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.

Lil Spooky Reviews: Halloween, House on Haunted Hill, and MORE House on Haunted Hill

Well, we’ve officially hit October and Halloween season, i.e., the best season of the year. I’m woefully behind on my horror movie watching, and while I’d love to write my typical three-to-seven thousand word essays on every film I see, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it. I do hope to have quite the epic-sized essay here next week (assuming I can finish it up before going on vacation), but for today, I’m just grouping a few mini-reviews together in one post. Like, this is even shorter than the handful of Baby Reviews I’ve written in the past; we’re talking 1-2 paragraphs tops. They’re practically goddamn embryonic. Hopefully, though, this will allow me to (briefly) discuss several scary movies over the course of this most joyous month.

Therefore, without further ado . . .

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, the B&W version (I have feelings about colorized versions of old movies)
Spoilers: Only mild ones

I enjoyed checking this out, although I feel like aspects of the twist ending are a bit of a letdown. Not so much the twist itself, actually; that’s set up pretty well, for the most part. Still, it leaves certain things unexplained, things that–to me–feel like untapped potential or annoying loose ends rather than interesting ambiguities. Certain characters are dropped for half the movie; other characters I’d happily see dropped out of a window. (Particularly the heroine. Sadly, it doesn’t happen.)

OTOH, I adore both Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart, who have a relationship best described as “Nick and Nora, if they wanted to murder one another.” They kind of make the whole movie for me. And the setup is a lot of fun: the first five minutes or so are pretty hysterical, and I genuinely enjoy how the movie introduces each guest one-by-one. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for any dinner party which comes with a side of MURDER. (Also, I’m simply incapable of watching Vincent Price in anything and not thinking of him as Sinister Disney. And yes, that is my latest band name, thank you for asking.)

Halloween (1978)

First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah

I mean, the movie’s cinematic influence clearly cannot be denied, and I really do love aspects of this film. Still, Halloween’s probably never going to be one of my personal favorites. I like Jamie Lee Curtis well enough. The whole last act is pretty great, up to and including the last two lines. Seriously, that ending? Pretty masterful. And, of course, I love the score; hell, I own two different versions of the damn theme song . . . although I’ve gotta admit, on the re-watch, I actually felt like John Carpenter used the music too much too early. For me, it made those scenes feel repetitive, rather than tense.

Sadly, I have never in my life been able to take Dr. Loomis seriously. Donald Pleasance keeps going on about “the EVIL,” and even full-well knowing he’s right, I can’t help but watch this movie and think, “Shit, man, maybe you just suck at your job.” I hesitate to say I want more backstory–because Good Christ, did I not enjoy Rob Zombie’s attempt at that in 2007–but there’s a part of me that wishes we saw a glimpse of why Loomis is so certain his patient is darkness personified. Also: the pacing is a bit on the slow side, and I kind of wish Laurie’s friends weren’t awful. Like, even in slashers, I’m apparently all about girls having positive friendships with other girls. Mind you, none of those are fatal flaws; this isn’t an argument that Halloween is a bad movie and everyone who likes it has been brainwashed by the system. It just doesn’t do much for me on a personal level.

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, if you watch the video.

Well, after watching the original film, Mekaela and I obviously decided to nostalgia-watch the awful 90’s remake, too. I hadn’t seen it since I was, oh, 13 or 14, and it’s about as bad as I remember. The movie has several problems (thin characters, an annoying female lead, ridiculous special effects, a convoluted plot, not knowing when to stick to or deviate from the source material, etc.), but the sole thing that disappoints me the most is how Stephen and Evelyn’s relationship is handled. Gone is the almost charming banter between our homicidal Nick and Nora; now they’re just two awful people who are terrible to everyone 140% of the time. They feel like caricatures. Their barbs have no wit, and between the script, the performances, and some of the “intense” angles, the whole thing just feels like it’s trying way too hard. It’s too bad, too, because my God, Geoffrey Rush is just spot-on casting for Vincent Price.

On the plus side, Chris Kattan is a lot of fun as Pritchett; he’s actually a big improvement to his counterpart in the original film. The movie maintains a breezy pace and stars a ridiculous amount of people: besides the aforementioned Rush and Kattan, there’s also Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Peter Gallagher, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras– not to mention, BTVS fans can enjoy cameos by James Marsters and Max Perlich, while mid-90’s pop rock fans can enjoy a cameo by Lisa Loeb. (I’d say horror fans can enjoy a cameo by Jeffrey Combs, but his screen time is so limited it’s hard to appreciate it; you simply don’t cast Jeffrey Combs as a psychopathic doctor ghost and then do this little with him.) And if you, like me, were the right age to enjoy 90’s schlocky gore fests, House on Haunted Hill could be the bad horror movie you need right now, particularly to get your troubled mind off all the actual horror in the current world.

“We Don’t Get To Pick The Things That Fix Us, Red.”

Okay. You’ve probably already read about 600 reviews of Daredevil since Season 2 aired, like, weeks ago, but guess what? Now you have mine! And mine is clearly the best because it comes with way more words and, like, a whole numbering system!

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I’ve read a lot of wildly different opinions about this season, with some people praising the hell out of it and others calling it a sophomore slump. But while there are aspects I liked (the Punisher, for instance), I’ve got to be honest with you: this is not going to be one of the more positive reviews.

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“Mr. Cop, Can You Put Away Your Gun? Cause You’re Making Everybody Nervous.”

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. You know what this means.

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So-Bad-It’s . . . no, it’s really just bad horror.

Your entry for this year’s Bloody Hearts is a spectacularly terrible film called House of Nine, a movie that’s so smalltime it doesn’t even have a proper Tomato Meter on Rotten Tomatoes. Although audiences, at least, apparently blessed it with a 36% approval rating, which, while not a good score, is probably about 35% higher than it should be. I would like to know who these people are and have a serious conversation with all of them.

Considering that seems unlikely, I guess I’ll just settle for some wordy analysis and snark.

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“I Am Turning Thirty Next Week, and I Just Want to Go Home and Grow Oranges!”

A few months ago, I went to San Francisco. I don’t make it out to SF all that much, primarily because I don’t have a car and it’s a long damn bus ride. But when I do go, I usually try to get in a trip to Rasputin’s because, man, I just love that place. On my last visit, I bought a movie for three dollars purely because I knew it’d be fun to review. That movie?

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Oh, Identity. I’m not even quite sure where to begin with you.

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