31 Days of Horror 2019: Week 1

It’s that time of year again—the sun is rising a little later and setting a little earlier, the temperature is starting to drop, and the leaves on the trees are beginning their morbidly lovely transformation from vibrant, photosynthesizing organs to crunchy, brown reminders that all things must come to an end. And when the chilly breeze bears the unmistakable hint of fear as it blows gently through my hair, I know what needs to be done.

During the final few days of September, on-demand movie offerings were examined, streaming opportunities were compiled, and DVD queues were carefully arranged in preparation for my annual foray into horror-filled bliss.

And then, last Tuesday, October finally arrived.

This week consisted of a perfectly balanced diet of films—I watched three movies I’ve never seen before sandwiched between three old, familiar ones. Their quality ranged from excellent to dreadful and their antagonists ran the gamut from decidedly human to various supernatural entities. There were ups and downs, but it was a good week overall.

Let the wild rumpus start!

DAY 1

Title: It
Year Released: 1990
Rating: TV-PG

First viewing:
No

Quotable Moment: “I am eternal, child. I am the eater of worlds, and of children. And you are next.”

Summary: Based on Stephen King’s book by the same name, a group of adults return to their hometown for a final showdown against a monster from their childhood.

Terror Trivia: Tim Curry’s performance was so effective that even the adults involved in the production avoided him during filming.

My reaction: I have a few confessions right off the bat: (1) I’ve never read the novel, (2) although many horror aficionados would consider this blasphemy, I don’t particularly care for Stephen King’s works in general (or at least, the movie adaptations of his works that I’ve seen), and (3) I saw this as a kid, and by “kid,” I’m guessing I was probably a tween, so I possess a certain fondness for it. Last year I began my 31 Days of Horror with part one of the recent movie version, which is why I decided to kick off this year with the miniseries. And since I saw part two a few weeks ago with my brother, I feel adequately prepared to compare the miniseries with the movies. In the past, I’ve admitted that I tend to prefer the first version of anything I’m exposed to, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve come to the conclusion that I like the miniseries better for a number of reasons. Some examples of the miniseries’ superiority are as follows: the characters are kinder to each other as children (they were frequently surprisingly cruel in the movies), everyone made more intelligent decisions in general (as both kids and adults), and I even thought the ending was better (and that’s really saying something because I thought the end was kinda stupid).

It: Part 2 made some interesting choices that I enjoyed, but it also made some terrible ones, like deciding that everyone should split up and meet up later; in the miniseries they’re smarter than that—when a few of them go up to their hotel rooms to get sweaters, they walk up together and plan to meet back in no more than three minutes; they don’t wander around town alone for hours on end. And though It’s final form in the movie was a much needed improvement over the way it was depicted in the miniseries, the way the characters beat It was irritating and absurd; the showdown between It and the adults was considerably more satisfying in the miniseries. My conclusion: the movies are okay. If you’re looking for bigger scares and some extra gore, they’re the ones you should watch. But the miniseries tells the same story more effectively and succinctly, so that’s my choice.

DAY 2

Title: Hereditary
Year Released: 2018
Rating: R

First viewing: Yes

Quotable Moment: “You never cried as a baby, did you know that? Even when you were born.”

Summary: The death of a woman’s elderly mother is the catalyst for a series of increasingly strange, sometimes heartbreakingly tragic, events that happen to her family.

Terror trivia: The details of family’s actual house and the miniature version of the house are exactly the same.

My reaction: I vaguely remember when Hereditary came out. I kept reading about how terrifying it was, so much so that I was hesitant to watch it. Although I can’t point to a specific article, it seemed like “scariest movie of all time” was the general consensus, and I wasn’t sure I could handle that. I ultimately decided that I was obligated to watch it as a devoted horror fan, so it was the first DVD I had Netflix send me this month. After all the hype, I was sorely disappointed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was terrible, but it’s certainly not the “scariest movie of all time.” It’s definitely psychologically disturbing, and they did a great job creating an exceptionally creepy atmosphere, especially since the main character is a miniaturist. While I wouldn’t say that miniatures are inherently sinister, they can walk a fine line between being beautifully intricate and enormously unnerving. In this case, they almost always leaned towards the latter. But I didn’t find the plot to be particularly original (I figured out the main twist almost immediately) and I saw most of the scares coming a mile away. There were a couple of well-earned exceptions where I was completely caught off guard, but they weren’t enough to keep me interested or induce the level of fright I anticipated. I don’t know, maybe it’s me… The Witch inspired an almost identical response; it was similarly plugged as being fresh and new and terrifying, but also fell flat in my opinion. After watching Hereditary I discovered that it was distributed by the same company as The Witch, which might be a coincidence. Or maybe their films just aren’t for me. Both are critics’ darlings, so you might want to give them a try. I wouldn’t say watching this one was a waste of time, but I have no plans on ever watching it again.

DAY 3

Title: Carnival of Souls
Year Released: 1962
Rating: PG

First viewing: Yes

Quotable Moment: “It’s funny… the world is so different in the daylight. In the dark, your fantasies get so out of hand. But in the daylight everything falls back into place again.”

Summary: After a young woman survives a car accident, she finds herself haunted by a mysterious figure and drawn to an abandoned carnival.

Terror trivia: This is the movie that inspired George A. Romero to make Night of the Living Dead.

My reaction: I’m not quite sure how this movie ended up on my list of potential 31 Days of Horror material (it was probably included in some kind of “10 Horror Movies You Need to See Before You Die”-type article), but it was God awful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such bad acting in my entire life, though the poorly written script didn’t give the actors much to work with. It’s so terrible that I was genuinely shocked to learn it’s become a cult classic, and a “landmark in psychological horror.” I mean it’s bad. It’s not even “so bad it’s funny” or “so bad it’s good,” it’s just plain bad . I was especially appalled by the woman’s neighbor, a pushy, obnoxious single man who essentially forces himself into her apartment, repeatedly makes inappropriate comments, and eventually pressures her into going out with him. What’s worse is the fact that she keeps assuring him that she’s interested and having a good time when she’s clearly not. All of their interactions sickened me. But even I have to admit that there were a few bright spots in this catastrophe. I was intrigued by the fact that the main character was a professional organist (you don’t see that every day), and though the special effects weren’t particularly good, I enjoyed her final visit to the abandoned carnival grounds. I could see a spark of potential there. What there was of a plot I figured out in the first few minutes of the movie, which wasn’t surprising when I discovered that it was supposedly inspired by an episode of the Twilight Zone. Similar to my advice regarding the multiple versions of It, I recommend watching the shorter, far superior Twilight Zone episode “The Hitchhiker” over this mess of a movie.

DAY 4

Title: Ma
Year Released: 2019
Rating: R

First viewing: Yes

Quotable Moment: “You know, some people just fit right in. It comes effortlessly…”

Summary: A middle-aged woman becomes popular with the local teenagers when she buys them alcohol and lets them party in her basement, but one of the girls starts to suspect that Ma has ulterior motives.

Terror trivia: In one scene, Ma notices that her cat figurines have been moved, echoing a similar scene in Misery.

My reaction: I hadn’t originally planned on watching this, but one of my friends recommended it so I felt obligated to give it a try. I’m happy to report after the past two disappointments I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. There was much more to it than I anticipated (though one could make the argument that they were trying to squeeze a little too much into it), and the character of Ma ended up being more than just your stereotypical one-dimensional psycho. She exhibits several different kinds of psychoses, each manifesting in a different type of behavior, and her motives are understandable, though her actions can’t be condoned. The more I got to know her, the more I empathized with her, a reaction not often elicited by the antagonist of a horror movie. Like I said in the beginning, it wasn’t quite what I expected, and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Admittedly it’s not the greatest horror movie of all time, and it’s unlikely that I’ll go out of my way to watch it again, but I’ll probably stop channel surfing and tune in if happen across it playing on TV. It’s definitely worth giving a chance regardless of your feelings about the genre, and would be a great choice for someone who typically doesn’t like horror because it’s relatively light on scares and gore, though it does have its moments.

DAY 5

Title: Scream
Year Released: 1996
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “There’s always some stupid bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend. That’s the beauty of it all! Simplicity!”

Summary: On the anniversary of a gruesome murder, a town’s teenagers are stalked by a prank-calling, horror movie-obsessed killer.

Terror trivia: Caller ID experienced a big bump in sales after this movie was released.

My reaction: I wasn’t able to fit Scream in last year, so I made a point of getting it in early this year. It came out during my senior year of high school and I vividly remember going to the theater with my best friend to see it. Now that I think about it, Scream might have been the very first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater (I had strict parents and I’m a rule-follower, so trying to get into an R-rated movie before I was 17 was unthinkable). This is the movie that reinvigorated the horror genre for my generation, and aside from the obvious fact that advances in technology make the whole “getting a phone call on a landline” thing all but obsolete, it still works today. As long as you go into the movie with the understanding that cell phones weren’t widely available when the story takes place, you’ll be fine. At the time of its release, the first 13 minutes alone were so shocking and unexpected that audiences knew they were in for a whole new kind of movie, one that was willing to break well-established rules of the genre in ways never seen before. Moments like this were groundbreaking, but it also managed to be comfortingly familiar—making fun of standard horror movie tropes, while using some of those same tried and true tropes to scare the hell outta you. It was, and still is, a wonder. If you’ve never seen Scream, this is the time of year to watch it. And if you’ve already seen it, go back and watch it again. The subsequent sequels have their pros and cons, but the original is perfection.

DAY 6

Title: The Other
Year Released: 1972
Rating: PG

First viewing: No

Quotable moment: “Sometimes we are frightened of things we do not know, but when we speak of them we see there is nothing there to be afraid of.”

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

Terror trivia: Although Tom Tryon also wrote the screenplay, he was disappointed in the way the movie turned out.

My reaction: This is one of my father’s favorite movies, and I watch it every year with him. It’s also the only movie in this article that I’ve previously written about. The Other is one of those stories that stays with you after you’ve watched it and makes you consider the implications of what you’ve just seen. It begins innocently enough with two brothers running around enjoying their summer (and let me tell you, these little boys run everywhere; I honestly don’t know where they get all that energy from), but the darkness starts to seep in early on when one of them purposefully kills their cousin’s pet rat. It’s a slow-burn to the eventual climax, the tension mounting deliberately as the audience watches the boys’ bad behavior escalate, hoping that another character will figure out what’s going on before it’s too late. But accepting that a child, especially a beloved one, is capable of such evil can be difficult. And that only adds to the terror of this tale. The fact that The Other is one of the movies I watch every year without fail speaks for itself. It’s a relatively unique story, so if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you give it a try.

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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