31 Days Of Horror – Part 2

Continuing from my post yesterday where I looked at the first sixteen films of my 31 Days adventure, here are the remaining sixteen (I watched two on Halloween night):

Day 17 – As Above So Below (2014) ★★★

Another film recommended by Peter Laws (in his Depictions of Hell in Cinema mini-series on his YouTube channel). While Lake Mungo had elements of found footage in it, this was the first dedicated FF movie in my list. It’s very much a film of two halves for me. The ending kind of loses its way, opting for supernatural jump scares to frighten, but it’s the first half which really escalates the tension. One scene in particular, when one of the protagonists gets stuck in a very tight hole, was almost unbearable to watch and reminded me of a similar scene in the superlative The Descent (which I also thought was better when the perils were caving and not monster related).

Day 18 – Penda’s Fen (1974) ★★★★

Another TV play, Penda’s Fen feels like it would push boundaries were it shown today, never mind over forty years ago. A study in religion, adolescence, patriotism, sexuality and the importance of the landscape which is by turns disturbing, beautiful, alien, yet familiar and comforting.

I don’t pretend to have understood everything that happened but I really rather enjoyed the experience. The DVD cover’s creepy image (of a succubus) conjured up images in my mind (deliberately, I am sure) of Fuseli’s unsettling painting, The Nightmare.

Day 19 – Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974) ★★★

In his review of the horror films available on Amazon Prime Peter Laws talked a lot about the penchant for nature-gone-mad horror in the 70s and 80s, in particular, Bigfoot movies. While he recommends Night of the Demon and The Legend of Boggy Creek, I opted for this lesser-known treat for one reason alone – the video art scared me as a child when my mum took me to Rockingham Road Videos in Corby to pick up some cartoons when I was off school sick. The image of the abominable snowman breaking through the window and racing up the stairs to get you has stayed with me ever since.

What’s interesting about this film is that, while extremely cheaply made and packed with pantomime performances, it has a very, very good story. It’s not just teenagers getting chased around and murdered, there is actually some really intelligent storytelling going on and as final act ups a gear and totally changes the tone of the movie. There’s a killer twist which I didn’t see coming and the final scene is chilling yet intentionally funny!

Day 20 – Ju-On: The Curse (2000) ★★★½

I’m ashamed to say that my only flirtation with Asian horror, prior to this month, had been the lukewarm remake of The Ring with Naomi Watts. Otherwise, I was completely inexperienced. I chose this less well-known entry in the Ju-On series as I believe it’s the first in the saga. I didn’t realise it was a made-for-TV movie (with a corresponding TV budget) or that it would be in 4:3 aspect ratio but it does such a good job of creating a creepy ghost story that some shoddy CGI can be forgiven – especially since the practical effects were very good. I must watch more J-Horror!

Day 21 – Audrey Rose (1977) ★★½

I chose this film entirely off the back of a throwaway line in a TV show. I can’t even remember which show – all I remember is that one character says to another that their child has been having nightmares because the babysitter let them watch Audrey Rose. The film was such an odd experience as it felt like a cross between a legal drama, those melodramas like Kramer vs Kramer that were so popular in the 70s and it’s obvious influence, The Exorcist. The story was rather unbelievable, not because of its reincarnation themes, but because it spends so much time on the court battle debating the issue. Also, there’s only so many times I can hear Anthony Hopkins shout “Audrey Rose”!

Day 22 – The Witch (2015) ★★★★★

I’ve had this on Blu-Ray for several months but have never had the opportunity to dedicate some quality time to watch it. I had bought it for a lads’ film night with my chums when Mrs C and the other wives were having a book group, but for some reason that was cancelled and it’s been sat on the shelf ever since. I’ve read many great things about this film so expectations were high – and thankfully they were met! I found it tense, scary and even funny in places. The build-up was unsettling and the ending was just plain disturbing. More disturbing is the fact that large portions of the screenplay are based on real folklore and court transcripts from the infamous witch trials in America. However, my viewing of the film was enhanced by my knowledge of one particularly nasty piece of witch-lore, which I learned from an unlikely source. According to legend, a witch gains her ability to fly through drinking the boiled fat of an unbaptised child. I know this because it’s exactly what Julian Sands’ character did to gain that same skill in the 1989 fantasy adventure Warlock.

And somebody give that goat a job – he’s going to be a star!

Day 23 – The Shout (1978) ★★★½

A very British affair, The Shout plays out like a kitchen sink drama for the majority of the film, with the focus very much on relationships and character development rather than scares. It’s a slow-burning tale of betrayal and broken trust in which the antagonist’s powerful voice is only witnessed twice, but when it does surface, especially in the film’s final act, it’s to devastating effect.

As we were watching it Mrs C questioned John Hurt’s behaviour when Alan Bates (who I had previously only really known as naked-wrestling Birkin from Women in Love) invites himself round to tea, fails to leave afterwards and proceeds to ingratiate himself into all aspects of Hurt’s life (including his wife). She made a very good point, saying that “This movie would be over a lot quicker if John Hurt would just stop being so British and say ‘No Alan Bates, you can’t come round to my house for tea'”. She had a point.

Day 24 – The Keep (1983) ★★★½

Beautiful to look it, this mind-blowing adventure pits Nazis against an ancient God/Vampire/Golem thing which they accidentally release with their insatiable appetite for taking other peoples’ silver (which had been fashioned into crosses to keep it trapped). Aside from Michael Mann’s signature visual style, this film is also noteworthy for Tangerine Dream’s musical score which, while creating a rather anachronistic feeling (along with all the neon lights and laser beams), is a pleasure to listen to. Ian McKellen’s age makeup doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny on an HD TV screen but he gives a good performance so that can be forgiven. I have to say, I was kind of on Molasar’s side throughout this film, hoping he would eventually escape from his eternal prison and put an end to Hitler’s antics.

Day 25 – Carnival Of Souls (1962) ★★★★★

The only black and white film on my list. In 1990 I saved up my Saturday job wages and bought a VHS recorder for my bedroom (I was the envy of the 6th Form common room). One of the things I made a point of regularly recording was Moviedrome, a series on BBC Two which showed cult movies with an introductory mini-documentary hosted by Alex Cox. This was the first time I had watched Carnival of Souls since that broadcast in 1991 but so much of the imagery had really stuck in my memory. It’s such great film to look at, and the haunting organ music is incredible – it’s so integral to the plot that it’s virtually a character in its own right. The first thought I came away with after watching this is that, upon release back in 1962, a teenage David Lynch was probably sat in a cinema taking notes!

Day 26 – Jacob’s Ladder (1990) ★★★★½

Jacob’s Ladder turned out, purely by chance, to be the only film on my list from the 90s. It’s not really an era that one associates heavily with horror, which is a shame since this started the decade in style. Three days in a row now I commented that the film choices were highly visual experiences. It’s interesting how similar in basic plot beats this film is to Carnival of Souls – it was not intentional having them one night after another. This was my second viewing of this film and I thought I might not enjoy it as much on a repeated viewing, knowing what was coming at the end. I was wrong because it actually enhanced the experience as I noticed things I had missed the first time and this helped me gain a greater understanding of what actually happened to Jacob Singer.

Day 27 – Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970) ★★★½

The only Czech film on my list (!!), VAHWOW was another visual treat which explores themes of adolescence, burgeoning sexuality, and one’s relationship with their parents during those difficult times. But mostly it is a dreamlike fairy tale. I didn’t quite understand the last few minutes but I’ve heard other reviewers say the same. I think it’s supposed to signify the joy of finally coming to terms with who you are, but maybe I’m reading too much into it and it was just ten minutes of fun and frolics in the forest for no reason than “shenanigans”. Another recommendation from Howard David Ingham’s blog post on Folk Horror.

Day 28 – Black Sabbath (1963) ★★★★

A last-minute swap suggested by Grumpy Andrew. Originally I was going to rewatch Cameron’s Closet but, while I do like that, I’m glad to have seen this gem of Italian cinema. Although it was filmed in English, the version I saw on Shudder (a Netflix style service for horror films) had been dubbed into Italian and then subtitled back into English! I am assured that the Italian version is actually a better edit of the movie so I didn’t let the weird audio issues bother me! Comprised of three short stories, all of which are creepy in different ways, Black Sabbath features three staple villains of horror: a crazed murderer, vampires and a ghost. The vampire section, The Wurdalak, featuring Boris Karloff as an ageing vampire hunter, is a clear influence on Salem’s Lot. The Telephone does creepy-killer-on-the-phone much better than Scream did over 30 years later while The Drop Of Water features a ghost which, once you’ve seen it, you’re unlikely to forget. We watched this last section in bed and had trouble getting to sleep straight after!

Most of all though, what sticks in the mind, a week after viewing, is the wonderful use of light, shade and colour. Another really beautiful film to look at and well worth seeking out. And, yes, Ozzy Osbourne did name his band after this movie!

Day 29 – Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) ★★★★★

I had originally planned Dario Argento’s Demons 2 for this night but had to improvise when I found that it had gone from Netflix. Lucky I did because Mrs C declared this to be her favourite film of the entire challenge. I knew she would (which was why I chose it) for a couple of reasons: firstly, she really likes Alan Tudyk (who doesn’t?) and secondly, at its heart, this cabin-in-the-woods slasher thriller is actually a really rather sweet-natured romantic comedy. What I love about this, aside from the loveable title characters, is the way it turns well-worn horror tropes on their head and makes us actually think about how things might seem from the supposed villain’s point of view. It’s funny, gory, scary, exciting and heart-warming. Watch this along with the likes of Scream, The Cabin In The Woods, Waxwork and Detention.

Day 30 – The Void (2016) ★★★

For the last two days of the challenge, I was away from home and had saved the Cronenberg body horror Dead Ringers for my first night as I know Mrs C doesn’t like it one bit. One problem – I forgot to take the DVD away with me! On my drive south, I stopped at a supermarket to buy some flowers for my mum (who had been in the hospital and who I was going to help look after for the next week) when I saw The Void Blu-Ray on the shelf, and in the sale, no less! I remembered how Sarah Dobbs had bemoaned my choice of Beyond The Gates a couple of weeks back, and how this Lovecraftian siege thriller was a far better example of retro-80s style horror. So I picked it up and watched it on my folks’ big TV after they had gone to bed. I really liked it. It reminded me a little of The Keep, The Thing, Hellraiser, In The Mouth Of Madness and even Audrey Rose (reincarnation is a theme). The best thing about it though is the wonderful practical effects work. There are some really great looking monsters which are largely devoid of CGI. Also, I found out after that it is a Canadian production, so it was a fitting replacement for Dead Ringers!

Day 31: Part 1 – Gerald’s Game (2017) ★★★½

An unplanned last minute addition. My folks were sitting around wondering what to watch and asked me to suggest something. I wasn’t sure they’d be a fan of my film for that night (they don’t really like fantasy or sci-fi) so, when I was flicking through the films, this Netflix original production of the Stephen King novel caught my eye. I had read the first half of the novel as a teenager (I don’t recall why I never finished it) so thought that its mix of survival thriller and psychological drama would appeal to them. Sadly neither of them really liked it, but I did, despite there being far fewer characters than the book. What really took me by surprise though was the revelation at the end. I never saw it coming, yet feel like I should have, so kudos to the screenwriters and director on fooling me!

Day 31: Part 2 – Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) ★★★★

For Halloween night it had to be an entry in John Carpenter’s iconic horror series. However, for nostalgic reasons, I decided to choose the only one which doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Carpenter had tried to turn Halloween into a horror anthology series and this was to be the first part in that new direction. The story of an evil toymaker who plans to sacrifice an entire nation’s children to his pagan gods using pester power, an army of lifelike androids, witchcraft and a TV advert (the theme tune to which will be stuck in your head for weeks) is pure sci-fi horror hokum – but it’s such good fun. I loved the fact that it featured toys and robots. One scene, however, made me feel so physically ill that I ended up having the next day off school sick and was not allowed to go to the town firework display that night, much to my annoyance. Anyone who has seen it will surely shudder at the mention of “The Testing Room”. Happy, happy Halloween, indeed!

So, that’s it for this year. I’ve really quite enjoyed the experience of watching a whole month of horror films and interacting with all the other folks joining in. If I had to choose a favourite, I would probably have to The Witch or Blood On Satan’s Claw, but, aside from Friday The 13th and maybe Audrey Rose, I’d recommend watching each and every one.

So what next? Possibly The Great Movie Advent Calendar with Die Hard being behind the big double doors on Christmas Eve! I might even be able to persuade Mrs C to choose that list!