Spooktober 22, Day 21: Haxan

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.

What’s amazing about this 1922 film is that, well one: it was 100 years ago, and two: it’s giving lessons and reenactments, and they are, at times, more well-structured than some new embodiments of witches and lore since. It’s a common subject in the film be it horror or folklore, but there’s a reason. It is embedded in our history. I feel this prejudice against anything that seems off, weird, or not the “norm.” It’s a part of history that’s painful to see, which makes this both captivating and challenging.

In some ways, this is the most terrifying new (to me) film I’ve watched recently because its documentary style reminds us how things were perceived 100 years ago. For this much info to be compiled, about innocent people being persecuted, at that time, is disturbing to me. And honestly, while the witch trials ended, there are still a lot of connections and our own versions of it that show how much we have regressed. It’s a bit harrowing to see because it’s nonfiction and fiction at work, showing how dangerous people can be when they don’t understand something.

source: Janus Films

For its time the visuals are especially potent. Obviously utilizing practical effects, it seems realistic, and it is truly unique. The devil is especially menacing. It casts a spell on you and doesn’t let go.

My only gripe and this can sometimes happen with silent films, is the music used. Sometimes I feel it overcompensates and it’s not necessary, and it’s also not tonally connected to the images we are seeing on screen. Still, that’s a very limited aspect.

Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan is really a creepy wonder, a hybrid, an anomaly we don’t often get to experience. Stylish, informative, and ultimately, unforgettable.

Spooktober 22, Day 20: Thirst

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.

A well-known and beloved priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is tired of seeing people perish from a deadly virus. In turn, he volunteers for an experimental procedure to find a cure, but doesn’t live through it. However, unbeknownst to anyone, the blood used in his transfusion is different and brings him back to life. It seems like a miracle, and perhaps, hope, that a cure is in their grasp. But soon, Sang-hyun finds himself changing. At first, it’s a stronger sense of smell, then its odd cravings, and then a sensitivity to sunlight. Bumps are appearing on his skin, and he seems to be getting weaker, until, he accepts the truth he’s been avoiding: he needs to drink blood.

source: Focus Features

Sang-hyun at heart is a very giving man, and he finds that he can “sip” from a comatose patient’s I.V without causing harm to anyone, or drawing attention. He frequently visits people in the hospital for prayer, so it’s a smart plan. This suffices for a time, but soon he notices other new urges, specifically when it comes to Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), the wife of his childhood friend, Kang-u (Shin Ha-kyun) who is stuck in an abusive family, and the desires he feels.

Directed by Park Chan-wook and co-written by Park Chan-wook and Jeong Seo-kyeong Thirst is a beautifully designed, sensual, and yet violent affair. The chemistry between the two leads is electric, and it makes for some sultry scenes. Their lust for each other, and also for blood, makes for an intriguing psychological, emotional and physical dance. The acting is terrific, and the direction and writing slick and compelling.

My only complaint, and its minimal, is its length. There are a few periods that stretch on longer than they probably need to, but ultimately, I also can’t think of what I’d possibly cut. Thirst has ample amounts of style too, and a script that touches on heady themes of temptation, faith, love, as well as what you’re giving up with immortality. Can your soul remain pure?

Heartbreaking, funny, sexy, disturbing, and even sweet at times, Thirst manages to be an intriguing rumination on vampires that stays afloat amid an ocean of its predecessors.

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 18: The Loved Ones

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.

Sean Byrne‘s 2009 directorial debut The Loved Ones, may just be a low-key stroke of genius in the sense that it is uniquely horrifying, over-the-top, and darkly funny, all while being quite unique. It’s a low-budget, primarily one locale film, which allows its sadistic nature to feel claustrophobic too.

Lola (Robin McLeavy) wants her prom and she wants it her way. With the help of Daddy (John Brumpton), she’ll get it at any cost. However, her dates, including the newest Brent (Xavier Samuel), are in for a terrifying night.

source: Paramount Insurge

When troubled and grieving high schooler Brent is asked by Lola to go to the prom and he declines (to go with girlfriend Holly Victoria Thaine), he’s kidnapped and brought to Lola’s home for their “special” night. This isn’t the first time she’s done this, and what unfolds is darker and sicker than you can imagine. Daddy, along with a lobotomized woman they call Bright Eyes is also there to celebrate the occasion.

What pushes this beyond a usual torture flick is not only the bizarre story, and the totally unhinged Lola, but its witty script. I won’t sugarcoat the fact that this film is utterly disturbing at times, as the acts portrayed are truly deranged. The addition of terrific sound design and a twisted villain in Robin McLeavy makes The Loved Ones nightmare fuel of a different sort.

It’s an impressive debut feature from Sean Byrne that is wildly entertaining even if you’re watching some sequences through splayed hands. The movie also bursts with color and music, showing the contrast between the bloody truth of the circumstances to the sadistic joy Lola gets from it over its brisk but energetic 84-minute runtime.

I like when movies are unexpectedly wicked, but also when they fully commit to their intentions. This was most definitely one of those occasions.

Some of the actions feel a bit repetitive, but through surprising and shocking turns, and dedicated performances The Loved Ones is a darkly comic, twisted horror gem.

Spooktober 22, Day 17: The Lodge

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.

This is definitely an experience. And by that, I mean, a deeply unpleasant one. It was a terrifically done film, but not one I want to revisit again anytime soon.

Grace (Riley Keough), Richard (Richard Armitage) and his son Aidan (Jaeden Martell), and daughter Mia (Lia McHugh) decide to go to a remote cabin for Christmas. The family is reeling from tragedy after Richard left his wife for Grace and she committed suicide. Grace, is also dealing with a past trauma of her own, which becomes a big part of the torment and psychological breakdown that occurs throughout The Lodge.

source: Neon

When Richard has to suddenly leave for work, Grace is left with the children, and when a blizzard comes, the three are trapped there. While it isn’t clear what’s occurring until a gut punch of an end, the three begin to question their surroundings and what’s happened. The children also feel resentful of Grace and use every opportunity to make things even more difficult. The kind of horror it is shifts from survival to existential, before escalating to a psychological nightmare fairly fast, with a methodical nature in the way it delivers the pacing and its reveals.

Riley Keough gives a spectacular performance of a woman reliving the pain of her trauma, and this chilling horror builds an atmosphere that is thick and haunting. Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala there are some misdirections on where it is going, making its final moments staggering.

I completely understand why some viewers do not like this movie. Some aspects of the story seem far-fetched, but when reflecting on the decisions made one can understand how Grace’s character was slowly spiraling and that her recognition of plausibility is skewed. I was not on edge, in anticipation of what was to come, and even when it did, it still unraveled me.

Dark and dripping with stomach-turning, ample dread, and incredible lead performance, The Lodge isn’t a perfect movie, but damn does it not take up a heavy residence in your brain.

Spooktober 22, Day 16: Green Room

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.

Green Room was one of my favorites of 2015, and it further showed how amazing Anton Yelchin was (RIP) how Imogen Poots is an under-looked talent that is always stellar, and writer/director Jeremy Saulnier is someone who can craft an engaging, gritty piece of work.

Punk metal band The Ain’t Rights has just got their newest gig, but it isn’t the sort of crowd they want. Bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) and guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and vocalist Tiger (Callum Turner) are in for a challenging night. After a performance, they witness a murder in the green room, and from there they are thrust into the situation alongside Amber (Imogen Poots) the friend of the victim, trying to escape the clutches of white supremacists.

source: A24

There’s something messy and grungy about Green Room that permeates the graffitied walls and beer-covered floor, beyond the toxicity in the air and the hatred that surrounds the bar full of individuals who will do nothing to keep this crime contained. None worse than Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the especially vicious leader.

That sort of dodgy aesthetic makes each moment feel innately raw, and ultimately, scary. It’s a night of terror and endurance as each member of the band is tested to their limits, with plenty of cringy violence and horrible deaths. There’s also a sense of empowerment for the band, clinging to each decision they make, and hoping they can make it out.

Jeremy Saulnier writes and directs this horror with apt vision and succinct intention. It’s impressive how the tension is racked up and never dulled over the course of its runtime. This was a hard rock no holds barred film with high moshpit-like energy and high stakes. It also proved Patrick Stewart can be sinister. Who knew? Now we do.

There are cinematographic choices that make this limited space feel especially tarnished, each piece of wood worn, each darkened crevice hollow and deep, which makes the setting of Green Room horrifying.

Green Room doesn’t shy away from the violence and shocks, creating some relentlessly disturbing aesthetics. The cast is stellar and the suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Spooktober 22, Day 15: Cat People (1942)

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.

Another film that escaped my eyes for too long, the 1942 version by Jacques Tourneur of Cat People is a film that resonates all these years later, in large part because of its subtle, unhurried narrative. It’s more psychological, and its scares exist in the question of: will it or won’t it happen? You’re feeling the lead’s own trepidation, and the strength of her belief, and that’s a tricky but mighty compelling tactic when done well.

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a fashion designer in NYC who begins a romance and then marriage with Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She has a fear about consummating the union though. She’s worried that she is cursed, and is destined to turn into a panther.

source: RKO Pictures

This is only an hour and 13-minute movie and feels like a brief but impactful foray into Irena’s plight. The premise allows for a nuanced peer at a web of emotions, fears, and doubts through the notion of something supernatural with a deft hand. Oliver, his coworker (and, also, love interest) Alice Moore (Jane Randolph), and Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) are all concerned and have their own perspective on what Irena is going through.

It’s a strange, introspective little film that looms large. Jacques Tourneur builds a sense of isolation and the cinematography creates a unique story with suspense that creeps over the course of the film, much like the iconic sidewalk scene (you’ll know when you see it). Simone Simon conveys a palpable melancholy, and has a presence, even when off-screen.

Visually it ensnares the viewer, and there’s something seemingly simple but impressionable about Cat People that scratches under the surface. It most likely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and by no means is it a conventional horror.

Inventive with a restrained and stalking presence, Cat People is a classic, that I’m sure will only be more interesting with future watches.

Cat People is currently streaming on HBO Max

Spooktober 22, Day 14: Halloween Ends

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.

Erm.

Well, we got our finale to David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy with Halloween Ends. As someone who adores the original, and who thought there was something uniquely different about Rob Zombie’s takes, and even though Green’s first had some interesting ideas (also loved seeing Jamie Lee Curtis again), I must say, I’m really disappointed.

I will say it’s audacious, but I feel like it isn’t in the spirit of this series as much as I’d hoped. I’m not going to spoil, but I’ll try to wade myself through the murky waters that is Halloween Ends. Side note: this is just one humble critic’s opinion, if you appreciate the route this goes, I’m truly glad it worked for you and thus remains, the ever-strong beauty of film. One person’s letdown is another’s a pleasant surprise.

Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is healing, writing a book about her experiences four years after the last movie and the disappearance of Michael Myers. Her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is living with her, working as an assistant at a medical clinic. Things seem to be… okay. We know better.

source: Universal Studios

Our intro scene features neither of these characters though, instead, it focuses on a Halloween evening when the accidental death of a child occurs, and his babysitter Corey (Rohan Campbell) is looked upon by the community as being at fault.

In many ways Corey, as he becomes introduced to Allyson and they begin what seems to be a sweet blossoming romance, is our main character. This is quite the direction to take, and one many of us did not see, as it takes the leads we’ve lived with and relocates them to the side. Except for the final act, which, had some satisfying conclusions to a degree, but still had some things to be desired. It wasn’t the fact that a new character took center stage, it was the character itself, and by extension his interactions that didn’t work for me. It also seemed this trilogy’s finale took notes from another past Halloween sequel, and despite my dislike of the last one, I had hoped for something more inventive.

I think all three of these films feel assorted and in many ways, like different intentions, as if trying on various horror costumes, and never fully finding the attire that works. I’ve seen every Halloween film in the franchise, and while I didn’t feel fulfilled, what was I really expecting? While this isn’t in the vein of Halloween Resurrection, this is most certainly not the movie it could have been. You have such an icon in the character of Laurie, that whenever she is in the film, there’s added pressure.

I feel like I went trick or treating and got three of my least favorite candies, but still felt a sense of glee because I am still very much the targeted audience.

Halloween Ends, well, it certainly does. This finality is most likely, if we can account for any horror trend, not truly dead and buried, but it leaves me yearning for a better send-off to this influential slasher.

Halloween Ends is currently in theaters and streaming exclusively on peacock.

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 12: M

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.

This iconic thriller from Fritz Lang is one that hits not only on the anxiety-driven note of a serial killer in Berlin who preys on children but also the mentality and reaction of the city’s inhabitants as they demand justice and take things into their own hands. The fear in the streets is affecting everyone, police, grieving parents, and even those in the criminal underworld, who can’t run their businesses because of the police force and patrol. Wide-eyed Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) continues his assault, without being suspected for a time. Lorre’s insane Hans is a standout, from his moments of inability to contain his twisted impulses, to his expressions and body language.

source:
Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH

Written by Egon Jacobson and Fritz Lang, Lang crafts a genuinely stunning piece of work that would continue to shape films for years to come. Technically, it is very impressive with the use of long tracking shots and some scenes with little sound, and terrific editing, that makes each moment feel like we’re on the hunt as much as everyone else. Its use of low lighting and shadows gives us what would inspire many noirs of the future. Our first introduction of the identity of the killer comes early and is through his reflection in a window, and his reasoning for being caught is a whistle that Lorre does, and then an “M” is marked on his back. Some of those simple but intentional choices make M a film that impressed and whose impact hasn’t been lessened since its release in 1931.


There’s a menacing unfurling of tension that’s a bold work of expressionism that utilizes every person and object in each scene. It makes its runtime full of taut and edgy moments.

Exceptional performances, packed with social commentary, M is a nail-biting thriller that is brought to life through its expert direction and techniques. A prime example of a must-see classic masterwork ahead of its time.

M is currently streaming on HBO Max