The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

I was all set to let CONJURING 3 be the first movie I went to see in an actual movie theater post-pandemic but then I saw it was on HBO. In a last minute decision, I instead decided to see A QUIET PLACE 2 in the theater and then watched CONJURING 3 on my computer with headphones on. This turned out to be the right decision for sure; AQP2 is the type of flick that works great with an audience (albeit a small one) and CONJURING 3 has an uncharacteristic television procedural vibe (even though it wisely stays clear of boring courtroom scenes). There’s much to love about this latest installment in the franchise but every bit of that love is probably thanks to the remarkable chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren. The film, as a whole, comes off a bit meandering with what feels like almost an active aversion to scares beyond the typical.

I was very excited to learn that this series was to take on the famous “innocent by reason of possession” case that took place in Brookfield, Connecticut; a town that my family moved into a couple years after the incident (I wrote about this previously in a review for the TV movie  THE DEMON MURDER CASE (1983) which is based on the same incidents HERE). For the most part, this movie that was filmed in Georgia does an alright job of replicating the small town I know. The sad thing is that somewhere along the line, someone decided to scrape off some of the scariest parts of the tale and replace them with a rather mundane witch’s curse story. Replacing the horrific demon(s) described in the original story with a waterbed and a gaunt scolding librarian type doesn’t seem like the best of plans to me. Come to think of it though, director Michael Chaves did the same kind of careless bastardization of a legend that didn’t need fixing in his previous flick THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019), another passable spook show generously lifted up by the superior acting of its central character(s).

Truth is I’d follow Wilson & Farmiga as the highly idealized, insanely romanticized and unquestionable glamorized versions of the mostly problematic ghostbusters Ed & Lorraine Warren anywhere. This outing that I wrongly assumed I’d feel particularly connected to is the least successful in the horror department but does add something worthy in the area of our understanding of these now beloved (by me at least) characters. It’s kind of hilarious to think of the real Lorraine Warren hanging off a cliff in Connecticut, Indiana Jones-style but avoiding anything resembling reality is exactly what I go to the movies for. CONJURING 3 is not on the level as the previous two films directed by James Wan but it’s still a bit better than most horror flicks that come down the pike. In this case though, instead of thanking the writer or director, you really have to thank the two impeccable leads. Sure, I was underwhelmed overall but how bad can a movie be when my first thought after seeing it is that I can’t wait to visit these characters again?

That’s So Craven!:: Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven’s DEADLY BLESSING (1981) will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the first R-rated horror films I experienced in a movie theater and naturally, it scared the crap out of me. It’s comfort horror that I revisit every couple of years and I always manage to find new angles to this diamond every time I visit. A recent re-watch accentuated for me how many themes and ideas that are present that Wes Craven would further explore or reuse in future projects. Craven is only one of three names credited for writing DEADLY BLESSING (high five to Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr) so I can’t be completely sure what concepts are a hundred percent the horror master’s but one thing is certain, this flick has got his paw prints all over it.

The Dream Demon. Craven has stated before that many of his ideas come from dreams. In BLESSING it very much seems that future mega-star Sharon Stone has a disturbing dream about future mega-horror icon Freddy Krueger. She wakes up from a terrible nightmare saying it involved being terrorized by a man with “all gray, like ash” skin and that seems like only a stone’s throw away from a man with burnt skin which would perfectly describe Freddy. It’s almost as if she dreamt of Freddy as he was still forming in Craven’s imagination.

The Snake Bath. Well. This bit is far too on the nose to deny. At one point during the film, lovely Maren Jensen is taking a well-deserved bath only to find she is not alone. A giant snake comes for a visit and sinisterly swims between her legs much like (almost exactly) like Freddy Krueger’s glove will famously threaten Nancy Thompson in a famous scene from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET a few years later. The beats and angles mirror each other to a tee and it’s almost like an early sketch to a future masterpiece. And of course Craven would go on to explore more snake horrors in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW(’88).

Summer Of Fear. At one point two characters portrayed by Jeff East and Susan Buckner meet up at a local movie theater that just happens to be playing Craven’s made-for-TV movie from a few years before, SUMMER OF FEAR; which East also starred in (Luckily East misses the showing so he never has to endure the two realities colliding. On the other hand Vicki, does presumably watch the movie and is surprisingly tight-lipped about the incongruity). In other words, this blink and you’d miss it, low key self-reference can be seen as a precursor to the ultra meta-awareness that Craven would explore to extremes in future movies like SCREAM (‘96) and especially WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (‘94)

Death in the Barn. When Sharon Stone’s anguished character is attacked by a dark-robed figure in a barn, I swear it could almost be a cut scene from a SCREAM flick (sans the mask). Even the barn setting itself Craven would later revisit in his last film, SCREAM 4.

The Last Scare. Craven apparently was forced by producers to add one last scare to DEADLY BLESSING (probably to ape the previous year’s smash FRIDAY THE 13th). He wasn’t pleased but went ahead and incorporated a reality-smashing jolter involving a demon that breaks through the floor and drags a character into (I’m assuming) hell, followed by quiet normalcy being restored as if it never happened. Crazy that just about the exact same thing happened with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). Producers wanted a slam-bang closer and Craven came up with a similar scenario; a reality-defying demon breaks through into our dimension (in this case through a door) and yanks a character off to who knows where. Craven wasn’t keen on either late addition tack-ons but I gotta say I love (and fell hard for) them both.

DEADLY BLESSING may not be Wes Craven’s best movie (though sometimes I wonder) but it’s always entertaining and certainly represents a fascinating moment in his career. It sports many of his familiar themes (every parent is toxic and oppressive) and stands in sort of an eye of the storm halfway spot between his earlier, more physical horror films (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and his more surreal, cerebral output (NOES, SHOCKER, etc.). It’s also beautifully shot, has a hypnotic James Horner score and is wonderfully suspenseful. There’s an of its time reveal that’s not likely to win a GLAAD award anytime soon but Jensen, Stone and Buckner truly shine as a troika of supportive old college pals and the film is ultimately a surprisingly positive testament to female friendship.

Five favorite Things:: Love and Monsters (2020)

THE DOG. Aw. Don’t tell my cats but I’m legit in love with the doggie that is featured in this movie. It’s really one of the greatest depictions of a canine’s heart and personality that has ever been captured on film. Please never inform me that he was portrayed by more than one pooch. I don’t want to know that. I need to believe he was ONE good boy. By the way, that’s his name, “Boy” and he reminds me of every four-legged friend I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Oh damn, I got something in my eye. It’s like Holly Hunter in RAISING ARIZONA, “I love him so much!!!” I need more of this doggie. I want to see his future adventures.

(Update: I just found out on IMDb that Boy was played by two dogs named Hero and Dodge and it turns out I’m totally OK with that).

THE SCREENPLAY.  I’m kind of absolutely astonished that this wonderful movie was written by Brian Duffield, the same talented dude who wrote the awesome UNDERWATER and also scripted and directed (!) the excellent (and strangely inspiring) SPONTANEOUS.  I mean, I can’t think of (m)any scriptwriters who have written three of my favorite movies in their entire career much less a guy who wrote three of my favorite flicks in one single year! I’m so impressed that now I have to anxiously wait for the inevitable moment my hero disappoints me and reveals himself to be a rotten person of some sort.

THE WONDER. What an endlessly fascinating world that is created here! The whole planet is basically destroyed (yay) or at least ninety five percent of the population and all the animal and insect life has been transformed into monstrous and often disgusting (yay) mutants. It’s truly terrifying and exciting and basically all of my insane dreams come true. I know it’s supposed to be more like a nightmare but I can’t help myself. I would gladly take living in peril every day over having to endure modern life’s stinky conveyor belt of annoying nonsense.

THE HUMOR. This movie really hits my funny bone squarely, directly and consistently. From the self-deprecating lead, Joel (an extremely likable Dylan O’Brien) to the gruff snark of partial companions Clyde (the legendary Michael Rooker) and pint-sized side-kick Minnow (adorable Ariana Greenblatt), these are folks I really dig hanging out with. When Minnow reveals that some of the most gnarliest looking monsters are actually amiable and that their eyes give them away, it’s like a potent dose of humanity injected right into my veins.

THE CRAB. As a kid who grew up watching Ray Harryhausen flavored monster flicks on weekend afternoons, I absolutely adore an impossible creature or two, especially the kind that hangs out on the beach. Giant mutated creatures bring me great joy and my itch to behold them is satiated far too infrequently. Without ruining a very charming and important plot point, let me just say this particular decapod crustacean has a personality trait that warms my cold, tired heart.

EXTRA: THE SCORE. Oooooh the counterintuitive musical score by Marco Beltrami (the SCREAM flicks among many others) and frequent collaborator Marcus Trumpp is all kinds of awesome and even includes banjos (!?!) plucking away. I love the sound of a banjo. Anyway, see this movie at all costs; it rules. I forgot to even mention the lovable robot! Mav1s!

Several Serial Killer Films:: By Ghastly1

The Tenderness of Wolves (1973)
Neuer Deutscher Film fanatics rejoice, Ulli Lommel is here and he brought Rainer Werner Fassbinder along with him. Fritz Haarmann lives the dream life, not only is he a rapist serial killer of boys and young men, who lives in an apartment decorated with kitsch paintings of angels and filled with the rancid meat and moldering bones of his victims, in a highly chic bombed out part of the city, but he has a thriving business selling human meat to local establishments. Jealous much?

Angst (1983)
Loosely based on the life and crimes of Werner Kniesek, this Austrian film descends into the psycho psyche of a recently paroled killer as he embarks on a seriously sick and sadistic spate of slaughter in a manner quite unlike any other. Immediately after having been “rehabilitated” in one of the country’s fine institutions, our “hero” who never stopped seeing red, descends on an isolated estate, where he proceeds to “work out his repressed emotions and meaningfully express himself” by exterminating its inhabitants for his own sadistic sexual self-gratification; all the while, treating us to reminiscences of his childhood torment and systematically laying out all of the fantasies he’d like to make reality; it’s all heartwarming stuff really. Of course, I’m being facetious; this is a rough film to get through, the first two murders are actually unintentionally funny in my opinion but things take an abrupt and stark turn for the decidedly disagreeable with the killing of the daughter which is hard to watch, even for this jaded misanthrope. The film is masterfully composed and seamlessly shot with nary a nick in the narrative. Complimenting the camera work, Klaus Schulze’s synthesizer soundtrack sends symphonic shivers scurrying up my spine, giving the impression these psychopathic sounds are driving the annihilative actions of the antagonist. Clearly auguring later “extreme” movies from western neighbors France, this film also really deserves to be mentioned alongside superlative cinematic treatments of stateside slaughterers such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, though for my money, Angst is infinitely more artful and hermetically unparalleled.

Schramm (1993)
Coming two decades after Tenderness of the Wolves, a decade after the aforementioned Angst and six years after his notoriously nasty necrotic debut, Nekromantik, Teutonic auteur Jorg Buttgereit’s sublimely surreal sadomasochistic sickie swansong character study collage of a sexually deviant serial killer’s final seconds of survival is exactly what it’s subtitle: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer suggests. Through a loose utilization of the reverse chronology technique, later popularized by the likes of Christopher Nolan, we witness the recondite recollections of one Lothar Schramm, the Lipstick Killer, as he lies sprawled out on the floor of his apartment in a pool of his own blood after cracking his skull open following a header off a ladder while painting over plasma stains in the parlor. What is great about Schramm is that it doesn’t allow for any pop psychology answer to the perennially posited query, why? We are left with the patently pathetic personage of masturbating, penile mutilating Schramm himself; he was what he was because he was a loser, nothing more. That is the truly subversive substrate of this film, it’s comment on it’s own ilk.

Cold Light of Day (1989)
We now jump across the pond to Merry Olde for a little looksee at a lunatic Lustmord flick “For those too sensitive for this world” as the concluding tribute to the director’s self-slaying friend states. The film is based on the escapades of “the British Jeffrey Dahmer”, Dennis Nilsen and is shot in a queasy quasi cinema verité style, which adds inestimably to the grubby, grimy, grungy feeling of inhabiting Nilsen’s flat, not to mention his life. Heads are boiled, bodies are stowed under floorboards and none are the wiser until Dennis formulates the fancy idea of flushing flesh down the loo. If I may be allowed a pun, that is when everything goes to shit; Nilsen is promptly arrested and confesses his misdeeds to his Albion accuser Inspector Simmons. As an aside and if I may be allowed one more pun, this film pairs well with the 1993 film, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer starring Carl Crew as the eponymous Dahmer, which, while “fictionalized” sheds far more light on the character and motivations of it’s subject and feels truer than 2002’s Jeremy Renner vehicle, Dahmer.

Godzilla Vs Kong (2021)

As far as let downs go, GODZILLA VS KONG isn’t so bad. It delivers some true eye-popping spectacle or maybe I’m just the easiest mark when it comes to buildings being destroyed and flashy neon colors. I wonder if it’s possible I might have enjoyed it more if I was able to see it in my beloved (but now dead-by-Covid) local movie theater? Maybe. On the other hand, I didn’t mind watching in sweats with a fridge full of beer either. Ah, why blame the victim (me) though? The sad truth is that this is a movie that does a great job with monsters destroying things and a terrible job creating anything remotely human. I’m a big disaster movie fan so I’m not asking for much as far as characterization goes. I just need a few quick but juicy brush strokes. I’m not looking for more backstory, more info or more time spent with the characters; I just need them not to be dried out charmless husks. I’m curious if anyone can confirm if director Andrew Wingard appeared younger after filming because it truly appears that he sucked the life energy from his cast.

We all want to see the monsters fight its true. We all know going in that we’re going to have to endure a bunch of scenes with people looking at maps and computers speaking gobley-goop. It’s an agreement we all sign up for. Usually in a well done film the downtime works to create anticipation for the promised eye-candy and may even accentuate the eventual cathartic release random destruction brings. But GVK seems to take it a couple dozen painful steps further and the non-action scenes play like dead air and white noise. I’d say every other movie in this monster –verse series (GODZILLA, KONG: SKULL ISLAND, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) dealt with pretty much the same format but were still able to install a sense of wonder and a variety of good and bad human-types to get behind or root against. I’m not sure how nothing remotely like that happens here. To render Rebecca Hall uninteresting, Alexander Starsgard uncharismatic and Millie Bobbie Brown a dead weight is really some sort of unholy cinematic alchemy.

This is a flick that introduces something called the “hollow earth” a stupid concept that a Saturday morning cartoon would be embarrassed to try to sell and yet it’s sadly appropriate for such an empty vessel. GODZILLA VS KONG is beautiful, mighty beautiful. There are some incredible visuals that brilliantly call back Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES but I’d almost rather check them out in a special effects reel. Again, I don’t think I’m asking for much just to have the bare minimum of believable story and at least remotely relatable characters. Heck, I don’t even think my pal Godzilla came across very well, somehow he even seemed like he was there to pick up a paycheck and split and he’s (to the best of my knowledge) pure CGI; how does one suck the energy out of something that isn’t even alive? Oh well, I loved the fight against the backdrop of neon buildings in Hong Kong, In fact, I’d say its worth the price of admission alone, I guess. Plus there’s a pretty nifty surprise special guest star monster I was Mecha-delighted to see. Maybe next time add a puppy in peril though and give me something to wring my hands about.

The Empty Man (2020

Wait a minute; something weird is going on here. I’m very much familiar with renting a movie hoping it will be great only for it to be clearly NOT great but it’s very rare that I rent a movie hoping it will be dopey and it ends up being pretty damn awesome. Turns out, THE EMPTY MAN is far from the empty-headed, millionth, teens vs. creepy pasta demon its (should-have-been-changed) title suggests. This movie is a chilling and intelligent mind-screw with too many layers to count in one sitting and a delightfully maddening aftertaste. It shouldn’t be clumped in with the BYE BYE and SLENDER men of the world; it’s more in line with brain-twisters like JACOB’s LADDER and neo-noir journeys to hell like ANGEL HEART (BLADE RUNNER, PRINCE OF DARKNESS and A CURE FOR WELLNESS also popped into my head). Mostly though, this is epic cosmic horror that can’t be easily explained or contained. It’s crazy good or at least, totally my bag. Thank God I had rented every other movie at Redbox and finally gave it a chance.

After an extended unsettling prologue that eradicates any question of the film’s quality, we meet grieving former detective James Lasombra (a convincingly pestered James Badge Dale) who has been asked by a friend to find her missing daughter. What briefly starts out as a possible supernatural investigation reminiscent of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (that’s a compliment) miraculously and consistently expands to involve cults, conspiracies, occult rituals, Tulpa theories, nightmarish hallucinations and an incredibly impressive amount of mythology and world building. I’m going to say I won’t say more so as to not ruin things but the truth of the matter is that I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I don’t feel bad though, THE EMPTY MAN is built in such a way as to almost demand multiple viewings and interpretations. There’s so much going on its like watching five movies at once.

THE EMPTY MAN is based on a graphic novel by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey that I’m not familiar with so I can’t say how loyal this adaption is but I’m curious to find out (note to self: put it on hold from library). I can tell you though that director, writer, editor David Prior astounds with his attention to detail and he’s rather a maestro at creating lingering visuals and a sense of paranoid dread (his resume is packed with work directing DVD extras for David Fincher films and that puzzle piece fits snugly). As implied above, I’m definitely going to have to revisit this monster of a movie to decipher its possibly infinite assertions but suffice to say this is satisfying cinema that makes you feel as if you’ve just finished a great meal or book. As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t shake the feeling I’m only viewing the tip of the vexing, hypnotic, colossal iceberg.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Yikes, I feel like I haven’t written in a long time and am getting very close to the “and he never did again” zone so here I am forcing myself. Let’s talk about THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW because I love that movie and that should take the edge off. I mean, this flick offers two of my favorite things (wolves and snow) right in the title! How often does that happen? And it delivers so much more; it’s genuinely funny, legit scary, surprisingly soulful and it’s finely crafted all around (the cinematography and score are exquisite). It’s perfectly cast with memorable characters and it just happens to be the last film to feature the great Robert Forster (to whom it is dedicated). It can stand on its hind legs right up there with the best werewolf films of all time.

Jim Cummings stars as John Marshall, a small town cop dealing with multiple savage (and old school gory) murders while also juggling AA meetings, a snippy daughter and a father who may be more ill than he is letting on. The guy is literally splitting at the seams under the pressure and it’s both highly comical and painfully relatable. Cummings is fantastic in the role and he has the type of intense, manic energy that reminded me of horror legend Jeffrey Combs. Here’s the thing that blew my mind though- that I didn’t figure out until the closing credits: Jim Cummings not only stars in TWOSH, he also wrote and directed it (!!!) This blows my mind because I can’t think of many talents that could do all three and the ones I can think of don’t do werewolves and can’t crack me up heartily multiple times throughout a film. Color me impressed.

SNOW HOLLOW miraculously has got me putting it in the same camp as my lifelong faves AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON & THE HOWLING (not an easy accomplishment by any stretch). The effects are top notch and as humorous as it is, it also has a haunting quality as it takes the time to humanize its multiple victims. Actually, there’s an abundance of humanity on display here; the way Cummings juxtaposes lycanthropy with the pitfalls of alcoholism is brilliant. Riki Lindhome (who was also great in the LAST HOUSE remake) brings much quiet power to her patient detective sidekick role and Jimmy Tatro delivers a crazy amount of depth with a handful of scenes. Robert Forester is Robert Forster and he rules. It’s fantastic, well-earned kismet that he should close out his career with such a respectable role in a genre film. Talking about this movie just makes me want to see it again and I’m looking forward to many revisits in the future. Track down THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW as fast as you can; don’t let it get away.

Relic (2020)

Well, I cannot question whether RELIC is an effective horror film on account of the fact that the damn thing went and gave me nightmares. I’m not talking about the fun kind of nightmare where you get chased around an old house by a fuzzy monster; I’m talking about the shitty kind of nightmare where your body starts falling apart and you can physically tell that you are dying and are experiencing your very last moment of consciousness. Why you gotta do me like that RELIC– especially in the same year that I was psychologically bullied by THE LODGE?

Now, I know there are a lot more than two types of horror films but currently I can readily divide them into two distinct camps. There are fun horror movies filled with giddy, squirmy amusing entertainment and then there are non-fun horror movies that torture you by making you question your sanity while screaming in your ear that you are currently dying and will inescapably be dead one day. In normal times, I dig both but these days I can respect the latter but I can’t escape feeling trampled and abused.

Director Natalie Erika James feature debut RELIC is an accomplished, beautifully crafted film but stand warned, zero fun is to be had here! You need to have a taste for the flavor of hopeless existential dread. Emily Mortimer is Kay who along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) return to a hoard-y family homestead to check on her increasingly forgetful ma Edna (Robyn Nevin) who disappears for days and leaves tell-tale post-it notes everywhere. What could be a profound family get-together between three generations of women turns into a nosedive into psychological hell complete with haunting apparitions, relentlessly expanding black mold, impossible labyrinths and loads of old-age body horror.

RELIC is all about that deliberate, slow-burn pace that’s all kinds of fashionable these days but considering the subject matter, I don’t think any other approach would be appropriate. All three women are stellar in their roles and each gets to reveal layers not originally apparent. For me, RELIC’s strongest source of power is in its visuals some of which I’ll be trying to shake for the next couple of days at least (unclear figures in dilapidated windows always seem to get under my skin for reasons I don’t know). This flick is ultimately an endlessly fascinating psychological thriller that turns the everyday horrors of aging and mental decline into sheer concentrated apprehension. Suffice to say, I chanted many a “nope, nope, nope” when the more ambiguous horrors solidified into the undeniable. RELIC is a stunner but make sure you save it for a day when you can mentally afford peeking into the abyss.

WAIT it’s worse. Immediately after writing this review (a couple months ago) everything I own seemed to break and fall apart one by one. I also noticed my eyesight dwindling, my hair falling out and my hands turning into scaly claws that itch all day. My computer was down for the count, my Playsatation2 gasped its last breath and a vinyl record melted in my grasp as I tried to clean it. Somehow worse than losing everything was the growing knowledge that everything I have accumulated over the years, everything I spent (too many) hours creating was undeniably worthless (also: the floor is caving in, all my favorite restaurants are closed, my beloved neighborhood movie theater is being demolished and I can feel the woeful silent suffering of every stray cat in chilly Philly).

My cat died. We adopted a feral kitten who hates me. Have you ever had this thing where something bad happens to you and then a bucket is sent down to the deepest, darkest pit of your soul to retrieve every single other horrible thing that ever happened in your lifetime and it dredges the slime up out of the well and pours it all over the top of your head? That happened. I couldn’t even cook anything without it turning to rot and setting off the smoke alarm. This dumb movie spurred (another) curse upon me and only now looking back do I realize how awful and all-consuming it was. Time itself sped up and I was on a conveyor belt toward death with only my poor mother ahead of me (sounds insane and yet exactly what RELIC kept hammering into my marshmallow skull ).

But it’s OK now (nervous chuckle)! The computer is fixed, I bought a new (used) Playstation 2 and the new cat has at least begun to take naps with me. Come to think of it, every year at the end of winter I sort of turn into Jack Torrance in THE SHINING for a spell. This year was just so much worse thanks to the nightmare that is COVID. I’m just not great at pretending everything is normal when it’s clearly not. I don’t know about you, but the tidal wave of death that surrounds us now freaks me the hell out & I’m just going to admit it. In closing, maybe stay clear of downer RELIC. Instead, I recommend to our dear readers, THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW, LOVE AND MONSTERS and SPONTANEOUS; those fine films at least didn’t conspire with a pandemic to steal years off of my life. I appreciate that.

Divine Providence: A Very Brief Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and the Films Inspired by His Oeuvre:: By Ghastly1

I feel like being topical so I want to talk about H.P. Lovecraft, seeing as how his name every now and again is resurrected in the public consciousness and now is one such time, thanks to a stupid tv show- I’m looking at you Lovecraft Country. I am a confirmed Lovecraftophile. Not so much in the sense that I like his stories all that much; I’ve read his collected works and my estimation of them is that they are okay, with Cool Air being my favorite. But that is neither here nor there. No, instead what I mean to say is that I am more a fan of the man himself more so than his stories and for all the reasons he is reviled today. I have read a few biographies of ‘ol Howard Phillips, including the aptly named H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography by L. Sprague DeCamp, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq and the fantastic and authoritative I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi and found myself practically reading about myself. But being that this is a film website, I won’t bore you with book reports and irrelevant autobiographical information. There have been quite a few Lovecraft films made over the years, most of which are dreadful. However, Lovecraftian themes have been a huge influence on horror with Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing being two of the better and more famous examples. Then there are Re-Animator and From Beyond which are enjoyable films in their own right but have little to nothing to do with the original source material. What I’d like to do is briefly highlight a few of the better but lesser-known films either more or less directly adapted from his works or which draw inspiration from them.

The Resurrected (1991) Probably the most faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft story made thus far. Dan O’Bannon followed up Return of the Living Dead with this adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Chris Sarandon plays Charles Dexter Ward a chemical engineer, whom after digging up some long buried familial secrets involving an ancestor engaged in necromancy and alchemy, begins to exhibit strange behavior indicating said ancestor may be making a surprise comeback. 

Messiah of Evil (1973) Lovecraftian overtones abound in this one. From death cults in seaside towns worshipping anti-human gods to racial and cultural degeneration to forbidden knowledge about the underlying madness at the core of reality shattering the thin veneer of normality and stability we laughingly refer to as sanity, leading to mental collapse and subsequent institutionalization. This is an ominous and oneiric surreal gem of a film heavy on atmosphere that features some genuinely unsettling sequences which will stay with you.

Night Tide (1961)​In a somewhat similar vein as Messiah of Evil, Lovecraftian influence of the Shadow over Innsmouth variety can be detected in Night Tide, though not quite so overtly. In this fantastic little film, Dennis Hopper plays a sailor lately arrived in a degenerate seaside​ town who falls in love with a woman who may or may not be a fish creature. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.  

Becky (2020)

Death. Death really sucks and I’m not the best when it comes to dealing with it. Sure, I’m an old pro when it comes to the sadness, depression and general hopelessness involved; it’s the unfathomable anger that arises that I find unwieldy. A little over a month ago, we lost our beloved cat daughter Rory and let me tell ya, if there was a button that could destroy the whole world, I would have pounded on it. And boy did I hate whatever the hell it is that we call God. What kind of idiot assigns cats a lifespan less than twenty years and then tells turtles they can kick around for over a hundred? That’s just incompetent design work in my book.

Anyway, because I feel a great affinity with anyone who might feel like stabbing the entire universe in the eye after the death of a loved one, I really dug the film BECKY and found it to be a wonderfully cathartic experience. In fact, it made me laugh with sadistic glee on multiple occasions. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for killer kid flicks. I think (I know) it’s because I felt so powerless in my youth. BECKY is a home invasion turned revenge tale and it’s basically crafted to have you hooting and hollering when the bad guys get what’s coming to them and for me, it was just what the doctor ordered.

BECKY features frequent horror star Lulu Wilson (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018)) as the titular Becky who has recently lost her mother and now has to deal with her father (Joel McHale) setting up house with a new gal (Amanda Brugel of JASON X) and her young son. Even though she is lucky enough to have a super cool fort in the woods and two lovely canines, the girl is salty as hell due to her grief. Making matters oh so worse, a group of escaped convicts led by a bearded, swastika bearing Kevin James (!) stop by to terrorize the household in search of a key (I never fully understood the key aspect but the ambiguity works). The mean home invaders get a little too cocky, kill a dog (ugh) and soon Becky is channeling her suppressed volcanic rage into inventing ghastly ways to dispose of them (and when I say ghastly, I mean I had to cover my eyes at one point). One of the intruders (Robert Maillet aka WWE’s Kurrgan) is the gentle giant type but he’s only gentle because he already killed two kids on the way to Becky’s house so don’t feel too sorry for him.

As noted above, this film is my jam. It kind of reminded me of DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1975) except in this case most of the people who get offed deserve it for being Nazis and in that way, it also reminded me of FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977). Lulu Wilson delivers a multilayered performance and I have to give props to Kevin James for so efficiently shedding the jovial persona he’s known for. More importantly, though BECKY allowed me to vicariously express my fury at death. I was totally with her the moment she snapped and completely understood the wave of nihilism she gets swept up in. I actually felt better after watching this movie as if some air had been left out of my tires right before they burst. Thanks, BECKY!

Note: I realize I just equated an adult man (that would be me) losing a cat who had a full life to a teen prematurely losing her mother and that may be a bit off. I’m sticking with it though because we need content, I’m still a little angry and cats are better than people.