Spooktober Day 17: Scream

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.

Yep, another Craven! While this is a similarly iconic entry into the horror-world, this pioneered a change that would continue to be reverberated over time. At the time it was an affirmation that, yes, this genre can still be creative. Thank the stars.

This is a favorite among many fans of the genre, and while I have seen it a lot and I recognize that it guided a generation, it’s not top-tier for me, but that doesn’t negate the fact that its influence was seen and felt, still to this day. Wes Craven reinvigorated a sleepy genre once more. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is the matured, self-assured Craven, which makes for a wonderful evolution for the director.

This comes on the precipice of a fourth Scream movie arriving next year (oddly just named “Scream” which seems wildly confusing) and it’s got me reflecting on the franchise, and the most obviously, for a variety reasons- the best one (though 2 is also great).

A mysterious killer hunts a group of high school students in the town of Woodsboro, California. With stars of the time like Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard at the helm, that power is just one of the many reasons, Scream is still going strong.

source: Dimension Films

Not only is it the O.G which always carries with a certain level of authority, but there’s also a way that Craven melds the newness and self-awareness of horror with reflections on the old slashers of the past, that makes this something special.

Something I love about Scream is that it doesn’t age. While some of the sequels most definitely do, there’s a sense of a pristine time-capsule like essence with this movie.

I remember when I saw this when it came out. This, I Know What You Did Last Summer and also, Urban Legend because it makes sense, as always, with movies to pile on a theme/trend when something works, were all very present at this time. I liked them all for different reasons, but when I saw Scream I loved the self-referential aspect, and also the schlocky humor. Who was the killer? The fun was in the discovery. Not to mention, a villain that has a mask similar to a famous painting that quizzes people on their horror movie skills? Sign me up please! Wes Craven does it again, with a new decade, and a new appreciation for the genre (also don’t sleep on the his 2005’s Red Eye).

source: Dimension Films

The writing, the music, and the performances/characters all were inspired, and influenced by the time they were formed. I can’t watch this movie without feeling the sensation of the 90s, and even in the most cheesiest of lines, I can’t help but feel a sort of comfort. That’s one of those lovely aspects of film that will never die. It’s like handprints in cement, even as time passes, there’s proof it was there, then, and it doesn’t lose it. It’s deft, hilarious, and ultimately, a huge part of the cinematic horror world.

Even if there’s a bit of tiredness as they continue the saga (for some, yet somehow, I’m still in it- though not assured in my reasoning), the characters and actors are a big part of what has made Scream the force that it is. Does anyone not know who Sydney Prescott is? That’s pretty powerful. It’s meta, irreverent, a bit farce, but also tied in with moments of actual frights- it’s still a horror after all.

Through reinvention and self-awareness, Scream woke us up, and bought the slasher genre to new, fun, bloody heights.

Spooktober Day 16: The Evil Dead (& Evil Dead 2)

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.

It’s a Sam Raimi– a-thon (kinda). At least the first two Evil Dead’s, because, well, I feel like they fit immaculately. The second is really a remake of the first with a higher budget, and a bigger dose of wacky. Ot just seems sensible to celebrate both. I won’t dive in, but the remake of The Evil Dead was actually one of the better classic reimaginings that I have seen (another to be mentioned later this month).

I’m not really sure why, perhaps just a matter of circumstance, but I actually saw The Evil Dead 2 before I saw the original, as a pre-teen. I saw them nearly back to back, and of course, as anyone who has seen these, there’s plenty of correlations that make the second more of an improvement rather than a real connective- sequel. It didn’t really change how I felt about either, all I knew was this: Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were amazing, and I desperately wanted to make movies.

It’s low-budget filmmaking at its best because it utilizes the limited locale, the embracing of camp (is there a film that does this more??) and the fearlessness that goes into giving in to every, gory, strange, impulse.

source: New Line Cinema

When you watch either of these films you can feel Raimi’s love for the genre, from the debut on, there is a passion that is present in nearly every decision, every gloriously unique, rough around the edges, oddity. It’s proof that you can make a film on a low-budget, indie, DIY, and it’s inspirational in that way. As Raimi continues to make movies in the industry, it gives hope to the masses who want to follow in his footsteps. Even if… not exactly these peculiar ones.

Kind of like the Cabin in the Woods setup pokes fun of, five college students vacation in a remote cabin in the woods. Creepy, dark, obviously not the best place for some R&R and yet, they do it anyway. In a way, aren’t they asking for it?

When they find a mysterious book of the dead, they awaken something truly evil, demons that have been resting until the group summons them.

Somehow, despite some of the areas in the film that are too much or don’t quite work, the ones that do make up for it. The fact that this film still lives on in classic horror fandom is pretty amazing. There’s a lot of closeups and zooms, stop motion animation, frequent jump scares and some over-acting, even by our main lead Ash (Bruce Campbell) who continued in the sequels and the eventual show spin-off, but all of that builds to Evil Dead’s benefit. The cinematography by Tim Philo, including some intriguing long takes, really melds the the elements together, fashioning a unique viewing experience.

The ingenuity comes through even in the truly weirdest of times. The makeup work is really quite amazing for the time, and is a big proponent for the more effective chilling moments. For the most part though, the experience with The Evil Dead is one of wide-eyed curiosity to what will come next, and gut-busting comical moments. It’s also alarming, don’t get me wrong, there’s some parts to this film that are not easily swallowed.

source: Rosebud Releasing Corporation

In Evil Dead 2, it’s basically the same setup, the same lead, but with a bigger budget, and somehow? An even weirder trip. A do-over with even more freakiness. I think it kicks the humor into second gear, while also ensuring surprises are doused on the audience, on the regular. One of the reasons I almost prefer the second is because of how wildly out there it goes. And, that’s saying something considering some of what happens in the first. It’s a legacy of cinema for a reason. This movie goes so manic, so kinetic, it questions you to wonder about your own state of mind.

No one wants to be stuck in a haunted cabin, alone, but Campbell manages to entertain us as he loses his connections to reality, and somehow, we are fine joining him on this funny, strange, journey. It’s straight up gonzo, and it’s a whole lot of fun. It is also bloody mayhem. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you are just unsure of what exactly is happening, which eventually leads to more laughter- mixed with some disturbing content. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, truly, from this reimagining, but it’s a bit of a rollercoaster that one just can’t describe.

For both of these films, at the end of the day, it’s the direction by Raimi that makes these cult classics what they are. While I recognize, even now, that these aren’t for everyone, I feel like most can appreciate their intent, even if the execution makes their stomach woozy or their senses over-fried. It’s honestly a challenge to fully describe these films in a coherent way. To do so would be a misguided and almost- an insult- to the films themselves. You’ve got to experience them.

Either way, an impression is made.

That’s Groovy baby.

Spooktober Day 15: You’re Next

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.

So, the idea of a family being stalked by an unknown group of people isn’t a new concept, yet, You’re Next does so in a way that is absolutely delightful. Yes, I used that word. Have you noticed? I adore the concept of terror- when displayed in a different form within cinema. This is why I feel the need to exclaim: You’re Next is a power to be reckoned with, even if some may not see it beyond its surface level flavor. Why? Let me tell you…

source: Lionsgate

Not only do we have a badass female lead, of the likes of many of the iconic final girls of the past but one that goes further with a true knack for killing- but, wait, there’s more: We’ve got some groovy tunes to murder to (some interesting kills) and attackers who use correct grammar. Be still my heart: I love it when they do that.

When I saw You’re Next I wasn’t entirely sold at first. I loved that there was a sort of underlying playful tone, and an awareness that you were in fact, watching a movie (which is usually because of the acting or writing) and can either be intentional or not, but I wasn’t sure I was seeing anything new. In the end, it didn’t really matter if this broke the mold because it was so much damn fun. When I’ve rewatched it since its release, even again recently, that same energy is present, despite knowing what is coming. Almost all of the gore on screen emerges with a clash, never relenting on the shocks and awe. This was also a film that (still) seems to be under the radar and overlooked. Of course it doesn’t help that it was made and then put on the backburner, waiting to truly greet audiences.

Most of the film takes place (with the exception of one scene) in and around a secluded large house, as a family gets together to celebrate their parent’s (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) 35th anniversary. Their four children and significant others all show up, and soon, are hunted by masked attackers. Things have clearly been rocky between the family for a while, with a shared messy history, and amid a dinner of squabbling, things get serious, very fast. It’s a mic-drop moment that instantly thrusts the film into a suspenseful place, proving that Adam Wingard’s take on the invasion story isn’t one to be missed.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, which doesn’t make it any easier to see them meet their demise. That is with the exception of middle child Crispian’s (AJ Bowen) girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), who seems to be the only one proactive in fighting their assailants, and one of the only truly rootable characters. Gosh I love her. In fact, she may just be the most dangeous one of them all.

(Bonus, another character in the film is played by Ti West, who directed a previous Spooktober review: The House of the Devil.)

There’s a merging line that You’re Next traces around black comedy, narrowly near parody, that eventually pools around horror. It does so in a way that ensnares the best of the two worlds, while maintaining a level of intrigue. Why are they being targeted? Is it random or is there more to it? Also, can anything not be used as a weapon? You’re Next subverts a lot of tropes, while leaning into others, making it a delicious blend of bloody fun. And yes, most things can be weapons.

source: Lionsgate

Directed by Adam Wingard, it’s a sly thriller that seems self-aware of its intent, making the laughs land, the synthy-score pop, and the thrills and kills squeamishly entertaining.

A smart take on the home-invasion horror You’re Next offers plenty of realistic terror with situational comedy. Not everything hits the perfect note, but it’s more than enough to have a blast with it if you’ll allow it to. Also, the final shot of the film is surprisingly perfect and unexpected (as well as the credits). Give it a go, I dare ya.

Spooktober Day 14: The Fly

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.

Disturbing, body horror, tragic romance, mania, genius gone wrong and…well, insects. How could The Fly not be iconic?

My introduction to The Fly was when I first rented it on VHS from a local video store, and watched it with a friend. Suffice to say, the friend and I had drastically different reactions, but both are generally the kind one person would have watching this movie. It’s that repulsive but intriguing brand of filmmaking that David Cronenberg can do so well. I can’t act as if I’m immune to the obviously nauseating moments throughout this film, but- I also was amazed by how “good” this looked. By good I mean, believable, of course, because there is some truly unsettling imagery at large here. If I didn’t know Goldblum before watching this film (which I had) I may have very well thought he had become a fly. That was his fate. I believed it.

source: 20th Century Fox

Weird Genius Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) has created a teleportation device. Right from the beginning of the movie, which spares no time introducing his creation and also the chemistry between him and journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), we’re thrown headfirst into this madcap story, wondering if his invention is real, but also, wondering what they will be, but knowing, there will be consequences to it. Nothing this influential to mankind can come without them. Should humans interfere with such things or are we destined to a karmic/cosmic response when messing with such forces of nature? Sometimes these arrive in the tiny, pesky package of a fly.

An experiment gone very, very wrong.

Goldblum masters the mad scientist bit, right from the first scene when we meet him. Obsession and glory leads him to testing it on himself, and because one of our favorite (lie) buzzing houseguests one makes its way into the machine, things go… badly from there.

At first things seem hopeful, but it doesn’t take long for that to reveal itself as a facade; a misguided dream. Veronica and Seth begin a romance that seems sweet, but as his invention becomes more important, and soon, the effects of this decision more apparent (and visual) their love story turns tragic, and… scary. It’s a Beauty and the Beast sort of tale, except, with considerably more… eww.

He begins to deteriorate, and beware: it isn’t a pretty sight. The design/makeup team here leaves no disgusting part unturned. From the very first creepy thick-fly like hair to the eventual beastly end point, Brundle tries to reason with himself, and it’s clear that this isn’t only affecting his body, but his mind as well. He becomes impulsive, unstable, and The Fly becomes as much a psychological thriller as it does a horror/sci-fi.

In The Fly we watch the fervor transformation from man to monster with part curiosity and part terror. One shouldn’t deny that there are laughs to be had too, especially with how Goldblum delivers some lines, especially as he reports/journals his progress. However, part of the humor is wrapped up in the psychosis that threatens to overtake Seth as his humanity inches further way. So, even when we are smirking, it’s inevitably followed up by a wince.

source: 20th Century Fox

This is David Cronenburg at his best. It’s messy, it’s discomforting, and it’s ultimately devastating, because the people involved aren’t ill-willed, but just innovative, and with Brundle, it is to his detriment.

It’s truly an amusing script too, by David Cronenberg and Charles Edward Pogue, that really relies on the characters and the space (which the film barely ever strays from). The journey is elaborate in scope, but internally, it’s a real head-trip. The performances will ensure sympathy and the effects to follow will curdle your stomach, but one thing you won’t do? Forget any of it.

The perfect sort of monsterpiece, as you will.

Spooktober Day 13: Shaun of the Dead

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.

Let’s be honest, it’s been a bit morose up in here (happily so) so why not venture into another horror-comedy? Cornetto style? Hell yes.

I can’t think of zombies, beer, or horror, without clocking Shaun of the Dead in my weird little brain. Edgar Wright’s film is absurd but it is chock full of campy humor, and it’s always a blast of living dead proportions.

source: Universal Pictures

Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost), are 30 something- relative, by societal standards (and the films description)- “losers.” Shaun is unhappy at work, and at an impasse with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who wants him to show maturity and commitment in their relationship. Then, of course, when things seem to be going badly and Liz ends things then comes… zombies.

A year prior to my delve into the world as an adult, I was venturing to the theater to see this British mirth on zombie lore. I was taken right away, and even now, I wonder, would a pub be the right place to see the end of the world out? Shaun of the Dead certainly makes a case for it. So, I’m not ruling it out.

“Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.”

It’s also always good to know which records you can afford to throw in the name of survival.

Something I love about Shaun, is how a portion of the film just follows the mundanity of the central characters, going through the hum drums of life, unbeknownst to them that the apocalypse is coming. And, once they are aware, not much really changes, they’re still the slackers as originally portrayed, though by the end their arcs show them as unexpected heroes. Who wouldn’t want these two fumbling hero’s leading their way to survival? There in lies, one of, the beauties of Shaun of the Dead.

source: Universal Pictures

Its both a parody of zombie films while being a dissection of our disconnect and ignorance as a society, we so often move through oblivious, until something pushes us to awareness. Its a wake up call and a call to action, there’s one life: live it. This was back in 2004, and I feel like it’s even more relevant now as we march on, seemingly zombiefied by our own creations.

It’s also a clever satire that melds horror and comedy efficiently, never letting up on physical gags, almost sitcom-like humor, and the hilarity that arises when one tries to figure out the “correct” thing to do in an impossible circumstance. The makeup and effects are also top-notch, making the walking corpses no less frightful, even when they are being hit with pool cues to a Queen’s song in an almost- choreographed dance. The comedic timing of our leads, who would continue, and still do, to star together in several other roles, is expertly matched. While Wright’s flair for style and smart comedy, make Shaun a real joy.

A witty riff on zombie lore with plenty of gore to suffice, if you’re a fan of comedic reprieve on a horrifying sub-genre, look no further than Shaun of the Dead, you won’t be let down.

Spooktober Day 12: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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.

I have no qualms admitting my love for Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the classic vampire tale. I watched it as a youngin (shocker!) and loved it. At first it was eerie to me, and though it wasn’t my first or last entry to Dracula, it left an impression. (Much like Nosferatu did). It continued my appreciation for the many splendors of visual storytelling.

source: Columbia Pictures

A lot of words come to mind when I think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula but one that comes ripe with punctuation is indulgent. In many ways, and in ways that I quite appreciate, the film is excess, over the top. It takes the subject matter we know, and many love, and emphasizes it with new flourishes.

I love the use of shadows, of colors, and the unyielding score (by Wojciech Kilar). Some of those beautifully haunting shots are unforgettable: the horse pulled carriage thrusted into the darkness with a fervent pace, or the train as it whistles loudly, headed into the ominous Carpathian Mountains. It’s rich with these moments, and you can be smitten with the gothic visuals alone.

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?”

It attempts to romanticize Dracula in a way, which, honestly, I don’t mind. Love never dies. Even for blood sucking vampires. It’s like a fairy tale/gothic romance, mixed with some camp and the threat of eternal damnation. There’s more to this Dracula than other iterations, because even when his actions are those we’ve seen before, and he’s the “monster” (chefs kiss by the way with the makeup, costumes and effects). There’s also the occasional glimpse of a burgeoning heart of “man” before, a reminder that he was once human.

I also adore the occasional silliness, Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves (as do others) play it up and succeed. Meanwhile, one of my favorite heroines as a kid, Winona Ryder adds more emotional resonance to a film that isn’t always selling that point. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman (talk about star power) nails the performance of Dracula, giving us a reminding reason, yet again, of how versatile the actor is. He’s as haunted as the character has ever been, in his moments of reflection and pain. Dracula transforms a lot throughout the movie, not just physically, but shifts from guilt-stricken, to furious, brooding and then maniacal.

source: Columbia Pictures

It’s decadent, blood-soaked, eye-catching candy. Albeit, not one that’s for everyone, especially those relishing the older Dracula feel. That’s why I like it. James V. Hart’s screenplay takes Stoker’s tale and makes it feel modern, and yet still… ancient. But, it’s Coppola’s vision and Michael Ballhaus‘s cinematography that stands out most, and makes this a lasting feature.

Luscious to look at, and looming with a variety of delights for your senses to revel on, Dracula is spellbinding entertainment.

Spooktober Day 11: It (1990)

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.

Yes, it’s time for another King adaptation on this Spooktober, and no, it’s not the newest adaptation of his popular novel, It. Nor, if I’m being completely frank, will it probably be the last (still think this deserves a larger, limited series platform). Is it the best? No! Most well-acted or conceived? Umm, no. But, was it influential and impactful for not just my horror history, but most my age? Hell yes. There is a lot wrong, packed full of that 90s TV movie feel inherent throughout, but it still has some golden moments of unease that make for a reasonable argument for why this movie/miniseries is worthy of viewing by any Stephen King fan.

It genuinely ruined sewer grates for me, for forever (because they were so important to begin with). Kids are impressionable, and many in my age range were scarred by this TV movie nugget, me- though? It kind of made me the freak I am. Even when I was irked, I was also intrigued, and appreciative of this experience that had me looking at clowns, and potentially what they could be in all their forms, more intuitively. What was It? Good question.

They all float

If you don’t know It, the story follows a group of friends “the losers club” who fight off an ancient evil that returns every 27 years to the small town of Derry, feeding off fear and murdering children. The miniseries doesn’t split the time-periods like the newer remake does, instead it often pivots from their childlike selves to adult, forcing harsh memories to flood back, as they reunite once more to fight evil. Or rather, Pennywise the clown, in one of Its many forms.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Yes, this miniseries leans heavily on the side of cheesy, and is often playing it safe but it doesn’t change the fact that Kings voice echoes through, loud and active. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace this two- part series, only begins to scrape the barrel of King’s novel.

I’ve done video essays on the comparable factors from novel to adaptations on my other site, Film Inquiry, as well as diving into King’s many visions in film (and you can bet there will be one another mentioned here before this month is over). I chose this one in particular because it marries the youth in me with the person I am now. I don’t know that I would be who I am without It. This is an intimate part of my history. Film lovers know what I’m talking about. It is in our DNA. It’s like this undeniable focal point, with each movie, that inspires and influences who we become.

Yes, I recognize all of the issues with this miniseries. There are many, sometimes blindingly so. There are a lot of talented actors here, but sometimes the dialogue comes across as hokey, and it seems overacted. I find myself giggling at many moments, but then I think about how this was on network TV in 1990, and I consider how -despite all of this- it is still creepy at times. Honestly, a lot should be owed to Tim Curry. He’s so good at Pennywise, zany and disturbing. The makeup, costumes, and practical effects (at least in the first half) still stand. When I watch now I even still feel diminutive in particular scenes, in a mental fetal position, as I unwrap all that is happening here.

More than anything It falters in the tone and pacing, which wants to be terrifying (and still is at times) but ends up being a deflated balloon of inconsistency. Still, there’s a partnership of charm and an eerie semblance that makes Derry a place I have frequented over the years.

What do I love about It? It’s all about fear. It’s the basis, the starting point that allows our imaginations to run wild, into murky unspeakable places. It can be anything, as we have our own personal horrors. What’s more potent than that? It is the epitome of the genre. In many ways It is what inspired my podcast (Go On, Scare Me) because it ruminates on just that.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

I am always struck by King’s genius here. It seems so obvious, borderline simplistic, in a way that can’t be duplicated. A story of fighting our personal fears and the enduring power of friendship, It is more than just a scary story, it’s a vestibule into our psyche, and maybe, a little, into our hearts.

Spooktober Day 9: Frailty

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.

Bill Paxton’s directorial debut is often overlooked in the genre, which is unfortunate, because this actor’s foray behind the camera (who also stars in it) is one that is worth discovering.

I first saw this in highschool when I rented the DVD and I remember that I immediately insisted my parents watch before it’s required return. They did, much to me being relentless, and I felt like I had done my good movie deed of the day: Spreading the joy (and occasionally the permeating discomfort) of films in every way, as much as I can.

Oh, how I miss the mom and pop video stores of the past.

Frailty was gloomy in a way that burrowed in your bones, it got skeletal (and at times cerebral) as it questioned parental mental instability and religious intent. I found it powerful and thought provoking. I remember thinking “well, this is certainly something.” And, that hasn’t changed.

Part mystery/psychological thriller/horror and southern gothic, Frailty follows single parent “Dad” (Bill Paxton) after he gets a sign from god that he needs to rid out the evil of the world. Is it real? Or psychosis? When he brings in the help of his children, regardless of the validity, there’s a definite reason for concern as discomforting event, after discomforting event (ahem, bodies) pile up.

source: Lions Gate Films

It’s a violent affair, in more ways than one, both in a physical visceral way, and an emotionally manipulative one. Frailty is a very dark film and of course I mean that in tone but also in lighting, emphasizing the atmosphere that really feels lived in and worn out.

Frailty nestles under the skin, and it doesn’t stop, only moving deeper, as we begin to feel for the children (played with real empathy by Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter).

While occasionally uneven, the performances elevate and the heavy handed surety of the father is downright chilling. Once an idea is planted, it burrows, infecting the children, and the life they have built. Whenever someone is convinced of doing something so horrific with a certainty that it’s for a greater cause- it’s skin crawling.

source: Lions Gate Films
source: Lions Gate Films

I wish Paxton had gotten more of an opportunity to explore the genre, as he had starred in some iconic horror roles, and you can tell he had real promise behind the lens. There’s something that stands out about Frailty from other films of the like, and it develops into an old-fashioned feeling horror film; it’s chilling.

Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe also add an intriguing dynamic to the mix as the story is being told from McConaughey‘s point of view, and the two consistently size the other up as we uncover the details and the truth (to an extent).

Grim, but effective, Paxton’s debut is authentically creepy. An enduring and inventive vision of horror.

Spooktober Day 6: Jaws

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 would be filled with unimaginable regret if I did not touch upon one of the best blockbuster horrors ever made, even if we are officially out of Summer (and this oozes that Summer feel). A film that takes the question of “can you make a nearly perfect film?” And answers it, with a resounding yes, through pointy white teeth.

Like so many others I have highlighted and will continue to do this month, Jaws was an early entry for me. In my household, this is a movie that was seen young, often, and prolonged through quoting and impressions throughout the years. It’s a film that I resonated with, that made me appreciate this spectacle of movie-making, as I first heard the slow build up of John William’s score, and saw the fin racing through the water. It is for this reason that I had to talk a bit about the classic that is Jaws. How do I love thee, let me count the ways:

“Lifeless eyes, Black Eyes, like a Doll’s Eyes.”

Jaws really did scare people out of the water, and provided one of the most iconic killers in film that decades later is still making a splash.

source: Universal Pictures

When a great white shark terrorizes the small island town of Amity, sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw), and Marine Biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) make up the unexpected trio tasked with hunting it down.

Steven Spielberg has made a lot of terrific films; he’s a sincere, meticulous master of the craft. Over the years, I have found myself returning to this one as a comfort watch. The effects, and the camera magic that went into making this seem real, were exceptional.

The pacing of the film never wavers, each scene is filmed and cut to perfection, with a script that ensures the tension never fades as the stakes continue to rise. Even in the moments where it lets its guard down, the characters keep it level. The three main characters bonding and humorful banter, as well as Brody’s relationship with wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) provide a feeling of family and camaraderie to the picture.

source: Universal Pictures

Jaws also serves as a cautionary tale/wake up/allegory for handling a crisis and public safety, when the local mayor’s own greed is blinded by the risks of keeping the beaches open. Despite the terrifying conceit, and the humor that keeps the boat afloat, there’s an intelligence displayed throughout that makes it more than your normal blockbuster.

It’s immortalized for good reason. Between the thematic score, that is instantly recognizable, its perfect cast, and gut-punch of a thrill, Jaws is still very much alive.

Come for the shark, stay for the characters.

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 (Finn Atkins) 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.