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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Run

Run

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Writers: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian

Stars: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Sara Sohn

Double Feature Fodder:
Misery (1990)

Initial: Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian were responsible for Searching (2018), which I enjoyed quite a bit. Also, I’ve been a Sarah Paulson fan since American Gothic (1995–1998).

Production Notes: Kiera Allen uses a wheelchair in real life. Chaganty and the producer were adamant about casting a disabled actress for the role.

What Did I Think:
It should be noted that Munchausen syndrome by proxy (now known as “factitious disorder imposed on another”) is a very rare thing. Yet I’ve watched two movies that include it this month. I’m sure there are more horror movies out there with factitious disorder imposed on another because it makes for a great scary situation: what if someone you love and trust is making you ill . . . on purpose for their own benefit.

Daughter Chloe (Allen) begins to suspect that her disabilities and health problems have been caused by her mother. The majority of the movie Chloe is proving this to herself and extricating herself from the situation. Both Chloe and her mother Diane (Paulson) are written as smart, resourceful characters. It’s a wonderfully tense chess match between the two. I’ve said it a lot this month, but this is a film that hangs on the performance of one actress and Kiera Allen is pretty impressive in this role.

There is some background that seems to be missing from the character of Diane (which I believe was cut) and there is a moment of revelation for Chloe that seemed eye-rollingly convenient, but generally, I felt this was a solid movie.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Ruins

The Ruins

Year: 2008
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: Carter Smith

Writer: Scott B. Smith

Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker

Double Feature Fodder:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Initial: Yeah, I’m skipping Q in favor of double R. What of it?

Production Notes: Based on a novel of the same name by Scott Smith. Smith was only two-thirds finished writing the book when it was optioned to be a film. He also wrote the screenplay.

What Did I Think:
(spoilers ahead)

The setup is for this story is terrible. As is the case with many, many horror movies, we begin with a group of white, upper-class-ish characters who find themselves in a difficult situation. Introducing the characters and establishing their relationships can make or break the film. The audience should probably care about them before bad things start to happen. And The Ruins kind of fails in this. None of the characters are interesting or particularly likeable. Despite a pretty long introductory section, I really couldn’t remember who was with whom.

Our four protagonists, on vacation in Mexico, decide to visit an off-the-map archeological dig site on the advice of a German tourist they meet on the beach. I’m fairly sure most dig sites do not want people just showing up, but whatever . . . The dig is actually an overgrown Mayan ziggurat, but no one is there—until a couple dozen Mayans(?) emerge from the jungle and surround the temple. From their perimeter, they kill anyone who has had physical contact with the temple.

The third act of The Ruins is pretty good. It would be better if we cared a little more about our protagonists as they fall prey to the temple’s inhabitants and their own bad luck. It all ends up being fairly creepy with a good dash of body horror. And kudo for man-eating plants!

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Possessor

Possessor

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: unrated

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Writer: Brandon Cronenberg

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Double Feature Fodder:
Tenet (2020)

Initial: Another one from my TBW list. Might be more sci-fi than horror?

Obvious trivia: Brandon Cronenberg is the son of David Cronenberg.

What Did I Think:
I needn’t have worried about whether Possessor was “horror” enough. There was probably more gore in the first ten minutes of this movie than I’ve seen all month. I was a little confused that IMDB had the movie listed as only an R-rating, but I believe that the version currently on Hulu is “Possessor Uncut,” which is unrated. I’m not squeamish or prudish, but there was more bloody violence and fairly explicit sex than I’m used to in an R-rated movie. (Although, apparently the cuts for the R rating are very minimal. *shrug*)

Possessor does have a sci-fi concept at its heart: what if, through an implant, you could highjack someone else’s body in order, in this case, to carry out assassinations. The tech is kind of grungy. Not as squishy as Cronenberg’s dad would have made it, but holes are drilled into skulls on the regular. Some reviewers have applauded how well-worked out the rules of the technology are before things get complicated. I agree somewhat, but it’s more that Cronenberg knows when to show technology working instead of trying to explain it. There’s no opportunity for a good exposition moment in this film, so there’s no shoe-horning of one.

The world is not far off from modern day. This body hijacking tech is being used by an underground organization (the details of which don’t matter to the film). The only other technological “advancement” shown is being used by a large corporation. Employees use VR glasses to spy through people’s webcams to identify items in the background. It’s a mashup of data-mining and CAPTCHA and adds to the voyeurism themes in the movie.

The acting is quite good, but I was most happy to see Jennifer Jason Leigh on screen. I know she’s been consistently working, but I’ve missed most of what she’s been in.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: One Missed Call

Couldn’t find a subtitled or (blech) dubbed trailer . . .

One Missed Call

Year: 2003
Runtime: 1h 52m
Rated: R

Director: Takashi Miike

Writers: Yasushi Akimoto, Minako Daira

Stars: Ko Shibasaki, Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi

Double Feature Fodder:
Basic choices, I think this would be a great middle film of a triple feature with Ring (1998) and Ju-On (2002).

Initial: I decided to watch One Missed Call on recommendation from Possessed by Horror’s Top Ten Tech Horror Movies. I’m always a little leery of J-horror since it really does get under my skin.

Production Notes: There is of course an American remake One Missed Call (2008).

What Did I Think:
Aw, the days of flip phones . . .

Tech horror is kind of an odd sub-genre because technology can so rapidly change. If I came across the VHS tape from The Ring, for example, I’d be pretty safe because I don’t think my VHS player is even hooked up to my TV. Anyone a decade younger than me probably hasn’t even encountered a VHS tape.

(Related: I was recently listening to a podcast about Poltergeist (1982) and the hosts were confused about the whole American anthem/channel going to snow late at night. They had never encountered TV stations without 24-hour content.)

But tech horror does offer such delightful ways for people to become accidentally cursed. You watched a weird, unlabeled video cassette? Now you’re cursed. You’re a contact on someone’s phone? Now you’re cursed. There can be so many ways to become haunted in the modern world . . .

One Missed Call isn’t the scariest J-horror I’ve watched, but it has it’s moments. I’m not sure everything about the plot entirely matches up. The ending seems to perhaps play fast and loose with the “rules” and motivations, but it was a fine Sunday evening diversion.

Posted in History

Sunday Miscellanea, 4/17

Monday Miscellanea, but on Sunday . . .

Reading

cover: Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith
cover: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

For Spring into Horror and Classics Club Spin, I was reading Curious, if True by Elizabeth Gaskell, published in 1860. The opening novella “The Old Nurse’s Tale” was a reread for me. I also read the second novella in the collection “The Poor Clare,” but then I put the collection aside. It’s not *bad*, but it is very slow and dependent on relationships between a lot of characters past and present. I’m just not in the mood for that. Moved on to Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith.

Finished reading The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Not much to this book that I haven’t heard before. Very much geared toward literary writers instead of genre writers, who have a slightly different environment. Also, this edition was published in 2000. It has only cynicism for the coming ebook era and no inkling about how authors will have to deal with social media.

Playing

Screenshot from Stardew Valley video game. The interior of a house with a big double bed, a dog asleep on the rug, fireplace, and some decorations.

Too much Stardew Valley.

Also, quite a bit of ultimate frisbee. Flyin’ Hawaiian, my spring league team, is currently undefeated. We had two regular season games left, but we’ve secured a first round bye at finals. Finals are the 30th. (Yes, the same day as Readathon once again.) The Friday pickup game has been pretty good the last couple weeks too. I seem to enjoy playing against a girl half my age.

Goal Check-In

Writing & Entangled Tomes

  • “Colors of the Sea” is still out in the world.
  • I’ve lost momentum with “Untitled California Gothic.” I’m going to try rewriting what I have.
  • Going to start reading stories for the next Entangled Tome.

Shelf Maintenance

  • After a finish and a DNF, I’m 10/25 on my Beat the Backlog goal.
  • It’s been 68 days since I last acquired a book.
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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Night House

The Night House

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: David Bruckner

Writers: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Double Feature Fodder:
The Awakening (2011), for a supernatural Rebecca Hall double feature.

Initial: I didn’t watch the trailer for The Night House before I watched it. When I saw it was available on HBO Max, I remembered that it had good buzz when it came out, and I like Rebecca Hall.

Production Notes: Theatrical release was delayed for over a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Did I Think:
Talk about a movie being hung on one performance! Not having watched the trailer, I wondered for a moment how much of a horror movie this was going to be. The beginning of the film very solidly grounds Beth (Hall) as a freshly grieving widow without diving directly into the supernatural elements. This doesn’t drag because Rebecca Hall is interesting to watch.

(spoilers ahead)

Unfortunately, the ramp up of “activity” after Beth shares something about her past felt contrived. As she learns more about what was going on with her husband, seemingly since they started living in the lake house which he designed, the more unreasonable it seemed to me that she suspected nothing. His activities require more time that could be accounted for by sleepwalking. I suppose one might consider Beth an unreliable narrator, but she didn’t seems like one.

Otherwise, I liked what was going on plot-wise. I didn’t know where the story was going. The visual effect were very good, and I would have liked more of the house’s design playing tricks. I just feel like, the more I thought about The Night House, the less it really worked.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Mama

Mama

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 40m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Andy Muschietti

Writers: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Neil Cross

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Double Feature Fodder:
The Orphanage (2007)

Initial: I made a list for the month, but decided I wasn’t in the mood for my planned “M” movie. And my backup “M” movie was so bad that I didn’t want to finish it after about 20min. So, I guess I’m watching the entirety of Andy Muschietti’s filmography this week.

Production Notes: Based on Muschietti’s Argentine short Mamá and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro.

What Did I Think:
Apparently, Andy Muschietti likes to work with kids and Jessica Chastain. In the latter case, who can blame him?

I didn’t have high expectations for Mama, despite del Toro’s involvement. I was a little worried that is might be part of the Conjuring franchise and I’m very happy to be wrong.

This movie hangs on the performances of its female leads, Chastain and youngsters, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. A few times, I felt like Chastain’s character was maybe a little too stand-off-ish toward the girls, but I can’t say I’d do better in the situation. I like that motherhood wasn’t an easy default for her.

Mama is a solid ghost story. There are genuinely creepy moments, though I wish Hollywood would stop with the jump-scare “sting”noises. I found them to be distracting in the It movies, but they’re downright egregious in Mama. The moments of quiet horror end up being massively undercut by cheap loud noises.

But, so far, Mama has been my favorite of the month.