Photo: Lions Gate
I love Fido. It’s a film I’ve thought about at least briefly around every Halloween since its release, in no small part because it’s doing so many things with such a relatively simple premise. Essentially the story of a boy and his zombie (as opposed to a boy and his dog), Fido is set in an alternate 1950s America in which zombies exist, and have been tamed via shock collars that turn them into domestic servants. Things kick off when Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) buys a zombie (Billy Connolly) to help around the house despite her husband’s (Dylan Baker) objections, a decision that takes an unexpected turn when their son (K’Sun Ray) takes a shine to the newest member of the family, naming him “Fido.” If that all sounds simple to you, just wait — the film has touches of Douglas Sirk to it, as well as the gore requisite in any zombie movie.
Made with a similarly (if somewhat less spooky) strange-sweet touch is Bryan Fuller’s masterpiece Pushing Daisies, which follows pie-maker Ned (Lee Pace) as he uses his abilities to help solve murder cases. His special skill: being able to touch dead people to bring them back to life. Though it’s useful in investigations, it’s nothing if not a hindrance in his day-to-day life, particularly when it comes to romance. With Anna Friel, Chi McBride, and Kristin Chenoweth rounding out the cast, the show is as charming as its premise is morbid, and if you need any more encouraging, know that it includes the odd musical number, too.
For sweetness with laughs subbed in for spookiness, there’s Steve Martin’s first starring role in a feature film in The Jerk. The film, detailing one man’s rise and fall, is chock-full of famous lines (“I was born a poor black child!”) and what the New York Times review referred to as “absolute stupidity,” but it also boasts one of the most tender, romantic sequences ever to be put on film: Even if you’re not familiar with The Jerk, you probably have a passing familiarity with the song “Tonight You Belong to Me,” which features here in a scene in which Martin and Bernadette Peters’s characters sit on a beach, and fall in love over the course of that one song.
All right, back to the spooky season. Lowlife isn’t straight-up horror in the way you’d expect it — it’s more of an action-thriller, if you will — but it’s so committed to every stitch of the fabric holding it together that it faults into just as visceral territory. The film is made up of four parts that weave together toward a final bloodbath, with a luchador, organ peddling, sex trafficking, and plenty of murder along the way. Director Ryan Prows wears his influences on his sleeve — Lowlife feels like a descendant of Pulp Fiction — but it’s as fresh a take on mayhem as you’ll see this year.
The subset of films centered on mothers and daughters has a bloody new entry in the form of Pyewacket, which stars Laurie Holden and Nicole Muñoz as a mother and daughter whose relationship takes on new strain when, after an argument, Leah (Muñoz) summons the demon Pyewacket to kill her mother. Though she soon relents, it turns out that Pyewacket isn’t going to be so quick to leave. The demon is terrifying, of course, but the film is best when focusing on the tenuous relationships between its characters.
Netflix’s horror division seems to have a pretty good batting average, and to help shore things up is Apostle, which is, simply put, nuts. A period horror film in the tradition of The Wicker Man, it’s got cults, it’s got plenty of gore and old-school body horror, it’s got Michael Sheen with a weird haircut, it’s got a fight that reminds you that director Gareth Evans also directed The Raid — the plot, which sees Dan Stevens set off for vengeance when his sister is held for ransom, may be thin, but there’s enough mania to make Apostle a worthy watch.
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