Early this week, I was invited to an advanced screening of The Strangers: Prey at Night. I was excited, mainly because I enjoyed 2008’s home invasion horror thriller The Strangers, back before I knew I was a horror fan. In fact, The Strangers was one of the movies that made me realize I did like horror movies after all, so it’s always had a special place in my cold, black heart.
However, The Strangers is far from a perfect movie. Upon watching it for the second time, I have wondered what it would have been like with better writing, among other things.
The news of a sequel ten years after the fact was exciting, if for no other reason than home invasion movies scare the crap out of me. There was a part of me that was curious to see if the sequel would improve upon the original’s shortcomings…or merely rehash the same old stuff.
Oh, but it was worse than that. The Strangers: Prey at Night was disappointing. I was not looking for a socially-conscious horror movie going into The Strangers, but dammit, I wanted an entertaining and skilled effort. And I don’t think that is too much to ask!
*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.