Movie Review – The Shining

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Shining”

Movie Review – A Clockwork Orange

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – A Clockwork Orange”

Movie Review – Ready or Not

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Ready or Not”

Movie Review – Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight

Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
Written by Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, and Cyrus Voris
Directed by Ernest Dickerson

I never saw the HBO version of Tales From the Crypt. Instead, I caught the edited reruns on Fox that used to air late at night on Saturdays. I absolutely loved the show, and it was probably one of the first things that stoked my interest in horror short stories. Interestingly, Demon Knight isn’t a story adapted from the pages of the titular EC Comics publication like the episodes of the show were. Instead, this was a script initially developed in the late 1980s and shopped around before it was set to be the second in a trilogy of Tales From the Crypt movies. The other two were dropped, and we ended up with Demon Knight as the first theatrical production to bare the HBO franchise’s label.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight”

Short Film Showcase 2020 #3

Rachel (Directed by Andrew DeYoung)
I love the comedic duo of John Early & Kate Berlant. Their Vimeo exclusive series 555 is brilliant, and everyone should watch it. This short film, directed by Andrew DeYoung, who was also behind the show, dramatizes a real-life situation that occurred to Early and his friends at a small house party one night. I don’t want to give away the details, but the short is a beautiful blend of horror, comedy, and that nervous, anxious cringey feeling—one of my favorite shorts of all-time, so simple yet brilliant.

Continue reading “Short Film Showcase 2020 #3”

Movie Review – Color Out of Space

Color Out of Space (2019)
Written by Richard Stanley & Scarlett Amaris
Directed by Richard Stanley

Since the 1960s, there have been attempts to adapt the work of H.P. Lovecraft for the big screen. I think it’s non-controversial to say these attempts have been lackluster. I know there are passionate fans of Stuart Gordon’s work (Re-Animator, From Beyond), and I have only seen the former film, but I didn’t feel like I was watching a Lovecraftian story. I have liked 2007’s Cthulhu, but it definitely didn’t capture the feel of a Lovecraft tale. We get to 2019 and the first film by Richard Stanley in twenty-three years since he was fired from directing The Island of Dr. Moreau. He decided to take on the behemoth of Lovecraft and delivers the most faithful film to date while still adding his own flourishes.

Nathan Gardener (Nicolas Cage) has moved his family to a rural farm outside of Arkham, Maine. His wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), has just recovered from breast cancer, and he wants her to have a peaceful place to recover. His three children have varying degrees of dislike about their new home. The youngest is relatively passive, the middle child has befriended a pot-smoking hippie squatter (Tommy Chong), and Lavinia (Madeline Arthur, the eldest is practicing witchcraft and invoking angels to rescue her from this place. Meanwhile, the city of Arkham plans to build a dam and provide water for the Eastern seaboard, and this involves sending Ward Phillips, a hydrologist out to the property to check the condition of the water.

Everything changes one night as an indescribable cloud of color descends from the cosmos bringing a glowing meteor to the Gardener farm. The object sinks into the Earth and then begins to affect the livestock and wildlife in the area, transforming them in unsettling ways. It also seems to have an effect on the psyches of the people on the land. Nathan insists he smells something foul and rotten while no one else does. The littlest Gardener carries on conversations on the front lawn with an invisible presence. Lavinia seems the most cogent that things are going wrong, but at every turn, this alien power stands in her way to escape. Like all Lovecraft stories, this one isn’t going to give us a happy ending.

This is my favorite adaptation of the author’s work for its faithfulness to the atmosphere and tone, yet also because it adds modern touches that compensate for Lovecraft’s virulent racism. Ward, who shares the lead role with Lavinia, is played by a black man. It’s never a point of mention in the plot, but it is important because it counters the writer’s history of white supremacist ideology that he tried to sneak into his work. We also have Peruvian-American actress Q’orianka Kilcher as the mayor of Arkham. Another nice touch of diversity to remove this horror tale from the prejudice of its author.

Richard Stanley doesn’t lose the sheer existential and body horror elements of the original work, though. Color Out of Space is an intense experience that doesn’t treat the audience with kid gloves. It does take its time building up to the grand explosion of horror in the finale. There are zero jump scares here. Every moment you feel terrified is earned by the script. The first act is about establishing characters and letting the audience know who they are and why we should care about what happens to them. The horror that befalls the family is profoundly personal and turns them against each other. I think this is the best adaptation thus far from a Lovecraft story.

Nicolas Cage’s performance will stand out because he goes bizarro in the middle of the picture. This is before the real madness of the alien presence kicks in and appears to just be Cage possibly doing a Trump impersonation? It fits though because everything is off-kilter and veering into mindbending horror. He’s definitely not the lead here, and I think seeing Cage as a supporting character actor as he ages would be fantastic. Richard Stanley says this is planned as the first in a trilogy adapting Lovecraft’s work, and I am fully on board for the next entry. If you are a fan of this type of cosmic horror, then you are in for a massive treat in Color Out of Space.

Movie Review – Come to Daddy

Come To Daddy (2019)
Written by Toby Harvard
Directed by Ant Timpson

If you have seen the trailers for Come to Daddy, you have been tricked, in an excellent way. By the end of the first act, the film throws a twist at the audience that causes all your expectations to go out the window. I was left entirely out to sea, wondering where this story was going when such a vital element of the story changed so drastically. Come to Daddy isn’t some revelation of a dark comedy, but it is a very entertaining and bizarre narrative. The characters are absurd, funny, and horrific. I found myself laughing quite a bit at a film I didn’t expect would amaze me too much.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Come to Daddy”

Movie Review – Brazil

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Brazil”

Movie Review – Phenomena

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Phenomena”

Movie Review – The Stuff

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Stuff”