The List: July 2019

The Oblong Box (1969, Gordon Hessler, UK)

While it’s a loose adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, it feels built with very Poe-like tropes, such as premature burial, faked deaths, guilt, blackmail, revenge, and murder. Vincent Price has a strong performance, but Christopher Lee is woefully underused. 

The Toxic Avenger Part II & The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (1989, Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman, USA)

Troma’s raunchy superhero got a couple sequels. What charm I found in the first movie is missing from these, leaving just the racist, ableist, and transphobic humor. They’re gross and offensive, and that’s entirely the point of them; if these are your jam, you probably already know it. 

Midsommar (2019, Ari Aster, USA)

Midsommar is indebted to a lot of different genres, but feels like something wholly new. The spectacular daylit scenery is beautiful and pressed all the way to harshness, while Florence Pugh’s performance was cathartic and heart wrenching. The direction stretches the movie between dread, shocking violence, and humor, constantly building tension to a fever pitch. This movie is a lot of things to a lot of people, from what I’ve been reading since its release; I was struck hard enough by its fairy-tale like descent into, and processing of, grief. 

I think for a lot of movies, the first viewing is for feeling it; subsequent viewings are for analyzing it. For first-viewing feelings, this movie is a fucking fire hose. I really can’t wait to see it again.

4D Man (1959, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., USA)

A sci-fi in which a man becomes able to pass through materials and later starts murdering people. Much of the story is carried by the romantic drama between the three main characters. 

The director followed this with The Blob

Shark Attack (1999, Bob Misiorowski, USA)

Made-for-tv movie in which scientists investigate aggressive sharks off the South African coast. It’s very cheap looking, with footage of sharks used in the attacks. But I thought it put a little more effort into its story than just “animal attacks.” 

The Collector (2009, Marcus Dunstan, USA)

Originally written as a Saw franchise installment, this sits at the intersection of slasher and torture, putting a masked villain behind the gruesome violence. It works very well on a visceral level—it’s claustrophobic, exciting, and graphic. And really, that’s all this movie needs to be. I didn’t like the characters, I thought the pacing was disjointed and hard to follow, and it had scenes I absolutely hated. I think this movie is exactly what it wants to be. 

The Day Time Ended (1979, John ‘Bud’ Cardos, USA)

Aliens invade a family’s secluded desert ranch, sending them through space and time. The B-movie feel is obvious, which I’m sure causes people to write it off as bad. For me it has some memorable highlights: the stop-motion aliens are a treat and the ending feels bold in its optimism. I’m not going to recommend everyone watch it, but I’m glad I did. 

The Dead Pit (1989, Brett Leonard, USA)

A woman with amnesia is brought to an asylum where a mad scientist’s zombie horde is unleashed. In addition to the standard 80s fare, this movie delivers an eerie setting and a story that goes a few steps beyond what you’d expect: themes of family, religion, and trauma all rising up from the past to devour the protagonist make her a deeper and more relatable character. 

Pet Sematary (2019, Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, USA)

The 2019 version of the Stephen King story about a cemetery that brings the dead back to life, which was also made into a movie in 1989 by Mary Lambert. 

The cast is easily the strongest part of the movie, but I felt like they weren’t given enough space to really shine. Scenes had very little time to breathe and felt tightly cut around rapid-fire lines. It felt nowhere as lived-in as Lambert’s. It changed some things around, but without much significance by the end. Without being specific, the core of the story about the dismantling of the nuclear family and the burden of the father to fix it—which feels regressive and not something the movie is trying to satirize, but taking for granted—remains unchanged.  

I may not be much of a fan of the 2019 version, but I don’t think it matters whether I like it. The novel and 1989 movie were a couple of the most chilling and memorable horror stories when I encountered them when I was a preteen. The idea of an evil cemetery for children’s pets is all any adaptation needs; if this modern version gets young people hooked on horror the way the 1989 did for me, then I celebrate it. 

Hidden (2009, Pål Øie, Norway)

A moody, atmospheric small-town mystery about a man returning to his home and confronting his past. The movie excels in its mood and setting, from the gloomy house and foggy woods to the spooky hotel. The mystery is enough to keep things moving, but wasn’t a huge draw for me. 

Horror movies that focus on the mood and psychologic end of things feel like an exception during the late 2000s, and this one feels like is bridges a gap between Twin Peaks and modern Scandinavian mysteries. 

Across the Hall (2009, Alex Merkin, USA)

This is a thriller contained in a hotel room in which a man’s friend tries to talk him out of murdering his girlfriend, who he has discovered is cheating on him. The story is nonlinear, slowly revealing the entire picture. 

The movie’s style was the big draw for me; the filmmakers made the hotel feel timeless and venerated in all its grimy decor and past. The acting, direction, and editing made good use of the nonlinear story in a way that helped the pacing and tension feel comfortable and allowed me to be absorbed in the emotions of each scene, rather than trying to keep up. This also helped take the weight off the plot, because there were times when characters’ motivations weren’t clear or when things just felt too convenient and up to chance. 

This movie’s inclusion on the list is odd. By any definition, I wouldn’t call it horror. I wouldn’t even call it adjacent or celebratory. I’m not quite sure how it got included in the first place—maybe it got included in IMDb’s search—but I enjoyed it enough to keep it in there. 

That said, I think it’s a great movie and I’m glad I watched it. Brittany Murphy died shortly after its release, and she’s fantastic in this. She flirts with the fourth wall with precise delivery of sarcasm and self-awareness. 

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