We Need to Do Something (2021)

Back in the before times, when I had a roommate with whom I could endlessly debate back and forth about what we wanted to watch, we had an informal rule of thumb that either one of us could veto a movie if, upon selecting it from the streaming service du jour, we saw the IFC Midnight logo. By the third year of our domesticity, we had, in equal measure, been both burned and delighted (and fallen somewhere in between) by films that attempted to forewarn of their middling budgets by either their hit-or-miss distributor or the lack of confidence in a theatrical release bespoken by having an NCTA rating instead of one by the MPAA. It’s been a long time since those days, both objectively and subjectively, but the 2021 release We Need to Do Something proves that, even if one has to film under pandemic restrictions, some of our old stalwarts can still get something into the consumer’s home that mostly hits, all while doing more with less. 

Melissa (Sierra McCormick) is a teenage girl in a situation that goes beyond unenviable: sheltering in an (admittedly spacious and tastefully decorated) bathroom with her mother Diane (Vinessa Shaw, of Hocus Pocus and Clinical fame) and father Robert (Pat Healy), as well as precocious younger brother Bobby (John James Cronin). As her desperate composition of text messages to her girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis) is continuously interrupted by automated tornado warnings as well as Bobby’s unhelpful recitation of the differences in various cyclone severity rankings, we get insight into the inner workings of this family and their various sins. Diane is clearly having an affair, as she keeps sending inbound calls to voicemail and, when asked about them, says that the calls are coming from “nobody.” Robert’s vice-like grip on his thermos speaks volumes to anyone who’s ever encountered a semi-functioning alcoholic, Melissa’s rebuffing of her mother’s concerned questions about her apparently self-inflicted wrist wound implies a self-harm habit that her parents have ignored, and, finally, Bobby is extremely annoying. Things become extremely dire when not only does an uprooted tree fall in front of the bathroom door, preventing it from opening more than a mere 6-8 inches and thus blocking the family’s egress, but Robert drops Melissa’s phone on the other side of the door while using it as a flashlight to check on this situation. Diane’s phone dies and Robert’s is non-functional in an unexplained way (although it seems like he’s just bad at using it), but Diane lovingly comforts her panicky son, promising that someone will come looking for them soon despite Robert’s agitation and lack of alcohol making the situation even more anxious. 

Reviews for this one have been mixed to negative, which I suppose should come as no surprise, based on the track record of non-A24 indie horror lately, like Things Heard and Seen and What Lies Below. Given that the first two auto-fill options when typing the film’s title into Google are “we need to do something ending” and “we need to do something explained,” it’s clear that this is one of those films that has the misfortune to get noticed, but only by the worst kinds of viewers, those raised on a steady diet of C*nemaS*ns (et al) criticism and who need everything to be boiled down, pureed, and fed into their little infant mouths with a rubber-tipped spoon. With that in mind, that the film’s Rotten Tomatoes audience score is 41% isn’t surprising, but that it’s been a failure (55%) with professional critics as well is a bit of a shock. I’ll freely admit that there was a time when I was more likely to gravitate toward narratives with a more defined structure, but I was never someone who got upset about an open-ended and ambiguous ending. Unfortunately, the internet has really given voice to not only white supremacy, incels, and creeps in general, but also to people who would probably drag Frank R. Stockton into the streets and beat him to death, and also whatever the hell this is. Your brains are full of worms, folks, I’m sorry to say, and I think mine might be too. There’s a seemingly universal cry for more explicit storytelling, but to be honest, the worst parts of the film are the ones that center around the reasons why this is happening. 

We get an early clue when Melissa is texting as the clouds roll in, when she types out that she thinks that the impending storm front may have “something to do with—” before her screen glitches. In flashbacks, we learn about her relationship with Amy, starting with how they met. Amy has an arm full of scars, implying that she’s a cutter, but there’s more to it than that. She actually has Cotard syndrome, and although the overlap of Cotard’s and self-harm is pretty rare, it’s not unheard of, especially when co-presenting with schizophrenia. Besides this, Amy also appears to be something of a teenage goth, and a witch to boot; Amy believes she “cured” herself of her Cotard’s by casting a necromancy spell on herself, which didn’t necessarily bring her back from the dead, but does appear to have broken her delusion. However, as the result of an odd series of events—which include the two teen girls’ attempts to get back at a literally out-of-focus bully who spreads rumors and digging up the corpse of the family’s dead dog Spot—they may have actually unleashed something otherworldly that is caused their misfortune. One could rightly argue that this is the least interesting thing about the film, even if it does highlight how one can continue to make a film despite restrictions (the scenes with Amy and Melissa are shot entirely outdoors—on sidewalks, behind buildings, seated on bleachers—so that the movie gets away with having only one bathroom set); these could be cut in their entirety and merely increase the tension and mystery, without opening the can of worms that comes with making two teens’ extremely teenagery “magic” unnecessarily powerful. If every angsty teen who carved a bully’s name into a candle summoned a demonic monster (even bearing in mind the potential presence of something living in Amy’s body post-spell), then a lot more abusers and shitty exes would be dead. 

Even with that millstone around the film’s neck, it’s still powerful. I’ll grant that this could be because of some of my own psychological fears and damage contributing to the overall discomfort and anxiety that I felt during the runtime. Just as Unsane ended up as my number three film of 2018 by knowing where all of my fears live, so too does We Need to Do Something effectively and articulately seek out and find all of my weak points with regards to having been raised by an abusive father. There’s a scene late in the film in which Robert, driven mad by days without food (or booze), attempts to force young Bobby, first via psychological manipulation and then using physical strength, through the too-narrow space between door and jamb, and when Diane attempts to “interfere” and save her son from having his skull crushed, Robert turns on her with the kind of ferocity that’s all-too-familiar to anyone who were raised by a father with intense and unpredictable rage issues, especially if you had another parent whose entire life seemed to revolve around running interference to protect their child or children from the full force of that particularly banal evil. With all due respect to Jessica Kiang, who wrote in her review for Variety that Something “fails to capture the actual psychological awfulness of being trapped too near your nearest and dearest, with no end in sight,” this film captures that feeling frighteningly well. This one gets a big recommendation from me, although if paternal abuse of the verbal, psychological, or physical forms is a major trigger for you, you might want to sit it out.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Till Death (2021)

Megan Fox got to play her own version of Gerald’s Game this year, in Till Death, which recently appeared on Netflix in the U.S. Although there are certainly some issues with pacing, it’s still fairly effective, especially for a film with such a small cast and, from the end of Act I forward, only one location. 

On the eve of Emma (Fox)’s eleventh wedding anniversary to her husband, Mark (Eoin Macken), she breaks things off with her lover Tom (Aml Ameen). We learn that Mark is a lawyer and Tom is a member of his firm when Emma meets Mark at his office for their anniversary dinner. While waiting for him, she can’t help but glance through an NYPD file on his desk, detailing her attack by Bobby Ray (Callan Mulvey), whose assault left her with a scarred back; we also learn that she blinded him in one eye with her keys while defending herself. Mark immediately betrays his controlling nature, noting that he expected Emma to wear “the red dress” (his favorite) and waving off her own feelings by noting that they have time before dinner to take her home to change. At the restaurant, he also orders dessert for her after she declines, and forces her to blindfold herself before they drive to their next destination; she reluctantly accepts, although she removes the fabric in exasperation just before the couple arrives at their lakehouse. That their anniversary also falls in the dead of winter may be a metaphor for the coldness of their relationship, but given how … overwritten other elements of this screenplay tend to be, I’m not sure. 

Clocking in at 90 minutes, the plot doesn’t really get going until the 22 minute mark. I’ll avoid spoilers as much as possible on the off chance that you want to watch something suspenseful but not terribly scary this spooky season, but the description on Netflix itself reveals the “twist” that gets the movie going: “A woman finds herself shackled to her dead spouse as part of a revenge plot. As the rest of the plan unfolds, a desperate battle for survival begins.” Although not particularly groundbreaking, there’s still plenty of menacing anxiety to be had here, and it’s reductionist to compare this one to Gerald’s Game (even though, um, I did that) when its narrative deviates from that novel/film fairly quickly. Both Till Death and Gerald’s Game are psychological thrillers about survivors of different forms of violence that initially present as narratives centering around immobility and physical isolation as purely physical dangers but which turn into very different narratives, but the similarities end there. Game becomes a story about the struggle for survival despite psychological breakdown in the face of certain death from dehydration or starvation, as well as outside factors in the form of a wild dog and a spectral figure; Death turns into a more straightforward home invasion thriller, with the added complication that our heroine is literally unable to decouple from her dead husband and that her attacker is the man who stalked and stabbed her a decade before, now released to menace her again.

Calling Till Death “more straightforward” is neither an insult nor a compliment, nor is it good or bad that the film feels a little like it was written by Donald Kaufman from Adaptation. The film walks a fine line between throwing twists in at the right places and following the path of least resistance in others. Not every movie needs to blaze every trail, and if you don’t know what kind of movie you’re watching by the time that Megan Fox wakes up in perfect, un-smeared makeup, then hopefully you know what kind of movie you’re watching by the time that she washes her husband’s blood off of her face and then carefully considers her still perfect, still un-smeared makeup in the bathroom mirror. And it’s not that the film can’t pull the rug from under you; for instance, once Emma gets over the initial shock of her husband’s death, she immediately tries to shoot through the cuffs binding her to him, only to discover that there was only one round and the pistol is otherwise empty. Frustrated, she tosses the gun and it lands under the bed, and I immediately thought that she would soon have to deal with a wild animal later (perhaps because I was too stuck on my Gerald’s Game hypothesis) and would be unable to get to the gun in order to defend herself, after finding bullets elsewhere in the cabin. But no, her husband’s so many steps ahead of her that he’s already cleared the house of anything useful, and although Chekhov’s gun does come into play again later, it’s in a more interesting way than I could have expected. 

The film’s biggest weaknesses come when it tips its hand a little too much. The scenes that exist to demonstrate and set up Mark’s controlling nature are overwrought and on-the-nose. He’s not just picking out her dresses and ordering her dessert, he’s also oddly theatrical; at any moment up to the point of his death, he’s a hair’s breadth from tipping his hand too much, too early. When stuck in an elevator with both Tom and Emma, who pretend to only know each other from a prior office Christmas party, Mark turns juuuuust too menacing for a picosecond too long as he growls “You know damn well it wasn’t the Christmas party,” before breaking the tension he artificially inflated by jovially adding “It was the holiday party!” noting that it wouldn’t do to have the political correctness police scold them. It’s not enough for Emma to notice, with a wistful gaze full of regret, that a woman at another table has accepted a proposal; the narrative has to force the two women into the bathroom at the same time so that Emma can give the younger woman a warning about becoming trapped in a loveless marriage. Hating on Megan Fox’s acting ability was pretty du jour internet comedy during the late aughts, but she’s more than fully capable of conveying what needs to be communicated in these scenes without needing to telegraph these beats so strongly. I’m not sure if the producers didn’t have enough faith in Fox, in the audience, or both, but we spend far too much time with unnecessary narrative wheel-spinning before we get to the point that I’d almost recommend skipping the dinner sequence entirely, but it’s threaded with just enough foreshadowing and plot-seeding that it has to be born on one’s shoulders for a bit of a slog. 

Despite that there are sections of the narrative that can feel like a bit of a barefoot slog across the snow, I’d still say that this is a cute way to spend an evening, especially if you’ve ever had a bad breakup (which, I mean, who amongst us hasn’t?) and wondered if it could have been worse. Turns out, yeah, it could have been. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Things Heard and Seen (2021)

Things Heard and Seen is good, actually. I don’t know if people are simply unprepared for reckoning with the fact that, if you live with ghosts and a gaslighter, the abuser is still the most dangerous thing in your house, or if this is another instance of modern audiences having been infantilized with jump scare horror pablum to the point that slow burns are impenetrable, but don’t believe the backlash. Maybe I should know better by now than to wonder why a film like Things Heard and Seen is treated with so much derision by the general public, resulting in largely negative reviews of both the professional and armchair variety. I suppose that derivativity, like beauty, must be in the eye of the beholder, especially when one of the negative reviews that I read had to stretch all the way back to What Lies Beneath to find something specific to which Heard and Seen could be compared (negatively, and illegitimately I think). There were a few writers I saw who also felt a little bit of a connection to The Shining as well, which is practically unavoidable given its subject matter, but the film also seems to be doing some of that intentionally, given its 1980 setting and its snowy conclusion. Overall, this felt fresh to me in a way that apparently it did not to others.

Successful art restorer Catherine Clare (Amanda Seyfried) lives in Manhattan with her husband George (James Norton) and daughter Fanny. George was once a painter of no small talent and has recently finished his dissertation. At Fanny’s birthday party, the couple share the news with their family and friends that they are moving to upstate New York, where George has secured a teaching position at the fictional liberal arts college Saginaw, near the town of Chosen, also fictional, in the real Hudson Valley. We learn that George was very recently cut off financially by his parents, and that Catherine only became aware of their prior dependency once that funding source dried up. We also learn that Catherine has an eating disorder, as she generally eats a starvation diet and purges after having one bite of Fanny’s cake.

The two get set up in a beautiful, if unmaintained, farm house by real estate agent Mare Laughton (Karen Allen), and the domesticity of this life isolates Catherine pretty quickly. This isolation isn’t helped by the fact that she almost immediately begins to see evidence of a haunting in their new home: she smells phantom, inexplicable gas fumes, occasionally sees lights that seemingly have no origin, and discovers personal items of previous occupants that appear cursed at best, including a ring jammed in a window sash and an ancient Bible belonging to the house’s first owner, a man of the cloth, in which certain names have been scratched out and replaced with only the word “damned.” For his part, George immediately seems to get along with his colleagues, especially Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham), the department chair who offered George the position based on his glowing letter of recommendation and his thesis on the work of Hudson Valley School founder Thomas Cole. He compliments George for the section of his thesis that pertained to Cole’s religious ideas, which were of the Spiritualist ideas that largely derived from the theological work of Emanuel Swedenborg; George shrugs off this praise, noting that Cole’s Spiritualism was the issue with which he struggled the most in the composition of his dissertation. When they meet, Catherine and DeBeers immediately hit it off, as he likewise notes that there is something in her house that George refuses to see. 

Despite George’s passive controlling of Catherine’s social circle, she still manages to form relationships with a few locals and some of George’s other peers, including the Vayle brothers, college-aged Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) and younger teen Cole (Jack Gore), as well as “adjunct weaving instructor” Justine Sokolov (Rhea Seehorn, who steals the show), George’s colleague and wife of fellow instructor—and marijuana cultivator—Bran (James Urbaniak). Meanwhile, George strikes up a relationship with Willis (Natalia Dyer), an Ivy League student home from school, against her better judgment. When he decides to throw a party for his colleagues, Catherine insists (over George’s pretentious objections) that they also invite their neighbors, and it is from Marie that Catherine learns about the tragic deaths of the last couple who lived in the house, and that not only was George intentionally keeping this information from her, he also kept secret that Eddie and Cole are actually their surviving children. George’s other lies, perhaps a lifetime of them, start to unravel, and so does he, as Catherine learns from the local spiritualists that evil spirits only commune with evil people, and that the spirits she sees in the house are actually there to protect her, and that she should listen to their warnings. 

There’s a lot of art discussion happening, and I’m always interested in that. There’s a little quotation that I like from video essayist and artist Lola Sebastian that I really love and think about all the time, because it articulates something that I could never express so succinctly and with such ineffably quiet brevity. She’s specifically writing about Sufjan Stevens, but her statement has much further reaching and broader implications about the importance of acknowledging the wider human experience outside of the various American pop culture meccas that we see over and over again: “Rich lives [and] big stories happen everywhere, to everyone.” George is a person who fails to see that, even a little bit, because of his obsession with being a person of status. He takes money from his parents to support the family in New York until they can’t help him any longer, and he decides that if he’s going to have to live upstate, he’ll be spending time only with those he deems fit company for a man of his standing, so only his academic colleagues and none of the family’s rural local neighbors. And given that he himself knows that he only has his position fraudulently, we know that he must be performing a constant tightrope act of delusion and self-deception. He’s a truly infuriating character, and that he can be so damned frustrating while attempting to come off as friendly and affable is a testament to a truly great performance by Norton. He effectively captures that ineffable quality of being smug but incredibly fragile, like a balloon that’s constantly threatening to burst. 

This is not a movie that you can watch half-heartedly while also doomscrolling or thinking about your grocery list. It’s decompressed, but that’s the point; it creates a painting before you, giving you enough time to see every detail and every brush stroke, and peopling its landscape with fully realized characters who are as believable as if they were flesh and blood. It requires all of your attention, and if you can give it all of that, you’ll be rewarded. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Lagniappe Podcast: The Wailing (2016)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss the menacingly ambiguous Korean horror epic The Wailing (2016).

00:00 Welcome

01:20 Frenzy (1972) on the Horror VS Reality podcast
06:06 Til Death (2021)
09:55 Scare Package (2020)
19:19 Rose Plays Julie (2021)
23:15 Zola (2021)

26:26 The Wailing (2016)

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

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Impulse (1974)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss William Grefé’s public domain horror curio Impulse (1974), in which William Shatner models leisure suits & strangles women in the blinding Florida sunshine. 

00:00 Welcome

02:20 Mars Attacks! (1996)
06:20 Spell (2020)
08:35 Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)
10:40 The Wind (2018)
13:32 Grim Prairie Tales (1990)
15:25 Point Break (1991)
18:40 Black Widow (2021)
21:40 Cruella (2021)
24:45 Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)
27:35 Valley of the Dolls (1967)

30:00 Impulse (1974)

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

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Halloween Streaming Recommendations 2021

Halloween is rapidly approaching, which means many cinephiles & genre nerds out there are currently planning to cram in as many scary movies as they can over the next month. In that spirit, here’s a horror movie recommendation for every day in October from the Swampflix crew. Each title was positively reviewed on the blog or podcast in the past year and is currently available on a substantial streaming service. Hopefully this helps anyone looking to add some titles to their annual horror binge. Happy hauntings!

Oct 1: Season of the Witch (1973)

“Influenced by second-wave feminism, Romero made a fantastic film about a dissatisfied housewife who dabbles in the occult, and he did it all with a budget of about $100,000 (it was originally $250,000 before his funding dropped). […] The first spell she casts is a love spell that results in her having a tryst with her daughter’s lover. It’s so scandalous! As she dives deeper into the occult, she has progressively intense dreams about someone in a rubber demon mask breaking into her home. The dream later becomes infused with her reality, leading to a shocking act that I won’t spoil in this review.”  Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy or free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 2: Parents (1989)

“One of those 1980s grotesqueries that takes satirical aim at the Everything Is Dandy manicured surface of 1950s Leave It To Beaver suburbia.  Bob Balaban directs the hell out of this pop art horror comedy, landing it somewhere between Blue Velvet & Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It also fits snugly in one of my favorite genres: the R-rated children’s film.  A delightful, unsettling novelty.”  Currently streaming on Amazon Prime or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 3: The Stuff (1985)

“I’ve watched the classic trailer for this one so many times on VHS & DVD rentals of other schlock over the years that I felt like I had seen it before, but it was entirely new to me. It’s no Q: The Winged Serpent but there’s still plenty overlap with the Larry Cohen Gimmickry and Michael Moriarty Acting Choices that make Q so delectable.  Tons of goopy, cynical fun.” Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla or free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 4: Lucky (2021)

“A high-concept home invasion horror about a woman who’s cyclically attacked by the same masked killer night after night after night.  This works best as a darkly funny act of audience gaslighting and a surprisingly flexible metaphor about gender politics. Recalls the matter-of-fact absurdism of time-loop thrillers like Timecrimes & Triangle, with a lot of potential to build the same gradual cult following if it finds the right audience.”  Currently streaming on Shudder.

Oct 5: Saint Maud (2021)

“Spoke both to my unquenchable thirst for the grotesque as a horror nerd and my unending guilt-horniness-guilt cycle as a lapsed Catholic.   I appreciated even more the second time for what it actually is (an intensely weird character study) instead if what I wanted it to be (a menacingly erotic sparring match between Maud and her patient).  Currently streaming on Hulu.

Oct 6: The Haunting (1963)

“A masterpiece.  Impressively smart, funny, and direct about even its touchiest themes (lesbian desire, generational depression, suicidal ideation) while consistently creepy throughout.  It’s also gorgeous!  The camera is incredibly active considering it was shot in early Panavision.  Loved it far more than expected, considering how often this same material has been adapted.”  Currently streaming on Shudder.

Oct 7: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

“Highly stylized Euro sleaze about young newlyweds who are seduced & corrupted by bisexual vampires on their honeymoon.  The main villain is named Elizabeth Báthory but she’s played like a breathy, half-asleep Marlene Dietrich, and I love her.  The whole thing is just effortlessly sexy and cool all around.  Lurid in every sense of the word but somehow still patient & low-key.”  Currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 8: The Corruption of Chris Miller (1973)

“Some great images & a consistently sleazy vibe wrestling with a super confusing plot that falls apart the second you think about it too long?  That’s a giallo.”  Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 9: Madhouse (1981)

“Gorgeous, uneven schlock about a woman who’s hunted & tormented by her disfigured twin sister in the week leading up to their birthday.  The escaped-mental-patient plot is clearly a riff on the Halloween template, but its style feels much more like an American take on giallo than it does a first-wave slasher.  Cheap, delirious mayhem with equally frequent flashes of embarrassing broad comedy & impressive visual craft.”  Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy or free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 10: StageFright: Aquarius (1987)

“The director of the play-within-the-movie, a possible jab at Argento, is fully invested in his artistic vision … but that vision proves to be completely malleable if it sells a few extra tickets. There’s also a moment in which the director is confronted by the killer wielding a chainsaw and just throws a woman directly into the path of the blades, which, as someone whose knowledge of Argento is … extensive, seems like a pretty good jab at the older filmmaker’s less-than-modern take on gender dynamics.”  Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 11: Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

“Loving giallo movies means loving digging through piles of the same-old-same-old to find the gems hiding among the tedium.  This one is one of the glorious payoffs that makes the hunt worthwhile.  It starts with a man awake but paralyzed in a morgue having to piece together how he got there before he’s buried alive.  The answers to that mystery are familiar, but told in a sober, coherent way that’s rare in the genre.  And it looks characteristically great in its Technicolor indulgences in the moments when it feels like flexing.  A highlight of the genre, but one I hadn’t heard of until I saw its disc on sale.”  Currently streaming on Shudder.

Oct 12: The Power (2021)

“A British body-possession horror about a religious zealot nurse with a mysterious past and a deeply damaged relationship with sexuality; the stylish debut feature from a young woman filmmaker, clocking in under 90min.  And somehow I’m not describing Saint Maud???  This actually might work especially well for people who wish Saint Maud was more of a straightforward horror film.  For me, they’re about equally great, but this one’s definitely a lot more immediately satisfying in delivering the genre goods and thematic sense of purpose.”  Currently streaming on Shudder.

Oct 13: The Vigil (2021)

“A pretty standard haunted house horror in its broadest terms, but it crams a lot of unexpected details into its Orthodox Judaism context: cult-deprogramming, Evil Internet tech, found footage video cassettes, body horror, demons, etc.  Reminded me most of the movies Demon (2015) & The Power (2021), and mostly holds its own among them in its mood & scares.”  Currently streaming on Hulu.

Oct 14: The Descent (2005)

“One of those warrior transformation horrors where a traumatized woman emerges from absolute hell stronger, crazed, and doomed.  Also super effective as a creature feature creepout but I like that it took its time arriving there, getting you invested in the characters before immersing them in mayhem.”  Currently streaming on Amazon Prime or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 15: The Toll (2021)

“Like a malevolent fae, The Toll Man traps wayward travelers who have the scent of death if they should be unlucky enough to find their way onto his road; someone with suicidal ideation or bound for an accident is then diverted into his realm so that he can extract his toll: death.  This has the potential to be more goofy than scary (The Bye Bye Man, anyone?), but in spite of its possible pitfalls, this one manages to work.”  Currently streaming for free (with ads) on The Roku Channel.

Oct 16: Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (2020)

“It’s 10% Phenomena by way of the aesthetic of the European forest and the house in which the mutants are sheltered by their mother, a solid 40% Friday the 13th per its teenage-camping-trip narrative, 20% Scream via the discussion of the “rules” of horror films, 15% C.H.U.D., 8% Housebound, 2% Fargo, and 3% X-Files black goo episode for some reason.” Currently streaming on Netflix.

Oct 17: Pumpkinhead (1988)

“Honestly more of a Great Monster than a Great Movie, but the creature design is so cool and the budget is so bare that it’s easy to forgive a lot of its shortcomings.”  Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Shudder.

Oct 18: Impetigore (2020)

“An Indonesian ghost story about the lingering evils of communal betrayal & inherited wealth (and horrific violence against children in particular, it should be said).  This walks a difficult balance of being gradually, severely fucked up without rubbing your face in its Extreme Gore moments.  Handsomely staged, efficiently creepy beyond the shock of its imagery, and complicated enough in its mythology that it’s not just a simple morality play.”  Currently streaming on Shudder.

Oct 19: In the Earth (2021)

“This is the exact psychedelic folk horror I was expecting it to be, except with an entire slasher about an axe-wielding maniac piled on top just to push it into full-on excess.  Impressively strange, upsetting stuff considering its limited scope & budget.”  Currently streaming on Hulu or for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy.

Oct 20: The Empty Man (2020)

“A dispatch from an alternate dimension where The Bye Bye Man was somehow an impressively ambitious work of art.  Considering its 2018 setting and its blatant riffing on Slender Man lore, it was likely even intended to be a contemporary of that mainstream-horror embarrassment, despite it being quietly dumped into pandemic-era theaters years later.  Feels refreshing to see a robustly budgeted studio horror take wild creative stabs instead of settling for routine PG-13 tedium, like trying to recapture the 1970s in the late 2010s.”  Currently streaming on HBO Max.

Oct 21: Possessor (2020)

“Apparently Brandon Cronenberg took note of the often-repeated observation that Andrea Riseborough loses herself in roles to the point of being unrecognizable, and built an entire fucked up sci-fi horror about the loss of Identity around it.  A damn good one too.”  Currently streaming on Hulu.

Oct 22: His House (2020)

“This bold debut feature from screenwriter and director Remi Weekes tackles topics of grief, disenfranchisement, loss, immigration, disconnection, and the things we keep while other things are left behind. There’s so much unspoken but powerfully present in the interactions between Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as, respectively, Bol and Rial Majur.  There’s something so palpable in Bol’s desire to disappear into this new community, joining in with the old men singing songs to their futbol heroes and blending in by purchasing an exact duplicate of the outfit on in-store advertising.  By the time he’s literally trying to burn everything that ties himself and his wife to their past, it’s impossible to predict where the film will go next.  Even the most artistic horror film rarely transcends into something truly beautiful, but His House does all of this and more.”  Currently streaming on Netflix.

Oct 23: The Wolf House (2020)

“A nightmare experiment in stop-motion animation that filters atrocities committed by exiled-Nazi communes in Chile through a loose, haunting fairy tale narrative. It’s completely fucked, difficult to fully comprehend, and I think I loved it.”  Currently streaming on Shudder, The Criterion Channel, for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy, or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 24: Cube (1997)

“A high-concept Canuxploitation cheapie with such a clear central gimmick that I’ve been comparing other movies to it for years (Circle, Escape Room, The Platform, etc) without ever actually watching it until now.”  Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) on Kanopy & Hoopla or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 25: Castle Freak (1995)

“For most audiences this would be an inessential novelty, but I’m honestly super embarrassed I’ve never seen this Full Moon-produced Stuart Gordon flick before, especially since Dolls is my personal favorite Gordon (by which I mean I’m more of a Charles Band fan, have pity on me).  Outside its creature scenes the movie is only a C-, but the actual castle freak is an easy A+, and since I watched it after midnight I have no patience to do the math on that grading based on its castle-freak-to-no-castle-freak screentime ratio.”  Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 26: Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)

“A cute e-girl demon runs away from home (Hell) to torment sinners on Earth as a vigilante superhero, and accidentally falls in love along the way. Sleazy yet goofily childish in a way only Charles Band/Full Moon productions can be.”  Currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.

Oct 27: Shadow in the Cloud (2021)

“A total blast.  80 minutes of delicious, delirious pulp, settling halfway between a creature feature and a radio play.  Not for nothing, it’s also the first time I’ve ever been enthusiastically positive on a Chloë Grace Moretz performance.”  Currently streaming on Hulu or for free (with ads) on Kanopy & Hoopla.

Oct 28: Godzilla vs Hedorah (1973)

“Remains my favorite Godzilla film (at least among the relatively small percentage I’ve seen) and generally one of my all-time favs regardless of genre.  Proto-Hausu psychedelia emerging from a fiercely anti-pollution creature feature.  Perfection.”  Currently streaming on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Oct 29: Monster Brawl (2011)

“This might be the absolute worst movie that I wholeheartedly love. That’s because it mimics the structure & rhythms of a wrestling Pay-Per-View instead of a traditional Movie, which requires the audience to adjust their expectations to the payoffs of that format.  Everything I love & loathe about pro wrestling is present here: the over-the-top characters, the exaggerated cartoon violence, the infuriating marginalization of women outside the ring to Bikini Babe status, all of it.  It’s a pure joy to see (generic versions of) the famous monsters that I also love plugged into that template, especially when the announcers underline the absurdity of the scenario with inane statements like “For the first time in professional sports, folks, we’re witnessing the dead rising from their graves to attack Frankenstein.”  Currently streaming for free (with a library membership) or free (with ads) on Hoopla.

Oct 30: Psycho Goreman (2021)

“The movie I desperately wanted to see made when I was ten years old, by which I mean it’s R-rated Power Rangers.  Can’t say that novelty lands as sweetly in my thirties, especially since the Random! humor is so corny & poisonously self-aware.  All of the practical gore is aces, though, and I really hope kids who are technically too young to watch it sneak it past their parents. Tested my patience for cutesy irony, but could birth a lot of lifelong horror nerds so overall a net good.”  Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with a library membership) on Hoopla.

Oct 31: Hack-o-Lantern (1988)

“Bargain bin 80s trash that’s half slasher/half variety show: featuring strip teases, belly dances, hair metal music videos, curbside stand-up routines, and amateur Satanic rituals to help pad out the runtime between its kill-by-numbers plotting. Wonderful programming if you’re looking for something vapid that’s set on Halloween night.”  Currently streaming on Shudder or for free (with ads) on Tubi.

-The Swampflix Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Swamp Trek

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer and Alli discuss all things Star Trek, seeking out new worlds, new life, and new civilizations on the final frontier of iPod broadcasts.

00:00 Hurricane Ida Relief:

Down the Bayou Mutual AidLagniappe KreweHouse of TulipImagine Water Works

02:43 Blow Out (1981)
03:41 NiNoKuni (2020)
05:50 Forest of Piano
06:50 The X-Files

09:53 Star Trek

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

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Movie of the Month: Hello Again (1987)

Britnee: There are many comedies that play around with the morbid humor of characters coming back from the dead. We actually did an episode of The Swampflix Podcast a few months ago where we talked about My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), a great example of a film that makes that gruesome subject light and funny. While they can be hilarious, what My Boyfriend’s Back and similar films do that I’m not a huge fan of is attach their undead humor to traditional zombie lore (bodies starting to rot, hunger for human flesh, etc.). Thankfully, there is a funny movie about someone returning from the dead who is in great health and looks fabulous from start to end: Hello Again (1987). It also happens to be my second Movie of the Month selection that stars Shelley Long, the ultimate 80s funny lady.

Lucy (Shelley Long) is a clumsy housewife who’s married to her college sweetheart, Jason (Corbin Bernsen), a plastic surgeon rising through the ranks of high society in NYC. Lucy is constantly tripping over her own feet, spilling food on her light-colored clothing, and in one of the most memorable scenes, ripping her dress in two by stepping on the hem. She most certainly does not fit in with the snobby groups her husband rubs shoulders with. While visiting her occultist sister Zelda (Judith Ivey), Lucy chokes on a piece of a South Korean chicken ball and dies. Thankfully, Zelda comes across an ancient book in her shop in which she finds a spell that could bring Lucy back from the dead. In order for the spell to work, there are three things that need to happen approximately one year after death: (1) the deceased must have died before their time; (2) the person performing the spell has to have pure love for the deceased; (3) the Earth, the moon, and the dog star must be aligned in a perfect isosceles triangle. Zelda makes it happen, and Lucy returns from the grave. She then tries her best to navigate through life (again) while developing a romantic relationship with the ER doctor who witnessed her death (Gabriel Byrne).

There’s not much explanation of how the magic works post-resurrection, except that Lucy needs to find true love before the next full moon. Nothing is mentioned on how long her new life will last, if she will continue to age, etc. I love that the film doesn’t spend a ton of time getting lost in some bizarre, made up lore. Instead, we get to watch Lucy be an undead klutz with the most incredible fashion sense, and it’s wonderful.

Brandon, what are your thoughts on how Hello Again handles the subject of coming back from the dead? Was it boring or creative?

Brandon: I didn’t find the way it handles Lucy’s resurrection boring or creative, really. That’s because I’m not sure the film handles that subject at all.  Lucy could’ve just as easily been deep-frozen, or lost in the woods, or simply comatose for a year and it wouldn’t have had that much effect on the film’s tone or plot. Hello Again is less about her being undead than it is about her being unflappable, sidestepping all of the possible morbidity of its zom-com premise in favor of A Modern Woman Making Her Own Way feel-goodery.  And it’s cute as heck.  We already have plenty gory screwball comedies about the decaying bodies of the living dead — from Death Becomes Her to Dead Man on Campus to Idle Hands to the aforementioned My Boyfriend’s Back.  This particular zom-com feels way more fixated on how much your life & social standing would change if you unexpectedly disappeared for a year than it does on the practical, grisly details of its supernatural conflict, and that’s fine.  If anything, the last 18 months of global social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that thought experiment more relevant and relatable.  Watching Lucy emerge from the grave to feel out her place in a world that has moved on without her is eerily reminiscent of what it currently feels like to leave my house to see friends & family for the first time since the pandemic started. It’s a little awkward, a little absurd, surprisingly sad, but ultimately good for our souls.

If there’s anything I wished Hello Again would’ve pushed a little harder, it wouldn’t be the flesh-decaying zombie angle, but rather the Mr. Bean style physical humor Shelley Long gets to indulge in as a hopeless klutz.  She’s incredibly loveable (and funny!) as a clumsy goofball who can barely keep herself together among the big-city sophisticates she refers to as “jazzy people.”  I guess my ideal version of the film would be a Mr. Bean-meets-Groundhog Day premise where Lucy repeatedly dies in pathetically silly ways (steps on a rake, drowns in a birdbath, gets crushed by a falling piano, etc) only to get resurrected for yet another chance at self-actualization/true love until she gets it right.  Instead, the movie brushes both its supernatural & slapstick shenanigans aside for some heartfelt melodrama about Lucy re-establishing her place in the world (with a brief flirtation with tabloid fame along the way).  It’s cute, but not nearly as funny as watching her split her dress open at a fancy party to expose her underwear to all the major financial donors at her husband’s hospital so they can drop their monocles and exclaim “Well, I never!”  The only other major Shelley Long star vehicle I can recall seeing is Troop Beverly Hills, and it’s only Lucy’s unfashionable clumsiness that really distinguishes those two performances for me (as adorable as they both are), so I would’ve loved to see it exaggerated to greater effect.

Hanna, what do you think Shelley Long brings to the table as the central performer here?  Hello Again asks a lot of her as its star.  She has to convey sincere romance with a dead-serious Gabriel Byrne as a rival doctor at her husband’s hospital; she has to comically outshine a wide range of the exact quirky side-character archetypes that she usually plays herself (especially Judith Ivey as her sister Zelda); she has to pose both as a dowdy housewife and a burgeoning fashionista.  Does she somehow pull it all off?  

Hanna: I’m not super familiar with Shelley Long (apart from her role in The Money Pit, which I love), but I was super impressed by her tireless commitment to the various zany demands of Hello Again. Her adaptability in whatever situation she’s thrown into is key to her character and the success of this movie; it seems obvious that one of Long’s strengths as a performer in general is being totally game for anything (including making a fool of herself), and that quality carries over to Lucy’s indomitable spirit in the face of heartbreak, fame, and the occult nonsense that brought her back to life. It helps that Long is eminently likeable! She’s especially charming when she’s living my nightmare of exposing her big white panties to a slew of hot-shot doctors at a dinner party, but I was just as happy to see her strut around her sister’s bookstore in an absurdly fabulous dress after her Big Makeover.

Even though Long obviously did a great job, I’m not sure if all of the threads of Hello Again came together in a satisfying way. Like Brandon said, there’s a lot going on: Lucy’s story is picked up by the global news and becomes a viral celebrity, forcing her to dodge paparazzi at the hospital; Jason (Corbin Bernsen) shacked up with Lucy’s opportunistic best friend, Kim (Sela Ward) in Lucy’s absence, then tries to win Lucy back once she becomes famous; and of course there’s the love subplot with the dreamy ER doctor Gabriel Byrne, which includes a Beauty and the Beast-ish threat of Lucy being sent back to the grave if she fails to find true love before the next full moon. There are a few more tiny subplots, but for the most part they were a little underdeveloped, and sometimes forgotten. This is especially true of Lucy’s love curse, which is briefly mentioned to add some stakes to her living situation but largely goes unaddressed without consequence. I really loved the characters in Hello Again and I was entertained by each scene individually, but I never felt like I had a firm grasp on the overall direction of the story. But! That’s okay – it was an absolute delight anyway.

Boomer, do you think Hello Again could have used a little more development, or was it perfect as an erratic late-80s comedy? Is there an element of Lucy’s life after death that you wish had been explored further?

Boomer: There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and one of the topics of discussion that we have danced around is Long’s big performance near the end in which she is supposedly possessed by the spirit of Kim’s latest (dead) husband. It’s a true delight in which she shows off her talent for funny voices and physical comedy that’s very large but refrains from going too broad. In a movie that is, in many ways, largely unfocused, it serves as a capstone on the various small bits of physical comedy scattered throughout. That’s kind of the film’s bread-and-butter, though, as it moves from a small, heartfelt reunion, to scenes of Lucy speaking with her former boss about how, despite being irreplaceable, she was replaced within two weeks of her death, to her realization that her understated suburban housewife style has become all the rage in Los Angeles, for dubiously believable pop psychology reasons. It’s fair to say that by the time they’re having a full-on Oh God! style press conference, things have gotten pretty muddled. 

I did think that the brevity of the time between Lucy’s death and resurrection was a bit of a misstep. This is a bit of a strange reference point for a film in this genre, but I kept thinking about Flight of the Navigator, and how that film’s eight year jump forward allowed for the passage of enough time for significant changes to occur and thus return that film’s protagonist to a world that was sufficiently different and alienating. It might have been weird, narratively, for Zelda to still be clinging to the idea of bringing back her sister after so long a period of time, but while it’s not inconceivable that a year might be enough time for, say, a playground to be converted into a fairly-far-along construction site, it does seem like far too little time for various other events to have occurred. The one that seemed the most unbelievable to me was that her son, who was presumably 17 or 18 at the beginning of the film given that he was still deciding whether or not to go to college, had compressed what, in the real world, would be at least six years of professional development into a mere twelve months. A longer time before resurrection would also go some distance toward making Kim and Jason a little more well-rounded and multi-dimensional, as opposed to their largely static roles in the film as it exists now. In the film, the Jason moves on so quickly that it would probably raise a few eyebrows, and instead of having Kim simply hop into bed (and matrimony) with Jason, she could have had a scene with Lucy in which she talked about having a hard time finding her footing and eventually falling for Jason because the two spent so much time together after Lucy’s passing. I could definitely see both her and Jason played more sympathetically, with both of them as flawed individuals who brought out the worst in each other as her lust for wealth cross-pollinated with Jason’s ambitions to create an LA power, and powerfully misguided, couple. 

Lagniappe

Brandon: Even if it can be narratively frustrating, there is something charming about how disinterested Hello Again is in its own plot vs. how in love it is with its collection of quirky characters.  One of the funniest line deliveries in the entire film is when Zelda crashes a stuffy society party and introduces herself to the shocked sophisticates, “My name’s Zelda! I have a story for you. Hey, don’t worry. I’m just Lucy’s eccentric sister.”  I love how blatant the film’s priorities are in that exchange. 

Boomer: I literally said “Oh my god, Sela, you look amazing” the moment she appeared on screen. I also love Judith Ivey. If you’re able to track it down, I’d recommend giving her audiobook version of the Stephen King short story “Luckey Quarter” (sic) a try; it’s very charming. 

Upcoming Movies of the Month
October: 
Hanna presents Lisa and the Devil (1973)
November: 
Brandon presents Planet of the Vampires (1965)

-The Swampflix Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: The Queen of Versailles (2012)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss Lauren Greenfield’s 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, a darkly funny portrait of a dysfunctional family’s attempt to construct the most extravagant single-family home in the United States.

00:00 Welcome

01:50 Things Heard and Seen (2021)
09:00 Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2021)
13:13 The Wailing (2016)
14:14 It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
16:20 Annette (2021)
21:19 The Astrologer (1976)

26:00 The Queen of Versailles (2012)

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

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Loves of a Blonde (1965)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, BoomerBrandon, and Alli discuss breakout Czech New Wave director Miloš Forman’s classic romantic dramedy Loves of a Blonde (1965).

00:00 Welcome

02:30 Possessor (2021)
03:30 Millennium Actress (2001)
05:45 The Green Knight (2021)
11:22 Greener Grass (2019)
14:40 A Classic Horror Story (2021)
18:20 The Suicide Squad (2021)
28:08 Sound of Violence (2021)
31:10 In the Earth (2021)

34:30 Loves of a Blonde (1965)

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

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew