31 Day Movie Challenge: Week 1
Day 1: Universal Monster Sequel
Title: Bride of Frankenstein
Director: James Whale
Blurb: Although I've enjoyed just about every film adaptation of Frankenstein I've seen (even the less-than-faithful versions), Bride of Frankenstein is to me the perfect amalgamation of Universal monster movie, literary adaptation, and inventive extrapolation from Shelley's classic work. The doomed romance between the creature and his shrieking, frizzy-haired wife (can relate) is truly a touchstone of horror cinema.
Title: House of Frankenstein Year: 1944 Director: Erle C. Kenton Blurb: When I first saw this title sitting on a shelf in the horror aisle of a Blockbuster Video, my adolescent mind was thoroughly, irrevocably blown. I was deeply obsessed with old school movie monsters, at that time, and I was determined to eventually make sense of the whole overarching continuum of the Universal monster catalog, despite the fact that I had only seen, at most, the Karloff Frankenstein and the Lugosi Dracula. My pulse quickened and my thoughts raced as I beheld the box art. How have I never heard of this? How is this not the most famous and most fondly remembered one? It's got the MOST monsters in it. The realization that Hollywood had started cranking out cheesy “the gang's all here” monster mashes sixty years before Van Helsing hit theaters sent me reeling. I staggered out of that Blockbuster in a daze – having not even rented the film, I hasten to add. There's a small, shameless part of me that still wants to corral the deliriously messy Universal monster mythos of the 30s and 40s into some kind of coherent, sprawling narrative, some kind of foggy, moonlit fan fiction magnum opus. I'll never actually do that, of course, because the rest of me does, in fact, feel shame. But I'll never stop wanting to, god help me.
Day 2: Creepy Kids
Title: The Brood
Director: David Cronenberg
Blurb: If you take Cronenberg’s typical body horror and combine it with a nasty divorce, you get a film about mutated children, abusive mothers, and a new-age “therapeutic” treatment called psychoplasmics. Although the gender politics of The Brood are an absolute mess, there is no denying that the film is deeply disturbing and affecting.
Matt G. Title: The Other Year: 1972 Director: Robert Mulligan Blurb: The Other is a film about two kids whiling away a succession of lazy summer days. It's also about telekinesis, and insanity, and a string of mysterious deaths culminating in a Lindbergh-esque baby abduction. If Robert Bloch had written Dandelion Wine, it would look a whole lot like this. This is a surprisingly effective and affecting horror flick that tricks you into letting your guard down, and then skewers your guts like a pitchfork secreted in a pile of hay. It also boasts one of the creepiest trailers that's ever been stitched together by human hands. “The most frightening secret of all... is yet... to come...”
Day 3: Japanese Horror
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Blurb: I’m not going to even attempt describing this film. Anyone who has seen it will know that it defies explanation. Anyone who hasn’t seen it should witness it for themselves. The film is either pure genius, pure insanity, or possibly both at the same time. I will never be able to look at watermelon the same way again. Or cats. Or bananas. Or pianos.
Title: Jigoku Year: 1960 Director: Nobuo Nakagawa Blurb: One of my all time favorite depictions of hell. Truth be told, I don't quite remember what the poor sinners in this movie did, to get their names stricken from St. Peter's guest list. All of their petty terrestrial drama is mere preamble; the centerpiece of the film is an unforgettable, psychedelic Dantean descent into brimstone and eternal damnation. If Hieronymus Bosch directed a kabuki production of What Dreams May Come... actually, forget it, I tend to overuse that quippy formulation in my reviews. Guess that's my mortal sin.
Day 4: Satanic Panic
Title: Jennifer’s Body
Director: Karyn Kusama
Blurb: A criminally underrated (and dare I say feminist) horror film that combines elements of the satanic panic subgenre, succubus lore, and teen slasher films (including the final confrontation happening at a school dance). That the titular Jennifer (Megan Fox) only becomes a succubus because a group of men use her in a satanic ritual (to become a famous indie band, natch) is not the allegory that #MeToo deserved, but probably the one that it needed.
Title: The House of the Devil Year: 2009 Director: Ti West Blurb: The House of the Devil is a feature length exercise in buildup and the art of tenterhooks, a deliciously suspenseful film in which almost nothing happens. Imagine Lila Crane poking around inside the Bates house, or Clarice Starling fumbling her way through Buffalo Bill's lightless basement, for the full duration of a movie. The tension is both exquisite and nigh unendurable. When the payoff at last arrives, it does so in the form of hokey, comfortingly familiar devil worshipper shenanigans, but hey, to be fair, that's what earned this movie a shout out from me today.
Day 5: The Living Dead
Title: The Girl with All the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
Blurb: Despite feeling pretty zombied-out the past few years (I blame The Walking Dead), this has become one of my all-time favorites of the genre. The protagonist, Melanie, is a second-generation "hungry" and the story primarily follows her constant struggle to prove herself "human enough" to not become a dissection subject at the hands of the scientific-military complex that has imprisoned her. For a zombie film, The Girl with All the Gifts is equal parts haunting and hopeful - a difficult combination to master.
Title: One Cut of the Dead Year: 2017 Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda Blurb: Go in blind, and have a blast. I've never laughed harder at a man shitting his brains out. That isn't the way in which the word “brains” is usually deployed, in this context, but that can only be a good thing. I'm sick to death of movies about the living dead, and yet this wonderful film split my sides just as decisively as if I'd been on the receiving end of a good old fashioned zombie disemboweling.
Day 6: Hammer Horror
Title: (Horror of) Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Blurb: This is now my favorite vampire film AND my favorite Dracula adaptation. This movie surprised me at every turn, and features amazing performances from Peter Cushing (as Van Helsing) and Christopher Lee (as Dracula), among others. Although the American release was titled Horror of Dracula to keep the film distinct from the 1931 Universal Dracula, it could have just as easily been titled Horny for Dracula because it actually conveys the sex appeal the titular vampire *should* have.
Title: Frankenstein Created Woman Year: 1967 Director: Terence Fisher Blurb: The only Frankenstein film since the James Whale originals that might actually break your heart. This is the one where the good doctor finally tires of brain transplants and starts dabbling in soul transpositions. Fittingly, the movie itself has a soul of its own. It's not without its goofy moments, lord knows, but my lingering impression was one of admiration bordering upon reverence.
Day 7: Kid-Friendly
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Blurb: Although I may be disowned by self-respecting millennials for admitting this, I had never seen Halloweentown until this month. I didn’t grow up with cable, so Disney Channel original movies and shows were a very rare treat, reserved for sleepovers and the like. I can guarantee that 10 year old Shelby would have loved and obsessed over this movie, though, and adult Shelby found it pretty cute and wholesome. Debbie Reynolds is the witchy grandma that we all wanted as a kid, and Kimberly J. Brown as protagonist Marnie is the sassy, smart, and self-assured girl I wanted to be at that age.
Title: Dolls Year: 1987 Director: Stuart Gordon Blurb: Is this thing actually appropriate for kids? Probably not. It's a bit of a bloodbath, and it's got a respectable body count. And yet the whole movie is suffused with a childlike sensibility that I found enormously endearing. It made me feel the way that I felt when I watched film adaptations of Roald Dahl books as a little kid. Like I was biting off more than I could chew, but I wanted to keep biting. The grumpy, small-minded adults would be right at home in Matilda, and the sinisterly whimsical toymaker could give Willy Wonka a run for his golden tickets. If a kid is tough enough to handle Nicolas Roeg's version of The Witches, if you ask me, they can most likely handle this movie the following year. I'd be a bad parent.
Day 8: Holiday Horror
Title: Black Christmas
Director: Bob Clark
Blurb: In case this wasn't already apparent, I watch a lot of horror films. I consider myself pretty difficult to scare, and am generally unflappable when it comes to slasher movies especially. That said, I was *not* prepared for how disturbing Black Christmas was. I was warned, sure, but I figured "eh, it's another slasher movie - I'm sure I'll be fine." I was not fine. I am not fine. This is one of the most effectively creepy horror movies I've ever seen, and even though "the call is coming from inside the house" has become an easy-to-mock genre trope, it is executed brilliantly here.
Matt G. Title: April Fool's Day Year: 1986 Director: Fred Walton Blurb: Is April Fool's Day a quality horror movie? Not quite. Is it a decent comedy? Getting warmer. In truth, it's something altogether better, and rarer, and slipperier, than either of those genre designations would suggest: it's the world's only feel good slasher flick. Point being, it's like nothing else I've ever seen, and it's a damn good time. This is not a prank, mind you. I sincerely love this film.