Last year I parceled out my 31 Days of Horror in measured doses with a part one and part two: 15(ish) days each of my thoughts on the horror media that I had been been consuming every day for the month of October. This included full-length movies, film anthologies, television programs, game shows, anime–I’m not discriminating, I will happily watch any and all of those things if there’s even the slightest whiff of horror about them.
I gave it another go this year, and I’ll be up front with you about it, I didn’t quite hit my goal. I blame it on the fact that in 2018 I am a year older and that much closer to the grave, and people–it turns I just didn’t have the time or energy for it. Also my October this year was strangely full of travel and social engagements, which…what? Me? I went out of the house and did stuff with people? I sure did! It was fun and I do not regret it. So I guess I feel like a little bit of a failure when it comes to this year’s 31 Days Of Horror challenge, but who among us doesn’t bite off more than they can chew during this spooky, haunted time of year, right? When it comes to horror and Halloween, I tend to overcommit, and I’m certain you know the feeling, too. Maybe next year I will do better.
Below you will find the list of movies I watched throughout the month, and if they sparked my imagination, good, bad, or otherwise–I’ll let you know. Unfortunately I picked a handful of duds this year, so there were more of those than I would care to admit. I also watched quite a few episodes of various series, and you know, maybe I will count those as two (maybe three!) entries in the list! And lastly, I’ll share a handful of upcoming horror films that I am looking forward to seeing in the near future. Who knows, maybe between all of those titles, it will add up to 31 days of horror? Fingers, toes, and various mutated or severed body parts, crossed!
Hold The Dark is a brutal Artic Noir full of shadows and mysteries and I am not sure I fully grasped it, but I have a soft spot for stories of weirdness and terror in frozen, isolated communities at the edge of civilization, so I think I liked it? It also has Alexander Skarsgård on a vengeful rampage, and that’s always interesting. Hold The Dark is on Netflix right now.
American Horror Story Apocalypse (currently ongoing) Immediately jumping into the chaos and terror when a nuclear missile strike decimates the majority of the population, we watch as a handful of familiars (plus Joan Collins!) hunker down for the apocalypse in a kinda posh but super creepy fallout shelter, a future where somehow the ghost of the rubber suited man still lurks. Just when you think it’s going to be some sort of MadMaxian apocalyptic wasteland horror, a dapper Antichrist shows up and then there are also witches. I don’t know where this season is going, but I’m always a little wary when they drag out and parade around well-known characters and stories from previous seasons; yes, Coven was a pretty popular season and I liked it well enough, but I don’t want to see more of the same-old, same-old. I want to see new and different AHS weirdness! I’m watching AHS season 8 on Amazon.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats This is a strange and silly story about a demonic bed that eats people. I’m not sure if the audience existed for it when it was created, but it seems to have rather a cult following now. I’m not sure I count myself among them. (But I want to watch it again, just to be sure?) It feels like a sort of dreamy, macabre fairy tale more than straight-up “horror”, and it’s one of those bonkers things that you should probably watch, just because it exists. You can find Death Bed: The Bed That Eats on Amazon Prime.
The Haunting Of Hill House If this series made no mention of Shirley Jackson’s novel, I’m not sure I would have hated it as much. But as it is, I found this “inspired by” adaptation of family drama–many compared it to “This Is Us, but with ghosts”– with themes of mental illness and addiction, awfully traumatizing and triggering. And all of those meaningless-out-of-context easter egg references from the book just added insult to injury. I watched The Haunting Of Hill House on Netflix.
Murder Party is a strange little offering, from–oddly enough– the guy who directed the above-mentioned Hold The Dark. These two films are nothing at all alike. A low budget, dark comedy full of quirky brilliance, this may be one of those films you either adore or you just can’t even with, depending on your tolerance for silliness and absurdity. A lonely guy with no Halloween plans (one assumes from his twerpy demeanor and a glimpse into his depressing home that he never has plans, and also maybe has no friends, either) stumbles upon an invitation for a “murder party”, and, ostensibly having nothing better to do for the evening, cobbles together a hilariously awful cardboard costume and shows up for the party. Which actually turns out to be a very real shindig, and there is literal murder planned in the festivities. A bohemian group of art students has planned the event as some sort of art installation to impress their skeevy patron, and surprised to see that someone has actually taken the bait, they take full advantage of their guest of honor’s presence. The story is somewhat meandering, and a tad crass, and definitely gory at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Murder Party is on Netflix right now.
The Strangers: Prey At Night I hate the masked maniacs in this home-invasion franchise so much. They’re so boring and lame and I don’t understand how they can be so all-powerful and everywhere all at once. One of their responses to the typical victim’s dying wail of “whyyyy?” was a lackadaisical, smirking “why not?” Ugh, really? GOD I HATE THEM SO MUCH. (I get that having no real motive for such violence actually is pretty scary, so maybe it’s just the tone of privileged apathy in way the lines are delivered that annoys me so intensely.) Also, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the bra strap showing under the sullen teenage daughter’s off-the-shoulder top was white in the opening scenes, but throughout the rest of the movie, it was a black bra strap. Mystifying. For spoiler reasons which I will not reveal, I did not entirely hate this movie. The Strangers: Prey At Night is on Amazon Prime right now.
The Monster Squad I never saw this growing up and though I can’t technically call it “horror” now, it would have scared me senseless as a child. (All Draculas were equally scary to me, even George Hamilton in Love At First Bite.) I can’t speak to whether it “holds up”, but I thought this was a fun 80s adventure and I always have a blast seeing scrappy kid logic in action, when they have to band together to fight evil. I found The Monster Squad on Hulu.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray At a recent visit to the library, I picked up a copy of the 2009 Picture of Dorian Gray (“the Colin Firth version.”) Never having read this gothic/philosophical tale of a beautiful young man’s Faustian bargain to stay forever young and hot, nor ever having seen any other version of the film, I can’t say that it didn’t live up to any expectations or that it didn’t do justice to the source material. However…I’m struck with the nagging suspicion that those better scholared in the both book’s overall themes and the subtle nuances of the story would probably tell me that this is a rather shabby adaptation. In spite of that, I enjoyed it for an afternoon’s diversion, and if you are into pretty period dramas, you could probably do much worse. Find The Picture Of Dorian Gray at your local library branch, or rent it on Amazon.
Satan’s Slaves This Indonesian film from 2017 is a either a remake or prequel (or both or neither?) to a 1980 film of similar name-– which is, on one hand, neither here nor there since I’d wager most of us have never heard of it anyway. But on the other, I was so impressed with this latter-day version that I am thinking the original may be worth hunting down. As to the film itself, the story focuses on a family, living on the outskirts of Jakarta, who have been caring for their mother, stricken by a mysterious and debilitating illness for the past three years. Caring for an ailing loved one can, at best, be a thankless position to be in, and at its worst it is the stuff of nightmares– so by the time she passes, the family is already experiencing some trauma and upset. This story of family-in-crisis takes a horrifying turn when their dearly departed mother returns from the dead to hang around the house and be super creepy before she begins relentlessly terrorizing her children (the father has chosen this time to leave his kids alone and settle some sort of financial dispute, so he’s out of the picture for a good chunk of the story.) When I first saw the title Satan’s Slaves I was expecting…well, I don’t know, some sort of sleazy 70’s camp like Satan’s Cheerleaders or something. Which is not at first what this movie appears to be. But then it takes some twists and turns and whoops, there’s a satanic sex cult, and you’re like, “ah, THERE it is.” I found Satan’s Slaves legitimately freaky in parts, and yes, it’s full of jump scares, but I thought they were pretty well done, even when you sort of expect them. And even though I didn’t love the ending, I think this is one of the best movies I have seen this year.
Apostle I do love me some Matthew Crawley (I know the actor’s got an actual name but I can’t think of him as anyone else) but even he couldn’t save this dumb Wicker Man-esque affair– which is a shame, because it seemed like a neat idea and I loved the brooding atmosphere and all of the natural/supernatural ideas and aspects of the plot. A man with a troubled past travels to the remote British isles to rescue his beloved sister, who has been kidnapped by a cult who needs money because their crops are failing? And opening their own veins to appease their freaky pagan goddess just isn’t enough anymore? So…they were going to pay the goddess off with the ransom money? I’m probably missing something here. I fell asleep through parts of it. Apostle is currently on Netflix, maybe you guys can fill me in.
Halloween I guess we are supposed to have forgotten the existence of all the stories from the Halloween franchise after the original 1978 film, and that’s cool, because to be honest I don’t remember much about them anyway. My memory real estate is taken up by much more important items like the lyrics to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’ 1988 classic, “A Nightmare on My Street”, a nugget of timeless relevance which often pops into my head in circumstances of dire need. Brains are so helpful! So anyway Michael Myers has been locked away for the past forty years because he only killed a couple of babysitters or whatever that one time, and at no time did he ever terrorize Paul Rudd or Josh Hartnett or Busta Rhymes. Laurie Strode, in the meantime, has been Sarah Connors-style prepping her home and her family –somewhat estranged at this point–for the day that Michael finally busts loose and comes after them all. Which, true to form, he does. And it’s truly a jump-out-of-your-seat-and-shriek-like-a-banshee delight to see the generations of Strode women fight back, all, like 30 seconds of it. And I think that’s my chief complaint; I really wanted to see these ladies just absolutely beating the crap out of Michael Myers, I wanted a whole 90 minute movie of just that. By the time the next Halloween is released though, I probably won’t even remember this version, so whatever. I saw Halloween at the theatre, but it’s available for pre-order on Amazon if you can wait.
The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina So much to love about Sabrina! But so many things to take issue with! And I feel I have discussed it to death elsewhere, so I will try to sum up. I never read the misadventures of half-witch/half mortal Sabrina Spellman immortalized in the original Archie-verse format, and I never saw the lighthearted 90’s sitcom, with Clarissa Explains It All, either. I did, however, read the collection of issues one through six of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina and was delighted by how darkly compelling it was, and then was frequently disappointed when I checked in with my local comic shop several times only to find no new issues forthcoming. I guess if Netflix had bought the rights at that point, that would be why!
The yays: Sabrina is forthright, fiercely feminist, and both a fearsome ally and adversary. So many of the characters are such a total joy to watch; see cousin Ambrose, aunt Hilda. Madame Satan! The sets! The lighting! (“I will champion the inhabitants of Greendale for their fervent adherence to candlelight,” a friend of mine declared on twitter.) The boos: while I heard a lot of complaints about how satanic the show is–and it really is! It’s probably one of the most satanic television series I’ve ever seen–but it’s a really rigid, patriarchal take on satanism, and I wasn’t a huge fan. (I’m not even getting into The Satanic Temple’s lawsuit regarding the Baphomet statue in The Academy of Unseen Arts, but I’ve seen the TST statue in person, and yikes.) Also, I can’t help but to compare Greendale to Riverdale, and man Riverdale is a trashy obsession of mine. Veronica and Archie are totally boning all the time but Sabrina and Harvey rarely even kiss! Which, I get it. I mean, I don’t want to kiss Harvey Kinkle either, he’s a bland cornball. But I do wish this show were a little trashier. And actually come to think of it, I have lots of other bones to pick with Sabrina, but if I am being honest, I still really loved it, and can’t wait for season two. Sabrina is currently on Netflix, unless it gets pulled for that lawsuit business.
Tragedy Girls was a cute, weird, (but calling it “clever” feels like a stretch) black comedy about serial killer and social media obsessed best friends who hit upon the plan that the best way to get more likes and follows is to be ahead of the news before it happens. How to best stay on top of that shit? Commit the murders themselves! I paid $2.99 to watch this on Amazon.
The House Of Seven Corpses A muddled film within a film wherein a director and his low-budget, amateur crew is filming on location at a purported haunted house and things get weird when they read something from The Tibetan Book of The Dead (??) It takes a long time for anything to happen and when it does it’s pretty lame. I watched it because it was on a list of some recommended horror viewing, but I’m not sure it’s really got anything to recommend it. Feel free to decide for yourself, you can find it on Amazon Prime.
Castlevania, Season Two I am having a hard time figuring out what to say about this one, and I’ll just put it out there that I have never played any of the games and I don’t know the back story. From what I can recall, I enjoyed the buildup of season one, wherein Dracula is having a bit of revenge and becoming rather a threat to humanity; he is very sad because the people of Wallachia burnt his human doctor wife at the stake for a witch while he was traveling on business (from what I can gather.) Monster hunter Trevor Belmont and companions, including Dracula’s half human/half vampire son Alucard, take up arms against Dracula’s army of demons. In season two Dracula has summoned a war council of idiot vampires and he is even mopier and more ineffective. Cunning, charismatic Carmilla shows up with a hidden agenda and some stuff happens but honestly I was so distracted by her animation that I couldn’t pay attention; she’s extremely beautiful and her crimson gown with its gold-plated shoulders is stunning, but when the camera pans down and we get a glimpse at her feet, it’s like the artists just gave up. I don’t remember if they gave her boots or pumps or what– but whatever her footwear was, it was utterly uninspired. It plagued me for the remainder of the show and I lost interest until the 4:53 mark of the second to last episode during which they played the song that piqued my interest in the show in the first place (“Bloody Tears”, from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest–here’s a gorgeous piano version that has haunted me for years). You can find both seasons one and two of Castlevania on Netflix.
The Bride started out a creepy little period piece that had something to do with Victorian Postmortem photography, but when they switched to the modern day story, it became almost instantly unwatchable. I’m not sure if it was the story itself or the laughably atrocious dubbing. The trailer looked so interesting and I thought it had promise, but sadly, I gave up after about 15 minutes. The Bride is currently on Amazon Prime.
Malevolent is another one that I could only stomach so much of. A brother-sister team prey on the grief stricken and run a fake ghost-busting/exorcism sort of scam to bilk the bereaved and vulnerable. I hated these characters right off the bat, so when I saw that the sister was surprised and startled to encounter an actual supernatural something-or-other, I’d seen enough to be satisfied, and promptly turned it off. It got an interesting mix of reviews, so if you watch it and think it’s great, feel free to try and change my mind. Malevolent is currently on Netflix.
The Craft This iconic film about 90s teenage witches coming into their powers was, of course, a rewatch. But I am counting it! I saw it in the theatre when it was originally released, and I have seen it multiple times over the years, but in early October it was playing at our arthouse theatre in Orlando and when invited by a friend, how could I say no? 22 years later, Nancy Downs remains as freaky as ever, and I still sort of want to slap Neve Campbell’s character silly. If it’s not playing anywhere near you, you can watch The Craft on Hulu.
Happy Death Day I saw this on an airplane when I ran out of reading material, and went into it with zero expectations, but this Groundhog Day type scenario of a young woman being murdered over and over again on her birthday, and trying to find her killer, was actually a hoot. And I just found out there’s going to be a sequel! Which…makes no sense, but I am looking for logic in the wrong places I think. I watched Happy Death Day at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, but you can find it on Hulu.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is where I start to get into dicey territory, I suppose. Knowing I was to be traveling and would miss a few days of movie-watching, I preemptively watched a few things at the end of September. This entry from the guy who directed The Lobster was…something else. I don’t even know. Anything described as a “profound meditation on karma, predestination and guilt” and also “a Saw movie for the arthouse crowd” is probably going to result in a “wtf did I just watch” moment, and well, I still want to know wtf did I watch. Why don’t you find The Killing Of A Sacred Deer on Amazon Prime and tell me wtf you thought you watched.
The Lodgers I saw a trailer for this sometime in 2017 and it looked so haunting and lovely and strange that I immediately added it to my “to-watch” list and had been anxiously awaiting its arrival for what felt like an eternity. Bound to a cursed family home by their ancestors’ unnatural secrets and sins, twins Rachel and Edward live an eerie, isolated existence, never letting outsiders in, never venturing out of their rooms after midnight. Not particularly scary, but exceptionally gorgeous, The Lodgers didn’t live up to the ghostly gothic rapturous heights I had initially envisioned, but it was moody and melancholy and enchanting in terms of atmosphere and visuals…and sometimes that’s enough for me. You can currently find The Lodgers on Netflix.
Beyond The Black Rainbow This hyper-focused, ominously throbbing, fever dream of a film is the sort of mind-melting madness that I hated at the time but find myself still thinking of when my mind wanders, or even when it is still, actually. I feel like this goes into the category of film you might like if you also enjoyed things along the lines of A Field In England or High Rise. I liked neither. Beyond The Black Rainbow is on Shudder right now.
The 5000 Fingers Of Doctor T. Ok, so this last one is a stretch. It’s not scary, per se, but it’s a many layered cake of disturbing malarkey. It’s a 1953 musical, the only feature film written by Dr. Seuss (who was responsible for the story, screenplay and lyrics) and it’s fucking weird. I’m not sure it’s actually for children. IMDB sums it up as “a young boy travels to an imaginary world where, assisted by his family’s plumber, he must save other piano playing kids like himself from the dungeons of his dictatorial piano teacher who also mind-controls his mother.” Hans Conried is a smarmy, villainous delight as the diabolical piano teacher Dr. Terwilliker and it’s worth finding this film to see him sing the Dressing Song, which is full of both typical Seussian nonsense and some strangely specific (and just plain strange) fashion pairings. Give the song a listen, and peek at the lyrics on youtube and if you’re feeling like spending your money on something ridiculous, you can pay $3.99 to watch The 5000 Fingers Of Doctor T. on Amazon
So there it is! Not quite 31 Days Of Horror, but if you add it all up, it’s certainly many, many hours of horror, and in spite of all the flops there were some unexpected gems buried in there as well. Did you watch any scary movies this past October? Should any of them have been on my list? I wanna hear all about it in the comments!
To end with, I will leave you with a list of horror films I am looking forward to viewing…if I ever actually feel like sitting down to watch a movie again! (Don’t worry, it’ll pass.)