October 14, 2017

October 2017 Horror Watching

Halloween monster with knife

One of the October traditions for which I try to find some time every year involves watching as many horror movies as I can. I am fairly successful some years, managing to see several. And there are other years where it just doesn't work out at all, with the month flying by before I realize what I missed. Last year I discovered that the quality of the horror flicks available on cable improved to some degree as the month went on. Will the same be true this year? We'll see.

Here is my list of the horror movies I managed to catch during October of 2017:

  • My Bloody Valentine (1981) - As dated as this one feels in places, I still like it much better than the remake. Many good slashers were released during the early 80s, and this is one of the better ones. It has sometimes been criticized as a bad rip-off of Halloween, but I don't think this is entirely fair. Of the many films of the era inspired by Halloween, this is one of my favorites. It is darker and more violent than many, and I've always thought the mine setting worked well. As is the case with many classics, I still enjoy watching it no matter how many times I've seen it. This one is easy to recommend.
  • Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) - I first saw this cult classic in the early 90s, and I thought it was fun back then. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my recent viewing. In fact, I barely made it through the flick without turning it off. The only way to see this one (aside from being under the influence of something) is to go in expecting a movie so bad one might actually enjoy it. Even then, it didn't work for me this time. I have a hard time imagining that even someone terrified of clowns would find it mildly scary, and the acting was poor enough to distract from the story (which might have been a good thing here). I have no desire to sit through this one again. I know this one has its fans, but I can't recommend it.
  • They Look Like People (2015) - This was an independent psychological thriller that I hadn't seen before that is often compared to The Babadook. I can see why one would make this comparison, but I think I liked this one better even though it was less scary and less of a traditional horror film. It was as stripped down and low-budget as could be, but this seemed to bring the focus more to the interesting dynamics between the few characters. Aside from what I thought was an unsatisfying ending, this was pretty good and probably one I'd watch again. Recommended to fans of psychological thrillers looking for something a bit different from the traditional horror fare.
  • Truth or Dare (2017) - Although this one suffered from many of the same problems that always seem to plague made-for-TV horror films, I can honestly say that it was the first SyFy original film I've seen that was worth watching. I know that isn't saying much, but I was pleasantly surprised. Compared with everything else I've seen on SyFy, this came close enough to resembling an actual horror flick that it was enjoyable. I probably wouldn't watch it again, but that wouldn't stop me from recommending it to those with cable who aren't interested in paying more than what they already are for horror.
  • The Purge: Election Year (2016) - I have never particularly cared for The Purge films. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps the premise of an extremely violent nation attempting to solve its problems with violence through a government-sanctioned violence seems a bit too plausible. The first film in the series was mildly interesting but nothing I'd recommend or bother to watch again. I did not care for the second one at all, finding it more of the same but even less compelling. I hadn't planned on seeing the third; however, many people insisted that it was the best of the three. After watching it, I have to agree. Of the three, I thought it was easily the best. I'd recommend it to fans of either of the first two Purge films. Of the three films in the series, Election Year was the only one I can imagine watching again at some point.
  • Halloween: Resurrection (2002) - If this isn't the worst of all the Halloween films, it has to be close. A group of college kids goes to Michael Myers' childhood home for something along the lines of a ghost-hunting reality TV style webcast. Others watch online while the predictable happens. I'm almost positive I had seen it before, but I didn't remember it at all. That's the only reason I watched it again. I hope not to make that mistake again. I can't recommend this one even to die-hard fans of the series.
  • Mischief Night (2014) - This one starts off as a typical stalker-terrorizing-baby-sitter flick before morphing into something quite different. I thought the beginning was quite good and that the ending, while way too predictable, was decent. Unfortunately, the pace of the middle of the film slowed to a crawl and resulted in boredom. I'm not sure what they were going for here, but it ruined what could have been an otherwise decent flick. Viewers desperate for something different might enjoy it, but it wasn't for me.
  • House of the Witch (2017) - This was a SyFy original that was far more typical of SyFy originals. That is, it was terrible. A group of college kids gets trapped in a house by supernatural forces, and the audience rapidly loses interest. Horrid acting, weak special effects, and the other characteristics I've come to expect from SyFy. Skip this one.
  • The Darkness (2016) - Despite some big names in the cast, I had never heard of this one. I suspect this is because I watched it shortly after watching one of those many awful SyFy originals, but I didn't think it was half bad for a PG-13 horror flick. Its biggest problem was the complete lack of originality. It used the same family-takes-sacred-objects-home-and-gets-haunted plot we've seen countless times. This made it feel like I'd seen it before even though I know I hadn't. I can't pretend it was scary, so I think the main thing that stood out to me was what a decent cast can bring even when they don't have much to work with. It might not be a bad option for families with younger children, but it isn't one I'd want to see again.
  • Eraserhead (1977) - I know many won't consider this horror, and most will conclude that I'm a moron for saying what I'm about to say. This was the third time I tried to get through this celebrated cult classic, and I finally gave up. As much as I love the atmosphere and appreciate the art of the film, I can't help suspecting that this one just might not be for me. Every time I've tried to watch it, I end up getting distracted. Someone comes to the door, I get a phone call I have to take, the dog starts bouncing off the walls, something. This time, it was all of those plus having to clean up an expected mess in the kitchen. If I try to watch it again, it will be by myself in a dark room when I think I'm unlikely to be disturbed. I don't think I'd ever recommend this to someone looking for a horror film, but I hope to get through it one of these days anyway.
  • Wind Chill (2007) - Two college students who don't know each other and meet through a rideshare are driving home together in the winter when their car runs off the road. They are trapped in dropping temperatures overnight and soon discover they are not alone. I thought this one was pretty good for fans of supernatural horror even though I'm not sure any of the supernatural elements were as scary as the idea of freezing to death in one's car, and that was my primary complaint. It is also true that the two characters were unlikeable in the beginning of the film, but I think this might be a rare case where that actually worked by slowly increasing the tension. I could imagine myself wanting to watch this one again at some point.
  • 976-Evil (1998) - I'll just get this out of the way and say I love this flick. It falls squarely into the so-bad-its-good category, but I recognize that the much of appeal is nostalgia. Not only do I remember seeing this in the late 80s, but this film is truly stuck in the 80s. The hair, the clothes, the attitude. The plot is about as simple as could be: a bullied kid gets possessed by a demon over the phone and takes out his frustrations on the bullies. Think of a very low-budget Teen Wolf if it was rated R, directed by Robert Englund, and Teen Wolf was evil. There's nothing scary about this one, the special effects are bad, and I've never been sure whether it was trying to be funny. I'd recommend this one only to fans of low-budget B-movie horror (e.g., Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator) who have a fondness for the 80s. It is hard to imagine anybody else wanting to sit through it. As for me, I may have to add it to my collection.
  • Turistas (2006) - Despite decent casting and a great location (Brazil), this one really fell flat. The evil-foreigners-prey-on-American-tourists thing was already played out when this one was released, and it did not hold up well today. I thought this one had potential, but it did nothing to stand out from the crowd and was surprisingly disorganized. It took forever to get to the horror, and there was little more than disappointment when it did. I could not connect with the characters and ended up feeling strangely disinterested in the whole thing. That's often a sign of poor writing and/or direction, both of which seemed to be issues here. I can't recommend this one and have no interest in seeing it again.
  • Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) - I loved Insidious, bought it shortly after seeing it for the first time, and would recommend it to anyone who likes supernatural horror and doesn't mind PG-13 flicks. I enjoyed Insidious: Chapter 2 as well, although I did not think it was quite as good as the first one. It was a proper sequel in that one really needs to watch the first one in order to make any sense out of it. Chapter 3, on the other hand, was a prequel to the first film. As a fan of the first two, I was pretty sure I'd like this one. While I did enjoy it, I thought it was the weakest of the three films. I'd still recommend it to fans of the first two. I'll also share something I've noticed about all three of the Insidious films that might affect your enjoyment of them like it did mine: these are films that really need to be watched from a high-quality source (i.e., Blu-ray) with the audio cranked up. I've seen all three on Blu-ray and on cable. The difference in each case was so dramatic that the cable versions felt flat and were far less enjoyable. The muted colors and muffled audio from the excessive compression do not do these films any favors.
  • Horror of Dracula (1958) - There are so many good Dracula movies that picking one's favorite is almost impossible. Many actors of put their stamp on the role, but I'd have to say that Christopher Lee's take on the character is one of my favorites. This flick strikes me as one of the more faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with Lee delivering a more sinister version than we see in some other films. While Both Lee and Peter Cushing would go on to appear together in many other Dracula films, this one always stood out to me. I can't say it is scary or delivers anything you haven't seen before, but I always enjoy it.
  • The Other Side of the Door (2016) - Take Pet Sematary, skip over the pets and go straight to the child, and set the whole thing in India, and you'll have the general idea for this one. A mother who has recently lost her son learns about some ritual magic from her housekeeper that will allow her to briefly communicate with her dead son as long as she does not open the door separating them. Of course, she opens the door and lets something horrible into our world. The Other Side of the Door was not well-received by most critics, but I have to say that I liked it even if it wasn't terribly original. I thought that the Indian location was a nice touch, the acting was fairly good, and it delivered a few scares. This was the second time I'd seen it, and I'd watch it again.
  • Edge of Winter (2016) - Some will object that this wasn't a horror flick at all but more of a dramatic thriller. I see their point, but I could also see placing this in the psychological horror category. It was a simple but effective story of a recently divorced father attempting to spend time with his two sons as he slowly falls apart. It was well-acted and did a good job of building tension throughout much of the film. I thought the last third was fairly disappointing but still managed to enjoy it for the most part. This one seems to have very mixed reviews, which makes it tough to recommend. I liked it but probably wouldn't watch it again.
  • The Sandman (2017) - Let's wrap this up with a real stinker. This was another SyFy original that made me wonder why I continue to bother with them. It had lots of positive buzz, evidently because Stan Lee produced it. Unfortunately, the monster did not strike me as even remotely scary. That tends to be a fatal flaw for this sort of film, and it was in this case. The story, such as it was, also didn't make much sense. I was hoping for something that would at least be creepy, but I found it boring enough that I nearly turned it off mid-way through.
  • The Possession (2012) - I'd seen this one previously, and I think it is a decent entry among the crowded field of possession-themed PG-13 horror films. It isn't the best by a long-shot, but it is far from the worst. Supposedly, it is "based on a true story" (yeah, right). It has a strong cast, generally likable characters, effective special effects, and some decent scares. While I'll be the first to admit that it doesn't feel particularly original, I did appreciate that it put a couple of interesting twists on the possession theme. For example, the exorcist is Jewish rather than Catholic. I could imagine myself watching it again, but it probably isn't the sort of stand-out I'd add to my collection.
  • Attack the Block (2011) - If you've ever watched an alien invasion flick and found yourself wondering what would happen if the aliens had invaded a tough neighborhood where the some of the residents decided to fight back, this one might be right up your alley. Attack the Block is a low-budget sci-fi horror comedy set in London that depicts a group of teenagers taking the fight to alien invaders. The acting is solid, and it manages to be fun without going too far in the unnecessary comedy direction. The special effects are so primitive that they may ruin it for some viewers, and I won't pretend that the film is the least bit scary. Still, I absolutely love this one. This was the third time I've seen it, and I will be adding it to my collection in the near future.
  • Neverknock (2017) - I really don't know why I keep messing with these SyFy originals, but here was another dud. To be fair, this one got off to a decent start. With some effort, I was able to set aside the poor acting. By about a third of the way into the film, I found myself thinking that this might be a fun one after all. The group of kids was mildly interesting, and it looked like this might be a story about a creepy house that killed whoever knocked on the door. But no, there had to be a monster. Unfortunately, things deteriorated quickly. As is the case with so many of these SyFy originals, the monster wasn't scary, the cliches piled up, and the lack of originality doomed the effort. Another letdown.
  • The Devil's Bride (1968) - This was another Christopher Lee film from Hammer, but he's a good guy in this one trying to save his friend from a Satanic cult. Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will recognize Charles Gray as the leader of the cult. This one was released the same year as Rosemary's Baby, and was not nearly as compelling. While it held my interest and was visually attractive, it did not come close to Rosemary's Baby in capturing a sense of dread or fear. I'd never hesitate to describe Rosemary's Baby as effective horror; I'm not so sure about this one. It felt like a much older film, and I can't imagine anyone would find it scary unless you are terrified of anything remotely related to Satanism. While I enjoyed seeing it, once was enough.
  • Phantasm: Ravager (2016) - The first Phantasm film is one of my favorites, but I have been less than thrilled with most of the sequels. Some are better than others, and I thought this fifth and final installment was one of the weaker efforts. The only people I'd recommend Ravager to are those who have seen the previous four Phantasm films and enjoyed them. Although it wasn't great, I'm glad I watched it for the nostalgia. Phantasm is that rare sort of horror franchise where one really has to see all the films in order for them to make any sense at all. Even as someone who has seen the prior films, I found Ravager too disjointed to be enjoyable. One review I read of the film said that it seemed like little more than a compilation of bits that had been edited out of the previous films and arranged in no meaningful order. I wouldn't go quite that far, but I can see why someone would say that.
  • Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017) - I've never been a fan of the Child's Play/Chucky franchise. Dolls are creepy, but I never found the doll in these films to be even remotely scary or anything about the backstory believable enough to hook me in. In every case, my inability to find the doll scary or threatening in any way took me out of the film. Bride of Chucky is my favorite, and I think that's mostly because it did not try to be scary and embraced a campier approach. I just watched Curse and Cult for the first time, and while I did not find either of them scary enough to be appealing, I will say that these direct-to-video releases were better than I was expecting. The acting was solid, and I appreciated the return to somewhat more straight-ahead horror (vs. the campier approach of some of the previous films). It was clear that both films were intended to be scary. In the end, I think I just have to conclude that this franchise isn't for me. Those who liked the previous films will probably enjoy these.
  • Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) - I still think that Halloween: Resurrection was probably the worst of the Halloween films, but Halloween 5 is a close second. As much as I appreciate what Donald Pleasance and Danielle Harris brought to the film, neither could save it. It ends up being the one thing an effective horror film can't be: boring. I remember seeing this one in the theater when it was released and being disappointed because of how much worse it was than Halloween 4. Watching it now without having seen Halloween 4 in quite a while did not help. It is still boring and ineffective. I can't recommend this one. I thought Halloween 6 was much better. While it gets awful reviews, I've always thought it was somewhat underrated and is at least an average entry in the franchise. Unfortunately, it won't make any sense unless one has watched the previous Halloween films (except for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, as this one has nothing to do with the rest of the franchise).

Unlike last year, it did not seem like there was much improvement in the selection of available movies on cable as October went on. Not only that, but it seemed to get increasingly difficult to find horror movies I even wanted to see. Instead of adding to the variety of movies available as the month went on, many cable channels seemed to keep showing the same few repeatedly. This was disappointing, but I suppose I can't complain too much. I still managed to fill the DVR with enough horror movies to get me through November.

That brings October 2017 to a close. And now, I wish you all a Merry Jesusween! I decided not to do another post like this in 2018, but that is not because I stopped watching horror movies. In fact, I decided that it might be more fun to write some longer but still brief reviews of some of the films I watched.

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