Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Daily Horror Movie: Synopsis and assessment

I watched 39 horror movies between September 21, when I watched “The Witch,” and October 31, when I watched “Halloween.” Some days I watched a couple of movies, some days I watched none, but it averaged out to just under one a day–that’s a lot of spooky stuff.

Here’s the list sorted by my rankings as I watched them: A Horror Movie a Day at Letterboxd.

It looks like my top five were “The Witch” (great period piece about the peculiar fears of the Puritans), “The Conjuring” (theme park ride of terror jumps), “Raw” (unrepentant French cannibalism), “A Dark Song” (brooding and nihilistic), and “Halloween” (classic). I would wholeheartedly recommend these movies to any horror fan, though maybe “The Witch,” “Raw,” and “A Dark Song” are not for beginners.

At the bottom of the list, I would definitely steer people away from “Death Bed” (dreadful without being fun), “Bleed” (poorly conceived mishmash), and “Malevolent” (good concept poorly executed). Other lower ranking movies weren’t necessarily bad (especially “Death Bed” or “Bleed” bad), they just weren’t notably good.

I came away with an appreciation for Asian horror (“Ringu,” “Train to Busan,” and “The Red Shoes” were awesome), as well as for some interesting high-concept movies like “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Endless.” And it was fun to see some classics again, like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Halloween.” All in all, more good movies than bad.

My watch list is chock full of horror right now, but I should probably do a palate cleanser of a comedy or two before getting back to the dark stuff …

Daily Horror Movie: Halloween

Halloween

Halloween

It’s Halloween, and Michael Myers is coming home.

What better movie to close out my little project than John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween”? I think this one still holds up 40 years later; there’s lots of quiet tension between the intense kills, and the silent, unstoppable killer remains a terrifying figure. Though after seeing a few giallo movies this month, I’m also surprised by the lack of gore–these are very clean and bloodless kills; if Dario Argento had directed these, there would have been rivers of blood. The body count is also quite low by slasher standards–only four on-screen deaths and one off-screen (not counting the two dogs). This is really more a tension and suspense movie than a gore fest, and it’s darned good at what it sets out to do.

Daily Horror Movie: The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

A woman leaves her philandering husband and moves into a drab apartment near the subway station with her daughter. She finds a pair of red shoes on the subway platform one day and brings them home, never imagining that they’re cursed by a history of jealousy, betrayal, vengeance, and madness.

My third Asian horror movie this month, and once again I am not disappointed. This is a stylish and creepy movie, with a surprising amount of gore and a ton of atmosphere. I liked the connection back to the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II, and the blurring of dream and reality. Does it all hold together logically? No, not at all; it’s quite off the rails in more than a few places. But it’s an enjoyable ride.

Daily Horror Movie: The Colour Out of Space (Die Farbe)

Die Farbe

Die Farbe

Jonathan Davis goes to a small German village to look for his missing father, and hears the strange story of a meteor, madness, and an impossible color.

This was a solid adaptation of Lovecraft’s story. I liked the use of black and white, and the subtlety of the horror: this is a story of creeping dread, not leaping monsters, and the film captures that well.

Daily Horror Movie: Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer's Body

Jennifer’s Body

When a high school girl survives a Satanic sacrifice gone awry, she becomes possessed by a blood-hungry demon and only her best friend can stop the carnage.

This is a fun little movie, with snappy dialogue and likeable characters; Diablo Cody’s writing really comes through. There’s a good amount of gore–I especially liked the projectile-vomiting-of-blood scenes–but the movie is played more for laughs than scares. There was also some decent metal in the soundtrack, despite the emo look and sound of the in-movie band Low Shoulder, always a plus. It doesn’t break any new ground in the horror-comedy genre, but it’s a great watch.

Daily Horror Movie: Tenebre

Tenebre

Tenebre

A mysterious killer is slashing the people around an American writer in Rome in ways that are reminiscent of his most recent bestselling novel.

This is peak giallo: more style than substance, lots of Technicolor blood (SO MUCH BLOOD!), jiggling breasts, a mystery with more red herrings than clues, some insane twists, and no piece of scenery left unchewed by the cast. Over the top and loads of fun in the way that only Italian slasher movies can be.

Daily Horror Movie: The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers

In the last days that the mostly-empty Yankee Pedlar Inn is open, two amateur ghost hunters search for the spirit of the jilted bride who is supposed to have killed herself in the honeymoon suite.

This is a good, though not great, ghost story movie. The characters, especially Claire and Luke, are likeable, and the atmosphere is spooky. There are few outright scares, but they’re effective when they happen. The tone overall is lighter than most contemporary horror movies, with lots of banter and teasing between Claire and Luke. I couldn’t help but notice the incidental music in the soundtrack, which gave the movie a 1980s vibe, which was enjoyable except in one crucial scene where it interferes with an important plot point–is that the sound of the piano in the lobby mysteriously playing by itself, or is it an intrusive bit of soundtrack?

Like most such movies, this one hinges on the characters’ willingness to plunge into unlit spaces like basements and attics in the middle of the night; my general unwillingness to do this probably means that I’ll never have a ghost story movie made based on my tragic demise. At least in this one we can explain it away by the consumption of Schlitz. I also have determined that even the cheesier ghost story movies are scarier for me than the most shockingly gory slasher movies.

Daily Horror Movie: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Death Bed

Death Bed

A demon-possessed bed devours (with yellow foamy bile) anyone who lies on it. Its exploits are narrated by a ghost trapped behind a painting in the bed’s room.

This movie is a horror, but not of the kind it intended. I think it wanted to be a serious art house film, but the execution is so abysmal, and the premise so absurd, that it’s just barely watchable. I can imagine it being fun in a “Rocky Horror” kind of setting, but at least “Rocky Horror” has catchy music, this movie just has weird crunching and gurgling sounds.

Daily Horror Movie: The Corpse of Anna Fritz

The Corpse of Anna Fritz

The Corpse of Anna Fritz

When a beautiful starlet mysteriously dies, an orderly in the hospital where her body is taken invites his friends to the morgue to ogle her. Ogling turns to more than ogling, and things take increasingly dark turns.

Really dark, but a really satisfying ending. Part of me feels a little bad for Pau, the orderly, because he’s rather weak and ineffectual, but only a very, very, little bad. There are some very tense scenes, and a real race-against-time feel throughout that helps the suspense build. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s enjoyable (at least after the icky beginning …), and it’s nice to see people get what they deserve.

Daily Horror Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

A group of young people stumble across a houseful of cannibals in the Texas countryside. Things go pretty much as you’d expect.

This contains exactly what it says on the package: there’s massacring, there’s Texas, and there’s a chainsaw. Leatherface’s chainsaw dances are kind of sublime in their ridiculous grace. The screaming in the last half hour is intense, and quite understandable given the situation, but it loses its impact pretty quickly and becomes just background noise.

As one of the first slasher movies, this is certainly an historically important movie; and as a feat of film making, it’s pretty impressive: the tone is perfect, the effects are restrained but scary, and the pace is fast. I’m not convinced it holds up–I would say it’s definitely showing its age more than “Night of the Living Dead” does–but it’s certainly no worse than its countless imitators, and often much better than some recent attempts to tap into the “Chainsaw” vibe.

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