It's October, so we are approaching Halloween! That means it's time to knock off horror movies from my watchlist. Last year I was corrected for improper use of the term horror, so this time I'll start off with a disclaimer. The term is used very broadly in the header. Several of the films listed are not strictly horror, and could be categorized as vampire, comedy, fantasy and so on. Sometimes they are a hybrid or different genres.
Evil Dead (1981) (Sam Raimi)
On first viewing I made the error of watching it during the afternoon. For this rewatch I made a deliberate attempt to watch the film when it was dark outside, and it was a far better experience. A group of five Michigan State University students venture to a cabin in the woods which they rent on the cheap. It’s actually quite funny in the first 15 minutes, the car horn joke made me laugh. They do unwise things like going into the woods alone and staying at the cabin despite the mayhem, but the scares are effective, especially the scenes going into the unknown(the basement, the woods). The film is best remembered for the POV camera movements which has the evil rushing through the trees and looking through the windows. Has excellent pacing thanks to a talented director at the helm, so I didn’t become bored. It’s like they took the idea from a famous 70s horror film and went even further. The image that will stay with me is the girl locked in the basement and pocking her head up through the chained door in the floor. That’s a scary sight.
Evil Dead 2 (1987) (Sam Raimi)
A parody sequel to the 1981 film. Bruce Campbell reprises his role and has a great scared face and he spends many scenes looking frightened. Less surprising, repeating the story of a cabin in the woods and an evil presence, just with a bigger budget. The headless woman with a chain saw and him fighting his own hand were quite amusing, but the movie is not as quotable or funny as others claim. Campbell is a good physical actor which shows in the slapstick moments. He sure must have had some cuts or bruises with the number of times he throws himself about. The special effect of a speaking decapitated head was very realistic. Some inventive scenes, but for me I prefer the straight horror of the first movie. I’m still giving it a 7/10 because I was never bored. The strong ending does make you want to watch the third movie Army of Darkness (1992).
Favorite quote: “give me back my hand”
Army of Darkness (1992) (Sam Raimi)
I actually think this third film in the trilogy is far more quotable than Evil Dead 2. The campy one-liners brought a smile to my face, even if they feel a bit contrived. Ash (Bruce Campbell) behaves like an action hero rather than a real person this time around, which takes a bit of getting used to. I loved the opening scene even though it’s a rip-off of a sequence in Star Wars.
Later on, the amusing fight with the skeleton arms by the graveyard was amusing. A pity the special effects are poor in some places when the background had been superimposed.
There are a few homages to other works of fiction such as Gulliver’s Travels and Jason and the Argonauts.
SPOILER: The weakest part is the ending, the enemy is not much of a threat, and a bit lame seeing Ash kiss a girl he’s known for only 5 minutes. For a director who made such a great ending to Evil Dead 2, it's odd he would settle for such a formulaic and corny conclusion to the trilogy.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (Jacques Tourneur)
I love Out of The Past (1947) and Cat People (1942) by the same director, that was reason enough.
Labelled a horror film, but it’s more of a mood piece, going for an eerie atmosphere. A nurse travels to the West Indies and is asked to care for a mute zombie-like woman. Even if it is tame compared to movies today, the voodoo is quite unsettling, and the songs sung at the restaurant are too. Visually the filmmakers makes great use of shadows and especially the howling wind. I prefer the two other Tourneur films I mentioned, but this one is not bad.
According to A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), Tourneur confessed at the end of his career he had always been passionate about the supernatural, a bit of a psychic himself. He made films about the supernatural because he believed in it, and claimed to have even experienced it first hand.
Phantom of the Opera (1925) (multiple directors)
Haven’t read the book, but felt the screenplay was confusing in how it jumped around quite a lot. Memorable for the set designs, and the performance and makeup of Lou Cheney. A haunting moment when he reveals his face. The story feels oversimplified, with it's good versus evil.
StageFright: Aquarius (aka Deliria) (1987) (Michele Soavi)
Not familiar with this Italian director. Soavi's debut feature.
Although the eerie 80s soundtrack plays a key role in creating suspense, the film has a comic book style, so you can watch purely on a visual level without paying attention to the dialogue. There are horror movie conventions, so the story is nothing new, yet it’s still unsettling because of the claustrophobic setting and realistic nature of the story. The owl suit is quite a scary sight and it's pretty gory. The director is maybe best known for Cemetery Man (1994) starring Rupert Everett.
I Married a Witch (1942) (René Clair)
Picked because it's short at 77 minutes. It's not scary, a fantasy with supernatural elements. A film that shows you don’t need elaborate CGI to make convincing special effects. A puff of smoke, miniatures, or a fire place switched on is enough to believably tell a story of a witch.
Rarely are witches as gorgeous as Veronica Lake, I guess that was the point really, to change it up.
The Hunger (1983) (Tony Scott)
If Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner had a baby, this movie might be the result. The Hunger is about everlasting life and how that affects a person. Very atmospheric and with minimal dialogue, relying on visual storytelling. The Hunger is considered an art-house update of the wave of sexy vampire flicks of the 1960s and 1970s. Worth seeing just for the art direction with its smoky rooms and swaying curtains, coupled with an 80s score and classical music. The film memorably opens with a popular song by the goth band Bauhaus. The makeup of an aging character is also extraordinary.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea. The critics were not enthusiastic about Tony Scott’s debut feature. I consider the movie underrated and I got totally into that world. You could argue it’s style over substance and the characters are not fully realized, but there’s an alluring beauty that draws you in. The characters in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) I didn't connect with. These characters in The Hunger are far more mysterious. I don’t know if it was intended, I got a subtext about aids, and how that changes a person.
Another reviewer said it better than I could: ”It's anti-vampire. There's no teeth, no eyes or even a mention of the word itself. In fact, it tries very hard to side-step any familiar undead cliches for fear of 'reducing it to a 'normal' film. Or so it seems”
Angel Heart (1987) (Alan Parker)
Interesting mix of noir and occult horror. The best thing about the film is how it looks, beautiful cinematography. Each frame is like a photograph. The story is quite intricate with many twists and turns.
Mickey Rourke is believable as the small time detective out of his depth. Lisa Bonet has the most wonderfully expressive eyes, which Rourke’s character comments on. Robert De Niro is mysterious as the egg-eating bearded man he is working for.
The ending is surprising and I’m still confused who Johnny Favorite really was.
Favorite quote: “The future isn’t what it used to be, Mr Angel”
Have you watched any of the above? Which horror films are high on your watchlist for October?