“Say Goodbye To Classical Reality.”

I have something of a hit-and-miss relationship with John Carpenter’s work. I adore The Thing. I like Big Trouble in Little China. Escape from New York is enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I liked Snake Plissken more than the actual movie itself. Halloween is a classic that I don’t love nearly as much as I’m supposed to, and The Fog, unfortunately, really didn’t much for me. All I remember about Vampires is that it was goddamn dreadful.

Today–as my first reward essay for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon–we’ll be discussing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which, I can tell you right now, is not destined to be one of my favorites. But there are aspects of this movie that I find really intriguing.

Let’s talk about them, shall we?

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Lil Spooky Reviews: The Thing, The Haunting, and The Haunting of Hill House

Well, Halloween’s behind us, so this is the last of these little horror reviews for a while . . . but possibly not the last of these “Watch A Handful of Things And Write About Them In One Go” posts. Obviously, I can’t do this for every movie; some films absolutely require 8,000 words dedicated solely to why they could’ve been so much better. But I must admit, I do like how the brevity of these Baby Reviews allows me to discuss more than 1-2 movies per month. Although, it should also be said that it took me approximately five seconds to break my own 1-2 paragraph rule for said Baby Reviews, so. We’ll see.

The Thing (1982)

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (with a free trial month at Starz)
Spoilers: Nope

One of the difficult things I’ve discovered about reviewing movies is that time often changes your perception of a film. I first watched and reviewed The Thing back in 2010, and I liked it, but there were definitely aspects I thought could be improved: specifically, I thought we needed to see a few more hints about how and when certain characters were assimilated. Over time, though, the parts of this film that stood out in my memory were all the things I liked, and as such, my perception of the movie as a whole grew fonder, even without rewatching it. (Sometimes, the opposite happens, too. Case in point: Birdman.)

Rewatching The Thing this week has only reminded how much I really enjoy this film. I had many of the same reactions I did when I first watched it (gleefully grinning at all the gore, considering Frozen MacReady a viable future Halloween costume, loudly snorting when MacReady insists he has a calmer temperament than Childs, wishing these assholes would stop spending time alone, especially with their backs to their goddamn doors, etc), but the ambiguities about who got infected when bother me considerably less this go around. I had a pretty great time watching this. It is easily my favorite John Carpenter film to date.

Also, the best line of the film remains thus: “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!”

The Haunting

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yeah

This is actually even worse than I remember. But it doesn’t start out so bad. I was particularly surprised to find that Eleanor (Lili Taylor) didn’t annoy me quite as much this time around; perhaps I was thinking more of her character in Six Feet Under, or perhaps no one can be as annoying as Eleanor from the original film. Owen Wilson’s character, on the other hand? Yeah, I was actively rooting for him to get decapitated in that fireplace. I’m also frankly a little disappointed that Liam Neeson’s character survived because, boy, didn’t he become an asshole in this version of the story. I completely forgot how he lied to everyone about the true nature of the experiment, and I’m not sure I ever really bought his change-of-heart near the end.

Still, this movie’s biggest problem is that it’s just not scary. They reproduce some of the novel’s classic spooky moments. A fountain spits out blood because sure. They fill the place up with every creepy cherub statue they can find, but none of that’s the same as giving the movie atmosphere. For a horror movie, it’s surprisingly well-lit (possibly too well-lit) and definitely too full of silly CGI gags that are particularly laughable in 2018. (Not that the practical effects are much better, since I actually saw the string in one scene, and I almost never catch shit like that.) There is no subtlety to this movie, none. And some of the adaptation changes, like, what? Why is Eleanor suddenly the great, great granddaughter of the second murdered wife, or whoever? Did we really need to create a generic “I must save THE CHILDREN” narrative? Whose bright idea was it for the ghosts to invite Eleanor via telephone; didn’t we learn our lesson from House on Haunted Hill? And who the fuck let this line get through: “Well, I’m family, Grandpa, and I’ve come home!”

The Haunting isn’t scary because it’s shot like a shitty action film that just happens to come with CGI ghosts and a wee bit more violence. Ultimately, that’s not terribly surprising because it’s directed by Jan de Bont, who’s better known for movies like Speed, Twister, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. (In fairness, I actually really enjoy two of those movies.) The only positive things I can really about The Haunting are these: one, I like Mrs. Dudley, as I usually do, and I just wanna start ominously muttering “in the night” and “in the dark” to random people, and two, I still really like Theo. She’s the first openly bisexual character I remember seeing in a movie, and while she doesn’t get nearly as much to do once Eleanor really starts investigating the house’s muddled, boring backstory, she’s still the most likable character of the bunch. Also, she lives, which is obviously impressive.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Sorry, but YES

I really enjoyed watching this, but I was also wildly underwhelmed by the ending. So, it’ll be interesting to see how my perception of this show changes over time.

The first episode didn’t grab me right away, probably because I mostly find Adult Steve to be a bit insufferable, but after that I quickly got sucked into the story. The show is atmospheric, creepy, sometimes horribly sad. I was invested in most of the characters and certainly the group of siblings as a whole. (Theo and Luke were my favorites.) I loved how each of the kids were psychically sensitive in some way, although I wish we could’ve seen more of that at times. (Shirley’s dreams, for instance. I am a 1,000 times more interested in Shirley’s dreams than in her one time fling with some dude at a funeral home convention, especially since that whole subplot feels like filler for a thematic ending I didn’t really buy anyway.) I also thought the twist that Abigail was real was fantastic, although I don’t quite like how the reveal itself is handled, which we’ll discuss in a bit.

What’s amusing about the show’s extremely polarizing finale is that, going into it, I worried I’d find the episode too ambiguous and/or bleak for my tastes. Instead, it went the exact opposite direction, with a big tonal shift that I couldn’t quite buy and a moral that landed like an anvil. What’s especially frustrating is that, honestly, a lot of the episode does work for me. For instance, I like that Ghost Nell saves all of her siblings, but I don’t like that between her and Hugh’s sacrifice, the remaining Crain children do absolutely nothing to save themselves. I like the idea of Ghost Nell’s speech about time and love and confetti, but good God, it goes on too long, as does basically every other speech in this episode. I have never seen a show that loves its monologues like The Haunting of Hill House, and while they mostly work for me (despite how much attention they call to themselves), the ones in the finale seem considerably less successful, like, at a certain point, you just want the ghosts to all walk around with signs that say “Moral Here.”

And while I’ve been actively fascinated by the idea of optimistic or uplifting horror for years, I just don’t buy nine episodes of dread and one episode of triumph; the balance isn’t there. Bittersweet, I would’ve gone for. I can’t tell you how much I love the line “this house, it’s full of precious, precious things, and they don’t all belong to you.” At the same time, the show is so busy telling us ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE that I feel like it loses itself in the end. Admittedly, that’s never been one of my favorite morales, but I especially don’t buy it in an episode where Steve goes back to his wife (like his dad once did, oh, the subtle parallels) and gives a non-apology about how ghosts are wishes and marriages can be haunted instead of just saying “Here is why I’m so fucked up, and I’m so sorry I lied to you and hurt you for years instead of dealing with my own shit.” You know how in Daredevil, Season 2, when Karen is supposedly writing the news but she’s actually writing some poorly worded thematic bullshit about how everyone’s a hero? This whole ending feels like that scene to me. I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I buy it.

Finally, a handful of random thoughts:

A) Theo’s not-quite-GF showing up at Nell’s funeral like that’s a totally normal thing to do feels totally invasive, completed weirded me out, and prevented me from shipping those two at all.

B) Theo learning to let her guard down and Theo throwing away the gloves that keep her from psychically intuiting everything she touches are so not the same thing. (Seriously. SO MUCH thematic bullshit.)

C) I get that all the kids are damaged in some way, but I never fully buy the transition from Young Helpful Steve to Adult Asshole Steve, though I do find AAS at his most compelling when you realize why he and his wife split. Like, what he’s done is awful, but also, I totally get his whole “we’re sick in the head and sick in the blood” damage.

D) Mek and I were pretty sure Nell was the Bent Neck Lady well before they revealed it, but her death scene was still remarkably haunting and tragic.

E) Mek and I realized who Abigail was once she died in Episode 9, but while a Big Reveal moment in Episode 10 is fine, it feels misplaced (and oddly rushed) near the end of Episode 10, awkwardly shoved between Adult Asshole Steve having seen Something and Hugh’s Big Reveal that he’s already dead.

F) Every ghost story should include Mr. Homn. That is all. (ETA: Well, every ghost story should include Mr. Homn but apparently doesn’t. Research mix-up, alas.)

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.

“There’s Something in the Fog!”

A couple of days ago, I realized, It’s going to be February next week, and I haven’t watched a single horror film yet. Shame on you, Carlie. Shame!

After feeling shameful for a proper period of time, I looked on my Netflix to see what was available. There were about seven films to pick from, but considering the heavy fog that’d infiltrated the city I live in . . . well, there was really only one proper course of action, obviously.

It’s better than the remake. But really, almost anything would have been.

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“I Heard You Were Dead.”

The thing you have to know about me is, I’ve seen Overboard about 876 times. It’s one of my mother’s favorite movies, and I grew up with it the way other kids might have grown up watching E.T. or The Dark Crystal. I know every single word of that movie. I could perform my own one-woman Overboard show.

So, when someone mentions Kurt Russell, my mind automatically goes to an Elk Snout Mountain Man working on a closet and sweating all over the place.

Other people, quite understandably, think of this guy instead:

Snake Plissken . . . so badass he doesn’t need depth perception.

I watched Escape From New York for the first time as part of my ongoing sci fi movie effort, and I have to say . . . I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. Parts of it were pretty awesome. I was definitely into some of the movie. But I had issues with the film as well.

It occurs to me that I might just be a picky bastard.

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