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92 Days of Halloween: The First 31 (Part 1)

This article is part of The Nightmare During Christmas series. If you’re not caught up on what this series is about, please read the introduction article here.

Ah, November 1st. The Halloween Hangover to some, the gleeful kickoff of Christmas to others. I assume there’s some overlap there, but for the most part, I suspect the people who celebrate Halloween hard enough to experience a hangover from it — whether of the literal, alcohol-produced variety or of the figurative, sad-that-Halloween-is-over sort — probably aren’t in a caroling mood today. But hey, that’s why I started this series in the first place, so rest assured you can still get your Halloween fix right here for the next two months, so whether you want to view this as some hair of the dog or just as a Halloween Happy Place, let’s keep this party going, shall we?

All throughout October, I’ve seen people sharing lists and articles of recommendations for Halloween movie marathons. Sometimes they’ve been straightforward lists of the “best” horror movies. Other times they’ve been lists of “underrated” or “overlooked” ones. Frankly, these lists are rarely worth checking out simply because they’re designed to be tiresome clickbait at best and standoffish “fight me” shitposts at worst. A lot of times they’re not even written by people who enjoy horror movies, and those are the absolute worst ones. You’ll find those on some major entertainment sites and blogs, and they invariably come across as having been done solely out of obligation to the season and more often than not quite condescending to the horror genre as a whole. These articles all seem to strive for the same basic tone of “most horror movies are icky and stupid and not worth devoting any real thought or consideration to, but here are 13 that I read about on Wikipedia that vaguely conform to my arbitrary standards of quality.” And I don’t say that as a knock on people who don’t like horror, because obviously I know that not everybody does, and that’s totally fine. I say that as a knock on those websites and blogs for not hiring actual horror journalists or at least people on their staff who actually like horror to write those articles. For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone would take their horror movie recommendations from someone who spends the rest of the year writing articles like “237 Times the Characters in Friends Were, Like, Totally Relatable (An Article in GIF Form).”

But a more recent, related October tradition that I’ve seen people doing is compiling their own “31 Days of Halloween” lineups. This is my favorite type of October list to look at since it tends to reflect the individual taste and personality of the person compiling it rather than aiming to be any kind of “definitive” guide to horror movies, and of course, individual taste and personality is what I’m all about here. I’ve enjoyed looking at what everyone else has been watching during the High Haunted Month of October, particularly when it’s led me to watching a movie I might otherwise not have heard of or given much thought to.

Now that October is over, does that mean it’s too late to share mine? Why, of course it’s not! In fact, in the spirit of The Nightmare During Christmas, I was waiting specifically for November 1st to do it! And the advantage of waiting until after October is over to do a “31 Days of Halloween” article is that I’ve finished watching all of the movies, so I can also give you my thoughts on them in addition to just letting you all know what kind of spooky goodies I included in my lineup last month. In keeping with the theme of this series, I must specify that we’re acknowledging 92 Days of Halloween this year (October 1st-December 31st, duh), so bear in mind that this is only a look back on the first third of my lineup.

So here are the movies I watched this October with a few thoughts on each. Just so as not to make this article too unbearably long, I’m going to be publishing it in two parts, so this part will only feature the first ten horror movies I watched last month. Asterisks (*) by a title indicate it was a first-time viewing for me. I won’t lie and say I watched a movie every single day during the month (my day job got in the way, much to my chagrin), so you’ll see a few days missing in this chronologically listed schedule. Hopefully that is redeemed by the several days on which I watched multiple movies.

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October 2nd- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper)
This once divisive sequel to the groundbreaking 1974 original has skyrocketed in popularity over the years to the point that I know a few horror diehards who even say they like it more. While I’m not prepared to go that far in my praise, I do absolutely adore this movie, which is an altogether different experience than the original. While Tobe Hooper has claimed that he viewed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as sort of a dark comedy all along, this one is a dark comedy for real, and not just in the slyly macabre way I suspect he meant it when referring to the first one. Caroline Williams (the Queen of Horror Sequels, in my mind) is fantastic as Stretch, one of the most intriguing heroines of modern horror, and Bill Moseley steals every scene he’s in as the now iconic Chop Top. We also get Dennis Hopper going batshit crazy with a chainsaw in each hand, so it truly has something for everyone.

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October 2nd- Psycho II (1983, dir. Richard Franklin)
Another ’80s sequel to a horror masterpiece loosely based on Ed Gein, October 2nd was unintentionally a rather specifically themed double feature for me, I suppose. But whereas The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 took a sharp turn towards comedy, Psycho II instead served as a thoughtful character study that expanded upon the original while still mostly being its own thing. I think this movie was (and still is, but thankfully to a much lesser extent than before) dismissed simply because it was considered sacrilegious to make a sequel to a film as hallowed as Hitchcock’s Psycho, which remains of the one handful of horror movies that even quote-unquote “serious” film buffs, critics, and cinephiles regard as an all-time classic. Psycho II lacks the hyper stylized auteurism (see? I can use smart critic words too) that Hitchcock brought to the original, but it would have been foolish to try to recreate that component anyway, so Australian director Richard Franklin (of Patrick and Roadgames fame) wisely chose to focus on presenting Norman Bates as a believable and complex character, allowing Anthony Perkins to carry much of the film’s weight in his reprisal of the role. And not only did he live up to his original performance; he further enriched it, adding whole new layers to Norman that even retroactively give the first movie more depth. The movie’s great; his performance is next-level brilliant.

tim-curry-worst-witch

October 7th- The Worst Witch (1986, dir. Robert Young)
This extraordinarily Halloweeny made-for-TV children’s film has popped up in a few articles recently because of the several striking similarities between this and the Harry Potter series, which seems to have borrowed quite a few elements from this. I never saw this as a kid, so I have no sentimental childhood nostalgia for it like a lot of others do. Still, it’s highly entertaining and most definitely radiates #BigHalloweenEnergy even though I found it felt a bit drawn out in spots despite its brief 70-minute length. Fairuza Balk played this role shortly after Return to Oz, so she was already well on her way to becoming a genre icon even as a child. The real star of the show, though, is undoubtedly Tim Curry. He only gets a few minutes of screen time even though most of the plot revolves around his character showing up, but once he finally appears, there’s no going back, and as soon as he makes his exit, you can practically hear a mic drop. That’s how much he steals this movie.

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*October 9th- Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973, dir. Antonio Margheriti)*
A deliciously stylized giallo that maybe leans a bit more heavily on the mystery aspect of the genre than the horror, this movie follows a series of murders surrounding a Scottish castle and a cat who seems to be at the center of them. Honestly, the thing that stuck out to me about this movie (aside from the rather plump kitty who would have been a perfect choice for Garfield had they done a live-action adaptation in the ’70s) is that it feels very much like a cross between a giallo and a Hammer film: a little theatrical, a little campy, a lot stylish, and very European (in either a good or bad way, depending on your perspective of course).

tigers-are-not-afraid

*October 9th- Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017, dir. Issa López)*
A recent fantasy-horror film that went under the radar here in America until Shudder thankfully nabbed up the streaming rights, it’s kind of impossible to not draw comparisons between this and the work of Guillermo del Toro in that this is also a fantastical horror film about children in Mexico that lets it be known very clearly that the real monsters are people — and usually people in power — which is kind of del Toro’s M.O. That trite, inevitable comparison out of the way, this movie deserves to be seen and is still very much its own unique (and heartbreaking) thing despite the superficial similarities to Guillermo del Toro that I already regret regurgitating. It’s a movie that uses fantastical ideas to address very real issues. Definitely not the kind of movie you can just put on at a Halloween party to have a good time with, but beautifully realized and quite moving.

house2_skull

*October 12th- House II: The Second Story (1987, dir. Ethan Wiley)*
Ethan Wiley, who was the writer of the original House the year before, got to move up to the director’s chair this time around, and he decided to make it even more comedic than the original. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is obviously subjective, since I know a lot of people who can’t stand goofy horror-comedy, especially when it represents a bit of a departure from the tone of the original. But I personally had a lot of fun with this. It’s kind of all over the place and at times doesn’t even feel like a horror-comedy so much as a straight-up comedy that occasionally slips in some horror elements, but we get even a lot more awesome creature designs along the way, and that’s really the main appeal of the House series, so I’m definitely not complaining.

Blood-Salvage-1990-3

*October 13th- Blood Salvage (1990, Tucker Johnston)*
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t really remember much from this movie. That’s not necessarily a criticism of it, though. It seemed like the right type of movie to pair with some leafy enhancement (actually, several of these movies were watched in this state of mind, but usually I at least wait until the second viewing to do that). So the details are, uh, foggy in my memory. What I can tell you is that it was pure backwoods redneck horror involving unnecessary surgery and whatnot. And I enjoyed it. I remember that much. I remember that I enjoyed it. But if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis, look elsewhere. And if you do decide that you require an in-depth analysis of the movie Blood Salvage, hey, you should consider pitching an article to me sometime, because you’d fit right in here.

bloodsurf

*October 21st- Blood Surf (2000, dir. James D.R. Hickox)*
I briefly mentioned this direct-to-video movie in my article about crocsploitation films, and now I can say that I’ve watched it firsthand. If you were intrigued by the premise as I outlined it there sight unseen, then I can now tell you it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Some incredibly obnoxious people try to film themselves surfing with sharks but are instead terrorized by a giant crocodile. It’s an early 2000s direct-to-video movie about a giant crocodile, so the effects fall a bit shy of being state of the art, as you might imagine. But look, here’s my thing about this kind of movie: if you read the synopsis and have an idea of what the production values are going to be like, and you go in expecting anything more than what those led you to believe you were getting, then just don’t bother. But if there is a part of you that realizes what you’re getting into and thinks, “Hey, that sounds like it might be kind of fun,” then guess what? You’re probably going to think it’s kind of fun. It’s not far removed at all from a Syfy original movie, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you may find something to enjoy here. Or at least something to snicker at.

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*October 21st- Bats (1999, dir. Louis Morneau)*
I remember seeing the commercials for this movie when it came out and really wanting to see it, but my parents wouldn’t take me. Not because they thought I was too young or anything like that (this is only a PG-13 movie, after all, and by that point I had already seen my fair share of R-rated movies). They just thought it looked too stupid. Yep. This might be the first movie I was ever denied the chance to see simply because my parents decided it wasn’t something they wanted to sit through. Granted, I could probably have gotten them to drop me off at the theater had I found a friend to go with me, but…well, none of my friends wanted to see it either. So I gave up, and by the time it arrived on video, I had already forgotten about it. And now, finally, 20 years later, I finally saw it. And you know what? I thought it was a lot of fun! So to my parents and friends who didn’t want to see this with me when it was in theaters, you missed out. I mean…probably not. You probably would have thought it was really dumb, just like you suspected it would be. And I probably would have liked it a lot. My point is someone should have suffered through it with me so that I could have enjoyed it when I was younger. But I’m glad I at least got to enjoy it now as a crotchety old dude who writes about direct-to-video giant crocodile movies and PG-13 mutant bat flicks as a passion.

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October 21st- The Old Dark House (1932, dir. James Whale)
For a while, this movie was considered a forgotten classic of the Universal Horror era. With James Whale’s fairly recent — and rightful — reappraisal as one of the greatest directors of early Hollywood and a true master of horror, this film has since gotten its due recognition as one of the absolute best in the entire Universal Horror cycle, which is no small feat. Boris Karloff (or KARLOFF, as he was still being billed as at the time) is back under Whale’s direction again after their joint breakthrough with Frankenstein a year earlier, and he’s once again in a nonspeaking role…but once again in a completely iconic, totally show-stealing performance. The rest of the cast is amazing as well, including Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Melvyn Douglas, and the future Dr. Pretorius himself, the great Ernest Thesiger. I adore this movie with every fiber of my being and consider it a landmark of camp horror, so I’m going to stop now before I ramble on forever and turn this into an entire article about just this movie. But trust me, if you’ve only ever seen the more famous monster movies of the Universal Horror era, you owe it to yourself to check this one out soon. It holds up ridiculously well and was probably a bigger influence on a lot of subsequent horror than it’s given credit for (I’m thinking of Hammer films, the Amicus movies of the ’60s and ’70s, and Corman’s Poe movies, just to name a few that seem to bear its mark).

 

Okay, that’s all for this time. Tune in next time when I talk about the rest of the horror movies I watched in October! And don’t forget to submit any pitches for Halloween-related articles you might want to write for this site, because I will be rolling out the guest contributions soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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