This year, like last, I embarked on what I like to call my 31 Days of Halloween. This is basically where I pick and watched a horror movie to watch every day of the month throughout October with the stipulation that they’re horrors that I’ve never seen before. I started this last year so I could expand on my viewing of the genre so, as great as they are, I wasn’t just watching the same old movies like The Shining or The Descent as always (although, admittedly, I watched those too).
Anyway, I thought I’d throw up a quick recap of what I watched and which were my high and lowlights of the month. I’ve included a screengrab of my list over on Letterboxd (a website that, if you’re not already using, I highly recommend joining for all your film diary and listing needs).
Quite the mix, as you’ll see! Here are my highs and lows.
The Sentinel (1977)
By far my favourite of the month was this ultra creepy religious-themed horror directed by the late-great Michael Winner (Death Wish). It follows a young fashion model who moves into a beautiful old Brooklyn apartment building inhabited by a strange blind priest on the top floor. After meeting the other weird neighbours, she soon begins experiencing strange physical problems (including flashbacks to her traumatic past) and hearing strange bumps in the night, eventually discovering she has been put in the apartment for a reason. It reminded me a lot of Rosemary’s Baby, conjuring a terrifically unnerving atmosphere and it kept me glued to the screen with a central mystery that led to a genuinely surprising ending. It also has some truly bizarre scenes that I won’t forget in a hurry.
The Changeling (1980)
Not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood/Angelina Jolie historical drama, it stars the great George C. Scott as a composer and family man who starts being haunted by a mysterious spectre in his secluded historical mansion. I loved the old Hammer Horror feel that this one had while recalling greats like The Innocents and The Haunted. Much like the best horrors that really stand the test of time, it’s more about the spooky and unsettling atmosphere than it is in-your-face jump scares, although it definitely has its share of moments like that. There’s a seance scene that puts most other supernatural horrors to shame.
I’d always know about this one, mainly from the cast (which includes Robert Carlyle, Guy Pearce and David Arquette) and that striking DVD cover, but only now got around to watching it. It’s a bizarre, disoncerting story of a group of soldiers in mid-19th century California who are stationed in the mountains. On the watch of recently promoted Captain John Boyd (Pearce), a mysterious stranger (Carlyle) turns up with a sickening tale of cannibalism. It’s part satire, part black comedy, part nasty horror movie and altogether a very effective watch thanks to great performances – Carlyle is particularly good as the enigmatic stranger – and the unusual, often shocking way the story unfolds.
Honourable mentions: Suicide Club, Kidnapped, The Hunger
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like, “I think I’ll give that British mushroom horror a go.” This truly awful, painfully inept excuse for a horror follows a group of 20-somethings (some British, some American) who head out into the Irish wilderness to take mushrooms and go on a wild trip. Not long after taking them, and hearing a horrifying campfire legend about killers in the woods, the shrooms start to take effect, all the while people are disappearing. Can the killer legend be true? Or is it all in their trip? Most importantly, who gives a crap? No scares, no fun and an absolutely drag despite its threadbare 84 minute runtime, mainly due to the annoyingly endless hallucination scenes that makes it seem like it was shot by a dog dragging a camera through the mud. Total rubbish.
The law of averages means that with the amount of films that Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Conjuring, Sinister) puts out, at least a few of ’em are going to miss the mark. The Gallows is easily one of the worst movies of this year and if I was updating my list from last year then Mockingbird would surely make that one. It has a perfectly intriguing set-up, with a married couple, a female college student and a man who lives with his mum all receiving a mysterious videotape on their doorstep which instructions for them to keep filming no matter what and if they call the police they will be killed. However, what follows over its short 80 minute runtime is as derivative, dull and un-scary as they come, relying too heavily on trite found footage techniques that so often give the genre a bad name. It’s made all the worst that it’s directed by Bryan Bertino, who gave us the rather effective The Strangers.
The prize for the biggest waste of a great premise for this this year might just go to this initially fascinating movie about a group of 50 strangers from all walks of life who suddenly wake up in a dark room with no memory of how they got there. They find themselves in an inward-facing circle and quickly learn that one of them will be killed every two minutes, left to decide among themselves who deserves to live and who dies next. As with all movies set all in one place, the script has to spark and sadly this isn’t the case here and the cast (of which Dexter’s Julie Benz is probably the most well known) aren’t able to elevate the weak sci-fi-horror material. Very disappointing indeed.
(Dis)honourable mentions: Hardware, Popcorn
That’s it for my 31 Days of Halloween recap – hope you enjoyed! What did you watch this season?