100 horror films in the 100 days leading up to Halloween
Squirm (1976, USA), written and directed by Jeff Lieberman
Squirm is about worms which develop a violent, unstoppable hunger, when power lines fall into the water near a small rural town during a storm, and it’s nastily entertaining. When I discovered Squirm, I discovered there were other horror films in the seventies about hasty little creatures… Slugs, Frogs, etc. This one really was scary at times, despite how unrealistic it was, because the sheer quantity of man-eating (yes!) worms made them pretty much inescapable. The special effects production wasn’t great (by which I mean the gore didn’t look realistic), but you could easily imagine what it would be like.
The story was very engaging (reminded me of Stephen King’s Rainy Season, the way the plague suddenly lost its impact at the end), but the characters were more caricature than people; redneck caricatures, similar to those in Two Thousand Maniacs! I think I’m developing an interest in the so-called “natural horror” subgenre, and I find it especially interesting to consider whether a traditional baddie is actually necessary at all: there isn’t one in Squirm.
House (1985, USA) written by Fred Dekker and Ethan Wiley, directed by Steve Milner
I’ve seen many recommendations for the film House, but something tells me I went looking for the wrong one. Apparently, the 1977 Japanese House isn’t easy to track down, but I’ll keep trying…
In the meantime, this one. Lots of people love it, it seems, as a prime example of eighties “fun horror”, but I’m afraid for me it fell somewhere between daft and dull. It’s essentially a haunted house yarn about Roger Cobb, a writer (William Katt, Greatest American Hero) who inherits a big old house from his now-deceased aunt. There are some interesting flashbacks, and a neat wrapper subplot about Cobb’s missing son; but the over-the-top monsters/zombies/ghosts and laughable storyline are really not for me.
Halloween 2 (2009, USA), written and directed by Rob Zombie
I know many people admire Zombie’s versions of the Halloween stories, but having now seen both, I’m going to stick with the master’s. Halloween 2 followed Michael Myers back home in search of his sister (who doesn’t know of their relationship) in relentless, single-minded determination. Tense as that may sound, it didn’t actually come across as exciting or scary. The production was high class, mind you, with excellent sets and a gritty realism about the camerawork; but unfortunately, that didn’t stop it being kind of dull to me.
What Halloween 2 did have in its favor was the cast. Scout Taylor-Compton was a Laurie Strode I could believe in, especially in her anguish at discovering she was a killer’s sister. Although Malcolm McDowell played Dr. Loomis kind of camp and arrogant, he was spellbinding as ever. And the supporting cast! Brad Dourif, Margot Kidder, and Octavia Spencer… not all of them died, and they were all great while they lasted.
The Velocipastor (2018, USA), written and directed by Brendan Steere
Now this was my kind of horror-comedy: witty, rather than daft. A conflicted priest, played by Greg Cohan, visits China while on a much-needed break and comes back with the ability to turn into a dinosaur. He uses this new gift to fight evil… especially drug smugglers and ninjas.
The Velocipastor is not the sort of horror-comedy in which teenagers try to survive a madman; there’s no cabin in the woods and surprisingly little screaming. There is a love scene and music and a plastic monster and sword fights: The Velocipastor is cheap, cheerful, entertaining and frankly adorable.
Read my full review here to find out more.
I Trapped the Devil (2019, USA), written and directed by Josh Lobo
In the first Christmas horror film of the season, Matt (AJ Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) try to work out what to do about Matt’s brother Steve (Scott Poythress), who — after a wary start — reveals he has the Devil captive in the basement. So what would you do, hm?
The quality of the acting, music, and lighting make I Trapped the Devil deeply atmospheric; and the combination of family, religion, and Christmas make it true horror. See Darren’s full review from earlier this year.
Les affamés AKA Ravenous (2017, Canada), written and directed by Robin Aubert
Les affamés is my first zombie film of the season, first from Canada, though the second one in French and the second found on Netflix. Interestingly, it’s the fourth film in a row that each has one person that both wrote and directed it. A single auteur behind a film tends to give it ownership, leadership to pull the team involved in the same direction, and such films tend to have very strong, clear character; that’s how I see them anyway.
Robin Aubert wrote and directed Les affamés; not his first such film, but the one that’s had highest acclaim and become most widely known (thanks to Netflix). It’s more contemplative than most zombie films, with some beautiful moments of nature and affection, in striking contrast to the sudden violence and fear (largely of loneliness). Some of the afflicted are drawn curiously to stand and look at household objects they no longer need; reminiscent, perhaps, of the Dawn of the Dead zombies who were compelled to wander around department stores. Les affamés was a little slow going at times, but engaging throughout, nonetheless.
You can read Jonathan’s full review, from when it first hit Netflix last year.
Vampire’s Kiss (1989, USA), written by Joseph Minion and directed by Robert Bierman
So I’ve had the first zombie film of the season, the first Christmas horror, and now the first Nicolas Cage film… don’t know if there’ll be one every year, but after last year’s Mandy and now this one, I’d have no objection.
Vampire’s Kiss is about Peter Loew (Cage), who believes he is turning into a vampire, following a pretty thorough love bite during a one night stand. It’s billed as a horror-comedy, and I guess that was because of some of Cage’s extreme behavior and dialogue, rather than jokes or indeed the story. Granted I never thought I’d watch him get worked up about filing, but what I saw was someone losing his mind, so I didn’t find it funny as such. Actually, that theme reminded me of American Psycho: an executive losing touch (perhaps) with reality due to the pressures he puts himself under. The film is never strictly clear whether he really has been bitten by a vampire, or if it is all in his messed up head. Sure, it’s entertaining, but there is also a good deal to think about. Fine by me!
Piranha 3D (2010, USA), written by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, directed by Alexandre Aja
From what I’ve already said I wasn’t expecting this to be my cup of tea, but I found a copy by chance and switched it on when I realized Alexandre Aja had directed it (and I’ve been so looking forward to Crawl). He’s made several horror films, each in a different style, but all great quality in their own way; Switchblade Romance and Horns, for example. But this was such an extreme film — in terms of the gore, the ridiculous action, the nudity, everything — that it’s as though he’s made a send-up of camp disaster films.
Piranha 3D is actually funny! It’s essentially a film about the stupidity of teenagers, with roughly 600 times more blood and nudity than Jaws (not scientifically measured). What really makes it though is the cast, especially cameo appearances from Christopher Lloyd (a scientist, of course) and Richard Dreyfuss (a fisherman, of course). Some of the special effects were effective enough that I was glad not to be watching it in actual 3D, and there was even a witty punchline… bottom line: recommended.
Road Games (2015, UK/France), written and directed by Abner Pastoll
And now, my first Barbara Crampton film of the season; judging by last year there could be several! There aren’t many roles in this film, so even as a secondary character, her part is important. Crampton and Frédéric Pierrot play a married couple who take in a pair of hitchhikers (played by Andrew Simpson and Joséphine de La Baume) traveling through France. But despite the young hitchhikers becoming closer, one of them disappears the following morning, and suspicion turns to panic and fear.
The writing isn’t perfect, but the story is pretty neat and the actors do well with the material. And I worked out quite early the gist of what was going on, but the way it was revealed (especially in the use of two languages) was very satisfying.
Road Games premiered at Frightfest, and Pastoll’s new film, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (also starring Simpson), will have its world premiere at this year’s festival.
The Toxic Avenger (1984, USA), written by Lloyd Kaufman and Joe Ritter, directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman
I’ve seen a couple of Troma films before, but never this early classic, so thought I really ought to as it was available via Amazon Prime. But even though I’d enjoyed a comparatively modern “extreme” horror-comedy in Piranha 3D, I did not enjoy The Toxic Avenger at all. The humor was either coarse or just plain nasty, but that wasn’t my problem; the problem was just how effective many of the gore effects were (despite the cheapness) and how severe some of the violence was. Considering the “warm-up” scene was a child’s head being crushed by a car (though that’s very clearly a melon), I kind of knew it would get nasty; but when it comes to hands being put in a deep fat fryer, and other kitchen gear being shoved down someone’s throat… well I guess I can imagine what those would feel like. Perhaps I can’t imagine being half-eaten by piranhas. It’s funny how some things can touch that nerve, unexpectedly, and it’s probably something to do with the tone applied along with the violence that makes a difference.
The other thing I found interesting (as well as my own processing of what I saw) about The Toxic Avenger was the moral aspect, which crops up in other Troma films too, I believe: Toxie himself is very clear about attacking bad guys and defending the innocent. The nasty stuff happens to all kinds of people in the film, but that just serves to give him plenty to avenge.
I think I’ve had my fill of horror-comedies for a little while. The next few will be a little easier to navigate.