We’ve survived week one of the October Horror Challenge! So far, this year’s views have been a lot of re-watches, many of which were long overdue, and a couple of first time views that have largely been quite good. The heavy stuff is sure to come later, and it’s only a matter of time before I get stuck with a stinker. We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it, though. In the meantime, here’s what I watched from 1 October through 7 October:
Spanish Zombie Possession Double Feature
[•REC] (2007, dirs. Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero; repeat view) – Solid found footage horror from Spain, in which a young TV reporter on an overnight run with a fire crew winds up trapped with the tenants of an apartment building under sudden quarantine. [•REC] slowly builds itself into a zombie infection film with a dash of “And Then There Were None,” but twists that trope into something different in the final reel. I’ve long felt that [•REC] is one of the best handheld horror films, combining jump scares with creeping dread to make for a disturbing experience. It also features one of the best sudden, unexpected, and upsetting moments in recent horror.
[•REC] 2 (2009, dirs. Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero; first time view) – Picking up immediately where [•REC] ends, [•REC] 2 focuses this time on Dr. Owen and a SWAT crew sent into the building on what’s more or less a mission from God. Where the first film was more in line with other found footage-style movies, this one almost plays out more like a first-person shooter game, complete with in-screen visuals (think picture-in-picture) and POV switches. [•REC] 2 is a rare feat in horror sequels: it advances the story without retconning and manages to keep the same pace as the first, while working fine enough as a standalone picture.
Jessica Harper Song-and-Dance Double Feature
Phantom of the Paradise (1974, dir. Brian DePalma; repeat view) – There’s little more I can say about Phantom that I haven’t already elsewhere. For the OHMC, I watched this in a double feature with Suspiria, since there’s headcanon that Jessica Harper’s character in both films is actually the same person going from career to career (I take it one step further, adding Shock Treatment to the timeline). With their garish color schemes and rock soundtracks, Phantom and Suspiria go together like Bowie and Jagger. My blu-ray review of Phantom is here, for interested parties.
Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento; repeat view) – A rock and roll fairy tale about witches at a ballet academy in Germany, this is hands down one of Argento’s best horror films, and at the very least one of his most unforgettable. Maggot rain? A room inexplicably full of razor wire? That Goblin soundtrack? Yeah, this is Italian horror on its most stylish A-game: colorful, freaky, and off-the-rails.
Blood and Babes at 200 MPH!
Grindhouse (2007, dirs. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino; repeat view) – Rodriguez and Tarantino attempted to bring back the days of the grindhouse theater double-feature, a sleazy experience highlighting all manner of exploitation and b-flicks. Ultimately, this ambitious project was just enough of a failure to keep it from happening again, which is a shame, because Grindhouse is a unique and loving bit of cinema tribute. Rodriguez directs Planet Terror, a sick and sleazy slice of zombie gore horror (further thoughts here), while Tarantino brings us Death Proof, a white-knuckle slasher where the weapon of choice is not a knife, but a souped-up Detroit muscle car. Death Proof loses momentum during the typically-QT-talky dialogue scenes, but the pace picks up with one of the best car chases since the carsploitation flicks of the ’70s.
(obligatory “horny” joke goes here)
Horns (2013, dir. Alexandre Aja; first time view) – Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ig, a young man accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend; not long after her death, he begins to grow a set of devil horns. Not only that, but people begin spilling their darkest secrets and following his every command just by being in mere proximity to him. With this new-found power, Ig seeks out the truth about what happened to his girlfriend. Horns is a pretty great film, aside from the awful dead-girlfriend-as-plot-device aspect, up until the third act where it all starts to fall apart — and fast. It’s not unusual for Aja to biff the ending of a film (see also: High Tension), but Horns really left a sulfurous taste in my mouth.
The Ashmore Factor Triple Feature
The Ruins (2008, dir. Carter Smith; repeat view) – Two couples on vacation in Mexico befriend a fellow tourist from Germany; when they assist him in trying to find his brother who went to an archaeological dig at a Mayan pyramid, they find that the ruins are a cursed, evil place. The Ruins is one of the better tourist-in-peril films, helped by a believable yet bizarre set of circumstances and a solid cast that includes Shawn Ashmore. Ashmore!
This is where I break character for a moment and talk to you about the Ashmore Rating System, a device for rating films on a scale of 0.5 to 5 Ashmores. A half-Ashmore is also known as an Aaron, where a full Ashmore is a Shawn. For example, The Ruins is a 5 Ashmore film, whereas Horns rates as two Shawns and and Aaron, or 2.5 Ashmores. The most important thing to remember about the Ashmore Rating System is that there is no real reasoning behind it.
Back to The Ruins: I love this film, not only because of its incredibly high Ashmore Factor, but because it’s also just so goddamn WEIRD, but also PLAUSIBLY WEIRD, which makes it even more creepy. There are plants out there defending themselves in strange ways, why wouldn’t there be plants that can mimic and taunt you with sound? That’s spooky.
Frozen (2010, dir. Adam Green; repeat view) – A trio of skiers get stuck on a chairlift at closing time; what happens next may surprise you! Director Adam Green shows an incredible amount of restraint here in comparison to the hack-and-slashfest that is Hatchet. Frozen is essentially a chamber piece, set among the snowy mountains at a ski resort; three characters stuck in one location, having to work against themselves and the elements. Green keeps the film tight, preferring to stay focused on the characters instead of any gore, which works to great effect in a particular scene that could have emphasized a gruesome situation. While there are a few plot points early on that almost push the film into impossible mode, overall Frozen is a brisk, refreshing piece of horror. I give it 5 Ashmores.
Blood Moon, a.k.a. Wolf Girl (2001, dir. Thom Fitzgerald; repeat view) – A traveling freak show rolls into a town in the middle of autumn. The star attraction is Tara the “Wolf Girl,” who has hypertrichosis, a condition causing a great amount of hair to grow all over her entire body. Tara is desperate to fit in with “normal” people; even though she loves her foster family of freaks, she’s so determined to be able to “pass” that she undergoes a series of highly experimental depilatory treatments. The treatment works, but also has some unexpected and dangerous side effects, not just for Tara, but for everyone around her. Blood Moon is, for a made-for-Canadian-TV production, one of the most genuinely queer horror films I’ve ever seen. Tara’s story reads as something of a trans allegory, while several of the sideshow acts play wildly with gender presentation and sexuality. It certainly helps having Grace Jones and Tim Curry in the cast. Ashmore Factor: 4 Shawns and an Aaron, with a bonus half-point for Grace Jones.
Italian Sci-Fi Horror From Outer Space!
The Visitor (1979, dir. Giulio Paradisi, a.k.a. Michael J. Paradise; first time view) – How to summarize this film? A little girl who is the offspring of an evil alien force tries to get her mommy knocked up with a brother she can mate with before kindly old John Huston from outer space stops her in her tracks. Yeah, something like that, but also with Lance Henriksen and Shelley Winters (?!) as the mother’s boyfriend (who also wants her to bear a child so he can gain ultimate control of the universe) and housekeeper (who wants to protect her from the evil little girl), respectively. Okay, I think that’s all. Wait, did I mention the attacking birds? Space Jesus Franco Nero? Hordes of bald children and men in coordinated jumpsuits? With a film like The Visitor, you don’t really watch it, you EXPERIENCE it.
Price and Poe Anthology
Tales of Terror (1962, dir. Roger Corman; repeat view) – a trio of Edgar Allan Poe stories — “Morella,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” — all featuring Vincent Price. Of the three, the strongest story is “The Black Cat,” which stars a soused-up Peter Lorre as Montresor Herringbone, a man who hates his wife almost as much as he hates her black cat. In fact, the only thing he truly loves is wine, and soon he forms a friendship with Fortunato Luchresi (Price), a premier wine taster. It isn’t long before Luchresi and Mrs. Herringbone are canoodling, leading Montresor to brick them up in the basement. But what of that damned cat? Unfortunately, the film as a whole is rather dull, so dull that I forgot I’d already watched it mere months ago.
11 total films watched