Guess what time it is?! Yeah, it's time for Horr-tacular 2019! The entire month where I watch a horror movie a day throughout October and let you guys know what I think. I'm letting you guys know in advance if you want to give out suggestions for Monday. I'm going to try to watch your suggestions, but I make no promises as I'm in my fifth semester of Vet. school.
Let's all enjoy this spooky season together! Here's a breakdown of what I'll be doing each day of the week:
Spooky Animu Sunday:
Yup, Sundays are going to be devoted to horror anime. I’m going to give a quick recap of the series and my thoughts on it.
Movies I Want to See Monday:
Mondays are going to be focused on movies that I want to see, but haven’t found the time to watch. Feel free to drop some suggestions and I may watch them.
This is a staple of every Halloween for me, watching horror movies that have been commercial or critical failures.
This Halloween, Wednesdays are going to revolve around remakes of cult classics.
Each Thursday, I am going to sit down and watch a horror movie from history. I’m going to try and limit it to one horror movie every decade just for the sake of getting some variation going.
Famous Fridays will feature movies that are based off of the works of famous horror authors.
I’m trying something different every Saturday. Instead of watching a movie, I’m going to talk about something horror-related that has found its way into other forms of media from comics to video games, to maybe even literature.
1/10/2019 Terrible Tuesdays: Skullduggery:
So let’s start this off with a weird one (always a good opener). Back in the 80’s, there was a bit of a moral panic over Dungeons and Dragons. As such, we got a number of movies extolling the ‘horrors’ of Dungeons and Dragons such as: Dark Dungeons (a cult tries to summon Cthulhu), Mazes and Monsters (Tom Hanks has a dissociative break from reality while playing ‘Mazes and Monsters’ and almost throws himself off the World Trade Center while casting a spell), and Skullduggery.
Skullduggery is about a boy who is possessed by an ancient warlock due to an ancient curse placed on his family who also suffers a break from reality and goes on a killing spree after playing DnD with his friends. Of the three movies, it’s probably the worst. Dark Dungeons is tongue-and-cheek about everything given that it was a parody of an old comic and Mazes and Monsters, while over-the-top, features Tom Hanks acting the hell out of the role. Skullduggery is all-over-the-place with its shoddy acting and plot holes (The twist is that the Devil is the game master (despite giving the protagonist orders that conflict with his goals). It feels more like an attempt to capitalize on something in the news rather than make any real statement. It tries to shoe-horn in an ancient curse, moral panic, and slasher movies and none of them really work in the story itself as the plot never really resolves any of these threads.
2/10/2019 Remake Wednesday: Suspiria
This is a bit of an interesting one. Suspiria tells the tale of a girl who finds herself in a dance academy and unravels the mystery behind the place, exposing a sinister coven and plot. It is a cult classic that has gathered a cult following due to its polarizing music (by Goblin) which I quite enjoy, its make-up and effects, and its general dream-like quality. The remake coincidentally has also been quite polarizing amongst fans of the original. So where do I fall on the remake vs the original?
I quite enjoy it actually. The story is a lot more focused and less exposition-heavy. The dance scene (a girl inadvertently casts a spell while dancing (the medium for magic in the movie) and its effects on a girl is horrifyingly brutal) is memorable and visceral. While the music is quite different from the original, that may be a plus for some people who were alienated by the music choice in the Dario Argento version. All in all, I think the remake strengthens some of the weaknesses of the original (the acting, the plot, and the effects) and is, in my opinion, a more engaging movie. While the original has its charms, I found myself enjoying the remake more with its improvements.
3/10/2019 Throwback Thursday: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Let’s start this out with some controversy. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is widely known as one of the worst received Halloween films and had the lowest critic/audience score out of the other films in the franchise for twenty years (Halloween: Resurrection is that bad y’all). The most notable criticism is that the film does not involve Michael Myers, who has been a staple of the series, and the trailers didn’t really convey that point to audiences. I’m going to explore whether or not this is a valid criticism and whether or not this was the right direction for the series.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is about a doctor who discovers a conspiracy by the Silver Shamrock toy company to sacrifice hundreds of children in a Celtic ritual. While the premise itself is decent, and the trailer is golden, the film has some issues with its acting and pacing. I can see how people going into the film expecting to see another Michael Myers rampage would be disappointed. John Carpenter originally wanted the Halloween series to be a horror anthology focusing on different scenarios each time and it’s interesting to think what could have been. If this film hadn’t gotten the backlash it did which led to later iterations featuring Michael Myers, how it could have changed the franchise and maybe the horror genre in general. Look at all the Halloween sequels (really, look at any horror series like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and the venerable Leprechaun series) following this one and their quality after the original.
I do wonder what would have happened if they followed this pattern with disparate sequels that tangentially tied into the cult. I honestly think we missed out on some potential classics due to audiences wanting a re-hashed Michael Myers plot that we get re-fed every couple of years. While Season of the Witch does have its issues, I do think that it doesn’t deserve the hate it’s gotten. ‘ll be interested to hear what you guys think. Was this a step in the right direction or was John Carpenter making a bad decision by moving this franchise to a new premise?
4/10/2019 Famous Fridays: The Resurrected (Lovecraft)
Let’s start off with an interesting adaption. H.P. Lovecraft isn’t known for having very faithful adaptations of his work. For every Call of Cthulhu, there is a From Beyond, Cthulhu (2000), and The Unnamable that takes creative liberties with the source material. That is not to denigrate those films as I don’t believe strict adherence to the original plot is essential for a good movie. Re-Animator is a black comedy that is over-the-top and unfaithful to the original, but it is still incredibly entertaining (for those who aren’t squeamish). The Resurrected may actually be the closest adaptation to HP Lovecraft’s work. It is based off of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward about a man who, upon discovering one of his ancestors was Joseph Curwen (an infamous occultist/necromancer) he goes to express interest in his work, and in the final act, it is revealed that Curwen has managed to claw outside the bounds of death and survive by inhabiting the body of Charles Ward.
While the movie is set in more modern times, it pretty faithfully follows the original story (besides some more gory inclusions). There’s an irony here that The Case of Dexter Ward is one of the few works of HP Lovecraft’s to be faithfully adapted considering in a letter to R.H. Barlow, he called it a “cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism” and I have to agree. The Case of Dexter Ward is probably one of my least favorite stories of his. It tends to drag given its length and doesn't really hook me much in terms of premise or prose. The novel was published posthumously, but it is one of the only works of his to receive a faithful adaption. There’s a bit of dark humor there. The novel also contains the first mention of the entity Yog-Sothoth which plays a role in the Cthulhu mythos.
5/10/2019 Showcase Saturday: Sweet Home
Sweet Home is a thriller focusing on the “Monster Apocalypse” that turns a portion of the world into monsters. The main protagonist, Hyun Cha, has recently moved into an apartment after the loss of his family in an accident and finds himself trapped in the complex. On top of that, Hyun Cha finds himself infected and struggling with his more base desires that threaten to overwhelm him and turn him into one of those monsters.
I think what sold this series to me is the character development. While it’s still an ongoing series with 90+ issues, a number of characters are fleshed out and you can get behind their motivations (which makes it all the more sad when those goals, dreams, and aspirations abruptly end at the hands/claws/tentacles of a monstrosity that is itself driven by a goal that has been warped and twisted). Speak of monsters, this series shines with its monster details; muscle-bound monstrosities, tentacle-twisted travesties, and alien abominations. These things are terrifying, malformed, and haunting and if you’re a fan of body horror, this is a good series to read.
6/10/2019 Spooky Animu Sunday: Shiki
First things first, everyone has a serious case of anime hair (not just the protagonists) so it is a bit comical at first, but once you get engaged in the story, it’s easily overlooked. The story focuses on a town that is slowly invaded by vampires whose goal is to build a community by systematically converting and killing the population. Shiki is a well-built story with a lot of scientific/medical research that (at least with my base understanding) checks out. A lot of the anime’s strength is in its characterization. Each character feels fleshed out with their own arcs and goals which is refreshing.
The first half is relatively tame which did lull me into a bit of security until the latter half where the violence becomes over-the-top and unsettling. This series was interesting due to how it portrays its character (human and vampire), trying to show the humanity on both sides. It is a pretty tough sell as the vampires don’t have much justification (and some are just plain sadistic) for their actions, but Nao Yasamuri’s character arc is probably one the best example of how this can be done effectively. Nao was neglected by her parents before finding peace with her husband’s family who she tries (and fails) to convert. Despite not fully succeeding in justifying the vampires’ actions, during the extermination scenes that really doesn’t matter. Based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono, it does an excellent job of shifting the audience sympathy from the people who are being hunted to the vampires due to the brutality in which they’re being exterminated (with strong parallels to a genocide). It’s not a perfect execution, but it was an interesting take. For anyone with a few days to spare, Shiki is definitely worth your time as there aren’t many shows/stories taking this approach.
7/10/2019 Movies I want to see Monday: Us
Us is from the director of Get Out, a film I really enjoyed watching on a previous Halloween Horror-tacular, so I had high hopes for this one. And, to be honest, I’m a bit mixed on this. I like some aspects, but other points don’t quite hit the mark. The positives: This film may be the most interesting portrayal of Imposter Syndrome as it follows a family who are menaced by their doppelgängers who amplify traits they wished they had. Gabe, the father, is focused on impressing his rich neighbors and their status symbols (a boat) while his doppelgänger (Abraham) is definitely played up as a healthier/stronger version of him. Abraham meets his end by being undone by the status symbol that Gam\be envied at the start of the movie. This sets off a bit of symbolism as the material trapping Gabe valued are revealed to be dangerous/end up undoing his doppelgänger (quite literally with its propellers). It’s only through these realizations/acceptance of their flaws and shortcomings that they’re able to get beyond them.
There’s a lot to like about this film, but the explanation for the Tethered (the Doppelgängers) took a bit away for me. While I do like the social commentary on display of people thriving and profiting off of the suffering of others as I feel like it’s an often overlooked socioeconomic issue for many people, I feel like it would have been better left as this nebulous thing rather than some government experiment that gets exposition-ed to the audience. The comedy, music, and acting is excellent, but the plot itself has a few hiccups that took me out of the film while I was watching. It’s still good, but it might not be the lighting-in-the-bottle that Get Out was and that’s fine. The movie has some interesting ideas and manages them well enough that I’m interested to see what Jordan Peele has up next.
8/10/2019 Silent Hill: Revelation
Say what you want about the original Silent Hill movie (I personally enjoyed some aspects of it, mainly the monster design and atmosphere, but found the shoe-horning of Pyramid Head and pointless shock scenes to be a bit tiring’s almost as if repeatedly trying to force him or a imitation into every game/movie since 2007 (with the exception of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories) isn’t a winning strategy.), but there is one thing most fans of the series can agree on, Silent Hill: Revelation is not a good movie in any aspect.
The only positive I can really say about the movie is that it has some pretty interesting actors in the film ranging from Malcolm McDowell, Sean Bean, to Kit Harrington (playing a high schooler in 2012). Other than that, the movie plot is weak as it tries to cram all the events of Silent Hill 3 into an hour and a half and hobbles a lot of characters in the process (Douglas is a throwaway character who dies within minutes of being introduced, Vincent is downgraded to romantic interest (which is awkward considering the character in the game), and Pyramid Head is once again thrown into the story as a means of fan-service). It also tries to sequel-bait the events of Silent Hill: Downpour which is… just scraping the bottom of the barrel. I can’t even really recommend the movie as something that is so bad it’s good. The only real thing I can say is that fans of the Silent Hill series can watch it to see the numerous nods they make throughout to other characters/events and count their blessings that they weren’t used in this movie.
9/10/2019 Evil Dead (Remake)
Let’s go from one cult classic remake to another. Evil Dead holds a special place in my heart as it goes to show what admiration for a genre and determination can get you. Sam Raimi and a bunch of friends basically funded this movie about a group of friends awakening an ancient evil in a secluded cabin in the woods on a shoe-string budget by begging and scrimping together enough money. It was a commercial success and has spawned numerous sequels, a TV show, and a remake. I’m a bit torn, while I think Evil Dead II is the best version (it’s campy and over-the-top in a perfect combination) of this story, I’m not sure if the original or the remake is a better version.
The remake is a lot more technically competent with action, effects, and a more cohesive plot (the friends are in the cabin to help their friends detox), but the original has a lot of charm due to its shoe-string budget and interesting camera angles/shots. The final scene in which the last remaining character faces the abomination is over-the-top (it’s raining buckets of blood and involves an up-close encounter with a chainsaw). Unfortunately the remake sacrifices a lot of what made the originals so entertaining, the campy aspect. Take a look at the scene I included above. The main character, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is cackling insanely as his world around him crumbles and the (possessed) cabin laughs along with him. There is nothing he can do, but laugh and that scenes gives me so much more context for his character than anything Mia goes through in the remake. The remake is interesting and worth a watch if you’re a fan of the series, but Evil Dead II (which in itself was a remake of the original) is the best version.
10/10/2019 Alien (1979)
Alien is a sci-fi horror classic that has spawned the well-known series that continues to this very day. Alien tells the tale of the Nostromo crew who investigate a distress call on a distant planet only to discover it wasn’t a distress beacon, but a warning. The crew find themselves being hunted by the same thing that obliterated the planet and engage in a desperate struggle for survival.
There’s a reason why this movie makes a lot of top horror movie lists. It does an excellent job building tension and carefully concealing the eponymous alien until a sudden reveal that is so sudden and jarring that it made me jump even though I’ve seen this film numerous times. H.R. Giger’s design for the alien is perfect and the practical special effects really sell the emersion. A lot of people discuss the themes of the movie revolving around sexuality and sexual assault (See: Facehuggers), and I have to agree that those themes are definitely present and pervasive throughout the film. Unfortunately I don’t have enough space (or time really) to break down that subject without a couple of pages and a couple of hours so I’ll advise you to look that up yourself (with safe search on :-) if you’re interested.). Fun facts: The slime on the alien is composed of K-Y jelly and apparently the tendons on the alien’s jaw were made out of shredded condoms. I’m sure those are some interesting tidbits that could be worked into anyone’s claims about underlying themes in the movie.
11/10/2019 Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue has been called one of the first detective stories and after a lot of research, I have to agree. It follows C. Auguste Dupin, a detective, who is investigating the brutal murder of two women in a room that was locked from the inside and on the fourth floor. The analytical detective quickly deduced the true culprit, an orangutan that a sailor picked up in Borneo that while attempting to mimic him shaving with a straight-razor, murdered a woman and strangled her daughter. It… was an interesting twist…
The 1932 film decides to try and one-up the crazy by making the film about a mad scientist (played by Bela Lugosi of course) who kidnaps women and injects them with ape blood in an attempt to transform them into a mate for his talking gorilla. It’s in no way a faithful adaptation, but it is interesting to see how the film changed from the source material in an attempt to compete with Frankenstein which was released the previous year to critical success. Speaking of Frankenstein… in a week.
12/10/2019 The Magnus Archives:
I featured Welcome to Night Vale last Halloween season and that podcast was received pretty warmly so I’d like to focus on another series that I’ve really enjoyed. The Magnus Archives is a series by group, the Rusty Quill (http://rustyquill.com/the-magnus-archives/) which focuses on the eponymous Magnus Institute in London which specializes in investigating paranormal occurrences ranging from someone’s tale of a walking, writhing hive of burrowing worms to an angler fish-like entity that lures its bait to a mysterious end. All entries are presented as audio testimonies and reports giving them a realistic and ghoulish feel.
I’m about halfway through the series with each episode being about 20 minutes long. The podcast does an excellent job of presenting disparate, almost X-Files-like, paranormal events and slowly begins to weave them together into an over-arching story. Standout episodes are: Episode 1: Angler Fish as it’s an effective introduction to the premise and “Episode 34: Anatomy Class” (Detailing a professor who recounts an experience during a dissection class with wholly unnerving students who seem more bent on mimicking physiology than learning about it). If you’re a fan of horror stories that have excellent voice acting and visceral sound effects, then I’d strongly recommend looking into The Magnus Archives.
13/10/2019 Boogiepop Phantom
I actually remember staying up and watching Boogiepop Phantom when it was airing on Tech TV (that makes me feel real old). Due to its shifting narrative, I was never sure if I managed to catch all the episodes or not. The anime focuses on a city in Japan that witnesses a blinding pillar of light which is immediately followed by a string of murders that appear to be the work of a serial killer. It effectively uses repeating scenes from different perspectives to change the tone of a scene and provide different takes which gives it a very Rashomon-esque feel to it given how each person’s perspective warps the narrative and adds depth to the already murky story.
A large theme of this series is escapism. There’s a subplot involving burning memories to erase them and showcases people’s inability to grow from this. Instead of taking that experience and bettering themselves, they end up stagnating and re-iterating their mistakes. A character escapes into nostalgia and ends up threatening other characters. I would say the biggest resonating theme for me is the importance of past and how it shapes us. All in all, even if it’s a bit muddled and convoluted, the premise is interesting enough to warrant a view if you’re looking for something to chew on and think over.
14/10/2019 Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
I was recommended this by my friend Cathy and I just had to watch it. Growing up I was a huge fan of Scary Stories to tell in the dark and Stephen Gammel’s artwork was pure nightmare fuel for me. I remember seeing the book’s black-and-white detailed grotesqueries on each cover and instantly knew this was coming back to haunt me later that night. I won’t lie, a part of me was worried that childhood nostalgia would ruin this movie for me by setting this unobtainable standard for something that impacted me so much when I was younger that it could never live up to. So does it hold up, is the movie good?
While the premise has been used in series like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark (a cursed book that acts as the focal point to the terror), it does serve as an excellent way of introducing multiple monsters, ghouls, and abominations without feeling like it’s rushing through them all or cramming them into the story (like Goosebumps did). I will say a small part of me almost thinks that this film would have resonated with me better as an animated feature than a live-action one. They do a good job of re-creating the traumatic travesties, but they don’t quite pack that much of a visceral punch as the original artwork as something is lost in the motion and rendering.
So is it good? I think it’s a really enjoyable experience if you’re someone who grew up with these things haunting your dreams, but the movie failed to do one thing that the books were always capable of, it really didn’t scare me or engage me much beyond a nostalgic siren song. While I know fear is subjective, bland characters aren’t and the movie can be a bit of a chore in-between the horror scenes. While Alvin Schwartz (the author of the series) was known for writing in a matter-of-fact way and not really building characters beyond vehicles for the horror elements to act on, it doesn’t quite work in this format as you’re with these people for an hour and a half whereas in the books, you were there for about a couple of pages before the next scenario and it weakens the movie. So is it good? I can’t really say without discounting my nostalgia and memories of how the books made me feel (terrified and exhilarated), I guess those of you who didn’t grow up with these books will have to tell me what you thought.
15/10/2019 Zombie Nation:
The early 2000’s was an interesting time for fans of the zombie genre. Films and games like Resident Evil, The Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, Shawn of the Dead, and George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead were piquing audience interest and while you could argue about the overall quality of films/games at that time, you couldn’t really argue that they were responsible for re-animating a genre that had been relatively dead for a while. You may be asking me why I spent so long setting the stage instead of talking about Zombie Nation? That’s because there is nothing entertaining or fun to write about here. Even though it features six zombies, this felt more like a time vampire.
Fun fact: I was given this as a Christmas present many years ago when my sister raided a Blockbuster and bought a bunch of cheap titles (it’s worth noting that we do enjoy terrible movies (See Hammerhead: Half-man, Half-Shark, Total Terror) so this was a welcome gift) for twenty or so dollars. Zombie Nation, however, is not a good film in any aspect. From bad acting, bad special effects, to misleading titles (There are six zombies in the film, six does not a nation make). The story is about Joe, a cop that is a serial killer, who incurs the wrath of a group of Voodoo priestesses who reanimate his victims for revenge. I wish I had something more entertaining to write about here, but there’s nothing. This might be the worst zombie movie I’ve ever seen.
16/10/2019 The Blob (Remake)
This is a bit of an interesting one as I saw the remake (1988) before the original one (1958). As such, the remake does hold a bit of a special place in my heart over the original given my early exposure to it. The Blob is about a small town that is forced into a desperate struggle with a gelatinous creature (that either came from space or was a military experiment gone awry) that engulfs everything in its path. While it was not well-received by audiences at the time, it has garnered a bit of an underground following and I can definitely see why.
I think the scariest aspect about these types of movies is the audience’s inability to comprehend the monster in any way. There are no goals or ulterior motives, the Blob exists to consume everything in its path and grow uncontrollably. You can’t reason with it, predict what it’s going to do, or understand it in any way. The special effects in this film are disgustingly amazing. The Blob has a tendency to corrosively melt away anything it touches and it straight-up dissolves some people who find themselves trapped in its mass. If you have the stomach for it, I’d definitely recommend this.
17/10/2019 Rosemary’s Baby (60’s)
Another classic movie for Throwback Thursday. So far we’ve worked through the 80’s to the 70’s and now we’re in the 60’s (there’s a pattern here I think). Rosemary’s Baby is about the titular Rosemary who moves into a new building with her significant other and finds herself at the center of a cultic ritual to birth the Antichrist. It has been praised for its surreal horror and unnerving plot.
The movie was well-received upon its release and has found a place in the horror community. Unfortunately it’s difficult to talk about the movie without discussing the director, Roman Polanski. I’m going to follow Samantha Geimer’s lead who wrote “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski” (an autobiographical recounting of events) and try to move past my disgust about his actions and leave judgement up to God and the courts. The movie is surreal and the ending is shocking and horrifying in a wholly human way. The movie’s major theme is that of maternity and plays off of the inherent fear surrounding childbirth. The idea that you could be the parent in this terrifying situation sets off something deep and instinctual for me that few movies have every really managed to convey. If you’re able to separate the person behind the camera from the film, this movie is definitely one to watch if the premise interests you as it is shot well, told interestingly, and the ending is genuinely upsetting.