properly, you can't be mad when the movie looks bad. Part of this really feels like Scott Derrickson didn't care about this. It's almost like he's above making movies for this streaming service. Everything in this feels like a shortcut and uninspired. The most red-flaggy thing in this movie is the costumes. It felt like everyone had to dress up with their own clothes to hit an archetype. It's got a bit of community theater to it. The cop from the '80s looks like a Halloween party costume. The goth is just lazy. He doesn't look like the '80s. It's really hard to take him seriously, considering that he's the crux of the storyline. Also, that scene would be significantly cooler if that was a nine-year-old boy. The goth thing seems like it is just trying a bit too hard to be successful. Also, one of the few things that the segments really tried to do was to look like it was filmed in the '80s. The nightmare sequences don't look like anything. They look like Nine Inch Nails music video sequences. There's a filter over the whole thing. The story is uninspired and everything just looks bad. The guy coming into the police station covered in blood? No one stopped him? Just so much of this feels lazy.
"TKNOGD"- This is as close to unwatchable as it got. It's bad when you have to take what is fundamentally a short film and cut it down to a TikTok concept. There's a weird irony to the whole thing that the protagonist of this segment is putting on an insufferable show and that tongue-in-cheek moment actually translates to the whole segment. We get it. The protagonist is preachy and kind of untalented. But we were meant to sit through an intentionally bad theatre production, which loses its charm quickly. I think almost all of the segments in this movie suffer from lacking plot, but "TKNOGD" is perhaps the worst. We're watching this play just waiting for something bad to happen to her because of her hubris. Even when the digital monster comes after her (a monster that is criminally underdefined), it almost lacks any kind of punch because the character has made herself so unlikable. Also, I don't really get what the creature is meant to be. Why is it targeting her? Also, there's a joke that I called from the beginning right at the end. But the funnier version of that is that only one person would have clapped. That's the funnier bit and I'll die on that hill. It's just that this isn't even a story. It's a stinger. It's the beginning of something that should be deeper. Right now, the entire story is "Girl rallies against technology and then the technology kills her." She's not a person. She's an excuse to unload on a corpse. It's almost depressing to watch it.
"No Wake / Ambrosia" -Okay, this one almost won me over. V/H/S actually let two stories play out in segments and this one mostly worked. In terms of that time capsule stuff I was talking about, this one does a lot of it right. But when it's wrong, man is it wrong. I went around pointing "good" "bad". I, too, can be insufferable. If it was only "No Wake", I would have called shannanigans. But I knew there had to be a follow up. The "Ambrosia" segment is what really sold me. I don't know how the RV kids found the Cult of the VII. I don't. I asked. It made no sense. There's some screwy logic in terms of really selling this entire thing as a revenge plot. Why keep them alive? I mean, luckily, the family has a rule of not being taken alive. But the RV kids wouldn't have known that? Either way, I like the notion of a family of serial killers coincidentally having a high concept separate horror movie going on nearby. It's pretty gnarley. There were times that I screamed at the screen. For example, when the zombies point out that this was no way to live, a character does something gross out to stress how absurd their condition was. But it also looks like they're not going to be able to heal anymore, so maybe don't make such visual examples of your decay?
"God of Death" -I'm so torn on this one. The one thing I'm confident about is the absolutely unnecessary nudity in this one. Horror's gotten better than this and that was absolutely stupid. I think the character's name was Karla. I rooted for Karla so hard. There's some weird logic again. Like, why did Karla have to kill the guy with a crowbar? What was that all about? But Karla holds the team together and powers through an earthquake only to become possessed? Okay, there's some rad concepts here. I like the idea of waking an ancient god which is the cause of all of that death. I like the news segments and the trapsing through a news building. What I kind of don't like is how bad the caves looked. Man, that was some community theatre nonsense. Also, I'm really having a hard time coming to grips with sensationalizing a real tragedy. Like, that was a real earthquake where lots of people actually died. It felt very "sensationalize Katrina" of this segment. It just all kind of felt in poor taste. Performances and little moments? Great. Everything else...blech!
This has become one of those franchises where I've seen so many of the entries in the series that I almost feel shackled to them. It's been a while since I enjoyed it, yet I keep coming back. I know that there's better stuff out there.
Not rated, which actively confuses me. It was on Shudder. It is on a streaming service and it is in 2022. You can give me a rating. Okay, I'm not the guy to give this movie a rating, but I can tell you that the entire thing is upsetting. There is some blood. Some horrible things happen to kids, but you don't really see those horrible things happen. There's no language, but knowing that this is from the perspective of children as they encounter a demon and it doesn't go well should be enough to decide that it might be too much for most audiences.
DIRECTOR: Kyle Edward Ball
Okay, first, the cinematographer gets all of the points for this one. All of the good points of the movie come from a very specific eye that makes the movie work. My best way to describe this movie? This is a movie that really works until it doesn't work at all. I think horror movies suffer most from third act problems. If the third act doesn't deliver, then the whole movie kind of gets thrown out. For a lot of Skinamarink, I was thinking that I had yet another great modern classic to be preaching about. I have this book that aesthetically does what Skinamarink does. It's called Discovering Scarfolk and it is perfect. Go out and read it today. It made me giggle so many times. But where Skinamarink fails where Discovering Scarfolk succeeds is that Scarfolk takes its weird aesthetic and adds another component that Skinamarink never really gets to.
There have to be comparisons between Skinamarink and The Blair Witch Project, right? I mean, both of these films took a unique visual element and kept us in the dark about what was meant to scare us (pun intended). It's been so long that I no longer feel comfortable giving a strong take on The Blair Witch Project, but I remember that both movies had third act problems and they almost suffer the same third act problems. Skinamarink works most of the time because it reminds us of how scary just being a child was. The way that this movie is shot, it points out the haunting quality of the mundane at night. The camera would focus for long periods of times on a nightstand as the glow from a television illuminated it. Things that we would stare at, hoping that whatever boogieman wouldn't find us steal the spotlight from any actual characters in the film. It's great at pushing that imagination as far as it could go. We get childhood logic in this movie and that's darned impressive. But the movie exists in the abstract for most of the movie. Is there a demon in the house or is it just the house settling? Is Dad missing or is my childlike brain making mountains out of molehills? That's what's really great about the movie. But at the beginning of the third act, the movie gives us a definitive answer (technically it does that before hand with Kaylee having her mouth removed, but even that comes across as a little weirder than what happens later.) When Kevin is told to stab his own eye out and he does it, we've entered the world of the concrete.
Ball said that the purpose of the movie was to recreate the experience of having a nightmare. The fact that there is no real logic in a nightmare is fun and I think that he manages to achieve his goal of recreating what nightmares are like. But that moment, when Kevin cuts out his own eye, things start happening to him that are meant to be story elements. But the movie tried desperately to return to a moment before the eye was cut out. It actually struggles to get weirder, by having Kevin walk on the ceiling. There's an amount of time that passes. We see the cartoons start to work on a loop. To argue against myself, Ball could be right. As much as I put emphasis on Kevin cutting out his own eye as something more concrete than the rest of the movie, that also could be part of the nightmare that Kevin is having. But I know why that scene is in the movie. Something had to happen. Ball needed the structure of a movie for the audience to stand the impatience of the film. He wanted to go from the mundane to abstract chaos and he timed the film to put that scene right there. Okay, but we also needed answers. Is there a demon? Even if the whole thing is a dream, Dad and Mom are definitely gone and there's a demon that is torturing kids. We know that we won't heard from Kaylee again and that this demon is actively talking to Kevin. But we know nothing about the demon. We don't know what rules he's following. We don't really get to see him. His personality is all over the place. There's nothing the grab onto, despite the fact that we know that there is a demon.
From the point after where Kevin takes his own eye, the movie really could end at any point. There are so many scenes after the eye thing that almost don't need to be in the movie. It's a little bit of Ball trying to rein in the cows after they've left the pen and a little bit of "wouldn't it be cool?" I always kind of have problems with the "Wouldn't it be cool?" manner of filmmaking. I know the problems that David Mamet would have with this movie. There are so many visual moments with the movie that don't really help the movie. I feel bad for Ball in this case because, without a formal narrative, he's almost completely depending on visuals to carry the movie. But there is this sense of diminishing return. The truly haunting moments, which is very Hitchcockian, is the waiting for something to happen. I'll say that Skinamarink handles it better than its peer, Paranormal Activity. But both movies, the waiting for the gun to go off is scarier than the gun actually going off. Also, both movies suffer the wrath of needing a certain run time. At one point, the wait for the gun to go off gets to be a bit boring. Same thing with Paranormal Activity. I have steeled myself for so long that the actual attack is going to be disappointing. There's only so much waiting for something to jump out of the dark at me that I get to a point of begging for it to happen so I can shut the movie off.
The thing is, I really want to like this movie. There's so much that's going right with this movie that it's such a bummer that the main thing is so wrong. This movie is a sneeze and a better writer away from being the movie that I show to people to tell them that horror can get weird. Horror --and this is something that is part of the genre renaissance that we're going through --has the potential to be like sci-fi. Sci-fi is not one thing. Sci-fi has such loose parameters that it can reflect any style or tone. It reflects the thing that we need as an audience. Horror has been more shy to adopt that. I suppose that horror has always been more for the deviants (sorry, horror fans. You tend to not come across as the most healthy of personality types.). But stuff like Skinamarink honestly offers some visual value. A24 has been dominating this field, but even A24 is starting to have a certain look to it that is getting a bit tired. (Sorry, A24. You've been doing amazing work and I want you to keep doing what you do.) I just like the fact that we have a potentially different aesthetic voice out there telling great genre stories. I mean, would you have thought of a movie like Skinamarink? If you don't know what I'm talking about (and I don't blame you! Talking about visuals is hard without having a foundational image), watch the trailer. I thought the trailer was just one part of the movie. No, the entire movie looks like the trailer. Honestly, because the story is kind of weak, I can tell you to watch the trailer and then imagine an hour and 40 minutes of that.
You could do so much with that visual style. It's just that the movie leaned so heavily on the visuals that it didn't really put the time and effort into rewrites. It's very scary when it is scary. I don't want to put down the parts that work. There's a scene where Kaylee investigates her parents' bedroom and that entire sequence is haunting and upsetting. I love it. It's very scary. But that's not a story and I'll even go as far as to say that's not character. Kaylee and Kevin, despite being the only real characters in this movie, don't really have much of a character. They are the innocent archetype and that's it. Sure, the reason why they are is that Ball is stressing that they are avatars for our childhood selves. But you need to give us something besides the visual. The visual is so great and the rest of the movie is too underbaked. That's actually perfect. This is The Great British Baking Show and someone turned in a visual marvel in the showstopper. Paul cuts into the cake and it's gooey and inedible. That's the most bummer moments on the show. We want the gorgeous cake that someone put a lot of effort into to be the one that wins. But if you can't eat the cake, it's not a cake anymore. In fact, with Skinamarink, it feels more like an hour and 40 minute music video because the substance just isn't there. It's all about visuals and mood and sometimes that mood is boring.
I hate crapping on this one, guys. I don't absolutely hate it. It's just that when you see something's amazing potential and it doesn't achieve it, it's heartbreaking. This movie got so close. It got right up to that line and then held back. I was so into it for a good hour at least and then the last forty minutes happened and I got unbelievably bored. When a movie is that impressive and you can't wait for it to end, something went really wrong.
Not rated, but I know a lot of people consider this top tier offensive, brutal content. I mean, I don't necessarily agree with that. It's a lot. It's a horror movie. It's a home invasion horror movie and that's very upsetting. There's nudity. There's sexual content. There's death. I think the "who dies" is more upsetting than the notion of death itself. These characters are tortured. But almost all of the violence happens off camera. There's language and the whole thing is upsetting, but is it the most offensive thing ever? I'll say no. Still, caution advised!
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke
I've been afraid to watch this movie. It's not that it was scary. It's just that so many people said that it was so upsetting. I don't think I like upsetting. I don't like Eli Roth films. They're less about being scary and more about how upsetting the imagery can get. But very little about Funny Games is about the imagery. It's about how bad your imagination can get. I'm working through some anaylsis right now, so let's see if I can get to my point.
The two killers in this movie are monsters. If anything, they mirror some of the monsters that we've been dealing with in the news media. They are attacking someone to make them miserable. In this case, they don't know who they are directly, kind of mirroring the notion of a school shooter. They don't have this great motive necessarily. It's almost just this attempt to foster chaos. Now, maybe because the violence isn't shown, these two come across as the worst kinds of villains. After all, if it's not about the gore, then it has to be about the character. But I realize, especially during this spooky season, that every horror movie villain is Peter or Paul. It's just that we're so afraid of seeing what they'll do to someone or see what kind of surprise we can get, that we ignore that the bad guy is actually a horrible monster. It's actually weird that we would put Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers on a tee-shirt because we would never put Peter or Paul on a shirt. It would be borderline offensive to go that route. The fact that Peter and Paul are so grounded compared to the supervillains that we've glorified in horror movies might make them more upsetting.
I kind of want you to go into this movie blind. I'm not sure how much of this you should be reading. This blog has rarely been about trying to sell people one watching a movie. I've always kind of treated it as something that I would share with friends after watching a movie together. Guys, don't grow up. You never get to have late night movie gab sessions and you need to have a blog to vomit out your thoughts. But if you aren't going to watch this movie -or! better yet! --you've seen this movie and have thoughts, I'm going to talk about the meta element to the story. I'm not saying that it is the only thing that separates itself from the genre. It's just the one that might polarize audiences. I knew ahead of time that there was something complicit in the audience watching the movie. Because Paul continues to look at the camera and breaking that fourth wall, there's something a little off about the entire tried and true formula. I mean, it's not like the home invasion horror is the most common of the subgenres, but it isn't like this is the only movie that is about torturing a family. But because Paul gets us involved, we have to look at our complicity in this movie.
I'm a guy who violently (see what I did there?) advocates for pacificism. I'm almost irresponsible about being a pacifist. There's no way that society would function if I had my way about violence. Yet, I watch movies like Funny Games that pride themselves on making the violence as real world as possible. And, this might make it worse!, I really liked it. Like, this might be one of my favorite horror movies now. A part of that comes from the fact that I'm a bit of a snob and a subtitled German horror movie that comments on the involvement of the viewer exactly screams a guy who has a film blog. But this movie sells its premise without take a sledgehammer to the ol' noodle. There's a real devisive moment that I can imagine that a lot of people probably didn't care for. Right at the beginning of the third act, Anna turns the tables on Peter and Paul, grabbing a shotgun and taking Peter out. In that moment, Paul freaks out and looks for the remote. Originally, the remote was used to play Formula One racing way too loudly as people recovered from the death of the son. But when Paul finds the remote, the rewinds the film and stops Anna from taking control. Now, that seemingly comes out of nowhere. After all, there's a big difference between the Fleabag style fourth wall break and the ability to turn back time and affect the events of the story.
But that moment, for the sake of the story, reminded us that this is not a Hollywood horror movie. I know. The introduction of a seemingly impossible science fiction convention in a movie that is supposed to be grounded makes no sense. It might be the opposite of my argument. But Funny Games almost prides itself on the reality of a situation. What makes the movie haunting is that there is almost a Faces of Death quality to the whole thing. (I'm wholly against Faces of Death or even a celebration of that nonsense.) Funny Games reminds us that horror, as fun as it can be in the fantasy reminagining of what scary looks like, is meant to be upsetting. Victims practically never get the upper hand over killers. Many horror movies offer a happy ending, even if that happy ending is superceded by a tease for a greater horror. Anna grabbing the shotgun isn't reality. It's what happens in the third act of a horror movie becuase we need to have the good guys win. But that's a betrayal of the movie that we were watching up to that point. We're reading The Kite Runner right now with my seniors. Chapter 22, one of the more memorable chapters of the book, always kind of bugs me. For the sake of storytelling, Amir needs to fight Assef. But also, it doesn't read as realistic. It's almost a betrayal. I think that Funny Games is aware. It wants to remind you that this is the point where other stories take you left while reality takes you right.
Also, it is a commentary on its central theme / title of Funny Games. Paul brings up the central conceit. He bets that the family won't survive twelve hours. There's a gutsy long sequence where the killers flee the house and the parents, reeling from the death of their child, have the opportunity to escape and survive. I want to talk about this scene later, so remind me. (Again, I pretend that this is a conversation between me and my friends. How Funny Games of me to break that fourth wall.) The entire thing is a commentary on how this family has no chance to actually survive this. It's something that we've ignored in the genre, so we kind of take that notion for granted. But there's this scenario, planted in the back of all of our minds of "Maybe they'll survive." Paul even states, "How is it a game if we don't give them a chance to win." But that's the story. All games are rigged. If we really want to get philosophical, the boys represent death. Death comes for us all. As much as we struggle, it's still a stacked deck. When Paul rewinds the story, we realize that there's no hope for Anna. Anna becomes this survivor for no reason. It's why her death is unceremonious. The reason that she lasted until 8:00 am is not because of any choice on her part, but because that's the way things played out.
And now, this is the part I'm ashamed about. I had to prep for this part. I had to read his Facebook page and see how much he spiraled. The answer is "as much as I thought he would." I used to teach with a guy named John. John was as brash and stubborn as you can imagine. I think it was about the time of the Virginia Tech shooting that John came into the teachers' lounge and started spouting about how, if he was on campus, that guy would have been taken out by him immediately. He didn't know how people didn't react properly in moments of crisis. I responded and told him the reality of the situation and that it's all security theater and that everyone thinks that they would be the force that saved everyone when really, one in a million are the people who would do something. He didn't listen. So keep this in mind: I think I would do better than the parents in Funny Games. I know. They put the calm scene --the really long calm scene --to make us all play the game. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one screaming at the scene. But those two spend a lot of time on that cell phone. I mean, it was beyond the pale that the phone got as functional as it did. But they had this plan, run and get help. Why did it take them so long to run and get help? Heck, Anna even got ahead of me and realized that the gate would have been locked. Yet, she spent a lot of time on that gate. Even more so, I thought that the killers would have taken the boat. They totally didn't. Why not take the boat? You can escape in a boat. It's hard to play catchup in a boat. She could have gotten anywhere. Or, just go off the main road. Take a little longer; go to a place of guaranteed safety. Nope, she runs in the road. Come on.
But can I tell you the most haunting thing about the movie? I am shook by the way that they didn't call for help or give warnings when they saw other people. Now, the movie opens up with Paul with a friend of the family. The friend of the family doesn't let on at all that he's being taken hostage. I get the logic. He doesn't want Peter to harm his family. But there's the couple on the boat who sail up to see Anna. Then they reveal which house is theirs. Why not just wave them away before they get to land? Why insist on going in for hugs if you aren't going to share information? There's this irresponsibility on the part of Anna for not doing anything. You know that you aren't in trouble, but we lie to ourselves and say "This soon will pass." The same thing happened in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They knew each other's backstory and still, because of social convention, felt the need to put themselves in danger because that's what normal people do. It's upsetting.
Funny Games is top tier. It's really good. I knew of it from reputation, but I never heard anyone really preach it. But I like when a movie at least attempts to make me think, especially when it is a genre film.
Rated R for implied sexuality off-screen, a fair amount of language, and drug use. I'm sure that there's a version of this movie that would be suitable for TV with some changes. I can see some people finding this movie offensive, but there's really not all that much that really ruffles feathers unless one choose to have feathers ruffled. It's controversial in a dated way.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
Okay, it's Tim Burton's best movie. I think the man has a sweet spot and Ed Wood and the original "Frankenweenie" short are in that sweet spot. I feel like a hypocrite telling Tim Burton, an objectively successful director, what he should or shouldn't embrace. After all, I claim that people should do what they love. Tim Burton is a guy who loves a specific version of macabre storytelling. But as a guy who doesn't necessarily deep dive into spooky season 24/7, it's hard to stay on that train with Tim Burton all of the time. But this! This is about an era of filmmaking that Burton is clearly fascinated by and with a human element to ground the whole thing. Sure, it's a skewed version of humanity and the entire thing is portrayed as a little off-kilter, but that doesn't mean that he's not telling a fundamentally human story and that's what makes this movie work.
I think Tim Burton forgets that we're not all a little weird. He has this way of portraying "normal" people --his idea of "normal" are people who don't subscribe to the gothic influences of our culture --as the bad guys. There's a lot of that in this movie, but I like that there's a bit of a pivot about what makes someone honorable. Maybe this is something that I've seen in his Addams Family or Edward Scissorhands, but he's more about celebrating the misfit in this movie. Now, I'm going to talk about the elephant in the room a lot with this blog about Ed Wood. The elephant in the room is the treatment of cross-dressing in the movie. Now, Ed is fundamentally a misfit. He's this really passionate guy and comes across as heroic throughout the film. Yeah, he does some dumb stuff, but we ultimately root for this little guy trying to make it in Hollywood, despite lacking almost any talent beyond oddball charm and stick-to-it-iveness. He has weird hobbies. His tastes are completely undeveloped. But Ed is still a part of the Hollywood studio system. (I'm sorry that I'm calling him "Ed", considering that he was a real person. I'm talking about Ed, the character of the film who is a fictionalized version of a real person.)
Now, I was to put Ed Wood in the cultural context of 1994. When we think about Wood's creation Glen or Glenda?, part of it is the association that it is worthy of derision. We're laughing at the work that Ed Wood created and assocaiting the content of that movie with the lack of quality involved. I talked a little bit about this in yesterday's Plan 9 from Outer Space blog. I'm going to state unequivically that I don't know the reality of Ed Wood's story. I don't know his politics or his sexual identity. But Wood's story, from this movie, is sympathetic. He's a guy who loves what he does. He is considered a deviant by society, so he has to keep things close to the chest. In 2023, we root for poor Ed. Ed has to stay closeted and finds just this sense of liberation when he's able to direct Glen or Glenda. What was something that he considered a deplorable secret becomes a thing of pride for him. But I also know that 2023 is much more progressive than 1994. Even I'll admit that I always viewed Glen or Glenda, as the video store nerd, as one of those movies to laugh at. But from Wood's perspective in this movie, it's a celebration of what should have been considered a taboo. It should have been this groundbreaking film for queer cinema and it's just something that we laugh at.
The biggest narrative / question running through my head was the question of if we're laughing with or laughing at Ed Wood. Undoubtedly, Ed Wood is a comedy. The delivery and the absurdity of a lot of the movie is, even if only fewing a small fragment of the movie, comedic. It's meant to be that. When I think 1994, I think Howard Stern, shockjock, political incorrectness. It's a time when the word "gay" was thrown around casually as a word of derision, even from those benighted to the plight of others. Ed Wood won awards. It was a movie that was embraced by the community. But it wasn't used in the same sentence as Boys Don't Cry. I just googled "Queer cinema Ed Wood Tim Burton". I get a lot more attention from Reddit threads than I do scholarly or even published works. In 1994, I would have thought that Wood's cross-dressing was something we were meant to laugh at. But that being said, I think that Burton was being a bit subversive with his charcterization of Ed. And the way I can tell is Dolores.
Dolores is the unsympathetic love interest in the movie, at least for the first 60%. While she's part of Ed's group of misfits at the beginning of the story, she's the character who seems like a bit of an outlier. While she seems enamored by Ed, she is part of Burton's fear of normies. She wants a vanilla relationship. From her perspective, she tolerates Ed's group of mediocre misfits because she's just starting off in Hollywood. To make it big, after all, might mean starting at the bottom and crawling up. But she seems moderately happy with her life of trying until Ed reveals his love of cross-dressing. She lightly tries to be supportive of this man who trusted her with his abhorrent secret. But as others simply embrace Ed as a cross-dressing man, it's Dolores who spirals out of control when things get rough. She finds it not only the straw that breaks the camel's back, but also something that brings her a deep sense of shame. Dolores shares these opinions with characters that come across as caricatures of moral crusaders. If you don't like them in this movie, it's probably because they're homophobic.
But then again, Ed's almost a cartoon with his love of women's clothing, in particular angora sweaters. It very much reads like Scooby Doo and Scooby Snacks, or Obelisk and magic potions (deep cut, I know!). A lot of it comes from the tone coupled with the performances. Johnny Depp, as lovable as he makes Ed, hams up the part similar to his portrayal of Jack Sparrow. It's what Burton wants. It matches the vibe of the whole movie. But if there's an angora sweater, Ed's personality just shifts. It treats what might be something that is just personal to something uncontrollable. I don't know. I think that Burton is riding that fine line. He wants people to laugh at the movie because he is making a comedy, but he also wants to maybe push open the door a little bit. I don't know.
But the heart of the movie is Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi. Honestly, you could write off Ed as just a quirky dude who wanted to make movies. The film really takes off when he bonds with this very sad elderly Bela Lugosi. Martin Landau as Lugosi (he won the Academy Award for this part, right?) is perfect. I mean, every line, every delivery is some of the best stuff in the world. Every time that Lugosi swears and goes on a rant about Boris Karloff, I die. It's so good . But the emotional stuff is the fact that Wood goes from being a Lugosi fanboy to a genuine shoulder to cry on. We've seen the biopic about the sadness of falling apart in Hollywood. We know that drugs run rampant. It's weird to think about Bela Lugosi being addicted to drugs. But there's a handful of scenes that, while I don't cry at movies, I got close. Lugosi is booted from rehab because capitalism is a terrible thing and he wants to make one more movie. Wood, in his most prescient moment, decides to film b-roll of Lugosi doing almost Kuleshov effect footage. When he's making Plan 9, it's not just for him. It's for his friend Bela.
If you get nothing else out of this, this is a beautiful story about a friendship that shouldn't exist. It's emotional without being sappy. Burton gives Lugosi just enough edge to remind you that this is not a tearjerker, but a celebration of a man's life. It also really goes into the same places that Be Kind Rewind touch on, the value of unadulterated creation. There's something very touching about the idea of not having to be good at something to pursue it. And maybe Ed Wood might be the most realistic takeaway. Instead of passion meaning talent, sometimes passion is just passion. The movie never tells Ed that he should quit. Wood never loses that delusion that he's the best director out there. Most movies would put Wood in a Dark Night of the Soul where he's begged to come back. Instead, it is just about his love for cinema and making movies with his friends. Sure, we're meant to laugh at Ed. But he's always the hero and that makes the movie lovely.
Not rated. You're asking for a lot for me to determine if something has offensive content. I mean, there's a shocking amount of dead bodies, especially in the first few minutes. I'm not quite sure why they die. One of them is an old man. Then these bodies come back to life before turning into inanimate skeletons. Tor Johnson looks kind of scary. I suppose that's the most I can offer you.
DIRECTOR: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
One of my rules, post-college, was to stop hate-watching things. Honestly, watching things ironically is now one of my buttons. There's so much good stuff out there that makes me question why we should ever watch things because of failures to make something good. Plan 9 from Outer Space was always one of those movies that I never really thought that I was going to watch. I mean, it has such a reputation for awfulness that I feel like I didn't need to subject myself to that kind of stuff. But I kept hearing that Ed Wood, the Tim Burton biopic, was the stuff of legends. And, like when I was going to see The Disaster Artist and watched The Room, I felt like I should see the source material before watching the adaptation.
Can I have a hot take on this movie? There are way worse movies out there. Let's make this clear: Plan 9 from Outer Space is not good. It's pretty bad. But I don't think people realize how bad movies get. This is from the B-movie era of film. There are so many movies made that were made on shoestring budgets with the understanding that they would be schlock that Plan 9 from Outer Space almost comes across as functional. Yeah, the scenes are often at a break-neck pace, often sacrificing basic functionality of narrative. Yeah, the performances at times are rough and the sets are hilariously threadbare. (Note: at the time of writing this, I'm only halfway through watching Ed Wood. I hear that all of this gets addressed when they get to the Plan 9 stuff later in the movie.) Also, the story keeps getting lost on itself, depending mostly on visual promises that aren't really fulfilled. But --and this goes a long way with me --it isn't long; it isn't terribly boring; it's got some okay visuals. Normally, I would be savaging a film for only having those things. But I'm almost more mad at audiences for offering this movie up to the bad cinema gods when there are way worse things out there. I'm serious, guys. There are things that are unwatchable. There are things that even Mystery Science Theater can't save. I know. I've seen a lot of Mystery Science Theater. I don't know what necessarily makes Plan 9 from Outer Space the poster child for bad movies.
That being said, it's bad. I will say this for Plan 9 though. It's almost a lesson in what it means to have amazing intentions and ambitions, but little skill. I'm the kind of teacher who keeps repeating, "I'd take a million students who struggle and get mediocre grades over students who have natural talent but do no work." Now, I don't know the reality of Ed Wood's life. From what I've seen of the biopic, it seems pretty made up. Was Ed Wood this passionate guy who loved making movies, but just lacked every instinct for filmmaking? I don't know. But Wood's got a message. Now, I have to try to be a little bit objective here. I tend to be sympathetic to the message of the movie involving disarmament, so I need to put my bias aside. Plan 9 is almost a cautionary tale about what it means to make a political work. It's why so many people are nervous amount making message movies. Wood's got an atomic era standard political fear. He's directly stating that mankind is entering an era that will ultimately end with its destruction. That's something that should be said. I mean, it was said over a bunch of movies, but I think we still haven't gotten the message.
But the takeaway from a lot of people based on movies like Plan 9 is that we shouldn't make political movies. It's not one side that agrees with this. As Catholic as I am, I roll my eyes at Christian movies and, more often, Christian rock. There is a way to do this. Ed Wood isn't a technically talented director. (I'll expand on this in a second.) He's a guy who is shouting very loudly to anyone who will listen. I don't know if that's a bad thing. But it also is a warning that shouting loudly often makes people want to plug their ears. Honestly, I can't help but make a connection between Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my favorite movies. I'll probably forever love that movie. I'm actually shocked that I haven't watched it in the past decade and that's a bit of a crime. But both movies could be chalked up to atomic era sci-fi warning Earth about its self-destructive nature. But The Day the Earth Stood Still is still lauded as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. It's about flying saucers and men from space warning people about the inevitable armageddon.
And I'll say this for The Day the Earth Stood Still. It looks good. But it doesn't look that good. If I showed that movie to my kids, they probably wouldn't be able to make much of a distinction from Plan 9 to that movie. I know. That sounds blasphemous. There's more to filmmaking than budget. Now, that's a little unfair. A budget also means more time to shoot. It means having sets that are complete and actors who aren't just there for street cred. But quality goes a long with getting a message across. It's not entirely Ed Wood's talent that is being blamed here. This raises an interesting question: Should Ed Wood have made Plan 9 from Outer Space something that has a message? David Mamet in his Masterclass would absolutely rip Wood apart. He's a guy who says that making movies political is a betrayal to the audience. I find that funny because I think that Mamet is one of our more political writers, whether he means to be or not. (The very nature of being apolitical is a political statement.) In the case of Plan 9, Wood has to maneuver a very threadbare story to get to the point of being a message movie.
The biggest critique I have of Plan 9 isn't the threadbare set or the inconsistent acting in the movie. It's the fact that the movie doesn't have much to do for a lot of the movie. Again, I oddly didn't find it boring and I didn't really find myself laughing at it but trying to enjoy it as a film. But Wood wants to get to the climax of the film, where the alien invaders call the Earth people stupid for their destructive tendencies. Maybe I'm overthinking it because Ed Wood probably free associated his way to an end of the movie. But let's pretend that he wants to be this guy telling the world to stop killing itself. He doesn't really have a story that would organically go there. He's got Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Tor Johnson. He has visuals that he wants to include in his film. Cool. I'll even say this: outside of the fact that the zombies do absolutely nothing productive in the film, they look kind of cool and iconic, especially Johnson and Vampira. (Cue Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi shouting expletives about me right here.) This is a battle between "What would look cool" and "What the story needs". That's a fundamental writing practice. Most often, a writer's favorite parts are the things that need to get cut. This is barbecue sauce and oatmeal. Both those things are awesome. They don't belong together.
Do I find anything funny in the movie? Yeah. I wasn't watching it to laugh at it. I do that in the context of Mystery Science Theater, but not just for crapping on a movie. (I think the MST3K folks are funny and some movies are worthy of laughter.) But I do love the scenes in the airplane. Oh my goodness. There are two scenes where we see the pilots of an airplane. Sure, the set is threadbare and I don't hate that. The background can pass as a plane. The thing that gets me? The lack of control sticks. It's almost adorable seeing fully costumed gentlement pretend to be pilots and then have to mime something that should be easy to create. That part got me.
I'm never going to say to like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Yes, it's a bad movie. But I oddly sympathize with Wood on this one. If I'm meant to encourage passion, this is a passion project for someone. It's got all of their favorite things in a movie and it definitely doesn't gel. But is it the worst movie of all time? No. I don't think people understand how bad movies can get. There are some things out there that are burdens to watch. I almost didn't hate watching this. In fact, it kept me mildly entertained the entire time. That's more than I can say for Saw: The Final Chapter.
Rated R for slasher horror stuff. There's a lot of language and sex jokes, but the movie, compared to most films in the same genre, might actually be considered tame by most horror fans. Yes, there's gore. Yes, there's sexuality. But very little happens on screen. The movie isn't trying to gross you out, but almost mimic the mystery of the original Scream. Still, R.
DIRECTOR: Nahnatchka Khan
Oh man, I really don't want to write right now. Everything you see now? Sheer willpower. I'm also fighting a clock, so I had better cool it on all the fluff I tend to pad the beginnings with. The short version? It's fun but disposable. It's almost exactly what you think. Totally Killer is almost the product of a lot of movies that are horror comedies and streaming originals. That's kind of unfair to Totally Killer, which might have something original about it. But even the stuff that kind of got me thinking, that stuff is only kind of okay.
Totally Killer falls in a sweet spot for me. I'm a huge time travel nerd and it's a spooky season that I've finally embraced enough to enjoy it. Very rarely can you catch me in that sweet spot. I think that Totally Killer works better as an absurd time travel movie, similar to Hot Tub Time Machine, sooner than a slasher film. It's a really underdeveloped slasher movie. Also, the slasher comedy, I want to say, might not work that well. I know we had Freaky, a movie that I kind of dug at the time. But the slasher really allows for natural comedy. One of my favorite things about Scream (outside just being a total package movie) is the fact that the movie doesn't forget to have fun. The characters are witty and charming. There's really no need for absurdity because the world of the slasher allows for big personalities to take jokes. I even saw the same thing in Friday the 13th with my last blog. When the killer isn't directly stalking the characters, it doesn't necessarily feel boring because these movies always end up being a bit of a party.
But I get the desire to send up the '80s slasher movie. It's a thing. All the stuff I'm talking about is super nitpicky, but it should be addressed. I feel like Totally Killer might be a bigger send up of Back to the Future than it is about the '80s slasher. While Back to the Future was a sci-fi comedy making fun of the '50s, it was meant for a broad audience. That movie covers such a wide demographic that studios have tried to replicate that zeitgeist ever since. But I think that Totally Killer was afraid to rip off Back to the Future so directly. They drop the title Back to the Future regularly. After all, that movie established rules for every time travel movie afterwards. When there's a comedic element to a time travel movie, the first thing that characters tend to do is either reaffirm or deny the time travel rules established by Zemekis and Bob Gale. Ultimately, the heart of Totally Killer isn't necessarily about surviving this generic Sweet 16 Killer. The heart of the movie is understanding one's parents and coming to Jesus with one's own crappy behavior.
That's where the movie is actually pretty great. It might be low-hanging fruit, but there's something beautiful about a simple thing done well. Jamie is garbage to her mom when she's alive. I'm not quite sure what made Pam exactly become Sarah Connor shy of seeing her friends killed years ago. I'm not sure the whole reveal of the letter is actually something that works with the story. But seeing how Jamie interacts with adult Pam and then seeing how teenage Pam acts is fun. Teenage Pam acts as the totem for the era. She is everything that should be criticized about the '80s. Admittedly, this is a version of the '80s that we see in film, not the reality of the midwest '80s with sad basements and cigarette smoke everywhere. But that's okay, because Totally Killer is both adulating for this era and not afraid to knock it down a peg or two. This might be the first great movie to celebrate Zoomers. A lot of Gen X culture is attacked here, most notably with the toxic political incorrectness that this era embraced / embraces. I don't know if the potshots are directly aimed at Gen X. I more get the vibe that society should progress.
That's maybe my favorite thing about Jamie. Jamie has a hard time maneuvering around the '80s not because she's so weak or enfeebled by the cultural context she shares. She's frustrated because things should have been a lot better. It's Marty noticing the casual racism of 1955 Hill Valley. Maybe Back to the Future doesn't go for the jugular as hard as Totally Killer does. It does point out the toxic masculinity of high school culture, especially surrounding the implied rape of Lorainne Baines. But Totally Killer is really aimed at saying, "Thank God we've come a long way." (You know, even if we are constantly backsliding.) That's where the movie makes itself known. There are things that are taken for granted by this generation and it's kind of nice that all of the faults of the era were packaged up in a single movie without being mean about it.
But in terms of making a whodunnit, I don't know if we really earned it. Totally Killer gives a shoutout to Scream, which it should and it does well. It tries pulling a Scream in the hardest way possible: by creating a background story that is fundamental to solving the killer. I love the Maureen Prescott story in the back of Scream. It's the reason that the killer reveal works so well. Totally Killer tries the same thing. Every so often, the movie will refer to Fat Trish, often for the sake of commenting on the insensitivity of both high schools and the decade in general. And, sure enough, the killer has something to do with Fat Trish. The killer, Doug, has a tie to Trish that causes him to go on a murder spree. And, yeah, there's enough hints that lead to the notion that the killer could be Doug. I picked up on the martial arts thing. I noticed that Doug is in the movie just enough to be a character, but without having the burden of raising suspision. (I call this my "Castle technique". When I was watching Castle --shut up! --when I was watching Castle, the heroes would always interview a minor character that would lead them to a litany of suspects. But the minor character was always the killer. The same deal is true here.)
It's just that...the Fat Trish story is really underbaked. They kept telling us that the Fat Trish story wasn't really all that important, that it just acted as a reminder that mean girls shouldn't really exist. It's really hard to solve a murder mystery when we just don't have the info. How were we supposed to know that Doug and Fat Trish knew each other? With Maureen Prescott, Woodsboro was rocked by the events that happened to her. Everyone knew the story and were traumatized by it, letting us into the daily life of a resident of Woodsboro. Because Sidney was Maureen's daughter, we were at the epicenter of the story. Fat Trish is almost an afterthought happening elsewhere. The movie was so desperate to give us just enough information that it gave us too little. I was mostly right with the Chris reveal, which felt a little on the nose. But I have to give Totally Killer some points when it comes to Chris.
See, I thought that the movie would have two killers, with Chris being the lead killer in this story. It explains the return of the killer later. But I also didn't use my time travel brain. The movie does a fantastic job of making the Chris Dubasage from the original timeline a variant pretty darned well. That epilogue, as dumb as it is, might be one of my favorite things ever. (I hate that I used the word "dumb." It's anticlimactic, but I was probably more okay with the movie ending than most people were.) I like the fact that the revised timeline has an adult Chris who is healthy and happy (and being monitored!). It got me there. I simply assumed that Chris had to be the bad guy in both timelines and I like that there's almost an element that makes Chris a sequel killer like in Scream 2.
I'd like to close by saying the epilogue is silly and fun. Back to the Future teased us by just making Marty's life significantly better. He could probably adjust to both sets of memories pretty easily and that was always nice for him. I like how messy Jamie / Colette's life gets. (Her name changes because she has an older brother with her name. How great!) I'm asking the same questions that I asked with Back to the Future: does Pam remember that Colette acts and looks like Jamie from the past? See, you could always write off that Clint Eastwood was just there for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and they never saw him again. Jamie saved Pam's life multiple times and time traveled in front of her. That has to be memorable. Also, why doesn't Lauren and Amelia let her in on the whole time travel bit. (OOOH! They explain away why Jamie still exists AND is able to have her cake and eat it too. Golf clap, movie! Golf clap!)
It's fun. It really is. But is it great? Probably not. It belongs in the camp with Happy Death Day and Freaky, but it probably doesn't really stick to the ribs like it should. It's a bummer because nothing is inheretly wrong with it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.