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Horror? Undead? Why Not Both?

RIP Billy Drago and Max Wright. You definitely know Drago, even if his name is unfamiliar. The Untouchables is the standout vehicle for his multiple villains, but no judgement if “Charmed”’s Barbas is the role you most remember. Wright had tons of roles over the years, but will always be best known for exasperatedly yelling at Alf.

In Spider-Man: Far From Home, the first Marvel movie since the universe-changing Avengers: Endgame, charming Tom Holland’s Peter Parker fortuitously brings his Spidey suit on a class trip to Europe, as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury enlists him in a struggle with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, who may not be the bad guy we expect. Ari Aster follows up the excellent maternal nightmare Hereditary with the sundrenched Midsommar. This tale of vacationing friends entangled in a rural Swedish town’s pagan ritual brings to mind the cult classic The Wicker Man. Midsommar probably does not end well either. 

Around town, Ciné begins preparations for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with a mini QT festival. Check out his beloved first feature, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, on July 4. If you have not seen this colorful heist-gone-wrong-flick on the big screen, here is your chance. At Flicker on July 8, Showdown at the Equator presents 1974’s The Executioner. The legendary Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba tears a guy’s rib out while fighting the drug-dealing mafia alongside a couple of other killers. If Judy Garland is more your style, you can make sundaes and celebrate the 70th anniversary of In the Good Old Summertime at the Bogart Library on July 5. If you would rather get lost in space with the entire family, the Madison County Library screens a TBA Family Space Movie on July 3. Nobody asked, but my recommendations include The Last Starfighter, Explorers, SpaceCamp or Flight of the Navigator.

So, which recent horror movie is worth the time and ticket? (Surprisingly, both!)

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (R) The Annabelle franchise opened with a critically savaged hit that was followed up by David F. Sandberg’s critically lauded prequel, Annabelle: Creation. (I think it was Anthony LaPaglia who made this flick feel like a Puppetmaster sequel released direct to video in the mid-aughts.) The third entry allows series writer Gary Dauberman to sit in the director’s chair, and the results are surprisingly watchable, if not terribly scary.

Though the movie opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the focus quickly becomes their sad daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace). Apparently, newspaper articles about the occult expertise of your parents don’t do wonders for your middle-school social profile. Judy’s only friend is her pretty babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who unwisely invites her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) over, while the Warrens are away. Daniela proceeds to unlock the blessed cabinet containing Annabelle and unleashes an evening of hell on the trio and a sweet guy nicknamed Bob’s Got Balls (Michael Cimino). Possessed-artifact after possessed-artifact (the samurai armor, not the Ferryman, should jump to the front of the queue for Conjuring spinoffs) manifest themselves in and around the Warrens’ home.

The whole flick would be an excellent pilot for “The Conjuring: The Series.” Think first-run syndication a la “Friday the 13th: The Series”; each week reveals the story behind a different artifact, with Annabelle as the silent host. I know that comparison sounds like a critical crack, but with its likable young protagonists and a strong finish, Annabelle Comes Home entertains similarly to an R.L. Stine novel (despite an unnecessary R rating).

THE DEAD DON’T DIE (R) Not that Jim Jarmusch cares, but the zombie wave crested several years ago. The hippest of the hip filmmaker is less interested in the cannibalistic munching of the undead as he is in their metaphorical meaning. These zombies do not seek brains. They want candy, Wi-Fi, prescription drugs or whatever else addicted them during life. 

The Dead Don’t Die is most successful when it explicitly dotes on George Romero’s groundbreaking works; it mildly surprises that Jarmusch did not shoot in black and white. Bill Murray and Adam Driver pair well as a deadpan duo of cops dealing with the zombie outbreak. Like the rest of the movie, their interactions elicit constant chuckles and a few out-loud laughs, though one wonders how well the movie’s Trump cracks will age.

Don’t worry if you have trouble deciphering Jarmusch’s message. A small town whose population is more undead than alive is far less ambiguous than earlier entries in his oeuvre. Anyway, Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob monologues it prior to the end credits. Though The Dead Don’t Die lacks the cachet of Jarmusch’s critical gems, this zomcom is his most easily digestible entertainment since 2005’s Broken Flowers.