31 Day Movie Challenge: Week 4
Feel free to join in on Facebook and Twitter using the #31DayFilmChallenge hashtag. Check out our week one selections here, week two here, and week three here. Thanks for joining us on this spooky journey - let's do it again next year!
Day 24: Psychological Thriller
Title: Blue Velvet
Director: David Lynch
Blurb: Even though I picked these categories, I still had to mutter to myself "psychological thriller? what genius thought THAT up" when I reached this day of the challenge. As a genre, sub-genre, or whatever the hell you'd even call it, "psychological thriller" to me has always read as a way to differentiate horror cinema from horror flicks for people who are snobby enough to care about such distinctions. Psychological thrillers aren't horror because they eLevAte tHe GeNRe, dahling. Blugh. That said, the internet told me that Blue Velvet is a thriller and I'm glad I took their word for because what. a. ride.
Director: John Parker
Blurb: This is the movie they’re watching in The Blob — one of my all time favorite cinematic matryoshka dolls. But Dementia is more than the answer to a trivia question, more than a movie within a movie. It’s a compelling piece in its own right, every bit as hypnotic as it is goofy. Much like Carnival of Souls or Repulsion, it’s a mood piece with a haunted and psychologically fractured woman at its center. Truth be told, I think I enjoy it even more than The Blob. They’d make a terrific double feature.
Day 25: Old Favorite
Title: The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Blurb: Yeah, yeah, I know. This is the most basic and predictable favorite horror film a person could pick, but I don't care. The Shining was one of my very first forays into horror novels, and although the film is very different I've always enjoyed my stays at the Overlook. Also, it inspired some of the best parody episodes in TV history (I'm thinking of Bob's Burgers "Crawl Space" and South Park's "A Nightmare on FaceTime").
Title: The Tingler
Director: William Castle
Blurb: If I had access to a time machine, I wouldn’t listen to the Gettysburg Address, or catch the debut performance of Hamlet in the Globe Theatre, or swing by any of the lost wonders of the ancient world. I’d go to a movie theater in 1959, and purchase a ticket to The Tingler. Joy buzzers stashed under the seat cushions, and actors planted in the audience, and screams filling the air. Horror schlockmeisters of this era always insisted they weren't liable, if someone died of fright while viewing their films. If I died while watching The Tingler, I’d die happy.
Day 26: New-to-You
Title: Fright Night
Director: Tom Holland
Blurb: My adoration of Roddy McDowall has already been established (see my review of The Legend of Hell House in week 2), and he is perfectly cast as Peter Vincent, an aging and failing horror TV host who gets embroiled in real-life spooky shenanigans. That said, I hate virtually every other character, including the protagonist Charley (twerp) and his friend "Evil" (annoying twerp). And I know the eighties were a different time, but I literally had to pause the film and marvel at Charley's girlfriend, who is wearing elasticized pants, a belt, AND suspenders all at the same time. My head canon is that Amy was a huge-ass nerd and got pantsed A LOT at school, so took extraordinary precaution against further pranking. Oh yeah, there are also vampires (but the real show here is the awful fashion, lets be honest).
Title: The Haunting
Director: Jan de Bont
Blurb: Real talk? This deadline snuck up on me (they all do), and as of this writing I’m less than an hour into this thing. Owen Wilson only just showed up. The cast is stacked, and the script is ever-so-slightly brainier and more respectable than the film’s reputation would suggest, but the overall product would feel like a watered down also-ran even if you’d never read Shirley Jackson’s novel or seen Robert Wise’s film. Bruce Dern plays a creepy groundskeeper, I ain’t complaining about that. Really hoping he comes back. Beginning to fear it was only a cameo. As of yet, that’s the only thing that’s frightened me.
Day 27: Musical
Title: Repo! The Genetic Opera
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Blurb: I was trying, and failing, to describe this film to my partner, who walked in as I was watching the last ten minutes and was - quite understandably - confused and perturbed at what he saw. Various explanations included: the Rocky Body Horror Picture Show. Like if a Hot Topic threw up on a dead body. What would happen if The Crow and Evanescence had a really dumb baby. And so on. Despite my mocking, though, I didn't exactly hate it. Some (not enough) of the songs are real bangers, and the premise is actually quite twisted and fun. It's the sort of movie I would have positively loved in high school, but two or three years later be absolutely ashamed to admit I ever enjoyed it.
Title: Little Shop of Horrors
Director: Frank Oz
Blurb: Howard Ashman was a genius, and “Skid Row” is one of the all time great opening numbers. I used to blast it into my eardrums while trudging to and from work. “All my life I’ve always been poor / I keep asking God what I’m for / And he tells me: gee, I’m not sure / Sweep that floor, kid.” Carnivorous plants from outer space might be make believe, but opening shifts at Starbucks aren’t. To the extent that Little Shop of Horrors is a horror film, that’s the source of its horrors — the soil they’re rooted in, if you like.
Day 28: Black & White
Title: Eyes Without a Face
Director: Georges Franju
Blurb: Watching this back to back with Repo! was certainly a choice. Tonally, they couldn't be more different, but there is only so much surgery gore and face-swapping (the non-Nic Cage/Travolta kind) that one can take in a 24 hour period. That said, this film is slow, quiet, desperate, and brilliant. The triad of maniacal father, devoted servant, and suffering daughter is explored in painful detail here. The film's ending is one of my all-time favorites. Who knew that a well-deserved mauling could be so poetic?
Title: I Walked with a Zombie
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Blurb: There’s a peripheral character in this movie played by a calypso singer named Sir Lancelot. I like a lot of things about I Walked with a Zombie — the shadowy cinematography, the overall voodoo ambiance, the blank stare and statuesque stillness of a zombie named Carrefour — but I like Sir Lancelot best of all. He’s a singing exposition machine, and I wish he had a walk-on part in every film ever made. Movie buffs sit through clunky, stultifying expository scenes as a matter of course. Calypso music is the missing ingredient. “Show, don’t tell” is an outmoded axiom. Sing, don’t show.
Day 29: Horror Comedy
Title: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Director: Eli Craig
Blurb: I'll fully admit I'm the sort of horror fan who watches the Saw and Final Destination movies just to see the ridiculous Rube Goldberg deaths, even though I always feel slightly unclean in enjoying them. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil offers the same sort of catharsis, but feels much more benign because in this case the deaths actually ARE accidental (and funny on purpose). I also appreciate the film's (platitudinous, but still sweet) ruminations on prejudice and classism. As a legit country kid who grew up, like Tucker and Dale, catching frogs down at the crick and riding in the cab of the tractor with my grandpa, I know the stereotypes well. If you added a dash of metalhead in, Tucker and Dale would look an awful lot like my brother and his best friend. And it is refreshing to see those characters portrayed as smart, kind, and gentle - especially in a genre where hicks are almost always cannibalistic inbred freaks.
Title: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Director: Robert Fuest
Blurb: Must be seen to be believed. I don’t ask people about their astrological sign, I ask them, “what’s your favorite murder set piece in Phibes?” Gotta be the catapulted unicorn statue impalement, for yours truly.
Day 30: Scary Sci-Fi
Title: Under the Skin
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Blurb: Gonna be honest for a minute and admit that watching this is still on my to-do list (and has been for literally years now). It is one of those films that seems really popular in academic circles, so I always feel slightly out of touch when I say "oh yeah, I heard that was really good" and slowly back away into a bush to avoid further questions. It's already in the queue for tonight (although I'm waiting until after dinner, as I've heard it gets quite...gory).
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Blurb: Terrifying from start to finish, in spite of its farfetched premise. If you can take a leap of faith and buy into the idea of a global pandemic bringing modern civilization to its knees, this one’ll scare the hell out of you. Just remember, like the old grindhouse horror trailers always said: “it’s only a movie... only a movie... only a movie...”
Day 31: Adaptation
Title: Color Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley
Blurb: There is probably too much Lovecraft baggage for me to really get into this film specifically as an adaptation (and it has been an awfully long time since I've read "The Colour Out of Space" anyhow), but I certainly enjoyed it as a movie in its own right. Nicolas Cage is pretty restrained at the start of the film, but gets more Cagey/cagey as the film progresses. In addition to Cage (who makes just about anything worth watching, IMO), the film features strong performances for the rest of the family, the hydrologist surveying their land, and even Tommy Chong as an off-the-grid squatter who knows what's going down before anyone else. One of the problems in adapting Lovecraft is that so much of his storytelling relies on "horrors beyond imagination" and "shit so spooky I can't even describe it" (I'm paraphrasing here), which is where I think this movie actually shines; through static, garbled audio, strange flashes of light, and iridescence the film hints at what lies just beyond the spectrum of sensibility.
Title: The Masque of the Red Death
Director: Roger Corman
Blurb: Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn inexorably towards the filmography of Vincent Price. He’s made a good showing this month — he would have cast an even longer shadow over my selections, if I hadn’t exercised a great deal of self-control. Masque of the Red Death is my favorite of the AIP Poe pictures. The first time I watched it, I thought to myself, “dang, that shade of red reminds me of Don’t Look Now.” When the credits rolled, and I saw that the DP’s name was Nicolas Roeg, my movie snob ESP was vindicated. Spooky, right?