Brazil (1985) Written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown Directed by Terry Gilliam
Brazil has often been explained as George Orwell’s 1984 played as a comedy, and that is not too far off. I don’t think the art deco world of the film is as authoritarian as 1984, but the flow of disinformation is just as crucial to the narrative. Brazil presents a prophecy of the world we live in now where the specter of faceless terrorism is used to cow people into apathy. The power is not sleek and sharp but buffoonish, making fatal errors and killing innocent people. But the stratified class system and a fear of being targeted if you speak up keeps the ordinary person docile.
Phenomena (1985) Written by Franco Ferrini & Dario Argento Directed by Dario Argento
I have tried to find something to like about Dario Argento’s movies for almost twenty years, and I have finally gotten to the point where I can say I dislike almost everything he ever made. Deep Red is a decent movie, but even Suspiria is a narrative mess. After seeing Luca Guadagnino’s take on that horror classic, it helped me know that I just don’t care for how Argento elevates style so far over substance to the point that his films devolve into incomprehensible messes. Phenomena is one of those movies that I tried my best to enjoy, but by the third act, I just wanted it to end.
The Stuff (1985) Written & Directed by Larry Cohen
Paranoia has been a chief component of modern life since the Cold War. In the 1950s, Americans were told to beware of “Reds” in their midst while the Senate conducted a witch hunt against citizens. This inspired the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which took its novel roots and reimagined them as a commentary on the Red Scare tearing through the country. Ever since, the concept of the masses being overtaken by an insidious enemy has seemed enticing for many directors and writers. You often have one or two characters who are on to the ruse but seem helpless against the enemy’s scope and scale. This was the type of story that inspired independent filmmaker Larry Cohen to make his satire on the modern corporate food industry.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Written & Directed by Dan O’Bannon
The Return of the Living Dead is not so much a film as it is a cinematic experience. The characters are drawn paper-thin and spend most of the picture screaming at each other in panic. The plot is super simple, zombies get lose and start wreaking havoc. The movie is more influential than you probably realize, the whole zombies wanting to eat brains trope came from this picture. Zombies being the result of military/industrial chemical experiments or accidents came from this movie. If you think about Romero’s zombies, they don’t really have an origin; they just are. Traditional zombies are related to practices of voodoo. The Return of the Living Dead established new rules while ignoring old ones and became a true cult classic.
The Lodge (2019) Written & Directed by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
There are lots of familiar elements at play in The Lodge. You have a stepmother figure whose purpose in the story is ambiguous, possibly malevolent. There’s a snowed-in cabin where the power goes out, cutting the lines of communication. Sleep is disturbed by noises in the night and troubling dreams of the landscape. There are even two kids who might be up to no good. All the pieces are there, but the execution just ultimately stumbles, and nothing ever comes together. The Lodge has so much promise but fails to deliver on that promise.
The Outsider (HBO) Written by Richard Price Directed by Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinović, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, and Charlotte Brändström
HBO’s The Outsider does not ease the viewer into its story. It explodes in the first ten minutes with the inciting crime, the brutal murder of an 11-year-old boy. The audience doesn’t see the act, but we are with the local man walking his dog, who comes across the crime scene. In a quick succession of camera shots, we see the mutilated remains that look like an animal savaged the poor child. Thus begins the first two hours of this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. I have to say, these opening two parts are amazing and had me riveted to the screen. Major props to Jason Bateman on directing and bringing such a simmering, tense atmosphere to the project.
Nightbreed (1990) Written & Directed by Clive Barker
Nightbreed has so many great elements and ideas but ultimately fails at everything it is trying to do because it overflows with stuff. That stuff is characters, mythology, plot, pretty much everything. Horror legend Clive Barker wrote and directed this adaptation of his own novella, which I think might be at the core of the problems. He wants to have everything in this movie, but that means so much gets abbreviated but still presented, which leaves the audience confused about who certain people are or what some of this mythology being spoken about is.