A top-notch survival comedy and a harrowing fictionalization of real-life monsters continue the months' scares
Hello again, all you ghouls and goblins out there.
Cringe Blog isn’t quite as long this week, as life stuff is rudely getting in the way, but all that means is it’ll be an appropriate length for once instead of a novella. In lieu of an opening column, I’m going to rank some Halloween candies, because I can. NOTE: I’m not ranking things with peanut butter in them, because I’m allergic and well, that’s not fair. Just know that, whatever your opinion is on Reese’s, I agree with you.
1. Almond Joy. FIGHT ME, COWARDS.
2. Sweet-Tarts. A blessed candy.
3. Kit-Kats. Love me some wafers.
4. Mike and Ike’s. Excellent movie theater candy. Perfect amount of chewiness.
5. Candy corn. It’s good, don’t argue with me please, I’m so tired.
6. Starburst. Would move up the list if specifically talking about the pink/red flavors.
7. Whoppers. Always better than you think they are.
8. Hershey’s bar. Can’t go wrong with a classic.
9. All other chocolate bar things (Milky Way, Three Musketeers, etc.) They’re fine, but usually too busy. Keep it simple.
10. Skittles. Used to love them, now I think they’re meh. I’ll still eat some if you have some.
11-99. Who cares.
LAST: Hot Tamales. What is this? “Let’s do Mike and Ike’s, but hot.” I don’t want spicy candy! If I wanted spice I’d eat some jalapeños. Hot Tamales are bullshit.
Anyway, let’s get on with the scares.
STARZ Play, rated R, 88 minutes
For my money, “Zombieland” is the best horror-comedy film of the 2000s, besides maybe “Shaun of the Dead.” Here’s why:
- Emma Stone is in this movie. Emma Stone, despite doing some dumb things, generally rules. Teenage me’s crush on Stone began two years before this with “Superbad,” but it blossomed with “Zombieland.” She’s… kind of a jerk in this movie? But in a good way and it’s charming? And also she’s funny and is as good at the action sequences as Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson? She’s great, is what I’m saying.
- Abigail Breslin is in this movie! She had broken into the mainstream with “Definitely, Maybe” the year before, but this was the first film I’d seen her in, and she’s a hoot as a young girl who takes advantage of people who underestimate her. Her and Stone make a fantastic comedy team.
- Woody Harrelson is in this movie. You’re not gonna believe this, but he plays a reserved man who may or may not have some secrets in his past. Also, he wears a cowboy hat and generally looks like someone impersonating Crocodile Dundee, and he's so, so funny.
- Jesse Eisenberg is… in this movie. He’s fine. I know a lot of people don’t love him, but I think his bumbling genius schtick works here. He and Stone have good chemistry too, and their senses of humor mesh well together. Also, watching him run is funny, and he runs a lot in this movie.
- **** ****** is in this movie. The name is starred out because I don’t want to give away perhaps the best cameo of all time, but rest assured this person is amazing in “Zombieland.”
- The characters in this movie adhere to a specific set of rules, and this is how I discovered I love a good “rules movie.” What I mean is this: If characters create rules for themselves and their friends to follow in order to survive/thrive, I’m in. Because I know, at some point, those rules will be broken. And chaos will reign. And it will be glorious. Take “Gremlins,” for example. Or “Fight Club.” Or “Friends with Benefits.” (Think about it!) Types of movies I also love: Train movies, music movies (meaning movies ABOUT music, not musicals) and movies where the villain says to the hero, “You know, we’re not so different, you and I.”
- This movie is 88 minutes. If it was much longer, it wouldn’t work. It know exactly how long this premise will remain fresh and fun, and it squeezes all the laughs and scares it can muster into those minutes. Editing: what a novel concept.
- Anyway, the plot is just people trying to survive in a world overrun by evil and trying not to cry over friends and family who didn’t make it and maybe even using shared pain and laughter to bond with others and rally against the evil and whoa, this all sounds frighteningly relevant, huh?
It’s a better time than it sounds, trust me.
Netflix, rated TV-MA, 10 episodes, 60 minutes
The first thing you need to know about “Mindhunter” is it comes from the brain of David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Se7en,” “Gone Girl,” literally everything he does is brilliant).
Well, Joe Penhall is the credited series creator, but as Penhall has admitted, Fincher essentially took control of the series and even directed four episodes of the first season (and two in the upcoming second season). As a result, the show looks incredible and feels skin-crawling.
Which is appropriate, because “Mindhunter” tells the (slightly fictionalized) tale of how the FBI’s Serial Crimes Unit was born in the 1970s. That’s the unit responsible for catching serial killers, the worst of the worst. In the show, agents Holden Ford (“Hamilton” breakout star Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) team with psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to interview serial killers behind bars and get into their heads. They want to know how these people think and why they kill. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, because it turns out each killers has different motivations and a different willingness to cooperate. And is spending time with these people affecting the minds of the agents themselves?
The show features depictions of multiple real-life serial killers, but spends the most time with Ed Kemper, played by breakout star Cameron Britton. The exchanges between Kemper and the agents rock between being genuinely insightful (if disturbing), to playful small talk, to out-and-out terrifying. Britton’s ability to go from a seemingly rational human to a dead-eyed fiend is astounding. The interviews between Kemper and the agents, particularly Ford, are done sans handcuffs. If Ford says something wrong, there's nothing stopping Kemper from snapping his neck — or worse. The tension that results is pulse-pounding.
While this is going on, the team is also trying use the info they glean to solve real-time murders, as well as protect their unit’s work from getting funds cut, even if that means using unethical techniques. Is breaking moral codes OK if it leads to a greater good? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to watch these characters wrestle with the issue. The show also delves into the agents’ personal lives, and though not everything works in these diversions, it’s always interesting to see how the nature of their job has an effect on their state of mind.
“Mindhunter” isn’t a show that will blow you away after one episode. It requires time for you to sink into its vibe, for you to feel comfortable and sure of where it’s going. Only then will it pull the rug from under you. It’s not a horror show in the traditional sense of the word, but its maybe scarier than anything I’ve ever seen, because it showcases how easily humans can go wrong, and how we are often the worst monsters in each other’s lives.
See you next week. Stay spooky, y’all.