NOVEMBER 5 — For much of the last decade or so, even though Halloween is a major thing in the West, the slate of horror movies accompanying that period has always been of the more independent and low-budget variety.
For some reason, major Hollywood studios have stayed away from making big budget horror flicks and usually there’s only one major studio title each Halloween season.
Whether it’s the studios playing it safe and preferring not to compete with each other like they do during the summer movie season or it could be the simple fact that horror movies are not blockbuster material nowadays, it’s quite a surprise to see more than one major studio title competing in cinemas this year.
Halloween Ends from Universal Pictures is of course the major draw this time around, but Smile from the folks at Paramount Pictures has been doing excellently at the box office as well, earning US$94.7 million (RM449 million) in the US alone and a total of US$188.8 million worldwide so far.
But that’s not all, as there are plenty of other smaller horror flicks that are worthy of your time (like the rollickingly fun Deadstream, now streaming on Shudder), and in time I will write about them as well.
But for this week, let’s focus on three new horror titles that are very much worth your time to check out, with some even playing in Malaysian cinemas near you.
Mia Goth stars in the prequel to 'X', titled 'Pearl'. — Screen capture via YouTube/A24
Not only very possibly my favourite film of this year’s Halloween season, but also one of my favourite films of the year so far, this prequel to X, director Ti West’s triumphant return to feature filmmaking after six long years and shot back-to-back on the same location, is a gorgeously realised mash-up of old school Technicolour melodramas and serial killer origin story.
Imagine Douglas Sirk making Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or one of the many Ted Bundy/Jeffrey Dahmer movies out there, and you’ll probably arrive at this wonderfully fresh new concoction.
As good as X was, Pearl is undoubtedly the superior film, helped by some absolutely stellar acting by co-writer Mia Goth (who played the old Pearl character in X, and now plays the younger version here), none more so than in the centrepiece confession scene at its climax and a tour de force feat of facial expressions during the movie’s end credits, any film fan would have a ball watching this one. Brutal and exquisite.
Just like the third movie in the original Halloween trilogy (Halloween III: Season of the Witch), director David Gordon Green’s Halloween Ends is destined to divide opinion at the time of its release and will later on be reclaimed as a cult favourite in the future.
It does pretty much the same thing as Halloween III, which is taking Michael Myers out of the movie, though this one at least makes the concession of letting the character make a very short cameo in the middle to “pass the torch” to new character Corey Cunningham and serve up the obligatory final showdown between Laurie Strode (franchise anchor Jamie Lee Curtis) and Myers.
Other than that, we’re treated to a Halloween film that’s totally unrelated to what was set up in the first two movies of this new trilogy, concentrating on a sparsely believable love story between Corey (aka the new Michael Myers) and Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (aka the new Laurie Strode).
I admire the fact that director Green wants to explore something different here — the concept of “evil” as a sickness infecting the citizens of Haddonfield — but I’d respect him even more if he actually took just a bit more time to let the film and its characters “breathe”, as everything here felt a bit too rushed and therefore making most of the character motivations hard to believe or get into.
A really fun jump scare fest that has a concept that’s quite similar to the brilliant modern horror classic It Follows, except the “curse” this time around follows someone who’s traumatised after witnessing a suicide (instead of a “curse” that’s passed through sexual intercourse like in It Follows), Smile offers nothing new, be it in terms of narrative and theme, or in terms of technical execution.
But what it does offer audiences (as evidenced by its excellent box-office performance) is a steady stream of effective scares that makes this one a real blast at the movies, especially if you’re watching it in a packed cinema with plenty of other screaming punters.
Coming from a debuting writer-director in Parker Finn and anchored by a strong and committed acting performance from Sosie Bacon, Smile is as precision-tooled a horror movie as they come, with a level of expert craftsmanship (employing all the tools of the trade with the casual ease of an experienced director) that makes it all the more impressive as a debut effort.
Seek this one out if a rollercoaster horror ride is your kind of thing.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.