Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Daily Horror Movie: Hush

Hush

Hush

A deaf woman living alone in the woods is terrorized by a psychotic killer.

This felt a bit like a gory version of “Wait Until Dark,” with a deaf rather than blind protagonist trying to find a way to flee, hide, or fight. The killer is never explained, and a few of the close calls are a little too close to be believable, but overall this was a good, intense, scary movie.

Daily Horror Movie: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Something is stalking the dregs of Bad City. Something dark, pretty, lonely, and stylish.

This is an Iranian-American art house vampire movie. Indeed, it’s probably THE Iranian-American art house vampire movie, as I can’t imagine it could be confused with any other movie. It’s very stylish, very odd, with a lot of layers to unpack: it’s a feminist commentary on Iranian culture, a table-turning horror movie where we sympathize with the monster and loathe the victims, a fantasy in which men fear the night and women walk boldly in the shadows. Though it veers into kitsch at some points with its extremely stylized scene setting, it’s a wonderful and sometimes frightening movie. It’s certainly not a jump-scare horror thrill ride, but it is a quietly brooding and disturbing variation on a classic tale.

Daily Horror Movie: It Comes At Night

It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night

A family hiding from a deadly plague reluctantly welcome another family into their home. Things go badly for all involved.

This is a grim, quiet, paranoid movie, a zombie survival tale without zombies. There’s a current of distrust running through every relationship, and even warm moments turn dark. And in the end it just doesn’t matter … I liked it despite (because of?) its nihilism.

Also, is this the same house where “A Quiet Place” and “Hereditary” were shot? It seems that the wood-paneled-house-in-the-forest is the new Victorian mansion or Dutch Revival home of the modern horror movie.

Daily Horror Movie: Spider Baby

Spider Baby

Spider Baby

Relatives seeking control of the family estate invade the strange solitude of the last generation of the Merrye family, three siblings afflicted with a regressive disorder that has made them morally and intellectually stunted, overseen by their kindly but ineffectual chauffeur Bruno. Things don’t go particularly well for anyone involved.

If John Waters had directed a Universal monster movie, something like “Spider Baby” would have been the result. Though soaked in camp–creepy cobwebs, spiders, rats, and horrific things in the basement–the cast plays it mostly straight, without the knowing winks of so many horror comedies. (Though the references to the Wolfman are a nice touch, given that Lon Chaney, Jr., plays the apparently harmless Bruno.) The performances of the three “children” are over the top and unhinged while frighteningly believable. This is a weird, fun little movie that deserves its cult status.

Daily Horror Movie: Train to Busan

Train to Busan

Train to Busan

A father and daughter board a train from Seoul to Busan just as a fast-spreading disease that turns people into ravenous zombies breaks out. The train is both a death trap and a life line as car after car is overrun, and unlikely alliances against the zombies are formed.

This movie feels much shorter than two hours: it’s fast-paced, intense, and terrifying, with just enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat and rooting for the scrappy band of zombie fighters. There’s very little dialogue, and most of the characters are nameless, at least in the subtitles, but they are interesting and likeable. Like every zombie movie, this one is in some ways an answer to Night of the Living Dead: the people fighting the zombies bicker about strategies, seeing your friends and loved ones become zombies is horrifying, and the authorities are as much a danger as the zombies in the battle to restore order. That the mayhem plays out in an orderly and hierarchical culture adds another layer of terror, and the claustrophobic setting in zombie-filled train cars is a different kind of terror than the shambling hordes that overrun the Pennsylvania farmhouse in “Night of the Living Dead.”

Daily Horror Movie: Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

Seven people are trapped in an isolated farmhouse during a zombie apocalypse. As deadly as the shambling, hungry dead outside are, the real danger comes from themselves.

I probably haven’t seen this movie for 30 years, but I felt that it still held up. Its choppy, grainy look gives it a kind of timelessness, and while the acting, special effects, and premise are fair to preposterous, the core ideas are solid; every zombie movie since “Night of the Living Dead” is in some way a response this wonderful, horrible, thoroughly original film.

Daily Horror Movie: Hold the Dark

Hold the Dark

Hold the Dark

A naturalist goes to Alaska to search for a wolf pack that took a boy. But he discovers that wolves are not the most dangerous thing in the village of Keelut.

This is a laconic movie full of snow and guns and men in plaid. There are wolves and native witches and masks, and one of the most violent shootouts I’ve seen since the second season of “True Detective.” (Actually, I just rewatched the “True Detective” shootout, and the one in “Hold the Dark” is much more intense in its tightly-contained area and focus.) It’s gory and dark and senseless and brutal and I loved it. There’s a lot of subtext going on here, making us question things like love and vengeance and what makes us human. It’s just this side of “American Werewolf in Alaska” without sliding over the line to straight-up supernatural horror.

(Also, Letterboxd and IMDB don’t list its genre as “horror”; dude, this is totally a horror movie …)

Daily Horror Movie: Malevolent

Malevolent

Malevolent

A brother and sister have a good scam going, pretending to be paranormal investigators who can banish the ghosts from their clients’ homes. But then they come across a home, and a client, who are not what they expected.

Meh. There were some good things about this movie: I liked the nightmare of the eyeless mother, the character of the alcoholic Scottish grandfather (who disappears from the film pretty early on), the creepy schoolgirl ghosts, the conflicted heroine. But it was largely predictable from the start of the scenario. Good production and decent acting in service of a forgettable story.

Daily Horror Movie: Unsane

Unsane

Unsane

A woman visits a psychiatric clinic and through a combination of malfeasance and bureaucracy finds herself involuntarily committed. While trying to make the system see reason, she discovers that she has been followed into the hospital by the man who has been stalking her for the last two years, and he has some well-thought-out plans for her future.

This is a horror movie for 2018: insurance scams, undercover reporters, stalkers, toxic masculinity, bureaucratic nightmares, opioids–it has many of the real horrors of the current age in such over-the-top doses that it’s painfully realistic. If there had been a little politics thrown in, it would have been just a bit too much.

I like that Sawyer (played by Claire Foy) is abrasive and rude and kind of unlikable; it made me root for her as a character, though I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like her as a co-worker. Her stalker, David (played by Joshua Leonard), is a completely detestable “incel” type, which also seems right for this movie: finding something to like about him would have ruined an incredibly satisfying ending.

The gimmick of the movie (because every movie these days needs a gimmick, I guess) is that it was shot on an iPhone; except for the intimate, handheld feel of the movie, it doesn’t really have much of an impact (which may be a testament to the improving quality of smartphone video more than anything else). Overall, I thought this was a nice little psychological horror movie with some dark satire running under it, well worth a watch.

Daily Horror Movie: Ringu

Ringu

Ringu

After watching a strange videotape, four teenagers mysteriously die. A reporter, and aunt of one of the teens, investigates the rumors and urban legends that are growing up around the mystery, and finds herself embroiled in a deadly curse that threatens not only her life but that of her young son.

I loved the way this movie mixed a sense of ancient dread with contemporary urban legend. The idea of a ghost that can reach from beyond the grave and into videotapes and Polaroid cameras is surprisingly chilling. This movie is all atmosphere, with no jump scares (though the ghost girl crawling out of the television near the end is a shocking and terrifying image): lots of darkness and rain and shadows.

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