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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

This Is Halloween: The Gateway Horrors of ‘Cobweb’ and ‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’ [Double Trouble]

I grew up on Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, and Goosebumps. These gateway horrors opened up a whole new world for me. The trembling fear I endured when Carly Beth slid on that terrifying green mask still lingers with me even now. And I’ll never forget the chills I felt running down my spine when Sarah launched into “Come Little Children” or the penetrating gaze of Kalabar that seemed to cut into my soul. These images provoked something in me, conspiring to lure me into horror – and I’ve never left. I might be 30-something now, but I can still enjoy nice little gateway horror movies, especially when they’re as compelling as the Halloween-set Cobweb and The Curse of Bridge Hollow.

In Cobweb, screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin stages an epically creepy story about a young boy named Peter (Woody Norman), whose parents Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr) rule with a stringent hand. Their kindness always comes with conditions, in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way. Carol and Mark bear a striking resemblance to Man and Woman from Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs in their devotion to strict, brutally unrelenting parenting. It’s the way they sneer, gleefully disturbed expressions that run the blood cold. Peter’s pleas that he hears knocks inside his bedroom wall are shrugged off as wild fantasies, tricks of a deluded mind. When Peter sketches an unsettling picture in class, seemingly asking for “help,” he’s grounded and trapped inside the basement for the night. The following morning, Carol brings her son a tray of pumpkin cupcakes, tip-toeing down the stairs with a too-wide grin plastered on her face. Such acts are meant to justify such a horrifying punishment. 

As the film unravels, the knocks grow louder inside Peter’s walls and a small voice pierces through the plaster and wallpaper. The sweetly strained voice – that of a girl named Sarah (Olivia Sussman) – claims to be Peter’s sister, whom the parents locked inside a secret room in the walls. She’d been waiting for Peter, hoping that when he was big enough he’d help her escape the suffocating prison. After Sarah coerces Peter into poisoning Carol and Mark (their black bile spilling on the hardwood), Peter then frees Sarah from the hole in the wall, hidden behind the grandfather clock. The voice (now played by Debra Wilson) grows deeper and more maniacal, cackling with ferocious intensity and seeping from the dark. It was all a sick game, and Sarah, now a monster (Aleksandra Dragova), crawls with bones snapping and popping into the light. We don’t get a good glimpse of Sarah until later, leaving much to the imagination. The third act packs a punch with utter chaos, a well-earned blood bath when a group of bullies show up on Peter’s doorstep to exact their revenge after Peter shoved Brian (Luke Busey) down the stairs, resulting in a broken leg.

Cobweb interview with Woody Norman

Pictured: ‘Cobweb’

Director Samuel Bodin takes these haunted storybook images and breathes life into them. Cobweb has a particularly spooky Halloween mood. Each frame seems to soak in the crispness of autumn. It also helps that the family grows a pumpkin patch out behind their house. It just feels like Halloween. You can practically smell crunchy red, brown, and yellow leaves as they scatter down the sidewalk. Even though it’s technically rated R for graphic violence, there’s enough here that makes for a fantastic entry point into the genre. From the grotesque “monster” to the bone-breaking, expertly-shot sequences – owed also to cinematographer Philip Lozano Cobweb captures the very spirit of All Hallow’s Eve with blinding brilliance. If you enjoy The People Under the Stairs, you’re likely to find plenty of bite with this one. Even more, there are several emotionally driven beats with Peter to make you actually care what happens next, as the monster circles around him, breathing odorous breath on the nape of his neck. You even root for substitute teacher Miss Divine (Cleopatra Coleman), who takes a special interest in Peter, believing him to be abused at home. The strength of the film not only lies with the cinematography but the leading actors’ performances – glued together with nuance and attention to humanity. From the parents’ deranged behavior to the monstrous physicality of Sarah, Cobweb makes for a perfectly tasty holiday treat.

The same can be said for The Curse of Bridge Hollow, perhaps even more so. Carrying a distinct Hocus Pocus finish, the film finds writers Todd Berger, Robert Rugan, and John R. Morey tapping into the charm and joyous abandon of the holiday while supplying plenty of ghoulishness to get the blood pumping. The story goes something like this: a young girl named Sydney (Priah Ferguson) and her family – Marlon Wayans and Kelly Rowland play her parents, Howard and Emily, respectively – move into the neighborhood where the residents take Halloween super seriously. Every lawn is littered with high-caliber decor, often centered around a theme, much to Howard’s chagrin. You see, he hates Halloween, after a particularly nasty childhood experience, so he never lets Sydney decorate. When she discovers a jack-o’lantern in the attic, she lights it, unwittingly setting the devilish spirit of Stingy Jack loose on the town. But instead of an apparition of the usual order, Stingy Jack inhabits the Halloween decorations, bringing them to full vitality. There’s spiders, zombies, witches, oh my! It’s then up to Sydney and her father to figure out how to stop Stingy Jack from completely taking over the town before the stroke of midnight.

The Curse of Bridge Hollow

Pictured: ‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’

What director Jeff Wadlow then manages to do is deliver the story with a polished, yet still eerie, style. Sequences like when neighbor Sully (Rob Riggle) is attacked by a horde of plastic zombies or when a giant spider descends upon a nursing home are frightful and fun. There’s a whimsy to the narrative that not only allows younger audiences to glom onto the characters but gives adults a chance to relive their childhoods. There’s nothing quite like Halloween night seemingly stretching on for hours and hours, as you scamper through darkened streets collecting candy and trying to scare your friends. The feeling that you could spend your entire life in the present moment sends a thrill through your body. The Curse of Bridge Hollow bottles up these experiences like catching lightning in a bottle. It somehow is able to feel nostalgic yet modern, planted firmly in the now – I mean, hello, Sydney even pulls up an Ouija app rather than tracking down a wooden board. You can’t get more modern than that! (But seriously, does an app actually work?!)

The Curse of Bridge Hollow might feel familiar to some but it’s magical nonetheless. It’s appropriately silly but pounds with a tremendous amount of heart. As the night progresses, Howard changes his stance on the holiday as he sees how passionately his daughter believes in what’s happening. It takes him almost getting eaten by an enormous spider and murdered by an ax-wielding clown for him to get a clue, but he does come around to Sydney’s way of thinking. Plus, he rediscovers the enchantment of Halloween night and how extraordinary the celebration of All Hallow’s Eve really is. Even if you don’t believe the veil between worlds is at its thinnest or that the dead return to earth, you can at least appreciate those who do and find what it all means for you. Wadlow understands the assignment and infuses the tale with lessons about family ties and holding onto one’s youth and curious nature.

Cobweb and The Curse of Bridge Hollow make for a delightful romp, a double feature perfect for kids and adults alike. The contrasting tones complement one another. Where one goes hard into grotesque scares and cursed images, the other honors the playfulness of Halloween and simply warms the heart. Gateway horrors are the keys to the genre. Whatever you grew up watching, it always led you somewhere else. That’s the beauty of these films; they take cues from their predecessors but open up the genre in an exciting way all on their own.

In watching Cobweb and/or The Curse of Bridge Hollow, hopefully, a young kid somewhere is as transfixed as I was so many years ago watching Hocus Pocus. And maybe they will become tomorrow’s horror lovin’ adults. We can only hope.

‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’ Review – Netflix's Family-Friendly Halloween Movie Goes Big on Holiday Spirit and Spectacle

Pictured: ‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’

Double Trouble is a recurring column that pairs up two horror films, past or present, based on theme, style, or story.

The post This Is Halloween: The Gateway Horrors of ‘Cobweb’ and ‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’ [Double Trouble] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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