I don’t plan lists and I don’t write reviews but I thought I’d watch along with the movies other people mention (if I could find them without spending much money), because I always forget that October is supposed to be spooky fun time.
To be honest, I’ve largely given up on seeing decent Hollywood movies ever again, so I’ve really enjoyed discovering that there are actually still movies out there that aren’t drowning in fake-looking video game CGI and cheesy one-liners.
What Others Are Watching
Here are movies I sampled that other people mentioned. First, the emoji reviews! (This concept was stolen wholesale from Richard Osman’s House of Games.) Can you guess the movie? Probably not. I put more effort into some than others.
And now the answers.
- Black Sunday (1960, English, Amazon Prime). 🧛♀️🏰⚰️🧐 Old Italian Mario Bava black and white fare. It’s gothic. It’s influential. It’s poorly dubbed. The value of such a movie in 2023 is more as a historical artifact than as an entertainment product. More for getting a better understanding of the homages in things like the FMV game Immortality, or for marvelling at just how much better everyone’s pocket cell phone is for movie production than expensive late 50s studio equipment, or for grabbing samples to use in trippy EDM or Pink Floyd-style songs, or for falling asleep, because it has that “old timey” lo-fi 50s orchestral palette and distorted radio microphone sound that reminds you of the 13" black-and-white kitchen television you grew up with.
- Haunt (2019, Amazon Prime). 🎃🏠✋🔪⋔😐 A well-shot SAW-ish movie that had its moments (well, one moment… the end) but overall kind of a predictable story full of shallow kids I didn’t really care about, and too much slasher for my tastes. A major problem with most teen slashers is that if I’m not made to care about the teens, why should I care if the teens get slashed? Who’s going to mourn them when they’re gone?
- The Wailing (2016, Korean, Amazon Prime). 👮♂️🤷👨👧👻😢😀👏 The first half hour is a subtitled fever dream. Was it Keystone Kops investigating a ghost? A comedy? Koreans’ open contempt for the Japanese? Not sure. But it didn’t start very scary. Or coherent. But! Somewhere around the halfway point, it turned into a very compelling horror movie with stakes. After that, there’s a lot of screaming and, well, wailing, and it’s hard to look away. A good find.
- Devil (2010, Amazon Prime). 🏢🪞😈😐 This is my favorite kind of Stephen King story, except it’s not a Stephen King story, it’s credited to Brian Nelson and M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a good idea, but it wasn’t executed very well, and it wasn’t very scary. The score was way over the top. Nifty camera shots at the beginning though. (The old it’s-not-a-mirror-it’s-another-set-of-lookalike-actors-behind-glass trick.)
- A Bay of Blood (1971, English, Amazon Prime). 🌊👩🦽🦑💃🔪🧐 Another cheap Italian Mario Bava movie from the film era before sound design mattered, so everything sounds like a badly dubbed, warbly cassette tape. One of the so-called giallo genre flicks, a new term to me. Allegedly one of the best ones. I can see the origins of the 80s teen slasher in it, but unfortunately for me, I don’t really like teen slashers, no matter how much teens generally deserve slashing. As with Black Sunday above, it’s mainly an interesting historical artifact.
- The Keep (1983, PlutoTV). 🪖🏰💨👹🍊🤨🤔🧐 Lots of star power and Tangerine Dream but I think I must have had a stroke because what was that? It started very promising, but it wasn’t my imagination that it felt like half the narrative had been cut out, leaving random gibberish, because it was. I’m not convinced it would have been better without the cuts, but at least it might have had some internal logic.
- Jigoku (1960, Japanese, Criterion Channel). 😈🚗💃💋🚂🪦🥱⏩🔥👫🤔🤷 Um. What? Seriously, though. What? I got a Criterion Channel trial for that? Usually I lament the lack of creativity in movies but it turns out it’s actually possible to have way too much creativity in movies. I skipped past a good 40 minutes and didn’t notice any continuity problems. It’s a curiosity from a different time and a different culture.
- The Sentinel (1977, Netflix). 👩🏠🐤🐈⬛🍷🥳👻🔪✝️😐 The one where Christopher Walken gets a higher credit than Jeff Goldblum by chewing gum and saying nothing whatsoever, and where Tom Berenger makes a surprise one-line appearance at the end. Felt like a made-for-television movie. Never felt invested in any characters. Sometimes it was okay (e.g. the Burges Meredith scenes), but mostly I found it a mishmash of vaguely spooky scenes thrown together that didn’t make much sense.
- The Caller (1987, Tubi). 👩🏠🌲👀👨🦳📞⛈️🗣️🏎️🏃♀️🙂🧐 It’s a unique movie, I’ll give it that. I thought it was an allegory for the longest time. Stilted, unbelievable dialog means it’s pretty obvious not all is as it seems as soon as the two characters start talking. Felt like more of a play. But it’s an intriguing mystery to try to guess what’s going on. That’s the main reason to watch, really: To see if you can correctly guess the ending. (I didn’t, because nobody could, because it’s out of nowhere.)
- Hell Fest (2018, Plex). 🎃🔪🎃🔪🥱⏩⏩ Typical factory-produced teen slasher made to pay the bills. Not much else to say. Didn’t care about the slasher or the slashees and just skipped to the end to see the twist, if you can call it that.
- Triangle (2009, Tubi). 👩⛵️⛈️🛳️🔫🏃♀️😯🤩👏 Started a bit slow, but has some very compelling plot developments. At first I thought it would end up similar to Dead Calm (1989), but it went a completely different way. There are some logical inconsistencies, and too much shaky-cam, but it’s a fantastic horror story. Never even heard of it before, but it’s a great find. One of the best ones I’ve seen recently.
- Resolution (2012, Tubi). 👨👨🏠🥱⏩⏩⏩🤷 Very low budget indie movie. Handheld cameras. Couldn’t get into it. Couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters or the mystery. Just fast forwarded through it.
- Maniac Cop (1988, Tubi). 👮🔪🥱⏩⏩⏩ I could tell from the title and the description and the first five minutes that this movie wasn’t going to work for me so I just fast forwarded through it. I didn’t watch these kinds of movies in the 80s and I still don’t particularly want to. Not even stereotypical 80s synth movie music can save this for me.
- Horror of Dracula (1958, Max). 👨🧛♀️🧛♀️🩸🧐 One of those classic “Hammer horrors” you’ve heard about all your life, but never actually seen. (Maybe that’s just me.) Anyway, it’s another historical artifact movie–my parents would have been in their 20s watching this in theaters (except my parents definitely wouldn’t have been watching any Hammer horrors). It’s Dracula again, except in color and even more melodramatic, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. A surprisingly modern-sounding score toward the end. And great diction throughout–very soothing ASMR voices. Whatever happened to actors you could actually understand? I sound like my dad.
- Phantasm 🪦⚰️👦👉🪰🚗🤷🥱😑 I lost interest in this after an hour. Supposedly a classic, but to me it’s more of a testement to the perserverance of young filmmakers learning on the job, and evidence for the long-held studio belief that low-budget horror films sometimes turn into gold mines.
- 1408 (2012, Amazon Prime rental). 🧑📕🏨🖼️📞🙂 Always meant to see this one. As with most all Stephen King movie adaptations, it wasn’t as good as the source material, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t think it would work as a movie, since it’s such an internal experience. The bit with his daughter wasn’t in the short story at all, but I swear I remember it from somewhere. Maybe it was lifted from another King story, or it’s possible I actually have seen this movie before and didn’t remember it. It’s that kind of movie; the kind that holds your attention while you’re watching it, but you forget it a day after watching it, unless you write something down like this to know that you watched it.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005, Hulu). 👧😈🏛️👩⚖️😀👏 I remember this as one of the spookiest horror movies I’ve ever seen, so when I saw Jaedia’s review giving it only three stars (and describing it more as a courtroom drama, which I didn’t remember at all) I had to rewatch it to see if I misremembered. I both did and didn’t. What I remembered were the flashbacks, which I still think are pretty spooky and memorable. In re-watching, what I love is the juxtaposition of the skeptical and the spiritual. Personally I thought this was a better movie than The Exorcist. Good score, too.
- Freaky (2020, Amazon Prime). 🔪👧🧔♂️🎭⏰😂🙂 The urge to make fun of the younger generation is strong, but it’s cute. Sort of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe. Wish it had gotten to the hook much faster, because it took a good 30 minutes. One of those comedy movies where the joke (which is pretty funny) only has enough material for a few minutes of SNL sketch comedy, but they stretched it into a full movie instead. But it’s got some heartfelt moments and snorty laughs here and there. e.g. “Divide and survive!”
- The Menu (2022, Max). 🍽️🌮🍔😮😀👏 Not what you think. Creepy. Psychological. Sarcastic. Riveting. Aimee Carrero outside of Critical Role. The limitless human capacity for self-delusion. Good stuff.
Movies For Me
Next, here are some horror movies I picked to watch for myself to fill in that always-growing list of movies I always wanted to watch:
And the answers:
- Get Out (2017, Amazon Prime Rental). 🏠👨👩👧👦😵💫📺🚔😂😀👏 Finally got around to watching it. It is, in fact, really good. I found it more funny than scary. Just watch it.
- Train to Busan (2016, Korean, Amazon Prime). 👨👧🚆🧟♀️🏃🏃♀️🏃♂️🎵🙂 It’s okay, but I got a bit bored in the middle of it. I never really liked the zombie craze. Zombies are gross and I don’t like gross horror. But I kept hearing this one is a fresh take on zombies … except it’s not, really, is it? Besides it’s on a train in a different language? Everything felt contrived, the zombies looked performative, and the number of times the plot depended on characters and situations being cartoonishly non-believable extended well beyond credible limits, so it was difficult to form any attachment to it. But it wasn’t bad. I just never got emotionally invested in it, which is clearly what needed to happen for the bits at the end to land right.
- The Exorcist (1973, Max). 🐪🎬👩👧🤒🩺😈✝️🛌🧐 Well I finally watched it. I guess I’m obligated to say it was as good as everyone says it is? Although I imagine it was probably a lot more impactful in 1973. In 2023, the pacing is slow and everything looks and sounds fake. The demon’s voice sounded like a literal cartoon voice actor, the least scary demon voice I’ve ever heard, bees or no bees. This is the drawback to watching older classics through modern jaded eyes–I’ve seen the tropes in The Exorcist done better a hundred times. Also, I don’t think I’m supposed to think this, but I found the mom character fairly insufferable. I didn’t think the priest’s internal struggle with faith was shown very well. Max von Sydow wasn’t in the movie enough (also, speaking of demons, he somehow looked exactly the same in this as he did in The Force Awakens).
- Dracula (1931, Amazon Prime). 🏰🧛♂️🛳️🏴🦇👧🩸⚰️🥩🫀🧐 Not something I meant to watch, but it just happened to be on the front page of Amazon Prime one day. Surprisingly watchable for an old movie without much of a score. Like watching a play (it’s also a play). Way more Renfield than I was expecting. Sort of a weird ending, though. It just stopped, almost mid-sentence. Apparently there was an epilogue that was cut when “the code” upturned Hollywood debauchery in the 30s, and it wasn’t in Amazon’s version.
- Nope (2022, Amazon Prime). 🐴🛩️👽🌥️🎈😯🤩😍👏 Turned out it wasn’t really a horror movie, it’s more of a science ficion movie. But wow, this is a fantastic movie. Jordan Peele is an amazing filmmaker. Just let him make all the movies, please. Tear down the Marvel Industrial Complex once and for all.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, 40th Anniversary Edition, Amazon Prime). 🚗🚶♂️🧑🦽👫🏠🔨🪚😱🏃♀️😱🏃♀️😱🏃♀️😑 I didn’t expect so much of this movie to be slow and boring. It wasn’t very gory either, contrary to the expectations built up for most of my life. Interesting that it had a found-footage feel to it, in the sense that all the actors seemed to be improvising their lines. I could see some innovative quick-cut editing that’s unusual for the time. Otherwise the non-stop screaming for the last half hour really got on my nerves, and not in the fun way it was supposed to.
- The Descent (2005, Max). 🚗🕳️🧗♀️🔦🪨🩸🩸😐 A movie that I avoided because I thought it would be too dern gruesome for me when I first saw trailers for it. It’s not as scary as I thought (not after playing The Forest, at least), but after a certain point it turns into an underground version of a World War I movie with unrelenting hand-to-hand fighting for survival in muddy trenches during rain storms, with Alien and Predator mixed in, and there’s a lot of screaming, and it’s a strangely similar vibe to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except with a lot more blood and mud and glistening slime and Carrie-inspired costumes. Luckily it’s too dark to see much, but unluckily you can’t tell which character is which, either. In the end it was exhausting and less satisfying than most war movies, even with Max’s “happy” American ending.
- The Blair Witch Project (1999, Paramount+ trial). 🎥🌲🥾⛺️🥱⏩⏩🥱 Brian the Dog: “Nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening. Something about a map.” I gave up after 41 minutes. Little plot and the characters were annoying to be around. The next day I felt bad for abandoning it in the middle (after all, supposedly it’s included in 1,001 movies to watch before you die), so I watched the rest, and I wish I hadn’t. I can see what they were trying to do, but it didn’t work for me. The amount of plot and character development in this could have been shown in 10 minutes. The rest of the time it’s just squinting at a grainy picture trying to see anything that might be scary while trying not to get physically ill from motion sickness.
- Paranormal Activity (2007, Amazon Prime rental). 🏠🎥👻🥱⏩⏩ Fast-forwarded through most of this one. An interesting idea, way better execution than Blair Witch, except that these characters remained in the house long after the point where it made any sense to stay in the house, thanks to the idiot boyfriend being all like “hey baby let’s stay it’s fine” while she’s repeatedly saying “I hate it let’s leave” every day for a month. Ugh. She’s literally dragged to the attic screaming, and they still stay another night. Bravo to the ghost, I say.
- The VVitch (2015, Max). 👶🐇🏆💋🐐🧙♀️🙂 Nice supernatural period drama but pretty slow-paced. I recognized the references from historical Salem Witch trial documents (at one point I thought they were building to an actual trial). I thought it got a bit too trippy at the end though, like a Stanley Kubrick movie, and I’m not entirely sure I fully understood the character arc.
- Old (2021, Amazon Prime Freevee). 🌊⛱️🩳⏰⏳👶🏊♂️🧗♀️😐 Fairly typical M. Night Shyamalan fare. Cool “what if” idea, but I didn’t quite buy into it. Selling the audience on the extraordinary is a key requirement of these sorts of fantastical horror stories. Also, the characters felt a bit flat to me, so it was difficult to feel sympathy for their predicament. Also, it didn’t have a very kind viewpoint on aging, which is a somewhat annoying thing to watch as a person who is, in fact, aging.
- Last Night In Soho (2021, Amazon Prime). 👩🏙️👗🛌💃🍸🎶🔪😯😍👏 A fantastic movie in every department. The music, sound design, and cinematography was amazing. Some hand-wavy dream logic at times, but otherwise a real gem. Somehow, I’d never heard of it before. I blame the Marvel Industrial Complex. Those blockbusters made from fake-looking video game CGI suck the oxygen out of everything else. Admittedly I’m not very plugged into the latest movie releases anymore.
- Insidious (2010, Max). 👨👩👦👦🏠👻🚶😐 In the search for a horror movie I like from 2010, I landed on this. Seemed like it was supposed to have been a television series pilot. It’s a pretty slow story about a mundane family whose son inexplicably falls into a coma, and the charismatic paranormal investigators who try to fix it, who unfortunately don’t show up until a good 45 minutes into the movie. Very strong similarities to Poltergeist. Didn’t work for me.
- Black Swan (2010, Amazon Prime rental). 🩰🦢💃🕺💃🕺😐 I never knew this was considered a horror movie. A very surprising amount of grainy handheld shaky-cam in this movie, which was somewhat annoying since I had a big headache at the time I watched it. Otherwise I found this uncomfortable to watch for some reason. Even mild body horror isn’t my jam, and beyond that it was somewhat difficult to follow the dream logic. The lack of variety in the score (or “score”) got on my nerves.
- Knock at the Cabin (2023, Amazon Prime). 🐞🏠🏇🏇🏇🏇🌊🤒🛩️😀👏 I really liked this movie, but I can’t quite decide if I loved it or not. It’s definitely the best M. Night movie I’ve seen in a while. I mentioned this with Old: So much of these kinds of fantastical horror movies depend on selling the audience on the impossible scenario, and this one does a good job of it, by drawing you into the characters immediately. Characters are so, so important in horror.
That’s it for now.