Last year I did 31 Days of Horror during October, watching a new to me horror film every day — and this year I’m joining in on 100 Days of Horror with a goal of seeing a new to me horror film every day from the end of September through October 31. Reaching 50 seemed like a good milestone, so here’s the list with short reviews of everything I’ve seen, so far:
FALSE POSITIVE (2021)
Directed by John Lee
After struggling to get pregnant, Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) enlist the help of Adrian’s mentor, Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) — a renowned fertility specialist. With just one treatment, Lucy gets pregnant but there are complications: three babies instead of one, which results in a procedure to ensure the best results for a healthy child, and the sanity of the parents. At first, Lucy is thrilled, but as her pregnancy progresses she starts to suspect Adrian is hiding something from her, and is constantly struggling with feelings that her baby is in danger.
While I appreciated the horror of gaslighting and conspiracy, this lagged a lot in some places; the humor didn’t always land, and I think they tried to jam too many ideas into the story. There are some downright weird choices here — and while I love it when a film goes off the rails, this ending made me feel more “meh” than anything else. The cast was great though! Especially Gretchen Moll as Nurse Dawn.
Directed by Christopher Landon
Thought to be an Urban Legend, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) appears every few years on Homecoming weekend to brutally murder teenagers. Two partying couples discover he’s real when he breaks into the house they’re partying at and kills them, stealing a dagger from the house and heading to the dance to find his next victims. He finds outcast student Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) alone and attacks her — but because the dagger is of the mystical variety, the next morning they discover they’ve swapped bodies!
Millie somehow convinces her best friends that she’s actually inside the butcher’s body, and the three of them discover they have to reverse the swap within 24 hours, or the change will become permanent. And the longer they take, the more people will die at the hands of the Butcher, who now has an additional element of surprise while masquerading as Millie.
This was super silly and very fun! Ridiculously over-the-top deaths; lots of great jokes; Vaughn was absolutely perfect as a teen girl trapped in a grown man’s body, and Newton matched his perfectness as an evil male serial killer trapped in a teen girl’s body. And I loved her BFFs, Josh (Misha Osherovich) & Nyla (Misha Osherovich)!! Bonus points for getting to watch the Butcher (as Millie) dispatch a bunch of rape-y jocks.
A CLASSIC HORROR STORY (2021)
Directed by Roberto De Feo & Paolo Strippoli
Five strangers carpooling to the same destination in Italy get into a car crash. In the aftermath, they find themselves trapped in the middle of a forest with no cell phone reception, no roads leading out, and a seriously creepy cabin. I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, except that I really, really dug how the story wrapped. Hang in there for a fun stinger once the credits start to roll, too!
This had a strong beginning, a great score and AMAZING set design. I loved the super weird vibe and appreciated every visual meta-horror reference they dropped. It was also great to see Matilda Lutz (REVENGE) rockin’ the horror genre once again. And they did such a great job with the gore — you saw some of it up close, but they pulled the camera back from a lot of it and left you to just *listen* to what was happening to each victim.
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Les yeux sans visage – 1960)
Directed by Georges Franju
Totally switched gears for today and took it wayyy back to a classic I hadn’t seen — and man, did I dig this. Right at the start, you see a woman dumping a dead body into a river, and shortly thereafter meet Dr. Génessier who identifies the remains as those of his missing daughter, Christiane Génessier. BUT it turns out Christiane is actually alive and horribly disfigured from an automobile accident. Since the Doctor was driving, he feels responsible for the accident and is now obsessed with repairing his daughter’s ruined face — by ANY MEANS necessary.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, but the surgery stuff was much gnarlier than I thought it would be, and the atmosphere was through the roof! It moved a little slower than I wanted it to, but I think part of that is just adjusting from 2020-2021 Italian/American horror to 1960 French horror. It’s an art film-ennui-controlling-toxic-masculinity-scary-surgical-mad-science-creepy-masked-nightmare. A great watch.
VICIOUS FUN (2020)
Directed by Cody Calahan
Horror journalist Joel (Evan Marsh) has a crush on his roommate Sarah, so naturally he follows the new guy she’s dating to a bar, chats him up, gets wasted, and somehow stumbles upon a support group for serial killers — that Sarah’s new boyfriend just happens to belong to. Joel is able to successfully masquerade as one of the killers for a while, but it’s eventually revealed that he’s a regular guy who must now be killed before he can reveal their identities to the police. All hell breaks loose when they disagree on how to dispatch him — and one of the group, Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), has her own agenda.
This absolutely lives up to its title! Awash in 80s neon with a synthy score to match, tons of super gross gore, and clever meta-humor. Joel’s not a particularly likable character — altho I dig his Marty McFly-inspired fashion sense — but that doesn’t matter because Carrie is the real star here: a bad-ass with a blade who kicks SERIOUS ass and steals every scene she’s in. I have some minor quibbles with how the last third played out, but not enough to stop me from thoroughly enjoying it!
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
After besting the child-eating witch in the candy house as kids, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) & Gretel (Gemma Atherton) find they have a talent for dispatching witches — and as adults, make a living saving townspeople by hunting and killing the witches that are terrorizing them.
The two hunters get called to Augsburgh to help find the town’s missing children and discover a nearby coven led by Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, at FULL THROTTLE) plans to kill the children in order to become immune to fire. Their mission is now to find the children before the next blood moon, and stop the witches’ nefarious plan — but they have to contend with the town’s evil Sheriff (Peter Stormare, full throttling it even more than Famke is).
This is absolutely as terrible (they put “missing children ” drawings on glass milk bottles for chrissakes) as you think it’s gonna be — but still, I’m not mad that I watched it! I’m fond of the nostalgic makeup F/X, and as cartoon-y as the violence is — I’m a sucker for LOTS of blood. Plus Gemma as bad-ass Gretel breaking a man’s nose with a head butt & slaying witches is a thing to behold, and I am LIVING for Famke as a Gothy witch who slaughters men by quartering them. You just have to be down with a version of the fairy tale that includes steampunk-type weapons and hearing Gretel say things like, “You gotta be fucking kidding me” to enjoy this. I dunno; I guess I was just in the right mood for this one!
THE FURIES (2019)
Directed by Tony D’Aquino
After an argument with her best friend Maddie, Kayla (Airlie Dodds) gets attacked and wakes up inside a coffin-like box. Two other women approach and warn her to be quiet, disclosing that they’re being hunted by a group of masked men intent on killing them. Kayla’s only concern is trying to find Maddie and make sure she’s safe, but the women convince her that Maddie is probably dead, and they should team up to try to find a way out ASAFP.
As they fight the killers as a group, Kayla starts to put clues together and figure out what’s happening — unfortunately she also has epilepsy “fits” which cause her to black out: a serious liability when murderers are constantly chasing you. Each time she awakens from an episode, she puts another piece of the puzzle together about the dangerous game they’re trapped in, but the others don’t seem to want to believe her theories.
This is a solid Australian horror film with gory kills featuring great practical F/X, and an interesting take on the classic slasher. There are a few points where the scenes stretch longer than they should, and I think they tried to make the rules of the hunt a little *too* complicated — but lots of surprises kept me interested, and I dig that Kayla is set up immediately as an unreliable narrator. Also cool that all the killers are nameless & faceless: the women are the stars of the show here. Recommended watch!
JUG FACE (2013)
Directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle
A group of backwoods families engage in a strange ritual involving a magical pit, in which a prophet of sorts goes into a trance and sculpts a jug with a face on it; the face depicting the next sacrifice to keep the pit satisfied and the community healthy. When young Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) discovers her face on the jug, she hides it away and sets off a chain reaction of murders as the pit is robbed of “what it wants.”
Honestly I don’t know how to feel about this one. It’s obviously playing to the “poor, uneducated people living in the woods are weird and scary” horror trope — but there’s so much about it that just isn’t enjoyable. The way an incest storyline is handled is just … puzzling, and watching a woman get beaten is one thing, IF there’s ever a payoff, and there isn’t here. I appreciate that they never explain the intricacies of the pit, there’s some great F/X — and I always love seeing Sean Young but ummmm yeah. I don’t think this one is for me. Huh. I guess I *do* know how I feel about it.
THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) & Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) come home to the (very spooky) family farm to help mom care for their ailing father. It doesn’t take long for Louise to recognize something is not quite right — doors open by themselves; shadow figures stalk the farmhouse; a mysterious preacher (Xander Berkeley) appears — everything just *feels* very, very wrong. After a tragic death, the strange happenings kick into overdrive and brother & sister must decide whether to stay or go, and what to do with dad either way.
This was 100% my jam! It’s an atmospheric, slow burn of a movie punctuated by some gnarly gore, with little explanation for what’s happening. I was super into it, and completely unsettled for the whole ride. This one will stick with me for a good long time.
BLAIR WITCH (2016)
Directed by Adam Wingard
Set in 2014, James Donahue (James Allen McCune), sees a video on YouTube showing his older sister Heather, who disappeared in 1994 near Burkirttsville while exploring the legend of the Blair Witch. Thinking she might still be alive, he takes a group of friends into the same woods Heather got lost in: best friend Peter (Brandon Scott), his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and their newest friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who wants to film everything for her first documentary. Locals Talia and Lane, who found the video in the woods and uploaded also join them to act as guides.
But bad things plague them from the start— on the journey their campsite Ashley slips in the river and cuts her foot very deeply. Their first night camping is interrupted by loud noises, and the group awakens to find they’re surrounded by the same terrifying stick figures that Heather, Mike, and Josh encountered years earlier. Peter disappears while looking for firewood, and Ashley, now very ill, needs a doctor ASAP. So the group packs up to leave only to find that they can’t. Every trip into the woods brings them back to the same clearing, and it’s not long before they get separated by *something* that lures them each into the wilderness.
Listen, 75% of this film is just people yelling each other’s names, which is stupid irritating and gets old very fast. But when it works, it WORKS. I will never not be terrified of people getting lost in the pitch black woods or being dragged away by something unseen. And the last 15 minutes was so intense, with a claustrophobic sequence SO AWFUL, that I was near hyperventilating. Is it perfect? No — but Writer Simon Barrett & Director Wingard (the same duo who also gave us YOU’RE NEXT & THE GUEST) did a fine job with this, and I think it’s a decent homage to the original. You just gotta hang in there!
Directed by Rob Stefaniuk
Struggling rock band The Winners can’t seem to catch a break, somewhat due to their inept manager, Jeff (Dave Foley) — until their bass player, Jen (Jessica Paré, Megan from MAD MEN) gets seduced and bitten by master vampire Queeny (Dimitri Coats, from hard rock band Burning Bridges). As Jen’s allure intensifies, the band gathers more and more fans and their songs start rising up the charts. Once Jen starts turning each band member, their fame skyrockets — but a few things still stand in their way: lead singer Joey (played by Stefaniuk) isn’t so into the whole “sucking blood” thing, and vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (Malcolm McDowell!!) is hot on their trail.
This isn’t a great film by any means, but it’s still a thing to behold! Definitely an indie passion project, it’s very, very silly but also a clever skewering of the music business with some fun F/X and catchy tunes. And this cast! In addition to Foley & McDowell, it’s got music icons Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop & Henry Rollins in key roles. Also a cameo from Moby as a toxic lead singer named Beef, which is just the cherry on top due to his comments about Natalie Portman a few years back. The ending was beyond ridiculous, but this is a fun watch if you’re in the mood for something silly.
SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL (2016)
Directed by A.D. Calvo
Young Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is sent to her estranged and very ill Aunt Dora’s to help provide palliative care during her last days. Dora has agoraphobia and won’t open her bedroom door — choosing instead to slip notes under it providing instructions and rules for Adele to follow. While running errands one day, she sees a gorgeous young woman named Beth (Quinn Shephard) and is immediately attracted to her. The two strike up a friendship and more, leading Adele down a path of rebellion that ultimately results in Dora’s neglect — and a monstrous revelation.
This is one of those beautiful, Gothic ghost stories retold in a modern setting (1980) — with the addition of queer teenage heartbreak. It’s definitely in the quiet and slow category; there’s no gore here and very little special F/X, but there is SO MUCH atmosphere and I got totally drawn into the story. Both Wilhelmi & Shephard are fantastic in these roles! I really enjoyed this one.
UNCANNY ANNIE (2019)
Directed by Paul Davis
Six college students gather on Halloween night to remember a recently departed friend, skipping the usual wild party times for a quiet night in drinking and playing board games. Unfortunately the game they choose – Uncanny Annie – is a supernatural challenge that sucks them all into a haunted hell scape. To get out they have to finish the game, and the consequences for not completing the task on each card drawn is a horrific death.
This is one of Hulu’s Into the Dark series, and it’s … pretty lackluster. The monsters/threats are laughably cartoonish, and even the Big Bad (Annie) isn’t anywhere near scary. There are some interesting deaths here, and I’ll give it some points for feeling like it came right out of the late 90s/early 2000s — but there’s nothing here that’s worth recommending.
THE GRUDGE (2020)
Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Four sets of families are affected by Ju-On: The Grudge — aka the vengeful spirit of Kayako. We first meet Fiona (Tara Westwood), leaving a house in Tokyo in 2004; she’s visibly disturbed and flees quickly to go back home to Pennsylvania. Then we jump to 2006 — where Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) arrives for her first day of work with her secretive partner Goodman (Demián Bichir).
The two are called to investigate a desiccated body found in a car off a service road. The victim has an address in her car that was the site of a previous murder investigated by Goodman & his former partner, Wilson (William Sadler). As Muldoon dives deeper into the mysterious death, she finds a connection between the current owners of the house Faith & William Matheson (Lin Shaye & Frankie Faison) and Realtor Peter Spencer (John Cho) and his wife, Nina (Betty Gilpin). Once the evil spirits who have plagued each family also begin haunting her and her son, Muldoon has to figure out how to stop the cycle of violence.
Yeah I …. knew this would be bad based on its horrible reviews, but with THIS amazing cast I was at least hoping it would be fun! Alas, it was not. Too many storylines that didn’t seem to fit smoothly together; The CGI stuff took me right out of the film; and I just wasn’t feeling how Kayako operated in this universe. Also Toshio > Melinda. On the upside, I’ve now seen every iteration of the Ju-On series, which is important because I’m a completist!
JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)
Directed by Travis Stevens
Dutiful wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) spends her days supporting her husband and town Pastor Jakob (Larry Fessenden). She cooks, she cleans, and she gardens, all while keeping her hair in a tidy bun. But it’s clear Anne is just “going through the motions” with Jakob; the way she stares at him in horror while he’s brushing his teeth or snoring loudly next to her speaks VOLUMES.
Anne meets up with handsome old flame Tom (Robert! Rusler!) under the pretense of hiring him to remodel one of the town’s abandoned buildings. As she struggles with the temptation of rekindling her romance with Tom, a horde of flesh-eating rats suddenly descends upon him, and a mysterious figure attacks Anne from behind. When Anne returns that night, it’s immediately clear something is different about her. She lets her hair down, vamps it up with some dramatic makeup, and starts wearing much sexier and chicer clothing. She’s really feelin’ herself — the only drawback is that she also has a strong need for human blood. It’s not long before Jakob figures out what’s going on, but will he betray her, or protect her?
Even though the story didn’t end up going in the direction I was rooting for, this film is still packed with a lot of goodness! I’m happy to report that there is SO much Splatter, just buckets and buckets of it (at one point you see someone’s neck split in half like it’s a coconut); the master vampire is highly enjoyable, and I chuckled more than once at the wry humor and the idea of vampirism as both confidence builder and relationship therapy – but really the whole reason you need to watch this is for Barbara. To see her take the lead and slay the entire film using all of the talent she has is just BEAUTIFUL.
WITCHFINDER GENERAL – aka THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968)
Directed by Michael Reeves
Set in 1645, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) arrives in the small town of Brandeston to question the village priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies) about witches. Hopkins and his gang of loyal brutes waste no time torturing Lowes, accusing him of being in league with Satan.
When Lowes’ beautiful niece Sarah arrives home, Matthew wastes no time hinting that he’ll let her uncle go if she sleeps with him — which she does. Of course, the General is lying, and having gotten what he wants leaves the priest in a cell to rot, then skips town for a day. While he’s gone one of his men sexually assaults Sarah and when Hopkins returns, he has the priest and three women tested for witchcraft by drowning, and hangs all who survive being thrown in a moat.
The second half of the film adds an action-thriller element, with Sarah’s lover Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) returning from war to find Sarah broken and grieving. After hearing about Hopkins’ crimes, he “marries” Sarah, then sets off in search of the Witchfinder and his men on a mission to avenge her and her uncle.
I chose this one to fill in the few gaps in my Vincent Price education. Price films were my horror gateway, as the local networks always aired them on weekends and I was an 80’s kid & only child who spent a lotta time in front of the TV. It was nostalgically comforting — and surprisingly brutal. There are graphic scenes of women being beaten and hanged, and even though this is melodramatic and over-the-top and you can see that the punches are being pulled; it’s still A LOT. It also lags a bit the way old movies sometimes do, but I found it much more enjoyable than the recent THE RECKONING, which was partially inspired by this film. Worth a watch for my completist, Price-loving heart.
Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli
Miriam (Sims-Fewer) and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) join Madeline’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire) & brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) at their family cabin for a a relaxing lakeside getaway. Tensions between Miriam and Caleb are high, and rather than talk to her sister about their issues, she leans on her friendship with Dylan instead. One night, a drunken campfire confession ends in an irreversible betrayal — fracturing Miriam’s already fragile psyche and pushing her to plot an extreme plan of revenge.
You know I was worried about this one, as I always am with assault-revenge stories, but this is co-written/co-directed by a woman, so I gave it a chance. The scene in question was handled with care, and did not feel gratuitous to me in any way. This is also a very different take on that sub-genre — a quiet, beautiful unraveling with a realistic and detailed portrayal of revenge. Madeleine is absolutely fantastic as Miriam, and the mood and aesthetics of this really drew me in. I could be wrong, but I felt some Von Trier influences here, as well as 1970s horror vibes. It’s an intimate, gorgeous drama layered with a gory finale, and the very real psychological disintegration that it would cause.
BLOOD MOON (2021)
Directed by Emma Tammi
Single mom Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) moves around a lot with young son, Luna (Yonas Kibreab). They arrive in the small desert town and Esme immediately sets out to provide her son with the basics: shelter, clothing, food — and a sturdy steel cage to hold him captive once a month during the full moon while he changes into a wolf. She even brings him whole cows and sheep to eat because Esme is a thoughtful momma!
Of course living a secret life with a dangerous beast can’t be maintained for long; Esme’s new employer gets curious, and even though her & Luna make a connection with a local shop keeper, she’s wary of him getting too close to their family. Also the racist Sheriff is already on her case and watching her every move. Esme is fiercely protective of her son, but as the story of how they ended up alone unfolds in flashbacks, it becomes clear she can’t control everything.
This is another film that is part of Hulu’s Into the Dark series, and I think it’s one of the strongest. I really enjoyed the way it merged the everyday, almost mundane preparations for full moon nights with the more action-packed, thrilling sequences. It drove up the tension and made for an extra satisfying ending. The werewolf F/X are very subtle here, but it still works! Also, ummmmm I’m emotional and actually cried a little bit at the end. A++ recommended watch.
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS (2019)
Directed by Marc Meyers
It’s 1988 and good friends Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) & Bev (Amy Forsyth) are on a road trip to see their fave metal band. At the concert they have a blast, and invite three boys to come back to Alexis’ house for an after party. The boys are STOKED to be there — until a game of Never Have I Ever goes horribly awry and they end up tied to chairs as part of a ritual sacrifice.
Turns out the three ladies are part of a local church that has been staging Satanic murders in order to gain power, as more people join their ranks whenever there’s a series of killings. Alexis & Val have been at it for awhile, but Bev is new to the fold and panics when first blood is drawn. Will she chicken out and flee the scene? Or carry out her part of the pact?
I was really into this for the first half, because I like this take on 1980s Satanic Panic — but this lost me when it introduced more “twists” and strayed too far from its original idea. I was almost … bored through the middle, and the stunt casting of Johnny Knoxville didn’t work for me. Lots of gore for sure, but overall this one gets a “meh.” I dunno, maybe I’m just tired of the crazy-sexy-cult-chick trope …
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014)
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is on a quest to find Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone — a mythical stone that can grant its owner eternal life and turn metal to gold. After enlisting her friend George (Ben Feldman) to help her decipher some clues, she discovers the stone is hidden within the catacombs of Paris. Scarlett hires a rebellious adventurer named Papillon and his team to guide herself and her cameraman Benji through the underground passages to find the stone. As the group descends, they face challenging passages, a strange and disturbing cult of worshippers, and literal nightmares.
I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see this, but I loved it! Found footage style usually f*cks me up with motion sickness, but for some reason this one was fine. I was very into the tomb raider meets horror story arc, and I was completely freaked out by the setting. AGAIN with the claustrophobic tight squeezes! As well as total blackness and giant drops into nothingness. They shot this in the actual Catacombs of Paris, and I think that really added to how much I enjoyed this. What a great ride!
LITTLE JOE (2019)
Directed by Jessica Hausner
Alice (Emily Beecham) is a plant breeder at a large corporation who develops a type of flower that makes its owners feel happier. She names the plant “Little Joe,” after her son, and illegally brings home one of the plants for him to take care of. The Little Joe plants start throwing pollen all over, which Alice’s colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) accidentally ingests.
Alice begins to notice that both Chris and her son are acting strangely, and believes Little Joe may be spreading a virus. She secretly has the plants tested despite her boss’ assurance that everything is fine — and once her son and his friend start insisting they must expose everyone to the pollen to unify them, decides to destroy the Little Joe crop. However, all odds are against Alice, since everyone around her is now infected with “happiness.”
Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with plants, and …. Very British. The invasion changes people in very subtle ways, and the colors & aesthetic of this are beautiful. While I found it pretty interesting and I appreciated the way it wrapped up, there’s nothing gory or particularly bloody that happens here. I mean, I would still count it as “horror” because the idea that plants could be manufactured en masse and control the way humans feel is definitely scary; it’s just probably not what most people are looking for in this genre.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)
Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Big game hunter Bob Rainsfield (Joel McCrea) is on a luxury yacht which gets shipwrecked near an island. As the only survivor, Bob swims ashore and finds a giant fortress hidden in the jungle. Mysterious host Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) welcomes him, offering shelter until his boat returns to the dock and can take him back home. Zaroff claims there are frequent shipwrecks near his beach, and introduces him to two others who washed up on shore recently: Eve (Fay Wray) & her brother, Martin (Robert Armstrong).
While Zaroff is boasting about his hunting prowess, Eve signals to Bob that something is wrong – saying that they had two other people with them who have since disappeared! Later that night Eve’s brother goes missing and she enlists Martin’s help. While investigating they find Zaroff’s trophy room which is FULL OF HUMAN HEADS. Zaroff finds them and offers Bob a choice: he can hunt people with him, or become the hunted. Bob of course refuses to kill humans for sport, so the evil Count decides to turn the hunt into a wager: If Bob successfully eludes Zaroff, he can leave with Eve. But if Zaroff wins, Bob’s head will be on his wall and Eve will be his trophy (ew).
I was in the mood for an old black and white classic, and this did not disappoint: So much dramatic music! So many obviously staged fight scenes! So much fighting in the jungle! So many henchmen! So many barking dogs! So much great, besotted dialog from Martin! This was shot on King Kong’s sets (the Co-Directors of Kong produced this film) and they made good use of them for atmosphere. There’s a lot of suspense packed into its 62-minute runtime, and it’s worth a watch if you’re craving some vintage horror.
Directed by J. D. Dillard
A young woman, Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) washes up on an abandoned island after a shipwreck. Another passenger, her friend Brad, arrives on the beach wounded, but doesn’t live long. Strange noises permeate the jungle at night, and the next morning, she notices a dead shark on the beach with claw marks. Shortly after, she finds that the makeshift grave she made for Brad is empty and splattered with blood. Jenn encounters the terrifying culprit that night — a monster that lives in the sea and swims ashore after dark looking for food.
One day an escape raft drifts close to the island, and Jenn swims out to find her boyfriend Lucas (Emory Cohen) & friend Mia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) inside. She tries to warn them of the monster but they don’t believe her, accusing her of lying to them before. Jenn must convince them before it’s too late, but Lucas & Mia also have their own secret …
LOL I didn’t even think about how I had picked shipwreck movies back-to-back! This one is fantastic — Kiersey Clemons is absolutely amazing in every scene. I really loved that her character was smart, resourceful, and made a plan to survive. There were lots of other layers to the story that added to the classic monster movie arc (and contributed to the film’s title). All in all, super enjoyable.
Directed by Amelia Moses
Indie musician Grey (Lauren Beatty)’s first album was a breakthrough hit, so her label sends her to work with controversial record producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) on the next album. Controversial because he … was tried for the murder of his pop star girlfriend and acquitted (!!! Gurl! Run!).
Grey also suffers from hallucinations of turning into a wolf, which she takes medication for in order to control. Her girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) insists on going with her to Vaughn’s remote home (smart!). When the two women arrive, the housekeeper is immediately chilly towards them. As Grey & Vaughn work together, her hallucinations get worse — but her music gets better. Charlie feels she’s in dangler and tries to convince her to leave, but Grey can’t break herself away from the close bond she feels with Vaughn.
This is such a great werewolf story! I absolutely loved the arc, and Beatty is SO good; just a joy to watch as she questions her true nature. I also really liked the songs Grey created (by a singer named Lowell). Such a lovely departure from the norm — in line with how Ginger Snaps made me feel the first time I saw it. I watched this on Shudder and Moses’ has another feature streaming there too that I watched last year at Fantasia Fest & really enjoyed called Bleed With Me! Check them both out for the perfect double feature.
HELL FEST (2018)
Directed by Gregory Plotkin
Natalie (Amy Forsyth) joins her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), Brooke’s roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and their boyfriends — plus a potential romantic partner for Natalie — for a night of fun at Hell Fest: an immersive haunted house experience with mazes and an extra terrifying section called “The Deadlands” where the scare- actors can physically touch you.
After witnessing a particularly realistic kill inside one of the mazes, Natalie is shaken and starts to believe the scare-actor who committed the “murder” is stalking her. Her friends try to convince her it’s part of the experience, and that actor is just doing his job. But as the night goes on, the group gets separated and Natalie realizes they’re all in real danger.
This is a fun slasher that had amazing sets (trivia days they borrowed decor from Six Flags’ Fright Fest; not sure if they also used already built mazes but it’s very impressive!), some surprises I wasn’t expecting, and one very relentless, silent killer. An entertaining flick with some real good splattery moments — plus a cameo by Tony Todd!
Directed by David Marmor
Fleeing from her controlling father, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) arrives in Los Angeles for a fresh start, and finds the perfect one-bedroom apartment. The complex is secure, and the neighbors are friendly — everyone really seems to watch out for one another. Everything seems idyllic except for the strange noises she hears at night. But Sarah’s about to find out that her new community has very strict rules, and there are terrible consequences for not following them.
This absolutely wasn’t what I was expecting. What a great, tense little thriller that also manages to be a commentary on Scientology (with shades of NXIVM). Clever and kept me guessing, and the ending was awesome. A great addition to the cult-horror subgenre!
30 MILES FROM NOWHERE (2018)
Directed by Caitlin Koller
After their friend Max dies, a group of college friends connects 20 years later to reminisce. Sylvia (Carrie Preston), Max’s widow, invites them all to stay at the family’s remote cabin. Soon after they arrive, strange things start happening — blood comes out of the taps, something bangs on the floorboards, and cockroaches invade one of the bedrooms. The more time they spend together, the more old secrets and betrayals are revealed. As the danger ramps up, everyone must decide if they will stick together or try to save themselves.
I was into the sort of Horror-meets-The-Big-Chill vibes happening here, and I think it’s got an interesting take on a typical slasher — but there were some parts that really lagged and it was easy to guess most of what was going to happen. Plus, not enough murderin’ going on.
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Alan Grey (Julian West), a drifter obsessed with the supernatural, rents a room in a small village and experiences many strange things. This is a fascinating early “talkie” — with very little actual talking, as Dreyer was recording it in three different languages. There are so many amazing camera tricks here that make you feel like you’re in the middle of a nightmare. I was particularly fond of the “buried alive” sequence! Really just an amazing art/early horror film.
Directed by Natalia Leite
CW: Sexual Assault. Art student Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) gets invited to a party by her crush, but their make-out session gets violent when she tries to get him to slow down. When she confronts him about what he’s done to her, an accident happens that sends Noelle on a path of cathartic revenge, tracking down men who have assaulted other women, and killing them.
This is a brutally honest look at how awful women who report sexual assault are treated, while the men just …. get away without any consequences. Eastwood was AMAZING in this role, and even though the ending wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped, this is still a solid revenge film. Written & Directed by women.
THE SEVENTH DAY (2021)
Directed by Justin P. Lange
Young Father Daniel (Vadhir Derbez) joins Renowned Exorcist Father Peter (Guy Pearce) on his first day of training to learn how to become a master exorcist. As the two travel through the city on the hunt for demons, which are apparently everywhere, each of them struggle with their faith and reveal long-buried secrets from the past. TBH this was a struggle to get through; it draggggggss and the weird combination of flashback, visions, and possession doesn’t mix well. Pearce is great, and you get one, short glorious scene with Keith David at the beginning but the movie as a whole is a mess with the possession scenes playing more like comedy than horror.
THE WAX MASK (1997)
Directed by Sergio Stivaletti
In 1912, a new wax museum opens in Rome depicting gruesome murder scenes. A young woman named Sonia arrives at the museum for a job designing the costumes, and the owner, Boris is immediately taken with her and hires her on the spot — despite his assistant Alex’s objections. Sonia soon strikes up a romance with Andrea, a reporter looking into a mysterious death that happened at the museum. As more and more people around the city start to go missing, the museum’s wax figure collection grows and Sonia starts to suspect there’s something sinister happening behind the scenes.
This is an incredibly enjoyable Giallo retelling of the original HOUSE OF WAX! There’s so much to love about it: lush, deep colors, hilarious dubbing choices, gory murders with lots of blood, romance! Intrigue! And metal skeletons! I had a blast with this one. And the backstory behind this is fascinating — Dario Argento went to Lucio Fulci to work on the story together and have Fulci direct. He sadly passed away just before filing began so Argento tagged in Stivaletti, who did the effects for PHENOMENA, OPERA, DEMONS & more! And he was a fantastic choice. So many great practical F/X on display here.
THE DEVIL BELOW (2021)
Directed by Bradley Parker
A team of scientists hire a guide named Arianne (Alicia Sanz) to help them find the lost mining town of Shookum Hills, which is rumored to have been swallowed a sink hole. When the group gets to the mine, they find the sink hole covered by a large electric cover which they disable. But as they’re preparing to explore the hole, one of them is dragged down below by … something. Arianne follows after him and discovers monstrous creatures below. When she returns up top, the rest of the group is confronted by a small band of the missing townspeople who have pledged to stay there and keep the monsters contained underground. But will they able to keep the monsters from coming out of the pit forever?
This one wasn’t for me. There’s a longgggg stretch of lag; they threw some found footage’y [REC] like stuff in for no reason; and the monsters are a little too out there to be scary or believable. The only thing I truly enjoyed was Sanz as Arianne & “that guy” Will Patton as the grizzled leader of the townspeople. But I can’t really recommend it.
TWINS OF EVIL (aka TWINS OF DRACULA – (1971)
Directed by John Hough
In the 17th Century, puritanical witch Hunter Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) is busy burning witches — mostly unmarried women who aren’t deemed innocent enough by the patriarchal counsel who judges them — when his beautiful twin nieces arrive. While identical in appearance, Maria & Frieda (Mary & Madeleine Collinson) have completely different personalities with Maria exhibiting a sweet, loving nature & Frieda being the wicked and selfish sister. The duo enchants every man in town, including “woke” young teacher Anton.
The town is ruled by the evil Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), a man so bored with pleasures of the flesh that he has his servant fetch peasant girls so he can watch them being tortured. One night Karnstein offers Satan a sacrifice, and is rewarded with eternal, blood-sucking life. The vampire Count sets his sites on the twins — can Gustav or the lovestruck Anton save them before their souls are lost?
I somehow hadn’t seen this Hammer Horror classic before, and it is everything I needed! Melodramatic romance; thick, paint like blood; glamorous women in beautiful costumes; a *shocking* lesbian vampire sexy scene; and so! much! camp! At one point, Cushing’s character throws his fists to the sky and yells, “The devil! Has sent me! TWINSSS OF EVIL!!!” and I died laughing. Just absolutely perfect.
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (2020)
Directed by David Charbonier & Justin Powell
BFFs Kevin (Ezra Dewey) and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) take a shortcut through the woods on the way home when a kidnapper grabs them from behind and knocks them out. Bobby wakes up inside a car trunk struggling to breathe, and eventually kicks the trunk open and escapes. As he starts to run away from the house he’s been brought to, he hears Kevin cry out and turns back to try and find him so they can leave together. But once inside, he discovers that the house has many locked rooms and he doesn’t know which one his friend is in. Can he find Kevin and get out safely before the kidnapper notices?
I admit that I spent the majority of this film YELLING at Bobby to get the hell outta there, run away, and find someone to help — but this was still a tight, intense watch. Kind of amazing that it all takes place in one house and is focused entirely on the boys until the last third, with Chavis carrying most of the film. Both boys are incredible actors and really lend a lot of authenticity to the story. Very entertaining!
TAMAMI: THE BABY’S CURSE (2008)
Directed by Kazuo Umezu
Orphaned Yoko (Nako Mizusawa) is escorted to an old mansion in the woods and told her parents, who lost her when she was baby, have discovered she’s alive and now she must live with a mother & father she’s never met. While exploring the house she discovers a room with rows and rows of dolls and a crib in the middle. Yoko is attacked by something in the room, but the adults dismiss it as a nightmare. As she settles in, Yoko feels she’s being watched, and her room gets torn apart. When she’s attacked again, she realizes the mansion is being haunted by an evil spirit: Yoko’s dead baby sister, Tamami. Jealous that her father has turned his affections to Yoko, the baby goes on a murderous rampage!
This is ridiculously silly — especially when it comes to the gore, and also the Tamami puppet-thing which is able to jump all over at top speed, almost flying. Worth a watch if you’re craving something real dumb and slightly hilarious! I did like the way Tamami’s evil laughter reminded me of Gage in Pet Sematary; the movie as a whole just isn’t that great.
Directed by Joachim Trier
Norwegian collage student Thelma (Eili Harboe) meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins) and suddenly starts having seizures. As she spends more and more time with Anja and starts to fall in love with her, more seizures happen. In the course of being treated for them, Thelma discovers her parents have kept her past medical and family history from her. Her extreme Christian upbringing also causes her to pull away from Anja — and activates her subconscious telekinesis. Whoops.
This one is a little hard to explain without giving it all away, but I really, really loved it! Such an amazing story about queer suppression, the dangers of trying to “pray something away,” and patriarchal abuse. It’s a beautiful supernatural thriller, and Harboe is amazing as Thelma. Highly recommend it!
Directed by William McGregor
In 19th Century Snowdonia, young Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and her family are struggling to survive without their father, who left under mysterious circumstances. Gwen, her mother, and little sister tend to their flock of sheep and sell vegetables at the town market in order to make ends meet. One day return home to find an animal heart nailed up they’re door — and a few nights later, their entire flock of sheep is killed. When Gwen’s mother suffers a debilitating seizure and needs medicine, Gwen must bargain with the town’s doctor. As more tragedies befall the family and mother acts stranger and stranger, Gwen starts to realize what they’re really up against.
This is beautifully shot, but something about it didn’t click for me. The horrors of the patriarchy and just existing as a woman, particularly in the 19th century, are definitely terrifying. I just wasn’t so into this one, and the ending left me wishing it was something else. That said, Worthington-Cox is fantastic as the lead.
I TRAPPED THE DEVIL (2019)
Directed by Josh Lobo
Matt (AJ Bowen) & his wife Karen (Susan Burke) surprise Matt’s brother Steve (Scott Poythress) at his house for the Christmas holiday. Matt is hopeful he can help soothe his brother’s troubled mental state by getting Steve to open up to him — and open up he does, by showing them a padlocked door in the basement marked with a cross and telling them that he’s found the devil himself, and has him trapped there. Matt & Karen of course believe that Steve has had a complete mental breakdown and is keeping an innocent stranger locked up. They plead with him to release his prisoner, but Steve tells him the being is evil incarnate, and can never be let go.
This is some really inventive and enjoyable Mumble Horror! There’s a lot of great back-and-forth flipping; the cast is strong; and the story keeps you guessing until the very end.
THE CHARNEL HOUSE (2016)
Directed by Craig Moss
So instead of tearing down an abandoned slaughterhouse (that had a clock tower? Apparently?), a rich developer named Alex and his wife Nadine refurbish it and turn it into high-tech Lofts that have automated assistance in every unit. Unfortunately for them, the place is haunted by evil spirits that mess with the tech to cause gruesome accidents, broadcast memories on the TV to drive people crazy, and eventually possess Alex who immediately starts murdering anyone that survived the first two things.
Oh. Oh no. This is very, very, very bad. The cover and description fooled me into thinking it would be interesting and uh …. it most definitely was not. Just completely awful all around. I almost quit watching, but I’m a completist so I had to finish it.
THE OLD WAYS (2020)
Directed by Christopher Alender
Reporter Cristina Lopez (Brigitte Kali Canales) returns to her hometown of Veracruz, Mexico seeking out a story on local practitioners of witchcraft. She is kidnapped by a Bruja & her son, who believe Christina is possessed by a demon. She calls for her estranged cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés) for help, but when Miranda arrives she believes that Christina is in the grip of an evil spirit. While she is subjected to various tortures and means of driving the evil out, she desperately tries to escape and finds evidence that makes her believe the demon might be real.
This is a solid exorcism movie that is beautifully shot — and I love that the story is set in Mexico with a powerful Bruja and a diverse cast. The actors are all very strong, and it’s got some great gore & special F/X. It does lag a bit in the middle, but comes back strong with a very fun, over-the-top ending. I enjoyed!
THE CELL 2 (2009)
Directed by Tim Iacofano
A serial killer calling himself “The Cusp” murders his victims and then revives them, until they beg to die. His first victim, psychic investigator Maya Casteneda (Tessie Santiago), survives and is bent on revenge — she also has a psychic link to the killer and can “see” his current victims as he kills him. The FBI recruits her in order to help them find the killer, but the only way to locate The Cusp is by entering his mind. If Maya dies there, she will also die in real life.
I picked this because I couldn’t actually believe it existed. The first movie is gorgeous but not great — but at least it had J-Lo & Vincent D’Onofrio. This definitely seems like a horror film that was retro-fitted to be a sequel to The Cell to capitalize on the name, but eeeshhh. It doesn’t have the same, beautiful dreamscapes and amazing costumes as the first and its direct-to-video quality for sure shows. The Cusp’s mind is a series of green-screened boiler rooms with a wavering camera effect! If I had a few drinks before pressing play, I might have enjoyed it more, but I struggled to finish this (and employed the FF button liberally).
MOTHER’S DAY (2010)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Beth (Jaime King) & Daniel (Frank Grillo) throw a housewarming party with their closest friends, but unfortunately three men show up after a botched robbery expecting to find their mother & sister there. Once they discover the house was purchased in foreclosure, they call their mom (Rebecca De Mornay) and summon her home. When Momma gets there, she takes command of the situation and starts torturing the guests one-by-one to find some missing money, and also to keep “her boys” happy.
This is a pretty fun horror-thriller. Bousman (SAW ll, lll, IV, and SPIRAL) was definitely inspired by 1990’s Thrillers, and cast it perfectly — I LOVE watching De Mornay get quietly unhinged (THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE is a frequent comfort watch). There’s a decent amount of splatter and the gore is all practical. It’s not an amazing film and probably could’ve been about 20 minutes shorter, but I’m not mad I watched it!
BLOOD RED SKY (2021)
Directed by Peter Thorwarth
Nadja (Peri Baumeister) & her young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) are traveling on a plane to get a live saving medical treatment when terrorists take over the flight and attempt to hijack it. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that Nadja’s medical “issue” is that she turns into a savage vampire when blood is spilled — and she’ll do anything to protect her son, even if it means eating every single bad guy on the plane.
This is such an interesting mix of action-thriller and horror — just a heads up that the vampire carnage doesn’t start until about an hour in; my interest was fading a little until momma vamped out and started ripping terrorist necks apart. Still a pretty fun watch overall!
THE DEVIL BAT (1940)
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Doctor Paul Caruthers (Bela Lugosi) harbors a secret: he dabbles in scientific experiments that cause regular size bats to grow to a terrifying size! Feeling slighted by his employers, he trains the bats to attack anyone wearing a special aftershave he’s developed and rip out their throat! Will his superiors realize what’s happening before every one of them are murdered?!?
Hilariously enjoyable! This probably isn’t one that I will keep in my collection, but Lugosi really hams it up, and the bats themselves are spectacular — hybrids of super fake stuffed bats & footage of actual bats.
Directed by Brandon Christensen
YouTube travel vloggers Claire (Sara Canning) & Teddy (Osric Chau) head to a fabulous vacation rental to try and revive their lagging views. While there, Teddy plans to propose — but their getaway gets off to a rough start when the door code doesn’t work. Their “superhost” Rebecca (Gracie Gillam) shows up and lets them in, but there seems to be something a little off about her. As their trip goes on, the couple notice that their host has cameras everywhere, and when Rebecca keeps popping up unexpectedly they begin to suspect she may not be telling the truth about who she really is.
The bulk of this film is really about the relationship of the two leads, and Canning & Chau are so authentic and relatable you can’t help but root for them. The story does a great job of building the tension, and even though there’s not a lot of gore, hang in there! Shit gets pretty crazy during the last 20 minutes. Gilliam is great as the unhinged superhost, and of course I always love to see horror icon Barbara Crampton — even if it’s in a small role. I’m also a fan of that ending!
Directed by Konstantin Ershov & Georgiy Kropachyov
A group of seminary students head out for what seems like Medieval Spring Break (since their activities mainly involve drinking and grabbing women). Young Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) gets separated from his friends and is invited to sleep in the barn of an old woman. Khoma is awakened from his slumber by the woman later, who saddles him and rides him like a horse! You know, as witches like to do to men. After flying through the air, they land and he begins beating her to death — at which point she morphs into a beautiful, young woman. She is the daughter of a wealthy Lord, who then summons Khoma to stand and pray over her body for three nights — as she requested him by name just before she died. Each night in the chapel he is tested by the powerful witch, monsters, and the mighty demon Viy in a battle for his soul.
This one has been on my radar for awhile — but I don’t think I expected it to be such a trippy Russian art-horror hybrid. The colors and sets are gorgeous, but it does take awhile to get going! It starts getting really interesting in the last third, and the final 10 minutes are best described as total insanity. I also loved all the practical F/X: flying, floating coffins, creature makeup, stop-motion skeletons & monsters. It’s not gonna be for everybody, but I enjoyed the witchy revenge theme and I’m glad I checked it out!
Directed by James Wan
The morning after her husband physically assaults her, Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) awakens in the hospital and learns that someone broke into their home and her husband is now dead. Unfortunately she is now also psychically linked to the killer, Gabriel, and gets to watch each murder he commits. Her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) tries to help her piece together forgotten details from Maddie’s childhood that may hold through key to who Gabriel is — but the body count is stacking up, and Maddie is running out of time.
Eeeeessshhh. This was just abysmally bad. Every single thing about it was bad. By the time it hits the third act, things have catapulted into the ridiculous! I could see how it might be fun as pure comedy, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I also can’t stand when movies are “set in Seattle” and (outside of a few establishing shots) is so very clearly not filmed there. And what’s with that weird-ass almost-cover of “Where Is My Mind?”
THE GALLOWS (2015)
Directed by Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing
In 1993, a high school student named Charlie was accidentally killed during the performance of a play called “The Gallows.” Twenty years later, the drama department is putting on an identical performance, right down to the same style programs. Three friends: Reese (Chris Lofing), Ryan (Ryan Shoos) & Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) decide to break into the school and trash the stage and stop the play from happening in order to send Reese’s crush and star of the play, Pfeifer, running to him for solace. Since Ryan is filming footage for their yearbook, he takes the camera with him to capture their adventure and ends up filming the supernatural terror that comes after them.
I wasn’t expecting this to be found footage style, which was an interesting surprise! This definitely falls into the category of films with main characters who are super obnoxious & unlikeable — Ryan is the absolute WORST — but it has some really authentic scares and great atmosphere. I was impressed with a lot of the shots! There’s one in particular of Cassidy in a stairwell that was amazing. The ending was maybe a touch melodramatic and kind of silly, but this is still a solid little horror film.
DEAD & BURIED (1981)
Directed by Gary Sherman
Welcome to the small seaside town of Potter’s Hollow, where a series of gruesome murders sends Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) down a rabbit hole of mysteries about the secretive nature of everyone in the town, including his own wife Janet (Melody Anderson)!
This was one of the gaps in my 80’s horror movie viewings. It’s really a ton of fun, and unlike most horror formulas I’ve seen. Plus I enjoyed seeing young Robert Englund. 😉 The Stan Winston F/X totally blew me away, especially the full body puppet on the hospital bed that gets stabbed in the eye. WOW. I went into this knowing very little about the plot — and that’s the way I recommend seeing it, so I was deliberately vague about the story here.