Spooktober 22, Day 26: Barbarian

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.

One of my most anticipated films of the year has finally arrived digitally and I was able to experience the unforgettable, and one of the more creative of the 2022 horrors: Barbarian.

It’s always smart to use an aspect of the current climate as fodder for scares, and in the day and age where Airbnb’s are commonly booked, it’s got its finger right on our pulse. And yes, Barbarian ratches up our heart rates.

source: 20th Century Studios

Could there be something worse than booking a house for the night only to arrive and have it already occupied by another? Well, yes, yes there certainly is, which we will get to, but even that is terrifying in and of itself.

When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives it’s late, pouring rain and she just wants to settle in. But, the key isn’t in the lockbox and the person she booked with isn’t answering. Then a light comes on, and opening the door is Keith (Bill Skarsgård) who also paid and secured the room on a different, similar site.

The predicament has Tess on edge, rightfully so, and she almost leaves and finds somewhere else to stay. Maybe it’s Keith’s charm or the fact that he has an answer or solution, for all of her concerns, but she ends up staying the night with her in the bedroom and him on the couch.

There’s most definitely an element played up here that keeps the audience on edge, suspecting, unsure who we can trust or what is happening, but just accepting the truth that this is most definitely going to get dark. The two have a great rapport, and bond over some wine, and there’s even a sense that maybe these two could have a real connection. If, they both have a future that is.

The next day’s light shows the neighborhood in Detroit that she’s in is completely dilapidated, with this being the only home still standing. Coincidence? Not likely.

source: 20th Century Studios

AJ (Justin Long) is an actor in LA that seems to be on top of the world until he’s accused of rape by a coworker. His life quickly unravels and his finances dwindle so he heads to Detroit to liquidate a property he owns. Can you guess which one? When he arrives and notices that it looks like someone has been staying there (or two) he investigates.

I’m not going to give much more plot detail than that, but I will say that there’s something sinister that resides below. Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and Justin Long are all fantastic. Long despite being a rather dislikable tool at times, is absolutely hilarious (he always is) adding some lovely humor to color this grim, strange story with occasional laughter.

Writer/director Zach Cregger employs a lot of misdirection and ensures that Barbarian is quite surprising at every turn.

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.

Barbarian is currently streaming on HBO Max

Spooktober 22, Day 19: Slither

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.

I remember the first time I tried describing this film to my parents as I recommended it for a watch. This sci-f/horror comedy is not an easy one to lay out with a straight face. It’s also not one that writer/director James Gunn may be precisely known for, but it is one that I immediately think of because I have fond and hilarious memories tied to it.

In the small quaint town of Wheelsy, something out of this world (a meteorite) has just landed in the woods.

Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks) and Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), are married but struggling. One night, when with another woman, he comes across a strange substance in the woods, and it takes him over. From there, well, I’ll just say, hell hath landed.

source: Universal Pictures

Local sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), Stella’s past love, is at the forefront of investigating some strange behavior, but nobody could expect the grotesque truth that is waiting. What Grant is now, is something that wants to feed, and this small town is here for the picking.

Slither is a blast. It’s funny and absurd, disgusting and a slimy mess, but really gives homage to the B horror movies of the past. I’d recognize this as a cult film for sure because it is so over the top and uses its inspirations wisely. Some of the edits mixed with music are just the kind of horror comedy I look for. As the creature that was once Grant Grant grows (and inherits a sort of hive mind), so does the ridiculous plot, ensuring, at the very least, some laughs.

Everyone involved is enjoying themselves, and some of the jokes and remarks about the outrageousness of the circumstances make it even more hilarious. Is it spectacular? No, but it is inventive in its own right. It also has some underlying themes of toxic masculinity and possessiveness. Michael Rooker is fantastically creepy, and the script never wavers from making each scene ripe with discomfort, before being followed by a laugh. Also, the practical effects are really worth a cheer.

Slither is inherently weird, and if that’s your sort of thing, and you want a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is one hell of a time.

Spooktober 22, Day 13: Jennifer’s Body

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.

“Hell is a teenage girl.”

I have always had mixed feelings about Jennifer’s Body. I walked away from it the first time thinking the characters were obnoxious to a degree that annoyed me, and the dialogue seemed tacky.

However, after watching it more than once it grew on me, and while I still think some of these things are true, I also think that it’s an intentional thing and that the overall style is pretty unique. It most definitely screams writer Diablo Cody‘s signature voice, but Karyn Kusamas biting satiric horror-comedy is most definitely a vibe, it’s its own brand.

source: 20th Century Fox

Needy (and nerdy) (Amanda Seyfriend) and Jennifer (the school-known hot girl) (Megan Fox) are best friends in the town of Devil’s Kettle. When an indie band comes to town who are -to say in Jennifer speak- salty morsels, what begins as a fun trip to the bar turns into a massacre and a sacrifice. But, these Devil-worshippers make a valuable mistake in assuming she’s a virgin, turning Jennifer into a high school boy-eating demon.

It’s obvious that this is trying to fill the 2000’s slot for a Heather’s-eque teenage dark comedy. This goes much further into the horror element, and it’s probably my favorite aspect of the film. When Jennifer is her flesh-eating newly developed demon self, the story is more compelling than its snarkiness. Even though some of the jokes are quite clever, others, just cringe.

This is probably Megan Fox’s best outing. The supporting cast, which includes J.K. Simmons and Adam Brody (as the perfectly menacing and comical lead singer), are all terrific additions and have some of the funniest lines. Fox and Seyfried have a good rapport, with an ample mixture of jealousy and resentment buried beneath all their years as besties. The incident makes the band rise to fame with a song that becomes the high school’s anthem. Even worse, it is actually catchy, and this writer will now be stuck with it for days once more.

Sometimes I think Jennifer’s Body bites off a bit more flesh than it can chew. It becomes, like Jennifer, greedy when it works and overextends some of its flexes. That being said, there’s a charm in the details and the originality, even if the combo of horror and comedy doesn’t always mesh.

Bonus points to the satisfying end credits sequence.

Spooktober 22, Day 9: Dead Alive (Brain Dead)

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. There may also be lists, audio, or video, depending on my wicked mood. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

As this film was discussed on a podcast with my other film site, it made me realize that it was really quite the faux pas that I hadn’t yet discussed as such a seminal film in my young childhood foray into the genre. Which film am I referring to? Of course one from the iconic Peter Jackson! It’s got a zombie-esque Sumatran rat-monkey, so much of a delightful comedic center, and plenty of gore, it’s almost a crime not to discuss.

Dead Alive (also known as Brain Dead) was a film I saw as a kid, and its absurd unrelenting dive into bloody and outrageous horror, combining stop motion, gross-out moments, strange humor, and copious amounts of blood, won me over.

source: ORO Films

Dead Alive is in many ways, an embodiment of my intro to horror, this was a movie I watched with my immediate family, extended family, and then family friends, because it was just so memorable that I had to share it. Haven’t seen it? Here you go! It feels like a staple of its time, and it is also it just so iconic, that it can’t be mentioned.

Dead Alive follows the earnest Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) who wants to appease his mother, not unlike Norman Bates, but is also looking for love, and he’s found it in Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) who is looking for it directly from her grandmother’s predictions. It isn’t a perfect fairy tale match, but these two are destined in some way. From here, there is a monkey bite from human bite to bite, with numerous victims, and suddenly Lionel has a basement of zombie-like compadres.

As LOTR’s may be Peter Jackson’s magnum opus (thus far) this was an early ode to comical, bloody fun. This is a zombie classic with limbs falling off (into soup no less), a lawnmower as a weapon, and sweet, sweet, romance. Oh, and a rapid rat monkey that’s out for blood. Don’t get too close. It’s got this grainy, b-horror vibe that reminds me of my first VHS watch (yes I’m dating myself). I personally find that comforting. There’s also an undeniable effervescent energy to it that bounces from scene to scene.

It’s got mayhem and it doesn’t shy from its full frontal crimson-stained attack. This is complete camp, absolute gore, and entirety a love letter to horror in all of its generational and various forms. This is both nostalgic and also just plain fun from a stellar director who clearly had a blast working on it.

Dead Alive has killer effects, and eccentric hilarity, and thrives through Jackson’s passion. This is a must-see for any horror-comedy fan.

Dead Alive is currently available on VOD (finally)

Spooktober 22, Day 1: Hocus Pocus 1 & 2

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.

Yesterday we received a sequel to Hocus Pocus, the family-friendly Halloween classic. This was a film that I saw young, of course, and while there’s really nothing scary about this movie (except for maybe getting your brand new kicks stolen by bullies) I figured I’d start with a movie that is often a staple for any fall viewings. Also, I’m hoping we can get creepier as the month goes on and we grow closer to All Hallow’s Eve. I saw the original when I was six, and now we are finally getting a sequel. How will it land? Let’s see…

Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega)

Let’s be honest here. Hocus Pocus is no sweet treat to cinema. It’s silly, it’s childish, but, it’s also one of those films that seems to have grown in fandom since its release, and has become more beloved with each new Halloween season. Personally, I wanted to just hang out with a talking cat (yes, I also loved Sabrina as a child) but I also felt charmed by the humor that didn’t take itself too seriously. Also, the first is, well, so 90s.

A couple of years ago I also visited Salem and saw some of the filming locations, which is a thing I love to do anywhere I travel, and it reminded me of the ambiance of the area and the season, and Hocus Pocus is most definitely an atmosphere. Fall has arrived!

source: Walt Disney Pictures

For those who haven’t seen here’s the lowdown:

It’s Halloween, 1693. Three sisters known as the Sanderson Sisters, evil witches who yearn to trick and consume the energy of children, are witnessed taking the sister of one Thackery Binx. Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) in turn change Thackery into an immortal cat and are then hanged. Before they perish they make a curse that if a virgin lights the black flame during a full moon on Hallow’s Eve, they will be brought back.

Enter the virgin. Max Dennison (Omri Katz) has just moved to town and is forced to take his sister Dani (Thora Birch) out trick or treating. Along with his new crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) the three visit the old Sanderson house, now a museum, and because nothing “bad” ever happens from lighting a candle, Max, a nonbeliever, brings forth the witches. From there it’s up to them to stop the evil they’ve unleashed before the children of Salem fall victim to it.

Hocus Pocus has a lot of scenes and jokes that fall a little flat, feel a little outdated, or are just truly appreciated by the young at heart. Luckily, the delightful innocence and sense of fun that the cast has, and the inevitable well-intentioned Halloween excitement comes through. Some children may be scared by elements, (such as sucking the life out of kids) so that’s not to be disregarded. However, for me, I found The Witches to be the superior, and scarier, of the time period.

As with any movie that you saw when you were young and then see later with your thinking, analytical hat on, it can sometimes be askew. I have no preconceived ideas that Hocus Pocus is high quality and doesn’t have some moments that haven’t aged well, but as a freeze frame of early 90s seasonal viewing, there’s the kid inside that is reminded of the joy of Halloween, and of spooky legends. And that kid, mixed with the adult one that is still very much a lover of the oddities of life and film, holds a fondness for its kooky, campy vibe.

Hocus Pocus 2 (Anne Fletcher)

As with any sequel that has a cult following Hocus Pocus 2 leans heavily into the nostalgia and aims to work its magic mostly on what’s already been previously cast.

After a quick intro to the sister’s childhood, including a run-in with Hannah Waddingham (seriously underused here), we fast forward. It’s modern Hallow’s eve, and Salem is -of course- in full spirit, including a lesson on the Sanderson sisters by store owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson) where their magic spell book is locked up.

On her 16th birthday, Becca (Whitney Peak) and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) light a candle, bringing forth, once again, the sisters.

source: Walt Disney Studios

It’s always funny when someone out of time steps into our world and is immersed in things that, without prior knowledge, seem quite strange. An early gag has the sisters consuming face creams thinking they are potions of children’s souls. This and many other jokes garner a “heh.” There are a lot of similarities to the first including musical numbers, teens trying to save the town, and even Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). Can we stop for a second and praise Doug Jones? Yes, he rocks.

Anyway, after they get the book back the sisters force Gilbert to help him and curse him. From there he works with Billy to gather the materials they need for their spell.

There are a lot of easter eggs sure to make fans smile, and there are plenty of comical commonalities like the vacuum cleaner in replace of a broom for Mary, except now it’s Roombas. One of the main differences in this sequel is that one of the teenage girls is herself a witch, which adds an interesting dynamic. I wish they leaned into that story a bit more instead of focusing on repeating history.

The self-aware humor is more evident here, and the stakes, somehow, feel less than in the original (which already felt slim). There are some fun easter eggs, and I love seeing that it was shot in Salem again. Also, do these women ever age? However, I was a little let down by the impact of the sequel in comparison to the first. Obviously the first of a film series is always going to have the discovery factor, but this is one of those times where that really made a difference. Also, one spoiler I will say to my chagrin, no talking cat. 😦

I know that there are many huge fans out there that were calling for a remake. I understand a lot of people will love this and think it is a great follow-up. For me, it’s one of those moments where I wonder if we needed it, but also, how much can we really expect? It wasn’t a bore, and there are things I liked, but mostly I didn’t feel a tingly witchy moment. Yes, it gave me a nostalgic wave, but it didn’t suffice that itch as much as I would have hoped.

Will this film have the love the first does in nearly 30 years? Maybe not, but only time will tell. Either way, I’d recommend it to any fan of Hocus Pocus, just don’t expect too much magic.

Both films are available for streaming on Disney+

Glorious (2022)

Be careful when and where you stop for some rest.

Glorious, written by Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry and directed by Rebekah McKendry is a glorious mess. I mean this in a positive neon-infused light because this movie can be quite grody. It can also be inventive and entertaining, amassing in a mix of horror, cosmic entities, comedy, and morality. It’s a hole of glorious proportions. (You’ll get the reference soon).

When Wes (Ryan Kwanten) stops at an undisclosed rest stop (the where isn’t important, more the why) after a seemingly devastating “breakup” he’s met with an unexpected responsibility. After a night of washing away his woes with whiskey and burning things that remind him of his ex, he wakes up feeling the desire to purge. An accident or a work of fate? Soon he is stuck in a bathroom he can’t escape with a very curious attendant in the next stall, who may just be a Lovecraftian neighbor who speaks through a glory hole.

What Would You Do?

As we slowly learn of his past we also learn of his potential future. There are some higher stakes at work here. Who is this guy? Why was he chosen? A lot of the magic of Glorious is in the watch. But also, it’s the way that the film delivers the information. Sometimes it’s holding the wool over our eyes, and sometimes it’s a blatant color infusion of which we can’t escape. If you’re reading this you’re probably in my wheelhouse of viewers, but it can’t be overlooked: this is undoubtedly weird. For me, that’s pretty rad.

source: Shudder

As an hour and 19-minute movie, it utilizes its one location skillfully. While the movie mostly stays within this bathroom (with some occasional memories) it doesn’t feel small. As her second directorial feature, Rebekah McKendry it’s a very promising tell of her ability in the genre. Look out.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight how pointed the humor in the film is. It gave me quite a few chuckles but then it immediately filled the next breath with either absurdity or depth. That might seem strange, but it works. This is a bizarre one, but it really maximizes its strengths. At times obscene, other times disturbing, with a wealthy portion of the weight, this hits many categories.

J.K Simmons voices the other character, and it is genius. I got so much joy from that element alone, and it’s hard to describe exactly why. Simmons just somehow fits. Ryan Kwanten is also perfect, and he gives one of my favorite performances I’ve seen. This is a simple premise that is executed in a scope that spans worlds. Something I love about these kinds of films is the ability to work that line. Glorious does that.

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.

Glorious premiered at Fantasia Fest 2022 and will be released on Shudder on August 18th, 2022

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: Benny Loves You, New Year, New You, & Barbarians

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

I watch a lot of horrors. What’s new this past week for me? Stick with me and we’ll see what awaits.

This time I was welcomed to some bizarre offbeat horrors that meandered more comedic, but at least two kept a steady hand at being exactly what they intended. A breath of fresh (or is it disturbing?) air. *wink* Overall, not the most effective in everything, yet still this version of the column finds the highlights even when they are streaming, bloody, red.

source: Dread

Benny Loves You (Karl Holt)

This British comedy-horror is exactly what you’d expect from a film with a premise about a doll that comes to life with murderous results. This concept is not quite Chucky but not entirely without its inspiration. Instead, Benny looks to protect his beloved bestie, whether from friend or foe, often confusing those with good intentions and mirroring jealousy and obsession with love. It’s a strange comedy horror, that manages to hit all of the right notes.

Written, directed, and starring Karl Holt, Benny Loves You is one of those rare achievements where ridiculousness isn’t synonymous with “bad.” Instead, it is just plain fun. Holt also manages to make our lead character incredibly sympathetic. And, I’ll be honest, even the doll, as psychotic as it was, imbued some sympathy too.

Jack (Karl Holt) is a production designer at a toy company. He lives with his parents until his unfortunate 35th birthday when they unexpectedly perish under strange circumstances. Magically, his childhood toy, Benny, gets empowered with vicious and supernatural abilities, all aimed at protecting his best friend, at any costs. Even, if it means murder.

This is a self-aware comedy that makes the most of its limited budget and hilarious output. There were so many times I laughed at Benny’s positions and decisions as maniacal as they were because the actions and visuals warranted it so. Sometimes, even something as simple as Benny on top of a car, wielding a knife, as the unsuspected victim cranks rock music, is quite memorable. Or, when he slices up an unexpected office break room. It’s all on par with a jolt of comedic timing and the perpetual massacre to come.

It’s partly a love for the past, the power where our childhood lingers on, and where our adulthood wonders when we have to let go. But when it is safe to do that? This is especially pertinent when our childhood buddy is a psychotic murderer. Luckily, most don’t have to consider such an idea.

Yet. *Smirk*.

There are a lot of scenes in Benny Loves You that feel borderline cheesy, but often, they settle in the terrain of lovingly horrific. It’s that strange place between what we want, what we need, and what we are terrified of having. We all want success, but at what cost? How much can we let go of our childish inclinations?

Benny Loves You is a blast; it’s funny and it’s disgustingly gory. A horror-comedy treasure with just enough heart, that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

source: Hulu

New Year, New You (Sophia Takal)

This venture in Into the Dark was quite different than the first, and a much more entertaining bit. Who doesn’t like a group of young women ruminating on past teenagers’ pain with “friends” who they haven’t connected with in a while? Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a very straightforward conceit.

I’m sure many of us have had bad exchanges or confrontations because of things that happened in our past, but New Year, New You takes this to a treacherous degree.

Let’s set the stage.

The players: it is New Year’s Eve, and what better way to celebrate when your family home is being sold than to invite your high school besties over? For some, it has been a while, especially one in particular, who has grown to massive social media success. Alexis (Suki Waterhouse) invites friends Kaela (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) Chloe (Melissa Bergland) and long distanced friend, Danielle (Carly Chaikin) whose clear stardom has made her detached from the onset.

Unbeknownst to Danielle, there’s a setup involved. Something less celebratory is afoot, and these girls have an idea of how to ring in the new year: by acknowledging a past sin. Vengeance for her behavior and stored resentment are bubbling over the glasses of champagne but, who will ring honest and victorious?

While this is a step-up from a previous Into the Dark, there are still moments that don’t feel as potent as others. Still, New Year, New You, emphasizes its lean runtime with adequate tension, and plenty of build-ups that makes viewers wonder, are they are being fooled. Who is the bully, and who is the victim? Ironically, this was also a theme in the previous column.

New Year, New You takes a crumb and turns it into a nasty, suspenseful holiday cake. One which they will all undoubtedly choke on. All these girls are on edge, many with their own regrets and insecurities, making for a perceptible suspense amid the festivities. In the end, we see the “truth” and it is ugly. But, it’s also relative to our current obsession with social media, online personalities, and perceptions (and misconceptions). It starts and ends with a similar shot, but with very different, satirical, and interesting, meanings. We all want to be heard, yeah? But what is truth?

By no means does this film breakthrough where its predecessors were at a standstill, but it does provide an engaging enough premise to satisfy most who are looking for this sort of revenge-fueled-small set narrative.

Despite its downfalls, Sophia Takal brings us New Year, New You, which is simultaneously emotionally erratic and smartly snide with its perception of relationships, vengeance, and the horror of piecing truths together.

New Year, New You is currently available on Hulu

Barbarians (Charles Dorfman)

I can’t deny that when you see a character portrayed as effectively as someone like Ramsey Snow/Bolton in an epic like Game of Thrones, it can be hard to see them differently. And honestly, it’s a compliment, because it means they nailed it; they have convinced you. I have seen many of the show’s cast members in other roles, but this is the first for me with Iwan Rheon and he (and the rest of the cast) does this film justice. Where is it lacking? Patience and practice. And believe me, you’ll need an appreciation of both to get through the experience of Barbarians.

There is a lot under the surface in this film that isn’t fully explored, it’s like we get the lean cut instead of the meaty one, one which would have fulfilled much more had it been served. I’d also say there’s a lot of misdirection as much as there are obvious nods to what will come. It becomes a bit confusing, but early on there is an indication of areas that don’t ever fully get explored.

But let’s back up.

It’s a new home; a dinner party and friends unite for a meal and a (purposed) good catch-up sesh. The table is set: Adam (Rheon) and Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are the first tenants in a new development. They decide to have over Lucas (Tom Cullen) who is the proprietor of the property, and his girlfriend Chloe (Inès Spiridonov) on Adam’s birthday, but also to celebrate their new digs.

From the onset of Barbarians, there’s a sense of dread, an inescapable lingering sign of what will undoubtedly be an awkward and unfulfilling meal. There are secrets and uncertainties lingering under the surface, some brimming from how Lucas acquired this land, and others related to what he intends to do with it.

Purposefully frustrating, the characters are a bit sniveling, lost in their own greed or self-service to really ever give us a basis to connect to. The satire ends up being tiresome, and the positives (the original setup, the central locale, and the cast) become lost in what equals to a mismatched narrative.

It doesn’t elevate to its full potential by the time it reaches its home invasion phase, which makes the trite bickering seem rather futile, and makes what could have been some of the more intriguing aspects of the film come too late (or too early?) I’m not really sure.

Barbarians constructs a level of keen curiosity but eventually fades into the familiar. And, unfortunately, an unimpressive final showdown. I wanted to like this much more than I did, and I believe the bones for success were there, if not for a miscalibration of (skeletal) pieces. I was still hungry for more.

Barbarians is currently available to rent.

Until next time beasties!

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: Coming Home in the Dark, They Come Knocking, All My Friends Hate Me & Sweetheart

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

I watch an ample amount of horror, sometimes more often than others, so why not recollect my recent foray into the genre? In the last week or so, I’ve seen 4 different kinds of the genre, and some were unexpectedly great, and others disappointedly so. Some were very different than what I expected, and while sometimes the surprise is wonderful, sometimes…not. Let’s recount, shall we?

Coming Home in the Dark (James Ashcroft)

source: Dark Sky Films

This was a film I had looked forward to since missing it at Sundance last year. With some recent horror bangers at recent film festivals, I was excited to see this available on streaming (Netflix) and finally able to dive into this blindspot.

What came of my movie-going experience was mixed, to say the least. What starts off as a lovely picnic among family Hank, AKA Hoaggie (Erik Thomson), Jill (Miriama McDowell), and their two sons rapidly turns into a tale of some of the family being captive, and then… a turn into vengeance. While it begins in the countryside, a lot takes place within a vehicle, mulling through overextended conversation. These are bad guys that are in no hurry to dismiss any little detail, and then it becomes wider in scope, more advanced, reaching back to a place of childhood agony, that then spawns the rest of the film.

What is their motive?

I will say that Coming Home in the Dark doesn’t pull its punches early, with an opening act that feels genuinely terrifying. I had an “oh shit!” moment of surprise that made me instantly curious about where this was going. It was quite the bold position to levy so early on, but I admired the choice because it had me visibly shocked for a while after.

As the plot continued, it wavered between intrigue and tedium. There was a sense of continual tension that had this peculiar story ensuring I was wondering what would happen next. However, I was also wondering if I’d be fulfilled by its final stance. It’s a dichotomy that I wasn’t quite hoping for because it made the overall experience latent with ups and downs.

I will say that I respect the direction that our creators went in, and the cast was all for it, making this uncomfortable, drawn our affair, always uneasy. By its end, I still had questions, and I had my own contemplations of victim versus captor. It reflects on morality, coming head-to-head with your mistakes, and overcoming past trauma. In that way, Coming Home in the Dark hits its mark. The execution has some flaws, but overall nothing that will be too much for many viewers to overcome. In a way, it’s like the film lights a match, but holds it too long until it burns your fingers. Yeah, it was fire, but it also burnt out.

James Ashcroft‘s film has some interesting “bad guys” in the especially menacing Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and more stoic Tubs (Matthias Luafutu). Gillies does a terrific job of keeping the narrative stretched out, and taut, conveying the feeling that at any moment, things are going to snap.

In the end, Coming Home in the Dark provides enough intellectual stimuli with adequate gritty, tension to chew on, even if it isn’t entirely persuasive in its intent.

Currently streaming on Netflix

They Come Knocking (Adam Mason)

source: Hulu

They Come Knocking is part of the “In the Dark” anthology series on Hulu, something I can assure you, I will be exploring more. As my first, it didn’t necessarily strike the loudest chord, but it had its moments.

This movie plays with limited surroundings (reminding me of the Hill Has Eyes at times) with a family in an RV in the middle of nowhere. However, this film dives deep into grief, having our father and daughters reaching this point of a meaningful location, to discard of the matriarch Jill’s ashes. This, unfortunately, played out a bit like a TV movie, in a way that the acting waned sentimentally, with the scares secondary. Grief has long been known to take a lot of forms within this genre, often being a catalyst for our character’s eventual nightmare.

Haven’t they suffered enough?

The two sisters argue frequently and don’t make it easy on their father who is just trying to keep things together. Before they are able to lay their loved one’s ashes to rest, what seems to be young children appear outside, knocking and pleading for them to come out. When it doesn’t work they mess up their vehicle, making the family unable to leave, and also (dumb, dumb, dumb) split up.

Adam Mason‘s film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It sometimes engages us with a setup for what could be a well-executed thriller, but it also hands out doses of supernatural and psychological elements, making it a mixed bag of intentions.

There are some creepy-looking “kids” outside, with valid intrigue at large, making this family’s conundrum feel genuinely eerie. However, the stakes, aren’t as high. Also, there are a lot of those moments where you wonder…”why?” The whole idea of yelling at the TV screen while watching horror isn’t new; it’s basically embedded in its history, as poor decisions and a lack of awareness often spell death. They Come Knocking tests this tradition out.

The familial elements hit an emotional point, but also lean into melodramatic at times, which can cause a hiccup in connection. I had empathy for these characters, but I also wondered what was the inevitable outcome. Was this horror going to conclude in a way that made these details worth it?

Well, the ending was both somehow, unsuccessful and successful that couldn’t really please all of the varied horror audiences. Now, of course, no movie is probably aiming to do all of that, but as someone who is a fan of all the subgenres, I couldn’t find myself really feeling satiated in any department.

I liked the message, but the not the telling. With some creepy moments and some reasonably apt images of horror, They Come Knocking just struck short of being entirely compelling.

I assure you, I was as disappointed as the rest.

Currently streaming on Hulu

All My Friends Hate Me (Andrew Gaynord)

source: Super LTD

All My Friends Hate Me plays pretty fast and loose with its portrayal of what we generally refer to horror as, making the discomfort evident, even if it’s not quite what you think going in.

It’s Pete’s (Tom Stourton) birthday, and to celebrate, he’s meeting up with a group of college friends that he hasn’t seen in a while. Right from his initial drive in to the countryside, things don’t go as planned. He has to get directions, arrives alone to an empty house, and when everyone finally comes back, there’s the first inkling of this film’s thorny presence. Pete is proud of where he is in life, and often feels as if he’s trying to share that with his posh group of friends, but is being overshadowed in some capacity.

Archie (Graham Dickson), George (Joshua McGuire) Fig (Georgina Campbell), and Claire (Antonia Clarke) come back from the pub with a new addition, Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) whose demeanor and intentions are so aloof, while his personality is so brash, that it is hard to get a read on what he’s doing. This spikes paranoia in Pete as well, making this a complicated cocktail of agonizing mixers.

It isn’t a normal horror by any means, but who wants to be in this kind of situation? Social anxiety becomes the monster here, creeping slowly into each exchange and permeating every scene until its firecracker end. The film purposely unnerves and doesn’t make any of the characters, including our protagonist, particularly likeable.

The overall snicker in All My Friends Hate Me is maintained, wedging the audience somewhere in between hilarity and stress. You know that sensation when you’re watching a character and somehow you feel embarrassment for them, as if you’re transported into that very situation yourself? This is a movie that does it masterfully through its direction and the entirely-up-for-anything cast. As a film that’s reliant on the dialogue snapping, and the camera on its stars with each reaction to a shift in energy, it achieves its satiric ability at full force. As the story unfolds, you start to really believe that everyone is out to get Pete, and Tom Stourton (who co-wrote with Tom Palmer) sells Pete’s behavior and perceptible unease aptly.

While this isn’t your average horror, it transcends that title by feeding into the potential fear and worst-case social situations that can arise daily. It gives us that discomforting moment of realization that maybe you aren’t who you thought you were, or maybe, your friends aren’t. But who has truly changed? This story dissects so many of the general awkward moments, making each scream to a degree that can challenge the viewer. In this way, All My Friends Hate Me is quite fluid and successful, giving a new (and yet familiar) perspective on what it means to be situationally horrified.

Currently available on VOD

Sweetheart (J.D. Dillard)

source: Netflix

This sci-fi horror was one of the most positive surprises as of late. Sometimes, less is more. This is one of those cases. It’s a limited setting, with a lead that’s courageous and sympathetic, even if you don’t know the backstory. She’s alone, and she’s trying. That’s all that matters.

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) washes up on an isolated island. She’s one of the survivors of a shipwreck (a story not shown or talked about) with a fellow friend/crewmember fatally injured on the shore. Clemons is magnetic, portraying a strong female character that jumps into action as soon as she acknowledges what exactly has happened. We see her explore the island for other survivors and any supplies (some leftover from a previous inhabitant) and food, as well as build a fire. It’s terrifying enough being isolated, the loneliness and pressure of survival building, but she’s not alone. At night, there’s a creature that comes ashore, and after it digs up her friend’s perished corpse, she knows she’s in serious danger.

Clemons holds the film into a place of reality even when the science-fiction element of the story soars. Her fight and her fear are in equal parts present, making her performance and this limited locale all that was really needed for such a lean film. The creature design is terrific, especially its slow reveal, in carefully curated doses. There are often just glimpses or disturbing sounds, expertly giving us just enough, as we’re hiding in a log with Jenn, closing our eyes tightly in fear as we hear it approach, not sure what’s going to happen, or what is truly lurking in the night.

A couple of others eventually come on a lifeboat, but at this point they’re starving, exhausted, and Jenn’s account of the events seems more like the rant of someone who was pushed too far in a horrifying situation. If most people spoke of a monster from the sea, and a black hole residing in the ocean, what would be your response?

While some eventual aspects may be predictable, it finds new ways to craft an inventive spin on the mixed genres, and with an excellent central performance, it is easy to be caught up in its mystery. And, bonus, it’s also hella fun! JD Dillard takes his mostly solo star and finds ways to make this lost island seem large and inescapable, and yet somehow also growing smaller by the minute. Limited on dialogue, but heavy on suspense and expanse: does it flaunt stylistically? No. Does it need to? Absolutely not. Sometimes the adventure and terror are perceived most vividly by what the audience isn’t shown. Sweetheart also shows that even the most beautiful of locales can have an underlying terror.

In many ways, Sweetheart is a very simple but effective story; a gorgeously shot creature-feature-survival-horror that does a lot with a little, elevates the genre, while also building sustainable tension. The little thriller that could.

And man, was I rooting for Jenn to kick this sea-monster’s ass.

Currently streaming on Netflix

Until next time my lovelies…

SXSW Film Festival 2022: Jethica

When originality seems so rare these days, it’s refreshing to feel inspired after seeing a film, especially when it’s a strange, surprisingly standout ghost story.

Elena (Callie Hernandez) runs into a friend she hasn’t seen for some time, Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), while looking after her grandmother’s home. The two head back to catch up, and she finds out that Jessica is trying to get away from her very insistent, relentless stalker Kevin (Will Madden). Elena, sharing some details with a person we only hear, after an intimate encounter, tells the story. A lot of what really happens is shrouded in mystery for a while, but it is clear both of these women are running from their own sort of demons.

There is an abundance of black humor worked within that makes this 70 minutes soar by. There are times when I was laughing out loud, and by its end, I was audibly saying, “aww.” I don’t want to give away too much, but within this property, there’s an underlying (and not fully explained) magical presence that traps ghosts in its midst. So, basically, if your body is brought to the property, you’ll be stuck there (though there are three ways to get rid of ghosts, as we soon learn).

Pete Ohs directs and also co-writes with Andy Faulkner, Callie Hernandez, Will Madden and Ashley Denise Robinson (talk about a collaboration). It’s a character-driven take on ghost stories, giving us a personal and yet entertaining foray. At times chilling, at times ethereal, Jethica hits some key, ghoulish notes.

source: SXSW Film Festival

The environment of New Mexico is not only utilized but also used to enhance the sensation of these characters’ isolation. It’s beautifully filmed, with some terrific long shots.

There’s a lot to unpack with Jethica, more than you may even realize until the credits roll. It wields its humor with a sharpness that never feels forced but still manages to make you feel.

It simultaneously seems ominous and yet hopeful. It mixes genres, and with strong lead performances, the film keeps us wondering what exactly will happen. Even as the movie came towards its close I wasn’t sure, and I was worried it would be anti-climatic. But, by its finish, I was happy with its decisions and it felt warranted. I can imagine others handling this differently, but its sensitive end felt more in tandem with the story being told.

This shows how a low-budget, minimalist approach can be effective, especially when the characters and themes loom so large. The supernatural, the dangers of stalkers, and the sense of connection and contentment all play a role in this intriguing mix. There’s clearly love put into this picture. It portrays stalking in a real way, while also expressing vast amounts of humanity and charm.

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. So far, this festival’s standout!

Spooktober Day 28: Young Frankenstein

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 seeps 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.

Disclaimer: These are late, but still necessary, because it’s important to highlight horror:

Young Frankenstein by no means is an absolute favorite, nor is it even on the upper tier of horrors or comedies, but, is it influential? Is it part of little Kristy’s history, therefore it’s important to include in this personal tie-in to my spooktober? Hell yes.

Mel Brooks can be hit or miss, like so many directors, but with Young Frankenstein I could really feel his adoration for the genre, and for the films of the past, the Hollywood monsters that molded this into what it is today. This may very well be his best, and while I have an appreciation (or at least a nostalgia) for many of his, Young Frankenstein, to this day, still feels witty and well-intentioned, and that, matters.

source: 20th Century Fox

In a lot of ways, as silly as the conceit may initially seem, Young Frankenstein, isn’t inherently over the top. Not in the way that many of his others are. The film works, even when it maybe shouldn’t, often exceling at times in a natural fashion despite its unnatural premise. I mean, it’s still a spoof- after all.

Speaking of its premise:

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is very uncomfortable with the history of his name, trying hard to make his own from his grandfather’s infamous experiments. When he ventures to his family castle, he recreates some of his work with the help of Igor (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr). What comes of it, is…well, Young Frankenstein.

When you’re trying to be a parody of something beloved, it isn’t always easy to accomplish in a way that can be experienced without the potential, occasional cringe, but this is one of the more successful of takes. With an abundance of slapstick, never limiting on the absurd, there’s plenty of comedy to appreciate.

Gene Wilder can be such a gem, let’s be honest here- the film wouldn’t be what it is without him. He’s enigmatic, known for being a screen presence for a reason, and regardless of how much the entire cast sells it, he’s the glue. Even just his speech patterns, facial expressions, make Young Frankenstein. The excellence of casting doesn’t just end with him though, everyone, is spot on.

source: 20th Century Fox

I’ve often thought the film could benefit from being trimmed, and some aspects just don’t work, but for the most part, there’s a reason this movie can still be enjoyed. Call it nostalgia, call it a connection to a simpler time (wait, aren’t those basically the same?) either way, its got wit, its got silliness, and it’s chock full of one-liners, all made with love from Brooks.

Young Frankenstein feels like a worthy homage, and I think, in many ways, this is why the film remains full of life, so many years after its release.