Happy Horror-ween: October ’16 in Film

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October has been one of the best months I’ve had in a long time. Around the end of September, I anticipated the upcoming horror season so much that I decided to begin watching primarily horror films a few days early. This continued throughout this past month, wherein I watched a whole bunch of new-to-me horror films! Everything from overlooked sequels, to classics I’ve been previously putting off, to weird/artsy stuff that I would’ve never thought to watch in the past! It’s definitely not to say that I enjoyed everything I watched – in fact, there were a good amount that kind of hated. But just getting back to watching horror movies is a satisfying experience in and of itself, and transports me back to a few years ago when I was discovering the genre with fresh eyes and an ever-sprouting love. I was fortunate enough to watch a few of these on a big screen via flashback screenings, but most were watched in the comfort of my home and many through Shudder, which is my new favorite streaming service (although a bit frustrating in its dubious playback).

I also continued with making video reviews, which is something that I feared I would drop off of this past month. It turns out that I actually really enjoy making them! My initial anxieties came mostly from learning to speak effectively into a camera, but I think I’ve been improving. It is actually a bit embarrassing going back and watching my Birth review, since I’ve definitely improved a lot in getting my points across in recent videos. I’ve also been slowly trying to get back into more film writing and have put a few short reviews on Letterboxd this past month. Not surprisingly, reviewing films verbally have helped with me improving on my own writing and vice versa. It feels so fun and natural to be talking about film (especially horror) once again and I’m so happy I’ve found my swing again. I had taken a bit of a hiatus with working on my post on Billboard’s top 100 of 1980 to work on all of the above, but expect that to be published fairly soon!

As far as books, TV, and music is concerned, I also had a pretty good month! I finished Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, and Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color, all of which I have enjoyed. Also, through one whole morning last month, I completely caught up with Donald Glover’s new show Atlanta, which definitely makes him a new favorite of mine (as if his work in Community and on Because the Internet somehow wasn’t enough). Finally, while most of my music-listening has been through my Halloween playlist, which I’ve replayed every year for four years, I got back to catching up with all those albums I’ve had queued up forever. I somehow just discovered Big Black and now I think a whole noise-rock phase is underway.

Without further ado, here is the full list of what I watched this past month. As always, asterisks indicate rewatches.

  1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman, 1978)
  2. Evil Bong (Band, 2006)
  3. Basket Case (Henenlotter, 1982)
  4. Operazione paura (Kill, Baby, Kill) (Bava, 1966)
  5. Child’s Play (Holland, 1988)
  6. Demon (Wrona, 2016)
  7. Dans ma peau (In My Skin) (de Van, 2002)
  8. Q (Cohen, 1982)
  9. The Lazarus Effect (Gelb, 2015)
  10. ThanksKilling (Downey, 2009)
  11. The Hills Have Eyes (Craven, 1977)
  12. Possession (Żuławski, 1981)
  13. Hobo With a Shotgun (Eisener, 2011)
  14. Discopathe (Gauthier, 2014)
  15. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Harlin, 1988)
  16. House of 1000 Corpses (Zombie, 2003)
  17. The Room (Wiseau, 2003)*
  18. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (Hopkins, 1989)
  19. The Legend of Hell House (Hough, 1973)
  20. Mirror, Mirror (Sargenti, 1990)
  21. Trail of the Screaming Forehead (Blamire, 2008)
  22. Jaws 2 (Szwarc, 1978)
  23. The Blob (Russell, 1988)
  24. House (Miner, 1986)
  25. C.H.U.D. (Cheek, 1984)
  26. Return to Oz (Murch, 1985)
  27. Babe: Pig in the City (Miller, 1998)*
  28. The Conjuring 2 (Wan, 2016)
  29. Nightbreed (Barker, 1990)
  30. Lights Out (Sandberg, 2016)
  31. When Animals Dream (Arnby, 2014)
  32. Werewolves on Wheels (Levesque, 1971)
  33. American Honey (Arnold, 2016)
  34. Practical Magic (Dunne, 1998)
  35. Hocus Pocus (Ortega, 1993)*
  36. Good Burger (Robbins, 1997)*
  37. Gojira (Godzilla) (Honda, 1954)
  38. The Fog (Carpenter, 1980)
  39. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (Talalay, 1991)
  40. El espinazo del diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) (del Toro, 2001)
  41. Scary Movie 2 (Wayans, 2001)
  42. Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)*
  43. Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
  44. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
  45. Grizzly (Girdler, 1976)
  46. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Tartakovsky, 2015)
  47. The Craft (Fleming, 1996)*
  48. Witch’s Night Out (Leach, 1978)
  49. L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) (Cattet & Forzani, 2013)
  50. Trick ‘r Treat (Doughtery, 2007)
  51. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Selick, 1993)*
  52. The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)*

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I guess if I want to offer my praises for all the fun horror I watched this past month (and there’s a lot!), I should go over the worst of the worst just to get them out of the way. Since I watched the first Puppet Master at the end of last month, I decided to check out something fairly recent from Charles Band. Evil Bong, in particular, has been on my radar for a little while, mainly because of its premise and the subsequent cult following that has helped to generate it numerous sequels. I definitely wasn’t expecting high-class cinema, but I was expecting to at least have a good time; sadly, this did not happen. This film is brimming with fratboyish humor that I can’t see appealing to anyone other than white high school boys. It is also tremendously sexist, with all of the few women present in the film being little more than stupid sextoys for our dopey leads. The inclusion of Tommy Chong in a couple of scenes was an ever-so-slight relief, but nothing could have really saved this movie from the mindless chasm of stoner humor it so clumsily carved out for itself (and I like stoner humor!).

I had some pretty similar complaints with another modern trash-horror classic ThanksKilling, only this was somehow way worse. It’s just as cheaply made, but it’s even more evident here in its reprehensible moral code and quickly tiresome sense of humor. Much like Evil Bong, the women here only serve the purpose of being trophies or pleasure objects for the men in the film, which immediately makes this repugnant beyond all measure. Even beyond this, though, it’s painfully obvious just how much these filmmakers desire to tap into that “poorly made, ironically hilarious” subgenre of cult movies. While one could argue that this indicates that the film simply knows its audience, I’ll go one step beyond and suggest that this movie hates its audience. With the antagonist being a killer turkey who looks like a plush toy and growls profanities every chance he gets, it’s pretty obvious how one could reach that conclusion. Fuck this movie.

Some other movies I hated this month: The Lazarus Effect, a movie I watched purely for Donald Glover but found to be completely pointless; Discopathe, an utter borefest that totally wastes its “disturbed man kills people because of disco” premise; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, easily the worst of the NOAS series (from what I’ve seen); Jaws 2, a lackluster sequel that totally misses the mark on what made its predecessor so creepy; Nightbreed, Clive Barker’s special effects demonstration that is, otherwise, rather empty; Lights Out, an awful film from this year that suggests that mentally ill people would serve the world a ton of good by killing themselves; and Scary Movie 2, yet another dismal sequel that takes the low-brow humor of the original to even lower grounds. As much as I love the genre, I somehow always forget just how much bad stuff I often have to sift through.

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But besides all of this bad stuff, I also came across a whole bunch of new favorites as well! As the first horror movie I watched in October, I instantly loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I already did a whole video on that. The next notable film is Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case. I have previously watched two of his other films – Brain Damage and Frankenhooker – and while I really need to rewatch the latter, Basket Case is probably my favorite of his work so far. Its low-budget is definitely apparent in its seedy aesthetic and probably not-so-great choices in editing and dialogue, but unlike ThanksKilling, this cheapness really works in its favor. The grainy imagery of NYC in the 80s is absolutely killer, as is the general weirdness of the movie as the plot ever-so-slowly thickens. The inclusion of Belial is one for the ages for sure, especially given how well his grotesque imagery works with the campy vibe of the movie as a whole. This isn’t masterful filmmaking by any means, but for entertainment value alone, it’s easy to see how this has become such a cult classic.

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I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street 5 earlier, and indeed it was part of a little mini-journey I went through some of the later sequels of the franchise. I had previously watched only the first three films – with Dream Warriors being far and away my favorite – and while I still need to rewatch the second film (which I liked the least but am totally willing to give it a second chance), I enjoyed the general concept enough to continue on with it.

Of the next three films that I watched this month, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is the one I remember the least about. Seriously, I can more or less discern between each film primarily by the plot and the kills, and this one was the least engaging on both parts (well, except for that weird dog pissing fire scene…). Nonetheless, I can’t really say I disliked it – it just kind of passed by for me without making much of an impression, good or bad. While I have already mentioned The Dream Child up above there, I’d like to reiterate just how much I disliked the weird, unneeded pro-life angle that just went on there. A more humanly approach to the ordeal at hand would at least make abortion somewhat of a viable option for poor Alice. And I do get all the conflicting emotions at play for something as conclusive as that, but this is the dream child we’re talking about!! (I’m definitely thinking way too much into this, but that’s okay!)

Finally, I’d like to take a special moment right here to defend Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, which seems to be the most universally hated film of the series for some reason. Well, okay, I understand why – the writing is wonky, Freddy is less threatening than ever before, and this is far from the effective capper of the series than I think the franchise deserved. However, it should be noted that director Rachel Talalay worked on every other NOES film previous to this, committing her love for the series time and time again until she was finally given the chance to direct. And not only that – this was her directorial debut! With that being said, this could have gone way off the deep end had it been in the hands of someone less connected with the subject matter (as it did with Stephen Hopkins helming The Dream Child), but Talalay effectively widens the scope of Freddy’s canon in some of the most interesting ways. I loved that the two final girls were totally badass and I also loved the scene in which Freddy actually dies! And yeah, the movie is more messy than anything else, but its genuinely good qualities should not be overlooked for one second.

I plan on eventually watching through the rest of the series – New NightmareFreddy vs. Jason, and even A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (even though this one does not feature Robert Englund…). Hopefully this will happen next month.

q-the-winged-serpent-monster

I watched Larry Cohen’s Q as part of a Quetzalcoatl night at a local theater. Needless to say, this was pretty awesome. The winged serpent itself was so retro and Harryhausen as hell, even though we didn’t see too much of it. But I’m pretty sure this decision is as wise as it was intentional, as the scenes that we did see it – usually when it’s comedically eating up random pedestrians with no more than three or four lines – were so freakin’ awesome. It is a bit strange how the narrative chooses to follow around the story of an ex-conman trying to use the knowledge of the creature’s nest to his own advantage, and the movie comes off as a bit sluggish as a result. Also, it’s just random as hell, almost as if the filmmakers were working with a mere rough draft of the script with loose ends and plot holes thrown in just for the heck of it. Yet the whole untamed nature of this production works just as well as the erraticism of the creature in terms of utter unpredictability and the simple joys of watching giant monsters eat people up. And, like Basket Case, this is yet another wonderful portrayal of 80s New York that I want to store into my mental archives forever.

the-blob-sheriff-kill

Chuck Russell’s The Blob was the second of two horror remakes I caught this month that I really, really loved. While I do remember enjoying the original film from three decades prior, I also remember it being very of its time, abound with 1950s sensibilities and filmmaking techniques. Accordingly, this remake feels very 80s as well in its overall look and feel, yet the old timey threat of the titular blob still remains, making for an interesting juxtaposition between the two generations. I had a lot of fun watching this film from beginning to end, particularly with the superbly creative kills and special effects. The art design and makeup work is particularly gruesome, making for some of the most horrifying death scenes to occur in an otherwise playful 80s horror (the above image is one of the tamer ones!). It follows a whole bunch of 80s horror tropes, especially with its stereotypical character representation and narrative flow, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the most explicitly entertaining types around. It should also be noted that Chuck Russell also directed Dream Warriors, so I guess one should automatically expect to have a great time from that fact alone!

return-to-oz

This month, I caught a double-feature of Return to Oz and Babe: Pig in the City (both in 35mm) and it really was the most amazing thing. I wanted to make a video review on the double-bill, but unfortunately never found the time to. In any case, this was the best possible way I could’ve finally gotten around to watching Return to Oz for the first time. I read the first couple of Oz books from Frank L. Baum back in my youth, and since this movie was a bit more accurate with the scope of the universe than the ’39 film, I found myself being taken over by a sudden wave of nostalgia for the characters. Particularly Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, who were personal favorites of mine as a youth. Everyone points out how much utterly morbid and sometimes this scary this film is, and that is certainly the case in its macabre atmosphere, creepy costumes and characters, and the absolutely terrifying climax. Yet I found the movie quite beautiful as well, something of an allegory for childhood/innocence lost and the looming threat to grow up perhaps way too quickly than one might desire. It’s a loving testament to the colorful, shiny characters that occupy the minds and hearts of youth, who come to their aid in times of frustration and depression. It’s a film that I really wish I had grown up with, but I sure am glad to have finally watched it at 25.

The screening of Babe: Pig in the City was also pretty wonderful, particularly with the reactions of audience members who had never seen this film. This was actually my second time watching it, and it was far more obvious just how much editing had to be done to make George Miller’s dark subject matter more kid-friendly. Specifically with the inclusion of the singing mice, a throwback to the first film that I always found particularly clumsy and embarrassing. In some ways, though, this film could kind of be seen as reminiscent of his Mad Max series, particularly in some stylistic choices found in its high-energy action and chase scenes. Call me crazy, but the scene in which Babe sees his life flash before his eyes while being chased by an angry dog feels very familiar to the introductory scene in Fury Road. But I’m probably looking way too much into this, once again.

icon-is-born

I didn’t watch very many films from before the 70s this time around, but one of the biggest blind spots I finally covered this month was my very first viewing of Toshiro Honda’s first Godzilla film from 1954. One of the most prominent thoughts I had while watching this is wondering how exactly audiences in the 50’s watched and reacted to this film. The special effects here are more or less on par with the giant ants in Them!, which was released the same year, and that film was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects work. Watching this movie with 21st century eyes and brain, it’s abundantly clear that the titular monster is a man in a costume, blown up with fancy camera effects to merely give the illusion that he’s terrorizing cities. So, did the huge cult following that started with this film come from a genuine feeling of dread and horror during the viewing experience, or was it more an appreciation for the camp effect that came from watching these effects that may or may not have already felt dated? In any case, I think most of the horror from this particular movie comes from the origins of Godzilla himself – namely the effects of nuclear radiation that allow such a thing to exist. It must have truly tapped into the fresh fears of Japan’s post-WWII environment, and it’s a metaphor that, quite sadly, holds up rather well today. The film’s pace may be a bit clumsy, with action progressing in fits and starts, and it’s definitely held up a bit poorly otherwise, but all the terrific scenes with this monstrous lizard make it well worth a watch, at last.

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Around the final third of the month, I went on a bit of a John Carpenter watching spree, starting with me finally getting around to the original The Fog. Immediately, I could tell that it’s one of his slower ones, with most of the story surrounding the investigation of the small town murders and actual character development. However, upon watching the original Halloween (more on that later), it seems that this kind of slow-burn thriller-horror was a stylistic normality for those films that Carpenter co-wrote with Debra Hill. This is certainly not a bad thing! In fact, it makes the story itself all the more compelling, even if the kill scenes aren’t so flashy. I love how the film primarily follows the main conflict as experienced by a group of women, each doing their own thing and living their own lives without being killed off for daring to have sex or be an independent woman overall. This is something that has always frustrated me in a lot of slashers, so it’s such a nice breath of fresh air to watch a film that’s a cut above the rest. Besides all this, the cinematography is fantastic, and the entire final third leading up to the climax is so bone-chillingly intense, making the slow parts in the first half well worth surpassing. This fully solidifies the fact that Carpenter had quite a high-quality fun in movie-making during his directorial career’s first decade or so.

halloween-ii-myers-in-window

Shortly after watching The Fog, I decided to revisit the first Halloween film and also finally get around to the next two sequels. It had been a few years since I gave Halloween a viewing, though I’ve seen it a couple times prior, but I always seem to forget just how slow and calculated it is. While the gruesome murder is immediately set up in a horrifying opening scene, the rest of the film feels very minimalist in comparison, save for the intense final third. This is hardly a complaint, though. I am always put off by scenes where Michael shows up unexpectedly during a simple conversation scene or something, only to just walk away. The mere act of acknowledging his presence in the real world is terrifying enough, and the pacing of the movie is a strong indicator of such. I’m finally able to really appreciate Jamie Lee Curtis for her final girl role here, and it’s safe to say that she may be one of my very favorites. All in all, this was an excellent experience in rewatching, and I can’t wait to watch this again next Halloween.

The sequel of the first Halloween film, while still enjoyable by my own standards, definitely didn’t match up to the excellence that was the first film. While this film wasn’t directed by Carpenter, his fingerprints are still all over the material, namely in the form of his and Hill’s writing and his musical score (the one factor that remains consistently awesome through all three films). It picks up immediately where the last one left off, which I honestly don’t think was necessarily the best idea. After the bombshell that was the first film’s final third, suddenly going back to the signature realistic pace is slightly frustrating. They also really went overboard with the usage of Michael Myer’s first-person perspective; the reason why it worked so well in the first film was because it was used very sparingly, and thus was jarring to experience. It doesn’t quite have the same effect when every Michael scene demonstrates this technique – it just gets boring. Yet despite these complaints, I didn’t hate the movie! The plot and character development is excellent, the kills are just as gruesome and memorable as in the first film, and the climax offers a great end to the Michael Myers story (or so we think). I would just be harder pressed on watching it again, given its own particular flaws.

And finally, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I already did a video review on this one, but I just want to reiterate how much I loved it. The style, the music, the imagery, the story, the characters – they are all so fun and yet also so creepy. And the more I think about this film, the more things I remember about it that I admired so much. This image in particular really sticks with me (content warning for bugs and gore-like imagery in the screencap). Even the opening pixelated jack o’ lantern feels like something I would have loved to watch on my TV screen as a kid. There aren’t too many films out there purely about the cult of personality that is Halloween, but Season of the Witch has got to be among the better ones.

witchs-night-out

The actual day of Halloween for me and my boyfriend was spent watching all sorts of Halloween-themed TV specials from various nostalgic shows and other outlets, primarily animated stuff. Besides classic fare like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, we’ve also been watching special Halloween episodes of The Adventures of Pete & PeteSpongeBob SquarepantsDoug, The Real GhostbustersTiny Toon Adventures, and other shows. We also sought out some of the more weirder artifacts, like Halloween is Grinch Night and The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. We stumbled across Witch’s Night Out during this search, and while it’s not necessarily amazing Halloween tradition fare, it’s still pretty charming. It’s a Canadian animated short from the 70s, and everything about that description fits it to a T. The stilted voice acting and animated are so 70s it hurts, as is the disjointed plot that runs its course very quickly. The major highlight in the voice work is Gilda Radner(!) as the eponymous witch, who is essentially undergoing an existential crisis since a drainage of the town’s Halloween spirit gives her no purpose. So, as bored as she is, she essentially decides to leave her mansion to find some people (er… weird, colorful, sentient blobs) to haunt. Most of the humor comes from Radner’s performance, as well as the awkward and ugly faces that occasionally show up among all the characters (that’s 70s Western animation for you!). I could imagine this being an absolute delight for young viewers of the time – or any time, really – but it doesn’t have much else that’s very substantial to offer. Well, besides the merciless earworm of a theme song – just give it a listen and try to get it out of your head for the next day and a half! I know I still can’t…

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And of course, there are the Halloween movies. Since it was the 31st, I decided I would finally get around to Trick ‘r Treat, a film that has been adopted by many as a modern Halloween classic. Not surprisingly, I had a lot of fun with it, especially given that the movie proves itself to be made by true lovers and appreciators of the holiday. Some of the stories felt a wee bit underwhelming, but it was more than made up for some of the others that helmed some of the most fun twist this side of the pumpkin patch. The slew of colorful characters are unforgettable, and while the movie does have its fare share of humor that might not always work like it wants to, the creepiness factor that pervades the whole pictures makes this a spooky treat nonetheless. All in all, this is a great film for fellow Halloween lovers like myself to relish in the urban legend mythos, dark humor, and endless jack o’ lantern imagery with which this movie is filled to the brim.

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And in keeping up with tradition, I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas for the seventh (or eighth?) Halloween in a row. I feel that I’ve seen this movie so many times and I know it better than Jack Skellington knows Christmas, so there’s very little else to say about it. Although this time around, I watched it while keeping in mind the recent interpretations of the movie that draw it as a criticism of cultural appropriation. I think to some degree it holds some weight, what with Jack viewing the Christmas land as an outsider and becoming obsessed with the outwardly material aspects of it, while ignoring the fact that it could have serious negative repercussions on the originators of the traditions. But I guess the inclusion of Oogie Boogie as antagonist (still my favorite character ever) throws this through a bit of a loop, making it a flimsy interpretation at best. Still, it’s a fantastic movie and I really hope I never, ever get sick of it.

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For the final film viewing of Halloween night, I ultimately got around to a much-needed rewatch of John Carpenter’s The Thing. I remember really appreciating it when I watched it a few years back, but I don’t think I ever really gave it the time and energy it really deserved. This is Malcolm’s favorite horror film and it’s safe to say that this may be one of my favorites as well, and surely Carpenter’s most fully realized work. There are tons of genuinely scary, disgusting horror images that seem to just spring up out of nowhere, and each instance of the parasite’s metamorphosing in its retrospective vessel feels more terrifying than the last. And much like the oppressive urban atmosphere of They Live from a few years later, the circumstances as construed by its characters force each one of them into an unescapable void of mistrust and disillusionment toward humanity and life as they know it. The situation grows bleaker and bleaker by the minute, certainly enhanced by the Antarctic’s endless miles of blistering snow; with no other point of reference, they might as well be floating up in space. I don’t know how I didn’t decide this to be one of the greatest horror films ever upon my first watch, but I’m glad that I’ve now seen the light.

Even though October is over (*sad face*), I will still probably keep watching horror movies for a little while longer, because horror movies are awesome. However, while I usually wait until December or January to get started with my yearly catch-up of movies that came out that year, I’ll probably get a head-start in November, since I really haven’t seen as many as I’d like at this point. That’s partially because not too many movies from this year have really caught my interest for some reason, but that’s besides the point. Anyway, ’til next month!

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