Banner-style poster for Hellboy (2019)

The Hellboy movie series has been re-booted, now without Guillermo Del Toro and after superhero movies, in general, have become more mainstream. How does this new film fare?

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When it comes to horror and documentaries, in the sense of horror films that are deliberately planned to be documentaries, you have two main stripes represented by two big names. On one hand, you have Legend of Boggy Creek, a historical reenactment heavy documentary about a Texarkana cryptid that effectively recounts a variety of local myths and legends in an uncritical manner. On the other hand, there’s Haxan, the film I’m covering today, which is not only a very early work in the documentary genre, it’s also a work that is also very critical of historical accounts of witchcraft.

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Roger Corman is widely recognized as a producer who launched the careers of numerous writers, actors, and future directors. He’s also widely recognized as a producer who churned out numerous exploitation films of a wide variety of stripes almost like clockwork, on the cheap, and without much concern about the craft.

This leads to the problems with Humanoids from the Deep. Part of this film is a very well done horror creature feature, with incredibly suspensefully shot sequences, and is a film that is willing to straight up kill off a kid and several dogs very early in the film. It’s also a film where Roger Corman decided to fire the film’s original director, Barbara Peeters, because he wanted the film’s rape scenes to be more explicit – so he handed those sequences off to the second unit director, and the film is lesser because of this. (more…)

The Visitor is a very different animal where Italian horror films are concerned. It’s not a giallo or an offshoot of giallo like The Black Cat or Argento’s Three Mothers series. It’s not a zombie film at the least. I’d describe it as fitting closer to Italian Satanic horror films – films inspired by or seeking to mimic Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, and other similar films. These films rely less on plot cohesion and more on mood and tone. It doesn’t quite matter if the motivations of the characters are clearly spelled out or the narrative beats are coherent so long as the emotional beats are. (more…)

One of the issues with modern horror films, particularly those with a human antagonist, is the filmmakers feel the need to give a grounding to their villain’s methods that they feel believable, and they have the same need to make the protagonists just unlikeable enough that when bad things happen to them, things don’t feel overly cruel. The problem is that when this goes wrong it comes across to a degree like victim-blaming – and leads to a toxic message like the one put forward in your standard ’80s slasher film. Don’t Breathe manages to avoid that – barely. This review will contain a few spoilers. (more…)

There are a few films that other people really like that I have completely bounced off of. I bounced off of Fight Club due to how the film handles mental health issues – and particular its discussion of support groups – using support groups as the negative avenue which Tyler Durden uses to put together Project Mayhem, and ignoring or dismissing the helpful elements support groups have (though, having organized a support group, I admit that I bring some distinct baggage to the table).

The same way, I bounced off of Dawn of the Dead – the most beloved film in George Romero’s Dead series, the same way. The first time I watched it, it turned me off the wagon of the entire Zombie genre. That was almost 10 years ago, so I thought with 10 more years of life experience, maybe I’d be able to roll with the story it’s trying to tell.

Nope.

I bounced off this like Sonic the Hedgehog spin-dashing into a spring in the Green Hill Zone.

I think fundamentally, the reason why this doesn’t work for me is that I’m not particularly nihilistic. I am pessimistic – I try to prepare for the worst so I’m not surprised by it, but I’m never really nihilistic – I never expect and actively hope for the worst.

That’s the problem for me – Dawn of the Dead is a very nihilistic film. It assumes and believes that humanity truly is the worst, and that the best possible outcome for the world is that humanity is wiped out and rendered extinct – that nothing good can come from or for humanity, and that belief is represented clearly by the film’s originally planned (but never shot) ending, where after the protagonists home is destroyed not by the encroaching force-of-nature undead (as with Night of the Living Dead), but by greedy selfish humans – leading one protagonist being killed, one wounded – the remaining two survivors kill themselves – one eating a bullet, the other by decapitation by helicopter blade.

According to my research, that ending wasn’t used not because George Romero thought it was a bit much – but because the audience would have thought it was a bit much.

In the world of Dawn of the Dead, while our handful of protagonists seem okay – or at least are not the garbage humans that are part of the SWAT team, or the project dwellers who are saving their dead even though they are clearly turning into zombies, or the network executive who wants to keep out of date evacuation center information on of the air for the sake of ratings, or the bikers from the film’s conclusion – they are clearly the minority compared to the rest of the world. As that previous run-on sentence makes clear, the rest of the characters in this film are generally crap. We’re not supposed to have empathy for them. We’re supposed to either not care if they live or die, or be okay with them being chewed on by walkers – and that’s the problem.

Horror works best, at least for me, when there are good people in the film who we don’t want bad things to happen to – and for there to be a possibility for the horror to end. With Romero’s Dead series – the source of the horror doesn’t end. The Zombies aren’t going anywhere – and any attempt to rebuild or make any sort of safe place free of the horror will be destroyed by the Assholes.

That said, I can roll with a Worst Ending style apocalypse, but those work for me when it’s a clearly telegraphed uncontrollable situation – the alien from The Thing, The Ancient Evil from In The Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness, that sort of thing. In Dawn of the Dead the apocalypse persists because people are inherently assholes so attempts at reconstruction aren’t worth it or automatically tainted.

My original intent was

Once upon a time (I can’t find the original post), I reviewed the 2004 miniseries version of Salem’s Lot, starring Rob Lowe. The miniseries was pretty good, and was able to successfully tell a horror story in about 3 hours – when by comparison most horror films tend to work better in the 90 minute range. So, I was looking forward to checking out The Dark Half, as it was adapted by legendary director George Romero, and with several actors who I’ve come to really enjoy – Timothy Hutton and Michael Rooker. (more…)