Sunday, May 26, 2024

FM+: A Hodge-Podge of Horror, Part 1

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This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Content Warning: This article discusses films/television series that include violent death, gore, grief, and one mention of self-murder.

I’m still fairly new to the realm of horror, at least knowingly. I grew up watching monster movies with my dad, but I didn’t actually think of them as ‘horror’ movies. I thought horror as a genre was about violence against women and jump scares and grossing people out (none of which are really my thing), and yes, it can be that. But my girlfriend kept telling me she thought I would like horror, and the more she talked about what she liked about horror, the more I realized there were aspects to horror I might enjoy too.

Thus began my horror journey.

It’s…not a linear one. I started by watching social commentary horror like The Platform and family trauma hauntings like Hereditary and the Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House. We watched Midsomar (SO GOOD), Midnight Mass (OMFG LOVE IT), and have been watching our way through Bong Joon-Ho’s films, all of which are fan-fucking-tasting. Parasite? Genius. Snowpiercer? Excellent. The Host?? Loved it. I even found a zombie movie I liked – Train to Busan – though I’m still not the biggest zombie film fan.

Now that I have a sense of what I like and don’t like, I’ve been venturing out on my own rather than saving horror movies for date night (though we still do plenty of horror movie date nights, which you’ll see later). This spooky season, I’ve been jumping around a bunch and thought I’d share my thoughts with you on…whatever this list of random horror movies/shows I’ve been is. No connection between any of these, literally just vibes! Enjoy!

Umma – Hauntings and Jump Scares

I wanted to love this. On paper, it’s everything I want in a horror movie: generational trauma, parenting trauma, symbolic representations of grief, supernatural elements that may or may not be real. I went in expecting it to be like Hereditary, more of a psychological thriller about the ways that families can be fucked up and hurt each other. And it is about family and intergenerational trauma, with the ghostly hauntings being symbolic of both grief and trauma, but it’s more about jump scares than psychological tension. It’s clichéd when it should be creative.

It’s a huge missed opportunity, imo, especially because the film centers a Korean immigrant named Amanda (played by Sandra Oh), a single mother, and her daughter Chrissy. The film begins when her mother’s remains are brought to her from Korea and Amanda is tasked with providing her abusive mother with proper burial. Seriously, WHY IS THIS NOT BETTER. I desperately want this to be my kind of horror movie, but it just…isn’t.

If someone made a version of this where it was actually about the terror of maybe being possessed by your dead mother, the creeping dread of your behavior aligning more and more with hers but not being sure if its your trauma, if somehow this is who you really are, or if there is something supernatural at work. If it were about both Amanda and Chrissy exploring how grief and trauma and trying to grow beyond both can cause damage and warp us, how we can become like the ones who hurt us when we refuse to look at our own pain. Especially as those things intersect with being an immigrant from Korea and a single mother whose trauma has dramatically hindered her ability to live in the modern world. GOD that would be a good movie. Someone make that movie.

The Invitation – Vampires and Sexiness (and Subversion)

Yes, I know, all vampire movies are actually about sexiness, especially when they’re about Dracula. Although nothing can hold a candle to the sheer horniness of the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this Dracula adaptation did admirably well in that department. The main characters are all attractive, they’re horny for each other (with some subtext queerness), and sensuality is front and center.

I don’t want to give away too much about this modern retelling of the classic horror novel Dracula, because part of the fun is seeing what this story does with the source material that’s different from other, more direct adaptations. I just so happen to be reading Dracula for a book club, so the source material is fresh in my memory. Honestly, I like this version a lot better. It’s not saying much because I’m not a Dracula stan, but it is something!

Centering a Black woman as the protagonist adds much needed inclusivity and neatly turns one of the primary themes of the original on it’s head. Underscoring the novel Dracula is a fundamental fear of female sexuality, with a hefto dose of xenophobia. Foreign men, of course, being the ‘pathogen’ for the ‘corruption’ of Good British Women into ‘slutty’ ladies who might possibly want to kiss their boyfriend/husband (*all the Victorian English folk collectively gasp and clutch their pearls*). By centering a Black woman and making Dracula a very white, very British man, The Invitation subverts both the misogyny and bigotry of the original Dracula.

I won’t tell you exactly how it ends, but I will say, it feels good to watch a woman of color destroy a bunch of terrible rich white people.

Fear Street Trilogy – Queer Feelings and Gore

One of my very good queer friends who loves horror recommended these to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect going on – slashers haven’t really been on my radar. BUT! These were absolutely delightful. If you can call any series of films that has a teenage girl getting her head put through a bread slicer delightful. If you can’t stand gore, I’d give these films a pass because they are quite gruesome. But, if you’re okay with gore or are fine looking away if you need to, I cannot recommend these enough. If you think you don’t like average slasher movies because the violence against women is so often the point…these are not your average slasher films.

First of all, the protagonist is unabashedly queer (and not white!) and the entire trilogy is about her trying to save her girlfriend from a curse. Second of all, the point of the story is that violence against women is very bad. Third, there’s some truly well done and thoughtful social commentary on class privilege and capitalism. I didn’t even NEED that in these movies to enjoy them. They just gave me the anti-capitalist, anti-classist themes as a treat.

The vibes are Top Notch, too. If you liked the nostalgia of Stranger Things but are looking for something less about children who play Dungeons and Dragons, Fear Street is up your alley. They’re cashing in on the same millennial nostalgia for the era of their childhood, especially in the first movie (you’ll even recognize some Stranger Things actors). Which makes sense, because the trilogy is related to the R. L. Stine Fear Street books from the 90s. I would not have guessed that the pulpy horror books of my youth would be turned into a trilogy of surprisingly moving, intersectional, anti-capitalist, queer slasher films, but here we are.

Alex, thank you for recommending these to me, I loved them.

Requiem – Twisty Psychology and Cults

This. This right here. THIS is my shit. I will try to tell you just how much my shit this British supernatural thriller is, but just know that I cannot adequately capture in words just how GOOD this series is. I binged it in a weekend (it’s only 6 episodes, but sometimes thrillers take time to digest) because I just could. not. stop. watching.

Everything I wanted Umma to be but wasn’t? Requiem was. it’s a gaslighting supernatural thriller that makes you wonder what’s real and what isn’t while the protagonist is doing the same. It begins with Maltida Gray, a virtuoso cellist, witnessing her mother’s self-murder. This event spirals her into a quest to understand her mother’s relationship to a little girl who went missing in Wales decades earlier as well as her own past. It’s twisty! It’s tense! It’s deeply disturbing at points! Also there’s a cult.

This series is best experience with as little knowledge of the events as possible – I knew literally nothing – so I won’t spoil anything more. Needless to say, it’s got some good shit about grief and generational trauma and fear of becoming something dangerous to those around you or maybe losing your mind/sense of reality in the quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance. The characters are fully realized and complex, the pacing is phenomenal, and it’s definitely a good one to watch in the dark for extra tension.

Definitely my favorite on this list, and I’m currently on the hunt for more shows/films like this, so if you have recs, send them my way!

Srigala – Campiness and (some light) Murder

And we end this article where we began, with my girlfriend and I having a horror movie date night. A local artsy theater here in Chicago, the Music Box Theater, is doing an entire month of horror films called Bride of Music Box of Horrors, and we went to a late night showing of Srigala on Friday, October 13th. I mention the date specifically because Srigala is an Indonesian knock off of Friday the 13th from 1981 that’s just as campy and bonkers as you can imagine.

Its…not a great movie, but I don’t think the filmmaker was trying to make a great movie. It’s utterly ridiculous in that vintage B-movie slasher kind of way that ends up being fun and silly rather than either totally gruesome or embarrassing to watch. There’s a 10 minute boat chase sequence that advances nothing in the plot! Two of the girls have a martial arts fight in the middle! The sound balancing so off that every tiny breath was as loud as the soundtrack! There are lake zombies…for reasons! “Srigala” means “wolf”, which explains why there are wolves howling throughout the movie, but the wolves themselves serve no plot purpose! Why is this film titled “Wolf”? Who knows? Who cares? Oh look that speedboat hit a rock and blew up.

Srigala is honestly ridiculously fun to watch, and if you enjoy schlocky vintage slashers, grab some friends and make a night of it. I have zero regrets.

Part of what made the whole experience was being in a theater with a bunch of other horror fans laughing, talking, and commenting throughout. It wasn’t the hushed, hallowed experience that modern moviegoing can be, and it took seeing Srigala from being “fun” to “throughly enjoyable”. I honestly wish more moviegoing was like this! We actually had such a great time that next week, we’re going to see an even later night screening of The Jar, a cult film that is usually only available on VHS. I can’t wait!

Images Courtesy of Netflix and Rapi Films

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