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.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Fangoria's 2019 Chainsaw Awards

FANGORIA, the preeminent horror movie magazine, rose from the dead last year and wasted no time in issuing their 2019 Chainsaw Awards this week. These awards are selected by the people who know horror the best: The Fans. Earlier this year the ballot (below) was distributed via social media channels. Ballots have been counted and here is the official list of winners. Thank you FANGORIA for recognizing the best horror of the year. The Oscars can go sit on a chainsaw.

Best Actress: Toni Collette, Hereditary

Best Actor: Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Best Supporting Actor: Alex Wolff, Hereditary

Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Suspiria

Best Director: Ari Aster, Hereditary

Best Screenplay: Ari Aster, Hereditary

Best Foreign Language Movie: Terrified

Best Series: The Haunting of Hill House

Best Score: Johan Johannson, Mandy

Best Make-Up Effects: Mark Coulier, Suspiria

Best Wide Release Movie: Hereditary

Best Limited Release Movie: Mandy

Best Creature Effects: Sierra and Josh Russell, The Ritual

Best Kill: Hereditary

Best Streaming Premiere Movie: Bird Box

Best First Feature: Ghost Stories


Honorable Mentions (non-voting categories) included:
  • Best Actress: Claire Foy (Unsane), Dakota Johnson (Suspiria), Madeline Brewer (Cam), Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (Revenge)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Brad Dourif (Wilding)
  • Best Director: Matthew Holness (Possum)
  • Best Screenplay: S. Craig Zahler (Puppet Master: The Little Reich)
  • Best Limited Release Movie: Boarding School

The original ballot sent out via FANGORIA's Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Scary Movie & TV Calendar Updated

I've updated The Scary Movies & TV Calendar and Calendar page with a simpler interface to make it easier to read on mobile. If you have any more suggestions, or movies/series to add please tweet me @senorscaryjerry or comment below.



Monday, February 25, 2019

Toni Collette's Hereditary Snub & Horror at the Oscars

The biggest Oscar snub this year was Toni Collette's visceral performance in 2018's Hereditary. Her portrayal of Annie, a cold, distant matriarch of a highly dysfunctional family beset by tragedy was the kind of performance actors might have once in a career. Haven't seen it? Take a look at this pivotal scene (SPOILER ALERT):


Collette without a doubt gave a performance of a lifetime, in a film embraced by critics and the horror community but shockingly snubbed by both the Oscars and even the Golden Globes. It has become A24's highest-grossing film worldwide, making over $79 million (on a $9 million budget).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who hands out the Oscars has historically held a strong bias against genre films in its prestigious top categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director). Only a handful of horror films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, often relegating awards to the technical categories, so at least they have some merit. Take a look at the horror films in Oscar's history:

Best Picture Nominations
The Exorcist (1974)
Jaws (1976)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - WINNER!
The Sixth Sense (2000)
Black Swan (2011)
Get Out (2017)

Best Picture Biggest Snubs
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
The Haunting (1963)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Omen (1976)
Alien (1979)
The Shining (1980)
Poltergeist (1982)
Misery (1990)
The Babadook (2014)
The Witch (2016)
Suspiria (2018)
Hereditary (2018)

Horror Oscar Winners
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1932) - Actor in a Leading Role
REBECCA (1940) - Best Picture, Cinematography (considered Suspense/Thriller)*
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) - Cinematography, Art Direction
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) - Cinematography
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) - Costume Design
ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) - Best Actress in a Supporting Role
ALIEN (1979) - Visual Effects
ALIENS (1986) - Visual Effects, Sound Editing
THE EXORCIST (1973) - Adapted Screenplay, Sound
JAWS (1975) - Sound, Film Editing, Music
THE OMEN (1976) - Music
BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992)- Costume Design, Sound Editing, Makeup
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) - Makeup
THE FLY (1986)- Makeup
MISERY (1990) - Actress in a Leading Role
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) - Best Picture, Director, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Adapted Screenplay
DEATH BECOMES HER (1992) - Visual Effects
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996) - Sound
BEETLEJUICE (1998) - Makeup
SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) - Art Direction
PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006) - Cinematography, Art Direction, Makeup
SWEENEY TODD (2007) - Art Direction
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)* - Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Directing, Adapted Screenplay
BLACK SWAN (2010) - Best Actress in a Leading Role
THE WOLFMAN (2010) - Makeup
THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) - Best Picture, Directing, Music, Production Design (considered Adventure/Fantasy)*
GET OUT (2017) - Original Screenplay

*Horror-adjacent