Sunday, November 22, 2020

On The Chopping Block: Ratched, Season 1 (2020)

During a month I'm basing around "bad" movies I personally enjoy, it seems fair to talk about at least one property that I find to be genuinely bad and not very enjoyable and, unfortunately it had to be Ratched.

When Ratched was announced, I was es-fuckin'-static: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is one of my personal favorite movies and a show that would give the antagonist of said film, Nurse Ratched, the treatment Bates Motel and Hannibal gave to Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter respectively? I was on board with that and, while a lot of people really hate the guy, I didn't mind that it was Ryan Murphy bringing Ratched to life, as he's responsible for the wonderful and cancelled too soon horror comedy Scream Queens (Read some more of my love of it here) and, while I find it aggressively hit or miss, when American Horror Story is good, it's really good. Murphy's muse, Sarah Paulson, was announced as portraying the titular role, which was a third bit I was excited for. Paulson rarely gets to play villainous roles, even on AHS, so the chance for her to sink her teeth into a wicked role had me giddy. Really, I thought the show had nowhere to go but up.

Well, unfortunately while watching the final product on Netflix, I had one recurring thought throughout the entire season: Where did this all go wrong?

Ryan Murphy muse Sarah Paulson as Nurse Ratched

For starters, it feels like Murphy and the crew didn't even watch the original film or read its source material while making this show. Gone is the raw dramatic feel of Milos Forman's direction and Ken Kesey's writing, instead replaced with a bright, manic and extremely colorful tone. While that usually works for Murphy's other series, it is a jarring choice for a source material that was more or less rooted in reality. As a result, the series suffers as instead of going for the rousing touch needed for this material, we are instead treated to increasing wackiness that includes a revenge plot centered around a self-amputated boy that goes nowhere, multiple characters whom have no reason to exist beyond being plot devices to move certain characters around to their respective destinations and a season ending that manages to rip off both Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill and Jonathan Demme's film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs. Many critics of Murphy's shows often criticize his works as consisting of excessive amounts of characters, meaningless plotlines and random moments thrown in to inspire viral gifs. Ratched, unfortunately, falls fully victim to these lackluster impulses.

Speaking of excessive characters, let's take a moment to talk about Ratched's stacked cast. Besides Paulson, the ensemble also includes her fellow AHS alumni Finn Wittrock and Jon Jon Briones, as well as Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis, Charlie Carver and Sharon Stone. Sadly, as I mentioned, most of these performers are wasted in their roles. Wittrock's character lacks any substance beyond just being motivation for Ratched's character to be in the hospital, while Briones's Dr. Hanover amounts to mainly being a patriarchal obstacle for Ratched to manipulate and overcome. Nixon's character serves as Ratched's love interest, but lacks any intrigue that really makes you want to root for the two to be together. I don't even know why Carver and especially Stone were even cast, as their characters ultimately have no purpose and exist...for the sake of adding more melodrama, I suppose? I honestly don't know what made them want to sign on, besides wanting to work with Murphy.

The leading ladies of Ratched

There is one character that manages to almost save the show for me: Betsy Bucket, played by Judy Davis. While Bucket's initial purpose is be an antagonist for Ratched on the same level as her, with the two of them both being nurses, she manages to transform from a cranky foil with an unrequited crush on Dr. Hanover to an empowered ally of Ratched's who takes her former love's place as the head of the hospital. Bucket is the only character in the series who gets a consistent arc and it not only allows Davis to shine, but for her to steal every scene she's in. Including a very memorable one in which Bucket and Ratched feud over the former taking the latter's peach to eat. Not only do Davis and Paulson display superb chemistry and have a dynamic that allows for Paulson to really channel the source material, but Davis, in particular, delivers her dialogue in an almost Tarantino-esque fashion that allows for the humorous scene to feel more organic than other comedic bits throughout the season.

You might have noticed I haven't addressed Paulson yet, which is because that leads into what I believe went wrong with this series. I think the reason behind my disappointment with Ratched can be traced to Murphy wanting to pay tribute to filmmaker Brian De Palma. Not only does Murphy homage some of De Palma's famous filmmaking techniques, including hefty uses of color and split screens, but he also borrows heavily from other works. Many have noted that De Palma often borrowed from other works for his own and, while a lot of the works he borrows from are usually the films of Alfred Hitchcock, he has also been documented as borrowing from himself, such as recycling the twist ending from Carrie for the conclusion of Dressed to Kill. Murphy takes De Palma's dabbling in cannibalization and turns it up to eleven, with many parts of Ratched being recycled from Murphy's previous works. While Paulson's acting is fine, the character she is given is, more or less, a more manipulative and less openly queer version of her Lana Winters character from AHS's second season. There are other examples as well: Stone's Lenore Osgood and Brandon Flynn as Lenore's son Henry are basically the characters played by Wittrock and Frances Conroy in AHS's fourth season, while Briones's Dr. Hanover is a combination of Matt Ross and Joseph Fiennes's roles from AHS's first two seasons. Plotlines and ideas are also recycled from other works, such as Hollywood (The historical alterations and focus on minorities) and Scream Queens (the attempts at comedic hospital hijinks) among others.

When it comes down to it, if you want to see Murphy tackle Cuckoo's Nest in a well-done manner, check out season 2 of AHS, subtitled Asylum, as there are several homages to the film that ring truer than this attempt at adaptation. Otherwise, unless you're in it for Judy Davis like I am at this point, leave Ratched on the chopping block.

Judy Davis as Nurse Bucket, the MVP of Ratched

New Flesh: 31 (2016)

The Film: 31 (2016)

What Is It About?: Taking place in 1976, 31 revolves around a quintet of carny friends (Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Kevin Jackson) whom get kidnapped on Halloween. Soon, the group finds that they are the unwilling players in a game known as 31, hosted by an enigmatic trio of elders known as Father Murder, Sister Dragon and Sister Serpent (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Gleeson and Jane Carr). It is explained by Father Murder that the object of the game is to see which of the five (if any) can survive twelve hours of siege by an escalating series of villains. All leading up to the protagonists sparring with the chaotic and unhinged Doom-Head (Richard Brake), the film's big bad who intends to finish them off to end the game. Will our heroes win, or will Doom-Head and the elders prevail?

Why Do I Recommend it?

So, 31 isn't exactly a lesser known film like the others I've featured in my New Flesh series thus far. However, I wanted to revisit this film for this month to kick off my Guilty Pleasures-themed content block as it gives me not only an opportunity to talk about my fondness for the film, but also to touch upon its polarizing director: Rob Zombie. A lot of people do not like them some Zombie, often criticizing various aspects of his filmography. Including his casting choices, particularly placing his wife Sheri Moon Zombie in all of his movies, his fascination with the 1970s and Southerners and his dialogue style, among other things. Let it be known: Minus the Halloween remakes he made, I think Zombie's films are a total blast and generally enjoy his filmmaking style (or, dare I even say, his auteurship?), and 31 is no exception to that. While 31 isn't some high art film, it's not trying to be that and it (mostly) works at what its trying to achieve. 31 especially is an entertaining experience if you choose to view it as I do: A cinematic video game.

31's structure lends itself to this reading pretty well: As summarized above, the film centers around the protagonists being forced into playing a game by the trio of elders. The three transform the unwilling participants into cyphers for the audience to insert themselves into, taking away the group's numbers and referring to them only by numbers, one through five respectively, and assigning each character betting odds in regards to their chances of survival. The commodification of the characters allows for 31's audience themselves to pick a "player" for themselves, albeit by passively investing in one (as the cinematic format permits) instead of actively playing the role of them within the game. During said game, they face down a series of villains (or bosses, if we're committing to the video game reading) that each get their own introductory scene and each increase in difficulty to fight. Which leads into the final act, in which the remaining protagonists have to square off with the final boss, Doom-Head. The climax revolves around Doom-Head facing off with the last person standing, which happens to be Charly, allowing for the audience to insert themselves into a direct avatar.

The introduction to 31 within 31, setting up the rules and the read of the film as a video game in film format

There are other elements comparable to video games, such as the film's rhythm: After the game plot kicks off, the film settles into a pattern of a transitional scene with the protagonists (known in video games as cut scenes), a villain/boss intro scene, and then a fight sequence. For example, after the introduction of the game 31 to the reluctant players (cut scene), the characters (and the audience) are introduced to the first of the villains/bosses, Sick Head, and then the film immediately transitions to the main five's fight against Sick Head, already in progress. This is sometimes broken up by scenes of the characters exploring their environment (a feature in certain video games that choose to have expansive environments), such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show homage involving the characters having "dinner" and, during the climax, Charly wandering outside in the daylight until she finds the house in which she ends the game with Doom-Head. With all of this in mind, it's visible how the film can be read, at least partially, as a cinematic video game.

Another example of the film's video game qualities: The intro sequence and fight against mini-bosses Death Head and Sex Head

That's not to sell the rest of the movie short, as there's other qualities that make 31 worth watching: In general, it's a fun action horror flick with some great set pieces, especially the battle sequence between the protagonists and Schizo Head and Psycho Head that features a character named Georgina that meets a gnarly end and the film's prologue, which is essentially a six minute monologue from Doom Head as he toys with a priest before killing him. Speaking of Doom Head, the one aspect of 31 even its critics typically agree upon standing out is the performance of Richard Brake as Doom Head. And, honestly? It's worth the hype, as Brake totally immerses himself in his role and fully embodies Doom Head. While the cast is generally good, with Meg Foster deserving a mention for making her character the most likable in the film, Brake is the MVP as he manages to pull off the monologue-heavy role that could be a bootleg Joker in the wrong hands. Some mention must also go to the music within the film: Another marker of Rob Zombie's filmography is the heavy use of classic rock songs, and 31 is no exception. Especially noteworthy are the uses of "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas (A song among my personal favorites), and "Dream On" by Aerosmith for the film's final scene. "Dream On", especially, works as it sets the stage for the implied final no holds barred match between Charly and Doom Head. Successfully embodying the desperation Charly has all the way through the film and leading up to what could be her final moments.

In the end, 31, despite its bad reputation, is an engaging experience of a film, especially when viewed as a video game in film format, and one that has more than its share of merits to be deemed at least worth watching.

Available on: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Hoopla, IMDbTV, iTunes & Amazon

Friday, October 30, 2020

Peeping Tom: Trick 'r Treat (2009)

Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat is a cult film that almost never was: Originally meant to be released in theaters during October 2007, the film's production company, Warner Bros, chickened out at the last minute and delayed the film until the following year...and then delayed it again until winter of 2009...and then finally dumped the film direct to DVD in October later that year, two years after its original planned release date and washed their hands of the film. However, after its actual release, the film quickly gained the attention of horror fans everywhere and, faster than usual, a cult following was born.

The question I have now is: How did this film that the studio apparently had no faith in to the point of shelving it for two years for an eventual direct to DVD release prove to be not only good, but good enough that it's got a big ol' cult following now and is a Halloween mainstay for many? The answer lies within a line of dialogue from the film itself: "Tonight is about respecting the dead." It's all about respect: The film's respect for the horror genre, its respect for its audience to live up to its title and give them both tricks and treats (hence the title), and its respect for the holiday of Halloween itself.

Academy Award Winner (TM) Anna Paquin welcomes you to this analysis

Friday, October 23, 2020

Horror at Home: Halloween Specials To Celebrate Indoors With


For many this year, Halloween may be limited to put it lightly: Amidst the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, many places have cancelled trick or treating, discouraged seasonal parties or downright shut down any plans for public events related to the holiday. Simply put, a lot of people are going to have to celebrate Halloween indoors at home this year. Which is why I decided to come up with a handy list of Halloween specials for anyone reading this. Just because a lot of people can't go out on Halloween next week, doesn't mean they have to suffer bored at home on the holiday. And, if you're like me, sometimes you may not want to do a movie night for what feels like the millionth night in a row. So, without further ado, jump the cut and see which TV episodes I've decided to recommend for a fun Halloween night:

Performance Piece: Leslie Nielsen, "Creepshow" (1982)

The performer: Leslie Nielsen

The performance: Playing Richard Vickers in Creepshow (1982)

Why him?

George A. Romero and Stephen King's film Creepshow is remembered for many things. Usually, what comes to mind among fans is the comic book aesthetic, the monsters present throughout, and that wonderfully macabre 80's synth score. In addition to these, an aspect that is often fondly regarded by fans is the cast. Creepshow gathered an ensemble of actors to get their baroque on through the film's five segments. This includes the likes of Ed Harris, King himself, Adrienne Barbeau, EG Marshall and the man of the hour, Leslie Nielsen, who plays the antagonist featured in the film's third segment, "Something to Tide You Over".

Leslie Nielsen as Richard Vickers in Creepshow

Thursday, October 22, 2020

On The Chopping Block: Rebecca (2020)

My history with Rebecca is a brief one: I've heard the name of Daphne Du Maurier's novel turned Alfred Hitchcock Best Pictures Oscar winner film adaptation several times, and knew the basics of the story: That it was a love story turned nightmare and that one of the villains was the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was memorable enough to have a Creepshow character named after her. I didn't actually do a proper dive into Rebecca until this month, when I watched Hitchcock's adaptation a few days into October. I instantly loved it: The exquisite effects, the (mostly) suspenseful script and directing, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson's wonderful performances. With this in mind, I was open to seeing what Ben Wheatley's new adaptation of Rebecca would entail, especially since it looked as if he was trying to go in a different direction than Hitchcock and the cast included actors I liked, including Armie Hammer from Wheatley's previous film Free Fire and Ann Dowd from Hereditary

After having seen the new adaptation of Rebecca, I can safely say that this new adaptation is certainly a mixed bag. Let's get the bad out of the way first: There are a couple of aspects I felt were hindering Wheatley's new film from succeeding completely: The first being the alterations to the story itself. While I'm never opposed to remakes trying to go in different directions, the different directions in this iteration of Rebecca do not feel beneficial in the way, as one example, the alterations to Leigh Whannell's Invisible Man remake felt. Part of the alterations include the addition of vivid dream sequences in which the second Mrs. De Winter's anxiety is expressed in imagery such as her new husband sleepwalking to the west wing and the second Mrs. De Winter being swallowed by vines that consume her, which...ultimately amount to nothing. And, on top of it, the digital effects used do not look as good as the crew probably intended, so it sticks out more than it would've otherwise. And then there's the ending, which does not finish out the film with the fire at Manderley, but rather tacks on several minutes worth of unnecessary scenes to wrap the film up in a bow it does not need.

The other hinderance to the film is, sad as it is to say, the cast: Simply put, a lot of the cast either does not work as these characters or do not get the chance to shine. The aforementioned Armie Hammer does a fine enough job as Maxim, but can't manage to make his character likable enough for the audience to want to see the second Mrs. De Winter stick with him. Lily James, who I had only seen in Baby Driver prior to this, is decent, but lacks the charm and resilience I felt Joan Fontaine brought to the character in Hitchcock's adaptation. Kristin Scott Thomas is probably the closest to a standout as Mrs. Danvers and does a good job, but I don't feel the film (or rather the screenplay) affords her the same opportunities to truly shine that Judith Anderson got in her turn in the role. That's no fault of Thomas, though, as it doesn't feel to me like any actor really gets to properly shine in this version.

Kristin Scott Thomas & Lily James as Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. De Winter

However, despite the faults of the film, there's still sights to behold in Rebecca. Literally, as the main appeal of the film in my opinion is its production values. In addition to the set design of Manderley itself being fantastic (I wish I had some proper photos to expound on this, but alas), another visual aspect that also stands out is the film's use of color: The film begins as its source material does, with Manderley on fire, and then cuts to the second Mrs. De Winter at the chronological beginning of the story. From there on out, the film associates the character with warm colors, especially yellow and red, and it creates a truly gorgeous color palette for the scenes following her in Monte Carlo as she juggles her work for Mrs. Van Hopper with her burgeoning romance with Maxim. It's a delight to watch these scenes, especially as they set the stage for what's to come when the De Winters arrives at Manderley. Throughout most of the Manderley scenes, lots of dark and dreary colors are used to convey the influence the departed Rebecca has left in her absence, as well as having an association with the power Mrs. Danvers has over the home. Several scenes feature warm and bleak colors clashing, illustrating the struggle for control between the two Mrs. De Winters in a way that makes you wish the rest of the film was on par with its stylized visage.

In the end, while this version of Rebecca may lack the substance of its source material and predecessor adaptation, it's still worth a watch for its stunning style alone.

The De Winters in happier times.

Friday, October 16, 2020

New Flesh: Tales of Halloween (2015)

The Film: Tales of Halloween (2015)

What Is It About?: Tales of Halloween is a collection of ten short segments all set within the same suburban town on Halloween Day and connected via the narration of the town's local radio host (Adrienne Barbeau). The plots of the segments are as follows:

    1.) Sweet Tooth -> Young Mikey (Daniel DiMaggio), fresh off of trick or treating, is told a story by his babysitter's boyfriend Kyle (Austin Falk) about Sweet Tooth: A child who was banned from eating any of the candy by his parents and then, upon discovering his parents eating his candy, took revenge on them to reclaim his treats. According to Kyle, Sweet Tooth has been on the prowl ever since for more candy to eat, something that sends a scared Mikey off to bed. Little does Mikey know that, despite Kyle scaring him so that he could have alone time with babysitter Lizzy (Madison Iseman), he have been unintentionally protected by Kyle as danger arrives...

    2.) The Night Billy Raised Hell -> Another kid, Billy (Marcus Eckert), gets dared by his older sister's boyfriend (Ben Stillwell) to prank their neighbor Mr. Abbadon (Barry Bostwick). Just as he's about to go through with the prank, he is caught by Mr. Abbadon. From there, Mr. Abbadon makes Billy accompany him as he performs a series of escalating violent pranks throughout the neighborhood, leaving Billy in a precarious position at the end of the night.

3.) Trick -> A group of friends are spending Halloween night hanging out and toking while watching Night of the Living Dead. When trick or treaters arrive, one of the friends, Nelson (Trent Haaga), answers the door. Instead of being asked for candy, Nelson is attacked and killed by the children at the door. The other friends must fight for their lives against the killer kids, but not all is what it seems as the friends have a secret of their own.

4.) The Weak and The Wicked -> A standoff occurs between a teenager, Jimmy (Keir Gilchrist), and three older bullies (Grace Phipps, Booboo Stewart & Noah Segan). As Jimmy tries to put an end to the cruelty of the bullies, the bullies chase and fight him throughout town. Everything leads up to a surprising ace up Jimmy's sleeve, one that he plays to put a stop to the bullies once and for all.

5.) Grim Grinning Ghost -> At a Halloween party, a woman (Lin Shaye) shares a ghost story about a woman named Mary Bailey, who was bullied for her appearance throughout her life and now wanders the mortal plane as a spirit claiming the eyesight of those who see her. After the party, the woman's daughter Lynn (Alex Essoe) travels back to her home. Along the way, she faces escalating complications that may or may not be caused by Mary Bailey herself, seemingly determined to make Lynn her next victim...

6.) Ding Dong -> A married couple, Jack (Marc Senter) and Bobbie (Pollyanna McIntosh) are childless. Bobbie wants a child, while Jack doesn't feel the same due to Bobbie's abusive streak. On Halloween, the two put on their best game faces to greet the neighborhood children as they trick or treat. While Bobbie plots to try to steal a child for herself, it's up to Jack to prevent her from enacting her plan and escape Bobbie once and for all.

7.) This Means War -> Two neighbors, Boris (Dana Gould) and Dante (James DuVal), embark in a competition over who can attract more attention to their Halloween-decorated homes. The rising tension between the two turns into a full-blown brawl with surprising consequences for the pair.

8.) Friday The 31st -> A killer (Nick Principe) chases a woman (Amanda Moyer) throughout a farm with the intent on murdering her. Despite the woman's best efforts, she is murdered by the killer. However, after the arrival of a new party, the killer finds the tables turned and that he must run and fight for his own life now.

9.) The Ransom of Rusty Rex -> Two petty criminals, Hank (Sam Witwer) and Dutch (Jose Pablo Cantillo) enact a plan of theirs to kidnap one Rusty Rex (Ben Woolf). Hank and Dutch desire to hold Rusty hostage in exchange for a hefty ransom payment from Rusty's millionaire father, Jebediah (John Landis). Much to their surprise, Jebediah is overjoyed that Rusty has been kidnapped and insists on Hank and Dutch keeping him for themselves. The confused duo soon learn exactly why Jebediah is overjoyed at being rid of Rusty as the younger Rex reveals his true nature to the criminals.

10.) Bad Seed -> Local detective McNally (Kristina Klebe) is tasked with investigating a series of murders happening throughout Halloween night. She comes to discover that the culprits are none other than pumpkins that have come alive to kill humans and raise hell. Will McNally get to the bottom of what's behind the pumpkins, or will she be the next victim?

Why Do I Recommend it?

The most wonderful time of the year has finally begun! No, not Christmas season, but rather October! With Halloween quickly approaching, a lot of horror fans tend to binge watch as many horror films as they can get their hands on. And, if they're like, they want a little bang for their buck in terms of quantity; that's why the theme for this month's content is all about horror anthologies, including Tales of Halloween.

Tales of Halloween is an obviously stacked film, considering the plot synopsis may be the longest one I've ever written. So, let's get the bad out of the way first: Like most anthologies, the segments are hit or miss. While there are more hits, the misses are still misses. The more comedic segments, such as "This Means War" and "The Night Billy Raised Hell" tend to be the weaker ones as they don't gel well with the rest of the movie and tend to be more focused on goofiness than anything else. They aren't necessarily terrible, but they would be better served in another anthology that is more overtly horror/comedy than Tales of Halloween. The other major fault to be found in the film is, because of the sheer number of stories it's trying to tell, the short length given to each story doesn't always do them justice. While segments like "Trick" and "Friday The 31st" work fine, others like "Ding Dong" and especially "Bad Seed" feel like clips of stories rather than actual short stories and leave you wanting more.

There is a lot of good to be found within Tales of Halloween, however: For starters, there's more hits than misses: "Grim Grinning Ghost", written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, is a master class in how to create atmosphere and fear within mere minutes, starting with a classic ghost story provided by Lin Shaye's character and ending with ramping up fear with repeated subverted jump scares until the inevitable finally happens to poor Lynn. "The Weak & The Wicked" successfully embeds Western genre elements into the horror short to create a loaded tension between the protagonist and the trio of antagonists. One that worsens as the trio chases and hunts down protagonist Jimmy, with the intent on killing him, but provides for relief when Jimmy overcomes and vanquishes the bullies for good. "Bad Seed", despite being too short for my liking, is a successful example of the film balancing horror and comedy: The ridiculousness of the basic premise of killer pumpkins attacking humans is balanced by the sheer amount of violence the pumpkins wreak, as well as the levity brought by Kristina Klebe's performance as detective McNally.

The best of the Tales of Halloween

Another fun component of Tales of Halloween is the sheer amount of talent in front of the screen, often serving as a "Where's Waldo"-esque game of familiar horror veterans. Some are up and front as the leads of the segments, including Barry Bostwick from Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pollyanna McIntosh of The Woman and The Walking Dead fame, Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Doctor Sleep, and Kristina Klebe from The Devil's Carnival: Alleluia! and Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. A lot, however, are cameos spread out throughout the film: Some are obvious, such as Adrienne Barbeau as the film's de facto narrator, a homage to her iconic role from The Fog, as well as the aforementioned Lin Shaye giving a tip of the hat to her character in the Insidious franchise. Some you have to look for, such as Felissa Rose from Sleepaway Camp's brief appearance in "Ding Dong", Robert Rusler and Caroline Williams of Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 respectively can be found in "Sweet Tooth" as the titular character's abusive parents, and Jack Dylan Grazer from the remake of It in an early role as the younger version of "The Weak & The Wicked"'s protagonist. There's even some appearances from horror creators such as Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris sprinkled in for good measure.

Some of the familiar faces within Tales of Halloween

Some more of the joy of Tales of Halloween is a quality that I wrote about before in last month's recommendation for Detention: Tales of Halloween is a very versatile film that, despite having that uneven segment quality, will probably have something to offer to any horror fan. The directors' differing mix of genres allows for, on a base level, appeals to different types of fans: There's straightforward horror in segments such as "Sweet Tooth", "Trick" and "Grim Grinning Ghost", varying measures of comedic horror in segments like "The Night Billy Raised Hell", "This Means War", and "The Ransom of Rusty Rex," and then delves into other genres such as Westerns with "The Weak & The Wicked" and dramas with "Ding Dong". In terms of the actual content, there is also a lot of versatility: Besides the wide arrange of actors that each have their own fanbases, you have content that, again, not unlike Detention can appeal to most. Whether it be serial killers, demons, witches, aliens, a minotaur, evil children or even monstrous pumpkins, there is likely going to be something for anyone who likes horror here.

The versatility of the monsters/stories in Tales of Halloween

So, while Tales of Halloween isn't one hundred percent consistent, it's still a fun assortment of content, especially for horror fans seeking an entertaining anthology for the spooky season among us.

Available on: Tubi, Shudder, Amazon & iTunes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The 80s Horror Fairy Tale That Never Was

(Every month, I choose a horror film to shine a spotlight on and dig into. For the month of September, I selected the iconic 1984 slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street.)

Once upon a time, there was a story about a young girl named Nancy. Nancy lived in the land of Springwood with her three little friends Glen, Rod and Tina. Little did the four know that they were about to come under siege by a tyrant. One that Nancy's guardians, Donald and Marge, tried and failed to shield her from. One by one, Nancy's friends fell: First Tina, then Rod, then finally Glen. It all came down to Nancy to fight against the tyrant and face her fears once and for all, especially after the tyrant's destruction of her guardian Marge. Something Nancy was able to accomplish, once she learned how to properly face her fears: By reclaiming all of the energy she had given to the tyrant, she would not only be able to defeat the tyrant but also revive her fallen friends and guardian. Once she did that, the tyrant was vanquished, the fallen were revived and Nancy lived happily ever after. The end.

Except, that's not how the story ended.

When Wes Craven initially wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street, he conceived of his story to stand alone. It was to end with a happy ending where protagonist Nancy would succeed in defeating antagonist Fred Krueger and awaken to find her mother and friends happy and healthy and decidedly alive. However, one of the film's producers, Robert Shaye, insisted on removing the intended ending and replacing it with a new twist ending in which not only was Nancy still stuck in her dreams, but that she ultimately failed in her efforts to defeat Fred. Something that would ensure Craven's property would become a franchise rather than the singular entity he desired. Shaye ultimately succeeded in accomplishing this, and transformed Elm Street into a successful franchise that spawned seven sequels, a remake, a television spin-off and countless merchandise. However, when one views the original film with Craven's intended ending in mind, they can see that Shaye's ending disrupts the intentions of Craven's vision for the film: For it to be a cinematic fairy tale. Something that can be clearly seen when analyzing the film's use of tropes commonly associated with fairy tales, Jungian archetypes and the moral lessons Craven embedded within the film's screenplay.

Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) welcomes you to this reading

Best in Class: Horror Youth Superlatives

If there's one thing that's no secret to people who know me, it's that I love well-done movies about youths. To the point where I've considered making a separate blog just to take a stab at writing some essays about my love for the likes of films such as Jawbreaker and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Whether it's about teenagers or young adults, just do it well and I'll be giving it a watch at some point. So, as a fun Buzzfeed-style post for my Back to School Month content, I thought it'd be fun to commemorate some of the best youths in horror films. Those who saved the day, gave the best attitude or simply went out in a blaze of glory. Hit the jump to see what superlatives these youths will receive:

Friday, September 18, 2020

On The Chopping Block: Spiral (2020)

The main characters of Spiral, in better times

Representation matters.

That's the old mantra, right? Meant to address the importance of minority groups wanting to see themselves reflected on the screen, both big and little. It's definitely on my mind, being a big ol' homo, and a large part of why I was really excited when I learned about Spiral late last year. Most of the time, queer men don't get to be in the spotlight in horror films. As I discussed back in June with my write-up on Into The Dark's "Midnight Kiss", the only other horror films I knew of with queer men as the main characters besides that one were Hellbent and Killer Unicorn. Otherwise, it's usually just relegated to subtext, reading between the lines, however you want to put it. So, I knew I had to seek out Spiral whenever it came out, which it finally did on Thursday on Shudder. Especially as I was happy to see that the main character and half of the gay couple would also be black, as queer men of color are seen even less on screen than their white counterparts. 

Now, I've seen many make the comparison to Jordan Peele's film Get Out. Certainly Get Out was an influence, what with both films revolving around an interracial couple going into suburbia and at least one part of said couple having to deal with prejudiced folks who have an insidious agenda. However, another piece of media stuck out more in my mind as perhaps a more apt comparison: American Horror Story: Cult. Both Spiral and Cult deal with a gay couple with a child becoming the target of their neighborhood's nefarious schemes, both even getting marked for doom (Spiral's Malik and Aaron with a, what else, spiral and Cult's Ally and Ivy with a smiley face). Malik, like Ally, is gaslit to the max by the other characters and the story largely revolves around him trying to figure out what is actually going on, much like Cult revolved around Ally learning the truth about the titular cult. Both also address homophobia, albeit Spiral does in more depth as its a singular eighty seven minute film versus an eleven episode limited series with more going on.

Which brings us to what I love talk about a lot on here: The acting. While Spiral actually has a good cast with no one actually turning in a bad performance, the film ultimately belongs to its star, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. I had Bowyer-Chapman in a couple things prior to this, 2012's The Skinny, a dramedy revolving around a group of black queer friends, and, funny enough, the eighth season of American Horror Story, subtitled Apocalypse. This is the first time I've seen Bowyer-Chapman in a true lead role and, what do you know, he actually does a pretty good job with it! The character of Malik requires an actor able to create a large sense of interiority, as Malik is traumatized over a hate crime from his adolescence in which bigots beat his then-boyfriend to death. As well as trying to work on a writing about a professor, all while dealing with the horrors that unfold as the movie carries on. Bowyer-Chapman does just that, often conveying Malik's inner thoughts with his expressive face. The role also requires Bowyer-Chapman to deliver a lot of extreme emotions, including fear for his and his family's lives throughout, as well as sorrow when Aaron refuses to believe him that something is going on as well as accusing him of cheating when he's presented with photographs of Malik cheating with neighbor Matthew. Bowyer-Chapman shows a skill that I hope allows him to play more meaty parts in the future.

Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman as Malik

I also think that the film is well shot by director Kurtis David Harder and cinematographer Bradley Stuckel. While I have not seen either of the men's previous credits, they give Spiral a mostly good visual style that's marked with numerous slow panning shots that often serve to highlight an item and create a sense of dread. I say mostly good, because there are certain scenes that are shot in the vein of a Saw sequel with lots of blurring and fast editing to convey the headspace of the character, in this case Malik as he realizes that his medication is being tampered with and he's being drugged. While I'm not a fan of this, I suppose the context allows for it. The rest of the cinematography is great though, with one particular shot that really stands out being from a scene early on: Shortly after dinner with Kayla, we see Malik and Aaron having a conversation about the move and their hopes for their new environment. The way the scene is framed, we see Malik's in the doorway, while Aaron is blocked off through a window framing. It's not too dramatic of a scene, but it's a great way to show the film's audience the dynamic of Malik and Aaron's relationship without having the characters say anything.

Where the film's weakest points come in is its screenplay: Written by Colin Minihan and John Poliquin, the screenplay is fine, but there are some shortcomings. These do not include the implications that there are more extensive components to the antagonists' plans, however, as I'm certain we don't see more of that due to budgetary limitations. What I'm referring to is the nature of the Aaron character: Throughout the film, it seems as if he's being set up as another villain and in on the ultimate plan that Malik is trying to decipher. However, nothing ever comes of that and he ultimately just comes off as a somewhat gullible asshole who we don't really get to know. The screenplay also breezes over certain plot points, such as the aforementioned discovery of photographs of Malik and Matthew. The photographs imply that Malik, who proclaims his innocence and we later learn is being drugged, was potentially sexually assaulted by Matthew. Yet the film never addresses this potential violation again, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It also doesn't do much to address the potential racism Malik would face, aside from one scene where neighbor Tiffany mistakes him for Aaron's gardener. While I understand the film wants to tackle homophobia, it should've done at least a little more to address the intersectionality that comes with Malik.

Overall, despite the screenplay lacking in certain areas, Spiral is still a good, bleak, queer thriller with style and a great starring turn from Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, one that's worth seeking out on Shudder now.

Malik, making a most disturbing discovery...

Friday, September 11, 2020

Performance Piece: Billie Lourd, "Scream Queens: Sorority Row" (2015)

The performer: Billie Lourd

The performance: Playing Chanel #3 (A.K.A. Sadie Swenson) in the first season of Scream Queens, originally subtitled "Sorority Row" (2015)

Why her?

Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens came and went: Premiering in the fall of 2015 with much hype, then getting cancelled at the end of the following year after two brief seasons with little fanfare. However, almost four years after its conclusion, the series has managed to live on with a cult following including yours truly. Scream Queens connected with me in a way that I never expected, what with its surprisingly clever references to films both horror and not, humor and mystery that resonated with me, and a memorably offbeat set of characters that carried the show even through its weaker points. While there are several standouts in Scream Queens's first season ensemble, a surprising scene stealer turned out to be one of villain protagonist Chanel Oberlin's (Emma Roberts) minions: Chanel #3, played by up and comer Billie Lourd.

Billie Lourd as Chanel #3 in Scream Queens

Thursday, September 10, 2020

On The Chopping Block: The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)

Let me give a quick preface: I discovered the original Babysitter pretty late in the game: Over a year after its original release on Netflix, in fact, via a recommendation from someone I met through social media. After watching the film, I instantly fell in love with it. It's not a perfect movie, but its Scream-esque mixture of horror tropes with meta humor and pop cultures, along with its choice of the charismatic Samara Weaving to play the titular role of antagonist babysitter Bee, won me over instantly. I even followed Bee and babysittee Cole's (Judah Lewis) lead and made my own "intergalactic dream team" of six Sci Fi characters I'd want to fight evil alongside, which I posted in my original Letterboxd review of the first movie here. So, obviously, when a sequel was announced with everybody coming back sans Weaving, I was intrigued, albeit cautiously. Would The Babysitter 2, or The Babysitter: Killer Queen as it's now titled, succeed?

Luckily, it actually does a fine job of living up to the original and my expectations. Taking place two years after the original, we follow an older Cole as he struggles to deal with the aftermath of what went down in the first film: His parents and school, minus his friend/crush from the original Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), all think he's unhinged, and Bee and her followers have imprinted on him to the point where he's formed a friend group that's a subtle mirror of Bee and her group. Determined to get out of his comfort zone, Cole tags along with Melanie and their new friends Jimmy (Maximilian Acevedo), Diego (Juliocesar Chavez) and Boom Boom (Jennifer Foster) for a party on Jimmy's uncle's boat. After a round of two minutes in Heaven with Melanie, Cole is prodded by the others for details on what happened in the closet with Melanie. Then for details on what happened two years ago with Bee and her cult and then, well...

Shit hits the fan.

They're back: Andrew Bachelor, Bella Thorne & Robbie Amell as John, Allison and Max

Killer Queen takes what was laid out in its predecessor and escalates it: The scope is bigger and badder than the original, and director McG boosts the blood and gore and the pop culture references to new highs. In fact, one could make quite the drinking game out of how many times the sequel refers to its status as such via references to Terminator 2, both through the dialogue and through plot points. The returns of original cast members Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Hana Mae Lee and Bella Thorne as Bee's former followers are repeatedly likened to T2's antagonist T-1000, and Cole's new ally Phoebe (Jenna Ortega) is compared Sarah Connor more than once. The film also calls back to several jokes from the original and surges them, including the stupidity of Thorne's Alison, the clueless nature of Cole's parents (Ken Marino & Leslie Bibb), and the objectification of Amell's Max. A lot of this actually works and results in some memorable scenes, with examples being Max being shown so perpetually shirtless that a flashback shows him getting chewed out by a Karen for working at a fast food joint without a shirt on and Bachelor's John celebrating his surviving more of the sequel than the original as "some progressive Jordan Peele shit."  

However, not everything about Killer Queen works: Too much time is devoted to an ultimately useless subplot revolving around Cole's father and Melanie's father (Chris Wylde) trying to track down their kids to the point where I suspect the crew just wanted to give Marino more to do than in the original. The subplot of Cole and Phoebe's burgeoning romance also doesn't work as well as it should: While Lewis and Ortega have chemistry, the film seems to think that the multiple scenes of the two dancing and making time to Sugarhill Gang's "Jump On It" is a lot funnier than it actually is. In addition to this, the twist of Melanie as the new Big Bad and Bee's replacement falls flat for me, especially since her explanation of her motivation is reduced to a single line about wanting to be an influencer that doesn't land (as do a lot of the 2020-specific pop culture jokes, including a Tiger King namedropping from Cole's mom that made me cringe). While I do enjoy Lind as an actor, Melanie ultimately fails to live up to Weaving's Bee, and, along with the other new villains, gets overshadowed by those returning from the original (Especially Amell, whose character I could legitimately watch an entire movie about.)

In the end, though, The Babysitter: Killer Queen is a fine sequel and worth a watch, especially if you were a fan of the original 2017 film. Despite its flaws, there's still lots of laughs to be had, violent and bloody deaths and fights to be witnessed and, if the ending is anything to go by, potentially more story on the horizon.

The stars of The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Oh, and one more thing: For the tl;dr crowd who just wants to know if Weaving really doesn't return: She does indeed make a return, and with more time on screen than I anticipated.

Friday, September 4, 2020

New Flesh: Detention (2011)

The Film: Detention (2011)

What Is It About?

After an extended introduction to Grizzly Lake High's resident B.I.T.C.H. (That's Beauty, Intelligence, Talent, Charisma, Hoobastank, F.Y.I.!) Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods), and her subsequent murder at the hands of masked killer Cinderhella (who is also the killer at the center of a slasher franchise within a slasher), we are introduced to the rest of Grizzly Lake High's student body. This includes the sullen vegetarian Riley (Shanley Caswell), slacker skater boy Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), clueless dork Sander (Aaron David Johnson), vapid Ione (Spencer Locke) and asshole jock Billy (Parker Bagley) among others. As these teenagers deal with the drama that comes with their senior year of high school, they must also contend with not only Cinderhella trying to kill them all, but also with escalating incidents involving aliens and UFOs, time travel, time loops, body swapping, and, worst of all, the school principal (Dane Cook) locking them in Saturday detention the night of the school's senior prom to try to weasel out the killer himself.

Why Do I Recommend it?

Two months in a row writing recommendations for lesser known teen slasher films? It's more likely than you think!

Fortunately, Detention is more than just another teen slasher film. It has to be, since it throws just about everything it can think of at you over the course of its ninety minute runtime. Something that surprisingly works in the movie's favor, as it ensures that there's something for everybody within the film: Are you a slasher fan? The film provides you with Cinderhella, the killer that's copying the popular slasher within a slasher Cinderhella 2: Beauty Scream. More into sci fi horror? As the film progresses, the film leans into those elements harder, evolving from mere UFO jokes to including Elliot Fink (Walter Perez), a character who has been stuck in a detention-based time loop since 1992, a taxidermied bear that doubles as a time machine and a Freaky Friday homage to explain why exactly Ione has distanced herself from former best friend Riley and keeps making 90's references. Want some teen drama to help the horror be palatable? There's the love square plot consisting of Sander's determination to win over Riley, who's pining for Clapton, who's dating Ione, in addition to the side romance between Toshiba (Jonathan Park) and Mimi (Tiffany Boone). And if you want some comedy, well, if the descriptions already provided didn't clue in, this movie is absolutely insane and is full of comedy.

Detention is also full of a surprisingly slick style, courtesy of director/co-writer Joseph Kahn. Kahn is primarily known for his extensive catalog of music videos, having directed them since the beginning of the 90's. He's worked with some of the most popular current musicians, including Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson. Here is one of many examples of his work:

Kahn uses his extensive experience with music video to create several sections of the film that could essentially be more music videos. Compare the section of Detention that reveals Elliot's time loop below to the Britney Spears example above and you will see how his experience allows for Detention to express major plot developments with just a montage set to music.

It's also easy to see that, despite the fact that Detention isn't a super well-known film to the general public, the film and Kahn's style specifically have made their mark and influenced other parts of horror media. Compare the film's opening sequence introducing (and killing) Taylor to this scene from Ryan Murphy's 2015 horror comedy series Scream Queens that introduces the series's resident mean girls, the Chanels:

In addition to what Kahn brings to the table with his direction and the script he wrote with screenwriter Mark Palmero, it would be remiss of me to not mention the capable cast that brings it all to life. Caswell and Hutcherson, as Riley and Clapton, make for capable and likable leads. Hutcherson, especially, brings a lot of his natural charm to a role that could otherwise be kind of annoying in another actor's hands, as he makes Clapton's languid attitude and subplot involving a feud with Billy humorous and even endearing. However, it's co-star Locke whom ends up stealing the show as both Ione as well as the younger version of Ione's mother Sloan. Like Hutcherson, Locke takes a role that could be annoying, what with Ione's constant 90's references including claiming Cinderhella 2 is the "best movie since Volcano!" and her antagonism of Riley that includes insisting she would be a final girl instead of Riley due to the latter's lack of money, and makes her extremely entertaining. Something that's only enhanced when Ione somehow switches bodies with the younger version of her mother in an alien-aided ritual that the movie comically brushes aside and Locke gets to sink her teeth into two roles.

Overall, Detention is a fast-paced, stylized, and insane(ly hilarious) film that exceeds expectations and is deserving of more attention. Between Joseph Kahn's slick directing, Kahn and Mark Palmero's great script and the wonderful ensemble cast bringing it all to life, Detention is just the right choice for anybody wanting to seek out a great teen slasher film.

Available on: Amazon & iTunes

Monday, August 31, 2020

Viewing The Ruins: How Carter Smith's Film Plays With Spectatorship & Stereotyping

(Every month, I choose a horror film to shine a spotlight on and dig into. For the month of August, I selected the underrated 2008 film The Ruins.)

Carter Smith's 2008 film The Ruins seems like a rather traditional horror film on the surface: The film follows two American couples, Jeff and Amy and Stacy and Eric, as they go on a summer vacation to Mexico. While enjoying themselves, they meet fellow tourists Mathias and Dimitri, whom inform them of Mathias's search for his missing brother. The group's search takes them to where Mathias claims he last heard his brother was located: A set of ancient Mayan ruins. When the group approaches the titular ruins, they are confronted by a tribe of indigenous people whom only speak Mayan and appear antagonistic as they quickly attack the group, resulting in Dimitri's death. The remaining five are forced to stay on top of the ruins, all of them under the assumption that the Mayan tribe is out to kill them for trespassing onto the ruins and their inability to communicate otherwise. However, what they soon discover is that the tribe has an entirely different motive for trapping them on top of the titular ruins, and that the tribe itself is not the real danger they face. By tinkering with its use of the concepts of stereotyping and spectatorship, The Ruins manages to create a subversive experience that leaves you guessing as to who you are meant to be identifying with and rooting for.

Amy (Jena Malone) in full American tourist mode in The Ruins

Friday, August 21, 2020

Peeping Tom: The Lost Boys (1987)

What is the appeal of The Lost Boys?

That's a question I found myself asking in a rather sarcastic manner as I began my to rewatch Joel Schumacher's famous film for the first time in a good ten years. I had written it off on my original viewing when I was a teenager (ironically when I was a part of the film's target audience), but found that this time, I was feeling what Schumacher was putting down. To the point where my question as to the what the appeal of Lost Boys shifted from sarcastic to genuinely inquisitive. I found myself intrigued with the film's visuals to the point where I gave it the slot formerly occupied by Texas Chain Saw Massacre as this month's entry into my Peeping Tom series. Because I believe part of, if not the, answer to my question lies within the creative decisions made by Schumacher and the film crew. Specifically, with regards to the visual presentation of the film's main story revolving around protagonist Michael (Jason Patric) and the influences that came with making the film during the 1980's.

Welcome to Santa, Santa Carla

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Performance Piece: Paris Hilton, House of Wax (2005)

The performer: Paris Hilton

The performance: Playing "Paige Edwards" in the second remake of House of Wax (2005)

Why her?

Let me start off by saying: This isn't going to be like the first few Performance Piece entries have been. While I knew I was going to cover the 2005 version of House of Wax at some point for Cruel Summer Month, I decided later on to dissect one of its more (if not its most) controversial elements: The casting of Paris Hilton. I've touched upon the controversy surrounding Hilton's forays into acting briefly when I discussed Repo! The Genetic Opera during my Hot Take post from last month. Let me reiterate though: Basically, people hate them some Hilton, to the point where she won a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance in this movie. While I am not in the business of full-on defending Hilton (Except for her Repo! performance, because I find her legitimately effective in that), I did want to rewatch House of Wax and see if her performance was truly Razzie-level bad. So, instead of measuring what makes a performance so great as I have before, this month's Performance Piece is going to be an investigation of sorts. One into whether or not Hilton truly was that bad or not.

Paris Hilton as Paige in House of Wax

Thursday, August 6, 2020

New Flesh: The Burning (1981)

The Film: The Burning (1981)

What Is It About?

The Burning revolves around camper Todd (Keith Mandell), whom starts the film off by reluctantly joining his fellow campers in pranking the camp caretaker Cropsy (Lou David) by lighting a skull on fire in his shack. Unfortunately, the prank goes awry when the lit skull ends up setting the entire shack, along with Cropsy, on fire. The end result of the botched prank leaves the caretaker nearly dead and heavily burnt. However, five years later, Cropsy has finally recovered enough to be released from hospital care. Right after he murders a nameless hooker, Cropsy decides to take out his fury by going on a killing spree at another summer camp. Among those targeted include the older Todd (now played by Brian Matthews), Michelle (Leah Ayres), Alfred (Brian Backer), Dave (Jason Alexander), Glazer (Larry Joshua) and Sally (Carrick Glenn). Can the teens defeat Cropsy before he kills all of them with his signature gardening sheers?

Why Do I Recommend it?

I'll start this off with a confession that will become relevant in a bit: I'm not the biggest fan of Friday The 13th. I think that if you took away the Betsy Palmer of it all (which is legitimately great), it wouldn't be as fondly regarded by some as it is. I understand that the Friday films have a large following, and I respect that and am not trying to insult them or the film. But, for the beginning of a month of content I'm dubbing Cruel Summer Month, I wanted to expose those not in the know to an alternative to Friday that I prefer and that was actually constructed before the former's release: The Burning

What about The Burning makes me prefer it over Friday? The first thing that comes to mind is that I find The Burning's cast to be more memorable than Friday's cast: While writing the plot summary, I found that I was able to name most of the characters from The Burning above from memory alone. Whereas with Friday, I could not tell you the names of anyone besides the Voorhees or Kevin Bacon. In The Burning, despite the film ultimately following the slasher trope of the characters each having a defining character trait, you still have a solid cast. Including the film's final boy Todd, who is shown as a supportive and inquisitive man towards others, and one who was affected by participating in the prank that disfigured Cropsy. Even if he tries to justify it by highlighting that Cropsy was a sadist that loved to scare him and the other youths. He has a solid rapport with Alfred, a new and younger camper whom has issues connecting with others. Alfred is taken under Todd's wing and the film ends up coming down to the two of them being the ones who need to stop Cropsy together. Also in the cast are aggressive asshole Glazer, bitchy Michelle, cautious Sally and, of course, The Burning's answer to Friday's use of young Kevin Bacon: Comedic relief Dave, who is played by a pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.

The cast of The Burning

And then there's Cropsy, the film's answer to the Voorheeses. Cropsy, as a villain, is an interesting case because he's sort of a combination of both villains from the Friday franchise: He shares Pamela's motive of revenge, in his case against the campers who disfigured him and ruined his life, while he was the actual victim in all of this, like Jason was. However, what really separates Cropsy from Pamela and Jason is that the character is mean. Not only was that stated to be the reason the prank was performed in the first place, but even after Cropsy recovers after years in the hospital, he's still a cruel character. His first action after being released from the hospital is to go kill a hooker for no real reason other than he wants to blow off some steam. Then, when he returns to camp and begins killing youths, there are some truly nasty murders he commits. A highlight being when he murders five youths on a raft trying to find the group's canoes that have been stolen from them. Not only does he murder every single one of them in swift succession, but it's done in bloody detail. When Cropsy finally gets his in the end, you will be cheering against him to finally die.

Lou David as Cropsy, before and after his burning

In addition to the cast, mention must be given to the film's wonderful technical aspects: For a cult slasher, this film has a surprising amount of good work put into it. Among the highlights are the wonderful prosthetic makeup provided by the legendary Tom Savini, which really adds a lot to the film. Without Savini's contributions, we wouldn't have the splendid practical gore effects present throughout all of the death scenes in this film. A huge part of why that raft massacre I mentioned earlier works is because of Savini's work that really highlights the horror of it. Not to mention that Savini's makeup work for Cropsy really adds to the character's creep factor: While Cropsy is kept in the shadows for the bulk of the film, when he's revealed he's a memorably designed villain and appropriately scary. In addition to the prosthetic makeup, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the film's music score, which I love. Apparently, the man behind the score is Rick Wakeman who is primarily known for his work with the prog rock group Yes. While I've admittedly only heard all of one song by Yes ("Owner of a Lonely Heart"), if Wakeman's work on this movie is indicative of anything, it's that he can make quality music. If you haven't seen the movie, or have and don't remember the score, I urge you to take a listen to it here. It adds a lot of atmosphere to an already good film.  

Some of the blood and gore featured in The Burning

Finally, I think that what is really appealing about The Burning is that, ultimately, I feel like it's a very endearing film to watch, especially during summer. A lot of Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein's (Yes, that Bob Weinstein) screenplay ultimately focuses a lot on what it feels like to be young and trying to have fun during summer. Something that's reflected in the cinematography, which often has some truly gorgeous shots of the summer camp environment and landscape and, in general, a lot of emphasis on the colors orange and red. There's lots of time spent just chilling with the characters before the bodies start to pile up, to the point where it takes almost fifty minutes for the first of the youths to be killed. Instead of immediately killing teens, we get to spend time with the characters as they ride canoes, try to get laid, and tell ghost stories around the campfire. A lot of the characters, especially the guys, have good banter with each other. There's some good dialogue here, including classic lines like "I told you not to beat your schlong last night, it drains your power," "Maybe it's because she likes you, ya dumb bastard!" and the question of "What the hell are we supposed to be looking for anyways?" met with Dave and Woodstock both shouting "Your mother!" Really, as much as The Burning is about seeing a badly burnt caretaker kill youths, it's also about what it was like to be young and have fun in the summer season.

The summer aesthetic of The Burning 

Available on: YouTube & Shudder