Summer of Anticipation

It’s funny (slash sad, slash disturbing) how my annual Halloween rituals have become so numerous, so far-reaching, that I start to connect events that take place in the beginning of Summer with the coming of Halloween. Case in point: Summer of Horror.

Case in another point: Today I was at Target, and walking by the seasonal section, which is still full of adirondack chairs, barbecues and patio umbrellas, I noticed one aisle being cleared out and a single cart of school supplies within. I know what that means – Back to School. And setting aside my child’s mind and the foreboding terror of even thinking about school this early in the Summer, I know Back to School as the last seasonal reset before Halloween. Even seeing school supplies at THAT area of the store makes me think of that time in late August when I’ll find an excuse to wander by the seasonal aisle and see… well, school supplies, but ALSO the very first signs of Halloween creeping in.

But that’s not even the first warning shot, not by a mile. Before then, I’ll be grocery shopping and look at the Home & Garden magazines in the checkout aisle, and there will be a Jack O Lantern there. Before THAT, I’ll be at Costco and I’ll see a skull or a giant spider or whatever Halloween thing they sell that year. And if I have any reason whatsoever to go into an At Home decor store after about mid-July, oh you can bet there’ll be a Jack O Lantern there, along with giant gaudy inflatables, styrofoam tombstones and every other manner of Halloween decoration, because they’ve got the square footage to roll that shit out EARLY.

I’m sorry for all the caps. You can see how these thoughts rev me up.

So while I do lament the acceleration of time I experience year after year, and always feel like I could use more time away from Halloween stuff before the next one rolls around, I also can’t avoid looking forward to it every year.

Ghosted by Jon on June 21st, 2016 | Filed Under Musings | No Comments -

Summer of Horror: The Hallow, The Pact, Plan 9 From Outer Space

The Hallow

The Hallow

From just the Netflix description, what you gather about The Hallow is: A family moves into a remote house on the edge of a foreboding forest, where demonic figures plot to steal their baby. Starring two Game of Thrones actors. Sound suspiciously familiar? Well, hold your horses. That description is exactly where the similarities to The Witch end.

For one thing, the movie is set in the modern day, which isn’t immediately apparent from the Netflix listing. But more importantly, the tone and style (and monster) of this film couldn’t be more different from The Witch. Those baffled by that movie’s languid pace, almost undetectably subtle dread and impenetrable colonial accents might find this straightforward cabin in the woods story easier to get into.  More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on June 21st, 2016 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Reviews | No Comments -

Summer of Horror: Annabelle, The Stuff, Nosferatu The Vampyre

Annabelle

Annabelle

Call it “The Conjuring lite”, and you really wouldn’t be very far off – but you’d also be selling Annabelle short just a little. Sure, it doesn’t have the clockwork mastery of build-and-release suspense rhythm that James Wan has seemingly perfected, and it also lacks much of the polish of its spinoff progenitor. But what it lacks in, well, let’s face it, story, characters and acting, it makes up for in what we in the industry call “gags”. Its scare scenes are pretty great.

Ten minutes into the exposition and character introductions, I was already (figuratively) checking my watch. The dialogue seemed to be dropping details meant to pay off later, but in all honesty I can’t tell you whether any of them did. It was just… talking. And the characters themselves are just so bland, I knew it was going to be a struggle to care. It’s not that the writing/acting/directing was bad, just thoroughly middle of the road.  More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on June 9th, 2016 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Reviews | No Comments -

Summerrrrr offff Horrrrrooorrrrrr!!!

Someday, I’ll think of a roundabout way to loop in Winter and Spring events that complete this chain leading up to Halloween, and my whole year will be covered.

June. In Phoenix, this is the month where we all resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never again be not sweating unless we’re either submerged in water or in another city, for 5 months. This Summer of Horror thing didn’t start out as a way for me to cope with the psychological trauma of our weather, but it’s become that in a sense. The true goal is to make large strides in my personal horror film XP level. The fact that this is something you only do indoors is a bonus.

This year for the first time (I think), I’m posting my watchlist ahead of time. Not just because I felt compelled to make a pointless graphic for it, but as a way to maybe kind of keep myself on track. In the past, I’ve let certain movies slip through the cracks simply because they seemed like homework (there’s a few on this list that were supposed to be covered in year one), and I don’t want that to happen again. Make no mistake, this list WILL change. I won’t get around to every single movie, and I’ll likely add/replace some as I go. But I’ll try to stick to the plan.

Here it is!

Summer of Horror 2016 List

I’m embarrassed about a few of these being on here, because it means I’ve never seen them. But there’s less embarrassment than in years past! Progress! If you want to join in on any of these viewings, and, uh… I know you, I’d be thrilled! Just tell me, “I want in on ___________” and I’ll try to arrange it for a night that works for you.

Festivities kick off tomorrow night with Annabelle. And think, by the time the credits roll on the last of these movies, we’ll be on the doorstep of Halloween Phase 1! Let’s see… 24 movies… 8 per month… two a week. Doable.

Ghosted by Jon on June 2nd, 2016 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Musings | No Comments -

Murder Party Review

Murder party

A fairly pathetic parking ticket hander-outer has nothing to do on Halloween but watch bad horror movies on VHS with his cat. He finds a random invitation to a Halloween “murder party” on the street, cobbles together a bad costume out of cardboard, and heads out to a crummy warehouse downtown. There he finds hipsterdom gone violently awry…

Murder Party is the debut of one Jeremy Saulnier – a director that after only three features (the others being Blue Ruin and Green Room, both excellent) is already becoming one of the most talked about new talents in the biz. While Blue Ruin and Green Room have similar stark, deliberate, non-glamorous tones, Murder Party is much more playful. It’s a horror comedy, and one of the few that manages to be equally effective at both.  More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on May 21st, 2016 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Reviews | No Comments -

The Witch Review

the-witch

2016 already has its runaway success Spring horror movie! Or, so it seems… I’ve been anticipating the release of The Witch since the first reviews started coming out of Sundance 2015, just about an entire year ago. For its budget, marketing, and release scale, it seems to be doing very well so far, one weekend into its wide theatrical window. How general audiences are responding is another story though, and I’ll get into that soon.

If you pay attention to the buzz, you may hear people describe The Witch as “a slow burn”, “subtle”, “unsettling”, and “not for everyone”. I would strongly urge you – horror fan or not – to heed all these descriptions rigorously, especially the last one. Even among the horror crowd, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s a fact that’s oddly getting lost among the effusive praise critics have been showering upon this film for the past year. You can read any number of reviews that will tell you what The Witch “is”, that will describe the plot, the setting, and the characters and give a sense of the overall tone. My review, I’m hoping, will help you establish the proper expectations, because in a movie like this expectations are everything.  More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on February 22nd, 2016 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Reviews | No Comments -

Blowing Out the Jack O Lanterns

I feel weird.

Halloween’s over, and the mixture of emotions I’m feeling is, to say the least, strange. I bounce between the thrill of how well everything turned out this year, to the melancholy of knowing it’s over, to the vague sense of displacement not knowing what I’ll do with my time anymore. All the dense layers of decorations in and around my house – the tattered fabric, skeletons, pumpkins – it suddenly fails to make me feel anything other than dread at having to take it all down and pack it away. But the memories they represent are going to be some of my fondest, I can already tell.

I no longer have a default soundtrack to play (Halloween music) when it’s quiet. I no longer have a slew of movies (horror) that are guaranteed to pair perfectly with my mood each and every night. I don’t have any huge events to plan and execute. No stores to drop in on just to look at their seasonal aisle. The rest of the holidays are on their way, which is fortunate, because believe it or not as soon as all the Halloween decorations are packed away, I find it pretty easy to get excited for Thanksgiving and even Christmas. I’m a sucker for all the holidays I guess.  More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on November 1st, 2015 | Filed Under Musings | No Comments -

An Endless Halloween

Trick_or_treat_by_Radojavor

There’s one big difference between the celebration of holidays as a kid and as an adult. As a kid, anticipation was something you suffered with before you got to the good stuff. As an adult, the anticipation IS the good stuff. The actual holiday is about a day, but the lead up can be weeks or even months long (with me and Halloween, it’s months). Journey, not destination, all that crap.

This year I found myself telling people that my idea of heaven is to live in a perpetual state of late September/early October. With Halloween creeping up all around you, building more each day, haunted houses starting to open, pumpkin beers lining the shelves of grocery stores… all moving ever closer to a Halloween that will never come. Never end. But that’s not to take anything away from today – THE DAY – because without this day, nothing of these last two months would exist. And besides, there can be no such heaven as I’ve described. The cycle – the build up, the big bang, and the subsequent wait for next year – ARE what creates the joy of Halloween and any good holiday.

And for all the kids who will take to the streets tonight resplendent in their costumes and pumpkin pails and pillow cases, today is purely and simply the only Halloween. Maybe some will grow up to be fanatics like me, some will tire of the concept completely, but many will create enough memories in this one night to make that year long wait for next Halloween so beautifully agonizing. Without trying to sound grandiose, I feel like my purpose tonight and for the past couple months is to create as many of those memories for other people as I can.

This was a good year for memory creation. You’d think that with everything I cram into the Halloween season it would fly right by in a blink. But actually, this Halloween felt like it lasted a year. It’s amazing. I take stock of the things we did – the memories we created – and it’s too much to keep in my head. 60 some-odd horror movies, new and old. 5 or 6 parties. Building the haunted house. Going to haunted houses. Finding more corners of the house to stuff decorations. The thousands of empty calories worth of pumpkin products consumed. These things may seem trivial or even banal, but to me they’re meaningful. As I’ve said in the past, this is all about celebrating life through the mirror of death.

I don’t know what everyone has planned for tonight, but if you’re reading this on the day it’s published I sincerely hope you’ll make this Halloween your own. If you have legitimate cause to go out among the trick or treaters, I envy you. If you don’t, the options are even more wide open. We’re never more than a few remote clicks away from great horror movies these days – pick something you love. Carve a pumpkin. Hand out candy. Or, you know, come to my haunted house…

Bonfires burning bright, pumpkin faces in the night…

Ghosted by Jon on October 31st, 2015 | Filed Under Musings | No Comments -

The Nightmare (Netflix Mini Review)

Nightmare

If you’ve ever known anyone who’s experienced sleep paralysis and heard them describe what it’s like, you know the subject is pretty terrifying. You wake up in bed, fully conscious, but you can’t move a single muscle. You start to feel like you’re suffocating, and you panic. If you’re unlucky, you may begin to hallucinate; see menacing shadowy figures approaching you while you still lack the power to move or even cry out. It’s chilling stuff.

What are the mechanisms of sleep paralysis? How much of the populace is affected? Are there ways to prevent or deal with it? The Nightmare gives you none of these answers. Instead, the entire 90 minute runtime is devoted to a parade of unrelated people describing their first hand experiences with sleep paralysis, and dramatized re-enactments of their tales. For 20 or 30 minutes, this works really well. The dramatized footage paired with the first hand accounts are very well done and truly terrifying, if a little heavy on jump scares. But soon, you start to crave more substance as a viewer. On one hand, the eerie similarity of the people’s stories (the descriptions of the “shadow people” hallucinations especially) is frightfully intriguing. But this makes you crave more information from objective sources. Having just one doctor on hand to explain the theories or causes of this phenomenon would have been extremely welcome, not just to flesh out our own knowledge but the break up the monotony.

Like the director’s own Room 237, The Nightmare has a stellar concept but is simply too laser focused and bare-bones to achieve greatness. It’s shockingly redundant at times – with some of the talking heads describing identical experiences more than once in the same movie. As a 30 minute short, or a broader feature, this could have been brilliant. If you yourself have ever experienced sleep paralysis though, it’s probably worth watching just for added context and camaraderie.

 

Ghosted by Jon on October 29th, 2015 | Filed Under Movie Reviews, Reviews | No Comments -

My Top Ten Halloween Movies

Of the many Halloween season rituals I have, one of the most essential has always been watching horror movies. While I occasionally watch horror during the off-season, easily 99% of all the horror films I see in a given year are watched in September and October.

However, there’s a difference between a horror movie and a “Halloween” movie. Some horror movies don’t make great Halloween movies, and some Halloween movies aren’t horror. While this list is comprised by and large of movies in the horror genre, it’s more about the kind of films that just feel right to watch with some kettle corn and a pumpkin beer while candles and orange lights shine dimly in the room. It is NOT just a list of the best horror films I’ve seen, or the order and contents would be quite different.

Honorable Mentions

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch – This entry in the venerable Halloween series gets a lot of flack as the black sheep due almost entirely to the lack of Michael Myers. The only evidence of the brief flirtation with turning Halloween into a series of unrelated stories (which would have been awesome, by the way), Halloween 3 is a weird, fun, very 80’s horror movie with tons of great classic Halloween imagery. The montage of trick or treaters starting out their night in various cities across America is delightful.

Bride of Frankenstein – Black and white photography, crumbling castles, moonlit graveyards, fog, uncanny science equipment, and of course, man-made monsters. Bride of Frankenstein is actually more Halloweeny and more Frankenstein-y than the original. It manages to be both funnier and more poignant. It barely misses the top ten only because modern audiences might take issues with the slow 1930’s pace and moments of silliness.

Tales of Halloween – Who knows? A couple of years from now, this movie might earn a stop in the top ten, and maybe even a high spot. It’s just too new to make the call. But as a great companion piece to trick or treat and a unique experience of its own, I could see Tales of Halloween becoming part of the annual rotation very easily. Read my review.

More brains…

Ghosted by Jon on October 27th, 2015 | Filed Under Lists | No Comments -
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