The List Roundup: October 2019

Here are the movies from the list that I watched in October.

Ringu 2 (1999, Hideo Nakata, Japan)

The sequel to 1998’s Ringu, although not based on the works of the author of the original novel. The tone of the original is there, but in a much duller form—the mystery, tension, pathos, and fear are just not as sharp.

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, spooky ghosts, J-horror

Dracula (1979, John Badham, UK)

Ridiculously beautiful adaptation. The saturated colors and lavish gothic sets are almost the most beautiful thing in the movie; Frank Langella as Dracula is on the seductive and charming end, mostly eschewing the animalistic or sad-old-man aspects of the Count.

  • Recommended if you like: vampires, gothic settings

Blind Beast (1969, Yasuzô Masumura, Japan)

This is a hard one to describe, aside from saying it’s minimalist and auteurist. The story is of a blind sculptor who kidnaps a woman to use as his muse and model. The bulk of the movie involves her trying to escape his studio, which is a very surreal set, or manipulate him and his mother. It descends into a dark psychosexual expression, rather than any sort of story resolution. 

  • Recommended if you like: tension, psychological horror, Japanese classics, minimalist settings, surrealism
  • Content warnings: ableism, rape

Beyond the Darkness (1979, Joe D’Amato, Italy)

Loosely, this movie features exploitation and gore, wrapped up in a psychological conflict. The violence aims to shock and disgust—disemboweling, dismembering—and it’s often just cruel, without much effort to root it in the story. It had some Psycho vibes, with the strapping young lad luring women (or not preventing them from stumbling into his workshop?) and murdering them, driven by his obsession with his fiance’s corpse and an overbearing mother figure. None of it really ever comes together and it all felt to me like an excuse for the gore and nudity. 

  • Recommended if you like: gore, gialli, manipulative mother figures, good soundtracks
  • Content warnings: predation of women, sexualized violence, graphic gore (using real animal organs)  

Salem’s Lot (1979, Tobe Hooper, USA)

Stephen King’s vampire classic is one that takes its time settling into the town. This is a miniseries in two movie-length parts, so it takes advantage of the tv format. The autumn atmosphere really carries this movie—I was happy to let it take its time.

The cast is strong but kind of falls back into archetypes—both soap opera and vampire. James Mason is the obvious draw and he’s perfectly creepy, but I also really liked Bonnie Bedelia’s character, although she disappears towards the end when it’s time for the boys to solve the conflict.

I thought it was interesting that most of the vampire’s victims in the movie are men and boys. Through much of the movie I felt like those who succumbed to the vampire were those who failed to grow up, in various ways. It’s something I’ll have to look into at another time.

  • Recommended if you like: vampires, Stephen King, small-town drama

303 Fear Faith Revenge (1999, Somching Srisupap, Thailand)

A mystery slasher along the lines of the teen slashers of the 90s. Like any good movie about an all-boys/girls school, there’s plenty of homoeroticism (also check out the Whispering Corridor series).

  • Recommended if you like: slashers, seances, school settings

Case 39 (2009, Christian Alvart, USA)

This is a mystery thriller with a supernatural bend in which a social worker rescues an abused child, who turns out to be a scary little kid. This director released Pandorum the same year, and he must be a versatile director because they feel miles apart. Case 39 doesn’t build feverish amounts of tension or anything, and the threats lack immediacy when they reveal themselves, but the mystery is enough to keep it moving.

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, creepy kids, social workers

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989, Dominique Othenin-Girard, USA)

I didn’t see any of the sequels until lately, so not having any nostalgia for the series means I don’t get particularly excited for them, or in this case, I don’t get disappointed about the so-called bad ones. I thought this worked because instead of the usual final girl, we have a child. Seeing the terror in Jamie’s face as she’s chased by Michael felt genuine because it was stripped of the usual psychosexual subtext that’s usually at play in these slashers.

Tina was great too. The fact that all the women in the movie were united in their care for Jamie made them much more real to me.

  • Recommended if you like: horror icons, slashers, psychic children, 80s teens
  • Content warnings: sexualized violence

Beowulf (1999, Graham Baker, UK)

This was such a fun surprise. It’s the classic story set in an alternate medieval era with modern technologies. It’s indulgently over the top, from the industrial rock to the DOS-era CGI.

I usually try to avoid comparing movies, but it’s kind of hard not to compare it to 2008’s Doomsday, another movie that takes place in a post-apocalyptic medieval Britain (also starring Rhona Mitra). While Doomsday is the movie equivalent of Dril’s motorcycle tweet in the way it has an amazing setup but is just not weird enough and quickly deflates, Beowulf walks the fine line of indulgence while not taking itself too seriously.

  • Recommended if you like: medieval post apocalyptica, monsters, classic adaptations, leather, good bad movies

Family Reunion (1989, Michael Hawes, USA)

A low-budget movie about a family trapped in a ghost town where satanists are trying to complete their ritual. It’s solidly average, with a decent story and good character moments, but staying pretty flat as far as tension or action go. Although I thought the humor, especially the teenage daughter’s sarcastic lines, added some well-placed moments of levity. Apparently it was released as Picknick in Ghost City in West Germany, and that’s probably the most exciting thing about it.

  • Recommended if you like: satanic cults, possession, ghost towns, low budgets

Warlock (1989, Steve Miner, USA) 

A witch travels from the 16th century to 20th-century LA. Julian Sands as the warlock is reason enough to see the movie, but luckily there’s even more reward. It stands on its strong script, fantastic performances, and imaginative witch lore.

  • Recommended if you like: witchcraft, time travel, cool curses

Saw VI (2009, Kevin Greutert, USA) 

I saw Saw and Saw II when they came out, and checked out after that. I’d heard that Saw VI was one of the better installments in the series, but I debated whether I wanted to catch up on Saw III through Saw V, and chose not to. 

I don’t know if having the context of the others would have helped much, because this movie felt like it was 50% flashbacks and they didn’t help explain the context. The rest of the movie, to its credit, felt more concerned with the drama between the investigators and the reasons why the main victim was targeted. It’s all filmed in a style that’s convoluted, overwrought, and feels very dated, only after 10 years. 

  • Recommended if you like: torture movies, serial killers, police intrigue 
  • Content warnings: gratuitous cringy violence 

Lo (2009, Travis Betz, USA)

A comedy horror in which a man summons a demon to retrieve his love from hell. It’s a really compelling concept, with a minimalist setting with theatrical interludes. The makeup on the demon is amazing and the theatrical fuckery was excellent. I thought the jokes fell flat though, but I don’t enjoy comedy or fun. 

  • Recommended if you like: demons, summoning, theater, comedy 

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Peter Cornwell, USA)

This straddles the haunting and possession subgenres, on top of a story about a family’s faith being tested while they face the likely death of their kid with cancer. 

It was hard to watch this and not think about how much better it would be without the jarring noises and music accompanying the scares. I hate to complain about that, but when I find myself thinking during the movie about who makes that decision, when, and what the person’s desk who’s adding the sound effects looks like… 

  • Recommended if you like: spooky houses, ghosts, family drama, mysteries 

The House of the Devil (2009, Ti West, USA) 

A slow-burn throwback to the aesthetic, film techniques, and Satanic Panic of the 80s. I believe  nostalgia in TV and movies is on a 30-year cycle: the 30 – 40 year olds making films in the 2010s were teens in the 80s, and the 30 – 40 year olds then were teens in the 50s. The House of the Devil was right on time to kick off the 80s nostalgia cycle that we’re in the saturated tail end of now. 

This was my second time seeing and it really clicked this time. Both times I was super excited for a movie that gave me 30 min of exploring a spooky house. The cinematography felt so playful. And being able to take a step back from the ending this time, I appreciated it a lot more. 

  • Recommended if you like: spooky houses, slow burns, 80s nostalgia, satanic cults, walkmans 
  • Content warnings: forced pregnancy

The ‘Burbs (1989, Joe Dante, USA) 

This has been one of my favorite movies to watch on Halloween since my friend finally talked me into seeing it. “It’s got a funny scene about sardines” just doesn’t sell a movie, but it does have a funny scene about sardines. 

Although it’s not strictly horror by any measure, it 100% celebrates horror while also lampooning the neighborhood adventure movies of the 80s and boyhood nostalgia that grown men act out when they’ve landed squarely in their middle-class lives. 

I don’t know how it’s so funny, other than it’s purely Dante. I don’t know why “I called the pizza dude!” makes me laugh so much. God I love this movie. 

  • Recommended if you like: mysteries, off-beat humor, not growing up 

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