31 Days of Horror Challenge: Week Two

Although we’re only a week into this challenge, I already feel like I think about horror movies for most of the day. Whether anticipating my next film or reflecting on the last, I constantly have horror on my mind as All Hallows’ Eve gets closer. The Halloween spirit has filled my tiny apartment, adorned with taper candles in glass jars, orange lights, and a tiny plush bird wearing a pumpkin costume. With the perfect ghoulish atmosphere, I watched a stacked lineup of horror movies. 

Oct. 4: Poltergeist (1982)

a young girl with blonde hair reaches toward a skeletal hand emerging from glowy static TV
Image courtesy of MGM

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The challenge: A movie directed by Tobe Hooper 

Pros: The practical effects are to die for (pun intended). 

Cons: I truly can’t think of one. I had high expectations and they were exceeded!

I cannot believe I waited this long to watch Poltergeist. It’s one of those films I knew I would like but, for one reason or another, put off watching for years. Hooper’s classic ghost film strikes a balance between horror and surrealism. Paired with the film’s quintessential 1980’s elements and scares throughout, Poltergeist is a classic for good reason. 

Oct. 5: Audition (1999)

a woman with long dark hair holds a filled syring in a gloved hand
Image courtesy of Omega Project

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The challenge: Watch a Japanese horror film

Pros: Satisfying but stomach-churning ending

Cons: Asami (Eihi Shiina), the female lead, has a storyline centered on her trauma. As viewers, we don’t know anything else about her. The situation is made less awful by the third act, when certain parts of her life story are revealed … but the comment stands. The film could benefit from scenes that clued in the audience a little earlier so she’s less of a flat character.

Takashi Miike’s Audition was one of the first Japanese horror films to break into the international blockbuster market — even before the popular slang term, J-Horror, came into the horror community’s vernacular. The film is known for a particularly gorey scene that takes place toward the end of the film. Outside of that infamous scene, though, Audition reads like a romantic drama about a widower, Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi), and his new love interest Asami, whom he met through a series of interviews disguised as an acting audition. Asami is mysterious and doesn’t give away details about her life, raising suspicions from Shigeharu and his friends as the relationship goes on. I won’t spoil the rest, though I will say the film is a lot for about ten minutes near the end if you’re particularly squeamish. The filmmaking techniques were highly influential to other Japanese horror films like The Grudge and The Ring, so Audition is worth the watch if you’re a horror lover. 

Oct. 6: Christine (1983) 

police and examiners in white coats surround a red car with its doors open
Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The challenge: Watch a movie with a killer car

Pros: They really got creative with the ways a car can be made scary!

Cons: No matter how close to scary it got, it was hard to take it seriously because the villain is a car.

Christine wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t great. Director John Carpenter knows what he’s doing in the horror genre, so the film is well-paced and entertaining. The concept of teenage Arnie (Keith Gordon) acquiring a murderous car — though unique — lost its novelty about thirty minutes in. Christine — the titular car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury — is a malevolent force that changes Arnie’s personality from goody-two-shoes to rebel while hurting the people around him. The film could work better as a short or single television episode, but it feels dragged out and repetitive as the film progresses.

Oct. 7: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

two men and two women stand in a line holding makeshift weapons including an umbrella, hokckey stick, and paddle
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The challenge: Watch a horror comedy

Pros: Not one but TWO skewered zombies! Lots of good gore and funny kills. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Know” plays during an epic, gorey fight scene. 

Cons: A white guy uses n word to address a group of white people — wasn’t okay in 2004, isn’t okay now. The love story is pointless and feels out of place in the film, which already has emotional depth from the near-death situation everyone is in. 

Shaun of the Dead left me disappointed. The zombie apocalypse crossed with British comedy works really, really well at some points, but at others it falls flat. The best parts of the film are unexpected moments of body horror crossed with comedy as Shaun, along with family and friends, fend off zombies as they try to make it to a safe location. The film is a staple in zombie movie canon, but may not be the best choice for people who are not already fans of the genre. Most importantly, in my humble opinion, is the gem of a line “F—k-a-doodle-doo,” which I will be incorporating into my everyday vocabulary.

Oct. 8: Aliens (1986)

Ripley stands center with her entire spaceship crew of 14 stands in a line behind her
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The challenge: A horror movie starring Bill Paxton

Pros: Amazing special effects and story 

Cons: Needs more of Jones (the cat)!

James Cameron’s Aliens is a triumph of genre-blending and filmmaking. The sci-fi horror classic follows Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she leads a team of scientists in learning more about the  aliens that killed her previous spaceship’s crew. In the performance of a lifetime, Weaver portrays Ripley as a badass, whip-smart woman who takes charge of her mission for the greater good. The horror and sci-fi elements are both terrifying and mesmerizing: as Ripley and her team move through air ducts and encounter more aliens than they can handle, the stakes rise and it’s nearly impossible to look away. One of the best sequels I’ve ever seen, Aliens is just as groundbreaking and entertaining as the first in the franchise, a feat achieved by very few sequels. 

Oct. 9: Tag (2015)

a teenage girl in a blood-splattered school uniform stands on an empty road
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures Japan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The challenge: A movie recommended by someone else — thanks to my friend, Cody!

Pros: So. Many. Scares. 

Cons: Tries to do a little too much — could benefit from a little more plot and character development.

Sion Sono’s Tag is a surreal and unforgettable Japanese Horror film. Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), a teenage girl, finds herself the only survival of a strange incident involving two school buses. From there, her life spirals as she falls through different dimensions. In each, the people around her meet gruesome ends, making for many bloody deaths. Clocking in at 85 minutes, Tag is high stakes and short lived, leaving a few unanswered questions and loose ends that I wish were resolved. For the splatter, slasher, and thrill-seekers, Tag is a great pick. 

Oct. 10: The Uninvited (1944) 

A black and white photo of a man and woman in semi-formal 1940s attire standing in the entry of a mansion with a large curved staircase and chandelier
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The challenge: A ghostly movie

Pros: Gorgeous shots and costumes!

Cons: The 1940’s sexism is fairly strong with this one, leaning on the hysterical women narrative that was not uncommon in women’s lives at the time. 

Classic horror lovers, this one’s for you! The Uninvited is a foundational haunted house film.  

A beautifully creepy mansion is oddly inexpensive for its size and seaside location, so a brother and sister move in. Through a series of strange occurrences and learning about the house’s past, the siblings discover the house is haunted. One of the first serious ghost films, The Uninvited is historically important to the horror genre. Before the film, ghosts were typically played for laughs or written off, but this film uses them as a source of fear, as countless movies after would. The Uninvited is spooky in atmosphere but not too scary, making it a haunted house film that just about anyone can enjoy — even the scaredy cats!

What a week! This week, I had quite a few 4 or 5 star movies that I highly recommend. My favorite film of the week was Poltergeist and my least favorite was Shaun of the Dead. Next week, I’ll be focusing on horror classics I’ve never seen and a few old favorites including A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Woman in Black.