The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Written by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
Directed by Tobe Hooper
I’m going to get right to the point here. I didn’t like this movie very much. I did not hate it, but by the third act, I was extremely bored. When the film became just a woman running through the woods screaming with Leatherface chasing her at night, I felt very disengaged. I would argue that Texas Chainsaw Massacre II is a better movie, and it is undoubtedly my favorite film in the franchise because it leans into comedy. So many brilliant techniques and creative choices are happening in this first film, and I was highly impressed. I don’t think anyone could argue that TCM was a failure. It’s a foundational text in the horror film canon, and we can view it as establishing tropes that continue into today.
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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Written by Michael Waldron
Directed by Sam Raimi
When you hire Sam Raimi, you better be prepared to let him do what he does best. This is not something commonly found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a seemingly never-ending series of loud, bland commercials for upcoming movies which are also commercials for upcoming films. However, there’s no doubting Multiverse of Madness or MoM is set up to tease Marvelites with the Multiverse and its long-term effects on the MCU. There is a clear cameo that has been teased in the trailers and commercials and more to be seen in the picture, but those just don’t entice me anymore. I want a good movie with a complete arc and well-written characters. Thank god for Raimi, who gives us just that.
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The Parallax View (1974)
Written by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., and Robert Towne
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Since the colonial period, conspiracy and paranoia have been foundational to the American psyche. Europeans crossing the Atlantic to rape & pillage grew to fear Indigenous people whether they were an actual threat or not. This would continue as closed religious communities struck out against themselves (see the Salem Witch Trials), and Westward Expansion bolstered bootstraps ideology which led to further social atomization.
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Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Written by Brian De Palma and Paul Williams
Directed by Brian De Palma
The rock opera is primarily a 1970s film genre that is still around in some form, but certainly not at the cultural zenith it had fifty years or so earlier. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is arguably the queen of them all, but many others achieved their own levels of cult status. Among them is Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, a picture with a deceptive title because it is not a rock opera adaptation of Phantom of the OPera. Yes, elements of that story are here, but it’s a mishmash of so many other things that it can be muddled. However, the film is saved by the music of Paul Williams and some amusing & clever performances. It’s not always perfect, but it’s constantly entertaining.
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Severance Season 1 (Apple TV+)
Written by Dan Erickson, Andrew Coville, Kari Drake, Anna Ouyang Moench, Amanda Overton, Helen Leigh, and Chris Black
Directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle
So Apple TV+ officially has its first great show. I was curious about the streaming platform at its launch in 2019 but didn’t find any of that initial batch of programs worth keeping up with. They weren’t terrible, just nothing that caught my attention. We watched the first and second seasons of Servant, but I haven’t found myself interested enough to watch the latest one. Then I started seeing a solid buzz about Severance, a show whose title seems so generic. I’d seen Adam Scott’s face in the marketing materials and thought it was just some workplace comedy I wouldn’t be interested in. Oh, how wrong I was. By the time we got to the final episode of the first season, I was fully convinced this is approaching Twin Peaks levels of good. In the same way, Lynch & Frost were using the tropes of the primetime soap opera, Severance has taken the workplace comedy and turned it completely on its head.
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Written & Directed by Ti West
Slasher movies are so ubiquitous that it takes a lot for me to even pay attention to them. The main thing that drew me to this film was that Ti West was helming it. For those unfamiliar, West has become a modern horror icon thanks to his nostalgic yet never pandering films, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, to name a few. His strength is in delivering the core elements of horror films from childhood but putting a strange, compelling spin on them. If you saw the trailer for X and thought you knew what it was, then get ready for a surprise. I went into that film with a similar mindset and was pleasantly shocked at how unexpected everything was. West has made a wonderfully self-indulgent slasher in the style of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that has so many twists & turns.
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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Written by Robert E. Thompson and James Poe
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Capitalism and the constant need to keep working/hustling/grinding feels like it is at a fever pitch. The divide between the Haves and Have Nots has grown in the United States to a historical level, worsened by inflation and stagnant wages. However, a growing number of labor unions are forming, and workers in the service industry are becoming emboldened to stand up for themselves, often collectively. That gives me some hope while I worry the powers that be will undermine these movements every day. All of these events parallel the Great Depression, one of the bleakest periods in American history. People were desperate for food, shelter, and any money they could get. This constant living on the edge of death and survival led to dance marathons, sometimes going on for days or weeks, where couples attempted to remain moving and conscious. The last couple standing would win a cash prize, but along the way, many people would be physically and psychologically harmed by the strain. Writer Horace McCoy was a bouncer during the Depression and witnessed these marathons, which inspired him to write the novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
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Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix)
Written by Lenore Zion & Nick Antosca, Mando Alvarado, Christina Ham, Alana B. Lytle & Haley Z. Boston, and Matt Fennell
Directed by Arkasha Stevenson, Gandja Monteiro, Matt Sobel, Jake Schreier, and Nick Antosca
Serialized horror has become increasingly popular over the last decade thanks to shows like American Horror Story and others it inspired. However, AHS is a program I gave up on because I personally did enjoy its brand of campy horror-comedy (and the steep decline of its writing). Instead, I really came to love the tragically short-lived Channel Zero, the brainchild of writer Nick Antosca. Antosca took internet-published stories called “creepypasta” and adapted them into season-long stories. While Channel Zero was canceled after four seasons, it has remained a cult favorite, and Antosca has turned that into other film & television opportunities. One of these has been to adapt the obscure 1990s horror novel Brand New Cherry Flavor by Todd Grimson.
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The Trial (1962)
Written & Directed by Orson Welles
The legal system doesn’t consistently deliver justice. Since 1989, over 2,400 people have been found to be wrongfully convicted in the United States. Even back amid the first World War, writer Franz Kafka understood the absurdity of the legal system and its accompanying structures. Sadly, he would pass at the young age of 40 in 1924, but a year later, one of his friends would cobble together the fragments of The Trial and posthumously published the text. While Kafka’s final vision for the book will always remain unknown, it was clear he was using it to examine the systems he lived within, particularly how cruel and cold they can be to the ordinary person. Orson Welles would be approached by producer Alexander Salkind to make a film based on a book in the public domain; this was what the director’s eye drifted to. The result is a masterpiece of visual and narrative excellence.
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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Written by Edward Albee & Ernest Lehman
Directed by Mike Nichols
I can’t imagine how shocked audiences were when they saw this movie in 1966. It doesn’t have gratuitous nudity or sex, barely any profanity, no violence or gore. However, it features such bitter, hateful characters that this is a complicated picture to get through even by today’s standards. It wouldn’t be until 1968 that married couples on television would be shown. However, film and theater have always been ahead of the curve in pushing content boundaries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a couple like this before. The rancor that is already overflowing when the movie begins just explodes. We’re given some moments of reprieve, but they fade quickly when the ceasefire ends, and the games begin again.
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