31 Day Movie Challenge: Week 2
Day 9: Woman-directed
Director: Natalie Erika James
Blurb: Although 2020 has been a difficult year for film releases (thanks, COVID), one silver lining is having quick access to films on streaming services and VOD much quicker than would have previously been possible. Take Relic, which after premiering at Sundance in January was picked up for distribution by IFC Midnight and is now available as a very reasonably priced rental or digital purchase. This is absolutely the sort of movie I would have missed in theaters, but I’m very happy I took a chance on it as a rental. Relic is difficult to describe because the horror is very atmospheric and slowly develops in mundane ways as the film progresses, but it reminds me of both The Babadook and Mark Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves. The true fear being played with in the film is the fear of losing a parent to the slow death of dementia. Having myself seen my grandfather’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and my grandmother’s cognitive decline in her last few years, the film was incredibly affecting and surprisingly touching.
Title: A Night to Dismember
Director: Doris Wishman
Blurb: Mesmerizing, accidentally avant-garde dreck that made me feel like I had a blood clot in my brain. Wishman cobbled this glorious monstrosity together from b-roll, rushed reshoots and stock footage after much of the original film was lost. It’s a sloppy, delirious mishap of a thing — I’ve had fever dreams that were more coherent — and I genuinely admire its chutzpah and all its punky, raggedy edges. The original version was unceremoniously uploaded to YouTube some years back. For me, this was akin to finding out that Netflix had finally assembled The Other Side of the Wind. I have to say, however, that I prefer the version that Wishman conjured out of scraps and detritus. It’s a wild hail mary of a motion picture, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed.
Day 10: Found Footage
Director: Patrick Brice
Blurb: I have no idea how to describe the tone of this film. It is funny and scary and surprising and honestly has given me renewed faith in found footage (which I’ve been leery of since waiting in line for the midnight release of The Blair Witch Project, back in another lifetime). I love how pared down and simple the film is in some respects – it is really just two guys having conversations with each other – but how absolutely extra and over-the-top it is in other ways. Because the tone is so hard to pin down, the ending took me completely by surprise. I’m not sure what to expect from the sequel (Creep 2, released in 2017), but I’m looking forward to watching it!
Matt G. Title: The McPherson Tape
Director: Dean Alioto
Blurb: An unheralded minor milestone that came along a full decade before the residents of Burkittsville, Maryland awoke to learn that they had a tourist problem. The McPherson Tape is a feature length UFO hoax that I found surprisingly credible in many key areas. The little green men didn’t dazzle me, but the movie is plausible where it counts. Let me put it this way: this is the most realistic film ever made about playing cards at your grandma’s house. The grainy home video presentation ensures that The McPherson Tape is recognizably a product of its time, but that’s to its advantage. This isn’t a Paranormal Activity 3 situation — I didn’t buy into that film, in large part, because the image quality was entirely too crisp and the 80s flavor didn’t extend beyond the occasional reference to Teddy Ruxpin. You take one look at the hairdos, outfits, and interior design on display in The McPherson Tapes, on the other hand, and you know you’re dealing with an authentic artifact of the betamax era.
Day 11: Haunted House
Title: The Legend of Hell House
Director: John Hough
Blurb: I’ve been in love with Roddy McDowall for years now, but this film has really cemented it. The script, based on the Richard Matheson novel of the same name, focuses not only on a haunted house, but more broadly on the battle between good and evil, science and superstition, fact and myth. I love that the story ends with both science and the supernatural coexisting in the hell house – and both scientific and supernatural forces combined are what stop the haunting. In addition to McDowall’s stellar performance as a jaded medium (and the only person in the house who truly understands how dangerous it is), I was really impressed by the creative cinematography and sound design. I’m not normally a fan of haunted house movies (I blame the lame House on Haunted Hill remake from the 90’s), but this one I worth a watch.
Title: A Tale of Two Sisters
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Blurb: Jump-out-of-your-seat scary and a whole lot sadder than you’d expect. Its melancholic streak eventually subsumes its parade of spooks, but it’s the startling moments that I’ll remember forever. If you have a weak heart, A Tale of Two Sisters will send you into the great beyond and turn you into one of the ghostly presences that it depicts. There are few haunted houses that I’d be more disinclined to spend a night in.
Day 12: Creature Feature
Title: The Host
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Blurb: Family drama? Check. Social commentary? Check. Terrifying monster and terrifyingly incompetent/cruel government response? Check. The Host is a brilliant monster movie, but not necessarily one I'd recommend watching in the age of COVID unless you're particularly good at compartmentalizing.
Director: Lewis Teague
Blurb: Underrated nature-run-amok movie that distills the “kill or be killed” conceit of slasher cinema to its primal essence. People namedrop Cujo to this very day all the time, the way they still continue to namedrop Weekend at Bernie’s, but I don’t think either film is widely seen anymore. Cujo, at least, is worth checking out. It’s more than just a memorable premise, or a convenient shorthand for “bad dog.” This is one of the leanest and most grueling commercial horror films ever made on the subject of Darwinian survival and the senselessness and unfairness of the law of the jungle. It breaks my heart to see those streams of greenish yellowish goop leaking from poor Cujo’s eyes. Rabies is a hell of a disease; when it comes to survival of the fittest, microscopic lifeforms have the edge over dogs and humans alike. Stephen King once said that Cujo contains the scariest moment in any film adapted from his work, but...
Day 13: Teen Horror
Title: The Babysitter: Killer Queen
Blurb: I'm going to break with critical consensus and make the argument that Killer Queen, the sequel to the incredibly fun 2017 film The Babysitter, is actually one of the best horror-comedies of the last decade. McG is like an American version of Edgar Wright, and this film is his own mash-up of Shawn of the Dead, Baby Driver, and Scott Pilgrim, down to the use of "Hocus Pocus" (song from the 1970s prog rock band Focus) in an action scene. That isn't to say that McG is as good as Wright at what he does, or that Killer Queen comes close to even Wright's paltriest offerings as a director. But there is something so truly American about taking something that a Brit did better and making it trashier, louder, and wayyyy less subtle that you just have to admire.
Director: Brian De Palma
Blurb: ...but he’s crazy, because the final scene of Carrie almost certainly deserves that honor. What a sendoff, what a masterstroke. Carrie is a creepy film from start to finish, but that last “gotcha” is sheer perfection. Prom night is traumatic for many of us. The ending of Carrie tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the traumas of our teenage years will be with us for the rest of our lives.
Day 14: Part IV of a Series
Title: Hellraiser: Bloodline
Director: Alan Smithee
Blurb: Okay, yeah, Hellraiser: Bloodline starts with the somewhat hokey, predictable "let's move our horror franchise into outer space because we've run out of ideas" gambit, but it gets significantly more interesting from there. Featuring an early career appearance from Adam Scott, continued greatness from Doug Bradley as Pinhead, and excellent work from series newcomers Valentina Vargas and Bruce Ramsay, Bloodline is way better than it has any right to be. Although the film suffered significant rewrites, reshoots, and director turnover (hence the Alan Smithee credit), the end result is a surprisingly interesting, layered addition to the Hellraiser mythos.
Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Director: Renny Harlin
Blurb: Let’s talk about Screaming Mad George. Actually, no. Let’s allow his work to speak for itself. Check out Brian Yuzna’s Society, if you haven’t already. All finished? Good. When I heard that the maniac responsible for the creature effects in that movie contributed a “cockroach death scene” to A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, I thought to myself: oh dang, that oughta be good, I bet somebody gets eaten alive by a bunch of cockroaches. No sir. Dead wrong. What actually transpires is far madder than that. It simply must be seen to be believed.
Day 15: BIPOC-directed
Title: Tales from the Hood
Director: Rusty Cundieff
Blurb: I'd be hard-pressed to decide which segment of this horror anthology film I like the most, as I think they each have a certain punchiness and humor that can be hard to sustain in this format. I do particularly love "KKK Comeuppance" because who doesn't want to see a 'former' Klansman turned senator ripped apart by tiny puppets haunted by the souls of murdered slaves? If the current presidency doesn't come to a similarly grisly end, I'll be sorely disappointed.
Title: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Blurb: The coolest movie of the 2010s, bar none. “Death” by White Lies has been my jam ever since I watched it. Jim Jarmusch made a vampire flick of his own around the same time, but A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night plays like a lost film from his heyday; it’s invested with the same lonesome, lovelorn vibe, the same rich vein of eccentricity, and the same mellow, low-key confidence that distinguished Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law. It’s an absolute treasure.
Day 16: Haunted Object
Title: The Mangler
Director: Tobe Hooper
Blurb: I have no words to describe this film. It is truly one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had, and I have to give Tobe Hooper credit for turning the most mundane things into the kind of horror that lodges itself into your brain and sticks around for a while.
Matt G. Title: Whistle and I’ll Come to You
Director: Jonathan Miller
Blurb: The freakiest film in which a ghost is represented as little more than a vaguely human-shaped presence beneath a thin white bedsheet. Once again, Paranormal Activity 3 comes up short (pretty sure that bit is from the third one, but I refuse to double-check). It takes a certain kind of intelligence to accurately translate “quis est iste qui venit,” but it takes a different kind of intelligence to understand precisely what that statement means, and to heed its implicit warning. The climax of this film is among the most pulse-pounding depictions of an encounter with the unknowable in the history of horror cinema.