This morning, I picked my sagging jack-o-lantern up off the front stoop, frowned at his wilting smile, and tossed him into his final resting place—a large, black garbage bag. There was no ceremony; no pomp and circumstance for my trick-or-treat compatriot. There was only…the end.
What a sadly fitting metaphor for the post-Halloween blues we at Grindhouse Theology inevitably feel the weeks after October 31st. While “The s P o O k Y Season” is never really over for us, it is for most of the world around us. The hauntings have gone into hibernation for another full year, and yet, here we are…wide awake, ready to be scared to death all over again.
I guess it’s a happy accident then that, after All Saints Day (November 1st), the Church takes a turn into the cathartic sorrow of the season of Advent—the time between the times, looking backwards (joyfully) to Christ’s incarnation while looking forward (hopefully) to his glorious appearing. Advent is a paradoxical season, to paraphrase Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite, both a poet and a priest. It’s a season of past and future; of darkness and light; of waiting and comfort; of emptiness and fulfillment. And it’s precisely here, in mourning the death of our dear friend Halloween in 2019 that we can look forward to his return on one chilled evening in 2020.
In the mean time, we’ve got a few movie recommendations to tide you over for a little while. These come to us from our friends and colleagues, Ian Olson and Trevor Almy. So read, watch, and most importantly, enjoy!
The Last Broadcast (1998)
People tend to remember The Last Broadcast, when they do, as the precursor to The Blair Witch Project, but this simply isn’t fair. Both are indebted to The Legend of Boggy Creek, but The Last Broadcast first introduces the conceit of the documentary containing newly discovered found footage of doomed videographers. The film largely follows Boggy Creek’s format, masquerading as a long episode of In Search Of…centered around the disappearance of a local TV show crew during their broadcast from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Does the legendary Jersey Devil have anything to do with their disappearance? Or is something more human, though no less monstrous, responsible? The Last Broadcast relies on documentary restraint rather than overt scares to slowly disseminate its dark, doleful ambience.
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery is likewise restrained, at least by Fulci’s standards. White anxieties over settling and real estate anchor the plot in one locale, the titular house by the cemetery whose cellar houses a terrible secret. There’s a late evening, November pall hanging over this film, a melancholy that sets it apart from Fulci’s other, more gruesome work, making for a more intimate tale of doom than we would customarily expect from the Italian master. Fulci wanted to craft an homage to H. P. Lovecraft, and the result is reflective more of Lovecraft’s earlier tales than the Elder Gods mythos. Strains of The Turn of the Screw, The Shining, and Frankenstein congeal into a pulpy, rotting mass of forbidden science and buried history. It’s not the strongest of Fulci’s films, but one you might have missed in the flurry of Halloween classics last month.
Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (2017)
When I was a kid, I loathed dark chocolate, but, as I aged, I developed a taste for it, even to the point of it becoming my favorite candy. Watching Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is kind of like that experience. Afterwards, I was perplexed by the hallucinatory, avant-garde, phantasmagoric directorial debut by Lukas Feigelfeld. Like the goat’s milk in the movie, this work had to pasteurize with me; the film had to have the repulsive and unnerving symbols and imagery made palatable before I could adopt a favorable stance to it. However, it is the movie’s transgressive and scandalous visuals and sound that distinguish it as a cinematic experience dissimilar from any other. While the film is an abstract narrative, its setting is identifiable as medieval Germany during a time when people were besieged with superstition. The movies opens with Albruin (Celina Peter) living an existence of scarcity and survival with her mother Martha (Claudia Martini), all while being persecuted by face-covered townsfolk who accuse them of being witches. The first act brings together the twin themes of mortality and fertility that will recur throughout the rest of the work. When later we follow an adult Albruin (Aleksandra Cwen), we witness a woman struggling to survive in a time of misogyny. Relying on minimal dialogue and enchanting, staged, natural cinematography, Feigelfeld is able to weave in a subtext about sexual assault that is told in a way that is not explicit but still as unsettling as it should be. Although I am able to consider the themes from a sterilized place now, I know that, through the film’s spellbinding, chanting score, I am being called back to watch and be provoked by the organic horrors of the movie all over again.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)
Tigers Are Not Afraid weds the fantastical and the supernatural with gritty, unflinching realism. It is a story about the devastating effects of narco trafficking and how the protagonist copes through fairy tale and myth. The film resonates with the lyricism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez while taking an unflinching look at the childhood trauma in a cartel dominated Mexico. Despite the cinematic magical realism, the narrative does not flinch from exposing us to the crimes perpetrated against a group of small, orphaned kids. In her debut work, Issa Lopez shows an influence as vast as Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro (particularly The Devil’s Backbone) but still displays original vision. She achieves this feat primarily by depicting the travesties of border violence through the imagination of a child in order that we might feel afresh the weight of inhumanity occurring so close to us.