31 Days of Horror Wrap-Up

I had a lot of fun with my movie marathon this year, though I do feel a bit burnt-out and am ready to dive into cozy mysteries and holiday films. (Any films with asterisks [**] were new to me this year.)

Here is what I watched this season:

1. Trick R' Treat
2. The Craft
3. Creepshow
4. Hocus Pocus
5. Elvira Mistress of the Dark
6. Poltergeist 3 
7. The Final Girls**
8. The Forrest**
9. Lords of Salem**
10. Swamp Thing**
11. Psycho II**
12. What Lies Beneath
13. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon**
14. The Visit**
15. Don't Breathe**
16. Find Me**
17. Ouija**
18. Seven**
19. Salem's Lot**
20. Ouija: Origin of Evil** 
21. Big Driver
22. The Grudge
23. Starry Eyes**
24. It Follows**
25. Visions**
26. Lady Frankenstein (hosted by Elvira)**
27. Gingerbread Man 2: Passion of the Crust**
28. Last House on the Left (1972)
29. See No Evil (1971)
30. You're Next
31. The Attic**


Best Rediscovery: What Lies Beneath

Made-for-TV Superstar: Big Driver

Best Cult Classics: The Craft and The Grudge

New Classic: You're Next

Best New-To-Me: The Final Girls

Halloween Essentials: Hocus Pocus, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, and Trick R' Treat

Some Closing Thoughts

I am drawing my 31 Days of Horror celebration to a close a little early this year for a few reasons--the biggest reason being that I am burnt out on horror, which I have been reveling in since the late summer. I would also recommend most of the films on my list above, and I think it might be fun for readers to check them out as the culture ramps up for Halloween in the next week.

This year--namely the past four months--I have watched more horror films in a limited period of time than ever before in my life. My theory is that this is due to my fear about issues in the broader culture that needed a safe place. Horror movies gave me a haven to explore my anxieties about the Orlando shooting, homophobia, and the prospect of a monstrous, grotesque Republican presidential candidate running in the election. All of these fearful events made me hungry for dark tones and the macabre.

However, something shifted  in me over the past week and the images I found interesting before turned unattractive. I can pinpoint this feeling over the last two horror movies I watched this season: the excellent You're Next and disastrous The Attic. I have watched You're Next several times and think it's a contemporary masterpiece of the home invasion and slasher genres. It's smart and gory to the point of comedy, but the comedy didn't work on me this time. I still think it's a masterwork and recommend any slasher fan to seek it out, but my appetite for this kind of movie curdled.

Then I watched The Attic, the only movie on my above list  that I outright urge readers to avoid. (Okay: Lords of Salem is pretty awful too, though it has style.) I am not averse to schlock. In fact, I am often drawn to fascinating failures, B pictures, cult classics, and underdogs. However, The Attic is so incompetently written, acted, edited, and directed, watching it tired me out. Normally, I would have been intrigued by its missteps, but my interest was greatly diminished.

I am not done with horror movies. I think it's an important genre, and I always enjoy discussing its merits (despite whether or not I am watching a lot of the genre at the moment). Genre tropes provide a safe framework to realize specific fantasies and emotions. Horror allows creators and viewers to explore loss, death, fear, violence, and uncertainty.  Yet, genre formulas also get tiresome at certain quantities, and my appetite for horror conventions is satiated. It's time for me to move on to Murder, She Wrote episodes, Miss Marple movies, and holiday comedies. I want to explore different emotions in genres that address lighter ideas and feelings.

Horror has been an important companion for the past few months, and I am grateful for the films I've watched. It's a genre I always return to and this Halloween season I hope you, dear reader, will watch your favorite scary movie (or try a new one!) and take joy in a genre that let's us know it's okay to be scared sometimes. Have a safe and happy Halloween.

Happy 91st Birthday to Angela Lansbury Plus Revisiting Her Miss Marple Film

Today, Dame Angela Lansbury turns 91. Always a remarkable talent, she's still going strong making appearances and performing live theater. (She plans to make her return to Broadway in 2017.) In celebration of her life and work, I want talk about her performance as Miss Marple in the under-appreciated The Mirror Crack'd (1980).

Lansbury is best known to mystery fans as Jessica Fletcher, but her work as Marple predates Murder She Wrote  by four years. A sly and humorous adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, The Mirror Crack'd brims with humor and campy performances by legends Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, and Elizabeth Taylor. While the characters around her dial up the melodrama--as they must given the out-sized Hollywood types they are playing--Angela Lansbury's grounding as the sensible Miss Marple provides a comforting balance for the picture.

Lansbury's portrayal has its eccentricities (she smokes!), but this often forgotten interpretation of the character is one of the strongest in the cannon. Lansbury's Jane Marple has a steely pragmatism that can give way to warm politeness. She's neither the exasperated, bumbling character as seen in the Margaret Rutherford films (though I adore that portrayal for its own charms) nor the quiet, reserved lady Julie McKenzie most recently played in the ITV series. Lansbury's Marple has a sturdiness that makes her a capable rival to the mystery at hand. Her strength sets this Marple apart from the others.

I would argue that it is this same strength she would later bring to her work in Murder She Wrote. For fans of mysteries, I highly recommend The Mirror Crack'd. It has a great script, one of Christie's best plot twists, wonderful performances, and--best of all--the stellar work of Angela Lansbury.

Happy birthday, Ms. Lansbury! Thank you for all of your wonderful film, television, and stage performances.

31 Days of Horror Half-Time Update

Here is my 31 Days of Horror update. I am making good progress, with about a film per day. (Any films with asterisks [**] are new to me this October.)

Here is what I've watched so far:

1. Trick R' Treat
2. The Craft
3. Creepshow
4. Hocus Pocus
5. Elvira Mistress of the Dark
6. Poltergeist 3 
7. The Final Girls**
8. The Forrest**
9. Lords of Salem**
10. Swamp Thing**
11. Psycho II**
12. What Lies Beneath
13. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon**
14. The Visit**
15. Don't Breathe**
16. What Lies Beneath

Some Quick Thoughts:

  • Trick R' Treat: going to become part of my yearly Halloween traditions.
  • The Final Girls: sweet, smart.
  • Hocus Pocus: gets better every year.
  • The Forrest: competent.
  • Lords of Salem: interesting premise, terrible plot and execution.
  • Psycho II: an excellent sequel, though I like III a bit more.
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie: better than Cabin in the Woods as both a meta and horror film.
  • The Visit: best Shyamalan picture yet; he's back.
  • Don't Breathe: great suspense film--part Panic Room and part Cujo--but I prefer Green Room.
  • What Lies Beneath: favorite rediscovery so far; a loving tribute to Hitchcock.

31 Days of Horror

This year, I am doing my own 31 Days of Horror, watching films that are new to me and revisiting favorites. You'll notice that a few of my picks are "horror lite" or horror comedy, but I consider them eligible as horror comedy has long been a part of my annual October movie traditions. Any films with asterisks (*) are new to me this October.

Here is what I've watched so far:

1. Trick R' Treat
2. The Craft
3. Creepshow
4. Hocus Pocus
5. Elvira Mistress of the Dark
6. Poltergeist 3 
7. The Final Girls**
8. The Forrest**
9. Lords of Salem**
10. Swamp Thing**
11. Psycho II**

Stay tuned for more updates as I go! What are you watching this month?

The Best Horror Film Reviewers on the Net

I'm grateful we live in an age when smart people can use technology to share their thoughts on art. Podcasting and video reviews have been an especially excellent outlet for film and television critics because they allow for expansive discussions. As we are knee-deep in Halloween festivities, I am recommending my favorite horror film review programs.

Horror Movie Podcast
Last month, I tweeted that Horror Movie Podcast is the best horror cast around, and I am going to endorse them again here. (Thanks to Josh for reading my tweet on the show too; that was really cool!) HMP specializes in long-form discussions, and their episodes can sprawl upwards of three hours. This show works so well because the hosts have an inviting and friendly chemistry. I am always interested to hear what Josh, Jay, and Dave have to say about new movies and classics. They are kind, smart, and fair. I enjoy spending time with them every two weeks.

Now Playing
I am a new Now Playing listener. Though they cover more than just horror films, Now Playing discusses a lot of scary movies and has a special focus on Stephen King adaptations. The hosts have also explored the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween franchises (to name just a few). This show can get raucous and it's a lot of fun.

Good Bad Flicks
This Youtube show hooked me with an excellent in-depth exploration of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. In fact, the Good Bad Flicks Exploring series provides the kind of in-depth and carefully written film reviews that are hard to find on Youtube. It's a smart show, and creator Cecil Trachenburg is a great guide through new releases and forgotten gems.

Fanboy Flicks
I've been a big fan of Fanboy Flicks for a few years because Mark's Bad Movies series is the perfect mix of comedy and smart film chatter. It's also clear he loves movies. Though Fanboy Flick's Bad Movies focuses a range of genres, there is a heavy concentration of horror films. Definitely check them out. Here are some of my favorites:

Happy listening and watching, dear reader!

Old School Autumn and Halloween Movies

As autumn settles into New York, I've been thinking a lot about my childhood and how my engagement with media (especially movies) has changed over my lifetime. (In fact, I wrote a poem on this topic a few months ago.) While I have no moral opposition to streaming and how the internet has opened up access to media, I also feel overwhelmed by the glut of digital options.

Like many people, when I settle down to watch something, I spend a large amount of time scrolling through Netflix or Hulu in search of the right movie. It takes me a long time to choose something (if I pick anything at all) and the experience is not always as satisfying or serendipitous as channel surfing or visiting a video store. It's a privilege to be able to get whatever you want whenever you want, but abundance is not always a blessing. 

So, I have decided to abandon streaming for the autumn and focus on physical media. My boyfriend is taking our Roku with him while he works out of town, and I plan to spend time with our DVDs and network television in real time. We've amassed a healthy film collection that I often neglect in favor of what's on the digital services.

I've also re-enrolled in Netflix DVD, which I hope will give me access to some more obscure films I want to watch but are not available to stream. I like the idea of DVDs being doled out two at a time, rationing my viewing. 

As a voracious reader, movie viewer, and music fan, I think more and more about how I consume art and culture. The more I consume, the more I realize that I enjoy my media portioned rather than displayed on a buffet. When I can focus on one piece at a time, I better enjoy its individual tastes and textures. 

For curious readers, here is my Halloween-centric DVD queue:

What are you planning to watch this month, dear reader?

Men and Music Playlist

As you may have guessed from the title, pop songs play an important role in my new poetry collection, Men and Music. My headphones worked hard over the years I wrote these poems, and the radio plays in the background for most of the pieces. Here is a playlist of the songs that are referenced in Men and Music. Some of the tunes are directly discussed in the poetry and some are more subtly noted. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the playlist, dear reader, and that it enriches your reading experience.