Hello! MOVIE DIARY 2018 IS FINALLY BACK! I went on a little bit of an unintentional hiatus due to work stuff and because I got married to Tessa! I had this big plan to do a bunch of horror movies throughout October, but that got away from me, obviously, so I’m going to be throwing them into the next couple of posts this week in the form of quick and dirty capsule reviews.
My first special guest this week is one of my best pals, Caitlin Schneider, who was an official witness at my wedding so she can vouch for my MOVIE DIARY 2018 hiatus being legit.
The Witch (2015)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: CAITLIN SCHNEIDER
When I was a teenager, I decided to adopt an affectation that I was “into” horror movies because I thought that made me Cool and I thought it would make boys like me. I know precisely when that plan started to seem like a bad idea: when one of those aforementioned boys took me to see Saw. I truly only survived that experience because I got him to start making fun of it with me (love to cope with laughter) and we occasionally brushed up against each other.
Fast-forward many years and another bad cinematic decision involving a boy: The Witch/VVitch. I saw The Witch with my boyfriend Tony, and Geoff (yes, Movie Diary Geoff!) and Tessa, and I went because it looked rad, I’m still concerned with being cool, and I still try to watch “quality” horror movies despite the fact that they cause me great anxiety. (I’m an “empath”!!!) Even though we saw it in the theater and even though my butt stayed in the seat the entire time, I did not in fact actually see large portions of The Witch. Instead, I held a sweater over my face, hummed to myself, and waited for the sweet release of end credits or death. More than two years after it came out, I still have searing nightmares about The Witch. But I’m nothing if not stubbornly committed to enduring experiences I know I’ll hate, so I decided it was time to give her an ol’ rewatch.
Guess what: this movie is still scary. In brief, it tells the story of a Puritan family who are cast out of town because they’re...too puritanical. A bad omen if you ask me! There’s pa, ma, eldest daughter Thomasin, younger brother, evil maniacal toddler twins, and a baby. The family sets up a new life isolated in the wilderness, and hoo boy, does it get weird fast. The baby “disappears,” then the younger brother “disappears,” then he reappears but is possessed/cursed/whatever, and then has an absolutely haunted fit and coughs up an apple and dies. Pa’s flippin out, ma’s becoming fully unhinged, one of the family’s goats seems extremely evil, and there’s clearly some bad shit happening in the woods. It. Is. Stressful. To cope, the parents naturally decide that Thomasin (played by the great Anya Taylor-Joy) is practicing witchcraft and is to blame for all of this. Sound familiar??? Young women are awfully suspicious after all. Plus Thomasin was there when both kids disappeared so, does sort of makes sense, I guess.
For approximately five minutes it seems like this movie might be a meditation on paranoia, fear, suspicion, religion, toxic gender dynamics, and the devastating consequences of those things getting mixed up together in the fucked up cauldron of life. And honestly, that probably would’ve been enough to make it a good movie!! Instead, The Witch does a thing I actually genuinely love in horror movies which is: it goes all the fucking way. After you’ve spent a few stressful scenes wondering whether this family is going to self destruct on suspicion alone, The Witch is like, “no this shit is real and you’re on a roller coaster to hell. Buckle up, bitch.”
I should note here that while the titular witch is revealed pretty early in the movie, I didn’t realize this when I first saw it because like I said, I didn’t watch large portions of this film. Upon rewatch, I decided to face my fears and stare straight into the vvitchy vvoid. And wow, I was genuinely shocked to discover that we actually see a lot of this she-devil. We see her as a scary old woman who mutilates the baby and rubs its little guts all over her crony body, then as a young temptress on her way to the Renaissance Faire, and then again as an old woman suckling at the teat of one of the barn animals during the final night when things go completely off the rails for this family. Turns out, that evil-seeming goat—referred to as Black Phillip—is the literal devil! He talks to Thomasin’s in a freaky mind meld and asks her: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” She does. At this point, everyone in her family is fully dead or gone (Black Phillip killed pa, Thomasin committed matricide in self-defense, the twins have disappeared) and Thomasin wanders naked into the woods to live a life of sweet sin among a coven of hysterically blissed out witches, laughing and ascending high above a raging fire.
During my rewatch, I managed to keep my eyes open and unshrouded—something I did with the hope that it would be a sort of exercise in exorcising the film from my psyche. That didn’t happen, but I did experience a different kind of deliverance. Throughout history—omg stay with me!—witchcraft’s legacy has often been as a secret evil that must be brought to light (a characterization that’s more about women, power and class than anything else, I know), but this film wisely puts an abrupt end to the witch hunt before it even begins. Suspicion is obliterated, the chaos has a clear agent, and the witch somehow becomes a strangely alluring monster. She’s real, she’s raising hell, and fighting her is a flippin fool’s errand. After seeing (really seeing) The Witch, I can’t say for sure whether the devil you know is better than the one you don’t, but I do know this know this: by the end, I wished I was the one being recruited.
Caitlin Schneider is writer/editor living in Brooklyn.
A Feast Of Man (2018)
Full disclosure: Writer and director of A Feast of Man, Caroline Golum, is a friend of mine and a former special guest of MOVIE DIARY 2018, but that has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed this movie, I assure you! A Feast Of Man centers on four friends’ weekend in upstate New York as they meet to hear the will of their dearly and recently departed friend Gallagher. They learn they can split his fortune if they agree to honor Gallagher’s final request — that they all sit down together and eat his corpse. It’s a comedy of manners, and it’s such a hilarious look at rich, young pieces of shit being shitty to each other. So much of the movie is driven by a perfectly particular sense of humor, a mix of fast talking, back and forth, Marx brothers-esque wit and the very bold, very odd declarations of the oblivious rich. It’s incredibly fun watching these characters run wild, their weekend of petty arguments and mourning devolving into a spirited argument about the merits of cannibalism.
I really liked this one! Big time respect to David Gordon Green and Danny McBride for looking at the various sequels to Halloween and saying “No, we’re good, we’re just gonna go off the first one.” It’s a great follow up to the first Halloween movie, maintaining that lean, mean energy, and offering up some interesting ideas about the Laurie/Michael dynamic. There’s some very obvious fan service in here, the kind that I feel like usually I’d roll my eyes at, but I was having such a good time watching it, I didn’t even care. It was nice to just be reeled in by pandering for once I guess. Is this what people who like Marvel movies feel like every year?
A sort of sequel to Suspiria, Inferno shares a lot in common with its predecessor. Hidden passages, loud, aggressive music, striking images of artful brutality and violence, etc etc — it’s an Argento movie, you get it. I think Inferno is particularly interesting in how overwhelming it is. There’s so much going on, plot-wise, and the music does so much work to make you, as the viewer, feel backed into a corner as you’re forced to watch the tension of a scene build into a moment of such shocking violence. The violence of Argento movies gets all the love and notoriety usually, but looking back at this I was really impressed by Argento’s ability to build that bridge of tension to those big moments of violence. A lot of it is contingent on those sort of “Don’t go in there / why would you go in there / I can’t believe you’re going in there / you’re definitely going to die” scenarios (that bit in the beginning where our girl decides to dip into the dark, flooded basement to grab her keys, being the first example), but if there’s one thing he does right with this movie it’s that he’s able to create this atmosphere of chaos and danger lurking around every corner— and a couple of times it’s not even directly related to the supernatural stuff! Sometimes people are just bad people who are out there to fuck up your day, like the building staff that’s conspiring to steal from their tenants or the food cart guy who just comes out in the middle of the night to opportunistically murder that other guy who’s being attacked by a swarm of rats. Maybe there’s an argument for all of these awful things happening because of the wide, evil influence of Mater Tenebraurum affecting the city around her, but I kind of also like it as a scummy New York movie thing.
Black Sunday (1960)
Is this not one of the most metal opening scenes to a movie ever? Reminded me a bit of the opening scene of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), mostly in that over the top, violent spirit of just going for that wild, gothic imagery. I’d never seen a Mario Bava movie before, and I was completely in love with this. I loved the dark atmosphere, that mood of being in a totally unfamiliar place and never really being sure about how to act. I loved the stuffiness of it, that feeling that you’re intruding on something ancient and unknowable. Black Sunday rules, and I’m not sure I have anything interesting to say about it, I just really liked this one.
The Terror (1963)
Longtime MOVIE DIARY 2018 readers will remember when I first saw Wild Things (1998) and how in subsequent weeks I’d declare some movie was a thematic precursor or sequel to Wild Things. I think that kind of dropped off after a couple of months, but I’m happy to announce that it’s back and The Terror is almost assuredly a thematic precursor to Wild Things. Maybe not in terms of sex (The Terror features none), but certainly in that there are a whole bunch of little twists that happen to remind you that you never had any sure footing while you were watching this movie. There’s sorcery, a pact with the devil, murder, mistaken identity, and also a young Jack Nicholson is in this one as a French legionnaire. You better believe he has no interest in trying to do an accent.
The Beyond (1981)
I’ll level with you: when I watched this movie I’d just finished working my table at New York Comic Con and I was wiped out. I’m not really sure I remember much of what happens in this as I was dozing in and out of consciousness while I was watching. There’s some lady and she owns this house and it’s haunted, maybe? Or maybe it’s like a gateway to hell or something? Again, not sure here, but I do know that every now and then I’d snap back to wakefulness and I’d see something super gory like someone’s face getting eaten by spiders or something. A lot of blood and gore, and one of these days I will watch it and stay awake, I swear.