61 Days of Halloween: R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour- Don’t Think About It (2007)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It (2007)

As I’ve reference a few times, in my youth I had an aversion to horror. I didn’t relish being scared back then. As someone who gravitated to the genre later in life, I take no umbrage with the idea of juvenile horror such as the likes that R.L. Stine creates. Yes, many kids (much younger than I when I was started to read Desperation), cut their teeth on Stephen King. However, not all kids are the same (which is a small part of why I avoid giving parental guidance advice). However, I can remember instances where a certain frightening tale did intrigue me; Poe would be an example. Had I at a young age know of Stine I may have gravitated to the genre earlier.

This year, having had a number of his books come to me secondhand, I’ve read quite a few before donating them to the local library; and as evidenced by the TV shows that bear his name, they are twisted tales that don’t always work out so great for the protagonist, which can really scare kids. (I hope to be able to prepare a post [or series of them] about The Haunting Hour, the series, before Halloween).

As for this film, it took me a while to get around to screening this one because the last film I’d seen based on one of his works was quite a bad miss. This one, however, thankfully, mostly works.

A lot of that has to do with the practical effects work by Gregory Nicotero, one of the best in the game right now, who created an awesome creature for this film.

The film works itself into its story slowly. It does follow its protagonist (Emily Osment) and builds her character, and motivations for all the characters involved, but it does so a bit languidly. When things do get going though they’re rather freaky and things resolve themselves nicely, with the characters growing and a well-earned horror-film end.

As this film felt a bit stretched, it will be interesting to see if the planned Goosebumps film, comes to fruition if the anthology-styling suits it better, which it should.

61 Days of Halloween: Dracula (1931 – Philip Glass Score)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Dracula (1931) Philip Glass Score

My reaction to my first viewing of Dracula was slightly more favorable than that of my first viewing of Freaks. I’ve seen this version at least twice, and I enjoy Browning’s work (and will look into more) but have yet to find the transcendence that others have in some of his titles.

Being a completist I seriously considered re-watching the original cut of the film before watching one with a newly orchestrated score by the genius that is Philip Glass. I decided to pass on yet another viewing and it was a decision that was almost instantly validated. I remember many of the beats precisely. I was able to finish many lines of dialogue, mainly Lugosi’s, and that’s because it’s memorable not just because all the lines have a very deliberate reading.

So I didn’t feel I was missing anything by comparison. One thing that I found peculiar, which is not uncommon in early talkies, is that the soundtrack is fairly quiet. People wanted to hear dialogue and the now-primitive-seeming sound-design. It seemed a few years would pass before scores would swell anew. And, that’s a bit difficult to adjust to in a horror film. Some, like The Birds, work especially without music; others need it.

Granted the scoring in a horror film can be looked at as invoking Pavlovian response (this music is eerie therefore you are scared) but it’s very much a part of the fabric of horror cinema, and a sight better than jump-scaring an audience to death.

The score laid over this version is not only brilliantly cyclical and quasi-monotonous as is Glass’ signature but the spotting, the decisions about where music would be overlaid is extraordinarily precise and inspired. It absolutely elevates the film to new heights because it’s done with a tasteful understanding of what kind of score would befit a film such as this.

This is as opposed to something like the Moroder version of Metropolis, which sought to put an ’80s interpretation of futuristic music on the film. The music, while good in isolation, is now dated and doesn’t jibe properly with the film.

There’s a fine line between artistic restoration and musical graffiti; Glass’ work at the service of Dracula is the former and Moroder’s production of Metropolis is the latter.

61 Days of Halloween: Saw (2004)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Saw (2004)

So, yes, this is a new one to me this year. Whenever something as well-known as Saw goes unwatched for so long I feel compelled to do a little explaining.

In 2004, I was still in school and not only busy, but also picky. I wasn’t as into horror as I am now, not that I didn’t like it, but just that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Things like Saw weren’t on my radar screen yet, not really.

The easiest thing in the world to do is not watch (or be properly exposed to something) and then pin a label on it to dismiss it. I’ve seen things “worse” or more graphic in execution since this came out, made both before and after it. The label that gets tossed about here is, of course, torture porn.

If one looks at the dictionary definition of pornography it can be applied to any number of things, one of the most popular and dismissive Letterboxd reviews of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close merely cites it. However, the connotation is almost solely sexual. So when something seems to revel in a certain motif it’s called [blank] porn: food porn, torture porn and the like.

There’s been no embracing of this moniker by almost anyone in the horror community, and nor should there be. It’s meant, based on every instance I’ve heard it used in, as a slanderous remark. Like calling a big-budget, high-concept movie you disliked slick.

While I’m sure the series, as any must, ups the ante. How it starts is with much more suggested violence and gore than expected; as well as more intricate storytelling and more focus on the characters than one would expect. Something like Hostel, which I saw before this, is more befitting a negative label like that because aside from the abuse the stupid tourists, who don’t necessarily deserve it, suffer there’s not a lot to redeem that film. Not much else to it at all.

Would I have gotten around to seeing this now had it not been for James Wan and Lee Whannell going off to make the Insidious movies to show they can wield a different brand of horror? Maybe. Just maybe not as soon as I did. I nearly picked up the whole series cheap and used a few years ago but balked.

My reticence is not so much being repulsed such that I can’t watch, that’s scarcely happened since I came of age, but rather of their being nothing else there like say in Cannibal Ferox. What works brilliantly in Saw is that you get a very full portrait of the villains method, and some of his past, but by the end of the first installment you barely know him so that’s a great jumping off point for the second film.

There are probably some other, bigger horror titles I should knock off my to watch list, but this one’s time had come and I’m glad I got around to it.

61 Days of Halloween – Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale (2006)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

The Christmas Tale (2006)

This is the second film in this series that was featured in my Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012. Here is what I wrote about it:

As mentioned above in Spectre, this is a Six Films to Keep You Awake tale, but this is the more accessible of the two I chose. It deals with a group of kids who find a woman trapped in a hole, as they learn about what got her there each faces moral dilemmas about how to deal with the situation. It not only sets up good horror but great character study.

This is the kind of film that immediately starts off on the right foot. It begins with a hilarious parody of a cheesy horror film. However, aside from entertainment value that faux-film-within-this-film will serve as the rules that these kids eventually refer to in fighting their enemy.

The tale is set in Spain in the 1980s and features a group of friends all of whom are introduced with pop-up title cards, but as opposed to say something like Feast, it’s easy to tell them apart after that, especially considering that the characters are well-defined after that. Also, while being set in the ’80s it’s not over-saturated with nostalgia or references. The faux-film is vague and the other persistent reference is a character trait and key to the film.

As mentioned above, part of what makes this film really good is that it balances horror, drama and comedy. The way the drama comes in is that through drawing on these characters’ personalities there are a few moral debates about how best to proceed in the strange situation they find themselves in. It ultimately factions them before they reunite.

I’ve discussed acting in a few of the posts in this series and Maru Valdivielso has quite the task set before her needing to be believable in a few different notes aside from working in a lot of make-up at times and also playing someone in pain through most of the film without being grating. She succeeds in all these tasks with flying colors.

Perhaps what’s best is not just that there’s a very visually appealing climactic sequence, but also the fact that even within a short film such as those in the series are, there are quite a few reversals of fortune that keep you guessing. There are many surprises in store for you if you should decide to watch this film so I shan’t discuss it too long lest I give it away. This is definitely the most highly recommended title of the series. If you’ve not seen the work of Paco Plaza yet, this could be a good place to start get a quick sense for what he does before moving on to the [REC] series.

61 Days of Halloween: Curse of Chucky (2013)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

When I got a new Redbox code I was seriously debating what to do with it. I had recently resigned myself to the fact that I would, for the foreseeable future have very few screenings that were not for the purposes of 61 Days of Halloween for myriad reasons. However, considering some of what I had heard and the desire, after having seen all of the other films recently, to see this one too I settled on it.

When I was done watching Curse of Chucky I was quite nearly hyperbolic about it but lowered my tweet reaction to a more guarded “redeeming” film. However, that is not meant as a slight or that I second-guessed my enjoyment of it. I was, even though I am not a massive fan of the series, practically gleeful after the film was over because of what it managed to do.

One example to contrast against is the Children of the Corn series. I covered, but did not write about all of them, one year. Essentially, what would need to be done to rectify that series, without (again) rebooting it, would be something far more involved than what Chucky accomplished here. You could almost write a book-length (OK, maybe a Kindle single-length) concordance of the Children of the Corn films to try and rectify and corollate all the new rules that emerged, or ones that changed and mutated.

The Child’s Play films never went too far outside the norm in terms of its general groundwork. What it did was change the tenor and formula of the series. It went from quasi-serious horror with a ridiculous premise to just ridiculous. However, this film did two things: first, it went back to its bread and butter (nothing wrong with that, bread and butter tastes delicious) but refused to disown where the series had been.

Yet, while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel it does have a new wrinkle in its approach. Yes, there’s a connection established to these new characters and why Chucky cares about going after them, but the timeframe of the story is also a short one and the tale is cloistered. A vast majority of it takes place in one locale amidst a set group of characters all under the same roof.

The connections come mostly in the discovery phase as well as in denouement, and many of those just made me smile. This film has a clever new wrinkle in terms of a doll usage in real-life, as well as a surprising touch of interpersonal.

Last, but certainly not least, is Fiona Dourif (Daughter of Brad, the voice actor behind Chucky) brings back into the fold a protagonist you can root for wholeheartedly both because the film does build her character and because of her performance.

Any time a frustrated fan says “Why bother?” about a sequel, films like this one should be cited as examples of the ship being righted. This Chucky movie does something nearly impossible, after six films in a horror franchise I actually want to see a seventh.

61 Days of Halloween: Demonic Toys 2 (2010)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Demonic Toys 2 (2010)

While I did not include the original in this series, I did write about Demonic Toys previously. It was one of my favorite older movies first seen in 2011

This movie is part of the reason that this list is called “Favorite” and not “Best.” I don’t usually distinguish between the two but this is the rare film in my estimation that garners that elusive title of “So Bad It’s Good.” It has an audacious script by David S. Goyer (pre-Nolan Batman films) and a great albeit dubbed evil kid performance by Daniel Cerny, good flashbacks and chemistry between leads. For all its faults, which are myriad, I still found it to be very enjoyable to watch. Beyond that it nearly defies description. I wanted to include it in my 61 Days of Halloween series but I stuck with mostly posting about the original class, this year I may include it.

So at the most recent Mosnter-Mania Con I saw available on DVD this sequel. I actually saw the first a few times and decided to give it a try. This installment made quite a bit later, is a little less ambitious than the prior one and as such, while there’s definitely some cheese involved in dialogue and some of the effects work, and the acting must be forgiven; it too works. This tale goes into the collector realm and has the clan, with a new, valuable addition (as well as demons and ghosts in tow).

Having now seen only two of these films and more of the more popular Puppet Master series I’m not sure why this one doesn’t have more of a following. It’s funny, a bit more self-aware and so far still combines its tropes pretty well and gets good effect out of them.

It’s in this clan where I find myself a fan of the villains. It’s childish but Baby Whoopsie cracks me up non-stop.

Full Moon Features has recently started its own streaming service where this and many of their other titles can be found if you’re interested.

61 Days of Halloween: Gorgo (1961)

This is another selection that came to me by way of Stephen King’s list of horror films in Danse Macabre. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit and had some trepidation when I saw that this was a monster movie. After all I’m fairly sure that during the period from which King curated the list (1950-1980) there were other, more well-known giant-monster-attacks-city films; most notably the Japanese brood. So what makes Gorgo special?

I soon realized what it was and it’s not really about the fact that this species of prehistoric beast is discovered off the coast of an Irish isle, but rather the thing the film does in just 78 minutes. There’s a period of time wherein the film is like a proto-Jaws. There is a threat identified and a mostly unseen enemy. There is a plan to try and take it down.

What occurs then is a spin on King Kong, which has also been done. One notable example I viewed, that didn’t really work out, was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, here it does work because that second twist on the average monster film isn’t the last.

The last one is given away by this poster here. The beast that’s captured and taken to a London circus is a baby. Big, angry momma is coming for him and that’s where all the tense, well-wrought and choreographed chaos ensues.

I won’t say there aren’t period clichés and touches of cheese, both eternal and due to dating in the film, but it really is well done. There’s the especially disheartening note that the kid assistant, if he had only been listened to, could’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble.

One of the great things about going down this list is discovering titles you should have seen by now. An even better one is watching films you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and this film qualifies in that regard.

61 Days of Halloween: Trilogy of Terror (1975)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

At times it’s interesting, in fact, preferable to watch things out of chronological order when it comes to the work of a given director that are not in a series. I viewed and wrote about Dan Curtis’ anthology follow-up to this film, Dead of Night, before I got to this one the more famous of the bunch.

Whether or not I was inspired to go on a mini-Curtis binge I was likely to take this in as an homage to the late, great Karen Black, an actress I’ve not seen as much of as I would’ve liked by now, so this was welcome for that reason alone (Although she did help another Dan Curtis film greatly that being Burnt Offerings). For this anthology is fascinating inasmuch as it allows its lead to reinvent herself in three separate stories with quite different characters in each. It’s a great showcase and not a bad idea for how to assemble an anthology.

Yet, even with anthologies this one and the one that follow it have a similar structure. “Julie” the first tale in the trilogy has a bit more of an air of mystery to it. In something I’ve not seen much from anthology installments it plays more to subtext and isn’t overt about the nature of the power struggle. Similarly, the first tale in Dead of Night, while eerie has a definite air of mystery to it.

In “Millicent and Therese” much like “There’s No Such Thing As Vampires” there’s a conflict between characters being discussed with an outside party, and apropos to this particular tale the game is changed.

Lastly, this anthology ends with its doozie “Amelia” it’s the iconic moment from the film and the final shot in this film is seared on my mind not only for its execution, but because of Black’s commitment to her business. It’s haunting. A similar wallop is delivered by “Bobby” to close out Dead of Night.

Again involved in the writing of this film is Richard Matheson so the quality of the scripts, as well as the narrative design of the films, owe much to his work as well. However, Trilogy of Terror works not only because it had the interesting idea of having the same star in each tale, but of putting her in different kinds of roles and casting the right one, as Black knocks it out of the park here.

61 Days of Halloween – Films to Keep You Awake: To Let (2006)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

To Let (2006)

This is perhaps the hardest of the series to write about. Juame Balagueró is a filmmaker whose work, form what I’ve seen (which is a handful of his titles), I usually like. He has a way of layering his tales, a disturbed sensibility (essential for horror) and usually paces his tales very well. This is not the film to watch if you want to see that statement exemplified, however.

As has been a pattern in posts about these films there had been much discussion of pace because when the running time is something outside the norm then the film needs to do something outside the norm to make it work. This does not. It is the shortest of the six films and feels like it’s the longest by far. There are both editorial and narrative reasons for that.

However, pace is not the only issue this film has. This film has a fairly outrageous premise, which in and of itself isn’t a problem, especially for a horror film. However, it’s one that’s fairly well telegraphed. Only the details are twists. There is in a film like this a “get outta there” element that has to be dealt with. And it is, but the turns it takes make it further and further insane, aside from the fact that they occasionally waste time in an already short yet long-seeming film.

For a tale such as this one to work the acting has to be spot on and it’s perhaps the least effective in the entire series, which contributes to the telegraphing that this woman plans to keep this couple as long as possible, whether they like it or not.

But wait there’s more, it’s also visually disturbing in the wrong way. There is excessive and artless jiggly-cam at the most inopportune moments.

I could go on to further enumerate the faults I find with the film but that would become tiresome. Needless to say this is one of those movies where even the more basic things like business (the actor’s actions) are poorly staged and executed. If you were to skip just one of the six films this would be it.

61 Days of Halloween: Sisters (1973)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Sisters (1973)

One of the good things about going off a list, at least in part, to decide on viewing options is that it allows for more occasions for you to be a blank slate. A lot of the selections I’m seeing for this year are from Stephen King’s list of the best horror films from 1950-1980 that he included in his book Danse Macabre. I have replicated the list on my Letterboxd page (check it out!).

When I received Sisters from Netflix I knew it was De Palma and before Carrie and that’s all I could remember. Thankfully, the synopsis on the disc mailer didn’t give too much away.

On a personal note this may be my favorite film I’ve seen that set mostly on Staten Island. I had no idea that was coming and how it’s introduced is great: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a Quebecois model/actress, and after a gig her and Philip (Lisle Wilson) have dinner and have it cut short by her ex (Emile Breton). Philip offers to take her home. She tells him she lives on Staten Island, and it goes something like this:
“Staten Island?” he says.
“Yes, Staten Island is part of New York isn’t it?”
Philip, smiling, says: “I guess it is.”

I was born in Manhattan, but I spent most of my formative years on Staten Island, and that statement in a nutshell is the conundrum of being from there; that whole “We’re New York too, dammit” subtext. A short exchange of dialogue encapsulates it on both sides.

Personal baggage aside, Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

The first suspenseful passage features, yet another recently-viewed example of, a great use of split-screens. It’s a film that’s tied up in the psychology of its characters, their relationship to one another and secrets buried in the past.

In a certain way there were also parts of it that reminded me of Cronenberg as there were weird, significant things afoot with few characters noticing or being affected.

With scoring by the legendary Bernard Herrmann this film is quite the riveting pulse-pounder with a few jaw-dropping moments in store for those who do see it.