October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Partially because I ran out of time, and partially because my penultimate three Halloween movies have been so well-written about that I doubt I can say anything new, I decided to do a quick, joint write-up about them. Tomorrow, I’ll post my final Halloween pick, the instant classic “Over the Garden Wall”. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Most-meta – Cabin in the Woods, Day 28
Synopsis: A group of college students go away for the weekend to a cabin, where unbeknownst to the them, they become part of an annual ritual to protect humanity from the Old Gods, which involves their suffering and deaths. Things don’t go quite as planned, as not just the “virgin” survives but one of the others as well. She refuses to kill her friend, the Old Gods rise, and the world ends.
Cabin in the Woods is Joss Whedon distilled into a single movie. A brilliant satire of horror tropes, a take-down of the torture porn genre, and stuffed full of references, it’s hilarious, scary, and everything you might expect from Whedon. The concept is brilliant – what if this cliched scenario of hunted teens was really run by a high tech group of normal guys, tasked with protecting the world by making sure the regular sacrifices take place on schedule. They’re detached from the pain they are causing, running an office pool on what monster the teens will self-select and casually celebrating while our Final Girl fights for her life because “the virgin’s death is optional, as long as she suffers”. The redundency built in around the world is also interesting, the idea that this goes on in multiple places just to be sure nothing goes awry. Although I do wonder if all the rituals have the same requirements – the one we see in Japan seems to abandon the slut/jock/nerd/loser/virgin set up in favor of a bunch of school girls.
The movie surprised a lot of people when it opened, as it was marketed as a straight-up horror movie of exactly the kind it was mocking. A lot of Whedon’s favorite themes are evident here. His fixation on the Final Girl, who is the ultimate Final Girl this time when the world is destroyed by her actions. The idea that the ultimate evil can be caused by regular folks, just doing their jobs, and the concept of a larger group pulling the strings and ordering the lives and deaths of young folks for some kind of twisted greater good (see most notably the origin of the Slayers in Buffy). The main concept Whedon wants to hammer home, though, is that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. If a yearly sacrifice is what it takes to keep humanity alive, then we don’t deserve to be. And then he kills everyone. But he has a lot of fun along the way, with an all-out slaughter of everyone working in the bunker that involves all the monsters they’ve been keeping. Stabby unicorns, tentacle monsters, werewolves, creepy girls, cannibals. It’s a horror fan’s wet dream, gruesome, bonkers, and funny.
Rating: 8 out 10 – You couldn’t wish for a better commentary on horror, our love of horror, and human nature, while still having a good time.
Runner-up: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Funniest – Young Frankenstein (Day 29)
Synopsis: The grandson of the rather more infamous Doctor Frankenstein, returns reluctantly to Transylvania to take care of his family’s estate and finds himself overtaken by the family obsession, creating his own monster who then escapes and must be recaptured and healed of his abnormal brain.
This Mel Brooks classic is easily the funniest Halloween movie ever made, if not quite the funniest Mel Brooks movie ever made. Not so much a parody of but a tribute to the early Universal horror movies, particularly the 1940’s Frankenstein and its sequels, it lovingly recreates the setting and feeling of these classics (Brooks even went so far to retrieve the original laboratory props to use, which had been languishing in the propmaster’s garage for decades) and then uses it as a springboard for ridiculous, corny, slapstick humor. Young Frankenstein has the highest gag-per-minute rate of any movie I’ve every seen. They throw everything – puns, sight gags, innuendo – at the wall and sees what sticks. Most of it does. Young Frankenstein is one of the few movies that gets funnier the more times you watch it.
The cast is superb, with more comedy geniuses than you can shake a stick at. I honestly can’t imagine this movie being nearly as good with even the smallest casting changes. Gene Wilder wrote the script with Brooks, and as such perfectly inhabits the character of Fredrick Frankenstein, hesitant mad scientist. The cast was clearly having a blast during filming (so much so that Mel Brooks added more scenes to film because everyone was having so much fun) and it shows. Some movies are magically perfect, with not a hair out of place, and will stand the test of time forever. Young Frankenstein is timeless, feeling forever old and new at the same time. There are lots of funny horror movies, but few that rely on classic comedy techniques instead of splatter.
Rating: 10 out of 10 – Wouldn’t change a thing, will rewatch at least once a year till I die.
Runner-up: A distant second, but in a similar (if less sophisticated) vein is Ernest Scared Stupid
Kinkiest – The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Synopsis: An innocent, newly engaged couple stumble into the castle of mad-scientist/transsexual/alien Dr. Frank N. Furter and find themselves tangled in a web of sexual escapades and alien invasion plots.
Rocky Horror is one of those movies that has to be seen to believed. It’s more than a horror movie. It’s more than a sex comedy. It’s more than the self-billed science fiction double-feature it claims. It’s more than a cult musical hit. It’s about desire, particularly the kind we sublimate, and the dangers both of denying those desires and of letting them get out of control. And it’s also a crazy, sort-of drag show whose purpose is titillate, confuse, and entertain. Rocky Horror taps into something deep in all our psyches we might not totally understand, but are fascinated by. And the movie suggests to us that it’s okay to explore these urges – provided we don’t over-do it. The longest running theatrical release (40 years), it’s more than a movie, it’s a phenomenon and a deep part of our culture.
Rating: ? out of ? – There’s no way to rate a movie like this, it must be seen to be believed.