To celebrate Halloween, I’m participating in the 31 Days of Horror challenge. The third week of the challenge coincided with my birthday, so I picked a batch of films that I’ve always wanted to watch, along with an old favorite to watch on my actual birthday.
Oct. 11: Donnie Darko (2001) dir. Richard Kelly
The challenge: A film that takes place on/around Halloween
Pros: Surreal visuals + cute baby Jake Ghyllenhaal = my ideal film experience
Cons: Honestly none
Donnie Darko is one of those early 2000s cult classics that I missed out on. My frame of reference for the psychological thriller was screengrabs and fan-made GIFs on tumblr. I thought it seemed like a movie for brooding teenage incels, not me. I was so wrong. Donnie Darko, despite not being marketed as horror, is made up of my favorite things in horror: a building sense of dread, slippages between reality and dreams, and a great soundtrack. The film is emotionally effective, mysterious, and thrilling from start to finish. If you, too, have made it to 2020 without seeing Donnie Darko, take this as your push to add it to your queue.
Oct. 12: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) dir. Wes Craven
The challenge: It’s Lin Shaye’s birthday. Watch a horror film featuring her!
Pros: Nancy is an iconic scream queen! She’s amazing in every scene.
Cons: Teens are punished for having sex — an outdated trope that can be frustrating to watch
One two, Freddy’s coming for you…
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is everything you want in a slasher movie. Complete with a scream queen and final girl Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), nightmares that bleed into the day, and murder as punishment for premarital sex, the slasher is filled with genre tropes of the 70s and 80s, the film fits perfectly into any spooky movie night. From the creepy music to the scream-filled kill scenes and everything in-between, Nightmare mixes slasher staples with unexpected elements. It’s no surprise why Freddy Kruger has become a part of the cultural zeitgeist and the film spawned multiple sequels. Once again, if this is a classic horror you’ve missed, it’s truly worth a watch.
Oct. 13: Friday the 13th (1980) dir. Sean Cunningham
The challenge: Watch a Friday the 13th film.
Pros: Love some of the scares, last few were very unexpected!
Cons: Cheesy and campy (in a bad way) throughout
Friday the 13th was a bit of a let down. The camp slasher follows a group of counselors as they are stalked and murdered by a mysterious killer. With its status as a cult classic, I was excited to see what it was all about; but the execution left me wanting more. I imagine if I’d seen the movie at a theater or sleepover when I was younger, it’d be steeped in nostalgia and I’d like it more. Regardless, the score and the last few kills are pretty great and worth watching for horror aficionados.
Oct. 14: Phantoms (1998) dir. Joe Chappelle
The challenge: A movie based on a Dean Koontz novel
Pros: Everyone is hot!
Cons: Plot resembles Swiss cheese (it has a significant amount of holes)
Joe Chappelle’s Phantoms has enough happening to hold interest, but if you look for too long the story falls apart. The film follows sisters Jenny (Joanna Going) and Lisa (Rose McGowan) who arrive in Snowfield, Colorado to find an abandoned town where it appears that something horrible happened. They team up with two men (Ben Affleck and Peter O’Toole) to get to the bottom of things, putting their lives on the line in the process. Perhaps a fault of translating from book to screen, the film attempts to include layered backstory and explanations for the mysterious ghost town but they just don’t line up.
Oct. 15: The Woman in Black (2012) dir. James Watkins
The challenge: Watch a Hammer Horror film.
Pros: Deeply sad, great for a cry and a scare!
Cons: Moderately cheesy
The Woman in Black is the first horror movie I ever watched in a theater. At fifteen, it scared the hell out of me and I absolutely loved it. The atmospheric film is inspired by historical haunted house films, complete with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous seaside mansion. Arthur (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself in the remote area while on business. He sticks around when he learns the ghost of the owner is terrorizing the children of the town. Arthur works to appease the spirit and stop the attacks, resulting in a terrifying series of events. Watching the film now, it’s certainly not as horrifying as when I first saw it. Nevertheless, it’s a solid horror movie with a satisfying ending, perfect for fans of haunted house films and those who want a horror movie that’s not too scary.
Oct. 16: The Invisible Man (2020) dir. Leigh Whannell
The challenge: Watch a horror film that takes place in an asylum
Pros: Elisabeth Moss is in her element and it shows!
Cons: (mild spoiler incoming) It felt unbelievable that her friend would abandon her like that after opening his home to her
The Invisible Man is about the all-too-real horrors of abusive partners and the lasting effects they have. The film kicks off as Cecilia sneaks out of her home to escape her abusive husband, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After she’s safe at a friend’s home, Cecilia is understandably traumatized and fears her husband will find her, even after she hears of his death. Cecilia experiences strange occurrences that lead her to believe she’s being stalked by Adrian somehow. She notices missing objects reappearing, presences in the night, and violent outbursts attacking her from thin air. The viewing experience is haunting as we don’t know whether Cecilia is experiencing hallucinations, being stalked by someone, or if her theory about Adrian is correct.
Oct. 17: Crimson Peak (2015) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
The challenge: I didn’t go with today’s challenge — decided to rewatch this instead
Pros: The most gorgeous mansion and costumes
Cons: Takes a while to get it’s footing
Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak is a feast for the eyes. It’s truly the perfect atmosphere for Halloween time: a haunted mansion, candlelight, and a fair amount of gruesome ghouls. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) moves into the home with her husband Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). There, Edith finds herself surrounded by ghosts that only she can see. The story is solid, but I love this movie because of the mood and visuals. I highly suggest lighting some candles, turning out the lights, and sinking into the world of Crimson Peak.
Week 3 of the 31 Days of Horror challenge was one for the books. Nearly every film was a hit in my book and I recommend most of them; though Phantoms isn’t a must-see. Stay tuned for the next wrapup for mini reviews of The Other Lamb, Orphan, and more!