And we're done! One more fantastic voyage through the year's greatest month topped off with a morbidly extreme Halloween. My eyes have been bleached clean of gore and returned to the jar on the desk for the time being. Hopefully you celebrated with a few disturbing and distressing visual delicacies yourselves. And watched some films while you were at it.
Here's the final chapter of 31 Days Of Horror's horror film a day challenge. What vile morsels did I dry swallow this time? Watch out below!
OCTOBER 22ND - MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
A woman who is a total weirdo falls in with a group of weirdos while hunting for her missing artist father (who paints weirdly cool pictures) in a strange coastal town inhabited by weirdos. It's all a bit weird if you ask me. This isn't bad, but it's wei... well, you know. I'd been searching for this a long time, having heard glowing reports. As it began, with its strange folksy music, I had to check if I was watching the right film. It's certainly striking and there's a cool scene where a woman is stalked in a supermarket by the undead. Yet while there's some beautiful imagery, it suffers from early George Romero levels of acting and a plot that meanders yet still rushes a major explanation, which dilutes the drama. Still, it's not bad though, it's just...yeah.
OCTOBER 23RD - HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012)
Or HYSTERICAL PARENTS IN BOOBTOWN, concerns the disappearance of two young siblings during a family day out, however, the return of the kids leads to greater worries as the parents begin to suspect something in them has changed. The basic story has loads of potential - how can you protect your kids if you fear them, when does common sense over rule the bond between parent and child? If someone described this film to me rather than me having watched it I would have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately the juvenile film making with the weird zooms and over acting gets annoying quite quickly. And it's kinda filthy, which, as aspiring actresses say about nudity, isn't a problem when it adds to the story, but when you push the sexual content for no other reason than to say - look, there's boobs, here's boobs, have BOOBS!! - there's a lack of confidence in your material. To top it, the kids don't really do anything that creepy to inspire the initial panic, after all, if moping around in silence and looking at your parents oddly while going on the mitch the odd time represents the epitome of horrific behaviour, I've been possessed for yea....Oh, that makes sense.
OCTOBER 24TH - STARRY EYES (2014)
Swirled in with all the other madness that appeals to me there are two things I really love; films about the dark side of Hollywood and secret societies. So this tale about a strange production company, an aspiring actress, and the lengths she'll go to for stardom was right up my derelict alley (eww). There's a great naturalism and reality to proceedings, the writer/director team spend a lot of time making these characters believable and relatable, helped no end by a raft of great performances, especially by lead, Alex Essoe. We feel like we know the main character so well that by the time things go completely off the rails, with lashings of gore and slop spread across the screen, we've invested enough to care. It contains one of the most shocking death scenes I've seen in quite a while, I was almost tempted, almost, to look away. It also does something quite rare in modern horror, leaves the viewer wanting to know more about the society and its actions rather than beating you over the head. Hmm, funny turn of phrase considering...
OCTOBER 25TH - THE BABADOOK (2014)
Arriving just in the nick of time for Halloween, The Babadook washes in perched on top of a tsunami of acclaim. Described by many as one of if not the very best horror in recent years, could it live up to the hype? Well, I have no difficulty in saying, it does in its ass. It deals with the fractured relationship between a grieving mother and her problem child son and what happens when a haunted book introduces them to a demonic presence. Here's the thing, it's actually a really good film, it's well written and the central relationship is well depicted and genuinely interesting. The kid is astonishingly good, like creepily good, I think he may have a little in common with that character from ORPHAN...and the mother's not bad either, just a little too on the nose. So what's wrong then? Well, it's absolutely, entirely scare free. It's not frightening at all. Fecking ANNABELLE was scarier. I sat there willing myself to be scared. Nothing. When the film ended there was a tangible collective shrug and sigh of disappointment from the cinema. Dotted throughout the full house leaving the screen you could hear 'Ah no, but it was good' - the sounds of an audience making excuses for a film that promised so much but delivered just a little.
OCTOBER 26TH - END OF THE LINE (2007)
Passengers on a late night subway train are overwhelmed by the murderous members of a religious cult. The interesting twist in this case being that the killers actually think they are saving the souls of their victims which heightens their determination as they believe they are doing good. It's certainly a fresh take on the stalk and slash survival horror but that's where the newness ends. There's nothing here you haven't seen before and plotholes abound, although at times it's surprisingly grisly and it does contain the biggest jump scare I had all month, I almost levitated with the fright. It has an obviously low budget which only works against it when a hugely clever resolution is marred when they haven't got the effects to back it up. It's not bad but the Canadian sensibilities and acting styles really reminded me of a particularly warped episode of DEGRASSI JUNIOR HIGH.
OCTOBER 27TH - AFFLICTED (2013)
The majority of found footage films I genuinely believe would be just as good, if not better, shot regularly, as a 'proper' film. If I wanted to squint and feel sea sick I'd keyhole peep through a cabin on a ferry.There are genuinely few films that benefit from the gimmick. This is one of them. Shot as a social media travelogue by two best friends touring the world, the film plays as a slick film school project until one of the guys has a run in with a mysterious attacker and slowly begins to mutate into something at first exciting then increasingly horrific. The immediacy and speed of the camera attached to the characters hugely adds to the experience, rushing down crowded streets and peering into the darkness, there are a few wow moments where you wonder just how they achieved certain shots. At times it's a little too slick, a tad obvious and the ending contains too much over the top stunt work but it's great fun and never less than thoroughly engrossing. For this movie, I'll get back on the ferry.
OCTOBER 28TH - THE SACRAMENT (2013)
I have a weird fascination with the Jonestown Massacre. Just how could one man convince, cajole and threaten over 900 people to take their own lives? It's a disturbing and still relevant event that deserves to be addressed on film. But not exploited, and that's what happens here. Ti West, who made the wonderfully scary HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and the massively underrated THE INNKEEPERS, takes a tacky step back with this film about a documentary crew who travel to a secret jungle location where the followers of a cult leader have built their own paradise. Culty stuff ensues. The really shocking thing about this film is how much the creators lift from the actual event; people's reasons for joining, the enigmatic leader and, especially, the manner in which they decide to end it all. Even if they did the obligatory 'based on true events' it mightn't have rankled me as much but merely swapping 'Jonestown' for 'Eden Parish' won't do. At least it backfires a little, for if your film is just a carbon copy of a famous tragedy, there's no tension, the audience merely sit there watching a wikipedia page tick off the tragic events.
OCTOBER 29TH - HORNS (2013)
Daniel Radcliffe sprouts horns in the aftermath of being blamed for his true love's murder, the sight of which causes bizarre reactions in anyone who views them. Based on the book by Joe Hill, Stephen King's son, and directed by Alexandre Aja, this had a lot of pedigree behind it. Unfortunately, so far it's failed to capitalize on it, struggling to achieve a release in the States and garnering reviews which haven't exactly been raves. While I didn't hold out too much hope for it and really think the last twenty minutes are an ironic mixture of mess and chore, I thought the first hour or so was brilliant. The eccentric story rattles along, Daniel's horns cause characters to reveal their true feelings and force them to do whatever he suggests which makes for highly entertaining rather than chilling entertainment, but so what. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, the colours, swooping camera and location work are almost enchanting. There are some great flashbacks to the characters' childhoods played by well selected young actors that add a great dimension. Speaking of acting, everyone is fine in general and Radcliffe, king of 'watch the cogs turning', manages not to distract, which is the best I think I'll ever be able to say about him.
OCTOBER 30TH - GRACE (2009}
Look at that poster. Genuinely disturbing and vaguely upsetting, treads a fine line between tasteless and creepy, but mainly, for me anyway, deeply sad. Up until a disastrously tacky final five minutes, this film overcomes a watery lead performance and an unnecessary 'forbidden lust' subplot with some very affecting ideas. A heavily pregnant woman loses both her husband and unborn child in a tragic accident but through some dark dark miracle, the child comes back to life. There's genuine heartbreak here, instead of scaring, the film inspires a whole nursery of 'Ah God' moments as we watch a deep love undergo trauma after trauma as the baby's unnatural needs grow. An uncomfortable but never exploitative experience, it's to be admired and experienced as it's impossible to enjoy. If it wasn't for that pinned on ending, I would have rated this as one of the best of the month but, sadly, it exists and it does spoil the experience a bit. Parents should seek advice before viewing.
OCTOBER 31ST - THE BLACK CAT (1934)
A honeymooning couple end up trapped in the highly stylized home of Boris Karloff, a devil worshipper who keeps the bodies of beautiful preserved dead women in glass cases. Bela Lugosi lands a rare heroic role as one of Karloff's past victims, returned for revenge. Never less than visually striking, this classic suffers heavily from lack of focus, you're never quite sure just where it's heading until the rushed climax. This can probably be blamed on the mere 65 minute running time yet it still finds room to be tangent heavy with awkward humour shoehorned whenever it can fit. While it stars two of the all time heavyweights, it didn't pack a hulk fist sized punch for me. It does finish well and some of the imagery stands out but honestly, I was underwhelmed.
So for those suffering from the post Halloween blues, HORNS provides great fun, or if you want a gorily entertaining creeper, STARRY EYES is the way to go. But still, still, I have a soft spot for the imperfect, sad, GRACE.
There we go, 31 Days Of Horror. Done and dusted for fingerprints. Some dross, some laughs and a lot of chills. What really stood out was the broad spectrum of horror, the huge range of human fear and emotion, the levels of extremity, depravity and enchantment sometimes all wrapped up in the same film. Is there a greater genre? Not for me.
So for all those ignorant naysayers who dismiss a whole genre of film, lazily summing it up to slashers and remakes, you're missing out on a wonderful world of originality and risk taking. Horror, out of all the genres, reacts to and reflects its time and place. If you want a clear picture of the fears, concerns and wonders of any historical time or any culture, look at its horror, it's all contained within.
Phew, what a month! Now how to wind down? Maybe turn out the lights and watch a horror film.