Welcome to another monthly installment of More Horror In The Monitor, where we take a look back at all the horror (and horror adjacent) films and shows we took in from the previous month. This month we look at two series and a handful of films, including a re-watch of a 1992 classic.
The Outsider (2018 – HBO Max)
I’ll freely admit in this space that, with the exception of purchasing Showtime a few years back to watch the third season of Twin Peaks, I am loathe to spend extra money with my cable provider to get premium channels. (Note: I actually just cancelled all cable in favor of YouTube TV. So far, so good.) While I know I’ve been missing out on some seriously well-produced series, the addition of HBO Max to our growing Roku list has alleviated some of that. The very first thing I dug into was The Outsider, the highly-acclaimed series based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. The Outsider is one of King’s more ambitious works from his recent bibliography, and the series stayed fairly true to the source material. Part supernatural thriller, part murder mystery, this is the type of show that will appeal to viewers who only like to dabble in horror as opposed to wading in it knee deep. Yet this series should keep the attention of even the most persnickety fans of the genre. Seeing it played out on the small screen reminded how much this story could have easily been ripped from the scripts of some of the best X-Files episodes. (In other words, most of the creepy one-offs that had nothing to do with mass government conspiracies.) Because I’m one of those aforementioned persnickety horror fans I did have some minor quibbles with this show, in particular some of the casting and weaker acting performances, however overall it was a highly enjoyable experience and well worth the wait.
Rating (Out of 10): 8
Katla (2021 – Netflix)
There’s a running joke amongst the teenagers in my household that their mother and I are such TV snobs that we exclusively watch foreign-language murder mysteries. Honestly, where there’s smoke there’s fire. It’s true the wife and I have devoured pretty much every murder mystery Netflix has thrown us from various parts of the globe (predominantly Europe). At least I can say we are hardly elitists when it comes to foreign-language television in general. In fact, often times, the weirder the better. One of Netflix’s newest additions to their cavalcade of European-produced series is the Icelandic drama Katla. I hemmed and hawed on whether to include this series in this post simply because it’s not horror per se. However I ultimately landed on its inclusion because there are enough supernatural and horror elements that fans of the genre will most likely be as captivated as I was. The series centers around the active Katla volcano in Iceland, and particularly a tiny village in its shadow that has been almost completely abandoned due to the constant threat of ash storms, poor air quality, and the occasional menacing Earth-cracking eruptions. When a woman who was presumed dead the year prior emerges seemingly out of thin air, naked and covered in mud and ash, the story begins to devolve into this dystopian mystery. This is the type of slow-burn thriller that I’m convinced only Europe can produce with any kind of consistency. There will absolutely be points where you will wonder why a certain conversation is important, or why a particular character would make such foolish choices, only for it to coalesce into something wholly engulfing. It’s also arguably one of the most beautiful things Netflix has produced from a pure cinematography standpoint. The landscape is this stark juxtaposition of an ash-strewn village lying among these gorgeous arctic landscapes. Saturated in dark tones, Katla becomes an immersive experience after only an episode or two, and the distraught nature of it all combined with the mystery woven into it really help to take the story itself to the next level. The trailer had me intrigued, but I could have never guessed that I would have liked it as much as I did.
Unsane (2018 – Netflix DVD)
Right before I popped this one in I wondered to myself why it had taken me so long to see this film. I love Claire Foy, especially after her turn as Anne Boleyn in the PBS series Wolf Hall. (Seriously, forget The Crown for a minute, Wolf Hall is her best work to date.) Soon after it began though I remembered why I had eschewed it at first. This, my friends, was the ultimate in vanity projects. In this case Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s vanity project. There are very few directors that I would run to a theater for just by having their name attached to a project. Soderbergh is not one of those directors. If I’m relatively uninterested in his work when he has all of Hollywood’s bells and whistles at his disposal, imagine how I felt after watching a 98 minute film shot solely on an iPhone 7. Let’s forget for a moment that Soderbergh decided to sell his soul to Apple for a glorified, feature-length commercial. Even if this film didn’t look like utter crap, I’d still rate it poorly for a whole host of reasons. The story is tired, re-hashed drivel with a script that may have skipped over any type of editing at all. The acting, outside of Foy, is so bad I’ve literally seen better on various high school stages. Finally the cinematography is exactly what you’d expect from someone trying to shoot a film on a phone that takes place in a dark asylum. I recently had the pleasure of attending the premiere of 13 student films that were done as a sort of work-study program at a local art gallery/theater here in Hartford. It would be downright insulting to those kids to say this thing came off like a bad student film, because even the worst of those 13 shorts may have had more merit than this. I have no idea why this film garnered the praise it did, outside of the performance from Foy who managed to single-handedly save this thing from earning one of the worst ratings we’ve ever handed out.
The Silent House/La Casa Muda (2010 – Netflix DVD)
I can’t say why it took me so long to finally sit down with this Uruguayan cult classic. Chalk it up to life getting in the way of living I suppose (or maybe I should just admit to myself I can’t see every horror movie ever made…nah). Some of you who read this column may be familiar with the 2011 American remake. If so, I’ll just state for you here one of my cardinal rules of film watching: No Unnecessary Remakes, Especially American Ones. This Spanish-language haunted house story was supposedly based on true events that took place in the 1940s, although a quick jaunt through the interwebs will tell you that there is little to no evidence to back that up. That little bit of Blair Witch/slight-of-hand marketing doesn’t detract from the film though. True story or not, La Casa Muda is a classic haunted house thriller done in a first-person perspective as we follow the lead antagonist and her flashlight around the premises. (Filmed to feel like it was in real-time, the film also boasts the distinction of being one, continuous 83-minute shot.) While some of the jump scares and off-screen shenanigans are entirely predictable there are still enough bizarre twists to keep it interesting. If you are someone who can push past the shaky handycam-type footage, and are looking for a movie you don’t have to think too hard about to enjoy then this is the perfect Friday night Netflix and chiller.
She Dies Tomorrow (2020 – Hulu)
This was one I threw into the queue on a whim, and I really had no idea what to expect. Right from the jump I was intrigued and only grew more engaged with the film as it progressed. The easiest way to explain She Dies Tomorrow is to say that it spends its entire run posing the question, ‘What if existential dread was contagious?’. The film follows a woman who is convinced that she’s going to die the next day, hence the title. While that alone could possibly make for a trippy indie film, the way writer/director Amy Seimetz takes this idea and contorts it into a psychological horror film is nothing short of brilliant. I’ll be brutally honest, this film is not for everyone and I’m sure there’s going to be at least one person who watched it and reads this column thinking I’ve lost it (or never had it). But like so much psychological fiction before it, the more challenging the story, the more rewarding it can be if you put away all expectations and truly immerse yourself. Some of the best films/art are the most challenging, and She Dies Tomorrow certainly toys with that concept from beginning to end. If you told me the pace was a little too slow I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you, but to me the pacing was also part of what made it so unnerving at certain points. Fans of films done in the Lynch/Kubrick aesthetic will find a lot to love here.
Horror Movie Redux
Candyman (1992 – Amazon Prime)
I love my day job, but sometimes I really love my day job. We run an outdoor horror movie series in downtown Hartford every October. Heading into its third year this year, Spooky Popcorn, as it is lovingly called, is one of my favorite things in the world and I’m honored to be in charge of curating the movies we show. This year a local business owner suggested showing the original 1992 Candyman in honor of the upcoming Jordan Peele penned reboot. I originally saw Candyman in theaters (twice) and it still stands as one of my favorite horror films of the 1990s. However, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how much nudity was in this thing, as we try to avoid gratuitous nudity in our screenings as much as possible. That meant it was time for a re-watch. To say this film held up over the last 29 years is a drastic understatement. The themes of race and social standing still ring true today, even if some of the Cabrini Green scenes feel slightly stereotyped and dated by today’s standards. (One of the things I’m looking forward to in the Peele reboot is the reclamation of the Cabrini Green narrative by black voices.) As far as sheer terror goes this film still delivers and hits the way it did when I first saw it in theaters. The Candyman himself, deftly played by Tony Todd, remains one of horror’s best boogeymen. Still a modern horror classic, and truly one of the best films Clive Barker was ever attached to. And for those wondering there wasn’t nearly as much nudity as I remembered there being. If you’re in Hartford, CT at the end of October come out and join me for an outdoor screening. (Dates and times to be announced on Hartford.com soon.)