At Z Movies

Falling into October: ‘Tiz the Season for HallowScreens!

Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters will screened free at the National Gallery of Art 4th Street Plaza on Thursday, October 12. The NGA Nights event starts at 6 p.m. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria, VA – October is here! Time to get your spook on. Fall 2023 offers a cornucopia of seasonal film fare that will appeal to a wide range of audience tastes, ages, and stomachs. The screenwriter strike has been settled but the SAG-AFTRA actor strikes continue. The release of the universally anticipated sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 masterpiece, Dune, was regrettably postponed until March 15, 2024, in deference to the striking union members.

Otherwise, it’s The Shows Must Go On! Scorsese’s adaptation of the 2017 best-selling novel Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann opens October 20. The epic western crime drama set in Osage County, Oklahoma, stars an all-star Best Actor Oscar-winning cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and 2023 Academy Awardee Brendan Fraser. Scorsese directed, produced, and co-wrote the screenplay, but that’s not the scary part. Despite its 206 minutes, this film is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Nonetheless, avoid recliner theater seating if you’re tired.

He’s baaaaack! Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice marks the return of super sleuth Hercule Poirot, coming out of retirement to solve a Halloween murder mystery. (Courtesy photo)

There’s no shortage of Hallowscream fright nights showing new and classic repertory spook and slasher flicks this fall. New releases include Sir Kenneth Branagh’s reincarnation of Mistress of Murder Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in the third film spotlighting the anguished Belgian Columbo. A Haunting in Venice departs from the formulaic yet irresistible plots usually scripted from Christie novels to a femme fatale-ization inspired by Halloween Party, her detective novel initially published in 1969.

Oscar-winner Branagh again directs and embodies the pathos of the relentless sleuth Poirot, who, having retired to lead an unassuming life in Venice, finds himself back at the scene of the crime just when he thought he was out. Sparing no expense, Branagh brought on Oscar-nominee screenplay writer Michael Green (Logan) and Oscar-winning composer Hildir Guõnadóttir (Chornobyl, Tár and Women Talking) to create a haunting score.

The engaging cast has you at Ciao! Painfully handsome Jamie Dorman, who starred in Branagh’s award-winning childhood reverie Belfast (and the infamous sex-romp trilogy Fifty Shades of Gray), is paired with an almost unrecognizable Tina Fey and Kelly Reilly, who has shed her brash and sassy cowgirl brittle for understated vulnerability. Add 2023 Academy Award Best Actress Michelle Yeoh to complete a fine film sure to thrill without chills or spills. Well, a little blood spills, but no chainsaws or projectile vomiting.

The original cast of director William Friedkin’s classic 1973 horror film The Exorcist, now reincarnated as The Exorcist: Believer starring Leslie Odom, Jr. and Ellen Burstyn. (Courtesy photo)

About The Exorcist: Believer opening October 6: Prepare to be frazzled but perhaps not dazzled. The original The Exorcist, directed by the late great William Friedkin (The French Connection) who passed this last August, is a perennial favorite horror classic. It was adapted from Georgetowner William Peter Blatty’s novel, loosely based on a true story of an exorcism in Maryland. Friedkin filmed in Georgetown on and around the university campus. Blatty, a Georgetown graduate, lived a few doors down from the landmark Exorcist Steps and spooky  “Exorcist House” on Prospect Street.

How The Exorcist: Believer ranks in exorcistology and places in possession chronology is complicated and confusing. As with almost all sequels, the probability of critical and/or box-office success is less than low. With notable exceptions, sequels and remakes are destined to disappoint.

The Exorcist franchise has long needed a good demonic cleansing. But a resuscitation? Six Exorcist films and a television show (2017) are likely five too many. (Surely we all wish there were only Star Wars Episodes 4 through 9.)

Catching up on movie exorcisms? It’s best to start at the beginning – with the best. The 1973 film employs the murder mystery motif used in the novel to unfold the homesteading of an ancient Iraqi demon Pazuzu in the body and soul of innocent 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair), the daughter of a film actress (Ellen Burstyn) shooting a protest film on the campus of Georgetown University.

Linda Blair, nominated for an Academy Award for her possession portrayal, played the role of a physically and psychologically traumatized child with conviction and a beguiling innocence that amplified the terror of audiences worldwide. Friedkin’s penchant for cinéma véritë caused a certain shock and trauma among cast and crew if they weren’t forewarned about redirection in a scene. Friedkin’s genius was that it imparts plausibility. You believe.

William Friedkin revisiting Georgetown’s infamous Exorcist Steps on Prospect Street. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

Can Hamilton’s Aaron Burr, Tony-award-winning Leslie Odom, Jr., a well-preserved Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair in flashback, 21st-century advanced CGI, accompanied by a few taunting, heart-palpitating measures of Tubular Bells (the Exorcist anthem), rebrand ontological evil? It’s got me sleeping with the light on. And I lived on Prospect Street!

Author’s Note: If murder and demonic mayhem are not your cup of witches brew, on Thursday, October 12, from 6-9 pm, the National Gallery of Art will show the original 1984 Ivan Reitman film Ghostbusters on the 4th Street Plaza with a live remixed soundtrack by DJ-2 Tone. The event is Part of the NGA Nights Nightmare at the Museum party at the East Building. Activities outdoors are free and don’t require lottery registration. A lottery is held for admission to indoor activities.

ICYMI: Alexandria Film Festival List Previews Select Entries for Nov. 10-12 Festival

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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