Well, it's Halloween night, kids! And time for the official end of this year's Countdown.
It's been such a blast taking part this year, as it has been for the past fifteen years, and I fully plan on partaking again next Halloween. Already have some movies on my "To Watch" list.
Thanks to all those who have stopped by, it means a lot! And thanks to Michelle and Dex for once again keeping this Countdown to Halloween alive. Or should I say, undead?
Below is a list of all the movies I featured this year, with links to their posts. If I've encouraged you to check any of them out, let me know what you thought of them. As for me, I think I'm going to spend the rest of the evening finishing up Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities.
Have a terrific rest of your Halloween, and an even better end of the year. Here's to 2023!
Last year, I ended the countdown with Halloween Kills so I figured it would be appropriate to end this year's countdown with its sequel, Halloween Ends, which Jamie Lee Curtis (and director David Gordon Green) insist will be their final forays into the franchise.
Let's hope so.
I enjoyed the first of these three sequels, but the second one was too focused on a body count, and not enough on Laurie Strode. I openly hoped the third one would once again chuck the whole Michael Meyers thing and go for something as silly as Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Green doesn't go that route, but he does try to take the franchise in a slightly different direction, focusing on some new characters, and the idea that evil can spread from person to person like a virus, especially to those with weakened moral centers. Which, granted, is an interesting idea, certainly influenced by these pandemic times.
But as a whole, I don't think Halloween Kills really works. For one thing, why does half the cast sound like they're from New York when this is set in Illinois? For another, it is always annoying to see a female character fall for a guy who is
obviously troubled, thinking she's going to be the one to save him. That the female character in question this time is Laurie's granddaughter Allyson just makes it doubly annoying because we know she's a smarter woman than that. Honey, slashers gonna slash!
As a whole, this trilogy of sequels/reboots weren't as terrible as they could have been, owing mostly to the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis in all three. But if she's stepping away, then there is really no need to continue this franchise, and I hope that, for once, finally, Michael Meyers does not get back up.
I watched Halloween Kills on Peacock, but it is also still playing in theaters.
I went into TerrorVision hoping it was a long lost gem I had somehow overlooked, and, well...it's not. In fact, it's kind of audaciously terrible, but for me, not quite in the "so bad it's good" camp, like Troll, which was filmed around the same time in Italy, using some of the same crew and sets.
It does have Mary Woronov though, and no matter how bad a movie is, it's always good to see her. She plays an aerobics obsessed housewife and mother. Her husband (Chad Allen) installs a satellite TV system that somehow transports a man-eating alien into their home, and the teen members of the household try to tame it, ala E.T.
It doesn't really work out.
I'll give it this much: It somehow manages to perfectly skewer the 1980's while being filmed right dab in the middle of the decade. The teenage daughter is a straight up parody of an MTV obsessed "punk rocker" (lol), along with her boyfriend. And the family home is just tacky 80's perfection.
I had planned to post about a different movie today, but I watched Barbarian the other night, and was so impressed by it, I just had to feature it instead.
Barbarian was released at the end of August to almost unanimously positive reviews, and I came close to seeing it in a theater, mainly because I wanted to be able to see it before finding out too much about it. I never got around to seeing it, but luckily, I did avoid major spoilers, and it's now available to stream just over a month later.
And the movie really does benefit from not knowing too much. It begins with a mix up with an Airbnb rental on a dark and stormy night, and two strangers needing to share the house. And that's all you really need to know, as I do think one big joy of the movie is how unpredictable it is, and how all the pieces and themes fit together perfectly by the end. (Don't worry that the trailer below gives away too much; it's kind of masterfully oblique.)
Barbarian is one of the best horror movies of the year, and is currently streaming on HBO Max (and is still playing in some theaters).
I included two films by Quentin Dupieux in last year's countdown, Deerskin and Mandibles, and while I liked them both, Mandibles ended up being one of my favorite films of 2021, and made me a Quentin Dupieux fan for life.
I decided to save watching his 2010 horror comedy Rubber for this year's countdown, and man alive, this is one weird movie! Yes, even weirder than a movie about a pair of idiot criminals who want to train a giant fly to rob banks!
At its center, Rubber is about a tire that becomes sentient and can kill animals and people using psychokinetic powers. So, you have lots of shots of a tire rolling across an American desert, defeating what he (his name is Robert) perceives to be his enemies. (They usually aren't.)
Then around that, you have a meta story of an audience of people who are watching this all play out, somewhere in the distance, using binoculars, and commenting on the film you, and they, are watching.
You know what? I've already said too much. Go into this one knowing it's going to be weird, and may not make complete sense, and just enjoy the ride
Rubber shows up on free streaming services now and then, but I had to rent it via Prime Video.
Once again, I am catching up with a Val Lewton production I had not previously seen. This year it's 1945's The Body Snatcher starring Boris Karloff, one of three pictures Karloff made with Lewton. (The other two are Bedlam and Isle of the Dead.)
It's clear Boris Karloff has a lot of fun in his role as John Gray, the blackmailing body snatcher. He's always got a sly smile on his face, which works particularly well next to the perpetually scowly Henry Daniell as Dr. MacFarlane, the recipient of Gray's grave robbing. Bela Lugosi also has a small part as a lab assistant, and this would mark the final time Karloff and Lugosi appeared in a film together.
This was also the second film Robert Wise directed for Lewton, after he successfully replaced the fired first director of Curse of the Cat People. This movie isn't as good as that one, or some of Lewton's bigger hits, but it's still fun, with an ending that's completely silly, but also kind of perfect.
Food and body issues are the common teenage issues running through A Banquet, and let's face it, both being a teenage girl, and being the parent of a teenage girl, can have their moments of outright horror in the best of families.
But this family has things a little rougher. After the gruesome death of her husband, Holly Hughes is left to raise their two teenage daughters alone. After a possibly supernatural experience in the woods during a party, eldest daughter Betsey stops eating, becoming violently ill if she even tries. But this isn't teenage anorexia, as Betsey is not losing any weight despite her zero calorie diet. She says it's all part of her "higher purpose" and the coming end of the word. Is it true? Or is she crazy?
Honestly, by the end of it, I really had no idea. The ending is a bit of a head-scratcher. But it kept me engaged, and I'm not sure any other movie has made normally delicious meals looks so menacing.
Like most fans of classic horror, I have long been aware that when the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula was being filmed, there was a Spanish version being filmed at night, once the American crew went home. They used the same sets and same script, but had a different crew and different actors, and some claim it's actually the superior version of the two Draculas.
I wouldn't go that far.
Anyone who has sat through Tod Browning's Dracula knows, it's a bit of a snooze. Based on a play, the movie is slow, stiff, and stagey, and is really only saved by Lugosi's performance, which, while definitely hammy, still gives the movie needed jolts of energy. And while Browning's direction isn't exactly dynamic, he does some interesting things with key-lighting and camera movements that are pretty impressive for the time.
The Spanish language version has neither Lugosi nor Browning, and it suffers for it. What it does have, and why it is perhaps held up as the better film, is a bit more lust, and a lot more cleavage.
But there's no doubting the film's biggest deficit is its Dracula. He's played by the actor Carlos Villarías, and...he's no Bela Lugosi. He looks more like a waiter at an Italian restaurant than a Count from Transylvania, and at times (OK, most of the time) his facial expressions are more goofy than creepy. I mean, compare for yourself.
I don't think the Spanish Dracula is a must see, but I do think it's fun to watch the two side-by-side. Doing so actually made me appreciate Browning's version a lot more than I had originally! Both versions are currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
I watched Offseason on a whim, primarily because it stars Joceline Donahue, the lead actress in The House of the Devil, one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and because it was on Shudder, and therefore was easy to watch. It starts off promising, with Melora Walters as a clearly terminally ill woman giving a disturbing monologue from her sick bed. Some time later her daughter (Donahue) gets a message that her mother's grave has been vandalized, so she and her husband (played by perennial mumblecore presence, Joe Swanberg) return to the desolate Florida island she used to call home, and which her mother never wanted to return to. Pretty soon we find out why.
The parts are all there, the setting is eerie, and the acting is good. But it all felt like something I had seen before, and done better before, ultimately leading to an ending that was completely predictable.
I don't think I had ever heard of White of the Eye until I saw it included in the Criterion Channel's lineup of 1980's horror movies. It was directed by Donald Cammell, a Scottish painter-turned director who only made a few films, most famously Performance (which he co-directed with Nicholas Roeg), and Demon Seed, the horror movie where Julie Christie gets raped by a computer (!). His personal life was almost as weird as one of his movies: He married his second wife, China Kong, when she was 18 and he was 44, but they started their relationship when she was only fourteen, (yikes!) and he died by suicide in 1996.
The screenplay for White of the Eye was actually co-written by Cammell and Kong, and she also has a tiny part in the movie. The main stars are David Keith (of An Officer and a Gentlemen and Firestarter) and Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) as Paul and Joan, a married couple in Arizona. He installs expensive stereo systems in wealthy homes while she raises their mullet-haired daughter. When a serial killer begins to murder rich women in their homes, Paul is the primary suspect.
There's a lot of cross-cutting between the past and the present in the film, which is definitely Cammell's style, but it doesn't completely work, and is sometimes a tad confusing. I'm not sure the movie really brings much that's new to the serial killer genre, but it's definitely got style, a great soundtrack, and an ending that's kind of nuts.
I watched White of the Eye on the Criterion Channel.