Monday, January 13, 2020

Quick Takes: Underwater, Harpoon, Little Monsters, The Dead Center

Underwater is a solid if unremarkable entry in aquatic #horror that ultimately reveals a glorious creature worth the deep dive. The pace is steady, production design is admirable & the cast is leagues above the paper thin story that has nothing to say. Fun but forgettable.

Harpoon is a nasty thriller that dares to dissect a thrupple composed of really awful caricatures & feels like an indictment of aimless youth. I didn't buy these people as friends & the dark humor wasn't as funny as it thought it was. But there's a splattering of occasional gore & whiplash reveals to keep things lively.

Little Monsters is the feel good zombie movie we've been waiting for. Lupita Nyong'o is the charismatic wonder at the center of this very funny, clever & even touching film that transcends the gimmicky set up.

The Dead Center manages an intriguing setup but keeps the story underdeveloped relying on performances & plot to move the proceedings along. It was partially successful but some mysteries are much too unexplained to be impactful.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Quick Takes: The Grudge, In Fabric, Girl on the Third Floor

The Grudge has a promising director, solid cast & interesting structure but it’s still soggy schlock that lacks clear rules, dimensional characters or compelling storytelling. It sadly meanders towards a stopping point with little suspense & predictable scares.

In Fabric weaves a hypnotic tale about a haunted dress that sways brazenly between Giallo horror & humour. It’s oddly satirical, sensually twisted & visually bewitching. A love letter to the devilish films of the 60s/70s, albeit with whispered British wit & style to burn.

Girl On The Third Floor succeeds at disrupting haunted house tropes, with style, humor & buckets of goop. But the plot fails to gel with an underdeveloped story & unclear rules. The quirky casting keeps you engaged but ultimately the film loses all its marbles by the end.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Horror Movies of 2019

That's a wrap on 2019 and another wealth of horror movies have left their mark. The mash-up genre trend continues as well as the odes to the memorable if not great films of the late 70s & 80s. New indie voices continue to dominate the VOD home market as film distribution bypass the erratic theatrical runs in favor of streaming. This is definitely a victory for horror & genre fans as we are getting to see a great variety of films. Below is a list of my favorite movies for 2019, as well as a list of honorable mentions that must be seen.

1. The Lighthouse - Madness & monsters overcome two isolated men is this masterpiece.
2. In Fabric - A haunted dress arthouse horror with humor & style to burn.
3. Daniel Isn’t Real - Old-school & disturbing horror show with a serious agenda.

4. Doctor Sleep - An inspired Shining sequel that furthers the story with great new evils.
5. Tigers Are Not Afraid - Deeply moving & ghostly fantasy that is much too real for comfort.
6. Ready or Not - A funny survival movie with a brilliant ensemble and epic finale.

7. Knife+Heart - A Giallo queer horror slasher fantasy that delivers across all fronts.
8. Little Monsters - Hilarious, clever, and full of heart which transcends gimmicky zombie set-up.
9. Midsommar - Harrowing exploration of sorrow & betrayal presented as a daytime nightmare.

10. Wounds - Hallucinogenic trip down a Cronenberg/Lovecraft road.
11. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Del Torro’s loving ode to the iconic book series.
12. Horror Noire - An essential lesson on Black History with past & present significance.

The following are my honorable mentions that are incredible films and should be seen.

Crawl - A stormy gator thrill ride that delivers fully on a promise.
Happy Death Day 2U - The way good sequels add to the story and don’t just rehash.
Us - A tense, baffling & bleak cultural thriller that keeps you guessing.
Black Christmas - An excellent slasher from a feminist POV, crucial message & wonky twist.
It: Chapter Two - A different monster but still showcases a master at work & epic conclusion.


Climax - An entrancing fever dream with a nonstop beat and chaotic madness.
One Cut of the Dead - Meta horror comedy at its finest & most unexpected.
Braid - It's oddly structured & often inscrutable but maddening visuals are a must-see.
Hagazussa - A deeply upsetting & macabre tale that ends with more questions than answers.
Head Count - A devious, clever, and genre pushing answer to teen slasher films.
I Trapped the Devil - A somber Christmas-set drama that questions loyalty & sanity.


Starfish - An apocalyptic arthouse horror with Lovecraftian echoes & visuals.
High Life - A quiet, bleak & often perverse Kubrickian sci-fi thriller.
Await Further Instructions - An eerie family survival film with a truly frightful ending.

Piercing - Polished camera work & characters you can't quit bash each other to pieces.
Border - Compelling character piece about the beast in all of us is obtuse & melancholic.
Beast - Genre defying drama questions love & the evil at the corners of our happiness.

Have a Scary New Year!

My prediction: 2020 is going to be a frightfest.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Wishing You A Scary Christmas

Thank you for visiting my blog and Halloween site. May your night be a silent one and may Krampus be nowhere in sight.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

FX's A Christmas Carol is Bleak & Beautiful

FX’s gritty take on A Christmas Carol is neither a holiday classic reborn, nor meant for audiences fond of the heartwarming adaptations based on Charles Dicken’s novella. This is a new story about the cost of being good. It’s relentlessly bleak & grim with problematic moments that will distress many audiences at the peak of the yuletide season. There’s also some unexpected nudity & gore including scenes with a ripped off jaw, a mouse beheading, and bloody explosion. The movie presents an unpleasant reality of life and it’s a world far away from a Norman Rockwell commemorative dinner plate.

So the question is why take a well-known story and push it to such dark corners? There’s definitely some counter programming from the FX network for those oversaturated with saccharine holiday fare. More pointedly though, is the vexing need to understand our monsters. Our world is full of them from the White House to the mall shootings. It’s not simply enough to know that someone is bad. We want to see why they are bad and how they became the villain. Perhaps as a cautionary tale or perhaps as a barometer for our own deeds.

Most of the movie focuses on Ebeneezer Scrooge's (Guy Pearce) current and past relationships including his rather mouthy clerk Bob Cratchit (a fine Joe Alwyn) and Mary Cratchit (a resolute Vinette Robinson). The machinations may be different, but the ghosts and the lesson remain the same. A damaged soul may never mend but with a commitment to work, goodness may still be possible. Don’t we all seek redemption? Here we see the beginning of one man’s journey in that work but the ending feels incredibly rushed. I feel some editing was made to the U.S. version of this BBC production which airs with no commercials. The end will placate the need to see some sort of resolution even though the final moment with a stock "magical" character is seriously unforgivable.

However grim the journey, the cast keeps the viewer engaged for the nearly three-hour ordeal, as does the production design which is absolutely beautiful to behold. There's a definitive touch of darkness with lighting and set pieces that suggest a nod towards the horror genre but ultimately this is an evocative drama with fantastical elements. It shouldn't be missed but not recommended widely to general audiences.

Editor's Note: While I love the poster artwork for the TV movie, I absolutely despise when poster elements have little to do with the actual movie. The sharp-nailed grim reaper figure featured prominently in the poster is nowhere to be seen in the final production! BOO!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Nightmare Before Christmas Village 2019

Nightmare Before Christmas is the perfect inspiration to bridge Halloween with the yuletide season, especially for someone who like to keep things scary year-round. This year I finally also made a Man Eating Wreath that appeared only a few seconds in the film but utilized prominently in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Holiday. If you're a fan of the film, you must get to Anaheim, CA during the autumn to see Jack Skellington's takeover of the Haunted Mansion ride. The imagineers dress up every corner of the spooky house ride with whimsical, Burton-esque flair (see below for ride through video of the 2019 version from LMG Vids).

Friday, December 13, 2019

Quick Takes: Wounds, The Nightingale, NOS4A2

Wounds spirals an earnest cast down a dark tunnel of compounding dread. The anxious sound design & bizarre effects cast a harsh, unsettling spell. It’s confounding niche horror with a Lovecraftian touch that will leave some unsatisfied & others unspeakably terrified.

The Nightingale is a somber, grueling & enraging piece of artwork with deeply realized characters overcome with vengeance. Its paper thin story reveals an aimless third act that struggles to get to a peak. But well-crafted filmmaking & relevancy make a bold & impactful statement.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill’s take on vampires and metaphysical psychic abilities was a wacky, weird ride in book form with rich characters, a twisty & episodic plot, and an undeniable thin vein of humor. The TV series based on the book was not as much fun, retained the darker elements with a simplified plot, and inexplicably added heaps of bland melodrama. This drama wasn’t organic. It felt like the show creators received a note from AMC telling them to amp up the (low-cost, filler) drama like The Walking Dead does. This makes it a bit of slog and keep me wondering if fewer episodes (or even a movie adaptation) would have been better. The performances were especially well-crafted, notably by Zachary Quinto’s age shifting ghoul who could emote from within a trash bag if needed, but the conspicuous Bawstan ack-cents were quite a choice. Overall, I found this entertaining enough to recommend but the book is not to be missed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

AHS: 1984 Keeps It Tight & Wicked

Have I discovered the secret to enjoying American Horror Story, or was it just a good season? I went into 1984 with less than zero expectations after the abominations of Cult and Apocalypse. I assumed it would be tiresome affair of ostentatious turds hitting a bejeweled fan, and thus relegated it to a laundry folding show. After the first episode, I was frightened at how amused I was. There were callbacks to beloved 80s slashers and a cast of dumb teens that couldn’t make a good decision to save their lives. Then I continued having fun with episodes 2 and 3. Surely a fluke, or perhaps a flu. What the fresh hell was going on? Did they change showrunners? Writers?

No. AHS decided to give up its portentous nature and just have fun. 1984 took a campy approach with a killer serial vibe, chock full of delightful genre nods, radically self-conscious acting and often terrible dialogue. But it’s set in the 80s so it totally works. Also, it stuck to its main conceit, kept it simple, no weird twists or unexplained aliens, and delivered its most straightforward season ever.

However, once the show moved into the daylight episodes, it lost much of its momentum. Horror is so much easier in the dark. And yes, there’s plot holes you could drive a vacation RV through but that’s just the AHS we know and hate-to-love. It should also be noted that FX ordered a 10-episode season, and the AHS team barely managed to churn out 9 episodes – and it still felt too long. The paper thin plot of most slashers can only impart so much exposition before things get really dull. Less talky-talky and more stabby-stabby.

This season parted ways with recurring cast members like Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates in lieu of a "younger cast" (Ryan's words not mine). I didn't buy Emma Roberts as the innocent girl-next-door for a single minute, but Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, and Angelica Ross rocked the deranged camp counselor vibe. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez was terrifying and also uniquely funny, while John Carroll Lynch was an absolute revelation as Mr. Jingles. (Please build a season around him and Kathy Bates!)

We also need to talk about that ending. For the first time ever, AHS seems to have provided a relatively satisfying and – dare I say it – happy ending!? That’s hard to imagine given the body count, copious amounts of blood and all those trapped souls, but surprisingly some characters found a modicum of redemption. Whether it’s my nostalgia bias or my exhausting gaze through neon pink glasses, I found this to be the most awesome twist yet.

P.S. I also have to note the fantastic marketing campaign for this season. The TV teasers were really fun, and the print campaign provided greater diversity while also featuring screaming dudes! The best part was those opening credits and newly minted theme song. Fan of the show, Corey Vega, created a mock opening sequence for funsies, then posted it on Twitter where Ryan Murphy saw it and Corey him to consult on the final creation.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween 2019 Wrap Up... Almost!

And that's a wrap on Halloween 2019... almost... we have two more nights of our Dia de los Muertos display since today and tomorrow are the actual Mexican holidays. We ended with a record-breaking night of 423 trick 'r treaters and an additional estimated 800 spectators. And we DIDN'T run out of candy!

Note to self: we used about 7 bags of candy.

Much like the Macy's Day Parade heralds in the Christmas season, the Midsummer Scream convention in Long Beach ushers in the wicked Halloween season. I attended this year and I met the lovely Miranda from, Mike from, and even hung out with my idol, Sam from the 2007 movie Trick 'r Treat. Next year the convention expands to THREE days so book those rooms now and see you there.

Something wickedly colorful came this way and right onto my lawn with a DREAM collaboration with Britta Peterson and Ghoulish Glen of We created a second incarnation of the Dia de los Muertos display we last ran on in 2015 at Britta's house. The Scream Team, as we call ourselves, had the challenge of adapting the show onto a brand new landscape. We also created a brand new feature: a Haunted Ofrenda (altar) featuring all kinds of ghostly activity from visiting relatives. Over the five nights leading up to Halloween, we've had an average of 30-40 visitors  and we have two nights remaining. 150 votes secured our win for the People's Choice Award in the city of Santa Clara's Halloween Decorating Contest.

The Scream Team's outing to the Winchester Mystery House: Unhinged Halloween attraction was also a high point with the amazing projections on the house itself. But I missed my chance at meeting Christine McConnell again! (She was also at Midsummer Scream.) I did however get to witness her work upclose and she created a large gingerbread replica of the house.

Another highlight was seeing The Stage's production of The Rocky Horror Show which featured a former student of Foothill College (where I work). I am so proud of our students, and especially so when I can personally witness the start of their careers! Sean Okuniewicz as Riff Raff stole the show in my unbiased opinion. I was very fortunate to hobknob with the cast and crew afterwards which was so incredibly inspiring.

However, the greatest gift this season was becoming a dad again to two precious kittens, Kika and Rocky. We lost two cats earlier this year, and the house has been too silent – and much too clean – for so long.

It's now time for a long winter hibernation of at least a week or two. Plans are already underway for next year's haunt and I cannot wait for it. But first, I rest.