If you grew up with this book series, you might remember that the stories themselves were actually not that memorable at all, but Stephen Gammell’s beautiful illustrations bored into your very soul and remain tucked deep in the recesses of your memory banks.
Scary Stories takes place during a time of turmoil in small-town America: Nixon is on the verge of winning the presidential race while barely-adults are getting shipped off to ‘Nam to die. This particular town is known for a haunted house, home to a restless spirit who was known for telling scary stories to the townschildren who were later killed.
When our plucky horror-fiend Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) steals the ghost’s infamous storybook, the stories come to life and prey on her and her friends’ worst fears.
Adapting this campfire tale anthology has proven to be a tricky task, even with horror master Guillermo del Toro behind the helm(ish). Though trying its best to weave a narrative, the story itself is what happened if Goosebumps, Paranorman and It had some sort of a three-way lovechild with a bad case of the jump scares.
Considering the artwork’s iconicism, one would think they’d go all out, right? Though an excellent attempt was made, the monsters were unfortunately buried under a CG sheen rather than opting for practical effects. The camera also refuses to linger much, reaction-cutting like crazy, resulting in that overproduced style of young adult horror.
Despite this lack of definition, I think there are some merits to be found if you squint hard enough. For instance, I appreciated that the setting was in the late 1960’s, rather than cashing in on the 1980’s/1990’s nostalgia grab. However attempts to reel in on that childhood trauma and small-town-wartime-angst/paranoia comes off as heavy-handed and rather clunky.
In short, this is a decent 13+ scary movie, but sadly lacks the needed grit and tonal atmosphere to make something beautifully original. Personally, I think an anthology film would have been more fun and effective – like a gritty Trick or Treat. But I guess we’ll find out in the inevitable sequel.
Oh hey there, it’s been a while. I just wanted to talk about possibly one of my new favorite directors, Ari Aster, starting a blip with his 2018 feature debut, Hereditary. Mild spoilers ahoy!
After the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) is doing her best to keep her shit together – after all, her mother was a source of incredible trauma for her and their family. But even after death, Annie’s mother wouldn’t cease to drive her crazy.
In terms of accolades, this film is probably the most underrated of 2018 next to Searching and Mandy (and probably Mute, but I haven’t seen it yet).
Halfway through the film Collette delivers a monologue that gives me chills every time – I was hoping that scene alone would gain some attention.
The beauty of this film as a horror piece is that you can’t tell if the chaos is grounded in the physical or the supernatural until the end. Even then either way can be arguable. Additionally I feel that every reaction to each terrible event is plausible, if not understandable.
Hereditary is a mental health awareness piece under the guise of supernatural thriller. Even Aster only considers it a drama. The tension is built up so beautifully, each extreme becomes an emotional crescendo. As creepy as it is, I love showing this movie to people so I can watch their reactions. Both Collette and Alex Wolf have fantastic performances, so come for the drama, stay for the coming of great Paimon.
After such a strong debut, sometimes a victory lap is in order.
Midsommar begins with Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a one-sided toxic relationship held together by dependence and guilt. Things only get more awkward when Dani is reluctantly invited to what was originally intended to be a stag trip to Sweden with Christian’s friends.
The tension is palpable from the get-go, and things only get worse from there: their destination is within the Hårga – an isolated
cult commune with little room for modern amenities. Luckily for our party, they are to witness a midsummer event that the Hårga only celebrate every 90 years. When this festival kicks off with a gruesome ättestupa ritual, our novice anthropologists realize that they probably should have picked a different topic of study.
Pagan-influenced bloodshed aside, the focus of this story is what happens when selfish individuals enter a community of selflessness. In the case of Dani and Christian, we’re dealing with extreme anxiety and utter idiocy, respectively. Dani has been through so much trauma, she is an emotional void of sorts, constantly on the verge of a breakdown. Christian is clearly painted as an assholish coward throughout – avoiding the inevitable with Dani as much as possible while mooching off of his friends.
In spite of her emotional condition, Dani proves to be open to new experiences, slowly warming up to the Hårga’s traditions. Because the events taking place, we as an audience cannot know what daily life is like, and really if they’re on psilocybin all the time or exclusively during festivals.
Regardless, psilocybin is a psychedelic that makes one feel closer with nature as well as peers, so this commune in the middle of the wilderness is the ideal place to be on shrooms 24-7. In Dani’s case, when she’s isolated she’s left with hallucinations of her traumas, but when she’s with the Hårga, she has a sense of belonging – so when she finally genuinely smiles, you feel it. Christian’s experiences, however, are thwarted by skepticism and discomfort.
Midsommar is a love story in a way, in the sense of feeling connected with one another through experiences rather than expectations. But due to Dani’s impressionability, she is easily taken advantage of. It was almost reminiscent of The Witch when Pelle asks Dani regarding Christian, “does he feel like home?”
Despite the utter beauty of this undertaking, I keep ruminating on that Pelle claimed his parents were burned alive, implying they were previous tributes – but didn’t they say the ceremonies were every 90 years? I think it can be argued that due to the absolute communal nature of this, well, commune, through all the shared feelings and expressions, would it be so hard to believe that each elder could be called a parent? Or that past trauma is shared through generations to the point of being a constant. It’s fishing, but it’s possible. Or maybe 90 years isn’t literally 90 years. Or maybe I missed something? …Or maybe it’s just a plot hole.
Both films are unified in trauma and grief, with any hopes of closure dashed away before they can even be actualized. Additionally the idea that when one is vulnerable, any influence can be let in – both literally and figuratively. Cults also appear in both films, but they almost appear to be a backdrop for our protagonists – working behind the scenes while Annie and Dani slowly break from the inside out.
I’ve been going through Ari Aster’s short films, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.
When John Carpenter’s 1978 classic was unleashed to the masses, it revealed an underlying paranoia that evil lives and persists and can erupt at any moment, in any neighborhood. This evil is slow and calculating – more so, patient.
Halloween also succeeded in putting an expressionless face onto the boogeyman, which unfortunately also belongs to William Shatner. One aspect that we don’t often attribute to the original is this was the beginning of a horror staple: virgins live, sluts die.
Henceforth throughout horror history, the promiscuity of barely-legal women has been predictably met with horrific ends, but of course, not until at least a top is off. This sexist exploitation has plagued the horror genre for decades – but finally, the times they are a-changin’.
Forty years after the incident, we find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) alone and well-armed: a paranoid agoraphobe who has been waiting for the day Michael Myers escapes his prison. The overt theme of this sequel is victimhood: A victim can live in fear or survive and conquer. What Halloween manages to do is make the story as much about Michael as it is about Laurie; so often do we focus on the monster, we forget to think about those who survive. Every survivor has a story.
This may be bold of me, but Halloween is the kind of sequel we need right now. We already know the monster, so this is the perfect opportunity to build on some broken characters.
We establish that Laurie’s behavior has wrecked her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but now she has time to bond with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who seems to be a mirror image of Laurie at her age. Laurie herself has become more or less a menace – even referential scenes swap Laurie in the place of Michael.
By retconning the series, the film has given wiggle-room for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. For example, in removing the notion of familicide, Michael Myers is a much more realistically terrifying presence, stalking his old hunting grounds with wild abandon (well, as wild as a murderous, slow-moving giant can be). Again, not only are his victims not screaming down the street with their boobies a-floppin’, but we also get a better grasp of who they are, or rather, were. And surprisingly, the majority of the victims were men, one of whom (arguably) asked for it.
Though not necessary, I would recommend re-watching the first Halloween before seeing this one, just for the sake of appreciation. John Carpenter gave Halloween (2018) his blessing, and with good reason.
A small synopsis for anyone who somehow missed the 1990 miniseries or had never read the book: After the disappearance of his little brother Georgie, teenage Bill Denbrough and his group of misfit buddies (“The Loser Club”) unravel the evil lurking within the small town of Derry, Maine. This evil literally feeds on fear, thusly preying upon children at their most vulnerable, all while personified as a friendly clown named Pennywise.
Having been raised with the original, and have taken a retrospective look at it plenty of times, I can confidently say that I prefer this remake despite the iconicity of Tim Curry’s performance. (Or is it a reboot? I feel like I used to know the difference, but now I think they’re one and the same.)
Additionally I read the book years and years ago, so though I couldn’t make an accurate comparison, I am thrilled to bits that this film did NOT include one of the most pointlessly disturbing scenes in Stephen King lore.
A key difference is this story is based in the 1980s – the time in American history when every high school/college was rampant with homicidal bullies. This is a welcomed change, as modernizing provides different options for altering the fears just enough, making them more general to any audience. For instance, not every kid grew up fearing the Mummy, but I’m pretty sure every kid has seen a picture that genuinely shook them to the point of averting their eyes in the event of reoccurring glances.
Generalizing like this creates a sense of timelessness, altering how the Losers face their fears: The original relies on superstition and denial, i.e. silver and “battery acid” (aptly childish), whereas the remake has more bravery and determination, i.e. standing up and beating the ever-loving crap out of him (violent, but ultimately satisfying).
And as the Losers conquer their fears, the heaviness and permanence of the world topples with it, creating a coming-of-age/innocence lost experience with a startling degree of depth and humor, not unlike Stand By Me.
As far as scares go, It ultimately creates an atmosphere that amplifies the children’s’ fears without pandering to an adult audience. Each trauma is genuinely scary, and I appreciate that. I found Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise to be absolutely enthralling: his movements and demeanor flip from playful to utterly disturbing without missing a beat.
The physical design of the character has a more literal sense of mentioned timelessness, implying that this creature has been around for centuries, but knows to lure children all you need is a goofy outfit and a big smile. Or clowns have always been creepy no matter what the era. Especially if they drool on you.
It is a great start for this Halloween season. With any luck, I’ll be seeing mother! next.
Usually I put a synopsis first, but I’ll put a trailer here instead – as it captures the intensity and atmosphere of this film much better than I could:
From beginning to end, this movie keeps you hooked. Jordan Peele uses a racist lens to focus on social discomfort and biases, in order to imbue a terrible, persistent dread over the viewer, which I believe is a new kind of horror experience.
The trailer actually captures a lot of the movie – just go see it, then read this. Here there be spoilers.
Rather than being about straight-up racism, it seems to be more about correlation, if not “accidental racism,” which are due to the effects of social standards overtime, which is the much more unfortunate elephant in the room. Except for that cop. And the brother. And half of those old people…
It would seem that this film, while focusing on bigotry, highlights the “whitification” of African Americans in a near comically uncomfortable manner. But as the twist is revealed, it can also be argued that Get Out is more of a cheeky stab at cultural appropriation – all these rich white folks are practically dying for a chance at being black.
Either way, Peele captures the annoyingly contradictive nature of white America: “either be more white or let us be more black.”
Something I am unsure of though: Was the film implying that white people think black people are easy to manipulate? Or, that it’s the privileged white man’s responsibility to use the black man (going off of Dean’s spiel about Chris’s “purpose”)? Furthermore, are both parties expected to partake in this kind of relationship due to institutionalized racism? I dunno, but it’s food for thought.
After building on all of these implications and inferences, I felt that the most terrifying scene was when the flashing lights approach our bloodied protagonist. The cop angle would have been the absolute nail-in-the-coffin as far as this film’s social commentary goes. Fortunately, the actual ending is much better.
Get Out is a refreshing take on horror-comedy, chocked full of tension, intrigue, and most importantly, creative criticism.
Literally working oneself to death is far from a new concept – in fact, Japan even has a word for it: karōshi. With the ever-daunting stress of the working world, it’s no wonder that those privileged enough would seek whatever means necessary to find a sense of ease, namely in the form of “wellness retreats.”
When the CEO of a million-dollar-bigwig-somethingorother, finds himself lost in the wiles of the Volmer Institute, the company sends their youngest board member, Lockhart (Dan DeHaan) to fetch him back.
Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, the Volmer Institute is a private establishment that prides itself in the finest in quality care, taking advantage of all the environment has to offer – namely the water source.
Once Lockhart finds getting his boss out is more difficult than imagined, it becomes far more clear that these doctors are up to a much more sinister agenda.
As much as I hate to say it, I think there’s such a thing as atmospheric over-saturation. If you want a movie that looks like a beautiful screensaver, you got it. Well, if you like eels, that is.
Initially, I was intrigued. The trailer did it’s job. That and I’m a sucker for institutional psychological thrillers. As the story progressed, I was drawn in even more. However, there was a noticeable drag. In fact, there’s really no reason for this film to be 2.5hrs long – we could have easily lost an accumulative hour of atmospheric shots and Mia Goth being ogled.
Admittedly, it was the story that kept me interested, as opposed to actual character development – which is to say there was none. The protagonist remains static, the obviously evil doctor is evil, and the doe-eyed damsel is the personification of the virgin-whore complex.
Hannah’s character is innocent while curiously alluring – locked in an ivory tower like a depressive pixie dream girl, wistfully humming and wandering barefoot.
And on the note of women in this film, I’m pretty sure Gore Verbinski doesn’t know how periods work. (I’m just saying, there was a concerning amount of blood…but I guess it is a horror movie…)
Snark aside, A Cure for Wellness is a gorgeous movie. It does its best to channel new-Hollywood atmospheric horror while playing up visceral scares for maximum discomfort (albeit, the CGI was not good). Though it has the makings of a successful horror story, the results leave this story rather underwhelming.
As a Mighty Boosh fan, this was running through my head throughout the film – enjoy.
I recognize I’m terribly late on this write-up, but near the end of this season I was terribly distracted by Channel Zero, Westworld, The OA, and most recently, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. But considering the news dropping for Season 7, better late than never, right?
Season six of Ryan Murphy’s on-going horror escapade was easily the most divisive: Between the show-within-a-show framing and found footage over-saturation, this is probably the most unique season to date. But does that make it good?
Usually I’d start with the opening theme, but controversially, there wasn’t one for Season 6. Fortunately I found this fan-video, which might be better than the actual season itself:
Let’s get down to it
When approaching this season, there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around – namely the meta-quality of “My Roanoke Nightmare.” Initially I was against this method of story-telling, because as much as I love cheesy ghost story shows, it is common knowledge that reenacting is seldom relied upon. So for “Roanoke Nightmare” to not only consist of 90% reenactment, but to have such a crazy fandom after the fact, that’s fairly hard to believe. All you can really do is accept that this branch of television is widely accepted in this universe (the “Murphyverse,” if you will).
Once it’s understood that there are many-a-layers, it’s easy to roll with the punches on this one. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t any inconsistencies. (I still don’t know what the teeth are all about.) But, it does hit on all of the previous AHS tropes: Mommy Issues, Monster, and Something Incredibly Uncomfortable (my vote goes to the Polks, followed by first-person immolation). Not to mention, this is the first season to reference all of the previous seasons (well, the Hotel one was kinda loose, but I’ll let it slide).
My favorite part of this season was when we as viewers finally saw the ghosts as they were meant to be seen – and they are hella spooky. Initially, it is a cheap trick to rely so much on the popularity of found-footage, but to use this technique to alter the viewing experience as such was a fantastic exploit of the medium.
My second-favorite part, what I like to call the redemption of Kathy Bates. Her character, Agnes Mary Winstead, was genuinely uncomfortable to witness. I felt like her contribution to this season was a way to show younger, or unfamiliar, viewers her prowess.
Speaking of younger viewers, when Dominic Banks goes on his soliloquy about being a reality villain, is Real World still relevant? Does anyone under 20 know who Puck is? Either way, the second act is my favorite part of this season, hands down.
Where it drops the ball
Personally, I really didn’t care for the third act. As glad as I was to see Lana Banana again, I wasn’t terribly interested in Lee Harris’ fate.
The trouble is, I’m not sure where the show would have gone afterwards.
Perhaps the larger issue is that the more interesting part of this season wasn’t so much the main characters, but the ghosts themselves – like if Murder House didn’t have Jessica Lange to ground it.
In all, AHS: Roanoke was a great deviation from the rest of the series, albeit a tad half-baked.
After being banished by the church, William (Ralph Ineson) and his family of Puritans are forced to begin a new life on the cusp of the unknown – in this case, a small plot of land by a spooky thicket of woods. After their newborn goes missing, the family slowly turns on eachother with the eldest, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), at the brunt of the misery.
Rather than focusing on romance and mysticism, this film relies on a slow-building dread and paranoia that is prevalent in New England folklore. Admittedly, I personally found it difficult to empathize with Thomasin’s plight – I mean, it’s the 1600’s and everything’s terrible (plus I don’t think they actually spoke like that). It’s amazing anyone survived, really – but I digress. However, this sort of thing this does not distract from the viewing experience.
The Witch is beautifully atmospheric; the isolation, terror and desperation is palpable, and the fact that the scares rely more on practical effects makes the feature all the more admirable.
No spoilers here, but I just wanted to note that I enjoyed the twist enough, but I feel that Caleb’s big scene really drove this film home.
Apologies for being so brief, but admittedly, it’s difficult to talk about a movie like this without major spoilers. I will say, if you dig older horror, this is right up your alley: no jumpscares or torture porn, just natural discomfort. Conversely, I felt a little “meh” by the end of it. I mean, I’m glad there wasn’t an anti-ending, but I think I wanted more of a bang.
Perhaps I’m just spoiled.
Holy guacamole. What. Did. I. Just. Watch.
Well, let me tell you – if you haven’t watched the latest season of American Horror Story, go away for now. I also wrote about the other seasons here. Meanwhile, I’ll be here jotting down my thoughts and musings on this last season.
Now, I find hotels as eerie as the next occasional traveler, so I thought the concept of AHS: Hotel was interesting on a very base level. Add some real-world creepy inspirations? Great! Old Hollywood? Even better! Vampires? Well…they hadn’t really tackled them yet, so okay…
I’ll be frank. This season’s a hot mess. It’s a Jackson Pollock of concepts and casting, marred with copious amounts of sex and bloodshed. Not all of it was terrible – for instance, we were given a new hero, Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare).
Liz is awesome. She’s an ideal role model for the modern audience – confident, intelligent, and fierce as hell. However, everything was fine until for some reason, they decided to throw in a completely asinine romance angle with the Countess’ (Gaga) flame, Tristan (Finn Wittrock).
Now, I’m not man-hating for the fun of it, but what I’m upset about is that this angle came from absolutely NOWHERE. The only time we get any idea that there was any sort of chemistry is after we see Liz and Tristan in bed together – no buildup, no conversation, not even any eye-contact, for all I know. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. I’m just glad she got the happy(ish) ending she deserved.
Another character I loved? James Patrick March.
Honestly I never gave Evan Peters a second glance until Hotel. Finally, after four seasons of moping, we get someone charismatic, cartoony, and impossible to ignore. Think of James P. March as Gomez Addams and H.H. Holmes on coke.
Hotel was an incredibly divisive season, an odd combination of cartoony and violent – in some cases cartoonishly violent. It seemed as if the creators didn’t know where to draw the line in terms of disturbing content – or which direction this show was going, for that matter. I think the idea was to bridge the gap with the “Ten Commandments” story…or maybe the vampires? Jeezus.
The Ten Commandments
Admittedly, this was a very cool, bold way to start the season. Granted, it is a total Se7en ripoff – that, and hearing the phrase “Ten Commandments” over and over again is clunky and exhausting.
And when we learn the truth about our protagonist, John (Wes Bentley), I’m not sure if it was more unexpected or annoying. Much like Liz/Tristan, we had no leads of any sort – it just seemed so poorly thrown together. On the other hand, when John accepted his identity, that was a nice change of pace.
There seems to be a string of shrugging off events when things get too weird – for instance, when we are introduced to Countess’ erm, child, it goes on a wacky’s “Baby’s Day Out”-style adventure. As if that wasn’t stupid/annoying enough, there is literally a scene where John’s daughter, Scarlett, is very upset and crying, and then less than a minute later we see her chilling on the couch with some popcorn. What kind of poorly written bullshit is going on here?
Okay okay, that’s a little nit-picky, especially considering some bigger problems…
The Addiction Demon and Hypodermic Sally
…Who was this? Why was this? What purpose does this serve? Other than disturbing for disturbing’s sake.
Speaking of which, it was never really explained why Sally (Sarah Paulson) was sewing folks into mattresses. It made a nice eyecatch I suppose, but again, ultimately pointless. Like that Human Centipede-esque nonsense later.
On the topic of nonsense, last but not least –
To be fair, they never really call these creatures “vampires” – but for the sake of simplicity, that’s what I’m going with. I honestly enjoyed how this season played with this vampirism disease, especially when combined with other diseases. Though they did hit us over the head with the-ever-so-topical vaccination “debate.”
Upon the announcement that Lady Gaga was to be involved with this season of AHS, I honestly didn’t really care – I guess I was more looking forward to the sheer spectacle she would surely provide – and thusly delivered. I was more annoyed by the irrelevance of her vampire clan and their terrible hair-dos.
The Countess represented the glamour as well as the menace that LA has to offer (throughout time, so it seems) – an ideal seductress. Apart from that, we have a concept that’s terribly drawn out and ultimately uninteresting.
In A Nutshell
I’m sorry, I took some time writing this because I often found myself getting ranty and all over the place. Kind of like this season. Simply put, there were way too many ideas going on here at once; near the end, it was painfully obvious that they needed to tie these stories up. Yet, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed this season. It doesn’t hold a candle to Murder House, but at least it’s better than Coven.
In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author [(Mia Wasikowska)] is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.
I know, it’s lame that I stole the synopsis from IMDB on this one, but frankly, I can’t write anything as accurately flowery at the moment. I say “accurately flowery” because well, this movie is surface-level gorgeous. It’s like Mary Shelley threw up on Charles Dickens, all for Guillermo del Toro to film through a goth-technicolor filter – complete with glitter and ooze.
Unfortunately, style and substance tend to be two different animals, and sacrifices must be made.
What’s lost on us is any trace of subtlety, as best portrayed with Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe. We first see her at this resplendent gathering of socialites, decked in (what can be assumed to be) era-appropriate pinks and beige, but at the piano sits Lucille, draped in deep scarlet like a braggart countess practically begging for your undivided attention.
Granted, there’s supposed to be some culture shock between London and New York (not to mention her family’s supposed history of resplendent wealth) – but this sort of juxtaposition is terribly melodramatic.
Lucille’s jarring characterization doesn’t stop there; there seems to be no middle-ground with her – she’s either a stoic ice maiden or completely bonkers. What’s even more frustrating is that we know that Chastain is more than capable than adding some subtlety to a character – perhaps she’s not bad, but just written that way?
I don’t mean to harp on Chastain too much, as Lucille Sharpe isn’t the only problem. Though the film is beautifully atmospheric, it’s hard to call this film a horror. Sure, what Edith (Wasikowska) goes through is rightly terrible, but the over-romanticism of the plot creates a cultural disconnect of sorts – resulting in a Mary Sue who can see ghosts, just because.
In all, Crimson Peak plays like an old radio drama: atmospherically eerie as it is charming, but sadly predictable as all hell.
Final Grade: C+