The hunger for horror is most definitely not going away with the Halloween season. Last month, people returned to theaters to catch titles such as Halloween Ends, Barbarian and Terrifier 2, and all three not only made an impact at the box office, they created anticipation for home viewing. The trio of terror are now available to watch at home via Peacock, HBO Max and Screambox, respectively. And there’s more. Fiendish streaming fare currently in our caches, such as American Horror Story NYC (FX/Hulu) and Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix) only add to the ghoulish goodness on TV, which shows no sign of waning as we move into the holidays. In this edition of Cinema Slush, we review the best and the worst of the more-popular-than-ever genre available to watch right now.
Terrifier 2 (Screambox)
If you’re a fan of gore, blood, guts, mutilation, and pure merciless violence, you’ll love this sequel from special effects artist/director Damien Leone. After watching the menacing and mute killer, Art the Clown, go wild in this, we started to question if we actually are fans of this level of carnage, and if so, what that might say about us and society in general. Seriously, with real world atrocities happening everyday, enjoying ultra-gruesome stuff like this has to make you wonder why it’s even entertaining anymore… Or maybe we’re just getting soft in our old age?
T2 is gross for the sake of being gross and clearly out to outdo its predecessor. The original Terrifier –currently available to watch on the Roku Channel for free– depicts, amongst many inventive kills, a naked (save for panties) woman hung upside down and being hack-sawed in half from cooch to cranium. The girl was super-annoying, but still. In the sequel, the key moment, which is apparently making people vomit and pass out in theaters, is known as “the bedroom scene” and it sees another vapid teen tormented, bludgeoned and turned into a skinless sculpture of blood, bone and flesh. Bleach, salt and the cracking of multiple limbs take things to a whole other repulsive level. If this isn’t torture porn, we don’t know what is. We get that it’s “about the great special effects” (how the gore-hounds we know explain their appreciation for this), but isn’t the point of watching scary movies to forget it’s not real and feel the fear? How does one resign the two perspectives and not feel like a sicko?
Reservations about the barf-bag minded slaughter and potentially twisted message aside (the clown seems particularly gleeful when he kills hot women), we do give props to the antagonist as a soon to be iconic monster character. Art is truly the creepiest clown we’ve even seen on film (and that’s saying something). We imagine we’ll be getting chased by him at a branded haunted house next Halloween. This is a low-budget film that looks far more expensive than it is too. In terms of brutal bang for your buck, it delivers. It was only in theaters but as of yesterday, it’s available to stream on any device via Screambox. Skip dinner before you watch and maybe shower and then go do something nice for humanity afterward?
Halloween Ends (Peacock)
We almost feel a bit hypocritical saying this after calling out the relentless brutality above, but Michael Myers has lost all ability to terrorize at this point. That old William Shatner mask has been through a lot and it was probably time to put it to rest. Sadly, Halloween Ends fails miserably at giving MM a proper send-off. How Jamie Lee Curtis, Blumhouse and John Carpenter could think for even a second that this lame, lifeless story was worthy of being the “final” installment is a true mystery. Ok, it probably won’t be the last we see of that mask on film, but even if it wasn’t positioned as the end, it’s still a bad movie. Maybe even worse than the last one: Halloween Kills.
This time out, Myers takes on a partner in his killing sprees. Or something. We’re still not sure exactly what the storyline was really trying to say, but the “exchange of evil” between the movie’s new villain (a misunderstood young man who accidentally killed a kid years earlier) and The Shape kinda recalls another Curtis movie, Freaky Friday, and that’s not a good thing. Some very irritating Gen Z kids get what’s coming to them which is nice, and whoever was in charge of the music has cool taste– the best two scenes include a truly campy kill set to The Cramps “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” and a euphoric dance party segment set to The Dead Kennedys’ “Halloween.” (RIP DH Peligro!) Other than these scenes, the best parts of the movie are spliced from the original film. Go watch that again instead or just wait til next year.
Barbarian (HBO Max)
We’ve been hearing great things about this one –which was released in theaters back in September and came to HBO Max just in time for Halloween season. As advised, we did not read about it beforehand so as to take the ride it provides. So we’ll refrain from spoilers here and just say that writer-director Zach Cregger nails the sense of dread and discomfort anyone, but especially a woman, might feel when she’s in unfamiliar surroundings or in the company of a stranger.
Justin Long is relatable and real as a maybe good dude/maybe worthless douche, as is Georgina Campbell as the female protagonist/last woman standing who rents his home. When a creepy underground decent and a mysterious “monster” move front and center in the story, there’s also some comic relief and unanswered questions to keep the viewer engaged til the bitter end. That’s when you’ll realize that the film’s title references something even far more disgusting than you probably thought. It’s not exactly a twist, but it’s a mother of a shift.
American Horror Story NYC (FX/Hulu)
Watching Ryan Murphy’s AHS has been a complex kind of game for the past decade or so. How long did you stick with each season til you gave up? It’s a question that gets asked a lot when discussing this show. Season 1 aka “Murder House” sucked us in hard and we stayed glued til the bitter end. But only “Coven” and “Freakshow” also kept our attention for their full season runs after that. Even Lady Gaga could not save “Hotel” for us. And the retro slasher season was downright dumb. The AHS anthology of recent years was better, if only because it required less commitment. But after 10 years, this show ultimately feels like a chore more often than not. So far, AHS NYC is keeping our attention, but just barely.
Set in the 80’s, it concerns a serial killer targeting New York City’s gay community in the underground nightclub scene. “Big Daddy” the leather man killer targeting queer men here, could’ve been really interesting, but so far he’s kind of a bore. This thing is slow, and it feels more like a True Detective-esque yarn than an in your face Murphy nightmare. The AIDS storyline, which takes much of its narrative from the real-life fears, conspiracies, and prejudices of the time, was addressed so much better in Murphy’s Pose, which offered Sandra Bernhard in a similar role. It feels like redux and that might be ok for a standard horror story, but for a subject so important, it’s almost as painful as what’s shown on screen. The tone here is more serious than we’ve seen from AHS and the cast has some real heavyweights (Patti Lupone, Zachary Quinto) but so far, even the titillating BDSM aesthetic feels old hat. It’s definitely not as intriguing as the promos might suggest.
Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro’s eerily enchanting new series is one of the best anthologies of its kind, maybe ever. Growing up with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery and of course The Twilight Zone, most of us have fond and frightful memories for this kind of television. Later-era takes on TV anthology were pretty campy (Tales from the Darkside, Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, etc) but Curiosities is the first one that truly comes close to capturing the mystical macabre of masters like Sterling and Hitchcock. It’s atmospheric, chilling, and downright beautiful. Maybe most important, it’s reverent– to the genre and to the people who make it.
Each episode features an intro by del Toro and pronouncement about the story and the filmmaker showcased. The famed filmmaker speaks slowly and intently, making each ep feel like an event. And make no mistake, this is TV-MA grade horror that holds nothing back as it strives to weave blood-curdling tales of evil and mischief from exciting movie minds including Guillermo Navarro (who won an Oscar as the cinematographer of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and David Prior (The Empty Man). Prior’s “The Autopsy” seems to be the favorite of the eight films based on internet chatter, but we also relished the extra-sensory foreboding feel of “The Viewing” and “The Outside,” a topical yarn about beauty and acceptance that makes you think and feel things, even when it gets icky. Terrifier 2‘s Art the Clown would never understand!
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