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An Aging Millennial Horror Nerd Watched The Twilight Saga and This Is What Happened

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I watched all of the Twilight movies in one weekend. I watched them because I wanted to write this article about all the weird choices that went into one of the most profitable franchises from the last 20 years. I wanted to understand why so many people felt invested in a bloodless, sexless supernatural love triangle. I did all the research, I dug into the old fan forums. I sifted through old promo videos, box office records, and interviews. I tried to make this article a listicle, I tried to make it meta, but nothing was ever right.

This franchise is undefinable.

Having watched all five movies, I can confidently say that the first movie is the best movie of the franchise. I did not like the first movie. I did not like how green it was, I did not like the way the camera framed everything at a dutch angle. I did not like how Edward the glittery vampire (Robert Pattinson) looked at Bella the high school student (Kristen Stewart). Is he farting? I thought, or is he cumming?? The special effects look incredibly cheap for a film based on an incredibly successful book series (in 2008, all three books were among the top 50-selling novels of the last 15 years). This was Summit Entertainment’s first foray into a big franchise production, and they were not confident that the Twilight fanbase would make them money. “This could just be 400 girls in Salt Lake City blogging about it,” said one executive, according to director Catherine Hardwicke. She told the Daily Beast, “they said, OK, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants was a very popular book for girls, and it made $39 million. That’s it. We don’t know if this could ever make us any more than that, so we don’t really want to spend more than that.” Hardwicke made her movie for $37 million, and Twilight pulled in $69 (nice) million on opening weekend. Hardwicke was not invited back to direct the sequels.

The next four movies, which barely have a plot, continued to print money for Summit. New Moon made back its budget plus $22 million in profit in days, and Eclipse made even more – the $68 million movie broke even from Wednesday night ticket sales alone. The special effects continue to be mind-bogglingly bad. Sometimes the vampires have white faces, but their necks and ears have human skin tones. And I don’t like Jacob at all. I don’t like that the studio cast a white actor to play an indigenous character, and his abs never make up for his shitty attitude. Both Jacob and Edward are awful to Bella, in fact, everyone in this story is so patronizing and controlling. Where is the sexual tension? I keep thinking. Where is the romance?

Breaking Dawn Part 1 takes a wild turn in the final 20 minutes. There is actual violence and gore! There’s blood in this movie! Some characters justify some wild choices in very problematic ways (if you know, you know), and there is a baby with a nightmare CGI face. There’s an abstinence arc, an anti-abortion arc, and in Part 2, there’s a massive fight scene that doesn’t look half bad. Everything ends with Bella and Edward lying together in the sun, happily ever after (though they forgot to add the sparkling diamond skin effect).

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There is so much to hate about this franchise. The appropriation of indigenous culture, the anti-choice conservative messaging, and the abusive relationships that are branded as loving and romantic. The very bad special effects! Even the stigma of Twilight supposedly being for ‘silly’ teen girls couldn’t stop the Twi-hards tying their identities to these movies (“are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?”). When Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson started dating on the first movie set, their on-again, off-again relationship blurred fact and fiction, sending the fan base into a frenzy. In 2016, long after both actors had moved on, Stewart spoke candidly about that time in a profile for The New York Times Style Magazine. “People wanted me and Rob to be together so badly that our relationship was made into a product.”

Some fans continued to believe the two were a couple as late as 2020. I dipped my toe into the Robsten (Robert-Kristen) conspiracy blogs, where people believe the two are actually secretly married with multiple children. Any mention of Stewart’s subsequent female partners is dismissed as a misrepresentation of female friendship, and any woman who dares to date Pattison gets met with a barrage of online harassment. No one got it worse than singer F.K.A Twigs, who dated him in 2014. “Whatever I did at that time, people would find pictures of monkeys and have me doing the same things as the monkeys,” she told Louis Theroux on his Grounded podcast. She even started to view herself from their racist lens whenever she saw pictures of herself, thinking that she needed to “hide this monkey-ness that I have, because otherwise people are gonna come for me about it.” In one ‘popular’ Robsten blog, they go so far as to refer to Twigs as “IT.” I tried to understand the source of the nickname, but honestly, I had an easier time understanding Qanon lore, and I didn’t need any more brain damage.

The biggest problem with these movies that isn’t tied to the original books, is that they fail to embrace or celebrate the female gaze. Bella is intentionally bland and vague because she’s a stand-in for the reader, which is fine. It is an easy way for audiences to insert themselves into a romantic fantasy where two buff dudes fight for her affection. But the men who made these movies, aside from the first one, seem ashamed of its subject matter as if a story for girls holds any less value than a boy with a magic wand. There is no focus on eyes or touch, and the camera barely lingers on the male body, even though the werewolves all spend A LOT of time shirtless (no bare butts in sight, though). It’s all very safe, very PG, even though the men constantly talk about their ability and desire to harm Bella physically.

This is the paradox of Twilight. It’s a fantasy full of darkness that never quite manifests, safe for people who don’t think they can have a dark fantasy of their own. Vampires glitter in the sunlight, and werewolves never shed any blood – abuse isn’t actually abuse; it’s love. Twilight is the first half of Mulholland Drive before everything flips and the filth lurking behind the dumpster bursts to the surface. It’s a cheap Hollywood lie, selling bland passivity as desire and romance.

But none of these things matter, because no matter how ridiculous, harmful or cheap this franchise is, The Twilight Saga has made over 3.3 billion dollars since 2008. I don’t know what else to say.

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Revisiting the Incomprehensible Silent Night, Deadly Night Series: Which Is the Best, Which Is the Worst, and Are Any of Them Actually Good?

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Which means we need to bust out some relevant Christmas horror films to watch here. And it also means there will be many listicles that put Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 at the top of their rankings for Christmas horror films by default. But it got me thinking that maybe we need a bit more of a meditation on this series.

Have we really written them all off so quickly because one of them is the most meme-able? I like the first few films in the series as much as the next guy, but The Ricky Chapman Trilogy that kicks us off doesn’t go beyond the pale the way everything after does. 4 & 5 are Apocrypha to the Ricky Bible, but they introduce many weird, out-there concepts that make them enjoyable bad movies.

So today, I’ve taken the liberty of hitching up the man-eating reindeer to the sleigh to take a retrospective ride through the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise and find out…well, you read the title, you can do the math. Starting with…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

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The one that started it all and got a bunch of people in hot water. It’s funny to think that outrage culture has pretty steadily assaulted our eyes and ears with the dumbest of controversies since time immemorial. Still, it’s even funnier knowing this movie contributed to that outrage. But beyond the controversy, this film is actually…kind of good?

It’s the best shot of all the movies, so big props to Scream Factory for remastering it and restoring it to its fullest. It’s only a little meanspirited, which is good since it doesn’t get too heavy for its absurd concept. On top of that, the kills in the movie are exceptionally creative (antler impalings, Christmas light hangings, and sled decapitations, oh my!). My only problem is that Billy Chapman is no Ricky, he’s more serious and isn’t as much of a goofball.

I would say this ranked high up when I first started my rewatch but may go closer to the bottom of the list. Not for any technical fault of its own—just because it gets much funnier from here in…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PART 2

Do I even have to say the line to know it’s the first thing that went through your head as you read the title? GARBAGE DAY!

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Let anybody who told you Art the Clown is the best slasher villain to use a gun see this and watch them change their tune. Watching this is only enriched by not having seen the first movie, which makes it one of those sequels that is better than the first in the worst way possible. If you were unfortunate enough to watch both the first and second films in one sitting, like myself, you’d know that roughly half of the movie is flashbacks to Billy’s rampage. But that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining as all hell.

Ricky Chapman is an all-time great slasher villain and delivers some kills almost as good as the original. Eric Freeman may just be the best-worst actor of all time, which makes this movie one of the best-worst films of all time by proxy. Which makes the following film feel like a fall from grace, given its…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!

A.K.A. “The one with Bill Moseley in it,” because that’s the most remarkable thing about it. He’s not even a killer Santa in this one, but I guess mixing the motifs of “killer with exposed brain pan” and “Santa Claus with murder tools” might muddy the aesthetic waters. The final entry for our boy Ricky is kind of a sad whimper to go out on because this movie’s pacing is painfully slow.

It squanders a very fun concept (psychic girl is hunted by an evil Santa Claus she keeps having visions of) in favor of watching a lobotomized Ricky taking a road trip to his murder victim and killing people off-camera on the way. Worse, it squanders Bill Moseley, who doesn’t get to act outside of lumbering with a slack jaw. It’s the cinematic equivalent of dragging your sled up the hill again: tedious, no momentum, and no fun as you wait for the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise.

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SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION

And the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise is here! Why should this even qualify when it looks and feels like Springtime in Los Angeles, and people had just forgotten to take down their Christmas decorations for months? Well, three reasons:

  1. Spontaneous combustions caused by witches.
  2. Monstrously massive bugs everywhere, designed by Screaming Mad George.
  3. Clint Howard as the resident crazy homeless guy who walks in and out of the movie.

While Ricky may be gone and its status as a Christmas movie is dubious, it’s a trip of a film with one particularly hellish sequence involving a lot of slime-covered giant insects. Some complain about its ham-fisted thematic notes of gender inequality, sex, and exploitation…but are you actually going into Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 expecting strong themes? Just enjoy this one for what it is, which is a lot of classic ick-inducing Brian Yuzna filmmaking. If you liked the weird, psychosexual nightmare that was Society, you’ll like this.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER

I was going to do another A.K.A. joke here, but I realized that the twist of this movie is so weird that it outclasses even The Initiation and needs to be seen to be believed. Rewatching this, I had forgotten exactly what the deal was with our mystery killer in the film and was mouth agape when the movie jogged my memory.

The Toymaker gives some very gruesome deaths and puts the Yuletide feeling of the film at center stage with a plot about murderous toys (not Demonic Toys, we swear, please don’t sue us Charles Band!). In fact, I would argue that since the effects in this movie and the violent kills don’t feel like a rehash of Society, it’s actually a major improvement on what 4 had going on. While four is slower-paced as it tells a (somewhat) more tempered story, five is aware of how goofy the plot is, with faster and funnier editing and some truly hilariously bad performances.

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SILENT NIGHT (2012)

The final entry in the series is as plain jane of a slasher as they come but does manage to get the holiday aesthetics down pat, so even though it isn’t as wacky as the others, I’m including it in the ranking.

This film isn’t the one that reinvents the wheel or brings any fire to mankind (outside of the literal flamethrower murders depicted in it), but it is a very solid slasher. It has a cast of fun character actors, particularly Donal Logue and Malcolm McDowell, with our lead Jaime King as a no-nonsense detective hunting down our slasher. I just wish it was as madcap and off the walls as some of its predecessors were.

FINAL RANKINGS

Which is the best, which is the worst, and are there any good films in this series?

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I would argue that all of them (except for 3) are great horror flicks in their own rights, since not a single one of them (except for 3) is boring (3 is getting the worst spot, sorry if I’m being redundant, but it sucks).

If I had to choose a best one, it would probably be our 5th spot on the list as The Toymaker is a diamond in the horror rough that, while lacking the bad acting of Part 2, has a genuinely insane script and all the best special effects of the series. So, from best to worst:

  1. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
  2. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
  3. Silent Night, Deadly Night
  4. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation
  5. Silent Night (2012)
  6. Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!

When you’ve got those cookies baking in the oven, the house smelling of pine tree, and the lights twinkling, let this list from nice to naughty help you make the right decisions on which campy horror movies to watch this holiday season.

From all of us here at Horror Press, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year everyone!

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In Memory of the Video Rental Store

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Cinemas are for those who know where they’re going. But the video store? The video store is for the wanderers who are still looking. Or, were still looking.

From a very young age, I, like many people, was in the clutches of a business nobody even knew was doomed to collapse yet. At least, nobody I knew knew, and certainly, you didn’t know. We were children, and children rarely know much about themselves, let alone the intricacies of a market on the brink of an unknowing death at the hands of an unknowable, unfeeling force. A force that would take all the whimsy and love out of picking a film and replacing it with scrolling and idly zoning out as you watched the screen.

I learned quickly to love the video store. I hadn’t yet grown to love the comic books that would line the boxes in my room, or developed the skills to play with others, but I did have a video store on my block. It was a downright frigid spot in the sweltering heat of the summer, and that was all it needed to be.

The fatal weakness the store preyed on was that my eyes and heart were still perfectly big in proportion to my positively diminutive brain. I was enticed by every expertly crafted cover, every famous face I acquainted myself with. I ended up carrying names and voices belonging to the friends and enemies and loves and heroes I’d never meet.

And the terrors I’d never experience first-hand.

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The eyes in paintings follow you sometimes, but the eyes on movie cases always follow you when you walk along the aisles. It’s the horror film cases that always seem to be watching you from between the shelves. Red eyes peering from the darkness. Monstrous eyes that seem particularly human and human eyes that call on the particularly deranged. The only lit spot on a face leering in shadow with wide eyes, wide maniacal stares and bloody hands and bloody weapons, bloody everything–

So scary that it would leave me rambling. And I’m a habitual rambler, always nervous, so you can only imagine how scared I was, even as a child, when my parents were there to assure me it’d be fine.

I can’t wash out how those images evoked a primal disgust and curiosity in me. I remember that the Saw movie covers did it to me quite a bit with their various severed limbs and torn-out teeth hanging by wires; the Texas Chainsaw remake had me standing in shock when I passed it in the store, the face of Thomas Hewitt staring back with void sunken features. Sepia-toned filth that leeched off the poster’s art and into my brain to leave stains so strong I can remember them as clear as day. Growing recognition that would turn into admiration.

And I kept running into these faces, even when I wasn’t in that video store. A man in the neighborhood who sold movies out of the trunk of his car frequented the same block as my grandmother’s apartment. He lured me over to browse the selection once, and there it was. My father took my hand and led me away, but that first glance at the stitched face would terrorize me for most of my childhood.

Cover after cover through flea markets, electronics retailers, and bargain bins in big box stores. Everywhere, that damned face. Good old Charles Lee Ray, Chucky. Killer dolls, which I only got glimpses of, were infinitely more terrifying than the films themselves. God forbid I saw one of the full-sized replica Chucky dolls in a store and froze up to have an asthma attack.

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When I got older, eventually, I did what every idiot in a horror film does. I took the proverbial steps into the darkened basement to find out what was making that noise. I had to find out what I had been seeing glimpses of from the corner of my eye.

Far and away from the first video store that stole my heart, we had a Blockbuster in the town we moved to next. Twelve-year-old me snuck a copy of “Dawn of the Dead” in with some of the films we had rented, covering that pale, bloodstained half-face with a box of old candy off the shelf near the register, taking advantage of the fact that my parents were still browsing while I made my pick. The young cashier, whose face has melted into memory soup all these years later, still had one distinct feature on their face I could see: a smile. It could have been them being nice as usual, but part of me likes to think that they knew what I was doing and just wanted to give a little push to rebel.

I watched it a few days later in my room, nervously dancing around the fact we’d have to return it soon. And though I had to cover my eyes most of the time, and the volume had to be turned down low so that my parents couldn’t hear the carnage from the next room over, I made it through. And I wanted more now.

Now that I’m grown, I wish we had met earlier, horror; I wish I had gotten to know how fun the fear could be. How silly some of these things were. The joys of camp and goriness. The way you could put the laughter in slaughter and the sense of fun in fear. But that was the trajectory I had to be on, to feel equal parts “I’m scared, I want to go home” and “I’m scared, I need to know more.” I’m just glad that I caught those eyes watching between the shelves when I did.

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