“Kill Her, Mommy! Kill Her!” – Friday the 13th (1980)

Recently, I went to New York for the very first time. I had an awful lot of fun, and in between the more expected tourist attractions (Central Park, various museums, going to a live TV show taping—we got to see Last Week Tonight!!!), Mekaela and I watched the original Friday the 13th on this rooftop terrace in Midtown. This was the first movie I’ve seen on a big screen in actual years, and I had a very yummy (and very overpriced) margarita in hand, so obviously, I had a pretty good time. Considering we’ve been slowly making our way through this franchise for like a decade now, finding this showing felt pretty serendipitous, especially since the next film on our To Watch list was the original Friday the 13th.

This being something of a special occasion, I decided to write up a slightly longer review for the movie that started it all.

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Year: 1980
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Rooftop Cinema Club!
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Vanilla

1. It’s been a  pretty long time since I watched Friday the 13th all the way through, and though it’s obviously not as campy and self-referential as later installments in the franchise, there’s actually a bit more humor than I’d remembered, which was a nice surprise. Overall, I was delighted to find that the movie holds up better than I expected. Friday the 13th knows exactly what it’s about. Some of the death scenes are quite fun. (Kevin Bacon’s, in particular, still absolutely gets me.) I adore the score, the silly title card, the ki ki ki, ma ma ma. And Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees is both fun and charmingly over-the-top. Did you know I dressed up as Mrs. Voorhees for Halloween last year? Now you do! (Obviously, I had to wear my Friday the 13th mask to match.)

Friday the 13th is not, admittedly, a particularly innovative slasher—no one involved has been particularly shy about how much it deliberately rips off other movies, notably Halloween, Carrie, and Psycho—but it is an iconic horror film that hugely influenced the slasher genre, and I still very much enjoyed watching it. Particularly since the weather decided to lend a helping hand and provide something of a 4D cinematic experience.

2. If you’ve seen this movie, you may remember that most of the camp counselors are murdered during a big rainstorm. Well. About the time it started raining on screen, it also started raining in New York—just some light sprinkling, really, with a bit of wind, but the timing of it was hilarious. I’d actually spent half the day convinced the showing was gonna be cancelled, considering the weather forecast for that night, and when thunder rumbled in my headphones, I had to doublecheck to make sure it wasn’t also happening in real life, too. Honestly, it was kinda the best.

3. Unfortunately, much as I enjoy Friday the 13th, I still find Alice (Adrienne King) a boring and mostly useless Final Girl, which is a funny sorta thing to say about someone who full-on decapitates a serial killer, I know. And like, credit where credit’s due: when Alice finally commits, she commits. Still. Up until that moment, Alice is pretty meh, and—though I hate to say it—the fact that she bests Pamela Voorhees so many times is a little bit embarrassing for Mrs. V.

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Like. I say this with love. I am always here to celebrate the awesome ladies of horror, and for the most part, Mrs. Voorhees does a phenomenal job murdering people. Her kill count in this film is 9, which is very respectable, particularly for a middle-aged woman in a cable knit sweater. She uses knives, axes, and arrows in her work, hauls corpses through windows, and even takes the time to impale dead bodies to doors for maximum terror. And until Alice, Mrs. V has no trouble murdering anyone; only Annie provides even the smallest challenge, and really, that’s just an extra minute Mrs. Voorhees spends casually strolling through the woods before finding Annie and slitting her throat.

Alas, for unknown reasons (i.e., the Final Girl has to live, boo, hiss), Mrs. Voorhees decides that Alice is the one counselor she’s going to fuck with, rather than immediately murdering. I mean. Some of that is amazing, obviously. Calmly introducing herself, then later hamming it up, all “what monster could’ve done this,” HA. I’m all about that. But then Mrs. V just slaps Alice around a bunch rather than stab her in the face, and obviously, that’s just silly. Worse, Alice easily manages to knock Mrs. Voorhees down like, what, four different times or something before finally decapitating her? Our killer deserved a better Final Girl, that’s all I’m saying.

4. Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you: you’re half-naked in some cabin in the middle of the woods. Maybe you’ve been playing strip Monopoly with your friends, or maybe you just had sex with Kevin Bacon; whatever your reasons, you’re now in a bra (or shirt) and panties, and have to leave the cabin in the middle of a rainstorm. Before leaving, do you put on A) shoes, B) pants, or C) a short little rain slicker that maybe hits mid-thigh? If you answered D) gosh, I think I’d put on all of them, congratulations on being a reasonable person, unlike Marcie and Brenda, who both opt for the rain slicker and nothing else, like, what the actual fuck, ladies? It is pouring. There is thunder. You are in the middle of the woods. Maybe I could understand forgoing the pants (not really), but what do these bitches have against shoes?

5. Speaking of strip Monopoly (sort of), one of the first things we watched after coming back home was Psych, specifically, “Tuesday the 17th,” the Friday the 13th homage episode.

It’s probably my favorite episode of Psych, but I’d forgotten just how many parallels there are between it and this movie: Erwen, like Crazy Ralph, shouting the line, “You’re all doomed!” The introduction of Shirtless Billy chopping up wood vs. the introduction of Shirtless Steve chopping up wood. The breaking glass title card, naturally. The character Jason Cunningham named after Jason Voorhees and director Sean S. Cunningham. And of course our counselors playing a friendly game of strip cribbage. (I’ve never played cribbage, but strip Monopoly, at least, has to be an improvement on regular Monopoly, if only because it won’t take fucking DAYS for someone to finally win the game.)

6. Finally, you can’t talk about Friday the 13th without discussing the ending.

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. . . I mean, truthfully, I think it’s silly as hell. I like the shot and all, but I’m also rarely a fan of the One Last Scare trope, and while Sue having a nightmare works well in Carrie—because it’s less about the villain still being alive/setting up a sequel than it is about Sue still being traumatized, still being caught in that endless horror—Alice’s nightmare of an undead boy she never met and has no reason to actually believe in feels, well. Yeah. Damn silly.  (Unless Alice secretly always has psychic visions when she sleeps, which certainly seems unlikely, but would definitely make her more interesting.) That whole “he’s still out there” line would work so much better if this movie had ever bothered to make Undead Child Jason an actual possible threat.

Still. As much as I love our Jason Voorhees—and I do so love him—I would totally pay good money to watch a reboot/sequel where Undead Drowned Child Jason (rather than Inexplicable Grown Ass Man Jason*) comes back to creatively murder camp counselors. It would never happen of course, partially because the franchise seems to be stuck in eternal lockdown due to lawsuits/rights shit and partially because most fans would absolutely lose their shit, but I think it could be a lot of fun. It would, at the very least, make for one hell of an anime AU.

*Don’t give me that whole “Jason survived and has just been living in the woods for 20 years by himself for no reason” BS backstory; that is the dumbest shit ever. Look, one of my favorite things about this franchise is the weirdly slow evolution of its iconic killer—I think it’s fascinating, I think there’s a paper in it—but come on now. We must all simply accept that Jason’s transformation into adulthood makes absolutely NO logical sense, and no amount of retconning will make it any less ridiculous. Considering this franchise eventually (and gloriously) goes to space, I think we can all handle that.

CONCLUSIONS:

The genesis of one of my favorite horror movie franchises of all time! Pamela Voorhees deserves better, but I still enjoy this one.

MVP:

Betsy Palmer, no doubt.

MORAL:

Don’t work anywhere that the locals call ‘Camp Blood.’ Very obviously, things will go badly for you.

Triple Scoop Review: Seo Bok, Scream, and Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

So, I’ve basically been ignoring movies in favor of marathoning television for the past three months, but hey! Here are a few films I’ve watched recently!

Seo Bok

Year: 2021
Director: Lee Yong Joo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Not directly, I don’t think, but inferences can probably be made
Grade: Rocky Road

Whew. That was . . . yeah, a bit darker than I was expecting from a “jaded ex-agent has to protect the first human clone” movie. Although sometimes, that can be kind of a fun thing about watching foreign films: genre expectations are not necessarily universal, so sometimes, damn, you get a surprise.

Truthfully, I haven’t quite made up my mind about Seo Bok just yet. There are parts that I genuinely like. The acting, in particular: Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum are  strong leads—I mean, obviously, they’re like 95% of the reason I watched this movie in the first place. I especially enjoyed Park Bo Gum, who was giving me some serious Hello, Monster nostalgia, but I was also happy to also see Jo Woo Jin (who I really enjoyed in Happiness) and Jang Young Nam (who I quite liked in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). The action is fun. Some of the shots were rather lovely. Some of the thematic material works well for me.

However, not all of it does, and I’m still trying to pinpoint why that is, exactly. Admittedly, the basic thesis of this movie—we’re not meant to be immortal—has never been one of my favorite morals in the world. Still, I think my bigger problem isn’t so much the message but its execution. Seo Bok feels murky, convoluted. Too much going on and not nearly enough time to explore it. I often felt that characters—particularly the antagonists—were making decisions that felt nonsensical and inauthentic. Our heroes are essentially caught between dueling villains here, and I quite like the idea of that; however, that structure can go somewhat awry when you have villains with nebulous motivations making pretty dubious choices.

 Seo Bok is certainly not meant to be an upper; in fact, to me, it sorta feels like the nihilist answer to Space Sweepers. Still by the end, I feel like I was perhaps left with an even stronger sense of futility than the film actually intended. I don’t regret watching it at all, but I also feel like there’s a stronger story here, waiting to be whittled free.

Scream

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Year: 2022
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: ABSOLUTELY
Grade: Chocolate

I admit, I was pretty excited when news of the latest Scream movie was announced, considering it’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and I figured the guys who did Ready or Not might be a good fit for it. But I was also a bit nervous because, you know. It’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and there comes a point when you just really don’t want to see certain characters die. For me, that specifically meant Sidney. I am emotionally invested in Sidney Prescott’s survival. Fortunately, I have good news: she makes it!

Overall, I enjoyed Scream. TBH, I enjoy all the movies in this franchise. Even Scream 3, which is probably the worst of the bunch, surprisingly has more to recommend than I’d initially remembered. Which isn’t to say I don’t have criticisms because, well. Me. My biggest problem here is that Melissa Barrera does very little for me as Sam. I wish I liked her more, I really do. I adored Jenna Ortega as Tara and spent the majority of the film wishing she was the primary Final Girl. Actually, I really like most of the cast. Jack Quaid being a villain isn’t exactly, er. Surprising? But I don’t even care because he’s hilarious, and I’ve really liked this actor in everything I’ve seen him in thus far. Also shoutouts to David Arquette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and Skeet Ulrich—but NOT to Skeet Ulrich’s CGI because good Christ, stop. Just stop.

And I really do love the idea of our Final Girl being cheered on by hallucinations of Evil Daddy Billy Loomis. The scene where Sam stabs the shit out of Richie is easily her best in the whole film. Still, I would’ve loved it so much more if I ever bought Sam or had any investment in her character. I also think Scream might have some second act problems, but I’m not quite sure yet where I think it missteps. I do feel like Tara’s friends get dropped too long, which makes the Amber reveal a little underwhelming. Wes and Judy’s death scenes are good, but feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the film. (I still can’t bring myself to give a shit about Judy, but I do feel sorry for Wes.)  And I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Dewey’s death. I don’t mind that it happened, exactly, just . . . it’s so obvious that he’s gonna die when he goes back that it ends up feeling like a stupid move to me. IDK. I’m still thinking on it.

(Also, FFS. Is the hospital a 9-5 gig? Where are ANY of the employees here? Or for that matter, other patients? Hollywood continues to drive me crazy with this nonsense.)

Overall, though, I was pretty entertained. I had fun guessing suspects and motives and how many killers there would be this time around. Toxic Fandom is the Real Killer here feels pretty apropos for this franchise, and almost all of the dialogue and in-jokes worked well for me. (Poor Courtney Cox is never gonna live those terrible bangs down.) I also enjoyed the step up in gore, and while I may find Sam very dull, I’m always happy to see sisters survive. (See also, Sidney and Gale—I know, not actually sisters—who I really liked in this movie.) I do wish Kirby had come back, but it’s nice that we got confirmation she’s alive! (Though I admit, I absolutely missed said confirmation when it happened.) This movie isn’t perfect, no, but compared to some other horror franchises and their dismal ass sequels? Yeah. The Scream movies still got it.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

Year: 2017
Director: Kim Yong Hwa
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

So, this is a Korean fantasy-action film about a firefighter who dies and is escorted through the afterlife, facing seven trials in seven hells to see if he can be reborn. It’s a fun premise and an overall great cast with several actors I’ve enjoyed in other shows. Joo Ji Hoon from Kingdom. Kim Hyang Gi, who was (briefly) in Space Sweepers. I’m currently watching Kim Dong Wook in The Guest, and—like presumably many Americans—first saw Lee Jung Jae in Squid Game. Also D.O. (Hello Monster—yes, I know he’s also in EXO, but I know him from Hello Monster), Kim Soo An (Train to Busan), Ye Soo Jung (also Train to Busan), and a half a dozen other people I’ve seen pop up here and there. This is actually the first thing I’ve seen Ha Jung Woo in, but I enjoy him here, too.

My main problem with this film is easily Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun), our firefighter, who is just . . . boring. He’s so boring, just zero personality whatsoever, and it feels like half his dialogue is incessantly calling after his mom. Literally everyone around him is much more interesting. My personal favorites are Joo Ji Hoon, who gives a very funny performance that’s wildly different from his work in Kingdom, Kim Soo Ann, because the God of Deceit is just the Best, and Kim Dong Wook, whose performance here alongside Ye Soo Jung provides the movie its heart. I’m probably supposed to feel moved by Ja Hong, too, but unfortunately . . . yeah, no. That’s partially because the character is so boring, but also because we learn some things about this guy that, well. I don’t want to get too deeply into spoilers, but let’s just say that the movie really wants me get into this heartwarming redemption, and I just couldn’t quite get there.

I do think the script could be tighter, and I wish the visual effects did justice to the premise (cause the CGI here is, uh, hilarious), but I also probably enjoyed the film enough to check out the sequel, especially since my least favorite character isn’t in it. Man. I wish that happened in more films. Like, give me Scream 6 without Sam. Or Guardians of the Galaxy 3 without Peter Quill, or Jurassic Whatever without Owen Grady, or . . . yeah, feel free to just pass up Chris Pratt at any opportunity in favor of Chris Pine, Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth, please and thank you.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Funhouse, Friday the 13th, and Halloween

Well, my friends, Horror Bingo has reached its conclusion and I’m afraid to say that my two-year winning streak has also met its end.

Oh, The Watcher in the Woods, alas. We came so close.

Before we get to the wrap-up, though, let’s discuss our last three movies.

The Funhouse

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Year: 1981
Director: Tobe Hooper
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Pistachio

Most of the movies I’ve watched this year for Horror Bingo have been somewhere between decent and awesome. Even my least favorites have been pretty watchable; The Funhouse, however, is the first movie I’ve actively disliked.

For starters, it’s slow as hell. It takes roughly 80 years for anyone to die, and while a slow build can totally work, like. You gotta do something interesting with that screen time. Give me some character development. Give me some funny dialogue. Give me some deeply unnerving atmosphere. I think The Funhouse is trying to accomplish that last one, but mostly, I was just bored. The atmosphere isn’t so much creepy as it is . . . seedy, especially considering this particular carnival seems right out of the 1930’s. Which, hey, I wasn’t alive in 1981, so possibly this is period accurate? Still, it all felt a bit contrived and over the top to me, only not in a fun way.

I’m also just not really into the whole Deformed Killer thing, a trope which often has icky ‘the outside reflects the inside’ implications, even when said character is supposed to be pitiable. The Disposable Sex Worker isn’t my favorite trope, either (I would argue Zena counts in this context), and quite frankly, raises some deeply disturbing questions about what Gunther wanted from the Girl Scouts that he murdered prior to this movie. We also spend way more time than I wanted with Evil Gunther’s Evil Dad, and JFC, the final showdown between Gunther and Amy went on for another 80 years. Yes, that’s 160 years total. I am a dusty corpse now. Give me an RIP in the comments.

There were a few things I did genuinely enjoy, like, IDK if anything has ever made me laugh so hard as watching the Final Girl assure her date that, no, no, she got the joke. (People. The authenticity.) I also enjoyed the opening credits, which had some serious Halloween vibes, and the poor dude who got hanged before getting an axe to the head. I also laughed at how Gunther carried Buzz’s body out like he was the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. (Gunther’s makeup, BTW, is–uh–something. He looks like the secret murderous lovechild of Sloth from The Goonies and the Dancing Alien from Spaceballs.)

It appears that when The Funhouse came out, it received pretty decent reviews, and while art is obviously subjective, I have to admit I’m surprised. I mean, motherfucking Siskel and Ebert liked this movie, and I thought they’d have rinsed their mouths out with bleach before ever admitting they enjoyed a slasher.

Friday the 13th

Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Rocky Road

As far as Friday the 13th movies go, the sequel/remake is pretty middle of the road for me. Watchable but a bit boring, probably because I don’t care about either of the potential Final Girls. In other roles, I like Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker well enough (particularly Panabaker, who I liked as Killer Frost on The Flash), and I should totally be rooting for these two. Sadly, neither Jenna nor Whitney are allowed even the smallest scrap of personality. (It’s especially unfortunate with Whitney, who I wish had more on screen interactions with Jason.) I get slashers are not well known for their in depth character work, but we can still do a lot better than this.

I do remember being surprised by Jenna’s death the first time I watched this, though it’s hard to say if it would surprise me as much now, being more familiar with the Jason mythos. At the time, though, I thought it was kinda cool Clay and his sister lived, rather than Clay and his potential  love interest. (Well. We do end on a last second surprise attack–sigh– so maybe I should be saying “survived the longest” rather than “lived.”) I kinda like the idea of a more territorial Jason, too, like, this isn’t the Jason who hops on cruise ships towards Manhattan. This guy’s just killing any outsider who gets too close to home. But it doesn’t seem entirely consistent to me (like, why did Scuzzy Donnie have to die), and I wish the film did something more with it. Maybe the cops could’ve been sacrificing tourists to their local drowned god? On the upside, I did wholeheartedly enjoy the Updated Sleeping Bag Death! I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who likes The New Blood, but by God, we all love the Sleeping Bag Death.

Finally, a scattering of random thoughts:

A) Trent is The Worst, but I must say that Travis Van Winkle really commits to Rich Yuppie Asshole, like, this is solid work. I have no idea why Jenna would date this guy, but I suppose I’ve thought that about women in RL, too. Meanwhile, Lawrence, who just wanted to save his buddy Chewie, deserves better. Poor Lawrence.

B) Wow, I don’t know if I can think of anything that sounds more uncomfortable than topless wakeboarding. Slamming my naked breasts into water at, IDK, 20 miles an hour when I inevitably wipe out? I mean, that just sounds painful.

C) Hey, Pamela Voorhees is played by Nana Visitor! Hi, Homicidal Kira!

D) Seriously, why did Whitney and Clay dump Jason’s body in the lake anyway? That would’ve made sense for characters in previous films, sure, but it makes no sense here. They literally had to drag him all the way there! The cops are likely to be dubious! I don’t understand!

E) If Whitney does survive her last second surprise attack, she’ll learn that her mom died, and that she missed the funeral. Damn, Whitney’s life is bleak.

Halloween

Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Mekaela won Horror Bingo with The Funhouse, but I had one more space in this Triple Scoop Review, so we each picked a film and played roshambo for it. Mek won, and thus we watched a different sequel/remake: Halloween.

This is okay. I definitely enjoy parts of it, but I’m not in love with the film, either, which is, well. Pretty in line with my feelings on this franchise, TBH. Some things I genuinely enjoyed: the opening credits, a lead female character in a horror movie who’s over 60 years old, Judy Greer’s face when she says, “Gotcha,” Laurie Strode’s whole death trap house, the many times we see Laurie echoing Michael Myers from the first movie (Laurie standing outside her granddaughter’s classroom, Laurie disappearing when Michael looks for her dead body, etc.) I also think it’s really interesting, watching multiple generations of the Strode/Nelson family dealing with the fallout from one terrifying night in 1978 . . . but I still think the movie could do more with it. Specifically, I’d like to see more of Laurie and Karen’s relationship, like, we definitely get the broad strokes, but I feel there’s room for more depth and nuance.

As far as what doesn’t work for me, well. I’m still trying to puzzle that out, so I apologize if the rest of this review is a bit murky. I have a vague idea that part of my problem stems from how much these characters seem to buy into, hm. Let’s call it meta knowledge. Laurie Strode knows Michael Myers is coming back for her. She’s been waiting for it her whole life. And I think we’re supposed to agree: for one, Michael obviously does find Laurie, but also, we get Dr. Sartain’s theories about Laurie and Michael, as though they’re inextricably linked, not to mention Allyson goes to class and literally learns about fate. It all feels pretty Thematic, only here’s the thing: Michael pretty much goes wherever he’s taken. I don’t see much evidence that he’s specifically gunning for Laurie, particularly because we’ve erased every instance that he’s done so out of canon. (Not to mention, goodbye the whole sibling connection.) Honestly, it’s a bit sadder if Laurie’s spent her whole life believing in this Final Girl vs. Boogeyman destiny, but really, she’s just traumatized and has incredibly shitty luck.

And to be fair, Halloween doesn’t actually rule out that interpretation. Still, I can’t entirely shake the impression that this movie feels haunted by the canon it erased. The podcasters, particularly the dude, feel pretentious to the point of absurdity. When Aaron’s shaking the Michael Myers mask around (LOL to his convenient friend at the attorney general’s office, BTW) and asking, “You feel it, don’t you?” Like, I don’t buy any of that, and not just because this dude never seems to realize he could easily walk around the square and actually face his interviewee. Officer Hawkins running over Michael Myers could theoretically work, given that he was around in 1978, but the movie doesn’t give much space to his trauma, definitely not enough for me to buy Actually, Murder is the Best Approach Here from him. And while I’m sorta relieved Dr. Sartain is evil because I was getting real frustrated by his whole Michael Myers fanboy ass, he also just feels . . . weirdly artificial to me, like his dialogue could’ve been taken straight from some Pop Culture & Philosophy essay. Which is something I would totally expect from the Scream movies, but not so much here.

Halloween is entertaining enough, and I’ll probably see the sequel eventually (if only to see what’s causing these seriously mixed reviews), but there’s just something that, on a first viewing, feels oddly disingenuous to me.

(Finally, a few quick last minute things: A) I need Halloween: The Multiverse in my life immediately, where the various Laurie Strodes all face one another, and Karen meets the other two kids who were written out of continuity, B) I’m goddamn amazed that Cameron lives; also, Sheriff Barker, C) sadly, poor Vicky never had a chance, and neither did the Sandwich Cops, who legit were the best, D) much as I like Karen’s “gotcha” moment, I really wish it had more room to breathe, and E) Michael killed a child to show this movie isn’t fucking around, but didn’t kill the baby because, apparently, even Evil has limits.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2021 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were easily The People Under the Stairs and A Quiet Place Part II.

My least favorite movie, OTOH, was definitely The Funhouse, with Till Death as a very distant runner up. The Funhouse was this year’s Dream Home. Or Mandy.

Movies I’m Most Disappointed We Didn’t Get To: Pontypool, Lake Mungo, and One Cut of the Dead have become the redheaded stepchildren of Horror Bingo. We keep throwing them in, and they stubbornly refuse to be chosen.

Movies I’m Most Likely to Add to 2022 Horror Bingo, assuming I don’t watch them before: As the Gods Will, The Call, Bit, and maybe The Fly. (Last year’s nominees were Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and Cube, which. Well, hell, that was damn accurate.)

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Candyman, Urban Legend, and A Bay of Blood

Friends! Enemies! Other Random People! It is October, and that means it is finally time for our 3rd Annual Horror Bingo!

The Game Set-Up: Mek and I each came up with our own list of 15 horror movies. We wrote those movie names down and put them together in a little Halloween bucket; then we randomly drew titles until we’d finished creating our own bingo cards. (The Free Space, if you were wondering, is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. We’ll watch it sometime later this month.) Then all the movies went back in the bucket, and now we’re taking turns drawing and watching scary movies until one of us finally hits Bingo.

Here’s to hopefully winning for the third year in a row!

Candyman

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Year: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Strawberry

For me, Candyman doesn’t quite come together. I definitely don’t regret watching it; in fact, there’s an awful lot to like here. The cast, for instance, is fantastic. I particularly like Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Troy is so extra, and I love him), but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Domingo also do solid work here. A lot of the individual creepy moments are great. Peeling skin. Shadow puppets. The wrong reflection in the mirror. Some awesome funny moments, too: Brianna’s reaction to the dark staircase. Most of Troy’s dialogue. Anytime anyone nopes out of saying Candyman. (White people are, almost exclusively, making poor life choices here.)

Candyman has a lot of interesting things to say about gentrification, about police brutality, about the exploitation of Black pain and the holy shit cringe of white people trying to dictate what stories Black people are allowed to tell. It talks about legends and collective trauma and makes some fascinating choices in terms of updating the Candyman mythology. This movie has so much to say; unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough time to say it.

Candyman is only about 1 hour and 30 minutes long, and while that initially excited me (I am not, generally speaking, a huge fan of the 2 hour, 45 minute horror film), I think this particular story needed to be at least two hours, easy. Everything just feels extremely rushed or underdeveloped to me: Anthony’s spiral, Brianna’s backstory, and definitely a couple of Reveals that I can’t discuss without spoilers. It felt like we were flying past important steps, which kept me from ever really feeling that buildup of tension that can be so pivotal in horror. I love the idea of the ending (the scene in the police car is particularly fantastic) but the ten-minute lead-up to that scene felt so hurried and convoluted that it just doesn’t land for me nearly as well as it could. There’s also a tie-in to the the original film that I’m not totally sure is necessary; I don’t hate it, exactly, but it’s one more thing in a story that already has a lot going on.

Finally, dear God. Google what a normal bee sting looks like, and if you’re noticing some rather noticeable differences between your search results and your fucking death hand, go to the ER immediately. I am begging you.

Urban Legend

Year: 1998
Director: Jamie Blanks
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

It’s been years–maybe 20 of them, JFC–since I’ve seen Urban Legend, so I thought it’d be fun to finally rewatch it. This movie is one of the quintessential 90’s slashers, with hilarious 90’s problems (the internet is tying up the phone line!), some very 90’s music (OMG, “Zoot Suit Riot”), and an extremely 90’s cast. Holy shit, this cast. Final Girl Alicia Witt. Jared Leto, who’s more off-putting than I remember. (And not just because he’s kinda insufferable now.) Rebecca Gayheart, who–holy shit, she accidentally killed a child. I knew there had been a vehicular manslaughter charge (which is particularly . . . something, considering Brenda’s villainous motivations), but I didn’t know it was a nine-year-old boy. I just found all these ‘Rebecca Gayheart finally breaks her silence on tragic accident that left a kid dead’ articles, and like, I don’t know this actress, I’m not gonna offer an opinion on her sincerity or guilt, but wow, these headlines are passive, deliberately distancing Gayheart from her actions. And the tone of each article, like. They all really center her grief, her trauma, in a way that feels . . . yeah, kinda icky to me.

Okay, I got sidetracked. Also in this cast: Joshua Jackson (in his brief blond phase), Michael Rosenbaum (always funny to see him with hair), Danielle Harris (of Halloween and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead fame), Brad Dourif (also in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, plus the Chucky movies, plus eight billion other weirdo roles), Robert Englund (I mean, do I even need to say), Loretta Devine (who rather surprisingly doesn’t die!), John Neville (who I vaguely remember from The X-Files), and Julian Richings (That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada).

While slashers aren’t, by and large, known for their likable characters, seriously, almost everyone in Urban Legend is kind of a dick. Like, am I supposed to be rooting for Natalie and Paul? Cause, yeah, nope. Frankly, I was cheering Brenda on until, y’know. She microwaved a puppy. (Apparently, this is an actual urban legend?) Tara Reid is playing one of the more likable characters here, which, I mean, I’m not saying it never happens–all hail Josie and the Pussycats–but still. These people are dire.

Urban Legends is silly but enjoyable, and I laughed a lot. Sometimes when I was supposed to (the “I Don’t Want to Wait” gag, Damon’s sleaze act, Natalie punching Damon for being a sleaze, etc.), sometimes when I probably wasn’t (pretty much the entire opening act or how Rebecca Gayheart’s hair suddenly grows three sizes when she’s revealed as the villain). It does feel a bit slow at times, probably because I truly don’t give a shit about anybody here, like, just zero investment in these characters. But I do really enjoy that Brenda’s the bad guy. It’s the only slasher I can think of offhand where the BFF is the killer. And hey, she even unambiguously survives! Not something BFFs are known for in this genre. (Villains, naturally, can go either way.)

A Bay of Blood

Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: All of them
Grade: Vanilla

Ah, A Bay of Blood, AKA: Ecologia del delitto, AKA: Reazione a Catena, AKA: Carnage, AKA: Blood Bath, and–my personal favorite–AKA: Twitch of the Death Nerve. It’s sorta hilarious to me how controversial this movie was when it first came out. I mean, I get it. This was a huge inspiration for the slasher genre and just crazy gory for 1971; in fact, some of the shots are still striking today, particularly the octopus slithering all over the dead body, like, Jesus. (Other moments that stick out: the countess’s hanging, the kid who gets a billhook machete to the face, the tarot reader’s decapitation–mostly because it made me laugh–and Laura’s corpse, partly because of the transition from flashback to dead body, partly cause she reminds me of Casey Becker in that shot.)

There’s a lot I like here. As a murder mystery nerd, I’m kind of obsessed with stories with more than one murderer–and not just partners-in-crime, but multiple separate killers. A Bay of Blood has 13 deaths and FOUR different killers. Six, if you count the accidental Murder Children, and boy, will we get back to those two. Anyway, I just think that’s neat. I’m really into the whole chain reaction of death, too, all, whelp, guess I gotta go murder again, or hmm, looks like an ideal time to bump someone off. I’m also very fond of the OST, which–in true 70’s Italian style–is totally weird and somehow still works, from the grandiose piano music to the more jaunty stuff to the ludicrously cheerful song that plays right after the Murder Children unwittingly kill their killer parents.

Structurally, though, I have problems. It should work: open with an inciting death or two, set up your cast of characters, kill off a few here or there, and then 3rd Act Blood Bath! But the pacing really feels off in the 1st half of the film. We spend fucking forever on these teenagers. (One has possibly the worst haircut I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know what to call it. Fluffy Mullet With Wings, maybe?) And while some shots and editing choices are great, others feel extremely random and choppy. The dialogue isn’t the best, either, although that’s hard  to judge, considering the dubbing and poor sound quality. Possibly, I missed stuff, like . . . why did these people just decide to leave their kids behind in a camper on the side of the road in the middle of the night again?

I can’t quite decide how I feel about that ending, either. The awful parents are the last murderers left standing, only they immediately get killed by their own children, who shoot them without realizing the guns are very real. These kids fucking skip off into the sunset, thinking their parents are only playing dead, and I mean–yeah, I definitely laughed to the tune of what the actual fuck. But the last minute Comeuppance Twist doesn’t always play for me, and ultimately, I’m not sure if I love it here.

I do really feel like A Bay of Blood might be one that grows on me, but I’ll have to think it over. TBH, I kinda want to see a remake. The cinematic blasphemy, I know.

Triple Scoop Review: The Suicide Squad, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and The Green Knight

The Suicide Squad 

Year: 2021
Director: James Gunn
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last paragraph
Grade: Chocolate

You know, I liked this. In comparison to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, obviously, which was a convoluted disaster, but also as its own thing. Gunn’s a pretty solid fit for the irreverent, kooky violence of this particular franchise, and I laughed a lot watching the film. Which isn’t to say that every joke or plot beat works for me. There’s this whole running bit with Polka-Dot Man’s mom that fell flat almost every time. There’s something about the Harley and Silvio Luna subplot (subplot might be a stretch) that feels a bit contrived, although I absolutely love how it concludes, so. It’s not a big complaint. The movie kinda comments on America’s propensity for fucking over other nations, while also . . . IDK, how to put this, exactly. Sorta makes a joke out of it? Which, you know, felt poorly considered. And I do think Peter Capaldi is a bit wasted here.

OTOH, this is an absolutely fantastic cast. I adore Idris Elba in this, like, he has just so many great lines and reactions. Obviously, Margot Robbie as Harley continues to be the Best, and I really like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, too. (Although I’ll probably always wish Waller was being played by a fat actress.) Joel Kinnaman got a serious glow up as Rick Flag, like, I enjoyed him so much more this time around. John Cena has pretty great comedic timing, and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 is sweet and sleepy and awesome. Also, a big shoutout to the scene stealers playing Waller’s support staff: Tinashe Kajese, Steve Agee, and Jennifer Holland.

Some things I can mention without spoilers: the music is great. I think Gunn is really fantastic at creating a fun, vibrant soundtrack without completely overwhelming every scene. I enjoy all the silly gore, obviously, and the flower gunfight scene, too. King Shark, of course, is a violent delight. And like I mentioned before, I laughed a LOT. That opening scene alone, like, holy shit. It’s been a stressful time. I appreciate the laughter.

With SPOILERS: I’m still tired of the Daddy Redemption trope (I swear to God, I just watched this exact setup in The Long Kiss Goodnight, it’s so ubiquitous), but I will say that Idris Elba and Storm Reid screaming at each other was kinda fun. Rick Flag bites it, which–not unexpected, but more of a bummer than I was prepared for. Captain Boomerang dies super early, which I called, as did almost everyone on Team 1. (Including Michael Rooker, who is the Nobu–that is, the character who exists to prove the bomb collar/bomb chip actually works). I really love all the background check fails: Weasel can’t swim, Bloodsport has a rat phobia, etc. Also, the intertitles are great, especially “Warner Bros Pictures presents” and “The Suicide Squad vs. Starro The Conqueror.” Finally, I was really hoping King Shark would eat Peacemaker, but . . . alas, spinoff. And as much as I enjoyed John Cena here, like. Why, of all possible characters, is Peacemaker getting a spinoff?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Year: 1972
Director: Emilio Miraglia
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Strawberry

So one day, I’m hanging out, flipping around on Shudder, as you do, and I see the title of this giallo movie. Naturally, I’m like, “Holy shit, that’s the best title ever,” and check out the plot description, which reads: Two sisters inherit their family castle that is supposedly haunted by their murderous ancestor. When their friends begin disappearing, they suspect that there might be some truth to the rumors. And I’m like, “OMG, this was MADE for me.”

And yeah, I did enjoy this one. The bad guy isn’t super hard to guess, like, Mek and I got that straight away, but there were enough red herrings and general shifty behavior to keep things interesting; also, a couple of twists I genuinely didn’t expect. The murders are fun and appropriately bloody, the killer has a signature maniacal laugh, the score by Bruno Nicolai is great, and JFC, the fashion in this movie. (Much of which can be seen in this fan-made trailer.) I basically wanna own Kitty’s whole wardrobe, not to mention, steal one of Rosemary’s outfits, the one paired with the most spectacular glasses I’ve ever seen. Martin’s sexy robe amuses me (more mid-thigh robes for men!) and Franziska’s nightgown is, uh. Well, it’s certainly a look.

There are things I’d change here, like, I’d straight up cut the completely unnecessary sexual assault that has absolutely zero bearing on the plot and is never mentioned again by anybody. I’d seriously rewrite almost everything about Elizabeth, “the crazy wife” character. And I’d kill off one of the survivors because, nah. Never liked them, anyway.  But overall, I had fun. Like, cool clothes, great hair, multiple ridiculous murders, weird dream sequences, spooky old family legends, and mildly perplexing castle designs? I mean, really, what’s not to like?

The Green Knight

Dev Patel Babe GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: David Lowery
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Vanilla

You know. This was okay. I can see how The Green Knight might be a love-it-or-hate-it movie for some folks, but I find myself kind of caught in the middle. Again. It’s shocking, I know. Some of that might be the subject matter: Arthurian legends aren’t, by and large, my jam, and the only part of this story I knew prior to watching the film was the opening act. TBH, I really thought that was the whole story for a long time: Dude A says, “You can take the first shot, but I’m gonna hit you back just as hard next year,” Dude B says, “Ha-ha, no, you won’t,” and decapitates Dude A, and then Dude A picks up his decapitated head and says, “See you in a year, sucker!” I’m starting to wonder if maybe I read this in a spooky stories for kids book or something. But I digress.

The cast is great. Dev Patel is a solid leading man, and Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Alicia Vikander, Erin Kellyman, and Ralph Ineson all make up a strong supporting cast. There are several scenes or small moments that I enjoy: Kate Dickie reading the Green Knight’s challenge, or basically any other time the Green Knight is on screen, all the fabulous costumes and crowns and hair, the fox, the intertitles, pretty much the entire subplot with Erin Kellyman, etc. “A Meeting With Saint Winifred” was easily my favorite part of the journey, partially because I like the actress, but also because it’s such great classic ghost story shit. (Also, I was already familiar with Saint Winifred, so I got to be all, “Ha! See, I know some references!”)

It’s interesting because, in some ways, The Green Knight actually isn’t as weird as I was expecting. Surreal? Sure, and I definitely didn’t catch all the symbology involved, but the basic plot is easy enough to follow, and while the the ending is arguably ambiguous, I also wasn’t blinking, all, WTF just happened? Much of the cinematography is, of course, lovely, although to me, some of the editing choices and camerawork just felt kinda distracting. (In fairness, the Ibuprofen for my headache had not fully kicked in, so some of the spins probably weren’t doing much for my mood.) My least favorite part, without question, was the whole section with The Lord and The Lady cause, like. I was so bored. I’ve now skimmed through several interviews and reviews explaining all the hidden clues, context, visual metaphors, interpretations, etc., but . . . I’m sorry. SO. BORED.

This is my thing about The Green Knight: the trailer looked wild, and I’m glad I tried it out, but while I enjoyed bits of it, on the whole, I felt kinda *shrug* about the movie after it was over. I honestly don’t have many criticisms and would never suggest it was a bad film, but sometimes you try something and find that, meh, maybe it just wasn’t for you. Which is fine! And it’s totally possible that I might like the movie more on repeat viewings, although at present, I don’t feel any particularly need to watch it again. If I do, though, it’s definitely gonna be around Christmas.  I’m always on board for more non-traditional Christmas movies. Adding this to list!

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)

2020: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

Looks like it’s that time of the year again. Let’s go ahead and tackle my stuff first. I have two short stories eligible for award consideration:

Monsters Never Leave You” – Strange Horizons (June 29th, 2020)

I’m very fond of this story, but it was not an easy one to write. I went through several versions before this final one could be born, and I’m proud of how it ultimately turned out. TBH, I kind of wish more people had read it, so if you’re a fan of fairy tales, sibling stories, found families, living houses, domestic witchery, creepy trees, and/or dessert, I hope you consider checking it out.

Spider Season, Fire Season” – Nightmare (July 2020)

If you’re looking for slightly creepier fare, you might consider this short story instead. I wrote it shortly after the Kincade Fire, and structurally, it’s a bit of a switch-up for me. (Thematically . . . possibly not so much.) You may enjoy this one if you like ghost stories, found families, non-linear storytelling, California, violent comeuppance, and a bit of optimism in your horror.

Moving on now to some of my favorite short stories I read in 2020, in no particular order:

1. “One Time, A Reluctant Traveler” – A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld)

Oh, this one is just lovely, a story about family and loss, history and survival, about taking all the tales you inherited and finding an ending of your own. It’s a quest story unlike any other quest story I’ve read, and that last line? Utter perfection.

If you must know, I left because if I stayed in Nat’s house one night longer, I was going to unravel, like a tragic traveler in one of my family’s tales. And that was a story I didn’t want to be.

2. “The Mermaid Astronaut” – Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

There’s a lot to recommend in this stunning blend of mer fantasy and space travel: the exquisite prose, the supportive relationship between sisters, the bittersweet resolution that doesn’t rely on a cruel twist. This isn’t a story that punishes our young mermaid for having dreams, and I really appreciated that.

“I don’t think it’s such an evil thing,” Essarala replied, “to want to see new worlds and taste their waters.”

“Evil, no,” the witch said. “Difficult, yes.”

3. “Open House on Haunted Hill” – John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

As is likely obvious from my own eligible work, I adore stories about haunted houses and/or houses that are otherwise alive. 133 Poisonwood Ave is definitely alive: sweet and lonely and longing for a family to live inside its walls. This one is heartwarming and an excellent comfort read.

All 133 Poisonwood has is a light touch, but it knows how to use it. Haunting is an art.

4. “Teeth Long and Sharp as Blades” – A.C. Wise (PseudoPod)

Maybe one of these years I’ll make a favorites list without an A.C. Wise story on it, but honestly? That just doesn’t seem very likely. This one is dark and fascinating and hooked me from the very first line. I mean, come on: “Have you ever thought about how fairy tale heroines are like final girls?” That’s basically ALL I think about.

This is my story, but when you hear it, I am irrelevant, a moral in the shape of a girl, an object to be acted upon.

5. “My Country is a Ghost” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny)

A melancholy, gorgeous, and ultimately hopeful story about immigration, assimilation, family, and culture. So many of the lines in this one . . . I mean, damn. It’s an incredibly moving piece and an absolute must read.

When Niovi tried to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country, she found herself being passed from one security officer to another, detailing her mother’s place and date of death over and over again.

6. “The Sycamore and the Sybil” – Alix E. Harrow (Uncanny)

Look, I know envy is unseemly and all, but also, Alix E. Harrow’s prose is just unfairly beautiful. This story is about women and witches and surviving, until survival alone simply isn’t enough anymore, and if you haven’t already read it, well. Get to it, please.

Before I was a sycamore I was a woman, and before I was a woman I was a girl, and before I was a girl I was a wet seed wild in the hot-pulp belly of my mother. I remember it: a pulsing blackness, veins unfurling in the dark like roots spreading through the hidden places of the earth. You remember things different, once you’re a tree.

7. “Housebound” – Ao-Hui Lin (Drabblecast)

Oh, this story. I knew almost immediately that it was gonna kick me in the stomach, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it did. It’s disturbing and tense and made me positively seethe in fury. This story stuck with me well after I finished reading it.

The closet. It used to be here, through this door, under the stairs. Now there’s just a pit and bite marks on the door jamb.

8. “Sunrise, Sunrise, Sunrise” – Lauren Ring (Apparition Lit)

Clearly, I love a good time loop story, and this one is particularly fantastic. It’s the rare story where the protagonist doesn’t want to break free from her loop, which I found both original and extremely intriguing. Great concept, strong character work, and a spot-on ending.

Every day, it goes like this: I wake to golden light, with the surface of a star just beyond my wide viewport window. As the hours pass, a supernova forms, enveloping my little research vessel. I check my monitoring equipment, I eat my favorite meals, and then in the evening, I die. 

9. “A Moonlit Savagery” – Millie Ho (Nightmare)

Oh, this is a spectacular horror story, full of loneliness and betrayal and some particularly flavorful just desserts. It’s also my introduction to phi pop, which is very exciting; I want to read about ALL THE GHOSTS, especially the hungry ones.

“ได้,” I mutter against his skin, already dizzy with fantasies of splitting his ribs open.

10. “Dead Girls Have No Names” – Claire Wrenwood (Nightmare)

Finally, we have even more hungry dead in this excellent Frankenstein-inspired short story, where dead girls are stitched together by a mother bent on revenge. It’s dark and  poignant and powerful, and the ending is absolutely sublime. READ IT.

As the lid slammed shut, the truth of our new existence dawned: Never again would any mother name us or hold us or take this cold from our bones.

There in the terrible darkness, we tried to weep and discovered we could not.

That’s it for now. Happy reading!

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

Doctor Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

Random Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underwater

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

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

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

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

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

Random Notes:

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

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

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

Tigers Are Not Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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