I can't pretend there is any cohesive theme — any connectivity, really — to the movies I will set out to briefly discuss here, except that they have all been backburnered in an uncharacteristic pursuit of the horror genre in the past month. Being a contrarian reactionary, I may willfully not watch horror movies when everyone suggests I should; or at least that used to be the case. As my brain and body soften with the ravages of time, I may become more susceptible to suggestibility; it remains to be seen.
After a brief era of abundance for mid-level scary stuff that appeared to utter its death rattle around the time the plague introduced a degree of real horror to our lives, there had (has?) been a fallow period. The case could certainly be made that, in the great reshuffling of the movie business, genres have simply been further compartmentalized — read: have left the multiplex — and require a greater degree of interest and perspicacity to find them. Which, of course, is in some ways a great balm to whatever lobe of the nerd brain that never fully recovered from the loss of video stores. Entire streaming services now serve as the rightful heirs to the genre shelves some of us so reverently haunted, lo those lost decades. All the same, the mainstream boom of the 2010s would seem to have largely subsided. Barbarian may well be the notable exception but I have yet to see it. And now it's available on a streaming service.
Anyway, I spent much of October in a nostalgia haze, reveling in the ingenious, handcrafted spatter served up by our glorious benefactors at the Criterion Channel. But, as the season of the witch returns to its sepulcher, I can briefly recount a few movies I've recently watched that are neither from the '80s nor specifically seasonal.
DEAD FOR A DOLLAR. Walter Hill keeps making movies and for that I applaud him. One of the few remaining journeyman moviemakers, a veteran of the rougher factory days of the Hollywood establishment, he is/was also a hitmaker of the 1980s, blurring the line between pulp/genre and mainstream with a style that defined the decade as much as anyone's. As a writer and director, he made four movies in as many years that continue to be imitated: The Driver (1978), The Warriors (1979), The Long Riders (1980) and 48 Hrs. (1982). Meanwhile, he was also co-creating the Alien juggernaut. The man has cred.
Granted, this was all 40 years ago and some might argue that at some point aging creatives should shuffle off and give way for the youngsters. Regardless, Hill keeps working. And more power to him, I say, even if my feelings about his late period work are mixed.
I may have missed the point of Bullet to the Head (2012) when I saw it, or it may be that Hill's B-movie tendencies just didn't transition as well as one would hope to the big screen of the 21st century. And The Assignment (2016) is likely too problematic to survive close scrutiny, even half a decade later. But I'll celebrate both as evidence that there may yet be space in the world for movies that will never gross a billion dollars.
Dead for a Dollar is decidedly of this camp, a Western almost as old-fashioned in its execution as its setting. I say almost because the digital photography of the piece, with its limitless depth of field and disorienting clarity, creates a neural disconnect, a documentary vividness, that belies its genre roots. Rachel Brosnahan, Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe star in an antebellum kidnap/revenge melodrama that remains memorable in part for its weirdness. R. 107M. AMAZON PRIME.
PIGGY is the closest thing to a straight-ahead horror movie on this list, but even as it cleaves to its origins, it uses genre to explore the notion of misplaced justice and bullying from the perspective of the victim. Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, Piggy centers on Sara (Laura Galá in a quietly astounding performance), the daughter of a butcher who is cruelly teased by the cool girls but might have an anonymous avenger lurking on the fringe. Pereda chooses to guide the narrative back into safe territory with the climax, which is a little disappointing after the boldness and verisimilitude leading up to it. But that is more than forgivable, given the immersiveness of the piece as a whole. (In Spanish with subtitles.) NR. 99M. AMAZON PRIME.
THE STRANGER. Written and directed by Thomas M. Wright, starring Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris, The Stranger is the most highly stylized mainstream movie I've seen since Blonde, using music and editing with a Villenuvian cultivation of dread and unease. Elliptically describing one segment of a nationwide Australian manhunt for a child abductor, it is equal parts low-key crime drama and psychological realism. Some might call it overwrought but I would say its artifice almost perfectly serves its narrative. TVMA. 117M. NETFLIX.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BLACK ADAM. Dwayne Johnson suits up as the DC antihero. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
HALLOWEEN ENDS. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes one final round with Michael Myers. Get his ass, Grandma. R. 111M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
LA TRAVIATA. The Met Opera presents Michael Mayer's production of the Verdi tragedy with soprano Nadine Sierra, tenor Stephen Costello and baritone Luca Salsi, and Daniele Callegari conducting. 195M. MINOR.
LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE. Live action/CG animation story of a croc living in New York City but definitely not lurking the sewers because that is an outdated stereotype. With Constance Wu and Javier Bardem. PG. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ONE PIECE FILM: RED. The anime pirate adventure continues with a plot about a world-famous singer. With subtitles. PG13. 115M. BROADWAY.
PREY FOR THE DEVIL. A nun (Jaqueline Byers) breaks the glass ceiling and gets into the Catholic Church's secret exorcism school only to meet the demon who possessed her mother. PG13. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SMILE. A shrink with baggage starts seeing people with scary grins everywhere and suddenly my bitchface doesn't seem so bad, does it, people? Starring Sosie Bacon. R. 115M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TERRIFIER 2. Slasher sequel with teens (check) and a murder-y clown (check) on Halloween (check). R. 148M R. 148M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TICKET TO PARADISE. Anti-Parent Trap with Julia Roberts and George Clooney as exes trying to stop their kid's marriage. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
TILL. Danielle Deadwyler plays the mother of Emmet Till (Jalyn Hall) in the aftermath of the child's lynching. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
THE WOMAN KING. Viola Davis flexes on us all as general of the 19th century all-female army of West African kingdom of Dahomey. With Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.