Challenge Week #3 — 31 Films. 31 Days. Happy Halloween!

31 Films. 31 Days.

In celebration of Samhain, a lot of horrorphiles have turned to lining up epic lists of 31 horror films for all 31 days of October. I’ve never actually done this myself as, to be quite honest, I watch horror films all year long. However, with work and numerous other responsibilities getting in the way, I haven’t been able to watch as many films as I would like to. This Halloween season, I’m changing that. I’m going to take on the challenge and watch at least one horror film every day this month. Doing things a bit differently, I’ve decided to give each day of the week a specific theme. – Re-posted from the original article.

Week #3 is officially “ghost”. This week was actually pretty good across the board. There were no outright stinkers, I was able to revisit a couple of films I’d written off long ago, see one of the classics on the big screen for the first time (best “Throwback Thursday” yet!), and I discovered a few new films that really did the Halloween trick.

Slasher Saturday, Oct 15th

The Prowler (10981)

The Prowler

The golden age of the slasher, the 80’s, is ripe with some amazing examples of the genre from the big guns, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street to minor “classics” such as My Bloody Valentine and today’s “Slasher Saturday” pick, The Prowler. The slasher is one of my favorite sub-genres, and I’ve pretty much seen all the films of the golden age numerous times. All of them except for The Prowler, that is. I saw it once and simply did not care for it. After years of reading about Savini’s sickening effects work and it’s “classic” status, I figured I should give it a revisit.

Well, my opinion on the film fared better this go round. Some of the kills are shockingly gruesome. The knife (or sword…whatever the hell that thing was) through the skull and out through the chin was next level disgusting, and the small touch of the victim’s eyes clouding up was genuinely horrific. Tom Savini’s work is the main reason to seek this film out. Beyond that, the film peeks fairly early. A nerve-jangling chase scene with our final girl through a house with surprisingly difficult to unlock doors represents the best the film has to offer.

The Prowler is deserving of a lot of the fan love it gets, but when it comes to one-off slashers that deliver the gore and suspense, I’ll keep My Bloody Valentine or Terror Train on regular “slice n’ dice” rotation.

Send-up Sunday, Oct 16th

Theater of Blood (1973)

Theater of Blood

It’s just not Halloween without a little Vincent Price in your life. This is actually one Price film I thought I’d already seen. It seems I had Theater of Blood confused with Madhouse, a similarly self referential production Price did the following year. Theater of Blood turns out to be a lot of fun, and the film allows Price to go full hog as he steps into various “roles” throughout.

Edward Lionheart was a Shakespearean actor who never got the credit he deserved, namely the award for best performance from the Critic’s Association. After being snubbed one last time over what Lionheart considered to be his best work, he plunges to his death from the balcony of a swanky suite shared by the pretentious committee. His body is never found, but no one could survive such a fall. Right?

WRONG! Of course, Lionheart survived thanks to a merry band of drunkard hobos and is determined to exact his revenge on each and every one of the critics who voted against him. His M.O. is to dress up as various characters from Shakespeare, using the Barb’s text to frame his horrific murders. Price relishes every moment he’s on screen, turning in one of his best performances under various makeup effects and different accents. Price as an overly effeminate hairdresser? Yes, please! The effects range from silly to grotesque, and most of the humor is on point. Theater of Blood is a highly entertaining send-up of Shakespeare and theater snobbery.

Monster Monday, Oct 17th

She Creature (2001)

She Creature

In the early 00’s, HBO commissioned a series of TV movies under the label “Creature Features”. Each film was a remake from the AIP catalog (I Was a Teenage Caveman, The Day the World Ended), updated with modern doses of sex and violence and creature work from the master – Stan Winston. While most of the films released as part of that label were nothing to write home about, I kept hearing over the years that She Creature was the one to see. I found a copy a while back and placed it on my shelf with plans to return to it one day.

It wasn’t until a few days ago I realized this was directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, filmmaker behind some great non-genre films: Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx. It also stars his apparent muse, Carla Gugino (she’s starred in a number of his films since this). Being a fan of both and having heard Rebekah McKendry praise the film multiple times on the old “Killer POV” podcast, I figured it was time to finally give this a spin. Did I break my streak of terrible “Monster Monday” flicks?

She Creature aims much higher than its source material and “made for cable” label would imply. A traveling freak show finds a real life, beautiful mermaid and jumps at the opportunity to snatch her up in order to make some major cash. They smuggle the creature aboard a ship setting sail for America. The head carny is played by Ruffus Sewell with Gugino, his lover with a tough veneer that’s slowly peeling away, who finds a strange kinship with the mermaid. The truth is, this “creature feature” plays out mostly as a claustrophobic psychological thriller dealing with the bond of captor and captive and the lengths a woman in the early 1900’s must go to make their own way in the world.

There’s a lot of great sub-texty stuff here. Much like last week’s The Devonville Terror, this is a film with a lot more on its mind than blood, guts, and boobs. Though, you will get all three of those things as well. If you’re in it solely for the monster run amok goodness, your patience is rewarded in the final third. Winston’s creature design is CRAZY, and while the climax might move a tad too quickly, it all leads up to a bloody and wholly satisfying conclusion. In some versions, this film was subtitled “Mermaid Chronicles Part 1”. There was never a “Part 2”, unfortunately. I would have loved to see what Gutierrez had planned for the world he sets up here.

Finally, the curse of “Monster Monday” is broken!

Terror Trash Tuesday, Oct 18th

Rabid Grannies (1988)

Rabid Grannies

I recently spoke about the awesome looking doc, Forgotten Scares, that tackles the overlooked horror output of Flemish cinema. One of the films discussed therin is the Troma classic, Rabid Grannies. I’d seen the film many years ago and didn’t think too highly of it. It’s very much a silly, over the top, Evil Dead 2 style horror comedy. I mean, it’s about demon possessed grandmas. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. What I realized, though, was the edition put out by Troma (and currently streaming free on their YouTube channel) was highly edited. Boo.

I found an uncut version of the film and decided to give it a second try. After all, when gore is excised from a splatter flick, it’s the equivalent of a joke being setup but never actually getting to the punchline. This time I was able to get the joke, and it was a pretty good one. The film never reaches the highs of the films its aping, but this cut provides plenty of meat for gorehounds to bite into. This is one of those instances where you can clearly see the difference in quality when the film switches to the excised material. I was amazed at just how much was originally sliced from the film. Rabid Grannies uncut is worth tracking down for those who can never get enough latex and Karo syrup goodness.

Witch Wednesday, Oct 19th

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – Agent Sam Stanley Fan Edit (2000)

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Yep. I watched Book of Shadows of my own volition. I have to say, when the film was released 16 years ago, I was a huge The Blair Witch Project fan and was there for the very first showing when its sequel was released. It was my birthday weekend, and I had successfully dragged all of my friends who claimed they hated the original despite being too scared to sleep the night we we’d seen it. When the credits rolled on Book of Shadows, I was underwhelmed, but I didn’t hate it. The film promptly tanked. Though, in hindsight it didn’t fair as poorly as this year’s reboot, Blair Witch.

In the coming years, Book of Shadows was dragged through the mud as one of the worst film sequels of all time. Rumors of a director’s cut that fixed a lot of the (apparently studio mandated) issues never saw the light of day. Recently editor, Agent Sam Stanley, reached out to me with a “fan edit” of the film. His version excised much of the last minute “gore” (the scenes were shot in the director’s backyard weeks before the film saw release) and moved the interrogation scenes toward the end…ya know, where they logically belong.

I’ve got to say, while this is still far from a great film, it moves at a much better pace. The first half of the film actually plays as genuinely funny without the constant quick-cuts of random violence. The second half when the films slips into horror mode still doesn’t hold up. By moving the aforementioned interrogation moments there is a stronger element of suspense at play, but it’s not enough to overcome the lack of any satisfying conclusion. No, not every question needs an answer, but the film just…ends.

Overall, Agent Sam Stanley has done a seamless job with his edit, and I appreciate the chance to view Book of Shadows in a form closer to Joe Berlinger’s original vision. Perhaps, one day Lionsgate will release the true director’s cut, and we can all reassess this terribly maligned film.

I actually plan to re-visit this in the next few weeks to dive a bit deeper into the production of the film and compare this with the theatrical release. Stay tuned!

Throwback Thursday, Oct 20th

Halloween (1978)

Halloween Poster

John Carpenter’s Halloween is the film that started it all. Yes, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas beat Carpenter to the punch, but it was Halloween that popularized the slasher tropes and launched the genre. The truth is, I love Michael Myers and as a franchise whole the Halloween films are the strongest and most consistent (though, the stinkers seriously stink), but the original is not my favorite slasher. I know it’s a classic, and I’m not bashing it all. It just never got my pulse racing the same as Black Christmas or even the epic chase through the hospital boiler room of Halloween 2 (unsurprisingly this sequence is rumored to have been directed by Carpenter himself).

That said, Halloween was playing at a local theater, and the chance to finally see this on the big screen was something I simply couldn’t pass up. Right from the jump, it was a new experience. The score was pulsing all around me, and the hair on my arm stood up during Dr. Loomis’s dark drive toward Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Dean Cundey’s widescreen cinematography is gorgeous and certainly intended to be soaked up on the big screen. Carpenter’s widescreen framing has your eyes jolting from one corner to the next looking for Myers to leap out at any moment, and the repetitive score is almost annoyingly tense in its persistent droning. I actually found myself leaping out of my seat during several moments that have never goosed me in the comfort of my own home. It’s easy to see how audiences reacted with white-knuckled fright upon the film’s original release.

Halloween is screening throughout the rest of October in select cinemas via SpectiCast. Click HERE to find out if the film is playing in your area. If it is, buy your tickets now! It’s a perfect chance to see the classic in a way you’ve likely never seen it before.

Fresh Fear Friday, Oct 21st

The Mind’s Eye (2016)

The Mind's Eye

The first frame of this film is a title card that reads, “This Film Should Be Played Loud”. Then we’re off. Joe Begos’s film is a very heavy homage to the the early works of Cronenberg, specifically Scanners. The plot is about an evil doctor gathering up Scanners…I mean those with the gift of telekinesis, so that he can zap them of their mind-power juice and – I dunno? Take over the world? The plot really is beside the point with this film.

Everything is fast paced, LOUD, and uber violent. There are deliciously gory practical effects at play here, and the film’s score is straight out of any late 80’s Carpenter film. I have to confess, as much as I love 80’s horror more than any other decade’s output, I’m growing weary of the endless homages that are coming our way month after month from the indie scene. Their retro-synth scores and Argento inspired lighting are so very much up my alley, but unfortunately, few of these films feel genuine in their re-purposing.

The good news, The Mind’s Eye feels just like a movie I would have randomly swiped off the video store shelves. It’s not a great movie. The acting is overly sincere, bordering into comical. The mustache twirling villain is straight out of an old Jean Claude Van Damme movie, and the character’s telekinetic abilities are demonstrated visually by “pushing a really hard shit” faces. The plot doesn’t build to as dramatically satisfying a conclusion as it seems to think it does, BUT that’s exactly what makes it work.

Unlike other faux-throwback genre fare, everything here is filmed and acted without a single drop of irony or knowing tip-offs to the audience. There’s no annoying digital “film scratch” or VHS tracking lines. The film doesn’t need it to truly capture the spirit of those films of yesteryear. What Begos has done with an unknown but certainly very meager budget is outstanding. The Mind’s Eye might be one of many VHS throwback films of late, but it stands head and shoulders above the rest simply by being genuine. It fits that special comfort zone that die hard horror fans long for.

NOOOOO! Only 9 more days until Halloween! It’s gone by so fast. I intend to stick to the themed days for the next week, but the last two days – I’m pulling off all the brakes and will hopefully be able to cram as much awesome horror goodness as possible in the final lead-up to Halloween. I’m doubly excited as this is my last day at work (yes, I’m typing this up on the DL…shhh) before I leave for vacation, and I won’t be back until Nov 2…after Halloween!

Yes, HL readers, I’m going to be going on a Halloween/Birthday cruise! Despite that, I fully intend to stick to the challenge I’ve set for myself. I will watch one film a day out in the open sea. It won’t be easy with the open buffets, unlimited alcohol, dance club, live shows, potential sex having, and other random goings on calling my name, but I’ve already loaded my laptop with 5 films for the duration. I’m ready to take on the ultimate challenge as part of “31 Films. 31 Days. Happy Halloween!”. I won’t back down. Wish me luck and bon voyage!

Follow the Previous “31 Films” tag for the previous articles in the challenge!

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Zachary Paul

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I'm a long time horror nerd and wannabe director. My inspirations are varied from Wes Craven, Dario Argento, George Romero, Lucio Fulci, John Carpenter, and even some John Waters and Joss Whedon. My tastes are all over the place within the genre. Give me highbrow, gross out, slow burn, rubber suit wearing, action/horror hybrid...I love it all. I enjoy writing and talking about all aspects of horror. BONUS FACT: I love cooking and eating anything with pumpkin in it.

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