(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: ParaNorman is the kind of kid-friendly horror movie that could transform a youngster into a genre fan for life.)
My transformation into the horror-lovin’ goblin y’all know around these parts was not a graceful one. Early childhood memories are those of anxious fear. Hiding from Child’s Play commercials, avoiding Party City depots during Halloween, and so on. It wasn’t until my later high school years where “so bad it’s good” trash masterpieces sparked my spooky-but-outrageous interests. College is where I dove headfirst into the meanest, most vile terrifiers the genre has to offer, then started gradually working backward. Again, not very methodical. In a different life, I would – and should – have started with a balanced introductory horror tale for the whole family such as Laika’s ParaNorman: satire, homage, and chilling goosebumps bedtime story all rolled into one stop-motion-magnificent package.
It’s no surprise that Laika cuts through festering flesh to expose the immeasurable deepness of our human experience. By embracing horror, creators Chris Butler and Sam Fell provide commentary on death, grief, and acceptance with unflinching steadiness. Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see bodyless souls trapped on Earth until their unfinished business is completed, whether that be protection from a townwide witch’s curse or grandmother’s vow as a guardian angel. ParaNorman wastes no time becoming an allegory for providing comfort in death since those long buried still live on in our remembrance or actions, never mincing words nor message.
So how does Laika achieve this understanding without scaring children into existential confusion? Through a genre veteran’s appreciative lens, no less? By embracing what horror fans have known all along – there is no greater, more comforting feeling than confronting our fears face to cackling face.
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(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
Those (not so secret sociopaths) who cite “April Fools” as their favorite holiday are in for a treat thanks to Into The Dark’s April offering I’m Just F*cking With You. Director Adam Mason blends serial killings with “practical jokes” and creates Hayes MacArthur’s Chester Conklin – a sleazy motel manager/bartender/Hawaiian shirt enthusiast with a demented funnybone. He may be one of the series’ most memorable villains yet, but I’m Just F*cking With You is a one-note gag drawn out with elongated delivery. Solid novelty, even if a little more workshopping would have helped.
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Mike Ahern and Edna Loughman’s Extra Ordinary comes together as the tonal lovechild of Jared Hess and Taika Waititi, playfully mocking horror beats instead of unleashing them. It’s more a cutesy rom-com with expelled ectoplasm goo than completionist horror dive into Drag Me To Hell territory, but when subdued haunting gags land, laughs project with ease. Expect dry Irish wit, flamboyant musicians selling their souls for another hit record, and home appliances that wave at you. Quite a motley assembly of descriptors, yet together, they make for one uniquely lighthearted horror comedy that’s a cut above ordinary.
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Actor Logan Marshall-Green’s directorial debut Adopt A Highway feels tailor-made for Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival. It has nothing to do with horror, mind you, despite Blumhouse’s production banner. What could double as an acoustic country ballad whispers a nomad folk tale about one simple task: getting by. Indie bloodlines run through Marshall-Green’s jailhouse poetry without overly romanticized narratives, more appropriately about passing moments than revelations. It’s about muttered dialogue, directionless trajectories, and a most relatable assessment of life not going as expected.
In other words, humanity as we know it. Read More »
Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Villains isn’t their first genre rodeo, and it shows. Their feature debut Body ignited their affair with home invasion horror, Stake Land II sucked some serious sequel blood, and their script for Don’t Kill It burst with howlin’ mad body-possession beats. So what makes Villains their most gratifyingly unstable and deliciously dark midnighter yet? Simplicity in casting: Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe. Maybe that’s my specific answer, but I’d watch these two imitate Bunny and Clive (bargain bin versions) until the proverbial cows come home.
Granted, there’s far more to the morally blurry Villains worth pondering than two charismatic and devious burgeoning criminals, but try not falling head-over-heels with Berk and Olsen’s daydreaming amateur fugitives. Read More »
John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen is a poster child for Netflix Originals when it comes to noting how “unparalleled creative freedom” isn’t always beneficial. Cinematography paints an early 1900s Texas frontier where Wild West lawlessness gets a Tommy Gun upgrade, and performances are as prolific as the names attached, but oh how dusty a biographical drama that cannot sustain over 120 minutes. Breathless prairies with Dust Bowl destitution become repetitive; characters over explained after we’ve already established persona, motivation, and presence. Hancock’s dramatic retelling is a slow, sluggish boar without a leash, inching closer and closer to known finality. A less-than-exciting homage despite scenic reverence paid in listless, contemplative stares that mull the distressing fame of Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert).
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There is, despite countless American Pie and Road Trip spin-offs arguing otherwise, an art to shaping R-rated comedies. Rawdog raunchiness and “F-bombs” alone don’t equate to laugh-a-minute genius.
Take a movie like Good Boys. Gene Stupnitsky’s hilarious adolescent comicality boasts heart, message, and humor in the precisely right places. Lesser creators would’ve leaned heavily on cursing “tweens” thinking with their pre-pubescent naughty parts, yet Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg dare to focus on a heartwarming story about coming of age with sixth-grade understanding, and then fill in the anecdotal kinky playthings and pornography gags. Read More »
When grandma stitched you that decorative “Home Is Where The Heart Is” pillow, she didn’t mean it literally (a physical, beating organ), but Travis Stevens’ Girl On The Third Floor is architectural horror that ponders otherwise. If these walls could talk, what secrets they’d spill – or better yet, imprison. Stevens’ haunting deconstruction splits no hairs between sins of the past and sins of today, as some desecrated buildings have endured too much tragedy worth keeping quiet. It’s a homeowner’s worst reality, temptress’ playground, and spooky-scary ghost story isolated inside a barren, yet active, fixer-upper.
It’s not The Witch In The Window–tier “latched souls” terrorization, but Stevens’ directorial debut is nonetheless a hair-raising plea for atonement once momentum snowballs. Read More »
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Which is more terrifying: keeping up your high school status, or childbirth? Directors/writers Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman honor both painstaking enterprises in their furiously entertaining hor(ror)monal romp, Snatchers. Initial parallels to 2007’s Teeth fade quickly as the film splices Mean Girls DNA with Critters or Gremlins, or most appropriately, Slither. This is the kind of maternal midnighter that uproariously decapitates a gynecologist and coins the phrase “vag-cannon” while doomsday rages onward. It deals with single parenthood, safe sexual practices, and feisty gender “free pass” commentaries, all while nasty uterine buggers spatter Madre Vista bloody red. Read More »
Jonathan Levine’s Long Shot is a sufficiently safety-wrapped package of vocal demands for change structured around equally predictable rom-com beats (watch the trailer). Not the worst thing in the world by any stretch of emphasis, mind you. Cutesy Hallmark signatures are traded for shared gender relationship roles, highlighting women’s ongoing strife in daily global environments while romance flourishes under often redefined subgenre frameworks. Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling’s screenplay says less about “Red vs Blue” headbutting and chromosome-focused stereotypes than perceived, but still provides a comedic outlet for strong performers who attract “unlikely” lovestruck charms.
Oh yeah, did I mention Long Shot tempts us with the idea of Charlize Theron leading America into a brighter tomorrow? As they’d say in the meme world, “You have my sword.” Read More »