I started this month with the intention of watching a lot of science fiction films set in space. As I noted last week, this has been a difficult task to accomplish. There just aren't that many interesting films in that category available on the various streaming services, or in my own collections. So last weekend, I made a switch. It is now the middle of September, which is close to October which holds one of my favorite holidays - Halloween. This whole movie theme idea began several years ago when I watched a whole bunch of horror films in October. Well, I always watch a bunch of horror films in October because that's what you do when you love Halloween and horror movies. But that particular year, I also watched a bunch of film noirs in November which is now dubbed Noirvember. I had so much fun in those two months I've been trying to find themes for all the other months. That isn't as easy as it sounds, which brings us back to science fiction films and me switching mid-September from that genre to horror.
Actually, I dug further into that genre last weekend and watched a bunch of slasher films. We're calling it Slasher September. Not all the films I watched are really slashers, but they do all feature serial killers which is pretty much what the villains in slasher films are so we're calling it all good.
Let's get started.
My Bloody Valentine
Widely considered one of the best slashers ever made, I came to My Bloody Valentine with high expectations. That was a mistake as saying something is the best slasher is like saying something is the best fast food chili. It doesn't matter how enjoyable it is at the time, in the end, it's gonna leave you stinking up the place.
It takes place in a small mining community that was rocked by a series of terrible murders on Valentine's Day some twenty years prior to the film's events. The town, aptly named Valentine Bluffs, has held off having any kind of Valentine's Day celebrations since that event. But this year they've decided to keep the past in the past. The mayor has announced a big V-Day dance and everyone is excited. Naturally, the killings begin again.
The mine setting gives the film a unique angle above the usual "sexy teens at a camp" cliche and a rather spooky atmosphere. The killer dressed in miner's overalls and a gas mask is interesting. The script is a touch above most generic slashers, though not by much and the acting is pretty sloppy. The production design is decent and the kills are frequent and bloody. This is to say that yes, My Bloody Valentine is better than most of the other slashers made in the 1980s. It is well made and delivers what you expect and then some. It isn't by any means a good movie, but it's pretty fun if all you are looking for is attractive young people getting regularly slaughtered.
Poirot: The ABC Murders
Someone is killing random people with the use of the alphabet. They kill a person with the last name starting with the letter "A" in a city that begins with the same letter. Then it is on to "B" and so forth and so on. This person is also sending Poirot taunting letters telling him where the next murder will take place.
I like swapping around my subscriptions to various streaming services and I decided to try Britbox again after a very long absence. My local library gives me a subscription to Acorn TV and as it is a very similar service to Britbox I've not much bothered with the latter in a long time. But Britbox has all the classic Doctor Who stories and I had a hankering for some William Hartnell and so I subscribed. Discovered they had the David Suchet Poirot stories and gave this one a try. Probably because Amazon Prime recently acquired the rights to the recent mini-series adaptation of that Agatha Christie story starring John Malkovich.
The Suchet Poirots are like comfort food to me. I can put them on, sit back, and completely relax. The stories don't really matter all that much as I know Poirot is going to solve the case and everything will be back to normal by the time the credits roll.
This case is a little different from the usual as it finds Poirot traveling from city to city in a mad rush to catch up to the killer. It is also interesting to me that Poirot seems to be at such a loss almost up to the end as to who the killer is. I mean he never really knows who dunnit until the final act but he seems completely lost for most of this story. And when the killer is caught it is through the acts of someone else. Well, that's not entirely true but I'll not spoil the actual ending. But it was fun for a while to think of Poirot as not the best investigator on the case.
Honestly, all of these stories tend to blend together in my head after a while. I'd be hard-pressed to pick the best or the worst one. But I do so enjoy watching them.
Truth or Dare
This was better than I expected, but I wasn't expecting much. The concept here is dumb, but kind of fun. Take the old "truth or dare" kids game and turn it into a horror film. I can get behind that. But the filmmakers don't really do anything interesting with it. There are hardly any truths being told and the dares are garden-variety horror movie stuff.
A group of attractive college students, plus the one funny fat guy because there is always one funny fat guy, get together on Halloween night in a rented scary house. Apparently a few years before, some other college kids died in that house playing truth or dare. So our heroes decide to play the game.
They write the truths and dares on a card (is that a thing? We always just took turns making up truths and dares on the spot). The first girl gets a truth asking her if she really slept with one of the guys there (they all do have names but I'm not looking them up because this movie isn't worth the effort). Wait, the first card is a dare getting two of the girls to make-out because despite all the girls saying they won't do any "sex stuff" there is always a lesbian kiss in these types of movies. So the one girl had sex with the one guy who is now dating one of the other girls. She denies it at first but then everybody's phone gets a text message saying she's lying. Weird, but nobody seems to wonder where that text came from.
Next, one of the guys gets a dare to burn his hand on the stove. The TV tells him he has two minutes. Everyone is on edge. The dude doesn't do the dare, the dare does him and the house (or the demon, or whatever) pushes him into the stove where he burns the flesh off his hand. The next dare tells one of the girls to eat the burned skin. Suddenly, everyone decides that she has to do that or she'll die.
I appreciate that the film doesn't spend a lot of time giving us all the rules of the game. As horror fans we know what "truth or dare" is and we expect the stakes to be life or death. But it does seem funny that everyone in the film just accepts them even though they aren't explained to them and they do not spend nearly enough time trying to escape.
Another girl is asked if she's an addict. I guess, for some reason the film doesn't show that card and it wasn't until after the film that I realized that card must have been truth. A well thought-out film could have used the truth cards to have the characters reveal hidden secrets about the characters giving them and the film some depth. But that doesn't happen here.
Eventually, someone dies and apparently that means everybody else can leave the house. The next day someone else dies and they realize it is not over. They google the girl who survived the game the last time who is played by Heather Langenkamp. It's nice to see old horror stars popping up in these types of things though she doesn't really do anything except tell them to try and survive.
Back at the house and the dares get increasingly violent and horrifying. But much like how the truths don't illuminate anything about the characters, the dares are just random violent things like drinking poison or pulling out teeth. There is a small attempt to connect them to the past sins of the characters but it is too little, too late, and quickly forgotten.
I could keep going, but I've already written to much. There is so much wrong with this film. It is very dumb. And yet I kind of liked it. It is competently made in that I wasn't distracted by terrible directing and while the plot is dumb it isn't so bad, I had a hard time not groaning at its stupidity. Like it made sense in its own dumb horror movie logic. The violence wasn't scary or inventive but it was done well enough to keep me enjoying myself on a late Saturday night.
Sometimes that's all you need.
After watching a bunch of dumb slasher films (including several I won't be talking about here like April Fool's Day and Sleepaway Camp), I wanted to watch something similar but, you know, actually good. Peeping Tom, the 1960 film from acclaimed British director Michael Powell, fit the bill perfectly. It was released just months before Alfred Hitchcock's similar film Psycho but while Hitchcock's film was an immediate and lasting success, Peeping Tom essentially ruined Powell's career.
The two films are similar in plot. Both involve psychotic killers murdering pretty women for sexual pleasure. Both killers have serious parental issues. They contain similar amounts of near nudity and violence. Thus it is difficult to know why one was so successful and the other not. My take is that Psycho is an enjoyable spectacle where the audience members can get a thrill while eating their popcorn and walk out unscathed. Whereas with Peeping Tom, the audience is implicated in the crimes. The movie begins from the killer's point of view and then moves into the viewfinder of the camera as he films a prostitute's murder. The main character is a voyeur who uses his camera as a weapon both recording his murders and stabbing his victim with a knife concealed in the tripod. The audience often sees these shots from the killer or the camera's perspective. Later, we'll watch the killer watching the films he made of the murder. You cannot be passive watching Peeping Tom; you are included in his psychopathy. It is intentionally uncomfortable viewing so no doubt audiences in 1960 were not ready for it.
It also contains plenty of Powell's beautiful camera work full of bright primary colors and fascinating angles. And unlike Psycho, which ends on a long monologue of senseless psychobabble, Peeping Tom delves deeply into why the killer does what he does and the film does so in a way that's actually pretty smart. Its reputation has grown over the years and it now has a pretty steady cult following and is generally considered a masterpiece.
I suppose it would have made sense to follow up Peeping Tom with Psycho as those films are linked in certain ways and I just spent a couple of paragraphs talking about it. Instead, I decided to watch Frenzy, Hitchcock's penultimate film made in 1972. I think it actually makes a better double feature with Peeping Tom.
Like Peeping Tom, Frenzy is set in London, making it the first Hitchcock film to be filmed entirely in England since Stage Fright in 1950. Though Peeping Tom and Frenzy were made over a decade apart, they still have a similar Swinging London feel to them. Both are beautifully shot in technicolor, which gives Frenzy a much different feel than the starkly black and white Psycho. And while Psycho does feature a killer with sexual hangups and parental issues, Frenzy feels more in line with what Powell was doing in Peeping Tom.
Frenzy is Hitchcock's nastiest film with more explicit violence and sex than any of his other films. There is a serial killer on the loose in London who rapes and then strangles his victims with a necktie. For the first and only time, Hitchcock allows his camera to be there during at least one of the murders, showing us the rape and murder filled with plenty of nudity and even a close-up on the poor girl's face after she's been strangled, eyes bulging and tongue sticking out. Hitchcock was always one to push the censors a bit and with the culture having changed so much by 1972, he was finally able to show us everything he wanted us to see.
But it isn't just a film filled with shocking images there are plenty of Hitchcock-isms throughout. The police chase after a man we know didn't commit the crimes, giving us one last "wrong man" in a Hitchcock film. There is a scene late in the film in which the real killer has placed his victim inside a potato sack and stuck it on a truck. Then he realizes the dead girl is holding onto a piece of evidence that will convict him and he must get it back. This leads to a very Hitchcockian scene with him on the moving potato truck trying desperately to get the evidence back. All in all, it is exactly the kind of film Hitchcock became famous for and is very worth watching.
DC's Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Fifth Season
I feel like most of the DC shows on the CW start off strong and then slowly tapered off in quality season by season. Legends has bucked that trend and only gotten better as time has passed. It started off as a fairly generic series following too closely in the footsteps of Arrow, but over time the series has learned how to be its own thing. It seems that at some point they realized they were a series set on a ship that could travel throughout time and that allows them to do just about anything they want.
At this point, the series seems happy to let the writers come up with the most ridiculous of situations and just rolls with it. The thing is that actually works for them. Legends is by far the funniest series in the entire Arrowverse and having now watched almost the entirety of Season Five, I can now say it is my favorite. I'll have a full review of the season up soon.