Alright gang, once more with feeling! Unless I decide to get my act together and do a post about my favorite comic-reading experiences of 2018, this will probably be my last recap post. On one hand, it’s been fun looking back at everything I watched and read last year, on the other, I’m reminded of why it’s fun to do these sorts of posts as they happen. Here’s hoping I do more of that! Anyway, this last batch of horror movies features a five-pack of movies that not only deal with the complexities of childhood both during and after that stage of life, but also emotionally devastated me (well, all but one). Alright, let’s dive in!
Alright, let’s kick off with the one that may not have been an emotional gut-punch, but does mark not only the return of a favorite franchise to the big screen, but also my only theatrical horror experience of 2018: Halloween!
Like everyone else, I was cautiously optimistic about this Blumhouse production co-written by Danny McBride and directed by David Gordon Green who’d previously worked together on Pineapple Express and Eastbound & Down. However, between Jamie Lee Curtis returning and John Carpenter giving his approval, that was enough for me to buy a ticket.
Ignoring all of the other sequels, this film finds Michael Myers breaking out for the first time since he killed all those kids back in the 70s. In that time, Laurie Strode grew up and had a kid (played by Judy Greer) who now has a family of her own. The experience of surviving Michael the first time around showed her how hard the world could be, so she made it her mission to keep herself and her family safe. With that in mind, she puts up a hell of a fight when Michael shows up.
I’m not a fan of franchises that ignore their sequels later on down the line, but since that already happened with H20, I was more okay with it. The interesting thing was that, since this movie skips over all of the stuff from the sequels, it presents this character who became a supernatural boogeyman as a very real, living breathing person. I realized while watching that I’d always assumed Michael possessed some sort of powers given his ability to survive all manner of injuries — not limited to, but including the shots from Loomis’ gun and the fall out the window in the original! I can’t say this movie blew my mind, but I do think it’s a worthy effort, one that I do think I’ll add to my collection in the fairly near future and maybe go a little more in-depth on.
Okay, let’s get into the four best bits of scare fair I saw this year in no particular order. I’ll start with Sean Byrne’s 2015 effort The Devil’s Candy. In this movie, an artistic dad has to decide what’s more important, his painting or his family, so, yeah, it’s up my alley. It also stars Ethan Embry as the dad in question, an actor I’ve been a huge fan of since Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait (as it happened I saw adult him in both this AND Grace & Frankie last year, which showed off his incredible range).
The movie begins with a crazy guy offing his mom in a house that Embry, his wife Astrid and daughter Zooey move into not long after. While there, Embry begins to feel inspired and paints images that garner the attention of a company called Belial. However, between meetings with the company and getting caught up in his art, he begins to neglect his daughter. The timing could not be worse as a nefarious element seems intent on getting its hands on her.
Devil’s Candy is a great story all around, but it really hit me as a parent. It’s excellent to see Embry and Zooey rocking out to metal on the way to school and appearing to have the kind of relationship I hope to have with my own kids in their teen years. But then you’ve got all of these moments where he gets wrapped up in his work and forgets things or actually tries to be on time, but other circumstances get in the way. Confirming every parent’s deepest fears, those moments lead to traumatic experiences all around.
From one difficult-for-parents-to-watch film to another, Netflix did a very good thing last year when they pulled the necessary strings to get Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake on the streaming service. In my opinion, Flanagan’s the best horror auteur going right now. Everything from Absentia and Oculus to Hush and Ouija: Origin Of Evil have been masterpieces (I can not wait to watch Haunting Of Hill House). A few years back he made Wake, but distribution got tied up with failing companies. With all the legal questions, it seemed like the film would never be seen, but then ‘Flix worked its magic and now you can watch it!
So watch it I did. And I was blown away to the point of almost crying. Flanagan has said in episodes of Shock Waves that he doesn’t really see this as a horror film, but I think it fits as well in that category as any other. The story follows a couple played by Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane who have lost their son, but later take on a foster child played by Jacob Tremblay of Room and Predator fame.
I’m not going to get into too many of the details because I think everyone, parent or not, should just see this one, but Tremblay has an ability to bring his dreams to life. His foster mom utilizes these powers in a way that broke my heart while her husband can’t bring himself to believe what’s happening. And then there’s the ending with all the explanations and revelations that I wanted, presented in a way that wrecked me while also reminding me exactly how complicated and confusing it can be to be a kid.
Hey, that’s a great segue to talk about these last two films! It’s almost like I planned this or something. Let’s get into the aptly named Super Dark Times from 2017. Directed by Kevin Phillips, the 90s-set film revolves around a group of boys who spend their time hanging out, talking in a less-than-woke way about the girls in their class and going through older brothers’ rooms. That last excursion uncovers weed, nunchucks and a katana. When they head out to the woods to test the weapons, a fight breaks out and one of the boys winds up on the wrong end of that sword.
As you can imagine, the rest of the film deals with the fallout from that moment as each remaining kid deals with what they did or covered up in their own way. One seems to be going nuts, the other wants nothing to do with it and another just might have enjoyed the whole thing way too much. A very grounded story, Super Dark Times perfectly showcases that age-old idea that coming clean can be much better for everyone in the long run, even if it might seem like the most damning thing in the world.
I’m not sure if this film will work for everyone, but it certainly did for me. In addition to the tense drama and madness on display, it’s also got some nostalgia for a child of the 80s and 90s like myself. My group of friends wasn’t nearly as crass, but I could hear echoes of our long ago conversations in these kids. I also loved that element of discovery in the picture that came from kids going through an older sibling’s room that some of us experienced in real life and others did through films like Home Alone and the like. Before the internet, that was like a looking glass into what the future might hold.
Finally, we land on another tale of woe from adolescence called Boys In The Trees from director Nicholas Verso. At it’s heart, the 2016 Australian film deals with the hard time in a boy’s life when he’s trying to figure out where he fits in the world, made all the more difficult when said soon-to-be-men have been doused in toxic masculinity their whole lives.
Story-wise, the film follows a kid named Corey on Halloween night which just so happens to also be the same day as high school graduation. He spends the first part being an animal with his friends, complete with wolf costumes, as they plan their shared lives that will involve living in the same town and getting jobs. However, Corey wants to break away and go to school away from his hometown, a move his friends don’t support. The other part of the night, Corey winds up hanging out with an old friend of his named Jonah. They used to be best friends as kids, but Corey grew apart when he realized Jonah wasn’t cool.
Along the way, they rekindle an old game they used to play where they trade stories which take over the film for portions. In the process, Corey and Jonah hash out their beef and Corey also gets some honest perspective on how he and his friends act from a young woman he meets. Thinking about the end is making me feel sad, but I think this is a film that all teens should see in hopes that it might make them think a little bit about how they treat their friends and classmates.
Oh, and this one also gets bonus points for also being set in the 90s. Sure, it’s Australia (where apparently Halloween is a time when kids can go NUTS), but the dynamics don’t seem all that foreign (see what I did there?) and everything’s better with talk of dial-up modems, boys who look like Gavin Rossdale and a soundtrack the includes “Lump” and “Beautiful People.”
And that about raps it up for me and horror in 2018. I also finally watched Get Out and loved it, but don’t think I have much to add to the conversation. I saw a few other things here and there that I either don’t remember well or wasn’t a huge fan of, but overall it was a great year. I can tell that because, as I wrote about these films this time around, I wanted to watch just about all of them again! Here’s hoping I have similar amounts of luck when it comes to 2019 and maybe I’ll even make it to the theater twice for horror flicks this calendar year!