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245. Tumbbad – This Just In (#250)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guest Joey Keogh, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Anand Gandhi, Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad’s Tumbbad.

In a remote Indian village, something ancient and evil is lurking beneath the surface. As the country moves towards independence, Vinayak Rao finds a way to exploit the mysteries of Tumbbad to his own advantage. However, nothing comes without a price.

At time of recording, it was ranked 250th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part Three – 1666

If Fear Street Part One – 1994 and Fear Street Part Two – 1978 didn’t make it clear enough, Fear Street Part Three – 1666 confirms that the trilogy is more of a miniseries than a set of films.

To be fair, this was quite clear from the outset. The films feature a large branching cast, with many actors carrying over from one installment to another. The continuity between the individual films is so tight that the two later installments each open with an extended “previously on…” segment. Fear Street Part Three – 1666 carries this idea to its logical conclusion, effectively functioning as a two-part season finale. It opens with an hour set in the past and then jumps forward for a forty-minute coda designed to close the book (if not literally) on the events from Fear Street Part One – 1994.

A sight for sore (or missing) eyes…

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. After all, there’s arguably not a huge difference between the structure of these three films and something like the Red Riding trilogy. More to the point, it demonstrates how porous the gap between various media has become. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, the highest grossing movie of 2020, is really just a six-episode bridging arc between two seasons of the manga. Hamilton is both one of the best movies of all-time according to the Internet Movie Database and an Emmy nominee. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably as much television as cinema.

As such, it’s hard to judge Fear Street Part Three – 1666 entirely on its own merits.

Tying it all up.

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Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part Two – 1978

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 sets itself a more modest goal than Fear Street Part One: 1994.

Part of that is simply the luxury of being the second part of a larger series. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 has appreciably less table-setting to do than Fear Street Part One: 1994, as the earlier film did a lot of the hard work in terms of establishing rules and building a framework for the trilogy’s internal mythology. While Fear Street Part Two: 1978 obviously builds on the foundations established by Fear Street Part One: 1994, it also has the luxury of working within an established template that saves it the bother of having to unload a lot of exposition very quickly while also serving as a self-contained slasher tribute.

Camp Fear.

Part of it is also because Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is referencing a much less ambitious and self-aware set of movies. Fear Street Part One: 1994 was drawing from a pool of self-aware nineties horror movies like Scream, Urban Legends and I Know What You Did Last Summer, movies made by filmmakers who had grown up watching classic slasher movies on video cassettes and wanted to put their own self-aware spin on the genre and its conventions. So Fear Street Part One: 1994 was a self-aware riff on self-aware riffs on the genre. In contrast, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 draws from a purer sort of slasher movie.

These two factors mean that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 feels a lot less busy and cluttered than Fear Street Part One: 1994, if appreciably less ambitious. More than that, with a lot of the mythology building out of the way, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is able to use its own narrative real estate to deepen and develop the core themes of the trilogy, foregrounding its big ideas with a little more finesse than the previous entry. The result is a movie that is perhaps less energised and less dynamic than its predecessor, but also a lot more comfortable and assured in what it is doing.

Sister, sister.

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New Escapist Column! On James Cameron’s “Aliens” as a Challenge to Ridley Scott’s “Alien”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. James Cameron’s Aliens is thirty-five years old this July, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at one of the best sequels ever made.

Aliens works in large part because it’s smart enough to avoid directly challenging Alien, in that it avoids simply recycling the original formula with a shift in location or with a new cast. Instead, it offers a very different approach to the core material. More than that, James Cameron positions Aliens as a direct challenge to Alien, deliberately and pointedly inverting some of the core themes of the original film. This choice enriches both films, turning Alien and Aliens into a conversation.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part One – 1994

Nostalgia is a strange creature, by turns deceptive and revealing.

Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, based on an original story inspired by the books written by R.L. Stine, is effectively a loving slice of horror nostalgia and a trip through slasher movie history. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is very obviously an effort to take the genre back to its roots, evoking classics like Halloween or Black Christmas, and with its summer camp setting directly inviting comparisons to Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th, Part II. Similarly, Fear Street Part One: 1994 is clearly constructed as a loving homage to the slasher revival of the nineties, to films like Scream, Urban Legends or I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Skull Kill Crew…

In some ways Fear Street feels like a companion to that other big Netflix nostalgia property, Stranger Things. The three films are directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak, who is married to Stranger Things co-creator Ross Duffer. Like Stranger Things, there is a strong sense that Fear Street Part One: 1994 is aimed at a generation of viewers too young to remember the era firsthand. As such, Fear Street Part One: 1994 doesn’t feel like an attempt to accurately recreate the era so much as provide a cartoonish snapshot. It captures the pop memory of the period much more than the reality.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is an appealing slice of genre nostalgia populated with a charming cast and an appealing high concept, albeit one that is occasionally so preoccupied by its broad brush strokes that it misses the final details. Then again, that is how nostalgia often works. Ironically, Fear Street Part One: 1994 probably has less to say about the genre than the movies that it is invoking.

“I have a bone to pick with you.”

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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Censor is a Celebration of and Exploration into Classic “Video Nasty” Horror”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the twentieth episode of the year. We discussed two interesting new horror releases: the restoration of George A. Romero’s long lost The Amusement Park and director Prano Bailey-Bond’s celebration of the “video nasty” era with Censor. We really enjoyed both of them.

You can listen to back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

Non-Review Review: The Conjuring – The Devil Made Me Do It

It’s absurd to think that The Conjuring is probably the second most successful shared universe at Hollywood.

Of course, this is arguably more an indictment of the struggles that companies like Warner Bros. and Universal have faced in trying to launch competition for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is still impressive that a gigantic homage to populist seventies horror has successfully grossed nearly two billion dollars across eight films. After all, this is a property anchored in a cinematic nostalgia which has succeeded through casting character actors appreciably older than most horror leads, notably Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, but also Linda Cardellini, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston.

“Holy Plot! I mean, this plot… it’s full of holes…”

Following a variety of spin-offs and tie-ins including The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona and the separate Annabelle trilogy, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third entry in the franchise’s cornerstone series. It is the first entry in that main series not to be directed by James Wan. Instead, Wan hands over directorial responsibilities to Michael Chaves, who helmed The Curse of La Llorona. Still, in terms of aesthetic and scale, The Devil Made Me Do It is recognisable as a continuation and development of the previous two entries in the trilogy.

Much like The Conjuring 2, The Devil Made Me Do It is a curious genre hybrid. It feels like a conscious effort to build a blockbuster horror movie, incorporating elements from more populist films and tying them back to the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of classic horror films. Like The Conjuring 2, this hybridisation is perhaps more interesting than it is effective. It doesn’t entirely work, but it certain merits investigation.

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Non-Review Review: Spiral – From the Book of Saw

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is an interesting, if dysfunctional, franchise extension.

The obvious point of contrast is something like Jigsaw, the last attempt to restart the Saw franchise. Jigsaw was released in 2017, two years after Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and it bet big on a particular kind of nostalgia. It was a film that consciously aspired to evoke the memory of the Saw franchise among an audience that had probably seen an entry or two in the franchise a decade earlier and had vague memories of the experience.

Rocking the boat.

Jigsaw offered a much more polished take on the Saw template, eschewing the grimy green and grey aesthetic of the previous seven films in favour of a crisp sheen. Still, the film worked very hard to demonstrate its affection and veneration for the source material, even while offering superficial updates like moving the action into the countryside and swapping blades for lasers. The company logos at the start of Jigsaw appeared over a remix of Hello Zepp. Billy the Puppet got a makeover. Tobin Bell got considerable screentime as John Kramer, and the film tied itself to his back story and history.

Spiral takes a very different approach to its nostalgia. The film is the first in the series not to feature the character of John Kramer. Billy the Puppet has also been retired. While a variation on Hello Zepp does eventually play, Spiral holds it back and makes the audience wait for the pay-off. Spiral is very much part of the larger Saw franchise, and contains the requisite death traps and even brings back director Darren Lynn Bousman, but it feels like a consciously pared down and “back to basics” approach to the franchise that strips out a lot of the clutter that has accrued over the franchise’s long life span.

Bloody horrific.

This is most notable with the film’s sharp genre shift. While all of the earlier Saw movies had some procedural element that followed law enforcement’s efforts to track down and stop the serial killer, Spiral centres this thread. Spiral is arguably a forensic thriller with gory elements, rather than a gory horror with a dash of forensic thriller for flavour. It’s a clear attempt at a fresh start, with Spiral even relegating the Saw brand to the subtitle while leaning more heavily on the spiral and pig imagery that was largely secondary in the original franchise.

The result is fascinating, even if it doesn’t quite work. Spiral is arguably a “back to basics” take on the Saw franchise, going so back to basics that it draws more heavily from the serial killer thrillers that originally inspired Saw than it does from the Saw movies themselves.

 

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New Escapist Column! On How the “Saw” Franchise Has Always Played With Its Audience…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw this weekend, it seemed like a good excuse to take a look back at the larger Saw franchise.

For good and for ill, the Saw movies are inexorably tied to the George W. Bush era, with their meditations on torture and their emphasis on moral hypocrisy. However, discussions of the franchise tend to overlook the way in which the films intersect with another millennial trend: reality television. The Saw franchise is the rare horror movie franchise that is actively engaged with the idea of watching horror movies. In particular, in the relationship that exists between horror movies and their audiences – and whether those watching at home are observers or participants in the carnage.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “Spiral: From the Book of Saw – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which is releasing in cinemas this weekend.