Malignant (2021)

From the first time Malignant was announced, it was called James Wan’s giallo film.

A few thoughts on that.

It’s a giallo film as much as Suspiria is a giallo. That’s because most people think, “Italian horror with red and blue colors equals giallo,” which is much like someone thinking that all hip hop is rap or all metal has blast beats, maybe. It’s a generalization and you know, you have to be fine with it. In a world where reviewers from publications as big as Variety can’t understand that Halloween is not a rehash of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you have to expect that some movies need a handle for people to better understand them.

To the rest of us, those that haunted the aisles of the video stores minutes before closing, that carried lists of films in our wallets, that went from small town to town trying to find that magical movie drug that our store had no more supply of, I can tell you, if this movie had a Filmirage logo before it, the dubbing was off and a CGI Donald Pleasence or Donald O’Brien showed up, I would not be more surprised.

This isn’t a giallo. Sure, there’s a giallo looking killer with a weapon somehow more ridiculous than the one in Too Beautiful to Die that has identity issues and a history of family madness much like Madhouse, but nope. This is the kind of movie that Screaming Mad George would have done the effects for, that would have had a trailer for Fatal Frames before it, that should have a piece of masking tape with green magic marker that says “MUST BE 18 TO RENT” emblazoned on it.

So for every review I see that says, “This has a bonkers third act!” or “It starts slow but hold on,” I wonder, have I done too many movie drugs? Have I inhaled too deeply on the fumes of not only the Argento, Fulci, Henenlotter and Raimi — hail to those mentioning Darkman — that keep getting called out in these reviews, but also Full Moon, D’Amato, Lenzi, Stuart Gordon and so many more? Hell yeah I have. And I have no regrets. Movies mean more to me than most people. They’ve treated me better than most people. And I get the feeling that this is the kind of movie for people like me.

Make no mistake — no movie has made me laugh out loud more this year than Malignant. And no movie made in 2021 will probably bring me so much joy because I kind of love that someone gave Wan $40 million to make a movie for people who say, why don’t they make stuff like George Eastman’s Metamorphosis or Tibor Takács’ I, Madman any more.

This is a movie that has a villain that feels like a character someone rolled up using the random character generator tables in an old school role playing game like Champions or Gamma World. “What’d you roll up,” we ask a young James Wan. “Well, he has a giant sword that he made out of a doctor’s award. And he can control lightning. And he dresses like he came right out of Strip Nude for Your Killer.”


“I’m not done. He can also talk to people through radios.”

I mean, can you not see the lunatic zeal of that? And sure, the acting is so bad that you wonder that it just might be a directorial choice — and if so, I love it — but this is also the kind of movie where the fact that Seattle is built above another city gets called out and kind of forgotten — unless you consider that this movie was built on the ashes of stuff like GhosthouseCastle Freak and Basket Case — and there’s a moment where a character falls out of one part of the movie into another, effectively breaking the narrative just as surely as her body smashes through a house.

Is Malignant a transmission from an alternate universe where Wan never stopped making pure junk — and I say that with affection — like Dead SIlence*? Is it someone trying to not have to make Hollywood sequels and screaming for help? Who can say. It’s a mess, a glorious, ridiculous, unfocused mess packed with astounding levels of gore and several upbeat songs that don’t fit the film at all.

I’m shocked it didn’t have someone discussing who is more popular in Denver, Kim Basinger or Kelly LeBrock over a ham radio.

And in case it didn’t come through, I loved this giant steaming pile of movie junk food.

*I’ve done my best not to put any spoilers in here, but there’s a security footage moment in here that has puppet work as bonkers and gory as when the villain behind that aforementioned film turned a family patriarch into a human puppet.

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