The unspoken temptation was always there, year after year, from Twitter tags and social media posts, each Halloween. Take the #31DaysofHorror challenge. Do it. You know you want to.
This year I finally gave in.
My love for horror movies is well documented on this very website, making myself and Famous Monsters the perfect match for such a challenge. And yet, by the end of October, I was ready to throw in the towel. One movie every night is too much for me. It dilutes the impact of the really good films and puts mediocre ones on the same footing as throwaway choices. I’m not sure I would ever do it again.
Part of my problem might have been my insistence on only watching things I had never seen before; it made curating the selection a bit more difficult, although I still varied everything from medium (animation, anthology, documentary) to country of origin (Asia knows best) to budget (practical effects, woo!) to acquisition source (because limiting yourself to Netflix is a grave mistake). In the end, I watched a hell of a lot of movies, but would probably only recommend 7 or 8 of them with enthusiasm.
For better or worse, here is one FM Executive Editor’s experience with watching one horror movie per night for all 31 nights of October.
Total films watched: 31
Countries of origin: USA, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Italy, China, United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Korea, Iran, and Mexico
Sources: Cinefile, Amoeba Music, Hulu, Netflix, Wild Eye Releasing, Cleopatra Entertainment, iTunes, the Regency 16 at the Plant, and my roommate’s DVD collection
Featured monsters: Reanimated dead bodies, evil children, night terrors, flying sharks, vampires, witches, psychopaths, serial killers, werewolves, aliens, social outcasts, vengeful ghosts, ancient demons, diseases, death, cats, an overgrown man-eating deer, a knife possessed by Satan, a bored rich guy, and a paper maché minotaur.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN
Director: Neil Marshall, Darren Lynn Bousman, et al.
Found: on Netflix
Anthology, USA, 2015
Is any of it scary? Nah. Does it matter? Not really. If you’re looking to be terrified, don’t bother with TALES OF HALLOWEEN, but if you’re a horror nut who’s a fan of genre in-jokes and clever twists on classic trick-or-treat setups, you’ll be entertained for sure. If nothing else, the number of Monster Kid cameos is enough to make an exciting Where’s Waldo? event out of your drinking party (yes, that is Mick Garris as the Phantom). Best segment: “This Means War”, wherein Dana Gould and James Duvall throw down over competing Halloween yard decorations. Recommended.
Director: Rodney Ascher
Found: on Netflix
Documentary, USA, 2015
Both alarmingly disturbing and surprisingly educational, THE NIGHTMARE makes a series of creepy reenactments out of interviews with people who experience what they call sleep paralysis. It’s a condition of self-aware terror while trying to fall asleep that can involve out of body experiences or phantom-like shadow beings, and if this film is any indication, it’s scary as hell. The psychology of being subject to a state beyond your control is freakier than any monster, and when an actual monster does show up — in the form of a massive demon, no less — it seems almost anticlimactic in comparison. Recommended.
THE BAR (El bar)
Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Found: on Netflix
Thriller, Spain, 2017
A character microstudy in the tradition of THE MIST or a zombie invasion thriller, El Bar offers the intriguing setup of a cataclysmic event — whatever its nature (the movie never explains this, to its strength) — causing a seemingly random collection of people in a dingy bar to be “quarantined” and unable to escape. What begins as an entertaining what-would-you-do scenario drags in the middle due to the general hysteria and stupidity of the characters involved, but the acting is believable throughout, and it ends on a strong note with an impressively disgusting sequence in a city sewer.
Director: Banjong Piasanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Found: in the “Thai” section of Cinefile in LA
Horror, Thailand, 2004
SHUTTER is absolutely, firmly entrenched in the wave of RINGU-inspired Asian horror flicks of the early 00s, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie, necessarily — just predictable to those of us who have already seen the likes of JU-ON, DARK WATER, and THE EYE… all of which regrettably suffered from watered-down Hollywood remakes, SHUTTER included. The imagery and plot is all stuff we’ve seen before (long hair, slender fingers, and vengeful female ghosts galore), but the film does its job well, and boasts a twist ending that managed to surprise me despite all the tropes.
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (Quella villa accanto al cimitero)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Found: in the “Eurotrash” section of Cinefile in LA
Horror, Italy, 1981
I know, I know… what is she thinking, panning a classic movie by the great Lucio Fulci? For whatever reason, this film did not excite me. Maybe it was the super weird gap-toothed blonde kid whose acting was so bad it made Carol Anne from POLTERGEIST look like Meryl Streep, or the absolutely glacial pacing (this coming from someone who loves a slow burn), or the suspension of disbelief required to watch members of a family somehow get locked in their own basement at least five times. There are a few scenes of impressive arterial spray, but nothing that feels like enough of a payoff after watching a “hysterical mom” try to adapt to a creepy house for an hour. Yawn.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Found: on Hulu
Horror, USA, 1984
Who doesn’t have a soft spot for classic Stephen King adaptations? This one did all the tropes before they were well established: a creepy corn maze, evil children, an abandoned town, even the psychic kid with a gift for prophetic and violent crayon drawings. It’s the film’s earnest attitude that makes it all charming; otherwise a horror fanatic like me might get bored. But CHILDREN OF THE CORN is well-paced; the set pieces and scenery are terrific, and for an 80s movie, it doesn’t feel too horribly dated.
Director: Juno Mak
Found: on Blu-ray at Cinefile in LA
Horror/Fantasy, China, 2013
This is, quite simply, a tour de force of horror fantasy cinema — smart, subversive, shocking, beautifully filmed, and badass in all the right places. It is a kind of tribute to Chinese vampire movies of the 1980s, but by no means do you need to have seen those to appreciate the majesty on display here. Elements that would be the “end game” in any other movie (i.e. dead angry ghost girls, an actor who holes up in a bizarre apartment complex, black magic) add up to serve the final story structure so well they don’t even feel like clichés. The effects and gore are terrific, and the final battle of five elements at the end will blow your mind. RIGOR MORTIS is what genre filmmaking is all about, folks. HIGHLY Recommended.
Director: Lucky McKee
Found: in my roommate’s DVD collection
Drama, USA, 2002
MAY is a nice exploration into adolescent goth angst with starkly gory effects and quality acting. It takes quite a while to get to anything horrific beyond the careless behavior of individual assholes, but Angela Bettis does a good enough job that it’s hard to be bored. I just feel like I’m too old to relate to her character, like the sense of alienation and romanticized insanity is best appreciated by people half my age. If I had watched this a decade ago I probably would have loved it. Now, I can applaud it as a funky interpretation of Frankenstein that doesn’t quite reach beyond the misguided tragedies of youth.
Director: Robert Harmon
Found: on Hulu
Horror Mystery, USA, 2002
I picked this out because I remembered seeing freaky trailers for it in school and decided it looked suitably terrifying. Boy, was I wrong. There’s nothing inherently bad about the film — the acting is fine, the story is fine, even the gooey black child-molesting monsters are fine… it’s just not scary. At all. Maybe it’s because the worst the monsters do is drag you away somewhere else. I wasn’t feeling the main character’s Bridget Fonda haircut, either. The whole thing felt like a kids movie trying really really hard to be a grownup scary movie. It didn’t work.
Director: Raul Garcia
Found: on Netflix
Animation, Anthology, Spain/Belgium, 2013
I don’t understand why there aren’t more animated anthologies for adults. Put Pixar aside for a minute, watch these five glorious renditions of Edgar Allan Poe stories, and tell me they’re not as affecting as anything you’ve seen in live action. Best of all, the cast involved is a Monster Kid’s wet dream: Christopher Lee provides the narration for “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is accompanied by a vintage Bela Lugosi reading, and even Guillermo del Toro joins in the fun for “The Pit and the Pendulum” (which is a genuinely scary adaptation to boot). Macabre fun all around. Recommended.