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My Favorite New (to Me) Films of 2018   6 comments

Looking back, it was a good year for movies.

Every year I say I’m going to keep track of what I watch. Sometimes, I make it to April before I stop logging films into Letterboxd. Sometimes, I don’t even make it that far. This year, I did it! I logged every film I watched this year. Well, I may have missed a few, but no matter. Huzzah!

According to Letterboxd, I watched 442 films this year. That’s kind of a lot. I only watched 13 films in the theatre, which is low for me, but I have a longer commute and I got a puppy. Whadya gonna do? The 13 were cool though. I saw Eighth Grade at the Independent Film Festival of Boston with Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham in attendance. At the same festival, I saw American Animals and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — both wonderful. I also went to the first Boston Noir Festival at the Brattle Theatre and got to meet Eddie Muller and hear his insights on rarely seen noirs. This summer, I braved the elements, met Jason Voorhees, and lived to tell of it after seeing Friday the 13th Parts 5 and 8 as a part of the Coolidge After Midnite at Rocky Woods program. Oh, and I watched Space Mutiny accompanied by the humor stylings of the Rifftrax crew and Isle of Dogs, accompanied by my daughter. Yay!

It didn’t come to this. Honest.

Of those 442 films, I watched 212 for the first time. That makes me happy. Few are from 2018, but there are a bunch from this decade. Here’s the breakdown of first-time watches.

2010s: 54
2000s: 16
1990s: 17
1980s: 26
1970s: 49
1960s: 19
1950s: 19
1940s: 8
1930s: 3
1920s: 1

There were so many this year, it was hard to choose a top 20, so I chose a top 35. You’re welcome.

Sometimes you have to flip a coin to decide.

My top 35 by the numbers

2010s: 18
2000s: 3
1990s: 3
1980s: 4
1970s: 5
1960s: 2

These are listed in the order I watched them.

Wake Up and Die (1966)

Breathless meets Baby Driver meets Brighton Rock, in Italy, kinda. The Baby Driver part is because it can’t seem to find an ending. A master thief goes on the run with his lady while police launch a nationwide manhunt. This early poliziotesschi is based on the real life thief, Luciano Lutring, the submachine gun soloist, who kept his weapon in a violin case. Lisa Gastoni and Robert Hoffman make a dashing pair and her outfits are fab!

Ski School (1990)

Yes, really. Dean Cameron (Chainsaw!) leads a bunch of party-crazed skiers in a quest to annoy the stuffy establishment types at Whistler. Fun, 80s snobs vs slobs film. Yes, I know it’s from 1990, but it’s an 80s film. Cameron channels early Bill Murray in this.

Bad Day for the Cut (2017)

Irish farmer, Donal (Nigel O’Neill) lives a quiet, lonely existence with his mother. When thugs violently change his life, he goes on a mission to find the culprits and get revenge.

Along the way, he meets an odd cast of criminals and helps a brother find his lost sister.

This is a violent, funny film with terrific dialogue that had me caring about the characters. It had a real Layer Cake/The Limey feel to it. Donal’s use of improvised weapons was always entertaining too. I expect to hear more from writer/director, Chris Baugh.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Part prison movie, part crime drama, part exploitation film, and part character study, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the brutally violent story of Bradley (Vince Vaughn), who makes tough choices and lives with the consequences. Vaughn doesn’t get enough credit. He’s really good in this and I hope he continues to find these offbeat roles. I loved this one.

The Ritual (2017)

I can’t say enough good things about this film. I wrote a piece last year about grief in modern horror films and this one would fit in there nicely. A group of friends go on a hiking trip in the Swedish forest to honor their dead friend. The local people and/or gods are displeased. It’s not perfect, but it’s tense, scary, and frighteningly realistic with some terrific special effects. Yes, The Descent is better, but I’m happy to see people making moody, well-shot horror films, so I’m cool with it.

The Perfect Host (2010)

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), on the run after a robbery gone awry, shows up at Warwick Wilson’s (David Hyde Pierce) place, hoping to hide out for a bit and perhaps steal something before going back on the lam. Warwick has other ideas.

This is a pretty neat little thriller. Pierce and Crawford are both terrific and the twist-filled story keeps you on the edge of your seat. This was a nice surprise.

The Descent (2005)

This is the real deal. A group of women friends go spelunking for some reason. Seriously, this sport/hobby/whatever baffles me. Anyway, one of the women has just lost her husband and child in an accident (grief, again) and so she goes in a cave. The group gets lost and meets up with some scary folks. This is such a frightening movie. I watched this with my daughter and we both held our breath a lot. Great horror.

Tenebre (1982)

Tony Franciosa is a writer of gory crime novels on a book tour in Rome when people start dying with parts of his books stuffed in their mouths and junk. Whodunnit? This is a terrific Argento film, full of violent deaths, red herrings, and plot twists. The music, by Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante, three members of the band, Goblin, is one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. John Saxon! You should see this right now.

Deep Red (1975)

David Hemmings witnesses the murder of his neighbor, a psychic, and investigates. Fortunately, he’s a musician with no day job, so he can devote his full attention to crime-solving. People die violently as Hemmings gets closer to the truth.

Dario Argento does giallo proud. Bloody, atmospheric, and spooky, Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) has a psycho killer (Qu’est-ce que c’est?) some great deaths, and a terrific score by Goblin. Just wonderful.

The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

This time, Argento directs Karl Malden and James Franciscus in this thriller about a series of grisly murders which may be related to corporate espionage. Another Argento giallo classic.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Hey! This one came out in 2018! Wes Anderson’s sweet, funny stop-motion story follows Atari (the voice of Koyu Rankin), who travels to the titular island, where the evil ruler has exiled all dogs, to find his beloved dog, Spots. There, he meets a motley crew of mutts who help him and have an adventure. The animation in this is a marvel. The voiceovers, by Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, and a bunch of others are spot on. Get it? Teehee.

Hearts of the West (1975)

Jeff Bridges, in an early role, plays an Iowa farm boy who comes out west to write western novels like Zane Grey. He wanders onto a movie set, becomes an extra, and meets a bunch of oddball characters. Alan Arkin, Alex Rocco, Blythe Danner, Donald Pleasence, and a cool performance by Andy Griffith make this fun to watch. It gets a bit slapstick at times, but it’s a sweet story. Howard Zieff directed this, Slither, Private Benjamin, and a bunch of other films and TV shows.

Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Brian Trenchard-Smith directs this fun Ozploitation film about a futuristic society that captures unemployed and unwanted youth and keeps them prisoner in an old drive-in. Authorities supply the kids with all the junk food, drugs, sex, and B-movies they can handle to keep them docile. Crabs (Ned Manning) wants out and he spends his days trying to escape. This is a fun one. They even show Turkey Shoot at the drive-in.

Kill the Irishman (2011)

Extreme bad ass, Danny Greene was a low-level mob guy in Cleveland in the 70s. He pissed somebody off. Over one summer in 1976, Cleveland saw dozens of car bombs detonate all over the city. They were aimed at a few guys, but many of them were meant for Greene. This is an entertaining look at a real life character who was also an enforcer. Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, and Vincent (oh yes!) D’Onofrio star.

Eighth Grade (2018)

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is an awkward 13-year-old girl dealing with all the normal pre-teen/teen angst while posting super confident-sounding videos on her YouTube advice channel. What’s refreshing about this film is Fisher’s character and Burnham’s story and dialogue. She’s not a genius hiding her smarts to get by or a dazzling beauty hiding under Goth makeup. She’s a smart, regular girl who’s trying to figure it all out. There are some great scenes in this that really bring you back to that time when you doubted everything you did and worried so much about whether or not you’d fit in.

Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s (2012)

This is a terrific documentary on Italian poliziotesschi films of the 1970s. Henry Silva, John Saxon, Franco Nero, Fred Williamson, and a bunch of other actors, directors, and stuntmen discuss the genre and tell stories. I learned a lot about the industry and production methods in Italy at that time and came off with a gigantic list of films to see. If you’re into Italian crime films of that era, you’ll like this doc.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (2010)

I went into this film blind and learned a decent amount about Nilsson. The doc is full of celebrity anecdotes (He was pals with the Beatles.) and Nilsson’s music. I enjoyed it even though it didn’t delve as deeply as I would have liked. I liked it so much, I went right out and bought some of his music.

Skippy and the Intruders (1969)

Skippy, the bush kangaroo! Pirates try to salvage an underwater wreck illegally. When Sonny and Skippy, who’s a kangaroo, by the way, witness the crime, pirates kidnap her, her pet, Sonny, and his babysitter, Clancy. Will Sonny’s park ranger dad get there in time?


I loved the series, Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo, as a kid. She is a kangaroo who solves crimes. What’s not to love?

Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

Don’t Look Now is on a bunch of top horror film lists, but I liked this one more. George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg star in Aldo Lado’s giallo about a serial killer of young girls. This one’s set in France and Lazenby takes an active part in finding the killer. An excellent film.

The Stepfather (1987)

Terry O’Quinn plays a man desperate to be a part of the ideal American family. That would be lovely except he longs for something he already had — and slaughtered brutally in the living room. He takes it all in stride though and moves right along to the next family. What will happen to them? DA DUMMMMMMMMM!

Based, in a small part, on John List, who murdered his mother, wife, and three children, then left town and started a new life somewhere else. Sweet.

O’Quinn is absolutely brilliant in this film. Seriously, this is a fantastic movie.

Shutter Island (2010)

I’m not sure why I waited so long to watch this film. I think it’s because they made it right down the street from me and I was worried it would let me down. It didn’t.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are police detectives sent to a mental hospital on a Boston Harbor island to find a missing inmate. As they delve more deeply into the case and the institution, they discover things aren’t what they seem.

I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to spoil it. This was a cool mixture of crime, psychological thriller, and Gothic horror and I wish there were more films like it.

The Onion Field (1979)

On a quiet night in 1963, two career criminals took two police officers hostage. What happened next would change the lives of the policemen, their families, and a host of legal professionals for the next twenty years.

The film is authentic and full of the actual locations where the crimes took place. Joseph Wambaugh, who wrote the book and film and co-produced it, was on the LAPD when it happened and he felt strongly about being true to the people involved.

James Woods and Franklyn Seales play the criminals and John Savage and Ted Danson play the detectives. They’re all wonderful. Ronny Cox is great as the lead detective on the case.

I recommend the film and the book highly. It’s a tragic story told well.

The Robber (2010)

This is the fascinating, action-packed, true story of an Austrian world champion marathon runner who robbed banks. Seriously. In one scene, he wins a breathtaking surprise victory, dons a mask, and robs a Viennese bank. It’s bonkers. I watched it in German with English subtitles.

War on Everyone (2016)

What a fun movie! Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña star as bent cops trying to bust seriously twisted bad guy, Theo James. The lines are quick, funny, and literate and the humor is jet black. John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed and it’s whip-smart and incredibly funny.

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017)

This one caught me by surprise. Melanie Lynskey, who’s terrific, is fed up with people being assholes. After a series of small indignities, she’s had enough and decides to fight back.

Macon Blair wrote and directed this quirky film that had me rooting for the heroine and hoping for a happy ending. Elijah Wood has an odd role and does a great job. Worth seeing.

Shimmer Lake (2017)

Shimmer Lake is a creative thriller with some neat twists and turns. Writer/director, Oren Uzial plays with the chronology of the story and the performances by Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, and Wyatt Russell (Kurt and Goldie’s kid) are solid. Quirky and inventive.

Happy Hunting (2017)

I’m a sucker for a Most Dangerous Game storyline. Martin Dingle Wall drifts into the wrong town and ends up running from a bunch of would-be murderers. Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson (Mel’s kid) wrote and directed this violent, action-packed tale. Fun.

The Collector (2009)

Arkin, an ex-con (Josh Stewart) needs money to save his wife from some baddies so he breaks into a house where he’s been working to rob the safe. During the crime, he sees a masked man brutalizing the family who lives there. As he runs around trying to save them, he finds elaborate traps set all over the house and the mom and dad being tortured.

Who is the masked man? Why is he doing this?

This was tense and violent and well done. It feels like Saw, in a way, except we don’t know this guy’s motivation. Maybe he’s just nutty as a fruitcake or maybe he has some other plan.

[REC] (2007)

In this Spanish film, Manuela Velasco and her film crew are profiling the men from a local fire station when the firefighters get a call. Velasco and her team go on the routine run which turns out to be more than routine. Scary, tense, and unexpected.

8MM (1999)

A wealthy widow hires Nicolas Cage’s private detective to find out if the snuff film she finds in her husband’s effects is the real thing. Joachin Phoenix is excellent and Peter Stormare and James Gandolfini are fabulously sleazy.

Filmworker (2017)

A fascinating documentary about Leon Vitali, a promising young British actor, who, after working as an actor in Barry Lyndon, decided to dedicate his life to Stanley Kubrick.

It’s an odd story about loyalty, obsession, and the lengths a man will go to for someone he idolizes.

I was unaware of this story before watching the film so I was astounded. It’s a good doc and Vitali is an intelligent and reliable witness to Kubrick’s eccentricities.

Hard Eight (1996)

Philip Baker Hall is an experienced gambler who takes John C. Reilly under his wing. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the cocktail waitress/prostitute Reilly loves and Samuel L. Jackson is Reilly’s profane friend.

The dialogue is spare and perfect and Hall is absolutely amazing. Paltrow was miscast, but other than that, this is a great watch. I’m glad I finally saw it.

Blitz (2011)

Detectives, Jason Statham and Paddy Considine are partners trying to stop a serial killer targeting London police officers. I’m a big Statham fan and he worked well with Considine. A cool action film.

Wind River (2017)

When a young Native American woman is found dead on a reservation, an inexperienced FBI agent and a local hunter team up to find her killer. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed the film and it’s riveting and spare. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Graham Greene all give terrific performances. Sheridan is great at the dialogue between men of few words.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill directed this film about a squad of National Guardsmen who piss off the wrong hunters in the Louisiana bayou. The cast is amazing. Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Franklyn Seales, Brion James, and Sonny Landham! Yikes! This is a terrific movie that combines aspects of Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, and Predator.

This was a long one. I saw so many good films this year, I just couldn’t stop at 20.

Thank you for your time. Please enjoy a hot towel.











Posted January 3, 2019 by Kerry Fristoe in Lists

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The Best Films I Saw in 2017   Leave a comment


2017 was a great year for film watching. I got to see a bunch of new movies in the theatre and at home. Seventy-three ‘new to me’ films made it onto my list, ten of those in the theatre. Here are the top 20 films I saw this year. Well, 22. After I started this, I remembered two more. They’re not all new. In fact, here’s the breakdown.

2010s-9 films

These are in alphabetical order.

100 Bloody Acres (2012)


100 Bloody Acres is a nifty Australian horror/comedy about a trio of friends stranded in the Australian countryside, who hitch a ride from the wrong guy. It has enough weird little eccentricities and twists to keep you engaged. I like Australian horror in general. I think it’s the accents. This is a gory one, but I was laughing all through it.

68 Kill (2017)


A couple with the most dysfunctional relationship ever, rob a rich guy and then everything goes pear-shaped. Part After Hours, part Midnight Run, part every Tarantino, Rodriguez, Ritchie film ever made, 68 Kill moves fast. The breakneck pace, fun characters,and unexpected turns make it a terrific watch, and the sexual role rehearsal adds a nice twist. AnnaLynne McCord and Matthew Gray Gubler are excellent in the leads. A nice surprise.

And Soon the Darkness (1970)


Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, become separated. It doesn’t go well. Is one friend lost or has she fallen victim to an unseen killer? Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, and Sandor Elès star in this fun British thriller. I love these smaller British films. I’m happy I found this one.

Baby Driver (2017)


What a fun movie! Ansel Elgort stars as a sad young guy with a tragic past who is forced by criminal boss Kevin Spacey to work as a getaway driver to pay off a debt. It’s a stylized sort of heist fantasy and the direction by Edgar Wright, cool stunt driving, and performances by Jon Hamm and Eiza González make it an edge-of-your-seat winner. I know people have a love/hate relationship with this one, but I enjoyed it.


Deadly Strangers (1976)


Hitchhiker, Hayley Mills gets a ride from Simon Ward. Pretty soon, a friendship with possible romantic undertones develops. As they motor along the M-5 to Prudenham-on-Twee or whatever, they have a row and get separated. Oh, there’s also a killer on the loose and Sterling Hayden! This is another terrific British thriller.

Deadpool (2016)


A wisecracking mercenary finds out he’s terminally ill. He signs up for a treatment program which may be a bit off the grid. What’s great about this superhero film is that the superhero, Ryan Reynolds, is a funny, sharp, smartass who truly loves Morena Baccarin. I’m not sure who wouldn’t love her, but that’s not important right now. This and The Nice Guys are the two funniest films I’ve seen this year.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)


A child killer in a small Italian village brings police and a reporter from the big city. Everyone is a suspect. This is a terrific crime film that doesn’t belittle the villagers or the police. Really well done.

Free Fire (2017)


Two groups meet in an abandoned warehouse in a town which may or may not be Boston. Oddly, since these folks are criminals, a fight breaks out. Since the deal they were doing involves a large number of firearms and it’s set in the 1970s, a major gunfight ensues. Ben Wheatley, who also directed the amazing Sightseers and High-Rise, actually choreographed this film in Minecraft, which I think is way cool. It seems like a simple plot line and it is. That simplicity allows Wheatley to develop the characters and enable them to smart off with impunity. I had a blast with this film and seeing it in the theatre with Wheatley introducing it and a gang of weirdo cinephiles in attendance made it even better.

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Satanic hippies, led by the nasty Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, mess with some folks in a small town. To retaliate, a young boy doses their food with rabies. Yeah, not a great plan. The gang runs amok, killing and maiming the townsfolk and each other. I know this sounds less than stellar, but the film is actually pretty good. Chowdhury and friends can act. There’s character development and a score and everything. Seriously, check this one out.

The Last Shark (1981)


This is a weird one. It’s an Italian Jaws knockoff set in the United States, during a windsurfing contest. “Close the beaches?” It’s kind of nutty how much this film rips off Jaws and Jaws 2, but the acting, by James Franciscus and Vic Morrow, makes up for it. This film is so much fun because of scenes like this.


Latitude Zero (1969)


Joseph Cotten and Cesar Romero earned their house payments in this Japanese 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea kinda deal. Cotten is trying to solve problems and save the world and junk while Romero just wants to make his own griffins by cutting the wings off condors and sewing them onto lions in his weird-ass Dr. Mengele/Moreau lab. The fashion alone makes this film worth watching. Thanks, #DriveInMob !

Just look at this guy!

Layer Cake (2004)


A smart, experienced lieutenant (Daniel Craig) in a British criminal organization is forced into an impossible situation by his double-crossing boss. Will he be able to extricate himself and leave the business with his fortune and his health intact? Craig is excellent as are Kenneth Cranham, Colm Meaney, Sienna Miller, and Michael Gambon. This is a terrific entry in the London crime film category. Highly entertaining.

The Nice Guys (2016)


Fast-paced, clever, and surprisingly warm, The Nice Guys pits Ryan Gosling, a grieving, mostly drunk, private detective and Russell Crowe, a thug-for-hire, against major players in government and the automotive industry. The two unlikely partners join forces to solve a few murders and redeem themselves. Angourie Rice, as Gosling’s daughter, is impressive. I hope to see her in a lot more. Also, Gosling and Crowe need to make about 600 more movies together.

Night of the Demon (1957)


Niall MacGinnis, an occultist who doesn’t like scientists telling the world that he’s peddling bunk, battles Dana Andrews, who believes none of his scary monster crap. Jacques Tourneur directed this atmospheric and beautifully-shot film and it’s terrific. There are some great smoke effects, a scary soundtrack, and effective cinematography. Critics have argued about showing the monster vs implying the monster since 1957. While I love me some Cat People-type subtle effects, I also love this creature. It’s incredibly scary and the sound accompanying him is perfection. You should probably watch this right away.

Phantasm (1979)


Phantasm is a legitimately frightening film. A metric shit ton of evil centers around a funeral parlor and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who works there. Terrific practical effects, a scary, heart-pounding score, and characters who aren’t stupid, make this horror film stand out. I enjoyed the hell out of this film. I can’t believe it took me so long to see it. Don Cascarelli made this for $300,000 and it looks like he spent 20 times that. So good.

Prevenge (2017)


Alice Lowe wrote, directed, and starred in this black comedy about a very pregnant woman listening to the voice of her unborn baby, who tells her to kill. This film is full of sick, British humor and I loved it. Grief is a bitch.

Rolling Thunder (1977)


William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones return from a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp to a world they don’t recognize. As they sink into an abyss of depression and loneliness, a brutal, senseless murder wakes them up and gives them purpose. Yay, revenge! Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould wrote this and the dialogue, though spare, works. The action scenes are well done too and the 95-minute running time seems to fly by. Rolling Thunder is great 70s grit.

Surveillance (2008)


A violent highway killer strikes in a remote town. FBI agents Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman arrive at the police station to interrogate the witnesses. What unfolds is a Rashomon-like thriller that keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Jennifer Lynch directed this fun little gem. Another nice surprise.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)


Sergio Martino directs this crime thriller about an undercover police detective, the excellent Claudio Cassinelli, investigating the death of a prostitute. His search leads to a human trafficking ring involving a number of powerful people. I love police procedurals and the giallo addition makes it even more fun.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

3 bill

Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson are all fantastic in this surprisingly warm black comedy from the mind of writer/director Martin McDonagh. After seeing In Bruges (one of my favorite films of all time) and Seven Psychopaths, I couldn’t wait to see this. It was worth it. There’s so much going on in this film, I feel like I need to see it a few more times to do it justice. McDonagh is a huge talent. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Turkey Shoot (1982)


I have a thing for The Most Dangerous Game story and films with people hunts. This one is set in post-apocalyptic Australia and stars Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey as prisoners in a concentration camp for social deviants. It has an evil prison warden, two kinky jet-setters, a score by Brian May, and a werewolf. Seriously. You owe it to yourself.

The Void (2017)


The Astron-6 guys make funny horror films. I really liked this. I don’t love the ending, but directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski build the tension and characters so well during the first four-fifths, I don’t care. I liked The Editor more, but I’m always happy to see whatever weird films these guys make.

2018, here I come!

31 Days of Horror: 2017   Leave a comment


Here’s my list! I watched a bunch of stuff. 20 new films and 6 in the theatre. Huzzah!

  1. Kill Baby, Kill (1966) *+
  2. Black Sabbath (1963) *+
  3. Dracula (1931)
  4. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  5. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) *+
  6. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) *+
  7. Theatre of Blood (1973)
  8. The Legend of Hell House (1973)+
  9. Ban the Sadist Videos (2005)+
  10. 100 Bloody Acres (2012)+
  11. And Soon the Darkness (1970)+
  12. Grabbers (2012)
  13. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)
  14. Friday the 13th: Part II (1981)&
  15. Friday the 13th: Part VII (1988)&+
  16. Suspiria (1977)*
  17. Inferno (1980)*+
  18. Psycho-Circus (1966)+
  19. Die Screaming Marianne (1971)+
  20. Surveillance (2008)+
  21. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  22. Cube²: Hypercube (2002)+
  23. The Asphyx (1972)+
  24. Frightmare (1974)+
  25. Night of the Demon (1957)+
  26. The Wicker Man (1973)
  27. Hell House LLC (2015)+
  28. What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)+
  29. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
  30. Hannibal (2001)
  31. The Old Dark House (1932)+
  32. The Haunting (1963)

    *watched in the theatre
    &watched outside in the woods with a machete-wielding guy running around
    +watched for the first time

Bang the Drum Slowly: Grief in Modern Horror   2 comments

“Now something so sad has hold of us that the breath leaves and we can’t even cry.”
-Charles Bukowski, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense

Grief incites people to all sorts of mischief.

People in films kill for a boatload of reasons. They kill for money, love, sex, power, a black bird, a tanker full of gasoline, a witch’s broom, Cornel Wilde, and even a penmanship medal. If you watch horror films, you’re used to watching people, and dogs (please stop) die in creative and horrifying ways. What you’re not used to seeing is the aftermath. Sure, horror sequels often begin with the hero or heroine recovering in a mental ward after an ordeal, but seldom do the filmmakers dwell on the survivor’s feelings. Generally, the protagonist must hot foot it out of the hospital to avoid ending the franchise prematurely. A handful of terrific new horror films and filmmakers break that mold. These artists focus on grief as both a reason to kill, and an actual entity.

The films in this piece portray grief in terms of horror. That makes sense because it’s something scary that no one wants to talk about. Grief gets buried, not unlike a victim in a premature grave, who pops out at the most inopportune times. You think you dug the hole deep enough, but the little bastard manages to crawl out and invade your Christmas by wiping his muddy feet on your carpet, or ruin a perfectly nice dinner party by playing that tune you’re trying so hard to forget.

Grief is also something everyone expresses differently, but is supposed to express the same. Friends study your affect and project their own feelings there. “How can he laugh at a time like this?” Police observe the spouses of murder victims and decide whether they’re reacting correctly. “She’s not even crying. We’d better investigate.” You can also overreact. In the 1946 drama, The Razor’s Edge, Gene Tierney comments on Anne Baxter’s character, Sophie, who’s sunk into despair and drunkenness after the loss of her husband and child in an accident. “Of course, it was a shock and everyone felt sorry for her, but a normal person recovers. If she went to pieces it was because she was always unbalanced.”

With the weight of so much emotion on your shoulders, it’s easy to lose your footing and fall into that newly-opened grave. The best choice is conversation. When the beast is out in the open, he’s easier to fight—or embrace. The players in these films choose different paths and it’s enlightening to see how those choices affect them.

In The Babadook (2014), writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a frighteningly claustrophobic world for her heroine. Amelia (Essie Davis), a lonely widow with a troubled young son, struggles to get through each day. Once, a vivacious writer in love with her musician husband, Amelia now simply goes through the motions of living. She works as an attendant at a nursing home and tries to care for her incredibly high-maintenance son. Aside from his behavior issues, her boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has terrible nightmares so, of course, his mom gets no sleep. Samuel is such a handful, no one else will watch him, so Amelia is on the hook 24/7. Everything is a chore and she gets no peace. As if loneliness, drudgery, and lack of sleep weren’t enough, Amelia also battles depression and a sort of delayed grief. Her husband died on the day their son was born so she’s been too busy to grieve properly. After six years of this, her embattled psyche has had enough. A scary pop-up book, The Babadook, appears mysteriously in her house and the book’s protagonist, a combination of Dr. Caligari and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, begins to haunt Amelia and Samuel’s dreams and maybe even their reality.

The Invitation (2015) begins when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband in Will’s old house. Soooo many red flags there. Anyway, he and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with the estranged couple’s old friends get together for a party complete with a gourmet supper, vintage wine, and weird oversharing. Throughout the course of the evening, we discover that Will and his ex, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), lost their young son a year or so ago. Eden tried to come to grips with her grief at a questionable retreat in Mexico where she met her present husband, David (Michael Huisman), who was there to deal with a loss of his own.

The strange, incredibly tense vibe of the film is punctuated by the cringe-worthy stories the guests tell and Will’s occasional outburst questioning the goal of the evening. Director, Karyn Kusama does a phenomenal job of keeping you on the edge of your seat as Will vacillates between enjoying the lamb and suspecting the rest of the party-goers.

The cast of lesser-known character actors works together well and includes the fabulously creepy John Carroll Lynch (Twisty!) as the guy you who you wish had RSVP’d in the negative. Despite the Jonathan Swift-levels of overcompensating for grief Eden and David learned at their slice of Spahn Ranch in the Mexican desert, The Invitation is a subtle, taut film that builds steadily toward a frightening end and dramatizes the lengths to which some people will go to avoid feeling that horrible ache.

Prevenge (2016) stars the most excellent Alice Lowe as Ruth, a very pregnant widow whose anger and grief mixed with a dash of hormones and a smidge of her already manic nature allow her to hear the voice of her unborn daughter. That sounds lovely. There’s just one thing; Ruth’s daughter is a sociopath who orders her to kill the people both blame for the death of Ruth’s husband.

Like Look Who’s Talking meets Kind Hearts and Coronets, Prevenge follows Ruth as she assumes different identities to get close to her victims. At first, she’s energized by her mission, but later comes to question its value when she realizes all her efforts won’t change anything. Her husband is still gone. That sad fact looms in the background all through this darkly funny film. That Lowe manages to make her character funny, vulnerable, and a bit mad is evidence of her talent as an actress and a writer and a director. Yes, she did all three — while pregnant. As in The Babadook, Ruth’s longing for her husband and her inability to cope with those strong, soul-crushing emotions create an autonomous life form. In Prevenge, that being’s sole purpose is revenge.

The Void (2016) mixes a story of grief with the supernatural, a weird death cult, and a siege, to create an original and referential horror film. Made by the same Astron-6 group that brought us The Editor and Manborg, The Void mixes Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, The Devil Rides Out, and Don’t Look Now and sprinkles it with a bit of The Mist. The fact that The Void pulls from all these films doesn’t lessen its impact in the slightest. It’s a terrific, edge-of-your-seat horror full of practical effects, characters you care about, and great scares.

A small group of people defend a rural hospital against forces, both inside and out, they don’t understand. At the heart of the film is an estranged couple, played by Aaron Poole and Kathleen Munroe, who broke up after the loss of their baby. The ideas of loss and regret run through the film and it’s a testament to the filmmakers, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, that they could make a poignant character study within their cracking good horror film.

Sometimes making it through a crisis is the easy part. All that fighting and strategizing and looking for weapons fills your brain so there’s no room for dread. There’s a famous phrase, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” Perhaps it should read, “Dying is easy; surviving is hard.” It is hard, but it’s good. You just have to keep telling yourself that.


31 Days of Horror 2014   Leave a comment


I love Halloween. I decorate every room in my house and fill my yard with skeletons, gravestones, and disembodied heads. I am the only one in my neighborhood who does it. I know I’m not the only one though. Many adults with kids get a kick out of Halloween. They love seeing the cute costumes and the reaction of their children to spooky decorations. Well, my kid is seventeen and I’m still doing it. For years I made her costumes and helped her make invitations to her yearly Halloween party. Did I do it because I’m a good mom? Possibly. I think it might be because I love making skull cookies and punch with an ice hand floating in it. I love using toilet paper dowels and glow sticks to fill my bushes with glowing eyes. I also love horror movies. I’m a big fan of psychological and atmospheric horror, but I welcome gore as well.


This year, I plan on watching a horror film every day in October. I will write a little something about each film. I won’t write tomes, just short posts consisting of impressions or highlights of each film. I’ll post links on twitter and use the #31DaysofHorror

twice told tales axe

Since I’m planning to watch some horror films I’ve never seen before, I’ll post here on and on throughout the month.

I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

Here are my proposed #31DaysofHorror
I will watch them in no particular order. I reserve the right of substitution based on TCM’s schedule. 🙂

1-Eyes Without a Face (1960) **
2-Torture Garden (1967)
3-The Man Who Cheated Death (1959) **
4-Homicidal (1961)
5-The Uninvited (1944)
6-The Savage Bees (1976) **
7-In the Mouth of Madness (1994) **
8-Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) **
9-The Cat and the Canary (1939) * **
10-The Creature From the Black Lagoon 3D (1954) *
11-The Thing (1982) *
12-Poltergeist (1982) *
13-Suspiria (1977) **
14-The Innocents (1961) **
15-The Fog (1980) **
16-C.H.U.D. (1984)
17-Tales From the Crypt (1972)
18-Vault of Horror (1973) **
19-Kill, Baby Kill (1966) **
20-The Deadly Bees (1966) **
21-Equinox (1970) **
22-The Legend of Hell House (1973) **
23-Mark of the Devil (1970) **
24-Dawn of the Dead (1978)
25-Wolf Creek 2 (2013) **
26-The Devil’s Rain (1975) **
27-Carnival of Souls (1962) **
28-Terror Out of the Sky (1978) **
29-Dementia 13 (1963) **
30-Berberian Sound Studio (2012) **
31-Black Sunday (1960) **

I’ll probably watch some old favorites like The Shining, Freaks, The Dead Zone, and The Haunting. I watch The Haunting every Halloween. I love that old house.

* In the theatre
** First watch



Posted September 30, 2014 by Kerry Fristoe in 31 Days of Horror, Lists

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