[LISTS] SHOCKTOBERFEST 2020, A MESSAGE FROM THE PAST
I am writing this on September 18th, 2020, just after I found out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead. I did not realize how much of a symbol of hope she was to me until the tide of helplessness washed over me. This year has been harsh and cruel, and so many of us live in a heightened state of trauma. Recently, I saw a social media post about trauma survivors watch the same movies and shows over and over. Revisiting favorite shows and movies is a powerful antidote against the unpredictability of life and provides them comfort. This pattern recognition for humans, where we examine the data to look for the reassurances that we can survive the present.
Future-Mike, I cannot even begin to imagine what fresh Hells have manifested in your world during the few short weeks between my writing this and your reading it. How much closer is the armed insurgency? Are we still the world leader in preventable COVID-19 deaths? Is the Pacific Northwest still on fire? The gulf still flooded? I hope the worst days will be behind us, and life has become less hostile and frightening in the interim. But if not…
Past-Mike, from the good old days of mid-September.
This week’s Shocktoberfest is the usual mixed bag of old and new, familiar, and unfamiliar movies. I hardly ever watch sequels but could not pass up the return of Samara Weaving’s unique brand of Satanism from 2017’s The Babysitter and wanted to check out the sequel. There is also a newly discovered gem from 1975, and I finally got to watch my third Fantasia Fest film. Let’s get right to it.
16) The Fury (1978) Classic Brian De Palma paranormal thriller about out-of-control-teenagers-with-psychic-abilities coupled with a healthy dose of paranoid, top-secret, evil government agencies. DePalma does a good job balancing the two genres to present a complex story with complex characters. Kirk Douglas may have been a little beyond his prime to parade around shirtless, but John Cassavetes’ explosive performance is still incredible.
17) The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) First-time Watch! I’m going to have to classify this as a movie that I really wanted to enjoy but did not. A remake more than a sequel, it was not that interesting. They even brought back the same characters to kill again! Plus, now that the world has fallen in love with Samara Weaving, does that mean she can’t be the supreme bitch anymore? The unexpected, sentimental ending was the real knee to the groin for what was at best an average teen gross-out horror-comedy. Despite McG’s usual flashy visual style, The Killer Queen‘s greatest victim was itself.
18) Innocent Blood (1992) First-time Watch! A vampire/gangster movie with future Sopranos hoodlums Paulie Walnuts and Richie Aprile? Plus, Don Rickles and Anne Parillaud, La Femme Nikita herself as a sensual but lonely vampire? With so much good stuff in this movie, it is easy to see how the maxim “too much of a good thing is still too much” is easy to ignore when you are doing cocaine at work. Great action scenes, special effects, and some (largely superfluous) nudity kind of kept me engaged.
19) Bay of Blood (1971) Upon watching this movie at its premiere, Christopher Lee, a well-known person in the horror community, spoke about feeling revolted at the high level of violence in this film. He and director Mario Bava had made the sublime The Whip and the Body previously. He was puzzled that such an artistically inclined director could have used his skills to serve up this bloody, gory movie.
This interesting contrast between the more restrained, elegant horror of the past and the brutal terrors of modern life that so upset Lee would be revisited the following year with Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972. Lee’s count, resurrected into modern, swinging London, never once leaves the ruined, gothic cathedral he was reborn in, almost as if he too were revolted by the horrid world he was called to. Still, Bava’s florid visual style prevails over the mayhem (13 gruesome, yet stylish deaths) and almost completely baffling plot.
20) Ghost Stories (2020) First-time watch! My first anthology of this year hails from India. Of the four episodes, the first was very good, and the second was pretty good. The final two failed to keep my attention.
21) Cult Girls (2019) First-time watch! Ever watch a heavy metal video and think it would make a pretty good horror movie? Well, here it is. Aesthetically spellbinding journey into religious horror via Black Metal sensibilities, Cult Girls captured my attention from the beginning all the way to the end. At times the small budget and obvious lack of acting experience among the players were hard to dismiss, but overall, a highly enjoyable experience.
22) Assignment Terror (1971) (aka Los Monstruos del Terror) First-time watch! The third film featuring horror’s most conflicted lycanthrope, Paul Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky, has an outrageously audacious plot: a race of aliens seeks to remove humanity from Earth via monsters from the Universal Classic Horrors movies of the 1930s. A vampire, a werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster, and mummy are united to purge humanity for the alien, colonial carpet baggers wishing to move in. Michael Rennie, from The Day the Earth Stood Still, is back as another alien from space with a (different) message for humanity. Bond-Girl Karin Dor inhabits a reanimated corpse with a lust for life that borders on necrophilia.
23) Lord Shango (1975) First-time watch! I found this Blaxploitation gem on Amazon Prime! Director Ray Marsh and writer Paul Carter Harrison created a fascinating glimpse into the world of rural African Americans in the 1970s. The conflict between Christianity, the religion of the slave owners, and Yoruba, the religion brought from Africa, erupt within a family.
The shocking opening starts at a beautiful, riverside baptism. Soon the praising and hymn singing is disrupted by Femi (Bill Overton), a Yoruba practitioner. His attempt to prevent his lover Billie(Avis McCarther), from accepting Christ ends in his murder by the deacons. But instead of veering into revenge movie territory like Sugar Hill, Lord Shango concentrates on reconciliations as Billie and her mother, Jenny (Marlene Clark), struggle to move forward. At times the mysticism gets a little too ethereal, but all the leads deliver powerful performances, and the film ends on a strong and beautifully redemptive note.
24) 12 Hour Shift (2020) First-time watch! This totally unhinged, gruesome, comedy of errors was my final Fantasia Festival choice. I finally got to watch it, and oh, wow! Watch this space for further developments.