“Parasite” art house film review

An international film with domestic relevance. Writer-director Bong Joon-Ho delivers a thought-provoking satire on the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Joon-Ho’s film is perhaps a new interpretation of the Wes Craven cult film The People Under the Stairs with a brilliant message of the lengths one goes to climb out of poverty in a world of massive income and opportunity disparity. For those whom may be worried that you’ll be distracted by the subtitles, you needn’t worry. To be perfectly candid, the visual storytelling and acting is so incredibly good that you won’t need the subtitles to follow the story. You’ve no doubt heard from the various critic circles that this film is a masterpiece, that it’s one of the best films of the year. That hype train is barreling past station after station, will it ever come to a stop? The short answer is not any time soon. But is the hype justified by the cinematic experience? In the opinion of this critic, no. I had incredibly high expectations for this film based upon everything I was hearing and reading, but it just didn’t do it for me. After the brilliant first half of excellently crafted suspense, foreshadowing, and plot setup, the second half loses the intrigue and just takes one convoluted turn after another for the sake of complicating the plot in an effort to make it say more than it actually does. Much of the griping tension is lost by the time the anticlimactic showdown comes to pass. What hampers the execution of the second half is taking too many predictable turns. It’s like a research paper that has a brilliant thesis, background, literature review, and method section, but the results are lacking in advancement. But, what the film lacks in plot execution, it makes up for in lavish visuals and exquisite production design. That house is a character in and of itself! While it may not be the best film of the year, it is one to watch in order to support original, independent stories that are slowly dying because of the increased difficulty to seek funding and theatrical distribution in a world dominated by superheroes, space fantasy, and remakes of animated classics.

Jobless, penniless, and, above all, hopeless, the unmotivated patriarch, Ki-taek, and his equally unambitious family–his supportive wife, Chung-sook; his cynical twenty-something daughter, Ki-jung, and his college-age son, Ki-woo–occupy themselves by working for peanuts in their squalid basement-level apartment. Then, by sheer luck, a lucrative business proposition will pave the way for an insidiously subtle scheme, as Ki-woo summons up the courage to pose as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent Park family. Now, the stage seems set for an unceasing winner-take-all class war. How does one get rid of a parasite? (IMDb)

Where this film shines brightest is the production design, specifically the house and neighborhood designed and built specifically for the film. Honestly, this is on Kubrick levels of cinematic immersion. From a principle photography point of view, this allows for the structures to (1) be designed to accommodate the action, blocking, and general movements of characters (2) externalize emotion or bring to light a reality that lies beyond our naked eye and (3) allow for efficient camera movement, artistic placement, and simply brings the setting in the screenplay to life to the very last detail. As I watched the film, I wondered where they found the perfect basement apartment and upscale house because the locations fit the characters and narrative perfectly. Then when I learned that both locations (not to mention the Ki’s neighborhood) were custom built, then it make sense how it could have been so perfect. That is commitment to narrative integrity right there! From the architecture to the interior design and furnishings, the art direction of this motion picture is astounding! It certainly stands out against the backdrop of most of the films to have hit theatres this year in terms of its visual appeal, scope, and scale of the story.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another film this year that has the brilliant setup that this one has. From the moment the film opens, you are hooked. All throughout the first act, the conflict that we are going to encounter in the second act is setup and foreshadowed with extreme precision. It doesn’t take long to develop these characters as members of South Korean society that are having a tough time climbing out of poverty; furthermore, the first act paints a portrait of a world that appears to be stacked against them. All that changes when a cousin gets one of them hired as a tutor to a wealthy family. For how the rest of the setup unfolds, you’ll just have to watch the film. I appreciate how this film takes the home invasion plot premise to a new level by subverting what we expect from home invasion or heist films. In addition to developing our ensemble cast of central characters, the first act also successfully provides excellent exposition so that the audience never feels lost in this non-english speaking film. Sometimes American audiences can get lost in international films because of the language and cultural barrier. Fortunately, the language is never an issue in this film and there is virtually  character for everyone in the audience to connect or empathize with. From the opening until about midway through the film, the plot is engaging, suspenseful, and the tension ratchets up greatly.

Unfortunately, most of the tension and suspense begins to decline as we near the anticlimactic showdown of the film. This is where the film lost me. Not lost me in that I couldn’t follow it–quite the contrary–I found the latter half of the film predictable and derivative. Gone is the ingenuity that I loved during the first half. There was such genius in the setup that I expected more out of the conflict and resolution. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still enjoyable and even intriguing at times in the second half, but not nearly to the levels it was during the first act. It’s almost as if Joon-Ho did not imagine the ending before writing the second act. There is stark contrast between the precise focus and direction of the first half and the lack of direction in the second half. There are some moments that I want to highlight from the second act though, that I truly liked. There is a scene in which the Park family boy notices that all the newly hired help smell the same. Of course, his parents dismiss that as childish foolishness, but thanks to dramatic irony, we know that he is close to ruining the entire charade.

More than than the film itself, I am mystified by the intense hype train that continues to zoom through social media, picking up new people at every turn. It’s a good film, but I cannot reconcile the motion picture I saw with the proliferated accolades on social media the the web. You’ll hear that this is “the best film of the year,” but just a couple weeks ago, The Lighthouse was the best film of the year, and before that many claimed that Midsommar was the best film of the year. Seems like we get a best film of the year every few weeks. The danger of dissenting opinions on films like Parasite and The Lighthouse is the critic and cinephile establishments seeking to revoke your membership card because your taste is simply not refined enough to appreciate the artistic masterpiece right in front of you. Of course, it is entirely possible that the film is just not AS outstanding as so many want to claim that it is, but jump on that hype train out of fear of missing out or being seen as an outsider. So to that point, I feel that Parasite is a solid film, even excellent in the first act, but the second and third acts hold the film back from its full potential to truly be a masterpiece of cinematic art.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Terminator: Dark Fate” action movie review

Linda Hamilton is back! And that’s all you really need to know about Terminator: Dark Fate. Her return highlights what was missing in the sequels that followed the critically acclaimed and immensely popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day that inspired the former attraction T2-3D at Universal Studios Florida. While this action movie clearly seeks to impress you with its phenomenal visual effects, it also goes back to the gritty character driven plot that made the first two Terminator movies works incredibly well and give them that punch that we expect out of these movies. With the return of Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold, in the role that made him a household name, this movie uses nostalgia–not as a way to live in the past and look back at the good ol’ days–but to move forward. No mistaking it, this movie is filled with adrenaline pumping action from start to finish; but the plot is very much grounded in what made the first two so successful: the characters. Despite having so many futuristic elements, Dark Fate’s storytelling is grounded in a science-fiction that never feels completely out of this world. One might even say that the plot is very much grounded in a plausible reality. When this franchise faced eternal damnation in its own judgement day after several flops, Sarah Connor returns to save the franchise from its own extinction. With Cameron providing a vision for this installment, it is the perfect blend of tentpole plot devices and progressive storytelling. Terminator: Dark Fate erases the previous three movies to fit in nicely after T2:3D.

In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is Grace, a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator. (IMDb)

It should come of no surprise that the number one reason to watch this movie is for the bold, bad ass return of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor! Her mantra may as well be “have bazooka, will travel.” Even though we witnessed the moment she stepped out of the SUV and onto the highway in the trailer, that moment still packs a punch when you watch it in the movie. Although it’s Davis character of Grace that is sent from the future to protect Dani, it really is Hamilton whom saves this movie and the franchise. Both Davis and Hamilton complement one another very well, each adding that special something that this franchise desperately needed. And that something is great, memorable characters. Not only do we have our two intimidating protectors, we also have a new “Sarah/John Connor” character in Natalia Reyes that will steel your heart. Even though Reyes’ Dani is our central character, it is Hamilton and Davis that have the lion’s share of the screentime. And it’s a good thing to, because it is their chemistry that holds this movie together and grounds it in that same abrasive banter that makes the first two movies so endearing. And yes, Connor has some great one-liners, including the franchise’s best-known line “I’ll be back.” Her entrance will undoubtedly evoke uncontrollable cheering throughout the audience for both her character and the actor herself.

The first two movies had extremely well-developed and executed plots, and then the plots and characters went off the rails. Thankfully, under the guidance of Cameron (whom has a co-writer credit), the plot of Dark Fate goes back to its roots of spending a sufficient amount of time setting up the story that is about to unfold. One of the magical parts of screenwriting is the ability to get away with just about anything–and it be believable–if you set it up early enough in the story. From the moment the movie opens, the central conflict in the plot is already being setup for major deliveries later on in the story. Not only do we hop in the wayback machine to a late 90s Sarah and John Connor, we witness that preventing judgment day did not completely protect the Connors from tragedy. Judgment day appears to be “starting all over” to quote the former T2-3D attraction. Although the overall goal of the plot is to stop Judgment Day from happening in the future, there is a secondary goal for both Connor and Grace. That is to protect Grace because she is the key to stopping the malevolent AI in the future. Not because she is a “Mother Mary” figure (much like Sarah was in the original) whom will give birth to the one who would save the world from the machines, but because Dani is to give birth to her own sense of agency that will cause her to become the leader of the resistance.

The strongest kind of conflict, in a plot, is derived from character relationships. Well developed and setup character conflict provides a near endless supply of drama that will carry the action and subtext of the movie. And the conflict meter reads off the charts between Connor and a particular T-800 (played by the definitive Terminator Schwarzenegger) because of a tragedy that befell Connor in the late 90s. Before you think that this T-800 is still hunting down Terminators from the future, this one can tell you any and everything you need to know about drapery. He’s gone and bought the metaphoric house with a picket fence, got married, and has a kid. Even though he’s demonstrably turned from his CyberDyne ways, Connor has a longtime grudge against this model, and she isn’t afraid to show it–and loudly. While Connor wants to kill him, Dani concludes that she cannot save the world without his help. Watching Connor and Carl (Arnold’s T-800) passionately bicker and verbally fight sounds like it may be there simply for the sake of nostalgia, but it lays the groundwork for how they will be forced to work together during the second and third acts of the movie. It may be grounded in T-1 and T-2, but this conflict moves the story forward. In a sense, these two characters provide the perfect balance between human and machine that was largely missing from the three movies that followed Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

If you’re a fan of the first two Terminators and the former attraction at Universal Studios Florida, then this movie is for you. Yes, it’s also for general audiences, but it’d specifically made for the longtime fans of the franchise that was, up to this point, doomed for extinction. Its got it all: action, a thrilling plot, endearing characters, beautiful visuals, and a memorable score (duh duh duh, duh-duh, duh duh duh, duh-duh). But more than for any other reason, you want to watch this movie to see our combat boot wearing, rock launcher carrying, no nonsense Sarah Connor as can only be played by Linda Hamilton.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Addams Family” Animated Movie Review

Not creepy, mysterious, or spooky, but it’s certainly kooky and fun. Duh duh duh dum, snap snap. Just in time for Halloween is The Addams Family! I went into this movie not expecting much. A friend of mine loves all things Addams Family (even his drag persona is Katrina Von Addams), so he wanted to see it together. And to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the movie. Is it predictable? Yes. Is the screenwriting weak? Yes. But is it a fun way to just kick back with a movie that entertains sufficiently enough? Yes. The voice cast is great and the character designs feel inspired by the earliest drawing in The New Yorker magazine. For me, the characters feel like the Addams Family that we have known for over 75 years. And just like the family themselves, the plot defies all logic. But that doesn’t take away from the good time I had watching it. It provided me with precisely what I needed, about an hour and a half of turning off my brain to have fun with endearing characters that have had a home on the small and big screen alike over the years. During the opening credit sequence, I saw that Bette Midler was in it! I literally yelled Bette Midler in the auditorium because that elated me. No surprise, she plays the role of grandma–a witch. The Divine Miss M returned to her witchy roots. In addition to Midler, you will enjoy the voice talents of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Thereon, Allison Janney, Chloe Grace Moretz, and other familiar names. The theme of the story is acceptance and individuality, which bodes well for this movie. Although we never dive deep into this topic, the B and C stories parallel one another in theme, but approach the topic from different perspectives that touch on immediate family, extended family, and friends/neighbors. Even though the characters are not as dark as I was hoping they’d be, you do get some trademark Addams Family macabre humor at the mansion. While the movie does not open up with the iconic theme song, the end of the movie includes a tribute to the original TV series opening that will leave you with a smile. If you’re searching for a great animated movie, then this is not it; but if you are looking for a fun way to spend 1.5hrs with your kids or friends, then this movie works very well.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Joker” Film Review

A truly phenomenal motion picture with a tour de force lead performance and relevant social commentary for today’s audience. Warner Bros’ highly anticipated Joker opens everywhere this week. Once again, we get an origin story of Batman’s favorite nemesis. Only this time, it’s told through an extremely heavy film that is less about the violence, that so many seem to be fixated on, and more about the unapologetic character study of someone whom has suffered egregious psychological and physiological trauma at the hands of those whom are supposed to be loving caregivers, friends, or mental health professionals. Prepare yourself to go down the rabbit hole of the mind of a madman in this no holds barred exploration of the far reaching effects of untreated trauma, grief, and schizophrenia. From a critical perspective of analyzing this as a motion picture, I find there is so much to admire! If I was to grade this film on a 1 to 10 scale, it would honestly be 8s, 9s, and 10s across the board. But you know what, if I am to be perfectly candid with my readers, I did not particularly care for the story, lack of likable characters, or even this iteration of The Joker. While I cannot deny the critical achievement of this motion picture (or film), as a movie, I did not care for it. I know some may use the terms film and movie interchangeably, but I often differentiate between them when drawing a distinction between art and entertainment. Some movies are both. For example, since we are in the Batman universe for this one, I will point out that my favorite Batman movie is equal parts film and movie, an “arthouse film masquerading around as a superhero movie,” and that would be Batman Returns. Even after watching Joker, my favorite iteration of the iconic character is still Jack Nicholson’s in Batman (89). That being said, Joaquin Phoenix is acting circles around Jack in this film and blows us away with his spectacular performance as this version of Joker.

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker. (IMDb)

This film is extremely heavy. Usually I don’t make it a point to mention that element of a film; but in the case of this one, it is important that you go in knowing what’s in store for you. Joker is both a character study and an exploration of our present day society as viewed through a 1980s lens. It also sets up Batman, but that is only a small part of this film. Prior to reviewing the performance of Phoenix, I feel it’s important for me to mention that I don’t see him as portraying The Joker as much as I do an authentic, genuine, terrifying madman. It’s no surprise to my readers that I prefer the Burtonverse to the Nolanverse when talking Batman, so my Bat-par is set by 89 and Returns. Nicholson is the standard against which I measure up all other iterations of Joker. And suffice it to say, Joaquin Phoenix’ Joker is not Joker. A brilliant performance as a sociopath, a psychopath, or just plain crazed serial killer with a sordid past brought on by unimaginable trauma, YES; but “Joker,” he is not. Joker is not just a madman, he’s an intelligent, calculating, organized crime boss with a penchant for murder and mayhem that is told through exemplary, if not sinister, showmanship! At the end of the day, Joker is an entertainer. We love to watch him on screen, and even root for him sometimes. There is little reason to root for this Joker. He may start out as an underdog who kills two men in defense; but then starting with the third victim, he is just interested in killing, anarchy, and watching the world burn. He lacks what we love about this iconic villain, and for that reason, I do not feel that this he IS Joker.

While I may not see Phoenix as portraying The Joker (and this has much more to do with the screenplay than his performance), his performance as this madman is off-the-charts great and could possibly be the best performance delivered by Phoenix ever. There is an unapologetic, candidness about this performance that feels incredibly genuine–no pretense about it. Phoenix is 110% committed to this character and stays true to Arthur Fleck the entire time. He is vulnerable and terrifying all at the same time. When analyzing the performance of Phoenix, I am reminded of Norma Desmond’s lines from Sunset Boulevard when she states “my eyes, I can say anything with my eyes” and “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.” Phoenix could have played a mute Arthur Fleck, and we would still have known precisely what he was thinking and more importantly feeling. He embodies the sage screenwriting words of “dramatize, don’t tell.” Phoenix is consistently committed to the character of Arthur Fleck from beginning to end. And I say “Arthur Fleck” because I don’t believe him to be portraying The Joker. In an exchange on Twitter with my friend Jeremiah that I had (as I was writing), I was reminded of what I learned in geometry, “every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.” From that we can extrapolate that a theory could be “every Joker is a madman, but not every madman is The Joker.” I’ve seen a lot of great performances over the decades, but I can honestly say that this lead performance by a male actor is among the best I’ve ever witnessed. Perhaps Nicholson is still my favorite Joker, but Phoenix’ Joker is certainly the most realistic portrait of the descent from slightly crazy to utter destructive madness to the point that one laughs as the world implodes around them.

Joker is rich with poignant thought-provoking social commentary on our current state of affairs (albeit exaggerated) as the divide between the rich and poor is growing ever so rapidly. Just as American Psycho used the self-centered, consumer-centric, self-indulgent late 1980s to comment on the late 90s//early 2000s, this film also uses the early 1980s lens to comment on the late 2010s/early 2020s. The choice to use the early 1980s as the setting isn’t only because 80s is popular right now, what with Stranger ThingsAmerican Horror Story 1984IT, and more, it’s because it was a highly transitional time in the country. The 1960s was pretty much peaceful, the 1970s was experimental that turned chaotic, and everything came to a head in the early 80s before the economy turned around and the late 80s ushered in the bountiful, progressive 1990s. So the choice to set this film in the inner city of the early 1980s allows it to comment on similar issues that are plaguing us today. Perhaps not to this extreme, but we encounter conflicts that parallel the ones outlined in the film. Instead of treating mental illness, often our society masks it with medication or hides it from view to deal with it later (only later never comes). The rich just keep getting richer, and the poor just keep getting poorer, all while the rich blame the poor for their circumstances and standby and watch the lower rungs on the ladder just fall off; survival of the fittest, one might say. Self-centeredness runs rampant throughout the streets of Gotham as it does in our own cities and towns today. Everyone is so concerned with themselves that they stop to think about building a community that builds up one another to construct a society that is just as much about the quality of life for its citizens as it is the produces and services it can crank out. How do you view our world? As a factory or as a community?

I wish I had known just how heavy this film was going to be before I watched it, as I was not prepared for how dark it was. There are no moments of levity in this film, which I find to be particularly dangerous for audiences. As a screenwriting lecturer, I remind my students that it’s important to use levity strategically even in dark dramas or horror movies. It serves the purpose of not leaving the audience in a depressed state and allows for the writer to deliver an impactful punch when the audience least expects it. Levity relieves negative stress and resets the emotional barometer. I was feeling so oppressed by the tone of this film that I nearly left the cinema because I couldn’t’ take the darkness anymore. And that says a lot, considering that I watch a lot of dark movies and TV shows. Beyond the absence of levity, there aren’t any likable characters. To put it bluntly, everyone is an asshole. The treatment of everyone’s fellow man is despicable. It’s important for a film to establish one or more characters that the audience can identify with and even root for, but I find that everyone is so unlikable that I cannot connect with any of them. Yes, those whom have experienced trauma will likely identify with Arthur, but even he offers nothing redeeming or endearing. Unfortunately, Joker is a film that I may never watch again, despite praising it for its critical achievement as a motion picture.

If you are searching for a film that offers a prolific amount of content for purposes of a character study or cinematic study, then this is an excellent one to put on your list. Personally, I did not care for the story even though by all measurable accounts it’s a great film. But I suppose sometimes there comes along films that we acknowledge for their artistic and critical achievement but do not necessarily need to see again.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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All the Horror 2019 Movie Challenge

It’s that time of year again! Time for the 31 horror movie challenge! During the month of October, I am planning to watch, and I challenge you to watch, 31 horror movies. Each day, I will add a movie with a brief (and yes, I know I am not known for being brief) analysis. Instead of a separate blog entry for each of the 31 movies, I am going to add to this entry, then post what I watched/reviewed on Twitter (RLTerry1). So, if you’re not following me on Twitter, now would be a great time! Remember to use the hashtag #AllTheHorror  #31HorrorMoviesChallenge or #31HorrorFilms31Days when you post about your horror movies this month! Also be sure to follow AllTheHorror on Twitter!

Last year, I began with Nosferatu and followed the history of horror movies up through Scream; this year, I am picking up where I left off to continue my exploration of the history of the American horror film. You can find my ATH2018 article here that covers horror from its earliest days up through the mid 90s. This article will pick up in 1997 and go from there!

Movie 1 (10/01)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). It’s been more than 20 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer convinced us to pay attention to the roadway at night or else risk the wrath of a meathook handed slasher, and this is consistently one of those 90s horror movies that is either loved or despised. Won’t find much middle ground here. Personally, this ranks highly for me when talking 90s horror. While this movie has not seen the legacy and timeless influence that Scream has, there is still a lot to like if you are a slasher fan or simply enjoy the excellent chemistry in our lead ensemble cast. For instance, we would not have Scary Movie if it wasn’t for I Know and Scream, we may not have the Hash Slinging Slasher from Spongebob Square Pants. Believe it or not, there is a hidden strength in the story that rarely gets talked about. It’s a great psycho-social commentary on perception as reality and the cognitive elopement of a young adult. Moreover, I Know’s real genius is in how it confronts each of the lead cast with questions that all of us ask ourselves, such as simply knowing who we can trust, fight or flight, and varying degree of self-centeredness. It functions very well as a study of every individual teen’s mental state. Just like the characters in the movie, we (the audience) are wondering exactly who can be trusted. Sure, if you think too much about the plot, it falls apart, but isn’t that the case with many slashers? Everything from the twists and turns, to the suspense, to the red herrings, a murderer screaming “you’ve got no place to hide,” not to mention the classic horror score, deliver a movie that is fun to watch, highly entertaining, and even rewatchable.

Movie 2 (10/02)

H20Halloween H20 (1998). Up until last year’s H40, the often maligned H20 was actually my favorite sequel in the Halloween series. Twenty years later, Laurie Strode (once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and her son (played Josh Hartnett) have moved clear across the country to southern California to be the head mistress of an exclusive boarding school where Michael finds her on–you guessed it–Halloween. Only Michael isn’t the only boogeyman haunting Laurie, she has turned to heavy drinking to cope with the trauma; this dependency on alcohol has become another monster in her life. Much like IKWYDLS borrowed from Scream, it is clear that the writers of H20 also reworked the Halloween movie for the Scream generation. If for no other reason, you watch this movie for Curtis’ performance as Laurie (a role she wouldn’t reprise again until H40). She gives it all she’s got! One of the things that I think this movie got right was how vulnerable, how human Laurie was. Often times, a legacy final girl might seem like she’s quasi superhuman, but not this one. She makes many mistakes and continues to allow fear and anxiety to all but consume her every moment. Horror movies are not always scary movies. Some horror movies are just fun, and this is a great example! Taking the kills to the next level, H20 had some of the most intense kills in the franchise up to that point. Many of which exceed the violence of the previous ones. When the opening scene has a kid (Joseph Gordon Levitt) with a hockey skate blade lodged in his head, you know that the bar has been set high! Here’s an item you may not have noticed in your past watches, but Curtis’ mom, the original scream queen, Janet Leigh appears with her daughter as the school secretary. Leigh is famous for being Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Yup, she’s the one in the famous shower scene. And get this, she also drives a similar (if not the same) car as she did in Psycho. Two legendary scream queens together on the screen, mother and daughter!

Movie 3 (10/03)

The Haunting (1999). With the critical success of Netflix’ The Haunting of Hill House last year, I thought that it would be fun to rewatch the movie that is also a remake of a 1963 horror film by the same name. With three iterations, you will certainly find the one you like most. Odds are, it’s not going to be this one, but to be fair, it’s not as bad as its reputations seems to be. Interestingly, the review from Roger Ebert praised this film on the basis of its locations, art direction, production design, and sound design, but it did not land as well with horror fans and general audiences. To be fair, the first half of the film is quite good! It’s atmospheric, tense, creepy, and haunting. Where the film loses the ability to keep you engaged is in the second half. Fortunately, all the elements that Ebert praised do hold the film together–albeit barely–when the screenwriter seems to have fallen asleep at the keyboard. Momentum should increase as we reach the showdown, but thanks to clunky dialogue and a lack of writing leanly, the pacing remains stagnant until the anti-climactic climax. What I appreciate about the first half of the film is the intriguing mystery about the history of Hill House and the Crane “family.” Had the film continued to build upon the successful suspense coupled with the puzzle solving and thought-provoking imagery and ideas, then it may have been stronger in the second half. With a powerhouse cast, excellent location, and big budget, there was such a potential to truly produce an old-school ghost story, but that would have required a writer whom cares from beginning to end.

Movie 4 (10/04)

The Faculty (1998). So this one is a little out of order because for some reason I thought it came out in 1999 or 2000, but Hartnett had a busy year of horror since this shares the same release year as Halloween H20The Faculty is an often forgotten gem in 90s/2000s horror discussions. One of my favorite components of the experience of watching this movie is just how much fun it is! Is it Sci-Fi? Is it horror? Perhaps it’s a hot mess of both, but this mashup of the two genres makes for an entertaining time with a great cast that has the perfect blend of chemistry. I love the original interpretation of this combination of Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Thing, and even The Breakfast Club. Each of the aforementioned are tentpole films in their respective genre, but The Faculty weaves them together in an out-of-this-world entertaining horror movie. In addition to the A-list names amongst the students, it’s really the actors portraying the teachers that steel the show. And amongst those teachers is a name of horror royalty Piper Laurie! If you do not know, Piper Laurie played the role of Carrie’s mother in Brian de Palma’s Carrie.There are many moments in the film that have an almost self-referential quality to them. For instance, the lead cast seems to be familiar with the rules of horror movies and even play up the satirical side pretty well. There is an endearing quirky quality to this film as well, what with freeze framing and commentary on the characters and all. Again, this gets back to the reason to watch this movie: the fun factor. Since there isn’t much of a compelling story here and the ending is a little clunky, it’s important that a movie like this hooks you quickly and never lets you go for the duration of the run time. So, don’t worry about pacing, this film never lags.

Movie 5 (10/06)

Final Destination (2000). With volunteering at the iHorror Film Festival on Saturday, I had to watch movie 5 last night. So I will have to double up tonight haha. The movie I’ve selected for my fifth horror movie in my 31 day challenge is Final Destination. It quite the surprise for me, I had the pleasure of meeting screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick at the film festival on Saturday and got to talk to him a little about the movie! I am pleased to report that he is a very nice man whom is generous with his time. I appreciate him taking time out to speak with me at the festival. Some of you may know this, but I certainly didn’t, the screenplay for the movie was originally an episode for the X-Files! However, when feature potential was seen in it, it was then turned into the screenplay that would eventually become the quintessential early late 90s/early 2000s movie that would spawn many sequels and (the second one) forever cause us to avoid following logging trucks on the roadways. The original Final Destination took horror in a new direction that has often been copied and parodied but never successfully replicated with the same quality as the original and first sequel (which Reddick wrote the story for, but not the screenplay). This “dead teenager movie” is smart, witty, darkly funny, and sharp. Unlike many horror movies of this era, the dialogue is clever and never feels forced or gimmicky. Truth is, this is a character-driven horror movie that is punctuated with visceral horror, but the gore never takes center stage. The story is about the relationships, reactions, and patterns between all the characters. I also love how very much live a living Rube Goldberg machine this movie feels. The story is paced quite well, and includes dark comedy without ever venturing into parody or satire territory. The whole idea of “you can’t cheat death” has forever changed horror.

Movie 6 (10/07)

The Sixth Sense (1999). “I see dead people.” How many of us do not know that immortal line and the movie from which it came! It’s the movie that cemented M. Night Shyamalan as a powerhouse director (nevermind that many of his films have not lived up to the precedent set by The Sixth Sense). Believe it or not, this modern icon of the horror genre turns 20 this year. Not only did it serve as the breakout film for Shyamalan, but it was a smash hit at the box office. Much like the big reveal in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the shockingly big twist in The Sixth Sense remains one of the worst kept secrets in the world of cinema, yet the film is still incredibly rewatchable. Although there are moments of sheer terror and horror in the movie, it is largely character-driven with fantastic dialogue exchanged between Cole (Haley Joel Osment) and Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis). I just love how this film centers in and around the fantastical idea that we can control our own narrative even after death with the help of a clairvoyant whom seeks to help the dearly departed mend relationships, complete tasks left undone, and any other unfinished business. These actions allow the living and dead to rest in peace. Emotions run high in this film as audiences come face-to-face with tortured souls of the living and dead variety. Furthermore, this film seeks to provide psycho-social commentary on grief and that which we cannot possibly fully understand when exploring death. Even knowing the big twist, we are still captured by the tension of the scenes between Dr. Crowe and his wife. We know that he is dead, but we still empathize greatly with the inability of him and his wife to communicate. The strength of this movie is that it successfully taps into the dark corners of our psyche to explore that which we do not understand yet impacts our very lives every day.

Movie 7 (10/07)

What Lies Beneath (2000). Although most of my selections are clearly in the horror genre, every once in a while, there is a noteworthy horror adjacent movie that is worth covering for a challenge such as this one. Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath starring Harrison Ford and the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer is truly a horror-adjacent gem! And it has Michelle Pfeiffer, how could I not include it?!? Clearly Zemeckis was going for a Hitchcockian thriller meets old fashioned haunted house movie, and it mostly pays off. Whereas this film may not have received highly positive reviews when it came out, today it is one that is often brought up when discussing underrated horror movies. Some of the Hitchcock-inspired tropes in this movie are the whole Rear Window scene, innocent people showing up to startle the central character, and mysterious characters showing up in a mirror. The biggest difference between what Zemeckis did and what Hitch would have done is that Zemeckis went the supernatural route and Hitch would have explained it through paranoia, trauma, schizophrenia, or some other psychological means. The strength of this film may not be in the writing as much as it is the excellent visual storytelling, that builds tension through the cinematography, and the exceptional casting choices. My favorite scene in this movie is the one immediately following Norman (a Hitch nod) paralyzing Clair with the experimental new drug that was foreshadowed earlier in the movie. As the water covers her face, and all we are left with is her eyes barely above the water, we can feel the sheer terror Clair is experiencing. Until the last minute, we are anxiously wondering if she will survive. Another notable sequence is when the camera lingers on the sideview mirror of the car as we see Norman’s body rise up in the house while we are aware that Clair is running for the truck. Perhaps this movie does not hold up as well as most of Hitchcock’s thrillers, but it is clearly inspired by Hitch and his ghost is felt throughout the story. While some find the supernatural element absurd, I don’t mind it because that is what helps this to be more horror-adjacent than it would otherwise.

Movie 8 (10/08)

American Psycho (2000). Not only a great horror film, but a great film period. The movie that was once protested by women was, in fact, directed by a woman. Directed by Mary Harron, American Psycho is a brilliant cinematic work that is just as relevant today as it was when it was originally released. At its heart, this film is a provocative artistic work that comments on materialism, narcissism, and the empty feeling that comes with them. Many, including yours truly, characterize the film as a dark comedy that forces us to reconcile our aspirations for wealth, power, and what happens when we fail to make genuine emotional connections with other individuals because we are completely consumed by image and status. Furthermore, there is a fascinating character study here on trying to fit into a society that you really don’t want to fit into, but don’t know what the other options are. Therefore you act on impulses instead of recognizing them to critically analyze if they indeed are the right things to do. One of the qualities of the experience of watching a horror film compared to other genres is the power it has to force us to face our fears, look in the mirror (pun intended), and question the world around us. Moreover, it allows us to explore hard-to-talk-about subjects because it approaches them in creative, visual ways. that force us to think about some societal observation in new ways. In many ways Patrick Bateman is us; the us we are when no one is looking. Perhaps most of us are not serial killers, but we certainly have a running commentary on the world around us. Also like Bateman, if we are not careful, we can fall prey to our own animalistic, self-centered instincts. I also love how this movie parallels the vicious nature of Wall Street with the murder sprees of Bateman. In this movie, it’s Wall Street, but it could very well be any number of work places. Perhaps there is little relatability to the characters on the surface, but dig a little deeper and this film is quite the microcosm of the world we live in.

Movie 9 (10/09)

Lake Placid (1999). Largely absent for more than a decade, the old fashioned creature feature returns. And it’s bigger, funnier, bloodier, and more romantic (?) than before! When you thought it couldn’t get any better, Betty White shows up! What more could you ask for in a throwback creature feature that is still so much fun to watch. Nevermind that it failed to impress the critics of the day, this movie was made to entertain, and entertain it certainly does. Often times, horror movies like this one do not improve with age; however, like a fine wine, this movie has developed more of an audience as it has aged. This is in part due to the solid direction by Steve Miner, the sharp screenplay by David E. Kelley, and the excellent cast. And at less than an hour and a half, this movie never wears out its welcome. The pacing is brisk, not a moment wasted, eery scene sets up the following scene and continuously points to the showdown. Still in the early years of CGI, Miner chose to pair the CGI of the day with animatronics. Good thing too, because this combination helps the film not to look terribly dated. Sure the CGI is rough around the edges, but since we are not staring at CGI the whole time, we are more willing to accept it. You know what else makes this film fun to watch? Betty White. Her feisty character is in stark contrast to the otherwise serene landscape, and you gotta love her obscene one-liners. She goes full Betty White in every scene. I truly appreciate this movie for how it told the story more than what the story is about. It successfully paired an old school subject with a post-modern approach that delivers a fresh horror movie to audiences.

Movie 10 (10/10)

The Others (2001). What a fantastic haunted house film with a twist ending! Although this formula has been copied in other movies, The Others still holds up very well. At the time it came out, most horror movies were slasher or supernatural schlock fests, but this one chose to go the more traditional route of building a foreboding atmosphere complete with unsettling characters. Tension is high throughout this entire movie until the twist ending is delivered in spades. Nicole Kidman shines as the central character who completely convinces us that she is a normal person whom is living in a bizarre mysterious world. This is a thinking man’s horror movie that would probably be much more successful at the box office today than it was when it came out because audiences are gravitating toward art house horror in numbers that haven’t been seen before. While this film has bene accused of plot that lacks direction (and to some extent, I have to agree with that assessment), the lack of focus is made up for by the expertly crafted ominous mood and haunting ambiance. Capturing the atmosphere is the excellent cinematography and candlelit lighting. Often overlooked in horror movies is costuming, and Kidman’s Grace has some absolutely gorgeous attire–simple in design–but does not go unnoticed. The strength of this film, outside of the production design, is the relationship and conflict between Grace and her kids as well as the new servants. It had been a long time since I watched this movie, but I am pleased to report that it still holds up well on a rewatch. If you are searching for an atmospheric horror film to watch one evening, then this is still a good one to select.

Movie 11 (10/11)

Jason X (2001). This is one hot mess of a Jason movie, but it is so much fun to watch! What happens when you combine Alien with Friday the 13thJason X. Of all the creative deaths in the Friday the 13th franchise, this one has my personal favorite: the liquid nitrogen kill! You know the one I’m talking about. Although this series lacks the quality of writing in the Halloween and Elm Street, there is a beauty in the simplicity of Jason Voorhees as a Freudian superego that goes around punishing horny teenagers for their sexual promiscuity. One of the more hilarious aspects to this movie is just how little fashion and culture has changed from the early 21st century to the 25th century. Whereas fashion may not have changed much, technology certainly has. Straight out of Star Trek TNG is a holodeck that recreates Camp Crystal Lake to distract Jason. In this scene, we also get a simple kill that works so well. Never enclose yourself in a sleeping bag. One of the biggest differences between this installment and the previous Jason movies is that this group knows who Jason is. And believe it or not, we do end up caring about these characters a little more than usual. In the end, it takes itself a little too seriously to be truly satirical, but it’s also too silly to be taken seriously by longtime fans of the franchise. If you’re looking for something fun to watch on a lazy afternoon, then this movie works well.

Movie 12 (10/13)

Ghost Ship (2002). What a shocking opening! Although the opening to Scream may still be the best opening in a horror movie ever, the opening to Ghost Ship is right up there with it. Talk about a razor sharp opening that truly hooks the audience in for the ride and tells them precisely what kind of movie this is going to be. Alien is a haunted house movie (that meets Jaws) in space and Ghost Ship is a haunted house movie set on an ocean liner right out of the 1960s. Perhaps this movie suffers from terrible characters and a vapid plot; however, what it lacks in those areas it more than makes up for in atmosphere. Truly, this movie boasts some of the best atmospheric shots, art direction, and production design that 2000s horror has to offer. There is almost a Titanic like feeling when moving throughout the ship, and it’s even creepier because we know precisely how all the passengers died. The theme of greed versus prudence is woven throughout the plot. Witnessed in how and why  characters meet the demise that they do, this theme is integrated well into the plot, and helps to setup the big twist at the end of the movie. From a technical perspective, the movie got a lot of things right. One might say that it’s among the best to come out of the early 2000s, but still not as good as you hoped it would be, considering the brilliant opening and setup. I guarantee that you will never look at a tension wire in the same way again.

Movie 13 (10/13)

Signs (2002). The alien movie that really isn’t about aliens at all. Despite the crop circles on the poster and the catalyst of aliens on earth, the movie isn’t about that at all. And that’s why it works so incredibly well! Signs by M. Night Shyamalan is a brilliant motion picture that possesses the power to create tension out of seemingly nowhere and keep driving that tension up until the strategic time that the punch is to be delivered. What Shyamalan achieved in this film was the ability to evoke strong fear, anxiety, and other emotions through the use of the camera. Suspense with a camera as Hitchcock whisperer Jeffrey Michael Bays would put it. There is a power in the direction, acting, cinematography, and score in this film that sets up audiences to fear that which is not even seen. Sometimes we find ourselves looking and listening to something that isn’t even there, but that’s the beauty of this film. Shyamalan uses strategically places moments of silence much in the same way that Hitchcock would do in his films. Speaking of whom, there is no score in The Birds. Whereas the technique of using TV or radio broadcasts to deliver exposition can come across as lazy or forced, because the programs still leave room for subtext, they work very well in this film. So, if this film isn’t about aliens, what kind of film is it? It’s a character study on the stages of grief and redemption. The plot is incredibly simple, yet our characters highly complex. That’s why this film works so incredibly well!

Movie 14 (10/14)

Cabin Fever (2002). The directorial debut from Eli Roth! This gory horror movie may look like Evil Dead but it does not go the supernatural route. Instead this movie features a flesh-eating bacterial disease. So often when we are in a cabin in the woods, we encounter a demon or maniac, but I like how this body horror movie uses something incredibly realistic (albeit exaggerated). For fans of Boy Meets World, you’ll recognize Rider Strong as our central character. For all the gore that is in this movie, it’s not the focus. Co-written by Roth, this movie never loses focus on the relationships between the characters. I love how we witness the complete deterioration of friendships because of paranoia, fear, and self-preservation. The tension in this movie is real! You can cut it with a butter knife.

Movie 15 (10/15)

House of a 1000 Corpses (2003). After experiencing the house at HHN29, I just had to add it to my 31 Horror Movies Challenge this month. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of Rob Zombie’s movies, but this one has such a great cast including the late Sid Haig. Hillbilly horror meets teen slasher in this movie. It’s a nostalgic tribute to Texas Chainsaw Massacre that doesn’t have much else going on in its plot. The strength in this movie is in the character actors. Due to Zombie’s penchant for shooting on film stock, this movie has a sort of homespun morbid charm that certainly helps in the viewing experience of this pretty much torture porn movie. Something else that I appreciate about this movie is that you can you see the hand of the artist in eery scene. Much in the same way Zombie writes and performs his music, this movie is also raw, graphic, loud, and violent. Perhaps his music is not to my personal liking, but there is no denying that his signature brand of entertainment is all over this movie. Whereas the plot may be greatly lacking, the movie makes up for that with a rather brilliant production design and art direction. This is probably why it was such a successful translation from movie to house at HHN this year.

Movie 16 (10/18)

This next film represents the last time the legend that is Robert Englund haunted our nightmares as Freddy Krueger until The Goldbergs Halloween special last year. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) is an incredibly fun movie starring two of our favorite slashers that helped define the genre. Fans got to experience the movie at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 25 in 2015; and what Universal did that was extra fun and heightened the suspense was randomly changing who won! Sometimes it was Jason and other times it was Freddy. Nearly 20 years since Freddy first started haunting the nightmares of the children of the Elm Street parents that burned him alive and more than 20 years since Jason started terrorizing camp counselors to avenge his mother’s death, this movie explores what happens when the teens of Elm Street are no longer afraid of Freddy because a new drug prohibits dreaming while allowing for restful sleep. Without dreams, Freddy is without his main source of power. Furthermore, the inability to enter dreams means that he is all but a distant memory for Elm Street. After a chance encounter with Jason in Hell, Freddy concocts a devious plan. Under the impression that he can control the iconic hockey masked killer, he sends Jason back to Elm Street to make the teens scared of him again. Instilling this fear in them will make Freddy Stronger. Unfortunately, for Freddy, things quickly get out of his control and the two icons of horror rack up quite the body count before turning on one another. The final battle between Freddy and Jason is one of the best battle sequences in horror! New Line Platinum pulls out all the stops in this epic final battle between two characters that helped define a genre and decade of cinema.

Movie 17 (10/18)

Saw (2004). Every decade there seems to come a film that will define the state of the genre and serve as a touchstone that pioneers new ways of tapping into our fears and commenting on what we are facing as a society. Often times, this same movie will create a new subgenre of horror that inspires other movies and even spawn sequels. Until A24 started bringing us art house horror films in the last few years, two films broke new ground for horror: Saw and Paranormal Activity. While neither of these films, and the countless sequels and quasi brain children of them, are to my liking, there is no doubt that they were the most influential over the last 10-15 years. That being said, I do appreciate the original Saw for its minimalistic production design and  innovative storytelling; but I don’t like the barrage of torture porn movies that came after it. Saw works because it has a compelling story and the focus is NOT on the gruesome violence; however, many of the movies that it inspired shifted the focus from the narrative to the torturous kills. Still, there are interesting aspects to consider from this series and ones it inspired like Hostile. For instance, as repulsive as Hostile is, there is a thought-provoking exploration of the mediation (as in media) of society and what happens when people are reduced to commodities.

Movie 18 (10/19)

The Descent (2005). Often cited as one of the scariest horror movies over the last 20 years and one that was a critical success–including high praise from Roger Ebert–is The Descent. While it was not released in the US until summer 2006, it was released in the UK in 2005. Not only does this brilliant horror film have the thrills, violence, and fear-inducing moments, it delivers a well-developed plot with excellently crafted characters and outstanding direction. Not to mention the production design, score, editing, cinematography and everything involved in taking the fantastic story from page to screen. This atmospheric horror film completely immerses you in the depths of the descent into the bowels of the cavernous underground. Talk about an effective title! One particularly notable element in this film is the all female cast. Strong female characters are no stranger to horror–in fact–horror long liberated women from being damsels in distress before mainstream movies and media. Ever heard of the final girl? Thought so. Many of the scene in the movie take place in near-darkness, but the director never leaves the audience feeling completely lost. Sometimes the audience may be bewildered or anxious about the direction, but that’s the point! This film engages the minds and bodies of the audience in such a way that the audience can feel the claustrophobia and fear of the characters.

Movie 19 (10/22)

The Hills Have Eyes (2006). Before Alexander Aja would give us campy horror hits like Piranha 3D and the critically acclaimed Crawl (2019), he thrilled audiences with his revisitation of The Hills Have Eyes, originally written and directed by Wes Craven. Although many, including yours truly, will argue that the original is superior, Aja stays true to his source material. On the surface, this movie is about a family encountering a cannibalistic group of isolated desert hill billies, but beneath the surface beats the heart of a movie that comments on isolation, nuclear fallout, and yes even family and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the larger budget did not pave the way for anything innovative or substantive, unless you’re talking substantial buckets of blood. There was such an opportunity for Aja to go by way of John Carpenter’s The Thing in his remake of Craven’s original, but instead it plays off as derivative and schlocky. Where the movie does work, is when Aja is in his world of campy gore.

Movie 20 (10/22)

Trick ‘R Treat (2007). I don’t know about you, but this movie is one that I have to watch each Halloween! This year, I am watching it earlier than usual, but its been part of my Halloween since I was introduced to it by a friend. Michael Dougherty delivers a brilliantly innovative anthology movie with several smaller stories all woven into one giant narrative commenting on the power of tradition. In this case, the traditions surrounding Halloween! Fans of the movie were able to experience it at Halloween Horror Nights 27 as a scare zone and HHN 28 as a house. Personally, I preferred the scare zone to the house. Trick ‘r Treat is full of fantastic scares, entertaining characters, and an engaging plot. While few writer-directors could handle a nonlinear film as their directorial debut with such precision, Dougherty does precisely that! And what is the result? Instant cult classic. Couldn’t ask for a better start to your career. I love everything about this film: the costumes, set design, lighting, cinematography, the editing and more! Truthfully, it reminds me of something that Tim Burton would have done in the hayday of his career in the 80s and 90s. The costume designs are absolutely out of this world! I love how unnervingly exaggerated many of them are. And the atmosphere crafted by Dougherty is the perfect place for all these characters to interact with each other and their surroundings. Forming the solid foundation upon which this story was visually executed is the solid screenplay written by Dougherty. While there was such a risk of s story such as this one going by way of the camp route, never once did anything feel cheesy. In fact, there are homages paid to past horror movie staples that horror fans will enjoy. During a decade that seemed to be frocked with uber gory, violent, torture, blood fests, this film is a refreshing look at the strength of original storytelling where the focus is on the characters, conflict, and relationships, not simply guys and gore that seek to torment the viewer. There is something for everyone in this film, and it’s relatively appropriate for a wide age group. Maybe it’s not a conventional horror movie, but it’s certainly a brilliant Halloween film!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, he’d love to plan to see a movie with you. Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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