Obscure Horror Movies

When we talk about Halloween and Friday the 13th launching a wave of rip-offs, we’re talking about movies like Final Exam. It came out so soon after Friday the 13th that you’d think its similarities were coincidences, but the truth is that MPM Productions simply made the movie double quick. Six months from absolutely nothing to prints in theaters.

They made it on the cheap and dirty, and it rips off all sorts of visuals, but it’s still good. Maybe it deserves to be forgotten, but it doesn’t deserve to be as forgotten as it is. Fortunately, it was kept alive by fans of horror b-sides. You can own it on Blu-ray.

So, it’s obscure, but good and available. A Venn diagram centers that’s growing every year.

Obscurity is its own currency in genre filmmaking. It grants a special sheen to certain movies that manage to be entertaining (or downright excellent) without finding an audience. Some movies hit and then faded into the mist, some failed to ever surface, and some deserve to stay buried.

But others rightfully become the stuff of whispers shared between fans who have seen everything else and want more. They’re secret passwords. More and more, they’re becoming accessible thanks to an internet era were niche audiences can command a Blu-ray release and you can dive into the obscure without necessarily doing your other horror homework. The definition of “obscure” blurs when most everything is a tidy Google search away.

If you’re at the bottom of the cult classic pile, give these obscure horror films a shot in the dark.

Read More »

Finding a picture of Paul Rudd with a shaved head offers a bit of a challenge, so you’ll have to imagine it.

Harder than it seems. Yet it’s instrumental in displaying one of the actor’s fundamentally likable qualities. Back in the early 1990s, Rudd get his big break as a young actor with a role in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, but it almost didn’t happen. Since he didn’t think he’d gotten the role, he shaved his head, which almost cost him the role.

Heckerling and company tried wigs on him because they thought Josh – the budding environmental lawyer – should have long hair. Thankfully, nothing worked, and Rudd ended up rocking profoundly conservative, slightly fluffy hair.

This examination of his public persona as an artist won’t fixate on something as small as hair, but you’ve got to admit that it can play an outsized role when you consider the consistency of a man who makes collective eyes pop because he grows a beard.

Read More »

Movies to Watch After Zombieland Double Tap

There are more zombie movies than there were zombies in the original Night of the Living Dead.

Is that true? Feels like it. It’s a genre so over-saturated that its longevity resembles its slobbering, brain-hungry baddies. There’s a palpable relentlessness to it, as though the genre itself pushes back whenever anyone announces its demise.

Then there’s Zombieland, the 2009 film that decided to have fun both with the natural superiority of human beings over former human beings and our half-century-old familiarity with how it all works. It’s essentially an American version of Shaun of the Dead where, instead of heading for the pub, loners team up for a road trip, worship an unkillable junk food snack, and end up in an amusement park. There’s just so, so, so much America in this thing.

Including America’s mascot: Bill Murray.

Ten years later, we have a sequel. Finally. With every instance where a film follows a decade after, the question is whether it will have its own spark and freshness or if the same formula can still feel exciting. Unfortunately, Zombieland: Double Tap is up against a steeper curve because it comes after a massive wave of zombie movies that it helped cause. Fortunately, everyone involved is really good at making funny films with exceptional kills of the week.

Get ready for some cardio with these six movies you should double-feature with Zombieland: Double Tap.

Read More »

Tracking Joaquin Phoenix

(Welcome to Role Call, where we examine two performances from an actor – their first defining role and their most recent/last – to get a sense of who they are.)

Joaquin Phoenix has been playing the Joker for a long time.

As the awkward romantic Leonard Kraditor in Two Lovers. As the lonely, optimistic Theodore Twombly in Her. As the morally ambiguous bruiser Bruno in The Immigrant. There’s also the scorned, disrespected monster Commodus in Gladiator, the sick puppy dog Freddie Quell in The Master, and the vacant, delusional version of “Joaquin Phoenix” who stared and stuttered his way through emerging hip-hop fame in I’m Still Here.

All of these puzzle pieces are present in his version of DC’s most infamous bad guy.

Usually in this column, we explore how Angela Lansbury went from gorgeous ingenue to globally respected murder-solver, but Phoenix’s career shifted slightly different than everyone else’s. While a lot of other stars evolve by broadening how we see the scope of their talents, Phoenix has deepened. His talent has a singular focus. In a word, “troubled.”

As in, more often than not, reviews of his movies include the phrase, “Joaquin Phoenix plays a troubled…” A troubled philosophy professor. A troubled club manager. A troubled WWII veteran. A troubled hit man. A troubled performer. The best – “a troubled soul,” from one description of The Master –  sums up his career in just three words.

While Phoenix has stayed focused, the movie industry has evolved around him to take him from supporting actor to troubled leading man. Let’s look at how far he’s come from a laugh in 1995 to a signature cackle in 2019.

Read More »

Joker Wins Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award

Is Joker a brilliant prestige picture worthy of Oscar or a poison pill waiting for film culture to swallow it? Probably, yes.

Todd Phillips’ riff starring Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s BFF is a Trojan horse that sneaks an audacious character study into the studio system by slapping make-up and name recognition on its face. There’s something compelling about the sparse title. Even without knowing it’s about the Joker, we know it’s about the Joker because that’s the Joker that we know. A towering pop culture figure. The most well known fictional psychopath. The crown prince of crime who has been adapted at a Shakespearean rate.

And here he is again, the scion of the downtrodden and aggrieved – like Taxi Driver with grease paint and a good tailor – ready to rip up a grimy rainbow-colored Gotham. This time he appears as a stark reminder of the freedom that not connecting your characters to a singular universe can deliver.

Here are 6 movies to watch with Joker if you’re game for a double feature.

Read More »

Jennifer Lopez career

(Welcome to Role Call, where we examine two performances from an actor – their first defining role and their most recent/last – to get a sense of who they are.)

If Academy voters in 1997 had fully understood Selena’s cultural importance, Jennifer Lopez would have been nominated for an Oscar twenty years ago.

Her portrayal of the young singer who was gunned down on the eve of launching into ultra-popularity was such a revelation that it turned Lopez into a star overnight, but it didn’t garner Oscar attention, which is a shame because what she achieved with the role was similar to what Joaquin Phoenix did as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line nearly a decade later.

With an Indie Spirit nomination for Mi Familia and a Golden Globe nomination for Selena under the belt, Lopez has never returned to the narrow version of prestige demanded by the Oscars. She opted, instead, for global pop music domination and a genre filmography that’s earned billions.

She’s part of the Oscar conversation now, but it’s not because Hustlers is the kind of movie that fits into the Academy’s tidy vision of what deserves recognition. If Lopez gets nominated, and if she wins for playing Ramona Vega, it will be because she and others have forced the Oscars to widen their gaze far beyond the days when Helen Hunt, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Christie, Judi Dench, and Kate Winslet were all vying for the top prize.

Let’s look at how Lopez got here. Read More »

Movies to Watch With Ad Astra

Sure, Brad Pitt saving the galaxy from space vibrations is good, but what about Pitt fighting the crushing despair of the endless void? How fun is that?

An unofficial sequel to Space Cowboys, James Gray’s Ad Astra represents the newest incarnation of the waxing/waning trend of interstellar travel as metaphor for mankind’s internal search for meaning – a far cry from the rubber-suited aliens of the 20th century.

Naturally, that’s no big surprise from an auteur whose personal brand is interpersonal relationships with a dash of daddy issues, but it taps into a current, deepened fascination with what’s out there and whether it has sharp teeth.

Here are 6 options to double feature with Ad Astra that will make you, finally, jealous of Brad Pitt.

Read More »

glass movie review

The first act of The Incredibles is still the fairest portrayal of what superhero home life would look like. The flurry of domestic bliss and panic mirrors a lot of families with young children, but there’s an additional anxious hum to the rhythm of their lives. That fear of being caught, of suppressing who they are for the “greater good” of a fearful, misinformed larger society imbues every choice they make.

Yet it’s only one family. One view on what it might be like for a very small group of super powered humans trying to fit into the suburban model of peaceful boredom.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough stories of real people living in superhero universes and superheroes living realistically in the world. Chris Evangelista’s review of Glass – which he opened by reliving the pleasant surprise of learning Unbreakable was about comic books – was another reminder of that. That’s one reason M. Night Shyamalan’s original film hit so hard in 2000. It came during the superhero genre’s puberty, treating those figures with far more respect than the average spandex fantasy and dissecting the human psyche behind grand acts of heroism long before The Dark Knight‘s literal prisoners dilemma.

Treating super people as people is still rare. What’s even more fascinating is that Marvel and DC’s dominance has created a world where the standard story involves superheroes navigating a world where everyone accepts that superheroes exist, creating a subgenre of movies about people who may or not be super trying to survive in a world where people think they’re crazy. It’s a subgenre to which Glass now belongs.

I’m assuming you’ll fire up Unbreakable (they’re alive, damn it!) and Split, so here are 6 other movies to wrap your supervillain mind around.

Read More »

(Welcome to Role Call, where we examine two performances from an actor – their first defining role and their most recent/last – to get a sense of who they are.)

You’re gonna be thinking of Murder, She Wrote while reading this. That’s okay. It’s only natural. The grandmotherly Columbo dominated Dame Angela Lansbury‘s persona so strongly that a certain generation of viewers can’t imagine her as anything but a cardigan-wearing bicycle enthusiast whom death follows like a puppy. After more than a decade, the series ended when Lansbury hit the traditional retirement age, but she’s never quit working.

She’ll turn 100 in 2025. She’s worked through 8 decades. She’s a stone cold force of nature.

No one (except maybe Dick Van Dyke) has had that kind of flourishing longevity. And like your friend’s great-grandma who talks about her misspent youth as an arms dealer in South America, Lansbury is so much more than the kindly figure she’s become in popular culture. So much more than the quiet ex-teacher from small town Maine who solved 268 murders.

Read More »

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

Movies to Watch With Escape Room

The first escape room I did was in the office park section of Amsterdam in 2011. The building was nondescript, live escape rooms were still a novel concept, and I had visions of Taken running through my head. The paranoia was just strong enough to make me send a tweet telling people to call Interpol if I didn’t tweet again an hour later.

It went fine. Those were early days where rooms were linear and filled only with numerical locks. Since then, I’ve stopped the assassination of JFK in Berlin, solved a gruesome series of murders before a serial killer returned home, and walked through a lot of armoires into hidden rooms.

As with any entertainment craze, it was inevitable that it would be twisted into a horror movie, especially since Strangers Fatally Competing For Cash is already a well-trafficked sub-genre. Considering the parallel sub-genre of Deadly Party Games (which went from Ouija to Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board in depressing time), it’s amazing that a horror movie specifically name-checking escape rooms as a phenomenon wasn’t made years ago.

Now it’s here. Escape Room features six strangers who converge on a mysterious location to vie for a million bucks. The catch? Just like your office team-building exercise, they have to escape without getting killed.

Here are 6 movies to play after you escape.

Read More »