The Howling (1981)
Written by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless
Directed by Joe Dante
1981 might have been the year of the werewolf between this film and An American Werewolf in London and lesser-known Wolfen. Special effects, both makeup and puppets, had improved to the point that movies could showcase spectacular transformation scenes, something older werewolf movies had always made a highlight of their runtime. Seeing the werewolf transform falls into that same category as Bruce Banner switching to the Hulk. There’s something oddly cathartic about watching a person’s body transform into an agent of chaos. Those werewolf transformations are on full display here, with the film reveling in their visceral detail. It’s also a fun, campy horror flick, just the type of thing Joe Dante has always been a master at making.
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Written & Directed by Damian McCarthy
Lynchian is a term that gets thrown around a little too liberally. It’s meant to denote that something is reminiscent of the work of filmmaker David Lynch, but it is often applied to either tv shows set in strange small towns or for media that is esoteric & quirky. The Lynch aesthetic is much more specific from my perspective, a way of telling stories in abstracted settings brimming with emotion & passion. People often behave in strange ways, and stories have elements of melodrama that take bleak turns. Not much I’ve seen has genuinely reminded me of that, but Caveat is actually a movie that lives up to the term. I won’t say Caveat is as masterfully delivered as Lynch’s films, but it is a decent horror movie that builds a unique atmosphere.
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The Glassy Burning Floor of Hell: Stories by Brian Evenson
I am a big fan of Brian Evenson’s short stories, having read A Collapse of Horses and Song For the Unraveling of the World. He exists in that space that perfectly defines weird fiction. It’s not quite horror or science fiction or fantasy but a great amalgam of them all. This book isn’t officially out until August, but I came across a post on r/horrorlit linking to Edelweiss where they were offering a free copy-protected Kindle download. It definitely appears that the text isn’t officially formatted entirely yet. However, the writing is so good any visual blips fade away. The stories here are just long enough, never overstaying their welcome and unsettling the readers perfectly.
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Written & Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli
I have not seen A Promising Young Woman, but I think this film covers the same ground and goes a lot more extreme than what I know of that picture. It isn’t a success, though, and ultimately I felt very cold and unmoved, which was not what I expected going into the film. Violation is undoubtedly stylish in its structure and visual choices, and I think they distracted from the humanity of the characters for me. I’m never one to shy away from a brutal and incendiary film because, at the end of the day, it will evoke some emotion. Sadly, what I felt most after this picture was boredom and a distance from the characters. There are some fabulously well-acted moments, but overall, the movie falls apart.
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Violence Voyager (2019)
Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
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Queen of Earth (2015)
Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry has managed to make movies that totally different in genre & tone from each other, which is quite an accomplishment. I don’t think you could say he sticks with one format and does it over and over again. Thematically and regarding his characters, there are some connections, but overall each movie feels very separate and new from the previous one. Queen of Earth is Perry’s attempt at psychological horror, and he ends up doing an outstanding job. I’m not sure I fully understood what was happening by the end, I have some ideas, but he can create a rising paranoia atmosphere and tension. We’re in the head of the protagonist, and we experience her debilitating mental collapse.
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Servant Season 2 (Apple TV+)
Written by Tony Basgallop, Nina Braddock, and Ishana Night Shyamalan
Directed by Julia Ducournau, Ishana Night Shyamalan, M. Night Shyamalan, Lisa Brühlmann, Isabella Eklöf, and Nimród Antal
Servant is a show that confounds me at times. Its premise is an intriguing one: a married couple hires a nanny to care for a reborn doll and find that their child is suddenly restored to life. Just in that one sentence, we can explore grief, relationships under stress, what it means to be alive, and a big supernatural hook to boot. Yet, I always engage with the show having some hesitation because of M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement. I have a complicated history with the director’s body of work because I started out loving what he was doing only to watch him go off the rails most spectacularly. He’s not the main creative force behind Servant, that would be Tony Basgallop, but there is an evident influence from Shyamalan in the aesthetics and plot beats of each episode.
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The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
There was a period in the mid to late 2010s where horror anthologies had an enormous surge in popularity. They are reasonably cheap movies to film, directors are asked to work on small budgets, and many are already used to that expectation. The risk you run with anthologies of any kind is that tones and style will be so varied that it’s just simply not possible to make one of these films that appeal to everyone from start to finish. The ABCs of Death series was like a horror anthology in overdrive as it touted 26 shorts in one package, a film for each letter of the English alphabet. This means there will be films you love and ones you will outright hate; your mileage may vary. In this review, I will talk specifically about the shorts I enjoyed.
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Saint Maud (2021)
Written & Directed by Rose Glass
Religion and horror seemed tied together since the very beginning. Christianity has its fair share of dark & horrific elements. Just sit down and read through the Old Testament, and you’ll come across multiple gruesome stories about the wrath of God. Religious dogma in the hands of mentally unstable people can be a volatile combination. You can look across the American landscape and see a little under half the population caught up in a fervor fueled by a distorted understanding of the Bible. While filmmaker Rose Glass may not be living in the heart of the United States’s current madness, she certainly shows an understanding of how this particular poison can be so enticing to a person who is alone and unstable.
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Written & Directed by Jordan Graham
This film is utterly uninterested in hand-holding you through the experience and explaining every little detail through exposition. In that way, it is a perfect example of what cinema does best, telling stories through images. But, it certainly helps to understand the behind-the-scenes story of the production. Knowing those details enhances the experience so that you can understand why it was made this way. I still think there are plenty of mysteries hidden here, but a little history can go a long way when a film is as cryptic as this one is.
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