Category: Retrospectives

The Best Years of Our Lives and the Invention of a Necessary War Narrative

War films are imbued with a sense of fatalism, with protagonists caught in the vast maelstrom of events of which they are only a very small part. Their actions when multiplied carry the weight of the entire endeavor while each individual carries the burden of their specific relationship to it. For decades, American cinema predominately concerned itself with the former, while explorations of the latter have been comparatively rare. Hollywood films, forever representative of escapism, often remain as insulated from the direct ramifications of war as the American public. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives bridged that...

Read More

I’m Not There and Grace Through Change

Todd Haynes has never been a stickler to structure. His most conventional films still reveal characters who have a need to break free from their normal surroundings. Mundanity always threatens to burst through the frame and dive into the surreal. So when he takes hold of a biography of Bob Dylan—not a performer known for his mundanity—the experiment is the structure. Six different actors play six different iterations of the famous musician in I’m Not There. (2007). The actors (Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Garl Franklin, and Ben Whishaw) depict wildly discontinuous versions of Dylan’s...

Read More

The Running Man at 30: Arnie vs. Fake News

On paper, The Running Man is a difficult thing to explain. The plot is simple and familiar: humans hunting other humans. The added twist in The Running Man is that the whole thing is filmed and broadcast as the most popular TV show in the country. The harder elements to comprehend are with the people involved in this movie. At the top, Arnold Schwarzenegger is easy to explain, and this is his kind of bread and butter movie: one-liners, gets the girl, “I’ll be back,” defies the odds, shows off his absurd strength, etc. But below Arnold, the creative...

Read More

30 Days of Night: Surviving Will Cost Your Humanity

Revisiting director David Slade’s 30 Days of Night is an arresting experience. Ten years later, the violent terror wrought by writer Steve Niles’ vampires is still shocking and somewhat unexpected within a genre that proffered lusty, beautiful vampires for so many decades. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) provided a rebirth of sorts for the monster, grossing a surprising $215 million and winning three Academy Awards. But with the tag line “Love never dies,” Coppola’s film was a decidedly romantic take on the Count, rendered further irresistible by Gary Oldman. Director Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s popular vampire series followed...

Read More

A Double-Billing of ’80s Pop Horror: Welcome to Fright Night

Is there a better title for a horror movie like this? Not outright terrifying, just an all around crowd pleaser that just leaps off the screen. Fright Night. It has that special zing when you say it. Though vampires are stewards of the night eternal, it’s a harder task to keep them fresh. Fresher than a clove of garlic, anyway. One of the first films to play with meta genre conventions on a large scale, Fright Night doesn’t attempt to redefine the vampire mythos like Near Dark or The Lost Boys. It merely implements them with a coming of...

Read More

Poetry of the Steak: Reinterpreting The Fly 30 Years Later

Originally published on August 14, 2016. When we think about David Cronenberg’s The Fly we think about the grotesque transformation of Seth Brundle that drives the film and weakens our stomachs. 30 years later and the artistry of Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis on Seth Brundle’s six staged transformation into Brundlefly remain an unmatched feat in practical effects, paralleled only by Rob Bottin’s work on The Thing four years prior. Despite the effects wizardry that keeps audiences returning to Cronenberg’s film over and over again, The Fly’s memorable body horror and exploration of the flesh would be lessened if...

Read More

Candyman Is A Rare Great Horror That Explains Why Great Horror is Rare

If the character Candyman never made an appearance in the first film that carries his name, Candyman would still be an overwhelming and fully functioning horror film. If the movie had excluded its villain and focused instead on Helen Lyle’s (Virginia Madsen) obsessive research and the Babadookian spiral of her sanity, pointing her fixation at a folklore concept without having the urban legend represented in corporeal form, we would still have an unsettling psychological horror film about obsession and class divide. Or, if the narrative lens had turned a few degrees to document Anne Marie McCoy’s (Vanessa Williams) perspective...

Read More

The Uncanny Terror of Carnival of Souls

A young woman travels a bleak, lonely road at dusk. We don’t know much about her, but we know all we need: she’s fleeing a past suddenly defined by trauma. She lives in a world she no longer understands. She’s crossing the country to start again. As she drives, she peers around, as though monitoring her surroundings for the next calamity. When she turns back to the windshield, there’s a ghoulish man in the middle of a pitch-black highway (wait a minute, wasn’t it dusk a moment ago?) and as we zoom towards him—or he zooms towards us; it’s...

Read More

Carrie White Burns in Hell: Carrie’s 40th Anniversary

Originally published on October 26, 2016. Carrie is now available on Hulu treaming. Forty years later, Carrie is still one of the most popular horror movies of its time. As is the case with any successful adaptation, it would be a disservice to neglect to consider the source material. 1976: In the middle of one of the hottest decades for horror, Stephen King’s first film adaptation was born. This would spark the beginning of a successful book to film career that took King from a job making $1.60 an hour in a laundry to where he is today as one...

Read More

Scenes from a Marriage: The Genre Subversions of True Lies

James Cameron’s filmography is a series of attempts to revise the Hollywood landscape through excess. During press for True Lies, he told Entertainment Weekly, ”People are being conditioned to expect less and accept less from a movie these days. I’d rather push the other way. If I make a movie once every two years, I want it to be the best. More is more.” That was the second time James Cameron made the most expensive movie ever. It was 1994 and Arnold Schwarzenegger was cinema’s largest action star. He spent the previous decade filling his CV with films like...

Read More

Seven: The Violence of a Cinematic Hellscape

Originally published September 22, 2015. There are less than 20 gunshots fired in David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven, each exchanged between David Mills and John Doe. If you don’t count Detective Somerset’s late face slap, there is only one wounding act of violence committed onscreen. It’s an oft-shared description offered by cinephiles and aspiring screenwriters and critics: Seven is, in the most basic sense, a non-violent film, even as watching it feels like a very violent viewing experience. For most of its run-time, Seven, which this week celebrates its 20th anniversary, is a noir- serial killer thriller built around...

Read More

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me 25 Years Later

Few films have ever deserved critical re-evaluation more than Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Released in 1992, just over a year after Twin Peaks, the TV series, left viewers on a horrific cliffhanger, Fire Walk With Me came to us at exactly the wrong time. The critical and cultural understanding of Twin Peaks at the time was far removed from more modern takes. We tend to view Twin Peaks now as a cult object, a series with alienating eccentricities. The first two seasons of Twin Peaks are remembered mainly for their strangest elements; backwards-talking men dancing around red-curtained rooms,...

Read More