Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. This is The Takeaway, and we of course are on the precipice of Halloween, ghosts, ghouls, creepy crawly things, things that go bump in the night, and no, we're not talking about partisan gridlock on Capitol hill, we are going to the movies.
Speaker 2: Have you heard about that this videotape that kills you when you watch it?
Speaker 3: Look behind you.
Speaker 2: [unintelligible 00:00:26]
Speaker 4: Hope it's some scary movie?
Speaker 5: Michael?
Speaker 6: Like she would leave [unintelligible 00:00:35]
Speaker 7: They're here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If you're like me, then you're feeling the shivers up and down your spine right about now. Other than trick or treating, nothing says Halloween quite like settling in for a scary movie. If you're a horror movie fan, you've probably already seen this year's biggest releases, like the latest entry in the Halloween movie franchise and the reboot of--
Rafer Guzman: Candyman.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hey, I didn't say it, but if you're looking for some new frights, you've come to the right place. I have two guests with me now to make sure you're properly creeped out this Halloween. Kristen Meinzer is a culture critic and author of How To Be Fine, and Rafer Guzman is the film critic for Newsday. Together, they co-host Movie Therapy Podcast. It is great to have you both here.
Kristen Meinzer: Thanks so much for having us back.
Rafer Guzman: Hey, how are you doing?
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. To both of you, what is it that you look for in a scary movie?
Kristen Meinzer: Me personally, I want to feel all sorts of feelings. The feelings of shivers running up and down my spine, I want to be jumping out of my seat, but I also sometimes want a little bit of a surprise of other feelings too, whether that's laughter, whether it's feeling something deep in my heart that's touching. A horror movie that gives me additional feelings and gives me more to think about always makes me a little bit more impressed with the movie and makes me think about it afterward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How about you Rafer?
Rafer Guzman: Well, I guess it depends. I think there are two types of horror movies. There are the really fun ones where you're jumping out of your seat and things are going boo and it's ghosts. There's always that scene where the camera zooms in close on the hero and then suddenly someone appears next to them and they jump with fright and you all jump with fright.
There are these feel good horror movies, I think, that are a lot of fun. Then I think there are these feel bad horror movies that are not for a good time that are really, truly upsetting and traumatizing and ghastly. I love those too. I think it depends on what I'm in the mood for.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. I really feel like we should talk about your interest in this desire to feel bad, but Kristen, I just want to say I have a big sister who-- she's not going to get on a rollercoaster and she is not going to any movie that she knows is a scary movie. What do you say to people like my big sister? Can I manage to drag her out to one this year?
Kristen Meinzer: Yes you can. Well, don't drag her out, watch one at home because I have a list of movies and I would say two out of three of my movies, you can watch if you don't fancy yourself a horror movie fan. There are some chills, but there's also a lot to think about and you might feel other things, surprising feelings, feelings about how you process pain or things about how America's consumerist machine works or whatnot.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That is terrifying.
Kristen Meinzer: [laughs] It is scary. Yes, these are scary things dealing with our own internal demons and dealing with the greater American machinations of consumerism and so on, but I do think that these movies, they can please a lot of people. They can please the people who want a little bit of a scare and they can please the people who don't want too much of a scare and want to think a little bit more.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Rafer, I'm wondering, since you're down for the feel good horror movies and the feel bad horror movies, are there bad horror movies there? Are there some that are just too cliché for you?
Rafer Guzman: Yes. That would be most of them, I think. They really tend to hit on the same old tropes, the same old formula. It's always the angry native American spirit or the spirit that belongs to some kind of tribe or society or ancient religious sect you've never heard of, and it wants a soul and of course you have to give it something. There's always the expert that you have to go to. He opens up the giant leather book and blows the dust off it and reads you the instructions of how to do it. It all gets a little tiresome, I think. I really do like it when a horror movie can find something new or do something new with the old formulas which work. They work for a reason, but I think it's a horror movie's job to freshen things up a little bit.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Kristen, we did ask both of you about your favorite under-seen Halloween movies and, well, I was listening to some of these this morning. Kristen, let's start with your first pick, Eyes Without a Face, the French film from 1959. Listen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, given that it's in French, can you help us understand what's going on with this film, Kristen?
Kristen Meinzer: [laughs] Yes. This is, as you said, a little bit of an older film, it's about 50 years old now, but even though it's a classic, I know very few people who have ever seen it including my fellow film critics. This is an under-seen film in my opinion. It centers on a renowned plastic surgeon in France whose specialty is transferring living tissue from one living person to another.
Now, after destroying his daughter's face in a reckless car accident, he is racked with guilt and begins kidnapping young women who resemble her with the hopes of transplanting their living faces onto hers. Of course, nothing ever goes quite as planned. I just want to note here, it sounds like it's a really gory movie, but it's actually not. It's more than anything a strange poetic meditation on what we all do with our own guilt and how we process other people's guilt.
I think it's a great Halloween movie for your sister, Melissa. It's a great Halloween movie for anybody who wants something a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more surprising as Rafer was saying. You watch this movie and it doesn't necessarily go the places you think it's going to go. It's just pretty to look at too.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Rafer, let's start with your first suggestion. It's a movie called Phantasm, which you recently watched with your 11-year-old son.
Rafer Guzman: Yes. It's one of my favorite movies. It's from 1979. I always love this movie. It's a movie about a kid named Mike, his parents have died recently and now other people in his town seem to be dying mysteriously too. The kid thinks it has something to do with the Morningside cemetery. He goes poking around the funeral home after dark, and he discovers all these weird things that you wouldn't expect even if you were to go poking around a haunted cemetery.
First of all, the place turns out to be staffed by these dwarf zombies that seem to come from another planet. The hallways are patrolled by this flying silver orb that if it catches you, will stick razor blades into your skull and then drill your brains out and spill all your brains all over the floor. Of course, little Mike has to figure out a way to get everyone else to believe that there's something weird going on in Morningside cemetery. Yes, I did show it to my 11 year old and he just loved it. He thought it was the funniest thing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: [laughs] Apparently the apple tree, not far, I got it. All right.
Rafer Guzman: [laughs] I agree.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Kristen, your next pick is a horror comedy from 1985 and it's just-- Okay, take in the weirdness with me for a moment.
Speaker 10: When I was a little girl, I didn't think there was anything that I liked better than ice cream. Now I'm a big girl and I have decided there's something I like better, much better, it's called the stuff, and believe me, enough is never enough.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Can we talk about this? The Stuff, directed by Larry Cohen and apparently you first watched it as a kid.
Kristen Meinzer: [laughs] The Stuff, oh my gosh, I love this movie. I watched this as a little kid. I could handle this movie even though I could not handle horror movies at that time. The Stuff begins when a gooey, white substance resembling ice cream is discovered by railroad workers. They find it to be sweet and addictive, and before you know it, this alien substance is being marketed and distributed as a zero calorie dessert to a diet and sweets obsessed America.
Not to be one upped by this new product, the leaders of the suffering ice cream industry hire an undercover detective to find out what the stuff is actually made of and they soon discover the stuff is actually a living parasitic and possibly sentient organism that gradually takes over the brain, eating people from the inside out. I just got to say, it is a hilarious, clever movie that even though it's from 1985, it's still very smart. It's still very on point and it still says a lot about America's obsession with consumerism and weight loss.
I just think it's worth seeing and the commercial spots, they have all these commercials that run through the movie for the stuff which will just make you laugh and think, "Oh, that actually looks like a real TV commercial."
Melissa Harris-Perry: I so appreciate that. I am certainly old enough to remember 1985 very well, and particularly the aerobics craze madness that was going on at the time and that-- Okay, I appreciate that whole idea of what's happening there. Rafer, I want to keep embracing the weirdness and get into the rock opera horror movie, Phantom Of The Paradise.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. That sounds pretty different than your typical horror movie.
Rafer Guzman: Yes. Well, see, Melissa, I tried to pick some feel good horror movies for this. This is like a horror musical, glam rock comedy, which I know sounds like Rocky Horror, but this actually came out the year before. It's basically like a glam rock version of Faust. You've got the singer songwriter named Winslow Leach who wants to break into the music industry and of course he winds up selling his soul to the devil. There's a little bit of Phantom Of The Opera mixed in there.
A couple of great things about this movie, it's directed by Brian De Palma, who I love. You've got all these great, weird, 70s musical numbers that are clearly drawing from bands that were popular at the time, like Kiss, Meat Loaf, and [unintelligible 00:11:30] but they're all parodied and weirded up from the movie. Then Paul Williams, the other great singer songwriter who had all the music for the film, he plays Satan, which I just think if you can picture Paul Williams for a minute, it's a hilarious image of Paul Williams playing Satan.
It's an early role for Jessica Harper too, she plays the dream girl of the song writer, but it's one of my favorite movies. It looks great. It's just really inventive, funny, and creepy, the music's great. I've always loved this movie.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I can actually visualize that and it is funny and also horrifying. All right, Kristen, we're going to go into the 21st century here a little bit with these final picks. Let's take a listen to the sound design on this really creepy one.
Speaker 11: Just confess. Repent your sins. [unintelligible 00:12:30]
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. That's The Lodge from 2019. Why should we be watching that one?
Kristen Meinzer: I was so surprised this movie was not a bigger hit. It only grossed about $2 million worldwide, which in regular human terms is a lot of money, but in the movie industry, $2 million is next to nothing, it's pennies. The chances are you haven't seen it, but you absolutely should. It begins when a writer named Richard informs his wife, Laura, that he's leaving her for a much, much, much younger woman named Grace. He met Grace while researching a book about an extremist cult and Grace was actually raised in the cult and she's the sole survivor of a mass suicide in the cult led by her late father.
Now, in order for Richard's children to bond with Grace, he decides to take them all to a secluded lodge and then he abandons all three of them at the lodge to get to know each other and that's when things get really creepy. I thought I knew where this movie was going, but it had me jumping out of my seat, questioning my instincts. It was tense. It was claustrophobic. It will leave you guessing. It is such a scary, scary movie. This is not for you and your sister, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's funny you say that, as we close up here, but I couldn't watch horror movies last Halloween. I just couldn't do it. I felt like the pandemic felt too real to make anything like a horror movie feel even slightly good to me at the time. Obviously the podcast you co-host is called Movie Therapy, I'm feeling ready for the horror movies this year. Are horror movies a therapy?
Rafer Guzman: I think they are. I think they're very cathartic. I think they're a great way to put maybe a real fear at a bit of a distance, disguise it as a demon or a spirit or a possessed child or something else. You can metaphorize these fears and then maybe deal with them a little better. I think they are great for it. Listen, you've got to have a stomach for it. Not everybody likes them, but I think they're a lot of fun and when they're done well, they're great.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Rafer Guzman is a film critic for Newsday and Kristen Meinzer is a culture critic and author of How to be Fine. The two of them co-host Movie Therapy, the podcast. Kristen, Rafer, thank you so much.
Kristen Meinzer: Thanks for having us.
Rafer Guzman: Thank you.
Kristen Meinzer: This was so fun.
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