Friday, October 29, 2021

In It For the Kills

Halloween Kills (2021)

I guess you could call it an epiphany. While I was watching Halloween Kills (2021, directed by David Gordon Green), I realized that the artfulness of a slasher movie doesn't matter to its audience. You could say I've been blind to what slasher movies actually are, and maybe I have been. I admit that I've never understood the appeal, except on the rare occasions when the filmmaking is sharp and the sensibility behind the camera has actual ambitions beyond the red meat of the sub-genre. It's purely an accident that the foundational film in the category is a genuine work of art, one that's informed as much by autumnal melancholy and cinematic legerdemain as it is by teenage sadism. It barely spills even a drop of blood. Maybe that's why its inheritors refuse to learn anything from it. Not enough Christians for the lions.

So now we have this film. It was inevitable that a sequel to the 2018 Halloween would be made once that movie raked in summer blockbuster money, and it was perhaps inevitable that the same talent would be attached. It's more of the same; it's more of more of the night HE came home, if you will. In truth, I like this film a little better than its predecessor. I thought that film completely immolated itself with one colossally dumb plot twist. This film has no comparable moment. I enjoyed some of the metacinematic touches in this one, too, which reach just beyond aping moments in John Carpenter's original, while connecting it to the broader roots of the horror genre. Mind you, there are a lot of things connecting this film to Carpenter's original and to the original film's first couple of sequels. This is as much an homage as it is a (not so new) new narrative. If cinema going forward is going to be a recursive echo chamber selling you the same experiences again and again, then this film is a state of the art example. If you want something new, like a story about a latter day druid killing a generation of kids with sinister masks, then you will be left wanting.

I admit that I am swayed a bit by the circumstances under which I saw the film--as the first half of a double feature at a drive-in theater as god intended. That counts for a bit. But the overall film? Well, maybe not so much.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Going Ape

I must have been in a bad mood when I saw Kong: Skull Island (2017, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts) when it was in theaters because I didn't like it very much at the time. I remember grousing about the distinct lack of dinosaurs in the film, and that's a rule I apply to any King Kong movie. There must be dinosaurs. It's one of the reasons I dislike the 1976 De Laurentis Kong so intensely. No dinosaurs. None. All we got was a giant snake and I think Carlo Rambaldi may have re-used that snake for Conan the Barbarian. Don't quote me on that. For what it's worth, the lack of dinosaurs is by no means the only reason I dislike that film. In any event, Kong: Skull Island at least has the courtesy to replace the dinosaurs with monsters, so that's some consolation. I probably let my prejudices blind me to the very real virtues the film surely does possess. Of the Monsterverse films, this is the one with the best cast of human actors, and it does the most with them. It also has an antic sense of metacinema that crops up in unexpected places. None of this should be dismissed just because I don't get my fill of ape on dino mayhem. It's not a bad film by any stretch. As corporate franchise product, it could be a lot worse.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

It's Not a Tumor!

Malignant (2021)

I wasn't expecting much of Malignant (2021, directed by James Wan). The film has received withering reviews from other quarters and my own experience with James Wan's other horror movies has been indifferent to actively hostile. So imagine my surprise when I found myself cackling like a maniac when the film turned its cards face up and let its freak flag fly. I wasn't expecting a movie that so gleefully followed its muse over the cliff, but by golly, when that moment arrived I was ride or die for the duration. Mind you, I don't want to suggest that Malignant is a "good" movie. It's not, really. James Wan is still who he is and the movie is still burdened with the family über alles moralizing Wan picked up in the Insidious and Conjuring and Fast and Furious movies, but the raw materials? Oh, mercy!

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Creature Stole My Twinkie

The Monster Squad

Fifty-two horror and mystery movies made before 1948 were licensed for television in 1957, including the Universal horror movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Invisible Man. The famous "Shock Theater" package (Twenty more followed the next year). On television, they became a huge hit all over again and were part of the spark of the Gothic horror movie revival of the late 1950s. One of the side effects of this package was the creation of a subculture of horror fans, particularly among young people. The so-called "Monster Kids" were a phenomenon throughout the decade that followed, providing a reliable audience for the Hammer films and Corman Poe films and Italian horror movies that filled the drive-in movie circuit in the next decade. The phenomenon spilled over into broader pop culture, too, resulting in horror-themed television shows (The Addams Family and The Munsters and Dark Shadows), horror imagery in car culture (also in The Munsters), cereal festooned with cartoon versions of the classic Universal monsters, glow-in the dark model kits, and dedicated horror culture magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein (and belatedly, Fangoria). Eventually, the monster kids began to be an element in horror media, in a kind of feedback loop. Stephen King was a monster kid and one of the protagonists in his novel, 'Salem's Lot, is a monster kid. Eventually, they started to show up in movies. You had entire generations of kids who knew the "rules" of horror movies, and you couldn't just ignore them if you made a monster movie. You see this in films like The Lost Boys and The Goonies, arguably The Blob, and (tangentially) Fright Night. The living end of this phenomenon is Wes Craven's Scream, which explicitly lays out the "rules" of slasher films in the text of the film, but that's a late mutation of the monster kids. The traditional monster kid phenomenon was largely spent by the late 1980s. Universal has been trying to revive interest in its traditional monster movies for the last couple of decades with indifferent results, but it seems that the world has moved on from that kind of horror movie. Even the monster kid movies in the 1980s seem like nostalgia pieces when they weren't actively trying to integrate with more contemporary horror movie imagery. Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad (1987) seems like a nostalgia piece. It certainly feels that way to this particular Gen X viewer.