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!

TV Superlatives: December, January, and February – 2019/2020

It’s that time again: our winter TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Bromance, Favorite WTF Moment, Best Profanity, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Busted! (Season 2)
His Dark Materials
Nancy Drew
The Mandalorian
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn
Watchmen
The Expanse (Season 4)
A Black Lady Sketch Show
The Witcher
Barry (Season 2)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Star Trek: Picard
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Continue reading

Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

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

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

More importantly . . .

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

Suspiria (2018)

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

Well. That was a movie.

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

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

Us

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

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

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

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

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

Jason X

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO WRAP-UP:

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

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

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

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

Triple Scoop Reviews: Robin Hood, The Sword and the Stone, and Spider-Man: Far From Home

Robin Hood (1973)

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Not really. Besides, come on. It’s Robin Hood.
Grade: Strawberry

I grew up on two Robin Hoods: Prince of Thieves and Men in Tights. Disney’s Robin Hood, though? Not so much. But now that we have Disney Plus, Mek and I decided a viewing was in order, if for no other reason than to investigate the root cause of everyone’s sexual attraction to foxes. (I have to admit, I predictably remain mystified on that front.)

As far as the movie itself goes, it’s . . . there? I can’t really say I enjoyed it, but I was certainly bemused by it. Sir Hiss is my favorite character, or maybe I just felt the most sorry for him. (The name, of course, is amazing; it would work nearly as well for a cat. Clearly, I need more cats: Sir Hiss and Ser Pounce would obviously go well together.) I find Sir Hiss particularly interesting because a) he doesn’t seem to have an equivalent character in any other Robin Hood story I’m familiar with, b) he wears fashionable hats, and c) after explaining how he hypnotized King Richard into leaving for the Crusades, Sir Hiss’s hypnosis powers never come back! Writers, seriously. Did no one teach you about Chekhov’s Hypnotic Powers? (Dedicated MGB readers: yes, I’ve made this joke before and fully intend to make it again. In fact, Chekhov is gonna be a whole damn tag now.)

I was also fond of Lady Kluck because to my very great surprise, she kind of kicks ass. Sadly, once she’s done kicking the shit out of Prince John’s guards, she mostly drops out of the movie. (As does Maid Marian, oddly enough.) Prince John himself is . . . ah . . . well, it’s certainly an interpretation. The constant thumb-sucking weirded me out, and generally, I found him more aggravating than funny, although he does actually have two of the best lines in the whole movie: “release the royal fingers!” and “I sentence you to sudden, instant, and even immediate death.” Alas, the rest of the film? Meh.

The Sword and the Stone (1963)

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: I mean, I guess? There isn’t really that much to spoil.
Grade: Vanilla

Continuing the Nostalgia Train–well, Mekaela’s Nostalgia Train, anyway, because she apparently watched a lot of old Disney movies before I was born or while I was doing other important things, like napping–we have The Sword in the Stone. I’m not sure how I would’ve felt about it as a child, but as an adult, well. It’s kind of a hot mess. Like, there are a few genuinely funny moments, sure. Honestly, I think I enjoyed this one more than Robin Hood, despite the fact that Robin Hood at least has something resembling a plot. This movie . . . yeah. There’s no plot to be had: it’s just Arthur turning into various animals and being chased around by other animals. That’s it. That’s the movie.

Of course, these scenes are supposed to be lessons. And that could actually be pretty cool, except a) Arthur never really learns anything (except that knowledge is power, I guess), and b) he never uses what little he does learn during the course of this movie. Like, I thought maybe he’d figure out how to trick Sir Ector and Ser Kay into taking him to London? But nope, Arthur’s just a last minute replacement because Sir Kay’s squire got sick. Then I thought, okay, Arthur must do something semi-crafty to find our titular sword, like, maybe he’s forbidden from trying to lift it? Instead, Arthur just stumbles across said sword when he forgets Sir Kay’s blade and needs a hasty replacement weapon. In short, Arthur proves he deserves to be the King of England by being the worst fucking squire of all time.

It’s also hilarious that three different actors voice Arthur, and at least one of those voices is really bad. OTOH, I generally liked Merlin and Archimedes well enough. Merlin is a delightfully irresponsible and terrible teacher, and I can’t lie: I kinda wanna cosplay Bermuda Merlin now. So, the film isn’t wholly without merit; it just has serious narrative problems, and also, how the fuck could they just leave Girl Squirrel crying like that? This is some bullshit. Justice for Girl Squirrel!

Spider-Man: Far From Home

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

Moving on from Classic Disney to Present Disney (We Own Everything, Including Your Souls), we have the latest Spider-Man film. I didn’t see Far From Home in theater, partly because Mek didn’t want to, partly because I’ve really been feeling the Marvel burnout this year. Still, I did enjoy this one. I continue to really like Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and not just because he hurts so pretty; that kid’s been great since Civil War, and obviously won my heart forever with “Umbrella.” Which, yeah, you’ve already seen 76 times, but I just linked the video, so now you have to watch it for the 77th time. Those are the rules.

This is a decent follow-up to Endgame, a solid balance of humor and action and Feels. I’m happy that the film spent at least a little time addressing the consequences of the Blip, though I can’t in good conscience say that “blip” with a straight face. We’re not . . . we’re not really going to keep calling it that, are we? (We should never, ever stop saying “the Peter Tingle,” though, because that shit’s hilarious.) I’ll admit, what I want more than anything is a character drama and/or missing person detective story that takes place in a post-Endgame world, but obviously, that’s something I’ll never get.

The supporting cast is also great: Jake Gyllenhaal appears to be having a blast in this movie, I absolutely adore Zendaya as MJ, and Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove are pretty great as the class chaperones. Other than that, I’m honestly not sure how much else I have to say. If comparing to other Spider-Man movies . . . I think I liked Homecoming more, and I know I liked Into the Spider-Verse more. But I also didn’t have any major problems with it, either. If comparing to everything else in the MCU . . . fuck that shit, there’s been like 700 of these movies, and I have things to do. In general, I’d say it’s somewhere upper-middle for me? Not one of the more ambitious or groundbreaking of the Marvel films (yes, I would qualify some as such), but also fairly charming, entertaining throughout, and overall pretty solid.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Leprechaun, The Witch, and The Cell

Leprechaun

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah, but come on
Grade: Strawberry

Horror Bingo was briefly put on hold last week during the great Sonoma County Evacuation, but that doesn’t mean horror wasn’t achieved! Mekaela, Lindsey, and I ended up nostalgia-watching Leprechaun, and boy, is it just as bad as I remember.

I mean, okay, some of the comedy is obviously intentional. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the intentional comedy is actually funny. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The terrible prologue. The ridiculous storyline. The overall poor acting. The “slow friend” as comedic device. The Leprechaun’s makeup. The fact that our painting crew is apparently painting the house fire engine red and bright blue, like, what the fuck even is that? Tori’s weird shorts, which even in the 90’s were a choice. Also: the truly tragic fact that Warwick Davis does not succeed in murdering our heroes because they’re all pretty awful; the only one I even halfway like is Alex, the precocious child, and honestly, that might just be because I remember the actor from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I would happily have pushed Jennifer Aniston’s character down a well, and her love interest, too. Oh, that whole “feminism” exchange is so, so painful.

Although credit where credit’s due: death by pogo stick is always genuinely hilarious. More pogo stick deaths, please!

The Witch

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

Well, My Geek Blasphemy is about to earn its name today: The Witch is one of the biggest horror movies of the decade, and unfortunately, I didn’t much like it.

I do like parts of it. It’s very well-shot, of course. The scene with the ravens is, ah, effectively memorable. (Poor Kate Dickie. Between this and Game of Thrones, I can’t imagine how many breastfeeding jokes she must get every day.) The performances by Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Kate Dickie are all very strong, and I kind of enjoy this movie’s whole “if Shakespeare wrote Puritan-horror” vibe–although I did have to concede defeat about twenty minutes in and put on subtitles because between the accents and the colonial American vernacular, I realized I was only catching maybe one word out of ten. I also genuinely enjoy this story’s pace. There aren’t a lot of negative reviews for The Witch, but the few complaints I did find were mostly about the film being slow and dull. Those were definitely not problems I had with the movie.

So, what didn’t I like? Honestly, I’m having trouble articulating that. Certain scenes are easy enough to point to: Caleb’s whole religious ecstasy–heavy emphasis on the ecstasy–sorta icks me out, and, like, not the good kind of ick? You know, maybe, let’s not with kids? But I have larger thematic problems, too. Like, I have never said this before, ever, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed The Witch more if it was just a psychological horror film. If, say, Caleb came back from the woods all weird and dying, and we never knew exactly what happened to him out there, only that it sent the family into paranoid self-destruction . . . those were the moments I genuinely liked. That’s where I think the horror is most successful. And to be fair, I don’t hate all of the supernatural elements: Black Phillip was cool, also those ravens, and I did like the shot of the levitating witches–although they’re naked because of course they are. (See also: the witch who seduces Caleb with her extremely prominent and wicked breasts.) Which, I get it: the witches here are presented like they would’ve been in the 1600’s. Research, historical accuracy, blah blah, woof woof.

The problem is you’re telling this historical New England folktale in 2019, when I’m well-aware of what happened to the actual women accused of witchcraft in this era, and while I think you can tell a story about evil Satanic witches from the 1600’s, I’m not totally convinced you should. (I didn’t love how The Conjuring handled this, either, BTW.) At the very least, I don’t think this is the way to do it: surely, there must be a way to discuss/delve into/update these Puritanical fears without also embracing such awful misogynistic stereotypes. And I do think this movie embraces those stereotypes; since watching this film, I’ve come across at least three different articles praising the subversive feminism of The Witch, and if that was your takeaway, okay, I’m not trying to rip that from you. But personally, I came away with the exact opposite reaction, and ultimately, I think that’s because this is a “driven to evil” story that I just don’t buy.

There are ways Thomasin’s turn to Satan could’ve worked for me. For instance, I might’ve bought it if her motivation had been wholly pragmatic, the desperation to survive in this awful, barren landscape on her own. I might’ve bought it if she’d gone mad with vengeance and grief, if she’d needed the Devil to find and punish the twins who she’d come to blame for all of this. And sure, you can argue those are subtextual motivating factors, but they’re also pointedly not what Satan actually offers; instead, he pitches pretty dresses and the chance to live deliciously. (To be fair, wouldst thou like to live deliciously is a damn good line.) Because, you know. Thomasin mentioned missing stained glass windows that one time, and that’s how you get women: through materialism.

Likewise, I’ve seen it argued that Thomasin is making a baller power move here, that she and all those other floating, orgiastic witches in the woods are finally embracing their sexuality. But to me, all they’re really doing is validating the belief that without God, without men, women are both easily manipulated and spiritually vulnerable. They can be won over by shiny things, and they will grind up babies for beauty and power, and if they’re not vigorously protected from their baser instincts, they will lose themselves to their instinctual sexual mania, becoming wanton creatures capable of luring innocent boys to their deaths. Seriously. There are lots of ways to symbolically depict “embracing your sexuality,” but I can’t help but feel that a girl stripping down for a goat and joining a bunch of other writhing naked women ritualistically chanting their devotion to some eternal dude is, well, a very dude fantasy to have.

Ultimately, The Witch condemns religious paranoia while also making the argument for its justification, and that just doesn’t really sit right with me, thematically or morally.

The Cell

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

The Cell has a lot of problems; I know this. Some actors were spectacularly miscast, like, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great scene stealer and Vincent D’Onofrio with his proto-Anton Chigurh haircut is dead-on, but Vince Vaughn as our FBI profiler dude? Honey, no. Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have been my top choice for our psychologist heroine, either, but honestly, she’s not bad in the role; it’s how they use her that’s ridiculous, like, that scene where she’s in a shirt and panties and so ludicrously, so obviously posed next to the refrigerator? Ugh. Come on, dudes. Also, I can’t imagine this film’s depiction of schizophrenia is any more accurate or less offensive than most horror movies. And I just can’t get over this ending where Jennifer Lopez locks everyone out of the system, brings permanently comatose serial killer D’Onofrio into her mind, ends up mercy killing him–and then? Not only doesn’t she get arrested, not only does she keep her job, she somehow gets permission to bring the comatose child into her brain after she just murdered someone during that procedure!

Regardless, I have a lot of nostalgia for this movie; it kind of blew my mind when I was 15, and while the special effects have aged predictably poorly after 20 years, I still love a lot of the cinematography, fashion, and design. This shot for instance–maybe begin at the 2.17 mark–is still absolutely gorgeous. (Watch this whole clip if you’d like a lesson/reminder on the aesthetics of early 2000’s horror because this NSFW scene is strongly reminiscent of 2002’s Thir13en Ghosts.) All the art history inspiration is really cool, too: the creepy women in the sand, the fucked up horse, all the H.R. Giger shit. I like that Anne Marie, our current victim, figures out how to survive long enough to be saved by the FBI. And I’m just a sucker for this basic premise, like, it’s basically Inception meets Silence of the Lambs, and I am all about that. I’d have watched more standalone sequels in a heartbeat. Shit, I’d probably still watch those sequels, or maybe an updated remake, or, ooh, what about a whole TV show? (Okay, I think that’s basically what Reverie was, but despite the awesome presence of Sarah Shahi, that show didn’t even make it a full season. We can do better.) So, yeah, this one has serious flaws, but I still kinda treasure its surreal what-the-fuckery.

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

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

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

Happy Halloween!

The Conjuring

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

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

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

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

Insidious

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

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

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

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

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Scoop Reviews: Captain Marvel, Cast a Deadly Spell, and Bad Times at the El Royale

Captain Marvel

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (Theater)
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

Well, I finally did it; I left my house and got my ass down to the movie theater for the first time in, like, a bunch of months. I confess, I don’t know exactly where Captain Marvel fits in my Ultimate Marvel Movie Ranking, but I had a pretty good time: Brie Larson is a joy to watch, she has amazing buddy cop chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, and I really like her friendship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). I know some people were really into Carol/Maria, though personally, I can’t say I ship it myself. I didn’t quite see that type of chemistry, and besides, I’m (unsurprisingly) ecstatic that Captain Marvel a) features an important friendship between two women, and b) doesn’t waste time on a needless romantic subplot. That all being said, should Carol end up with, say, Nebula or Valkyrie in later films? I’m saying, I could be here for that.

I do feel like Captain Marvel starts a bit rough. I’m not totally sure why, either, just that I wasn’t super engaged with the first, say, 20 minutes of the movie? The second Carol lands on Earth, though, the whole story comes alive. Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson are comedy gold; I particularly enjoy seeing a younger, happier, cat-loving Nick Fury. Obviously, Goose is fantastic, too. And actually, I really like all the supporting players: Ben Mendelsohn steals half the scenes he’s in, Annette Bening’s character, Dr. Lawson, goes in a pretty neat direction, and I always enjoy seeing Agent Coulson pop up. Although. Whatever they did to his eyebrows? No. Just no.

What I really like about this one, I think, is that it’s just a fun movie with a badass female lead. There’s often so much pressure on women-led films to not only be flawless but also Significant; like, if the films themselves aren’t Perfect Feminist Victories, then they’re automatic failures that only prove how this “trend” of gender-flipped and/or women-dominated films are unnecessary, a PC ploy, etc. But that’s crap for a lot of reasons: for one, every damn movie has flaws or things that could be improved; for another, a film can be significant without having to be Significant. And for the most part, Captain Marvel strikes me as a fun, easy-breezy installment in the Marvel machine; it’s another superhero movie that just so happens to have a badass lady at the forefront. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly groundbreaking material; I would say that it’s a lot of fun, and it would’ve meant a lot to me especially if I could’ve seen it as a kid.

A few final notes:

A. Gemma Chan doesn’t have a ton to do here, but I like her and I’m interested in seeing more from her in other films.

B. I’m a 90’s kid, so obviously, I’m all about this soundtrack. Garbage! Hole! No Doubt! TLC! Surely I’d buy it if I didn’t already own a good chunk of the songs.

C. Any superhero who’s dressed in a NIN shirt for half the movie is a superhero I’d like to see more of.

D. I really do like Brie Larson a whole lot in this. I’ve loved her since Envy Adams and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and I’m eager to see her in Avengers: Endgame . . . even if I’m still not super pumped to see Avengers: Endgame itself.

E. There are lots and lots of great lines in this movie, but without a doubt, the most powerful one for me was “I have nothing to prove to you.” That’s already on a T-shirt, right? I need to buy it immediately.

Cast a Deadly Spell

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (HBO)
Spoilers: Yeah
Grade: Strawberry

Look, I was five, mostly, in 1991, so there were a few things I missed out on. For instance, did you know that HBO made a fantasy-noir TV movie about H.P “Philip” Lovecraft, a private eye who refuses to use magic in a world where everyone else does? It’s true! Fred Ward plays our shamus; meanwhile, Clancy Brown plays a gangster, Julianne Moore plays the femme fatale, and David Warner the rich, shady client. And it’s not just witches and warlocks, either; there are unicorns, gremlins, vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, demons, voodoo zombies, and, of course, the Old Ones. This is full-on urban fantasy, set in a noir backdrop, and I can’t believe I had to wait almost 30 years to discover it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this movie is any good. Oh God, no. There’s a reason film noir is so easy to parody: hardboiled dialogue is tricky to pull off naturally, and I’m not convinced Fred Ward quite manages it. The script has a number of issues, from problematic queer rep to problematic racist shit to forgetting the basic principles of Chekhov’s magical gun. And the special effects are . . . well, let’s just say HBO has come a long way in 30 years.

But Christ, I’d love the opportunity to remake the hell out of this. I mean, I’d change a LOT. Our detective absolutely does not need to be named Lovecraft; seriously, fuck that guy. I’m keeping the Old Ones, sure, but HP goes. I’d also prefer our gumshoe had a better reason for abstaining from magic than condescending moral superiority. Everything about the queer couple (the gay guy is fat, sweaty, and pathetic; the trans woman is attacked both verbally and violently by our hero, both die badly, etc.) must fuck right off. It’d really be for the best if all the zombie slaves weren’t black, and if a virgin is going to save the day by losing her virginity before she can be sacrificed, it would help if a) she had more agency, b) wasn’t underage, and c) was actually allowed to be the hero. Instead, it’s the schmucky, adulterous, very adult cop who’s called a “hero” for having sex with her.

Still, if I could write an adult hardboiled noir urban fantasy series with or without Lovecraftian undertones for HBO today? Oh my God, that is the dream. Until then, I’ll just have to console myself with the fact that Hypolite (a witch, Lovecraft’s landlady, and presumed dead meat character) actually lives. Also? There’s a sequel. Starring DENNIS HOPPER.

I take it back. That’s the fucking dream right there.

Bad Times at the El Royale

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: ALL OF THEM
Grade: Vanilla

Man. I wanted to like this so bad.

It starts out great. The movie has a fantastic premise, a talented cast, and atmosphere in spades. I like Cynthia Erivo a lot, as well as Lewis Pullman and Jon Hamm. Hamm’s whole section–where he discovers 80 bazillion bugs in his motel room, as well as all the two-way mirrors–is particularly creepy. Unfortunately, the film also starts falling apart shortly after he dies. Specifically, I think it starts falling apart when Chris Hemsworth arrives on scene, which feels sacrilegious to say, I know. But it’s not an acting problem. The third act just desperately falls short of all the movie’s potential.

One problem, I think, is that cult leader Billy Lee (Hemsworth) doesn’t feel important enough to be this film’s chief antagonist. Creepy shirtless dancing aside, his presence and placement in this story feels a bit too random; he should just be one of the strangers at the motel with a secret agenda, not a Big Bad who strolls in thirty minutes before the end of the movie. He is, honestly, a little too boring to hold the whole third act. This story’s real Big Bad ought to be Management; they’re the villains that tie everyone’s stories together, or should, anyway. But Management is only briefly discussed, a vaguely nefarious non-entity who drops out of the movie entirely, presumably because the writers don’t know who or what the hell Management really is.

Or maybe they do know but don’t care–there’s something of a smug “we don’t have to tell you all the answers” vibe to this movie. Who’s on the film reel, for instance, and hey, I actually agree with that: we don’t need to know which famous dead person was filmed. Still, there’s a limit to how many times a movie can cheekily avoid giving you a straight answer before you wanna smack it right in the face, and Bad Times at the El Royale well surpassed that limit. Not to mention, there are just so many dropped plot threads by the end of the movie that you know it can’t all be intentional.

For instance, who murdered bank robber Nick Offerman? The movie sets it up as a mystery–we never see the killer’s face–but presumably it’s the third partner we barely glimpse in flashback, someone who’s only referred to as “the kid.” And wouldn’t you know it, desk clerk Miles (Pullman) certainly fits the bill: he’s roughly the right age, still working at this dodgy ass motel for some reason, and keeps trying to confess something that isn’t all the pervy spy shit to Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Except it turns out that Miles is not that guy, considering he’s literally the only character in this movie who actually thinks Flynn’s a priest–and, well, that’s it. The movie sets up a mystery in the opening act and then promptly forgets about it for the rest of the film. Also! Why the hell set a movie in a place where a literal line divides characters in different states if you’re not going to prominently use said line in an interesting way during some awesome climactic scene? Or, shit, at least figure out a way to tie it into some goddamn themes.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Bad Times at the El Royale is easily 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, with too much time spent on lengthy or unnecessary flashbacks. (Case in point, Miles’s incredibly last minute Vietnam War scene.) Despite all this, though, the movie is still totally watchable, especially if you, like me, are a sucker for these kinds of stories. Unfortunately, that only makes it more disappointing when what started out so promising turns out to be such a hot mess by the end.

“She Has Now Become Satan’s Prisoner!”

Well, that was predictable: for the sake of the 2018 Clarion West Write-a-Thon, I sold my reviewing services to the highest bidder–so to speak–and the highest bidder, once again, was Evil Tom.

Now, Evil Tom’s initial plan was to make me watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as he was shocked to discover I’d never seen the movie. Such a selection would’ve suited me just fine, as I have mild interest in the film–almost entirely because Ezra Miller is in it–but not quite enough to actually bother, you know, renting it. Unfortunately, Evil Tom couldn’t resist changing his Evil Plan at the last minute, which is how I ended up watching 80’s Indonesian horror film Mystics in Bali instead.

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