Film Features

Merry-Go-Round’s Hooptober

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It’s an open secret that many of our contributors, film or otherwise, can be found on the online film community Letterboxd. For the past six years, one of the site’s most popular users, Cinemonster, has been running Hooptober, a film-watching challenge based around the concept of watching 31 horror movies leading up to Halloween that takes its name from Tobe Hooper, one of the genre’s foremost auteurs. We got our act together and completed the challenge as a magazine this year! Here are the films we watched in the order we watched them.

Hooptober Society

Society (dir. Brian Yuzna, 1989)
Amazon Prime Subscription, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes Rental
Look, admittedly I didn’t know almost anything about SOCIETY before I pressed play, but based on the film’s maligned U.S. release I’m doubting you do either— the film did okay in Europe in 1989 before being shelved for three years and seeing the light of day in America in 1992 and immediately flopping. But all you need to know is this is Screaming Mad George, the brilliant special effects and makeup wizard who, had he retired after his first four movies (1986’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, 1987’s PREDATOR, 1987’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, and 1988’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER) would still be regarded as a legend. SOCIETY is clearly a personal favorite of Jordan Peele’s, a social thriller where the line between what is real and what is imaginary is pushed for the film’s first half before devolving into some of the best body horror I’ve ever seen. The film’s first two-thirds can be clunky at times, but the tension remains intact, and in particular the movie’s first three scenes (including one of the most intense “what the fuck am I looking at” title sequences I’ve ever seen) more than make up for some of the sloppy world-building. It’s more than worthy to slot in next to your other body horror Halloween viewing. [CJ Simonson]
Hooptober White Zombie
WHITE ZOMBIE (dir. Victor Halperin, 1932)
Free on Tubi, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime and iTunes
Well folks, this was a weird one! Horror completionists are no doubt at least aware of WHITE ZOMBIE, generally agreed upon as the first zombie movie, independently produced but shot on the Universal lot. The movie is the namesake of the metal band White Zombie and is recognized for inventing many of the tropes that became the standard for the genre. For all its influence, however, I’ve gotta admit that most people probably won’t get much more out of this than mild bemusement. Sure, you’ve got Bella Lugosi doing his thing and acting real spooky as a voodoo priest capable of turning living people into walking corpses, but otherwise the acting is incredibly flat and dull from all the major players. The real downside of the whole thing is how terribly not frightening the zombies are in this, they just kind of look like dead-eyed people rather than flesh-hungry hordes of the undead. While there are some very cool effects involving Bella’s leering eyes overlayed onto B-roll and a cool scene with a ghostly vision of a bride, this otherwise isn’t a particularly striking ‘30s horror film. If you’re someone who enjoys historical horror curios and want to be able to check this off your list, there’s no reason not to watch it for free on Tubi, but more casual horror fans are probably just as well off skipping this one. [Carter Moon]
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (dir. Rupert Julian, 1925)
Free on Tubi, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime 
Ahh, 2004. A pivotal year in my young life. A year in which I would be introduced to Gerard Butler’s performance* (citation needed) as The Phantom in Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s theatrical adaptation of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I’ve long cited Gerard Butler as my first real celebrity crush and it’s due entirely to his steamy, brooding performance as Erik. I was way into PHANTOM as a tween (yes—I was one of those) so it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that despite seeing the stage show and reading the original novel, I hadn’t actually sat down and watched the original Universal horror film. And what a better time to embark than Hooptober? It goes without saying that we’re dealing with a seminal classic of film, here. The fact that most of this film holds up after literally 100 years is a huge testament to how brilliant it is. The use of light and shadow especially stands out, Carlotta’s performance is a moment of genuine suspense, The Phantom’s cape whipping in the wind atop Apollo’s Lyre is gorgeous and haunting, and you couldn’t ask for a stronger set of leads than Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin (who also features in my favorite silent horror/romance, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS). What’s especially striking to me as a fan of this… erm… “franchise” is just how influential this film is on the iconography of PHANTOM. In Leroux’s original novel, Christine Daae is the blond-haired blue-eyed daughter of a famed Swedish violinist. Yet, we have Sarah Brightman and Emmy Rossum with dark curly hair as our modern cinematic Christines. I originally thought this look stemmed from ALW’s weird obsession with Brightman, but here we have Mary Philbin sporting the iconic look 60 years before Brightman ever took the stage. The scene where Christine passes through the mirror and travels down to the Phantom’s lair for the first time bears strong resemblance to the musical, and uncanny resemblance to the 2004 film. One of the more head-scratching moments of the 2004 film is a random horse never seen again or explained—and hey, what do you know, there it is back in 1925! THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a testament to the fact that the classics are classic for a reason. When I say “Phantom” the image that pops into your head is indebted directly to this film, perhaps even more so than the famous musical. If you’re a fan of PHANTOM in any of its iterations (or a “phan” as 2004 Kate would have said), I’d highly recommend checking it out this Spooky Season. [Kate Brogden]
Hooptober Hobgoblins
HOBGOBLINS (dir. Rick Sloane, 1988)
Free on Tubi and Vudu, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime and Google Play
Well, might as well get this one out of the way near the top! This year’s Hooptober requirements specified seeking out the lowest-rated film of the ‘80s that’s possible to access, which brings us to the infamous HOBGOBLINS, considering among the rarefied air of the worst films ever made. I had some trepidation going in, but probably not for the reason you think: I’ve made it a personal mission to watch a lot of garbage that history is trying to forget, so a bad film doesn’t have me running for the hills. What typically does, however, is the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 tier of “worst films ever made,” as I’ve never found much fun in dunking on things that were barely kept together on a shoestring budget. As such, I was somewhat dreading my viewing of HOBGOBLINS, but in all honesty, you could do worse as far as entertainment value goes. To be clear, HOBGOBLINS is a bad movie, probably even an awful one, but there’s enough manic, shot-from-the-hip energy present over its mercifully economical runtime to at least keep you invested until the end. Telling the story of a group of evil creatures known as hobgoblins finally escaping the film vault where they’ve been guarded over by a security guard who found them crashing to Earth, there is the general sense of the script and director having had no idea what avenue to pursue after each scene ran its course. Topped off with the very flimsy concept of the hobgoblins putting you into a dream state where you have your wildest desires come true, only to then kill you, get ready for lots of bizarre diversions involving jousting with household items, inopportune dance parties, and a band that is the spitting sound of Duran Duran commandeering a very extensive cameo at a club. Perhaps the most damning fact about it is that I only counted one (1) person the hobgoblins actually end up harming, which does a lot to dissipate any hope of tension, but the hobgoblins are kind of cute themselves, and this would probably service a drunk midnight screening well enough. On to the next one! [Thomas Seraydarian]
THE HAUNTING (dir. Robert Wise, 1963)
Available for Rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes
Fun fact: the 2003 hit Eddie Murphy movie THE HAUNTED MANSION was not inspired by that one ride at the Disneyland. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, though, because the movie shares that ride’s name and is also made by Disney. No, the real progenitor of that “ride” which, kind of brilliantly, attaches a demonic entity to you and your children—which can only be exorcised by your snot-faced punks coercing you into shelling out another couple thousand dollars and stepping foot back in Disneyland—is THE HAUNTING from 1963. It’s the original haunted house movie, directed by the guy behind WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Robert Wise. And how appropriate! HAUNTING has the intricate blocking of those films and also is itself a bit of a musical—if your partial to the twee chanting of departed souls, that is! It’s about three saps who decide to stow away in a supposedly haunted mansion with a doctor, name of Markway, who seeks to find conclusive evidence that ghosts exist. Disembodied screams crawl through the corridors, names are scratched on the walls in chalk, and pretty soon everyone’s doing a mental freeze frame and asking themselves “How the heck did I get into this situation?” A dizzying collapse into hysteria—often literally, as Wise’s camera jinks crookedly through both the withered grounds of the mansion and the Palladian embellishments within, seemingly untethered and nearly colliding with his actors’ spooked faces. Rich in psychoanalytic subtext (if you go in for that sort of thing), lensed in exquisite deep focus, and buoyed by just enough shrewd humor to keep the thing afloat without sabotaging the horror. It still is probably the best haunted house movie ever made, besides maybe VICE. [Luka Stojcic]
RAW (dir. Julia Ducournau, 2017)
Available for Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu
RAW is, by all conventional standards, barely a horror movie. It follows very little of the plot mechanics and devices typical of what any American would recognize as horror, and this is precisely what makes it one of the more inventive genre films of the last decade. Undeniably, RAW is committed to inducing dread and terror in its audience, and to putting its protagonist, Justine, through absolute hell. The hell she goes through is not motivated by a foreign antagonistic monster, however, but rather by her own sudden loss of identity as she is sent away to veterinary school. This is a tale of teenage anxieties manifesting in gruesome ways just like your standard NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, except played with different instruments. As a study in growing up, finding your own identity, and learning to give in to your own desires, this is a pretty powerful and strange film. RAW is a great detour for horror connoisseurs, and a good way to dip your toes into the genre for anyone who normally steers clear. [Carter Moon]
EATEN ALIVE! (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1976)
Free on Tubi, Available for Rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime
Time moves slowly in Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE! The horror pioneer (and the director for which this entire thought exercise is named after) never allows anything resembling daylight to graze the screen, and the Starlight Hotel is coated in a dense red light when we first see it, making the swampy Texas heat radiating off it all the more hypnotic. Even though we don’t get a good look at the crocodile that ol’ Judd (Neville Brand) keeps caged up, we know it’s lurking, and Hooper ensures that the manic episodes our killer experiences make us forget that fact sometimes—a campy ‘70s riff on Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, the movie is far less a creature feature that the name would imply, but nonetheless Hooper allows the fear and legend of that crocodile and the swampy lake to grow in our minds. Coming off the heels of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, it’s easy to dismiss Hooper’s backwoods slasher film, which at times feels smaller in scale and in actual ambition than his previous classic, and it’s unquestionably a regression, never quite able to capture the predecessor’s psychotic surrealism. But in a vacuum, EATEN ALIVE! is a lot of fun. Every performance in the film is genuinely amazing; Brand’s unhinged mania makes the film a worthwhile watch, but also a shout out to William Finley, who is truly going for broke as a dad experiencing a psychotic episode of his own. Even though it exists a bit more in the post-HALLOWEEN vein of slasher film, Hooper allows us to grow familiar with the space of the hotel in a way that makes the breadth of Judd’s evilness feel claustrophobic. The kills are gory and, at times, chilling, and some of the inmates-have-taken-over-the-asylum hopelessness that makes TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE so petrifying carries over here. Don’t look for a true horror classic, but it’s a fun visit. [CJ Simonson]
House on Haunted Hill
THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (dir. William Castle, 1959)
Free on Tubi and with Amazon Prime Subscription, Available to Rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes
Folks these days really like to throw around the word “spooky”—but I’m hard pressed to find anything ookier, spookier, or kookier than the horror camp catalogue of William Castle. These days we have directors driving traffic to their films by making asses of themselves in the media. Castle rigged seats with electrical wiring, strung a skeleton on a zip line above theater audience’s heads, and relegated terrified audience members seeking refunds to the “Coward’s Corner” in the movie theater lobby. All this is to say, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL captures the quintessential spirit of Halloween in all its ooky-spooky, willful dumbness. The premise is as old as time by now: an eccentric millionaire promises a handsome sum of money to any of his invited party guests who can endure a single night in a haunted house. The subterfuge at play here defies description. It is a deeply confusing web of infidelity and betrayal, made all the more baffling as characters make nonsensical decision after nonsensical decision. Every party guest is given a loaded gun. One guest finds a severed head in their luggage and doesn’t mention it to the rest of the group for like 10 minutes. Guests make a pact to stay in their rooms and then immediately bail to wander the halls. Women are branded with hysteria at the slightest provocation. (It is, after all, the ‘50s). But ooo0o0o0ooo a spoooo00o0oky witch on a skateboard!! A skeeeeeeleton!! Seeeecret dooo0o0o0ooors!! Vincent Price’s floating heaaaaaaaad!! It ain’t cinema, but dammit, if you’re looking for a haunted house classic to put on while you throw back a few cold ones with The Boys™, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s atmospheric enough to get Halloween vibes going, but nowhere near scary enough to alienate any delicate viewers. Add it to your party watchlist this year—but be careful! The ghosts are coming for yoo0o0o0oooou neeeeeext!!!111!!!1?!?! [Kate Brogden]
#HORROR (dir. Tara Subkoff, 2015)
Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play
There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are critically acclaimed movies. There are so-awful-they’re-entertaining movies. There are movies to study with careful attention and sobriety. There are movies to get drunk with your pals and loudly laugh at. And then there’s Tara Subkoff’s #HORROR, which is somehow all of those things and none of those things at once. I cannot stress this with enough severity: #HORROR is simply nothing like we’ve ever seen before in the annals of filmmaking, and likely something we’ll never have the awestruck conflicting experience of seeing again. The film tells the story of a group of 12-year-old girls who go to a sleepover together, only for a game on social media to lead to cyber bullying that yields a bodycount… but I’ll be damned if you’ll be able to glean much of that while watching. Really just about as “post-” as any text could strive to be, #HORROR is a mind-melting, aesthetically garish, nonstop juggernaut of baffling storytelling, editing choices, pacing, and performance… it’s absolutely brilliant in its own way. A heavily layered meta-textual nightmare of social media and internet harassment that intermittently remembers it’s a slasher film, but always remembers to assault sense and sensibility with its mean-spirited, forum board ironic, Hellish miasma of emoji-via-Blingee chaos. #HORROR feels almost somewhat ahead of its time considering the following years continued to dabble in “deathknell of internet society”-style commentary, but never with the same bald-faced, mind-fraying, perverse dynamism. You might love it. You’ll probably hate it. But after #HORROR runs its course I dare you to tell me that it’s anything like any other movie out there. Well, it actually sits comfortably alongside DETENTION in the subgenre of “horror films focusing on teenagers that are subversive formal fever dreams,” but that always sounded a little wordy to me anyway. Give it a shot. [Thomas Seraydarian]
Hooptober Cat People
CAT PEOPLE (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1942)
Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu 
Sure, I have a soft spot for CAT PEOPLE, and it’s not just because its protagonist is Serbian. I will say ever since 2010’s A SERBIAN FILM, we’ve amassed a bad rap within the greater cultural discourse. It’s just gratifying to see a cinematic depiction of Serbians that doesn’t cast us as pestilent sociopaths, but rather as smooth, sleek, and elegant beauties—who may or may not shapeshift into carnivorous felines when we get a nice smooch on the lips. Has two of the most recognizable scenes in horror (the stalking scene and the pool scene) which are, somewhat remarkably (at least for the time), unaccompanied by score. But the real richness of the movie comes from its ingenious depiction of sexual pathology and its drilling into fathomless yet tactile reserves of shame, borne out of cultural repression. Tourneur is somewhat hemmed in by Old Hollywood visual expectations, but there’s certainly the occasional striking image. The film is at its most successful when it’s not indulging its somewhat silly tendencies, like its ridiculous psychiatrist character (who brandishes a sword cane! Which is, admittedly, pretty devastatingly cool). At just a breezy 73 minutes, you can’t afford not to watch it. [Luka Stojcic]
Hooptober Bucket of Blood
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (dir. Roger Corman, 1959)
Free on Tubi and with Amazon Prime Subscription
Earlier this year, the horror industry lost a little bit of light with the passing of one of its most prolific character-actors, Dick Miller. Accredited with over 180 roles and most-known for his relationships with directors like Roger Corman and Joe Dante, Miller was practically a staple of the B-movie scene, giving every performance an air of authenticity while still being able to pile on a sufficient amount of camp to any schlocky venture he found himself being roped into. Yet throughout his entire, storied career, he only ever got one leading role. And it’s definitely one of his most memorable. A BUCKET OF BLOOD is the perfect distillation of both Roger Corman’s low-budget directorial stylings and Dick Miller’s campy acting chops, capturing the quintessential feel of the 1950s B-horror flick. Its premise is simple: awkward bus-boy Walter Paisley wants to impress a bunch of pretentious beatniks at the cafe he works at with his clay sculptings, but he just kinda sucks at it. However, after an accidental encounter one night involving an ice-pick and a very unfortunate cat, Walter has a moment of clarity, and gets all the inspiration he needs to start making some real head-turning display pieces. It’s cheap, it’s quick, and it’s more black comedy than a trueblood horror feature, even compared to the more hokey offerings from the era. But that’s honestly kind of what makes the flick an endearing watch. Dick Miller manages to embody every beleaguered Joe Schmoe in existence and gets us to cheer him on as he bumbles into gruesome success, the degree of satire with the whole beatnik crowd is enjoyably on-the-nose, and at a cool 66-minute runtime, it’s a short-but-solid number to entertain just about any fan of the B-movie genre. Go check it out, if you haven’t already. [Jon Farah]
VIY (dir. Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, 1967)
Available via Shudder Subscription
VIY, the first ever horror film produced in Soviet Russia, is certainly more curio than essential chapter in horror history, but it’s a curio that openly invites a viewing accompanied by a belly full of vodka. It’s summer break at the seminary school and the sloppy frat brother monks are out to play in the vivid Russian countryside—not long into the migration of the begrudgingly Bible-thumping bumpkins’ journey do they get lost and find refuge in a witch’s farmhouse. One thing leads to another and our bowl-cut protagonist ends up beating the witch to death and is ordered by the town (after getting bludgeoned, the witch reverts to the bodily shape of an innocent young woman) to watch over her corpse for three nights leading up to the wake. A monk is used as a broom to soar over fields, human-sized green hands burst through stone floors, and flying coffins buzz about a church like blind houseflies: folklore as rendered through the absurd, Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov’s VIY is a trim 78-minute blitzkrieg into base national identity and the farce of it all—the most readily available cut on Shudder only includes an English-language dub, a final dash of Western-invasion buffoonery. Imbued with the spirit of early ‘60s Mario Bava and driven by the exceedingly Russian mantra of punishing weak-willed fealty, it’s never been more fun to watch drunken, liquor-swilling monks get terrorized by the spirits of the damned. [Kevin Cookman]
Hooptober An American
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (dir. John Landis, 1981)
Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu
John Landis’ most terrifying creation melds some rather unpleasant imagery with an acerbic brand of off-color humor. But enough about Max, this Hooptober blurb is all about AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. To call Landis’ 1981 horror-comedy an anomaly would be an understatement, and not just for clashing with just about everything in the director’s filmography. While backpacking in rural England, American college students David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are attacked by, you guessed it, a werewolf. Locals manage to come to the rescue and kill the beast, but not before Jack is mauled to death and David inherits the curse of the lycanthrope. Typical monster movie premise, right? The twist in AMERICAN WEREWOLF is that as a victim of an unnatural death, Jack’s restless spirit continues to walk the earth in agony as long as his killer’s unnatural bloodline lives on in David. Consequently, he is forced to appear before his friend and beg him to take his own life, lest more innocents share his fate. That’s right: this werewolf movie is a ghost story. There’s a lot of concepts at play within AMERICAN WEREWOLF; listing them all would double the length of this piece and ruin the fun of their blindsiding nature. The real accomplishment here is how deftly Landis balances these elements with his trademark sense of humor, all without undercutting any of the horror. AMERICAN WEREWOLF is very much a movie by the guy responsible for ANIMAL HOUSE, smug throughout and often hilarious, yet the gothic influences are undeniable. As HEREDITARY recently implemented in similar fashion, humor is the lubricant used to deliver the unsuspecting viewer into a terrifying third act that is trailblazing in the use of practical effects and gore in film. Though John Carpenter’s THE THING would rewrite the book on this arena just a year later, AMERICAN WEREWOLF’s blood-spattered finale in Piccadilly Square remains a chaotic spectacle that few have surpassed. A Halloween treat with more than a few tricks up its sleeve, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON manages to remain effective nearly 40 years after its release despite being built atop two of the most perishable genres in film. Satirical, cerebral, and totally self-aware, there’s a little something for everyone with this classic. [Ed Dutcher]
Hooptober Henry
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (dir. John McNaughton, 1986)
Available for Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes 
For every slasher cranked out during moral hysteria of the ‘80s, there were only maybe a handful that made any real effort to examine the pathology of the violence depicted on-screen—to actually look into the face of evil to try to discern what, if anything, was behind its eyes. HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER is that proverbial gaze into the abyss. Based on the exploits of notorious killer Henry Lee Lucas (Michael Rooker in an absolutely phenomenal debut), this film is but a long, hard look at the absence of humanity. There is no warmth here, no empathy to speak of. What charm Henry possesses—enough at least to foster a friendship/mentorship with fellow real-life killer Ottis Toole (Tom Towles) and the maybe-affections of his runaway sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold)—is perhaps not so much a lure or even a misgiving, but some synaptic misfire—a hiccup where the human part of the brain flashes, if however briefly, dimly, through the mind of a predator. Sure, something could be said about his environment or socioeconomic standing, how poverty and crime are intrinsically linked, or how trauma and abuse often beget further violence. But you might as well ask the cat why it catches mice. Any insight that can be gleaned by his admission or wheedled out of him is meaningless. It goes nowhere. It is nothing. To understand him is to be him. How fitting it is, then, that the movie poster is little more than Henry staring into a dingy bathroom mirror? For some, like Henry, killing’s just something to do, and it beats the crap they got on T.V. [Joseph Simpson]
THE CRAFT (dir. Andrew Fleming, 1996)
Available to Rent on Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play
In a 2016 20-year retrospective, Complex said that “watching THE CRAFT is a rite of passion for young women.” My bewildered response is that young women deserve a lot better than this waste of a great premise involving four high school outcasts dealing with suicide, domestic abuse, body image, and racism through magic run amok. That’s not to say the film is completely without merit: the fashion of the four protagonists is stylish and distinct, and the campy effects are surprisingly decent outside of one goofy fireball. Most of all, there is one legitimately great scene involving hundreds of creepy crawlies that almost single-handedly redeems an otherwise unscary movie. The big issue is that any atmosphere is crippled by awful pacing, bizarre musical choices, and passionless acting. Scenes just end with little warning or payoff, and the soundtrack is full of mid-90s Smashing Pumpkins wannabees that stick out like a sore thumb, even down to to final frames of the film! Although Fairuza Balk delivers a manic, crazed performance that Harley Quinn would be proud of, Robin Tunney is a rather uninspired and flat lead. Her past suicide attempt is never articulated on and her wide-eyed, mouth-slighly-agape under-reactions never immerse you in any sense of terror or wonder even as her world crumbles around her. THE CRAFT gets a lot of praise for its dark and feminist message. But outside of the final 15 minutes, the film is nowhere near dark enough, and its depictions of high-school bullying are never cruel enough to compete with similar scenarios from CARRIE. Furthermore, even though the film tries to say that women should not change themselves to impress dudes, our lead sure spends a lot of time chasing one guy and casting a love spell on him even as he spreads a rumor to the entire school that she’s a bad lay. People may have been aghast when Blumhouse announced a remake, but I say let them try! This premise deserves a much better movie. [Blake Michelle]
The Innocents
THE INNOCENTS  (dir. Jack Clayton, 1961)
Available for Free on YouTube
This movie has those kind of scares which aren’t scary but make you say “nice” if you have a BFA. Controlled like Protestantism, it has the vague elegance of moving among expensive things. In this sense it accomplishes exactly what A24 horror does except that its tedium is an accident of history and not a deliberate technique. If you like Ari Aster and have something else you need to do which you want to be intermittently distracted from then, you’ll like this. If you are afraid of children, then you’ll like this. If you have countenanced the desert in the person who must surround themselves with that meat-groaning-under-meat decadence which a countryside estate is heiress to and you have determined it completely logical that this person would pray their lace curtains to stir with damnation, then you’ll like this. Damien and his trousered ancestor here are the psychological dissonance that allows for a Forbes’ 20 under 20 as it is caked into time and light. When we see a ghost in a period piece movie we observe epochal loss projected onto those periods responsible for our century. We are their ghosts. When Deborah Kerr emotionally says, “I just want to save the children, not destroy them,” you’re not supposed to laugh, and if that’s OK for you, then you’ll like this. [Jehm]
Hooptober One Cut
ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (dir. Shinichirou Ueda, 2017)
Available to Stream on Shudder
Shinichiro Ueda’s ONE CUT OF THE DEAD is an absolutely delightful love letter to the art of movie magic! At what point does the convergence of film and reality make the two indistinguishable? At what point does passion become insanity? Wannabe director Higurashi wants so desperately to fulfill his auteurist vision of the perfect zombie film. Though he has a suitably authentic location, an abandoned WWII-era factory at the center of many urban legends, Higurashi has trouble getting genuine fear out of his actors until an actual zombie limps on set. Recording every scream, our dear director milks the encounter for all its worth. Being a film about a film there’s of course going to be a met- narrative, but three layers deep in the scenes behind the scenes behind THOSE scenes ONE CUT OF THE DEAD oozes straight-up adoration for filmmaking, warts and all! [Alec Larios]
Don't Breathe
DON’T BREATHE (dir. Fede Alvarez, 2016)
Available to Rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play
Easily one of my favorite horror movies of the decade, I was thrilled at the chance to revisit DON’T BREATHE. Fede Alvarez proved himself to be a force of nature with his straight-faced remake of THE EVIL DEAD, and then managed to turn around and one-up himself with this dazzling feat of 89 minutes of almost pure suspense and dread. DON’T BREATHE is a tale of brutal class struggle barely contained to the dimensions of an old house in a bombed-out Detroit neighborhood. When a trio of petty burglars attempt to rob a blind man sitting on a huge stack of cash won in a lawsuit settlement, they find that he is much more prepared to defend himself than they could have possibly imagined. The visceral cause and effect of this script, the way we are hurled from one corner of this house to the next alongside our burglar protagonists, is nothing short of astounding. The way Fede uses every corner of this house to his twisted advantage is immediately stunning, and even more impressive on a rewatch when you know how every element of the house will be used to its full effect and are left to writhe with anticipation as the characters stumble into one trap after another. If you’re not one for paranormal horror, but do like gritty thrillers set in reality, DON’T BREATHE is an exceptional ride: you’ll gasp, you’ll shriek, you’ll wrestle with disgust and triumph, what more can you ask for? [Carter Moon]
Hooptober God Told Me To
GOD TOLD ME TO (dir. Larry Cohen, 1976)
Available with Showtime Subscription, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play
Nothing is scarier than a white man who thinks he’s God, but going into GOD TOLD ME TO, the 1976 Larry Cohen film, I expected a campy, fun fever dream with a skeptical eye towards religion. I expected a mess and instead was greeted with a beautifully shot, vibrantly textured film that somehow makes themes of the extraterrestrial and religion wrapped up in a police procedural work… sort of. While the horror doesn’t play in 2019, with mass shootings and religious extremism being commonplace realities rather than terrifying prospectives, it remains a compelling thriller. The twists, leaps, and turns GOD TOLD ME TO takes often teeter into something potentially hokey delivered with a straight face, but the performances and cinematography make you think twice about what’s being posited before laughing when alien abduction and impregnation are folded into the God narrative. Plus, Andy Kaufman appears as “Homicidal Cop” and Richard Lynch is simply incandescent. I wouldn’t rush to recommend seeing this movie, but for Hooptober it covers Larry Cohen, men and women of the church having a bad day, and a year ending in six, and it is definitely a credit to Cohen that when the glowing gold, son-of-a-virgin Bernard Phillips proposes to his spiritual “brother” that they procreate to spawn a new type of human, you’re watching. [Tapley Eaton]
Bloody Pit of Horror
BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (dir. Massimo Pupillo, 1965)
Free on Tubi, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime
There is only one reason to watch this 1965 Italian film. It’s not the paper-thin characters further hampered by terrible dubbing and a banal plot that Wikipedia does not even bother getting right. (It claims a character dies by hanging when in fact they die by iron maiden.) It’s not the soundtrack full of jazzy bass and hard-psych organ, which parallels RAVENOUS in being novel and enjoyable but matching with nothing and killing any coherent mood. It’s not even the special effects courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi, best known for ET and ALIEN, given how little gore there is and how lame the pit of horror ends up being. No, the only reason to watch this is the villain, the Crimson Executioner. Played by Mickey Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe and one-time husband of Jayne Mansfield, he spends the last 30 minutes in a luchador costume mugging like mad and repeating his name in virtually every line. There’s even a scene where he slathers his muscles in oil while flexing in the mirror and monologuing about how his pure body has been ruined by the lechery and sin of the world. It’s great, pulpy cheese made all the more entertaining by the amateurish ADR work. In fact, I would recommend not watching this movie and reading this fantastic article instead. I was confused when a film critic called this film homophobic, but a quick search lead me to Leon Hunt of Brunel University placing the film in the context of Italian film history and dissecting Hargitay’s character through a queer and Freudian lens. I guarantee it will take a lot less time than the film itself and will be the best thing you’ve read all month. Or at least the only thing with the headings “Mussolini in Tights” and “Desiring Daddy.” [Blake Michelle]
Hooptober Manos
MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (dir. Harold P. Warren, 1966)
Free on Tubi, Available to Rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes
Most of our readership base has likely experienced MANOS in one way or another, and by that I mean we all watched it get ripped to pieces on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. While I’d seen the MST3K and subsequent RIFFTRAX versions of this so-bad-it’s-good horror classic, I was a little worried that the lack of quippy robots would leave me with a dry, no-budget snoozer. Au contraire, dear reader—like a fine whiskey, MANOS works just as well straight up as it does in your shittalking cocktail of choice. It’s hard to describe this film as anything other than deeply weird. The premise is already out there: a lost family winds up at an abandoned shack, only to be pulled into a scheme to induct the mom into “The Master”’s pantheon of wives via (something something) human sacrifice(?) by way of the groundskeeper/manservant, Torgo. But it’s really the execution of this film that elevates it from an odd public domain blip on the horror radar to a masterpiece in bad cinema. Bizarre performances. Terrible dubbing. Punishingly long takes that start out funny, then get boring, then circle back to being funny again. Just as you start to lose interest, something happens to hook you right back in. For me, it was one of the best comedic hard cuts I’ve seen in any film, let alone a horror film, let alone a bad horror film! If you haven’t experienced this film yet—or if you’ve never experienced it on its own—take the time this Halloween to finally pull the trigger. It helps to have a couple buddies and some cold ones, but no matter how you like your MANOS, it remains a solid entry for your ooky-spooky Halloween viewing. [Kate Brogden]
Black Friday
BLACK FRIDAY (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940)
Free on YouTube
Pretty average! While this seasonal challenge has opened the doors to appreciating older horror films for many of us, BLACK FRIDAY unfortunately falls a bit short. Telling the story of a doctor who sees a dear friend fatally run over by a gangster on the lam, only to have the bright idea of implanting the gangster’s brain into his deceased compatriot, the film is an amiable-enough transposing of the general Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mythos into the realms of gangster cinema. At a breezy 70 minutes it’s hard to find too much to complain about, but this is definitely more along the lines of something your grandma would have had on the Turner Classic Movies channel when you went to visit her as a kid than something you need to feel obligated to seek out on its own right. While the aggrandized over-reactions to the doctor switching between his gangster alter-ego and his standard, mild-mannered self is a good bit of hokey fun, the screenplay doesn’t manage to do anything inventive with its set-up, and it’s simply unforgivable that Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi never appear on screen together. That said, if there’s anything to watch BLACK FRIDAY for, it’s Karloff, who’s absolutely unprecedented screen presence shines bright across the decades. Those in the know say the duo’s definitive film is 1934’s THE BLACK CAT, so perhaps next Hooptober will yield riper fruit. [Thomas Seraydarian]
Vampire In Brooklyn
VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN (dir. Wes Craven, 1995)
Free with Hulu Subscription, Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Vudu
The bizarro VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN didn’t get much love back in the day—only now has it begun to be reappraised for its camp and satirical elements, and no doubt the revisiting of the 1995 film is also partly fueled by a nostalgic longing for Eddie Murphy’s magnetic screen presence. To be sure, it’s an ambitious project; helmed by Wes Craven (the man who brought us NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and SCREAM), the movie is a scrambled amalgam of gothic horror, tepid melodrama, and broad Eddie Murphy vehicle where the acerbic and wide-eyed comic plays multiple characters, NUTTY PROFESSOR-style. Obviously, the most fun to be had here is the juxtaposition of the aristocratic Maximillion (Murphy) with the rough-hewn textures and personalities of Brooklyn which, under Mark Irwin’s cinematography, is nearly always condensed under a thick sheet of mist and street fog. Unfortunately, Craven is not a talented director, evincing TV-movie vibes with his lethargic approach to coverage, and the attention-deficit editing on display is especially incompetent. BROOKLYN mainly seeks to evoke a New York drenched in squalor, as it was in the first half of the 1990s with the crack epidemic raging and, uneasily enough, one of Maximilion’s victims undergoes a metamorphosis from normal guy to “ghoul,” his skin turning pale and crusted, sores developing on his face—after Maximilion makes him swallow a taste of vampiric blood. The (comedic) evocation of HIV/AIDS is one that might’ve worked in something more shrewd, but in the film we’ve gotten it feels somewhat inappropriate. But BROOKLYN is more often than not just a chance to see Murphy do his schtick, and you’ll find no objections from me on that front. Worth a watch, though your mileage may vary! [Luka Stojcic]
Hooptober The Stuff
THE STUFF (dir. Larry Cohen, 1985)
Free on Tubi
There are plenty of things you could say about the late B-movie auteur Larry Cohen. You could say he was a directorial cheapskate following in the footsteps of Roger Corman, or that he produced a lot of weird, schlocky nonsense with no real through-lines or payoffs. You could even say that his entire catalog of movies is the equivalent of horror movie junk food. But goddammit, if that junk food isn’t some of the most deliciously dumb entertainment to indulge in during the Halloween season. Out of everything the man’s ever produced, though, I’m hard-pressed to find anything as oddly-entertaining as THE STUFF. To be honest, I don’t even know how to properly describe THE STUFF. I mean, the premise starts out simple enough: a bunch of yokels discover some weird white goo bubbling out of the ground, decide it tastes good, and start to sell it to the masses calling it “The Stuff”. But literally within minutes, THE STUFF starts barreling off in so many separate directions that it’s hard to get a sense of what’s even happening half the time. You get corporate espionage, advertisements for “The Stuff” thrown in between scenes of plot, hammy lampooning of 1950s military-types, body horror, and so, so much more. It’s an incomprehensible amalgamation of B-movie horror tropes, borrowing from classics like THE BLOB and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS while somehow fusing it all with dark comedy and a satirical take on the FDA and ‘80s-era consumerism. And even if none of that really lands the way it should, or is as poignant as its director probably assumed it was going to be at the time, one thing is certain: You just can’t get enough of that STUFF. [Jon Farah]
Ganja and Hess poster
GANJA & HESS (dir. Bill Gunn, 1973)
Available to Stream via Amazon Prime, Shudder, and Kanopy 
Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS lives its complicated legacy as both a Cannes prize winner and under-seen, underground experimental Blaxploitation horror film. Except, other than its era of release, it’s not really Blaxploitation and, as a director-for-hire genre cheapo-turned-renegade arthouse production, it isn’t exactly underground, but GANJA & HESS is a crucial and conceptually challenging chapter in African-American cinema. Following Hess, an anthropologist turned into a vampire by the triple thrust of an ancient African tribal blade and the bride he takes under his wing of bleeding out the lower-class he so ravenously feasts on, GANJA & HESS is a film of many perversions and discomforts. There’s a thesis paper in and of itself that the film’s second chapter, titled “Survival,” ends with the slaughter of a pimp’s den for an upperclassman’s sustenance. While Hess takes no pleasure in the massacre, he relishes in the sustained livelihood it grants him. The rationalization of farming the working class, be it the lowliness of their occupation or habitation, is unconscionable vampirism. Fair Merry-Go-Round Magazine readers, I’ll readily admit that in regards to GANJA & HESS, I’m way out of my depth. It’s a film meant to incite introspection of a certain facet of racial identity that I cannot fathom, let alone confidently engage with its formal complexities—this thing feels three hours long, at times composed of nonstop moody ecstasy and other times feeling like a runaway train with Gunn as the bamboozled conductor. I can’t tell if its insinuations of the church as site for blood harvests are too vague or too out of my realm of personal experience, both with Black spaces of worship and Christian faith, but this late in the Hooptober game, I know I’ve found this radical break from genre conventions and traditional framework a welcome splash of gazpacho-colored blood. [Kevin Cookman]
JACOB’S LADDER (dir. Adrian Lyne, 1990)
Available to Stream via Showtime Subscription, Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu
The problem with rewatching films built on a plot twist is that you feel dumb for not noticing the myriad of clues the first time and it turns out to be a lot less subtle than you thought. There’s an advertisement a train within the first 10 minutes that gives away the entire story, for god’s sake. Perhaps that’s a testament to JACOB’S LADDER’s greatness; even when you’re initially frustrated by its constant scene-jumping or rolling your eyes at a palm reader further hammering in the point, it’s still a singular, spellbinding experience anchored by a powerful spiritual message. A pre-SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam vet who starts hallucinating demons, lizard people, and boney spurs popping out of nurse’s heads while trying to uncover an Army conspiracy. It’s not an especially scary film, but it’s unnerving and engrossing, with beautiful shot composition that makes great use of contrasting light and shadow to create a dreamlike quality further reinforced by the whiplashes in tone, time, and space. Director Adrian Lyne managed to combine the best aspects of his previous films with the striking images and harsh lighting of FLASHDANCE and the creeping madness and stellar performances of FATAL ATTRACTION. Tying all of this together is the twist and the underlying spiritual philosophy, which provides a perfect explanation for the film’s surreality and has stuck with me since I first watched it. Part war film, part psychological horror, part character study, part mediation on death: there’s really nothing quite like it. [Blake Michelle]
Hooptober Candyman
CANDYMAN (dir. Bernard Rose, 1992)
Available to Stream on Netflix
Oh CANDYMAN, who can resist your devilish charms? Between your hypnotizing whisper and your bloody meat hook appendage, does any other horror icon even come close to being as dashing as you? Like the titular enigma himself, it’s hard to look away from Bernard Rose’s 1992 horror classic. This is a film that has everything: a chilling mystery, haunting photography, mind-blowing gore, and a home run performance from character actor Tony Todd. Seriously—while there are certainly more iconic horror villains, Todd’s portrayal of the vengeful ghost is right up there with Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger as one of the genre’s most enthralling personas. An adaptation of Clive Barker’s novel THE FORBIDDEN, CANDYMAN follows Helen (Virginia Madsen) a grad student in Chicago studying urban legends, a major that only existed for lazy ‘90s horror screenwriters to kick off their plots before the advent of the internet. Noticing similarities among some grisly murders in the local projects and the story of Candyman (Todd)—a specter who will supposedly materialize and eviscerate anyone foolish enough to utter his name into a mirror five times—a skeptical Helen decides to base her thesis on the legend as a response by Chicago’s African-American populace to systemic oppression, criminal, and racial violence. After being flippantly invoked by the scholar, You-Know-Who decides to set Helen straight by showing her increasingly macabre displays of his power, usually to the detriment of innocent bystanders. Plenty of white filmmakers before Rose have attempted to explore injustices within the black community, many falling flat or coming off ham-fisted, but CANDYMAN is able to elevate itself by always remaining aware of just how clueless its well-meaning protagonist is. Though it serves as both a satire of such race stories as well as an adequate example of how one should be made, the themes never become so overbearing as to distract from what is easily the most poetic slasher ever committed to screen. It’s not hard to see why the movie has been tapped for a reboot treatment by Jordan Peele—symbolically rich horror with deft cinematic flair is pretty much the director’s entire wheelhouse. While the future of the CANDYMAN franchise rests in capable hands, it’s impossible to go wrong with the movie that startadsadddddddddddfffdsddfsdf [Ed Dutcher]
The Host
THE HOST  (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
Available to Rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu
In the billion-rivered heart that is the other nations of earth, those who join hands and sing we hate America number far more than the mass-murdering celebrities Americans enjoy watching on TV. Which you may think you know from watching TV and being paranoid, but the scale of what’s under consideration here escapes ritualized narrative and analysis. Too boringly small and too unquantifiably specific, this is globalization as trafficlight-hate: in this film, a caricature of a white man, as good as any dril tweet, which posits syphilitic and inbred as racially specific descriptors from a certain non-Western perspective. If you could take the time this filmed figure exists in and pare away performance and the rest you’d find rage is what makes that eye laze. One nice thing to be said about someone who has the patience for an art where anger is repressed into that higher love called passion is that they are anachronistic. In THE HOST, there is hate enough to scream, enough to laugh, and enough to cry with your whole heart, in accordance with the times. Compassion for character and audience is always what keeps this from inducing madness. Director Bong shoots dinner scenes like they were a landfill’s dream of becoming landscape; wastefulness banished from the wasteland, paper bowls returned with meal, for endless hungers ended. Our refuse might be unredeemable in the eyes of the Earth, but desperate human acts still save; just look over this small table, heavy with cheap food, at what a gorgeous wreckage we strew. Watch this family try. If it’s necessary for you that they succeed in any way you lack Director Bong’s specific empathy for the destitute. [Jehm]
We Are What We Are
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (dir. Jorge Michel Grau, 2010)
Available via Hulu Subscription 
Jorge Michel Grau’s SOMOS LO QUE HAY or WE ARE WHAT WE ARE doesn’t have much to offer beyond its subgenre tag of cannibal horror. After losing their flesh-winner father, a cannibal family takes desperate measures to find their next meal. But honestly, this family is so painfully inept that it’s a miracle they can survive being alive, let alone capture and devour people in secret blood rituals. New man of the house Alfredo now takes it upon himself to put food on the table for his folks, but his plans keep on getting stifled by his rowdy little brother Julian, whose hunger drives him to the edge. Meanwhile, two bumbling cops are hot on their trail. Here we have a film with little-to-no fun or mystique, even considering the gnarly cherry on top that comes way too late and isn’t long enough to properly savor. That, plus its attempts at social commentary are offensively ham-fisted, making for a painful viewing experience that the industry nonetheless felt had to be remade! [Alec Larios]
The Howling
THE HOWLING (dir. Joe Dante, 1981)
Available to Rent on Amazon Prime
I’ll be blunt, a movie whose plot centers around the sexual trauma of a news reporter is a lot to stomach. This is definitely a “not for everyone” title, and there could be a very fair reading of this film that views it as exploitation in the worst sense of the term. However, there’s an equal case to be made for this being an exploration of trauma and various sexual pathologies of a wide variety of people. So if you’re someone who’s willing to wade through murky waters, THE HOWLING has a lot to offer. Littered with a cast of eccentric supporting characters, with remarkably gross special effects by the master himself, Rob Bottin, this is all-in-all one of the better werewolf movies I’ve ever come across. In particular, Joe Dante’s use of light and color absolutely has to be commended; this thing looks as good as any of the classic ‘80s horror films. The central mystery of the plot may err on the side of being a Scooby Doo episode, but if you’re in the mood for a bizarre intersection of camp and surprisingly insightful exploration of human desire, THE HOWLING should be right on the money. [Carter Moon]
Hatchet
HATCHET (dir. Adam Green, 2006)
Free on Tubi and Vudu, Available to Rent on iTunes and Amazon Prime 
Look, I’ll say it: Every person gets what was coming to them in HATCHET. Adam Green’s cult slasher film is self-aware, a FRIDAY THE 13TH-meets-PREDATOR riff that finds time to give you blood and boobs and the Bayou, even if it doesn’t find time to deliver many actual scares (although there are plenty of close-your-eyes moments with how over-the-top the murders are—fun, but gruesome). But here’s the thing: those people deserved to die. I couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit of sympathy for ‘ol Victor Crowley, the film’s Jason stand-in. He was made fun of as a kid for being different, a deformed child with a rare disease, and a series of events instigated by a bad childhood prank lead to him becoming a misunderstood movie monster. Now those events happened years in the past, sure, and it’s certainly not our band of tourists’ fault that Crowley was bullied as a child. But they nonetheless were wandering into his section of the swamp, illegal land mind you, looking for a scare—that they didn’t immediately just try and get out of the woods was a mistake. With a host of horror Easter eggs that will make your head spin, and the slightest degree of earnestness towards the story and the slasher genre, HATCHET bills itself as nothing other than harmless fun—Green is clearly enamored by the genre, and that translates on screen. Even the cast, headlined by Joel David Moore (remember when he was Hollywood’s go-to nerd? Missed the boat on regular leading man status by about a decade; maybe it’s not too late to get him in SILICON VALLEY), features a nice roster of IMDB-able character actors, and the film stands out more than most from a period of bloated sequels and self-serious remakes. Be prepared for some insanely dated butt rock and a degree of groan-worthy shmaltz that hasn’t aged particularly well, but HATCHET is a fun, inoffensive time that in 2019 borders on SyFy Original territory in good ways. [CJ Simonson]

TV Roundup 10/31/19: The End of an Era

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