Pooka!

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 19, 2018

STREAMING BANNER 2
HULU
Released Dec. 7, 2018
TV-MA – 1hr 23min
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Starring Nyasha Hatendi, Latarsha Rose, Jon Daly, Dale Dickey


WHAT IT IS XMAS
Struggling actor Wilson (Hatendi) takes a job as the corporate mascot for the year’s most wanted Christmas toy – Pooka. As the holiday season stretches on, he begins to lose himself in the role, until it becomes difficult to tell whether he is Pooka…or Pooka is him.


WHAT IT DOES XMAS
Pooka! is a clever and atmospheric reality-bender that details a man’s descent into madness as he loses control over his life while his worst tendencies are poured into the toy character he portrays. By design, it grows increasingly difficult to tell when things occurred or if they even happened, yet all the disjointed elements begin to converge neatly upon its conclusion.


HOW IT DOES XMAS
Pooka! is not actually a standalone film, but the third monthly episode of Hulu & Blumhouse’s ongoing anthology series Into the Dark, which is a collection of unrelated feature-length films…? I understand that The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Masters of Horror – among similar anthology shows – also had unconnected episodes, but none of them could have existed independently in their finished forms as full movies like these installments could. Into the Dark is bound together though by the thinnest of premises, in that each film is released at the time of year to which its plot coincides, but that now means that each one will likely be compared to the proceeding chapters, no matter how irrelevant the connection. I prefer to judge this on its own merits, so from here on, I’m going to act as if the series concept doesn’t even exist.


POOKA INNER 2

“Yeah, sure – we can sell these to kids. Those little idiots buy whatever – it doesn’t matter. Lunch?”


With that out of the way, it’s time to talk Pooka! It can be quite difficult to manufacture an iconic character, and that endeavor might be the common thread between horror creators and toymakers. It takes the right blend of appearance, presence, presentation, and premise to make something that’s both instantly attention-grabbing and truly memorable. Would Freddy Kruger be so noteworthy without Robert Englund’s performance or his bladed glove? Jason Voorhees didn’t really hit his stride until stumbling upon his trademark hockey mask in his franchise’s third entry. So, does Pooka capture that kind of magic? For the most part, yes.

Like a toy at the center of a horror story should, Pooka possesses that prime middle ground between adorable and grotesque – cute and cuddly, but with big dead headlamp eyes. In miniature, it resembles the unintentionally creepy Furby, with its soul-piercing stare and illusion of sentience, but blown up to mascot-size, it acquires the looming menace of something like Freddy Fazbear from the Five Nights at Freddy’s games. You could guess at a glance that this uncanny monstrosity would be primed to steal the show, and while it does fill the antagonist role nicely, all the other elements of Pooka! round out the movie into an experience beyond a simple killer toy.

Director Nacho Vigalondo doesn’t have the deepest filmography – Colossal, Timecrimes, Open Windows, and his Oscar-nominated short film 7:35 in the Morning are the standouts in a 20-year career short on feature-length efforts – but he has developed a reputation for playing with the narrative constructs of time and place in a satisfyingly bewildering manner that he only builds upon with Pooka! Protagonist Wilson often finds himself disjointed out of sequence between what he’s doing and where he is versus the things he does while inhabiting the increasingly malevolent being of Pooka, to the extent that he begins to have actual confrontations with the destructive beast, until they are finally no longer one and the same. It’s an enthralling thing to watch, and Vigalondo elevates the material through his craft. Working on a limited budget, he conveys all this mind-bending and reality-warping through classical techniques of unnatural lighting, creative framing, and use of non-Euclidian geometry, and it makes for a stylishly standout film.


POOKA INNER 1

*rolls up newspaper* Now that’s a bad Pooka! Bad! *hits with newspaper, loses arm*


That would count for far less if not for the acting, and Nyasha Hatendi really nails it as a man coming unglued just as his life is coming together. Even in his calm moments, there’s a maelstrom of volatile and potentially destructive emotions that exist just beneath the veneer of Wilson, and Hatendi balances these elements just right to keep him sympathetic yet unnerving throughout. There’s just no telling what he might be capable of as he spills more of his dark side into the looming body of Pooka, and that generates the suspense that carries the film. The supporting roles are not to be overlooked either, as they convincingly form the rest of the narrative world that Wilson seems positioned to shatter – Latarsha Rose standing out as the woman unfortunate enough to catch Wilson’s eye just before his head-first plummet into madness.

If anything disappoints, Pooka! could have used more money to truly refine the movie further. At times, it looks like it was shot for the small screen when it had numerous big screen moments to share. Whether it could have made any money as a theatrical release, I couldn’t say with certainty – it would have definitely been a risk – but it might have been a risk worth taking. With more budget, a longer shooting schedule, and better filming equipment, Pooka would have only gotten better. As it stands, it feels more like a modern, feature-length, classic episode of Tales from the Darkside, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pooka! gets a rating of
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On the Radar – Secret Santa

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 18, 2018

ON THE RADAR LOGO XMAS

Part of the magic of the holidays is coming together, spending time, and sharing food & presents with those we love. That’s a thing we like to think, right? In an effort to idealize a season that we’ve laden heavily with expectations and romanticized notions, many actually experience a sharp spike in anxiety when confronted with the prospect of buying the right gifts, preparing the perfect meal, arranging the most elaborate decorations, or enduring awkward and cringe-inducing gatherings with barely tolerated relatives. What if all that self-inflicted stress, those delusional ambitions, and repressed passive-aggressive loathing boiled over into an unrestrained orgy of blood-letting and brutality? Secret Santa would be the result.


ON THE RADAR SECRET SANTA INNER 1

When it’s three hours into Christmas dinner and your relatives are giving you that ‘drop the weapon’ look, it’s time to lay off the eggnog.


The Pope family, well-monied from their involvement in the pharmaceutical industry, have assembled for their annual Christmas party, and for the most part, dislike each other rather thoroughly. The over-bearing matriarch, her acid-spitting first husband, the offensive uncle, the horndog half-brother, his stripper girlfriend, the secretly cruel and conniving sister, the depressed one – they’re an upper-class white American potpourri basket. While they’re generally able to trudge their ways through the yearly ritual, not so much this time, as someone has spiked the punch bowl with a little something from the family business – an experimental military-grade truth serum that will have everyone speaking their unfiltered minds. However, this descends into chaotic savagery, as the waspish clan is no longer able to resist their darkest impulses either.


ON THE RADAR SECRET SANTA INNER 2

“I told you a juicer was a terrible gift idea, Susan. Now look what happened…”


Director Adam Marcus and co-star Debra Sullivan have received praise for penning a script that doesn’t hold back, full of razor-sharp wit, outrageous offensiveness, and loads of vicious violence. The plentiful gore is offered up by legendary SFX artist and co-producer Robert Kurtzman, whose work includes From Dusk Till Dawn, Scream, It Follows, and numerous entries in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, and Evil Dead franchises. This also marks the first horror film by Adam Marcus since his debut 25 years ago – the absolutely bonkers and super-divisive Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.

I’ve personally always liked that much-reviled movie for all its irreverent, splattery, and batshit crazy charm, so I’m extremely curious to see what a quarter century of experience has brought to the guy who delivered the fever dream entry of the Friday the 13th series. Secret Santa has already been released in the UK by the Frightfest Presents label, and there, it has so far proven to be a love-or-hate experience too, but I suppose that’s always better than audiences responding with a collective shoulder shrug. Word on an American release has proven to be confusing, at best. While there’s no announcements from any official outlets, IMDb states its US date as today, and have seen that reflected elsewhere, but without any solid confirmations. Considering that, sometimes, films are dropped on VOD or streaming with less fanfare than a trip to the grocery store, it’s not impossible, but probably unlikely. Either way, as I’m eager to watch this, that would be preferable to having to wait another year to see it, which is also possible.


In other On the Radar news, the red-band trailer for previous feature Braid was released several days ago. Here it is:



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Saint

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 17, 2018

STREAMING BANNER 2
HULU
Released Dec. 18, 2011
Language: Dutch
Unrated (equal to rated R for graphic violence, language, and brief nudity) – 1hr 25min
Directed by Dick Maas
Starring Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen, Bert Luppes


WHAT IT IS XMAS
Saint Nicholas was actually an evil guy, and was finally taken down by angry villagers who had enough of him and his gang’s rampaging. So, every time a full moon falls on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas – December 5th – he and his murderous ruffians, the Black Peters, return from the grave to go on a killing frenzy.


WHAT IT DOES XMAS
While it’s not quite splatterstick – the distinct brand of deliriously sick displays of absurd violence best represented by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 and Peter Jackson’s Braindead (Dead Alive), Saint is not far off. It balances its goofy charm with an alternately serious approach that generally works. Yet, it’s important to note that this is an unmistakably Dutch creation.


HOW IT DOES XMAS
Saint was one of two European evil Santa movies released in 2010, but the American release was delayed a year, presumably not to compete for a limited market with Finland’s Rare Exports, which is almost inarguably the superior of the two movies. At a glance though, the Dutch iteration does appear the more interesting of the two, promising a blood-soaked high-energy experience with a supernatural zombie Santa cutting a swath of destruction through the streets of Amsterdam compared to the more desolate and brooding atmosphere of the Finnish film. However, that’s not entirely how it plays out.


SAINT INNER 1

The mall Santa took some questionable liberties with his costume this year.


When Saint does set its sickle upon action, that’s when it shines brightest. The main protagonist’s first meeting with St. Nick and his band of Yuletide slayers, who dispatch his buddies in brutal fashion before he makes a narrow escape, is a particularly stand-out scene. The highlight of the movie, which honestly makes any of its shortcomings forgivable, is a police chase of Zombie Santa as he navigates his horse (he rides horseback in Dutch tradition) along the rooftops of a city neighborhood that ends in a spectacularly unlikely manner – it truly is as awesome as it sounds. There’s several more neat moments like this throughout, and they’re satisfying when they arrive, but what’s in between leaves a lot to be desired.

First, despite nailing the look, the titular villain falls somewhat flat in screen presence. That key moment needed to really infuse his character’s moments with dread just never arrives. It could be because Saint is tonally all over the place – not comedic enough for proper parody or scary enough for effective horror, its elements only partially blend together and it’s noticeable. The pace is likewise up-and-down, as every time St. Nick and the Black Peters (which is probably the name of a rock band that played Glasgow nightclubs in the ’80s) made their escape, the movie slowed to a crawl.


SAINT INNER 2

“Look, I’m just the guy’s ghost horse. I consider myself blameless in all this.”


That leaves us with a bevy of underdeveloped characters – the grizzled police detective that survived Killer Santa as a child and no one believes, the handsome young bloke wrongfully arrested for the murders so that he can be in the right place at the right time to become an accidental hero, his pretty girlfriend who is pretty and his girlfriend, grizzled police detective #2, etc. – and their uninteresting goings-on. It can be a slog watching the protagonists piece together a mystery that the audience already knows in its absolute entirety, and it feels like the runtime padding that it is. One last point of contention, however, is not to be held against the movie, but could concern a prospective viewer all the same – this movie is very Dutch. Never mind that the premise itself centers upon specifically Dutch holiday traditions, there is a number of presumed jokes involving Dutch cultural references that flew so far over my head, they might qualify as being in orbit. Again, that’s not a critique of the film – American movies do this often with no consideration for international audiences, especially with comedy – but it is a component that is lost for those of us on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and likely most outside of The Netherlands in general.

In all, Saint is a fitfully fun but rather unmemorable Christmas horror flick. It’s worth a watch for anyone looking to break up the more sugary holiday offerings with some zany bloodshed, but it’s not much of a prime candidate for annual revisits. Except the rooftop chase scene – that was exceedingly cool.

Saint gets a rating of
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Better Watch Out

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 16, 2018

STREAMING BANNER 2
SHUDDERHOOPLA
Released Oct. 6, 2017
Rated R – 1hr 29min
Directed by Chris Peckover
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton


WHAT IT IS XMAS
Bickering, over-protective parents Robert and Deandra (Warburton & Madsen) leave their 12-year-old son Luke (Miller) in the care of his longtime babysitter Ashley (DeJonge) as they head off to a Christmas party. The maturing lad has developed romantic feelings for the young woman, but as he awkwardly attempts to make a move, an unexpected guest makes a move of their own.


WHAT IT DOES XMAS
Better Watch Out is a home invasion psychological thriller with big twists to the classic formula that is, in turns, darkly comic and relentlessly sadistic. It also happens to take place during the Christmas season.


HOW IT DOES XMAS
It’s now easy to see why Better Watch Out – with its high production value, novel concept, and cast of both up-and-comers and established names – would get such a low-profile release around…Halloween? Ok – that part I don’t get, but the rest of it became quite obvious. This would be an impossible movie to market. The less you know about it, the better, and it’s obviously difficult to put butts in theater seats without letting the people those butts belong to know exactly what they’re in for. Instead, it’s something meant to be stumbled upon – to be approached blindly, and as such, that also makes it difficult to present a spoiler-free review, but here it goes.


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In an effort to be as spoiler-less as possible, what would have been an image from the film has been replaced by a doubtlessly miserable cat in a Santa hat.


Better Watch Out is a movie that delights in its twists, each one with darker implications than the one proceeding it, and like the earlier works of M. Night Shymalan, each one threatens to lose the viewer if they’re not willing to accept it (interesting note: this film reunites Olivia DeJonge & Ed Oxenbould, the two young leads of Shymalan’s The Visit). Whether it be from a logical bridge too far or from sheer disgust at the unexpectedly and increasingly sadistic offerings, it’s guaranteed to polarize and alienate. It’s not even particularly gory – what violence there is generally occurs off-camera or from obscured angles and aftermaths shown in the background – nor does it fixate on physical torture, with the bloodshed occurring in quick and sudden bursts. Instead, the focus is upon the mechanizations of a psychopath, who prefers to toy with minds and manipulate emotions before launching into the next insidious phase of their cruel campaign. While that particular story has been told numerous times before, there’s still plenty of surprises to be had throughout this one.


BETTER WATCH OUT INNER 2

You can’t eat a Christmas tree, you adorable little idiot.


Director-cowriter Chris Peckover orchestrates all of this holiday havoc with a sure and confident approach. While not ambitiously stylish, the framing and camerawork are used creatively to capture the escalating descent into mayhem. Along with his only other feature, 2011’s Undocumented – a politically-charged ‘torture porn’ effort – it’s apparent that he specializes in highlighting realistic motivations for displays of human depravity. While the scope of Better Watch Out is the smaller of the two, it does allow for a greater examination into a dangerously troubled mind. We also get compelling performances from all the young leads, as they convincingly convey new dynamics in their characters with each progressive narrative leap.

This is, however, a Christmas movie only on a surface level. There’s lots of imagery and music therein to remind us that it is, in fact, very much Christmastime, but that fact has only the most incidental of effects on the plot. I am a member of the ‘Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie’ club though, so I must rule in favor of this movie’s holiday credentials. So, if you’re in the mood for a maniac movie this Yuletide season that places psychological menace over gruesome visuals and doesn’t feature a killer Santa, then this might be just what you’re looking for, provided you’re willing to go along with it. I can’t stress enough that it’s best to know as little as possible beforehand, so avoid the trailer, stay off the IMDb page, and you’ll be set.

More often than usual, results will vary wildly depending on preferences and expectations, but from me, Better Watch Out gets a rating of
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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 15, 2018

STREAMING BANNER 2
Amazon-Instant-VideoHULUHOOPLA
Released Dec. 3, 2010
Languages: Finnish & English
Rated R – 1hr 24min
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Starring Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila, Peeter Jakobi


WHAT IT IS XMAS
Blasting from an archaeological dig on a nearby mountain wreaks havoc on a rural village, but that’s nothing compared to the terror that has been unearthed – the real Santa Claus.


WHAT IT DOES XMAS
Rare Exports is a tense and creepy yet still playful subversion of folklore and Christmas tradition. This is not a satire or parody though – this is a straight-faced and legitimate depiction of Evil Santa.


HOW IT DOES XMAS
Rare Exports may seem, at a glance, like just one of what are actually many ‘killer Santa’ flicks. Most are of the costumed maniac variety, originating from the ‘And All Through the House’ segment of the 1972 theatrical anthology Tales from the Crypt (which was remade as the pilot episode of the famous HBO series of the same name) and popularized by the controversial 1984 slasher Silent Night Deadly Night. A few attempts have been taken at making a horror villain of jolly ol’ Kris Kringle himself, but have generally been of the shlocky type, like 2005’s Santa’s Slay (with WWE wrestler Goldberg donning the red suit) or Dutch film Saint, also from 2010. This movie takes an ambitiously atmospheric approach to its portrayal of the pseudo-immortal omnipresent judgmental voyeur, who always sees when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and succeeds in its re-imagination of him as forboding antagonist.


RARE EXPORTS INNER 2

The typical killer Santa. (from the HBO Tales from the Crypt episode ‘And All Through the House’)


The film plays out in three tonally distinct parts while still remaining consistent and coherent, which can be a tough presentation to execute. The first act puts the premise out there front and center, wisely avoiding any wasted effort to shoehorn mystery into the proceedings – we’re know we’re here for Evil Santa, so why mess around? We see the cold and tough existence of our protagonists – residents of a tundra village on the Finnish-Russian border that ekes out a living by culling and processing reindeer. While they’re the rugged survivalist types, they still find time to string up Christmas lights and bake gingerbreads, albeit quite joylessly. The tone takes a darker shift in the second act, as Santa Claus comes to town, portrayed with mute animalistic menace by Peeter Jakobi. Yet, Rare Exports can’t keep a straight face all the way through, but instead of descending into farce, it cooks up an absolutely bonkers action-movie climax, as it’s revealed that things aren’t really what they seem – they’re far worse.


RARE EXPORTS INNER 1

All he wants for Christmas is your two front teeth. And the rest of your face too. And likely, the meat off your bones.


It can be a challenge to effectively present something so obviously ridiculous in a conceivably matter-of-fact way, and much of the credit goes to writer/director Jalmari Helander for a creative script and adeptly managing the absurd elements of the story into a satisfying narrative that never plays its proverbial hand too soon. It’s helped along by the father-son duo at the center of the film, real-life father and son Jorma and Onni Tommila. Their genuine connection and natural interaction provides a lot of what keeps the movie grounded, until it’s free to fly gloriously off the rails in a fun and enjoyable way.

Rare Exports has already earned a special place in the very niche and somewhat crowded subgenre of Christmas horror, set apart by both its more realistic tone and rather spectacular WTF finale. Yet, it’s still somewhat overlooked and underrated. It’s not a particularly dialogue-heavy film, so no need to be too put off by the subtitles – this deserves to be a perennial holiday favorite of horror fans everywhere.

On account of that Christmas-themed things have a tendency to become tradition, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale gets a rating of
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Annihilation

2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Released Feb. 23, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 55min
Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Issac


what_it_is_review_header
Lena (Portman) is a renowned cellular biologist who volunteers for a dangerous expedition into an anomalous region known as ‘The Shimmer’, a place that no longer abides by the understood laws of nature for reasons unknown.


what_it_does_review_header
Annihilation is a very brainy, somewhat abstract, and generally slowburn effort for what is commonly a setup for slam-bang sci-fi/action. While not a rip-roaring ride, by any means, the focus on the characters and how they relate to the premise does allow for moments of genuine horror to shine through, where they may have otherwise been muted.


how_it_does_review_header
With its A-list cast, $50M+ budget, and a concept suited for a high-octane experience, it comes then as a profound surprise just how strange, deep, and dark Annihilation actually is. Not satisfied with presenting much, if anything, at face value, the film builds a bewildering labyrinth of themes, questions, and ideas – all with little interest in offering a hand to the audience to help guide them through it. These types of experiences emerge rather frequently from the indie world, but to get it from a Hollywood endeavor is honestly shocking.

ANNIHILATION INNER 3

“Well, this is a very unique piece. I wonder what the artist was trying to say with the…oh, this was a person.”

That’s probably for good reason though, as Annihilation has proven to alienate numerous fans of both sci-fi and horror with its intellectual ambitions, dreamlike narrative, and challenging plot. This is the kind of expensive auteur effort that gives studio executives cold sweats and nightmares, with visions of red ink plaguing their sleep. Perhaps that’s not irrational, as the film likely lost a decent bundle of money in its theatrical run, but that’s hardly the same as being a bad movie.

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This does not appear to be the sort of bear that will be appeased with a mere picnic basket.

That’s because Annihilation is exceptionally well-made. The cinematography and use of SFX make for visuals that are stunning, haunting, or horrific – depending on what the situation demands – that give The Shimmer a true sense of place, which is vital for a story such as this, where the setting is essentially its own character. The actual characters themselves are quite dour and mostly business-like regarding their quest into the mysterious zone, but each have complex reasons for taking upon a veritable suicide mission, and those reasons are far deeper than mere scientific curiosity. It gives much of the film a mournful tone akin to a funeral march – not necessarily fun, but certainly fascinating to watch. These intricate characters are given solid portrayals throughout, as should be expected from a cast of this caliber. At this point, Natalie Portman can effortlessly carry a movie on her shoulders, giving supporting roles more room to breathe and develop. All of this provides an atmosphere where, when the horror elements do appear, they hit with rightful impact.

ANNIHILATION INNER 2

Annihilation is very likely the most visually spell-binding horror film of the year (rivaled only by Mandy).

That isn’t to say, however, that Annihilation is an enjoyable ride. If the movie were a person walking down a hallway, it would open the door to every room it passed, barely glancing inside before moving on to the next. It’s important to know before watching that it’s a thoroughly cerebral experience with occasional outbreaks of excitement and expectations should be tempered accordingly. It does maintain a sense of tension and growing dread as it proceeds, so that’s not to say that it’s dull. Writer/director Alex Garland, with his second effort behind the camera after modern sci-fi classic Ex Machina, has crafted a film that is unquestionably memorable and mesmerizing. I wouldn’t consider it fulfilling though, but that doesn’t appear to have been one of its objectives.

Annihilation gets a rating of
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On the Radar – Starfish

ON THE RADAR LOGO
The grief experienced when losing a loved one can often feel like the end of the world, but upcoming release Starfish takes that to the furthest most extreme. Aubrey (Virginia Gardner, who played one of the unfortunate folks to find themselves in the path of Michael Myers in the most recent Halloween film) loses her best friend Grace, and after the funeral, breaks into her apartment and stays there as an immersive act of mourning. The next day, she wakes to find that a monstrous apocalypse has begun, and with the help of a cryptic mixtape left by her late friend, sets out in an attempt to save the world.

STARFISH 1

There would appear to be at least one monster on the larger side of things on the loose.

With comparisons being made to It Follows and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it would seem that indie rock musician A.T. White has set the bar high with his directorial and screenwriting debut. According to outlet SyFy Wire, during a Fantastic Fest Q&A, White cited both real-life loss and the first two Silent Hill games as big influences on his creation of the Lovecraftian doomscape in Starfish. His unique use of music and its juxtaposition to the dire circumstances has also been noted in providing the film with a distinctly unique atmosphere. As per his IMDb profile, he intends on donating all his proceeds from the film to cancer research.

STARFISH 2

Here’s some pretty solid evidence that Starfish is more than just feelings and snow.

While Starfish has received some criticism for being overly dreamy, contemplative, and experimental in its presentation, many festival screening reviews have praised the movie glowingly. Words like ‘beautiful’, ‘ethereal’, and ‘terrifying’ have been used to describe the unorthodox creature feature and leading actress Gardner’s film-carrying performance has been given much acclaim. As a big fan of psychedelic horror and monster movies, this is among my more anticipated releases of 2019, and the wait won’t be long either, as distributors Yellow Veil Pictures and The Orchard have acquired the film for a Spring release in limited theaters and digital VOD.


A bit of ON THE RADAR news – previous feature movie Pledge has been slated for a January 11th release date by IFC Midnight.


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2019: Horror on the Big Screen

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror – so much so, that a list is needed to count the ways:

– Michael Myers returned to classical form in a literal blockbuster revival of the 40-year-old Halloween franchise

– John Krasinski – Jim from The Office – surprised everyone as a truly legit genre writer/director with his nerve-rattling debut (and year’s highest grossing horror film) A Quiet Place

– we were introduced to an extremely promising new auteur, Ari Aster, with his terrifying debut Hereditary and got an unforgettable performance from Toni Collette as well

– fans were properly introduced to another auteur, Panos Cosmatos, with blood-soaked metal-infused acid trip Mandy which also had an unforgettable performance from Nicolas Cage

– a rip-roaring big budget Nazi monster war/action/horror hybrid in Overlord (which unfortunately flopped financially)

– we got new entries in fan favorite franchises – The First Purge, Insidious: The Last Key, The Nun and a long-awaited sequel to The Strangers

– more high-quality independent releases through VOD and streaming outlets than can reasonably be named in their entirety, such as the aforementioned Mandy, Summer of 84, Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil, Marrowbone, Pyewacket, Terrified, Terrifier, The Endless, The Ritual, Revenge, Veronica, Cam, Apostle, Incident in a Ghostland, The Witch in the Window, and so on.

All that – a horror fan bonanza – was a follow-up to what was already a banner year in 2017. We’re truly being spoiled right now and it’s great. Well, it gets even better, because 2019 is positioning itself to try and out-do these last two years. The amount of horror currently scheduled on the calendar is bewildering, and that’s not counting all the independent and unannounced films that will doubtlessly sneak up on us throughout.

So here’s 2019 at a glance (trailers and/or promo art included where possible):

Escape Room – Jan. 4

This promising early offering looks to bring Saw, Cube, and House on Haunted Hill together in a clever concept that might be quite the fun ride. Shame about that PG-13 though. Directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan, Insidious: The Last Key).


Eli – Jan. 4
Official Synopsis: A boy receiving treatment for his auto-immune disorder discovers that the house he’s living isn’t as safe as he thought. Directed by Ciarán Foy (Sinister 2, Citadel). [No trailer, no poster, already booked with competition – expect this date to change.]

[EDIT: On Dec. 12, it was announced that Eli has been sold to Netflix as a future exclusive and will not be receiving a theatrical release.]


Jacob’s Ladder – Feb. 1
Remake of the 1990 film starring Tim Robbins. Official Synopsis: After returning home from the Vietnam War, veteran Jacob Singer struggles to maintain his sanity. Plagued by hallucinations and flashbacks, Singer rapidly falls apart as the world and people around him morph and twist into disturbing images. [Another one with no promos yet. A possible re-schedule.]


The Prodigy – Feb. 8

A sharp-looking spooky kid thriller from director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At the Devil’s Door) and starring Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) and Colm Feore (one of those guys you’ve seen in a ton of things). [Why are trailers now begun with teaser trailers of the trailer? What sort of Russian nesting doll bullshit is this?]


Happy Death Day 2U – Feb. 14

Sequel to the bafflingly good PG-13 timeloop slasher from 2017. Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, who finds herself trapped in another murder loop, but this time, she’s responsible for more lives than her own. Writer/director Christopher Landon also returns, which is generally good news for a second outing.


The Turning – Feb. 22
An adaptation of classic Gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw, starring Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Tully) and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It).


Us – Mar. 15

US JORDAN PEELE POSTERJordan Peele’s follow-up to Oscar-nominated blockbuster Get Out. Very few details yet on this one, but expect a high-profile trailer release once there is. Starring Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Black Panther), and Anna Diop (24: Legacy).

[EDIT: A basic plot synopsis for Us has been released and goes as follows: “A mother (Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o from ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ and ’12 Years a Slave’) and a father (Winston Duke from ‘Black Panther’) take their kids to their beach house expecting to unplug and unwind with friends (including Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss from TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’). But as night descends, their serenity turns to tension and chaos when some shocking visitors arrive uninvited.” Considering Get Out, I would not expect this to be a simple cut-and-dry home invasion thriller.]


Pet Sematary – Apr. 5

A new adaptation of the 1983 Stephen King novel – the Creed family move into a new home near a creepy patch of land that local kids have turned into a pet ‘sematary’. After their cat meets an untimely end, they bury him there despite warnings from the neighbor that the ground is ‘bad’. Things get worse. From the directors of Starry Eyes, Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer and starring Jason Clarke (First Man, Terminator Genisys), Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, You’re Next) and John Lithgow (you know, John Lithgow).


The Curse of La Llorona – Apr. 19

Produced by James Wan and speculated as perhaps a Conjuring-verse addition. Official Synopsis: Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.


Brightburn – May 24

This high-concept superhero horror film – a subversive riff on the Superman mythos – looks great judging by its trailer that just dropped on Dec. 8th. Starring Elizabeth Banks, it’s produced by now-divisive former Marvel director James Gunn, so close to release, we’ll be certain to hear all about this again. [Who’d have thought that someone who used to work for Troma would have such a filthy sense of humor? It’s a shock – I’m truly shocked.]


Child’s Play – June 21

CHILDS PLAY 2019 POSTERAny time horror is a hot box office commodity, you can now count on the reboots that nobody asked for, and here’s our first. Obviously, it’s a remake of the 1988 film that made a famous killer doll of Chucky, but he’s conspicuously missing from the promo material so far. Instead, we get ‘Buddi’ and the rumors, for whatever they’re worth, claim that this will be a rogue AI story – way more Black Mirror than black magic. Slammed by series creator Don Mancini, the film has an unknown director of shorts behind the camera, a video game writer penning the script, a cinematographer plucked from some Netflix original shows, and the SFX coordinator from the CBS series Zoo, all suggesting there may not be a ton of faith in this re-imagining.


Grudge – June 21

Here, we have the second reboot nobody asked for, and slated for the same release date, no less. Compared to the Child’s Play effort though, the talent lined up behind this new venture of Kayako and son is a whole different story. Directed by Nicolas Pesce (Eyes of My Mother and the upcoming buzz-heavy Piercing), written by Jeff Buhler (the Nightflyers show runner who also wrote or co-wrote previously mentioned Pet Sematary, The Prodigy, and Jacob’s Ladder), and starring Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Birdman), John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar, Searching), William Sadler (The Mist, The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2), and Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin (GLOW). It’s also co-produced by Sam Raimi, if it needed any more pedigree. With the two reboots sharing the same day, expect one to move, and don’t anticipate Grudge to budge.


Annabelle 3 – Jul. 3

The title will likely change to Annabelle: Something as we get an official poster and trailer closer to release. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are slated to return as the Warrens in Annabelle 3, marking the first time they have appeared in a Conjuring spin-off entry, yet the story is to center on their daughter Judy, so the lines between the various series are getting all blurry. This third chapter of the evil doll’s saga will mark the directorial debut of frequent Conjuring-verse scribe and screenwriter of both chapters of It Gary Dauberman.


Untitled Ari Aster project – Aug. 9

Tentatively titled Midsommar, writer/director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary, the synopsis is as follows: A couple travels to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. Considering that Hereditary was initially about a family mourning the loss of Grandma, expect a lot of horrific twists and turns to occur throughout a film that emphasizes an atmosphere of growing dread.


It: Chapter Two – Sep. 6

IT CHAPTER 2 TEASER POSTERLikely the consensus choice for most anticipated horror film of ’19, just like in Stephen King’s novel, the now grown-up child protagonists of the first chapter will return to their cursed hometown of Derry for another and presumably climactic confrontation with otherworldly demonic manifestation Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The first film pulled down a worldwide box office tally of $700M, out-earning movies like Justice League, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the most recent Transformers release. With top-tier blockbuster numbers, It: Chapter Two should be the kind of costly spectacle virtually unprecedented for the horror genre. Andy Muschietti returns to direct, Bill Skarsgård reprises as Pennywise, and it stars Hollywood A-listers Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.


Are You Afraid of the Dark? – Oct. 11
This adaptation of the ’90s Nickelodeon youth horror anthology series has been in development hell for nearly 20 years. With previously mentioned Conjuring-verse writer/director Gary Dauberman in the production seat here, as well as providing the screenplay, there’s no word of a director, a cast, a filming date – nothing. With ten months to go before the optimistically announced release date, the odds of this flick coming out at this time are dwindling.


Zombieland 2 – Oct. 11

Pennywise doesn’t have the only highly anticipated second chapter coming out this year, as we’re all set to catch back up with the wild zompocalypse exploits of Tallahasse, Wichita, Columbus, and Little Rock – ten years after the release of the much-loved original. With the original cast, director, and screenwriters all returning, it seems virtually impossible that this reprise will disappoint.


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – 2019

Another youth horror anthology here, based off the popular series of books by Alvin Schwartz with its infamous illustrations by artist Stephen Gammell, but this one has already been filmed and just waiting for an official release date. We also have a lot of horror talent lined up behind this title – co-produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, also co-written by frequent Tim Burton collaborator John August and creative duo Marcus Dunston & Patrick Melton (Saw IV-VII, The Collector, The Collection), and directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunter).


That’s a big year lined up, and it doesn’t count the 3 dates that Blumhouse already has picked out for untitled & unspecified releases (May 31, Oct. 18, Dec. 13) or the date of Oct. 25 picked out by fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures (The Strangers: Prey at Night). There’s also a whole other set of horror-adjacent movies to get excited about like M. Night Shymalan’s Unbreakable/Split hybrid sequel Glass (Jan. 18), visually ambitious sci-fi invasion thriller Captive State (Mar. 29), Neil Marshall’s R-rated reboot of Hellboy (Apr. 12), Michael Dougherty’s kaiju sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31), dark X-Men related origin story New Mutants (Aug. 2), and an animated adaptation of fan-favorite The Addams Family (Oct. 11). And again, there are likely dozens more potential fan favorites and best-of-year contenders released by independent distributors – some of which you can read about in our weekly feature On the Radar, which highlights upcoming indie releases. All told, 2019 promises an exciting abundance of quality offerings for us horror fans – only time will tell if this is an indication of an emerging horror-centric culture or just another moment of market saturation before a decline. Either way, let’s enjoy while the getting is good.

Continue reading “2019: Horror on the Big Screen”

The Christmas Chronicles

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NETFLIX
Released Nov. 22, 2018
Unrated (equal to rated PG for peril and mild language) – 1hr 44min
Directed by Clay Kaytis
Starring Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley


WHAT IT IS XMAS
Young Kate (Camp) and her older brother Teddy (Lewis) have been having a tough year following the death of their firefighter father – Kate has grown attached to a digital camcorder full of home movies and Teddy steals cars (I suppose we all cope in our own way). Their mom (Williams-Paisley) has been working a lot of extra hours at the hospital, and such is the case on Christmas Eve when the two are left home alone. Kate blackmails her brother to assist her in a plan to catch Santa (Russell) on video, kicking off a series of events that threaten to ruin Christmas.


WHAT IT DOES XMAS
It’s like a 90’s live-action Disney movie and a Hallmark Christmas movie had a kid that spent a lot of time in its room watching Big Trouble in Little China on repeat. When it grew up, it still wound up in the family business, but never forgot what it really wanted to be.


HOW IT DOES XMAS
The Christmas Chronicles takes some time to get to the yuletide action, and every minute it spends doing so is another ill-advised Russell-less minute being just another made-for-TV Xmas movie. The actors do a fine job of portraying the kids at the center of the story, but the script doesn’t do the kids any favors in making them much more than typical caricatures. They tend to exist only to do what needs doing to move the film along to the next scene, but that’s also standard operating procedure for this kind of movie – it wasn’t made for its adroit examination of complicated characters.

It was made for its unique interpretation of Santa Claus, and that’s where it excels. Kurt Russell gets to be as Kurt Russell-y as he wants to be, and as such, this might be the closest we get to seeing him reprise his beloved role of Jack Burton, with his effortless charisma, penchant for devil-may-care adventure, and tendency for finding his way in and out of dicey situations. This instantly became my favorite iteration of ol’ Saint Nick and is honestly a more believable interpretation of someone who tasks themselves with achieving the impossible on an annual basis. The classical ‘aw-shucks’ jolly versions of Santa always seemed a bit too lackadaisical to believably get the job done. You know who can always be counted on to get the job done his own way no matter what? Snake Plissken, that’s who.

That seems to be the singular reason for The Christmas Chronicles to exist, or at least for it to be more than just yet another Santa movie. It does have the vibe of a film made from a script discovered buried in a storage room container for 15-20 years, with its odd inclusion of a camcorder as a major plot device, the seeming absence of everyday technology, or its rather vapid insistence that the fulfillment of material desires is one of the cornerstones of the Christmas experience (but I suppose it is though – isn’t it?). It’s not interested in tackling any difficult questions or considerations, and that’s fine – it wants to deliver a fun family holiday experience that also works as a showcase for legendary screen icon Kurt Russell, and it does, provided you just run with it (and its ridiculously adorable toy-store-ready Minionesque elves).

The Christmas Chronicles gets a rating of
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1991: The Worst Year in Modern Horror

It’s rather widely agreed upon that the decade of the ’80s was a pop culture golden age. Cinematically, most every genre took on a very distinctive identity that would have its films forever associated with that era, and horror was certainly no exception. The years of 1980 to 1989 would see 104 horror movies wind up on their respective year-end top 100 lists in regards to box office receipts. By comparison, the ’90s would go on to have nearly a 50% drop in that figure – a decline that would have been even worse if not for the saving grace of Wes Craven’s Scream in late 1996 and the revival it inspired. Despite the many masterpieces, fan favorites, and iconic characters that arose from the ’80s, the early ’90s would prove that it couldn’t last forever. Ironically, that which provided the basis for all the terror in the cineplexes was likely the very thing that ultimately poisoned the well for years to follow.

As 1980 began, Hollywood – that monolithic mecca that is universally recognized as the entertainment capital of Western culture – had almost fully regained its stature from a time that had almost killed it. Like the many things that Millennials are attributed for ‘ruining’, the Boomers were implicated for almost bankrupting the major American movie studios. Between the convenience of television and an appetite for the more explicit and challenging cinematic fare of European cultures, Hollywood was bleeding money on epic WWII movies and big-spectacle musicals that people weren’t buying tickets for anymore. The puritanical Hays code (or Motion Picture Production Code), which had governed acceptable movie content since the 1920s, was obliterated when studio MGM ignored a code denial and defiantly released Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up – with its nudity, sexual content, and drug use uncensored – to the tune of $120 million in adjusted-for-inflation (AFI) revenue. Studio executives, very much against their will, were forced to relinquish creative control to these young libertine filmmakers to save their businesses. The MPAA rating system would be introduced in 1968 and theater screens would never be the same again. The New Hollywood was born.

Blowup-1966-1

Upon its release in December of 1966, Blow-Up, a sexually provocative murder mystery set in the London fashion world, blew up the long-standing adherence to moral conservatism in Hollywood and prompted the creation of the much more permissive MPAA rating system.

This time would prove to be a playground for budding auteurs and resourceful independent filmmakers alike. With the doors blown off of prior constraints on content, dark themes and mature material previously forbidden were now presented with a confrontational boldness to audiences that hadn’t realized how much they wanted all this grim realism. Novels that could have never graced the silver screen before – like Mario Puzo’s The Godfather ($719m AFI), Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange ($143m AFI), and most notably to horror, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist ($943m AFI) – became the kind of critically adored blockbusters that studio executives live for. The market was robust for aspiring indie directors too, with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (est. $73m AFI), Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (est. $17m AFI), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (est. $125m AFI), and John Carpenter’s Halloween ($184m AFI) – making millions on their miniscule production budgets and eventually propelling all 4 filmmakers to Hollywood stardom. All of these noteworthy successes, however, were not of the type that play to the wishes of the industry’s elite power players – the bankrollers, producers, and money managers. For them, relinquishing that much creative control to the creators themselves is far too risky and uncomfortable, as they would much rather hold the proverbial reins themselves. Ironically though, the daring films that proved to be popular would lead studios to re-finding the pulse of audience demand, and on the backs of filmmakers like Steven Speilberg and George Lucas, the age of the fine-tuned blockbuster would be reborn and their control over finished products would be restored.

Pumping out what the people wanted certainly wasn’t a problem at first, as many beloved classics were made throughout the ’80s, but a trend would develop that eventually proceeded to rot the genre from the inside out. Generally, the first entry in what would develop into a long-running franchise – Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street being the most famed examples – would stand quite well as a quality film, but cash-drunk producers and executives were enraptured with the money mills they could transform these titles into. This often resulted in a string of hastily-made sequels that typically abandoned the pretenses of story and atmosphere, along with input from original creators, in favor of pure crowd-pleasing elements, even if the final product made no coherent sense.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v90), quality = 90

In 1973, The Exorcist would forever alter the perception of horror in mainstream culture. When adjusting ticket prices for inflation, its success at the American box office is on par with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

While plenty of favorites still managed to arise from this cynical gold rush, the utter lack of long-term vision in cultivating these box-office behemoths, and their engineered copycats, would result in both massive audience fatigue and a wholesale critical black-listing of horror altogether. Factor in the impact of the emergent VHS and cable TV formats that allowed for even greater market saturation of often lower-quality films, and the party was over. A golden age of horror had come to a close. 1990 was still a modestly successful year however, but two troubling trends would emerge. Flatliners was a solid hit, but despite its overt horror subject matter, would see its marketing campaign focus more heavily on its sci-fi thriller elements and its all-star cast, consciously distancing it from the troubled genre. Also, many of the other notable films of the year – Arachnophobia, Tremors, and Gremlins 2 (which flopped, failing to make back its budget during its theatrical run) – were firmly horror-comedies, sometimes bordering on farce, and audiences buying such obvious mockery of a thing doesn’t generally bode well for the thing itself. So, the stage was set for the bottom to truly drop out in ’91.

That may seem like an absurd statement to make, considering that horror hallmark The Silence of the Lambs would be released in February of that year. Having gone on to sweep the Academy Awards’ ‘Big Five’ – picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay – the following spring, this film alone should save ’91 from being considered a low water mark, but therein lies a big problem. It’s not technically a horror movie. This, perhaps more than any other film, triggers the debate of ‘What is horror?‘ Some posit that it’s a difference in focus between suspense and fear, others present it as the presence or absence of gory violence or supernatural elements, and others still say that it involves whether or not death is the central-most theme. With the many inconsistencies in the application of the horror label over the decades, it appears to be largely a matter of the marketing approach to a thematically dark film, and Silence of the Lambs, modeling the success that Misery had the previous year as a ‘dramatic thriller’, followed suit and as much distance as possible was placed between the film and the horror genre by both the studio, Orion Pictures, and the A-grade Hollywood talent involved in the production. The tremendous success it enjoyed, both financially and critically, only exasperated horror’s commercial struggles and cheap reputation while establishing a trend of disallowing the genre, at least initially, to be associated with other banner films like Interview with the Vampire, The Crow, and Se7en.

HANNIBAL LECTOR

Despite becoming one of the most iconic characters in horror cinema, Hannibal Lector was initially distanced as far as possible from the genre. The marketing framed The Silence of the Lambs as a dramatic suspense thriller that just happened to contain moments of graphic violence and genuine terror. It would win big at the Oscars that year and since, no other film has won ‘The Big Five’ at the Academy Awards.

’91 also saw the development of studios vacating horror releases from the prime dates on the release schedule, relegating them largely to dumping grounds in January-March and August-October. Only in recent years has this trend started to reverse, both by horror being released steadily along the calendar and by genre blockbusters emerging from non-traditional times of the year. 1991 saw 3 releases throughout the post-holiday winter season – Warlock (Jan. 11, $19.8m AFI), Popcorn (Feb. 1, $9.1m AFI), and The Unborn (Mar. 29, $2.6m AFI), none of which succeeded to gain much attention, if not being outright flops entirely. (As a point of reference, most horror films need to gross at least $20-25m to be considered modest successes, but that is by no means a universal figure.) The following week, LGBT horror film Poison, slapped with an NC-17 rating and condemned by an American senator, would go on to earn a paltry $1.2m AFI. This was not an era where notoriety could be reliably counted upon as profitable publicity, and Poison would hardly be the only casualty of that fact, as demonstrated by the next film.

It would be another 4 months before horror would get to the big screen again, but this one was supposed to reverse the tide. With a budget of $20m AFI, Body Parts was easily the most expensive original horror production of the year, and with a August 2nd release date, Paramount Pictures was gambling that this gory thriller about a man who receives a limb transplant possessed by its former psychopath owner would take advantage of the shortage of competition and make some decent bank. Then, Jeffrey Dahmer happened. Not but 10 days before its scheduled release, the story about the discovery and apprehension of the infamous cannibal serial killer and his ghastly collection of people pieces captivated a nation. Disgusted by the gruesome details but driving the story’s exposure into the stratosphere through morbid curiosity, Dahmer dominated the news cycle. As such, public backlash against the upcoming release of Body Parts developed immediately, just by irrational association of the coincidental title, and marketing for the film was quickly suppressed. Occurring so close to the scheduled date, Paramount went ahead with the film’s opening, which sputtered to a $20m AFI run, failing to generate profit or cover the movie’s ancillary costs. Again, the very early ’90s were not a good proving ground for the idiom that any publicity is good publicity.

BODY PARTS 1991 MOVIE W DAHMER INSERT

Paramount Pictures was expecting its original horror-thriller Body Parts to hack up the competition. Instead, it was eaten alive by the media fervor surrounding infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Up next was Child’s Play 3, hitting the theaters four weeks later and less than 10 months after the release of Child’s Play 2. As the reliable horror money mills were consistently drying up, Chucky’s second outing had bucked the trend, pulling down $62m AFI at the box office, prompting to Universal Pictures to place the third film on a turnaround fast track of ridiculous speed. Audiences noticed the rush job, and the film ended up grossing only $32m AFI on a budget of $24m AFI – bleeding nearly half the revenue of its predecessor. Still regarded as one of the worst of the now 7-movie series – although it’s been received a little more warmly in recent years – there would not be another entry released until 1998, which would also scuttle the Child’s Play franchise title in favor of the ‘Of Chucky’ iteration.

A mere two weeks later, and doing no favors for the fortunes of little Chucky, came Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Financially, it was the biggest success for the genre that year, and by a sizable margin too, with a total haul of $75.7M AFI and an opening weekend that rivaled the Elm Street franchise’s biggest hit, The Dream Master. Improving 50% over the gross of previous entry The Dream Child, this would count as a win for New Line Cinema and appear as a bright spot in an otherwise dreary stretch, but all was not well in Springwood. It should come as no surprise that the film was received poorly by critics, for at this point, virtually all horror was dead on arrival with the film aficionado set, but the movie was not well regarded by fans either. If IMDb scores are to be trusted, Freddy’s Dead remains the lowest rated among all 9 entries in the series – this includes the tonally inconsistent Freddy’s Revenge, the shrugworthy predecessor Dream Child, and the frequently lambasted 2010 remake. It made for a thoroughly unsatisfactory close for one of the definitive franchises of the 1980’s (although, in ’93, Jason Goes to Hell would give it a run for every penny of its money in regards to disappointing fans) and basically served as the sickly swan song for an entire generation of horror.

Box Office for the Elm Street franchise with total grosses and opening weekends (adjusted for inflation)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) $66.7M $3.5M
Freddy’s Revenge (1985) $74.6M $7.4M
Dream Warriors (1987) $104.7M $20.8M
The Dream Master (1988) $109.8M $28.5M
The Dream Child (1989) $51.0M $18.7M
Freddy’s Dead (1991) $75.7M $28.2M
New Nightmare (1994) $39.6M $14.6M
Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) $125.2M $55.2M
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) $73.2M $38.2M

While Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was a box office success, its damage to the franchise was so thorough that not even a return of series creator Wes Craven with an ambitious and critically well-received entry was enough to rehabilitate its image with weary fans.

Yet, the death of an age is an opportunity for the birth of another, and seven weeks later would see the release of a film that made a stride toward something new, and it came from someone who was an architect of both the previous era and the one to follow. Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs was a subversion of what many had come to expect from mainstream horror, with its black inner-city protagonists, sharp biting satire of American society, and its tendency to mix moments of humorous levity in with its genuine scares – it was almost a total departure from the formula that had led the genre into its derivative dearth. Bafflingly released the day after Halloween (the only ‘horror’ release that October was Ernest Scared Stupid), the movie still went on to be a substantial hit, opening at #1 at the box office and going on to gross $52.5M AFI – more than quadrupling its production budget. Five years later, Craven would fully realize his blend of satirical themes and a distinct meta self-awareness mixed into a generally more playful horror tone with the genre-resuscitating blockbuster Scream.

From that release of what is often recognized as the quintessential 90’s horror film, the genre has never collapsed quite like it did in 1991. While its cultural influence has fluctuated, there has been virtually an unbroken chain of successful overlapping trends in horror cinema – the brief slasher resurgence inspired by Scream, Japanese-influenced offerings (The Ring, The Grudge), films shaped by the New French Extremity movement (the Saw series, Hostel, Alejandro Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), a string of remakes of ’70s and ’80s classics, a return of the zombie, the found footage format, The Conjuring and Insidious franchises of James Wan, the ascent of Blumhouse, and a renaissance of slowburn psychological terror. As 2019 approaches, there is now more horror and more quality horror at any one time than ever before. Technological advances have allowed independent filmmakers access to more sophisticated equipment and processes while the proliferation of the internet have given them the same leaps forward in marketing and distribution. We currently have an era where intrepid auteurs are thriving along side a Hollywood system that is getting increasingly better at balancing its profit-driven controls with more autonomy for creators, and this is the case for most every type of movie – not just horror. It would seem as if we are in the midst of a new golden age right now, and hopefully, there is no recurrence of 1991 in the future.