It’s time to get spooky, boys and girls. Halloween is one of my favorite times of year: vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and an unhealthy amount of pumpkin-spiced coffee–honestly, how can you go wrong? To celebrate this most spooktacular holiday, I’ve dedicated a majority of my free time this month to the horror genre and other Halloween-themed media. Without further delay, it’s time to let the spooky shenanigans begin, and to talk about What I’ve Been Watching/Reading in October of 2017.
Notable YouTube Videos
- Cinemassacre‘s Resurrected Reviews (Monster Madness Re-Runs) – James Rolfe is a true pioneer of the world of YouTube–he’s been there since the beginning. Aside from the obvious main attraction, The Angry Video Game Nerd, one of the most beloved parts of his channel is Monster Madness, an annual journey through the world of horror films in celebration of Halloween. This year’s iteration of the series, Resurrected Reviews, was a little bit different, comprised entirely of updated re-runs of past Monster Madness videos. And as someone who’s only been a close follower of Cinemassacre for the past couple of years and who’s only seen a fraction of Monster Madness in its entirety, I really appreciated this.
- Insufferable Social Media Argument by Digibro and Mumkey Jones – Modeled after Maddox and Dick Masterson’s Biggest Problem in the Universe, ISMA pits Digibro and Mumkey Jones, two of my favorite YouTubers, in an “argument” over all of the insufferable bullshit being talked about nonstop over social media. What you’ll quickly realize when you start listening to it, however, is that the ISMA is drowned in an ocean of irony so deep that you can hardly tell up from down. They knew exactly what they were doing–there was never any intention to take any of this shit seriously, and the podcast is all the better for it. It really takes the piss and vinegar out of the stuff people are get needlessly worked-up over on a weekly basis, and I couldn’t appreciate that more. It was a really great podcast to listen to while doing chores, completing homework, and playing video games. Unfortunately, with Mumkey having been kicked out of the Pro Crastinators just recently, it looks like he series is never get its 19th and 20th episodes. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. In the meantime, I still have a dozen or so episodes of the Pro Crastinators Podcast to watch, so expect me to talk about that once I’m caught up.
- Kingdom Hearts 101 – PCP University Lecture by Best Guy Ever – Kingdom Hearts is one of the most perplexing media franchises in existence. As if the combination of Disney cartoons and Square Enix games wasn’t strange enough on its own, it also contains one of the most needlessly complicated and confusing stories ever written. Who the hell actually thought any of this shit was a good idea? Honestly, trying to wrap your head around the “plot” of Kingdom Hearts is more terrifying than any horror-movie monster I can think of. And yet, Best Guy Ever has gone out of his way to teach the Pro Crastinators all about it, in a 3-hour-long lecture that will induce as many laughs as it will headaches. And yes, in case you wondering, I watched(/listened) to this entire video in one sitting. Needless to say, I want to die. SIMPLE AND CLEAN IS THE WAY THAT YOU’RE MAKING ME FEEEEEEEEL TONIGHT–IT’S HARD TO LET IT GO. No, but seriously, please kill me.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – With all of the unnecessary sequels and remakes being vomited out of the Hollwood system nowadays, I don’t think anyone can really blame me for going into this film with unsure expectations. The fact that I was unfamiliar with the director, Dennis Villeneuve, and the lead actor, Ryan Gosling, didn’t exactly help. However, having now seen it on the big screen, I can safely say that my concerns were misplaced. Blade Runner 2049 is as perfect a follow-up to the original as there ever could be or ever will be. It’s a sci-fi masterpiece. Compared to the more vivid and dynamic world created by Scott in the original Blade Runner, Villeneuve’s vision of the future is a bleaker and quieter one, and the entire film is submerged in an atmosphere of silent oppression. The iconic sci-fi gadgets from the original, like spinners and blasters, are featured less prominently in favor of new technology that highlights the passage of time between the two films. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, 2049 continues to explore the duality of humans and replicants, of the natural and the artificial, of reality and illusion, and contemplates the great mystery of what makes us truly human. Our protagonist this time around is K, a replicant forced to hunt down his own kind as a blade runner for the LAPD. Compared to Harrison Ford’s Deckard, K is a much more subdued and docile character. Rather than actively pursuing a romantic relationship, as Deckard did with Rachael, he contents himself with a holographic A.I girlfriend named Joi. K’s struggle to find his own identity forms the central character arc of 2049. He is portrayed by Ryan Gosling, who delivers an outstanding performance–I’ve never seen him in any other film before, but I can already tell he’s one of the most promising actors working in Hollywood today. Harrison Ford, who is excellent as always, returns to his role as Deckard. I must admit, I’m really impressed with the way 2049 utilizes returning characters from the original film. Deckard plays a key role in the plot, but his presence never steals the spotlight away from K. In fact, he only appears very late in the film. Lastly, Blade Runner 2049 blew my mind with the way it subverts the “chosen one” trope, and it’s the only sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen that’s used hologram technology in a genuinely interesting way instead of just a visual gimmick. With all of that said, Blade Runner 2049 is easily one of the best things I saw this month, and a worthy successor to one of my top 5 favorite films of all time. I guess now I’ll go back to watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut over and over again until the blu-ray for 2049 comes out, upon which I’ll watch it over and over again as well. The world of Blade Runner remains one of the great events of my life as a movie-goer.
- Death Proof (2007) – Well, that’s it. I’ve now seen every single film directed by Quentin Tarantino. With each and every film of his I watch, I am only more and more certain that he belongs at the very top of my list of favorite directors. I must admit, though, Death Proof is possibly the most peculiar entry in his filmography. Originally released as a double-feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Death Proof is a tribute to exploitation films, slashers, and classic car-chase stunt films like Vanishing Point, Bullitt, and Mad Max. Throw in Kurt Russel, a handful of beautiful women with bad attitudes, and an adrenaline-pumping car chase climax, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a good time at the movies. In comparison to Tarantino’s other films, I think I’d rank Death Proof on the lower half of the rest–Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, Jackie Brown, and Reservoir Dogs remain the untouchable top 5 for me. Even so, it’s a must-watch for any Tarantino fan.
- Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead Trilogy – 38 years ago, director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, and a dozen or so other cast and crew members headed to a remote cabin in Morristown, Tennessee and, with a modest budget of $400,000, created the first film in the most original, entertaining, and inventive horror series of all time. The Evil Dead trilogy is a work of true creative genius. They feel like the kind of films that a group of kids (ones with extraordinarily maniacal imaginations) would make in their basement just for fun. Despite the hellish conditions of the first movie’s production, these are the kind of films that come closest to making me want to become a director–though I’d still prefer to be a novelist or screenwriter. Because I loved all three of these films for their own unique reasons, I want to discuss each of them one-by-one, tracking the evolution of the series along the way.
- The Evil Dead (1981) – The original Evil Dead is a testament to how limitations can be overcome by sheer force of effort and imagination. With just $400,000 raised from local investors, Sam Raimi and co. changed the world of horror forever. 5 friends–Ash (Bruce Campbell), Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scott (Richard DeManincor), Linda (Betsy Baker), and Shelly (Teresa Tilly)–travel to a small cabin in the middle of the woods. There, they find the Necronomicon–“The Book of the Dead”–and accidentally unleash its demonic evil. As they fight for survival, they are picked-off one-by-one and possessed by the evil dead. Something that should be noted is that, while Ash is still the main character of The Evil Dead, he really isn’t the iconic hero he becomes in Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. He’s still entertaining and pleasant to be around, and Bruce Campbell delivers is great as usual, but Ash is pretty much just a normal guy in this film. And compared to its sequels, The Evil Dead is more of a straightforward horror film, albeit an incredibly original one, with a decent amount of absurd comedy thrown in for good measure. But who am I kidding with all of this nitpicking? This movie is fucking awesome, and there’s no use trying to deny it. From its inventive use of practical effects, to its bizarre camera angles and editing, all 85 minutes of The Evil Dead ooze with creativity. It’s a reminder of what filmmaking–and creative storytelling in general–is really all about. We can flaunt our so-called professionalism and expertise all we want, but deep down we’re all just kids, drawing imaginary friends in the dirt with a stick or fooling around with a video camera in the basement or backyard, telling stories for no better reason than Because it’s so much fun. And what greater honor could there be than that? Oh, and just to let you know, this isn’t even the best film in the series–buckle your seatbelts, ladies and gentleclods, we’ve still two more to go.
- Evil Dead 2 (1987) – Every once in a blue moon, a sequel comes along that not only lives up to but arguably even surpasses the original. Evil Dead 2 is one such sequel. Take everything the original film did–the creative practical effects, the inventive use of camera angles, movement, and editing, the weird and quirky yet enjoyable acting, and so on–and then ramp it up to a thousand. That’s Evil Dead 2 in a nutshell. This is the movie that took Ash Williams, the likable but underwhelming protagonist of the first movie, and turned him into the grooviest character in all of horror. He’s an action hero, a horror victim, a slapstick character, a master of quips and one-liners, and a cult icon all at the same time. The genius of Bruce Campbell’s performance can’t be understated. He and Ash are inseparable as an actor-character duo–no other actor could do justice to the role besides him. Another new element introduced by Evil Dead 2 is the comedy. There’s a scene in this film where Ash uses a chainsaw to cut off his own hand, which proceeds to crawl around the room like Thing from The Addams Family and then gives Ash the middle finger. If that sounds like quality entertainment to you, you’re going to love the shit out of this movie. The original had its funny moments, but it was still just a straight-up low-budget horror flick. In stark contrast, the third and final movie, Army of Darkness, is pretty much just an action-comedy film with horror trappings. Evil Dead 2 lies somewhere in-between, blending the horror and comedy genres flawlessly. One second you’ll be laughing and the next your heart will be racing with terror. The result of this balance is not only the best film in the Evil Dead trilogy, but also the best film I saw this entire month.
- Army of Darkness (1992) – Unlike Evil Dead 2, which used its first ten or so minutes to completely retcon and remake the original Evil Dead, Army of Darkness leaves us right where we left off: Ash gets sucked into a giant portal that sends him back to the Middle Ages. In order to return to his ordinary life as a department-store employee (“Shop smart, shop S-Mart”), he must find set out to find the Necronomicon, the book that caused all of his problems in the first place. As I mentioned before, Army of Darkness drops most of the series’ horror elements in favor of ramping up the action and comedy, with more slapstick and one-liners than ever before. However, it still has all of the insane camera work, editing, and practical special effects of the first two, and Bruce Campbell once again delivers a magnetic performance as the unforgettable Ash, so you’ll feel right at home in spite of the shift in tone. The final battle is basically the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but with stop-motion skeletons instead of uruk-hai. And honestly, who doesn’t love stop-motion skeletons? I suppose I better talk about the different versions of this film. In total, Army of Darkness has had four different versions: The U.S Theatrical Cut, The U.S Television Cut, The International Cut, and The Director’s Cut. For more specific details on each version, I recommend reading Book of the Dead‘s page about it. In my honest opinion, you should just watch the Director’s Cut. It’s the longest and most coherent version, as well the version closest to Sam Raimi’s vision. If there’s one complaint I have for this version, it’s the ending. The apocalypse ending isn’t bad by any means–in fact it’s quite funny–but I prefer the supermarket ending used in the U.S version. Also, I think “Good, bad? I’m the guy with the gun” is a better line than “I’m not that good”, but maybe that’s just me. I recommend just watching the Director’s Cut and then looking up the supermarket ending and aforementioned quote on YouTube. But if you really want to watch every single version, I recommend buying Scream Factory’s collector’s edition blu-ray to get all 4 in a single package. In the meantime, I plan to watch the new Ash vs Evil Dead TV series. Hail to the king, baby.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Everything we know and love (or hate) about the zombie genre today had its beginnings in Night of the Living Dead, the first film in George Romero’s Dead series. You know how it goes: the dead rise from the grave to eat the flesh of the living, and a small group of characters struggle to survive as they fight among themselves and fend off the zombie hoard. We take zombie movies for granted these days, since they’re about as common as air, but back then, Night of the Living Dead took the horror world by storm. Even today, it still holds up as one of the best zombie movies ever made, frequently imitated but only rarely surpassed. This is also one of the oldest films I’ve seen with a black actor in the leading role, which is pretty cool. Duane Jones plays Ben, by far the film’s most compelling and memorable character. Unfortunately, I can’t really throw the same praises toward the female characters. They’re bland, useless, and forgettable. The main female character, Barbara, played by Judith O’Dea, spends a majority of her screen-time sitting around in a trance. Look, I get that she lost her brother and all, but she’s supposed to be one of our main protagonists, and instead she’s just dead weight. For some reason, it took George Romero all the way until Day of the Dead nearly twenty years later to finally figure out how to write female characters. Well, better late than never I suppose. Aside from that one complaint, however, I really did enjoy Night of the Living Dead, and its impact on the horror genre can’t be understated. If you’re horror fan, you can’t afford to overlook this one.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Here’s a problem I have with a lot of the films coming out today: they’re too ‘well-made’, and I say ‘well-made’ more in the technical sense than the artistic sense. Everything looks too polished and clean, giving off a feeling off sterility and monotony. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the polar opposite of this–it’s dirty, gritty, and grimy, with a raw, documentary-like style that makes the entire film feel like a lucid nightmare. Keeping in line with this sense of realism, the opening narration seems to imply that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based on a true story, which isn’t really the case. It was, however, inspired by a true story, that of murderer Ed Gein–who was also the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Even if it didn’t really happen, though, it certainly feels like it could, and that’s what makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre such an unnerving experience. It feels almost too real. And similarly to Psycho, it was one of the only slasher films made before Halloween, which brought the genre to the mainstream. This gives the film a really interesting place in the history of horror films. It’s not difficult to see why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a cult favorite 40 years after its release. It’s a must-watch for any horror fan.
- Stranger Things Season 1 – I’ve been avoiding Stranger Things like a bad case of the flu for a while now. Call me a hipster, but when a show gets so popular that I can hear normies at my high school talking about it frequently, I get suspicious. Surely it can’t be that good, right? Well, after watching the entire first season and half of the second season, I really gotta admit, my suspicions were misplaced. Stranger Things is good–like, really damn good, albeit far from perfect. I think the first season, especially the first half, is bogged down by some issues that have been duly fixed in the second season, but aside from that, I had a really great time with it throughout. The characters are likable and engaging (for the most part), the actors all do a great job, the plot keeps you wanting to watch more (especially towards the end of the season), and I love the way they use the 1980’s suburban setting. Also, Finn Wolfhard is a god, and you all need to follow him on twitter if you haven’t already. I’ll go into more detail about Stranger Things next month when I talk about Season 2, so look forward to that.
- Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 – I think the most interesting part of Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 is the fact that it exists at all. A Blade Runner anime directed by the legendary Shinichirō Watanabe? Where in the world did this come from? As it turns out, Blade Runner 2049 director Dennis Villeneuve is a big fan of Watanabe’s work, and personally asked him to make an animated short showing some of the events that took place between the original film and 2049. This actually isn’t the first time Watanabe has worked on something connected to a western film–back in the early 2000’s, he directed “Kid’s Story”, one of the animated shorts from The Animatrix. While Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 has the striking visuals you’d expect from Watanabe, it really isn’t a must-watch, even if you’re as big a fan of Blade Runner as I am. It’s only 15 minutes long, though, and is currently available on Crunchyroll, so it doesn’t hurt to check it out if you’re interested.
- Shiki – Horror is a genre that anime as whole is sorely lacking it. There have been one or two here and there, like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, but not even close to the huge number of great horror films and novels that have been released here in the west over the years. Of those select few horror anime that do exist, however, Shiki is one of the very best. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, the premise will be familiar to you: A family of vampires moves into a small, rural village and prey on the townspeople. The residents slowly but surely catch on to what’s going on, and soon the conflict between the two races explodes into all-out war. Shiki is essentially a loose adaptation of Salem’s Lot set in Japan instead of New England. Though the premises of the two are almost identical, the way they execute that premise are quite different. Where Salem’s Lot takes almost all of its influence from Dracula and other western vampire novels, Shiki integrates Japanese folklore to put its own twist on the vampire mythos. In fact, the vampires in the anime are never actually refered to as ‘vampires’, but rather as the eponymous ‘Shiki’, which means ‘Corpse-Demon’. Also, where Salem’s Lot is a much more straightforward good vs. evil story, putting humanity’s morality into question but ultimately depicting Barlow and the other vampires as a far greater evil, Shiki goes all-out with its moral ambiguity. You could honestly make a compelling argument over which side–the humans or the vampires–deserves to survive. It goes great lengths to depict all of the horrible things that honest, ordinary people are willing to do in an eat-or-be-eaten, predator-prey situation. This show has some serious balls, and it’s the only horror anime I’ve seen that’s really, genuinely horrifying. While King’s novel is more tightly-written and a better work overall in my opinion, Shiki is still one of the best anime series I’ve seen all year. It was so good, in fact, that I watched all 22 episodes in just one week, and the last 9 in a single sitting. It’s been so long since I finished an anime of that length that quickly on my first viewing of it that I can’t even remember what the last one was. It’s currently available in full on Crunchyroll, so do yourself a favor and go watch it.
- Soul Eater (Vol. 1-4) – I watched Soul Eater all the way back in 2014, when I was still just getting into anime, and, for a short time at least, it became one of my favorites. While Studio Bones’ anime adaptation delivered on stellar animation and capturing the unique Halloween-themed aesthetic of the manga, it ultimately cut the series short and gave us a half-assed original ending, something that’s bothered me more and more over time. I’ve intended to read the manga for some time now, but have been putting it off for some reason. This month, I decided to put an end to that. Even though I’ve only read the first 4 volumes thus far, I’m almost certain that Soul Eater is one of my favorite manga series ever–partially because I haven’t actually read that many manga, but that’s beside the point. It’s just as good as I remember the anime being, if not better. Atsushi Ohkubo is one hell of an illustrator, and Soul Eater is a treat for the eyes–a unique and expressive art style, impeccable use of visual comedy, memorable character designs, great design sense in general, and some of the most well-drawn and well-choreographed action scenes I’ve ever seen in a manga series. On top of that, the series has one of the best casts of characters of any shounen manga or anime, with my personal favorite being Maka, the main protaganist. Along with Uraraka from Boku no Hero, she’s the character I most regret not putting on my Top 10 Waifus list, which I plan on re-doing as quickly as possible next year. There isn’t too much else to say about Soul Eater right now, since I still have 21 volumes left to read, but I’ll be updating my thoughts on it with each month.
- Batman: Haunted Knight – There’s nothing quite as satisfying as reading a great Batman comic, and with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale at the helm, you really can’t go wrong. Haunted Knight isn’t so much one cohesive story as an anthology of three smaller stories: “Fears”, in which Batman must take down the Scarecrow and come face-to-face with his own inner fears; “Madness”, in which Batman must rescue a young Barbara Gordon from the Mad Hatter, using Jim Gordon’s relationship as a foil to Bruce Wayne’s relationship with his mother; and finally “Ghosts”, which is a essentially a Batman adaptation of A Christmas Carol, where Bruce Wayne realizes that he shouldn’t allow his alter-ego to completely consume his life. All three stories are tightly-written and are a reminder of why I love the character of Batman so much in the first place. On top of that, Tim Sale takes full advantage of the Halloween motif and delivers some darkly beautiful and incredibly atmospheric artwork. I really don’t have any complaints for Haunted Knight. It was a great time from beginning to end and one of the best comic books I’ve read all year, if not the best.
- Misery by Stephen King – Across his four-decade career, Stephen King has provided us with no shortage of macabre monsters, from the vampires of Salem’s Lot to shape-shifting demon-turtle-clown from outer space (or something like that) of IT. But what King has also shown us over the years is that, sometimes, the most terrifying monsters of all are ourselves. And there’s probably no better example of this than Misery‘s Annie Wilkes. Out of all of the novels I’ve read from King thus far, Misery is by far the most unnerving. The premise is so simple but so terrifying at the same time: a famous writer named Paul Sheldon gets in a car accident that shatters his legs, only to be rescued and subsequently kidnapped by a middle-aged nurse with a penchant for serial murder and an unhealthy obsession of Paul’s Misery novels–so much so, in fact, that she claims to be the man’s “biggest fan”. The idea of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with no chance of escape, your only company a person who could (and, more importantly, would) slice your head open with axe anytime she wanted, is utterly horrifying, and yet, much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, completely believable. Misery might not be the most overtly scary story Stephen King has ever written, but it may very well be the most unnerving.