Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Halfway To Halloween

The taxes are done, Midsummer Scream will soon be upon us, and two more months before Halloween starts showing up in retail stores. Happy Halfway to Halloween!


Sunday, April 28, 2019

My Favorite Horror Films of the Last 10 Years

A recent tweet sent out by Travis Stevens, Founder and CEO of Snowfort Pictures who specializes in genre films including The Endless, XX, We Are Still Here, Cheap Thrills, and Starry Eyes asked followers to list their top 5 films made in the last 10 years. It was a challenge to encapsulate the last 10 years of horror brilliance into only 5 films, so I thought I would share my whole list here (subject to change as I'm reminded of glaring omissions).

I interpreted this as release dates between 2009–2018. Some films are made and shelved or not distributed until a year or two later so I don't rely solely on IMDB dates. Also my guiding philosophy is as follows: movies I'd want to see again, own, have significant artistic merit or cultural impact, and lasting power – and not necessarily the best reviewed movies. Here we go.




TOP 5 HORROR FILMS
  1. Hereditary (2018)
  2. The Witch (2015)
  3. The Babadook (2014)
  4. Trick 'r Treat (made in 2007 but released in 2009)
  5. mother! (2017)

THE OTHER 38 HORROR FILMS
  1. Cabin In The Woods (2011)
  2. Get Out (2017)
  3. Suspiria (2018)
  4. A Quiet Place (2018)
  5. The Conjuring (2013)
  6. It Follows (2014)
  7. Evil Dead (2013)
  8. IT (2018)
  9. Train to Busan (2016)
  10. AntiChrist (2009)
  11. Pontypool (2009)
  12. Housebound (2014)
  13. Gerald's Game (2017)
  14. Krampus (2015)
  15. Under the Skin (2013)
  16. Black Swan (2010)
  17. The Void (2016)
  18. You Might Be The Killer (2018)
  19. You're Next (2011)
  20. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
  21. Insidious (2010)
  22. Let Me In (2010)
  23. Sinister (2012)
  24. The Woman in Black (2012)
  25. Oculus (2013)
  26. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
  27. Crimson Peak (2015)
  28. The Neon Demon (2016)
  29. The Endless (2017)
  30. Anna & the Apocalypse (2018)
  31. Happy Death Day (2017)
  32. Us (2019)
  33. Border (2019)
  34. House of the Devil (2009)
  35. Mandy (2018)
  36. Terrified (2018)
  37. Horror Noire (2019)
  38. A Ghost Story (2017)
So what am I missing?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Cursing the Movie About La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona takes cherished Mexican folklore and disappointingly centers it around a distressed white woman. This is an atmospheric, often creepy, and well-produced film, but its lethargic pace, awful script, and aimless direction often leaves both the audience and even the characters saying, “Now what?” It builds a good amount suspense but then delivers only jump scares and cracked mirrors. For such a frightening figure, this movie is lacking some serious cohones.

The script only passingly mentions the back story of La Llorona and never really attempts any meaningful connection to the culture or the time period. Why exactly is La Llorona in Los Angeles? Seems a wee bit off from Mexico, so I'm guessing she's vacationing? One wonders why this movie could not be set in Mexico, and maybe left as a period piece. The answer is simple: this movie is made for mainstream American audiences who will not tolerate subtitles, full Mexican casts, and intended to capitalize on the figure of La Llorona. If there were respects made to the culture, I failed to see any of them.

Worse yet, it shows mostly eccentric Latino supporting characters that run eggs around door frames or clean bad juju with smudge sticks, are crazed mothers inexplicably locking children in weirdly illustrated closets, or are radical priests with weird ghostbusting agendas. No all Mexicans are not like this. If my mamá had a smudge stick she’d use it to make enchilada sauce, she would never waste an egg, and God forbid I so much as put a faint pencil line on her immaculate white doors. This lack of balance showing human, fully-dimensional characters is really disheartening.

I really admire Linda Cardellini as an actress and she does a superb job with what she's given. Her guttural scream is chilling and she can emote the fear and protective yelps of a mother trying to protect her children. Unfortunately, the children at the center of this have wooden line delivery, and the script makes them speak and act in ways a child would never do. Upon seeing my nephew last week, he immediately launched into every horrid detail of caterpillar that fell on his face. Yet the children in this film encounter a spectral figure, are chased repeatedly, and have not one word to say on the matter. They also run towards danger and into dark places. I get that this is horror film and one must suspend their disbelief, but at one point, the young girl makes such an egregious error that I begged for La Llorona to take her, no questions asked.

Finally, the movie commits a horror movie cardinal sin. Rules are never really established for how La Llorona can haunt, and then contradicts itself at every point. She can appear anywhere, sometimes, but can only lunge at you for about 4 feet and never reach you. She must first mark you, just because she can, but will also attack you if you are not marked. It appears she only haunts Mexican children, but has made an exception for half-Mexican children. She is a spectral figure, but you can grab loose accessories from outfit. And her cries, result in tears we never see fall, that if treated could be used against her. None of this makes any pinche sense.

I've been waiting for a good film about La Llorona. One day it will be made and not concocted in the experimental churnhouse of The Conjuring producers. It makes me so sad that this film didn't live up to half the promise of the trailer, and while I appreciated seeing Mexican actors on screen, I did not like the unbalanced portrayal of the culture. At the very least, we got some stunning artwork for the posters which is about the best thing to come from this terribly misguided, hugely disappointing, and sadly mediocre film. 






Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quick Takes: The Wind, Border, Searching, Now Apocalypse


The Wind offers stunning vistas, a chilling soundtrack & harrowing lead performance. As a frontier-period set indie, it's ambitious in scope, unsettling, and the disjointed story creates disorienting dread. An enigmatic finale undercuts the emotional punch almost to ruin. 




Border glumly grapples with issues of beauty, identity, compliance, stranger danger & family secrets. The cast is stellar & a mid-point pivot steeped in folklore loses its grip, growing more hypnotic, bizarre & dangerously unpredictable, choking your heart & throat. 




Searching while rooted in a gimmick ends up being deeply absorbing & relentless due completely to John Cho's frenetic energy & commitment. It's impossible to tear your eyes away from the screens as he hunts for his missing daughter with a Machiavellian, emotional finale. 




Now Apocalypse is an angsty 20something L.A. trip full of sex positivity, inclusion, & a plot unmoored from any real story or characters. Throw in rape-y aliens, colorful splashes that portend nothing, & you have a sweet, vapid, cocktail full of itself and empty calories.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Art of Picking Horror Movies & Avoiding Spoilers



I did it! I managed to not have Us or Pet Semetary spoiled for me in any way. I made a decision several years ago to completely give up trailers, reviews, and social media ahead of a film's release. But how do I figure out which movies to watch and which ones to avoid? Here’s my plan:

1. Watch Trailers the Right Way
Avoiding trailers is both obvious and impossible to do. They are an undeniable elixir. Marketers don’t care what is spoiled in hopes of hooking mainstream audiences who need to see an entire movie in 2 minutes before they plunk down $14 to sit through 2 hours. All the money shots (jump scares, effects, and big reveals) are featured. I'll watch teaser trailers that are usually compiled from early shots before major effects are completed. You can typically also watch the first 30-45 seconds of the very first trailer (there's usually 2-3 trailers of increasing spoilage) to get a taste without major reveals. Avoid all TV trailers. They are condensed and composed of only money shots. And be committed regardless of social norms. I'm the dork who closes his eyes, covers his ears & hums, or mutes the TV and runs to the other room. 

2. Know Your Filmmakers
Dedicated horror fans recognize notable directors, writers, and studios. In the 80s John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and New Line ruled the box office. Now it's James Wan, Del Toro, Jordan Peele, Blumhouse that seem to be unstoppable. Knowing who made the film is sometimes indicative of the production, style and themes you’ll be getting. Like a movie? Find out who wrote and directed it and follow them. I’m looking forward to new work from Ari Aster (Hereditary), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Robert Eggers (The Witch), and Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead (The Endless).

3. Identify Source Material
Many horror movies start their lives as books, and half of those are written by Stephen King. Unfortunately most books don’t survive the transition to the screen. I look for original stories, indie filmmakers, or films that started as short films. There’s an undeniable passion and originality that these filmmakers bring to the screen. The stories they cook up, coupled with the eagerness to tell their stories can overcome the mundane tropes and endless jump scares. 

4. Study Horror Films
Without seeing trailers, it’s important to study and read about films. There are so many awesome sites like Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central that cover every aspect of horror films. Did actors love the experience? Did directors feel supported or thwarted by the studio? Was there extensive reshoots? Reading articles about a troubled productions usually leads to troubled films (ahem, The Mummy and World War Z). And pay attention to film festivals (Fantastic Fest, SXSW, Stiges, Screamfest, Telluride, Toronto After Dark, etc.) where up-and-coming directors debut headier or experimental films without distribution deals. There's some serious gems in those festivals.

5. Follow Real Horror Fans
Rotten Tomatoes is a fun guide, but for my money, I want to hear from the real horror fans not esteemed critics. These are the bloggers, podcasters, and Twitter folks who devote serious energy towards their passion for horror films, and usually don't get paid to do so. Examine which films they like or dislike, and follow the ones that correspond to your tastes. Develop a dialogue with the authors, comment on posts, debate salient points, get to know them, and they will never steer you wrong. But beware. It's impossible to talk about films effectively without spoilers so read the articles and reviews after seeing the film.




Friday, March 22, 2019

US is Tense, Baffling Fun

Jordan Peele’s sophomore movie Us is well crafted American horror mixing home invasion, apocalypse, and sci-fi conspiracy themes. Prolonged stretches of sinister tension, relatable humor, and harrowing performances mostly sell this baffling, layered love letter to horror fans.

Don’t expect Get Out’s succinct storytelling, political leanings, or intimate setting. The breakneck speed of the plot doesn’t let you contemplate the meanings of seemingly trivial clues Peele tucks into the film. These clues along with encyclopedic knowledge of faith, science, history, and lore may be needed to fully decipher the film (at a later time). Plus, there is an ambitious narrative in the undertow occurring mostly offscreen and on a grand scale. None of the loftier aspirations ruin the fun of the initial screening. As with most dense films, repeated viewings (and DVD commentaries) may further confirm theories and speculations.

It is a notable accomplishment that Peele has brought back a sense of intelligent wonder to the mainstream, wide-release horror film. This is provocative filmmaking and has solidified Peele as a preeminent horror director. Us is terrifying, brazenly unique in the horror landscape, and well worth time for horror fans.







Friday, March 15, 2019

Quick Takes: Await Further Instructions, Beast, Let's Scare Jessica to Death



Await Further Instructions is a mystery, sci-fi/horror, yuletide-set gem with grand ambitions that defies its low production values. It’s a cautionary tale of toxic masculinity, tepid statement about the telly, and goes downright mental into stop-motion practical effects.




Beast takes the beauty to ferociously dark depths in this surprising, enigmatic, & confident debut thriller. It defies genre, keeps you off kilter, & the intoxicating lead actors keep you intrigued to the bitter, haunting end that lingers like a sea mist. (From Stray Bear Films available exclusively on SHUDDER.)



Let’s Scare Jessica to Death offers a glimpse of hippy life in the 70s. Care-free, free love, and accidentally falling victim to dark forces when living off the grid. It happens. And in this film, it happens really slowly and aimlessly. I liked the crazy lead’s internal monologue that tried to convince her how non-crazy people should act.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Halloween Postage Stamps Coming This Year!

Sure, no one mails anything nowadays, but as a person who used pens to write with my hands and then put letters in a magical box, I find the retro charm of stamps delightful. The US Postal Service is issuing the "Spooky Silhouettes" series created by illustrator Tyler Lang (see more of his work at AlwaysWithHonor.com) later this year.

Thanks to Miranda at SpookyLittleHalloween.com for breaking this news to the Twitterverse! A pox on you if you are not following Miranda, the ruling Queen of Halloween. She is everything.




MINUTE MUSINGS 
THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS BLOG!

While perusing the USPS site I saw the following disclaimer:
"The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations."
Wonder where your tax dollars go: of every dollar, 23¢ goes to the military, 29¢ goes to healthcare, 14¢ to federal debt, and billionaires now pay $85 billion dollars less than they used to, and 100 highly profitable corporations pay no taxes at all (as of 2017 data). So many things wrong with our government so make sure to have your voice heard and VOTE!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Department 56 Does Dia de Los Muertos

Department 56 unveiled the line up for this year's Halloween Village offerings. Included in the mix is a new series of Dia de los Muertos-themed buildings and accessories. They are available to pre-order now from Country N More Gifts (my favorite shop to buy village pieces) and are expected to be available later this summer.




Monday, March 4, 2019

Quick Takes: Overload, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hole in the Ground, Slender Man




Hole In The Ground is an artfully shot Irish tale with a dread & tension-filled first half anchored by fine performances. It gives up the ghost early on then gets derailed by plot holes & generic tropes revealing an underdeveloped script. It's a near miss more than a fail.




Overlord is an uncomplicated wartime feature that nosedives into Nazi horror territory. It opens with booming vigor but settles into a dull lull with little character development or storytelling. Then suddenly it reanimates for a fun, gory, action-packed, B-movie finish.




Anna And The Apocalypse pushes genres first gleefully then absurdly like a modern Rocky Horror. The pop songs are catchy, carnage is crunchy, and then there's a breakneck tonal shift. It’s zombie horror after all! An utterly unique pastiche and an instant yuletide classic.



Slender Man was quite a feat: first film to be conceived entirely by web bots, filmed in complete darkness (screw you lightbulb), and shot/edited before a script was written (save the talky-talky for reshoots). What efficiency in ruining a creepy story for a cash grab.