I know that we’re not even quite to the halfway point on our trip back around to Halloween just yet, but if you’re already jonesing for a taste of the spooky season, Jason McKittrick recently turned me on to the existence of a little show called The Witching Season, which is streaming on Amazon Prime or available to watch on YouTube.


While the show’s humble origins and limited budget are apparent everywhere in its production, that doesn’t stop it from evoking the season better than most more expensive movies ever manage. The episodes themselves range from 9 minutes at their shortest to around 30 at their longest, and you could easily watch all five episodes in the time it would take to watch a regular film.

The end result is a series of short subjects that would feel right at home in the shorts block at any given horror film festival, connected together by a nostalgic yearning for Halloween and a shared style and tone, even as their subject matter ranges from high strange horror to masked killers, possessed toys, and haunted houses.

None of the episodes are necessarily any great shakes in the story department, though most feature a “twist in the tale” that is probably easy enough to predict going in, but satisfying for what it is. Where the show more than makes up for any ground that it loses in production value or originality, however, is in its Halloween atmosphere, which is effortlessly captured in lingering shots of decorations, pumpkin patches, and dead leaves.

There are some nice touches of local color, as well, as certain episodes bleed into each other, often through radio shows or late-night TV vaguely reminiscent of the WNUF Halloween Special or the wraparound segment of Ti West’s The Roost. Honestly, The Witching Season is worth your time for the opening titles alone, which summarize the season beautifully, in a series of shots vaguely (and, based on the rest of the series, probably intentionally) reminiscent of the great opening titles of Halloween 4.


It feels like the height of ingratitude to complain about The Ritual: a quiet and slow-burning but ultimately satisfying horror tale that is superbly cast, well-acted, and beautifully shot, and which contains [SPOILERS] one of the best monster designs in recent memory. And yet, while all those things are true, I never felt like The Ritual ever quite became the movie it so very nearly was.

Trading in plenty of familiar horror tropes: the woods are scary, so are people who live in rural communities and keep to “the old ways,” The Ritual juxtaposes these early on against a backdrop reminding us that the brightly-lit modern world can be quite scary and dangerous, as well. The parallel comes up again and again throughout the film, in shots that are production designed beautifully, as the off-license that is at the heart of the film’s galvanizing moment is subsumed gradually by the forest in successive dream-like sequences. Yet for all that this reminder seems at the heart of the film, it never connects completely with the film’s final act.

For the first half or two-thirds of its running time, The Ritual is carried, in no small part, by the performances of its leads, and by their dialogue, which never feels strained, even while it conveys a relationship that is always straining at the seams. These early moments seem better than anything that the movie’s climax could deliver, and there’s the fear that we’re looking at another Autopsy of Jane Doe situation, but then, at the last minute, the monster shows up.

Much has been made online of the monster design in The Ritual, and rightly so. It’s something pretty special, a mix between Laird Barron’s “Blackwood’s Baby” and the Kothoga from The Relic. It combines uncanny folkloric resonances with the scope of the monsters in Trollhunter, though never quite deployed with the same devil-may-care success as that film’s many creatures. The monster in The Ritual–which the film calls a jotun–is seen both more than you expect and less than you want, and its implications are played up to be just as effective as its unusually solid execution, which suffers only a very little from the clutter which so haunts contemporary creature design.

Maybe it has to do with when I watched it–after an extremely long day, when I probably should have been in bed but was too tired to sleep– or maybe it’s something in the changes that, I’m told, have been made from Adam Nevill’s source novel, but while The Ritual is good, truly, genuinely very good, and while it has a creature that will be hard to top for best monster of the year, it feels like it is comprised of a bunch of parts, all of which are quite good on their own, but which never feed into one-another in the way that they need to in order to create a sum that is more than themselves. Which is, again, a petty and ungrateful complaint to lodge against a movie that does so much so right, but there you go.


CaptureOn social media I referred to this as a wrap-up, but that’s something of a misnomer, since this year’s Panic Fest proved too huge for one weekend and has spread into evening showings all this week, giving you another opportunity to see some of the best movies of the Fest, including Tigers Are Not AfraidVidar the Vampire, and Ruin Me all playing tonight, not to mention another shot at Tigers tomorrow and They Remain on Wednesday.

This year’s Panic Fest was, I think, my fourth one ever, and my second attending primarily as a civilian, rather than helping out with booths and stuff. I also doubled my previous weekend best when it comes to watching movies, and caught eight films at this year’s Fest, most of which were really good. Highlights include Ruin MeVidar the VampireTigers Are Not Afraid, and Lowlife. Of course, They Remain would be high on this list if I hadn’t already seen it at its world premiere at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival last year.

The list in full is: Ruin MeVidar the VampireThe CuredMohawkTigers Are Not AfraidLowlifeBirdboy, and Midnighters. I missed a few others that I heard good things about, including Mayhem and Mom and Dad, and I only watched one that I kind of hated myself for seeing, so that’s pretty good.

Tigers Are Not Afraid and Lowlife, in particular, are movies that I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more about in the future, while Vidar is going to be one of those bizarre sleepers that will become like a secret code for those who have seen it. I also saw the trailer for Ghost Stories something like three times, and it quickly climbed to one of my most anticipated movies of the year. For those who haven’t seen the trailer yet, it looks absolutely amazing, and like exactly my kind of thing. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it’s like the first half of Autopsy of Jane Doe, only the whole way through.

When not watching movies–and sometimes when I was–I got to spend some more time with Philip Gelatt and his producer Will, who were very gracious and a lot of fun, and who unfortunately opted to watch mostly the worst movies I saw with me. After seeing They Remain at the HPLFF, I had encouraged Adam and Tim to bring it to Panic Fest, and I was thrilled when it not only joined the lineup, but when Phil and Will decided to fly into town to introduce the film. I hope they had a great time in KC.

Other non-movie highlights include playing a Terminator 2 pinball game with Will and Phil, listening to Will’s Hollywood stories (which convinced me at last that nothing I make up about movie production will ever be as bizarre as the truth), intruding upon a couple’s very intense game of Connect Four (if either of you are reading this, hi and also sorry), saying hello to friends who I only seem to see at these events, and staying the night in a just-about-Banfield tier hotel with walls painted two different colors of brown, which really added to the horror fest ambiance, especially right after watching Lowlife. (It didn’t hurt that when I turned on the TV there was a women’s prison episode of Murder, She Wrote co-starring Adrienne Barbeau.) I didn’t take very many photos at this year’s Fest, and those I did take were a little odd, but I had an amazing time.

Panic Fest remains a great experience every year, and the Screenland Armour remains a great local movie theatre, run by great people who love movies as much as (probably more than) I do. If you aren’t from the Kansas City area, it’s worth your while to come in for Panic Fest some year. It’s always a hell of a time.

This may not be much of a wrap-up, and I may be making the trek back out for a few of the extended programming movies some evening this week, but for now I’m feeling a little worse for three days of wear, so this is about all I’ve got in me. More later…

Hey, I’ve been a little out of the loop recently, for one reason and another, but in the meantime I have been a guest on a couple of different podcasts. First, there was an epic two-part interview with me over at the This is Horror podcast, in which I talked with hosts Bob Pastorella and Michael David Wilson about monsters (of course), anxiety, finding your voice, tips for freelancers, and, yeah, even more about monsters. You can listen to the first half here, or find the second half here.


Sort of in-between, I was also a guest at the Spooklights podcast from Muzzleland Press, where I talked with hosts Jonathan Raab and Tom Breen about making horror fun, writing licensed fiction, The Last Jedi, and monsters (duh). You can listen to that one right here.  As a bonus, I believe it contains the first official mention of what is going to be my third collection, coming hopefully next year.

This doesn’t (necessarily) have anything to do with podcasts, but next weekend I’ll be at Panic Fest right her in KC, where I’ll be watching a bunch of movies and hanging out with cool local horror fans, not to mention director Philip Gelatt again. I think they are already sold out of tickets, but if you’ve already got yours, I’ll see you there, and if not, I dunno, find a scalper or sneak in or something. It’s going to be a hell of a thing.

There’s really limited utility for a review here. By the fourth installment in a franchise, you’re either on board for what the Insidious series is peddling or you’re not, and The Last Key isn’t going to change your mind, one way or the other.


The main reason to get excited about The Last Key prior to going in was Adam Robitel in the director’s seat. His debut feature, The Taking of Deborah Logan, was surprisingly great, with at least one indelible image that has made the rounds in .gif format so much that you’ve probably seen it by now, even if you’ve never seen the movie and didn’t know what it was from. Sadly, while Robitel sets some really nice mood early on, there is nothing in The Last Key to quite live up to that particular legacy, but there is a big, creaky ghost with skeleton keys for fingers, played by Javier Botet, of course, who has carved out a nice niche for himself playing big, weird, gangly ghosts.

Like all the previous installments after the first, The Last Key is guilty of not going big or weird enough in its final leg, though there are some welcome changes of direction midway through. And while the temporal shenanigans of Chapter 2 never make themselves apparent, there is a moment that feels much like one of them near the end of The Last Key, with one of those pesky red doors.

While engaging in many of the same kinds of jump scares that have been a hallmark of the series and its imitators, Robitel also resists the temptation of them more often than he is probably being given credit for, dragging out sequences of tension to almost excruciating length, occasionally to the point where the tension just dissipates rather than snapping.

What the film does do well is to remember that Elise is the beating heart of this franchise, and to give Lin Shaye (as well as screenwriter Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, playing Specs and Tucker) plenty of screen time. We also dive much more into Elise’s backstory. Which probably wasn’t strictly necessary, but doesn’t really do any harm, either.

I’m a notorious Insidious apologist, and I’ve loved every installment in the franchise so far, even the mostly forgettable third film. And I loved this one. But even I’m ready to hold up my hand and say that The Last Key should probably also be the last Insidious film. At this point, the snake has well and truly eaten its own tail, so it’s probably time to call it a night. Unless you want to give me the TV series where Specs, Tucker, and the ghost of Elise solve cute mysteries. I’d be down for that.



In my previous wrap-up of movies that I watched in 2017, I neglected to mention that I also attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland as a guest again this year, where I think I only saw one movie, but that was Philip Gelatt’s really excellent They Remain, which I talked about right after the Festival back here.  For various reasons, I didn’t consider They Remain for my top 10 movies from last year, but if I had, it no doubt would have made the list.

I’m very pleased to say that They Remain will also be showing at this year’s Panic Fest right here in Kansas City, with director Philip Gelatt in attendance! I think it will prove a divisive film, but one that’ll get talked about a lot as more and more people get a chance to see it. I’m especially happy to have it playing here in my own hometown, at our kickass local horror film fest at our kickass local theatre, because I played a small (but I’m going to pretend pivotal) role in helping it find a home at Panic Fest.

If you’re local to KC (or even relatively close), Panic Fest is the place to be the last weekend in January. I’ve already got my tickets, and I’ll be there all weekend, probably haunting the dealer room when I’m not watching movies. So come find me and say hi!

In 2017 I watched 245 movies. Of those, I watched 152 of them for the first time, only keeping ahead of my “watch more movies that I haven’t seen before than ones that I have” goal by about 30 titles.

Of those, I watched 32 movies that were released in 2017 (depending upon how you count release dates). That’s actually a higher-than-usual number for me, which also means that, for the first time in a while, I saw enough good movies that came out in 2017 that I feel comfortable assembling a top ten list without just including every movie that I didn’t hate on it. So, with the usual caveats that this is a list of my ten favorite movies of 2017, certainly not necessarily the ten best, and that at only 32 movies, there are lots more that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2017 as they stand right now:


10. Better Watch Out
I saw Better Watch Out back in August during a special theatrical screening and it blew me away; a vicious, funny, frequently surprising take on the home invasion formula and also a chilling look at male entitlement. If I was still going entirely off of that initial experience, this would be higher on my list, but a second viewing took off some of the shine. Still, if you’re going to see this one, see it as cold as possible, And whatever you do, don’t watch the trailer, which gives away many of the film’s best reveals.

9. Kong: Skull Island
There are plenty of better movies that didn’t make this list, but pretty much no matter what else I saw this year, Skull Island‘s complete and unflinching dedication to being a two-hour pilot for a gory Saturday morning cartoon meant that it was always going to have a place here. Plus, lots and lots of monsters.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This slot could basically be a tie between Three Billboards and the Netflix original I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. But, gun to my head, Martin McDonagh’s third feature takes the edge thanks to incredible performances from its leads and an unexpected emotional through-line that takes the Coen Brothers-esque premise someplace perhaps less satisfying but ultimately more cathartic than it seems.

7. Gerald’s Game
When I initially watched Mike Flanagan’s passion project adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, I walked away with mixed feelings. But the more I thought about it, the more this intricate meditation on the long-term effects of trauma stuck with me. As someone who is still working through the aftereffects of childhood trauma, there were plenty of moments here that felt all-too-familiar.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
I’ve been waiting all my life for them to finally get a Spider-Man movie right. Guess it only took six tries.

5. Baby Driver
Baby Driver is an imperfect movie, especially in its last third where even its best elements begin to break down. But its central conceit — a musical in which the characters listen to the music rather than singing it — is so enjoyable that it carries the movie well beyond anyplace it might otherwise have crashed on its own.

4. The Shape of Water
It is maybe a little ironic that what is probably Guillermo del Toro’s most assured film to date is also the one that feels the least like a Del Toro film. In The Shape of Water, Del Toro channels his affection for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Abe Sapien, 60s Cold War paranoia, golden age Hollywood musicals, and a whole lot more into a love letter to outsiders that feels as much like a piece of French fabulism as it does any of Del Toro’s Spanish-language films.

4. Blade of the Immortal
For his 100th movie (depending on how you count), Takashi Miike combines the over-the-top qualities for which he is perhaps best known with the beauty and control of his more stately samurai films to create the bonkers and beautiful Blade of the Immortal. I watched it while recovering from surgery, and wrote up my slightly-drug-addled impressions at greater length for Unwinnable.

2. Thor: Ragnarok
There are lots of better movies lower on this list, but I probably didn’t have a better time at the movies all year than I did with Thor: Ragnarok. The various Marvel Cinematic Universe films have always done a pretty good job of feeling like they occupied an ever-expanding comic book universe, but Thor: Ragnarok may be the first one that actually feels like reading a four-issue comic book arc, in all the very best ways. For various reasons, I seldom see movies more than once during their initial theatrical run. In fact, I can almost count the number of times I have done so on one hand. Sadly, I haven’t yet gone to see Thor: Ragnarok twice while in the theatre (and probably won’t), but I really want to, which maybe says all I need to say.

1. Get Out
When I left the theatre after seeing Get Out, one of the first things I said was, “I’ve got to stop watching the best movie I’m going to see all year in February.” (Last year it was The Witch.) I said it partly as a joke, but I also wasn’t kidding. From the minute I finished Get Out, I knew I wouldn’t see a better movie in 2017 because, let’s be honest, how amazing a year would it have been if we got two movies as good as Get Out?

My least favorite movie of the year has also remained the same since the moment I walked out of the theatre, and let us hope that it shall always remain so, because if I see a movie that I hate more than I hated Alien: Covenant in the immediate future, I will be very sad.

Besides those movies above, I had a lot of great experiences in the theatre watching revival showings in 2017. Once again, I made it out to Panic Fest in January, this time attending as a civilian for the first time ever, and I’m planning to go again this year. I caught the Nerdoween mystery triple feature with the Nerds of Nostalgia at the Tapcade for the third year in a row, in what has rapidly become my Halloween tradition. This year I saw Tales from the Hood for the first time, and got to introduce Jay to both Waxwork and Creepshow. And if Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t the best time I had at the movies all year, then seeing The Deadly Spawn for the first time ever on the big screen at the Alamo definitely was. Not only did I love the movie, but there was just that magic in the air that made the screening a particularly special event.

The last movie that I watched in 2017 was either The Last Jedi or Terminator 2, depending on how you count. The first movie I watched in 2018 was The Debt (2010), but the next one I watch is likely to be the much more on-brand Hell Night.