thirty one days of horror part 5

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October 11: Final Girl: This film kind of felt like it was really two short, not very interesting movies jammed together. There were a lot of aspirations here, but unfortunately the movie’s intentions weren’t as interesting on the screen as they probably seemed on the screenplay. Also, a disappointing sort of “female empowerment” tale; cheap. – 2015; Netflix

October 12: Devil Dolls: Sorry, Devil Dolls, I actually watched you twice to see if you could keep my interest. Both times, I totally zoned out. – 2016; Netflix

October 13: Addam’s Family: Yeah, another classic for Friday the 13th. Nothing to complain about here, heartily recommend especially for a feel-good or lighthearted evening. – 1991; Anjelica Houston; Christina Ricci; Netflix

October 14: Boys in the Trees: Sorry, another one I snoozed through. Twice. – 2016; Netflix

October 15: The Babysitter: Now this was a pleasantly surprising, riotous fun time. Movie tagline should be, of course, “My Babysitter’s Literally Evil.” Distinctly horror comedy with cheerfully improbable gore. Go for it, 100% – 2017; Bella Thorne; Netflix (Original)

 

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A CHRISTMAS HORROR ANTHOLOGY

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Watch William Shatner return to his roots in this surprising holiday anthology.

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Moderate jump scares, moderate-high CGI
  • Surprisingly large cast in this expansive, multi-genre collection
  • Blackdel: Y / Bechdel: N

THOTS

Join William Shatner as the appealing “Dangerous Dan,” a local radio station DJ, as he broadcasts his way through Christmas in annual tradition. While Dan drinks, opines, and keeps those classics coming, A Christmas Horror Anthology cycles through four concurrent small-town tales. Basically, the film provides a peep into several lives, as their stories progress over 12 hours or so from Christmas Eve into Christmas. Admittedly, it doesn’t help to consider this construct too hard: it’s difficult to believe anyone with a kid would wait until Christmas Eve to obtain a tree; maybe less so, yet still specious, imagining that 3 teenagers would use the day to finish a school project. Surely, they’re on holiday. But I speak this on removal. In the movie universe, small errors such as these are easy to gloss over. They don’t impair the film.

Many of the horror anthologies I’ve seen have stories which are barely, if at all, interrelated: V/H/S, V/H/S 2, The ABCs of Death 1 (and 2?), Holidays, and The Theatre Bizarre are all evidence. Sometimes there’s a frame narrative to explain this; sometimes there isn’t. When there is, the strength of that narrative tends to vary. A Christmas Anthology provides a pleasant variance from these traits. Including the frame, the movie presents five related narratives using a small-town, everyone-knows-everyone herringbone weave. It gives the collection a very “jes’ folks” feel I enjoyed.

It’s always fun with anthologies to try to kind of crunch some numbers and see if there are any common themes or genres or sort of general bents among the stories. In this film’s established universe, everyone is deeply flawed. Even happy endings have a cost. This seems to imply that, when bad things happen to people, they tend to deserve it – except for the frame tale, which ponders the randomness of fate’s pain. It’s fun to look a little too deep like this. Just keep a little skepticism about planning and intent.

If you’re going to watch a holiday horror movie, A Christmas Horror Anthology’s a pleasant use of your time.

KRAMPUS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available for Comcast or Verizon OnDemand Rental (Verizon’s cheaper)

This moral tale’s more like Black Christmas than the Nightmare Before, despite its apparent family-friendly vibe.

I guess I may be a little late to the game on this one; Krampus came out for the holiday season last year. I remember my little sister was positively amped for its theatrical release. I’d been intrigued by the trailers as well. However, we neither managed to watch it until this last week, spurred on by Thanksgiving and the fresh set of winter holidays. 

Krampus turned out pleasantly worth the watch.

Here’s an “I’ll be honest:” I expected a more lighthearted affair. Indeed, Krampus’ first 30 minutes strongly echo the bumbling, comedic feel one can find in seasonal classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, maybe a little The Grinch minus its Whoville trappings – you know, that sort of innocent evil story-for-all-ages vibe. The multifold family members which constitute the film’s cast effectively elicit its audience’s empathy and rueful chagrin in addition to a healthy dusting of chuckles. And boy, what an intelligent approach this is to these despicable twelve, Krampus’ consanguineous dirty dozen: here’s a bunch of humans with spades of conflict between them, plus enough off-putting personality traits to count on both hands (and none may need share), but the director still needs to make us, the audience, like them. We need to root for these petty savages. They win us over in two equal parts; with the relatable aggravations that dog all mid-size families, colored in just-broad-enough cartoonish strokes. Paint strife funny and no one will scapegoat anyone for it too much.

Once we get to know everybody, and kind of like ‘em even if we hate ‘em, Krampus reveals it has gloves on beneath the cheer. With one hard hook, this film gets its shit real real, real quick.

Turns out this isn’t National Lampoon after all: no one’s lives are at stake in that holiday comedy. Same with The Grinch and sure, Nightmare Before Christmas, even – since both of these deal in fairy tales, the mind begs to compare and equate Krampus with such fluff. I was frankly shocked at the film’s first character death/disappearance. “I didn’t think this was that sort of movie,” I commented to a friend. “I didn’t think, you know, they’d actually kill anyone.”

From that point, Krampus doesn’t let up. While the serious horror treatment was a surprise, initially, and maybe just to me (maybe I forgot the tone of the trailers, or something), I have to applaud it. I didn’t expect Krampus to put anything real at stake. After all, it was a horror movie, but it was a Christmas movie, too. In my experience horror-Christmas movies tend to 15% horror, 85% gingerbread, tinsel, and loads of at-the-end, good-feels. Not so, Krampus, and it’s both the surprising of my expectation and the serious-ness of its scare which, at the end of the day, have won me over. I have no reservations. I recommend Krampus to you utterly.

If you feel in need of an antidote to angels, cherubs, carolers with rosy cheeks and Auld Lang Syne anytime in the next six weeks, then I say cue Krampus right on up.

THE CONJURING 2

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Meeehhhhh-commend

Available on American Airlines Flights (I know, right? Super bougie)

Based on a true hoax story

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Mod-to-high jump scares
  • Haunted house/family genre
  • Dat Vera Farmiga

THOTS

I admit that maybe I’m approaching this franchise from the wrong end, having not actually seen either The Conjuring or Annabelle (look, they make horror movies about living dolls for a reason, they’re fucking creepy), but you know what? It wasn’t so painful coming up the ass. Sorry, am I being crude? I didn’t realize horror fans were so sensitive.

Taken as it was, I have to say, The Conjuring 2 offers a solid specimen from the “haunted house” genre, although I would honestly argue this fits more into the “haunted person” arena as opposed to an actual “haunted house.” It’s typical poltergeist sort of fare, based on a “true story” from when “true poltergeist stories” were all the fashion – the early ‘70s. Any movie that can claim to be based on a true story does elicit just that extra inch or so more of thrill.

If you’re a fan of Poltergeist or similar, The Conjuring 2 will appeal to you because that’s what the story really is, though the film’s justification for its events is about as thick as the first early December sheet of ice overlaying some given neighborhood’s decorative, man-made pond. That is to say, there is an explanation and it holds just so long as no one steps on it, or tries to challenge it with the throw of a few fist-sized rocks. The film gives its audience just enough rationale for why this haunting? now? that probably no one walked out of the theater complaining of plot holes. However, like an appetizer may stave off true hunger, it doesn’t fully satisfy. It just puts off, enough.

While we’re talking about small-to-moderate flaws, while there’s an extensive cast of characters, if the film passes Bechdel, it does so narrowly. Mom’s acting starts off poor and, ultimately, hits only uneven success. Several short scenes feel auxiliary and maybe needless in retrospective examination. If a director’s ability is truly demonstrated by unbroken shots, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t say anything favorable about its dude-behind-the-cameras-in-charge. But does it have to?

The Conjuring 2 is one of those films with good enough star power and decent funding which ultimately delivers exactly what it promises but not one whit past that. It won’t enrage you or leave you disappointed. Neither will it excite you or make you think. Sometimes, with horror movies (as with most things in life), even I admit – mindless entertainment can be all you want or need.