Annual Halloween Watchlist: Week 4

Halloween

Well guys, we’ve finally reached the end of this Halloween series, but I have to say it was a pretty sweet ride. This week we finish things off on a bit of a lighter side as we fondly revisit Scooby-Doo and Charlie Brown while ultimately exploring the deeper meaning behind Harry Potter’s dark evolution and Batman’s epic resurgence. Not to mention holding a newfound appreciation for Vincent Price. So, let’s jump right into it and end this on a bang!

10/22 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Calling the Prisoner of Azkaban a sequel would be the understatement of the millennia. Through Alfonso Cuarón’s immaculate direction, the film effectively rebooted Harry Potter and saved it from being a predictable, run-of-mill-adventure it was slowly becoming. The large Hero’s Journey story is set aside as we see Harry getting used to his magical surroundings while struggling with the emotional turmoil that comes with early adolescence.

This makes the film’s darker tone and atmosphere all the more potent as the twisted underbelly of the Wizarding World is thrusted upon us in full force as it coincides with Harry’s development. Spectral wraiths fly aimlessly around the sky, were-creatures haunt the forests and the presence of a homicidal maniac looms ever larger over the halls of the school. A far cry from the previous cherub-esque iterations, if you ask me.

Furthermore, we also see the results of what three years of consistency can have on a young ensemble. I feel like much of the cast knew Harry Potter was quickly becoming stale, so by the time Azkaban rolled around they wanted to show audiences just what they were capable of as they got older. Their hard work paid off obviously and one can make the case that THIS was the film that made Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Alfonso Cuarón the stars they are today.

The Prisoner of Azkaban was a watershed moment in film. Not only did it single handedly save Harry Potter, its dark mature storytelling, coupled with its equally mature cast, made the franchise a force to reckoned with as it continued to carry the Lord of the Rings’ success in the fantasy genre. Hell, its spooky atmosphere alone is enough for me to place it above The Hobbit Trilogy. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/23 – Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost

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Compared to the iconic Zombie Island, Scooby-Doo’s second adventure into the supernatural is a bit lackluster. You’d figured a setting like a small town in New England during autumn would be perfect to continue what made Zombie Island such a success in the first place. But sadly that element is only seen in the final 30 minutes as the film seems to retroactively care more about its mystery element than the supernatural.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the film has no merits whatsoever. It still has much of the eerily art direction from Zombie Island and although the supernatural element is only seen in the final act of the film, it still holds that same spooky punch when the zombies and werecats first premiered in 1998.

However, it’s the addition of the now famous Hex Girls that cements this film in the broader mindset among late Millennials and early Gen-Zers. Their iconic presence in the film has been hailed as a defining moment for many during their sexual awakening and have thus been propped up as sex icons in their own right.

The film is fun, but it’s also one of those instances that showcases just how powerful the medium of animation has on a lackluster film. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/24 – It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

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What more can be said that hasn’t already been said. It’s hilarious, it’s memorable and it’s nostalgia done right. No matter how many times I’ve seen this special, there are always more adult jokes than I remembered. It’s a movie I hold dear to my heart and something I make sure I see on a yearly basis. A truly exceptional film. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/25 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Arguably the most underappreciated film in Disney’s Renaissance Era. I don’t know why people continue to sleep on this film? Its dark gothic themes and chilling score is proof enough that Disney is willing to tackle mature storytelling, let alone ideas of salvation and damnation.

The animation itself is enough to send chills down your spine and its scope is purely spectacular. You can feel the film’s frightful undertones all throughout its runtime, but its finale beautifully circumvents Victor Hugo’s original ending by providing a hopeful point of view that largely defines Disney films but elegantly works in this context. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/26-10/28 – Vincent Price Block ( House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, House on Haunted Hill )

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I mean, all of these Vincent Price films are practically the same but they’re no less fun to watch. My favorite during my Vincent Price block was The Masque of the Red Death. Its creative liberty on one of Edgar Allen Poe’s more “colorful” stories not only made the classic tale more endearing, but also enhanced it significantly. And Vincent Price, ugh, what a horror icon! I don’t know if I can think of a more elegant actor who held such a charismatic presence on screen. He’s one of those actors who you wished was immortal so you could see more of him in theaters. What a guy, what a block! ~ I give them all a 4/5

10/29 – Suspiria

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I wouldn’t call this the pinnacle of Italian Horror, but it’s a great introduction to the sub-genre. The film’s cinematography and concept was impeccable but my God the acting was atrocious. I don’t know why they felt the need to dub it, where they could’ve easily just used their native language and used subtitles. Regardless, it’s still an interesting film where it’s bloody gorgeous to look at. ~ I give it a 3/5


10/30 – Knives Out

Imagine making the most controversial Star Wars film in decades and then deciding to make one of the most memorable murder mysteries in decades. Rian Johnson truly embraced whatever chaotic energy he amassed during his time with Disney because what we saw in Knives Out was a mystery that’s both thrilling and engaging. The who-done-it element is turned up to 11 as Johnson elegantly provides us with one of cinema’s greatest red herrings in recent memory, with a brilliant ensemble cast that carries that element all through to the very end (Ana de Armas being the stand-out).

Its subtitle condemnation of America’s treatment of immigrants, particularly Latin American immigrants, was also incredibly powerful. It illustrates the continued mistreatment of those in power and the blatant hypocrisy of those in power who want to do what’s right but are selfishly unwilling to sacrifice their standing in society to achieve that end.

In the end, this is murder-mystery done right. It’s eager to defy your expectations but unwilling to betray your trust. It’s a funhouse that has you at the edge of your seat and leaves you wanting more. I tell you, man, 2 hours and 10 minutes is not enough for me. ~ I give it a 4/5


10/31 – The Batman

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Listen, The Dark Knight will always be my favorite Batman film. It’s a film that changed my life in how I view and appreciate cinema, as well as being the catalyst of what ended up being my lifelong love for a fictional character that’s grounded in reality and relatable at the same time. That said, in terms of being a live-action “Batman film,” this is arguably the best one we’ve gotten in a very, VERY long time. It encompasses everything that makes Batman unique in the Western Canon by providing a story, an atmosphere, and characters that are just as serious as it is campy.

Gorgeously complemented by Greig Fraser’s Academy Award-winning cinematography, Matt Reeves’ rendition of Gotham completely ditches Nolan’s grounded Chicago-esque atmosphere for a baroque, neo-gothic scenery with elements of neo-noir sprinkled in for good measure. This is a meaner, nastier, angrier, and disparagingly hopeless Gotham. It’s a character in itself while perfectly reflecting the characters we see throughout the film. Everyone here is superb, but it’s Robert Pattinson’s Batman that really steals the show for me! His angry presence feels far more menacing than previous incarnations, and his methodical crusade on crime is a welcoming surprise to comic book fans who’ve been waiting to see the World’s Greatest Detective do some detective work for a change.

Yet, my favorite thing about The Batman is how it finally addresses the fundamental criticisms of Batman’s crusade on crime and his motivations behind it. It’s understandable to label Batman as a hard right, “law and order” vigilante who cares very little about how his tactics affect the poor and people of color. After all, crime disproportionately affects those marginalized communities with a justice system that’s not entirely in their favor.

To Batman, criminals aren’t complicated. They’re motivated by a need to gain greater wealth, power, and influence to the detriment of innocent people. Although his heart’s in the right place, Batman’s use of his fortune towards his crusade on crime feels misguided and extravagant, where his wealth and status would be better suited for investing in Gotham’s welfare than beating up the city’s criminals. This would make sense in the real world; however, Reeves’ Gotham makes that reality all but impossible. Gotham is so dark and corrupt that no matter how influential Bruce Wayne is, he’s powerless to stop it.

Batman is a tool to combat that corruption but even tools malfunction occasionally. And it’s here where Batman evolves both as a symbol and a character. He goes from a rich, vengeful emo kid lashing out his anger to the city’s detriment to a hero who invests his time in being a symbol of hope for the city’s betterment. And while troublesome, the film’s slow-burn pacing brilliantly illustrates that dynamic character development, setting it distinctively apart from all the other Batman films before it.

All and all, I’m happy to see Matt Reeves’ ambitious take on Batman didn’t disappoint. I didn’t think a slow-burn, horror-lite Batman film would work, but it did for me, and I loved every minute of it! It’s a phenomenal finale to anyone’s Halloween Watchlist. ~ I give it a 4/5

Annual Halloween Watchlist: Week 3

Halloween

This week marks the halfway point in this Halloween Watchlist series, so it’s only appropriate that we finally get into some of the big name films. These are among my favorite films to watch during Halloween season as they explore themes and motifs that are common in our collective consciousness. Plus, it’s not often you get to see classic feminest films and Japanese horror all in one week…

10/15 – Rope

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Next to Vertigo this is Hitchcock at his most experimental and it’s a brilliant example of just how versatile Hitchcock was before his mainstream success in the 50s and early 60s. This is the film that earned him the title as the Master of Suspense, for each “unending” take hooks you throughout its runtime and leaves you at the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next.

Even though it leaves you with little room to breathe and being slightly less refined than Rear Window (in terms of its suspense), it’s nonetheless a hallmark of technicolor filmmaking and the natural successor to Fritz Lang’s thriller M. If you’re looking to begin your Hitchcock binge sesh this Halloween, skip Psycho and start with Rope. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/16 – Carrie

The first of many film adaptations from renowned horror author Stephen King, 1976’s Carrie set the stage of a sub-genre that later became known as the “social thriller.” Arguably the most accurate book-to-film adaptation in King’s canon, Brian De Palma’s signature and influential style of exaggerated violence pares phenomenally well with King’s suspenseful world building. He shows us the cruel and hypocritical world that is the American high school experience while balancing the horrors of misogyny with the underlying difficulties of being a teenage girl.

Carrie is honest, and tragic. Few films speak volumes about the reality of such horrors, and in my mind few have yet to meet its expectations. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/17 – Jennifer’s Body

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This is the film Promising Young Woman was trying to be. Don’t get me wrong, what Emerald Fennell did in her feature length debut is nothing short of legendary, but it pales in comparison to what Jennifer’s Body did in 2009. Its themes of revenge and cathartic justice towards men who physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused women may have sounded cliche back in 2009, but much has changed in the 13 years after its release.

The Me Too movement thrusted this film back into the limelight, due to the film’s story of a group of men abusing a young woman’s body for their professional advancement perfectly examplifiying the routine sexual harrassment and misconduct that pervailed throughtout the media industry and other places of work for years on end. Its themes alone were enough to set this film apart compared to the few rays of light in the otherwise Gorey Dark Age of 2000s Horror, but it’s Megan Fox’s charismatic yet provocative performance that elevated the film to cult status and further cemented her as the iconic sex symbol that she is today.

Although Jennifer’s Body is less overt in its themes and execution compared to Promising Young Woman, it’s a more digestible viewing experience that’s equally more satisfactory compared to other femnist films like it. I really hope it doesn’t end up getting a reboot. It’s untouchable the same way Beetlejuice is. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/18 – The Witch

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One of the most hardcore feature film debuts this century! Robert Eggers’ feature film debut The Witch should be counted among the greatest directorial debuts in all of cinema. For many like myself, this is the film where I finally took A24 seriously as a film company and where Eggers quickly became my most closely watched directors of the past generation. Other than its slow methodical pacing, The Witch is the New England Witch film we’ve long been waiting for. Its Gothic atmosphere – flawless! Its creepy historical setting – flawless! Its scope – flawless! Its performances – flawless!

What makes this film so impactful is that its horror is delivered through its ambiance, not through scares. It’s more creepy than scary as evident by the film’s expressionist lighting, quick editing, and ambient soundtrack. The plot bolsters the film’s impact by exploring themes of repression, female independence, and religious extremism through the use of just a simple question, “Wouldst Thou Like To Live Deliciously?” And not for anything those are pretty compelling words.

It is, indeed, a modern folktale as well as a parable on how easily we might slip into the darkness, regardless where it rears its ugly head. If you ask me, Black Philip’s offer sounds awfully like evangelical christians preaching the prosperity gospel but that’s none of my business *sarcastically sips lipton tea*. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/19 – Kwaidan

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There’s no mistaking Masaki Kobayashi was at the peak of his career when he made Kwaidan. Known for his powerful social criticism films such as The Human Condition and Harakiri, his political writing takes a back seat in an effort to embrace (maybe even reclaim) Japan’s cultural heritage. As a result, Kobayashi masterfully curates an excellent horror anthology based on his country’s haunted past by providing a plethora of beautiful avant-garde techniques needed to tell this carefully crafted story.

And seeing how this was Kobayashi’s first feature film in color, he brilliantly makes use of every palette available to his advantage while keeping true to the anthology’s haunting nature. The film contains four stories about the strange and uncanny folk-history of Japan, with my favorite being “The Woman of the Snow.” To me, everything in that segment exemplifies what Kobayashi was trying to accomplish. Its writing was tight, its atmosphere was unsettling, and its colorful visuals and production design were ahead of its time. This quality of Japanese filmmaking would not be seen again until far later into Akira Kurosawa’s career, with many claiming this was among Kurosawa’s inspirations when moving to color.

Kwaidan truly is something special. This magnificent piece of art was already made at the height of a director’s creative peak, but the fact it’s a horror film makes it all the more incredible. It’s a beautiful tribute to a man’s heritage and a film that should be viewed as such. ~ I give it a 5/5

10/20 – Memories of Murder

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I’m gonna come out and say it: this is better than David Fincher’s Se7en. It’s better scripted, better acted, and, dare I say, better directed. Se7en takes itself way too seriously, where Memories of Murder is mostly a simple detective story that gradually evolves into questions about justice, instinct, and human fallibilty. There’s an element of realism in Memories of Murder that’s not seen in Se7en, and that’s largely due to its amazing pacing and the actual Hwaseong serial murders the film is based on.

The film’s realism makes me all the more invested in the police’s quest to catch the murderer as they’re forced to evolve both their tactics and their character. Even though it led to a less than satisfactory conclusion, I was surprised how I actually rooted for the police and felt bad for them throughout their investigation. I guess it’s a testament to Bong Joon-ho’s direction as well as Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung’s performances. It’s magnificent all the same! ~ I give it a 4/5

10/21 – Throne of Blood

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In terms of a samurai film, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood doesn’t fit the typical mold. There’s no sword fights, little to no epic battle scenes, and no Bushido-esque, honor-loving protagonist. Yet, it’s through these missing pieces that the film artistically showcases the slow descent into madness while elevating the same themes of power and ambition found in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The play as a whole is about as solid as you can get structurally, dramatically, and visually. However, by combining elements of traditional Japanese Noh theater and trading the ghostly setting of medieval Scotland with that of feudal Japan, you get a hauntingly vivid image Shakespeare would’ve been proud – maybe even jealous – to see. Additionally, Kurosawa absorbed the play’s supernatural intent and modified it in its frightening Noh imagery as evident in his ethereal cinematography and Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada’s chilling performances as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively. We see the horrific consequences of unbridled ambition as well as the repercussions when proudly believing in something as murky as prophecy. The film’s iconic ending further illustrates those points.

Its horror, though subtle, provides a unique take on a classic and leaves some room for artistic license. Ergo, the final product is a slow descent into madness. Second only to Ran, The film is arguably the best adaptation of Shakespeare put to screen and is – in my view – one of the greatest films of all time. ~ I give it a 5/5

Annual Halloween Watchlist: Week 2

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This week we’re getting all psychological up in here as we explore the darkness of suburban life, the pain of moving on, and the horrific domino effects that lead a society into authoritarianism. Strap yourselves in, guys. We’re going deep into the dark recesses of humanity’s mind…

10/8 – Raw

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This was one of the grossest coming-of-age stories I’ve ever seen. Its immersive atmosphere and provocative visuals leave you in a continuous state of unease and fascination. But its inconsistency in its tone essentially undermines what the film was trying to convey. This is Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Carrie but without Carrie’s subtlety and Chainsaw’s macabre, over-exaggerated characters. It’s an ambitious mediation on human appetite itself and the lengths we go in fulfilling said appetites, but it is, however, far too graphic for my taste. It’s one of many films out there where its poor execution undermines its stellar direction, screenplay, and acting. All sizzle and no steak. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/9 – M (1931)

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I intentionally ignored M for the longest time, believing it was a silent film. But it wasn’t until after watching Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times that my opinion on silent films shifted. As such, I was ready to dive right into what’s considered the most influential thriller in all of cinema, and to my relieving surprise, I was glad it wasn’t a silent film. I immediately engrossed myself in this film, which wasn’t hard considering I was on a four-day serial killer binge-watch on Netflix before watching it. I was aware of M’s influence and hype, but I wasn’t prepared for how easily it exceeded my expectations!

Even though the film centers around the efforts of Berlin’s police and the criminal underworld in finding a child serial killer, it’s mostly a procedural film at its core. And yet, it’s not in Peter Lorre’s terrifying performance as Hans Beckert, or its gothic atmosphere, or its suspenseful tone that we see the true horror of this film. No, the true horror lies in the public’s reaction to the events in film.

Much like real serial killers, Lorre’s Hans Beckert uses the flaws in law enforcement and society’s neglect towards the downtrodden to his advantage when fulfilling his so-called need to kill. As a result, Beckert unintentionally brings these issues to light during his killing spree, fueling the public’s need for immediate justice, even if it means ridding due process and the rule of law. Although Germany didn’t experience an influx of serial killers, these were the general anxieties many Germans had when this film premiered in 1931, and if you know your history, a certain someone, with serial killer qualities, used these same anxieties to his advantage two years later and brought about one of the darkest eras in human history.

M is a gripping film with equally gripping subtext. It’s a time capsule of a world slowly going mad and serves as a warning to remind us how quickly we can lose ourselves in our need for justice. ~ I give it a 4/5

10/10 – Gremlins

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I don’t get the sensation surrounding this movie. I’m sure I’m gonna get some flax from some of my older peers, but Gremlins is nothing more than an 80s B-Movie, and that’s okay. It’s funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are times when it pulls at your heartstrings out of nowhere, but I feel like this is one of those movies that you had to watch as a kid to fully appreciate it. The acting is fine, and I’m happy this movie put Joe Dante on the map, but I think Cujo did the whole “traumatic homicidal pet” concept better, in my opinion. I’m more of a Small Soldiers kid than a Gremlins kid but to each his own. ~ I give it a 2/5

10/11 – Onibaba

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Onibaba suffers from the same issues Raw does. It’s beautifully shot and excellently written with stellar acting, but it fails in execution. This is mainly due to its pacing and tonal inconsistencies; however, its ending more than makes up for its methodical slow burn. Better yet, Kaneto Shindo used the same concept of Onibaba and refined it further in his 1968 masterpiece, Kuroneko. It’s definitely worth watching on a windy autumn night. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/12 – Fright Night (2011)

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2011’s Fright Night brought the classical vampire back to its roots of a methodical, undead creature of the night, with a thrust for blood and world domination. Up to that point, Vampires were primarily seen as edgy, emo boys that sparkled in the sun with Kristian Stewart. And while the Blade and Underworld franchises continued the monster’s gothic reputation, their characters elevated the vampire to a more heroic status on screen. Yes, the bad guys were still vampires in those franchises, but they didn’t possess the same amount of gravitas the lead actors had throughout their respective films.

The reboot fixes the original film’s problems while keeping in touch with it at its core. Colin Farrell’s Jerry Dandrige is far more menacing than his 1985 counterpart and the stakes – pun intended – feel higher as Anton Yelchin’s Charley Brewster and David Tennant’s Peter Vincent comically struggle to put an end to Dandrige’s nefarious machinations.

Fright Night isn’t a vampire film where it completely revitalized the sub-genre, but it laid the groundwork for creatives to tell original stories that continue the monster’s classic tradition. It’s a fun romp that respectfully pays tribute to its source material while tweaking it for a better viewing experience. Also, any movie with Colin Ferrell and David Tennant in it will immediately grab my attention. Those two are severely underrated, especially Ferrell. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/13 – A Ghost Story

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My first David Lowery movie was actually The Green Knight. It was one of my most anticipated films last year, and it quickly became an all-time favorite of mine. So when I found out he made a somber horror movie involving ghosts, I did everything in my power to find this film and what I got was a slow meditation on the nature of eternity.

It’s a beautiful film about life and death, but this film doesn’t really get going until after the 45-minute mark. If you thought Onibaba’s pacing was sluggish, wait until you see the pie scene. I also thought some scenes felt completely disjointed and often contrasted with Lowery’s astonishing directorial style. However, what I initially thought would be a waste of my time turned out to be one of the most poignant films about the fears of moving on. It’s a chore to get through, but it’s a rewarding experience nonetheless. ~ I give it a 3/5

10/14 – Blue Velvet

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie so unsettling yet so beautiful at the same time. As soon as you begin, its creepy, manufactured pleasantness leaves you questioning what exactly is happening underneath it all. The hallmark of any good mystery is how quickly it enthralls you into its world, and David Lynch successfully does that and more!

Lynch’s trademark surrealist style is often seen as an excuse to compensate for his lackluster writing, but I never saw that criticism one bit throughout my viewing. In fact, it amplifies his views about the dark world deep within suburbia and the double lives we live, be they a product of reality or fantasy. While it is a mystery, Blue Velvet is more of an indictment on America’s insistence on being puritans in public and perverts in private, as well as how long before one’s private life becomes a detriment to their public life.

This disturbing carnival ride stuck with me long after it ended, and I expect this film to gnaw at my brain for quite some. To think this was only my second David Lynch film. ~ I give it a 4/5

Annual Halloween Watchlist: Week 1

Three years ago, I began reviewing horror movies on Twitter for the month of October. I saw it as a fun little project to distract myself during college, but what I didn’t expect was how much of a hit it became overnight. So now, what was just a simple distraction from has now become an annual event and I’m excited to do it to you once again! In this first weekly piece we’ll be discussing vengeful Japanese spirits and the hidden subtext behind some of horror’s classic movie monsters. Break out the pumpkin spice and candy corn, it’s time to get spooky!

October 1st – The Bride of Frankenstien

For as long as there’s been things that went bump in the night, human beings have looked at ways of explaining the unexplainable. Men fear most what they don’t understand and The Bride of Frankenstein illustrates that point candidly. Counted among the rare instances where the sequel surpasses the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is one of the earliest examples of a horror film exploring heavy, relevant themes in a brilliantly subtle way. 

At its core, the story of Frankenstein, as written by Mary Shelley, is a tale of creation, acceptance, parental responsibility, and the consequences of unbridled ambition. However, a large portion of the book was cut, changed, and toned down in the original 1931 adaptation in order to elevate the book’s Gothic atmosphere. It became a commercial success, albeit at the cost of the central themes Shelley was trying to convey. 

When James Whale returned to make the sequel, he decided to focus more on Shelley’s themes, but in a more nuanced way. As the only openly gay celebrity in Hollywood at the time, much of the film’s subtext can be viewed as a queer reading, as seen in the relationship between Henry Frankenstein and Septimus Pretorius, and Whale’s use of Christian imagery is often juxtaposed by the townsfolk’s anti-christian behavior towards the Monster and Henry Frankenstein as Boris Karloff’s performance poignantly expresses the emotional toll the Monster takes. It plays on my heart strings to the point where it moves me to tears everytime. This hauntingly beautiful film needs to be seen by everyone and it’s an amazing way to start the spooky holiday off right! ~ I give it a 5/5

October 2nd – The Devil’s Backbone

The second part of Guillermo del Toro’s Trilgía is a grizzly meditation on the effects war has on society. Set during the final year of the Spanish Civil, the film follows young Carlos’ supernatural exploits at an orphanage, headed by two Republican Loyalists in the remote part of Spain. 

While not a war film in the strictest sense, the conflict still looms over the characters throughout the film and how they deal with it – particularly Carlos’ interactions with the ghost haunting the orphanage – depends on how affected they were by the war itself. And since Carlos is the only one who speaks to the ghost, Del Toro deliberately makes the ghost’s existence vague, leaving the audience to question whether or not what we’re seeing is true. 

These themes of children using imagination and fantasy as coping mechanisms during traumatic events would later be explored in his 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth but in a more refined way than in The Devil’s Backbone. Still, this is one of the earliest examples of Del Toro’s excellent capacity to tell serious, Academy worthy stories well before Hellboy made him a household name. ~ I give it a 4/5

October 3rd – Army of Darkness

This is basically Sam Raimi’s Gladiator, and yes it’s as amazing as it sounds! The film picks up after the events of Evil Dead 2, where Ash Williams is accidentally transported to 14th century Europe by the Necronomicon. In an effort to get back to his own time, Ash must wage war against the same unholy forces that brought him there in the first place. 

Unlike the bloody spectacle that defined the first two films, its claustrophobic atmosphere takes a backseat in favor of an epic high stakes action-adventure that, while derivative at the time, perfectly makes sense in Ash’s evolution from the dim witted survivor we knew in the early 80s into the iconic action hero we’ve come to know and love. Without Army of Darkness Ash Williams would’ve faded into obscurity. ~ I give it a 4/5

October 4th – Spawn

Listen, I know Spawn’s bad. I’m aware of its attrious effects, incoherent plot, and overly exaggerated performances, but it’s the type of movie I can just turn my brain off and just have a blast making fun of it. To me, it’s a movie that’s so bad it’s good and it perfectly encapsulates the edgy atmosphere that dominated pop culture during the mid to late 90s. John Leguizamo is absolutely hilarious as the Violator and it’s great how Michael Jai White wound up being the first African American actor to portray a major comic book superhero. It’s just a shame it nearly destroyed his career in the process. 

The way I see it, every Black actor and every Black superhero owes a debt to White in his role as Spawn, and I would even go as far to call it a landmark film. Not every landmark film has to be “good,” but if we ignore it, it would be the same as saying it didn’t exist at all; robbing White of his legacy. Here’s hoping they have another stellar soundtrack for the reboot. ~ I give it a 2/5

October 5th – Chernobyl

Cosmic horror is a sub-genre visual media rarely gets right. It’s hard for something as abstract as the “unknown” to be the point of tension for a movie, least of all a show. Yet, HBO’s 2019 miniseries Chernobyl successfully pulled it off in stride. The 6 hour dramatization of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe, and the events that followed, provides a new face to Lovecraftian horror by portraying the radiation spewing out from the reactors as an invisible, existential threat to the characters we follow and the world they’re living in. 

Few understand just how close Europe was to being slowly poisoned to death, as well as how shockingly inept the response was to mitigate the disaster. What’s more, experts and concerned citizens, who tried to help, were repeatedly threatened by their country’s leaders, knowing well they were probably just as much responsible as the individuals who directly caused the disaster. Not only were human lives under attack, but the truth was as well. It’s not hard to see the events that happened with Chernobyl and not compare them to what’s been happening these past few years. And that, in my mind, is the most terrifying aspect of this show. ~ I give it a 4/5

October 6th – Starship Troopers

“The only good Bug is a dead Bug.” Words often spoken by exterminators and arachnophobes alike, but what if I told you those words were subtly fascist given a certain context? Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic Starship Troopers explores that context in a satirical way by showcasing what a world devoid of critical thinkers and ruled by a nationalist, militaristic society would look like. 

Here, citizenship participation is only guaranteed through military service and the main philosophical constant is that conflict breeds progression. These tenants are indoctrinated by the characters we follow and much of what they learn is often applicable by what they do throughout the film, thereby excusing the fascist world they live in. This was one of the major criticisms of the film when Verhoeven first premiered it back in 1997, but that can’t be further from the truth. The film showcases the extent an aggressive militaristic society is willing to go at the expense of the young and the naive. It’s an indictment on fascism itself and one of the few instances where you want the heroes to lose. ~ I give it a 4/5

October 7th – Kuroneko

While not their original intent, the works of Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Koboyashi, and Hiroshi Inagaki have etched the samurai into our collective consciousness as noble warriors dedicated to the art of war and their code of honor. It’s hard not to view the samurai as such, but like most things in history the image of the honorable samurai cannot be further from the truth, and it’s in the Japanese horror film, Kuroneko, where this trope is brilliantly deconstructed. The samurai in Kaneto Shindo’s masterpiece are portrayed as piggish thugs, who squander their privileged status every chance they get. They got their positions by opportunistic means or were given to them by some inept lord who cares little for the citizenry he governs. 

This is in stark contrast to the chivalrous picture that defines the samurai as we know it, but believe it or not the samurai acted just as cruel and just as malicious as any soldier during war time. Although the title of samurai was hereditary, historically some became samurai by who they knew and what they did to the determinant of those more deserving of being samurai. Shindo’s criticism of the samurai can be seen in their violent behavior and their attempts to foolishly rid the forest of the spirits that haunt it, who themselves were murdered by samurai in a past life. 

Haunting, tragic, and beautifully shot, its themes of injustice in the face of incompetence are just as sharp today as they were when it first premiered in 1968. It’s the single most anti-imperialism piece to come out of Post-War Japan, and a film worthy to be counted among the greats in cinema. ~ I give it a 5/5