I’ve always liked horror films, but there are always going to be more I’ve not seen than those I have. As I got to know more people (largely on Twitter) with an interest in films, it became obvious how many quality/classic/popular films just hadn’t crossed my radar.
So when I came across Kim‘s #100DaysofHorror hashtag in the middle of last year, it was a no-brainer: a chance to fill in some gaps, watch some great films (and some naff ones) and have fun with it.
Interestingly, Kim started doing it for similar reasons to me, but I only found that out recently.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to what I watched last year; just a plain list, no details, but I did highlight the ones I particularly liked in green, the ones I didn’t like in red, and left everything else plain. You’ll see I managed to view quite a fabulous variety.
And here’s part one of this year’s countdown… of 100 horror films in the 100 days leading up to Halloween.
Killing Ground (2016, Australia), directed by Damien Power
Nice young people in the middle of nowhere meet hostile locals: naturally, Killing Ground has been compared to Wolf Creek, Eden Lake and Deliverance (all of which I enjoyed), but the presentation and the characters are made to measure for this film, which I caught last week on Film 4.
Killing Ground follows a young couple spending a romantic New Year’s Eve near a beach, as well as a family who had arrived at the same site a couple of days earlier, and a couple of locals who don’t appear to have much to entertain themselves apart from hunting. All the main characters are extremely well drawn – even the baddies are realistic – and make a believable variety of both dumb mistakes and wise moves. In fact, the plot successfully avoids predictability most of the time (bar the odd horror trope such as getting directions from the shifty locals), partly due to the interesting use of flashbacks and not-quite-overlapping timelines.
There aren’t many locations or characters in Killing Ground; so all of them are carefully used. What’s even more skillfully addressed is time, and not just in terms of plot timelines: the time of year (dehydration and sunburn are included in the risks), the amount of time that passes while waiting for help, along with the onset of dusk and so on; all this helps viewers to really feel for those who are trying to survive. I wonder if a bit more could have been made of the historical nature of the setting: apparently, the campsite was on the same location as an Aboriginal massacre in the nineteenth century. I don’t know if Power was suggesting that Ian and Sam were going through this ordeal as some kind of payback for ancient white guilt; or that it was simply a place with a history which meant it wasn’t ideal for a romantic getaway.
Killing Ground is not as visceral as Eden Lake, but it’s almost as tense. And I’d recommend it if – like me – you admire horrors and thrillers soaked through with sunlight.
Dawn of the Dead (1978, USA, Italy), directed by George A. Romero
Yes, I confess: I’m one of those rare horror fans who has not seen the original Dawn of the Dead… at least not until last week. Amanda and Sarah insisted I must rectify that and I have a feeling others would have too if they hadn’t assumed I’d already seen it.
Dawn of the Dead was released ten years after Night of the Living Dead, and has no characters in common; so it is more like a separate story taking place in the same film universe rather than a sequel as such. I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but – having now seen Dawn – I prefer Night: it was original, tense, thought-provoking and very nicely shot. Sure, Dawn was original too (I can’t think of any other films of that time set in a shopping mall); but what it didn’t deliver, at least in my opinion, was excitement. It was certainly interesting and entertaining in parts, and great to get that gap in my viewings filled, but I want a horror film to be exciting! Also, Dawn of the Dead was way too long to keep me engaged: I’m fairly sure Romero’s commentary on modern society could have been delivered in two hours… oops, turns out he could: without realising it, I watched “The Extended Version” or “Cannes Film Festival Version” which was 139 minutes long. But I couldn’t find any other online.
On that note, I’m afraid I prefer the Snyder remake too: sorry, George!
Pyewacket (2017, Canada), directed by Adam MacDonald
Jane had got very enthusiastic about Pyewacket a few months ago, so when I saw it was an Amazon special offer for rental recently, I went for it… and I loved it.
Pyewacket is yet another horror film about grief; a bit like The Noonday Witch, it focuses on a mother and daughter (teenage, this time) dealing in their own ways with the loss of the girl’s father. It is also yet another horror film largely set in a secluded wood. But I didn’t mind: both those aspects were very relevant to the plot, not forced or gratuitous at all. The writing, directing and especially the naturalistic acting were all excellent. I was already familiar with Laurie Holden (nice to see her again since she left The Walking Dead) who played the mother, but Nicole Muñoz who played her daughter Leah was an absolute revelation. She and her outsider friends were not exactly the stuff of High School Musical, but are beautifully drawn – even those with only a couple of lines – and very believable.
In dealing with their grief, Leah and her mother grow steadily farther away from each other, to the extent that after one big fight, Leah decides she wants her mother dead. She had gained comfort from the occult and the idea of spirit guardians, so she follows a ritual to call on one such spirit to grant her this wish… which then kind of happens… or at least something along those lines.
There is a good deal of ambiguity in this Pyewacket; though in my opinion, not quite as much as there should have been. There was a huge amount of tension, and MacDonald should be applauded for the excellent build-up of the paranoia; indeed for using “alternative” style teenagers without poking fun at them. Yes, despite some familiar elements, there was a lot of originality in this film, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes new young actors and supernatural stories. Actually, anyone who liked Hereditary should give it a go too: very different style, but it could appeal to similar tastes.
The Legacy (1978, UK/USA), directed by Richard Marquand
This was a strange one: a glossy British X-rated horror film made by the man most famous for Return of the Jedi and Jagged Edge.
I found The Legacy on The Horror Channel, and the cast really caught my eye: the beautiful Katherine Ross, Charles Gray, Sam Elliot and Roger Daltrey of all people! The story appeared to be loosely based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (like a number of other films), but with an extremely far-fetched slasher/supernatural plot. A bunch of very varied people are gathered at a dying billionaire’s stately home, they die violently one by one, and the one who remains inherits not only his home but some sort of Satanist heritage too.
There is a very cheesy score in places, and a tedious scene where the two main characters are driving round in circles unable to escape the draw of the mansion. But there are some great deaths and a chilling ending, which made the whole thing worthwhile. Oh, and Katherine Ross, of course.
April Fool’s Day (1986, USA, Canada), directed by Fred Walton
This was one of those films which appear to be well-known amongst those who got into horror during the eighties, but that was unknown to me. I added this to my watch list after viewing The 50 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen on Amazon Prime recently and found the film on Netflix (they have a spattering of horror films from several decades).
April Fool’s Day is about a bunch of people enjoying a weekend away at a secluded mansion (I have a feeling I’ve written that description once or twice already recently). These are university students who all know each other to one degree or another, and some of them are trying to outdo each other with practical jokes; however, they don’t know what kind of pranks or entertainment to expect from their host, Muffy (Deborah Foreman). They have a fabulous dinner and more than a few laughs, but then overnight, people start turning up dead.
It felt like I found the original source material for the film I had reviewed the previous week, Le Manoir (The Mansion), but this was much more entertaining. The humour flowed naturally – as it does between friends – and the plot kept me guessing. Most of the characters were more well-to-do than in an average horror film, and so a little difficult to relate to; but they would all have been well at home in a setting like Heathers just a few years later. Someone on Twitter described April Fool’s Day as their “favourite sequel-free slasher movie, and the “most 80s” of them all.” I can see where they’re coming from: stand-alone films can seem kind of rare in the slasher subgenre. And although the clothes, music, people, etc. are thoroughly 80s, the film does not have the annoyingly cheesy lines that can sometimes put me off that decade.
Overall, April Fool’s Day was pretty enjoyable. Oh, and I raised this film as an example in a
n argument debate about spoilers on Twitter. Just because a film has been around for decades, there is no reason to assume everyone knows what happens.
Satan’s Slave (1976, UK), directed by Norman J. Warren
I found Satan’s Slave (also known as Evil Heritage) on the Horror Channel, and figured how could I not watch something with that salacious title! Turns out it had a much better plot than Terror (#91), also directed by Warren.
Satan’s Slave is seedy, trippy and unpredictable. It has some gruesome deaths, gratuitous nudity and a brilliant atmosphere. What else do you want from an old horror?
Cherry Falls (2000, USA), directed by Geoffrey Wright
Another gem found on the Horror Channel that I’d been keeping an eye out for for simply ages! This was a post-Scream slasher, rather than an 80s one, so aiming for wit rather than cheese or shocks. And funnily enough, nowhere near as much nudity as the 70s films I’ve been watching.
Cherry Falls is essentially a slasher/revenge film in which virginal teenagers are being killed off, in remembrance of a young woman who nobody in town talks about anymore. The main protagonist, Jody (played by Brittany Murphy) tries to find out what’s going on and discovers herself to be at risk too… and then also finds out some uncomfortable history involving her father (Michael Biehn).
Again, a pretty entertaining film (though not scary in the slightest, except for perhaps the scene giving a flashback to what triggered this episode), and nice to see both those actors in roles which really suited them. I worked out whodunnit, mind you, and a bit quicker than the pesky kids did, but that didn’t spoil the enjoyment.
Ruin Me (2017, USA), directed by Preston DeFrancis
I’m not going to spend much time here on Ruin Me, as I already wrote a full review shortly after watching.
Suffice it to say that Ruin Me is amongst the best three films I’ve seen so far during my #100DaysofHorror countdown (the others being Pyewacket and Killing Ground); but this one was fun and witty, while the others were more serious.
Ruin Me is also the film which has given me the most engagement on Twitter with fans, cast and crew!
Horror Story (2013, India), directed by Ayush Raina
Considering I’m a film-lover – and living in the West Midlands of the UK for about half my life – I really should have seen plenty of films from India by now. However, I’m kind of ashamed to say Horror Story (which I found on Netflix) was my first; and I have no doubt there were better examples I could have watched as my first.
Seven friends stay out one night celebrating for one of the party; then the pub crawl moves to a group dare: visit a local hotel which is reputed to be haunted and due to be knocked down. They go to Hotel Grandiosa, find their way inside and explore, gradually heading to the room where the rumours are focused. Along the way, they find mysteries, ghosts, paranoia and death… there is no guessing how many or who will manage to leave the hotel.
Horror Story is a fun light (not comedy) horror, with some scenes of excellent spooky tension, but overall poor in terms of plot, dialogue and acting. Some of the subtitles are amusing: I heard “bullshit!” at one point, though the subtitle showed “nonsense!”. Some of the supernatural special effects are so fleeting that I had to press pause in order to see what the group were screaming about in two scenes. The production was the best part, though; but I will seek out recommendations for better Indian films.
Cujo (1983, USA), directed by Lewis Teague
There are countless stories by Stephen King adapted for film or TV (well, nearly countless), so there’s no surprise one lands on my list: thanks to The Horror Channel again, this time for Cujo! Last year, I included three King adaptations (It, Gerald’s Game and The Dark Tower)… I wonder how many it will be this year.
I haven’t read the book of Cujo (and last year the only one I’d read was Gerald’s Game), so had minimal preconceptions. You are probably aware it features a rabid St Bernard dog in a small town: that’s about as much as I knew.
I have some pretty mixed feelings about the film: it was very nicely shot, nearly all the acting was sharp (most notably Dee Wallace, of course), and the soundtrack applied with care. But on the negative side, I found the film almost painfully linear: there was virtually nothing that the viewer needed to think about or work out, which I’m completely unused to. I have the impression that there is a lot more to be gained from the character insights a reader can get from the book (which is to be expected), but I watched Cujo without really engaging with it.
I’m afraid I got to the end of Cujo and thought “oh was that it?”. Dee Wallace really should get a lifetime horror award (though I have a feeling she’d consider that typecasting); but apart from her, I cannot see a huge amount of merit in this film.
Check out the rest of my #100DaysOfHorror countdown and feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have “must see” suggestions for me.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.