100 horror films in the 100 days leading up to Halloween
This project isn’t finished yet, but it’s not too early to think about a few lessons learned:
- There are as many bad Netflix original films as there are good, and virtually none in between.
- Cheesy eighties horror films still aren’t my thing, but there’s usually something interesting to be found there if you look.
- Dawn of the Dead is very long.
- If ever you find yourself in a horror film, stay away from the woods.
- Some of the most striking films are from Canada.
- Horror comedies can be good, and horror comedies can be bad, but you won’t know which one a film is until you give it a try.
- Anything with Ray Wise is worth a watch.
- Puppets. Why did it have to be puppets?
- Mario Bava had style.
- Upgrade is going on my Christmas list.
- Can’t think of a Spanish-language horror film that I didn’t like.
- Lovecraft adaptations are as patchy as Stephen King ones.
- There are still more subgenres I’ve yet to dip into.
- Festivals are ace.
- When I do this again, I will plan, but not rigidly.
Now, which film was it that included a death by nail file? I think it was one of the first twenty or so…
Neon Demon (2016, Denmark/France/USA/UK), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
I’d heard about this Neon Demon as something stylish (or pretentious, some say), but never any details; and I’m glad that was still the case when I finally managed to watch it. It’s about a beautiful young woman (Elle Fanning) who becomes the subject of jealousy, and also becomes taken advantage of, in the world of fashion modelling in the big city.
Yes, I know: it doesn’t sound like horror, but that’s because I’m not giving much away. Try it: get drawn in by the lights, the colour, the music… And then in time, you’ll see why it’s horror.
Oh and talking of music, I was smitten with the soundtrack straight away (Cliff Martinez, Drive).
Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009, Canada), directed by Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
This is another one of those films that didn’t actually look or feel like horror to me, but I had added it to my list because IMDb said it was. To me, it felt like a black comedy, and I’m happy to say the Soska sisters agreed.
It’s a story about what should have been a fairly typical day for a group of friends, but when they are about to go out, they discover a dead hooker in the boot of the car… Some of the group can’t exactly remember the previous night, so they are reluctant to call the police. And so it goes from there into arguments, misadventure, and worse situations… And finally a beautiful city sunrise.
It’s a very endearing film, with believable characters (though mediocre acting), and clearly a labour of love for all concerned. The humour is gentle, the violence – when it happens (there isn’t that much) – is cartoonish, and the logic of the plot patchy: it’s entertaining rather than exciting… And if you’ve enjoyed the Soska sisters’ more recent efforts, it’s nice to see how they started.
Mandy (2018, USA/Belgium/UK), directed by Panos Cosmatos
Mandy is absolutely glorious. It is a film about love and grief and madness, and if it were not for its length, I would say Mandy was more like a psychedelic rock video than a feature film. I watched it at Mayhem Film Festival… in fact that was the closest cinema screening of Mandy I could find to where I live, which is what prompted me to look into attending and covering the event. (When introducing the film the hosts of Mayhem described Mandy thus: imagine if David Lynch got stoned, listened to lots of prog rock, and then tried to make John Wick.)
Mandy is the story of – guess who – Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and her partner Red (Nick Cage), whose shared life is idyllic and full of mutual pleasure until Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) catches sight of Mandy one day and is bewitched. Sand is the leader of a small and somewhat lunatic cult, and he does not take kindly to rejection…
The background score and the rich colours in Mandy are virtually constant and they are mesmerising to say the least. I may have to get this on disc when it is available, just to find out how much of it really happened, how much of it Nick Cage’s character dreamed, and how much I dreamed. It’s an immense, intense film and I loved it… perhaps more than Marc who reviewed it in full for Ready Steady Cut when it became available in the USA (significantly earlier than here in the UK).
One Cut of the Dead (2017, Japan), directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda
I’ve already reviewed One Cut of the Dead (AKA Kamera o tomeru na!) in full since seeing it at Mayhem… and so I’ll just recap a couple of key points:
This is now my favourite zombie comedy, overtaking Fist of Jesus. And try to avoid reviews that tell you what happens in the film (as most other reviews do): go in blind, and you will get so much more entertainment out of it.
I haven’t laughed that much at the cinema for years, and I’ll be the first in line when it is available on DVD over here.
The Devil’s Doorway (2018, Ireland), directed by Aislinn Clarke
I feel like I should apologise here: The Devil’s Doorway is the one film I saw at Mayhem that I really did not like. I went in expecting to admire it, as I’d heard great things, and Ireland’s first big horror film by a female director is to be applauded, after all. But I was firmly turned off the film by about half way through, and that feeling only grew as it went on from there.
The Devil’s Doorway is set in a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in 1960, where two priests (Lalor Roddy and Ciaran Flynn) have been sent to investigate a reported “miracle” (a statue of the virgin Mary weeping blood). They find evil residing at the Laundry, which I think is intended as analogous to the real Magdalene Laundries themselves being homes to unsavoury people; and indeed the very concept of such places is downright distasteful. There are a number of positive points about The Devil’s Doorway: the sublime acting, for example; the sense of time and place; the quality of cinematography with 16mm film authentic to the period. These were all covered in Morgan’s Grimmfest review. You can read more of what’s behind my (contrasting) views in my full review; but be warned, it has significant spoilers.
Happy Hunting (2017, USA), directed by Joe Dietsch and Louie G Gibson
Happy Hunting is one of those films that’s more thriller than horror. The themes have been done before, but they’re done well enough, and the characters engaging enough, that I really didn’t mind.
Warren (Martin Dingle Wall) travels to Mexico to meet a kid he didn’t know he has; but he has to stop and wait at a town near the border, as no-one has told him exactly where to go. While there, he meets some (slightly suspect) locals, and quickly finds himself a target in the town’s annual hunting festival. Clearly, a take on The Most Dangerous Game meets The Purge, though the neatly-drawn antagonists make this story a little less predictable than that probably makes it sound.
A leisurely paced film to watch with a beer on a cold day (you can virtually feel the dessert sunshine), the writer/director pair manage to give Happy Hunting a claustrophobic and paranoid feel, along with some really chilling moments.
Halloween (1978, USA), directed by John Carpenter
Turns out I had only kind of assumed I’d seen Halloween. It’s so deeply ingrained in Horror general knowledge that I felt like I must have seen it. But I wasn’t sure, so gave it a try, thinking at least it would be a refresher before the new one arrived. And I was surprised at how slow the film was, though in terms of atmosphere and suspense, the pacing was certainly effective.
Maybe it’s too long since I’ve done any babysitting, but I just didn’t find Halloween at all scary, though. It was enjoyable, stylish, and at least now I’ll know where that series started. But to me, honestly, the best thing about Halloween was the music.
Halloween II (1981, USA), directed by Rick Rosenthal
Unnecessary epilogue to Halloween, but word has it it’s worth watching before the new one, which does interest me a lot. (Halloween III interests me too, because of its reputation… Maybe next week.
Halloween II follows on directly from the first film, showing Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) taken to hospital and Myers following her there and attacking other people to reach her, despite Loomis (Donald Pleasance) having “shot him six times!” This was also the film which introduced the sibling relationship of Laurie and Michael, though I understand that is not maintained in all of the franchise, and isn’t entirely necessary.
Some of the individual scenes were exciting, and the acting was largely excellent. But overall, this film seemed to cover unnecessary ground, which isn’t saved by having such a minimal plot.
Halloween (2018, USA), directed by David Gordon Green
Now, this one I liked a lot: the original story revisited from a viewpoint forty years later. Laurie Strode is still the same protagonist and still Jamie Lee Curtis, but the earlier trauma(s) has clearly left a mark and caused significant adjustments in her character and behaviour, particularly in the area of risk awareness. Myers (described again as “the Shape”) still has minimal character, though intimidating in his presentation, and scary because of how focused and relentless he is.
The demands and expectations of the cinema-going public have moved on in that time though, and the new Halloween has deftly kept up. There were more characters with their own issues and subplots (all reasonably well drawn), and consequently, the plot as a whole had more substance to it than the earlier films. There were also more deaths, and certainly more gruesome violence. The only downside was that this increased complexity meant that the tension was broken up sometimes when moving from one branch of the plot to another.
What I really liked about Halloween was the respect given to Laurie’s trauma. She didn’t crumble, and neither did she become an unrealistic superwoman, fighting back like a vigilante. She used her experiences as a foundation to build a plan from, to look after herself, protect her family and minimise future risk. And I loved the ending, I loved that there was an ending: the road out of trauma can have a conclusion, it doesn’t have to be endless, even though it might feel that way.
7:02 Only the Righteous (2018, USA), directed by Keith C Wade
I discovered 7:02 Only the Righteous because it arrived on Amazon Prime for the first time recently, and the blurb was interesting. It’s about a group of friends who get together, hopefully to celebrate, on the night Obama is due to be elected president. There was some friction there that night, partly because each person had their own view on the likelihood, importance and benefit of an Obama win; but also because of existing relationships within the group. On top of all that, this party was being held at the same time as one of the residents, KD (Meshaun Labrone), was trying to work. And of course, there was tension outside and in the wider USA too.
7:02 Only the Righteous was essentially a violence and doom-laden thriller, rather than horror. It was very interesting and tense, though I must say the writing was significantly better than the very patchy acting. Wade wrote and directed this film, and showed the gradual heightening of the crisis very effectively. I’m not sure if this house as a microcosm of racial tension comes across quite as he wanted, but he can definitely write, and I hope his next film is seen by more.