The List Roundup: October 2019

Here are the movies from the list that I watched in October.

Ringu 2 (1999, Hideo Nakata, Japan)

The sequel to 1998’s Ringu, although not based on the works of the author of the original novel. The tone of the original is there, but in a much duller form—the mystery, tension, pathos, and fear are just not as sharp.

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, spooky ghosts, J-horror

Dracula (1979, John Badham, UK)

Ridiculously beautiful adaptation. The saturated colors and lavish gothic sets are almost the most beautiful thing in the movie; Frank Langella as Dracula is on the seductive and charming end, mostly eschewing the animalistic or sad-old-man aspects of the Count.

  • Recommended if you like: vampires, gothic settings

Blind Beast (1969, Yasuzô Masumura, Japan)

This is a hard one to describe, aside from saying it’s minimalist and auteurist. The story is of a blind sculptor who kidnaps a woman to use as his muse and model. The bulk of the movie involves her trying to escape his studio, which is a very surreal set, or manipulate him and his mother. It descends into a dark psychosexual expression, rather than any sort of story resolution. 

  • Recommended if you like: tension, psychological horror, Japanese classics, minimalist settings, surrealism
  • Content warnings: ableism, rape

Beyond the Darkness (1979, Joe D’Amato, Italy)

Loosely, this movie features exploitation and gore, wrapped up in a psychological conflict. The violence aims to shock and disgust—disemboweling, dismembering—and it’s often just cruel, without much effort to root it in the story. It had some Psycho vibes, with the strapping young lad luring women (or not preventing them from stumbling into his workshop?) and murdering them, driven by his obsession with his fiance’s corpse and an overbearing mother figure. None of it really ever comes together and it all felt to me like an excuse for the gore and nudity. 

  • Recommended if you like: gore, gialli, manipulative mother figures, good soundtracks
  • Content warnings: predation of women, sexualized violence, graphic gore (using real animal organs)  

Salem’s Lot (1979, Tobe Hooper, USA)

Stephen King’s vampire classic is one that takes its time settling into the town. This is a miniseries in two movie-length parts, so it takes advantage of the tv format. The autumn atmosphere really carries this movie—I was happy to let it take its time.

The cast is strong but kind of falls back into archetypes—both soap opera and vampire. James Mason is the obvious draw and he’s perfectly creepy, but I also really liked Bonnie Bedelia’s character, although she disappears towards the end when it’s time for the boys to solve the conflict.

I thought it was interesting that most of the vampire’s victims in the movie are men and boys. Through much of the movie I felt like those who succumbed to the vampire were those who failed to grow up, in various ways. It’s something I’ll have to look into at another time.

  • Recommended if you like: vampires, Stephen King, small-town drama

303 Fear Faith Revenge (1999, Somching Srisupap, Thailand)

A mystery slasher along the lines of the teen slashers of the 90s. Like any good movie about an all-boys/girls school, there’s plenty of homoeroticism (also check out the Whispering Corridor series).

  • Recommended if you like: slashers, seances, school settings

Case 39 (2009, Christian Alvart, USA)

This is a mystery thriller with a supernatural bend in which a social worker rescues an abused child, who turns out to be a scary little kid. This director released Pandorum the same year, and he must be a versatile director because they feel miles apart. Case 39 doesn’t build feverish amounts of tension or anything, and the threats lack immediacy when they reveal themselves, but the mystery is enough to keep it moving.

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, creepy kids, social workers

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989, Dominique Othenin-Girard, USA)

I didn’t see any of the sequels until lately, so not having any nostalgia for the series means I don’t get particularly excited for them, or in this case, I don’t get disappointed about the so-called bad ones. I thought this worked because instead of the usual final girl, we have a child. Seeing the terror in Jamie’s face as she’s chased by Michael felt genuine because it was stripped of the usual psychosexual subtext that’s usually at play in these slashers.

Tina was great too. The fact that all the women in the movie were united in their care for Jamie made them much more real to me.

  • Recommended if you like: horror icons, slashers, psychic children, 80s teens
  • Content warnings: sexualized violence

Beowulf (1999, Graham Baker, UK)

This was such a fun surprise. It’s the classic story set in an alternate medieval era with modern technologies. It’s indulgently over the top, from the industrial rock to the DOS-era CGI.

I usually try to avoid comparing movies, but it’s kind of hard not to compare it to 2008’s Doomsday, another movie that takes place in a post-apocalyptic medieval Britain (also starring Rhona Mitra). While Doomsday is the movie equivalent of Dril’s motorcycle tweet in the way it has an amazing setup but is just not weird enough and quickly deflates, Beowulf walks the fine line of indulgence while not taking itself too seriously.

  • Recommended if you like: medieval post apocalyptica, monsters, classic adaptations, leather, good bad movies

Family Reunion (1989, Michael Hawes, USA)

A low-budget movie about a family trapped in a ghost town where satanists are trying to complete their ritual. It’s solidly average, with a decent story and good character moments, but staying pretty flat as far as tension or action go. Although I thought the humor, especially the teenage daughter’s sarcastic lines, added some well-placed moments of levity. Apparently it was released as Picknick in Ghost City in West Germany, and that’s probably the most exciting thing about it.

  • Recommended if you like: satanic cults, possession, ghost towns, low budgets

Warlock (1989, Steve Miner, USA) 

A witch travels from the 16th century to 20th-century LA. Julian Sands as the warlock is reason enough to see the movie, but luckily there’s even more reward. It stands on its strong script, fantastic performances, and imaginative witch lore.

  • Recommended if you like: witchcraft, time travel, cool curses

Saw VI (2009, Kevin Greutert, USA) 

I saw Saw and Saw II when they came out, and checked out after that. I’d heard that Saw VI was one of the better installments in the series, but I debated whether I wanted to catch up on Saw III through Saw V, and chose not to. 

I don’t know if having the context of the others would have helped much, because this movie felt like it was 50% flashbacks and they didn’t help explain the context. The rest of the movie, to its credit, felt more concerned with the drama between the investigators and the reasons why the main victim was targeted. It’s all filmed in a style that’s convoluted, overwrought, and feels very dated, only after 10 years. 

  • Recommended if you like: torture movies, serial killers, police intrigue 
  • Content warnings: gratuitous cringy violence 

Lo (2009, Travis Betz, USA)

A comedy horror in which a man summons a demon to retrieve his love from hell. It’s a really compelling concept, with a minimalist setting with theatrical interludes. The makeup on the demon is amazing and the theatrical fuckery was excellent. I thought the jokes fell flat though, but I don’t enjoy comedy or fun. 

  • Recommended if you like: demons, summoning, theater, comedy 

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Peter Cornwell, USA)

This straddles the haunting and possession subgenres, on top of a story about a family’s faith being tested while they face the likely death of their kid with cancer. 

It was hard to watch this and not think about how much better it would be without the jarring noises and music accompanying the scares. I hate to complain about that, but when I find myself thinking during the movie about who makes that decision, when, and what the person’s desk who’s adding the sound effects looks like… 

  • Recommended if you like: spooky houses, ghosts, family drama, mysteries 

The House of the Devil (2009, Ti West, USA) 

A slow-burn throwback to the aesthetic, film techniques, and Satanic Panic of the 80s. I believe  nostalgia in TV and movies is on a 30-year cycle: the 30 – 40 year olds making films in the 2010s were teens in the 80s, and the 30 – 40 year olds then were teens in the 50s. The House of the Devil was right on time to kick off the 80s nostalgia cycle that we’re in the saturated tail end of now. 

This was my second time seeing and it really clicked this time. Both times I was super excited for a movie that gave me 30 min of exploring a spooky house. The cinematography felt so playful. And being able to take a step back from the ending this time, I appreciated it a lot more. 

  • Recommended if you like: spooky houses, slow burns, 80s nostalgia, satanic cults, walkmans 
  • Content warnings: forced pregnancy

The ‘Burbs (1989, Joe Dante, USA) 

This has been one of my favorite movies to watch on Halloween since my friend finally talked me into seeing it. “It’s got a funny scene about sardines” just doesn’t sell a movie, but it does have a funny scene about sardines. 

Although it’s not strictly horror by any measure, it 100% celebrates horror while also lampooning the neighborhood adventure movies of the 80s and boyhood nostalgia that grown men act out when they’ve landed squarely in their middle-class lives. 

I don’t know how it’s so funny, other than it’s purely Dante. I don’t know why “I called the pizza dude!” makes me laugh so much. God I love this movie. 

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, off-beat humor, not growing up 

The List Roundup: September 2019

These are the movies from the list that I watched in September.

A Blood Pledge: Broken Promise (2009, Jong-yong Lee, South Korea)

This is the fifth installment of the Whispering Corridors series; I watched the second, Memento Mori, earlier this year. A Blood Pledge continues on the series’ themes of teen suicide and queerness in the harsh school system.

A Blood Pledge’s director is new to the series and pushed it more towards shocking scares than the rest of the series did, but was still in line in terms of atmosphere, dread, character focus. I liked the cast a lot, although their performances were more exaggerated than the usual mutedness of the series.

The Fly II (1989, Chris Walas, USA) 

This movie has a lot working against it, just by following one of the most acclaimed horror movies. Add to that the fact that it tells a much different story from the first (although trying to copy the story of the first probably wouldn’t have earned it any praise either).

The movie centers on the main character’s captivity in a scientific facility, his development throughout his life there, and the relationships he forms. It metamorphoses into a creature feature by the end, and while it’s less creative than its 1986 predecessor, it still goes all in on a couple gory body horror scenes.

Return of the Fly (1959, Edward Bernds, USA)

The sequel to the previous year’s The Fly. Vincent Price is the only returning cast member, and a new director stepped in following the death of the first movie’s director. This one is a shift in tone from the first and lacks the existential horror, which was the reason I enjoyed the first so much.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969, Terence Fisher, UK)

This is the fifth installment of Hammer’s Frankenstein movies, which began in 1957. Peter Cushing continues to be my favorite incarnation of the character, bringing the perfect balance of charm, arrogance, and malice.

It’s less of a monster movie and more about crime and intrigue. It’s engaging enough, aside from the baffling inclusion of a rape scene partway through (which, I’ve read, was added at the producer’s request and against the actors’ and director’s protests).

Arundati (2009, Kodi Ramakrishna, India)

I think this is the first Indian film I’ve watched from the list, and it’s a shame it’s taken me this long. I don’t think I’ve seen any Indian movies period, so double shame. The internet tells me that this was a huge blockbuster and a very influential movie. I really have no familiarity with Indian films, but I’ll be interested to see its influence and inspiration in other Indian horror on the list. The DVD I rented had the movie in Hindi instead of its original Telegu, and I would have preferred to see it in its original language.

That said, watching Arundati was pretty wild. At the risk of stating the obvious because I don’t know how much of the movie’s presentation was typical, the movie’s fast pace stood out and required some adjustment on my part. It had a lot of plot and dialogue to get through and still had to make room for the lavish setpieces and songs.

The list has presented me with a lot of horror from around the world, and this is the first one where I felt the movie was speaking a cinematic language that was completely foreign to me. I can’t honestly say why that is, compared to movies from other countries, but there’s clearly a lot for me to learn.

Death Spa (1989, Michael Fischa, USA)

yo death spa 

People are too hard on this movie, but also they’re not wrong

Also just saying it’s in pole position for best title sequence. Imagine if that wasn’t at the beginning and only in its diagetic place at the end.

Wake Wood (2009, David Keating, Ireland)

A brooding wallow in a family’s grief, mixed with a good dose of small-town cult. Low-budget feel and a strong cast.

Death felt so pervasive in this movie: from the couples’ loss, to the constant accidents in this small town, to the town’s reason for being centered around the cult. Keating maintains this atmosphere throughout and effectively uses it to shock and build dread.

Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra, USA)

Orphan is a drama/thriller about a family adopting a strange girl and their destruction that follows, as manipulation and suspicion turn to distrust, which turns to pure antagonism between the mother and her adopted daughter. 

It hits some really high highs, particularly with Vera Farmiga’s performance. Much of the movie is spent on her character’s past trauma and insecurities and this enhances the main plot of the orphan herself. It’s much to the movie’s credit that Farmiga is given as much room as she is. 

There’s little to complain about, only that the movie felt like it didn’t quite reach its potential. Jump scares and abrupt noises feel like they’re just going through the motions, resulting in a feeling that someone in charge wasn’t confident enough in the great thing they had.

Sorority Row (2009, Stewart Hendler, USA)

It’s a slasher. Unapologetically so. There’s something to be said for a movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, and this feels like a love letter to the slashers of the 80s heyday and the 90s teen revival.

Shocker (1989, Wes Craven, USA)

In Shocker, a serial killer is executed in the electric chair after making a deal with the devil (in a spectacular scene). He uses his power to travel from person to person and through electric devices to stalk and torment the person responsible for his capture. It’s very Wes Craven, with the same kind of camp and dark humor as A Nightmare on Elm Street but more of it.

The List Roundup: August 2019

Chaw (2009, Jeong-won Shin, South Korea)

I wrote about it here!

Carriers (2009, David Pastor & Àlex Pastor, USA)

Carriers is a post-pandemic apocalypse movie about a group of survivors navigating the highways of what remains of the US. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness. It teaches you that only assholes survive and then dares you to care for its protagonists. 

One of my takes that I keep under a heat lamp is that often, zombie movies don’t need zombies to do what they’re trying to do, which is often show that humanity is petty and cruel. In that way, this feels like a zombie movie without the zombies, which I’ve kind of been asking for. That’s not giving the movie enough credit though: not only does it show its survivors as petty and cruel, but they’re scared and caring, hopeless and hopeful, methodical and indulgent, and in love. 

Splice (2009, Vincenzo Natali, Canada)

A scifi horror about two geneticists who create a human-animal hybrid and raise it as a child. Throughout the movie the two take on various parenting roles and relationships with their monster daughter and it all goes to some dark places. 

I’ve had a hard time writing down any thoughts about this movie, and I think it’s because there was something preventing me from really falling into it. It felt very top-down, if that makes sense. The characters felt molded by the script rather than emerging organically; the monster felt more defined by what we would see as monstrous, rather than being herself, personally and biologically. I felt very distant from her, and that’s the biggest disappointment for me. That doesn’t take away the fact that the movie really went into some new places and showed that there’s a lot more out there for horror. 

Stir of Echoes (1999, David Koepp, USA)

I saw this when it came out in theaters, and at the time it was easy to write off as a copycat of The Sixth Sense. Except with digging. I’m so happy I saw it again, because it’s such a fun one. In the wake of the 90s teen-slasher revival, this movie fits right in with The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch as a supernatural horror that lets its cast and setting carry the weight in spooking you. 

The movie has its dark and scary moments, but for the most part it’s playful and pokes fun at Tom’s (Kevin Bacon) masculinity. He’s a guy who feels destined for something greater than his middle-class job, afraid of being ordinary. He’s got this assumption that he’s entitled to something interesting, and his family is not it; when he learns Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) is pregnant, he seems to only dread the added inconvenience a new baby will bring. When the supernatural stuff starts happening, he tells her it’s the only interesting things that’s ever happened to him. 

The Plumber (1979, Peter Weir, Australia)

A TV movie by Peter Weir (Master and Commander, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society) about a malicious tradesman inserting himself into the home and life of an academic couple. From the poster, I thought this screamed slasher, but couldn’t be further from it. The charismatic and unnerving plumber is a trickster, crossing boundaries and tearing them down—throughout the movie his work of tearing open walls and sabotaging pipes serves as a metaphor for exposing the way the middle-class couple sets themselves above mere tradesmen and the way they construct gender roles of their household. 

First Man into Space (1959, Robert Day, UK)

A scifi horror about an astronaut who returns from space and becomes a monster. Produced in the UK and filmed in the US, it still had that Hays-Code tameness feel to it on the horror end; however, it still kept the tension up, especially in the opening scenes, and I liked its sympathy for the monster. 

The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959, Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan)

Classic Japanese vengeful ghost movie with gruesome effects and striking lighting effects echo back to the story’s theatrical origins. This is the first incarnation of this story that I’ve seen, but I’ve been reading about its many adaptations in kabuki and film. 

The List Roundup: 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. 

The List: June 2019 Catchup

The Highlights

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog, West Germany)

So beautiful and so creepy. Klaus Kinski is from another worldwhich makes this a fitting tribute to Max Schreck’s superlative performance. As a remake, this movie achieves the best possible result: making me love both movies more.

Nang Nak (1999, Nonzee Nimibutr, Thailand)

Tragic ghostly romance. Beautifully realized in its 19th-century Thailand setting.

Puppetmaster (1989, David Schmoeller, USA)

Leech lady alone puts this movie in the “highlights” section, but the rest of the movie does my girl justice.

Tell Me Something (1999, Yun-hyeon Jang, South Korea)

A detective follows gory murders through dark and rainy streets while trying to connect with the woman connected to all the victims. It’s an intricate mystery in which the scares and emotional heft carry the story forward, while burying fleeting clues to the grittier details throughout. There’s a lot to be digested in multiple viewings.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009, Tom Six, The Netherlands)

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch this, and I don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to! However, I also felt that it got enough attention to make it an important part of 2009; it’s also one of the flagship “torture porn” movies, which is arguably the biggest trend in 2000s horror. And I’ll admit to a morbid curiosity. But what sealed it was when a reviewer I like sang its praises. At that moment I was like, god dammit…

I’m glad I didn’t kid myself into thinking I was going to enjoy it, because it is not an enjoyable movie (plenty of movies aren’t meant to be). I appreciate its self awareness, being a movie about the kind of sick fuck who would make a movie like this, drawing a straight line between the director and mad scientist. Tom Six definitely knew what he was doing with it.

The Mummy (1999, Stephen Sommers, USA)

I knew I needed a palate cleanser after Human Centipede, so I queued up the Brendan Fraser classic. Not much to say about it… While maybe only adjacent to horror, it’s still part of the legacy of mummy movies and its visuals and scares stand on their own. Still as fun as ever.

The Rest

  • The Return of Swamp Thing (1989, Jim Wynorski, USA)
  • Lake Placid (1999, Steve Miner, USA)
  • Survival of the Dead (2009, George A. Romero, USA)
  • Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959, Bernard L. Kowalski, USA)
  • The Queen of Spades (1949, Thorold Dickinson, UK)
  • The Church (1989, Michele Soavi, Italy)
  • Savage Weekend (1979, David Paulsen, USA)