Films I have been watching this Spooky Season

Hello Readers,

It is autumn and most importantly Halloween is right around the corner. In the past, I have celebrated this tradition with trick or treating; going clubbing and dressing up for cocktails and mini golf but as the pandemic is still very much at large, I have had to tone it down to an indoor celebration as I’m sure many people have. I was never really into scary films or even those with a monster theme but this year, I have been watching as many films as I can before the big day.

Scream (1996)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and briefly Drew Barrymore, this horror flick could not have a more 1990s cast but rather than being a regular slasher, this film comes with several twists. It is not set at Halloween but I think that the numerous gruesome murders and the serial killer wearing a ghost costume qualify it as one to watch this Halloween. No wonder they made 4 sequels with Scream 5 scheduled for 2022. There’s not much to say without spoiling the film but be prepared for blood and murder.

Scream 2 (1997)

After the fun of the last film and the fact that I did not feel the need to hide behind a cushion, I proceeded to the sequel. This is where things begin to get a bit meta. It is a few years later and a film has been made about the events of the first film based on Gale Weathers’ (Cox) book. A couple get murdered at the sneak preview of ‘Stab’ and a copycat is on the loose. The surviving characters from the first film and some new victims try and put an end to what they unintentionally started. The location may have changed as Sidney Prescott (Campbell) along with Randy and their new friends are now in college but some things don’t change such as Sidney having a killer(?) boyfriend; Courteney Cox sporting some extreme highlights (this time she goes for cherry red) and the killer wearing a ‘Ghost Face’ costume.

The Addams Family (1991)

This film has been a cult franchise since its original outing as a television show in the 1960s and a reboot was risky but the 1990s films have become an icon all by themselves. The cast all reinvent their roles as members of America’s creepiest family. There’s Morticia and Gomez, the parents who have a very passionate relationship and dress almost as vampires and manage their rundown mansion as a palace to the violent and gory. The children, Pugsley and Wednesday are constantly trying to maim or kill each other but somehow never quite manage it. The household is complete with Morticia’s mother; Lurch the Frankenstein’s monster-esque butler and Thing, the severed hand. The family is reunited with Uncle Fester who has been missing for 25 years. Only Wednesday works out the truth that her uncle is an imposter sent to steal the Addams’ family fortune. Will the adults realise that Fester is not who he says he is? or is he who they have been looking for?

I must admit that this film did not live up to the hype for me. I am aware that it is aimed towards a younger audience but I didn’t believe in the plot and found it all a little too strange. The fact that they are not supernatural in anyway makes it seem tricky to believe that they would act in these ways and how did they become so rich when no one appears to have ever had a job? The strong points for me were the characters and the production set. Christina Ricci as Wednesday was a particular highlight. I am glad I saw it as it sets up the back story for the second film but not one I would watch again.

Addams Family Values (1993)

Sequels are always a risk and very rarely pay off as was discussed during a film class in Scream 2 but I thought that this film was better than the first. Now that we have established the world that these characters inhabit and their family relationships, the film can create more of a plot. I think the decision to place the children in the real world at summer camp was a good one as it shows that their behaviour is not what is considered normal and establishes them as outsiders. This also allows Wednesday to meet a love interest, Joel Glicker. He does not have the same supernatural tendencies as the Addams’ but is also ostracized by the other campers for not joining in with their happy-clappy cheesy fun. Meanwhile, Uncle Fester has found the love of his life in new baby Pubert’s nanny and they begin a whirlwind romance but not everything is as it seems.

I enjoyed this film for the iconic scenes such as Wednesday ruining the camp play by showing everyone the true meaning of Thanksgiving and how wrong that immigrants were to treat the Native Americans as they did. There were some very progressive views for a 1990s children’s film but this once again put the Addams family in the right and everyone else in the wrong. They are far from perfect but work as the protagonists of the film. Joan Cusack as the evil nanny and Fester’s betrothed was a stand out this time. A third film was made but featured none of the original Family due to Gomez’ (Raul Julia) untimely death.

Practical Magic (1998)

Witch sisters are the feature of this film as we see how a love curse affects the Owens Sisters through the ages. This film is lead by two strong actresses, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I saw this film with a friend for movie night and one thing we noticed that the film has is a lot of time jumps. Towards the beginning, Sally (Bullock) meets a man and suddenly they are married with kids. I think one of the challenges of a film is how to tell a life story in two hours but this film needed a few montages and ellipses between passages of time. Despite this narrative error, I thought the film was entertaining and even had the epilogue scene set at Halloween.

There were a few dark scenes with murders, exorcisms and untimely deaths but the story and acting was enough to keep me engaged with the characters journeys. This film is set in the modern world with some delightful scenes featuring both generations of Owens Sisters, Sally and Gillian (Kidman) were raised by their aunts played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, dancing around the kitchen consuming vast amounts of tequila in the vague form of midnight margaritas. When tall, dark and handsome, Detective Hallet comes poking around on Maria Island, weird things keep happening. There are a few things I have neglected to mention but are better to be seen rather than explained here. I would consider watching this film again although not with young children.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

Netflix’s Halloween offering this year is one from Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company. It features Sandler’s usual collaborators of Kevin James and Steve Buscemi as well as Sandler himself as Hubie Dubois. On top of that is a large ensemble cast and this time the whole film is about Halloween set in Salem, Massachusetts: the Halloween capital. If you enjoy Sandler’s brand of slapstick and messy humour, then this film will be right up your street. I thought it was entertaining enough but I didn’t really understand Sandler’s character, Hubie. He put on a strange little voice and still lives with his mother as an innocent do-gooder that does not work for someone of this age bracket.

The rest of the cast did a good job with appearances from Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Noah Schnapp and Paris Berelc but the poor bullied town weirdo character does not work well for an actor pushing 50. This film was just a bit too cheesy for me with not enough explanations and some forced emotional moments. The plot of the most popular girl in school being down on her luck and secretly being in love with the geek is very overdone and did not play well here. The fact that no one has left Salem at all in 30 years and Hubie’s werewolf neighbour were a few things I thought were a step too far. If Hubie had been a normal character but just a bit down on his luck instead of having garbage thrown at him by kids everywhere he goes then this film could have worked better. I think Kevin James’ ridiculous beard and mullet represents how over the top the film was. Pairing it back would have made it a fun Halloween film but instead it is just Sandler making another film with his Hollywood friends.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

The Hotel Transylvania films are made for kids but I think there’s a fun nature about them that appeals to other ages too. I watched the first and second films back to back last summer so I have been eagerly awaiting for the third to pop up on Netflix. The film is set in the summer but the central characters of vampires, Frankenstein’s monsters, Mr Invisible, mummies, werewolves and other monsters give the film a supernatural theme. Mavis decides that her father, Count Dracula needs a holiday from running his hotel for monsters and where better to take a break than on a cruise just for monsters. There’s some evil forces at work as Ericka, the ship’s captain is not just after Dracula for his charm and good looks. All the monsters and their partners are along for the ride including Mavis’ human husband Johnny, their son, Dennis; the werewolves and their mountain of kids and many others. As this is a cartoon, many liberties can be taken but I don’t think it pushed the limits of the universe already established in the first two films. I enjoyed the spectacular scenes aboard the cruise and the ending at the lost city of Atlantis which is a vague metaphor for the casinos of Atlantic City.

Another Adam Sandler ride but with just their voices, the cast did not turn the film into a friends and family saga. This time Andy Samberg joined another frequent collaborator of Adam Sandler, mostly before he started on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, Joe Jonas and Chrissy Teigen are a few of the famous voices. I thought the film was playful and entertaining enough for the adults as well as the kids. There was a happy ending as always with room left for Hotel Transylvania 4 due in 2021.

Zodiac (2007)

I did not purposefully watch this film for its murderous content but I tacked it onto the end of the list as it does feature elements of a Halloween film. A serial killer and a mystery with some fairly intense death scenes. This one was on my list for a while because of the director, David Fincher and the cast of Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal. Coincidentally, all three actors go on to star in the Marvel Universe although Gyllenhaal’s character appears much later as villain, Mysterio.

This film contains a favourite trope of mine seen in many other films such as Little Women (2018); The Help (2011) and Atonement (2007), although this last one plays with it a little. All these films are based on books that are written by the author at the end of the film. Atonement is different as there are some false endings given but they all mostly follow the trope. Of course, only Zodiac is an actual true story and the author was a real person whereas the others have invented authors.

Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) spends many years trying to hunt down the Zodiac killer after the newspaper he works at as the cartoonist is targeted with letters. His search destroys his relationships and leads him to write the book, Zodiac. Fellow employee at the San Francisco Chronicle and journalist, Paul Avery (Downey) becomes a target of Zodiac and helps Graysmith with the search. We also have Inspector Toschi (Ruffalo) the main detective on the case who lends a hand to Graysmith near the end. This is a David Fincher film so I found the plot and timeline a little hard to follow as there are a lot of murders and dates to get through but the acting kept me gripped and considering this was a comeback film for Downey, he played it very well. It was very long so set aside a good evening to watch but it was interesting. It appeared to stick very closely to the book which I always admire but I could have had a little more focus on the three characters own lives. Graysmith goes on one date and suddenly is married and his kids call her mom. There was also only brief mentions of a second child before his mysterious appearance. We see some of Toschi’s life with his wife but not enough to grasp what he was like. Of course this is all from Graysmith’s point of view but a little artistic license could have been used. I would consider watching it again to understand the plot but I am not rushing to do so.

Still to watch: Addams Family (2019); Dark Shadows (2012)

Happy Watching,

Robyn

About indie-film-fanatic00

Film Student at Oxford Brookes
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