Horror Cinema Month: Week One

We’re one week into October and I found myself in a state of realization recently. Turns out I’ve seen very few horror films. Growing up, I was the kid who wanted nothing to do with horror. Why would I want to spend my nights creating nightmare fuel out of images of psychopaths, ghouls, and clowns? One of the few horror films that I actually watched while growing up was Army of Darkness, and obviously that was due to its campy nature and comedy. However, as of the past two years (when I decided to sit down and see Sinister in theaters), I started learning to love horror. It’s an overcrowded genre nowadays, but there are minor tweaks which can sometimes completely change the effect the film has on me. So, since it is October, and I have a long shame list (as well as some other horror films that I’m just interested in seeing), I am going to try to watch one horror movie a day and write a little reaction to them. Then at the end of each week, I’ll post those reactions. However, I already screwed up this week by not watching all the films I planned to see. Going to try and re-schedule them for another day. With that history out of the way, let’s commence with a hell of a list of films. Pun intended.

House (1977)

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I would not be surprised if this cult classic ends up being the most visually satisfying of the films I see this month. The film’s visuals go from beautifully bright to dark and horrifying by the time the main characters of the film start getting picked off one by one. As far as haunted house films go, House is bonkers. From a piano that eats people, to a demonic cat, Nobuhiko Obayashi crafted something magnificently weird, but at the same time, dark and compelling. If I have any gripe with it, it’s that the absurdity sometimes doesn’t have enough time to breathe, with the exception of a long scene of blood gushing out of a wall and filling a room, providing one of the few true moments of chilling horror. But House is unsurprisingly a cult classic, because it blends the ridiculous with the horrifying with relative ease.

The House of the Devil (2009)

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Ti West is always willing to exercise his horror chops and demonstrate his history of the genre. The House of the Devil is him overtly replicating the feeling of 1970s horror with relative ease. Its problems generally stem from having an ending that seems to be the only reason the film exists (well, and a dancing montage that did wonders for me). The entire premise of a babysitter being harassed one night is not unique at all, but throwing in a satanic cult helps set itself apart slightly from the other babysitter murder simulations. I think Jeff Grace’s score is incredibly fitting, but there’s a lot of silence as well, which winds up hurting the middle section of the film. Watching our babysitter keep pacing back and forth, exploring the house and never actually opening the one door that would give her a hint to get the hell out of there, is far from entertaining. Besides a long stretch of boredom, the film sets the atmosphere up easily and the ending delivers an insane amount of thrills that will leave most horror films satisfied.

Tusk (2014)

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Say what you will about Kevin Smith, it is somewhat refreshing to have him ditch the tried-and-true formula he has had since Clerks made waves in the indie film scene. I personally felt that his last film, Red State, was an exercise in genre that renewed my admiration for Smith, as well as hosted one of Michael Parks’s finest performances. With Tusk, Smith isn’t doing anything extraordinary here, and he’s not even necessarily doing anything exceptionally well. Take the concept of a man who wants to turn another man into a walrus to rekindle his relationship with one that saved him many years ago; that is what Tusk is about and it goes to all the places that you’d expect it to. Michael Parks gives a more zany performance as the mad scientist creating a walrus out of Justin Long. If there are any gripes I have with the film, its that I couldn’t get behind many of the scenes that took place outside of the actual walrus stuff. There’s a very terrible guest appearance by a very famous actor who is clearly ready to turn in his SAG card at this point and quit acting altogether, because his role is offensively bad. And as a Canadian, I found the incessant jokes about Canada to be done in good taste, despite the fact that they are every stereotype known to man. However, they’re handled by someone who clearly understands how to handle them. But you’re going into Tusk for the crazy messed up stuff done to Justin Long, and boy does it satisfy.

The American Scream (2012)

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There aren’t a lot of documentaries out there that deal with the culture of Halloween, but I found myself interested in the premise for The American Scream when I heard about it a year ago. Following the lives of three individuals who are fully invested in the tradition of haunted houses, the film examines the kind of people who make haunted houses and what it means to them. It boils down to one person doing it for art, another as something to do with family, and another for the entertainment. Unfortunately, the movie’s subjects aren’t particularly interesting and the film ultimately winds up being about community as opposed to any other interesting elements that could have come from its premise. Even the actual finished haunted houses don’t spend more than 10 minutes on screen as the film is more concerned with the efforts of making a haunted house than the reaction to one. For those interested in the psyche of someone making a haunted house, this film is fairly tame and delves into very little subject matter that is interesting. But if you just want to see some people make props, or see how much someone will spend on a coffin, you’ve found the perfect movie.

Alien (1979)

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Yes, this was my first time seeing Alien. This is the first of a bunch of extremely popular horror films which I am finally experiencing this October. That being said, it held up to expectations. I seem to find myself gravitating more and more towards haunted house films than most other horror films. Alien is a perfect example of how a haunted house film does not necessarily need to take place in a haunted house. Using very little actual shots of the Xenomorph, the tension is undeniably palpable. Its obvious why there was so little of the Xenomorph actually seen in the film when you see his final moments of the movie, and can quite obviously tell there is a man in a suit. But those moments do not detract from the incredible atmosphere built by both the editing, sound design, and cinematography. Plus, there was still stuff that surprised me. The blend of science fiction and horror is one that makes complete sense with each other, and I think Alien is one of the defining examples of how the two can blend to create something wonderful.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

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The Universal Monster Saga which was set up was sort of incredible. But also something which certainly could not exist to the same extent, anymore. Watching Creature from the Black Lagoon solidified this because I was just reminded of all the crazy things which happened with the other Universal Monsters. Abbott & Costello have movies with some of these monsters. Viewers in the 21st century would scoff at the ludicrous nature of The Bride of Frankenstein or of a Mummy as a villain. There is a lot of suspension of disbelief that has to happen, but Creature from the Black Lagoon is perhaps the most conventional of the monster films. He just wants to be loved by Julia Adams, but she puts him in the fiend zone. The most fascinating part of the whole film for me was the underwater photography which looked amazing, and even the creature, which was clearly a man in a suit, had many convincing scenes where I could have believed that it existed. It’s not an incredible film by any stretch of the imagination, and a lot of the damsel-in-distress stuff doesn’t hold up, but the tensions between professional responsibility and personal feelings of vengeance make the movie relatively timeless.

Next week I’ll have more horror to share. And feel free to comment below with the horror films you’ll be watching this October.

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