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For many people, just the term “Black Friday” is enough to give them the shivers. Whether they’re put-upon retail workers thrust into the breach or the exhausted shoppers single-mindedly devoted to doorbusters and deals, hearing those words together makes them break out into a cold sweat.

Now imagine that, only with alien zombie monsters.

That’s the gist of “Black Friday,” a new horror comedy written by Andy Grekoviak and directed by Casey Tebo. It’s the story of a motley crew of retail workers at a big-box toy store who must face down a mysterious alien menace that transforms all who come into contact with it into monstrous zombie-like creatures. With little to defend themselves but their own wits (such as they are), the group is forced to confront these monsters while also dealing with their own dysfunctional dynamic.

Gleefully gross with over-the-top practical effects, the film is a goofy, blood-spattered romp through a world where not even the approaching end of the world is enough to shift priorities away from the accumulation of profit. Well, not immediately anyway.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:50

About ‘Last Night in Soho’

Few active filmmakers are possessed of a style and sensibility that is specifically theirs. These filmmakers stamp their idiosyncratic signatures on their works in an undeniable manner; theirs are the movies that we watch and know instantly who made them. The Andersons – both Wes and Paul Thomas – are in that category, for instance. So too are the Coen brothers.

And Edgar Wright is definitely in that conversation.

The English auteur’s latest film is “Last Night in Soho,” a time travel horror thriller of sorts that is packed with the sort of vivid imagery and pop deep cuts in which he delights. We move back and forth between the present day and a neon-soaked ‘60s London, the color and lights serving only to deepen the shadows of a story whose details are ever-shifting.

Wright has never been one to flee from his influences; he’s unafraid to embrace and celebrate the pop culture sights, sounds and ideas that he loves. That said, “Last Night in Soho” – while undeniably and instantly identified as an Edgar Wright movie – might be the least overtly engaged in conversation with those influences. They’re there, but we’re much farther from the homage/pastiche vibe of, say, his Cornetto Trilogy.

It’s stylish. It’s creepy. And it’s very good.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:46

Horned horror – ‘Antlers’

Horror movies often expend considerable effort to strike a balance between the tropes of their genre and the desire for thematic and/or allegorical depth. The truth is that it’s a very rare horror movie that exists solely to scare, at least in a purely physical manner; most have something to say with their subtext (though that subtext can be hard to see at times).

How successfully that balance is struck is another thing entirely, with the history of horror littered with films that never found that equilibrium.

“Antlers,” the new film from director Scott Cooper, makes a good faith effort to enfold its allegorical ambition within the framework of a monster movie. While that effort never fully materializes, it does manage to get fairly close. And when you take into account the scares here – both atmospheric and visceral – you wind up with a pretty solid horror movie.

From a screenplay Cooper co-penned alongside Henry Chiasson and Nick Antocasa, it’s a story of fear and loss set in the rural Northwest, one inextricably entwined with the collision between industry nature. It’s a story of how one people’s myths are another’s cautionary tales, as well as what happens when man’s actions lead to monsters being unleashed.

Published in Movies
Monday, 18 October 2021 11:34

‘Halloween Kills’ more trick than treat

Even in a Hollywood landscape constructed atop a foundation of IP-driven franchises and remakes, there are few rabbit holes as deep as the one surrounding the current iteration of “Halloween.”

The John Carpenter original is one of the classics of the horror genre; its success gave birth to a lengthy list of sequels of rapidly-diminishing quality. We got a Rob Zombie effort at rebooting, resulting in a couple of movies of middling quality. And then, in 2018, we got yet another reinvention of the franchise with David Gordon Green and Danny McBride leading the way – an effort to wipe the slate clean of the confusing and convoluted lore and reenergize the franchise. It was an effort that mostly worked.

However, the sequel to THAT movie – “Halloween Kills” – doesn’t achieve the same manner of success, instead opting to lean into over-the-top gore and an added selection of legacy characters from the franchise’s early days. And while there’s some meat on that particular nostalgic bone, Green and the rest of the filmmaking team never quite figure out how to most effectively gnaw it.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s joy to be derived from the sheer splatter factor here, as well as some moments of dark levity. It’s just that this is very obviously a middle movie, and when you already know the next movie is coming, it’s hard to make any sort of real narrative progress; it occasionally feints at some greater themes, but can’t really deliver on the follow through. In the end, what you get is largely a placeholder, a movie that exists largely because you can’t get from point A to point C without a point B. It’s fine for what it is, but ultimately, it proves disposable.

Published in Movies

Horror movies have always had an odd relationship with morality. From the earliest adaptions of gothic horror, the genre has always had a touch (or more than a touch) of judgment and victim-blaming, an underlying implication that these people are getting what they deserve.

Never was that inherent idea more apparent than during the slasher craze of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with wave after wave of boozing, promiscuous teenagers falling beneath the various blades wielded by an assortment of maniacs.

But times change. And so do sins.

“There’s Someone Inside Your House” – currently streaming on Netflix – is very much a throwback to that ‘80s slasher vibe. Directed by Patrick Brice from a screenplay by Henry Gayden (adapted from the 2017 Stephanie Perkins novel of the same name), the film is an attempt to evoke those classic horror tropes while updating attitudes for 21st century social mores.

There’s a down-and-dirty viscerality to the film that definitely captures the grimy, bloody energy of its inspirations. And it’s an interesting idea, trying to marry the evolution of teen morality to an old-school approach. It isn’t always fully successful in its execution, but it’s a gruesomely good faith effort at capturing bad faith behaviors even as it collapses a bit beneath the weight of its own logistical inconsistency in the third act.

Published in Movies
Monday, 20 September 2021 14:46

‘Nightbooks’ offers kid-friendly scares

I’ve always been a fan of movies aimed at kids. I loved them when I was young, sure, but even as I’ve grown older, I’ve maintained an affection for them. Granted, there’s a LOT of variance with regard to quality (and a bad movie is a bad movie, no matter its target audience), but unless they’re REALLY bad, I usually find something engaging about them.

Still, one could argue that kid-oriented cinema has moved in the direction of more safe offerings in recent years. Looking back at the live-action children’s fare of my youth, I see a degree of intensity that is largely lacking today. Now, that isn’t to say all those movies were good – there were plenty of clunkers back then as well – but they seemed a bit more willing to push the audience.

“Nightbooks,” the new Netflix film, is a bit of a throwback in that way. Adapted from J.A. White’s YA novel of the same name and directed by David Yarovesky, it’s the story of a boy who is captured by a witch and forced to tell her scary stories each night or else be killed. The “Hansel & Gretel” parallels are overt, and there’s more than a little Scheherazade thrown into the mix. It’s definitely on the darker side for a kids’ movie, for sure. And when you throw in the fact that horror legend Sam Raimi is a producer, well … you know you’re in for something different.

Different … and pretty good.

Published in Movies

There are few directors who have had as thorough an impact on 21st century genre filmmaking as James Wan. While I personally run a bit hot-and-cold with Mr. Wan’s oeuvre, there’s no denying that he has played a big role in defining genre over the past couple of decades.

Horror’s the big one, obviously – this is the dude who directed the first “Saw” movie and helped shepherd the first couple of installments of both the “Insidious” and “Conjuring” film series. That trio alone would place him as one of the creative movers and shakers in the industry.

But then you take into account that he ALSO helmed “Aquaman” for the DCEU (and is also leading the sequel) and directed the seventh “Fast & Furious” movie and you’re looking at a guy with serious influence.

Wan’s latest film is “Malignant,” currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. It’s a return to his roots of sorts, the kind of visceral and gnarly blood-and-guts horror that isn’t overly concerned with laying the groundwork for future films or continuing the stories of past ones. Instead, we get a gory and weird horror tale that delights in its own strangeness, the kind of movie that engages in gleefully in-the-moment deconstruction of its influences.

That strangeness is amplified exponentially with an absolutely nutso third-act reveal that pushes us fully into the realm of Cronenbergian body horror, resulting in a movie that, while perhaps not traditionally scary, manages to evoke some emotional churn in its own gross, bizarre, kind of absurd way. All in all, this movie is bonkers.

Published in Movies

Genre storytelling has long offered a flexible path for those wishing to speak to greater truths. Often, these are people whose ideas or very identities have been marginalized, making it all the more difficult for their ideologies to be taken seriously – or even addressed at all – by the mainstream.

Genre work – be it literature or film or TV – is a way in. The outsized nature of science fiction or fantasy or horror allows room for social and cultural commentary to exist in the margins – a Trojan Horsing of sorts, utilizing tropes to reflect larger concepts in a manner that demands interpretation even while working effectively.

But in recent years, as some of those marginalized figures start making inroads higher up the cultural food chain, we’re getting more of their insights on textual levels as well as subtextual.

Take “Candyman,” the new film from director Nia DaCosta, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peele (Peele also served as executive producer of the project). It’s a decades-later direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same name.

The sequel is plenty scary, of course, well-crafted and striking a balance between atmospheric scares and visceral gore. But it is also able to address the same central tenet of the original film – this idea that the focused anger and fear of a community can manifest in ways that negatively impact that community, living on long after the original players are gone – in a much more overt way. This is still social commentary wrapped in the trappings of a horror movie, but this time, there’s considerably more freedom regarding how that commentary is conveyed.

Stories, even urban legends, have power; the more they’re told, the more they’re believed … and the more they’re believed, the more power they ultimately carry.

Published in Movies

I dig M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Not all of them – he’s definitely got a couple of real stinkers in there – but for the most part, I’ve liked the films that he’s made. Frankly, there’s something refreshing about the dude and his work; he is clearly someone who makes movies that he likes and doesn’t really worry all that much about anything else. And thanks to the ongoing cultural impact of “The Sixth Sense,” he has enough creative capital to keep doing what he does.

Plus, he’s kind of on a pretty good run.

Since his sort-of-comeback with 2015’s “The Visit,” Shyamalan has reinvigorated his career, putting the previous decade or so – in which he became something of a punchline – in the rearview. That film, plus the double dip of 2016’s excellent “Split” and 2019’s I-liked-it-more-than-many “Glass” along with his work on TV shows like “Wayward Pines” and “Servant,” have him back in the conversation, albeit not quite at his turn-of-the-century heights.

His latest is “Old.” It’s a bit of an outlier for him; he directed and wrote the screenplay, as per usual, but this time, it’s an adaptation – a French graphic novel titled “Sandcastle.” But it’s the sort of supernaturally-tinged story we’ve learned to expect from him, with the same brand of ludicrous/intriguing elevator pitch description.

To wit: What if people went to a beach that made them age their entire lives in just a few hours?

I know, I know – it sounds goofy. And I suppose it is. But it is also precisely the sort of premise with which a filmmaker like Shyamalan can have some fun. It’s not perfect – things get clunky here and there and there’s one particular plot development that is actively icky – but the things that Shyamalan does well, he does REALLY well … and they’re on display here.

Published in Movies

Every once in a while, a book will come along that makes you stop and say to yourself: “Now THAT is a GREAT f—ing idea.”

That was my immediate reaction to a brief synopsis I read for “The Final Girl Support Group” (Berkley, $26), the latest novel by the delightful genre-bending horror author Grady Hendrix. From those few sentences that laid out the concept for me, I knew that this was going to be a book that I not only liked, not only loved, but made me the tiniest bit jealous that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself.

It is a smart, self-aware narrative, one that does one of the cleanest jobs you’ll ever see in combining subversion of and affinity for the tropes of a genre. It embraces some of the basest impulses of the horror world and turns them on their head by endowing them with verisimilitude. It looks beyond the stories we’ve always seen, and by doing so uncovers a much deeper – and in some ways scarier – tale to be told.

To wit: When the credits roll in a horror movie, what happens to the one who lives?

Published in Buzz
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