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 Reviews: Mandy, Midsommar, and Haunt

Mandy

Year: 2018
Director: Panos Cosmatos
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Strawberry

Well. That . . . that was certainly a movie.

Mandy is something of a critical darling; it’s got a 91% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and it may absolutely be your cup of tea-and-arsenic if you’re very into psychedelic horror and gore and 80’s metal references. But wow, this wasn’t my thing at all. On the upside: I actually am into gore, and also, there are some pretty neat shots in Mandy. I genuinely enjoy a lot of the bold colors, like, do I know why this forest is so intensely magenta? Nope, and I’m not wildly concerned about it, either. I kind of enjoy that Mandy, herself, isn’t, y’know, some hot college grad weirdly paired with Nicolas Cage; also, she does have this moment where she laughs at {spoiler redacted}, which is pretty fantastic. There is also a chainsaw fight, and people, you KNOW I’m here for a chainsaw fight.

Unfortunately, I had checked out of this movie long before that chainsaw fight. Mandy is only a two-hour film, but the pacing in the first half is soul-crushing, chock full of A) tiny filler scenes that could easily be cut, B) more plot relevant scenes that each run at least a solid minute longer than necessary, and C) whew, just so much weird LSD shit. Color palette aside, the general artiness of the film did little for me; mostly, it came across as disingenuous, like it was trying too hard to make up for a weak script and story. And I get it: not everyone watches movies for the script or story, and that’s fine. But for me, there was little here to excite, intrigue, or entertain; I found myself so disengaged that I couldn’t even enjoy the dastardly violence OR Nicolas Cage’s very unique brand of overacting. Although I did laugh my ass off during the Nicolas Cage screaming scene, which I’m pretty sure was not the desired effect. (Fair warning: if you watch this clip, you’re gonna get a lot of NC’s thighs and tightie-whities here.)

Final notes: A) Nicolas Cage keeps flicking his cigarettes around, like an asshole–you live in THE WOODS, you DICK, my Californian ass HATES you right now, and B) the evil cult leader Jeremiah is played by Linus Roache, who also played Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, and I tell you now, if there’s an outtake of the actor asking his reflection “why do we fall, Bruce” while incoherently monologuing into a mirror . . . I still won’t like this movie, but Jesus, it would totally make the two hours I spent here worth it.

Midsommar

Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep, all of them
Grade: Chocolate

Honestly, I liked Midsommar a lot more than I expected to. Florence Pugh is absolutely fantastic in the role, and once again I’m angry about the Academy’s refusal to acknowledge women in horror films. (Don’t talk to me about Black Swan and The Silence of the Lambs; those movies were 10 and 29 years ago, respectively.) I actually enjoy the film’s slow build, and while I’d never say Midsommar is a particularly scary movie, it certainly has multiple creepy, disturbing, and/or weird AF moments that I liked. I genuinely enjoy the look of the film, how colorful and bright everything is, how much of the horror takes place during the day, etc. The Ättestupa ceremony, I thought, was especially well done. The sheer cosplay potential in this movie is magnificent, too, and I like the score quite a bit. Also, this film did terrible things for my blood pressure because sweet Christ, I hate Christian so much, it, it, flames–

Christian is Dani’s boyfriend. He’s also a wishy-washy, gaslighting, pathetic Nice Guy turd, and I’m just really happy he burns to death whilst sewn inside a dead bear. In fact, that might be my new go-to curse now: die in a BEAR in a fire. It’s been a while since I’ve hated a fictional character quite this much, like, every time Dani gets upset about actual upsetting things and then is the one who apologizes to Christian for it, just–

I do find myself wondering how many dudes watched this film and felt sympathy for Christian, like, thought he was a mostly okay guy without recognizing how emotionally manipulative his behavior actually is. I want the answer to be “zero,” but I don’t quite believe it. On a related note: I wanna shake whoever wrote the film’s storyline on IMDb, which says Dani invited herself along on the trip when she absolutely did not.

I don’t think Midsommar quite earns its runtime, though, which is hilarious because I watched the theatrical cut, which is only 2 hours and 27 minutes. (As opposed to the director’s cut, which is 2 hrs, 51 min.) Again, I quite like the film’s slow build; it’s the last third, actually, where I feel the pacing drags. (Maybe just after Josh bites it? Also, Chidi, nooo!) I’m struggling to articulate why it drags, though. Like, a lot of this movie is about Dani’s emotional journey, right, her anxiety and grief and eventual realization that Christian is a tool and that she can let go of both him and her dead family and embrace a new family. And I love all that, but somewhere along the way, I feel like we lose that thread a bit, like Dani’s arc takes a backseat to all the drugs and weirdness and mating rituals and what have you. The resolution worked for me on an academic level, but I didn’t really feel it the way I’d hoped; I felt sorta distant, removed, which both surprised and disappointed me, considering how I’d invested I’d been before.

I also really don’t like how Ruben is handled. Ruben is a child prophet, born of incest. He has absolutely no character and very little in the way of plot relevance, but he’s thrown into the story anyway because his facial disfigurement and disabilities are meant to be a shorthand for horror; frankly, it’s lazy bullshit. Also, Dani’s backstory: it’s fine that her whole family died in a murder-suicide, but to just throw in that her sister is bipolar and that’s it, like, no motivation in killing the parents, just here’s a diagnosis, she’s a crazy person . . . yeah, hard pass. I really like how Dani’s anxiety is depicted in this film, but it occurs to me that this may have more to do with Florence Pugh’s phenomenal performance than the actual script itself. I genuinely like a lot about Midsommar, but its casual ableism, not so much.

Haunt

Year: 2019
Directors: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry
Grade: Vanilla

I went into Haunt hoping it would be delightfully terrible, but honestly, it’s actually a much more decent slasher than I anticipated. Admittedly, there are multiple things I’d like to change. The first is the backstory of our final girl, Harper, because while I am all for dealing with serious topics like abuse and domestic violence in slashers–seriously, I am ALL FOR IT–I still expect those topics to be handled with a lot of care and nuance and to be thoughtfully integrated into the story; unfortunately, I found this depiction clunky and basic as shit, and not nearly as empowering as it clearly wanted to be. If you can easily cut your protagonist’s whole emotional arc while barely making any changes to the plot, I think you need to reconsider how well that arc has actually been written.

Also, I’m just baffled by some of the choices our characters make and the reactions they have to the horror around them. The dude who gets shot because he goes back to confront a bad guy when FFS, he was already climbing over the fence to escape. The girl who stands up directly front of a shotgun trap instead of staying on her belly or standing to the side, both very clear options. Crawling all the way under the bed for a mysterious box when she could easily have just grabbed it from the side. (There are aesthetic and thematic reasons for this, but it so entirely defies all logic that it throws me out of the story.) Worst, though, is when our heroes encounter a bad guy claiming to be an ally (spoilers: he’s a liar) and start intently badgering him to say his name, his last name, take off his mask, etc. I do kinda get the mask thing because, you know, masks are creepy, but seriously, he’s either a hapless employee who’s really trying to help, or he’s a psychopath trying to murder you; either way, how the fuck is knowing his last name gonna help you here? The dialogue sometimes just feels wildly out of place.

(Also, last complaint, but Haunt uses one of my least favorite tropes when Harper accidentally kills her friend, who’s been gagged and dressed to look like a bad guy. This totally may not bother anyone else, as the trope itself isn’t inherently problematic; it just annoys me personally. But I do think Bailey drops out of the story for way too long, which is especially disappointing considering she’s the film’s only Black character.)

That all being said, Haunt is pretty entertaining, and some of the scares are genuinely creepy, especially if you love going to haunted houses like I do. For example, this bit where the characters each have to stand alone in this small, closed coffin? This is both a) delightfully unnerving, and b) actually reminds me of this great haunted house I went to once. (You didn’t stand in a coffin, but it was a very similar idea.) The scene where our heroes watch an “actress” get murdered (assuming it’s part of the haunt) is decent on its own, but it’s even better when they’re forced to watch their own friend get killed the same way. Ghost (the fake ally villain) is actually pretty sinister, like, this whole bit? “You said you wanted to see my face, and I was just wondering if you still wanted to see it. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but oh, I think you’ll like it.” I mean, CREEPY. Also, not even gonna lie: I audibly gasped at the spider in a girl’s hair because SPIDERS ARE THE DEVIL, I WILL NOT BE ACCEPTING COMMENTS AT THIS TIME.

So, yeah. I’d probably recommend this one. Things I want to change because, well, me, but this film was definitely better than I was expecting it to be.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Changeling, Tragedy Girls, and You’re Next

The Changeling

Year: 1980
Director: Peter Medak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly–but the trailer above basically shows the whole movie, so beware
Grade: Strawberry

The dreaded grade of Strawberry is misleading here. I quite liked this movie, actually; I just happened to like the next two films more. The Changeling is a classic sort of ghost story: an old, mysterious house, a creepy music box, some strange banging sounds, a child’s ball bouncing down the stairs, etc. For all I know, this movie originated some of those tropes. The film is very atmospheric, and I enjoyed its slow, steady build; also, the seance scene, and how no one wastes time on tedious skepticism. YES.

I like George C. Scott in this, too; he’s very reserved, very understated, which I think generally serves the movie well. (Occasionally, he’s possibly a touch too understated; at one point, I was like, “Damn, man, have a reaction or something.”) Trish Van Devere, OTOH, doesn’t work quite as well for me, although to be fair, my problems might stem more from writing than the actual peformance. Claire feels more like an outline of a character than an actual character; she has virtually no interiority, mostly existing to A) get John Russell into the house, and B) give John Russell someone to bounce his ghost detective instincts off of. She also has a couple of emotional breakdowns, and while I’m 100% here for one of them, the other feels very random to me.

Overall, I found the mystery engaging, although I was a bit thrown when certain elements were dropped entirely. (Presumably just red herrings, but I still expected them to come back in some meaningful way?) I also wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more with Russell’s dead family, who are barely mentioned in the second half of the story. (A quick aside: I knew Jean Marsh was in this movie, but completely failed to recognize her because apparently I was on the lookout for Mombi, not Tragic Dead Wife.) On the other hand, I did quite like Melvyn Douglas as Senator Carmichael, whose emotional reaction to {spoiler redacted} genuinely surprised me. If you’re trying to decide which Melvyn Douglas 80’s horror film to watch, I highly recommend The Changeling over Ghost Story (which we watched for last year’s Horror Bingo). And if you’re a Star Trek fan, hey, John Colicos (AKA Kor) plays a bit role here!

Here’s what I can’t get over, though: the size of this haunted ass house. Who’d wanna live in this spooky ass mansion by themselves? You could be housing 25 people in this place, easy! At one point, Claire shows John Russell to the music room, and I’m like, “Bitch, this is a damn castle; you could make five music rooms and still have space to spare.” Mr. Russell, sir, please. Next time, consider a damn cottage, I’m begging you.

Tragedy Girls

Year: 2017
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Only for an uncredited cameo
Grade: Vanilla

This was an awful lot of fun. I already adored Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool and The Exorcist (the cancelled-before-its-time TV show, not the 70’s classic, obviously), and I really liked Alexandra Shipp in Love, Simon and X-Men: Apocalypse (even if X-Men: Apocalypse, itself, was abysmal). Of course, neither disappointed here; these two are AWESOME as murder BFFs. The whole cast is pretty great, actually: I enjoyed Jack Quaid quite a bit as Jordan (even if dude hilariously cannot pass for a high school student), Kevin Durand is pretty perfectly cast as Lowell, and the uncredited Josh Hutcherson cameo? Oh. Oh, man. I was DYING. It is the absolute best. I will say, however, that I seriously wish that Rosalind Chao had been in the film for more than five seconds, and I kinda think the script sold Craig Robinson a little short.

Arguably, Tragedy Girls has a more negative philosophy in regards to social media than, say, #Alive, but it doesn’t bother me too much here because social media didn’t make Sadie and McKayla homicidal maniacs; they were clearly little homicidal maniacs from the jump. I honestly don’t have a lot of criticisms of this one. Obviously, I’m all about ride or die murder friends; also, the soundtrack is great, the ending is spot on, the violence is super gory, all things I love. You know, the whole movie is just . . . cute. Like, in a glittery, bloodthirsty sort of way.

You’re Next

Year: 2011
Director: Adam Wingard
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely – do not read if you haven’t seen this yet
Grade: Chocolate

Ah, one of my favorites. It’s actually been a while since I rewatched this one, though–long enough that I actually said, “Jesus, how old is this movie” when Erin busted out an actual camera instead of her cell phone–and it’s a lot of fun to revisit when you already know the twists. I kept catching things I missed the first time around, like how “both” refers to Felix and Crispian, not Felix and Zee, or what’s behind Crispian’s smile when Erin says that his parents are loaded. And I still love so many things about You’re Next: how funny it is, how the horror is played completely straight despite just how funny it is, the family dynamics, the booby traps, “I don’t think that’s a fair criticism,” and Erin, yeah, just Erin as a whole. Also, the scene at the end where Crispian tries to justify his evil plan and win Erin back into his good graces, I mean, it is perfection. This scene is, no lie, one of my favorite scenes in any horror or comedy I’ve ever watched. The delivery is just so good here. “Maybe . . . an engagement?” I aspire to such mastery of craft.

Some random notes:

A. Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) has the gall to comment on Zee’s unusual name, like she didn’t name one of her kids “Crispian.” Barbara. Don’t put me on Zee’s side, here.

B. The opening scene is a bit weak IMO, but it’s also very short, so it’s not a huge problem. Still rolling my eyes at the woman strolling past the giant glass windows in an unbuttoned shirt, though, like seriously. One button, that’s all I’m asking for.

C. Hmm. Never did finish that You’re Next/Home Alone/Halloween fanfic, did I?

D. Felix and Zee’s deaths still get me. Like, they’re great deaths; this definitely isn’t a complaint. But man, do I cringe.

E. Seriously. Who even complains about a “jarring” Australian accent? When has that ever been a thing? Kelly, you suck. (On a positive note, Kelly is actually seriously hurt when she’s thrown through glass! This is so unusual in movies! Even Erin gets all cut up and impaled, although admittedly, she should really be dead.)

F. Poor Tariq. You miserable bastard.

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 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.