Tag Archives: cinema saturday

Cinema Silliness, Deadite Edition

Evil Dead II

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 27m
Rated: R

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel

Stars: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks

Initial: Okay, so this movie is pretty much a remake of The Evil Dead (1981), right?

Production Notes: Apparently, Raimi and company had always intended for an Evil Dead sequel to happen, but wanted one in which Ash gets sucked into a time portal to the Middle Ages. Men with money wanted a sequel more like the original, so Raimi gave them a sequel that was a pretty much a better (?) version of the original and made sure that a direct sequel would involve time travel.

What Did I Think:
It’s hard for me to parse how effective Evil Dead II is because when I saw The Evil Dead, I was somewhat surprised by it. While schlocky and extra, The Evil Dead was also unnerving. But now, the bizarre camera angles, the tree assault (which is revisited in Evil Dead 2), and the gouts of blood are much less discomfiting. Plot-wise, Bruce Campbell is left to chew scenery for the first portion of the film and, later, the story hackily sets up Army of Darkness.

It’s interesting how different the gore is in Evil Dead II and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It can be argued that Chain Saw Massacre is less gory—the corpses and random limbs, while ubiquitous, aren’t very bloody. In Evil Dead, there is so much blood that it’s cartoonish. Violence is treated similarly. Of course, one of these movies is a horror comedy, one is not. Is it telling that only in the comedy does the male “final girl” take most of the abuse?


Army of Darkness

Year: 1992
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi

Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert

Initial: I know there are catch-phrases in this one . . .

Production Notes: Set in vague medieval Europe, filmed in California.

What Did I Think:
Some Sam Raimi movies are a like a carnival dark ride. And not a slick Disney dark ride, but one of those mall parking lot set-ups. Everything is a little schlocky, a little shoddy and a little too loud, but you’ll probably going to have a good time if you let yourself.

In the 4–5 years between the sequels, Ash has been given a backstory and a couple more brain cells. The end of the previous movie has been retconned: instead of almost immediately being hailed the prophesied one, it takes some doing to convince the primitive screwheads. And the trunk of the ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88 is now chock-full of stuff needed to MacGyver a successful-ish offensive against an army of darkness.

I don’t think it’s entirely the stop-motion skeletons that made me think of Saturday matinee fodder like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) or Jason and the Argonauts (1963)—though give me a stop motion skeleton over a CGI one any day of the week. It’s probably more the anachronisms in setting and the convolutions of plot. But with a goofy, slapstick twist, and lots and lots of blood.

Cinema Saturday, Chainsaw Massacre Edition

I had planned to rewatch the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as well as two of its sequels that were available on my current bunch of streaming providers. Alas(?), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was not available via hoopla like I was led to believe.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Year: 1974
Runtime: 1h 23m
Rated: R

Director: Tobe Hooper

Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper

Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger

Initial: Rewatch, though I found that there was a lot about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that I didn’t remember.

Production Notes: Set in Texas, filmed in Texas!

What Did I Think:
The first time I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I wasn’t really impressed. While I could see its influence on later horror movies, I didn’t find it that interesting. I never went out of my way to watch it a second time (before now) or watch any of its sequels.

Two things that caught me this time around:
First, I feel like there is an amorality to the fate of the characters. Sure, Franklin is annoying, and Pam and Kirk go to find the swimming hole to do things other than swimming, but they’re adults. This is the 70s after all. Instead, it plays out a little like a reality-based Ju-On (2001). They’ve stumbled upon the Sawyer family and now they’re screwed. They’re not being cosmically punished, they’ve just had bad luck.

Secondly, I do like the setting that is created. The beginning voice over doesn’t do much, really, but I love radio broadcasts in the background and this “art” that is shown. One of the Sawyer family is a frustrated artist, creating bone sculptures, mobiles, and such. It’s probably grave-robbing Nubbins, but maybe it’s Leatherface since he’s the only member of the family with any style. None of this is ever explained and I like that.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Year: 1994
Runtime: 1h 27m
Rated: R

Director: Kim Henkel

Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper

Stars: Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks

Initial: As someone who grew up in the 80s, I have an automatic distrust of horror sequels since so many of them seem to be blatant cash grabs. I haven’t even seen many of the sequels in horror franchises I like (Hellraiser (1987), for example). Then again, I have trouble finishing books series too, so . . .

Production Notes: Aw, young Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey! How many horror movies that aren’t The Silence of the Lambs (1991) can claim two Oscar winners in it?

What Did I Think:
Going in, I figured, “At least it’s written/directed by one of the original writers.”

There is an argument that Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is parody and I almost buy it, especially since the original title of the film was The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, it kind of riffs on itself (no one is actually killed with a chainsaw) and the umpteen slasher films that filled the 80s and 90s (we start the movie at a high school prom), but there is a befuddling amount of WTF?! to this movie’s plot. Vilmer (McConaughey’s character) has a robotic leg? Leatherface and family are now being employed by a secret society to bring transcendence via terror? (The character of Rothman, their employer, reveals scarification and piercings that, I guess, are supposed to be shocking and Hellraiser-ish.) Leatherface also cross-dresses more which feels a little like the movie was leaning into the success that Silence of the Lambs had a few years earlier. Overall, the effect is bigger and broader, but for me loses the things that made the original worthwhile.

Cinema Saturday, 3/19/22

I’m going through what’s currently popular in horror (according to Just Watch) on my chosen streaming services. These three films are all currently available on Hulu.

Just so you know: there’s some nekkid-ness in this trailer.

Titane

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 48m
Rated: R

Director: Julia Ducournau

Writers: Julia Ducournau, Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio

Stars: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier

Double Feature Fodder:
Crash (1996) (a movie I haven’t seen, actually)

Initial: Going in to Titane, I only knew what the blurbs were telling me: girl with a titanium plate in her head, unexplained crimes, and a father reunited with his son.

Production Notes: Won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Julia Ducournau is only the second woman director to win it.

What Did I Think:
(avoiding spoilers)
I’m annoyed by this film. Visually, it’s great. I’m not familiar with DOP Ruben Impens, but I’d watch Julia Ducournau’s Raw (2016) for his involvement alone. Agathe Rousselle? What a wonderful debut. There is body horror in this movie that actually made me squirm (I’m still listing the good things here). And I really liked half the plot.

And the other half of the plot, I just don’t understand. If there’s some allegory, I’m missing it. If it’s just to be shocking, I don’t think the other half of this movie needed it or deserved to be upstaged by it, although I guess it’s gotten everyone talking about the movie. All the things that made me squirm? They weren’t part of this plot.


Fresh

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 54m
Rated: R

Director: Mimi Cave

Writers: Lauryn Kahn

Stars: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs

Double Feature Fodder:
Dumplings (2005)

Initial: I knew a smidge more about Fresh than I knew about Titane. And, well, when a film mentions “appetites,” you know where it might be heading.

Production Notes: Mimi Cave’s feature length debut. Cave comes from the world of music videos, which historically includes my favorite directors.

What Did I Think:
(spoilers ahead)
In relation to Titane, Fresh is *so* conventional. It is very stylish, though. Sebastian Stan’s performance and the soundtrack reminds me a lot of Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000), but again, Fresh is more conventional than that film too. Honestly, for a film about cannibalism, I feel like it was just a little too tame. It’s really more about the horrors of modern dating than about eating other people. I’m glad I’m married.


No Exit

Year: 2022
Runtime: 1h 35m
Rated: R

Director: Damien Power

Writers: Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, Taylor Adams

Stars: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl

Double Feature Fodder:
Identity (2003)

Initial: I wasn’t super interested in this film, but it was on the aforementioned “popular” list.

Production Notes: Set on the way to Salt Lake City, Utah, but filmed in Auckland, New Zealand.

What Did I Think:
This movie was only an hour and a half long?! It felt so much longer . . .

As a writer, I’ve learned that sometimes, you can start a story in the wrong place. You think that maybe a chapter establishing a character’s background, or a situational background, will give scope to the story you’re about to tell. You’re usually wrong. This information does little to engage the audience in the story and the details are better used later in the narrative. This movie starts in the wrong place. It should have started nine minutes in with Darby driving in the snow (which is where the novel it’s based on starts) or even 15 minutes in when she walks into the visitor’s center (which is where a Quentin Tarantino movie would probably start). Knowing about Darby before anything else happens adds nothing. Would that change alone fix No Exit? Probably not. By the time there is any other twist in the plot, everything feels very tedious.

Cinema Saturday, 1/29/22

I’m Your Man

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 48m
Rated: R

Director: Maria Schrader

Writers: Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader, Emma Braslavsky

Stars: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller

Initial: A movie that’s been making some “best of 2021” lists. I was happy it popped up on Hulu.

What Did I Think:
I’m Your Man is a fine movie. I liked it. It was humorous in parts though not what I’d consider a romantic comedy (I also don’t think it’s intended to be a rom-com). It is also the softest of science fiction. The world of I’m Your Man has sophisticated androids and holograms (which only seem to be used by the company building androids), but really no other technological advancements. This is, in many ways, just a thought experiment: what if you were given the perfect partner, someone with no wants or needs of their own, whose purpose is to please you? Does lack of (non-literal) friction take something away from a relationship?


The Last Duel

Year: 2021
Runtime: 2h 32m
Rated: R

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon

Stars: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer

Initial: Ridley Scott directing a gritty medieval epic starring Adam Driver and Matt Damon? That, right there, is Katherine bait.

Production Notes: In an interview, Scott blamed Millennials and their cell phones for the film’s disappointing box office performance (it was released in theaters in October 2021, in the lull between delta and omicron). I think his blame is maybe misplaced, but also I’m not sure he’s wrong. You have to ask, who is the ideal audience for The Last Duel? I’m not sure I know. I think in 2021, older folks (if I’m going to speak from the minor population of Gen X) weren’t going to theaters because they were being cautious. Younger people probably just weren’t going to go see a gritty medieval epic. Going to the movie theater right now is pricey and risky. Audiences want to go to see films where they know they’ll be entertained.

What Did I Think:
This is a weighty film. An aging, experienced knight, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon), challenges a younger, physically impressive squire, Jacques Le Gris (Driver), to a duel. If he wins, he will prove that his wife (Jodie Comer) is telling the truth about her sexual assault, because that’s how God will prove that she’s telling the truth. I don’t even want to contemplate this movie as a comment on the #MeToo movement.

We aren’t told this story straight-up. We begin with de Carrouges’s circumstances and version of events. Then, we are shown Le Gris’s. Finally, we end with Marguerite de Carrouges version of events (labeled in the between scene title card as The Truth) and then the duel. I’m not sure of how accurate all the historical details are (it felt like Comer was wearing way too much makeup) , but the fights were brutal and it’s refreshing to see a sword fight that isn’t a fencing match with bigger weapons.

Cinema Saturday, 1/15/22

The Hitcher

Year: 1986
Runtime: 1h 37m
Rated: R

Director: Robert Harmon

Writers: Eric Red

Stars: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Initial: A rewatch for me, but I’ve probably only watched The Hitcher once, over 30 years ago.

Production Notes: The Hitcher caught a lot of flack for being a violent movie. Surprisingly, most of the violence takes place off-screen and most of the disturbing aftermath is never shown.

What Did I Think:
Young horror movie fan Katherine was pretty impressed with this movie, but after 30 years I couldn’t entirely remember why.

Spoilers Ahead:
There are two stand-out features of The Hitcher. One: John Ryder, Rutger Hauer’s character, is never given any motivation for what he does. He’s just a psycho, or maybe a semi-supernatural force of nature. My understanding is that the 2007 remake has him being slighted by the people who later pick him up. That’s disappointing because the story works best when Ryder is a mystery. Two: The movie is not precious about its characters. If you watch enough horror movies, especially ones of a certain era, you can predict that the annoying protagonist is going to die. There are two protagonists in this movie, neither is annoying . . .

Non-Spoilers:
Unfortunately, the nightmarish scenario of being hunted/haunted by a random charismatic stranger is undercut by The Hitcher devolving into a 80s action movie. There are explosions. There are cars that seemingly ramp-jump off each other. A helicopter is shot from the sky by a handgun. Oh, 80s.


The Goonies

Year: 1985
Runtime: 1h 54m
Rated: PG

Director: Richard Donner

Writers: Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg

Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman

Initial: A lot of people my age really like this movie. I had never seen it.

Production Notes: Also out in 1985, Richard Donner directed Ladyhawke and Chris Columbus wrote Young Sherlock Holmes. Both are movies I like so much more than The Goonies.

What Did I Think:
WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING??? So much yelling in this movie. I’m not fond of kid protagonists, which is probably why I never got around to watching The Goonies earlier in my life, like when I was around the age of the characters. And I might have a different opinion of this movie if I hadn’t watched Young Sherlock Holmes, Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981), or Columbus’s Home Alone (1990) before I watched The Goonies. Many movies before and after it do what it does, but better (see also, The Lost Boys (1987), Stand By Me (1986), The ‘Burbs (1989)). Still, there are a couple of good moments, mostly courtesy Corey Feldman.


Boogie Nights

Year: 1997
Runtime: 2h 35m
Rated: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds

Initial: A well-regarded movie with a big cast that I hadn’t seen before.

What Did I Think:
Boogie Nights is a movie. There are characters. Things happen. It’s well-made. The actors do a wonderful job. I like the setting of the 70s. I enjoyed the extended cast of actors I wasn’t expecting, like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ricky Jay. I have no problem with the subject matter; the porn industry is something I know little about, so that’s a plus. The odd theme of found family (even dysfunctional found family) is almost heartwarming. Obviously, some credit has to go to Paul Thomas Anderson for all of this. I’m not eve mad that I’ve had “Sister Christian” stuck in my head since I saw this movie on Wednesday. But, honestly, Boogie Nights is just kind of there. I probably wouldn’t turn it off if it was the only thing on, but I can’t imagine ever going out my way to watch it a second time.

Cinema Saturday, 12/18/21

Tenet

Year: 2020
Runtime: 2h 30m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Christopher Nolan

Stars: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki

Initial: Christopher Nolan is kind of hit or miss for me. I appreciate the ambition of his projects, but (hot take) I don’t think he’s actually a very good director, especially of action. Hence, I like Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006) and think Inception (2010) is half of a good movie, but I’m not at all a fan of the Batman movies. Which means, my initial thoughts about this movie were mixed.

Production Notes: I’m kind of sad that this movie got hosed by the pandemic. Much of the narrative around the film’s release was more about the film being released in theaters in the summer of 2020 (which was hilariously optimistic) than the film’s actual quality. And it would have been a much bigger film, I think, with a pre-pandemic release. I was planning on seeing more movies in theaters in 2020, pre-pandemic; Tenet would have been one of them.

What Did I Think:
I liked Tenet, probably more than I like Inception.

Many of the things that got criticism are things I actually liked. I really dug John David Washington’s character being “the Protagonist.” I mean, I’m a Doctor Who fan so I’m good with heroes with no names. I’m also fine with a lot of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Yes, the characters wear a lot of masks that make them (very occasionally) difficult to understand; that’s how the characters have to be sometimes. I’m also good with the escalating grandeur of set pieces. Many reviews went down the road of “Well, if you can do X, why not Z instead of Y?” but that’s kind of like arguing with any plot. The plot Nolan gives us is just fine.

Also, I really wouldn’t be mad if John David Washington were the next 007. Just saying.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Haunted House

To misquote a tagline, what’s better than one haunted house? Four haunted houses! I’m not against remakes and I had the opportunity recently to watch some classics back-to-back with their turn-of-the-century remakes. How do they stack up?

House on Haunted Hill (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960) were both directed by William Castle and written by Robb White. Castle was rather well known for promoting his films with gimmicks. House‘s gimmick was Emergo: in certain theaters, at a certain point in the film, a skeleton would be made to fly over the audience. Ghosts‘ had Illusion-O: a viewing device that audience members could use to see the ghosts in the film. Honestly, 13 Ghosts loses a lot without its gimmick because there isn’t much going on other than seeing the ghosts.

House on Haunted Hill is by no means a great movie, but it generally serves as a bit of schlocky seasonal fun. Vincent Price is delightfully wicked, the exterior of the house is a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and it has a few actually creepy moments. The plot (spoilers) isn’t exactly supernatural, but it has enough double dealing and betrayal that , if the house wasn’t haunted before, it is now. It’s also the easiest to view now. A copyright SNAFU has led to it being in the public domain.

In 1998, genre heavy-weights Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and Gilber Adler founded Dark Castle Entertainment. The production company’s first two films were remakes of the two William Castle films mentioned above.

House on Haunted Hill (1999) was directed by William Malone and written by Dick Beebe. While the basic plot stays intact (stay over night in the haunted place, win money) the “house” is actually a former insane asylum, a trope that’s wearing thin for me. One of the criticisms of both of these movies (and of a trend in horror films that started during this period) is that they become too reliant on CGI effects. Yes, the ending of this movie is very over-wrought as our survivors flee from a Rorschach-test-like dark cloud. Luckily, there are some uncanny moments earlier in the film and there are also a few nods to the original. Winner of the Vincent-Price-level evil award: Famke Janssen.

Thir13een Ghosts (2001), directed by Steve Beck and written by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio, diverges even more from the original, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As in the original, a hard-up family inherits a haunted house, but in this case, what a house! It’s all glass, glowing runes, and clockworks. The set design is really the star of this movie. The titular ghosts have back stories, which the movie doesn’t really worry about fleshing out. That’s fine, those details go into the character design where they belong. While the ghosts may not be that scary, they are interesting. Like House on Haunted Hill, the ending is the weakest point in Ghosts, but it’s kind of a fun ride while it lasts.