“A Pack of Vultures At the Feast: Knives Out, Beaks Bloody.”

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, a stressful mix of good food, family dysfunction, and bullshit historical narratives. (Football and parades, too, if that’s your jam. FWIW, today also happens to be my birthday, and as you read this, I may very well be eating birthday cake instead of pumpkin pie. The sacrilege of it all.) Now when it comes to holiday movies, Thanksgiving obviously isn’t big business, not like Christmas. Still, there are a few films that might work well for annual viewings. You’re Next. Addams Family Values. Ready or Not, maybe. And . . . okay, that might be all I got.

. . . or all I had, anyway. Until now.

Comrades, collaborators, potential enemies: may I present to you Knives Out.

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“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

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Lil Spooky Reviews: The Haunting, Thir13en Ghosts, Most Likely to Die, and Terror Train

The Haunting (1963)

First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah

In our continuing mission to watch classic horror movies from the 60’s (and then the shlocky remakes that came 30-40 years later), Mek and I rented The Haunting, which was . . . interesting. Visually, I loved it. The use of black and white, the strange angles, the set design, the practical effects–it’s all technically brilliant and eerie as shit. I especially loved the weird bending door, the loud knocking sounds, and basically every shot that takes place at the spiral staircase.

That all being said, the script could use some work. Nobody’s reactions make sense scene to scene, least of all Eleanor’s, who I realize is annoying in every iteration of this story, but I’m convinced doesn’t have to be quite this bad. Her constant VO’s are generally unnecessary and her shrieky meltdowns are extremely grating. The whole story ends up feeling a bit incoherent, but not, like, in a deliberate way? All in all, I can’t help but feel that the story might be told more effectively if you just muted it and watched with some creepy, atmospheric music playing in the background. You know, like The Wizard of Oz set to Pink Floyd. Make this movie one long, creepy music video.

Also Luke (Russ Tamblyn) is okay, I guess, but the second he announced he wanted to rip up the library and turn it into the nightclub, I was like, “Nope. You need to die now.”

Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix (DVD)
Spoilers: ABSOLUTELY

Oh, man. This might be it. This might be the pinnacle of the Mid 90’s-Mid 2000’s Bad Horror Nostalgia Watch. It is such a product of its time, I mean, that goddamn title alone. Fuck you, Se7en, this is all YOUR fault. And the creepy mansion made up of weird glass rooms is far more reminiscent of Cube than it is of the original 13 Ghosts. The glass walls even slice poor JR Bourne* in half (and let him fall apart very, very slowly), which was definitely The Kill to Do during that time period (Cube, Resident Evil, Slither, etc.) Surprisingly, the soundtrack is not as in-your-face as I expected, with the notable exception of “Excess,” a decent enough song which has absolutely no business being in this movie. (“Excess” was also used in 2002’s Queen of the Damned, a terrible horror film notable for its fun but extremely intrusive soundtrack. Then again, I did own said soundtrack when I was 16, so. Can’t say it didn’t work to sell shit.)

The remake also decided to make some other, ah, interesting changes. They killed off the wife, for instance, so that Tragic Dead Wife could be one of the ghosts. (It’s about as boring as you’d expect.) There are also multiple new characters or at least very loosely interpreted ones. Matthew Lillard is woefully miscast as an anxious psychic on a quasi-redemptive arc. (Some of his lines are genuinely funny, but overall his performance is cartoonish and overacted.) Embeth Davitz plays a passionate crusader for ghost rights who suddenly transforms into this vaguely new-age-y badass–with a trademark Badass Black Leather Vest, natch–who’s then revealed to be the Big Bad’s accomplice and is thus quickly smushed to death by said Big Bad. (It’s all very silly, but it’s also Miss Honey in a Badass Black Leather Vest, so. I’m okay with it.) And then we have housekeeper Maggie (Rah Digga), AKA Sassy Black Female, who’s mostly around for comic relief but turns out to be surprisingly interesting because a) SHE LIVES and b) she’s really the hero of the story, like, the movie tries to pretend it’s Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) and his whole big, dramatic, death-defying leap towards his kids, but there’s actually no reason to make that leap, and it’s Maggie who turns off the Big Ghost Machine and saves the day, so. Yeah. Fuck you, Arthur.

This isn’t a good movie, but I did have a pretty fun time watching it. What’s more, I actually do think there’s some workable stuff in here. I find it hilarious that I can imagine an updated remake of the original 13 Ghosts and also a remake of this Thir13en Ghosts, but those remakes would be two wildly different films.

*No one really feels sorry for JR Bourne’s character, mind you, because he’s playing the quintessential slimy lawyer doomed to die badly. Still, my adoration of him on Teen Wolf means I’m happy to find him whenever I can.

Most Likely to Die

First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes

This year’s Splatterfest Movie was Most Likely to Die, a truly awful horror film about a group of old friends getting together the night before their 10-year high school reunion. One by one, they’re killed off by a dude wearing–I shit you not–a graduation cap and gown with the word DIE written on his mask. He also likes to play “Pomp and Circumstance” before the slaughter and poses his victims in manners befitting their “Most Likely To” superlatives. Obviously, the guy “Most Likely to Eat Anything” didn’t make out so hot.

Basically everything about this movie is awful. Both distance and time are relative concepts here, ruled not by any known laws of nature but Laws of What the Script Demands. The budget, presumably, was primarily spent on getting Jake Busey to drop by and be creepy for five minutes. Valiantly, the script does attempt to build character by giving our protagonists opportunities to discuss their lives and regrets; unfortunately, they keep doing this at times when it makes absolutely NO SENSE. Like, I know when I find a murdered girl–and she’s been super murdered, people, like she’s posed with electrical lights and everything–my instinct is to a) stick around instead of getting help because it “feels wrong to leave her here,” b) turn off the generator for decency’s sake, both fucking with the crime scene and, you know, simultaneously shutting off the main house’s power, and c) take this time to have a heart-to-heart about poor life choices with an old friend, as if a very dead girl isn’t five feet away and, oh yeah, a murderer isn’t running loose. Our heroine (Heather from Glee) is particularly insufferable; she’s a jaded and failed professional poker player who “proves” that her ex-boyfriend is a selfish, greedy bastard by pointing out how he kept raising the bet during a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em, even though the pot was already large and he knew he had an unbeatable hand. You know, THE WAY YOU FUCKING PLAY THE GAME, BY TRYING TO WIN ALL THE MONEY. Every poker metaphor in this movie physically hurt me.

The best thing I can say about Most Likely to Die is that, kinda shockingly, the gay comic relief (Perez Hilton) who actually freaks out about dead bodies– you know, like you might–lives. (The lesbian still dies, though. Still, I have to admit, I was pretty surprised I actually found a horror movie with two separate queer characters.) Oh, and Angsty Ray has a surprising and hilarious moment of awesome. Sadly, you have to wait through the whole movie to see it. I wouldn’t advise such an endeavor.

Terror Train

First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix (DVD)
Spoilers: Yes, basically all of them

After the friends went home, Mek and I watched Terror Train, an 80’s horror film starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ellis from Die Hard, and, uh, Sexy David Copperfield? There are aspects of the movie I like; Sexy David Copperfield definitely isn’t one of them. (Seriously, between his awful late 70’s hair and the supposedly seductive dance moves, Copperfield might be the scariest thing in this movie.) I’m definitely a sucker for people getting killed off one-by-one on a train, though. I genuinely enjoy how the killer keeps adopting the costumes of his last victims, like, sure, that seems unnecessarily time-consuming but it’s also just fun, right? And while it’s very short-lived, I enjoyed it when Alana (Curtis) and Doc (Hart Bochner, AKA Ellis) are the last people standing from the original prank, mostly because they absolutely hate one another and there’s absolutely no UST between them. It’s an interesting dynamic that I definitely would’ve enjoyed seeing more of.

Still, this movie’s got problems. While I actually like that the Big Bad is the Magician’s Assistant, not the Magician, I don’t like that Kenny (our prank victim) is secretly dressed in drag as said assistant the whole time. It’d be different if he just killed the assistant sometime during the movie and dressed up as her like everyone else; this, unfortunately, feels much more transphobic. Also, the movie takes too long to really get going, the absence of a radio is preposterously contrived, the acting overall leaves something to be desired, and certain character reactions make no sense at all, say, the conductor who immediately assumes the murder was done by “some kid messed up on dope,” like, WHAT? Also, Doc successfully uses a gynecology rotation pickup line on some girl, which is easily the creepiest and least believable thing in the whole movie. It’s even creepier than David Copperfield’s dance moves, and that’s saying something.

Between 1978 and 1980, Jamie Lee Curtis was in four horror movies: Halloween, The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train. TT is the only one that hasn’t been remade yet, and–despite the terrible remakes of all those other films–is probably the one most begging for an update. Hollywood, get on that.

Lil Spooky Reviews: Halloween, House on Haunted Hill, and MORE House on Haunted Hill

Well, we’ve officially hit October and Halloween season, i.e., the best season of the year. I’m woefully behind on my horror movie watching, and while I’d love to write my typical three-to-seven thousand word essays on every film I see, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it. I do hope to have quite the epic-sized essay here next week (assuming I can finish it up before going on vacation), but for today, I’m just grouping a few mini-reviews together in one post. Like, this is even shorter than the handful of Baby Reviews I’ve written in the past; we’re talking 1-2 paragraphs tops. They’re practically goddamn embryonic. Hopefully, though, this will allow me to (briefly) discuss several scary movies over the course of this most joyous month.

Therefore, without further ado . . .

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, the B&W version (I have feelings about colorized versions of old movies)
Spoilers: Only mild ones

I enjoyed checking this out, although I feel like aspects of the twist ending are a bit of a letdown. Not so much the twist itself, actually; that’s set up pretty well, for the most part. Still, it leaves certain things unexplained, things that–to me–feel like untapped potential or annoying loose ends rather than interesting ambiguities. Certain characters are dropped for half the movie; other characters I’d happily see dropped out of a window. (Particularly the heroine. Sadly, it doesn’t happen.)

OTOH, I adore both Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart, who have a relationship best described as “Nick and Nora, if they wanted to murder one another.” They kind of make the whole movie for me. And the setup is a lot of fun: the first five minutes or so are pretty hysterical, and I genuinely enjoy how the movie introduces each guest one-by-one. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for any dinner party which comes with a side of MURDER. (Also, I’m simply incapable of watching Vincent Price in anything and not thinking of him as Sinister Disney. And yes, that is my latest band name, thank you for asking.)

Halloween (1978)

First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah

I mean, the movie’s cinematic influence clearly cannot be denied, and I really do love aspects of this film. Still, Halloween’s probably never going to be one of my personal favorites. I like Jamie Lee Curtis well enough. The whole last act is pretty great, up to and including the last two lines. Seriously, that ending? Pretty masterful. And, of course, I love the score; hell, I own two different versions of the damn theme song . . . although I’ve gotta admit, on the re-watch, I actually felt like John Carpenter used the music too much too early. For me, it made those scenes feel repetitive, rather than tense.

Sadly, I have never in my life been able to take Dr. Loomis seriously. Donald Pleasance keeps going on about “the EVIL,” and even full-well knowing he’s right, I can’t help but watch this movie and think, “Shit, man, maybe you just suck at your job.” I hesitate to say I want more backstory–because Good Christ, did I not enjoy Rob Zombie’s attempt at that in 2007–but there’s a part of me that wishes we saw a glimpse of why Loomis is so certain his patient is darkness personified. Also: the pacing is a bit on the slow side, and I kind of wish Laurie’s friends weren’t awful. Like, even in slashers, I’m apparently all about girls having positive friendships with other girls. Mind you, none of those are fatal flaws; this isn’t an argument that Halloween is a bad movie and everyone who likes it has been brainwashed by the system. It just doesn’t do much for me on a personal level.

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, if you watch the video.

Well, after watching the original film, Mekaela and I obviously decided to nostalgia-watch the awful 90’s remake, too. I hadn’t seen it since I was, oh, 13 or 14, and it’s about as bad as I remember. The movie has several problems (thin characters, an annoying female lead, ridiculous special effects, a convoluted plot, not knowing when to stick to or deviate from the source material, etc.), but the sole thing that disappoints me the most is how Stephen and Evelyn’s relationship is handled. Gone is the almost charming banter between our homicidal Nick and Nora; now they’re just two awful people who are terrible to everyone 140% of the time. They feel like caricatures. Their barbs have no wit, and between the script, the performances, and some of the “intense” angles, the whole thing just feels like it’s trying way too hard. It’s too bad, too, because my God, Geoffrey Rush is just spot-on casting for Vincent Price.

On the plus side, Chris Kattan is a lot of fun as Pritchett; he’s actually a big improvement to his counterpart in the original film. The movie maintains a breezy pace and stars a ridiculous amount of people: besides the aforementioned Rush and Kattan, there’s also Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Peter Gallagher, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras– not to mention, BTVS fans can enjoy cameos by James Marsters and Max Perlich, while mid-90’s pop rock fans can enjoy a cameo by Lisa Loeb. (I’d say horror fans can enjoy a cameo by Jeffrey Combs, but his screen time is so limited it’s hard to appreciate it; you simply don’t cast Jeffrey Combs as a psychopathic doctor ghost and then do this little with him.) And if you, like me, were the right age to enjoy 90’s schlocky gore fests, House on Haunted Hill could be the bad horror movie you need right now, particularly to get your troubled mind off all the actual horror in the current world.