Friday, November 3, 2023

Notes on Film: Five Nights at Get Off My Lawn

 by Anthony King

Let us have this one.

I haven't been up close and personal with an asshole that doesn't smell like roses. Likewise, not every opinion I have is the most agreeable. There's a much more succinct way of saying that, but you catch my drift. The latest hit horror movie is bringing out the freshest-smelling takes. More on that later, but first, a recap of my Scary Movie Month.

October 2023 was not the best in the King house. Nevertheless, I was able to watch lots of good stuff. On top of previously-written-about gems like The Last House on the Left (2009), Deadgirl (2008), and The Desperate Hours (1955), I re-watched seasonal favorites like House on Haunted Hill (1959, Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I finally caught up with modern cult classics Death Becomes Her (1992) and Sleepy Hollow (1999). But most of my time was spent watching older movies that gave off the perfect SMM vibe.
Early in the month I revisited Robert Florey's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). I watched Murders for the first time last year and didn't give it a fair shake. This time around I found so much more to love about it. First and foremost, I think this is Bela Lugosi's finest performance. Many times Lugosi is deep within the world of “camp.” Here, though, he seems so committed to and convincing as our mad scientist who is obsessed with proving a likeness between apes and humans. The ending of the ape running across rooftops is some of the most stunningly beautiful artistry ever committed to film. The best part of Murders, though, is Paul (Bert Roach), our romantic lead's roommate. I'm sorry – gay roommate. I seriously doubt Paul is gay, but Roach seems to be having too much fun trying to play him as gay, it was a riot to watch.
I finally hit play on the 1945 anthology Dead of Night from directors Charles Chricton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, and Alberto Cavalcanti. Like most anthologies, not every segment is a winner, but I absolutely loved the wrap-around story of a group of people mysteriously being summoned to a spooky house, one of them a man who claims to be stuck in a recurring nightmare. Each segment is born from stories each of the strangers tell as they're gathered in the parlor of this house. Memorable segments include one about a young woman playing hide-and-seek during a Christmas party in a large house, only to find out one of the boys she finds is actually a ghost. Another is about a man who receives a mirror as a gift and sees a different room every time he looks into it. But the segment most recognizable concerns a therapist interviewing a patient who tells the story about a ventriloquist doll that may or may not be alive (the original “Night of the Living Dummy”). All in all, Dead of Night is a successful horror anthology, perfect for a stormy night.
On an evening I couldn't decide what to watch I started flipping through my watchlist on Shudder and came across And Soon the Darkness (1970) from director Robert Fuest (the Dr. Phibes movies). And Soon the Darkness is about two young women cycling across the French countryside when, after an argument, they part ways and one goes missing. The other begins a futile and exasperating search for her friend and finds herself among peculiar people. This is one of the most frustrating movies I've ever seen. Don't get me wrong – it's good. Other than our lead actress, every other character is very unlikable. The situation this woman finds herself in is at once terrifying and infuriating. Pamela Franklin plays the young woman searching for her friend, and she's fantastic in this role. Her eyes show sadness and terror and defeat. She's adorable and I just wanted to jump off the couch, reach into the tv and pull her out and tell her she can just live safely with us. Like a giallo, nearly every other actor plays a red herring. On top of that, with this taking place in France, most everyone speaks French, but because we're in the perspective of an English woman, we don't get the advantage of subtitles. While all this adds up to an extremely frustrating viewing experience, it's all very intentional and adds to the atmosphere.
Now onto the topic at hand. Consider me part of the small camp of adult movie-watchers who enjoyed Blumhouse's latest record-breaker, Five Nights at Freddy's (2023). We – my boys in particular – had been counting down to this day for years at this point. The game (and all its iterations) Five Nights at Freddy's has been a mainstay on devices and consoles in the King house for a while. I've tried to play and I still don't get it. But my boys love it and they get scared when they play, so that's all that matters. We've read the books, watched countless YouTube videos, listened to the unofficial more times that I'd like to admit. We were all excited last Friday to sit down as a family and FINALLY watch Emma Tammi's Five Nights at Freddy's. It's not a great movie. There are obvious problems with a meandering story. Josh Hutcherson is one of my least favorite actors. BUT, I had a great time with it and, more importantly, so did my boys.
One of my least favorite things in the world is having to know a bunch of stuff to fully enjoy watching something. I won't even mention the franchises to which I'm alluding because you know exactly what I'm talking about. That was my main concern coming into a movie with such an expansive world. Luckily though, under Tammi's expertise, the movie was a wonderful introduction to the world of FNAF. Mary Stuart Masterson as the greedy aunt (a la Disney villain) gives a performance firmly planted in the land of “camp” (joining Lugosi). Hutcherson does what he always does. Young Piper Rubio is fabulous as Hutcherson's young sister who develops a connection to the animatronics. And Matthew Lillard, a deserving figure among the Knights of the Modern Horror Table, is giving Anthony Perkins. The main complaints I've seen revolve around the extraneous plot surrounding the actual draw of this world – killer animatronics. I've seen tweets saying something like, “It's ok to demand better from horror meant for a younger audience.” And I agree with that. I agree that the story that dominates half the movie seems unnecessary at times. It seems people came in expecting a movie just about a security guard trying to survive five nights in a place with killer giant stuffed animals. We've gotten that movie, and it's called Willy's Wonderland (2021), a movie I haven't seen. I think the FNAF movie we got is exactly what FNAF fans expected.

Having read several of creator Scott Cawthon's books (to my kids), I've known he's not the greatest writer. While the animatronics are the draw to this thing he's created, Cawthon seems very interested in building a bigger world than just a scary, rundown Showbiz Pizza. While he's not a great writer, he's the one that created this massively popular world and he can do whatever the hell he wants with it. In less capable hands than Ms. Tammi's, this movie certainly could have been a giant disaster. Instead, Tammi was able to take this introductory story to a far-reaching world and contain it within boundaries horror hounds want while also traveling outside those lines to Cawthon's world. I hope we get at least a couple more FNAF movies with Tammi behind the camera. The movie smashed box office records by becoming the biggest Blumhouse global opening of all time; it was the biggest opening for a horror film directed by a woman; and it's Peacock's most-watched film or series ever in its first five days streaming. Can you say blank check?
Yes, we can demand more from gateway horror. Yes, we can ask for better writing. Yes, we can ask for better performances. But Five Nights at Freddy's delivered exactly what so many people (including me) wanted, and I for one am still celebrating that a week later. So here I am, a grumpy old man shouting at the horror nerds to get off my lawn.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't seen FNaF yet, but I'm always excited when a Finnish (or even Finnish-adjacent) filmmaker gets something done in Hollywood. Emma Tammi's father is Finnish and moved to America as a child. I saw Emma in Helsinki at the Night Visions festival in 2018 when her debut The Wind (a solid horror-western) was shown there, and she was delightful. I'm glad FNaF has done well, rooting for her to make it big.