Movie Reviews

Best Films on The Criterion Channel October 2022

The arrival of October means the official onset of Halloween. Until the proliferation of comic-book conventions to expand the reasons to dress like more daring and/or mildly frightening alternates of ourselves, this sugary Autumn masquerade has been there for those who need it. The Criterion Channel understands October’s spooky responsibilities, and its programming is a bloody bucketful of scary treats, or artistically comforting ones, so let’s waste no time and consider a few of the best movies streaming.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Available: October 1 | Directed by: Amy Holden Jones

Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella

After John Carpenter wrote the playbook turning macabre, grindhouse entertainment online into populist gold with Halloween (1978), the Hollywood Imitation Factory began its inevitable churn for similar hits. Unlike, say, the post-Tarantino crime dramedy boom of the 1990s, the 1980s horror also-rans did not have to live up to some undefinable X-factor embodied by a single writer. The fine details of the horror playbook—especially for slasher auteurs—were open to interpretation, but the broad strokes were obvious. You needed teenagers, you needed tension, you needed a body count, you needed a villain. Yes, talented directors would be nice, but you didn’t need them, the beats themselves were just too pleasurable to really screw up. Among the best to immediately follow Halloween took the female-protagonist aspect as a given. Black Christmas and Sorority House Massacre are fun and funny highlights, with the former being actually pretty great. Their unsung cousin is The Slumber Party Massacre. Directed by feminist artist Amy Holden Jones (who co-wrote Mystic Pizza) and written by feminist scribe Rita Mae Brown, this film’s script was originally intended as a sendup of the young slasher genre. Its strength was meant to be its effectiveness as an entrant. It was supposed to be Scream, just a decade-plus ahead of schedule. Unfortunately for the writer, her director was not interested in satire. What’s left is an enjoyable slasher that attempts to depict its victims as actual characters, but whose wink-wink trashiness is delivered minus the winks.

Thirst (2009)

Available: October 1 | Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-sook, Shin Ha-kyun

Director Park Chan-wook is one of the most well-rounded artists to ever touch the horror genre. His touch can be so subtle that gatekeepers might quibble that he’s ever made a straight-up horror movie, but so visceral that others find the horror too obvious to deny. His Vengeance Trilogy is poignant, brutal stuff that should be seen by even the most puritanical of horror fans. Included in Criterion’s Halloween programming is his 2009, post-Trilogy vampire offering, Thirst. One might remember 2009 as a quite vampire-minded time in popular culture. To that end, Thirst has read the room. It’s got violence, it’s got sex, it’s got drama romance films. It’s about an accidentally undead priest and his torrid affair with a woman wanting for physical intimacy. Lucky for our priest, she is quite open-minded about how much blood-sucking nihilism this intimacy can contain. The story is character-focused, but that doesn’t stop Chan-Wook from employing showstopping directorial flourishes to keep the intensity felt. It’s kind of his thing. There is enough energy in his camera work alone to get the less erotic-thriller-hungry vampire fans in the audience transfixed.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Available: October 1 | Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Cast: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves

Oh, but not everyone likes to be scared. Or, not in the mortal peril sense. Some like to vicariously explore the fear of heartbreak, and so here comes Gus Van Sant. He is an artist with dual spirits. The first spirit is a European cinema studying art-cannon who almost never misses his target. Able to wring pathos and poetry from shots of pretty faces as much as from shots of empty rooms or long highways. The other spirit is more of a crowd-pleasing populist interested more in getting a story to the endzone than taking you on a trip. One could argue that the only example of his successfully merging those competing instincts is My Own Private Idaho. A landmark for queer cinema, it tells the Shakespearian story of male hustlers, portrayed by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, in search of the love they don’t get from their parents and identities that provide self-respect. It’s a location-hopping unrequited love story, with a great performance from Reeves and perhaps the best-ever performance from River Phoenix. The latter’s untimely end adds a layer of vitality to his work here, and to his character’s dances with danger, making his every move onscreen feel very important to watch movies.

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