As a prequel to X, Ti West’s Pearl is an excellent companion piece. What I liked most about it was that it was not an overly complicated story written only to justify or launch the drama in X. Instead, it was a character study of X‘s villain. I also liked how Pearl was told in a very different way than X, more like a drama than a gore flick.
Pearl had a slower pace, which reminded me of the pacing in West’s The Roost. A slow build. The movie was held together by Mia Goth’s outstanding performance that delivered a mix of desperation, naivety and vengeance that was disturbingly relatable and sincere.
I can’t say that Pearl went onto my list of favorite West movies like X did, but it did not let me down, and I would consider it an achievement that West can be proud of.
West, Ti. Pearl, A24, 2022.
I like that I found a good new horror movie on Paramount+ at the heart of the holiday season. It was a nice palate cleanser from the Christmas vibes of most everything else I am watching this month.
I went into the movie with low expectations, but I was delightfully surprised. Jump scares are my favorite, and this one has a healthy amount, and they are scary and satisfying. For that alone, I would recommend this movie. The story was also good and followed the creepy vibe of a curse like the Ring series, which, again, my favorite. I enjoyed it and think it would be worth checking out.
Finn, Parker. Smile, Paramount Pictures, 2022.
This Halloween, I revisited the Ring and Grudge series of movies. In addition to the classics, the US remakes and the Netflix Grudge series, I discovered movies that were new to me, Ring 0, a Japanese prequel to the Ring series, and Sadako vs. Kayako, a mash-up movie of the two franchises.
Ring 0 was good and worth the watch, but it was Sadako vs. Kayako that captured my imagination. I was ready to like it because the director was Kōji Shiraishi, who made possibly one of my all-time favorite horror movies, Noroi: The Curse. The style of Sadako vs. Kayako is nothing like Noroi, but Shiraishi succeeded in making another scary movie.
I fully expected and even wanted the cheesiest, corniest movie out of a Ring-Grudge mash-up, akin to Freddy vs. Jason. It held up to my expectations in the best possible ways, with jump scares and spooky scenes with Sadako, Kayako and the cat-crying boy, Toshio. What I liked more was how unforgiving and cruel they were.
What I liked best about the movie was how it told the story of two cursed girls: how they got cursed, crossed paths and fought together to break their curses. I cannot say that I loved the ending of the film, but the way it took a flimsy and kitschy idea and turned it into a tale of two cursed girls was enchanting and lasted with me.
Shiraishi, Koji. Sadako vs. Kayako, PKDN Films (via Universal Pictures), 2016.
Images from IMDb and Fear Forever.
As a teen in the 90s, I loved Winona Ryder. Her movies, from Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael to Reality Bites, shaped much of my adolescence and coming of age. I was excited to see that she recently starred in a horror movie, Gone in the Night.
I admit that I went into the movie with low expectations because I haven’t liked much of Winona Ryder’s work over the past 10 or 20 years. But her renewed popularity being on Netflix’s Stranger Things gave me hope that she could be working on a better quality movie.
I enjoyed the film. The characters were interesting, and how the story unfolded kept my interest. Although it had plot reveals throughout it, there were clues in scenes well before the reveals, which I appreciated. I don’t like twists and turns that blind-side me, so I liked how I could piece together the story as the protagonist uncovered the plot’s mystery.
The movie could have ended in one of many ways, and I liked how it concluded. It felt just artsy and weird enough to make me feel satisfied that I was watching a Winona Ryder movie.
Horowitz, Eli. Gone in the Night, Vertical Entertainment, 2022.
I discovered the 1977 horror movie The Sentinel on late night tv as a teenager of the 90s. With its mix of ghosts and strangeness—like the birthday party for a cat—I was hooked. By the time I saw The Sentinel, I was already a fan of Rosemary’s Baby and the 1930s movie Freaks, so, when the movie ended with the heroine being forced into the role of the sentinel after being groomed for it like Rosemary as the mother of the anti-christ along with actors with deformities crowding the halls as the denizons of Hell, I knew that this movie would be a personal favorite. Over the years, I have revisited The Sentinel, and I always enjoy its quirkiness and creepiness.
Researching trivia on the movie, I was surprised to learn that it was fraught with problems. The story’s writer, Jeffrey Konvitz, did not like the director, Michael Winner, or what Winner did with the casting or film. Konvitz commented that Winner was “too pedestrian a director” to make the film a good horror movie like The Omen and called him an egomaniacal maniac in a bluray commentary. Konvitz did not like that the protagonist looked different than the protagonist from his story, and he would have cast an unknown in the part who looked more like the story’s character.
Winner himself was not happy with the casting. He originally wanted Martin Sheen to play the male lead, but he was told that Sheen was a “tv name,” so he could not cast him. The producer wanted Chris Sarandon because he had recently been nominated for an Oscar.
For how much I love this movie, I was also surprised to find out that it is not a popular film. In fact, most people hate it.
Despite its problems, The Sentinel tells a great ghost story with that slower pace common of 70s movies that builds toward a creepy ending.
Winner, Michael. The Sentinel, Universal Pictures, 1977.
Behind-the-scenes facts from IMDb Trivia: The Sentinel (1977).
Full disclosure: I love Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures.
The host, Zak, is endearing and kind to others but becomes angry and dramatic around ghosts and ghost activity. I live for ghosts caught on camera, and the show has some of the best audio and video recordings that send chills up my spine. I also like that the episodes are thoughtful in their storytelling about the locations they visit, with their mix of spookiness and a reverence for the past and the spirit world.
Watching the movie Grave Encounters, I was immediately connected to the characters because they were a parody of the Ghost Adventures crew, and I felt like I already knew who they were. I love jump scares and all things ghosts, so I truly enjoyed the movie. I was particularly surprised by the turn of events in the last quarter. It was not what I was expecting, but it was everything I never knew I wanted! Grave Encounters is one of a few horror movies that I liked from beginning to end, and on multiple viewings.
A sequel was made that I did not like as much, but I would recommend it for the purists who want to see it for themselves.
The Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters, Tribeca Film, 2011.
Ti West’s horror movies are among my favorites—The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and The House of the Devil—that I have seen multiple times. His newest feature, X, lives up to his reputation.
Like his previous movies, X takes a horror genre cliché and puts a refreshing new spin on it. Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Wrong Turn series, X takes place in a remote country setting with the locals as villains. Watching it, I admit that I was skeptical at first because I had seen the storyline before. But, I was intrigued early on because of the reason why the main cast of characters was going to the remote country location, which was something I had never seen before, so that kept my attention. Then, as the narrative unfolded and the villain was introduced and developed, I was hooked!
With good pacing, satisfying gore, and a strong cast of characters, I highly recommend X.
West, Ti. X, A24, 2022.
I am fan of the Insidious franchise mostly because of Lin Shaye’s character Elise Rainier. I was especially happy when the movies became largely about her character, offering more of Lin Shaye’s sincere and haunting performances.
Did you know that Lin Shaye has been acting in the horror genre for a while? She was a high school teacher in 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street.
A more recent horror movie starring Lin Shaye is 2019’s Room for Rent.
With the same sincerity she uses to play Elise Rainier, Lin Shaye makes the protagonist of Room for Rent endearing. However, in this movie, instead of being a champion for good like Elise, her character is obsessive and dark. She certainly carries the movie, but she does it well.
Craven, Wes. Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema, 1984.
Stovall, Tommy. Room for Rent, Uncork’d Entertainment, 2019.
Wan, James and Leigh Whannell (created by). Insidious (film series), 2011-ongoing.
I came across The Turning on Netflix. I enjoyed most of it: the contrast of the modern main character with the older estate and secondary characters; the jump scares with the mannequin; a creepy kid, who is a ghost?
My interest fell off about two thirds through when I lost touch with where the story was going. The main character was going mad and seeing things, and, instead of focusing in on the ghost story as a conclusion, I found that it spiraled out into chaos.
I have never been that impressed by Henry James’s “Turning of the Screw.” I have tried a few times over my lifetime because I love some of his other works, and I love nothing more than a ghost story. When I started this movie, I was hopeful that it would be a fresh take on the story and could change my mind on the source material.
Sigismondi, Floria. The Turning, Universal Pictures, 2020.
I had high expectations going into Hatchet III because I thoroughly enjoyed the other movies in the franchise. I was not disappointed. Not only did this iteration of the Victor Crowley story offer satisfying blood and guts, it expanded on the folkloric backstory behind the villain. Whereas other franchises can get bogged down by trying to explain backstory, this one made it better, changing my view of Crowley as a crazy swamp man into a crazy swamp monster.
If you like the Hatchet movies, then I am pretty certain you will like this one, too. Highly recommended!
McDonnell, B.J. Hatchet III, Dark Sky Films, 2013.