Films I Saw is a self explanatory monthly column dedicated to cataloging each and every film I saw within that month. Each film will be given a grade and a mini review.
Oct. 1—Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
The Quatermass trilogy is the only series in Hammer’s oevre to abandon its iconic gothic aesthetic for pulp sci-fi; a change that has its pros and cons. It’s refreshing to see them tackle stories that don’t involve castles and classic Universal monsters but those monster movies, as boring as they are, do have Lee and Cushing starring in them, which make even the worst of the bunch watchable. They unfortunately are not in this. Hammer films are like sleeping pills to me and while this film does everything in its power to keep me engaged (martians, ESP, Satan), the cast and its pulpy premise aren’t strong enough to cut through the impenetrable boring inherent in a Hammer film. To be clear, Lee and Cushing aren’t either (no one is) but I’d rather be bored watching actors I love than bored watching great actors I don’t know.
Oct. 2—Quatermass II (1957)
For a good twenty minutes, I was confused as to why no one in this film was acknowledging the events of the previous movie and why this one was in black in white when the last one was in color and then it dawned on me that I was watching a sequel to a completely different film. Since it’s called Quatermass II, I naturally assumed it was a sequel to Quatermass and the Pit but it is, in fact, a sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment. So I watched the third one first, then the second and have yet to see the first. That goof up is far and away the most interesting thing about this film. There’s an experimental food product that might be extraterrestrial that kills people and then it mutates into a giant blob and I just died from boredom.
Oct. 3—Nightmare City (1980)
The only thing I find as boring as the previously discussed Hammer films, are Italian horror films, especially the Giallos (Gialli?). They’re almost always nonsensical slow burns that rely heavily on gorgeous cinematography and dream logic to carry them through piss poor scripts. Even their supernatural films like Suspiria, which don’t follow the tropes of a typical Giallo, still feel like a Giallo due to their pace and dream logic. The only subgenre that manages to escape the tedium are the zombie flicks, which are divided into two categories: 1. The Zombi ripoffs and unofficial sequels and 2. The batshit insane, which is everything else. Nightmare City is definitely in the second category. It’s not as much fun as Demons or as crazy as City of the Living Dead but its unrelenting pace makes for a fun, albeit forgettable experience.
Oct. 4—Shocker (1989)
Wes Craven’s unsuccessful attempt to create another Freddy is a fucking mess. Horace Pinker has a great look and Mitch Pileggi is giving it his all but his powers are never explained (he can possess people ala Fallen, he can possess electronic devices like Maximum Overdrive and he can also pull people into the TV like Stay Tuned), the supernatural elements are never explained (the lead has clairvoyance and can see the ghost of his dead girlfriend) and certain character motivations are never made clear. The last act is kinda fun, but it sure as hell ain’t fun enough to sit through 90 minutes of stupid dumb bullshit to get to.
Oct. 5—Near Dark (1987)
Near Dark is a perfect example of a film, that if it got just one thing right, would be a masterpiece. Everything outside of the central relationship between Caleb the farmboy and Mae the vampire, is fantastic. The way the vampires were depicted was revolutionary and changed how they’d be portrayed for decades to come. Bigelow really nailed the aesthetic and directed this thing like she was being chased. It pulses with a punk rockabilly energy that further separates it from similar films in the genre and Paxton’s performance as Severen is an all timer. There’s so much about it that not only works but works exceedingly well, which makes the romance at the center, stick out as hard as it does. It’s just not good. Less than 10 minutes after the meet cute, Adrian Pasdar is a vampire. I don’t buy that either one of them is in love, nor do I give a fuck about their relationship. I just wanted to hang out with these badass vampires but the film wants me to care about some sappy melodrama and I just don’t. Gimme the good shit, goddamn it.
Oct. 6—The Car (1977)
A Jaws ripoff but with a demonic car instead of a shark. The pace is glacial, there’s far too many characters, most of which add nothing but unnecessary melodrama (there’s a battered spouse, a cop trying to help her, her racist husband, a recovering alcoholic and Brolin and his family) and outside of one cool shot, the action is never thrilling or memorable. The car looks cool though.
Oct. 7—Cold Prey (2006)
Five young Norwegians (two couples and their friend) head up to the mountains to snowboard. After one breaks his leg, the group decide to spend the night in an abandoned hotel, closed 30 years ago and since this is a horror movie, they are not alone. This is a meat and potatoes kinda slasher. There’s no 80’s homages or clever twist. It’s a group of twentysomethings being hunted by a lunatic. No more, no less. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor is it trying to. It has one goal in mind: entertain and it does so admirably.
Oct. 8—Cube (1997)
Every couple of years, a horror film comes along that effectively does so little, every studio in Hollywood immediately greenlights five films to capitalize on it. Cube is so simple, every producer that saw it, hired someone just to fire them for not coming up with it. Six people with no memories have to work together in order to escape a booby trapped cube. Alliances will form, paranoia will set in and math will be done. It’s a tight, well executed thriller that slightly falls apart in the third act but is still worth a watch.
Oct. 9—Dead End (2003)
On the way to their in-laws for a Christmas party, a family gets lost on a seemingly unending highway in the middle of the woods. Not a single element of this film works. It’s not scary, it’s not atmospheric, it’s not funny and every character fluctuates between being bizarrely unrealistic (the family stops to find directions and the teenage son immediately goes into the woods to masturbate and after he predictably dies, the mother starts eating an entire pie out of grief and then shoots her husband because who gives a fuck) and as unlikable as humanly possible. Walking in on your mom blowing your uncle dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve is less painful than sitting through this piece of shit movie.
Oct. 10—Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
A documentary that charts the origins and evolution of Hollywood’s portrayal of Black Americans. While it does suffer at times of feeling like a DVD extra that was made with the intention of moving some Get Out units, Horror Noire, while not the most comprehensive doc (it’s a movie about the history of blacks in horror and the scariest thing about it, is that it’s not even 90 minutes) still has enough thought provoking insight from its fantastic collection of interviewees.
Oct. 11—Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
The Ju-On series, much like The Amityville Horror, is a franchise that just won’t die. Including the second remake coming in 2020, there are 12 of these damn things with The Grudge technically being the third. The only one I had seen prior to this was the American remake which I had always liked, but now realize why it has the reputation it has. It’s a shot for shot remake that brings almost nothing new to the table. I knew everything that was going to happen because I remember everything about the remake, which lessened the impact. I still think this one is good, I just wish I had seen it first.
Oct. 12—3 From Hell (2019)
No director’s fall from grace frustrates and confounds me more than Rob Zombie. His first film, although not great had a unique voice and style. His Halloween films had some solid direction buried under a lot of terrible plot decisions. His animated film was dumb but has a unique charm about it. The Devil’s Rejects is a grindhouse masterpiece and The Lord’s of Salem is a bit of a mess but again, his direction isn’t one of its problems. Then something happened and he suddenly lost his ability to direct. I don’t know if the constant fighting with the studios broke him or if he went blind and has to direct through pantomime but is constantly drunk, so no one on the set knows what to do at any given time. I have no idea what it was but it had to be drastic because 31 and 3 From Hell are two of the most incompetent horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing about either of these films works. The writing is infantile even by a twelve year old’s standards, the editing is nonsensical, there’s far too many close ups and shaky cam and in the case of 3 From Hell, properly ruins his most iconic characters. I don’t know who this Rob Zombie making terrible movies now is and I want nothing to do with him.
Oct. 13—Orphan (2009)
Orphan might have the greatest twist of any horror film ever. It’s not as clever or as iconic as the most well known ones but it’s nearly impossible to guess ahead of time and is so wacky, it saves the entire film. The twist elevates what could be a forgettable Bad Seed or Good Son ripoff adds turns it into something special. It also adds layers to the titular orphan, which gives Isabelle Fuhrman plenty to sink her teeth into. What she’s asked to do at such a young age, is truly remarkable. It’s easily one of the best child monsters in horror and one of the best child performances in film period.
Oct. 14—Satan’s Slaves (2017)
A prequel to the 1982 cult-classic of the same name, Satan’s Slaves is about a family being haunted by their recently deceased matriarch. Deriving tension and thrills through its well-sustained ominous ambience, the film expertly juggles dread and haunted house-esque whammies to create a supernatural thriller that’s as entertaining as it is terrifying. With jumps scares that are very James Wan inspired (which is far from a criticism) and a tone that’s a bit Mike Flanagan-ish, Satan’s Slaves is the very definition of a crowd pleaser.
Oct. 15—Under the Shadow (2016)
(Suggested by Lee McCutcheon for the 31 Days of Horror list which you can find here)
After Shideh’s building is hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, a neighbor suggests that the missile was cursed and might be carrying malevolent Middle-Eastern spirits. At first Shideh dismisses the neighbor as superstitious but eventually becomes convinced a supernatural force within the building is attempting to possess her daughter and she has no choice but to confront these forces if she is to save her daughter and herself. This is the film The Babadook wishes it could be. It tackles the same themes but in a far more nuanced and intelligent way. Plus, the kid in this doesn’t make you want to slit your fucking throat.
Oct. 16—One Cut of the Dead (2019)
As they attempt to make a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, the cast and crew involved in the production are suddenly set upon by actual zombies. One Cut of the Dead is one of those rare movies that hits every target it’s aiming at. It pumps new blood into the stale zombie genre, is one of the few horror comedies that’s both scary and funny in equal measure and somehow pulls off the film-within-a-film mechanic so many films before it have tried and failed. Every couple of years there’s an immediate candidate for a greatest horror movie ever made list and One Cut of the Dead is the strongest contender in awhile. It’s an instant classic.
Oct. 17—Tigers are Not Afraid (2019)
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. Terrifying, poignant, and emotionally devastating, Tigers are Not Afraid is a mashup of Pan’s Labyrinth and City of God but scarier than the former and as brutal as the latter. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to show children in peril, not for the shock value ala Troma films but because for many, death is an everyday occurrence. With terrific performances from the five leads and a sense of dread that permeates throughout every frame, Tigers are not Afraid is a devastating piece of cinema not to be missed.
Oct. 18—Jigoku (1960)
A Japanese horror film that acts as a morality play about guilt and remorse and yada yada yada everyone sucks and everyone goes to hell. The end. It’s slow, boring and almost entirely uneventful until the last fifteen minutes where everyone gets punished for their sins. There’s some pretty great imagery, some of which was way ahead of its time but the vast majority of it is just an unfun slog.
Oct. 19—Frontier(s) (2007)
I don’t understand the French extremism subgenre. It’s as if every director working in France collectively decided to make nothing but unpleasant, unwatchable garbage that’s filled with nothing but over the top violence. Which is all Frontier(s) is. It’s watching terrible things happen to unlikable people by even worse people. There’s not much to recommend with this one.
Oct. 20—Overlord (2018)
This is one of those films that needed to have 10 more minutes of action at the end or should’ve been edited down to an hour for an episode of a horror anthology. It suffers from the Goldilocks syndrome of fluctuating between two extremes without ever finding the perfect balance. There’s either too much of one ingredient (the aforementioned yakkety yak) or not enough of another (the shoot em up action). Everything it does have is pretty good but with some minor tweaks, it could’ve been great.
Oct. 21—The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
The original plan, or what the writer of the novel sold the rights to make, was for this to be a Peter Weir film with Mel Gibson in the lead and although this is top tier Craven, it’s hard to look at this film the same once you know that fact. It never got in the way of me enjoying it but there were definitely instances where the film was getting goofy and I imagined shaking it and yelling “you could’ve been a Weir film!” As it stands, the talent in front of and behind the camera all do excellent work but it’s the screenplay that lets them down. This film never knows what it wants to be. It is neither a docudrama nor a biopic nor a straight horror but a combination of all three with shades of a political thriller thrown in. It’s all over the place. With a tighter script, this really could’ve been more than just “one of Craven’s best films.” It could’ve been a horror classic.
Oct. 22—High Tension (2003)
Everyone who’s seen this film agrees that the twist is awful and the film would be better without it and while I agree on both accounts, I think it’s also important to mention that it isn’t that great before the twist ruins it. The attack on the house is amazing but after that, it’s just a by the numbers chase film that has just enough energy to it to never make you bored. Honestly, the awful twist might be the only thing keeping this film in the conversation in the first place.
Oct. 23—Spring (2014)
Romance and horror have been intertwined since the beginning of storytelling, with stories of monsters pining with unrequited love (Dracula, the Mummy, the Gill-man, King Kong, the Beast, Etc.) being staples of both genres, which is why they make for such perfect bedfellows. Audiences can’t help but sympathize with monsters and they love a good ‘opposites attract’ story, so making a naturally sympathetic monster the romantic lead, is a recipe for gold. Let the Right One In is the undisputed king of the romantic horror and probably always will be but I think Spring has enough heat to challenge any film, including The Shape of Water, to the second place thing-y. Whatever they give to the Prince. A septor. Spring is the silver septor or chalice or whatever of romantic horror films. The two leads are likable and have natural chemistry, the location is beautiful and the monster is crazy as fuck. It’s Lovecraft meets Linklater.
Oct. 24—Sweetheart (2019)
Predator meets Cast Away but without the fun and excitement of the former and no character development of the latter. The main character is so devoid of any emotion, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening. You would think getting harassed by a giant sea creature whilst being marooned on a deserted island would inspire more than casual indifference but at no point does she seem afraid or even bothered by her situation. I mean, it doesn’t help the fact that everything she needs to survive she conveniently finds her first day. Matches! Coca Cola! New clothes! Rope to make a hammock and a trap! The only thing not found on the island is a plot.
Oct. 25—Fright Night Part 2 (1988)
Fright Night Part 2 is kinda like Toy Story 2 in that it inverts the plot of the first one. In the first one, a high school student named Charley Brewster discovers his neighbor is a vampire and must enlist the aid of Peter Vincent and his girlfriend when no one else believes him but in this one, Charley believes there are vampires at his college and must enlist the help of Peter Vincent because nobody believes him not even himself. The only new addition to the story is that Charley, after years of therapy, believes the events of the first one were perpetrated by a serial killer, not a vampire. It’s an interesting twist the film does absolutely nothing with. Nor does it do anything interesting with anything else. It has a great cast of villains it does nothing with. It’s nothing but wasted potential that feels a million hours long due to its interminable pace.
Oct. 26—Haunt (2019)
Haunt is the perfect example of judging a book by its cover, or in this case: its trailer. Everything apart from the film’s poster was unappealing to me. “Produced by Eli Roth and written by the duo who brought you A Quiet Place” isn’t exactly a selling point, nor was the trailer, which made the film look like a derivative, low budget version of Hellfest but I was wrong. It’s a solid slasher with a unique mythology I’d love to see explored in future installments. If this was released in the 80s, Haunt would no doubt be on many of y’alls watchlists every October.
Oct. 27—The Furies (2019)
Talk about missing the target. This film is the cinematic equivalent of watching a kid hover the tail over the donkey’s ass for 90 minutes and then still pin it to himself. It’s aggravating how close this film comes to greatness. The gore is great and the premise is amazing (a group of women are dumped in the woods and are hunted by a group of slashers but the twist is, each slasher is paired to a woman. Meaning that if she dies, he dies. So each slasher is both a protector and a hunter) but the characters are the absolute fucking worst and it never does anything interesting with its concept. Why the fuck wouldn’t you have the final girl and killer team up? Goddamn it Furies. You had one job.
Oct. 28—Night of the Demon (1957)
An american professor arrives in London for a conference on parapsychology only to discover that the colleague he was supposed to meet was killed in a freak accident the day before. It turns out that the deceased had been investigating a cult lead by Dr. Julian Karswell. Suspicious of the devil-worshiping Karswell, the professor starts to investigate the cult and soon discovers there are things in this world science can’t explain. A classic that actually lives up to its reputation, Night of the Demon feels like a Hitchcock film that was produced by Val Lewton. It’s never scary but it does an excellent job of slowly cultivating tension throughout.
Oct. 29—Kwaidan (1964)
Kwaidan (which literally translates to, “ghost story”) is a four part anthology film where each segment deals with, you guessed it: werewolves. I mean ghosts. A penniless samurai marries for money with tragic results, a man stranded in a blizzard is saved by a mysterious snow maiden, but his rescue comes at a cost, a blind musician is forced to perform for an audience of ghosts and an author is plagued by visions of a strange man’s face in his cup of tea. Although Kwaidan is one of the few horror films to be nominated for best picture, it’s one of the hardest “classics” to sell anyone on. It’s foreign, it’s long as fuck, a bit slow and not at all scary but it is unquestionably the best looking horror film in existence. It’s gorgeous, with every frame worthy of its own art exhibition. This is the closest we ever got to a Kurosawa helmed horror film.
Oct. 30—The Wailing (2016)
A policeman must solve the origins of a mysterious sickness spreading throughout the village before his daughter gets infected. The Wailing is a 2 and a half hour bullet train of laughs, gore, frights and folklore that moves so fast, a new subgenre should be created to classify it: the anti-slow burn. It takes it’s time in cultivating dread and creating a mood but at no point does it meander or feel drag ass. It’s constantly throwing new things at the viewer but at the same time, never feels manic. It’s controlled chaos by a masterful director who knows how to keep you entertained while trying to kill you with fright. The Wailing is a rare case of more actually being more rather than less.
Oct. 31—The Wicker Man (1973)
A bona fide classic that set the precedent for every slow burn and folk/cult horror to follow but outside of its phenomenal ending, I can’t for the life of me see why it has garnered such a reputation. It’s 90 minutes (not a single second of which are scary, unless you count the terrible musical sequences that go on forever) of an unhip square berating the inhabitants of a small Scottish island for being godless heathens who don’t have fresh fruit and who like to fuck. He’s so blinded by morality and self righteousness, that he becomes unlikable. Which puts the viewer in a difficult position: either root for a fascist super cop to take down the hippies who aren’t doing anything wrong or sympathize with hot naked hippies who are just living their best pagan life. Which is hard considering hippies are the worst and they are all part of a murderous cult but Sgt. Howie doesn’t know that for at good chunk of the running time. All he knows at the start is that they don’t worship the same God he does, which is all he needs to be a complete dick to everyone. Which, admittedly, is the point but his infamous end is robbed a lot of its impact due to him being so unpleasant. I think it’s about time we put The Wicker Man in the titular wicker man, set it ablaze and declare Kill List the new Lord of Summerisle.
Non Horror Films I Saw This Month:
Oct. 14—Parasite (2019)
All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident. Take the film Borgman but remove the supernatural killer imp man and replace him with an entire family and then add a less bizarre People Under the Stairs subplot and you got Parasite. It’s a film that’s constantly shifting gears, leaving the viewer wondering where the hell its going and while I wish the third act was a bit crazier, I still enjoyed every second that lead up to it.
Oct. 15—Joker (2019)
The best and worst thing about Joker is that it’s a comic book movie. It’s great that a studio (DC, no less) green lit an origin story so small, the stakes are whether or not the main character will get away with murder. In a day and age where every superhero film released needs a billion dollars and a world ending plot, it’s refreshing to see an intimate character study with zero explosions but therein lies the rub. The film is scaled so far back, it stops feeling like a “Joker” film and just a portrait of a loon dressed as a clown. At no point did I feel like Phoenix was the Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, or the Jester of Genocide.
As good as he was (and he was phenomenal), he just felt like a crazy guy. I’m glad it didn’t get too over the top at the end but I think there needed something to connect this Joker to previous iterations. And I’m not talking about the Wayne connection either. That felt tacked on and unnecessary. As did the romantic subplot, which was predictable and pointless. I think Joker is a great film stuck in the body of a mediocre comic book movie.
Oct. 25—Dolemite is my Name (2019)
Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander’s modus operandi, by their own admission, is making biopics for people who shouldn’t have biopics. They like shining a light on unconventional success stories like a porn entrepreneur who fought for the first amendment, a stand up comedian who turned his entire life into a show and a B movie director who would live in infamy as one of the worst directors who’s ever lived. They truly admire and respect the subjects of their work, which is nowhere more evident than in their latest film Dolemite is my Name. Structurally it hits the same beats as any conventional biopic and would be just as forgettable as any of the numerous biopics that get released every year, if it wasn’t for the absolute love and respect you can tell everyone has for Rudy Ray Moore. The entire film is one giant love letter to him and his work. Everyone showed up to play and they all knock it out of the park, especially Murphy who hasn’t been this good in decades. It’s one of those films that when the credits start rolling, you’ll realize you had been smiling the entire time.