Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Written by John Elder and John Sansom
Directed by Terence Fisher
I was born over a decade after Hammer’s golden age, but I was certainly aware of it. There were children’s books about monster movies that I gravitated toward as a kid. My earliest memories of learning the Dewey Decimal System were memorizing where the movie books were (790s) and where the books about comic books were (741.5). I remember pouring through these books and coming across a section in one about Hammer Horror; an image of Christopher Lee as the fanged Count Dracula accompanied the text. Around this time, some local stations would do a pretty good job programming horror movies on the weekend afternoons during October. I vividly remember a promo for The Curse of Frankenstein but not being allowed to watch it, despite being censored for television. This solidified my desire to seek out horror.
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The Innocents (1961)
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer
Directed by Jack Clayton
Horror is an umbrella term for diverse subgenres that all focus on one emotion: Fear. As a human being, you know fear has many levels and tones. You can have a momentary fright or slowly sink into the quicksand of dread. Horror cinema has films that fit this spectrum of intensity, with cheap jumpscares ruling the box office (for the most part). My personal favorite type of horror leans into existential fears. Gothic horror often does this exceptionally well, emphasizing atmosphere and striking visuals that linger. Alien is an excellent example of Gothic horror, even though it’s set in space. The fear comes primarily from our sense of dread, knowing that something terrible will happen yet not knowing why or if it can be stopped. Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is about facing something you cannot fully understand, but it still speaks to something you’ve suppressed within yourself. For many people, that type of horror is all too real.
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Village of the Damned (1960)
Written by Wolf Rilla
Directed by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, and Ronald Kinnoch
Uncertainty is a regular part of life, but the systems we live under often create ways to blunt it. This is done by providing the citizens with a host of needed resources and using propaganda to shape their worldview. However, these systems can’t hold back the tide of reality forever and cracks inevitably appear. COVID-19 has been one of those uncertainty moments, something so significant that it pierces the veil and creates chaos. We are also conditioned to go into immediate denial (the effects of the propaganda) even if we see it happen right before us. “But I was assured,” we say, “That the people in charge have everything under control.” If you haven’t been convinced yet, just wait; things will get worse as denialism grows in the face of multiple global catastrophes.
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Written & Directed by Alex Garland
Alex Garland has been a complicated director for me. I can’t say I’ve ever loved his work, but I find it fascinating. Every time he releases a film or, in one instance, made a television series, I am there for it. I don’t think you can argue that Garland is an uninteresting filmmaker though you could say he has a lot of missteps or doesn’t necessarily communicate his ideas clearly. When the first trailer for Men dropped, I knew I would be watching it as soon as possible and that it would be a unique viewing experience as all his work has been. Men has gotten a lot of negative press and seems to be both a critical and box office failure. I knew all these things going into it but ended up loving it more than I have most of Garland’s other work. It is undoubtedly his most esoteric movie, and I understand the adverse reactions entirely.
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I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Written by Paul Laverty
Directed by Ken Loach
Western civilization is nearing its end. Now it could be around for another 100 years or more. I don’t think we’ll see any Roland Emmrich-style explosive finale or Mad Max-ian wastelands ruled by marauders. It’s a sad, pathetic decline where the poor and working people will just be stepped on harder and harder. Cruelty will be further normalized, and society will be conditioned to accept less than crumbs as acceptable. Anyone speaking out who might bring out even a modicum of change will be pilloried and labeled a “hater,” a “traitor,” etc. And you’ll still be expected to keep going to work and paying bills during this collapse. They won’t let a day go by that you aren’t being squeezed like a sponge for all possible labor at the lowest possible wages. The slavery model in American prisons has been quite lucrative.
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Written and Directed by Chino Moya
Western society is in its twilight. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not; it is. All it takes is stepping back a bit, viewing this particular political hegemony from an intellectual distance, and seeing the decline in real time. I am 40. When I am 50, society will be worse than it is now. And so on and so on until I die. There is potential goodness in people, but there are also potent, influential institutions devoted to sowing division, agitation, and distraction. So what will that future world, that sprawling landscape of inhuman Hell, possibly look like? Filmmaker Chino Moya posits this blasted wasteland, populated with brutalist architecture. The irony here is that, like all good science fiction, Moya isn’t talking about the potential future but reflecting on what he sees in our present through a lens of fantasy.
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The Souvenir Part II (2021)
Written & Directed by Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir was not the sort of film we expect sequels for anymore. It’s an intimate, funny & poignant story about a young woman coming into her own and dealing with her first tragic love. The second film is about the ripples in that relationship and the death that ended up rippling through a young filmmaker’s life. It became a significant influence on her art. All of this is directly autobiographical, based on Hogg’s own experiences coming into her own as a filmmaker and the effects her ill-fated relationship had on that work.
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This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (1988)
Written by C.S. Lewis & Alan Seymour
Directed by Marilyn Fox
I remember having the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia read aloud to me around seven or eight. It was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ series and immediately piqued my interest. A couple years later, this British television mini-series aired on PBS’ Wonderworks, a children’s anthology, and I was pulled in right away. While it doesn’t compare to the lavish production values of 1980s blockbusters, it did make me feel like I was passing into another world. Narnia felt very real and honestly very frightening. The series does not hold back on some terrifying imagery for a little kid. Many years passed before I rewatched it and what I found was that, while very faithful to the book, it does not hold up from an adult perspective.
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Written & Directed by Ben Sharrock
Cinema is always a tension between aesthetics and narrative. Sometimes the two gel together perfectly so that tension is barely felt. Other times you find movies veering wildly in one direction over the other. I personally will always enjoy a picture where the narrative is most in focus, but having well-crafted visual sensibilities at work can’t hurt. Limbo has a striking visual look, nothing too ornate, but immaculate focused cinematography. Comparisons to Wes Anderson or Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) will be immediate. However, the picture is not merely a copy of someone else’s work. Limbo presents a very human story in an incredibly isolated place. The way images are framed intentionally keeps us at arm’s length, just as the characters in its story would to others. But as the film goes on, we are drawn in closer.
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Written by Steven Knight
Directed by Pablo Larrain
I can’t say I was ever enamored with Diana. I was very aware of her as a child and into my teens, but the whole English royal family thing just wasn’t all that interesting. I still find it odd that even ceremonial monarchies still exist. What a terrible drain on the people to keep funding such a meaningless thing. I was interested in this movie because it is helmed by Pablo Larrain, who directed the fantastic Jackie, a biopic from Jackie Kennedy’s POV. I think Larrain does an excellent job of centering women who, while seen as iconic, are often not given a voice in their own narratives. They are often the spouse of X rather than a person unto their own. So I was looking forward to seeing Diana fleshed out as a multi-dimensional person.
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