Opinion: Ari Aster is the Best Modern Horror Director

Spoilers for Midsommar and Hereditary.

Horror is one of the hardest genres to execute appropriately. While the profits look nice, the quality tends to fail. Last year and this year both have had two special films pop up from a new face in Hollywood. Ari Aster debuted a masterpiece that twists the oversaturated supernatural subgenre with Hereditary and as of a week ago has unleashed Midsommar, a dark twist on Sweden’s otherwise beautiful summer solstice festivals. Only two movies under his belt and I can safely say he is the current king of all things spooky in today’s climate of money-hungry ghosts and killers.

The magic of cinema is that it can evoke emotion from an audience by going beyond a piece of entertainment. Aster’s two releases have done this beautifully. Both movies share plenty of familiar, poignant themes like dysfunctional relationships and mental illness.

Mental health often gets portrayed in a cartoonish way that can heighten the stigmas rather than diminish them. The two films capture the complexity of depression and other illnesses.

Dani (Florence Pugh) in Midsommar loses her parents and sister who had been suffering from bipolar disorder. Her grieving and struggles remain throughout the entirety of the movie while playing into her character’s choices. It is why she becomes so vulnerable to the cult’s wishes of her joining them, which is even foreshadowed by Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) story about the death of his parents.

The protagonist of Hereditary, Annie (Toni Collette) goes through something similar as she loses both her mother and daughter in a short span of time. Annie’s pain, resentment, sorrow, regret, and the many other emotions that Collette display showcases how complicated feelings can become in troubling times. Annie’s vulnerability lets her ignore any signs of unusual events, which becomes her whole family’s downfall by the grandmother’s Pagan cult.

Plenty of horror influences get injected into Aster’s creations, but the main inspiration comes from real-world drama. Having problematic relationships or dealing with loss occurs in other movies; however, Aster takes it to a new level by the characters being more important than the threat. Usually, the psychotic killer is given more development than his potential victims. The focus on the personal lives of the protagonists in Hereditary and Midsommar make them a lot more believable, empathetic, and relatable.

Putting the spooky elements in the background or pushing it into the latter half of the movie sets up a slow burn that fleshes out characters. While it may be divisive since many who go into a theater for this genre want to get scared, but the audience Aster targets needs the patience to get to the turning point of the narrative.

His supernatural debut is an hour of an almost pure family drama, with ghosts and cult activity sprinkled throughout. The halfway mark slightly diverges for a more traditional spiritual horror story, while still maintaining what is happening between each family member. The drama beat me down with its depressing tone, then once things got dark, I felt defenseless by the grueling experience that leads up to the final act.

The latest project is almost entirely a drama between a couple and a group of friends. The cult activities are upfront, but nothing terrifying ever happens. The final moments are more forward about the sacrificial ritual being performed while keeping with the same tone and pacing like the rest of the film. Hereditary had a distinct shift, while this latest folk horror stayed on the road it had set in the beginning.

Blending imagination and reality makes for the most horrific experience. The director/writer does plenty of research to make sure both of these Pagan inspired narratives. Paimon, the demon that the cult worships in Hereditary, is not something made-up for the film. His origins predate Christianity and have popped up in a variety of religious texts. Meanwhile, Midsommar takes an array of influences from European summer solstice festivals and Pagan rituals, while taking some liberties to make the Hårga cult feel like a real group of people in Sweden.

Taking historical folklore takes research, which Aster does an excessive amount. The symbols, traditions, and runes found in his breakup horror flick come from Swedish history and mythology. Hårga is a location in Northern Sweden with a dark tale that goes behind it involving the devil, impersonating a fiddler, making people dance until they die. That is quite reminiscent of Dani and other women in the dance competition to become May Queen.

Traditions stay true, except for murder, like the use of flowers. The flower crowns seen are a highly regarded accessory along with the use of decoration.

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Dani about to start the dance competition with the other women in the cult.

Aster has an eye for art by the way his films are shot. They hold a variety of different shots to keep everything fresh. Midsommar has some wild shots from upside-down perspectives and wide shots to take in everything happening in an important scene. Both of his films utilize the camera to give meaning to what is happening between characters. In a scene during Hereditary between Annie and Peter (Alex Wolf) having an argument in the middle of the night, the viewpoint given shows the distance of the mother and son, not literally, but the separation of their relationship.

No room for filler because every choice from writing, shooting, and set design is done with a purpose. Little symbols that need a second or third viewing tell a part of the story in each nightmarish creation. Aster seems to enjoy throwing hidden gems to hint at an element of the narrative that only a small portion of an audience will identify.

Too many filmmakers churn out movie after movie that is another generic cash grab with no personality. Aster puts a style with his projects that distinguish them from any other release. His methodical pacing, distinct tone, and twists on real mythology make for traumatizing films to watch and make. Alex Wolf, who played the son in Hereditary and Jack Reynor’s role in Midsommar negatively effected them from Reynor’s discomfort during filming and Wolf’s mental and physical health diminished.

Two films are not enough to be a king of a genre, but two brilliantly crafted projects certainly give Aster the upper hand. If this continues, then I do see him being a master at cult classics. His vision causes diversity amongst viewers, but what he makes does not get forgotten. The name he is making for himself will make for a loyal fanbase looking forward to the next expertly designed experience that will emotionally scar anyone walking into the theater.

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Opinion: Nobody Should Completely Dismiss Google Stadia

Google’s Stadia, their upcoming video game streaming service, has caused mixed feeling amongst gamers and the industry as a whole. I have seen reactions from slight skepticism to people completely dismissing this new platform. I hold some doubt too, but I find thinking this will end up as a flop or gimmick to be too far.

Google has had plenty of gimmicks that end up going nowhere like their endeavors with Google Glass and other projects. The company has plenty of innovative ideas, but cannot always market it to commercial success. Stadia has potential with its strong lineup of upcoming compatible games and the behemoth that is the gaming industry. This seems to be the first time in a while since it has been able to get a refreshing idea like this to a level of curiosity that has people talking.

“I understand the concern,” Phil Harrison overseer of Stadia, told Kotaku. “But I think that all you have to do is look at the level of investment that we have made and continue to make in Stadia. This is not a trivial project by any means. This is a very, very significant cross-company effort that isn’t just my team, but it’s also across YouTube, it’s across our technical infrastructure and networking team. It represents thousands of people who are working on this business.”

That could be corporate fluff to show confidence in the system in hopes for people to buy into the product, but this interview was back in March. Soon afterward, as of yesterday, Google held Stadia Connect to give a rundown of information on how the service will work. Instead of talking up a grand plan, Stadia is coming this November with a free edition coming next year. That soon, of date, along with the recent event, proves the confidence that Google is serious.

Netflix, Microsoft, and even Google all started off on the wrong foot in the eyes of the world by thinking the innovative ideas that were tossed around would be impossible or even silly to exist. Yet, the skeptics were proven wrong even with some shortcomings from the early childhood of these companies.

The main issue many people seem to point out, something I worry about too, is the availability of stable, high-quality internet. The average world speed as of last year is 9.1Mbps, slightly below the minimum recommended for Stadia. Generally, internet service is getting better worldwide, but that is mostly because of widely developed nations that can bring out the latest technology as soon as possible.

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Image via Google

I can go into Stadia without any internet worries, but that is not for everyone. The average in California, where I live, is about 24.6Mbps. To get the right service, that can become costly, and not everyone can afford to pay for Stadia, especially in the United States which pays more for moderate service, and high-end internet, at least until the free tier comes in 2020.

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My internet at home

Technologies coming will make services like Stadia cheaper while tackling latency and bandwidth issues. Orion, a piece of software that Bethesda announced at E3, is the first significant step towards handling the concerns that so many people have towards streaming games. The goal will be to lower the price for consumers and publishers while taking on those technical hurdles.

Seeing where the future will take us can become difficult, but being open-minded enough can help develop some awareness. Gaming will reach a level to stream everything, it lays on when it is possible. Xbox’s streaming service and Stadia are two examples that will push everything forward. It might not be perfect at launch, but in a few years, these services will strike a massive market.

Image via Google

My Journey From Uncaring Bystander to Super Fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Longtime readers may know that the early days of this one-year-old blog that I was not a big fan of the MCU. That may shock people who have only read my later posts in the last six to nine months since I come off as a hardcore fan. The universe has not only sold me to go in to watch every new entry but to become obsessive about knowing every detail possible and consume all that I can. It took years, but now I am here to stay with the constant anticipation for Captain MarvelAvengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Theatrical releases alone, I have seen a decent chunk of the MCU starting way back with Guardians of the Galaxy then not going to see another Marvel film until Doctor Strange. A two-year gap, meaning I skipped three films, two of which are quite significant, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. Since the psychedelic experience from the surgeon turned wizard, I went into the theater for every superhero flick in this expanding world, but I was not sold yet.

By time Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians 2 released, I had gone back to see some of the past films I had missed out on. Civil War was a mistake since I had not known about so much of the universe at that point, but going back to rewatch it, the hero vs. hero story grew from my least favorite to one of my top favorites. The fan in me was developing, but not fully matured.

Here comes the tail end of the third phase when I have given into this juggernaut of a franchise. Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther sold me on the consistency of these movies because when seeing the trailers, I thought they both looked awful. I adore Ragnarok for its eye-catching visuals, constant sense of humor without taking away from serious beats, and some of the best moments of the entire MCU in this one film. Black Panther does not rank too high compared to some of the others (even though I rated it so highly in my review, I would probably give it an eight rather than nine), but it is the final piece to cement my fandom by being something different while having everything I already liked from the universe.

Three additional films coming each year with consistent quality helps the franchise thrive and for fans to keep having something to consume. Captain Marvel has arrived as Marvel Studios’ most powerful hero revealed in this evergrowing cosmos. Expect the typical cookie cutter pacing and story, while still being better than a lot of the pathetic blockbusters that lack any heart. Naysayers out there may have valid criticisms, but Carol Danvers will blast you into the afterlife if you decide to say that to her face.

Massive series of films that tie together happen all the time, but nothing is quite like what Marvel has built. Starting with some inconsistent movies and some flaws that continue today, but remain strong with its characters, balancing different tones, and piecing together so many movies with dozens of super personalities into something, unlike any other franchise.

Image via Marvel Studios

 

Opinion: BlacKkKlansman Benefits the Jewish Community During the Discussion of Prejudices in America

As a Jewish person who watches plenty of movies, I rarely see any representation of the Jewish people unless it is Holocaust-related. Other than that, Hollywood tends to steer away from anti-Semitic issues while they forgive people like Mel Gibson. 2018 had a surprising, Oscar-winning film to come out that sent its message to a broader audience, BlacKkKlansman.

Spike Lee’s latest film has a precise focus, the prejudices that the black community has faced throughout American history and how it relates to today, but there is more to it. The inclusion of Adam Driver’s character Flip Zimmerman broadens the conversation. Members of the KKK hate more than people of color, like Jews. At some point in the story, Flip reveals his Jewish background and deal with some scenes of anti-Semitism.

One of the several ways Lee pays respect to other demographics is by letting Driver take hold of scenes to develop his character. The most gripping has pain, yet remains calm throughout. Flip says this to his partner Ron Stallworth (John David Washington),

“Ron, I wasn’t raised Jewish. It wasn’t a part of my life. So I never thought much about being Jewish, was just another white kid, didn’t even have my Bar Mitzvah. No Chanukah for me. Christmas. In this job, you try to keep things at a distance. You put up a shield, so you don’t feel anything… This shit is deep. When that Fuck Felix had me in that room, and I kept having to deny my heritage… I have been passing.”

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While not much more is done throughout the length of the movie, this scene along with a few other vital moments moves the spotlight to another demographic that has been beaten down for years throughout history. Myself included with Flip, I never grew up religiously Jewish or acknowledged it, but plenty of people will hate me for it despite that information.

Uniting people when looking at racism tends the be the point of these films, but usually, the message is generalized, which is not entirely bad.  When Ron tries to get Flip to go undercover with him, he brings up that their issues are the same. Ron’s argument is on point since hatred towards a demographic vs. another should bring those groups together. While that is not always the case, this conversation does not separate prejudices into different categories but lumps them together to further the point about people who loathe others for basic reasons from skin color, religion, and more.

Using comedy on serious subjects could undermine the importance of the film’s intent, but Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott utilized humor to enhance their stance on prejudices in America. When Lee spoke to Hollywood Reporter he discussed rather than writing jokes, the focus became about the “absurdity” of the premise and various situations that are seen in the film. Making the audience laughs lightens them up to the darker moments of the narrative without overwhelming them with crazed Klan members ready to burn crosses.

Anyone sensible can laugh at scenes where Klansmen talk about how Jews killed Jesus or how the Holocaust never happened. We know the truth, so knowing people think this way is laughable while concerning. Without the right tone, the impact would be altered, for better or for worse. In this case, Lee managed to strike a necessary balance to execute his latest project.

Presenting an argument has its dos and don’ts to win over an audience. While BlacKkKlansman has its flaws in its presentation, one thing it gets right is avoiding the Hitler fallacy. If an argument makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazi Party, then that hit the head on the nail for this mistake often made. Plenty of factors go into why this is a terrible idea, but some of it stems from overuse and timeliness. The Holocaust happened so long ago, if one wants to make an example of a tyrannical leader or a case of atrocities against a demographic, then it is more impactful to use an example that is more recent. The 70s may appear so long ago, but much closer and relevant compared to the 40s. The use of footage from Charlottesville ties together the Stallworth’s journey all those years ago with how racism acts in today’s America.

BlacKkKlansman has its issues like any other piece of entertainment, but it holds plenty of significance to the problems minorities and other demographics face. It may get preachy here and there with its agenda, but the overall message is well executed. Some may not like Lee’s latest flick, but he has done a better job for the Jewish community than most filmmakers. Hopefully, others look to what has been done well here and can improve upon it when representing people who have been pushed down by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.

Images and videos via Focus Features, Movieclips Soon/Fandango, and Senseitional Videos

5 Biggest Snubs From the 2019 Oscar Nominations

The Academy Awards can never satisfy anyone due to the abundance of films that come out every year; however, sometimes their issues cannot be ignored like some major snubs that happen each year. Now that the nominees have been announced, the gaping holes shine the light on plenty of issues, but five of which infuriate me the most.

#5: Annihilation gets nothing?

Many have forgotten this beautiful film, but the sci-fi adaption delivered a brilliant artsy narrative along with the best visuals from the year. The film could easily grab at most eight nominations. The Academy should have put Alex Garland’s trippy flick under the following categories: adapted screenplay, makeup and hairstyling, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing, costume design, production design, and cinematography. While many missed out on one of 2018’s best films, the ones who saw and fell in love with Annihilation will agree its right to take home an Oscar.

#4: Avengers: Infinity War deserves more nominations

Many may disagree, but Infinity War deserves more nods than Black Panther. The cultural significance of Black Panther makes it an essential film for all of Hollywood and the superhero genre. Comparing quality, Infinity War holds up far better and achieved the impossible by standing as one of the biggest blockbusters in history, not in budget and earnings, but in its stature in storytelling and directing.

Black Panther could move the comic book adaptions into the Academy more often, but I worry for the future recognition excellent movies in the genre will receive. Hopefully, King T’Challa can break through to the prestigious award ceremony to let in his fellow Avengers for the coming years.

At the very least, the epic battle against Thanos should have earned more nominations from the other visual oriented categories.

#3: Eighth Grade got nothing?

Offensive is the only word to describe Bo Burnham’s directorial debut snub. The resonating story made this small teenage journey one of the most important films of the year. Despite praise upon its release, the Oscars are for the cool kids, and not the awkward teenager.

Both Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton could squeeze into best actor and actress categories or replace someone for their position these significant slots.

Bo Burnham himself could get a place for his directing and original screenplay, however, he sits out just like his cast and crew.

Shame on the Academy Awards.

#2: Toni Collette ignored for her performance in Hereditary

I don’t know which of these last three slots on my list make me angrier, but Toni Collette not getting a nomination for her performance in 2018’s best horror film drives me insane. She delves into such emotion ranging from rage, feeling resented, depressed, desperate, and so much more to bring her character to life.

While most of my list is wanting a film or person to get a simple nod by the Academy, this is the one I demand to win due to her incredibly moving performance that took my breath away.

#1: Bradley Cooper does not get best director for A Star Is Born

How does one of Hollywood’s best actors get in so many categories, but not the best director? The Academy loves directorial debuts, but somehow Cooper could win all of the biggest awards despite one for one of his most momentous achievements in his career. Criminal might go too far, but describes how robbed he has been from such a respectable selection.

What are the biggest snubs from this year’s Oscar nominations to you? Comment what you think below.

Image via A24 and Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home Theory: How Mysterio Will Turn into a Villain

Trailers for any entry into the MCU gets jam packed with content to dissect and with Spider-Man: Far From Home, one specific detail caught me, Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) fights on the same side as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Traditionally the special effects worker turned criminal has given Spidey plenty of trouble, but seeing him as a hero feels wrong. Due to Marvel’s current trend with their baddies, I have a few ideas about where Mysterio will end up.

The story we know so far is that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) highjacks Peter’s (Tom Holland) vacation to Europe into a new adventure to face against Hydroman and the other Elementals. He gets introduced to Mysterio who has been hired by the uniter of the Avengers to help the web-slinger defeat these new foes.

Marvel has addressed their antagonist problem in a significant way with Thanos (Josh Brolin), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and Vulture (Michael Keaton), who have all been able to prove themselves as worthy foes and have a sympathetic backstory that makes their motivations impact the audience point of view. My thoughts here are that Mysterio will start off as a hero, but end as a criminal. Something traumatic will occur to lead him down a darker path, which leads to a loveable new character to turn down the wrong path, not only affecting Peter but the audience too.

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Image via Marvel Studios

Having a change of heart for Mysterio will become important, especially as Vulture gets reintroduced. Keaton’s excellent birdlike crook will make a return in a way that has not been shown or mentioned. The most obvious reason is to move into a Sinister Six direction. Mysterio and Vulture both tend to have significant roles in the clubhouse of supervillains, along with Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) and Mac Gargan (Michael Mando) who eventually turns into Scorpion. Since the standalone films have consisted in threes, Spider-Man’s third journey could have the ultimate climax by facing against six of his greatest enemies, all we need is two more introductions.

Often times the leader of the Sinister Six flips between Green Goblin or Doc Ock, neither of whom have made an entrance into the MCU, yet. The Osborn storyline has been beaten to death with the Garfield and Maguire films, so going to Otto Octavius who has not made any live-action appearances since Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Tony Stark will no longer be around as Peter’s superhero guardian, introducing Otto as a new father figure could push the iconic hero into a new direction that has not been seen on film, along with the leading into his toughest challenge to take on alone.

The motivations to Mysterio could go in a different direction if the Sinister Six option becomes a reality, even without five villainous buddies, he has room to digress into a supervillain. His drive in the comics relates to frustration with the film industry and a desire to become famous, so he tries to take down Spider-Man to achieve a high level of stardom. Not a strong motive for a big screen adaption, but his ego driving him for glory could work against him by moving towards heroism then having those plans blow up in his face to corrupt his moral compass.

Another direction for his desires can stem from a falling out with either Nick or Peter. Seeing heroic men not turn out who he expected could lead Quentin Beck to a darker life. The classic story of betrayal or having different outlooks could turn Quentin into a sinister force rather than an avenging one.

Marvel has come to love their misdirection like in the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War. Due to how many edits were made in the third Avengers, I can no longer trust what gets shown in any preview for new entries in the MCU. No matter what trick lies waiting for audiences, I can guarantee a plan for Mysterio to go rogue will occur at some point in Far From Home.

What do you think about my ideas about Sinister Six or the lone Mysterio fighting against Nick Fury and Spider-Man? Comment any of your thoughts on my theory or your own theories below.

Header image via Marvel Studios

Opinion: Horror Movies are Making a Comeback From the Grave: How the Horror Genre is Rising Back to Greatness

The lucrative horror movie genre has always been profitable, but the quality is often rotten. Sequel after sequel of storylines that get beaten to death then mutilated to further their descent into utter garbage and bad Rotten Tomatoes scores, the overall quality of most films in the world of everything spooky has gone downhill, especially in the 2000s. In the last couple of years, a shift has taken place where these films are making money and people, both critics, and audiences, enjoy these pieces of entertainment for their value rather than seeing it for the sake of watching something at the theater. With movies from 2018 like A Quiet Place, Halloween, and Hereditary finding success and 2019 having plenty to offer, creating something terrifying never looked so good as it does now.

The amount of tickets sold in horror continually goes up and down. According to The Numbers’ data, a sharp 6.98 percent increase has taken place from 2014 to 2017. The most notable movie during this increase is Andy Muschietti’s IT remake which grossed over $700 million during its run in the theaters, making Pennywise’s return the highest grossing in the horror genre and for R rated movies.

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2017 had more to offer than just the excellent adaption from Stephen King’s classic novel. The New York Times reported that the year saw the biggest rise for the genre. The USA alone saw $733 million total from scary movies and worldwide the total came to slightly over a billion. Get Out, Happy Death Day, and Jigsaw all helped the killer clown shapeshifting entity take the horror into new heights. Comparatively the biggest year prior was 2000 which grossed $616 million due to reboots of classic horror films like Rob Zombie’s Halloween and original flicks like Saw. The 2010s have increased due to those same reasons, but more original ideas have been popping up.

Get OutA Quiet Place, and Don’t Breathe not only score well at the box office but did well on the Tomatometer. While Rotten Tomatoes is not the judge, jury, and executioner in the world of film, it still holds value as a respectable measurement when looking at how audiences and critics view a movie’s quality. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place scored a 95 percent with experts and an 83 percent with viewers while grossing $340 million on a roughly $17 million budget. Jordan Peele stepped out of the comedy into the darkness to deliver his standout debut with Get Out received a 98 percent from critics and an 86 percent from fans with a slam dunk by earning $255 million on a budget of $4 million. The director of the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez made his most successful film with Don’t Breathe got an 88 percent from the professional reviewers while obtaining a respectable 78 percent from the public. No matter whether people die by a blind slasher, a racist family, or aliens, the masses will throw their money and high opinions over who can scare and entertain better than the rest.

Plenty of good ideas go to waste in the past, still happens today, but riskier projects can thrive. As Above So Below received an abysmal 25 percent with a mediocre return in profit, Flatliners got crushed by a 4 percent by squeaking in $45 million, and Chernobyl Diaries got eaten by a 17 percent but making a respectable $37 million off a $1 million budget. Original ideas in the last few years such as the brilliant Get Out, the unique It Follows (a 96 percent on Rotton Tomatoes), the adrenaline pumping Train to Busan (96 percent), and sweat-inducing A Quiet Place takes their new ideas to win over the world.

Films need to have a better objective, a focus on jump scares and high body counts will not do any justice in creating an enjoyable horror flick. According to a survey of 200 movies from the reviewing juggernaut, any film with higher than five deaths will most likely hinder its rating and proceeds. A Quiet Place and Hereditary (89 percent then raking in a modest $79 million while costing $10 million) came out on top as some of 2018’s highest reviewed horror flicks. Both films have a few deaths while their attention centered around suspense, character development, and narrative. Just like an action movie, if you have nothing but explosions with no meat on the story or personalities, then you become a Michael Bay movie.

The future for these grim films looks bright as they dismember and spread nightmares throughout the world. 2019 holds the sequel to the wildly successful IT, Jordan Peele will deliver a terrifying experience that matches Get Out‘s thought-provoking message with his second outing with Us, another Stephen King adaption storms through with John Lithgow (Dexter), John Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), and Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant) in Pet Semetary, the long-awaited sequel to zombie-comedy Zombieland arrives this fall, and the insanely popular superhero genre will showcase The New Mutants, and Brightburn will turn the idea of cape-wearing vigilantes upside down. Based on the past few years of the rising numbers of these horrific tales that get brought to life on the big screen, make sure you lock your doors and windows every night because this year will be a dangerous and haunting time with evil Superman, killer clowns, and vicious dead animals.

Header image via Warner Bros. Pictures, RADiUS-TWC, Universal Pictures