My favorite candy this Halloween is for the eye. As such, I’m gluttonous for horror films this time of year.
Here’s another six-pack rundown of what has haunted my screen this past month: from Mike Flanagan’s (The Haunting of Hill House) first Stephen King adaptation, to a gator-in-the-sewers romp, a cockroach-in-the-Subway slog, the actual worst Halloween movie, a stop-motion confection and a 100-year-old film.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
The first 90 minutes or so of this movie are fantastic– a harrowing, uncomfortable and eyes open look at trauma and its repression, and the repetitive patterns we find ourselves in because of it. The only way out of Jessie’s handcuffs, the only way to survive and not be eclipsed by her trauma, by her past, is to remember her story, share her story. The clues for her survival, for ours, are in the very memories we don’t want to relive.
Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood and Henry Thomas are fearless in what feels like a claustrophobic play that’s a great pregame for couples therapy. I also love spotting the “Midnight Mass” book, an Easter Egg laid before it was even hatched, filmmaking manifestation at its finest.
Unfortunately, there’s a whole second ending involving the Moonlight Man that takes him from super effective metaphor to convenient reality, and only perpetuates the disabled villain trope in a way that leaves me wishing Mike Flanagan had left that part of Stephen King’s story to the hungry dogs outside.
A creature feature written by John Sayles (Piranha) and Lewis Teague (Cujo) that explores corruption in politics, the police, the media and the rubber gator-haunted sewers.
A girl goes with her parents to watch gator wrestling. The gator starts munching on its human opponent and everyone downplays the horror of the scene. The girl gets approached by a street merchant with a baby alligator. The girl asks for it as a pet. Her parents agree. Her parents immediately change their mind and dramatically flush the gator down the toilet. A pharmaceutical company tests an experimental growth formula for livestock on dogs and discards their carcasses in the sewer. The abandoned gator in that same sewer gets lunch and gets bigger. A tarnished cop with PTSD (a great Robert Forster) tries to stop it along with the girl whose gator it was as a kid and is now an all grown up reptiles expert (Robin Riker). Stupid, corrupt people die along the way. The girl never realizes that it’s her gator.
It’s ridiculous and also not at all.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
I find it amusing how serious people take the Halloween franchise based on like 2.5 great movies (out of 13!), and this movie is proof that Halloween Ends is not at all the low point. This movie makes ONE “bold” choice in its opening sequence — and it’s one of the franchise’s worst — and then refuses to make any others the rest of the way.
The result is a prescient, early adopter of the reality TV phenomenon that somehow makes Busta Rhymes boring with the exception of his one infamous line. Unfortunately, this movie is all trick, no treat, motherfucker.
When tasked with selecting a bug horror movie as part of Hooptober, I took the opportunity to fill in a rare Guillermo del Toro blindspot.
After writing that, I’ve sat here trying to find something worthwhile to say about a movie that just didn’t energize me even when it breaks a few unwritten Hollywood rules when it comes to who the slimy cockroaches kill.
There are several characters in here that are the cinematic equivalent of packing popcorn — I somehow forgot F. Murray Abraham was in this movie until I just revisited the credits. I appreciated the promising inclusion of autistic “bug kid” Chuy, which felt like it would provide some insight to the Judas cockroaches or inspire some weird relationship between them, but he just becomes a distressed dude. At least Josh Brolin is a welcome jolt of personality a full decade before his glow-up.
Even the two main leads, Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam, are uninteresting together and have no romantic spark. As doctors who saved the world from a pandemic but in so doing, created a super-monster that kills a couple kids that they use for cheap labor, there would seem to be a lot to play with, but… there isn’t any play to speak of. This is mostly a dark film bereft of flavor, reflecting the reported terrible time del Toro had working on this film with the slimiest monsters of all, the Weinsteins.
When the movie does have flavor — the big bad Judas cockroach somehow “mimics” the appearance of an old dude in a trench coat, a kind of Phantom of the Subway — it’s not explored, mostly empty calories.
Mad God (2022)
Behold: Phil Tippett’s Inferno!
I can’t say that I was always attuned to the screen — this is an overwhelming experience that I’m excited to revisit. But on a first go-round, it was like bathing in hell, a tour through someone else’s nightmares, an operatic stop-motion Qatsi of death that leaves it all on the screen.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
I’m ashamed to say my 2022 attention span made this a hard watch amidst the Halloween horror rush, but when I was tuned in, I was taken by Lon Chaney’s makeup and especially his physicality as Quasimodo. As someone in physical therapy right now reshaping my balance and posture, it’s inspiring to see this contortionist at work (and terrifying to consider the damage he’s likely doing to himself).
That said, it is a very clown-y representation of Quasimodo, as he’s mostly just sticking his tongue out and na-na na-na boo boo-ing everyone. Not that I judge him for it; people deserve it.
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