category: 31 Days, 31 Horror Movies

31 Day Wrap-up

I hope you all enjoyed the 31 Days, 31 Horror Movies series for October. I had a good time doing it, and it was surprisingly difficult at times deciding which movie to feature. Looking back, I probably had a few too many Bava films (but, really, is there really a such thing as “too many Bava films”?) and not enough classics (I don’t think I had a single Hammer flick in there), but all-in-all, I’m happy with the way it turned out.

Here’s a rundown of all the movies I covered, complete with links. Thanks for reading (and to those that did: linking) and I’d love to hear what you thought of it. I know Robert watched Phantasm after I mentioned it… did anyone else have special October horror movie viewing in their household?

  1. The Fog
  2. Baron Blood
  3. Last House on the Left
  4. Black Sunday
  5. The Vij
  6. Phantasm
  7. Mystics in Bali
  8. Dawn of the Dead
  9. The Convent
  10. Anguish
  11. Kwaidan
  12. City of the Dead
  13. Hell of the Living Dead
  14. Zombie Holocaust
  15. Pieces
  16. Opera
  17. The Hills Have Eyes
  18. Ginger Snaps
  19. The Beyond
  20. Wendigo
  21. Vampyr
  22. Friday the 13th, The Final Chapter
  23. The Saragossa Manuscript
  24. Uzumaki
  25. Dagon
  26. Kill, Baby… Kill!
  27. Black Sabbath
  28. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
  29. Gates of Hell
  30. The Frighteners
  31. Halloween / Suspiria

Day 31: Halloween / Suspiria

Halloween, 1978
Director: John Carpenter
Availability: So easy it’s scary (available on a DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment)

I know, I know… it’s so friggin’ obvious. I won’t insult your intelligence by recapping what this classic is all about, since everyone in the world has seen it a dozen times anyway.

The Anchor Bay DVD with the extra TV footage spliced in is the best version to watch, but if you can only get the “regular” version, no big deal. The extra footage is mainly character development, and while it adds to the movie, it’s not essential.

Since this one was so obvious… here’s a bonus movie pick to round out the month:

Suspiria, 1977
Director: Dario Argento
Availability: Easy (available on a DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment)

Probably my second favorite horror movie of all-time, Suspiria has some absolutely killer visuals, amazing lighting, and an engrossing story of witchcraft at a ballet school. Plus, it’s damned scary (despite what that heretic Robert thinks with his wussy 4-star review). Goblin provides an incredible soundtrack and Jessica Harper turns in a great performance.

The first ten minutes of this film are probably the most intense opening ten minutes I’ve ever seen… great stuff that simply should not be missed.

Day 30: The Frighteners

The Frighteners, 1996
Director: Peter Jackson
Availability: Easy (available on a crappy DVD from Universal)

Before Peter Jackson was directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he made a name for himself by directing such sickies as Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and his gore masterpiece Dead/Alive (aka Braindead). But, in 1996 he teamed up with a big studio (Universal) and a big name (Michael J. Fox) to put together one hell of a fun ghost story.

Fox plays a low-rent investigator that helps rid houses of their haunts. No one realizes, though, that he’s been working with the ghosts to run a scam on innocent victims. However, his ability to communicate with the dead and see death, as it is, stops being fun when he realizes that he’s being made aware of people’s deaths before they happen. Much hilarity (and horror!) ensues with some great guest appearances by John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, and R. Lee Ermey (playing the same drill seargent role he played in Full Metal Jacket… except dead).

Normally, I’m not a fan of CGI effects, but Jackson and crew did a great job with them on The Frighteners. If I remember correctly, at the time this was released, it held the distinction of having the most CGI-generated footage of any movie to date. Unlike most other modern CGI-driven horror, though, the computer effects only help, not hinder.

The Universal DVD is bare-bones as can be, without even a commentary. Hopefully with the popularity of Jackson’s mainstream success (Lord of the Rings), we can expect a great special edition in the near future. After all, the Laserdisc version is supposedly spectacular, sporting a—get this—4 1/2 hour documentary! Wowza. Definitely worth a rental now, though.

Day 29: Gates of Hell

Gates of Hell, 1980 (aka City of the Living Dead)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Availability: Medium (available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment)

When one of the seven gates of Hell is opened, a reporter and a psychic begin a race against time to shut it and prevent the dead from walking the earth. Yet another undead movie from the Maestro, Gates of Hell offers a number of particularly strong sequences, including a demon priest that makes people’s eyes bleed, a wicked drill-to-the-head death, a very claustrophobic (if narratively lacking) bured alive sequence, and an unbelievable gut-puking scene (which was sampled for the introduction to a Regurgitate album).

Though not likely to go down as a critic’s favorite, Gates of Hell has everything to please to modern gorehound: creepy lighting, cool music courtesy of Fabio Frizzi, some outstanding gore scenes, and zombies! Another fun movie experience from Lucio Fulci.

Day 28: Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, 1987 (Script)
Director: Sam Raimi
Availability: Easy (available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment)

What October would be complete without the penultimate example of modern horror? Combining scares with laughs with blood-a-plenty, Evil Dead II really pushed the limits of what horror fans came to expect. Before Peter Jackson had New Zealanders assaulting zombies with a lawnmower, Sam Raimi had Bruce Campbell semi-surgically attaching a chainsaw to his arm, in place of a severed hand that had become possessed.

Full of great camerawork and special effects, Evil Dead II is a quicker-paced, funnier take on the same story offered up in the series’ first film, but still offered up a lot of great scares in between the laughs (unlike Army of Darkness which, while still a great movie, was a pretty far cry from the “horror” element of the earlier entries in the series).

I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any other (except Dawn of the Dead), probably a dozen times alone with Ryder. It was, after all, one of our first bonding moments, watching a rented copy of Evil Dead II together from West Coast Video/Couch Potatoes. Still, it remains a staple in my collection and is a great go-to movie if I’m alone or have a group of likeminded friends over. And for those of you that have somehow avoided the gore galore, any entry in the series can be found quite easily at even the most mainstream of video rental stores.

Groovy. (You know I’d end on that note, right?)

Day 27: Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath, 1963 (aka I tre volti della paura (The Three Faces of Fear))
Director: Mario Bava
Availability: Medium (available on DVD from Image Entertainment)

Yes, another Bava film. And, no, Black Sabbath isn’t the related to Black Sunday.

This is probably my favorite of all of Bava’s films. It’s a series of three shorts, each standing well on its own, but even better as part of the whole. From my UA Journal review, here is a rundown of the three shorts:

The first of the three shorts, titled “The Telephone,” places a young, attractive girl, played by Michele Mercier, alone in her apartment as she receives late night phone threats, presumably from an escaped killer that she helped put behind bars. This story is simple, but compelling, providing some tense moments laced with interesting lesbian overtones (which were cut out of the American release in 1964, being that the trio of stories was aimed towards children).

The second story, “The Wurdulak,” stars Boris Karloff as a vampire-slaying grandfather who is bitten by the bug, so to speak. His family must deal with the fact that he has become a vampire and come to grips with the need to drive a stake through his heart. Again, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy—I frequently found myself staring at the landscape Bava created when I should have been listening to dialogue. The sets are more intricate, as are the characters, than in “The Telephone,” but both manage to relay a similar sense of uneasiness.

The final short is “The Drop of Water,” a wonderfully constructed piece about a nurse who steals a ring from a dead medium’s hand and is subsequently haunted by the medium’s ghost. This spine-chilling (quite literally) tale was clearly the inspiration for a number of movies and characters of more recent years. There’s an interesting connection with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 that one should pick up on the first watching. Out of the three tales, this one takes the cake for simple eerieness—every drop of water will make you shiver and you may never see houseflies in quite the same way.

Black Sabbath and Kwaidan would make for a great night of late-October viewing if you like your horror with some atmosphere.

Day 26: Kill, Baby… Kill!

Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966 (aka Operazione Paura, and many other titles) [ ADD ]
Director: Mario Bava
Availability: Medium (available on a crappy DVD from VCI)

When you have a director that worked his way up through the ranks like Bava did, you have a director that truly knows the ins-and-outs of making a movie. Considering his success as a cinematographer and his early directorial success, it’s no wonder that Kill, Baby… Kill! is such a kick ass gothic horror flick.

In this one, a small town is terrorized by the spirit of a young girl that was killed there a number of years earlier. The legend has it that if you see the girl, you are her next victim. Those who are unlucky enough to set their eyes on her are eventually stripped of their will and driven to impale themselves on sharp objects. An investigator and a coroner have doubts about the legends and set out to solve the string of murders, only to find out the legends are all too true. Bava, as always, creates some stunning imagery and makes very effective use of music and simple sounds (a child’s laugh). This movie apparently was a huge inspiration for Fellini, Scorcese, and any number of other directors. It’s easy to see why.

The VCI DVD is a washed-out transfer and is full-screen, but it’s the only thing available at this point. I’m sure that it will eventually get the full treatment it deserves, but for now, the VCI disc is all we have. However, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) showed a colorful widescreen version of Kill, Baby… Kill! this weekend as part of their Friday Night Bava series that ran throughout October. Perhaps they’ll show it again.

Day 25: Dagon

Dagon, 2001 [ ADD ]
Director: Stuart Gordon
Availability: Medium (available on DVD from Lion’s Gate Films)

Stuart Gordon got a good reputation amongst horror fans after he released the 1980s classic Re-animator. Over a decade later, Gordon tackled another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, Dagon (based on one of Lovecraft’s earliest stories). In this modern take on the short story, a rich dot-commer and his girlfriend are sailing off of the Spanish coast with some work associates. Things are going well until a major storm hits and they find themselves off the coast, near a creepy, desolate town. It doesn’t take long for the group of four to get trimmed down to two, and then the fun begins as Paul tries to find his kidnapped girlfriend amongst a town full of frightening, possessed monk-like creatures.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that really felt like it reached out and grabbed my face. Dagon did just that, and then proceeded to rip it clean off. I had the fortune of seeing this on the big screen, and while there were a few moments of humor thrown in, the majority of the film was fast-paced, very tense, and quite eerie. The end is a bit of a downer when they go for some weak CGI effects, but the rest of the film makes up for it. If you enjoy being drawn into a movie and feeling your pulse race, Dagon is the film to do it. A great flick for a rainy October night.

Side note: the posted-a-day-late entry for day 24 is now online.

Day 24: Uzumaki

Uzumaki, 2000 [ ADD ]
Director: Higuchinsky
Availability: Hard (available on Region 3 DVD via Diabolik DVD)

Inhabitants of a waterfront Japenese town are slowly become obsessed with uzumaki (spirals). They seek to find spirals in every day life, to collect spirals, and eventually, as they’re driven to madness, to become spirals. How does one become a spiral, one might ask?

Put yourself in an industrial washing machine and turn it on.

This movie is every bit as bizarre as its plot. God bless the Japanese for their insane take on the horror film. Where else could you expect to find human-sized snails crawling up a skyscraper? Only in a film version of a Japanese comic book, directed by a Japanese music video director.

I risk sounding like a fourth grade book report for a book I’ve never read, but the only way to describe Uzumaki is with words like “great,” “strange,” “transcendent,” and “the ultimate kick-in-the-head.”

Day 23: The Saragossa Manuscript

The Saragossa Manuscript, 1965 [ ADD ]
Director: Wojciech Has
Availability: Medium (available on DVD from Image Entertainment)

The Saragossa Manuscript isn’t your typical horror movie. It doesn’t have jump-out-and-grab-you scares, there’s no blood, and you won’t be biting your nails because of its intensity. Rather, it’s a Polish movie based on an early 19th century epic by Jan Potocki. It’s described as a “Chinese box” of stories-within-stories-within-stories, creating a multi-layered masterpiece with tales of ghosts and lesbian demon sisters (yes, really). The book covers close to 700 pages and 69 days. The movie only takes on about a tenth of those days, but trust me: that’s enough. In this three hour film there are so many little stories, requiring significant thought just to keep the characters straight, let alone the intertwining plotlines.

This movie had a profound impact on Jerry Garcia and apparently influenced his entire musical career. I know about as much about the Grateful Dead as I do about Polish horror, though, so I’m just trusting the word of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola (who were responsible for the restoration of The Saragossa Manuscript). Nonetheless, if you enjoy being challenged by your movies, you’ll want to take a peek at this relatively unknown treat from Poland.