Sunday, September 30, 2018

31 movies for October

Seems like every year the Internet floods with lists of 31 movies to watch in October. So who am I to buck the trend?

Obviously the list draws almost exclusively from the horror genre. But these aren’t necessarily my favorite horror movies, nor is this a list of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Instead, these movies all have a certain Halloween look and feel to them. It’s hard to define, but it’s kinda a mix of seasonal setting and campfire tale quality.

Unless otherwise noted, titles refer to the original version rather than remakes, reboots and the like. Also please note that the first two entries on the “kid-friendly” list are rated R, so the MPAA and I disagree about how appropriate they are for children. I’d say tweens and older or those two.

Kid-Friendly Fare
Sleepy Hollow - Tim Burton’s take on Washington Irving’s classic tale
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark - Kid moves into a mansion full of monsters
Something Wicked This Way Comes - One of the strongest October-themed movies on the list
Beetlejuice - Ghostly fun without too many bad scares
The Addams Family - The family that was practically designed for an October movie marathon

House of Wax - Vincent Price at the top of his game
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors - An oddly unsettling British anthology piece
Freaks - Todd Browning’s tour de force, not necessarily for everyone
Dracula - Bela Lugosi is the iconic Count Dracula
Bride of Frankenstein - No October marathon would be complete without Frankenstein's monster
The Mummy - Boris Karloff is wonderfully creepy in the title role
Cat People - 1942 original is a masterpiece of subtlety, 1982 remake is more visceral
The Omen - The demonic king of evil kid movies

The Fog - A classic ghost story told in classic ghost story style
Poltergeist - A fun combination of ghost story elements, too intense for its PG rating
The Frighteners - Guy who can see ghosts starts to really wish he couldn’t
House on Haunted Hill (1999) - Spending the night in a haunted asylum is a bad idea
The Ring - Watching a video causes an evil ghost to kill you in seven days

Dawn of the Dead - Or if you’re in the mood for a triple feature, add #1 and #3
The Crazies (2010) - Oddly better than the Romero original
The Howling - Sayles writes, Dante directs, Bottin makes the werewolves. Great stuff!
Candyman - Creepy combination of urban legend, Clive Barker story and Phillip Glass score
Bram Stoker’s Dracula - Do fangs make it hard to chew scenery?
Fright Night - For real. One of the few vampire movies that’s both fun and scary
Creepshow - Romero directs Stephen King’s take on EC-Comics-style storytelling
From Hell - The Hughes Brothers adapt Alan Moore’s telling of the Ripper myth

The Final Five
The Burrowers - Settlers beset by a new kind of horror
Cabin in the Woods - A meta mash-up of horror clich├ęs that’s actually original and entertaining
Exorcist III - Consistently frightening, it features one of the best jump scares ever
The Crow - A murdered man seeks vengeance on his killers during Devil’s Night in Detroit
Halloween - Because what else would you watch on October 31?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review – The Midnight Man

So I guess there’s a law on the books somewhere now that requires Lin Shaye be in every mid-budget horror movie with a role for an older woman. The story here starts with a typical children’s spooky game gone bad set-up, and our good friends at IFC spent enough on it to get a decent cast and good production values. But then it loses its way, meandering around without telling much of a tale. The movie would have gotten a higher rating if not for the excessive animal cruelty. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Review – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

A funny thing happened in the 50 years since this movie was made: a lot of the humor became extremely dated, even downright offensive. Still, it’s hard to resist Zero Mostel’s energetic performance as a ne’er-do-well house slave trying to make everything come out right in this Roman-themed comedy of errors. The rest of the cast abounds in familiar faces, including Buster Keaton in his final screen role. Mildly amusing

Review – The Island (1980)

It’s interesting to go nearly 40 years between viewings of a movie. When I was a kid watching this on HBO, it really freaked me out. Peter Benchley’s source novel spins the tale of a writer and his son exploring the Caribbean and ending up in the hands of an atavistic colony of pirates who’ve lived in isolation from the outside world for centuries. Watching the movie again decades later, it seemed less scary and more silly. The basic concept is interesting, but too many of the plot twist rely on dumb luck rather than careful planning. Mildly amusing

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review – Kick-Ass 2

If you liked the first one, here’s some more. In particular, if you were fond of Chloe Moritz’s portrayal of Hit Girl, you apparently had enough company to assure that she plays a bigger role in this outing. Minus Nicolas Cage, plus Jim Carrey, so that’s a push. The delicate balance of action and goofiness remains in place, though of course in a sequel it doesn’t seem as innovative. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review – Beneath

If you’re going to make a movie this terrible, please give it a title that’s more challenging to turn into an insult. This production borrows only the worst attributes of Jaws and “The Raft” from Creepshow 2. Teenagers are trapped in a rowboat, a giant lake fish waiting to devour anyone who sticks an arm into the water. The story manages to deftly avoid all opportunities for interesting plot twists or character development. See if desperate

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review – Soldiers of the Damned

Such a promising start. Such a dismal downhill slide. This picture started out with enough production value to make it look like a serious attempt at movie making. It even had an interesting premise: German soldiers sent behind enemy lines in 1944 to retrieve a powerful, ancient artifact that could turn the tide of the war. But after an hour of watching the cast wander through the woods and bicker, the production more than wore out the welcome it started with. See if desperate

Friday, June 1, 2018

Review – Ouija 3: The Charlie Charlie Challenge

An hour and a half of “Charlie bit my finger” would have been less of a challenge to watch. This has no obvious connection to any other Ouija movie, and it’s justly listed on IMDb only as Charlie Charlie. The cast appears to have been recruited from an undergraduate theatre program. The setting is a struggling-to-get-by haunted house attraction. If you’ve ever seen a movie that met those two descriptions, then you already know exactly what you’re in for here. If you haven’t had this experience already, please don’t feel like you need to. Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review – Camera Obscura

Any number of interesting stories might have been spun using this title as a starting point. Alas, the only spinning going on here results in a tangled mess of loose threads. A photographer with a stereotypical mental illness finds that the pictures he takes with an antique camera foretell violent ends for his subjects. He tries several clever twists to make it stop, naturally only managing to make the problem worse. The only bright spot here is that the “how are you going to explain this to the police?” issue is an actual part of the picture rather than an afterthought or an ignored detail. See if desperate

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review – Jeepers Creepers 3

I’ve never seen a movie more unevenly budgeted than this one. The producers put together the cash for cinematography and a few vaguely familiar faces in the cast. But then they spent next to nothing on other parts of the production. The most glaring divide lay between good creature effects and bargain basement everything else. But the thing that really spoiled the picture was the unkillable monster. The Creeper gets a metal bar rammed through its head (popping its right eye in the process) and then shot dozens of times in the chest (by a gun prop that looked like it was cobbled together from an old barbecue grill). And just a few minutes later it’s back in fine fettle. Even the bullet holes in its shirt healed up. If the thing can’t possibly be defeated, what’s the point? See if desperate

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review – Ghost House

Thailand bears the burden of scapegoat in this typical cautionary tale for American tourists who dare to stray into the woods. Triteness and racism aside, I’ve seen worse spins on the general plot. See if desperate

Review – The Ritual

Here’s proof that a horror movie can actually have too much atmosphere. This is a pretty movie to look at. Some of the visual eeriness works well, at least until the end when we finally get a good long look at the somewhat ridiculous monster. Sadly, the production falls victim to the same shortcoming that seems to bedevil a lot of similar genre pieces of late: I don’t give a rat’s ass about any of the characters. Even worse, at least two of the guys we’re evidently supposed to care about (including the lead) are so awful that I found myself hoping they’d die. Maybe someday the cinematographer will get the chance to work on a better picture. See if desperate

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review – 47 Meters Down

Here’s a movie for anyone who ever wanted to watch Jaws but didn’t feel like wading through all that pesky plot and character development. Take two vapid sisters, stick ’em in a shark cage, lure in some great whites, then break the winch and drop the cage the title depth down to the sea floor. Then let the improbable plot twists roll! Every once in awhile the sharks provide a good scare. Otherwise this wavers between annoying and dull. See if desperate

Friday, January 26, 2018

Review – Haunters: The Art of the Scare

This is one of those documentaries that left me wondering if people like this really exist. The subject is amateur haunted house operators who specialize in severe scares. Here the normal rules – such as “cast members can’t touch the guests” – don’t apply. Indeed, one of the proprietors goes so far that his attractions repeatedly get shut down. Overall these folks are a lot like run-of-the-mill Halloween junkies who build their own stuff in their garages, but with an extra added layer of physical violence that pushes the whole show from quirky to sick. See if desperate

Review – Residue

The plot summary and Netflix user reviews made this sound good. One reviewer even called this a mix of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. He was dead wrong on both counts. This was a mix of gore and boredom and not much else. Somewhere early on it might have been a run-of-the-mill “do not read from the book” story, but by the end it’s done so much meandering and navel-gazing that it borders on unwatchable. Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, January 12, 2018

Review – Dreadtime Stories

Here’s a new Zen koan: how can you edit a movie without watching it? Poorly shot and poorly put together - even for a guys-with-a-camcorder production - this is a textbook case on how not to make a movie. Community theatre actors and college theatre majors (a.k.a. community theatre actors to be) chew their way through trite tales of terror supposedly from an ancient book. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Rings

If the Ring video turns into a creepypasta and goes viral, poor Samara is going to have her hands full. As her next victim struggles to escape her watery clutches, I can hear her moaning, “Dude, do you mind not running? I’ve got another 20 million people to kill tonight.” Part of the story here is a college professor’s study of the whole videotape thing in which he arranges a chain of viewers so nobody dies. It left me wondering if it could circle back, with the last person in the line showing it to the first person again. Of course if I’m wondering about that kind of silly nonsense, I’ve obviously lost interest in the movie itself. Which was easy enough to do, given the parade of go-nowhere plot twists and absence of any likeable characters. See if desperate

Friday, January 5, 2018

Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I figured the aphorism was just another meaningless bit of pirate-abilia built into the title of the latest episode of this long-past-its-expiration-date series. But no, it tells a painful truth: this movie genuinely has no tale to tell. Instead, it’s an unpalatable mess of cast members from the previous entries improbably shoehorned in, omnipresent CGI and expensive set pieces, and an amazing burgoo of supernatural geegaws, each governed by a set of rules so complicated they’d put an engine repair manual to shame. I lost interest in this plotless mess right around the time the zombie sharks showed up. See if desperate

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review – Bright

The point here appears to be getting the audience to think about racism by presenting the issues in a comfortable action/fantasy mix. In the course of a single evening a rogue cop with his own brand of justice (Will Smith) gets partnered up with the LAPD’s first orc officer. So sorta like a combo of The Hobbit and Judy Hopps. As a critique of real-world race relations in 21st century America, it’s sophomoric at best. But it actually makes some good points about the weird, sugar-coated fascism of many traditional fantasy stories. Mildly amusing