The Apocalypse Trilogy

carpenter.jpg

You don’t have to be a fan of John Carpenter to be a fan of his work. The original Halloween circa 1978 introduced Carpenter to the world with a simple, one-handed piano rift that reminded us all of The Exorcist, even if we hadn’t seen it. The Tubular Bells are unmistakable. Armed with a modified William Shatner mask, three-hundred thousand dollars, and an unknown actress from Hollywood royalty, Carpenter set out to define the Halloween horror movie for generations.

But it takes a true John Carpenter fan to know his Apocolypse trilogy. Welcome to the end of the world.

apocalypse-trilogy.jpg

If you have seen the 1982 remake of The Thing starring Kurt Russell, you’ve started the Apocalypse Trilogy. But have you seen The Prince of Darkness with Alice Cooper? Or In the Mouth of Madness with Sam Neill?  These three films make up John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy which is named for the bleak endings of the films’ characters … if not the world. My deepest apologies for the unintentional spoiler, but it has been a few years. If you haven’t seen these movies by now, maybe this will give you a little bump. I haven’t revealed any endings so you can enjoy them for yourself.

I have had a crush on Kurt Russell ever since The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes; I love pretty much everything he does so it is impossible for me not to love The Thing. This film is classified as a remake but that is a little bit misleading. Carpenter used the same source material as the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing from Another World but it is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella, “Who Goes There?” upon which both films were based. Carpenter sets the mood for The Thing with music in much the same way as he did in Halloween. The original “Thing” makes a cameo appearance in Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween – an Easter egg for those of you keeping score.

 

prince-of-darkness-4.jpg

I dressed up as Alice Cooper for Halloween when I was in high school. At that time, we thought Cooper was a snake-eating, devil-worshiping, crazy psycho from the Underworld. The father of shock rock had a concept album entitled “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell,” and he performed live surrounded – literally – by snakes. So it makes sense to find him in a movie entitled The Prince of Darkness, the second film in the Apocalypse Trilogy. Alice Cooper is by no means the main character – nor is he a top billed character. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the film. Cooper had a friend doing some of the effects for the movie and asked if he could watch part of the filming. Carpenter did him one better and cast him as the leader of the soul-less street people and, coincidentally, it’s Cooper’s face we see in the clips and posters. The plot of this movie is a simple one – a mysterious cylinder found in a church is researched by student scientists who unwittingly unleash the anti-God. Carpenter wanted to create a film that was atmospheric and dreadful, which he did. But what I really liked was his juxtaposition of science and religion throughout the film. Donald Pleasance plays Father Loomis a shout out to his role in Carpenter’s Halloween. Expect a lot of 80’s hair, fashion, and effects.

prince-of-darkness-3.jpg

 

in-the-mouth-of-madness.-2.jpg

In the Mouth of Madness rounds out the Apocalypse Trilogy. This film takes you on a journey through a real-life horror novel when an insurance investigator looks into the strange disappearance of Sutter Cane, a hugely successful writer of horror stories. The fictional author is a character that is clearly inspired by Carpenter’s friend and horror novelist, Stephen King. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will argue he is the inspiration for the character because Lovecraft’s quotes are included among the Cane’s fictional work. This movie opens and closes with some rocking heavy-metal that is reminiscent of a Metallica tune in contrast to the rather delicate piano melody that defines Halloween. The film’s score is original John Carpenter. The only credited music from the film is a brief verse by The Carpenters. That can’t be an accident. Sam Neill stars in this, my personal favorite of the Apocalypse Trilogy films.

in-the-mouth-of-madness.jpg

 

All three films of the Apocalypse Trilogy carry an R rating, presumably for language and disturbing content. Check these out for yourself and decide which one is your favorite. While you’re at it, decide which John Carpenter film is your favorite. That will be harder.

A Trillion Reasons to Watch Black Mirror

Season 5 of Black Mirror dropped on Netflix last month. I just finished Season 4 and wanted to pause before diving in to those three precious episodes. I haven’t heard anything about a Season 6 so it could be a while before more Black Mirror is available.

black-mirror.png

But what the hell . . . I watched them anyway. And Bandersnatch – I got that in, too.

If you’re new to Black Mirror, it is a British television anthology set in the future or an alternate-present that explores the dark and mostly unintended consequences of technology. There are five seasons, each containing themes of warped political satire, dystopian Hellscapes, social issues, or relationships effected by technology. Each episode is independent so you can dive in anywhere, but if you start at the beginning you will be treated to call backs and Easter eggs that build on previous episodes. I started at the beginning and nearly stopped after the first episode, The National Anthem. It was a little over the top for me but I got back into the series - because I apparently don’t have enough excuses to binge Netflix - and I love it. Twenty-three episodes and one multi-dimensional film later, The National Anthem is my least favorite of the Black Mirror episodes. If you liked ABCs of Death, you may feel differently. If you haven’t seen ABCs of Death, do not consider this a recommendation. 

Fifteen Million Merits is a good place to start. This episode gives you a flavor of the dark and twisted nature of the series and includes a terrific performance by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya. The hauntingly beautiful music that defines this episode appears in every season of Black Mirror. Jessica Brown Findley (who I remember as Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) co-stars and those memorable vocals are her own. Fun fact: this tune appears in Netflix original series, “Dead to Me,” performed by the original artist, Irma Thomas.. Coincidence? Me thinks not. 

bm-merits.jpg
bm-playtest.jpg

I personally don’t consider Black Mirror a horror series even though it is tagged as such. It is dark and disturbing with a few scenes that are downright scary, and that attracts horror fans. The line between horror and not-horror is different for everyone and I get asked all the time whether a certain film is horror – and why or why not. If you were to watch Playtest from Season 3 as your first episode, then you might think you had jumped head first into a horror series.

My favorite episode is probably U.S.S. Callister. The antagonist in this Star-Trek themed episode looks like Matt Damon if Matt Damon were to undergo some bad plastic surgery. My sincere apologies to Jessie Piemons. There is a sense of humor here that is not typical of the other episodes. Comedian Daniel Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Mark Wahlberg, brings a whole lot of satirical humor to his iconic cartoon character in The Waldo Moment. And White Christmas, sometimes billed as the Black Mirror Christmas special, is darkly funny thanks to John Hamm. I love John Hamm – so much that I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Most of the episodes where relationships are at the center of technology have destructive consequences but San Junipero is an exception. Nosedive is sort of hilarious, not because it has a funny screenplay, but because it takes your rating on social media to a ridiculous extreme and pokes fun at social influencers and that felt like vindication to me. But then again, I recently visited the Manhattan Project museums in Los Alamos and the way housing assignments were made almost chilled me as if felt like a 1960s version of the same concept.

I have Metal Head and Men of Fire towards the bottom of the list and maybe the dystopian Hellscape that attracts so many viewers is simply not my style. I see both of these episodes at the top of other lists. Season 5 is drawing a lot of criticism with the Miley Cyrus episode rating dead last in a lot of reviews. I liked the Ashley Too episode and I think Season 5 is classic Black Mirror. And if we’ve learned nothing else by now, it is that Rotten Tomatoes, iMdb and movie reviews (like this) are ruining the experience for everyone. How many times have you planned to see a movie only to change your mind when a low score pops up on opening weekend? Don’t change your mind.. There was a time when all we had were three motion picture ratings to warn our parents of nudity, and we actually had to decide for ourselves if a movie was worth our time and our money. I swear I hardly ever saw any bad movies when I was a kid. That’s not a terrible place to return to in my book. So ignore my review and go make your own.  Black Mirror is like Into the Dark in that each episode is independent and you can grab them at will whenever you have less than an hour available.

Except for Bandersnatch – an interactive, full-length feature film which is probably a misnomer since Bandersnatch is not just one movie. According to sources which I did not verify (even my insomnia doesn’t go that deep), the interactive movie has a trillion combinations and five different endings. The shortest combo runs about 40 minutes while the longest will demand over two hours of your time. I spent way too much time finding three endings and if you think that is extreme, know that there are flowcharts that nerdy obsessionists have created to calculate the permutations. My hat’s off to them. I dare you to watch just one time through. Better yet . . . I dare you to find the secret ending. 

bm-bandersnatch5.jpg
bm-bandersnatch4.jpg








The End of an Era - What's Next for Annabelle?

In April of this year, we said a last good-bye to Lorraine Warren, the other half of the famed paranormal research investigators best known for their work that inspired the films of The Conjuring Universe. While the Warrens also investigated the haunting of the Amityville home owned by George and Kathy Lutz, a story depicted in the 1976 film The Amityville Horror, it was not until the 2013 release of The Conjuring that the Warrens figured prominently in movies based on their most notable investigations.

Warrens-2.jpg

Ed Warren’s interest in the paranormal was rooted in the haunted house that he grew up in - and Lorraine’s interest was sparked by Ed as she followed him on visit after visit to any haunted location they could find. The Warrens were both self-taught, self-professed experts in their field: Ed, a demonologist, and Lorraine, a psychic, clairvoyant, and light-trance medium. Fifty years and more than 10,000 cases after opening the New England Society for Psychic Research, the Warrens leave behind a legacy as pioneers in modern paranormal investigation as well as the inspiration for the film that occupies my #1 slot as the scariest movie of all time. So I honor the Warrens with this review of their work through the eyes of the cinema in chronological order of the events.

1952 – The Nun (Released 2018)

nun.jpg

First up is one three spin-offs featuring a character inspired by the Conjuring Universe. Valak, the demon nun from Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, was such a popular horror antagonist that she was awarded her own feature film. The Nun is one of the films in the Conjuring Universe that is purely fictional. The events in the film occurred, coincidentally or not, during the same year the Warrens founded the N.E.S.P.R. And for those of you who still have The Lesser Key of Solomon bookmarked after watching Hereditary, you will find Valak in there as the Grand President of Hell. In The Nun, however, Valak bears no resemblance to the angel-winged boy riding a two-headed dragon described by the infamous spell book.

I really liked The Nun and I found myself in the minority. I’m not sure if the movie got an unfairly bad reception from critics and audiences for being a lesser Conjuring film, or if I just set my expectations low based on some early reviews. If you haven’t seen it or if you want to re-think your bad review, look for a couple of Easter eggs in the film - one on the license plate of the truck and another in the school playground.

frenchie_the_nun.jpg
the-nun.jpg

 

1955 – Annabelle: Creation (Released 2017)

Annabelle-2-Creation.jpg

 The events in the opening scenes of Annabelle: Creation occur in 1943, but the rest of the story is circa 1955. This prequel to Annabelle is entirely fictional in its story of how the doll may have come to be haunted. For this film, the tragic loss of a child, an orphan and an outcast, and a creepy doll all set the stage for a series of paranormal events and demonic possession. I found this the weakest of the films in a movie franchise where the bar is set pretty damn high and it is better than a lot of horror films out there. I mean, who doesn’t love a creepy doll? This is one of only two films in The Conjuring Universe (as of 2019) that does not reference the Warrens in any way. Shout out to Lulu Wilson for her performance in this film as well as Ouija: Origin of Evil (probably my #2 most scary film) and the amazing Haunting of Hill House.

1967 – Annabelle (Released 2014)

annabelle2.jpg

The historic basis for the Annabelle doll is presented in the opening scenes of The Conjuring. The doll was a mother’s birthday gift to her daughter, a nursing student, who hired a medium after the strange events described in the film. Annabelle is a fictional prequel to The Conjuring and does not match the medium’s vision that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a girl whose body was found on the property in the late 1800s.

The couple in the film, John and Mia Form, are named for the actors who played the couple in Rosemary’s baby, a movie also themed around new parents whose forthcoming baby was a target for Satanists. A lot of viewers criticized Annabelle for being a lesser film to The Conjuring. The judgment is probably a fair comparison. Like I said, the bar was set pretty high. I enjoyed this movie, I still find it scary, and I have it on my regular horror rotation.

 

1971 – The Conjuring (Released 2013)

A full-on 5-skull film that holds my top slot for scariest movie of all time, The Conjuring is the first production to put the Warrens in the center stage of a major film based on historical events. While The Exorcist was ground-breaking in it’s shocking portrayal of possession involving a young girl, I find the build-up and the exorcism in The Conjuring more believable and far more terrifying. This film carries an R rating strictly for the scare it delivers; there is no nudity and very little, if any, profanity.

conjuring.jpg

 

1973 – The Curse of La Llorona (Released 2019)

 The Curse of La Llorona is a stand-alone film in the Conjuring Universe and features Father Perez, the same priest who provided the Forms with religious counsel in Annabelle. There are some reported callbacks to The Conjuring but I have no specifics since I haven’t seen the film yet. The legend of La Llorona is real, but the film is fictional. It the second of two movies in The Conjuring Universe to not reference the Warrens in any way.

the-curse-of-la-llorona.jpg

 

1976 – The Amityville Horror (Released 1979)

amityville-murder-house.jpg

The Amityville haunting is the most popular of the cases investigated by the Warrens. The highly successful 1979 movie is still one of my horror favorites. If my math is correct, this movie boasts the shortest time period between the highly controversial events and the movie’s theatrical release – three years. Critics claimed that the haunting was a hoax and that some of those involved later admitted to the fraud. The Lutz’s stood by their claims and as well, the Warrens stood by their investigation confirming the demonic presence. The Warrens were never referred to in the original film or its 2005 remake. In fact the best movie version of their investigation appears in the opening scenes of The Conjuring 2.

There are at least 23 films in the Amityville franchise. None achieved the success of the original and most went straight to video. Sort of makes all of those Friday the 13th and Chucky spin-offs seem like nothing.

 

1977 – The Conjuring 2 (Released 2016)

The Enfield poltergeist is the historical basis for The Conjuring 2. While the film is loosely based on the Warrens’ investigation of these events, critics claim that they were never invited and were not permitted access to the house. I couldn’t find much credible information either way and this movie remains high on my list of favorites. Patrick Wilson endears the viewer with a musical performance that is his own, providing a gentle strength that I think is more representative of the actor than the character.

 

1981 – The Conjuring 3 (Release date 2020)

This film is based on the Warrens’ investigation of Arne Johnson, a Brookfield, Connecticut man who murdered his landlord and plead not guilty to the crime by reason of demonic possession. The Warrens had been called to the home prior to the killing to investigate alleged demonic possession of Johnson’s fiancee’ and her younger brother. After the murders, the Warrens claimed that Johnson was also possessed. This was the first time in history that demonic possession was used as a defense earning it the title, “The Devil Made Me Do It Case.” A huge media blitz surrounded this case and the Warrens were met with the customary criticism we see in virtually all of these cases. I am looking forward to seeing what Vera and Patrick do with this one.

1986 – The Haunting in Connecticut

(Released 2009)

I think one of the most underrated movie in this collection is The Haunting in Connecticut. I first saw this film on a jeep trip to Moab. We grabbed it at a Red Box after a long day of running trails and it scared the Hell out of me. It was even scarier when I watched it again on a larger screen. And then again a few weeks ago while outlining this blog post. If this film missed your radar or if you need a refresher, you can grab it for free on Amazon Prime. You can also find the documentary special, A Haunting in Connecticut, and see for yourself how a movie “based on” a true story compares with the events reported by those who experienced them. Lorraine Warren is featured in the documentary, a rare treat, although there is no reference to the Warrens or any mention of a paranormal investigator in the movie.

haunting-in-connecticut.jpg

 

1974-1989 – The Haunted (Released 1991)

the-haunted-1991.jpg

This “lost Conjuring” film tells the story of the Smurl family haunting that occurred at their home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, The couple claimed they were both tormented and assaulted by demonic spirits over a period of 15 years. The Warrens confirmed the presence of a powerful demon but were accused of being partial and non-objective. Critics were unable to offer an alternate explanation while other inhabitants of the home reported no paranormal experiences. I could not locate this film in any format – hence the description of the film as “lost.” If our friends Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are game, maybe this film can be remade.

 

 

TBA – Annabelle Comes Home (Released 2019)

This film appears on this list as the most recent simply because it is a sequel to the Annabelle series and occurs after The Conjuring. As with the other Annabelle films, it is entirely fictional. The movie welcomes welcome a second alum from Haunting of Hill House, McKenna Grace who played young Theo. Stay tuned for a review as this is the first horror film of 2019 on the movie theater watchlist.

annabelle3.jpg

 

If you’ve made it this far, then maybe you’re willing to go a little further. Open YouTube, search for “Conjuring shorts” and spend 15 minutes or so in that domain. Horror shorts are a thing. You’re welcome.

Museum-closed.JPG

I visited the Warrens official website which is also the site of the N.E.S.P.R. as part of my research for this post. I was surprised to find it poorly designed with unimpressive content that is out of date and not very well written. It is certainly not the way I would to see the Warrens honored for their contribution, I had hoped for something more. But the worst part about the site was the announcement that the occult museum is closed and looking for a new home. That makes me sad because like a lot of fans of the Conjuring Universe, I was drawn to the knowledge that these haunted artifacts were at home with the Warren family, safely tucked away and regularly blessed so they can do no harm.

real-annabelle-doll.jpg

Homeless and haunted - what is next for Annabelle?

What’s in store for 2019 Horror?

into-the-dark.png

2018 was an epic year for horror movies with the 40th anniversary of Halloween putting an end to our wait for the return of Laurie Strode and Michael Meyers. A Quiet Place lived up to its hype - a rare occurrence - and I sort of enjoyed the disturbing effect Hereditary had on its audiences. But from my perspective, a couple of streaming series that were not on the 2018 preview really stole the season. Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House may be the most terrifying and well done horror series I have ever seen. Although Hulu’s Castle Rock - based on themes from the Stephen King universe - is not far behind. Say what you will about the place Netlix. Amazon, and Hulu have in cinema, but these streaming services have turned out some great (and to be fair, not-so-great) stuff these past few years.

And streaming is where we start our 2019 preview. Hulu partnered with Blumhouse productions on another original series, Into the Dark. This horror-themed anthology consists of monthly episodes inspired by a holiday. The series actually released in 2018 and if you’ve seen The Body, Flesh & Blood, or Pooka, you are already watching season 1 of Into the Dark. Let’s get started.

January

January starts the year off with episode 4 of Into the Dark. What happens when a group old high school gal pals get together for a sort of reunion on New Year’s Eve? Find out in New Year, New You. Into the Dark is included with your basic Hulu subscription and it’s worth it for this series alone. The only other horror film released in January is Escape Room. A group of friends find themselves trapped in an escape room … because that’s the point of an escape room. Only this one has deadly consequences. I can only hope there is an axe-throwing follow up on deck.  

 

 February

There are six movies in February’s line-up starting with the Valentine’s episode of Into the Dark, Down. It is followed by a Netflix exclusive, Velvet Buzzsaw. This strangely titled film has an all-star cast that includes Toni Collette, Renee Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal and John Malkovich. Wow. Less star studded are The Prodigy and The Hole in the Ground - films that build their horror themes around children. Kudos to these directors because this is risky business with audiences that have a low threshold for kids in horror - but terrifying when it works. Moving on to the anthology-like Nightmare Cinema starring Mickey Rourke as a movie theater projectionst and curator of individual films selected for the five strangers who are lured into the cinema. Mickey Rourke is pretty creepy on his own so I can only imagine what happens when he is let loose on horror. And Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to a movie that was so much funnier than I expected, rounds out the offerings for the short month.

 March

I had some fun trying to figure out what holiday would be featured in the March episode of Into the Dark, and Treehouse didn’t even come close. You’ll have to watch this one for yourself because the brief descriptions don’t give it away. March also brings us the highly anticipated follow-up to Jordan Peele’s wildly successful horror debut, Get Out. Us is a story of a family terrorized by dopplegangers during their vacation. While the critics gave it almost as much praise as Get Out, the audience was less impressed according to Rotten Tomatoes and my own sources. I am keeping an open mind - and the explanation video on standby. A third films walks the line between science fiction thriller and horror, and that is Captive State. Decide for yourself whether this alien invasion film starring the great John Goodman meets your horror definition.  

April

I really hate April Fool’s day. I just don’t understand 24 hours of practical jokes and misinformation - it’s not funny to me. But it does make for good horror. This month’s episode of Into the Dark, I’m just F**ing with You, takes the April Fool’s theme to a new level of disturbingly sick and wrong. And the first of two new films for 2019 from The Conjuring Universe opens this month. You will recognize the priest in The Curse of La Llorona as the same Father Perez who tried to deliver the Forms from the Annabelle doll in the 2014 prequel to The Conjuring. Trailers are promising. The remake of Pet Semetary is also due out in April. John Lithgow reprises Fred Gwynn’s role as Jud Campbell and while those of us loyal to the original want to be skeptics, it’s John Lithgow… The fourth film this month is The Wind, a turn of the century tale about the effects of isolation on a lonely mind. Sometimes reality is the most terrifying of all horror.

May

If you think Godzilla belongs in horror, then May is your month as the legendary creature fights for supremacy in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Or maybe Superman is more your style. If so then you don’t want to miss Brightburn, a tale about a sinister superman with powers that are used not for good, but for evil. And Blumhouse brings us two films to celebrate mother this month. Episode 8 of Into the Dark, All that We Destroy, will be available to stream on May 1 while Ma, starring the great Octavia Spencer, opens in theaters on May 31.

June

June’s episode of Into the Dark, They Come Knocking, releases on the 1st so turn up the air conditioner and enjoy a summer horror themed film at home because there isn’t much else to keep you cool inside movie theaters as we move into summer. A remake of Child’s Play for those of you who don’t think seven Chucky movies were enough and are ready to start over. This remake is brought to you by the producers of It and features Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky, so there’s that. The other film set to release in June is The Haunting of Borley Rectory. The Borley Rectory is - was - a real place and is still rumored to have been the most haunted place in the world. The World. That’s a lot to live up to and worth checking out.

 July

July will start with the 10th episode of Into the Dark. Currently untitled my guess is it will be a 4th of July themed horror tale. The second film of 2019 from The Conjuring Universe is the third film dedicated to the Annabelle doll. Annabelle Comes Home occurs chronologically after The Conjuring, making it the most current in terms of events. Some skeptics are wondering if the story has run its course. I love Annabelle so my mind is open. Enjoy the performance by Mckenna Grace who played Young Theo in last year’s hit series, The Haunting of Hill House. She plays the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, Judy, in this film. Midsommer was initially reported to be an August release but this film about a couple vacationing in a village full of eccentric residents should be out in time for your own 4th of July vacation. This film is from the director who brought us Hereditary. ‘Nuff said.

 

August

Five movies help to wind down the summer starting with Episode 11 of Into the Dark. Also untitled, it is a game of guessing what holiday will theme the mid-summer episode. The New Mutants was on last year’s agenda and fans of Marvel comics will be pleased to see a firm release date. Up next is the iconic book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, come to life. The film is not yet rated but expect it to be somewhat kid friendly given its roots. In the Tall Grass is also a book come to life, based on a Stephen King novella. There is little information in the movie description but Patrick Wilson should be enough to get you there. Plus it’s rumored to be a Netflix production so readily available. The last film in August definitely won’t get me into the theater and that is the sequel to 47 Meters Down, Uncaged. It is Jaws meets The Descent so my suggestion is you set your standards low, choose a theater with really good popcorn, and let me know if I am wrong. I love to be wrong when I pre-judge bad horror.



September

Who cares if there is only one horror movie in theaters in September? It’s It! Movie posters confirm my prediction of Jessica Chastain as the grown-up version of Beverly Marsh. And the final episode of Season 1, Into the Dark will give you a reason to stay home and catch up on what you’ve missed all year or watch a few of my pre-season selections.

IT-Chapter-Two.jpg

 

October

Woody, Jesse, Emma, and Abigail are back in Zombieland 2: Double Tap. October is a busy month with Allman Halloween Group so here is a chance to take a little break and expect more of the same from this cast of zombie-fighting characters. And since it’s been 15 years since The Devil’s Rejects, it’s time for a sequel there, too. Rob Zombie returns his favorite leading lady to the screen in 3 From Hell. I didn’t find a plot summary but really, do we need one?

 

November

God bless Stephen King for making a film with a November release. Just about the time I should be taking a break from horror, I am like an alcoholic whose booze has been taken away. Just one little fix this month to get us through.

dr-sleep.jpg

December

There are no movies slated for release after November and only a couple of movies announced with TBD release dates in 2019. Polaroid is celebrating its third year on the list. The Lighthouse, a fantasy horror starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, is in post-production waiting on its release date. December may be a good time to break out the holiday horror. Yes, its a thing and I will guide you through it.

If I count each Into the Dark episode separately, there are 35 films slated for 2019. Down ten from last year so not quite as epic in terms of numbers as 2018, but plenty of horror to keep you entertained. And I expect our streaming partners to put out some more original stuff that never makes it to the preview. Happy 2019, let’s enjoy the planned and unplanned horror together.

Seven Reasons Why Netflix's Bird Box Isn’t the Worst Horror Movie Ever

Bird_box_poster.png

Netflix took the Holidays by storm with its original horror film Bird Box.  With superstar Sandra Bullock in the lead role, the film’s propaganda put it somewhere between a suspenseful post-apocalyptic thriller and a ripoff from last year’s blockbuster hit, A Quiet Place. Audiences are divided over the film’s status where the Rotten Tomatoes poll shows “suspenseful masterpiece” trailing just a few percentage points behind “scare free mess.” Take the poll yourself and see where it is today.

blob

For my part, a horror movie during Christmas season sounds like a damn fine way to kick back and relax just before resolution season. And with Netflix being hit or miss lately, I expected a next step in a “Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil” progression. I quite frankly don’t give a rip whether the idea was taken from a previous film. In the horror genre, there are few original concepts.  There is always evil and it is either real, imagined, or supernatural. Movies that elevate the genre by taking old themes to new levels are just fine by me. So if Bird Box can show A Quiet Place just how suspenseful and resolute a sensory deprivation film can be, then I am all in.

But they didn’t. Or rather Bullock, the film’s producer, did not. But instead of having a discussion of which film did it better, let’s honor the forty-something percent of viewers who loved the movie and talk about why Bird Box is not the worst horror film ever.

bird_box_river.png
  1. It deserved a second look. I watched Bird Box twice in one month. I never watch a horror film a second time if it really sucks. Well, maybe I would watch it again if I was, say, held down and had my eyes pried open. Coincidentally, that happens in Bird Box. Try that sometime. Hold an adult person against their will restrained and simultaneously hold both of their eyes open long enough for them to fall victim to the Medusa-like curse. Just one of many plot holes in a movie that almost dares you to roll your eyes - open or closed.

  2. It doesn’t cheat you out of plot holes. I’ve found myself consulting the “movie explained” articles and videos with increasing frequency after I’ve watched a film and said, “huh?” These nuggets are great at filling in plot holes even if sometimes they are made up fills. Bird Box has been criticized for such things as Bullock’s post-apocalyptic hair, make-up and clothes. But what I found missing entirely from the criticism were things like the availability of clean water, food, medical care, and, oh, the infrastructure required for a working GPS. Cited as one of the best scenes from the movie, did the survivors make a routine out of the dangerous grocery runs for 5 years or, since they had GPS, maybe they also had Amazon deliver the mountains of diapers they would have needed in the first three years.

  3. It has adorable kids that give us something to cheer for. A lot of moms who uncharacteristically watched this “horror” movie reported suspense when the children were in danger. That’s really important here because the characters in this film are so uninteresting we don’t much care about them. Kids are an exception. Everybody cares about kids. So what suspense this movie did have was because of the kids. And speaking of kids, where are they? I mean in the beginning. Rewind back to the first scene and ask yourself, “Where are the children?”  The evil made people kill themselves in horrible ways but what happened to the children? Did they succumb to slow death in the absence of caretakers? For all the moms who sat on the edge of their seats when the boat overturned on the river, here was some real potential for suspense. What happened to the children?

  4. It has John Malkovich. If you haven’t seen Burn After Reading, Being John Malkovich or The Shadow of the Vampire, then skip the next Netflix film and watch those movies instead. Malkovich is a great actor who stands out in this cast of mostly uninteresting characters. He is the survivor you want to hate but his ruthlessness feels like it may be important to the plot. Unfortunately, they take him out early in the film and we are left with Bullock’s over the top, almost comical portrayal of a wanna be tough woman so disconnected from human contact that she won’t name her children. Malkovich’s character would steal the show and I submit that he had to be eliminated so as not to overshadow the heroine that we just don’t care about.

  5. Horror fans love post-apocalyptic childbirth. So you can forgive the producer for double-downing on that concept here even though it turned out to be the worst scene in the movie. Even without Emily Blunt’s stunning performance in A Quiet Place, building more suspense with a single scream than all of the contrived scenes in Bird Box, the synchronized childbirth scene was awful. It was almost as if Bird Box was trying to make their scene as noisy and ridiculous as Blunt’s was quiet and brilliant. No wonder somebody jumped out the window. 

  6. The film has a lot of potential. What if the producers had focused on the title of the film and figured the bird box more prominently in the plot? What if the survivors learned early on that the birds sensed danger and could alert them of its presence. And what if they developed a theory that blind people are inherently exposed to unseen danger and surround themselves with birds as an alert system. And what if we go back to the missing children and instead of fast-forwarding five years with four characters, we focus on original survivors who, while caring for newborns, realize that children cannot kill themselves and use the bird box, GPS, and everything else that is a stretch in this film to locate the children and get everyone intentionally to the safety of a blind community. Because people smart enough and ruthless enough to survive for 5 years would have already figured that out.

  7. The Happening may be the worst horror film ever.  So by definition, Bird Box is not. For everyone who compared Bird Box to A Quiet Place and suggested the latter stole the concept (the book on which Bird Box is based was published in 2014), remember that M. Night Shyamalan did all of this back in 2008. I can see why you might have missed it – I missed it. And here again we have another reason to like Bird Box - it made me watch The Happening and The Happening made me appreciate Bird Box. The Happening is awful and you will have to hold me down, inject me with drugs, and staple my eyelids open to make me watch it again.

At the end of the day, I am fully on board with social media that suggests the best part about Bird Box is the memes. A dull plot with a cast of uninteresting survivors led by a woman barking out orders like R. Lee Ermey made my head hurt. Netflix can do better (watch The Haunting of Hill House). Bullock can do better (watch 28 Days). Malkovich didn’t get a chance to do better. And for all the time I spend watching horror movies, I will do better by dropping Bird Box in the recycle bin with two Netflix flops from last year: The Open House and Hold the Dark.  I will save a little room in the bin for Netflix’s upcoming film, IO, just in case the pre-release reviews are right.

2018 Moviefest Week 4+ Finale

haunting-of-hill-house.jpg

It might look like the last week and a half of moviefest has only 15 titles, but if you look closely you will see that one is a television series. The Haunting of Hill House is a Netflix original series that released on October 12. I left this off the moviefest calendar for the simple reason that the schedule was set by September 30 and I assumed this series would release one weekly episode at a time. But all 10 episodes were immediately available and I had some sleepless nights on my hands thanks to a general tendency towards insomnia and a poorly timed case of bronchitis.

The Haunting of Hill House includes the same characters and haunted history as the 1963 film The Haunting and its 1999 remake. Masterfully cast with Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas playing older and younger versions of Hugh Crane, and Elizabeth Reaser as Shirly Crain with her co-star from Ouija: Origin of Evil playing her younger self. Carla Gugino, who you may remember as the dutiful wife in Gerald’s Game, plays Olivia Crain while co-star Kate Siegel, who also appeared in Gerald’s Game and Ouija: Origin of Evil, plays the adult version of Theo. Siegel also starred in Hush and had a small role in Oculus while Lulu Wilson starred in Annabelle: Creation. Those were just connections to other horror that I made while watching the film. The all-star cast brings us nightmares from the haunted house in a series that is terrifying from the first episode to the last. It is a must-see that nearly earned the coveted 5-skull rating but for the last half of the final episode. There is some family controversy surrounding this episode and whether it cost a skull or made it the best horror series ever. You decide. The Haunting of Hill House is so good and so terrifying that it should take a place at the top of your horror bingefest any time of the year.

And since I have always been a fan of the 1999 remake of The Haunting with its own all-star cast, I squeezed it in after finishing the series to enjoy a different take on the same story. I think I like it even more now.

In the Mouth of Madness is part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, so named for the bleak endings of the films’ characters. The Thing and Prince of Darkness round out the trilogy. In the Mouth of Madness centers around the disappearance of horror novelist Sutter Caine, a character based on Carpenter’s friend, Stephen King. In addition to references to King and his New England roots, there are plenty of references to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, including the film’s title. Fans of Lovecraft will enjoy this creepy journey through somebody’s nightmare, a 1994 cult favorite that you may have missed until now.

IntheMouthofMadness.jpg
endless3.png

The Endless is a new film about two brothers who escaped a UFO death cult but return a decade later seeking answers. This is a film that crosses genres and I had decided it did not belong on a horror list until the real fun starts to happen. The plot is original and while it seems like it moves a tad slowly in the beginning, it is never boring with a twist that I didn’t see coming. Don’t confuse this film with a one-man film by the same name written, directed and starring Mason Guevara. That one isn’t on any of my lists.

Honorable mention this week to Insidious: The Last Key for being the 4th film in the Insidious series and not sucking. The first two Insidious films are amazing, each as good as the other. And while the last two are lesser stories by comparison, they are decent movies that fill in some of the ghost hunter history with new horrors from the further. The only real criticism I have is that the chronology of the films goes back in time while Lin Shaye gets older. I hope they don’t come back for another sequel – The Conjuring universe failed miserably on its 5th try – but it seems that bad horror movies sell so we’ll see what the future brings.

insidious-last-key-a.jpg
hereditary-house.jpg

Hereditary made its debut in this year’s moviefest. Extensively reviewed in a previous post, it was just as good if not better the second time as it was in the theater. Thank you, Toni Collette.

The last two new films this week include Ghost Stories, an anthology of three unexplained cases of the supernatural that you will want to go back and watch as soon as you finish to fill in what you missed. Partly because this film is very British and the dialogue can be tricky to make out. And partly to see if you can spot where the film is going before it does. The movie got mixed reviews – from very boring to very British. I agree with the latter and really enjoyed the psychological slow burn but you have to like that sort of thing. I do. 

28 Weeks Later is new to the line-up and I gave it two skulls, which is maybe ½ skull more than it deserved in honor of its awesome predecessor. You can argue that people turned into zombie-like flesh eaters because of a lab experiment gone wrong is so far fetched that separated family members finding each other in a huge mass of homicidal confusion can’t be that much of a stretch. But it took the sequel just a step too far for me. Combined with the ridiculous scenario of a military operation allowing a known infected patient into the safe zone after 28 weeks of what can only be described as an apocalyptic cleansing, and I’m out. The action in this movie is a repeat of the first film - there is nothing new here beyond a weak attempt at a family reunion.

Tales from the Crypt (a nightmare from my childhood), Scream, Ouija: Origin of Evil (still terrifying), The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity, and It complete the season. I think I’ve seen It seven or eight times since it came out last year. I will probably put it on the Holiday horror list.

You heard me. Holiday horror.

Final tally for 2018: 45 movies and one television series in 31 days. Nineteen films on the moviefest this year, not bad. I would venture a guess that is close to 100 hours of movies then then I might be suggesting 20% of my waking hours spent at this ghostly hobby. It’s always fun to keep track of what is really scary.

2018 Moviefest Week 3

The third quarter of this year’s moviefest included a trip to the theater to see Halloween 2018 on opening weekend. I might be warming up to this movie theater thing now that my minimum standard is a reclining seat in the XD theater with a full buffet of snacks in the lobby.

halloween-2018-b.jpg

I officially gave this movie a skull rating range. Cheating? Perhaps. But eight of us piled into the theater on a Saturday afternoon and as we debriefed over dinner, our reviews ranged from 2½ skulls to 4½ skulls so that’s my rating for now. Let’s say that Halloween delivers on its slasher roots, though more in the spirit of Zombie’s Halloween than the 1978 version. And with some comedic elements that I thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully all of that gets you off your butt and to the theater to see this movie on your terms while it’s still Halloween season, and you can make up your own mind. I will post a review after Halloween.

A new Netflix original started off this week’s moviefest. Apostle stars Dan Stephens, a British actor known for his work in Downton Abbey and reason enough to watch this film. Stephens plays the brother of a woman kidnapped by a religious cult living on an isolated island in the early 20th century. This is a film that relies not on monsters or ghosts to build fear, but on the brutality that human beings inflict on each other in the name of religion, power, or revenge. Be prepared for some medieval torture that is disturbing at times, and a dialogue that is occasionally difficult to understand with the heavy British accents. I thought this film ran a little too long, but stay for an ending that you probably won’t see coming.

apostle-a.jpg

Google a list of the most terrifying horror films and you will find The Babadook. I had started this film in years past but never sat down to watch the entire thing until now. There is a lot of high-pitched screaming and while it gives the movie its character, it can be hard on the ears. This movie definitely has my vote for the creepiest kid in cinema. Haley Joel Osment executed a brilliant performance of dead people sightings in The Sixth Sense, but Noah Wiseman’s terror in The Babadook is palpable. His screams accelerate his mother’s descent into her own madness and give you the sense that this really is a cursed family. The Babadook lives up to its hype and deserves a spot in your yearly moviefest, just don’t watch it when you’re in the mood for a quiet, slow burn.

mom-and-dad.jpg

 Got kids? Ever said to yourself “I’d kill my kid if he did . . .”? Then Mom and Dad might be for you. In zombie apocalypse fashion, meaning plenty of blood and guts, a strange virus causes parents to track down and take out their kids. Not other peoples’ kids, just their own. Nicholas Cage dons his best psycho persona for this film that is so full of ridiculous gore you forget it’s about kids. This is a relatively short movie with an opening scene that is pretty intense – if you’re still watching after that, stick it out to the end.

The remaining films this week are recommended repeats, starting with Trick ‘r Treat. If the original Halloween from 1978 defines the season, then Trick ‘r Treat stands at its right hand. A brilliant anthology of four intertwining tales that occur on Halloween night, Trick ‘r Treat always puts me in the Halloween mood. Not that I ever need to be put in the Halloween mood. Watch the R rating, there is nudity and language here along with the requisite blood and guts.

 The Mine (aka Abandoned Mine) is a movie filmed in my home state of Utah that takes place on Halloween. Two boxes checked, it is a fun if not cliché tale of a high school Halloween dare. Spend the night in a graveyard, a haunted house, or in this case, an abandoned mine. Is the mine really haunted or is it a prank to scare their friends? Ethan is a hoot and lends a comedic tone to this film that isn’t the most awesome horror movie, but entertaining enough.

Conjuring 2, The Bye Bye Man, and Ouija round out the reruns and bring on the home stretch. Which is upon us since this update is really, really late. Happy Halloween if I don’t see you before then…

Halloween Traditions We Need To Stop Having

Halloween has the best traditions: creative costumes, trick-or-treating for candy door to door, crazy horror films, and scaring kids who come to your house. The last one may be just me, but if you want my fun-size, you gotta have the gumption.

It's too bad the years have allowed some traditions to destroy all that childhood wonder I still have in my ancient heart. As you gear up for your Halloween, consider dumping parental paranoia, and lousy shows that ruin the fun of the season. Here are some traditions we can live without.

Stranger Danger Alarmism

Stranger abductions have a nearly zero percent chance of occurring, and yet we have made society completely paranoid over it. With the aid of mainstream media and their audience whoring, stranger danger changed us from people who can rely on the kindness of strangers to people scared to death of it.

Strangers out to harm you in every imaginable way is a core theological principle of soccer mom cultists. Failure to follow their warnings will produce mommy moral outrage, and even intervention by police and child protective services. This has become so ridiculous that states are now having to pass laws to legalize "free-range parenting", or what pre-1990 parents called, "parenting".  It's time to call bullshit with the largest bison available.

That'll work.

That'll work.

During Halloween, stranger danger alarmists scream an air raid siren of warnings to every helicopter parent. A good portion of society is now convinced that every neighbor, known and unknown, is secretly part of an abduction syndicate that operates only on the 31st of October.

I prefer to answer these claims by relying on statistics. Unfortunately, recent experiences have proven that numbers don't matter to those convinced of their own moral superiority. Suffice it to say that child abductions by strangers are extremely rare and are non-existent on Halloween. Those that abduct and harm children are known to the children. It’s your family and friends, not the strangers, you have to watch closely.

The idea that strangers are lurking everywhere to take your child is a groundless paranoia. The biggest risk to children on Halloween is pedestrian accidents which is also one of the biggest risks during the rest of the year.

Admittedly, a miniscule, infinitesimal, Higgs-Boson sized risk of stranger abduction on Halloween exists. Nobody wants to go through the torture of losing a kid. So moderate, reasonable precautions make sense'; like having kids go out in groups. Things kids already do for the fun of it.

Hovering over kids, convinced that some guy has spotted the number of kid stickers on the back of your SUV and is ready to leap out of a hedge and snatch them suggests a mental disorder, not good parenting. Don't believe me? I'll defer to  to LetGrow.org and hope others will discover reasoning enough to unpucker their overprotective rectum from now till November 1st.

Tainted Treat Hysteria

There is no better home for Halloween than my Sorceressister's mountain estate. Her decorations are spectacular. Last year it included a Pirates of the Caribbean set complete with sailboat and skeletal swashbucklers. This year is covers both her front and back yards. It’s a wonderful spectacle, but that’s not even the best part. 

Her crowning achievements are miniature cupcakes with a perfect frosting that she gives to trick-or-treaters from the tray. Yeah, you heard me, homemade, unwrapped, and given to children on Halloween.

Are you impressed at her devotion to her craft and her generosity? Nope. You're thinking "She's drugging the kids!!”

You can almost taste the Evil

You can almost taste the Evil

In spite of the fact that we live in a time of unprecedented safety for us and our children, we still believe the ridiculous. We have convinced ourselves that no normal minded person would make a treat completely from scratch, with a flavor that warrants its own cake making reality show, and give it to children on Halloween. That is, unless they were trying to turn the children into junkies. 

Does any of this make any sense? Bake and give away homemade desserts any other time and you are Martha Stewart's cellmate fantasy. Do it on Halloween and you're Jigsaw in an apron.

Year after year I received PTA produced warnings about the risk of unwrapped treats. I've been told they're baked with marijuana, laced with LSD, and sprinkled with Ecstasy.

Kinda like this

Kinda like this

Let's be honest, if even a small percentage of this happened, there would be a lot more teenage trick-or-treaters on the street. I live in a state where marijuana is unlawful in either recreational or medicinal forms. If I thought it was out there for the cost of ringing a doorbell, I'd be in costume and hunting for unwrapped treats by Two O'clock in the afternoon. It's not like I don't already have a She-Ra costume in the closet for special occasions.

Do you have any marijuanas?

Do you have any marijuanas?

I try to avoid conspiracy theories, but I have one. I really think that the whole unwrapped candy scare must have been fabricated by M&M/Mars or Nestle'.  I say that with complete admiration for guerilla marketing tactics. If they didn't start this, they really ought to find the person who did and put them on the board of directors.

Much like stranger danger, tainted treat fears lack any real foundation in fact. Investigators into these myths have found that of all the reports, only one was verified. The culprit was the child’s father who was looking for a some lawsuit money. The remaining were hoaxes started mostly by kids wanting attention. So, the little cretins that you’re trying to protect the the actual problem.

Trunk Or Treats

Stranger Danger and Tainted Treats have given rise to the lamest of Halloween traditions. The trunk or treat. If this is unfamiliar to you, I will explain it and resist using green text to reflect my envy. 

Since scaredy parents equate Halloween with The Purge, church groups and community centers started to have all the neighborhood parents park their cars in a parking lot. They then let the kids pick up the candy as the adults distributed it from their trunks. Rather than letting kids roam freely and have adventures exploring the neighborhood, adults march them a few steps from car trunk to car trunk like they're shopping for pirated DVDs. Ten minutes later, the kids have all their trunk candy and mom makes it home without missing her episode of The Bachelor.

Trunk or treats always start out as being hugely festive with lavishly decorated cars and other activities, but the next year, it's just about getting kids the candy as fast as they can and getting out of there.

What a Trunk or treat ultimately resembles

What a Trunk or treat ultimately resembles

Similar events are mall based trick or treats because we somehow believe that the shirtless guy at Abercrombie & Fitch is safer than your next door neighbor.

This takes all the fun out of Halloween while parents pat themselves on the back for keeping kids safe. Parents are killing a magical time for kids. Not only that, they destroy yet another opportunity for them to learn how to be independent. Maybe safety-above-all parents should start flogging themselves on the back instead. 

Hocus Pocus Marathon Airings

All of the previous entries are somewhat related, but they also have another thing in common. They’re all products of the 1990’s.

We like to think of the 90’s as the era that gave us Kurt Cobain, Seinfeld, and My So-Called Life, and it did. We forget that these were crowded out by a ton of saccharine mediocrity. Grunge music played background to boy-bands. Cutting edge comedy was outnumbered by sitcoms like Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. My So Called Life lasted less than a season even though the serialized drama’s of today are created from the same pattern. Even Saturday Night Live couldn’t make a decent comedy sketch based on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair and that is comedy rich fodder. It was a decade where the public embraced anything that wasn’t special.

It was also the decade that turned parenting into a fear driven industry that resulted in our other entries. It’s was a decade that tried to polish all the dangerous jagged edges from our lives. It was the decade that believed that self-esteem was achieved by shielding kids from failure. It imagined a bland, fat-free, danger-free utopia. It’s no surprise that the pick for the Halloween show of the decade is the absolute wrong one.

1993 produced two Halloween films for kids and family. One was a paradigm shifting, visually stunning, masterpiece of storytelling that also was a musical. The other was a humorless, scare-less, ridiculous story with one gratuitous song that doesn’t compare to the original. Guess which got treated as the Halloween TV event of the year?

Hint: Not this one

Hint: Not this one

Halloween and horror films are the ultimate marriage. If you need a good primer for horror films, the Sorceressister has you covered. Quality isn't even the first requirement where horror films are concerned. Campy horror, quality horror, funny horror, and bad acting with over the top gore horror all tickle the gigglies. And yet, Hocus Pocus fails by every standard.

Hocus Pocus lacks any of this. It piles on the cheese of bad horror without the horror. Its attempts at humor fail every time. Some of the jokes are sexual in nature and still don’t work. All the characters are relentlessly annoying. Not even Bette Midler's requisite song number provides a worthwhile return. It only makes me wish Screamin' Jay Hawkins was still around. It gives so little that one has to ask why it’s considered a holiday classic.

My Character is a wicked, Princess Leia, Beaver

My Character is a wicked, Princess Leia, Beaver

It’s value as a family Halloween classic stems only from the fact that it used to be one of very few films in the genre. It’s the same reason Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer is considered a classic. Rudolph sucks as a kid’s holiday film. Rudolph’s world is a fascist, master race society whose only redemption is when he makes a good headlight. Unfortunately, films like these Rankin-Bass travesties were all kids had. When all you have is Miracle Whip, everything tastes like fake mayonnaise. It would take the Star Wars Holiday Special before somebody realized the whole children’s Christmas movie genre needed some help.

Hocus Pocus benefitted from the same deficit. Your Halloween family viewing consisted of Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. The final two are gems and worthy of being called classics, but they’re hardly enough for the season. So, Hocus Pocus became a Holiday film tradition by default.

Now, like Christmas films, we a much larger library of quality to fill the gap. The Nightmare Before Christmas relaunched a once dead animation style (ironically, the same style that Ruldolph type films killed). This resulted in a studio that has produced the absolute best animation in this decade and it’s all Halloween oriented. It’s not Disney or Pixar either. Seriously, if Laika Studios isn’t familiar to you, I don’t think we can be friends.

Here's a Hint because I really want us to be friends

Here's a Hint because I really want us to be friends

Laika films alone represents 10 hours of quality Halloween films. It’s predecessors, The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, both directed by Laika Studio’s top creative mastermind, make your kid friendly Halloween viewing complete and top quality. I’ll even throw in Halloweentown if Freeform will just stop airing that mascot to everything tragic about the 90’s every day in October.

I know Hocus Pocus is a part of your childhood; that makes be feel bad for your youth. Unless you have Gogurts stockpiled, you’re ready to cut the 90s blandness loose. I know I haven’t bothered watching Rudolph and the Orwellian Conformist North Pole in over a decade.