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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Oct 22, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 22: Deadgirl

Two creepy douchecanoes go through an abandoned mental hospital and find a naked woman tied up in a bed. Deadgirl tells the story of what happens after. Instead of calling the police or any type of medical personnel, one of them decides to rape her and then accidentally snaps her neck. Turns out, she’s a zombie. Which to at least one of them means that she can and should be used for sex. And that’s the whole premise of the movie. That teenage boys will use a dead body for sex as long as it doesn’t kill them.

My partner chose most of the movies on this list and this was sold to him years ago as a different kind of zombie movie. Needless to say, we were both disappointed. At no point did I give a fuck about what happens to anyone in this movie. The zombie was already dead so theoretically we weren’t supposed to care what happened to her. Every single guy on the screen is a horrible douchecanoe, not just toward women but other men as well, so I never did care about what happened to any of them. Even the main character, the guy we’re supposedly supposed to be rooting for is a fucking stalker. Even the actors did not really impress. They deliver mumbling, lackluster performances. Many of the people who liked it, seem to consider the ending a clever switch which I can only take as an indication that they weren’t paying attention to the rest of the movie. I mean that was always going to be the ending.

Technically, this is a new kind of zombie movie but it didn’t really have anything new to add to the genre and it’s not even stomping old ground in an effective way. Commodification of humanity has been a long standing theme in zombie fiction and if this movie was trying to make a point about specifically the commodification of female bodies then it utterly fails in actually making that point. Perhaps the point is supposed to be about how teenage boys are terrible in which case I think the point has been made in much better ways. This is one movie that I would advise anyone to avoid. It’s got a nasty, juicy premise, but pretty much nothing else. It never actually does anything with it.

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Oct 21, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 21: 1922

1922 was the first movie on my list that I had absolutely no expectations for at all. I haven’t been watching trailers for these movies and though most movies you can guess something from the name, 1922 could be anything. What it turned out to be was a Stephen King movie set in 1922 when a farmer plots to murder his wife. She’s intent on leaving the farm to go live in the city which is not even a little bit what her husband wants. What follows is basically a Stephen King version of The Telltale Heart, with rats. Pretty much no jumpscares, ALLLLL the rats, such gore, dead walking. I really liked this one. The horror is well constructed and, at least for me, really scary. There are some Kingisms sprinkled all over and throughout this movie and for me, at least, they really worked.

The ending is very dark but also kind of hopeful, in a twisted sense. I really liked this one, in so many ways. The selfishness that leads to the ultimate decision, the guilt that starts gnawing at both of them as soon as the deed is done. The way the dead start walking. I am very much in the target audience for this movie.

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Oct 20, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 20: Babadook

The Babadook is easily the movie on this list I’ve been looking forward to the most. During the lead-up to me going to Clarion, there was a discussion about how and why Babadook is a gay icon. The babadiscourse intrigued me enough to spark a story idea even though I’d never seen the movie. To say I’ve been looking forward to watching the movie would be an understatement. And the Babadook certainly did not disappoint! This was by far the scariest movie on my list so far while also being right up there with Get Out in the running for being the best movie on this list.

The Babadook is essentially a single mother still grieving from the death of her husband almost seven years earlier, dealing with a weird, rambunctious kid who just will not sleep through the night. She’s on the verge of falling apart when her son brings a pop-out book with the title Mister Babadook. The book starts innocently enough, rhyming about the new friend you might meet, Mister Babadook. It turns creepy very fast, finding its way into the nightmares of both mother and son. The movie is notable in that there are no jumpscares. Like seriously. The horror is just constantly rising until it reaches a crescendo.

As far as spoiler warnings go, there is a supremely cute dog who does not have a very good end and some disturbing hallucinations of a dead child who’s not actually dead.

The rest contains spoilers, you have been warned.

The thing that I loved, loved, LOVED about The Babadook was the ending. Not only was it a happy ending, it was a happy ending for everyone, the monster included. And holy shit did it work for me. I was scared enough there as the action started to ramp up that I needed to pause the movie which hasn’t happened since forever. But the monster just needed to be seen and acknowledged. Like seriously. I’m basically crying just thinking about that as a solution to anything, let alone a horror movie. And these are good tears. I mean, obviously there are undertones of grief and there are probably n+10 explanations for what happened, but for me, this is still a very distinctly queer narrative. I’m glad I didn’t see it before I wrote the story that’s now out there somewhere, hopefully finding an audience, but there are definitely similarities in the two stories.

I just loved this movie to bits and will most likely be watching it over and over and over again. After all, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.

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Oct 19, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 19: The Babysitter

What happens when your babysitter turns out to be in league with the Devil and instead of bringing her boyfriend over for sexy fun times, she brings over a whole bunch of people for human sacrifice? That is pretty much everything about The Babysitter. Cole is a kid who’s basically afraid of everything. I could never figure out how old he is. His dd is trying to reach him to drive but he’s barely tall enough to see over the steering wheel. He’s got a babysitter but no one else in his peer group does. His mother looks barely older than his babysitter. Bee is presented as pretty much the greatest babysitter to ever babysit; hot, funny, cool but not too cool to seemingly enjoy hanging out with a tween boy, proficient in science fiction. So, basically Lisa, just with added demonic worship.

It’s a fun, cheesy movie that does everything you’d expect, as long as you can turn off your brain or be doing other things while watching. There’s a fair amount of gore and a lot of the humor is about punching down and felt mostly tone-deaf to me. There’s, for example, an extended joke about the cheerleader getting shot in one boob. Like extended through the entire movie. When the joke ventured into the territory of her feeling violated, it just really took even the last remnants of funny out of it for me in the post-revelations-about-Weinstein world. And while the general public has known about it for a few weeks, a lot of people in Hollywood have known, and hidden, it for years and years. There’s a Black Lives Matter joke that may or may not have been trying to comment on it, and I seriously couldn’t parse what the comment was supposed to be because it fell so flat for me. I’m going to be generous and say that it’s possible that the film was just so supremely directed at an American audience that I was missing some sort of context that would have made these jokes hilarious. Or maybe it’s just humor too sophisticated for me. Or the movie was just casually racist and misogynist. And it’s… I’m not offended or really even disappointed in it for that. Just tired. I mean I guess The Babysitter is not a font of originality, to begin with, so…

All of this adds up to a fairly okay and completely forgettable movie. Earlier today, I was talking about it with my partner (we watched it last night because tonight I’m recording a new episode of Mad Writer’s Union!) and I’d entirely forgotten one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Pretty much the best bits are in the trailer and I was working on other non-knitting things all through it (as was my partner, incidentally) and neither activity really encroached on the other which says a lot about just how engaging it was. Maybe it would offer more to an American but for me this was a one-time watch.

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Oct 18, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 18: Mist

The Second Stephen King movie in a row, The Mist tells what happens when a interdimensional mist follows a huge storm. David Drayton is a science fiction cover artist living in a remote town somewhere that’s probably Maine. He takes his son to the grocery store after a big storm to get some supplies when a mist rolls in with the people ahead of it running scared. Soon after it becomes clear that there are creatures in the mist, come from another dimension.

The Mist is a solid alien invasion horror movie. There’s a religious cult and some truly horrifying spider-like creatures and some vagina dentata tentacles and all of it set to a backdrop of human relations. The movie – even at 2 hours 6 minutes – does feel a little short and like it skims over a lot of the good stuff, meaning the creepy human interaction in favor of hitting the plot points. I hear the series has a rape subplot which means that I for one will be skipping it entirely. Too little time in the world for yet another one of those.

Marcia Gay Harden does the most amazing job as the creepy cult leader who people start turning to when her most horrible “predictions” start coming true and her character, while prominent, could have been even more utilized to creepy effect. She was magnificent. Otherwise the actors perform solidly, without being supremely memorable. Except the aliens. Because boy howdy are there some scenes that really stick with you.

Anyway, I actually like the movie, despite its many, many, many flaws (more on those below, with spoilers). I’ve never actually read the book so I don’t know how it compares.

Spoilery: the ending is a lot darker than I feel Stephen King usually gets. There’s no hope at the end of the story for our main character, even thought the world gets saved. And like I’ve said before, I like my happy endings. I want a happy ending in this one as well, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how to deliver it without it feeling like a deus ex machina and unsatisfying.

Also, the main characters kid is the most annoying kid ever. It’s like the film makers remembered David had a kid only when they wanted to remind the audience that, hey, this guy’s got a family, and the kid needs his daddy to be there for him. Only they do it in the most obvious way possible that you can’t possibly miss the fact that this guy’s got a lot on his plate. And, honestly, there may be some of the author’s hand in those interactions as well. I’d have to read the book to find out. But mainly, the kid is used as a cudgel and never gets an actual character. Even the hostile neighbor gets more of a character and that mismatch is definitely the fault of the film makers.

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