First off—it’s looking like I was (as I hoped I wouldn’t be) off base to cut Kevin Spacey even a hint of doubt as further credible allegations emerge. In the interest of not becoming a revisionist I’ve left the original post up with an “update” disclaimer so folks can skip to the “art vs. the artist” section if they wish as it looks like that’s the dilemma one who enjoys the actor’s work now faces. Of course I’m not one for consigning an entire body of work to the flame simply because a cog (or even the whole) in its production was a reprehensible jackass but that’s another argument for another day. I do think it’s odd that some on the right are using the sadly growing list of Hollywood figures (who are most often some degree of “liberal” politically) as evidence of a “perverted” left. If there’s really one thing we can be certain of in terms of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault it’s that it’s a bipartisan issue that affects every community. From the Fox News team of founder Ailes (a major figure in the White House and in every GOP campaign involving Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes) and network cash cow O’Reilly to Hollywood A-listers Weinstein, Spacey, possibly Hoffman (ouch) by way of the church (Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant) and up to the White House (Trump has more credible sexual harassment and assault allegations than even Weinstein) there are no subcultures or groups immune to the presence of abuse. Power is the unifying factor as those with power far too often use it to pressure, intimidate and abuse those with less or excuse questionable behavior. These microcosms now on display showcase behavior that goes on in every industry and in every town in America. So yeah, long story short—I cut Spacey too much slack too early it seems.

I’m beginning to feel it’s almost hopeless to expect more out of anyone. A friend recently posted “are there any famous dudes who aren’t total creeps?” to which I replied that I had a list of many I think (based on everything I’ve read and heard) fit that bill of being as ethical and stand-up as they are talented but that I’d be loath to list them right now for fear an old story would emerge making me eat my words. Folks make mistakes and no real hero exists, I know that. But the entire current climate of information, misinformation, historical and political ignorance, scapegoats and easy (but false) answers is exhausting.

For example, I could refer you to the Atlantic’s recent stellar coverage of the revolt at Reed College. For those interested in “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, and the criminalization of ideas it’s a worthwhile read. As someone who empathizes with most left positions but who is also a fan of open full-throated debate, grappling with complex ideas in a fruitful manner, and first-amendment absolutism I have long had a troubled relationship with some of the younger expressions of “idea” protest. This article lays out what’s happened in one extreme example but it at least ends promisingly as a newer generation of diverse students push back against simplistic inflammatory protest in favor of honest debate and education. But more troublingly for the left than the issues many campuses now face is the entire future of the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile is doing her book tour and part of that is a full attack on the Clintons and the DNC in the wake of her ousting. While it should come as no surprise to any student of government and history the DNC (like the RNC, like every political, religious, and civic organization) is prone to corruption or at least political chicanery. While many of the concerns Brazile raises are troubling they are not surprising nor are they really that “new”. Righteous anger that such favoritism and political maneuvering could occur to affect the primary is understandable but unfortunately many on the left are now playing right into Trump’s hands (and words).

As someone who supported Bernie early on I recognize his appeal. I think that for the most part he is an ethical, honest person though I don’t believe he’s immune to political celebrity and it’s potentially corrupting allure (one can’t really be a politician without that).  If I had the power to wave my hand and replace Trump with anyone it would likely be Elizabeth Warren but Bernie would still be a close 2nd or 3rd. I also never believed Hillary Clinton to be my personal lord and savior and no act of political subterfuge in her pursuit of victory (within reason and with precedent) would really surprise me but I, like Bernie and like Bernie pleaded with his supporters to do, supported her when she became the candidate. Heck, Brazile mentions her conversations with Bernie took place before that endorsement so even in light of the knowledge that he’d been royally screwed by the DNC in funding and preference he still saw the bigger picture because he, unlike many of his supporters, is cause first and personality second.

That’s the thing about the so-called “Berniecrats”. That term was coined not to refer to the most “progressive” section of the Democratic Party or to Democratic Socialists. It was coined to derisively refer to those who built a cult of personality around Sanders, many of whom were frat-boys with more interest in “dank memes” than Democratic Socialism or progress for all.  So while Bernie certainly had support from Boomers, Xers, and Millennials of all styles who would have preferred him but who ultimately voted for Clinton when they had to the Berniecrats instead either stayed home, cast their ballot for some of the worst third-party candidates in a generation, or voted for Trump (an estimated quarter of Bernie supporters ultimately voted for Trump).  There’s a reason Russians included Berniecrats in their targeted audience—it worked. They shared false and inflammatory information and helped usher Trump into the White House.

Trump is now pushing the most far-right agenda to ever come from the White House. The damage he is doing to the environment, our relationships and standing in the world, and to the very legitimacy of our institutions is staggering and potentially irreparable. The bigger picture was to keep that from happening while working for reform and the bigger picture remains replacing Trump with a less noxious and damaging President ASAP (while seeking reform and incremental progress). Yet if a subsection of the left is happy to do Trump’s work for him (as they are today while Trump calls for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton live on TV), spread his message and share his Russian created memes then where are we to go? It would be easy to just say ignore this sub-section as they don’t show up in significant numbers at mid-term elections to keep the actual local and community gears progressing further towards equity but I don’t think that’s wise at all. I credit Bernie and his supporters for pushing Hillary to the left on many issues so that she ultimately ran on the most progressive platform in modern history. Those that were “Bernie or Bust” need to be in the fold because a mainstream liberal party that slides back to centrism is doomed it’s just that we need the most boldly Bernie or nobody folks to get behind the cause not the person and to find (and advocate for) young and new party figures. Sadly, however, it’s looking more and more every day like Trump, the most “unpopular” President in history will win a second term even as his entire cabinet faces indictment.

So yeah, it’s feeling hopeless. No “heroes”, no admirable institutions, no middle-ground, no respect for facts or the possibility thereof. A generation of students is coming up who report no real love of the freedom of speech or of the right to disagree. I’m thankful to love metal, horror, noir, literary tragedy and the oddly life-affirming qualities these art forms promote at a time like this while all seems to be turning to crap. So I’ll likely be picking up my lists and genre analysis as I ready my end-of-year “best of lists” and give my half-assed political commentaries another much needed rest.

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11/3/17 update: I admitted in my first line of this post that I “may regret writing this once more facts come to light” which indeed didn’t take long. It seems from additional credible allegations that continue to come to light that Spacey had career long pattern of harassment and intimidation which is indeed a shame on many levels. In the interest of not being a self revisionist I’m leaving the article up and in tact but feel free to skip to the bottom half where I deal with the struggle of art vs. the artist as that is the real debate for Spacey fans now.

I may regret writing this once more facts come to light. Regardless, these are my thoughts now when considering the latest Hollywood scandal, that of Kevin Spacey.

From The Usual Suspects to American Beauty, Seven to House of Cards Kevin Spacey has been one of the  best actors of his generation. He’s also been one of the largest examples of an actor guarding his privacy and personal life to a such a degree that most knew nothing of it at all for reasons he claims have always been so that he could effortlessly disappear into the roles he plays—no tabloid snapshots to distract the viewer and for an actor who loves and promotes the theater at the level Spacey always has that seemed plausible. In interviews and appearances he’s always come across as likeable, talented, and witty.

None of that—talent, wit, appearances—negates the seriousness of the allegation he now faces nor does it excuse the behavior if true. It is however a likely culprit for my initial desire to reject such an allegation. We don’t usually want the artists we like to be terrible people. I like Spacey the actor so if I’m confronted with evidence that I wouldn’t like him as a person there’s a disconnect (we’ll get to art vs. artist in a bit).  Yet the concern that sparked this article is the rush of the crowd to pass a final verdict at the first hint of an allegation and the wide swath painted by the paintbrush in labeling all questionable behavior and mistakes (no matter how old and foggy with memory) as equally bad. In that regard this reminds me of recent allegations made against former President George H.W. Bush—for those who haven’t heard, three women to date have accused Bush Sr. of touching their backsides while cracking the same joke during photo opportunities (“Want to know who my favorite magician is? David cop-a-feel!”). While H.W.’s behavior (and it looks like those allegations are definitely true) is certainly not acceptable behavior, the act of a 90+ year old man in a wheelchair touching a woman’s butt as his wife rolls her eyes and slaps at him (a man with early dementia to boot) shouldn’t be equated with rape as it was in the first woman’s allegation (“he sexually assaulted me..”).

The atrocious behavior of Harvey Weinstein that blew open with confession after confession of abused victims coupled with the fact that it was an “open secret” for so long in Hollywood coming on the heels of similar stories of abuse by other powerful men (Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump) has resulted in a much deserved soul-searching (of sorts) in Hollywood (and beyond, especially on Facebook). Women in every field and facet of life have been judged, ignored and silenced for so long that to have their stories finally heard is a positive development to say the least. But like anything this rush of exposure and widespread public sharing of personal experiences does invite some potential dangers. While no predator should be allowed to roam free (throw Cosby in jail, impeach Trump, stop financing O’Reilly’s worthless career by buying his abysmal “books”) the rush to pass judgement in the court of public opinion before the facts are in can sometimes lead to unfairly tarnished reputations. Furthermore, flattening all indiscretions so they fit under the same label and deserve the same punishment does a disservice to the real victims of rape and assault. We all know (if we’re being honest) that women still face an uphill battle in almost every workplace: they aren’t paid as much as their male counterparts, they aren’t treated the same (what is seen as assertive in a male coworker is often seen as “shrill”  or worse in a female), and they are subject to harassment and assault at much higher rates than their male colleagues. I am certainly not trying to contest that. Calling out sexist practices in every industry is important—because it’s not just Hollywood, it’s not just in government or the church (Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical in large numbers), it’s not just in big business, it’s everywhere and those areas of higher visibility are just observable microcosms of a national problem.  However, there is a chance that hitching to the coattails of this long-needed re-evaluation there also emerges some gleeful condemnation as well as a dash of puritanical and unjustly smug self-righteousness. The unwritten “rules” are changing and while mostly all for the better when it comes to workplace flirtation, sexual innuendo and exploitation, etc. it doesn’t hurt to realize the greys amidst the black and white and the differentiating aspects of each individual case and story.

For example—Kevin Spacey is accused by actor Anthony Rapp of sexually propositioning him in 1986 when he (Spacey) was 26 or so and Rapp (the victim) was 14. According to the allegation Spacey laid on top of Rapp after the other guests had left a party at Spacey’s house and “tried to seduce” him to which Rapp declined and the encounter ended. While it’s not only unethical but disgusting for any adult to proposition a 14 year old kid there are several factors worth considering in this example. One is that Spacey has not confirmed the event occurred—only that “if it did” it was the result of “too much drinking” 30 years ago and Spacey apologized to the accuser by saying if any hurt was caused by anything that may have happened that he can’t recall he was truly sorry. I personally would know that I had never flirted with a minor no matter how many years back it is alleged to have been but I’m also not a closeted actor flirting with any and all other gay actors I come into contact with out of a hyper-awareness that my career would be derailed if I had a public relationship with another man (name an openly gay film superstar from 30 years ago—heck name a leading man that is openly gay in Hollywood TODAY). Another fact to remember—Spacey’s alleged attempt allegedly ceased once verbal declination was given. There is no claim of rape or assault.  To cement Spacey as a pedophile or other such scum-bucket I feel we need to hear that this was a pattern of his. Did he proposition other minors? Did he do so over time and into the present? Is there any evidence that such propositions were ever consummated? If any of these other factors are an affirmative then I believe it is more than fair to throw his name in with the others (Cosby, Ailes, Weinstein). But if all that ever occurred was a drunken proposition that was declined 30 years ago I think he deserves another chance.

I in no way want to make light of sexual assault, harassment or child abuse. Nor do I want us to return us to the days of instantly doubting all accusers. I know that statistically speaking very few women (or in the Spacey case men) make false sexual abuse claims (satanic panic and false-memory cases aside*). I know that those who do bring accusations to light and pursue legal recourse very rarely receive compensation and justice for their abuse. I mainly want to make the following points: (1) not all crimes are the same; and (2) the court of public opinion is rarely the best arbiter of guilt. Kevin Spacey may be guilty of something. Hopefully the extent of that guilt is making a very wrong-headed decision to proposition an under-age coworker for sex 30 years ago in a drunken haze. If that is the sum total of his guilt then stripping him of all accolades (his Netflix series cancelled, his Emmy nomination rescinded, the possible loss of any association with the theater in London he oversaw for so long) and condemning him to the forgotten past is not only wrong but is a shame. I know some of the anger levelled at Spacey comes from the LGBT community as the wording of his recent statement that he “chooses now to live as a gay man” and the timing of that announcement is pernicious given the accusation (thus damaging the LGBT cause by once again allowing for conservatives to draw a false line between homosexuality and pederasty). But read that statement again in full and put it in the context of a man who has lived his life in the closet and done his best to keep his private life out of the spotlight. If this is the only accusation involving any hint of involvement with a minor then cut the man a little slack and give him a little grace.

Conversely it could come out that Spacey in addition to being  a great actor is a terrible person in which case we are once again facing the issue of art vs. the artist: can we separate the work we love from the person who created it if that person is horrible? It’s a different decision for everyone. I long ago gave up on believing every artist I love is a wonderful person. Lots of great musicians were absolute terrible people yet I still love the work they created. Lots of great writers had terrible political ideas, inane religious beliefs, and behaved atrociously. HP Lovecraft’s embedded racism gave him a fear of the “other” that presented itself in ways likely unknown to him in his fiction yet it doesn’t negate the effectiveness of his supernatural horror. John Lennon wasn’t the peaceful, altruistic savior his many fans hoped he was but his songs remain timeless. On the other hand, Bill Cosby presented himself as America’s father figure and his comedian stage presence and TV persona was so tied up with who we thought he was that to learn he was a serial rapist make it impossible for me to actively enjoy his work anymore. I struggle with a current example as if rumor after rumor is true I fear the best comedian working today may be guilty of forcing women who were trying to flee to watch him masturbate (and said comedian is producing and writing a superb cable comedy that is highly female-centric for a good friend and frequent collaborator of his, a show I enjoy but can’t watch without pondering said allegations). We each make our decisions on these issues. I don’t hold artists to the same moral standard I hold myself to just for me to enjoy their work but I try not to actively finance the careers of artists who commit actions I deem past the pale (helps when they’re long dead). It gets a bit like divestment—can you actively avoid doing business with any company guilty of terrible crimes? Probably not—but you can pick your battles.

 

 

*I didn’t want to derail this article with a full paragraph on the “satanic panic” of the 1980s but feel it is an area overlooked when some of these types of discussions are made. An excellent journalistic investigation into that area is Lawrence Wright’s “Remembering Satan” book. For the unaware, in the 1980s dozens of cases throughout the US emerged where parents, daycares, churches and schools were accused of sexually assaulting infants and children as part of satanic rituals. No evidence for such widespread occurrences every emerged and most were linked to copycat stories formed by teens and children repeating previous stories made popular in dimestore “autobios” and daytime talk shows. Parents even confessed in instances where it was clearly impossible they had committed the acts they claimed. Embedded “false memories” were ultimately given the ultimate blame. I can think of only one Hollywood scandal that bears striking resemblance to this phenomena and I’d rather not invite a lot of hate by speculating too openly of it here only that it involves a big cinema figure who is alleged to have committed an act one time that bears many similarities to embedded memory stories. Said alleged perpetrator paid for multiple open investigations into the allegations by third-parties, no evidence was found, no later allegations ever made, no conviction ever made yet in many (liberal and conservative) circles this person is synonomous with guilt to this day for a number of reasons.       

Sorry, it’s been awhile since I’ve made a post in this series but I haven’t neglected the task itself! I’ve been at this project most of the year and October is the best month to binge as many horror films as possible it’s just that I’ve seen a large variety of films but not enough of one series or genre to do a completest list such as this until now. I am closing in on a few other complete runs as well and I’m tracking the “master-list” for all the assorted films that don’t quite fit in a list so those will be discussed near the end of the year. I’ve also thought a lot about the horror genre in film itself and have some pieces on the sociology of the format, it’s history, etc which I’ll try to upload at some point particularly as they respond to recent op-eds and events.

Okay, so the last time I did one of these it was for the Halloween series which you can find here. Prior to that I did the Friday and Nightmare movies, click the title to check those out if you like. Today we’re discussing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. As a whole the TCM series is the most convoluted in terms of continuity—you have the original classic film which was a game-changer and wholly original in many ways then almost a decade later you have the same director returning to complete the story with a film completely different in tone and style. Skip ahead and you have  a third film that completely ignores the 2nd one ever happened and acts as a direct sequel to the first. A few years later you have a 4th film that doesn’t really fit in with anything and about a decade later you get the first remake of the original film, a prequel to that remake, then another “direct sequel” that ignores everything but the 1st. Now this year we have another film titled “Leatherface” which this time serves as a prequel to the original film. Whew. Well, as the new film is currently just a DirecTV rental I haven’t yet seen it so it isn’t included in the following list.

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7) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

This is a prequel to the 2003 remake that is set in the 1960s but it never feels that way—it feels like a bunch of mediocre millennial actors are vaguely pretending to be 1960s teens with “Vietnam” references thrown in to convince you. It’s dull, overly glossy, and completely non-compelling and inauthentic. This is the only of the batch I didn’t even feel like finishing.

 

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6) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

I debated keeping this one at the bottom of the heap because in many ways it’s not only the worst of the TCM franchise it’s possibly the worst installment of any 1970s or ‘80s horror franchise series. It’s a mess as it’s never really scary, shocking, funny, intriguing, unsettling…it’s rarely entertaining at any moment. Doing a Texas Chainsaw movie you need to pick something to lean on (Gothic, dark comedy, horror) and this one never quite does. It’s rather bloodless, the plot is an after-thought. It doesn’t really fit with any of the other films—is it a remake, a prequel, a sequel, a re-imagining? Leatherface is pretty much a pre-teen girl dreaming of being a princess in this one, at least I think so. Rene Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey both do a decent job but there’s not much for them to work with here.

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5) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

This one surprised me as I didn’t expect much but I ended up enjoying it. Forget the “3D”—I watched it on cable without any kind of glasses though I could tell there were a few moments when things were supposed to fly out of the screen had I been wearing them (and it been broadcast in the right format). But as a direct sequel to the first original timeline film this one was interesting. The first 10 minutes or so ties it to the original, adds a new twist to that mythos, then skips ahead 20+ years to focus on the last young Sawyer descendant (who doesn’t know it yet). Things stumble along for a bit with passable acting and redundant plot but the last 30-40 minutes this one picks up and does something at least somewhat original and pretty entertaining—it even includes a good scare or two in that last half and ends with a pretty satisfying conclusion.

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4) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The early aughties gave moviegoers a slew of horror remakes (Friday, Nightmare, Halloween, and even most of the less known ones). Texas Chainsaw Massacre was kind of early in the game beating most of those to the punch and for the most part it does work pretty well. It’s shot really great—it is a bit glossy for the series (Michael Bay doesn’t associate his name with anything that isn’t bright and poppy) but it retains some of that Gothic feel that is so important to the series. This is a direct remake of the original film and it’s set in the 1970s and kind of pulls that feel off to some degree. It’s well acted and I don’t care what anyone says, I actually like Jessica Biel quite a bit and she does a solid job here.

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3) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990)

From this spot on the list onward there is a huge leap in quality from what precedes. The first three original Texas Chainsaw Massacre films are each great in different ways and miles ahead of most of the competition. Leatherface is a direct sequel to the first TCM film—it just ignores part 2 and picks up the action 15 years or so after the culmination of the first film. This one eschews the dark comedy of 2 and amps up the action. It’s a horror film sure but it also has the feel of action-horror like later films (Devil’s Rejects). The cast in this one is simply phenomenal—Viggo Mortensen is always great and in this early role he’s creepy as heck. Ken Foree of original Dawn of the Dead fame is superb as well.

 

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2) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

So judging from its Rotten Tomatoes score this one was (and likely still is) hated by critics who by and large praised the original film. It’s a cult and fan favorite though and for good reason—Chop-Top as played by Bill Moseley is a creepy hoot and Dennis Hopper as the Texas Lawman in pursuit of the Chainsaw family is also a heckuvalot of fun. Knowing he couldn’t out-scare or add to the atmosphere of the original Tobe Hooper returns to his creation here to excessively amp up the gore and the comedy. We’ve got chilli-cookoffs, a war against ‘80s yuppies, a great soundtrack and some seriously shocking moments. The saw is family indeed.

Note– there are more than 6+ hours of quality features on the stuffed “Gruesome Edition” DVD or Bluray and even more on the Scream! Factory special edition.

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1) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw is one of the most important horror films of all time. As has been argued it’s not really a “slasher” film so much as it’s a “bad place” one—Leatherface and family don’t go looking for victims they just off those who make the mistake of wondering into their home. There is little to no gore in this film either—it’s all in the mind of the viewer. It’s harrowing and unsettling, offers subtle commentary on a slew of then (and now) prescient issues and is written, acted, shot and produced pretty perfectly.

 

 

 

 

“It” Movie Review

September 8, 2017

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“It” finally arrived…and it was worth the wait. In fact, “It” may be the best adaptation of a Stephen King work yet in a year full of (despite one reputed letdown) solid King adaptations. Some might say “that doesn’t take much” thinking of the less than stellar low-budget horror films “Children of the Corn” (and it’s dozen sequels), “The Mangler” or “Graveyard Shift” but they’re forgetting great films like De Palma’s “Carrie”, Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s “Christine”.* Others might be saying no way! What about “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” and “Stand By Me”?  To both camps I say–yep, as an adaptation of a King work “It” may be the greatest yet. It captures the heart, tone and feel of the book–updating it just enough to retain relevancy for a younger generation and making a change or two that actually enhance on the original book.** Most of all it does the impossible–it takes the Moby Dick of popular horror novels and films it in a way that works cinematically (that is, in the language of cinema) without sacrificing the story of the original opus. There’s no beat-you-over-the-head explication and voice-over to explain themes and thoughts that the filmmaker uses to tell when  too lazy to show.

No, perhaps best of all—Pennywise is terrifying. If you’re an 80s or 90s baby you probably have fond (or grimacing depending on your tastes) memories of Tim Curry’s original Pennywise in the made-for-TV miniseries back in the day. I mean no disrespect to his performance–it was the only thing of that original teleplay that really holds up but it’s feared more in memory than in re-watching–but Bill Skarsgard sends chills down your spine here. He’s helped in large part by some seriously good special effects and production that a cable TV movie in the 1990s simply can’t be compared with. When this movie goes for the scares it really goes for them–relentlessly. This movie is intense and any illusion that the protagonists on screen will be okay because they’re children is quickly displaced.

Yet beyond the scares this movie knows that to keep you from being overwhelmed there has to be a bit of comedic relief which it provides in full. True to King, there’s as much heart as terror and the kids cast as the Loser’s Club are all a joy to watch. I can only hope that their adult counterparts are as honestly, convincingly cast in the culminating part II. I expect anyone who is a fan of the massively popular throwback “Stranger Things” on Netflix will be a fan of the Loser’s Club and watching them in action reveals just how deep an homage to King (as much as Spielberg) that show truly is.

So yeah.  “IT” exceeded my expectations and is the best mainstream horror film in many years in addition to being possibly the best adaptation of a King work to hit the screen yet.  Pennywise is terrifying, the Loser’s Club are a joy to watch, the score is fantastic, the performances are honest and the special effects are spot on. Andy Muschietti does a terrific job of being true to the source material but not being so beholden to it that he is afraid to make the work his own and make it work on the screen for today’s audience.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

* I think it will take time and a few revisits for me to know where “IT” stands as a movie in comparison to other King-inspired movies like “Shawshank”, “The Green Mile”, and “Carrie”. Certainly “The Shining” is Kubrick’s visionary work on full display and may be a “better” movie than “It” but it’s a far worse adaptation of its source material (which is why King dislikes it so much). But as for an honest adaptation of a King work that captures the story, atmosphere, and heart of the work “IT” may indeed be the best so far. On TV this year “Mr. Mercedes (thanks to Dennis Lehane and David E. Kelly) probably comes closest to retaining all of those same things in an adaptation but we’ll have to see if it ends as strongly and “IT” just stands head and shoulders in an iconic way above that more recent work on the page itself at least.

**[minor] spoiler alert—The changes made in the film from the book are mostly minor and all are for the better at least for the screen. The book set the children’s portion in the 1950s and the adult half in the 1980s (when it was published) and the movie bumps the children’s half to the 1980s presumably so the adult half will be set in modern day. It’s interesting how seamlessly this change works–nothing about the kids really changes that much with the 30 year jump. I think that’s largely due to the timelessness of great kid stories like this and such settings can probably be fluid anytime post-rock and roll to pre-smart phone fairly easy. The big change was that there’s a particularly infamous scene in the book in which the kids make the jump to adulthood and bond themselves to each other in a way that Steve thought was largely metaphorical and symbolic but which would certainly strike most of us as tasteless and questionable on the movie screen. That act is changed to a blood oath hand-holding style which works better by all counts IMO.

 

Today I’m back to my ongoing project of ranking horror franchises, sub-genres and directors. I’m exhausted with the news and have nothing of worth to say about it today. I’m also taking a quick break on heavier writing I’m doing professionally and creatively so it seemed like a perfect time to hack out the next list in this series. Today’s topic–the “Halloween” franchise. If you’d like to read my “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday the 13th” lists please do so by clicking the embedded hyperlinks.

Today’s list will rank every “Halloween” movie—that’s right, both timelines of the original franchise (Halloween-Halloween II-H20-HResurection as well as Halloween-HII, H4, H5, H6) as well as the remakes and the standalone “Season of the Witch”. So both versions of Michael–the Shape and the overgrown redneck! Here we go!

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10. Halloween: Resurrection

To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through the Big Brother meets Scream via who knows what crap fest of Resurrection. Most Halloween fans pretend this one didn’t happen. It does feature kung-fu fighting between Bustah Rhymes and Michael Myers if that sounds appealing to you.

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9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

What a crap-fest. What makes it a crap fest is it’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. This film undoes everything that was worthwhile in its predecessor and sets up an absurd side-plot that overtakes the film, ends it, and is never followed up on in successors. It’s disjointed, confusing, boring, repetitive…It may be the worst installment of any 1980s horror franchise and if you watch behind the scenes features on it you’ll hear the obvious confirmed in that it was just an attempt to quickly cash in on the unexpected financial success of its predecessor.

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8. Halloween II (2009)

Maybe Zombie’s worst film, definitely his most boring. Largely forgettable.

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7. Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers

Most fans hate the thorn cult aspect of “Curse”, the 6th installment of the original franchise. I actually like it though I find its details and much of its execution lacking. I have no problem with an occult grounding for the Shape but this is the only film that tries to do it so it involved a fair amount of retconning. There are some genuinely creepy moments, it’s well shot and well acted, and I particularly liked the introduction of Tommy Doyle as an adult (Paul Rudd in his film debut) nemesis to the Shape. However as it is, nothing in 6 is grounded to what came before or followed up with in what came after so it stands as its own island (or hiccup).  Still, this is the first entertaining film mentioned thus far in the rankings so everything gets better from here onward!

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6. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

“Scream”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and a slew of other 90s bubblegum horror flicks ushered in a very lucrative, commercial, and ultimately forgettable era of mainstream teen horror films. What made “Scream” terrific wasn’t ported over to H20 but what every other knock-off at the time did pretty much was. However, H20 was solid and enjoyable with a fresh-faced popular cast. H20 completely jettisons the “Halloween” timeline by pretending installments 4-6 never happened. Thus it follows as a direct sequel to II albeit “20 years later”. It’s worth it for the Laurie Strode-Michael Myers stand off though and it put the exclamation mark on this particular timeline of the series.

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5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

This is peak-’80s horror franchise film-making. The censors were watching so you have a rather bloodless affair that is shot a bit glammier and acted passably but clearly aimed at the mall crowd. However, “Return” is enjoyable and seemed on the verge of actually surprising and prepped to give an exciting new direction to the series with the narrative (and twist) on Myers’ niece Jamie. However, everything that could have been great about 4 for the franchise was quickly undone in a truly atrocious follow-up.

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4. Halloween (2007)

Here’s another one many didn’t like—but I actually really enjoy Rob Zombie’s re-interpretation of “Halloween”. I think Zombie is a creative (if often derivative) director who has made some terrifying work. “Halloween” (2007) is second only to “The Devil’s Rejects” in his cannon. Many fans of the original series disliked this version because it explained too much—we get a grounding in “reality” for everything that was left mysterious in the first film. We get psychological exploration of Michael Myers, an origin story and an extensive background that “humanizes” the Shape. However, if it had been a shot for shot remake (e.g. the “Psycho” remake) it would have been pointless. Instead we get an original film that is disturbing, fast-paced, scary, and visually stunning.

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3. Halloween II (1981)

Taking place in the immediate wake of the first film (the same night!), Halloween II upped the body count and gore and followed through the Myers-Strode storyline for the night “he came back” to it’s culmination. Everything that worked in part one works in part two and though it’s not as original the second time around it does serve as a satisfying horror film and is worth a double-feature most Halloweens.

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2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

A lot of people initially didn’t care for the third installment of Halloween—and many probably still don’t. “Season of the Witch” isn’t a Michael Myers film at all despite bearing the franchise moniker. After all had (thought to have) been said on Myers as a character by the end of the second film the idea was to use the franchise banner to present a new tale of terror each year in an annual anthology. “Season of the Witch” was the one and only such installment before the hard detour back to Michael in the following installment. However, just judging films by their own merits there’s no denying the quality of this one. This tale of technology, Halloween (the holiday) and “haunted” masks is a winner. It’s the best film in the series after the first. The soundtrack is great, the setting is creative, the story is cool. It’s an under-rated ’80s horror classic with a genuinely creepy ending.

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1. Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” is one of the greatest horror films of all time and set the template for every American slasher film that would follow. Carpenter makes unique movies that evoke a definite style and feel that is wholly his own—yes “Halloween” borrowed from predecessors especially Italian horror films but what makes it his own is the soundtrack he composed and the vision he provides with every camera choice he makes. He also got a terrific cast for this film. This movie was terrifying for what it didn’t show as much as it was for what it did show and even more for what it did not explain (or need to). If you came to Halloween late after years of more gorier derivative fair it likely didn’t have the impact on you that it did for previous generations. It also is certainly not without fault—Loomis’ doomy declarations of danger are certainly hokey if you don’t give yourself over to the film and appreciate the greatness of Donald Pleasance. But if you’re a fan of horror this one is a must-see at least once a year and it retains a sense of fright, fun, excitement and nostalgia (it was nostalgic even when it first came out in the purposeful tranquility and design of the town’s sidewalks and atmosphere) that are unmatched elsewhere.

 

 

This is the second of these installments. If you’d like to read my rankings of the Friday the 13th franchise click here and if for some reason you want to read my long-winded prologue as to why/when I started doing these feel free to click here.

I googled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to check the date on the remake and saw a slew of “Nightmares ranked” posts from Buzzfeed to Nerdist and everything in between. I didn’t read any of them and as far as I know I’ve never read one before but I’ll check some of them out after I post this to see how my picks compare with others. As with Friday, if you disagree with my order that’s cool. I’ll be doing these lists with other horror franchises over the next few months as well as horror directors and certain adaptations, notes, etc.

Re-watching the Elm Street franchise after the Friday films revealed a few things. Though I loved Freddy as a kid/teen (“Freddy’s Dead” was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw and I loved it) the series has aged a bit worse than Friday particularly with the effects but also in some of the installments with the villain. Wes Craven came up with one of the most terrifying villain concepts ever—a child-killer with home-made knife gloves who worked as a school janitor that was burnt alive by the town parents only to come back as a dream demon who can kill you in your sleep—good lord, that is the stuff of nightmares)—but the character got more accessible and caricaturist with every installment. That said, there are still some good films in the batch and horror fans who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s will always be Krueger fans (or “ [his] children now”).

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9) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I would say it was pointless but I do in fact see the point of trying to update and remake Elm Street for a new generation with modern effects and solid acting. The Friday remake was actually pretty good (in my opinion). However, this one was terrible. It’s possibly the worst horror remake of the last 20 years. What a wasted opportunity.

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8) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6)

So this introduced me to Freddy and in some ways horror films…but my recent revisit of the film revealed that this did not age particularly wel at all. I find it especially funny that it was set in the future but everything in that future was concretely rooted in early 1990s technology and culture…for example the power-glove super Freddy? You do get some early Goo Goo Dolls on the soundtrack to remind you they were a hard rock act once. The timeless past of the dream demons prior to Freddy are played with a bit but the effects don’t do the concept justice. There are some solid scenes and it’s not a complete waste of a watch as I’ll likely give it additional views in the future, it’s just not the best of the series and Freddy is at his most ridiculous here (“wicked witch of the west”ing it?).

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7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
This one is hilarious and unique. You have an over the top male as the final girl and a metric ton of gay-subtext which the writer and director admitted as intentional later. You have some truly weird dream sequences. You have a lot of odd character choices and horrible (yet funny) dialogue. Then there’s the idea of Freddy needing to possess the protagonist and use him to come back, an idea not quite revisited later. You have an ending that just ends without being resolved in the follow-up. But you also have some dark, scary Freddy appearances—scarier than he would be in any of the follow ups other than “New Nightmare”. It is actually a solid movie and I can see how this one has garnered a cult following.

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6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Alice is perhaps a better protagonist than Nancy and here she makes her second appearance—and she’s tough. She fights back and fights hard. There are some of the best dream sequence effects of the series in this one and it may be the most under-rated film of the series.
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5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Alice makes her first appearance and the story propels nicely forward from the extremely successful (and fan favorite) “Dream Warriors” predecessor. Dream Master and Dream Child fill in some Krueger history and chronology, feature a great protagonist and decent supporting cast and work very well as a double-bill. Solid 1980s horror installments done right.

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4) Freddy vs. Jason

Fans waited so long for this movie. For the most part it always seemed like a pipe dream that wouldn’t ever really come to fruition until it actually did. So after that infamous Freddy glove made its appearance in “Jason Goes to Hell” speculation about what the movie might entail went on for years—as such, nothing would live up to that anticipation. What did come out though was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t include Freddy vs. Jason in my Friday list because as I said there, it seems much more like a Nightmare movie featuring Jason which it does. This movie basically picks up where “Freddy’s Dead” left off and now that Freddy is “dead” he’s looking to make his entry back into the world via Jason—using Jason to kill and raise the body count and fear on Elm Street so that kids think Freddy is back enough that he can actually come back. The more modern special effects and make-up did wonders for the ultimate battle between these two horror icons and the movie had its share of thrills, laughs, and fun. I still like the idea that at one point they planned two endings to air in different theaters each with a different victor.

 

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3) Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”

Craven played around with meta-narratives quite a bit, most strongly here and later in Scream. New Nightmare is a blast—audiences get to see most of their favorites from the first film back playing themselves (including/introducing director Craven). Let’s face it, Heather Lagenkamp wasn’t the world’s strongest actress back in the day or later in this one playing herself but it’s still nice to see her back. The visuals were the best they had yet been when this one showed Freddy and he was certainly more frightening than he’d been in almost a decade. Good story through and through.

 

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2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Probably the best cast (Laurence Fishburne), best lines (“Welcome to prime time…”), and some of the best visuals (Freddy the puppeteer) the series had. The soundtrack was solid as well, so there’s little wonder why this is many fans favorite of them all. Freddy also made a definite move to wiseass mischief maker who dished out comic relief and one-liners though which set the tone for every appearance he made afterwards (until New Nightmare). But this one works by pretty much every count: bringing back Nancy for a bit, expanding on the mythology, and squaring Freddy off against a group of quality adversaries.

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1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this instance (contrary to Friday) the original is by far the best of the batch. Wes Craven came up with a truly terrifying concept that was original and provided a twist on the slasher genre much different than what anyone else was doing. He assembled a mostly top-notch cast, shot it with the best effects he could muster (and there are really only 1-2 instances where said effects are overly dated), and gave horror fans a creative, unique, and original experience. The bath tub scene, the ceiling drag, the blurring of waking and dreaming life, this one is a true horror classic was truly unmatched by every successive film regardless of how fun those sequels were.

First off—Friday the 13th isn’t high-brow art just in case you’ve never seen it and were wondering. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that this franchise isn’t about creativity or originality so much either while we’re at it. Watch any of the panel discussions and behind-the-scenes pieces on the first film and you’ll hear that producer Sean Cunningham simply saw that Halloween was doing big things at the box office and he wanted to rip it off and rush a film to theaters to strike while the iron was hot. Like Halloween (and all other 1980s slasher films) Friday the 13th stylistically and thematically owes a great deal to “higher” art of previous Italian horror and giallo pictures. But Friday was huge—it printed money and brought in crowds in droves for what was a modestly produced work yielding tons of cash. So then you had a string of sequels, some of which (to outsiders) seem to just rehash previous entries and others which do truly bizarre things (Jason in space, Jason in Manhattan). Despite it all, if you were young in the 1980s or ‘90s chances are you saw a Jason film or two fairly early in your horror exploration. If you’re a horror fan, even one with a preference for more “serious” horror films, chances are you have a soft spot for this franchise. It’s fun, it’s over the top, and it still has what it takes to surprise you with a scare. I recently watched the whole franchise from front to back over the span of a month or two. Some I’d seen before, some not for years, some never at all. Kicking off my series of horror film lists and articles I begin here by ranking the Friday films in order of my least favorite to my most favorite. Some observations I made while watching these about horror in general and cultural changes over decades made evident by genre films will be revisited in later articles.

Note—not listed in this ranking is “Freddy vs. Jason” as I view it more as an Elm Street movie featuring Jason than I do a true Friday film. I have included the 2009 remake, however.  Lots of folks have ranked these films prior to me and there are often serious horror-nerd arguments over differences of opinion on order. This is just my personal opinion and taste. If your opinion is different, that’s cool.

 

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11) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This is the worst entry in the franchise, period. There are a few entertaining moments, a couple of okay characters, and a few laughs but it’s the most boring of the batch and the problem contrary to what you might think if you haven’t seen it is not that they pull Jason out of his natural environment and throw him in one of the busiest sections of city in the world—it’s that in contrast to the title itself he’s not really in Manhattan! Well, at least not for long. The first 3/ 4 of the movie takes place on a cruise ship between Crystal Lake and Manhattan. Even after the ship docks in NY it takes even more time to actually make it to Manhattan so in total Jason spends about 10 minutes in Manhattan. There could actually be some good (if silly) story there but it was an opportunity wasted. Don’t even get me started on the “Jason reverts to childhood” effect. But—the heads-off KO was pretty cool.

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10) Jason X

This is the Jason in space movie and you know what? There are some fun things going on in this one. Uber-Jason, the flash-freeze kill scene, and the guest spot by David Cronenberg in particular. The plot is ridiculous and over the top but so what, it (mostly) works. There are some slow segments, several weak characters, and a complete disconnect with every other Friday movie to its fault though.

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9) Friday the 13th Part III

Some hold the first 4 films as the cream of the crop, even as horror classics. They are the “human” era Jason movies and all of the major ingredients are in place by III: stalking killer Jason, Camp Crystal Lake, counsellors, mayhem. This is also the one where Jason grabs his famous hockey mask and adorns it for the first time. All that said, this one had some of the weakest characters, silliest gags, and slowest parts. It was also “3D” in the old-school sense. It doesn’t work quite as well as the films surrounding it.

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8) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Spoiler alert—the one without Jason. Who knows if this was to signal an entirely new direction or not but after the fact Jason was back in the follow-up. Despite no “real” Jason, this movie has its fair share of shocks, scares, and other such ‘80s slasher fare. Commentary from the director suggests the sexuality was much more troubling to the MPAA censors than the violence and as such it’s probably the goriest of the Friday movies until the censors stopped caring in “Jason Goes to Hell”.

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7) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (pt. IX)

So a lot of people hate this one as it does mess with the mythology of Jason in ways never hinted at (or revisited) elsewhere. Some like it only for the exploding Jason at the beginning or the Freddy glove reveal at the end. The entire thing is entertaining though if you just roll with it and it has some of the best effects of the entire franchise. Jason possessing others as a force of evil is entertaining.

 

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6) Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood

This one is the “Jason versus the teen psychic who can raise her surprisingly un-rotted long dead father” one. There are funny moments in this one, a solid cast, and a surprisingly tense showdown with a final girl that fights back. Not to mention a rotten mask-less Jason in full-on battle mode.

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5) Friday the 13th (2009)

Largely hated by the hardcore fans of the original franchise, I say the 2009 remake worked surprisingly well, better by far than most of the ‘00s remakes (Nightmare, Last House, etc.). This one is basically a cliffs note version of the first 3 films updated for a new generation. Sure most of the characters are annoying though I think the final girl and the older brother looking for his lost sister both work just fine.

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4) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives

 Jason lives–that he does I guess. This one is a fan favorite for good reasons. Jason brought back to life by lightning—bigger, rotting, tougher, cooler looking than ever—facing off with the only major adversary he ever had (Tommy Jarvis). Great shots, music, and solid acting with cool effects make this one of the best Friday movies in the canon. 

 

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3) Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter

They really meant to kill Jason in this one (maybe). This is with Corey Feldman as a (surprisingly un-annoying) child adversary fighting off (and ultimately “killing”) Jason.

What Friday fan can forget the gruesome eye socket slide of Jason to his “death” or Tommy’s psycho gaze in the hospital?

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2) Friday the 13th (1980)

So the original is not listed as my favorite. This is very rare for any series as you quite often get diminishing returns with each successive film in any series no matter how entertaining but for Friday I actually prefer the first sequel to the original (more on that below). The first one though—this is a genuinely entertaining slasher that was also a mystery of sorts in its time as the killer reveal wasn’t made until the end. There’s some acting chops on full display with Mrs. Vorhees in particular as she seeks her psychotic revenge. Not the best slasher of all time but one well worth watching a few times. The atmosphere of the entire series is at its best in the original and the final 10-12 minutes are among the most entertaining in slasher horror history.

 

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1) Friday the 13th Part Two

 What else can I say? Potato-sack masked Jason is the scariest of the bunch for me. This movie has everything an ‘80s slasher film needs. Jason is legitimately scary in this movie making his first adult (or arguably “real”) appearance. He’s a bit crafty, plotting, agile, and human. What’s not to love? There’s the revenge on the first movie’s final girl in the opening sequence. There’s Jason lying in wait and creepily rising off the bed to stalk his unsuspecting victim. Creepiest of all, there’s Jason with his macabre alter to his late mother. This is the best film of the franchise and the most traditionally “horror” of the batch. Jason would never be as scary as he was in this one and the story would never get better no matter how much more complex the successive scripts strove to be.

The future is over-rated.

Though I could make a “things I hate about social media”  list (posting and commenting on stories without reading them, constant outrage at what celebrity Z said about Y, knowing what a kid in 3rd grade I never saw again thinks about the Democratic party) this isn’t that article. Like I wrote last time, I like some outlets more than I used to and enjoy them (Goodreads, Yelp) and others less than ever (Facebook) but I appreciate keeping up with friends—I can think of several friendships that if it’d been down to the pen and postal service or the long-distance phone call we’d long ago fell out of touch. Likewise, though I recoiled (a bit) at the new CNN ad for “the Nineties” in which it begins with a CD inserted into a top-shelf stereo component—I couldn’t help but think (crappy song choice aside) mock it all you want, that sound quality is miles ahead of what most people are blaring from their smartphones or Bluetooth speakers today (as they obsessively skip from song to song). I love my CD set up, prefer a full album played on CD in my car on the way to work in the morning, and love my LP set up even more…but, I do love the heck out of Spotify, personalized mixes, and the money saved by exploring artists without purchasing an album first. No, this article is about how the future is overrated in another way. Sure it’s over-rated in that: (a) I still don’t have a jet pack; (b) Trump is president; and (c) and we still can’t cure the deadliest diseases. But a more simplistic way it’s over-rated is with movies. Not that they suck, there are good ones every year. But watching Andy Cohen’s “Then and Now” the other night the panel mentioned how huge Blockbuster used to be and then it imploded (though they neglected to mention the curious growth of Family Video around the south and Midwest in recent years). Now you can access any movie from home without leaving the couch” they said.

Hmmm…..

I am fortunate I know in that with a living wage and a spouse who earns likewise I can afford to pay for not only cable but streaming services. I spent my college years and twenties cutting those expenses and for the most part didn’t miss them too much at the time. Busy, other options, etc. But to have them is nice especially in the modern era with DVR and on-demand. I know when I’m working out on the exercise bike I can flip on my recordings and catch up on my choice of news, binge-worthy episodic TV, or special interest programming. Not only that, I can pull up Amazon, HBO or Netflix and choose from thousands of options. Seriously thousands, you can get lost for an hour in any one of those portals just trying to determine what you want to watch.

On cursory glance you’d think Cohen and company were right—everything is at your fingertips. As a continual Netflix subscriber I once jettisoned a few boxes of my DVD collection. Many of those were all I had to choose from in the days of no cable and Ramen. Why keep them all? There’s always something on Netflix. But a curious thing happened: TV got good. What used to be a “slumming it” domain for writers, directors and actors became cutting-edge. There have always been some “good shows” and there have always been plenty of crap that condescends to the lowest common denominator. But suddenly, following the lead of shows that began to hint at efforts of scope, intricacy, grandiosity and TV artists taking their craft seriously (BTVS, West Wing, The Wire, Sopranos) there was a steady stream of quality, acclaimed and ultimately addictive TV. First on the premium channels but then on many of the networks and basic cable channels, then on the streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu).

What happened next was that companies like Netflix—who were supposed to be our go-to video store—began to cut their budget for films to free up money for more shows and most expensively, making their own shows. Suddenly there were fewer and fewer movies in the stream. By this point Blockbuster was out of business, Redbox sprang up to at least give you a way to rent the new-to-disc releases, and you’d long since cancelled your disc subscription to afford all the damn streaming services.

Which brings me to my whole point and the focus of my next several posts: shows are great and all. I mean, I loved the Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I enjoy (current) Better Call Saul, Einstein, American Gods. I rarely get the urge to straight up “binge” a show anymore though I like a good, solid show that has 3-5 seasons of quality and wraps up in a satisfactory manner. I like watching them in weekly chunks as they happen or if they’re finished an episode here and there. But I was missing movies again. We go to see the major films we want to see in theaters but certainly not everything that comes out. Netflix (or Amazon, HBO) get a set of new choices each month (and drop a few with each addition) but we’ve spent many a night scanning through and though ultimately finding something it was usually not what we set out looking to watch.

Then I got the urge to revisit some old horror movies—to watch the entire franchise of several series’ (Friday the 13, Halloween) and the filmography of several directors (John Carpenter, David Cronenberg) to see how the ones I knew held up and how the ones I’d never seen were. I’ve always been a horror fan and had a (modest) collection of them on Blu-Ray or DVD but I suddenly had a long list of things I wanted to see….and only about 5% of them were available on any of the cable or streaming options I have. There’s actually a horror-specific streaming service (Shudder) and most of them weren’t even on that (though I was loathe to pay for another service anyway). This “everything is available from your couch” was proving to be laughable. Of course, throw on iTunes or Amazon and you can rent or buy digital copies of most films…$4-7 to rent, $8-30 to “own”. So there’s that. If I’m going to pay $4 to have digital access to a film for 24 hours or so fine but if it’s an old favorite and I can physically own it to watch when I want, as many times as I want, in better picture quality (if blu), and with commentary and bonus documentaries for a few dollars more I’m going to opt for that. But back in the day I could rent any older movie for $1-2 from the local video store.

So over the past 6 months or so I’ve picked up random horror films on blu and DVD, some from thrift shops here and there for 2 bucks, some from ebay when the price is right. I’ve enjoyed watching them and have ranked them for my own fun. Which is the best in a given series? How do competing series stack up against each other? My upcoming posts will showcase ranked horror franchises, observations I’ve made from watching how horror changed from the ‘50s-today, etc. I hope to do the same for other genres in future years—crime/noir, sci-fi/fantasy, action, comedy. So if that’ s your sort of thing, stay tuned.

My Top Movies of 2016

December 30, 2016

As I mentioned in my “Top TV” post, this was the first year I had far more worthy TV picks to pore through than movies. I may have went to the movies just a tad less than usual this year but if so, not by much and with Netflix, Redbox, HBO, Amazon, etc. there’s no shortage of movies out there to see. Of course, studios often hold their best work back until the end of the year to stay fresh in voters minds come Oscar season and some of those (mentioned at #10 below) I’ve yet to have a chance to see. Conversely, there were a lot of great little popcorn films (Deadpool, Civil War, Jungle Book, etc.) that were fun to watch but lacked the depth of a truly great film IMO. Regardless, here’s what I liked the best and the top 3 or 4 were in particular great and timeless works while the others also had plenty to offer.

10) I’m going to cop out with this one but as I’ve yet to see so many great contenders this year I am certain that once I do one of the following will likely place somewhere on this list, likely shifting the back (5-9) portion of this list:  Everybody Wants Some, La La Land, Nocturnal Animals, Moonlight, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea.

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9) Green Room

It was such a shame to lose such a young talent as Anton Yelchin this year. While best known for his work in the new Abrams Star Trek franchise, he delivers a more forceful and personal performance in Green Room. Veteran of an older Trek series, Patrick Stewart, delivers a menacing performance. Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat is also great here. This is a great little punk rock high-energy old-school grindhouse thriller.

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8) Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru

I’m not a Robbins disciple and while I can see why many critics think this documentary failed to go deep enough in dissecting Tony and his own possible motives and motivations I found this a thoroughly entertaining documentary and portrait of a person, his audience and his work. I may not have gotten as full a picture of the person as I did with the subject of the equally entertaining Anthony Weiner documentary this year, this one just entertained me a bit more and made me think throughout.

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7) Dr. Strange

After a couple of decades or longer of consuming superhero stories in one format or other I more and more prefer in comics or films those that use the trappings of the icons and genre to tell bigger (or in some cases, smaller and more nuanced) stories. Marvel is in danger of over-saturating the market and now with C and D level characters (sorry Strange, you’re not known to the larger market in the way Spiderman is) moving into the starring role of their own films that risk looms even larger. Yet perhaps because of their relative obscurity to the mainstream it’s with these characters Marvel (in film and via Netflix originals) is telling its best cinematic tales (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage). It doesn’t hurt that Cumberbatch is a great actor. Nor does it hurt that this may be one of the only films in history to actually warrant a viewing with 3-D glasses as the mystical scenes are a roller-coaster via that method. Dr. Strange was the best superhero film of the year by remembering the value of the character, the motivation, the context and the uniqueness therein. While Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman bloated themselves to boring, Strange went small by focusing on character and then large with cosmic, intricate visuals and action.

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6) Star Wars: Rogue One

I’m torn a bit with the sheer omnipresence of Star Wars (like superheroes). I can’t help but think market fatigue and backlash is coming–can we really sustain a big-budget blockbuster Star Wars movie (and 10 superhero ones) every single year forward? The original trilogy was fantastic and nostalgia for those films went mainstream as fans grabbed the helm (Abrams). Regardless, Rogue One may only tell the tale of protagonists we know are doomed from the start and fill in a gap that wasn’t glaring (everything we need to know Princess Leia summed up in a throwaway line in the OT) but cash grab or not Rogue One may technically be the best overall SW film in terms of acting, production and overall delivery (though the magic of the OT isn’t quite matched). The new characters, short-lived they may be, are great and the final 10 minutes with Darth Vader are alone worth the price of admission.

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5) Bad Santa 2

So I realize this was generally panned even by critics who begrudgingly praised the first one. I also realize it’s a stream of nihilistic profanity from first shot to last which doesn’t scream “happy holidays” to most viewers. Yet I found it laugh out loud funny throughout and I’m always a fan of Billy Bob Thornton. Kathy Bates was also a welcome addition as was Christina Hendricks. It’s not high art but it gets the job done and it’s far preferable to most cheesy holiday dreck.

 

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4) The Witch

The Witch is an arty Gothic historical piece that was also the best horror film of the year.  I know some excluded it from 2016 consideration since it is technically a 2015 film but as it never hit a US theater, streaming site or DVD release before 2016 that hardly seems fair. There’s no gore to be found and most of the dialogue is pulled (and rearranged) directly from 17th century diary entries. It tells the tale of a Puritan family estranged from their community in 1630s New England and the religious paranoia, social isolation and supernatural (?) factors that slowly tear them apart. Black Phillip is a truly scary nemesis.

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3) Eye in the Sky

Another film excluded from many lists because apparently it is also a 2015 film–this one didn’t hit US theaters until April 2016 so I’m safely counting it as one of my favorite 2016 movies. This was a great movie. First of all there’s the cast–the always excellent Helen Mirren is phenomenal, the sadly departed Alan Rickman delivers a great performance as one of his last and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul showcases a softer side than Jesse Pinkman. Then there’s the story itself–Hibbert’s script and Hood’s direction produces edge of your seat suspense in a nontraditional (for movies, especially “war” movies) way as computer screens, phone calls and second guessing stretches out a drone mission in real time. Moral complexity and a realer look at modern war than most cinema goers get in any format these days.

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2) The Arrival

The Arrival is not your typical sci-fi film and certainly not your typical “alien invasion” flick. It’s a smart, intricate rumination on language, culture, change, time, choices, peacemaking and relationships. It’s probably the best “contact” film of all time too. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are great and hey–Forest Whitaker gets two great sci-fi roles in 2016!

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1)  Hell or High Water

There wasn’t anything else close to being my top movie this year. Hell or High Water was by far the best movie I saw all year. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine square off in an an epic noir standoff with the broken down landscape of America in the background. Some critics have claimed this as a modern western and that seems plausible though crime noir seems more applicable to me. Great bit parts people the landscape, great shots throughout, great dialogue, excellent score, everything works perfectly.

Best of 2015

December 21, 2015

*Note–I will likely be revising and editing this over the next two weeks but these are my top picks for albums, tv shows, movies and comics as of Dec 21, 2015.

Music  (in alphabetical order but bold are my top 10)

Beach House: Depression Cherry/ Count Your Lucky Stars                               Both records Beach House released this year, like 6 months apart, were great. I give a slight edge to Depression Cherry but likely just because I had a few other months to absorb it. The chillest yet captivating music you were apt to hear this year.

Ryan Adams: 1989

Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

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Craig Finn: Faith in the Future
I enjoyed but didn’t love Finn’s first solo record. This one I love. Short and sweet with some of the best lyrics he’s ever written–including Hold Steady–but a different style than his band, much more singer-songwriter.

Deerhunter: Fading Frontier

Drive By Truckers: It’s Great to be Alive (live box set)

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Ghost: Melioria ; Lucifer – Lucifer I ; Christian Mistress – To Your Death

These three acts all in their own way brought back the best of ’70s era pre-metal/early metal traditions particularly the occult rock stains of it and made it sound fresh and new. Ghost has been at this bit awhile now and though they’re certainly not for everyone they have made their catchiest most accessible record yet with Meliroria particularly with lead single “Circe”–and who would have ever thought the band would perform on network cable as they did on Colbert’s late show for Halloween? Ghost are kind of the band fundamentalist pastors and parents thought Kiss were but actually weren’t. Ghost, with their anti-pope frontman and “clergy” band are all spectacle and tongue in cheek satanism but with undeniably catchy riffs, vocals and hooks. Lucifer on the other hand, Johanna Sadonis’ new band mines the feel of forgotten Sabbath records (particularly the excellent and underrated Technical Ecstasy), Blue Oyster Cult and a slew of female heavy “witch” rock to make a gem of an album. Christian Mistress, featuring Christine Davis’ excellent vocals and great riff after great riff edge closer to the NWOBHM scene that followed ’70s acts but bridge the gap between the two. All three records sound like classic heavy metal that fans from any metal era can appreciate.

Grave Pleasures: Dream Crash

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Horrendous: Anareta

Horrendous are the best metal act on record right now. Three albums in each excellent and each better than the last. It’s solid OSDM that hits all the highlights of classic DM bands without retreading their ground–instead it mixes in experimental highs, hooks, riffs, atmosphere and an odd sense of joy. Lyrically they find peace in absurdity and I freaking love this album.

Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls

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Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free
This one is tied neck and neck with Sufjan as my album of the year but while I may think Carrie and Lowell is the overall better record, I listened to this one quite a bit more. Isbell may be America’s best working songwriter today. “Children of Children” “24 Frames” and the title track were some of 2015’s best songs. Isbell seems to have found his own space and style in his post DBT career. I hate that those who are now flocking to Isbell aren’t by and large giving the Truckers catalog (other than maybe Jason’s songs therein) much of a go but I always felt Isbell was much more of an accessible artist than Hood though I prefer all things considered Hood and Cooley–I’d actually call them America’s best current songwriters but they don’t seem to have the reach and pop sensibility that Jason does.

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Carly Rae Jespen: Em.ot.ion

Fine, it’s some seriously sugary bubblegum level pop music. Sorry. Carly Rae was my guilty pleasure jam this year and I’m feeling less guilty with each spin because it’s just so much fun. This is some synth style 80s mall pop  filtered by way of indie rock to today’s pop radio hits but better. Carly’s voice fits the earworm hooks so well and I hear M83 in those back-beats.

Talib Kweli: F*** the Money

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Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly

They say for every hip hop fan there’s a shark waiting to be jumped–that eventually mainstream hip hop will leave every fan. I kind of thought this was my time and it may still be but though I enjoyed the heck out of Drake’s “If You’re Reading This…” it wasn’t great art (though it was above average pop). Kendrick’s latest work however is, divisive as it may be and as hipster embraced as it was. By far the best hip hop record of 2015 from one of today’s strongest rappers.

Lucero: Lucero (2015 S/T)

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The Night Flight Orchestra: Skyline Whispers                                         Second only to perhaps Carlie Jae for just sheer fun, Night Flight Orchestra have been described as montage music–every song on the album could easily soundtrack an 80s movie montage. It’s fun, cheesy soaring “dad rock” without trying too hard or over reaching. This isn’t down and dirty Steel Panther style parody, this is much more subtle and unoffensive. Catchy tunes that rock in a throwback manner.

Myrkur: M

Nile: That Which Should Not Be Unearthed

Purity Ring: Another Eternity                                                                          Indie synth pop with a great hip hop undercurrent that actually works. Almost (almost) as catchy as Carly Rae.

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Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell
This one was probably my favorite record of the year even if not my most listened to. It’s simply a bit heavy and sad to listen to on a daily or even weekly basis but it’s so beautiful. Sufjan’s love letter to his deceased mother in a warts-and-all biographical lyrical narrative is set to some of the most gorgeous arrangements of his impressive career.

Tribulation: Children of Night

Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss

Movies –
alphabetical again but with a disclaimer–I’m sure I’m forgetting some great films I’ve seen and I know that about 5-10 of those I have planned to watch over the next month or two (Star Wars, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Hail Caesar, Joy) will also deserve a space on this list.

Far From the Madding Crowd
Relatively simple period piece but so good.

It Follows   The best horror film I’ve seen in five years easily.

Spotlight  – So far my favorite film of the year Great cast, captivating and important story, good on every cinematic level.

Steve Jobs –
I really enjoyed this though I know some didn’t. It’s certainly warts and all and who knows how much liberty Sorkin took to weave his trademark snappy dialogue but it’s a great character piece.

Trainwreck  – Shumer is my favorite (perhaps second to Louis C.K.) working comedian and her team up with Apatow was awesome.

Trumbo –
Sadly this is still a timely tale if we just switched the terms out a bit. Cranston is terrific.

 

TV

The Goldbergs

Homeland

Bosch

The Man in the High Castle

Jessica Jones

Master of None

Blackish

Larry Wilmore Show

Daily Show

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Comics

Killing and Dying – Arienne Tomine

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses

Southern Bastards

Harrow County

Ms. Marvel

Nailbiter

The Fade Out