31 Days of Horror: Week 1

Week 1: October 1 – October 7

For several years, I’ve made it a point to watch one horror (or Halloween-related) movie a night during the month of October. I’m not quite sure exactly when I began doing it, or what inspired me to do so, but it’s become a tradition that I’m determined to continue as long as I possibly can. To be honest, it can be stressful – reserving up to a two-hour chunk of one’s day to do something as frivolous as watch a movie can be more difficult than it sounds – but in the end I’m always glad I did it.

Before I commence with my movie commentary, allow me to give you a brief history of my initial brushes with the genre. My love of horror began in the womb, when my mother went to see the original “Alien.”  She was 8 months pregnant with me at the time (which begs the question: why would a pregnant woman go to a movie where strange creatures burst out of people’s bodies? Answer: back then trailers didn’t give the entire plot away, so she didn’t know) and whenever she got scared and jumped it took about 30 seconds for the adrenaline to hit me, then I would jump, which would scare her again, causing her to jump once more. Fast forward about 5 years when I’m sitting in a movie theater watching The Black Cauldron, the first animated Disney movie to receive a PG rating for thematic elements. (Terror trivia – Tim Burton worked on this movie.) The only part I remember clearly is when a skeleton army crawls out of the cauldron; other children were terrified, but I loved every minute of it. I’d like to think that moment fanned the tiny flame my mom inadvertently lit into a full-on fiery passion for horror films.

But enough about me. Without further ado, I give you my first week of movies:

DAY 1

Title: It

Year Released: 2017

Rating: R

First viewing: Yes

My tagline: Never trust a clown in a sewer.

Summary: Based on Stephen King’s book by the same name, the story follows a group of teens determined to fight an evil force that has been kidnapping/killing local children.

Terror Trivia: The movie was released exactly 27 years after the mini-series aired…and It wakes up every 27 years to feed. Coincidence?

My reaction: I should admit that I tend to get very attached to the first version of something I’m exposed to. For example, if I read the book before I see the movie version, I prefer the book, and if I see the movie before I read the book, I prefer the movie. In this case I’ve never read the book, but I have watched the television mini-series version of the story that aired in the 1990s. Both versions have their own positives and negatives, and I don’t think it’s fair to compare them until the second movie (due next fall) is released. That said, I think I prefer the mini-series. The movie wasn’t bad, and it certainly wasn’t as gory as I anticipated (I don’t mind gore with a purpose, however I do have a problem with gratuitous gore), but I thought the kids did a lot of stupid things in the movie. Maybe that’s more realistic than the way they behaved in the mini-series, I honestly don’t know. Nevertheless, I found myself frequently annoyed by their lack of common sense, something that didn’t happen when I watched the mini-series. I also thought Pennywise was WAY too sinister from the start. In the mini-series, he starts out kinda friendly, then gets scary. In the movie he starts out super-creepy and just gets more terrifying with each word he utters. Additionally, I had some issues with the way they handled Beverly’s character near the end, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I guess I should point out that these differences may be because the movie is closer to the book than the mini-series was, but I wouldn’t know that since I didn’t read the book.

DAY 2

Title: Pet Sematary

Year Released: 1989

Rating: R

First viewing: Yes and No

My tagline: An ancient Indian burial ground is involved, so you know things aren’t going to end well.

Summary: Also based on Stephen King’s book by the same name, the plot focuses on a young family facing increasingly tragic events after moving into a new house next to a busy road.

Terror trivia: The novel was inspired by Stephen King’s real-life experience living next to a major truck route and the untimely death of his daughter’s cat.

My reaction: Watching this movie was facing one of my fears. The first time I attempted to watch it, I was at a sleepover party in middle school. I remember being so disturbed by one of the scenes that I left the room. One by one, my friends joined me until we were all in the kitchen, no one willing to go back in and turn it off. In the end I was the one who gathered my courage, marched into the living room, and pressed the stop button on the VCR. Since then I haven’t been able to face it…until now. What I found particularly interesting is the fact that I must’ve returned to the living room after the scene that was burned (slightly inaccurately) into my brain, because upon watching it now I found that I remember a good chunk of the scenes that occurred after that. This time around, I’m pleased to say that I was fine. The scene that bothered me all those years ago was still disturbing, but not overwhelmingly so (just in case you’re wondering, it was the flashback with the wife’s sister, who was gravely ill, disfigured, and mentally unstable). As with It, I thought the characters made increasingly stupid decisions throughout the movie. If you had young children, would you move into a house right next to a road where large trucks regularly sped by at all hours of the day and night? I hope that you’d look for a nice, quiet, safe place to live instead. If you used an ancient Indian burial ground to bring your dead pet back to life and he came back “different,” behaving strangely and acting aggressive, would you recommend that someone else do the same thing? No, of course you wouldn’t. You’d say, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and leave it at that. I haven’t read this book either, so I’m not sure if stupidity is a Stephen King trademark or what, but I was unimpressed with these characters. Was it scary? Yes. Was it good? I’m not sure I’d say it was bad, but I also wouldn’t say that I plan on watching it again.

DAY 3

Title: As Above, So Below

Year Released: 2014

Rating: R

First viewing: No

My tagline: Venturing into unmapped sections of the catacombs with amateur explorers sounds like great idea! What could possibly go wrong?

Summary: An archaeologist set on finding a long lost artifact convinces a motley crew of adventurers to help her discover the key to eternal life.

Terror trivia: This movie was, in fact, filmed in the actual catacombs.)

My reaction: I’ve watched this movie a couple times, and despite its generally poor reviews, I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve never been to the catacombs, and with my claustrophobia slowly but surely getting worse as time passes, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to visit them, so I’ll take what I can get. Plus I appreciate the Dante references. The plot is pretty basic – a group of young people get trapped underground and have to rely on their wits (and each other) to survive as their situation becomes bleaker and bleaker. It’s good for a few scares, and while one could argue it doesn’t entirely make sense, it made me think, which is never a bad thing.

DAY 4

Title: A Quiet Place

Year Released: 2018

Rating: PG-13

First viewing: Yes

My tagline: It’s like Tremors, but instead of the monsters living underground and sensing vibrations, they’re running around on the surface waiting for you to make any kind of noise so they can find you and eat you.

Summary: A family tries to survive in a world inhabited by blind monsters that hunt solely using their sense of sound.

Terror trivia: Stephen King himself tweeted his praise for the movie.

My reaction: Because this movie had a lot of buzz surrounding it, I was somewhat reluctant to watch it, lest I be disappointed. I’m happy to report that it lived up to the hype, and was a kind of perfect storm of movie magic – a clever concept executed beautifully while providing the requisite amount of scares necessary for a member of the horror genre. It’s one of those movies that I wish I had seen in theaters because I think the lack of speaking (I don’t want to use the word “silence” because that’s not entirely accurate; the sounds of nature are ever present, made even louder and more pronounced by the absence of human speech) would have been even more conspicuous in such an environment. I thought the choice to include a deaf character was a brilliant idea by all accounts, as it places her in additional danger since she can’t hear the monsters sneaking up on her, creating a number of “Look behind you!” moments. It also easily explains why this family is familiar with American Sign Language. Furthermore, I appreciated the fact that these characters were thoughtful and made intelligent decisions. Unlike the first two movies I watched, these characters generally chose the smartest path possible, and their mistakes were understandable and age-appropriate (the children were more foolish than the adults, but that’s just how children are). Overall, a great movie.

DAY 5

Title: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Year Released: 2007

Rating: PG-13

First viewing: No

My tagline: Exacting revenge against all those who’ve wronged you is infinitely more important than trying to help those you love from escaping a hellish existence.

Summary: A barber who was wrongfully convicted of a crime returns to London in order to hunt down those who conspired against him and make them pay.

Terror trivia: 5 of the actors in this movie also play characters in the “Harry Potter” universe.

My reaction: This is one of my must-watch movies of the season. I’ve found that people either absolutely worship Tim Burton’s work or they loathe it with every fiber of their beings. I’m obviously a member of the former group. On the other hand, I’m not a huge Stephen Sondheim fan…I’m more of an Andrew Lloyd Webber kind of girl. But a musical about a homicidal barber that involves unsuspecting people participating in cannibalism? Count me in! Although I don’t care for some of the songs, I do have a few favorites, with “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest” topping the list. I love the look and feel of the movie in general (pure Tim Burton), and am completely enamored with the costumes. Helena Bonham Carter’s performance is my absolute favorite of the bunch, as she’s playing a perfectly Helena Bonham Carter-esque character. My favorite scene in the movie is the song “By the Sea,” though the song itself isn’t up there on my list. Sung by Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter), it details her plans for the future, which includes marrying and settling down with Sweeney Todd. What makes it stand out is the fact that she doesn’t imagine Todd being completely and utterly devoted to her – she casts him just as he is, a morose, mostly unresponsive partner, and an incredibly reluctant husband, at best. I think it’s refreshing that she has no illusions of what life would be like with him, and sweet that she accepts and loves him just as he is. Mrs. Lovett is a realist I can relate to. Except for the whole grinding people up and serving them as pies. That’s taking things a bit too far.

DAY 6

Title: And Then There Were None

Year Released: 2015

Rating: TV-14

First viewing: No

My tagline: The title pretty much sums it up.

Summary: Based on Agatha Christie’s book, the story is about a group of strangers that are lured to an isolated island and accused of various murders by an absent host…at which point they start dying one by one.

Terror trivia: The novel was originally published using two other titles (both containing pejorative terms) until it was permanently changed to this one.

My reaction: I was looking for something to read in my middle school’s library when I stumbled upon this Agatha Christie masterpiece. The cover proclaimed the same title as the mini-series, but small print on the bottom mentioned one of the previous titles, piquing my interest before I ever turned a page. I devoured the mystery as quickly as I could and eagerly searched for more of Christie’s work, disappointed to discover that I disliked her better known novels that featured either Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot. This story was unusual, though, and it’s always held a special place in my heart. As far as I’m concerned, the mini-series does it justice, taking the characters on a journey that begins with curiosity and anticipation and ends in paranoia and dread. Each individual has been invited to visit an island estate under what is ultimately revealed to be very specific false pretenses by an enigmatic, absent host, who then charges them (via a pre-recorded message) with crimes they claim to be innocent of. That’s when the casualties begin, as the guests face fates similar to the ones depicted in a poem that hangs in every room of the mansion. With an excellent cast and beautiful scenery, this movie will keep you guessing until the final reveal.

DAY 7

Title: The Other

Year Released: 1972

Rating: PG

First viewing: No

My tagline: Twins in a horror movie? Never a good sign.

Summary: Based on the novel by Thomas Tryon, the movie revolves around twin boys as they spend a summer having fun and causing trouble. But their adolescent antics become increasingly dangerous until there are fatal consequences.

Terror trivia: The movie was one of John Ritter’s first movie roles.

My reaction: This is one of my father’s picks; it can be difficult to find, so much so that my brother and I ended up buying him a copy on both VHS (back in the day) and DVD (more recently). Set in the 1930s in the country, twins Niles and Holland are full of pre-teen mischief, playing pranks, committing petty theft, and fooling around in the barn despite the fact they are repeatedly reminded that doing so is forbidden. As time passes, Holland’s actions grow more sinister, and though Niles objects to his actions, he’s always ready and willing to cover for his brother. Their extended family, including their doting grandmother, reclusive mother, sister, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle, and cousin are blind to the impending threat, quick to write off the mounting number of tragedies as “accidents” or “bad luck.” The audience, fully aware of Holland’s deeds, watches helplessly alongside Niles as the other continues to wreak havoc. But all is not as it seems, and this household is enveloped in layer after layer of secrets. Some might complain about the pacing of the movie (it’s slow by today’s standards), but I’d argue that its leisurely tempo helps to emphasize the “everydayness” of the story and builds suspense. You don’t see a lot of movies like this these days, making it essential viewing for horror fans.

Do you have a movie you’d like to recommend? Do you have any thoughts on the movies I’ve already written about? If so, add your comments below…

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