“FREAKY” Horror Movie Review

Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday in the no-holds-barred, feel good horror movie of the year! Universal Pictures has certainly gone back to its horror roots in 2020. In February, it gave us The Invisible Man and on Friday the 13th of November, it gives us FREAKY. Writer-director Christopher Landon, who gave us many horror movies including Happy Death Day and Disturbia, delivers a refreshing horror movie filled with inventive kills, a fun plot, and frisky characters. Everything that you love about 80s slashers is here in this love letter to the horror subgenre that still brings friends together today. Funny how horror movies–movies filled with that which would repulse us in real life–have the opposite effect of promoting inclusiveness and community. And it’s that sense of community that separates horror, specifically the slasher, from other film genres. There was a magic in the decade of 80s horror that continues to greatly influence content creators and fans today. Landon knew this, and channeled so much of what made the slasher take the world by storm into this movie. While FREAKY is an entertaining movie regardless, it will be the nods to movies such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play that will inevitably bring about the nostalgic thrill ride that Landon carefully crafted! Starting out as a masked killer, Vince Vaughn soon delivers the laughs as he captures every nuance of a mousey, bullied teenage girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. Likewise, Kathryn Newton perfectly captures a notorious slasher trapped inside a teenage girl’s body. Perhaps FREAKY is a little lite on the lessons learned from the body swap achieved through a Child’s Play-like mystic ritual, but Newton’s Millie does learn confidence. From the opening, that’s clearly an homage to the shock of SCREAM, through the hijinks and antics to the climactic ending, there is something for everyone in this movie–especially for geeky horror fiends like myself!

A mystical, ancient dagger causes a notorious serial killer to magically switch bodies with a 17-year-old girl. (IMDb)

That’s it. Simple, right? Some of the best movies of all time have simple plots and complex characters. Okay, so FREAKY may not have incredibly complex characters, but what it lacks in dimension, it makes up in a diverse cast plus doubling down on its identity as a genre film. Horror movies have long since been the most progressive of all the genres, and Landon keeps this value alive in his latest movie. Even before mainstream movies began including strong female characters, critiquing toxic jock culture, and including non-parodied LGBT+ characters, horror was a leader in inclusion and diversity. Has it too evolved over the years, of course; but my point is that it’s always been the leader. Using a reimagination of Freaky Friday as a slasher as the foundation, the movie is able to get incredibly creative with the conflict, character dynamics, and the kills! It is unlikely that any of these kills will make Top 10 lists one day, but they are mostly homages to past kills from tentpole horror movies. Is the plot predictable? Yes. But does that take away from the entertaining factor? Definitely not. This movie knows what it is, and delivers the laughs and squeamish winces in spades! Predictable as the plot may be, it is not without its unique twists and turns. I appreciate how those that are killed by either THE Blissfield Butcher or Murder Barbie are bullies in one way or another. Perhaps this movie doesn’t go very deep, but it’s certainly a cautionary tale on the deadly consequences of direct and indirect bullying and assault.

If you go into this movie wanting something completely new, then you’re going in with the wrong attitude. If you want to see a new twist on a foundational part of horror cinema, then you’ve come to the right movie! It’s been quite a while since there has been such an unapologetically fun movie in cinemas, and this is precisely the antidote to uplift the geeky horror spirit!

PS. Can we please stop using the Mystic Falls (Covington, GA) town square from Vampire Diaries in every movie that needs a small town? At least this time, I couldn’t make out the Mystic Grill in the background like I could in Doctor Sleep.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema 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! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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My Top 10 General and Horror Films of the Decade

As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to outline my top 10 favorite films of the decade! To make it more fun, I am writing two lists (1) general cinema and (2) horror specific. Since I am known as Professor Horror on Twitter, I couldn’t disappoint everyone by not composing a horror specific list. That being said, in order to provide some sort of structure to selecting the films, I’ve decided to pick one film from each year. Furthermore, instead of simply listing them, I am writing a brief thought about each. The first list will be general cinema and the following list will be horror specifically. What does your decade list look like?

 

 

 

 

GENERAL CINEMA

2010: Black Swan-A brilliant horror adjacent adaptation of the famous ballet that is equally beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Portman and Kunis deliver compelling performances and the art direction and production design are outstanding. Aronofsky’s direction is masterful in what is likely his greatest motion picture IMO.

2011: Hugo-A movie for cinephiles in the vein of Cinema Paradiso. Whereas Scorsese is often seen as an iconic film director of gangster movies, he also has a softer side that is largely unappreciated. His work in this film showcases his enthusiasm and love for cinema as a visual art form to tell great stories. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

2012: Silver Linings Playbook– Truly hits you in the feels. The thing about silver linings is that they cannot come without clouds. This gritty love story takes audiences on a tremendous journey, following both son and father as they respectively deal with their mental problems though that which they love. It’s an unapologetic look at the mountains and valleys of relationships.

2013: Blue Jasmine– Cate Blanchette’s award-winning and Sally Hawkins award-nominated performances are gripping and sharp. The dark comedy about the mental breakdown suffered when your entire world is ripped out from beneath you is compelling and powerful. This is an incredibly relatable film about identity crisis and self-centeredness. The hilarious comedy is matched and counterbalanced by the heavy drama in a film that is brilliantly layered with plenty of substance.

2014: Gone Girl– Such an incredibly, thrilling ride! This spellbinding crime/mystery drama will have you on the edge of your seats from the time acclaimed director David Fincher opens the film the time the credits roll. There are few directors who can visually capture the very essence of a novel cover to cover, and that is exactly what Fincher did. Aside from the brilliant direction of David Fincher, this movie benefits greatly from the screenplay written by Gillian Flynn, the author of the original best-selling novel. This proves to be an excellent move because the movie is so incredibly close to the book.

2015: The Big Short– Brilliantly casted and directed, this film will have your utmost attention the entire time. Screenwriters Adam McKay (also the director) and Charles Randolph create a movie with such realism and candor that you will be able to truly understand the foundational problems that aided in creating the mortgage-backed security crisis which led to the housing meltdown and the loss of millions of jobs. The scariest part is, at the end of the movie, you will read that starting in 2015 that big banks are once again engaging in similar behaviors under a new name. The utter greed, absurdity, and naivety on display in this movie will leave you astounded.

2016: La La Land– Simply dazzling! A beautifully produced motion picture musical that is sure to delight audiences around the world. Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia) shine brightly in this self-reflexive modern romantic film set on the backdrop of a classically composed movie musical echoing the song and dance numbers that Busby Berkeley brought to the silver screen through Hollywood studio system powerhouse Warner Bros. Every aspiring professional who has the dream of a substantive career as an artist in the visual and performing arts–or just an artist in general–needs to watch this film.

2017: I, Tonya– Of skates and class. Margot Robbie stars as the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel at a national competition…also the most infamous woman in the history of US Figure Skating in what is likely one of the most difficult and controversial biographical films ever produced. This film provides audiences with an unapologetic glimpse into Harding’s early life through “the incident.” Although “the incident” is what everyone remembers, this movie shows a struggling young person attempting to change, but thwarted at every angle by hearing that she cannot because she isn’t what America is looking for and has no class. But why couldn’t it have been just about the skating??? It’s also the film that, ironically enough, inspired me to learn figure skating myself.

2018: The Favourite– A brilliantly entertaining satirical dramedy! Not your history channel biopic. This no-holds-barred dramedy provides audiences with a story about a twisted love triangle within the royal court of Queen Anne that is anything but prim and proper. You will be instantly sucked into just how bizarre and brilliant this film is because of the seductive visuals and razor-sharp wit. The costumes, locations, and set design are incredible. Upon watching this film, I was reminded of another worldclass period drama where each scene felt like it was an oil painting. I am talking about Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Never before have I seen a film come so close to delivering the experience that the Kubrick masterpiece did.

2019: Judy– A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. While there are many movies that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.

HORROR

2010: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark– The atmosphere of this movie in a mansion that is ostensibly a character in and of itself is fantastic! Not only is is a great horror movie, but it also comments on the response of adults to children’s imaginations. The suspense and tension is earned and built brilliantly. Up to this point, the majority of horror movies were gore-fests; but this movie (along with Insidious), helped it usher in a return of the haunted house subgenre of horror. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production design is incredible. Until we actually saw the creatures, they were extremely terrifying. After we see them, a little less so.

2011: Scream 4– Wes Craven is back! The Scream franchise returned to the big screen after over a decade of hiatus. Scream 4 is the ultimate payoff of the groundwork laid by the first film. Although this film couldn’t exist without its predecessors, it yet somehow manages to elevate the concepts it’s built upon whilst doing it. Not to be confused with elevating the genre–this genre has always been elevated. The final act reveal is one of the most satisfying and surprising in modern horror history. It’s dripping with savage social commentary about the lengths that people will go to to be famous, and how the nation’s obsession with canonizing serial killers leads to a world in which the line between celebrity and mass murderer becomes increasingly blurred.

2012: The Possession– Although the demon possession subgre of horror is all too familiar, this film is a refreshing take on the subgenre. It’s a truly terrifying film that depends are far more than jump scares and loud noises to generate nightmares. It’s no surprise that The Exorcist inspired many films, but this is certainly among the best! That scene in which Emily completely loses it in the tunnel, flinging the groceries everywhere is one of the best horror scenes ever. Bringing the nightmare to screen is the phenomenal direction provided by Ole Bornedal. It possesses some of the best writing of horror this decade!

2013: The Conjuring– Fresh and terrifying! The atmosphere of this horror film is so intense and terrifying that you may find yourself keeping the lights on at night. And hide-and-seek is all of a sudden a much more nightmarish game than it ever was before. From start to finish, this unnerving film is the stuff nightmares are made of. Even after the movie, you feel personally haunted. My favorite thing about this film is how the entire plot feels like an old-school haunted house horror film. James Wan not only delivered a brilliant addition to the horror library, but it also inspired the ConjuringVerse.

2014: Oculus– This movie could’ve just as easily been subtitled “Through the Looking Glass” or “Alice in Horrorland.” Oculus does not rely upon jump scares to curdle the blood and cause the heart to race. It takes a much more Hitchcockian approach–the fear is in the mind of the audience. Hitchcock once said, “greater is the fear in the mind than the fear on the screen.” And, director Mike Flanagan has “suspense” in spades. Not that “Oculus” is without an ominous presence materializing behind a character; but the film is successful in creating legitimate fear in the minds and stomachs of the audience without having to result to cheap parlor tricks. Unlike a typical horror movie, the enemy is an intimate object with malevolent powers of “perception.” Throughout the entire movie, you will ask yourself if what you are seeing is real or are you seeing what the mirror wants you to see.

2015: The Blackcoat’s Daughter– Unnerving from beginning to end! The atmosphere is dismal and ominous, which gives way to the bloody horror that unfolds. Seductively slow, the pacing draws you in moment by moment into the unsettling world. I liken this film to Rosebary’s Baby because the horror is implied and atmospheric more so than gimmicky or tropey. For fans of gothic horror, this film delivers a mesmerizing story that delivers frightening situations and imagery that are a testament to art house horror. Here’s something cool too: it is directed by the son of horror legend Anthony Perkins (Psycho). The muted performances by the two lead actresses are an outstanding achievement in that there is so much power in the restrained delivery of the subtext-rich lines.

2016: Don’t BreatheDon’t Breathe is a brilliant horror film that will keep your adrenaline pumping and keep you guessing from the beginning of Act II to the final cut to black. Crossing into different sub-genres of horror, this movie will capture your attention every moment and catch you off guard every chance it gets. Although there is no scientific evidence for the collective belief that when one sense is removed that the others take over, it does make for a fantastic plot device that will greatly heighten your own senses while watching this efficiently ruthless movie. It’s a cinematic claustrophobic rollercoaster that includes one terrifying turn after another. In other news, if you’re looking to buy a house, this film includes some great shots of your next neighborhood in Detroit.

2017: IT: Chapter I– IT’s hauntingly fantastic! From the first to the last scene, the Stephen King adaptation directed by Andres Buschietti is nothing less than a horror masterpiece that does both the original novel and the TV mini series (1990) justice. The brilliance behind the adaptation is found in the excellent cast. So organic, so relatable. A common trope in King novels (and by extension the movie adaptation) is the tried and true narrative structure of the “coming of age” story. IT may serve as a horror film for shock value on the outside; but beneath the nightmare-inducing exterior, beats the heart of a heavy drama with a great message about growing up, friendship, teamwork, and facing one’s fears.

2018: Halloween– David Gordon Green’s Halloween truly is the sequel that we have been waiting for in the Halloween franchise. Green set out to direct a Halloween movie that he desired to work both as an homage to the original whilst crafting an original story that could do more than be a great horror film, but be a great film period. And suffice it to say, he delivered in spades (or knives, as it were haha). Words cannot even begin to capture the energy of the auditorium when I saw it last year. From echoes of the original (and some of Halloween 2) it still succeeds in providing longtime fans and those newly discovering the franchise with an original story that will hook you from the very beginning when you realize that all bets are off because no one is safe. It’s thrilling, engaging, and fun. It may lack Dean Cundey’s brilliant cinematography from the original, but visually the film has those quintessential moments that act as a throwback to Carpenter’s original groundbreaking slasher.

2019: Doctor Sleep– A brilliantly unsettling and crisp horror film! Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is both an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, by the same name, and a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Although many unplanned sequels to iconic classics are challenged to justify their own existence, and often fail to live up to the magic of the original, Flanagan defies the fate that so often befalls sequels and delivers a compelling film worthy to be connected to Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece. While the specter of Kubrick is lurking in the background, and our foreground story takes place on the backdrop of The Overlook Hotel complete with the presence of Jack Torrance, this is a completely new story that acts as a bridge between the literary and cinematic worlds. Doctor Sleep takes audiences to some very dark places–a no holds barred approach–that will surely get under your skin and cause you to cringe at the vile actions on screen in Rose the Hat’s quest for ostensible immortality. There is something irresistible about returning to the infamous Overlook Hotel.

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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“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” horror movie review

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has several ones that remind me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? on steroids! Don’t let the August release date fool you, this is a surpassingly frightening horror movie! It takes the very practice of passing along scary stories generation to generation, and explores the far reaching effects that the power of story has in a manner that it as insightful as it is visually terrifying. Directed by Andre Ovredal with a superlative screenwriting and story team including Guillermo del Toro, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark relies upon a more classical approach to a horror movie by building upon old fashioned ghost stories. You know, the kind that you sit around the camp fire or on the floor of your childhood sleepover and tell one another. These are stories that have been shared and passed down so prolifically that they feel alive. Ghost stories are such a part of our childhood and teenage years, and this film explores the idea of these stories coming to life. A terrifying prospect. Despite the one-dimensional characters, this movie keeps the audience engaged because of the incredibly fun plot and nightmarish visuals. And no, the end of the movie is not tied up with a nice little bow. Traditional narratives follow: order–>disorder–>order again, but horror often takes on an order–>disorder–>order–>disorder path. While there are elements in this movie that may predispose you to thinking that it’s an anthology like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat, it is one linear narrative. Scary Stories is  thoughtful horror movie that is a throwback to the tales of old, when hauntingly spooky was more important than grisly gore.

Pennsylvania 1968 on Halloween, and change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley, where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion, on the edge of town, that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories she passed along to children whom would talk to her through the wall of her foreboding mansion. In addition to passing down the stories orally, she wrote them down in book that truly immerses the reader into the terrifying plot. When a group of teenagers accidentally stumbles onto Sarah’s book of scary stories to tell in the dark, they realize that these stories are become all too real, and they find themselves strapped in the pages of these stories that transcend time and reality.

On one hand, this movie may appear overly generic to the casual observer, given the chief elements that make up the story. You have a group of misfit teens in small town middle America, lots of period nostalgia (that is thankfully not even more of the already proliferated 80s), a cursed object that torments its readers, and a haunted house. Everything that a writer needs to create a forgettable horror movie that goes directly to streaming services is here. But that is where you would be wrong to presume it is just another generic haunted house movie. The premise may not be exuding originality but the expression of the premise is. Combine the original expression of a plot template with the stunning visuals that we’ve come to expect from the del Toro brand, and you have one fantastic horror movie. Clearly exhibited in each and every scene, there are many signs that this movie was built by writers and a director who cares about the story and the audience experience. The degree to which this haunted house movie works for audiences may one day be seen in Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. So many visual elements in this movie lend it to a haunted house (definitely more than the upcoming Us haunted house). Even if you did not grow up reading the Scary Stories books, you probably read Goosebumps or watch the TV version of the former or Are You Afraid of the Dark? and that is all you need to know or be familiar with. Go in with a love of good old-fashioned ghost stories, and you will have a fun time.

This is the second gateway horror movie that we have seen in the last couple years. Last year, we had The House with a Clock in its Walls, which worked as a gateway horror movie (albeit less so than this one). Ever since the TV shows referenced earlier went off the air, there has been a need for PG and PG-13 horror for younger audiences that also appeals to adults. Most of the horror movies over the last couple of decades have large been aimed at older teens and adults. The trick is to write a story that is appropriate enough for general 12-17 viewers, but still contain the macabre elements that 18+ viewers want to see. And that doesn’t mean gore, it means a thoughtful approach to crafting a fun horror movie that genuinely frightens you. Spooky atmospheres, ghostly apparitions, and tormented characters have been a staple of the American horror film from the days of Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. But in recent years, haunting production design and memorable monsters have taken backseat to schlock fests. This movie seeks to bring back the old fashioned haunted house ghost movie to foster an appetite in young audiences for the fantastic world of horror.

The central character and our character of opposition are two opposite sides of the same coin. Driving their decisions is a love of storytelling and family issues. Of course the familial issues differ greatly, but they complement one another nicely. When developing central and opposition characters, it’s important for the screenwriter to remember that often both characters need to share some common traits, and even common goals, but the difference is in how that desire to achieve the goal is expressed through action. There appears to be ab attempts by the movie to provide opportunities for the characters and plot to comment on the society and politics, but it’s never fully developed. Underscoring many of the scenes in the film is the 1968 presidential election and the controversial Vietnam War. I feel that the socio=political elements were not used as effectively as they could have been, so it would have been better just to leave them out as those moments don’t add anything to the overall story.

The power of story. It was Cecil B. DeMille who stated that the “greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling,” and Scary Stories takes its cue from the timeless words from a  Hollywood great. Films were always about breaking ground in visual technical marvel, the almost oxymoronic photorealistic animation, or grisly violence; they were about telling stories. Not unlike the ones that got orally passed down. And these stories helped to shape generations of current and future storytellers. When you tell a story enough, it begins to have a life of its own, there is a place for some evil to be contained as we creatively explore the human condition, sexuality, gender roles, faith, psychology, and sociology through the American horror film. We already have a movie about what happens when the stories die (see my article on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), so this one takes the approach of what happens when you steel someone’s storybook but pairs that with the healing power of storytelling. To get into how and why would reveal too much about the showdown of the movie, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. At the end of the movie, you are left with wondering about the stories that you have passed down, and power to terrify or to heal that comes along with them. You may even find yourself wanting to get a group of friends together to tell ghost stories.

If you love a good ghost story, then you definitely want to catch this while in theatres to truly appreciate and experience the nightmarish visuals of the monsters and the beauty of the production design. Get into the Halloween spirit a little early with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as you enjoy a throwback to a more classical approach to the American horror film.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. 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!

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“Black Christmas” full horror film review

Move over Ralphie for Bob Clark’s original Christmas story. Released in 1974 and predating John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years, Clark’s Black Christmas is actually the the first modern slasher film. In fact, many have argued that Carpenter’s iconic holiday horror film, that made Michael Myers a household name, is an unofficial sequel to Black Christmas. Bob Clark laid the groundwork for Michael to terrorize Haddonfield; but, both Black Christmas and Halloween along with 1979’s When a Stranger Calls collectively created the foundation upon which the 1980s slashers were built. Although I had heard of this film prior to this year, I did not make time to watch it until many of my podcast friends talked about it. So, for the weekly film screening with my cinephile penpal a couple of weeks ago. Originally, I had not intended to review it since so many others have covered it this Christmas season; however, after being encouraged to review it by a few of my friends in the #PodernFamily community, I’m going to talk about my opinions on this film. In short, it is one of the most terrifying horror films that I have ever watched. And it’s not because it’s particularly violent or gory, but because of its incredibly unsettling atmosphere caused by the mysterious, vulgar phone calls and the creepy POV of the slasher entering the sorority house during the Christmas party. That bit of dramatic irony paired with the sequence of disturbing events, work together to generate nightmare-inducing thoughts and imagery in the mind of the audience.

Now for the IMDb summary before we dive deeper! As winter break begins, a group of sorority sisters, including Jess (Olivia Hussey) and the often inebriated Barb (Margot Kidder), begin to receive anonymous, lascivious phone calls. Initially, Barb eggs the caller on, but stops when he responds threateningly. Soon, Barb’s friend Claire (Lynne Griffin) goes missing from the sorority house, and a local adolescent girl is murdered, leading the girls to suspect a serial killer is on the loose. But no one realizes just how near the culprit is.

The first moment in the movie to truly catch my attention was the POV of the serial killer. Before watching this, I was under the impression that the first horror film to open with a POV in this fashion was Carpenter’s Halloween. It was at that moment that I looked up the release year and shocked to find that Black Christmas was released four years prior. The unnerving atmosphere of dread is generated in part by the dramatic irony of the killer being in the house and the vulgar mysterious phone calls that consistently plague the sorority girls. Although there are scenes that take place outside of the house, the horrific events largely take place inside a house. A house–more specifically–a home–where you should be and feel safe. The invasion, the penetration of safety is a terrifying prospect for anyone who has ever walked into their home alone wondering if someone may be there. The idea that someone may be in your house sticks with you long after the movie ends. And that is the power of the unnerving horror of Black Christmas. I argue that the level of terror is higher in this movie than Halloween because of just when this story takes place. Both Halloween and Black Christmas concern themselves with a serial killer sneaking inside the home unbeknownst to the owners but Black Christmas takes place at the time of year that we should feel the warmest and safest. It’s that stark contrast between the magic of Christmas and the horror befalling the sorority house that impacts us more than the events in Haddonfield on Halloween. Halloween is a time that we expect to be scared, whereas Christmas is a time that we expect to be warm and safe.

Unlike the merciless or meta-kills of Jason or Freddy, the killer only known as Billy specializes in psychological horror. Although there is more to Jason than just killing teens and college students, he essentially seeks to rack up as many kills as possible. Much in the same way, Freddy enjoys increasing his kill count too. However, Billy stands in contrast because he is not merely concerned with racking up a body count as he is truly terrifying the girls and their house mom. The actions of Billy are a vehicle for the fears of the audience. His victims and methods of execution, if you will, comment on the character types that he’s going after. Moreover, the beauty of Billy’s true identity remaining mysterious is that he can be whomever you want him to be. Furthermore, the victims can be whomever you want them to be. It’s the type of horror film that provides the audience with the ability to place themselves in the shoes of the killer. But Billy isn’t the only star of the film, we spend sufficient time with each of the characters to understand their personalities and desires. This makes them more than just eye candy for Billy or the audience. We can empathize with each of the victims and those with him they have friendships or a relationship. There are few moments that we get to see Billy. For the most part, we are always looking through Billy’s eyes. Billy has nothing distinct about him. No motive, mask, backstory, proprietary weapon–nothing. And it works so incredibly well! It’s this lack of anything in particular that would make him out to be someone unique that terrifies us. He can literally be anyone who is simply terrifying these girls because “they were home” (where have we heard that before?) or they left the door unlocked or a window open.

Hitchcock stated stated on more than one occasion that (and I am paraphrasing) there is no greater fear than that of an opened door. Bob Clark takes a queue from Hitch in that he relies heavily upon that which in unseen or unknown. Relying upon that which is unseen forces the audience to engage the film on a personal level by creating scenarios for the violence off screen. Another quote of Hitchcock is related to Clark’s approach in this film, “always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” And there are plenty of scenes in Black Christmas that will induce suffering in the minds of the audience. We aren’t given a backstory on or motives of the killer, but evidence suggests that he has a preoccupation with the idea of pregnancy or motherhood. Moreover, there are different types of mothers or maternity examples in the film from a sorority house mother to a knocked-up college student contemplating an abortion. Interestingly, this is where Black Christmas refuses to conform to the morality play underscoring many horror films in which teen and college students engaging in deviant or indiscriminate sexual behaviors are the ones killed off. The point-of-view movements and kills take you out of your seat and into the narrative as a quasi accomplice to the murders. Of course, we are not prevued to all the murders as there is a rape and murder in the same area that is said to be linked to Billy but we never truly learn the origin of these murders or even the true identity of Billy.

Although Black Christmas is a serious slasher, it is not without its comedic moments. The sorority mom and her booze will keep you laughing while one of the police officers will have you rolling over in your chair with his complete incompetence and lack of knowledge of fellatio. The film never falls into the area of self-aware or parody, but it does successfully balance out the dark narrative with the more lighthearted elements.

If you’re looking for another holiday horror movie to add to your list of Christmas films to watch, then you definitely want to add this one to your lineup. It’s perfectly dark and sinister, takes place in an ominous sorority house that provides us with an incredibly creepy atmosphere, and infamous ending. Instead of shelving it until the holiday season each year, it should be treated like Halloween and other slashers. It’s good year-round! It’s an important film in the horror library because it was the first to give us so many of the tropes that would show up later, and even thought to be originally attributed to later films.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Halloween (2018) Full Horror Film Review

Happy Halloween Michael! David Gordon Green’s Halloween truly is the sequel that we have been waiting for in the Halloween franchise. Green set out to direct a Halloween movie that he desired to work both as an homage to the original whilst crafting an original story that could do more than be a great horror film, but be a great film period. And suffice it to say, he delivered in spades (or knives, as it were haha). Words cannot even begin to capture the energy of the auditorium last night. From screen to entrance Studio Movie Grill Tampa (my regular cinema) was filled with a level of energy that I’ve only ever witnessed at JurassicAvengers, and Star Wars movies. Twitter is all a’buzz this morning with those who saw it at pre-screenings and those of us who saw it at 7 o’clock last night. When I’ve been asked what I think, I am quick to respond that you need to throw out the rule book because Michael is writing this story. From echoes of the original (and some of Halloween 2) it still succeeds in providing longtime fans and those newly discovering the franchise with an original story that will hook you from the very beginning when you realize that all bets are off because no one is safe. It’s thrilling, engaging, and fun. It may lack Dean Cundey’s brilliant cinematography from the original (he was also the cinematographer for Jurassic Park, Carpenter’s The Thing and Back to the Future), but visually the film has those quintessential moments that act as a throwback to Carpenter’s original groundbreaking slasher. From the vintage opening title sequence accompanied by that iconic score to the showdown, Blum House’s Halloween is a brilliant addition to the franchise and is destined to be a future classic.

For my conversation about Halloween with the guys across the pond at the Movie Drone Podcast, be sure to watch for that episode dropping on Sunday wherever you get your pods.

It’s been 40 years to the day that Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), the boogeyman, committed the infamous Haddonfield Halloween murders and 55 years since Judith Myers was stabbed to death. On Halloween night, Michael escapes from a bus that was transferring him from Smith Grove to a maximum security prison when the transfer goes horribly wrong. News of this escape puts Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) on high alert as she knows he is heading for Haddonfield. Only this time, she is ready for him. Laurie is challenged with protecting herself while also protecting her daughter’s family. More than protecting herself and her family, Laurie is out for blood. With it being so long since the infamous murders, the town has largely let its guard down. History has faded into myth. But Laurie knew that Michael would be back one day, and she is fully prepared to face-off with the real-life boogeyman.

From the moment the film cuts to the vintage titles and the smashed jack-o-lantern becoming whole again, after the prologue, I knew that I was in for a real treat. That music is so incredibly iconic; those familiar chords are enough to strike fear in those who listen. Although many in the general audience may overlook the power of an opening title sequence, the typeface, transitions, music, and jack-o-lantern work together in order to communicate to the audience that David Gordon Green recognizes and respects the original and knows that you will love this installment that goes back to what made the first one work so well. It’s as if he is stating to the audience “I’ve heard you and I love the original too.” Instead of falling in line with current trends in horror films, Green is communicating to the audience that he is taking this franchise back to the roots. and back to the roots, he did. For fans of the franchise, you will undoubtedly recognize some easter eggs and other moments in the plot and kills that are nods to the original. Nods with a slight twist. I love the moments that connected me to the original. Same may call it shallow fan service, but I call that branding. Branding is important to a franchise, because those are the moments that are quintessential to the experience. And these moments in the film, that I see as branding, connect us to the original. Holding back on that branding would inhibit the nostalgia from shining briefly here and there. So much of Michael and Laurie’s identities are connected to those branding moments. However, don’t allow the return to channeling what made the first one work so well lead you to believe that you have it all figured out. While the soul of the original is there, the plot is full of twists and turns because just as Laurie was ready for Michael, he was ready for all of us sitting out there in the dark.

Written by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fragley, this installment in the Halloween franchise was written to be a true continuation of the original story, ignoring everything that came after it. On that note, I like Halloween 2 and Halloween H20 but I am also equally pleased that this one essentially takes all the sequels and chalks them up to fan fiction. Could H2 and H20 have been included and the film still play out just as original and powerful? I think so, but at the same time, I did not find myself missing those installments. By placing this story 40 years after the original, it was able to remove all the absurdities of most of the others and start afresh. Missing from many of the other sequels was the playful nature of the original. Horror movies are supposed to be fun! Scary but fun. Even though there is murder and mayhem in a horror movie, that does not mean that it should be without those humorous moments. Fortunately for Green’s Halloween, the screenplay provides us with a simple revenge plot with a fantastically complex cast of principal characters. There is this refreshing exuberance I felt in the experience of this film. It was almost the same feeling that I got when I watched the original Halloween for the first time. The reason horror is used in events like Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream is because there is a high level of amusement in it. And the screenplay of this film has perfect levels of horror and humor to keep you hooked and entertained for the whole time. Beyond the excellent direction Green provided, Jamie Lee looks so incredibly satisfying reprising her breakout role, we get a throwback Michael, and more. The key to the success of this film is the solid screenwriting. Moreover, this is not only a fantastic horror movie, it’s a solid film with no clarifier needed.

Before getting into content that requires me to talk spoilers, I want to explore the characters of Michael and Laurie specifically. Entire theses could be written on this subject, but let’s look at some of the main points. You may have asked yourself “what makes Michael tick?” The short answer: we do not know enough about his psychology, sociology, or physiology to know for sure. And that is a good thing! Why? Because if we knew too much about his mind and body, he would cease to be the boogeyman. And being the boogeyman is so important to, not only this franchise, but horror in general. That little bit of mystery and fantasy allow him to remain a monster to be feared and never truly understood. You see what happens to people in the film who seek to understand Michael better–hint–it’s not good. But since we are voyeurs who are obsessed with knowing, here is the long and short of what we know. According to Casandra Dodge (Ph.D. in criminology candidate at the University of South Florida), Michael likely suffers from and displays signs of a combination of antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. We do not know enough to draw these conclusions, but there are signs of a combination of these psycho-social disorders.

Laurie is even more fascinating in this film than she was in the original. In many ways, she takes on some of the characteristics of Dr. Loomis from the first movie. He warned everyone about Michael’s violent behavior and would not be swayed into thinking that he could be rehabilitated. He was ready to kill Michael at every turn. Like Michael likely suffers from OCD, Laurie and Dr. Loomis also show signs of this disorder. Moreover, Laurie also displays signs of being a psychopath herself. Loomis, Laurie, and Michael could all be psychopaths. But contrary to popular belief, very few psychopaths are violent. In fact, careers for people that could be classified as psychopaths include: lawyers, surgeons, law enforcement, professors, artists, and more. Albeit I am overly simplifying, psychopathy means that you are predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and tend to be self-centered (among other characteristics). Laurie is less the final girl in this movie than she was in the original because she is very masculine and protective from the very beginning. There is no one defining moment that she sheds her (heteronormatively speaking) feminine self and takes on the traditional role of a man in stories to save the day and ultimately survive the killer. She is out for revenge the whole movie. I also appreciate how her character provides commentary on the realness of PTSD, and and the affects it has upon the whole body. On the note of revenge, the plot of this film aligns more closely with a revenge plot than a morality play. No mistaking it, Laurie Strode is back, and more phenomenal than ever! I love her character.

(spoilers ahead)

Substance and commentary. The original slashers such as HalloweenFriday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street, and other horror films (that do not fall into the slasher genre) hold up so incredibly well because there is a high degree of subtext that provides a solid foundation upon which to build the more superficial elements of the plot. At its core, the traditional slasher and is a morality play. And this morality goes beyond have casual sex and die or do drugs and die. But the aforementioned are recurring themes in these films. What I appreciate about the new Halloween is not following that approach–at least, not in the same way. It would be all too easy to pick-out the murders based upon that theoretical framework, and Michael is not about to have that. Characters you think will die do not, and other characters that you may not think will die, wind up another Haddonfield victim. The best example of this abandonment of the more traditional approach to slashers is the first kills. One of the past tropes of horror films is that if you are a kid or gay (or queer) you don’t die. Guess again, the 12yo boy who happens upon Michael’s transport bus who prefers dancing to hunting (tipping the hand to the fact he is likely gay) becomes one of Michael’s first victims. This is an indicator that all bets are off–no one is safe. Furthermore, the babysitter that is killed is someone whom is rather likable. She’s a good babysitter–loves her kid–and even when with her boyfriend comes over to the house, they do not engage in anything beyond “dry humping” and some weed smoking. No sex or hardcore drug usage here. Such a great approach because we like the babysitter; however, she winds up a victim anyhow. And Allison’s (Laurie’s grand-daughter) boyfriend kisses another girl at the school dance, but he does not wind up a victim. Although I would have preferred that he died, I like the fact that the rule book is thrown out.

The film also toys around with the idea of the Final Girl by playing around with the hard definition that we’ve recognized for all these years. And it pays off! Furthermore, we have some excellent commentary on and foreshadowing of the role Allison will play later on in the film. She and her boyfriend go to the high school Halloween dance as Bonnie and Clyde–with a twist! They gender bent the costumes. Showing Allison in the pants, foreshadows that she has that same androgynous image that Laurie had in the first film, tipping the hat that she is our final girl. However, she is not the only final girl. We have final girls in this movie. But this concept runs deeper than just the simple fact that we have a trifecta of female heroines. There is pattern established in the movie that when one faces Michael alone that he cannot be defeated. While the journalists at the beginning may seem like mere plot devices through which Michael gets his mask returned, they are so much more. They start the pattern because by themselves, they cannot defeat Michael, and die. The babysitter couldn’t defeat him alone, and her boyfriend died trying to protect his girlfriend. All of them on their own. Even Laurie, though being a solid match for Michael, cannot defeat him on her own either. It’s only when Laurie teams up with her daughter and grand-daughter that Michael can be taken down. Love this!

We also have some poetic justice kills. Loomis’ protege who seeks to use Michael for his own personal gain in the fields of science and academia. He is so incredibly prideful in the capabilities of his brain that his kill is symbolic that Michael will not be used to further his pretentious intellect. He stomps on his head like a pumpkin and the brain matter explodes like pumpkin seeds n a flash on screen (note: this is the most graphic kill). Likewise, the journalists who were using Michael to further their own careers by attempting to be smarter than Michael and even patronizing, wind up dead with primarily injuries to the head. Incredibly symbolic! Furthermore, there are other kills that serve purposes to comment on behavior and intention as well. In addition to symbolic kills and homages to the original, there is a recurring pumpkin and jack-o-lantern motif in the film. I need to watch again, but I believe we have a jack-o-lantern in nearly every scene like we do in the original. In fact, two of the heads of victims are turned into jack-o-lanterns with a flashlight shining out through the decapitated heads. While much of what I have described sounds grossly violent, there is far more violence off screen than what we actually see. Even the kills that are on the screen do not linger. This is important because lingering violence detracts from the narrative and becomes shallow spectacle. Green has a nice balance between narrative and spectacle. He truly showcases he art of storytelling all through Halloween.

Do yourself a favor and go see this movie! It was everything that I wanted it to be. Not only is it a great horror film, it’s a great film period. From the writing to the direction, production design, music and more. It is destined to be a future horror classic worthy of many rewatches.

Profile_PicRyan 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! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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