Mrs. Harris, Mrs. ‘Arris, and Their Trips to Paris

Even as someone who’s only casually familiar with Angela Lansbury’s career, I was saddened to hear of her recent passing.  I’ve never successfully watched an entire episode of Murder, She Wrote without drifting off to sleep or off to another channel; the most experience I have with her prestigious singing career is hearing her voice a cartoon teapot; and yet the TV interview clips memorializing Lansbury on local news broadcasts last week had me instantly crying for reasons I can’t fully articulate.  She just seemed like such a kind, thoughtful, talented person that the world was lucky to have around – a very particular, gentle flavor of sweet that’s been draining from our cultural palate.  Online posthumous praise for Lansbury has also helped me see new, nuanced shades to her persona, since I had only previously seen her typecast as a lovely old biddy for all of my life.  Between reading John Waters’s real-life anecdote of bumping into Lansbury at an NYC fetish club to watching her bratty debut in Gaslight and listening to her get gruesome in Sweeney Todd, I now have a better rounded appreciation of who she was a person & a performer; and I feel like crying all over again.

Getting acquainted with the tougher, saucier side of Angela Lansbury has only enhanced my appreciation of her frothier performances as well.  I’m particularly thinking of her turn as the Cockney-accented Mrs. ‘Arris in the 1992 made-for-television adaptation of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, a novel that was adapted again for a much lusher production this year.  The 2022 version of Mrs. Harris is played by Lesley Manville, who I’m used to seeing as a heartless hardass in projects like Harlots & Phantom Thread.  She’s a big-ol’ softie in her new starring vehicle, though, leaving all of the ice-queen viciousness to her villainous co-star Isabelle Huppert.  Manville delivers the exact sugary sweet, kill-em-with-kindness defiance you’d expect from Lansbury in the role, playing Mrs. Harris as a human doormat who gradually learns to stand up for herself without ever stooping to the cruelty of the world she seeks to change.  What’s hilarious is that Lansbury’s Mrs. ‘Arris is a much tougher customer.  You get the sense that she could easily drink & swear Manville’s Harris under the table, tinging the role with a touch of the Cockney sass that kickstarted her career as a teenager in Gaslight.  She’s still a total sweetheart, but there’s a sharpened edge to her character that’s missing from the newer, higher profile adaptation.

While Lansbury got to play Mrs. ‘Arris with a little grit & gristle (reflected right there in the accented title), Manville got to be in the better movie.  Both adaptations maintain the novel’s basic premise that a kindly British housekeeper splurges her life savings on a couture Dior gown in Paris, much to the frustration of couture’s snootiest gatekeepers.  That premise is just all there is to the made-for-TV version, which wouldn’t be much of a movie without Lansbury’s loveable screen-presence babysitting the audience between commercial breaks.  Meanwhile, Manville’s Mrs. Harris essentially becomes a union organizer—inspired by an ongoing trash strike that’s only mentioned as a traffic obstacle in the Lansbury version—radicalizing both the workers at Dior and herself.  Both versions of Mrs. Harris are lauded for being kind in a cruel world, but only Manville gets to learn to prioritize herself in the face of oppressive class & gender politics; she’s in a drama, while Lansbury is in a sitcom.  The most telling difference between the two films is when a Parisian love interest warmly refers to Mrs. Harris as “Mrs. Mops” in honor of the maid that cleaned his room at British boarding school.  In the made-for-TV version, it’s played as a sweet gesture; in the theatrical version it breaks her heart, and you desperately want to see her punch the cad’s throat.

I don’t want to exalt the 2022 version of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris as some high standard of artful cinema that the made-for-TV version can’t live up to.  Both adaptations are the exact kind of passive British entertainment meant to be enjoyed under a giant blanket with an empty mind & a nice cuppa.  Only the theatrical version has a true emotional hook to it, though.  When Mrs. Harris inevitably gets the pretty dress she wants, the movie just works on a level that the 90s one can’t – joining “Paddington wishes Aunt Lucy a happy birthday” and “The Girlhood girls dance to Rhianna” on the list of scenes I can think back to when I need a quick cry.  Lansbury doesn’t need a good movie to hit that emotional trigger, though.  I can apparently watch 30 seconds of her doing a press junket interview with Entertainment Tonight and well up with tears in the same way.  Her Mrs. Harris movie didn’t need to be especially “good” to be worthwhile; her sweet-but-secretly-tough presence was enough.  All that said, there’s a much wider, brighter world of Lansbury projects out there I should have prioritized before watching her pretty-dress movie, especially now that I have a better handle on who she was.  And maybe I should start with forcing myself to fall in love with detective-novelist Jessica Fletcher, who was likely an even tougher customer than Mrs. ‘Arris; I just have to stay awake long enough to get to know her.

-Brandon Ledet

David Gordon Ween

Just like all other major entries in decades-running horror franchises, David Gordon Green’s Halloween was sharply divisive among genre fans as soon as it hit theaters in 2018.  Even so, its reputation has only declined in the five years since, especially as it has become the go-to, defining example of mainstream horror’s current “legacy sequel” trend.  Not only does the Halloween reboot have to answer for its own revisions of Laurie Strode & Michael Myers lore, but it also now carries the weight of horror nerd complaints against more recent offenses like 2019’s Child’s Play, 2021’s Candyman, and this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It’s also been reduced to a scapegoat trendsetter for the Trauma Metaphor Horror wave that has followed in its wake, while artsier, standalone titles like Hereditary & The Babadook have maintained much steadier, more prestigious reputations in the same context.  It doesn’t help, of course, that Green has diluted his Halloween legacyquel with two follow-up films that have only alienated the Michael Myers purists even further as the series stumbled along.  I opted out of the David Gordon Ween discourse when Halloween Kills opened to white-hot angry reviews last year, but now that his theatrical mini-series is over and the online vitriol has been directed elsewhere (mostly at Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, which is practically a legacy sequel to Stepford Wives), it finally felt safe to return to Haddonfield to see how his take on Halloween has evolved.

Personally, I was really impressed with Green’s “original” Halloween in 2018, and I still think it holds up well when considered in isolation.  Regardless of its role as a harbinger for the next five years of mainstream horror trends, it still a really scary movie about self-fulfilling prophecies and obsessive thought spirals.  Okay, yes, Laurie Strode is haunted by the same metaphorical Trauma Monster that stalks most modern horror heroines (this time in a road-worn William Shatner mask), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any dramatic complexity to how that internal battle with trauma plays out.  We’re told that in the 40 years since Laurie was hunted by the infamous killer Michael Myers in the John Carpenter original, she’s been mentally stuck in the events of that one night in a way that has defined & limited every other minute of her life.  Faced with senseless violence from a heartless, near-catatonic killer, Laurie has attempted to make sense of her life’s story by convincing herself it’s fate that she will have a final showdown with Michael once he inevitably escapes captivity.  It’s the same way that doomsday preppers always appear to be looking forward to the apocalypse they supposedly fear.  So, when Michael does escape, Laurie (along with other Michael-obsessed weirdos like “The New Dr. Loomis”) does everything in her power to make sure she & Michael have their “final” showdown in her D.I.Y. death-trap compound at the outskirts of Haddonfield, even though that’s exactly what she’s been dreading for decades.  Michael just mindlessly kills whatever’s in striking distance; Laurie is the one that makes the confrontation happen, totally unaware that she’s willing the fight into existence.  It’s chilling.

Green’s Halloween trilogy loses its way in the 2021 sequel Halloween Kills, which zooms out the scope of Michael’s function as a Trauma Monster from his effect on Laurie to his effect on Haddonfield as a community.  I choose to interpret the word “kills” as a noun here, since this second entry is a feature-length montage of Michael slashing his way through the streets, homes, and pubs of Haddonfield while Laurie recovers from their “final” showdown on a hospital bed, listening in from the sidelines.  Michael proves the point of the 2018 film’s self-fulfilling prophecy arc by making no effort to visit Laurie’s hospital room; he just lumbers from kill to kill in the most mindless fashion ever seen from a slasher villain.  If Halloween Kills is “about” anything outside the monotonous rhythm of those murders, it’s in how the community of Haddonfield tries to make sense of Michael’s senseless violence by making themselves the collective hero of the “story.”  I very much appreciate Halloween Kills‘s disgust with small-town America’s fetish for gun-toting vigilantism, given how many ordinary, ill-equipped Haddonfieldians approach Michael with deadly weapons—the same way real-life gun freaks dream of personally intervening in active-shooter crises—and are immediately destroyed for their trouble, either by Michael’s knife or their own petard.  It’s just a shame the movie is spread too thin across Michael’s hometown to ever truly feel scary.  Its larger scope means that it keeps intercutting between the tension of individual scenes so that we’re never properly immersed in any one of them.  It doesn’t really matter that its political assessments of small-town America are goofily unsubtle; it could have easily gotten away with that if it weren’t so scatterbrained.

After the frantic scrambling of Kills, the more sincere, dramatic approach of Halloween Ends can’t help but feel like a relief.  With his final entry in the series, Green returns to the low-key indie dramas that first earned him name recognition before he started making major studio slasher sequels & stoner comedies.  Halloween Ends may not be as Great as the first film in its trilogy, but it’s at least coherently structured and (mostly) functions as its own standalone movie, which is an embarrassingly low bar that Halloween Kills does not clear.  It’s also custom-designed to alienate & infuriate die-hard horror fans the same way that Halloween III: Season of the Witch was when Carpenter was still actively involved in the franchise, since it also does not focus on the senseless killings of Michael “The Shape” Myers.  Instead, we follow an equally iconic horror villain: Cory, the lonely mechanic with a troubled past.  Cory is dubbed “the new Michael” by the surviving citizens of Haddonfield, who essentially radicalize him into becoming a mass murderer in their continued attempts to make a clear, sensical narrative out of Michael’s mindless violence.  Meanwhile, Cory keeps The Old Michael as a pet in the sewers below Haddonfield and “feeds” his bullies to the hibernating killer the same way little Jamie feeds his bullies to the “tra-la-logs” of The Pit.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who are frustrated by the tonal & narrative inconsistencies between each of Green’s Halloweens, but I do love that there’s still room in a post-MCU world for individual movies in a big-budget franchise to take unique directions from each other – even if it’s strange to get that from a series with a consistent creative team at its core.  Cory’s story isn’t nearly as compelling nor as scary as Laurie’s, but at least Green & company found a way to make Halloween intimately personable again after the aimlessness of Kills.

The bigger problem is not the inconsistency across this series; it’s that it didn’t need to be a series at all.  Laurie Strode’s story is so neatly contained & emotionally impactful in the 2018 Halloween that there’s no reason for her to return for two more entries.  Kills feels lost by comparison, aimlessly wandering the streets of Haddonfield in search of a new emotional hook.  To its credit, Ends finds that new hook (by conjuring a new central character out of thin air), but it has no chance of fully standing on its own, since Laurie is still hanging around Haddonfield, distracting from its new sense of purpose.  After Cory’s own storyline is neatly wrapped up, Laurie steps back in for another “final” showdown with Michael, as if they’re ultimate fight to the death was meant to be, undoing all the good work of Green’s “original” Halloween.  After two entire films of Laurie hanging around a hospital room (Kills) and absentmindedly narrating her memoir (Ends), that last minute return to her vendetta with Michael can’t help but feel like an afterthought that dilutes the impact of both her story and Cory’s.  That’s largely what makes Halloween ’18 a great film and Halloween Ends an okay one.  And the purposeless ambling of Kills only makes them both look stronger by comparison.

-Brandon Ledet

Do Revenge (2022)

It probably comes as no surprise that I am a man whose limited social media use includes following the Twitter accounts of several Buffy-related content producers. I used to follow the one and only Mrs. Sarah Michelle Gellar on Instagram until I got sad that her manager was making her do the same branded social media content that fame bottom feeders like Patreon-less YouTubers and people who make cakes that are 80% fondant are doing; I felt like Sideshow Bob shivering upon learning that “TV’s bottomless chum bucket [had] claimed Vanessa Redgrave.” No judgment on our adulated SMG, of course; I love her like Broadway queens love Patti LuPone. I’m just saying everybody needs to go stream BTVS on Hulu like, right now, so that she never has to do another one of those unless she actually wants to. So, of course when I heard that Her Excellency was going to be in a new movie that was being billed as the high school version of Strangers on a Train, and that I didn’t even have to leave the house to see it, well, of course I was going to. 

At 28 minutes into Do Revenge, the traditionally attractive Drea (Camila Mendes, of Riverdale), having convinced gawkishly gorgeous Eleanor (Maya Hawke) to do revenge with her, gets excited: 

Drea: First we have to fix (pulls Eleanor in front of a mirror) … this. We have to do

Eleanor: Please don’t say “makeover.” 

Drea: —a makeover! Yay! (jumps up and down)

Eleanor: (with vocal fry) Feels problematic.

Drea: It is, but it’s fun!

Do Revenge presents itself as a pretty conventional movie, and in many ways it is, despite its winking self-awareness that it’s trafficking in cliches. Prior to this scene, when Eleanor is offered a tour of her new high school, she responds “I mean, as a disciple of the ’90s teen movie, I would be offended if I didn’t get one.” It’s borrowing from a deep, deep well: high school-set literature adaptations, the sharp wit and ear for dialogue that permeates the mean girl movie canon, and revenge thrillers. The film opens with narration from Drea, who fills us in on how, from humble beginnings, she has clawed her way to the top of the social hierarchy at Rosewood Country Day, an elite private high school in the Miami area. “They all want me as a friend or a fuck,” she says. “I’m worshipped at Westerburg and I’m only a Junior.” Wait, no, shit, that’s Heather Chandler. The words are different, but the speech is the same: it’s the end of her junior year, and she’s done something or other with Teen Vogue. Her friends are mostly vapid hangers-on, and although she thinks of herself as a scrappy underdog, she’s just an Alpha Heather with good publicity. She’s also dating star student Max (Austin Abrams), a weaselly little rich boy who happens to be class president. Since they won’t be seeing each other, he asks her to send him a sexy video, which is then leaked to the whole school. She ends up painted as the aggressor when she punches Max in the quad, and it nearly costs her the scholarship she depends on. 

Humiliated, Drea spends the summer friendless, working at a tennis camp for rich girls, a group that includes Eleanor. When the girls there also get  their hands on the “leaked” video, Eleanor names Erica (Sophie Turner) as the distributor, and is impressed with how swiftly Drea ruins Erica’s life, planting cocaine on her and remaining calm in the face of Erica’s furious accusations. When Drea has car trouble at the end of the summer, Eleanor drives her back, and they bond, with Eleanor relating a particularly traumatizing story about being outed as queer by a girl she had a crush on, who also told gossipy lies about Eleanor being a predator. Eleanor also happens to be transferring to the same school as the girl who bullied her, which is also Rosewood Country Day. On the first day, Max gives a speech which appropriates the language of resistance in order to distance himself from accusations that he was the one who leaked Drea’s video, shames the people who shared and viewed the video, and humiliates Drea by making her stand up in the assembly. He also announces the formation of the new school club “The Cis Hetero Men Championing Female-Identifying Students League,” which is to be exclusively male and straight, for men to become better allies (I fear I’m underselling the intentional tastelessness and invoked odiousness here, but he’s just awful). Eleanor and Drea run into each other again in the bathroom, and agree to each do the other’s revenge: Drea will get close to and socially destroy Carissa (Ava Capri), the girl who outed and started rumors about Eleanor, and Eleanor will get close to Max and help Drea get her own vengeance, and then they act out the scene transcribed above.

You might be asking yourself where Sarah Michelle Gellar is in all of this; she’s the headmistress of the school who’s heavily invested in Drea’s academic success. Although her scenes are too few, too brief, and too infrequent (although every single entrance made me gasp and say “She looks amazing“), her presence is felt throughout the narrative, and that’s not just me singing her praises. All our favorites are here, blended into a pastel smoothie: one part Mean Girls if Janis Ian used to be Regina George; one part Jawbreaker if Vylette’s makeover was arranged by Julie in order to get back at Courtney; two parts Heathers if Veronica allied herself with Betty Finn instead of Jason Dean; there’s even a little zest of that scene in Cruel Intentions where Reese Witherspoon distributes copies of Ryan Phillipe’s catty little journal to the whole school, except this time it’s copies of Max’s data that proves he’s faking his apparent progressivism, from the top of his stupid earrings to the tips of his “masculinity reimagined” painted nails. And I’m not just projecting that; both movies use Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” for goodness’s sake. And that’s not even getting into the (frankly inspired) choice to have the school uniforms uniformly look like Cher Horowitz’s Martha’s Vineyard Easter attire (which gives the whole thing a D.E.B.S. flair). It’s like a greatest hits album, right up until the moment that it suddenly isn’t anymore: well-worn and funny until everything gets turned on its head. I won’t spoil the very Patricia Highsmith twist here, but it disrupts the complacency with the familiar into which the audience has been lulled in a clever way. You thought that just because there was a scene in this movie where someone gets a tour of all the school’s cliques like in She’s All That and Ten Things I Hate About You that it meant you were going to ride the whole thing out in your comfort zone, but there’s something fresh and new here, too. 

I’m not really sure what demographic this movie is aiming for, but I’m in it. A few years back, I asked about the decade’s successor to the legacy of the Heathers -> Jawbreaker -> Mean Girls pipeline and nominated New Year, New You as the heir apparent, but there’s something new and fun here. This one is also theoretically aimed at the contemporary teen market, what with the inclusion of Riverdale‘s own Betty with Cabelo, Outer Banks hunk Jonathan Daviss, Alisha Boe from Thirteen Reasons Why, and Stranger Things actresses Hawke and Francesca Reale. (After the recent and dreadful He’s All That, I can only presume that the rest of the cast is filled with TikTokers and former Disney sitcom children.) At the same time, the soundtrack, like the films from which the narrative cribs, is very 90s focused. Aside from the aforementioned Fatboy Slim, the soundtrack also features tracks from The Cranberries, Meredith Brooks, Harvey Danger, the Symphonic Pops, and even The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, if you can believe it. Drea and Eleanor first bond while the dulcet tones of Third Eye Blind’s “How’s It Going To Be?”, and, because someone wanted to make me happy specifically, Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon.”  And yet there’s also more contemporary music like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish (although the simple fact that I, a man in my thirties, knows them could mean that they are no longer cool).

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Occhiali neri (Dark Glasses, 2022)

You knew that this was coming, reader. You knew it in your bones. I knew it in my bones, too. It’s been ten years since the release of Dracula 3D, and I think it’s safe to say we all assumed that this was a retirement, despite the sporadic vehement statements/threats that Sandman (not that one) really was going to come out some day, just you wait and see. It’s also been nearly seven years since I completed my review of the (at the time) entire Dario Argento canon. Now, in the year 2022 C.E., the master has returned, as he’s brought his daughter with him!

And he’s still up to his old tricks, as his latest film Occhiali neri (Dark Glasses) starts with—you guessed it—the murder of a sex worker! Some time later, Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), a different young call girl, is attacked by the same serial killer one night after leaving a client’s home. She manages to get into her car and escape, but he pursues her, ultimately forcing Diana into a tragic collision with another vehicle. Diana is rendered blind while the driver of the other vehicle dies instantly and the other adult passenger, the driver’s wife, is rendered comatose. Only their elementary aged son Chin (Andrea Zhang) walks away without injury, and is placed into a Catholic orphanage for the time being, although he slips away and finds his way to Diana, who takes him in. As Diana slowly adjusts to her new life with the help of Rita (Asia Argento), a teacher who specializes in training the recently blinded to adapt to their new situation, as well as her faithful seeing eye dog Nerea, she gets the feeling that the man who forced her off the road and took her sight is still stalking her. And she’s right! 

Dark Glasses is fine. It’s certainly not the exciting return to form that one would expect when they hear that Argento is back, although that also doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in all the Argentoisms you’ve come to know and perhaps even to love. You’ve got your decapitations just like in Profondo rosso and over half a dozen others, you’ve got your totemic animals just like in Phenomena and Pelts, and you’ve even got my personal favorite, the intergenerational investigative duo, as in the aforementioned Phenomena as well as Non ho sonno, and this one even returns to the “child helps a blind person investigate” set-up from all the way back in l gatto a nove code. Were you wondering if there would be a plot cul-de-sac? Not to worry, there is, and it involves snakes nesting in a river! Ironically, one of the Argento conceits it doesn’t have is eye trauma; we are told explicitly that Diana’s blindness is caused by swelling in her brain from the accident, not any physical damage to her actual eyes. This movie even synthesizes the dog attack from Suspiria with the end-of-movie saved-by-a-service-animal twist of Phenomena into something fun and gruesome, even if it fails to be exciting and memorable. That having been said, it takes more than just a remix/medley of those old ideas to make a great movie, and this movie isn’t “great.” But then again, if you’re a real Argento fan, you know that this is true for his entire body of work, especially since 2001 (and that’s being charitable mostly because I rank Non ho sonno higher than most); for every Suspiria, Tenebrae, and L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, there’s a Do You Like Hitchcock?, a Giallo, and an Il cartaio. I’m not trying to be a grumpy goose here, but when I read this vitriolic reviews for a movie that’s a perfectly fine little slasher that wouldn’t be out of place among the director’s nineties output (and would have been the best of them in that era), it’s like, don’t come crying to me unless you’ve actually managed to make it all the way through Le cinque giornate, ok? 

The strangest thing that’s happening here is that there’s a real cognitive dissonance to watching an Argento movie in which everyone has smartphones. I remarked on the podcast recently about how the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is very much an unintentional period piece, with the way that it treats online dating, obsessive Blackberry use, and the Russian threat, and how strange it is to see media made during the era in which the arbiters of narrative were still trying to grapple with omnipresent mobile device usage (think Elaine on Seinfeld—rightfully, in my opinion—explaining that it’s rude to engage in a long phone call while on public transportation). Argento’s body of work skips all of that pretty much completely, since Il cartaio is the last film of his to engage with technology in a meaningful way, coming from the era of horror movies with the plot element of “live broadcast of murders” that was so prevalent in the mid-aughts, and then his next films either ignored technology or Victorian period pieces. Here, suddenly, mobile devices are omnipresent, but they do very little to change the narrative. Likewise, Diana at one point purchases Chin a (device which is similar to but legally distinct from a) Nintendo Switch, which is relevant to that scene and that scene alone, before it is never mentioned in the narrative again. 

I’ve been watching a lot of Murder, She Wrote this year (R.I.P. Angela and Ron) and it’s fun to watch as the series progresses how the writers on that program used the rapidly changing technology of the era in their mysteries, as Jessica Fletcher starts out with a typewriter before getting a word processor and finally a desktop computer to do her writing on, despite pushing back against the march of tech progress every step of the way. Sometimes the usage of the technology of the week is accurate, sometimes it’s inaccurate in a way that makes it clear the writer felt that using new tech gave them carte blanche to make the machinery do whatever the narrative called for, and sometimes I have no idea if what they’re saying modems and Telexes are capable of was accurate at the time or not. It encapsulates the three ways that an aging creative demographic can incorporate and understand (or misunderstand) how technology works and what it can contribute to this story. Here, we get a scene in which Rita teaches Diana how to use her new smart phone, which is programmed with specific accessibility features that are meant to accomodate people without sight. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a PSA in the middle of your movie about that sort of thing, but when we’re talking about a mystery thriller, the audience is primed to expect that this will come back into the narrative at some point, but it never does. Things that are foreshadowed are elements that could be in a film set any time in the past fifty years or more: Diana’s seeing eye dog being trained to defend her, or her joking to Chin that there’s no point in having a gun to protect her since she can’t aim it only for her to end up having to use one later. 

I guess that what I’m saying is that this film didn’t need to be set in the present. There’s not really anything in it that pegs it to 2022; even the CCTV footage that the police watch after one of the other murders doesn’t reveal anything more than you might see when people review security tapes on Diagnosis Murder or even some episodes of Columbo. This is meant as a term of awe and not mockery: Dario Argento is an old man. Yes, Clint Eastwood just directed Cry Macho last year at 91 and yes, Manoel de Oliveira was 104 when he directed O Gebo e a Sombra, but we can’t expect the Italian Maestro to start putting out a movie every 28 months like he did when he was a young man. If he’s only got a few films , or even one film, left in him then I would honestly much rather see him do some more period pieces, but this time, set them during the era in which he was most active as a director. If Dark Glasses had been set in 1978 of 1983 instead of 2022, it would automatically be much more interesting, and would have an unmistakable feeling of invoking the creator in his prime, not just in the audience but perhaps in the man himself. It’s not too late. 

All of that aside, Dark Glasses is as unpretentious as it is unremarkable, which means that like most movies which fail to either be massive Marvel moneymakers or Cats-level career crashes, will fall through the cracks, despite being a long-awaited return from an undisputed master of the genre. If you’re not in a film-loving market like I am in Austin, it probably never even screened near you and went straight to Shudder, where the user comments and ratings trend negative and a little redpill-y. But if you, like a lot of horror fans, love a tight 75-90 minute slasher flick, then Dark Glasses has your Friday evening covered. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Barbarian (2022)

To me, one of life’s simplest pleasures is going to the movies during the day, especially when it’s a weekday and there’s virtually no one else around. Of course, it’s pretty rare to be the only person or party in the theater; in my life, it’s only happened twice: when I was in the seventh grade and my mom picked me up from school early for a doctor’s appointment and then we went and saw Mission to Mars together, and on a recent Friday that I had taken off of work for a reason that fell through, so I went to a bunch of estate sales and then to see Barbarian. I have one friend in particular who absolutely refuses to watch movies during the day; she feels like it’s a waste of daylight and, hey, she’s certainly entitled to her opinion and whatever relationship she chooses to have with my longtime nemesis The Sun. For me, I love the experience of going into a dark theater and going on a complete emotional journey, only to stagger out into the daylight afterwards a changed person. It makes me feel like one of the Pevensie children stumbling back out of the wardrobe after a lifetime as royalty in another place, or Captain Picard when the Ressikan probe made him live a whole life in “The Inner Light” (or any of a hundred other examples, really). To be honest, that’s the closest thing I think we have to real magic in this world, other than magnets.

TW: Sexual assault.

Barbarian didn’t really change me. I didn’t come out of it a different person like I did when I stumbled out into the sun after seeing Mission to Mars twenty years ago (I’m not claiming it was a positive change) or True Stories in re-release five years ago. But it was a lot of fun and mostly maintained my attention. Written and directed by Zach Cregger, formerly of The Whitest Kids U’ Know and in his first directorial outing since his much-derided freshman feature Miss March, the film stars Georgina Campbell, who appeared in both the excellent Broadchurch and the well-received “Hang the DJ” episode of Black Mirror. Campbell is Tess, a woman visiting Detroit to interview for a research assistant position for a documentary filmmaker. She finds herself in an unenviable and stressful position when she discovers that the house she has rented on AirBnB is already occupied: by Keith (Bill Skarsgård), who claims to have booked the same house on HomeAway. They verify that they have the same (unmonitored) phone number for the property manager and Keith shows Tess his confirmation email. Tess is understandably less than enthused about the situation but is unable to find alternative accommodations, and ultimately she acquiesces to sleeping in the bedroom of the house while Keith takes the couch. She awakes in the night to find her door open and startles Keith awake, but the night is otherwise uneventful. She attends her interview and it goes well, and her presumed future employer warns her not to stay in the neighborhood that she’s in any longer than she has to. Back at the house, she has a frightening encounter with an unhoused person before accidentally locking herself in the basement while looking for toilet paper. While waiting for Keith to come back so that he can help her, she discovers a hidden door and a secret room, which terrifies her. Keith does come back and assist, but insists on seeing the room for himself, and eventually stops responding to Tess…. 

From there, we jump from the dark basement to sunny California to meet our third lead, sitcom star AJ Gilbride (Justin Long). He’s living the dream, or so he thinks, when he gets a call from two studio executives, who inform him that he’s just been #MeToo’d and that his accuser’s story will be front page news the following day. A survey of his finances leads him to consider selling some property, and the first place that he can think of is the house he owns in Detroit, so he flies back to Michigan (unwisely leaving the state, giving that it makes him appear that he’s fleeing) and enters the house, finding evidence that the house may still be occupied. We also learn that the home once belonged to a man named Frank (Richard Brake), who took up residence there during or before the 1980s, and that Frank was a serial kidnapper among the least of his crimes. 

Barbarian is a weird little picture. In his article “The Search for this Year’s Malignant,” Brandon makes a connection between this film and Don’t Breathe, which ranked fairly high on my list of top films for 2016 while being completely absent from everyone else’s, and I was also thinking about the two films in conversation with one another while sitting in the (empty, empty) screening of Barbarian. Both use the veritably post-apocalyptic vibe of many of the city’s neighborhoods to increase the overall sense of unease, but Barbarian makes the decline of the city a part of its text: when we see Frank leave his house to get, eh, “supplies,” it’s not merely his house that is in pristine condition, but the neighborhood as a whole. He drives a huge, American-made car and has an interaction with the next door neighbor that reveals Frank’s neighbors are planning to sell their house and move soon, since the wife is worried that they won’t be able to sell it the next year (Frank, for his part, ominously claims that he will never leave). Frank’s house in the present day is likewise well-maintained, but now it sits in the middle of a huge radius of homes that have fallen apart from disuse, squatting, fire, and neglect, which Tess, who initially arrived at night, discovers in the morning light. That change between the neighborhood of yesterday and today didn’t happen overnight, and Frank’s neighbors’ economic concerns about the future are proven absolutely right. Reagan himself is mentioned on the radio, the reminder that the ruin that Tess witnesses was the result of one of America’s most productive (and unionized) cities being crippled by his administration’s shift of power to the wealthy and the immediate movement by the wealthy to move manufacturing out of the American economy. The choice of Detroit isn’t a coincidence or merely intended to cash in on the city’s degradation, but a part of the framing. 

At its core, the film is a treatise about interpersonal interaction, most importantly how men treat women (more on that in a minute), and to a lesser extent, how people in general are treated by the system. The inciting event is the fault of the real estate agency that manages AJ’s Detroit property, as they fail to monitor their listings properly and allow a house to be booked through two different services; later, when Tess and Keith meet, the agency remains completely unresponsive and have no emergency contact information available for customers. Even when AJ comes back to the city and assumes that there are squatters in the house because of the luggage that he finds, the agency is unhelpful, can’t confirm when the last guests left, and cite that they only send cleaning services before the next guest (which, given that it’s been weeks, indicates that they’re not making sure that there are no corpses or bags of garbage getting septic in there even under normal circumstances); it’s enough to make one daydream about a Terry Gilliam picture about navigating the bureaucracy of short term rentals. More importantly, as in real life, the police here are not only useless, but obstructive. Although we don’t see it, given that the woman who interviewed Tess expressed concern about where she was staying, it’s reasonable to think she would have probably been concerned enough about not being able to contact her the following day that she would have asked for a welfare check-in, even if she didn’t file a report. But there’s no indication that anyone has been looking for her, and a later interaction between a character trying to get help and the police results in the officers treating said person like an addict and a troublemaker, and that’s not even getting into the dispatcher’s apathy when Tess is chased by a threatening figure. 

Each of the three men who own or occupy the house over the course of the film represents one of the ways that men treat women. Frank is clearly the worst, as he casually lies his way into a woman’s home in order to unlock a window for later abduction like a character in a Thomas Harris adaptation. I won’t get into what exactly is happening in that basement in the 1980s, but it’s sickening, and the trophies that he keeps in the form of VHS tapes are labelled with chillingly inhuman descriptions of women who are deprived of even the dignity of their names, reduced to “gas station redhead” and “grocery brunette (biter).” At the other end of the spectrum is Keith, a genuinely decent person who knows—on a conceptual level—what women “deal with” on a daily basis, going so far as to notice that she didn’t take a cup of tea that he made her and then, when offering her wine later, makes it clear that he wants to make sure she sees him open it. Keith knows what Rape Culture is, and although he’s genuine, he’s also still a Nice Guy, living so fully and comfortably within certain privileges afforded him by his maleness that he’s shocked to learn that there are even more precautions that Tess undertakes than he knows about. And although the banal evil of real estate apathy may have kicked off the events of the film as we see them, it’s Keith’s cat-killing curiosity about the creepy basement room despite Tess’s very rational statement that they need to leave that causes the rest of the film to happen. Even a nice guy is still a guy. In the space between Keith and Frank, not the “middle” per se but on that spectrum, is AJ. He almost definitely did what he’s accused of doing, and his denials of what happened, which he attempts to explain away as his having had to “convince” his accuser, don’t even seem to be convincing to himself when he recites them (the situation most reminded me of the accusations leveled against Aziz Ansari a few years back). 

I won’t lie and say that I never got bored during this one. A friend who saw it on a different day said that it felt like a Netflix series, and as Brandon pointed out in the above-linked article, the sketch-like segments don’t always pay off equally. The reveal is more functional to me than exciting, and there were a few moments when I was surprised the film hadn’t ended yet. I wish that the film had included a few more comedic beats during the long stretches of drama, because when Barbarian is funny, it’s very funny; the bit where AJ discovers a creepy kidnap room in his basement and immediately researches whether he can include it in the square footage for the real estate listing is, frankly, inspired – and comes back around in an important way. Cregger demonstrates a real ability to set the mood (one of my favorite bits of visual storytelling is when the dryer with the sheets in it has completed its cycle, but Tess and Keith are still enjoying each other’s company), but I would love to see him break it just a little more. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Podcast #170: The Plumber (1979) & Evil Professionals

Brandon, James, Britnee, and Hanna discuss a grab bag of horror films about evil professionals who terrorize on the job, starting with Peter Weir’s made-for-TV domestic thriller The Plumber (1979).

0:00 Welcome

01:30 The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
06:38 Kalifornia (1993)
10:45 Eyes Without a Face (1960)
12:30 Desert Hearts (1985)
14:15 Smile (2022)
17:40 Intimidation (1960)
20:35 Monkeybone (2001)

27:34 The Plumber (1979)
51:51 Dr. Giggles (1992)
1:05:23 Ice Cream Man (1995)
1:18:55 One Hour Photo (2002)

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)

I have no idea how long the term “kindertrauma” has been lingering in online media discussions, but I have been seeing it a lot lately.  It’s a useful, succinct description of a very specific phenomenon that means a broad range of things to a broad range of people.  Kindertrauma movies are the movies that scared you as a young child, before you developed enough media literacy to fully understand what you were seeing.  It’s the snippets of films that replayed in your childhood nightmares, distorted exponentially out of proportion the further you got away from the source.  My own half-remembered kindertrauma clips were the janitor’s closet prison of The Lady in White, the bicycle surgeons of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the cotton-candy cocoons of Killer Klowns from Outer Space . . . all from movies my daycare owner’s teenage daughter happened to tape off the TV.  For a lot of Millennials, images from the Canadian cheapie The Peanut Butter Solution ranks high on that list.  It’s kindertrauma royalty.

The Peanut Butter Solution is just one of dozens of children’s films produced for the Canadian series Tales for All, but it’s the one that enjoyed the widest international distribution and the one that boasted the most baffling out-of-context images.  It has all the gravitas of an Afterschool Special—right down to its dinky Casiotone score—but it’s a total nightmare for the young & unprepared.  It’s a charming tale of local winos who died in a late-night squat fire while trying to keep warm, then befriend a local schoolboy as ghosts.  The boy is so freaked out by the squat’s charred wreckage that he’s scared bald (a condition his doctor diagnoses as “hair ’em scare ’em”), so the ghosts have to coach him on how to get his mojo back with a secret hair-growth recipe passed around among undead drunkards.  Only, he puts in more peanut butter than the recipe calls for (to help it stick better to his scalp, duh), so his hair starts going freakishly long, practically a foot a minute.  This, of course, leads him to being kidnapped by his ornery art teacher, who imprisons dozens of his fellow classmates in an underground sweatshop that transforms his hair into magical paintbrushes.  Any five-minute stretch of the film is enough to fire up the imaginations of kids who happened to catch it out-of-context on cable in the 80s & 90s, sticking to the backs of their minds like so much Skippy brand peanut butter (who paid for their prominent ad placement in the titular scene).

The Peanut Butter Solution is driven by the kind of little-kid nightmare logic that you can only find in German fairy tales and Canadian B-movies, pinpointing the middle ground between “Hansel & Gretel” and The Pit.  It pretends to hold educational value for its pint-sized, impressionable audience, warning of the dangers lurking in abandoned buildings, strangers’ trucks, and overactive imaginations.  It’s heart’s not really in that, though, and any attempts to make sense of its internal logic is just a path to madness.  This wonderfully deranged tale is only truly interested in connecting the dots between a random assemblage of low-intensity menaces that freak kids out: teachers, bullies, the homeless, pubic hair, etc.  It obviously couldn’t get away with adapting the standard “I dreamed I was naked in class” nightmare that a lot of kids have, so it stripped its protagonist naked in the only place that wouldn’t compromise its PG rating . . . and then it goes even weirder places.

Kindertrauma movies are obviously hyper specific to the eras when their freaked-out audiences were young children.  Titles like Willy Wonka and The Wizard of Oz are iconic enough that they’ve inspired nightmares for entire generations of children for decades, but I feel like it’s the much smaller, more disposable media that qualifies as proper kindertrauma – the kind of cheap-o nightmare fuel that doesn’t stick around long enough to become culturally familiar, so it just privately burns in your brain for decades as low-heat nightmare fuel.  I’ve seen a lot of those titles for the first time as a fully formed adultStepmonster, Paperhouse, Return to Oz, Troll 2, Gooby, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, etc.—but it’s always clear when you spot them; you can always tell “This warped someone’s brain as a kid.”  They’re rarely this unpredictable, though. They’re also rarely this distinctly Canadian, considering that The Peanut Butter Solution happens to feature Céline Dion’s first two songs recorded in the English language.  Even if you weren’t traumatized by it as a small, soft-brained child, it’s still a total Canuxploitation nightmare.

-Brandon Ledet

There’s Plenty Crying in Baseball

In case you haven’t already heard this 1,000 times in the past few weeks, the new TV series A League of Their Own is very good and very, very gay.  It’s so good & gay, in fact, that it prompted 95-year-old retired baseball player Maybell Blair, the inspiration behind the show, to publicly come out of the closet for the first time.  Less significantly, it also prompted me to finally give the original 1992 Penny Marshall film it was adapted from a shot, after decades of avoidance.  That was also pretty good!  Both versions of A League of Their Own are winning, heartwarming portraits of complicated women who unite over a shared love of baseball; and in one of the versions, they sometimes make out.  In a recent podcast interview, Rosie O’Donnell vented frustrations that Marshall limited how much of the lesbian undercurrent could breach the surface of the original film, so in a way the new, queer-affirming TV show registers as a more comfortable, authentic version of the story they both telling.  Still, the 1992 original is just as much a rousing celebration of American women, one that just happens to be set on a baseball field.

The women in the original A League of Their Own are uniformly wonderful across the board, from the always-respected, regal screen presence of Geena Davis to the rarely-respected movie star machinations of Madonna.  They’re all great.  So, even though it’s miles beside the point in a movie that’s main objective is to celebrate women, I feel compelled to single out the only man in the main cast: the team’s disgraced alcoholic head coach, played by Tom Hanks.  It’s rare that I ever want to talk about Tom Hanks.  He seems like he’d be pleasant enough to be around in real life, but I don’t really care about his craft as a performer.  It’s been decades since Hanks would regularly make interesting choices in career outliers like Joe vs. The Volcano and The Burbs, and even then he was still playing an affable everyman in outlandish scenarios.  There was something thrilling about seeing professional nice guy Tom Hanks play a disgusting asshole for a change in A League of Their Own.  He’s a sloppy drunk misogynist drowning in his own liquor sweats, barely perking up enough from his mid-day blackouts to spit his chewing tobacco sludge onto the field instead of his shirt.  Hanks is vile in this film, which makes him a great foil (and reluctant collaborator) for the women on his team.  It also makes this one of his most interesting performances, by default.

I guess the question that’s nagging me is whether Tom Hanks is a good actor.  His performances as grotesque, sweaty mutants in A League of Their Own and the recent Elvis biopic are a fascinating contrast to his usual persona as America’s sweetheart uncle.  I can’t say either performance is particularly good, though.  His portrayal of Elvis’s overly controlling manager Col Tom Parker is more of an SNL accent & boardwalk caricature than a sincere performance . . . which is fine, except that it never feels purposeful or controlled.  Likewise, his tough-guy dipshit persona in A League of Their Own rings insincere & hollow in contrast to the rest of the cast.  It works in the context of the movie, where a powerful, defiant Geena Davis walks all over him as the self-appointed assistant coach who makes up for his shortcomings (backwards, in heels, etc.).  At the same time, though, it points to Hanks’s limitations as a performer.  Normally, I’d celebrate Hollywood celebrities getting cast against type, but the few times I’ve seen Hanks play villain it’s only helped illustrate how much better he is as a cookie-cutter Nice Guy™.  And even in that context, I only mean “better” in the sense that his performances are unnoticeable.  I’m most comfortable with not thinking about Tom Hanks at all, so when he colors outside the lines with fat-suit prosthetics, misogynist rants, and improv-night accents I really hate having to think about whether he’s a talented actor.  He seems like a nice guy and all, but seeming like a nice guy might be his only real talent.

I’m likely just looking for something to be a hater about here.  After recently enjoying this & the eerie ghost story Field of Dreams, I appear to be getting over my total disinterest in baseball as a subject. I need a new target to lash out at, and this widely beloved millionaire can surely take the hit.  A League of Their Own is great, and it uses Tom Hanks well, but his performance isn’t up to par with the rest of the cast.  Even Jon Lovitz is a more compelling misogynist asshole in his few minutes of screentime in the prologue, proving that going gross & going broad isn’t where Hanks goes wrong.  He’s just not that great of an actor, even if he is a great guy.

-Brandon Ledet

Inu-Oh (2022)

I’ve only seen two anime films in theaters so far this year, but it still feels significant that both were pop musicals.  Both also happen to feature whale-themed light shows in their stadium concert fantasy sequences, as if they were both anime adaptations of The Decemberists performing “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”.  However, whereas Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle was set in an online cotton candy future-world, Masaaki Yuasa’s Inu-Oh dials the clock back to an earthtones watercolor illustration of feudal Japan.  Despite the centuries’ distance between their settings, Belle explores the merits & limitations of seeking community online, while Inu-Oh does the same for rock n’ roll fame, which can only elevate the marginalized so high before the fascists at the top take notice & shut them down.  I greatly appreciate both films as psychedelic experiments with the outer limits of animation.  I’m surprised that Inu-Oh was my favorite of the pair, though, since my tastes lean more to the ultra-modern, ultra-femme cyber-realms of Belle.

Like all the best rock operas, Inu-Oh is specifically a glam rock opera, joining the likes of Rocky Horror, Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig, and Lisztomania at the pinnacle of the art form.  Despite anchoring itself to the historical specifics of “biwa priests” providing musical entertainment for the emperors of 14th Century Japan, its story is easily relatable to anyone who’s familiar with rise-to-fame rock n’ roll myths – especially ones that involve crossdressing, glitter, and platform boots.  The biwas are electric guitars; the emperors are record execs; the shadow-puppet lightshows are proto-pyrotechnics; it’s all accessible & familiar.  Inu-Oh details the friendship & artistic collaboration between a rebel biwa priest (lead guitarist) and a freakish mutant (rock n’ roll frontman) he meets in his travels.  The biwa player is blind and perpetually mourning the childhood loss of his father.  His singing, dancing partner is a bizarre collection of physical abnormalities, an “ugly monster” covered in scales, with eyes, mouth, and limbs drifting to unlikely locations.  Through rock n’ roll, they not only find fame & respect they’ve never been afforded as ordinary citizens, but they also find the freedom to be their true selves in public for the very first time – testing the boundaries of their gender identity, political convictions, and sexual desirability in full public display.  And then, as always, The Man gets in their way.

Comparing Inu-Oh against Belle is likely a cheap shot, since anime is more of a broad artistic medium than a niche, rigid subgenre.  If anything, it more closely resembles the other cyberpunk movie musical I saw in theaters this year: Neptune Frost.  Both Inu-Oh & Neptune Frost use the propulsive, euphoric power of music to echo the momentum & rhythms of political resistance.  They’re both celebratory of the political power the disenfranchised can find in communal solidary, while also appropriately grim in detailing how futile that power can feel in the face of systemic fascism.  In particular, Inu-Oh often plays like a love letter to provocative, gender-ambiguous rock legends like Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Prince, threading them into a larger continuum of artists who challenge the political status quo.  At the same time, it reckons with the reality that a lot of similar artists on the fringe never achieve that level of fame or cultural respect; a lot of queer activists’ voices are violently snuffed out before they can be heard.  For their heart and their anger, Inu-Oh & Neptune Frost are the most politically energizing movies I’ve seen all year; they’re also the very best.

That’s not to say that Inu-Oh‘s medium isn’t a major part of its appeal.  Anime often feels like the last remaining refuge of traditional, complex animation in a world where that visual artistry is being lost to cutesy, over-simplified computer graphics.  Yuasa is highly respected in that field as one of the best of the best, thanks to psychedelic free-for-alls like Mind Game & Night is Short, Walk On GirlInu-Oh matches the euphoric transcendence of its rock n’ roll music with the expressive imagination of its visual style.  When viewing the world though a blind character’s mind, we navigate a white void where sounds trigger impressions of color.  We travel backwards through the centuries in still-photo montages of devolving landscapes.  We don’t see swordfights; we see the slash of the weapon and the steam rising from the blood.  This is a gorgeous, invigorating, heartbreaking work about the bliss, power, and turmoil of rock n’ roll outsiders.  Speaking personally, it’s the best genderfucked feudal Japan glam rock opera anime I’ve ever seen, but your mileage may vary.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Monkey Shines (1988)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss George Romero’s Monkey Shines, a psychological horror about a super-intelligent, super-murderous service monkey.

00:00 Welcome

10:30 Jawbreaker (1999)
19:45 The Coen Brothers
23:55 Nope (2022)
33:45 Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
38:15 Fire of Love (2022)

41:30 Monkey Shines (1988)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Lagniappe Podcast Crew