Friday, October 28, 2022

Notes on Film: BARBARIAN is Good, But Relax

 by Anthony King

It is finished... Almost.

We still have a full weekend of SMM ahead of us, and, Satan willing, I'll make it through. But friends, I'm ready for this month to be over so we can dive headlong into Noirvember/Sadvember. October seems to have been so busy for me. It's 2:39pm on Thursday and this column comes out in less than 24 hours. My brain isn't fully functioning, and I'm running on fumes. Nevertheless, SMM rages on, and I'm raging as hard as I can.

This past week was full of spooky delights. Once again, I turned to my Hammer Films Ultimate Collection and put on Terence Fisher's The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958). A direct sequel to Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Peter Cushing returns as the good doctor himself in hiding with the assumed name of Dr. Victor Stein. He's set up shop in a neighboring town and runs a clinic which is stealing the town's other doctor's clients. Naturally, Vic can't help himself and goes back to playing God, creating his own man. Compared to Universal's near-abysmal and innumerable sequels to Frankenstein (1931), Revenge is a masterpiece. Production values were obviously a higher priority at Hammer for this film, and it shows. The story is captivating, performances from Cushing, Francis Matthews, and Michael Gwynn are top-notch and memorable, and Fisher's hand is all over this film, from its gothic atmosphere to the stunning visual storytelling. I'll take this over Son, Ghost, House, and even Bride from Universal.

The main event this past week was a return to my director series, this time with a quad of Wes Craven I'd never seen. First up was Patrick's beloved Bill Pullman in The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). Pullman does a fine job, but I couldn't help thinking I'd rather be watching the superior Haitian zombie film I Walked With a Zombie (1943). What I loved most is that this showed Craven wasn't just married to the tropes of a slasher movie. While not successful all the time in Serpent, Craven was able to stretch his chops a little more. Next came the highlight of the mini Craven in Deadly Blessing (1981). Squeezed between a made-for-TV feature and a comic book adaptation, Deadly Blessing is Craven showing us he's able to take a typical slasher storyline but mix it up with crazy, religious zealots and Ernest Borgnine. This film features Craven's first attempt at his famous bathtub scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street where Freddy's glove comes out of the water between Nancy's legs. Here we get a very similar shot, but instead of knife fingers it's a giant snake. This is also one of Sharon Stone's first movies. Unfortunately, it's a little long in the tooth, so by the time the killer is revealed I was nearly checked out.
Film three in the mini Craven was his made-for-TV feature released a couple years before Deadly Blessing. Stranger in Our House, aka Summer of Fear (1978), stars Linda Blair as a cousin to Lee Purcell whose parents were killed in a car wreck. Purcell moves in with Blair and her family and things start to fall apart. People get sick, clothes don't fit, cars malfunction, dads are turned on by their nieces. With commercial breaks built in, this plays as if we were watching it on NBC in 1978. If you watched I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and thought it wasn't gritty enough, Stranger in Our House is the Lois Duncan adaptation for you. I wrapped things up with another Craven TVM, Invitation to Hell, starring Robert Urich, Joanna Cassidy, and Erica Kane herself, Susan Lucci. Urich is hired as a product developer at a tech company in Silicon Valley and realizes he's moved his family into The Stepford Wives- (1975) / Society- (1989) -type of community. I love Bob Urich – especially as a baddie in Magnum Force (1973) and lovable hero in The Ice Pirates (1984), but folks, this is a real stinker. The film opens with a guffaw-able moment where Kane – er, Lucci – is hit by a car, levitates back to her feet, and shoots lasers through the back window to kill the driver. Had the movie at least contained several more moments like that I would've counted my 96 minutes well spent. Unfortunately, it became dull and forgettable very quickly. I can't recommend this unless you're a completist.
I finally watched Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Germany's version of Lon Chaney, the remarkable Conrad Veidt. More than anything, I loved the fact that Veidt's Gwynplaine was the inspiration for the look of the Joker in DC Comics. After finally seeing this I can safely say this is not a horror movie. Gwynplaine's appearance, and how he received that menacing, ear-to-ear smile, is horrifying, but this is a beautifully touching drama. Genre aside, I highly recommend people watch this. And shoutout to our own Rosalie Lewis for putting this film on my radar. Matt Sobel's same name remake to the 2014 Austrian film Goodnight Mommy was, while slick-looking, a complete waste of time. Having not seen the original film for several years, the ending resulted in the same aggressive eye roll one gave when watching Alexandre Aja's High Tension. At least with Aja's film you don't feel like you'd been robbed of your time. Bobbie and the boys and I sat down that night to watch Anne Fletcher's long-in-the-making sequel Hocus Pocus 2. While the first film holds a special place in my heart, I don't view sequels or remakes as something that “ruins” the original. Seeing the reunion of Bette, SJP, and Najimy was a real feast, and Taylor Henderson as young Winifred was something special to see. But overall, HP2 is a real turd; “not for me,” as they say. It's a far-too-late cash grab that comes off as nothing more than embarrassing. My wife and kids loved it, though, so that's all that matters. I guess.
Since it's all the rage, and now that it's on HBO Max, I suppose I have a few words about Zach Cregger's Barbarian. Let me start by saying, everyone calm down. Is it good? Of course! Is it one of the best horrors of the year? Probably not. I liked it. We get a good scare, then we get a good show. I won't say much, as to avoid spoiling anything. I will say, though, Cregger's direction is spectacular. More than what happens in the movie, I was most impressed by Cregger's vision. When the movie switches aspect ratios (I'm saying when or why) the first shot is a tracking shot that follows someone into their car. Without cutting, the camera goes right into the backseat. It was as if one steadicam operator handed the camera off to the other in the backseat. But I nearly lost my mind when that happened. The movie is fun and definitely worth your 102 minutes.
Finally, I watched eight short films this week. Five were films I'd yet to watch in the Criterion Channel's Horror Shorts collection. Swallowed (2016, 17 min.) starring/written/directed by Lily Baldwin is a manic and haunting interpretative dance piece; Sean McCoy's The Beaning (2017, 9 min.) is a documentary exploring the 1920 death of shortstop Ray Chapman and how the Yankees owners may have made a deal with the devil; Hair Wolf (2018, 12 min.) is a horror-comedy about white people appropriating Black culture; The Devil's Harmony (2019, 14 min.) is a better version of Glee with revenge; Jonathan Glazer's The Fall (2019, 7 min.) is the most Jonathan Glazer Jonathan Glazered. Fulci is the final director mini for the month.

Stay spooky and let's finish SMM strong!


  1. I feel like championing Barbarian for a few reasons. It's so rare that we get an original movie that should be seen with a crowd these days. The movie had me and my girlfriend in ghoulish stitches and our jaws dropped more than a few times. We left the cinema with such a buzz. It's flawed - it has too many red herrings and set-ups that go nowhere. But it seems to me worth celebrating that a movie this entertaining, bonkers and singular got made and is getting the buzz that it is. I do think it is one of the year's best horror movies because it was definitely the best cinema screening I've been to this year and because it played me like a fiddle.

    Really enjoying these rundowns of what you've been watching, including the non-horror stuff to give my mind a break from all things spooky. Thanks for all the effort!

    1. Thanks for reading, Marcus! As much as I liked BARBARIAN, you’re right, I probably would’ve had an even stronger reaction to seeing it in a cinema.

    2. Couple of quick questions.

      1.) Have you seen Bertrand Bonello's Zombi Child? If you haven't and you're interested in seeing a bit more of a "serious" take on a Haitian zombie film I'd give it a watch sometime.

      2.) You say Barbarian isn't in the top horror films of the year for you so I'm curious what are your favorite horror films from this year?