October is an important month to me. I’ve talked a lot about this before. As a horror writer and person who predominantly consumes horror media, it’s a big time of year for me. Most years for the past decade or so, I’ve had a new book coming out in October, and this year will (hopefully) be no different, assuming supply chain issues don’t kick How to See Ghosts & Other Figments a little later into the season.
None of that is really why I love October so much, though. I love Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year. I love the grinning pumpkins, the autumn leaves, the fake cobwebs, and all that jazz. I love the fun of it, the carnival curtain covering the morbid reminder of our own mortality. I love autumn, the time of year that feels most right to me.
Every October, in various ways and for various reasons, I try to make the month feel special. For myself, for my friends and family, and for those who follow me online. This year, some things have come up. Nothing bad. In fact, some possibly quite good. But they’re going to change the dynamic of how I spend my time over the coming weeks.
Most years, I try to do a #31NightsofHalloween countdown on Twitter, running through what I’m watching, reading, and otherwise imbibing to celebrate the season. I’ll still be doing that, but there’s a real chance that I won’t be consuming quite as much as I otherwise would.
There are still some really exciting events happening in October. Nerdoween on the 15th, Analog Sunday on the 16th, and Tyler Unsell and I hosting Ghostwatch on the 27th at the Stray Cat Film Center. Not to mention my book which, hopefully, I’ll have more news about soon. And I’ll probably fit more other stuff in around that than even I am expecting. But if October is a little quiet this year, it’s not for any bad reason, and not for lack of enthusiasm.
The spirit, as they say, is willing.
In the meantime, I’ve seen a lot of folks asking for recommendations for movies to watch during the spooky season, and over on Twitter I’ve compiled a thread (two of them, actually) of some of the best ones I’ve ever seen that most folks never talk about. These are not just some oddities (that I love) that I have encountered over the years. These are, at least for my money, dyed-in-the-wool classics, every bit the match of their more famous counterparts, in various ways, and any one of them should be a guaranteed homerun for your Halloween viewing.
Starting last night, I began playing a game of the Alien RPG from Free League with Stu Horvath and the folks at Team Unwinnable. The game, a pre-gen “cinematic” scenario called “Destroyer of Worlds,” is a subscriber reward unlocked during the mag’s last subscription drive – and, incidentally, the next one is coming up soon.
We’ll be playing every Thursday night for at least the next couple of weeks and live-streaming the results, so feel free to tune in to Unwinnable’s Twitch channel, if you’re into that kind of thing. You can also watch not-live recordings of the previous game sessions, such as last night’s.
This is my first experience with live-streaming a roleplaying game – or anything else, really, although we did some live-streamed episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while. It’s also my first experience with the Alien RPG, which is more what I’m here to talk about.
Longtime readers will know that the Alien franchise – and Aliens, in particular – holds a special place in my heart, so playing a game based around it, and specifically one in which we play marines, feeds back into a lot of things from my early life.
The Alien RPG is one of those roleplaying games that presents a much narrower field of possibilities than something like D&D. You would think this limitation, combined with an extensive knowledge of the source material, might make for games that felt stagnant or free from tension. Last night, at least, we found the opposite to be true.
There’s a very famous quote, from an interview with Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, in which Hitchcock explains the difference between suspense and surprise. “Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us,” Hitchcock begins. If the audience doesn’t know it’s there, everyone is surprised when it goes off. However, if the audience does know that it’s there, but the characters do not, that creates suspense.
Something that is easy to forget in a roleplaying game is that you are both the audience and the protagonists. If you’re playing it right, there will be things that you, the players, know that your characters do not.
In some ways, narrative-focused games like Alien are better at exposing and exploiting this tension between character and player than a game like D&D could ever be – and there are other games, more narrative-driven yet, that are better at it still, and that even make it their central mechanism.
In the case of last night’s Alien game, our previous familiarity with the subject matter acted as the audience’s knowledge of the bomb beneath the table, forcing us, as players, to push our characters into situations that we knew (or thought we knew) were going to be disastrous, because they had no way of knowing what we knew. It also allowed us (the players) to be taken in by red herrings – misdirects for the audience that are largely meaningless to the characters.
It’s a reminder that RPGs are capable of more than we often remember to give them credit for, and a very sharp demonstration of Hitchcock’s bomb-under-the-table theory of suspense, and I’m looking forward to more surprises, more tension, more comedy, and more carnage in future installments of this Alien RPG live-stream!
“It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.” – Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
No sooner had the calendar flipped than the skirmishes began. September 1 is either still summer, or it’s the first day of Halloween. At least by observing the battle lines drawn up on Twitter and elsewhere across social media, you must choose a side.
Naturally, and to the surprise of no one, I am on the side of the Autumn People, described so evocatively by Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes: “For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.”
There is a story in Ian Rogers’ Every House is Haunted which argues that autumn is a uniquely magical season because it is the only one that doesn’t exist in perpetuity somewhere on Earth. There are places where it is, for all intents and purposes, always winter, always summer, or even, arguably, always spring. But there is no place where it is always autumn.
There is, in other words, no October Country (described again by Bradbury): “That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.”
Perhaps the only country where it can be autumn all year round is the one in our hearts.
On September 1, I put up my Halloween decorations this year. As the rough beast that is Christmas slouches ever earlier in the year, decorative gourd season is squeezed shorter and shorter each anum, so what harm if it bleeds a little into the summer?
Little enough else of my behavior changes with the changing of the season. I am one of those Autumn People, and I watch monster movies all year long. If anything, only the tenor of the movies I seek out changes with the leaves. As the season turns, I want movies that evoke that small-town, autumnal beauty that represents Halloween as much as grinning pumpkins or sheeted ghosts.
I reach back, even more than I do the rest of the time, to black-and-white horrors that feel delightfully stagebound. To films that crunch with dry autumn leaves underfoot. October proper has its own traditions. There’s Nerd-o-ween, which I will be attending once again this year at the Screenland Armour, making my eighth year in a row, never having missed an occurrence, even the year that I was dying. There’s Analog Sunday, which will be rolling out a double-feature, and the Horror Pod Class, where we’ll be hosting Ghostwatch at the Stray Cat Film Center. And then, of course, there’s the fact that my own new collection should be out in time for Halloween – or thereabouts.
While September is the first month of Halloween, though, it hasn’t quite reached the same saturation point for me. Monster movies are still the order of the day, wherever possible, or creaky thrillers replete with cobwebs. But the seasonal quality of them hasn’t yet solidified. Alien invaders and city-crushing kaiju are still fair game in September, as much as they are the rest of the year.
As I said, I keep the October Country in my heart year round, but I also watch a lot of other kinds of movies. In September and October, it’s monster weather. Ghost stories will come, as October ramps up and the winter gradually shakes the leaves from the trees. For the moment, though, give me rubber creatures or old dark houses, and I’ll be happy – a sentiment that I could honestly aver any time of year, without hesitation.
This will necessarily contain major spoilers for both Nightmare Alley (1947) and GDT’s remake. These are also raw reactions, fresh off watching the remake for the first time. They may soften as time goes on, as has been the case with many other GDT films.
Well, Nightmare Alley (2021) looks great, anyway. And normally, in a Guillermo del Toro film, the looks are more than just skin deep. GDT’s films are generally crammed with what he calls “eye protein,” and the visuals typically do more narrative heavy lifting than the script or the characters. With Nightmare Alley, though – a movie he has been talking about remaking for probably a decade or more – he is shackled to a narrative that already exists. A story that has already been told, better and more economically than it is here, which makes all the show-stopping visuals feel strangely superfluous, rather than integral.
For those who don’t already know, Nightmare Alley is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name – which is, itself, an adaptation of a novel from 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham, which I have never read. There are a few things holding the 1947 original back from genuine greatness, but it is built around one of noir’s more dynamite central premises, following a carnival performer turned mentalist named Stanton Carlisle as he teams up with a femme fatale psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.
In the original, Carlisle is played by Tyrone Power, while the psychiatrist (with the very good villain name Lilith Ritter) is played by Helen Walker. In Del Toro’s version, they are Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, respectively. Honestly, the casting in the 2021 Nightmare Alley, like the visuals, is mostly great. The problem comes from that story.
As I mentioned, the story of the 1947 original is one of the better ones in noir. Del Toro and his collaborator Kim Morgan know that, and stick close to it. Perhaps too close, turning this new Nightmare Alley into a fascinating study of why modern movies are insufferably long, as it hits all the same beats as the original, but takes almost a full hour longer to do it.
It doesn’t help that the places where the remake chooses to deviate add little – and sometimes detract. Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle is not a patch on Tyrone Power’s, but that has less to do with any deficiency in his acting and more to do with how the character is written and directed. Given a traumatic backstory from literally the first scene, Cooper’s Carlisle is too much a damaged child to ever be the man with a hole where his soul should be that Power played so well.
In fact, one of the few places where the original film missteps is in not rolling credits soon enough. There’s a moment, near the end of the film, when Carlisle has fallen as far as he ever will, and is offered a job he once swore he would never take. When asked if he thinks he’s up for it, he replies, “Mister, I was born for it.”
Had the original rolled credits there, it would probably be unassailable. As it is, it runs on a few minutes more. Del Toro learned the original’s lesson, though, and does cut the film at those fateful lines – except that when Cooper’s Carlisle finally utters them, they hit completely differently than when Power’s Carlisle did.
More than anything, Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a film that struggles to justify itself. Why this, when we could just be watching the original? The production designs are certainly better here – the carnival looks great, as you might imagine, and Ritter’s office is a triumph of the production designer’s art – but they seem to add little of substance. And for all that Del Toro has been itching to make this movie for years, he only seems to come alive when the ghoulish parts are happening.
There’s a moment, in the last act, when a bloody “ghost” appears in a sequence that harkens to his work on Crimson Peak. It comes after a long span of relative “normalcy,” in which the carnival and its oddities have been left behind. There’s almost an audible “pop” when the moment happens, as the film suddenly snaps back into sharp focus, as though it’s been on autopilot for minutes and is only now paying attention once more.
All of this is extremely hard on Nightmare Alley, which isn’t quite fair. Del Toro has certainly made worse movies in his career, and I can’t shake the feeling that – had I never previously seen the original – this might have worked a lot better for me. In fact, as much as I love the guy’s work, Del Toro has a few movies that I kind of hate. But usually, with his movies, it’s one or the other. I love them or hate them, and even when I hate them, I’m drawn into them. Nightmare Alley may be the first time I just felt… indifferent, which is possibly more damning.
Ironically, Wikipedia identifies this 2021 version as a new adaptation of the novel, rather than a remake of the 1947 film. If it had been that, it might have been spared some of these problems. While the novel and both movies have the same central premise and most of the same broad story beats, the novel goes several places the movies never do. If Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley had followed the novel instead of the film, maybe it could have better carved a niche for itself where it felt less uncomfortable.
This is one of those movies that was never going to live up to how long it had been sitting on my watchlist. Directed by Tobe Hooper; very loosely adapted from a short story by Mr. Rear Window himself, Cornell Woolrich; starring a who’s who of supporting players including Twin Peaks‘ Madchen Amick, Anthony Perkins, R. Lee Ermey, Dee Wallace, and others. The pedigree of I’m Dangerous Tonight is what makes it a curiosity, but the plot is what initially got my attention.
That plot is simple enough. Devil Fish‘s William Berger is a professor of something-or-other and he’s really into macabre stuff, including an Aztec sacrificial altar, which he has delivered to the museum at the university. The altar contains a hidden compartment holding the mummified remains of the Aztec priest, who is wrapped in his (still pristine) red ceremonial robes.
Knowing their power, the professor dons the robes, goes on a murderous rampage, and then offs himself. The robes are sold at an estate sale by accident, and bought by a mousy college student (Amick) who turns them into a red dress that renders her sexually uninhibited, and we’re into low-key erotic thriller territory in short order.
I’m a sucker for cursed objects, and the notion of Tobe Hooper doing a made-for-TV movie about a cursed dress made from the robes of an Aztec mummy was pretty appealing. With Woolrich’s name on the credits and nothing to go on but some of the key art, I was honestly expecting something more like a noir and less like the cozy Fear Street-adjacent plotting that we got.
Which makes a kind of sense. The movie is pretty different from Woolrich’s story. (The two writers credited for the teleplay were regulars on a variety of TV shows including Murder, She Wrote and Highlander.) For example, in Woolrich’s story, the whole Aztec robe idea isn’t there. In fact, the origins of the dress in that instance more closely resemble a more recent film about a cursed red dress, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric.
The synopses of the movie also all make it out like Amick’s character is the main focus of the various malfeasance caused by the dress, but she really only wears it once, and all she does during that time is try to steal her cousin’s shitty boyfriend, pretty much. (She also sort of kills her grandma, who is played by Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, but it really is an accident, albeit one that wouldn’t have happened if not for the dress.) Most of the rest of the movie involves other people getting ahold of the dress, which unlocks in them much more nefarious – and murderous – impulses.
Of all the legendary horror directors of the ’70s-’80s, there may be none with a more unlikely filmography than Tobe Hooper. From the elemental terror of Texas Chain Saw to the borderline-satire of Texas Chainsaw 2, from the scope and scale of something like Lifeforce to the exact opposite of something like this.
I’m Dangerous Tonight is certainly among the lesser entries in his canon, with only a handful of horror scenes that really pop (the introduction of the Aztec priest’s mummified body; flashbacks to the professor’s murder spree), but that unusual pedigree I already mentioned makes sure that it’s a singular one. It’s also a surprisingly cozy movie, filled with nooks you want to curl up and have tea in, and people wearing overlarge sweaters. And the university is yet another horror university that I really wish I could attend, and not just because it has not one but two professors who seem to specialize in cursed objects.
Like I said, this one has been on my watchlist for some time, and the only reason I finally got a chance to see it now was because Kino Lorber recently put it out on Blu-ray. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really not missing anything but if, like me, that’s never stopped you before, you probably won’t regret your time with this oddity.
What if House on Haunted Hill had been made without a trace of camp, and shot like a cheap industrial film?
Anything I can say about Ghosts of Hanley House is going to come off as overselling it. Largely absent anything in the way of effects (or plot, or acting, or action), this regional riff on the Haunting/Haunted Hill formula is pure vibes. And if those vibes don’t hypnotize you right away, it’s dull as dishwater.
Let’s turn to some modern reviews to give you an idea, such as this one from The Spinning Image, which calls the film “so inept it turns Edward D. Wood Jr into Stanley Kubrick.” Reading on: “The acting, photography and lighting are wretched in the extreme, with talking heads gazing uneasily past the camera, uttering inane lines of dialogue while the plot lurches from the sublime to the painfully ridiculous, using visual references to The Haunting in search of any vestige of credibility.”
Ouch, right? And I can’t really say that he’s wrong about… any of that. So why the hell am I writing about it? It hypnotized me, like I said earlier. And you don’t have to look any farther than Letterboxd to see other people who had the same experience.
“Ghosts of Hanley House wasn’t made by professionals,” begins one review, from Bleeding Skull. “But for me, this movie does something that the big-budget majesty of The Haunting never could – it makes me believe in midnight seances, eerie lights escaping from under darkened doorways, and a determined woman named Louise Sherrill who made a movie that no one else could.”
Making a movie, telling a story, is about more than mere competence. It’s even about more than the story. There is an (often accidental) alchemy that transforms the raw stuff of words, pictures, sounds, etc. into something more. Always has been. And I’ve written before about how sometimes even movies that are, undeniably, badly made contain a potency that would have been denied them had they been made any better.
Manos is a terrible film, but its very awkwardness contributes to its unease. The Zapruder-esque quality of Curse of Bigfoot makes it feel genuinely cursed. Similarly, Ghosts of Hanley House captures a sense of the uncanny more effectively than many better films simply by dint of that very rough-hewn unprofessionalism we mentioned before.
The sound effects grate and rattle, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. The score sounds like it is being performed deep underwater. The overblown lighting, the lack of any visual effects, the incoherent edits, and the fact that the actors aren’t really doing very much acting all give the film a different sort of verisimilitude, one that renders the events genuinely eerie, even when there… aren’t really any events, to speak of.
It’s not a movie that I necessarily loved, and it’s certainly not one I can recommend without hesitation. It’s not very good, by any traditional measure, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and basically nothing happens. But if, like me, you’ve been tuned to pick up these kinds of uncanny vibes and vibe with them, well, there’s definitely something here…
As we near the end of June, we are at the halfway point of what has already been both a very good and very bad year, sadly not always in equal measures. There have been some real high points, most of them personal, and plenty of low ones, many of them national.
I’m not here to talk about those, though. I’m here, as usual, to talk about movies. As of this writing, I have watched 158 movies so far in 2022. Of those, around 121 have been new-to-me, easily keeping to my goal of watching more new-to-me movies than re-watching ones I’ve seen before. In fact, I’m crushing that goal so far this year.
In spite of that, I’ve seen relatively few new-to-me movies that I really loved so far in 2022. The best new movie that actually came out this year that I’ve seen was Spider One’s Allegoria, which will be releasing on Shudder early next month and which I reviewed for The Pitch. As usual, I’ve been keeping a list of movies that I really dug that I saw for the first time over on Twitter, and while the list is relatively long already, I feel like the proportion of true favorites on it is fewer than would normally be the case.
Without much competition, the best new-to-me movie I’ve seen so far this year is almost certainly The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, which I literally just caught earlier this month. Other standouts for me include The Pyschic (1977), Ghoulies 2, and finally getting to see War of the Gargantuas and The Unknown Terror, both for the first time.
My biggest month for watching movies was May, when I managed to catch 40. Hopefully, this all bodes well for the second half of the year, with even more new-to-me movies hopefully making the list, and more new favorites discovered.
I’ll also be continuing to host movies and podcasts at Stray Cat Film Center, though we’re taking a break for July, as usual. When we come back, we’ll be discussing what we did on our summer vacation and the 1997 “classic,” I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Of course, I’ll be reviewing movies periodically but, more to the point, if you would like to review some movies, I’m still movies editor at Exploits until they kick me out, and I’d love to get something from you. I’m particularly looking for pieces from marginalized voices, so please feel free to hit me up with a pitch for any movie you’d like to write about. We have a hard cap of 350 words and pay $10 per essay. I’ve got essays locked in for July and August, but I’d love to put a bow on the rest of the year.
The fact that a movie like this can still exist without my ever having heard of it before now is one of the things that keeps me alive. Conceived as a pilot for a supernatural TV series that never happened (it would have been called The Haunted), The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is a made-for-TV movie created by Joseph Stefano, best known for penning the screenplay to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
As such, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre combines elements of horror, hauntings, paranormal investigation, crime, and film noir. As with many of my favorite pictures from the era, a genuine haunting is juxtaposed against (and informed by) a noir-ish tale of very human greed, gaslighting, and murder.
A young Martin Landau plays the delightfully-named Nelson Orion, an architect and amateur ghost hunter whose own past plays into the mystery at the heart of the story. Diane Baker, who was also in Marnie and William Castle’s Strait-Jacket the same year, delivers a stellar performance as both the film’s femme fatale and also perhaps its greatest victim.
The real star of the show, however, is the breathtaking cinematography by the great Conrad Hall, coupled with some impressive fades and transitions, and a soundscape that keeps everything feeling eerie and just a little unhinged, even while the unfolding of the plot is predictably talky.
Let’s be clear, if you’ve been following along here for very long, you’ll know that there are few things I love more than ghostly movies from the 1960s that feel a little like they were made for TV, and this is one of the best of them that I have ever seen. The ghost itself looks genuinely spooky, and the actors’ descriptions of it as drenched in blood, “a thing half born, half dead” are suitably evocative.
The mystery is interesting and complicated, the kind where the supernatural element never overwhelms the human crimes that inform it, nor the other way around. It’s always a rare gift when a movie can make its naturalistic subplot as interesting as its supernatural one without one or both feeling anemic.
Despite all this, I had somehow never heard of this film until Trevor Henderson RTed a tweet by Guilherme Gontijo in praise of it. The simple images he shared combined with my affection for this type of thing were enough to settle it immediately at the top of my “to watch” list, and the fact that it was on Tubi meant that I could do so sooner rather than later.
Discovering a new film like this is one of the great joys of doing what I do, and sharing it is an almost equal pleasure. So, do yourself a favor and watch The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre and then spend some time imagining the TV show we almost got but didn’t…
Twenty years ago, I did something that remains the best thing I have ever done: I married the love of my life, my spouse and partner, Grace. We celebrated our anniversary over the last few days, during which time we stayed in an adorable cabin next to a mountain stream, where we were greeted by a rare sight of a heron eating a fish (a good omen, as it turned out). It was a wonderful trip.
For this first installment (and the next one; the doc is long) we’ll be going over Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the extensive folk horror documentary from Kier-La Janisse that opens the Blu-ray set.
Speaking of columns, my others are still moving along, and the latest installment of my board game column dropped at Unwinnable, where I’m writing about Tiny Epic Dungeons this month, a recent Kickstarter acquisition. Meanwhile, in proper “me writing for Unwinnable” fashion, I also recently covered some… very disparate films over there, writing reviews of a pair of kung fu pictures and a “classic” erotic thriller from the late ’90s.
I’ve also been movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication, for a couple of months now, and my latest acquisition was actually the cover story this month, as David Busboom wrote an unmissable review of one of my favorite weirdo flicks, The Monster Club.
Finally, this one hasn’t happened quite yet, but later this month, Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting a live screening of The Mask (1961) at the Stray Cat Film Center, followed by a live episode of the Horror Pod Class. Will it be sssssssssmokin’? No, it will not. But it WILL be in 3D, complete with special stereoscopic 3D glasses at the door and giveaways, trivia, and vaguely academic discussion to follow.
If that sounds like a lot, think how I feel? I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things this week and there’s a lot more to come but, for now, why not have a drink at The Monster Club. I’m sure a member of the wait staff will be with you shortly…
Tonight, I watched Men, a movie that is more awkward to write/talk about than anything since Us (2019). I had a good time and liked it fine. I’m not here to write a review, though you may be able to extrapolate something of a review from what I’m about to say, if you want that.
As I was watching it, something clicked into place. Something I’ve been trying to get at in conversation and on episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while now. There have been a lot of people complaining, lately, about horror movies being “too political,” or about there being metaphors in their horror movies, as if this is a new thing. We’ve talked about this several times on the pod.
For the most part, these people end up getting dragged (and often rightly so) on Twitter, at least in the circles where I hang around. Horror has always been political, obviously, and pretty much every story contains metaphors. Despite the oft-shared joke from Garth Marenghi, all writers, indeed, use subtext (whether they know it or not) because text without subtext is virtually impossible. And yet, for all that we may disparage these positions, they’re obviously complaining about something.
In many cases, that’s simply that they’re no longer the center of the universe – or that they’re realizing they never were. It’s people who could blissfully overlook the politics of films from yesteryear suddenly being confronted with things that no longer privilege them. But that’s not the whole of it.
There genuinely is a difference (perhaps many of them) between much of the horror of yesterday (classic or otherwise) and the so-called “elevated” or prestige horror films of today. There’s something there that people are seeing, but they’re misidentifying it, calling it by the wrong name. Watching Men, I think I finally figured out what it is.
Most horror films of the past can be read literally. No matter how rich they may be in metaphor, if you read them as a purely literal chain of events, without subtext or theme or added meaning, they still make sense. Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, you name it – you can recite the particulars of those films as a literal chain of events that make sense, without taking into account whatever metaphorical weight they may also possess.
In Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a group of young people run afoul of a cannibal family in the sticks. This is true, regardless of what metaphorical reading you then apply to the narrative – but that isn’t to suggest that those metaphorical readings aren’t there. Indeed, they are, just as rich and robust and important to the functioning of the film as the literal reading. Merely that the film can be read without them.
Even ambiguous films like The Innocents or The Haunting are ambiguous only in the sense that they support a handful of competing literal readings. A literal reading is still possible, without delving into subtext or metaphor.
Many of this more modern crop of films, however, make almost no sense without their metaphors. Read as a series of literal events, they are gobbledygook. It is only once the metaphors are applied that the films can be read at all. If you simply attempt to read them literally, as a sequence of events, they are basically incomprehensible.
This is what people are complaining about, when they ask for movies that “aren’t about anything.” Because of course no one wants a movie that isn’t about anything. They would hate that. Just as they don’t actually want movies that can’t be read as metaphors. Rather, they want movies that can be read literally.
And, to head off some angry replies, I’m not advocating for either side here. I have my own personal preferences, but I think there’s room at the table for both kinds of stories. Call them poetry and prose, if you like. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that people are identifying a real phenomenon – good, bad, or indifferent – but they’re misidentifying it. And I think it leads to confusion and hurt feelings and strawman arguments on both sides.
This isn’t really here to sway anyone. Rather, it’s to have something that I can point back to when, inevitably, this comes up again and again in the future, as it has so many times in the past.