Quick-Thoughts: Ti West’s Pearl

My new worst nightmare is growing up to be Pearl’s father. 

“Make the best of what you have” is usually the kind of mindset that happens when dreams are crushed. Isn’t it just hilarious that we live to overcome current control in order to be controlled by rather dreamt circumstances? Our freedom still remains a delusion.

With only a little over four months to spare since the release of its predecessor, the artificial technicolor prequel to X (2022) has already made its way to the big screen, and while this origin story is quite conventional on paper when it comes to bleak rise to fame narratives — the classic Mulholland Drive (2001) to put it otherwise —, Ti West’s exercise of the familiar is nevertheless an exotic force in its own rights. Likely, this prequel’s function is to either parallel in a despairing manner or paradox for means of a less awaited existence at what Maxine’s rise to fame story will be in the sequel to X, considering she has yet to wake up out of her “fantasy”. For now though, we have a methodically paced origin to the making of a slasher villain keeping us at bay. 

Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl alone is worth the price of admission. Next to Anna Cobb, we have been getting some seriously stressful embodiments of unhinged youngsters who are just dying to fit in. However, perhaps the most commendable aspect regarding the prequel is how much it differs from X, taking on less of an accumulating thrill factor plot structure and more of an apprehensive consistency that permeates throughout. It’s a slick series of scenarios where you’re regularly on edge for someone to not upset Pearl’s delusion to be loved for superficial *barbie-doll* stardom, or at the bare minimum, a mentally sane personality she simply does not possess – she’s special alright! But oh, isn’t it just so bittersweet once we’ve alas accepted the reality of our circumstances? Our projecting should stop there and then? Right?

Now onto the 80s…

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Pearl” is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Quick-Thought: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse

“He’s so cold.”

“Is the pizza?”

It’s very clear here Amy Holden Jones understands that the genre she’s working with is infamously known for essentially being just a series of punchlines, and she decides to double-up on this satirical formula for which is so often depended on during this era of slasher horror. Slumber Party Massacre is a raid of goofy tension releases, intentionally comedic one-liners, and an absurd amplification of horror tropes. I used to think New Nightmare (1994) was the initial prototype for Scream (1996), but now I feel plain gullible. 

Definitely must’ve been a major inspiration for the tone of X as well. 

I really dug the slasher villain in this because he’s just a bare-bones serial killer who’s occasionally gullible which sinisterly mitigates the fact that he’s been broadcasted as this mass force of evil parading the town. There is a glimmer of motivation to him though which almost seems metaphorical for defenders of misogyny in horror cinema. The two sisters in this actually provide endearing and over-the-top chemistry, while on the other hand, the slumber girls are so overtly depicted as everyday people who happen to be objects that it becomes noticeable as so many shots linger unusually on them nude to a point where it actually feels rather unprovocative, therefore discomforting the cliché. 

So admittedly, quite ambitious methods to convey genre commentary through parodying that doesn’t always work that constructively nor legibly, but you do get at least an idea of what it’s trying to do which sparks enough admiration. It sure is f**king funny though and that’s really all you need to give it your time. Watch it with others for sure too.

Verdict: B-

“The Slumber Party Massacre” is now available to stream on VUDU Free, Tubi TV, and The Roku Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Grudge 1 and 2 (2002-2003)

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

If this third entry proves anything, it’s that Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on material clearly works best with an extremely low-budget and cryptic atmosphere, not with a slightly more commercial appearance and a louder clarification of what’s going on, given that the scares sort of primarily function best at their most irrational. 

Ju-on: The Grudge is no Ju-on: The Curse (2000), but it is *faintly* better than their middle partner Ju-on: The Curse 2 (2000). The longer sequences harken back to the original Curse’s tense formula, but at times, harken too much to a point of self-plagiarism like the film’s finale which is essentially a nod back to the teacher story from The Curse. This ending also subsequently spells-out even further the context at hand in an uninspired flashback montage, as if the opening of the movie’s flashback didn’t “spoil” us with enough clarification already. Conclusively, The Grudge is literally just an easier to comprehend version of The Curse, but that counteractively removes some of the tempting mystery for which made that movie captivating to begin with. This third entry is, to my surprise, not even remotely as unhinged or graphic as the first one too. 

Nonetheless, I do think The Grudge has a couple excellent scares, some almost up to par with the best of The Curse. The use of television static works, especially in its last implication where the screen goes entirely black and we get that jolting reveal. The artificial look of the new shadow figures for the corpses make the environments all the more unearthly and therefore uncomfortable for us as well — welcome to Hell! The entire apartment building sequence with Misaki Ito is definitely a top-tier progression in the franchise. But then again, a lot of scares here are just using pre-established creepy traits that we already know of like the grumbling or the pale faces, deteriorating their effect movie by movie. Also, I get that the cat sounds in this franchise can sometimes be off-putting, sure, but the entire presence of cats? Never. Quite frankly the opposite.

Verdict: C

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003)

Yo, ghouls always be eventually learning how to foreshadow and therefore up the quality of their scares; that’s beautiful.

Without a doubt, this the most straightforward Ju-on entry until for some reason the final twenty minutes just decide to go full “let’s give the audience a sudden Enter the Void (2009) mild brain-f**k” mode and earn itself as the most interesting segment from it all. Nonetheless, for a majority of The Grudge 2, its focus is basically on a single streamline, making it the slowest paced of the films so far, especially since it’s still only working off of the already established curse narrative being introduced to new victims, and making the hallmark use of character chapters seem pointless this time around.

Although, it does appear to be that this fourth Ju-on is Takashi Shimizu’s New Nightmare (1994) attempt given the almost meta settings of horror movie productions, and perhaps also his Rosemary’s Baby (1968) attempt given the birth elements for which he delegates as central to the narrative, so in a way, part of me appreciates how this sequel administers already known cinematic horror concepts yet unknown concepts to the franchise into this film more so than the previous two sequels did — though I guess it reveals Shimizu’s desperation to keep things fresh also. Howbeit, the scares which were the prime selling points of those other sequels are clearly lacking here.

The whole “something’s there and then it’s not” scare tactic has clearly begun to wear off on me, and it’s particularly over-utilized in this movie. I must admit though, the imagery of the hair-wall with Kayako’s face on it is absurdly haunting, but I can’t think of anything else that latched onto my memory that well in terms of keeping me up at night, which blows cause The Curse (2000) had like at least ten of those. 

Lastly, why does Shimizu introducing ectoplasm to the rules of the franchise low-key feel like him warming up for his American remake? So goofy.

Verdict: C-

“Ju-on: The Grudge” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and “Ju-on: The Grudge 2” is now available to stream on Tubi.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Curse 1 and 2 (2000)

Ju-on: The Curse

Really need to stop watching these types of movies after midnight. 

The main saving grace of Ju-on: The Curse — a straight-to-video J-horror that started a franchise crave better known by the title of “The Grudge” — lies within its charming yet moreover tantalizing and subsequently unnerving structure of vignettes. The warped chronology of six interrelated events is a resourceful reparation for the low-budget and simplistic construction of each sequence that renders them, and it secondarily italicizes the terror that each victim had to undergo while making the audience more and more hopelessly aware, as the time-irrelevant vignettes continue to stack, of this sheerly doomed nature that comes with anyone who runs into the curse. 

Though, not to completely disregard the individual sequences’ modesty, a decent quota of their choices had me strung for those very reasons: the straightforward grumbling noises, two “where’d the lights go?”s, the tape-audio lagging, a not-so-cutesy diary find, the telephone booth of deranged mutilation, a talk with spirit mommy, a jaw-dropping face reveal on the series’ iconic stairway, and perhaps one of the best “just lurking in the corner” shots I’ve ever seen. 

And WOAH; Chiaki Kuriyama???

Verdict: B

Ju-on: The Curse 2

The concept of The Grudge is so petrifying just by its own rules: the idea that you’re screwed so long as you see someone with it, removing your entire chance of survival no matter what you do. It warranted the futile and therefore nightmarish sensibilities of the first movie. Ju-on: The Curse 2 is clearly trying to reapply that magic, but unfortunately not to a T. 

For one, it wipes the warped chronology that made the original so mysterious. There are still some creepy moments though regardless, from a gnarly shot that contrasts a black-and-white space against a colored one to when the mother character has a complete personality 180 — repeated actions also make me squirm; for the love of God please stop laughing and bowing! Yet, there are also some moments here that are clearly trying too hard to regurgitate the impactful send-off that the first Curse gave us, like its zombie-inspired climax. 

The ending of the original is already fitting enough because it implied to the audience that The Grudge will only continue, so the existence of this second Curse — to show such even further by bouncing right off of the ending’s event — is pretty much arbitrary, but you know, gotta have a sequel! Plus, this was apparently shot back-to-back with the original, so you also gotta use that mere forty-six minutes of extra footage to somehow make another feature-length for bank! 

Lastly, is the final scene intentionally supposed to be comedic? Perhaps even quirky? Cute.

Verdict: C

“Ju-on: The Curse” and “Ju-on: The Curse 2” are currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002)

As a usual Gore Verbinski apologist, this hurt to not like. It’s shot and edited well, maybe not as well as the original, but well regardless — though that still kind of defeats the validity of this existing in the first place. I appreciate how it’s a slim less expositional too, but the dialogue in it is riddled with Hollywood-ized quirk that disengages us from a believable reality, so this new term of a shortcoming pretty much just counterbalances that merit. If anything, what this remake will sometimes exposition out instead is its themes, which is not really shocking… considering… you know… America.

Not to entirely downplay this remake, however, Verbinski does admittedly broaden some nice cinematic technique unfamiliar to the original: the overall grander scale, sped-up dolly-shot montage kills, foreshadowing from the fly, new static look/logic of Sadako/Samara which is absolutely gnarly, etc. But then, it’ll either overplay the intense progression of scenes from the original like when the lead character’s kid watches the tape or re-lore-ify awkward new ones like with the horse death sequence that just feels low-key like Verbinski’s audition tape to showcase his potential for putting together an action sequence — it even takes place on a ship… Then there’s that well-fall scare which genuinely made me laugh, and for something that otherwise copies a handful from its maker, it doesn’t even replicate at least a significant amount of the best moments from it like something as rousing as its incredibly twisted closing scene! And, AND, who decided to assuage the warped-face photo reveal, which was one of the best scares in the original? Yet, what’s really worst of all about this remake is that the ticking time bomb element which made the original so tensely paced is almost completely butchered in this remake by plummeting through all five of the seven days before we even make it to the halfway mark just so it can get to the answers quicker at the sacrifice of developing a carefully lived-in atmosphere. 

Here’s a juxtaposition: the opening scene of The Ring is the scariest part of the movie, and the climax scene of Ringu (1998) is the scariest part of that movie. Therefore, which one probably has the creepiest evolution in its narrative? The biggest “conundrum” with Verbinski’s remake is how unwarranted its existence is in the first place besides that it gives into Americans not wanting to cross the barrier of subtitles. In view of how neck and neck their plots are, there really is scant reason for me to have experienced this remake when I could’ve just watched the superior ‘98 version again. It seems a little ironic that a director, who would soon be considered a modern master of high-budget scale, sourced a foreign horror movie, considered to be a masterclass of low-budget confinement, to parade to Hollywood the apparent strength in his blockbuster capabilities. Eh, worth it! Pirates for life! 

Also, in terms of the infamous cursed video on its own this time around, I can imagine it being scary if they used like half (maybe even less) of its collaged imagery instead of hyper-cutting the ones that worked in between some try-hard grotesque ones. The distant, alienated, and confusing atmosphere was what sold the original tape, not the bed-bugs, body dismemberments, or supernatural physics for which we’re all so familiar with in the horror genre. 

Verdict: C-

“The Ring” is now available to stream on Netflix and Paramount+.

Quick-Thoughts: Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998)

Screened at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema New Mission

This really be the only way you can force mofos to pay attention to video composition. 

Can’t sugar-code it, but I haven’t seen a movie this obnoxiously expositional to a point of constant disengagement in some time. Might as well have featured those d-cut Donnie Darko (2001) chapter card paragraphs before every scene to help delegate the mystery’s tell-the-audience / characters (or via Stephen King’s “the shine” superpower?) unravels. Furthermore, it recedes the needed effect of the drama it’s included in because, for something that often feels so patiently lived-in, its imbalanced reliance on compressed informational protagonist performances to develop a bulk of the stories introduces a real disjointed tonal contradiction throughout.

A significant flaw aside though, I do think Ringu has a ton of greatness in it. Particularly, it creates a phenomenal atmosphere with not only how resourceful and elaborate the confined space settings and shots are, not to mention its methodical progression of time and multiple aesthetics between past / videotape and present, but how the uneasy minimization of scares (all which independently land the mark in their own uniquenesses) contrasts eerily against the mostly gentle nature for which the majority of the film’s scenes embrace, and that SUPERB full-show climax especially sold this unconventional slow-burn execution. Some of the two leads’ “on-the-spot” and ultimately pointless attempts, that were desperately thought to combat this supernatural phenomena by sympathizing with it like a plead for mercy, also embellished the film in an inkling of realism even more. I mean, they don’t exactly teach you hex-solving in school as far as I can remember; better pray and hope for the best!

The infamous cursed video on its own though… yeah… a thing of nightmares

Verdict: B

“Ringu” is now available to stream on Shudder and Tubi TV.

Quick-Thoughts: Ti West’s X

Okay, but even at the end of the day, you have to admit: that was couple goals.

X really benefits from the fact that it’s not only just a horror movie that is a, quote on quote, “love letter” to classic slasher technique and visual aesthetic, which has become a more prevalently phrased excuse in recent times for copying and pasting formulas to ironically access larger box-office incomes, but that it’s also a crowd-pleasing comedy to help sustain its originality. During my viewing, I couldn’t help but occasionally see this as a more entertaining and witty take on M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, and one that uses the cheaply written or flagrantly contrived thrills of something like A Quiet Place to rather soften its audience with self-aware laughs at these known timing tropes. For these reasons alone, I recommend seeing this film in theaters with as large of an audience as you can find; the very responsive screening I went to certainly made my experience better. 

Sex and violence: we can have them both, we can have just one, but barely can we maintain having none. This premise of the primary “sin-labeled” and “animalistic” desires of the human race make way into Ti West’s commentary on how institutionalized religious suppression of ancestors can cause their projection and envy that we often see on the sexual freedom of the youth. West has stated before that he’s planning on making a prequel and sequel to X, and I can only hope he expands on what he sets up here: the late 70s time period of radical Christian order in southern America is used to roughly counteract some life ethic philosophy that’s however translated with a modern liberal tongue; it works itself into a parallel between the entertainment industry of porn and horror for which we both consume addictively today more than ever, but furthermore one admitting the reality of generational “regrets” that we uncover more and more of as moral diversification reaches younger kins to impulsively combat these “mistakes”. Sure, this messaging gets a bit blurry at times — I couldn’t quite tell if this was siding with the younger characters’ beliefs or also poking at the hippie optimism of them that wants to thwart repeating our forebears or just aging in general as if they literally were embodying the incessantly spry pornographic body clichés of horror to achieve such; the ambiguity here is semi-problematic less so completely introspective to me as of now — but when the film alone acts more so as a light-hearted take on thrills and kills, it’s at least fun to watch regardless if their linked parts manage to come out perhaps too raw. Again, X prequel and sequel, do us some franchise justice by reinforcing these interesting ideas!

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“X” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts, Again: Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

3rd Viewing

Fancy a good death of innocence movie: the best coming-of-age genre? The discovery of historical atrocities, a morally vague crime (but once the culture?) of the past that often leads adult’s to their permanent flawed traits. *realizing alcohol will be an eventual solution we indulge in is a classic case of this* The kids noticing that their radio phone call prank was taken too far when they recognize that the sounds of the screaming woman come off as suspicious: the first woeful pill of comprehending how the macabre fits into our society. A brief scraping sound could be from a killer sneaking up on you; there are people willing to murder you as you’ve become regretfully aware of. Could atheist thoughts be creeping up? “This… is God.” Maybe in life’s unfair game as it summons the death of a loved one, if not and if worse, more. And… all the surreal implausible horror imagery in the dream world is the cherry on top to intensifying this accumulation of adolescent shock. In truth, we try to suck it up and not let it bother us, but it always eventually does — maybe not via the fakest looking dummy body along with also the ugliest colored Cadillac ever to face the Earth though, but something we’d perceive as highly erratic such as that. 

Guess we know where Resurrections borrowed its ending from now, and Stephen King also deadass ripped-off the climax of this movie when he wrote the novel It (1986).

Wes Craven breaks a horror cliché in A Nightmare on Elm Street among others: instead of parents who don’t believe their kids, it’s parents who know their kids are saying something true that they don’t want them saying out of sake of preserving their innocence about the wicked truth regarding us. We show our strictest protective methods out of fear for the next generation becoming consumed by our trauma and our past that we’ve essentially chosen to ignore as if it never happened. This and Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) surprisingly make perfect companion pieces for a horror double-feature given their akin dynamics of ancestors problematically paving the paths of kin at the fault of humanity’s never-ending domino effect. 

P.S. Robert Englund is a top-tier performer. +1 grade letter up! 

P.S.S. Can people really have a dream about the continuation of the place they literally just left off in their actual reality? That would be insane!

P.S.S.S. The bath scene gives off major *had an edible in an uncomfortable place to sit* vibes.

Verdict Change: A- —> B

The Greatest Horror Movies, Nightmare on Elm Street Ranked

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Quick-Thoughts: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Sister plot-armor so thick that it literally be bringing mofos back from the dead. 

Like Leatherface (2017), the prequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and the previous entry in the franchise, this second attempt at “requel-ing” the original is actually shot and compiled together pretty competently; there’s plenty of dopamine gore in this as well to make the viewing not a completely pitiful watch and it at least immerses the bare minimum of tension.

Now, pros aside, this is probably my least favorite Texas Chainsaw Massacre film now. Yeah, I saw Halloween 2018 too! So what? You want to bring back the original protagonist? Sure. You want to wipe the slate clean of the other sequels again? Sure. But, if you’re going to do that, maybe consider not making your movie so easily prone to being “requel-ed” again, which this newest slasher has undoubtedly opened up the possibility for given how hollow it is.

Despite introducing some demanding topics of today such as school shootings and neurotic media culture, they end up being used so timidly. The school shooting PTSD seems to primarily function as a way to give one of the sister’s an arc to achieve so we can care about their lives rather than as an emphasis on the real modern horrors of our time; if anything, introducing the school shooting element feels insulting because its exercised as leverage to fight a “greater horror”. The technological and generational commentary sort of just acts as background noise amidst its antique yet now “hip” and gentrified setting, unless you count that god-awful scene and quote you’ve probably already heard about: “try anything and you’re canceled bro.” Us millennials and gen-z-ers can be impuissant yeah, but we’re not THAT impuissant, c’mon!

In other words, that’s basically all the new and it’s impressively limited as you can see! Despite the fact that I literally just thrashed on the Leatherface prequel in my last review for being so unmemorable, I’d now argue that this requel is even more unmemorable because it is so interchangeable with its genre’s ceaseless amount of other outputs given that it only offers a straightforward cat-and-mouse procedural up to date with misguided modern tactics. Not 3D (2013) with its goofy (but at least original to the franchise) revelations, not Leatherface with its attempt at commentary on the origins of evil, this is pure slice-and-dice formula with a slapped on cut-and-dry sibling and guilt-trip dynamic happening at the foregrounds, as if that’s all it needs to get us to care. 

In regards to Leatherface in this, well… he’s not… Leatherface. A stone-cold, silent, and practical killer? Yeah, for a movie that wants to be so neck and neck with its creator, it acts as if it’s never even seen the 1974 original before given how almost polar opposite this interpretation of Leatherface is. What ever happened to my precious airhead? You know you’re referencing the wrong slasher villain when you have him leap out of the water like Jason. 

At least he loved his mom though. 

Also, now that I have to start ranking the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise after watching them all, I just realized something: my order from best to worst is coincidentally in order of release date from oldest to newest, even if you include the remakes. YEAH, I have never experienced this with a long-running and catalog-heavy horror franchise before nor did I ever expect that I would. Hurray?

Verdict: D

2022 Ranked, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise Ranked

“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Quick-Thoughts: Leatherface (2017)

Awe, yes. Leatherface: A Texas Chainsaw Massacre Story. We get to learn who inspired his physique, why he wears the mask, and a whole bunch of other s**t none of us ever cared to know. 

Not everything needs a prequel, but these days it’s a bitch to avoid, so we might as well embrace it. But, before embracing it, we should consider using it as an advantage to actually elevate the world that our beloved stories took place but without detracting too much from the mystery that made its iconic characters so captivating. 

I think Leatherface manages to somehow kind of stick to the latter part despite trying to flesh-out the masked killer while managing, however, to do absolutely nothing else as well. This is a pointless plot-heavy road-trip movie that’s so reliant on its ostentatious gore spectacle and elementary finger point at corruption fueling all evil, which the last Texas Chainsaw introduced, and the biggest crime because of this is that these sole prime offerings end up inspiring a tedious experience, which most of the other entries at least managed to avoid. Also, why advertise this as a Leatherface prequel just to reassure us that Leatherface was taught to kill (duh) and had potential not to so long as he stayed away from his blood family and the dishonest justice systems that hate them, as if that wasn’t already insinuated from just common sense when observing the situation? Like, I’m glad you got to spell it out, but for a whole movie? Boo. 

At least the acting here is pretty decent — despite it all being dedicated to a stereotype for each character — and the movie is competently compiled together, but as a service to what? It’s all wasted in the end for the schlock encompassing it. Any attempt it makes at being more macabre than even the original also feels so forced in almost every instance. Wow, a necrophilia sex scene? So edgy… 

Verdict: D

The Texas Chainsaw Massacres Ranked

“Leatherface” is now available to stream on Pluto TV.