Horror Sommelier: August 2018
Every month join Brennan Klein, your horror sommelier, as he runs through the upcoming theatrical releases and pairs them with the perfect horror film for a killer double feature.
Every summer on my personal blog Popcorn Culture, I run a weekly review of an 80’s slasher film that is thematically linked to an upcoming release. I’m folding those picks into this article, so if you want to join me over there every Wednesday for those reviews, get a sneak peek at the titles I’ll be choosing by checking out the movies marked with an asterisk in each weekend’s pairings.
Directed by: Marc Forster
Synopsis: Winnie-the-Pooh and friends reunite with old pal Christopher Robin -- now an adult.
Pairing: PUPPETMASTER (1989)
When your childhood toys are coming to life, the mind is instantly drawn to Chucky, but as much as I love him, I feel like I want to save him for a subtler double feature. So let’s go with Puppetmaster, the very first of Charles Band’s explorations of the manifold ways that dolls can murder the ever-loving hell out of you.
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
Synopsis: Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) are two best friends who unwittingly become entangled in an international conspiracy when one of the women discovers the boyfriend who dumped her (Justin Theroux) was actually a spy.
GORE-MET, ZOMBIE CHEF FROM HELL (1986)*
The theme of this one is clearly “puns of questionable integrity,” but I’m gonna warn you now. I’ve already prepped this double feature for my blog, and I wouldn’t actually recommend performing it. Gore-Met is a fleet 70 minutes but not a single thing happens in that 70 minutes. Many many apologies, but that title was just too good to pass up, no?
THE DARKEST MINDS
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Synopsis: When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are seen as a threat by the government and sent to detainment camps. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) soon escapes from her captors and joins other runaways who are seeking a safe haven. Banded together and on the run, they soon combine their collective powers to fight the adults who tried to take away their future.
Pairing: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)
I can’t say I’ve read the source material for this particular YA adaptation, but the trailer to The Darkest Minds never fails to remind me of The Girl with All the Gifts, which begins at a military-run school for children who are infected with a fungal zombie virus. The dynamics of adults being frightened of the next generation and their newfound abilities seem to link it well with Darkest Minds, and it’s a particularly huge through-line in the surprisingly invigorating GwatG. A lot of people have zombie fatigue lately, but this is one you can’t miss.
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Synopsis: David Kim (John Cho) becomes desperate when his 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La) disappears and an immediate police investigation leads nowhere. He soon uses Margot's laptop to contact her friends and look at photos and videos for clues to her whereabouts.
Pairing: EVILSPEAK (1981)
Searching is supposedly on the cutting edge of computer technology, but we all know John Cho’s daughter wouldn’t actually be using Facebook that much, right? This is what happens when adults make tech movies. I’m kind of obsessed with filmmakers’ perceptions of modern gadgetry, and Evilspeak is the ultimate version of that, with a young, bullied Clint Howard finding a computer that’s possessed by the devil. The way this movie thinks computers work is mind-boggling and hilarious, and though the movie isn’t the best, the final twenty minutes are a Carrie-esque explosion of gore that is beyond compare.
Directed by: Ken Marino
Synopsis: Lovable canines change their owners' lives in unexpected ways when both humans and dogs cross paths in Los Angeles.
Pairing: CAT PEOPLE (1942)
Well, the first movie is for dog people, so why shouldn’t the second be literally about cat people? Probably the best of the Val Lewton horror unit at RKO, Cat People is a transformative classic that’s surprisingly subversive for its vintage.
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Synopsis: A massive creature attacks a deep-sea submersible, leaving it disabled and trapping the crew at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. With time running out, rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) must save the crew and the ocean itself from an unimaginable threat -- a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon.
Pairing: HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989)*
There’s not a ton of aquatic horror to be found in the slasher genre, but the forgotten Aussie flick Houseboat Horror seems to do the trick. And who would want to watch another shark movie right before meeting the biggest shark in the world? It would only pale in comparison.
Directed by: Spike Lee
Synopsis: It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
Pairing: TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995)
OK, I know I’ve recommended this one previously, but it’s Just. That. Good. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a vigorously unsubtle look at race relations in 1970’s America, and I would do well to remind you that he has never shied away from the horror of the American sociopolitical sphere, including this terrific anthology flick, which he executive produced.
AUGUST 15 (Wednesday)
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Synopsis: Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), to his best friend's wedding in Singapore. She's also surprised to learn that Nick's family is extremely wealthy and he's considered one of the country's most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse -- Nick's disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh).
Pairing: EVIL DEAD TRAP (1988)*
OK, I didn’t get “rich,” but I got “crazy” and “Asian.” Evil Dead Trap is one of very few Japanese entries in the slasher genre and it has a reputation for being one of the most balls-crazy, hyper-gory efforts to come from the country in that entire decade.
Directed by: Albert Hughes
Synopsis: While on his first hunt with his tribe's most elite group, a young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is injured and left for dead. Awakening to find himself broken and alone - he must learn to survive and navigate the harsh and unforgiving wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack,he learns to rely on it, and they become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds to find their way home before the deadly winter arrives.
Pairing: CUJO (1983)
See, I bet you thought you weren’t getting a dog movie when I avoided pairing one with Dog Days, but as luck would have it (bad luck, it seems), we’re getting more than one questionable-looking dog movie this month. Although I’m not convinced that this release date is solid, considering it’s already been pushed back a half dozen times, this tale of the first dog to be domesticated is best paired with the first dog to be un-domesticated by evil, violent forces.
Directed by: Peter Berg
Synopsis: James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) is an operative for the CIA's most highly prized and least understood unit. As the enemy closes in, a top-secret tactical command team helps Silva retrieve and transport a valuable asset that holds life-threatening information.
Pairing: THE HAPPENING (2008)
The Happening has rightfully earned its reputation as “not very good at all,” but if you’re looking for a Mark Wahlberg film, this is by far my favorite (well, that and Renaissance Man, because Danny DeVito is where it’s at). The Happening has some terrific horror imagery paired with the most bananas script you’ll ever hear read aloud, and it’s a really fun journey through the weirder side of horror.
Directed by: Sylvain White
Synopsis: Terror strikes when four teenage girls in a small town perform a ritual to debunk the lore of a tall, thin, horrifying figure known as the Slender Man. They soon fear that the legend is true when one of them suddenly goes missing.
Pairing: VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987)*
Trendy technology always frightens the adults (see: Evilspeak), and this horror figure that has risen out of message boards and into the lives and deaths of teens everywhere is of course fascinating to filmmakers. But I want us to go back in time and see a much earlier iteration of “Aaaa! This new technology will kill us!” In Video Violence, the rise of shot-on-video films being released into video stores of course meant that some backwoods family was gonna start shooting their own snuff films. Right? Right?!
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
Directed by: Brian Henson
Synopsis: In the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, two clashing detectives -- one human (Melissa McCarthy) and the other a puppet -- must work together to solve the brutal murders of former cast members of a beloved puppet TV show.
Pairing: PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE (1996)
Classic childhood characters can’t escape how the world grows up around them, and this soon-to-be classic tale of puppet murder pairs deliciously well with this not-so-classic tale of a legendary puppet who has finally snapped.
THE LITTLE STRANGER
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Synopsis: During the long, hot summer of 1948, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) travels to Hundreds Hall, home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries. The Hall is now in decline, and its inhabitants -- mother, son and daughter -- remain haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When Faraday takes on a new patient there, he has no idea how closely the family's story is about to become entwined with his own.
Pairing: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)
OK, the plot isn’t, like, great on this one. But the themes seem to match those of The Little Stranger very well, and the crumbling manor home that provides the title of this Guillermo del Toro epic is a beautiful, elegant bit of production design that you will never ever forget.
Directed by: Josh and Jonathan Baker
Synopsis: Armed with a mysterious weapon, an ex-con and his adopted teenage brother go on the run from a vengeful criminal and a gang of otherworldly soldiers.
Pairing: VIDEO VIOLENCE 2 (1987)*
OK, I just really wanted to finish the franchise, OK? But the official theme for this pairing is “something we’ve already seen before.” Because this looks like such a riff on Stranger Things that it’s not even funny.