Crossing the Streams: October 2018, by Jim Rohner
Congratulations! With your recent purchase of a brand-new Roku/Apple TV/Amazon Fire Stick you’re ready to – as Obi-Wan Kenobi said – take your first step into a larger world. That larger world is, of course, the world of cord cutting, in which a seemingly endless supply of streaming apps, services, and content are available instantaneously at your fingertips. But with so many options of things to watch spread out across so many different services changing literally by the day, what’s worth binge-watching before it expires and you’d have to – (GASP) – pay for it? Allow Crossing the Streams to be your official guide to what’s worth watching before it expires, what’s just been made available, and what’s just plain damn good.
Watch It Now
There’s a chill in air, the sun is setting earlier, and the leaves are shedding their summer greens and tumbling to the earth (whenever climate change allows them to, that is). Yes, ghouls and goblins, it’s that most wonderful time of year again when our thoughts and media consumption skew towards the dark side. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve been waiting for the Halloween season ever since last year’s ended and are itching to sink your teeth into some quality genre titles instead of attending another Halloween party where you don’t know anyone except the host (and even then, barely). In the spirit of the season, this month’s Crossing the Streams will be heavily skewed towards the scary, horrific, and thrilling, so I apologize in advance to those who came here to read more about Daredevil Season 3 (Netflix-exclusive on October 19th) or 22 July (ditto, October 10th). For starters, I would recommend checking out some of the following titles, whose streaming rights won’t stick around for nearly as long as that rotting jack o’lantern:
V/H/S 2 (Netflix): The found footage subgenre is dead. Long live the found footage subgenre. The flame that was kindled with The Blair Witch Project and fueled gasolinically by the Paranormal Activity franchise was pretty much officially killed by the negative response to the albeit commercially successful (and underrated, IMO) Blair Witch in 2016. Sure, our obsession with found footage horror films spawned plenty of mistakes (Willow Creek, The Devil Inside, Apollo 18), but it also uncovered a lot of gems (Lake Mungo, The Last Exorcism, The Bay). One of the more critically successful entries into the subgenre is 2013’s V/H/S 2, the second installment in what would turn out to be a trilogy of horror anthologies. Its predecessor may have set the template, but V/H/S 2 set the standard, with shorts dealing with everything from zombies (“A Ride in the Park”) to aliens (“Slumber Party Alien Abduction”). Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest), Gareth Evans (The Raid, Apostle), Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), and more of their ilk lend their talents to a truly terrifying film that successfully found the middle ground between innovation and motivation for how to utilize handheld POV footage in the most haunting ways. The film will expire from Netflix on October 24th, which is only a scary thought if you don’t also have a subscription to either Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Signs (Hulu): M. Night Shyamalan is back in the news and for the first time in a long time, it’s because people are excited about something he’s doing (more on that in a bit). We’ve ragged on the guy for so long – mostly deservedly so – that it’s easy to forget that at one point in our lives a Shyamalan release was accompanied by a lot of excitement and hype (perhaps too much). Seeing as The Sixth Sense grossed over $670 million worldwide to go along with 6 Oscar nominations, you’d be forgiven to think that his continued success wasn’t all but guaranteed. Unbreakable wasn’t nearly as financially or critically successful as its predecessor, so it was Signs that showed – at the time, at least – that Shyamalan wasn’t a fluke as a writer/director. Sure, the film has some troubling perspective on faith (God responds well to your anger!), the twist is a little nonsensical (would people with pollen allergies build a house in a field of daisies?), and Mel Gibson exists, but the film features some great performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, and Abigail Breslin in her first big screen role. In addition, I’m a sucker for an effective scary movie that involves aliens and if you’re gonna tell me that you didn’t jump during that scene in the basement with the alien arm, I’m gonna call you a liar. Signs will disappear from Hulu like the aliens’ hope for conquering Earth on October 31st.
Unbreakable (Hulu): We were all rightfully skeptical when The Visit was released, but its success combined with the response to Split resulted in the aforementioned excitement for a project that the internet has apparently wanted since the release of Shyamalan’s follow up to The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable. A somber and seemingly prophetically introspective take on a superhero genre that had not yet caught fire, Unbreakable is the favorite film for many people who have seen multiple Shyamalan films, even those that hate most of what he’s done (I’m living proof!). The film stars Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a stadium security guard who either doesn’t realize or doesn’t want to acknowledge that his being the sole unscathed survivor of a train derailment signals that he’s something more than ordinary. As moody as The Sixth Sense with a twist ending that packs arguably even more of an emotional punch, Unbreakable holds such an elevated place in my heart that I’m actually afraid to rewatch it out of fear that it won’t hold up to my memory. In that respect, perhaps I’ll just let it expire on October 31st to help preserve its legacy.
Predator (HBO Now): I’m not sure if you heard, but Shane Black’s The Predator is not only controversial, but also bad. Confirming again that it’s best to let sleeping corpses lie, The Predator fails so thoroughly to both entertain and engage on its own merits that its most fun moments are when it references John McTiernan’s action classic. The Oscar-nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle (it was for Best Visual Effects, but still…) aspires to be nothing more than a bunch of burly guys with big guns being hunted down one by one by an even burlier alien with an even bigger gun. The film delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Reagan Era action film: gunfire, explosions, muscles, violence, and a final one-on-one showdown between Good Guy and Bad Guy. Predator isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s having a lot of fun with what it’s doing. Come for the machismo, but stay for Schwarzenegger’s one-liners. Just be sure you come before October 31st.
Other Notable Titles Expiring:
Amazon: Child’s Play (10/30)
HBO Now: Avatar (10/31), The Beguiled 2017 (10/31), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (10/31), Good Will Hunting (10/31), In the Cut (10/31), Man on the Moon (10/31), The Omen 1973 (10/31), Predator 2 (10/31), Silence of the Lambs (10/31)
Hulu: 28 Weeks Later (10/31), Any Given Sunday (10/31), Bull Durham (10/31), High Noon (10/31), Jackie Brown (10/31), Sixteen Candles (10/31), The Elephant Man (10/31), There Will Be Blood (10/31), The Rock (10/31), Spaceballs (10/31), This Is Spinal Tap (10/31)
Netflix: The Secret Life of Pets (10/22), Big Eyes (10/25)
Watch It Later
All of the titles mentioned in this section have either just been made available, will be available soon, or their rights have recently been renewed. Either way, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, which is good because unless you’ve got little ones who are going trick or treating, neither are you.
The Blair Witch Project (Prime/Hulu/Shudder): With how far digital and social technology have come in making the horrors of reality quickly and easily accessible to a mass audience, it’s easy to forget how much of a phenomenon The Blair Witch Project was when it was unleashed in 1999. Shot by unknown directors with first-time actors and heralded by a promotional campaign that blurred the lines between fiction and reality, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t just a success; it was a landmark in the evolution of cinema; an exemplary film that popularized a subgenre that had previously existed, but was little seen or respected. The directors’ approach to the creation of the film was largely unprecedented at the time, a seemingly organized cinematic improvisation that kept the actors largely in the dark – figuratively and literally – and relying a lot on luck and chemistry to generate scares and atmosphere. The result was a tiny film with a budget of $60,000 that grossed almost $250 million worldwide, spawned two sequels, and inspired countless obnoxious parodies. By today’s standards (i.e. the aforementioned V/H/S 2), The Blair Witch Project is pretty tame in regards to what it chooses to show you – or, more accurately, withhold from showing you – but for its time, it was a significant achievement. You’ve been able to venture back into the woods since October 1st.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Hulu): The debate over whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or Christmas movie has been raging for decades and will likely continue to rage in perpetuity, but personally, it just doesn’t feel like it’s officially the Halloween season until I hear that haunting song. The Nightmare Before Christmas was inspired by a poem that Tim Burton wrote upon seeing a department store replace its Halloween decorations with those of the Christmas season and was brought to life remarkably by Henry Selick, whose stop motion work on Coraline would later net him a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those rare holiday films that seems to transcend generations, annually being revisited and enjoyed by everyone from children to adults, which is likely a result of many adults having grown up with it passing it along to their children. Since the film was released in 1993, Jack Skellington has become a cultural icon, showing up everywhere from Hot Topic to PlayStation and, as of October 2nd, to Hulu.
Into the Dark: “The Body” (Hulu): If you’ve somehow missed the incessant ads for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween on Hulu, then you might be unaware of “Huluween,” the streaming service’s rollout and promotion of all their content, both original and borrowed, dealing with things that go bump in the night. Hulu is cleverly using the Halloween season to debut their horror anthology series, Into the Dark, which will feature monthly, feature-length installments inspired by a holiday. Its premiere episode, “The Body,” follows a hitman who has to transport a body on Halloween night and is co-written and directed by Paul Davis, based on a short film he directed in 2013 starring Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen. Reviews for “The Body” aren’t great, but as one of the few fans of the defunct Masters of Horror and Fear Itself, I’m ready to give Into the Dark a chance. “The Body” premiered on October 5th.
Nightbreed (Amazon Prime): Clive Barker had made a name for himself as a horror writer even before he adapted his own “The Hellbound Heart” into 1987’s Hellraiser, but it was that film’s success that allowed him to adapt another of his works, the novel “Cabal,” into 1990’s Nightbreed, a film that spoke to Barker’s social philosophy as much as Hellraiser spoke to his sexuality. A horror precursor to Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Nightbreed follows Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a young man who has dreams of a land called Midian, where a group of friendly monsters – the titular Nightbreed – are hiding from humans who wish to see them destroyed. The fragile mental state that these dreams bring about in Aaron is exploited by his psychotherapist, Philip K. Decker (horror filmmaking icon, David Cronenberg), who is need of a patsy to cover up his serial killings. In Nightbreed, it’s clear that both Barker’s and our empathy rests with the monsters, an innocent group of outsiders who are hated, hunted, and killed by a homogenous society that sees anyone and anything different as being abhorrent. One doesn’t have to think too hard to see how the film’s message can find resonance in today’s social and political climate. You’ve been able to meet the breed since October 1st.
The Descent (HBO Now): Quite simply, The Descent is one of the best horror movies of the last 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of horror films since Neil Marshall’s claustrophobic film was released in 2005, but aside from Ari Aster’s Hereditary, none of them have scared me as thoroughly as The Descent. Sure, I’ve seen the film so many times that the jump scares no longer elevate me, but to this day, I still have a clear memory of seeing the film in theaters and beholding an entire row of young teenagers in front of me literally jump from their seats during the first big creature reveal. Even if it weren’t for the jump scares, The Descent is still a smart screenplay populated with fully realized characters who are kick ass women fighting for their lives amidst the enclosed caves so effectively manufactured by production designer Simon Bowles and lit so starkly by DP Sam McCurdy. Admittedly, high definition releases haven’t been kind to the limited CGI work the film contains, but everything else about it rules – just look at that poster! None of Marshall’s directorial work since has been able to equal the greatness of The Descent (one thing came pretty close), but since October 1st, you haven’t really had to worry about watching anything else anyway.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix): Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series isn’t the first time Shirley Jackson’s novel has been adapted by a filmmaker (nor, unfortunately, even the second time), but based on both critical and audience responses, it seems like third time’s a charm. The Haunting of Hill House was created and entirely directed by Mike Flanagan, whose exemplary horror work can already been found spread across the annals of Netflix (Oculus, Hush, and Gerald’s Game are all waiting for you as well). Stephen King has called Flanagan’s work on the series “close to a work of genius,” which is quite convenient seeing as the Massachusetts-born filmmaker is currently at work adapting “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel to “The Shining.” As of this writing, I’m only two episodes into the series and while the scares have been limited, the work done on building up the characters, their relationships, and what’s at stake for them all has been phenomenal. Since his debut feature, Absentia, Flanagan has proven that he knows that you can’t be scared for characters if you don’t care for them first. If Twitter is to be believed, then there are plenty of scares to come. I eagerly await them. You’ve been able to visit Hill House since October 12th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving:
Amazon Prime: Spaced Seasons 1 – 2 (10/1), The Thick of It Seasons 1 – 4 (10/1), The Man in the High Castle Season 3 (10/5), Mr. Robot Season 3 (10/11), The Romanoffs Season 1 (10/12), Lore Season 2 (10/19), Carrie 1976 (10/1), Child’s Play (10/1), Curse of Chucky (10/1), Election (10/1), Full Metal Jacket (10/1), Gods and Monsters (10/1), Let Me In (10/1), Mulholland Drive (10/1), No Vacancy (10/1), Raging Bull (10/1), Return of the Living Dead (10/1), Robocop 1 – 3 (10/1), Starship Troopers (10/1), Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (10/1), The Cell (10/1), The Illusionist (10/1), The Strangers (10/1), Trees Lounge (10/1), Devil (10/16), Donnie Darko (10/17), You Were Never Really Here (10/26)
HBO Now: The Devil’s Rejects (10/1), Fantastic Mr. Fox (10/1), House of 1000 Corpses (10/1), Inherent Vice (10/1), Lost Boys (10/1), Man on Fire (10/1), Midnight Meat Train (10/1), The Thin Red Line (10/1), Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (10/6), Game Night (10/6), Pod Save America (10/12), Camping Series Premiere (10/14), The Post (10/17)
Hulu: Bob’s Burgers Season 9 Premiere (10/1), Superstore Season 4 Premiere (10/5), Fresh Off the Boat Season 5 Premiere (10/6), The Conners Series Premiere (10/17), American Psycho (10/1), Galaxy Quest (10/1), Insomnia 2002 (10/1), Platoon (10/1), REC 1 – 4 (10/1), RBG (10/3)
Netflix: Making a Murderer Season 2 (10/19), Billy Madison (10/1), Blade I & II (10/1), Blazing Saddles (10/1), Mystic River (10/1), Once Upon a Time in America (10/1), Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (10/1), The Green Mile (10/1), The NeverEnding Story (10/1), V for Vendetta (10/1), The Shining (10/1), Monty Python: The Meaning of Life (10/2), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (10/2), Big Mouth Season 2 (10/5), Apostle (10/12), Marvel’s Daredevil Season 3 (10/19), Castlevania Season 2 (10/26), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (10/26),
Showtime Anytime: Backdraft (10/1), Bad Lieutenant (10/1), The Blues Brothers (10/1), The Jerk (10/1), Meet the Parents (10/1), Memento (10/1), Q: The Winged Serpent (10/1), The Quick and the Dead (10/1), Quantum of Solace (10/1), Rain Man (10/1), Rushmore (10/1), Saved! (10/1), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (10/1), Titanic (10/1), Ray Donovan Season Premiere (10/26)
Just Watch It
Somewhere in between the titles that are expiring and the titles that have just entered this world lay those that we’ve either taken for granted, forgotten about, or just plain didn’t realize we could watch for free. Let’s fix that because they’re damn good and they’re coming to get you, Barbara.
Halloween (Shudder): It wouldn’t be Halloween if you didn’t watch John Carpenter’s titular horror classic. The film that gave us Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Myers, and that iconic score is still as haunting and effective as it was when it came out 40 years ago thanks in part to Carpenter’s understanding of how to utilize camera movement and staging to unsettle viewers with a subtle sense of voyeurism. On top of giving us one of the most iconic horror movie villains of all time, Halloween also brought the fear and paranoia that was affecting the country at large at the time into seemingly safe and secure suburbia. If you plan on checking out David Gordon Green’s sequel, then you’d best watch or rewatch the original classic first (if for no other reason than to understand the references). Shudder has also brought Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5 into the fold for October if you’re thirsty for more.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Shudder): The 1970’s saw another little known filmmaker release a low-budget horror film that history would prove to be a seminal work in the future of the genre. Tobe Hooper’s output after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hasn’t been treated as kindly as John Carpenter’s, and his other big hit, Poltergeist, arguably isn’t even his. But when the Texan passed away in 2017 he was buried with the immortal legacy of being the one who created Leatherface. Many horror films set out to disturb the audience, but few are able to concoct an atmosphere of such thorough visual and aural unpleasantness that manages to somehow behoove the film. Though released in 1974 and containing far less gore than a film with both “chainsaw” and “massacre” in its title would imply, TCM is a remarkable albeit macabre cinematic achievement, a film that feels as hot, smelly, and horrible as Sally’s (Marilyn Burns) terror would lead us to believe it was inside the Sawyer abode (aided in no small part by the real-life horrific working conditions, I’m sure ).
Oculus (Netflix): With The Haunting of Hill House, It seems like Mike Flanagan might finally get the mainstream embracing that he deserves. While Ouija: Origin of Evil and Oculus were relative box office and critical successes, he’s still only on the cusp of being a household name in the horror genre with two of his last three releases, Hush and Gerald’s Game, being Netflix exclusives (excluding the complicated release history of Before I Wake). Of all those titles just mentioned, Oculus is the one that seems to be the most overlooked, which is a shame, because the film, starring a post-Doctor Who pre-Guardians of the Galaxy Karen Gillan, is an effective psychological ghost story. The film revolves around a sister, Gillan, who is trying to exonerate her brother, Brenton Thwaites, from murder by proving that his troubled history is the result of paranormal phenomenon caused by a haunted relic. It may sound a bit ridiculous, but Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard do a fantastic job of making people question whether the threat to our characters is real or imagined right up until the very end of the film.
Blair Witch (Amazon Prime): Grossing over $45 million on a budget 1/9th of that, Blair Witch could be considered a success, but the backlash was so loud and swift that it put the kibosh on not only any sequel ideas, but also on any future mainstream found footage films. Critics said the scares were tired and the film failed to cover any new ground, but considering the innovative things that Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard were trying to do (warning: spoilers) with both revisiting and adding onto pre-existing mythology, I think people were just tired with the genre and had no patience for a sequel to a decades-old film. Two years removed from the backlash, I think that viewers of Blair Witch would find a well-made horror film that attempts to inject new genre elements into a franchise that was influential to so many filmmakers, including the two attempting to serve it. It’s not the best found footage film ever, but it’s also not Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.
Happy Halloween, everybody!
Gently Down the Stream…
If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, then you’ve already picked up on the fact it’s published mid-week. This is primarily done for the purposes of time; mainly how much I don’t have of it and how much of it I take to do research and compile the plethora of titles and the platforms on which they stream for me to write about here. Often, however, many titles expire before the blog is published and even before I sit down to write it, meaning that a whole host of great content is lost before you even click. In light of that, here’s a brief recap of the titles that have expired between the publishing of the last “Crossing the Streams” entry and this one. Just like characters in comic books though, streaming titles never truly die; they just reappear at later dates in venues that don’t make as much sense, so stay tuned!
Netflix: Adventureland, Boogie Nights, Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, Inside Man, Let Me In, The Lost Boys, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Babadook, Donnie Darko