It’s been a pretty good year for horror. Per IMDB, there have been 10,858 horror feature films released in 2022—not counting TV movies or direct-to-video (is that even a real category any more?) or TV episodes—and at least three have been, by our estimates, pretty good. If we narrow down the list to those with more than 1,000 votes on IMDB, i.e., movies that someone beyond the cast-and-crew saw, that leaves 85 films. In the top 11 (by user rating), three are Telugu—I guess I need to check out the exciting world of (checks map) Indian horror…East Indian…Eastern East Indian horror. There’s also a Hindi movie and a Malalayam movie, so five of the top eleven are Indian—and one of the remaining is Indonesian.
In the remaining five we have Dr. Strange and Prey which I’m not going to consider horror movies.
Where the hell am I going with this? Well, for one thing, it’s hard to feel like American culture is all that central any more. And for another, the three remaining horror films happen to be the last three movies I’ve seen, plus the TCM for Poltergeist. (And, oh, the new Walter Hill Western, but let’s not ruin it.) So let’s take a look at those and get spooky season into full gear. I’ll have full reviews for all these later on in the month.
Coming in at #11 is Smile. If The Ring and It Follows had a baby, it would look like this. Call it Jump Scare: The Movie. A green director directs a bunch of people I don’t know (and also Robin Weigert, who played Calamity Jane in “Deadwood”, and Kal Penn, better known as Kumar) in a type of horror I intensely dislike—I won’t say what kind because that would be a spoiler—and it all works pretty well.
The acting is good. The atmosphere is good. It doesn’t have a paint-by-numbers feel, though its only real surprising aspects are in the nature of the effects (e.g., “I didn’t expect her head to do that exactly”). It could have been about fifteen minutes shorter, and would have been served by removing a lot of the backstory. Maybe that will work for some viewers, however. For me, there’s a giveaway to what kind of movie this is (that kind I dislike, as I mentioned) and that makes the exposition painful no matter how well acted or written.
I don’t usually do this, but I immediately thought of a better ending, that would’ve redeemed the whole thing.
This movie is very urbane and effete and, intentionally or not, a fair condemnation of the blue-pilled world. It would be interesting to see the a sequel play out with a group of marines as central characters.
Coming in at #6 is Pearl. If Judy Garland and Vincent Minelli had skipped Meet Me In St. Louis and decided to make a horror movie about a crazy girl axe-murderer, well, it probably wouldn’t look anything at all like Ti West’s prequel to X (which was released in June of 2022!). West is responsible for the not-really-a-’70s-satanic-cult movie House of the Devil, which I also liked. I always feel like West is trying to do something, to say something different, and to get out of the box that horror’s been squeezed into.
The movie has a traditional score with a Technicolor-style color palette. (And I wept once more that it was not actually in Technicolor.) It’s almost Lynch-ian in its use of a “happy” style mixed with grisly content. And where the actorly parts of Smile worked against it (I felt), acting is the raison d’être of Pearl. And Mia Goth, whom I don’t really know from much, is here for it, delivering the whackadoo goods while somehow still provoking our sympathies. (There is a grimy parallel here with The Wizard of Oz: analogues to the Tin Man, the Wizard, the Lion and even a literal scarecrow, along with Pearl’s desire to escape the farm.)
Pearl is rated substantially higher (at 7.5) than West’s other efforts (X and House of the Devil are mid-sixes) and that score may come down over time as more people see it. (That’s just how these scores work.) Still, The Boy and I were quite pleased.
I didn’t get out to see X, though I wanted to, and I will try to catch it before the follow-up (it’s a trilogy!) MaXXXine is released.
Coming in at #3 is Barbarian. Arriving on a rainy night at the worst AirBnB in history, Tess (Georgina Campbell) discovers that Keith (Bill Skarsgård) already has the place. After some wrangling, with Keith showing genuine concern for Tess’s wellbeing, they end up sharing the place for the night as mysterious things happen. The next morning, Tess realizes she’s in one of those Detroit neighborhoods Nature is taking back, and things get spooky from there.
No spoilers, but some nice twists in this creepy flick. Justin Long plays a #metoo Hollywood guy who actually owns the place and comes out to get it ready for sales. (Long, the perennial nerdy kid of Galaxy Quest and Dodgeball is 44, and finally starting to show his age.)
Though ultimately covering well-worn horror ground, there are good mysteries, twists-and-turns, with the characters mostly doing smarter (or at least justifiable) things. Long’s character arc is not the one I was expecting nor hoping for, but I shan’t quibble. Writer/director Zach Cregger (who’s probably best known for acting in the series “The Whitest Kids U Know”) has turned in a very solid, entertaining entry in the horror/thriller category.
It may not surprise you, dear reader, to know that your humble author, who did not care particularly for Jaws, Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, also thought Poltergeist was a pile of ridiculous crap. I had not seen it since it’s original release nearly 29 years ago, so I took The Boy to see it when TCM showed it a few weeks ago. I wondered if I would re-evaluate it more positively (as I had other blockbusters of the era), and what also The Boy would think.
Somewhat surprisingly, the answer is no, this movie is exactly as dumb as I remember it. I was able to appreciate certain aspects of it more, however, that before got completely lost in the dumbness. The production and sound design is solid and effective. As leads, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were perfect choices. Elements of director Tobe Hooper that are allowed to seep through the cracks—like the ghost hunter who goes for a snack and ends up peeling his whole face off—don’t necessarily hold up as effects but they hint at a much better (scarier) movie.
The Boy felt like it was two competing visions (Spielberg’s desire to make a family-friendly ghost house movie vs. the guy who directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and noted that Jerry Goldsmith’s score comes off as almost psychotic. Dominique Dunne’s character is absolutely useless to any aspect of the story, and I couldn’t help but notice that her character was not old enough to drive but old enough to have a history with a Holiday Inn on the highway.
I feel like a lot of Spielberg’s output at this time was just ripping off Twilight Zone episodes and making them longer, louder and much worse.
THE BLACK PHONE and MAD GOD
You’ll notice that the top ten for 2022 did not include The Black Phone or Mad God. As it turns out those movies were officially released in 2021. The Black Phone is a solid, simple horror King-esque thriller (from Stephen King Jr.) probably trying to cash in on the whole “Stranger Things” popularity but good nonetheless. It was actually made when the director parted ways with Marvel over Dr. Strange 2. (Using our above IMDB criteria, Black Phone comes in at #8 for 2021.)
Mad God is a surrealistic fever dream, just a series of nightmarish images with no real plot or purpose. If this is the sort of thing you like, well, this is really it; I can’t think of another film like it. (It finished at #14 for 2021.)
Full review of Black Phone here. Full review of Mad God here. The latter was also part of my Six Different Minds post.
On tap for the rest of October, we have Dark Glasses from Dario Argento (spoiler: more cohesive but somewhat disappointing than Argento fans would expect), Terrifier 2 (which is apparently much better than the first and potentially the goriest movie…ever?), Don’t Look At The Demon, Neill Marshall’s (The Descent) The Lair, Daniel Stamm’s (13 Sins) Prey for the Devil, and of course Halloween Ends (we can only hope).
Stay spooked out there!