I rail a lot against bad horror movies, the kind that are excuses to inflict a lot of violence, gore, and bad writing on audiences. As a horror fan, I wish to hold the genre to a certain standard of storytelling because the genre has so much to offer. But I’m realistic, and if a horror movie doesn’t live up to those standards (or even try), all I ask is that it’s at least entertaining. There’s nothing worse than a boring horror movie that tries way too hard.
However, I must confess that I have my own horror guilty pleasures. These are films that I acknowledge are poorly made movies with a laundry list of flaws. Yet somehow, I love them. I watch them over and over.
And my favorite horror guilty pleasure is 2003’s action-horror classic Underworld.
As a horror fan, I’m not fond of slasher films. But even I can’t deny the impact slashers have had on the genre. Like it or not, these films, often sparse on plot and heavy on gore and sex, have altered the course of horror movies, if not movies in general. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Black Christmas, and Scream are all slasher classics that have left an indelible mark on pop culture.
So of course, with today being Friday, July 13th, I had to revisit Friday the 13th.
After seeing Hereditary a few weeks ago, I left stunned, thinking that I hadn’t seen a horror film like Hereditary in a very long time. So much happened, much of it overwhelming in its emotional punch and terror. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I gave up trying to decipher things and instead just let memories of it come to me. It is one of the most genuinely horrific films I’ve seen recently. It’s also one of the most depressing films I’ve seen in a long time.
After weeks of not knowing how to write this review, I finally managed to lean into the film’s complexity. Hereditary is so good at unfolding itself, at managing what information it offers the audience and when. Not only does this model make for excellent slow burns, but it also mirrors the disintegration of the family as their first loss spirals into unimaginable horror. It is a tragic story, really, a film about a woman that unwittingly enables and fulfills her family’s nightmarish fate.
As far as horror movies go, Hereditary isn’t focused on entertainment, though I found the film entertaining in and of itself. No, Hereditary is more focused on using its story and characters to create a fundamentally unnerving experience. It explores how we are at our most vulnerable around our family members, and despite our fervent beliefs that we can ignore the scars and outrun the past, we can’t always. Continue reading
*Be Warned – Very Mild Spoilers for A Quiet Place*
I’ve always said that, for any medium, the key to creating a compelling narrative is developed characters. This is especially true in crafting exceptional horror movies, where the disturbing events unfolding on screen pack an intense punch not just because of their scariness but because of the risk they pose to characters the audiences cares about. Yeah, a novel concept, good pacing, and deft camera work contribute, but no one cares about any of that if the characters aren’t watchable.
This is especially true for A Quiet Place, which wisely uses its script and actors as the foundation upon which the whole movie is based. Its inventive concept, heart-pounding scenes, and swelling tension would have fallen flat without the work that went into the script and the acting. In doing so, A Quiet Place stakes a claim as the first exceptional horror movie of 2018. (I know that’s not saying much when compared to films like Winchester or The Strangers: Prey at Night, but the rest of 2018’s horror movie faces stiff competition.)
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.