Tone-Deaf (2019) – Make Allegory Great Again

Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival

This year I had the distinct pleasure of going to the Sydney Underground Film Festival, not as press but purely for fun because I genuinely love a film festival that’s dedicated to the weirder side of cinema. This is the stuff that probably would never see a mainstream theatrical release unless we were having a particularly slow period of releases and cinemas got desperate. During this festival I saw 11 films over 3 days and so, between mainstream movie reviews, I’ll be dropping these for a while to share my views on films you might want to track down if you can find them… because dammit, I watched all of them, you’re damn right I’m getting the most that I possibly can out of the experience. Let’s start with the first film I saw at the festival, Tone-Deaf.

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The Banana Splits Movie (2019) – Five Nights At Fleegle’s

Released: 4th September
Seen: 6th September

One of the great things about the horror genre is its ability to take something innocent and, with minimal alterations, turn it into an icon of terror. Santa Claus was never a scary creation but put an axe in his hand and you have the poster for Silent Night, Deadly Night. No one used to associate hockey masks with horror until one unlucky day when a boy named Jason put one on before heading out to Camp Crystal Lake. That’s the power of horror; innocent images can be given malevolent meaning just by a change in context. So, if this idea works for well-known images like Santa or the hockey mask, the question is if it can work for a bunch of iconic animal costumes from a 60s variety show. The answer is yes, but only as a novelty.

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It: Chapter Two (2019) – Clowning Around

Released: 5th September
Seen: 4th September (Advance Screening)

In 2017, the film It came out in cinemas to wide praise. It was shocking, horrifying, a terrific adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most beloved novels. It was proof that this story could be done better than it had been with the 90s miniseries and it was one of the most terrifying films in recent memory. I loved that film so much that I put it at number five on my best-of list for 2017 and I sometimes wonder if maybe it should’ve been higher because it was just that great. The first film did one thing perfectly, it simply told the story of the main characters from when they were children and left the adult stuff for the sequel. It allowed the film to feel complete and gave it a fantastic tone, making it a story of childhood fears and the pain of adolescence. This movie had the impossible task of not only matching that terrifying tone but elevating it while also introducing the adult versions of the main cast. It had to carry on the story of the Losers’ Club and show us just how much more terrifying Pennywise the clown could be with the child safety taken off him… there’s a reason this sounds like an impossible task and it’s not one that this film managed to completely achieve, though it did do some pretty great things.

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Baby Jane Aged Well

It could be argued that there was no greater Hollywood feud than the one between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It’s a hatred that’s so well known that it formed the basis for a hit television series by Ryan Murphy, “Feud: Bette and Joan“. I’m going to link to a timeline of their feud, which started in 1933 and involve marriages, divorces, stolen roles, Oscar scandal and so many of Bette Davis’ most venomous barbs that it’s genuinely stunning that the two of them were able to put their genuine hatred for each other aside long enough to complete a single take in their 1962 classic What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?. But they did, they managed to take their animosity and turn it into one of the biggest films of the year, 14th highest-grossing at the box office and it’s now considered one of the camp cult classics that live on almost as a joke… I don’t get how because the movie is intense as hell, but then again camp is a strange thing.

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Midsommar (2019) – Sommar In The City

Released: 14th August
Seen: 22nd August

In 2018, Ari Aster burst onto the scene with his critical darling Hereditary. It’s possibly one of the most tension-filled films in recent memory with a performance by its lead that can best be described as “Should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination and would’ve if the Academy had anything resembling a functioning brain”. It was a delightfully terrifying film that I ended up giving a three out of five because the ending really threw me. With over a year to think about that, while the ending really did spoil the tension for me I have to admit it deserved at least a four from me so keep that in mind as I’m going to be pitting Midsommar against Hereditary, because Ari Aster is such a unique filmmaker that his current work can only be properly compared to his other work.

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The House That Jack Built (2019) – Get Me A Wrecking Ball

Released: 7th March
Seen: 14th August

I do not think there is a more controversial director working today than Lars Von Trier. His films have an extraordinary ability to divide an audience in 10 minutes. You either love his work or hate it and there is no real room for anything between those. He is one of the few true auteur filmmakers who also helped invent an entire movement in cinema known as Dogme 95, which I highly recommend looking up because it is kind of insane and will go a long way into explaining why Von Trier’s films are the way that they are. Now I’ve always been iffy on Lars, enough that I have just kind of avoided his work. I saw Antichrist years ago, a film that I consider one of the great comedies of all time (provided you watch it directly after you watch Irreversible) and I’ve seen clips of Melancholia but I have had no real desire to watch any more of Lars’ movies… and then I decided to be a reviewer and he put out a film that I would need to watch and talk about, so I’m not exactly in a great mood right now but mostly I just need a nap.

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Long Weekend (1978) – If You Go Down To The Woods Today… Don’t

On this blog, I tend to stick to current releases, specifically things that came out the same year I wrote them since this entire blog came to be out of a need for me to try and see every film when it came out. This has meant that films from last year that I missed don’t get talked about and I haven’t done any classic films. Basically, it’s been nothing but new films, old editorials and Drag Race reviews and two of those things aren’t being done anymore SO from now on I’m going to try and do one review of an older film a week. Maybe it’ll be something you’ve heard of, maybe you’ll have no idea what the hell I’m talking about (a common response) but I’m trying something here so let’s see how it goes. To start with let’s go back to 1978 and talk about a classic bit of Australian cinema, Long Weekend.

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Crawl (2019) – You Can Call Me Al-ligator

Released: 11th July
Seen: 30th July

One great thing about Horror is it has many subgenres and every subgenre has its standout movie. Slashers have Halloween, Zombies have the George Romero trilogy of Night/Dawn/Day of the Living Dead and Found Footage has The Blair Witch Project. There’s a pantheon of iconic movies in each subgenre that help confirm horror as one of the most diverse and fascinating genres of film. The movie we’re going to talk about today, Crawl, fits into the subgenre known as Natural Horror which has given us classics like Jaws, The Birds and Cujo. It might be a little early to make this kind of call, but I would be willing to say that Crawl might be up there with those movies as an example of a great natural horror movie.

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Annabelle Comes Home (2019) – No Dolls Allowed

Released: 26th June
Seen: 3rd July

The Conjuring universe never seems to know when to stop trying to grow. With seven movies out since 2013, the low budget horror series has become a staple of horror cinema and really resurrected the haunted house genre. It’s been stumbling a bit lately though, with last years The Nun making a lot of money but getting savaged critically (I was mostly OK with the film, but I was also really early into my critical phase) and thisyears The Curse Of La Llorona which not only did badly with critics but it’s the lowest earning film in the franchise. Sure, it still made over $100million on a budget of $9million but that movie is a sign that maybe this style of horror might not be working as well… it’s certainly getting to the point where we’re beginning to see the cracks in this franchise thanks to the repetition, which leads us nicely to Annabelle Comes Home.

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Child’s Play (2019) – This IS The End, Friend

Released: 20th June
Seen: 20th June

In 1988, a horror icon was born. Poking fun at the popularity of Cabbage Patch Dolls, Child’s Play showed us what would happen if one of those cherubic collectable toys ended up being possessed by a vicious serial killer who needed to put his soul into the body of a young child. The film was a box office success, pulling in around $44 million worldwide on a budget of only $9million. It spawned four theatrically released sequels and two VOD releases with the most recent one, Cult of Chucky, getting released two years ago. There’s also a TV series coming out on Syfy next year that’s currently being called Chucky and will bring back the legendary serial killing doll. It’s a series that has a loyal fan base who have followed the series from day one and it’s easily in my top 5 favourite horror franchises. I enjoy the series so much that I have even defended the much-maligned Seed of Chucky, which I still feel is an underrated gem that just happened to come out at the exact wrong time. Basically, the franchise is pretty much perfect as it is and doesn’t need a remake… but thanks to some fun legalese where the Child’s Play name isn’t owned by the creators of the franchise (because intellectual property law is fun and not at all pointlessly convoluted), MGM didn’t need to get permission to reboot the franchise that’s still alive and kicking and so now here we are with Child’s Play (2019)… because remakes of classic 80’s slashers never go horribly wrong, except for every single time they remake a classic 80’s slasher.

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