M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Available on digital download, On Demand, and Blu-ray from A24!
IN FABRIC (2018)
Directed by Peter Strickland
Written by Peter Strickland
Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Jaygann Ayeh, Zsolt Páll, Richard Bremmer, Deborah Griffin, Fatma Mohamed, Susanna Cappellaro, Catherine Backhouse, Gwendoline Christie, Pano Masti, Anthony Adjekum, Antonio Mancino, Barry Adamson, Adam Bohman, Gabriel Nwonu, Ed Dowie, Gavin Brocker, Leo Bill, Terry Bird, Simon Manyonda, Karl Farrer, Jonathan Chamberlain, Derek Barr, Hayley Squires, Derek Barr, Graham Martin, Caroline Catz, Sara Dee, Donna Williams
Find out more about this film here!!
IN FABRIC is a multi-tiered story centering around a dress that appears to be haunted or at least has some kind of curse or bloodlust. Most of the film follows a beleaguered bank teller named Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) a single mother who struggles with finding a new love interest after she finds out her ex-husband is dating again. Sheila goes on a few dates she met online to no avail, so she decides to listen to the marketing on a commercial promoting a giant sale at a department store. Once in the store, she is drawn to a specific red dress and is encouraged to buy it by the mysterious salesperson Miss Luckmore (Fatma Mohamed). Once home, Sheila doesn’t find the date she is looking for, but finds that the dress seems to misplace itself at times and does not like to be washed in a simple washing machine. When Sheila is attacked by a dog, the dress is torn, but when she looks at it later, it has fixed itself. Soon, Sheila is overcome with feelings of hopelessness and dread, and feels the dress is the cause of it all.
OK, a story about a haunted dress seems to be about as silly as they come. I’ve seen haunted beds, sofas, cars, and all sorts of bizarre objects, but to me, there is nothing particularly scary about a fashion garment. At least, that’s the way I felt before I watched IN FABRIC that serves as a wonderful story about the dark magic of consumerism and, of course, a dress that murders people. As silly as it sounds, the story takes everything utterly seriously. You feel for Sheila’s predicament. She is lonely and in need of companionship, especially since her son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) is having a sexual relationship with a much older woman Gwen (played by an almost unrecognizable Gwendoline Christie from GAME OF THRONES) while living in Sheila’s home. The story really highlights Sheila’s emotional turmoil and discomfort about the relationship and fleshes out a compelling and engaging story of her plight. When the dress from hell enters into the story, one almost forgets this is a horror story and the tone shifts slightly, but never to a goofy level. The horror Sheila experiences is real and Marianne Jean-Baptiste conveys her disturbing problem extremely well.
But what makes IN FABRIC stand out among most horror films is the gargantuan strength behind the pairing of marketing with witchcraft. As with some of the best Cohen Brothers films, IN FABRIC develops its own inner-language that functions to convey a culture and tone for the entire film. Just as with FARGO’s townsfolk and RAISING ARIZONA’s Southern roguish charm or even the Old West Shakespearian tongue of DEADWOOD (I know, not a Cohen Brothers flick, but the comparison fits), IN FABRIC has a dialect spoken by the salespeople that is utterly unique and mesmerizing to me. Run by an order of witches, the department store enchants the drooling masses gathered outside of their doors every day to purchase items in order to make their dreams come true. And the witches have their own language that reads like the catalog Elaine works for in SEINFELD with enough purple prose and ten-dollar words to make their own dictionary. I had a blast listening to the way these witches tantalized their customers to do their bidding, sell their souls, and buy their wares.
This language adds to the thematic weight as it plays into the way advertising and marketing plays with ones mind psychologically, much like the spells a witch would cast. Pairing these two worlds is nothing new. Romero compared America to the zombies that slogged through the malls in DAWN OF THE DEAD and more recently Ben Wheatley attempted to illustrate the horror of excess and consumerism in HIGH-RISE. But filmmaker Peter Strickland is able to transfix the viewer with all sorts of unconventional sights and sounds throughout IN FABRIC that causes both a pang of nostalgia, but also a haunting unease behind the living mannequins that are the witches at the store. Setting this in the fashion trendy streets of 70’s England gives the film an air of elegance, but somewhat of a sleazy under-sheen that makes every conversation untrustworthy, every promise doubtful, and every transaction dire to one’s soul.
This is a gorgeous movie—both the way it looks and the way is plays with the metaphor of the influential power of words. The later scenes where a pair of businessmen (played with subtle hilarity by Julian Barratt and Steve Oram) convince a washing machine repair man to rattle out jargon about the details of the repairs to them as they shudder orgasmically is an example of how this film knows it is about a goofy subject matter, but still manages to be disturbing and smart. Sometimes this film feels like it was plucked straight from a Terry Gilliam film. Other times it adopts the vivid coloring and dark tone of a giallo. But Strickland mixes all of these genres ingeniously.
IN FABRIC is definitely an arthouse film, but its themes, colors, sights, sounds, and thrills makes this an utterly unique and astoundingly unconventional horror film that will tantalize as much as it thrills. There are horrors to be had and they are potent ones, but IN FABRIC scores this high on my countdown mainly because of the richness of theme and sheer luxuriously deviant subject matter. This is one wickedly clever societal commentary that delivers on chills. I was entranced by this sumptuous film oddity. IN FABRIC should not be left on the rack.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
#5 – IN FABRIC
#6 – THE HUNT
#7 – THE LODGE
#8 – TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS PENINSULA
#9 – THE INVISIBLE MAN 2020
#10 – HOST
#11 – HARPOON
#12 – GRETEL & HANSEL
#13 – THE HAUNTED
#14 – DOCTOR SLEEP
#15 – DANIEL ISN’T REAL
#16 – THE VAST OF NIGHT
#17 – HOMEWRECKER
#18 – IMPETIGORE
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#21 – UNDERWATER
#22 – THE DEAD CENTER
#23 – BLOOD MACHINES
#24 – ALONE
#25 – THE BEACH HOUSE
#26 – AMULET
#27 – LAKE OF DEATH
#28 – SEA FEVER
#29 – THE RENTAL
#30 – ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
#31 – REPLACE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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