31 DAYS OF HORROR 2020

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Nice shadow work, Deborah!

It’s been a good, long while since I did a proper 31 Days of Horror – so I thought I’d give it a try this year by challenging myself to watch a horror movie I HADN’T YET SEEN every single day in October!

Here’s a list of everything I watched with some mini-reviews:

DAY ONE
THE WRETCHED (2019), directed by The Pierce Brothers

Teenager Ben is shipped off to his father’s house in a small town after getting into some trouble, and quickly notices something is really OFF with the neighbors. After seeing some very strange things, including a shadowy creature hanging around their basement, he investigates further and discovers the terrifying truth!

I was honestly pleasantly surprised by this one! The opening scene is 🔥🔥🔥; the characters are all likable; and the special F/X are pretty gnarly. Sure there are some dumb jump scares, but the bone-cracking, flesh-crawling Dark Mother is really fun, and it did throw a few things my way I wasn’t expecting. It also reminded me of The Guardian (1990), d. by William Friedkin! Now I gotta find that one and give it a rewatch.

This one made some headlines earlier this year by becoming America’s #1 box office film with a strategic Drive-in release — good marketing, for sure! And I think it’s worthy of the hype.

nope nope nope nope nope nope nope

DAY TWO
HOST (2020), directed by Rob Savage

Wowwwwwwwwwwww was this ever impressive! Host is a very tension-filled 57 minutes about a group of friends who decide to do a seance over Zoom to break up the monotony of COVID isolation. But what’s supposed to be a light spiritual exploration quickly turns into something much scarier!

The entire film is shown through a Zoom meeting lens, and each cast member filmed their parts in their own homes — with direction from Savage & some tips from him about creating practical F/X. It’s insanely well made, and was also giving me some serious Blair Witch vibes! Major applause to everyone involved. 💻👀

(Also this photo is what I looked like the entire time I was watching the movie)

DAY THREE
THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (1987), directed by Deborah Brock

Courtney (Crystal Bernard (from WINGS! Which hi, hello, yes I’m dating myself here), one of the survivors of the driller killer in Massacre l, begs her mom to let her hang out with her girlfriends & bandmates at a condo in the desert to celebrate her 17th birthday. She’s also planning to hook up with hottie Matt while she’s there! But things start getting weird whenever she imagines “going all the way” — a leather jacketed serial killer with a bright red guitar/giant drill appears and makes her hallucinate. And it’s only a matter of time before her dreams make him a REAL threat.

This movie is a whole VIBE that I was not at all prepared for! It’s an 80s fever dream of a sequel with an Elvis-styled singing, supernatural serial killer. While ll lacks the clever sting of the original, it’s so over-the-top that it’s ridiculously enjoyable & I absolutely understand the cult love for it. 🎸🔪

this is not what it looks like.

DAY FOUR
SCARE ME (2020), directed by Josh Ruben

While vacationing at a remote cabin, wanna be novelist Fred (Ruben) runs into Fanny, a successful horror novelist — staying at another cabin nearby. A power outage brings the two of them together and they decide to swap scary stories to pass the time.

This was a fun little “mumble-horror” treat — I laughed a lot and was bracing myself for something crazy to happen at the end, and while it wasn’t as crazy as I think it should have been, it was still pretty good.

DAY FIVE
VIVARIUM (2019), directed by Lorcan Finnegan

Young couple Tom & Gemma decide it’s time to look for a permanent residence, and end up in a housing development called Yonder via a recommendation from a very strange real estate agent. Yonder is a cookie cutter suburban neighborhood; all the houses are the same, with the same unsettling green color palette.

Creeped out after just a few moments, they attempt to leave but find their car just keeps circling back to house #9. Then they discover a box containing a baby. The note attached to the box says “raise the child and you’ll be set free.” With no other choice, Tom & Gemma embark on raising what is essentially a monster, with no possible escape until the child is fully grown.

This was terrifying in several different ways — 1) I am already scared of suburbia 2) the “child” screamed its head off, frequently – loudly – and in an ear-splitting tone. 3) it’s one of those very hopeless kinds of horror films; there’s no good outcome, and you feel that from the very beginning. I think it’s pretty good, but I wish I could have adjusted the sound levels on that kid’s scream!

no thanks; I just ate.

DAY SIX
DISPLACED (2020), directed by Josh Atkinson

Nate, the only survivor of a satanic cult that went up in literal flames when he was a child, uses his past experience in a career helping other displaced and abused children. But while he’s an excellent therapist and case worker, Nate still suffers from nightmares and paranoia fueled by his trauma — to the point where he installs cameras in every one of the units in the brownstone owned by his grandmother.

Shortly after a neighbor mysteriously disappears, wholesome Midwest couple Lucas & Heather move in. While they’re the first white couple in the building, rich white folks moving in is an increasing occurrence in Nate’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Nate starts noticing strange things about the couple almost immediately, but can his feelings be trusted? Or is he hallucinating his observations because of his childhood experiences in the cult?

Displaced suffers a bit from its low budget (16k) in terms of some awkward acting, clunky edits, and a few rough transitions — but those things also serve to make it almost endearing to the viewer as it tackles the larger theme of gentrification and privilege in a “satanic panic” wrapper. While some of the messages are pretty heavy-handed, it was still an enjoyable and interesting watch. (Seen as part of the Salem Horror Fest 2020 lineup)

DAY SEVEN
THE OTHER LAMB (2019), directed by Małgorzata Szumowska

A coming-of-age drama set in a cult run by a handsome “Shepherd” — consisting of many wives and many daughters. Shepherd chooses one wife each night to “give his grace” to (and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like) while the other women crowd together in one big airstream bed.

Anyway, it’s all lamb’s blood rituals, sensual oil anointments, and blissful speaking in tongues until devout daughter Selah begins to mature and learns some hard truths from a banished older wife. Namely that as soon as you get your period, you’re marked as “unclean” and have to stay away from the rest of the pure women in the tribe for the duration — also he’s got a thing for choking his beloveds, so that’s fun.

Things really start escalating once police discover the off-the-grid cult and force them to start a hard and long journey on foot to find their new Eden. Shepherd loses his cool along the way and takes it out on one of his daughters, and Selah starts to realize that maybe daddy isn’t the best dude in the world. Hey, also, why aren’t there any male children?!

Aiieeeeeeeeeee. I really liked this, but holycrap does it also feel a little too close to home right now. The tragic events that kickstart Selah’s strength are almost too much, and watching her realize she’s worth more is bittersweet. Still, it’s fucking beautiful; the cast is perfect (someday we’re gonna have to talk about Michiel Huisman’s uncanny ability to play creepy cult members); and of course I’m all about rebelling against the patriarchy. SMASH IT 🐑🔪

full of secrets …

DAY EIGHT
LAKE MUNGO (2008), directed by Joel Anderson

This is a mockumentary/found footage hybrid and the mockumentary part is so authentic that I had to pause it 15 minutes in and make sure I wasn’t watching a different movie with the same title! This is what I get for randomly picking films without looking at the loglines.

The Palmers’ 16-year-old daughter Alice goes missing while swimming with her family, and her body is later discovered. Shortly after, strange occurrences start happening at the house: vivid dreams, mysterious noises in the house, blurred images of Alice in recent photos — and eventually captured in video!

After a series of seemingly supernatural occurrences, Alice’s family contacts a medium and also makes a startling discovery about her secret life.

There are some comparisons to be drawn here between Alice and Twin Peaks’ Laura — more than just their last name and age. I got super drawn into the mystery of what happened to her, and all the actors gave incredibly authentic performances. Definitely recommend this one!📸👀📼

DAY NINE
THE STRINGS (2020), directed by Ryan Glover

Heartbroken musician Catherine (Teagan Johnston – who plays her own music in the film) heads to her aunt’s isolated cabin to recoup and work on some new pieces. While there, she meets up with photographer Grace who suggests they take some shots at a creepy house with a haunted history. After Catherine looks at the photos and sees a shadowy figure behind her in them she starts hearing noises in the night, feeling like she’s being watched, and having very strange dreams.

We watch Catherine as she navigates her feelings alone — scared of something she’s not sure is there, and also about the new feelings she’s having for Grace. Did she really see something in those photos? And is she in danger from whatever it might be?

The spooky atmosphere in this is just perfection — it’s a quiet, subtle, scary horror on so many different levels. The scenery shots are insanely gorgeous, the score compliments the vibe — as well as Johnston’s dreamy indie pop, and the third act delivers a terrifying conclusion to the strange happenings Catherine experiences. Augggghhhhh! This movie is was clearly made for me, because I love it so much.

A big reason I fell so hard for it is because all the characters are just so REAL. We see Catherine go through all the feels; wallow, drink, get frustrated with herself, take steps to try and feel free and alive — Johnston brings all of it to her character and it’s beautiful. We also see the moment Grace realizes she’s falling for her; and the concern and fear on both of their faces when they realize what’s happening. (Also yes please to more late night queer crush make-outs on screen.) TBH I just wanna press play again and watch it right now. Where’s my blu-Ray copy?!? I NEED IT

(Seen as part of Salem Horror Fest)

probably shoulda gotten that dark ritual translated …

DAY TEN
ANYTHING FOR JACKSON (2020), directed by Justin G. Dyck

Audrey and Henry Walsh love their grandson Jackson more than anything — which is why they’ve kidnapped a pregnant woman and perform a ritual to summon a demon in order to swap Jackson’s soul into the baby and resurrect him from the dead.

But, as Audrey says at one point, the Walsh’s have gotten in a little over their heads. Attending a local satanist group is one thing; using an ancient text to summon the devil is quite another.

This was so much more fun than I was expecting! The comedy of the two grandparents trying to calmly and rationally use dark magics somehow meshes perfectly with the more terrifying scenes. I’m not big on jump scares, but this has some great ones as well as some premium splatter. I’m a fan!

(Seen as part of #Nightstream festival)

DAY ELEVEN
DARKNESS (2019), directed by Emanuela Rossi

Part gothic horror and post-apocalyptic fantasy, DARKNESS is about three sisters dependent on their father to keep them alive.

All Stella (Denise Tantucci), Luce (Gaia Bocci) and Aria (Olimpia Tosatto) know about the outside is that the sun will burn them and the air is not safe to breathe — in fact, their father tells them that women aren’t strong enough to exist outside, only men are. Their mother didn’t heed his warnings and is now dead because of it. The girls have spent years staying inside the family’s crumbling house, and are only allowed to open windows when wearing protective masks and eye goggles that obscure their view.

Now 17, Stella starts to question her father’s motivations and wonder if everything he’s been telling them is true. Driven by a need to protect Luce, who has just reached maturity and is quickly becoming the object of her father’s attentions (yes that’s as horrible as you’re imagining it to be), Stella heads out to see if she can take care of the family without his help, and is shocked at what she discovers.

Director Emanuela Rossi has crafted a beautiful, powerful film that shows the darkness and horror of domestic abuse and control, and also the bond of true family love that can break a destructive cycle. This was a hard watch, but ultimately a really lovely one.

(Seen as part of #Nightstream festival)

“That’s just how it is. YOU ARE SO BRAVE.”

DAY TWELVE
LUCKY (2020), directed by Natasha Kermani

This supernatural slasher is about a woman named May who gets terrorized over and over again as the same man breaks into her house and tries to kill her every single night.

May’s husband shrugs off the attacks as if they’re no big deal and implies that it’s somehow her fault this is happening; the police act as if she’s making up the intruder and hiding important details; and even her sister-in-law can only repeat platitudes like:

“These things are tough. It’s just the way things go some times. Life is hard; you just take it one day at a time.” and “You are so brave!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but screenwriter (and star) Brea Grant has written a clever satire about the way women have to fight every single day just to be heard. It’s fucking brilliant — wickedly funny, and wayyyyyy too real.

(Seen as part of #Nightstream festival)

DAY THIRTEEN
BOOKS OF BLOOD (2020), directed by Brannon Braga

The film starts with a man named Bennet hired to find the mythical Book of Blood, then moves to the story of Jenna — a young woman suffering from trauma who runs away from home and ends up in an air bnb run by a friendly couple (maybe a Lil TOO friendly). Then we’re introduced to Miles — a grifter who claims to be a medium who cons a grieving mom, but hoooooo boy is he gonna regret that (I LOVED seeing Anna Friel have so much fun with this part). The third story brings us back to Bennet, and shows how his tale crosses the two others. There’s a final piece to Jenna’s story which feels a little out of place, but I see what they were going for.

It took a bit for me to to get into this one, as the “wrapper” wasn’t super interesting to me, but by the time the big reveal happened on story #2, I was IN. While some pieces of this anthology do draw from Barker’s source material, there’s also some new, inspired tales that honor Barker’s creation and also nod towards some other favorite horror films. Lots of fun surprises here, and some really f*cked up resolutions.

the first rule of piano school is DO NOT RECITE SPELLS FROM A DEAD GIRL’S NOTEBOOK

DAY FOURTEEN
NOCTURNE (2020), directed by Zu Quirke

Juliet has lived in the shadow of her more talented sister, Vivian, her entire life. Both girls excel at playing piano — but while Juliet has always had to work very hard on her musical abilities, Vivian’s have come almost effortlessly. After Juliet discovers a notebook with mysterious invocations, she starts to change, gaining more confidence in herself. But while she thrives, her sister starts to suffer.

This has very Black Swan vibes! Coming-of-age and satanic rituals — what a combo. A nice blend of suspense and psychological torment. And Sydney Sweeney is perfect. I enjoyed it a lot. One of the new “Welcome to the Blumhouse” selections.

DAY FIFTEEN
THE LIE (2018), directed by Veena Sud

On the way to a school retreat, Kayla spots her friend Brittany waiting at the bus stop and convinces her dad Jay to stop and give Brittany a ride. While pulled over for a bathroom stop, Jay hears a scream and runs to find Kayla on the ledge of a bridge — Brittany nowhere in sight.

After he questions her, Kayla admits the two girls fought and she pushed Brittany off the bridge (!!!) Deciding not to call the police, Jay drives Kayla back home and tells her mother (his ex), Rebecca what happened. In shock, but determined to protect their daughter, the two parents start to spin a web of lies to throw the suspicion off of Kayla before the body is discovered.

Another film in the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” collection, THE LIE is way more in the Thriller camp than Horror — unless we’re talking about the horror of having a teenage daughter (Waka! Waka!). Decent suspense, and honestly I’ll watch Mireille Enos & Peter Sarsgaard do literally ANYTHING, plus Joey King is great, as always. I’m intrigued about the original now (Wir Monster). This is pretty dark, but I’m betting that one is even darker.

Is this what happened to everyone on Lost?

DAY SIXTEEN
VICTOR CROWLEY (2017), directed by Adam Green

The fourth film in the Hatchet series is about Andrew Yong, the only survivor of the Crowley massacre in part III. Andrew has written a book about his experience, but despite a healthy fan base, most people consider him a joke and think he’s the murderer (even tho he was cleared of charges). Yong bounces out of his book tour for a million dollar interview that’ll take him back to the swamp.

Meanwhile aspiring director Chloe is on a mission to make a movie about Crowley, and journeying to the swamps to make a crowdfund trailer with her boyfriend and best friend. Chloe also intended to ask Andrew to be in it before he bailed on the signing. As it happens, fate intervenes to place them all in the swamp together just as night falls and Crowley rises from the dead once more.

I leaned into my inner 12-year-old boy for this one — as you must for these films. The Hatchet movies are super bro-y, but I enjoy the ridiculously over the top practical F/X, the purposely bad dialog, and the meta-skewering of classic slasher tropes. And in particular, I love seeing horror icons on screen (this one has Felissa Rose). What I don’t love is the avalanche of dick jokes, and in Victor Crowley it seemed like there were more than usual. This also takes place almost entirely on a crashed plane — which eliminates all the cool NOLA and swamp locations from the previous three. Not mad I watched, because the end was pretty good and I like that a woman survived — but eh. This was my least fave of the series. (If you end up watching, stay tuned thru the credits) 🪓

DAY SEVENTEEN
INTO THE DARK: CRAWLERS (2020), directed by Brandon Zuck

Strange things are afoot in a small college town, beyond the usual drunken St. Patrick’s Day madness. Misty’s best friend, Chloe, leaves the bar with a rape-y frat boy, Aaron — and Misty enlists the help of Shauna, the town outcast/drug dealer to help her find her friend. At the fraternity they find Aaron tied up, with a bite taken out of his leg — claiming that he saw the woman he brought home morph into a double of himself after she bit him.

Shauna, Misty, Aaron, and Chloe’s new friend Yuejin go on a quest to find the alien’s nest and destroy it before they can take over the entire town.

This was probably trying to be a bit too clever for its own good — but I really loved that it had a diverse cast and that the women characters were the focus. Decent cast, and it was fun … enough. I just wish it had more splatter.

if only the film was as well constructed as this prop

DAY EIGHTEEN
THE JACK IN THE BOX (2020), directed by Lawrence Fowler

A friend and I have spent many pandemic Saturdays or Sundays picking a deliberately bad movie to watch party together and make fun of, and this was today’s pick.

The UK apparently has a robust indie horror market, and they love their creepy dolls and clowns! This one, of course, features a satanic Jack in the Box who resides in a metal box covered in demonic symbols. When unlocked and turned, it unleashes an evil “Jack” who can pop fully out of the box and walk around, slaughtering people. Its mission is to kill six people, and then I guess it goes back to sleep for six years. I dunno; there were two Jack in the Box “experts” in this film, and they both said different things. I’ll spare you the rest of the plot (plot?!!) because it doesn’t really matter, and there’s no one to care about in this thing.

Anyway, the actual Jack in the box was pretty cool, but when it came out as a full-sized clown-monster; not so much. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ < that about sums it up.

DAY NINETEEN
LITTLE MONSTERS (2019), directed by Abe Forsythe

While on a field trip to the zoo, Miss Caroline, her students, and last-minute volunteer Dave (who’s only there to hit on Miss C) find themselves fighting to survive a zombie outbreak from the nearby military base — and also being trapped in a building with the most selfish children’s entertainer EVER.

This was very, very silly and I didn’t love all of the humor (the fat kid jokes are just …. nope. Also toilet humor and Josh Gad aren’t my cuppa) — BUT Lupita Nyong’o is a goddamn national treasure and I would watch her play “Shake it Off” on a uke and decapitate zombies allllllll day.

It’s worth a watch; a light horror comedy with some genuinely sweet moments — even if I don’t totally buy Dave’s sudden transformation from tantrum-y man-baby to grown ass adult. ⛳️🧟‍♀️🧟🧟‍♂️

Give Jill Larson ALL THE AWARDS

DAY TWENTY
THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (2014), directed by Adam Robitel

As part of her thesis, college student Mia hires a documentary crew and heads to the home of Deborah Logan to document her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. Daughter Sarah has welcomed the filmmakers as a way to provide financial support so her mother can keep their family home, but Deborah is skeptical about their intentions.

After a few strange sleepwalking incidents, Deborah begins to physically harm herself and attack the others wildly. It soon becomes clear that something is possessing Deborah, and it’s on a mission to complete a horrifying task.

I had heard good things about this one, but I was absolutely not prepared for any of what happened! This was TERRIFYING and kept me guessing the whole time. It’s a great example of how to effectively do found footage. Plus it has a fantastic cast — Jill Larson, who plays Deborah, deserves a goddamn Oscar. Just WOW.

DAY TWENTY-ONE
GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019), directed by Travis Stevens

Annoying bro-dude Don moves to a fixer-upper in the burbs, intending to make it all nice for his pregnant wife. While making improvements, Don finds mysterious things seeping out of the walls, random marbles, and uh — some kind “viewing platform” above the bedroom.

He also finds a young woman named Sarah, who seduces him in like, 5 seconds. When Don’s friend Milo shows up to help, he meets Sarah and realizes Don is a cheating dirtbag — chews him out, and threatens to tell his wife … and that’s when Sarah starts to murderin’.

Even though it had some pretty great practical F/X, this one just didn’t land for me. The main character was such an asshole I had zero investment in his survival; Sarah’s backstory was a total throwaway that made little sense; and the long suffering wife didn’t even get any good closure. Meh. Skip it; it’s not even fun

nightmare fuel

DAY TWENTY-TWO
THE BROOD (1979), directed by David Cronenberg

This is SOMETHING. Frank is in the middle of a custody battle with his soon-to-be ex, Nola, who is currently in a new kind of “psychoplasmic” treatment at the Somafree Institute, under the care of Dr. Raglan (Oliver! Reed!). Raglan’s methods are hella suspect; he engages in weird role play with his patients so they relive the trauma, and believes healing can come only when someone physically manifests their trauma and excises it. Hold on, what?!

After everyone around him starts dying, Frank does some investigating and discovers that Nola, who has suffered years of abuse from her alcoholic mother, is “birthing” her trauma as little malformed children who are controlled by her moods — in particular, by her rage. Frank and Raglan work together to rescue daughter Candice from Nola and her brood, and eeeeesssssssshhhh the result is v. uncomfortable.

So Anthony and Stacy talked about this one on the Gaylords of Darkness podcast, and I realized it’s one of the only Cronenberg films I haven’t seen so I had to check it out because their descriptions of it sounded AMAZING. The demons of a messy divorce (Cronenberg’s own) get turned into a freaky body horror opus that illuminates men’s fears about women, childbirth, menstruation – you name it.

The snow-suited murder littles are delightful and also HORRIFYING, and Samantha Eggers (Nola) in that final showdown is OMG sooooooo impressive. The feral way in which she reacts to her ex threatening her “children” is glorious! I loved it. I have some QUESTIONS — like why is Frank the worst dad in the world? Did he seriously leave his child with her super abusive grandma? WTF? — but I’m also a big Cronenberg fan and this is just as weird and wonderful as the rest of his filmography.

DAY TWENTY-THREE
INTO THE DARK: PURE (2019), directed by Hannah Macpherson

Two half sisters go to a Purity Camp with their father (ewwwwwwwwww) to “pledge” themselves to him and God, promising to stay virgins until marriage. The more rebellious sister gathers a group of girls to jokingly summon the spirit of Lilith in order to punish all the self-righteous toxic masculine dudes who organized the camp — and Lilith eventually arrives.

There isn’t anything scarier than the cult of patriarchy, and hooooo boy did this nail how terrifying it is to be a woman and have men constantly trying to control your body. This took awhile to get going and I wish Lilith had shown up earlier, but when she finally does and summons the full power of her coven, the revenge is pretty sweet.

You go, JOAN

DAY TWENTY-FOUR
SEASON OF THE WITCH (aka HUNGRY WIVES, or JACKS’S WIFE – 1972), directed by George A Romero

Housewife Joan is positively bored out of her mind and can’t even with all the chatter from her other housewife “friends” — so when she meets a tarot reader who mentions witchcraft, she’s immediately intrigued. Directly after her teen daughter runs away and her husband smacks her around, Joan starts dabbling in the craft, and the very first thing she does is summon her daughter’s annoying “prof with benefits” over for sexy times.

This took a good long while to ramp up, but it’s got some REALLY interesting themes. It’s insane that Romero wrote a script that’s so progressive, and even more impressive that it reflects a woman’s experience so accurately. I cheered as Joan found herself again, embracing her coven and finding true freedom. The last scene with her is pure FIRE!

DAY TWENTY-FIVE
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013), directed by Jim Jarmusch

Two vampires: Adam, a reclusive musician in Detroit, and Eve, a woman draped in luxury in Tangiers, reconnect to talk about “life,” love and art. Everything goes beautifully until Eve’s vampire sister Ava shows up and starts damaging their calm.

This looks gorgeous and Hiddleston & Swinton are perfect vampires, but it’s less horror and more “Vampires, they’re just like us.” There’s something here about people taking credit for other artists’ work, and the vampirism definitely stands in for addiction (drinking blood makes them high, and they no longer drink direct from humans because of possible contamination) — and I wasn’t super into any of it. I like more aggressive killing in my vamp movies!

I CANNOT

DAY TWENTY-SIX
INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND (aka: GHOSTLAND – 2018), directed by Pascal Laugier

Single mom Pauline arrives at her new home with daughters Vera & Beth — a creepy old mansion filled with terrifying dolls and vintage puzzle tricks. Shortly after arriving, a mysterious candy truck the trio had passed earlier pulls up, and two men break into the house and begin torturing and assaulting the sisters.

The family narrowly escapes, and sixteen years later, Beth is now a famous horror author whose latest book is about her childhood trauma. After receiving a panicked called from Vera, she heads back home to check on her mother and sisters and discovers that Vera now lives in a fantasy world where she believes the torturers are still there, causing her pain. After seeing some strange omens and hearing noises in the night — Beth starts to think maybe her sister’s right.

Thankfully this isn’t as traumatic as Laugier’s Martyrs (a movie I loved but can never watch again because it wrecked me) but HOLYSHIT did it still pack a punch. Hey let’s just take all the things that scare Amie and bundle ‘em up into one film: a remote farmhouse; rooms filled with creepy dolls; almost supernaturally strong villains — auuuggghhhh.

Some of this gave me good cheesy 80s slasher vibes, but most of it felt like very real trauma and terror. Emilia Jones & Taylor Hickson, who play the two teen girls, are INCREDIBLE actors! As are Crystal Reed & Anastasia Phillips, who play their adult counterparts. And while the villains are pretty cardboard, they still carry weight. There are some House of 1,000 Corpses comparisons to be made here, and Laugier must know that because Vera says, “What is this? Rob Zombie’s house?” at the start, but honestly I prefer this version. Clever, icky, uncomfortable, gory, and brutal — truly the stuff of nightmares.

DAY TWENTY-SEVEN
PYEWACKET (2018), directed by Adam MacDonald

Shortly after her father dies, Leah’s mom moves them to a new house several hours away for a fresh start. Unfortunately this means Leah is separated from her best friends. Unable to cope with her feelings about losing her father, Leah channels all of her anger at her mom and cracks open the occult books to summon a demonic spirit to … KILL her mother. Of course she has regrets once weird shit starts happening, but there’s no easy way to reverse a curse.

There’s a lot of layers to this one, and it gets extra points for accurately portraying the hell of being a teen girl. I was super into it, and when the final scene hit my jaw DROPPED. Don’t mess around with the dark arts, y’all! There’s always a heavy price to pay.

nothing to see here; move along

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT
THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (2018), Directed by Aislinn Clarke

In October of 1960, two priests are sent to investigate a miracle at a Magdalene asylum (aka a Magdalene laundry — Google it; another part of the Irish Catholic Church’s history that’s almost too awful to believe), bringing a camera so they can capture it on film. What they find instead is a host of abuses visited upon the young female “wards” by the nuns, and a pregnant teen named Kathleen who’s kept locked and chained in a remote room in the basement.

After attempting to free Kathleen and discovering she has a tendency to attack anyone in her path, the nuns restrain her under the pretense of mental illness. After witnessing some very strange phenomena, the priests realize she’s exhibiting signs of demon possession. And though they may not be able to save her, they can try their best to save her child.

I don’t know why I slept on this one for so long; it’s fantastic! A creepy old asylum with a ton of rooms and hallways and secret underground passages — run by what has to be the scariest nun ever; mischievous child ghosts scaring the shit out of visitors; and the most terrifying birth scene ever. THE SOUNDS OMG THE SOUNDS. The added horror is the knowledge that these types of asylums existed in Ireland until 1996! Eeeeeesssh. It’s told in found footage style on 16mm film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and it looks amazing. Also, it’s the first horror film to be written and directed by an Irishwoman. 💚

DAY TWENTY-NINE
THE ROW (2018), Directed by Matty Beckerman

Freshman Riley Cole (Lala from Vanderpump Rules, which should tell you all you need to know about this) pledges Phi Lambda with her BFF and endures some pretty heinous hazing. While looking into the sorority’s history she discovers that her mom (who died when she was seven) was a part of the same sorority — a fact that her father concealed from her. It’s not long before a masked serial killer starts murdering members of the sorority house, chopping them apart, and sewing their body parts to mannequins to create blood-soaked “dolls.” Could Riley be next? And what does this have to do with her mom?

I was hoping this was be bad-good, but nope. It was just plain bad. Beckerman clearly watched the Ice Truck Killer eps of Dexter one too may times, because the way the killer dispatches victims is completely disconnected from the trauma that triggered his revenge. It’s a total mess; a mish-mash of incomplete ideas with about 30 minutes of actual story jammed in between many extended club/party sequences that basically are just EDM montages of kids doing shot after shot of Jaegermeister. SKIP IT

Wunmi Mosaku is just perfection

DAY THIRTY
HIS HOUSE (2020), Directed by Remi Weekes

Refugees Bol & Rial escape South Sudan and seek sanctuary in England. Their marriage, already under the strain of losing their daughter on the journey, suffers anew once they arrive at their government-provided “home,” which is rife with problems: crumbling walls, sooooo many cockroaches, ruined furniture on the front lawn, and uh …. a bunch of restless spirits who scrabble around in the walls and scare the crap out Bol whenever he turns the lights on (or off). Also, hey Bol? Maybe QUIT STICKING YOUR HANDS INSIDE THOSE HOLES IN THE WALLS.

A friend recommend this one to me and it’s SO GOOD! It’s a story that encompasses the real life horrors of fleeing a country in order to save your own life, and ending up in a place that won’t accept you because of where you’re from. It addresses grief and guilt, wrapping a supernatural element around them — and it also takes a turn I absolutely was not expecting.

Really amazing storytelling, terrifying ghosts, and solid leads. Also I’m just gonna declare my massive crush on Wunmi Mosaku right here. Love her on Lovecraft Country; love her in this; must seek out every single other thing she’s in. Highly recommend this one!

DAY THIRTY-ONE
BAD HAIR (2020), Directed by Justin Simien

Set in 1989, aspiring music show host Anna will do anything to succeed in image-obsessed Hollywood — even it means getting an expensive weave that is painfully attached. Once her hair changes, things start looking up for Anna’s career, but then she discovers her weave requires human blood to stay healthy and beautiful.

There’s no doubt this is fun, and I enjoyed the way it blended real-life struggles that Black women face both professionally and privately. I also was really into the lore of where the killer weave came from. I think it works if you view it as campy satire and don’t take it too seriously!

And that’s a wrap on the “new to me” 31 Days of Horror Project! Pretty stoked I saw a lot of good stuff; not too many that I didn’t care for in this batch.

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