Revenge [2017]

I have no idea what writer/director Coralie Fargeat was aiming for, but I just can't buy that the sum of Revenge is what it appears to be on the surface (just another rape/revenge story). And I really don't think that I'm forcing meaning here to justify appreciation for a film that might otherwise be viewed as painting a fresh coat of paint on such a trite storyline.

Not once have I seen Rambo, but all throughout this movie I kept thinking this is what I would expect to see a character like John Rambo pull off: Physically assaulted then legitimately murdered only to literally rise from literal ashes (literally!) and seek vengeance against the so-obviously-dislikable villains that the audience has no choice but to cheer on this clearly one-dimensional character as she transforms into a super hero right before our eyes. I don't see Revenge as just a matter of portraying an action-movie-type character and joking about how it's doing so though, but rather as focusing on this type of character as a statement about how twisted expectations have become (especially in light of this sort of story).

The level of disbelief that's required to view this story as "real" is high, which seems like a barrier to entry for a lot of people watching it based on reviews: A woman is left for dead in the middle of nowhere with a life-threatening wound, only to miraculously stabilize herself, cauterize her wounds (in the process branding herself with a phoenix... really), before then exerting a superhuman level of resiliency to wreak havoc on the men who collectively abused her and left her for dead. Yeah, it's silly, this idea of a petite, barely clothed woman, walking barefoot in rocky badlands, operating firearms she has no understanding of in terrain that she's unfamiliar... but what if John fucking Rambo were in that same position? Even if it wouldn't be probable—despite it being equally as absurd that Rambo would be able to survive a single second after being skewered on a tree like a human kabob—it would at least be understandable that the character's cartoonish masculinity would lend itself to escaping death's icy grip to seek a satisfying resolution.

There are other defining characteristics which I also consider aligned with this intent on lampooning the genre: In not even showing it, Jen's rape isn't the focus so much as the reaction (or non-reaction) to it by the men who could have intervened or helped her after the fact is. That alone is enough to distance it from the likes of its exploitative predecessors (from I Spit On Your Grave to Irreversible) which lingered on the needlessly excessive sexual violence as a blunt method of showing cruelty, without ever commenting on the enabling factors that surrounded the act. And while Jen is at first portrayed as a textbook image of basic eye candy at the beginning of the film, it's the man she's in an affair with who's needlessly nude on screen for the vast majority of the film's final scene. There are obviously numerous ways to interpret Revenge and I'm barely just touching on talking points that are worth elaborating on, but its ability to challenge expectations is really incredible.

Repo Man [1984]

At times Repo Man almost feels like it's trying to say something, but it never quite stays on message. A crew of slightly above the board car thieves living off of generically branded food and drink—that says something, right? Maybe? What's to be made of Harry Dean Stanton's character finding hope derived from a dream of doing his same shit job, only under his own management rather than someone else's? All of it adds up to an experience that validates its cult following (Emilio Estevez drinking by himself babbling the lyrics to "TV Party" seems relevant as hell for the time that the movie was released). There were some silly smirk-inducing one-liners, but seeing the Circle Jerks as a lounge act might still be the highlight of the movie for me.

Punch-Drunk Love [2002]

This is the second film in as many days that has affected me in this way; Eternal Sunshine being the other. Barry, what are you going to do when the bottom falls out on this feeling, man? "I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine." I feel like I've been there. Maybe without all the furious rage and destructive behavior, but I've been there. Kind of. And it's not sustainable. Oh, Barry, it really is not sustainable. I have vague memories of floating through a dorm room in college that was playing Punch-Drunk Love and it didn't click for me. It was too "weird." When was that? Sixteen years ago, maybe? So much has changed since, and how much of that change has included brief and extended Barry-isms? Like Sunshine this opens a door into a big dark space. Also like Sunshine, it's masterfully acted and produced, but I don't think I'm ever going to revisit it.

Cannibal Holocaust [1980]

I'm of a few minds here, but primarily I feel the means by which this film's points were made obscure the positive value of any message it's attempting to communicate. Cannibal Holocaust is ambitious in its aim, and is rightly notorious. But it's also vile. It's also hollow. It might be one of the "best" of its kind, but for the most part it feels like little more than a box to check.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]

It's been forever since I've watched this—putting it off due to some lingering feeling about it that lived within me. Not a thought, but a feeling. The feeling is an extension of the thinking there's no pleasure that is greater than the pain of losing it. This film is biographical, examining different parts of each of those who watch it. Timing shifts the perspective some, and I don't feel what I did the last time I watched it because I don't see what I did the last time I watched it because I'm not who I was the last time I watched it. But that feeling still lingers. It's bleak. It makes me want to escape, but every avenue out of it feels like a trap. Still, I don't think I understand the depths of this thing. I'm not even really sure I feel them.

UHF [1989]

Bumping up the rating specifically for the commentary with "Weird Al" and director Jay Levey, which is both genius and extraordinarily thorough with production detail. (It's got my vote for the greatest commentary track of all time. @ me if you've got a better one in mind.) This movie is an absolute guilty pleasure that I've been watching since I was in grade school when my friend Jeremy introduced me to it. We laughed so hard we couldn't breathe, and it has been part of my DNA ever since. This is the first viewing of the Shout Factory Blu-ray, which is a pretty fantastic visual upgrade from the VHS copy I first owned maybe 25 years (!?!?) ago.

The Last House on the Left [1972]

My mind might forever have married The Last House on the Left with I Spit on Your Grave, and on the surface I feel like Wes Craven's debut should be the better of the two pictures. Should. But despite the ultimately-pointless depravity-for-depravity's-sake buffoonery of I Spit on Your Grave, it still overshadows this mess. The Last House on the Left starts off so promising, the story a realistic enough vehicle by which to welcome a crash of cultures between innocent enough youth and a group of miscreants. From there, however, it's all downhill. It's not just that the acting is bad (it is), that the effects are lame (they are), or that the pacing is tired (it is), but on top of all of that is the fact that there isn't a shred of cohesion holding this thing together. The police officers are about as base level an excuse for comedic relief as I've ever seen (and why a movie about the rape and murder of a pair of young women needs comedic relief is beyond me), and the music swings between the movie's sulky theme and some over-the-top kitschy nonsense that sounds better suited for a Music Inspired by Smokey and the Bandit bargain bin compilation. This is one of the rare instances where a remake outperforms the original.

The Entity [1982]

Catherine Stebbins’ review does a fantastic job at digging into the meaning of The Entity, and I’d recommend reading it above anything I have to say about the film. There aren’t any shocking scares here, but The Entity isn’t exactly that kind of horror movie. The scene where the demon/spirit attacks Barbara Hershey’s Carla on the couch in front of her helpless children might be the most shocking, though the other moments where we can see the invisible hand molesting her breast were also unsettling. By in large the value of the film comes from its portrayal of sexual abuse from a clinical perspective, which is rare when looking at horror films that delve into this sort of subject matter. In doing so, the film lends a critique of rape culture, specifically portraying the many faces of victim blaming in society (for more on that, read Catherine’s review).

The line that stung the deepest from Carla was when, after repeated efforts from the clinical staff to portray her as delusional, she said she was done struggling against “the entity.” Her life will go on, and she’ll try to take care of herself and her children as best she can without anyone’s help because, as she said, she was “going to cooperate with it.” When you have no one in a position of power to go to who believes you and no way of protecting yourself, what other conclusion is there in that moment? Brutal. (And fuck Jerry for ditching her in her time of need, by the way.) The paranormal activity manifesting in bolts of electric energy and pretty much everything about the final laboratory scene are a little hokey, but it did well in communicating the story. A supplemental short film called The Entity Files accompanied the DVD, which dug into the story that inspired the book and ultimately the film. In it one of the admissions that the lead paranormal researcher (Dr. Barry Taff) made revealed that the instances of paranormal activity coincided with times where Doris Bither (the real name of the woman who the Carla character was based on) was drinking. That seems like such a fundamental part of the story, and certainly one which would have coincided with the aim of Carla’s victimization: That being to pin her own assaults on her. Of course she’s making it up, I can imagine the clinical staff arguing: She’s drunk. What a missed opportunity to really hammer the point home.

I Spit on Your Grave [1978]

I Spit on Your Grave was made by director Meir Zarchi as a response to a victim of sexual violence he knew, and the injustice of the details surrounding the crimes committed against her. While that's the jumping off point, as he explained in a supplemental interview on the DVD, I'm still not sure what the actual point was with it. Breaking down any and every angle of the sexual violence on display in the movie doesn't seem to lend any satisfying insight into why certain decisions were made with the story, including what Zarachi wanted the audience to feel when watching it. (Which is spoken to in Roger Ebert's legendary take down of the film.)

The leading role was filled by Camille Keaton (who married Zarchi shortly after the film's release, which has little to do with anything here other than being a point I find interesting), who is dehumanized by her perpetrators, only to then lean further away from her humanity and seek wildly fantastical revenge. And in the end I guess she's OK because... revenge? (Trauma just sort of working itself out isn't specific to this movie, but is more of a general problem in horror as a genre.)

On the surface, I guess an audience could cheer the comeuppance, but at what cost? Keaton's character was nearly murdered at the hands of the group who raped her, and the light at the end of the tunnel came by the means through which she took to kill her assailants. Sure, but why then was her pain so real, her situation so life-like, while the men's murders were so absurd (one character didn't realize a noose was being slipped around his neck mid-coitus, only to be lifted up and hanged from a tree branch by a woman who couldn't have weighed much more than a hundred pounds). The contrast leaves a strange taste of imbalance, and one that doesn't bring a shred of clarity to how this relates to the crime that inspired the story, other than it made for reasonable exploitation film fodder.

Turistas [2006]

To say this movie paints Brazilians in a negative light isn't much of a stretch, so I had to laugh when reading about how director John Stockwell responded to boycotts and negative press by essentially saying, "Uh, you think this is bad? Haven't you even heard of City of God?" Beyond that, it really doesn't take much to improve on the Hostel model for a movie, does it?

Lady Bird [2017]

Played this one through with commentary by Greta Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy. There was so much heart put into this film... a series of interconnected love stories: Love of family, friends, herself, her city. One of the comments Gerwig made in the Realizing Lady Bird featurette (which accompanies the film) revolved around the theme of growing up, denying where you're from, and "realizing two minutes too late that it was great." I feel that. For so much of my life I've been searching, always elsewhere, never comfortable enough with myself to recognize the value in being where I was. I really appreciate how Lady Bird brings that feeling to life.

Prowl [2010]

Even considering the force-fed backstory here, this one had some good moments. That said, the vampires (and to some degree, the gore) would have been more enjoyable if the visuals didn't reek so hard of 30 Days of Night.

The Midnight Meat Train [2008]

The premise is interesting enough, but I just can't get past Bradley Cooper and the character he plays. When uber-powerful art broker Brooke Shields (because, sure) challenges Cooper on his photography, he responds to her softball of "what inspires you" by clapping back "The city. Because no one's ever captured it. Not the way it really is." From that point on I only ever wanted to see this guy fail... which is a damn shame, because as it turns out, he eventually utilizes the power of his art to springboard him into becoming an action hero and stabbing vampire Vinnie Jones to death. So, good for him, I guess.

Overlord [2018]

Reviews by Steve G and Mike D'Angelo both draw a comparison between Overlord and The Descent in recognizing the movie's focus on establishing itself as an adventure movie before welcoming any horror elements. That makes a sense to me, but it reminded me far more of (the admittedly little bit I actually recall of) Captain America though. Overlord isn't quite a super hero film, but it is an action film and Pilou Asbæk's Wafner had something of a Red Skull flavor to his villainy. (I was a little tired of lens flares by the end, which also gave this a super hero-y feel.) Maybe it's just a matter of expectations crippling my experience, or simply being the wrong audience for this one, but action with a hint of (incredibly greasy) horror isn't what I was hoping to see here. It's good for what it is though.

The Exterminating Angel [1962]

A few days ago rsq2000 introduced me to The Next Picture Show podcast, which pairs a new(er) release with a complementary film from the past. The first pair of episodes I listened to contrasted The Exterminating Angel with mother!, which led me here. Though I had a tepid reaction to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, to be blunt: the podcast made Angel's dramatic satire sound interesting in a ways that Bourgeoisie didn't translate for me.

I'll echo Jonathan as I, too, wish I'd seen Angel first, as that might have allowed me to ease into the director's style and the tone of these two films. With a decade's worth of distance between the two, it does feel like Angel dabbles in obviousness which allowed me to get a better feel for where Buñuel might be coming from. While that's perhaps a mark against my own intellectualism, I'll gladly take it because it allowed me to actually enjoy the film. As for understanding it, that's probably not going to come from a single sitting with this thing, no matter who you are.

Decades after Angel's release, actress Silvia Pinal spoke in an interview about how the film essentially stood as a precursor to reality television, which offers an interesting view through which to try to understand its themes. What caught my eye most, though, related to a point raised by TNPS podcast, dealing with Buñuel's restraint with the characters. The character defects are ample, but at no point did I look to any of the characters on screen and see downright terrible people. And maybe because of that, I started to think about how boxed off I am from other people, or ways of thinking. I'm not trying to make myself sound like I'm on the road to enlightenment, but it's not a leap to look at this and think about what self-defined rules are keeping me in a self-imposed lockdown? What are my own delusions preventing me from experiencing? And under which circumstances do I believe I'm allowed to walk freely from such restraints? This film's meaning isn't exactly universal (at one point the bear was considered to represent Communism, for crying out loud), but what settles in best with me is related in film scholar Marsha Kinder's conclusions on the movie.
"Like the guests, we long for a rational explanation that will free us from the anxiety aroused by such disturbing behavior. This cognitive struggle is dramatized in the plot as one of the guests (nicknamed the Valkyrie and the Virgin) commands everyone to stand still, for she “perceives” that they are all positioned in precisely the same spot as when this strange condition first emerged. But how could they all be in the same place when some of them have already died? Nevertheless, through a communal “faith” in this absurd narrative premise, the guests are miraculously released from the living room, only to have the same kind of entrapment reimposed in another setting. Just as the guests have been trained by their culture to pursue ritual and narrative coherence, we spectators have been trained by earlier sequences that repetition is the key. As in Las hurdes, though the insiders at first seem to be the only ones who are trapped, the film eventually reveals that the trap extends outward to encompass outsiders (including us spectators), who are all caught in the same network of bourgeois corruption, but on a much larger scale."

The Descent [2005]

Having just watched Overlord, several reviews of that movie raised a point on how it was similar to The Descent in that it's well-established as an adventure film before it unveils any horror elements. This is true, but I think they're vastly different movies. And one is also entirely more enjoyable than the other. I'm draw to the adventure side of The Descent as it pulls the viewer in. Add to it that the setting is increasingly claustrophobic, enhancing the sense of tension that already exists due to the questionable motivations that led the spelunkers to that particular cave. Then there's the horror reveal, which quickly forces to the surface any deep-seated resentments, adding a layer of interpersonal tension to the pre-existing anxiety. Even if there were no monsters, and all that happened once the pack of friends made their way into the depths of the cavern was a catastrophic injury, that wouldn't have made for a bad film. The monsters simply draw to the surface feelings that are already there...

And speaking to the under-dwellers, even through today's eyes, the monsters of The Descent are solid. The frights aren't anything new, and the movie isn't without its jump scares, but they seem fairly defensible here. The monsters are able to creep up on people. They're predators. That's what they do. It's no wonder that no one hears them coming at first, because why would they? They're all alone trapped in the depths of a cave far below the surface of the Earth. Desperate, alone, trapped with no one to save them (from themselves) but themselves.

Tootsie [1982]

On one hand, it looks like my parents got a stab at curating the Criterion Collection. On the other, Tootsie isn't exactly undeserving of the inclusion. In recently watching Midnight Cowboy for the first time, I was especially moved by Dustin Hoffman's performance in that film, which seems to have carried over for me here. While brilliant as playing Dorothy, Hoffman's Michael is downright insufferable at times—I was really impressed by both sides of that coin though. Add to it that every scene Bill Murray was in made me light up (I don't even remember him even being in this movie from when I last saw it as a kid on my parents' VHS copy... like I said, they're fans) and I really enjoyed this... but I'm still stuck on what Tootie's enduring message is supposed to be...

n its conclusion, Tootsie suggests that Michael grows as a person through his role as Dorothy, but it's sort of a weird anti-message in that a man's gain comes as a result of a woman's ultimate demise. While Jessica Lange's Julie seems to accept Michael in the closing scene, that's such a strange finale to me. Throughout the entire film Michael had to hide his true self (or at least his identity) from those who accepted and celebrated him as Dorothy. By the end though, despite he himself being aware of what he was doing the entire time, he also feels he's built a relationship with Julie even though he was only able to learn anything about her under the pretense that he was someone who he's not. Julie was hurt by the revelation that Dorothy was really Michael (because how could she not be?!), and when he continued to hound her, she told him that she missed her friend. Her friend Dorothy. Not her friend Dorothy who was actually a male actor. So if Michael had actually grown as a person through this experience, could he have seen that pursuing Julie still (even as "just a friend") puts her in an impossible position of trying to reconcile that her friend is now a ghost living on through a strange man's body? And how gross and weird that is? Or is that part of the point: That even in the end, men are only ever concerned with what they want?

Perkins’ 14 [2009]

Michael Graves visually struggling to comprehend nihilism perfectly encapsulates Perkins' 14. (Jokes aside, the gore in the police station was pretty cool and Richard Brake always makes for a great villain.)

Cabin Fever [2002]

One of the finer horror-fan moments of the movie is a musical nod to a grindhouse rape-revenge classic, which isn't exactly saying much of Cabin Fever on the whole. The leg shaving scene is somewhat redemptive, seeing as though it's one of the decade's more memorable examples of positively cringe-worthy body horror, but there's just so much trash left uncovered in the sun here that the whole thing ends up smelling. I'd buy into chalking up the heavy use of "gay" as a slur to the movie being a product of its generation, but what's to be said, then, of the back woods general store owner's use of the n-word? Just to spin it on its head and make the only non-white people in the entire movie the butt of a racist joke in the final scene? Of all the ways to end the movie, that's how this comes to a close?

The Ruins [2008]

I claim no shame in appreciating this mostly out of fandom for Jena Malone, though the performances across the board were surprisingly believable (Jena's might have actually been one of the weaker characters, but we'll always have Donnie Darko). As for the rest of The Ruins, the movie adds an interesting flavor to the standard entitled-white-tourist-finds-trouble narrative, though I couldn't quite buy into all the blaring botany.

The Green Inferno [2013]

There's not much use in trimming the more problematic branches of The Green Inferno when that ground has been covered so well by others (Jason Coffman's review is especially on point). For a cannibal movie, this is fine, but I think the lingering feelings the accompany The Green Inferno are disappointment with the man behind it... And mostly because I want so hard to be a fan of his. This is supposed to be a labor of love, and one that defied production struggles and "the odds" by even seeing its way to completion. If that's the case, then why doesn't the product remotely reflect the intention. As a horror super-fan, Eli Roth is constantly trying to make something that will appeal to horror-super fans. Then why not slow down and build something that reflects the spirit of horror rather than simply its aesthetic? So, then, it's either that he recognizes that a film like this is unspectacular and pushes it out anyways, or he genuinely can't tell the difference.

Phantasm [1979]

No matter how hard I try to give myself over to this movie, it has never worked for me. Like an inexplicable front porch guitar jam scene, Phantasm has the makings of being something that should strike a chord with me (see what I did there?), but it only ever comes across as oddly disjointed. The best comparison I have for it, and how it resonates with me, comes in holding it up against many of its Italian contemporaries (with which, I'd argue, parallel its sights, sounds, and production value). That's either a huge turn on or a huge turn off, depending where you're coming from.

Dead Snow [2009]

Stunted youth take on Nazi mountain zombies in a snowmobile-cum-horror flick. There's not much to it beyond that, and the influences are easily apparent: One of the characters wears a Braindead t-shirt and is ripped apart, another character chainsaws off his infected arm. One of the cooler moments comes when another character (maybe they have names?) tries to stitch back together a gash on his neck. Nothing incredible here, but the frozen zombies are pretty cool.

Night of the Demons [1988]

Even among heavy T&A, hard rockin', hard partying horror flicks, Night of the Demons is a weird one. There are so many one-liners, then out of nowhere a genuinely thorough exposition about the difference between a haunt and a possession. No doubt this is a standard for a reason (the lipstick tube through the areola comes to mind), and there's no punishment cruel enough for whoever was behind the 2009 remake. All that said, I don't fully "get" the appeal of parts of this, myself. So many people love the intro, and I've seen this several times now, but I still can't figure out how three and a half minutes of opening credits is supposed to kick off a horror film on the right foot. That, and the weird brother-in-the-closet-checking-out-his-sister's-breasts vibe was about as appetizing as the thirty seven times Stooge called a woman "bitch."

The Exorcist III [1990]

Of the sequels, this is the only I've watched, which is probably good enough for me. The cultural importance of The Exorcist leaves it on a scale altogether separate from III, which plays to far darker aesthetics and much more bizarre plot pieces. Brad Dourif's brilliant performance rings with a bit of Buffalo Bill to it, which leaves me wondering if this had any sort of influence on Silence of the Lambs (though as it was only released one year prior, so that's unlikely...). The hallway scene is classic for a reason, and George C. Scott's hallucinatory romp in heaven is absolutely fascinating (made that much more appealing as this was the first time I recognized Patrick Ewing as one of the angels. Yeah, Patrick Ewing.). As for psychological horror, III isn't exceptional, but the world in which it paints lends an apt continuation from the original, fifteen years removed.

The Exorcist [1973]

I don't find The Exorcist scary or frightening whatsoever. In fact, the caustic lines of unholy dialog spewing from the possessed Linda Blair's mouth come across as chuckle-worthy at times (I can't help but filter them through a comedic lens). That's neither here nor there, as I'd argue this film can't be approached today as The Scariest Movie of All Time purely from a position of horror. I'm not saying that the Saw generation of filmmakers has desensitized movie-goers into a state of numbed consciousness, but also I kind of am, too. Maybe that's why it doesn't register on some levels for me.

I avoided this film like the plague growing up, not because I thought it was too extreme, but because I wasn't sure if it was worth risking its mystique. For as sinister as the subject matter is, there's a tremendous amount of reverence associated with this film. The Exorcist is The Horror Movie, right? I really appreciate what Jaime has written about the film (concluding on how "to deny what it has set for the genre is implausible," which I wholly agree with), and Aaron's account of the film's themes is completely unmatched. What I find most alluring about the film isn't how it set a horror standard akin to Romero's zombies, but how—nearly fifty years ago—it risked doing so in conjunction with an uncertain view of faith. Yes, the exorcism is "successful" at the end, but by what measure is a victor declared in that story?

Teeth [2007]

When making out in the cove, she stops things from moving forward. "I haven’t even jerked off since Easter," he lashes back. Of all the uneven dialog in this movie, that's the line that stuck out to me. I wonder if a movie like this swayed any men to reconsider their entitlement to women's bodies? Like, I'm genuinely curious about that. I mean, if it did, what a success this is, right? As a whole I think Teeth deserves more credit than I give it for what it was trying to do, but the transition it makes from a story of sexual self-exploration to revenge flick saps it of any emotional goodwill.

Absentia [2011]

Absentia features a unique premise focused on how one copes when a partner goes missing. What happens when the grief of loss is never culminated in a sense of finality? How long does one hold onto a shred of faith, keeping a candle lit for an ultimate What If... What if they're still alive? What if they come back? If I were in that position: What would I do if my partner disappeared? How long before our photos come down? How long before the wedding ring comes off? How long before I date someone new? Making the absolute most out of a minuscule budget, I'll echo Oli's comment about the strange juxtaposition that's created by pairing skilled and lacking actors together in scenes. Elsewhere, the narrative begins to unravel as it seeks to find its conclusion, but as a whole it's a surprisingly enjoyable experience.