In honor of the spookiest month of the year, I sat down and watched 10 horror films from my ever growing “Must See Films” list. Unfortunately the quality of my picks varied as much as the sub-genres I chose from.
The Comedy: The Babysitter – If I’m being honest, I wrote off The Babysitter for the longest time thanks to the image Netflix was using to promote the film of Bella Thorne lounging in a cheerleading uniform. It was giving me unwanted flashbacks to Assassination Nation, a film I didn’t care to revisit. Fortunately, after Ben’s repeated recommendation (and a need to find my own Samara Weaving comedy-emphasizing horror film to enjoy after being disappointed with Ready or Not), I finally gave The Babysitter a chance. The premise of a bunch of high schoolers coming together to make a deal with the devil to achieve what some might consider some pretty attainable goals is ridiculous; fortunately I found the film’s constant need to be clever with the insert shots and not so throwaway lines setting up things to come, the varying styles of camerawork, the sound effects and title cards just for the audience’s amusement, and it’s perfect dreamgirl, simply that: cleverly amusing. The occasional eye roll is warranted, sure, and I am not at all surprised that this film doesn’t work for everyone; but the escalating action definitely kept me entertained enough to be more than excited to see how the hell this story continues with the upcoming sequel.
The Conjuring Extended Universe: The Nun – With Annabelle proving to be a better film than I expected, I decided to give one of the other Conjuring spin-off films I’d had little interest in a chance. Unfortunately, The Nun went in the opposite direction, somehow being worse than the low bar I’d set for it. This film isn’t like the other films in the universe grounded in the reality of actual occurrences (whether you believe they actually happened or not), instead making up an origin story centered around a painting that was good for a couple scares in The Conjuring 2. It’s off the proven beaten path of its predecessors, venturing into nonsense much like the characters who are constantly venturing off sans an exit buddy in pursuit of strange figures. Seriously, this whole movie is basically people chasing things they very obviously shouldn’t be chasing, especially after doing so has proven to be life threatening. The characters continue to be disconnected idiots to serve a later reveal, and though I did enjoy that turn to the story, it doesn’t make up for every infuriating thing that comes before and after it.
The Undead: Train to Busan – I did the South Korean Train to Busan a real deservous by assuming the simple zombies on a train premise couldn’t amount to much. But if World War Z (a movie I couldn’t help but think of time and time again thanks to how this overpowering horde was handled) can make zombies on a plane memorable, then Snowpiercering a zombie film is nothing if not a great idea. Turns out what this simple idea amounts to is one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in awhile, sprinting to the front of this horror subgenre like the throngs of mindless flesh eaters that do nothing but overwhelm. I don’t know if they cast dancers in these roles, but the disconcerting, bone cracking body articulation of the zombies is some of the best I’ve seen, making these basic movements as disconcerting as seeing someone being eaten alive. The film feels a little long in the last third thanks to the sudden need to emphasize another villain in addition to the zombies, but that’s about all Train to Busan gets wrong. It’s humorous and upsetting in more ways than one, with actors/characters that really draw you into both the terror and surprisingly emotional beats. Be warned now, it’s not easy to read subtitles through tears.
The Creature Feature: Crawl – Damn, Crawl. I didn’t know you had it in you. I expected this film to be the gator in a crawl space equivalent of the tale of outlasting and surviving one of nature’s greatest hunters that The Shallows was for that great white shark. Simple and direct, zigzagging its way between moments of quiet tension wondering where the threat will be coming from, and then barely escaping the jaws of said threat, which just so happens to be an insatiable, murderous “monster.” And it is definitely that, but once Kaya Scodelario makes her way under the house and the outmaneuvering begins, the film makes an unexpected choice that upped my excitement levels exponentially. And it kept making more and more unexpected choices that furthered my giddiness and surprise at just how willing the film was to embrace the creature feature genre and scale up accordingly. Often outlandish, full of cheesy dialog, unnecessary character drama, and dumb “keep the movie going” decisions, but always entertaining. Like a high quality SyFy Channel film!
The Reboot: Child’s Play – As someone who has no connection to the Chucky series past seeing part of one of the films after trick or treating years ago, I was actually looking forward to the reboot and its change of direction towards a doll being inhabited by a murderous AI over the more outlandish serial killer possession. Unfortunately, it was with the doll’s programming where everything eventually began to fall apart, moving away from the simple humor spawned by the innate creepiness of a doll that is obsessed with the child it has “imprinted” on and doing everything in its power to make that child happy, to being a murder hungry doll with wavering motivation. There are a couple scenes in the middle of the film where the character loses itself – one in which Chucky plays a recording to purposefully hurt Andy while he’s trying to sleep, and another in which the desire for carnage wins out over the one track mind of the obsessed doll – and unfortunately the movie never really recovers after that. Which is a shame, because the stalker-esque story really had promise, wavering tone and all.
The Recommendation: The Blackcoat’s Daughter – When it comes to horror, the obvious Middle of the Row seatmate to turn to for recommendations is Ben. He’d already given me one pleasant surprise for the list with The Babysitter, so why not double down? …. In all fairness to Ben he did preface his “I’m curious what you’ll think” recommendation of The Blackcoat’s Daughter by saying that I’d probably hate it thanks to my aversion to most arthouse horror. And he was right. I was somewhat enjoying the slow burn in part because of the atmospheric, unsettling soundtrack and intrigue developing around these three characters and whatever the hell was happening at this boarding school at the start of winter break, but when I say it was a slow burn, I mean it was the slowest of burns. And then suddenly the whole lot of nothing turned into a whole lot of something that wasn’t for me. Worst of all, I couldn’t help but feel infuriated by a certain artistic choice made to purposefully mislead the audience. I’m not a fan of being lied to, especially when it creates a glaringly obvious and implausible element in the story elsewhere. I’ve since cooled down from the initial rage response, but I’m still not above calling a lot of the positive Blackcoat’s Daughter reviews I scrolled through on Letterboxd pretentious as F. This dumb dumb wants none of that nonsense.
The Classic: Friday the 13th – Up to this point, my only experience with the Friday the 13th universe is the 2017 game that plays up the typical daylight averse, unyielding brutality of a faceless killer that easily outpaces and outmatches the feeble survival attempts of the doomed victims that the slasher genre is known for. The original Friday the 13th is definitely not that, at least not for the most part. And it definitely isn’t the start of the Jason Vorhees saga I was expecting. But that doesn’t stop it from being one hell of a good time if you go in ready to witness a bunch of idiots get punished for their sex drives in the campiest of low budget fashions. The writing and varying degrees of acting skill mostly just inspires laughter – everything about the Final Girl is real special – but that just means the potential for hilariously dramatic impending death reactions is high. And oh how the deaths are something to behold.
The Reimagining: Brightburn – I know it’s a bit hyperbolic to call Brightburn the bastardization of the Superman story, but OOF. Turns out you need much more than the basic “what if ____ but bad?” premise to make a good movie. Honestly there’s just not a lot to latch onto here, with a main character so devoid of nuance, depth or personality that it’s hard to feel any interest in what’s going on or happening to him. A ship just simply tells him he’s special and suddenly he’s all about victimizing women. Yay? He clearly wasn’t brainwiped to be a mindless weapon of some alien race out there, nor was he a child completely overwhelmed and terrified by fugue state happenings out of his control; he just suddenly has powers that turned him into a psychopath. Maybe that much anger and vengeance was always there, but it wasn’t developed in front of the audience’s eyes. All we’re privy to is a solid home life with great parents who I assume imparted a decent set of morals that he swiftly kicked out the window as soon as he was capable of exerting his will on others. So it’s very zero to murder at the flip of a switch. And no amount of Elizabeth Banks or shocking gore can make up for that glaring shortcoming.
The Stephen King Adaptation: In the Tall Grass – As a Stephen King fan, I usually like to read his works being adapted for the screen prior to seeing them. Regrettably, I didn’t have enough time to read the novella co-written with Joe Hill before this film’s release, which is a real shame considering I now have no idea who exactly to blame for each element of this monstrosity: the original authors or the person who adapted it for Netflix. In the Tall Grass is basically the first draft of a fever dream, where any and every cringeworthy thought thrown out in the brainstorming session made it into the final story. To keep things vague, I’ll just say that if you’re someone who appreciates content trigger warnings prior to watching a film, go ahead and assume you’ll need one for this movie. And then be happy that that content aversion saved you from watching this torturous nonsense.
The American Remake: Suspiria – As I mentioned with The Blackcoat’s Daughter, arthouse horror films tend to leave me befuddled by both their content and their popularity, which is why I put off watching Suspiria until the very end of my Halloween prep. This befuddlement is also why I was so shocked to find myself actually enjoying this 2.5 hour long version of the film. It’s so weird, uncomfortable, and even shocking at times, and though my WTF meter was in the red through most of it, I couldn’t help but feel bewitched by the performances of both the actors and dancers. And by whatever the hell was happening both above and beneath the surface of this dance company. AND THAT ENDING! Even with everything leading up to it, I was nowhere near prepared for where this movie finds itself two hours in. It’s ridiculous, and I sat there mouth agape, giddily laughing and revelling in how much I was loving every second of this celebratory culmination. Seriously, you have to see it for yourself.
So there you have it, 10 horror films I used to prep for Halloween. Some I loved, some I was disappointed by, and some that convinced me that maybe I won’t make this an annual thing. Guess you’ll just have to come back next year to see!