GLASS

Continuing my usual timely coverage of all the latest pop culture behemoths, here’s my thoughts on January 2019’s GLASS.

For movie nerds, horror nerds, and comic book nerds, the film Unbreakable is a monument to the joys of closely-related but sometimes contentious fandoms. Premiering in November 2000, it entered the cultural zeitgeist at a peculiar time. Most comic book fans were still reeling from mid-90s in-theater atrocities like Steel and Batman and Robin as well as at-home assaults on decency like the Generation X and Nick Fury TV movies, while at the same time relishing their first glimmer of hope with Bryan Singer’s leather-daddied but largely comics-accurate take on X-Men. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was still a year-and-half away, and they’d have to suffer through attacking Hulk dogs and Nick Nolte’s over-acting before the Nolanverse and the dawn of the MCU and the ascension of comic book films into the mainstream. While perhaps not so much a harbinger of today’s cinematic comic book craze as a milestone on the road to mainstream respectability, Unbreakable scratched a certain itch for some strains of fandom and confirmed for others that this M. Night Shyamalan guy was somebody worth paying attention to, someone capable of elevating genre ideas and showing us all something new.

Like any deconstruction of superheroes, Unbreakable owes a couple bucks to Watchmen, but in terms of sketching out a realistic portrait of what superpowers might look like in the real world, it does its predecessor one better. For all its supposed “realism,” Watchmen still features non-superpowered characters wearing impractical costumes and kung-fuing guys with guns (presciently predicting the “real life superhero” craze that would become fodder for documentaries and  “look at these pathetic assholes” journalism[1], wherein schlubby sad-sacks would don homemade costumes and lie about having extensive martial arts skills whilst patrolling real-life cities), a supposed super genius whose master plan rests on his assumption that all the Philistines around him wouldn’t remember that “Ozymandias” is the Greek name for Ramses II, and a blue-skinned god whose defining characteristic is his steadfast refusal to put on some goddamn pants already. Unbreakable read more like a thought experiment carried out by someone who was actually interested in working out how superheroes might exist with our world’s physics, and what’s more neatly solved the problem any superhero story has: how the hell are Batman or Moon Knight or Daredevil so regularly able to interrupt crimes in progress? Granted, the conceit of David Dunn reading people’s minds by touching them is fantastical, but could be explained as a inner delusion created to help filter his subconscious mentalism[2] or perhaps some actual biological process. Still, the film presented a fairly convincing (and thoroughly entertaining) argument for the existence of superhumans. The influence of Unbreakable was far-reaching--shows like Heroes took the ideas of real-life superheroes and ran with them[3], while NetFlix’s MCU tie-in shows took the relatively short-lived success of Heroes as an excuse to rarely show its characters in costume[4].

The problem with being such an influential genre cornerstone is that revisiting the source material, in the wrong context, can make the progenitive work actually feel derivative of what’s come after it.

Which is probably the least of Glass’ sins.

The purpose of the rather lengthy preamble to this essay is to firmly illustrate the importance and relevance of Unbreakable, as any discussion of its sequel (skipquel?) must be heavily informed by an understanding of the source material. Glass is not its own movie, nor does it try to be. David Dunn isn’t established as a character in the film, rather we’re caught up through some truly stilted dialogue as to what he’s been doing for the last sixteen years[5]--the “I’m going for a walk” exchange between Dunn and son of Dunn is awkward, and seems doubly hamfisted when one realizes it’s occurring in front of a cameoing Shyamalan himself. Similarly, Kevin Wendell Crumb and Casey Cooke simply show up, and if one hasn’t seen Split only a surreptitious, in-theatre Google search will catch one up in time to try to enjoy this movie. This is not to say that a Star Wars-eque screen crawl is needed; rather, this movie has firmly positioned itself as primarily for the fans of the first two, rather than it’s own thing (as the first two films were).

That’s an okay and even necessary approach for a sequel, but the first thing a sequel needs to do is justify its existence. A movie, by definition, has a beginning, middle, and end. Even a two-parter by design like Avengers: Infinity War fits this structure--scrap the to be continued title card and it’s a standalone flick that works pretty well (albeit a tad depressing). Because a movie, definitionally, has a beginning, middle and end, it’s also definitionally a story that has been told. Sequels must conjure up a new story for these characters (albeit running with threads established in the previous films, certainly) and must demonstrate that this is a story worth telling. What more must be said about these people, this world?

Shyamalan took an interesting approach here, using a stinger to reveal that the events of Unbreakable and Split took place in the same world, making Split a companion piece to the first movie. Glass is a sequel to both, in the same way the first Avengers movie was a sequel to the Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man movies. Thematically, the first two movies in the ad hoc trilogy pair well together--the first is the story of an ordinary man learning that he’s extraordinary, and the second is the story of a young woman learning to tap into stores of resiliency and courage she didn’t know she had.

The meta-problem with Glass is that it doesn’t share this thematic resonance. As a capstone to the first two movies, Glass illustrates the dichotomy between characters learning and characters growing, and not in a good way.

No one grows in Glass. Rather characters learn information about their world, about their own circumstances, but those revelations don’t lead to any personal change. David Dunn begins the movie as an aging superhero, determined to keep pushing the limits of the powers he discovered in Unbreakable. Kevin Wendell Crumb begins the movie as 23 separate personalities vying for supremacy. Elijah Glass begins the movie (partway through, strange for a movie named for him) as an apparently doped-up supergenius, secretly hiding his mood-altering pills and working towards his master plan.

When the credits roll, all three are dead, but none have changed in any meaningful way. Dunn dies as he lived, willing to fight for what he believes to be right but ultimately succumbing to the same Achilles heel that’s plagued him all his life--water. Crumb meets a similar fate, with the added subtextual wrinkle that his final moment of humanity is also a moment of weakness, which makes the viewer wonder whether he should have ignored Casey Cooke’s entreaties and kept eating cheerleaders. Glass is perhaps the purest distillation of the static nature of the characters--for the entire film he’s pulling the strings with his brilliant mind, and never suffers a second of real self-doubt. He knows his plan is going to work, and any indications to the contrary are mere subterfuge on his part, robbing him of any arc and any tension.

Worse still is Dr. Ellie Staple, the narrative adhesive that binds Dunn, Crumb, and Glass. Her character is something of a mirror to Glass--like Elijah, her “arc” is the shedding of her disguise, nothing more. In the end, at her core, she’s the same person we met in the beginning, only now we learn what she’s really been working on the entire time, just like Glass. Her goals don’t change, her worldview doesn’t change--just her methods.

This isn’t storytelling, it’s a Wikipedia entry with punching. 

Contrast this with Split. Casey Cooke goes from frightened victim to empowered survivor, learning to manipulate Crumb’s various personalities. She befriends and exploits Hedwig, defiles herself to drive off Dennis, and ultimately confronts the Beast by turning the abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle into battle armor.

Contrast this with Unbreakable. David Dunn goes from underachieving security guard to a man who discovers he actually does have the ability to make a difference in the world, to answer the internal call that led him to become a security guard in the first place.

In the previous movies, both characters learn things about themselves and become better versions of themselves. Stronger versions of themselves. In Glass, the characters uncover information, not truths, and then die. Unceremoniously, at that.

Which brings us back to sequels, and how they need to justify their existence from a story perspective (financial justifications are obvious). What did we still need to learn about David Dunn or Kevin Wendell Crumb at the end of their respective movies?

Nothing. Their stories were complete.

Slapping them together in the same film is a gee-whiz flashbulb of a marketing idea that seemed brilliant, but also needed an actual story stapled onto its MTV Deathmatch-esque premise. The prospect of a dust-up between the two is certainly a fun idea for fans to comprehend, and such what-ifs have a long, storied history in the comics community, but on the occasions we’ve seen these fanboy fever dreams realized the results have been decidedly underwhelming. How many Mountain Dew-fueled arguments over whether Superman or the Hulk would win in a fight went down after hours at comic book conventions, and how deflated were the fans when a lackluster crossover like 1996’s D.C. Versus Marvel actually hit newstands[6]

With Glass, the subversion of expectation actually becomes the nullification of tension and thus the audience’s own enjoyment. Giving us the Dunn/Crumb main event about twenty minutes into the film was a bold choice, and one that largely failed. Sure, we get a reprise at the very end, but the fight is informed solely by the characters’ powers, which have been explored in the previous films. Neither character has grown over the course of Glass, and so when they square off again it’s just power versus power. Effectively, it’s the same damn fight Shyamalan showed us in the first twenty minutes.

In Spider-Man, Peter Parker has to learn to use his powers and make peace with his uncle’s death in order to defeat the Green Goblin. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has to divest himself of all Batmannery in order to find the strength to smash the League of Shadows. In Ant-Man, Scott Lang has to put aside his selfishness and fight for something bigger than himself in order to take down Yellowjacket.

In Glass, David Dunn learns nothing and fails, and Elijah Glass wins without trying. That’s hardly satisfying. The opposite, really.

That’s not to say that every superhero movie needs a happy ending or for the hero to triumph. Tragedy is not automatically incompatible with tights--see the Dark Phoenix Saga or Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil. Watchmen has something of a tragic ending--the sociopathically violent yet principled Rorschach refuses to compromise his ethics for the greater good (at least Adrian Veidt’s greater good) and chooses literal, rather than spiritual, death.

The difference between those comics and their film adaptations and Glass is that either the protagonist doesn’t die themselves (Daredevil #181), or there’s an ensemble cast that we’re invested in to absorb the shock (Wolverine and Cyclops/Nite Owl II, Laurie Jupiter, and even Dr. Manhattan). In Glass, there’s no clear protagonist (see above points about the lack of character arc), and the deaths of the characters who one could best argue are the protagonist have little impact. The deaths of Dunn, Crumb and Glass all feel relatively pointless, with only Glass’ having any kind of resonance and even then only in light of the final twist--there’s some nobility in his death, but only if one draws a flow chart.       

The really frustrating thing is that there’s the seeds of a very cool movie here. With a few changes, the film could actually work. Like a simple embrace of the principles of character development, for starters. A large chunk of the movie (too large for some) is devoted to three-way therapy sessions with Dunn, Crumb, and Glass, moderated by Dr. Staple. This device is practically a cheat code for character development, and yet Shyamalan chooses to do nothing with it but gaslight the audience and undermine the credibility of his own previous movies. If Dunn took advantage of the sessions and the power-dampening device in his cell[7] to confront and overcome his fear of water, the final fight between him and the Beast would have been that much more powerful. Imagine the Overseer[8] and the Beast squaring off in front of the asylum, the lives of innocents hanging in the balance, and David Dunn is armed with not just his superpowers but the knowledge that he’s already triumphed over his greatest foe. When the fight takes him and the Beast into the conveniently-placed water tank, Dunn’s apparent weakness could become a strength.

Just like Casey Cooke in Split--a movie that actually works.

At the very least, a little character development would have precluded the possibility of Dunn being drowned in two inches of dirty water by an extra, which is such an ignominious fate that I can’t help but wonder if Shyamalan secretly and pathologically hated one of his best creations these last nineteen years. It might also have tamped down Shyamalan’s urges to throw a twist in at the end, logic be damned. Dunn’s murder happens in concert with the reveal that Dr. Staple is secretly working for a super-secret organization who’s been secretly making sure that superhumans stay confined to four-color newsprint for basically all of humanity’s existence. The reveal explains why she’s been such a horrible doctor for two hours, but the problem is that Glass exists in a post-Heroes and post-MCU Sokovia Accords universe. It’s an idea we’ve seen over and over again, but instead of wearing horn-rimmed glasses and accompanied by a silent Haitian man it’s got a silly shamrock tattoo[9].

Crafting a sequel to a movie that came out decades before is extremely difficult (see Indiana Jones, the latter-day Die Hards, Halloween 2018, etc.). As mentioned above, the movie has to contend with all the properties that were inspired by the source material. The logical or illogical extension of twenty-year-old plot threads might seem stale when compared to newer movies or TV shows so informed by said threads, and in this case it is.

The twist is boring. The character deaths aren’t satisfying. And the surviving characters are bland[10]. To compare Glass to another Bruce Willis film, imagine if John McClane, Holly Gennaro, and the dad from Family Matters all bought it at the end of Die Hard, and hostage #4 randomly decided to go after the remaining members of the Gruber clan.

Who cares?

We’re living in an age where fans unrealistically call for mulligans on movies that just came out, The Last Jedi being the most prominent example[11]. Ordinarily stuff like that makes me roll my eyes[12], but when I see a promising film screwed up this badly, it really makes me wish M. Night would pick up the phone and call a first-year film student to consult on an immediate do-over.


[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/the-legend-of-master-legend-243895/

 

[2] As Dr. Ellie Staple argues in Glass, in one of the film’s better moments.

[3] Sometimes straight back into the Land of Implausibility, but still.

[4] A low point nicely illustrated by the Goodwill chic look of Iron Fist and the time Daredevil borrowed Jessica Jones’ scarf in The Defenders to fight a bunch of ninjas.

[5] The film’s timeline indicates it takes place weeks after Split, placing the film a few years in the past.

[6] Back when newstands were a thing--R.I.P.

[7] A series of pipes douse him with water if he gets out of hand, which made me wonder how the hell he showers.

[8] A really clunky name, and I’m kind of surprised there weren’t a deluge of think-pieces hamfistedly dissecting how “problematic” it is call yourself the Overseer when your nemesis is a black dude.

[9] I can’t tell if Shyamalan intended the shamrock tattoos the secret anti-super society wears as an allusion to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang or like Halloween 3 or something.

[10] Which makes me wish Shyamalan pulled a Halloween 4 and had Casey Cooke start talking like Hedwig in the stinger.

[11] A kerfuffle which left me baffled. I’m still trying to figure out how detractors and defenders of the movie can get so worked up about a two-hour commercial for Disneyland.

[12] Unless I’m doing it--ex. Halloween 2018/what I’m about to say above.

New Novella Coming March 1st!

Extremely excited to announce my novella I’M NOT EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE HERE TODAY drops March 1st from Eraserhead Press as part of their New Bizarro Author Series!

After a killer surf session, Scot Kring stops into his local Fasmart for a delicious, icy Slushpuppy. But before he can leave, a homeless guy outside has a stroke and accidentally recites an ancient Latin phrase that summons a very hungry demon, who just so happens to look like filmmaker Kevin Smith.

Now Scot's stuck in a time loop along with the other occupants of the convenience store who may or may not be demonically possessed and he's fighting back with nothing but a fistful of greasy hot dogs and a souvenir Slushpuppy cup as the giant menacing kaiju Kevin Smith threatens to kill them all.

I'm Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today is a demon apocalypse comedy for the slacker generation.

But don’t take my word for it, here’s Stephen Graham Jones:

"Sometimes you stop by the convenience store for a slushy and the world just goes straight to hell, and takes you along with it. I haven't had this much fun watching terrible stuff happen in a long time." -Stephen Graham Jones, author of Mongrels

If you don’t hate joy you can preorder the new novella right here.

Brian’s Best Films of 2018

There were a ton of great movies that came out this year, and I also caught up on a bunch of fantastic films from previous years that I missed. I was tempted to do a “top ten movies I WATCHED this year” list but that might be too confusing. So I’ll limit myself to only 2018 films, although having experienced the magic of the WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL and NEON MANIACS, I’m sorely tempted to put those on the list.

You can find recaps of these flicks all over the internet, so I don’t feel the need to reproduce them here.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the top 10 films I saw in 2018.

10. THE RITUAL

I love the hell out of Adam Nevill’s work and can only hope the success of this flick will usher in a few more adaptions, hopefully NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (starring Tom Hardy as Knacker, please…). THE RITUAL features an amazing creature design, but also fantastic chemistry between the leads.

9. THE ENDLESS

Kind of like LOST, except at the end I was in awe of the creators’ skill at crafting a unique and unsettling vision instead of angry at them for wasting six years of my life. If I were to revisit this list next year, I’d imagine THE ENDLESS might even get bumped up a few spots.

8. PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

I know nothing about the previous Puppet Master movies (something I’ll have to unfuck soon), but LITTLEST REICH was just an hour and a half of pure joy. I mean a guy gets his head cut off and pees on his own face, what’s not to love?

7. THE NIGHT COMES FOR US

Not a horror movie, even though it’s been covered by a ton of horror sites. What it IS is two hours of the most brutal action you’ll ever see. All kinds of kick ass.

6. A QUIET PLACE

This movie is a master class in tension. The opening scene did a great job of establishing the scenario and showing us how far the filmmakers were willing to go (all the way).

5. MANDY

A super rad journey through a series of heavy metal album covers. While I often get annoyed when people in movies stand there not saying anything to each other (looking at you, Nicholas Winding Refn), MANDY is such a surreal, fever dream of a movie that it works. Any movie that features both an axe AND a chainsaw fight gets my twenty bucks.

4. INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND

This movie did something that is pretty much guaranteed to piss me off (no spoilers), but here’s the thing—they got away with it. While there are some shades of TEXAS CHAINSAW, INCIDENT is very much its own thing, and what a fantastic thing it is.

3. ATERRADOS (TERRIFIED)

The little boy, yo. That scene alone would be enough to make me adore this movie. The way the narrative is structured echoes the hauntings in the story, and it’s all very, very cool.

2. THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

I don’t want to sound like a hipster here, but THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW is a strong example of the argument that horror almost HAS to be low-budget in order to be truly scary. There’s one scene in particular where the father is talking to his son that might be the scariest thing I’ve seen all year. That’s it, a conversation—no monsters, no demon nuns, no levitation. Absolutely brilliant. Aside from a minor logic flaw (and what horror movie is totally bereft of that particular bugaboo), WITCH is just about perfect.

1. HEREDITARY

Toni Collette FTW. The pole. Blonde cult creep. Gabriel Byrne as a professional door-opener with a questionable accent. This movie’s a fucking masterpiece.

Haunted by Christmas--Joe Hill's NOS4A2

Since Christmas is on the way, I thought it a good time to look back at why Joe Hill’s novel NOS4A2 works. In the novel, Hill appropriates Christmas, a day that’s about as wholesome as wholesome (whatever that means) as it gets and twisting it to his own ends. Hill finds horror in the tropes of Christmas trees and ornaments and most notably the music, and shows us that by skewing the familiar it’s possible to create something as horrific as any slavering, bestial monster.

The novel’s villain, Charles Talent Manx III, serves as Hill’s proxy in this subversion of American values. A long-lived “road vampire” who extends his own life by kidnapping children, sucking the life out of them and dumping them in an “inscape,” Manx takes the pageantry of Christmas and turns it into something terrifying, going so far as using Christmas ornaments to trap the children.

So why is this scary? There are two primary reasons. First, because it is unexpected--the symbols of Christmas are synonymous with joy and little else in the minds of most. And second, because it subverts the sources of safety we have in our lives. This is one of the reasons The Shining works so well--it takes the concept of the father, the strong, benevolent protector of the nuclear family, and turns him into the destroyer instead. Ordinarily Jack Torrance should be protecting his wife and child from the horrors of the world, but instead he is subsumed by them. Even before they reach the Overlook, Jack is abusive to Danny, breaking his arm in a drunken rage. And once they reach the hotel, the supernatural forces at work key in on Jack’s natural weakness. By the end of the book, the institution of fatherhood and the supposed safety it provides is in tatters.

Hill takes a cue from his own alcoholic father here, with Christmas serving the role of fatherhood. Christmas is a time of joy in most people’s lives, as present and carols conspire to make children and their parents feel safe. Nothing bad happens at Christmas, right?

However, that’s not the Christmas experience for everyone. Christmas can become a time where you can’t get out of the house, where you’re subjected to various forms of slow torture at the hands of your family. It’s telling that the heroine of the book, Vic McQueen, is from a broken home herself. Christmas doesn’t have the same power that it does for everyone else, because she’s never really been safe at home. Not from feeling as though the fraying relationship between her parents is her fault, or witnessing her father’s abuse. She’s not one to look for refuge in symbols, and so when those symbols turn out to have sharpened teeth instead of friendly smiles, she’s able to prevail in the end.

Interestingly, NOS4A2 engages almost exclusively with the trappings, rather than the substance, of Christmas. There are few allusions to the religious underpinnings of the holiday, beyond mentions of songs like “Joy to the World” which would be just as home in a Macy’s as it would in a church during the season. For Charlie Manx, Christmas is about Santa and reindeer and snowmen, to the point where his inscape is Christmasland, a theme park--the only way Hill could have emphasized the commerciality inherent in Manx’s perversion of the holiday would be to make his inscape a mall. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few works I’ve read that engages with Christmas but doesn’t feel like a Christmas story, partially because of the lack of engagement with the religious or squishy Hallmark sentimentality aspects, but also because half the book takes place in the summer, and much of the unease is generated through the presence of Christmassy things where they don’t belong (a holiday song playing on the radio over July 4th weekend, for example). The story is less about a family coming together during Christmas, but a family being haunted by Christmas. In a way the holiday becomes as much of the villain as Charlie Manx.

NOS4A2, through its subversion of Christmas tropes, plays to our fear that the things we perceive to be good are really not. All gold is fool’s gold, and there is no refuge to be found in the world. There are a near-infinite number of ways that writers can reproduce this feeling--from perverting the role of a parent, to taking something children love (Christmas, ice cream, clowns) and either making it dangerous, or revealing the inherent danger in the supposedly innocuous thing, like lawn darts, or even the detachable missile in the original Kenner Boba Fett action figure’s backpack. Show the reader how even a balloon animal can cut them, and your work will linger in that reader’s mind.

On Halloween

Halloween MIGHT be my favorite horror franchise. Growing up in the '80s, I remember being aware of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger through other kids at school, even though I wasn't allowed to watch the movies and they probably weren't either, at the time, so my knowledge of the slasher icons was filtered through this game of telephone. I knew what they looked like, and generally that they were BAD, but I didn't know that Freddy appeared in dreams--he was just scary looking dude with knife hands. My friends and I would write stories where we'd get into battles with them while skateboarding the mean backstreets of Alexandria, Virginia. At least until we started getting into real fights because Billy killed Johnny in one of his stores or vice versa. My third grade teacher swiftly instituted some limits on what we could write about, even though she still took pains to encourage our creativity.

Regardless of how little direct experience I had, the slashers were inescapable. In retrospect it's kind of weird thinking about elementary school kids dressed up as Jason for Halloween. Not as weird as a kids' animated series based on the Toxic Avenger, but up there. 

The first HALLOWEEN I saw was the much scoffed-at sixth entry in the series, THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. I don't care what anyone says, I love it. Some amazing kills, the douchebag shock jock, some genuinely creepy moments (lightning flashes and we see Michael standing on the other side of the blinds, for example). And the scene in the hospital when Michael suddenly starts slaughtering all the cultists he'd supposedly been working for/with? Chilling. 

Since this was the '90s and I made a few bucks a week that I mostly spent on weed, CDs, and unfortunate fashion choices, it took me a while to go back and watch all the entries in the series. Now I'm the proud owner of every last one on Blu-Ray. Since I've watched every movie several times and somehow still have a girlfriend I think I'm uniquely qualified to rank the entire series.

Without further adieu, I present to the class my definitive ranking of all the Halloween movies. 

Honorable Mention: SEASON OF THE WITCH (this is worth watching for Tom Atkins' incredibly shitty alcoholic '80s parenting alone, but the entire flick is a joy).

10. HALLOWEEN V: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

A bullet-ridden Michael commando-crawling into a river and being nursed back to health by a hermit. Tina is the Poochy of the Halloween series. Rachel is killed off unceremoniously. The psychic powers are stupid. Everybody makes dumb decisions and they're too lazy to make it NOT look like Pasadena. This movie sucks. 

9. HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

Busta Rhymes kung fu fights Michael Myers. That's all you need to know.

8. HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie version)

I can see why people hate the Zombieweens (and also everything else Rob Zombie does other than scream about burning through the witches) but other than the white horse stuff I found this movie to be pretty enjoyable. The part where pro wrestler Mikey flips over a cop car is fun even though at that point we're not watching a HALLOWEEN movie anymore. 

7. HALLOWEEN: H20

After killing off the franchise's Tommy Jarvis in the first few minutes of the previous film and turning up the Cult of Thorn nonsense to 11, retconning Laurie Strode back into existence seemed like a good idea. This movies wears its late '90s influences on its sleeve. Some people criticize it as the WB version of HALLOWEEN and they're not wrong, but it's fun and has a few really iconic scenes (Michael lowering himself from a pipe one-handed). 

6. HALLOWEEN (Rob Zombie version)

Rob Zombie made half a good HALLOWEEN movie.  I don't need to spend any more time with little Mikey Myers than we did in John Carpenter's original, and seeing the escalation of Mikey killing animals and bullies ruins the impact of his sister's murder. The whole point was that his sister's murder was totally out of left field. No build-up, no warning signs. That's what was so scary about it. The second half of the movie is tense and terrifying, however, and the dynamic between Laurie and her friends works well. 

5. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Producer's Cut)

I'm only ranking this movie at #5 because of the competition. The part where the Mark of Thorn appears on Loomis' wrist at the end was a total shark-jump. 

4. HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (Theatrical Cut)

Already got into what I liked about it further up. Far from a perfect film but it will always have a place in my cold, dark heart.  

3. HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

Kind of a stealth remake, the FORCE AWAKENS of the series. But there are a lot of cool moments, it's generally well-made, and inserts a dose of realism (and additional conflict) with the drunken Haddonfield militia running around shooting dudes in bushes. Unfortunately it also lays the groundwork for the worst elements of the series, psychic powers and unbelievable resurrections. And Donald Pleasence's makeup is, uh, distracting at best. 

2. HALLOWEEN II (orig)

THE STAIRS SCENE you guys. 

1. HALLOWEEN (orig)

Maybe not the first slasher film, but maybe the best, and it really holds up. Is John Carpenter the greatest horror director of all time? Yes, yes he is. 

UPDATE: I’ve seen HALLOWEEN 2018 and damned if I know where to put it. Definitely in the top half of the list. Maybe 3.5? It’s good, go see it.

Too Much Monster

If you haven’t seen 1990’s HARDWARE, you’re missing out. The cameo by Lemmy, the voice cameo by Dee Snider, William Hootkins*—and that’s all before we meet the MARK 13, one of the cooler killer robot designs to debut post-Terminator (a look that gets even cooler when scrap metal artist Jill gets it a fresh coat of paint). There’s much fun to be had, but the movie’s got one problem—too much monster.

Not that we SEE the MARK 13 too much—budget restrictions are often a horror director’s friend, forcing them to suggest things to the viewer, to engage the viewer’s imagination, rather than just trotting out a CGI monstrosity. But the MARK 13 does suffer from the same problem that any monster designed by a child does. Ask a kid to draw you a monster and they’ll probably make it shoot lasers out of its eyes, breath fire, teleport, fly, and more. There’s a misconception that the way to make something scary is to throw more and more powers into a bucket, which only goes so far. Omnipotence isn’t that scary or even interesting. In the face of a truly unbeatable threat, there’s no reason to be afraid, just depressed. Death is inevitable.

In addition to the badass buzzsaw it sports, the MARK 13 can also inject its victims with a hallucinogenic poison. For me, this was too much. I wanted to see the robot tearing its victims apart. The poison function is an unnecessary layer of icing on an already-frosted cake. No thanks.

HARDWARE seems like one of those movies that’s kind of begging for a remake. If that ever happens, I hope they give the MARK 13 its buzzsaw and let it go to town with that, and only that. Way more fun.

*Who is probably worthy of an article/national holiday in and of himself—Hootkins appeared in both STAR WARS and RAIDERS, and even freaking BATMAN and FLASH GORDON. The guy was all over the place in the ‘80s.

Deus Not Machina: Resounding Horror in Southern Gods

One of the oldest tricks in the horror playbook is the final scene that tells us that nope, the horror isn’t over, the good guys didn’t quite win, and all this is going to play out again. John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods features an ending that might be fanciful and saccharine, if not for one tiny wrinkle. Leading man Bull Ingram dies while retrieving Franny from the Hellion, a diabolical vessel captained by her grand-uncle. Franny herself is murdered in a most heinous way, but comes back to life at the end. While reading, I thought this might be evidence of Jacobs losing his nerve, giving in to some base desire (or perhaps insistent editor) and pulling back at the last minute.

But it’s not.

Read all the way to the end. Jacobs doesn’t just wave a magic wand and reset the table exactly how it was before Franny was butchered. And in a way, Jacobs does something worse than just letting her stay dead.

In most non-extreme horror circles, it’s taboo to kill a child. Jacobs breaks this taboo with panache--Bull Ingram and Sarah finally reach the top of the boat where she’s being held, but to their dismay she’s already dead, split open and used in a ritual to bring forth the Prodigium, Lovecraftian Elder Gods. Immediately this subverts reader expectation. We ask ourselves if this can possibly be true, or if it’s some kind of illusion conjured up by the godling Hastur. But it’s not an illusion. It’s real. But through sacrifice and heroics, Franny is returned to life, and with the exception of Bull’s more permanent death, all is well.

Except it’s not.

In the closing scene, Sarah watches her child swim with her friends, trying to slide back into normalcy after what she’s experienced. And we learn that she remembers all of it. Being violated and butchered, the sort of trauma that no other person could possibly have a memory of. The natural question of whether it might have been better if she’d died arises, and there’s no good answer. But I’m generally an optimist about human resilience if not human nature, so here’s hoping Franny gets through it all okay.

The fact that Jacobs has Franny remember what happened to her means he didn’t pull back after all, he went through with what he meant to do. Which gives the ending a power and a resonance it would not have otherwise, if Franny had been restored to life without any memory of what happened. That would have cheapened the events.

To use this technique, the reminder that the horror continues need not be Jason Voorhees’ hand arising from a lake, or a haunted totem being passed to a new owner, but simply an intimation that inside the minds of the characters we’ve grown to love, the horror is decidedly not over. While the events themselves might not literally recur, for the rest of their lives the events will play out over and over again in the heads of the characters. Which is where all horror stories really take place, after all.

We Need to Talk About Mike

Real quick, SPOILER ALERT for Better Call Saul—though I’ve got a blanket spoiler warning in effect for this blog, since I’m not talking about a thirty-year old horror flick I thought I’d throw an extra one in here. Just to be nice. Okay, really because I don’t want to hear any whining.

Anyway, SPOILERS.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s up with Mike Ehrmantraut’s storyline this season. While I’ve enjoyed the hell out of Jimmy’s (de)volution, Kim’s internal battle for her soul, Howard becoming a hot mess and the fallout from Nacho’s switcheroo with the meds, I’ve been baffled by Mike’s plot the last few episodes. His infiltration of Madrigal Electromotive and subsequent chat with Lydia were fantastic, but his story has flagged quite a bit after transitioning to his supervised construction of the super-lab.

Why? There’s no tension.

When the super-lab was first revealed on Breaking Bad, I did wonder how Gus Fring managed to build such an expansive meth-making operation beneath his laundromat. But at the same time I didn’t need to know—I chalked the presence of the lab up to Gus’s intrinsic Fring-ness. Let’s face it, the man could make the Earth rotate clock-wise with nothing more than a steely glare (I mean maybe a raised eyebrow too).

Flash forward to BCS, where we get the origin of the super-lab, which is about as interesting as the origin story of any other building. Someone built it, the end. There’s no tension to the storyline because we know that no matter what trials and tribulations the German team face, the super-lab gets built. We also know Mike doesn’t get killed by a random falling beam, and we don’t care enough about the Germans for any of their construction-related deaths to affect us one iota (although that Kai guy is kind of a jackass).

So what the hell is Vince Gilligan doing here?

I mean, he’s doing something, right? He’s Vince fucking Gilligan, not Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Everything means something, everything has a purpose. He doesn’t have throwaway characters, as evidenced by some of the cameos and bit parts in the series (so glad to see Huell back and looking pretty damn healthy, by the way). Why is he showing us this?

Maybe because this is Mike’s heel turn.

Even though Mike doesn’t harbor any illusions about who Gus Fring is, he’s still a good guy who takes pride in his work, and wants others to do the same (see the aforementioned Madrigal montage). His word means something to him, a handshake is an iron-clad deal in his world.

He still thinks they’re going to build this lab and then the whole thing ends in Miller Time (as Mike might say).

And that’s the trick. Despite the precautions, despite the sally port, Gus Fring will not suffer these men to live once they’re done building his super-lab. Alex and Cyrus are going to slaughter them, and Mike’s going to lose his shit. He’ll confront Fring, maybe there’s even a moment where he comes close to killing him. We might end the season with a rift between Mike and Gus, but by next season that rift will be healed.

This storyline isn’t about Mike building a super-lab. It’s about the scales being pulled from his eyes, and when they are he’s not going to look away, completing his transition from cop to crook. And when we look back at these last few episodes, all the Bing Crosby montages and jackass German guys will have been worth it.