It’s 2023, I’m 50 years old (ahahahaha oh god), and it’s time for another 31 Days of Horror. Every year I complete it and think, that’s it, never again, and every September I get excited for another go. It’s both a distraction from more important things and a chance to do something just for myself.
The pressure of watching this many films close together is offset by the randomness, lower quality threshold, and chance to tick off films I would probably never otherwise bother to see. None of these films are ever a waste of time because there’s always a nugget of gold, whether an image, or a character, or an ending.
So, without further ado, let’s walk the path of October... one spooky step at a time.
- A Haunting in Venice (2023), dir. Kenneth Branagh.
I started this year’s #31DaysofHorror with a classic whodunnit mashed with a ghost story. Kenneth Branagh plays around with spooky children, Viennese masks and fish eye lenses to fun effect.
- The Cursed (2021), dir. Sean Ellis.
Kelly Reilly plays another mother, this time on a remote estate in nineteenth-century rural England, and is visited by a ‘pathologist’ instead of Poirot. A curse is made, werewolves ensue.
- The Broken (2007), dir. Sean Ellis.
A mirror falls off a wall during a party, releasing cold-hearted döppelgangers from a mirror world who begin to replace their counterparts.
- Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975), dir. Andrea Bianchi.
Sometimes the algorithm wears you down, and the familiar cover art catches you in a vulnerable moment, and you choose a film that you know will be bad... except it’s good!
- Eye in the Labyrinth (1972), dir. Mario Caiano.
Julie is looking for her missing psychiatrist (hard relate) and travels to a Greek island to search for him. There she stays at a clifftop villa with a commune of shifty artists.
- Diary of the Dead (2007), dir. George Romero.
Found footage Romero style. A student film crew try to stay alive as the dead come back to life, but the director decides to film everything putting pressure on the people around him.
- Survival of the Dead (2009), dir. George Romero.
An exiled patriarch tempts four soldiers to his island with a hope of settling an old score. Tonally weird — part western, part comedy, not much zombie threat — it’s a clunker.
- The Exorcist III (1990), dir. William Peter Blatty.
A flawed film filled with wonders. More of an existential downer than I expected — yes, it’s about a demon bringing hell to earth, but it goes strong with what that might mean.
- The Pale Blue Eye (2022), dir. Scott Cooper.
A nineteenth century murder mystery set in the snowbound US military academy at West Point, where a cadet is found hanged with his heart removed from his body.
- 65 (2023), dir. Scott Beck, Bryan Woods.
An alien gets stranded on Earth when an asteroid hits his ship. There is a fellow survivor. There are challenges. There are dinosaurs.
- Re-Animator (1985), dir. Stuart Gordon.
A gory take on Frankenstein with a psychopathic scientist, an evil academic, and a morgue full of reanimated corpses. The ever-present syringe of neon green liquid is iconic.
- Castle Freak (1995), dir. Stuart Gordon.
The Reilly family arrive in Italy to inherit a castle left to them by an elderly Duchess. The creature she’s been keeping in the dungeon breaks free. Gothic melodrama and cannibalism ensue.
- There’s Nothing Out There (1991), dir. Rolfe Kanefsky.
A mix of Cabin in the Woods, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead and Scream, but with no budget. It’s fun, a broad horror comedy that isn’t afraid of the horror. Cheap but clever.
- Scream (2022), dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett.
Ah, the plot. It’s a whodunnit, but with lots of stabbing. Twas ever thus. David Arquette’s Dewey is the best thing about it. I think I’m finally too old for Scream films.
- Scream VI (2023), dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett.
The surviving friends from Scream 5 go to college as a pack, and in New York the franchise finds some fresh energy.
- Death Ship (1980), dir. Alvin Rakoff.
Keeps a steady pace as a ghost story, making the most of the spectacular empty ship as a location. The final act really dials up the horror. Also - KINDERTRAUMA!
- Slugs (1988), dir. Juan Piquer Simón.
It’s silly — it’s called Slugs! — but as lots of these cheap 70s and 80s horrors were, it’s creative, fun and weirdly sexy.
- The Lair of the White Worm (1988), dir. Ken Russell.
Camp horror fun with a nasty edge. Ken Russell was a genius. I taped this off the TV back in the day and watched certain bits over and over... naked nuns and Amanda Donohoe.
- Don’t Look Now (1973), dir. Nicolas Roeg.
A masterpiece — ghost story, sort of, psychological thriller and family drama, certainly — a magical exploration of a marriage under the strain of a tragic loss.
- Messiah of Evil (1973), dir. Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz.
People bleed from the eyes. An artist’s studio is painted with staring faces. The citizens of Point Dune dress respectably but do terrible things. The four protagonists share a bed. (Groovy.)
- Crimes of the Future (2023), dir. David Cronenberg.
Graphic body mutilation, big ideas and knowing performances that lead to some surreal laugh-out-loud moments. A raised eyebrow at all that he has made before.
- Infinity Pool (2023), dir. Brandon Cronenberg.
A man pays dearly to escape his writer’s block when he accepts the malign attention of a woman who wants to test him to destruction.
- Lifeforce (1985), dir. Tobe Hooper.
Naked space vampires hidden in Halley‘s Comet, you say? I’m in! Plays on a much bigger canvas than I expected and owes a debt to Quatermass.
- Invaders From Mars (1986), dir. Tobe Hooper.
A pastiche of black and white science-fiction films, but subverting them by having the aliens turn people into conformist fifties stereotypes instead of communists.
- Evil Dead 2 (1987), dir. Sam Raimi.
A man who wanted to have a romantic weekend in the woods with his girlfriend is instead made to fight for his life against demon-possessed corpses.
- Return of the Living Dead (1985), dir. Dan O’Bannon.
The gang of punks hanging out in the graveyard are everything I wish I’d been as a teen — vibrant, trashy, horny, loud, and sometimes naked in public.
- Duel (1971), dir. Steven Spielberg.
I watched Duel dozens of time on television as a kid, as well as it’s rip-off cousin The Car, so it was a treat to revisit it. I didn’t remember the crisis of masculinity.
- You're Next (2011), dir. Adam Wingard.
It’s bleak fun with some good twists. Everyone apart from Erin, our survivalist heroine, is awful. Is this where the current trend of violent final girls began?
- Cloverfield (2008), dir. Matt Reeves.
Feeling insignificant in the face of a fictional disaster, whether natural or alien, has its psychological comforts. Sometimes you just want something big to fuck shit up.
- Enemy (2013), dir. Denis Villeneuve.
My favourite discovery of the month. Barely ninety minutes, looks beautiful, has a startling final image, and I’m still thinking about it a day later.
- Halloween (1978), dir. John Carpenter.
It has a purity that other slashers don’t have — the crisp cinematography, Laurie’s naive, nerdy charm, the simple (perfect) motif of the score. I can’t fully explain it.