The films reviewed in Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo are pulled from a list of films that was started when the column started. The list covers everything I’ve seen for the first time between 2012 and the present.
I have to be honest. Even with a few dozen guns to my head, I don’t think I could choose just one decade for horror movies. If you ask me, it can’t be done, man.
There are decades that I like more than others. What I can’t do is choose the 70s over the 80s, or the 90s over the 60s. Or any decade over them all. The 80s are a glorious decade for slashers, movies that went against that trend, and movies that were too weird for their time. The 70s gave rise to visionaries like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, but it was also the era for high-budget, genre-defining releases like The Exorcist. The 90s weren’t as great as they could have been for the genre, but it was still an interesting decade that moved from films like Jacob’s Ladder to the Blair Witch Project.
It goes on like that. The 40s gave us Universal’s monster movies, which are still distinctive, praised, and imitated. I love the batshit variety of the 1950s. I can go on and on about the amazing Hammer films that were released in the 1960s. Believe me, too, when I say that I can come up with additional reasons for the decades I have already mentioned. Let’s talk about the social attitudes/rages that compelled the horror films of these given 10-year period. That is particularly apparent in the 70s, but I think you can find social influences in horror films for every decade. Obviously, you can, but I think it gets interesting when you start to wonder about the conscious influences against the unconscious influences. This is why I wish I had a better understanding of human psychology.
Anyway, we’re not going to curate any sort of horror festival at Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo. All I really want to do, instead, is compel you to tell me about your favorite decade. Am I the only weirdo who can’t pick just one? If that’s true, I guess I’ll be okay with that.
If I marathon some horror movies this Halloween (hopefully, there’s even going to be time for stuff like that), I’m going to consider every decade, including the one we’re barely living through right now. Themes are okay, but not if it cuts off a certain period. One of the things I love about this genre is how you can take people on just about any kind of ride you want, if you’re putting together a list of horror movies to watch over Halloween or the nearby weekend. Pick a broad enough theme, and you can take people through 3, 4. 5, or however many films you want. It will be a completely different movie every time. Yet all of them will be under that larger horror umbrella. I honestly can’t think of a genre that lets you do that with quite the depth of choice.
If I’m wrong, or crazy, fine. My horror marathon would kick your horror marathon’s ass.
It (2017): B+
A new film version of Stephen King’s It makes sense. The ABC miniseries came out nearly thirty years ago. And while it was an exceptional product for its time, and while a surprising amount of the series holds up in 2017, it was time for a new take. My only major concern for a new take on Stephen King’s iconic novel was the casting of Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård? He’s a good actor. He comes from an entire freaking family of good actors (Stellan Skarsgård, who knows a thing or two about playing monsters, is his father). I just couldn’t see it. Then again, my experience with Bill Skarsgård consists of Hemlock Grove, a couple of movies, and very little else. I could be wrong. It’s possible that I lack vision.
Apparently, I do indeed lack vision. It, which focuses on the first part of King’s epic novel, has a lot of great elements to consider and appreciate. Skarsgård’s performance is near the top of the list of those praise-worthy elements. It is equal parts Tim Curry’s unshakable characterization of the monster/clown, Freddy Krueger, the source material, and Skarsgård’s own impressive array of gifts as an actor. It is a powerful collection to bring to a character who ultimately has less screen time than just about any other major character, and yet to accomplish more than the rest. Without a brilliant performance by Skarsgård, It wouldn’t have the essential atmosphere to establish the town of Derry, Maine as a place haunted by something that has lived in the sewers for several generations, feeding on children every twenty-seven years.
And then we have The Losers Club. The misfit children who come together to battle Pennywise in 1989 Derry (the first half of King’s novel is set in 1957/8, with the second half taking place in 1984/85) are examples of good child actor casting across the board. I suspect you’ll like them all, but you’ll also probably leave with a favorite, if you’ve never dealt with It before. I like Ben. I always have. Jeremy Ray Taylor is wonderful in the role.
The movie is genuinely scary, as it takes us up to the point of the first major confrontation between The Losers Club and Pennywise. This is impressive, considering the film is 2 hours and 15 minutes along, which is unusual for a horror film. A second film will give us The Losers Club reuniting to face Pennywise again. I’m looking forward to it, even if this first It film isn’t perfect. For example, it’s a shame to watch King’s backstory for The Losers Club’s sole black member Mike Hanlan (the gifted Chosen Jacobs) gutted for reasons that are unclear to me. On the other hand, it certainly makes sense that a particularly controversial sex scene from It is left out of this film. So there is good and bad to be taken with this adaptation, which commits strongly to recreating King’s enduringly popular epic of the burden of trauma, particularly on children. There is more than enough here to get most of us excited about Part 2. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long.
Logan Lucky (2017): B+
Thank god Steven Soderbergh decided to end a retirement that started after he completed Behind the Candelabra in 2013. Logan Lucky is one of the few films to come out this summer that actually delivers on the fun that it promises. Soderbergh seems to be having a good deal of fun in doing another heist film, this one set during the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race, and it shows throughout, in terms of the film’s energy. Much of that energy also comes from varied, engaging performances of the cast. In particular, Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, and Katie Holmes (who has been turning out pretty good work lately). Soderbergh has shown a talent for working with large casts of well-known actors in the past, and Logan Lucky is no different.
Logan Lucky also gets a lot of its appeal from a surprisingly complex, multifaceted script by a screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt. We actually don’t know if Blunt is a real person. The prevailing theory seems to be that Rebecca Blunt is actually Jules Asner, Soderbergh’s wife. It’s fun to speculate, but it doesn’t really matter. The script has that increasingly rare, especially during this time of the year, combination of good dialog with better character and plot development. With a cast and crew like the one that gives Logan Lucky a high energy that sustains itself nearly throughout, the script gets the respect it deserves.
Hour of the Wolf (1968): A+
If 87 pounding minutes of intense psychological/spiritual horror sounds good to you this Halloween, then have I got some exciting news for you. Do you want the movie to be Swedish, as well? Holy shit, is this your lucky day.
Hour of the Wolf is one of the scariest movies Ingmar Bergman ever made. That is saying a lot. Nightmares were a subject that appeared in Bergman’s work frequently. Here, they plague a painter named Johan Borg, played by the near-infallible Max Von Sydow. The movie blurs hellish fantasy with reality to such a seemingly haphazard extent, the movie builds palpable tension by making you feel just as lost, fractured as Johan begins to feel. The film also devotes a good deal of time to Johan’s wife Alma (Liv Ullman, creating a character just as layered and vital to the film’s themes as Johan’s story), who struggles to find a way to help her husband. Obviously, the movie’s climax gives you the answer to that. I won’t say how it goes. However, if you have seen even a couple of Bergman’s movies, you can probably guess.
This is a rich, horrifying film. It is psychologically devastating and emotionally exhausting. It is also genuinely scary.
The Last Tycoon (1976): F+
The fact that this might be the worst movie Robert Mitchum ever did is really impressive, but that’s just one thing to keep in mind.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final, excellent, and unfortunately unfinished novel got a full season on Amazon recently. However, Amazon apparently won’t be bringing The Last Tycoon’s high drama set in 1930’s Hollywood back for a second season. That’s fine. I haven’t seen it, but I don’t think I really want to, or even need to. Much of Fitzgerald’s work doesn’t seem to translate as well to screen as you might think it would. The Great Gatsby is another good example of that. The Last Tycoon, which offers a shockingly dull Robert De Niro as a lifeless character, originally written by Fitzgerald as a tribute to Irving Thalberg. There is no emotional connection from director Elia Kazan to the 1930s Hollywood this movie barely seems to recreate. There aren’t a lot of emotional connections going on at all, even as De Niro’s Monroe Stahr watches his life disappear in massive, petrifying gulps. What we have is a weird effort from Kazan, whose heart is somewhere far away from this film. Something that should be seen as worthy conclusion to a singular, controversial career is so far from that, even De Niro’s oddly aloof Stahr would notice.
The movie is a mess. I have a sneaking suspicion the new Amazon series, which again, has been cancelled, is more of the same. Some works just can’t make it to the screen, even when the subject matter deals in the end of an extraordinary, often hideous Hollywood era.
The Duelists (1977): A-
It is amazing to think that Ridley Scott has been making movies for forty years. Judging by recent efforts, you can make a strong case that he isn’t going to lose his spark anytime soon. It doesn’t always translate into something that is actually worth watching. When it is, the results are a great example of not only his unique style, but also of film in a general sense.
The Duelists, loosely based on a true event that Joseph Conrad reworked into a short story, qualifies for everything mentioned above. It is one of the best debuts a director has ever made. Laid out over a period of several years, starting at the dawn of the century in 1800, The Duelists tells a story of two men who are very, very, very committed to killing the other in a duel. What initially begins as a slightly hilarious misunderstanding eventually delves into something much deeper.
As their roles in Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and military change, Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) and Armand d'Hubert become older, and inevitably move deeper into their opinions and prejudices. At the same time, their lives do change. They travel. They participate in a hopeless campaign in Russia. We watch d’Hubert get married. The reasons that compel these two to fight each other again and again, and in increasingly dangerous circumstances, become muddled over time. It is simply something that exists, until the film comes to an end. The ending makes sense, but it’s a peace you can’t imagine existing for very long. Peace never seems to get to live a long life, whether it’s real life or film. People will repeat themselves. The traps that drag and age us in our teens are more or less going to be with us for the rest of our lives. It never gets better.
But maybe the life of The Duelists after the credits roll is a rare exception to the rule. How long can the body and soul really withstand constant, vicious conflict? Eventually, something has to give. That’s where peace comes in. It’s just always a strained question of how long. The Duelists take us as very far into these thoughts.