Celebrating 40 years since it’s initial release comes this exploitation flick from Director William Asher, can now be considered something of a forgotten gem, with some marked commentary on homosexuality, the oedipus complex, and twisting our expectations of the slasher genre.
It’s a curious tale that plays to the extreme and borderline incestious protection of an estranged mother figure towards a nephew. It is this relationship that borders on the strains of inappropriate behaviour.
The story is focused on Billy (Jimmy McNichol), a basketballer with promise of a future career in the sport is held back by his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell) in order to contribute to maintaining the house; a guide for fuelling her sexual desires.
Things turn sour when Cheryl invites local repairman, Phil to fix their tv set, she ramps up her lustful needs by forcing herself upon him. When this is not received in kind, Cheryl turns to rage, murdering Phil in cold blood. This is witnessed by Billy, so Cheryl tries to convince him that it was self defence as Phil was trying to tape her.
The story doesn’t wash up however when it’s revealed that Phil is gay, leading chief detective, Joe Carlson to believe that their is a love triangle involved between Phil, Billy and the basketball coach, Tom. This throws Billy into suspicion as a possible suspect, which isn’t helped by Joe’s narrowmindedness.
In the reversal of damsel in distress horror tropes, Billy is on the receiving end of evil pursuit and his only ally at this stage appears to be his girlfriend Julia. This relationship itself puts Julia into the firing line from Cheryl’s jealousy and amps up the complexities of the interweaving narratives towards a bloodied and crazed conclusion.
There is a heck of a lot of social commentary on display here disguised as an exploitation horror flick, which is why the film probably deserves more attention and love that it received. Yes if alls into shlocky territory, but the entertainment and intellifence that is on display is well worth your time.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is currently screening on Shudder.
On paper, this flick leaps off the page with it’s fierce title and promise of a pack of motorcyclists like the infamous Hell’s Angels who are consumed with lycanthropy. It feels like the kind of movie that would be jam packed with ferocity and lascivious behaviour. Unfortunately this proclamation couldn’t be further from the truth as the viewer is presented with experimental filmmaking as was typical of the early seventies, and a meandering of hope in pursuit of the boundaries of humanity.
In many ways, this could be depicted as a variant of those who challenge authority and question the American Dream through the eyes of outlaws who take up more than they bargained for when they encounter a curious cult. These hooded priests lead them into a deep, drug infused state, where they lose all senses, and have a curse placed upon them. Once infected, members of the gang start to turn into werewolves at nightfall, rampaging through the vast landscape.
The film escalates as the lead players try to find an end to the curse, only to be thrust into a time loop, throwing everything into question.
I’m usually a big fan of experimental filmmaking but this one left me trailing in the wind like a tumbleweed being tossed around in no man’s land. I really wanted to connect with this film, and there were elements that could easily have drawn me in. Instead though, there wasn’t enough substance for it to pay off, and appeared to focus on resting on its premise, with an Easy Rider’s vibe. A missed opportunity that could warrant another rewrite, with an amped up narrative that lives up to that cracking title.
I’m a huge fan of James Wan’s previous work and in particular when he skews his lense with horror gaze.
There’s little wonder that he has so finely tuned his craft that franchises have been born from his visions, be it Saw; Insidious; or The Conjuring. I have no doubt that given the box office pull that Malignant receivedthat there is a high chance that this too will go through similar motions.
There are a number of critics that have lapped up this latest outing from Wan, citing it as a bonkers masterpiece, but I personally struggle with this depiction, as my response to the film was one so jarring and disjointed that I felt constantly thrown out of the narrative, grappling to find something that I could connect with.
I guess that this detachment I felt was primarily the same reason that some people were praising the film. Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper have fused a number of subgenres together to create a unique style in their storytelling. One of the most notable of these subgenres is giallo; an italian thriller and visually stunning movement that was spearheaded by Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci to name but a few.
I can’t fault the attempt in developing these styles to create what appears to be its own thing, and perhaps this is where the applause comes in, but scratch beneath the surface, the film suffers for having more style than substance. The narrative just doesn’t stick and the dialogue is incredibly ropey.
The concept itself reminded me of a hyper-realistic version of Stephen King’s The Dark Half with the whole conjoined twins thing, where the rejected disembodied twin’s dark energy resides from within, drawing forth all its negativity to enact revenge against those who conspired against him.
In this instance, Maddison (Annabelle Wallis) is having nightmares of people being killed only to find that the next day that these dreams are reality. She is also on the verge of a breakdown, where she is slipping from the world and questioning everything that is going on around her. We slowly learn that there is more than meets the eye with her visions, and Maddison along with her sister, Sydney Lake (Maddison Hasson) try to uncover the truth behind it all, Their quest leads them to a crazed and unthinkable conclusion that may put both their lives at risk.
At its heart, Malignant is heralded by a visionary director in James Wan, who continues to push the boundaries of filmmaking. And here he presents a palette of genres in the offering.
The result however is a curious mix that never fully resonates on screen; a case of where the heart and mind doesn’t necessarily communicate with each other.
There are glimmers of brilliance, but too often this is overshadowed by the visual flair which is laid on thickly, It comes down to a question of taste, and for me, for once Wan’s latest outing was too hard to swallow.
1. Identify the ideas, themes & executional elements that make the first film great. Or at least good. Or at least worthy of being sequelised.
Part of its appeal alongside the sheer force of The Shape carving his way through Haddonfield once again, juxtaposed by the fragility and strength of Laurie Strode, magnificently portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis, was how the film played to the damaging effects that trauma has on humanity, and how some condition themselves to the impact that this has had on their lives.
Where Halloween 2018 leaned into early stages of trauma through the eyes of the Strode family, who are in complete denial, numbed to the exposure that Laurie’s turmoil has taken, or through the taking on the pain and guilt of surviving such an ordeal, the latest outing needs to take this to the next level, Anger and Bargaining. The only problem with these emotions is that there isn’t a lot on the dial to play with. Each character that embodies these emotions invariably meet their grisly end as a result. Not that this completely squashes the narrative however, as the re-introduced character of Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) who leads a vigilante group on a mission to end evil and kill Myers for good. It certainly shines a light on the consequences that a mob mentality can have when confronting trauma. Brute force against brute force will always lead to ruin where there are no winners.
It’s biggest strength is in its central antagonist, Michael, who never holds back, continuing the theme from the 2018 feature. As it should be. He is and will always be the draw card to the franchise, and I’m glad to say that he never disappoints, arguably his portrayal here is one of the finest in the franchise.
It’s other strength from 2018, is with Jamie Lee Curtis.. Every moment she is on screen, you are willing for her to bring the same exhaustive performance. However, she is subjected to a more minor role, still an important one, as between her and the wounded Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) provide hope through acceptance, through what will be the final step in moving through a traumatic event.
2. Pay homage and do not violate/ignore said ideas and themes and elements
Here, Green still pays homage to the franchise as a whole, using elements that have played key roles or images that have been instilled from previous films, such as Halloween III: Season of the Witch, with the skeleton, pumpkin, and the witch. The creative team have proven before that they are lovers of the franchise and here is no exception to that rule. So, for this, they continue to immerse the viewer and expand on that sense of nostalgia without causing damage at all.
3. Introduce new/expanded themes, ideas and elements that will NATURALLY ALIGN to your first ideas, themes & elements. As mentioned, the new elements introduced in this movie expand on the themes of trauma, most notably anger. This feels like a natural cause of action following the 2018 feature. The second part of this trajectory is through bargaining, a trait that is mostly seen through Karen (Judy Greer), in many ways the heart of the movie, pleading with her mother Laurie to listen to reason, desperately trying to save the life of the prison inmate, wrongly identified as Michael. This only makes her actions bittersweet in the face of the movie’s climax, a step that needed to be taken in order for the survivors, whoever they may be, to heal.
4. DO NOT rehash the first film and just give people “more of the same”.
This is where the movie starts to fall down a little. While it tries to push the story arc along, it fails to resonate a beat and quicken the pulse at all. It is happy to play with the same kind of energy, but in doing so falls flat and starts to feel like it is a filler movie between Halloween and what will ultimately be Halloween Ends.It struggles to shift outside of this and doesn’t deliver as a result.
5. DO NOT-NOT rehash the first film by giving more of the same…. BUT “BIGGER”.
It could be argued here too that they’ve tried to go bigger, and who could blame them, and in part Michael falls into this category. I would counter this though by saying in the very action of attempting to go bigger, they lose sight of the integral components, and the raw energy captured before. It feels a little flat in its execution and disconnects from the viewer.
6. Be a good enough stand-alone film by itself.
And for its final hurdle in our 6 rules for a great sequel, Halloween Kills stumbles. It fails to be viewed as a stand alone movie as it relies too greatly on its predecessors. It is these movies that allow the feature to stand tall, but take away these crutches, there isn’t a lot left on show.
So, where does that leave things with Halloween Kills? Well, it manages to execute 3 out of 6 rules successfully, which falls in line with my gut reaction. I marked it as a little over average and falls short of the previous movie.
Yes, it’s a filler and it might feel more satisfying once Halloween Ends completes that cycle. Until then, we’re left with a vaguely entertaining movie that tries to satisfy the core fans, some of whom will be content, but others will note the lack of impact that came in 2018.
Director David Verbeek leans heavily into the latter part of the film’s title. Strewn with stunning images throughout the Rotterdam cityscape as its backdrop in most places, whilst tantalising with the ‘Dead’ component.
Five rich socialites have gravitated to one another out of their boredom and unfulfilment of life’s medicrity and strive to spice up the dull elements with a shared mixture of experiences that challenge their vices and pushing them to the edge in order to feel something and awaken their dormant souls.
One night out quintet of rich kids descend upon a group of people who practice an ancient ritual that centres on the dark arts and a sacrifice. The group black out and wake to find a corpse and each bear a set of fangs. Instantly they are subjected to the notion that they have been turned into creatures of the night, forced to carry out vampiric means to satiate the growing thirst for blood.
The film flicks and flutters through their stifled emotions as the group becomes restless and unable to comprehend or handle this new way of life. With no guide rope to aid them in these new experiences, they are left flailing into the wind, reaching out for anything that may ground them.
Verbeek successfully captures the strengths and weaknesses of the characters as they both fall into each other’s embrace or thrust them apart with their responses or actions, amplifying their paranoia or loss of control. All of which slowly builds to a conclusion that leaves you questioning the blurred lines of reality.
Beautifully shot and complex characters intertwine through a deliberately slow narrative giving room to build up the central characters.
It’s a film that plays with manipulation and human conditioning at its core, where nothing is as it seems.
Like the key players, the audience is subjected to a fixed point of view that unravels and is picked apart to the point where you not only feel the trauma of the group, but just when you think you have it figured out, takes you in a completely different direction.
– Saul Muerte
Dead & Beautiful is streaming on Shudderfrom Thursday 4th November