To All the Horror Movies I’ve Never Seen Before: Week Two
We’re back, late again, with more unrelatable reactions and strangely specific complaints. So, pretty much completely on brand for me. Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen any of these horror movies, if you share any of my opinions, or if I need to stop now and just go lie down.
10/8 – The Strangers
This movie is why I don’t answer the door, ever. It’s exactly why you will never get me out in the woods. The Strangers is why, when someone knocks on my front door, I pretend I’m not home.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
The Strangers follows Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) as they settle in for a relaxing weekend at James’ family vacation home. Things turn ugly when three masked strangers terrorize them silently throughout the night.
Released in 2008, The Strangers was written and directed by Bryan Bertino. According to Wikipedia, “film scholars have interpreted it as a criticism of the perceived safety of pastoral life, as well as an exploration of stranger-on-stranger violence”. While the film is not a true account of a singular event, it was inspired by several grisly real-life happenings: in particular, the Manson family Tate murders, the 1981 Keddie Cabin murders, and a series of break-ins that occurred in the Bertino’s neighborhood. A sequel was released in March 2018 titled The Strangers: Prey at Night.
I absolutely love Liv Tyler. I mean, to be honest, I’ve never seen her in anything other than The Lord of the Rings, but that’s beside the point. More importantly, I’m forever puzzled how someone who looks like Steven Tyler—a werewolf skull in a pirate wig—could have a child who looks like a literal angel. It haunts me, seeing them standing next to each other. The only conclusion I can come to is her mom must have been hot.
But about The Strangers: I didn’t watch this movie for so long because it’s literally my nightmare, being murdered alone in my house. I have never answered the door, ever, and I don’t plan to start now.
“BECAUSE YOU WERE HOME”
I have a few questions: why do people in movies always dump shotgun shells on the floor when they’re already in a perfectly good box? Is there some sort of primitive instinct that kicks in when you’re presented with small rattling things in a box that you must dump them on the floor?
Additionally, I find it hard to believe that three masked people, possibly teenagers, could move around an unfamiliar house so quietly. Like, literally, they make no sound. They’re creeping through the house, standing in doorways, being completely silent. Somehow, they smash up two cars, yet we hear nothing. I can only suspend my disbelief so far, you know.
I recommend The Strangers if you want to be scared and you’re already terrified of people breaking into your house and murdering you. If you’re home alone and looking for a fright, The Strangers will make you paranoid about every sound in your house. Essentially, to be truly scared of The Strangers, you must have already completed the Literally Scared of Actual Strangers prerequisite.
Other than that, it’s really a movie where nothing happens except Liv Tyler asks a lot of breathy questions and generally makes poor decisions. It’s one of those basic horror movies where you sit on your couch in the dark and yell at the characters because they’re making all the wrong choices. The only real “scare” is at the very end, and even then, it’s expected. The movie would almost be more horrifying without it because then it’s just senseless violence with absolutely no hope whatsoever.
10/9 – The Evil Within
What can I say about The Evil Within? Well, for starters, a lot of people seemed to like it. Me, personally, I only have one page of notes about it, if that gives any indication of how I feel.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
The Evil Within follows a mentally disabled young man named Dennis and his increasingly terrifying dreams. One involves a demon called the Cadaver unzipping Dennis’s skin and climbing inside. His brother John brings an old mirror into Dennis’s room and Dennis begins to talk to his reflection, who tells him he must kill animals to get rid of the demon inside him. Dennis continues killing, escalating from animals to children, culminating in a final, macabre confrontation with his brother.
Taking 15 years to complete, The Evil Within was written and directed by Andrew Getty, inspired by his childhood nightmares. The film starred Frederick Koehler, Michael Berryman, Sean Patrick Flanery, and Dina Meyer. Filming began in 2002, and didn’t finish until 2017; Getty passed away before it was completed, in 2015.
At first glance, this movie looks like it was made in the ‘70s. Maybe that’s due to the quality and composition of the poster image; maybe it’s because Michael Berryman is in it. So, there’s that. But then, you catch a glimpse of the Harry Potter title font, which persists through the opening and closing credits. I see that and my immediate thought is oh, honey no. I can’t take anything seriously that uses the Harry Potter font unless it’s Harry Potter.
There were big problems with this movie right off the bat, and I feel like the most efficient way to talk about them is in a BuzzFeed-style list:
7 Things About The Evil Within That Made This Author Want to Riot in the Streets:
1. The dialogue is pretentious and cringy. It was either overly formal or completely unbelievable. I had such secondhand embarrassment just listening to these characters talking to each other I had to turn the volume down and just read the subtitles a few times. Which, honestly, wasn’t much better. Andrew Getty was obviously absent when they went over dialogue in Creative Writing 101.
2. Sean Patrick Flanery talks so fast. That’s it, that’s my whole complaint. He just talks so fast.
3. I’m not a fan of neurotypical actors playing atypical characters, as in this case of Frederick Koehler playing Dennis. Casting decisions like that take away an opportunity for an actor to represent their own community. When a person with no mental illness is cast as a person with mental illness—be it depression/anxiety, eating disorders, or someone on the autism spectrum—it just looks like a farce and is often misrepresented. Autistic actor Micky Rowe wrote an enlightening op-ed for Teen Vogue on the value of including actors in media who are actually part of the community that media is aiming to represent, and he explains it much better than my attempted fumbling.
4. Essentially, mental illness = the literal devil; a creative choice which I, personally, have a beef with.
5. Everyone acts like a therapist in this movie, and then the actual therapist is so unintentionally god-awful at his job.
6. 75% of the movies I’ve watched so far have had killing animals as a major plot device and I’m sick of it.
7. Sean Patrick Flanery’s girlfriend was the definition of shallow. She didn’t really care about Dennis until it was revealed that he wasn’t born mentally disabled, but “became that way” as a result of head trauma. Suddenly, when there’s a possibility he could get better and “not be such a burden,” she’s interested.
This movie is a mess and it made me feel weird. The effects and dream sequences were well done, and the final sequence was impressively macabre, but the story was just awful. I hate to say this, because Andrew Getty died before the film was finished, and it was more or less his masterpiece, but his movie is kind of bad. Sorry to everyone who liked it (which is a strangely large amount of people). The Evil Within should legally change its name to The Unnecessary and Convoluted Plot-Lines Within.
10/10 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
God, honestly, I hate the ‘70s.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of friends—siblings Sally and Franklin, Jerry, Kirk, and Pam—on their way to Sally and Franklin’s family homestead. The group falls victim to a family of cannibals who live nearby.
Released in 1974, the film was co-written by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, and directed by Hooper. At the time of release, it was billed as a true story, but while the plot and characters are fiction, Hooper and Henkel were inspired by real-life murderer Ed Gein. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre starred Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hanson.
I’ve heard of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; who honestly hasn’t? Not only is it a cult favorite, but it’s relatively clear from the title what it’s about: a massacre in Texas with chainsaws. Pretty cut and dry. I want to be able to say “but it’s so much more than that!” but really, it’s not. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: a Texas chainsaw massacre.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I mean, I think I enjoyed it. Yeah, no, I liked it. I did.
Right off the bat, I was grossed out. Like, immediately, disgusted and regretting all my decisions. We jump right into the Macabre News Hour and never really leave it. There was some nice foreshadowing when the girls are reading horoscopes for everyone. A little in-your-face, but at the same time it was a nice touch. Kind of a, “hey, this is the ‘70s and we believe in astrology, let me judge you based solely on your star sign” vibe. So, basically, exactly like 2018. Moral of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: people died because Saturn was in retrograde. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
45 PERCENT OF THIS MOVIE IS BUTT SHOTS
I can’t believe people in the ‘70s actually considered picking up hitchhikers. Like, the characters had a full-on debate about whether or not to pick up the crazy-looking dude outside of the slaughterhouse. This honestly explains why so many people got murdered during the span of the ‘40s to the ‘70s. Also, because they would just open their front doors to everyone who knocked? Even if they weren’t expecting anyone?? Can’t imagine ever opening my front door to anyone (you may refer back to 10/8 – The Strangers for my full argument against letting people in my home or opening the front door, ever).
I must admit, compared to today’s excessive blood-and-guts extravaganzas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a little bit tame. Not tame per se; maybe campy is the word. Sure, it has its moments of gore (e.g. the armchair equals a literal chair made of arms), but the horror is hidden. Incidentally, that was a purposeful choice, to have just a hint of the gore happening off screen. I’m sure in the ‘70s that was terrifying, but for us jaded millennials who came of age watching the Saw franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s terror is almost too secret.
Mind you, I made these notes before I saw the second half of the film (the ending notwithstanding because it’s a damn mess) when the crazy hitchhiker and Gas Station Attendant Man make their return.
The more decades-old cult horror movies I watch the more I’m convinced that a good amount of horror movies from the ‘60s until about 2004 relied heavily on theme, tone, and atmosphere as opposed to extreme gore and massive amounts of blood. Sure, yeah, there’s plenty of blood. But at the same time, they focus more on character-driven horror than horror just for the sake of horror. For example, Leatherface has a purpose and a backstory for each horrifying skin mask he puts on. In The Collector, you’ll recall, the Collector has no backstory, no reasoning, and literally no name. He’s terrifying for the sake of being terrifying, whereas Leatherface is a deeply flawed, multi-faceted character.
Additionally, there were no throwaway characters in this movie; everyone had a purpose, even if it wasn’t revealed as soon as they showed up. That’s a sign of good pacing and good writing: when the characters bide their time and it all comes together later. That’s so damn satisfying.
A good thought to have about this movie if you’re too disturbed by it: Leatherface is just a contemporary performance artist. He has a charming sunflower garden, and he’s taking this time to focus on his work and put together a portfolio.
Subsequently, I’d like my closing remark to simply be this: if an 8-foot-tall dude in a skin mask was coming at me with a chainsaw I’d just lie down and let myself be killed.
10/11 – Lords of Salem
Alright, buckle up for this one, because I’ve made a huge mistake. I’ll tell you right now, if you love Rob Zombie you’re going to be very frustrated with me by the end of this.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Lords of Salem follows Heidi, a radio DJ and recovering drug addict from Salem, Massachusetts who finds herself in the middle of a coven of ancient Satan-worshipping witches after the appearance of a strange vinyl record at her radio station, addressed to her from, simply, The Lords.
Released in 2012, Lords of Salem was written and directed by Rob Zombie. It stars Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, and Bruce Davison. The film also features Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn, and Meg Foster.
“It’s a witch movie,” I said to myself, like a fool, “you’ll like it.” The short answer: I was incorrect. The long answer is as follows.
WHO PUTS A GIANT TRIP TO THE MOON POSTER BEHIND THEIR BED
I understand now this is part of a continuing saga of sequels. Actually, I knew that from the beginning and I still watched it out of order. Whatever, your false barriers do nothing to contain me, I cannot be stopped.
My initial reaction was pure disgust at Sheri Moon Zombie’s dreads. She’s so beautiful in real life, but those dreads are gross; white people were not meant to have dreadlocks and we all know it. My second reaction was who puts their glasses on and then lays back down? Obviously, someone who doesn’t wear glasses in real life.
From there (five minutes into the film) things start to kind of spiral in terms of my notes. Because it bored me. It bored me so much I didn’t even finish it in one sitting, I had to come back to it like two days after I started. I got forty-seven minutes in and only took down the following notes:
- Their radio show sucks
- She just said good morning and now it’s dark outside??
- Too many titties in this movie
I don’t know what to tell you about all that.
If you like listening to and watching women’s suffering then I guess this is a movie for you, though that says a lot more about you than it does about Lords of Salem.
The imagery was spectacular, and Salem, Massachusetts is gorgeous. So, it’s got that going for it. Essentially, the imagery was great, the story was well developed, but the dialogue sucked and I got bored. I enjoyed the linear structure of presenting the narrative within the span of a week. It made things feel like they were progressing, but they weren’t progressing fast enough.
All I really have to say about the ending of Lords of Salem is what the hell was that. I felt like I was watching subliminal messaging, and suddenly I’d have an inexplicable urge to smear myself in mud and play a bone violin. I’m writing this now, with all my wits about me, so obviously, I’m fine. I just didn’t like this movie. Sorry.
10/12 – Apostle
I had high hopes when I started, and they were all let down within the first ten confusing minutes of this film. And it only got worse.
SYNOPSIS AND STATS
Apostle follows Thomas Richardson as he travels to a Welsh island to rescue his kidnapped sister Jennifer, who is being held for ransom by a mysterious religious cult. What started as merely a plan to save his sister becomes a fight for survival as Thomas uncovers ritual violence, dysfunction, and mysterious plots.
Released to Netflix on October 12, 2018, Gareth Evans wrote and directed. The film starred Dan Stevens as Thomas as Elen Rhys as his sister Jennifer, as well as Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton, and Sharon Morgan.
Netflix needs to fix its keywords because I went into Apostle thinking it was a witch movie and sat through the whole thing waiting for witches only for there to not be any witches. I don’t even know where to start here, because there’s just so much to unpack. Firstly, though, the main character, Thomas, looks so familiar but I literally don’t care enough to Google him. That becomes kind of a running theme in my notes from here on out; I just don’t care enough.
An initial observation: the quality is so good it makes me uncomfortable. It’s so clear I could almost see into the future. The backgrounds are so nice I can’t tell if they’re fake or not. I’m having a crisis. I haven’t slept in weeks.
THIS MOVIE IS SO SLOW BECAUSE IT’S SO DAMN LONG
There were so many things happening in this movie I couldn’t keep up. But at the same time, it was so excruciatingly slow. This is the worst kind of pacing, in my opinion; it goes on and on and things keep happening and you can’t keep up and it’s just like the Indy 500: car after car after car, and at one point you think it’s going to keep circling for eternity and then it just stops. And you don’t really know what happened, but you know something did.
Did I enjoy it? Who knows. Feels like I’ve lost ten years of my life watching Apostle.
Scattered throughout my notes are little instances of hope: “Oh, it’s coming together now,” and “it’s getting better, maybe,” and “I think I’m starting to understand.” But I never do understand. I feel like this movie would benefit from a list format, much like The Evil Within:
10 Vague and Not Particularly Concise Reasons Why Apostle Just Didn’t Do It For Me:
- A cult, an island village, and a fakey religion walk into a bar.
- Medieval enforcers? Okay, but this is maybe like 1862?
- I keep forgetting it’s like 1862. Real The Village vibes here. (Just kidding apparently it’s 1905.)
- Moss magically disintegrated off the side of a building and they never addressed it for like an hour.
- Teenagers having sex is the worst.
- Kinda forgot the sister got kidnapped and honestly I almost don’t care?
- This guy is all kinds of fucked up, there’s no way he was a priest.
- He keeps getting into trouble and then conveniently avoids it at the last minute,
- Real talk, how did women in ye olden times know they were pregnant besides periods?
- Literally, half of this movie could’ve been cut.
Additionally, Thomas climbs into a blood pit and gets confronted by someone’s escaped crazy grandma in the blood pit. In terms of character, Jeremy and Ffion were the purest little lambkins and they deserved better. There are most likely some historical inaccuracies but, as I said earlier, I just don’t care enough to verify them; there’s a poorly designed, Silent Hill-looking creature who is basically just a gross dude; and, most importantly, men are just generally unnecessary.
There are some great instances of Girl Power ™ in Apostle: girls helping girls figure out they’re pregnant, girls working together to kill a man. We love it.
Essentially, Apostle is trying so hard to be horror but it’s just not working. Every movie I see that features a village worshipping a god or goddess is trying so hard to be The Wicker Man and it never translates as well. As for Apostle—I’m going to be a bit of a broken record here—there are too many things going on, nothing comes together well enough, and it’s just so long. Also, I thought it was going to be about witches and there were no witches.
We discuss The Terrifier, Hell House LLC, House of a Thousand Corpses, Pumpkinhead, and Night of the Living Dead. As always, movies are subject to change at the last minute, as Amazon and Netflix like to suddenly switch up their inventory without sending me a personal, embossed, notarized letter so I can plan my project accordingly. Inconsiderate, honestly.
If you got all the way down here, how about contributing to the conversation? What do you think about Rob Zombie? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis of old-timey horror? What’s your opinion on neurotypical actors portraying atypical characters? Any movies I just have to watch or it’s not a real Halloween movie project?