"Coraline" and "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" are this week's selections.
Unfortunately, this is the last week our cousin Cringe Blog will be staying with us. Cringe has to get back home and deal with some stuff — he runs a farm, and the scarecrows have come to life and are eating all his crops, and his goat is maybe possessed by the devil. It's a whole thing — but he'll be back next October. It's been a fun ride, though, hasn't it? It's been a nice distraction from the rest of 2020. It's been so much fun that I haven't even thought about anything that might be happening in the future, say, next Tuesday, to pick a definitely random day.
But we're not done quite yet. We have two more films to recommend below, plus two pieces of scary news: Netflix is raising its prices again while continuing to cut down a massive amount of shows, and Amazon is attempting to argue that you didn't actually purchase those movies that you did in fact purchase through its store, meaning they can hypothetically take away your purchased films if they want. What a time to be a film fan!
Starz, rated PG, 100 minutes
I wonder if Director Henry Selick and his crew had to fight the Motion Picture Association of America for the PG rating "Coraline" ultimately received.
It's a film for children insomuch as its titular protagonist is a young girl, and the movie deals with the theme of kids not understanding the full scope of their parents' love, mistaking momentary detachment for a permanent absence of caring. It's also (gorgeously) animated, which, as I have said before, is a sign of childishness in the U.S. even though it should not be.
But while watching "Coraline" it become obvious that this is not a film for children, or at least not for normal children. This film is messed up. This film is scary. If I had watched this at 7 or 8, I would have been fascinated, but I also would not have slept for weeks. The choice to make the dominant visual theme of the movie "button eyes" is such a striking one on its own. That's before you even get to the spideriffic climax — but I'm getting ahead of myself.
In "Coraline," our hero is Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning), a girl attempting to settle into her family's new house. Coraline is a typical kid, except she has a fascination with the mystical and the morbid. The movie opens with her walking through the woods, attempting to find a hidden well as part of a ritual to make rain fall from the sky. She's by herself; her mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman) are too busy working on their gardening catalog to play with her.
On her adventure, Coraline meets an annoying kid named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.) — which is short, tragically, for "Why born?" — and his cat, which does not have a name but is looking at Coraline quite funny. It's Wybie's grandmother who owns the complex where the Jones family now lives. With her parents distracted, Coraline romps around the creaking house alone, exploring every nook, creeping through every cranny, until she finds a small, locked door painted over in the living room. She gets her mother to unlock the door, but behind it is only brick — until nighttime, when a cavalcade of jumping mice leads her back to the door, which now reveals not a brick wall but an oozing, breathing tunnel.
On the other side? It's her house, but … different. Where in her house sits a picture of a child dropping his ice cream cone, this house has a picture of the same child enjoying one. Where Coraline's house is dusty, this house is clean. Where Coraline's mother is busy, this house has a mother (called, naturally, Other Mother) that is attentive, who cooks grand meals and offers to play games. She looks just like Coraline's mother — except for her eyes, which are jet-black buttons, a sign that despite surface-level appearances, all is not well on this side of the tunnel's divide.
As Coraline's world descends deeper into madness, she meets some colorful characters, like Mr. B (Ian McShane), a Russian strongman, and April and Miriam (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), two former burlesque dancers who live together and agree on nothing. In a lesser movie, these people would be caricatures. They still are, to a certain extent, but they also help to drive home the helplessness of the movie's other world (while providing laughs).
There aren't that many family-friendly horror movies out there. There are the "Goosebumps" movies, and "Frankenweenie," but those are more comedic in nature. The remake of "The Witches," directed by Robert Zemeckis, seems to delight in its scares based on early reviews, but the movie itself is divisive. Then there's stuff like "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which is great, but you need some variety sometimes, you know? "Coraline" is magical because it is both genuinely scary for kids and compelling in terms of story. The slow reveal of Other Mother's true nature is well done, and Coraline's jostling perspective is a great reminder of how kids' brains work — they can go from trusting to skeptical to scared in a matter of moments.
But the real winner, the real reason to watch, is the visuals. The world created from Neil Gaiman's novel is wondrous to inhabit for 100 dreamy minutes. It's smart enough to take things slow, letting the overall vibe get under your skin. It's a world where cats can talk, and mice can dance, and dogs attend the theater. And even if a humanoid arachnid tries to devour a child even now and again, the rest of the magic is worth it.
Max Go, rated R, 98 minutes
This movie, which I am going to refer to as "Season of the Witch" for brevity's sake, gets a bad rap. It's known mostly as "the 'Halloween' movie that does not have Michael Myers in it," and I can't refute that. This should not have been looped into the "Halloween" cinematic universe. It should have been its own thing. Maybe if it had, people would remember it for what it is: a silly horror film that is a scary amount of fun.
There are people out there who believe this movie to be a legitimate horror masterpiece. I am not one of them. I am someone who admires it for going balls-to-the-wall crazy and makes fun of it, like it deserves. I mean, the premise of the movie is that a Halloween apparel magnate (Dan O'Herlihy) is so desperate to bring witchcraft back into the mainstream that he creates spooky children's masks powered by pieces of Stonehenge rocks (?), in the hopes of getting all the world's children to wear them on Halloween night while watching a specific commercial, which will activate the masks and kill the children, turning their heads into bugs and snakes.
Read that sentence again if you need to. It won't ever make sense, but it's true.
Our heroes trying to stop this murderous scheme are an alcoholic doctor (Tom Atkins) and the daughter of someone who was killed for getting too close to the scheme (Stacey Nelkin). Neither one of them is qualified to make an arrest of any kind, nor do they ever consider calling some sort of higher authority (feels like the FBI is warranted in cases of mass murder). This is dumb, but good, because this is ostensibly a horror movie, so we need our protagonists to be dumb.
There are some legit scares, but even those come in strange circumstances. One woman dies after accidentally picking up a piece of Stonehenge rock and getting her face lasered to smithereens. Lasered? Yes, lasered. Somehow, the rocks shoot lasers. Don't think too hard about it. In a different scene, a man is suffocated to death in a hospital, and the killer takes the opportunity to pull the man's nose upwards and out of socket. It is quite the visual.
For all the silliness of the kills, the film's ending is rather bleak, a confounding move if you care about things like "consistent tone," but a move I respect nonetheless. Though, proper context aside, a man yelling at someone to turn some television programming off is a pretty funny climax to a movie. I'm spoiling this because who cares. This movie is from 1982, and it will be no less enjoyable to watch now that you know the ending.
Cringe Blog is now over for another 11 months. I wanted "Season of the Witch" to be the last film I wrote about this year because, well, I don't know, honestly. Something about it felt right. Maybe it is the varied reactions: You can hate, love or laugh at this film, and all of those reactions are understandable. Horror films do not have to be a grueling experience unless you want them to be. They can be cathartic, funny, emotional or all of the above. They mean whatever you want them to mean. They are powerful tools that can help us get away from our own demons (metaphorically speaking, but I guess literally, too).
I know they won't ever be some people's favorites. But I hope talking about them in this way helps to add a different perspective on them, if nothing else.
Oh, and as always: Happy Halloween.