Ok…on the reviewing side I’m definitely starting to feel the burnout now that I’m 20 films into the annual Hoop-Tober horror marathon. But the good news is the good is definitely outweighing the bad this week With films ranging from “meh but worth it” to “oh crap totally worth it” on the spectrum of watchability. Joe Dante more than cashed in on the success of Jaws by crafting in Piranha a wickedly fun chomp-fest that has its tongue planted firmly in cheek without sacrificing some tense, gore-filled moments. I satisfied my Barbara Crampton requirement by checking out the nostalgia-filled Beyond the Gates, which has its moments of fun recalling the heyday of VHS board games but it’s really the score by Wojciech Golczewski that satisfies. The Strangers isn’t normally the type of horror I go for, but I’m glad I tried it, because the simplicity of its approach and the craft on hand both in front of and behind the camera made for a chilling, thrilling experience to watch. Netflix has quietly been amassing a plethora of independent horror films to release under its banner, but Gareth Edwards’ follow-up to his Raid films is a masterclass of crazed religious fever. Apostle might be Dan Stevens best performance yet, sacrificing none of Edwards’ gore and action for a nasty take on The Wicker Man. And finally Jaws 2 shows that by turning the shark into essentially a slasher killer and giving us copious amounts of Roy Scheider and Keith Gordon is an okay replacement for a great movie.
Two weeks and 11 films to go, so let’s wade through the viscera tunnel that is this week’s review excerpts and get to it.
Working off a script by John Sayles Dante throws everything he can into Piranha, making casual and not so casual references to the shark film that made this production possible, but where the film really shines is in how it inverts so many tropes other horror films would revel in, the largest of which is how much agency he gives Maggie, the intrepid skip tracer. There’s also some delightful weirdness to be had: I don’t know what you’d expect when you turn this movie on, but I’ll bet it wasn’t a scene features some great stop-motion animation of monsters crawling around a lab. (full review here).
What hath Stranger Things wrought? Another movie working off 80s nostalgia, although whereas Summer of ’84 used period and more conventional tropes (slasher films, kids, an admittedly great synth score) to stake out its territory the more low-budget indie Beyond the Gates gets more specific, using as its centerpiece VHS games, something I recall fondly as a kid to tell a story much more supernatural and fun – when it gets moving. (full review here)
There’s something only too believable in this day and age about doing evil, unspeakable acts for no reason at all. It’s probably the reason I tend to prefer my horror of the supernatural, more unbelievable quality. But there’s a purity when things are simple, uncomplicated. And The Strangers works that simple concept to the bone, thanks in part to terrific performances from Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman and spare, tense direction from Bryan Bertino. (full review here)
…and it’s best to just experience it for yourself. At this point no one plays crazed and angry like Dan Stevens can. He’s well past the days of Downton Abbey and in full on madness mode here, always seeming to look at you through his brows. The crazier things become in the movie the crazier he becomes, and it’s a marvel to witness how he throws himself into the role. Likewise Michael Sheen as Malcom, the head of the island and the “prophet” who speaks the words of the goddess to the community. One of the pleasures of the film is watching how his rhetoric and belief is supported and simultaneously torn down by flashbacks that bring the story into sharper focus.. (full review here)
This was Universal’s top grossing movie for 1978, and I can see why: while it can’t touch a hair on the original, it really amps up the scares with the slasher angle, and seeing some more actual shark action certainly helped box office. It even mimics slasher sequels by showing us the shark’s gradual transformation: after being burned by one of the earlier victims, the film make sure to show plenty of closeups of the great white jumping into and destroying boats with its charred and burned face on display. (full review here)
Week Five is bit of a mystery to me at this point. I’ve been changing films around a bit as my tastes take me to different depraved places. So expect five more films of varying quality that try to take us to the dark place time after time.
Until then, keep it Blood Red.