Halloween Horror Movie Binge, Dismember the Alamo & Halloween (2018) – Cult Following #91

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In this episode of Cult Following, the gang discusses the remake of Halloween (2018), plus Victor discusses programming the Dismember the Alamo horror marathons for the Alamo Drafthouse Phoenix locations. The gang also discusses more underseen Halloween horror such as Jennifer’s Body, The Old Dark House, and Tales from the Hood 1 and 2.

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Venom, Bad Times at the El Royale & Underrated Halloween Horror – Cult Following #90

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In this episode, the gang picks some underrated and underseen horror movies you should watch this holiday season. Plus, reviews of Bad Times at the El Royale, Venom, a breakdown of what to expect at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Dismember the Alamo screenings this October and much, much more!

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Suspiria 2018 (Review)

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Suspiria (2018)

Directed by Luca Guadgnino

www.suspiria.movie

Italian horror cinema in the twentieth century is long, storied and highly influential; besides issuing many benchmark films (including arguably the first slasher, “Twitch of the Death Nerve”) The Boot even birthed their own cinematic Renaissance with the subgenre of Giallo. The Dons of dark cinema are an impressive lineage: Bava (both Godfather Mario and son Lamberto), Fulci, Lenzi, Mattei, Deodato, D’Amato, Martino, Freda and Soavi but none resonates quite like Dario Agento. With a career spanning half a century and creating such genre institutes as “Deep Red,” “Phenomena,” “Tenebrae,” “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,” “Opera” but the mother of all (or three as it were) is his 1977 masterpiece, “Suspiria.” A vibrant international cast, stunning visual flair that astounds to this day and a score that’s gone well beyond the confines of celluloid – a dark, modern fairytale amidst the overwhelming nature of a fever dream while also being often considered Argento’s most linear narrative are many of the fine reasons for its resonance.

In the more than forty years since its release, “Suspiria” has been a feature that’s been one of the few films to escape a remake, reimagining or the Platinum Dunes treatment (best known by its working title, “Markos: The Motherfuckin’ Witch”) but eventually director Luca Guadgnino was tasked for the job. The initial response from the fanbase and horror community seemed relatively positive and many had high hopes; some may remain in good spirits after a séance at their local theater but mine completely plummeted through the stained glass long before the credits rolled.

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“Suspiria” is not a bad film; not at all – it’s just so unbelievably bloated. You have excellent cinematography, rich in both earth tones and the drab setting of wartime desolation. The company here is a bevy of highly skilled actors and most adapt to their roles like a glove. The outline of the original remains but Guadgnino conjures his own vision of Argento’s ideal. All the ingredients are there so why does the spell feel so spoiled?

First and foremost, like 2018’s other cinephile darling “Mandy” the major pitfall is the run time; the swath of canvas to fill is far too wide and it quickly descends from a creepy supernatural spin into a lo-fi masturbatory exercise masquerading as high-class cinema. Everything but the kitchen sink is here of arthouse horror to the point that its paint by numbers with a bounty of scenes that feel slathered on so that podcast nerds can verbally jerk off to how “daring” and “visionary” it is. There is so much excess here, acting as a dam that generates zero on-screen electricity; instead, it’s a drain for attention, interest. The 1977 title accomplished all it needed to and more in 100 minutes while it’s 2018 companion tacks on an hour of pointless subplots, peripheral characters and political subtext that bludgeons the viewer with virtue signaling when a ballet of blood, sex and magic intertwined was the promised prize.

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The opening, which features an almost unrecognizable Chloe Moertz Grace as Patricia who puts the viewer into a nearly first-person perspective as the camera darts like eyes around the rooms, manic yet focused, indulging in moment of sanity before digressing into her insanity. Her character has escaped the dance academy of the damned and tries to convince an aging psychiatrist of its devotion to witchcraft amidst the masquerade of a respected troupe. Dr. Jozef Kemperer (the first of three integral roles played by Tilda Swinton and the one of the two under heavy prosthetics) attempts to assist but his young patient departs before any real assistance can be provided, leaving only a diary of her investigations and assertions behind for him to pore over. The world outside is of a Germany divided in the grip of the Cold War, the Iron Curtain resilient and confining as ever while the radical Red Army Faction wages an ongoing guerilla offensive and as we hear and see throughout the film is amid its hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 while back in what looks to American farmland, a religious family can be seen cleansing an ill woman, as stark imagery is interspersed.  Patricia, unlike her 1977 doppelganger doesn’t have a horrendous fate and it really sets the tone for the future of the film as while atmosphere will reign over action as in the work of Argento, “Suspiria” will not be the symphony of violent delights that contrasted so well with the drama and mystery of the original.

Introduced shortly thereafter are a multitude of familiar characters including protagonist Susie Bannon (Dakota Johnson), headmistress Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), Susie’s confidante Sara Simms (Mia Goth) and bratty Olga Ivanova (Elena Fokina) are all here and largely of the same stock as their established counterparts. While the story generally plays out in the same format and order expected, Daniel, his piano and canine companion are completely absent (replaced in rehearsal by electronic elements) which is disappointing but Olga’s fate more than makes up for it and is worth the price of admission alone. As shocking as original with phenomenal sound and screen editing, bound to leave many in equal parts disgust and awe; it’s aftermath and her disposal are equally chilling. Just replaying it as a morbid memory is enough to send forth shivers.

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Sara’s downfall is wince inducing but feels shoehorned in and accelerated in its delivery; this was a death that truly took my breath away when I first saw “Suspiria” decades ago but her demise, especially compared to Olga’s feels almost merciful. The dream sequences, a centerpiece of the original are nowhere near as potent here and are largely mundane at best while the flashbacks to Susie’s family (a Mennonite family in Ohio) are haunting but horribly disjointed. The reveal of their devout religious lifestyle feels like one of the only subplots that should have been fully explored and not just tacked on to feed contrast with third wave feminist doctrine and “witchcraft beliefs,” which are as equally poorly presented and pastiche.

A genuine boon here is Thom Yorke’s distinct score which like the effort by Goblin includes a variety of instrumentation and approaches and the integration of vocals. It’s not Yorke’s first foray into film scoring but previous entries were largely short films while here there is such an ample running time that his soundscapes are fully explored and absolutely breathtaking. It’s not Goblin and it’s not Radiohead either; it’s Thom Yorke, composer and his conducting in the years to come is one of the brightest spots in the bleakness of this film.

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As mentioned earlier, besides an overwrought length are the two major meandering missteps of “Suspiria” – the subplots involving Dr. Kemperer, his wife and the Holocaust and the other being the real world actions of the R.A.F. With respect to the former, it’s completely unnecessary and adds absolutely nothing to the story. The 1977 film featured psychiatrist Frank Mandel (starring the legendary Udo Kier) but this furthered the plot while screenwriter David Kajganich’s introduction of his vision of the character is beyond superfluous; its sole saving grace is allowing the incredible Jessica Harper to cameo as the doctors wife – otherwise, it’s a big build up to much ado about nothing. Dr. Kemeperer still could have played an expanded role, especially in the finale with roughly the same amount of screen time as Dr. Mandel had.

Regarding the R.A.F. subplot, it starts off clever, a sublime recurring theme and could have still been used sparingly with potent effect. Instead, Kajganich goes for the sledgehammer approach and attempts to bridge parallels between Cold War politics and the current state of what can easily be assumed as largely American affairs that are so ham-fisted and far reaching, it borders on parody.  Like many films where the subtext bludgeons while the on-screen sculpting dazzles and delights, the political and poetic do not mesh well here. Horror is the one of the best avenues for social commentary (from “Night of the Living Dead” and “Deathdream” to “The Purge” and “Get Out”) but no matter how hardened the resolve, “Suspiria” is a purely supernatural film, as much a part of the nature as the witches who worship, celebrate and in the case here, pervert it.

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The climax is a gorgeous crescendo as it begins but it’s crimson filter grows old fast and whirling dervishes of witches dancing, blood spilling and madness overtaking feel less like an homage to Dario Argento and more akin to a Busta Rhymes video (HAPPY HALLOWEEN MOTHERFUCKER!!!) lensed by Marilyn Manson.  It’s a much greater and Grand Guignol finale than the original and has such a promising start with the reveal of Helena Markos (the second of Swinton’s prosthetic presentations) and without spoiling too much, it’s like the lovechild of a Clive Barker painting with “The Mermaid in the Manhole” fresh in his mind.

Along with “Halloween,” this was the other tentpole remake/reimagining of the 2018 season and definitely the far weaker of the two – Luca Guadgnino is no Rob Zombie but he sure as hell isn’t Dario Argento either. “Halloween” didn’t reinvent the wheel but it found its rhythm and ran with it (or stalked as is Michael Myers preferred predatory pace) while “Suspiria” attempts to dance the Totentanz and merely stumbles. It has all the right moves in its head but once they take the stage, the performance is uninspired, truly wishing to be a defiant shout, an orgasmic scream before finally settling as a sigh of what could have been…

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Halloween (2018) – Review

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Halloween (2018)

Directed by David Gordon Green

www.halloweenmovie.com

In the 40 years since “Halloween” debuted, the one-time highest R rated and independent film champion has birthed an empire of murder, merchandise and made Michael Myers a household name know far and wide beyond the leaf soaked streets of Haddonfield. Envisioned as an Autumn anthology tradition, it instead made Compass Pictures International “The House That Michael Built” and one where he remained through the ups & downs of radically divergent sequels and a rabid fan base who are never fully satiated for their desire of the man from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, “The Boogeyman” behind the notorious “Babysitter Murders.”

For its ruby (red) anniversary, we’ve come back to the beginning and the bloody basics. There is no sequels, no hospitals, no Cult of Thorn, no pagan conspiracies, no Jerry Springer Show-like surprise offspring; Haddonfield is the setting and a showdown is imminent between murderous madman Michael Myers and his unyielding nemesis, Laurie Strode (a powerful performance by the original Final Girl herself, Jamie Lee Curtis.) There is a plethora of new characters, challenges by the heart of darkness here remains with this conflict that a detailed plot description isn’t necessary – this is “Halloween.”

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While it is clearly stated that Michael and Laurie have no sibling bond in this Haddonfield, there is still a Lovecraft like ideal of a cursed bloodline. Through the course of its 105 minute running time, it is both painful and obvious that Laurie’s life has been destroyed by the trauma of that horrific All Hallow’s Eve, resulting in divorce, paranoia and estrangement from her beloved daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer who is still suffering herself. The family dynamics are sometimes so absurd, it is laugh out loud funny and at others, woefully tragic. Laurie has become a survivalist with a singular focus, a paradigm of the inevitable escape of Michael Myers turning her home into a training camp and artillery range that would make Sarah Connor gush with trigger happy glee. This mindset and the damage it’s done spills into the lives of Laurie, Karen and her own daughter, Allyson (played by newcomer Andi Matichak) who has the fresh faced but intelligent & independent nature of her grandmother but unfortunately not her pipes so Scream Queen status may yet be out of reach but it’s obvious her talent is immense and her half decade career to date is just the beginning.

Original actors Nick Castle and Tony Moran, once again don the mask and Carhartt’s (attained in classic fashion, no pun intended) though the latter has a fair amount of “naked” time where glimpses of his face appear in out of focus shots as though his true visage can never be fully viewed; slivers of gray and the strain of age have dulled neither his blade or determination, now assumed by newcomes James Jude Courtney. “The Shape” has truly returned for revenge; often imitated but never duplicated, Courtney has the strong, silent type down pat. Michael’s mask looks as though it has been aged four decades, a deeper, darker grey, withered and malformed, barely human, if at all. He stalks the night and broad daylight with equal menace, those none more black eyes unseen beneath the latex, clothes marooned brown with red blood and the effluvial grime that comes with the business of killing.
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The original “Halloween” has many hallmarks that made it so innovative and powerful but it could be easily argued that the score ranks at the top. Popular and well-worn lore is that early screenings for the studio inspired very few scares and plenty of yawn sans John Carpenter’s genre defining soundtrack. Once added, the bigwigs quickly changed their tune. While the impact could never be matched, the new take on classic cuts from the maestro, his son Cody and composer Daniel Davis are razor sharp and integral as ever. Familiar frightful chords and signature spooky rhythms abound give Michael his imposing due but also allow viewers/listeners an experience unique to this entry.

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Homages to the original and it’s unrelated second sequel dot the cinematic landscape (and probably more than a few missed that will require additional viewings) both blatant and intricate but all fun. Original cast members return, Silver Shamrock masks dot the night landscape and numerous nods will have fans straining to find them all, employing the pause button searching for secrets like the VHS days of yore that made “The Boogeyman” the legend he is today and allowing the franchise to come full circle in the spirit of the season.

In the heyday of the slasher films, they were often derided as “dead teenager movies” (so famously coined by Roger Ebert) but “Halloween” again establishes that Michael Myers is purely and simply evil, remorseless, relentless, rage defined. His initial on-screen kill is ample proof: shocking, memorable and most of all a clear warning to on screen citizens and audience alike: death has come to your little town.

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For those anticipating the largely bloodless nature of the original are in for a surprise here but gorehounds are sure to revel in the unbridled brutality with incredibly inventive kills, set pieces stained with crimson and guts galore. There were plenty of gasps in the crowd (as well as a fair amount of cheers) and there will undoubtedly be many gleefully, gory GIFs dominating social media shortly & for some time to come.

Cowriter Danny McBride whose resume includes such credits as “The Foot Fist Way” and “Your Highness” doesn’t inspire high hopes for his venture into horror but the flourishes here are funny and genuine; nothing ever felt forced or unnatural. “Halloween” is not a horror comedy or an example of where the vicious violence is meant to be offset by contrasting laughs – instead it permeates as an essential character, making the humanity of its victims more fragile and the fury of Michael Myers a chilling reality.

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Michael Simmonds is a masterful cinematographer; from the cold, sterile nature of the sanitarium teeming with electric energy of insanity to the warmth of the holiday filled with tricks n’ treats; yet his triumph here is incorporating Carpenter’s command of the elements.  One death comes to mind with a simple set up of motion sensor lights in a large backyard where the interplay of blinding light, stalking shadows and the frantic fear rising in the unknown. We know Michael is there, we know death is coming but the tension is nerve wracking.

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Director and screenwriter David Gordon Green also takes cues from JC but I found “Halloween” to be more reminiscent of Craven than Carpenter when it’s all said and done. While nowhere near as meta as “Scream,” there were instances that echoed the first & fourth installments of that franchise for the fortieth anniversary of this one. No fourth walls are broken but the crowd will easily feel a part of the onscreen activity – we know the rules but we also await the opportunity for lines to be crossed and expectations challenged while still getting exactly what Dr. Loomis ordered. Finally, it is likely that had Wes been with us for this one, he would have been head over heels for the sheer amount and scale of the booby traps here.

Last year, “IT” really reinvigorated the genre, mining source material for new beginnings in a long-established property that didn’t suffer from the sequel fatigue “Halloween” has become nearly terminal from but also proof positive of the box office strength of horror. Michael Myers is no Pennywise; they are polar opposites yet they share the distinction of being a familiar fear, one that evokes nightmares and nostalgia. “IT” left many, including myself feeling like they had returned home to Derry, amidst their place in The Loser’s Club while “Halloween” has fans finding their way back to Haddonfield, a simpler time, a better place yet fresh enough that the excitement and desire to explore overflows. Put simply, “Halloween” was worth waiting 40 years for.

2018 has already had a bevy of high quality horror (“Hereditary,” “The Ritual,” and handful of others) but “Halloween” is a bright jack-o-lantern beacon that there everyone is entitled to at least one more good scare.

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Mandy & The Rebirth of Nicholas Cage – Sisters Brothers, Predator – Cult Following #89

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In this episode of Cult Following, the gang does a deep dive on Panos Cosmatos’ latest film Mandy and what does it mean for Nicholas Cage’s career as an actor? Is this a rebirth or a Wicker Man like derail? Plus reviews of A Simple Favor, The Sisters Borthers, Twinsanity aka Downward Twin, Predator, The House witha Clock in its Walls, Thriller 3D, and a look at Son of Monsterpalooza! All of this on Cult Following!

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