Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Sanford S. Pupkins!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Final Fifteen

 Some rights reserved by regan76 of Flickr
I've been feeling a little exhausted lately. I meant to post a 31 Days of October list way back at the beginning of the month, but I am a lazy bum and didn't get around to writing it. So I'm going to just say fuck convention and provide you my suggestions for the last fifteen days in October starting with TODAY.

If you've been doing the 31 Days of October, you're approaching the final stretch. You've almost made it. You're halfway through. So here are some things to get you through those last 15 days.

October 17th: Sleepaway Camp

If you're any sort of horror fan, you very likely already watched a Friday the 13th movie on October 13th--I was lucky enough to attend a drive-in double feature of the originals: Friday the 13th and Halloween. (If that's not the case, swap this one out for Friday the 13th Part 2. Not only is that the first one with Jason as the killer, but it features a cast that's decently memorable. Part 3 may be the first one where Jason gets his hockey mask, but it also features the horrible character Shelley.)

Anyway, why Sleepaway Camp? The movie is definitely hella problematic, but what I find interesting about the movie is not the final twist that everyone always talks about. At least, not the way everyone else seems to think of the twist. It may help that I knew it going in, and that made my reading of the movie much, much different. I would make the argument that the movie is much more interesting to watch knowing the twist, too, so I'm going to spoil it. You probably already know the twist, but just in case you care, here's your warning.


The killer, who is referred to as "Angela" throughout the movie, turns out to have a penis. This is usually the thing everyone hangs up on, and I suppose it is a very shocking twist in a heteronormative and gender binary view of the world. It's majorly problematic falling into a long, historical trope of trans people, or people coded trans, being dangerous, violent killers--Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, etc. Not only that, but the movie reveals that "Angela" was born Peter, and that Peter has been forced to live as a girl throughout their life by their Aunt Martha because she always wanted a daughter.

So why recommend such a super transphobic movie?

Well, for one, because it's basically a Friday the 13th ripoff, and I feel like a horror movie marathon should include at least one classic slasher. However, for another, because this movie was made in 1983, nobody at the time, especially in the mainstream crowd, had much of an understanding of sexuality. Many portrayals in movies conflate gay men that dress in drag with trans folks. Even gay folks at the time didn't really understand trans folks. It was a concept still very much in its infancy, as seen in the documentary Paris is Burning. But because of that, and because of the ambiguous nature of the film, you're left wondering if Angela identifies as a woman, or if their just being forced into the part like the movie implies.

I would argue Angela DOES identify as a woman because she keeps both presenting as a woman and using the name Angela in the two sequels. With that knowledge in mind, Angela becomes incredibly sympathetic, and you actually root for her throughout the film as people are massive dicks to her.


Pick your poison: watch it because it's a classic slasher or because the twist and sequels actually colors the film in a very different way. Either way, worth a watch and a puzzle.

October 18th: The Final Girls

Chase a classic slasher movie with a movie that lampoons that very formula in a very fun way.

The Final Girls follows Max, whose mom is famous for starring in Camp Bloodbath, the fictional slasher movie series in this universe. When her mom dies in a car accident, Max is left grappling with her mother's legacy--her mother resented these movies later in lift, but they're also some of the only things she has left that lets her see her mom and almost be there with her. After a freak accident, Max and her friends wake up in the movie, interacting with the cast from the Camp Bloodbath series, including Max's mom--or at least, her mom's character.

This movie doesn't 100% work as a parody because it's PG-13, and there are a few moments where it feels like the parody aspect gets undercut by that restriction. That's no fault of the writers, as they revealed in an episode of Shock Waves podcast that they wrote it as an R, but the studio eventually came back and asked for rewrites to soften the movie. This doesn't hurt the movie a whole lot, though because this movie has a lot of heart. The story, unlike most slasher movies, is exceptional and touching. Plus, the stuff that it is able to poke fun at, it does very well. The cast is very engaging and very funny.

Would I like an R rated cut of this? Absolutely. But there's a lot here to recommend, some great jokes, a great cast, and a story that's very moving in the end.

October 19th: Absentia

Mike Flanagan has become my favorite modern horror director because his movies are not just scary, but scary good. James Wan may be next level with his ability to wring scares out of nearly every frame of his movies, but Mike Flanagan has heart and soul in his movies. His stories are as moving as they are scary. And he just had Gerald's Game come out on Netflix recently. But I want to take you back to the beginning with his first film.

The movie centers on Tricia, whose husband has been missing for several years. It's been so long, they're going to declare him "dead in absentia," so that she'll finally be able to move on. But one day, he shows up, alive, but somehow different. He seems off. Meanwhile, she also finds herself drawn tot his tunnel near her house, where something strange is going on that might be related to what happened to her husband.

The movie is really good. It's a first film, so if you've seen Flanagan's later works, you'll notice this one is a little rougher, but you'll see Flanagan's great ability with fleshing out characters on full display, as well as his talent at unique scares.

If you're buying the DVD, don't let the terrible box art fool you--this is not your typical Redbox horror movie.

October 20th: Goodnight, Mommy

This is an Austrian horror movie about two boys whose mother has come home after some kind of plastic surgery of some kind. She spends most of the movie with her head bandaged. The boys find her meaner and angrier than they remember, and with her whole face bandaged up, they start to doubt whether she's their real mom after all.

This movie is a slow burn that builds up to a harrowing final act. When it gets going it is a goddamned nightmare. Just thinking about some of the sequences in the final act give me shivers. It's fantastic and gives you a lot to think about regarding the relationship a mother has with her children and how that affects how others perceiver her as a woman as well as how she perceives herself.

October 21st: Coraline

Don't let the tonal shift throw you. I'm dead serious here. Building on the concepts that are explored in Goodnight, Mommy, chase that with a fun stop-motion animated movie from Henry Selick and Laika studios.

Coraline moves into a new house with her mom and dad. It's big. It's old. It's mostly empty. The neighbors are weird. And Coraline is bored. Sadly, her parents are both writers working on projects and are too busy to spend time with Coraline, which leaves her to wandering through the house by herself. One day, she finds a mysterious hidden door that takes her to a strange mirror world where everything appears to be almost the same, but slightly better--her parents are friendlier, the colors are brighter, everything is more fun. Just one weird thing: everyone has buttons for eyes. And Coraline starts to get the feeling that maybe this world seems too good to be true because it is.

Goodnight, Mommy and Coraline both explore parenthood--and especially motherhood--in fascinating ways. Both feature kids demanding more from their parents than their parents feel like they can give, leading to friction in the relationship. And both make you wonder: just what does make someone good mother? And what makes a good kid?

October 21st: Dracula (1931)

Let me get this out of the way up front: Dracula is a little bit dry. It's not paced like a modern movie. But I feel like it's important to check in on the classics periodically, to remind you of not just where horror came from, but movies as an art form.

Plus, this movie creeped me right the fuck out as a kid, and that's due to two things in particular: Bela Legosi's amazing performance as Dracula, and the movie's utter lack of score outside of the opening credits.

In movies from just a few years later, they start using score to tell you how to feel, to underscore dramatic moments. In this movie, though? Nothing. If someone gets bitten, the only thing we hear are the people's gasps as they die. That leaves a hell of an impression on you as a kid.

Plus Renfield is amazing. That man doesn't have much screen time, but by God he gives it his all. And that madman's weird whining laugh followed me into my dreams.

October 22nd: Blacula

Fast forward a few decades to enjoy this amazing 70's classic. A lot of blaxploitation movies are cheesy fun, done on the cheap to cash in on the untapped market of movies targeted specifically for black people. That said, a lot of them weren't what you'd call masterpieces. They were done on the cheap and put out fast. It'd be easy for a movie like Blacula, a movie whose name is an obvious pun, to fall into that. But Blacula manages to be not just entertaining, but a very moving movie that tackles race and slavery in the US.

Prince Mamuwalde, played by the extraordinarily talented William Marshall, goes to visit Dracula to convince him that they should unite together in the UN to force a stop of the slave trade. Dracula, however, doesn't agree and thinks that slavery is totally fine. When Mamuwalde reacts negatively to this, Dracula curses Mamuwalde with vampirism and locks him in a coffin for hundreds of years. A gay couple in the 70's reopens the coffin, unleashing "Blacula" on the American public where his thirst for blood, unquenched for centuries, must be quenched.

This movie is actually very tragic. Unlike Dracula, who is presented as charming, but obviously a villain, Prince Mamuwalde is presented as a very tragic hero. He's been cursed with this thirst that he can't help but quench, he's been ripped out of his own time, and he's lost his wife, all because a white man decided that he wanted to take the black man down and put him in his place.

This is a highly recommended, overlooked classic.

October 23rd: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

This is honestly a modern classic. Tense, tightly paced, unique, and scary as hell.

Cops are investigating a strange case--a houseful of people that appear to have killed each other while simultaneously trying to break out of the house. Suddenly, they find the corpse of a young woman, naked and buried in the floor of the basement. She looks like she's been dead a while. They send her over to a father-son coroner business to look into what's going on with this "Jane Doe." As the autopsy progresses, however, they start finding things that don't make sense, such as wounds inside the body with no scarring on the outside to indicate how they injuries could have occurred. Plus, there are some strange things happening in the morgue itself. And then things go really wrong.

This is a wonderful movie. The first act is super captivating, even before the supernatural stuff begins. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are fantastic, and the process of performing an autopsy is fascinating enough to keep you enthralled for a while. When the spooky stuff starts, you're already invested in these characters. There are quite a few twists and turns that make the movie a wild ride, and it all culminates in a very cool reveal.

October 24th: Pontypool

An interesting take on the zombie genre, this one is about a former shock-jock radio host that has settled down and taken a job as a local radio host in Pontypool, Canada. The soft, boring job of listening to traffic reports doesn't sit well with him, and he keeps trying to push the envelope. Suddenly, he starts receiving calls from the town. People are beginning to act strange. They're starting to get fixated on words. And then they turn violent.

This movie almost entirely takes place in the recording booth of a radio station and still manages to keep the tension ratcheting up higher and higher. Being isolated from the violence and hearing the world crumble outside only through reports from people calling in keeps everything shrouded in a veil of mystery and encroaching dread. And the specifics of the zombie virus are so cool, so different, that you have to see it to really get it.

After you're finished with this one, check out the Faculty of Horror episode about it for extra credit.

October 25th: Fido

Another zombie movie! With somewhat more traditional zombies! But don't let this one fool you. On the surface, it's a fun parody of the zombie genre as filtered through the "a boy and his dog genre." But underneath, it asks some very interesting questions about zombies. Are they human? Do they think? Do they feel? Just what makes us who we are as people? Is it really just memories and genetic make up, or is there something more?

In a world in which zombies have been tamed through obedience collars and used as servants, one boy's family finally gets their first zombie. The boy takes to the zombie quickly, naming him Fido, but things go awry when Fido's collar malfunctions and Fido eats one of the neighbors. Suddenly, they have a rising zombie invasion on their hands that threatens to spiral out of control.

Check this one out for a fun, light-hearted movie. And for Carrie Ann Moss looking gorgeous and being fierce.

October 26th: Killer Klowns From Outer Space

This is just legit on here for something fun late in the game. It's goofy. It's nonsense. It's exactly what it sounds like. Alien clowns land and begin terrorizing a town. All of the expected circus trappings are incorporated as silly and sinister alien technology. The creatures are simultaneously gruesome and scary and goofy and fun. Give it a watch.

October 27th: In the Mouth of Madness

You're hired by the publisher of a famous horror novelist to go collect his very overdue latest book. However, before you even begin your journey, strange things start happening. People are way, way into these books. And when you finally track down the author, you find the lines of what is real and what is only a story begin to blur.

In the Mouth of Madness is a bit dated now because the horror publishing genre is nothing like it was in the late 80s and early 90s. In that way, this movie is very much of its time. However, this movie FUCK ME UP as a kid. You will quickly lose the thread of what is real and what isn't. It is a terrifying roller coaster.

October 28th: Frankenstein (1932)

It's a classic. It's an American classic. A scientist decides to defy the odds and explore what makes us human by gathering together the disparate parts of dead humans and assemble his own person together. By some fluke, it works. The creature lives, but Frankenstein may have got more than he bargained for. He's not really ready to be a father, especially to a giant strong man that can snap you in half like a twig and only has a very rudimentary sense of right and wrong.

You should revisit this one because Universal is trying to reboot their Universal monsters universe into a shared cinematic universe (again). However, what people always miss with these movies is that the monsters are not the real villains. They're victims. They're usually thrust into situations beyond their control and then blamed for the outcomes.

This movie is great. Steeped in German expressionism, with a simultaneously unhinged and sympathetic performance by Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, and a tragic, terrifying performance by Boris Karloff. A classic that still holds up after decades.

October 29th: The Houses October Built

The last three movies I chose are very much steeped in the Halloween spirit. Each tackles things slightly differently.

First, we have a relatively recent movie about a group of people that decide to make a documentary about haunted houses--specifically the sort of arms-race that has developed in recent years as houses try to out-do each other in authenticity, intensity, and scares as these things become more and more popular. They run afoul in one house by taking a camera into the house itself, but once they're back on the road, things start to get back to normal--that is, until they start seeing people from that house pop up in other places. Are they being followed? Or are they just being paranoid? What happens when you continue to be haunted after you've left the haunted house?

Intense and scary, I don't know that this movie is entirely effective examining the thesis it sets out about extreme haunted houses. But it is fun and spooky, and manages to handle the found-footage thing well.

October 30th: Halloween

You may be wondering: why is this on the 30th and not the 31st?

Well, as much as this movie drips Halloween imagery, the holiday doesn't tie into the nitty gritty a whole lot. Yes, Michael seems to have a personal preference for the holiday--and masks--but at its core, it's a movie about a killer stalking teenagers. It just happens to be the perfect movie about a killer stalking teenagers.

The cast is sympathetic and engaging, the killer mysterious and terrifying, the atmosphere moody and spooky. It is a powerhouse of a movie that will leave you wondering when the Boogeyman could come and visit you.

October 31st: Trick 'r Treat

Now this movie is ALL about Halloween. Halloween is baked into this movie's core. Technically an anthology movie, this movie weaves several stories together throughout Halloween night. A group of girls prepare for a Halloween party, someone plans a murder, a group of kids go exploring a haunted graveyard, someone decides not to celebrate Halloween at all...

The reason I described this movie as "technically" an anthology is because it is so expertly woven together that you forget it's separate stories. Characters ebb and flow, popping in and out of stories. It's almost like a dance.

There's something for everyone in this one--werewolves, ghosts, other monsters, and plain old bad people. This is the perfect movie for Halloween night.