HOLIDAYS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Feature Thesis: Kids of single moms gone get fucked, some sort of way up

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Horror short film anthology a la V/H/S, ABCs of Death, The Theater Bizarre
  • High on surrealism, magic, and fatal curses of womanhood
  • Enjoy: definite female focus; 63% Bechdel pass rate; quality and variety
  • Low CGI, Jump Scares, Freaky Shit, Under-Cover Hiding!

THOTS

Holidays showed up on Netflix one day with a high enough rating to attract my attention. I wasn’t in the mood for an anthology just then, but my interest was piqued. I knew several other worthwhile short horror film collections. In fact, I couldn’t think of one I’d seen which I’d considered mostly bad.

The record remains. Comprising 8 segments which each highlight a specific holiday, progressing in temporal order through the year (starting with Valentine’s and culminating at New Year’s), Holidays offers a surprisingly lady-loaded suite of concise horror. The featured holidays are as follows: Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s. Several limit their cast to two (or fewer) acting characters. Seven feature female leads. As for the eighth story, well that one actually managed to get Seth Green on board, who’s almost definitely the only actor you’d ever know by name from this collection. Horror writers and directors know what’s up. Any actor with any hint of a following, or who could even just maybe be recognized by a stranger on a street, is headed straight for primary character. It’d be a waste, frankly, to cast them anywhere else.

It’s interesting to observe what themes or similarities arise between these 8 stories. All and each of stories 1-6 play on various aspects of relationships between adults and children. Half explicitly focus on mothers. Definitely four, and possibly five or six, paint their main characters with a personal, well differentiated sub-species of that familiar friend we all know, by name: loneliness. That loneliness weakens these characters. Their pain and isolation is what lays them vulnerable to magic, danger, the plotline of a horror short.

Each piece achieves necessary differences, as well. Many broad similarities run through the group, but each specific story proves also memorable, and distinct. The eight differ across many vectors, from run time; complexity of topic horror-choice; to how our characters grow through the story; how each achieves, somehow, the goal that their short opened with. There are some that might regret their success in this department. These are horror stories, after all, and horror movie wishes should tend to monkey’s paws. But what I like about them all, and suspect may be a hallmark of a strong short story in whatever medium, is that each main character achieves, in the fourth act, the desire or drive that was revealed to us, off the bat, in the first.

These scripts and plots are crisp and economic. Certain themes weave threads through the collection, and stitch delicate parallels among stories. That justifies their collection.And each short justifies its own existence by the success with which it stands alone; delivers a story; satiates the audience with fulfilled and complete stories achieved in less , twenty minutes. This is an applaudable accomplishment – and Holidays hits it eight times over. Now that’s impressive.

Most horror movies go best with a specific season. A Nightmare Before Christmas is really appreciates best from October to December, for instance. Summer of Blood says it in the title. Black Christmas is similarly subtle; it, Krampus, Shymalan’s recent The Visit – all watch best when outside’s a layer of snow. Carrie’s Carrie comes into her powers when it’s spring for a reason, because spring is the time of blossoms, sexual maturity, of transition from juvenile to mature adult. My Bloody Valentine? I mean, come on.

As a collection of shorts, Holidays seizes the opportunity for relevance in any season, in any weather, on any day, at all. It seems a small feature, but I like it. I like it quite a lot. Holidays heard that song by the Byrds that everybody knows, and took it to heart.

A time for ghosts, a time for gore

A time to kill, a time to hide

A time for God, a time for demons

A time for houses to come back to life

To every scary story, there is a season

There is a film for any whim

(search, search, search)

CREEP

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Close the tab, open Amazon, and watch CREEP this very moment.

Available on Netflix

In which Mark Duplass stars as Mark Duplass

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Not-your-average psychological horror; Hide Yo’ Kids, Hide Yo’ Wife; Budget Indie
  • High on ultra-reality; solid plot; low-budget; ultra-indie
  • Low-to-moderate jump scares; low CGI, low gore

THOTS

Ah, Creep. It’s probably unfair to Mark Duplass to call it the movie where he plays himself, but come on. The man was born for the part. I’ve always found him creepy. There’s something about his brown eyes, which seem narrow like a reptile’s while simultaneously too dark and large, that puts me off. His mouth resembles nothing so much as the original Grinch’s. His lips are curiously defined. Curious – cartoonish.

I sound like I’ve really thought about this. I’ve watched Creep five times in 13 months, plus caught Duplass in such Netflix indie-hit-parade films as The One I Love, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Your Sister’s Sister. His characters creep me out every time. They creep me out in movies he’s written as well: Creep and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.  Duplass is all up in mostly-uncomfortable movies.

Who better to whip up a serious creepy horror than a creep, a real strange man?

Because Creep? It works. I wouldn’t watch a movie in full five times in a year if it didn’t, trust. Creep works on fundamental and real levels. If you don’t know it, sit down and turn it on. This movie will glue your eyes to the screen. You will not want to look away or miss one thing. The ultimate in movie experience. Creep gets its audience’s total buy-in.

I guess I should tell you what it’s about, if you don’t know yet.

Creep is a found footage film. We have our videographer/adorable MC-slash-everyman, Aaron, who responds to an online ad which offers $1000 for a day of film work. What aspiring director wouldn’t jump at this? Aaron’s been hired by Josef, a cancer-infested would-be dad who wants a tribute video, or something, in case he passes before his son ever meets him. Creep progresses through the events of that day of filming, then follows Aaron as Josef’s behavior escalates in a mile-high spiral of crossed lines and shattered normal boundaries.

Creep features every element of “strong film” that I’ve grown to, perhaps slavishly, adore: the two actors on a budget provides, yet again, a script that’s stunningly believable, which provides important clues and context in natural dialogue and action. It is truly disturbing without resorting to CGI or needless gore, and employs few attempts at what are always regrettable, cheap jump scares. Each of these attempts to startle could be cut, and the cut would strengthen the film. Regardless, you will think about Creep later. It will stay with you. Its everyman MC is adorable, relatable, not like Murder Partys much-loved Jeff. Each linked event in the film’s plot chain could actually happen, in real life; each is set up by the scene before and progresses in natural steps to the seamless next.

You could know someone to whom Creep happened. You know a place that looks like that. You can see it, happening. For real. To someone you know. 

Yes, there are some flaws. Since the first half or so of the movie focuses on that one day of Aaron and Josef filming, it can be difficult to realize the movie continues after – difficult not to anticipate the end of day will arrive along with some conclusion. The movie’s still strong after this first day. Frankly, only this strength justifies the second part’s inclusion. Day 1 is so impactful it would be better as its own short film than clumsily tacked on to a lackluster ending. The rest of the film develops, and it follows: it’s just easy as an audience to develop the wrong expectation of an early ending because of the structure. This small hangover effect maybe could be off-set if the film was edited a hair more intensively. And like I said, I’d remove all the jump scares. Besides that, there’s a small logic issue in the script at the very end, when Josef’s on the phone. (You’ll catch it if you look out for it. It’s not too-too obscure, by my reckoning.) These flaws, ultimately, are very small things. Almost personal preferences, as opposed to correct movie crafting, movie style laws that must be followed to the T – but, I only say, almost. Nonetheless, Creep, unaltered, tagged with these minor complaints, is well worth your time investment. After all – I haven’t seen a perfect movie yet. 

I can’t imagine a horror fan who won’t love Creep. Truly, I can’t. So now, go and watch it. What else are you doing with your entire life? 

THE INVITATION

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Should I? Status: Would Watch

Available From Netflix

What You’re Afraid Your Ex Will Be(come)

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Psychological Horror, Your Ex Isn’t The Best
  • High on ultra-reality; you’d be scared too cuz it could happen to you
  • Low on jump scares; ultra-low on CGI

THOTS

It’s funny, there’s no obvious reason why this movie should remind me of Hush, but it does. I think it’s the subgenre here that really leads me to tie the two together: although one is a robbery story, and one is an attempt-at-redemption-gone-wrong, they’re both really psychological thrillers on a core level. The Invitation, like The Silenced, was a bit of a surprising departure from good ol’ favorites for me, and a random Netflix choice. However, it proved eminently satisfying, and I recommend it with clear conscience. 

The Invitation is the kind of movie that begins to get you because it’s inherently quite possible. Although one might wonder why any ex would agree to a dinner party hosted by their previous partner, the reasons the film gives are both solidly built and, indeed, after a movie’s worth of explanation through dialogue and interaction, fully believable. As horror movies go, this lends the plot an undeniable satisfaction, not to mention a creepy thrill. You could see this happening to you, maybe in 10, or 20 years, depending on your age, but happening nonetheless. I think that’s what I love about The Invitation: it’s one of those horror movies you can believe. It’s unlike all the fantastical ones where reality is warped or you have to suspend your skepticism about the fact that a serial killer is supposedly both cancer-infected and on the loose long enough to justify 7 films (yes, I’m looking at you, Saw series). This is the film’s greatest strength. And, for the first time, I’d like to call out a film’s acting – every person playing each character in The Invitation does a very solid job.

There are moments where The Invitation will make you doubt the MC’s sanity. And there are moments where it will make you doubt yours, for believing in his.

The Invitation provides a satisfying script with dialogue that’s believable and lays down, time and time again, both context as well as emotional depth into each of our characters. While, at the end, it’s not one of those movies that keeps one up at night, fretting about what’s going bump under the bed, the movie’s very fully worth the time investment. It might not come back to you when you’re walking alone on a street at night, but it’ll come back to you when you talk to your friends after they experience trauma. It’ll come back to you when you’re meeting people for the first time. It’ll make you wonder, who are they, really? And what, exactly, are they capable of?

I heavily recommend The Invitation. I’ll even be honest – by this time last year, I’d felt I pretty much exhausted Netflix’s offering of “best” horror movies, left with dregs in the vein of The Houses October Built and similar. The Invitation and The Silenced have really encouraged me to dive into Netflix’s horror offerings once again. The streaming service seems to have upped its game, or at least, mixed up its movie selection a sufficient amount (at last – finally!) 

I hope you enjoy watching.

THE SILENCED

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available from Netflix

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Girly Groove Rating: 8/10
  • Scares: 7/10
  • Subgenre: Psychological horror; sci-fi
  • High on Asian Schoolgirls; Low on Unnecessary Sexualization; Low CGI; Low Jump Scares

THOTS

I’d never have expected the horror movie about Korean schoolgirls to pass the Bechdel test, but then, there you have it. This surprising psychological thriller holds up to the genuine fear other Asian horror films, like The Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Shutter, have so famously offered audiences in the past – while avoiding overt supernatural elements almost completely. The end is both surprising and extremely satisfying. And The Silenced is about as admirably cohesive in its plot as you could hope to get, a trait which is becoming a personal pre-requisite to term any movie a “success.”

Another element of the movie which, it proves, I like best, is actually a surprise to me. That’s the fact that, if you wanted, you could quite accurately term the movie science-fiction, a genre which is frequently lumped together with “horror” in movie stories and streaming services. It’s my long-standing opinion that this lumped categorization is a failure to the horror genre made by the MPAA and movie distributors, dilettantes seeking to simplify such categories, not elucidate. The ugly combination of “science fiction” and “horror” into one so-called genre results in movies such as “The Martian” (with Matt Damon) and “Independence Day” (yes, the one with Will Smith and Bill Pullman) appearing on the same list as titles like “Dark Floors” and “The Last Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh.” It’s simply unfriendly to the viewer.

In this case, horror and science fiction wed beautifully. I’d argue the transition between the two is seamless.

There’s not much else I can say about The Silenced without beginning to feel as if I’ll spoil things, so I won’t. But what I will do, once more, this Halloween season, is recommend that you should watch it.

MURDER PARTY

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Close the tab, open Amazon, and watch MURDER PARTY right now.

Available from Amazon with a Shudder add-on subscription

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

The 30 Rock of 90-Minute Horror Comedies

  • High on Originality, Plot (Plot is both cohesive and entertaining/constantly moving forward), Dark Humor, Tight Script
  • Low on CGI, Budget, Jump Scares; Official Indie Darling
  • Scares: 4/10
  • Hilarity: Through the roof

THOTS

I didn’t think I really dug the “horror comedy” genre until I watched Murder Party. Yes, I’d seen Cabin in the Woods before, and yeah, it was Joss Whedon, and clever, and funny, but I’d also tried a couple of movies like Stitches (a clown movie), Birdemic, S. O. B., even Dale and Tucker… and…well, I was amused, but i wasn’t impressed. Before Murder Party, Cabin in the Woods was probably my favorite, but it was an ambivalent favorite. Surely, that couldn’t be the best there was, right?

Murder Party changed my mind. Murder Party does so much so successfully – heck, let’s call it impressive.

There’s a lot to love in this film. Both script and plot are completely cohesive – everything “makes sense,” as it were, from why each character’s present in the movie to why they’re doing what they’re doing. The movie’s rife with clever nods at several essential horror movie tropes, as well as references to cult classics. The minds behind Murder Party seem to be not only horror enthusiasts, but general movie fans as well. That combination of love for the genre, plus comfort with the medium (especially style and method), really results in something special here. If you want to get sly-grin-clever with meta-analysis here, this is when you’d point out that Murder Party proves to be a satisfying, low budget indie breakout in Halloween disguise. At first glance it’s another cheap horror flick, a B-movie at best. But underneath this facade hides 90 minutes (or so) of genuine entertainment. You will not regret these 90 minutes. I promise.

What do I love about Murder Party? Honestly, what isn’t there to love? But I’ll try to highlight a few key strengths.

First off, (in the first 20 minutes, really) our main character/would-be victim here, Christopher, is not only endearingly characterized, but skillfully so. I fall in love with his utter relatable-ness in fifteen minutes, every time. So much of his personality and life is conveyed with one, maybe two, simple and straight-forward scenes which contain no other human characters. The film’s denouement is spectacular, and sets us up for an evening where the events and character action follow, with complete sense, from its inception. Have I mentioned how rare of a quality this is, especially in horror?

Every character in Murder Party is gifted with a complete personality, individual motivations and (some) backstory, and actions which nearly always make complete sense – even if you don’t agree with them, at all. Many of the characters are selfish; many are lying, to themselves or others; and each one schemes towards some higher goal throughout the course of the movie. It’s this goal which drives them each to the film’s resolution, and creates many amusing twists and turns in the plot along the way.

For every jump scare some other “favorite horror movie” pushes onto its audience, Murder Party has a smart moment, a funny reference, a clever tidy movement of plot. It’s low budget but not obviously so, which is incredibly hard to pull off in this genre, where special effects often drive movies more than they ought – SFX, really, exist as embellishment, and should influence the film as such. No more. It is a pity so many directors and producers go computer-mad with their recorded product, as if impossible mists and digital monsters are really what’s scary in the world.

No. Murder Party knows the truth. It’s not fiction that we should be afraid of. It’s the capabilities we all have, the ones that lie in each other. What would the person next to you do, if you were between them and a million dollars? Or a lifelong dream? Or true personal fulfillment?

No one has nightmares about blood that creeps out of walls at its own desire. They have nightmares about interactions with others. Unknowable, oblique others.

DON’T BREATHE

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Official Red Flag

Currently in theaters

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Don’t Breathe? More like Don’t Bother

Normally I like to watch movies at least twice before I review them, but in this case, you can bet your damn ass there’s no way in hell I’m paying to see Don’t Breathe again. And the first time was a matinee.

When I saw previews for Don’t Breathe, I thought, “Oh cool! Some producer saw Hush and decided to make another movie in the same vein. OK, the main character’s a dude, and instead of being deaf, he’s blind, but what a great idea!” I really enjoyed Hush and was excited to see the “sensory handicapped but kickass defender” plotline extrapolated to the next – well, sense.

I was profoundly disappointed.

First, Don’t Breathe attempts to humanize its main characters, who are the aggressors, with a pseudo-heart-wrenching backstory to justify their choice to live in crime. You know what? If you want to do that, in a movie set in Detroit, then let me honestly ask: why are they all white? Let’s be real here. If you’re an American, you know Detroit is shit. It’s full of vacant houses and the local economy has basically collapsed due to the car industry tanking, and consequently pulling out of the city. It’s also 83% black, which means that the people who are disenfranchised in Detroit are overwhelmingly people of color. Why is the only black person in Don’t Breathe a guy buying coffee in the airport at the end of the film? Serious question here. Please, serious answers. I will give that one of the 4 actors in the movie actually is Costa Rican, but he’s as white as any other. 

Anyway, here’s my point: the ends don’t justify the means, and this attempt to make them do so rings especially hollow in a movie where the “downtrodden aggressors” clearly belong to privileged classes.

Another one of my huge issues with Don’t Breathe is that it’s hugely, overwhelmingly gratuitous. Hush does get pretty violent by the end, cringe-worthily violent, even, but as a whole, I’d say the movie justifies the violence which occurs. After all, at some point in scenarios like these (home invasions; predator and prey), there’s no real way to avoid an eventual physical confrontation. However, Don’t Breathe skips promising opportunities to build psychological terror and therefore, a story that will stick in the audiences’ mind for more than sixty seconds after leaving the theater, and instead leaps to grotesque body shots. There’s simply no mental challenge in this movie whatsoever. I might as well watch a snuff film for what I got out of Don’t Breathe. I don’t know where to find a snuff film, but that’s because I don’t want to.

In sum, I felt as if a producer sat at a table of generic Hollywood movie folx and said “Hey! I’ve got this idea! Home invasion movie, but gone wrong. And here’s a twist! Blind guy.” Then all the people around the table, from behind their sunglasses and bored yawns, said “You know what? Great idea. We love it! But…with what you’ve brought here today…that’s only like, 30 minutes of a movie. How can we twist it to make it even better?” And they pounded their hands on the table and someone stood up and said, “I have an idea!” And they twisted it, gratuitously, for time. Then someone realized that even with that twist, the movie was still only an hour long, so they fuckin twisted it again. And it was finally long enough, and it was GTA-4 levels of gratuitous. None of these decisions served the movie in any way, whatsoever. 

Do not go watch Don’t Breathe. It isn’t worth your money, and it’s certainly not worth your time.

What does it say that I wasn’t surprised at all to see Sam Raimi was one of the producers?

Excuse me now, I have to go watch MURDER PARTY again so I can review it, and get this bad taste out of my mouth.

DARK FLOORS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Meeehhhhh-commend

Available on HBO On Demand

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

HONEST SUBTITLE: Metal Band Makes a Movie

  • High on CGI, Mystery, Suspense/Tension
  • Low on Plot, Originality, Explanation
  • Scares: 6/10
  • Low-to-moderate jump scares, gore, follow through

THOTS

So, Dark Floors didn’t wow me in the slightest through the first 15 minutes. It seemed both moderately predictable, in the “Dad trying to protect daughter” sort of plot schema (think Liam Neeson; think Silent Hill), and poorly researched. For instance, in one scene, Sarah (the daughter) has to undergo an MRI. Anyone who’s watched any sort of medical TV, let alone been in a hospital, knows what an MRI machine is and looks like, not to mention how it works and what it does. Whelp, in Dark Floors, everyone refers to this machine as some kind of new-fangled, unnamed technology which spontaneously bursts into flames.

When I found out in my research that Dark Floors had been put on by a Finnish metal band, of course this all made more sense. Some parts of the plot exposition suck because, well, the people who made this movie aren’t in the business of regularly making movies.

However, I was intrigued enough by the action which began around 15 minutes in that I decided I did want to review the film, which is why you find me here this morning.

First, the movie is beautifully shot. The metal band clearly had enough in the budget to hire a great director. You can feel tension rise in certain scenes solely as a result of the camera movement and focus, and I really admired that in Dark Floors. I also really enjoyed how the creative director or set co-ordinator, whoever, chose to illustrate the hospital setting’s degeneration into a creepy, haunted alternate universe through efficient, but not heavy-handed, alterations to the existing set.

The movie is essentially a bottle episode, too, which I found interesting. A bottle episode – that’d be an episode of a TV show where everything is shot on one set. Although technically the group of 6 move from floor to floor in the hospital, honestly, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t the same set every time. I mean, the point of hospital floors is they’re all the same, right?

In these ways, Dark Floors succeeds, even rather surprisingly. However, it falls short when it comes to plot explanation; there’s simply little to no reasoning why Sarah is being pursued by these Viking ghosts. Also, why are the ghosts Vikings? Well, because they’re really the band members in their band costumes, duh! Dark Floors leaves us with an ending that threatens to be ripped straight from Silent Hill but then, in the last instant, isn’t – however, it makes absolutely no sense, either way.

I’ve really got to be honest here, guys. If you want to watch a good movie about a group of people stuck in an alternate reality trying to save a little girl, skip this and watch Silent Hill (it’s one of my favorite horror movies of all time). However, if, like me, you need something to vaguely entertain you while you gorge on a Hawaiian pizza and Monster-and-vodkas on a Sunday afternoon – well, this’ll do it.