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Showing posts from October, 2021

My 31 Days of Horror Challenge Has Come to an End πŸŽƒ

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I did it! I wrote 31 horror movie reviews in 31 days, spanning about 8 decades of cinema. It got rough somewhere in the middle. But I got in the zone in the last week or so and to the finish line early, by writing two reviews in a day a few times and setting them to automatically post on schedule (I'm writing this on Oct 29 😊). Still, this challenge ate up all of my freetime. Meaning I missed out on a lot of culturally significant media in October, like season 3 of  Succession , Dune , and Squid Game . So to catch up on those, I'll be taking a much deserved break from blogging starting as soon I end this post.  What did I learn from 31 scary movies? Well, good cinema is still being made today. And there were some bad movies in the past. The genre has certainly evolved to be more inclusive and more gory and less campy. The social commentary, I think, ha been more pointed in modern films even when it's just at the surface. Though it still looks like the '70s was the pea

Candyman 🍬

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beware: this films deals with racial violence How could I not be excited to see a Candyman movie directed by Nia Dacosta and produced by Jordan Peele ? Surely, the 2021 Candyman has the filmmakers behind it to challenge the white savior narrative of the 1992 original . Well... it isn't focused on a white lady anymore. It follows Anthony McCoy ( Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ), an artist who lives with his gallery director girlfriend ( Teyonah Parris as Brianna "Bri" Cartwright) in the bougie apartments of Cabrini-Green , about where the projects present in the 1992 film used to be. It basically trades a white gentrifier with black gentrifiers. The original actually does more to humanize the residents of the projects and show their struggles. Candyman 2021 is too entangled in Anthony's ego to pay any meaningful attention to the community around him. Yeah, characters mention "gentrification," but the film doesn't bother to adequately show its effects. The o

Fear Street πŸ”ͺ

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Like many millennials who grew up in the U.S., I read and watched Goosebumps   in elementary school but never transitioned to  R. L. Stine 's more grown-up Fear Street series. This is okay because now there's a film series adaptation ready to watch on Netflix. And I saw it. Based on some limited wiki reading, I see that Leigh Janiak 's Fear Street Trilogy  (2021) isn't meant as a direct translation. She adapts the original's setting and themes to craft a tribute to horror in three parts. The first two, 1994 and 1978, pay homage to the slasher flicks of their respective era. The final part connects the pieces to a witch hunt in 1666. It sure does pull its narrative thread through with success, though it wanders about on its way there, leaving me with mixed feelings at the finale.    *** spoilers ahead *** Part One is its best act, as it seems Janiak has the most fun playing within the Scream template. It feels like she's actually having a cinematic conversation

Vampires vs. the Bronx πŸŒ†

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You know those feel-good movies from the '80s about boys riding around on their bikes and going on adventures with their friends?  Well, Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020) is a successor to those movies. It has all the trappings of that type of flick, but updated for today. In this one, Miguel Martinez (Jaden Michael) and his buddies discover that vampires are taking over their borough (the Bronx) and so they have to put a stop to it. Writer/director Oz Rodriguez is essentially using the allure of vampires to talk about gentrification.  It's not a thorough take down on the predatory real-estate business, but it's adequate enough to enlighten its target audience of teenagers, while providing a good night's entertainment. The comedy is nothing spectacular, but it's serviceable. The plot and its characters are familiar, but fresh enough to avoid pandering to nostalgia. This is largely due to that fact that it doesn't whitewash its setting. It's a joy to see a film

Host πŸ–₯

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Some time around the release of Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), I feel like most of us began losing interest in the found footage horror film. Nothing has quite lived up to the seminal The   Blair Witch Project (1999) as of yet.  REC (2007) might have come the closest, but as we moved into the 2010s the technique started feeling like an excuse to cut budgets and it all felt less and less authentic. Due to the proliferation of smartphones and social media, I imagine there's still potential left to be tapped. We are seeing the emergence of the screenlife format, in which the whole story takes place on a computer screen.  Host (2020) is such a film. It all takes place inside a Zoom meeting during last year's COVID lockdown, during which it was shot. The coordination and editing involved in executing a convincing video chat room in Host is impressive indeed. It makes use of Zoom's features for some clever scares, including a spooky use of a face filter. Early on the cast

Possessor 🎭

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I feel bad when I describe films like  Bit as mediocre. There's probably some justified reason behind the scenes that explains why it struggled. I have no idea about the circumstances behind the making of it or the filmmaker's resources. Yeah, its quality can't compare to the mind trip of an indie film like Ganja & Hess (1973) or the artistry of today's Possessor (2020 ) . But just because it didn't impress me as much doesn't necessarily mean Bit is a 'worse' film. It's certainly easier to recommend Bit to someone who wants escapism. So maybe my reviews should focus less on my opinion of a movie's quality, and more about what a viewer should expect going in. Then again, I don't know who might be reading. One reader may be interested in whether a movie compares with their arthouse faves. Another wants to evaluate whether they should watch said movie during their feel-good popcorn time. Another still, is eager to read the spoiler-fille

La Llorona πŸ’§

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*** beware: this is a film about genocide *** There are horror stories, as in Onibaba , that don't rely on their supernatural elements to evoke terror. Rather, entities such as ghosts represent the consequence of real-world atrocities, and the frightening villain is human cruelty.  Jayro Bustamante 's  La Llorona   (2019) is that kind of movie. It takes the Latin American folktale of ' The Weeping Woman ' and adapts it to describe the horrors of the genocide in Guatemala . Specifically, the film sets its sights on the elderly Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) and his family. Enrique is a stand-in for the very real anti-communist general and dictator  EfraΓ­n RΓ­os Montt , who was behind the genocide of native Mayans in the early '80s. The U.S. and Israel supported the monster.  *** spoilers ahead *** Enrique's daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) is at the crux of the film, as she copes with what her father has done. After the trial in which Enrique is declared gu

Bit πŸ§›

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Bit (2019) is a competently shot movie, looking not much better than typical network TV.  Its plotting is conventional at worst and its dialog is adequate at best. But it's not really trying to be a showie indie horror flick. It's essentially a middle-of-the-road tale of a suburban high school graduate trying to find herself in L.A. The hook is that it centers on a gang of hip vampire women. It's all for kicks, and that's okay, because it provides a queer and female-focused power fantasy we could all use more of.  Nicole Maines stars as Laurel, the new girl in the big city and the newest member of the all-girl vampire squad. The film knows its audience well enough, and so doesn't patronize us by wasting time explaining Laurel's transness. It's implied on occasion when is comes up naturally, but little is made of it. Laurel is accepted without question.  Bit firmly plants itself as film beyond the bleakness of the trans stories of the early 21st century and

In Fabric πŸ’ƒπŸΏ

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This is a strange movie. In Fabric  (2018) doesn't care much for the conventional story structure. That may prove captivating for some viewers, but likely jarring for most. For my tastes, Peter Strickland (director) succeeds in cooking up some mesmerizing morsels of witchy visuals and satisfying satire, but somewhere in the middle indulges too much in his in own jokes.  *** spoilers ahead *** The film's biggest misstep has to be when it kills off Sheila ( Marianne Jean-Baptiste ) to focus on Reg Speaks ( Leo Bill ). Strickland's intention is surely to unsettle his audience with such a mix up, but he fails to make it engaging enough to be worth it. We get it. He's a bore. Perhaps if his story line only lasted a few scenes, I'd be more forgiving. In contrast, Sheila's story was the comfortable glue that kept the surreal moments from running off with the narrative. Now, avant-garde and unconventional pacing can be done to my liking. I'm thinking of Twin Peaks:

CAM πŸ’»

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The allure of getting into online sex work is pretty strong these day. We're still dealing with Covid and that damn capitalism, so the idea of making money from the safety of your room is undoubtedly a tempting one. A lot of us considered it before the virus, if we weren't already engaged in it. The unfortunate reality is that to make a decent living in the sex biz, you're best bet is to embody the popular standard for beauty and cater to those with the money: white hetero men. Meaning, femme white (passing) women still have the advantage when it comes to getting views. Camwork may be more liberating than the typical service or desk job, but most online sex workers are still subordinate to the platforms they post their content on. Whether it's a camsite or Onlyfans, the site owner's main concern is to grow their paying user base. The workers are as expendable as they are in any corporate enterprise. As long as there are people desperate for money, there will be some

Raw πŸ₯©

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The reasoning behind my  31 day horror challenge is that it'll get me watching the scary movies I've put on the back-burner. Also, I want to re-evaluate some I've seen before, like Julia Ducournau 's  Raw (2016). I loved it enough to watch it at least twice in 2017 (the year it was released in the US). I placed it somewhere in the middle of my top 10 film list of that year. It didn't surpass Jordan Peele 's cultural touchstone Get Out (my # 1), which still feels fresh in my mind and is the more ambitious film. On a visceral level though, I'm wondering now if Raw connects with me more.   Ducournau isn't going for a precise social critique with Raw. She's telling a coming-of-age story through the perspective of cannibal sisters. It's a deft successor to a film like Ginger Snaps (werewolf sisters), but with an unfiltered gaze that can only come from a woman behind the camera. It reminds me of the works of another french director,  Catherine Bre

The Loved Ones πŸ‘‘

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  *** mild spoilers ahead *** *** beware: this film includes scenes of torture and themes of suicide *** The Loved Ones (2009) is set in the usual small town high school backdrop we've all come to expect in the slasher genre. The story gets rolling just before prom: the geeky boy is going with the goth girl, and the weird girl is rejected by the lead guy...   The first thing that sets The Love Ones apart is that it begins with the depression of the lead, Brent ( Xavier Samuel ), who blames himself for his father's death (the car accident shown in the opening scene). Few high school horror films dive deep into its protagonist's mental state quite like this one. Via only its action, the scene of Brent climbing up a cliff speaks for itself: it's a stressful sequence that demonstrates Brent's apathy for his own life. At the top of the climb he smokes some weed and looks out, not with a sense of accomplishment but with a dejected gaze. You get a sense that he's bee

A Tale of Two Sisters πŸ‘­πŸ»

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  A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) takes its time to build up to anything. And when it does, it's deliberately unclear. Sure, it's effective at placing the viewer inside the shoes of its bewildered characters, but it relies too heavily on its twists to give us a satisfying narrative. The story is a languid puzzle box that when solved left me thinking, "Oh. Was that really worth it?" *** moderate spoilers ahead *** It might be worth it for some, but the film's miserable characters never quite engaged me enough. Im Soo-jung and Yum Jung-ah gave strong performances, but the script always kept their motivations in the dark until the very end. At which point, their characters didn't amount to much more than the bratty daughter and bitter stepmother. It's a tragic story that could've benefited with more time in the flashbacks to flesh-out its characters.  Now, the movie does provide some genuinely creepy moments, and it's never predictable. The dinner sc

Candyman 🐝

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  ... and so we continue today with another Clive Barker story: Candyman (1992) . Well, it's an adaptation of his short story " The Forbidden ". This time it's directed by Bernard Rose , who makes the bold decision to change the story's setting from Liverpool to Chicago and establishes Candyman ( Tony Todd ) as a black man. In the film, the ghoul who haunts the Cabrini–Green Homes (public housing) as "Candyman" was lynched (tortured to death with honey bees) long ago for a love affair with a wealthy white man's daughter. In 1992, it was the most serious take on race in mainstream American horror since... probably the tension in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Of course, it's still a tale told from the perspective of whiteness, as it centers on graduate student Helen Lyle ( Virginia Madsen ).   The film is aware that it's about privileged whiteness invading oppressed black spaces. I mean, it acknowledges it. Early on Helen alludes to he

Hellraiser ⛓

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Despite their limitations, I still enjoy watching well-executed practical effects from the '80s. It's true that the tactile element of such effects keeps them more grounded than their cg counter parts of future decades, but I'm most giddy to see what human hands are capable of.  The rise and formation of the 'skinless' man in Clive Barker 's Hellraiser (1987) may be the most impressive human crafted effect I've seen in a horror film. All the art direction in Hellraiser is great, in fact. From the mysterious puzzle box, to the design of the Cenobites , it all stands apart as a unique vision among the plethora of slasher films at the time. Admittedly, some of the creatures look a bit silly for today's standards. I did notice wheels attached to the monster chasing Kirsty down that hallway in a few frames. Overall, the designs were effectively creepy.  Though there was plenty of gore, the thing that irked me the most was the two close up shots of the very

Re-Animator πŸ’‰

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Re-Animator (1985) is not for me. First of all, it takes place among doctors and their gory medical operations. I'm not fond of watching a surgeon demonstrate how to peel back the scalp, cut open the skull, and remove a brain. Maybe because such procedures are down in the real world all the time, I find them more appalling than the images in more fantastical horror movies. You know, if it looks like it won't happen in my world, I can more easily tolerate the gory visuals. Though Re-Animator is a movie about re-animating dead people, so at least most of the icky stuff is obviously sci-fi. Still, I'd be more interested if the revived bodies had more of a personality. Instead they're vessels for the special effects department. It has a lot of gross-out effects, and that's not my bag. Now if the central characters were more than just one-dimensional, perhaps I would have enjoyed myself more. Dan Cain ( Bruce Abbott ) is the most uninteresting male audience stand-in.

The Hunger ☥

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The opening of The Hunger (1983) is the epitome of cool. Bauhaus performs " Bela Lugosi's Dead " on the stage of a goth club. Catherine Deneuve (as Miriam Blaylock) and David Bowie (as John Blaylock), as well-dressed vampire lovers, observe the crowd with a quiet thirst. The stage performance is then inter-cut with menacing scenes of the two coldly seducing and being seduce by a mesmerized goth couple. It ends with flashes of violence, including glimpses of rabid animal experiments, which serves to introduce the third lead: Susan Sarandon as Dr. Sarah Robert. Tony Scott (the director) employs a similar hypnotic style through out, making for a cinematic experience that emulates a vampire enchantment. That and the longing glances of Deneuve, Bowie, and Sarandon were enough to keep my invested, even if the plot ran away from itself and key details of the mythology were never made clear. Admittedly, I was left somewhat disappointed that the movie didn't actually re