It’s been some time, maybe since The Blair Witch Project, that a horror movie has been debated as much as the indie feature Skinamarink, directed by Kyle Edward Ball. After leaking at Fantasia Festival last year, the movie became a viral sensation. Tik Tok users especially took to the platform to talk about how much the $19,000 debut freaked them out. Since its release in theaters recently, it’s also drawn pushback. Just read the user comments on IMDB or Twitter. Go on YouTube and type in the film. You’ll see plenty of videos by social media gurus claiming they either love or hate the film and all of their reasons why.
Like Blair Witch, Skinamarink became a sensation largely through word of mouth and the internet. No, there isn’t a website for the film with missing person posters, but it’s generated the same sort of buzz and harnessed the power of the web much in the same way as the influential 1999 found footage feature, which was also shot for little to no money.
I saw Skinamarink during its initial theatrical release a few weeks ago, before it expanded to more theaters, and I do believe this movie should be watched at home, either on a laptop or flatscreen, just before bed. While I’m an advocate for movie theaters, I don’t think this movie is best seen that way. What it does well is play up childhood nightmares and anxieties, namely the fear of losing one’s parents. There are familiar images here, including scattered Legos, a fuzzy TV, and a plastic telephone. Yet, it’s how Ball uses these images that make the film effective, at least for me and some other viewers. It all goes back to Freud’s theory of The Uncanny and making the familiar suddenly haunting. Heck, even a plastic telephone becomes downright terrifying here.
I have many more thoughts on this film, including the way it puts you in a child’s perspective. To read more of my take on this film, click here to access my piece on it for Signal Horizon. In the meantime, Skinamarink is still paying in some theaters, and it’s now streaming on Shudder. I advise simply surrendering to the experience that is this film without expecting any clear narrative.
A few years ago, I presented a paper on the film May (2002) at the NeMLA Conference, specifically how it’s a reaction to Mumblecore and also a retelling of Frankenstein with quite the twist. Since then, the article has undergone a lot of revisions. It’s finally found a home at Bright Lights Film Journal!
I’m happy to announce that you can now read the article by clicking here, and if you haven’t watched May yet, it’s still streaming for free on Tubi.
2022 was quite the year for horror. Films like Smile and Barbarian seemingly came out of nowhere and made big bucks at the box office. Other films like Speak No Evil and X disturbed audiences, while Michael Myers and Ghostface returned to the big screen. Simply put, last year was one of the best for the genre in some time. 2023 also looks promising. Here’s a few movies I’m excited about as we start a new year.
M3GAN (January 6)
I admit I was skeptical the first time I saw the trailer for this one, but upon further consideration, I admit this latest by Blumhouse looks like a campy good time. Will it break new ground? Unlikely, but it simply looks FUN. Directed by Gerald Johnstone, this feature follows a doll that begins to take on a life of its own as it absorbs more and more information. Chucky, eat your heart out. Make way for M3GAN!
I know little to nothing about this movie, and the trailer gives away very little. I do know it generated buzz at Fantastic Fest last year and that it was shot on a minuscule budget. The film will be released by IFC Midnight, so if slow-burn horror is your thing, this one may be for you. It’ll also release on Shudder later in the year. I will say that the trailer gives me the creeps!
Brandon Cronenberg’s last film, Possessor, made several year-end lists in 2020. He returns with his third feature, Infinity Pool, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard. Goth especially had quite the year last year, after starring in X and Pearl, essentially becoming 2022’s scream queen, along with Jenna Ortega. Infinity Pool focuses on an all-inclusive beach spot in the fictional island of La Tolqa, where a fatal accident exposes the island’s hedonistic subculture, violence, and horrors, oh my! The trailer looks absolutely bonkers in all the best ways. Infinity Pool will premiere at Sundance, before releasing in theaters that same week.
Who knew we needed a Winnie the Pooh slasher film?! This looks as campy as MEGAN, and I’m here for it. Now that Winnie the Pooh is in public domain, a film like this could exist. Get ready for your beloved childhood characters to go on a bloody rampage.
After surviving the last movie, Jenna Ortega returns as Tara in the latest installment of the Scream franchise, and she’s joined by fellow survivor Sam (Melissa Barrera), her sister. The only one set to return from the OG cast is Courtney Cox, reprising her iconic role as Gale Weathers. Unfortunately, Neve Campbell announced she wouldn’t be reprising her final girl role. This time, Tara and Sam decide to leave Woodsboro behind and move to NYC. Of course, they’re stalked by Ghostface(s). Setting this latest Scream in NY has me intrigued, even if they filmed it in Montreal. New York. New Rules, as the tagline says.
Universal’s done a mixed job rebooting their classic monsters. The Invisible Man (2020) was stellar, but the reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise was hogwash. Renfield looks promising, especially for the simple fact that Nicolas Cage stars as Dracula! Oh, and its initial story was pitched by Robert Kirkman, you know, the guy who wrote “The Walking Dead” comics. Nicholas Hoult meanwhile, plays Renfield, loyal servant to the Count. Not too shabby.
No trailer yet.
Evil Dead Rise (April 21)
No, Bruce Campbell is not returning as Ash, and no, Sam Raimi didn’t direct the latest Evil Dead. Instead, this particular sequel, directed by Lee Cronin, takes place in LA, specifically in an apartment building, where the reunion of two estranged sisters is cut short by deadites. I’m interested that they decided to pull this franchise out of the woods and set it somewhere new, much like Scream. The trailer still has a few ED hallmarks, though, including sharp-tongued demons, the book of the dead, and of course, plenty of gore. Groovy!
Ari Aster’s third feature, starring Joaquin Phoenix, will drop later this year. There’s not much info available yet, only the teaser poster. Will it live up to Hereditary and Midsommer? We’ll see, but I’m stoked to see Aster’s latest.
MaXXXine (Maybe 2023?)
It’s unclear if the last film in Ti West’s trilogy will release this year, but a teaser was released at the end of Pearl. The third film, set in the 80s, will follow Maxine (Mia Goth) after the events of X and once she forges her acting career in LA.
So far, it looks like 2023 will be another strong year for genre films. I’m especially excited to see what may wind up being this year’s Pearl or Barbarian. It’s unlikely we’ll know until such a film drops and the buzz begins.
Was 2021 better than 2020? Well, at the end of this year, we have vaccines and booster shots. We know the best defense against the virus, and yet, the year was bookended by an insurrection in Washington, DC and a resurgent pandemic with a new variant more contagious than even the Delta. We have a new administration in Washington, and still, the sense that democracy is in crisis mode hasn’t really abated. In fact, the U.S. has been downgraded as a “backsliding democracy.” The tumult that was 2020 bled into 2021.
All of this anxiety should breed solid horror for years to come. Yet, as I went through all the films I reviewed in 2021 (more than 70 when I count the festivals I covered), this wasn’t a standout year compared to the last few. Part of this is due to the fact movies continue to face delays thanks to COVID. Still, this year featured some gems, and those are worth celebrating. So, with that, I bring you my best-of horror film list for 2021. (For my Best-of Shudder 2021 list click here).
Malignant/Directed by James Wan
This is James Wan’s love letter to giallo and 90s horror. This movie would have fit right at home with Dark Castle or Full Moon’s rooster during their heydays. Malignant delivered one of the best monsters of the year in Gabriel, a parasitic twin who could control electricity and broadcast his thoughts through speakers. His grudges and temper sent him on a course of murderous revenge. This movie is so silly and so much fun. It was the type of entertainment that we needed this year.
PG: Psycho Goreman/Directed by Steven Kostanski
Here’s another stellar creature feature. Matthew Ninaber gives a knockout performance as a malevolent space lord…who ends up with the name Psycho Goreman, or PG for short. After he lands on Earth, a group of kids finds a magical stone, and with it, they can command the space monster to do whatever they want. Along the way, he learns about human emotions, including love. Like Malignant, this is horror escapism at its best. This movie is funny, endearing, and wildly entertaining.
Lucky/Directed by Natasha Kermani
When you think the slasher has exhausted itself post-Scream, then along comes a movie like Luckyto put a feminist bite on everything. The killer in this, who wears all black and a non-discreet mask, is a stand-in for daily misogyny that women face. He’s that creep who lurks in the parking lot or the boss who says a woman’s work is never good enough. Starring Brea Grant, who also penned the script, Lucky is a smart take on a familiar subgenre. Grant just may be a new horror queen.
Candyman/Directed by Nia DaCosta
Other than the stinker Halloween Kills, Candyman was undoubtedly the most hyped horror movie of 2021. Did it live up to that? Yes and no. It has an ending that feels totally rushed, but the film is utterly stunning and visually arresting. DaCosta took the familiar story of Candyman and expanded it to reflect the Black community’s pain in the age of BLM. Yet, she did so without ever coming across as heavy-handed. This is a movie that draws on both Black history and the history of a franchise. Oh, and the brief cameo by Tony Todd is totally worth the wait. What’s especially impressive about this movie is the way it combines a typical slasher with some stellar body horror and even possession, especially once Candyman starts to take over the body of artist/lead Anthony McKoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Let’s hope this isn’t DaCosta’s last entry in the horror genre, now that she’s been tapped by Marvel to direct a sequel to Captain Marvel.
Titane/Directed by Julia Ducournau
This, for me, is the best horror movie of the year, hands down. After Ducornau’s steller 2016 debut feature Raw (one of the best horror films of the last decade, if you ask me), everyone waited for her follow-up. She did not disappoint. The film follows the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who has a weird fetish for cars and eventually has sex with one. Yes, it’s an extremely bizarre storyline with heavy body horror. But the film has layers of human emotion, several narrative turns, gender-bending and the most dazzling visuals out of anything I’ve seen this year. Titane makes it clear that Ducornau is one of the most important directors working in horror right now and one of the most interesting young directors period. Oh, and Ducournau became the first woman in history to win the top Cannes prize, the Palme d’Or, solo.
The three survivors are back! Let’s hope this rebooted slasher has more to offer than Halloween Kills did. All trailers look promising, and with how much technology and horror have changed and evolved, isn’t it time for a little Ghostface and a little meta commentary? If you’re worried about the fact Wes Craven isn’t the one behind the camera this time, fear not, the franchise is in good hands with Ready or Not directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Opin.
This was my favorite horror movie that played at Fantasia. It’s a black and white tale about the end of the world, and without giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that. So far, no word on a wide distribution release date, but hopefully it comes out in 2022.
The Last Thing Mary Saw
This is another one of my favorites from Fantasia. It’s folk-horror done well with a chilling atmosphere. and a truly creepy performance by Rory Culkin. It comes to Shudder in January.
Here’s hoping that 2022 goes better than 2020 and 2021. At the very least, there’s a lot more horror to look forward to in the new year!
With the year winding down, it’s time for another best-of list! This is a piece that I wrote for Signal Horizon, naming my favorite exclusive and original content on the horror streaming network, Shudder. My larger best-of horror list for 2021 is coming, and it’s likely at least 1-2 of these picks will end up on that broader list. You can read my Shudder list here.
If you’re looking for something to take away the post-Halloween blues like I am, then let me recommend checking out the newest special issue of Horror Homeroom on the “neo-slasher.” It’s jam-packed with content on the new Halloween films, a reimagining of the Final Girl, and a host of other topics. I’m happy to say that my essay on post-9/11 horror and slasher remakes entitled “A Tale of Two Remakes: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006),” is part of the issue. You can read the full issue here.
First, let me start off by saying PLEASE go to Rotten Tomatoes right now and read the reviews by Black critics on Candyman (2021). Those are the reviews what you sould read first, especially after you’ve seen the new movie and the 1992 OG version. Those critics can offer a take on this franchise that well, I really can’t. That said, after seeing the movie, I can’t stop thinking about it, both the good and the bad.
In Nia DaCosta’s “spirtual sequel,” Chicago’s Cabrini-Green is a gentrified neighborhood complete with high rises, Whole Foods, and hipster art galleries. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Anthony McCoy, an artist stuck in a serious rut, rehasing the same social/political art that he’s created for the last few years. After his girlfriend’s brother tells him the story of Candyman, he becomes obsessed with the urban legend and visits what remains of the projects, photographing graffettied walls while smashed glass crunches under his Converse. Colman Domingo plays old timer William Burke, who explains the lore and fuels Anthony’s obsession. He’s one of the last remanents of the Cabrini-Green projects and has one of the best bits of dialogue about an hour into the film about what Candyman is. In DaCosta’s film, he’s not only Tony Todd’s character. He’s a metaphor for Black oppression and violence, taking on many different faces and stories. “He’s the whole damn hive,” to quote Domingo’s character. Yet, even if DaCosta expands the lore, she doesn’t erase the story of Todd’s character or the events surrounding Helen (Virginia Madsen) from the first film. They are referenced quite a bit but placed in a larger, interesting context.
Teyonah Parris plays Brianna, Anthony’s girlfriend who also hustles around the art scene and is pretty much responsible for landing Anthony shows. As his behavior grows increasingly erratic and even dangerous, Brianna, of course, becomes alarmed. One of my main gripes about this film is that Brianna isn’t given a whole lot to do. There is major family trauma revealed through a flashback, but it’s just sort of…dropped. That’s a storyline that needed much more room to breathe. It’s utterly wasted potential. Further, Anthony isn’t given much depth beyond the brushtrocks and serving as a vessel, a body for Candyman to increasingly possess.
The film’s other main issue is the script, especially the last act. So much happens in the last 20-30 minutes that it will make your head spin. Not all of it makes sense. This film probably would have done better with a two hour runtime, as opposed to 90 minutes. There are too many ideas crammed into this movie, everything from gentrification, to Candyman’s lore, to police violence. The film never becomes didactic, but some of the ideas simply feel too thin, mere sketches than a fully realized story. That said, the first half of the film especially has some dazzling visuals. The kills astonish, especially the mirror motif. One bathroom sequence involving high school girls is one of the most innovative scenes in horror that I’ve witnessed all year. DaCosta is one heck of a filmmaker, and I can’t wait to see what she does with a project that isn’t saddled with so much backstory and history.
Overall, Candyman (2021) has some really great moments and a few cameos that I won’t mention because I want people to be surprised. I’m still thinking about it 24 hours after I saw it, and I suspect I’ll be thinking about it for some days to come yet. The visuals are strunning and the way that both Candyman and Cabrini-Green are expanded in the context of this franchise are fasicnating. This film is in conversation with the origional while managing to take some inventive leaps. That said, the narrative falters quite a bit as it rushes towards its conclusion.
Now, please, go to RT and check out those other reviews.
Believe it or not, in 2021, we’re going to have a never-before-seen Ceorge A. Romero movie. That film is The Amusement Park, shot in 1973 for the Luterhan Society as a means to raise awareness about elderly abuse. The film was lost for years but recently restored and rediscovered thanks to the George A. Romero Foundation and IndieCollect. Shot between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the 53-minute-long film debuts on Shudder on June 8.
There are no zombies in this one, but it’s on par with some of the most terrifying films the master of horror has ever directed. The amusement park concept stands as a terrifying and surreal allegory about the way we abuse the elderly. Lincoln Maazel’s nameless character suffers one abuse after another, from ticket vendors, to a biker gang, to dismissive youth who walk by as he writhes on the ground in pain. No supernatural elements are needed in this nightmareish vision of a careless and cruel society. Romero has always presented humans as worse than the monster, and this certainly rings true here.
For more of my thoughts on the film, check out my review for Signal Horizon.
I admit that I’ve never heard of The Last Horror Movie until I saw it on a list of potential assignments for Signal Horizon Magazine. For whatever reason, the movie didn’t catch much buzz during the 2000s found footage boom that followed the massive success of The Blair Witch Project (1999). I confess that I’m not as crazy about the subgenre as some other fans, but I was equally disturbed and fascinated by The Last Horror Movie.
Directed by Julian Richards, the film primarily features one character, Max (Kevin Howarth), a serial killer who films his murders over horror movie rentals. Much of the movie plays out like a snuff film, and though that’s certainly uncomfortable, the real way the film disturbs is through its commentary on spectatorship. Several times, Max asks the audience why they keep watching, and as the film becomes more and more brutal, we, as viewers, have to stop and ponder why we stay tuned in. Why not shut it off? Do we also have lust for on-screen violence? Max has some warped logic, but he’s likeable in an odd way, sort of like Henry (Michael Rooker) from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. That’s another reason why The Last Horror Movie is effective. Like Henry, it presents us with a character who comes across as generally normal, at least at first.
It’s difficult to find the film on any major streaming platforms, and it hasn’t gotten a proper physical media release in some time. That’s a shame. It stands a cut above most of the found footage films from that era.
For more of my thoughts on The Last Horror Movie, please check out my articles over at Signal Horizon.
The horror genre continues to redefine itself in the age of #MeToo and the 21st Century, rewriting old tropes, specifically the rape/revenge subgenre. I’m thinking of movies like M.F.A. (2017),Revenge, and to some extent, Promising Young Woman (2020). The latest is Violation, which released late last week on Shudder after its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year. The general premise is familiar for the subgenre. A young woman, Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer), is raped by her sister’s husband. However, where the film goes from there is a wild, brutal affair, one that challenges expectations and also underscores the fallout and PTSD the protagonist endures after the rape and subsequent vengeance. Further, Violation makes a spectacle of the male, a reversal of standard horror rules.
Violation is a film I keep thinking about weeks after I first saw it and reviewed it for HorrOrigins (you can read the full review here). It’s another film that marks a change in the subgenre and an exciting future, filled with possibilities of what the genre can be when more women get behind the camera (the film was co-directed by Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli). Violation undoes traditional horror spectacle, while focusing mostly not on the blood and revenge, but rather the aftermath.