Halloween Round-Up 2

My goal October 2015 was to watch as many horror movies (including horror TV, horror-comedies etc) as possible. It always seems like I haven’t watched enough, but this year I managed a good list. First half is here

15. A Field In England (2013) from Ben Wheatley, the director of the terrifying Kill List and the tragi-comic serial killer movie Sightseers comes a trippy, weird, dangerous exploration of faith and superstition during the English Civil War. Smart, bloody, spooky- but also very funny, and visually striking. I liked this a lot, currently streaming as part of Amazon Prime.

Michael Smiley is a badass alchemist

Michael Smiley is a badass alchemist

16. Scream (1996) Wes Craven reportedly passed on Kevin Williamson’s script multiple times, wanting to distance himself from the Slasher genre, which he felt overly misogynistic and sadistic. (aww, I miss you Wes). He agreed to do it when his planned remake of The Haunting fell through, and because Drew Barrymore had attached herself to star and he wanted to work with her. How different would the movie be if Drew, not Neve Campbell has played Sidney Prescott? And how much better would the world be if Wes Craven had remade The Haunting, instead of that fuck-nugget Jan de Bont (who really remade The Legend of Hell House and got the names mixed up because seriously, fuck Jan de Bont). Still, more fun than I expected. Very charismatic cast, well directed slasher movie with a meta-bend.

17. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) Talk about meta. Great potential, great premise, the execution was not his best. It is wonderful to see Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund sort of playing with their post-Nightmare fame, but a lot of the “real world” schtick doesn’t quite stick. Production design- especially in the Dreamworld/Hell section is fantastic. My biggest issue with this was a Netflix/audio issue- the music was LOOOUD and the dialogue track often drowned. I mean, not the worst sin imaginable, but. Fun, worth a revisit, not great.

18. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) a TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY MINUTE documentary chronicling the rise of the Elm Street franchise- it didn’t feel like almost four hours. In depth (to an extent, Mike DeLuca’s famous involvement in the post-Freddy’s Revenge era was barely touched on- bad blood?) but a lot of great interviews with Craven, the various casts, Bob Shaye, Rachel Talalay (who worked on most of the movies in a number of capacities on parts 2-4 before stepping behind the camera to direct part 5), and others. Informative, entertaining watch.

19. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge You know, that Elm Street movie. The one where the homoerotic subtext was made text by a truly inept director, and giddily hilarious production design. Fun. Not good, except maybe for Marshall Bell continuing to chew gum even while being beaten to submission by balls. (um). (I said it was the subtext-text Elm Street movie).

20. Abbot & Costello meet The Mummy (1955) cute, fun. Sam loves the A&C meet Universal Monster movies, GL does too. Goofy, silly, great physical comedy, great 3rd-wall breaking gags, and just enough “horror” to keep things spicy for the kids.

21. Abbot & Costello meet The Invisible Man (1951) like most of the later Invisible Man films, this is more of a caper movie than a horror film- but science fiction effects were often lumped in with horror in the 30s-50s, as “Unnatural”. Fun. Not as fun as Meets Frankenstein, but whatcha gonna do? Deeply frustrated that Abbot & Costello meet The Killer: Boris Karloff and Abbot & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde aren’t on the Universal Monsters Legacy box set! C’mon, Uni! Sam and GL enjoyed this one.

22. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010) We’ve actually been watching this since mid-September. This series is SO MUCH better than any of the Scooby shows from my childhood! Smart, inventive writing, great voice acting, and a thru-line meta-plot that is better than several seasons of Buffy (your mileage may vary). A great introduction to “horror tv” for the kids- and fun for Annika and I as well.

the further adventures of Hot Dog Water and Velma would be nice

the further adventures of Hot Dog Water and Velma would be nice

23. Twixt (2011) Francis Ford Coppola’s eerie, evocative, atmospheric movie is equal parts dark comedy and horror/thriller. I expected to tolerate it, I ended up kind of loving it. Great perf from Val Kilmer, wonderful supporting turns from Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Joanne Whaley, and Ben Chaplin (among others). Beautifully shot in an other-worldly fashion. Probably a deeply-personal film for Coppola, as elements closely mirror the tragic 1986 death of his son Gian-Carlo.

24. Waxwork (1988) Anthony Hickox’ cheeky horror-comedy was a rental favorite in my distant youth. It holds up pretty well, with fun performances, and some wonderful set-pieces threaded together by a somewhat gonzo story. David Warner is great in this. There are some weird choices- I don’t know if stylistically common in the era, or intentionally done- where the characters that in most movies would be the leads are killed off early, and like many 80s horror there are some questionable sexual politics.

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) When entire scenes go by without dialogue cards, watching actors gesticulate and move their lips gets pretty old pretty fast. There is great production design in this movie, and some truly amazing makeup/acting from Lon Chaney.

26. See No Evil 2(2014) a not very good sequel to a slasher movie starring a giant WWE wrestler guy. I watched this out of loyalty to The Soska Sisters, who directed the truly excellent indie American Mary. See No Evil 2 is very well directed, but shot on a shoestring budget. Katherine Isabelle and Danielle Harris acquit themselves well, otherwise it is pretty formulaic. No shame on the Soska’s, work is work.

27. Burnt Offerings (1976) Dan Curtis creator of the character of Kolchak for Darren McGavin in the tv movie The Night Stalker also created a little series called Dark Shadows, so, he knew his way around a haunted house. And what a haunted house there is in Burnt Offerings! Oliver Reed and Karen Black take their young son and an old but hale Auntie (Bette Davis) to a bucolic mansion in the woods somewhere, only things ain’t so bucolic. Shot at Dunsmuir House in Oakland- a truly gorgeous location- the film is a lot of atmosphere and slow burn tension. Reed is terrific, Black is great- and wonderful turns from Dub Taylor, Eileen Heckart and the great Burgess Meredith help. Fun and spooky, good for Shirley Jackson fans. And Oliver Reed shirtless fans.

28. The Nightmare (2015) Rodney Ascher’s documentary about sleep paralysis is quite good, and very unsettling. I have suffered from sporadic sleep paralysis throughout my life, and you can be sure I watched this with the lights on. Brrrr. spooky.

29. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) honestly more science-fiction-horror than anything else, a game Tom Atkins makes for a great sympathetic hero, and Dan O’Herlihy is having a blast as the heavy. Ignoring the lack of Michael Meyers/the whole franchise aspect, this film is more in-tune with a lot of John Carpenter’s heavier thematic works (They Live, Prince of Darkness, The Thing)) than the slasher genre.

30. Let Us Prey (2014), ah Scotland. Liam Cunningham, always welcome, has one of the best entrances in recent memory in this supernatural thriller. A bit heavy-handed, but Cunningham is always good, and Pollyanna McIntosh is rapidly becoming one of my favorite on-screen presences- she is very good here. The performances are better than the script. Hanna Stanbridge, who was in the equally uneven Outcast is also good in this. Movie falls apart quickly, due to every single character having a grimdark secret- it becomes almost farcical very quickly. Add to that a weirdly puritan moral compass, and the movie doesn’t quite work for me- maybe this is a US/UK divide? Has David Cameron warped horror films in the UK?

Ms. McIntosh is better than yer movie

Ms. McIntosh is better than yer movie

31. The Blood Lands (2014) Pollyanna McIntosh, what are you doing here? A young couple from the big city move into an isolated Scottish farmhouse. The land, we are told, has been fought over for centuries. Very well directed slow-burn thriller, felt like a haunted house movie for the first half, then sadly turned into a home invasion/escape and evasion thriller in the last. McIntosh is legit terrific in this, and the direction/camera-work is fantastic. Terrific sound design. The ending is a (pleasant, actually) surprise. Subtext is very textual- oi, you city folk stay the fook out of the countryside!

32. Stake Land (2010) from Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, this was a revisit for me. Still enjoy this evocative, sensitive road movie about a horrible vampire apocalypse, and the grimy shitty world the survivors inherit. Nick Damici is great in this, as is Connor Paolo. Terrific supporting turns from Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, and Sean Nelson round out this melancholic, gory movie. Mickle’s direction is standout.

33. The Monster Squad (1987) Shane Black and Fred Dekker cowrote this horror-comedy. Dekker directed. While the monsters are terrific, and their scenes with the kids are a lot of fun, every time the kids are alone on screen the movie screeches to a complete halt. We’ve changed, as a culture (for the good), and the gay panic/casual homophobia doesn’t play. I guess it did once, but oof. Special mention must go to Tom Noonan as Frankenstein’s monster, and Jon Gries as the reluctant werewolf. Creature design is great across the board. Several of the moments with adults are very good (David Proval is great as a pilot in a quick scene, Stephen Macht has fun as the detective father of the main kid) but Jesus Wept the kids are pretty awful.

34. House of Dracula (1945), monster rally! Dracula (John Carradine, looking far more like Stoker’s count than Bela Lugosi ever did, even despite his rakish top hat), Larry “The Wolfman” Talbot (my wife’s heartthrob, Lon Chaney Jr. sporting a dapper ‘stache in this one), and Frankenstein’s buddy (Glenn Strange and his giant head, for the 2nd of 3 portrayals of the creature) are all gathered up by an utterly unflappable Doctor (Onslow Stevens, pitch perfect) who tries to treat each of the monsters, as well as his hunchbacked assistant (Poni Adams)- more fun than House of Frankenstein despite the earlier film sporting Karloff and J. Carrol Naish as a (different, both) mad scientist and hunchback. Great character actor Skelton Knaggs (what a face!) plays a featured villager.

35. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) Frank Capra directed The Epstein’s adaptation of Joseph Kesselring’s great stage play. I’ll be honest, I prefer the stage play- less characters, everything is kept in the house. That said, Grant is madcap macabre fun, and Josephine Hull and Jean Adair are lovely as the Brewster sisters. Raymond Massey steps in for Boris Karloff as brother Jonathan (Karloff couldn’t leave the still-running broadway production, as he was it’s main draw as well as a financial investor) and Peter Lorre is just fantastic as the ghoulish Doctor Einstein. I was lucky as a kid, to see the Jean Stapleton and Marion Ross production in D.C. Apparently either Jonathan Frid or Abe Vigoda played Jonathan? Hell can I remember, I was just a kid.

36. The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise’s sensitive adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece, The Haunting Of Hill House. Russ Tamblyn has never been so good- a subdued supporting role from the normally big performer. Claire Bloom is wonderful. Richard Johnson’s many lines about “The Supernatural” should be turned into a series of aphorisms for the enthusiastic ghost-hunter. But it is really Julie Harris’ movie, her Eleanor is such a tragic lead. Well, hers and the production design. Nelson Gidding’s script balanced the supernatural with his own fan-theory that Eleanor was insane and Hill House her asylum. Wise came up under Val Lewton’s mentorship, and said that The Haunting was his tribute to Lewton’s theory that people were more afraid of what they couldn’t see…

Happy Halloween is sadly done, and the horror will soon be put away in it’s moldering tomb to rot for another year… not quite yet though. We celebrate through the first week of November. Just in case their are any errant ghouls still wandering…

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