31 Days of Horror: Week 5

As the month of October comes to an end, I look back on the past 31 days with a sense of accomplishment. I once again somehow managed to watch at least one horror movie a day, occasionally squeezing in a double feature, and this year I had the opportunity to write about the experience and share it with others. I have to admit that the entire process was sometimes extremely nerve-wracking, especially at the beginning when I was trying to come up with a way to juggle all my responsibilities successfully, but experience brings wisdom and I think I’ve gotten better at the balancing act that is my life now.

I hope that those of you who’ve gone on this journey with me have been introduced to at least a few movies you’d previously never heard of/seen, and that my words have inspired you to watch (or skip) them. And if anyone has any recommendations for next year, it’s never too early for me to start adding movies to my Netflix DVD queue, where they will patiently sit until the time comes.

This week is probably the most family friendly, with three PG features in the bunch, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience a few scares…

DAY 28

Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Year Released: 1983

Rating: PG

First viewing: No

My tagline: Make a wish, pay the price.

Summary: Based on the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, about a circus that unexpectedly arrives in a small town during the month of October.

Terror trivia: Originally written as a screenplay in 1952, Bradbury rewrote it as a novel when he was unable to find financial backing for the project.

My reaction: The beginning of this movie reminds me of the book The Night Circus. The two works have very little in common other than the fact that they both involve a circus, but the steam engine that approaches in the dark during the opening credits always makes me think of that novel, about a magical circus open from dusk until dawn that travels in a special train masquerading as an ordinary one. The similarities end there, however, since the circus in this movie makes no pretenses about being distinctive; it appears to be just a regular, everyday circus. And it comes to a stereotypically sleepy, small town you find so often in films like this. It’s the kind of place you either spend your entire life in, whether by choice or circumstance, or escape the instant you’re able to. The townspeople who find themselves trapped by circumstance constantly obsess about a better life – possessing riches beyond measure, reclaiming long lost beauty, enjoying the company of exotic ladies, reliving the glory days – so much so that they’re making themselves miserable. They’re easy prey to the shadowy circus folk, who are happy to make their dreams come true…for a terrible (and occasionally ironic) price. Johnathan Price sizzles as the sinister Mr. Dark, owner of the circus, granter of wishes, and collector of souls. The action is filtered through the eyes of two young boys, best friends who are so different they’re almost opposites of each other. Filled with childish glee at the prospect of a circus, they soon learn that there’s more to it than they initially thought and have to decide what (if anything) they’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their most ambitious dreams. This is Needful Things-esque, but from a kid’s point of view instead of an adult’s. Spooky and fun, this is a good movie to watch with the family, provided that your children are a little older.

DAY 28 (continued)

Title: Corpse Bride

Year Released: 2005

Rating: PG

First viewing: No

My tagline: The dead deserve to be loved too.

Summary: When a young man accidentally proposes to a dead woman while practicing his wedding vows, he finds himself married to a corpse.

Terror trivia: The heads of the puppets used were manipulated using a complex method involving keys and clockwork-like mechanisms, allowing for a much more subtle manipulation of the characters’ facial expressions.

My reaction: Stop motion animation has to be one of the most arduous filmmaking processes that exist, and this is one of the most achingly beautiful examples of it. Even if you hate the story and the actors, even if you absolutely, positively hate Tim Burton (Blasphemy!), you cannot deny this movie is visually stunning. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of time and patience that goes into filming a piece like this, and that’s above and beyond the typical behind-the-scenes wizardry that already requires such things. The only explanation I have for the amount of effort tirelessly poured into it, is a passion for the craft itself. I think it’s a pity so few stop-motion movies are made these days – they have a distinctive look all their own that can’t be replicated, thus are an important form of expression. But enough about the form, let’s get to the substance. The plot is about an arranged marriage between the daughter of a couple that comes from old-money (and is currently broke) and the son of a couple that has recently earned their way into the upper class. Though both parties are nervous at the thought of marrying someone they just met, Victor and Victoria hit it off right away, drastically changing their opinions of their upcoming nuptials. The plan hits a snag when Victor, practicing his vows, accidentally proposes to another woman – a dead one. Chaos ensues. I love the fact that everyone in the land of the dead is in a different stage of decomposition depending on how long ago they died. It’s not gross or graphic, but it is effective. People who died years ago are complete skeletons, people who just died usually have blue skin and are more-or-less intact, and those in between are a little bit of both. Emily, the corpse bride herself, is an excellent example of the latter, with an arm and leg that are just bones and an eye that occasionally pops out, while the rest of her body is still covered in skin (aside from her partially protruding rib cage). I also think it’s a nice touch that, given the proper circumstances, both Victoria and Emily could be a good match for Victor. Even though they’re very different people with their own distinctive personalities, each has a special something about her that Victor recognizes and appreciates. I’d argue that he could be happy spending his life with either one (aside from the problematic little detail that Emily is dead). In any case, this is a lovely story that deals with some of the more complex aspects of life. As such, everyone doesn’t necessarily get a happy ending, but at least they all get closure.

DAY 29

Title: The Descent

Year Released: 2005

Rating: R

First viewing: No

My tagline: Don’t go underground. Ever.

Summary: A group of women on the adventure of a lifetime get trapped in a cave, where they are hunted by underground creatures.

Terror trivia: All of the “caves” used in the movie were actually sets.

My reaction: Before I get to the movie, I’d like to point out how awesome the poster is – at a glance it’s a skull, but upon closer inspection you realize that the skull is composed of human beings in various poses. Pure genius. Moving on, this is a movie about survival, where a difficult situation becomes deadly. It begins with a tragedy that influences some of the major decisions made during the course of the story, compounding the amount of misfortune experienced by this group of women. The characters’ initial plan sounds exciting, but it turns out that their idea of exploring a cave and my idea of exploring a cave are two completely different things. Having to find your own way out of an unfamiliar underground chamber is not my idea of fun, especially when some of those routes are so tight you can barely pull your way through on your elbows. The word claustrophobic doesn’t begin to describe some of the paths these women take. And that’s long before they come across the monsters (humanoid creatures that are seemingly always hungry). Frightening on several different levels, this movie will make you physically uncomfortable, but the strong, intelligent female characters will also inspire you. Until they get eaten, anyway. I’ve heard American audiences were originally provided with a “special” ending the rest of the world didn’t get, but to my knowledge only the “real” version is available now. I don’t watch this every year, but I do like to come back to it every so often because it’s a good one.

DAY 30

Title: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Year Released: 1993

Rating: PG

First viewing: No

My tagline: Halloween or Christmas? Does one really have to choose…?

Summary: The king of Halloween decides to try his hand at Christmas for a change.

Terror trivia: It took a ridiculous amount of time to make this movie (3 years) due to the amount of work required for each second of film (up to 12 manipulations per second).

My reaction: Made over 10 years before Corpse Bride, the stop-motion animation in this film is more primitive, but no less impressive. I spent enough time expressing my feeling about this particular medium earlier, so I’ll get right to the movie itself. The story in this Tim Burton masterpiece is far superior to the Corpse Bride (which isn’t a bad story by any means, this one is simply better) as it involves something that everyone can relate to – the quest for one’s true self. Jack feels lost at the beginning, tired of the repetition of his life, searching for something new and different. When he stumbles across Christmastown, it seems his prayers have been answered and he decides to usurp the holiday and try a new persona on for size. In the end, he’s remarkably introspective about the whole experience – disappointed it didn’t work out, apologetic for screwing things up, accepting of the fact that he is who he is, and excited for the future. It’s a pretty basic story with a spooky twist. The characters are fun and diverse, and I like that they make a point of saying that they don’t scare people to be mean, they do it because it’s their job. And they have a point – if the population of Halloweentown didn’t come out to scare us every year, who would? Additionally, the songs are heartfelt and wonderful, with some great lyrics (case in point: “Something’s here I’m not quite getting/Though I try, I keep forgetting/Like a memory long since past”). This is a perfect example of a cult classic, as the fan base somehow manages to keep growing larger and larger as the years pass. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait a few months and watch it close to Christmas. That’s part of the magic of this film – it works for two holidays.

DAY 31

Title: Halloween

Year Released: 1978

Rating: R

First viewing: No

My tagline: If all those urban legends about babysitters coming to a bad end don’t convince you that babysitting isn’t a good way for teens to make some money, this movie might finally do the trick.

Summary: A group of friends are stalked and killed by a masked man who murdered his older sister when he was just a kid.

Terror trivia: John Carpenter was excited Jamie Lee Curtis was working on the movie since her mother played an iconic role in the horror classic Psycho.

My reaction: I have to pre-write this part since this article is going up on Halloween, before I have a chance to watch it. I think this is the most appropriate movie to watch on that day, and spent a couple frustrating years hoping to catch it on TV only to discover that the original is rarely shown on the 31st. You can watch the remakes or any of the sequels on the day in question, but the 1978 classic is nowhere to be found. I finally broke down and bought a copy so it wouldn’t be a problem anymore. Because I haven’t watched it for a year, I’ll venture just a few comments. First, I need to point out how great the theme song is, as it’s undoubtedly one of the most recognizable horror themes, possibly one of the most recognizable themes from a movie period. It’s a relatively simple tune, like the theme from Jaws, yet it invokes a visceral reaction from the listener, who suddenly realizes someone may be hiding behind those bushes up ahead. Secondly, I feel kinda bad for Laurie Strode, the “good girl” of her group of friends who’s always doing her homework and being responsible and actually spending time with the kid she’s babysitting. Maybe it’s because I can relate to her. Ha ha. (No really, I pretty much am her.) Finally, I wanted to mention one of my favorite parts of the movie, when Laurie is seemingly daydreaming during class and her teacher calls on her to answer a question. I think it’s fantastic that she was, in fact, paying attention and gives an intelligent, articulate answer. Good for you, Laurie! In any case, I’d say this falls under the “classic horror” category that everyone needs to see at least once.

It’s been a pleasure writing about the horror movies I’ve watched this month. Happy Halloween! And to paraphrase Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, I hope you have unpleasant dreams…

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