16 September 2019

Tough Horror Ladies

Tough Horror Ladies
by Kristin Battestella

These contemporary single mothers and their daughters do it all amid slasher scares, folklore horrors, and backwoods frights.

Halloween – Forty years later Jamie Lee Curtis returns for this 2018 direct sequel opening with asylum creepy and pesky podcasters claiming to be investigative journalists as interlaced exposition fills viewers in on Michael Myers' silence and the preparation paranoia that ruined Laurie Strode's family. Security systems, padlocks, elaborate gates, and isolation surround them both, but Laurie's daughter Judy Greer (27 Dresses) questions her drinking, over the top readiness, and inability to let go of “The Shape.” Walking to school amid today's tacky Halloween decorations, looking out the classroom window, ominous hedges, and laundry lines wink at the Original Film alongside snips of our vintage Halloween crime, newspaper clippings, and case files. Gross gas station bathroom terrors provide bloody teeth, bashing hammers, and cracking necks while the bright, open modern home contrasts the backwoods dark interiors with secret staircases and hidden shelters. The son-in-law says he can take care of his family but their windows are open and there's no security system, and between playing with yo-yos or complaining about baking the ineffectual men are louses leaving the ladies to check the scary sounds, slow going to answer a cry for help, and not learning to fear or prepare until it's too late. Corny family kitchens, trite teens, typical editing, and flat characters with nothing to do but say I told you so add to the confused BFF boys and gender reversed Bonnie and Clyde costumes filler while a kid shooting the wrong man as he calls for a dad who isn't there tries at some patriarchal commentary. After forty years of no need to transport Michael, he and his maybe metaphysically connected crazy cronies conveniently escape in an unseen bus crash just in time for the holiday. There's a slight camp here, too for those who celebrate in different ways – kids running after candy, teens at the rave, adults dressed as slutty nurses – but jerks and old ladies who disrespect Halloween are gonna pay! The bad girl babysitter and her wise charge too old to be afraid of closet monsters seem important, however numerous characters come and go, forgotten in a best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend roundabout with unimaginative stabs through the throat or obviously fake heads squashed like watermelons. We can't care about random people when they are conveniently killed or obnoxious and deserving of the horror. What happened to all the crazy patients who escaped on the crashed bus? Stupid folks unaware they are in a horror movie leave the safety of a police vehicle, running into the woods screaming rather than radioing for help, and it's unrealistic when Laurie and her scanner are the only back up when we live with such real world scary and excessive Halloween safety. The sympathy for the villain philosophizing is getting old, but the should have listened to your mother message wins when there really is a boogeyman in the closet. Barren wooden rooms with gated doors sequentially trap and clear in a siege ready lair that should have been explored more in parallel with the paranoid state of mind. Mano y mano fights and window perils create a mythical Laurie to match Myers, yet fiery ruses and dynamite traps make for an abrupt, leave room for the sequel end. Although there are too many movies just named Halloween now and those who saw H20 may be completely confused, this is well done compared to other films in the franchise. Despite over-relying on the Original in many ways, we're only here for those connections, and without them, this would be just another derivative horror movie. It's not perfect by any means, but fortunately this remains entertaining for its final girl presence.

The Hole in the Ground – Not all is as it seems for a young mother and son in this 2019 Irish/international ninety minutes. Fun house mirrors and creepy carnivals lead to upside down eerie, distorted car scares, and freaky ass hooded figures in the road. House repairs, rules to follow, locked basements, spiders, footsteps, and flickering lights contrast the warm lamp light safety, and there's an innocence to a child's questions on why the two moved without the most likely abusive dad. He doesn't fit in at school and she's the fifth wheel at dinner parties, but running off into the spooky forest is not the answer thanks to lookalike trees, darkness, and the titular ravine. Although the accents may be tough for some and night scenes are difficult to see at times, viewers are meant to only see what the flashlight catches in its spotlight and hear the frantic shouts of a mother calling out for the son who isn't safe in his bed. Stories of crazy neighbors, noises in the dark, and doors slamming by themselves add to the whereabouts unknown panic, emergency calls, and child claiming to be where he wasn't. An old lady in white walking toward your vehicle to say this is not your son is chilling in its simplicity, yet we aren't sure when the spooky switch may have been made. Our family is new in town, unfamiliar and surrounded by crows, dead bodies, and wakes with the coffin laid out in the living room and all the mirrors covered. Little changes that only a mother would know escalate to spying under the door, crawling on the floor, and toys near the crater where the ground rumbles and moves. Now mummy is fearful of her son, running through school corridors as creepy songs referring to our eponymous hole have other parents and doctors questioning what's wrong. There's no immediate Ring surveillance or instant video easy, but vintage camera evidence is upsetting to those refusing to believe. Mirrors are needed to tell the truth as what we're seeing becomes increasingly weirder. Changes in favorite foods and not knowing their family code games lead to heavy breathing, violent confrontations, surprising strength, bodies in the basement, and heads buried in the ground. Some of the action is a little laughable, but the audience is trapped in this freaky world thanks to sinkholes, scary roots, caverns, and bones. The disturbing revelations may be too slow or merely abstract metaphors for viewers expecting shocks a minute, but the finale gets physical with monster doppelgangers and rescues from the folklore for entertaining shout at the television disturbia.

Incident in a Ghostland – Station wagons, reading scary stories on the road, and creepy candy trucks open this 2018 Canadian/French production. Mom likes her daughter's Lovecraftian writing, but her sister hates it and their new house inherited from a kooky aunt who collected weird dolls, freaky toys, spooky mirrors, and animal heads on top of the old lady linens and antiques. Naturally, there's poor phone reception, and newspaper headlines say there are psychotic killers on the loose, establishing the family situation and scares as the killers walk right in for slams against the wall, sniffing dolls, and off camera screams. Vintage lighting that should create a cozy glow instead makes shadows where our invaders can come right out of the woodwork. The unknown, maze-like, and cluttered house provides confined hysteria and congested action for strongmen bashing lamps and broken glass. Mom fights to defend her family against the immediate attacks, stabbings, and dark room assaults. Our daughters are at the budding, in between age – cowering or urinating and unable to fight or flee against choke holds and terror in the basement. Once the youngest grows up to become a successful author, her latest best seller recounts the horrible events, and frantic calls have her returning to the house where her sick sister locks herself in and relives the horrors. Every bump in the night, whisper, creepy doll, and alarm clock adds to the on edge on top of help me notes, handcuffs, and bloody nudity. Is it deranged harm, supernatural contortions, or something more when her crazed sister insists someone else is painting her face like a doll and chaining her to the bed? Missing keys, slamming doors, scary dogs, and slaps in the face lead to flashes of past attackers. Are they phantoms of the traumatized mind or there to terrorize again? Beaten faces and arguments over how they need each other to accept the reality of what truly happened provide some superb distortions for viewers. Despite the escalating torture porn, the rug isn't pulled out from under the audience with some improbable twist that makes no sense in this tormented world. Playing dress up and placing people posed among all the other toys leads to blow torches and hefty but handy typewriters as our ladies face their demons despite their fears. The horror action and psychological terror will definitely be upsetting to some viewers, but this inescapable fear is well done for horror fans looking for something a little different. I've never heard of a candy truck before and shit don't ever want to encounter one now!

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