Triple Spooky Scoop Review: A Tale of Two Sisters, Black Christmas, and Black Christmas

A Tale of Two Sisters

Year: 2003
Director: Kim Ji Woon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

I know. I’m probably the last horror fan alive who hasn’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters–but no longer! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here (I’m only vaguely familiar with the folktale that inspired it), but I enjoyed this one–though do I suspect I might like it better on a second viewing, to better appreciate all the clues carefully being laid out. Still, I caught enough this time around to figure out the major plot twists. How Soo-yeon isn’t real, considering that her father never looks at her. How Eun-joo also isn’t real, considering she can see Soo-yeon. Not to mention, Moo-hyeon is weirdly cold and awkward with his supposed wife; also, it’s just incredibly rare for two characters to simultaneously suffer from “am I going mad” unreliable narrator syndrome, so the whole split personality angle was really the only explanation that made sense.

I definitely didn’t guess the truth about that wardrobe, though. Obviously, something terrible had happened, but I had no clue on the actual details. Poor Soo-yeon! Poor Soo-mi! The real Eun-joo is obviously The Worst, but also Moo-hyeon? Holy shit, what an asshole. For one, like, he kept the wardrobe; he even tells Soo-mi not to talk about it, all, “Yes, I decided to keep this giant piece of furniture which housed your mother’s dead body and also crushed your sister to death, but stop bringing it up, like, don’t be weird about it.” Also, once it’s clear that your daughter is still very unwell and needs inpatient psychiatric care, you absolutely cannot keep leaving her alone like this, WTF. And just this dude’s whole attitude, too, like, I’m sure he’s exhausted and grieving and all that, but Moo-hyeon talks to Soo-mi like she’s just having tantrums; he might as well say, “Stop being crazy; I’m tired of your dissociative identity disorder.” Like–

I do think that while A Tale of Two Sisters is well constructed, I might’ve found it more mind-blowing if I’d watched the film back when it premiered in 2003. That was almost 20 years ago (she says, sobbing), and I’ve seen variations on this twist a lot now. Still, nothing really comes off as cheat to me. The only thing that does feel off is the dinner scene where Eun-joo’s sister-in-law has a coughing fit that abruptly becomes a very violent seizure. I know why it happens, like, for Writer Reasons, but I wasn’t totally clear about the in-story reasons. Does she have a medical condition? Is this some kind of emotional trauma response? Did the ghosts poison her soup? It doesn’t seem like she sees the ghost until she’s already seizing, but I will fully admit to ignorance here.

After watching A Tale of Two Sisters, our next film was John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I’m not going to review because I’ve already done so twice now. (Most recently here.) I’m mostly mentioning it because with The Thing, we have a winner for Horror Bingo, and it’s not Mekaela or me, but my good buddy, Marisa! Congrats, Marisa!!!

Mekaela and I have a gentlewomen’s agreement to keep playing until one of us gets a Bingo, though. And thus, we continue with . . .

Black Christmas

Year: 2019
Director: Sophia Takal
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yes, but mostly just in the third paragraph
Grade: Strawberry

This is . . . okay. It’s certainly better than the 2006 remake, anyway, although the bar on that is so low it’s near sunk into the ground. The thing about this Black Christmas is that it very much wants to be a Feminist Movie, and while I think it does have successful moments, the overall story is kinda sloppy and relies so heavily on a superficial idea of Girl Power™ that it often comes across as pandering rather than empowering.

Things I do enjoy: most of the characters, especially some of the minor roles. I was particularly fond of Fran, Jesse, and Kris. (Though awesome as Kris is, she does have a few moments where I’m like, ah, no–and the film doesn’t address it as fully as I’d like.) Some of the humor is great. I bust up at this line: “If you make me late for the train, I swear I’m never feeding you again. Ask my childhood hamster. He’s super dead.” Also, I really enjoyed the whole sexy Christmas number; it’s a hilarious “fuck you” song, yes, but also A) a great moment for Riley’s character arc, and B) just an awesome scene where the girls stick up for each other. There are some nice nods and reversals to the original film, too. And hey, there’s a DivaCup in this movie! Always nice when menstruation is something that’s actually acknowledged in Hollywood.

Still, a lot of the dialogue feels obvious and cheesy. It’s a problem throughout the film, but gets especially painful in the third act. I just . . . I don’t buy it, is the thing. (And the part where the white girl has to explain to her Black friend why the police aren’t trustworthy, like, yikes? Maybe not?) The script reads like someone had a long list of feminist catchphrases to get through in a very short amount of time. The plot, too, doesn’t quite work for me, partially because Riley jumps to “we’re obviously dealing with evil frat boy magic” way too fast for my liking, but also because for a story that heavily criticizes misogyny, it kinda lets men off the hook. Brainwashing pledges into mindless killers is a lot less horrific than young men actively choosing to kill outspoken women. Landon, too, mostly feels like he’s here to prove Not All Men, though I like Caleb Eberhardt’s performance; the character himself just feels distracting. Credit where credit’s due, though: I very much enjoyed Cary Elwes, as he always seems to be having so much fun, whether he’s playing a Ridiculously Smarmy Jackass (this, Stranger Things, etc.) or a Ridiculously Suave Motherfucker (The Princess Bride, Psych, etc.)

This Black Christmas works best, I think, as something meant to  introduce young girls to horror, like, part of a 101 starter pack: something that’s modern and broadly relatable and none  too gory or frightening; the PG-13 rating helps with that, though IMO, the downside to obscured shots and fade-to-black kills is that it doesn’t allow the Girls Who Won’t Survive any time to fight back, which I think is unfortunate. Still, if the target demographic is, IDK, 11-15-year-olds interested in giving slashers a go? I honestly think that would raise my estimation of the movie as a whole. (Though I’d still do at least one more editing pass. Probably two. This could’ve been better, damn it.)

Black Christmas

Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

So, yeah. This is one of my absolute favorite horror movies, one I’ve already analyzed in considerable detail in this Genderbent Wednesday essay. I don’t know that I have many new thoughts on it now: I still think Jess is a very important and relevant Final Girl, though I’ll admit I don’t always buy Olivia Hussey’s line deliveries. Still, I love that she’s a goal-oriented protagonist who’s made a decision to have an abortion, never seems particularly upset about it, and refuses to change her plans to appease her worthless ass of a boyfriend. It’s also worth noting that the women are largely supportive of each other in this film, too, and there’s nary an exploitative tit shot in sight. Barb has a few lines I’d definitely like to cut, but overall? I’ll go to my grave arguing that Black Christmas is a feminist horror film, especially for 1970-fucking-4.

It’s also easily creepier than either of its remakes, like, Black Christmas has atmosphere, damn it. Those phone calls are deeply concerning, and Dead Claire in her rocking chair is iconic as hell. There are things I’d like to change, of course: at one point, the girls mention they haven’t locked the doors or windows, and I’m like WHAT? No, nope, that is absolutely ridiculous this late into the movie. Also, while I love so much about the film’s ending (Jess killing Peter, never learning the real killer’s identity, the last phone call ringing us into the credits, etc.), it remains completely unacceptable to me that the cops leave an unconscious Jess alone in a House of Dead Bodies with only one officer to guard her, like, I get it, she’s sedated and they think the threat is over. I do not care; this is nonsense. I need much better justifications than the ones the script provides.

Still, this is always gonna be a favorite. Peter is the absolute worst, and I enjoy rooting for his impending demise. Phyl is cool, and I mourn her offscreen death. Barb is interesting, and I could probably write a whole essay on her character alone. (Did you know that Barb is A) not a nerd, and B) asthmatic? Did you even realize that was something that could happen in Hollywood?) I enjoy John Saxon as Lt. Ken Fuller and Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac. Laughing Detective is one of my favorite bit parts of all time. I love that there’s such a strong case against Peter, that it 100% makes sense for both Fuller and Jess to assume he’s the murderer. Black Christmas is just an incredibly well-constructed horror film that is disturbing, entertaining, and still surprisingly relevant almost 50 years after its release. Bob Clark might be best known for his other holiday movie, A Christmas Story, but Black Christmas remains my favorite of his work.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Dream Home, Hausu, and Prevenge

Dream Home

Year: 2010
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Strawberry

This is definitely not one of my favorites. It fails for me on multiple levels: as a slasher, yes, but also as a social commentary. I’m a bit wary of criticizing the latter, as this film was made in Hong Kong and I, as an American, could easily be missing important context here. The thing is, the issues on the table (a devastating housing crisis, exorbitant health care costs, etc.) are also incredibly relevant in the US, and still . . . I didn’t really feel like this film had anything to say.

Mostly, I found Dream Home boring. The violence is certainly gory, but each death scene goes on for at least 20 seconds too long, which results in less tension, not more. The pace is rather slow. I like idea of the flashbacks, but not the execution of them; they provided very little in the way of emotion, clarity, or even a rising sense of “holy shit, this lady has been wronged, and there will be BLOOD TO PAY.” (Though, to be fair, my favorite scene in the film actually is a flashback: our heroine and her childhood friend talking on a tin can phone, hilariously using the word “asshole” in place of “over,” as all children should.) As a protagonist, Sheung feels a little flat. Her brother is so incidental to the story that I’m not even sure why they bothered including him. Also, I feel bad for the prostitutes. Once again, can we please leave the poor sex workers alone?

Here’s a whole thing: at the beginning of this film, we’re told that Dream Home is based on a true story. This is always a suspicious statement, especially coming from a horror movie, so I looked it up afterwards and found an interview where the director was asked if this was true or not. His answer? “It’s the truth that many people would like to buy a flat in Hong Kong. But the plot and killing scenes are fictitious.”

This fucking guy.

Hausu

Year: 1977
Director: Obayashi Nobuhiko
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

Okay. I kind of loved this batshit movie. I know I said psychedelic horror wasn’t my thing, but apparently, there are exceptions! (This list, for instance, includes Hausu and Suspiria, both of which I enjoyed. Of course, it also includes Mandy and Jacob’s Ladder, the latter of which is especially on my Never Fucking Again list.)

Hausu was born to be a cult classic. It is intentionally absurd, and much of that absurdity works for me; I laughed at, oh, so very much. The wildly obvious painted backdrops. Ryoko, the ridiculously angelic, who seems to walk in slow motion and probably has her very own personal wind machine. Auntie, whenever she looks directly at the camera or dances with the skeleton or, really, does much of anything; Auntie is just fantastic. The piano that eats Melody. Mac’s decapitated head biting Fantasy in the butt; yup, that’s a thing that happened, folks. And of course, all of the girls names; I am absolutely obsessed with a group of friends with names like Gorgeous, Melody, Fantasy, Sweet, Prof, Mac, and Kung Fu. (Kung Fu is the absolute best, BTW, and I mourned deeply when she died, though even dying did not stop her dismembered legs from managing to kill Blanche, the evil cat, because KUNG FU IS THE BEST.)

But it’s not just the surreal humor I enjoy; some of the actual horror works for me, too. I love the whole look of the house. Sweet’s body in the grandfather clock? Awesome. In fact, despite how silly it sounds–how silly it is, really–I genuinely enjoyed the scene where the mattresses attack Sweet, too. Also, flooding a room in cat’s blood, leaving two girls adrift on, what, a coffee table? It’s so weird but also so visually interesting; there’s so much to look at in this movie. Like Possessed Gorgeous in her wedding dress; oh, I love it; I love it so much. Let me tell you, folks: I am all about the obscure group cosplay here. And it really surprised me, too, how quickly Gorgeous gets taken out. She dies, for all intents and purposes, only 48 minutes into this movie.

There are some elements I don’t love. Like, it’s not that I need an explanation for why Mr. Togo turns into a bunch of bananas, exactly; mostly, I just don’t want Mr. Togo in this movie at all. (That goes double for the Watermelon Farmer.) Mac frustrates me, too, of course, considering her one and only personality trait is how much she likes to eat food; it’s an additional level of insult that “the fat friend” is maybe a size larger than everyone else. There are also a few random bits of nudity that are mostly just like, why?

But otherwise, yeah, I had a pretty great time watching this. Final notes: A) Auntie’s fiancé who never came back from the war is a damn good looking man, B) Gorgeous’s father is yet another dude who needs to seriously work on the whole “guess who’s getting a stepmother” talk, C) Gorgeous apparently inherited her father’s audacity when she basically wrote a letter that said “Auntie, I’ve met you exactly once in my life, so do you mind if I bring six of my friends over for a slumber party at your place?” and D) Apparently, the director’s ten-year-old daughter came up with the ideas for many of this film’s scares, which is why little girls should never be underestimated.

Prevenge

Year: 2016
Director: Alice Lowe
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Vanilla

This one’s okay, but I didn’t quite love it, and I’m still not entirely sure why. On the upside: it’s always exciting to see a female horror director, and it’s awesome that Lowe was eight months pregnant while shooting and starring in this film. Pregnant women are usually the victims in scary movies, likely to give birth to some eldritch horror that will inevitably kill their hosts upon delivery; it’s as interesting as it is rare to see a pregnant woman as a serial killer. I laughed hard at several moments, particularly in one scene where Ruth and her unborn baby are conversing. Fetus strongly reminded me of the Red Queen from Resident Evil, so that was an additional layer of hilarity, and holy shit, Ruth’s Halloween costume at the end of the film (seen above) is phenomenal. The lady horror cosplay energy is so strong this month!

Still. There’s something uncomfortable about many of the film’s scenes, especially in the first third of the movie. It’s intentional, I think, an awkward sense of humor, but it also made me feel quite awkward, myself? Like, not in a good way. Also, I was a little bored, because these scenes dragged quite a bit; I think it took me a solid half hour to get invested in the movie proper. The midwife mostly works for me, but occasionally throws me out, too–not to mention, dear God, you never assume there’s a partner involved; like, come on, lady, this is basic ass shit. And overall, I felt a bit distant from the story. Prevenge isn’t a bad movie by any means–it’s funny, and there’s one startling moment, in particular, that I think is quite excellent–but I just never really connected to it, myself.

Fair warning: if you decide to try this one out and vomit scenes bother you, well. I feel compelled to mention that there is one specific moment that garnered simultaneous UGHS from Mek and me; it very well may have been the most horrified either of us have been all month.

Triple Scoop Review: Doctor Sleep, Underwater, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Doctor Sleep

Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

Let’s get this out of the way for anyone who doesn’t already know: I’m not a huge fan of The Shining. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Kubrick’s work in general: I tend to like the cinematography and not much else.) Many adaptational changes annoyed me, especially as I saw the film soon after reading the novel. Admittedly, that was all roughly 15-20 years ago now, so I might feel differently if I were to ever try it again. Point is, unlike many horror fans, I didn’t come into this weird hybrid of a sequel with much in the way of expectations, high or low. It was pretty easy to judge Doctor Sleep as its own thing. And fortunately for me, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Unlike The Shining, which is straight-up horror, Doctor Sleep has more of a dark fantasy vibe. Like, there are creepy moments, absolutely (I fucking loved it when Abra turned the tables on Rose), but the overall flavor of scare is different, kinda like the transition between the quiet, claustrophobic horror of Alien to the action-fueled horror of Aliens. It seems like a natural progression, but I can also see how fans of the original might have been disappointed. What’s really impressive, though, is how much I enjoyed this film, despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Horror movies, especially, have to work hard to earn that length without losing tension or momentum, and Doctor Sleep does a pretty good job with that: there are problems in the third act–which we’ll get to shortly–but overall, the slow, steady pace of the film works well for me.

The cast is great, especially Kyliegh Curran (who’s absolutely fantastic as Abra) and Rebecca Ferguson (who makes for a pretty iconic villain, one who I’d like to cosplay immediately.) Ewan McGregor does solid work as grown-up/fucked up Danny Torrance, and I like pretty much the entire supporting cast: Carl Lumbly is a stellar choice as Dick Hallorann, Cliff Curtis is instantly likable as Billy, and Zahn McClarnon is an excellent right-hand man/second banana bad guy. All of McClarnon and Ferguson’s interactions are pretty great; in fact, the whole villainous family dynamic is awesome and makes these guys much more compelling as antagonists.

Unfortunately, that third act is where things start to falter, which is frustrating because most of the problems here could easily be solved by just not returning to the Overlook. Physically, that is; half the Final Battle takes place in Danny’s head, anyway, so why not just make the entire thing one big mental showdown? We could still get all those iconic references and flashbacks without Danny and Abra literally driving to Colorado for no goddamn reason. (There is a reason: Danny is convinced that they can’t beat Rose on their own, but that’s sorta nonsense because at this point, their batting average against her is pretty goddamn phenomenal.) This would also eliminate the awkward sense of Abra just chilling alone in the car for ten minutes, while Danny has an emotional catharsis inside the hotel with his dad. Like, I genuinely enjoy that scene, but also . . . maybe don’t leave the kid alone outside when a monster is literally hunting you down?

Random Notes:

1. Actually, maybe we could scale back just a bit on those iconic references? Cause I do want them, but also, it feels like Mike Flanagan is vomiting The Shining at you for the last 20 minutes? Like, hey, here are the twins, here is the blood, here is the bartender, the axe, the door, the boiler room, etc., etc., etc. Give me these moments, but not one for every goddam minute, please. Space them out or whittle them down.

2. Snakebite Andi might be the most Stephen King name I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life. I really liked Emily Alyn Lind in the role, though, since I forgot to mention her before. Also, MR. HOMN!

3. I wish Rose the Hat’s hat was, like, more important? Especially after the grocery store scene, I kind of expected something else. Still, I’m never gonna complain too hard about fashionable millinery. I will complain about Danny hitting rock bottom, however, because I definitely interpreted that scene as “baby starved to death after Danny left him alone with his dead mom,” which . . . yeah, didn’t sit well with me. Apparently, though, there are multiple different interpretations of what actually happened to Mom and Baby? Still. If you’re trying for a redemptive story, IDK, I think everyone should be real clear on exactly what your MC is being redeemed for. Especially if it’s dark ass shit like that.

4. Now that I’ve read the differences between book and movie, holy shit, I’m kinda glad I never read this. The 9/11 subplot? The “we’re related” nonsense? What the actual fuck?

5. I’m just gonna say it: “steam” is a little hard to take seriously.

6. Finally, there is a RWBY poster in Abra’s room. I haven’t watched that show in years, but still, I found this small detail surprising and delightful.

Underwater

Year: 2020
Director: William Eubank
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: VERY MUCH SO
Grade: Strawberry

This was fun enough, but it also could’ve been better. Some scenes are successfully creepy and tense: whenever our characters are crawling through Way Too Tiny Shit, for example, or when poor Mamoudou Athie fucking implodes. (I was disappointed by this; I really thought he was going to last longer.) Most of the cast is pretty great, although I’d probably recast and rewrite Paul (TJ Miller). Still, I’m here for Kristen Stewart’s whole aesthetic, am happy that Smith survived, was amused by last minute Cthulhu, and really enjoyed that Jessica Henwick was our surprise Final Girl. Holy shit, that’s two Western horror movies now with Eastern-Asian women who live. 2020, this is actually something I like about you.

So, that’s the good. As far as the bad, well. The voiceover shit completely fails, like, I honestly have no idea what it’s even doing in this movie? The beginning is especially weird because the first few minutes have this strange, in medias res quality to them that makes the whole scene kinda feel like a dream. It doesn’t fit at all; in fact, I seriously wondered if they were trying to set up some kind of unreliable narrator here. But the rest of the movie is a pretty straightforward action-horror movie (with just a bit of a Lovecraftian twist).

Not all the action scenes work for me, either, because some of them are so muddy it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to whom. Like, I get it: Underwater is underwater. Chaos, poor visibility, all that. Still, when a monster drags two characters away, I wanna be able to tell who they are. I might’ve been more inclined to forgive this if these scenes were strictly from Norah’s POV, as she sadly loses her glasses early in the film and presumably can’t see for shit; unfortunately, that’s not really how they play. Which is a bummer, actually: if I ever lost my glasses in any kind of horror movie scenario, like, it would very much impact my day and/or likelihood of survival. It might’ve been kind of neat, seeing Norah actually dealing with this during the film.

Also, the character work needs, well, work. Norah (Stewart) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) both lost someone–the same someone–prior to the events of this movie, but for some reason, they barely have any interactions throughout to build their dynamic and/or lay in the groundwork for this reveal. More space, too, could’ve been given to the Captain and Norah’s relationship, or to Smith and Emily’s. Instead, we spend too much time with TJ Miller, who’s supposed to be the funny, weird guy, and generally lands harder on the latter than the former. (Although I will admit to laughing when he fake-volunteers Emily (Henwick) to investigate something, all, “This is your moment.” That shit was funny.)

Random Notes:

1. I love that Emily saves Norah, and Norah saves Emily, and they both save Smith together. Also, kinda love that Norah punches Emily in the face. Not because she deserves it, but because it’s a good “who will sacrifice themselves for the other” moment.

2. I’m considerably less impressed by how the women have to get way more naked than the dudes. Except TJ Miller, of course, but this is purposefully meant to be comedic, rather than sexy, presumably because he’s fatter than anyone else in the cast. #RAGE

3. The hands-down funniest thing about this movie: Paul carries around this stuffed bunny, right, like, he cradles it, strokes it, makes sure it’s okay as he’s going through dangerous, water-logged parts of the station, etc. He is 100% acting like it’s a real bunny, and I was seriously wondering if we were gonna get some kinda high-pressure nervous syndrome/space dementia subplot shit going on, especially because of all the Alice in Wonderland references. But apparently, there actually was a real bunny while filming, until the director got a stuffed one instead because of safety concerns. Only for whatever reason, he never bothered telling Miller that the stuffed rabbit wasn’t a stand-in. So, dude acted like the rabbit was real because he thought it would be post-production. I can’t begin to tell you how much this all delights me.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Year: 2017
Director: Issa López
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Mild
Grade: Chocolate

I’ve been meaning to watch this Mexican dark fantasy film for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally did, because it’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, I probably could’ve picked a better week for it, like, if you need an escapist upper, uh, this isn’t it. (I literally held my breath when two of the kids walked up to a police car, and was utterly relieved when the cops just took off without killing them.) The violence here isn’t particularly gratuitous; in fact, it’s not a very gory film at all. But children do die, and die violently, on screen. Best to know that going in.

All of the kids are fantastic, especially Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López). I’m amazed that none of them had any prior acting experience because they’re all so good in this movie. One of the things that works best about Tigers Are Not Afraid: the quiet, funny moments when the kids are just hanging out: play-acting some American Idol shit in an abandoned building, telling ghost stories about this dude who eats kids with his pepperoni, etc. And while I can be hit or miss on stories that walk the line between “literal magic” and “is it, though?” I think the ambiguity serves this dark fairy tale well. Which probably isn’t so surprising, as it’s definitely a Monkey’s Paw kind of story.

I honestly don’t have many criticisms with this one. There are a few moments with this stuffed tiger that I found sorta hard to take seriously, but . . . yeah, that might kind of be it. While I’d hoped for a few specific things that didn’t end up happening, the actual ending itself fits the story well and isn’t wholly, needlessly bleak. And since I am, for once, trying not to spoil too much here, let me leave you with a vague list of some other things I really enjoyed:

The trails of blood
The goodbye scene
Morro is adorbs
The chalk
When the bodies are found

Also, the movie was both written and directed by a woman. YES!!!! I’m always excited to see more horror crafted by women!

Triple Scoop Review: BLOODY HEARTS – Dead Body, Overlord, and The Void

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, so you know what that means: HORROR MOVIES.

Dead Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last two paragraphs.
Grade: Chocolate

To my surprise and delight, this low-budget indie is a pretty decent little slasher film. (And directed by a woman! Yay, more women in horror!) The premise, of course, is absolutely my jam: a bunch of high school graduates (and one older boyfriend) play Dead Body, where one person is secretly assigned the role of the murderer and “kills” someone, and everyone else has to figure out who did it–only then people actually start dying. This is a Golden Age of Detective fiction staple and absolutely the kind of morbid shit I would definitely play, so of course, Mek and I had to try this movie out. Where it shines best is dialogue, characterization, and surprisingly intentional humor: Dominic’s mostly relatable bitchiness about his uninvited guests (“I need to go set up the loft I wasn’t planning on using”) or Dwayne immediately going for hacksaws, hooks, and nail guns after finding the dead bodies. I also genuinely like how protective Marcus is of his weird brother. (Or friend? I was never actually clear on this.) And there are one or two big surprises here: one didn’t do much for me, but the other I LOVED.

The thing that wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, is the identity of the killer. Which, hey, correctly solving a whodunnit can provide a glorious sense of satisfaction, or even vindication. Here, however, Mek and I were pretty sure about the killer maybe 25 minutes into the film and were all but proven right about 25 minutes later–which is still a solid 15 before the Big Reveal. Some of the setup is actually pretty clever, but there are a few missteps, which I’ll discuss in the next two paragraphs. Other disappointments: the opening scene doesn’t do much for me–we should probably cut the last 30 seconds at least–and the two foreign exchange students are barely even in this movie, which is especially annoying because they’re the only POC in the whole cast.

SPOILER territory: I initially assumed Marcus was the killer because he’s the Nice Guy Love Interest and I figured he’d brought Rumor along as an obvious patsy. However, suspicions were quickly transferred to Dominic, partially because finding him so suddenly dead was shocking enough to be suspicious, partially because of the Harvard motive (which I thought was nicely handled), and partially because I’ve seen enough movies/read enough Agatha Christie to know you can’t trust dead bodies. Even if I hadn’t, Kenji playing dead is pretty obvious foreshadow. I think that bit could probably be cut, along with the whole it was YOU line from the opening scene, and that moment when the camera lingers a beat too long on the hammer. (Because that’s how Mek and I went from, like, 90% sure that Dominic was the killer to 190%: he kills Rumor with the hammer obviously left behind.) If we really want Dominic to be a shock, we probably need another viable suspect and/or a costume change; alternatively, it might work to do the Big Reveal with Rumor’s death, so the audience finds out well before our surviving heroes. That way, we’d get to watch Dominic’s surprise/delight when his intended victims start killing each other out of paranoia. I’m kinda warming up to that idea, actually.

Finally, the two big surprises are the last-minute resurrections of Sarah and Marcus. Sarah is really interesting: for one, her survival is pretty shocking because she seems like such a Dead Meat character. (Shocking survival, as it turns out, became quite the theme of the evening.) For another, Sarah pulls a nail out of her own face to kill the bad guy. I thought the scene where Ilsa pulls nails out of Sarah’s face was pretty great, but this is just badass. Unfortunately, Marcus’s miraculous resurrection kinda feels like it’s just taking away from Sarah’s. I felt bad for the dude when he died, but once dead? Yeah, stay dead, my dude.

Overlord

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

I’m always excited by the idea of genre-blending, especially when mystery or horror come into the mix, but Overlord feels uneven to me. It’s strongest, I think, in the first act, when the movie is pure action/war drama. (Did anyone watch this movie without seeing the trailer full of spoilers? Cause damn, no one’s getting Nazi Zombie Shit from the first 20 minutes of this movie.) The plane scene is dramatic AF and the ominous clues in the woods that “something is amiss” are decent. I like most of the cast. Jovan Adepo gives an especially strong performance as our kind-hearted protagonist Boyce. I know Adepo primarily from a two-episode stint in Watchmen, and I definitely want to see more of him.

But we start hitting problems in Act II when our heroes make it to the French village. Part of that’s pacing: it takes way too long to for anyone to find all the horrific experiments. This movie is only 1 hour and 48 minutes, but boy, I’d have bet money it was a lot longer. And then, part of it’s content: I’m not sure Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, AKA, Euron Greyjoy) is doing much for me as a Big Bad, and I definitely found the coerced sexual assault shit completely unnecessary. (Boyce interrupts Wafner before he rapes Chloe, but this is still a yuck subplot and incredibly lazy writing.) The aunt, too, is much more foreshadow than actual character: she barely has screen time, much less dialogue.

Still, the worst problems, I think, begin after Boyce discovers all the Nazi Zombie Shit. The discovery scene itself is great: it’s weird, creepy, maybe a bit silly (I’m specifically thinking of the decapitated head pleading in French), but overall, just a lot of fun. And Boyce has spectacular reactions to the body horror/general impossibility; his freakout is super relatable, TBH. This is the moment the whole film has been building toward–which is why I’m just baffled by the decision to completely cut the tension by stopping for a 15-minute time-out, like, Overlord goes right back to straight-up war movie again, all unethical interrogations and “is it right to beat up a Nazi” and “do we even recognize ourselves anymore?” These are all perfectly fine themes that should not be dwelled on here, five minutes after this shit. And while we do kinda get back on track with the death/zombie resurrection of Chase (Iain De Caestecker), the film never fully recovers; instead, the whole third act loses its creepy body horror vibe and just becomes a really bad Resident Evil movie. It’s so bland and cartoonishly over-the-top that there’s just no tension at all. I was honestly bored, and that’s about the last reaction you want from your audience here.

Finally, some additional notes:

A. Secret histories, admittedly, are not always my bag, but I’m not sure that tying this story  to D-Day really does much for me.

B. I can’t decide if De Caestecker’s American accent is bad or if I’m just very aware it’s not his natural, lovely Scottish. I am fond of the actor, though. When Chase gets shot (inevitably, I mean, maybe don’t send the kid with the camera to secure the Big Bad Nazi Dude, FFS), I was all, “A-ha! This is why you cast De Caestecker, for the emotional death scene!”

C. Overlord’s “Holy Shit, This Guy Actually Lived!” is Jacob (Dominic Applewhite) and, to a lesser extent, Tibet (John Magaro). Tibet is the semi-redemptive asshole, whereas Jacob is Boyce’s buddy from the plane, the one who Boyce repeatedly promises, “I’ll be right behind you!” Obviously, I marked Jacob as First to Die. It is lovely to be wrong sometimes.

D. Alas, Private Dawson (Jacob Anderson) does not fare so well. Mekaela and I had just enough time to say, “Wait, is that Grey Worm?” before he blew the hell up. Sorry, buddy.

The Void

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry again
Grade: Strawberry

This one starts out so strong, but kind of spirals into an incoherent mess. Mileage is definitely gonna vary on that, depending on your A) tolerance for how much a story refuses to explain, and B) nostalgia for 80’s cosmic horror. I tend to be skeptical of the former and like the latter more in theory than execution. For example, The Void reminded Mekaela of Hellraiser, a movie I enjoyed for its aesthetics and not much else. (I’m tagging this whole review a blasphemy just for that sentence.) Meanwhile, The Void reminded me of Prince of Darkness, which I reviewed in great detail last year and, ultimately, didn’t love. Which is all to say I may not have been the target audience here.

Except . . . damn it, I still feel like I really could’ve enjoyed this movie. For starters, there’s an awful lot I do like about The Void. The initial setup and “WTF is going on here” mystery is a lot of fun. The look of the film is pretty great. I enjoy the whole cast. The reveal that our kindly old doctor isn’t just Dead Meat Walking but the actual Big Bad is awesome, especially since it comes after he does predictably “die.” Likewise, the reversal that our blatantly evil murderers from the beginning are actually good guys (well . . . good-sh) is pretty cool, too, although I do feel like their backstory gets a little lost in the chaos. The ending with the Sheriff and Allison is interesting, if sorta huh, and I’m fucked shocked that our ultimate survivors are the unnamed mute guy and Ellen Wong–people. I have finally found a Western horror film where an Asian woman lives. Holy shit.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Prince of Darkness came to mind wasn’t the portal sacrifice similarities or the supernatural pregnancy BS–more on that in a bit–it was the ominous cultists converging on the hospital. We know absolutely nothing about this cult, like, who the hell these dudes are, why they don’t bother coming inside, where they peaced out to at the end, etc. (Seriously, did the ascend or something? The fuck?) Apparently, this is one of the many things intentionally left open for the viewer to decide, but this viewer has decided: we learn nothing about these guys because the creators don’t care about these guys; they just needed something to trap the heroes in the hospital, and that’s it. In Prince of Darkness, the cultists are actually possessed homeless people, but they serve the exact same plot function, and IMO, that’s lazy as shit writing.

And therein lies my main problem with The Void; rarely does the script feel purposefully ambiguous and thought-provoking; mostly, it feels lazy, chaotic, and confused. The hallucinations in the not-exactly-there basement feel muddled. Most of what happens in the whole third act feels pretty muddled. And I’m especially disappointed by Allison, who starts out as a potentially interesting character and ends up just becoming a vessel, a body, a plot device rather than an actual person. Allison exists to A) draw our heroes into the Basement of Doom, B) add to our MC’s ongoing man pain, and C) give us some old-fashioned pregnancy horror, I guess? (She lost a baby prior to the story, so Big Bad impregnates her with monster juice, and she gets to die of symbolism. And getting chopped up by her tearful hubby, of course. Cool.) This is all especially tedious because we already have Maggie for the pregnancy horror, but I guess one eldritch nightmare birth where the mom/vessel violently dies wasn’t enough? Basically, this whole bit sucks.

Finally, additional notes:

A. I did actually enjoy the twist that Maggie was also a bad guy. I probably should’ve caught that, but I just assumed she’d have a gross demon baby, which, hey, that part was dead on. Poor Sarah got mighty ugly in her second life, didn’t she?

B. Much like with Grey Worm in Overlord, I had just enough time to be excited about Iris Rouse (Stephanie Belding) from Shadowhunters popping up before she got killed off. (Then transformed into an eldritch horror and then killed off again.) Sorry, buddy.

C. As always, doing clerical/errand work in a hospital hardly makes me a medical expert. And this story is admittedly set in some rural town in the . . . 80’s? 90’s? Still, I had a ball laughing at the medical inaccuracies in this movie. The aborted C-section wasn’t actually as bad as I thought (when you’re primarily familiar with a low transverse incision, a classical cut looks weird AF, like, Jesus, why are you all the way up there), although I highly suspect that whatever pain relief Kim used wouldn’t cut it for fucking surgery. But I straight up cackled when Allison walked to the med room, which appears to just be a basic supply closet where they keep narcotics unlocked on the shelf. Also, seriously, there’s only one patient here. Why the fuck are we keeping the supplies this far away? For that matter, why hasn’t the one and only patient in this hospital been transferred literally anywhere else? Like, I get the idea that this place is still supposed to be open for emergency services or something, but uh, dude’s clearly just an inpatient now. Ship that motherfucker out. And how in Christ’s name is anyone still working out of this hospital? Again, I get the idea–emergency services for locals while everyone else has moved off to hospitals that weren’t recently half burned down–but also, bullshit. The nearest hospital is only 20 minutes away, which of course is shitty, but shocking? In a rural county? HA. Hell, that’s the distance between the high school I went to and its closest hospital. Besides, the state of this place? No one should be working here. This especially kills me dead because the hospital I work at now has been temporarily shut down twice in the past few years just for smoke damage, much less a fire that actually destroyed part of the fucking building. These people have not heard of JCAHO, that’s all I’m saying.

D. Finally, more fun casting: our Big Bad is played by Kenneth Welsh, who I know from one episode of The Expanse but also from Twin Peaks, where he played Windom Earle. I had no idea that was the same guy! Meanwhile, Art Hindle, who was in both the original Black Christmas and the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has a small role here, too. Horror cameo casting is just the best.

“Isn’t This Fun? It’s Like a Sleepover.”

Birds of Prey (and The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) apparently underperformed at the box office last weekend–although, also kind of not, like, maybe we could wait half a second before pronouncing it DOA and throwing its corpse to the wolves, thanks? (ETA: Don’t even get me started on the rebranding. I’m flat out ignoring that nonsense.)

Since I did actually see Birds of Prey last Friday, though, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? Because it’s an awful lot of fun, and I really hope more people go out to see it. If Charlie’s Angels meets Deadpool with a side of, IDK, Smokin’ Aces sounds intriguing to you–or if you liked Margot Robbie and the cotton candy sparkle of Suicide Squad but hated the inconsistent tone, the incoherent storyline, the muddy action scenes, the Joker, and basically everything else about that film–well, this one might be worth checking out.

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Triple Scoop Reviews: Shazam!, Joker, and Little Women

Shazam!

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: HBO Now
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

Imbalanced, but cute. Tonally, Shazam! is wildly different than its DC live-action brethren, which makes it both a breath of fresh air and also a little, like, huh? Shazam! doesn’t always feel like a superhero movie to me; instead, it’s more of a fantasy-action film about magical kids, a film geared towards young children and their long-suffering parents. I’m having trouble describing exactly why those two sub-genres are different, but they have become different, at least in 2020.

There’s a fair bit in Shazam! that doesn’t work for me. Mark Strong’s villainy game, for example, is usually on point–all hail SEPTIMUS!–but he makes for a pretty boring villain here. Dr. Sivana’s origin story has potential, but it goes nowhere interesting, and the film would be better off if the majority of his scenes were cut. Zachary Levi, meanwhile, is generally funny, but it rarely feels like he’s actually playing Billy; mostly, he comes across as any random kid who’s been magically transported into an adult’s body. It creates a real disconnect for me throughout the film, especially when it comes to the conflict between Billy and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Which is unfortunate because that relationship is a huge part of the story. This movie falls down hardest, I think, in its second act.

OTOH, I really do love Billy’s foster siblings, especially Freddy and Darla (Faithe Herman), who are charmingly chaotic and adorably sweet, respectively. The script is sometimes (okay, often) very on the nose about the found family stuff, but fuck it, these kids are cute, and their parents are sweet and well-meaning, and I just want them to all be happy, OKAY? And can I tell you just how much I adored these kids becoming superheroes at the end? The cameos are fantastic: I am 100% here for Adam Brody as Superhero Freddy, plus Ross Butler was a nice surprise, and Meagan Good was delightful as Superhero Darla. It’s especially awesome they get to remain superheroes, too, like I just assumed this would be a one-time sidekick deal, not that we’d end the movie sharing a secret lair. (Obviously, other viewers were prepared for this, but the majority of my Shazam knowledge comes from animated movies like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and TV shows like Young Justice.) I’m kinda so-so on this particular film overall, but I find the ending so charming that I’m genuinely interested in seeing a sequel.

A few quick asides:

A. Poor Djimon Hounsou. He so rarely gets to play anybody interesting, and this movie is no exception to that rule. Hounsou plays the Wizard who gifts Billy with his powers, and the most interesting thing about him–other than his hilariously fake hair–is that he is just such an incredible dick. Like, I just called him Asshole Dumbledore the whole movie. (Yes, Dumbledore himself is also Asshole Dumbledore, but still.) Cause, sure, you can’t hold this guy responsible for everything our villain does, but you can definitely hold him responsible for being needlessly cruel to a small child, traumatizing countless people across the world, and, oh yeah, that whole car accident thing. I’m just saying.  No one’s weeping for you, my dude.

B. It’s a very minor complaint, but when your bad guy unleashes the seven deadly sins as his henchmen, like, I just wish they were a lot more fun and distinct than this.

C. That last scene with Superman? Fucking amazing.

Joker

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: On Demand, I think? (My friends rented it)
Spoilers: A few, yes
Grade: Strawberry

Well, I watched it. And as suspected, I just wasn’t into Joker. Joaquin Phoenix is undoubtedly creepy with his weird laughter and off-putting grin and seriously disturbing ribs–like, man’s got a freaky AF energy to him, I will absolutely give him that. But his performance also feels pretty static to me, like, once I’d seen roughly 15-20 minutes, I felt like I’d seen the whole thing. Plus, I’m just kinda tired of awarding rich white dudes for being difficult to work with, and continuing to glorify actors who starve themselves for roles? Like, no, this is so unhealthy for everyone involved; please, let’s just stop.

The narrative structure of Joker goes something like this: introduce a mentally ill man and present him with about 80 triggers until he inevitably explodes. Which is . . . fine, but the build feels off to me here. The revolution is weak, primarily off-screen and inspired by murders I never quite bought as a rallying point. The social commentary feels thin, too; like, “eat the rich” is a pretty popular theme these days, but this might be one of the least successful versions of it I’ve seen. There are some ideas I like, if not always their execution: Gotham from the POV of the lower classes, for instance, or reinterpreting Thomas Wayne as a mega Chief Asshat. The eternal, cyclical nightmare that is this city, how Gotham creates villains by failing the people, and how those villains in turn create our heroes, who only ever perpetuate the system . . . but the writing is just such weak sauce, lazy and muddled. If this wins for Best Adapted Screenplay over Little Women, I swear to God . . .

I also can’t say I’m particularly impressed with any of the female roles, either. Zazie Beetz is criminally underused: her character has no real function, except to serve as a Big Twist, one that fails to be meaningful, compelling, or even surprising. It would, at least, take a modicum of effort before one could cut Penny (Frances Conroy) out of the film, but still, the whole backstory about Joker’s mom is just so . . . meh, all of it, meh. Joker is hardly the worst film I’ve ever seen: the acting is generally fine, and I quite like the cinematography. I had a good time hanging out with my friends and eating pizza, at least. But I just didn’t connect to this film at all, and I remain a bit baffled by its multiple Oscar nominations. There are so many better movies than this. My nerdish heart wants more.

Little Women

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Actual Goddamn Movie Theater
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

Initially, my interest in Little Women was mild. I’ve never read the book, and I was pretty content with the 1994 adaptation I’d grown up with. I didn’t know I needed another version of this story. But then I became more interested, partially because I’d like to support more female directors, partially because I desperately didn’t want Joker to be the only Best Picture nominee I’d actually seen, and partially because of this video by Be Kind, Rewind, which examines four different film adaptations of Little Women and discusses how each teaches us something about the era it was made in. (Oh, and because I wanted to finally check out the Alamo Drafthouse, and Little Women was the only film playing that I wanted to see. Not gonna lie, folks: if either Parasite or the less cinematically beloved Underwater had been available, you probably would’ve gotten a different review.)

Happily, I thought Little Women was fantastic. I was surprisingly engaged throughout the film, which is partially due to the changes in narrative structure. It’s not that telling a story using flashbacks is some groundbreaking approach never accomplished before; it’s that using flashbacks to tell this story gives these characters so much more dimension (and their respective arcs better shape) that I could’ve possibly imagined. Not to mention, the juxtaposition of certain scenes, like watching Beth’s miraculous recovery right before Beth’s tragic death, is just beautifully heartbreaking. And while I had my doubts, initially (as “ambiguous” and “meta” are not always words I enjoy when applied to endings), I quite like how this movie concludes. I love that Little Women never forgets Jo’s consistent antipathy towards marriage, and the more I learn about Louisa May Alcott, the more this ending really appeals to me.

The acting, too, is all-around spectacular. Amy is a much more interesting character in this version of the story, and I think Florence Pugh does an absolutely fantastic job. Her acting nod feels well-earned, and the same for Saoirse Ronan, who I think makes for a very compelling Jo. I quite like Emma Watson as Meg, too; considering she previously played both Hermione and Belle, Meg is the non-standard choice, and I’m kind of obsessed with it. I also like Eliza Scanlen as Beth, but I’ll admit, she’s probably the character that suffers most by comparison, if only because “Claire Danes,” “90’s,” and “ugly cry” are so inextricably linked in my head. You know who really gets me to ugly cry in this movie, though? Mr. Laurence, as played by a nearly unrecognizable Chris Cooper. Jesus Christ. I was bawling well before Beth even died because of this kindly motherfucker.

TBH, my only real problem with Little Women is that for a film which gives us a much more sympathetic Amy, I’m at least twice as mad about the whole “burning Jo’s book” scene. Partially because I’m slightly more inclined to forgive Kirsten Dunst purely on the basis of age, partially because Pugh’s Amy is much more deliberate, methodical, and smug about what she’s done, partially because Amy’s apology here feels so obviously forced and insincere . . . but mostly, I think, because there’s something about this new version that seems to especially condemn Jo’s fury, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll freely admit to carrying some personal baggage with “be the bigger person” arguments, but there are times when that message works for me: Jo not lashing out at Amy about Europe, for example, is one such occasion. But to expect Jo to forgive Amy in less than 24 hours, to show Jo’s righteous fury wholly and immediately redirected at herself after Amy’s near-death experience . . . you know, maybe it’s not that this version is any more cruel than the others. Maybe it’s just that in such a revisionist adaptation, I wish Greta Gerwig had updated this scene as well. Because the idea that you have to forgive your family, no matter what, simply because they’re your family . . . I think it’s an unhealthy message, and it’s my only real disappointment in what I think is otherwise a thoughtful and fantastic film.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Conjuring, Insidious, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Well, I’d intended to post this a few days ago; however, due to the insane winds and the Kincade Fire up north, my sister and I had to evacuate over the weekend, along with nearly 200,000 other people in the county. I’ve gotta tell you: fire season is really doing its best to dampen my enthusiasm for what’s otherwise the greatest time of the year.

I’m back home now, though, and as of writing this, the Kincade Fire is contained at 45%. (Earlier, I mistakenly told people it was 45% when it was really 30%, and then maybe an hour later, it actually jumped to 45%. I’m pretty sure this just means I’m psychic now.) Hopefully, things will only continue to improve; in the meantime, it’s back to business as usual at My Geek Blasphemy, which is to say, more Horror Bingo!

Happy Halloween!

The Conjuring

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this for the most part. It’s a decently creepy film with a lot of good scare moments, especially considering there’s very little bloodshed. Some bits that particularly stood out: many of the shots with the music box, the ghost perched on top of the wardrobe, the entire “hide and clap” game. I like that the haunting is spread out amongst the family: one girl has the invisible friend, one continuously sleepwalks into the wardrobe, etc. I also like there are multiple children: sure, these characters are based on real people, but families in horror movies usually consist of one, maybe two kids. Here we have five daughters, and that’s just kind of neat. I was also extremely relieved that Roger didn’t spend the entire movie insisting his family was imagining things. I’m very tired of the whole “woman is superstitious and scared/dude believes in facts and science” dynamic. In fact, the general lack of skepticism in this movie was a refreshing change of pace. And speaking of refreshing, hey, Drew made it out alive! This was also a delightful surprise.

There are things that don’t work so well for me, though. While I like everyone in the Perron family (Lili Taylor is my MVP here), I don’t always buy our actual exorcists. Patrick Wilson is often a hit-or-miss actor for me, but I’ll admit, Vera Farmiga was a surprise because I’ve liked her in just about everything I’ve seen. In Farmiga’s defense, though, some of that expository dialogue is pretty rough; for instance: Look, I’ve got to tell you, you have a lot of spirits in here, but this is the one I’m most worried about because it is so hateful. I genuinely don’t know if anyone could’ve pulled that line. I also didn’t love the whole “yeah, Salem witches were real witches who actually sacrificed their children to Satan” backstory because one, ick, and two, why? I’m not thrilled with the score, either: some of the “tense” music threw me out of the story, and the happy times music at the end was like something out of a Disney film. OTOH, I was kind of delighted–if utterly bemused–by the anachronistic appearance of Dead Man’s Bones halfway through the film. I’m always up for some Dead Man’s Bones.

I enjoyed The Conjuring enough to potentially check out the sequel, although I don’t have much interest in any of the Annabelle movies. Still, I kinda adore the fact that a relatively small haunted house movie was the starting point for this whole shared universe of horror.

Insidious

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Huh. It appears we’re following up James Wan and Patrick Wilson with more James Wan and Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately, I don’t find Insidious nearly as successful as The Conjuring, and not just because it has that superstitious wife/skeptical husband dynamic that I was specifically hoping to avoid. I do like the basic story well enough. I also thought the first attempt to communicate with Dalton was pretty fun (holy shit, I love the medium’s gas mask), and everything in The Further looks pretty cool–even if I do think a name like “The Further” is trying way too hard, like, it just doesn’t feel natural. (Like when American Muggles became No-Majes, for example, and basically every American was all hard pass.) I also like that Patrick Wilson used to astral project as a child, though I think that particular reveal comes way too late, and I’m disappointed the movie doesn’t follow-through on exploring his repressed childhood trauma.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot that just doesn’t work for me on any level. For one, I don’t find this movie creepy at all. Basically none of the scares were scary: I laughed out loud at the opening credits when INSIDIOUS popped up on screen to the sounds of excessively dramatic violin, and sadly, things didn’t improve much from there. (Darth Maul the Ghost was not a turn of events I was expecting.) I’m bummed that Rose Byrne gets nothing interesting to do in the second half of the film; I’m even more disappointed that Lin Shaye bites it, something that surprised me–even though it shouldn’t have–because I knew she was in all the sequels. (In my defense, I didn’t know some of those films were prequels.) How awesome is it, I thought, to actually have an actress play a heroic character who a) survives multiple horror films, and b) is above the age of 60? What other franchise has done that? Poltergeist, maybe? (I don’t actually know; despite loving the original film, I never did see the sequels. Are they worth watching? Does Zelda Rubinstein make it through the whole trilogy?)

And while I don’t mind that Josh gets possessed, exactly–dude’s a weird combo of shifty, bland, and really annoying–I find the actual ending of the film fairly uninspired. Ultimately, this one’s just not my favorite.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Vanilla

The weirdest thing about this moody Iranian vampire-western is that it was filmed in Taft. Taft is a tiny ass town in Middle of Nowhere, California; it also just happens to be the place where I saw Rogue One on Christmas with my dad a few years back. This is not relevant to the film, of course, but it blows my fucking mind.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is interesting, and I haven’t totally made up my mind about it yet. It’s extremely well-crafted and something I’d recommend, but it’s also unlikely to be a personal favorite. (Well. Maybe. I don’t know. Some movies take time and space to sink in.) The overall pace is slow, which is fine, but I find myself itching to shave minutes off multiple scenes, like, it often takes four beats too long for my liking for anyone to actually use their words. It’s all intentional, of course; this movie is definitely a mood piece, and good God, it’s got aesthetic like whoa. The music, the filming, just the whole style of it . . . this movie has such voice, and that’s pretty cool. It’s also always awesome to see horror movies directed by women, and considering this was the first Iranian vampire film at all? Like, that’s just neat.

I do wish I cared a little more about the relationship between Arash and the Girl. I do like the role reversal here–boy vamps can be so boring–and the Girl herself is pretty awesome. She’s strange and eerie, particularly whenever she’s mimicking and/or trailing after someone–and of course, I’m all about her striped shirt, chador, and skateboard. That is some cosplay gold. And yeah, Arash is fine, too, with his whole James Dean thing going on, and I get it–two lonely people in the night–but still, I just can’t seem to make myself care about them together. They spend so little time with one another, like, it’s really only a few scenes, and after, well, events . . . I’m just not sure I totally buy the ending. Which is frustrating because I actually love the ending: it’s interesting and original, and you can see exactly what Arash is thinking and when he comes to his decision without him ever saying a word. It’s such a cool conclusion, but that doesn’t mean I buy it exactly, not from him, not quite yet.

I don’t know, dudes: ask me again in six months. I’m still mulling over here.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Babadook, It Follows, and Jennifer’s Body

Yes, my friends, victims, and mortal enemies, it is that most wonderful time of the year again: October, the Month of Halloween. There are people that only celebrate Halloween on the actual day, of course, or the weekend before. Those people are fools. Pity them.

Mekaela and I have instituted a new game this year: HORROR BINGO. We’ve written down a variety of scary movies to choose from–nostalgic favorites, recent sequels and remakes, horror masterpieces that basically everyone but me has seen–and thrown them into a glass skull jar to be chosen one by one. I’m afraid to inform you all that, thus far, I’m nowhere near bingo. Still, my sheet is not entirely without potential. Keep your fingers crossed for drawing Us or Cabin in the Woods soon.

The Babadook

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Chocolate

Yes, it’s true: I really hadn’t watched The Babadook until just last week. This is going to be something of a recurrent theme all month, I expect, so just prepare yourselves now. Because you have to understand: I love horror, I do. It’s just that I love bad horror so much–it’s like comfort food–that if I’m given the choice, I’m much more likely to say, “You know, it’s been a long day. Why don’t we save the critically acclaimed and inevitably depressing film for tomorrow and instead watch Naughty or Dead IV: The Final Kringle. Santa’s come back from Hell, and this time he has six more names on his list!”

Man. I would watch the hell out of that movie.

The point is, I finally watched The Babadook, and it’s pretty great. I don’t know that I’d ever feel any particular need to rewatch it, exactly–even when I’m in the mood for serious scares, psychological horror has never actually been my favorite flavor of the genre–but I can definitely appreciate how well-crafted it is. Director Jennifer Kent does a phenomenal job here: building the tension inch by inch, then flipping the script halfway, so that we begin with a monster child and transition to a monster mother. I really love how this movie presents motherhood, too: it doesn’t flinch back at all from showing how much parenthood well and truly sucks sometimes. Mothers especially, I think, are rarely allowed to be anything other than mothers in film and television; either they don’t have any interests, passions, or concerns outside of their kids–my BAY-BEE, Claire from Lost still screams endlessly in my head–or they’re simply never allowed to show any resentment towards their children. A mother who sometimes does not like her child, a mother who feels regret or doesn’t believe her kid is the greatest gift she’s ever been given, is a Bad Mother in most stories. The Babadook, however, rejects such a narrative. We’re invited to sympathize with Amelia over and over. Even after she’s been possessed, even after she kills the dog, Amelia is a victim here, not a villain.

The acting is also fantastic: Essie Davis really goes through this incredible transformation right before your eyes, and Noah Wiseman was what, like, six when he starred in this? That’s bullshit; you’re not supposed to be this talented at six. It’s rude, goddamn it. And, of course, the Babadook himself is not just a queer icon; he’s also creepy AF, and I’m a little obsessed with his top hat. Also, that book, like, damn. I’ve never particularly cared about owning first editions, but man, this is a first edition I’d actually be super excited to have.

What really makes The Babadook work for me, though, is just how well it nails the ending. I assumed we’d get something boring like this: Amelia kills small child, then gets arrested, then gets thrown into an outdated insane asylum, and then–just as we’re wondering if she was really crazy all along–we get one last jump scare and murdered orderly and a big evil grin. Instead of that predictable nonsense, we get a resolution that’s far more thoughtful and original. Amelia is successfully exorcised, but the Babadook cannot be banished entirely. Thus in our mostly-happy denouement, the Babadook lives in the basement, subsisting on the worms Amelia feeds him, still violent and terrifying and needing daily attention. And what I love about that, besides the fantastic blend of positive change and lingering consequence, is that this ending works whether you take the Babadook as a literal monster (as I am often wont to do) or simply as a manifestation of Amelia’s grief (something that she can never fully let go of, something that must be both accepted and constantly fed). This ending ties the whole story together and makes everything that came before just that much more powerful.

It Follows

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Vanilla

I’d actually hoped to see It Follows in theater way back in 2014 . . . and yet somehow here we are, five years later. I continue to fail this city.

I liked this one, though I feel like I might need to see it a few more times to decide exactly how much I like it. It’s certainly creepy: the opening act, the various shots of the unnamed it walking in slow motion. Wonderful cinematography, and the music is awesome. I also quite liked the whole out-of-time feel to the story, how you can never quite pinpoint what decade it’s set in. I don’t think that would work for every movie, but I rather enjoy this film’s vague retro feel. The Halloween influence is certainly present, but It Follows still comes across as its own thing, which is nice.

What I also liked: a) Jay’s friends trying to help out, even when they don’t fully believe her, b) the little-to-no drama between said friends, c) how their third-act electrocution plan completely and utterly fails, and d) the surprisingly non-judgmental tone of the film. Like, I was pretty worried about that last one, considering the basic premise of this movie can be summed up by the words “ghost STDs.” Thankfully, I never really got the impression that It Follows was punishing Jay for the sin of having sex. That was a welcome relief.

However, that might simply be because this movie seems to have very little to say about sex at all, like, don’t get me wrong: less sex is usually a bonus for me, but . . . IDK. You sorta expect some kind of relevant theme to emerge when your story has a sex-based haunting mechanism, don’t you? If it’s here, however, I confess that I missed it, and weirdly, that’s a bit of a disappointment for me. Like, they have such a fantastically original premise, and yet it never quite feels like they bother saying anything with it. There’s also a bit more male gaze here than I would’ve hoped for: tame compared to an 80’s slasher, sure, but for real, did we really need that whole one exposed breast thing? Like, let’s just say that I didn’t need to check to know this was directed by a dude.

I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the ending quite yet. It might grow on me, IDK. I really do like the last actual shot of Jay and Paul going down the street with a menacing figure walking some distance behind them. But I also feel like the ambiguity here–you know, what’s their plan, do they even have one, what will happen to them now, etc.–doesn’t totally work for me. It doesn’t feel so much deliberately open-ended as it does “we’re not sure how to solve this, so . . . let’s just be vague and creepy.” (Also, Paul himself has a sorta Nice Guy feel to him, and I think I was a little disappointed that nobody called him on it. I was way more invested in Jay’s relationship with her sister than with this kid.) To be fair, though, ambiguous resolutions just often aren’t my thing, so what doesn’t work for me here might work really well for a lot of other people.

Jennifer’s Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Strawberry

Yes, this is yet another movie I’d planned to see upon its initial release–although in this case, my enthusiasm waned due to the veritable mountain of poor reviews it received, going from a “must-see” to a “I’ll get around to it, eventually.” Because I’m a failure of a human being, “eventually” turned out to be “a decade.” Fun fact: Adam Brody apparently hasn’t aged in about ten years. Again, rude, right? Like, what an asshole.

There’s a lot I enjoy about this: a fair bit of the humor (“lasagna with teeth”), a lady monster, unexpected cameos, J.K. Simmon’s unexplained hook hand, Satanist indie rock musicians, etc. (Seriously, that whole scene where they sacrifice Jennifer? Man, I was dying.) I really like the ending, too, with Needy telekinetically busting out of the mental hospital to enact bloody revenge on Low Shoulder. All end credits should feature violent murders, like, it should just be a rule.

Still, I can’t help but feel something’s missing here. It’s the friendship between Jennifer and Needy, I think; the whole story hangs on it, and I never quite buy it, mostly because it seems like the movie is trying to sell too many different dynamics in too short a time. Are they unlikely BFFs who will do anything for each other? Is their friendship toxic and manipulative? Is Needy secretly in love with Jennifer? Obviously, people don’t fit in easy boxes and relationships of any kind can be complicated, but the dynamic here doesn’t feel complicated to me; it feels short-changed and confused. The romantic stuff, for instance: a story about a girl who doesn’t know if she platonically loves her best friend or is In Love with her best friend is a totally valid and interesting one to tell, but to me, it feels shallow here, underdeveloped. The Kiss (well-shot as it is) mostly just comes across as an excuse for some Hot Wicked Bisexual Trope Time, which, come on. Must we?

Meanwhile, when Needy accuses Jennifer of always being a terrible friend, well, sure, that rings true because Jennifer has proven herself to be kind of the worst, even before she was possessed by a literal demon. Unfortunately, that’s both a) kind of dull–admittedly, a matter of opinion, but I’ve grown pretty bored of most toxic girl friendship stories–and b) really pushing the audience to embrace the dissolution of this friendship rather than mourn its loss. Which would be fine if this was a Friend Overcomes Emotional Abuse empowerment story, but that’s not really the impression I get from this ending. Consider the scene where Needy rips Jennifer’s BFF necklace off: the quick flashback to them as children and the way Jennifer, betrayed, goes still and empty and slowly falls back to the bed. It’s a surprisingly lovely and powerful shot, and I am really into it, like, I’ve rewatched it at least three times now. And yet, I’m also not totally convinced that the movie has earned this scene. I want more buildup to that moment. I want to be super invested in these two as friends. I wanna feel that tragedy, but it’s just not quite working for me.

Jennifer’s Body has become a cult phenomenon, of course, and I agree that it’s a lot better than people gave it credit for back in 2009. I definitely had a good time watching it, and I could easily watch it again. It’s just that while the comedy is there for me, and the gore is there for me, The Feels, unfortunately, are a bit of an uneven letdown.