Last October I decided to do something simultaneously really fun and really boring. I challenged myself to watch a horror movie every day of the month. When you’re unemployed you have that kind of freedom.
It was a chance for me to catch up on classics I knew of but never saw. I finally viewed “The Exorcist,” “The Blair Witch Project,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s strange to see something so ingrained in our culture that you know the plot without really knowing the plot while learning new things. Did you know that the hockey-masked Jason Voorhees isn’t even in the first “Friday The 13th” movie?
Aside from the classics, I wanted to watch less mainstream flicks that passed me by. I didn’t watch a slasher or body horror movie each day—as long as there is suspense and thrill it qualified. This allowed me to view the Iranian vampire movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “The Double,” which was based on a Fyodor Dostoevsky novella.
My main rule was that it had to be available on a streaming service or randomly playing on one of TV’s many Halloween marathons. I was not going to rent or buy 31 potentially horrendous movies.
As it turned out, the majority of the films were absolutely terrible. Many classics haven’t aged well and are funnier than they are scary. Lots have bad pacing because they padded out their running time with awful writing so that they could be shown in theaters. So many horror films would drastically improve if they were an hour long or less.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Just because it’s not on here doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. I wasn’t doing the challenge to see “Hocus Pocus” or “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” for the millionth time.
In no particular order, here are my favorites from the experiment that you should watch:
“You’re Next”—It is immensely refreshing to see a strong woman character be the star of the show instead of the first victim. Though the story is ridiculous, the great music, cinematography and action sequences make it enjoyable. Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard know their genre, smartly play with clichés and parody those that came before them. Also, no good home-invasion film is complete without a “Home Alone” style montage of setting traps.
“Nightcrawler”—This is easily the most unsettling film I have ever watched. There may not be any monsters or knife-wielding clowns, but I was frightened because Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom broke every rule on journalism ethics in the book. As he rides around Los Angeles following the “If it bleeds, it leads” mantra for footage, I shouted “No!” and “Stop!” countless times at my television. Even non-journalists will sit at the edge of their seats and be afraid at what Bloom does to get a story.
“The Awakening”—There aren’t many ghost stories like 2011 film starring Rebecca Hall. For starters, the characters have depth and don’t fall into stereotypes. Secondly, the twist is genuinely good and doesn’t make one feel like they’ve been deceived. This is not M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.” Finally, the film is set in England during 1920’s and it’s evident that a lot of thought was put into the atmosphere and cinematography. You won’t jump in fear but you’ll also be invested in the story.
“White God”—This independent Hungarian film is not exactly what most would call horror. However, the tension is there as every dog in the city decides to rise up against the humans. If you ever watched the TV show “Zoo” then you’re somewhat familiar with the concept. Unlike “Zoo,” the special effects aren’t super corny and the acting is a lot better.
“I Saw The Devil”—Lee Byung-hun, best known for his work in the “G.I. Joe” movies and Choi Min-sik, known for “Oldboy,” work again with director Kim Jee-woon to make an intense South Korean serial killer film. The successful formula pays off and channels “The Silence of the Lambs” with a rapid pace cat and mouse story. Though the 141-minute run time is long enough to exhaust the nerves, the rhythmic writing makes up for it.
“Trick R Treat”—On the other hand, Michael Dougherty and Bryan Singer, famous for the early “X-Men” movies, show that less is more. The 82-minute anthology tells four distinct stories that are all brilliantly connected. With a cast that includes Brian Cox and Anna Paquin, it is the best Halloween-themed film I’ve seen in a long time and I eagerly await the sequel.
“The Babadook”—If there is one film you watch this year, make it this one. It stands above almost all other films in the genre by beautifully weaving together a tale of loss and the monster of a children’s book coming to life. Having a horror movie with a mature story on how to deal with grief creates a gripping tale where you actually care about the characters.
This column was originally published in the October 26, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.