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 Spooky Scoop Review: #Alive, Freddy vs. Jason, and Train to Busan

Well. 2020 has been . . . a lot, and will surely keep on being a lot right till the bitter end. No doubt at least one bit of catastrophic or otherwise world-shaking news will break between my posting this review and you reading it. And yet . . . it’s Halloween season. And I love Halloween season, and am determined to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Thus we begin our second annual HORROR BINGO.

#Alive

Year: 2020
Director: Jo Il-Hyeong
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Vanilla

Okay, so, technically, this movie doesn’t count for Horror Bingo; I actually watched it a few weeks ago and just haven’t had the opportunity to write it up yet. But I’m throwing it in here anyway because I really enjoyed #Alive a whole lot. It’s definitely a film that embodies 2020, Our Year of Quarantine, Misery, and Despair–except that it’s actually much more optimistic than that, and I’ve long been excited by horror that is optimistic, uplifting, or otherwise hopeful. One cool thing about this type of horror is that it can lead to interesting trope or genre subversions; after all, a thing going right is sometimes more shocking than a thing going horribly wrong.

I will admit to being a bit tired of protagonists who are, like, IDK, gamer loser boys? But I genuinely enjoyed Yoo Ah-In in the role; he’s pretty fantastic, which is great because we spend quite a bit of time with him alone in his apartment, trying to survive. The film takes its time here, really delving into Oh Joon-Woo’s emotional journey, and I absolutely love that. I also adore Park Shin-Hye as Kim Yoo-Bin, Joon-Woo’s badass neighbor. I became very invested in their survivor bond and enjoyed watching all the moments where they risked themselves to share food or otherwise help each other. In fact, I think my only real complaint about the film might be in the last act when a new character is introduced; I feel like the pacing is a bit off here, though I might feel differently with repeat viewings. I sometimes do.

Otherwise, yeah, this is a pretty fun Korean zombie film. Bonus points for some great music, fantastic booby traps, and also for being the rare film where social media is actually depicted in a positive light. This particular millennial appreciated that.

Freddy vs. Jason

Year: 2003
Director: Ronny Yu
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

NGL: This GIF is 116% better than this movie.

Last year, we rewatched Jason X, which is legit one of my favorites in the Friday the 13th franchise. This year, it was Freddy vs Jason’s turn, so we decided to make it our Free Space in Horror Bingo. Alas, Freddy vs Jason is actually even worse than I remembered, and I wasn’t exactly fond of it the first time around. The acting, the editing, the writing, Jesus, the writing. Of course, there are multiple cringeworthy lines, but the one that sticks out most is when our heroine decides– completely out of nowhere–to provide the worst exposition of all time with, “Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How do we use that?” Oh God. I was dying. I was in serious fucking distress.

Also, let’s be clear here: Freddy Krueger is useless in this movie. Jason Voorhees kills, like, 22 of 23 people. Freddy gets one dude, one. When Freddy somehow holds his own against Jason after Lori drags his ass to the waking world? Nope, not buying it. Jason would obliterate this dude. And while I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the difficulties in coming up with a coherent storyline for this kind of crossover, like, come on. If your movie is titled Freddy vs. Jason, then either I wanna see a much better murder competition between these two, or way more battles between our titular villains, like, give me some Mortal Kombat shit, I am begging you.

Honestly, I have a lot to say about this movie, and very little of it is positive. Things I do genuinely like: A) Trey’s death scene (I cheered), B) Charlie’s death scene (surprisingly sad), C) the part where Charlie insists he can’t give Jason Voorhees mouth-to-mouth because he has asthma (“Kia, he has asthma!” LOL LOL LOL), and D) Katharine Isabelle, who is easily the MVP of the cast. (So it’s a bummer her part is so small–and that the director tried to go back on her contract and make her do nude scenes, ugh.) I honestly forgot just how many people were in this movie: Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, a Zach Ward cameo, etc. This is delightful.

Then again: A) not to harp on this shit script, but aspiring writers, please don’t give your heroine two different back-to-back origin stories on why she doesn’t date (“my cherished boyfriend mysteriously ghosted me” and “my tragic dead mom”), B) also feel free to leave out any homophobic jokes (allegedly an improv, still total bullshit), C) also leave out any dumb possession scenes (Freeburg), D) or shitty death scenes (Kia), E) or bullshit resurrections (Freddy waking up Jason, somehow–although to be fair, Jason’s resurrections have never really made any sense). Finally, less laughable gratuitous nudity, if you please. Cause come on. Who buttons up their shirt just enough that one boob is sticking out all the time? Honestly.

Train to Busan

Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-Ho
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Yep, all of them
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed Train to Busan the first time I watched it; I liked it even more on the second go. I wonder how the translation differs between Viki and Netflix. I’m afraid it’s been far too long for me to compare.

My thoughts are largely the same here: while lousy redemptive fathers are even worse than loser gamer boys, Gong Yoo makes this shit work, like, this is the gold standard of daddy redemption arcs. The Feels in this movie are incredible. Obviously, Ma Dong-Seok is the best and thus his death hits very hard, but I feel invested in almost all the characters: the sisters, the baseball player, the pregnant wife, the train conductor, the small child who gives her father Judgment Eyes for two hours straight, etc. It remains impressive that I even feel a bit sorry for Selfish Asshole, especially since he’s directly responsible for so many deaths. This is an emotional movie; I definitely cried more than once and felt pretty wrung out after watching it. (Though, to be fair, I also found out that Trump was COVID+ at the same time, which, like, I have zero sympathy for that man. Still, I remain anxious for how this will impact the election; besides, the news in general is just overwhelming lately. My reaction was basically “. . .” because I’m lacking even the emotional bandwidth for proper schadenfreude these days.)

I do still wish at least one of the women in this movie had an action scene where they, you know, did something. It bothers me less this go around, but it’s still likely my biggest disappointment with the film. OTOH, Jong-Gil’s decision to open the door played much better for me on a second viewing. And I still love so much else about this film: the pacing, the action scenes, the clever use of tunnels, etc. Also, on a positive note: Train to Busan was the first thing I saw Choi Woo-Shik in, who I rather adore. (He’s such a puppy in this movie. The expression on his face when he enters the train car full of Zombified Teammates, oof. Poor puppy.)

I maintain that Small Child’s singing at the end of the film is a terrible idea and should have gotten our two survivors dead (rather than be the instrument of their salvation), and damn the themes and symbolism. Still, it’s not a serious complaint. It doesn’t look like either character is in the sequel, either, which I’m actually grateful for, and not just because Peninsula is, by all accounts, nowhere near as good as its predecessor. It’s just if a character makes it through a zombie apocalypse, I have zero interest in watching a sequel where they inevitable die. LONG LIVE SUNG-GYEONG AND SOO-AN, SURVIVORS OF THE ZOMBIE HELL TRAIN.

Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.

Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Suspiria, Us, and Jason X

It’s the end of an era, folks! Okay, fine, it’s just the end of our first annual Horror Bingo–which, yes, should have been finished well over a month ago, but life! Holidays! Disney Plus! The point is, I got it done by Christmas, and that’s just gonna have to be good enough.

More importantly . . .

That’s right, I WON! Honestly, this was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to Round 2 next year. Before I get into conclusions, though, we have three more movies to discuss: our final two Horror Bingo films and, of course, our reward movie: Jason X.

Suspiria (2018)

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

Well. That was a movie.

I was hopeful for this one. I do really enjoy the original film. (Gore! Maggots! Technicolor!) But also, I was kinda excited to see a different take on Ballet Witch Academy cause there are a lot of ways to go with that concept. (Not gonna lie, folks: if Ballet Witch Academy was a show on CW, I’d watch the hell out of it.) Add in Tilda Swinton and a score by Thom Yorke, and I was fucking sold. And credit where credit’s due: I do really enjoy that score. Listening to it now, as a matter of fact, and let me tell you: “The Hooks” is a particularly disturbing song when you’re listening to it by yourself at midnight. Also, the Susie/Olga dance scene is nothing short of horrific: grotesque, intense, and masterfully shot. There are certain plot developments I like, too, at least conceptually: the reveal that Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, for instance, is certainly intriguing. And that whole line about how the witches won’t suffer any retaliation for their votes? HA! I didn’t buy that bit of bullshit for one second, so the violent payoff at the end works well for me.

Overall, though, I just really didn’t enjoy this movie. I didn’t like the opening scene at all, like, Chloe Grace Moretz seems to be going for Crazy, Oh So Crazy, and it feels both atonal AF and, yeah, just kinda ick. At 2 1/2 hours, I think the film is far too long. I’m not saying you can’t have long horror films, but I am saying they’re hard to do well. (It: Chapter Two also failed at this.) We spend way more time on the psychiatrist than I think is warranted, and I don’t love that he’s played by Tilda Swinton; the performance is fine (I mean, it’s Tilda Swinton), but I find the choice itself unnecessarily distracting. I like the idea of Susie’s twist, but not the build or execution of it, and I don’t think the film does a very good job developing her and Madam Blanc’s relationship, either. Sure, they stare at each other a lot, and I suspect I’m supposed to get mad lesbian chemistry or maybe, IDK, incestuous mother/daughter vibes? Mostly, though, I feel like Suspiria relies way too heavily on its artsy mood and funky editing in an attempt to overcompensate for a lackluster script. I’m not particularly convinced the political backstory is working in the film’s favor, either. There were a few moments of interesting horror here, but primarily, I found myself bored, frustrated, or both.

Us

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: All of them. Watch the film first, please.
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, this is difficult. There’s an awful lot I do like about this movie. The acting is great. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic, Winston Duke is hilarious (he plays Such A Dad), and I really enjoyed Shahadi Wright Joseph quite a bit, too. I’d forgotten Elisabeth Moss was in this movie, and though it’s a small role, my God, if she doesn’t make the most out of it. There are so many wonderful scenes and moments here: the death of Pluto, basically everything that happens at the Tyler’s house, Adelaide and Red’s final fight/dance, etc. The soundtrack is phenomenal (I’ve now switched over to “Anthem,” naturally), and I liked a lot of the humor. I’m a huge sucker for family dynamics in horror, and I was definitely invested in these characters as we watched the film.

But I have criticisms, too, and unfortunately, they’re not minor ones. Like, when Red gives her monologue near the end of the movie about how the Tethered were kept underground as part of a government experiment and how she banded them together and such, it felt . . . messy. Interesting, certainly, but messy, like there’s enough story and metaphor in these five minutes alone to make a whole other movie, but instead of really doing something with it, it’s just sorta . . . thrown out there, slapdash as hell. I can’t quite decide if we’re given too much information here or not nearly enough, but either way, I think the writing is a bit weak in the third act. Still, I was willing to forgive it because, messy or not, Us is weird and fascinating, and I was having a pretty fun time watching it. And then we get Adelaide’s Big Reveal, and I just . . .

Look. We were roughly five minutes into this movie before I thought, “Oh, shit, maybe this is an evil changeling story! Maybe Adelaide isn’t traumatized; she’s just not Adelaide.” And you know, there is evidence to support that, particularly whenever Adelaide kills one of the Tethered. But the more Red talked, the more I realized I wouldn’t buy that twist anymore. Part of that’s dialogue: would she really have a whole speech about the humans Above, specifically calling them “your people,” without ever mentioning they were once her people, that the sky was once her sky? Would she say “we’re humans too, you know” to someone who, of course, does know? Would she use intentionally ambiguous (and slightly more awkward) phrasing like “how you could’ve taken me with you” instead of “you could’ve come with me” or “we could’ve both lived Above?”

But it’s not just dialogue. It’s also that the logic and mechanics of this place feel murky as hell: Little Adelaide starts behaving like a shadow while trapped Below, but . . . I don’t really know how or why: she isn’t mindless like the others, after all. So much here feels vague and inconsistent, and while horror doesn’t always have to be logical or explained in full to be successful, that doesn’t fly so well when you need to support a Big Twist. And it doesn’t help that I just don’t think this particular Big Twist adds much to the story, emotionally or thematically; mostly, it just strikes me as an unnecessary cheat, and considering Cheat Unreliable Narrators are one of my biggest storytelling pet peeves? It’s a really unfortunate note to end this otherwise very enjoyable film on.

Jason X

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

Oh, Jason X. This gloriously silly movie. This loving parody of its own franchise. You can come at me with your “Michael Myers is the best masked killer” until you’re blue in the face, but has Michael Myers ever been cryogenically frozen for 400 years? Has he ever cut off a dude’s arm purely by falling over? Was he resurrected and reconstructed into Uber Michael by futuristic nano ants? Yeah, I rest my case.

Jason X knows exactly what kind of movie it is. The puns are over the top, the kills are as violent as they are ridiculous, the fashion is hilarious (sometimes even intentionally!), and and everyone just seems like they’re having a really good time. The whole movie is a string of meta in-jokes punctuated by absurd violence. (See: the gratuitous nudity holograms and the nod to everyone’s favorite sleeping bag death from Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood.) Hell, the whole plot structure is basically one giant homage to Aliens. Also, holy shit, David Cronenberg has a cameo in this! I don’t think I even realized that the first time I watched this movie.

I will say it’s a little disappointing that a) both black characters on the ship die, and b) they die sacrificing themselves for white people, which is certainly a shitty trope prevalent in horror. That being said, if you’re gonna go out in a heroic blaze of glory, you’ve gotta do it like Peter Mensah, whose character impossibly zooms in from out of nowhere, tackles Jason in space, and steers their bodies towards Earth 2, where they continue to fight even as they burn up in the atmosphere. It is exceptional. It is a thing of beauty.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO WRAP-UP:

Of the horror films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Babadook, It Follows, and The Wailing. Meanwhile, my least favorites were Suspiria (2018), Ghost Story, Insidious, and The Witch.

Of the horror films I have seen before, I think The Legend of Hell House remains my favorite, whereas my appreciation for Hostel has considerably dipped.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to on this go-around: Deep Red, Overlord, and Phantasm.

Movies I’ll probably add to next year’s Horror Bingo, if I don’t watch them before then: Tigers Are Not Afraid, Happy Death Day, and Hausu.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stripes, and Love, Simon

Solo: A Star Wars Story

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yep. Heavily implied spoilers for Rogue One, too.
Grade: Vanilla

So, I finally watched Solo. It was okay, I guess.

On the plus side: Alden Ehreneich is perfectly respectable as Han. I adore Donald Glover as Lando. I am equally obsessed with Lando’s fabulous wardrobe. And I love, just LOVE, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37. Enfys Nest is super intriguing, and Qi’ra turning out to be Darth Maul’s disciple is . . . . interesting? (Especially since that motherfucker should be dead. Don’t come at me with Clone Wars. Darth Maul got sliced in half and he is DEAD.) Like, I’m into it, but also this twist doesn’t really go anywhere? If we’re setting up for a new Qi’ra-centered prequel–or for Old Qi’ra to return as an important villain in Star Wars IX–I guess that’s one thing, but as is, my reaction was more like, “Okay, cool, and . . .?”

Which, honestly, is a fair representation of how I feel about Solo as a whole. Like, why did we make this? To tell us how Han got his last name? Please. That was some unnecessary bullshit right there. To show us how Cynical Han used to be more trusting and idealistic?

Who really needed that story? Especially since it’s such an obvious story: I felt like I spent most the movie waiting for both Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke to double-cross Han. It wasn’t a question of if; mostly, it was just a question of who first. That’s not what I would call awesome narrative tension, which is one of my largest complaints about prequels in general. L3-37’s death is pretty obvious from the get-go, too, because she–like every character in Rogue One–isn’t around for the later films. Also, am I the only person who’s upset that Han took the Millennium Falcon? Like, I know Lando cheated the card game and all, and, sure, later left them to die (I cheered, BTW), but still, whether it was romantic love or otherwise, Lando obviously cared a lot about L3-37. The last of her knowledge–her essence, so to speak–was put into that ship . . . and then he doesn’t even end up with it? WHAT MONSTER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?

Also, I can’t help but note that Lando grieved more for L3-37 than anyone did for Thandie Newton, and for Christ’s sake, how the fuck do you cast Thandie Newton in your movie and do that little with her? I don’t care how busy she was with Westworld; this is a HUGE waste of her talent, and I am feeling deeply salty about it. In fact, if this film were to be remade to my satisfaction? You kill off Woody, not Thandie: he’s a bigger name, so his cameo death is actually more of a shock; more importantly, Val’s antagonistic chemistry with Han would be a much more interesting dynamic to watch, especially as they reluctantly grow to depend upon and like one another. After that, you can go one of two ways: Val, like Beckett, could betray Han (which I suspect would be more surprising), or she could step up to join the Rebellion with Enfys Nest, while Han, burned by Qi’ra, turns away from all that. I actually think the latter could have a lot of emotional punch, and the only thing I’d regret losing is the scene where Han shoots Beckett. I did genuinely enjoy that moment.

And if you do go with the latter, there’s  clearly only one course of action: an immediate sequel to this prequel, in which Val and Enfys go up against Qi’ra in an epic showdown. (Hopefully using this song because it’s also pretty goddamn epic, if not a little . . . odd . . . when paired with the train heist scene.)

Stripes

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: I mean, yeah, technically? It’s a comedy from 1981, though, so . . .
Grade: Strawberry

Yes, this really is the first time I’ve ever watched Stripes. It’s . . . also okay?

Look, here’s my confession: Bill Murray’s shtick doesn’t always work for me. I mean, sometimes it does! But other times, not so much, and while I understand I should’ve spontaneously burst into flames just for daring to commit such blasphemy to the written word, like, dude’s built a career out of playing snarky little assholes. And while I’m generally down for the “snark” part of that equation, the asshole part? Don’t always love it. Which is a long-winded way of explaining that for every Murray line that makes me laugh in Stripes, there are two more that make me wanna punch him in the face. Freaking out the rich lady who was a snotty jerk to him, for example? Sure, no problem. Causing a huge backup on the bridge (plus at least one accident) just to get back at the rich lady, and, I don’t know, The Man? Dude, fuck you. I was glad when John’s GF left him, just like I was glad when Hulka punched him in the stomach.

Worse, John never actually grows or develops or learns anything. There’s a part where he steps up, I guess, but it doesn’t seem like he’s changed in any meaningful way. In fact, we know he hasn’t, because immediately after said step-up moment, he fucks off to Germany in a stolen Army SUV to have some weekend sex with his GF, inadvertently getting the rest of his unit captured when they go after him. John’s character arc is less of an arc than a flat line, and the movie–while occasionally funny–seems pretty directionless as a whole.

That all being said, certain scenes did make me laugh. The whole dance/drill sequence at graduation was pretty great. I was giggling during the creaking bones and push-ups scene (I’m 33; it’s relatable content), as well as when Russell (Harold Ramis) attacked Bill Murray for trying to desert. And I had a great time playing spot-the-actor. I mean, my God, this cast. I was particularly delighted to see a young John Larroquette playing against type, not to mention a cameo by Baby Danny Concannon. (I was excited about PJ Soles for a hot second, too, until she pretty much just transformed back into Lynda from Halloween, all giggly in love with John for God knows what reason.)

So, it’s okay. It’s just that, all in all, I would’ve been completely fine if John Winger had blown up during basic training and the movie had switched to focus on Sean Young, instead.

Love, Simon

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (HBO)
Spoilers: Yup, for both book and movie
Grade: Chocolate

I actually read this book (or, rather, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda) last year and had, per usual, every intention of seeing the movie in theaters as well. For once, I’m so grateful I failed to do that. Not because I didn’t enjoy the movie; I absolutely did, but I was also not counting on the cringe factor being this high, like, JFC. I just spent two hours hiding behind my hands, taking off my headphones, muting the volume on my computer, lowering the screen of my laptop, and otherwise literally squirming in my seat. The sheer awkwardness, people. I’m fucking twitching over here.

Moving past that. Overall, I thought Love, Simon was a pretty great teen comedy: hilarious, cute, very often moving. I do have some disappointments: while I understood (and even liked) many of the adaptational changes, I’m not totally crazy that Leah secretly loves Simon now, rather than Nick. It feels a little . . . cliche? Unnecessary? I just didn’t love it, although I will admit that Movie Leah, who is considerably less passive aggressive and jealous than Book Leah, was a welcome change. I’m also pretty bummed that Bram didn’t get a bigger moment at the end of the movie, like, him joining Simon on the Ferris wheel is great and all, but their actual scene together feels pretty rushed. The story spends all this time on the mystery of Who is Blue, but once we find out it’s Keiynan Lonsdale, we only get, like, fifteen seconds with him, and then the movie’s over. I find it disappointing. (Especially because I like Lonsdale, damn it.)

Still, this movie is laugh out loud funny and has a spectacular cast. Nick Robinson is not at all who I pictured for Simon–honestly, I was thinking of Miles Heizer, who plays a smaller part in the film–but he does a pretty decent job with the role. Despite my frustrations with Leah’s storyline, I like Katherine Langford quite a bit. I also really enjoyed the hell out of Alexandra Shipp: she has a lot of energy, a lot of presence, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her outside the painfully dull X-Men movies. And as far as the adults go, well, Tony Hale is absolute perfect as the awkward vice principal, I would legit watch a whole spinoff about Natasha Rothwell as Ms. Albright, and Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are great as Simon’s parents. Garner, in particular, stands out here. Not gonna lie: I definitely cried at her “exhale” speech, like, Jesus, that shit got me.

Of course, this movie both is and isn’t your typical high school romcom; proving once again that Hollywood moves at the pace of a dead turtle, Love, Simon is our first mainstream gay teen romance. It’s a lot of hope and expectation to hang on a single film, and I suspect not everyone’s gonna get what they wanted out of it. For my part, though, I really liked this one. And hopefully, we actually follow this up with more LGBTQIA films soon, especially if they focus on some of those letters that get a little less attention.

“I Feel Strange Sharing A Childhood Story Considering I Was Never A Child.”

Somewhat recently, The Dark ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that not only secured funding for two more years, but also raised their pay rates from .03 to .06 cents a word, making them a pro-paying magazine. This is awesome news because The Dark is a fantastic magazine publishing awesome work you should definitely check out, but I’m mostly bringing it up now because I–with a lack of cool crafty skills or, honestly, much else to offer–once again volunteered a movie review or pop culture essay as one of the possible Kickstarter rewards. Alas, there really is only one person out there who has both the interest and the means to purchase these reviews.

And that person, once again, is Tom.

Tom, the fiend, spent a good twenty minutes gleefully telling me about all the movies he almost made me watch. Honestly, I was kinda hoping he’d land on Cannonball Run II, mostly because I’ve never seen the first one and I thought that could be pretty funny. Finally, however, he told it to me straight: of all the horrible films he could’ve chosen, Tom actually picked a movie he thought I would like and was shocked I hadn’t seen yet: Blade Runner 2049.

And I was grateful for that . . . until I saw the run time was 2 hours and 44 minutes long.

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“You’re Clearly An Expert On Leaving Useless People Behind.”

Maybe a couple of months ago, Mekaela told me about a Korean zombie movie she wanted to check out sometime: Train to Busan. I was interested (I mean, zombies on a train? Of course I was interested!), but between life and all the television we wanted to watch, we didn’t quite get around to it. It wasn’t until we were roughly halfway through watching kdrama Goblin that I realized Gong Yoo starred in the film. So after we finished the show, we knew what we had to do.

All in all, it’s a pretty decent zombie film.

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