Television

Halloween Movie Picks 2018

I love Halloween. Psychology Today interestingly noted that it best holiday because we don’t have to worry about it.

“Nobody frets about being lonely, abandoned, heartbroken, alienated, or bereft on Halloween.”

When I am not donning a costume, one of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Below are my 2018 recommendations currently available on various streaming services (I cut the cord three years ago).

Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts. And be sure to explore my recommendations from the previous two years: 2017 and 2016.

The below film titles are linked to their respective trailers.

Netflix:

47 Meters Down: Two young women are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean with less than an hour of oxygen and sharks circling. Claustrophobic with hungry sharks!

Gerald’s Game: While trying to spice up their marriage in a remote house, a woman must fight to survive when her husband unexpectedly dies, leaving her handcuffed to the bed. You can’t help but think of what you do in that situation. Also, you may actually think twice about letting someone tie you up for fun.

As Above So Below: When a team of treasure hunters venture into the Paris catacombs and discover more than they bargained for. Seriously claustrophobic and the scenes where they emphasize that are the best.

Classics you may have missed that are available on Netflix: The Shining (my go to film during a snowstorm); Hellbound (Horror S & M); Interview with The Vampire (Brad Pitt as Louie and Tom Cruise, who gave an unexpectedly superb performance, as Lestat in the film based on the classic Anne Rice book of the same name).

Honorable mentions featured last year that are still available: Train to Busan, Death Note and The Void.

Amazon Prime:

The Skeleton Key: A young nurse cares for a mute senior citizen in an old, remote and really creepy Louisiana plantation. She discovers the family’s dark and dangerous past.

The Stepford Wives (1975): An aspiring photographer and full time housewife has come to the little town of Stepford, Connecticut with her family, from New York City and discovers a sinister secret in the flawless demeanor of the other wives. This film has aged really well.

The Strangers: A young couple staying in an isolated vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants. After seeing this film, soft knocks on the door will scare you for months to come.

Stir of Echoes: After being hypnotized a man begins seeing a girl’s ghost in his home and works to solve her murder.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist: I was not sure about including this because it is one of those films that has an excellent concept, but is not executed well. Interestingly, there are two versions of this film (the other being called, Exorcist: The Beginning) and the other also has an excellent concept, but is poorly executed. The film takes place about 20 years before Father Merrin helped save Regan MacNeil’s soul in The Exorcist. The film details his first encounters with the demon Pazuzu in post-World War II Africa.

The Cell: I actually reviewed this film 18 years ago when I worked at the now defunct, on-line magazine Latiknow. I recently saw it and was impressed with how well it has aged. It is a masterwork of surrealism that stars Jennifer Lopez at the height of her powers. She plays a social worker who is experienced with technology that allows here to enter the mind of a serial killer who is in a coma.

The Satanic Rights of Dracula: I have always loved Christopher Lee’s Dracula films. They have this wonderful texture and excellent gothic horror.

Horror Express: Speaking of Christopher Lee, he stars as a British anthropologist who discovers a frozen prehistoric creature and must transport it to Europe by train. But is the creature frozen?

The Woman in Black: A young clerk travels to a remote village where he encounters the vengeful ghost who is terrorizing the locals. The direction on this film is nothing short of brilliant.

Daybreakers: A plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a blood shortage, the vampires plot their survival, while a researcher works on a way to save humankind. Sleek and modern stainless steel horror.

Hulu:

The Others: A woman who lives in her darkened family mansion with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that the home is haunted. But is it?

Blow Out: John Travolta stars as a movie sound recordist who accidentally records a car accident which turns out to be a murder and eventually finds himself in danger. Terrific 1970s horror.

Insomnia: Brilliant performances from Robin Williams and Al Pacino. Pacino stars as a detective dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the murder of a local teen.

I am actually still exploring some other films listed on Hulu’s Huluween and may have an addendum to this blog entry. If I do, it will be before Halloween.

Frightpix:

Firghtpix, which is a completely free, but loaded with commercials, streaming service, has the following worth watching:

You’re Next: A family is attacked but the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of the victims has an unknown talent for fighting back.

 

edwinroman.com

P.S. I need to write this blog today. After all of the domestic terrorism we experienced this week, I needed the escape.

 

 

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“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Final Thoughts On Election 2016

The tweet detailed below embodies my feelings regarding this election. I am already seeing reports of violence against people of color; individuals dressed in KKK garb proudly marching around and general unrest.

I am going to point a finger at the DNC, The New York Times, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile for imposing Clinton on us. The hate train for Clinton has been at full steam since the 1990s and when you factor in her thin and flawed service record (e.g. in the Senate, she voted for the invasion of Iraq and for the Patriot Act as well as its re-authorization; as secretary of state, she was a very active in promoting fracking), she was always going to be a difficult sell.

I did vote for her, but we missed a real opportunity to elect a true progressive in Bernie Sanders. Poll after poll showed him easily beating Trump, while those same polls had Clinton in a close race (as we witnessed last night).

I’ve decided to limit my social media use for a while because it was the medium that gave rise to Trump. At the outset, he didn’t really spend a lot of money to promote himself: he had the media doing that and they likely based their reporting on what was trending. A Twitter joke that turned into a dark reality: the reality television “star” with zero experience as a statesman is now President. Instead, life imitates art as the world depicted in the dark comedy Idiocracy seems to be at its dawn.

I want to encourage you from this point forward to use social media responsibly. Allowing Trump to trend planted the seeds of his victory. Don’t just post something because you agree with it. Make sure it is valid and don’t just go by the headline. Make sure it is the truth. Otherwise you are just as bad as Fox “News.”

The Architecture of American Horror Story.

Last year someone recommended that I take a look at the hit television series, Modern Family.  While I found the one episode I viewed amusing, I was severely underwhelmed with the production of the show — the sets were generic with no real feeling for architecture and place. It looked as if one could take the characters of Modern Family and drop them into Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives) without anyone noticing. The homes in both those shows look like a real estate staging.

Visuals should play a large part in the visual story-telling mediums of television and film. Authenticity is vital. One of my favorite childhood shows was Little House on the Prairie, but I can recall questioning why Walnut Grove was so desert dusty like a Western (from what I had learned in school up to that time, Minnesota was supposed to be greener). Friends, a show I never liked, further annoyed me with the bogus, vanilla depiction of 1990’s New York City (they didn’t even film the corny opening credits in New York City!) In contrast to Friends and Little House is Breaking Bad, which had a very deep feeling for time and place: New Mexico was one of the stars of the show (every time I saw the Sandia Mountains, I smiled)! The same is true of American Horror Story.

American Horror Story follows a distinct set of characters and settings each year with a repertory cast that includes Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Frances Conroy in dissimilar roles. While each season has presented very different stories, outstanding architecture (and production) is ubiquitous.

The first season, titled American Horror Story: Murder House, follows the story of a nearly broken family that moves into a home haunted by individuals who died there, often in very brutal ways. The exterior of the “murder house” is a real Collegiate Gothic-style mansion built in Los Angeles by Architect Alfred Rosenheim in 1908. Collegiate Gothic stems from Gothic Revival, an architectural style inspired by medieval Gothic architecture.  Gothic Revival was a heavily used building style during the 1800’s because of its moral overtones for academic and religious buildings.

Filming for the interiors were done on a sound stage with near accurate re-creations of the real interior. Real or re-creation, what a visual feast for the eyes: the sumptuous Stickley (or Greene and Greene) inspired interior, accented with Tiffany windows and fixtures.  The distinct sprawling staircase was a Crafts movement masterpiece. Not unlike the Enterprise from Star Trek, the “murder house” is a star of the show, integral to telling the story. The gorgeous house stands in bleak contrast to the horrible experiences of the people who once lived there and the awful things they did, which were hardly academic, religious or even harmonious with the concept of home.

The second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum, takes place in the 1960’s and follows the stories of patients in an asylum for the criminally insane. I must note that I found this visual portrayal of the 1960’s to be more accurate than Mad Men (another favorite show of mine). The most glaring visual inaccuracy in Mad Men is the contemporary hanging ceilings in the offices. Here is an example of a hanging ceiling from the 1960’s: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000S1oPAPSQ.Y8/s/880/704/Petro-Philadelphia-1960s-Office.jpg. Because Mad Men employs low angle shots so often, one can’t help but notice those flawed ceilings.

Exterior filming for Asylum was completed at the Orange County courthouse in California, a Romanesque style building. Interiors were created on a soundstage.  Unlike the ‘murder house’, the ‘asylum’ was not as prominent a star except for one aspect, the stairs. Complex, slightly disjointed, reaching upward toward a skylight that was always dark, the stairs formed an amphitheatre of sorts. I couldn’t help but recall Dante’s Inferno where paradise has the shape of an amphitheater with an endless series of stairs: “..it is by such stairs/that we must take our leave of so much evil.” In Asylum, the opposite is true. Instead of ascending to heaven, one actually ascends to hell. Unlike Murder House, setting and story were congruent.

The most recent season, titled American Horror Story: Coven, follows the clash between witches and voodoo practitioners. Set and filmed in New Orleans, Coven beautifully depicts French Creole architecture while paying homage to female power as depicted in classic cinema.

French Creole architecture borrows traditions from France, the Caribbean, and Africa—-places that are part of the storyline of Coven at various points.  French Creole architecture heavily employed the use of decorative wrought iron. Wrought iron is tough and beautiful, much like the characters of Coven. The nearly colorless, but finely appointed, witch mansion complements the distinct fashions of each character. Watching the final episode of Coven, I realized that each incarnation of the series shared one common visual architectural motif: stairs.

The stairs in Murder House are where Ben takes his life, a major turning point in the story. Promotional ads for Asylum and Coven both prominently feature stairs (see picture below). The stairs in the Coven witch mansion are reminiscent of those seen in the Joan Crawford classic, Queen Bee (also set in the South). Queen Bee is a story about a family dominated by ruthless and strong women — not unlike the characters of Coven.Image

Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose: in the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Is American Horror Story bringing us up or plunging us down? The last shot of Coven is of the new supreme standing glowingly on those Queen Bee stairs. She is the new, modern supreme—one who encourages witches to come out of hiding and stand together in community. Hiding fosters fear, while visibility gives strength.  Note that she was only able to become supreme and achieve this new age  after the old witches, who were filled with hatred and stuck in their old ways of thinking, were eliminated one way or another. Perhaps this is the central theme of American Horror Story: we can only bring ourselves up when we let go of the things, like fear and hatred, that plunge us down.