Critters [1986]

I remember back to video stores, growing up. The VHS box: Insanity. A potential apex of all that is and ever could be "horror." Critters. There it stands. Stout, grimacing, terrifying... the Critter. Fast forward several decades and I come to find that the eponymously-named monsters are just rascally foul-mouthed tumbleweed fur balls. I can only imagine how much I would have loved this had I seen it as a teen.

Night of the Living Dead [1968]

The second time through with Night of the Living Dead and the gap between appreciation and enjoyment widens. In his write up for the Criterion Collection's release of the groundbreaking film, Stuart Klawans embraces it as a microcosm of its time, enhanced by the sociopolitical environment that surrounded its themes, creation, and release. In this, I can appreciate it. The chilling final stills are made that much more alarming by the realities of late-'60s America. But in stepping outside of the shadow of its cultural importance, Night of the Living Dead doesn't strike me in any particular way—neither dramatic, horrific, or entertaining.

The House of the Devil [2009]

Writing for The AV Club, Scott Tobias sums up the feel of The House of the Devil as well as any line I've read on the film: "[Director Ti] West evokes ’80s horror while making a movie that’s infinitely more skillful than the ones he’s referencing." Beyond aesthetics, the tug between human and supernatural is what sticks out most to me now compared to the first viewing. The start of the film acts as a primer, illuminating nationwide hysterics surrounding the threat of supernatural cults, while the closing scenes draw no conclusions surrounding the validity of threat. The Devil is only as real as we make him.

Kidnapped [2010]

"Rough but solid," is how this film was explained to me, and it turns out that's about the simplest way of summarizing Kidnapped. On the good side of things, the film is visually appealing and makes great use of split screens to tie co-occurring scenes together. Its darkness sets a tone from which the action follows, and from that standpoint, Kidnapped is an effective entry into the home invasion sub-genre.

The main issue I take with the film is also its key selling point. Kidnapped peaks with scenes of ultra-brutal violence which merit the "rough" comment (compared to maybe Them or the Last House on the Left remake—both of which I actually appreciated more). Surrounding the violence, however, is zero suspense and a dearth of character development, such that the pending danger that the characters do find themselves in fails to register as remotely emotional. Because of that, the whole thing feels unsatisfying and empty: It's just well shot shock.

The Alligator People [1959]

Where to start? The Alligator People is about as strange (and enjoyable) to watch as it is to explain. There’s this couple, and they’re in love, but then the dude runs away. Then, as one might expect, the lady begins to track him down. Unable to find him, she eventually follows a lead to this Louisiana plantation which, it turns out, is largely kept up by this drunken vengeful caretaker who has a hook, 'cause a damn alligator bit his hand off (this guy later tries to rape her in a real 1959-but-sadly-also-still-relevant-you owe me this as a man, kinda way). It turns out that this plantation bears a hidden laboratory where experiments involving man and beast alike are conducted under a veil of swampy secrecy. Radioactive gamma rays… fake rubber gator suits… and the whole thing portrayed within the context of a dramatic retelling while our heroine is in the depths of a psychiatrist's hypnotherapy session... this movie has it all.

Cat People [1942]

Particularly for its age, Cat People is a better film than I'm able to give it credit for. A noir-leaning drama (practically non-related to horror despite the genre tag), I take zero issue with the production, nor the acting... but it is just so damned boring. At barely over an hour it felt like a film twice its length.

Vamp [1986]

Grace Jones’ initial strip scene in <em>Vamp</em> is phenomenal, reminding me of Klaus Nomi (of all people). (Actually, any time she was on screen the movie was better for it.) Beyond Jones—and while I've never been much for the portrayal of strippers on film—Vamp might have actually peaked with its creative, dark, sexy costumes and dances. Beyond that, the humor was off the mark and the horror itself was tame.

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror [2019]

I appreciated how Horror Noire relied on such a wide scope in its look back into cinema's history, skillfully pacing the gradual evolution of the subject matter to build its story. That said, it did feel like a hard sell to essentially conclude that the entire "history of black horror" was all leading up to Get Out... And now that it has been released, things will forever be changed. Not to downplay the film's importance, but I'd be much more interested in Horror Noire's point if it were produced a decade from now. At that time we might be able to look back on it with some distance and recognize what continued impact the film has had on the horror genre, or maybe even cinema as a whole.

The Fly [1986]

If it weren’t for the (unintentional?) humor of Jeff Goldblum’s descent into madness, The Fly might rest as my favorite Cronenberg (it really is hard to top Videodrome, isn't it?). Instead, I might rank The Fly alongside the likes of The Thing, which I also only ever watched for the first time this past year. Both hold a key place in horror’s history and both are heralded as classics (no argument here), yet both just seemed to be missing something for me. The body horror (Brundlefly’s fingernails ripping off or the broken bone arm wrestling match are both memorable examples) is entertaining, but as a whole this was more aligned with a classic monster movie than something truly gruesome (the ending felt lackluster in large part because of that). And Gina Davis was cool, but her character didn’t really appeal to me; nor did the ongoing sexual jealousy and weirdness with her boss. By the end, why was that creep still around, let alone so influential in the film’s finale? And—you know what—while I’m on the subject, why was the journalistic integrity of Davis’ character never brought into question, nor the objectivity of her work, nor her non-existent professional boundaries? And while I’m at it, seeing how successful Particle magazine was (really?... Particle magazine?!) left me feeling like it was only ever a matter of time before commercial media began to collapse under the weight of its own bloat. I'd better stop before this gets out of control. In a nutshell: The Fly was good.

Ladyworld [2018]

While neither a traditional horror film, nor categorized as such on this site, Ladyworld is without question given the horror treatment in its trailer... to its detriment. I don’t know whether or not this should be applauded, but Kate and I both agreed the best parts of the film were its opening and closing credits. (The opening credits, by the way, lean into the horror vibe about as well as any as I can remember seeing.) Beyond that, the film plays out as an overly self-important pseudo-Lord of the Flies end of days saga as performed by a community theater/improv troop. Throughout the entire film I kept thinking back to this one scene from UHF where Weird Al spoofs Close Encounters of the Third Kind by sculpting a plate of mashed potatoes, adding “This means something. This is important.” Only here Weird Al is the entire cast and there's no joke being made.

Better Watch Out [2016]

It took me a few minutes before I placed actor Ed Oxenbould. I knew I'd seem him somewhere, but I had a lingering sense that wherever that was... he'd annoyed the ever-loving piss out of me. Turns out, he's the little rapper from The Visit. (Interestingly enough, Olivia DeJonge—the "final girl" of Better Watch Out—is also in The Visit, but I didn't recognize her at all from it.) Worth noting: I hated Ed's character in that movie. Also worth noting: Once I recognized him, I couldn't help become the thing I hate most, rhyming my way through exposition during low points in the movie.

Scanning through some reviews here, the over-the-top (or tragically realistic?) male entitlement and white upper middle class good kid from a "good family" villainy obviously soured a lot of viewers, but I thought Levi Miller did well with the lunatic character of Luke. Lord knows I wanted to suffocate the little scamp by about four minutes into the flick, long before he even made his "turn." I liked the spin on the home invasion idea and the movie made no bones about its Home Alone influence, though I think Kate and I both preferred the idea of Luke getting away with everything in the end. Instead—even with the teaser following the final scene—it felt like, "Not this time, ya lil' scamp!" Moral of the story here, I suppose, is: Scamps gonna scamp.

Savageland [2017]

Rarely have I seen a found footage horror film as thematically interesting as Savageland. Maybe I just haven't been exposed to enough of these movies, but the pressing criticism of the film here on LB revolves around the plot's focus on anti-immigration as the basis for the handling of the conflict. I thought this was a refreshing way to approach the subject and utilizing still photography as a means of pushing the narrative along was also inventive (again, this could have all been done before... if it has, let me know because I'd like to check it out!). Speaking of those photos, they were genuinely creepy. I wish the film had stuck to its guns without a shaky cam reveal toward the end, but even the finale worked for me given how it was built up.