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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Willy’s Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 28m
Rated: TV-MA

Director: Kevin Lewis

Writer: G.O. Parsons

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant

Double Feature Fodder:
Monster Brawl (2011)

Initial: As I explained to my husband, I decided to watch a second “W” film since my choices for “X” looked pretty bad and cheesy. So, I watched Willy’s Wonderland.

Production Notes: Released the same year as Nicolas Cage’s very good Pig (2021).

What Did I Think:
I’m going to be honest here: Willy’s Wonderland is not a good film. It’s predictable with many of the sort of reality problems that plague many films, horror films in particular. Yes, this is a film about possessed restaurant animations, but that doesn’t explain very strong humans and inexplicably large air ducts (as a couple of examples).

On the other hand, Willy’s Wonderland isn’t entirely taking itself seriously. There is something entertaining and amusing about Nicolas Cage kicking animatronic ass between cleaning the restaurant and taking sensible breaks. I’d put this film in the category of “watch in the background during a Halloween party.” The plot doesn’t matter as much as the hi-jinks.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Wailing

The Wailing

Year: 2016
Runtime: 2h 36m
Rated: TV-MA

Director: Na Hong-jin

Writer: Na Hong-jin

Stars: Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Kwak Do-won

Double Feature Fodder:
Se7en (1995)

Initial: I put The Wailing on my initial list on reputation alone. I hadn’t even watched the trailer. But as the month spooled out and horror movie fatigue set in, I figured I didn’t have the wherewithal for a slow-burn 2.5 hour K-horror flick. So, I started watching a different movie. It was awful; I had no choice but to retreat to one of the most recommended movies I’ve come across in a while.

What Did I Think:
Yeah, the horror reviewers I follow online were right: The Wailing is pretty darn good.

It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen this month, second (maybe) to Horns (2013). Cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong is also known for Parasite (2019) and the look of that movie is the best thing about it.

It is kind of long. Our protagonist is Jong-goo, a policeman who is neither the handsomest, nor the bravest, nor a specimen of physical power. He’s not dumb, but he is a bit lazy. The early portion of the film involves establishing him as a character as he and his fellow police investigate a strange disease that is driving people mad. Could some of this be more succinctly told? Maybe. In my reading about the film I have come across a reason that much of Jong-goo’s behavior is outlined.

This is one of the few movies I’ve watched this month that I will probably rewatch. There is a lot going on and I think there are subtleties I missed.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Villains

Villains

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Directors: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen

Writers: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen

Stars: Bill Skarsgård, Maika Monroe, Blake Baumgartner

Double Feature Fodder:
Parents (1989)

Initial: Didn’t know much about this film. It’s on Hulu, the title starts with V, and it isn’t a vampire film. Third Bill Skarsgård film this month.

What Did I Think:
Bad guys encountering bad guys is always a fun plot and Villains is quirky enough to be entertaining.

Setting-wise, we spend the most time in Gloria and George’s house. They are obviously trying to live in some wholesome fantasy world and that gets short-handed as a vaguely 50s aesthetic, which also implies some level of derangement.

The performances by all four main actors (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick playing the older couple; Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe, the younger) are good, but there was an unevenness to how competent our protagonists were at any given time. Are Mickey and Jules half-baked, small-time criminals, or are they savvy enough to manipulate George and Gloria? Depends on the situation. Of course, if this were a Cohen brothers movie, Mickey and Jules would only ever be dim. Dumb luck would be the only way out of their situation. It would be more realistic, but they’d be less likeable characters too. Your mileage may vary.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Urban Legend

Urban Legend

Year: 1998
Runtime: 1h 39m
Rated: R

Director: Jamie Blanks

Writer: Silvio Horta

Stars: Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart

Double Feature Fodder:
Recommendations instead:
Scream (1996)
Candyman (1992)
“Mr. Dark’s Carnival” by Glen Hirshberg (novella)
Just a Story podcast

Initial: A late 90s horror film that fell through the cracks for me.

Production Notes: I knew the name Alicia Witt was familiar, but I couldn’t think from where. She was Alia in David Lynch’s Dune (1984)!

What Did I Think:
I has a good soundtrack . . .

Listen, Scream (1996) has a lot to answer for. It kicked off a whole new wave of plucky young people facing off against slashers and movie monsters, but with an extra meta twist. Urban Legend isn’t the first movie to tackle urban legend killers, but it probably is the first to make a big deal of the legends that (maybe) everyone knows. The problem is that urban legends are a broad category: everything from baby-sitter killers to Pop Rocks and Coke. Urban Legend tries to fit as many into the movie as possible, it seems, without worrying too much how they fit into the story. Or about how accurately the urban legends are shown. (Who does Bloody Mary in front of an abandoned building and not a mirror?!)

Like Scream, Urban Legend has a non-supernatural mystery to be solved and, of course, it’s one of the plucky young people. With over twenty years of meta-ing the meta horror movies, the film lacks tension and scares. The performances were uneven: Witt’s character was wooden while Gayheart and Tara Reid chew scenery. I did appreciate the small roles given to Robert Englund (the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) and Brad Dourif (the Chucky franchise). It was nice to see nods to earlier, better films. And, hey, it has Jared Leto before he was insufferable.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Triangle

Triangle

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 39m
Rated: R

Director: Christopher Smith

Writer: Christopher Smith

Stars: Melissa George, Joshua McIvor, Jack Taylor

Double Feature Fodder:
Looper (2012)

Initial: Some days are not great days and so I’m a little behind on my A–Z. I also got to my movie list and was not in the mood for my “T” selection at all. After some looking around I decided to rewatch Triangle. The first time I watched it was during my period of watching movies while doing other things. How I still managed to understand this movie while not entirely paying attention, I’ll never know.

Production Notes: Set in Miami, Florida, but was filmed in Queensland, Australia.

What Did I Think:
While I remembered a lot about Triangle, I had mostly forgotten about the beginning and the end—the parts that aren’t on the boat and not in the trailer. In other words, I’d forgotten about the parts that matter. Being land-side for a third of the movie, doesn’t take away from its claustrophobic feel.

The time loop/limbo aspect of Triangle is not explained and only mostly comes together at the end of the movie. While there are a few slasher-level scares early on, the horror really comes from Jess’s realizations about what is going on and her struggle to fix things. The plot is ambitious and full of foreshadowing, which I missed in my first watch. It’s a fairly successful story without being perfect.

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Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes

Year: 2014
Runtime: 1h 38m
Rated: not rated

Director: Kevin Kölsch ,Dennis Widmyer

Writers: Kevin Kölsch ,Dennis Widmyer

Stars: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan

Double Feature Fodder:
The Craft (1996)

Initial: This seems to be the year of clearing some long-standing to-be-watches.

Production Notes: A Kickstarted movie.

What Did I Think:
(spoilers ahead)

I was under the impression that Starry Eyes was a fairly straight-forward vampire movie: Sarah, a wanna-be actress in Hollywood, finds literal bloodsuckers. And it’s not exactly that. Or rather, it’s a longer look at how the one might lose her soul and then her life to become something else. It’s fraught and pretty gruesome.

This seems to be Alex Essoe’s first feature role and, dang, what a role! Sarah is unbalanced to begin with. Her horrible circle of friends do nothing for her mental health. The setting swings from messy apartments with multiple roommates to pristine and austere audition rooms, illustrating the two different worlds Sarah is living in. And the synth score gives it a perfect Lynchian touch.

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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.