Author: Redhead at the Movies

And Your Father Smelt of Elderberries: Celebrating 40 Years of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

For many, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was, and still is, the gateway into the weird and wacky, partially animated and always insane world of Monty Python– it’s the most mainstream and beloved of all their works, helping to expose their often irreverent, random and ridiculous sense of humor to masses within and beyond the UK. And still, decades later, the film remains hilarious and singular– nothing before and nothing since has been quite like it, even though Monty Python themselves were influenced by comedians before them, and have since influenced comedians thereafter. And, it remains somehow out of time and out of place– it exhibits the kind of humor that works no matter what, relying on an innate silliness that can be easily awoken in each of us, while still approaching that awakening in a way that is undeniably brilliant. No one awakens that silliness more than Monty Python, and no work of theirs has awoken that silliness across generations like The Holy Grail has. For me, personally, my gateway was a little different. My mother loves to tell people her story about sending homemade German almond-vanilla cookies to John Cleese back in the 1970s, when they were here doing live shows. They exchanged handwritten letters, even– it’s the stuff of dreams for celebrity idolizers of the current social media age, where security and paparazzi have effectively nipped any...

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles: A Thanksgiving Movie Anomaly

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…in fact, it began to look a lot like Christmas already the moment Halloween had passed. A sad symptom of commercialism, this fact bothers me most when it comes to movies–we’re well into “holiday” movie season by now, but what exactly does that mean? It’s a question I’ve explored on my own blog before, so I won’t dwell too much on it here, but by paying homage to one of my favorite holiday movies–John Hughes’ 1987 film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles–the question is somewhat unavoidable. Because, of course, this film takes revolves around Thanksgiving, not Christmas. The film stars Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy as two strangers who, due to a series of preposterous, serendipitous events, find themselves traveling home for the holiday together. From car rentals to cramped hotel rooms, this is one of those comedies where everything goes wrong, and the laughs and cringes come in equal measure from the ridiculousness of it all. It’s an unrelentingly funny but brutal buddy movie, if you’d consider these men to be buddies, that is. Martin is an uptight and serious working family man while Candy is an obnoxiously friendly, buffoonish man who actually has no family to go home to. Sorry for the nearly 30 year spoiler, but it’s also a John Hughes movie, so add that iconic ’80s...

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Netflix Hidden Gem #18: The Taking of Deborah Logan

Netflix Hidden Gem: The Taking of Deborah Logan Director: Adam Robitel Genre: Found Footage Horror Bad Hat Harry Productions When looking for horror films to watch over Halloween weekend, I knew I’d find some indie gems hiding on Netflix. The Taking of Deborah Logan is a real sleeper— a film I’d never heard of and a seemingly average found footage piece. I went in with little knowledge and no expectations to speak of. While this film doesn’t do too much to reinvent or experiment with the found footage form, it uses its tropes sufficiently well, and somehow refashions those tropes (not to mention possession, haunting and exorcism-type tropes, as well) just enough to give us a formulaic but fun (and, at times, truly terrifying) experience. The premise (and motivation for the found footage form) revolves around PhD student Mia’s thesis project on how Alzheimer’s has a physiological effect on the primary caregiver of the patient. The film starts as a pretty convincing documentary on the topic, utilizing home video footage from patient Deborah Logan’s somewhat younger years (which, of course, become important later as the mysteries unfold), as well as Mia’s voiceovers about the disease itself paired with scientific, computer-generated images of the human brain. About halfway through though, things start to accelerate into full-blown horror territory as Deb’s behavior seems to be less and less due to her Alzheimer’s and more...

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Criterion Discovery: M

Background M is Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece (also his first sound film), and it was released on DVD as Spine #30 of the Criterion Collection in 2004. It’s now available on Blu-Ray, and it’s also part of Criterion’s Essential Art House 50-DVD Set. Story Hans Beckert (the talented and hypnotically compelling Peter Lorre) is a serial killer, whistling a fatefully recognizable tune (“In the Hall of the Mountain King,” to be precise) as he closes in on innocent children (such as little Elsie Beckmann early in the film). Numerous “Wanted” posters line the streets asking “Who is the murderer?”...

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Saw Turns 10 Years Old

I was fairly young when I first saw James Wan’s and Leigh Whannell’s iconic torture porn, Saw. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before; no creatures, nothing supernatural, and though I hadn’t yet seen many slasher films, even those would come to seem tame compared to the human killers I found in torture porn. There was neither a final girl nor teens behaving promiscuously, no demonic possession or ghosts; just a creepy puppet bearing bad news— you were chosen because you didn’t appreciate your life, so now you must prove your will to live by doing horrible, brutal things to avoid death. The philosophy was fascinating and disturbing to me even then. Tenyears later, and me being a bit wiser, I’m even more fascinated by the impact Saw has had, and the complexity of it as a singular film, forgetting the tedious franchise that followed which only served to obscure the original’s brilliance. How and why this film is such a modern day classic? After all, it did usher in the short-lived and oft undervalued subgenre of torture porn. Also, how might we read this film— and torture porn at large— as a culturally valid and socially important movement within horror cinema? And what exactly is the legacy of this film, now that its ensuing franchise has turned the first Saw’s innovations into gimmicks, and since torture porn isn’t...

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V/H/S: Viral

Overview: 3 separate found footage tales of intended terror are woven into a larger found footage frame narrative in this third installment of the indie-horror anthology franchise.  2014; 8383 Productions in association with Bloody Disgusting and presented by The Collective; Rated R; 97 min. “Vicious Circles:” I’ll begin with the frame narrative, directed by Marcel Sarmiento; it loosely follows teens who are all filming an epic car chase between police and a creepy ice cream truck. The catch of the frame narrative, we eventually realize, is that these various teens all run into some terrifying bad luck in their aims...

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Great Moments in Horror Movie Makeup

With Halloween right around the corner, what better time to celebrate the fantastical, the frightening, and the downright impressive that horror movie makeup history has to offer? The Exorcist (1973): This film is a staple of many a horror-movie list, and its makeup effects are certainly worthy of making an appearance on this one. For the time they were certainly unprecedented. From the pea soup vomit to the overall transformation that makeup artist Dick Smith put Linda Blair through physically— who could forget those contact lenses that seem to peer through the screen and right into your soul, or...

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Netflix Hidden Gems #9: Red State

Red State Director: Kevin Smith Genre: Horror/[Dark] Comedy The Harvey Boys & NVSH Productions Kevin Smith has been my hero for a long time now, and his experimentation with the horror genre only makes him more of one in my eyes. I wanted to write a Netflix Hidden Gem about Red State, his 2011 venture into the horror genre, in honor of his newest venture into horror, the far more widely talked about (though seemingly not so widely seen) Tusk. I’m a little late on that now, and in all this time, I haven’t even gotten a chance to see Tusk. Nevertheless, Red...

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The Scariest Dolls & Toys in Horror Movie History

In honor of The Conjuring‘s upcoming prequel, Annabelle, here are some of my favorite creepy dolls and terrifying toys: 1) Talky Tina and Willie the Dummy — The Twilight Zone (1962 & 1963, respectively) The Twilight Zone was notorious for turning various inanimate objects into harbingers of doom and dread. The scariest part of “The Dummy,” though, is the very idea that it is Jerry– a ventriloquist– who makes his dummy, Willie, alive. The episode centers upon Jerry’s desire to use a different dummy for future acts, but Willie is not going to give up and retire that easily....

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Borrowing from Peter, Owing Paul: Genre Homage in the Cornetto Trilogy

Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy wasn’t necessarily meant to be a trilogy at all. But what started out as a running joke soon became a way of referring to, and thus defining, a mostly undefinable series of films– and I mean that in the best way possible. Yes, there are consistencies across the three films– everything from recurring visual gags (Simon Pegg jumping over and knocking down fences, for example) to themes of friendship and community. But, of course, the primary characteristic that’s consistent in each installment of the trilogy is its homage structure– Shaun of the Dead (2004) is a self-pronounced...

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Taxi Driver

Overview: An unhinged Vietnam veteran takes a job driving a cab at night through the streets of New York City, where he grows more violent and unstable as a result of the perceived human scum he encounters. Columbia Pictures; 1976; Rated R; 113 Minutes. God’s Lonely Man: This film is, at its core, about alienation. Vietnam established a dangerous reverberation in our culture that was reflected through much of 1970s cinema, in which violence was both the very thing that fractured the psyches of young American men, and yet, violence was also a means of trying to restore what had...

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Not for Everyone? How to Watch Unconventional, Foreign, Non-Narrative Films

For every Hollywood blockbuster I saw this summer, I saw just about as many under-the-radar releases that defied those very structures and subverted the expectations developed by those predictable structures. I consider myself to be relatively egalitarian and open-minded when it comes to the media I choose to consume, and the balance I’ve struck between big budget fare and art house alternatives has got me thinking, can simply anyone watch these quirky, experimental, often inexplicable films? For fear of sounding unintentionally pretentious, let me put it another way: would simply anyone want to watch these films? In what ways...

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10 Horror Metaphors You Might Have Missed

When I watch a horror film, I’m always subconsciously looking for its themes, asking myself, what’s the allegory here? I’m a firm believer that the horror genre effectively reflects cultural anxieties, and hopefully this list will provide readers with some proof of that tendency. In chronological order, here are the 10 horror metaphors to prove the richness of the genre. 1) ______ of the [Living] Dead (1968—2009) No disrespect intended for one of my favorite horror film icons, Mr. George A. Romero, but it felt appropriate somehow to consider his zombie-saga as such—a series, each installment of which has its...

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Deliver Us From Evil

Overview: Directed by Scott Derrickson, who gave us Sinister (2012) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), this film tells the true story of NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie who teams up with an unconventional priest when he finds himself investigating a series of crimes that appear to be supernaturally evil in nature. Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Screen Gems, Rated R, 118 minutes. The “Law & Order” of Horror Movies: This movie may be formulaic, but it succeeds when the formula it’s aiming for above all others is police procedural. The first half of the film indulges in its own mysteries, and it is a fun (albeit not that scary) puzzler that I genuinely enjoyed piecing together; I found myself intrigued by the clues we were given, and Eric Bana as Sarchie is engaging as he skeptically but obsessively pieces the creepy clues together for himself. The film even gives us a silly, underdeveloped but still fascinating and effective Exorcist-esque back story that traces the demonic presence back to a discovery made by three soldiers during the Iraq war. The film feels like nothing more than a horror-themed investigation which was refreshing, although that may have disappointed some others in equal measure. I enjoyed the cop-meets-possessed/cop-meets-priest vibe, even when it grew more than a little trite (exemplified in part by the usual sort of heart-to-heart between non-believer and man of God in a bar). But...

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Father’s Day Reflections: A Funny Teacher

My father has a unique sense of humor. Perhaps unique isn’t the right word, actually. Perhaps a better term would be “old-fashioned.” He tends to gravitate more toward slapstick, shying away from many of today’s more raunchy comedic fare. Something else he has always loved, and which he has ingrained in me as a result, is animation. I wonder, to this day, if the combination of these components contributes to his love for Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). I have many of my own reasons for loving this movie, the biggest of which is the simple fact that this...

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