After the Isolation Hot Mess Horror Film Fest, I find myself wanting to watch more horror movies, good, bad, or ugly. As a horror fan and writer, I can attest to the fact that, more often than not, horror characters suffer greatly from FAFO syndrome. FAFO stands for Fool(or maybe it’s another four-letter F word) around and find out. This statement stands as a warning so that people can behave appropriately. If you choose to act a fool, you will be treated as such. This could include loss of private property or dignity, bodily harm, or even death. In other words, many of the characters in horror movies are warned long before the games begin.
Incantation, now on Netflix
This Taiwanese horror film spent some time on the streaming platform’s Top Ten(as in most streamed) and has been touted by some as the scariest Taiwanese movie of all time. A found-footage mockumentary, the film follows a mom, Ronan, who has recently regained custody of her young daughter, Dodo, after succumbing to mental illness. Through flashbacks, we learn that prior to the little girl’s birth, Ronan, her boyfriend Dom, and his cousin Yuan were YouTube ghostbusters. They decided they would visit Dom and Yuan’s family’s village to enter a cursed tunnel. Six years later, Ronan is rightfully scared that the curse continues. Possession and violent deaths ensue. Not too many jump scares but there are some plot twists.
Nope, now in theaters
Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated third horror movie leans more into the sci-fi genre. As with his previous hits, the social commentary is strong as Peele explores Hollywood’s chew it up and spit it out treatment of people and animals. OJ(Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald(Keke Palmer) Haywood are third-generation Hollywood horse trainers who are struggling to keep the family ranch afloat after their father’s untimely and horrific death. They realize there may be a UFO in the area and hope to capture video proof with the help of Fry’s employee, Angel Torres(Brandon Perea.) Ricky “Jupe” Park(Steven Yuen), the Haywoods’ neighbor and nemesis, is a child actor turned Western-themed carnival owner. Jupe has been buying the Haywoods’ beloved horses. Like his neighbors, he hopes to make money off the UFO phenomenon.
Though both films have received mixed reviews, I thought both of the films were solid and entertaining. I did definitely scream questions or curse words at the screen because most of what occurs could have been prevented. But if folks didn’t FAFO, perhaps horror wouldn’t be such a popular genre. Tune in next month.
After two years and a few months of avoiding the coronavirus, I was taken ill and therefore held temporarily hostage by the Omicron variant. For all the fools out there claiming this is a hoax (which disrespects the memory of my fallen family members and friends), I can confirm this virus is real and he’s a ruthless mofo. After attending my daughter’s dance recital, I collapsed on the couch and proceeded to dissolve into a quivering mass of heat and pain. The following morning’s PCR test revealed what I began to suspect after a sleepless night hacking and sweating. The Rona had kicked me down. Anti-vaxxers, anti maskers, and other fools, be damned. To entertain myself during my isolation, I decided to host the Isolation Hot Mess Horror Film festival. (This doesn’t mean I want to host this event annually!) The films were mostly throwbacks to my traumatic childhood watching way too many scary movies.
Abby: The 1974 all-black possession film was new to me.(Thank you mom and dad because this was the most “adult” of my film fest selection.) It stars the recently deceased Carol Speed as sweetie pie marriage counselor/pastor’s wife/church choir soloist Abby. Abby is happily married to Emmett(Terry Carter), the son of Dr. Bishop Garret Williams(William Marshall). Abby’s father in law heads to Nigeria to find artifacts related to the orishas and finds a strange box honoring Eshu. When he opens the box, the games begin back in Louisville. Abby goes from kind and warm to profane and physically violent. In one famous scene, Abby psychologically eviscerates her mother’s friend, Mrs. Wiggins,who sadly becomes the first of Abby’s many victims. There are a few genuinely creepy scenes despite the low budget effects. There are also some hilarious moments; I warn you that a COVID cough and cackling don’t mix. (ouch!) Mix in a funky soundtrack and cool costumes on the gorgeous extras. The exorcism scene alone is a must-see if you’re a horror fan, a 70s stan, or, as is my case, both. Due to the movie’s legal troubles after Warner Brothers sued for its similarities to The Exorcist(the similarities are few and far between IMHO), the film is not available for streaming or purchase so search the interwebs for a copy.
The Food of the Gods: The 1976 sci-fi monster movie may be the root of my rat-phobia. Mr. and Mrs. Skinner(legendary actress and director Ida Lupino) find a river of white goo bubbling from a rock on their farm and believe it is manna or, as they call it, food of the gods. They feed it to their chickens which causes the flock to grow into giants. Other critters get into the food and wreak havoc. Pro football player Morgan(Marjoe Gortner) has to rally the surviving humans to battle giant wasps, grubs, and my least favorite, rats. The old-school effects, including rubber monster costumes, may be cheesy but still unnerving at times. Available on Amazon Prime but also free on Plex(sadly not ad-free).
Devil Dog, The Hound of Hell: The 1978 TV movie had always intrigued me when I was young but I can’t remember seeing it. It opens with a group of Satanists shelling out $5000 for a prize winning German Shepherd to breed. We are then introduced to Mike and Betty Barry(Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux), a typical upper middle class white couple in the burbs. Disguised as a fruit vendor, one of the devil worshippers gives one of the pups to the Barry siblings, Bonnie and Charlie (played by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann of Return to Witch Mountain fame). Almost immediately, Lucky leaves a trail of victims, starting with the Latinx maid who called it from the get-go and even a police detective(Ken Kercheval aka Cliff Barnes on Dallas). The kids get sassy. Mama gets sexy. Mike gets a physical since he wonders if he is losing his mind. He heads to Ecuador where an Andean shaman(played by non-Native Canadian actor Victor Jory) provides some wisdom on defeating the demonic pooch. The effects are not great but the acting is passable. Available on Tubi(not ad-free but less interruptions than on Plex).
The Empire of the Ants: Produced by the same studio as The Food of the Gods, the 1977 movie takes us to the Florida Everglades where perennial scheming diva Joan Collins is peddling undeveloped swamp land to a group of marks. She has no idea the island is home to mutated ants. The ants have eaten radioactive waste and are intent on eating humans. The ants pick off the unsuspecting group one by one. The survivors make it back to town but there’s something odd about the local police and the town sugar factory. More rubber monster props and old school film editing and frankly laughable acting. Available on Plex.
Bonus selections as my family joined me for the last two movies:
Songbird: This 2020 disaster movie features Archie from Riverdale(K.J. Apa) and Descendants’ Evie(Sofia Carson) as socially distant lovers Nico and Sara. The couple face mortal challenges during the COVID-23 pandemic including evading the “sanitation” department bent on sending everyone to the ginormous Q-Camps. Available on Hulu
Attack of the Jurassic Shark: My daughter hand-picked this 2012 Canadian stinker about a Megalodon released into a freshwater lake during oil drilling. A group of college students face off with a group of dumb art thieves and with the horribly rendered CGI shark. Is it possible that my 70s campy classics have better effects and were much more entertaining? Absolutely! Available on Tubi.
Is it any wonder I developed a passion for horror movies and horror fiction? The 70s were a great time for horror; even the campy B-movie kind best the 21st century offerings. While COVID is no fun and isolation can drag, some laughs and the occasional jump scare are good for the healing process.
Classics don’t need a remake, not even if the world is in literal flames. Hollywood is in a bind as far making money or staying relevant during multiple pandemics(viral, environmental, societal.) There are several horror reboots and sequels headed our way in 2021; the only one I’m excited about is Candyman because it will be a fresh look at an underrated horror movie. I don’t want to see the 17th Child’s Play. Having been haunted and later inspired by The Exorcist, I definitely don’t want to see a new version. There is no need to reboot a definitive horror movie, one so impactful that many still consider it the most frightening thing ever put on film. Good horror films offer fresh frights. We may need familiar stories to recover from 2020; we don’t need tired ones.
Our world has much in it to scare us. We are living in a world that is plagued by a pandemic, climate change, political and civil unrest as many of express frustration at what is perceived as inept, disconnected, and/or corrupt government leadership. These are all frightening realities; filmmakers and screenwriters have opportunities to dive deeper into social reflection and understanding. Have we lost our ability to be reflective through our popular culture and art? The Exorcist was released in 1973, on the heels of Watergate, after the Woodstock era, as the hell of the Vietnam war came to a close. While The Exorcist does not make deep social commentary, it premiered during a time of darkness, secrecy, mystery which provided a social context for evil. As a nation, there is plenty of evil to analyze, ponder, and fear. A retread of cliched evil is weak in every sense of the word. There’s no creativity or courage in rehashing what has already been done rather than tackle the darkness and evil we face.
The Exorcist set the stage for dozens of demonic possession movies; it also set up the cliches of that subgenre. No amount of CGI is going to make these new again: levitation, body contortions, projectile vomit, and the deep dark voice. These might jump scare us but they will not make us face the unknown. Part of the appeal of The Exorcist is its examination of faith. The three main characters, Father Karras, Father Merrin, and Chris, Regan’s mother, all grapple with their understanding of the universe at large, with their own spiritual journey, and with their faith that evil can be conquered. These are disconcerting questions and ideas. Special effects may add fireworks but they cannot generate reflection.
We are underestimating our current movie audiences. My twelve year old and her friends are discussing white supremacy and young activists via TikTok. They are intelligent and deserve a film that will set the bar for horror for their generation. Even if a horror film doesn’t want to examine the real evils of our IRL world, it can provide an opportunity not only for escape but for deep thought. A great horror film sparks fear while inspiring conversation and contemplation.