“Black Christmas” (2019) Horror Movie Review

The gift of the season too horrible for even Scrooge, pre-visits from the Christmas spirits. It’s pretty much a horror movie that Krampus gives away because it is so horrifyingly bad. Last year, I watched for the first time and reviewed the Bob Clarks’ cult classic Black Christmas (1974), and found it to be an outstanding horror film. Then I watched the 2006 remake and thought that no remake could be as bad as that one. I. Was. Wrong. Enter: Black Christmas (2019). This movie is a prime example of bludgeoning the audience with a message/agenda 2×4 with a complete disregard of proper storytelling. Gone is the terrifying atmosphere of the original or schlockyness of the remake. All that we have here is a post-modern sexist message of hate full of one-dimensional characters. To say that there is a plot–even a bad one–is a vast overstatement. This movie is neither entertaining nor empowering. If you watch it, you will ask yourself what Jason Blum and Universal Pictures thinking. I suppose they are thinking of a potential house at Halloween Horror Nights 30 next year. And on that note, I agree that this movie will translate to a fun HHN30 house. But that’s pretty much it.

There is ZERO subtext, no nuance, no likable characters, and when it takes a supernatural turn, you will sit back with your eyes rolling around. And let’s address the PG-13 rating. Had this been rated R, then the kills would have at least been a little better, as they are, they lack anything memorable. A horror film, like this one, rated PG-13 simply works against it from the onset, not to mention the travesty the (if you can call it this) story is. This movie does the title Black Christmas harm. If for no other reason, perhaps the good thing to come out of this one is that horror fans will seek out the original! This movie’s heavy-handed cash grab and irreverent treatment of the #MeToo movement is offensive in and of itself. How can anyone take the movement seriously when movies like this perpetuate an obnoxious caricature of it??? Speaking of perpetuating negative development, this movie also preaches a sermon of post-modern sexism in which women can say anything about and do anything to a man simply because he is a man. However, if a movie like this were made that gender swapped the characters, then it would be protested to the highest degree.

I’m not here to negatively critique this movie because I dislike the agenda-driven message, but I am here to provide a review of a poorly written and directed movie. Being a cis gay male, I often identify with female characters, but I couldn’t connect to any one of these women. As far as acting, it’s par for the course for a bad horror movie. To call this movie a slasher, is disrespectful to the genre. It is not a slasher. Had this movie stuck to the original plot, but brought it into the 21st century, then I think it could have actually been pretty good. Such a great opportunity to play around with an iconic property. In terms of the representation of women, horror has always been on the forefront, a pioneer in writing strong female characters that are brave, smart, vulnerable, and cunning all at the same time. So I am not sure why this movie felt the need to preach strong female characters. Hello! The term “final girl” is derived from horror films. Where this film could have been clever is to subvert our expectations and have a “final boy” and female villain instead, if it truly wanted to flip this property on its head. The female empowerment message could have easily come from that setup. A female slasher killing off frat guys that mistreat their girlfriends or hookups. That already sounds better.

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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“Doctor Sleep” horror film review

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. This highly anticipated film had the unusual task to fit the Kubrick film and King’s novel The Shining, since it is well known that King was not happy with the Kubrick adaptation. 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, it isn’t merely grown-up Danny whom shines in this film. Both Danny’s young counterpart Abra (Kyleigh Curran) and the mesmerizing villainous Rose “Rosie” the Hat (Rebecca Furguson) shine brightly against the macabre imagery and themes. 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, and this film knows that you are mostly in the auditorium because of anticipating the trade mark carpet, Navajo-deco interior design, and bloody elevators, and holds that ace up its sleeve until the third act. Whereas the storytelling could have taken the easy way out, knowing that you would blindly accept virtually everything as long as you get to check back into The Overlook, it still offers a compelling, challenging narrative that brilliantly sets up the showdown at the most infamous hotel in all literature. Combining the best of the King novel with the haunting imagery and ominous atmosphere of Kubrick’s masterpiece, this film surpasses the expectations and apprehensions most of us had when we knew the legacy shoes this sequel had to fill.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless-mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul… (IMDb)

Where do you go when you never want to see snow again? Florida or Southern California. And that is precisely where this film opens up (but it’s obviously Georgia). However, not with young Danny Torrence, we meet a kid whom encounters Rose the Hat and her “friends.” The audience is immediately hooked to the story after tragedy befalls the young lady. Mean while, across town at the same time, young Danny gets visited by that iconic “bathing beauty” from Room 237. Following a chance encounter with Dick Hallorann, Danny learns how to take control of the haunts of his past that are just as hungry as Rose the Hat is for the energy from that which creates the shine. While Danny may be able to contain the manifestations of the horror of his past, the experience at The Overlook and the untimely death of his mother had a profound, far reaching effect upon the direction of his life. As an adult, he, much like his father, turned to alcohol to dampen the trauma. After waking up next to the dead body of a coke-addict, he heads for New Hamshire. Precisely why is never fully explained; but it’s there that he meets an angel of sorts that sets him up for a successful return from the life of an addict to a fully-functional adult.

From operating a train in the town square (which you’ll recognize as Mystic Falls from The Vampire Diaries complete with the the clocktower and awning of the Mystic Grill in the background–I’m serious–you can read myst… on it, haha) to using his shinning ability to help those in a hospice pass from this world onto the next, the memories of The Overlook become more and more distant. All seems like it’s going well, until he begins to pickup the voices of those whom are being targeted and hunted by Rose the Hat’s gang. I love how the setup in Act I perfectly positioned our three lead characters for the gripping conflict that Act II brought about. Every scene, every moment of the film acts as a visual sentence in a larger paragraph, and those paragraphs are part of the entire story. Each one, a building block that consistently points to the resolution of the film. Never once does the films pacing lag. That’s not to say that it’s not a slow burn. After the shocking opening, it is a slow burn until midway through the film, then the pace quickens exponentially. That being said, the moments that are slower paced still feel perfect for the story that is unfolding. Slowly winding like a music box, the tension increases steadily as it draws you in closer and closer to the central conflict. With each child killed by Rose the Hat’s cult True Knot, the horrifying nature of the violent acts weigh heavily on your mind and heart as the terrifying creepiness of the war that being waged grows closer and closer to home.

Even more than the performances of Ewan and Kyleigh, it is Furguson’s Rose the Hat that steals the show every moment that she is on screen. The friend I was watching this with leaned over to me and said “I want to be her for Halloween next year.” Rose is a strikingly beautiful, seductive, siren like neo-hippie that looks like she just stepped out of a Rolling Stones concert. Everything from her stunning eyes to the rhyme and meter of how she delivers her “hi there” works absolutely perfectly. One might say that she steals the show in very much the same manner that Nicholson’s Jack steals the spotlight at every turn in The Shining. She is the best kind of character of opposition (for all intents and purposes villain), one that you love to hate and love to see on screen. She is vile she-devil, but how she goes about her conquest is fascinating. Ewan McGreggor’s performance as Danny is solid; nothing outstanding about it in particular but a strong performance that convinces us that he IS the adult version of the boy on the tricycle. I appreciate the transformation we witness as he goes from drifter to hero. Shining along side Danny is Kyleigh’s Abra, a newcomer to the big screen that echoes young Danny in The Shining, but a more developed character that actively takes control of her fate.

By far, my favorite part of the movie is when we return to The Overlook. I absolutely love how we watch Kyleigh and Danny drive the windy snowy road through the night to the infamous mountain lodge tucked deep in the Colorado Rockies. Despite the boarded up windows on the derelict hotel, the grandeur of The Overlook is just as present and powerful in 2019 as it was in 1980. Remember that scene of Jack and the hotel manager from The Shining? That same office is used as the doctor’s office at the hospice center. So, not all the homages to Kubrick’s masterpiece are at the hotel, some are sprinkled throughout the rest of the film. You get it all, callbacks to the bloody elevator, the typewriter, the sinister twins, bath lady, and more. While strolling through the dark, twisted hallways of The Overlook, Danny finds himself in the Gold Room where he encounters his Lloyd at the bar, tempting him with his vice. And as tradition has it, his bar tender is the former caretaker. And as such his bartender is Jack Torrance (played by discount Jack Nicholson). With such a great connection to the original film, the fact that this actor looked but not sounded like Jack Nicholson took me out of the film a little. Not to the point that it ruined the experience, but I have to acknowledge this shortcoming. That being said, it’s not so much that the actor is not Jack Nicholson, but I think having Jack Nicholson ADR the few lines that this Jack has would have helped to bridge the character gap between the original and this one. Some of the recasting worked brilliantly; the recasting of Wendy, young Danny, and Dick was spot on!

If you’re a fan of The Shining, then I highly recommend that you watch this film. If by some chance that you’ve been living under a rock and not seen The Shining, then you will still enjoy the film if you’re a horror fan. While this film may not be as terrifying as the first time we checked into The Overlook, it has many frightening moments. Any worries you have that this “not asked for sequel” is going to fail to deliver that which you want to see in a sequel, you needn’t worry! I hope you return to The Overlook very soon.

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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“Zombieland: Double Tap” horror comedy mini review

Worth the wait! Whereas some sequels try to imitate the original, Zombieland: Double Tap functions as a hilarious companion piece to the original. Perhaps the plot isn’t as compelling, and lacks the social commentary of the original, but you will undoubtedly have a fantastic time watching this movie. Personally, I enjoyed it even more than the first one. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are right now. If you loved the chemistry between all the characters in the first tone, you will be delighted to know that the characters are just as strong thanks to the return of the original writers and director! To be fair, this doesn’t function as a stand-alone movie, and needs the relationship with the original for much of the humor. However, as I mentioned, this is a companion piece to the first one. There is demonstrable growth witnessed in our ensemble case of central characters, but they aren’t the only ones to have developed off screen over the last decade. Hoards of new zombies have evolved that pose quite the threat to our favorite zombie hunters. In addition to encountering new zombies, we are introduced to some new human survivor characters as well. While this movie may not be as deep as the original, it does a great job of driving home the message of the importance of family. Even when your family is make-shift, the needs for love, acceptance, and even independence are still the same. Highly recommend for fans of the original! Be sure to stay for the end credits scene featuring Bill Murray.

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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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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