A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Horror Movie Edition

Here are a few horror movies that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

movie poster for ready or not
Ready or Not (2019) missed me when it came out, but it’s a delightful, thrilling, winking part of the “the real horror is the rich” micro-trend, with a supernatural side order.
dvd cover of 2014 the grudge
Had never heard of obscure indie flick The Grudge from 2004, so thought I’d check it out. Not bad!
poster for doctor sleep
I wasn’t eager to see this or read the book it was based on. Living up to the legacy of a classic horror novel, and a classic adaptation that’s a genuinely great film that the book’s author never liked… seemed a difficult proposition at best. Turns out, what do I know? Doctor Sleep is the real deal.
movie poster for angel heart
Angel Heart was a fun, strange watch for me. Many people love it, and it is good, but lacking any sort of nostalgia for it? I thought it was an 80s supernatural thriller, with Robert De Niro mustering big Alec-Guinness-does-Star Wars energy.
I really enjoyed Hold the Dark. Lots to like, and I’m still thinking about it a month later, including the performances and dialogue, but this is one flawed film. Weird editing, lots of things way out of proportion, story-wise. If you like brooding, atmospheric A24 biz, check it out. (Maybe look around online for the opinions about how well Yup’ik language and culture are or aren’t represented here. Apparently the answer is complicated.)
the green knight poster
I’m grouping The Green Knight here because it’s A24 and vibes thoroughly with a lot of other A24 stuff. It has the darkness that underlies many, many fantasies and is a sumptuous watch. We saw it in the theater, and it was a sight to behold.
film poster for rebecca 2020
Apparently every die-hard Rebecca or du Maurier fan hated the 2020 version of Rebecca? Whatever! It’s great, and they’re all wrong. Check it out. (And if you don’t think it’s horror… watch it again.)

A Few of My Favorite 2017 Things

Looking for something to curl up with over the holidays? This was a long, strange year, and what I needed most of all was engrossing narratives neither too enamored of their own cleverness, nor stylistically too filigreed. I enjoyed all of the below and recommend them to those of you seeking transportation to another world.






Theme & Variation, Mystery Edition

Should you read the book before the movie? Conventional wisdom says BUT THINK OF THE PURITY OF YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS, UNFETTERED BY THE SCREEN. Codswallop. We’ve always got stories and images running through our heads, and you aren’t a blank slate during your first encounter with any text, ready to form impressions based solely on a media-free life in the splendid isolation of the Orkneys, the Canadian tundra, etc.

phryne fisher

The Honourable Phryne Fisher

Take Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. My wife got me hooked on the TV series with little effort, and it hits plenty of my sweet spots, from the Roaring Twenties to unconventional P.I.s. The stories tend to be good, from the setups to the dialogue, and each episode blends genuine acting and light, set-piece banter, in the manner of Buffy et al. The Honourable Phryne Fisher takes on a range of standard and novel cases, from stolen paintings to occult gobbledygook, but each is given new life, typically springing from something in Miss Fisher’s character, or that of other recurring characters.

Subsequent to watching the first season (all we Yanks can get at this point, legally anyway), I started reading the books. The screen adaptation is good, and it reaffirmed my view that you need to be a good conductor if you want to translate a story. Here bring the strings up, there back the horns off, all in service of creating something that works in the new medium. Had the books been adapted with no sensitivity, the show would not now be on Season 2. The dialogue works on the page, but Kerry Greenwood‘s novels are decidedly written for history nerds. We can relish her deployment of slang and period terminology, going to look up (and learn from) her word use at need, but too much of that on the screen would be deadly. In similar fashion, the characters are well drawn on the page, with backstory, motivation, and personality galore—they have more complexity than backup characters can hold, particularly given each episode is usually distilled from en entire novel.

I’m neither glad nor sad to have seen the TV series first. Each has its own merits, and I don’t count myself poorer (!) for having Essie Davis in mind while reading. If anything, I’m grateful for the interest that the television series piqued, in the same way that watching Mystic River ultimately led me to read Dennis Lehane. The joys and flaws of adaptation aren’t particular to mysteries, but for some reason I notice them with more interest than I do when watching mainstream, fantastic, or whatever other kind of stories. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings? Plenty of changes—some I loved, some I hated—but none that caused my noticing machine to start clicking. Dexter? A completely different story… but that’s one for another day.