Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My First Ever Total Epic Halloween Marathon

If there's a limit to how much Bruce Campbell one can get,
I don't want to know about  it.
For some time now, I've been working towards a month-long Halloween horror movie marathon, though not always consciously. I've never been a huge horror movie buff, but Halloween always seemed the perfect time to get caught up on all the gore, paranoia, exploration of taboo subject matter, and affronts to basic human decency that defined the genre and added to the rich cultural tapestry that we all know and love/fear. So it became an annual tradition of mine to line up a roster of films to watch on that most unholy of holidays that everyone seems to enjoy more than Christmas but can't fully admit to just yet. Slowly, that concept expanded to declaring October open season for absorbing all manner of murders, disembowelings, deranged psychos, hauntings, possessions, zombies, and monstrosities of all stripes through the magic of movies.

This year, I finally fully committed to taking the bloody plunge to engage in a full thirty-one full days of depravity, in full defiance of family functions, interpersonal relationships, and physical health. It was an excuse, really, to explore a corner of the cinematic universe that I otherwise don't venture into that often. Horror is a strange genre, really. I sometimes find myself trying to rationalize the enjoyment of the genre more than I would others. Perhaps there's more of an apparent disparity between the horror genre and the purported goals of art, though I found that upon closer inspection that disparity was, indeed, merely a perceived one.

I remember a brief snippet from an interview with Lance Henriksen (who cut himself a decent chunk of the horror camp) while I was watching Space in the (increasingly) vain hope that their programming would spit out something else other than endless reruns of episodes of Stargate. I can't find the clip online for some reason, but basically the point that ol' Lance made was that the horror genre was an extension of the same urge that our ancient ancestors to tell ghost stories while huddled in the dark around a camp fire. Horror is a test of one's mettle, but it's also a safe place to explore otherwise taboo topics like cannibalism, incest, necrophilia, or cannibalistic incestuous necrophilia. Fear is as necessary a part of the human emotional palette as love, hate, or whatever emotion makes people pay actual money to watch all of those Tyler Perry Madea movies. (Self-loathing, I assume?)

Horror explores the boundaries of human emotion and comprehension, just like any other artistic genre. It's unique, I suppose, in that it's rooted specifically in the very darkest depths of human urges, desires, and fears. I think that in this way it serves a very specific, very useful role, especially as Mr. Henriksen began to point out in that video clip that totally exists somewhere (as far as you know) that what we're really testing isn't necessarily the limits of our fear, but our fear of fear.

As I delved int my 2016 Halloween Horror Movie Marathon (patent pending), I began to become a little worried. I had intended to provoke some level of fear in myself, but I was finding that as I was watching these movies, there were no lasting effects as I had experienced at other times. I'm talking about running-up-the-stairs-and-hiding-under-your-covers type fear. Not necessarily the kind of film that would cause lasting psychological damage (although, I'm not averse to that either), but one that would leave me rattled despite the best efforts of my rational waking mind.

Partway through my journey, I realized that although I was enjoying a lot of these films, I wasn't getting scared. At all. The weird sounds that happen in your basement at two or three in the morning weren't sending my heart racing to jump out of my throat. I also realized that I was playing it safe. I was mostly watching movies that I had seen before, and steering clear of movies that seemed truly terrifying. I was truly afraid of being afraid. Part of it was probably the lasting psychological effects from my own personal horror story that had transpired a few years back.

Honestly, as much as I'd like to hold myself up as a paradigm of the manly manliness that the media has fed to us, I can't attain that unrealistic ideal any more than women can attain the exaggerated, hyper-sexualized body type of Jessica Rabbit. I would prefer to redefine masculinity as the ability to effectively cope with the range of heinous shit that Life throws at us and the ability to admit when one needs help, though it might be a tough sell. The point being, that even as recently as a few months ago--almost five full years after a home invasion and assault that Life saw fit to throw at me--I found myself frozen in place mid-step as I tried to walk down the dark hallway in my basement one night. (Although, in all fairness, basements are scientifically proven to be the scariest part of the house.) After being legitimately and unhilariously afraid of the dark for several years following the incident, I realize now that I had been both consciously and unconsciously minimizing my exposure to stressful stimuli to the extent possible in daily life.

In effect, I had developed a fear of fear.

Realizing this fact, I made a conscious effort to watch some films that, for whatever reason, seemed to hold the possibility of actually scaring me. Thankfully, on All Hallows' Eve of 2016, I actually got to a film that unsettled me and caused me to start seeing figures hiding in the shadows in (Where else?) my basement.

Due to time constraints imposed by work, family, and chronic masturbation (actual medical diagnosis pending), I don't have the time to write down my thoughts on every movie I watch. But I thought that in honour of the season, I would include the list of movies that made up this year's marathon with a few brief thoughts on each. The purpose of this is twofold; it's a much-needed exercise in brevity for me, and it also provides basically a horror movie playlist should anyone out there wish to embark on a similar ritual in the future and explore some movies that they haven't seen before and hopefully get a good dose of genuine, underwear-changing fear.

Without further ado, here is the Feed the Voices in Your Head official list of movies for the 2016 Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, presented in the chronological order in which I watched them. I also included the Letterboxd rating that I gave each film in the heat of the moment. (If you haven't checked out Letterboxed and you're a movie fan, then get with the fucking program and sign up immediately, you fucking muggle.)

1. The Fourth Kind (October 1)

I started off with the marathon with theme of aliens. The Fourth Kind is a lesser-known little flick dealing with alien abductions (close encounters of the fourth kind) and starring Milla Jovovich (reason enough right there to watch it). Not as scary as it was the first time, but still unsettling enough. I do get really creeped out by human levitation though, so the only sway this movie may still have over me may because of that unique psychological Achilles heel.

My Letterboxd Rating = 2.5 out of 5 stars

2. The Thing (October 2)

I remember watching the John Carpenter classic The Thing a few years ago and being unimpressed. Maybe it was because I was super-tired at the time and fell asleep partway through that first time, but for whatever reason I was unimpressed. Consider my mind changed. The Thing is fucking great and definitely deserves the vast majority of praise it gets from fans, and one hundred percent of the praise it gets for its practical effects. Plus, dat Kurt Russell beard.

My Letterboxd Rating = 4.5 out of 5 stars

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (October 3)

Another classic that's made it into my yearly Halloween circulation is the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This along with The Thing are a few of the exceptions to the shitty remake curse. With the 1978 version of Invasion takes all of the social anxieties of conformity (rooted in the historical context of McCarthyism and communism, but equally applicable to anxieties underlying the current socio-political landscape) and adds the impeccable Donald Sutherland, Donald Sutherland's glorious moustache, a young Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Fucking Nimoy. In a perfect world, every movie pre-1978 would have been remade with the three of them.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars (For some reason. I think I need to bump this up.)

4. Species (October 4)

OK, I have a soft spot in my heart and a hard spot in my dick for Species. I saw this originally as a teenager, and Natasha Henstridge was running around half-naked for a fair part of the film. It had an interesting concept with a team of specialists being recruited to track down an alien-human hybrid that is bent on procreating the human race out of existence. If humanity is invariably doomed, death by fucking Natasha Henstridge doesn't seem that bad of a way to go.

My Letterboxd Rating = 2.5 out of 5 stars

5. Alien (October 5)

"In space no one can hear you scream." Ridley Scott's Alien is, by this point, an undisputed masterpiece to the point where even its tagline and poster are as iconic as any in cinematic history. The story of a crew of space miners being stalked by a hereto unidentified alien life form is a tale older than the purported (and scientifically impossible) age of Beauty and the Beast that it boasts about in that other irritatingly catchy Disney song. The infamous chest-bursting scene alone is more worth the price of admission than most present-day full-length features. 

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

6. Event Horizon (October 6) 

Event Horizon is a strange beast of a film that feels sort of like lightning in a bottle. I have yet to come across another film with the same feel. It's a strange hybrid of science fiction and demonic possession. The movie follows the efforts of a rescue crew exploring the recently reappeared prototype spaceship, the Event Horizon. Unfortunately, the ship's unique propulsion system seems to have literally taken it to hell and back, and both the ship and Sam Neill are possessed by an evil force greater than a million velociraptors. Luckily for both him and the audience, there are no annoying child sidekicks. Also on the upside, look for the horrific nudity of Sam Neill's mutilated dead wife.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

7. The Omen (October 7)

The Omen is one of those classic films that are required viewing, but honestly, it doesn't really do too much for me. The stand out scene to me has always been the plate glass window decapitation. I also noticed this time around the incredibly dated gender politics that stood out more than usual and a strange fear of the psychiatric profession.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3 out of 5 stars

8. Carrie (October 8)

Carrie had been on my radar for some time, but for whatever reason, I hadn't checked out this iconic Brian De Palma flick.I happened to be visiting family for Thanksgiving at the time, and so watching the opening locker room scene that featured a lot more nudity of high school girls than I had expected with my wife and both of my parents was a little awkward, even though I fully realize that as a fully grown adult, I should feel no awkwardness at all. I was really surprised how good the film turned out to be. I also have to admit that I did jump at that final scene. It also seemed that De Palma's later film Blow Out seemed to be poking fun a little bit at his own filmography. It's a neat bit of meta-commentary if it's true.

My Letterboxd Rating = 4 out of 5 stars

9. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter 

(October 8)

Holy fuck, what a piece of shit. I knew that the Friday the 13th series got bad, but I had no idea it got this fucking bad. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the fourth film in the series, and it boggles my mind that it didn't murder the franchise. Even Corey Feldman and Marty McFly's father couldn't save this thing from choking on its own entrails. This also marked my first double-feature night as I (correctly) surmised that with the entire extended family there the next night for Thanksgiving, there would be no time for horror of this variety.

My Letterboxd Rating = 0.5 out of 5 stars

10. The Exorcist (October 10)

The Exorcist is another film in my yearly rotation. It's a perfectly crafted film from start to finish, and is a great slow burn, which is right up my alley, especially when it comes to horror films.Linda Blair is great as the troubled Regan, Ellen Burstyn is great as her mother, Jason Miller is great as Father Karras, and Max von Sydow was apparently born as an old man. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of the movie was how calm and rational Jason Miller's Father Karras is throughout most of the movie, as despite believing in magical talking snakes and crackers turning into human flesh he actually advocates evidenced-based scientific inquiry in this one, specific case.

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

11. Poltergeist (October 11)

Even if it wasn't ghost directed by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist is undeniably Spielbergian, especially in its exploration of middle class family dynamics and its sense of childlike wonder. The film centres around the haunting of a family home, which manifests as everything from gravitational anomalies to child abduction. As family patriarch Steve Freeling, Craig T. Nelson shines in the only worthwhile project he was to have been involved in until The Incredibles. Perhaps most memorable are Zelda Rubinstein's zany exorcist character (Tangina, for those keeping track at home) and Craig T. Nelson yelling some of my favourite lines ever in a movie:
"You son of a bitch! You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"

My Letterboxd Rating = 4.5 out of 5 stars

12. The Mothman Prophecies (October 12)

A little bit of a cult flick, I vaguely remember going to see The Mothman Prophecies with some associates from my days as a budding thespian in my university theatre phase. It didn't make much of an impact back then, but upon subsequent re-watchings, I've found it to be an effectively creepy little flick. Weird moth-like creatures seem to know the future and fuck with space, time, and the lives of human beings for reasons beyond our comprehension. Indrid Cold is also an incomprehensibly creepy name that freaks me out just hearing it. I definitely consider The Mothman Prophecies a hidden gem in my collection now.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

13. A Nightmare on Elm Street (October 13)

I still haven't seen all of the sequels, but the original Nightmare on Elm Street still stands up for me as the iconic horror film that it originally established itself as. Even though he didn't quite make it into Star Wars, Robert Englund made a name for himself as the infamous Freddy Krueger, the "filthy child murderer" turned nightmare demon. There's some great gore here, with the anti-gravity bedroom murder and Johnny Depp being turned into a human smoothie. This movie is also the reason I can't take bubble baths any more.

My Letterboxd Rating = 4 out of 5 stars

14. Friday the 13th (October 14)

After the bad taste of The Final Chapter, I had to go back and cleanse my palette with the original Friday the 13th. I always tend to think of Friday the 13th as the originator of the slasher flick sub-genre, even though it was one of a slew of films capitalizing on the actual originator, Halloween. But Friday the 13th is synonymous with the genre for good reason. It pioneered some of the now-classic tropes we associate with horror films: an isolated location, typically in the woods; a group of sexually charged teenagers; a lone psychopath picking them off the victims one by one; and the aforementioned survivors making decisions so bone-headed that you actually don't mind too much when they start showing up as mutilated corpses. Also, this movie may be one of the reasons that Kevin Bacon was able to share his gifts with the world, a debt not easily repaid.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

15. Zodiac (October 15)

It's no secret that David Fincher is one fucked-up individual. And I mean that in the best way possible. I don't typically associate him with horror, but along with Seven he also gave us Zodiac, which never fails to creep me the fuck out. That one scene in the basement is enough to put me on edge for days. The fact that it's also "based on a true story" makes it all the more disturbing. This is filmmaking at its best. Killer cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo,Anthony Edwards (with hair!), and the older brother from the Drew Carey show), killer director, killer story, and killer... killer. There is nothing to find fault with here.

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

16. Machete Joe (October 16)

I found Machete Joe in the bargain bin at Walmart one fateful day and picked it for an old friend of mine, Joe, because I thought it would be clever? I guess? Anyway, Joe and I drifted apart like Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicutt after the series finale of M*A*S*H, so after years of having this thing sitting around, I decided to just bust it open myself. Machete Joe is a low, low, low, low, low budget title that follows a group of indie filmmakers trying to make a slasher flick based on a local urban legend of a disfigured killer called Machete Joe that turns out to be true and he starts killing them off one by one. It's every bit as terrible as you'd expect for a random no-name movie in the bottom of the bargain bin, but still not nearly as terrible as Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. I still can't get over what a piece of shit that was.

My Letterboxd Rating = 1 out of 5 stars

17. Night of the Living Dead (October 17)

As any true zombie fan out there will tell you, we owe a massive debt of gratitude to George A. Romero for creating the zombie film genre we know and love today, including a real hesitation to use the word "zombie" in the movies themselves. His historic movie Night of the Living Dead blended tropes from Haitian religious folklore and 1950s alien invasion flicks that struck a chord so deep that zombies have now moved out of the fringes of the horror section of your local video rental store and into the mainstream with entire prime time shows like The Walking Dead. It's not every day that you create a new genre in any medium, let alone one that consistently picks up steam over the five decades since its inception. You've got cannibalism merged with social commentary: What more could you want?   

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

18. Dawn of the Dead (October 18)

Dawn of the Dead is perhaps one of the the finest if not the finest zombie film ever put to film. It was able to build on the success of George A Romero's groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead and help to solidify the basic template for all zombie narratives that would follow, no matter the medium. Let's be honest, nobody was winning any Oscars for acting in this thing. But it did provide some of the most iconic imagery, most iconic social commentary (The shopping mall means consumerism!), most iconic gore and effects, and the most iconic tag line in zombie movie history: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." Now that's a status update.

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

19. Day of the Dead (October 19)

What I remember most about my first viewing of Day of the Dead years back was how everybody seemed super pissed off at each other for no good fucking reason. Like really pissed off. Captain Rhodes seemed especially unhinged for no good reason. I guess if it were made today, we'd get a prequel comic to explain how irrationally antagonistic everybody seemed. On the other hand, Day of the Dead has the best practical zombie gore effects possibly ever committed to film. It really is an ode to practical effects that even the great George A. Romero would abandon in his later films.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3 out of 5 stars

20. Diary of the Dead (October 20)

Upon further inspection in my collection, I realized that I did not possess a copy of Land of the Dead and so I had to skip ahead to the next film in Romero's zombie film opus, Diary of the Dead. I'll admit that I wasn't initially super keen on a found footage zombie movie, but leave it to the originator of the genre to pull it together. Diary of the Dead wasn't a home run, but it was surprisingly good with a nice little meta-commentary on horror/zombie filmmaking thrown in for good measure, including the obligatory nudity. Nothing says zombie apocalypse quite like a shambling corpse and a nice set of tits.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3 out of 5 stars

21 Survival of the Dead (October 21)

Finishing out the George A. Romero stint of my marathon, I revisited Survival of the Dead, which didn't suck, but didn't exactly blow me away either. Judging by the line-up of actors, it wasn't hard to guess that it was filmed in Canada, which I suppose is kind of cool being that it could have been filmed in my backyard. There's a weird plot about feuding families on a sort-of isolated island who have disagreements as to how dead the zombies really are, and whether there is anything of the people they used to be in the walking corpses they have become (a recurring theme in Romero's work). It isn't terrible, but a lot of the effects are obviously CGI. Cons: Sidelining and/or killing off all of the core group of soldiers that we followed through the first half of the movie. Pros: Lesbian masturbation in the time of zombies.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3 out of 5 stars

22. Night of the Living Dead (1990 Remake)

(October 22)

The moment I learned about a remake of Night of the Living Dead directed by legendary effects artist and cock-gun aficionado Tom Savini, I was fucking in, no questions asked. While it doesn't quite hold a candle to the original, it definitely has a lot to offer. Savini brings his his gore effects savvy that he developed in Dawn of the Dead and perfected in Day of the Dead to bear here as well, though not to the same height. It was nice to see Barbara get a sort of redemption here as in the original the character was hamstrung by some serious hysterics brought on by an acute case of outdated sexual/gender politics.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3 out of 5 stars

23. Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake) 

(October 23)

A lot of people currently have a massive hate-boner for director Zack Snyder, but I'm still on board the Snyder-train, no matter where it might take me. Before he became a blockbuster demi-god, like most directors Snyder had to prove that he could helm an undertaking of a certain magnitude, and for Snyder that was a remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. And as far as remakes go it's actually... pretty good. Once again set in a shopping mall, but stripped of the deeper social commentary of the original, there's just enough substance and interaction with the characters to hold everything together. I'm still not partial to the running zombies (with the notable exception of 28 Days Later), but the zombie pregnancy and baby are fucked up enough to earn the Dawn of the Dead remake its place in the zombie canon. 

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

24. Shaun of the  (October 24)

Born out of an episode of their cult show Spaced, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took their madness to the big screen with the help of frequent collaborator Edgar Wright. The result of that alchemy is Shaun of the Dead, which both lovingly pokes fun at the zombie genre and is a genuine entry into the pantheon itself. Pegg and Frost are in peak form as blue collar everymen trying to deal with the zombie apocalypse with the level of effectiveness you'd expect. With heaping helpings of comedy and heartfelt human drama, there's a great deal to unpack here, and even after years of viewing, I still find myself picking up on little references and details here and there. For those watching with the right eyes, Shaun of the Dead holds answers to all of life's greatest dilemmas: Go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How's that for a slice of fried gold?  

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

25. The Evil Dead (October 26)

The Evil Dead film series is basically a genre unto itself. Sam Raimi's low-budget 1981 masterpiece that started it all, The Evil Dead, is the perfect blend of cheesiness, gore, and Bruce Campbell, the key ingredients to any successful horror film. While it wouldn't be until Evil Dead II that Raimi and Campbell would really play up the slapstick humour that the series would become known for, the core elements of gore, brutal violence, demonic possession, ancient burial rites and funerary incantations, bodily dismemberment, copious amounts of blood, and unseen evil forces chasing people relentlessly through the woods are firmly established. My advice to any studio execs reading this blog is that whatever Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell want to do, fund that shit out of it. For the good of humanity. Long live the Chin.  

My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

26. Evil Dead II (October 27)


My Letterboxd Rating = 5 out of 5 stars

27. Army of Darkness (October 28)

Perhaps the most quotable of all of the Evil Dead films, Army of Darkness takes a huge leap and picks up where Evil Dead II left off with Ash (Bruce Campbell) stranded in time dealing with the primitive screwheads in medieval Europe. Armed with his trusty chainsaw and peasant-pants-shitting boomstick, Ash must battle deadites, dish out the pain to undead she-bitches, and woo his lady love with the ultimate pickup line: Give me some sugar, baby. Army of Darkness is a strange beast in that there a lot of different versions floating around out there (the latest Scream Factory release that I acquired has four versions, I believe) with two very different endings. I've always been partial to post-apocalyptic wasteland ending myself in keeping with Ash's luck in these movies, but I'll gladly hail to the king in whatever circumstance he finds himself in. But what do I know? I'm just a lound-mouthed braggart.  

My Letterboxd Rating = 4.5 out of 5 stars

28. The Witch (October 29)

The Witch (or The VVitch, for some reason) had been on my radar for some time, and it didn't disappoint. There's something universally unsettling about religious fervour surrounding witches and the period in European history where witchcraft was believed to be an actual thing and real people were brutally murdered as a result. This movie was exactly the kind of slow burn I love with an expertly deployed level of ambiguity. I'm not sure why the name Black Philip was so unsettling, but it fucking was. 

My Letterboxd Rating = 4 out of 5 stars

29. It Follows (October 30)

I know that the subtext of the sexually transmitted demon in It Follows was supposed to be a metaphor for the anxieties surrounding sexual maturity and the risks therein. I'm just not sure what the overall message was supposed to be. The whole slow-walking, shape-shifting demon was well-executed, and the overall interaction between the kids seemed authentic, but the muddled message seemed to imply that teenagers having sex is a potential death sentence. It seemed like a 90s PSA wrapped in a slick indie flick.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

30. Pet Sematary (October 31)

Pet Sematary is yet another classic movie based on the work of prolific author, american icon, and occasional hood ornament Stephen King. It's no The Shining (and definitely no The Stand), but it does have undead family members coming back to life to wreak unholy terror on their living family members, plus Denise Crosby trying to shake off the typecasting of security chief Natasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation, before going crawling back to the show years later to play her own half-Romulan daughter years later, and then starring in some low-budget movie where she appears nude that I happened to catch on TV late one night and was forever burned into my brain. Also, finally realized that "sematary" was spelled wrong.

My Letterboxd Rating = 3.5 out of 5 stars

31. Sinister (October 31)

I'm pretty sure I watched a movie earlier in the month to get to the magical number thirty-one, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what the fuck it was, so I made Halloween a double-header with Sinister. Honestly, for whatever reason, this movie put the fear into me, to the point where I was genuinely reticent to watch it. And I was right. Sinister provided an enjoyable surprise that genuinely left me unsettled and slightly more afraid of my children. A tight little horror flick with a unique premise. After a change of underwear and a shot of tequila to strengthen the old nerves, Halloween 2016 turned out to be a bloody success.

My Letterboxd Rating = 4 out of 5 stars


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