31 Days of Horror Movie Reviews, Vol. 3
To date, I’ve seen 45 horror films (including Cats) since September 15th.
My goal is to write a review for every single one of them.
I am a madman dragging you to hell, or maybe, a chopping mall.
“Losing, winning — what’s the difference? Play the game with a fair heart, and you’ll always be able to look yourself in the mirror. Play too hard to win, and you might not like what you become.” — a character trying too hard to deliver morals
Like so many horror stories before and after this, we start at a campfire with an older man getting off on scaring teenagers. This is a stupid thing to do, because teenagers are stupid. [Editor’s Note: We’re all stupid.]
By the end of the counselor’s tale of Madman Marz (this is absolutely another Summer Camp Horror special, a glorious ripoff of a glorious ripoff), he warns everyone not to use Marz’s name above a whisper in the woods. 14 seconds later, King Idiot Teenager (a boy, obvi) calls out for Madman Marz, daring him to murder.
You know how the rest of the movie goes: the Madman awakens, pulls his primordial ax from its primordial log in a moment that is absolutely a reference to King Arthur and Excalibur, and proceeds to butcher everyone but the Final Girl and the children too young to be tastefully killed on screen.
My favorite part is that Max (Frederick Neumann), the much older counselor who provokes this bloody mess by telling them all the story in the first place, proceeds to just go into town to drink and leaves everyone to the massacre. Classic American authority figure: here’s a problem that I helped create/promulgate. YOU fix it, next generation. I had hoped Max would be revealed as Madman Marz in Scooby Doo fashion, but the world isn’t so easy.
The accidental metaphor for 2020 occurs when T.P. (yes, that’s some jerk’s name) goes missing. It isn’t until Mr. Toilet Paper disappears that the counselors stop drinking and screwing and start realizing something isn’t quite right…
Or at least the women do. This film definitely merits a nomination, if not a win, for Best Gaslighting in a Movie, 1981. A woman literally sees this Madman, a dorky, hulking Neanderthal in dusty work clothes, and the freshly deceased body of one of her friends. AHH, right? Naw: her boyfriend proceeds to talk her down. Worst of all, it kind of works, because this moment happens again.
Well beyond the point where there is no such thing as okay and won’t ever be, another man asks another woman who has just discovered her boyfriend without a head: “Are you okay?”
No, idiot, but neither is this movie. But what’s the difference?
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
“I welcome the dead into my soul.”
I remember when I first saw Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men: 15-year-old me was certain she was a star. I’m not sure it quite worked out that way, but this film is more evidence to prove that was the industry’s fault, not her own.
One of my favorite barometers of horror films is the number of times my partner exclaims “Ew!” in horror at what’s transpiring on screen. She’d be the first to tell you that this revulsion is often an indication of some perverse quality– it requires involvement and investment in the story to inspire such violent reactions after all. It’s telling that these moments almost always involve practical FX.
Of all the twisted and screwed up films I’ve watched and rewatched this October, Drag Me to Hell wins the award for most “Ew!” moments per minute.
This is a film flowing with bodily fluids, liquids, juices and phlegm. For Sam Raimi, it is a joyous release of pent-up webbing after the Spider-Man trilogy, a return to his gruesome heyday that only sat better with me upon a second viewing.
This movie isn’t just a gross-fest, however: it works because it’s a character piece. Lohman’s Christine Brown is a banker with a soul, who wants to actually help people, but that’s just not what banks do, as her boss (David Paymer) reminds her.
To secure a well-earned promotion and pay raise that she needs and deserves, to ward off her conniving coworker Stu Rubin (a fantastically hateable Reggie Lee) gunning for the same promotion solely by virtue of his gender and access to Lakers tickets, Christine goes against her heart, against her beliefs, because that’s what capitalism demands of us to “succeed.” Her reward is a nasty fucking curse from an old woman she evicts and the unsurprising reveal that her boyfriend Justin Long, the classic “nice guy” on the surface, one of the Kings of Gaslighting in horror, cares more about his coin collection than his girlfriend.
Indeed, that preference– of money over people– remains a curse that we have yet to reverse.
Chopping Mall (1986)
“Thank you. Have a nice day.”
In the town Overkill, USA, a mall has enlisted the help of super high tech robots to provide security. What can happen? To quote this wondrous film: “You want a list?”
You’d be forgiven for thinking this film–one of the most American I can dream up– is merely notable for its resplendent title, but from the opening (a marketing film advertising the robots), it’s clear this film’s cleverness goes beyond the name.
For one, this film actually features characters who are smart and resourceful. Sure, they make stupid mistakes, but it’s clear that they occur when they’re cracking emotionally and psychologically from the hilariously terrifying present of being held under siege by violent robots with lasers.
When it becomes clear that Barbara Crampton’s Suzie Lynn has lost it, endangering the group, it inspired a dark Walking Dead-like discussion of survival with my partner: if you’re in this scenario, when do you let your friend die? The answer: a lot quicker than these guys.
It’s impressive how much character development there actually is in a movie called Chopping Mall, when you’d expect none. The reason why is simple: the film has personality. When the boys are trying to convince Ferdy to party that night, a scene we’ve seen 100 times over, this one’s different. This young man actually cares about his job at the mall. Indeed, he’s initially too concerned with Ms. Flanagan’s fuchsia to give his friends an answer. What does that mean? I don’t know, but I love that this film’s lean, mean 77 minutes included this meaningful exchange. Fuck fuchia, it’s Friday!
The party of course devolves into loud coupling in a furniture store, as one does (seriously, I don’t remember ever wanting to have sex in the same room as my friends). But there is genuine affection in these relationships. Heck, there’s even a cute kissing scene between an existing, almost healthy couple!
Throw in a fantastic Dick Miller scene (is there any other kind?), a beautiful head explosion and a weird connection to PTA’s Licorice Pizza, and it’s easy to have a nice day after watching this, just like the robots wanted.
It’s only at night when I lay awake wondering if Ferdy ever found Ms. Flanagan’s fuchsia…