31 Days of Horror 2019: Week 3

I’m once again pressed for time, so unfortunately I don’t have much of an introduction for you, my horror-loving cohorts. As I did last week, I went back to see how I opened my article this time last year and discovered that I was facing the same exact issue: the excessively long amount of time it takes me for me to receive a new DVDs to watch.

Either the US Post Office or Netflix (possibly both) isn’t doing a particularly good job transporting DVDs to and from my house, which limits my movie-watching options a great deal. A co-worked laughed at me the other day when I mentioned my frustration (“Who still gets DVDs from Netflix?” he chuckled), but streaming services have their limits and the best way for me to access a wider range of selections is to get my hands on DVDs.

As a result, most of the movies I ended up watching this week are ones that I already own. That’s not necessarily a negative (after all, I own them for a reason), and I ended up discovering surprising connections between some of them that I’d never noticed before. Week 3’s fare consists of ghosts (some that help and some that harm), possibly possessed children, a homicidal barber, a nightmarish vacation to “the happiest place on Earth,” a town where it snows ash, and a carnival that might be run by the devil himself.

Read on if you dare…

DAY 14

Title: Crimson Peak
Year Released: 2015
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “Ghosts are real, that much I know. I’ve seen them all my life…”

Summary: After the untimely death of her father, Edith marries the enigmatic Thomas Sharpe and relocates to his enormous, crumbling estate overseas. But married life is not the blissful existence she expected, especially with her sister-in-law lurking around every corner.

Terror Trivia: Some of the costumes incorporated actual fabrics and trim from the correct time period.

My reaction: This might be the most visually stunning movie I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is absolutely magnificent—from the remarkably striking costumes to the distinctively exquisite sets. I know that’s the kind of thing people say when they don’t have anything nice to say about the movie itself, that it implies this film is all form and no substance, but nothing can be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is the caliber of the costumes and sets is so incredible that it demands one’s attention. As I mentioned last year, I’m particularly smitten with Lucille’s costumes, especially her blue dress (a few pieces can be viewed on this website), but time has fostered an appreciation for Edith’s wardrobe as well, including the nightgown I once considered hideous. And then there’s Allerdale Hall, which was built from scratch on a soundstage. Everything found within was specifically made for the house and the attention to detail is so impressive it’s almost magical; I can only imagine what a wonder it must’ve been to actually be there. But that’s not all there is to this film—the acting is superb and the script is excellent. Admittedly I was a little underwhelmed with the plot the first time I saw it (possibly because the trailer gave so much of it away), but subsequent viewings have encouraged a fondness for it. There are twists and turns, darkness and light, and the characters end up being far more complex than you might initially suspect. Every time I watch it I fall in love with it a little deeper. If you enjoy a well-written gothic romance with a strong female lead, this movie is for you.

DAY 15

Title: The Innocents
Year Released: 1961
Rating: Not rated

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “If you were my age, and had cared for as many children as I have, you’d know that waking a child can sometimes be worse than any bad dream.”

Summary: Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, this film is about a newly appointed governess that begins to suspect her two young charges are possessed.

Terror trivia: Interestingly enough, much of the screenplay was based on the Broadway adaptation of the original work, not the original work itself.

My reaction: The title of the novella comes from the expression “a turn of the screw,” which refers to something that makes a bad situation worse (according to the Cambridge Dictionary website). In this case, children being the protagonists in a horror story are “the turn of the screw.” Of course, creepy children are no strangers to horror movies—The Omen, The Sixth Sense, The Others all contain at least one such character. The Innocents has two. Well… It has one, at least. Although there are two children in the movie, Flora and Miles, only one of them fits the bill of “creepy child.” For the most part Flora’s behavior is normal enough; it’s Miles that seems off from the start (or, at least he does to me). He acts like a miniature adult in a way that goes far beyond precocious—it’s not just what he says but how he says it, like the way he often calls his governess “my dear” in a tone precariously close to being condescending. And while his sister throws the occasional tantrum, which is not unheard of at her age, he remains eerily composed regardless of the situation. It’s extremely unnerving. There are endless debates over whether or not the children are really possessed or if the governess is delusional, but I think we can all agree that Miles’ behavior is peculiar enough to put anyone on edge. The horror here is purely psychological, with a couple moments that might make you jump. This movie requires some patience as the governess collects evidence that there’s something wrong with the children, but it’s well worth your time.

DAY 16

Title: The Ring
Year Released: 2002
Rating: PG-13

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “Don’t you understand, Rachel? She never sleeps…”

Summary: After a reporter’s niece dies under mysterious circumstances, she finds herself at the mercy of an urban legend involving a video tape that looks like it might be true.

Terror trivia: The lighthouse featured in the movie is a real lighthouse still used for navigation today. And it’s supposedly haunted.

My reaction: Speaking of creepy children, allow me to introduce you to Aidan, the strangely mature, pint-sized son of the abovementioned reporter. He seems to have his act together more than an average kid his age, certainly more than his mom does (which isn’t saying much, I grant you), and he often sounds older and wiser than he should be. This combination of wide-eyed innocence and calm intelligence makes for a pretty spooky kid. Even so, he’s not nearly as creepy as Miles in The Innocents. There’s also Samara, who possesses disturbing abilities and has sinister motives (perhaps best expressed when a character comfortingly tells her that he knows she doesn’t want to hurt anyone and she replies, “But I do. And I’m sorry.”), but she’s an entirely different case altogether. She’s intended to be “other,” unlike all the other children I’ve mentioned who are supposed to represent “normal” kids. There’s more to this story than creepy children, however. There’s also a wonderfully macabre urban legend to consider. This is what pulls us into the story, the rumored “videotape that kills you when you watch it.” The main character is understandably skeptical of such tales until she accidentally stumbles across it and watches it herself. The next seven days are a race against time, recorded in a Shining-esque countdown of days as she desperately searches for a way to break the curse. Of the more recently-made horror movies I watch, this one is probably the least terrifying. It’s definitely the least gory. So it’s a good choice for someone who likes to be scared, but doesn’t want to watch something that’s going to keep them up at night. Some extra advice—I like to watch this on a rainy day since it rains on and off through the entire movie. It helps enhance the mood.

DAY 17

Title: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Year Released: 2007
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “I’ve never had dreams. Only nightmares.”

Summary: A man returns to his hometown to learn that his wife is dead and his daughter has been adopted by the very man who had him convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and vows to exact revenge against those who wronged him.

Terror trivia: Stephen Sondheim had final casting approval for all the singing parts; this is also the only movie adaptation of his works that he finds acceptable.

My reaction: A wrongful conviction, a murderous barber, a scheming chef, pies made of people… and singing? This movie has it all! Watching this always reminds me of a comment a character in a different movie (V for Vendetta) makes about yet another movie (The Count of Monte Cristo): “It made me feel sorry for Mercedes. . .because he cared more about revenge than he did about her.” That’s how I feel about Sweeney Todd. His anger towards the people who maliciously betrayed him is completely justified, and I’m even willing to go a step further and say that maybe they got what they deserved, all things considered. But the fact of the matter is that he never really seems to care about his wife or daughter. Yes, he laments the loss of his wife, but he never once inquires after her final resting place. It doesn’t even occur to him. Moreover, his daughter is alive and well, yet he makes no effort to contact or rescue her from her lecherous guardian. In fact, when the young man he befriended on his way back to London comes to him for assistance regarding the lady in question (he’s fallen in love with her, you see, and wants to liberate her), he doesn’t know how to respond. It’s Mrs. Lovett who encourages the young man to bring her to them, not Sweeney Todd. Later, when she points out that it sounds like he’ll have his daughter back that very night, he’s still so fixed on his revenge that he doesn’t react. This is but a small piece of the tragedy of Sweeney Todd. The movie is extraordinarily bloody (though the blood doesn’t look real at all), but it’s not particularly frightening. And some of the tunes are catchy, if you like songs about murder and cannibalism. But this might be too eccentric for some.

DAY 18

Title: Escape from Tomorrow
Year Released: 2013
Rating: Not Rated

First viewing: Yes

Quotable Moment: “I’m afraid if I come with you, something bad is going to happen.”

Summary: After a man is fired from his job over the phone on the last day of family vacation at Disney World, his sense of reality begins to slip.

Terror trivia: Despite rumors to the contrary, turkey legs purchased in Disney parks are actually made of turkey, not emu.

My reaction: This was definitely a Weird one. And I do mean “weird” with a capital “W.” It’s not weird enough to earn all capital letters—it’s not WEIRD—but that first letter certainly deserves an upgrade to capital letter status. It wasn’t scary so much as it was strange. The first hour or so was relatively normal, though there were a couple unexpectedly jarring parts while the family was on rides when the animatronic characters suddenly went from cute and cheerful to sinister and threatening. And there were a few scenes that seemed kind of “off,” enough that it made me sit up and take notice. But it wasn’t enough to keep me interested. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I wanted to turn it off, but I was relatively unimpressed for most of it—it made me uncomfortable, but not for the right reasons. The father spends much of the movie obsessing about two teenage girls to the point that he was following them around the park, and I was incredibly disturbed by that. I’m not saying a married man isn’t allowed to notice attractive young women…that’s ridiculous. But stalking them while you have your kid with you is sleazy. Everything changed at around the hour mark, when the weirdness factor increased exponentially. After that I’m not sure what the hell happened, and I couldn’t tell you what was real and what wasn’t. I ended up having to search for a plot summary in hopes of finding some kind of explanation for the ending. Actually, I’m still kinda confused about the whole thing. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s definitely not what I expected. The twist at the end wasn’t as shocking as I think the filmmakers intended it to be (it’s been done before), but I’m glad I watched it because the movie itself was very different. I don’t know if I would classify this under horror, but if you’re in the mood for something utterly bizarre, you might want to give it a try.

DAY 19

Title: Silent Hill
Year Released: 2006
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable moment: “Into the fire she swallowed their hate.”

Summary: Based on a series of video games, the story follows a woman as she frantically searches for her lost daughter in a ghost town, following the clues left behind by her daughter’s somber doppelgänger.

Terror trivia: The colors of Rose’s outfit subtly change throughout the movie from bright and cheerful to gray to blood red.

My reaction: In the movie, the town of Silent Hill is based on the very real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which is the site of an ongoing underground coal fire that forced many of its inhabitants to flee to other towns. That in and of itself is enough to get me to watch it every year; I’m utterly fascinated by the idea that such a place exists and this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to seeing it in person. Call me overly cautious, but I don’t think breathing in the toxic fumes and potentially falling through the ground to my death is a good idea. Maybe I’ll venture there someday, but for now I’ll stick with the fictional version I can visit from the safety of my couch. Aside from that, I like the idea of a town frozen in time, its inhabitants trapped in a never-ending loop that alternates between a relatively neutral environment and a violent, hellish landscape. Unlike Sweeney Todd, who ultimately decides that everyone deserves to die and happily ensures as many people come to gruesome ends as possible, the wronged party in Silent Hill does not exact her revenge willy-nilly on anyone who crosses her path. There is a method to her madness, reason behind her hate, so she doesn’t carelessly lash out at just anyone. That said, I have to concede that her monsters, all of which are completely terrifying and executed beautifully by the actors’ performances the special effects team’s talents, don’t (or are unable to) differentiate between those who deserve their wrath and those who are innocent of wrongdoing. Whether this is by design or an unforeseen flaw in the world she’s built is hard to say, but when she takes action herself, she’s undeniably meticulous about who receives what punishment. When she’s meting out justice, the virtuous remain untouched. This movie can get pretty gruesome, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but even the squeamish could probably make it through if they close their eyes during the more grisly parts.

DAY 20

Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Year Released: 1983
Rating: PG

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “…give him a brief taste of death, so that he may recognize it when it comes again.”

Summary: When a shadowy carnival appears overnight in a sleepy town, the inhabitants have the opportunity to make their wildest dreams come true—for a price. Based on the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury.

Terror trivia: The title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.

My reaction: I know Ray Bradbury (who also wrote the screenplay) doesn’t care for this movie, but I enjoy it a great deal. I wonder if part of it has to do with the fact that I grew up with it, so nostalgia has colored my view. Supposedly Disney made a lot of changes to the film during post-production that Bradbury felt “destroyed” his original intentions; it would be interesting to see what he envisioned, but I don’t think that’s possible. In any case, there are aspects of this story that remind me of Stephen King’s It…or, I should say that Stephen King’s It reminds me of Something Wicked This Way Comes since the latter came first, though I never really noticed it until now. In both works only a select few notice that things aren’t quite right—that there’s something very wrong in Derry (It) and there’s something very wrong with Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival (Something Wicked). It’s particularly disturbing to watch the townspeople laugh and clap as Mr. Dark’s collection of circus performers parade down the street, oblivious to the two child-sized coffins rolling along amid the merriment. These items are categorically out of place in such a display, yet only the two characters for whom they’re intended observe them. Luckily for the boys in question, there’s at least one adult who comes to his senses and recognizes the danger they’re all in. This is a family-friendly choice, though I wouldn’t show it to very young children. It’s the kind of movie that appeals to all ages, and it takes place during autumn, so October is the perfect time to watch it.

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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