Week 3: October 14 – October 20
This week of horror-watching movie fun was impeded by the speed at which Netflix sent me DVDs. It’s a mere bump in the road to be sure, but the fact of the matter is that it can be difficult to find a substantial number of these movies on streaming services or On Demand (which has the additional downside of costing at least a couple bucks per movie to use…not necessarily a bad deal, but those dollars add up when you’re watching one movie a day). That’s why I stream what I can and get DVDs for what’s not available online. I own a few too, so I try to time my movie-watching experience around the arrival of movies in the mail. As a result, it can be frustrating when the post office (or Netflix itself) takes longer than it should to send me the next film. I’m lucky that my parents are nice enough to volunteer their Netflix services as well, often driving each DVD over to my house when they get it, thus allowing me to watch twice as many non-streaming horror flicks.
But enough of my epic battle with Netflix, let’s move on to the real horrors of the week. I’ve made it past the halfway mark and reached that moment when I realize I’m running out of time. There are still so many previously unwatched movies that I’ve saved the entire year solely for the purpose of watching them now, as well as those tried-and-true favorites I watch every year (or, for some of them, at least once every few years) that I still need to get to. I’m trying my best to maintain a balance between the two, but the struggle is real, folks.
This week I went back and forth between realistic horrors (like racism and being terrorized in your own home) and fantastical ones (like ghosts and monsters). Let’s get to it, shall we?
Title: Get Out
Year Released: 2017
First viewing: No
My tagline: Don’t go in…you may never get out.
Summary: When an African-American man is introduced to his white girlfriend’s family, he is accepted with smiles and open arms, but their reception is a little too welcoming.
Terror trivia: Jordan Peele is the first African-American to win an Oscar for best original screenplay.
My reaction: There was so much buzz surrounding this that I’m sure even those who wouldn’t typically go to a horror movie have probably seen it. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t, I’d highly recommend you watch it as soon as possible because it’s exceedingly well done…the fact that it’s a horror movie is almost irrelevant. It’s so much more than that. Yes, it absolutely works as pure horror, no question about it, but what makes it special is the incredibly unfortunate, undeniably true commentary it makes about how a person’s race affects how he/she is treated in the United States. Not 100 years ago, not 10 years ago, today. Now. The plot relies on the fact that African-Americans are faced with daily indignities, large and small, so much so that many have become accustomed to letting the smaller things go. And it’s the small things that Chris repeatedly brushes aside while spending the weekend with his girlfriend’s family, smiling sadly to himself as his girlfriend privately proclaims her shock and mortification over her loved ones’ behavior. He’s used to this sort of thing and isn’t surprised by it despite her earlier insistence that her parents aren’t racist. And THAT is why he isn’t suspicious to begin with, THAT is why he ignores his growing discomfort, THAT is why he doesn’t get out while he can. The larger problem doesn’t concern whether or not her family is racist, it’s that a racist society has allowed her family to use the system to their advantage. In this case, the true horror lies in the state of the world here and now. Terrifying and deeply troubling, everyone needs to watch this one.
Title: The Innocents
Year Released: 1961
First viewing: No
My tagline: The children are watching.
Summary: Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the story follows an enthusiastic woman as she accepts her first position as a governess for two children. But she soon comes to believe her innocent young charges are not so innocent after all.
Terror trivia: Supposedly the song sang during the opening credits makes a cameo in Samara’s cursed tape in the movie The Ring (I’ve never been able to hear it myself).
My reaction: The movie begins with perhaps the creepiest song sung by the creepiest child in all history. Simple, yet powerful, the a cappella performance of “O Willow Waly” is both dreamlike and disturbing, warning the audience that what they are about to witness will be difficult to watch. Once the opening credits and the eerie song are done, we are introduced to the lovely Miss Giddens in the midst of a job interview. Her warm personality and love of children win over her potential employer, and she is whisked off to his country estate to care for his orphaned niece and nephew. The setting is idyllic, the children delightful, and Miss Giddens easily settles into her new life. But as the strange little things the children do and say begin to nag at her, Miss Giddens comes to believe that they may be under the influence of malevolent spirits, and decides she must take action to save their souls. This is an old-fashioned ghost story, not surprising since the original version was published in the late 1800s, so the plot meanders a bit and the suspense builds slowly but surely. The use of black and white film adds a nice touch to the atmosphere of the piece as well. It’s never quite clear whether Miss Giddens is correct in concluding that the children are possessed; the argument could be made that it’s all in her head. Regardless of whether her instincts are right or not, her utter devotion to the children is obvious, which makes the results of her efforts to save them all the more tragic.
Year Released: 2016
First viewing: Yes
My tagline: What you can’t hear can kill you.
Summary: A deaf writer living in a remote location is terrorized by a masked man who thinks she will be easy prey.
Terror trivia: The title is more appropriate than you realize – there’s less than 15 minutes of spoken dialogue in the entire film.
My reaction: Watching this movie alone at night (especially if you live in the woods) is probably not the best idea. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that while I was fine immediately following the movie, several days later I was convinced I heard someone coughing downstairs, which led to a thorough search of my entire house, weapon in hand (if you can call a paint roller extension pole a weapon). After checking every possible hiding place several times, including some clearly too small to fit a human being, I settled into my movie for the night…but I ended up “sleeping” (I use the term loosely since it was almost impossible to actually sleep) with the pole next to my bed and a flashlight clutched in my hand. I made it through the night (obviously), and while I’m much calmer now, I did another thorough search of the house when I got home from work the next day. Unarmed, this time. Just to pre-reassure myself in the event I heard another odd noise that night.
In any case, I was impressed with this film, which was extremely realistic; I have no doubt something similar has happened in real life (note to self – don’t move to a place so isolated that you can’t see your next door neighbor’s house). The writing was excellent, especially in regards to the characters themselves. All too often I come across writers who attempt to show that their otherwise perfect characters have flaws by having them make a series of incredibly foolish choices instead of writing them as imperfect creatures. Maddie, our heroine, is an impeccably crafted character. Her ability to think ahead is attributed to her profession as a novelist (unnecessary, in my opinion, but it addresses any skepticism viewers might harbor), and as a result, the risks she takes are all carefully calculated. She doesn’t just run screaming into the forest in the hopes of outrunning her attacker, she observes and plans and waits for the right moment to take action. This is yet another movie where you’re holding your breath as your heart races a mile a minute. Because you’re hiding in the dark with her, praying that the two of you make it out alive.
Title: Black Swan
Year Released: 2010
First viewing: No
My tagline: Ballet can be brutal.
Summary: A naïve ballerina fights for the role of a lifetime, determined to make it her own regardless of the cost.
Terror trivia: Sebastian Stan (AKA the actor who plays Bucky Barns in the Marvel Universe) has a small role in this film.
My reaction: Some might argue that this movie doesn’t belong here. I beg to differ. I mean, what’s more horrifying than realizing that in order to achieve that which you desire the most in this world, you must completely transform yourself into someone different? Do you give up on your dream with your identity intact, or succumb to the temptation of becoming something new, something unknown, something dangerous? I’ve always associated this film with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella “The Double,” as the two possess a common theme. In fact, there have been numerous books and movies that focus the idea of a double or doppelgänger, many of which are at least partially ambiguous, leaving the audience to decide how much of the action actually happened and how much of it is imagined. This movie is no exception, as it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy almost from the start, introducing us to the possibility that Nina may have an actual double as well as an imaginary one. By the end, both the audience and Nina herself wonder what exactly she’s done, and to whom, in order to perform the (appropriately) dual roles of the sweet, innocent princess-turned-swan and her evil lookalike in “Swan Lake.” Her struggle throughout the movie is palpable as she strives for perfection in every aspect of her life, and though you may not be a fan of her initial Little Cindy Lou Who-esque voice and timid personality, everyone can identify with Nina’s desire to succeed. It’s both thrilling and heartbreaking to watch her change as the story progresses, her old self in constant battle with the new one that’s emerging. The whole process begs the question, which is the real Nina? Was her old self merely a mask for the seemingly new one that was there all the time, lurking beneath the surface? Or was her old self the true one, defeated by a stronger, more malicious personality that will inevitably burn much too bright for far too brief a time? This captivating character study will have you pondering these questions long after the end credits roll.
Title: The Awakening
Year Released: 2011
First viewing: No
My tagline: The past is full of ghosts, even if you can’t see them.
Summary: A woman who has dedicated her life to exposing psychic charlatans is asked to investigate the possible haunting of a boy’s school in the early 1920s.
Terror trivia: The estate used for the boy’s school is the same one used for Pemberly (Mr. Darcy’s house) in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
My reaction: This ghost story features a character that’s half Fox Mulder and half Dana Scully – she wants to believe (in ghosts) but requires incontrovertible proof (of them). Florence’s quest for such evidence was inspired by the death of someone close to her, and though every potential communication with spirits inevitably ends the same way (with cheap tricks and the living impersonating the dead), she is determined to move forward. Her reputation as a ghost hunter brings a teacher to her doorstep, desperate for help. Rumors of a haunted school are not enough to entice Florence to investigate, but when he informs her that one of the young boys has recently died under mysterious circumstances, she’s persuaded to get involved. I appreciate the fact that Florence possesses a scientific attitude towards ghosts – she’s open to the idea that they exist but needs evidence to accept it – and her experiments reflect the amount of serious thought she’s put into the whole process. Some of the contraptions she uses measure changes in the environment that might signify the presence of a spirit, while others are intended to indicate the presence of a physical being (presumably a living one), so she’s not just looking for the presence or absence of ghosts, she’s trying to completely explain a particular phenomenon. And I love that no matter how much she wants ghosts to be real, no matter how much it hurts her each time she refutes a possible sighting, she refuses to budge on the matter without concrete corroboration. That’s what scientists are supposed to do (as opposed to disregarding their data and doctoring it to support whatever it is they were hoping to prove, something that happens on occasion in the scientific community). But scientists aren’t machines, and Florence’s objectiveness is balanced by her sadness and longing, feelings encapsulated in the movie’s score, particularly the theme song, which subtly pops up whenever the audience needs to be reminded of what she’s lost and why she’s doing what she’s doing. This is a lovely movie with no gore and few (if any) scenes that will make you jump. It’s a great choice that both horror-loving individuals and those less-inclined to horror can enjoy.
Year Released: 2009
First viewing: No
My tagline: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again…
Summary: After a sailing trip takes an unexpected turn, a group of friends finds refuge on a cruise ship that conveniently appears out of nowhere…and is seemingly empty.
Terror trivia: The cruise ship is named after Aeolus, Greek god of the winds and father of Sisyphus.
My reaction: I made passing reference to this movie last week when I mentioned finding hidden gems on “10 Great Horror Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” lists. I was completely fascinated by it the first time I watched it, and it’s become one of my must-watch movies of the season. It’s difficult to say anything about it without giving away the key elements that make it so much fun to watch and re-watch. It’s definitely another one of those “after you watch it once you want to go back and watch it again so you can find all the things you missed the first time around” movies. Some find the plot tedious, but I enjoy it immensely. I wish I could say more, but I fear that to do so would reveal too much of the premise and ruin the surprise. I will give a shout-out to its score, however. Since I was a little girl I’ve always been infatuated with the particular sound that you can only get from an old fashioned music box. The sound of the metal pins plinking the teeth of a metal comb is simply magical to me…and as a result, I immediately fall in love with any song that includes it (like Hannah Peel’s cover of “Tainted Love”). Movie scores sometimes use bells or pianos to produce a similar effect (the score to “Edward Scissorhands” comes to mind), and when you add haunting vocals to the mix, I’m in heaven. “Lullaby,” which plays over the opening credits, is such a song and its tune is repeated in slightly different forms throughout the movie. Haunting and full of despair, it adds a kind of beautiful hopelessness to the film. But that’s all I dare divulge. I can only add this – give it a chance. You’ll thank me when it’s over.
Title: The Ritual
Year Released: 2017
First viewing: Yes
My tagline: I already told you to stay out of the woods…weren’t you listening?
Summary: When a group of friends goes on a hiking trip to honor a late comrade, they find themselves fighting for their lives.
Terror trivia: Two of the actors in this movie also appear in the Alien franchise.
My reaction: Eh. That’s the best I can do with this one – eh. I don’t know if I’m getting bored with the whole “the woods are a scary/dangerous/evil place” thing or what (for the record, I find that hard to believe), but I was thoroughly unimpressed with this movie. I think it’s because I kept waiting for it to take things to the next level, for one of the characters to have some kind of deep, meaningful experience, but alas, that moment never materialized. At the very least I thought the bulk of the action would end up being someone’s nightmare/hallucination/coma fantasy. Nope, it appears that this story is as literal as it gets, which made it a huge disappointment. Don’t get me wrong – done properly I enjoy a good monster movie. But when the monster is finally revealed, it inspires more of a “WTF is that supposed to be?” kind of reaction than a “Holy @#*%! WTF is that?!?” I wasn’t scared, I was confused and mildly annoyed. If you’re looking for a decent horror movie involving hiking/forests, don’t waste your time on this one. Instead, I’d recommend Backcountry, which I watched/reviewed the first week of October. The only other thing I can definitively say about this movie is that it’s one ritual I won’t be repeating next year.
Do you have a movie you’d like to recommend? Do you have any thoughts on the movies I’ve already written about? If so, add your comments below…