Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Best Scary Movies of 2018

The horror renaissance continues in 2018 with some fantastic films, thanks largely to streaming channels and video on demand (VOD). As theaters are steadily becoming relics of the past (only a handful of films on my list are wide releases), VOD is the way to go. Casualties like Overlord and Suspiria both inexplicably opened after Halloween and died quick deaths. I should also note that some of these movies premiered in 2017 (at film festivals or internationally) but didn't become widely available in the U.S. until 2018.

The BEST of 2018

1. Hereditary - Ari Aster's debut film is a family drama with a sickening, dreadful atmosphere that slowly suffocates viewers in it's crazed third act. This is a horror masterpiece.

2. Suspiria - This reinvents every aspect of the original and adds a hypnotic, unsettling menace and epic grandeur. Tilda Swinton is spectacular, and this art film, though quite long, is beautifully conceived.

3. A Quiet Place is a monster movie with a truly unique concept - make a sound and die. The exquisite production values and stellar cast shows how to make the most of a modest budget.

4. 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.

5. Mandy succeeds not as simple revenge story but rather the artful manner in how it was made: dark, stylized, and strangely hypnotic and I hate to admit how much I loved Nicholas Cage's performance.

6. Aterrados (Terrified) is an Argentinian fever dream escalates scene by scenes as a paranormal infestation takes a neighborhood. It's an exhausting, unsettling nightmare that is not soon forgotten.

7. Halloween  is a smart, reliable sequel that surprises and delights fans of Michael Myers, John Carpenter, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

8. Annihilation is a unique vision of nature gone wild with extraordinary and often terrifying visuals. The superb cast led by Natalie Portman adds needed urgency to this ultimate meditation on extinction.

9. The House that Jack Built invites us back into Lars Von Trier demented brain as we get to experience the stuff that serial killers think. It's artful, excessively nauseating, riveting like a car accident, exhaustively plodding, heady, hateful, and features a fantastic epilogue. Like most of his films, it's an exceptional work of art – that I never want to see again.

10. Revenge is ferocious gut punch where a sexy young girl faces off against three lewd middle-aged, men in a remote desert. Leave it to the French to bring such superb, bloody action to the screen.

11. The Endless is a cosmic head trip whose ingenious plot and story aren't mitigated by the stoic performances of it's director/writer/actors. Hopefully bigger budgets will allow these two very creative people to push their unique vision further.

12. Lizzie is an understated and quiet contemplation on female empowerment – and a retelling of the infamous ax murders of the Borden family. Chloe Sevigny's furious rage coupled with Kristen Stewart's weary angst are revelations in this definitive film.

13. The Ritual is a rare good Netflix film that pits the struggle of men's stoic friendships against a really scary monster. It's a male-centric spiritual sequel to The Descent.

Honorable Mentions

These were all considered for my best of list but it was another really good year for horror movies.
Overlord, American Satan, The Clovehitch Killer, Pyewacket, Summer of ’84, Upgrade, Verónica, My Friend Dalmer, Possum, Ghost Stories, The Dark, Winchester (a nostalgic favorite but not a great film), The Cleanse, Little Stranger, Apostle, The Lodgers, and Our House.

In the Queue

So many movies and so little time. In my 2018 queue are WildingWhat Keeps You AliveLes Affames (Ravenous)SliceMary ShelleyMon Mon Monsters, and Thoroughbreds.

Horror Adjacent

Bad Times at the El Royale is a noir crime cult period pulp thriller comedy shot like a horror movie. It's full of tension, surprises, great performances and satisfying ending from the director of Cabin In The Woods.

Sorry to Bother You is an insanely good comedy/social commentary with a freaky twist. It definitely crosses the line into legitimate satire horror and shows you things you can't unsee. 

The Most Disappointing Movies of 2018

I define the "worst movies" as those with good credentials on paper whose production entirely and inexcusably miss the mark. These should have been so much better given the talented people behind them, but something went terribly wrong. Sure, there are much worse movies like the trash that fill the horror categories on Netflix but those were trash to begin with and completed avoided.

The Nun couldn't decide on a tone (adventure-romance-horror?) and is a sinful hot mess.
Insidious: The Last Key puts the amazing Lin Shaye at the center and gives her a bland story.
Pacific Rim: Uprising is a tedious sequel no one wants and doesn't even properly feature kaiju.
The Cloverfield Paradox has some trippy scenes but goes no where slowly - and then there's a monster in the clouds. Ugh, lame.
Down a Dark Hall is a dreadfully boring movie with a dreadfully miscast Uma Thurman.
Marrowbone features great performers with a slow burn setup and senseless final act.
Winchester is a decent movie about a glorious house that should have been so much, much better.
Terrifier has great potential and an evil villain but the amateurish actors and thin story sink it.
Mom and Dad starts out good, even with Nicolas Cage, but then has no third act. What's the point?
Bird Box delivers tense performances and set up but its repetitive and doesn't deliver ANY goods.
Unsane is a super annoying experiment and looks absolutely awful – because it was shot on a phone.
House With a Clock in Its Walls is Eli Roth's stumble into kid fare that's neither scary nor fun.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Best Scary TV Shows of 2018

The cold, dark days of January finally give me time to catch up on scary tv and movies. We don't get snow here but lots of overcast skies and rainy, foggy days so the atmosphere is set for some awesome marathons. Here's a list of my favorite 2018 tv shows (my movie list is coming soon!).

The Best Scary TV Shows of 2018
  1. The Haunting of Hill House is fine horror literature with a brilliant story, direction, and acting.
  2. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is wickedly good fun and one of Netflix's all-time best series.
  3. The Terror is heady horror for adults with a top notch cast and production. Who doesn't like a good naval yarn?
  4. Ash Vs. Evil Dead ended its short, glorious run with a bloody hilarious season. Goodbye Ash–forever and ever!
  5. Preacher added Betty Buckley as a swamp witch – and God as a dog! – and cast a fantastic, fun spell.
  6. Castle Rock is a slow burn that doesn't quite catch fire but is rich with characters and story.
  7. Eli Roth's History of Horror was like a great conversation about the horror genre with friends. 
  8. Sharp Objects is horror-tinted drama with a creepy mystery about grisly murders and possible serial killer in a small southern town. The performances are stellar and the final scene is mind-blowing.

Honorable Mentions

Outcast finally showed up for a final bow at Starz and another good show bites the dust.
Stan Against Evil continued its amusing snark and deadpan indie humor.
The Purge was tamed for TV but also exists as a different, slowburn extended feature.
Channel Zero: The Dream Door is imaginative and often horrific but loses momentum after an early reveal and too much anti-climatic personal drama.

The Disappointments of 2018
  1. The X-Files is really not written well and failed to prove why it needed to return other than fan love for the characters, conspiracy, and aliens.
  2. Westworld became an incomprehensible mess with many unnecessary tangents. It demands too much from an audience and feels like the second coming of J.J. Abrams other misguided effort, LOST.
  3. Midnight, Texas continued its odd, dim-witted and befuddled march to extinction. 
  4. Lore retooled the formula adding great production values but removing its beloved narrator. Bad move Amazon.
  5. Charmed couldn't be less appealing with the dull writing and chemistry-free cast.
  6. American Horror Story: Apocalypse is the usual ridiculous hodge-podge and yet another missed opportunity. This could be edited down to a much more successful 6-episode mini-season called Coven Returns

Thursday, January 3, 2019

How to Build a Monster House

One of my nightmares is a house that comes to life. From the stretching hallway in Poltergeist (1982), to the transforming walls in The Haunting (1999), to the animated motherload of Monster House (2006), to Christine McConnell’s monstrous creations, houses that should be safe havens can be scary monsters. 

My Monster House Halloween 2018 display was a very simple concept but on a very large scale and created entirely from scratch. The horns on the roof are 4 feet tall, and the mouth is 8 feet tall and about 14 feet wide, complete with an 7-foot tongue. The eye in the window is an animated projection (from AtmosFX) which made this monster come to life. Finally, red lights flowing on the bone littered porch suggest a river blood of blood to lead trick 'r treaters to the front door – and their doom!

I should also note the video above is the very first video I purposefully shot (with help from my friend Ariel Germanaz) and edited (after learning Adobe Rush), so it's a bit rough.

How I Built a Monster

The project started with two 4-foot horns made of chicken wire, PVC, lots of tape, paper mache, and plaster cloth along with paint, more paint, and spar urethane. Since these were going on a sloped roof, I also weighted them and built a V-shaped wood support to let gravity keep the horns in place and protect against our high winds (that even topple nearby castles!). 

I then moved on to cutting out out the teeth from two 4x8' sheets of 2 1/2 inch thick insulation foam from the Home Depot. After chiseling the ends a bit, I added paper mache to bulk up the teeth and covered the whole with several layers of plaster wrap. I was quite surprised at how durable this product was. We kicked the hell out of the bottom teeth every time we climbed over them (since they were at our front door). For a subsequent year (2020), the goal will be to reformat either set (upper or lower) teeth to make the mouth comp on command.

The final piece was the 7-foot tongue. Originally I wanted to build a gimbal-style support to allow the tongue to weeble wabble but ran out of time when the nine foot tongue met an unfortunate accident. I quickly reformed the tip and ran through the build procedure and coloring. I will likely rebuild the tongue from a lighter material next time to allow for easy movement.

The eye projection comes from AtmosFX's Eerie Eyes collection magnified 10 times to a full window display with the color slightly re-hued green. When I was concepting Monster House in 2017, I kept wondering where I would get an eye from. I thought about filming my eye and begging my friend to edit it for me but that fall, AtmosFX introduced this very projection. Problem solved!

I plan to revisit my Monster House in 2020 with a few design modifications and perhaps a few added surprises! See more pictures at MyScaryHalloween.com.