31 Days of Horror: The Road Thus Far

We’re officially halfway through October (so sad––where does the time go?). In years past, my list of horror movies I want to watch throughout the month has been pretty “strict”––I had a theme, and then each movie picked out, and their corresponding day I would watch them on. While this seems super organized, in theory, it isn’t the best method for me. Some days, I just wouldn’t be into my movie for the day, and making myself sit through it wasn’t a great experience.

So, this year, I decided to have my theme, and my list of movies, but I didn’t give them a corresponding day. I just have my list, and I want to work through it during the month.

My theme this year is occult, which encapsulates a variety of different horror films, I think. I did throw in a couple favorites, as I usually do each year, such as The Evil Dead (2013) and Sinister. Unfortunately, a couple of the movies I picked are impossible to find, so I’ve done some switching and moving around. That said, I’ve enjoyed the month so far! It’s definitely the best horror month I’ve had in awhile, and I credit that to the fact that I’m not forcing myself to watch movies I might not want to watch on a certain day.

If you want to see everything I’ve watched this far, be sure to check out my letterboxd page! I log everything. If you do, you’ll notice that I’ve had to skip a couple of days here and there, and then make up for them on another day: sometimes life is hectic and you can’t get a movie watched. Ah well.

The Good 

I’ve done a couple of rewatches thus far this month that I’ve enjoyed. Obviously, I rewatched The Exorcist, which is a great film. I also rewatched The Fog, which is one of my favorite Carpenter movies. And, I went to go see It again while on vacation, because I love it so much.

New movies wise, my two standouts this month thus far are definitely The Babysitter and Boys in the Trees. The Babysitter is super tongue-in-cheek, and is utterly ridiculous, but it’s so much fun. If you like 80’s camp, you’ll love this movie.

Boys in the Trees, on the other hand, gave me a lot of emotions. It’s not a movie I would recommend to everyone. It’s reminiscent to Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, but with 90s music, and assholes. It’s a beautiful film, but in message and aesthetically. Honestly, I’m still thinking about this movie, and I watched it two days ago. I’m already looking forward to a rewatch. You will not like this movie if you’re not a fan of “art horror” and slower plots. I always hesitate to recommend checking out the trailer beforehand, because sometimes trailers spoil everything. And, I don’t think this trailer accurately depicts the film. However, if you’re unsure based on description alone, maybe give the trailer a watch, and just ignore the music (which was a terrible decision on the marketing team). I have a lot of things to say about this movie, so I’ll be doing a separate full review for it shortly.

I also enjoyed Haxan, which is a Swedish silent film from 1922. It’s weird, and another movie that’s not for everyone, but it’s fascinating to watch. It’s about witches, and gets super trippy. If you’ve watched silent films before and enjoyed them, maybe give it a go!

 

The Bad

The two worst films I’ve seen thus far are definitely Witchery (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). They’re both bad for completely different reasons, too. Witchery can’t be taken seriously as a movie. The acting is terrible, and the plot is razor thin. It’s fun to laugh at during some parts, but overall, it’s a pretty boring movie.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, on the other hand, has an interesting plot. Plus, Bill Pullman. However, it skirts the line between anthropological and racist just a teeny bit (as most white, Western movies about Haiti do), and I thought the main character made a lot of really, truly dumb decisions. This is supposedly based on a “true story,” but I always take that claim with a grain of salt. I would hesitantly recommend this movie if you’re into depictions of voodoo and Haiti in horror movies. And if you like Bill Pullman.

 

The Ugly 

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t had anything downright awful. I consider this a win.

Everything not listed here is in the six skull/three star range for me: it’s average. Entertaining, but not a groundbreaking movie. The acting is alright, the plot alright, it’s all just alright. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for me. It does mean I’ll probably forget the movies by this time next year.

Also! The Exorcist TV show is back and it’s killing it. I’m enjoying it a lot so far. If you haven’t started the second season yet, I recommend it! And, surprisingly enough, I’ve been enjoying AHS. What a time to be alive.

What are your standout movies this month? Or, alternatively, watch anything that’s downright terrible? Let me know!

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

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Trailer Tuesday: Tragedy Girls

Tragedy Girls is that film that I’ve been waiting for without knowing that I’ve been waiting for it. I am so excited for this film. It looks like it’s going to be hilarious. I totally agree with the marketing ploy stating it’s a combination of Scream and The Heathers, at least from what I’ve seen in the trailer. The director, Tyler MacIntyre, also worked Patchwork––a horror comedy that I just watched and enjoyed. This makes me believe the dialogue will be as witty and clever, but perhaps a bit more cleaned up.

I’m expecting a ton of laughs and a killer soundtrack. Here’s to hoping the movie delivers on both.

Tragedy Girls comes to theatres on 20 October.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Trailer Tuesday: Insidious Four: The Last Key

I like the first three Insidious movies. I don’t think they’re mind-blowing, but they are really entertaining, and have some pretty effective jumpscares (even though I mostly hate jumpscares).

I was a bit disappointed that they announced there would be a fourth one, because I’m a bit tired of horror series getting long and drawn out––sometimes, you just have to end a good thing while you’re ahead.

That said, I do think this movie looks entertaining, and I’m here for Lin Shaye hunting down some demons with her geek squad duo. Even though the concept looks a little weird––I mean…a ghost/demon thing with keys for fingers? That’s a bit wacky. We shall see.

 

Until next time, stay scary.
–E.

Movie Review: It (2017)

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Release Date: 8 September 2017 (USA)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga Gary Dauberman
Actors: Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff
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Summary 

A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of clown, begins hunting children.

(via IMDB)

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After months of teasers and trailers, It finally dropped in theatres last week to major box office success.  I’m assuming everyone reading this knows what It is about, but in case you don’t, the plot revolves around a group of kids who have to battle an evil presence that preys on the children in a small town in Maine. Compared to the novel and the 90s miniseries, the main story of It remains the same in this adaptation, though the director and writers did change the story from the 1950s to the 1980s. This means that a) we get some amazing 80s references, and b) the second part will take place in 2016 or 2017––which is interesting, because we’ll get to see the characters transported into our modern day. What will It look like with cell phones? Facetime? Internet that isn’t dial up?

I have a long relationship with It. I first watched the 90s miniseries when I was probably four or five, and my babysitter at the time gave me the choice of either going to bed or watching with her. I chose to watch the miniseries, and it straight up terrified me. For months I was terrified of sewer drains and clowns. I’m still not a huge fan of clowns, but they no longer terrify me to the extent they did when I was younger.

I’ve wondered, for a while, if It is the reason I’m such a horror fiend. I’ve wondered if there’s some small, unconscious part of me that’s waiting for another movie to scare me as much as It did when I was a child. The only movie that’s come close is The Ring from 2001, but even that didn’t quite match up to It. There’s something about the story and Pennywise that has been at the back of my mind for around twenty-three years. It is a huge part of my horror identity, which means there was a lot riding on this adaptation for me. I went into this movie with extremely high hopes. What I wanted the most was a closer adaptation to the novel than the miniseries––which wasn’t allowed to be as dark as the novel because it was on TV.

I wasn’t disappointed. This film is dark in moments. Georgie’s death is shown in quite a lot of detail––there’s nothing more horrifying than watching a six-year-old bleeding to death in the middle of the street before being dragged into the sewers. And, the film doesn’t shy away from Beverly’s abuse at the hands of her father, which is a huge part of her character. Apparently, there was a more violent assault scene cut on the editing room floor, which would have obviously added more complexity to this issue, but I don’t think the severity of the situation is lost to audiences without its inclusion.

The reason It is such a successful film (and novel) is because of the characters. The film does a fantastic job of getting you to care about each member of the Losers Club. You get the right amount of backstory for each child, and as you watch the relationship form between all of them, your relationship to the characters strengthens. If you don’t care about the kids, you’re not going to care about what they’re going through. The film (and novel) asks you to empathize and root for these poor kids who don’t quite know what’s happening in their hometown, especially when it comes to Bill’s sorrow over the loss of his brother.

Obviously, because this is only the first part of It, we don’t get much of a backstory of Pennywise. I like the fact that he’s just this evil, embodiment of fear that preys on Derry. The scariest thing about monsters with no backstory is that there’s no reason they’re present. You can’t reason away their presence. They’re just killing (and, in Pennywise’s case, eating) for no purpose. That’s terrifying, especially when you’re a kid. And, specifically, Pennywise preys on individual fear. Throughout the movie, he appears differently to some of the children, which makes him all the more frightening, because you really never know what he’s going to look like. You can’t plan for him. He just appears and fucks shit up. I found his depiction of Georgie whenever he went after Bill to be the most effective, and the most tragic, of all his “characters.”

Briefly, I’m going to touch on the acting. I just have to say, Bill Skarsgård does a fantastic job as Pennywise. He’s brutal, he’s creepy, and he apparently can actually make his eyes move independently, so it’s like he was born to play this role. He got the voice right, the laugh right, and the movement right. I know a lot of folks were skeptical, because Bill hasn’t done a whole lot prior to this film, but he nailed it. He made Pennywise his own character, which is awfully hard to do when you’re following an acting giant like Tim Curry.

The kids of the Losers Club were also fantastic. Each one played their character perfectly, and they worked well as a collective whole. There was never a moment when one of them felt out of place, or like they didn’t mesh with the rest of the group. Their energy with each other was organic. I particularly enjoyed Finn Wolfhard’s performance as Ritchie and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie. Their performances slayed; they made me laugh so goddamn hard throughout the entire film.

Let’s move on to aesthetics, because this is an important category for me when it comes to films. It is a pretty, pretty film. It’s filmed so beautifully, which makes sense, because Chung-hoon Chung was the director of photography. If you’ve seen Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Stoker, or Thirst, you know that Chung is a fantastic cinematographer. His movies are beautiful––the color, the way shots are aligned, it’s all utterly extraordinary. If you’re a fan of well shot movies, especially well shot horror movies, you’ll appreciate the time and consideration taken to achieve the visual components of this film. The 80s elements of It are great, as well. This movie utilizes nostalgia well, and captures the look and feel of the 80s well without seeming over the top or corny.

One issue I had with the film was the CGI, at times. It bordered the line between well done and over stylized a bit too much at times. I do think that the CGI reflects children’s terror (by which I mean––experiencing horror as a child is to experience horror in all of its extremes; the horror is larger, louder, etc), but as an adult, it seemed a bit clunky at times. I also wish that Pennywise moved a bit differently each time he rushed towards a child. When you see Pennywise running towards Bill in the trailer, you’ve seen Pennywise running towards each member of the Losers Club throughout the duration of the two-hour movie. The shots are chaotic, rapidly moving, and all kind of look the same. I wish there had been a bit more variety there, especially because we know that Bill we Skarsgård worked pretty hard with body contortionists while making the film. I wish more of that movement was brought into his character.

That said, I would highly recommend seeing this movie in theatres, because the (polished) CGI and Pennywise look awesome on the big screen. I went to a local Alamo, which is always a fun time. Some of the ushers were dressed as clowns––a both creepy and amazing detail, and they even had a later showing that was “clowns only,” which I found hilarious. I didn’t go, because no thank you, but I appreciate the sentiment from afar. My fellow audience members were great, as well. I was next to a young woman who would mutter “oh god, don’t do that. No. No, don’t do that. Don’t go in the room” whenever tension rose, and I found it hilarious. It didn’t bother me at all, and it was nice to hear someone be so terrified while watching, because I, personally, didn’t find it very scary. (This is not a point against the film––finding shit scary is so subjective, and I enjoyed everything else about this movie, and could still appreciate the creepy, disturbing imagery that was in the film without being scared).

To conclude, I would (obviously) highly recommend this movie. It has a lot of heart, it’s hilarious, the acting is fantastic, and it captures childhood horror well. You may not find it visually terrifying if you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, but I don’t think that takes away from enjoying the movie. It’s so nostalgic, and makes you think about your own childhood terrors, especially if you have a long history with the story. If you’re interested in the movie at all, please go see it in theatres. It’s such a great experience.

I’m excited (though nervous, I’m not going to lie) to see the casting for Pt. 2. Apparently, it’s going to be pretty dark. Perhaps, then, it will be more visually terrifying? We shall see. It’ll be a challenge to find a set of actors to represent the Losers Club after the amazing group of kids in Pt. 1,

I did just write a piece responding to those saying It isn’t a horror movie. If you’re interested, see “Defending Horror.”

I know this was a long post, but I had a lot of feelings about the movie. Clearly. It’s times like these I wish I had a podcast.

Have you seen It? What did you think? Let me know!

Until next time, stay scary.

––E.

Trailer Tuesday: Escape Room

It was bound to happen eventually: there’s a horror movie being released about a group of friends getting caught in an Escape Room. Certain elements from the trailer seem awfully familiar to Saw (or literally any other horror movie that involves people trapped in a room fighting to get back out). If I watch this, it’s definitely going to be when it’s on Netflix. It looks pretty predictable and unoriginal.

It looks like the movie is going straight to DVD and VOD, so we’ll see how long it takes before you can stream it for free, if it’s a movie that’s up your alley.

Until next time, stay scary.

–E.

Trailer Tuesday: Leatherface (2017)

I wasn’t all that excited about Leatherface until I found out that the directors from Inside (or, À l’intérieur) were involved. That movie is one the most disturbing, most violent films that I’ve seen and loved––so I have high hopes that they will bring that special joie de vivre to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. The trailer looks amazing. The moments they show don’t seem to give too much away, and the music used is perfect. Plus, we’ve got Lili Taylor in it, and I love her. I’m especially excited that it’s going to be a straight to VOD/DirectTV movie, because it means that they won’t have to cut any of the gore or disturbing moments to fit a particular rating. I know some folks think this means that the movie is going to suck, but I believe the exact opposite for this one. I think it’s going to be great.

I cannot wait to see this film, and I’m so glad it’s dropping in October. Happy Halloween to us all.

Until next time, stay scary.

––E.

Book Talk: ‘Salem’s Lot

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Author: Stephen King
Original date released: 17 October 1975
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0-385-00751-1
Pages: 595
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Synopsis

Thousands of miles away from the small township of ‘Salem’s Lot, two terrified people, a man and a boy, still share the secrets of those clapboard houses and tree-lined streets. They must return to ‘Salem’s Lot for a final confrontation with the unspeakable evil that lives on in the town.

(via Goodreads)

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I’ve had the reissue, illustrated edition of ‘Salem’s Lot sitting on my bookshelf for many years. I originally ordered it from one of those book club memberships where you’d get like three books free for just shipping, and then you’d get the catalog in the mail every season with new additions for a discount. I snatched up this copy, because it has about 100 pages of extra material at the end––a couple short stories based around ‘Salem’s Lot and “deleted scenes” from the main text. Like a lot of readers, I was waiting for “the right time to read it,” which turned out to be probably ten years after purchasing it. Whoops.

‘Salem’s Lot is the perfect summer read, which may sound unbelievable, but stay with me. Lot features certain elements that King does best: it’s a sprawling epic of a novel with a dozen recurring narrative voices in a small town where shit goes down. It’s the sort of novel you want when you’re sitting on your porch, drinking some iced tea, listening to the groan of cicadas. It’s atmospheric and haunting. The characters make stupid decisions, but they make stupid decisions that you’re somehow invested in. And, it’s quite a large book, and the summertime is the perfect time for large, devouring reads. I’d say the same thing about It––a King novel that I read last summer. Perhaps this will be a new tradition of mine: one huge King novel a summer.

Now, this is a horror blog, so you might be wondering if I found the novel scary or not. I do think there are creepy moments, particularly the scene with the school bus. That scene has stuck with me since finishing the novel, and might be that one moment I think back to fondly while discussing the book. It’s terrifying, and I loved it. At first, I was a bit unsure how the novel would juggle the haunted house trope along with the vampire trope, but King handled it well. Quite deliberately, the house felt like something out of a Shirley Jackson novel: it’s a sprawling, decaying spector to the quiet destruction of Jerusalem’s Lot.

And, if you’re a fan of vampires, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by King’s take on the monster. The vampire, Kurt Barlow, is so sassy and witty; he stole the scenes he was in, and just like I root for Dracula, I wasn’t angry he was killing off a bunch of people in the town. He has a scene with the town pastor that is of particular delight to me, and one of the strongest, most compelling scenes in the novel. It centers around faith and belief and makes you question whether or not the town and its inhabitants want to be saved.

The one critique I have lies with the other characters in the novel. They don’t have a lot of personality (a lot of King’s characters tend to sound and act the same, I’ve found), and they don’t really develop throughout the book––but that sort of works in the novel. The one character I thought was pretty great was Mark Petrie. He’s a geeky twelve-year-old who loves universal monsters, and he’s arguably the smartest character in the novel. I would love a book that’s about him hunting vampires and nerdily talking about monsters as a grown up.

All in all, King’s writing and storytelling shines in ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s accessible and not too long or too weird if you’re new to Stephen King’s writing. I highly recommend!

Until next time, stay scary.

––E.