Halloween 1978

The original is always the best. We closed out Halloween month with the movie named after the holiday. Does it hold up? Absolutely. It’s the best in the series and a legendary horror movie for a reason.

I watch this one every few years. The story is well known. A mad man escapes an asylum and returns to his hometown where he stalks and kills a group of teenaged babysitters lead by Jamie Lee Curtis. He is pursued by Dr. Loomis, played but Donald Pleasance.

What makes this movie work better than the others in the series or the others in its genre? A couple of reasons, but the most prominent is this films focus on suspense not violence. This movie is about one hour and forty five minutes long. An hour of that time is spent building up the suspense and fear. It is a slow burn. It builds up its tension methodically. It builds up an aura of fear around the masked killer that then explodes in the final minutes. We always know where the killer is. We know he’s outside. We know he’s coming up the stairs. We know he’s under that sheet or behind that door. We know. The characters don’t. They walk in blissful ignorance of the danger surrounding them. This creates suspense. We know the danger is there. They don’t. We feel on edge. This is exquisitely handled throughout the movie. This makes it the scariest of the series.

It doesn’t linger on the violence or the blood. There is nary a drop of blood in this movie. It is all about the buildup and suspense. We aren’t forced to linger in the blood and guts. We aren’t exposed to the horrific gore that the effects department can cook up. It is about the characters, and the dread we feel for them.

On the other hand, it is a slow movie. What struck me this time was how many shots there are of the killer watching the girls. Long takes of long shots of watching and lingering. There’s a lot of long shots in this movie. That will definitely upset those with shorter attention spans. It will be hard to get used to when you are accustomed to the fast pointless cuts of TV and modern films.

This is a fun movie to revisit on Halloween. It feels like home each October 31st. I enjoy the film every year, but I’m ready for the month to be over. It’s been a very messy month. I’m typing this review on November 1st because I fell so far behind on my reviews. It was just too much to try to watch a movie a day, work, and write a review. We’ll see how many more years I’m able to keep up this tradition. I do love it, and I’d be very sad to see it go away. But times change, and the tides seem to be pulling me away from this type of immersive experience. I will for sure be hitting it next year as 2022 will mark my tenth year of this marathon. I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I’ll try to make it something special.

Happy Halloween to everyone. I hope you all had a good year. I hope you can all join me again next year.

Last Night in Soho

This latest film release from Edgar Wright is the kind of movie that makes me excited about movies. It is made with such vivid excitement and visceral love of film that I couldn’t help but get swept up in it.

The film follows Eloise, played by a fantastic Thomasin McKenzie from Jojo Rabbit, a young woman excited to be attending the London school of fashion. She wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps and leave Cornwall to see London. She loves the London of the 1960’s that her grandmother has told her about. She finds a small room in a boarding house run by Ms. Collins, Diana Rigg in her final film role. The room has a vintage 1960’s aesthetic that excites Eloise. That night she goes to sleep and finds herself transported to the past. She walks in the shoes of Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Eloise is a sort of ghost that haunts Sandie on one eventful night out. She gets to live her exciting 60’s lifestyle along with her. This inspires her work at the fashion school. It excites her creativity and she rushes home every night to sleep and live out Sandie’s life. However, things begin to take a turn as Sandie’s idyllic life takes a dark and desperate turn. Eloise feels her sanity slipping as the ghosts of the past begin to infiltrate her waking life. Is Eloise losing her mind? Are there actually ghosts haunting her? You’ll have to see the movie to find out. I won’t spoil anything here.

I love Thomasin McKenzie! She is fantastic here. Holy crap, she delivers a great performance. She walks the knife’s edge between sane and crazy. She carries this movie with a naturalism and a grace that few could match. Anya Taylor-Joy is her usual devoted and elegant self. She carries Sandie through her tragic story perfectly. There are some wonderful supporting players like Matt Smith as a charming man from the past, and Terence Stamp as a menacing force in the present. Every actor brings their A-game.

The filmmaking here is just delightful. Edgar Wright has a great sense of the tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal. He creates a wonderful dance scene where Matt Smith seems to be dancing with McKenzie and Taylor-Joy simultaneously. It all seems to be done with classic camera tricks and techniques. No CGI. It’s wonderful. He throws songs onto the soundtrack that send the movie soaring instead of weighing it down with obvious needle drops. He uses vivid saturated color to denote the transition between past and present. The use of red here is especially effective.

It’s also really scary at times. As the ghosts seem to haunt Eloise, the movie takes a terrifying turn. My goodness I jumped several times. I was on the edge of my seat in one late sequence where Eloise seems to see the ghosts infiltrate her waking life in horrifying fashion. The fear adds to the emotional sweep of the film. My emotions got wrapped up completely and irrevocably in the narrative. I was sold on hundred percent on this movie from the early scenes. It is a vivid and wonderful experience. I had so much fun. I hope you’ll seek it out in theaters and have as much fun as I did. It’s a great movie. It’s my cup of tea. A

Till Death

This 2021 thriller is currently streaming on Netflix if you have a strong stomach and an appreciation for subtle stunt work. This one was a real doozy. I enjoyed it thoroughly. nTh film opens with a very slow build. Megan Fox plays Emma Webster, a deeply unhappy wife shackled to a wealthy and powerful attorney Mark played by Eoin Mackey, He is deeply controlling and kind of a scum bag. He really sucks, but it is hard to get on Emma’s side as she is an emotionless robot worn down by the endless years of marriage to this awful dude. She is having an affair with Tom, played by Aml Ameen, but has decided to break it off. It’s her anniversary, and Mark brings her to their lake house for a special night together.

I don’t want to spoil the shock, but I have to say that Emma wakes up to find herself handcuffed to her husband’s corpse. She finds the lake house empty of tools and the phone lines down. She also discovers that a psychotic criminal from her past is one his way to wreak his horrible revenge. Emma has to contend with the frigid winter outside, her husband’s body and the murderers on their way.

What I loved about this movie is how smart it is. Emma is a clever protagonist who comes alive with each passing moment. She has lived under Mark’s thumb for years, but now that she’s literally chained to him she comes alive. She handles this situation in the smartest way possible, and the movie gives us all the information beforehand, so it never feels cheap. A good example is when Emma is cornered. How does she get out of the stairwell without the killers spotting her? She sets off the car alarm. How does she set off the car alarm? Because we saw her pick up the keys earlier. It’s great set up and payoff throughout the movie. If you get frustrated with horror movies in which you yell at the characters to do “A” or “B”, this film is for you. Every time I told Emma to do something, she either did it, or did something smarter. It was a breath of fresh air. I really had fun with the cat and mouse games that went on in this movie.

I enjoyed all the performers and how they seemed to exist beyond the edges of the frame. Megan Fox especially does a good job. She goes from the emotionless shell of a woman to a fully realize woman fighting for her life. Eoin Macken is pitch perfect as the charming dirt bag who has held Emma back for so many years. I also really liked Callan Mulvey as the killer who brings menace to every scene.

I also loved the subtle stunt work that was on display here. It’s not the kind of stunt work that gets noticed or celebrated, but it is really good work. Emma tries to get downstairs while chained to her husband’s corpse. The two end up falling down the stairs together. Stair work is always tough on stunt people. It’s dangerous work, and the fact that one of them has to pretend to be a dead body is extra impressive. It was fun to notice that the dead body was a real actor and stunt performer who had to perform all these physical actions while remaining limp and lifeless. It’s great work.

Overall, I had a great time with this movie. It’s a grisly, but rewarding thriller. It’s tense and frightening. It’s smart and rewarding. It’s a well make film that’s definitely worth checking out on Netflix. It’s my cup of tea. A-

Werewolves Within

This 2021 film is a very funny horror comedy that is more funny than horrifying. It has two very charming lead actors, a solid script, and a strong premise. Everything you need in a good horror comedy.

The film follows Finn Wheeler a national park ranger played by Sam Richardson, as he journeys to the small town of Beaverfield. He is the new park ranger for the national forest that abuts the town. Once he arrives, he encounters Cecily, played by MilanaVayntrub, she is the local postal worker and takes a shine to him. He sense a kindred spirit, and the two become friends in the strange and sometime hostile small town of Beaverfield. Finn is an oppressively optimistic fellow who loves being nice to everyone. This is a problem as the town descends into back stabbing chaos amidst fears of a possible werewolf attack.

When a snowstorm isolates the town and power is mysteriously cut, the wild and wacky inhabitants of the town gather at the local inn and try to decide what to do. They begin o turn on each other when they come to believe that a werewolf is in their midst. Only Finn stands between the town and utter chaos.

I love the characters here. Rather, I love the character work on display here. Some of these characters are truly awful people, but the actors make strong decisions, the script gives them good material to work with, and the film lets them play. It’s a really solid cast built of “hey I know that guy” style performers. Their names won’t be recognizable, but when you see them, you’ll know them. It’s a great cast.

That great cast is lead by two strong leads. I loved Milana Vayntrub, best known from those AT&T commercials. She is charming and delightful. Playing off of her is Sam Richardson, a wonderful comic relief in so many movies and shows, finally given his proper leading role here. He is funny and sweet in equal measure. I really loved these two together on screen. They are so much fun. Great chemistry and a nice rapport. I’d love to see them paired together again.

The townspeople begin to suspect each other of being a werewolf. They begin to turn their numerous guns on each other and the situation which is often played for fear and suspense is played for comedy. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a Mexican standoff in which the characters debate the political correctness of saying “Mexican Standoff.”It’s a smart and winking commentary that makes fun of its characters and its subjects with ease. There’s a lot of fun to be had here.

My quibble is with the transition to the final showdown. I don’t think the movie fully nails the transition. For the majority of the run time, it is unclear if there is a werewolf or not. When the film finally answers that question it feels uneven and awkward. It doesn’t flow naturally between act two and three. I wish they could have made that a smoother transition or a stronger build to the conclusion. Aside from this, that’s my only real issue.

I laughed a lot. I enjoyed the film immensely. I’d watch it again. That’s very high praise for any film. It’s worth checking out. It’s my cup of tea. A-

Also, surprisingly, this film is based on a video game. Which makes it the only video game movie I truly enjoyed. Crazy.

The Addams Family Values

Another delightful sequel that improves upon the original in a lot of ways while still falling prey to the classic sequel pitfall of separating your characters.

What worked about the first film is here again. Raul Julia giving 1000% to the role of Gomez Addams. Anjelica Huston’s sublime turn as the ethereal Morticia. Christopher Lloyd going whole hog with his wacky interpretation of Fester. The production design is again stupendous, and the pacing of the film really flies.

My biggest problem with the film is a common sequel problem. They split up their core characters. The Addams family themselves was the biggest success of the first film. The way these goofy people interacted and played off each other was sublime. In this film everyone goes off to do their own separate storyline. It’s a common thing in sequels. I don’t know if it’s a misunderstand of what made the original successful or if its some misguided idea that to challenge their characters they need to separate them, but whatever the cause the result is poor. That group dynamic we came to love in the original is fragmented and lost in the sequel.

Here is the plot of the film so that you might get a fuller picture of what I’m complaining about. Gomez and Morticia have a baby in hilarious fashion. Wednesday and Pugsley are jealous of the new baby and begin trying to murder him. Fester falls in love with the new nanny. Wednesday and Pugsley are sent away to summer camp. Gomez and Morticia quietly raise the baby by themselves off screen for a big chunk of the runtime. Fester and the Nanny get married. She is of course a gold digging murderer who only wants him for his money. She separates Fester from the family with the lure of sex. We don’t get enough of everyone interacting. They are all off on their separate adventures, dealing with their own plots.

Now that’s not to say that these individual storylines aren’t entertaining. They are. I love the summer camp sections of the film. Wednesday Addams in her dark and deadpan manner pointing out the falsehood of the camps excessive cheeriness is delightful. Watching Fester put on white suits and page boy wigs to please his new bride is hilarious. Gomez and Morticia keeping the spark of their romance alive with a new baby is fun. These are all great ideas. I just wish there was more room for overlap.

There’s a lot to love here, and I did thoroughly enjoy myself with this film as well as the original. Do I have problems and quibbles with this movie? Yes. Does it ruin the movie for me? Not entirely. It’s still my cup of tea. A-

The Addams Family

I haven’t seen this in 20 plus years, and boy have I been missing out. This movie was a delight. I thoroughly enjoyed the production design, the pacing, and especially the performances. This is a funny, and fun halloween movie.

lI am of course discussing the live action film from 1991 not the animated film from 2019 or any other the other terations that have hit screens over the years. This is the film starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci.

The Addams Family is of course the spooky, kooky family that began in comic stripes, then moved to television in the 1960’s. They are a family of dark and bizarre charms. This film follows the family as they try to find their long lost Uncle Fester, played by Christopher Lloyd. Gomez Addams, played by the wonderful Raul Julia, is beside himself after years of searching in vain for his long lost brother. Morticia Addams, played by the ethereal Anjelica Huston, is by his side, but suspicious of the man they have found who claims to be Fester. It turns out she has a right to be suspicious. This Fester is actually Gordon, the son of a conniving con artist Abigail, played by Elizabeth Wilson. They are using Gordon to infiltrate The Addams Family and steal their wealth.

My favorite aspect of the film are these wonderful actors giving pitch perfect performances. Raul Julia brings this wild untamable energy to every moment on screen. He is so much fun. He has such flourish and gusto, that I just wanted to spend more time with him. Anjelica Huston is subdued and otherworldly as Morticia. She has this soft devilish way about her that infinitely charming. Christopher Lloyd is truly bizarre as Fester/Gordon. He has this choked way of speaking and this weird hunched posture that is hilarious and delightful. Christina Ricci is the other stand out here as the deadpan Wednesday Addams. She is a lot of fun bringing a darkness to her line delivery. I just love watching these performers.

They shouldn’t work. Raul Julia is giving it his all at such a fever pitch that it should feel way over the top and ridiculous especially next to the subdued and transcendent Anjelica Huston. These two share a lot of scenes together, and they are playing at opposite ends of the spectrum. It should feel lopsided and goofy, but it works! They are so good together and bring the energy in different ways. It’s a lot of fun to see them perform together.

The look of the film is something beautiful to behold. They set design is this gothic style that flirts with Tim Burton but still manages to find its own look and its own aesthetic. Every frame is full of weird details that create a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere.

The story works really well because of how simple it is. It’s a classic con artist story. It has been done a lot, and it works here. It especially works here because it isn’t the only plot line going on. Everyone has their little subplots that intersect and work together. Gomez has his struggles. Morticia has her plot. Wednesday has her school play to prepare for. This isn’t Fester’s story or Gomez’s story. It’s a true ensemble. I loved that.

This is completely my cup of tea. I loved it. I loved it so much, that I watched the sequel as soon as this one was over. A

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight 2

Well, they made a sequel, and I watched it. I kind of wished I hadn’t. It wasn’t bad per se, but it was extremely messy and confused. It was like watching a game of twister in which everyone was trying to touch every circle at the same time.

I put this one on right away after finishing the first because I was interested in following the story of Zosia, played by Julia Wieniawa. She was an intriguing character with a potentially interesting backstory. I wanted to know more about her. She survived the first film, and I was hoping to explore her more in this movie. I clearly didn’t learn my lesson from the first film.

This film picks up mere hours after the last film ended. To catch everyone up, and with no restraint on spoilers… The first film ended with Zosia stabbing one of the lumpy twins to death with a machete and running over the other with a car. Once she was safe, we see that both lumpy twins generated and came back to life. They are unstoppable. They are pissed and ready to kill some more, so they can continue eating their victims and satisfy their endless hunger.

The next film begins with Zosia in prison. The lumpy twins sitting docilely in the cell next to her, and a crew of incompetent and cruel police wandering aimless around them. Why is Zosia under arrest? Because. How did they subdue the inhuman killing machines that were so powerful and unstoppable before? Apparently a taser was all that it took. The opening of this film immediately undermined the ending of the last film. It’s pretty disappointing.

But I can put aside my preconceived notions of what a movie should be and get on board. So, what is this movie going to be about? It turns out it is the story of Adam, a nebbish loser who is picked on by his fellow police officers. He dreams of being a hero, but he is a sniveling weakling. He’s a coward. He’s incompetent. He is abused and mistreated by those around him. He sucks, and the movie rubs our noses in how much he sucks and how awful everyone around him is to him. It’s really not any fun to watch. Anyway, he’s our hero, and point of view character.

Zosia is inexplicably taken to the cabin where the lumpy twins lived, so that the chief of police can interrogate her near the corpses of her friends. Why the hell is this happening? Who knows? He takes her there and leaves her handcuffed to the bed. Under the bed to meteor that transformed the twins unleashes another round of black goo that infects Zosia and turns her into a lumpy monster too.

Zosia, the character who was so interesting and full of potential in the first film is now the deformed monster of the second film. She goes around killing people. A cast of victims is assembled and murdered one by one. Finally, it’s down to Adam and Wanessa a fellow police officer who bullied Adam, but is starting to warm to him as they are bonded by trauma. Just then Zosia attacks. Wanessa throws Adam at her and runs for it. Ugh!

Anyway, Zosia turns Adam into a monster too, and the two decide to go murdering together and start an apocalypse on earth. From here on out, the movie isn’t scary. It’s just gross and depressing. Zosia and Adam has the grossest and most uncomfortable sex scene I’ve ever seen. They are in head to toe lumpy monster prosthetics. They are writhing in slow motion. It’s gross and unpleasant. They rip a woman’s face off. They stab a man to death. It’s just unpleasant and now that our interesting protagonist is a monster, and our wimpy protagonist is also a monster, we have nothing to root for. It’s just misery from here on out.

It also makes no sense and completely undermines the world and rules established by the first film. It’s just a mess. They wanted to hit so many ideas and they contorted the screenplay to fit all those ideas, but in the end they just made a mess.

That said, the movie is technically well made. It wasn’t bad enough that I turned it off. It’s also such mess that I felt compelled to keep watching no matter how gross or weird it got. I didn’t like it though. It’s not my cup of tea. C

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight

This Polish slasher currently streaming on Netflix is an odd mix. It’s bloody and disgusting. It has really strong character moments that are totally undermined by the horror elements. It has a lot of tangents and plot cul-de-sacs that don’t add much. It’s also a memorable movie that isn’t too bad if a bloody, violent, and weirdly paced movie is your thing.

I like the way the movie sets the stage. A bunch of teens are sent to a summer camp that is all about eliminating phones, and screens and getting back to nature. These are kids who have all gotten into trouble for excessive screen time and were sent here to detox. Our cast has a strong reason to bond and an excuse for the age old slasher issue of cell phone use. Basically cell phones solve most of the problems in slasher movies. Anyway, we are introduced to our collection of teens. There’s Julek, a gamer who is ranked the number two player in the country, but his school work is failing. He has self esteem issues and doesn’t know how to connect with those around him. There’s Aniela, a popular pretty girl addicted to her social media feed, but there’s so much more to her that she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing on social media or in her life for fear of rejection. There’s Daniel, a real popular player. He’s an athlete. He’s too cool for the world around him, but this bravado belies an insecurity in himself. There’s Bartek, a man who is a bully who taunts and harasses those around him, but is really mirroring the behaviors his fathers has modeled for him. He’s also gay and has a very sad speech about the trials of hiding his sexuality in the repressive Poland.

These are our characters. Did you find them interesting? Did you like any of them? Too bad. They’re all going to die. And not only are they going to die, they are going to die in horrible and pointless ways without having a chance to defend themselves or fight for their lives. One gets his tongue ripped out. Another gets impaled on a rusty pipe off camera. We don’t even get to see their death. It’s all just gore and shock value.

The only character who gets a chance to be an active participant in the story instead of just a bloody victim is Zosia, played by Julia Wieniawa. She has a tragic backstory that is implied and hinted at. She is someone who is actively trying to shape the outcome of the narrative. She is smart and tries to improve their situation and fight back.

What are they fighting against? Well two twin monsters. We are given an apocryphal backstory for these creatures from an old man in the woods. He tells us that two twin brothers found a meteor and put it under their bed. The meteor broke open and expelled an ooze that transformed the boys into lumpy boil covered brainless monsters with a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied. The boys mother kept them locked in her cellar ending them whole pigs for twenty years until they finally broke out. This is interesting, because it doesn’t make any sense for the old man in the woods to know this. The boys kept the meteor hidden from everyone, and couldn’t speak after their transformation, so how did anyone find out about this? It doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, if you’re interested in brutal and bloody killings, this movie has you covered. There are people in wood chippers. There are implements going through people’s heads and bodies. There is copious amounts of blood and viscera. If you like that, this movie has it in spades. I would just warn you not to get emotionally involved in any of the characters. They are canon fodder. Also, don’t think too hard about any of it, because it will not make sense. It is currently streaming on Netflix if you are intrigued.

It’s not really my cup of tea. B-