The State Swap Game: Iowa

With Iowa in the news for bungling the Democratic caucus despite having 52 years to get the process right, I got the itch to play the State Swap game again. The concept of the game is to take a fairly useless state and swap it out for a country roughly the same size. Now there are some slam dunks on the way (Mississippi? Alabama?) but after I did the research Iowa is a tough case.  I really waffled on this.

Iowa has produced some famous people. Legendary B-movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff who invented the summer season for movies, cowboy Buffalo Bill Cody, mystery writer Max Allen Collins, NFL players Roger Craig, Kurt Warner, Marshal Yanda and a ton of bench players, businessman W. Edwards Deming, actors Jason Momoa, Cloris Leachman, Elijah Wood and Ashton Kutcher,  TWO Supermen (George Reeves and Brandon Routh), President Herbert Hoover, Admiral Harry Yarnell (who warned about the Pearl Harbor attack over a decade prior) and a guy that hiccuped for 68 years straight.

At this point I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to swap them out, even once I saw Michele Bachmann and Stephen Collins on the list of people from Iowa.

But then…

John-Wayne

Yeah. We’re doing this.

John Wayne was a giant dick and you can guarantee when a guy really likes John Wayne, he’s going to be a giant dick to you. He was a hero to every bellicose, old-school white guy who thinks that any problem can be solved with a really slow, awkward punch.

A bit of history.  Iowa was formed, like most of the Midwest, by making contact with hospitable natives, throwing them off of their land, naming everything after them and then claiming your one/sixteenth Sioux heritage two hundred years after it matters.

I don’t want to be unfair. Iowa fought for the North in the Civil War and championed women’s suffrage very early in our country’s history. There was a rush of immigration starting in the mid-1800’s, and areas like Dubuque became heavily Germanic. Other areas accepted large amounts of Scandinavians, which may explain why currently 90.6% of people in Iowa are white, 52% are Protestant and 94% speak English, which means it’s about as diverse as a sheet of paper.

70% of Iowa residents were born in Iowa, because they belong to this hellish section of  the country where you live and die in the same spot, rooted to the ground like a tomato plant.

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Iowa has low reliance on Federal funds, has the highest high school graduation rate in the country,  and below national average unemployment, so OF COURSE they rocked the boat and gave Donald Trump a 15 point victory because they were worried about Muslims and other people getting social services.

Iowa has Steve King.

Steve King is worried about the plummeting white birth rate which will roll back the progress of civilization because immigrants are just hauling drugs across the border. He defends the idea of rape, and doesn’t understand why white nationalism is a bad idea. This is not even the worst stuff he’s ever said, just the most recent.

Steve King has been re-elected nine times, mostly by people in the Des Moines suburbs, because if Charlottesville has taught us anything its that the suburbs have produced more Nazis than Dusseldorf ever did.

The governor, Kim Reynolds, defended King as her campaign co-chair until the minute she got elected, after which she dumped him unceremoniously.

A master at talking in circles, Reynolds bragged that she moved the Supreme Court from ‘left to right’ but later claimed she didn’t ask or look up her candidates political affiliations, which means she wouldn’t know if her judges actually moved from left to right. Huh?

Despite her 2 DUI’s (the records are now hidden from the public) Reynolds shot down revisions in the state marijuana laws, because she was concerned about the potential increase in potency. Wouldn’t want people driving impaired now would we?

What exactly do they supply us that is utterly unique to Iowa? Their number one export is corn, the rest is an assortment of pork parts, soybeans and tractor supplies. Where oh where are we going to get front end shovel loaders without Iowa?

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Seriously, we’ve got plenty of corn. We’ve got so much corn that we pay farmers not to sell it. We’ve got so much corn we put in our gasoline and can’t get rid of it. We made it into high-fructose syrup and ate it until our bodies literally rejected the stuff,  like the black member of the Royal Family. You would have to clone Booker T. Washington and raise him in the Midwest to come up with ways to get rid of the corn we already have.

So now we come to the caucus. So here’s an article explaining how the Iowa caucuses are jacked up and how convoluted the process is. Oh wait this is from 2016.

The Iowa caucus was a flawed idea from the beginning. After a bad 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Jimmy Carter made the Hawkeye state the first real campaign of the season and it sort of stuck. The stated aim, as Time Magazine once put it, “reduce back-room manipulation by bosses, broaden grass-roots participation and produce delegations…that more adequately represent women, blacks and the young —and the preferences of the voters.”

That’s right…to get more diverse, the Democrats went to Iowa.

The upside of the process is supposed to be that locals get to meet candidates up close. “People who go to the caucuses have really done some homework,” said Molly Tedesco, 72, a substitute teacher from Johnston who showed up on a snowy night to catch a Marco Rubio town hall.

So here’s a lady who didn’t know that Pete Buttigieg was gay. Both the Romans and the founding fathers didn’t believe the average person was informed enough, and I got to tell you, when I watch this video, they might have been on to something.

So here are some options:

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia has a diverse climate and patches of absurd beauty. It has a growing economy, exports of machinery and oil, and a tourism industry because it has more to offer than  corn.  Nikola Tesla came from Croatia and there is a laundry list of intense (or perhaps near-sighted) scientists and artists. We would swap out Iowa’s deep bench of anonymous NFL players for Croatia’s herd of no-name NBA players. They’ve got beaches, underrated wine, Roman ruins, hidden coves and picturesque roads.

Nepal

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Nepal has Mount Everest, the spot where rich and upper middle -class people spend their money to prove their manhood instead of helping the poor or doing something charitable. But it’s not defined only by harsh mountains, it’s diverse in every way a country can be physically varied. In terms of famous people…Buddha came from Nepal. That’s right, the founder of a religion that millions of tiresome rich people have gotten dreadfully wrong came from here. Their exports are mostly things that are resold to you at a higher price, like clothes, carpets, beverages and…um…more clothes. Your dollar would stretch a lot further if they were a state.

We’ll post a vote on Twitter! Keep Iowa, take Croatia, or take Nepal!

 

 

 

31 Days Without A Cigarette: A Retrospective

I usually don’t post things like this here, but I did something that I thought I’d never do, and I wanted to give it a bit more space than Twitter will allow, so I’m gonna talk about it here:

I wrote that last month. It’s been 31 days since my last cigarette.

I’ve been smoking since I was 19 years old, and I’ve tried to quit on and off since that time, but I’ve never been able to kick the habit. I’ve tried patches, gum, cold turkey, and all things in between, but the longest I’ve ever stayed away was about 2 weeks – and I might have cheated once or twice then, too.

This is the first time I’ve walked away without wanting to look back.

I had some help with quitting, namely using a vape, but I’ve tried vapes in the past as well, and I was never able to not go back to a trusty pack of Camels. Every time, the vape reminded me that what I really wanted was a real cigarette. When I realized this and realized that I hadn’t really yearned for a cig this entire time, I started pouring over my life as it is, so that I can figure out what was different – what changed?

There have been a lot of changes in my life in the past few years, specifically getting married, having a family, and finding out I had hypertension. Each of these things was part of my decision to quit, but none of them had really given me the kick in the pants I needed to actually follow through on quitting. To find out what had really changed, I had to look back a bit further.

A number of years ago, before I met my wife, my life was kind of in the crapper. I had dropped out of college, I didn’t really have any direction in life and only a vague idea about what I wanted to do with the rest of it. I’d written a screenplay, and had ideas for a few others, but they weren’t very good. I spent most of my 20’s in a haze, and my 30’s were approaching – fast. I wanted to make some kind of change, a commitment, to follow through on something.

That night, I talked to God, and asked him for the strength to quit smoking, and promised not to touch another cigarette for as long as I lived.

I didn’t follow through with that promise.

I felt like a failure. Every time I lit up, I had it ringing in the back of my mind, slowly eating away at me. I became convinced that if I couldn’t quit, nothing in my life would ever go right – and I couldn’t quit.

But the truth was, I wasn’t a failure. Tobacco companies have spent years ensuring that customers are unable to quit their products because they were having tremendous difficulty finding new ones. As a result, it’s harder to quit now than it’s ever been, and it takes tremendous willpower not to light up even with the nicotine replacement products on the market – willpower that I didn’t have.

I had spent a lot of time focusing on the fact that I had failed to live up to my promise to God, but saying I would never smoke again was only half of that prayer. The first half involved me asking for the strength to quit.

Today, I realized that what had changed was me.

In the years that followed, I had pretty much turned my life around. I got a decent job, met the woman I was gonna marry, and wrote some pretty great stuff. I’m not where I wanna be in my writing career yet, but I’m working my way to it, putting in the effort and dedication one needs to find success in something. I was no longer the wandering lad who was drifting on a cloud of booze and weed smoke- I was a full-fledged, responsible adult.

It would be easy to say that I did this for my health. It would be easy to say I did this for my family – my wife abhors it and wants it nowhere near the kids – but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. The truth is, I needed to do a lot more than simply putting down a pack of cigarettes; I needed to become a man. God had helped me change, and changing is what gave me the strength I needed to finally live up to that promise.

Today, there are a lot of things I’d like to accomplish, and a lot of things I’d like to do before I enter my 40’s – which are, once again, approaching fast. Today made me realize that I have the strength to accomplish those things – all things – through Christ who strengthens me.

Today is day 1.

Close Enough To Touch: The Tragedy Of Nipsey Hussle and History Repeating

I’m not entirely sure why the untimely death of Nipsey Hussle has affected me the way it has over the last few days. I wasn’t very familiar with his music, and until he died, I didn’t really hear too much about him on social media. Posts about the great things he was doing in his community were often drowned out by more trivial headlines about more trendy celebs, or were posted with comments like “Bet no one will repost this”, as is common when positive things happen within the oft-maligned black community, and in the hip-hop community in particular.

It took me a moment, but it finally hit me: It’s that I had seen this play out before.

Whenever you hear about rappers being gunned down in the prime of their lives, the story is always the same: A young prospect on the verge of blowing up, who never got their due, a person who was ready to turn their life around, and make a positive change before their time was cut short. We mythologize them, make them our martyrs – and invent some boogeyman to blame for their deaths.

With Nipsey Hussle, it seems like a little bit of history’s repeating: Already on social media, discussions are swirling around about conspiracies surrounding his work in the community, his forthcoming documentary about Dr. Sebi, how “powerful forces” have once again coalesced to bring a black man down before he was able to make a significant impact on the world at large.

This myth, like many others, has a grain of truth at its core: During the civil rights movement, we saw this story play out in real time, with the deaths of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and countless others who laid down their lives to make the world a better place for our people, tragically taken from us before their work could be accomplished.

But in the case of rappers – gangster rappers in particular, who many see as modern-day muckrakers, reporting the realities of urban life in real-time – the truth is far more complex: Hussle, like Tupac, Biggie, and so many others, was not killed by a cabal of powerful forces, but over a personal matter by an associate from the life of gang violence he had left behind.

This is one of the inconvenient truths of our community, and for the young men, who at one point had been glamoured by the allure of the street, but were able to loosen themselves from its grip. The closer you are to the streets, the easier it is for you to be affected by the many malignancies that plague it: The gang violence that took Tupac and Hussle, the drug-related violence that claimed the life of Jam Master Jay, a robbery gone bad, as was the case with XXXTentacion, or simple jealousy, which claimed the life of Big L.

There are powerful forces at work behind the deaths of these young men, as well as the countless other young men taken too soon as a result of the plagues in the black community. But there’s no face you can put to them, no cabal of shady men in smoke-filled rooms like there is in the movies.

Instead, these are the work of institutional and systemic forces set up decades ago, gears of a machine whose manual is so smudged up most regular people can no longer identify how it works. It is the aftermath of systemic racism that has doomed these places to a perpetual cycle of poverty and created breeding grounds for the ignorance of gang violence and drug violence to thrive wild and unchecked, like weeds in the backyard of an abandoned house.

Hussle understood all too well that in order to undo the cycle of gang violence that had taken him in, the cycle of poverty that made gangs seem like attractive options to young people needed to be broken: it’s why he did the work he did within his community, providing his people with jobs and opportunities in the place where he grew up. Instead of fleeing to the hills to be held up as an aspirational figure, Hussle was down in the trenches, where he had been his whole life, attempting to pull people up with him.

It’s easy for someone to say that being that close – close enough to touch – is what did Nipsey Hussle in. In my opinion, if our poverty-stricken communities are to ever come close to reaching the promise that our civil rights leaders died for, it falls on all of us – not just those of us that made it out, but those who are still trying to – to create as many opportunities for our people to prosper as we can, by starting businesses, supporting creative ventures, mentoring the youth, starting an after-school program, or just volunteering our time, if that’s all we have. If we all do a small part, we can help ensure that something else can be close enough to touch – success.

Halloween: A Review

******** out of 10

Horror movies are experiencing a Renaissance, an application of art-house sensibilities that brings new subtlety and depth to films like we haven’t experienced in years. Slasher films are a problematic subset of horror films, a throwback to the eighties when getting people naked and then brutally murdered was considered entertaining, if not particularly compelling.

The thing is, (giallo movies and proto-slashers like Peeping Tom, Psycho, and Black Christmas aside) slashers simply don’t hold up well over time. They create protagonists that you don’t care about or are so annoying that you root for them to die. The ‘villain’ is usually way more charismatic and distinctive than anyone else, which means that the movie is about stalking people and killing them and since they are franchises, there is no tension since the villain has to come back. A couple sequels in, and all you have left is increasingly preposterous ways for people to die and diminishing returns.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride understood all of this before they made Halloween.

The plot of Halloween is simple, a trait that many good films share. Michael Myers is being transferred from a rehabilitation center after his murders 40 years prior, as the state is simply not able to learn anything from him. Even his treating physician Dr. Sartain describes him as ‘dormant’ and has made little progress in getting him to communicate or find the motive for his crimes.

When a documentary crew shows Michael his missing mask in a desperate bid to get him to talk, it’s clear that some silent trigger has gone off. Michael is awake. And their visit to Laurie Strode (the only victim of his rampage that got away) finds a woman who has dedicated her life to not being in that position again. As a result she has driven away her daughter and to a degree, her granddaughter, sacrificing decades of interaction to prepare them for one night of horror. As the doctor eventually notes, that night in 1978 created two monsters – one who defines itself as a the predator and one who defines itself as the prey. Both are isolated by their own relentless, hyper-focused will.

Well, Michael escapes, and with a brutal murder of a small child, he establishes himself as an unlikeable killing machine. After a thoughtful and atmospheric first act, Halloween becomes a thrill ride of humor, brutality, tension and set-pieces like the franchise has never had before.

In between the relentless assault, Halloween raises questions it’s too smart to answer. What is inside of Michael? Why does the mask mean so much to him? What is it about Laurie? What drives him to murder some, but not others?

In one amazing scene, Michael goes on a killing spree, using some insane internal logic to decide who to kill and who to spare, but the film establishes that the quickest path to insanity is trying to figure out what that logic is. He’s a box that shouldn’t be opened, and there is no reward for trying.

Visually, viscerally, and every category I can think of Halloween is better than any slasher film I can remember. The premiere audience I was with was completely engaged in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. It gives us just enough depth to make this better than a random guy murdering people, but not enough to ruin his mythology.

“You ever have that one girl you just can’t get,” one doomed character muses.

In the dark, framed to the right, Michael Myers stands impassively. Somehow we know he agrees.

Venom: A Review (With Spoilers)

Venom-2018-Release-Date

**** out of 10

“How do you make a Venom movie without Spider-man,” people asked.

I thought it could be done, I’d seen Venom solo comics in the past that did it well, at least briefly. And even though the trailers didn’t look too promising, I was hoping that someone had come up with a decent idea. After all, Venom is basically about a man infected with a carnivorous alien, there’s potential for a story here.

But in the end, this is the sort of wretched superhero film that only Tom Rothman could be responsible for and in the end he will run the Sony Spider-man franchise into the ground like he did X-men for Fox.

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Rothman blocked any solo Deadpool movies and specifically insisted his mouth be sewn shut in his screen debut.

Let’s back up a little.

In the comics, after a trip to space, Spider-man finds himself with a mysterious black version of his suit. After fighting crime as usual, he finds himself stronger and faster – and more aggressive. Eventually he realizes that the suit is a sentient parasite that eventually consumes its host. He rejects it, and frees himself, but it attaches itself to investigative reporter Eddie Brock.

Brock is a violent loner and a massive bodybuilder. Since he is larger than Peter Parker, Venom is larger and stronger than Spider-man. And Brock blames Peter Parker for ruining his journalistic career. The story arc culminates in Brock attacking Parker’s wife Mary Jane in their home – a line that simply hadn’t been crossed before.

That story had everything, high drama, a great villain, personal stakes and a hero facing impossible odds. Venom was a character like we hadn’t seen, furious at being abandoned, but unable to complete rid itself of its connection to Peter Parker. For the movie to work, it would need the same thing.

It doesn’t have it.

The plot of Venom is absurdly simple. Eddie Brock is a reporter, his tenacity overwhelming his scruples and common sense, until, like a parasite, he consumes completely the beneficial relationships in his life. Carlton Drake is a broad caricature of Elon Musk, a billionaire determined to beat global warming by binding us to alien lifeforms and colonizing their worlds because that is more linear to him than simply lowering carbon emissions.

The process has killed everyone he has tried it on, but when Eddie stumbles onto the secret lab he is bonded with an intelligent alien and sent on the run from swarms of faceless henchmen until an absurd climax where Brock fights a bigger, larger symbiote against the backdrop of an exploding rocket that puts all of humanity at risk, and yes – this is as preposterous as it sounds.

Venom is about execution and the first act goes great. Hardy is allowed to act, the movie takes time to establish his character, the pacing is rather deliberate, and although there is little action it is meaningful. When Brock resorts to stealing information from his girlfriends laptop, he violates the trust of the audience, but they restore just a touch of his humanity by having him lose his job rather than expose her as the source. Although Riz Ahmed’s villain was rather weak, I was thinking that the bad press about this movie was undeserved.

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But when the second act starts, the tone shifts wildly. Hardy descends into a physical slapstick performance worthy of Bruce Campbell, the movie abandons tone and pacing and gets more manic by the minute, and somehow Venom looks worse in 2018 than he did 11 years ago in Spiderman 3.

In this film, the symbiote is a bullied loser that find his self-esteem for the first time on Earth (I am not kidding) and is nothing like the comics character, although somehow it earns the biggest laughs in the film. And the action is very underwhelming, by the time Venom fought unimpressive villain Riot in a rather poor CGI battle I was reminded of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and that is NEVER GOOD.

It is worth noting that there are two post-credits sequences, one that teases Woody Harrelson as Carnage and a better one, likely a tie-in to the up-coming Spiderverse property that has Afro-Latino Spiderman Miles Morales in a brief adventure with Peter Parker and the Prowler a bit that has more charm and entertainment than the hour and a half preceding it. Proceed at your own risk.

 

Tommy and Me

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It was evening and I was at a cavernous but curiously vacant grocery store in suburban Philadelphia when someone enthusiastically greeted me.

I turned around to see a small slightly bowed older man with his wife pushing a shopping cart. He struck up a conversation with me, and it was pretty obvious he had me mistaken for someone else he had seen at an event, but for some reason I didn’t see the point of correcting him, as it wasn’t going to be an in depth conversation anyway, and he seemed quite happy to run into me again.

“Can you believe I used to play football,” he said with a smile, as the conversation had gone in that direction.

I thought he was a local Conshohocken Steeler or semi-pro until I saw his hand. The NFL doesn’t do anything in half-measures, even back in 1960, the bulbous Championship ring hung from his finger like an over-ripe grape.

“You’re Tommy McDonald,” I finally said.

I didn’t know him by sight, but I knew the legend. The little guy with the great hands and the toughness and the spirit that made him impossible to keep down. The guy that refused the facemask even when everyone wore it, the guy that got his jaw broken and went back out there with it wired shut to do it all again. The guy that embodied the spirit of everything that we think we are as Philadelphians.

Rocky Balboa wasn’t real. Tommy McDonald was.

I got to talk to him for half an hour. I got to thank him. I got to tell him that he was in that last generation of players that can never be replaced, that built the league and then were unjustly forgotten. He got to share a lot with me, and unlike some older players he wasn’t bitter, although it is an inarguable point that older players were underpaid and faced a larger toll on their bodies.

I am lucky enough to have had the same conversation with Chuck Bednarik and I’d mentioned holding Chuck’s paw in my hand, and he laughed when recalled the big man’s brand of insanity.

And then the magic was over. I had to go, as my innocent wife had no idea why I was talking to these random senior citizens while her ice cream was melting. We said goodbye, and while I hoped I’d run into him again, I never did, although I went there many times. I was happy to see the hard work that Ray Didinger did to get him recognized, and to see Tommy as a Hall of Famer.

Last week, I drove by the store on my way from work and it was empty. There was an large ochre stain where the store letters had been pried from the stucco and aside from some underpowered emergency lights the parking lot was dark. Somehow in my gut I knew he was gone.

Horror Movies that Need to be Remade/Rebooted – the Present Pt. 2

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Cub – 2014, written by Jonas Govaerts and Roel Mondelaers, directed by Jonas Govaerts

Sam is a meek Cub Scout on a mountain trip that goes rather wrong when a campfire story designed to scare the children turns out to accidentally parallel a real threat in the woods – a demented poacher and his feral son who are ready to put everyone through hell.

Cub has some amazing visual motifs, Kai’s mask should be one of the great horror images, and they spend a lot of time with Sam and all of that time is worth it. But Cub never bothers to explain anything about the crazed poacher. I understand that the relationship with Kai and Sam is the important one, but with such bizarre things happening, I need to know enough to not make things feel random.

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The Pyramid – 2014, written by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon, directed Gregory Levasseur

During the Arab spring, an archeology team discovers a subterranean pyramid, and despite orders to leave, they enter the structure immediately encountering unstable construction and small feline monsters. This turns out to be the least of the their problems when they find that they’ve entered the lair of Egyptian God Anubis, who removes your heart and weighs it to see if you are worthy to enter the afterlife, and very few of the team are worthy.

My understanding from people who have visited the pyramids is that they’re hot, badly lit and rather claustrophobic, and The Pyramid actually does a decent job of showing that. I also didn’t mind the job they did of portraying people that genuinely wanted to complete their life’s work, but were being undermined by the external political environment. It’s just that this movie did not pull off Anubis visually or otherwise, and the whole film builds up to him. Out of a lot of Mummy movies I’ve seen this one has the most potential.

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Green Room – 2015, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier

A punk band on a Northwestern tour takes a gig at a skinhead bar. But when one member accidentally witnesses a murder, the band is held hostage in the club’s green room. A game of cat and mouse ensues when they find a hidden drug lab. Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Green Room feels real and does a great job of tension and performances, but it has no discernible subtext or depth so one group of people do bad things to anotherso it just…ends. And there was a lot of buzz around Sir Patrick Stewart’s performance, but they didn’t do a lot with him which feels like a waste.

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Baskin – 2015, written by Can Evrenol, Cem Ozuduru, Ercin Sadikoglu and Eren Akay, directed by Can Evrenol

I think this is the only Turkish film on the list, and it’s a about a group of rather unsavory policemen who have a rather elliptical journey into hell. Hooded figures and frogs start to appear as they answer a mysterious radio call, and they wreck their figure, eventually making their way to an abandoned police station. Inside is an explicable and gruesome tableau and Baskin shows it’s hand.

Baskin looks great and it seems to have meaning, but damned if I know what it is. The end is dedicated to extreme gore, but because I had no idea what was happening it meant nothing. Intelligent ambiguity is one thing, but Baskin wastes great scenes, an unnerving atmosphere and possibly an iconic villain because nothing adds up or pays off.

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Crimson Peak – 2015, written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, directed by Guillermo del Toro

Edith, a wealthy heiress falls for a lower level British noble, Thomas, who with his sister Lucille is trying mine the red clay around their family mansion. They marry after her father’s mysterious death and make their way to his family estate. The mansion is haunted by a red ghost, and Lucille is rather cruel to Edith. As Edith’s health declines, she realizes that Thomas has married multiple times and killed the previous wives, and that she is being slowly poisoned, and even worse, that Lucille and Thomas are a couple despite being siblings. Thomas is developing feelings for her, Lucille wants to kill her and the mansion is sinking into the mire.

Crimson Peak is the sort of film that can only be made by a really talented filmmaker, because visually it’s just on another level. Del Toro takes pains to give us a twist on the whole Gothic mansion, and between the red clay and the gnarled apparitions you can just see these as sketches in his notebook. But this is the first Del Toro movie I’ve ever seen that was flat out dull. The audience figures things out a good 45 minutes before the characters do so there’s a drag as we wait, Edith is clearly getting killed for her money, and Lucille is clearly jealous. Also, one of the great tips I’ve read about screenwriting is to write every scene like it’s the best one in your film and to introduce tension into every scene, and MY GOD that didn’t happen here. The horror elements were the best part, but because this was a Gothic romance there weren’t many of those bits.

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Bone Tomahawk – 2015, written and directed S. Craig Zahler

At the tail end of the Wild West, Sherriff Franklin Hunt tries to find some people missing from his local jail, but he is told that basically a caveman tribe took the people and that they live in a particular valley. The Sherriff takes a few men and goes on a rescue mission that goes terribly wrong when they are captured by the cannibal tribe.

Bone Tomahawk is well-executed and performed, but it’s also 20-30 minutes too long and its great reputation is mostly based on the very end when they are captured by cannibals. There isn’t any meaning to this story either, which yet again, makes the ending abrupt. One group does something horrible to another group, and then the reverse happens, but because no one has a relationship with anyone else, nothing means anything.

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Under the Shadow – 2016, written and directed by Babak Anvari

Our only Iranian entry, this is set in the 80’s where medical student Shideh is kept from going back to school because of her radical past. This causes tensions with her more centrist husband who is a doctor and is called away by the government. Trying to maintain some degree of independence Shideh insists on staying in the warzone with their daughter Dorsa instead of going to his parents place. As they are being shelled, Dorsa is told of the legend of the Dijinn who here are presented as malicious wind spirits instead of wish granting genies. The Dijinn need a personal item from their victims to get their ultimate goals, and as Dorsa begins to act more and more erratically Shideh realizes that her beloved teddy bear is missing. As the city disintegrates and the residents flee, they find themselves under siege from every front.

This is a really good movie, and rightfully listed as one of the best of the year. It would not be unreasonable to ask why something this good appears on the list, but it’s only because all the other elements were so strong the horror didn’t come to the forefront. There was one good scare in the middle that they didn’t revisit, but what really got a reaction out of me was seeing the blatant sexism that affected Shideh and her self-destructive frustration because of it, or the effects of war on the people in the building. By the time she gets terrorized by a poorly rendered CGI blanket, it fell flat. Punch up the horror here in the remake and this will be an all-time classic.

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Hush – 2016, written by Kate Siegel and Mike Flanagan, directed by Mike Flanagan

Maddie is a deaf writer in an isolated house who is stalked by a masked killer who becomes intrigued by her handicap. Apparently Hush was made because Flanagan was originally considering making a silent film, and this was the closest thing to it. It is a masterpiece of tension but there is no plot, no character and ultimately no meaning to any of it, which renders it utterly disposable, it is possible to watch Hush and forget you’ve seen it an hour later.

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The Dark Tapes – 2016, written by Michael McQuown, directed by Michael McQuown and Vincent Guastini

The Dark Tapes is an anthology following a small scientific team that believe that when we are in the REM state of sleep we can see trans-dimensional beings, but interpret them mentally as night terrors. Using a super-slow camera while someone is in this state they hope to capture those beings. From there they review tapes that serve as stories, the first story subverts our expectations wonderfully, but the second segment is jaw-droppingly bad and a black mark on the whole film. The third segment really shows that the production did a lot with a little.

I don’t know if the wraparound story is strong enough to go on its own, but it’s really done well and has a great central idea. It’s just that the middle segment is so bad it derails everything. I will say this is a testament to low budget film, just because it’s found footage and independent, doesn’t mean something can’t be good, just swap out the middle story.

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Blair Witch – 2016, written by Simon Barrett, directed by Adam Wingard

The brother of Heather from the first film finds a video of someone he is convinced is his sister, and he is joined by some people filming a documentary about his search. Of course, bad things happen when they hit the woods, but it turns out to be a hoax by a couple of locals. But those locals soon reappear, haggard and malnourished, claiming that the sun has never risen and that they’ve been gone for five nights. Although the group is incredulous they start to believe when the day doesn’t break. After some increasingly violent incidents, they come across an infamous house and the movie goes into another gear.

I liked this movie, although I had the unpopular opinion. What I found is if, you thought the original was great, you hated this, and vice versa. But I defy someone to show me many films in the last few years that do what this one does once they hit the Rustin Parr house. The biggest problem was that the third act is incredibly strong, but the other two aren’t close to the same level. I kind of care about the James Donahue character, having the locals fake the haunting was a nice touch, and exploring the idea of the time loop was nice as well, but when I saw how strong it ended, I kind of wanted a movie that was more consistently entertaining. But this was much better than its reception and reputation.

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The Void – 2016, written and directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie

A Deputy finds an attack survivor and runs him to an understaffed hospital where a bizarre murder occurs and the Deputy shoots the subject. In the aftermath of the event they realize that a strange cult has surrounded the hospital, and that the deceased murderer has transformed into some sort of creature. In trying to beat death after losing his daughter one of the doctors has unleashed Lovecraftian horrors upon the world.

The Void is great-looking, has some incredible practical effects and individually great scenes, but the plot is strained past ambiguity into incomprehensibility.

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Rings – 2017, written by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes and Akiva Goldsman, directed by F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia, a college student finds an unorthodox professor doing an experiment with the cursed video tape from the Ring. They watch it and then pass it to another person in an organized fashion, but when Julia watches the tape it cannot be duplicated and it is slightly different than the original. Now she believes must cremate Samara’s remains to escape the curse, but as you can expect the truth is not quite that linear.

Making a sequel about people trying to manipulate the curse and Samara adapting it as well is a great concept for a film and better than any other idea explored previously, but Gore Verbinski’s Ring was a masterpiece of modern terror, and Rings doesn’t actually have Samara in it very much. The central mystery fails because of this, Verbinski had the threat of Samara in nearly every frame, Rings comes off like a Scooby Doo mystery and not a very satisfying one. Rings is like Raisin Bran that doesn’t contain any actual raisins, and that’s simply inexplicable.

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Ghost Stories – 2017, written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson

Phillip Goodman is a lonely man, motivated by his restrictive Jewish father to debunking psychics, the supernatural and pretty much anything relating to faith itself. He was inspired by a famous skeptic Charles Cameron, but Cameron subsequently went missing, so you can imagine Goodman’s surprise when he get some correspondence from his idol telling him to come at once. Cameron is clearly dying, and now believes in the supernatural, and he castigates Goodman for wasting his life before handing him three files – the cases he investigated that made him change his mind. These cases are the basis of the movie.

I waited a while before even talking about this movie because I was so excited after seeing it I was afraid of hyperbole. This is one of the best horror films in years, just a superb piece of work that understands that the educated horror fan has seen a ton of films and wants something different. Sporadically funny, wonderfully shot, perpetually surprisingly, highly rewatchable, periodically terrifying, and ultimately shocking, Ghost Stories has at its core a bit of horror that hits home in a way that you can’t anticipate. So why remake it? Simply put, this is a British production and some of the people aren’t easy to understand, in other cases regional slang caused me to miss the meaning of certain conversations. But this is a bit of a cheat, it’s going to be hard to top this one, but I couldn’t miss talking about it.

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Hereditary – 2018, written and directed by Ari Aster

Annie is a high-strung artist who makes miniatures and has just lost her mother, with whom she had a poor relationship with. They have an issue with mental illness in her family and although she has a husband and two kids, the younger one, Charlie is autistic and a cause of concern for her. But there is something sinister that seems to surround them, symbols and coincidences that unnerve them, and when a terrible accident starts to pull them apart, things go completely off the rails.

Toni Collette puts in a performance that’s up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of impact, and it is difficult to separate the quality of the film from the quality of her work. Hereditary is about a family doomed and manipulated into falling apart, and it is exceptional. The problem is that it’s full of suggestion and subtlety with occasional bursts of shock until the last 10 minutes when it completely goes the supernatural route and gets into explicit, expositional horror and it comes off as jarring. I appreciated the explanation, but it was in a movie that previously hadn’t done that to me and so I was thrown off. And the honest truth is, with the way they executed it, the idea of inherited madness was way scarier than a cult manipulating people into becoming vessels for demonic possession. It was almost a copout.

Horror Movies That Need to Be Remade/Rebooted – The Present Pt. 1

When I was planning this series of articles in my head I really felt like we were in the Golden Age of horror. I’ve seen more films that were intended to be great films and were smarter and better written then I can remember. But as I did the legwork it became obvious that it was simply because more movies were released than ever before, in fact in the last two or three years more horror films were released than most decades combined.

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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – 2010 written and directed by Jalmari Helander

In Lapland (the home of the vampiric White Reindeer) a research team examines a burial mound that they realize was made to imprison something. Two local boys experience increasing anxiety as the Christmas season approaches and odd things start to happen: disappearances, small robberies, and a mass slaughter of reindeer. They start to find carnivorous older men, who are twisted versions of Santa’s elves, Santa himself is a monstrous creature imprisoned in a block of ice and if he gets out there is going to be a serious problem.

Rare Exports is played with a great sense of humor, and it benefits from being original and very creative. I would have liked to have seen some more distinct designs for the elves, and I think that would have boosted this film to another level, but this needs to be seen by more people.

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Livide – 2011 written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

Lucy provides in home care for a retired ballet teacher in a rural, atmospheric mansion. There is reputed to be a treasure somewhere in the house, and Lucy tells her boyfriend, who brings his brother along in an attempt to rob the place. As you can imagine, in a dark house full of weird stuffed animals, things go badly rather quickly, the trio have walked into a trap set by rather unique vampires.

Livide looks rather cool, has some interesting ideas and is well-executed, but then it goes off of the rails on a story level, and dips into surrealism right at the end. It undermines everything that came previously, dampening the impact, this movie could possibly benefit from being a bit more on the nose.

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The Wicker Tree – 2011, written and directed by Robin Hardy

A group of Christian musicians find themselves in rural Scotland during a pagan holiday and well – this is a sequel to the legendary Wicker Man so you know exactly where this is going and that’s the problem. This film takes 90 minutes to get to the point the audience already expected going into the film – which is that the protagonists will be sacrificed by pagans for some reason. Before we get to that point the movie is full of unfunny satire and uncompelling drama.

The Wicker Tree simply does not work without the collaboration of writer Anthony Shaffer, who would have found a more interesting approach to the material. Personally I am reminded of Sir James Frazer’s work in the Golden Bough, where he talks about systems of magic and religion that fell to waste or evolved simply because they didn’t work. The real horror of the Wicker Man is that the human sacrifice of the protagonist is doomed to fail, the soil simply will not allow the fruit trees to blossom anymore, and eventually the people will revolt against Lord Summerisle, who is simply buying time. What happens after that? What system of belief does these starving, disillusioned people come up with, what happens to the next outsider they come across? Had someone approached the story as an extension of the previous film, instead of just copying it, I think we would have had something superior.

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Rites of Spring -2011 written and directed by Padraig Reynolds

A couple of women are kidnapped by a deranged stranger who is acting in behalf of a creature that’s under lock and key. This intersects with botched kidnapping plot, and honestly there was potential for this film, but all of that stops immediately when the creature gets loose. ‘Wormface’ is such a great design that you immediately want to know more about him, and Rites of Spring tells us absolutely nothing. Ambiguity is fine, but there is literally no information, instead we are stuck with a rather unsympathetic protagonist. I admire this movie’s dedication to not making easy choices, but none of the characters actually advance, Wormface does not advance them and the movie ends with a whimper not a bang.

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The Woman in Black – 2012, written by Jane Goldman, directed by James Watkins

That’s right, this is a remake….that needs a remake. The original British film was about a lawyer that finds a small town very publicly haunted by a woman in a veil that leads people to their death. The remake had tons of atmosphere and set up scenes rather well, but it just wasn’t scary. Pauline Moran hovering over the bed in the original is one of the great jump scares, there simply has to be more spots like this to make it memorable.

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Saturday Morning Mystery – 2012, directed by Spencer Parsons, written by Jory Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, Jonny Mars, Spencer Parsons and Jason Wehling

Saturday Morning Mystery is a live-action Scooby Doo parody about a team of paranormal skeptics who finds a notorious mansion that needs to be debunked to be sold. The rumor is that children from a local school were sacrificed on the grounds, but over the course of the night’s investigation, things are stranger and less linear than they first appeared. The idea of making a cartoon parody for adults is a good one, but this movie changes tone drastically, going from a horror comedy to a deadly serious tragedy at last third that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the movie.

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The Lords of Salem – 2012, written and directed by Rob Zombie

Heidi, A DJ in Salem Massachusetts gets a mysterious album from a band she’s never heard of. When she plays the record she starts to have visions of a female cult sometime in the past, and a baby. The record starts to affect all the women in the town as well, and the visions start to point to Heidi as destined to birth that child, and the dad isn’t human.

Lords of Salem is the movie I didn’t know Rob Zombie could do, subtle at times, incredibly shot, European in feel. On a story level, honestly, it’s better than his other work, but the end is so surreal it robs the film of any impact and yet again had Zombie had a collaborator he would have gotten much further. But for all the people that trash him, this movie is the best answer to why he’s got enough talent to be worth watching.

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The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – 2012, written and directed by Rodrigo Gudino

Leon returns to his deceased mother’s house to settle up her affairs. Their relationship was ruined by their respective feelings on religion, and she descended into a crisis of faith transforming her home into a shrine and possibly a place of protection…from something.

This film is interested in metaphor and introspection more than anything else, but because it’s so slow-paced its lack of payoff is absolutely deadly. The house itself is incredibly creepy in a way most movies simply aren’t, I just wish they had actually done more with it. This would have been a great film if something had actually happened.

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Mama – 2013 directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Neil Cross, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti

A man suffers a breakdown and kills his fellow employees and wife before taking his small children to a remote cabin after an accident. Right before he kills them, he is quickly dispatched. The children are found five years later, but are completely wild and tell rescuers they have been raised by ‘Mama.’ While they are being taken care of by extended family, the nature of Mama is revealed, she is a mental patient from the 1800’s who drowned but is unable to realize that her child died as well and has never stopped looking for her. Mama’s maternal instinct tends to be fatal.

Mama is a true shame, because they have created a truly great modern monster in Mama, who is genuinely sympathetic. She lacks the mental capacity to understand what is happening or even her true condition, and the two children involved are great characters. The other characters aren’t as strong, and Jessica Chastain isn’t able to do everything that we now know she can do. Visually Mama is a great design, the only problem is that at key moments the way they render her hair takes away from the fantastic work of Javier Botet and undermines the reality of the scene. But this movie doesn’t need much to be a classic.

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Mr. Jones – 2013, written and directed by Karl Mueller

A couple move out to the woods to make a nature documentary. As they stay out there, they find a cabin with odd adornments all around it, and it is the home of a reclusive artist, Mr. Jones. Since the documentary wasn’t going so hot anyway, they decide to make Jones the subject of the documentary. Jones sends enigmatic figures to random people across the country, and apparently odd things tend to happen after people receive the figures. As the plot unravels, it gets more and more intriguing and we learn that Mr. Jones is a benevolent figure that guards the border of dimensions, dimensions with alternate and terrible versions of ourselves.

Mr. Jones does that one thing which is the essence of horror, it intrigues. The first two thirds of this movie are simply captivating and although it is criticized for not quite pulling off its promise, it is much better than its critical reception. This film just needs a few more answers to be satisfying.

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Rigor Mortis – 2013, directed by Juno Mak, written by Phillip Yung, Jill Leung and Juno Mak

Chin, A failed actor moves to a dilapidated tenement and tries to commit suicide, drawing the attention of Yau, a retired vampire hunter and some roaming spirits with a connection to some of the building’s other residents. Add a grieving seamstress who uses a local black magician to bring back her deceased husband, but instead gets a hungry jiangshi (hopping vampire) that needs virgin blood and things get very complicated, very quickly.

Rigor Mortis is very entertaining and looks pretty good, but it can’t decide what it wants to do, careening between action, horror and comedy. You simply can’t combine a hopping vampire with Paw Hee-ching’s incredible performance as Auntie Meiyi, a woman emotionally destroyed by sacrificing innocents to her monstrous husband, but incapable of living without him.

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The Green Inferno – 2013, directed by Eli Roth, written by Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth

The Green Inferno is about Justine, a young college student enamored with social activism to the point where she takes a trip to the Amazon to save a native tribe from loggers. Although the protest goes reasonably well, the plane crashes on the way out and they are captured by the very tribe they are trying to save – who are cannibals. The rest of the group are subjected to other rituals and torments even as they learn they were funded by a rival logging firm and the whole protest was a ruse. Eventually Justine escapes, and is rescued by the militia she was previously fighting who then attacks the tribe, which she decides to protect from the outside world.

The Green Inferno has taken a lot of criticism, and not all of it is fair. This is not a likeable movie, its message prioritizes apathy over advocacy, which rubbed people the wrong way, and the plot is more concerned with irony than anything else. But the real problem is Roth doesn’t seem to care about anything that happens until they get to the jungle, the college portions feel like filler and I don’t care or like these characters, and some of the choices they make feel very false because I don’t think Roth cares about these people either, and that’s what you would need for this to work. But I defy you to ignore Ramon Llao’s Headhunter or the gruesome Jonah sacrifice scene and tell me this movie didn’t have potential.

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Lord of Tears – 2013, directed by Lawrie Brewster, written by Sarah Daly

James is a teacher settling a family estate of two homes, one which he is urged to never return to. Of course that’s what he does, since he cannot remember his early childhood at this same home, and he meets Eve, an American that lives nearby. He also finds that he had visions of an ‘Owl-Man’ a figure that drove him to a nervous breakdown as a child. The Owl-Man is in fact the ancient God Moloch who granted wishes in exchange for sacrifice, and as James’s parents wanted Moloch’s help but were unwilling to give their son up, they adopted an American orphan and used her instead, and that orphan was Eve. James is able to free Eve to move on and tells his only friend Allen the story, only to realize that Allen has made a deal with Moloch himself, and this time James is the sacrifice.

Lord of Tears is stylish and distinctive and the Owl-Man works a lot better than I thought he would. The film is slow-moving and its biggest flaw is that it falls completely in love with Lexy Hulme as Eve and dedicates a ton of time and energy to her, but if the audience doesn’t feel the same way about her, the film falls flat, and I personally was not in love with her. By the time the movie stopped cold to film a full dance routine of hers, I was frowning in disbelief that anyone thought I wanted to watch this scene. Either more things need to happen in this film, or it needs to be edited differently.

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The Houses October Built – 2014, written by Bobby Roe, Zach Andrews, Jeff Larson, directed by Bobby Roe

A group of friends decide to make a road trip tour of America’s haunted house attractions before Halloween. They also make a sort of documentary with interviews with the workers, which leads to some really colorful stories, and an overall feeling that things are getting out of hand to scare an increasingly jaded audience. The ultimate goal is to find the ‘Blue Skeleton’ that moves locations every year and goes further than any of the other attractions, but the more they try to find it, the more they are hunted themselves. Eventually, they get their wish. They wanted to be scared, and as they are buried alive, they get the thrill they were looking for.

This is a pretty good found footage film and the idea to include interviews with the workers was a nice touch. It’s a little underwritten for my taste, but there’s a lot to like here. The only thing that got me was when the group encounters a character known only as Porcelain, the encounter is so unnerving that it stood out from the other scenes, and it would have been a lot stronger movie if it could have replicated this moment in other scenes.

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Tusk – 2014, written and directed by Kevin Smith

Tusk is about Wallace, a caustic podcaster who finds viral videos so he can mock people. He flies to Canada to do a followup interview on one of his subjects but it doesn’t work out and he finds another subject, the enigmatic Howard, who promises a ton of interesting stories. Howard was the victim of a shipwreck and was rescued by a walrus, but as it turns out Howard is hopelessly insane, driven by a lifetime of abuse and from eating the walrus out of desperation. He now wants to recreate the animal by surgically altering a human being and then reconditioning them as an animal, and Wallace is the perfect subject – as all the others have failed so far.

Tusk sounds like a trainwreck on paper, but Justin Long and the late Michael Parks are amazing in their roles and somehow this movie starts to really work – and then Kevin Smith seems to lose confidence and introduces Johnny Depp in a poorly thought out comedy role and undermines the whole thing with toilet humor. Had he simply stuck to one genre this would have been something.

Horror Movies that Need to be Remade/Rebooted- the 2000’s Pt. 2

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Noroi: The Curse – 2005, directed by Koji Shiraishi, written by Koji Shiraishi and Naoyuki Yokota

Noroi is a Japanese mockumentary on a the disappearance of Kobayashi, a paranormal expert whose housed burned to ashes, his wife’s body in the ruins. He had been investigating a local woman who is tenuously linked to some deaths and missing people, and an interview with an absolute crackpot only provides him with a map and a great of confusion. Later he interviews an actress who has a frightening encounter with something while filming at a shrine. This and other random threads come together, and saying much more would spoil the ride.

Noroi is a corker, and deeply satisfying if you are into storytelling, mystery, atmosphere and a serious case of the creeps. Conceptually, it takes a rather dark turn, as it involves abortions and fetuses, subjects not tolerated well by Western audiences. The plot is complex, but rewarding. The only problem is that the end relies on a shock that the movie simply isn’t able to pull off convincingly with CGI, and it handicaps the film badly.

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Venom – 2005, directed by Jim Gillespie, written by Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten, Brandon Boyce

In Louisiana, when helpful tow truck driver Ray Sawyer rescues a local Creole women, he is bitten by the snakes concealed in her suitcase and dies of their venom. Some local youths find out that Ray isn’t dead at all, that the older woman was some sort of sineater, and that as she purified people she put their evil into the serpents and now Ray is a killing machine.

Venom is a slasher with touches of the supernatural, but it squanders a few things that could have made it different. Ray Sawyer is more than a one-note character, he’s intimidating but the rumors about him (including being an absent and uncaring father) aren’t true, and in fact, he’s a very sympathetic monster who punished for helping someone and has no say so in his actions. Adding some more background and perhaps even internal conflict would take him to another level. Louisiana has so much more texture to offer as a setting, and the film doesn’t really give us protagonists that connect. I think this is a case of wasted potential.

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Cry Wolf – 2005, directed by Jeff Wadlow, written by Jeff Wadlow and Beau Bauman

On a college campus a rather common game goes wrong when some ghoulish students create the idea of a fictional serial killer, a rather convenient persona for someone that wants to commit a real crime. Cry Wolf is a meta horror that doesn’t quite work, about the tangled affairs of some rather awful young people who take every opportunity to hurt each other in every way possible. The only problem is that the audience has to either have someone they really like, or someone they really find interesting to stay engaged, and Cry Wolf has neither. But the concept is worth exploring.

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Dead Silence – 2007, directed by James Wan, written by Leigh Whannell

A man and his wife his get a rather upsetting doll in the mail named ‘Billy’ and instead of burning the blessed thing and strewing the ashes with salt like any sane person, they keep it until something messily kills his wife that night. His only clue is local legend Mary Shaw, as Billy was one of her dummies, she was an entertainer that was slandered by a kid that eventually went missing (!) and she was lynched, but buried with her dolls. Of course she has returned, and this time if you make noise during her performance it will be the last thing you will do.

James Wan clearly made the choice to switch to Gothic horror and he took it seriously and almost pulls this off. I’m not sure anyone else was taking it as seriously as he was, the plot isn’t very good and Donnie Wahlberg is flat out wretched. Also the decision was made not to use much of Judith Roberts in her human persona, but she was absolutely chilling, surely something could have been changed to let her work. I’m always up for a good killer doll movie, and this could have worked.

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The Wizard of Gore – 2007, directed by Jeremy Kasten, written by Zach Chassler, Herschell Gordon Lewis

The Wizard of Gore is about a hipster who investigates a stage magician with a very Grand Guignol act, he takes Suicide Girls and kills them rather messily. At the end of the show the girls appear unharmed, but when they turn up dead later the same way they were killed in the show, the plot thickens.

There was a stretch of time where people stopped trying to make Crispin Glover do what they wanted and simply filmed him being bizarre and oddly enough the plan kinda works. And I will give the filmmakers all the credit in the world, this is a remake of a H.G. Lewis film which simply existed to violently hack women to bits, and they simply wanted to do more than that. But the plot which introduces mind-altering drugs and hallucinations gets away from them a bit. It’s a nice angle though, and surrealism in flashes can work.

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Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer – 2007, directed by Jon Knautz, written by John Ainslie and Jon Knautz

Jack Brooks is a horror comedy about a plumber that releases an evil that takes over a small night school (and Professor Robert Englund) and is forced to fight it. Because his family was wiped out by a monster when he was a kid, this is the anger management he’s been looking for his whole life. This is the sort of movie young Peter Jackson used to do, it’s a lot of fun and considering there couldn’t have been much money involved it overachieves. If you were going to redo something with a little more budget, this is worth a look.

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Lake Mungo – 2008, directed by Joel Anderson, written by Joel Anderson

Perhaps the only Australian film on the list, Lake Mungo is about a young girl that drowns while swimming and her ghost that plagues her family’s home. Except, it turns out that her brother is faking the incidents, but because the house is under surveillance other uglier but more grounded secrets start to emerge. What is also revealed is that the young lady was convinced she was going to drown for months prior to her death and in one of the most frightening scenes I have seen, her cell phone footage reveals her coming across a vision of her own death. Something is clearly happening after all, but what? And why?

Lake Mungo is an amazing piece of work, but it is a slow, deliberate film that won’t translate to the majority of any audience, although there a points where it either scares or unnerves in a way that I haven’t seen most movies do. The plot suggests that Alice wants the truth about herself revealed, including her illicit affair with the next door neighbor, but perhaps if there were more things she needed us to see, or other family member’s secrets that needed to come out, this would flow a little better.

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Deadgirl – 2008, directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, written by Trent Haaga

Two rather unlikeable high school boys cut class but end up in an abandoned psychiatric hospital where they find a feral, infected woman in the basement, chained to a table. J.T. is interesting in raping her, Rickie declines, but does nothing to stop it. Later they find that the woman is a zombie, and that since J.T. couldn’t successfully kill her after, he is inviting friends to rape her as well.

Deadgirl is a grim rumination on the sort of toxic male that we see more and more since, and it defaults to a criticism I’m starting to use often. J. T. is a monster, which establishes Rickie as a protagonist, but his actions make him impossible to root for or understand and he isn’t interesting enough to watch if he isn’t the good guy.

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The Burrowers – 2008, directed by J.T. Petty, written by J.T. Petty

In the late nineteenth century Native Americans are blamed for a series of kidnappings, and a vigilante group forms to find a missing family. As it turns out the people have been devoured by subterranean monsters who bury drugged victims alive and eat them after they’ve begun to rot. The creatures used to simply eat animals, but once the white man killed the buffalo they switched to humans, and once the murderous Calvary arrives they accidentally kill the last members of the tribe that know how to kill the monsters.

The Burrowers is very much neglected, badly underrated, and packs a punch on a visceral level, along with delivering some social commentary. The only problem is that that the design of the ‘Burrowers’ falls flat, a more impressive monster would help this movie.

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Plague Town – 2008, directed by David Gregory, written by John Cregan and David Gregory

An unpleasant American family miss their bus and are stranded in an Irish countryside where they are attacked by a group of murderous mutant children. There isn’t much to explore in this gory, underwritten film except for a certain point when they introduce Rosemary, a deformed teenage girl, clumsily masked with a scarf with buttons for eyes, and every bit with her and her intentions is so absolutely unnerving I wonder what this would have been like if they had used this same sensibility for the rest of the film. Instead of going for aimless gore, stick with repulsion and atmosphere and they would have had something.

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Splinter -2008, directed by Toby Wilkins, written by Kai Barry, Ian Shorr and Toby Wilkins

When a rabid animal attacks a remote gas station it spreads a fungal parasite that feeds on blood and animates animals, people (or limbs!) to spontaneously attack. Splinter is an original thrillride that makes the most of its location and cast and deserves to be remembered. A slightly larger film would allow this single location to be a little more complex, imagine applying this same dynamic to a small grocery store or retail shop and you’ll see what I mean.

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The Unborn – 2009, directed by David S. Goyer, written by David S. Goyer

A young woman plagued by inexplicable visions, and finds that she had a twin that died in the womb that wants to be born anyway. Somehow this relates to another twin used to channel a dybbuk (an evil Jewish spirit) into the world, and it now haunts her family. This is presented in the most convoluted, and unconvincing manner possible, but The Unborn was written and directed by David Goyer, so it had literally no chance at success. It would easy to be lazy and simply pan this movie, but it’s unfair to ignore the good ideas in this, no matter how badly executed. Jewish mythology has a ton of interesting stories, and since the Catholic faith is usually featured as the only cinematic spiritual salvation for anyone, the idea of rabbis and synagogues could be explored too. In a better film.

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Drag Me to Hell – 2009, directed by Sam Raimi, written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi

A loan officer decides to show a bit of backbone and denies an elderly woman a chance to stay in her home despite delinquency. The older woman is a Gypsy and curses the loan officer who has a series of visions and visitations afterwards, and rescue from the curse is impossible because the older woman dies. She turns to a series of increasingly desperate measures to save her from the Lamia, but will it work?

It’s always a treat to see Sam Raimi doing genre work, as one of the great camera operators out there. Here, he does a loose adaptation of M.R. James Casting the Runes, with Alison Lohman as a hilarious self-centered woman trying to escape from a curse. But as usual, he can’t seem to decide on tone, mixing humor, with splatter, with genuine tension. Realistic practical effects are married with unconvincing CG effects, and by the time he gets to a comedy setpiece with a possessed goat you wish he had made up his mind.

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Strigoi – 2009, directed by Faye Jackson, written by Faye Jackson

Vampirism is returned to its Eastern European roots when a man investigation land ownership issues in his grandfather’s village finds out that the invading landowners are literal bloodsuckers. Strigoi subverts every trope of the vampire legend, and it has a heavy doses humor and commentary to boot. It’s rather well shot and a great-looking film, but it’s also kind of dull and too long. For all the work it takes to make a film, it would be preferable if something actually happened during it.

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Pandorum – 2009, directed by Christian Alvart, written by Travis Milloy and Christian Alvart

In the future, the last hope of mankind is shot into space, with the people put into suspended animation. At times a couple people are randomly woken up to maintain the ship, and this time around there is serious trouble that they can’t easily fix. Also one crewmember shows signs of Pandorum, a sickness that can lead to complete madness. As he penetrates further into the ship he finds other crewmembers awake, and vicious mutated cannibals among other threats.

Pandorum is very close to being amazing, and even as it is, it deserves better than what it got. There are a lot of good ideas here and the end twist is pretty smart as well. If it had a touch of Dan O’ Bannon’s writing on Alien, that grounded the concept immediately and gave the audience a quick entry point into the story, if it had a little more Snowpiercer, with a glimpse of the abhorrent cultures formed in isolation when things go wrong, if there had been a slightly different case – if, if, if.

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Wake Wood – 2009, directed by David Keating, written by David Keating and Brendan McCarthy

After a small child is killed by a dog, a grieving couple move to a small village. There they learn that there is a ritual that brings back the dead, but only for three days, only inside the perimeter of the town, and only if the person has been dead for less than a year. The couple proceeds to do everything needed for the ritual and their daughter returns. Except. They lied. Little Alice has been dead for over a year and if you’ve seen Pet Cemetery you know exactly where this is going.

The problem with Wake Wood is it doesn’t go far enough to surpass Pet Cemetary, which it bears more than a passing resemblance too. This needs to move faster and do more.

 

Horror Movies that Need to be Rebooted/Remade – the 2000’s Pt. 1

There was an explosion of films fueled by the genre introspection of Scream, the brutal French movie scene and the Japanese film invasion, and things really picked up. Found footage also made it a lot easier to make a movie.

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Valentine – 2001, directed by Jamie Blanks, written by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers

Valentine has a standard 80’s slasher setup with a bunch of girls rejecting and pranking a nerdy student, only to have him comeback to kill them all. Unlike a lot of them, this is a creepy looking killer and the nosebleeding is a nice touch. The interaction and twists between the girls is a bit dull, but it has potential, I could see someone crafting something better with these elements, as it appears this production had a long, troubled gestation. Also, it might be more interesting if the killer reflected our modern ideas of toxic masculinity because it would make him more villainous to kill people simply because he is rejected or entitled, as opposed to this character that legitimately had his life ruined.

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Pulse – 2001, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

There was a punchless remake of this already, but the original is a relentless story of people driven to suicide by images they see on their computer, images of people in small, dark rooms pleading for help. These are in fact ghosts, but they have learned that death is simply eternal loneliness. Everytime they encounter the living they try to tell them, but that causes the living to fall into depression – thereby losing the will to continue existing, which makes the problem worse.

Pulse is dour, depressing and at times rather scary. But it’s quite long, and while emotionally it has a ton of impact, some of the story just doesn’t hold up, I’m still not sure how things like the red tape used on rooms works on a story level, and not simply as a visual motif.

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Dagon – 2001, directed by Stuart Gordon, written by Dennis Paoli

A quartet of friends vacationing in Spain are caught in a storm and driven into an odd town. One by one, everyone goes missing until the last survivor realizes that the town is full of some sort of fish-like people. Fleeing with the town drunk, (the only human in town) he out that the town turned to worship of the fish-god Dagon, who exacted a heavy toll on them. The exact nature of that price plays out over the course of one terrible night.

Another Lovecraftian work from Stuart Gordon, this suffers from the budget limitations he had to work under. Anything that wasn’t a practical effect didn’t work at all, and I would have like to have spent more in this town, seeing more of it, and letting the setting be a character, but that never happened.

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Thir13en Ghosts – 2001, directed by Steve Beck, written by Neal Marshall Stevens and Richard D’Ovidio

A ghost hunter and his team try to catch a spirit called the Juggernaut, but it ends in disaster. The ghost hunter’s nephew inherits his estate and moves there with his family. The house is clearly designed for something other than simply living in, it’s a cage for 13 ghosts and when they are released the rather convoluted plot starts.

When you see the materials related to the film, you realize that they’ve created a great backstory and entire world around these practically made ghosts, and then they are completely undercut by the plot and characters I don’t care about. I have to imagine when you are working on something there’s a bit that’s interesting and a bit that’s dull and at some point you have to concentrate on the interesting stuff and have it dominate. I would like someone to do that.

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Dark Water – 2002, directed by Hideo Nakata, written Yoshihiro Nakamura and Kenichi Suzuki

Dark Water is a masterpiece, and ends in one of the greatest jump scares I have ever seen. A high-strung woman in the middle of a painful divorce is forced into a shabby tenement with her daughter. There is a leak in her ceiling, but the handyman is notoriously lazy, and she can’t get the people upstairs to answer. As her personal life falls apart, she starts to notice odd things in the building, and eventually she finds out the apartment above her is abandoned, but the little girl that living there and has been missing for over a year, always seems to be playing somewhere in the building…

Dark Water layers dread, with mystery, with family drama, and deeper themes of children and neglect. It’s an amazing piece of work, and I know Nakata will always be known for Ringu, but I thought this was a much better piece. As a horror fan, I don’t think there need to be huge changes, but the end could be a little bit more of a rollercoaster, and I’d like to see a better creature design for Mitsuko than what we got.

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The Eye – 2002, the Pang Brothers, written by Jojo Hui and the Pang Brothers

The plot is diabolically simply and familiar. A blind woman gets a cornea transplant from a donor, and can now see horrible apparitions, now she is in a race to find out whose eyes she has, and what these visions mean. The Eye is refreshing in its humility, it is a masterclass on jumpscares and it is designed to be a thrillride. Some of these scares only work when the makeup is convinced and at times, that’s undermined in this film, but someone else could have a field day with this setup.

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Double Vision – 2002, directed by Chen Kuo-fu, written Chen Kuo-fu and Su Chao-pin

An American and a beaten-down Chinese policeman investigate a series of bizarre deaths, and eventually the trail leads to a cult and an obscure Taoist belief that one who endures five kinds of suffering can transcend their physical flesh. As they go further down the rabbit hole, they start to play a heavy personal price.

Double Vision is well-made but simply tries to do too much, the legend is find, but by the time the movie introduces a mind-controlling fungus I started to grimace, and for all that buildup the end is a little ambiguous. Some of the visuals and ideas are worth coming back to, in my opinion.

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Malefique – 2002, directed by Eric Valette, written by Alexandre Charlot, Franck Magnier and Francois Cognard

A white collar criminal ends up sharing a cell with three very different and dangerous men. Inside a loose brick in their cell they discover an 80 year old grimoire from a prisoner who mysteriously disappeared. As they read it, they start to have visions, and when one prisoner tries to destroy the book – the book fights back. There is a secret to this book and they will find out the hard way.

Malefique came really close, I think its lack of scope and slightly unsatisfying Twilight Zone ending undercut a really distinct film. Institutions are terrifying places, and showing more of the place itself and the quartet’s interactions with other prisoners would have been nice. Also, once the secret of the book was revealed for at least characters it could have been done in a more satisfying way.

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House of 1000 Corpses – 2003, directed by Rob Zombie, written by Rob Zombie

Four people in search of cool roadside attractions come across a creepy clown and his museum dedicated to a local legend. They are led into a trap and tormented by the clown’s extended family. When the cops come to investigate they are killed as well, and the only survivors are eventually killed in underground tunnels by a murderous doctor.

I like Rob Zombie’s direction, he’s really talented visually, and he’s smart enough to get great actors that perform good scenes for him. I wouldn’t let him write a movie, or pretty much anything. Rob Zombie has no interest in protagonists; they are simply cannon fodder for the random monsters he generates, so there is never a plot, just a shaggy dog story with nothing to move it forward. Basically someone does horrible to someone in scene after scene, often for no reason until the movie ends. Zombie completely identifies with his bad guys, but he doesn’t write them as tragic monsters at all, so there’s never anyone to care about. After raping and pointlessly slaughtering five young women and stuffing them into car trunks, I’m not going to root for Captain Spaulding because he told a joke in the next scene, and frankly I don’t think much of the person that presents that as someone I should root for.

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Creep – 2004, directed by Christopher Smith, written by Christopher Smith

A rather abrasive woman is stuck in a abandoned train station. The few people there are being attacked by something vicious that lives somewhere in the sewer system, a disfigured, highly handicapped hermit.

Creep does two things that a lot of horror films don’t do: it creates a female protagonist that is the opposite of a Mary Sue, and it has a very tragic monster who does terrible things, but it is very clear it has no idea of the gravity of its actions. Overall, it’s a very underwritten film that just doesn’t have a lot of answers and very little characters arcs or relationships with anything, which is why it simply ends without much impact. For a film about a cannibal, there’s not much meat on its bones.

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Dead Birds – 2004, directed by Alex Turner, written by Simon Barrett

During the Civil War a gang of robbers hide at an abandoned plantation, but they find an odd scarecrows and some sort of monster. When they find out that the farmer that lived there lost everyone in a black magic ritual gone wrong and was crucified by the locals in the field, it becomes obvious they’re in for a longer night than they thought.

Dead Birds is a strong first effort for Turner, and it also is the first film I ever saw Michael Shannon, who simply seemed to be in a different movie than everyone else. And that’s part of the problem. They simply didn’t have the talent around him to meet his effort. The other thing is the plot’s logic, the curse of the farmhouse is supposed to turn them into monsters, but they end up getting tormented in various ways….which negates the whole point of the curse. Reworked and recasted this could reach more of its potential.

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Blade: Trinity – 2004, directed by David S. Goyer, written by David S. Goyer

Blade has a team now and fights Dracula. I can’t bring myself to review this seriously because someone made the decision to go from Guillermo del Toro to David Goyer and the only person more pissed about that than me is probably Wesley Snipes, who sulked and made production impossible. To make things worse the film wastes Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds and Parker Posey, who are all capable of good work, makes Dracula purple and unintimidating and casts the wrong wrestler as the heavy. I can’t imagine a MCU version of Blade, but I’d like too.

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House of Wax – 2005, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by Charles Belden, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes

A few young people are on their way to local football game, they have an encounter that leads to their car being damaged. A couple of them go to a small town with a friendly local only to find out that there is almost no one living there. While waiting for an auto part they visit wax museum that is literally constructed of the material, they run into murderous twin brothers who have been covering people in wax which is literally the only way this story was going to go.

When we watch a movie, we are essentially choosing to spend time with the people on the screen, either we like them or we find them interesting, or we hate them or something. For the first half of the movie, House of Wax ignores this subjecting us to a ton of conversations and people we just don’t care about. And then, halfway in, it goes into a completely different mode, develops pacing, style and a real mean streak.

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The Devil’s Rejects – 2005, directed by Rob Zombie, written by Rob Zombie

The brother of a sheriff killed in the previous movie House of a 1,000 Corpses seeks revenge on the Firefly family, capturing some, killing some and setting the rest on the run. As he hunts them, he loses his humanity, and they begin to learn the pain their victims endured.

If there was any film you could use to defend Rob Zombie’s writing, it would be this one, as it is the closest to decent. Characters have a degree of interacting relationships, and there is more complexity than you see previously from him, and as usual he has a few really executed scenes. By having the element of the vengeful lawman become an opposed force to the family of murderers it’s a more interesting story, although had he directed this same film but had someone co-write it, we would have had much more.

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The Skeleton Key – 2005, directed by Iain Softley, written by Ehren Kruger

A young woman becomes a caretaker at a former plantation, working with an elderly lady to take care of her crippled husband. She comes across a mysterious room that she doesn’t understand, but she soon learns that two former servants practiced hoodoo there and were lynched after some ritual. Convinced that some of the old man’s symptoms are psychosomatic, she is able to partially cure the husband, who pleads for her to free him from his wife. Something is very wrong and it will take all of her wits to escape with her life.

The Skeleton Key feels like one of those movies where the writer came up with a great idea for an ending and constructed a movie around it. This tale of evil slaves who learn how to swap bodies and stay alive is at times low level creepy, but doesn’t generate thrills or scares throughout, which wastes the impact of the ending because by then we don’t care.