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12+ Scary Movies Our Kids Loved (including at least 5 “hells” and 2 “bollocks”)

Dracula_1958_a
By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because we are integrated Catholics, we observe All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Halloween — the latter, by trick-or-treating, putting the little guys stickily to bed, and showing the older kids a scarier movie than we normally allow.  And because I’m still in denial about just how many outrageous promises I carelessly made about costumes I’d be happy to whip up, I’m thinking hard about what movie we’ll show this year.

There are a bunch of mildly scary movies we can show the little guys: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a favorite; and it’s fun to watch Abbot and Costello meet various creatures. And there’s always The Munsters, which is a truly terrible show, but the little guys love it.

What to show the middle kids and older kids? It needs to be scary, but not too scary.  There are plenty of flat-out terrifying movies out there, but we’re looking for one that don’t introduce any themes or images that kids aren’t ready to deal with.  Pure slasher movies, I oppose for people of any age, as I can’t imagine how you can learn to enjoy watching them without disastrously deadening some part of your soul.  I’m also not a fan of supernatural horror movies, which give people the impression that religion is part dopey, part freaky.

The year I wrote this post, we went with Arachnophobia (1990).  It was weird and funny, a well done, edge-of-the-seat creature feature.  It’s classified as a comedy/thriller, which hits the sweet spot for me:  The comedy makes us more vulnerable when the shocks come, but it also reminds us that it’s just a movie.  John Goodman as the exterminator is hilarious.

Much gorier and much funnier, and also very moving in places, is Shaun of the Dead (2004), one of my favorite movies in any genre.  It’s about a zombie near-apocalypse, but is just as much about friendship and love, and it convincingly shows the main character move from failure-to-launch slobhood to heroic manhood.  But it totally earns the R rating, mostly because of the truly horrifying gore.  We did let our 11-year-old watch this one.

We recently saw The Sixth Sense (1999) and Signs (2002). It beats me why The Sixth Sense is the more celebrated. It’s very good, but Signs is fantastic, and has so much more depth. It’s one of my favorite movies in general, and it will make you feel better whenever you start feeling down about Mel Gibson. The Village (2004) is pretty scary, but relies way too heavily on the plot twist; and, as I mentioned on the radio with Mark the other day, I had a hard time getting past the idea that the villagers would have bothered to pack things like decorative door hinges. I don’t pack like that.Unbreakable (2000) is tremendously underrated, so carefully crafted — Shyamalan’s best, I think.

Have I mentioned The Mummy (1999) often enough in past posts?  Yes?  All right, I’ll skip the details and just remind you that it really moves along, it has a heroine that you actually root for, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Also, the scene where the guy knows something’s coming to get him but he can’t find his glasses?  Brrrrr.  The Mummy Returns (2001) is a worthy sequel.  The Mummy 3, I don’t know what the title is because I fell asleep before I got to the end of reading it, never mind watching the movie (2008) should be taken out and shot. When they replaced Rachel Weisz in the third one, you realized, “Ah, so it was Rachel Weisz who was holding the other two movies together.”

Some darker choices:  Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  I always feel defensive when my kids watch a Hitchcock movie — the man was so hard on his viewers.  I still haven’t forgiven him for Vertigo.  The nerve, confusing me that way, and making me upset about those awful people with their plastic hair!  The Birds has a weird structure that makes it feel very dated. Vertigo is just nasty, but worth getting under your belt so you can enjoy High Anxiety.

Gaslight (1944). You think you know about this movie because you’re familiar with the term “gaslighting.”  So watch it and find out why it’s a classic.  So incredibly tense, so gorgeously black-and-white.  The acting is subtle and superb and the pacing is exquisite.  I’m adding it to my Netflix queue right now.

Diabolique (1954, not the apparently highly stinky 1996 remake).  ONE OF THE SCARIEST MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN.  You feel like you can’t even breathe for a good part of this movie.  Very tricky plot, very nasty direction, and horribly, horribly French.  Entirely effective if you feel like getting grabbed by the brain and shaken around for a while.

Lightening things up again:  Tremors (1990).  Okay, technically more of an action/adventure flick, but it will keep you on your toes.  This is how our Halloween movie tradition got started:  my son was so excited to be trick-or-treating, he bolted down the sidewalk, slipped on some dry leaves, and spent the rest of Halloween in the ER with a sprained wrist.  So we showed him Tremors as compensation.  It’s another combo of suspense, action and gore, with a satisfying and wholesome resolution.  Very likeable heroes, and the paranoid survivalist couple is a scream.

Army of Darkness (1992)  Just tons of fun.  The fact that the diabolical villains are called “Deadites” — because they’re dead – will give you an idea of the tone of this movie.  Brilliant slapstick, but scary enough that it’s not for anyone under the age of ten.  (Also a sexy scene or two, which we handle, if littler kids are watching, by putting a pillow over the screen.)

Rear Window (1954)  Another of my all-time favorites in any genre.  I have something of a Cary Grant problem — have a real hard time getting past his blue hair — which means I often have a Hitchcock problem.  But this movie features Jimmy Stewart instead, flexing his acting muscles on a character which is not as repellent as some Hitchcock heroes — but still, somethin’ ain’t right with that guy.  Love it.  And Grace Kelly and her astonishing dresses are so lovely, you don’t care that she’s kind of a dish of lukewarm pudding, actingwise.  Oh, and yes, it’s scary!  Suspenseful as all get out, and howlingly original in scope.

Island of Lost Souls is also on my to-watch list.  Reliable sources have assured me it’s super creepy.  It’s from 1932 with Charles Laughton, and is based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.  IMDb’s plot summary:

An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

Sigh.  I dunno, are we sure this same story isn’t featured in the latest issue of JAMA?  Anyway, Charles Laughton is always fun to watch.  Also stars Bela Lugosi.

Speaking of Bela Lugosi, how about Dracula?  1931, the one and only year that saw the production of a genuinely scary vampire movie.  Unless you include The Lost Boys (1987), assuming you can’t think of anything scarier than rice that turns into maggots — SCARY MAGGOTS, WHICH IS SO MEAN, YOU AWFUL VAMPIRES, YOU! Although Corey Haim bopping in the bathtub is genuinely horrifying.  That recent Nosferatu movie stank on ice, in the way that only John Malkovich can make something stink on ice (that is, pretentiosly).  I have heard that 30 Days of Night (2007) is terrifying — so much so that I don’t even think I can acknowledge that it exists.

Addendum: Okay, fine, I guess Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, is a good one, too. We’ll probably watch that one this year.

This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it's funny.

This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it’s funny.

The older ones (we have three in high school this year) may go with The Silence of the Lambs (1991). I may be too chicken to join them.

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A version of this post originally ran at the Register in 2012, back when I got all embroiled in the comments box, because someone made the following comment:

Shaun of the Dead?  Really?  This movie has the following in it, and this is just the language! (from Screenit.com)  At least 46 “f” words (1 used with “mother”), 2 “s” words, 4 slang terms using female genitals (“tw*t” and a possible “c*nt”), 4 using male ones (“pr*ck” and “c*ck”), 5 hells, 2 bollocks, 4 uses of “Oh my God,” 3 of “For Christ’s sakes,” 2 of “For God’s sakes” and 1 use each of “Christ,” “Jesus” and “Oh God.”

As evidence of my personal spiritual growth, I’d like to point out that I did not title this post “Tw*t” and a Possible “C*nt.”

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How Mel Brooks saved my life

producers audience

Resolved: Jeffrey Imm is a moron, and so is anyone who wants to sanitize the power out of comedy.

Imm’s complaint is that Mel Brooks’ The Producers makes fun of Nazis, and therefore doesn’t pay proper respect to the horrors of the Holocaust.  As Walter Hudson points out in PJ Media, “The irony of protesting fascism with a blanket declaration of what can’t be laughed at appears to be lost on Mr. Imm.”

It’s not really worth arguing beyond that. If you’re a soldier, you use a gun to fight evil. If you’re a writer, you use words. If you’re a comedian, you use jokes — especially if you’re a Jew. That’s how it works.

Kathy Shaidle skewers Imm for his stupid protest, but then flashes her alien ID, saying:

Imm, in his own flaky fashion, is onto something. It’s not that those topics aren’t funny.

It’s that Mel Brooks isn’t funny.

This aggression will not stand, man.

I agree that Spaceballs, Men in Tights, and Dracula are unwatchable. The problem with these movies is that Brooks tried to skewer genres that he didn’t especially care about; whereas his love and devotion for his targets (including in High Anxiety —inexcusably missing from Shaidle’s list of Brooks hits) are the heart and soul of his funniest movies. And that’s where Mel Brooks really shines: when he’s in love.

Excuse me while I get a bit emotional about this, but this is why Mel Brooks is so great: he’s an optimist, and his exuberantly ridiculous jokes catch you up in his love of life, dick jokes and all. The jokes that “make sense” aren’t what make the non sequiturs and the fart jokes forgivable; they’re all part of the same sensibility.

Life is funny. Even when it’s awful (what with racism, and Nazis, and murder, and stuff like that), it’s kind of funny. Especially when it’s awful. Especially when you’re suffering.

Shaidle says:

Brooks always counters anti-Producers critics (no, Imm isn’t the first) by pointing out the obvious: that he was making fun of Hitler.

But what’s brave about that? Hitler managed to look pretty stupid without much help, and when it mattered, neither The Great Dictator nor (the far superior) That Nazty Nuisance accomplished sweet eff-all.

Well, he wasn’t just “making fun of Hitler” (and I don’t believe that Brooks considered himself “brave” for making The Producers, anyway). At the risk of overanalyzing humor, which is the worst thing that anyone can do ever, Brooks doesn’t just tease Hitler. He subsumes him.

This is obvious in The Producers, as Brooks deftly works the play-within-a-play angle, telling the world: this is how you do it. When you are a comedian, you make people laugh, and that is how you win.  People gotta do what they gotta do, and that’s why Max Bialystock won’t ever learn.

I don’t mean to crap things up by getting too analytical, but it’s hard to ignore: we’reall producers, and the worst mistake we can make is not to realize what kind of show we’re putting on.  In Brooks’ best films, he knows exactly what kind of movie he’s producing, and his glorious openness is what makes them so disarming. It’s what makes us laugh at things we don’t want to laugh at; and laughing at those things is what saves us from succumbing to them.

An even better example of how Brooks annihilates the enemy without losing his soul is in the underrated To Be Or Not to Be, where Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft play a pair of two-bit entertainers  (they’re “world famous in Poland”) who bumble into a plot to rescue a bunch of Jews from occupied Poland.

The movie is not great, but one scene makes up for everything else: The audience is full of Nazis, and the only way to shepherd the crowd of Jews out of town is (work with me here) to dress them up as clowns and parade them out of the theater right under the enemy’s noses. Against all odds, it’s actually working, and the Nazis are deceived — until one poor old babushka, her face pathetically smeared with greasepaint, freezes. It’s too much for her: so many swastikas, so many guns. She can’t make herself do it, she’s weeping and trembling, and the audience realizes something is wrong.

They’re just about to uncover the whole plot, when the quick-thinking leader looks the Nazis straight in the eye, and shouts merrily, “JUDEN!” He slaps a Star of David on her chest, takes out a clown gun, and shoots her in the head. POW.

And that’s what saves her. That’s what saves them all. The crowd roars with laughter and keeps their seats while the whole company flees. Juden 1, Hitler 0.

The same thing happened to me. Again, work with me, here!

Depression and despair have been my companions ever since I can remember. Most of the time, if I keep busy and healthy, I have the upper hand; but one day, several years ago, I did not. The only thing that seemed reasonable was to kill myself, and that was all I could think about. The longer it went on, the less escape there seemed to be. Too much darkness. I couldn’t pass through it.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t kill myself. I’m still here. Part of the reason for that is because, of all things, I suddenly thought of that scene in Brooks’ 1970 film The Twelve Chairs. I barely remember this movie — we try not to have a lot of Dom DeLuise in our house, out of respect for my husband —  but the plot was some ridiculous, convoluted story of someone trying to do some simple thing, and things getting worse and worse. At one point, everything has come crashing down around the hero’s ears, and there is no hope.

So what does he do? He responds by running around in circles on the beach and screaming, “I DON’T WANNA LIVE. I DON’T WANNA LIVE.” And that’s the line that popped into my head.

So guess what? I laughed. Just a little giggle, but it helped. It was a little shaft of light, and it helped. I still had to pass through the dark room full of the enemy who wanted me dead, but someone who was on my side had slapped a Star of David on my chest, made me a target — and once I was explicitly made into a target, I could survive. It was all a joke. It was a circus, and I knew I would survive.

Suddenly I knew what kind of show I was in. It was a comedy, and I was going to make it out of that dark room. I don’t know how else to explain it beyond that. Mel Brooks saved my life, fart jokes and all. That’s what kind of movies he makes.

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Worth another look: Joe Versus the Volcano

joe vs volcano

“Dear god, whose name I do not know, Thank you for my life. I forgot… how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.”

The scene works because it shows so nicely how change of heart really comes about in our lives: not always in the clearly-defined moments of choice, but in the middle of the night, when we see with our hearts what the world is really like.

Read the rest at the Register.  **** movie still from Warner Brothers and Amblin Entertainment

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Hollywood is Lady Tremaine: Why I love Branagh’s Cinderella

cinderella 2

Saw it, liked it!

I agree with just about everything Steve Greydanus says here. I do think the movie would be judged a bit more critically if it had been made in any other decade. Since it dropped out of the blue into hypercynical 2015, it’s notable mostly for what it refuses to do: it refuses to reimagine, to be sassy, to be in your face, or jarring, or ironic, or myth-busting. It is, in short, a work of mercy offered for an audience who just wants, for once, to hear a story.

It’s not flawless. The dialogue is lackluster: the Captain (Nonso Anozie), resplendent in a brocaded tricorn and silky knee breeches, says to the prince, “We better get a move on, your highness.” Klonk. But every other aspect of the movie is gratifyingly consistent with itself. The world of the movie is fully realized, and everyone involved in it sets out to do something very basic: to tell a pleasant story in an enjoyable way.

The overall look occasionally crosses the line from gorgeous to gaudy, and a few scenes fairly bulge off the screen with sparkles and butterflies, topiary and gilt. But mostly, it just bathes your eyes in sweetness and splendor, because human beings still like that kind of thing. I am grateful to the ten million yards of satin who valiantly gave their lives for this lush spectacle.

The casting was impeccable. Cate Blanchet as the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is chic, bloodless, and cruel, and she delivers one of the movie’s two memorable lines. As the prince’s retinue is at the door of their house, Cinderella realizes that her stepmother knows she is the chosen one. Her own daughters have no hope of catching the prince, but the stepmother smashes the glass slipper to destroy Cinderella’s chances anyway, just out of pure spite. After years of quiet endurance and attempts to be kind, Cinderella finally challenges her, and cries out, “Why are you so cruel?” The stepmother replies, “Because you are young, and innocent, and good, and I–”  And they understand each other perfectly, for a moment. The stepmother has suffered, too. If her response to suffering has been precisely the wrong one, at least there is a reason for it.

I couldn’t help but think that Lady Tremaine is the embodiment of Hollywood right now. “What have we ever done to you, but buy movie tickets and DVDs and $4 boxes of Whoppers?” the audience cries out. “Why do you keep serving up these crappy, unpleasant, revisionist nightmares?”  And Hollywood replies, “It’s because all you want is a simple, decent story, whereas we–” We, what? We, the movie industry, are a desperate, bloodless widow, still beautiful, but long past the hope of ever being in love again. And we need to take it out on someone.

Well, maybe I’m over thinking it. The second line that caught my ear was spoken by the gawky lizard footman (and the magical coach transformation scenes are some of the best in the movie. This is how to use CGI to show impossible things in a believably earthy way). On the way to the palace, Cinderella admits,”I’m frightened, Mr. Lizard. I’m only a girl, not a princess,” and the footman responds, “And I’m only a lizard, not a footman. Enjoy it while it lasts!”

Good advice! The movie is not a profound existential response about modernity and the legitimacy of the patriarchy. It’s just a pretty movie that wants you to enjoy it while it lasts. So that is what we did.

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Related: Monique Ocampo compares the animated Disney film with the 2015 live action film

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Cinderella 2015 movie poster via IMDB

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Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last they’ve found the 100 missing brains!

PIC brain depository

The 100 brains that were missing from the campus have been found, sort of. Blah blah blah something something turns out there isn’t much of a story here after all. Who cares? This is a clear mandate from the universe to rush right out and watch Young Frankenstein, one of the most perfect movies ever constructed. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, you’ll make yummy sounds.

PIC brain Hans Delbrook

Quotes from this movie make up fully 60% of the conversation in my family. The other 30%* is all from Blazing Saddles, which CAME OUT IN THE SAME YEAR, can you believe that? Boy. *The remaining 10% of conversation consists solely of the phrases “I think I’m pregnant” and “I really think you’re pregnant.” DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME!

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Love, Blame and Hope in the Movie MUD

PIC Mud poster

This movie wasn’t about what is wrong with women, or what is wrong with men. It was more about how difficult love is, and how little it helps when we lie to ourselves. It was a sorrowful movie, but not a depressing one; and it left lots of room for at least some of the characters to learn from their suffering and to forgive the people who failed them. Yes, the snakes that have been waiting will get you in the end. No, you will not die. But don’t let yourself get bitten again — unless it’s for someone you love. And around it goes, and the sun keeps shining off the open waters ahead.

Read the rest at the Register.