Horror Movie Month 2023

Another year, another thirty-one days of horror movies. I’ve changed roles at work recently, which has led to a big dip in evening calls, which meant I was present for a lot more viewings. Excellent!

Also, I took this opportunity to start logging the things I watch in Letterboxd, at least until I get sick of it. My October 2023 diary will give you a bunch of the information in this blog post, but so far without any kind of rating or commentary. I also populated some, but not all, previous years’ horror movie months. I may get around to doing the rest, we’ll see.

Despite using Letterboxd for keeping my viewing diary, I think I’ll link to IMDB below. The web interface for Letterboxd’s cast lists is terrible, while the mobile one is just fine. This bugs me.

Okay, here we go!

October 1: The Advent Calendar (2021)

This has been in our list for a while. It’s got subtitles, so it’s been repeatedly bumped down in priority. Often, a horror movie is something we watch when we’re only partly present, and subtitles require more attention. Horror Movie Month can be a good time to catch up on these.

Anyway: a woman, paralyzed from the waist down, is given a creepy Advent calendar. Every day, when she eats the candy, something bad happens to somebody else. Often, something good happens to her. It’s Button, Button, sort of.

I thought it was pretty good, but the ending was annoyingly ambiguous. I get it, people love to make ambiguous endings, but I do not generally enjoy them. Or, maybe it’s: I enjoy when the filmmaker lets us imagine what the world is really like, but I don’t enjoy when we have to decide what the character would’ve done.

October 1: King on Screen (2022)

Two movies in one day! This was a documentary about the various adaptations of Stephen King’s writing into movies. I have a category of documentaries that are interesting, but don’t really change how I think about anything. This was in that category. I enjoyed it, but it was just a diversion. That’s fine!

It did give me the idea to make a big checklist of King adaptations and try to watch them all. Future project!

October 2: Sleepaway Camp Ⅲ: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

This movie is ridiculous, and I like it. Pamela Springsteen is weirdly great as the killer. Sleepaway Camp Ⅲ was filmed at the same time as Sleepaway Camp Ⅱ, so it’s nice to have some continuity of feeling. I think it represents a lot of what’s best in the goofy just-for-fun slashers. That said, it’s kind of not great. It’s just fun.

October 4: Terrified (2017)

We’d had this in our list for quite a while, and Gloria said she’d heard good things in some horror documentaries. It was pretty good. More subtitles! Basically, it was a haunted house. I remember a little bit of it, but not a whole lot. I think that means it was probably just fine.

October 5: The Blackening (2022)

We like a good horror comedy. This one, I think, was okay. I also think I wasn’t the target audience, so I’m not the right guy to ask. I liked the cast, and maybe I should look for them in some other things.

October 7: Messiah of Evil (1974)

Messiah of Evil made its way onto our to-watch list because it was on a “best overlooked horror movies” list, maybe on Polygon. It wasn’t good. It had a pretty weird vibe, which I appreciated. I didn’t really buy it was a critique of consumerism, or at least as an effective one. There are better Lovecraftian movies, better zombie movies, and better movies criticizing society.

But now I’ve seen one more cult classic.

October 8: V/H/S (2012)

When this movie came out, it felt like it was everywhere. It made a lot of best-of lists, and people talked about it was a breakthrough. Maybe I should’ve watched it ten years ago, but I am so, so burned out on shakycam. I want to see some found footage movie where all the footage comes from fixed cameras. Lots of security camera footage. Parked car dash cams. That kind of thing.

Anyway, an anthology movie is like a short story collection, and I like them both for the same reason: the good stories are good, and the bad ones are over soon. This had a couple good pieces and a couple bad ones, and I liked the good ones. I just wish they weren’t shakycam!

My main complaint is probably that the framing device didn’t end up tying things together enough. (If there’s no framing story, I do not require things tie together!) There are maybe five sequels to this, and I’m a little worried that it’s going to turn out that they keep pretending there’s some cool underlying story, but there won’t be.

I’m not sure I liked it enough to watch many of them, though.

October 9: Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

This is sort of a sequel to the 1982 Slumber Party Massacre. It was great.

The original was first written as a send-up of slasher movies and their misogyny, but during production was reworked to be a more traditional slasher. This movie brings back that stance. We see a bunch of shirtless guys having a pillow fight and spraying each other with beer. There’s a long, long scene of one guy showering.

It’s also fun as a goofy slasher movie with decent production values. I think I’d suggest watching the first two originals, then this one. (I have no recollection of the third movie!)

October 10: Ma (2019)

Octavia Spencer (great as always) plays a “just kinda off” woman who starts helping a bunch of teenagers buy booze, and to have a place drink it. Thing is, she’s just kinda off. The movie takes a couple left turns. It was probably one of the better things we watched, and I recommend it.

October 11: Talk to Me (2022)

This was on a few “best of 2022” lists, and I’d seen a trailer at some point in the past that looked good. Despite the previous exposure, I somehow hadn’t realized it was an Australian movie until it was playing and I heard the accents. Woah.

Premise: there’s a ceramic hand, and when you hold it and say the magic words, you see a ghost, and you can let them possess your body. This gets used as a party trick by stupid teenagers, because stupid teenagers are stupid. “You can’t hold it for more than ninety seconds”, but somebody does.

It was good!

October 13: Victor Crowley (2017)

This is just Hatchet Ⅳ. It wasn’t great. I liked some of its ideas, especially the “trapped in a crashed plane” bit. Mostly, though, it just wasn’t good. I still like seeing Kane Hodder get work, and I liked Parry Shen.

I’d give it a pass.

October 14: Totally Killer (2023)

Look, this wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was a lot of fun, and if you think you might enjoy it, I think you probably will. Thirty years after 1980s slasher event, the child of the survivor girl goes back to that era and tries to prevent the whole massacre.

It’s a little bit Happy Death Day, a little bit Back to the Future. Just my cup of tea.

October 14: V/H/S/2 (2013)

Well, despite not loving V/H/S, we decided to watch the first sequel. Like the first one, it had its moments, but it wasn’t great. Some of the short films in it were good, though. How about somebody makes a new V/H/S movie that’s just the best shorts?

I am not sure I will watch any more of these.

October 15: Spirit Halloween: The Movie (2022)

Look, I knew this movie would not be great, but I hoped it would be fun. It was occasionally fun, but not worth the time.

A movie based on and partly funded by a retail chain wasn’t great. Who could’ve guessed?

October 16: Christine (1983)

I’ve seen Christine before, but I wanted to see it again, especially after watching the King on Screen documentary. It was still really good. It’s very of its time, but in a good way. I had forgotten how good the cast was! Keith Gordon, as Arnie, is just terrific. The rest of the cast was great, too, and I especially liked Robert Prosky as Darnell, the foul-mouthed owner of the garage where Arnie repairs Christine.

Also? Great music.

October 17: Dead Ringers (1988)

I really like David Cronenberg, and this is one of the few movies of his that I hadn’t watched yet. I also like Jeremy Irons. How could it not be great?

Well, it was great! I feel like maybe someday I’ll watch it again and get even more out of it. For now, though, I just thought it was a really well-told story. (At one point, I said “there’s not a lot of Cronenberg stuff in this!” Thirty seconds later, Dr. Mantle brought out his “surgical tools for working on mutant women.” So, there was still some.)

October 18: Chopping Mall (1986)

When I was a kid, we went to Blockbuster Video all the time. We never got horror movies, but some of the boxes stuck with me. This was one of them. I’d seen it before. It wasn’t great, but I enjoyed it. It’s by Jim Wynorski, one-time king of exploitation movies (and sometimes soft-core pornography).

It’s the ’80s, some young people decide to stay in the mall’s mattress store overnight. The mall has recently rolled out security robots. Lightning strikes the mall and the robots become murderous. You can imagine a lot of what happens from there on out.

October 22: The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster

This is a telling of the Frankenstein story, built around themes of systemic racism and cycles of violence. It was good, and I enjoyed it, but I wish it had been a miniseries. I felt there wasn’t enough time to get a good sense of the characters, setting, and relationships. Great cast, and I was reminded how good Chad L. Coleman is.

October 22: Frankenhooker (1990)

I really like Frank Henenlotter. The Basket Case movies are weirdly great. Frankenhooker, too, is great, but in a very specific and weird way. It’s a good exploitation film about an electrician who is an amateur doctor and would-be Frankenstein. When his girlfriend dies, he wants to bring her back, but he needs body parts, so he goes looking for bodies. Also, he creates “super crack” to entice people.

The best thing about this movie is the north Jersey accents.

October 24: The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

Deeply meh. I didn’t care about almost any character in this, and I felt like its weird ecumenical approach to the exorcism was less, not more interesting than the very Roman Catholic one of previous movies.

Leslie Odom Jr. was great, though. No matter how much I didn’t care about anything else, I cared about his character, because anything that guy said, I took seriously. I should find out what else he’s done, beyond the obvious.

October 25: Bride of Chucky (1998)

This movie is stupid and I love it. It really leans into the ridiculousness of the original Child’s Play premise and has no shame about it, and that’s just what I want in a movie like this. Also, Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly are great.

I think Cult of Chucky remains my favorite Child’s Play movie, but this one is up there. (This was my second time watching this one.)

October 26: Misery (1990)

I saw this movie when it was new in the theater. It’s still great. Rob Reiner is such a good filmmaker, and across so many genres! It’s basically a two-hander, although some of the small secondary roles are great. (The sheriff!) James Caan is good, but Kathy Bates! Her Annie Wilkes is, to me, one of the all time scariest movie characters.

October 27: Terrifier (2017)

There’s a killer clown who never speaks, but he does do a buch of murder. It’s set in a nameless city that I choose to believe is Jersey City. I was pretty torn on this one. I appreciated the “Why? Because I said so, that’s why” nature of things. The movie did not need to explain anything to you, and didn’t make bones about it. I also thought David Howard Thornton did a really good job of being a creepy clown with a great range of clownish expressions. In the end, though, it just wasn’t great. I’m not sure I’ll watch the other movies in the franchise.

October 28: Death Spa (1988)

Shudder recommended this as a cult classic. I thought it was great (but terrible), and a real gem of the 1980s “weird bad stuff happens, and the justification can come next.” People attending a new fitness center keep dying. The script mostly makes sense, if you don’t look too hard. There are a half dozen possible causes of the death, including both ghosts and computer error. Somebody gets killed by using a pec fly machine, and I think it’s because he has somehow strapped his arms into it?

Anyway, it was very stupid and I liked it a lot.

October 29: Possum (2018)

The synopsis for this movie includes the phrase “a disgraced children’s puppeteer”, which starts things on a pretty weird note.

It’s a strange movie, and I don’t think it’s right to think of it as a horror movie in the same sense as so many other things on this list. It’s a psychological horror story about a man who has had a difficult life and now comes home to the absolute disaster of a house he grew up in. It’s very slow paced and deliberate. I did like it, but I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to. I think I liked it more because it was committed to being what it was, more than because it was extremely effective.

October 30: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

This was my second time watching this movie, which I remembered in part, but also was clearly mixing up with The Void in my memory. It was good. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play father and son coroners who are brought a really weird body to examine. It’s late at night, there’s a storm coming in, and as the night drags on, things get weirder and weirder. I thought it struck a really good tone, and the guys try to stick to “everything can be explained” until they finally say, “let’s just get the hell out of here”. Also, I thought it ended well, which a movie like this could easily fail to do.

October 31: A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Only barely a horror movie, here at the end. We have been skeptical of Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, as we’re big fans of David Suchet’s long run as the detective. Still, this one looked fun, and we’d heard good things. Our verdict: it was okay. Branagh was fine, but no Suchet. It was a little too dark — like, the lighting. There were some weird plot holes. Still, it was just fine. I’m not in a rush to watch the other Branagh Poirot movies yet.

Other Stuff

Above, not every day in October is listed. We also watched the fourth season of Creepshow, which was okay. (We enjoy Creepshow, even when it’s not great.) Sometimes I think there are only one or two good episodes, but it’s just fun even when it’s bad. I like its attitude.

We also watched The Horror of Dolores Roach. It’s a spin on Sweeney Todd, with Justina Machado as the Todd role. She kills people and her friend makes them into empanadas. It was good, with a balance of tension and comedy. The framing device was weird, but worked. I’m not sure what I think about the implication that there will be another season, but I liked the one we got.

I’m sure between now and October 2024, we’ll watch lots of horror movies, but probably I won’t write about any of them, and you’ll have to wait until then. We do have a few things queued up for Christmas, though. Also, finally we get a new Thanksgiving horror movie this year: Thanksgiving. There really aren’t enough of those.

Written on November 19, 2023
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