31 Days Of Horror – Part 1

Throughout October I’ve been rather busy engaging in a fun-filled build up to Halloween. A bunch of Den of Geek readers, along with folks all around the world, have watched a horror film for each day of the month, culminating in a classic on Halloween night. My full list can be found on my Letterboxd profile, so if you’re a user too, please do visit and leave a few comments.

Before I get into my thoughts on each one, I just want to say thanks to the following people:

To Andrew Lyall (of the superb YouTube channel Grumpy Andrew’s Horror House), Sarah Dobbs (who writes for Den of Geek, SFX & Total Film amongst others) and Reverend Peter Laws (minister, novelist, journalist and general horror know-it-all) – all of whom looked at the draft version of my list, suggesting which films I should try and which to avoid. Your input was invaluable and helped me find some really interesting films I hadn’t heard of. Also, to Howard David Ingham whose fascinating blog and forthcoming book on Folk Horror (which I backed on Kickstarter) pointed me in the direction of some real gems!

To my friends, the absolutely marvellous Den of Geek gang – Doing this ‘challenge’ alongside you guys kept me going. Seeing what you were all watching and talking about each other’s choices was great fun! Special thanks to Nathaniel Jepson (otherwise known as The Ultimate Movie Geek) – your YouTube reviews with Mrs Movie Geek and all the Junior Movie Geeks were, to quote a wise Yorkshireman, cracking!

But most of all to the lovely Mrs C who put up with almost 31 horror films which she didn’t particularly want to see. Love you loads! Next up 28 Rom-Coms for February?

Day 1 – Under The Shadow (2016) ★★★★½

The first of 5 foreign language films I watched, this was something I’d heard great things about and it didn’t disappoint. Set during the Iran/Iraq conflict of the 80s, this film explores superstition, fear and the love someone has for their home despite forces trying to frighten them off.

Day 2 – Triangle (2009) ★★★½

More sci-fi and mystery in concept than horror, this was not too bad, albeit not really very scary. Felt a bit like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.

Day 3 – Tenebre (1982) ★★★½

As with Triangle, I enjoyed it although wasn’t really scared. I guessed the twist at the end fairly early on. I like Dario Argento’s visual style and Goblin’s music but I think their collaborations on the likes of Demons, Suspiria and Phenomena are better. Despite loving those films I chose this as I wanted a good mix of horror subgenres and I’d never seen a proper giallo movie before.

Day 4 – Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) ★★★½

My first re-watch, and the only Hammer film on the list. I saw this as a child and was quite frightened by it back then, but also enjoyed seeing the Count in action (this was my first Dracula film). Due to 1960s production values, it was not hugely scary and the gore was quite unrealistic. Also, the tension was slightly marred by characters making some really stupid, fatal decisions! It’s still worth watching due to Christopher Lee’s towering performance. He inhabits the role and makes it hard to watch anyone else playing him.

Day 5 – Fright Night Part 2 (1988) ★★★★

Two vampire films in two nights! I love the Fright Night films. I even have a bit of a soft spot for the 2011 remake. The original film was exciting, funny and scary and the sequel carries on that tradition. This was heavily marketed on VHS in the late 80s but since then, due to rights issues, an adequate digital release has never been made available. Luckily I have a high definition copy of this film which was recorded from a TV broadcast. If only they could sort out the issues and release a Blu-Ray copy.

Day 6 – Angel Heart (1987) ★★★★

The problem with some of the more well-known films is that plot points and twists have entered into society’s pop-culture subconscious (see also The Empire Strikes Back and Soylent Green) so entering into a classic film for the first time can be fraught with danger. Luckily for me, the well-known twist regarding Robert De Niro’s character was not the only surprise. This was a dark, gritty film noir with hints of the supernatural rather than an all-out horror – which is probably the reason Mrs C enjoyed it so much (she does like a good crime story).

Day 7 – In The Mouth Of Madness (2016) ★★★★

A spot of Lovecraftian shenanigans to end week one! I enjoy this film and spot something new every time I see it. It was purely by chance that two films in a row featured a search for a missing person with unforeseen circumstances.

Day 8 – Society (1989) ★★★½

Into my second week and I had enjoyed every film so far. This was my fourth previously seen film and I recall not being sure what I made of this on its initial VHS release when I was a teenager. It’s still an odd little film, which at times feels like a TV movie. However, the body-horror finale (most of the budget appears to have been blown on the last 20 minutes) and the satirical message of how the rich treat the poor elevates this despite the sometimes hammy soap opera acting and cheap production values.

Day 9 – Lake Mungo (2008) ★★★★

I had never heard of it before so didn’t know what to expect but since it was recommended by Rev Peter Laws on his YouTube channel I expected good things! It’s a fascinating mockumentary (which incorporates elements of Found Footage) with a really creepy ending, proving that low budget needn’t mean the film suffers!

Day 10 – The Lair of The White Worm (1988) ★★★★

Another one I saw as a teenager when I had a crush on Sammi Davis, so watched all her films. A particularly famous scene featuring Amanda Donohoe’s Lady Sylvia made me briefly wish I was a boy scout again (and then made me glad I wasn’t anymore). Back then I didn’t really appreciate the wry vein of humour which runs just beneath the skin of this entire film. It’s not particularly scary but Ken Russell’s unique style, which he reigns in quite a lot here compared with the likes of Gothic, nonetheless makes this rather disturbing in places. It’s interesting to see Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi in early film roles.

Day 11 – The Innkeepers (2011) ★★★½

A bit of an oddity this one, it begins as if it’s a slacker comedy along the lines of Clerks or Empire Records but slowly morphs into a supernatural nightmare which utilises atmosphere and character to create scares rather than cheap jumps. Another really interesting one recommended by Peter Laws.

Day 12 – Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971) ★★★★★

My first five-star film. This is an absolute classic. Incredibly disturbing and dripping with creepy atmosphere, it’s as upsetting for showing the darker side of human nature as it is for its devilish story. I thought seeing it again would lessen its power. I was wrong.

Day 13 – Friday The 13th (1980) ★½

While I wanted to include a lot of less well-known films on my list, I made sure there was room for a few icons of the horror genre, and they don’t come much more iconic than this slasher thriller. Having never seen this, but being aware of its significant legacy and huge influence on horror, I was expecting a lot. Perhaps my expectations were raised too high, but I was really quite disappointed in this. It should have been a terrifying game of cat and mouse between killer and camp counsellors but I found the kills lacked tension, opting instead for sudden jump-scares, (admittedly decent) gore effects and spectacle over thrills. Only when the identity of the killer was revealed (which of course I already knew thanks to Scream) did the film pick up the pace and start to deliver. But it was too, little too late. Not a patch on Halloween or Scream.

Day 14 – Julia’s Eyes (2010) ★★★★½

A welcome last minute addition, thanks to Sarah Dobbs. I really enjoyed this Spanish language psychological thriller and so did Mrs C. The ambiguity surrounding the nature of the antagonist (is he a ghost or is he a man?) really makes this an engaging mystery, as well as some excellent performances and superb use of visuals and camera tricks. A hidden gem well worth tracking down (it was, at time of writing, available on Amazon Prime Video).

Day 15 – Murrain (1975) ★★★★

I discovered this thanks to Howard David Ingham’s forthcoming Folk Horror book We Don’t Go Back, the title of which is a line from this TV play. It was originally made for ITV as part of their Against The Crowd series – a collection of short films about people whose views differed from the majority. A description which fits this tale of superstition vs modern medicine beautifully, and on more than one level. Murrain’s power lies in its never actually explaining fully the events of the chilling finale, leaving the viewer to decide whether witchcraft or just fear of the unknown really was to blame.

Day 16 – Beyond The Gates (2016) ★★★½

I’ll admit now that I ignored the age-old advice of Never Judge A Book By Its Cover when it came to this film. I saw the cover art for this oddity in the DVD section of the supermarket and from that moment I knew I had to see it. It has an aesthetic which really made me think of the covers I used to see in the video store as a child, searching for cartoons, but having to go past all the scary boxes first. The film actually capitalises on that video store nostalgia and is very much in the style of the old 80s video nasties. One thing that did bother me in this “Jumanji for Adults” (and Sarah Dobbs agreed) was that when the protagonists play the titular board game, it would have held onto its sense of urgency much better if they hadn’t kept stopping playing to do other stuff and then coming back to continue the game hours later. It was still fun though.

That’s the end of my first part – here’s part two!