Malignant (2021)

There was a point while I was watching James Wan’s MALIGNANT when my eyeballs fell out of my head and rolled across the floor. I had to get down on my hands and knees, scoop them up and push the damn bastards back into my skull. It’s been far too long since a movie has surprised me to such a degree and I think I’d almost forgotten what a glorious experience that is. The brazen originality is even more astounding when you consider that the lion’s share of the film plays like a stroll through the horror section of a video store. It’s almost a Where’s Waldo? of horror homage; a colorful kaleidoscope spitting out splinters of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (’64), SUSPIRIA (’77), PHENOMENA (’85), NEXT OF KIN (’82), THE SENDER (’82), I MADMAN (89), DARKMAN (’90), BASKET CASE (’82), BRAIN DAMAGE (’88), SCISSORS (’91), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(’99), GOTHICA (’03) and so many more. Personally it made me feel like a pig in slop as so much of the set-up felt like a big budget remake of my personal pet fave MADHOUSE (‘81). But then, just as you’re snuggling into the safety of the familiar parading by to the beat of one fantastic score, the entire highly stylized snow globe is turned on its head and shook ferociously and an incredibly novel and exciting new beast emerges.

Annabelle Wallis (who’s got a wonderful Juliette Binoche meets Mary Steenburgen in DEAD OF WINTER (’87) vibe going on) plays Madison Mitchell, a very troubled and very pregnant woman with an abusive husband and a repressed past (her younger self is played by the always excellent Mckenna Grace). One evening her home is invaded by a sinister, shadowy figure that leaves her with a mutilated hubby, a null and void pregnancy and a big giant bouquet of flashbacks to a traumatizing childhood and psychic visions of murders as they occur. Madison is my favorite type of horror heroine in that she is an unapologetic, freaked-out mess that everyone thinks is crazy until the inevitable moment they do some light research and find the files that explain everything…well, almost everything. Lots of folks are going to find the over-the-top acting style and sometimes comic book-like approach a little too hokey to handle but I honestly found it refreshing not to be weighed down with tired faux-gritty “realism”. This flick is a long way from SAW (’04) and the further away we get from SAW the happier I seem to be.

MALIGNANT needn’t worry about cynical audiences and lukewarm box-office. This bad boy is destined to be obsessed over endlessly. No, it’s not for everybody but thems the breaks when you draw outside the lines and stake new ground. I get the feeling Wan followed his heart and made exactly the film he wanted to and maybe he too was missing the broad colorful strokes and heights of fantasy horror achieved in less dour decades. In the end, it doesn’t matter what specific titles or sub-genres influenced Wan, by and large he clearly meant to remind of us of a time when movies were freer and more fun and that goal was exceedingly met. I for one can’t stop thinking about this wild, phantasmic explosion of dream-like insanity and I’m so grateful knowing that I can still find myself completely shell-shocked by a horror film.

The Night House (2021)

Covid killed my go-to neighborhood movie theater so now I’m starting to frequent the brand new fancy movie joint they shoved into our local mall. It’s all right I guess, maybe even a little easier to get to via subway but I’m not welcoming the place into my heart just yet. There I was sitting down in the perfect seat that I acquired from the do-it-yourself kiosk when a very large dude sat right next to me with a huge tub of popcorn he was devouring in the style of notorious muppet Cookie Monster. This was not going to work for me as I can barely stand sitting next to friends and family let alone a complete stranger. No offense to the zealous popcorn fan but I had to change seats. Sadly, that new seat turned out to have already been selected by a gaggle of teen girls and eventually I ended up in an awkward corner too close to the screen wondering if a semi-full theater was even remotely safe and reminiscing about the good old days when ya just sat anywhere and matinees were three bucks instead of ten.

Anyway, I had a psychic feeling that the non-flashy, unassuming THE NIGHT HOUSE would be a good bet because I was so impressed with director David Bruckner’s excellent take on Adam Neville’s novel THE RITUAL. It didn’t hurt that I am also a big fan of star Rebecca Hall’s earlier film concerning a haunting, THE AWAKENING (2011). As it turns out, THE NIGHT HOUSE is an impressive collaboration between a remarkably skilled director and a truly talented actress. It’s a film that’s haunting in every sense of the word and I’m still kind of stunned at the level it unflinchingly stares into the abyss. There’s a visual, almost subliminal M.C. Escher meets HOUSE OF LEAVES aspect to the flick that is nearly maddening and yet exquisitely subtle. This flick somehow finds the perfect uncanny pitch for a haunting tale and even in a crowded theater, I have to admit to getting legit spooked.

Much like THE RITUAL, THE NIGHT HOUSE is a deep dive into the treacherous waters of grief and the undercurrents of guilt and anger lurking within. Hall portrays Beth, a woman who has recently lost her spouse in the darkest and hardest to process of ways. Now her every night is spent wondering why her husband killed himself, why was he building a mirror image of their house across the lake and whether or not she’s going insane as her dreams begin to overlap with her reality. Hall is brilliant and relatable every step of the way and her character is refreshingly impatient, testy, snarky and seemingly all around exhausted with existing. We come to find that Beth herself had once been in an accident that left her dead for several minutes and the nothingness she encountered exasperates her grieving process even further. This is some fascinating existential horror that profoundly chills to the bone. Is it worth risking your own life to see in a theater? Maybe not. The good news is that THE NIGHT HOUSE will be arriving on VOD services in early October and this is one movie that may actually be better watched at home, late at night, under a blanket, preferably during a storm.

Candyman (2021)

I realize it’s not the best time to be going to the movies gratuitously but I’ve got an itch to sneak back and catch Nia DaCosta’s sequel/relaunch to Bernard Rose’s 1992 masterpiece (yeah, I said it) CANDYMAN again. Ya see, I’m pleased as punch with it and that’s saying a lot because something deep down inside me was kind of giving it a secret cynical side-eye ever since it was announced and I think I’m now beginning to understand why. I unabashedly love the OG, it hits me right in my soul, it brought tears to my eyes and remains one of my favorite film-going experiences of all time. Although the trailers for the reincarnation gave me goosebumps (a usually flawless indicator of quality), I remained worried that the newfangled take would condescend to or blaspheme the original. I’m happy to say my fears were unfounded. In fact, this film, while always offering its own original viewpoint, truly honors and respects the 1992 film I love and its sincere appreciation is what makes it work so well. It’s sad that such an obvious element would be so rare but now that I think of it, every time I’ve seen a sequel in a franchise stumble hard it’s usually because the filmmakers failed to hold its precursors in proper esteem.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, stars as coasting painter Anthony McCoy who finds inspiration that rapidly turns into obsession when he hears the legend of Candyman from his art gallery director girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris)’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett: incidentally, as Candyman was originally conceived by a gay man (Clive Barker), it’s nice to see a central gay character like Troy who is more than just cannon fodder). Anthony’s new artwork spreads the legend like a virus and soon foolish people are playing foolish games and winning foolish prizes (that involve plenty of bees and throats slashed with hooks). As it turns out, the Candyman we know and love is just one of many because just as in real life, horrendous acts and atrocities ripple through generations causing waves of suffering until they are properly confronted and addressed. Fittingly, the franchise now works as a cinematic game of urban legend telephone with new dimensions added by each additional storyteller, i.e. Barker conceived him, Rose added the Black heritage and American setting, DaCosta & Peele expanded the universe to allow multitudes of wronged individuals to more acutely mirror the reality of racial injustice.

Imagine a film with all the artistic integrity of an A24 flick (outstanding cinematography, innovative score, a storyline that can be interpreted infinite ways) but without the semi-snooty need to alienate half the audience by moving at the pace of honey dripping off a hook in January. I mean what else can you ask for? I’m still processing it all but I can say overall it was a perfect blend of touching base with the original (an incredibly effective cameo by Vanessa Williams reprising her role, audio recordings and newspaper clippings of Virginia Madsen’s Helen Lyle who is presented with appropriate reverence and spot-on references to Phillip Glass’ classic score) and groundbreaking, mythology boosting, world expanding creative brainstorming that could power an entire cinematic universe.

I can understand not going to the theater right now but trust me, there’s one pull back shot of an asking-for-it, rude art dealer getting just desserts framed inside her window as the building she resides in grows smaller and smaller that I fear may only be fully appreciated on a large screen. Anyway, I’m more than just happy with the results here, I’m profoundly relieved. This is the sequel that Candyman, Helen Lyle and the audience have always deserved and I feel like a great wrong (parts 2 and especially 3) has been corrected and avenged. This sequel says Candyman’s name properly, with honor and respect.

The Uninvited (1988)

More proof that just because I look like a nice person doesn’t mean that I am one comes in the form of yours truly forcing your poor, long suffering Aunt John to watch THE UNINVITED. No, I’m not talking about the classy black and white ghost jam with RAY MILLAND and nope, I’m not talking about the inexplicable A TALE OF TWO SISTERS re-don’t starring ELIZABETHWET HOT AMERICAN SUMMERBANKS…I’m referring to the stowaway mutant house cat debacle of 1988. In case there is some kind of point to your life and therefore you have not stumbled across this feline focused fiasco, let me fill you in on why it’s so rub your eyes, double take atrocious…

IT STARS MY CAT

When I first met my cat “GATO MALO” in an alley I knew very little about his history. Naturally I assumed he lived the typical homeless cat lifestyle of jumping trains, eating canned beans and carrying his few belongings in a bandana tied to a stick. Imagine my surprise to find out my little schnookums was actually an accomplished thespian that had rubbed shoulders with the likes of ROBSILK STALKINGSESTES. The sad news is no matter how much I grill the bastard, he will not reveal where he hides his royalty checks!

GEORGE KENNEDY

I know video stores don’t exist anymore but if they did, it should be mandatory that each and every one has a well-marked GEORGE KENNEDY section. That way I would not have to waste time digging through crap that stars TOM HANKS and that platypus lady. Not only is GEORGE KENNEDY the most handsome man who ever lived but he also starred in DEMONWARP!

CLU GALLAGER

Nearly unrecognizable in JERRY LEWIS false teeth and mumbling like a madman, CLU RETURN OF THE LIVING DEADGALLAGER comes off as a dangerously psychotic PETER SELLERS wannabe. Isn’t this the same weirdo character he played in THE OFFSPRING? CLU, you scare me sometimes.

THE LADIES

As if wearing shredded x-tra large T-shirts over their bikinis was not classy enough, these two broads have discovered the ultimate culinary combo of champagne and ice cream sundaes! Parents of gay teens, don’t waste your money sending your kid to “straight” camp; just pop the UNINVITED into the DVD player and voila! Yowza and zowee.

SPECIAL (as in short bus) EFFECTS!

Where do I start? So there’s this mutant cat and when it opens it mouth, a smaller cat (or a rat?) jumps out and attacks people. I have no idea why this was attempted in the first place but there is absolutely no way to describe it. There is no consistency in the size of the beast from one scene to the next. The rules of time and space are not only outright rejected but given wedgies and laughed out of town. The only crumb of logic that is thrown is at film’s end when we discover all the events took place on a toy boat in a bathtub. Try not to notice that the cat is a completely different color in the final shot.

GREYDON CLARK

I have no idea what the hell director GREYDON CLARK could have possibly have been thinking while directing THE UNINVITED. His earlier films SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS and WITHOUT WARNING (1980) are hardly masterpieces, but they do, for the most part, resemble movies.

In other words, this is a must own and I’ve been dragging around a frayed VHS copy for years. The new DVD (a double feature with the suddenly competent looking MUTANT (1984)) is not much of an upgrade in the picture quality department but really, why should it be? This is a real bottom of the barrel disaster that needs to be seen under the worst of circumstances, preferably under some level of inebriation. Now if only I could get GATO MALO to autograph a copy…