Perilous Update, 9/21/20

Mini Reviews

Read “The Bolted Door” by Edith Wharton for Deal Me In, Week 37. I feel there is some ambiguity as to whether failed playwright Hubert Granice actually committed the murder he confesses to, or whether he’s framing himself. I have to say, though, Wharton goes on sometimes. She’s not my favorite author.

For Week 38, I read “The Bone Flute Quartet” by K. J. Kabza. It’s a delightful tale of witchery and storytelling. One of the things I really enjoy about Kabza’s writing is his sentence level choices. I mean, read the following and tell me it isn’t evocative:

The highest spire’s roots spread into the White Palace, the royal quarters of Prince Hallegim, who administered Millstones in the King’s stead. Above, the spire’s tip shone wetly with the blood of the setting sun.

William Gibson's Alien 3

William Gibson’s Alien 3 by William Gibson, Johnnie Christmas (Illustrator), Tamra Bonvillain (Illustrator)

I ended up rewatching Aliens last week and decided it was a good time to pull this graphic novel from my RIP TBR stack. I will admit, I’m more of an Aliens fan than a fan of the Alien franchise, but the movie does cause a problem. It goes too big. What do you do next when you’ve just (spoilers ahead) blown the bigger, more cunning alien queen out the airlock? I mean, I guess a good solution is to not make sequels, but that doesn’t fly in Hollywood when there’s still money on the table.

Personally, I don’t think David Fincher’s Alien³ is that bad. If anything, it makes some interesting decisions. But before there was the Snyder cut, there was the mythical unproduced William Gibson Aliens 3 script. Gibson is of course known for pioneering the sci-fi genre of cyberpunk. What would he do with a Aliens treatment? Actually, it seems that Gibson was a pretty big fan of the first two movies and wrote a script that continued in very much the same vein instead of a story with more cyberpunk flavor. It wasn’t used for the eventual movie and lingered in fandom consciousness until Dark Horse produced a limited run series based on Gibson’s script.

The result is…okay. It is bureaucracy-heavy and I can see why it might not have been what the movie producers wanted.

Notes of Peril

Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Using Cuts as a Visual Effect – Great video from David F. Sandberg about using cuts in movies, with a focus on horror movies.

#SomethingWickedFall Watch-a-longs
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Friday, September 25 at 9:00pm ET/8:00pm CT/6:00pm PT
Sleepy Hollow – Friday, October 2 at 9:00pm ET/8:00 pm CT/6:00 pm PT
Sweeney Todd – Friday, October 30 at 9:00pm ET/8:00 pm CT/6:00 pm PT

I’m supposed to be reading Gothic stuff for #SomethingWickedFall but it just hasn’t been working for me. My current pick: Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, James B. Harris (Translator)

Horror Films A–Z, Sept. 2020: O, P & Q

Pumpkinhead

Year: 1988
Runtime: 1h 26m
Rated: R

Director: Stan Winston

Writers: Ed Justin, Mark Patrick Carducci, Stan Winston, Richard Weinman, Gary Gerani

Stars: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, John D’Aquino

“You’re a fool, Ed Harley.”

Initial: I wasn’t in the mood for my original rewatch pick, but horror movies beginning with the letter “O” are few and far between. Instead, I decided to go with a Lance Henriksen double feature (after Near Dark).

Production Notes: Directorial debut of special effects creator Stan Winston.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Pumpkinhead is a solid story premise, fairly well executed. I hadn’t seen this movie in *years*, but I had remembered it fondly; happily, for good reason.

Pumpkinhead is a force when set in motion, but all of the human characters are shades of gray, none of them completely evil. That being said, Pumpkinhead is a moral tale, a fairy tale even, and prone to that sort of heightened reality. Where else but a fairy tale would you find a vengeance demon utterly dismissive of Christian iconography born in a pumpkin patch/graveyard?

Many of the nighttime outdoor scenes have an indoor set look to them, but that sort of works for this film. The day time is dusty and expansive, while the night is shadowy and back-lit. It is also a movie that takes its time with the story its telling, but is still in and out in under 90mins.


Psycho III

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 33m
Rated: R

Director: Anthony Perkins

Writers: Charles Edward Pogue, Robert Bloch

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey

“Well, he acted pretty weird this morning when I brought the subject up, but then Norman’s a pretty weird-acting guy.”

Initial: Rewatched Psycho II back in August; decided to put part three on my list for RIP.

Production Notes: Anthony Perkins only directed two movies. His son, Osgood Perkins, has thus far directed three features, including I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016) which was part of my April view-a-thon.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Despite what it had to live up to, Psycho II (1983) isn’t a bad horror movie and is actually a good sequel. Psycho III is pretty much what you’d be afraid that a Psycho sequel would be. Norman Bates becomes more of a slasher, retreading much of the same ground as the earlier films, but with a less interesting female lead. Funnily enough, it’s Anthony Perkins’ odd film-making choices that gives it any style at all.


Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite

Year: 2015
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: TV-14

Director: Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy

Writer: Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy

Stars: Alina Babak, Valeriya Dmitrieva, Igor Khripunov

There are some words you mustn’t say in front of a mirror.

Initial: A Russian take on Bloody Mary?

Production Notes: I’d really like to know if the Queen of Spades is really an urban legend or if it was concocted for the film.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
I feel like somewhere along the way pointless slasher movies were exchanged for pointless ghost-curse movies. Queen of Spades isn’t a badly made movie on a technical level, but it doesn’t have a story that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. Considering the low budget, the effects are decent, but the TV-14 rating means that it isn’t scary either.

Horror Films A–Z, Sept. 2020: L, M & N

The Lighthouse

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 49m
Rated: R

Director: Robert Eggers

Writers: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman

Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul.

Initial: I’m not sure there is agreement as to whether The Lighthouse is horror or not… By the Eli Roth Rule that I laid out in the last post, it’s produced by A24 (Hereditary (2018)) and directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch (2016)), so that’s enough to make it count, right?

Production Notes: Filmed purposefully in 1.19:1 ratio and in black and white.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
The Lighthouse is weird enough and has enough insanity to make it fit with my months of perilous movies, but I don’t think anything can be interpreted as supernatural. I didn’t *not* enjoy The Lighthouse, but I can’t imagine that I will ever want to watch it again. Also, I wouldn’t *not* recommend it. The acting by Pattinson and Dafoe is superb. Willem Dafoe did not sound like Willem Dafoe, which is something I’m pretty sensitive to. Honestly, while the black and white and the limited aspect ration work for the film, I think there are better black and while films out there. This is a slow, subtle movie that isn’t for every day.


Mary

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 24m
Rated: R

Director: Michael Goi

Writer: Anthony Jaswinski

Stars: Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

In Puritan times, known witch by rite, / Was taken to sea and drowned in dark night. / Her children it’s told, were whisked far away, / And so shall she rise, to take yours one cold day…

Initial: A list change-up. Horror on a boat! I like horror on a boat!

Production Notes: Nicolas Cage was originally wanted for the role Gary Oldman plays.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Nicolas Cage would have made this a better movie due to his intrinsic Nick Cage-ness…

By the end of this movie, and I did make it to the end, I realized what my biggest problem was with Mary: I didn’t believe a single character’s motivations for doing anything. I didn’t care about the characters and, therefore, I didn’t care what happened to them. There is effort to provide some back story, but it’s just flat. I did appreciate that they tried to keep the effects to a minimum, though most of the scares were in dream sequences. There’s also almost a mythology created about witches and the sea, but it just feels like an afterthought.


Near Dark

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 34m
Rated: R

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writers: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red

Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

“Boy, you people sure stay up late.”

“We keep odd hours.”

Initial: Oh man, after Mary, I was really glad to get to rewatch a favorite. Since I was a day behind on my movie-watching this was a double feature.

Production Notes: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein all worked together previously on Aliens (1986) which was directed by James Cameron who would become Kathryn Bigelow’s husband for a while.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Near Dark is by no means a perfect film. It’s pretty rough around the edges, actually, but it’s such a great take on vampires. They’re grimy, brutal, but also innovative. How does a modern vampire get by? With a good deal of duct tape, tin foil, and spray paint, obviously. Also, I had never seen a vampire movie set in the west/southwest. (It’s set in Oklahoma and north Texas, but was filmed mostly in Arizona…) Give me an old trope in a new setting and you’ll get me everytime.

I would say, I don’t buy the chemistry between Caleb and Mae. The best part of the movie is the family dynamic that Caleb “marries” into. Also, if there is any moral to this story, it’s don’t coerce a kiss; consent is the key.

Perilous Update, 9/14/20

Notes of Peril

Read the Eugie Award-Winning “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll, a humorous tale of cats and deals with the Devil. Not familiar with the Eugie Award? It was named for author Eugie Foster, and if you’re looking for some excellent speculative fiction, please, read some of her work. She was a wonderful writer and a lovely person that this world lost too soon.

Otherwise, last week was kind of a low patch. We had some cooler temperatures, some of which was helped by haze from the California fires, but no rain. I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to read next, so read very little of anything.

Notes of Non-Peril

We finally got a trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune remake.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that instead of taking some kind of vacation-y trip, I wanted to see more movies in theaters. The year would start with Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen and probably end with Dune. I had not chosen to see Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 in the theater and had been kicking myself since I finally saw it at home. Of course, the year hasn’t turned out as I expected. Since I don’t much trust my fellow human’s abilities to keep me safe (because that’s what wearing a mask is, keeping someone else safe), I’m probably not going to the theater in the near future. But I’m still pretty stoked for Dune.

Someone Created an Updated Trailer for David Lynch’s Dune – Lots of mashing up of David Lynch’s 1984 version with the new trailer.

Book Cover Trends thru Time (via DUNE) – Some good, some bad, some… um…

And, yes, some of my RIP book hangover is being caused by wanting to reread Dune. I’m not entirely giving in, but I will reading some chapters here and there.

Horror Films A–Z, Sept. 2020: I, J & K

Idle Hands

Year: 1999
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: R

Director: Rodman Flender

Writer: Terri Hughes Burton, Ron Milbauer

Stars: Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson (and Jessica Alba, and Vivica A. Fox)

“Don’t you watch the news?”

“I hate that fucking show.”

Initial: Rewatch of a movie I haven’t seen in a long while. Had forgotten that Seth Green was in it, or that it contained one of my favorite tropes: undead friends.

Production Notes: Christopher Hart, who played the severed hand (and also played Thing in the Addams family movies), is a magician! Check out this rather nice torn & restored.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
I didn’t realize that this movie was a financial flop and has terrible ratings. Like 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is *not* a serious movie. In fact, if you go into Idle Hands thinking anything other than, “This is going to be ridiculous,” you’re doing it wrong. I find it pretty funny. Devon Sawa does some great physical comedy. It funnier and gorier than scary. It’s soundtrack is also very 90s.



Jennifer’s Body

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 42m
Rated: R

Director: Karyn Kusama

Writers: Diablo Cody

Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons

I wasn’t always this cracked. I used to be normal. Well, as normal as any girl under the influence of teenage hormones. But after the killings began, I started to feel—I don’t know—loose around the edges or something.

Initial: I’ve heard that this movie is great, that it’s overrated, that it’s trash… Since my first “J” pick fell through, I’m finding out for myself.

Production Notes: Horror movie veteran Lance Henriksen has a cameo at the end.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
I watched a YouTube video quite a while back on how Jennifer’s Body was probably poorly marketed. Viewers looking to see Jennifer’s body, or rather Megan Fox’s body, were disappointed. Maybe. I do think, like Idle Hands, it isn’t quite as scary as a horror audience might want, and it isn’t as funny as a comedy audience might want. And it’s also a film about female friendship and how those relationships can be toxic as well as tender.

I liked it well enough. Especially, I liked that other than the bad guys, not all guys in the movie were creeps. I also liked the sort of very Midwest/Heartland-ness of a few things, like Needy making a fried bologna sandwich with margarine on it.


Knock Knock

Year: 2015
Runtime: 1h 39m
Rated: R

Director: Eli Roth

Writers: Eli Roth, Nicolás López, Guillermo Amoedo, Anthony Overman, Michael Ronald Ross

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas

I don’t think people just pick randomly. I think that, if we are here together, it’s because there’s something we have to learn from each other.

Initial: Probably more of a thriller than a horror movie, but it is directed by Eli Roth, so that should automatically make it count, right?

Production Notes: Filmed Santiago de Chile for the Hollywood hills.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Poor Keanu, always getting seduced…

Knock Knock is a remake of 70s film Death Game. There was some controversy about whether the original was social commentary or just an exploitation flick. Eli Roth’s involvement with the remake doesn’t make that clearer. I appreciated the inversion of what usually occurs to women. Since women are taught to be polite and pleasant, we can be manipulated through that. But this film takes kind of an odd turn at about mid-way that muddies any actual point this movie might make.

Peeve: What is up with this movie’s timeline. This movie starts on Father’s Day, which is a Sunday. Even if it starts with celebrating Father’s Day (with cake and presents?) on Saturday, the family doesn’t get back until Monday. Father’s Day isn’t a long weekend holiday…

The Lady of the Shroud

The Lady Of The Shroud

Never have I ever felt so much like a bait and switch had been perpetrated on me…

Well, maybe it’s partially my fault.

I’d read in advance that this was an “adventure” novel, but I thought maybe this was being said by a stuffy academic that didn’t want to admit that a piece of literature contained supernatural elements. The first 40% of this book played into that notion. The novel’s epigraph is about a ship’s crew seeing a ghostly Lady in a Shroud adrift in a coffin off the coast of the Blue Mountains. Rupert Sent Leger inherits a large sum from his uncle, but is required to spend a year in a castle in those same Blue Mountains (an area in the Balkans). This is a prime Gothic set up, with a Bram Stoker requisite number of solicitors involved. After settling in, Rupert is visited in the night by a Lady in a Shroud. He thinks she might be a vampire and that notion is reinforced by his seeing her in a glass coffin and the psychic premonitions of his Scottish aunt. After a few encounters, Rupert falls deeply in love with the Lady and a dark marriage is performed.

Along side this, Rupert is bent on gaining the trust of the surrounding mountaineers and is willing to spend a good deal arming them against the Turks who are eternally bent on invading. The story turns when we learn that the daughter of the local Voivode has been captured. Spoilers: this is, of course, the Lady of the Shroud. How? It was politically advantageous for her to appear dead. She is rescued by Rupert. Her father is also rescued when the Turk kidnap him and Stoker proves he doesn’t quite know how an aeroplane works. (I mean, can’t you anchor it like a dirigible?) Things are still not that bad in this section. There is some strategy involved and it’s actually Lady Teuta who has to swing down from the aeroplane to retrieve her father. But that’s all over by the 70% mark.

The remaining 30%? Well, I got through 10% and skimmed another 5%. Rupert and Teuta’s secret marriage is out of the bag and no one has a problem with it. Teuta becomes the usual universally beloved (which happens to most women in Stoker’s fiction) and she gives up her pretending-to-be-dead rope-swing ways. The Turks are still lurking about, but are no match for the mountaineers, especially now that Rupert has supplied them with guns, a semaphore system, a war ship, an aeroplane, and Scottish highlanders to keep everyone disciplined. According to the pundits, who I now believe when I didn’t before, the rest of The Lady of the Shroud is more of the same. And I decided that I had better things to do.

Horror Films A–Z, Sept. 2020: F, G & H

From Hell

Year: 2001
Runtime: 2h 2m
Rated: R

Director: The Hughes Brothers

Writer: Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias

Stars: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm

“What’s wrong? You think I was born a whore? Oh that’s right, England doesn’t have whores, just a great mass of very unlucky women.”

Initial: Did this really come out in 2001? I miss vaguely Victorian Johnny Depp. Also, this is a horrible trailer…

Production Notes: Based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, which I haven’t read, but has been on my TBR list for ages.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
After reading a few negative comments, I was a little worried that From Hell wouldn’t hold up. Now, it has its problems. The plot and editing are a little choppy. While there is chemistry between Abberline and Mary Kelly, the romance *is* half-baked. And maybe there was a better casting choice than Heather Graham. But this in an ambitious movie. I think if it went into production today, the plan would be for a six episode limited series. Unfortunately, 50% more of this movie might end up making the utterly beautiful visuals commonplace. Beautiful cinematography/look from Peter Deming and the Hughes Brothers. Also, Robbie Coltrane as the Shakespeare fan-boy sergeant is a delight.


Ghost Story

Year: 1981
Runtime: 1h 50m
Rated: R

Director: John Irvin

Writers: Peter Straub, Lawrence D. Cohen

Stars: Craig Wasson, Alice Krige, Fred Astaire

I will take you places you’ve never been. I will show you things that you have never seen and I will see the life run out of you.

Initial: Rewatch. One of those good old twisty 80s ghost movies where the sins of the past catch up with the sinners.

Production Notes: Last film to feature Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., though Fairbanks did some TV afterward.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
The plot of this story is its strength, credit to Peter Straub for the novel. And while there are a lot of great shots and a perfect performance from Alice Krige, the pacing of this movie really is terrible. While I feel like From Hell might have been a six episode series, Ghost Story deserves a ten episode series directed by Mike Flanagan. Seriously, Netflix, get on that.


The Haunting

Year: 1963
Runtime: 1h 52m
Rated: G

Director: Robert Wise

Writers: Nelson Gidding, Shirley Jackson

Stars: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn

Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here… walk alone.

Initial: Rewatch of one of my favorites. I wonder if it still would get a G rating?

Production Notes: Robert Wise pursued rights to the novel to direct it for the screen. Wise also directed West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead)
Speaking of Mike Flanagan, if you’ve only watched his version of The Haunting of Hill House, you owe it to yourself put aside an hour and fifty-two minutes to watch Wise’s version. Yes, it’s black and white, but honestly as I watched it today, I thought about how I’d love to see this film on a big screen. The images are crisp; the angles, editing, and pacing are thoroughly modern. The only place it could be better is in the sound design, but it loudness and silences work for it. I find the scenes of the haunting to still be very effective even though nothing is ever shown.