Wednesday, November 1, 2017

31 Days of Horror Roundup

There really must be something weird and unique about the way horror fans’ minds work, because there’s nothing like a full month of watching horror movies every day to reset my brain. This has probably been one of the most stressful years of my life (for lots of reasons, including the obvious), and it’s been hard to enjoy, well, anything as much as usual. But there’s something so cathartic about watching horror movies when the world as you know it is shifting and cracking, revealing real and deep-seated ugliness all around you. It’s been a rough year, and Halloween came just in time.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite parts: recapping everything I watched and seeing how I felt about it all. Considering this has been an unbelievable year for horror, I’m not surprised that I watched a lot of new, great stuff this month. Let’s dive in! Use the slideshow above to scroll through my tweets recounting the month’s watches and read my quick takes.

Rewatches. I watched a lot of new stuff in October, but as the month wore on I found myself, as usual, slipping back into old favorites. Halloween II was a standout for me this year because I’m pretty sure I haven’t watched that in at least a decade, but it still managed to scare me. I remember being a kid and seeing that hot tub murder, which I’m fairly certain turned me off hot tubs for life. Other oldies-but-goodies: Halloween H20, Hocus Pocus, It Follows, Mother’s Day, Sorority Row, Don’t Breathe, and The Faculty. I also rewatched Alice, Sweet Alice, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Amityville Horror, and Turistas, but don’t particularly recommend any of those. Oh – and as usual, I finished the month off with an annual viewing of Trick ‘r Treat, the greatest Halloween movie of all time (come at me).

The meh. As always, there were some duds and under-achievers. This was my second try watching Hell House LLC., and although I finished it this time around, I still couldn’t get into it. As someone who usually likes a good found footage horror movie, it pains me to say that maybe I’m just getting tired of this format – not to mention desensitized to it. I also checked out Hostel II for the first time, and found it to be pretty much exactly what I’ve come to expect from Eli Roth: bad dialogue, mediocre acting, and a lot of gore. It’s kind of funny to me now, though, that the Hostel movies caused such an uproar when they came out. This movie was gory and gross, for sure, but it’s not even remotely shocking to me now.

Amityville the Awakening was about as bad as everyone said it would be (after waiting years for a release date, it’s no surprise). The makeup on the possessed brother was so bad it made me laugh out loud and they committed the sin of making me dislike Jennifer Jason Leigh… but at least you can watch it for free on Google Play. Wish Upon was another PG-13 horror that I had low expectations for, but I actually think it would be a fun horror movie for a younger crowd. It has some goofy parts and is devoid of any real scares, but it held together all right and had a surprisingly ruthless ending that I liked.

I’m a little torn on The Survivalist, because I did find it unique and interesting, and I’m sure certain people would love it. Unfortunately, I also found it depressing and a little too empty… which may have been the point, but was just not quite my cup of coffee. Check it out, though, if you’re into truly bleak post-apocalypse stuff. The Void also has me second-guessing myself, because so many people loved it, but I think I was expecting more of a suspenseful cult movie (a la The Invitation) and got a scifi monster movie instead. Again, that doesn’t make the movie bad, it’s just not my favorite thing.

Now, I have to admit right off the bat here that I’m not a huge Child’s Play fan. I loved Bride of Chucky as a kid because I thought Jennifer Tilly was badass (still do), but it’s never been a favorite horror franchise of mine. So basically, there’s almost no way this movie could’ve been a home run for me. As it was, I enjoyed it. I thought Fiona Dourif did an incredible impression of Brad Dourif, though, so that was really fun to watch.

Finally, Stake Land II was certainly not a bad effort. I still love the world they’ve created here, and The Mother was a creepy and effective new villain. Unfortunately, the plot just wasn’t tight enough and the final battle against The Mother was a big letdown. But maybe I just prefer to imagine Martin married and happy like he was at the beginning of the movie. The vampire apocalypse seems like a non-stop bummer, man.

The good. So much good this year! It’s going to be difficult to recap succinctly, but here goes. Let’s start with Hounds of Love, which kicked off my October in terrifying style. Australian horror is killing it these days, guys. This movie was incredibly hard to watch, even though it managed to keep the most horrifying stuff off-screen (which was a relief, but also, wow, the places your imagination goes when that camera pans to blackness aren’t pretty). Harrowing, flat-out scary stuff here.

Equally difficult to watch was Gerald’s Game – that ending hand scene will stick with me forever. I love a good, one-location survival horror, and this one pushed all the right buttons. Viewers are so split over the ending, but I think it’s kind of inconsequential, to be honest.

The Babysitter and Little Evil were both flawed but genuinely fun and funny, and filled with hilarious characters. Samara Weaving’s babysitter character was refreshingly different (seriously, she seemed like the most chill babysitter a kid could ask for… for the most part) and I really look forward to seeing her in Mayhem later. Little Evil was a little too repetitive at times, and honestly a bit of a disappointment after Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, but I also realize that’s a high bar. Overall, it was a heartwarming film with innumerable Easter eggs for horror fans, so how can I complain?

Creep 2 was a big surprise, considering the first Creep barely registered for me. I found this sequel much more compelling and unsettling, probably at least in part because the protagonist is a female this time around. It’s not just that, though – Desiree Akhavan (Sara) simply makes for a much more intriguing character than Patrick Brice’s broke videographer in the original. Sara’s motivations are more layered and complex, and thus, so are her responses to what Mark Duplass’s character (the titular creep) throws at her. I was into this.

Speaking of creepy men, M.F.A. was a heartbreaking film about the ubiquity of rape on college campuses. In many ways effective, this movie was a little too muddled to really get its point across. The rape scenes were appropriately distressing to sit through (and not cheap or exploitative, in my opinion), and Francesca Eastwood did a good job portraying the guilt and confusion a victim can feel following a rape. However, some parts of the movie were too pulpy and convoluted, and other aspects of Eastwood’s character seemed beyond the limits of suspension of disbelief. Frankly, while it's something that could possibly be better explored in more depth, the idea that being raped will make you a better artist seems like a dangerous one to throw around to no real end.

And then there’s Life. Ah, Life. I know everybody likes to make fun of you, and yes, you are a silly, silly movie. There are inconsistencies and plot holes and then there’s that “Goodnight, Moon” scene! That was a really terrible speech, Jake Gyllenhaal. And yet... I liked it! So sue me.

New (to me) classics. Finally, we’re down to the Elite Three – my favorite movies of October 2017! Let’s start with a new classic that is actually very old: The Slumber Party Massacre. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before, because now I have to go buy it. It has all the trappings of a perfect 80s slasher: sex, drugs, bad perms, and a crazed killer with a power drill. The amount of boobs in this movie is staggering. Honestly, though, it couldn’t be more perfect.

Apparently a lot of people hated my next favorite, Better Watch Out. I’ve heard some people say it’s because the trailer was a “trick,” and that it was advertised more as a Home Alone kind of horror comedy while actually being something completely different. I can’t speak to that because I have to yet to even look at the trailer (my preferred method of watching movies), but personally, I loved it. I loved that the movie you think you’re getting turns out to be something much darker and meaner, but it also maintains its sense of humor throughout. Right down to the final minute, I was both on the edge of my seat and laughing out loud. It was a great ride.

Last but definitely not least, and probably destined to be a forever favorite of mine, Super Dark Times. This movie, man – it got into me. Under my skin. Maybe it was the pervasive, oppressive sense of doom lingering over this story from the first scene until the last. Or maybe it was the depressing way that the dialogue nailed how teenaged boys talk, or the melancholy pall over the authentic 90s setting. Regardless, this movie was pitch perfect and penetrating.

So that’s it! One more year down. What gems did you discover this Halloween season? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!