Last Night in Soho (2021)

Edgar Wright’s LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is so enrapturing to the eyes and ears that it’s a shock to the system when the film ends and you have to return to gray, blaring reality. Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a sixties-obsessed, aspiring young fashion designer who leaves behind cozy country life to study in the exciting yet treacherous city of London. Instantly pegged as prissy by her more sophisticated roommate, she escapes ridicule by renting a room (from Dame Diana Rigg, no less) that better suits her offbeat personality. Soon her dreams, personality and mental landscape are meshing with those of a charismatic previous occupant of the room named Sandie (effortlessly ethereal Anya Taylor-Joy). Unfortunately, what begins as a joyous, romantic fantasy begins to curdle into a mystery-ridden, time warp nightmare.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is sort of like BLACK SWAN dipped in SUSPIRIA sauce but for all the many films and genres it may touch base with, it’s always an impressively singular vision. Really, there’s nothing quite like it and it sports a few moments that are absolutely spellbinding. Incredibly (for me), it may be least potent when it leans into pure horror, as some of poor Eloise’s waking visions of phantoms from the past become redundant near the end. It’s possible 20 minutes of this film could be shaved off to tighten up the story but on the other hand, a part of me wanted to stay in the universe it offered forever. Luckily, I don’t mind wading through a few ineffective boo-scares for a film kind enough to play Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House” at a Halloween party for me. It’s not like a got a more stimulating place to go.

It’s hard to fault a flick so earnestly entranced with its subject matter and the possibilities of film.  There are so many innovative things going on visually from clever mirror tricks to psychedelic lighting, to the detailed accuracy of replicated sixties-era London. The mix of eye candy imagery with stellar music selections can be absolutely intoxicating at times. Best of all, I can say I was genuinely surprised when the final puzzle piece was put in place. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO may require a bit of patience when it plays the same card a few too many times but the benefits of being so fully transported are absolutely worth it.

Halloween Kills (2021)

I was fascinated by horror at an early age but it was the viewing of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (’78) on TV one fateful night (while babysitting the night before the holiday) that spurred my lifelong obsession with the genre. The universe depicted in the Halloween franchise (regardless of timelines) will always be my home away from home. Just as so many of my generation gladly lose themselves in THE HOBBIT’s Middle Earth or STAR WARS’ galaxy far, far away, I’ve found my happy place roaming the back alleys of Haddonfield.

Love it or lump it, HALLOWEEN KILLS offers an express ticket to exactly where I personally want to be and it allows me to visit with characters I want to learn more about. Yes, I really do care what happened to Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace (well played here by (new to the role) Anthony Michael Hall and (a returning) Kyle Richards)! In fact, it turns out I also care about what happened to the original film’s bully Lonnie Elam (now portrayed by Robert Longstreet). Lonnie, Tommy and Lindsey are friends now and it warms my heart. Some call this fan service and well, I’m a fan and I appreciate the service! For better or worse, it’s my ambrosia. These places, people and events provided me with distractions from harsh reality all my life and I’m nothing if not loyal. I’m saying I loved this movie and I can’t wait to go back.

HK takes place the same night as 2018’s HALLOWEEN but first we’re treated to a variety of spellbinding fresh scenes that occur the night of the 1978 original. We even get a view of killer Michael Myer’s eventual arrest complete with a remarkably staged revisit with Dr. Loomis that shouldn’t work at all, but does and exceptionally well (truly, it’s the type of uncanny that delivers goosebumps). Soon we’re rocketing all over town, spending time with firefighters, cops, medical workers, mobs and almost anyone who had the misfortune of crossing paths with the dreaded MM. This movie goes far out of its way to lean away from the slasher trope that the drama and trauma is all about one lone special “final girl” and it’s refreshing as hell. It may sting for some that Laurie (the always compelling Jamie Lee Curtis) takes a backseat and has no cathartic battle with the beast, but I think it’s high time we acknowledge that death concerns everyone (and frankly, she deserves that weight taken off her back).

Characters that were mere blips in the previous movie get hearty vignettes in this one and the attention to detail and the enthusiasm for callbacks is rich and rewarding. My favorite new addition is an older gay couple named Big John and Little John (the hilarious Michael McDonald and Scott MacArthur) who have moved into the Myers house, are tormented by pre-teens and are NOT spared the wrath of Michael. Not gonna lie, I saw myself and Aunt John in these two (hanging out, listening to records and watching movies; I can relate. Though, another victim’s choice of viewing THE FUNHOUSE suits me better than MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ on All Hallow’s Eve). You know if Michael came to town I’d appreciate being treated just like everybody else (I’d even fight with Aunt John for the on-screen kill). Probably won’t matter to most people that after all these films we finally got a duo like this represented but I sure dug it. Sure, Laurie does have to step aside to allow it to happen but I’m glad she did. Some might say the structure is loose and/or wayward in this flick but that’s kinda the point; HALLOWEEN KILLS opens the window and lets the long in the tooth slasher format breath a little.

I see a lot of online vitriol for this movie and I’m baffled. Even if you don’t care for the highly repetitive dialog or the baby step forward in Laurie’s saga, director David Gordon Green delivers one of Michael’s most threatening romps yet. The kills here are off the hook and I don’t remember the last time I actually gasped out loud during a horror film death. Myers is absolutely ruthless in this film (although he is kind enough to pose a few corpses). Oh well, we all have different tastes. There’s a reason my brothers and I would trade candies back and forth after trick or treating. Some folks dig tried and true traditional chocolate bars, I’m more of a fan of the variety of Bottlecaps. BTW, why are Bottlecaps candies so tiny these days? No wonder I’m so damn nostalgic.

Three Non-Horror Movies For Horror Fans:: By Ghastly1

That Cold Day in the Park (1969). My favorite Robert Altman film -a distant second being Brewster McCloud– in which a lonely frigid spinster (Sandy Dennis) comes across a wet and shivering 19-year-old boy (Michael Burns) sitting on a park bench, who awakens long submerged and hopelessly deranged passions in her. One thing leads to another and much to his chagrin, the boy finds himself locked away in the apartment with a rapidly mentally deteriorating old maid. No Skin Off My Ass (1991) also drew from the source novel this film is based on. All I have to say is, Sandy Dennis can hold me hostage any time.

Sanctuary of Fear (1979). I admit that what initially drew me to this was the fact that I fell in love with Kay Lenz when I first saw her in one of my all-time favorite films, Breezy (1973). The fact Barnard Hughes of The Hospital (1971) and The Lost Boys (1987) fame plays Father Brown also certainly didn’t hurt matters. An actress witnesses several bizarre and frightening incidents but the police won’t believe her, luckily for her, Father Brown does. This is a pretty good thriller which was to be the pilot for a television series which unfortunately was never made.

Rubin and Ed (1991). Here’s a funny, thoroughly enjoyable film with great spirit which I cannot recommend enough. Rubin Farr (Crispin Glover) is an unsociable guy living with his mother who forces him to make friends against his will. Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman) is a would be, try hard businessman who is nonetheless unsuccessful and who falls for a pyramid scheme. They go on an adventure to bury Rubin’s dead frozen cat in the desert and become friends along the way. This film is both surreal in many respects and subtly subversive of the mainstream mindset afflicting most today. It is a contender in my book for one of the best movies about a relationship between a human and an animal (even if that animal has ceased to be). Also, if you have ever seen the famous clip of Crispin Glover seemingly drugged out of his mind, dressed strangely and nearly kicking David Letterman in the head and wondered to yourself, what the hell is that all about? this is the answer.

Nightbooks (2021)

I was feeling under the weather recently and wanted to watch a horror film but I wasn’t in the mood for anything that was going to bum me out or destroy my last shred of will to live (you know how it goes). Luckily I found the PG-13 dark fantasy/gateway horror flick NIGHTBOOKS hanging out on Netflix because it completely shifted my mood and delivered everything I could possibly ask for, especially during spooky season. It’s surprisingly dark and intense at times (I’m pretty sure it references SUSPIRIA) but there’s great humor too and the characters are super relatable and the message it delivers is something that’s useful no matter what your age. Based on a children’s book by J. A. White, it somehow successfully transported me back to the eighties and I was swearing I was watching a lost Joe Dante flick for much of the runtime.

Winslow Fegley stars as Alex, a kid obsessed with horror movies (posters for THE THING, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, CANDYMAN and others align his bedroom wall) and writing scary stories. Feeling alienated by others for his interests, he swears to forever reject his passions and destroy all of his writings in his Brooklyn apartment building’s furnace. Before he can achieve his goal though, he is enticed into a neighboring apartment where he spies a TV playing THE LOST BOYS and a tempting slice of pumpkin pie. Suddenly he is trapped in a newfangled telling of Hansel and Gretel with a wonderfully sinister witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter who is aces and born for the part), her prisoner Yasmin (Lidya Jewett) and a trouble-making mystical cat (who I immediately fell in love with) named Lenore. To stay alive, Alex must rekindle his love of storytelling to entertain Natacha, and frankly, she’s a bit on the detail-oriented, critical side.

Our heroes may be trapped but their prison is a fantastic place to spend time for viewers. Natacha has an endlessly spiraling library, a neon garden full of truly threatening spider creatures and a menagerie of Hummel-like figures of her past victims. I don’t wish to spoil anything but what’s going on in her backyard is even more eye-popping, psychedelic and candy-coated Wonka glorious.

Eventually, strong bonds are formed, the mischievous cat reveals an appreciative heart and even Natasha inspires a tad of sympathy before her comeuppance. Most importantly, Alex learns that what makes him different is exactly what makes him special and I’m all for everybody getting down with that way of thinking. Do yourself the sweet favor of watching NIGHTBOOKS this Halloween season. It really is all any horror fan could wish for.

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.