Quick Reviews: Halloween Horror Movie Fest

2018 Challenge: Watch one scary movie a night in the week leading up to Halloween.

Challenge accepted. My friends from Phoenix came to town, ready to join me in my quest. These aren’t just any friends; these are hardened scary movie veterans ready to face down all the monsters, demons, oogly-booglies and what have you’s the cinema has to throw at us. We accepted the challenge with gusto. What fright-films filled the bill? Hereditary, The Changeling, The Thing, The Witch,  A Quiet Place, and Bog. Read on to find out how that went. (Some spoilers so beware).

Hereditary – Toni Collette stars in this slow burn decimation of a wealthy suburban family. Her creepy, seemingly autistic, preteen daughter hosts a real demonic baddie that needs to get transferred to another family member. Collette is amazing in this film as a mother going through the ringer, and dealing with a family curse her cult-member dead mother brought upon her. It is the best acting performance I’ve ever seen in a horror film. The director does a great job of letting the tension build slowly; it’s like the Exorcist for secular yuppies. Two of the three of us ranked this as the highlight of the week. Four stars.

The Changeling – Nope, this is not the movie starring Angelina Jolie. Instead, you’ve got a rock-ribbed, steely-eyed George C. Scott recovering from the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a haunted house in Seattle. It needs saying: you don’t expect a wheelchair to be frightening, but some of the best freak out moments of this one feature just that. This movie has flaws though. Once you know that the haunting spirit needs George C. Scott to help it, that it isn’t malevolent toward him and he’s not in real danger, some of the air goes out of the movie. One of my viewing partners pointed out another flaw; Scott is such a towering, unflappable presence, he never “stands in” effectively for the viewer as the one being scared. The movie does provide a love interest, a very effective actress (and good screamer) to provide some of the reaction, but Scott not really being scared, ever – I mean he’s Patton for God’s sake – is something the movie never gets over. Some nice haunted house effects and the background story driving the plot  – which is for revenge of an old wrong done to the ghost – is a good one. It just gets revealed too early. Three stars.

John Carpenter’s The Thing – This is one of the best, and it was my fourth or fifth time seeing this astonishing movie. If you don’t know the set up, here it is in a nutshell: a group of men, stationed in a remote location in Antarctica, are beset by a shapeshifting, body-stealing alien that is picking them off one by one. A few observations concerning this movie’s greatness:

  • Kurt Russell is outstanding in an iconic role – he’s gruff, funny, macho, desperate, and you absolutely buy into everything he does (except perhaps the somersault away from the monster at the end which is just…goofy);
  • excellent casting and acting top to bottom – the men make the most of even the most minor roles – as a former actor, I can tell you how difficult it is to give the sense of a “life” beyond the reach of the movie, but each actor here does;
  • gross, eye-popping, non-CGI effects – you just have to see some of these to believe them (my favorite is where a chest cavity opens up with razor sharp teeth and sheers off one character’s arms);
  • the BEST dog actor of all time – this husky helped raise the tension level just by giving a look  It was one of my friend’s favorites from the viewing extravaganza. Four Stars

The Witch – This is a film that starts well, but sputters in its ending, and that ending leaves you wishing you hadn’t watched it. Evil shouldn’t win so completely! The pluses are the setting, dialogue that you believe Puritans would use, and two good performances from the female lead and the man playing her father. The minuses are legion (an apropos term for such a review, non?) Why am I seeing naked children? Why do I have to see a baby about to be killed at the very beginning? Why do the characters do stupid things over and over? But the biggest why is – why have a movie so bereft of hope? The characters all are devout Christians, yet this gives them no hope against the coven of evil attacking them. It makes the film uninteresting that Christianity has no apparent power. They just succumb, and have no recourse. This isn’t horror, this is watching paint peel off an old barn. One star.

A Quiet Place – John Krasinski had apparently wanted to do this movie for a long time. Great concept: monsters pounce on anything living making sound and have killed off a good chunk of the human race. A family with three kids and one on the way are the human connection in this film; almost no other human appears. The family has one deaf daughter with a cochlear implant, another great choice that the film exploits to the hilt. Great moments of tension percolate throughout. The highlight for me was the quietest birth ever on screen. I was climbing the walls when Emily Blunt’s mother character had to bring forth a child while lying in a bathtub as silently as possible. Making a sound meant death for her and her baby. A few quibbles, me being me. The monsters didn’t have consistent rules – at some points in the movie, the characters could make sounds with impunity. At other points, the creature was able to find them even in silence. For this reason, there is a death at the end that seemed wholly unnecessary. Also, I was annoyed by the deaf daughter’s character, though the actress does a good job. I felt like her annoyed teenager actions served the purposes of the plot, rather than coming from a real place. These people are survivors in crazy circumstances. If she were so petulant and disobedient, she wouldn’t have survived so long. She’d be a dead brat. Three and a half stars.

Bog – Last and least. One of my friends who joined me on this challenge used to roam the racks at Blockbuster with me, searching for good scary movies to watch. We never rented it, but often picked up the VHS cover for Bog. Why? Because the write-up about the movie was so ridiculously, delightfully, campy. The bog monster had to “Search for Human Flesh” and harbored a “Lust for Human Blood.” They really had to make sure we knew it was “human” apparently. We delighted in reading it aloud and giggling maniacally. Flash forward years later, and my friend “gifted” me with this forgotten gem, complete with the retro cover we used to read with relish at the (gone but not forgotten) video store. I had not watched it till this past Halloween week, and oh, what a treat it was. If by treat, you take me to mean finding out that two pages of your library book are stuck together because someone sneezed into them and let the snot dry. I’ll make it quick and dirty (as bog water?) on this one. Terrible writing featuring lots of pseudo scientific explanation no one including the cast cared about, a creature that was apparently the ancestor of all those Mighty Morphin Power Ranger evil dudes in rubber suits, repeated “creature cam” use that wasn’t in the least scary, elderly people kissing very slow very slow very slow. The highlight was a “take” from one of the main characters, when he’s informed the bog creature might be sucking blood like a…vampire!!!!! He bobs his head in a circle and bugs out his eyes and my friends and I had to watch it five times to enjoy it to its fullest. No stars.

So that’s it for the film fright fest. Tell me about some scary movies I need to see in the comments.

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