The month of October is upon us, and with it comes my favorite holiday: Halloween. I’m a big horror movie buff and enjoy almost every sub-genre of horror movie from any country of origin. Every October I try to watch as many horror movies as I can. This year I decided to try something a little different. Instead of watching my favorite movies Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing for the 100th time, I decided to find a selection of movies I had never seen before. I recently found a site, Shudder, that offered a streaming service for horror movies, many of which I had not yet seen. Shudder does not contain many of the horror tent-pole movies and franchises, but it does contain a varied selection of movies, from good to bad. All 31 movies I’m watching (one for each day of the month) will be through this service, and movies I have not yet seen.
This week I chose some older movies that had what I perceived as some cultural significance in the horror movie genre that I had – for one reason or another – failed to have actually watched. I knew about all of these movies ahead of time, including some spoilers. I started off with a bang with one of my new favorite horror movies and jumped around to different genres. I thought I knew what I was in for, but there were some pleasant – and not so pleasant – surprises along the way.
01 – Ju-On: The Curse (2000)
American moviegoers may be familiar with the horror movie The Grudge which came out in 2004 and is a remake of a sequel to this movie. This is the original full-length movie from the Ju-On franchise. Ju-On: The Curse proves that you do not need jump scares to be an effective horror movie. Every scare was alluded to well in advance, which provided a heightened sense of dread throughout. The scares hold up surprisingly well for a movie over 15 years old (with the exclusion of one short scene with bad CGI). The Foley work is visceral and haunting. The soundtrack is almost non-existence, with the occasional string piece alongside a tense scene. The climax is brutal and unrelenting. Be warned: the movie takes a bit of work to piece together with its nonlinear storytelling and subtitles, which make following character arcs challenging. All is forgiven, however, as the story slowly reveals itself and shows us what darkness is hiding within. Ju-On: The Curse was a perfect start to this marathon, and one I will certainly be revisiting.
02 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This British-American horror-comedy lands itself in an awkward spot. An American Werewolf in London has some terrible special effects, and worse exhibition. It seems they spent their entire budget on the famous transformation scene – which is still impressive 35 years later – and the ever-changing makeup of one of the characters. Many of the side actors in this movie have some sort of personality disorder and there is no real payoff. They are there simply to provide a never-ending supply of eye-rolling. I am sure some of the old British humor and cultural references are lost on me. When an unsettling visitor starts showing up alongside the lead, the movie goes from weird to silly. A particular scene in a “movie theater” had me laughing out loud. I incorrectly predicted a twist ending, however I was half right as my idea was the entire plot of the sequel. I’m glad I’ve seen An American Werewolf in London, but I can’t help but wonder how much better it would have been with some improved writing and character development.
03 – Re-Animator (1985)
I was unfortunate to not know the nature of this Lovecraft-inspired movie in advance. The phenomenal acting tricked me into taking the movie too seriously. I ended up nitpicking the first half of Re-Animator, as there were some pretty bizarre plot holes and bad science. I knew it was supposed to be a bit schlocky, and the iconic glowing green serum reinforced that idea. But the more I watched, the less the movie was able to stand against my rigorous scrutiny. At one point I was so fed up I was about to write-off the entire movie. That is the exact moment the movie went completely off the rails and turned into something more akin to Braindead, aka, Dead Alive. That was also the exact moment I fell in love. I shamed myself for being so critical of the movie and leaped off the edge with it. The intense and ridiculous mayhem and violence that persisted throughout the remainder of the movie rekindled my appreciation for over-the-top comedy horror. Re-Animator is a must-watch for any horror movie lover; just make sure you go into it with an open mind.
04 – Sleepaway Camp (1983)
This might be the most 80’s movie I have ever seen. If you know anything about this movie, you already know the infamous ending. If you are unaware, skip the movie, go watch the end online, and come back to soldier on through these spoilers, as there are no other redeeming qualities. Welcome back! Knowing the shocking ending in advance may have sullied my movie watching experience, however nothing of value was lost. First off, did anyone really not see that coming? It was literally broadcast throughout the movie. There were several scenes that seemed dedicated to poorly hinting at the reveal. However, enough about that; what about the rest of the movie? Terrible. The acting is terrible, even by campy 80’s slasher standards. The entire movie is slow and insufferable. None of the scenes really lead anywhere, and none of the actions of the characters make any sense. There is also a significant lack of gore for a slasher movie. There is only one good money shot involving a water snake that gave me early hope that this movie was going to be good. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Please save yourself the trouble and skip Sleepaway Camp. It isn’t even worth the nostalgia trip or curiosity fulfillment. You are missing literally nothing.
05 – Antichrist (2009)
Chaos reigns in this experimental danish horror movie, written and directed by Lars von Trier. Antichrist is a simple and beautiful story about a family tragedy and the coping mechanisms thereof. Some claim that the movie tries too hard to be artsy, but I disagree. Antichrist is beautifully shot and edited, with use of haunting slow-motion imagery originally filmed at 1,000 frames per second. The opening scene is breathtaking and inspiring. After the prologue, the movie is emotionally draining and bleeds hopelessness throughout in no small part to the brilliant acting. Every time you are able to hazard a smile, the movie introduces you to some brief disturbing imagery. Twice in my notes I wrote, “Nature is brutal.” Just when you think everything is going to be okay, the movie takes a striking dark turn with intense body horror that is not for the feint of heart. The climax is punishing and hollowing. I can’t in good faith (pun not intended) recommend Antichrist, to anyone but those with the strongest of fortitude. Those who persist will be rewarded with a movie that will probably stick with them for life.
06 – Faces of Death (1978)
Staying up late at night as a young teenager, I remember the constant onslaught of commercials for Girls Gone Wild, and Banned From Television. I was transfixed by what could possibly be shown in Banned From Television, but never ended up procuring a copy to watch. Nowadays the internet is a dark treasure trove of sick videos of executions and tragic deaths. One only needs to whisper, “The Brick,” in my ear for me to shudder. When I heard that, 20 years before Banned From Television, a movie known as Faces of Death had circulated hands purporting to contain shocking footage of people getting mauled and brutalized on camera. Unlike Traces of Death, and Banned From Television, almost all of the footage in the movie is a re-enactment of real footage or is completely fake. That of which is real contains mostly animal related brutality, including a full scene in a slaughterhouse. There is even a scene with some insects fighting. Fake footage notwithstanding, a documentary on death would actually be quite fascinating to watch, however this movie fails to provide even the simplest of direction in narration to compel a viewer. I can only imagine people thinking any of this was real because they received a bad quality sixth-hand VHS transfer, and were only 13 years old. The movie closes with fake ghost hunters and a poorly acted seance. Faces of Death is literally garbage and should not be watched by anyone, ever.
07 – The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Having seen Poultrygeist, (not to be confused with Poltergeist) I was well prepared for the first horror slapstick comedy by Troma Entertainment. The Toxic Avenger is bad in a bizarre charming way. The one knock against it is that it is inconsistent. One of the oddest choices was to not reveal the face of the Toxic Avenger until halfway through the movie. While I can understand saving it, it was coupled with some bad ADR that made me question if he was having an internal dialogue amidst his grunting. However around the same time of the face reveal, he started talking to characters directly and they would respond. Besides these inconsistencies, I appreciated the alternate universe and the tongue-in-cheek overacting. The movie has barely enough gore and kills to even call itself a horror movie at all, which I found disappointing. On the other hand, I was sympathetic toward the main characters, which is something I find lacking in most cheesy horror comedies. As comically absurd as the movie was, I wanted to keep watching to see how the story played out and learn the ultimate fate of the characters. There is a reason this movie comes up in a lot of horror lists, and it earns its place, as long as it is near the bottom.