Virgin Cheerleader in Chains. I originally couldn’t believe the title of the movie when I saw it. All I knew was that I had to watch it. At only 94 minutes, it wouldn’t be that much of a time commitment. Even if it was bad, it might have some cheesy moments. However, after having watched the film, I can say I was pleasantly surprised with Paulo Filho and Gary Gannaway’s meta comedy horror movie. It’s smart, quirky, and fun enough for fans of the genre to give it a whirl.
The movie follows a group of friends as they try and film a low budget horror movie and end up getting more than they bargained for. But the plot really isn’t the main focus of the movie – it’s just a tool to allow the story to do clever and witty things. The way the film is cut together constantly forced me to pay attention to see how resulting scenes would play out. A good example, is the on the point dialogue. A scene will have characters kind of lament and make fun of horror cliches and then within the scene or the next scene, something will happen related to that initial commentary. It’s intentionally over the top and in your face about it, which for me made it all the funnier. It was a risky decision, but I thought it came off just right. Think closer to Scream than the Scary Movies. My only issue is that this incredibly direct set-up only happens a few times during the run-time, and I thought it was the best part of the movie. There are attempts at jokes made through more conventional meta jokes (whatever that means), but it never feels as unique as the more over the top scenes. There was one scene in particular where I had to go and pause the movie because of how much I started laughing , which I was surprised at.
Aesthetically the film is hit or miss (mainly hit). Most shots are well composed and look professional despite the low budget of the movie. However, certain shots stick out like a sore thumb. In particular, the nature traversal shots look out of place and more amateur. There are also these weird nightmare sequences in the first act that wonky and last too long. They didn’t creep me out as much as ruin my immersion in whatever was going on. Thankfully, the practical effects are great. There’s a lot of blood and a lot of moments of in your face violence. I’m more squeamish, so I had to look away at times, but fans of splatter films should rejoice. Set design is also great, and I appreciate the attention to detail. In particular, the house used for the third act oozes creepiness and I loved the way the way the rooms felt.
Finally, let’s talk about the acting. There are some performances in this movie I absolutely adored. Elizabeth Maxwell’s performance as Amber was amazing and she restored my faith in film after some shaky performances from others in the first act. Her “audition” scene had me crying in laughter after its conclusion and I appreciated it. Kelsey Priblinski is also great at Chloe and really starts to come to life when she gets “certain” suspicions about other characters. The scenes they have together were some of my favorite and oozed personality. However, there’s one one character that made me irritated in almost every scene they were in. Billy. I have no idea why he’s in the script- none of his jokes ever land, and he just feels like a walking racist caricature. I can’t blame Michael Morford too much for his portrayal of Billy, because it felt like the script forced the character to just be horribly unfunny. The accent probably made it worse, but that feels like a script decision. Otherwise, outside of some weaker performances in the first act, the acting is pretty good and believable.
TLDR: Virgin Cheerleader in Chains is funny and smart ,despite feeling uneven at times. I appreciated it’s meta-commentary and wish it had just gone further with it, but the incredibly fun third act was well worth it.
Final Rating: 7.3/10 If you enjoyed Screamyou’d probably enjoy this too. It’s a bold meta-comedy with a ton of fun moments. Go out and support smaller movies, so we can continue to get cool innovative stuff.
I’ve loved horror movies for a long time, but I’ve always found it hard to talk about it with others because of my lack of familiarity with the western cannon. As a kid I started off with horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge and subsequently got into Asian horror. Because of this I never ended up watching common American classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street.
This challenge was my chance to play “catch-up” and improve my understanding of western horror history. I thought it’d be hard because of how many slashers I’d have to watch. I’ve never liked blood – it always makes me feel queasy – so slashers were my natural enemy. However, I did look forward to movies like The Silence of the Lambs and The House of the Devil, because I like supernatural and psychological movies and I find them easiest to get lost in.
The biggest part of the challenge I was scared about was actually forcing myself to watch a horror movie everyday and then write a review within the day. Yes, I tell my friends what I think of movies all the time but writing my thoughts out is a lot more time intensive than casually speaking them. My biggest concern was having a competent review for each movie.
Now that the challenge is done- I thought it’d be interesting to go ahead and analyze the results and experience overall. Did I meet expectations? Was it everything I wanted and more? How did my reviews compare to aggregate sites like IMDb? Tune in and find out.
I went to Metacritic and IMDb and found the aggregate ratings for each of the movies I saw. The Metascore on Metacritic uses a scale of 100. I scaled it back down to a scale of 10 to make comparing the numbers easier.
The sample size is only the 32 movies I saw during the challenge, so take the numbers as you will. As I get more reviews up here I can do more robust analyses. This particular retrospective might seem more trivial, but it’s a fun journey nonetheless.
NOTE: Ratings may change as more reviews are added over time so if you view this well after the posted date- keep that in mind.
Based on my ratings you can tell that this month was good for me. Out of the 32 movies I saw 8 movies that I would classify as a 10. Those movies were:
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Silence of the Lambs
In the Mouth of Madness
Even though I’d say I’m more willing to give 10’s than other critics, I still find it amazing how many of the movies profoundly impacted me. On top of these 8 “unicorns”, an additional 4 movies made the A+ squad meaning that 37.5% of the movies I saw were good enough for me to want to recommend then to everyone. These additions include:
Night of the Living Dead
28 Days Later
The distribution of these movies genre-wise is also something I’m surprised by. I didn’t think that I would rank any slasher up that highly, but Candyman and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were both so nuanced that I couldn’t help but be entranced by both movies. I love supernatural and psychological movies so that part makes sense.
The movie I ended up liking the least was Friday the 13th, which I gave a 7.2. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was hoping that one of the other great slasher series could give me something meaningful to bite into. Unfortunately, despite having a few nice moments, the movie didn’t hit me the way I wanted it to. It’s funny- before I started the marathon I didn’t want anything to do with the movie, but after being spoiled by some great ones, I started looking forward to the ones on my list. Congrats slasher movies – you got a fan in me.
Metacritic – User
My friends have always said I’m a film snob, and I’ve always maintained I’m not. But everytime I end up loving a horror movie (The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook…) it ends up being one of those divisive movies that gets good “critic” reviews but not so great user reviews. That’s what made the comparison of the major statistics so surprising.
My ratings were closest to the Metacritic – User ratings and also furthest away from the Metacritic – Meta ratings. It’s also interesting that that’s the only source that had a standard deviation well above 1. It seems like “critics” are more broad compared to a more “in tune” user base. I’d be interested in finding out why that’s the case, but that’s for another time when I have more data and better codding knowledge.
I also wanted to check out just how different my A+ movies differentiated from the way my counterparts ranked them. Maybe my self perceived greats were so good that they elicited similar reactions in others. I’ve excluded Nosferatu, Candyman, and Ringu because they have missing Metacritic data.
Metacritic Meta Difference
Metacritic User Difference
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Night of the Living Dead
The Silence of the Lambs
In the Mouth of Madness
28 Days Later
The differences are promising in a certain light. Though my final rating for most of the above titles is higher than my counterparts, their position comparative to other movies on the list remains similar. I may give higher ratings – but those ratings are in line with (for the most part) the trend of rating horror movies. The biggest exceptions to this rule so far are The Shining and In the Mouth of Madness. Both movies are cult classics and I appreciated their depths into darker, more Lovecraftian themes. After looking it up, I found out that they’re part of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”. When I found out I still had one movie, Prince of Darkness, to watch I felt tremendous jubilation.
In a more general sense, the ratings for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Lighthouse have the closest score distributions out all the movies. The Lighthouse is the most striking given that every source sans myself had given the movie an 8.3.
Review of Writing Style
When I first started writing reviews, I thought the process was overwhelming. I’ve always been someone who just focuses on plot and interpretation. I’ve always appreciated things like score and camera angles but never thought about how they impacted my viewing experience. Trying to find a way to incorporate discussion about all the elements was my first big hurdle.
My earlier reviews like , Review: The Hour of the Wolf, exhibit the issue clearly. When I mention certain things, they come off as static and feel more like statements that have to be there as opposed to streams of natural thought that followed from the previous one. This is mainly because I’m not the best at using commas, so translating my spoken thought into proper written work is… difficult to say the least. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may notice I use a lot of “-“‘s in my work. I don’t know how correct it is, but the feeling it creates feels natural.
Thankfully, my more recent reviews are more fluid, even if the difference isn’t as big as I wanted. Sentences extend for longer and there’s more voice and expression in everything. There’s probably a lot more, but I’m more interested in seeing where my writing is at in a year, so I’ll wait until then to take a deeper look.
Overall, this experience was great. Watching a movie and writing a review everyday was challenging but was also incredibly rewarding. I was forced to critically inspect each movie at multiple levels and ended up appreciating the craftsmanship at work.
The hardest part of the process was feeling like there was a constant deadline for each movie. Some of the movies hit emotional beats pretty hard and it was difficult to force myself to watch a movie the next day. Balancing a movie a day on top of work and everyday life was also challenging and something I should’ve prepared around more.
The more serious movies that were playing in theaters proved to be the hardest to review. Joker and The Lighthouse both moved me and brought up a lot of interesting points, but I couldn’t pause, write out my thoughts, and rewind to catch up with certain points like I could do back at home on my PS3.
I’m definitely planning on doing this challenge next year, but now I think I have some good changes to make the process more manageable. I definitely need more fun/cheesy movies to lighten the mood. Being scared and philosophically boomed is great but there’s a charm to less serious movies. At the very least, they would serve as a much needed change in current that would keep the experience fresh.
I’m going to be honest- when I first saw the trailer for this movie earlier on in the year, I thought it was an elaborate prank. A sequel to a movie over 10 years old? Sure, Zombieland was popular, but what would a sequel do for a story that seemed to have ended in a pleasing manner already? Thankfully, Ruben Fleischer’s directorial return in Zombieland: Double Tap, is a fun, over-the-top, and gory zom-com that doesn’t take itself too seriously and should be watched by any fan of the first movie.
The plot follows our main group and some bonus characters as they try and find Little Rock (Breslin) after she’s run off in a fit of adolescent rebellion. The story that follows is predictable for the most part and doesn’t take itself too seriously. To compensate for the lack of innovation, the movie just has fun with itself. The action scenes are bloody and entertaining. The film doubles down on the spectacle – new zombies, more deaths, and more blood. Most of the times this turns out well, and the absurdity is entertaining to watch even if it feels similar. Likewise, a lot of the comedy is based on references and parody specifically in relation to the first movie. Sometimes it comes off as forced or goes on for too long, but this is a rarer issue and didn’t derail my enjoyment too much.
For the most part the acting in this movie suits the tone and brought me back to the feeling I had in the first movie. Harrelson, Eisenberg, and Stone all come exude the characters we know and love. Harrelson still kicks ass but is a teddy bear on the inside. Eisenberg is still a nervous, awkward, rule follower trying to find stability. Stone is still smart-witted, sarcastic, and dealing with her emotions. Breslin feels less compelling as an angsty teen, but thankfully the bonus characters pick up the slack. Deutch’s portrayal of Madison stole the show for me. Almost every time her character was on screen I laughed or chuckled. Rosario Dawson also serves as a great counterbalance to Harrelson and is a fun, if somewhat gimmicky, character.
My issues from the movie stem from two places: the disjointed nature of progression, and the fact that the sequel is set 10 years later. Like I said earlier, the movie doesn’t have a lot of twists in it and feels like a rehash of story beats from the first movie. There are some changes to keep it interesting, but the progression from point to point feels forced. It almost feels like the group travels from one location to another to do a comedy bit or to have a zombie fight and then moves on. My second concern is my primary issue with the film. The ending of the original movie set in stone/pushed characters to certain developmental stages. Given that the main cast has lived with each other for 10 years, one would expect some more growth and change along these lines. Instead, the characters feel like they picked up a few months after the end of the last film. Some of their decisions, even if fun, feel lacking once put in context.
TLDR:Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t revolutionary, but what it doesn’t do in innovation, it makes up for in raunchy comedy and exciting action scenes. Some moments feel out of place from a larger narrative standpoint, but they can’t hold back the adventure at hand.
Final Rating: 7.5/10 . If you liked Zombieland, check this movie out. If you didn’t you won’t find anything here to change your mind. The movie also isn’t too scary, so if you want a fun comedy flick to watch this film more than fills the role.
John Landis’s horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London, follows the tale of two backpackers, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Duance) as they travel through England and are subsequently attacked by a werewolf. The rest of the film that follows tracks the characters and their respective responses to the attack. Though comedic, Landis’s story works better is more often scary and tragic.
A lot of the humor works because it feels so “normal” and nonchalant in the absurd circumstances. Characters reveal serious information in very calm ways, which makes them feel like jokes, but the juxtaposition with the seriousness of the situation creates an unsettling feeling in the scenes that only underpins the horror. The sound choice in the movie also helped amplify this feeling and disjuncture. A lot of the songs were werewolf related and up-beat and positive in contrast to the macabre scenes proceeding the same. Often times I’d be laughing, but then feel dread upon thinking of the actual implication of what’s being said.
Furthermore, the special effects in the movie are phenomenal. Rick Baker’s make up work and practical design work makes the werewolf transformation in this movie the scariest and most spectacular I’ve seen- and the movie has now been out for close to 4 decades. It was refreshing to see real makeup instead of an overabundance of CGI.
The atmosphere of the movie, especially in the third act, feels out of step because the comedic and terrifying elements are hard to balance out. It works for the most part, but some of the more serious aspects of the movie felt less so because of the inconsistent tonal transition. This in turn made the end of the movie feel more abrupt to me, but the more I think about it, the more it makes the ending feel somber.
TLDR:An American Werewolf in London is funny and tragic. For the most part, the comedic bits serve to highlight and drive home the absurdity and make the tragic nature of the situation more amenable. It comes off unevenly at some points, but the film remains enjoyable and gripping till the end.
Final Rating: 8.7/10. If you enjoy irony, comedic juxtaposition, or enjoy great visual effects design I’d check this flick out. It was surprisingly to the point and emotionally resonant.
Though Edgar Wright’s, Shaun of the Dead, has zombies and gore, it works much more as a comedy movie than as a horror movie. This movie is more of a comedic satire that wants to poke fun at zombie movies, and invites the audience to laugh along as the chaos ensues. The movie follows Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his motley crew of friends/acquaintances as they attempt to survive a zombie infestation.
The best way I could describe the movie is if you took the cast of a sitcom and then put them in a feature length movie where a zombie attack was just breaking out. Most of the times the juxtaposition of the terrifying reality of zombies with the over-the-top and almost dismissive behavior of the main cast to the same creates a subtle comedy. The excellent sound design, and more importantly song choices for most scenes was amazing and highlighted the absurdity of the whole movie. I chuckled for most of the run time, because the movie makes fun of the tropes and genre cliches of zombie movies. It’s as if the writers, Wright and Pegg, want us to join in on the “joke” with them. All the jokes are carefully woven through nuanced direction and great writing.
The film is overhanded in it’s foreshadowing deliberately. We know the characters are in for a bad time, but because we have an idea of how bad, we can let loose and just enjoy the absurd reactions to the events by the characters. There’s also heaps of subtle bits of foreshadowing and calls I already know I’ll have to re-watch the movie because upon finishing it, a lot of the earlier segments feel even more fleshed out, and I know I’ll pick up more Easter eggs.
The abundance of humor does cause some slight issues in terms of overall tone. Some of the more serious and heartfelt moments felt less impactful than I felt they could have been. At times the inclusion of jokes in these moments causes this weird disconnect which made the impact of those moments less poignant.
TLDR:Shaun of the Dead is a satire posing as a zombie movie that relishes in fun and absurdity and invites the audience to do the same. The tone is uneven at times, but that’s a small price to pay for a movie that’ll have you chuckling for most of its run-time.
Final Rating: 9.0/10. If you’re a fan of zombie movies or enjoy clever satires give this movie a go. Anyone who wants to laugh, and kind mind a small bit of gore, should also see this when they can. It’s a great time.
At times, Drew Goddard’s horror comedy, The Cabin in the Woods, feels like two movies going on at once. The amazing part, is for most of the movies run, the two parts run and compliment each other well, adding a nuanced meta-tension. The film follows a group of college students who go to a cabin and experience a slew of horrors. The film chronicles their discovery and reaction to those.
The plot summary here is going to be sparse. A lot of the movie comes from knowing as little as possible before watching , so I don’t want to give anything away.
The first act of the movie is brilliant and constantly keeps the audience guessing as to what the underground facilities underlying purpose and meaning is. Horror tropes are constantly referenced, exaggerated, and toyed around with, in a critique of overdone and macabre cliches. It’s up to the viewer to ascertain the trope to get the full meaning of the scene. This lends the movie well to re-watches, especially by people who aren’t as familiar with some of the genres of horror referenced. For horror veterans, the movie is filled with great Easter eggs, and there was definitely a few moments that had me chuckling in appreciation at what was being done to change a certain convention.
On top of this the movie is genuinely funny. Watching the tropes come to life and be deconstructed becomes funnier and more rewarding the more you get to know the characters, which is only possible because the acting here is great. Everyone is slightly off the archetype they’re supposed to be, and everyone here is capable of breaking in and out, adding nuance to the old horror molds and helping to create something new. But the comedy also feels perverse. There were times I was laughing, but I felt wrong for doing so, and that confused feeling elicited a sense of horror.
The issues with the plot only start rearing up near the third act of the movie. A lot of the subtlety and novelty of the movie becomes more pronounced and heavy-handed which starts taking some of the “magic” away, but it’s that problematic because by that point a lot of the movie has already been “foreshadowed” in some fashion. Some of the character decisions also feel a bit strange. Almost as if the antagonist in the movie has an inconsistent”power scaling.” This feels more like a nitpick than anything and has to do with my own biases, but it felt like something worth mentioning.
TLDR:The Cabin in the Woods is a wonky and surprising ride. It deconstructs and plays with horror tropes in a way that not only elicits humor, but also disturbs the viewer by forcing them to confront the perverse nature of that humor.
Final Rating: 9.3/10. If you’ve ever enjoyed a horror movie you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. It’s well written, funny, scary, and illuminating without ever feeling too haphazard.
What’s real? Who can I trust? Does it matter? Stanley Kubrick’s ,The Shining , dives headfirst in its examination into the inner workings of the human mind. This story of an isolated family, forced to man and take care of an otherworldly hotel, tackles issues associated with violence, dependence, and isolation-making sure to weave a narrative that highlights each of the above in nuanced and diverse ways.
The first shot sets the tone and really drives home how isolated the main environment of the movie, the Overlook Hotel, is from society. As we follow Jack Torrance’s, played by Jack Nicholson, car driving up the long, winding, mountain road we get to see he how far away the area is from the rest of society.
As he enters the hotel we’re greeted with one of many “timeline” narration cards. I loved how they were used frequently to give a sense of progression of time in the movie, but more interestingly, they made the movie feel more like a novel. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel, this adaptation is based on, but the structure of the acts and their respective lengths made the movie feel like a visual book, as opposed to a normal movie. Almost like it wanted to convey the sense of progression and growth a book can do. The effect felt really impactful in highlighting character progression/regression. Furthermore, the use of one-point perspective for a lot of the scarier and more visually striking shots helped the more intense moments of the movie feel haunting. I couldn’t avert my gaze, and a lot of the times, the “lead up” to the eventual reveal was as if not more intense than the final image, due to the amount of tension and anxiety it created.
The family dynamic present between him, his wife, and their son serve as the catalyst for a lot of important plot points. Paying attention to their interactions at the beginning of the movie, you can tell despite the initial strain, there’s an attempt at kind of coming together and connecting. But as more information gets revealed, the faces slowly reveal fear and paranoia, and a fuller picture of the family comes up. Watching Wendy’s (played by Shelley Duvall) expressions to her husband’s continued eccentricities was simultaneously engrossing and petrifying. I did find it interesting that despite being most intimately connected to the “shining,” Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), doesn’t play as big a role as I thought he would. He was believable in the sequences he was in though, and I enjoyed his other voice/performance.
However, any discussion of the acting in the movie would be remiss if it didn’t go over Jack Nicholson’s performance. He stole the show here and really helped sell the mood and theme of the whole movie. From the moment we meet the Torrance patriarch, he seems like a man on the edge of a see-saw, almost like he’s teetering on the edge of madness. From his facial expressions, to his responses to scenarios he feels like an volcano, ready to blow. As the events of the movie progress, we see him desperately try and maintain a sense of control-of not only himself, but his grasp on reality.
Thankfully, for Jack , Kubrick wants the audience to join him, by casting doubt about everything. Characters say things that contradict previously understood information. Then something happens to confirm the contradiction. Then something happens that maybe throws that previous thing out of the water. Or maybe not. That’s the beauty of the movie. It leaves a lot open-ended, but it does so in a way that feels earned and not sloppy. Camera angles, transitions, and brief still images constantly kept me on edge, wondering if I really did have a grasp on what was going on.
TLDR:The Shining is a haunting tale of the effects of isolation and dependency. By using an already strained family as the main characters and splashing in elements of the supernatural, it takes its themes and questions to some of their most interesting destinations.
Final Rating: 10/10 Beautifully paced, shot, and executed. I’ll be thinking about the ending for a while and who was actually telling the truth