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Second round hitting the town! 21st Century Cult is coming into its second installment of the year. Bobby and I have got some new hard-hitting suggestions for your continued film festival that you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. The choices we have set up go hand and hand with this month’s selections of Donnie Darko and Suspiria (2018), so hold onto your hats and get ready for another quadruple feature.
Josh Green, Writing Team Member
I was shuffling through all the archives I have stored in my head, house, and Letterboxd looking for the right combo of films I felt would hold up to Donnie Darko and Suspiria. I came up with two that I’m sure might raise some eyebrows but would be perfect for an added dose of cultist fun and fancy.
First up, I present for your consideration as a companion to Suspiria: The Woods (2006). The Woods is a film by creepy crawly horror director Lucky McKee. McKee’s rap sheet includes other cult classics like Cheerleaders Must Die and May, both amazing in their own right but back to The Woods. The Woods is Lucky’s version of Andrew Fleming’s The Craft set in 1965, which if you’ve seen The Craft, you know things aren’t gonna end well. The movie follows creepy rebel, redheaded hooligan Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner), who gets herself thrown into Falburn Academy by her parents, Alice and Joe Fasulo (Emma Campbell and Bruce Campbell, respectively, no relation). The Academy is run by seemingly hard-nosed headmistress Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson), who might be up to no good when she starts performing tests on the female student body to determine who’s “special” and who’s expendable. With all this going down, Heather has to figure out what she has to do to survive bullies and Ms. Traverse’s tests. What unravels is a whirlwind of teenage angst, campy violence, and spooky-ooky stuff that doesn’t let up until the very end of the film. The Woods also gets bonus points for using dark spaces to emphasize the loneliness that comes from being a poor rebellious girl in a messed up, witchy world.
Outside of the description provided, I ended up picking The Woods due to its rather interesting take on the creepy “academy that’s a secret witch coven” plot. It’s very campy due to its low budget, but that doesn’t take away from the whole “rebel girl figures out she’s magical” storyline. It fits snugly in with the likes of both versions of Suspiria, Phenomena, and at this point any other female-led Giallo film Dario Argento has in his arsenal. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dario was a major influence on Lucky McKee’s set piece choices and the scene-stealing nuttiness that Bruce Campbell provides as the completely spaced-out father Joe. Speaking of which, how about Bruce Campbell getting featured for a second time in this series, let alone his goofy and aloof presence being the best thing in the film, besides Patricia Clarkson’s demented, cold presence as Falburn Academy’s crazy headmistress. The two together provide such a strange juxtaposition with their acting backgrounds that it ends up providing some of the greatest moments in the movie. The Woods should definitely be on your radar just for the pedigree of McKee and Campbell alone, but don’t take my word for it. Just go find it and watch it.
Happy Death Day (2017)
My second choice involves death and time travel, like Donnie Darko. The big difference is that the science doesn’t matter much since it’s been explained multiple times through other movies and is only important to the plot in a way that helps get the character to develop and become a better person, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. But Happy Death Day ended up being my black horse choice due to my previous choices having fallen through—one being Primer, whose creator is unfortunately a total evil creep (which was new information to me), and Safety Not Guaranteed, which I unfortunately didn’t make time to watch. The luck of me scrolling through my Vudu account, seeing Happy Death Day, and going “Oh hell yeah!” made it all worthwhile to pull the movie out for a viewing.
Quick run-down for Happy Death Day: the movie revolves around a selfish college student named Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe). Selfish and pigheaded, she barrels through her day ignoring her roommate, engaging in student-teacher affairs and various forms of college debauchery that ends with her demise at the hands of the school mascot. After that, Groundhog Day antics ensue over the course of the runtime. We are treated to a hell of a wild ride of death, mystery, and a baby-masked killer who doesn’t seem to go away. It’s a fun little dark version of the Bill Murray movie most of us grew up watching with our parents.
Picking Happy Death Day to back Donnie Darko comes from my idea that you need a palate cleanser that’s not full of mind-numbing science and overly convoluted plot points where, when you’re not watching the right version of Darko, you can find yourself lost in the Richard Kelly lore that he creates around his science fiction masterpieces. Happy Death Day doesn’t saddle you with random moments of psychological turmoil, sped-up mathematical imagery, and iPhone picture filters over creepy, goofy scenes of Jake Gyllenhaal’s prep school, goth boy charm.
It may look like I’m taking some frustrations out on Donnie Darko for some of its glaring plot holes through Happy Death Day‘s silly, plot-hole filled charm, but I honestly hold both in equal standing due to their cult status among horror and science fiction fans. Both movies explore some of the hardest parts of growing up, like learning to sacrifice some of your own happiness to help those close to you or improving upon yourself in order to live a more fulfilling life than swindling and sailing through the sh*t storm of college life. I’m going to get myself in position sometime over the next few months to try and catch up on all the 21st Century Cult series films when it gets closer to my spring break downtime. I expect rewatching Happy Death Day and Donnie Darko back-to-back will be the highlight of this little trip down Cult Classic Lane.
With that, those are my two choices for your viewing pleasure. I’d love to dig deeper into next month’s 21st Century Cults supplemental material. Hoping I can finally get around to finding films I haven’t watched yet that I can suggest for March’s choices, so keep an eye out for that. Now without further delay, let Bobby throw his picks out at you.
Bobby Thornson, Concessions Attendant
Inland Empire (2006)
Although it may feel cheap to do so, I am tapping into what I consider my favorite narrative feature film of all time, David Lynch’s experimental and subversive masterpiece, Inland Empire. It is a film that feels like the ultimate accumulation and aggregation of Lynch’s ideas and sensibilities in terms of the production, creative control, as well as the end result of existing as the last movie he will probably have directed.
Shot entirely on a handheld, digital camcorder by Lynch before being edited, auditorily designed, and scored entirely by him, the film follows Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), who gets a role in an upcoming film with a hidden and dark past. As the production of the movie gets along, the line between Nikki and her character in the film starts to blur as the tensions in her personal life begin to balloon and she becomes endangered between various swirling, and at times unrecognizable, points of time and space. Inland Empire, in its completely non-linear and scattered narrative that compiles the grandest of both the beauty and the horror in Lynch’s art and his perception of the modern, western world as well as the technologies that it affords us to dream and manipulate, has begun to receive a new wave of recognition, as its remaster is set to release quite soon on the Criterion Collection.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018)
A rarity of a movie whose very existence almost feels like a joke from 30 Rock about the absurd state of contemporary films, Robert D. Krzykowski’s The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot is bizarre in a good way. The film follows Calvin Barr (Sam Elliot) as he lives a quiet life at his old age near the American-Canadian border, many years after his success in a still-classified, secret operations mission in which he assassinated Adolf Hitler. Although successful, the Nazi party simply replaced Adolf until the regime’s fall, and Calvin lives with a fairly large chip of unfulfillment on his shoulder. That is, until he is tasked by secret, joint American-Canadian government forces to track down and kill the famous cryptid, the Bigfoot, in order to stop the spread of a virus that could create a deadly epidemic.
Although the title alone seems satirical, there is something very special in Krzykowski’s ability to take two very disparate figures in western popular memory and history and utilize them in a bittersweet tale about accomplishments and the value we assign to ourselves in the lives we live as well as how that affects the relationships we hold with those closest to us.