I saw three terrific movies during my annual effort to set the tone for Halloween. All three were book adaptations.
First up was this year’s “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” adapted from Stephen King’s 2020 novella (which I have not read). It deftly follows the right formula for a successful King adaptation (or any successful horror movie, really) — it methodically portrays characters that viewers can truly like and care about, and then imperils them. For me, it wasn’t just Jaeden Martell’s personable young protagonist — it was also the great Donald Sutherland’s titular Mr. Harrigan, whose ghost is the story’s putative (?) antagonist. (I like how the movie leaves that just a little open ended; I’ll bet the novella has a lot more to say there.)
Still, some seasoned horror fans might feel that the film just isn’t scary enough. By the time its thoughtful denouement rolls around, it feels more like a dark drama with horror movie elements than it feels like a “scary movie.” (The term “post-horror” was gaining currency a few years ago, and I don’t know if that’s still a thing.) After all, the ostensible ghost here appears to actually want to aid the protagonist. The movie might even feel like it is missing a third act — I counted only two victims of the vindictive entity, whose deaths occurred offscreen. The ending was well written and poignant, right down to its closing line, but it will still feel like an anti-climax to some.
Next up was the new adaptation of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser.” This was pretty damn scary. It should be seen by only more intense horror hounds — it’s a predictably violent gorefest about sadomasochistic demons that literally torture their summoners, along with any innocents who are unfortunate enough to be nearby. I know it isn’t high art, but it was well executed, with capable acting and some really creative direction. (Odessa A’zion was quite good in her role, and the van scene was an especially nice touch.) If you can stomach its ultraviolence, then you might really enjoy this movie.
Finally, I revisited another King adaptation — 2019’s “Doctor Sleep.” You guys already now how zealously I love this movie, so I want burden you yet again with my fanboy adulation of it.