Take a look back on Week 1 of our 31 Days of Horror.
During the month of October it has become tradition for many to celebrate the season by watching a horror movie each day of the month. While it’s not always easy to find time to watch a movie each day, the horror genre makes it easier with hundreds of excellent films to choose from. This is the perfect time of the year to watch a horror movie you may not have otherwise considered.
Each week in the month of October I will once again be recording my progress with a mini-review each day. I’ve selected movies from classic to modern and from family-friendly to terrifying. I will revisit films that I love, ones that I need to give a second chance, and even try movies out for the first time. All this while trying to balance different styles and sub-genres. This will be a challenge, but one that I look forward to during one of my favorite months of the year. Please join me, again, as I take this journey through October.
October 7th: The Haunting (1999)
Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor; you may think a cast like that in the ’90s seems like a sure-fire hit. You’d be wrong. Based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House, this 1999 adaptation did not age well. The Haunting’s biggest flaw is its appalling CGI. Not only are the effects bad, but there are way too many of them. The atmosphere is pretty great for a haunted house story, but the second the house starts coming alive, it’s almost unwatchable. Babies made of chocolate, window ghosts, and plastic sheet spirits jump off the screen, but none of them are meant to be what they look like. It doesn’t help that the CGI is there to support a boring and yet somehow overstuffed script.
The main story, something about a ghost man hurting ghost children, seems so unimportant for a cast that could have made something better together. Even the talent on screen isn’t enough to keep The Haunting from being a time suck. I looked at my watch several times during the movie’s near 2-hour run time and each time I was surprised with how much was left. When a movie isn’t even bad enough to be enjoyable, then what’s the point of its existence? That’s the question I was left with here: why?
October 8th: White Zombie (1932)
What’s better during Halloween then some Bela Lugosi? Maybe Karloff, but that’s not the point. The go-to Bela performance is Dracula, but I’m not really a fan. This was my first time with White Zombie and Bela’s performance as the witch doctor, Legendre, stands up to the Count. In this story, a plantation owner tries to steal a woman away from her husband with the help of Legendre and an army of zombies under his mind control.
Released in 1932, and thought lost for decades, the quality is not as beautiful as that of Frankenstein or The Invisible Man. There are a lot of odd edits and sound dips, and like most movies from the ’30s, it suffers from the infant state of film. If you can look past the shortcomings of technology and the era, there is a really great story here. I was surprised by how enthralled with the movie as I was. Thankfully, and unlike Dracula, White Zombie has a satisfying ending. At only an hour and 9 minutes, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be more well known. One of Bela’s best performances.
October 9th: Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity can be divisive. When I first saw it back when it came out on DVD, I hated it. After enjoying the sequel, I wanted to give this one another chance, and I ended up loving it so much that I went back through the entire series. Now, re-watching for a second time, my opinion has changed again. I wouldn’t say that I hate Paranormal Activity, but it’s flaws stand out a lot more to me now.
It’s an interesting movie that follows a mundane couple who are trying to capture and understand the supernatural occurrences that happen in their home at night. Turns out it’s a demon. It also turns out that the man in the relationship, Micah, is a piece of garbage, and the woman, Katie, deserves him. What people remember most about the movie is the marketing. The claims that it was banned in theaters and you’d have to sign a petition to have it come to your town. Audiences went crazy for it, but a lot of those who didn’t see it in theaters found it to be boring as hell. Truthfully, not much happens, and if you’re willing to sit there and allow the movie to build tension in it’s dull moments, then there are “payoffs”. Paranormal Activity’s effectiveness really depends on the mood of the viewer. This time around, it wasn’t for me.
October 10th: The Babadook (2014)
When I first saw The Babadook, it was fortunately before the hype. Hype for a horror movie, as with all movies, can ruin an experience. It’s always more fun to find a film for yourself. It also helps when the film, like The Babadook, is as great as it is. I think that the problems people have with this movie all come back to it being overhyped. The Babadook himself does not appear very often because the film’s main focus is a widowed mother, we’ll call her Mamadook, who struggles through life raising a little piece of crap. That may be too harsh, but if you put yourself in her shoes, Mamadook has no choice but to loathe her own child. When things get real bad, the Babadook shows up to make things worse.
Everything from the look of the monster to it’s terrible, gravelly “baba-dook-dook-dooking” is unsettling. Eventually, Mamadook becomes more terrifying than the monster itself and soon the movie does the impossible: you feel worried for the little kid. There’s a clear message about depression/anxiety/mental breakdowns and the monsters they can be. When Mamadook confronts the Babadook, everything is restored, and unlike a lot of horror movies this has a true happy ending without any doubt. The monster is under control. The only problem is that the Babadook’s book isn’t called The Bababook.
October 11th: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Abbott and Costello have been a part of my life longer than any of the classic monsters. They probably introduced me to the monsters, so I try to make their iconic pairings a part of my Halloween tradition. Most people know Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and many consider it their best movie, but another favorite of mine is Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. Originally meant as another installment in the Invisible Man series, it was reworked for Abbott and Costello. The boys play detectives trying to clear the good name of a boxer after he’s been accused of murder and turns himself invisible to hide from the cops and the mob.
As far as Abbott and Costello movies go, it’s decent, but not their best. For an Invisible Man installment, it is far below the original. There aren’t many classic bits or even a recognizable horror icon to fill Claude Rains’ invisible shoes. At times it’s more detective story than horror film, but Abbott and Costello are having more fun than they would in later monster meetings. Despite it’s flaws, it’s a fun movie and with all Abbott and Costello movies, they make me laugh and that’s all I’m looking for. The real problem is that we never see enough of the madness that results from the invisibility serum. The unlikable boxer is a worse person before the invisibility. His worst quality is that he’s a mean drunk. Maybe I’m looking too deep into a movie about Abbott and Costello and the Invisible Man. I still love it, just not at a critical level.
October 12th: Jigsaw (2017)
It’s probably important to preface this entry with the fact that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Saw movies, or anything else in the “torture” subgenre. I’ve only seen the first three Saw films. They were fine, especially the original, which is more of a police procedural with a grotesque twist. From there, things quickly became about the bizarre, inhumane ways to test the limits of both the characters and the audience. By the time Jigsaw came around, audiences had largely and thankfully moved past torture porn and the franchise got back to its roots.
Despite not being a huge fan of the franchise, Jigsaw is the best way to make a sequel. It stays in line with Saw right down to the surprise ending. Without giving any spoilers, there are some twists that managed to keep the story of Jigsaw going. Unfortunately, his story has never been interesting enough to carry these movies alone. People remember the horrible ways that victims are tested, not why Jigsaw was doing what he was doing. There are some interesting set pieces that aren’t stomach-churning, like a corn silo, and those exciting moments make Jigsaw worth a watch. This being my second viewing, I would say, like most of the Saw movies, that’s enough for me.
October 13th: Terrified (2018)
Another foreign film after last week’s viewing of Satan’s Slaves, and another fun and original movie. Terrified or Aterrados is an Argentinian film that focuses on paranormal investigators and their study of sinister events in a small neighborhood. I went in completely blind and didn’t even know it existed until a few moments before starting it. After the first 10 minutes, things went in a different direction and I was pleasantly surprised when the focus switched to from one neighbor to another and then again to a woman who has been visited by her recently deceased son.
Terrified could make for a great anthology, but never feels like it should be. When the investigators break off into the three different houses, each person has their own experience and fate. Unlike many movies with multiple focus points, Terrified never gets lost in it’s characters or premise. Unfortunately, that might be due to the fact that not a lot is explained. It’s never completely clear what is happening, or exactly how the monsters use water or even human bodies. If you allow yourself, you can easily get confused. At one point, it’s explained that there are multiple explanations, the true ones, and the ones that we need to hear. With that in mind, it’s easier to look past the flaws of Terrified and enjoy the well-crafted creepiness.