15 Best Movie Posters of 2019

Welcome back to the annual, year-end countdown of the best movie posters of the year! And just like that, this is now officially an annual thing! I’ve been browsing impawards throughout the year, keeping an eye out for eye-catching, interesting posters and saving them for later. Suffice to say, I had a bunch of posters to sift through and narrowing this down to a top 15 was difficult (not least of all because new posters are released all the time so I couldn’t even begin to narrow the list down until the start of September). Also, starting this year I’m going to be giving extra consideration towards posters which are actually intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be artistic but very limited in their reach. I mean, this Dark Phoenix poster is really cool, but it’s also clearly a poster you’re never going to see if you go to a theatre. I’m still going to consider these kinds of posters if they’re really good, but I find it more impressive when a poster which is meant to sell general audiences on the film does something particularly artistic or interesting.

Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list! As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images.

Honourable Mentions

While Disney absolutely destroyed the competition at the box office this year, their posters were, by and large, very mediocre and lifeless. This poster for Frozen II was one of the few exceptions, with its interesting use of colour and reflections hinting at the plot and feel of the film. It ultimately just missed the list, but it was definitely worth mentioning.

This is another entry which could have easily made the list if the competition wasn’t quite so fierce. It’s got such a creepy design already and then as your eye gets drawn upwards you realize that the trees have been arranged in such a way that they spell “FEED”. I like this poster a lot, it looks way better than a gritty, Grimms fairy tale adaptation should.

Having seen Us, I like this poster quite a bit with its minimalist design resembling a Rorschach blot, but with the right side missing bits which hint at the film’s psycho doppelganger premise. It gets across the idea of the film very well, but I feel like it’s just a bit too subtle to really be appreciated unless you’ve actually seen the film first.

15) The Death of Dick Long

This is one of those posters where I have no idea what the film is actually supposed to be about, but it kind of makes me want to see the movie regardless. As I’ve said in previous best posters of the year countdowns, that’s ultimately the goal of a movie poster, so it’s worth some points in my book. On top of that, this poster is just eye-catching with its use of harsh, contrasting lighting and muted colours… and then you notice that the fireworks are coming from the guy’s freaking crotch. And then you notice the title is called The Death of Dick Long, and that it’s from one of the directors of Swiss Army Man. Yeah, it’s going to be weird as all hell, but intriguingly so. That said, I could have very easily skipped over this one if the poster wasn’t so eye-catching so I’d say that this is well-deserving of a spot in the Top 15.

14) Low Tide

Every best movie posters countdown needs a poster which is just a beautiful, “artistic” shot and Low Tide takes that spot for me this year. It really isn’t much more than an extremely well-composed photo and a cleverly integrated title using a reversed gradient, but that’s all it really needs to be. Low Tide‘s poster is so beautiful it makes your eyes water, suggesting that you’re in for a gorgeous treat if you watch it. In addition, its use of colour and gradients also implies a dangerous tone for the movie without really having to overtly spell it out. A great poster all-round, and that fact that it is only in at #14 just shows how impressive posters have been in 2019.

13) Hail Satan?

This poster is just so clever. It’s appropriately interesting, informative and inflammatory in equal measure. Most Americans (especially evangelicals) are uninformed about the Satanic temple and have a knee-jerk opposition to them, but that is exactly how they get awareness to their admittedly worthy causes. Usually, if you hear about Satanists in the news, it’s because they’re fighting for religious equality – after all, if an evangelical is okay to do something, a Satanist should be able to do an equivalent action, right? That idea gets across perfectly in this poster, with the image of the Statue of Liberty as Baphomet as a striking visual that is guaranteed to trigger evangelicals. Oh and it also has one of the best taglines of the year, which just manages to put this over Low Tide as far as I’m concerned. I love it.

12) Bliss

This is definitely the poster I’ve mulled over the most on this list. At first glance, the colour choices make it very ugly to look at and unappealing. However, the longer you look at it, the more intriguing it is. For one thing, the ugliness is clearly intentional and is meant to be at odds with the title, Bliss, which is usually associated with bright, cheerful colours. If you look closer you can pick out all sorts of unsettling details – screaming, disembodied mouths, blood dripping off the woman’s face, and piles of reaching, naked bodies scrambling over each other. The longer you look at it, the more unsettling things you begin to notice and the more intriguing Bliss becomes to me. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the hand-painted art help make this stand out a bit more compared to all the photoshopped posters of its contemporaries. All-in-all, when I was narrowing down this list to just a top 15, I had considered dropping Bliss on a number of occasions because of its surface-level ugliness, but I’m now confident that it really deserves a spot here due to its bold and evocative design.

11) The Ghost Who Walks

Again we have another poster which is, by itself, super intriguing. We’ve got what appears to be a very zoomed out, birds-eye shot of Santa Claus in an alleyway being escorted or robbed by a pair of men – whatever the scenario is, they don’t seem to be doing him a favour anyway. The story the poster tells is enough to make you go “WTF?”, but what really puts it over the top is the very clever composition and framing of the image and the way that the title has been integrated into the shot. It doesn’t really give you any information about the film’s story beyond a tone, but it’s fascinating enough that I can see it selling someone on the film by itself.

10) Pet Sematary

There’s no movie in 2019 that I wanted to love more than Pet Samatary, but good God the film was so mediocre that I can’t even be charitable to it. Oh well, at least we have this awesome poster that’s forever going to get my imagination going for a movie better than what we got. I love the way colour has been mostly drained from the poster. The use of black and white tones makes for great contrast and allow the bits of gold in Church’s eyes and the red in the title to stand out all the more. It’s all put together in such a creepy manner, from the great, shadowy shots of the main cast (especially the look of dread on Amy Seimetz’s face and the nearly skeletal-looking Jason Clarke), to the scary, masked children, to Church’s glower hanging over everyone. It uses the Drew Struzan style in an interesting way, is just striking and original in its own right, and ultimately does a better job of selling the film’s premise than the actual movie did. Sigh, sometimes print is better.

9) Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Tarantino’s latest kind of had to make this list. Sure, it’s not exactly the flashiest poster of the year, but it captures the aesthetic of 1960s film posters perfectly. The hand-drawn style, the vignettes of moments from the film, the way that the cast is shown off, even down to the way that the credits are listed – it’s perfect. Considering that that’s clearly the intent here, it would feel wrong for me not to recognize it on this list.

8) Child’s Play

Speaking of posters that, on their own, aren’t all that flashy… holy crap, Childs Play just goes bonkers. If you’re not aware, the Child’s Play remake/reboot went head-to-head with freaking Toy Story 4, and the marketing department were eager to make the most of this with this bonkers poster that takes the aesthetic from Toy Story 4‘s own marketing and uses it to make a freaking statement. There were a few posters in this Chucky murders Toy Story series, but the one with Woody’s arm and hat was the most striking, in my opinion. It reminds me of those posters for You’re Next a few years ago which had a killer hiding in the “reflection”. I just love how cheeky, bold and clever this poster design is and can only imagine how hard Bob Iger must have shit himself when he saw it for the first time.

7) Joker

Hoo boy, if there’s one movie we didn’t need in 2019, it’s probably a sympathetic, mass killer origin story for Joker for all the incels to admire… That said, this poster does a great job of conveying the idea without making him into someone we’re meant to feel sorry for. There’s such a creepy vibe here with the idea of a psychotic person who can’t smile without physically forcing himself. The awfulness of this is further reinforced by the paint-drop tear, the sickly colour palette and the disturbing extreme close-up which shows off all the strained emotion on Joker’s face. It’s a very well-composed image that gets across the idea of the film perfectly… arguably better than the actual film does, in some ways.

6) The Unborn

What. The. FUCK. IS THAT!?!?!! Okay, I’m sold on this movie already – I don’t know what the hell it’s about, but this poster is straight-up disturbing shit. It has such a disgustingly creepy vibe to it with little more than a shadowy mutant baby in a jar backlit by what looks like a hundred year old light bulb. It’s horrifying and, while I’m certain the movie can’t hope to live up to the sick shit running through my head when I look at this poster, it makes me want to find out what the hell this movie is all about. Sign me the hell up.

5) Detective Pikachu

Okay, obviously I’m a Pokemaniac, so I’m kind of biased on this one. That said, this is a dense poster packed with all sorts of subtle Easter eggs and plot hints that are enough to make a Pokemaniac like me jizz their pants. Seriously, whoever designed this poster clearly loves Pokemon and packed nearly every inch of it with obscure references to the games’ universe. Even if you don’t get the nerdy references, the Easter eggs still do the job of making the world of Ryme City appear lived-in and bustling, inviting you to pour over all the details that have been hidden in it. As a result, I’ve probably sunk more time into this one poster than I have on all the other posters on this list, combined. That by itself is an accomplishment worthy of some appreciation, which is why Detective Pikachu ranks so high on this list.

4) Aladdin

Perhaps mirroring their creative bankruptcy for most of the year, Disney’s poster output in 2019 has been unfortunately mediocre. Even Endgame didn’t have any particularly interesting posters, so imagine my surprise when I finally found a visually arresting poster for a Disney movie: the live-action AladdinAladdin was a mostly-mediocre and over-stuffed film, but it did have its charms thanks largely to the performances from the three main leads, especially Will Smith. Thankfully, they’re all on display in this gorgeous poster which uses the white background and expert use of a red and blue to draw your eye and tell a particular story. Your eye is naturally going to be drawn to Will Smith’s genie first, then down to Jafar and Jasmine, then down to Aladdin, then down to Abu jumping into the lamp before you reach the title. It’s such a cool and clearly-intentional trick, using the space of the poster itself to great effect to direct the viewer in an unnatural upper-right to lower-left line. That’s impressive on its own, but the fact that the poster itself is just gorgeous-looking easily cemented this as one of my absolute favourite posters of 2019.

3) Glass

Glass was, in a lot of ways, a colossal disappointment which threw the nascent Shyamalan resurgence back into disarray. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the most pertinent is that Glass represents so much wasted potential. We can see some of that potential here in this poster, which captures the essence of a climactic superhero story in such a beautiful way. Each broken piece of glass shows off characters painted in a comic-book art style, interspersed with actual comic art created for the films itself. It’s enthralling to look at, packed with strong emotions for each of the characters and can’t help but feel evocative to for anyone who appreciates comic book storytelling.

Also worth mentioning is this other poster which creates a portrait of Mr. Glass out of literal shards of broken glass. It’s not nearly as striking as the above poster of course, but it is quite interesting in its own right, especially for a “character poster”, which usually just comes across as a boring, requisite marketing piece.

2) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

There were ultimately only two films on this list which were duking it out for the top spot, and I have to say that John Wick: Chapter 3 only just barely lost out on it. I mean, just look at this poster, it is exquisite! I would hang this on my wall in a heartbeat. The neon-soaked colour palette is simultaneously arresting to look at and a perfect representation of the aesthetic of John Wick, while the harsh metals and skull imagery convey the feel of the series. There really isn’t much more to it than that – it’s just a poster so cool that it just plows its way to the runner-up position of this year’s posters.

Oh, also worth mentioning is the poster on the right, featuring John Wick versus hundreds of assassins. This gets across the tone and sort of odds that ol’ John is in for in the film in such a striking and frankly funny fashion. It isn’t quite as visually-arresting as the above poster, but it is definitely worth mentioning in its own right.

Which brings us to our #1 spot for 2019…

1) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

 If there’s one film whose marketing department absolutely killed it this year, it’s definitely Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘. To put it simply, every single poster for this film is simultaneously visually beautiful and totally kick-ass (as if this were an action movie starring Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron). Unlike a lot of blockbusters, even the regular theatrical posters have a level of creative artistic merit to them which is usually reserved for more specialized posters (presumably for fear of alienating the mass audience with a poster that’s not aimed at the lowest common demoninator). When you consider that the beautiful shots in these posters are also just being indicative of the cinematography of the film itself, it just makes the marketing for this film even more impressive. Godzilla: King of the Monsters may have been a bit bloated and underwhelming on its own merits, but holy crap if the film’s marketing department didn’t go all-out this year. Here’s hoping that next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong continues this trend, because if it does then we are in for an absolute treat.

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Ranking the Albums I Listened to in 2019

It’s that time of year once again, when I look back on all of the random-ass, new music I’ve listened to in 2019! I’ve been slowly curating this article all year as there have been plenty of new albums by my favourite bands, which has given me plenty of time to parse my feelings on them. Also, if you’re curious about last year’s picks, you can read that list here.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings!

23) Jesus Is King, Kanye West
If you’ve checked out any of my previous annual album rankings then you’ll probably know that I skew towards rock and metal rather than rap or RNB, so perhaps it wouldn’t be all that surprising that my white, heathen ass would rank a Kanye West album so lowly. However, I did enjoy My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and some of my all-time favourite albums are pure gospel music (Worship and Worship Again by Michael W. Smith are just inspiring to listen to back-to-back), so suffice to say I was pretty intrigued by the hype surrounding the release of Kanye West’s big Christian music debut. It’s undeniable that Kanye West is an asshole, but the guy has a way of crafting really interesting music so I was very curious to see what he could come up as an outsider in the Christian music scene. However, the results are pretty disappointing. With 11 tracks and clocking in at only 27 minutes long, this album just feels half-baked, like Kanye put out a bunch of demos instead of taking the time to actually craft something satisfying. Only 3 tracks manage to get over the 3 minute mark, “God Is”, “Hands On” and “Use This Gospel”, and these are clearly the most enjoyable and well-crafted tracks on the whole album. There are some potentially interesting aspects to “Selah” and “Follow God” as well, but these tracks are so brief and incomplete that they leave you very unsatisfied. I also got a bit of a kick out of the gospel choir opener “Every Hour”, although it is little more than an enthusiastic mood-setter. Most of the tracks are just lacking in substance. All this said, the only track on this album that I actually liked and would listen to on its own is “God Is”, a fantastic gospel choir and RNB fusion which is helped immensely by Kanye West’s sincere singing and declarations of faith and praise to God. It’s actually moving, has something to say and is easily the best track of the bunch. However, this is just one well-crafted song on an entire album and it’s not enough to justify how scattershot, incomplete and uninteresting the rest of Jesus Is King is. Now, if Kanye would gimme a whole album of gospel tracks similar to “God Is”? I’d be all over that, but as it stands Jesus is King just feels like Kanye is dumping his half-completed homework on us.

22) The Change, Awake At Last
I did a post several months ago about bands who had followed me on social media, one of which was Awake At Last. I didn’t really have much to say about them though – their debut EP was distinct with theatrical, enthusiastic hard rock, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I figured it was worth giving them another shot with their first full-length album, The Change, but this album ultimately just told me that Awake At Last aren’t for me. Awake At Last certainly have their own style, especially because of lead singer Vincent Torres’ theatrical (perhaps even overwrought at times) vocals. It’s not like they’re playing the same music over and over again either, they sprinkle their hard rock with electronics and vocal effects, although they don’t tend to get too heavy. When it comes down to whether or not I enjoy their music though, I really can’t bring myself to care about it too much. Usually when I listen through an album for the first time for these countdowns, I’ll write some notes about each song and put down any first impressions I have about whether I like it. For The Change, I did this for about the first five songs but just stopped because I wasn’t really into it at all. In fact, my notes ended up being just me trying to figure out which bands Awake At Last reminded me of, and I realized that they most remind me of Papa Roach… so take that how you will. I dunno if it’s just because this is positive hard rock (I like to wallow in my misery, thank you very much!), but it just didn’t work for me at all. I’d still recommend checking them out if you’re into bands like Shinedown, Saliva or Papa Roach, but for me at least I don’t imagine I’ll be checking back for their next album.

21) Armageddon, Art of Dying
I saw Art of Dying opening for Disturbed years ago… oh God, I was still in high school, it must have been around 2008 or 2009. Anyway, I was pretty impressed with their self-titled debut album, it was a solid post-grunge which gave me a lot of promise for the band going forward. Their follow-up, Vices and Virtues, was decent as well, but clearly not as good as their debut. I felt like they were drifting towards more of a mediocre radio-rock sound and so I kind of stopped paying attention to them. Since then Art of Dying has put out three more albums so I figured that I might as well check out their latest release and see if I’ve been missing anything in the meantime. I have to say that, if their other albums are anything like Armageddon, then I haven’t really missed much. The uneasiness which drove me away from Art of Dying in the first place has definitely manifested to reality, because the band is very clearly chasing radio trends here. That’s not to say that radio-friendly music is bad by any means, but there’s a difference between putting out music that you want people to hear and putting out music which is supposed to get mass-appeal radio play. Art of Dying are talented enough that Armageddon isn’t exactly “bad”, but at least in terms of the songwriting it feels like a band that’s several albums deep going through the motions and trying to pay the bills.

The album opens in irritating fashion right off the bat with the title track which is clearly ripping off the pop-rock sound of Imagine Dragons. While your mileage is certainly going to vary, I find Imagine Dragons’ sound annoying, especially because their popularity has led to several other bands mimicking it (spoiler alert: this is far from the only band on this list which has been riffing on Imagine Dragons). Taste-aside, frontman Johnny Hetherington’s vocals sound really strained on this track for some inexplicable reason. The guy has a pretty good voice so I’m not sure why he’s stretching himself so far here. The lyrics here are also typical of the whole album, in that they’re generic and uninspired. Even reasonably decent songs like “Cut It All Away”, “Rearview Mirror” or “Shatterproof” are let down by the lyrics, which is especially unfortunate when it deflates the impact of the enjoyable guitar solos in tracks like “Rearview Mirror” and “I Believe”. This culminates in a real disaster with “Unoriginal”. Look, if you’re a band like Art of Dying and you decide to put a song on your album called “Unoriginal”, you need to make sure that that song is amazing or you’re just setting yourself up to get pilloried. So what do Art of Dying do? They basically come right out and admit that they’re just going through the motions. I mean, check out these lyrics:

“I’m so fucking bored / Keep coming back for more / It’s all been done before yeah”
“It’s just the same old / Is this really where we’re at right now / Are we so, are we so unoriginal”
“I’m so sick and tired / Of being uninspired / Nothing ever changes”

Wow… I wouldn’t have expected the band to just come out and say that they just don’t give a shit, but there you have it. Sure, they probably aren’t actually intending for the song to be taken as a serious declaration, but in the context of such a limp album it’s hard to interpret it any other way.

20) Live From Alexandria Palace, London, UK, Disturbed
Oh look, Disturbed are once again bringing up the low end of the album rankings this year, although I can say that at least this live EP is better than Evolution. The main reason this ranks so low is that I really don’t understand why they decided to put out a bite-sized live EP at all. The band put out their full live album, Live at Red Rocks, only a couple years ago and 3 of the 5 tracks on this EP appeared there in essentially the same form (and, in my humble opinion, their live recordings don’t sound as good as their studio recordings). That leaves us with only two new live tracks from Evolution. Luckily, “A Reason to Fight” is far more effective when sang live than it is in studio. While the studio recording just came across as melodramatic, the live version really gets to show off how well David Draiman can sing. It doesn’t solve the issue that the lyrics are uninspired, but it is definitely the superior way to experience this song. It also helps that David then goes into a speech for almost 5 minutes about not falling prey to addiction, depression and suicide, which is honestly more raw and moving than the song itself. Cutting from this sombre moment into “Inside the Fire” is a pretty inspired move in my opinion, but the rest of the tracklist is strangely erratic. “Inside the Fire” was clearly the last song on the setlist when this was recorded, and all subsequent tracks on the EP are just faded into and out of haphazardly. The lowlight is, in my opinion, the second song from Evolution, “No More”. I already didn’t like this song, but it’s not improved any in a live setting. It’s just the same sort of protest song about greed, government and war that we’ve already heard more effectively thousands of times, not only from other bands, but Disturbed themselves too. Other than that, tracks like “Inside the Fire” and “Ten Thousand Fists” which sound fantastic in studio and great in a live setting are robbed of much of their effectiveness when they’re recorded live, since David Draiman has to sing at a higher pitch to avoid ruining his voice. The best track on the EP though is the closer, “The Game”, which manages to make the live transition without losing any of its energy. I’ve always enjoyed this song, although the message certainly makes me uncomfortable. I like to assume that there’s an unreliable narrator thing going on and that this song is actually about how much men suck, although I seriously doubt that that was the intent. Anyway, like I said at the outset, this is a pretty limp EP which doesn’t really have much to offer to anyone. Even bigger Disturbed fans than me will probably be disappointed that there’s only 2 newer songs on here and I wouldn’t say that either of them make it worth a purchase or more than a cursory listen.

19) Victorious, Skillet
Throughout this past decade if you asked a mainstream rock music fan if there were any good Christian bands, odds are the most common answer you’d get would be “Skillet”. While their fame has always bothered me, I can kind of understand why it happened. After experimenting with weird industrial/electronic rock and straight-up worship albums, Skillet finally hit their stride with Collide and Comatose, a one-two punch of hard rock albums that really resonated with me back in 2006. The thing is though, I was an angsty high schooler at the time and have grown up since then. Meanwhile, Skillet have released 4 albums in the last 10 years and each one is clearly just trying to rehash Comatose. Like… John Cooper is 44 years old. Hearing him angst about parents who don’t understand and girls not paying attention to him was contrived enough when he was 31 years old (and married to one of his bandmates, I may add), but at 44 it’s hard to imagine that he really has much connection to “kids these days”. At least Victorious has shifted lyrically from angst to encouragement for its teenage target audience, although as I said on The Change that doesn’t tend to be my cup of tea either.

Anyway, Skillet come swinging right out of the gates with “Legendary”, clearly intended to be their big radio single. What does it sound like? FUCKING IMAGINE DRAGONS, UGH. I get that they’re going for a completely different audience than me, but holy shit there are so many bands aping this same sound right now because it’s popular (and shows up on several songs on the album). Guys, trendsetters don’t follow, they lead… As I’ve said for a lot of these bands so far on this list, the songwriting on this album is just so rote and uninspired (sidenote, I came across this image from the lyric video for “Legendary” and it made me laugh). Unlike some of the other albums on the list up to this point though, Skillet are at least talented enough that they can serve up some decent songs every once in a while. The title track is appropriately triumphant and inspiring, “Terrify the Dark” has a fantastical air about it and “Anchor” is like a straight-up worship track. Fans of the band’s past few albums will probably dig Victorious regardless, but Skillet clearly aren’t making their music for me anymore and I can only really speak to my own feelings on the album.

18) Breathe in Colours, Forever Still
Like Awake at Last, Forever Still were on the list of bands that followed me on social media. However, Forever Still’s debut album, Tied Down, had actually impressed me and so I was excited to see what their 2019 album would be like. Unfortunately, their sophomore album Breathe in Colours didn’t impress me nearly as much as their debut. The band’s greatest asset remains lead vocalist Maja Shining’s vocals (also, holy shit, what a name!!!), which are able to range from screams to operatic melodies. I made this comparison in the social media bands post, but she definitely reminds me of Sleeping Romance’s Frederica Lanna, although Forever Still hew more towards “vanilla” metal than symphonic metal (although there are a few songs which dabble with symphonic elements). The main issue with Breathe in Colours is that, other than Maja’s voice, nothing really stands out. The music is fine, but it’s treading firmly in typical metal/symphonic territory and is nothing special. The songwriting is also just fine, only a few tracks really stood out to me, such as the title track and “Pieces”. Perhaps the best track though is the acoustic version of “Is It Gone?”, which strips back Forever Still’s weaker elements and puts everything down on Maja Shining’s vocal talents. It makes the song far more enjoyable in my opinion. Hopefully Breathe in Colours is just a sophomore slump which will help Forever Still to figure out where to take their music in the future, because I believe they still have the talent to really stand out as a female-fronted metal band.

17) Stairway to Nick John, Mastodon
As I said in my 2017 album rankings, Mastodon have a pretty reliable album cycle, putting out a new one approximately every 2-3 years. Knowing this, I expected that we might get a Mastodon release in 2018, but imagine my surprise when I open up Spotify and see that the band has put out a surprise cover of “Stairway to Heaven”. It was a weird turn of events for me, but when you look into the story behind it, it’s actually quite poignant – Mastodon’s longtime manager, Nick John, died and as a tribute the band played an emotional cover of “Stairway to Heaven” at his funeral. Unexpectedly, someone recorded the performance on their phone at the time and so the band decided to re-record it in studio as a record store day release.

So, with that bit of background out of the way, how is Stairway to Nick John? It’s… fine. If you’re looking for a very straightforward cover of “Stairway to Heaven”, then Mastodon has a studio and a live recording just for you. Mastodon’s Brann Dailor usually has very questionable vocals in a live setting (as anyone who has heard their Live From the Aragon record can attest), but he does a fantastic job on “Stairway to Heaven” in both of the recordings. His vocals here are unlike any other work they have done, to the point where it’s kind of unfortunate that we haven’t heard this side of him before. There aren’t really any frills going on here, the vocal melody and the music hew closely to Led Zeppelin’s original composition, with some very light hints of Mastodon’s flavour worked in. This is no Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” or Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence”, where they aim to recreate the song their own way, it’s just straightforward cover. It’s also worth reiterating that the live version of the song was recorded on a phone, so the audio is a tad rough, clearly being picked up from far away in an echoey hall. It’s impressive just how well it turned out, but it’s worth knowing that it’s not really captured in professional quality, if that bothers you. All-in-all, Stairway to Nick John is fine, although the story behind it is far more compelling than the release itself. It’s not the 2019 Mastodon release I was expecting, but a bit of a creative break is probably better for the band overall.

16) This Is Not the End, Manafest

Growing up as a small town church kid, Manafest was considered the cool Christian rapper in our youth group. At the time I was mainly into Christian hard rock/metal, so his rap-rock fusion worked well for me. It also didn’t hurt that his two albums, Epiphany and Glory, were both really solid releases. However, with each subsequent release, Manafest just lost more and more lustre to me. Each new album was just nowhere near as good as Glory was – they all retread the same sounds and themes, while being weaker and less inspired (although there were usually at least a couple good songs). This all came to head around the time Manafest crowdfunded his seventh album, The Moment and promised big things. At this point I said “Fine, this is your last chance to impress me”… and, lo and behold, it was probably my least-favourite album of his to date. Suffice to say, that was it for me. However, here were are now 5 years later and the guy has pumped out another 3 albums, so I was curious to see if he had improved any since 2014…
…but if This Is Not the End is anything to go by, he hasn’t really. I mean, he has diversified his sound somewhat: the title track shows off electronic elements that he has incorporated into the rap-rock fusion, while “Kamikaze” demonstrates a different style of rapping than he ever did on previous tracks. That said, he’s still just putting out the same sorts of music meant to appeal to white Christian teens despite the fact that the guy is now 40 years old, although there is a surprising amount of cheekiness, such as faking out F-bombs on the title track (as innocent as this sounds, it’s a move which is sure to piss off parents and Christian music reviewers alike). The track “Kamikaze” also has a really awkward chorus which features Manafest saying “I love the way you suck my… energy”… it definitely does not sound like he wants to say “energy” though, unless that’s the nickname has has for his dick.
But then there’s “Plan For Me”. When this started playing with its piano opening my initial thought was “oh, this is this EP’s ‘Mockingbird'”, which was actually pretty spot-on in some ways. However, then he starts singing to an unborn baby who’s been dead for 5 years and who they even had names picked out for before Manafest’s real-life wife starts singing the chorus and I was truly surprised. Shit, when I walked away from his music, did Manafest and his wife have a miscarriage and here they are airing their continued grief? It was pretty heartfelt, and then he goes into the second verse as the child, telling their parents that it’s okay, they don’t have to feel guilty anymore, they can move on because this child they never knew will still love them and see them in heaven someday. By this point, I was actually getting emotional – my son was born just over a year ago and my fiance and I both thought that we were going to lose him on two separate occasions, so the fear of losing a child welled up raw emotions in me. I was actually impressed – a Christian rap song about a real experience of struggle with guilt and pain, learning to move past it and accepting that even loss like this is in God’s hands? Even if it wasn’t a true story, it speaks true to so many real-life experiences. I listened to it three times in a row.
…and then I realized it was an anti-abortion song and my enthusiasm was deflated so quickly. Like… goddammit. It makes less sense as an anti-abortion song! Why are they picking out names if they’re not planning on keeping the baby? If he was so keen on having a baby and so cut up about it now, why did they even go through with it? The only reasons we’re given is that the parents were young and not ready, which are fine reasons actually, but it’s like Manafest can’t imagine why someone would really feel that an abortion is justified. Like, did the relationship fall apart because of the abortion and now he regrets that? We don’t even get the mother’s perspective at all during this, which is frustrating – it’s entirely from a man’s perspective, including having him extrapolate that perspective to an imagined unborn child. It’s just another reason why it’s so deflating that this is an anti-abortion song instead of a song about experiencing a miscarriage, it just perpetuates so many frustrating pro-life tropes (often from a male’s perspective). Instead of being some real, lived experience, the song is like a youth pastor’s anti-abortion skit – a moralizing, melodramatic, theoretical scenario of someone regretting their abortion and being unable to move past it, robbed of the nuance of most peoples’ real experiences. I know people who have gone through abortions and, looking back, they know that they made the right decision, but most of the guilt then comes from religious family members calling them “baby murderer” or other people making them feel like they should be ashamed about it. I’ll give the song some credit, it does at least suggest that the abortion was part of “God’s plan” all along and therefore not some abomination. It also tries to be as loving to the parents as possible, but it’s unavoidable that a song with half of its verses from the perspective of an unborn baby in heaven is going to try to guilt you into birthing that little bastard next time. Like, despite effectively saying it was God’s plan to have things go this way, it’s still very judgy about the parents’ decision and that the unborn child’s potential is never realized.
It’s just frustrating to me that Manafest wrote the song this way. When I mistakenly thought it was a song about a miscarriage it was so good… Sigh. While it deflated my enthusiasm for the song significantly, I still have to say that it’s a really good sounding song, easily one of Manafest’s best, so I’ve got to give him some credit for making one banger on this EP… even if it really, really sucks that it’s an anti-abortion song and which will totally invalidate it in other, more unforgiving, peoples’ eyes.

15) Patterns of Mythology, Falls of Rauros
I’ve been dabbling in the black metal subgenre over the last few years, and while I enjoy bands like Winterfylleth, I find that a lot of this kind of music blends together indistinctly. That said, when I was trolling Spotify one day and saw a black metal band named “Falls of Rauros” (named after the place where Boromir meets his end in The Lord of the Rings) had a new album out in 2019 I knew I had to give them a look. Patterns of Mythology is unmistakably a black metal album (the screamed/growled vocals should make that immediately obvious), although it is at a much slower tempo than, say, Winterfylleth. That said, Falls of Rauros change up the tempo multiple times throughout each song – one minute a song could be slow, moody and contemplative and then it can suddenly ramp up into a punishing wall of metal. That said, while they clearly have their own flavour, there really wasn’t much here to really make Falls of Rauros stand out enough to me. Like all the other black metal I listen to, none of the songs really stand out on their own for me and I can’t see myself playing this album as anything other than background music. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t something I’d come back to repeatedly.

14) Peace, Demon Hunter
Demon Hunter tend to put out solid music. I actually backed their last album, Outlive, on PledgeMusic (and got the big, beautiful deluxe box set!) and enjoyed it quite a bit, although the aggressive, hard edge to their music typified best by The Triptych has long since been eroded away. However, when it was announced that their double album would be titled War and Peace, I was tentatively excited. Based on the titles, it was pretty clear that they were going to give us the best of both worlds: War would be the heavy album, whereas Peace would be on the lighter side, a theory which turned out to be true when the albums dropped.

Peace is certainly lighter than any previous Demon Hunter album, but that actually makes it feel a bit fresher than if they had just watered-down their normal sound. Demon Hunter actually get a chance to experiment and do things we’ve never heard from them before, such as the western-inspired “When the Devil Come” or the full-on piano ballad, “Fear is Not My Guide”. We also get some solid, melodic tracks which show off Ryan Clark’s singing voice, particularly “More Than Bones” and “Recuse Myself” (which I’d definitely say is the track which has stuck with me most on this album). Unfortunately, Peace starts to drag very quickly. The lighter tone isn’t the issue at all, if anything it’s the tempo that’s the issue – it feels like most of the songs have been slowed down in order to facilitate the lighter tone, which ends up making most of the tracks feel sluggish. This sluggishness means that most of the tracks drag, lack any energy and become instantly forgettable. The lyrics throughout the album aren’t great either, particularly on the title track, although even tracks I like, like “More Than Bones”, are very simple and repetitive. Most of the tracks are sub-par, very few stick out to me at all, and even the best tracks are only around the baseline of quality I’d expect from Demon Hunter anyway. Again, Peace gave Demon Hunter a great opportunity to try something fresh, but I just don’t think that they succeeded at all. In fact, mainly due to how forgettable it is, I’d argue that Peace is probably their worst album ever, which is just unfortunate.

13) War, Demon Hunter
Man… Demon Hunter really didn’t do it for me this year. I had heard good things about War around its release, but I was left a bit underwhelmed. I was kind of expecting them to move their sound in a heavier direction on War. While it’s certainly heavier than Peace, it’s far from a return to the aggressive edge of old-school Demon Hunter, coming across more like a next step from Outlive, where lighter tracks outweigh the heavier tracks (and even the heavy tracks will have lighter bits interspersed, such as the choruses for “Cut to Fit” and “On My Side”). I enjoy songs like “Cut to Fit”, “On My Side” and “Grey Matter”, but they’re interspersed with mediocre tracks like “The Negative”, “Unbound” and “No Place for You Here”. The only truly great track is the album closer “Lesser Gods”, a really heavy, epic track unlike anything Demon Hunter have put out before. It’s the sort of shot in the arm that makes you wish that the band had done more like this on War, but having it as the closer just hammers home how mediocre most of the album is. On the other hand, the only particularly bad track on the album is “Ash”, which has this really weirdly-pronounced chant of the title which makes it sound like they’re saying “ASS!” each time. Suffice to say, it ruins the song and makes it impossible to take seriously when all you can hear is “Suffer the ASS!”

All-in-all, War and Peace just did not work for me. About half of War is mediocre and brings down the overall quality of the album. I really think that Demon Hunter would have been better off taking the best tracks from these two albums and putting them on one album, with the rest as harmless B-sides on a deluxe edition. It may not have made for their best release ever, but it certainly would have felt more satisfying and on par with their usual level of quality. For what it’s worth, War has a bit more energy to it which helps it come out on top, but both albums are just mediocre releases from a band which usually does much better.

12) Kiss of the Cobra King, Powerwolf
It was pretty surprising when Powerwolf announced a new version of “Kiss of the Cobra King”, one of their favourite tracks from their debut album. I expected to just get a cleaner version of the song, but Powerwolf have actually gone and rewritten the song from the ground up, only retaining the iconic chorus from the original song. The resulting song is immediately more epic, showing off the polished production quality you can expect from a Powerwolf track in 2019, akin to something from The Sacrament of Sin. It was a nice surprise to hear and I’d say that this new version of the song is easily as good as the original, if not better.

Instead of just releasing this by itself though, Powerwolf also threw a live version of “Army of the Night” onto the release. This feels like a bit of a pointless move to me though, because we’ve already gotten a live version of the song on The Metal Mass a couple years ago and it hasn’t changed much in the interim. Still, it can be looked at as a bonus track, because most people are just going to be interested in the solid “Kiss of the Cobra King” anyway.

11) Secrets, Written By Wolves
I was going through my Daily Mix on Spotify when I decided to check out a song called “Let It Burn” by Written By Wolves… and holy crap, it was awesome! It was a really solid metalcore track, energetic, well-written and with just the right amount of angst. Suffice to say, it caused me to track down the rest of Written By Wolves’ material and, lo and behold, it turns out that they had just put out their debut album, Secrets. “Let It Burn” was the opener and it really got me hyped for the rest of what Written By Wolves had to offer.

…and, uh, well let’s just say that “Let It Burn” is NOT indicative of what Written By Wolves’ sound is like. Hell, I’m not entirely sure that they even have a distinct sound, based on what we’ve gotten from Secrets anyway. Like, immediately after the heavy, metalcore sound of “Let It Burn”, we get a couple indie/alternative tracks, then we get EDM on the title track and “Demons”, then “Something to Save” mixes in some gospel of all things, then a heartfelt ballad in “Lucky Stars”… the band is all over the place, throwing everything they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s impressive, but also exhausting to experience and especially disappointing because they never really return to the heavy sound that sold me on the band in the first place. That said, Written By Wolves have some clear talent on display and, unlike many of the bands on this list, they’re clearly giving it their all and not just going through the motions. There’s so much variety here that odds are you’re going to like at least one track, but you’re also just as likely to not care for half of the songs on here. It’s a bit of a crapshoot in that regard but I have to give Written By Wolves some credit for going for it regardless, I just hope that they can focus themselves a bit more in the future.

10) The Inveterate Fire, Firelink
Several months ago I stumbled across an article about a band producing Dark Souls-inspired metal. As a pretty big fan of the franchise and of metal in general, I knew that I had to check this band out for myself as the Souls franchise is just so rich for artistic adaptation (and they’re not even the first Souls-inspired metal band I’ve come across). The album cover and the song titles were all getting me to geek out and there’s even an audio sample from Dark Souls III of (I believe) Prince Lothric on one of the tracks. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a big fan of the series to enjoy Firelink, because the music they’ve crafted is interesting in its own right. In some ways they remind me of Winterfylleth, with metal that can be slow, ambient and introspective, and then suddenly rev up into fast, punishing black metal with howled vocals (although, regrettably perhaps, these vocals do make it hard to appreciate the lyrics, which is another reason why you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the franchise to enjoy the band).

“Vessel of the Primordial Serpent” kicks things off in brutal fashion, with very fast and aggressive black metal. “Kindled” opens a little closer to the traditional soundscape of Dark Souls, with a strong bassline and plucked, echoing guitar giving the song a more moody, thoughtful and lonely tone. Just as it’s starting to drag, it kicks into the punishing metal sound which typifies this album (one could say that the song is kindled itself, much like the bonfires in the game). Interestingly enough, Firelink sound almost like Dragonforce at times, they have the same sort of wailing-guitar sound which isn’t so common in the bleaker tone of black metal. The album pinnacles with “Manus”, which shows off some of that very impressive Dragonforce-style guitar work. It’s easily one of the most distinct and enjoyable black metal tracks I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, “Beckoning Sun” then feels scattershot, like the band recorded themselves improvising an ambient tune – it doesn’t feel like there’s any sort of intentional craft behind this track and it makes it feel super forgettable. The album then closes on “The First Sin”, which just continues more of the heavy and fast black metal we’ve already gotten to this point. All-in-all, The Inveterate Fire is worth checking out for fans of black metal, the Dark Souls links are fun but the music certainly stands on its own.

9) When the World Becomes Undone, A Pale Horse Named Death
My God, just look at that album cover. Just look at that title. Just look at that band’s name! Yeah, I was sold on this album the moment I saw it, it’s clearly My Shit™. I’ve seen A Pale Horse Named Death being classified as “doom metal” and “gothic metal”, but at least based on this album I would have to say that they also have a distinctly grunge sound, very reminiscent of Alice in Chains (y’know, if Alice in Chains’ music was all about despair and the death of the world). This actually gives When the World Becomes Undone a shocking amount of potential crossover appeal, as tracks like “Love the Ones You Hate” and “Fell in My Hole” are solid enough that I could potentially see them getting radio airplay. That said, as much as I enjoyed this album, there are a couple glaring weaknesses. First of all, vocalist Sal Abruscato’s singing is not great, it sounds like he’s putting on an affectation and mumbling the lyrics half the time. Listening to him, I can’t help but imagine how much better these songs would sound if they were sung by Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley or William DuVall, or even if they were screamed or growled. The second big weakness with this album is that there isn’t much diversity to the songs. When you consider that the album is over an hour long, it really starts to drag as it goes on. Still, I really liked what I heard here and will definitely be checking out A Pale Horse Named Death’s back catalogue.

8) Rewind, Replay, Rebound, Volbeat
Volbeat are one of my favourite bands and usually they can be depended on to put out really good albums, especially since they have a longer release cycle than many bands. They have a very distinct sound that you don’t really get anywhere else in popular music (I call it “hard rockabilly”) and Michael Poulsen’s wonderfully illegible vocals which make nearly every release feel special. They also rarely rest on their laurels, usually going for a different “feel” on each album (eg, Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood feels like turn of the century saloon tunes, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies has a country-western theme, etc). Suffice to say, I was expecting good things from Rewind, Replay, Rebound.

The album starts out at its highest point with “Last Day Under the Sun”, an infectious (if slightly repetitive) rock tune which has gone down as one of my favourite and most memorable tracks of the year. The only other other track that comes anywhere close to that level of quality is “Rewind the Exit”, although that’s not to say that the rest are bad. In fact, the first half of the album is pretty enjoyable, especially the Elvis-like swagger of “Pelvis on Fire” and the surging energy of “Die to Live”, but there are two big issues with Rewind, Replay, Rebound. First of all, the album feels very bloated. I like that Volbeat put out hour-long albums, but the music has to be consistently high-quality for it to work. Normally, I’d say that Volbeat manage to clear that barrier easily, with maybe one or two tracks at most that don’t really stand out, but in this case at least half of the tracks feel pretty mediocre by Volbeat’s standard. This is especially the case in the second half of the album, where a lot of the songs are so indistinct that they just start to blend together. This is especially egregious in the case of the closing track “7:24”, just comes and goes so uneventfully that you go “oh wait, that’s the end of the album?” It’s too bad too because the earlier track “Maybe I Believe” felt like a more natural and satisfying closer.

The second big issue is that the album feels very familiar. It starts at just the second track on the album, “Pelvis on Fire”. I like the song quite a bit, but the song is unmistakably ripping whole sections off from an earlier Volbeat song, “Sad Man’s Tongue” (they also name-drop the song in the lyrics, so obviously this wasn’t unintentional). Hell, even the lyrics in both songs match up at times and as someone who is familiar with Volbeat’s catalogue I just can’t not hear this, it always takes me out of the song at least a bit. Then only two songs later we have “Die to Live”, which would almost certainly be named “Let It Burn”, except that Volbeat already named a song that on their last album. Obviously, that’s less of an issue, but it continues the feel that Volbeat are just recycling the same ideas. This still wouldn’t be much of an issue if not for yet another obvious recycled song, this time on the track “Cheapside Sloggers” which not only sounds similar to “We” on the verses, but very clearly rips off the opening guitar riff from “Hallelujah Goat” and a bit of “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza” for good measure. Again, these are just the instances which are unmissable if you’re familiar with Volbeat’s work. There are a few other tracks which have a niggling air of familiarity to them, but I wouldn’t even care if there weren’t so many obvious instances already of them plundering their back catalogue here. It would be one thing if it was a theme for the album overall, but instead it just feels like they’re trying to reintroduce elements from deep cuts to new audiences who haven’t heard the rest of their music. Maybe there’s some merit to that idea, but it takes me out of the album with how obvious it is.

There’s also a Deluxe Edition release with 2 B-sides, an alternate version of “Die to Live” without guest vocals, and a bunch of demos. The B-sides are solid and basically all that makes the deluxe edition worthwhile, since the demos sound virtually indistinguishable from their slightly more polished versions and the alternate version of “Die to Live” is basically a less-interesting version of the standard track. All-in-all, if you like Volbeat already then the Deluxe Edition is basically a no-brainer anyway, but considering that 6 of the 8 tracks on it are basically more filler on an album which feels bloated with filler already, it doesn’t exactly help the overall feeling about the album. I enjoyed Rewind, Replay, Rebound well enough, but it’s very clearly on the lower end of Volbeat’s catalogue. I’m sure I’ll continue to give it listen-throughs into the future, but I can already tell that it’s not going to get nearly as much replays as their past classics. I just hope that the band doesn’t rest on their laurels when the next album cycle rolls around.

7) The Evening Hate EP, Red
I went over a bit of my history with Red in my 2017 album rankings – suffice to say, we’ve had a rough relationship. I’ve gone from loving Red, to being sick of them, to loving them again and then back to trepidation, all due to the inconsistent quality of their releases and balancing between different parts of their fanbase. So you can understand if I was a bit cautious going into The Evening Hate EP, but luckily for me the band was firing on all cylinders with this release. This is classic Red – the music is heavy (especially “From the Ashes”), the backing strings are beautiful and the electronic elements that permeated Release the Panic are almost entirely absent. The fight between using electronic elements versus strings seem to have been dogging Red for years, but I’m hoping that The Evening Hate EP is showing us a glimpse of the future, because everything on here sounds great. The title track has some unique elements for a Red song, while also managing to sound epic like something from their best album, of Beauty and Rage. It’s a great way to start the album. The next track, “From the Ashes”, is a very heavy and solid track, and while it is more typical Red fare than “The Evening Hate”, it doesn’t really hurt it any. “Hemorrhage” slows things down significantly and has wildly different vocals than anything Red has ever done, but this is in part due to it being a cover of a Fuel song. It’s very different for this band and I like the vocal style they used here. The album then closes out with an alternate version of “The Evening Hate” and an acoustic version of “From the Ashes”. The acoustic version of “From the Ashes” isn’t really anything special, but the alternate version of the title track is awesome. It slows the song down, making it more ethereal and puts more emphasis on the backing strings. It completely changes the song, to the point where both versions easily stand on their own. It even starts to build when the chorus kicks in, keeping it from stagnating like so many slowed-down, alternate versions of songs do. All-in-all, The Evening Hate makes for a very solid EP, to the point where it would be nice if it wasn’t so bite-sized! I just hope that this is a glimpse of where the band is heading because I definitely like this direction.

6) N.A.T.I.O.N., Bad Wolves
Bad Wolves’ Disobey was one of my favourite albums of 2018, but I was surprised when I found out that they were following it up with another full album just over a year later. I was also pretty surprised when I saw the album cover for it – an underwear-clad and tattoo-covered model was a pretty far cry from the imposing riot cop that adorned Disobey and perhaps signified a shift towards Five Finger Death Punch’s brand of bro metal. However, I’ve kind of turned around on this album art since my first impression – I actually like how deeply contrasted the colour of the model’s underwear is to her skin and tattoos, it looks striking. I’ve seen people say that the fact that there’s a woman in underwear here at all is “tasteless”, but I don’t feel like it’s overly-sexualized, especially considering that they’re intentionally covering up the model’s underboob.

Enough about the album art though, what about the music? Well, I can’t say that I like it nearly as much as Disobey, but N.A.T.I.O.N. is a solid-enough follow-up, especially considering that it was pumped out only a year later (and is 42 minutes long at that, some bands can barely manage 30 minutes in 3 years). There are some delightfully heavy and aggressive tracks on here, particularly “I’ll Be There”, “L.A. Song” and the brutal “The Consumerist”. When Bad Wolves are unleashed like this they’re at their absolute best, but they can still restrain themselves somewhat and put out a solid, radio-friendly rock tune. “Killing Me Slowly” is a great example of this, managing to be clearly written as a single while also being one of the best tracks on the album. Unfortunately, there are also several songs which were clearly written to be singles which just suck in comparison to the rest of the album because they make Bad Wolves sound so defanged. “Better Off This Way” is the first sign of this, a slowed-down, heartfelt breakup song right in the middle of an album full of blistering metal. It feels more like the cliche, emotional album closer rather than the start of the middle of the album. It’s a masterpiece though compared to “Sober”. Here I was hoping for a Tool cover, but what I got instead was another breakup song (this time with addiction added in!) that sounds exactly like an Imagine Dragons song, complete with claps and the layered vocal harmonies. It sucks and is clearly intended to get more of that radio airplay after the success of “Zombie” on their last album. Personally, I hope it bombs because I do not want Bad Wolves carrying on in this direction in the future. That’s the thing though – when they’re sticking with the heavy, aggressive stuff Bad Wolves sound fantastic. It’s these transparent attempts at radio friendliness which suck a lot of the life out of this album though – up until “Better Off This Way”, this album was shaping up to be in my top 3 of the year, but the quality of the tracks becomes extremely inconsistent from that point onward. As a result, I can’t say that it’s a step up from Disobey, but it’s a good enough release that I’m certainly going to be listening to it into the future many more times.


5) Fear Inoculum, Tool
Holy shit, it’s finally here! It’s been over 13 years, but the long-awaited Tool album finally saw release in 2019. For what it’s worth, Fear Inoculum sounds like Tool haven’t skipped a beat in the last 13 years, with the only real change in their sound being that frontman James Maynard Keenan sounds more like he did on last year’s A Perfect Circle album, Eat the Elephant, than he normally does on Tool tracks (which works for me, his voice sounds better this way in my opinion). However, the music landscape has changed drastically since 2006 and having such a blatantly esoteric, technically-ambitious and non-commercial album come out is, somewhat ironically, a major selling-point. While this gives Fear Inoculum a definite novelty factor, it’s hard to argue that it was worth the 13 year wait. Previous Tool albums always had their own distinct flavour, but Fear Inoculum sounds very much like their psychedelic, mystical tour de force, Lateralus. The problem with this though is that, while you can appreciate the craftsmanship and commitment to just being simply weird, the songs here aren’t as enjoyable as the ones on Lateralus. That’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable tracks – the title track and “Descending” are really solid, but there’s nothing quite as impactful as Lateralus‘ “Schism” or “The Grudge”. Luckily, the latter half of the album starts shedding some of the trappings of Lateralus and we get interesting tracks like “Chocolate Chip Trip” (which sounds like something Iron Butterfly might craft) and the absolutely epic “7empest” (easily the best and most easily-enjoyable track on the album, even if it is almost 16 minutes long).

Oh and like The Great War, there are two versions of this album you can get, the physical edition and digital edition, which actually comes with 3 additional instrumental tracks. Normally I’d say to go for the additional songs… but man, I thought that all three of these bonus tracks were by far the worst music on the whole album. They’re just weird interludes for the sake of being weird and just get in the way of enjoying the actual good tracks in my opinion. Worst of all is “Mockingbeat”, which channels some of that old trolling energy the band used to display on Ænima and gives us a bunch of unbearable screeching for 2 minutes. I get it, ha ha, you’re literally mocking us Tool, but no one is going to want to listen to that shit. Just do yourself a favour, buy the album on CD or vinyl, you’re not missing out on anything good in doing so.

4) The Great War, Sabaton
Since finding their sound after a few rough, early albums, Sabaton have been one of the most consistently reliable bands in heavy metal. Their music doesn’t change very much from album to album, but they are always of a high quality, reinvented just enough that it doesn’t feel like they’re doing the bare minimum each time. If you’ve never heard Sabaton before, their music is all about war history, with their last three albums all having a central theme (the Swedish Empire in Carolus Rex, war heroes in Heroes and final stands in The Last Stand). With their newest release, Sabaton look to World War I with The Great War, which sees them putting more emphasis on the history of their subject than ever. In fact, they’re so dedicated to education that this time they’ve released a special edition of the album called the “History Edition”, which has short voice overs before each track. I actually bought this version of the album and while it does provide some very interesting context for each song I’m not sure I’d say it’s the recommended version to buy. Having to listen to the same introductions to each song every time is kind of annoying and some of them aren’t that informative anyway (eg, Verdun’s intro is about 5 seconds long). It’s worth a listen at least once, but I kind of wish that I had just gone with the standard edition, since you can glean the history from the lyrics anyway.

In the past, Sabaton have towed a fine line between glorifying war versus honouring the soldiers who fight in it, but The Great War probably strikes the most clear position on it. As is appropriate for an album about World War I, several songs decry the brutality and pointlessness of the war and there is a sombre tone to the whole affair, such as the doom-laced title track or “The End of the War to End All Wars”. This sombre tone is most clearly seen in the closing track with a choir rendition of “In Flander’s Fields”, which sees Sabaton dropping their entire sound in favour of a sober reflection to show how serious a tragedy WWI was.

Of course, it’s not all melancholy and seriousness; Sabaton have some awesome tracks which pump you up. Right out of the gate, “The Future of Warfare” is a killer opening track with an energetic chorus which makes you want to shout along with it, while also hammering home the idea that World War I was a conflict which changed the world. Other than the anti-war tracks, the rest of the tracks could have easily made their way onto Heroes, as Sabaton recounts various heroic soldiers’ actions during the war. All of the tracks are very solid, but they’re also just “more of the same”. If you’re into Sabaton already, this will certainly be fine, but it’s not likely to change any minds. The Great War is another solid album from Sabaton, but it’s a little unfortunate that they can’t evolve their sound much. The injection of sombreness at least gives The Great War a slightly different tone than previous releases, but at this point I just expect the band to rest on their laurels whenever a new album comes out.

3) Volume III, September Mourning
This list was supposed to come out about a week ago, I had it all ready to publish, when September Mourning dropped the news that their newest EP was coming out December 13. September Mourning are easily the best band I’ve discovered in this past year, so the opportunity to give them some more exposure was one that I wasn’t going to pass up. Even if their music wasn’t great (and it is), and even if frontwoman Emily Lazar wasn’t gorgeous (she seriously is), September Mourning are also a Gorillaz-style transmedia project. This means that every song is advancing a this deliciously-nerdy story about a half-human half-reaper character who tries to give people a second chance, played up by Emily Lazar’s elaborate costumes in live shows, along with a whole graphic novel line if you want to really dig into the lore. I love the whole project and Volume III was easily one of the releases I was most looking forward to this year.

Volume III features four songs, all of which have their own kind of flavour. “Unholy” strikes a rather sultry tone with the way Emily Lazar sings, very reminiscent of Maria Brink of In This Moment. Of course, I love In This Moment, so this works well for me although that’s not to say that September Mourning are just a clone of a more successful band – on the contrary, they have their own flavour. Most female-fronted metal bands, such as Evanescence, Sleeping Romance or the aforementioned Forever Still will end up in the symphonic or operatic metal subgenre, but September Mourning end up somewhere in between those are more “traditional” metal. “Hiding From Heaven” was released as a single earlier this year and is a fantastic demonstration of the band’s entire shtick, with their nerdy subject matter, empowering vocals and excellent songwriting. It’s a catchy song that will stick with you long after you hear it. The latter-half of the EP gets a bit heavier too, with “Madness” and “Overdose” being some of the heaviest music that September Mourning has produced thus far. That said, “Overdose” gets a bit repetitive on the chorus and may be the weakest track on the EP because of that… not that that’s a huge criticism though, because everything on here is solid. Easily the most frustrating part of Volume III is that it is just so bite-sized, it’s less than 15 minutes long in total! That’s way too short to be satisfying, but considering how good everything on here is I really can’t hold it against them. I love September Mourning and I really hope that I get a chance to see them live sometime in 2020!

2) The Nothing, Korn
Few bands have been through the wringer quite as badly as Korn. After helping to establish a whole subgenre with “nu-metal” and several successful albums in the 90s, the band became a punch line and put out terrible album after terrible album for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t until 2013 when original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch returned to the band that there were glimmers of a resurgence with The Paradigm Shift. 3 years later, The Serenity of Suffering was easily their best album since their heyday and this year’s The Nothing is unquestionably one of the band’s best albums ever, putting the band back at the forefront of the metal scene in tragic fashion. There’s a rawness to The Nothing that this band hasn’t seen in quite some time and this obviously is a result of the death of frontman Jonathan Davis’ wife to an accidental overdose. You can hear the pain and guilt in Davis’ words and voice, most explictly on album closer “Surrender to Failure”. It’s some of the darkest material the band has ever put out, but the band has gained a maturity over their 25 year career that keeps it from becoming too overwhelming. Songwriting was always a weakness of Korn in their heyday, with the band relying on emotion to carry them through rather than the lyrics, but the writing here has matured significantly. Tracks like “H@rd3r”, “This Loss”, “You’ll Never Find Me” and even the extremely dark “The Seduction of Indulgence” are really solidly-written and don’t come across as insincere or undeservedly angsty. I’m particularly impressed that this album remains rock solid throughout – I often complain that an album dips halfway through (or vice-versa), but The Nothing retains a consistently-high quality from start to finish. I’m happy to see that Korn have definitely gotten themselves back on track and are putting out the best music of their entire career now, it’s just unfortunate that it had to come from such pain. Here’s hoping that the future holds some joy for Jonathan Davis and company.

1) We Are Not Your Kind, Slipknot
Who would have thought even 15 years ago that the icons of nu-metal would be putting out some of the biggest and best rock albums in 2019? That said, Slipknot have always been viewed as the critical darlings of the subgenre but they don’t always get the respect they deserve, perhaps because they are such a brutal band. I like how CagyCylinder describes Slipknot’s place in the metal scene: “the heavier parts are still more brutal than anything any other ‘mainstream’ metal band will ever serve up”. I like this description – there are certainly heavier bands, but among the bands in the mainstream, they’re almost certainly the most brutal, almost approaching death metal levels of brutality at times. Coming off of The Gray Chapter, which synthesized the heaviest parts of early-Slipknot with the more mainstream-minded work of their third and fourth albums, we now get We Are Not Your Kind which picks up from their and sees the band experimenting with their sound more than ever. Hell, no two songs on this album feel quite the same and the band has clearly worked to make every track on this album stand out on its own. This is particularly impressive since, while there are individual songs on previous Slipknot albums that I like more than some of the songs here, as an overall package this is the first Slipknot album I’ll happily listen to from start to finish every time without skipping over anything.

The first half of the album sounds like classic Slipknot, with all the aggression and heaviness you’d expect, but things really start getting interesting with “Spiders”, a piano-led track that sounds kind of like the Halloween theme. It gives it an air of creepiness which is appropriately-Slipknot despite sounding unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Even more unusual is “My Pain”, which is equally-creepy and has an incredibly sparse and unusual soundscape to it. Like… the music in this track makes me think of the sound of a grandfather clock at night when you’re lying alone in your bed. Somehow I don’t think that that’s an accident that it brings back those same sorts of childhood anxieties. We also get a bit of a return to the norm with “Orphan” (one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album), but the last two tracks, “Not Long for This World” and “Solway Firth”, fuse a bit more of this experimentation with Slipknot’s usual sound, closing out the album on something familiar yet different. The experimentation in the latter-half of the album works and clearly comes from a desire to try new things rather than get more mass appeal.

The songwriting is also on-point and matured in this album. It’s basically just a lot of facing personal demons and battling depression, but that resonates with me. I complained about bands with positive hard rock earlier and that’s partly because, as someone who goes through anxiety and bouts of depression, those sorts of music don’t make me feel any better, stuff like this does. I can channel the emotion of “Unsainted” and use that to express what I’m feeling in a cathartic manner. It’s also nice to note that, unlike say Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot’s aggression isn’t directed at random nobodies who piss them off or women who dare break up with them, it’s more introspective and, consequently, justified. We Are Not Your Kind is probably the most consistently-even Slipknot album they’ve ever put out and there is very little fault I can find with it, hence why it landed on the top of the rankings this year.

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Love/Hate: Pokemon Sword & Shield

Over a year ago I wrote the first of what would become my Love/Hate series, a retrospective of the pros and cons of each generation of Pokemon. Since then, we’ve obviously gotten the start of another whole generation of Pokemon with Sword and Shield and, having completed the main story and gotten some time to mull over my feelings on the game I feel like it’s time for a Love/Hate update. That said, this is of course only my opinion and there’s the potential for it to change over time (opinions on the Pokemon themselves in particular are likely to soften as more time passes). So, with that in mind, let’s get this started!

Love

  • Raids – Easily my most-anticipated feature from the previews was raid battles, which pit four players against an extra-powerful Dynamax Pokemon. I’m happy to say that these are about as fun as I had hoped, requiring some additional strategies to get through successfully. That said, for four- or five-star raids you’re definitely going to need 2 or 3 human companions because the default NPC trainers are terrible.
  • Dynamax Makes Gym Battles Climactic – Restricting Dynamax to raid battles and gyms was a truly inspired move. By the time you get to a gym, you’re already pumped up by the music and the roar of the crowd as you march out onto the turf and then send out your first Pokemon. Then, when the battle is drawing to a close, you finally get your chance to bring out your Dynamax Pokemon and things get even bigger and more exciting. I have to admit, with these rare intervals, Dynamax is a really cool feature and the flashy moves make for a suitably epic climax to each challenge, almost like a reward in itself.
  • Some Great Characters – I was actually pretty surprised how well fleshed out many of the characters were in Sword and Shield. Hop starts out as your standard friendly rival, but he actually learns to not just define himself in the shadow of his superstar brother or feel like he’s hurting the family legacy. Meanwhile, Marnie is carrying the hope and dreams of her town on her shoulders as she battles through the Gym Challenge. Bede goes from arrogant prick, to desperate to prove himself worthy, to humble over the course of the story. It’s also pretty exciting to see Sonia earn the mantle of Pokemon Professor for her efforts in studying the Darkest Day. All-in-all, these characters are great and are going to be remembered for years to come.
  • Quality of Life Improvements – As always, Sword and Shield have brought some much-needed refinements to the formula which just make playing the game more enjoyable. These include Surprise Trades which go on in the background while you play, nature-changing mints, XP candies for quick and easy level-ups, access to PC boxes at any time, name raters and lotto-ID in every Pokemon Center (halle-freaking-lujah!) and the introduction of TRs to replace move tutors. It’s a lot of little things, but add them all up and it makes the experience of actually playing the game far more enjoyable.
  • Spoiled For Choice – While much has been made of the restricted Pokedex in these games, you are absolutely spoiled for choice at the start of the game. Most Pokemon games will very slowly dole out the available Pokemon, often repeating the same ones over and over from route to route. Sword and Shield say “screw that!” and give you two packed routes and then throw you into the Wild Area in the first couple hours, absolutely spoiling you with choices for a solid team. While I did eventually settle into a composed team by the second or third gym, the amount of choice you get off the bat was impressive and helps ease the sting of the restricted Pokedex in the first few hours.
  • Customization – Due to an increased emphasis on multiplayer options, Game Freak have really upped the number of customization options available to the player. Almost everyone I’ve encountered playing the game has customized their character beyond the default outfits (which is almost too bad because even the default outfits are really cool). Even better, the Card Maker allows you to design your own player trading card, which has no real purpose other than to be cool… and I love it. It’s such a small, pointless feature but probably my favourite thing in the whole game.
  • Some Really Cool Pokemon Designs – As always, there are some really great Pokemon introduced this generation. Corviknight, in particular, is probably the coolest “starter bird” Pokemon of all time, while Yamper and Wooloo make your heart melt as much as any Eevee could, and the Galarian forms are all quite interesting and distinct. There are some wildly different Pokemon in this game and several of these experiments pay off in interesting ways.

Mixed

  • Graphics – Much has been made about the graphics in this game and, while I’m nowhere near as critical about them as some, I understand the criticism. Personally, I like the game’s aesthetic and think that it looks very pretty in places like Wedgehurst, Galar Mine, Slumbering Weald and Ballonlea. That said, the game has an embarrassing amount of pop-in, with characters just disappearing into thin air if you move more than a couple dozen meters away. Worse, the frame rate drops in the Wild Area are really bad a times, especially when playing online (and, considering that this is basically how you’re supposed to be playing in the Wild Area, this is a big problem). The game doesn’t even look particularly taxing for a Switch game so this lack of optimization is frustrating.
  • The Wild Area – A lot of people love the much-hyped Wild Area, but I’m pretty mixed on it personally. On the one hand, it’s certainly cool being able to explore the world, but the design is very limited. Each area is basically just three patches of grass spawning the same three or four Pokemon over and over again. The world would feel more lively if there were way more Pokemon in each area instead of just having to see the same three again and again – it’s pretty bad when traditional routes feel way more lively and diversified than your open world. World traversal is also a pain in the ass because you can’t climb over even tiny hills. Oh, and the dynamic weather sounds great, until you get stuck encountering Pokemon over and over again in snow or sandstorms, trying to figure out where you’re trying to go. Look, I think the Wild Area’s a decent trial run of this concept of an open world Pokemon game and I do think that this is where the series is going to be going in the future, but it’s going to need to feel way more open and lively if it’s going to be better than traditional routes.
  • Camping – Much was made of camping in this game, but there’s very little going on with it. I mean, it’s pretty cool seeing your Pokemon (or an online player’s) walking around the camp, but it gets boring pretty quickly. You can also play with your Pokemon, but there’s only two toys available and they also get very boring quickly. Then the only thing left to do is make a curry, of which there are a 151 different varieties! There are probably some players who are going to have fun filling out their “curry dex”, but it’s a pretty lengthy mini-game which involves a ton of resource gathering with little reward… basically, for all the effort you go through, your Pokemon just get some XP, happiness and get healed. It can be handy when you’re out in the Wild Area and need to heal, but just using a healing item is far faster and less of a pain in the ass.
  • In-Game Events – Holy crap, Game Freak are actually using online functionality to add things to their game and keep players engaged? So far they have been having special events which make certain Gigantamax Pokemon appear more frequently in raids and have even released new Gigantamax Pokemon into the game (apparently there are 30+ unavailable Pokemon in the game’s code which are going to be released in future). That said, there Pokemon are such a pain to obtain. First off, you have to find the Pokemon to begin with. Second, these tend to be five-star raids and therefore require at least a couple online partners to succeed, which can be enough of a pain in the ass to wrangle. Then you still have to win the raid and you only get one chance to catch the Pokemon. What if it breaks out? Too bad, you have to go through the whole process all over again of finding the Pokemon in a raid, wrangling your partners, winning the raid, etc… Just trying to get a Gigantamax Snorlax recently took me hours of unsuccessful attempts.

Hate

  • Weak Story – As good as some of the characters in Sword and Shield are, the story surrounding them might just be the weakest in the entire main series.
    • For the story itself, you get endorsed by the Champion and go complete all the gyms. Every once in a while something unusual happens, but for nearly the entire game the Champion tells you to forget about it while he goes to deal with it instead. The “evil team”, Team Yell, aren’t even all that much to talk about either, they temporarily block your path and fizzle out quickly. The villain is potentially interesting, but he gets very little development and makes maligned villains of games past like Lysandre look positively inspired by comparison. Eternatus is also very poorly explained as a villainous Pokemon.
    • Worst of all though is the post-game, which involves you running around Galar to each of the gyms and fighting a bunch of repetitive, weak raid battles… but you don’t even get a chance to catch the Pokemon you fight. Oh, and you also have to fight a pair of chodes, Sordward and Shielbert, who might be my least-favourite characters in the entire series. They suck and this whole post-game is just a pain in the ass that I only plowed through in order to catch the box art legendary.
    • It’s also worth noting that several characters are totally underserved by the story. Professor Magnolia, for example, shows up maybe twice in the entire game and ends up getting completely overshadowed by Sonia by the mid-point of the game.
  • Feature Removal – Look, I know much has been made of this already, but it’s really difficult to ignore the fact that over 500 Pokemon are missing from this game. On top of that, the removal of Megas and Z-moves sucks. I’m still exploring what the region has to offer, but the longer I play, the more this exclusion is going to sting because it cuts down on the variety Pokemon has always offered.
  • Dynamax and Gigantamax – Like I said earlier, I actually like Dynamaxing as a mechanic in gym battles, but allowing it by default in online battles isn’t very fun. It encourages stall in order to get through the three turns, while also being broken for certain Pokemon because of the additional effects of attacks (being able to set weather or terrain AND cause damage is so much more deadly than the more powerful base damage of one-use Z-moves). Gigantamax, on the other hand, is kind of a pointless addition considering the additional work it caused. The only difference is that the Pokemon gets a new look for three turns and can use a G-Max move if they have the right type of attack. Funnily enough, these G-Max moves tend to be less useful than the default Max Moves they replace… so can I just have my Megas and Z-moves back? Please?
  • Online Features – Online stability has never been a sure thing with Game Freak, but I had hoped that they’d be able to get with the times on Switch. Unfortunately, the online functionality in Sword and Shield is not great at all. Not only does being online in the Wild Area make your frame rate tank, but it also can cause connected players to float in the air or go into impossible places. Navigating the online menus is a waiting game, as you can wait for a minute or two for it to refresh and show you a bunch of useless notifications. Trying to connect to raids is also a total crapshoot, if any even show up in your feed (this is a particular sore point for me because raids have been my go-to entertainment thus far). Oh, and to make matters even worse, basic stuff like the VS Recorder and the freaking GTS have been removed! I know some people have said “oh, well just use Discord if you want to get a specific Pokemon”, but no, screw that. I should be able to just search the Pokemon I want or deposit to get what I want. Removing this key feature is just a kick in the nuts for a collecting game like this, especially when you have pointless shit like Gigantamax and camping which were clearly taking up a lot of resources to implement.
  • Catching/Level Cap – Game Freak put themselves into a weird situation by allowing you to encounter extremely-high level Pokemon in the early game if you wander around the Wild Area. Their solution to this potentially game breaking problem? Just outright forbid you from catching Pokemon of certain levels until you have a gym badge allowing you to do so. This is a baffling decision. For one thing, it discourages exploration – after all, why go off the beaten path to look for new Pokemon if the game isn’t going to even let you catch it? In the early to mid-game I was just blitzing through the Wild Area to get the gym badges so I could be allowed to catch Pokemon. Even stranger, your team’s level cap outpaces the catching level cap very early, so you can be rocking a team of Pokemon at level 40 and still not be allowed to catch Pokemon of a lower level than them. It’s such a dumb decision and I don’t think that this was the right way to handle it.
  • Game Just Feels Half-Baked – The sum of a lot of these issues is that the game just feels half-baked and incomplete, likely due to the strict annual release schedule of these games. Missing features and unsatisfying story might not even be an issue if Game Freak had some more time on their hands, or if they’d be willing to outsource some of their work. Game Freak and The Pokemon Company really need to take a 2-3 year break to give us a game with some serious, uncompromised passion behind it, although given the success they have regardless I can’t see this happening…
  • Some of the New Pokemon… – Good God. I was really liking every Pokemon that was officially revealed prior to release, but having played the game in full there are some seriously butt-ugly Pokemon hiding in this roster.
    • I feel like Eiscue deserves a special mention here. It’s a penguin with a gigantic ice block on its head and then when the ice block breaks, it’s got this stupid, derpy, sad face underneath… what the actual hell. It’s so stupid and derpy that I can actually see myself turning around and maybe liking it someday, but right now I’m deciding whether or not this Pokemon is worse than Barbaracle.
    • The four fossil Pokemon are also so bad looking. I find the idea of having two Pokemon fused together to be an interesting one, but then you remember that Kyurem Black and White exist and that these Pokemon look arguably worse. Having genetic abominations that look like they wish they were dead is funny in a Judge Dredd comic, not in Pokemon. These things are seriously the most casually unethical development in a series which has long lampshaded the fact that it’s all about cockfighting.
    • It’s also worth mentioning that the final evolutions of the starter Pokemon are pretty much universally acknowledged to be the worst ever. They’re all incredibly disappointing or off-putting, which is particularly unfortunate since their first evolutions are actually probably the best since at least Gen 2.

Best Pokemon of Gen 8: Corviknight, Wooloo, Eldegoss, Thievul, Yamper, Frosmoth, Flapple, Dragapult, Zacian, Zamazenta, Galarian Weezing
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 8: Chewtle, Sandaconda, G-Max Copperajah, Impidimp’s entire evolution line, Pincurchin (guaranteed to be a future “most forgotten Pokemon”), Eiscue, Dracozolt, Arctovish

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10 Worst Movies of the 2010s

As you can probably tell if you’ve frequented this blog, you’ll know that I have a thing for bad movies. There’s a special sort of film-going experience that you can only get from a crap-tacular film, be that stunned disbelief or pure rage. Then there’s the true bottom of the barrel. Most of the films on this list are so bad that I would never want to subject myself to them again, and even several years removed from watching them they still leave an awful taste in my mouth. So let’s go down memory lane and exhume some of the worst movies of the entire decade and show off their rotting putridity for all to see?

Honourable Mentions

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (February 27, 2010)
You would be remiss to mention bad movies of the 2010s and leave out Birdemic, a rip-off of The Birds that’s so legendarily incompetent that it became a meme. Director James Nguyen really wanted to make a positive film about environmentalism and pacifism, all wrapped up in an epic love story, but good God he failed spectacularly. For the most part, the film is just boring, but then suddenly the clip art GIF-quality birds attack and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I swear to God I laughed for at least a minute straight when they started dive bombing and literally exploding. Even with everything else wrong with this film, that alone made it at least hilarious and so-bad-it’s-good enough that it’s more enjoyable than any of the movies that made this list. Still, for the sheer ineptitude on display, this film deserves at least a mention on this list.

Dogman (November 6, 2012)
I’ve always been highly intrigued by the legend of the Michigan Dogman, so when I found out that someone made a movie about this creature I was excited to see what they would come up with. I even saw a Blu-ray copy of the film on sale and even though it was going for freaking $35 I was tempted. However, I ultimately decided that I’d better find out if it was good or not before dropping that much on it… and thank God I did, because I dodged a freaking bullet. Dogman is clearly a no-budget film and what we do get on screen is just boring. I can’t really remember much more about it than being extremely disappointed that nothing happens, so I can’t really justify putting it on the list proper (and like hell I’m rewatching it).

The Predator (Septemer 14, 2018)
The Predator isn’t *quite* bad enough to actually make this list, but it is easily one of my most hated films of the decade. I don’t often advocate for films to be written out of continuity, but the Predator franchise is absolutely dead in the water if this film is allowed to dictate the franchise’s future. And why did they feel the need to reboot the franchise anyway? Predators was awesome and went over most of the ideas this film tries to pass off as new anyway.

So with those dishonourable mentions out of the way, let’s get on to the list…

10) Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt? (September 14, 2014)
If you read my Atlas Shrugged retrospective series, you might have expected to see this film on here. Atlas Shrugged Part III fails on so many levels that it’s frankly impressive. Even setting aside the shitty philosophy and morality at this film’s rotten core, the filmmaking is distractingly bad. Like, almost every scene has something distracting – from terrible editing, to bad lighting, to bargain-basement props, to time wasting stock footage, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers just didn’t give a shit anymore after losing more than $45 million on this franchise. Oh and the acting is the worst in the franchise, which is even funnier when you realize everyone was recast in all three parts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this movie is on a level of filmmaking incompetence that rivals The Room. I saw a copy of this movie on DVD at a store once and I was sorely tempted to buy it, I had that much fun at its expense (the only reason I didn’t buy it is because like hell I’m going to financially support the bastards in the Randian community). Literally the only reason I didn’t rank this movie lower was because it was such a hoot to watch, but it is unquestionably one of the worst movies of the decade.

9) Pompeii (February 21, 2014)
I could say that this movie was a bigger disaster than the real-life eruption of Vesuvius which the film is based on, but that would just be insensitive, stupid and uninspired… coincidentally, all of those words could be used to describe Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii adequately though. Pompeii is a disaster-romance in the same sort of vein as Pearl Harbour, where far too much time is dedicated to a dull romance and the disaster is just dumb spectacle. Kit Harrington is here at his absolute blandest and poor Emily Browning is saddled with a lifeless damsel in distress role. About the only notable thing about this movie is Kiefer Sutherland who seems to be having an absolute blast hamming it up as a cartoonishly evil Roman senator. I personally thought that he was the one entertaining bit in this film, but I can see others thinking that his acting is just plain bad so who knows – you might think that this film’s even worse than I did. Really though, there’s so much potential for a great film about the eruption of Vesuvius, even from the dramatic accounts that still survive to this day. Unfortunately, Pompeii struggles to even survive in the DVD bargain bin in 2019.

8) I, Frankenstein (January 24, 2014)
Some movies are so bad that you wonder how they even managed to get greenlit, let alone released. I, Frankenstein is just that kind of film. Who in their right mind thought that a 65 million dollar film about a monster-hunting Frankenstein’s monster would be a success? Turns out that that would be the production company and co-creator of the Underworld franchise, which should be incredibly obvious to anyone who has actually seen this film because it feels like a cheap knock-off of Underworld (which is, in itself, a cheap knockoff of White Wolf’s RPGs), only years after people stopped giving a shit about the franchise. Okay, fine, the idea is shit, but how did they then manage to rope Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and even Jai Courtney into this!?! Even then, there could be some campy enjoyment if the film was at least in on the joke, but the film is embarrassingly self-serious, full of mythologizing about angels and demons and the status of Frankenstein’s soul… it’s just bad, everyone who’s even heard of the film knows it, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

7) Osombie (May 5, 2012)
Okay, I remember being moderately excited for this movie back when it came out due to the bonkers premise alone, but my memory is a bit hazy at this point (and like hell I’ll watch it again). I do remember being incredibly disappointed by the film though, which just plays out like all of the other  lazy zombie movies which were infesting video shelves at the time. The zombie Osama bin Laden gimmick isn’t even that well utilized either – instead of having him as this Dead Snow-like monster, I distinctly remember that he kind of just shows up every once in a while and is ultimately pretty inconsequential, not to mention that the film isn’t really all that interested in having a campy or over-the-top laugh. The film’s characters are also incredibly stupid, with its “special forces” cast being clearly modelled from someone’s Call of Duty expertise. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, it’s also pretty goddamn insensitive to make a movie like this when Afghanistan was (and still is) a warzone at the time. Osombie is one of those films whose premise should have just been a dumb laugh between a group of friends and then been allowed to fade into the night instead of something that everyone involved is going to have to explain to their grandchildren one day.

6) The Cloverfield Paradox (February 4, 2018)
The Cloverfield Paradox has to be one of the most deflating films of all time. After 10 Cloverfield Lane there was legitimate hype for Cloverfield as a franchise and then The Cloverfield Paradox gets surprise announced and released in the middle of the Super Bowl? Holy shit! But good God were we ever duped because this film sucks ass. Seriously, there are few films which I have hated with such vitriol more than The Cloverfield Paradox. To put it simply, in The Cloverfield Paradox, shit just happens for no reason. Early on it seems like they’re setting up a mystery with all the weird things happening, but no, it’s just happening because that’s what the writers want to happen. There are absolutely no rules to ground everything and it just makes the film frustrating to watch. Oh and don’t even get me started on that damn ending, which just makes for a cocktease since it reveals that we’re missing everything that we actually wanted to see. Ugh, fuck this film.

5) God’s Not Dead 2 (April 1, 2016)
Oh hey, another terrible film we covered in a retrospectives series! God’s Not Dead 2 is truly one of the most deluded and cloying films I’ve ever seen. Any attempt at nuance from the previous film is discarded entirely as atheists are outright portrayed as body snatcher-like monsters, all working to destroy Christianity in America, while the Christians are all portrayed as poor, innocent nobodies who never did anything to deserve such scorn. It’s just plain offensive and gets to the point of being conspiratorial. Even the evangelicals this film is directed at should feel dirty for getting their dicks sucked so hard by this film. That’s really the issue – you cannot separate this film’s politics from its story. It bashes you over the head with the message so much and demonizes everyone outside of its target audience that you either hate it or feel validated by it. There’s really no middle-ground and no other purpose to the film (other than, y’know, to sell bullshit Christian merch).

4) Project X (March 2, 2012)
I wrote a review about this film 6 years ago (!!!), and to this day I can still remember how much I hated it. A found footage teen sex comedy doesn’t sound like that bad of a premise (like… it sounds like shit, but not unbearably so, right?), but the main problem is that the characters in this film are all loathsome. I struggle to think of a character I hate more than Costa, a selfish jackass whose only concern is literally getting laid, everyone else be damned (even his “friends”). The unbearable characters are enough to tank this movie by themselves, but it also doesn’t help that this film is just plain offensive. Every female character exists only to be oogled by the camera, we get all sorts of mean-spirited gay and fat jokes, and there’s even a little person who only exists to get thrown into an oven while the teens just laugh about it. Wow. Did I mention that everyone in this movie sucks and I wish they all overdosed on the stolen ecstasy in the film? That would have probably earned a single laugh out of me in this deeply unfunny “comedy”.

3) Game Over, Man! (March 23, 2018)
Is anyone surprised that Neflix originals nabbed 2 of the 10 worst films of the decade? Game Over, Man! is easily the worst one that I’ve seen, which is especially criminal considering the fantastic premise – basically, it’s a comedic Die Hard knock-off where the “heroes” are a bunch of slacker hotel housekeepers. How can you screw that up? Well, by making a comedy which attempts to be so outrageously over-the-top that it’s just deeply unfunny. Like, let me paint the picture for you – the bad guys are closing in on our heroes. They need to do something to slip past them and Adam Devine announces he has a plan. Cue the bad guys finding him with his dick out in the closet, pretending he died of auto-erotic asphyxiation. I thought that he was going to use this surprising moment to get the drop on them, but no, they just think that auto-erotic asphyxiation is funny on its own merits, plus they get to have Adam Devine run around on screen for about 5 minutes straight with his dick flopping about everywhere. Oh, and then the bad guys start trying to make out, because oh my God guys, did you know that there are gay men who like other men! Yeah, there’s a shitload of gay jokes in this film and they’re all incredibly lazy. About the only funny part is when the bad guy tries to punish a dickhead celebrity by forcing him to eat out another hostage’s ass, but is then surprised and flustered when it turns out that they’re both into it. There, I’ve told you the one good part in this film, you don’t have to see it now, you can leave a thankful comment to me down below.

2) Noobz (January 25, 2013)
Noobz is kind of lucky that it came out in 2013, because in a post-GamerGate world, this already-painfully unfunny movie has aged worse than Bubsy 3D. Imagine a movie that takes the worst stereotypes about gamers – they’re all basement-dwelling nerds, they’re racist, they’re homophobic, they hate women and can’t believe that they play video games, etc. Now imagine that the movie plays this all straight and expects us to find it endearing. Bad news, Noobz, you suck and everyone in this movie sucks (except for poor Zelda Williams who finds herself in a hapless role as the personalityless, token object of affection for the douchebag “hero”). Like Game Over, Man!, Noobz thinks that there’s nothing funnier than a closeted gay character and the movie mines this one “joke” over and over to the point of insanity. Somehow, it even manages to one-up Game Over, Man! by also including a kid with severe asthma who almost dies several times when his breathing apparatus gets damaged (which is somehow less-offensive than how every aspect of his personality revolves around his disability). Everything in this film is just lazy, from the tired road-trip structure to the awful jokes. It doesn’t even have the decency to end in a satisfying manner, instead having the heroes all get a sponsorship from Mountain Dew… and then reveal 2 seconds later that the guy who signed them gets arrested for impersonating a Mountain Dew executive. It’s like an extra big middle finger to you, as if you didn’t already waste almost two hours of your life watching this movie to begin with.

1) Scary Movie 5 (April 12, 2013)
As you have probably noticed by now, there’s not much worse than a terrible comedy, hence why they’ve captured the top 4 spots on this countdown. Scary Movie 5 might just be the worst comedy I’ve ever seen, let alone one of the most unenjoyable films I’ve ever subjected myself to. Don’t get me wrong, all of the other Scary Movie films were already REALLY shitty, but they at least had the occasional laugh and the comedic talents of Anna Faris, Regina Hall and Leslie Nielson to at least keep things somewhat respectable. Scary Movie 5 has none of that, and the results are just pathetic to watch. The jokes are tired, stupid, predictable and just plain unfunny. There was no good reason for this franchise to come back to life after a 7 year hiatus and we are well and truly fucked if David Zucker decides to trot out the franchise again in 2020. Literally the only good thing that I can say about this movie is that, for once in this franchise, at least it doesn’t lean into mean-spirited homophobia, transphobia and making fun of people with disabilities… but, like, that’s not something I should have to congratulate the film for.

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My 10 Favourite Movies of the 2010s

It’s the end of the decade, so you know what that means – big retrospectives of the years that were the 2010s! We’ve already done a list of my favourite albums of the 2010s and today we’re moving onto my favourite movies of the decade. It was so hard narrowing this down to only 10 films (plus a couple honourable mentions) – at the outset, I had over 70 films listed that I had to whittle down until only 10 remained. As before, this is purely my opinion, although I’m much more confident that these picks should be less niche than my favourite albums are. So with that in mind, let’s get on to the list.

Honourable Mentions

The Witch (February 19, 2015)
While it wasn’t quite good enough to make my top 10, The Witch is one of those films which sticks with you and just gets better every time you see it. The film is rich with themes of family and religious devotion which give you many different ways to interpret it. There’s also a slavish attention to detail as director Robert Eggers tries to make the film as authentic as possible to the time period. For that matter, the film is basically a straight adaptation of the sorts of stories Puritans would have been telling each other in the 1600s, to the point where I consider this movie equal parts a Christian movie and a Satanist movie, depending on how you read it. This can make the movie a bit dense, particularly if you’re not into Puritan history or constant discussion about religion, and the scares are few and far between, but if you aren’t turned off by these then The Witch is a truly engrossing, unforgettable experience.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (February 4, 2012 – February 1, 2013)
Okay, this one might be slightly cheating since it’s a trilogy of animated films, but it’s my list so here it is. Berserk is one of those stories which has been indirectly influencing me for years, through all of its many imitators. The Golden Age Arc is what got me into the franchise and makes for a great introduction to the story (and, in some ways, streamlines the manga for the better). Part 1, The Egg of the King, isn’t great, with rough CGI, some strange choices in direction and a plot which is clearly just set-up for the next 2 films. However, Part 2 (The Battle for Doldrey) and Part 3 (The Advent) are both top-notch. The Battle for Doldrey is one of those rare battle sequences which manages to be both cinematic and clever, since the heroes actually win the day through fairly sound tactics, while giving us some fantastic character growth in the process. The Advent is the crown jewel of this trilogy though – if you’re like me and went into this trilogy essentially blind about what was going to happen, it’s a shocking, truly horrific turn of events that have been set up since the very first film in the trilogy. All-in-all, The Golden Age Arc is just a solid adaptation of an already-fantastic manga and I heartily recommend it to anyone for the compelling characters, as long as you think you can stomach a very dark fantasy story.

10) A Quiet Place (April 6, 2018)
A Quiet Place tickles so many of my fancies that it feels like it was practically made for me. You’ve a horror movie about cool monsters hunting people, you’ve got Emily Blunt in top-form and you’ve got some extremely tense direction from John Krasinski making the most of the monsters’ gimmick. While I certainly would have love this movie at any time, its release also happened to coincide with me preparing to become a father myself, so the film’s themes about family and protecting your children really hit hard for me. You can certainly argue that A Quiet Place is just a very standard monster movie, but it’s made with such high quality that it manages to stand on its own.

9) The Raid 2: Berandal (March 28, 2014)
As good as the John Wick franchise is, the premier action franchise of the 2010s is undoubtedly The Raid. While the first film was basically just a bunch of incredible fight scenes strung together around a very basic plot, The Raid 2 ups the ante by having not only incredible fight scenes, but is also anchored by an engrossing mob story which is every bit as compelling as the fights. We not only get the return of the martial arts expert protagonist Rama, but also are introduced to a colourful cast of new characters, most notably Uco (or, as I like to call him, the Indonesian Bruce Campbell) and a pair of assassins who kill people with a hammer and a baseball bat. The previous film’s “Mad Dog”, Yayan Ruhian, even returns in an extended cameo role where he gets to take on an entire building full of people. All-in-all, these characters and this story make The Raid 2 so much more than just a bunch of amazing action sequences (but, fret not, they certainly did not skimp on the jaw-dropping action choreography either). If you haven’t seen it yet, do it – it is without a doubt one of the most insane action spectacles of all time.

8) Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19, 2016)
Kubo is, put simply, a gorgeous film. Laika Studio (of Coraline fame) has crafted some of the most ambitious and phenomenal stop-motion animation ever put to film, which makes the simple act of just watching and appreciating the sheer talent on screen enjoyable. Still, the animation wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t up to snuff, but luckily Kubo is stellar in this regard as well. The film explores themes of family, identity and the power of storytelling, while very self-consciously playing with the traditional hero’s journey. There are moments of elation and moments of terror and it’s just such an emotional and well-crafted story that you can’t help but fall in love.

7) The Founder (December 16, 2016)
The idea of a biopic about the guy who turned McDonald’s into a corporate empire sounds incredibly boring, but The Founder surprised me with just how engaging it is from start to finish. Led by an incredibly dedicated performance from Michael Keaton, this film manages to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of a biopic – instead of just going through a checklist of highlights of Ray Kroc’s life, the film weaves these together to tell a story about a down-and-out entrepreneur who stumbles across the opportunity of a lifetime. The film plays the difficult balancing act of having you root for Ray and then having you actively despise him by the ending, while questioning the merit of what he did and whether he always planned on usurping control. It feels so contemporary and indicative of how we got to modern day America – the film also came out before Trump’s presidency, but you probably wouldn’t realize it considering how many parallels you can draw. Even exposition scenes are done in a fun way, such as when the McDonald brothers explain their fast food method and it’s demonstrated to us visually at the same time. It just makes for a fascinating and extremely compelling film, which is all the more delightful considering how dubious I was going in.

6) War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14, 2017)
The Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy is arguably the best trilogy of the 2010s and War is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch (which is no mean feat considering how incredible Dawn is as well). War takes the trilogy into a much darker and more introspective direction, putting Caesar into a violent and dangerous headspace which puts the lives of himself and the apes in peril. Andy Serkis once again absolutely kills it as Caesar and this time we actually get a strong human villain with Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel. Being a Planet of the Apes film though, the evils at the heart of humanity are the ultimate villain and there are some truly bleak moments in this entry. Some may feel shortchanged that the “war” promised by the title doesn’t really materialize in the way you would expect, but given the overarching premise of the series, it’s pretty fitting how it all plays out and Caesar’s story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. It does my heart good to see one of my favourite franchises get such a resurgence and I can only hope that the inevitable continuation can continue to be anywhere near as good as this film.

5) Silence (December 23, 2016)
Oh hey, look, a Martin Scorsese movie made this list and (spoiler alert) no Marvel movies did! DUN DUN DUUUUUN!!! In all seriousness though, Avengers: Infinity War just missed the Top 10, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Scorsese’s religious epic, Silence. With incredible lead performances from Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson, Silence can be a rough watch at times, considering that it depicts persecution, torture and execution of Christians in Japan during the 17th century. The film also probably won’t resonate too much if you don’t have interest in religion or theology yourself, but luckily the questions this film asks are right in my wheelhouse. The film asks several questions, but ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide the answer: do outward expressions of faith ultimately matter? Can you snuff out the church by doing this? Is Kichijirō is wrong for denying his faith, or is what is held in his heart what matters? Should Rodrigues deny his faith to save the lives of others? Even the ultimate conclusion of the film is somewhat up for interpretation, although Scorsese has certainly pushed you towards an answer here, unlike the much more open-ended book the film is based on. It’s certainly not the easiest film to watch, nor is it the most efficiently paced, but Silence is a fascinating film which tests your very assumptions about faith and God in a complex and mature manner.

4) Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15, 2015)
Fury Road is one of those films that reveals that you can take a B-movie premise and turn it into something incredible if you know what you’re doing and put in the effort. In fact, Fury Road was so good that it effectively won the 2015 Oscars (even if it didn’t take home the Best Picture or Best Director awards, although looking back it probably should have). That’s right, a movie about weaponized cars, kamikaze psychos in fetish gear and a guy in a skin mask playing a flaming electric guitar was so incredible that even the Oscar crowd had to bow down to it. Seriously though, Mad Max: Fury Road deserves all the praise it gets. It’s expertly directed, with some of the coolest, most creative and most death-defying action sequences this side of The Raid. Much has been made about how the action actually enhances and moves the story forward, which is where much of the film’s accolades have come from. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron’s performances, which are crucial to the film’s success. Fury Road is just… it’s basically perfect, what more is there to say? The Road Warrior was already a template on how to make a sequel better than the original film, but Fury Road went and blew it up by being even better and I don’t think anyone could have seen that coming.

3) Sicario (September 18, 2015)
You had to know that Denis Villeneuve was going to be making an appearance on this list. While literally any of his movies from this decade could have made this list, Sicario is ultimately my favourite of the bunch. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro all in top form, this film is a brutal, harrowing and eye-opening look at the War on Drugs, its toll on Mexico and America’s unethical response to it. It’s a truly thrilling film with some of the best constructed and tense suspenseful sequences I’ve ever seen. In particular, the sequence where a convoy of US forces cross the border to pick up a target and then bring him back is perhaps the most intense sequence I’ve ever seen, as the tense just keeps ratcheting up and up until it finally spills over. Everything about this film is just firing on all cylinders, from the direction, to the story, to the cinematography, to the acting – it’s basically perfect and never, ever dull.

2) Nightcrawler (October 31, 2014)
Nightcrawler is like a modern-day Taxi Driver, a character study about a morally-bankrupt protagonist which shines a light on the seediest elements of modern society. Jake Gyllenhaal is spell-binding as Lou Bloom, a young entrepreneur and burgeoning psychopath who will do anything to get ahead in society. Watching this unfold is absolutely enthralling from start to finish and it rings so true about how modern society has been established and the levels one has to go to in order to be a speedy, self-made success. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because it really is that good, but trust me when I say that absolutely everything in this film is on-point, it’s basically perfect.

And, with that we come to our #1 pick…

1) Star Wars Episode XI: The Last Jedi (December 15, 2019)
…okay, I’m just kidding, I couldn’t pass up such a golden opportunity to be a troll though. Legitimately, I do really like The Last Jedi and believe that it was exactly the sort of breath of fresh air that the franchise needed to move forward into the future, but it’s certainly not without its rough points. Hell, it’s not even my favourite Star Wars movie of the decade (that would be Rogue One) so it wasn’t really even in consideration for the Top 10. With that said, my real #1 pick is…

1) Whiplash (October 10, 2014)
A movie that you could describe as “intense” doesn’t come along very often, usually relegated to brutal war dramas like Saving Private Ryan or gory horror films like Evil Dead. However, Whiplash manages the hitherto unthinkable feat of being an intense film about freaking drumming. I’m serious, this film just keeps escalating and going to crazier heights until literally the last second. This largely comes down to stellar direction and fantastic performances from J.K. Simmons and Mile Teller. The film shows you what it takes to be “the best” without glamorizing it – in fact it’s pretty much actively discouraged from the start when it eschews all our expectations by having protagonist Andrew Neiman dump his perfect girlfriend because she’s going to distract him from his dream – a dream which he acknowledges is going to destroy his life. He’s ultimately a psychopath in his own right, but J.K. Simmons’ Trence Fletcher is an emotionally abusive monster who believes he can be the push to drive his students to the next level. Whether that’s worth it is for the audience to decide, but there’s no doubt that it is amazing to watch these two men play off of each other. I had a hard time picking between Nightcrawler and Whiplash for this spot, but Whiplash was such a unique film for me and I can’t say that I’ve seen anything else quite like it since.

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My 10 Favourite Albums of the 2010s

Man, I really left myself a lot of work for the end of this year. Not only did I do my “Best of 2019” albums ranking, but it’s also the end of a decade, which means that it’s also the time for “Best of the 2010s” lists. We’re going to start out today with my favourite albums of the 2010s. Standard caveats apply here – music is not only incredibly subjective, but there is so much of it and my tastes are somewhat niche, so I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to declare that these are “the best” albums of the decade. That said, they’re all great and have affected me in one way or another, so I would certainly recommend checking them out if you have not!

Honourable Mentions:

Asylum, Disturbed (August 31, 2010)
I waffle between Asylum or Ten Thousand Fists being Disturbed’s best album, but it’s pretty much unquestioned that this was the last time they were such a self-assured band. Whatever your thoughts about their last couple albums are, the post-Asylum hiatus changed the band significantly and I don’t predict that we’re going to get another album from Disturbed that I’m going to like nearly as much as Asylum.

Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Volbeat (April 5, 2013)
They say there’s nothing quite like your first… Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies was the album where I decided to give Volbeat a chance and I fell in love with their style. Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie would also have a pretty good shot at being one of my favourite albums of the decade, but they both fell just short of the top 10. Still, I love the band so much that I had to at least give them an honourable mention.

10) We’re Just Really Excited to Be Here, Countless Thousands (June 4, 2011)
Countless Thousands’ debut album is such a joy to listen to. Their brand of enthusiastic nerd rock is infectious and energetic from the outset and there is so much variety and experimentation that it never gets boring. Want a pirate rock song? Try “A Pirate’s Shanty”. Want something political? You’ll love “The Patriot”. How about a version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, but rewritten to be about bassist Davey Munch battling Satan? Try “The Devil and Davey Munch”, it’s amazing. There’s even stuff like “No Contest”, where there is no instrumentation, only vocal layering which gives the song an interesting and haunting feel. On top of all of this, the songwriting is all top-notch, with one exception – personally, I just can’t stand “The Asskickers’ Union”, a sickly-sweet love song which is just too goddamn happy for my tastes. It’s not like that’s a major blemish though on a 16 track album and there are plenty of other styles and standout tracks that it’s easily washed away.

9) of Beauty and Rage, Red (February 24, 2015)
Red were a band that I got into with their first two albums, but gave up on after their next two albums were very disappointing. Imagine my joy then when they managed to not only course correct and return to form on their fifth album, but they actually managed to put out their best album yet. of Beauty and Rage sees Red firing on all cylinders, putting out an album which is equal parts heavy, haunting, epic and beautiful in various measures. It certainly feels like a Red album, but there’s a maturity to it and everything has clearly been crafted painstakingly. At this point, I’d consider of Beauty and Rage to be Red’s magnum opus. They have set the bar very high for themselves going forward, but they’ve shown that they know what it takes to come back. If Red ever manage to put out something that can match this album I would be delightfully surprised.

8) Dark Before Dawn, Breaking Benjamin (June 23, 2015)
In my opinion, Dark Before Dawn is Breaking Benjamin’s best album. Perhaps this is because I got into the band pretty late into their career, but as far as I’m concerned it is by far their best overall. You’d be justified in saying that Breaking Benjamin just cover the same ground over and over again, but Dark Before Dawn is the best execution of this by far. All of their previous albums were uneven at best, even ones I genuinely like such as Dear Agony or Phobia. However, Dark Before Dawn is great from start to finish, with no track being weak or feeling like filler (other than the mood-setting, instrumental opening and closing tracks, but they’re harmless in my opinion). On the contrary, there are so many standout tracks here, from “Failure”, to “Angel’s Fall”, to “Close to Heaven” and “Ashes of Eden”, all of which show off Benjamin Burnley’s fantastic voice and make you want to sing along.

7) Carolus Rex, Sabaton (May 22, 2012)
While Heroes might be the point when Sabaton hit the peak of their popularity, its predecessor Carolus Rex is still the height of the band’s talents. It’s perhaps their most focused and personal work ever, detailing the rise and fall of the Swedish empire. In fact, it’s so interesting and compelling that it has taught me more about this period of time in Europe than any history class I’ve ever taken. THe songs straight into history. A particular highlight in this regard is “A Lifetime of War”, which make you feel how awful a decade-long war is, and then pulls the rug out and reveals that this war would go on for another two decades. Songs like “The Carolean’s Prayer”, “Carolus Rex” and “Ruina Imperii” all demonstrate the religious fanaticism of the time, how it was used to control men and dehumanize others. “The Carolean’s Prayer” in particular is easily one of the best songs of Sabaton’s career. Oh and I would be remiss to forget that Carolus Rex also has some amazing B-sides, most notably a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight of the Thunder God”. When I was in university and this song came out, I would play it on repeat over and over again and try to death growl along. It’s so good and the fact that it’s a B-side better than what most bands can manage to put onto full albums is insane.

6) Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch (November 23, 2010)
Most of the albums on this list are my favourite by their respective bands. With that said, I feel it’s worth emphasizing that Marrow of the Spirit is actually only my third favourite Agalloch album – seriously, if you haven’t listened to them before, do it. Agalloch tend to dabble in atmospheric doom metal with clear nature- and pagan-inspirations to each of their songs. Marrow of the Spirit is perhaps their rawest album in that regard. Having come off of two fairly polished albums, Agalloch were looking for a grittier sound and so opted to record Marrow of the Spirit on vintage analog equipment. The difference in production quality is immediately obvious when you compare Marrow of the Spirit to The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but it works very well within Agalloch’s sound. The album immediately sets the tone with “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness”, a sombre mood-setter which is almost entirely composed of a cello and a recording of water running. From there, each of the remaining 5 tracks is just incredibly well-composed doom metal, equal parts sombre and epic, ranging in lengths from 9:40 to a staggering 17:34 on “Black Lake Niðstång”. “Black Lake Niðstång” is a particular highlight for me – it certainly feels like a 17 minute song, but it goes through so many changes throughout that it never stagnates. Marrow of the Spirit might not be Agalloc’s most accessible album, but it’s certainly one that gets better the more you listen to it.

5) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge (September 30, 2017)
Oh hey, the first pick from one of my annual album rankings! As I said back then, Through Glass Eyes is ambitious, diverse, mature and has impeccable production values, all of which are even more impressive when you consider that this is not only a debut album but also an independent release! They also don’t fit into cliches – many female-fronted, symphonic/melodic metal bands can get dismissed for sounding like Evanescence-wannabes, but At Dawn’s Edge have more maturity to their songwriting and singing which gives them their own unique flavour. It’s a fantastic debut album and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its follow-up ever since. Owing to the independent nature of this band, I would implore you to check them out if you have not yet, they’re seriously this good.

4) Blood, In This Moment (August 14, 2012)
In This Moment are unquestionably one of my favourite bands right now. Every album they put out has its own unique flavour, but in my opinion Blood is clearly their best overall. It maintains the band’s metalcore edge while dipping into more experimentation to make the album feel a bit more unique than its more standard-metal predecessor, A Star-Crossed Wasteland. Of course, experimentation doesn’t mean much if the music isn’t great, but luckily Blood has so many good songs that it’s practically a greatest hits album. “Blood”, “Adrenalize” and “Whore” are all top-notch and kick the album into high gear right out of the gate. They’re not the only highlights though, there’s also the fantastic “Burn” which shows off Maria Brink’s ability to go from melodic vocals to blistering screams. Tracks like “Beast Within”, “The Blood Legion” and the haunting “11:11” also bear mentioning and, like Carolus Rex, the B-side cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” is also an absolute treat. My fiance loves it… and I’ll let you fill in the blanks from there. Blood is also notable for “sexing up” In This Moment (to the point where they would feel the need to address it on their next album in the song “Sex Metal Barbie”). The album deals with themes of abuse and manipulation, but it always reclaims sex and turns it into something empowering. It gives this album a bit of a sultry, even kinky, edge that I really enjoy and gives it a much different vibe than any other metal band I listen to.

3) Wait for the Siren, Project 86 (August 21, 2012)
Wait for the Siren came out at a time when it looked like Project 86 were about to implode – after 7 very solid albums, their guitarist, drummer and bassist all quit the band, only leaving frontman Andrew Schwab to continue on. Luckily for us, Andrew Schwab was always the primary, most dominant creative force in the band, so the loss of the other band members didn’t completely sink Project 86 (that said, Schwab’s overbearing control might actually have been why the other band members quit, they wanted to experiment more and he wouldn’t let them, or so the rumours say). Having also quit Tooth and Nail Records in favour of crowdfunding, Schwab was free to rebuild the band in whatever way he saw fit, and Wait for the Siren is a fantastic mixture of old and new. Right off the bat, the band shows off some of this new creative expression with “Fall, Goliath, Fall”, which features such distinctive instruments as uillean pipes, mandolin and hammer dulcimer. That said, these additions to Project 86’s sound are just that – additions. The band is still as heavy as they ever were, as shown off in tracks such as “The Crossfire Gambit”. Songwriting has always been Project 86’s greatest strength and Wait for the Siren is no exception, with every track being diverse and interesting in their own regard. My personal favourite track on the album is the rousing “Take the Hill”, easily one of the best tracks in Project 86’s history. While Drawing Black Lines will probably always be my favourite Project 86 album, Wait for the Siren is easily my second favourite, which is pretty incredible considering that they haven’t had a bad album in their lengthy career.

2) Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle (April 20, 2018)
Oh hey, another pick from my annual album rankings! Eat the Elephant really impressed me last year. Nearly every track is expertly crafted and has something to say, from the hopeful title track, to political and social commentary in tracks such as “The Contrarian”, “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk”. The particular highlight though is “So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish” a song which is apocalyptic and beautiful at the same time (to the point where it’s probably going to end up getting played at my wedding… seriously). While the second half of the album is weaker than the first half, the fact that this album still managed to take the spot of my 2nd favourite album of the decade should go to show that that doesn’t lower it in my estimation too much. The stuff that’s here is just too damn good to pass up.

1) Devotion, Anberlin (October 15, 2013)
I love Anberlin. When they released their 6th album, Vital, I thought that it was almost as good as the band’s fan favourite, Cities. However, just over a year later, the band reissued the album as Devotion, adding 3 new tracks and 4 B-sides to the original album and retooling the tracklist somewhat. This was, in my opinion, enough to put Devotion over the top to be the clear best album in the band’s history. Vital already boasted some great music, such as the aptly-titled opener “Self-Starter”, “Other Side”, “Orpheum” and the absolutely fantastic “God, Drugs & Sex”. You’d think that throwing a bunch of new songs and B-sides into an already-completed album might mess with the flow of the music, but the new additions are all solid and more than good enough to stand side-by-side with the existing tracks, although the best is definitely “IJSW”. Devotion was by far my favourite album of the 2010s, I knew for sure going into this list that it was going to be my #1.

And that’s it for my favourite albums of the 2010s. Tune in soon when I go through the best movies of the 2010s!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Showdown!

We’ve just gotten through our countdown of the best to worst films in the A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, but we’re not quite done yet! We may have gotten through the films based on their quality alone, but there are plenty of other things to take into account for these franchises. I’ve put together a number of categories and am going to compare how each franchise does in each and then I’ll add up all the points to determine which slasher franchise wins the ultimate showdown. So, without further adieu, it’s time to put our slasher icons head-to-head one last time to see who can come out on top!

Most Iconic Weapon
What is a slasher without an iconic murder weapon? Sure, some have more methods to kill than others, but there are certain slashers who are synonymous with their preferred method of murder. With that in mind, let’s take a look at our competitors and see whose weapon of choice is most iconic.

4th place (1 point): Jason Voorhees’ Machete
Of all the slashers out there, Jason is by far the most creative and versatile, killing with whatever he can find on hand, from spears, to bows, barrels of toxic waste, open vats of liquid nitrogen and even his own bare hands if needed. However, he is perhaps most synonymous with his machete (best demonstrated by the hilarious “Guys, he just wanted his machete back!” line from Jason X). However, it’s not a particularly creative murder weapon and it’s not even used by Jason all that much, so it brings up the rear in this competition.

3rd place (2 points): Michael Myers’ Chef Knife
Props to Michael Myers for always sticking with such a mundane murder weapon and making it work so well. Plus, he’s frequently able to stab people with them so hard that they get pinned to the wall, impressive! A kitchen knife is a little more distinct than a machete too much helps make it stand out as being distinctly “Michael Myers”, giving him the edge over Jason in this category.

2nd place (3 points): Leatherface’s Chainsaw
One of the originators of the “household tools as murder weapons” trope, Leatherface’s chainsaw is so iconic that it’s even in the title of his franchise. It’s a brutal, unsubtle weapon, but it suits its wielder well. What makes it even more iconic is that Leatherface doesn’t even tend to get that many kills with his chainsaw, so it’s not like there are particular scenes that people are even associating it with – it’s just that associated with Leatherface that they just assume he gets way more chainsaw kills than he actually does.

Winner (4 points): Freddy Krueger’s Razor Gloves
It really had to go to Freddy Krueger here, especially since his weapon is the only one that was home-made and therefore not used by anyone else. What’s even more impressive is that Freddy kills in all sorts of creative ways due to his dream powers, but the razor glove is still totally iconic as his murder weapon.

Best Setting
A killer’s got to do his dirty work somewhere and our slashers all have their own centralized playgrounds where you can expect to find them. That said, some of these locations are more memorable than others, so let’s see who has the most interesting killing grounds.

4th place (1 point): Haddonfield/The Myers House
Michael’s stomping grounds are going to be taking up the bottom rung of the list here because Haddonfield is pretty non-descript. It’s a slice of suburbia with a few houses that Michael has chosen to kill in. While Myers’ house itself has been the most consistent of these, it was actually changed in Halloween 5, showing just how expendable it is. And, to put the cherry on top, the two best Halloween sequels don’t even take place at the Myers’ house, while H20 straight-up ditches Haddonfield entirely.

3rd place (2 points): Sawyer House/Rural Texas
The Chainsaw series doesn’t really tend to have a consistent location for its action other than just rural Texas in general, which hurts its ranking here somewhat. However, much like the most iconic weapon, the titular Texas is inextricably linked with the Chainsaw franchise, to the point where you can tell which movies in the franchise were filmed there and which weren’t just by the way the landscape looks. As for the Sawyer house, it’s cool but it’s a shame that it’s different in almost every film, otherwise it would probably rank higher.

2nd place (3 points): Elm Street/Elm Street House
The Elm Street house makes its way onto this list through brute force – New Line Cinema shoehorned this freaking house into the plot of basically every Nightmare film, no matter how little sense it made. After all, it’s not like we really care about the house or that Freddy really has any connection to it, but they’ll be damned if it isn’t in every movie anyway. As a result, we get a certain amount of familiarity with the place, even if it probably wasn’t done all that organically.

Winner (4 points): Camp Crystal Lake
The winner has to be Camp Crystal Lake (and its surrounding areas). Jason hacking teenagers up at summer camp is so iconic that it wasn’t until the eighth film in the franchise when they finally decided to dramatically shake up the setting. Camp Crystal Lake is also probably just straight-up the most memorable location in any of these films – like, the only reason the average Joe even knows where Freddy does his killing is because it’s in the movie’s title, but I’m willing to bet nearly as many people know about Camp Crystal Lake. I’d say that gives Friday the 13th the clear victory here.

Best Final Girl
Sure, any old slasher can kill boatloads of teenagers and chase after helpless damsels in distress. However, what really separates the wheat from the chaff is when the killer get put up against a grade A badass final girl who isn’t going to take any more of his shit. We’re not just looking at pure strength here though, but how well-rounded and likeable the character is as well – what good is it to have a strong final girl that no one is rooting for, after all? These are the characters you want to see survive and kick the crap out of the bad guys while doing it. With that said, let’s take a look at our best final girls…

4th place (1 point): Stretch (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2)
I like Stretch quite a bit. She’s got a lot of ingenuity and smarts on her side, realizing that she can manipulate Leatherface into keeping her alive by preying on his affections. She also manages to slink around the Sawyer’s crazy labyrinth of a home fairly well, although she does get spotted while doing so. Then, at the end of the film, she chainsaws Chop Top to death, but goes crazy in the process. Again, I like Stretch, but she’s also just the best final girl in a franchise full of pretty mediocre final girls who don’t fight back.
Honourable Mention: Chrissie from The Beginning missed the cut because, while she’s able to survive being thrown out of a car and is ridiculously stealthy, the character has basically no depth.

3rd place (2 points): Chris (Friday the 13th Part III)
Friday the 13th suffers in this category somewhat for a few reasons. First, the only recurring final girl, Alice from the original, gets killed immediately in the sequel… also, she’s a pretty poor final girl anyway. Furthermore, the only other recurring hero of note is Tommy Jarvis, who certainly doesn’t count as a final girl. So, we’re stuck picking which final girl managed stand out the most in her only film. Personally, I have to give this pick to Chris from Part III. Despite the fact that I hate that movie quite a bit, I have to give Chris major props for being the only good part about it. Giving Chris a history with Jason is pretty contrived, but it makes Chris one of the few characters in the franchise with a real sense of connection to the villain. Furthermore, she actually manages to fight back and hold her own against Jason in several showdowns, constantly outsmarting him and then beating the shit out of him with a book case, knife, log and a shovel, then hangs him from a noose and embeds an axe in his freaking head! Considering that she’s just a normal woman, everyone else going up against Jason is getting their asses handed to them almost immediately and most other final girls in this franchise just spend the last twenty minutes running away, it’s an extremely impressive showing.
Honourable Mentions: Ginny from Part II deserves some note for managing to use her smarts to defeat Jason… which shouldn’t be that difficult, but barely anyone actually tries in this franchise. Tina from Part VII is also by far the strongest final girl in any of these films, but I just couldn’t justify giving her this spot because she is, otherwise, not that interesting until she starts going wild with her psychic powers. Blame that one on the writers of Part VII for squandering so much of that film’s potential.

2nd place (3 points): Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
I kind of feel like I have to give this one to Nancy, especially considering that she came back tougher than ever in Dream Warriors and that a fictionalized Heather Langenkamp had to channel her most famous character again to succeed in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. While Langenkamp’s acting is a bit flat at times, that doesn’t take away from how clever and tough Nancy is, being able to figure out how to overcome Freddy in a seemingly impossible situation and learning to become brave enough of him to face him head-on. It’s to the point where even Freddy recognizes her and seems to have some begrudging respect for her, so she’s a pretty understandable pick for our second place slot.
Honourable Mentions: Both Kris from Dream Warriors and Alice from The Dream Master and The Dream Child are reasonably good final girls as well, but neither of them are as capable or memorable as Nancy.

Winner (4 points): Laurie Strode (Halloween)
It had to be Laurie, right? She’s the primo final girl, and if Halloween didn’t convince you then H20 and Halloween 2018 sure as hell cemented it. Even before she got upgraded to a full-on, Michael Myers-hunting badass, she was still a pretty great babysitter who not only fought back well against the masked intruder, but kept her responsibilities over the kids in check too! That’s just straight-up impressive.

Most Kills on Average Per Film
You know the saying, quality over quantity, but there is a certain quality to quantity now isn’t there? With that in mind, let’s take a look at the body counts per film and compare them, shall we? We’re not only going to count the victims killed by the iconic slashers (otherwise movies like Season of the Witch or the original Friday the 13th will have to be left off), but suffice to say that they do make up the bulk of the murdering.

4th place (1 point): A Nightmare on Elm Street
This one was kind of expected, since Freddy is definitely more of a quality over quantity kind of guy. Even with Freddy vs Jason considerably inflating the average with its whopping 23 deaths, the Elm Street franchise still only averages out at 7.67 deaths per film, far below any of its competitors.

3rd place (2 points): The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I also kind of expected this placement on the list, although Leatherface and his family have been steadily increasing their number of kills over the years. For example, Texas Chainsaw 3D and Leatherface have a pretty respectable 19 and 21 kills respectively. However, the earlier films are closer to Elm Street levels in terms of numbers and with the least entries of any franchise on this list, it’s more or less unavoidable for it to end up in the middle of the pack. Still, 11.13 average deaths per film is nothing to be ashamed of.

2nd place (3 points): Halloween
Michael Myers racks up some pretty impressive body counts in his films, especially in all of the sequels that I really don’t like (again, quantity is a quality of its own). He has two entries alone with at least 20 kills, Halloween 5 (20) and the Rob Zombie remake (23). Even then, there are only two entries with less than double digits, the original film and H20. These consistently high numbers give Halloween a very strong 14.36 deaths per film on average!

Winner (4 points): Friday the 13th
I had a feeling Friday the 13th was going to win this category, but I didn’t really realize by how much. Jason just mows through victims like a madman, with five films with at least 20 kills in them (Part 5, Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X and Freddy vs Jason)! In fact, the only film in the franchise under double digits is Part II, which just barely missed the mark with 9 kills (and, hell, could have hit 10 if we counted the missing in action Paul as likely dead).

Best Kill
Okay, I know I just got over saying that there was a quality to quantity, but there’s really something about an especially good kill. After all, you’ll forget all those random nobodies who get shot or stabbed in movies, but when someone dies a really elaborate death, it sticks with you. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the most memorable kills in these franchises.

4th place (1 point): Pinning a Guy to the Wall With a Chef’s Knife (Halloween)
The Halloween franchise is strangely bereft of particularly interesting kills – some of the newer films have expanded Michael’s modus operandi somewhat (H20 has Joseph Gordon Levitt taking a hockey skate to the face and Halloween 2018 has a dude’s head get stomped to mush), but for the most part it’s just broken necks and lots of stabbings. Hell, the most interesting kills are probably in Season of the Witch, which features a guy getting his head torn right off of his shoulders, but I don’t feel like I can really use that here since the movie was more or less disowned by its franchise. That said, the most replicated kill in the entire franchise is when Michael stabs Bob so hard with a chef’s knife that he gets pinned to the wall and suspended above the ground. It’s kind of insane that a knife is able to hold up that much weight by itself, but it’s also just another stabbing in a franchise full of stabbings.

3rd place (2 points): Bludgeoning Kirk With a Hammer (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Similarly to Halloween, the Chainsaw franchise’s kills don’t tend to be very creative. However, what they lack in creativity, they make up for in swiftness and brutality. I was kind of tempted to give this award to Sheriff Hartman’s death in Texas Chainsaw 3D, where he gets minced up in a meat grinder since that is easily the most elaborate death in the franchise. However, it is kind of ruined by the awful CGI involved in the kill so I can’t really pick it in good faith. I also can’t pick the various meat hook scenes from the franchise because, while they’re certainly iconic, none of them are actual kill scenes. So, with that out of the way, I would say that the most distinctive kill is when Kirk gets bludgeoned in the first Chainsaw film. It’s so sudden, brutal and it comes out of nowhere, which makes it an actually scary moment.

2nd place (3 points): Liquid Nitrogen (Jason X)
The Friday the 13th franchise is absolutely spoiled for amazing kills. You’ve got Kevin Bacon taking an arrow to the back of the neck in the original, the machete to the face wheelchair kill in Part II and the sleeping bag kill in Part VII, among many, many others. However, I have to personally give the edge to the liquid nitrogen kill from Jason X, where a newly-resuscitated Jason grabs a doctor and sticks her face into a convenient vat of liquid nitrogen. We get to see her look of terror freeze onto her face before Jason pulls it back out, admires his handiwork and then smashes the frozen face against the table top. It’s brutal, funny and really gets across Jason’s style.

Winner (4 points): Marionette (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors)
Again, the Elm Street franchise is totally spoiled for amazing kills, especially since many of the films in the series are basically built around setting up these elaborate scenes. The first film’s ceiling kill and Johnny Depp getting pulled into the bed in a geyser of blood are both totally iconic and I really love the cockroach metamorphosis kill in The Dream Master and the “Take on Me” kill in The Dream Child. Hell, I even love Carlos’ Looney Tunes-style hearing aid kill from the otherwise abysmal Freddy’s Dead. However, I have to give the award to Phillip’s death in Dream Warriors for its combination of brutality, creativity and fantastic special effects. We get to see Freddy slash open Phillip’s arms and legs and then pull his tendons out, turning him into a human marionette before cutting the strings to have him fall out of a bell tower. It’s an unforgettable kill to be sure, easily as good as any from the original film.

Most Consistently Good Franchise
Slasher franchises have a pretty bad reputation. Most of the time, the original will be well-regarded whereas every follow-up has a legitimate shot at being on the IMDb bottom 100. With that said, I’ve looked through the countdown and averaged out the placements of all of the movies from each franchise to determine which franchise is strongest. To confirm the accuracy of this metric, I have also assigned each film on the list a quality rating between 10 and 1, and then averaged out this number to determine the average rating (this is the number that I’m going to use to determine how many points the franchise will take for this category). So, with that in mind, let’s get to the numbers…

4th place: Halloween
Halloween suffered GREATLY on this list for having such widely polarizing releases. Sure, it has an impressive showing of 3 films in the top 10 (Halloween, Halloween 2018, H20), but it also has an abysmal 4 films in the bottom 9, all of which I would give a 2/10 (Halloween 6, Halloween: Resurrection, Halloween 2 2009, Halloween 5). Even with the other 4 films in the franchise averaging middling scores, there was no way that they could overcome the sheer awfulness of so many bottom-dwellers.
Average score: 4.45/10

3rd place: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Chainsaw franchise was a bit of an interesting case for this list. For one thing, it has the least films of any of these franchises at only 8 entries. Furthermore, it only has 1 film in the bottom 9 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), but the original film also topped the countdown, which helps offset that. However, the other 6 films are nothing to write home about with only 1 other film managing to crack the top 15 (Leatherface). In this regard, the Chainsaw franchise might be the most consistent overall, although consistently mediocre isn’t much of a thing to boast about.
Average score: 4.63/10

2nd place: Friday the 13th
With the most entries of any franchise on this list at 12, Friday the 13th puts in a pretty solid showing. Sure, 3 entries cracked the bottom 9 (Jason Goes to Hell, Jason Takes Manhattan and Friday the 13th Part III), but 6 of the movies in this franchise scored a pretty solid 5/10 or higher which really helped to even out the average. Friday the 13th rarely hits the heights of quality that the other franchises do, but they do tend to be consistently entertaining.
Average score: 5.63/10

Winner: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Going in, I definitely knew that the Elm Street franchise was going to top this list, it was mostly just a question of how many points it would get. The big question mark is that the Elm Street franchise also “boasts” the worst film of the whole countdown, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, which drags down the overall quality of the franchise. Other than that, only the remake and The Dream Master score lower than a 5/10, and Dream Warriors, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the original film all boast a very solid 8/10 rating. Add in Freddy’s Revenge with a 7/10 and you have 4 Elm Street films in the top 10, which made it pretty obvious that this franchise was the most consistently good.
Average score: 6/10

Who Would Win in a Fight?
And, last on our list, we have the classic playground scenario: Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface. Who comes out on top in a head-to-head battle for the ages? I’ve gone through what we know of each character and compared their various incarnations to try to come up with the answer to this age-old question.

4th place (1 point): Freddy Krueger
This one might seem surprising, because at first glance Freddy has all the advantages: he can kill you in your dreams with little vulnerability to himself and it’s not like any of his opponents are smart enough to figure out how to kill him. Hell, he’s also clearly the smartest person in this showdown. However, the problem comes in where Freddy’s powers are involved. As far as the series shows, Freddy seems to be only able to invade the dreams of children and teenagers. Sure, Freddy vs Jason ignored this, but it also claimed that Jason is afraid of water among other things, so its authority on canon is dubious (not to mention that Jason wins the matchup anyway). Furthermore, in the real world, Freddy is going to be no match for any of his opponents – I mean, the guy gets regularly trounced by regular teenage girls, so I can’t see him lasting against any of his opponents. So that’s the issue here – either Freddy stays trapped in the dream realm and gets DQ’d because he can’t even fight, or he gets pulled into the real world and gets the tar beat out of him. Either way, he loses.

3rd place (2 points): Leatherface
This was actually a really difficult placement for me for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike most slashers, Leatherface has actually gone up against some really badass fighters at least somewhat comparable to a Michael or a Jason. On the one hand, in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, he goes up against 6’4″ survivalist Benny (played by Ken Foree) multiple times and comes out on top each time. However, on the other hand, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, he fights against a crazed Dennis Hopper in a chainsaw duel and is bested. Other than that, the only other times Leatherface has actually been beaten in a fight are in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and the remake where he loses an arm in a surprise attack, but in both cases he still got back up and was ready to fight again in short order. This actually puts him in an interesting position, because while Jason and Michael are semi-immortal, they tend to be “killed” by regular people all the time. In contrast, Leatherface is just a very big, very durable, very dumb guy that no one seems to be able to overcome.

Leatherface’s other big advantage is that he’s never really alone, he’s usually got backup from the Sawyer clan. While I can see Tink, Chop Top, Tex or Sheriff Hoyt being pretty handy to have around in most cases, I don’t think any of them are going to be much use against Jason or Michael, who we have already see kill rednecks on the reg. His weapon of choice is also pretty handy because, while Jason and Michael are extremely tough and semi-immortal, they don’t really seem to have any way to come back from lost limbs or a decapitation. Therefore, if Leatherface can get in, maybe stick his enemy on a meat hook and then cut them up, he could do some serious damage. However, this also means that he’s just as vulnerable to getting stabbed or grappled by Michael or Jason and I’m not so certain he’d win that confrontation more often than not. That’s the problem, I can certainly see scenarios where Leatherface would actually win this four-way showdown, but it’s highly dependent on him being smart enough to do the right things.

2nd place (3 points): Michael Myers
Like I said for Leatherface, Michael Myers largely comes out on top here for being semi-invulnerable. He’s been shot, stabbed and lit on fire so many times, but after lying dead for a few minutes, he always gets back up as if nothing happened. What also helps his cause is that he doesn’t even let these injuries slow him down – in Halloween 2018, he gets half his hand blown off with a shotgun and it doesn’t dampen his resolve to keep fighting. He’s also incredibly strong, capable of crushing people’s heads and snapping their necks with his bare hands. However, Michael has a couple of big issues that could cripple him in a fight. First of all, he is painfully slow. In the original Halloween II, he has Laurie cornered in an elevator that takes forever to close. If he had just quickened his pace a tiny bit he would have had her dead to rights, but no, he just has to be a slow mofo and make everything harder on himself. A lot of his technique comes from being able to stalk his victim beforehand and get an idea of the terrain before he goes in for a stealthy kill. If he has to just go head-to-head with a foe then he’ll probably still be able to manage, but it blunts some of his killing potential. Really, Michael’s biggest problems come when his victims finally realize he’s after him, because it’s at this point that he’ll get subjected to well-laid traps and kung fu kicks to the face. But, at the end of it all, that semi-invulnerable status really is a huge difference-maker. I can see Leatherface thinking he has Michael dead, but then he stands up and gets the killing blow when it’s least expected.

Winner (4 points): Jason Voorhees
It kind of had to be Jason here, right? If it was just redneck Jason from the first four movies and the remake then I’d probably have put him much lower, but zombie Jason is just insane. Like Michael, his semi-immortality puts him over the top compared to other slashers, as he’ll just constantly die and then come back. We’ve even seen two different instances where Jason gets blown apart and still comes back for more (Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X), a feat which I sincerely doubt Michael Myers could replicate. He’s as strong or stronger than Michael Myers, able to crush heads with his bare hands, punch straight through people and kill a person in a sleeping bad with one crack against a tree. Jason also has the distinction of having not only beating Freddy Krueger one-on-one, but also going head-to-head with easily the strongest final girl ever, psychic girl Tina in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. She absolutely pummelled him with her psychic powers but he just kept coming back for more, ultimately only being defeated when her zombie dad finally dragged him back down to the depths of Crystal Lake (which he would eventually escape from again, of course). With all of this taken into account, Jason Voorhees is the clear winner of this showdown.

Totals
Alright, the numbers have been counted, so let’s get to our totals and see who wins out in this no-holds-barred showdown…

4th place: Leatherface (16.63 points)
3rd place: Michael Myers (18.45 points)
2nd place: Freddy Krueger (22 points)
Winner: Jason Voorhees (23.63 points)

Thank you all for reading and going through this journey with me! Happy Halloween everyone and stay safe!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#10-01)

We’re finally here! We’ve whittled down the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises to the ten best films. Which one will come out on top? Read on to find out…

10) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After so many awful sequels, it’s refreshing that we finally got a worthy successor to the original Halloween. While the other sequels tried to come up with ever more convoluted means to continue the storyline and Michael’s killing sprees, H20 takes things back to the most logical jumping-off point and deals with how Laurie’s life was impacted by the events of that Halloween night twenty years ago (acting as a sequel to only the first two Halloween films and ignoring the rest). In that time Laurie has faked her own death, moved across the country to California, had a son and is now a teacher at a private school, but she hasn’t been able to confront the trauma of what happened 20 years ago. The premise alone puts H20 well ahead of other sequels in this franchise because it actually has some things to say about fear and trauma and how it can ruin not only your life but the lives of those around you if you don’t confront it. Luckily for Laurie, Michael Myers manages to figure out where she’s living and pencils in an exposure therapy session for that Halloween evening…

H20 has been compared to Scream many times, although I feel like the comparisons make you expect a far more referential film than what we got (it very much lacks the meta elements which basically defined the Scream franchise… although it does have some unexpected meta elements like Janet Leigh acting as Laurie Strode’s maternal proxy). I mean, sure, the film very clearly exists in the post-Scream landscape with characters who aren’t complete idiots. Just compare H20 to Halloween 6, which had come out only three years earlier – that film felt like a late 80s slasher, with its bloated mythology, idiotic teen cast and over the top gore, reeking of a tired genre content to just coast off of the lowest common denominator. In contrast, H20 is written in a fairly clever and fun manner, ditching a reliance on lazy tropes and with no one being truly stupid. It actually takes its time to establish the characters and setting before setting loose. After a trio of early kills, Michael takes almost an hour to really get into his murder spree, similar to the original film, which gives us time to get to know the victims on the chopping block. That said, this is very much Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie, as Laurie Strode is by far the most compelling character (good try though, Josh Hartnett). Seeing her confront her fears and then beat the tar out of Michael Myers is quite entertaining and a satisfying arc for the film.

However, I can’t be entirely positive about this film. For one thing, the movie is very heavily relying on your previous knowledge of Michael Myers for his character to be in any way compelling. It’s not like the original Halloween where we get to meet Laurie and see Michael stalking her menacingly the entire time, here Laurie gets most of the focus and then Michael just kind of shows up momentarily on occasion. Hell, even when he does show up, he doesn’t even kill anyone, despite having two different occasions to do so. I kind of like the restraint, but again if you didn’t come in knowing Michael would probably usually kill these people then it just makes him look like less of a threat. I think that they just could have done more to re-establish him in this film, especially considering that it wiped several sequels off the slate. However, the issues with Michael are nothing compared to the ending. Like, I’d knock a whole point off this movie’s score for the crappy ending. There’s a certain satisfaction to having Laurie kill off Michael Myers definitively, but even if you didn’t know about the pre-planned retcon this ending was preparing for the next film in the franchise, it’s still insane. So Laurie kidnaps Michael in an ambulance at gun point, drives like a maniac, runs him over, rolls down a cliff side (and gets herself ejected from the ambulance in the process, unscathed), pins Michael to a tree and then chops his head off! Like… just let her kill him in the school! Dammit, LL Cool J! Ugh, I just hated how ridiculous that ending got, it felt like an escalation that went way too far, and knowing that it was to bake in a potential sequel in incredibly convoluted fashion just makes it worse.

Those gripes aside though, H20 was really enjoyable… and thank God because the Halloween franchise was a real slog to get through for this count-down. It’s really no wonder that they went back to H20‘s ideas for another go-around in 2018. Oh, speaking of which…

9) Halloween (2018)
At first glance, Halloween 2018 (the third freaking movie in this franchise with the same title) is basically just a redo of H20 – after all, it features Laurie Strode once again dealing with PTSD, a crumbling family structure and fighting back against Michael Myers. However, there are some fundamental differences that make this a different story at its core. First of all, in H20 Laurie was running away and hiding from her past because she can’t bring herself to confront it and this fear is suffocating her relationship with her son. In Halloween 2018, Laurie is obsessed with the events of the original film and has been preparing for, what is in her mind, an inevitable final confrontation with Michael Myers, to the detriment of her family’s well-being. Another fundamental weak point of H20 is that Michael Myers is just kind of… there. It relies very heavily on you already being invested in the character going in, but it doesn’t really do much on its own to sell him as an intimidating foe. However, Halloween 2018 immediately sets up Michael Myers as this mysterious, inhuman, almost otherworldly monster in the shape of a man even before he starts going on a killing spree. Then, when he does escape, his threat is established when he mercilessly kills a freaking child, which actually makes later moments even more tense such as when he passes by a crib with a crying baby.

Perhaps what makes Halloween 2018 stand out so much though is that it is easily one of the best directed and edited films on this entire countdown. Directed by David Gordon Green, perhaps best known for directing the freaking Pineapple Express of all things, crafts some of the best moments in the entire franchise. The extended one-take which sees Michael make his way through Haddonfield on his random murder spree is expertly crafted, while other very tense moments include a father and son coming across the crashed sanitarium bus and the truck rest stop attack. It’s not every year that you can say that the editing in a slasher sequel puts Oscar nominees from the same year to shame, but that’s how good Halloween 2018 is.

The main issue with Halloween 2018 though is the writing, which is a bit of a mixed bag. When it comes down to it all, the film is basically just standard, predictable slasher movie sequel fare. Sure, the execution is much better than your average slasher sequel, but there are still issues. The middle of the film in particular feels like it’s about one draft away from being perfect, because there’s all sorts of weird issues. For example, we get a random subplot where Allyson’s boyfriend cheats on her, which ends up having pretty much no purpose and goes absolutely nowhere. The momentum in this section also starts to stagnate – Laurie keeps talking about how Michael is going to be coming after their family and tries to secure them all, but he’s really just killing randomly. It’s pure coincidence that Michael happens to come across Allyson, and then pure convenience when Dr. Sartain ends up transporting him to Laurie’s house for the final showdown. And then Allyson spends nearly the entire last act running through the woods and only ends up putting herself in danger stupidly by blundering into Laurie’s house when Michael is on the loose. Ultimately, it wasn’t really worth it for Laurie to ruin her family’s life due to her paranoia, because if she had just moved out of Haddonfield then they probably wouldn’t have been in any danger anyway because Michael sure as hell did not seem to care about seeking her out.

That said, the writing of Halloween 2018 still does some great things. In particular, the victims in this film are almost always more than just pure cannon fodder. On several occasions we’ll get to meet a group of characters right before they get into danger, and they’re actually written in a way that makes them interesting, which makes it hurt a lot more when they meet their grisly demise. Even the assholish characters, like the pair of podcasters who are investigating Michael’s history or Allyson’s friend who tries to come onto her after her boyfriend cheats on her, are sympathetic enough that we don’t really want to see them die. In any other slasher sequel, they would have just been written as cartoonish dickheads, but here they’re actual people and it really sucks when Michael kills them. The last act is also pretty great on the whole as Laurie and Michael go head-to-head in a very Skyfall-esque sequence. Seeing Laurie clearing her house room by room and then locking them down afterwards is pretty awesome, showing off how capable and prepared she is. Like, why can’t we get more badass final girls like this? Horror movies seem to think that they need to have stupid, incompetent final girls who are powerless against the villain, but seeing badass Laurie Strode trading blows with Michael and still getting overcome regardless is way more tense in my opinion. It makes for an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the film, moreso than H20‘s ending as far as I’m concerned. That said, we do know that we have two more Halloween films coming in this new continuity, so hopefully they don’t completely invalidate the successes of this newest sequel.

8) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
There’s nothing truly revolutionary about Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – after all, it’s yet another movie that boils down to “Jason murders horny teens”. However, The Final Chapter is easily the best rendition of that formula. Part of what makes it so much better than its predecessors is that it doesn’t waste any time with lulling the audience into boredom in order to get a fake-out or cheap scare, most of the action comes hard and fast. Even the obligatory opening recap is a lean three minutes and manages to cover all of the events of the previous films quite well! The Final Chapter also has some of the most entertaining victims in the entire franchise (most famously, an awkward Crispin Glover). Sure, they’re almost all dickheads, but they’re actually pretty enjoyable to watch, they don’t make you want to pull your hair out when they’re on screen like Shelly from Part III does. What also helps to set it apart is that the dickhead teens aren’t the main characters, it’s the Jarvis family living next door. This addition allows The Final Chapter to follow the usual formula of offing all the cannon fodder and then move over to the Jarvis’ family for further carnage, and features some clever writing to allow Trish and Tommy Jarvis to survive their night of terror. As the title implies, The Final Chapter was indeed intended to be the last Friday the 13th film, and it’s clear that the filmmakers really were trying their absolute best to make this the most definitive film in the franchise rather than another cheap follow-up. They certainly succeeded, and many people will rightly say that it’s the best film in the entire franchise. However, there is one other Friday the 13th film which often is cited as the best, and for my tastes I have to give it the slight edge…

7) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
A lot of people will debate whether Jason Lives or The Final Chapter are the best Friday the 13th movie, but for my part I have to give the slight edge to Jason Lives. While Part IV is essentially the best execution of the classic formula, Jason Lives reinvents the franchise to be just more lighthearted and a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, the previous Friday the 13th films had had some fun with their kill sequences, but they mostly aimed to be serious and scary. Jason Lives isn’t quite so concerned with that, instead making Jason’s murder spree as enjoyable as possible. It also resurrects Jason in such a cartoonish manner that you can’t help but smile in glee at this new, super-powered zombie Jason (in my opinion, the best version of Jason in the franchise).

Of course, it’s not just the fun times that make Jason Lives so good, because otherwise Jason X would be in this spot. No, Jason Lives also has a solid story revolving around Tommy Jarvis, back once again and more badass than ever, trying to take down Jason once and for all. Tommy also has a burgeoning romance with the sheriff’s daughter, which doesn’t please the sheriff too much when all of the murdering starts going down. It even manages to make Jason’s murder spree more tense than ever because this time there are actual kids at Camp Crystal Lake which the counsellors have to protect! It’s nothing mind-blowing, but Jason Lives is executed to such perfection and is so enjoyable that you can’t help but love it, especially considering that they managed to reinvent the franchise so well six movies in!

6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I imagine that there are some people who are shocked that I’ve ranked Freddy’s Revenge so highly on this list, but I really enjoyed it. I know a lot of people dislike that it has very little to do with any of the other Nightmare films and doesn’t really follow their continuity (plus, y’know, some people are also just homophobes). Hell, in some ways I think that it manages to be more compelling than the original. Much of this comes down to a very well-written story centred on Jesse Walsh, a young man whose body is being taken over by Freddy Krueger. Pretty much all discussion on this film goes to how clearly gay it is, especially for a mid-80s film, so you can see how these themes about body and instances of body horror are really compelling. I feel like the addition of the character Lisa muddles this somewhat, since by the end Jesse seems to have settled into a relationship with her, despite the film heavily implying that he is much more interested in his friend, Grady. Regardless, it’s a much more thoughtful and interesting film than nearly any other slasher sequel and I kind of wish that more Nightmare films had followed its lead.

Freddy Krueger is also very different in this film. He still invades Jesse’s dreams, but he uses this as a means in which to take over Jesse’s body and force him to kill for him. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Freddy literally bursts out of Jesse’s body, shredding his skin like a cocoon, akin to a werewolf transformation sequence. Freddy is also truly terrifying in this film, grim and dead serious. The film itself can be pretty weird at times though, such as when Freddy’s powers cause a parrot to explode, causing Jesse’s dad to inexplicably blame him for the strange happening. People like to cherry-pick that moment for being bonkers, but I view it as part of the gay themes, with his dad creating irrational explanations for Jesse’s changing behaviour in order to keep his own masculine view of his son intact. That said, there are some sequences in Freddy’s Revenge which do feel like they’re just padding for time (such as that parrot scene), which cause the film to feel a bit more bloated than the original, but don’t let that turn you away – Freddy’s Revenge is a great film in its own right, I loved that it was very unique without having to rehash the original Nightmare‘s formula all over again.

5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dream Warriors feels like a truly blockbuster horror film, much like Aliens was the year before. In fact, Aliens is a great movie to compare Dream Warriors to: if the original Nightmare is Alien, then the Aliens-like Dream Warriors expands the scope of its universe, ups the stakes, pushes its characters further, and makes Freddy Krueger more grandiose than ever (in part due to some fantastic special effects). It does so by introducing a new heroine, Kris, a girl who has the power to pull other people into her dreams. It’s a bit of a strange set-up, but combined with returning heroine Nancy Thompson’s knowledge, the latest group of teens being targeted by Freddy are able to band together to try to fight back against their tormentor before he can kill them all.

Dream Warriors doesn’t waste too much time rehashing the same story as the original – the kids all know from the start that Freddy’s after them and they’re actively trying to avoid sleeping or at least put themselves on a watch to at least get some rest. The characters are actually pretty smart and well-written, which makes the fact that Freddy is able to still isolate and pick them off even scarier, which also shows off just how much power he has in the dream realm. This also makes the spectacular kill sequences even more impactful and memorable, because you don’t really want to see any of them die. Some of the deaths are just as iconic as the big kills from the original, such as the brutal sequence where Freddy pulls a guy’s tendons out to turn him into a human puppet, or when he comes out of a TV to ram a girl’s head into the screen.

As fun as Dream Warriors is though, it is also a really messy and inconsistent film. For all of the cool things it brings to the franchise, it also has some elements I really didn’t like. For example, each character brings along some sort of ill-defined “dream power”, which feels like it could probably have been expanded further. Like, Kincaid’s power is that he becomes strong, but… it’s a dream. Could he not theoretically do anything if he is in control of his own dreams? I get that they probably don’t want the Dream Warriors to be able to fight back too easily, but it feels like a pretty artificial limitation. Worst of all though is the addition of a dull subplot involving Freddy’s mother and Freddy’s bones needing to be consecrated in order to put him to rest once and for all. It just sucks and every time the film cuts away to this subplot it loses a lot of the energy it has built up. Still, it’s not enough to truly ruin the film, and Dream Warriors brings so much fun to the table that it feels like a true successor to the original Nightmare‘s legacy.

4) Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
People are probably going to be angry that I put this ahead of Dream Warriors, and I can understand that. After the disaster that was Freddy’s Dead, Freddy Krueger felt totally defanged, so Wes Craven came back to the franchise to bring true horror back to the character. New Nightmare isn’t following the slasher formula so much, instead it is more of a psychological and supernatural thriller, with the focus being put onto Heather Langenkamp (playing a fictionalized version of herself), with Freddy being mostly an unseen, menacing presence. The film is also very slow in the middle and could have done with some tightening up in its almost 2 hour runtime.

Wes Craven essentially tested out his idea of meta-horror here for the first time, which he would later go on to redefine the horror genre with in Scream. Most people say that Scream does so much better, but I think that New Nightmare is pretty damn close to its successor. The fact that it’s a sequel dealing with its franchise’s own legacy and how that impacts the people involved in constructing that legacy is fascinating and not the sort of thing that can be explored in a stand-alone film. That said, it can feel like Wes Craven’s being more than a little self-congratulatory at times (especially with his explanation of Freddy’s demonic origins), although thankfully it doesn’t get nearly as bad as, say, Lady in the Water. Add in a stand-out performance from Heather Langenkamp and her compelling relationship with her son and the cultural legacy of Freddy Krueger and you’ve got a socially-relevant horror film with actual things to say.

I will note though that it starts to crumble a bit by the end when the more familiar slasher antics start to trickle in and the new, more menacing Freddy starts acting silly. The effects when he’s defeated (…spoiler?) are also embarrassing to witness. Still, I have to give this the edge over the funner, but much more uneven, Dream Warriors.

3) Halloween (1978)
A lot of people would have put Halloween at the top of this list, but I can’t really justify that myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an undeniably good film with great direction from John Carpenter, an iconic soundtrack and a good lead performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s such a simple film, especially considering how the slasher genre evolved in its wake – Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium, comes back home to Haddonfield and then stalks and kills a group of babysitters on Halloween. Michael himself is very clearly intended to be as simple as possible. He doesn’t really have a motivation to kill or a personality to speak of, he’s just evil. That could come across as just lazy for most films, but Halloween manages to make it work so well in part because it absolutely commits to the idea. The way that the main characters are handled also helps to make Halloween what it is. We spend a lot of time getting to know Laurie Strode and her friends while Michael Myers stalks them for a very long time. This creates a tension which just continues to build and build as you’re left wondering when or if Michael is ever going to strike. Then, when he finally does, all hell truly breaks loose as Laurie and Michael end up in a terrifying pursuit, which is also helped by how capable Laurie is.

Unfortunately, most of Halloween‘s issues come down to how dated it can feel at times. For one thing, the slasher boom which it inspired can make it feel quaint and restrained in comparison (and hence the accusations that it’s a simple film). The fact that this film was so influential also makes Laurie look like an idiot in retrospective, since she keeps turning her back on Michael when she thinks he’s dead. In a post-Halloween world we all know that you make sure that the killer’s dead, but there’s no way that Laurie would have known that… it doesn’t make me think she’s any less of an idiot though when I see her do it twice in 2019 though. Still, Halloween builds tension expertly and that’s an element which can’t be taken away from it, no matter how much time passes.

2) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
So many slasher movies tried to just get a slice of the popularity of Halloween, but A Nightmare on Elm Street surpassed them all by being incredibly creative. Rather than just have another killer on the loose, this killer stalks his victims in their dreams. It’s a pretty simple twist, but it adds a whole new dimension of terror, because not only do the characters now have to beware of a process which is just a part of everyday life, but it also allows the villain to break the usual laws of reality for some truly spectacular kills, not to mention scares such as the bathtub scene or Freddy’s silhouette coming out of the wall. It also establishes Freddy Krueger as an iconic, sadistic and truly evil villain for the ages. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson is also one of the best final girls ever, very capable and clever, although Heather’s acting is a bit wonky throughout the film. The film also over-explains itself at times. For example, Nancy gets a phone call from a visibly broken phone, which some editor decided we needed to then needed to have confirmed was broken and then have Nancy say so as well for good measure… we get it, you didn’t need to reiterate the same thing over and over, movie. Really though, these are ultimately very minor gripes compared to the stupid, studio-mandated ending. I really hate the way this film ends, it was clearly done to get in “one last scare”, but it just shits all over the characters we’ve grown to care for during the film. Still, I can get over a crappy ending when the rest of the movie is so good. I love the inventiveness on display throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street, which easily establishes it as one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time (not to mention one of the best slasher franchises too, especially considering that four of the top ten films here are from the Nightmare franchise!). However, there can only be one film on the top of this list and I definitely know which slasher film I love the most…

1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If you’ve read my retrospectives series, then you know that I love this movie. Kind of like Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a very simple film – a bunch of teens keep wandering onto a farm where they come across a family of murderous cannibals. However, it’s not the plot which makes this film so good, it’s the fantastic direction, the beautiful cinematography, the unrelenting intensity, the unsettling atmosphere and surprisingly deep themes. Very few horror movies actually scare me in any way – in fact, I’d say that literally no other film in this entire countdown gets my blood pumping at all (it makes it pretty difficult at times to figure out if a film is actually scary to most people or not). However, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so unsettling that I can’t help but feel something while watching it. And it does it all with minimal on-screen violence! There really wasn’t an other film in contention for this #1 spot as far as I’m concerned, it’s just that good.

…and that’s it for the countdown! We’re not quite done yet though – be sure to tune in again soon as we go through some of the best moments in these franchises!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#20-11)

We’re getting close now! After whittling our way through a bunch of truly crappy slasher films, we’re finally into the top 20, where I actually start enjoying some of these films! What a nice change of pace! With that said, let’s get back to the countdown, starting with #20…

20) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
In a lot of ways, The Dream Master is like a rehash of Dream Warriors, but to a much lesser effect. It makes the questionable decision of killing off all of the surviving dream warriors in the first act, replacing them all with a new protagonist, Alice, who inherits Kris’ powers… somehow. Somehow’s probably a good description for The Dream Master, because the film just doesn’t bother to make any sense. Freddy’s powers expand to whatever’s most convenient for the writers at the time, such as how he gets around being buried and consecrated by being resurrected… in a dream. Shouldn’t he have not even been able to affect dreams if he was gone anyway? Who cares! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous way that Freddy is defeated, I’m not sure I could even explain what the hell that was all about if you held a gun to my head. Freddy himself is starting to turn into more and more of a toothless cartoon here, with the particular lowlight of having him use his razor glove as a shark fin and then putting on a pair of sunglasses on the beach. However, The Dream Master is a pretty fun film overall with some of the best kills in the franchise. Debbie’s kill in particular is incredible and shows off this film’s fantastic special effects as she’s turned into a bug. It’s certainly a huge step down for the Elm Street franchise after so many good films, but at least The Dream Master is entertaining enough that it’s watchable.

19) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I know a lot of people hate Freddy vs. Jason and I kind of get it. The characters all suck, Freddy doesn’t get to do much, the fights are cartoonish and making Jason afraid of water is ridiculous. However, after more than two decades of slasher sequels just doing the same thing over and over again, they have to do something interesting to actually stand out to me. After getting burnt out on so many bad slasher sequels, at least Freddy vs. Jason had two horror icons going head-to-head with one another in truly brutal fashion. And, unlike many “versus” films, the showdown in the title isn’t just a tease – Freddy and Jason really do get some great fights during the film, culminating in a brutal final battle to see who will come out on top. The whole premise of the film is pretty clever too, featuring a hell-bound Freddy manipulating Jason into murdering people in Springwood so that the murders will be attributed to Freddy, which will allow him to return to the dream realm and continue killing. Sure, most of the individual aspects of the film are pretty crappy, but ultimately the blockbuster premise of the film is enough to make it stand out compared to most other slashers.

18) Halloween (2007)
Halloween has always been a difficult film to follow up on. The original film is, by design, incredibly simple and it’s difficult (perhaps even impossible) to recapture that magic now. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Rob Zombie’s Halloween is notoriously divisive. The film tries to be both an origin story and a remake at the same time, to mixed results. I actually liked the origin story segment of the film, for the most part. It’s something different, more of a character study of a disturbed mind. I know I’ve slagged a lot of the Halloween films for complicating Michael Myers’ “pure evil” motives, but since this is a remake, not beholden to the rules of the original story, I can get on board with a more humanized, rage-fuelled, clinically psychopathic take on Michael Myers. Daeg Faerch’s performance as the burgeoning serial killer is fantastic.

However, the second half of the film is where it all begins to crumble. It takes about fifty minutes (in the Director’s Cut anyway) for Michael Myers to escape and for the narrative to finally get past what was only the first few minutes of the original film. From this point onwards, Rob Zombie’s Halloween is basically just a poor remake of the original. Worse, moving the story in this direction largely makes the more enjoyable origin section largely pointless. What purpose was there in humanizing Michael Myers, making him seem sympathetic and downtrodden, if you’re just going to shift the story’s perspective to Laurie and have him murder innocent people like in the original film? It feels like they felt like they had to hit all the iconic beats from the original film, but with the fundamental context of the villain changed, it doesn’t make sense. Given what we’ve seen of Michael up to this point, he kills in violent fits of rage when people antagonize him (Ronnie, Judith, the asshole nurse and the asshole redneck orderlies). He even has people that he likes and cares for (specifically, his mother and his baby sister). So why would he go on a murder spree against Laurie’s friends? Hell, for that matter, how does he even know that Laurie is his secret baby sister or that he would find her in Haddonfield? Again, this made sense in the original movie – Michael’s just evil, he goes back to Haddonfield because that’s where he started his killings, and he targets Laurie and her friends by pure happenstance when he decides to start stalking them. I also think that they should have just made this Michael use homemade masks during his killing spree. I get that the Michael Myers mask is iconic and so they probably felt beholden to using it, but I just didn’t get the connection that Michael would have with it where he’d come back to it seventeen years later.

Unfortunately, even if they had justified Michael’s actions a bit more, the remake section of the film is also just badly paced compared to the original. There isn’t much tension building – we get about fifteen minutes total to meet the characters and have Michael stalk them before he’s already murdering them (a process which, by itself, takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes before he’s just pursuing Laurie for the rest of the movie). It’s far less subtle and far less exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Rob Zombie’s artistic influence might also turn plenty of people off. His dialogue tends to be very crude, with at least half of the entire cast being either straight-up horny, or full-on sex perverts. And I do mean the entire cast – we’ve got Laurie and all her friends having or talking almost exclusively about sex (I get that they’re teenagers, but c’mon, they talk about other things), all of Michael’s family talk about sex (and his mom’s a freaking stripper for christsakes), Michael’s bully/first victim talks about how he’s going to bang Mikey’s mom, both of Laurie’s parent’s talking about getting it on, even the goddamn babysitting kids are speculating about who’s getting laid, etc. At a certain point it just makes your eyes roll when sex is all that anyone can talk about… which also leads us into the cynicism of this film. This movie is set in such a crapsack world and a lot of the sexual dialogue is also sexually violent (lots of instances of people saying that they’re going to rape someone) or sexual insults (lots of instances of people calling someone a “faggot”). Combine this with several characters who exist for no other reason than to be unbearable assholes and the movie can just get tiring at times. The Director’s Cut also has a scene where an asshole orderly and his asshole cousin straight-up rape a patient in front of Michael Myers. It’s an idiotic and disgusting scene, which only exists to add some more extreme content to the film and ultimately makes Michael’s escape from the sanitarium a matter of pure dumbassery.

There are some really good things about Rob Zombie’s Halloween though. The cast is absolutely stacked and they all do a fantastic job, especially Malcolm McDowell’s much more sympathetic Dr. Loomis. Michael Myers himself is extremely imposing, able to bash heavyweights like Danny Trejo and Ken Foree to death with his bare hands. Rob Zombie’s direction is also fairly good, although he does ape John Carpenter a bit too much in the second half. And, again, I quite like the origin segment, even if it is pointless when you factor in the rest of the film. It’s a shame that Halloween is such a mixed bag though. If it hadn’t felt quite so beholden to telling the same story as the original, we could have gotten something truly special.

17) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a truly bonkers sequel, which is incredible when you realize that it was also made by Tobe Hooper, director of the original film. I saw both films for the first time as part of a back-to-back double bill and it was quite the tonal whiplash to say the least. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aims to be more of a horror comedy and while it’s questionable if it succeeded, the film is absolutely batshit crazy from start to finish. This is largely thanks to its colourful cast of characters, which features Dennis Hopper as an insane Texas ranger who wields an arsenal of chainsaws and screams “BRING IT DOWN!!!!” and “I am the lord of the harvest!” with such fervour that it becomes instantly memorable. Arguably even more memorable is Bill Moseley as Choptop, probably the most iconic character he’s ever played and one of the best characters in the entire franchise. Then there’s Leatherface, who suddenly finds himself in the throes of horniness as he has to decide between the saw and family. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the final girl Stretch yet, who is probably the best protagonist in the Chainsaw franchise. Really, there’s a lot to love about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the film is mostly an entertaining failure. It’s apparently supposed to be a satire of Reagan’s politics and yuppie culture, but I don’t think that these really came across that well, and more often I feel like I’m laughing at the film, rather than with it.

16) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Chainsaw remake is unquestionably a lesser film than the original, but on its own merits it is a decent remake which brings some interesting new ideas to the table. Probably the best addition is Sherrif Hoyt, a delightfully evil bastard who taunts the main characters and chews the scenery as only R. Lee Ermey can. Leatherface has also been given beefed up considerably, becoming more of a terrifying, somewhat more cunning hunter. The film is also nowhere near as violent and gory as its reputation would suggest, it actually feels quite restrained if you go back and watch it. In fact, I’d say that I was actually quite enjoying the Chainsaw remake for the first two thirds as it slowly builds up the tension and establishes the (somewhat mediocre) characters. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a series of tedious, loud chase sequences in its last third, which deflates much of the tension which it had been building up. It’s too bad really, the Chainsaw remake is decent enough, but it could have been legitimately good on its own merits if that last act had had a bit more substance to it.

15) Leatherface (2017)
Leatherface feels like it has the deck stacked against it – it’s a prequel that no one asked for, continuing the story of a Chainsaw sequel no one cares about and sheds pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise thus far. Despite that, on its own merits, Leatherface is a surprisingly solid film, although it would probably be better without its Chainsaw heritage. Instead of a slasher film, Leatherface is a roadtrip movie featuring a bunch of surprisingly fleshed-out, runaway psychos who are about ready to kill each other at any moment. The film also builds up a mystery about which character will grow up to be Leatherface, although the ultimate answer to this mystery is questionable and doesn’t jive with the character as established in the previous films. The film also builds on the Hartman/Sawyer feud established in Texas Chainsaw 3D, although it also reestablishes the Sawyers as straight-up evil bastards, so I’m still not sure what they were doing making them appear heroic in Texas Chainsaw 3D. Again, Leatherface is a reasonably good film, although its status as a Chainsaw prequel hurts it more than it helps.

14) Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
For the most part, Friday the 13th Part 2 is the same film as the first, only with a bag-headed Jason as the killer instead of his mom. Sure, he’s supposed to be dead and the film basically acknowledges it up front, but it’s not really something worth getting caught up on. There’s a never-ending debate about whether the original Friday the 13th or Part 2 is better and it ultimately comes down to personal taste, because they both have different strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, I like how Part 2 handles Jason, only giving us bits and pieces of him at a time. We start out only seeing his feet, then later we see him but he’s got a bag on his head which keeps him mysterious. Then when he loses his bag, we still don’t get to see his unmasked face until the end. The film handles his shack in a similar manner, introducing it but making the contents a mystery until Ginny stumbles across it. The movie also has a couple of classic kills, with Mark’s machete to the face which causes his wheelchair to go careening down two flights of steps, and Jeff and Sandra getting speared together right after sex. Part 2 also has some characters that I actually like. Ginny’s a strong final girl, she’s smart and fairly clever and even fights back against Jason sometimes. Her boyfriend, Paul, is also an enjoyable character; he’s not super deep, but he’s responsible, likeable, capable and a very solid supporting character who you don’t want to see anything bad happen to. Speaking of which, Part 2 has two of the best “victim” characters in the whole franchise with Mark, a wheelchair-bound hunk, and Vickie, a cute girl who is really into Mark. Watching them interact is so cute and you instantly find yourself rooting for them both, which makes it heartbreaking when they end up on the chopping block and Jason starts hunting them down. Slasher movies, why can’t you give us more characters we actually care about instead of cannon fodder?

Speaking of which, the way that Mark and Vickie are handled shows that the whole idea that slasher movies are always exploitative and regressive when it comes to sex really didn’t have to be a thing. Vickie is very upfront that she wants to have sex with Mark and we, the audience, are totally rooting for it because they’re both into it and are respectful of each other. In a franchise (and genre for that matter) replete with casual sexual harassment for cheap titillation, it’s nice to see a healthy, happy relationship for once and I wish that more played out like this in slasher films… y’know, even if it ends with murder.

Which brings me to the negatives for Part 2. While I can praise some of the characters in this film, the rest of the main cast are not great. There’s Jeff and Sandra, who are basically just sexy, dull nobodies. I didn’t really get anything out of their characters, despite their considerable screentime. They’re both preferable to Ted though, this movie’s obligatory stupid prankster, but unlike the first film’s Ned, he survives the whole movie… ugh. Then there’s Terry and Scott, who both suuuuck. Scott spends the whole film sexually harassing Terry, staring at her ass, stealing her clothes so she has to chase him naked, etc. I hate this guy so much and you’d think that that would make me at least like Terry, but she’s handled so badly. She just runs around in short shorts and a crop top, which is basically treated as her character because she does absolutely nothing. Like, when her dog goes missing, she decides that the best thing to do to find it is to go skinny dipping so the audience can see her naked. I mean, clearly, that’s all she’s really here for. Probably the biggest issue with Part 2 though is the pacing. The film is shorter than the first film, but it feels sluggish in comparison. The first six and a half minutes are largely recycled footage recapping the ending of the first film. It’s annoying and unnecessarily long – they could have easily cut the entire thing, but if they felt like they had to include it then it could have been several minutes shorter. It’s clearly just padding for time. The film then wastes another five minutes following previous final girl Alice wandering around her house until Jason finally pops out and kills her. The film also takes forty-four minutes to really get going, more than ten minutes more than the original film and I’m not convinced that there was really a need for this additional setup time. Like I said though, your preference of the original or Part 2 is going to come down to taste. While I prefer some of the characters in Part 2, the original’s snappier pace and twist ending give it the edge in my opinion.

13) Friday the 13th (1980)
Considering that it’s just one of many Halloween rip-offs that kicked off the slasher boom of the early 80s, Friday the 13th is a pretty decent movie in its own right. I mean, it’s nothing particularly special – the story is super simple, the acting isn’t great, the characters are pretty flat and half of the kills are off-screen, but there’s something enjoyable about it regardless. One big asset in its favour is the soundtrack, which definitely elevates the film every moment it is used. It’s eerie when it needs to build tension and then explosive at all the right moments. I mean, sure, it’s also clearly derivative of Psycho‘s soundtrack, but at least they’re imitating the best, right? Another element of the film that has retroactively become even better is the mystery angle. At the onset, the audience doesn’t know who is killing the counsellors or why. Considering the legacy this franchise has developed, most new viewers are going to assume that it’s Jason, but this just makes the Pamela Voorhees reveal even better. Betsy Palmer kills it as an unhinged, murderous grandma, making what could have been a pretty lame reveal (especially considering that we haven’t even heard of this character before her reveal) into something special.

Considering that Friday the 13th was basically just a Halloween knock-off, it’s interesting to compare how the two contrast. For one thing, Friday the 13th is definitely a gorier film. It’s restrained by the standards of its franchise, but there are still some pretty gruesome shots of Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the back of his throat, a girl getting a freaking axe embedded in her face and another getting pinned to a door by three arrows. Friday the 13th also tries to spend time letting us get to know its cast of characters, but it does so to much lesser effect. We get several scenes of the characters interacting, but we don’t really get to know much about their personalities, other than that Ned is a dickhead (who dies mercifully quickly). I mean, they’re all better than the typical slasher movie “cannon fodder” who are introduced and then die immediately, but not even final girl Alice feels like a fleshed out character. The other thing that Friday the 13th unsuccessfully tries to emulate from Halloween is tension-building. Someone must have seen all the scenes in Halloween where nothing of major import is happening and thought that this is how you build up for a good scare. However, in Halloween, these scenes of “nothing” usually remain interesting because there’s still a clear motive or goal for the character while they are performing their actions which keeps it interesting. In Friday the 13th, we get multiple scenes of Alice doing nothing particularly important, but it doesn’t really build to anything. For example, Annie is bored, so she plays guitar and then puts on fire wood… nothing happens. Later, she’s bored so she puts on a kettle and grabs some sugar… nothing happens. It just wastes time. Later we spend like three minutes watching Alice barricade a door and close windows while she tries to hide from Pamela. It’s ultimately just meant to be monotonous and lull you into boredom so that when Pamela throws a body through the window they can get a cheap scare. I mean, I guess it works, but it’s a pretty poor way to go about it. Still, I can’t really be too harsh, Friday the 13th is a fun, simple, classic 80s horror film which is still easily watchable today.

12) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Season of the Witch is the infamous Halloween film which wasn’t about Michael Myers, a decision which earned it scorn for decades (although it has finally started to get a cult following in recent years). Setting that bone of contention aside, Season of the Witch is actually a really enjoyable film, enough to make one wish that the Halloween franchise hadn’t felt like it had to be tethered to Michael Myers. On its surface, the whole premise is certifiably insane – there’s an evil toy maker who wants to commit a mass sacrifice by convincing children all across America to buy his magical Halloween masks, which will be triggered en masse when a special broadcast is played. Oh and there are androids and a stolen piece of Stonehenge for good measure! But none of that really matters while you’re watching the film, because it’s all played straight and is made competently enough that you just go with it. There’s a very palpable 80s charm to this film, harkening back to the sci-fi/horror/mystery films which modern properties like Stranger Things and Super 8 try to recapture. Anchoring it all is leading man Tom Atkins, who plays the most 80s hero imaginable: a meatheaded, womanizing, chronic alcoholic, deadbeat dad who stumbles into a mystery after meeting a beautiful stranger whose father was killed by a shadowy conspiracy. Atkins’ character is ridiculous, but he’s played with enough charm that I at least found him funny, although I can certainly understand if someone couldn’t stand him (especially since the female lead, while initially intriguing and feisty, is quickly relegated to generic damsel in distress). The kills are also pretty brutal, including such highlights as a guy getting his head ripped right off and an annoying ginger kid’s head exploding into bugs and snakes! The music is also great, with a repeated jingle that will get stuck in your head forever after. It’s certainly something worth seeing, and is definitely better than most of the Halloween sequels that followed.

11) Jason X (2002)
Jason X is absurd and I fucking LOVE it. While there has always been an element of dark humour to the Friday the 13th films, they’re usually very self-serious (aside from scattered moments where Jason stabs someone in the eye with a honking bike horn, or bashes a face into a tree which leaves behind a smiley face, etc). This generally-dour attitude can make Friday the 13th films a bit of a slog to get through, but then along comes Jason X, which captures the spirit of this franchise far better than you would ever expect. Usually when a franchise heads into self-parody, it’s a disastrous move which kills the franchise’s main storyline (see: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Alien: Resurrection, etc). In the case of Jason X, we’re already ten films into this series and it actually provides a refreshing twist to make the film overtly tongue-in-cheek. The sci-fi setting helps this immensely, as having Jason running around on a space ship gives us all sorts of creative new opportunities, from healing nanomachines to holodecks. It also makes him even more intimidating, because guns are not in short supply here. Jason gets pumped full of bullets, but they barely phase him, which is far more frightening to me than just having all his victims be too feeble to fight back.

Jason X also benefits from the fact that it plays out more like an Alien movie than it does a Friday the 13th film. In a Friday the 13th movie, usually the big cast of characters split up to do their own thing and then get killed one-by-one. In an Alien movie, the cast generally sticks together while the monster hunts them down one-by-one. It’s a seemingly-subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. Instead of having cannon fodder characters who we only see in once or twice before they get killed off, we get cannon fodder characters who actually get time to make an impression as the cast quickly gets whittled down. None of the characters are fleshed out or deep, but in a regular Friday the 13th film, obvious victim characters like Crutch, Waylander or Janessa would not make any sort of impression. However, since they get time to interact with the group of survivors and actually get something of a personality, I can’t help but feel bad for them when their inevitable demise comes. There aren’t really any unbearable, cartoonish asshole characters either – sure, Professor Lowe is a sleazeball, but he’s actually fun to watch. I’ll actually go so far as to say that Jason X has the single best performance in the franchise (outside of the actors playing Jason anyway, they’ve always done a great job), courtesy of Lisa Ryder’s android character Kay-Em 14. The moment she comes onto the screen, you can tell that she’s an android without having to be told – the way she moves and the way she talks is subtly mechanical, but it contrasts enough with the more natural actions of the human characters that it’s clear. She also gets to take a level in badass near the end of the film and is in general such a pleasant and helpful character that you can’t help but love her. Not only do we get one standout character, but Jason X also features the total badass Sgt. Brodski, a regular soldier who goes toe-to-toe with Jason on multiple occasions and manages to survive each time. Again, he’s not particularly deep, but he’s played with such gusto by Peter Mensah and is so unkillable that you just want to cheer whenever he’s on-screen.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, Jason X is a hell of a lot of fun. For one thing, it has what is considered one of the best kills in the franchise with the liquid nitrogen kill, plus plenty of other awesome kills including a guy getting thrown onto a giant corkscrew (and then spinning around due to gravity, nice!), Jason breaking another guy’s back over his knee, or Kay-Em 14 blowing Jason to bits with a grenade launcher. The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone is also just hilarious. We get moments such as Jason managing to resurrect himself in the film because he literally senses horny teenagers having sex nearby and he is not going to let that shit go down on his watch! I also love when Uber Jason gets drawn into a VR simulation where he beats a ditzy counsellor inside a sleeping bag to death with another ditzy counsellor in a sleeping bag (complete with goofy squeals of “Ow!” every time he lands a hit). There are also several funny one-liners. Brodski acts like a total badass when he gets skewered by Jason for the first time, saying “Gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put this old dog down!” Jason then immediately follows that up with a machete to the gut, to which Brodski says “…Yeah, that outta do it.” The line delivery is so funny, but the crowning moment has to be when Professor Lowe tries to defeat Jason with with his Charisma stat. Suffice to say, “Guys, it’s okay, he just wanted his machete back!” might be my favourite moment in the whole film. Even the filmmaking itself is funny – as soon as the final girl realizes that Jason is on board the ship, she demands to see him. Professor Lowe says that he’s definitely dead and the incredulous heroine says “Show me”. It then immediately cuts to them cleaning up the body of the liquid nitrogen kill while the Professor squirms about this predicament. It’s not only a funny moment, but it is also very efficient filmmaking which keeps the pace moving at a snappy rate.

I love Jason X, it tickles me in all the right ways. It is undeniably a dumb film with poor character writing, terrible special effects and lacking in any real originality, but goddamn if it isn’t a good time. Hell, I enjoy this movie so much that I’d say Jason X is probably my favourite Friday the 13th film in the whole franchise. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily the best, highest-quality entry in the franchise by any means, but it is my favourite to watch.

…and that’s all for this entry. Be sure to tune in again soon as we finally count down the top 10 best movies in these franchises. Which movie is going to take the top spot?

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I’ve ever seen… well, we’re still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They’re just not as crappy as Freddy’s Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let’s look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30…

30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn’t, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey’s deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don’t even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you’re only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don’t think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he’s getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn’t have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film’s unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.

29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It’s also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film’s beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it’s the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie’s story down to “What if Satanic Panic, but real?” The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their “repressed memories” of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it’s good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y’all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples’ lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it’s disappointing. That’s not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he’s been ruining for their whole lives? I’m not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it’s no wonder there wasn’t a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake’s issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It’s strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist – she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters’ pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it’s actually pretty shocking when she’s the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn’t really do anything creative with his victims’ dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he’s stalking them the most elaborate thing he’ll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn’t have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.

28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing – it’s main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can’t deny that they created a very nasty film. If that’s all you’re looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you’re in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there’s nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey’s Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don’t like it at all.

27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film’s timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise’s mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes… who, y’know, we’ll just conveniently pretend don’t regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It’s especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy’s Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.

26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween… again. He’s trying to kill his last remaining relative… again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill… again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris’ new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween… wow, she’s really good at picking them isn’t she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he’s much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He’s still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he’s definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it’s narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael’s mask is so strange looking in this film – it’s almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can’t give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film’s spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.

25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You’d think that only a couple years removed from the original they’d be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.

24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise – protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice’s dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you’d just wish he’d shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy’s mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they’re a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy’s constant one-liners make it annoying, but the “Take on Me” inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be… too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.

23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams “franchise fatigue”, as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured “well, Jason’s a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table”? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone’s favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic “sleeping bag kill”, which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I’d also argue that, if we’re just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it’s hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.

22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It’s faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit – not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He’s certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox’s ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it’s solid.

21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film’s title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

…and that’s all for this entry in the rankings. We’re getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#39-31)

Happy Halloween everyone! This new series has been a long time coming. Since at least the Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective I’ve been considering ranking all of the films from the big four slasher franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, this is a mammoth undertaking – we’re talking 39 films here, about half of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ll be counting down 10 films in each post (well, 9 in this one post), releasing a new post every second day, until we reach Halloween, at which point I’ll have a special comparison of the best parts of each franchise. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the bottom of the barrel – there are some notoriously awful films in these franchises, so which ones are going to fight for the title of the worst? Read on to find out…

39) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
I didn’t think that any slasher movie could be worse than Texs Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but then along comes Freddy’s Dead to prove me wrong. It’s a super close contest between the two, since they’re awful for different reasons, but I came to the decision that the problems with Freddy’s Dead put it on top of the shit pile. The plot is contrived and derivative, the characters suck, the acting is mostly trash, the special effects are amateur-level and the film ignores all of the rules that the series had established and just hopes that no one will notice. Worst of all, they’ve turned Freddy Krueger into such a cartoon that he is just annoying. Like, on more than one occasion I wished that he’d just shut up. It feels like New Line Cinema had turned Freddy into such an icon that they defanged him to try to get mass appeal. However, like most corporate mascots in the 90s, the result is a movie which is staggeringly uncool. This all culiminates in the most embarrassing slasher movie moment ever, when Freddy kills a victim in a video game with some of the stupidest dialogue, visuals and sound effects imaginable. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh and lest we forget, the last act of the film is in gimmicky 3D, featuring the tadpole-like “Dream Demons” which just float around and laugh a lot.

I will give it some credit though – Carlos’ death scene is very solid. There’s some actual tension and horror in the scene. Hell, even cartoon Freddy strikes a perfect, dark comedic tone here, giving us at least one kill that’s entertaining. Too bad the rest of the film is total nonsensical garbage. What really puts it at the bottom of the pile though is that this film had an $11 million budget! Considering what we got on screen, that is totally insane. This film’s quality is even worse when you also consider that this was still a major franchise for New Line Cinema, although it also calls to mind such 90s misfires as Batman & Robin. Freddy’s Dead is truly the bottom of the barrel for slasher films, which is really saying something.

38) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Like I said under Freddy’s Dead, going into this ranking I fully expected The Next Generation to take the bottom slot on this list. This film is a dreadfully dull, incomprehensible mess which has the audacity to think that it can make a meta-commentary about bad slasher sequels, despite being one of the absolute worst itself. It’s also pretty insulting to series fans as Leatherface (or “Leather” as they’re called here) is a complete joke who spends every second of screentime shrieking incessantly. The only real saving grace which kept The Next Generation from taking the bottom of this list is Matthew McConaughey’s deranged performance as Vilmer. The character himself is nonsense but McConaughey goes so far beyond hamming up that it’s at least entertaining. I wrote a whole Retrospectives review on this film, so if you want a more detailed commentary you can read it here.

37) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Imagine being a Halloween fan who had waited 6 years for the unresolved plot threads from Halloween 5 to be resolved, only to have this film shit into existence. Halloween 6 is an ignoble ending for the original continuity of Halloween sequels and an embarrassing capstone to Donald Pleasence’s career. The poor guy just looks tired in this film and can’t even muster up the deranged energy that had made him so entertaining to watch. He’s not the only one who gets done dirty by this film though – Danielle Harris didn’t even get invited back to play Jamie Lloyd one last time, and instead the character is recast and then unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes, continuing the Halloween franchise’s shitty obsession with killing off all its main characters for no good reason. And then we also have a young Paul Rudd, who gets this weirdly creepy role as Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Regardless, all of the characters are half-baked with no real reason to care about any of them.

The film also has a terrible, mid-90s horror aesthetic to it. It often throws ambient screams into the soundtrack to try to make things feel scarier and will suddenly intercut split-second shots of knives or other “scary” images and loud scare sounds into a scene to try to get a cheap jump scare (sometimes even using these as transitions to other scenes). And, oh God, they also will just throw hard rock into the soundtrack when Michael’s showing up to show us that he’s not fucking around, this Michael has ‘tude. I mean, it’s not as embarrassing as the slide-whistle cops in Halloween 5, but it’s still pretty bad.

The main issue with Halloween 6 though is that it makes absolutely no sense. The whole conspiracy angle ends up being a dead-end with no explanation for what’s going on. Michael’s motivations are explicitly laid out that he’s still trying to wipe out his last living relative (this time Jamie’s newborn son), but then he spends most of the film going after the Strodes who have moved into his old house and have nothing to do with the baby. It’s also kind of implied that the man in black has some sort of control over him, but then Michael just wipes out the whole cult when they leave him loose in their sanitarium…? I just… what? The narrative also just doesn’t flow. At one point Dr. Loomis yells “Where is the baby?” and that caused me to stop and say “Yeah, that’s a very good question. Where IS the baby? Hell, where is anybody in this film? What the hell is happening!?” The last twenty minutes in particular just don’t make any sense (at least, in the theatrical version I watched – the ending was heavily reshot and there’s a producer’s cut which apparently is better, but I didn’t see it).

I will give this movie a bit of credit though. It mercifully moves pretty quickly – the first fourty minutes went by before I knew it, despite very little of substance actually happening in that time. The film also at least looks professional, with a nice production design and some decent shots. I also think that, considering what they had to work with, the curse of Thorn which is fuelling Michael Myers actually kind of makes sense. I mean, look at what they had to explain: why Michael Myers is invincible and inhuman evil, kills on Halloween, and goes after his family members. The explanation that druids would possess one person to kill their family in order to spare the demon, Thorn, from killing all of the tribe is actually kind of sensible when you look at it that way. I mean, it’s still bullshit in the end and not the sort of explanation we ever needed, but it’s not as bad as it might have seemed at first glance. That said, considering the conspiracy just gets tossed aside in the last thirty minutes, it ultimately becomes pretty pointless.

Halloween 6 is just an absolute mess from start to finish. It’s no wonder that the franchise was rebooted after this point because there was nowhere further to go from this point. The only regrettable part about it was that they didn’t pull the plug earlier. Apparently the producer’s cut was better, but since I can only go off the version I saw, they should have done better the first time.

36) Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The Halloween franchise was given a gift with H20. After several years of horrible sequels, the public was finally excited about the prospect of another outing. So what did they do with this golden opportunity? Well, they shit out Halloween: Resurrection, which might be one of the stupidest films I’ve ever seen. After the refreshingly clever H20, Resurrection goes right back to lazy tropes and dumb characters, even managing to make Laurie Strode into an idiot before killing her off again in the first fifteen minutes. Bloody hell, Halloween get some class!

Anyway, with Laurie dead, the film then cuts to a group of dumb, horny teenagers who are cast on an Internet reality TV show, set in the Myers house. As you can imagine from the set-up, this film was trying to be very contemporary for the early 2000s, but it is painfully dated now, with ridiculous celebrity cameos from a kung-fu fighting Busta Rymes and a completely pointless Tyra Banks. The film is also ripping off its contemporaries in terrible fashion. The Blair Witch Project is popular? We’ll have low-resolution cameras mounted on everyone which they will constantly forget about! People still like Scream? We’ll make this film meta, that’s the part about Scream that was good, right? The characters also are all shitty and one-dimensional. Like, there’s a character who is introduced as a chef. Next time we see him, he’s explaining that he believes that Michael Myers became evil because he had a bad diet… um, okay… Then the next time we see him, he says that he bets that the Myers house has a big kitchen, which he promptly wanders off to find. We get it movie, he likes cooking. The rest of the cast are no better – you have your insecure final girl who doesn’t develop or learn anything, a fame obsessed girl, an academic girl who apparently doesn’t know how to be a human being, a horndog, a creepy guy music guy, etc. They all suck.

The entire set-up of this film is so bad. Invalidating the ending of H20 is just insulting to the audience’s intelligence and screws over Laurie Strode’s ending to get the Weinsteins a bit more money in the bank. There’s basically no reason for Michael to be killing people in this film, other than that they just happened to wander into his house. The movie also has very little to say about anything. You’d think that, considering the premise, maybe they’d have some commentary on reality TV, but it literally boils down to “reality TV is not real”. Wow, that’s some revelatory insight there, Resurrection. Literally, the only thing that I actually thought was clever in this movie was having the show’s audience message the final girl to let her know where Michael is and give her tips to evade him. That was a pretty cool idea, but it’s the only moment of brilliance inside of this giant turd of a film.

35) Halloween II (2009)
Holy shit… say what you will about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, but the sequel is utter dogshit. Like, I had to think long and hard about whether I hated it more than Halloween: Resurrection. I’ll give Rob a little bit of credit for running with his own artistic vision for a Halloween sequel, but good God were the results awful. Where do I even begin describing this movie… actually, now that I ask it, there’s really only one starting point, and it’s two words: Ghost. Mom. Rob Zombie obviously really wanted to work his wife back into the sequel so we get “treated” to numerous scenes of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode seeing visions of a white-clad Sheri Moon Zombie telling them that they need to be a family again. It’s freaking stupid and just one of several missteps. Let’s get to the narrative – Laurie has PTSD and is trying to cope with the fact that her life is crumbling around her, Dr. Loomis is on a book tour and Michael Myers is slowly walking back to Haddonfield to reunite with her. That’s basically all this movie is for the vast majority of its runtime. Seriously, this is a two hour movie and it takes about an hour and a half for Michael to even find Laurie, meaning that there is just a ton of wheel spinning in the meantime. There are also plenty of kill scenes, but they don’t really make any sense – why does Michael go after the strip club where his mom used to work and kill everyone there? I guess because Ghost Mom told him to…? That’s the only possible explanation, but then why does he go to a party and kill one of Laurie’s friends and her hookup for that night? Especially considering that he then just heads to Laurie’s house to try to ambush her there? Uhhhh… because this is a Halloween movie? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense other than to just tick off the boxes of what people expect from this series. Oh, and speaking of which, that must be the entire motive behind Michael stalking Laurie in a hospital during the first twenty-five minutes of the film… which culminates with it all being revealed to be part of a fucking dream sequence!!!

It also doesn’t help that nearly everyone in Halloween II is an asshole. Dr. Loomis has gone from being sympathetic to just a fame-obsessed prick and even Laurie has become really unbearable. Like, I get that she’s suffering from PTSD and can sympathize with that, but she lashes out at fellow victim, Annie, when she tries to help and even admits that she wants to kill her. Laurie also has a couple of new friends, but they’re basically nobodies who only exist to fill out the bodycount. The only characters I liked at all were Sheriff Brackett (played excellently by Brad Dourif) and Annie, because at least they were trying to make the best of the situation. Halloween II is just a senseless, nasty mess from start to finish, there really isn’t much more you can say about it.

34) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
When I started this list, I expected Jason Goes to Hell to be ranked much lower. However, in a franchise as formulaic as Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell gets at least some points for trying to shake up the formula… but holy shit, did they ever fail spectacularly. Deciding that the ninth film in a franchise is the perfect time to suddenly begin filling in the mythology of Jason was a major misstep which goes against the pure simplicity which gave this series the longevity it enjoys. Honestly, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty decent in most ways (especially by Friday standards) – the acting’s fine, the characters are interesting (Creighton Duke is fun and Steven is a one of the best protagonists in the series), the directing is slicker than usual, there are some funny moments (such as the opening, where the FBI ambushes Jason) and the kills are just brutal. However, the story is so batshit insane that it brings down everything else. So Jason can now suddenly possess people temporarily when he dies and needs to be reborn from a secret sibling of his that we never knew existed until now? What the actual hell? This, of course, also means that Jason barely even factors into the film and instead we get to see such “interesting” killers as a coroner and an asshole reporter… great, just what the franchise needed… It makes Jason Goes to Hell at least entertaining in its ridiculousness, but there’s no way to ignore that this film is a massive failure. The fact that this film got a theatrical release is just insane to me. Oh and to make matters worse, the redesigned Jason is just butt-ugly, which makes it inadvertently good that he barely shows up in the film.

33) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 has to be the point where the franchise really went off the rails. What started as an incredibly simple tale about the embodiment of evil deciding that he wants to stalk and kill a group of fleshed-out teens turns into a saga about family bloodlines, ill-defined psychic links, the curse of thorn and a shady conspiracy surrounding a man in black. Holy shit, what happened to this franchise? Halloween 5 somehow manages to find ways to not only get stupider but more boring as it goes on. Most of the film is just a very dull rehash of very well-trodden slasher territory as Michael kills teens that we’ve barely met.

There are just so many dumb things in this film. Jamie is suddenly mute and has some sort of psychic connection with Michael, but neither really has any purpose. There’s a shady man in black who has some sort of connection to Michael, but it was literally added without bothering to have it make sense, because the filmmakers figured they’d be able to answer it later. And why does Dr. Loomis suddenly believe that Michael Myers is fuelled by rage? He’s the one who said that he was pure evil, attributing his violence to malice goes against the entire point of the character.

Another issue is that the previous film’s co-lead, Rachel, is uncermoniously killed. She wasn’t a particularly fleshed-out character, but she was miles better than her replacement, Tina, a ditzy girl who just wants to have some fun. Don’t get me wrong, a final girl doesn’t always need to be the strong, independent type, but Tina is just straight-up dumb. Michael ends up stalking her and her friends for basically no reason – apparently Tina plans on visiting Jamie at some point that evening, but why wouldn’t Michael just go straight to Jamie then instead? It doesn’t make much sense, but then again, not much does in Halloween 5. There can’t have been a script when this film was shot, or at the very least, they can’t have followed it because there’s no way someone could put this film’s narrative down on paper and say “yeah, this sounds good!” (EDIT: I looked it up afterwards and this film did indeed begin shooting without a completed script and there were moments, such as the man in black, which were just added on the fly to fill in plot holes!) I’ll give the film some credit for clearly trying to recapture some of the suspense that had been lost in the previous film though, such as a scene where Tina stupidly gets into a car with Michael, thinking that he’s her boyfriend, and you’re left wondering if/when he’s going to kill her. For the most part though, Halloween 5 is just trying to squeeze blood out of a stone for a franchise that went in the wrong direction ages ago.

32) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Perhaps due to the formulaic nature of the franchise, Friday the 13th films generally maintained a pretty consistent level of mediocrity during the 80s. However, it wasn’t until Jason Takes Manhattan that we suddenly saw that sticking to the formula could still manage to disappoint everyone – even fans who had eaten up all the previous entries. Jason Takes Manhattan is a derivative and subpar Friday film on its own, with Jason somehow managing to secretly kill sexy teenagers on a boat which is impossibly labrynthine. However, its hints at shaking up the formula are what truly make it disappointing. How cool could a film about Jason stalking people on the streets of New York have been? But no, he shows up and then just continues stalking only the people he was already chasing after. The film also has many of the most irritating and dull victims in the entire franchise, a terrible final girl with a contrived connection to Jason and an embarrassingly bad-looking unmasked Jason. Seriously, the makeup they used in this film when he loses his hockey mask looks WORSE than a Halloween mask. The only real saving grace is that a couple of the kills are decent, particularly the boxing scene where Jason takes dozens of punches to tire out his opponent and then one-punches his head off.

31) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
It didn’t take long for Friday the 13th to begin scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they sure as hell succeeded in Part III. Some people have a fondness for Part III because it’s the entry where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask, but don’t be fooled – this film suuuuucks. What’s so bad about it? For the most part, it’s just another rehash of the first two films, but stupider and more dull. By this point, the filmmakers have realized that they like to string the audience along with fake-outs until something really scary happens, but in Part III they forgot that the characters still need to actually have something to do. Instead, we get multiple scenes where characters will wander into a dangerous place for no reason and just forget that they know what the layout of their own home is like, or just play with random things in the environment despite the fact that they’re supposed to be actually doing something. It’s obvious what the filmmakers are doing and it just feels lazy and wastes the audience’s time.

Another big issue is that the first two films in the franchise went to a lot of effort to make you at least get to know the characters before they would give picked off, but in Part III we get to meet a bunch of annoying assholes. Prime amongst these is Shelly, an irritating prankster with a self-esteem issues. However, lest you feel sorry for him, the little bastard lashes out at other people to try to compensate for his own insecurity, which just turns him into a dick. We also get a group of cartoonish, brain-dead gang members whose idea of revenge is to try to burn down a barn as unstealthily as possible. The film also opens with a pair of irritating rednecks who you just immediately want to be killed off. Other than them, nearly everyone else in the cast are your usual Friday the 13th cannon fodder, with no real personalities to speak of (especially the two stoners, who barely get any screen time before they get offed). The only exceptions are final girl Chris and her handsome hunk boyfriend, Rick, who are both at least sympathetic enough that I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them. The acting is also pretty bad, even by Friday standards. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters put in particularly strong performances and even characters like Chris and Rick have some line deliveries which are unconvincing.

Oh and I would be remiss to mention the 3D gimmick. Not only does it make the film always slightly blurry to watch in 2D now, but it also means that we get lots of shitty, blurry shots where something gets stuck into the foreground for no real reason. I hope you like blurry shots of yo-yos, eye balls, popcorn, rakes and a blunt getting shoved in your face and taking you out of the experience! It also highlights the pathetic special effects – since they have to get so many things thrown at the camera, they use lots of wires to get the shot right, meaning that you can clearly see these wires since they’re in the foreground of the shot! This happens on two very obvious occasions with a rattle snake and when a fake eyeball goes flying out of a very rubber-looking head.

On the plus side though, there are a couple fun kills as usual and, when she gets promoted to the final girl, Chris turns into a no-nonsense badass. Like, the moment she sees Jason, she’s right on the offensive, dropping a book case on him and then taking a knife out of her friend’s back and using it to stab him in the hand and leg. She actually causes Jason to back away from her, she’s so intimidating! She absolutely kicks his ass and makes smart decisions on the fly more often than not in the process. She’s easily one of the best final girls in the franchise, but she’s easily the only thing about this movie that makes it worthwhile.

…and that’s it for the worst of the worst. Be sure to tune in again soon as we go through #30-21!

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Best Reese’s Products (2019 Update)

A year and a half ago, I took a trip off the usual content that shows up on this blog and made a list of the best Reese’s products. Since that was published, I have come across quite a few new Reese’s products which have been making me want to do an update. Now that we’re a fair ways out from that initial list, I’d say it’s finally time to add in all the new products I’ve tried in the past year and a half. I’ll probably update the list again in future, depending on how many new products I try and how long has passed since the last list.

As before, I’m not exclusively going over official Reese’s products, but any exceptions are done at my discretion. I’ve also once again excluded the original Peanut Butter Cups from the list, because they’re just timeless and the default (and therefore would just end up on the lower half of the list for being less interesting).

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started!

29) Reese Mix – These things got a dishonourable mention in the original list because they’re way too expensive for what you get so I could never bring myself to buy them. However, my fiance knows I like to try new Reese products and hadn’t seen one of these before so she bought it for me. Turns out that these are kind of worse than I expected. I mean, it’s just the sum of its parts – peanuts, pretzel, Pieces and Minis, but the pretzel bits are really salty. On the one hand, this just makes you want to eat the Minis more to counter-act the salty taste, but it’s a pretty bad look when your snack food is actively making me want to ignore parts of it to get to the bits I like. Plus, the saltiness passes over to everything else in the package anyway. All-in-all, it’s not the ideal way of eating any of the ingredients and I’m 100% certain you could make your own Reese Mix that would not only taste better but be cheaper overall. These things are just all-round failures as far as I’m concerned.

28) Puffs – Reese Puffs are the KFC Double Down of the breakfast cereal world: breakfast cereals are already towing a fine line trying to justify themselves as something other than sugary junk food, but Puffs just shit all over that line and head into something that’s just disgusting. I mean, the tag line when I was a kid was that they’re “Reese, for breakfast!” Yeah, uh, no thanks. I mean, I like Coca-Cola, but I don’t want one before noon at the earliest. Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms at least pretended like they weren’t sugar in a bowl, but Reese Puffs don’t even put up a pretense about what this product is. I had these maybe once as a kid, and even then I was not taken in. Of all the things on this list, if I had to sacrifice one Reese product for the good of humanity, this is the one I’d cast into the fire.


27) Whipps – I swear that I tried one of these things when I was a kid, but I can’t remember it at all, it didn’t leave any sort of impression on me. I don’t recall it being bad, but there’s basically nothing else on this list that I wouldn’t rather have instead (y’know, aside from Reese Puffs and Miniatures). I’d probably buy one just for the memories if I saw one, but it isn’t a particularly interesting choice.


26) Reese Bar – I’ve had these things a few times, but I’ve never been particularly impressed. Maybe it’s just me, but these things are just too big and push over the limit where you’re getting “too much” sweetness. Plus they don’t hold together very well. I always find that if you try to break pieces off of the bar it caves in on itself and the peanut butter filling is very soft. They’re certainly edible, but I never buy them as anything more than a curiosity.


25) Blizzard – So I usually tend to order a Reese’s Blizzard when I go to Diary Queen, but I definitely have my issues with them. For one thing, Dairy Queen Blizzards are just stupidly expensive in general, and just keep getting worse year after year. Furthermore, if I order anything more than a medium, I just feel gross afterwards. I mean, think about what you’re actually ordering: you’re basically eating 3 or more packs of Peanut Butter cups, in addition to the ice cream itself. I have literally gotten sick from all the sweetness afterwards multiple times… not that that stops me from ordering them again, but the fact that these things literally can make me feel sick makes them harder to recommend than nearly everything on this list, even without the huge expense.


24) Minis – They aren’t quite as satisfying as a full-sized Peanut Butter Cup, or once which has been wrapped for that matter, but Reese Minis are a nice little treat. Plus the fact that they come in resealable bags is great, it helps to make them last and not over-indulge in them. There are 2 varieties of Minis available too, regular and white chocolate. The variety is nice, but I tend to lean towards the white chocolate – for one thing, I think that they taste better, and Hershey’s rarely sells white chocolate Reese products north of the border so I’ll take whatever avenue I can get for that fix.

23) Pieces – These things are iconic, probably the second most popular candy Reese products after the original peanut butter cups, in part thanks to the textbook usage of product placement in E.T. which made everyone want to try them. While I enjoy Reese’s Pieces, I have tended to find that they’re inconsistent. Sometimes I’ll buy a box and they just don’t taste all that great. I’m not sure if it’s inconsistent recipes or what, but when I was in high school I’d have this happen on a few different occasions, so it was like a flip of the coin on whether I was actually going to enjoy my box of Pieces or not and it completely soured me on them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still have Pieces on occasion, but I don’t care for them nearly as much as some other people might.


22) Reese’s Crispy Crunchy – I was pretty disappointed by this thing. It’s essentially a Crispy Crunch bar, which I do really like, but bigger and with peanut butter and nuts added to the mix. Wow, how can that possibly go wrong? Well… it did somehow, because I would definitely rather have a Crispy Crunch. This bar tastes like a cheap, dollar store knock-off of a Crispy Crunch rather than a product put out by a major chocolate manufacturer and nothing about it really “works” for me. Just unfortunate all around.

21) Reese’s Chocolate Lovers Peanut Butter Cup – I’m not entirely sure who this product is for. It’s just a peanut butter cup, but with slightly less peanut butter and slightly more, somewhat richer chocolate. It’s like they tried to design a peanut butter cup for people who don’t like peanut butter cups… but still left a lot of peanut butter in there so it doesn’t even accomplish that. Oh, and it only comes with 2 cups, so I really don’t see why someone would buy these. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this well enough, but I just don’t understand why these exist when they’re so similar to a regular peanut butter cup, but with less in a package.

20) Eggs, Hearts & Christmas Bells – I’m going to use this entry to cover a couple seasonal variants which don’t really deserve to have their own separate entries, since they’re basically just the same product in different packaging each time. The Christmas Bells, Valentines Hearts and Easter Eggs are essentially seasonal versions of Reese’s Miniatures – small, individually wrapped peanut butter cups with a shape based on the season they’re made for. They’re great, and if you find some of these in your stocking or for your Easter egg hunt, you know that whoever bought the chocolates was slaying it this year. Always a welcome gift, although the one thing keeping them a bit lower is that, as seasonal releases, they price gouge you for them.

19) Reese’s Peanut Butter Lovers Peanut Butter Cup – The Peanut Butter Lovers cup definitely comes out on top compared to the Chocolate Lovers, but neither of them really do much to stand out, instead just providing a bit more of a niche for a Reese’s lover. What makes the Peanut Butter Lovers cup stand out is that the top quarter of the cup has been replaced with peanut butter, which naturally gives the whole cup a more pronounced peanut butter taste, more akin to the taste of a Big Cup, just in a smaller package. It suffers the same sort of issue as the Chocolate Lovers cup where the difference isn’t that big of a deal and there are only 2 cups in a package, but I’d have to say that the Peanut Butter Lovers does a little bit more to stand out.

18) Reese’s Fast Break – As far as Reese’s chocolate bars go, the Fast Break is definitely one of the better ones. The nougat is very soft and subtle, but luckily all the peanut butter is what really makes this thing shine. It’s very simple (basically a Snickers, but with the peanuts and caramel swapped out for extra peanut butter), but it works so well. I can definitely see myself buying one of these things again because it was quite good.

17) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed with Crunchy Cookie – These things sound amazing, but in practice they’re just decent. It’s basically just a regular Peanut Butter Cup but with a crunch to it from the cookie bits. They don’t really change the taste substantially, but the crunch is very satisfying, much moreso than the older Crunchy Peanut Butter Cups. However, you only get 2 cups in these packs, whereas you get 3 in a Crunchy Peanut Butter Cups pack and I can’t really say that it’s worth the difference considering that they taste basically identical in the end.

16) Peanut Butter Cups with Crunchy Peanut Butter – I’m not sure if I’m just not remembering these things very well, but the big “crunchy peanut butter” gimmick of this product never actually stood out to me – they basically just tasted like a normal Peanut Butter Cup to me, just maybe a bit less smooth. It’s a small difference I guess, but not much to justify having a whole other variation on the market. I think Reese agreed because I haven’t seen one of these things in years and imagine they were probably discontinued. It’s too bad though, just remembering that these exist makes me hungry for one…

15) Miniatures – On first glance, these might just seem to be the same thing as the aforementioned Minis, but there are a couple notable differences which make them stand out. Miniatures are all individually wrapped and maybe about twice the size of an individual Mini, which might not seem like a huge difference, but for whatever reason, Miniatures just taste better to me. Plus, they come in regular and white chocolate versions, which just helps to vault them over the seasonal chocolates in my opinion.

14) Christmas Trees & Easter Eggs – At first glance, these just appear to be low-effort, cheap holiday cash-ins (hell, that “tree” is more reminiscent of a chocolate turd). However, these things over-deliver in a big way. Plus, unlike most seasonal chocolate, they actually tend to be priced reasonably. The fact that they come in regular and white chocolate varieties is just icing on the cake, I used to buy these things around Christmastime when I was in university. I would not be surprised if I was eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Tree while writing some of the earliest posts on this blog.


13) Swoops – I can remember back when these things came out and was saddened when I heard that they were discontinued. If you never got the chance to try one, imagine a Pringle made entirely of chocolate and with that Reese’s peanut butter mixed in. Suffice to say, they were delicious and it was easy to forget just how much chocolate you were consuming as you scarfed them down.


12) Big Cups – Unlike some of the Reese’s products I mentioned earlier, while Big Cups certainly tow the fine line between decadence and overindulgence, I feel like they strike the perfect balance. I definitely feel like I’m pushing some limits with a Big Cup, but I never feel like they’re too much or like I’m going to be sick or disgusted with myself for having one.

11) King Size Peanut Butter Cups with Crunchy Cookie – I know I just went over the regular-sized Crunchy Cookie cups early, but there’s actually some big differences between them and the King Sized version which make it stand out. Most importantly, it comes with 2 Big Cups in a package, which is standard for the King Sized Reese’s products, so it doesn’t feel held back as a result. So, factor in that satisfying crunchiness, and you have a clear recommendation over a regular Big Cup with no reservations.

10) Reese’s Outrageous! Stuffed with Pieces – The naming convention for this chocolate bar is pretty weird. It’s basically a Reese’s Nutrageous bar… but the nuts have been replaced with Reese’s Pieces. I don’t know why they didn’t just come up with some sort of totally new name, especially since they make sure to specify that the bar is stuffed with Pieces anyway, but whatever, I’m not a big marketing exec now am I? In any case, the Outrageous bar is quite good! It tastes very similar to the peanut butter Oh Henry! bars, minus the nuts of course, and adding in Pieces always makes a Reese’s product better by orders of magnitude. My only real complaint is that the standard size version is pretty small for a chocolate bar, but it is certainly a tasty treat.

9) Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Reese’s Pieces – I normally don’t care for a Hershey’s bar, the milk chocolate is quite tasty but it’s a rather boring product as far as chocolate options go. This version really surprised me though – the bits of peanut butter taste and the crunch from the Pieces gives it some more flavour than usual and there’s even little bits of peanut added in for added texture and taste! All-in-all, it’s pretty similar to the M&Ms Bar (which I do really like), but much better!

8) Sticks – It shocks me just how good these damn things are. If you thought peanut butter and chocolate were a match made in heaven, Reese Sticks prove that 3 sticks of wafer definitely make a case for a hot threesome. Just… these things are brilliant. They sell smaller versions in the same sorts of bags as Minis too, and they are so addictive. If you’ve never tried these, then seriously, freaking do it.


7) Crunchers – These might be the most surprising entry on this list for me. I saw a package of these at a gas station and, similarly to Reese Mix, the price seemed rather steep but I figured I’d try them out. The price is definitely a bit high, but bloody hell are they worth the cost. They’re kind of like little, delicious bite-sized clusters and just writing about them is making me want to eat the package of them that I have in a bag nearby. (Post-script: Yeah, within 5 minutes I had that package opened and was scarfing them down greedily.)


6) Breyers Reese Ice Cream – Breyers’ Reese ice cream has some big legs up on the Reese Blizzard which propel it so far up the list. For one thing, a container of Breyers ice cream can be purchased for about the price of a Blizzard, particularly when they go on sale for around $4. Secondly, the ice cream is flavoured to actually complement the peanut butter cups in there, which makes it taste better than a Blizzard in general. Thirdly, you control the portioning, so you shouldn’t ever feel sick when eating this. Whenever I see this product on sale at the grocery store, I love to pick it up because I know that I’ll get to enjoying it on a hot day.

5) Royal Reese’s Brownie Blizzard – My God, a Reese’s Blizzard is already tasty enough, but this one was just so over the top that it was unbelievable. A peanut butter filling and brownie bits in addition to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Holy crap, this thing is completely amazing. Like most Dairy Queen products, it’s insanely expensive, so you’re only going to be indulging in this kind of thing on a special occasion, but man… that special occasion is going to be the freaking best.


4) Pieces Eggs – It’s getting close to Easter season now, and the most exciting part of that is that the Easter chocolates are going on sale. For most people, that means Cadbury Mini Eggs, but for me that means Pieces Eggs. While Pieces themselves don’t set my world on fire, Pieces Eggs are a whole other animal. To put it simply, Pieces Eggs are quite a bit bigger than a regular Pieces, so they’re far more satisfying to me. The only real issue is that, like all Easter Egg chocolates, they charge you through the nose for them. Said said, I just paid nearly $20 for a big bag of Pieces Eggs… that pains me, but it’s (just barely) worth it and that bag will probably last me for months.


3) Big Cups with Reese’s Pieces – Who is the diabolical candy-making genius who thought up this decadent combination? This is just such a brilliant mixture that I have to applaud it, even if it might be enough to break that delicate balance that Big Cups strike and put them on the side of over-indulgence. They’re as good as they look, but I definitely feel some shame afterwards for how decadent they are.

2) Miniatures with Reese’s Pieces – As I predicted in my original rendition of this list, Miniatures with Reese’s Pieces are the perfect version of the “just add Pieces” puzzle. Whereas Big Cups with Pieces just feel like they’re too decadent, Miniatures with Pieces are small enough that you can eat a few at a time without feeling like you’re going overboard.


1) White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – Dear God, white chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are absolutely amazing. There’s only 2 of these in a package, compared to 3 in a regular package of Peanut Butter Cups. When I was in my early teens, they sold these in Canada, but now they’re bloody impossible to find here. Recently, at Ottawa Geek Market, there was some enterprising international candy-seller selling these things for $5 EACH, and I love these so much that I begrudgingly bought 3 of them. Hell, I’ve considered dropping $60 or more of a whole box of them on Ebay, because they are just that good. The white chocolate Minis aren’t nearly the same, and while the white chocolate Trees and Miniatures get close, they’re still hard to get ahold of and nothing quite matches just how good a white chocolate Peanut Butter Cup is. It wasn’t even a contest for me to place this entry, it was basically just a question of how I was going to fill out the remaining slots beneath this.

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Death Note is Kind of Trash

I wasn’t really into anime when I was growing up. I watched localized successes like Sailor MoonPokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and checked out an issue of Shonen Jump once, but in general I was turned off of anime and manga by obsessive weebs. However, in the last few years I’ve been trying to get more cultured and have been checking out some of the big names in anime. One of these big names that I was sure I would like is Death Note. I mean, the whole premise it’s right up my alley: a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it? A cat and mouse game between the holder of the book and the detective hunting him down? A creepy demon monster following the protagonist around? Sign me the hell up. Hell, I was so certain that I was going to enjoy Death Note that I picked up the Blu-Ray set so I could enjoy it all at my leisure. I don’t tend to buy Blu-Rays blindly, but when I do it tends to work out splendidly for me (see: John Wick, The Raid, The Conjuring, etc). It has probably been two years since then and over the course of a few days I finally decided to sit down and watch Death Note in its entirety.

…and it kind of sucks. Like, I kind of want to just give away my Blu-Ray copy now, I disliked it that much.

It’s actually was surprising for me. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Death Note, some people going so far as to say that it’s one of the absolute best animes, so figured it would be a slam-dunk for me. Don’t get me wrong – the first 10ish episodes are quite enthralling as Light learns how to use the Death Note, L tries to discover Kira’s identity, and Light tries (poorly) to cover his tracks. However, it quickly starts to go down hill with only occasional moments of excitement. Hell, my disappointment was so surprising to me that I had to look up other reactions to the series to see if I was totally alone in my assessment. From what I’ve seen, most fans of Death Note will admit that the series drops in quality around episode 25 (some even agreed with me, that around episodes 10-15, the series’ quality definitely begins to decline). Considering that Death Note is a 37 episode-long anime, even if you think it’s good overall it seems like the popular opinion is that ~1/3 of the series is not great. And, if you agree with me that the series drops off quickly, it’s closer to 2/3 of the episodes being pretty shitty. Again, considering this has a good reputation, I feel like I need to explain exactly why I disliked it so much. And, in case it isn’t obvious, spoilers incoming.

First of all, let’s talk about those first 10 episodes that I did like and why they worked well. The premise of Death Note is fascinating – Light Yagami finds a notebook which will kill anyone whose name is written in it. The rules of the Death Note are also quite intricate and restrictive, crafting plenty of tension throughout the narrative (particularly the detail that the user can sell half of their remaining lifetime in order to see their prospective targets’ real names). This set-up naturally causes the viewer to think about what they would do if they had the Death Note and how they would use it. It also helps to make Light interesting because he has a very particular way that he intends to use the note to make a statement as “Kira”, the self-proclaimed god of justice, while also coming up with clever precautions to avoid ever being caught with the book. However, when the detective L enters the picture, the ease with which he is able to quickly narrow down the scope of the investigation is fascinating, largely because of the way it is written. L’s deductions in this early part of the series are based on clear evidence, and it’s easy to see how L could come to the conclusions he does – he’s just noticing details that other people would easily overlook. Furthermore, his hunches and evidence are often confirmed because of mistakes that Light makes. This makes for a thrilling cat-and-mouse game in the early episodes, as L tries to narrow down his list of Kira suspects, while Light desperately tries to cover his tracks and tie up any loose ends.

This tension begins to break around the time when L decides to confirm his suspicions and confront Light in-person. While at first this is interesting, and in order to keep the plot going it was kind of inevitable, the narrative really starts to slow down and become far less interesting at this point. It turns out that Light and L just aren’t very interesting characters in their own right. Their opposed philosophies are interesting to see clash, but when they have to interact with one another we see that there isn’t a lot to either of them. Even worse, their interactions are painfully repetitive – we see the same kind of scenes of L putting Light into a loaded situation, and then having Light debate about how best to respond without putting suspicion on himself, over and over and over. These moments also solidify that Light isn’t nearly as smart as the show wants us to believe. Sure, he’s clever, but waaaay too clever for his own good. Instead of trying to counter L head-on and remain as aloof as possible, if he’d just consistently act naturally and stop trying to thwart the surveillance on him, he wouldn’t be drawing suspicion on himself. Hell, the fact that he has FBI agents killed after they spy on him was just an idiotic move – it makes it obvious that Kira was indeed one of the people being watched, narrowing down the suspect list significantly. They suspected that Kira had access to police records, but why not deflect that suspicion, rather than confirm it? For that matter, why doesn’t Light engineer scenarios to deflect suspicion onto other people? All that Light ever does is thwart L enough that he can’t definitively say that Light is Kira, which just makes him look even more suspicious when it happens over and over again.

The slowing of the tension is bad enough but it’s around this same time when Death Note really starts to go down hill with the introduction of Misa Amane. In theory, the introduction of Misa could have been brilliant – most importantly, she has a second Death Note, which opens up the potential scale of the narrative immensely. Furthermore, she’s a Kira copycat who wants to meet Light, the shinigami Rem is in love with her, and she’s made the shinigami eyes deal so she can see peoples’ real names. Unfortunately, the writers of Death Note haaaaate her and her introduction has very little actual bearing on moving the plot forward. Misa is portrayed as being a complete idiot who is a constant burden and liability for Light. She’s completely devoted to Light, insisting that they should be a couple and does whatever he tells her to, despite the obvious fact that he doesn’t care about her at all. She’s also a professional model, which seems to have been done for little more reason than to make her seem more desirable for Light, to justify how she can be dumb and successful and to have the characters fawn over her. The thing is, the show tells us that Misa is an idiot, but I didn’t always believe that she was. She actually manages to outmanoeuvre Light and the police on occasion, in part because they underestimate her, which made me wonder if we are meant to think that she was actually far more clever than people give her credit for… but no, these moments are few and far between, and whenever they do happen, they are almost immediately followed-up by something that shows that they really do think she’s a complete moron.

I will give the show some credit, Death Note mostly shirks away from the ridiculous levels of fan service which are so common in anime. However, it’s not like you can’t have fan service and well-written female characters at the same time, and in Death Note the female characters are written horrendously. There’s the aforementioned Misa, who is literally treated as an expendable pawn by Light. She spends the entire series unwaveringly devoted to Light, never realizing that he’s manipulating her, even when he cheats on her (instead, she gets jealous and takes out her frustrations on the other woman). It would be one thing if the narrative made it obvious that the way Light treats Misa is awful, kind of like how it clearly disproves of his use of the Death Note. However, it never makes any sort of commentary on their abusive relationship, and the fact that the narrative constantly reinforces that Misa is just a dumb person only good for manipulation is troubling, especially when it also reinforces that Light is brilliant despite the boneheaded mistakes he walks into.

Other than Misa, there are a handful of female characters with any sort of importance to the narrative. First of all is Sayu, Light’s sister. She appears very briefly as a young girl during the first few episodes, but when she suddenly appears grown up later in the series it seems like she might be getting a more prominent role going forward. How exciting! …except, no, you didn’t think that the writers would give a female character an important role, would you? No, they just wanted to remind us she exists and make her intriguing so that way they could have the mafia kidnap her, have her be traumatized to insanity and then be left broken as she disappears from the story for the rest of the series! Holy shit! The other prominent female character is the “other woman” that I mentioned earlier, Kiyomi Takada. She appears early on in the series as a love interest for Light and he actually seems to be legitimately interested in her too, unlike Misa. Later in the series, she returns and becomes Light’s new love interest and closest follower. However, she’s jealous of Light’s relationship with Misa, which causes her to confront Misa and argue about who most deserves Light’s affections (considering that this is probably the only scene in the series involving two female characters talking to one another, that’s a hard Bechdel fail). However, it turns out that Light has been playing Takada hard, because he uses his close relationship with her to get her to kill his enemies and then commit suicide in order to deflect suspicion off himself! That’s… brutal, holy crap. The narrative definitely does not condone this, but the fact that this is just another female character manipulated, abused and then written out is not a great sign. It’s a pattern which, even more than the goth aesthetics and morbid subject matter, makes Death Note feel like it was written by and for teenage edge lords, because it’s the only role which women are able to fit into apparently.

Now, to be fair, there are two female characters in Death Note that I would be remiss to neglect mentioning. One is Rem, a shinigami who loves Misa and who tries to protect her from Light’s Machiavellian scheming. She’s actually pretty interesting, but disappears for a large chunk of the story and is ultimately manipulated into committing murder-suicide by Light in order to protect Misa. Perhaps my favourite character in the whole series though is Naomi Misora, a former FBI agent whose fiance is killed by Kira. Misora is so interesting because she’s just a regular person who makes the obvious deduction that Light’s attempts to cover his tracks are suspicious, causing her to realize that he is likely Kira. I’d argue that the single best episode in the whole series revolves around Light chatting with Misora and desperately trying to figure out her real name so that he can kill her before she reports her knowledge to L. It’s such an intense episode and Misora’s character is just so well-written that when she is finally tricked into committing suicide, it’s heartbreaking. Again, this is yet another female character manipulated and violently written out of the narrative. It would probably be palatable if Misora and Rem were the only female characters treated this way, or if there were other female characters with some importance to the plot who got to play a role in the story, but as it is it’s pretty easy to accuse Death Note of being misogynist (or, at the very least, having poor representation for women).

While the female characters get treated the worst, pretty much every character is wasted in Death Note. When L dies, he gets replaced with Near, who is like a carbon copy L but with even less personality and screen time, and who seems to just know things because it’s more convenient for the writers than showing how he deduced it. He’s also harried by Mello, an angry teenager who wants to prove himself a better detective than Near… which he does by basically becoming a poorly-fleshed-out gangster. Then there’s Mikami, who gets a terrifyingly evil and fascinating introduction which suggests that he could become even more of a dangerous fanatic than Light himself, but the narrative completely loses interest in exploring his character almost immediately. Most crucially, I didn’t even find Light or L particularly compelling. Like I said earlier, their philosophies are far more interesting than the characters’ actual personalities, which never really change substantially unless the writers force them to. Hell, I was calling bullshit when Light loses his memories of the Death Note and suddenly is fighting to stop Kira – he simply lost his memory of the book, are you telling me that he no longer agrees with his own philosophies and thinks that Kira is doing good? That was a bit of narrative convenience which did not make sense and was clearly just done to force Light and L to work together (again, revealing how little personality the pair have together for several episodes).

On a similar vein, there is so much wasted narrative potential in Death Note. It would have been so easy to deflect the perception of misogyny in the series with some more clever writing. For example, take Misa Amane: the narrative really runs out of things for Misa to do about 20 episodes in, meaning that she spends about half of the series doing absolutely nothing, because they wouldn’t just let her character grow or change any. Would it have been so bad for her to realize that Light was manipulating her and then throw his plans into disarray? It would have been way more engaging than having Light go head-to-head with Near, which just comes across as a boring retread of his relationship with L. Or what about Misa’s shinigami eyes? She ends up taking the deal twice, quartering her total lifespan. You’d think that this would have some sort of big narrative consequence, like suddenly dying at an inopportune moment when Light really needs her… but, nope, she makes the deal and it literally never comes up again. Hell, the elaborate uses of the Death Note aren’t really explored all that much. Early on we get some clever ways to use the Death Note, such as when Light tricks Raye Penber into killing himself and the FBI agents, or when he kills criminals every hour for 24 hours to send a message to L. However, the series very quickly moves away from exploring the Death Note, shunting it to the background in favour of trying to deduce Kira’s identity while we’re told killings are continuing. Perhaps the most clever idea here is that Light plants fake rules in the Death Note to confuse investigators and throw them off his scent, but this also just means that the Death Note itself goes missing for several episodes while the body count rises uneventfully. Even later on when Light takes on an even more extreme disciple, Teru Mikami, he is only concerned with writing as many names as possible, rather than dealing out sadistic punishments for them.

Hell, even ignoring all the wasted narrative potential, the narrative we get itself is just underwhelming. After those first ten episodes, here are maybe three or four interesting plot points, stretched thin between a gulf of uninteresting filler plot. These moments are: the way that Light resumes his role as Kira after wiping his memory of the Death Note, L’s death, the death of Light’s father, and Light’s brutal betrayal of Kiyomi Takada. Again, that’s four interesting moments spread out over the course of the last 27 episodes of the series, which is just way too much filler in-between. Hell, I didn’t even care for the ending all that much either. By the ending, Light’s convoluted plans have just gotten ridiculous, so it might have been fitting for him to be brought down by something deceptively simple, or to assume he had control of the situation and implicate himself. I mean, he practically announces that he’s Kira to the police when he believes that Mikami is on the other side of the door, so if the police had intercepted Mikami prior to this moment and even replaced him with an imposter, Light would have screwed himself over due to his arrogance. Instead, Light is foiled because it turns out that his new rival, Near, is even more of a convoluted thinker. While it is kind of nice to see Light visibly devolve into a whining brat at the end, the way that they brought it about was just lazy, in my opinion. By ending it this way the writers just confirm that they really do believe that Light is as smart as he thinks he is, but Near’s just smarter, so he’s the only one who could actually bring down Kira. Considering that Naomi Misora nearly had him dead-to-rights only a few episodes in, this clearly should not have been the conclusion we’re meant to draw from the narrative.

This also brings me to a weird aspect of the story. Light declares early in the series that he’s going to use the Death Note to bring justice to the world and establish himself as its new god. It’s a dark goal, but you could see it for a chaotic good character. However, he then quickly uses it to kill people who oppose him, including a criminal who he thought was L and the FBI agents who are observing him, revealing that he is an egotistical hypocrite who believes he’s solely qualified to decide what is just. As a result, you’d think that L and the police would then be the moral foil to this idea, pitting the law against Kira’s sense of justice. However, maybe I just don’t know Japanese law, but L uses some extremely shady, extra-judicial means to try to prove his case. First, he puts several cameras and microphones all through the Yagami house, including the bedrooms (this also results in spying on Light’s mother and little sister). Later he arrests Misa, blindfolds her and then isolates her so that she can’t have access to anyone (including a lawyer) for more than a month, effectively torturing her in order to get a confession. He does the same with Light, although at least in Light’s case he volunteered to be put through this torture first, so… that makes it okay, I guess? (Hell, the fact that he’s so desperate to prove his innocence that he’s willing to be put through torture is a pretty big red flag that Light has something to hide.) Oh, and then when they have absolutely nothing to go on, L bluffs that he’s going to execute Light and Misa, then allows Light’s father to kidnap them both and then threaten to commit murder-suicide in a last desperate bid to get a confession! HOLY SHIT!!! Yeah… so, again, I don’t know Japanese law, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of that is straight-up illegal, which goes against the whole concept of a moral and ethical high ground that the police have in this universe. Instead, it just turns into Kira’s justice versus L’s nebulous justice, with the police stuck working with the one who claims to be on their side.

So, as you can see, I really did not like Death Note. It’s a great premise which is squandered on poor execution, and I don’t understand how people can be so forgiving of it. I mean, just take a look at Code Geass: it’s clearly inspired by Death Note, taking a similar premise, structure and tone, but it follows-through on the narrative potential far better. This is primarily because the writing and characters are so much stronger… so I guess what I’m saying is that you should watch Code Geass instead because Death Note is kind of trash.

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Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? (2014)

Welcome back to the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! Today we’ll be looking at the third and (mercifully) final entry in the franchise, Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? After the dumpster fires that were the first two films in this series, Aglialoro and company were back with another entirely new cast and a smaller budget than ever! Could they see this series out on a high note? Read on to find out…

Oh, and as with the last 2 entries, be sure to check out my friend Matt’s review at his blog, The M, as we both chose to suffer through this series together!


…I’m not sure if they could have gone with a more boring, non-descript and unrelated poster for this film. After several looks at the poster it appears to be a railroad, which is fair enough, but it would actually fit the first film better as there are barely any scenes on the tracks in this one. I also love how Hank gets to cameo in it in the little airplane in the corner, which unintentionally fits well into his purpose in this film.


PRODUCTION

After Aglialoro and his production team poured even more money and effort into marketing Part II, only to be met with resounding financial and critical failure, it looked questionable whether the final chapter of Atlas Shrugged would ever get off the ground. However, the filmmakers were true believers and were not going to be dissuaded. Aglialoro, along with fellow franchise producer Harmon Kaslow, set about seeing this project through and by late March 2013 it was announced that filming would begin in the fall. They were looking for a director, cast and crew at the time and Aglialoro said that “I don’t care if I’ve got to fire five directors — that’s fine. We’re going to get it right.” So, after a declaration like that, who did they ultimately hire? The answer is James Manera, who literally had one directing credit to his name on IMDb at the time, a single episode of Nash Bridges almost 20 years earlier (although he also had directed a couple small documentaries which don’t appear there). Truly Aglialoro and company had to sort through the cream of the crop to see this film series through! Duncan Scott (who had co-written the screenplay for Part II) and Brian O’Toole (who had also written the screenplays for both previous films) were tapped to return to write the screenplay for Part III. While it was announced that both would be returning to write Part III, neither are credited in the final film. Instead, writing credits go to producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, along with director James Manera. I wasn’t able to find an answer regarding if Scott and O’Toole’s original screenplay was heavily rewritten by the producers, or if the producers just wrote their own from scratch for (presumably) budgetary reasons, but the fact that they’re the only ones who are credited in the finished product is rather interesting. Also, a fun tidbit – back before Part I was released, Aglialoro had toyed with the idea of having Part III suddenly be a musical, but this idea never got anywhere near the final product. It’s just funny to see that Aglialoro had ideas that could have made this franchise’s continuity even more baffling.

As for the obligatory recasting, the role of Dagny was filled by Laura Regan, probably best known for a short stint on Mad Men, some minor horror movie roles and a number of guest TV appearances. The esteemed role of John Galt went to Kristoffer Polaha, who was similarly best known for a short stint on Mad Men and a number of guest TV appearances (my first thoughts on seeing him in this film were that he looked like a Hallmark channel love interest and, lo and behold, he’s been in 6 Hallmark channel movies since this film came out). Hank Rearden was played in this film by Rob Morrow, who had earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his roles in Northern Exposure and then had a successful run leading Numb3rs, making him probably the biggest name in the cast. The next biggest name in the cast was veteran character actor Joaquim de Almeida, known for big roles in Clear and Present Danger, Desperado and Fast Five among many, many others. De Almeida was cast to play Francisco D’Anconia. James Taggart was played by Greg Germann, who was probably best known for Ally McBeal, but seems to have been confined to minor roles ever since. Rounding out the notable recast characters was Peter Mackenzie as Head of State Thompson, who was a pretty decent character actor in his own right, but was never going to live up to Ray Wise’s portrayal from the last film. Finally, Part III also introduces us to Ragnar Danneskjöld, played by Eric Allan Kramer, who had some big roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and True Romance early in his career but had been confined to character roles and guest appearances ever since. Oh and it’s also worth noting that, like Part II, Part III also features conservative celebrity cameos from the likes of Presidential candidate Ron Paul, along with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, all providing the “voice of reason” in the film.



While filming was intended to start in the fall of 2013, it did not actually begin until mid-January 2014. This was likely because the producers’ fundraising came up shorter than they had expected (around $10 million split evenly between the filming and marketing budgets) and so they launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign on September 23, 2013! This Kickstarter makes for a very interesting relic to pour over for a retrospective. $446,907 was raised during the campaign by 3,554 backers… but if you look closer at how the numbers break down, at least $100,000 of this was raised by the 10 highest-donating backers! Another 12 contributed a further $65,000+ and then 65 more contributed another $65,000+, meaning that more than half of the funds were supplied by 87 people – a measly 2% of the total backers! Clearly there were lots of rich people who had nothing better to do with their money than to throw it at this film… and, funnily enough, we actually know who some of these people are because 16 people who donated a staggering $7,500 or more had their names very crudely carved into a piece of wood and appear prominently on screen (it’s jarring and funny to see in the finished film though because these rough carvings are flanking carvings which were clearly done with some professional tools beforehand, so their names just look like they were done by angsty teens).


Of course, this Kickstarter ended up generating a number of justifiably snarky comments about how the filmmakers sure were relying on altruism from their libertarian audience to bring about this film after it failed so spectacularly on the free market. Anticipating this response, the Kickstarter featured not one, but two FAQs about how it was not against Ayn Rand’s philosophy to ask people for money, even going so far as to dedicate a whole other article on this topic on The Atlas Society as well. Having learned more about Objectivism from this retrospectives series, I actually do understand their argument, which is summed up pretty well by the FAQ response:

“Kickstarter is not charity and we do not seek charity. We are offering a voluntary value-for-value exchange. If you see no value in any of the reward levels, you should not back the project. Regarding the idea of charity however, Ayn Rand had no problem with someone giving money to a cause they care about. If someone deems a cause worthy and wants to donate money, they should be free to do it. What Ayn Rand had a problem with is altruism for the sake of altruism as a moral duty, or being compelled, or forced, to ‘give.'”

While I do understand their argument, it comes across as a fairly arbitrary distinction to me – whenever they ask for a handout, they’re exonerated because they will say that it’s a value exchange (although charging $7,500 to get your name crudely carved onto a piece of wood sounds closer to a “scam” to me, especially when the film had already been financed and was going to happen regardless). However, whenever anyone else asks for a handout, they’ll characterize them as moochers and looters. Add in the fact that they ignore that even when they’re “forced” to give, there’s still value being created in having a society that functions properly, which would be even more valuable if they weren’t such crusty bastards who hate the idea of other people living at a reasonable standard. So, yeah, I can see how they can justify this Kickstarter within their own philosophy, but it just feels like another convenience to allow Objectivists to do what they want while looking down on people with less means for doing the same.

Interestingly, Rand devotees and fans of the movie franchise were invited to an event at the Atlas Summit in order to help determine the final edit of the film. I wasn’t able to determine how exactly this event went, how involved it was or how it might have affected the final film, but it’s a really interesting detail which shows how the filmmakers were attempting to get directly involved with the public on this particular film. The film was released on September 12, 2014 to a much smaller opening of 242 screens, grossing a measly $851,690 against its $10 million filming and marketing budget. This means that, if you add together the marketing and production budgets of all three films (including the ~$15 million which was spent on Part I before it went into full production), the Atlas Shrugged franchise lost almost $45 million dollars!!! HOLY SHIT!!! Even if you just factor in the costs which went directly into these three films, that’s still a huge, $30 million dollar loss that could have been prevented if the filmmakers weren’t so proud or dogmatic that they insisted on pushing on, ballooning their losses with each misstep.


Start the video at 16:06, it conveys how this news makes me feel more clearly than my own words could.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The film opens by recounting the events which caused John Galt to quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company and declare that he would “stop the engine of the world”. It then picks up where the last movie left off, with Galt rescuing Dagny from her plane crash. He then shows her around his hidden valley, where the greatest minds in the country have gone for refuge from the outside world. They have established a secret utopia here, with their own currency and a radical libertarian social structure straight out of the philosophy of Rand. Galt and the locals try to convince Dagny to stay with them, but she refuses to abandon the rest of the world. Over the course of a month, a romance begins to spark between Galt and Dagny, but they are forced to part as he takes her back to the outside world.


When she returns, Dagny finds that James has mismanaged Taggart Transcontinental even worse than before, having negotiated deals which would nationalize the railroad and cut off food supplies to the east coast. The government has also gotten increasingly militaristic, building lethal sonic weapons to enforce martial law. Dagny manages to prevent a disaster on the railroad due to her ingenuity and, when she realizes that John Galt has been watching her do this, the pair’s passion finally boils over into a railroad closet bang-session. Shortly thereafter, the head of state arranges a televised speech, but it is interrupted when Galt intercepts the signal and relays his own speech instead, laying out his philosophy and urging the people to join him in his strike. This act of defiance finally causes the government to go looking for Galt to recruit or eliminate him, and he is found when Dagny inadvertently leads agents to his location. Dagny pretends to have done this intentionally and Galt is brought before Head of State Thompson. Thompson offers Galt the highest position he can, with the ability to set his economic ideals how he sees fit, but Galt refuses, saying that no man should have that kind of power. In response, the government decides to torture him for his defiance. Dagny, along with a few supporters from Galt’s refuge, break in and rescue him and the group fly away as the power grid across America shuts down, signalling the collapse of Thompson’s ineffective rule.


REVIEW

Watching Part III is an experience, to the point where I wasn’t more than 2 seconds in when I had to pause the movie to make my first note. The first frame of the film opens with a title sequence that says “The day after tomorrow…”, which just caused a cascade of thoughts. First of all, it shows that the filmmakers really do believe that everything that happens in this film could happen – the cartoonish characters and insane politics on display in these films aren’t just done for illustrative purposes, they really do think that this is what non-libertarians think, believe and behave like. Secondly, this title inadvertently causes confusion, because it immediately got me thinking about the equally-preposterous Roland Emmerich disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. Both films share similar flaws. Both are just fundamentally dumb – in The Day After Tomorrow‘s case, it’s like a particularly dumb environmentalist’s take on climate change, whereas Atlas Shrugged is like a particularly dumb conservative’s take on economics and politics. Again, we’re not even 10 seconds into this film and the first freaking thing we see is causing me to dunk on this film.

Honestly, actual act of watching Part III took me more than twice the film’s runtime to complete because I was pausing to take notes constantly. There were just so many unbelievably dumb things packed into this movie that I could not stop writing. Compared to the inept passion on display in Part II and even Part I, Part III is a clear step backwards because it is so embarrassingly shoddy. I feel like Aglialoro and Kaslow were devoted enough to Rand’s ideology that they felt like they had to complete the trilogy, but after losing tens of millions of dollars on the project already, it feels like this final film was half-assed it to get it over with because it definitely wasn’t going to earn them any more money back. I mean, sure, the other two films sucked, but they at least felt like the filmmakers believed in them and wanted them to transcend their limited budgets. Part III just feels like they gave up and wrapped up the ending of this trilogy as fast and as cheaply as they could. I mean, look at that plot synopsis – it’s so short! I’m not skipping over huge chunks of the plot either, because most of the shit that happens in this film doesn’t matter, it’s just about preaching to the audience and spinning the wheels until the film ends unceremoniously. I have so much to talk about with this film, so strap in, we’re going to tear this thing apart.


Here’s Francisco looking appropriately drained in response to watching this film.


First off, let’s start with how cheap this film looks. Cheapness pervades the sets throughout the film. Remember how I said that they loved showing off the bigger sets in Part II, as if they were proud of their improved production quality? Part III ignores scale and set dressing as much as possible, filling a scene with the bare minimum of props and, ideally, seems to just shoot on location as much as possible to save cash. This is immediately apparent from the very first scene. We get a flashback to the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation, in which the heads of the company call a meeting about their new salary structure and John Galt’s strike begins. This scene clearly appears to have been filmed in a worn-out high school gym, rather than a factory, complete with sports line markings on the floor and paint peeling on the walls (this can’t even be for thematic reasons either, because up until this point the company has been run under a Randian ideal so it should look pristine). Even the company’s banner isn’t wide enough to fit between a pair of support columns, so it’s awkwardly pinned at a strange angle, like they didn’t take a proper measurement before they got this thing made up and couldn’t afford a replacement. And this is just the first scene! From there we get bland corporate spaces for Taggart Transcontinental and the government’s offices, and Galt’s valley, which is just a bunch of expensive cottages (note: I’m going to call it “the valley” from here on out – no one ever refers to it as “Galt’s Gulch” or anything like that, they just say it’s “the valley” so that’s the term I’m going to go with).


To top off the cheap sets, the lighting in this film is terrible. It’s usually fine during scenes in the valley – these scenes are brightly lit and colourful, but this feels like it’s only the case because they could get natural sunlight in these scenes to avoid having to pay for a full lighting setup. However, every scene outside of the valley is lit like the inside of my ass. Everything is just so poorly lit and desaturated, made duller by colour grading which turns everything to a cold shade of blue. While this may have arisen from a need to cut down on lighting costs, it has clearly been factored in as a stylistic choice to contrast the “real world” against the vibrancy of the valley. I feel like this might have been somewhat effective if they had been more judicious in its usage and/or reined the effect in somewhat, but when half of the movie ends up looking like a bland, muddied mess, it makes it a stylistic choice which was ill-advised.



Oh and speaking of ill-advised stylistic choices, here are a couple other fantastic moments of cheapness in this film. When Dagny arrives in the valley, she’s taken to a party to meet everyone and the road is lined with paper lanterns… which would be cool, but then you notice that they are literally made of paper sandwich bags with a (probably faux) candle inside! Not exactly the sort of product you’d expect from the “greatest minds in the world”, especially considering that they have an enormous holographic dome covering the entire valley, right? Even worse, they cut to close-ups on these sandwich bag lanterns… twice!!! Oh, and take a look at the screenshot above – they couldn’t even line up these lantern bags straight! It’s such a meaningless moment, but they screw pointless shit like this up at such an alarming rate that you can surely see why I was pausing the film so much to laugh and take notes. Another such moment comes late in the film when the much-hyped, nefarious, secret government torture device, Project F, is finally revealed to the audience and… it’s a car battery parrilla device, like what you’ve seen in pretty much any dark and gritty post-9/11 action movie. This is the sort of radical ingenuity which had to be plundered from the greatest minds in the world? The filmmakers clearly just didn’t give a shit and just went with the cheapest, most boring option they possibly could have, which is especially disappointing considering that Part II leaned more into the sci-fi aspect of the story.


The cheapness of this film goes hand-in-hand with its rushed plot and contrived, heavy-handed storytelling. Let’s say you want to open your film in such a way that the audience will view John Galt as not only a revolutionary figure, but also mysterious. So they start the film at a staff meeting for the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation and show Galt’s initial declaration to “stop the engine of the world”, which makes sense… but then, to hammer home their desire to make him “mysterious”, they have some guy ham-fistedly shout “who is that guy!?”, despite the fact that Galt has been working very successfully at this factory for years now, so everyone here should know him. That’s less than 2 minutes into the film, but it’s a bit of narrative convenience so obvious that I had to stop and laugh at it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even mention it if this film wasn’t so ham-fisted throughout – for example, later in the film they need to have the government bad guys convey information to the audience: the government is working on something awful called Project F and they’re planning on having a national televised speech. Rather than doing so organically, they literally just have all of the bad guys have a secret meeting about Project F without going into any details and then someone says “we need to make sure the speech is on all the networks” and then the scene literally ends! No information on what Project F might be, no indication about what “the speech” even is about, just conveying the bare minimum of what they want us to know and that’s it. The film has also been setting up that the railroad has become so mismanaged that Taggart bridge will eventually collapse, a prediction that Dagny has said could never happen. Then, right before the film ends, Francisco just comes out of nowhere and then says “Did you hear? The Taggart bridge collapsed!” It’s just so uneventful and matter-of-fact and Dagny’s non-reaction just makes it a hilarious moment.



However, the strangest bit of narrative convenience definitely revolves around Cheryl Taggart. She had basically no purpose in Part II so I assumed that that meant she must do something important in Part III, but nope. We literally find out that she died when a character casually holds a newspaper up in front of the screen!!! I had to do a double-take, it was such a strange way to write a character out unceremoniously. The film then decides that they have to do a flashback to explain all of this, so with a dream filter over the screen they explain that Cheryl found out that her husband was a fraud, which causes her to apologize to Dagny at some undefined time and then… just died. They don’t say how, but the way that they don’t say how suggests that James had her offed. From what I understand of this character’s fate in the books, we’re supposed to realize that she commits suicide in shame, but that doesn’t come across in this film at all. The filmmakers clearly don’t care about her, they just check off this character’s “arc” as fast as possible and then rush to the next plot point.


Another bit of narrative convenience is that the film cuts to voice-over exposition throughout to let the audience know what is going on. These exposition dumps interrupt the film constantly and are so disconnected from the actual events going on on-screen. Even worse, they gloss over events which probably deserved to be given more importance, such as when it is announced that Hank Rearden has “disappeared” and then his factory workers who were left behind were killed by the government strike-breakers, holy shit!!! Were Hank’s workers a bunch of moochers? Why would he leave them behind to literally die!? And why was this told to the audience impassively? I kept thinking that these exposition dumps were going to tie into the ending, where it would reveal that someone would be recounting what happened in the past during these segments, but no, the whole thing gets dropped by the time the third act rolls around. Personally, I think that this awful ham-fisted writing is probably down to John Agalioro’s screenwriting “talents”. He co-wrote the screenplay for Part I, which had similarly bad writing at times, but it was tempered in by Brian Patrick O’Toole. Part II didn’t really suffer in this regard, presumably since Aglialoro didn’t write it (its writing issues were more a problem of wheel-spinning and bad philosophy). However, Part III gaves Aglialoro and Kaslow full writing credits and it’s clear from the final product that neither of them are qualified to write a screenplay. Like… there’s a part in this film where super-genius John Galt outsmarts the bad guys by getting arrested and then using his cell phone during a meeting with Head of State Thompson to call Dagny and let her in on their evil plans!!! Why the hell would they not confiscate his phone!?! That’s Tommy Wiseau-levels of screenwriting talent!



The bad screenwriting leads to all sorts of unintentional hilarity, such as how it makes Galt’s whole movement look like a dangerous cult. Like, a hidden commune in the mountains living by their own set of rules is already sounding pretty Jonestown, so you’d think that they’d do something to avoid coming across that way. Well, moments after crash landing, Dagny is informed by Galt that there are certain rules to living in the valley. He tells her that, most importantly, no one gets a free pass at someone else’s expense. The whole exchange is shot and staged in such a way that it feels like Galt is heavily implying “you’re gonna have to fuck me if you stay here”. Then there are the oaths that everyone in the valley are forced to make in order to stay, the way that this community has been isolated from differing opinions, and how all of Dagny’s old friends plead with her to throw away her life, ideals and very identity to join this lovely little movement. This is best shown in two different scenes. The first is when Dagny’s friends identify that she just wants some acknowledgement for the things she has accomplished and so they give her adulation for a job well done to try to goad her into staying. The second comes when we see that all of Dagny’s friends have carved personalized messages over her bed for her to read when she goes to sleep!!! Read this way, it ultimately turns Part III into a depressing story about how a cult tears away Dagny’s support system until she loses her will to help people and then joins the cult herself. It reminds me of The Endless, and if this film had even an ounce of self-awareness we could have gotten an awesome film about Dagny fighting back against this cult which has been leeching away the stability of the world’s economy.


Of course, Aglialoro and Kaslow can’t even hit the important parts of Atlas Shrugged well. Perhaps most tellingly, the romance between Dagny and Galt feels totally forced and unnatural. Sure, the film tries to tell us that they’re totally into each other from the first time that they lock eyes, but it never feels convincing. Considering that Ayn Rand herself said that Atlas Shrugged was ultimately nothing more than a love story, this is pretty damning criticism. Dagny’s insistence on aiding the world is totally at odds with Galt’s insistence on allowing things to get worse. Maybe if he grew and changed his opinion this could have worked, which seems to be implied when Dagny and Galt have an impromptu fuck-session after Dagny organizes a plan to prevent a rail disaster from occurring (which, by the way, is definitely the funniest scene in the film – they don’t even know if the plan worked or if there are people dying out there, they just need to get their rocks off pronto). However, it turns out that Galt’s values haven’t changed at all, and in fact it’s Dagny’s which are cast away by the end. Other than that, we’re given a bunch of boilerplate Hallmark movie moments where Dagny and Galt sight-see around the valley, which apparently is a shorthand for blossoming romance without having to do any real groundwork to convince us that they actually like each other.


Then there’s Galt’s big speech, which is ~60 pages long in the original text (or over 3 hours if spoken aloud!!!). Like d’Anconia’s “money speech” in Part II, this speech has been pared down considerably, running in at just under 5 minutes. Personally, I feel like it comes across better than d’Anconia’s speech did, but that’s for a couple of unintentional reasons. First of all, it’s significantly less nasty and confrontational than d’Anconia’s speech was. Secondly, the text has been cut down so much that you could interpret it as a call to stand up against exploitative businessmen, rather than just the government, which is probably way more communist than they were intending. It also doesn’t help that this exact same message has been hammered into the audience’s head all through the first half of the film, so by the time it comes it’s just 5 minutes of more-of-the-same rather than a revolutionary statement. The plot also just halts entirely during this 5 minute sequence, so the fact that it’s conveying information we already have been told repeatedly does it no favours. Maybe if they had cut out all the lectures when Dagny was in the valley this could have landed stronger, but coming long after them just feels like more wheel-spinning in a film filled with it.



The dialogue is also just baffling at times, to the point where I don’t know if they’re just lifting lines awkwardly from the text or if they’re using the first take from each shot, mis-remembered lines and all. Like, just look at that line above – I had to rewind the film several times to make sure I wasn’t mishearing or misunderstanding that line, because it sounds like it went through Google translate. What the hell is “It’s like I can’t believe you’re alive” even supposed to mean? I guess that Francisco was under the impression that Dagny was dead based on the news of her disappearance, but wouldn’t he say “I thought you were dead!” instead? “I can’t believe you’re alive” would even be better, if still a really awkward line. “It’s like I can’t believe you’re alive” just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not the only line like that though. Later, John Galt takes Dagny to the power source for the valley and there is an oath emblazoned above it. He then says “Everyone has taken that oath who lives in this valley.” …what? Again, I don’t know if this is some important line from the book or Aglialoro and Kaslow’s writing, but it just sounds wrong. I had to look up active vs passive voice just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting some grammatical rule, but even that makes this seem totally wrong – the people in the valley should be the subject and the oath is the verb, so shouldn’t this be “Everyone who lives in this valley has taken that oath”? That’s way less awkward and gets the point across more succinctly, in my opinion… but what do I know, I’m not some rich super-genius now am I?


Of course, it’s not just the actual writing which is awful in this film, the editing is also terrible. This wouldn’t be an Atlas Shrugged film without an insane amount of narrative padding, and boy is there ever a lot of wasted time in this film. The first time we see this is when John Galt takes Dagny to his home after her plane crash. This sequence involves a long shot of Galt’s car driving down a road, the car driving to his house, Galt getting out of the car, walking around it to open the door and then pick up Dagny to take her into the house… hell, they even had to show him closing the car door, just so we wouldn’t be left wondering if he did. All told, this whole sequence takes 45 seconds to do something that could have been done in 10-15 by a professional editor. Sure, that’s just one 45 second sequence, but it’s emblematic of the film itself, as it is just loaded with sequences that don’t actually add anything to drive the plot or characters forward. This kind of editing is a trend throughout the film, as there are numerous pointless establishing shots of nature and people travelling to places, almost like something from the Left Behind books. It got to the point where I was laughing at every new nature montage, but by the time I was learning to expect them, they escalate into a sequence which is truly special. When Dagny chooses to leave the valley, John Galt takes her to his plane and starts it up, resulting in a flying nature montage as they leave… then, moments after they land and say their goodbyes, we get another shot of the plane starting up and then leaving, and then we get a train nature montage as Dagny returns to civilization (gotta waste another 2 minutes of this film somehow)! Now, to be fair, these nature shots are probably the best shots in the film due to the inherent beauty of mountains and wilderness, but they’re also completely pointless to the plot, so what does that tell you about the film itself… oh, and there’s also a good chance that most of them are stock footage, so double yikes! It’s like they don’t think we’ll understand how characters get from place-to-place without showing several seconds of unnecessary travel and unimportant nature footage. (EDIT: Actually, I think that the filmmakers might just think that we’re all stupid. I was going back through the film to freshen up on some of the details and noticed a scene transition which is literally a extended shot centered on a wine bottle’s label – this would be notable even if it was just bad product placement, but this was for a fictional vineyard for one of the characters. Then I realized that this shot was from some other footage from this scene, zoomed in significantly to show off the blurry bottle so we know where this scene is supposed to be taking place, and then put into slow motion as well for no discernible reason!!! They didn’t think that this wine bottle, which is present during the entire scene, wouldn’t be enough of a context clue within the scene? Holy shit this film is just a treasure trove that never stops giving back to me!)


While the constant time wasting is probably the most obvious example of bad editing in this film, there are other instances peppered throughout. The next most obvious example would have to be when a railworker calls Eddie to warn him that the rails are so mismanaged that there is going to be an imminent disaster. It’s a classic set-up for a potentially tense scene, reminding me of the train crash from Part II. Will Dagny be able to stop the disaster in time? Hah, just kidding, nothing happens after this phone call. I was really confused at first – weren’t they playing this thing up like people were literally about to die? What happened to the urgency? But then it turns out that the disaster was actually going to happen a few days later (several minutes later in the film), but it makes the urgency of this initial warning so strange. Why did they not just have this worker warn them of the disaster right before it was going to happen instead of doing nothing about it, moving the story forward, and then coming back to it later? It would have made for a much more tense sequence, but instead it just deflates the tension. There’s another editing choice near the end of the film which just left me baffled. I’m not even sure where else to put this because it’s so strange – the bad guys get mad because Project F breaks and then when they’re leaving the room there’s this completely random and pointless slow motion sequence where one of the bad guys yells “We’ll be back, you son of a bitch!” I cannot understand this editing choice at all… Like, it’s random enough that I really hope it was something that was suggested at that Atlas Society meeting I mentioned earlier though, where “the fans” got to provide input on the final cut of the film. I hope that there was just some dude there who yelled “Needs more slow motion!” and they decided that this was the only moment tense enough to work. I need an explanation because this is possibly the most baffling moment in the whole movie!



Then we come to the fact that the filmmakers once again recast all of the characters in this film. Even moreso than Part II, Part III demonstrates why it’s not a good idea to recast after every film. There are so many moments in the early parts of the film which rely on Dagny reuniting with familiar faces that had disappeared, but every time they would introduce them I would go “am I supposed to know you?” Hell, I was even getting characters mixed up because of this; early in the film I kept thinking that Akston was Quentin Daniels from Part II, because characters constantly flit in and out of this series and I didn’t have any visual reference for the character any more (it’s bad enough that I didn’t even remember who Akston was supposed to be until I went back to edit my review of Part I). It’s also a particular issue with the bad guys, because the film then has to pause and waste another 15 seconds telling us who everyone is with freeze frames and pop-up text. It also doesn’t help that characters who were important in the previous two films are shunted aside in this film. Hank Rearden is the most obvious and perplexing example of this. In the previous two films, he was the co-lead and second point-of-view character along with Dagny. He had also had some pretty big character moments in Part II, between his victory in court and being coerced into signing away his patents to Rearden Metal. Clearly they were setting him up to have some sort of big role in the third film, right? Nope, he gets about 10 seconds of screen time, leaves a voicemail and then is unceremoniously dumped from the story! What the hell!?! I can’t help but feel that he had a bigger role in the original story but they didn’t have time or budget for him and so wrote him out. All that said, he’s so absent in this film that I’ve read that he’s involved in the rescue mission to save John Galt at the end of the movie and had no idea – he’s not highlighted, nor have we seen enough of him in this film to even realize that it was him anyway. While not quite as important, Wesley Mouch is another prime example of this shunting issue. In the previous two films, he was arguably the primary antagonist, but in this one he barely shows up and his purpose is replaced almost entirely by Head of State Thompson. It doesn’t help that the actor who was cast to play him is very indistinct and looks very similar to Head of State Thompson, to the point where I cannot remember even seeing him beyond his introductory scene (and even then, only because they literally put text on the screen to say that he was Mouch).


As for the comparisons of the cast, Part III has by far the worst cast of the series. The only actor who might have put in the best performance of his character would be Greg Germann as James Taggart, but that’s just because the character is such a cartoon that I can’t really say that there was a “definitive” take on him. Greg Germann tries to take him in a somewhat more serious route, but there’s only so much you can do with James Taggart. The rest of the cast are just the bottom of the barrel. I don’t know if Laura Regan is a good actress or not, but she is just terrible as Dagny. Her line deliveries are flat and unconvincing throughout and her facial expressions don’t match the tone she’s trying to convey. It’s such a shame, especially after Samantha Mathis made me actually care somewhat about this character in Part II. Oh and speaking of which, Laura Regan is 8 years younger than Mathis, but looks even younger, providing a bit more whiplash about the recasting (especially when her former lover, Francisco, shows up looking like he’s 69 years old now). John Galt wasn’t really much of a presence in the previous films, but he always had some sort of mystery to him. Fully unmasked, Kristoffer Polaha’s Galt is just a Hallmark channel boy hunk, not the genius architect of the revolution that’s crippling society. I never found him particularly convincing, although compared to Laura Regan he was certainly the better of the two leads. In some ways, it’s probably best that Hank Rearden got written out, because the one line Rob Morrow delivers for him is so bad. I miss Grant Bowler’s more charming take on the character. And, as I alluded earlier, Joaquim de Almeida looks waaaay too old to be Francisco d’Anconia – he’s 20 years older than Laura Regan, and considering that she looks younger than she actually is, it suddenly begs the question of when exactly Dagny and Francisco were supposed to be a couple. De Almeida is a good enough actor that he’s fine in general in the role, but he’s clearly not stretching his acting muscles any. As douchey and sinister as he was, Esai Morales’ take on d’Anconia was probably the best, because at least he brought some energy to the role. Lastly, considering that Head of State Thompson only had a cameo appearance in Part II, you’d think that Peter Mackenzie would have an easier time becoming the definitive performance for the role… however, considering that that cameo appearance was portrayed by freaking Ray Wise, Mackenzie was screwed from the start. He’s fine as a scenery-chewing villain, but when you’re competing in that role against Ray Wise, you’re never going to win. The cast is bad across the board, with only a couple performances reaching the level of “fine”.


 

Whew, all of that said, we haven’t even gotten to the philosophy and politics in this film! Aglialoro and The Atlas Society had complained about people saying that John Galt’s strike was just a big temper tantrum, but the fact that they open this film by essentially confirming it feels like a big blunder to me. Seriously, the film opens with the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation announcing that they’ve adopted a wage scale, which causes Galt to freak out. Instead of just quitting, he declares that he is going to destroy the entire world economy, all because his job got restructured in a way that didn’t benefit him directly! I’m sorry, based on how you have portrayed this character, how is that not equivalent to a child throwing a temper tantrum and taking away his toys?

For a story that’s supposed to be extolling the virtue of selfishness, Part III does the worst job of trying to justify this. During what might be the most offensive moment in the entire trilogy, Hugh Akston tries to change Dagny’s view of conventional morality. He claims that believing that you have to help people is wrong because it causes unworthy people to get into positions of power. He claims that, in conventional morality, you are considered virtuous for what you do for others rather than what you achieve. This is a patently false assertion. Just look at people like Oprah, Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps, Daniel Day Lewis, or Stephen Hawking – people who are known and praised for their personal successes. Bill Gates might be the most obvious denial of this whole idea, since he’s a self-made uber-billionare in the Randian mould, except that he’s famous for his personal successes and praised for his altruism. Still, that’s not even the worst part of this scene. Akston claims that, because of this view on conventional morality, the unworthy will forcibly take from “those who have earned their money” in order to help the less fortunate if they will not comply. He then delivers this line:

“You’ve heard them say that people have a right to a living just because they’re human. And that’s not the right to earn a living, that’s the right to a living, which you are required to give to them.”

Woooooow. The filmmakers tried to explain Randian philosophy in the most reasonable-sounding way possible, but it still comes across as fucking evil. Akston straight-up admits that he doesn’t believe that people have a right to a living just because they exist. As far as he’s concerned, if you’re not doing something to “provide value” then you might as well die because you’re doing nothing to deserve your life. The serious ethical concerns of this should be obvious and numerous:

  • What about those who are injured while working? Sure, they were providing value for a time, but might as well let them and all of their dependants starve to death now! Or what about if, due to the negligence or unethical practices of a company, people are injured? Should there not be a legal right to a living for these people, considering that they were robbed of it by the actions of someone trying to enrich themselves?
  • What about the elderly who can’t work anymore, especially if they never had enough means to have any savings for retirement? Better just to set them loose in the woods during the winter.
  • What about freaking kids? When does this philosophy even come into effect anyway? Kids are not only going to be providing no “value” for several years, but they are going to be actively draining their parents’ resources as well, meaning that only those who are very well established will be able to actually afford to have children within this economic framework!
  • What about those who actually are working but still aren’t able to get by? Live in a hovel, you moochers!

Rand was very intentionally going against conventional morality here, because she viewed it as a framework which enabled the “oppression” of the great minds in society. Central to this was that religious principles were nothing more than another tool of the people in power. In order to show this, the filmmakers considered including a scene where Dagny meets a priest. I can already imagine this scene playing out in my head, but the fact that it was cut from the final film is pretty telling. Many of the libertarians who parrot Rand’s talking points are Christian, including the right-wing celebrities who cameo in this film such as Sean Hannity and Ron Paul (and Glenn Beck, who is Mormon). There’s already some significant cognitive dissonance required to call yourself a follower of Christ while also claiming that people who can’t provide value don’t deserve to live, but imagine if the filmmakers had included a scene where they explicitly stated that religion goes against their worldview. Half of this film’s meagre audience would be outraged at their audacity. This whole attempt to redefine morality just pisses me off though, and is by far the worst segment in the entire trilogy. When Akston dismissively states that “their philosophy is based how much you sacrifice to other people, not on what you achieve”, I could not help but think of Jesus’ words about how the rich donate large amounts to show off how generous they are, but the poor widow who donates gave everything she had and was therefore viewed as more generous. Contrast that to Galt and his followers, who are throwing a hissy fit because the government is forcing them to skim some of their wealth in order to help other people? Fuck you all.


Galt’s explanation to this criticism is that “We honour charity and benevolence, but it must be provided on the giver’s terms, voluntarily and not by force.” While I can see some value in the argument that they’re making here, it ignores a couple of things. First of all, Galt and his followers will staunchly refuse to give to any cause, no matter how worthwhile, if there is any force involved or implied. They could merely volunteer to give to a cause that they think is worthy, but we never see anyone actually do this (in Part I, Hank makes a donation to a cause he doesn’t agree with, but this is done out of a feeling of obligation).


Secondly, the actions of the characters contradict any notion that they might care about charity or benevolence. Seconds after Galt makes that statement, Dagny asks “What about what you left behind?”, referring to the rest of the world and all of the people who are suffering under the economic collapse Galt engineered. Galt simply says “We left nothing behind, Dagny. We took with us the only real thing of value. Dagny, this is a strike of our minds.” So clearly they don’t see anything of value in the outside world – everyone there is a moocher and it doesn’t matter to Galt if they suffer or die without them. This is barely even subtext either – it’s not like the people in the valley don’t realize what is happening in the outside world, they just don’t care. Part of the oath that everyone in the valley must take is that they will not “live for someone else”. Galt himself tells Dagny that, because there is no one competent to run the railroads, Taggart bridge will collapse imminently, showing that he doesn’t really care that innocent people are literally dying because of his strike.


Thirdly, there are several moments in the film where characters reveal that they have technology that could revolutionize the world, but have chosen not to for no discernible reason. For example, Dr. Hendricks inspects Dagny’s injuries using a handheld diagnostic device, similar to a handheld x-ray, and says “every doctor should have one”. Well, gee doc, if that’s what you think, what’s stopping you from giving one to every doctor? It’s not like he’s even going and selling them either! He has life-changing technology at his disposal and he’s choosing not to give it to anyone else. Or there’s the fact that Galt has a car in this film. It took me a little bit to realize “wait, no one drives cars in this universe, what the hell?” Considering that gasoline is extremely expensive in Atlas Shrugged and can’t really be being refined in the valley, it’s likely that they have come up with some sort of alternative fuel source… which, one again, they’re just hording here and not providing to all of the people being forced to deal with the increasingly-deadly rail lines. Perhaps the biggest “fuck you” in the whole film though comes when Galt reveals his working motor which has been hyped up in the previous two films. He reveals that it costs virtually nothing to maintain it and it’s so powerful that just one motor held in a space the size of a shed could power the entire West Coast!!! Again, this is so cheap that he could literally give it away – can you imagine unlimited, free, clean power for everyone and the sorts of changes that that would make in society? Hell, he could even sell it at an unrealistic mark-up and still change the world for the better. But, again, John Galt chooses to horde this because all he wants is appreciation and the ability to refuse people who don’t kowtow to his way of thinking. Tell me again about how you value benevolence Galt, because you sure as shit don’t demonstrate it in your actions.



Galt makes the claim that he is not imposing his values on the rest of the world, merely leaving the moochers to go about their own business, but this is also demonstrably false. Crippling the world’s economy in protest and hijacking the airwaves in order to convey your manifesto are hardly unimposing gestures, but what really contradicts this is that Galt is in league with Ragnar Danneskjöld, a literal pirate. Ragnar has been raiding shipping lines, stealing raw goods which (in his view) have been forcibly taken by governments so he’s just stealing them back. It’s one thing to, say, have Ellis Wyatt burn his oil fields and then disappear for good, but it would be another thing entirely if he kept coming back to burn down any reconstruction attempts, which is basically what Ragnar is doing here. Hell, at one point in the film, Dagny laments that there isn’t enough copper wire left to keep the trains running, which prompted me to say “hey, maybe tell your friend Ragnar to lay off then, he’s the one causing this shortage”, especially since it’s literally leading to the starvation of chunks of the population. At what point do these brainwashed Galt cultists think that goods have been acquired fairly? They are clearly trying to hasten the economic collapse, no matter how innocuous and innocent the film wants to portray them to be.


And how about these “greatest minds” that Galt has been taking to his valley? One of the first we’re introduced to is Midas Mulligan, owner of America’s largest bank. This struck me as a particularly odd choice, since isn’t banking largely the manipulation of money which d’Anconia was raging about in the previous film? Apparently it doesn’t count when private citizens do it, because Mulligan gets a whole monologue about how he’s been “wronged”. According to Mulligan, he made his fortune by lending money to people to buy homes and build businesses, saying that “I only loaned to those people I was confident could repay me” (eg, the people who were already rich and well off). However, then the government forced him to make slightly less of a profit by lending to people who couldn’t repay him, so he immediately threw a hissy fit and left for the valley. So… he couldn’t collect years of additional interest payments on the people who couldn’t pay him back? I wonder how many fans of this film also would cite It’s a Wonderful Life as their favourite Christmas movie, because Mulligan sounds exactly like that film’s villain, Mr. Potter. In that film, George Bailey bends over backwards to try to help the poor and disenfranchised in order to give them a chance at a life they otherwise may not have, and most people would indeed say he is virtuous for doing so. Can you imagine someone trying to claim that Mr. Potter was the one who was actually virtuous and that we need to be more like him? That’s basically the message Part III tries to hammer into you during its entire runtime.


One of the other notable “great minds” we get introduced to is Dr. Hendricks, who claims that he got sick of the government telling him how to treat his patients, so he ran off to the valley to treat them using “his own professional judgement”. This immediately got me thinking of Dr. Suchong from Bioshock, along with basically every other mad doctor trope. The film even unintentionally endorses this theory since Hendricks claims that his handheld diagnostic device was only made possible because there was “no red tape” to stop him… which begs the question of just how many people were killed, irradiated and/or sterilized to make this thing possible. Most doctors will tell you that regulations exist for a damn good reason and there’s also a reason why travelling to places with loose regulations is both a punchline and incredibly dangerous. But, just like in Part I, Hendricks is “worthy” so there shouldn’t be any restrictions on him, because he’s always right about everything (besides, if he did kill someone then that would mean that he wasn’t worthy after all).



This film also brushes up against so many issues which could have challenged the cartoonish take on reality that they’ve constructed, but which are just ignored. One such example is that Dagny meets a mother in the valley who is homeschooling her children. This scene feels like it was just thrown in to pander to conservatives who have a boner for homeschooling their kids, but in practice it raises so many more questions: if she’s homeschooling them, then how is she managing to pay her own way in the valley? Or how are the kids creating any value for that matter? Is wanting to homeschool your kids all that it takes to have John Galt invite you to his valley? Who knows! The film just introduces the concept in order to let all those conservative mommies know that they’re doing a Good Thing™ and then moves on without addressing any complications.


Or what about the fact that Dagny is expected to pay for her own medical treatment after the plane crash, revealing that there is (obviously) no healthcare in the valley? How many people have become ill and died in the valley because of this? Why don’t we see any of the people who have become destitute because they can’t pay their medical bills anymore? Oh, right, those don’t exist because Part III exists in a fantasy reality.


Or what about the fact that the valley seems to have a number of menial workers providing everyone with food and labour? We see restaurant workers, a farmer’s market, and a coal mine (amongst other things) while in the valley, but who is actually manning these? Did John Galt convince the greatest minds in the country to come to the valley and then make them start doing coal mining to stay alive? Or was he so comprehensive that he found the best coal miners in the world and then promised them a better life where they can mine even more coal? And if that’s the case, why didn’t they bring Hank Rearden’s factory workers with him when he left (because presumably Hank would have only retained workers who were up to his standards) instead of leaving them to be killed by strikebreakers? That’s the thing that’s being overlooked here – in order to work, the valley can’t just be a collection of the greatest minds in the world, there still has to be a much larger class of menial workers whose labour is being exploited to prop up those “great minds”. Such a reality is completely overlooked by this film though and instead Dagny spends all of her time interacting with the “important people”, much like she would have been doing back in the real world anyway. It makes you wonder why these “greatest minds” never get into positions of power in the “real world” of Rand’s fiction, and instead it’s always the unworthy. That seems to be something that people overlook.



It’s also worth noting the demographics of the people in the valley. I went in figuring that it was probably going to be mostly white men, but I was surprised to see that, in the crowded scenes in the valley, there was almost a 50-50 split between men and women. It only occurred to me during the writing of this retrospective that that might be because these women are mostly the wives of the great minds, but I’ll stick with my charitable first impression and assume that they at least gave women some consideration for their achievements. However, I can’t say that I saw anyone who wasn’t white and am not surprised about that little revelation at all. Can you imagine the filmmakers even thinking to diversify their extras to avoid troubling implications? Funnily enough though, at the very end of the film, the franchise’s only notable minority character, Eddie, is apparently rescued by Galt’s followers. His makes him not only the token black guy of the franchise, but the token black guy of Galt’s movement too, how fortunate! Even funnier is the fact that I found out that Eddie was changed into a black character for Part I and that this change was maintained in each subsequent film. Considering that characters change drastically in the franchise (including other race-swapped characters reverting to their whiteness from the book) and that Eddie’s rescue at the end changes him into someone who is deemed “worthy” to come to the valley, this suggests that Eddie was literally changed in order to make him their token black guy to avoid claims of racism. After all, they couldn’t possibly be racist for implying that only whites are the greatest minds in world and the only people worthy of success, and that therefore all other races have no right to a living unless they earn it! But who knows, maybe I just missed out on deleted scenes where there were a ton of black people in the valley who were off in Akston’s farm picking cotton or something…


 

And so finally we come to the most insane scene in the entire movie. You know how I said that Akston claiming that it’s not moral to say that people have a fundamental right to a living only might be the most offensive moment in the whole series? That’s only a might because this scene may actually be even worse, somehow. It comes when Dagny breaks into the government’s torture facility in order to free John Galt. She comes across a lone guard and corners him with a gun. The guard seems confused about the whole situation so Dagny gives him to the count of three to choose: get out of the way, or die. Instead of just running away like a normal human being, this complete fucking idiot starts going on a panicked rant about how he’s not supposed to make decisions and just stands there!!! Seriously, as Dagny is counting down, he literally says “I’m just an average guy, I’m not supposed to make decisions about my life! I haven’t said I will, I haven’t said I won’t!” And then she fucking shoots him to death!!!!!! HOLY SHIT, MOVIE!!!!!!!!! We’re clearly not meant to sympathize with this cartoonish buffoon of a character, hell we’re meant to give him our outright scorn. The line about being an “average guy” is pretty telling too – this is what the filmmakers believe that most people are like and this is the level of sympathy that “great people” should give to anyone who gets in their way. This is just offensive on so many levels, not least of all that this “character” doesn’t resemble an actual human being in the slightest and that it marks the moment where we’re supposed to congratulate Dagny for finally shedding her notion of conventional morality. Fuck. This. Movie.

Having learned more about Objectivism from watching these movies and researching Rand’s philosophy for these reviews, I must say that it’s a strange ideology to cling to. This story always lifts up the inherently superior “great minds” that apparently push our society forward, but they have little basis in reality. These great minds are always portrayed as being the heads of companies, but that’s rarely the case now is it? Modern companies are governed by complex structures which might steer the direction of the company, but they rarely are the source of innovation, not to mention that it’s questionable whether they deserve to make dozens, if not hundreds, of times more annual salary than the people who actually work on the frontlines of their business. We’ve seen just how alien the world of these three films is and how cartoonishly black and white it has to make the world if it wants Objectivism to make any sort of sense. If anything, in a modern context Galt’s strike sounds like a call for workers to rise up against the bourgeois, a notion which Rand would have considered repugnant. The only real aspect of Objectivism which seems to have any real basis is the desire to not be forced into doing anything, but that’s hardly a strong enough idea to cling a whole ideology off of. If anything, the deregulation that they have wanted so badly just seems to turn their closest analogues of “great minds” into something closer to the manipulators and moochers that they despise so much.


Part III is easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The politics and philosophy are bad, with some of the most sincerely offensive messages I have ever witnessed in a film (and this is coming from someone who only slept through half of Triumph of the Will). However, for the most part, these elements aren’t significantly worse than they were in the previous two films, just more repetitive and long-winded if anything. What really makes Part III into a trainwreck is the bafflingly shoddy craftsmanship on display from start to finish. It just permeates throughout every element of the movie, turning otherwise-banal moments into comedic bits. It’s almost as if The Room was trying to be a political thriller, that’s the level of ineptitude that this film rises to. As a result, while it is a truly horrendous film, it reaches a level of badness so far beyond the previous two entries in the franchise that it becomes an experience unto itself. Like, I’ve already recommended this film to a few friends who like bad movies, just because it does manage to hit that special level of crap. So, while it fails in pretty much every intended regard, at least Aglialoro finally managed to make a film that someone might actually get some enjoyment out of.

But seriously, fuck this franchise and the people who made it.


1/10


And now that we’re through the Atlas Shrugged retrospective, it’s time to rank the films from best to worst!


1. Atlas Shrugged – Part II – 3/10 (I had a reeeeally hard time picking between this and Part I, but I ultimately gave Part II the edge because at least Dagny comes across as a good character, even if it wasn’t in the way they actually intended.)

2. Atlas Shrugged – Part I – 3/10 (Again, it’s basically a toss-up – do you like your films boring or offensive?)
3. Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? – 1/10 (While it is by far the worst film in the series, it is also the only one I would actually recommend, because it’s so bad that it’s an experience.)
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