What’s in store for 2019 Horror?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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  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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

2018 Moviefest Week 2

We roll into half time topping last week’s tally with a dozen movies. Was it a particularly stressful week (some people claim horror movies ease anxiety)? Were the cold temperatures a great excuse to stay inside and binge? Maybe it was a full day in the test kitchen replicating a perfect yellow cupcake and trying a not-so-perfect ganache. Let’s go with all three.

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When my brother-in-arms successfully escaped the extreme haunt, he described The Raimi Effect and specifically the off-balancing scenes that makes Drag Me to Hell one of the greatest horror movies ever. Oops! I hadn’t seen Drag Me to Hell - a fact I kept that to myself before adding it to my Vudu library the minute I got home. Scripted after The Evil Dead series, it was not be made for another 15 or so years. It appears that Raimi got busy.

This film is not listed as a comedy horror but from the beginning you know you are into something reminiscent of the Evil Dead films. The opening scene is frightening, but once the old woman presented at the bank for an extension of her home loan, I didn’t know whether to laugh or recoil. So I did both. I also waited in vain for Bruce Campbell to appear. He did not and in fact, Drag Me to Hell is the only film directed by Raimi that does not include Campbell. It does include the Oldsmobile as well as a cameo of Raimi, see if you can find him.

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I agree with my brother’s description of Rami’s brilliant use of the disturbing in lieu of gore to upset your equilibrium and build fear and suspense. The gypsy woman in the car, and again at the wake, and finally in the grave. Also the goat at the seance and the prospective mother-in-law. I did not think this was the greatest horror film ever, but I agree that combined with The Evil Dead trilogy, it Drag Me to Hell belongs on your annual watchlist.

While this was an unusually bingeful week, most of the films are repeats, a call back to how the moviefest originally began - horror movies as background to busy days in the kitchen. In addition to Drag Me to Hell, first time films include As Above So Below, Malevolent and Rings.

What’s in a name? It turns out - a lot. At least for some people, including me. I admit I had never seen Drag Me to Hell before because of the name. Ditto for As Above So Below. All I did was cheat myself out of a couple of good films until now. If you have even the slightest amount of claustrophobia or fear of getting lost with no hope of being found, As Above will kick that up a notch with a plot out of Dante’s Inferno through the catacombs beneath Paris. I caught myself taking lots of deep breaths along with a sunshine break.

Malevolent is a Netflix original that, in my opinion, could have been so much more. A team of fake ghost hunters find themselves in over their heads when they are hired to investigate a haunted house. In contrast to The Open House, Malevolent at least has a plot even if it isn’t all that original. What this movie lacked in character development it made up for with some cheap jump scares and disturbing gore. It’s too bad because you sense that Angela might actually have a gift, that there is something more going on with the Jackson family, and that there is a real story behind the haunted orphanage.

Rings, on the other hand, is simply the sequel after the sequel. Enough said. Watch it if you want to see The Ring again, but with lesser characters attempting to tell a new story that is really a failed attempt to resurrect the old plot. For me, the best part about the movie was the poster.

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If I had stopped at 7 movies in 7 days, then I would have kept up with around a record of half new films, but what’s the fun in that? The week started with Kubrick’s version of The Shining, a film I have a love/hate relationship with. Lately I am more love than hate, but the ending steals a bit of my soul every time I see it. I can get past everything else, and I have, but I still have not reconciled the final scene.

Favorite all stars this week included The Omen, Oculus, 1408, and The Conjuring which, 5 years after it was released, still holds the honor of the scariest film I have seen. Close seconds are Constantine and Mine Games, a film that I happily get lost in as I see something new every time. Insidious 3 rounded out the reruns. Far from being an all star, it is a prequel after the sequel that actually holds up.

Check back for a review of Halloween as the Allmans take a rare trip to the theater on opening weekend.

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Extreme Haunting Part II - The Raimi Effect

While I was in the second round of the extreme haunt, I saw another extremist on his fourth round. Not me. I made the decision that I would just head straight for the door upon exiting the second round. Which I did on a run.

I had had enough of this and didn't care if I ran away like a coward to the laughter of the staff. Yet, for all the unpleasantries, I knew it could have been much worse. This is an expression of gratitude, not a challenge. Asylum 49 injured my defenses, but they didn't destroy me emotionally. This is a good thing, but within this restraint exists a fatal flaw with all extreme haunts.

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Among the critics of extreme haunts are other haunters, both professionals and amateurs. Their unique criticism among the others is that extreme haunts lack any craft. Skills like prop making or makeup & prosthetics don't exist in extreme haunts. Instead, they resort to the lowest levels of hackery to get their scares. It destroys the true spirit of the haunting season.

Extreme haunters counter-argue that for all the craft of props, costumes, and makeup, they lack authenticity and fail to truly bring the fear out of people. They assert that they are trying to get to the primal emotion of fear to a more pure and evocative experience.

Both positions are based on the same false premise that impacts the value of this debate. Both assume that the extreme haunt is a means to its own end. Even though I was taken to private areas and treated differently, I traveled the same haunt path as non-extremist attendees. It seems clear to me that none of the haunters realized the truth of what happened to me between the times when I was further broken down.

My fear had become heightened such that even the more mild parts of the haunt and the less convincing cast members made me nervous. Their efforts to break me also made the haunt more terrifying. They enhanced the impact of the traditional haunt while I journeyed to the next extreme experience. This is revelatory. You can make a haunt stronger by impacting the emotional stability of the attendee. It's an experience can be best termed as The Raimi Effect.

Sam Raimi is the master of horror. His Evil Dead trilogy was once seen as a collection of cult classics. Now they are revered as horror classics. I love the trilogy and it is part of my Halloween must-see list. But for my money, Drag Me To Hell is his finest work and the best horror film ever.

What makes this movie work so well as a horror is how well is disturbs your equilibrium before it wrecks you with fear. Many of the scenes have aspects of horror, but instead of using blood and gore, he uses other disturbing things like the two wrestling matches with the gypsy woman; one before she's a corpse and one afterward.

These scenes may appear as gratuitous gross-outs, but they serve a specific purpose. They break your defenses. The eww factor reduces the blood flow to the brain as queasiness awakens in your stomach. The jump scares become jumpier and the horror more emotional.

Any scene that can screw up your steadiness in horror is a success for follow-up scares: watching Nicholson make out with an old rotting corpse, a close up of a needle, even the permanent smile on a clown doll. The most common, of course, is gore.

Raimi tried other aspects of this before. The Evil Dead used the tree rape scene to similar effect. In The Evil Dead 2, things like the eyeball projectile set you off balance. But in Drag Me To Hell, Raimi reaches full genius. Allison Loman battles the gypsy's hair pulling, slobbery dentures, and fluid ejection all of which grosses you out and sets you up for the horror payoffs. There’s a lot to learn from Raimi’s work when establishing an haunt.

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Extreme haunts view your emotional destruction a success unto itself. They're wrong. Emotional damage alone is incomplete. Emotional damage makes the rest of the haunt more effective. Leaving them in a fragile emotional state without providing some aspects of a traditional haunt is a half-baked beef wellington.

Imagine a haunt where after being destabilized, you're now walking alone in a near full blackout, maze-like structure. It doesn't even have to be a maze. The narrow corridor with it's sudden and invisible right angle turns would be enough to convince the nearly panicked attendee that he is lost in a maze without one even being there.

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Envision a room where the breaking extremist is now seated on a bench opposite a person also marked for the extreme haunt, but hasn't been through yet. The opposite and inexperienced extremist would be nervous, and sympathetic to the breaking one. This would put the breaking extremist at ease. When they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable and the breaking extremist feels relief, he learns in the worst ways possible that the opposite and inexperienced extremist is nothing of the sort, but another part of the haunt.

Comparing haunt experiences to film horror can help, but there is a major difference between the two. Film relies on the suspension of disbelief; acceptance the film’s universe is the investment. Having that universe deliver emotional returns is the payoff. Haunters don't use the suspension of disbelief. They attempt to make the unbelievable believable. This is a much greater challenge.

Haunters also use strong audience control by creating haunt paths that enable deceptions for effective jump scares. They pursue graphic realism. They put forth tremendous efforts to create the belief of fearful things that are otherwise unbelievable. Extreme haunting pushes boundaries and makes plausible, what might otherwise be incredulous. Extreme haunts up the paranoia and reduce the disbelief.

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Haunters can exploit these changes in perception along with the mental and emotional fatigue to employ fear-inducing deceptions and surprise with much greater effect. A person covered in whatever they believe is on them, who has undergone intimidation accepts a new normalized world before they entered. This person can accept the more of what is happening around them as real. This increases the power of the haunt experience for the extremist. It may even mean that extreme haunting may not need to be so extreme and that employing some of these with full contact haunts may be enough for most without the extreme experience. This way, all who seek either haunt experience may be brought to this greater level of fear. The haunter must first begin by accepting the premise that the extreme haunt is not an end unto itself before any of this can succeed.

Extreme Haunting Part I - Ghost Peppers

Just a few weeks after my overnight stay and ghost hunt, I returned once again to the Asylum 49. A combination of the haunt and a family reunion brought me back with a dozen others in tow. As unluck would have it, it was also Extreme Haunt night.

Asylum 49 already embraces a full contact haunt and is a pioneer in this area. One signs a waiver essentially stating you can be touched but you cannot touch back. Full contact makes many less willing to attend. For others, interactivity adds a dimension beyond passive viewing and gives them the feeling they are the cast of a horror film and not just viewing it on screen. Done correctly, the experience is more frightening and entertaining.

Extreme haunts are a whole other level of interactivity; one that exceeds normal bounds of moderation. One that many consider abusive and shouldn't exist. They have a point. Extreme haunts attempt to destroy ones mental defenses by different means that, without a strong and certain waiver, would be grounds for a civil, if not a criminal action. My research already judged them to be a negative thing. I made this clear when asked if I would opt for this experience instead of the regular experience. I guess bad press doesn't exist for things like this.

My existing bias notwithstanding, my incessant curiosity that helps me to be ever learning and often in trouble has a dangerous power over me. I already had a near 100 percent certainty that I would not enjoy this. I forgot that I would also have a matching uncertainty about my ability to endure the experience. This ultimately brought me with much hesitation to agree to the experience.

I like to rate haunts using the Scoville scale as they do for peppers. The higher the Scoville, the greater the intensity. The reason why is that with peppers, you give up something in the overall flavor of the food with each increase in Scovilles. If all you have is heat, you get little in the way of a positive dining experience. Likewise, the more intensely the haunt tries to break down your defenses, the more it gives up in the overall entertainment.

My tolerance for both peppers and haunts rank on the low to moderate range of Scovilles. I do not require a Ghost Pepper to enjoy spicy heat or spooky haunts. Fortunately for me, by the time we got to Asylum 49 they had sold out of the Extreme Haunt experiences. I was let off the hook to enjoy a milder and more entertaining haunt; a red chile mixed with a little jalapeno in terms of Scovilles.

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Unfortunately for me, I know a guy, or more accurately, a guy knows me. So when I approached the entrance without the extreme option, I was asked why and explained the sellout. Two minutes later, I had the extreme ticket in my hand and was about to experience the Ghost Pepper of haunts (not to be confused with Pepper’s Ghost in haunts).

My guy looked at me not with a sense of satisfaction, but of mischief. He was the photographer of the event; I'm sure he "assisted" me out of pure self-interest.

With no excuse, pressuring curiosity, and a belief that whatever I experienced, I would not be physically injured, I donned the extreme ticket, a large shirt with a giant "X" on the front and back. As I stood there dressed in my shirt, I was reminded of a classic Gary Larson cartoon.

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I have only heard stories of unconditioned people attempting to eat a Ghost Pepper. The endings range from blisters to days of sickness, to hospitalization. They all have one theme: regret. From the moment I entered the extreme experience, I was convinced I made a mistake; a feeling usually reserved for bridge jumpers.

My entrance was met with a "greeting" from Dr. Fear. A large, strong and wholly intimidating character for anybody that doesn't own a UFC championship belt. He is both the mascot for Asylum 49 and it's most fear-inducing character.

In a normal haunt, if Dr. Fear physically handled me like this I would start to laugh a nervous laugh and might even respond sarcastically to the in-your-face shoutings he uses to immediately put you off-balance. At this moment, I knew that such a response will only increase whatever lies ahead.

It began with a stay in a bathroom that smelled and looked like literal shit (sorry, but hygienic terms like "fecal matter" don't work here). A latex prop may be easy to overlook, but the smell offends your senses whether it comes from a chemistry set or a more organic source. I sat on an unflushed toilet being yelled at for the existing mess. I was ordered to mop up the place which I did just to quit sitting on a disgusting seat.

The mop was sticky, as was the tub I was forced to lie in where a frat house hazing ritual ensued. Whatever they painted on me was also sticky and before long I was worried about my eyes getting stuck closed during a blink.

This process continued and repeated itself: getting shouted at, getting punished, getting sticky. The substances included lots and lots of blood. It may not be actual blood, at least I hope it wasn't, but the discomfort of the experience lingered in my mind and on my skin. Before long, it didn't matter if their coatings were real or not. It mattered that it was injuring my stability.

In between coatings were other experiences. One was upsetting in the Dr. Frankenfurter way. Others were CIA inspired. I stood in the cold rain on multiple occasions. I was physically handled in ways I would normally not accept without handcuffs and the reading of my rights.

By the time I made it through the haunt I was ready to call it quits. I came out to the laughter of family members who immediately wanted to know what it was like. I found it difficult to describe. The words I wouldn't use include fun, cool, or must-try. Extreme haunts aren't for everyone and I question whether they're for anyone.

Trying to get my thoughts together while still in the lobby of Asylum 49 was a mistake. Here, you risk getting pulled back in if you stick around. An unknown creature accosted me and dragged me back into the haunt. They subjected me to more of the same, but they upped the intensity. They also did some new things they didn't do before. I didn't appreciate the novelty.

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I had one saving grace. I spent some spare time this year studying and practicing mindfulness and meditation. I didn't even consider it the first time through, but this time I started to focus on tools used in integrative medicine to manage pain and anxiety. It's the first time I ever felt the need to use it for this purpose. It helped me keep it together, but I knew that my faculties were still being chipped away.

Something else happened between the abuses I endured. The walkthrough used the same path as the regular haunt and so I saw the same attractions. Things that would have been mildly frightening and entertaining normally, were now scaring me. Anything that popped-out unexpectedly created skips in my heart. Cast characters that approached me made me nervous. Even attendees who accidentally bumped into me saw me respond with my hands up and fight or flight ready to fire. I had become more fragile and reactive.

The exit came a second time and I now looked like a Stephen King prom queen. If I had the same abilities, tales of a burning haunted attraction and unconfirmed deaths would have been the top news story that evening. I was exhausted, wet, sticky, grossed-out, and breaking, but not fully broken. I experienced actual pain and actual panic. I could have handled more, but my curiosity was beyond satiated, and my belief that I would not enjoy this was more than confirmed.

Editor note: Subject fled too fast to get photo after second round. He looked much worse than this first round photo shows.

Editor note: Subject fled too fast to get photo after second round. He looked much worse than this first round photo shows.

This time when I reached the exit, I went straight past the family to get beyond the boundaries of the hospital. As I passed the family I heard one of them say, "He's coming for you." I responded with a run. I was in complete "F*ck This" mode.

I remained in that mode till I got home where I took a hot shower, followed by a long bath, and ended by binge-watching Hallmark Christmas Specials.

I can't say that this type of haunt is patently wrong even though others were saying it for me. I didn't enjoy it, but I couldn't stop talking about it. Others wanted to know how it was and I had to share. Whether it was for therapy or attention I couldn't say. I know that I cannot recommend this to others, but I also know that a small segment of people being advised to stay away will do the opposite. They'll see my non-endorsement as a challenge and that's the point.

To that end, the extreme haunters succeeded. But as I now think about it, the success is incomplete. For all of the efforts made to break me emotionally, I actually think they waste a rare opportunity to do something truly special.