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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

I’ve never been shy about my disinclination for horror, which is possibly my least favorite movie genre if I had to pick one. It’s not that I hate all horror films, but very generally they don’t ever immediately appeal to me. I find that I don’t scare easily, I don’t like to look at a lot of gore and I don’t have much interest in the psychology of fictional killers or the suffering of fictional victims. Most horror movies I see bore me, even those I might appreciate as being more than just a conventional series of deaths or hauntings or other frights.

I often rationalize my disfavor as being the effect of watching a ton of horror movies at a very young age and becoming immune to their tricks and subtext. That might not be the truth, but I do remember having a dream around age 6 or 7 in which I was basically on a set visit to a horror film production, where I saw all the suicidal people who’d volunteered to play victims, because in that world the actors in horror films are literally killed. That makes me sound more messed up as a kid than I was, when really I think it was just my imagination reminding me that the actuality of horror movies is all just pretend. I’m sure my overthinking of the genre even then kept me from enjoying it.

Anyway, whatever the reasons for my being a “horror hater” (nowadays my being a documentary fan likely also keeps me more scared of real horrors out there), I thought I’d share some titles that I do in fact like a lot. I don’t think they’re the best, just my favorites. Logically due to my age, a majority of horror movies I love are 1980s releases, but I’ve excluded most of them for being mainly nostalgic choices (I mention some below in relation to my picks). Hopefully this list can spawn a discussion directed at me regarding movies I should give a try or retry, especially as based on any preferences you notice.

But just to make note of some classic titles you’ll think I’m wrong for not favoring: I admit liking much of The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead and Don’t Look Now, I’ve never cared much for Halloween and I don’t like The Exorcist (or any religious themed horror) at all. 

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FRANKENHOOKER commentary

Genre comedies remain a tough combination to pull off, but when they work the results can include all kinds of ridiculous and messy fun. One under-appreciated gem is Frank Henenlotter‘s 1990 romp, Frankenhooker. As is probably evident in the title the movie is a tongue in cheek riff on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein following a young scientist’s efforts to fix his girlfriend after she’s killed in a tragic lawnmower accident.

It’s a top to bottom comedy that tells its story with a great sense of humor and liberal nudity — and without a single drop of blood. So naturally it was unable to secure an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA and had to enter the marketplace unrated. Over the years it’s gained somewhat of a well-deserved cult following, and when the UK’s Arrow Video put together a cleaned-up Blu-ray of the film they also produced a new commentary track for the release. It’s almost as funny as the movie itself.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker.

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Pee-wee Herman

Warner Bros.

Rumors of a third Pee-wee Herman movie — a trilogy-completer! — have persisted for years, but now it seems as if we might be mere days away from getting an announcement of the official variety. Pee-wee himself (Paul Reubens, if you’re feeling formal) hit The Tonight Show last night where, with a minimum of goading, he fessed up to host Jimmy Fallon that, yes, there’s a new Pee-wee movie (officially) in the works, and yes, he and producer Judd Apatow definitely have a director on board. Well, who is it, you little be-bow-tied man? Tell us!

Reubens intimated that we could expect to hear more formal stuff about the project within a week or so, but let’s try to crack this one ourselves right now. Who is going to direct this new Pee-wee feature? We’ve got some ideas.

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Cabin in the Woods Acker

Lionsgate

The Final Girl was a pretty great evolution for horror movies. Instead of endless heaps of screaming ladies falling victim to supernatural and human evils, some would rise above, running out the front door rather than up the stairs, finding a way to fight back rather than just blow the audience’s ear drums with blood-curdling screams.

But the Final Girl was just that – a girl. One solitary girl might live so that the evil had someone to fight with in future, franchised battles. The down side to having a Final Girl was that only one would persevere while many more perished – victims who were often just as capable (if not smarter, or at least more charismatic) than the ones who would live.

To make the victims into Final Girls might not always make narrative sense – and indeed, can change the entire outcome of a film – but it’s still fun to imagine the alternative, especially on Halloween.

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Freestyle Releasing

Freestyle Releasing

Psychological thrillers — especially those dealing with jilted lovers or obsessed stalkers — have a long history in modern cinema, and more often than not it’s the woman who snaps and resorts to violence, threats and bunny boiling to get “her” man back. Fatal Attraction is the most famous example, but there are many similar films that show us a weak-willed man who slips (into another woman) only to realize too late that he’s made a serious mistake. When women are stalked in movies it’s typically by strangers or men they have only the most casual of acquaintances with, but while all of this adds up to some interesting observations on gender politics in film we have a movie to discuss.

Missionary flips that convention on its head by allowing the woman to make the sexual misstep that triggers a young man’s possessive rage, but while many of the story beats that follow still tread familiar territory there’s another element that stands it apart from the herd. That’s right. I’m talking about Mormons.

Katherine (Dawn Olivieri) is a single mother separated from her cheating husband Ian (Kip Pardue) and trying to stay afloat both financially and emotionally  for the sake of her son Kesley. Her attempt to help the boy practice some football basics is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Mormon missionaries out spreading the word, and though she turns the proselytizing white shirts away at first she relents on their presence when they prove to be far better than her with a football.

A chance meeting with Kevin (Mitch Ryan), the younger of the pair, quickly descends into a carnal relationship that goes against her common sense and his faith, but when she decides to end the relationship in the hopes of rekindling things with her husband Kevin decides that he and God have other plans. Katherine will be his celestial wife, Kesley will be their son and the three of them will be bound together for eternity.

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Whiplash

Sony Pictures Classics

What defines a horror movie villain? Someone (or something) that is emotionless, relentless, haunting and makes you bleed. By this definition, Whiplash gave audiences one of the most terrifying villains released in the horror month of October, but it may not be the character you expect.

There is no question that J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher is relentless as he pushes Andrew (Miles Teller) to excel at his chosen instrument. But it is the instrument itself that is the true villain of this story – the drum set.

It’s emotionless, relentless, constantly haunts Andrew and (as you can see) makes him bleed. Andrew is drawn to the drums in a way that has him constantly coming back for more – no matter how much pain and anguish the drums cause him. Andrew cannot keep himself from the pull of playing, but he’s not simply in it for the love of the music; Andrew wants to be the best.

No matter what Andrew does to fight against the drum set – sweating on it, bleeding on it, punching them out – it survives. If he destroys it, there is always another set, taking its place for him to play. Like a guy in a William Shatner mask, Whiplash’s drum set can never truly be killed.

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Marvel

Marvel

Marvel movies are a lot of things (and, as of yesterday, a lot of movies) but in all that costumed heroism there’s something missing: a little something of substance. Think of Terminator 2 and the caution sign it painted around advancements in computer tech. Or The Matrix, which took a similar thought and spackled on large globs of Jesus and Alice in Wonderland.

Now try Thor: The Dark World. Iron Man? Guardians of the Galaxy? All of them pack it on when it comes to fun and excitement, but nobody’s going to be writing any scholarly papers on them in 15 or 20 years. Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes the grade, announcing its stance on drone warfare and government intrusion, then masking that stance in auto-firing killcruisers, but it’s the exception that proves the rule. Think about how much The Winter Soldier‘s politicisms stand out amongst its MCU peers. It’s more than noticeable.

Technically, if Marvel wanted to up their intellectual game, they could do it with any hero in any franchise. Tony Stark could take up his comic counterpart’s drinking habits and make us ponder alcoholism; Captain Marvel could meet up with Gamora and form the outer space version of NOW. But yesterday, the studio finally marked in Black Panther on the roster with permanent ink (and a star in Chadwick Boseman), and there’s no better superhero to get us thinking about real-life strife than Black Panther.

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Nightcrawler Movie 2014

Open Road Films

Last summer Jake Gyllenhaal dropped out of Into the Woods to film Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler. When the two production schedules clashed, the actor had to ask himself: should I make some bank off the huge Disney musical or take a pay cut to star in the directorial debut of the guy who wrote The Fall and The Bourne Legacy? Thankfully, Gyllenhaal didn’t base his decision on how many zeroes his check would have had. That’s not to imply Into the Woods is a project without artistic merit, but how frequently does a character as complex as Lou Bloom come along? It’s a question with an obvious answer, but a potentially moronic question is apropos for a discussion with Gyllenhaal, an actor who’s more than willing to ask questions others might deem stupid.

Bloom features the DNA of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but he’s his own scrappy animal. The young freelance crime journalist is naive, unrelenting, childlike, vicious, disgusting and admirable. He’s a self-starter who will risk his life — and sadly the lives of those around him — to capture the most valuable crime scene footage in order to produce the best story possible for a local news network. When the sun goes down in Los Angeles, Bloom goes on the prowl, ready to hit record on his camcorder at the sight of a dead body.

In the eyes of Gilroy and Gyllenhaal, he’s a nocturnal animal.

To take on the look of a hungry coyote, the actor dropped 30 pounds; he’d often run 15 miles to the set to maintain his figure. The weight loss was a big choice, but it’s really just a part of a long list of ambitious decisions made by Gyllenhaal.

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Marvel Studios Fan Event

Walt Disney Studios

When I was a kid, Marvel titles made up the majority of the comics I read. But I didn’t read everything. Not only was that too expensive, but I also didn’t care about every single hero on their roster. When crossovers came around, though, I had to buy the books I didn’t normally pick up in order to follow the whole story. And it was difficult to ignore the crossovers because they always involved the characters I did read. But then afterward I could go back to just the heroes I loved. It’s not as easy to do this with the Marvel movies. At first, it was possible to ignore certain features. Captain America: The First Avenger wasn’t anymore necessary to see before The Avengers than was reading Cap’s series in comic form in addition to reading the Cap-included “Avengers” books. And we could definitely skip Thor: The Dark World without concern for missing anything.

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues, that luxury may be lost. Yesterday’s announcement of titles through the first half of 2019 confirmed a lot of storylines and character introductions that had been rumored about lately. Firstly there’s “Civil War,” a crossover plot from the comics that will be tweaked some in its adaptation to the movies. Particularly of note is that it’s “movies,” plural. Captain America: Civil War seems to be the start of that story, but it’s also going to be heavily spawned from what happens by the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m assuming a few Avengers “die” (quotes necessary with comic book characters), and I’m going to go with a guess based on having read no theories that are out there that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is one. That’s why she’s not getting her own movie and why Kevin Feige noted the character is a “lynchpin” for the franchise going forth. 

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Captain Marvel

Marvel

Smack in the middle of yesterday’s massive Marvel announcement — so many movies! like, more movies than we expected to be getting! — came the news that the comic book behemoth is finally bringing one of their beloved superheroines to the big screen in her very own movie. Both Marvel and DC have long been the subject of speculation and derision over their lack of diversity in their features, and that seems to be changing in a big way. Someone finally noticed that entire subsets of the population were being underserved in their features!

While DC finally announced a Wonder Woman film as part of its ballooning slate (set to hit sometime in 2017), Marvel has now answered with its own feature: a Captain Marvel film. It may have taken two whole phases, but Marvel has finally slated a female-led solo superhero feature for July 6, 2018. That placement is key, because it means that Carol Danvers (the current Captain Marvel) will likely play a part in Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2, which will arrive on May 3, 2019 (even better, she’ll undoubtedly be teased and/or wholesale introduced in Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1, which hits theaters two months before the single film opens). This couldn’t have happened at a better time.

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Hellraiser Cenobites

New World Pictures

In 1986, Stephen King staged a challenge to the many respected directors who had envisioned his famous books as films: he posited that a horror writer could best any horror director given their supposedly unique relationship to the subject matter. The result of this challenge was the insanely entertaining but not at all scary Maximum Overdrive, a fascinating but notable failure of a creator’s attempt to move from one medium to another.

A year later, another horror writer tried his hand at filmmaking to considerably different results. Clive Barker, who King famously christened “the future of horror,” made himself known as a force to be reckoned with in cinematic fear with Hellraiser. Barker is perhaps better known in many circles for his novels, plays and video games than his feature films, as he has only helmed three, with his most recent released almost twenty years ago. But Barker’s imagination has had a serious influence on horror cinema, producing images of violence and monstrosity that have resonated, as evidenced by the strong legacy of his work as well as his notable influence on other filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro.

So here is some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an artist who has made a career out of raising a bit of hell.

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Radius-TWC

Radius-TWC

Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) loved Merrin Williams (Juno Temple). Well, that or he killed her. She was found dead at the base of the tree fort they used since they were kids, and all of the circumstantial evidence points in Ig’s direction. The townspeople picket and heckle his home, the local TV reporters harass him for a self-incriminating scoop and Merrin’s dad publicly asks for his execution. Hell, not even Ig’s own parents are all that convinced of his innocence.

But when he wakes up one morning with horns growing from his forehead Ig discovers the devilish deformity comes packed with a useful side effect. People are seemingly compelled to confess their darkest (or dark-ish anyway) thoughts and ask his permission to act upon them. With no other options, he sets out in search of the truth as he wades through a town filled with lies, sexual secrets and truly shitty people.

Horns, based on Joe Hill‘s best-selling novel, has an intriguing conceit at its core overflowing with potential, but despite the efforts of numerous actors who’ve been far better elsewhere the film is a tonal mess from beginning to end. The drama is laughable, the humor falls flat, the mystery is transparent and the characters feel as inhuman as the numerous serpents that begin to gather in Ig’s wake.

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Dredd Prologue

After two straight years of call-to-arms, online petitions and continual coy “maybe there’ll be a sequel” talk from Karl Urban, Dredd finally earned itself a follow-up. Not a real sequel, of course. Actually, it might be less of a sequel than last year’s official comic book follow-up, “Dredd: Underbelly,” but it’s new Dredd nonetheless. Judge Dredd: Superfiend, an animated Judge Dredd webseries from Dredd producer Adi Shankar is viewable online right now!

But again, not a real sequel. Because while Superfiend may be Shankar’s baby, it’s a “bootleg”- as in, not licensed by 2000 AD (the comic magazine that puts out new “Judge Dredd” stories every week) or anyone else non-Shankar who would have had a hand in a “real” Dredd Part II. It’s more or less a pro-quality fan film, in the style of Shankar’s other shorts, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry or Venom: Truth in Journalism. Still, it’s putting Judge Dredd back in the spotlight, and for all those Urban-hounding petition signers, that’s enough of a win on its own.

Now, why is Shankar bootlegging his own film as a bizarre-looking cartoon? Well, besides the obvious (that Shankar and Urban have been unable to get a sequel pushed through), cartoondom offers a special advantage. According to Shankar (as read in Collider), “The ‘Bootleg Universe’ is about viewing things through a fresh lens.  I wanted to do something that played up the satirical tone of the Judge Dredd comics an anti-establishment British comic about post apocalyptic America.”

He kind of has a point there. Neither of cinema’s two attempts at Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone‘s 1995 Judge Dredd or the 2012 Dredd) have been particularly well-versed in the character’s satirical side. But both touch on the core ideals of the character in some small fashion. And it’s our job to find out how by unearthing the satire jammed in the crevices of each Dredd, comparing the two and proclaiming a winner.

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