Throughout the course of the year, there are a ton of terrible horror movies littered about the schedule. Most of the time, you can kind of tell that it’s going to be crap because if it’s released by a major studio (or Blumhouse) but not in October, that’s almost an admission that the movie isn’t scary or compelling in any way.
Thankfully, we have had a good deal of independent horror this year. Even ones that I mentioned in this column turned out to be pretty decent, getting good reviews and earning something better than a cult following among fans. Normally, the bad studio flicks still somehow get enough box office to muscle out the indies, but that has not been the case in 2022, and honestly, it’s refreshing. Even if the trailers aren’t awe-inspiring, they’re a far sight more interesting than most of the lazy studio output, and I have yet to be disappointed in the new voices I’ve seen putting stuff out there.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the shoving match has apparently ended in the studios’ favor, as there really aren’t any indie horror films coming out this month, when the genre is supposed to be at its peak. Instead, in addition to the normal shit sandwiches we all have to eat, there are three major horror releases that just look like hot garbage. There are nine dubious entries to explore for the column, and a full third of them look like the standard-issue upper-deckers that we always get from the laziest executive suites.
So to counter this bitter taste, I come bearing pumpkin spice goodness. This month, for the first time in almost a year, I’ll feature two “Redemption Reels,” both of which communicate terror better than anything on display, and yet neither is a thriller.
Put on your sexiest costume, drug your children’s candy, and get ready for some pure shit. This is the October 2022 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone – October 5
Blumhouse’s newest Netflix debacle is pretty much dead on arrival. Jaeden Martell (who sounds like a Game of Thrones character) graduates from the It movies to another Stephen King adaptation, and oh look, he’s being bullied. Keep playing the hits, Stephen! He forms a rapport with an old man played by Donald Sutherland, who sadly passes away right after we have a literal iPhone commercial shoehorned in.
After burying his mentor with said phone, and after a particularly bad beating at the hands of Cyrus Arnold, who literally played the older bully in 8-Bit Christmas (typecasts galore, folks!), Martell calls Mr. Harrigan, venting about how he wants revenge. The dead man’s phone then calls him back, scaring the crap out of him, and quite soon it appears that the tormentor has met with a gruesome end. “Terror” (air quotes) ensues, I guess.
But more than anything, this film represents an odd tonal decision from a meta standpoint. After Knives Out was released, director Rian Johnson let the world in on a little production secret that could spoil every mystery or suspense story for years to come. As it turns out, Apple does not allow its products to be used on screen by villainous characters. You know, the company that uses child labor to make those mini-computers that cost hundreds more than equivalent or better devices simply because of the logo? Yeah, somehow they’re concerned with optics, if Johnson is to be believed. As such, for Mr. Harrigan to be a violent avenging angel while still using an iPhone is to suggest that Apple was convinced that deadly retribution is somehow a good quality. Or maybe it’s just Martell’s character who’s good, as he’s the only one truly using the phone, but even that might be bullshit, as he’s the one essentially putting a hit out on someone for a ghost to murder. Either way, that’s fucked up, man, and musing on this for five minutes is still exponentially more interesting than the actual premise of the movie.
Also, fuck Apple.
Tár – October 7
Now this represents an interesting situation. I will just say right upfront that I don’t think Tár will be a bad movie. In fact, I think it’ll likely be pretty spectacular. After its debut at the Venice Film Festival, it stands at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is Todd Field’s first film since the fantastic Little Children over 15 years ago, and this is clearly being set up for Cate Blanchett to chase her third Oscar.
But that said, holy shit is this a nothing trailer. After a 10-second logo for Focus Features, the remaining two minutes of the preview consist of only three shots before going to the end slates. The last two of those shots are of Blanchett as the title character manically conducting an orchestra. The first one, however? It’s just an extreme close-up of Blanchett’s face as she blows cigarette smoke out of her mouth in super-duper-puper slow motion, all while a narrator spews some pretentious bullshit about defying the gods, destroying yourself, and the pandemic. This shot last for a whopping 1:15! Seriously! A grand total of 75 seconds is devoted to utterly meaningless nonsense.
Again, I’m sure this will be a fine film, but as I’ve mentioned before, this column is about analyzing the sales pitch. What possible audience are you reaching and convincing with THIS? Nobody knows what the fuck is going on, because there is nothing fucking going on! One of the biggest complaints about Awards Season is how the nominated films don’t connect with mass audiences. Well here’s Exhibit Fucking A! Anyone who sees this trailer is basically being told, in no uncertain terms, that this movie is just for arthouse nerds and critics like me, and will thus have little to no resonance with the general public. And if the Academy rewards it, they’re just putting another nail in their irrelevance coffin.
Now, in fairness, Focus put out a much more comprehensive, traditional trailer a few days ago, but this one has been up for the last two months. And whenever possible, I always prefer to use the first official trailer released by the studio or distributor. So while the second one makes a modicum more sense, it doesn’t undo whatever the hell this was.
I’ll still see it, though.
Halloween Ends – October 14
Raise your hand if you actually think the Halloween series will end with this movie? Now, if you’re under the age of four, put your hand down. The rest of you, use that hand to punch yourself repeatedly in hopes that it will literally knock some sense into you.
The first entry in Danny McBride’s reboot was clearly done with love, but it wasn’t all that good. I didn’t even see the last one, and by all accounts from those who did, it sucked ass (currently sits at 39% on RT, and the Audience Score is a barely passable 66%). What possible motivation do I have to see this? I know it won’t be the end. You know it won’t be the end. McBride and Jamie Lee Curtis know it won’t be the end. So unless we get to eventually sue for false advertising when the next one comes out, why would anyone shell out the cash for this pointless endeavor?
White Bird: A Wonder Story – October 14
Remember Wonder? It came out five years ago and basically had two things going for it. One was the undeniable charm of Jacob Tremblay. The other was the makeup job done on him to give him the look of someone with Treacher Collins Syndrome, and all the facial surgery scars that entailed. That secondary achievement garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
So let’s take all that stuff out of the equation and replace it with a ham-fisted “companion” piece that deals with polio and the Holocaust. FUN!
Yeah, White Bird has almost no connection to Wonder despite the branding. The film stars Bryce Gheisar, who played the bully Julian in the first movie. He got expelled for being mean to Auggie last time out, and now he’s in a fancy prep school. That’ll show him! As a means to teach him a lesson about “kindness,” his grandmother, played by Helen Mirren clearly just cashing a check, tells him the story about when she was his age and was targeted by anti-Semites. But she had a friend with leg braces who she fell in love with, and there was a shit-ton of CGI, so it’s all okay!
Look, I’m all for learning the lessons of the world’s fascist past, especially as those ideas are somehow back on the rise nearly a century later. But if you want an actual nuanced take on the subject without a bunch of shitty visual effects, afterschool special moralizing, and a tenuous at best attempt to turn this into a franchise, just wait two weeks for Armageddon Time to come out. Something tells me Anthony Hopkins has this covered.
Rosaline – October 14
This movie is literally about Romeo’s ex-girlfriend trying to pull a modernized caper to get Juliet to break up with him so she can have him back, only to realize that because, you know, he’s a dude, he’s clearly a pig who needs to be punished. You know why Romeo and Juliet isn’t a great romance? Because they were impulsive idiotic teenagers who got horny, boned, and then killed themselves at the first hint of adversity. This movie demonstrates the exact same problem, only it’s the petty teenage impulse of catty revenge and ownership of your first crush when, statistically speaking, the relationship has no chance for any party involved.
Also, since when did Shakespeare become John Tucker Must Die? I mean, I’d almost jokingly call this Romeo Must Die, but that’s already the title of a completely different piece of shit movie! Let’s move on.
The School for Good and Evil – October 19
Welcome to Harry Potter and the Home for Peculiar Children Who are Wicked Vampire Academy Twilights with a Huntsman! Seriously, I have never seen so many different Young Adult IPs ripped off at the same time.
Also, whoever decided on Charlize Theron’s hairstyle needs to be publicly flogged.
Black Adam – October 21
Literally every second of this trailer is a superhero movie cliché. Every. Single. SECOND! Seriously, please, anyone, show me one moment from this preview that hasn’t already been done in at least a half dozen Marvel and DC movies.
Also, Dwayne Johnson, you got lucky once with DC League of Super-Pets actually working out. However, the lamest part was the Black Adam joke tease during the credits. Don’t push your luck.
Finally, not for nothing, but even the film’s slogan seems to admit this is a piece of garbage. “The world needed a hero. It got Black Adam.” Just replace the word “hero” with “good movie,” and you’ve got Warner Bros. telling us right to our face that this is going to suck. It’ll still win its weekend box office by at least $300 million, because there is no God.
Prey for the Devil – October 28
I’ve been over my distaste for Christianity-based horror movies plenty of times, and honestly, this one looks no better than any of the others. A nun has some kind of connection to demons possessing people in her life, especially her mother, she gets “training” to protect herself, and jump scares will number in the thousands before an exorcism can happen and Jesus saves the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So instead of all that nonsense, let’s just laugh at some of the funnier moments of this trailer. Sister Anne’s mother knocks on the door and says, “Annie? Annie?” and I defy you not to respond with “Annie are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?” Then when she starts screaming, “LET ME IN!” the only reasonable reaction is “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!” There’s this initial sexism that *gasp* a woman is going to learn about exorcism that is just hilarious, capped off with these half-sarcastic, half-lascivious looks directed her way by some of the other priests, which, come on, since when has a priest ever looked at an adult woman with lust in his eyes? The teacher ominously declares, “There are more possessions reported today than at any point in history,” conveniently leaving out the fact that none of them are real. The priests are attacked by a little girl who’s meant to evoke Regan MacNeill, but the CGI is so bad she just looks like a melted Chucky doll. A text slate says, “She was not ordained” as if that means anything to anybody. It’s all so silly that it might almost be worth seeing just for the unintentional comedy.
With that, we move on to “The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month!” What’s even scarier than a terrible horror movie? How about a lazy rom-com where awful people do awful things because they hate everyone, but somehow they get to have a happy ending because the movie stars beloved actors, allowing us to substitute the celebrities we like for the terrible characters they play. That’s what this month’s dregs have offered, and in the spirit of showing how functioning, mature adults handle things once they’re no longer together, I recruited my actual ex-girlfriend to help.
Ticket to Paradise – October 21
Also, Eddie Money’s about to rise from the grave just to sue your asses for ripping off his song for the title.
Moving on, we end this month’s proceedings on a doubly positive note. Both of the films that earn the “Redemption Reel” title accomplish something pretty spectacular, in that they’re actually scary despite not being horror movies. That’s because, in the tradition of the best frights, the menace represented within these stories is all too real for too many people.
Till – October 14
Call Jane – October 28
Both of these movies have strong, resonant stories that are just as timely today as they were when the actual events surrounding them occurred. In Till, the focus is on Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie (played by Danielle Deadwyler), who was thrust to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement after her son was brutally murdered by racist southerners for the “crime” of leering at a white woman. The men who killed him were acquitted by an all-white jury, and the woman who accused him of coming on to her later retracted her story. She’s in her mid-80s now, but in a further miscarriage of justice, a warrant for her arrest dating back to 1955 was discovered this year, but prosecutors and a grand jury declined to indict her for her own role in Till’s lynching. The entire reason that Black Lives Matter exists is because even in a much more enlightened world 70 years after Till’s loss, black people are still killed by civilians and law enforcement, and those deaths are treated in the most cavalier manner imaginable, denying justice and closure to so many families.
In Call Jane, the abortion issue comes front and center, recounting a practice that still goes on today, where women desperate for abortion healthcare – and it is healthcare, people – seek out anonymous couriers and facilitators, all of whom use an alias for protection, both from police and violent thugs. This was highlighted just a year ago, when Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa was shortlisted for Documentary Short. Instead of this movie serving as a triumphant coming together of people in common humanitarian cause, it instead becomes a reflection of the direction we’re heading as a nation, as the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade has already started the ball rolling on sending women’s rights back to the 19th century, all because five people were handpicked to say “fuck you” to everyone with a vagina.
These stories are legitimately scary, more so than any cheap horror film. Minorities in this country continue to live in fear that some racist dickbag will kill them, and even worse, they’ll get away with it, because the justice system does not care. Women who want or need abortions are once again staring down coat hangers and criminalization of their own bodies and the private decisions they make with their doctors. I don’t experience these fears, or many others, because I am a straight white cisgender man. I am in the majority in just about every category other than religion. If anyone cares, I was baptized Methodist, but have been agnostic, bordering on atheist, for more than half my life, and if I ever do find faith, by my personal philosophies it will likely be some form of Buddhism. So unless there’s a major crackdown on heretics and non-believers (and if the MTGs of the world have their way, it’s entirely possible), I personally don’t have anything to worry about.
But here’s the thing, I try to practice this totally weird concept called empathy. I listen to people. I try to put myself in their shoes and get a sense for how they live their lives, whether I personally agree with them or not. When I see stories like this, the fear becomes palpable even to someone like me who isn’t affected, because I almost certainly know and care about someone who is. Both of these films look to be showing us a more realistic horror than anything else coming out this October without even trying or having that be remotely the intent. That in itself makes both of them worth seeing.
That’s all for this month! Have a great Halloween, and send me a Twix bar if you’ve got extra!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Will you see any of these films? Was I too hard on any of them? Seriously, can we end the Michael Myers saga already? Let me know!