Fright Club: Bars in Horror

We needed a drink, so we threw back a few and brainstormed the best bars in horror movies. Some of them were dives we’d love to haunt. Others were just really, seriously scary. All of them set the stage for something important in horror.

Who wants a cocktail?

6. The Slaughtered Lamb (An American Werewolf in London, 1981)

What is going on with these guys?! How hard would it have been to just ignore the yanks and let them hang around? What harm could have come of it? But no! They ask one silly question and the next thing you know…


5. The Gold Room (The Shining, 1980)

“Little slow tonight, isn’t it Lloyd?”

Great line, even better delivery, in a scene—and a room—that haunts Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece interpretation of Stephen King’s best novel.

4. Mahers (Grabbers, 2012)

Sea monsters have come to Ireland. They crave the water but they hate alcohol. The only way to save yourself is to get blind drunk and stay inside the pub.

Most Irish movie ever.

3. The Winchester (Shaun of the Dead, 2004)

It’s familiar, you know where the exits are, and you can smoke. It’s The Winchester, best place to hole up and wait out the zombipocalypse.

How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

2. Titty Twister (From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996)

A couple of nogoodnik brothers go from frying pan to the pit of vampire hell as they and the family they kidnapped wait out the night at a strip club of death.

1. Green Room (2015)

You may not catch its name, but that’s OK by the clientele. This Boots & Braces establishment likes its music loud, its patrons white and its dogs bloodthirsty.

Hillbilly Elegy

The Death of Dick Long

by Hope Madden

Director Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) walks an amazing tight rope between hillbilly stereotype and sympathetic character study with his latest, The Death of Dick Long, a crass comedy with deeply human sensibilities.

Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland) and Dick (Scheinert) work on some Nickelback covers for their band, Pink Freud. Band practice out at Zeke’s ends late, long after Zeke’s misses (Virginia Newcomb, excellent) and their daughter (Poppy Cunningham, also excellent) head off to bed.

The fellas get a little weird, things get out of hand and let’s just say Pink Freud won’t be touring.

Yes, we have all witnessed films situated within the world of dive bar cocktail waitresses and their paramours. Tailer parks, mullets, giant prints of tigers, they’re all here. But what makes Dick Long kind of miraculous is how generous Scheinert, writer Billy Chew and the whole cast are with these characters.

Really, generous to a degree unseen in a comedy of this sort—which is to say, the sort of comedy built entirely on the idiocy of its white trash characters.

As Scheinert slowly unearths the details of the mystery, a lesser filmmaker might wallow in inbred, backwoods, banjo pickin’ gags. Not this guy. The more unseemly the subject matter, the more bare the soul. Abbott’s inevitable vulnerability is almost alarmingly heart wrenching given the comedic tone of the film and the actual crime committed.

Likewise, Newcomb mines her character and this situation for something honest enough that you wonder what the hell you would do if you were to find yourself in this situation. Her performance has the texture of a long and comfortable relationship suddenly and irreparably busted.

Hyland’s Earl, on the other hand, is straight up hill jack comic gold, but even this performance sidesteps broad strokes and finds a recognizable, human soul.

There’s not a single performance in the film that isn’t a welcome surprise. And underneath it all, Dick Long reimagines small town masculinity, isolation and loneliness.

Daniel Scheinert follows up on the promise of the crowd favorite madness of Swiss Army Man with a crime caper of a wildly, weirdly different sort. I’m all for his brand of lunacy.

The Shapes of Water


by George Wolf

“We swam out through the trunk!”

Those are six of the very few spoken words in Aquarela, and they quickly establish the stakes in Victor Kossakovsky’s immersive documentary. His aim is to get you startlingly close to the world war between man and water.

There is power, there is beauty, there is death. And there’s some death metal, which isn’t as out of place as you might think.

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a great time to be a documentarian, and thus, a fan of documentaries. This year alone, we’ve seen technological breakthroughs make possible the wonders of Apollo 11, They Shall Not Grow Old and Amazing Grace.

Like those, Aquarela (“watercolor” in Portuguese) employs cutting-edge wizardry for an experience that begs for the biggest screen you can find.

Monstrous ocean waves build and crash, huge chunks of ice fall prey to rising global temperatures, and a hypnotic narrative emerges. Mankind has battled the shapes of water for centuries, in hopes of lessening its dangers and harnessing its power, and Kossakovsky feels it’s time to hear from the other side. The few humans who speak feel like party crashers.

Don’t expect explanations, you won’t get any. What you will get in Aquarela is an utterly astounding profile of a living, breathing, dying force of nature.

Born in a Trunk


by George Wolf

Call it a comeback, a re-introduction or a friendly reminder, but Renee Zellweger’s channeling of Judy Garland is an awards-worthy revelation.

Since winning an Oscar for Cold Mountain over fifteen years ago, Zellweger’s resume has been scattershot and curious enough to make seeing her name on top of the marquee a rather nostalgic blast from the past.

But here, she’s just a blast, bringing a can’t-look-away magnetism to every moment she’s on screen, and leaving a noticeable absence when she’s not.

Based on Peter Quilter’s stage play The End of the Rainbow, Judy shows us a legend struggling to get work and fighting to retain custody of her children. By the late 1960s, daughter Liza was off starting a career of her own, but Judy’s two young kids with producer Sid Luft needed a stable home that Garland could not provide.

Accepting a lucrative offer for a string of concerts in London, Judy leaves her son and daughter with their father in hopes that the British engagement will give her the resources needed to take them back full-time.

Focusing on this late, sad period in Garland’s life is a wise move by director Rupert Goold (True Story) and screenwriter Tom Edge (The Crown). A limited scope can usually provide biopics with a better chance for intimacy, and true to form, Judy’s false notes arrive with the flashbacks to Garland’s days as a child star.

Showcasing her mistreatment as a young cog in the MGM studio system is well-intentioned but unnecessary, the blunt forcefulness of this thread adding little more than jarring interruption.

Zellweger is all we need to feel the tragedy of Garland’s fall. Her portrayal comes fully formed, as both remarkable outward impersonation and a nuanced glimpse into a troubled soul. Nary a movement seems taken for granted by Zellweger, and her delivery of Edge’s memorable dialog is lush with an organic spontaneity.

And though she barely sang publicly before her training for Chicago, Zellweger again shows impressive vocal talent. Of course she can’t match the full richness of the real Judy (who could?), but Zellweger’s style and phrasing are on-point bullseyes, never shrinking from Goold’s extended takes and frequent closeups during some wonderfully vintage musical numbers.

In one of the film’s best moments, Judy joins two male superfans (Andy Nyman, Daniel Cerqueira) for a late night dinner at their apartment. I won’t spoil what happens, but have some tissues handy. It’s a beautifully subtle and truly touching ode to Garland’s status as an early gay icon, and to the universal pain of loneliness.

Ironically, this brilliant performance should bring Zellweger the second act that Judy didn’t live long enough to enjoy. I’m guessing she’ll appreciate it, and I know she’s earned it.

Living Out Loud

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins

by George Wolf

Even if you know nothing of Molly Ivins, you won’t be long into Raise Hell before you’re wondering: WWMID?

After a lifetime of speaking truth to power was ended by cancer in 2007, what would Ivins do – or more pointedly, what would she say – about the cesspool of blatant corruption that is American politics in 2019?

And as entertaining as Janice Engel’s documentary is, its biggest takeaway is just how badly Ivins is missed in a profession now facing unprecedented threat.

Engel is clearly a fan, but her portrait of Ivins as one of a kind is hard to rebut. A six-foot-tall Texas native who could out-drink the Bubbas while she skewered their elected reps, Ivins blazed a gender trail through newsrooms across the country.

Ivins even covered Elvis’s obit and funeral for the New York Times before settling in as a Pulitzer-nominated political columnist and author, the role that brought her legions of what one longtime colleague called “not readers…constituents.”

Her writing was smart, informed, and extremely opinionated, laced with acerbic wit, a passion for civil liberties and an undeniable voice. And Engel, as director and co-writer, makes sure you realize how unnervingly prescient it was, as well.

Of course, all this also brought Ivins plenty of haters, and though Engel isn’t preaching to that choir, she doesn’t completely shy away from the personal demons that dogged Ivins throughout her life.

Like its subject, the film is fast-paced, smart, fun and funny, as Engel deftly uses Ivins’s timeline as a microcosm of shifting political landscapes. But more importantly, Raise Hell is a fitting tribute to a woman who wasn’t afraid to, and an urgent call to follow her lead.

Do You Want to Pet a Snowman?


by Rachel Willis

Writer/director Jill Culton has crafted a sweet, magical children’s tale with Abominable.

The film opens with a man-sized yeti escaping from a laboratory at the sinister Burnish Industries. While being hunted through the streets of a big city in China, the yeti is injured. He hides on the roof of a building and seems to be safe – for the time being.

The opening scene is dark and a little scary, which explains the film’s PG-rating. This is fare for older children, which isn’t a knock on the film, but it isn’t the cute romp one might expect for the 3 – 6-year-old crowd. The opening hints at more terrifying moments to come as Burnish Industries is not willing to let its latest discovery go without a fight.

The film switches gears, and we’re introduced to Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), a teenage girl who rushes through life doing odd jobs to make money. She’s estranged from her mother and grandmother, who don’t understand her attitude. As we follow Yi through a typical day, we are given small pieces of information to help us understand who she is. Not only is she distant from her family, she is mocked by her peers, and her only friend is a younger boy named Peng (Albert Tsai).

On the roof of her apartment complex, Yi has a hideaway where she stows a map of China, an old violin, and a dream of visiting several places across the country. It’s here that she discovers the hidden yeti.

Reminiscent of How to Train Your Dragon (another DreamWorks production), Yi slowly forms a bond with the beast she names Everest. While the development of the bond between Toothless and Hiccup in HTTYD is a slow process, the connection between Yi and Everest feels rushed. And like Toothless, Everest has behaviors similar to a cat or dog as he navigates this new world.    

The few minor similarities aside, Culton manages to craft a film of her own that explores the value of friendships, family, and the beauty of the natural world. It’s a lot to explore in a children’s film and while some of it is handled well—particularly the friendships between Yi, Everest, and her friends—other aspects are neglected.  

The film drags a bit during the second act. As Yi, Peng, and Peng’s cousin, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) try to keep Everest out of the clutches of Burnish Industries, there are a few montage moments that slow the film’s pace and will have even the most devoted viewer twiddling their thumbs waiting for the action to resume.

However, Abominable is a film that, while predictable, has a few good laughs and plenty of heart.

Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animals

Rambo: Last Blood

by Hope Madden

For those who’ve followed the Rambo franchise, Rambo: Last Blood (please, God, please say it is so) will look familiar.

Stallone is here. The deeply brutal violence is here. The one man against a depraved world is here. But in place of the broken heart of a soldier mistreated and forgotten by his government, of the prodigal son bringing US Military chickens home to roost, is something far less complex.

Rambo: Last Blood is basically Taken meets Home Alone, only racist.

No, John Rambo isn’t turning his training on the rotting center of the military industrial complex at home or in Burma. He’s actually a pretty relaxed, aging cowboy on the Rambo family horse ranch in Arizona, sharing a cordial friendship with his housekeeper and raising her teenage niece as if she were his own.

John Rambo’s teenage daughter. Oh my God, can you imagine a bigger nightmare?

Stallone can. Co-writing along with Matthew Cirulnick and Dan Gordon (who’s wearing a camo vest and AK in his imdb photo), Sly shows Gabrielle (Ybvette Monreal) exactly why adolescent girls need to squelch their own sense of agency.

Gabrielle wants to go to Mexico to find her deadbeat dad. She’ll be leaving for college soon and she just wants to clear the air. And so, against Rambo’s wishes she secretly heads south of the border. And you know what’s in Mexico?

Well, in the undulating sea of thugs, gang bangers, drug lords, rapists and sex traffickers is a lone investigative journalist who seems like very good people. She has three scenes.

Director Adrian Grunberg crafts a film that mercifully requires little attention to dialog as Stallone mumbles indecipherably through his own pages. The 73-year-old nabbed his second Oscar nomination for acting in 2016, revisiting the old war horse Rocky in a supporting role.

Every 30 years or so, Sylvester Stallone gives a good performance.

Creed was three years ago.

But you don’t go to a Rambo movie for the acting! You go for the carnage, and hoo boy, Last Blood does not skimp.

People give horror a hard time because of all the slicing, dicing, arterial spray and virgins in peril, but in nearly every instance, we are meant to recoil at the violence. In this film, we are meant to celebrate it: every decapitation, dismemberment, gutting, castration, every head blown clean off a blood-spraying, still standing body is our own vicarious victory.

Earlier this year, after another mass shooting in the US, Hollywood shelved the Craig Zobel horror film The Hunt because they wanted to send a message that gun violence shouldn’t be celebrated. This weekend, they released Rambo: Last Blood.

The Hunt is the story of wealthy Americans kidnapping poor people to hunt them down, but the tables are turned and the poor people kill all the rich people.

Rambo: Last Blood, on the other hand, is a MAGA fantasy come to vivid, bloody fruition.