Cinematic Nightmare Candy: Skinamarink & M3gan

Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.

We’ve had quite a few new horrors released this year, so it seemed like a great time to do a new nightmare candy! Especially when the two were films that incited quite a buzz and had overwhelmingly positive responses. One, in particular, was a viral sensation. Unfortunately, for this horror fan, both felt lukewarm to me. Each one was a mere shade of the potential that could have been.

source: IFC Midnight

Skinamarink (Kyle Edward Ball)

One of my best friends saw Skinamarink and absolutely loved it (and was quite terrified). This made me incredibly excited to see the film which seemed to have everyone talking. I didn’t feel it had the punch that I was expecting. Instead, I admired the intentions, the artistic and stripped-down visuals, but it just didn’t compute coherently. It became a frustration by its end because I was struck by what the feature could have been, and what the short film version was.

The film is set in 1995, and young Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) seem to be left to their own devices within their home. What’s happening? Why are they alone? The movie moves within its own wavelength of a splice of TV cartoons, legos, and the persistent question of where are the parents? And what possible boogeyman could potentially be lurking in this grainy, home-camera-looking capture of a childhood nightmare? When we do see or hear the parents they feel more like a specter than the individuals these children know.

There’s a brilliance that’s not quite surface level, and it becomes tawdry. Some of the cinematography works to make us feel secluded and unsure, while others feel a bit pretentious. It clocks in at an hour and forty minutes but stretches itself thin. With the extended shots, often of corners or out-of-reach framing, the minutes felt lingering. If the viewer takes these in the way I’m assuming director Kyle Edward Ball and cinematographer Jamie McRae intended, the claustrophobia may be staggering. If it doesn’t, that suffocation surfaces in a less ideal way.

Your imagination can play its devious tricks. At its strange little heart that’s where Skinamarink strikes. The eerie tone when it’s persistent is quite effective, especially the shadowy imagery that have you searching the darkness for the insidious. A few scenes had the hair on my neck stand up, but the rush didn’t sustain. The childhood fear encompassed can be visceral, but, it can also feel a level of tedium.

Something I admire is the lack of certainty and the reliance on interpretation, especially from the perspective of the innocent child. I have my own ideas of what was occurring and when I saw the short it confirmed it. The shorter medium seemed to be more conducive to what it was aiming for, and I would definitely recommend hunting that down.

While inventive and a great opportunity for experimental low-budget to be spotlighted, Skinamarink left me in the dark, yearning for much more. The prominent static became just that, a disconnect.

M3gan (Gerard Johnstone)

M3gan, the newest doll gone wild horror venture has all the characteristics we have seen before, but it’s packaged in a shiny, dancing new product.

This is both a positive and a detriment because -while still enjoyable- I felt the homages were paid in a way that felt repetitive and the facelift uninspired. I realize I am probably in a small group of critics who felt letdown, but in many ways, the trailer gave me the same thing the film did.

After Cady (Violet McGraw) loses both her parents she begins living with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) a talented roboticist. Gemma is working on a new prototype, M3gan, a doll that looks and interacts like a real girl. She seems like the perfect companion for Cady as she is overwhelmed by her trauma. So, Gemma brings her work home, hoping it’ll help advance the technology to be released while simultaneously providing Gemma a friend. M3gan seems helpful at first, but she is also incredibly protective of Cady, turning to violence as a way of exhibiting her coded nature. Sound familiar? Because it is. M3gan falls under the weight of its own ambition.

Of course, when you fast-track an AI project such as this the likelihood of disaster is maximized. M3gan is one of those movies where you know what’s going to happen, that’s undisputed, but does its predictability mar the overall intent or is it something you can wave off? The script fails to elevate the characters to feel organic, to the degree that I thought M3gan was better written.

The script is written by Akela Cooper, who also did Malignant, a film I feel to be superior. I wish M3gan honed in on some of the weird and shocking nature that the former incorporated so well.

I feel like the cast is perfectly adequate in their roles but there is an emotional factor that feels lackluster. The special effects are terrific, which makes any of the visual aspects with M3gan A+ but the narrative despondency incurs a level of dissatisfaction. This synthesized version of a substitute for connection doesn’t feel natural. Yes, this is an exaggerated tale as is, so one may not expect that, but I never fully believed in the benefit of the creation versus the risks. I also found the direction to be near-sided, caught in its own way, not seeing the full picture.

M3gan is definitely fun, but it succumbs to tropes and familiarity in a way that makes it feel reductive.

Both of these films hovered on the borderline of success for me. I respect and acknowledge each of their intents, but I also wonder what could have been.

Sundance Film Festival 2023: Talk to Me & My Animal

The Midnight section at Sundance Film Festival is always one of my favorites. As I have said before, horror allows for a lot of ways to diversify and surprise audiences. The first is a new take on the dangers of doing a seance, and the other is a coming-of-age werewolf story. Both of these films take something we have seen before but make it their own. Each of these features a young but bold female lead and marks feature film debuts which makes this even more exciting. I love new and emerging talent, and this year’s Midnight section had some bangers!

Talk to Me (Daniel and Michael Philippou)

Seances and communing with the dead are stories that have been in horror films for quite some time. The medium used to do so have varied and the consequences have changed, but it generally doesn’t work out well for those involved.

History repeats itself in Talk to Me, but in new and inventive ways, as it brings our present climate very much into play.

It’s become a viral sensation, of course, because does it really happen if it isn’t recorded? A group of friends takes turns gripping what looks like an ancient hand and repeating words to conjure a spirit. From there, they start a timer of 90 seconds to not be trapped for too long.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is mourning the loss of her mother and around the anniversary, is restless. One night she suggests participating to her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and her brother Riley (Joe Bird), and she takes the plunge. It’s a rush and having seen the potential, it’s hard to stay away.

Terrifying but Thrilling

What occurs is a mix between the Exorcist and a scene from Ghost, but with a distinctly new fervor. A character is taken over by a spirit for a time, but who they are and what their intentions are, varies. Sometimes the response is comical, and others… dangerous. When the door is kept open too long, the spirit doesn’t return to where it came from.

This is the crux of this film where the characters should know better but don’t, and are then forced to correct things Riley suffers injury.

Miranda Otto has a supporting role as Jade and Riley’s mother, confounded when her son goes through an ordeal she can’t make sense of. Sophie Wilde portrays the lead confidently imbuing a sense of regret and determination that make her an actress to look out for. It’s a film that I wish would have dived more into the characters, but the short length time, they never felt one-note.

Hailing from Australia, directors Daniel and Michael Philippou capture a frenzied vision with a style that fuels the pulse-pounding moments, but occasionally feels off in the editing room. Talk to Me is terrifying in the way that it punishes with consequences fit for carelessness while also creating characters we can sympathize with. Mostly though it feels tight and tense, which is what you want from a potent 95 minutes of entertainment.

What works in Talk to Me is the vibrancy, the effects, and the creepiness that doesn’t rely on too many jump scares to make its mark. The script written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman provides the energy for the young cast to feed off of. This feature debut may feel simplistic, but it’s bound to make the audience wriggle with an apt amount of style and spark. I can’t wait to see what comes next from these two.

This supernatural showing takes a new spin on an old concept making it both creative and creepy when needed. I was hooked. Maybe let’s not play with spirits?

My Animal (Jacqueline Castel)

Werewolves seem to be making a comeback in recent years and I am all for it. It’s been a subgenre that truly seemed to peak early on, and I feel it’s one that needs a fresh bite.

Enter My Animal, a coming-of-age romance about a young woman in a small town who falls for the new girl. But, she has a secret, one that forces her to cuff herself to her bed at night when the moon is full.

Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) feels like an outsider. She wants to be a hockey goalie but is looked at as inferior because she is a girl, despite her talent, and she is forced to keep part of her identity hidden, all while dealing with an alcoholic mother and difficult family life.

When she meets newcomer Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) she’s enamored. Jonny is outgoing, a talented figure skater, and someone who brings out a side of Heather that she hasn’t shared before.

There is definitely violence and chaos but it is stoked by yearning and angst. It makes for the ideal sort of struggle with human and animalistic urges while grappling with familial struggles. As a vessel for loneliness, lycanthropy can be a powerful folklore guide. When it’s powered by sexual longing and the pressures a young queer woman could face it is especially impactful. Some of the plot points, especially when it comes to the hollow bullying side characters and the family performances (though Stephen McHattie provides an interesting turn as the father) aren’t as strong and feel more cliche.

Regardless, this is Bobbi Salvör Menuez‘s movie and she is especially compelling as Heather. When she finds her strength by the film’s end it culminates in an explosive fashion.

The film occasionally threatened to waver, but my attention did not. With a haunting moody feel and an innovative premise, My Animal keeps the bloody werewolf genre fresh and alive.

A coming-of-age queer werewolf story? I’m here for it.

Spotlight: The Best Horrors of 2022

What a year for a film, and what an exciting time for horror! There are so many that I really don’t know how I can possibly only highlight ten. Who made this number up as the definitive one anyway? Instead, I’ve decided to give a place for all of them! Why not? Horror knows no bounds.

The variety is quite eclectic, so if you’re looking for your next horror fix you’re bound to find it on this list, one way or another. Many of these I have written longer reviews for (either on here or on FI) and I will include the link. For the others, I’ll elaborate. As always, thanks for reading, thanks for staying spooky, and thank you for supporting horror!

Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg)

This is one favorite horror as it’s one of my top ten (overall) of the year, but what is intriguing about this particular Cronenberg creation is that it doesn’t feel like a horror to me. It morphs into something much more, and it’s a film I can’t wait to revisit. Currently streaming on Hulu.

I’ve got to admit I was pretty enamored with this one. It was a no holds barred return to form opportunity that was seized with an instinctual, sexual-like curiosity. What can the human body do? What should it? A true visionary, Crimes of the Future sees Cronenberg at his most curious and morose in many years.

Speak No Evil (Christian Tafdrup)

Speak No Evil was one of the first horrors I saw in 2021, and its impact is as strong today as it was then. It has to be the most discomforting horror I saw this year and the unique way that it wields that power is quite impressive. Currently streaming on AMC+.

The effects of this movie, and its final scenes still cling to my bones. Speak No Evil winded down with a quick and punching descent into significant darkness, and it left me pondering the details I had consumed in the previous 70+ minutes of watching. Shook.

The Wounded Fawn (Travis Stevens)

The Wounded Fawn was such a uniquely weird viewing experience that is definitely a must-see because it’s difficult to truly describe. Just let its freaky little vibe wash over you. Travis Stevens directs and is fantastic as always, and Josh Ruben is hilarious. Currently streaming on AMC+.

It is often a visual explosion, frequent bright tones of red reminding us of the blood lust at the core and the blood price to be paid. It’s an intriguing concoction of supernatural forces, psychological torment, and hilariously disturbing imagery. It also has to be said that it has one of the funniest extended finales I’ve seen in some time. A Wounded Fawn is delightfully bizarre and a daring dose of horror.

Barbarian (Zach Cregger)

This was one of the most fun horror experiences this year (the same can be said about the previous one too). The setup is interesting and current, and the twists are both creepy and hilarious. It’s good storytelling and still entertaining as hell. Gosh, I love Justin Long. Currently streaming on HBO Max.

Certainly, Barbarian is one of our best treats this spooky season with ample mystery and pure entertainment value. It’s what you’re looking for, even if you don’t know quite what that entails, but the set design, acting, and perverse, disturbing twists, make Barbarian a worthwhile discovery. Just bring a flashlight.

You Won’t Be Alone (Goran Stolevski)

You Won’t Be Alone is a movie that takes its time burrowing into you, but once it does it is hard to forget. This is one that still resonates, feeling like much more than a “horror” making you question identity and life. Currently streaming on peacock.

If parts terrify you, you’ll feel a sense of wonder by its end. There’s a metamorphosis that utilizes the full run time to ensnare the viewer.

It is haunting in its ability to convey what many others attempt. There’s nothing not challenging about this piece of art, but if you give yourself over to You Won’t Be Alone, and let it really sink in, I can’t imagine you not being moved.

Pearl (Ti West)

Pearl, the prequel to X, is definitely superior. The electrifying performance by Mia Goth (Oscars FYC) ensures that this horror is one of the year’s best. Currently available on VOD.

Pearl is a compelling and sinister intro to the character established earlier in the year, taken to new heights by Mia Goth’s striking performance.

The Innocents (Eskil Vogt)

The Innocents, much like Speak No Evil was one of the horrors this year that burrowed deep under the skin and left a lasting impression. I still shudder thinking about some of the scenes from this movie. Thank you 2022 for showing us that kids can be creepy again. Currently streaming on AMC+.

Shockingly disturbing, discomforting, and entirely evocative; there are scenes from The Innocents that have still not left me, weeks later, and there are feelings trapped, wound with celluloid in their pristine heritage that makes me confirm a truth despite any negative reactions: this is talent.

Prey (Dan Trachtenberg)

Who would think that a new Predator film that was actually a prequel would end up being one of the best of the series? With a standout performance from Amber Midthunder and a fresh, new perspective that utilizes practical effects and delivers on nostalgia, Prey is a must-see. Currently streaming on Hulu.

Deadstream, (Joseph Winter, Vanessa Winter)

Deadstream manages to be quite commanding despite being one-setting, a limited cast, and a found-footage-like aesthetic. It’s witty when it needs to be, and disturbing when we need it to be. Currently streaming on AMC+.

I was pleasantly surprised by how hard Deadsteam hit. It was a blast, filled with a delightful blend of hilarity and horror and effects that felt real. It’s a must see for horror lovers! PSA: maybe don’t stay in a haunted house and if you do, bring duct tape. It’s super versatile.

Sissy (Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes)

Sissy was a delightful surprise that plays with its audience much like our lead, an influencer, might with her fans. We like her, and we root for her, but should we? Currently streaming on AMC+.

Overall, Sissy was a revenge tale that was an unexpected thrill. It causes a variety of emotions ranging from sympathy, to apathy, to disgust before also making you laugh. It’s equal parts sneer as much as it is a smirk.

The Sadness (Rob Jabbaz)

This is a head and adrenaline rush. There is no way someone can see this without feeling a little a: woozy, b: uncomfortable, c: downright disgusted. I can imagine some can’t even finish this one but the boldness alone is reason enough for it to end up on this list. Viewers beware, this isn’t for a weak stomach. This film rides at a 10 the whole time, and it never lets up. Currently streaming on AMC+.

Glorious (Rebekah McKendry)

This is one of those films that really should not work as well as it does but manages to be surprisingly humor-tinged, nightmare fuel. Kudos to the cast and the disgusting locale.

The small locale with big consequences is a win for me. Glorious adheres to this idea to create an entertaining movie that writhes with thought and provocation. There’s a lot hiding between its initial grotesque and gory facade. It’s a bloody, neon-tinged nightmare that becomes one man’s reality. In all of its disturbing glory, it shouldn’t be missed.

Nope (Jordan Peele)

Nope was one of my most anticipated films of 2022, and while it didn’t hit me the way that Peele’s previous entries did, it was still inventive and a hell of a good time. It’s got science fiction, terrific performances, and some spectacular shots. Please, Mr. Peele, keep creating. Currently streaming on Peacock.

Resurrection (Andrew Semans)

We’ve gotta have at least one movie that ends with a total WTF reaction, yeah? Resurrection has that, in spades. It’s weird, it’s atmospheric and Rebecca Hall proves AGAIN, how spectacular she is. Please Academy, recognize that horror can show some amazing talent. Currently streaming on AMC+.

Resurrection isn’t perfectly done but it brings such an intensity that it’s difficult to ignore. The performances alone are electric. It’s outrageousness will either impress or disgust (maybe both) but you won’t forget it. It bewildered me some.

Smile (Parker Finn)

While Smile may feel a bit like something we’ve seen before it delivers enough thrill and kills (with some great jump scares) to keep you glued to your screen. You may think differently about asking people to smile more after this one. Currently streaming on Paramount+.

Jethica (Pete Ohs)

Jethica is such an independent horror delight that transcends what you’d expect to give you a ghost story worth hunting down. Don’t sleep on it.

Quirky, hilarious, and somehow cathartic, this movie perfects just the right amount of earnest charm. It maximizes on its dry humor while honing it’s bittersweet mentality and terrific performances, all residing within an unique ghost story. Ultimately compelling and wholly original, I loved Jethica.

Torn Hearts (Brea Grant)

Brea Grant hits the mark again with her newest horror which is just infused with gory, spunky life. It’s a female-driven, country music-filled fight to the top, and Torn Hearts is savage.

An intriguing premise set in a world that doesn’t get its due in the horror game, guided in the confident, talented hands of Brea Grant, with an especially standout and savage performance from Katey Sagal, Torn Hearts shows that the price of stardom may just be signed with blood.

The Black Phone (Scott Derrickson)

The Black Phone was one of those films that was wildly different than I expected (more of a thriller, suspense than horror) but still felt comfortable in its own skin. I got more of a Devil’s Backbone vibe, and more of a ghost story feel than Ethan Hawke as a psycho movie the trailer enticed. Still, there are some intriguing twists and turns that end up all making sense in the end. Bonus points for the child performances.

Fresh (Mimi Cave)

Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Cannibalism, comedy, horror, discomfort. Do I really need to say more? Perhaps, but just watch it and find out for yourself. Fresh deserves its place on this list earning it through ingenuity and lots of limbs.

Fresh works best when it marries the grossness factor with slick black humor, percolating to a place of truly provocative horror. The film really shows promise for Mimi Cave and I can’t wait to see what other delicacies she has in her freezer. Sorry, not sorry for the quips.

Project Wolf Hunting (Kim Hong- sun)

It’s a bloody good show, and by that I mean, it’s entirely blood-soaked. So much carnage. Project Wolf Hunting doesn’t hold back, even for a second, and it makes it an intense, relentless experience. Not currently available on streaming.

It’s full of splatters, disgusting moments, and absurdity. This film is inventive and extravagant, but nonetheless, Project Wolf Hunting is sheer bloody entertainment. A wildly engaging nightmare on the sea.

But wait, there’s more: Watcher. Two Witches, Huesara, A Family Dinner, Slapface, and many others!

Also, some didn’t see these last year, but both are worth highlighting: What Josiah Saw + Hellbender!

2022 has been an exceptional year for horror, and if you haven’t seen enough, please- search them out! There are so many talented writers and directors out there creating originally horrific content! Shudder is also a must-have for any horror fan, they’ve breathed life into the horror streaming game.

Two Witches (2022)

When it comes to any sort of supernatural horror there are certain things that have to hit for me. The most important is an unsettling vibe. You’ve got to nail the mood because that’s the basis for which the horror builds.

Two Witches finds that early but really nurtures it significantly for the second of the two stories at play. In its early moments, it’s less subtle, using more of its dark comedy chops, and jarring features.

This is a film about witches, but also two parables separated into lightly blended chapters. We start with a couple, a young pregnant woman, Sarah (Belle Adams), and her partner Simon (Ian Michaels), who go to visit their friends Dustin (Tim Fox) and Melissa (Dina Silva). Sarah has already been feeling off, paranoid, and like someone is watching. When Dustin and Melissa decide to do a seance, with candles and Ouija boards, things turn amiss. The first half is very much attuned to unsettling imagery, sacrifice, and the cautionary tale of delving into spiritual invocations. Once you go there, can you go back? There is also the sense of old and new practices of witchcraft which make the two stories intriguing.

source: Arrow Films

In the second half, we focus on Masha (Rebekah Kennedy) and her roommate Rachel (Kristina Klebe). The introductory scene is a sexual encounter between Masha and a male partner where she pushes her limits and things turns aggressive. From there we get the idea that Masha is someone that wishes to be special, especially because of her heritage, and soon she even tries to adopt some of Rachel’s life and her experiences.

Basically, be weary of your roommates (hasn’t Single White Female, The Roommate, taught us anything?)

I’m not a jump-scare person per se unless it’s utilized in a creative fashion. Two Witches has some good ones, combining music, camera work, and acting.

The film is very much about curses or gifts as some may interpret, but also the passing of generations and the power that comes with it. In the second half there are interesting turns, and watching Kennedy float through the scenes as her confidence comes surging through is enigmatic to watch. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this horror tale makes it to the holidays and one scene where Masha delivers a “present” is a delightfully wicked scene.

The first half crawls so the second can run. I have some elements that I feel could have been tamed, and others spotlighted, but for the most part, Two Witches settles into an admirable discomfort. Pierre Tsigaridis is definitely a talented director, cinematographer, writer, and editor.

Rebekah Kennedy is really the standout, harnessing a performance of both internal uncertainty and external fire, that is immensely compelling. Two Witches doesn’t hold much back, lingering heavily on quick shots, hallucinations, terrific makeup, and body acting. Sometimes the movie feels a bit off-kilter in the sense of its tonal experience, but what it lacks consistency with writing it makes up for in ambiance and solid performances.

If nothing more can be ascertained one can appreciate that this directorial feature debut is incredibly telling of Pierre Tsigaridis’ talent. This may not be for everyone, but I would say stick it out and be on the lookout for future projects. With a stellar performance from Rebekah Kennedy and an intriguing supernatural take, Two Witches is worth a once-over. Keep the candles lit.

Spooktober 22, Day 31: Halloween (2007)

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Well, this is the end of Spooktober! Happy Halloween all! Of course, I have to end on a movie with the holiday in the title! This time I’m looking at the 2007 Rob Zombie remake. AKA the grungy, coarser take on the babysitting classic slasher that John Carpenter started.

If you’ve ever seen any of Zombie‘s previous work you know he has no qualms about getting dirty, gory, and disgusting. This takes aspects of the original story but flourishes it with some of its own creative and disturbing choices, the biggest being that Laurie is actually Michael Myer’s sister. It also shows more of Michael as a child, and how he became the killer he is.

After killing his stepfather and his sister he gets locked up where he develops a relationship with Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) who tries to help the young boy as he grows up, but to no avail. When he breaks out 15 years later, he goes back home to look for his sister, played as a teenager by Scout Taylor-Compton on Halloween night.

source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

In many ways, the remake doesn’t bring anything exactly new to the table, but it still hits some bloody notes that go hard. I think I am a bit kinder to this film than some because I do understand what he was trying to go for with his intent. I love the original Carpenter film, and I’ve found things to appreciate about at least – some – of the sequels, but I find nothing compares to the first for many reasons.

That being said, I think that Zombie has a distinctive take but he’s already coming at a disadvantage when you have a beloved horror villain with an enormous fanbase. There are some thrilling kills, and Scout Taylor-Compton does a terrific job as Laurie, but is ratcheting up the R rating enough? I believe so, and I think after the newest three films maybe some will come back and think more favorably upon a second watch.

Not without its flaws and unevenly paced, Halloween remains an interesting turn for the series, and another opportunity for Zombie to flex his horror muscles.

That concludes Spooktober 22, until next year! Happy Halloween and stay spooky!

Spooktober, 22, Day 30: The Witching Hour (Podcast) With Bailey Jo Josie

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

For the Go, On, Scare Me I decided to invite my good friend, writer/editor Bailey Jo Josie to discuss all things Witchy! After recording, a couple films I meant to discuss popped into my head- Rosemary’s Baby and The Wretched (as we had predicted). We mention a lot of movies/shows so I’m sure there are many more! Happy to report Bailey Jo was right about Black Sunday too!

Have a listen here!

I did a poll regarding people’s favorite witches on Twitter, and Suspiria won (though I’m not sure if it’s the OG or remakes) but there was also some additional, wonderful write-in love for Practical Magic, Teen Witch and You Won’t Be Alone (a movie I loved from last year).

What is your favorite witch movie? And who is your favorite witch? Let me know in the comments!

Spooktober 22, Day 29: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

One of my most awaited things this October was for Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities to drop on Netflix. From the 25th through the 28th, two new episodes a day would hit streaming, each with its own story and each directed by a prominent voice in horror.

Naturally, I gobbled these, but consumption is easy when they are bite-sized. Generally around 60 minutes there’s an array of talent both in front and behind the camera, and each tale is given an intro by the master, del Toro, himself. Let’s just say, I was gushing. Some of them hit harder than others, but they were all intriguing tales of fantasy and horror. Each is a trip and all were worth it. Some were spookier than others, and I have my favorites, but I’m glad I came. More, please!

Eight tales, eight different perspectives, different eras, and ways to haunt, each finding ways that make us tick. Lovecraft, haunted houses, witches, giant rats, demons, and much, much more. Let’s unlock the mysteries within.

source: Netflix

We received the first two: Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro) and Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali). Both feature somewhat grating, unlikable characters who are both trying to pay off debts. Each seems to also get the comeuppance by its end.

First, in Lot 36 we follow Tim Blake Nelson, a man who purchases storage lots that have gone on sale, selling everything inside that he can. After spending a few minutes with the character we see the way cruel way he treats others and his general aggression toward people. His newest purchase houses some intriguing and rare items and he doesn’t yet realize that it also packs an especially otherworldly punch. Nelson plays his character with a grimace and a cynical sneer. Lot 36 mixes dark humor throughout and elements of religion and pure evil.

In Graveyard Rats, David Hewlett is a graverobber, especially focusing on the wealthy new arrivals at a cemetery. He runs into a problem when suddenly he’s got competition. The corpses are disappearing out of their coffins and it seems that rats are at the heart of it. When he has no other choice, in debt with the wrong people, he heads back for the wealthiest prize he’s seen but when he returns, again, rats are pulling the body down a hole. He goes in after them to discover a whole system of tunnels and some other, disturbing discoveries.

This episode really plays on our fears, more so than some of the others. For many, including myself, the idea of being covered in rats is horrifying, but then add in the claustrophobic holes our lead is squirming through, and suddenly, panic. While these two intro episodes aren’t maybe the best, they are a terrific starting point.

source: Netflix

The next two we receive The Autopsy (David Prior) and The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour) are quite different in their storytelling but are two of my favorites of the bunch with two of the best final scenes.

In Autopsy, a medical examiner (F. Murray Abraham) gets contacted by his good friend the sheriff (Glynn Turman) to take a look at a body. This one has a strange tale behind it which includes something falling from the sky and mine accident. As you cut in deeper, though, you see the full story and it’s intelligent with some fascinating tricks up its sleeves (erm, skin).

When you don’t feel like you fit in, life can be hard, especially as a girl. Outside gives the wonderful Kate Micucci here as our sort of, “ugly duckling” who after being invited to a secret Santa swap with her female coworkers feels really on the outside. That night she uses some of the beauty creams she had received as a gift, and her skin breaks out in a red, itchy rash. What’s fun about this one is that the dark comedy is weaved throughout, but there’s also a deep seeded discomfort too.

One night an comes on for her to receive more, by a hilariously convincing Dan Stevens who talks directly to her, referencing the transformation she can have if she continues to use it. The dangers of getting what you wish for, include jeoparding her happy marriage to Martin Starr. In twisted and creative fashion, perverse and harrowing, Outside is bound to shake you could of your skin. Love the Christmas season feel too.

source: Netflix

Pickman’s Model (Keith Thomas) and Dreams in the Witch House (Catherine Hardwicke) both dwell in the supernatural and feel united in a strange nightmare-like feel, along with their Lovecraftian inspirations.

In Pickman’s Model Will (Ben Barnes) meets the intriguing Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover) at art school. Pickman’s work is unlike anything he’s seen before, dark and unsettling. These paintings seem to leave an effect on those who see them. We then skip ahead 17 years when they meet again and Will is jealous of Pickman’s success. As their lives connect once again he’s plagued by visions and nightmares, and his sanity is plummeting.

Pickman’s Model gives Barnes and Glover an opportunity to shine, and it features some beautiful/terrifying imagery that really remains the star of this episode.

In Dreams in the Witch House, Rupert Grint is dealing with the loss of his twin sister at a young age. When she passed he saw her ripped through a portal into another world and has spent his life devoted to finding it. Working with a spiritual society, researching claims, and disputing frauds, he’s searching for any evidence that it exists. Eventually, he is led to a drug that allows him to journey to this place, where he is reunited with his sister. However, he can’t seem to get her out, and no one believes what he’s seen.

The episode is filled with gorgeous visuals and sets, especially that of the decaying home he stays in, but the story suffers a bit in the final act. Grint gives his all and is very believable. While it may have suffered some narratively Dreams in the Witch House has an intriguing premise and a terrific atmospheric tone.

The final two episodes are quite immensely varied, with one The Murmuring (Jennifer Kent) focusing on grief and what loss does to a person and a couple, and the other The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) a bizarre, psychedelic invitation to a billionaire’s home.

The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) has four individuals (Charlyne Yi), (Steve Agee), (Eric André) and (Michael Therriault) who don’t know each other invited to an eccentric billionaire’s mansion (Peter Weller). From here they share some party favors, lots of stories, and laughs.

The music and environment are terrific, Cosmatos brings his usual flair to the episode, and with this wild cast, it’s a fun, the unusual night served in a retro style.

A couple of ornithologists Nancy (Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) are reeling from an unimaginable loss. As a way of healing and moving forward, they head off to study dunlins off the coast of an island. They are put up in an old home that seems to have a lot of history, and as Nancy begins hearing and seeing things, we learn, it’s filled with a lot of pain too.

By far my favorite, The Murmuring is a gorgeous, haunting, impeccably performed rumination on grief. Jennifer Kent does an excellent job writing and directing and our cast is emotional and heartbreakingly perfect.

Part ghost story, part journey through loss and despair, The Murmuring looks at these characters through an honest lens, with something blurry, and spooky inking the corners. I loved it.

Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities feels like a wonderful night of storytelling among friends. Ghost stories around the campfire with the most beautifully designed sets and talented players you can find. An assortment of oddities and eerie sights, Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities is a sure, curious delight.

Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities is currently streaming on Netflix

Spooktober 22, Day 28: Pearl

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

The second of our double dose of Ti West this year, Pearl works as a prequel to the earlier released X, and while it’s a more contained story, it is elevated even more than its predecessor because of the terrific, electrifying performance by Mia Goth.

Pearl (Mia Goth) is waiting for her husband to come back to the war and lives with her judgmental mother and ill father. Pearl dreams of being a star, an actress, or a dancer, but most days are spent caring for the animals and holding onto the idea that she is meant for more.

source: A24

She finds out about an audition in town but tries to keep it a secret. Meanwhile, she meets a local projectionist at a theater (David Corenswet) who also makes her feel like she can make her dreams come true. The two have a connection, but, like most who meet Pearl, this temperamental girl will do anything for her, bottom line.

As a prequel to the horrifying farm where those who face peril in X are, this is more a character study, which allows Goth to dive into the role with a wink and smile amid a cascade of blood.

Pearl is a slasher, origin story that doesn’t let down. I love the contrast of colors with this drab farm, it really makes some moments, especially those that emphasize costume design or violent aesthetics pop. In Pearl, there’s more time living with this character which makes the moments of anger more pointed, and therefore more substantial. That’s not to say that all successful horrors do this, sometimes random unexplained atrocities can be just as effective. In many ways, it is a matter of context, and for this film, we see it

My favorite Ti West is still The House of the Devil, but Pearl has gotten me more intrigued to see where his third in this series will land. This also has one of my favorite end credit sequences (next to A Wounded Fawn) of the year which takes the dread that’s built over the course of the film and reminded you that her story, is most certainly, not over. Her wicked smile is imagery enough to keep you mulling over this one.

Pearl is a compelling and sinister intro to the character established earlier in the year, taken to new heights by Mia Goth’s striking performance.

Pearl is currently available on VOD.

Spooktober 22, Day 27: The Night Eats the World

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Somehow, we are already on Day 27! I’ve been trying to be as different with my choices as possible because if there’s one truth to horror, it’s that the stories and potential for imagination are near, limitless.

The subgenre of zombie films is a commonly revisited one, and the ones that stand out are usually saying something new. The Night Eats the World (wonderful title) concentrates less on the gore when considering elements of surviving a zombie apocalypse, and instead leans into one man’s journey through the isolation and the danger that lurks outside.

The film starts with musician Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) visiting his ex while she’s having a party in hopes to get some of his things back. When he passes out in one of the rooms he wakes up to find the place empty with blood everywhere. When he makes it outside he realizes that overnight a zombie apocalypse has occurred forcing him to survive on his own. Dominique Rocher creates a movie that focuses on both the unimaginable horror of an event like this, with the imaginable fear of being alone.

A minimalist approach to storytelling when it comes to flesh-eating monsters, Sam is mostly the only character on the screen once things happen. He finds ways to pass the time and keep his sanity, but his loneliness is abundant. A trapped zombie named Alfred (Denis Lavant) provides him some “company” but for the most part, we see the film take its time and we get to know Sam.

In some ways, it may sound like it would be a slog, and perhaps for action junkies it could, but it’s genuinely compelling. I found myself intrigued watching him be methodical about collecting survival gear or building musical instruments out of random items. That’s not to say there aren’t at least a few encounters with some bloody chompers, but the horror of the film instead is wrapped around a convincing character study and his internal and external struggles.

The Night Ate the World is unhurried, thought-provoking, and features an absorbing performance from Anders Danielsen Lie to make something new out of an aged premise.

The Night Ate the World is currently streaming on AMC+