Oct 30, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 30: Aliens

Aliens begins pretty much where Alien left off, just 57 years later. Ellen Ripley and the cat, Jones, have been asleep all that time and the Weyland Yutani Corporation has managed to find terraforming colonizers to send on LV-426. They get Ripley to agree to go back with the promise of killing basically everything that isn’t human. She joins a bunch of marines when the colony stops responding with the hope of finding out what happened, although by now, everyone can probably figure out what happened. What follows is a breathless jaunt through xenomorph infested environs where a lot of people die gruesomely, surrounded by many, many xenomorphs.

I saw this for the first time when I was about 9 or 10. Some little shits in my class convinced the teacher that it wasn’t that scary. I had nightmares for weeks afterward. It took me years before I could watch it again. And I’m glad I managed to come back to it. Just like Alien, this is still and will remain, a perennial favorite. It’s one of those things I can’t really be objective about.

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Oct 29, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 29: Alien

Another old favorite, Alien has managed to live up to time. The tech is shitty, as only for a movie released in 1979. There’s a fair number of jump scares but most of the horror comes from other things. Nevertheless, the actual story has held up through the decades.

The mining and processing ship Nostromo is coming back from a job when the crew are woken up much earlier than expected. This is because there’s an unclear beacon, and the only thing that’s clear about it is that it was started by an intelligent being. They go in and find a massive skeleton and a whole bunch of leathery eggs. You know, at that point, I would have gotten the fuck out of there but it’s also sort of understandable why they didn’t. And when they break quarantine procedure, which is also sort of understandable.

I love that Ripley doesn’t stop to say “I told you so” when people start getting dead. I don’t think I’d be a big enough person to omit the finger wagging. Ripley as a character has a lot more agency than a lot of women characters these days. The action is compelling and people act according to character, if not always very smartly. I still love it and will probably continue loving it for a long time to come.

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Oct 28, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 28: Event Horizon

Event Horizon has been one of my favorite horror movies for a long time. I didn’t see it in theaters but a couple of years after, around the time I turned 18. I haven’t seen it in years. It seems that sometimes, you can’t go back.

It starts when the crew of rescue ship “Lewis and Clarke” get ready to make a high thrust trip to Neptune. They’re going there because the ship, Event Horizon, which vanished seven years earlier has suddenly reappeared. Here, the sequence of events is weird. Everyone gets introduced only AFTER they get to Neptune. Anyway. They receive a message that sounds like a lot of people shouting and screaming and someone saying “save me” in Latin. So, of course they head inside. And find out the ship is alive.

Watching it this time around, there were a lot of things that annoyed me. The crew make stupid decisions that are only very superficially motivated. Sam Neil’s character turns from a meek scientist into a cocky scientist, into an aggressive bro dude, and finally into a creepy nightmare guy controlled by the ship. But despite being on the trip because he’s the scientist who designed the ship, he doesn’t ever actually do anything useful. There are other inconsistencies in characters and motivation. The main execution mode of terror is the jumpscare. The action is still compelling and the reason I used to love this movie so much is still there underneath all the bullshit. The shine, however, has worn off by watching it again.

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Oct 27, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 27: Life

Life begins our final countdown of space horror! I have a soft spot for space horror that probably ties somehow into that little-examined part of my brain that makes me love science fiction in general so much. Life is a very, very good space horror movie. It begins with the crew of the ISS frantically getting ready to capture a capsule with samples from Mars. Lo and behold, they find a single-celled organism in deep hibernation. They manage to get it moving again and it starts growing at an exponential rate, becoming a multi-cellular being without specialized cells. Because of a breach in the lab, the creature, still small, goes into hibernation. Instead of waiting and giving it nutrients and favorable conditions, like before, the xenobiologist decides to give the creature electric shocks instead. Understandably, the creature gets pissed and that’s when the murders begin.

There are several worldbuilding failures in this movie, but I honestly didn’t care even a little bit! All the characters are operating at the top of their game and the few stupid decisions they make are thoroughly motivated with character-based reasons. Even as I was shouting at the xenobiologist (“Don’t do it! DON’T YOU DARE DO IT!”), I still knew that I might have ended up doing the same thing in his place. The action is exciting, and the space-component well integrated. The alien life form is cool and strange enough and the ending just predictable enough to be satisfying. And did I mention that everyone was acting competently and to character? That doesn’t happen nearly often enough. <3

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Oct 26, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 26: The Invitation

Just so you know, this is all spoilers. Other people really liked this movie, I did not.

I’m not sure what I think of The Invitation. You know going in that it’s a horror movie. But the actual horror really only starts 15 minutes before the movie ends. So what it ends up being is an almost two-hour-long exercise in gaslighting. Hooray! Or really, really not. The tension builds beautifully and the performances are all great but all it amounts to is a two-hour-long exercise in gaslighting. And I cannot figure out why the filmmakers chose to do it this way. The actual horror portion of the movie is so short that it’s barely there. You know that it’s coming all the time but the movie keeps telling you the main character, and by extension you, is wrong and there’s nothing wrong with anything. Everything is just great when really you’re having dinner with four members of a murder-suicide cult. So yeah. I was not a huge fan.

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Oct 25, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 25: Evil Dead

This week in How To Remake a Cult Classic; all of the gore, none of the fun! In Evil Dead (2013), a group of twenty-somethings head to a remote cabin to help their friend and sister kick a drug habit. They find a whole heap of burned animals and a book, wrapped in a plastic bag and some heavy duty barbed wire. So, of course, one of the fucking idiots opens the package and finds a clearly evil book, bound in what looks like human skin, scrawled all over inside with warnings about how the book should not be read. And when the idiot in question finds a page with even more warnings and some text made completely illegible, the idiot then goes to great lengths to not only get the text legible but subsequently read the fucking thing aloud. How stupid can you get?!

Everything that happens next is gory to an almost – but not quite – comic degree. And more importantly, highly predictable. I was able to call the order of deaths, except for two which were reversed, accurately at the start of the movie and the manner of each death at the start of the corresponding scene. You can imagine how delighted my spouse was. We’ve gotten in the habit of telling each other guesses about what’s going to happen. Usually we’re not quite this accurate, nor this accurate so early on. We could have written a fairly accurate replication of the script after the first five or ten minutes. And I haven’t even seen the original, just one of the sequels.

All that said, this was still an effective movie. It used the visual language associated with the genre of gore horror to great effect. The characters are stupid beyond belief but somehow you still end up rooting for them, unlike some other horror movies I’ve seen (*cough*Prometheus*cough*). The most disappointing thing about this movie, though, is that it takes itself so frogdamned seriously. There’s literal raining blood at one point and the movie still keeps going as if that’s a serious thing that seriously might happen. Freaky weather aside, there was such joy in the ridiculous in Ash vs Evil Dead that I hoped to find some of it here as well, but nope. Which probably means that this is going to be one and done for me, even though the production values have got to be so much better in this one than the original.

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Oct 24, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 24: Green Room

A punk band filled with people in their twenties gets a gig at a neo-nazi place then accidentally witness a murder in the Green Room. What follows is a claustrophobic, gory ride that feels much too relevant to be comfortable watching. Patrick Stewart delivers a fucking terrifying performance as the owner of the neo-nazi club. The disregard for human life, whether the band’s or the people who follow his commands, is staggering. The movie was way too gory for my taste, while still taking itself seriously. The Nazis use attack dogs with all that entails, except on-screen dog death.

Honestly, there’s not much I can say about this movie. I’ve been trying and trying. It’s fairly forgettable while also being really uncomfortable to think about at this moment in time. The band is more like a single entity with four heads than comprised of actual identifiable characters, but then the same goes for the nazis; there’s Patrick Stewart and the rest. There’s even one traitor who’s supposed to be more recognizable but honestly, even he gets lost in the sea of white men in combat boots, and close-cropped heads. There are a total of two women in the Nazi circle, one of whom is the murder victim. And I think that’s intentional because it does work to create a really disturbing setting. It is very effective in that sense.

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Oct 23, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 23: The Neon Demon

Where yesterday’s Deadgirl failed in making a point about the commodification of female bodies, The Neon Demon succeeds on so many levels. Jessie is a 16-year old just arrived to LA to become a model. The movie opens with a fashion shoot where Jessie pretends to be an artfully displayed woman with her throat cut. That pretty much sets the tone for this really fucking gruesome movie. While it’s set in the modeling world, this movie is not about fashion models. It is a relentless slog through the commodification and consuming of female bodies. As such, it features rape (off camera and an attempt on camera), sexual abuse, cannibalism, fat shaming, the whole enchilada.

I’ve been reading this book on plotting, Story Genius that talks repeatedly about a story’s third rail. I’ve been trying to process that idea and I think this movie really helped with that. Every scene in this movie is somehow about commodification. They seemingly tell the story of Jessie’s descent into the modeling world, and largely, they do. But Jessie’s story is not the actual third rail of the movie. The movie has a lot of strobing light effects, so anyone with migraine issues will want to skip it. It’s a little long and at times a bit pretentious but all in all it’s a solid movie that turns a lot of things we view as normal into the horrific territory.

And the rest is spoilers.

The thing that’s interesting about this movie is that everyone is very invested in commodifying and dehumanizing women, even the women themselves. There’s the sleazy motel owner (played to perfection by Keanu Reeves) who knowingly takes in pretty underage girls just so he can rape them when he gets in the mood. There’s the supposedly infatuated would-be boyfriend, whose idea of a career-making high-fashion photoshoot is presenting the model as a corpse. The designer who literally will not even look at the models he’s casting because he don’t give a fuck. The model who gets overlooked drinking the blood of another model who gets noticed. There’s the woman who’s had herself essentially redone by a plastic surgeon who “pointed out other flaws in [her] body” when she went in to get her breasts reduced so she’d look more like a hanger. The woman as a Nice Guy, which, let’s just stop there for a moment. There’s a woman who plays the Nice Guy archetype. I love it! And finally, there’s the woman who LITERALLY eats Jessie in a desperate hope to become desirable as a model again. And the celebrity photographer finally chooses to see her after the cannibalism! And yeah, the cannibalism is horrific but so’s the constant affirmation of a woman’s worth being only in her looks. The movie uses the modeling world as an easy setting where it can make these points grotesque but it’s not like general society doesn’t agree with a lot of the things that are presented as horror in this movie. And to me, that’s kind of amazing.

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