By Aaron AuBuchon
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of boxer Mike Tyson will prove to be his quasi-philosophical answer to a question about an upcoming bout with Evander Hollyfield: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
2020 has been a real punch in the mouth, huh?
I had great plans for Channel 31 in 2020. The main ones were: add at least one new post a week, develop the podcast idea I’ve been chewing on for a couple of years, and get more voices in here to write for it. I accomplished one of them, anyway. I’m happy to say that we have some new writers here who have contributed great articles, and I have a few more to post from some other writers. However, as to the rest… well, again, 2020 was a real challenge. Everything was six times harder than it usually is, and I decided to write a novel (still working!), which really took away all my energy for writing about movies and so the rest fell by the wayside.
Dammit, I’m going to do better in 2021. I’m going to make a commitment to getting something written every week, no matter what. And I’m going to get more content from other writers. We have lived in the wasteland long enough to have learned its ways; time to get crackin’.
So, like everyone else on earth who has any sort of platform, I wrote a year-end list. I figure that a year-end list is a good way to clean out the pipes and get in practice writing about films again and it’s fun to do. These are films that I saw for the first time in 2020, not necessarily new films. I don’t particularly care about the “Year in Film” lists so much, myself. But I do like to read what other people liked in a year, no matter when it came out. So here’s my list of things I saw this year for the first time that I found interesting or useful or entertaining or what have you. In no particular order:
Django, Kill! If You Live… Shoot! (1967) This has to be one of the most horrific Westerns I’ve ever seen. It is easily in the same category as Cut-Throats Nine (1972) which is often touted as the roughest spaghetti western, but I’d say this one gives it a run for its money. Everybody in this movie is terrible, and hideous violence is done on the regular, notably what happens with the gold. Yikes. Wrote an article about this one that’s here if you’d like to read more about it. This was probably the film I’ve thought about most that I saw this year and it has been viewed three times. Maybe four. Hell, now that I’m writing about it, I might squeeze in another before 2020 is out.
Absentia (2011) How I missed this one for nine years, I have no idea, but I found it early this year and thought it was really well done and not exactly like anything I’d seen before. I also wrote about this one earlier in the year.
The Color Out of Space (2019) As a lifelong fan of the ideas that ol’ Howie Lovecraft put into the world (if not always a fan of their execution or the man himself) I have always been a tad disappointed in many of the film adaptations of his work- not as films themselves so much (I love most of Stuart Gordon’s films intensely) but the actual adaptation of Lovecraft. Most have been unable to approach the real dread, insanity and alienness that seemed to me was at the heart of his writing. From my point of view, this one nailed it, and updated those ideas for a modern audience at the same time. I’ve seen it maybe three or four times this year. Getting Richard Stanley back in the director’s chair means a lot too, as I love Hardware (1990) so much.
Lovecraft Country (2020) Speaking of Lovecraft, I wasn’t sure about this when it first came out, but after all’s said and done, it is the best horror property I saw this year. I know it’s not a movie, but it’s an epic fantasy horror that has a very fully fleshed mythos and also stands up tall to Lovecraft’s racism and uses it as a jumping off point for telling some important stories about race. Also, really cool monsters.
Host (2020) A horror movie set in a Zoom meeting? I don’t know about you, but that sounded gimmicky and stupid to me. However, it ultimately really worked and (I thought) had some excellent scares and a great ending. Plus, I was excited that someone was able to do something effective with the crappy situation we all found ourselves in doing most of our socializing via a computer screen this year.
The Tower of London (1939) A Universal I’d never seen! It’s not really a horror film, but Karloff’s malevolence (which I think is echoed in 1945’s The Body Snatcher) and Basil Rathbone’s backstabbing scheming made this historical drama pretty horrific. And pretty memorable.
Jack Pierce, the Maker of Monsters (2015) I love horror documentaries. Sometimes the making-of special features are my favorite parts of a Blu-ray release, so the inclusion of two docs on my list shouldn’t surprise anyone. I felt like I knew a lot about Jack Pierce, so I guess I never managed to watch this doc before this summer, but I thought it was nice and I learned a thing or two about the man that created most of the iconic makeups for the Universal classic monsters.
Horror Noire (2019) I have traditionally shied away from identity issues in horror, not because I was insensitive to them, but because I generally felt like horror dealt with more universal themes. But this year sort of brought a lot of identity issues into clearer focus for me with the protests about racial injustice lighting up all over the US, so I finally gave this a try, and I’m glad I did. I love horror fandom, but I often wonder why it’s so heavily dominated by white faces and this started helping me understand what it would be like to try to love a genre that rarely had characters that looked or talked like me or anyone I knew. I found it eye-opening, and it sure gave me a new appreciation for Blackula (1972).
Sting of Death (1966): Until the Arrow boxed set came out a couple of months ago, I’d only seen two of William Grefe’s films: Death Curse of Tartu (1966) and Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976) and have now seen four (add The Psychedelic Priest (1968) to the list), but I enjoyed this one the most. This monster is terribly executed and yet wildly enjoyable, which is a totally irresistible combo for a guy who can legitimately say that Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966) is one of his all-time favorite films. I love a movie where there was clearly no money to make it but has a ton of heart and the people making it take it seriously while obviously enjoying the hell out of it. This was that.
Don’t Look in the Basement (1973): Speaking of low budgets, a lot of heart, and things I’d never gotten around to: I had never seen anything by director S.F. Brownrigg. That changed very recently thanks to a big sale from MVD. This film is genuinely unsettling with great performances, very good camera and lighting work, great direction and tight edits. Every dime of the 100K budget is visible onscreen, and I wish someone would really clean this one up and release it with all the bells and whistles, as it deserves it. It also wins for best movie poster of maybe ever. Look at that thing!
So, that’s my list. Hopefully it serves up a reason for you to dig into one of these if you haven’t already or watch it again just so you can tell me I’m nuts. To that end, feel free to argue with me and call me stupid in the comments, as it’s 2020 and that’s half of the total use of the internet these days.
Hope your 2021 is packed with horror, cult and exploitation. Movies, that is.