Watching a movie a day is more difficult than it sounds. Totally awesome, but difficult.
When I went back and glanced at last year’s 31 Days of Horror articles, I found that I had pretty much come to the same conclusion at about the same time (week two). And since it’s already way past my bedtime as I type this, I’m going to stick with the same kind of introduction.
Which is to say, no introduction.
This week spotlights a spiteful witch, melancholy ghosts, a few truly twisted psychological thrills, a bored hunter desperate for a challenge, Sisyphus-related punishment, and a house that was born bad.
What more could you ask for?
Title: The Most Dangerous Game
Year Released: 1932
First viewing: Yes
Quotable Moment: “I was thinking of the inconsistency of civilization. The beast of the jungle, killing just for his existence, is called savage. The man, killing just for sport, is called civilized.”
Summary: Based on a short story by the same name, strangers stranded on an island discover that their host isn’t as magnanimous as he appears.
My reaction: This is one of the few movies I’ve watched based on a recommendation from someone I know. Most of the “new” movies I watch come from online horror movie lists and Netflix suggestions, so it was a welcome change when a good friend insisted I check this one out. I was already a fan of the original short story (it was included in one of my middle school literature textbooks, and I liked it enough that I still remember it all these years later), so it didn’t take much convincing to get me to add it to my DVD queue. My favorite part of the movie was the opening credits, which features an ominous-looking doorknocker in the shape of a large, looming monster with an arrow in its chest carrying an unconscious female figure. Every so often a hand reaches up and uses it to knock on the imposing door, adding a nice dramatic touch. Of the billed actors, the name Fay Wray (of King Kong fame) stuck out, the only name I recognized and the sole actress amongst a group of men. The plot was more-or-less what I remembered, and as a result the big twist wasn’t a major revelation to me. The acting was, well, 1930s-esque, with a fair amount of overacting, ridiculously exaggerated drunkenness (though it was supposedly done on purpose in direct response to the more typical glamorization of drinking in other movies of the time), and the inevitable woman-who-falls-a-zillion-times-while-trying-to-run-away. It wasn’t all bad acting and silliness, however. For all the stupid decisions some of the characters made, there were also a fair amount of intelligent ones, and the final chase scene was entertaining. In the end, it wasn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, nor was it the worst, and I think it’s worth watching at least once.
Title: The Blair Witch Project
Year Released: 1999
First viewing: No
Quotable Moment: “I’m scared to close my eyes, I’m scared to open them! I am so scared! I don’t know what’s out there. ”
Summary: A trio of college students venture into the woods to make a documentary about a local legend, only to discover the terrifying reality that the stories are true.
My reaction: This is one of the most polarizing movies I’ve ever come across—people either think it’s absolutely brilliant or complete rubbish. I fall into the former group, and I think part of the reason I enjoy it so much has to do with the circumstances under which I first saw it. My friend and I had the opportunity to see it as a preview months before it was officially distributed (for some reason movie companies would occasionally send representatives to our college campus searching for volunteers to attend test screenings; all you had to do was agree to complete a questionnaire at the end and you got to see a free movie before it was available to the general public). At the time, the internet was in its infancy so you mostly found out about upcoming movies via the trailers that ran before whatever movie you went to the theater to see. Because the trailer for this movie hadn’t been released yet, we didn’t know a thing about it. The title card claimed this was a true story and we bought it hook, line, and sinker. It just seemed so real. Real enough that my friend got up and walked out with about 15 minutes left, so scared that she couldn’t bear to stay. Someone stopped her in the lobby and briefly tried to convince her to go back in, but she refused, though she did fill out the survey based on what she had seen, as promised. When we went home that night, we both did some research on the internet and were shocked to find missing posters and details about the students’ disappearances, leading us to believe that the footage in the movie was authentic. Needless to say, it ended up being a completely ingenious viral marketing campaign, one of the first and most successful of its kind. Still, the damage was done… I was in love. There are those who complain about the shoddy camerawork (um, it’s hard to hold a camera steady when you’re running for your life) and how “boring” it is, but I think it’s incredibly realistic. My parents’ property borders on the woods, so I’ve grown up wandering around the forest. I’m comfortable in that environment. And The Blair Witch Project still scares the hell out of me. To be utterly lost in the woods with no way to contact the outside world is frightening enough. To also be repeatedly harassed by unknown and unseen forces—whether they’re human or not—adds another layer of fear to the situation. It’s definitely worth a try if you’ve never seen it, just know that you’re going to either love it or loathe it.
Year Released: 2009
First viewing: No
Quotable Moment:“If they board, kill them.”
Summary: When an unexpected storm interrupts a carefree day of sailing, a group of friends finds refuge on a mysterious cruise ship that appears to be strangely empty. But they’re not alone…and they’re not safe.
My reaction: This is one of my must-watch movies of the season. I stumbled upon it when reading one of those aforementioned list-of-horror-movies-you-need-to-watch articles. I was initially skeptical since it was never released in theaters in the US (which usually isn’t a good sign), but I ended up enjoying it a great deal. Although I had planned on writing something new for every movie I had already written about, I’m going to cheat a little and defer to the bulk of what I wrote last year because I don’t think I can expand on it much if I want to avoid spoilers: It’s difficult to say anything about it without giving away the key elements that make it so much fun to watch and re-watch. It’s definitely another one of those “after you watch it once you want to go back and watch it again so you can find all the things you missed the first time around” movies. Some find the plot tedious, but I think it’s rather clever. I wish I could say more, but I fear that to do so would reveal too much of the premise and ruin the surprise. I will give a shout-out to its score, however. Since I was a little girl I’ve always been infatuated with the particular sound that you can only get from an old fashioned music box. The sound of the metal pins plinking the teeth of a metal comb is simply magical to me. And as a result, I immediately fall in love with any song that includes it (like Hannah Peel’s cover of “Tainted Love”). Movie scores sometimes use bells or pianos to produce a similar effect (the score to “Edward Scissorhands” comes to mind), and when you add haunting vocals to the mix, I’m in heaven. “Lullaby,” which plays over the opening credits, is such a song and its tune is repeated in slightly different forms throughout the movie. Haunting and full of despair, it adds a kind of beautiful hopelessness to the film. But that’s all I dare divulge. I can only add this–give it a chance. You’ll thank me when it’s over.
Title: The Cell
Year Released: 2000
First viewing: No
Quotable Moment: “Where do you come from?”
Summary: Using groundbreaking technology, a psychologist enters the mind of a catatonic serial killer in an attempt to ascertain where he hid the woman he recently abducted, who only has hours to live.
My reaction: This is yet another movie I saw when I was in college, though this time around it wasn’t a preview. I like to revisit it every few years because parts of it are so amazingly visually stunning (and incredibly disturbing). The digital special effects in particular are impressive because they stand the test of time for the most part, a claim not all movies are able to make. The practical special effects are striking as well, and the combination of the two is remarkable, especially when they’re used to depict the dreamlike inner workings of a character’s mind. We get to spend time in several characters’ minds, but the confused, warped mind of the schizophrenic serial killer is a work of art—ranging from innocent and sweet to nightmarishly perverse. The imagery can be difficult to witness, particularly when the filmmakers are able to add a kind of sick beauty to some of the repulsive acts portrayed. The psychological aspect is quite interesting as well, examining various aspects of mental illnesses and the mindset of serial killers (which is not to say that these two things always go hand-in-hand, but in this case the serial killer suffers from a mental illness, so both are explored). Admittedly, this movie might be too upsetting for some to watch, but it can be quite interesting if you can stomach the tough parts.
Title: The Changeling
Year Released: 1980
First viewing: Yes
Quotable Moment: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”
Summary: After tragic events shatter his world, a man moves across the country for a fresh start. He rents a large, old house from the local historical society and soon realizes that he’s not alone.
My reaction: Eerily enough, changelings are mentioned throughout The Other, which I watched last week. Coincidence? Yes, absolutely. I didn’t realize it myself until I was halfway through this one. In any case, The Changeling is a fairly stereotypical ghost story. Obviously that fact doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie, I’m just telling you like it is. As you might expect, that means the classic strange sounds and mysterious happenings frequently depicted in other such movies are present here, too. In this case, they inspire the main character to investigate further, first by doing research into the history of the house he’s rented, then by having a séance to try to find out what the presence in the house wants. This is where things fall apart a bit. When the terrible fate of one of the house’s previous inhabitants finally comes to light, it remains unclear what exactly the spirit expects the characters to do about it. Does he want them to find his body so he can have a proper burial? Does he want something lost returned to him? Does he want them to tell the world what became of him? I honestly don’t know. Neither do the characters, who seem like they sincerely want to do right by him. Regardless of their intentions to help him, the spirit is clearly displeased with their efforts for some unknown reason. The ending didn’t make much sense, though it was creepy enough to almost make up for it. And while it definitely doesn’t make my must-watch list, The Changeling was compelling enough for me to recommend it to ghost story enthusiasts.
Title: Black Sawn
Year Released: 2010
First viewing: No
Quotable moment: “The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.”
Summary: A young woman determined to win the role of a lifetime has to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to keep it.
My reaction: I was a competitive dancer growing up (specifically a tap dancer, though I took jazz, lyrical, ballet, and modern classes as well), so I have a soft spot for dance movies. Unfortunately I never had the privilege of dancing in pointe shoes, and I was admittedly never a big fan of ballet in general, but as one who spent years practicing it I have a deep appreciation for the performances in this film. Of course, that’s not why this movie is part of my 31 Days of Horror. Ever since I read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella The Double, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a person having to face-off against his or her own doppelgänger. (Fun fact—while I was going through the trivia listed on IMDb for this article, I discovered that Darren Aronofsky’s original concept of the film was loosely based on The Double.) It’s a terrifying notion, that there might be another you out in the world somewhere, just waiting for the right moment to confront you. In both Dostoevsky’s and Aronofsky’s works, the audience is never quite sure what’s real and what’s not. How much is taking place in their main characters’ minds and how much is actually happening? Nina keeps seeing an exact copy of herself (imagined), but also recognizes that a new dancer in the company bears a strong resemblance to herself (real) and is almost her exact opposite. I suppose that means she has two doubles, making her situation both more confusing and more pitiable. At times her interactions with her imaginary double can be chalked up as hallucinations, but there are other occasions where her double’s actions are very real. To make things even more confusing, the same is true for dealings with her fellow dancer. This ultimately leads to an epic, though ambiguous, finale, leaving the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions, in order to decide what was symbolic and what was meant to have actually happened. It’s a thought-provoking psychological roller coaster that will leave you with as many questions as answers.
Title: The Haunting
Year Released: 1963
First viewing: No
Quotable Moment: “I haven’t seen a damn thing… I just don’t like the way it looks.”
Summary: Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, a doctor assembles a group of people to investigate a so-called haunted house in an attempt to prove that ghosts exist.
Terror trivia: This is Martin Scorsese’s favorite horror movie.
My reaction: At this point everyone must know what I think and how I feel about this movie. But maybe you’re a new reader (Welcome!) or maybe you’re a long-time reader and secretly daring me to come up with something new to say about it (Challenge accepted!). But first, allow me to point you in the direction of my newly published article Ettington Park: The Haunting, the History, and the Hotel – Part 1, in which I compare shots from the movie to the actual building they used (I had the pleasure of visiting the estate this summer during a trip to England). Now then, down to business. The movie still hasn’t lost its charm, not even after all my viewings. It contains one of my all-time favorite prologues; right after the opening credits (which are suitably spooky), we’re told the lurid history of Hill House. It pulls the viewer in immediately, piquing his/her interest and stoking the patience one requires to truly appreciate the slow burn of a plot that follows. And while there seems to be supernatural forces at work during some scenes, they’ve included a number of somewhat strange, yet perfectly explainable, phenomena too. It’s a nice touch you don’t often see in movies like this, which tend to go heavy on the hauntedness and light on the reasonable. It helps establish Dr. Markway as a serious scientist who’s genuinely searching for hard evidence that ghosts exist, not a charlatan looking for the flimsiest of signs that could potentially prove his hypothesis. Sadly his strong sense of ethics doesn’t necessarily extend to the welfare of the individuals helping him with his study, and Richard Johnson (who plays Markway) has expressed his firm belief that the only one to blame for outcome of the experiment is the doctor himself. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve shared plenty of my opinions on various aspects of The Haunting for the time being. It’s an exceptional piece of filmmaking, and I don’t think it gets nearly enough credit for being the classic that it is. I hope everyone will watch it sometime soon.
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…