Thursday, October 10, 2019


¡QUÉ HORROR2019
The Wrap-Up

And there we are.

For the record, there was a brief moment where I considered having a Deadly Doppelgänger slot, but that might have invited the kind of involved geek discussion/debate that can get sticky and too protracted for its own good.
After all, while Us is very clearly about doppelgängers, Head Count features a shapeshifter and The Hole in the Ground seems more inclined towards the folklore of changelings. And then there's Cam...
In the end, I just opted to sidestep all of that potential controversy and give them their own individual slots.
At any rate, there were already a pair of twofers in the main rundown...

So.
That's that for this October then.

The only other thing that needs to be said is:
Have a Happy (and safe) Halloween.
Here's to all the awesome (screenbound) horror of the past 12 months, and to all the awesome (yes, screenbound) horror of the next 12...
 



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[13 of 13]


MIDSOMMAR
(June 2019)


i cant anymore - everything's black - mom and dad are coming too. goodbye.

That’s an email that Dani Ardor (Malevolent’s Florence Pugh) receives from her bipolar sister Terri, which we get a peek at early on in Ari Aster’s sophomore offering, Midsommar.
Like the obituary that opens Aster’s feature debut (and ¡Q horror! 2018 title) Hereditary, it’s an ominous harbinger of the torrent of grief that rages throughout the film’s runtime, as well as all the dreadful things to come, as Dani finds herself in an isolated community in Sweden where things are, quite naturally for a horror movie, not as idyllic as they seem.

I’ve always liked the folk horror subgenre, where the outsider is plunged into a close-knit community, stumbling about, ignorant of the nuances and niceties (sometimes, even the language) of this alien society, exposed to customs and traditions that, to a stranger, can be bizarre, perhaps even grotesque and repulsive.
It’s like the extreme horror movie form of FOMO, the simmering anxiety of being the only one who isn’t in on it, and in folk horror of course, not knowing what it is--until it’s far too late--can very well be the death of you…

When Midsommar takes its first decisive folk horror turn, it’s a powerful and potent sequence, and once that takes place, it is, as they say, all downhill from there, at least for Dani and company…
More questionable incidents then take place, but each character’s personal issues and preoccupations cloud their awareness of the fact that things are very wrong in “… The tranquil and majestic Hårga.”

 
All things considered, Midsommar navigates the folk horror seas exceptionally well, because there is, after all, a giant lying in the folk horror depths.
Said giant is, of course, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, one of those particularly singular titles that forever casts its long and intimidating shadow over all the other films of its type that follow. Like The Exorcist and possession movies, or Jaws and shark movies, any folk horror title made after 1973 needs to walk in The Wicker Man’s shade.*
But thanks to Aster’s firm directorial and narrative grasp (as well as DP Pawel Pogorzelski’s eye), there is more than enough glaring sunlight to drive away The Wicker Man’s shadow, at least for the spell-like duration of Midsommar’s length, enough time for Aster to weave an insidious tale that cautions that the insularity and isolation of any community has the potential to breed horrors.

I suspect that there will be a portion of the audience that will feel Midsommar is not quite as “scary” as Aster’s first horror effort, Hereditary.
But, while that may or may not be true, what I can say is, Midsommar is one effed-up title--and I mean that in the nicest possible horror movie way.
It’s a film that showcases the horrifying beauty of community, where one is never left alone, and where all emotions--joy, ecstasy, grief, or horror--are felt in unity.
Much like a theatre full of people, witnessing Midsommar’s sundrenched terrors in the climate-controlled dark.

* So complete and intimidating is that shadow that not even Hardy’s own “spiritual sequel,” The Wicker Tree, could hope to hold its own…

Parting Shot 1:
Frankie Valli’s “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” plays over the end credits roll…
Man, Aster really knows how to pick a closing song…

Parting Shot 2:
There is what may (or may not) be a swipe at Neil LaBute’s ill-fated 2006 remake of The Wicker Man towards Midsommar’s end…
I leave it up to the viewer to decide…

Parting Shot 3:
I’m looking forward to the opportunity to check out the longer-by-23 minutes Director’s Cut…
Yay! More folk horror goodness!

“Yeah, it’s sort of a crazy nine-day festival my family’s doing. Lots of pageantry…”
“Uh-huh.”
“… special ceremonies, and dressing up.”
“That sounds fun.”
“It’ll probably seem very silly. But, it’s like theatre.”

(Midsommar OS’ courtesy of impawards.com.)



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[12 of 13]


PET SEMATARY
(March 2019)


There are places in this world... that are older than either of us. Places that a rational doctor brain like yours will never understand.
“Nobody knows what that place is, what happens in that stony ground.
“But the soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis.”

For the record, I’ve never read the original Stephen King novel.
My only exposure to a complete narrative of Pet Sematary was the 1989 film adaptation directed by Mary Lambert.
At least, until now.
Now that I’ve also been exposed to the new adaptation from Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who broke onto the ¡Q horror! 2015 main list with Starry Eyes. (While I would have probably checked out a Pet Sematary remake anyway, based on my familiarity with the 1989 film, Kölsch and Widmyer’s presence at the director’s chair(s) sealed the deal.)

Clearly, there are marked deviations from Lambert’s version, though given that, again, I’ve never read the novel, maybe these deviations bring the narrative closer to the original source material. (I was always under the impression that Lambert’s adaptation made changes to the original text, as is par for the course with any adaptation, really.)

 
All I know is, with death as a major theme and reality of Pet Sematary, it’s a bleakly harsh vision of a parent’s perhaps vain struggle to protect a child from the brutal truths of existence.

And another thing… what I am sure I miss from Mary Lambert’s adaptation?
The original Ramones title track.
Sorry, Starcrawler…

“Yeah, they knew the power of that place. They felt its pull.
“They came to believe that those woods belonged to something else. That the ground was bad.”

(Pet Sematary OS’ courtesy of impawards.com.)

Monday, October 7, 2019



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[11 of 13]


US
(March 2019)


Then Sotuknang went to Taiowa and said, ‘I want you to see what I have done. And I have done well.’
“And Taiowa looked and said, ‘It is very good. But you are not done with it.  Now you must create life of all kinds and set it in motion according to my plan.’”
--“Creation Story” (written and performed by Tsonakwa & Dean Evenson; from a Hopi creation myth)

After the decisive statement of purpose that was Get Out, Jordan Peele returns with Us, which sees Lupita Nyong’o as a wife and mother whose family is besieged by red-clad, scissors-wielding doppelgängers.
Which of course, you’d know if you’ve already seen the trailers or the one sheets.
That is, however, all you’re going to get here, because, as always, to preserve as much of the cinematic experience as possible, I steer as clear of spoiler territory as humanly possible…

But I will say this:
Though Peele trades in the overt thematics of racism in Get Out for a follow-up that’s apparently a more straight-forward horror film that just happens to have an African-American family as its protagonists, what it looks like (as indicated by Us’ narrative) isn’t necessarily what it actually is.
So, yes, Us, like Get Out, is most definitely about something. It’s just a bit more under the skin though, so you’ll need to dig to uncover Us’ truths.


Another thing I can say:
It’s rare these days to point to a film with a nearly two hour running time and call it “tight,” but Us seriously just flies by.
The pacing, performances, and clear control Peele exerts over the narrative all combine to give (heh) us another ¡Q horror!-worthy piece from the comedian who’d always dreamed of becoming a horror movie director.
Well, thank goodness he finally got around to the horror…

Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.
--Jeremiah 11:11 (King James Version)


(Us OS’ courtesy of impawards.com)



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[10 of 13]


VELVET BUZZSAW
(January 2019)


"Look, I came to the museum because I wanted to change the world through art. But the wealthy vacuum up everything, except crumbs. The best work is only enjoyed by a tiny few. And they buy what they’re told. So, why not join the party?”

Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw takes place in the dangerous waters of the art world, where most everyone is only too eager to deploy a scathing remark or a catty side-eye while they’re busy co-opting an artist’s true passion to make a quick buck.
It’s a world populated not just by artists, but by all the other personalities that tend to accrete around them, like critics or gallery owners.
The former is represented by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Morf Vandewalt, an inveterate critic who’s apparently unable to switch off his being “selective,” even for funerals, while Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze is one of the latter. Once a self-described anarchist, from her days as a member of the punk band Velvet Buzzsaw, Rhodora is now a “purveyor of good taste,” as the owner of Haze Gallery.
They’re only two of the noteworthy collective of characters (and performers: Toni Collette! John Malkovich!) in this tale of art taking its overdue revenge on the industry that’s savagely exploited it, oh so cruelly and elegantly.

“Let me fill you in.
“All this… it’s just a safari to hunt the next New Thing and eat it.”

As an artist, as someone who creates, that dizzyingly high target you’re always aiming for is to create art that speaks to the audience, that can touch them in ways they never expected.
There’s a moment in the film that encapsulates that feeling masterfully, where Malkovich and Daveed Diggs--who play an established artist who’s seen better days and a new up-and-comer, the old school and the new--stare enraptured (or “ensorcelled,” as Morf would have it) at a piece of art in a gallery.
Velvet Buzzsaw takes that idea, and tosses it headfirst into horror movie territory as the art of one Vetril Dease proves to be art that can touch you hard enough to kill you.
It’s art that--to use Rhodora’s words--charges and mauls and devours.
It’s art that eats its audience.
Or, more to the point, it’s art that eats anyone who tries to profit off it in ethically questionable ways.

“We don’t sell durable goods, we peddle perception. Thin as a bubble.”

As much as Velvet Buzzsaw is a horror movie, complete with gruesome, gory deaths, what I feel is more noteworthy is that it’s also a savagely funny satire of the art world and its denizens.
Gilroy’s script impishly skewers an industry that constantly co-opts new voices and visions into its maw, all in the name of the Almighty Dollar, turning them into Brands and using them until they’re no longer of any worth, then tossing them out for some other bright new shiny talent.
Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s a world at once terrible and ludicrous, where a bunch of plastic garbage bags or a dead body in pools of blood can be mistaken for contemporary art.
A world where the Critic is God (the one and only Voice that can apparently determine a piece’s beauty and worth, but also a Voice only too ready to spew cruel and merciless invective), a world where true, passionate creativity and artistic integrity are forever haunted by the “money question.”

“So much easier to talk about money than art.”

As Rhodora points out to a Morf who’s already left the room (and as the one sheet’s tagline says), all art is dangerous.
Or at least, art is meant to be dangerous.
Art should provoke and challenge, inspire and elevate.
Instead, it’s become mired in an industry that’s far more interested in “tax issues,” the promise of “significant appreciation,” and “cutting-edge analytics to maximize deal flow and global demand.”
The industry has filed down the teeth of art, all the better to sacrifice it at the altar of commerce.
Velvet Buzzsaw imagines all those teeth grown back, turned into razor sharp fangs.

“Well, I’m going to meet with your board tomorrow and suggest a reduction in the Emerging Artist Exhibit.
“They don’t sell any tickets anyway.”

Parting Shot: Pat Healy (familiar to these parts from past ¡Q horror! titles Cheap Thrills and Tales of Halloween) appears briefly as the “Man From Perlack.”

(Velvet Buzzsaw OS courtesy of impawards.com.)

Sunday, October 6, 2019



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[9 of 13]


THE HOLE IN THE GROUND
(January 2019)


And the branch on the tree...
And the tree… in the hole…
And the hole in the bog…
And the bog… down in… the valley-o…”

Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Christopher (James Quinn Markey) have just moved to a new town--specifically, to a house on the edge of some deep, dark woods (are there any other kind of woods in these kinds of films?)--when she begins to suspect that Chris isn’t Chris at all…
That’s the central conceit of Lee Cronin’s feature directorial debut, The Hole in the Ground.

Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Stephen Shields, Cronin gives us a potent dose of largely exposition-free horror that delves into the fears and anxieties a parent has for their child, relying on tone and atmosphere (and some excellent performances by Kerslake, Markey, and James Cosmo in a brief supporting role) to make its point.
And a fine, creeptastic point it is, punctuated by some unsettling set pieces (maaaaaan, that talent show number…) and wrapped up with Lisa Hannigan’s haunting rendition of “Weile Weile Waile” that runs over the end credits roll.

“The mirror always tells the truth.”



(The Hole in the Ground OS & UK quad courtesy of impawards.com.)



13 Slots for the Best Horror I've Seen in the Past Year
[8 of 13]
The TV Terror Slot

Another twofer!


THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
(October 2018)


How can a house, just a collection of bricks, wood, and glass, have that much power over people?"

Just as he did on ¡Q horror! 2017 title Ouija: Origin of Evil, Mike Flanagan masterfully navigates the seas of traditional horror cinema in his self-described “remix” of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
This time out, unlike the original novel’s researchers and investigators, we see the Crain family move into Hill House, with the express aim of flipping it (or, fixing and flipping it, to be more precise).
The house, of course, uninterested in being renovated and then sold on to some other family foolish enough to open its door and walk down its shadowy halls, has other ideas…

“This house… it’s a strange house.
“I’ve worked here a long time, and all I can tell you is that it’s just as stupid and hungry as anything else.
“We don’t stay after dark, Horace and I. And my child is not allowed to step foot in this place. Not once.”

For me, the most important thing is if you remove the supernatural entirely, the story and the character need to be just as compelling. The supernatural stuff is the easy stuff. But all of that stuff is really boring to me if it’s not grounded in some kind of really relatable honest human experience.”
-- Mike Flanagan

This house… it’s full of precious, precious things… and they don’t all belong to you…”

Skillfully utilizing the narrative elegance of non-linear storytelling, Flanagan and company track the family’s ordeals and progressive unraveling, both in Hill House, and decades after, in a tale which is by turns chilling and heart-wrenching.
If this were a different kind of story, the Crain siblings would have taken all the lessons learned from their harrowing stay at Hill House, and ended up becoming a group of ghost-busting paranormal investigators.
But in the story this “remix” chooses to tell--a story more grounded in real life and the vagaries of family--what we end up with are a bunch of scarred, f*cked up individuals, all dealing as best they can with the trauma of their childhoods.
And this, quite possibly, is the best aspect of this particular take on the original material: that the dots that connect the children they once were with the adults they eventually become, are so clearly delineated.
The characterizations--the result of a potent combination of the character arcs as mapped out in the narrative, and excellent performances by the cast--are just as solid as the creepy scares.

“You’ve been knocking on that door for years and years and years…
“We could hear you knocking louder all the time, and finally, here you are…”

If we were going to be doing this as a long format, it had to be about the way every family is a haunted house, and everyone is wrestling with their ghosts from their own childhood and beyond--that echo through decades.”
-- Mike Flanagan

I was right here. I didn’t go anywhere.
“I was right here… I was right here the whole time.
“None of you could see me.
“Nobody could see me.”

Directing the entire season of 10 episodes, Flanagan brings both an exquisite cinematic eye to the proceedings*, and a fundamental understanding of the full range of his cast’s capabilities.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that amongst an already formidable collection of actors and actresses**, the paired casting of Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas are the cherry-so-red-it’s-very-nearly-black on top of this ghostly, sinister sundae, a sickly, sweetly rotten treat sprinkled liberally with mold and familial dysfunction.

“There’s nothing wrong with going at night. It’s just a carcass in the woods.
“It’s just a carcass in the woods.
“It’s just a carcass… in the woods.”


* Aided by long-time collaborator, cinematographer Michael Fimognari.

** Shout outs to Annabeth Gish and Dr. Lawrence Jacoby himself, Russ Tamblyn, who may just be overlooked with all the other high-caliber thespianics going on around them.

Parting Shot: Though I have seen Jan de Bont’s The Haunting, I’ve never read the original Shirley Jackson novel (I really should finally get around to it), nor seen the 1963 Robert Wise film adaptation (which Flanagan seems respectfully in awe of).
As it turns out, Tamblyn also appeared in Wise's version, as the "Luke" character. In Flanagan's "remix," Tamblyn plays Dr. Montague, repurposing the name of the lead investigator in Jackson's original novel. (In Wise's adaptation, that character becomes Dr. Markway.)
Remix, indeed.

“Our family is like an unfinished meal to that house…"

And, on a bittersweet note, what, at the moment, seems to be the final ¡Q horror! appearance of Channel Zero (which nonetheless makes ¡Q horror! history by breaking Hannibal's record as the only multi-season TV show to have all its seasons make a place for themselves in the ¡Q horror! main rundowns; Channel Zero did it four times... and wasn't a single serialized narrative).

Congratulations, Channel Zero.
And sniff. R.I.P.

CHANNEL ZERO:
THE DREAM DOOR
(October 2018)


Roses are... lazy. And dishonest.”
“‘Dishonest’?”
“Mmm! Pretty flower! And then a minute later, you’re bleeding!”

Well, hell-loooooo, Pretzel Jack!
Turning to Cronenberg*** for some conceptual inspiration, Channel Zero does an awesome quasi-slasher impression with the E.L. Katz-helmed The Dream Door, where an imaginary childhood friend and protector becomes something far more sinister in adulthood.

Channel Zero delivers a fourth winning season by giving us yet another “flavor” of horror (to borrow Channel Zero creator Nick Antosca’s term).
Just as Butcher’s Block was different from No-End House, which was, in turn, different from Candle Cove, so is The Dream Door different from any of the previous seasons.
Gorier and slightly more savage than its predecessors, it’s a tale that delves into the potentially brutal pain of complete honesty in a relationship, a story about love and secrets and distrust, and the intersection where all three collide… with a super-creepy contortionist clown…

“You know, it’s funny. In Jungian psychology, doors are kind of a thing.
“This whole deal with your basement, is… it’s fascinating.

*** As well as Lynch, particularly for a brief, yet unsettlingly poignant bit past the halfway mark.

(The Haunting of Hill House OS’ & Channel Zero: The Dream Door OS courtesy of impawards.com.)