Once You See it, it’s too Late

Smile has the creepiest smiles you’ll ever see in a horror movie. I’ll never forget seeing the 40 second teaser in theaters before there was any information available online. Smile captured my attention, but I didn’t plan on seeing it until I was encouraged to. The clever marketing made it seem like Smile was some kind of hallucination. Little did I know, Smile is actually based on a 2020 short film by aspiring horror filmmaker Parker Finn. The equally disturbing short Laura Hasn’t Slept was quickly adapted into one of the scariest movies of 2022. Though intended for streaming, Paramount believed in the movie enough to give it a theatrical release.

Only Caitlin Stasey reprises her role as terrified psychiatric patient Laura. Smile is like a combination of It Follows, The Ring, and Truth or Dare. It Follows, because there’s a mysterious supernatural entity that passes a curse from person to person. The Ring, because the victim is given only a few days to escape their fate. Truth or Dare, because only the victim can see the entity’s creepy smile. Sosie Bacon is a worthy new lead as psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter who goes just as mad as Laura after witnessing her death while wearing one of the unsettling smiles. Rose experiences several hallucinations that make the audience question reality. Those moments are far creepier than any unnecessary jumpscare.

Rose alienates her fiancée played by Jesse T. Usher and her sister played by Gillian Zinser. Robin Weigert and Kal Penn play psychiatrists who try to help her, but only her police officer ex played by Kyle Gallner is able to help. Similar to The Babadook, a recurring theme for each victim is trauma. Rob Morgan plays an inmate who was only able to escape through an act of violence. The gore is a bit too realistic for my taste, but Smile did manage to speak to me in an unexpected way. When the entity is finally revealed, it threatens Rose by saying “You can’t escape your own mind.” The very definition of psychological horror. Sometimes a person is unable to escape their own trauma. Smile is deeply disturbing on multiple levels.

Smile

Laura smiles

Crawlers

The Descent Part 2 undermines the perfectly bleak original ending of the first movie. If American audiences only accepted Sarah’s tragic fate, then the unnecessary sequel would’ve never happened. I knew about The Descent for years, but I never heard of The Descent Part 2. Probably because it was only in theaters in the UK and direct-to-video in the US. Although released 4 years later, The Descent Part 2 picks up 2 days after Sarah managed to escape the Crawler infested cavern. Convenient amnesia means she’s ready to return to the cavern in search of her deceased friends.

Shauna Macdonald is joined by the original cast in video camera flashbacks. Part 2 immediately loses points for featuring a co-ed cast of spelunkers. Gavan O’Herlihy and Krysten Cummings are investigating police officers Sheriff Vaines and Deputy Rios. Douglas Hodge, Anna Skellern, and pre-Thor Josh Dallas are cave specialists Dan, Cath, and Greg respectively. The sequel has some effective claustrophobic moments like one involving water, but it’s mostly one big gorefest.

The Descent was bloody, but Part 2 is filled with disgusting kills between the generic cast and creepy Crawlers. Speaking of disgusting, the sequel substitutes a pit of blood for a Crawler toilet. Sarah regains her memory and comes face to face with her past. SPOILER ALERT! Natalie Mendoza returns as Juno who somehow survived being surrounded by a horde of Crawlers. Sarah and Juno’s awkward reunion never needed to happen, but they make the most of it. The new grim ending lacks the bite of the intended original and the final twist makes little sense. The Descent Part 2 is not a trip anyone needed to take.

The Descent Part 2

Sarah tries to hold on

Preceded by: The Descent

Claustrophobia

The Descent is the scariest movie under the Earth. It may be the best horror movie of the often hit or miss 2000’s. I’ve known about The Descent for years, but I never took the plunge. The human skull poster was particularly intriguing. The Descent is a British production with a rare all-female cast. A smart decision that makes their fight for survival feel more personal. Though it’s easy to lose track, director Neil Marshall gave each woman a different accent in order to help them stand out in the dark.

The Scottish Shauna Macdonald is Sarah, the Australian Natalie Mendoza is Juno, the British Alex Reid is Beth, the Swedish MyAnna Buring is Sam, the Dutch Saskia Mulder is Becca, and the Irish Nora-Jane Noone is Holly. Sarah, Juno, and Beth are the primary adventurers who face the tragic death of Sarah’s husband and daughter. Though released in 2005, The Descent is like a precursor to elevated horror with deeper subjects like grief. The titular descent is deep within an uncharted cavern in the Appalachian Mountains. The caverns are dark and atmospheric with red and green lighting. I’ve never been interested in spelunking, but the claustrophobic setting is absolutely terrifying before the monsters even show up.

Much like From Dusk Till Dawn, The Descent is a perfectly good survival movie that takes a hard left turn into a gory creature feature with creepy blind subterranean bat-like humanoids. Though it occurs 1 hour into the movie, the Crawlers are a logical addition for the blood soaked decade. Sarah goes so far as to fall into a pit of blood. Juno and Sarah are the last survivors who become progressively badass with their pickaxe weapons. SPOILER ALERT! Sarah betrays her not so innocent friend in order to escape. It’s an unexpected ending, but the original downer ending where Sarah never escapes is much better. The Descent is deeper than most horror movies at the time.

The Descent

Sarah in a pool of blood

Followed by: The Descent Part 2

It’s Nice to Have a Friend

M3GAN is the perfect combination of evil robot, killer doll, and creepy kid. All things I enjoy in a horror and/or sci-fi movie. Which is why I chose to review it on my 6 year anniversary. M3GAN brings together 2 of the biggest names in modern horror, James Wan and Jason Blum. Making it a Blumhouse Production with a James Wan story unlike the more supernatural Annabelle. I knew I needed to see M3GAN the moment she started dancing in a trailer set to Taylor Swift. I had to share M3GAN with everyone including my equally entertained mom who ended up seeing it with my brother and I. It became an instant obsession of mine and an instant TikTok meme long before the movie came out. M3GAN is more serious than it looks, but it’s also campy when it needs to be with the right balance of horror and comedy. Allison Williams returns to horror as successful roboticist Gemma.

Gemma works for a toy company that develops technologically advanced pets. That part is left out of most trailers along with an important business angle that includes Ronny Chieng as Gemma’s boss who wants to sell her latest product. Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN, is meant to be a companion so lifelike that she essentially replaces a parent. There’s clever commentary about the dangers of letting technology raise your kids. In her short career, child actress Violet McGraw also made a name for herself in horror. After losing her parents, Cady lives with her Aunt Gemma who doesn’t know how to connect with her. So she gives all the responsibility to M3GAN. People will compare her to Chucky, but M3GAN has a style all her own. She’s an instant icon with a classic beige dress, blue ribbon, sandy blonde hair, an uncanny rubber face, and creepy baby doll eyes that are always watching. More similar to the 2019 Chucky is M3GAN’s ability to tap into the internet.

M3GAN was brought to life through impressive prosthetic makeup, the robotic movements of child dancer Amie Donald, and the childlike voice of YouTuber Jenna Davis. Once paired with Cady, M3GAN makes it her primary directive to entertain, nurture, and protect her. M3GAN has the best sarcasm, plenty of witty one-liners, and she sings too! I like that there’s no specific reason for her to do the infamous hallway dance. You’d think it would be hard to take her seriously, but M3GAN grows more threatening and animalistic when the occasion calls for it. Despite the PG-13 rating, M3GAN ruthlessly kills several people who either mistreat Cady or attempt to shut her down. Cady grows so attached to M3GAN that you question whether or not she’ll become just as bad. The climax is basically a more high tech version of the original Child’s Play, but there’s enough originality to sell the product. M3GAN is insane, right?

M3GAN

M3GAN reads Alice in Wonderland to Cady

Followed by: M3GAN 2.0

The Grabber

The Black Phone is the movie Scott Derrickson chose to make instead of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Proving some Marvel directors would rather return to their roots. The Black Phone is technically my first Derrickson directed horror movie. It was a little more unavoidable after several less than interesting Blumhouse Productions. The Black Phone was originally a short story from the horror anthology book 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. The Black Phone is both a disturbingly realistic kidnapping and a supernatural ghost story.

The kidnapping plot reminded me of The Lonely Bones right down to the 70’s setting. The Grabber is a menacing masked man with a top hat who lures “naughty boys” into his black van using balloons and magic tricks. Ethan Hawke has played the hero in several horror movies, but he makes a really creepy villain. Though his face is often obscured, the horned grinning mask he wears makes enough of an impression. The Grabber’s latest abductee is the young Finney played by newcomer Mason Thames. It’s uncomfortable, but the Grabber never crosses the line.

The titular black phone goes off in Finney’s basement prison with calls from his past victims giving him life saving advice. Although The Black Phone is a perfectly tense horror movie, it does a lot of things I don’t like. I’m not a fan of children in adult situations. Similar to Joe Hill’s father Stephen King, The Black Phone has an abusive parent and sadistic bullies. Finney’s overly profane younger sister Gwen has unexplained psychic dreams and for no reason at all, she has an unnecessary struggle with faith. Despite those clichés, the movie is mostly saved when the siblings figure out ways to escape. The Black Phone is a call accepted at your own risk.

The Black Phone

The Grabber

You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman

Halloween Ends with a knife to the heart of the franchise. The trailers promised a violent final showdown between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, but what we got is a manipulative bait & switch. Halloween Ends tricks the audience into focusing on a killer who isn’t Michael Myers for almost the entire movie! I haven’t felt this betrayed since Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. I didn’t like Halloween Kills, but at least Michael Myers actually killed people beginning to end. I feel like David Gordon Green and Danny McBride wanted fans to hate the movie.

There’s less comedy, but way too much melodrama. I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw the opening with Rohan Campbell as a babysitter named Corey. They make it seem like Michael will return Halloween 2019, but it’s Corey who accidentally commits murder. 4 years later in present day 2022, Laurie is trying to be normal while raising her orphaned granddaughter Allyson. Jamie Lee Curtis tries her best, but she deserves better than this. The misguided focus on victims of Haddonfield hysteria has gotten even more annoying at this point.

I couldn’t care less about some random nobody killing people because a town bullied him. I just want Michael Myers, but what little we get is a pathetic old man living in the sewer with an embarassing 3 victim body count. All of the gruesome kills are done by a character nobody asked for. There’s also an unnecessary Bonnie & Clyde style romance where Allyson feels completely out of character. It’s so insulting that I barely cared about Michael and Laurie finally having their last minute confrontation. Michael’s final fate doesn’t feel earned when you waste everyone’s time with a subplot that goes nowhere. Halloween Ends is one of the worst films in a franchise that should’ve died years ago.

13. Halloween Ends

Michael Myers vs. Laurie Strode

Preceded by: Halloween Kills

Evil Dies Tonight!

Halloween Kills killed the franchise for me. Halloween (2018) was a surprising return to form after so many sequels, remakes, and ignorquels. Like either Halloween II, Halloween Kills picks up on the same long Halloween night. There’s an impressive flashback showing how Michael was arrested that recreates the look of the 1978 film and brings Dr. Loomis back to life. The not quite dead Deputy Hawkins feels guilty about letting him live. I liked the brutal rivalry between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode in the last film, but any minor problems I had are much worse in the sequel.

Jamie Lee Curtis is once again trapped in a hospital for the entire movie. Leaving Judy Greer and Andi Matichak with a more active role as her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson. Michael escapes from Laurie’s burning house and kills more people than he ever has before. Some kills are creative and others are over-the-top gruesome. Any tension is ruined by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride leaning into comedy way too much. Characters don’t even feel believable. Victims include an interracial elderly couple playing with a drone, a role reversed black couple, and a stereotypical gay couple.

An angry mob consisting of survivors from Haddonfield aren’t much better. Though Paul Rudd played him in The Curse of Michael Myers, Anthony Michael Hall plays an aggressively unhinged Tommy Doyle constantly chanting “Evil Dies Tonight!” Lindsey, Sheriff Leigh Brackett, and the nurse Marion all return with their original actors. Most of them make dumb decisions like going after a mental patient who clearly isn’t Michael Myers. Michael is confronted by the mob, but at this point nothing can kill the bogeyman. Halloween Kills is a mostly pointless detour that’s often hard to take seriously.

12. Halloween Kills

Michael Myers emerges from the fire

Preceded by: Halloween (2019) & Followed by: Halloween Ends

Rusty Gears

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is yet another confusing edition to the perpetually sloppy franchise. At this point, all the movies are barely canon to the original 1978 classic. Texas Chainsaw Massacre once again ignores sequels just to blatantly rip-off Halloween (2018). Original final girl Sally Hardesty is now an elderly gun-toting Texas Ranger who spent her whole life hunting Leatherface. Unlike the equally terrible Texas Chainsaw 3D, Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns couldn’t return since they both past away. Making the entire subplot feel forced.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is mostly focused on a fresh batch of annoying millennial victims. The most cringe-worthy moment is a bus full of millennials trying to get Leatherface cancelled. They want to gentrify an abandoned Texas town in a subplot that I couldn’t care less about. After finishing Eighth Grade, Elsie Fisher became the newest final girl Lila. She’s a school shooting survivor who came with her sister Melody. Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t equipped to handle a storyline like that since it’s so focused on killing.

Leatherface was never my favorite slasher, but his increasingly bizarre families were a major part of his character. Texas Chainsaw Massacre abandons the family element after Leatherface loses a woman who ran his orphanage. Leatherface now has a sad new face, but his original chainsaw. The actual massacre is so gory and disgusting, I had to look away. Leatherface kills so many people that I was counting the moments before he killed his final “surprise” victim. Despite the very short runtime and easy Netflix access, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is torture to get through.

9. Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Hello, Sidney

Scream (2022) worked out better than it should have. Scream has always felt more special than other slasher franchises, because it kept the same director and cast of survivors in every installment. There was talk of a Scream 5 for years, but Wes Craven passed away before he could see it happen. It felt wrong to do a sequel without him, but Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor his legacy. I just wish they didn’t call the movie Scream again. In the 11 years since Scream 4, horror movies have gone through noticable changes. Scream (2022) has clever meta commentary on elevated horror movies like The Babadook, Hereditary, The VVitch, and my personal favorite It Follows.

The classic Ghostface phone call opening uses modern technology, but it’s surprisingly not a problem. We even see Ghostface talking with the voice modulator under their mask. For the first time in the franchise, the opening victim isn’t killed. In fact, it takes awhile for Ghostface to kill anyone. Jenna Ortega is Tara who somehow survives several stab wounds. Melissa Barrera is her sister Sam Carpenter who ends up being the daughter of Billy Loomis that we never knew about. Skeet Ulrich returns as a hallucination, but we all expect to see Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette again. Cox and Arquette may have divorced, but luckily they’re still good friends. A successful Gale and broken down Dewey are also divorced. Sidney mostly stays out of the action until the end. Though they’re not as safe as I was hoping they’d be.

Leaving a new cast of teenagers who are also related to legacy characters. Since Scream (2022) is a definite requel, the new rules are: never trust the love interest, the killer is connected to the past, and the killer is part of the first victim’s circle of friends. Horror mainstay Dylan Minnette pays tribute to Wes Craven by being named after him. Mindy and Chad are the children of Randy’s sister who appeared in Scream 3. They keep things very meta until the killers are revealed. SPOILER ALERT! Mikey Madison and Jack Quaid are revealed to be crazy obsessed Stab fans Amber and Richie respectively. They hate movies like Stab 8 directed by Rian Johnson, because it messed with their beloved franchise. It’s so meta that Dead Meat YouTuber James A. Janisse and his wife Chelsea make cameos. Scream (2022) is basically the first movie with enough fresh ideas to keep the blood pumping.

5. Scream

Ghostface in the hospital

Preceded by: Scream 4

That’s the Story of Love

Orphan: First Kill is the most unexpected way to continue the story of Esther. Orphan is one of my favorite underrated horror movies. Since it’s a cult film that only so many people saw, I never expected a sequel. Turns out a similar real life orphan is responsible for the renewed attention. Orphan: First Kill is a prequel since Esther’s mysterious past was only touched on. The unexpected twist and Isabelle Fuhrman’s career making child acting performance was a big reason why I liked the original so much. Somehow they found a way to include both without losing its appeal.

25 year old Fuhrman returns to play the 9 year old Esther. If you already know the twist, then the unorthodox casting decision sort of makes sense. It’s just a little obvious with the lack of digital de-aging and forced perspective. Esther is shown in the Estonian institute where she learned to paint and kill without remorse. First Kill wastes no time reiterating the twist that I prefer not to give away. Esther poses as the long lost daughter of the family whose house she sets on fire.

Julia Stiles is the new suspicious mother Tricia Albright. Matthew Finlan is the new teenage brother Gunner who doesn’t accept Esther. Rossif Sutherland is the new father who introduces Esther to black light painting. “Glory of Love” is another expected callback to the first movie. I wasn’t expecting a completely different twist where Tricia discovers Esther’s secret early on. Orphan had its campy moments, but First Kill fully embraces its absurdity. Although I still prefer the child driven original film, Orphan: First Kill is first-rate horror.

Orphan First Kill

Esther in the institution

Followed by: Orphan