Everything about this year is odd and upside down due to Covid-19. Birthdays, thanksgivings, weddings, concerts, are all up in the air or modified to a virtual medium. Theatre going is right out, in most places, so the experience of new films has been delegated to what you can get at home. Streaming services are constantly being used here, and whatever hard media you have, you might actually using right now.
It’s the afternoon of Halloween 2020 here in Toronto. It’s chilly, but the sun is big out and there’s a full moon predicted on this Saturday night. But WE CAN’T CELEBRATE IT like we usually do. The night this year is unlike any other and the best I can do is fill my night with film. Whether it’s new films or classic horror, there are many lists out there for horror lovers out there. Here, I just want to list some films that have caught my eye over the year (but they weren’t necessarily made this year). So pardon my list (they go from seriously good but mostly ridiculous), my taste goes all over the place.
- MAUSOLEUM (1983) directed by Michael Dugan
Bobbie Bressee stars as a Susan Walker Farrell, a young girl who goes into a mausoleum and gets possessed by a witch. Or the devil. Or something. The film drags a bit to get to schlock ala The Exorcist. Bressee is all camp when she gets the chance to hash it out. But the star of this film is Maurice Sherbanee who plays Ben, the gardener.
Ben has nothing to do with the story. Absolutely nothing, but somehow when he shows up, there are about ten to twenty minutes of a montage of what Ben does with his day. Somehow Susan is so overcome by his burliness, she must have him and things go loopy from there.
LaWanda Page plays Susan’s maid and her scenes are worthy a part in all the horror films ever made. Trust me though, watch until the very end. This is very important. The incredible twist is well worth it for the laughs or a brief pause for, “WHO IS BEN THE GARDENER? WHAT?” Take some time to go through Sherbanee’s IMDB right after. Good stuff.
2. SHIVERS (1975) directed by David Cronenberg
Ooooh Cronenberg. I love him, but it’s only until recently that I’ve dived into his earlier stuff. I prefer to his later stuff because there’s a sense of rawness in the body horror component. It speaks to his fascination with the body trying to inhabit a space it’s brain created for it, but could never actually fit in well with it.
Shivers takes place in a Montreal high rise apartment building that is invaded by a virus. A SEXY VIRUS.
Actually there’s nothing campy about it and all the more about atmosphere. If you’re into or nostalgic about seventies architecture and interior design this movie will grab you from the get go. Muted psychedelic rugs and walls contrasted by cold kitchens and pastel bathrooms. It’s a beautiful sight.
The kills are rather sensual and uncomfortable, but that’s what we’re looking at. People in every day situations subtly turn into these sex crazed beings driven to infect anyone they can. Cronenberg’s play on consumerism and capitalism all the microcosm of a high rise speaks a lot to the future (then), eighties, and very much to the now.
I’ve lived in high rise tenements most of my life and the lower income, the more we were able to form community. Not sure how it is in condos or in richer places, but even in the ones I lived in, there’s always an undercurrent “of there’s just too many people in one place.” It can create isolation, if you don’t get to know your neighbours and if you do, who really are your neighbours? I gather that as the tension in Shivers. Nouveau riche folk wanting to connect, but it takes a virus to do that.
3. BLACK ROSES (1988) directed by John Fansano
I bought the bluray because the VHS is rare and I could find it. Yes, I am one of those people, but the bluray does have the textured service I wanted, so there.
Black Roses about a band that is on tour in Ontario and is going to take over the world. The band’s secret? They’re heavy metal demons. Here you will find mullets that are not mullets, oversized suits that aren’t suits, and a teacher who plays with idea of ethic and values as if he were playing an arcade game.
The old school special effects are impressive and sometimes lack consistency, but overall worth the shock factor. A really familiar sounding soundtrack pulls the film together as teenagers start killing adults left and right in the name of rock n roll. It’s all cheese, but the good kind.
I’m in my late forties, therefore, there are things are supposed to hit younger people ironically that hit me quite unironically. There’s a perverse subtext in that I am very much here for it.
Everything is Terrible is known on youtube for their excellent edits of found pop culture and home movie footage from the 70s-90s. Many of their films follow a theme and it’s either great to sit down and watch through or to put in the background while working or washing the dishes, which I’m pretty sure they have a film themed this way.
The Great Satan is themed on all things diabolical. As with their other films, this one causes several pauses on, “where did they get that,” or, “how did they get that?” There’s something incredibly compelling about a universe of images out to be spliced and being taken out of context. And many of the times, EIT manage to convey that the scenes they bring to you are really left alone for you to interpret on your own. Whatever your state of mind or if your looking for life, media, or cultural commentary, I highly recommend The Great Satan for these trying times.
5. THE NIGHTINGALE (2018) by Jennifer Kent
TW (rape, colonization)
I would like to end off in a more serious note. This film not your typical thriller or horror. It’s a reality that can be so horrible that people look away at it, thus the best horror can be the one that conveys truth the world fails to acknowlege.
From the writer and director of THE BABADOOK, The Nightingale takes viewers into 1825 Tasmania, then a forced penal colony where we meet Clare (played with full fury and anger by Aisling Franciosi, an Irish convict. After a brutal rape and the destruction of everything she has, she seeks revenge upon the offending British officer. She hires an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help her find him.
While the setting is lush, gothic, and beautiful the horrors of colonialism are displayed in visceral violence and an unflinching portrayal of what it means to survive injustice. Ganambarr’s performance had me sobbing and I had to pause the film to catch my breath.
Look if you’re into a fright, this movie will terrify you. So much so, you find solace in the library, as one does. If you’re looking for fun go look for something else. A movie worthy of one watch and probably in a mature educational setting as well.
- Our very own Jennifer Valencia has listed her recommendations for films for kids on her Cookies and Cream blog: https://cookiesandcreamto.com/2020/10/28/halloween-movies-for-kids/?fbclid=IwAR162DsinmZhqzySa8iZg075aHw3iQ6D4f18W2SRvqnNMGtUqXnImAWWxvo
- Horror films I’ve enjoyed this year that require longer posts:
1. ANGST (1983) (which I already wrote about here): https://criticalfocus.ca/2020/07/10/on-gerald-kargls-angst-1983/
2. SUSPIRIA (2018)
3. BELLS/MURDER BY PHONE (weirdo movie about people being killed via a phone call. Set in GLORIOUS 1982 Toronto and not available in any sort of media therefore it’s on youtube – link to be changed once it’s available in hardcopy or paid streaming form) :