In accordance with tradition, we finish off the Six Weeks of Halloween with a Speed Round of brief thoughts on films I watched during the marathon, but haven’t otherwise covered. Usually because it didn’t fit with a weekly theme. Or maybe I just didn’t have much to say about it. Or I had too much to say about it, but the moment and/or inspiration has passed. Or it’s a rewatch of an all time classic (or, uh, a non-classic) and you don’t need anyone, let alone me, telling you more about it.
As of this writing, I’ve seen 56 horror (or horror-adjacent) movies during this Halloween season (likely to jump up to 58 tonight). This is a welcome dip from last year’s pandemic-fueled record pace of 71 films and much more in line with pre-pandemic viewing patterns. Still plenty of stuff to cover in this Speed Round though, and we’ll have another post next week to cover Season’s Readings (which experienced a similar dip from a record setting pace last year).
Hard to believe it’s already the big day. As per usual, time flies when you’re terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. Let’s finish this marathon off:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Speed Round
The Thing – An all timer, and one of those movies I watch almost every year. Practical effects still hold up and the sheer creativity on display is still impressive, even on this umpteenth viewing. ****
Escape Room – All in good fun, the sort of thing I could see spawning a long running franchise (I meant to catch up with the sequel, but never got around to it). Still, I quite enjoyed the puzzles and execution of it all. Maybe a bit derivative, but it puts enough clever spins on the familiar stuff that it never gets boring. **1/2
The Craft – The oh so 90s answer to The Lost Boys , entertaining enough for what it is. I’m positive I saw this on cable back in the day, but I remembered almost none of the twists and turns, even if it was still a bit on the predictable side. **1/2
Christine – Another revisit, partially inspired by the Black Check Carpenter mini-series, but also I just really like this movie, apparently a lot more than most. At a certain point, the film starts to feel rushed, but it’s still one of the better Stephen King adaptations and there’s lots of great visual bits scattered throughout (the car rebuilding itself, the flaming car chase, etc…) ***
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark – I watched this because Shudder is single handedly trying to keep the idea of horror hosts alive and did an Elvira 40th Anniversary special with four movies. I only ended up watching two of them (I’d seen the other two before), including Elvira’s own, which is still quite amusing in a nostalgic way. **1/2
The City of the Dead – The other new-to-me flick from Elvira’s Shudder special, this has a wonderful atmosphere, just boatloads of fog all over, really quite spooky. I quite enjoyed it. **1/2
Deathtrap – This Sidney Lumet drama (adapted from the theater) might be my favorite discovery of the marathon, even if it barely skirts the horror genre. Certainly some creepy stuff here, and very suspenseful with a tremendous amount of clever twists and turns.
Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon are great, as usual, but Christopher Reeve is the real surprising standout here. Just a delightful little film. ***1/2
Willard – Interesting and weird tale of a meek loner who befriends the rats at his mother’s dilapidated mansion and eventually grows the ability to command them to take revenge! Neat idea but it’s ultimately a bit slow and more than a little silly, though it picks up towards the end. **
The Black Room – It seems that Boris Karloff programmers are starting to become something of an annual tradition around here. This one has great atmosphere and a few clever twists that I quite enjoyed. Karloff is great, as always, and can even make something as mundane as eating a pear into something compelling to watch. **1/2
Night Key – Another Karloff, this one distinctly less horror-focused, but he’s sorta approaching the mad-scientist-out-for-revenge territory that he excels at, though it never quite reaches horror levels. **
Angel – Part of Joe Bob’s Halloween Hoedown, this serial killer flick about sex workers in Hollywood is a weird one. Trashy but not as depraved as it could be, with a colorful supporting cast (especially Rory Calhoun) providing an almost sweet street family vibe. **1/2
Terror Train – The other Hoedown pick, I watched this during the 6WH over a decade ago, so it was nice to revisit. My thoughts on it haven’t changed much though – surprisingly tame, but ultimately entertaining and a nice spin on the slasher. **1/2
House – After the success of the first few Friday the 13th flicks, producer Sean Cunningham got the band back together for this haunted house flick. Steve Miner directs and Harry Manfredini provides the score. Then they went out and cast several sitcom stars, giving the whole thing a slight comic edge that does differentiate it from the throngs of other haunted house flicks. They do get pretty good performances out of William Katt and George Wendt, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising. Decent practical effects and some interesting designs make for an entertaining time, if not especially accomplished. **1/2
Unmasked Part 25 – What if Jason got sick of murdering amorous teens, fell in love, and settled down? Neat idea, and the opening of the film sells that premise well… but unfortunately it then descends into lots and lots of talking and whining before picking up again for the finale. The costume doesn’t have much going for it, though I guess there’s something parodic about the whole thing that glides us past the low budget. Some decent gags and a couple of laughs, but not especially a classic or anything. **
The Wolf Man – The Universal Classic Monsters: Icons of Horror Collection, which features 4K remasters of four Universal Classics. The perfect excuse to revisit these. The Wolf Man looks fantastic, really cleaned up since the last time I saw it and the story remains as effective as ever. There’s an almost unintentional quaintness to the sincerity with which it goes about explaining werewolf lore. While the concept has been around for thousands of years, much of what we think of as modern werewolf lore is established (or at least popularized) by this movie. And it helps that Lon Chaney Jr. gives a pitch perfect performance. ***
Halloween Kills – I was mixed on the 2018 Halloween reboot, but I found this sequel downright disappointing. Some stuff still works. I like that Michael Myers is portrayed as a force of nature, like a shark, always moving, always killing, always crafting ironic, elaborate dioramas out of his victims’ bodies. A scene where Myers keeps stabbing a guy with different knives walks this perfect line between funny and creepy and is just perfectly executed. There are some other bits and pieces of business sprinkled throughout. David Gordon Green is clearly a talented dude and the film looks great and has some interesting ideas. That said, it’s disappointing that Jamie Lee Curtis spends most of the movie laying in a hospital bed (and, like, not in the good way of Halloween II).
Then you get to the the whole out of control mob situation. It’s a ripe target for our times and it kinda makes sense even in context of the film, but it has really glaring execution issues. First, it makes me not like anyone (there are times when its ok to cheer for the slasher villain, but not to this extent). I know the movie isn’t trying to endorse mob justice, but the whole thing just comes off as obnoxious posturing. The over-reliance on legacy characters riling up the mob also feels kinda tacky and desperate. Second, multiple characters, including Laurie Strode, attempt to monologue away responsibility for the mob, attributing it wholly to Myers, as if it was his six-dimensional-chess plan or somesuch. It’s one thing to reflect on what we’ve become in the face of Myers, it’s another to say “look what he made us do”. The mob killed an innocent man and even when they eventually caught up with Myers, they did an awful job, hurt themselves, and didn’t know what they were dealing with. It’s sort of reactionary, but again, there’s a monologue that tries to reckon with this and it’s absolutely awful. “Michael Myers is the anger that divides us” is an actual line, delivered with a straight face. Just dreadful stuff. There was precisely one character I liked in this movie, and she was killed in a weirdly unceremonious kinda way (I’m still not sure how it happened).
I guess you could write some of this off as middle-of-a-trilogy struggles, but being self-aware that your movie is disappointing doesn’t inoculate you from the disappointment. I’m not especially excited to see where this is all heading. **
House II: The Second Story – I can’t decide if the punny subtitle is the best or the worst. Anyway, this is one of those weird 80s phenomena where a movie is successful so they greenlight a sequel, but because the first movie resolved all its issues, they end up just finding another haunted house script that’s completely disconnected and making that instead. They also reprise the whole sitcom casting strategy, this time with different folks. Don’t get me wrong: I actually tend to like this approach (Prom Night II, anyone?) That said, this is a weird movie in that it’s barely horror. It leans way more heavily into a sorta adventure story. Yeah, there’s ghosts and dead people and monsters, but none of it is played for scares. It’s entertaining enough, I guess. **
Vampire Academy – Look, this is not a good movie, but there’s the bones of something decent in here somewhere. It tends to collapse under the clumsy exposition needed to establish the worldbuilding so common in the boom of self-serious YA adaptations that was occurring at the time. However, some of the bitchy teen high school DNA from the writer and the director (who worked on stuff like Mean Girls and Heathers) sneaks in, and perhaps some polishing or budgetary help would have made this work a little better. Zoey Deutch is great, and the rest of the cast is trying, at least. Not really something I’d recommend, but I seem to have a thing for really bad modern takes on vampires. **
A Bay of Blood – Revisiting Mario Bava’s lakeside proto-slasher, I can’t help but continue laughing at how the Friday the 13th movies cribbed from the kills here (something I’ve always thought funny about this) and the absolutely bonkers ending always gets me, even though I know its coming. Worth watching for fans of Italian schlock. ***
In Search of Darkness: Part II – Basically more of the same, this sequel just goes deeper and more obscure, which is actually pretty cool. We’ve all seen the talking heads discuss the classics of 80s horror, what about obscure schlock like Nightmare? They try to break up the checklist format with quick dives into directors or actors or makeup artists, but it’s ultimately just a list of movies with talking heads commenting on them. Which is fine for what it is, and it’s actually pretty cool to dip in to this a little at a time (which you kinda have to do, given the 4.5 hour runtime). It’s solid if you like that sort of thing, which I guess I do because I watched the whole damn thing… **1/2
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown – Perfectly cromulent documentary about the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. A little weird that so much of the movie is focused on filmmakers inspired by Lovecraft, but there’s actually pretty decent access here, and they do spread it around to writers as well. Folks like John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, and Neil Gaiman all show up, which is better than you expect from something like this. **1/2
Dracula & Drácula – More from the 4K boxed set mentioned above, both versions of Dracula have been upgraded to 4K. A lot has been made out of the contrarian opinion that the Spanish language version of this movie is the superior effort, but I don’t think I fall into that camp. Sure, there’s a few camera moves and shots that are better, but not as many as I was expecting given the hype. Lupita Tovar as Eva/Mina is an improvement over Helen Chandler from the English language version. She’s more energetic and seductive (this is emphasized even in the costumes, which are more risque), which fits better than the more chaste portrayal in the other version.
However, I still find that Tod Browning’s use of atmosphere and negative space are more effective and subtle than most of the Spanish version adherents give it credit for. Also, it’s hard to beat Bela Lugosi’s otherworldly affect and piercing stares. I was also struck by how much I liked Dwight Frye’s over-the-top Renfield portrayal. Anyway, the 4K looks great, and I think the English language Dracula is probably the better of the two (also significantly shorter), but it’s nice that the Spanish language version survived and got the 4K treatment too. *** and **1/2
Lake Bodom – Stylish slasher pastiche from Finland, this turns into something different as it goes, but it makes up for the lack of slasher gore with good cinematography and tons of relatively clever twists and turns and revelations about this or that. More like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane than a typical slasher, but that’s probably a good thing. **1/2
Ghostbusters – Why do people keep trying to capture lighting in a bottle when the original did it so well? I mean, I know why, but they keep failing and boy does the new one coming (a month after Halloween for some reason) look awful. The original remains classic horror comedy comfort food. ****
Spiral – From the Book of Saw, which I guess is a thing now. This Chris Rock fronted installment comports itself well enough and compares favorably to the middle tier of the series. Not as bad as the reviews would have you believe, but it’s not really the shot in the arm it promised for the franchise either. **
Sisters – I really enjoy early De Palma, even though he’s mostly just aping Hitchcock. I mean, if you’re going to copy something, copy from the best. I first watched this almost a decade ago, and it holds up reasonably well. The split screen approach utilized a few times is really quite well done, and the Rear Window vibes are real. It kinda loses its way towards the ending, but it all works well. ***
Frankenstein – Always my favorite of the Universal Monster movies, this holds up. Maybe a little more talky than I remembered, but incredible atmosphere and a great performance from Karloff as the monster. Looks great in 4K too. ****
Halloween – I’m cheating a bit because I’m going to watch this tonight, but you don’t need me to say anything about this all time classic. There’s a reason it took top honors in the 1978 Project, and I expect this rewatch to put Halloween Kills in stark relief. ****
I’ll probably also watch Trick ‘r Treat, as I do most years, but again, you don’t need me to say more about that (it’s worth a look, though it’s perhaps not as universally beloved as the original Halloween).
It’s been a fun six weeks, and don’t worry, even though the grand holiday is passing, I’ll have one more post next week covering the Season’s Readings. Otherwise, I’ve already got some ideas for weekly themes for next year, just so you know where my head’s at. Happy Halloween folks!