*Mild Spoilers for It**
I’ve known about It for as long as I can remember. It was that massive brick of book that sat on the shelf at the public library, daring me to secretly check it out and sneak it home, where I could read it under the covers at night. It was also that early 90s TV movie starring Tim Curry that my parents wouldn’t let me see, and that I didn’t see until I watched it during a slumber party. Growing up, It was the epitome of horror, not only because of the scary clown, but because children were the target of his evil, and It was not afraid to depict child murder.
It really went there, and many 90s kids won’t forget it. Many of us flocked to movie theaters last weekend and forked over cash to see the latest adaptation of It. I, for one, was almost giddy with excitement. I wanted to be scared sh*tless. I wanted to recapture some of the terror I felt reading the novel. I’ve grown up, but I still remember the exquisite and sickening pain of growing up, of realizing the evil in the world.
But this adaptation didn’t make me feel that.
I won’t lie, I was ready to be disappointed by Alien: Covenant.
When I finally walked into it, I did so with low expectations and gratitude that my ticket was free. An ardent fan of both Alien and Aliens, I’m still sore about how disappointing Prometheus turned out to be. I was hopeful that Alien: Covenant would be different, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I thought I’d learned my lesson about managing expectations.
So imagine my surprise and delight when Alien: Covenant turned out to be thrilling, scary, and downright thoughtful. Alien: Covenant, thankfully, broke new ground instead of rehashing Prometheus and took meaningful steps towards giving us the same kind of gruesome and disturbing space horror epics we all know and love.
*Beware: Here be mild spoilers for Raw*
During my time blogging about all things horror, I’ve found that most serious horror fans by and large stick to their favorite horror subgenres. They may only dapple in other subgenres, occasionally dipping a toe into art horror or zombie flicks, but not often. I do this. I love moody, tense psychological horror, ghost stories, and taut thrillers with elegant displays of horrific violence. Slashers? Not really my thing. The Saw movies? Ehhh, pass. And body horror? Definitely not my thing.
For some reason, body horror is particularly challenging for me. Thus, I avoid it. This isn’t to say that I think body horror is bad or uncouth or less capable of artistic potential. I accept the importance of body horror as a subgenre that is, at times, most-equipped to explore themes like mortality, physical weakness, aging and disease, over-population, and the disconnect between our mental power and our bodily strength. After all, body horror is the most universal kind of horror, since everyone is stuck in a decaying body and marches through a field of pain and pleasure towards death.
There are times when even I can’t look away from a well-done, brilliant body horror film, when even I have to admit that I really, really liked it.
This is how I felt about Raw, a 2016 French-Belgian cannibalism and coming of age horror film that made waves at Cannes last year and was finally released stateside a few weeks ago.
*Mild spoilers for A Cure for Wellness*
Some horror movies are simply transcendent. Such films function on multiple planes and deliver on every level of filmmaking—acting, writing, editing, cinematography, and direction. They are frightening and entertaining stories that craft pointed arguments about the human condition and, well, scary shit. Those films add to our understanding of the dark places where we dare not tread.
Other films aspire to those same heights, and while this group of films strives to execute on every filmmaking aspect, they fall short. It might be that the acting or editing was merely “good” instead of great.” It might be that the cinematography was astonishing, but something else was poorly done and the film couldn’t recover. I think it’s kind of tragic when a promising movie fails to coalesce into a truly great film.
I’m sorry to say that a Cure for wellness falls into that latter category. Although it was an entertaining movie with a lot to offer, I cannot call this movie a success. An original effort with stunning visuals and a great cast, A Cure for Wellness lacked firm story foundations. Had it the script been better, A Cure for Wellness could have been a real stunner of a movie.
***Spoilers for The Neon Demon Follow***
Unfortunately, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for horror movies, though it hasn’t been the worst either. In fact, 2016 seems to have been a moderate year, with some of the best films exhibiting hard-to-ignore flaws and the worst films showing flashes of promise. All the good films seemingly came out of left field while all we got from the hyped horror movies were splashy marketing campaigns and disappointment. For me, no other 2016 Horror Movie exemplifies this better than The Neon Demon.
Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.
One of my favorite things about horror movies is how long they’ve been around.
People started making scary films as soon as they could. Audiences have always loved going to horror movies. Films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were widely popular. A lot of these movies became genre classics. You’ll find them on many best-of-horror lists, where they are widely praised for employ innovative techniques and practical effects to terrify audiences.
There’s just one problem—the majority of those films are no longer scary by today’s standards.
One of my biggest horror movie pet peeves is when characters die from making incredibly irrational, stupid decisions. Not when a character is stressed and freaks out, but when a character is a genuine idiot. I hate when that happens in movies because 1) most people aren’t that stupid, 2) convenient stupidity for the sake of moving the plot forward is the height of lazy, contrived writing, and 3) that shit isn’t scary.
I’d rather watch a movie where the characters are smart but woefully unprepared for the nasty situations they find themselves in. Helplessness is always scarier than stupidity.
And that’s why, despite my natural avoidance of super-gory horror, I really enjoyed Green Room.
About ten or fifteen minutes into The Witch, I realized I was holding my breath. My shoulders were tense, shrugged up towards my ears as I sank further into my seat. I told myself to relax and just watch the movie, but I couldn’t. It didn’t help that I ended up curled up in my seat in preparation for the next insane development. And it didn’t help that the story became more and more unnerving and the scares more and more startling. Hours after the film had ended, I was still tense. I couldn’t stop revisiting the film, obsessing over certain scenes and replaying others in my head, desperate for details I’d missed.
It’s been a long time since a film, horror or otherwise, has provoked me like The Witch has. Few horror films have ever left me in a state of lingering physical discomfort. Not many horror movies have scared me like this, where I could not predict what fresh hell would come next. And few movies have left me this awestruck, because The Witch is one of the best horror films I’ve seen. It proves the level of art and craft the horror genre is capable of attaining.
And that’s because The Witch is not just a film. It’s an experience, a study in fear.