The Changeling (1980)
Written by William Gray & Diana Maddox
Directed by Peter Medak
Does tragedy make a person more open to other planes of existence? If we come close to death or experience, profound loss, are we then able to brief make out the shades of another world that exists within our own? The Changeling explores these ideas in a tightly crafted and well made haunted house picture. Long before the days of Blumhouse, this was a movie that trafficked in many of the same tropes and themes but didn’t need to lean into empty jumpscares or tired formulas to keep audiences interested. That isn’t to say this is a perfect film, but it is made by people who understand what is genuinely horrific about existence.
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She Dies Tomorrow (2020)
Written & Directed by Amy Seimetz
The world is a scary place right now, fueled by a mix of real horrors and a general sense of growing uneasiness with modern life. People seem to be inching towards a collective mass mental breakdown that is playing out on viral videos peppered across social media. The American population is being confronted with its mortality in a stark manner that you can see is not setting well. Some people are in outright denial and become unhinged, encountering others who very proactively try to keep themselves and others healthy. These anxieties and contemplations of death are what make up the nightmarish ground She Dies Tomorrow covers.
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The Fog (1980)
Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Directed by John Carpenter
John Carpenter is a well-known master of horror & the fantastic and in the early 1980s he was doing the best work of his career. By 1980 he’d directed Dark Dark, Assault of Precinct 13, and the film that propelled him to greater heights, Halloween. Two years later, he would make one movie a year for five consecutive years. It began with The Fog. The idea for The Fog came over several years dating back to the early 1970s as Carpenter recalled a British horror film he saw from a child about monsters in the clouds. While visiting Stonehenge while filming in the UK, he noticed the eerieness of a fog that crept over the site. After hearing about a tragic shipwreck off the northern California coast, Carpenter sat down with then-girlfriend Debra Hill and worked out the screenplay.
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Doesn’t the world feel exceptionally shitty these days? Would you like to watch a movie that will lift your spirits? Well, that’s not this list. When I originally planned this list, COVID-19 cases were going down, and it seemed like the BLM uprisings were pushing back at power semi-successfully. As I publish this, we have soaring case numbers and now federal stormtroopers acting in outright violation of the Constitution in Portland, Oregon. Just yesterday, political commentator Michael Brooks passed away suddenly at the age of 37. Brooks was in my home every day through his work on The Majority Report and his own podcast. Add to this anxiety surrounding schools opening back up soon while the virus rages, and I can safely say my head is not in a good space these days. Seems like the perfect time for such a list.
Continue reading “The Cinema of Misery”
Written by James Dickey
Directed by John Boorman
The opening dialogue of Deliverance, based on the novel of the same name by James Dickey, tells us everything we need to know to understand the conflict that underlies the entire film. The quartet of friends talks about a new damn built on the fictional Cahulawassee River and how this effort of modern industrial ingenuity is going to change the landscape. This plays out over scenes of massive earth-moving machinery and explosives clearing away cliffs. This will be a story about modernity clashing with primal forces of nature and how masculinity navigates how a strange old world redefines it.
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The Butcher Boy (1997, directed by Neil Jordan)
In 1960s Ireland, 12-year-old Francie Brady allows his imagination to take over his mind and body quite often. His mother suffers a nervous breakdown and commits suicide, and his father becomes emotionally distant, relying on alcohol to get through the day. Francie’s fantasies become full of aliens, monsters, comic book heroes, and most upsetting nuclear annihilation. Francie is driven to committing a horrific act in his community, which makes him an outcast and lands him at a reform school where he’s habitually molested by one of the priests and communes with a foul-mouth Virgin Mary statue. The line between his fantasies and the trauma of his abuses finally coalesce in a violent, bloody act.
Continue reading “My Favorite Unsettling Films”
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Written by Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, & Gustav Hasford
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Full Metal Jacket was seemingly accepted at face value by critics and audiences alike, and this is one of the most baffling moments in Stanley Kubrick’s directorial career. It shouldn’t surprise us though, as A Clockwork Orange was assumed by so many to be the filmmaker’s endorsement of rape and youth violence. Never underestimate people’s ability to not want to put in the work to think about a piece of art beyond its basic presentation. I have known “Chad” types who have quoted Full Metal Jacket with glee, and I can remember the first time I saw it not understanding why they thought this was a movie glorifying the Marine mindset. In the context of Kubrick’s full body of work, this rewatch has helped clarify for me that this is not the “funny” movie those sociopaths seem to think it is.
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The Shining (1980)
Written by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Shining is usually the first Kubrick film a person sees as it is the most popular and one of the most accessible. It connects with people who like Stephen King (and don’t realize how much Kubrick made this his movie) and fans of horror in general. At some point, the picture became part of a quasi-fandom with Steven Spielberg recreating the Overlook Hotel in Ready Player One, inspiring a fake documentary called Room 237, and having a sequel in the form of the King novel and subsequent Mike Flanagan picture Doctor Sleep. It remains a powerfully affecting horror film that leans into its ambiguity to create an authentic atmosphere of resonant horror.
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A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick has no shortage of controversy in his filmmaking career, and probably the most incendiary of his films is this adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 satirical novel about a violently out of control youth culture. In reflecting on my rewatch of this movie in the context of Kubrick’s body of work, I think it is shortsighted by people who are offended by the picture to push it aside so brusquely. The director has composed a movie that sits as a discomforting companion piece to Paths of Glory, asking some tough questions and making sure that our contemplation of these inquiries is not an easy task. The most important aspects of our society should be very hard to address and tackle.
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Ready or Not (2019)
Written by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Horror comedies are a hard sell for me personally. I love the horror genre, but my tastes lean more towards more somber, bleak affairs with hints of humor. I think Ari Aster is a perfect example of how much comedy I will accept in the horror films I like, little dashes, well-timed, and never ruining the atmosphere and tone. Ready or Not is a movie that looks fantastic, the color grading is beautiful and gives every frame a rich texture. It comes out of the tradition of shlocky horror movies with a wild premise that the filmmakers wholeheartedly commit to. However, the script and some of the acting take away from what could have been a great film and leave as just a passing bit of fun.
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