It’s almost time for Halloween which means it’s time to watch a crap ton of horror flicks! This year with my 31 films in 31 days of October I wanted to branch out a bit. I realized that most of the films I watch are generally from the 80s (with a sprinkling of late 70s). To push myself outside my norm, I’m donning this year’s adventure “31 for 31: Through the Decades Challenge”. Simply put, each day will correlate to a specific decade, and I must watch at least one film a day. No exceptions! Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had to make a further set of rules for myself to ensure I’m getting lots of variety. Those rules as follows:
- One film must be watched from each decade (50s – 10’s)
- One film must be watched from a major horror franchise.
- One film must be watched from one of our late-great masters (Craven, Romero, or Hooper).
- One film must be watched that deals with witches or witchcraft.
- One film must be watched that deals with the undead.
- One film must be watched that stars either Christopher Lee or Vincent Price.
- One film must be watched that contains sci-fi/horror elements.
- One film must be watched that is a remake.
- One film must be watched that is from Italy.
- One film must be watched that takes place during Halloween.
This past week was a lot of fun. Overall, I managed to catch some awesome films I’d never seen before as well as cram in some always reliable classics. I even had the chance to work in a few bonus watches. Let’s dig in!
October 8th – Night of the Demon (1957)
Rules Met: 1, 4, 10
“American professor John Holden arrives in London for a parapsychology conference, only to find himself investigating the mysterious actions of Devil-worshiper Julian Karswell.”
Directed by Jacques Tourneur (amazing Val Lewton productions Cat People, The Leopard Man), Night of the Demon is an atmospheric creepfest. The director relies heavily upon his skill to illicit fear based off the power of suggestion alone. Nonetheless, Night also happens to be a bonafide creature feature (apparently Tourneur lost that battle with the producer). The film uses witchcraft as a springboard to build an escalating sense of dread while creating an interesting mythos all its own. Ultimately, the titular “demon” may seem terribly dated but it remains a truly impressive effect given the time period. The story even takes place during Halloween!
October 9th – Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Rules Met: 1, 7, 9
“After landing on a mysterious planet, a team of astronauts begin to turn on each other, swayed by the uncertain influence of the planet and its strange inhabitants.”
Mario Bava is the godfather of Italian horror cinema. His films were often duplicated or ripped off. One need only look to the first two Friday the 13th films to see numerous deaths lifted straight from Bava’s Bay of Blood. For years now, critics have claimed that when Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon crafted Alien, the duo stole a lot from this 1965 sci-fi/horror mashup. Truthfully, Planet of the Vampires, Bava’s candy-colored tale of a crew lured to a desolate planet only to discover the remains of a long-dead civilization…that maybe aren’t so long-dead after all, has a lot more in common with Prometheus. Planet is a fun film that gets a lot of mileage out of gorgeous cinematography and the high camp value of its 60s idea of the future.
October 10th – Horror Express (1972)
Rules Met: 1, 6
“In 1906, in China, a British anthropologist discovers a frozen prehistoric creature and must transport it to Europe by train.”
Horror Express is possibly the coolest discovery I’ve made this year so far. This Spanish production brings Hammer’s biggest names, Lee and Cushing, together on a train ride filled with plenty of bloody mayhem. From a cryptoid monster, body jumping shenanigans, and mindless zombies, Horror Express crams a whole lot of genre into one tight package. This film also happens to be in the public domain, so you can pull up one of a myriad of copies online right now!
October 11th – Deadly Friend (1986)
Rules Met: 1, 3
“After his friend is killed by her abusive father, the new kid in town attempts to save her by implanting robotic microchips into her brain.”
Wes Craven always wanted to step outside the horror genre. Working on a script based off the novel Friend, Deadly Friend works best as a coming of age tale. The first half featuring adorable Matthew Labyorteaux and Kristy Swanson meet cute-ing as next door neighbors and dealing with life’s various growing pains (abusive father, first love, the pressure of robotic science over achievement) is great stuff. Once the more horrific Frankenstein elements come into play, the story loses a great deal of footing. It’s no surprise to note Craven’s original cut (unreleased to this day) was much more focused on their characters and their relationships. Reshoots forced numerous fake out nightmare sequences and gorier deaths onto the production. I’m sure we can all agree that the only good to come of that was death by basketball.
October 12th – House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Rules Met: 1, 8
“An amusement park mogul offers a group of diverse people $1,000,000 to spend the night in a haunted house with a horrifying past.:
The first of what was to be a string of updates to old William Castle films by production company Dark Castle, House on Haunted Hill came at a time when horror was still raking it in at the box office. At the time, most genre films featured WB stars in fairly bloodless films. William Malone’s take on the old dark house motif was a breath of fresh air amongst the norm. While Haunted Hill hasn’t aged too gracefully, it still remains the closest example of bringing the thrills of a seasonal haunted house attraction to life in cinematic form. Every couple of scenes are punctuated by a surprising twist or grand guignol gore gag. The main drawback is the characters are all generally unlikable or plain bland. Thankfully, the bitchier characters are played with gleeful zest (Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen) and the vanilla leads (Ali Larter and Taye Diggs) have decent chemistry. It’s the perfect brainless flick for an All Hallow’s movie night.
October 13th – Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Rules Met: 1, 2
After an unbelievable amount of time in development hell, Freddy vs Jason finally came out to a starving crowd of slasher fans. For most, it was everything they wanted. Freddy cracked wise and Jason sliced up a bunch of folks. For me, I found it underwhelming. I wasn’t really sure why I didn’t care for it at the time. I mean, it’s a perfectly serviceable popcorn hack n’ slash. I realized upon this rewatch that the script actually presents some interesting ideas (the Hypnocil, the idea that Freddy needs Jason to bring fear back to Springwood), but overall everything is rushed through so quickly it hardly has time to register any impact. Director Ronny Yu is a master stylist. The film is way more beautiful than it has any right to be. The problem is that any tension that might have existed is completely absent due to the need to keep things moving at such a quick pace. Despite these complaints, the film really does shine during the climax. Yu knows how to choreograph an amazing fight, and Freddy and Jason’s showdown is enough to keep this film in many a horror lover’s heart for years to come.
October 14th – The Babysitter (2017)
Rules Met: 1
“The events of one evening take an unexpected turn for the worst for a young boy trying to spy on his babysitter.”
McG attempts to channel Sam Raimi by way of John Hughes in the newest Netflix horror release. The Babysitter is a quick ride that runs through its plot points with all the delicacy of a machine gun. Overall, I enjoyed the viewing. The main issue is that it tries to balance two distinct tones: over the top gory horror/comedy and coming of age tale. While I’m sure there’s a film that could pull that off exceptionally well – this isn’t it. Regarding the horror element, we’re introduced to an ancient satanic text and sacrifice ritual but the payoff is just a run of the mill murder spree. Where are the demons? Where’s the Satan of it all? Instead of going full hog, we get half-assed attempts at emotional depth that simply don’t land. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a perfectly fun film that would probably play best amongst a rowdy group of friends. It’s just not the instant classic is so desperately wants to be.
- The Haunting (1963) – I’d never seen this chilling gothic horror, and it’s plainly clear why it is so frequently at the top of “Scariest Films Ever Made” lists. The camerawork alone is astounding and its influence can be clearly traced to a number of our favorite genre works. Beyond that, there are moments of genuine blood cooling terror and heavy homosexual and emotional subtext that makes this one haunted house film worth peeling back the layers on.
- Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street (1980/1984) – I’m extremely lucky to have near me a Coyote Drive-in. They’re a small chain that has been popping up with high quality, multi screen drive-ins. While it’s always fun to see the newest horror release there, they occasionally host some classic double features. As a special event this past Friday the 13th they showed…Friday the 13th! It played as part of a double bill with the original Nightmare. These may be films that I’ve seen a hundred times before, but seeing them on a massive screen with the special magic of a drive-in theater coursing through the air was a truly awesome thing to behold. One of my friends had never seen either of them. Over 30 years later, Nightmare on Elm Street still succeeds at frightening viewers. She had to go home and watch Will and Grace to try and clear her mind of the dream demon.