Film Reviews

Checking out the Film: Halloween Edition

‘Tis the season to watch horror films for free from under a mountain of fleecy blankets. Is there any other way to watch a creepy movie? This is a special Halloween edition of Checking out the Film, short reviews of recent library check-outs.

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Title

Demon

Director

Marcin Wrona

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

Nothing’s more fun than a wedding, right? Wrong–in so many, many ways. Especially so when you’ve recently uncovered a body (and rapidly buried it again) on the plot of land where you’re building a house for your bride-to-be. Worse still when this land belongs to her family, so you have very literally discovered the skeletons they were hiding.

For Piotr, his wedding in small town Poland goes from bad to worse when the spirit of the deceased possesses him in this tale of a dybbuk from Jewish mythology. The concept works chillingly well as the spirit is that of a Jewish woman who mysteriously vanished from the village long ago in the late 1930s. This is very much a slow burn that could have used a bit more intrigue early on, but quite an original concept for a horror film.

Who Should Watch

People who can’t imagine anything worse than the last wedding they attended. It can always be worse.

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Title

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Director

Jack Arnold

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

It’s that time of the year for a holiday classic about a swimmer in a fish man costume. After scientists take a trip down the Amazon in search of wildlife there, they encroach on the natural habitat of a creature who hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creature is less than stoked when the humans hang around and chuck a few spears in its direction, though it’s quite ok with essential lady assistant Kay hanging around.

I’m going to be honest–to me, this doesn’t hold up as a horror classic. It’s not even campy or melodramatic enough to be entertaining. There are just endless shots of dudes swimming around underwater, which was probably quite advanced at the time, but isn’t visually thrilling in black and white. And for all of the classic posters of Kay being abducted by the creature, she’s in its clutches for less than a minute of this film’s run time. Is that an odd complaint about a film–not enough abduction? I do appreciate the aquatic take on Frankenstein here, and the early environmental messages.

Who Should Watch

Al Gore.

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Title

Child’s Play (2019)

Director

Lars Kievberg

Format

DVD

Review

In this 21st century update of the horror franchise, Chucky is a smart doll who controls electronics and learns from the world around him. Surely nothing could go wrong when a refurbished model of the doll sits through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and listens to pre-teen Andy talk about his hatred for his mom’s boyfriend…right? Aubrey Plaza, kindred spirit and horror star of my dreams, plays Andy’s mom, who has terrible taste in men and struggles to make ends meet. Her life is about to get much more difficult when Chucky develops a mind of his own.

While quite fun, this film feels like an extended episode of Goosebumps, but with more swearing. The concept for the update is a good one, but Chucky is never going to be as gleefully gory as in the days when he was the spirit of a serial killer trapped in the body of a doll. I honestly think some of the recent films in the Child’s Play franchise of old have been more entertaining in their willingness to embrace B-movie absurdity. Not a bad use of time, but not especially memorable.

Who Should Watch

People who can stomach a significant amount of violence against cats.

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Title

Hereditary

Director

Ari Aster

Format

Streaming (Kanopy)

Review

Following the death of her emotionally abusive mother, Annie’s life begins to unravel in unexpected ways. After a horrific accident, Annie’s worst nightmare comes true: she behaves more and more like her mother. Seeking to connect with the dead, Annie turns to a kindly member of her support group who claims to speak with her deceased grandson regularly. When she manages to communicate with spirits, it’s unclear whether Annie is experiencing an otherworldly power or the same delusions that tortured her mother.

As noted many times, Toni Collette gives a brilliant, genuinely chilling performance here; in fact, I don’t think you can fault any of the performances. The disturbing images and experiences of the characters match the film’s ambitious messages about the curse of genetics and family inheritance. Though I find the end to be a bit too clever in its attempt at a dramatic twist, the conclusion has a horrific sensation of inevitability. Truly one of the good ones.

Who Should Watch

People who have ever considered having children of their own. Rethink this IMMEDIATELY.

What horrors have you witnessed this month? Ideally on film, but feel free to share your truth.

Header photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

a man in a hoodie and a woman in a wheelchair sit at a table in an institution with a teenage girl holding a Chucky doll
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Cult of Chucky, or: Toy Story 7

The best month on the blog continues with a somewhat less…artistic film?  Unless you consider fake blood and slow-mo glass shattering to be fine artistry.

The Film:

Cult of Chucky

The Premise:

This feels redundant.

The Ramble:

Rather cringey and ill-timed opening conversation about guns aside, what you expect from this film is exactly what you get.  The serial killer-possessed doll is back (yet again) for mayhem and murder.  The first few minutes more or less catch us up to speed with the story so far, which is helpful for me as a viewer who has occasionally seen bits and pieces of the films (except in the way it pervades horror pop culture [is that a thing?]).

Andy, now an adult, has been haunted by Chucky since childhood.  It seems all of the years of murder/psychological warfare have made Andy a bit twisted, as he now keeps Chucky’s head in a safe and brings it out on wild nights to torture it a bit.  Let’s not get into the moral dilemma of this scenario, ok?

a man sits and faces the severely damaged face of a red-haired Chucky doll
Just another Friday night at home…

Meanwhile, another survivor of Chucky’s madness is suffering quite a bit herself.  Nica is a patient in a high security psychiatric hospital after allegedly going on a murder spree and blaming it all on Chucky.  She has MS and rolls around in a wheelchair (possibly the only horror heroine to do so?!??!).

After gaining better control over her delusions, Nica will move to a medium security facility that’s appropriately ominous.  Even though the nurse Carlos says he’s just doing a job, he seems to be fond of Nica and leaves her a gift of chewing gum.

a severe concrete building stands isolated in the snow
What other facility could better promote positive mental health?

The others in the hospital include a woman who claims to be a ghost, a man with multiple personalities, a woman who smothered her own child, and an arsonist who instantly dislikes Nica.  Everyone seems to know about Nica’s dodgy past, which seems like a major ethical violation…but that’s really the least of the psychiatrist’s offenses.

Things are going along, eh, reasonably well, until the ghost lady tells Nica that her niece isn’t doing well…and that Chucky is coming.  For some stupid fucking reason, the psychiatrist decides to bring out a Chucky doll as an exercise, which the patient missing her child instantly claims as her own.   Yeah, about .25 seconds later he’s wielding a knife.

a woman in a straitjacket sits in a wheelchair next to a dead body and three animated red-haired Chucky dolls

From this point, of course, the bodies start piling up.  And so do the Chucky dolls–in addition to the creepy Chucky head chilling with Andy, there are two dolls in the hospital.

Oh, also, Jennifer Tilly, Chucky’s girlfriend, has adopted Nica’s niece for whatever reason.  Mostly to torture Nica.

At a later point, the psychiatrist tries hypnosis with Nica and reveals what a goddamn sleaze he is.  Will Nica escape both the psychiatrist and Chucky?

And will Andy ever make it to the hospital?  I kind of forgot about him–did you?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is so much fun it’s hard not to like.  The plot avoids going in the direction you expect, and I appreciate the almost complete lack of romance in this (really expected a Nica/Andy hookup and was pleasantly surprised that this didn’t happen).  Most of the characters are really fun to watch and have at least some emotional depth.  The ending manages to surprise and makes the ride even more fun.

It’s also incredibly satisfying to watch a certain wannabe Freud finally fucking die (spoiler/not really a spoiler because you know it’s coming).

Note to filmmakers:  if your horror is set in a psych ward, odds of me liking it increase exponentially.  Also the representation of several of the psychological disorders here was not the worst (I mean, for a horror film).

Would Christa lock this one away or unleash its madness upon the world?  Find out by reading her review here!