Still going… It’s our Famous Monsters Editor’s very own #31DaysofHorror!
See my introduction to this crazy challenge in the Part 1 post.
The second week is when things really started getting intense in terms of film selection and attention span. Some nights I dreaded putting on another movie. I branched out in desperation, hoping to find some gems. I even left the comfort of my own home to go to the local multiplex (gasp). Here’s what I found…
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Found: at the Regency Plant in Van Nuys
Sci-Fi Action/Comedy, USA, 2018
I am not ashamed to say that I adored this movie. It’s not a “superhero” flick in any sense; there are no moments of moralistic exhilaration or heroic inspiration, and the main character kicks off the action by f—king up his life. However, VENOM is fantastically entertaining and absolutely hilarious. Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock as a nervously relatable human trash fire, and his married-couple squabbles with the symbiotic alien who happens to share his body are pure genius. There are spooky elements of horror and science fiction (particularly when the symbiote Riot takes over his victims), but the major theme here is just crazy characters learning to live with each other before they decide to save the world. And honestly, what’s not to love about that? Recommended.
SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Found: on Netflix
Horror Comedy, USA, 2014
Having never seen a Sharknado movie, I decided to pick one out for fun, and was ultimately recommended this first sequel as the pinnacle of flying-killer-shark-storm cinema. Say what you want to say about SHARKNADO 2 — it’s silly, goofy fun, and about as fluffy as a film can be that involves chainsaws and decapitations — but you can’t deny the base entertainment value of CGI sharks falling out of the sky. Film snobs will say that movies like this cheapen the filmgoing experience; I would argue that the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling down a New York street and crushing people in its wake is a better time than half the political dramas on television. It all depends on perspective, I suppose.
Director: Teruo Ishii
Found: in the “Japanese Exploitation” section at Cinefile in LA
Horror, Japan, 1999
Not to be confused with Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1960 masterpiece JIGOKU, Teruo Ishii’s JAPANESE HELL (still spoken and spelled in Japanese as Jigoku) functions as a kind of tribute to that film, except instead of being taken through generalized levels of punishment, specific newsworthy cases of murder and fraud are reennacted for the purpose of depicting exactly what happens to the guilty parties when they go to hell. The concept is a twisted one, to be sure, and the scenes of torture are intense, but the movie loses its way a little bit in the middle when it spends entirely too long satirizing a modern religious cult and the hypocrisy of its so-called leader. It never really recovers from the detour. Ultimately, the film just made me want to watch JIGOKU again.
Director: Todd Sheets
Found: on a press screener courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing
Horror, USA, 2018
Fact: I will watch anything with a werewolves in it. Also a fact: sometimes good werewolves aren’t enough to make for a great movie. BONEHILL ROAD, a brand new Wild Eye release (it’s currently available on DVD, with streaming to come), boasts great acting from Eli De Geer as a woman escaping domestic abuse with her daughter, and the makeup effects are good enough that I clapped every time a werewolf showed up. Unfortunately, some continuity errors, bad acting on the part of the men (although their roles aren’t as pivotal), and a few too many strained camera closeups prevented me from fully enjoying the film as more than a werewolf movie. That being said… the werewolves are awesome. F—k yeah.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
Director: Tobe Hooper
Found: in my roommate’s DVD collection
Slasher, USA, 1986
While I respect the hell out of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW for its bare-bones terror and innovation, I have a hard time rooting for the “final girl” because of her endless, hysterical screams. That trend unfortunately continued with the sequel. Kill her and shut her up, for gods’ sake. Screeching aside, however, this movie succeeds, for two main reasons: Dennis Hopper, who plays a kind of bizarre, stoic, lone-wolf hunter, and Bill Moseley, whose posturing as a cannibalistic, record-loving lunatic is almost more fun than the whole chainsaw thing. Almost. Leatherface still gets the scares, and in this case, even a little sympathy. For a slasher, TEXAS CHAINSAW 2 is surprisingly complex.
DAVE MADE A MAZE
Director: Bill Watterson
Found: on Hulu
Comedy/Fantasy, USA, 2017
Dare I say that this is the best movie I watched all month? I think I will: this is the best movie I watched all month! DAVE MADE A MAZE, while not exactly a horror film, is a surreal escapist fantasy into one man’s cardboard box fort, which — do I even have to say it? — is bigger on the inside. These parallels to Mark Z. Danielewski’s HOUSE OF LEAVES are accompanied by the film’s own bizarre flavor, including Indiana Jones-style booby traps, a sequence wherein the cast is turned into finger puppets, and a psychedelic void shaped like women’s genitalia. There’s even a minotaur, because as one character exclaims, what’s a labyrinth without a minotaur? And the film truly is a labyrinth, giving that rare feeling of having no idea what to expect next. A few moments of ho-hum dialogue about the nature of being an artist are forgotten and forgiven. Get back to the fantasy and get lost in it. Origami birds never seemed so menacing. HIGHLY Recommended.
DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE
Director: Stuart Gordon
Found: on the First Season MASTERS OF HORROR collection from Amoeba in Hollywood
Horror, USA, 2005
Stuart Gordon and H.P. Lovecraft almost always make a wicked team, and I’m not only talking about RE-ANIMATOR (I’ve always touted FROM BEYOND as a masterpiece). MASTERS OF HORROR is one of the greatest things to ever come out of cable television before it was suffocated by streaming services, so I was stoked. But for some reason, Gordon’s choice to set Lovecraft’s classic short story in a modern-day apartment didn’t translate as well as I was hoping. Things like the “angles of space” and a rat with a human face are inherently gothic and almost necessitate the use of stylistic flair, so the graduate student and single mom running this show are a bit too dry to do the story justice.
THE VAMPIRE DOLL (Yurei yashiki no kyofu: chi o su ningyo)
Director: Michio Yamamoto
Found: on iTunes
Horror, Japan, 1970
Although this is the first in a trilogy called “Legacy of Dracula”, THE VAMPIRE DOLL doesn’t really have anything to do with Dracula in a literal sense. The atmosphere, however, is pure Hammer: a massive mansion in the woods, storms, dead relatives, and serious goth complete with grave digging, gratuitous voodoo symbolism, and minor half-stepping harpsichord trills. Of course, this is a distinctly Asian film and employs Eastern mythology — most notably the concept of vampires as dead people brought helplessly into reanimation by their desperate loved ones (which plays in stark contrast to European vampires’ autonomous, regal superiority). This mythology allows for several levels of horror that begin with the human beings themselves — in this case, a robbery and rape that are cruel enough to set everything in motion. Vampires as victims? What a revelation. Recommended.
Director: David Bruckner
Found: on Netflix
Thriller, United Kingdom, 2017
I usually avoid “Netflix originals”. Call me biased. Too much straight-to-streaming content is lazy and diluted. But I watched THE RITUAL upon learning that it was a genuine creature feature, and thankfully it did not disappoint (although there were a few moments when I feared another HEREDITARY-type debacle in which everything was blamed on a demonic cult). The acting here is brilliant, as is the pacing, which follows — to its benefit, not detriment — suspense standards almost exactly, as four friends take a detour through a forest on their hiking expedition. There are genuinely frightening moments, which is always a plus, and the movie managed to hammer everything home with a well-designed monster I could honestly say I’d never seen the likes of before. Recommended.
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Found: in the “Witches” section at Cinefile in LA
Faux-Documentary, Sweden, 1922
HÄXAN, a black and white classic deemed incredibly shocking upon its debut in the pre-talkie ages, is really more of a satire than a straight documentary or study of witches. It is, at times, quite humorous in its quest to capture the absurdity of medieval witch accusations, which often came straight from corrupt church officials in total hypocrisy. The narrative text is downright cynical for a film made before the second world war, and costumed demons appear joyous and colorful against the salty, sepia-toned world of faith. Although, seeing as this is a silent film and was originally shown with live music performed to accompany it, watching the Criterion Edition with its curious musical selections (some of them even distracting) made me want to mute the film and make my own soundtrack. Recommended.
That’s twenty down, and eleven to go! Why did I get myself into this?