31 Scares Week 2: Children, Possession, and the Eating of Flesh

I know that we are now in November, but I prefer not to dwell on technicalities. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Spooky Season until I finish my 31 Scares!

This week had a theme, and the theme was cannibalism. Even when human flesh was not consumed, there’s been a lot of other creepy body stuff happening in the Scary Carie household lately, and I am HERE FOR IT.

Here’s what I watched, how it scared, and how it performed on the gender front:

POSSUM (2018) dir. Matthew Holness

Possum (2018) REVIEW - A Satisfying, If Challenging, Tale Of Trauma
I honestly don’t know why I do this to myself. (c) POSSUM 2018.

A dark tale of one puppet-obsessed man’s (Sean Harris) blighted childhood and tortured adulthood, mainly told through creepy nursery rhymes and a dreadfully realistic giant spider puppet. This British indie is permeated by a steadily-growing miasma of dread that extends well past the big twist and the protagonist’s unexpectedly optimistic final scene. The puppet thoroughly upset me, the what’s-real-what’s-psychosis storyline legitimately surprised me, and the constant dour staring into dreary fields was weirdly, British-ly charming. Highly recommend.

How Did It Score

Note: I’m removing the “Nightmare” category from this scoring chart in favor of the much more fun categories “Children,” “Possession,” and “Flesh Consumed.” I will certainly keep you informed if a nightmare ever does happen to occur.

  • How scary was it?3/5
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
    • That fucking SPIDER.
  • Was it a Quality Film? 4/5
    • The pacing was really effective and the puppet never felt silly, which feels like a BIG accomplishment all on its own.
  • How about those women? 0/5
    • There are literally none.
  • Bonus: 1
    • The one onscreen murder is unexpected, abrupt, and chilling.
  • Total points: 12/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: No
  • Flesh Consumed: None that I know of…but I wouldn’t put anything past Uncle Maurice (Alun Armstrong).

CHILD’S PLAY (1988) dir. Tom Holland

With Filming Underway, MGM Announces Plot and Cast for 'Child's Play'  Reboot - Bloody Disgusting
(C) CHILD’S PLAY 1988

I had never seen this film before. The few clips I’ve seen have involved schlocky jokes and CGI, which never tickled me. Plus, I’m not one of those “dolls are creepy” people. So I was expecting this movie to be silly and un-scary. I was WRONG!

I mean, ok, it IS silly, but not in an annoying way. The acting is solid, and the silliness doesn’t detract from genuine tension. A couple of things make this original installation to the giant franchise successful. Practical effects and clever camera angles mean we spend minimal time watching Chucky move around, which could be very un-scary if overdone. Director Holland leans on the threat of Chucky’s relative invisibility, which is fairly unnerving. The other reason it works is Andy (Alex Vincent), a not-too-precocious six-year-old under constant threat because he follows the doll around to scary places, like condemned buildings. I was legitimately worried about him! But of course, Andy triumphs in the end, which is very satisfying. Go Andy!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?2.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 3.5/5
    • Obviously it’s a famous franchise so I’m not going to forget I watched it, but it didn’t have a lot of big memorable moments for me. Andy does have 1 solid zinger, though.
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
  • How about those women? 2/5
  • Total points: 11/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: YES
  • Flesh consumed: I don’t know about the logistics of his digestion situation, but Chucky does bite a few people.

CELIA (1989) dir. Ann Turner

Generation Starstruck
(C) CELIA 1989

This one really surprised me! A charming idyllic horror that could easily pass as a family drama for the first hour or so, CELIA slowly and surely ramps up to a series of truly disturbing events perpetrated against and BY the sweet, lovable eponymous heroine (Rebecca Smart). Imaginative little Celia’s brutal ideas are charming when they stay totally rooted in fantasy – the problem is, they don’t. This film uses a few historical elements – a rabbit plague and the 1950s hysteria about communism – to create a deft metaphor about childhood, fantasy and blame, while also telling a legitimately troubling horror story. Highly recommend!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?2/5
    • It’s a .5 for the first hour and a 4 at the end, so we’ll split the difference.
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 5/5
    • Clever use of metaphor, impressive writing and acting. A+.
  • How about those women? 4/5
    • Here is how CELIA scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Pass for the majority of characters.
      • Ko Test: Fail
      • Roxane Gay Test: Despite the lack of diversity in race or sexuality, I want to give this a pass for the number of complex female characters, which is at least 4.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass
  • Total points: 15/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: No
  • Flesh consumed: No

MOTHER! (2017) dir. Darren Aronofsky

Review: 'Mother!' Is a Divine Comedy, Dressed as a Psychological Thriller -  The New York Times
(C) MOTHER 2017.

I was not expecting to be so moved and horrified by this film. Based on the ads I was sort of expecting…welll..hot JLaw being hot? Bad job with the posters, y’all!

MOTHER! broke my heart. It’s the story of a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) in a relationship with a man (Javier Bardem) who is in a much more committed relationship to his writing. While she gives him every bit of love and creativity she has trying to restore his formerly burned-out house and hopefully have his babies, he just…looks for inspiration for his work. Everywhere. The man seems pathologically unable to not suck the marrow out of every life he touches in service of his writing and his fame. As a writer who is also a woman, it’s hard to say which character I found more deeply unsettling. The tone starts sort of A DELICATE BALANCE (Albee, 1966) and then goes full WWII-meets-death-cult fever dream. I was disgusted, I was moved, I was DELIGHTED. Recommend!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3/5
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 4/5
  • How about those women? 3/5
    • Here is how MOTHER! scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Fail but for a good reason.
      • Ko Test: Fail.
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Fail.
  • Bonus: 1
    • BIG ASS SPOILER: They eat. The baby.
  • Total points: 15/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: No
  • Flesh consumed: YES.

SINISTER (2012) dir. Scott Derrickson, THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (2014) dir. Adam Robitel, and 0.0 MHZ (2019) dir. Sun-Dong Yoo

(C) SINISTER2012, (C)DEBORAH LOGAN 2014, (C) 0.0 MHZ 2019

All three of these movies are about angry ghosts inhabiting someone’s body and making them do nasty things! I enjoyed them all, but there is a clear hierarchy of least-to-most scary possession movie and that hierarchy is:

Not Scary: 0.0. MHZ

Occasionally scary but also a little goofy; way too much CGI; leans a little too hard on the pretty-petrified face of the lead actress (Jung Eun-Ji).

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?1.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 2/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 2/5
  • How about those women? 2/5
  • Total points: 7.5/20
  • Children: No
  • Possession: Yes
  • Flesh consumed: No
Fairly Scary: SINISTER

Mysterious murder videos: very scary. The reveal of who is DOING the murders: also very scary! Ghostly children in shabby-chic crackle paint: LOL.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3/5
  • How memorable was it? 3/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 2.5/5
    • Good use of video-within-video. Silly ending.
  • How about those women? 1/5
  • Total points: 9.5/20
  • Children: So Many
  • Possession: YES
  • Flesh consumed: In a ghost-y way, yes?
Very Scary: THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN

Solid slow-burn found footage with some truly horrific flailing, wailing, and skin-peeling, and a pervasive sense of lost control. I’m not especially scared of snakes but they were used QUITE effectively. Also, Jill Larson (Deborah) is a marvelous actress!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 3/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
    • Good use of found footage.
  • How about those women? 4.5/5
    • Here is how DEBORAH LOGAN scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Pass
      • Ko Test: Pass
      • Roxane Gay Test: Eh..maybe pass. Pass-ish.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass.
  • Bonus: 1
    • Two words: Snake. Head.
  • Total points: 15/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: YES
  • Flesh consumed: Did I mention the snake head.

BLOOD QUANTUM (2019) dir. Jeff Barnaby

Coronavirus made 'Blood Quantum' prescient in the pandemic - Los Angeles  Times
(C) BLOOD QUANTUM 2019

This was a super fun take on a classic zombie flick, with the twist that First Nations people are immune to zombie-ism. The story takes place on Red Crow Reservation and centers a teen boy, Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), his Sherriff dad (Michael Greyeyes), and Joseph’s pregnant white girlfriend, Charlie (Olivia Scriven). It’s basically a classic Fight-Zombies-or-Die plot structure, but the twist means that the protagonists are not necessarily worried about a single bite – they’re worried about being eaten alive by hungry hordes of white people. Which is 1) an apt metaphor, and 2) actually way more terrifying! I found this movie legit scary in a zombie way, while also having compelling characters, and some intriguing artistic animated sequences that helped establish themes around motherhood and connection to the land. It’s free on Shudder – check it out!

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 3.5/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 3/5
  • How about those women? 2.5/5
  • Bonus: 1
    • Zombie blow job!
  • Total points: 13/20
  • Children: Yes
  • Possession: No
  • Flesh consumed: So. Much. Flesh.

RAW (2016) dir. Julia Ducournau

Raw review – cannibal fantasy makes for a tender dish | Raw | The Guardian
There’s so much weird disturbing shit in this movie that I forgot about this scene until I started looking for images to go in this post. WATCH THIS MOVIE. (C) RAW 2016

RAW is the story of a vegetarian who consumes raw animal flesh for the first time, and it sparks a previously-unknown voracious desire to eat raw meat. Human apparently preferred. This is not a comedy.

There is a post forthcoming in which I will gush at length about RAW and the 2021 follow-up TITANE, and Julia Ducournau in general. Suffice to say for now that RAW was wonderful, and set a new standard for me in terms of what I want from gender and body horror in films. It’s unnerving, it’s human, it’s disgusting, it’s FANTASTIC. Go watch it immediately.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?3/5
  • How memorable was it? 5/5
  • Was it a Quality Film? 5/5
    • This film knows exactly what it’s trying to say and doesn’t sacrifice the experience of watching a horror movie in order to say it. The way it succeeds at being both brutal and delicate in exploring hunger and desire and gender/sexuality is *chef’s kiss*.
  • How about those women? 4/5
    • Points lost for the tests and added back for the sheer divine nuance of the two female leads.
    • Here is how RAW scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
      • Willis Test: Fail but for REALLY good reasons
      • Ko Test: Fail
      • Roxane Gay Test: I think almost pass but not quite.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Pass
  • Bonus: 1
    • 1 point for Justine (Garance Marillier) eating her sister’s finger.
  • Total points: 18/20
  • Children: No
  • Possession: Nope
  • Flesh consumed: So. Much. Flesh.

Published by Brandy N. Carie

Playwright. Director. Producer. Feminist Takes on Horror Films.

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