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213. Black Christmas – Christmas 2020 (-#75)

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

So this week, Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas.

As Christmas settles on Hawthorne College, something more unpleasant is in the air. A series of attacks on female students suggests that a killer is loose on campus, but the young members of the Mu Kappa Epsilon sorority begin to suspect that there is something far more toxic at work.

At time of recording, it was ranked 75th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! Twenty Years Later, “Battle Royale” Still Stands Apart…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because Battle Royale is twenty years old this month, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at the iconic Japanese film.

In the years since the release of Battle Royale, there has been an explosion of dystopian young adult fiction based around similar premises: the idea of children forced to kill other children to survive. There are plenty of examples of this subgenre, most notably The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. However, Battle Royale has aged better than these other films for two core reasons. First of all, it acknowledges the horror of its premise, rather than sanitising it. Second of all, it understands that this social decay is perhaps more mundane than sensationalist.

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

New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 3, Episode 5 (“… Thirteen Years Later”)

Earlier in the year, I was thrilled to spend a lot of time on The Time is Now discussing the second season of Millennium. Since the podcast has moved on to the third season, I have taken something of a step back as a guest. That said, I was flattered to get an invitation to discuss … Thirteen Years Later with the fantastic Kurt North.

I am not as big a fan of the third season as I was of the second. This is particularly true of the opening stretch of the third season, which is chaotic and uneven at the best of times. … Thirteen Years Later is in some ways a prime illustration of the problems facing this relaunched version of the show. It’s a comedy episode released for Halloween, essentially offering a very tame Hollywood satire that feels like an awkward attempt to catch up with the Scream movies. Still, it’s a fun and broad discussion.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Video! On the True Horror of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse” Trilogy…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. Because Halloween was coming up, we thought it would be fun to look at something horror-related. I’ve been watching a few John Carpenter films lately, and so I thought I’d delve a little bit into how Carpenter’s craft works and how it has aged so effectively and so hauntingly. In particular, Carpenter’s loose “Apocalypse” trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness) count among the most unsettling (and resonant) depictions of the end of the world in popular cinema.

 

206. se7en – Halloween 2020 (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Doctor Bernice Murphy and Phil Bagnall, 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 week and next week, we are taking a break from our Summer of Scorsese for a Halloween treat. David Fincher’s se7en.

Detective William Somerset is seven days away from retirement, and has just been partnered with a new arrival from outside the city. Detective David Mills has yet to fully adjust to the rules of the urban landscape. However, Somerset’s plans to retire are undercut after a pair of strange deaths point to something sinister simmering below the surface of the city.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review: His House

His House is a striking and unsettling piece of piece of work, and an impressive feature debut for director Remi Weekes.

His House focuses on Bol and Rial, a refugee couple who have fled war-torn Sudan and arrived in the United Kingdom. Against all odds, the couple are allowed out of the detention centre and assigned their own living space. It is a rundown old house on an estate. “You must have won the jackpot,” explains their case worker Mark, even as the front door falls off its hinges. It is a big house, one in need of a lot of care and work. However, it all belongs to Bol and Rial – and whatever they have brought with them.

That sinking feeling.

His House works on a number of levels. Most obviously and most importantly, it is genuinely unsettling. Weekes understands the mechanics of horror, and works closely with composer Roque Baños and cinematographer Jo Willems to construct a genuinely creepy horror. Weekes makes excellent use of negative space and framing to make the audience uncomfortable, and generally does an excellent job with mounting tension and dread. His House is an impressive piece of horror, judged simply as a genre piece.

However, the film is also quite pointed and well-observed in its horror. His Horror riffs on the tropes and conventions of the familiar haunted house story, particularly as a metaphor for trauma. What elevates Weekes’ screenplay, from a premise by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables, is an understanding that sometimes the ghosts that fill a haunted house arrive with the owners.

It is certainly a fixer-upper.

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205. The Wicker Man – Halloween 2020 (-#73)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Doctor Bernice Murphy, 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 week and next week, we are taking a break from our Summer of Scorsese for a Halloween treat. Neil La Bute’s The Wicker Man.

After a traumatic accident on a desert highway, highway patrolman Edward Malus is contacted by his old fiancée. She is living on a remote matriarchal community known as Summersisle, and her daughter has gone missing. Malus embarks on a journey to the island in the hopes of reuniting the lost child with her mother, only do discover something more sinister is at play.

At time of recording, it was ranked 73rd on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the worst movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: The Witches (2020)

The Witches offers a clumsy American update of the classic Roald Dahl novel.

To be fair, there is something potentially interesting in attempting to update The Witches, both for modern audiences and for American viewers. It’s to the credit of director Robert Zemeckis and co-writers Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro that they at least understand this. The Witches makes a number of alterations to its source material, and at least some of those reflect a genuine and compelling attempt to update the story to fit in a modern and American context.

Any witch way but loose…

At the same time, The Witches is a mess. Part of this is down to the way in which a lot of the appeal of Dahl’s story is lost in translation, as a wry and arch British story gets filtered through the hypersaturated Americana of one of the defining American directors, an even more exaggerated effect of what happened with Steven Spielberg’s work on The B.F.G. However, some of this is more fundamental, as Zemeckis struggles to balance tone and mood across the film, and finds his attentions drawn more to what his interests desire than what the plot demands.

The Witches is a misfire, but an intriguing one. There are hints of a much more compelling movie to found, sifting between its more misjudged moments.

Putting a (ro)dent in his reputation…

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“Your Reminiscence”: Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear”, Nostalgia, and Parental Anxiety…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Goodfellas. This week, we’ll looking at Casino. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but the season skips over large swathes of Scorsese’s filmography. So I thought it might be worth taking a look back at Cape Fear.

Cape Fear is often overlooked in terms of Martin Scorsese’s filmography.

It falls in the gap between the instant classic Goodfellas and the sleeper masterpiece Casino. It shares that gap with The Age of Innocence, which is one of the films in Scorsese’s filmography that has been begging for a reappraisal and seems more likely to receive critical attention than a trashy remake of a pulpy sixties thriller. (The Age of Innocence recently received a re-release as part of the high-end Criterion Collection.) Indeed, Cape Fear seems designed to be seen as disposable in the context of Scorsese’s filmography.

At best, Cape Fear is typically seen as a curiosity – and potentially a worrying one. While Roger Ebert praised the film, he lamented “a certain impersonality in a film by this most personal of directors.” There was a whiff of moral panic to Kenneth Turan’s review, which asked, “Are we, perhaps, too quick to heap praise on films just because they are expertly done, shrugging off the troubling nature of the content? Is an audience’s increasing avid addiction to increasingly twisted thrills any justification for cheering on the people who provide them?”

However, there’s a lot interesting happening in Cape Fear. Most obviously, the film is a vehicle for Scorsese’s love of a certain style of directorial technique. The original Cape Fear had been directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had worked as a dialogue coach under Alfred Hitchcock. The film arrived two years after Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the influence of Hitchcock is obvious on Thompson’s work; it’s scored by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, editted by Hitchcock veteran George Tomasini and features art direction from Robert Boyle and Alexander Golitzen.

However, what’s particularly interesting about Cape Fear is the way in which it actively translates the original movie from the early sixties to the early nineties, playing not only on the same underlying fears that informed the original, but also understanding that they existed in a different context during the nineties. It’s a movie that cannily and shrewdly transposes those two times, tapping into the same fears, but in a way that demonstrates both how those fears have evolved – and also how they haven’t.

Cape Fear is a lurid b-movie thriller, but in the most interesting and unsettling ways. It is a film fascinated by what lurks beneath the surface.

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Non-Review Review: Antebellum

Antebellum never seems entirely sure whether it wants to be a biting social commentary or a pulpy genre exercise.

To be clear, this is a false dichotomy. One of the most interesting aspects of horror is how frequently it can satisfy both of those objectives. Get Out is perhaps the most obvious recent example of this, and it is telling that (like so many modern horrors) Antebellum markets itself as “from the producers of Get Out.” However, this has always been a feature of horror, as demonstrated by the films of directors like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Antebellum shouldn’t have to choose between being socially relevant and being an effective horror, but it insists on doing so.

Shining some light on the matter.

There is a good movie buried somewhere in Antebellum. It is very clear that writers and directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have a good idea that resonates in the current moment. Indeed, Antebellum hammers that point pretty heavily. It opens with a quote from William Faulkner, reminding audiences that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In case the audience doesn’t get how that applies to the movie’s set-up, a character repeats it about forty minutes into the runtime. Antebellum has things to say, and is not shy about saying them.

However, what Antebellum is trying to say is muddled by a number of awkward structural choices. Antebellum is a film that is consciously built around a number of developments that are intended to wrong-foot the audience and catch them off-guard, to invite the viewer to ask questions about what is happening and why, and maybe even add some compelling gif-able content for the film’s marketing. This structuring of Antebellum is wrong-headed on a number of levels, but most profoundly in the way that it reduces the movie’s biting thesis to a cheap narrative hook.

Burning unease.

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