Spooktober Day 5: Eden Lake

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Sometimes, because this genre can be so shocking, there’ll be a film that comes along that finds a new way to unsettle you. This one, does just that- even as I rewatch it now. Even when I know where it is going.

Eden Lake is one of the movies that terrifies, disgusts, and also… infuriates. It has a meanness ingrained within the core, and once our main characters get introduced to it, it overtakes everything else. This is not everybody’s film. Even for the horror-lovers.

The group of local youngsters feel resistant to the yuppy tourists that come their way, and once lines are drawn, things grow even dire.

source: Optimum Releasing

Paige (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) are headed to the countryside and lake for a weekend getaway. The couple seem happy, glowing even, and when they make it to the beach it looks like its going to be a lovely time.

When they run into some local, antagonistic kids who seem to relish provoking them, there’s a beckoning dread that sits in your stomach. When an accident happens, things spiral into a dangerous, vengeful place. Once the youth are in “it”, they feel they have to finish what they have started, becoming a cat and mouse of hunting the couple in the forest.

How the situation is handled, on many fronts, is poor, and it ensures the dominoes just keep clanging over, bringing about destruction and pain.

Eden Lake toils with the idea of pride and revenge, and dangles elements of social commentary throughout. It feels a bit like Straw Dogs, in the way that it’s developed to be a survival, realistic (to an extent) horror. For most horrors, even the ones based on true events or enveloped in realism, there are going to be a element of things that you have to suspend, in order to enjoy. Or, in this film’s case, survive.

Our tenacious duo do a lot to fight back, and what they endure is guaranteed to check your gag reflex more than once.

Something that always works throughout the film is the tension and fear, even when some of the character’s decisions don’t seem particularly wise (or for other moments where you wonder- wait, why didn’t they do this? Like most horrors). Despite the antagonists of the film being younger, there’s still a level of belief in their intent. It often reminded me of Mean Creek or Bully or even Alpha Dog in that way, because despite the age there is still a feeling of trepidation, especially once you see what they are capable of.

Jack O’Connell as their leader, reacts often with extreme anger and ill intent, with a performance that is shocking at times. As we meet some other townfolk in the film, its clear that he’s been influenced by his surroundings.

source: Optimum Releasing

Writer/director James Watkins writes some interesting looks at social interactions and skillfully uses his talented cast, as well as an excellently moody score by David Julyan to keep the fear alive. Filled with some near escapes, and lots of surprises, Eden Lake keeps you on your toes.

The movie occasionally teeters on ridiculous, but it is always enthralling. For good or for worse, for shock or recoil, you’re there, dissecting what’s happening with a keen curiosity. It’s haunting and lurid, but the performances make this British-horror quite effective. Despite how I feel about aspects of the movie, or how it makes me- in response- feel, there’s a boldness to it that I can’t ignore.

A survival thriller with no shortage of cringe inducing moments, Eden Lake hurts – no really- to watch at times. In many ways, this film will frustrate most to nauseam.

The way that Watkins creates such sustaining tension, is impressive. I think even when the film begins to rub you the wrong way, you’re still being pulled along on a string, wanting to see what’s waiting on the other side. And it isn’t pretty.

Spooktober Day 4: Misery

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

So much of Misery’s “charm” lies in the subtleties, in the obscure corners. While you might be thinking “Wait, what? Annie Wilkes is about as subtle or charming as a… [enter potential expletive here] it’s really quite true. Let’s consider this: Misery is primarily in one central location (nearly just one room) with a focal point of two main characters who try to psychologically outdo the other, and yet, it never feels forced. For this kind of a setup to work, a lot has to come together, and in many ways, the smaller- less obvious parts, are what makes it so great.

Stephen King knows how write an epic story. And, Rob Reiner knows how to make a King adaptation work (see, Stand By Me). Misery proves this as he delivers a suspenseful, unsettling, film. It isn’t always a guarantee when adapting the imaginative work of King, but when it clicks, it clicks.

source: Columbia Pictures

Famed writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just finished his newest piece, enjoying the high that comes from completion, heading back to NYC from within the snow covered mountains. When his car goes off the road during a storm he’s rescued by his number one fan (how lucky!) Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a nurse who wants to make sure he’s back in tip top shape. Mhmm.

Misery Love Company

I first saw Misery as a young teenager, and I was pleased to say that I was adequately disturbed. It had this admirable blend of tones that had me feeling as confined and confounded as Paul. I was also impressed because the performances were just so stellar. I had known Caan from my love of The Godfather, and Kathy Bates from Fried Green Tomatoes, and this was nothing like either. I was sold on these portrayals, and I’m not surprised, but quite pleased, that Bates won an Oscar for it.

Despite the fact that Misery is most certainly a horror, it’s also never skimps on the humor. In a discomforting way, it makes the terror even more potent. Every time I laugh watching it, the film reminds me moments later why the laughter will eventually die out.

This dual-sided title (another one of King’s wonderful wordplays) is not only shown, but felt. There’s a tension that festers early, and only builds as we discover Wilke’s real intentions, and the scope of her capabilities. Soon, we notice her mood swings, her intense anger, and the extent of her delusions. As an audience, the sinking realization arrives just as it does for Paul.

This is not good.

source: Columbia Pictures

Her duality is deftly delivered as Annie can offer warmth and the idea of sanctuary in one hand, while the other wields a sledgehammer. Annie’s idolization of Paul is disorienting. She wants the book she feels fans deserve, not what he has written. This makes her hostile, violent, and ultimately- tragic. Both of our main actors are transformed in these roles, with a nearly hypnotic push and pull between the two. It makes it difficult to not be wrapped up in this suspense filled examination of fandom gone, very, very, wrong.

A smile and a hobbling, what’s more horrifying than that?

There’s such a perceptible anxiety that feeds the psychological cat and mouse. There’s something scary about a person that can turn on a dime as fast as Bates does (and there are certainly some sinister scenes). As a viewer you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what she’s going to do next. She becomes obsessively dependent on what Paul writes, and what happens to the title character, Misery. The demand of her brand of “art” straight from the artist, eludes to King’s own expectations that have been put on him by fans. While there’s a lot of dark comedy and Bate’s unique choice of expressions “The Cock-A-Doodie Car”, expect a growing unease to form in your stomach, and in one particular scene… jump up into your throat.

Ouch.

I have to give kudos to the cute bickerings between the sheriff Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen, as his wife, providing brief intermissions of comic relief. The script by William Goldman ensures that this King’s adaptation is done its justice, giving this character study its bones, with the memorable performances as the lifeblood.

Utilizing close up shots of Bate’s masterful spin on the female villainy (sometimes too much), Misery works because it hits the gas, let’s go of the wheel, and sees what happens. It’s engaging, taut, and miserable…in all the right ways.

Spooktober Day 3: A Nightmare on Elm Street

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

What makes Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher so iconic?

I was introduced to horror at a young age. When I got the “bug” we’ll say, I was hooked. I was laughing when it was funny, cringing when there was cause, and always, wanting more. In a lot of ways my young noggin really benefited from the exposure to the genre I hold so dear, because it allowed an already intriguing introduction to take hold, and to firmly take root. I love all kinds of film, and I’d be hardpressed to say one particular genre or film that is above the rest. But, I love horror because of its endless applications- its the chameleon of movies because it can be so many things, make you feel so much, while being one of the areas that can truly be creative. Are there limitations? No, there certainly, amazingly, are not.

Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) are the main teenagers in the throes of potential death and blade-fingered induced injuries. It seems everyone is having the same dream with a man covered in burns, with a either badass wardrobe or a lazy one, depending on your reception, with blades for fingers. The worst part? What happens in your dreams, happens in real life. And he is not the kind of guy you want to dream about. Robert Englund embodies Freddy with equal parts fun and horror, delivering an over the top, thrill.

source: New Line Cinema

When I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street I was quite dazzled. I know, probably not the word choice that most would choose, but it’s true. I was really intrigued by the idea of a killer who attacks while you are sleeping. Despite how upending nightmares can truly be, there’s always the exhale of relief when you wake, knowing that in your waking hours, you’re okay.

Like the best of horrors do, it imaginatively ruminates on our vulnerabilities, and, now, 37 years later, it’s still doing it. It’s a unique concept, that is universally terrifying, brought to fruition in a campy delivery, and plenty of one -occasionally eek- liners.

Blurring Dreams & Reality

For its time, A Nightmare on Elm Street’s originality was a sought after ideal. Since it’s origin it has spawned multiple sequels (most that are meehhh) as well as a reboot that even Rooney Mara couldn’t save. Freddy, as a slasher icon, is still renowned, still personified, and a recurring Halloween-costume. Why? Because he sticks the landing.

I think there’s something to be said about anything that stands the test of time. I’d like to think if I was a six year old now I’d be equally fascinated.

Although I couldn’t imagine a different Nancy, I never felt the performance was a stand out. In a lot of ways, even the portrayal by Depp feels a little off, and the dialogue can be a bit…silly. The reason that none of this bothers me? Because this film is so undoubtedly 80s. It breathes and thrives in this decade, between the costumes, the dialogue, and soft-focus, glamour shot feel.

source: New Line Cinema

It really enables the dream landscape created by Craven. When you watch A Nightmare on Elm Street you are persuaded into a terror- fantasy realm that even in its less effective moments, insists on immersion.

As I said, campy…fun.

I have no doubt that A Nightmare on Elm Street will continue to hold its coveted place in horror history. With a mix of originality and camp, coming from a genuine fear, it’s a film that can’t be replicated.

Spooktober Day 2: Beetlejuice

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Say what you will about Tim Burton and the downward trajectory he’s taken in the last decade-plus, this film (and some of his other early ones) are born out of a level of originality one rarely sees. Beetlejuice is many things, almost so many I can’t name them all, and even if I could- what would I say?

I’ll try to make this as coherent as possible, but when it comes to Beetlejuice, nothing is off the table.

“It’s Showtime”

The smaller, minime first saw Beetlejuice at a very young age, and was instantly smitten. There are layers to the film that peel back to reveal varying genres and moods, but also, it’s applicability in audience. I didn’t get certain references as a child, or think about much more than “wow, this looks so cool.” As I continued to fall in love with film, what was visually… loud, was then realized as creative and imaginative. What was zany fun, became, okay, well- still zany fun, but also, outrageously hilarious. I admired the boldness, and felt comfortable here, snug in this movie magic world.

When the Maitlands die and discover they are now ghosts, stuck in their large home, well, it’s not ideal! Worse, a new family that they can’t stand, The Deetz’s, have moved in. It should be easy to scare them off, right? Well, after some poor decisions, a dismissal of a manual to the afterlife, they turn to the help of Beetlejuice, the last (person?) they should entrust with this task.

Yeah, they kind of suck at this.

Michael Keaton really goes for it here as the gonzo titular character, and it honestly, couldn’t have been done by anyone else. Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin play our married protagonists with lovely naivety that makes their fumbling attempts to be scary charming. Catherine O’Hara is wonderfully kooky as always. Winona Ryder as Lydia is like the truth teller, the seer. She is us. She sees the strange and unusual. I see her as the main course in the weirdest dinner party you’ll ever attend, that reminds you, this is more than just an array of oddity. There’s groundedness and pain living in the cracks.

Dare to be weird. Burton dresses his film in a cartoonish variety, embracing the peculiarity and letting the surreal strut its stuff. It’s a rare and wonderful thing when you can’t offer up another film to compare, because it stands on its own supernatural legs.

It’s daring in its journey, and while this movie is far from perfect, the best or Oscar-worthy, it’s the kind of entertainment that can remind you of what makes movies an art form that’ll never die. It’s going to haunt us for life.

Yes, please.

Something that’s only really happened with a few films I have seen at a young age, is the persistence of a sensation, the transportation of time and place. When I watch this film now I feel younger, giddy- even, and also, there’s a eerie-ness that’s perceptible like I’m seeing some things for the fist time. The netherworld, as it is, in all it’s wonderful set design, makeup, effects and spooky colors, is unsettling. Even with some witty, dark humor wrapped around something as terrifying as death, it’s still macabre.

Danny Elfman wields the musical composition with wacky perfection. Beetlejuice leans into its obnoxious push on your senses. It feeds off of it, in fact. And if you give in, it can be a blast.

Outlandish, but rich with imagination, Beetlejuice is likely to charm the life out of anyone with its lively display and ghoulish delights.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it.

Yes, I’m talking to you.

I got a chance to visit Beetlehouse in NYC! Read more here.

Spooktober Day 1: 28 Days Later

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

I don’t think there’s a single film in my life that hasn’t left an imprint. My love of film is a pattern, sown into my experiences and my appreciation for this wonderful art form. It’s become a rich tapestry that is continuously growing and expanding, and… will, until my last breath.

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

When I was a teenager (yep, dating myself) I saw 28 Days Later in theaters. It was a last minute decision, and it is one that I am still grateful for. This film unexpectedly reinvigorated my love for the genre during a time that felt thirsty for innovation. When I got home (later than I was supposed to) I woke my parents up and exclaimed my joy for this film. While they weren’t impressed with my exuberance at that hour, they could sense the love coming out of me.

What can go wrong when a group of activists attempt to break out chimps from cages? Oh right… absolute havoc and world-ending consequences.

Is that all?

In a world of zombies (yes, technically, they are infected but, basically, inherently, zombies) movies, be: unexpected, daring, and be intelligent. Allegories in horror are obviously incredibly common, but they are not all effective. 28 Days later is impressively written, directed, and acted, with a score that makes this tension-filled discovery that much more intense. Add to it some thought-provoking takes that spiderweb into the whole bloody mess? Golden.

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland, and with the powerful cast of Jim (Cillian Murphy) Selena (Naomie Harris) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson), this film highlights the best and worst of humanity when under the pressure of apocalyptic themes.

Sound familiar?

When Jim wakes up in the hospital, alone and confused (much like Rick in The Walking Dead) he’s exposed to a terrifying and seemingly-empty reality, in the stark new world of London- post the worst circumstances one can imagine. He’s soon thrust into acknowledging the dire existence at play, as he discovers that most beings… want to devour him.

The infected aren’t the slow, plodding type of the past, they are fast and intense, making split decisions pulse with the power of eternity, made in the expectation of a moment.

“That was longer than a heart beat”

Underlining the obvious fear that permeates every moment of 28 Days Later, there’s a sense of finding connection and even, love, amid challenging circumstances. Just because so much of the population has lost their humanity, acting on their “it” instinct, doesn’t mean one should forget what drives us as a species, and what makes us…us. The bonds that we make, even in the most difficult, dire of times, and the decisions we are forced to, should never ruin us, but rather give opportunity for growth and continual improvement.

source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Of course, as any film that touches on the worst of humankind, it shows the poor choices we can make. So, when our leads seek protection and hope from a military base, things should go well, right?

Major Henry West (Christoper Eccleston), as the head of the battalion, ends up exuding a real menace. Primarily, because he seems to trick even the audience at first, with his grand intentions, and our yearning for comfort in the familiar, protective government entities. But, as any of the most ill-conceived of us have been, it is misguided. It shows us how sometimes the real evil has been in us all along, waiting for an opportunity to just spring into action, and show our true colors.

This was where my real appreciation for Cillian Murphy began. In 28 Days, he humanizes the already sympathetic Jim, because his reactions and strength – in a lot of ways- is what we’d hope for ourselves in such an impossible situation. He isn’t the quintessential hero, and isn’t by any means “special” which makes him even more so. Yes, Alex Garland, you knew what you were doing. See Ex Machina next.

When you throw in the familial vibes with the survivors that he meets, emphasizing the common idea in films of connection, there’s a tether that is instinctually rootable. The character relationships and drama that supersedes even the more horrifying of conceits, is reason enough to appreciate Boyle’s take. There are also some lovely moments of awe woven throughout, of love, hope, and the beauty of the little things, that teeters on poetic.

The editing and cinematography really gets to the grit and terror of the story. It’s grainy, shaky, frenetic at times, ensuring you feel the panic and dread that’s overpowering throughout. Nobody is ever really safe, and nothing can be taken for granted. It’s a lesson learned in the harshest of ways, but as always, makes you appreciate the moments of wonder and joy when they can still be had. There’s a sense of realism captured that sets this apart from big blockbuster zombie fare. As we are immersed into the action, as in the dark as Jim, it becomes a narrative that doesn’t let up. Also, Naomie Harris is badass.

There’s a lot of creativity at play here that utilizes past iterations of the sub-genre, paying homage while instilling a new way to speak to this way of storytelling. 28 Days Later isn’t the best horror ever, but it manages to spark a fire that still burns nearly 20 years later. If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch, let it get under your skin and simmer, for at least, 28 days to come.

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Spooktober Day 2: Beetlejuice Wonderfully Weird & Horrifying

Listen to the audio version of my article with a couple extra thoughts mixed in!
  1. Spooktober Day 2: Beetlejuice
  2. Spooktober Day 1: 28 Days Later