I can’t resist.
I can’t resist.
So I capped off my Halloween watch season with two final movies — last year’s disappointing Japanese remake of “Cube” and this year’s truly unnerving “Smile.”
The new “Cube” wasn’t terrible — it was better than the glut of lackluster low-budget horror films that we fans endlessly contend with. But it’s still a watered-down, somewhat milquetoast facsimile of the devilish 1997 Canadian original. The makers of the new film seem to have consciously traded booby-trap horror for some belabored personal drama. (If you see this movie, you might note that the plot-driving booby traps in the titular futuristic prison get surprisingly little screen time.)
This decision doesn’t pay off too well … the melodrama slows the film down without making the characters any more engaging. And the overused flashbacks disrupt the claustrophobic setting that is supposed to be essential here. Maybe this script was written to better anticipate the expectations of Japanese audiences? Or maybe the movie simply had a limited special effects budget — the deadly traps that we do get to see in action are depicted by CGI that is a little unconvincing.
“Smile,” on the other hand, was scary as hell. Yes, it bears a striking resemblance to another well known horror film (which I won’t name, as that might be a general spoiler). And some of the twists and jump scares are easy to predict (or were spoiled by the trailer).
But … goddam. This movie worked. I can’t knock a horror film that had me genuinely scared. The supernatural plot device is undeniably creepy, and writer-director Parker Finn wisely employs methodical pacing to gradually ratchet up the tension. Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon!) was also convincing as the protagonist, and created a sympathetic character to root for.
“Smile” is strong stuff. I’d definitely recommend it.
Or maybe it’s just a catbird.
The Bates Motel sign is an especially nice touch.
(Kirk Avenue in Roanoke, Virginia.)
And I thought it turned out pretty damn good. What you see are monster claw marks.
Y’know … speaking of claw marks … it occurs to me now that I still haven’t gotten to see a bear since I arrived in Southwest Virginia. I need to remedy that somehow, but I’m not sure how to go about it.
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.
I’m still getting into the spirit of Halloween with my television viewing. I caught the newest episodes of “The Walking Dead,” and predictably was quite pleased. (I still maintain that the show has returned to fine form for its final episodes.)
I was somewhat less enthusiastic about Marvel’s new special, “Werewolf By Night,” which was too campy and corny for my taste. (I don’t think I am this show’s intended audience … I can hardly remember the eponymous 1970’s horror comics to which it is an homage.)
What I absolutely loved was episode one of “Let the Right One In” — which looks like it might even compete with the new “Interview With the Vampire” as the best new show with the fanged baddies. It’s less like the 2008 Swedish original independent film and more like the 2010 American remake. It’s a grounded, deliberately paced, atmospheric thriller that manages to be scary right from its opening scene. I love it.