Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Nothing is Making Any Sense w/ Levi

Hi, welcome back to another guest edition of Reagan’s Recs. This month’s guest is Levi, a friend who I met in the Leighton Night with Brian Wecht discord server. I very quickly realized that Levi really, really loves movies and is a joy to talk to about them, especially when it comes to Lynch.

So it makes sense that he came up when I was thinking of potential guests for this column. After all, what is this if not a forum to discuss the films we love? Rather than go on and on I’ll instead leave it to Levi, who is very cool and who I love very much. Enjoy!


Hi, my name is Levi. I live a silly little life and I watch a lot of movies. I occasionally like to write about movies, too – I enjoy sharing my opinions and interpretations. I may not be able to promise you elegance, but today I can promise you a hearty dose of bewilderment.

Cinema has a lot of power. It can be used to educate; to inspire; to propagandize. Cinema can tell us a lot about the collective consciousness of a culture or time period. The best thing cinema can do, however, is confuse. Sure, a filmmaker can pour their blood, sweat, and tears into creating a film that will satisfy audiences, or challenge their expectations. But nothing can beat a film that leaves the audience absolutely dumbfounded. 

I love walking away from a movie without a single clue as to what just unfolded. I want to be left to put the pieces together myself. I want to be tossing and turning all night, haunted by the movie’s imagery. I want to be purely perplexed, fully at the will of a filmmaker’s deeply strange vision. Today, lovely readers, I’d like to share with you a small handful of films that fit comfortably under this sprawling umbrella of confounding cinema.


Forbidden Zone (1980) Dir. Richard Elfman

I am endlessly fascinated by the early days of famous Hollywood composer Danny Elfman. While he may be best known for the theme song to The Simpsons, or for his collaborations with Tim Burton, his most consistently overlooked work is his time as the frontman of 80s new wave band Oingo Boingo. Both Elfman and Boingo have their origins in the 1970s Los Angeles theatre troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, formed by Danny’s older brother Richard. They would dress up like clowns, perform Cab Calloway covers and play handmade instruments. It’s cool as heck. 

In the late 70s, Richard Elfman wanted to move on from music to pursue film projects. While passing the theatre troupe onto Danny, he decided to create a film as a sendoff to Mystic Knights, which would be compressed down to a troupe of up to 15 people to an 8 piece rock band during production of the film. The film in question was Forbidden Zone and it turned out to be absolutely nuts. If INLAND EMPIRE is like a nightmare, Forbidden Zone is like a fever dream. There’s a frog butler, a portal to the sixth dimension through some intestines, a school teacher with a machine gun, and Danny Elfman as Satan performing a reworked version of Cab Calloway’s famous song Minnie the Moocher

I’m hesitant to write much about the content of the film itself because it’s a fantastic ride when you have no idea what’s happening. It’s far from a perfect film – I think it’s important to acknowledge the multiple short scenes including an actor in blackface, which is incredibly uncool and unnecessary. I wouldn’t call it irredeemable, however. I have a lot of admiration for the way it constantly one-ups itself in its absurdity all the way until the credits roll. Flawed masterpiece? Who am I to say – I’ll highly recommend it anyway.

INLAND EMPIRE (2006) Dir. David Lynch

Your experience watching a David Lynch movie is wholly dependent on what point you’re jumping into his oeuvre. For some, the name “David Lynch” brings to mind visions of coffee, cherry pie, and small-town mystery. For others, the name might conjure thoughts of physically deformed babies and vast industrial landscapes. Lynch’s work, while regularly touching on overlapping themes and ideas, covers a lot of ground. It’s always fun to see peoples’ reactions when they hear he directed a Disney film. 

INLAND EMPIRE is Lynch’s final feature film to date, and it’s also the most impenetrable and obtuse piece of art he’s put out. I mean that in a loving way. Aside from the fact it runs for three full hours, it’s a film composed of jarring nonsequiturs and – let’s say – challenging cinematography. Before you ask, of course this film features anthropomorphic rabbits who speak entirely in cryptic statements punctuated by sitcom canned laughter. What good film doesn’t? 

Shot entirely on a handheld Sony camcorder without a finished screenplay, INLAND EMPIRE can only be described as a real nightmare. It’s invasive, jagged, and messy. Laura Dern, playing the “woman in trouble” Nikki Grace, is endlessly pursued by the audience, from modern-day Los Angeles to the streets of 1930s Lodz, Poland. Dern’s performance is nothing less than emotionally draining, through claustrophobic closeups of her yelling and crying and the constant uncertainty whether Nikki Grace herself is acting or if we’re seeing her reality. It’s, uh, a lot. It’s a film of existential horror and dread… if you can submit yourself to the experience and suspend your urge to piece together a coherent narrative. Many things are simply going to happen, and if you can follow along in the moment, you might really enjoy this precarious mess of a film.

Love Exposure (2008) Dir. Sion Sono

How could I possibly explain a film like Love Exposure? Anything I say here will only be scratching the surface of how much is jam-packed into this weird, weird film. Very broadly, though, Love Exposure is a four-hour-long movie about a cross-dressing upskirt photographer who falls in love. It’s also an incredibly complex picture of religion, perversion, and family – taking place at the intersection of all three. As I’ve said in the past, Sion Sono has an incredible talent for iterating on himself. This is at its most striking here, where he has four hours to develop his characters and narrative. Subtle changes in a relationship or a character have an abundance of time to develop slowly. 

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for a lot of people (myself included) to simply dedicate four hours of undivided attention to a piece of media. It’s Love Exposure’s fatal flaw. All I can say is that not only do I guarantee it’s worth it, but that you’ll be hooked from the beginning. It’s the fastest four hours of media you’ll ever see. The film is not only in a constant state of change, evolving and one-upping itself, it’s also wholeheartedly engaging from start to finish. While the previous films I’ve talked about have been very surreal, Love Exposure is more so situationally jarring. It fits in with the others so concretely because it’s shocking how unique and far-reaching it is. The film is transgressive, violent, perverted, genius, and, above all, deeply confusing. In a good way.

“Jesus, I approve of you as the only cool man besides Kurt Cobain.”

House (1977) Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi

I’m always very wary of a film labeled “comedy horror.” There are some gems out there, but too often it seems to be used as a way to excuse poor writing or minimal effort. What is important is striking a balance, finding the correct intersection between what are – on the surface – two conflicting styles and ideologies, and mixing the two accordingly. Even when there is passion behind the project, comedy horror often still fails because it doesn’t know how to mix the two properly. 

With that in mind, House is incredibly impressive – it’s comedy-horror at its finest and absolutely masterfully blended. A deeply surreal horror movie that can often be hilarious in its absurdity? That’s my bread and butter. Not only does the piano with teeth from Super Mario 64 make an appearance, but you can also spot a flying disembodied head and an evil cat, too! It’s unapologetically bizarre – director Nobuhiko Obayashi once recalled that Toho allowed him to direct the film as they were tired of losing money on comprehensible films, and they felt House was incomprehensible. I can’t blame them, but I also think that doesn’t give the film enough credit. 

Obayashi drew inspiration from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as seemingly a lot of Toho films do,) to which he lost his childhood friends. Additionally, it’s not a stretch to say that House is one of the most visually captivating films I’ve ever seen. Rather than striving for a level of realism that simply wouldn’t have been possible with the effects of the time, the film employs a wonderful mix of practical effects and uncanny, purposefully unrealistic special effects. The end result is a visual style that is wholeheartedly unique, even 40 years later. As a comedy film, as a horror film, and as an incomprehensible hallucination, I highly recommend House

At Land (1944) Dir. Maya Deren

I simply love a film that feels like a dream. The rules of continuity shift and the world becomes open and boundless, free to explore. At Land is a silent short film from avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren, who stars in it on top of writing and directing. We follow Deren into a dream, from the beach she wakes up on, to a dinner party where the Immortal Game of chess is played. An abundance of gorgeous shots push us deeper, deeper, and deeper still into this mythical world. All the while, we’re experiencing it alongside her. Her subtle changes in facial expression give us hints of emotion where music or dialogue cannot (in their total absence.) 

Deren has stated that the film is about the struggle to maintain one’s identity, and I feel this is a fantastic lens to view it through. As with any piece of surreal cinema (or, indeed, any cinema at all,) building your own interpretation of what you’ve seen is much more important than exclusively taking the artist at their word. You’re more likely to take something away from the experience when you build your own understanding of the events and how they connect. 

All that said, At Land is fantastic when viewed as a struggle with identity. I think that anyone who has struggled with coming to terms with or understanding their identity will be able to relate to this film, in an abstract way. Deren’s journey, climbing a fallen tree or literally dragging herself across a long dinner table, might parallel the mental turmoil many of us have pulled ourselves through as we learn to accept ourselves. In that sense, I think At Land is incredibly important viewing – even if, indeed, it can be confusing in its imagery. And, hell, it’s 15 minutes long. That’s intensely watchable.


With art, “what happened” isn’t important. What matters is what you believe happened. When a filmmaker breaks free from the obligation to be coherent, they allow for a wealth of interpretation from viewers. The true story, the real message, meaning, or moral is dictated by your own response to what you saw and, in a way, your own life experiences. The films on this list just represent a small handful of examples of how beautiful film can be when nothing is making any sense.

Categories
Comics

GC616 News (Marvel Comics for 10/20/21 and 10/2

The GC616 logo flashes across the screen, fading to reveal Reagan seated at the desk, her roots clearly visible. Unaware that the broadcast has begun, she is caught up in complaining about a hair appointment getting cancelled.

Reagan: Look, I know it looks rough, but what can I do? My appointment got cancelled! For like the third time! 

She pauses. 

Reagan: Maybe I should find a new hairdresser.

A whisper can be heard from behind the camera. Reagan jolts up, suddenly aware of the fact that the broadcast has gone live. 

Reagan: [Under her breath] That wouldn’t have happened if someone had told me we were live. [At normal volume] Hello and welcome to GC616, your number one source for superhero news. We begin tonight’s report with news of a kaiju attack on Krakoa. Sources close to the event say that three self-healing kaiju attacked the island while the Avengers were visiting following the reports of Wanda Maximoff being dead. If sources are to be believed, the attack happened not long after Maximoff was revealed to be alive. As of right now, there is no word on neither why the kaiju attacked nor why the attack all but coincided exactly with Maximoff’s reappearance. 

Reagan: While we wait for more news on this evolving situation, let’s go to Journo on the Peak.

The camera cuts over to SWORD Station One. Specifically, the canteen, unlike last broadcast it’s much cleaner here, the last remnants of a party having been swept away. Instead, the slow buzz of conversation can be heard as various agents of SWORD gather for their lunch break. The camera moves in on one agent, specifically Journo, who at the moment is drinking a cup of coffee.

Journo: Hey folks, I hope you’ve been well. As you can tell, it’s a lot less busy here on The Peak than the other times you’ve seen me. There’s not much going on at the moment other than a Shi’ar diplomatic visit to Planet Arrako. We’re on action stations, of course, you never know what can happen, but it’s nice to have a breather for once, y’know?

As he goes to take another sip of his coffee, flashing red lights and alarm klaxons start blaring throughout the canteen. Multiple exclamations of coarse language can be heard as the lunch of multiple SWORD agents is interrupted by this latest disaster. Journo chugs his coffee and runs off, the camera drone following behind as he begins examining what’s happening after a quick check on his comm device.

Journo: Crap, crap, crap, the Shi’ar have just been attacked by the Lethal Legion. Reports of multiple casualties. Sorry folks, I’m going to have to leave you here. We’re in for a busy day…

Journo rushes off down a hallway bathed in flashing red lights as the camera cuts back to the studio.

Reagan: Thanks Journo, let’s see what Bobby has for us.

The GC-616 camera shows Bobby and his cameraman Flem traversing a place that looks like the land of the fantasies of the imaginations of our humanity. They walk with pin-drop silence as Flem carefully sets up his camera for the filming of something that might be remarkable. 

Bobby: It is night, with the sky taking on a youthful blue. Flem adjusts his camera on a group of individuals near what appears to be a quaint house, one you would expect from The Wind in the Willows. This begs the question: are we in an unknown pursuit of an adventure? What is our purpose here?

Flem: Uh sir, I am pretty sure we’re here because we heard rumours of a summoning going on. Did we have to take his assignment?

Bobby: Aw, come on, Flem. Where’s the adventurer in you? Why, I think we’re channelling a little Falstaff, aren’t we?

Flem: I don’t know who that is, sir.

Bobby: Shakespeare, Flem! Shakespeare! One of the greatest storytellers of his time, and of now! Though I will admit that there are possibly problematic aspects to his work that I believe should be examined. Anyways, never mind that! We shall see what we find here and–ZOUNDS!

Flem: What is it, sir? 

Bobby: Look over there, Flem! Turn your camera to that light. Don’t you see it? It’s. It’s beautiful. 

The light fades, but not because the lustre is dying; instead, it shows the beings who are, for lack of a better word, not of this cruel world. They are the animals of the Marvel universe.

Throg: My friends! We are here on a critical mission! One that will be contingent on the fate of this universe. To me, I say, come to Lockjaw!

Lockjaw: Woof!

Throg: I say, come, Bats!

Bats: Whatever you say, boss man.

Throg: I say, come Lockheed!

Lockheed: (flaps wings)

Throg: Led by me, Throg! Avengers Assemble!  

In a flash, they disappear. Bobby and Flem look stunned. 

Flem: I have seen God. 

Bobby: Not just a God or the God. 

Flem and Bobby: It’s the Gods. More than one, being united by a desire to protect the common people. 

Reagan: Thanks for that, Bobby, now. If  I’m correct, I think Cass has more news from Krakoa.

The transmission cuts into a handheld shot of Cass sitting in the Green Lagoon while wearing one of those cartoony fake glasses with a mustache attached. 

Cass: [whispering] Hello There, I’m Cass, and as you can see, I’m in disguise. My vacations have turned into a high-stakes political thriller. Let me tell you why. 

The last time I talked to you all, I let you know that an inferno was brewing in the mutant nation of Krakoa. On one side, we have the anti-mutant organization of Orchid that has been increasing in power since the launch of their new AI, Nimrod. On the other side, Mystique has been playing the long game, and now that she has resurrected her wife, the precog known as Destiny, she is ready to take over the council that governs this nation. Just yesterday, a vote was held by the Quiet Council to see if Destiny would be admitted into the council. It seems that Mystique is quite the politician because she convinced five different persons to vote yes, making the vote six to five, letting Destiny into the government. 

This news didn’t sit well with the mysterious mastermind behind Krakoa, Moira McTaggart. She has a strict rule against people that can tell the future (especially Destiny, seeing how she and Moira have a… fiery relation), and make her take a difficult decision: Telling her plan to Emma Frost (Even I, someone from a different dimension know you don’t mess with Emma). The White Queen didn’t take the news too well, and I can not tell what side she will stay on. 

In one final move against Destiny and Mystique, Charles and Magneto seem to get famous X-Men, Colossus, into the council (I don’t like that guy… am I allowed to say that on camera). It seems like political warfare is just starting and…

Someone off-camera: Who are you? What are you doing here?!? Why do you have that on your face?!?!

Cass: Ups, looks like I have to go… see you soon

Reagan: Thanks Cass, now let’s check in with Chad!

Instead of Chad’s normal theme this week, the audience hears Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s classic song “The Monster Mash.” The sizzle reel that Chad has thrown together this week features clips with him with various ghouls, supernatural heroes, and other Halloween-type people from Earth 616. The highlight of the reel is Chad ripping up rubber as Ghost Rider and the donuts in a 7/11 parking lot after consuming too many “Penance Coladas,” as they dubbed them, which is a mixture of Everclear, sprite, and coconut water. When the reel ends, we hear loud thuds of club music as the camera focuses on Chad, who is painted, head to toe, in silver body paint. The only notable piece of clothing is the silver speedo.

Chad: WHAT THE FLARK IS UP, CHADIANS! HAPPY HALLOWEEN! WE ARE OUT HERE! I AM GALACTUS’S HERALD! HEED MY WORDS!

Chad is yelling at the top of his lungs; he lifts the camera person off the ground.

Chad: DO YOU LIKE MY COSTUME!

As the cameraman mutters back a yes, they’re dropped to their feet.

Chad: OKAY! I have a lot of partying to do tonight. I am going to Goblin’s party later tonight. We are pong partners, and word on the street is that Mayor Fisk may stop by, so I gotta make sure we show him that even if he is the King of pins, I am the KING OF PONG. Okay SPIDER-MAN! There are def two. The new one has a fancy-ass costume. Cool shit. But you know it’s spooky season, so he will have to deal with some vampire-related murders. It seems like Morbius is back on the streets. But you know Spidey is going to cream that Jared Leto-looking punk.

Chad stops for a moment to ponder. 

Chad: Oh! I remembered what I had to talk about. I saw Moon Knight the other night. He had just taken down the human puzzle, Jigsaw. The dude’s doing great stuff for the block. But more importantly, he was with Tigra. And like, I was thinking, she’s pretty hot. She’s an Avenger, super strong, and really cool. But like, does that make me a furry? Am I a furry? Anyway, see y’all soon. FULL SEND. CHAD OUT.

Reagan: At some point in our life, we must all reckon with the question of whether or not we are furries, best wishes to you in this key moment in your life. Thanks, Chad! And with that, we’ve reached the end of our show. We’ll see you next time with more news on GC616!

Categories
Film

The History of Slashers: 1960-1978

By now, slasher films have become formulaic and predictable, defined by rules in ways that other subgenres of horror tend not to be; in general, slasher films tend to be made up of the same key components; a killer, usually in a mask or some other of costume, stalks his victims; usually, teenagers until only one survivor, the final girl, remains. The action usually unfolds on a date significant to the killer, be it the anniversary of a personal tragedy or a holiday tied to a traumatic event. The killings, usually creative to the point of black comedy, unfold between POV shots of the killer stalking his (because he is almost always male) victims.

Despite the prominence of the subgenre in America and its mostly American origins, the early roots of the slasher can be found in German Krimi films with their boldly costumed villains set to jazz scores and in Italian Gialli with their black-gloved killers. This concept isn’t hard to connect to the masked killers of slasher films and the grandiose ways that they kill. A vital example of this influence is Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (1971), also known as Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood Bath, which has been theorized to be a direct influence on several of the kills in Friday the 13th Part II (1981), as well as having influenced the “body count” phenomena most prominent in the “Golden Age” of the 1980s but still seen decades later in franchises like Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, which began in 1996 with the film of the same name. Other influences for the subgenre came from splatter films like those of Herschell Gordon Lewis (sometimes called the “Godfather of Gore,” a title shared with Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci.)

While the Final Girl, the sole survivor of the killer, who is most often a manifestation of the “virgin” archetype, is essential to Slasher films, she rarely becomes the franchise’s focus after the first movie. The Scream franchise is one of the few franchises that follow the original girl (Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott) throughout its run instead of following the masked killer, as is the case with Friday the 13th and A Nightmare Elm Street.

So we have the slasher film as it is now, with its rigid structure rarely broken and even then, only broken to either poke fun at the genre or to subvert it to play with audience expectations, but where did that structure come from? Who used it first? As with all genres, there isn’t a single person who created the slasher film whole cloth. Instead, it was a series of directors who, over several decades, created the subgenre collaboratively, regardless of whether that collaboration was intentional or not. But, there is a starting point: 1960.

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) watches Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, offscreen) in her motel room in Psycho (1960), dir. Alfred Hitchcock, cinematography by John L Russel

On September 8, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho premiered. The film was, to say the least, a departure from Hitchcock’s previous film, North by Northwest. Rather than being a tale of mistaken identity, Psycho instead follows the events surrounding an encounter between Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary who goes on the run after embezzling $40,000 and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the proprietor of a motel where she stops for the night. Marion has, suffice it to say, an awkward encounter with Norman. He prepares dinner for her (sandwiches and milk), which they eat in a room filled with birds he has taxidermied himself as he cryptically tells her that his mother is ill. During her stay at the motel, Marion meets her end, being killed by a shadowed figure presumed to be Norman Bates’ mother. 

While not what would be traditionally thought of as a slasher, Psycho is generally considered the first film containing some of the elements that the films that followed would contain, i.e. voyeurism, sexualized violence, and a heightened level of violence than had previously been shown on screen. However, some have pointed out that Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom preceded Psycho by a few months, having premiered in April of 1960. Like Psycho, Peeping Tom shares themes of voyeurism and sexualized violence that would, through the “rules” of the genre fully established by 1980’s Friday the 13th, become the building blocks of the slasher subgenre, more specifically the idea that sex equals death that was inadvertently introduced by Halloween (1978).  Peeping Tom also features an early instance of the subjective POV shots that would become a staple of the slasher film, with the killer filming women as he kills them to capture their expressions as they die. 

As a minor aside, before we move on to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I would like to bring up Ray Dennis Steckler’s 1971 horror film Blood Shack, also known as The Chooper and Curse of the Evil Spirit. Blood Shack is not a good film per se, but it does have proto-slasher elements that show up, albeit perhaps not as skillfully done as in its successor, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); the film has elements that would become mainstays of slasher films, the masked killer chasing a frightened woman, and, in the end, the woman emerging as the sole survivor of the killer’s pursuit. That being said, there is no conclusive evidence that I could find during my time researching this article that proves that Blood Shack had any actual impact whatsoever on the slasher subgenre, leaving its only concrete legacy as an appearance in a Red Letter Media video.

On October 11th, 1974, what would be thought of as the first true slasher film hit theatres. Directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Hooper and Kim Henkel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, marketed as a true story, is about Sally Hardesty and her paraplegic brother, accompanied by their friends Jerry, Kirk, and Pam, journeying to the Hardestys’ grandfather’s grave following reports of vandalism and grave robbing in the area. While important to the subgenre, Texas Chainsaw is not, according to the conventions of slashers as we know them post-Friday the 13th (1981) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), precisely a slasher itself. Like Black Christmas, also released on October 11th, 1974, and Halloween (1978), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not have enough of the elements of a slasher film to be itself considered a slasher film if one is using a purist definition of slasher films.

This doesn’t, of course, discount the contributions that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made to the subgenre’s development. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, after all, would go on to become a slasher franchise akin to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and would even rival the Halloween franchise in terms of how many retcons the timeline of the films would undergo (at last count, the Texas Chainsaw franchise sits at four continuities while Halloween sits at three.)

Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), dir. Tobe Hooper, cinematography by Daniel Pearl

The first seeds of the idea for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came to Hooper in 1970, while he was working as both an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman.  Already having developed a story involving the elements of isolation, darkness, and the woods, the graphic coverage of violence that Hooper saw coming from news outlets based in San Antonio would serve as further inspiration for the film. The most well-known of the elements that inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps the crimes of Ed Gein, a murderer and grave robber from Plainfield, Wisconsin, who also inspired Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Hooper’s previous experience with documentary filmmaking is clearly visible in how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is filmed and presented to the audience, both in terms of the framing device presented by the now-iconic title card and opening narration and the actual visuals in the movie. On page 248 of Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide, “Texas Chainsaw [sic] uses documentary techniques — gritty hand-held footage, washed-out colours — to efficiently heighten its realism.” While not a key part of the development of this particular subgenre, the realism of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, especially when it concerns the title card and opening narration which (falsely) proclaimed the film to be true, would be (along with Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust) go on to be seen as an important part of the development of found footage. 

Texas Chainsaw [sic] uses documentary techniques — gritty hand-held footage, washed out colours — to efficiently heighten its realism.” While not a key part of the development of this particular subgenre, the realism of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, especially when it concerns the title card and opening narration which (falsely) proclaimed the film to be true, would be (along with Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust) go on to be seen as an important part of the development of found footage. 

It should also be noted that Wes Craven, the man who would go on to direct the slasher juggernaut A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and meta-slasher Scream (1996), itself a deconstruction of the genre he would help build, intended his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes as an homage to Texas Chainsaw, complete with its own deadly gas station attendant.

Jess (Olivia Hussey) in Black Christmas (1974), dir. Bob Clark, cinematography by Reginald H. Morris

While there are those, who consider Halloween (1978) to be a “mayhem-by-the-numbers knock off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this assertion is factually incorrect on almost every possible level one could even come close to considering. Halloween could be viewed as a knockoff, just not a knockoff of Texas Chainsaw. The actual movie that Halloween could be accused of knocking off is Bob Clark’s 1974 proto-slasher Black Christmas (coincidentally also released on October 11th, 1974, perhaps that’s where the confusion stems from). This film had such an undeniable influence on John Carpenter that Bob Clark has alleged that Halloween was inspired by an idea Clark told Carpenter he had for a sequel to Black Christmas. From a 2005 interview:

“I never intended to do a sequel. I did a film about three years later, started a film with John Carpenter … his first film for Warner Bros. … he asked me if I was ever gonna do a sequel and I said no. I was through with horror … He said, ‘Well what would you do if you did do a sequel?’ I said it would be the next year and the guy would have actually been caught, escape from a mental institution, go back to the house, and they would start all over again. And I would call it Halloween.”

In the same interview, when asked if John Carpenter copied Black Christmas, Clark said:

“The truth is John didn’t copy Black Christmas, he wrote a script, directed the script, did the casting, Halloween is his movie and besides the script came to him already titled anyway … he may have been influenced by [Black Christmas], but in no way did John Carpenter copy the idea.”

Black Christmas is inspired by the well-known urban legend of the babysitter and the murderer in the attic. This legend was previously explored in Terence H. Winkless’ (The Howling) 1971 short film Foster’s Release. The urban legend, which dates back to the 1960s, is simple, and the odds are that you’ve heard it in at least one variation. The story goes like this: a babysitter is watching television alone at night while watching some children who have been put to bed. The phone rings, and the voice on the phone tells the girl to check on the children. She dismisses it at first, brushing it off as a prank call. But the calls keep coming. Eventually, she calls the police, who tell her they’ll trace the next call. When the stranger calls again, the police inform the girl that she needs to leave immediately. She does, and the police meet her outside, telling her that the call was coming from inside and that the voice on the phone had been the killer calling her after having killed the children upstairs.
Like the legend that inspired it, Black Christmas is simple. It opens with a scene shot from Billy, the killer’s, perspective as he walks around a sorority house, eventually climbing into the house’s attic. From there, he begins to torment the girls in the house with phone calls full of snarling and profanities interspersed with what sounds like allusions to the murder of a young girl. In between harassing the girls with phone calls, he creeps out of the attic to pick them off one by one, killing them in creative and horrific ways. But that isn’t the entire extent of Black Christmas’ influence and innovation; as Contemporary North American Film Directors, a book that I mentioned previously and that I will mention again, says:

“The film anticipates a number of plot twists and visual motifs that would become commonplace in the slasher sub-genre after Halloween (1978). These include the use of a subjective camera to represent the killer’s point of view and scary phone-calls that originate from inside the victim’s house.”

The book also points out the gialli conventions that influenced Black Christmas, something which should by now serve to hammer home the fact that gialli films were a massive influence on the slasher genre. As a contributor, Ian Cooper writes, “The stylish murders, including suffocation by plastic sheeting and stabbing with a crystal ornament, would seem to owe something to the baroque Italian horror of Mario Bava and Dario Argento.” It should be noted that Mario Bava has been theorized as having influenced on Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) has long been considered an influence on the genre writ large, but especially on the Halloween franchise, the very franchise which invented slashers as we know them now. 

In 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween premiered, and the face of horror changed forever. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (interestingly enough the daughter of Janet Leigh of Psycho fame) as final girl Laurie Strode, Halloween tells the story of what happens after Michael Myers (Nick Castle), a murderer who was imprisoned in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium fifteen years earlier for murdering his older sister Judith when he was six, escapes and makes his way to Haddonfield, his hometown, where he unleashes terror on the town. In the days leading up to Halloween, Myers stalks Laurie, leading up to Halloween night when the actual massacre begins.

Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in Halloween (1978), dir. John Carpenter, cinematography by Dean Cundey

One of the most significant aspects of the killer, Michael Myers (called The Shape in the credits of both the original film), is that he is unknown. He is nothing more than a dark shape chasing you through the house, knife in hand. The killers who follow would have far more personality than Myers has ever had, Freddy Krueger of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise being the most obvious example of that change. 

In the forty-three years since Halloween was first released, the film has gone on to be (rightfully) viewed as one of the most influential movies in the history of the entire horror genre, going so far as to be seen as the film that birthed the slasher genre as we know it. From the aforementioned Contemporary North American Film Directors:

 “So many elements in the film now seem overwrought and obvious, but Carpenter was among the first to introduce many crucial features to the genre: the underlying scariness and alienation of small-town America; the last girl standing; the masked psychopath; the terrorized babysitter.”

While many of these elements had previously existed on their own, Carpenter and his co-writer, Debra Hill, brought them together and used all of them at once to tell a story. The films that came afterward, like Friday the 13th (1981), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and all of the clones that would follow, would take this collection of themes and concepts and run with them. One can not stress enough how much of what is in this movie was new. Undoubtedly, Halloween was the movie that made it possible for slashers to exist in the first place, something we’ll see when we explore the “golden age” of the 1980s in the next part of this series.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Horror

I love horror, most of what I watch these days is horror. Ever since I was a kid, long before I was allowed to watch anything more horror-aligned than The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, I have longed to surround myself with the genre. Movies like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Exorcist became things I longed to watch, worlds I wanted to surround myself with. I was a weird kid, prone to watching ghost hunting shows and discussing them with anyone who listened, I wanted to be a ghost hunter when I was younger, back when I still fully believed in ghosts. Is it any wonder that the esoteric became such a huge point of interest for me? All the signs, all the steps pointing towards that interest are there if you look. 

Halloween (2018),dir. David Gordon Green, United States

(CW: Halloween (2018) contains gore)

Halloween (2018) is easily the best Halloween movie since the original, which isn’t saying much. Aside from being a good sequel, Halloween is a well-crafted horror movie with some genuinely tense and terrifying moments and some interesting parallels to the original, with Michael’s doctor, Dr. Sartain acting as a foil to Loomis. The original film is one of my all-time favourites, it’s got the best final twenty minutes in any horror movie ever (do not @ me about that). It’s also the first “real” horror movie I ever watched. I have a soft spot for it and I probably always will, despite what other people say about it. So when the 2018 sequel not only met my expectations but exceeded them it came as both a surprise and a treat.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) dir. Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick, United States

(CW: The Blair Witch Project contains references to violence against children.)

Much like Halloween, The Blair Witch Project solidified a genre. Like with Halloween, the pieces were already there, Cannibal Holocaust, for example, could very easily be called the first found footage film. Despite that though, Blair Witch made it stick, it became a phenomenon. People thought it was real, which was the point. It’s the kind of thing that could never happen today, with the internet in our pocket. 

Found footage (and the framing it uses) tends to remind me of when I was a child and I would hear playground rumors about how a family of cannibals with chainsaws lived two towns over, or how just a street away a bunch of babysitters and their boyfriends were murdered by a madman in a mask, or even how my summer camp had a murderer living in a trailer down by the lake. It’s fun to lose yourself in the legend, to pretend for a moment that there are things going bump in the night. Found footage makes that just a tiny bit easier.

Things (1989), dir. Andrew Jordan, Canada

(CW: Things is bad)

Things is not a good movie. It just isn’t. It’s incoherent with no clear plot, the actors are all obviously drunk out of their minds, and in terms of technical craft, the film has very little to offer. Oh, and the score sounds like a failed attempt at replicating John Carpenter’s work using a Casio keyboard. That being said, Things is one of my favorite movies. It shouldn’t be, I should hate this, and yet I don’t. I’ve seen Things about four times now and even though I have no idea what it’s even about, I have fun each time. Things is in no way the best that Canadian horror has to offer, if you want that, look instead to the works of David Cronenberg or movies like Ginger Snaps. But if you want to have a good time with some friends, Things is absolutely the way to go. 

Black Christmas (1974), dir. Bob Clark, Canada

(CW: Black Christmas contains gore)

Bob Clark’s 1974 movie Black Christmas is simultaneously one of the most overlooked and one of the most influential horror movies ever. It did, after all, influence Halloween (1978) which itself influenced Friday the 13th (1980). While some would consider it a slasher film that definition feels wrong, it feels off. Black Christmas is more a Giallo than it is a slasher, evoking films like Dario Argento’s Deep Red in its style. It’s well-made with style to spare, something that more North American horror could do well to emulate. It’s easily the best Black Christmas.

Crimson Peak (2015), dir. Guillermo del Toro, United States

(CW: Crimson Peak is a gothic romance and as such, contains themes and conventions common to the genre that, if detailed here, would act as a major spoiler. If you are concerned about potential triggers, feel free to reach out to me personally over on Twitter (@rhymeswpicard) for clarification)

Crimson Peak changed my life. I first saw it in theatres when I was fifteen; I went in blind, hadn’t even seen any of the trailers. All I knew was that Tom Hiddleston was in it and at that point, I was in love with him. I was not prepared for Crimson Peak. I was not prepared for any part of it, let alone for the reveal and I was not prepared for Jessica Chastain to make me feel the things I felt.

Aside from that, Crimson Peak is Guillermo Del Toro indulging himself in building a world and engrossing the viewer in that world. The movie is filmed in a three-story set, the production included details that would never be seen on camera, and the costumes are phenomenal. It’s a fantastic movie, well-made and made with care for the story. And the cast included Doug Jones, something that we always love to see.

Funny Games (1992), dir. Michael Haneke, Austria

(CW: Funny Games contains gore, a home invasion, and violence against animals and children)

I talk about Funny Games (and the remake, which is good actually)a lot. So much so in fact that when I was discussing my list for this month with Ethan he said, and I quote, “you? Talking about Funny Games? No.” It’s my favorite movie; it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I’m asked what my favorite movie is, and beyond that, it’s a good movie, it’s both well-crafted and intensely uncomfortable. Funny Games is a home invasion movie that questions why we enjoy home invasion movies, confronting the audience with the horrors of what is happening by lingering on them for significant stretches of time. It’s a difficult watch but, in my opinion, it’s worth it. Funny Games was the movie that made me realize how much I love movies that distress me and it was also the movie that made me hate that about myself.

Scream (1996), dir. Wes Craven, United States

(CW: Scream contains gore)

Hot take I know but Scream is good. Long before meta-horror became exhausting and exhausted, Scream burst onto the scene and gave horror a much-needed jolt into action. Following the boom and subsequent bust of slasher films due to oversaturation of the market, Scream saw what came before (some of it from Craven himself) and said “ok, but what if we poked fun at it.” And it worked. Scream became one of, if not the, best horror movies of the 90s, it launched one of the better franchises and one of the few that kept the final girl as the protagonist, with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) appearing in all five of the movies so far. It’s also worth noting that Scream is one of the few horror franchises to have gone four films in a row with the original director, with Wes Craven directing Scream through to Scream 4.

Scream is one of my favorite horror movies along with the original Halloween. A funny coincidence considering that Halloween plays on tv in Scream.

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Comics

Inferno #1 Promises a Season of Change

Inferno #1, written by Jonathan Hickman and with art by Valerio Schiti, marks the end of two eras; the first being the era marked by Hickman’s time (though, if what has been said in various interviews and press releases is to be believed, not the end of the Krakoa era writ large), and the end of the early days of the aforementioned Krakoa era which began in 2019 with House of X and Powers of X (pronounced “ten”).

Like much of the current X-Line, Inferno is looking back at the same time as it looks forward. In a line featuring titles that borrow the names of series and teams from the past like Excalibur and X-Factor, it’s no wonder that the name Inferno would be chosen for what is set to be an earth-shattering, status quo-shifting series. But it isn’t just the legacy of the title that factors into what it could mean. Inferno is Mystique following Destiny’s instructions and burning Krakoa to the ground, something that I can’t wait to see play out.

Like House of X before it, Inferno begins with rebirth; in a scene meant to evoke the first glimpse readers got of Krakoa, Emma Frost resurrects Xavier and Magneto, wearing Cerebro and saying, “to me, my X-Men” as she does so. What this means is yet to be seen but, more likely than not, this heralds the fact that the old guards time, here represented by Xavier and Magneto, is over, and a new guard, illustrated by Emma, is set to take over once the dust has settled.

There’s a lot to focus on with Inferno. It’s a massive issue, clocking in at 51 pages, and a lot happens in those pages; there are multiple Nimrods! Orchis knows about resurrection! A (quite literal) changing of the guards with the appointments of two new captains! What’s more important than all of that, though, at least in my opinion, is that, in the resolution of a plot point that began with X-Men #6, Mystique finally got her wife back.

There’s an element of subterfuge to Inferno that is best emblematized by Mystique bringing Destiny back from the dead both against the wishes of Xavier and Magneto and without their knowledge. While it serves as a relief to finally see Mystique get a win after begging for Destiny’s resurrection, it also highlights the fact that, as much as they may like to pretend it isn’t the case, Xavier and Magneto are not entirely in control. There are cracks that people like Mystique have found ways to slip through. Cracks that will only become more apparent as time goes on. As well, it doesn’t feel accidental that Destiny’s return happens as leaves are falling. Autumn, after all, is a time of change. A time of dying, yes, but death has long been a symbol of change as much as it is the mark of an ending. 

Of course, Destiny and Mystique isn’t the only bit of closure we’re getting in Inferno; we’re also getting some movement on the Moira front, something that, outside of HoXPoX and, if memory serves, X-Men #20, we haven’t seen much over the course of Hickman’s time on X-Men. Moira’s expressions of being tired, of being locked away and hidden from the rest of mutantkind offer hints that perhaps by the end of this, she won’t be Krakoa’s best-kept secret (and possibly their only secret if Orchis really has figured out that mutants have been resurrecting).

As per usual, Valerio Schiti’s art is top-notch, and his women look fantastic. I don’t know what it is that he does, but somehow he makes me adore every woman he draws. I promise you that if I could, I would just put out a slideshow of every woman in this comic. But it isn’t just Schiti’s art that makes Inferno look as good as it does; I would be remiss not to mention the work that David Curiel put into the colours and the part they play in how beautiful the entire issue looks. If I were to open this to practically any page, I would be able to gush about at least one thing on every page, maybe even in every panel.

Typically this is the point where I would say whether or not this is a good first issue. The answer to that is no, it isn’t a good first issue. By design, Inferno requires the context that comes with, at the very least, House of X and X-Men #6 and #20. Inferno cannot stand alone; it just can’t, which isn’t a bad thing. Endings are not meant to stand on their own as pieces of media separate from their beginnings. On a fundamental level, that’s not how storytelling works. So no, a new reader couldn’t pick up Inferno and be able to gain their bearings immediately. But, as someone who, as of December 2020, was a new reader, it isn’t hard to get your bearings once you’ve done the required reading. 

Inferno promises fire, it promises ashes, and most of all, it promises change. As Storm says, “change is in the air, it seems. I can feel it.” And so it is. Whatever happens in the next four issues will change Krakoa in ways we likely can’t fathom, and I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.

Categories
Comics

Soul Plumber Aims to Fill the Horror-Comedy Niche

Soul Plumber, the second comic published under DC’s horror imprint DC Horror, is the comics debut of co-writers Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski, both best known for their podcast Last Podcast on the Left. Soul Plumber is the story of Edgar Wiggins, a failed seminary student turned gas station attendant who is taken in by the Soul Plumbers, a group who, through hotel conference room seminars are spreading the good news of the Spirit Plunger, a device that, for a fee, could very well be the key to saving the world from the clutches of the devil. 

There’s obviously a heavy critique of Christianity contained within the pages of Soul Plumber, particularly the brand of Christianity that has become the bread and butter of televangelists and adherents to the prosperity gospel, a doctrine that argues that wealth is a sign that God loves you and that the best way to increase God’s love for you is by donating to Christian charities, especially those run by them. There’s a particular line that stuck out to me in that way, at one point when Edgar is unable to afford the fee for the Spirit Plunger the salesman, Harvey Positano says, “man cannot live on bread alone! That’s from the bible kid, look it up. This ain’t a charity.” Positano is a man who, like many of the aforementioned adherents to ideologies like the prosperity gospel (looking at you Joel Osteen), dresses himself in the trappings of a man of God only to show the truth of his intentions when push comes to shove. Positano goes so far in fact that he wears a suit covered in crosses and drives a van with a giant light-up cross and a statue of Jesus. 

Positano is a showman and, like the televangelists and con men who no doubt inspired him, is successful. After seeing a demonstration of the Spirit Plunger in action (complete with the supposedly possessed man yelling “your mother sucks cocks in hell”), the crowd goes wild and clamours to get their own Spirit Plungers so that they too can save souls like Positano did. Except he didn’t. As a later scene reveals, Positano has hired an actor to play the possessed man so he can swindle crowds of people with his fake machine. As he himself admits, he hasn’t even turned it on. 

Which leads to the ending of this issue. Edgar has stolen the blueprints for the Spirit Plunger and has created his own version out of scrap from a junkyard, a version which he has turned on and used. Which is how the first issue ends, with a cliffhanger taking place immediately after Edgar has used the Spirit Plunger on another person. While I overall liked this issue, the ending felt rushed, cut short just shy of what would have been a more satisfying cliffhanger. The ending as it is feels somewhat jarring even if it did leave me wanting to find out what happens next and soon. 

As for the art, John McCrea creates a world that feels gross in the same way that movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel gross (though admittedly Soul Plumber is, at least with this first issue, closer in tone to the sequel). There’s a sense of it being covered in dirt and grime that just works. McCrea was a fantastic choice to work on this book, kudos to whoever made the decision to bring him on board. 

Soul Plumber #1 is not as scary as some of the other horror comics that are currently being published and honestly, that benefits it. Rather than competing as a straight horror book amongst other horror books, Soul Plumber instead exists as a horror-comedy book, something that sets it apart in a segment of comics that is in danger of very soon becoming oversaturated, that is, if it hasn’t already. 

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Family-Friendly Horror

I love horror. You probably know that already though. It is, afterall, one of the more notable aspects of who I am, mainly because I basically never shut up about it. I also love introducing people to horror, a task that I understand can be difficult when you might be a bit more on the squeamish side or when you have young children who are difficult to get away from, especially during the pandemic. So, since I’m talking about horror for older audiences next month, I thought it would be nice (and super fun, let’s face it) to write about family-friendly horror this month. This is the realm of Tim Burton and Scooby-Doo, the kind of movies that you look back on as the first stepping stones to a life-long love of spooky stuff. The kinds of things that Halloween just isn’t complete without. So, without further a-do, it’s showtime!

Beetlejuice (1988), dir. Tim Burton, United States

Beetlejuice is a Tim Burton movie from before the name Tim Burton meant movies like Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dumbo (2019). It’s Burton’s second feature film, his follow up to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), and becuase of that, it marks his first collaborations with Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder, both of whom would go on to star in four and three of Burton’s movies respectively. As I alluded to previously, by now Burton’s name doesn’t carry the same respect as it does. To put it bluntly, Burton hasn’t consistently made good movies since he made Ed Wood in 1994. Yes there are exceptions like Corpse Bride in 2004 and, depending on your opinion, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in 2007 but, over all, Burton hasn’t been doing great work since the 90s. I mean, just look at Dumbo (2019). It’s not great! I digress.

The film is the story of Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin), a recently deceased couple who find that their house has been bought by the Deetz family (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Wright, and Winona Ryder), a wealthy family from the city. In an effort to get the Deetzes out of their home, the Maitlands enlist the help of Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), a “bio-exorcist” who promises to get rid of the living for any ghosts who need his help and who can be summoned by saying his name three times. It’s more fun than scary and is buoyed by a killer cast. O’Hara is, per usual incredible, playing an eccentric wealthy woman prone to hysterics with the same skill she would show 27 years later as Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek (2015-20). Keaton meanwhile, is quite frankly, disgusting, which is exactly what he should be; after all, he’s a rotting sleazeball covered in mold. As for Ryder, this is the role where she became the pattern after which every edgy goth-lite girl modeled themselves; throughout the film, she spouts now-iconic lines like “my whole life is a dark room” and “I myself am strange and unusual”. The kind of stuff that launched a thousand hot topic shirts. 

Beetlejuice is a film that takes place in both the plain world of the living and the seemingly vibrant but in reality, doldrums realm of the Netherworld; a place populated by the dead that takes the form of an office full of colorful, imaginative caseworkers, their assistants, and those awaiting their appointments, all of them sporting signs which point to the causes of their deaths. The production design of the Netherworld realm takes its cues from the German Expressionism films which have influenced the set design of Burton’s films, both animated and live-action across his career. Essentially, to sum up my spiel about this movie, Beetlejuice is fun and creative and made with enough love and care that it’s lived on in the hearts and minds of many for decades now. Oh no, I said his name three times, didn’t I?

Goosebumps (2015), dir. Rob Letterman, United States

After being accidentally released by Zach Cooper (Dylan Minette), the monsters previously contained inside the books, led by Slappy from the Night of the Living Dummy series (voiced by Jack Black) decide to seek their revenge against Stine for keeping them locked up all this time. Zach, along with the help of his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) and Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) spend the night attempting to save the world and put all of the monsters back in the books. 

It’s a veritable who’s-who of the Goosebumps series with appearances from The Abominable Snowman for Pasadena, one of my personal favorites, the giant mantis from Shocker on Shock Street, and as mentioned previously, from Slappy. I’m not going to pretend that Goosebumps is a masterpiece because that’s neither what it is nor what it was intended to be. Instead, I’m going to say the truth about it which is that it’s a fun, spooky movie with a score by the king of fun spooky movies, Danny Elfman, and a great performance by Jack Black, who has yet to let me down once.

ParaNorman(2012), dir. Sam Fell and Chris Butler, United States

The second feature film from stop-motion animation studio Laika,  ParaNorman is a follow-up to their previous film, Coraline. It is the story of Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), an 11-year-old boy who can speak to the dead. Norman is an outsider in both his family and his town at large. He’s a strange kid; he lives and breathes horror and claims to see and speak to the dead. But that strangeness, that outsider status becomes his greatest strength because it’s what allows him to break the 300-year-old curse that plagues his small town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts.

ParaNorman is about the consequences of giving in to fear and suspicion of others and it explores those themes by telling a story connected to witch trials, the most famous of which took place in Massachusetts. It’s an example of how movies made for kids can and should be brilliant. There’s a video essay by CJ The X called Skipping the First 5 Minutes of Tangled;there’s a line in that video that instantly stuck with me, “kids like good movies, they also like bad movies but they’re kids! We’re adults, it’s our responsibility to give them good art that’s gonna last.” Kids deserve movies that they can look at throughout their life in different ways, movies that reflect their experiences back to them.

I was always a lonely, spooky kid and when I saw it in theatres it instantly resonated with me in ways that I wasn’t able to fully understand until much later. Kids will consume candy-covered garbage if that’s what we provide them with but they’ll eat up good quality content with equal gusto, ParaNorman is the quality content that we need to put more of into the world. Kids are smarter than we tend to give them credit for and they deserve to have media that understands that.

Scooby-Doo (2002), dir. Raja Gosnell, United States

Scooby-Doo is one of the best movies that James Gun (Dawn of the Dead, The Suicide Squad) has ever written, second only to Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed A.K.A. the movie that I forced my mom to let me stay home from school and watch on loop the minute it came out on VHS. Both of these movies are ingrained in the fabric of who I am, they were on a constant loop throughout my childhood. There are parts that feel firmly stuck in the 2000s but overall, Scooby-Doo is super fun with aspects of it that feel like a love letter to the original cartoon.  

There’s a lot that has been said about this movie but I’m going to pick just two of them. The first is that the cast is great; Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, Freddy Prinze Jr, and Matthew Lillard (who has been voicing Shaggy in the cartoons since 2009) are all fantastic as the human members of Mystery Inc. My second point is somewhat related to that, Freddy Prinze Jr. says one of the best lines in 2000s cinema when he says “what up dog. And uh dog” in a scene that also contains a Sugar Ray cameo. Have I mentioned that this is a deeply 2000s movie yet? Because it is. Oh yeah, and the lead single off of the soundtrack for this movie is a song by OutKast featuring Killer Mike and Sleepy Brown, the music video for which features Matthew Lillard as Shaggy Rogers and Scooby himself as well as the Mystery Machine. Oh yeah, and Shaggy is on the soundtrack too. What a film, we’re lucky to live in a world where it exists. 

Addams Family Values (1993), dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, United States

Of the two live-action Addams Family movies, Addams Family Values is easily my favorite. The cast is just as good as they were in the first movie only this time they have the addition of Joan Cusack as Debbie Jillinsky. To me, the highlights of this movie have always been Morticia’s (Angelica Huston) ethereal aura, Wednesday’s (Christina Ricci) everything, and Debbie Jillinsky. I say this about basically every scene in any movie I like but the Malibu Barbie scene is iconic. Beyond that, Addams Family Values is just a great time that’s hard to grow tired of. I’ve been watching it every year since I was like seven and I still have yet to get tired of it.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Our Fears on Film w/ Neo

Welcome back to Guest Recs, this month’s guest is my sister Neo. Despite her occasionally questionable taste in movies (looking at you Resident Evil), she generally tends to have really great taste in movies.

Back when I started the column I asked her if she would like to be part of the first batch and she (thankfully) said yes. I’ll be honest, I didn’t fully know what to expect when she agreed to do this. Afterall, she could have done everything from bad video game movies to The Matrix power hour. Instead, she blew me away with this rumination on fear in film. As per usual all of these recs are cosigned by me but I just wanted to make very clear that I think all of these are at the very least fun movies that should be seen at least once.


Our world has always had its fears, festering up from deep inside of us at rational and irrational times alike. Whether they be primal fears founded in rationality, like fear of heights, or whether they be more modern fears of a more irrational variety such as fears based around social media. Everyone experiences a particular breed of anxiety from time to time when faced with their fears, valid or invalid as they may be, with some people experiencing it to a crippling amount. Like most media, films often reflect the fears we hold both intentionally and unintentionally, and in some cases have been shown to increase already existing fears societies hold. 

It can be important to recognize what fears that media can be showing us, even unintentionally, and to be critical of them. Films can be used to direct vitriol at different groups and cause ostracization of them by associating different people with terrible things. They can be used as a form of propaganda against groups that the writer or director doesn’t like, or ones that are easy targets to tear down if society already looks down on them. When we see a depiction in a film that scares us it is important to ask ourselves what message the film is trying to get across.

Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter, United States

Halloween is an all-time classic horror movie that still holds up as frightening to this day, with Michael Myers/The Shape remaining an iconic staple in slasher horror alongside other giants of the genre such as Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger. It is a film that prays on many fears people in society hold, the silent killer, the home invasion, being hunted, but the specific fears I’m focusing on here are those of the fear of the other and the fear of the mentally ill. Both of these fears can be tied together as they often go hand in hand in reality. 

People fear those with ‘scary’ mental illnesses such as psychotic disorders because they are different, because they are other and because it is hard for them to understand the disorders and what they mean. People hear the word psycho in psychotic and picture Patrick Bateman, the eponymous American Psycho or Norman Bates of Psycho fame, when in reality those with psychotic disorders are nothing like the characters meant to represent them on screen. Michael Myers can be seen as another example of the archetypal Psycho Killer (qu’est-ce que c’est?) often found in horror media, a harmful stereotype representing those with psychotic disorders as brutal and unstoppable killers. When in fact they are just people with a mental illness who aren’t going to just start walking around town killing people at random. 

It is easy to see Michael Myers as The Other. He was originally called The Shape, a nebulous title that represented his obscured nature, he always wears his mask, never really revealing his face, and he is almost inhuman seeming with his impossible survival through several attempts to take him down, whether they be by a knitting needle, a gun, or a fire. Despite the fears it can represent, intentionally or not, Halloween is still an excellent horror movie that I highly recommend to those who have never seen it, and highly recommend a rewatch for those who have. 

Train to Busan (2016) dir. Yeong Sang-ho, South Korea

Train to Busan is one of the best zombie movies ever made. While I’m sure some would love to debate this opinion I will plug my ears and ignore them as someone who typically hates zombie movies but loved Train to Busan. The fears it prays on are both obvious and more metaphorical, with it having elements of fears of death and disease, but also having elements of the fear of growing distant from and losing family. 

Trapped on a train surrounded by the living dead, a businessman is forced to confront how distant he has become from his young daughter due to his workaholic nature and ignorance. The film shows how his greed for money and his choice to work instead of spending time with his daughter has pushed a wedge between them, and how it was likely the cause for his divorce. 

Throughout the film, he is forced to reflect on his own nature and his fear of becoming separated from his daughter, both in an abstract and literal sense, as he traverses the train with a group of survivors attempting to reach the other group. The film also shows the fear of disease, with the character of the greedy COO fearing the group trying to connect with his group could be infected and attempting to keep them locked out to save his own skin while ignoring their insistence that they are not infected. Everyone fears disease, and many people fear driving a wedge between themselves and others. Often these fears are rational and irrational alike, and they are ones the film doesn’t use to stigmatize anything but greed and ignorance. Train to Busan is a film I’d recommend even if zombie films aren’t typically your cup of tea.

The Strangers (2008) dir. Bryan Bertino, United States

The Strangers is a film that preys on our fears of stalking and home invasion, similar to the original The Purge but preceding it by a number of years. It tells the story of a couple who are attacked in the night by three masked strangers who invade their home and attempt to hunt them down, simply because they can. Many people have anxiety around these particular fears. Is that bang outside a raccoon or is someone trying to smash a window and get in? Was that creak on the floorboard the house settling or is someone creeping down the hall? Is that shadow in the corner of my eye a shirt hanging on a chair or is it a person trying to hide? 

These are fears further exacerbated by the real home invasions, stalkings, and killings that happen in our real world. They are fears very much based in reality, but ones that are often irrational. While The Strangers isn’t a perfect horror film it is one that I love and recommend to anyone who doesn’t have intense anxiety around home invasions.

Resident Evil (2002) dir. Paul W. S. Andersen, United States

Resident Evil is a film series I will admit is not very good. However, it is incredibly fun to watch, and I recommend at least watching the battle against Wesker from Resident Evil: Afterlife. Both the films and the games explore our fears of disease and our fears of corporations. The T-Virus and its variants across the franchise seem nigh-unstoppable, even when Raccoon City is hit with a nuclear bomb the T-Virus continues to spread across the world. Fear of disease is one that is incredibly prevalent, especially today. Everyone is worried about becoming sick from something, even more, so something that could kill you or that could remove your autonomy. 

Resident Evil also represents our often justified fear of corporations, as the incredibly shady Umbrella Corporation is directly responsible for the outbreak either by incompetence or purposeful infection in an attempt to experiment on an unwilling populace. We often fear what corporations are doing behind the curtain, whether it’s an invasion of privacy, destruction of the environment, or simply causing problems for everyone via sheer incompetence. I highly recommend the Resident Evil series for anyone looking for a good time, at least not critically.

The Matrix (1999) dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, United States

The Matrix is a classic sci-fi film and one that I knew would be on this list for certain as soon as I knew I was doing this. It’s my favorite film of all time, and despite not being a horror movie like the others, it still explores some of our societal fears, such as the fear of becoming complacent and the fear of reality not being what we perceive it as. Within the Matrix itself, people are expected to conform to the computer-generated fantasy. Conformity means the computers can keep using the human race as batteries and soylent green. When people don’t conform, such as the characters that teach Neo about the truth of the Matrix, it poses a threat directly to society and the way things are done. The systematic issues are ones the robots don’t want to be challenged as it would threaten their position of power. Sounds a little familiar, even today. 

It can be scary as well to think of the Matrix conceptually. It is scary to imagine the world we know is not real but is instead lines of code on a computer telling us things are a certain way, that things are good when they very much are not. I highly recommend the Matrix to everyone who watches movies. It is a classic and a pioneer for sci-fi visual effects, and an excellent franchise all around. It’s also a good time to watch considering the fourth film in the series comes out this holiday season.

Categories
Manga

Sensor: Review

An advanced reader’s copy of this book was provided by Netgalley and Viz Media in exchange for an honest review.

Like many of Junji Ito’s works (Tomie and Remina in particular), Sensor is primarily about a character who is fascinated with a young woman who is herself surrounded by supernatural events that she seems to be connected to in some way. In Tomie, this takes the form of harm befalling those who the titular character encounters and harm befalling Tomie at the hands of the men who she charms. Remina meanwhile follows a girl who becomes the object of obsession with everything after having a planet named after her by her father, something which eventually leads to said planet destroying the earth in an effort to be closer to her.

Sensor, meanwhile, has Kyoko Byakuya, a young woman who feels drawn to Mount Sengoku, a dormant volcano. While there she meets a man who somehow knows everything about her. The man tells her that, thanks to the angelic hair that coats his entire village of Kiyokami, he and the other residents are granted telepathic abilities. The villagers believe that the hair (which they call “amigami”) is the hair of a Christian missionary named Miguel who long ago was put to death along with the villagers who harboured him for refusing to renounce their faith. Each night, the villagers stare up at the sky and use their powers to gaze into the cosmos in order to see Miguel. 

That night, Kyoko joins them and a large amount of amigami reigns down and enhances the villagers’ powers, causing them to sense a mysterious black entity instead of Miguel.

Hair everywhere in Sensor

60 years later, Mount Sengoku has erupted for the first time in ages and a team of scientists are investigating the area where Kiyokami was prior to being destroyed in a previous eruption. There they find Kyoko wrapped in a cocoon of golden hair. This discovery sets the rest of the story in motion and introduces the framing device of a reporter chasing after Kyoko, drawn to her much in the same way that she was originally drawn to Kiyokami.

Sensor is not my favourite of Ito’s stories, I find it hard to believe that anything will ever outdo Uzumaki though I absolutely welcome the idea that something one day could. That being said, I appreciate the big ideas Ito is bringing into this, the fact that he’s bringing in esoteric concepts like the Akashic Records (a compendium of everything ever) is awesome and I would love to see more stuff like that in a lot of media, I love esoteric stuff. In general, this book feels more in line with what I like from Ito’s work than the last story of his to be translated into English, Remina, does. Everything just clicks together for me and the imagery just works in a way that Remina didn’t for me. 

I love Ito’s books, I always have and probably always will. I’ve been told on a few occasions that I have more of his books than anyone some of my friends know. It was basically going to be a given that I had some nice things to say about Sensor. That being said, this book is a solid horror story with some great moments and some moments that just don’t work as well as others but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading more horror manga or would like to get into reading Junji Ito but is intimidated by his longer books like Uzumaki or Tomie.

Categories
Film

The Night House is a Quiet Horror Story with a Deep Mythology

The Night House, the new feature film from director David Bruckner (The Ritual) is, at its most simple, a movie about grief. Grief is not a foreign subject to the horror genre, a fact which is becoming more true in recent years with movies like Midsommar and Mandy placing grief front and centre. The Night House after all, follows Beth (Rebecca Hall) as she recovers from her husband’s unexpected suicide; it has all the trappings of a ghost story — a recent widow, a mostly empty house, strange happenings. But much like the titular house, The Night House is so much more than what it seems.

Rebecca Hall is brilliant the entire time, feeling reminiscent of Toni Collette in Hereditary. She carries the entire film which is by design. This is Beth’s story, her recovery in the face of tragedy. As a result, Beth is alone for most of the movie as she attempts to uncover the mystery of just who her late husband (Evan Jonigkeit) really was. It’s an uncomfortable film at times made more so by Hall’s quiet but intense portrayal of a grieving widow struggling with the realization that she didn’t really know her husband in the first place and that he was not who he seemed in more than just the typical “cheating husband” or “husband hiding a dark secret” ways. Like the hints of a denser, more complicated mythology that we see scattered throughout the film, Owen’s secret is more complicated than either of those options.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Beth’s realization of her lack of awareness is compounded by the scenes in which she views her husband’s secret life from the outside, watching the impressions of previous nights unfolding all at once from outside of a mirrored version of the lake house which she has been living in alone since her husband’s death. There’s both an eeriness and a deep sadness to it. It’s difficult not to mourn for the lack of awareness Beth is losing as she uncovers the mystery. It’s a terrible thing to love someone and to find out that you didn’t know them at all. Thankfully most of us don’t have the “joy” of finding out that our loved ones are actually dark forces intent on killing us who have caused our loved ones to kill women with similar appearances to us in order to trick the spirit into being appeased. 

Parts of The Night House hint at a deeper mythology than what is textually there; Beth finds books on the occult and a book on caerdroia, Welsh turf mazes. While they weren’t used for these purposes in real life, the prop book features a briefly visible paragraph that details that, within the fictional setting of the film, caerdroia were used to confuse and/or weaken dark forces and distract them with false sacrifices. I’m sure you can connect the dots between this and the last sentence of the previous paragraph. But caerdroia are not where the occult aspects of The Night House end; at one point in the movie, Beth finds a voodoo doll in the mirror house. The doll in question is modeled after a real voodoo doll that was found in Egypt and is now held in the Louvre. I’ve seen it in person and I promise you it is just as creepy as the movie’s version of it. Not much is said about the doll beyond the fact that Owen had one of his would-be victims hold it before he attempted to kill her. 

Beth (Rebecca Hall) holds a voodoo doll in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

A final point before we conclude our brief dive into the occult aspects of The Night House. The book on caerdroia contains on one of the end papers a seal from the Ars Goetia, one of the five books in the Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous grimoire on demonology. The Ars Goetia is essentially a guide to summoning demons; all of the usual suspects are in there, Baal, Paimon, Asmodeus. You name it and it is probably in there. The demon of most import to this entire tangent is Andras, a Great Marquis of Hell who sows discord among people. He’s pretty cool for a demon, rides a wolf, carries a sword, has the head of an owl and the body of a winged angel. His seal appears in the book that Beth finds and while he’s never mentioned by name (and God was I waiting for that moment), it’s still unlikely that the appearance of his seal is a coincidence when one considers all of the other work that was put into the occult aspects of the film. Again, feel free to discount this as meaning nothing and just being me going off on a tangent about one of the weird things I happen to know a lot about.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Like Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and many other recent horror movies, The Night House is a quiet character-driven story that goes off the rails in the last fifteen or so minutes. While I tend to love when a movie does that I felt a bit of fatigue with that trend while watching it. The ending here works and it does so well but it’s impossible for me not to feel that the other shoe is going to drop soon and I will find myself completely tired of these slow horror movies that devolve into chaos just before the end credits roll. In all genres the shiny new concept that becomes a hit ends up driven into the ground, forced down the throats of viewers until eventually we’ve had enough and we just want it to end. I find it highly likely that if the trend continues at the pace it’s been going we will very soon see the fatigue set in to a wider extent. But despite the creeping fatigue I felt from what is steadily becoming an overused concept in horror, The Night House was really good. It was well-done with a creepy atmosphere free from all but one (well-done and well-earned) jumpscare and a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall at it’s centre.