TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 2022

Well. I’ve definitely been ignoring my blog lately. This is partly because of travel and partly because of writing, more specifically, because I started work on this fanfic that, Jesus Christ, has exploded into a novella-length monstrosity and has taken over my entire life. Which means I’m well past due for my Spring TV Superlatives, among other things. Unfortunately, I’m still trying to catch up on a bunch of shit and also, really didn’t watch as much TV as normal, so today we’ll be doing Modified TV Superlatives. (Don’t worry. I’ll still manage to make this post at least 1000 words longer than it needs to be.)

Here’s a list of everything I’ve been watching (and in some cases, abandoning) over the past three months.

The Guest
Running Man (Episodes 50-62 and 594-605)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 3-13)
Our Flag Means Death
The Crowned Clown
Tomorrow (abandoned, may return to)
Vincenzo (abandoned, may return to)
Moon Knight (abandoned for good)
A Black Lady Sketch Show (Season 3)
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (abandoned, will return to)
Star Trek TOS (Season 3, Episodes 4-12)
Nobody Knows
Don’t Call It Mystery

Today, we’ll briefly discuss most of these shows. (Not all. I’ll probably ignore the ones I gave up on.) You’ll be safe on spoilers unless you venture into the clearly marked Spoiler Section, where you will definitely see me rant about certain character deaths because gah. STILL so annoyed about it.

But that’s for later. For now, let’s begin with . . .

The Guest

Creepiest Moment; Most Horrifically Tragic Character; Longest Previously On; Grand Prize for Survival (TIE); Worst Plan (TIE)

A priest, a cop, and a psychic taxi driver walk into a ghost-infested bar . . .

I’d been meaning to check out this Korean supernatural horror-drama for a while now, and overall, I had a pretty good time watching it. (I wish I could find a decent trailer to link to, but it’s proving difficult. This FMV captures the tone and visuals pretty well, though, and I don’t think there are any big spoilers?) I do wish Kang Gil Young (Jung Eun Chae, AKA, the cop) got a little more to do in the Big Finale. And I probably wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re looking for something, you know, upbeat and lighthearted? Like, The Guest is all exorcisms and ghostly possessions and childhood trauma. (A few of my favorite things!) Not to mention, seriously, Most Horrifically Tragic Character can definitely apply to more than one person. I do think one character wins the tragedy competition, but it is, admittedly, debatable.

Still, if you’re in the mood for something a little creepy and a lot angsty with a bit of mystery and some fun side characters (Detective Go Bong Song is precious to me), you might enjoy this one.

(Also. I am not kidding about those Longest Previously Ons. Holy shit. I just clicked on a random episode to time this segment, and it was literally two minutes long.)

Our Flag Means Death

Favorite Canon Ship; Favorite Kiss; Favorite Individual Song (TIE); Favorite New Show (TIE)

Now if you do need something a little lighter and adorable, and you’re also a fan of queer pirates and shenanigans (and who isn’t), Our Flag Means Death might be more your thing. I generally enjoyed the first few episodes well enough (generally, because awkward comedy can be rough for me), but I was definitely sold in “Discomfort in a Married State” when Blackbeard and Stede meet for the first time. Taika Waititi is awesome in this, I adore his cute chemistry with Rhys Darby, and I am just so here for the actually canon Blackbeard/Stede ship. These two have so many cute moments—the wardrobe swap, the foot touch (spoilers in this clip, but also, God bless any movie or show that uses Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”), THE KISS. This show has a pretty great support cast, too; I’m particularly fond of Jim, Oluwande, and Lucius.

Thank God HBO Max finally renewed OFMD for Season 2, cause otherwise, there was gonna be a riot. (Seriously, dudes. No need to wait for Pride next time. Don’t torment us like this; it’s cruel.)

Running Man

 Best Dance Scene; Favorite Betrayal; Best Product Placement; Favorite Scene Stealer

Just assume that I’m always watching this show. We literally have it on twice a week: Thursday is Classic Running Man Day and Sunday is Current Running Man Day. It is my silly time, and I need it, damn it.

Things this show is pretty much always good for: hilariously blatant product placement (in one episode, even the producer starts laughing and tells Jae Suk and Jong Kook to stop overdoing it), silly dances (So Min and Ji Hyo’s birthday dances for Jong Kook are fun, but Sexy Security Guard obviously wins ALL the awards—he needs to come back immediately), and betrayals (the face Jong Kook makes in one episode when Jae Suk betrays him, holy shit, I was dying). Ah, this show makes me so happy.

The Crowned Clown

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Favorite Sidekick; Favorite REVEEEEENGE; Favorite Holy Shit Moment; Most Unexpected Tears; Best Death; Worst Death; Favorite New Show (TIE); Favorite Individual Song (TIE); Worst Plan (TIE)

Oh, man. This show. This show. With a few notable exceptions, I’m not generally drawn to doppelgänger and identity swap stories, but I got super invested in this one: the characters, their relationships, the badass moments, the plot twists, the absolutely lovely score (my favorite song might be “The Way of Truth,” but it’s a very hard call, like, “Before Fall Down” is pretty amazing too, not to mention, uh, every other song). And the fantastic acting, my God, especially by Yeo Jin Goo and Kim Sang Kyung. NGL: I mostly checked this show out to see Yeo Jin Goo play batshit crazy—and whew, he does it well—but watching him flip back and forth between Yi Heon, Ha Seon, and Ha Seon pretending to be Yi Heon is especially a treat. And Kim Sang Kyung is wonderful here, too, particularly as we watch Lee Gyu’s dynamic with both Yi Heon and Ha Seon shift over time. There’s this one scene, especially, that just . . . oh, oh, my heart.

Really, though, this whole supporting cast is excellent. I enjoy Lee Se Young as So Woon (restrained, dignified, very different from her delightful role in A Korean Odyssey) and Jang Gwang as Eunuch Jo (I would die for this old man; his relationship with Ha Seon is so sweet). There are our villains: Jang Young Nam as the Dowager Queen (man, I love this actress, the notes she hits when she’s enraged) and Kwon Hae Hyo as Shin Chi Soo (this fucking guy, I swear to God). And I can’t forget about Yoon Jong Seok as Officer Jang, either (quiet badass, and cool to see in a more substantial role after a small part in The Guest). Truly, there is so much good about this show, so much to recommend . . .

. . . but by God, I hate the last 15 minutes so much . . .

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Meet me in the Spoiler Section, The Crowned Clown, because boy . . .  we’ve gotta talk.

A Black Lady Sketch Show

Most Welcome Return; Favorite Opening Credits

Man, I wish this show had longer seasons. Six episodes is not enough! I was super happy to see A Black Lady Sketch Show come back, mostly because this show is a delight, but also because I’m always excited to hear the new theme song and see the new opening credits. (They change every season.) These opening credits, in particular, are great because they vary a little bit with each episode. Like how Skye Townsend is playing “the rich jilted bride” in Episode 1, but by Episode 6 has become “the rich jilted bride who just committed murder but has no regrets because she killed for righteous reasons including exposing her now dead fiancé as the man who accidentally ran over Robin’s leg at her inaugural parade in the Maldives.” I mean, that’s perfection. No notes.

Moon Knight

Moon Knight Disney GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Most Unintentionally Hilarious Moment

. . . so, despite the fact that this show is only six episodes total, we gave up on it just two episodes in. Much as I like Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight just didn’t do much for me at all. I’m only bringing it up now because holy shit, that time when Ethan Hawke speaks “Mandarin,” like . . . let me tell you, I 100% do not speak Mandarin, watching a couple of C-dramas does not make me an expert on literally anything related to Mandarin, and even I was like, ” . . . are you shitting me?” If you’d given me three guesses on what language Ethan Hawke was speaking in that clip, Mandarin would not have been any of them. FFS, Marvel. Hire some people for this shit, Jesus.

Star Trek: The Original Series

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Best WTF Moment, Worst WTF Moment, Most Historically Relevant Moment, Character Who Most Deserves a Better Show; Worst Plan (TIE)

I know I’ve taken a hiatus—again—but I really am going to finish watching TOS sometime this year. In the meantime, “Plato’s Stepchildren” is extremely notable, not only for broadcasting the very first interracial kiss between a Black/white couple, but also for containing the Best and Worst WTF Moments, all in one episode. (The best, obviously, is the GIF above—good for every occasion—while the worst is when Michael Dunn rides on Kirk’s back like he’s a pony. Seriously. WTAF.)

Meanwhile, I just so desperately wish the supporting cast in TOS got, like, subplots and actual shit to do. I know this was the 1960’s, and it was legitimately a big deal to even have, like, a Black woman or a Japanese character onboard. I’m not arguing that, just, I want so much more from Uhura and Sulu. I want more of everyone, really, that isn’t in our Holy OT3, but Uhura and Sulu especially. You two deserve more than this!

Nobody Knows

Favorite Bromance; Most Improved Character; Favorite Like-a-Parent & Child Dynamic; Favorite Kicked Puppy Face; Favorite Plot Twist; Grand Prize for Survival (TIE); Favorite Individual Song (TIE)

I randomly stumbled across this show while browsing Pinterest, of all things, and decided to check it out, partially because I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and partially because of the support cast: I’d just enjoyed watching Jang Young Nam and Kwon Hae Hyo in The Crowned Clown, and had also recently seen Ahn Ji Ho and Yoon Chan Young in All Of Us Are Dead.

I do think the first half of this show is stronger than the second (where I feel like the mystery gives way to a slightly weaker cat and mouse thriller), but I still really enjoyed watching this one. There are some clever plot twists, a fantastic score (unfortunately, most of my favorite instrumentals—including “Grandfather Clock” and “The Long Sleep”—aren’t available on Youtube, but “The Secret Not Revealed” definitely got stuck in my head a lot),  and excellent acting all around. I really like Kim Seo Hyung as Cha Young Jin, our kickass female lead detective; she’s no-nonsense, clever, and goddamn, that woman gets me whenever she cries. I really like her relationship with Eun Ho. Actually, I really like all the kids quite a bit. Naturally, I enjoyed all the cast I was already familiar with—it was almost funny, how bad I felt for Kwon Hae Hyo after hating his character so much in The Crowned Clown. I also really liked Ryu Deok Hwan as Lee Sun Woo and Park Hoon as Baek Sang Ho. Sun Woo is such a delightful scamp, but also constantly looks like he’s on the verge of tears, like, you just want someone to hug this guy. Meanwhile, Sang Ho is, well,  one crazy motherfucker. (I actually have seen Park Hoon before in Descendants of the Sun, but I remember so little about that show; it only exists in my brain as a vague montage of Song Joong Ki, tears, and an improbable number of emergencies.)

Don’t Call It Mystery

Favorite Non-Canon Ship; Favorite Hair; Worst Hair; Worst Plan (TIE)

This quirky Japanese detective show was Mek’s pick, and for the most part, I had a lot of fun watching it. I like Totono as our lead Sherlock. He’s a college student with just the most amazing hair, a serious appreciation for food, and a deep reluctance to solve mysteries for the police department, even though they keep coming to him and interrupting his dinner. Poor Totono. He so rarely gets to eat his curry.

Don’t Call It Mystery has a pretty lighthearted tone, overall, but there are some surprisingly serious and affecting moments, and I definitely found myself invested in the (presumably non-canon) ship of Totono/Garo. (Although my God, Garo needs to fix his hair, STAT.) I’d be happy to be wrong, BTW, about the non-canon thing. It is possible; I’ve never read the manga. Mostly, I’m just hoping we aren’t actually going forward with a Totono/Furomitsu ship. In fact, if we could just kill off this one-sided thing Furomitsu seems to have for Totono, that would be great, too. In general, I would like Furomitsu to get an upgrade in Season 2 (assuming there is one), because even her subplot in the bonus episode doesn’t quite work as well as I’d like. (She gets a friend, who is fantastic; I 100% approve of New Lady Cop and their dynamic in general. But Furomitsu’s plans leave something to be desired, and the Lesson she supposedly learns, well. Without spoilers, let’s just say that I remain unconvinced that she actually demonstrated learning anything, no matter what the other characters insist.)

Finally, before spoilers . . .

Legends of Tomorrow

Most Painful Cancellation

You may have noticed that Legends of Tomorrow wasn’t on my Shows I’ve Been Recently Watching list, and that’s because I fell behind on Season 7 and haven’t yet caught up. I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling the beginning of this season quite as much as seasons previous, and thus it fell by the wayside when I got busy. Still, I was absolutely planning to catch up because Legends is charming and ridiculous and laugh-out-loud funny, and unlike pretty much every other CW superhero show I dropped, I really wanted to see this one through.

Only then in May I found out that the show had been cancelled, which sucks for all sorts of reasons but especially because I’m pretty sure it ends on some kind of (now forever unresolved) cliffhanger, and I’m trying to decide if I even want to bother finishing it, if we’re only gonna end on some terrible, unhappy note. CW, you absolute bastards. I saw that awful, AWFUL Gotham Knights trailer. You’re cancelling my beloved Legends for shit like THAT? Unacceptable.

And now, let us continue into the . . .

SPOILER SECTION

SPOILER SECTION

SPOILER SECTION

SPOILER SECTION

I wanna wrap this up, so I’m only gonna talk about a couple of the shows that I mentioned before. First, let’s discuss . . .

Nobody Knows

Favorite Plot Twist; Grand Prize for Survival; Favorite Bromance; Most Improved Character

So, Eun Ho is a fifteen-year-old kid who ends up in a coma after mysteriously falling from the roof of a ten-story hotel. Of course, that’s far too high a fall for anyone to reasonably survive in real life, but Plot Contrivance is a powerful god, Eun Ho was definitely on the roof at some point, and salvation is a Big Damn Theme in this show, so sure, it was possible that Eun Ho had actually fallen from the roof . . . and yet, I wondered. Was Sun Woo’s disbelief that Eun Ho survived not just honest shock but also foreshadow? Was Sang Ho pushing that “miracle” narrative a touch too hard? Eun Ho falls, certainly, but was it possible that he actually fell from somewhere else?

It turns out, yes on all counts! Eun Ho, being chased by Sang Ho’s people, finds himself trapped on the roof and uses the emergency ladder to try and escape—but he only gets roughly halfway down before one of the bad guys gets hold of the rope and starts hauling him back up. Desperate, knowing that being captured will mean certain death, Eun Ho does the only thing he can think of—he jumps, trying to escape. Which means his survival is still pretty miraculous, considering that fall,  but not quite so damn impossible. It’s really a clever and nicely executed twist.

Also, I just need to mention that I became so damn invested in the unlikely friendship between Eun Ho and Dong Myung, Dong Myung and Min Sung, and just all three of these kids together. I adore sullen but sweet Dong Myung, sweet but frustrated Eun Ho, and, er, sweet-post-redemption Min Sung. This kid definitely improves over time. Another character who improves over time is the one total jerk cop on the team who apparently just . . . realizes he’s being a total jerk? And then, like, stops? It’s kind of neat, actually; I really ended up enjoying the dynamic of Young Jin’s team, especially once she starts actually being honest with them.

The Crowned Clown

Most Unexpected Tears, Best Death, Worst Death; Worst Plan

Before I get into extended ranting, let’s discuss the excellent death scene in this show. Actually, there are multiple good death scenes here—Lee Gyu is another very strong contender, sob—but nothing surprised me as much or hit quite as hard as Yi Heon. It’s a surprise partially because Yi Heon is a Big Deal Character, one of the two roles being expertly played by Yeo Jin Goo, a primary villain and a king gone mad. Upon starting this show, I certainly didn’t expect him to only make it halfway through before getting murdered—a surprise, but absolutely the right call.

But it’s not just the timing that’s a surprise. I was genuinely shocked by how heartbreaking this scene was. If you haven’t watched The Crowned Clown, let me tell you: Yi Heon is the actual Worst. I’m not saying he doesn’t have some cause, like, the kid has definitely had it rough: his dad never loved him, people tried to assassinate him, and advisors he should’ve been able to trust deliberately hooked him on opium and slowly drove him crazy. OTOH, dude becomes so monstrously paranoid that he orders the murder of his own adorable baby brother, like, seriously, this kid can’t be more than, IDK, 8? Yi Heon abuses his servants, orders his wife’s execution, and sometimes violently loses his shit and kills people. (Admittedly, not great people. Still, this man should not have access to a sword.) Trust me, we were rooting for Yi Heon to die during this show.

And yet when it actually happened . . . I mean, I wept. This scene is so heavy that Mek and I actually took a small break from the show. Yi Heon is so achingly vulnerable, so childlike, in this episode. The drugs have ravaged his body and mind to the point that he can barely hold a sword or feed himself; at one point, he barely seems to understand where he is. And then he’s betrayed ( justifiably so) by the only person that he trusts: Lee Gyu, his one loyal advisor since childhood, the man Yi Heon wishes was his own father. (You know, just to really dig that knife in.) The acting between Yeo Jin Goo and Kim Sang Kyung in this episode, just, gah. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s so GOOD.

Less great, unfortunately, is the death of Officer Jang and, generally, the whole ending of The Crowned Clown.

Okay, so. Here’s how this goes: in the last, say, 15 minutes of the show (give or take, I didn’t go back and count), when we seem to be at our relatively happy ending, Ha Seon has decided to abdicate the crown and go off to live in the countryside. For God knows what reason, he leaves the palace by himself, only Officer Jang knows that’s dumb, so he secretly sneaks out to protect him. Of course, Ha Seon is immediately set upon by a handful of enemies who stab him, and Officer Jang dies trying to protect his dumb ass. (It’s supposed to be worthwhile because we flashback to the moment when Officer Jang says that he wants to serve Ha Seon and die a glorious death while defending him, which, like. Technically? But writers, this is not a glorious death, especially considering he dies presumably thinking that he failed.) We then fast forward two years later and reunite Ha Seon (who survived, possibly—we’ll get there) and So Woon, who’s been waiting for him all this time. And . . . that’s it. That’s where the show ends.

And I’m like, okay, NO. Folks. Lovelies. I know I’ve ranted about many character deaths on this blog, but I haven’t been this unhappy about a lousy death scene in a long, long time. This is such a bullshit way to kill off an important supporting player. Unlike the other heartbreaking deaths on this show, Officer Jang goes out in such a shitty throwaway moment. The whole scene takes maybe less than a minute and feels incredibly tacked on for one last moment of cheap and unnecessary drama. The only consequence of this last minute attack is that it takes Ha Seon and So Woon a little longer to reunite. That’s it. That’s the whole reason Officer Jang gets killed. It’s so infuriating, especially because A) Ha Seon’s decision to leave alone is just unthinkably stupid, and B) the people who kill Officer Jang aren’t even cool villains! They’re just some nameless henchmen of the dead Queen Dowager, and FFS, there aren’t even that many of them! Officer Jang has definitely survived worse odds before, but now he bites it fifteen minutes before the credits roll? Nope. Fuck that. Don’t buy it at all.

It’s also worth pointing out that The Crowned Clown has a somewhat ambiguous ending because it’s been interpreted in one of two ways: either Ha Seon and So Woon reunite after Ha Seon nearly dies, OR Ha Seon also dies with Officer Jang, and his reunion with So Woon is actually in the afterlife. In which case . . . holy shit, that is not better. Not only is it a horrifically tragic and unnecessary twist to pull during the last few moments of a show, it also means that Officer Jang died for nothing. Seriously, NO.

I don’t regret watching The Crowned Clown, like, it legitimately became one of my favorite K-dramas, and I would still recommend it to people (with, admittedly, a pretty big caveat), but the way it ended . . . holy shit. Like, this honestly goes on my Worst TV Endings Of All Time list. Probably not as high on that list as other shows, say, Game of Thrones or Battlestar Galactica, but . . . yeah. It’s definitely on there.

Well, guess that’s it for now. Feel free to agree with me or argue with me or talk about the shows you’ve been watching in the comments, and I’ll be back with more superlatives in two or three months!

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Hereditary, Till Death, and Tag

Horror Bingo continues! Once again, we have three wildly different movies to discuss today. Let’s just skip straight to the blasphemy, shall we?

Hereditary

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Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, specifically in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs
Grade: Vanilla

Hereditary is . . . okay. It’s well-acted, particularly by Toni Collette. It’s well-shot. There are definitely some nice creepy moments and a few good surprises, which I’ll detail in the Spoiler Paragraphs. I like the use of the miniatures, which are clearly eerie AF.

But on the whole, I feel removed from this story, distant. I feel vaguely bad for this family because a bunch of truly awful shit happens to them, but I also don’t know that I particularly connect to any one of them as characters. There’s never really a moment that I became fully invested in their lives or the story in general. The whole movie is kinda, hm, flatly miserable I guess? Which, yeah I get it: this is horror, and no one’s here to have a good time. But I do feel like I’ve watched other horror films about suffering and grief that I’ve enjoyed a lot more and that have meant more to me. It probably doesn’t help, either, that I just read a handful of reviews that really have that whole “yes, Hereditary is a horror film, but it’s actually about something” energy, like the entire genre was trash before Blessed A24, Lord and Savior, came to save us from ourselves. I fucking despise that shit.

As far as the actual plot goes, I initially thought that the evil cult was trying to bring Dead Grandma back to life. (The evil cult itself was pretty, obvious, right, like we all knew that Ann Dowd was definitely Evil Grandma’s Equally Evil Friend?) Once we learned about Paimon, though, I was all, Oh, got it, we’ve been trying and failing to do this for a WHILE now, first with Long Dead Grandpa and then Long Dead Uncle and now Recently Dead Charlie. I completely missed that Charlie actually was Paimon since, IDK, she was a baby, basically? Until the ending reveal, I’d just assumed she was all emotionally fucked up due to the prolonged exposure to Evil Grandma.

There are some disturbing and/or holy shit moments I liked. When Charlie died, for instance (I thought she might go out early, but didn’t expect it to happen like that) or when Gabriel Byrne went up in flames. (Damn, that was a good surprise.)  Possessed Toni Collette decapitating herself; also, when she channeled Charlie during the seance. And the ants, God, I fucking hate ants. There really is some genuinely good stuff here.

But for me, the film as a whole didn’t linger. When Hereditary was over, I was kinda like, “Well . . . that was definitely a movie I watched,” and moved about my day. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t connect to it, either, and I don’t think I was nearly as disturbed as I was meant to be.

Till Death

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Year: 2021
Director: S.K. Dale
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, technically, but nothing that should ruin the movie for you
Grade: Strawberry

Again, this is okay. It’s a fun concept: woman who’s been handcuffed to her dead asshole of a husband has to find a way to survive, especially when a couple of dudes come to rob and kill her. You know, it’s like Gerald’s Game, but worse. (I presume. Despite having been a Stephen King fan since I was 11 or 12, I’ve still never actually read or watched Gerald’s Game.) There are some specific moments I like: golf clubs, the various troubles with staircases, a nice reversal where one of the bad guys gets handcuffed to a dead body. Dead Husband (Eoin Macken) is The Fucking Worst, and rudely, this movie makes you wait a little over 20 minutes for him to die, which is obviously criminal. But mostly, it’s an easy enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, Emma is played by Megan Fox, and while I genuinely like Megan Fox in some things–Jennifer’s Body, for instance–I don’t think she quite works here, which is a bummer cause the whole movie kinda rides on her performance. In the first 20 minutes, she’s going for . . . hm, meek, I suppose? Sad and subservient? But it falls a little flat for me, never quite manages to feel genuine or nuanced. Her performance is a bit stronger when Emma gets to the “fuck you, corpse-husband, I will survive no matter what” stage of the game. Still, even then I don’t buy a lot of her reactions. There’s one moment when Emma yells “Fuck you!” or something, and I flat out laughed.

Mostly, I just couldn’t stop thinking of actresses I’d rather have seen in the role. Like, we’re currently watching Season 2 of Evil, right, so immediately, I’m thinking, “Man, Katja Herbers would’ve owned this.” Other possibilities: Kate Siegel (double feature this and Hush!), Florence Pugh (double feature this and Midsommar!), Samara Weaving (this scream, it is the best, I will never shut up about it), Sandra Oh (Jesus Christ, I would cut off someone’s right arm to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie.) Till Death is decent enough, but a stronger actress could’ve made this one sing.

Tag

Year: 2015
Director: Sion Sono
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, primarily in the last two paragraphs
Grade: Chocolate

I mean, damn. Tag is WILD. I knew that going in, of course, but let’s be clear: in no way does that fucking trailer prepare you for the film you’re about to watch. Holy shit.

I’m finding this one hard to talk about. Tag is a madcap rush of action, gore, and surrealism, and for the majority of the film, I had very little idea of what was going on–though I did accidentally hit on a Big Twist, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. It helps, I think, to have a “fuck it, let’s just see what happens” mindset–which isn’t to say don’t engage with the film, just, like. It’s probably not gonna make much sense until the end. If that sounds super frustrating, this might not be the movie for you. Likewise, if you hate gore (or only like it when it’s tasteful) this is also probably not your movie. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a big problem for me. The opening scene alone, I mean, shit.

Tag is also a bit difficult to discuss because–as with any foreign film–I’m almost certainly missing cultural references or important context that Japanese audiences would know, not to mention this is Amazon, so how accurate are these translations, really? I can tell you that I enjoyed the score: I really like what I’ve heard from MONO so far; plus, there’s a brief instance of The Walking Dead theme music, which TWD, bah, but it’s damn good theme music. I can also tell you that I’d absolutely love to read an essay on this film from a queer feminist perspective. It’s not apparent from the outset, but by the end, there are some definite  fuck the patriarchy vibes here, which I enjoy. (Though there are also about a billion panty shots, which I guess you can argue makes sense, but I think the argument is weak.) And I can say–with only moderate spoilers– that one of the various antagonists in this movie is Evil Wind, a fear I deeply relate to, since apparently fire season has just sorta permanently traumatized me, goddamnit.

Here’s a funny thing: maybe halfway through the film, I told Mekaela that Tag would make for a decent video game, like, you could see how each reality felt like a different level, with different Bosses and different characters you could fight with, etc. Mek (who’d forgotten she’d seen this movie until it started) had zero reaction to this, which surprised me until we hit the end, and I realized Mitsuko actually has been in a video game this whole time, and Mek had been all, “Keep a straight face, keep a straight face.”

Tag is honestly a bit sad, although we do get that hint of optimism at the last moment. That old fucker doesn’t get his “prize,” at least, which is good. Mitsuko escapes, too, although she has to kill herself to do it, and it’s unclear exactly where she is now. Still. For a movie with Mass Murdering Wind, a pig-head groom, and absurdly comical levels of violence, Tag lands a bit heavier in the chest than I expected. This movie shows women the future, and it’s just Gross, Entitled Men Are Now Even More Entitled and Gross. I just feel very sorry for Mitsuko; also Aki, Sur, and all the other dead girls.

Triple Scoop Review: Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666

So, it’s July 3rd–or at least it is for me, right now, as I write this intro–and we’ll be doing our usual Triple Scoop Review a little differently today. Since Fear Street is a trilogy of interconnected horror films (each released a week apart on Netflix), I’m gonna first try discussing each story one by one, and then after the trilogy is concluded, look at the project as a whole. We’ll see how it goes!

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes, but mostly just romantic relationship stuff in the 2nd paragraph
Grade: Vanilla

This is a silly, almost cute throwback to 90’s slashers, high on energy and relatively light on gore (with one very memorable exception). The PG-13 vibes make sense, considering the whole  trilogy is based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. (I’ve never read them. I kinda skipped R.L. Stine as a kid.) I had fun watching the film, though how I feel about this entry  is probably gonna depend on what happens in the next two. Right now, lots of things feel unbalanced–the sheriff, the janitor, the mayor, Shadyside vs. Sunnyside (LOL), the ominous nose bleeds, etc.–but I expect that will change as I learn more in the upcoming installments.

What isn’t quite working for me right now is Deena. Not the actress–Kiana Madeira does fine work–but the character herself, or at least her relationship with her ex, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Man, I want to root for these two. Are you kidding me? Two queer romantic leads in a slasher film? And a queer Final Girl who’s also a person of color? I desperately wanna be onboard, but frankly, Deena’s kind of an asshole to Sam. And like, emotions are messy, I get it. No one’s gonna act 100% perfect all the time, and that’s fine. But without getting into too much detail (NGL: there’s a bit of detail), Deena blames Sam for shit that’s mostly outside her control, acts all possessive and jealous despite being the one who called it quits, and then endangers Sam’s life, actually getting her hospitalized–and never really apologizes for any of it. Mind you, Sam (emotionally) hurt Deena in the past, too, but A) any pain you cause by not being ready to come out isn’t nearly as cut and dry as this movie wants it to be (especially in 1994, FFS), and B) if Sam did act like an asshole before, okay, but we never actually see that on screen. All we get is Sam apologizing to Deena, like it’s Sam’s fault that Deena’s being a dick. That’s all a BIG problem for me if I’m supposed to ship these two.

Beyond that . . . well, 1994 is, indeed, set in the 90’s, which the soundtrack is definitely not gonna let you forget. It’s a little too in your face for me, TBH, but I also knew and liked literally every single song except one, so. I got over it. (Though for those of you who care: a couple of songs did come out after 1994.) Being a 90’s child, I also enjoyed the homages to 90’s slashers, particularly Scream. I’m not so sure how I feel about Nurse Beddy, though, and upon reflection, there are two deaths that don’t make much sense, so either I’m missing something, or they’re kinda lousy, needless deaths.

Special shoutout to Julia Rehwald, who plays Kate and tends to steal every scene she’s in (despite an unnecessary romantic storyline that I definitely didn’t care about). But the whole cast is pretty enjoyable, and I’m curious to see how the next installment compares. We’ll see next week!

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

1978 is, more or less, one very long flashback, as told by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre–although we are seriously stretching the term “soul survivor” here, like, lots of other people escape this camp alive. It’s an exciting narrative structure, actually, a horror film that functions as both a prequel and a sequel in this ongoing storyline, and I enjoyed watching it–although it does get off to a slow start, and there are a few logic hiccups that may or may not trip you, depending how nerdy you get about narrative. (I am, of course, absolutely That Nerd.) Like how our Final Girl isn’t in every scene, for example, which means she’s relating a lot of stuff that she has little way of knowing. Also, one character kinda gets dropped entirely, which seems like a misstep. And this trilogy’s mythology is interesting, but IDK, messy? We do get answers to some questions (like what’s up with the mysterious nosebleeds), and that’s cool, but some stuff feels all over the place, and there’s a moment where a character comes to a conclusion that makes little sense unless she, too, has watched Fear Street 1994.

OTOH, 1978 is definitely more violent than 1994, which is obviously a plus for me, and I felt more invested in the overall story, probably because I care more about Cindy and Ziggy’s strained sibling relationship (as well as Cindy and Alice’s strained.once-friendship) than I ever did about Deena/Sam. There are similar thematic elements and parallels between the two films (betrayals and confessions, trying to remake your identity and carve yourself a future, etc.), but they work better for me in 1978, probably cause we don’t see Alice respond to Cindy’s snitching and stupid polo shirts by nearly committing involuntary manslaughter. (I’m sorry. Clearly, I’m still bitter about Deena.) I enjoy a lot of the cast, too: it’s especially nice to see Sadie Sink again, who I love in Stranger Things, although I think Emily Rudd also does a good job here.

The end comes with a bit of a twist that, while conceptually interesting, is pretty predictable from the get-go. But I do like getting to see all the little tie-ins from 1994 and 1978, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy concludes. (Personally, I’m hoping for a secret epilogue that takes place in 2021.)

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Y

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes, avoid the third and fourth paragraphs
Grade: Strawberry

Without a doubt, 1666 is the hardest to evaluate as its own thing. It’s certainly the film I’d be the least likely to rewatch on its own, but it also does a pretty good job of tying all the loose threads together and concluding the overall 1994/1978/1666 story.

Hm, what can I say about this one? Well, it’s fun to watch the cast from the first two movies play entirely different roles, although I wish we could spend a little more time with the supporting players. (Though the story doesn’t necessarily require it. I just think it’d be neat.) Also, the accents . . . oh, those accents wander badly. It’s not damning, but it is distracting, which is mostly unfortunate because 1666 seems to be going for a darker, slightly more adult tone than, say, 1994’s PG-13 pop slasher fun or 1978’s violent summer camp horror. It’s a bit hard to sink into the grim witch hunt when half the line reads make me snicker. OTOH, when it comes to actual horror, big thumbs up for the church scene, which I thought was perfectly creepy.

Still, the best thing about 1666, for me, is the twist that Sarah Fier was framed for being a witch, and that Solomon Goode and his descendants were the real villains all along. It works on a lot of levels, like, obviously we all knew that there was more to the story, that Sarah had probably been betrayed by the town, that Sunnyside was fucking over Shadyside in some supernatural way, etc. etc. But I must admit, I did assume Sarah was at least somewhat responsible for the curse. And while the Sheriff absolutely seems, heh, shady for most of 19941978 successfully misdirected me into thinking he was On the Side of Good, which is neat. Also, this twist explains a lot of the seemingly sloppy and convoluted mythology, which is great. (Maybe not everything, though. I’m still not 100% on a few things, like those minor character deaths from 1994. Also, seriously. What is the deal with Adult Ziggy’s clocks?)

1666 wraps up more quickly than I expected, giving way to Fear Street – 1994: Part 2, and our happy ending. I like that everybody survives here, even if (sadly) I didn’t get my 2021 epilogue. (Although a mid-credits scene does technically leave the door open for a sequel.) I also like that we get to see Adult Ziggy’s reaction to the sad truth about her one and only friend, and also the Carrie blood bucket callback. Otherwise, though, not much stands out, like the last showdown is . . . okay, I guess? It’s aiming for light and fun, but doesn’t totally hit the mark, at least not for me. Still, the answers we get here wrap up the trilogy much more successfully than I’d been anticipating, which is fantastic.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like I said, it’s really hard to grade these on an individual basis because while Fear Street is kind of billed as three separate movies, it plays more like a horror miniseries, with episodes that are dependent upon one another to work, especially 1666. Mind you, that’s not a complaint! I do feel like each individual story could be stronger, and there are clearly some significant changes I’d make if I was in charge of, you know, anything.

But I also feel like the trilogy itself is creative and playful and interesting, like, it’s this whole YA horror experience. As a 35-year-old, I enjoyed watching these movies over the course of three weeks. As a 13-year-old just getting into horror, I suspect I would’ve gone feral over them. And I’d love to see more projects like this in the future: horror featuring queer leads and happy endings, horror that deliberately plays with sub-genre and tone, interconnected slashers that play out over the course of several days or weeks. It really gives me just All The Ideas, and you know I love anything that brings The Ideas.

Overall Grade For Whole Trilogy: B (Vanilla)

World’s Worst Trekkie: Return to Tomorrow, Patterns of Force, and By Any Other Name

There’s a lot to discuss today. Big, glowing balls. Weird speeches. Leonard Nimoy smiling. Whiskey as a resistance strategy. Tonal inconsistencies. Logic problems. And unfortunately, Literal Space Nazis.

Let’s twist this.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Return to Tomorrow”

Hey, this is one of the TOS episodes with Diana Muldaur in it! Hi, Young Pulaski!

I enjoyed watching this one, although I’m itching to tweak a few things, particularly the ending. Let’s begin with Sargon, Thalassa, and Henoch, three super advanced beings made up of pure energy who’ve survived half a million years in these big glowing balls. They want to temporarily possess three people (specifically, Kirk, Spock, and Mulhall, our Pretty Woman of the Week) so they can build themselves android bodies and roam around freely. Sargon seems pretty shifty at first, but ultimately, everyone agrees to the plan, in part because of Kirk’s, uh, impassioned speech, which TBH, would only have convinced me that he’d been brainwashed during the earlier Spirit Swap Demo, like, that monologue is so overacted it passes over “passionate” and skips straight to “alarming.” (Also: the Spirit Swap Demo? Funny as hell.)

Quickly, it becomes clear that Sargon actually isn’t a shifty motherfucker; unfortunately, Henoch, possessing Spock, absolutely is. Possessed Spock smiles a lot. He’s a flirty, evil little shit, and it’s delightful. These scenes absolutely make the whole episode for me. Henoch wants to keep Spock’s body, of course, and temporarily sways Thalassa (Sargon’s wife) to the Dark Side; however, she feels guilty after torturing Bones a little and decides possessing a living body is too great a temptation. Meanwhile, Sargon and Spock briefly seem to die, but they’re both fine, as the former escapes into the Enterprise itself, while the latter escapes into Nurse Chapel’s body.

Conceptually, this is totally awesome. In execution, definitely a letdown. Spock-as-Christine is disappointing because Majel Barrett never gets the opportunity to act as Spock, which is a huge missed opportunity. Meanwhile, it’s not that I expected Sargon to permanently become the Enterprise (although that would have been, in a word, fascinating), but it could’ve been really interesting to see him and Thalassa living as other ships–or they could’ve gone with the robot plan, whatever, maybe worked to create androids that would’ve been able to experience sensory pleasure. Anything, really, would’ve been preferable to Let’s Disperse Into Oblivion Together. It’s the most obvious possible ending, emphasizing all the usual morals: it’s wrong to live past your time, your humanity will be lost if you try, death is how it’s meant to be, etc. I get why it’s a popular SFF trope, immortality not actually being in the cards for any of us losers, but I still find it dull and predictable, particularly here where it feels like Sargon and Thalassa suddenly agreed to doom themselves just because Henoch is a big jerk.

Chief Asshat: Henoch. I mean, you can’t just be brainwashing Christine; that’s rude.

MVP: . . . but also Henoch, or really Leonard Nimoy, because he’s a lot of fun here.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, I can’t choose. It’s either this surprisingly good line in the otherwise terrible monologue: “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about.” Or it’s, ah: “Your captain has an excellent body, Dr. McCoy. I compliment you both on the condition in which you maintained it.” I mean, what in the fanfiction hell?

“Patterns of Force”

Oh, boy. So, this is Nazis in space, literally, and it’s just about as bad as that sounds. There are, admittedly, a few bright spots. Like, we get the (very brief) return of Spock’s undercover beanie. There’s some dude who kinda reminds me of a 1960’s Tom Holland. At one point, Kirk and Spock are flogged, and their “blood” is pretty clearly just red and green paint. (Which I have to admit, I do so love the juxtaposition.) And at one point, Spock has to stand on Kirk’s back, which ends up being amusingly difficult for Kirk. I now desperately want to read a 5+1 fanfic where Kirk and Spock have to boost the other up, er, platonically. (The +1, of course, is less platonic.)

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode is kind of a mess, and not just because Kirk pronounces Nazi like he’s Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds. The reason we’ve found literal Nazis halfway across the galaxy is because, while observing the people of Ekos, revered historian John Gill became disturbed by how fragmented and divided the planet was. The only way to save everyone, he decided, was to bring in some fascism, but like, nice fascism, I guess. You know, they’re the good Nazis.

Unclear what that even means? Me, too. But TOS isn’t gonna bother with specifics here. Instead, we discover that everything went swimmingly until this one Bad Guy decided to make the Nazi party evil again, drugging John Gill to, heh, the gills, and secretly taking over. With his dying breath, Gill confesses that he was wrong, that non-interference is the only way, but bitch, non-interference isn’t even the problem here! You could have introduced any political philosophy to try and stabilize this shit, and you chose the Nazi party?! Sure, Spock agrees that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew” (uh, really? In ALL of human history?) and suggests that Gill must’ve assumed “such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” But seriously, what the fuck does it even mean to be a Nazi without sadism? Cruelty is a feature, not a bug. Nazis didn’t solve divisions between people; they widened them, preying on existing prejudices and fears to make a convenient scapegoat out of an entire ethnoreligious group, and then–and this is key–murdered about six million of those people. Not to mention that, so far as I can tell, the conditions which led to the Nazis’s rise to power bears no resemblance to anything happening here, so this whole “plan” makes no sense on either a logical or ethical level.

It’s also just very strange to watch Kirk and Spock go undercover as Nazis when William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are, and were, both Jewish. Of course, I have no idea how they felt about this episode, and perhaps they didn’t have a problem participating in it. Honestly, I hope that’s the case. But even if it is? “Patterns of Force” is poorly written and just all around ill-conceived.

Chief Asshat: Holy shit, John Gill. WTF, my dude?

MVP: Um. Spock’s beanie?

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “To the logical mind, the outlook is somewhat gloomy.”

“By Any Other Name”

When I saw the title of this episode, I tried to prepare myself for some tragic nonsense between Kirk and The Pretty Woman of the Week, but we go a different way here. The Enterprise responds to a distress call; unfortunately, it’s a trap, and the ship is easily (too fucking easily) captured by four Kelvans. The Kelvans are these super advanced aliens from the far-far-away Andromeda galaxy, and they need the Enterprise to get back home. (It’ll take 300 years, which means only their descendants will actually make it.) In their original bodies, the Kelvans are gargantuan, with “a hundred limbs which resemble tentacles.” (I can only assume this means they’re secretly Old Ones.) But to survive in this galaxy, they’ve taken on human form, which means they’ve begun reacting like humans: enjoying physical sensations, feeling emotions, etc. Thus to retake the ship, our heroes have to exploit these weaknesses. Which means:

Bones keeps giving one guy Irritation Hypos.
Scotty eventually drinks one dude under the table (before quickly passing out himself).
Kirk (sigh) seduces the Alien Girl. (Who, BTW, is a dead ringer for Sansa Stark.)
Spock manipulates the Alien Leader’s jealousy of Kirk and Alien Girl.

Scotty’s scenes are probably the funniest, considering just how much alcohol he has to sacrifice to, er, complete the mission. (TNG will later pay homage to this scene in the episode “Relics.”) Kirk’s part is predictably the worst, especially because Alien Girl doesn’t even seem all that seduced at first–it’s pretty great, TBH–before having a sudden and inevitable change of heart. All in all, though, the episode ends on a relatively light note: the bad guys aren’t killed or imprisoned; instead, they decide to stay in this galaxy, having fun in their new human forms, which is all well and good until you remember Yeoman Thompson.

See, the Kelvans like to turn people into porous rocks; they do this to literally everyone on board (except our four previously mentioned heroes). After a failed escape attempt, Yeoman Thompson and Lt. Shea are the first to be transformed. To discourage further resistance, Alien Leader crushes one of the rocks, and I admit, I was very surprised when we discover that it’s Lt. Shea who survived, as I definitely assumed the writers would kill off the one Black man and save the one white woman. It’s a good surprise, honestly, but it does rather feel like poor Thompson’s murder is completely forgotten about in the second half of the show, when the tone noticeably shifts from “suspense” into “wacky hijinks.” This is especially true of the ending, considering the Kelvans experience absolutely no consequences of any kind for their terrible actions.

You know what I’d like to see? A spinoff show where a bunch of unjustly murdered Starfleet officers come together to haunt their respective captains. It could be bloody. It could be animated. We could call it . . . Star Vengeance.

Chief Asshat: Probably the Alien Leader. He’s the one who murders Yeoman Thompson, and also, jealousy is just not a good look on anyone.

MVP: Scotty, for his out-of-the-box thinking.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

Alien Dude (about the bottle of alcohol Scotty is holding): “What is it?”
Scotty (drunk off his ass): “It’s, um . . . It’s green.”

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Sinister, Ready or Not, and Happy Death Day

My friends! Finally, we are at the end! Of course, Marisa is the real winner of Horror Bingo, but the St. George household required its own champion before the game could be properly concluded. There could be only One–

–and it was ME! Two years running, I AM THE WINNER.

We’ll get to the official Horror Bingo 2020 Wrap-Up at the very end, but first, our last three movies.

Sinister

Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Amazon
Spoilers: YEP
Grade: Strawberry

You know when something is relatively well-crafted but just isn’t your thing? Yeah, that’s Sinister, for me.

Some stuff is genuinely creepy. Like, a few of those snuff films are pretty disturbing, and I fucking adore all the Netherworld Children and their perfect little outfits and their dead little faces. Is it wrong that I kinda want kids just so I can dress them up like this for Halloween? Probably. Anyway, the all-around acting is fine, although my favorite is James Ransone as Deputy So-and-So. (I love that this is his official name in the sequel, even when he’s apparently the main character.) That bit where So-and-So’s like “You kidding me, I believe in all that stuff. I wouldn’t spend one night in this place, are you nuts?” HA. I also like the ending quite a bit–except the last minute jump scare, which is cheap and worthless. Admittedly, it is pretty obvious what fate awaits Ethan Hawke and his fam, like, once you discover that the Hanged Family moved from one murder house to the next, it’s not exactly a big leap to realize that all the families did the same. Still, I enjoy a story where leaving the cursed house is actually what kills you.

The thing is, though . . . I’m just not very invested in anyone’s survival. Ellison is kind of a schmuck, and schmuck protagonists, by and large, just aren’t my thing. I really feel sorry for his wife because moving into the Murder House without telling her? I mean, wow. Wow. That being said, I don’t actually like this woman. It’s a lot of little things, like how she keeps referring to their kids as his kids whenever they do something wrong, which yeah, I do that with my cats all the time, but I don’t actually mean it, and also they’re cats and don’t give a shit? But Tracy, she seems to mean it. She feels like that Stereotypical Uptight Wife that you kinda know a dude wrote: even when we’re meant to sympathize with her, she still manages to come off as slightly nagging? It’s not so much acting as script; in fact, I quite like Juliet Rylance’s performance when Tracy finally discovers Ellison’s lie. But Tracy still has virtually nothing in the way of interiority or plot-relevance, and she and her son feel less like full characters than thinly drawn victims waiting around to die. None of it’s terrible; it’s just that this is exactly the kind of family dynamic I’m not interested in seeing, especially in horror.

Ready or Not

Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

Yep, I still love this movie. I really enjoyed Ready or Not when it first came out last year, and I love it even more now. The concept is just fun: Murder Hide-N-Seek, plus Homicidal In-Laws, Eat The Motherfucking Rich, etc. The script is witty and entertaining, and the whole cast is phenomenal, like, I adore so, so many of them. Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun. Nicky Guadagni, thank you; thank you for giving me so much joy with this perfect face. Obviously, obviously, Adam Brody. He really is such a perfect fit as Daniel. And then, of course, Samara Weaving, who is the true star of the show; she goddamn shines in this film: the big laughs, the small emotional beats, the badass action scenes–she owns them all. Plus, she just has some of the best reactions. I could watch this scene all day.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of quibbles here; I vaguely remember having a few, the first time around, but they seem to have faded on a second watch. (Wishing that Daniel would live just because I like him so much is less of a quibble and more of a “thank God for fanfic” moment.) Thus, I’ll just give you a short list of some of my favorite things: the glorious cosplay potential, pretty much all of Daniel’s lines, Emilie’s continuous fuckups, Fitch trying to learn crossbow via Youtube, Grace punching one of the kids in the face, OnStar Employee Justin, Tony’s exquisite meltdowns, the Good Brother/Evil Brother reversal, this song, and of course, the literally explosive climax. It is the best.

The only thing I really wish we got from this movie? A montage of deleted scenes where we saw the people who married into the family playing, like, Midnight Checkers and Old Maid and shit. That would be the absolute best.

Technically, I won Horror Bingo when I drew Ready or Not, but we decided to watch one last horror movie, anyway, mostly because of my frankly ridiculous reviewing system. Which brings us to . . .

Happy Death Day

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Mildly? Nothing that should ruin the movie for anyone.
Grade: Vanilla

It’s ridiculous I waited so long to see this movie. I’m obsessed with both slashers and time loop stories, and I’d planned to see this one in theater, you know, back when going to the movies was a thing you could do. Maybe I was worried I’d be letdown and thus sought to avoid the inevitable disappointment? If so, my procrastination was unnecessary, because I thought Happy Death Day was cute and probably one of the more successful PG-13 horror films, in that I didn’t find myself constantly thinking about how hard they were working to avoid that R rating.

I will say the movie isn’t . . . hm, I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a total snot. Happy Death Day has an incredibly fun concept, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly ambitious with it. It doesn’t need to, necessarily; I meant it when I said I enjoyed the movie. I liked searching for all the clues and little details. There are tons of suspects because everyone hates our protagonist, and this is one of the rare films where a thoroughly unlikable MC (at least, initially) actually works for me. It’s also just funny. I laughed several times, and I’m sure I’ll watch the sequel at some point.

But when I talk about ambition . . . look, the time loop is a time-honored trope in SF/F TV, and I’ve seen shows do some really exciting things with it in terms of meaningful plot development, character development, etc. The Librarians, Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Dark Matter, Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow, the entire series of Russian Doll, etc. These shows have both delighted and surprised me with how they’ve played with time loops; Happy Death Day is absolutely enjoyable, but I don’t know if it did anything to surprise me, that’s all. The most original element, I think, is that Tree can’t continue endlessly through these loops without suffering eventual physical consequences, which is genuinely interesting; unfortunately, that’s mostly dropped in the final loop or two, and as such, doesn’t do a particularly good job adding a plot clock or raising the stakes. It’s not a huge problem, though.

I’ll tell you what is a huge problem: my brain, all twitching around inside my skull, trying to force me into beginning a new story when I have 87 other projects to finish. There’s just so many ways you can go, exploring time loops in horror. Ugh. STOP IT, BRAIN.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2020 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Hausu, Becky, Deep Red, Midsommar, and Tragedy Girls.

My least favorites, on the other hand, were easily Mandy and Dream Home.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to: One Cut of the Dead, A Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve), and Lake Mungo.

Movies I’m most likely to add to next year’s Horror Bingo list, assuming I don’t watch them before then: Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and maybe a rewatch of Cube. (It’s been a long, long time.)

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

A Tale of Two Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Black Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Dream Home

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

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

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

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

This fucking guy.

Hausu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prevenge

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

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

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

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

Triple Scoop 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: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hostel, and The Legend of Hell House

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Absolutely, and not just for this film. I will also heartlessly spoil Alien, Aliens, Scream, AND Halloween
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this. I wish I could judge it against the 1956 film, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched that movie since I was 16 (studying McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare in US History, natch), and while I liked it at the time, I remember very little about the film now. Still, this 1978 remake is a lot of fun, and hey, look at all these people in it! Jeff Goldblum as a spiteful and atypically charmless writer! Leonard Nimoy as the evil psychiatrist version of Spock! (I’m specifically thinking of “This Side of Paradise.”) Robert Duvall as some rando priest on the swings! (It’s an uncredited cameo.) And, of course, Donald Sutherland as our fluffy-haired love interest turned doomed protagonist. I can’t believe I’ve finally seen the movie for this GIF! (You might think said GIF would’ve been a spoiler, but since I almost always see it in a “no, God, not YOU” context, I didn’t realize what was going to happen until right before it did.)

Also? Veronica Cartwright is the actual final girl here! Sure, things aren’t looking great for her right now, but nevertheless, Nancy is a side character–the second female lead, even–who makes it further than anyone else in the film, and I am fascinated by that. Try to think of other horror movies where that even happens. It’d be like Halloween where Annie makes it instead of Laurie. Or Tatum outliving Sidney in Scream, or Vasquez surviving Aliens when Ripley does not. (Or hell, Veronica Cartwright herself in Alien.) It’s pretty much just not a thing, is my point. Besides, Nancy’s really clever: she’s the one who figures out how to evade detection, successfully continues doing so when Elizabeth cannot, and hey, she likes to read! I’m extremely excited to add Nancy to my list of Interesting Final Girls.

There are, admittedly, a few moments that are pretty hard to take seriously, like the mutant dog or how it initially looks like Earth is being invaded by space sperm. On the other hand, the scene where Donald Sutherland takes an axe to his own half-formed pod face is pretty great, and the moment when Elizabeth crumples apart is surprisingly sad. It’s always great when a horror movie can hit you with surprise Feels, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully does this for me.

Hostel

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

I first watched Hostel (and reviewed it*) way back in 2010, and at the time, I really enjoyed the movie. But I also hadn’t seen it in several years, and had a sneaking suspicion that I’d feel differently about it now. My suspicions proved accurate.

Even now, I still don’t hate Hostel. But things have changed in the past decade, and one of those things is my tolerance for watching assholes be assholes for any elongated period of time. We’re with these dudes for about 40 minutes before we really get what we came for, and while it does make sense to have a lengthy first act when the bulk of your horror is  gory, torture-based violence . . . like, who wants to sit through 40 minutes of these little shitheads running around, being jerks, and seeing a truly improbable number of tits? (Jesus God, the ludicrous amount of tits in this movie.) It seems like there are two ways to fix this: either make these characters a lot more likable, or have Oli and Josh go missing much earlier in the film, putting the focus on Paxton as Amateur Detective rather than Paxton, Infuriating Dick.

Other problems I have with Hostel: a) Paxton’s backstory, not because of the backstory itself but because of just how lazily it’s dumped into the script, like, this is a teachable moment on How Not To Handle Exposition, b) how Josh, our only gay** and non-villainous character, dies, and c) Kana’s suicide, because come on, what the actual fuck. If she’d decided to kill herself months or even days after the fact, okay, that’s one thing, but to have her jump in front of a train here, just five minutes after escaping, because half her face is fucked up? Thanks, I hate it. Honestly, I hated this ten years ago, too, but when I read that the actress thought it was plausible, I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. No more. This is total bullshit. Absolutely cannot deal.

All that being said, there are still things I like about this movie. For instance, that Achilles tendon shot remains fucking iconic. I think it’s interesting that Paxton is the only person you actually see murder anyone on screen. (Well, except for the Bubblegum Sociopath Street Gang, of course. I still kinda adore these random violent little children.) I actually like a lot about Paxton, if not Paxton himself: his ability to speak German, his revenge scene, his general ingenuity when it comes to survival. (Not to mention, Jay Hernandez’s performance; he’s pretty great in this.) Again, this is fascinating trope subversion because Paxton seems like the kind of asshole who gets killed off halfway through, when instead that’s Josh, our shy, asthmatic Nice Guy. Josh is such an obvious Final Boy that I really enjoy his surprise death–or would, anyway, if it weren’t for the Bury Your Gays thing.

*As always, the older the post, the more horrified I am by it. I do stand by some of my opinions in this review (I’m not linking to it; you can find it if you really want to), but I’ve also grown as both a writer and a feminist, and some of this review is just hideously painful to reread. It’s particularly jarring, too, because I mention some things about myself that just blatantly aren’t true . . . only I hadn’t realized that yet. Ah, the slow, frustrating process of self-discovery.

**Josh’s sexuality is not directly stated, but it is heavily implied.

The Legend of Hell House

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

I enjoyed The Legend of Hell House when I watched it on a whim last year, but I think I might’ve enjoyed it even more on the second go-round. The things that bothered me then still bother me now, unfortunately: like, the (apparently toned down) erotic hauntings are total bullshit. The only reason Ann is even here is so that someone can get possessed by a horny ghost. (You’ll notice it’s always the women who are getting “sex-possessed” in these movies.) The character literally does nothing plot relevant, not once, and considering this story really only has four characters? Come on. Florence, at least, is extremely plot-relevant, but she also decides to have sex with Daniel the Friendly Ghost in order to free his spirit, or something–only to find out that Daniel never actually existed; instead, Florence gets raped and possessed by Evil Belasco’s Ghost.

So, yeah. That’s . . . that’s a lot. But there is genuinely a lot to enjoy, too: the premise is basically my dream story, like, a scientist, a psychic, and a traumatized sole survivor–who’s also psychic–are hired to uncover the mysteries of the spooky haunted house? People, I’m in love. I also really like how this movie deals with physical mediums versus mental mediums and how our skeptical scientist does believe in psychic energy and scientific exorcisms; he just doesn’t believe in actual ghosts. I enjoy all of the trances and hauntings that aren’t based in shitty erotica, like, there’s some decent atmosphere in this movie. Young Michael Gough as Evil Preserved Corpse is perfectly creepy. And the mystery of “Who Is Actually Haunting Us?” is pretty fun throughout, although I will say that I’d like the “multiple ghosts” theory better if the mediums came across a fake ghost besides Daniel. (Say, Evil Belasco was impersonating someone Ben knew from the last expedition.) Also, while I quite like that it was Belasco All Along, the big reveal about his homicidal Napoleon Complex is, I think, pretty underwhelming. Although credit where credit’s due: the clues leading up to this in Ben’s backstory are pretty expertly handled.

The Legend of Hell House doesn’t always get a ton of love (at least, not when compared to other classic haunted house movies) and clearly there are things I’d like to change. But I honestly do think it’s a pretty neat take on the sub-genre and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.