In the last post, I spent a lot of words talking about a handful of games, and in this one, I think I’ll spend a few fewer words to talk about a great number of movies. And, uh, yeah, I own a great number of movies! October is time for me to finally dig into them and watch as many as I can.
I’ve spent the past twenty years collecting all sorts of physical, disc-based media but to be honest, I don’t have much time to watch them lately. I’ve got over 2000+ DVDs, I think, and at least 600+ Blu-Rays at this point, I suspect. And many are still in shrinkwrap! So, when the confluence of general societal collapse and a global pandemic have left me at home with the family 24/7, as well as terrified about the future of all of us, I have found myself drawn back to horror. Perhaps as a balm for my tormented soul; there’s some evidence that people who enjoy horror media are coping better with our current times. Now that it’s October, this obsession of the last few months seems to have lined up well with the season.
A caveat: I’ve never really been much of a “horror guy.” There are plenty of people I like and respect who have been (e.g., Patrick and Katie Klepek, who ran/run the excellent Til Death Do Us Part podcast), but this is still a new thing for me. Beyond the big titles/franchises, I’m still largely ignorant of great swaths of horror movie history, especially at the schlockier/grindhousier ends of the spectrum. I only recently — like, last year — started dipping my toes in these murky waters, and had a wonderful time at our local Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Dismember the Alamo marathon (the poster for which adorns my home office wall).
But, as I started writing about at the top here, I’m also a media hoarder. I’ve been sorting through my collections during the pandemic, and have several stacks of horror books, horror comics (both of which I’ll discuss in future posts), and horror movies. Here’s the one that was by my bed — a number still in shrinkwrap, and most of them still unseen.
The Vincent Price boxset has been sitting there since mid-summer, when I was briefly running my own little horror movie night over my personal Discord (let me know if you want an invite). We watched Tomb of Ligeia (not in that box, actually), which was fun enough but clearly a lesser Price/Corman movie. The movie series petered out shortly afterward, as people stopped attending and the feedback I received was “This is fun, but why do we have to watch horror? Let’s watch old French New Wave movies instead.” I conceded to that understandable desire but soon came to regret it; my tastes are inexorably drawn to the macabre, the schlocky, the dreadful lately, and so that’s what I’m watching exclusively now.
So, it was a nice surprise to see that Shudder (the AMC-owned horror streaming service) added a number of Vincent Price films for October of this year. This synced up well with current events, so we watched Masque of the Red Death the other night.
It wasn’t my favorite, but was pretty fun. It was garish and silly, but genuinely creepy in spots. Much is made of the garish sets and hammy acting in these films — those are its main appeal to me, as this one didn’t work as anything truly scary, just a fun diversion.
I also watched Price in the glorious Theatre of Blood in a watch party with members of the Shudder Discord (see their Twitter account for an invite link). It’s a fan Discord that exists primarily to run movie nights, I believe (so, right up my alley). This movie was really something else: Almost a thematic remake of The Abominable Dr. Phibes in some ways, Price plays a Shakespearean actor who is denied a prestigious award by a circle of critics, and then goes on a rampage, killing them one by one in ways that match specific deaths in the Shakespearean canon. With a supporting performance by Diana Rigg (?!) as his daughter, this was one of the funniest and weirdest early 1970s horror films I’ve ever seen. Here’s the trailer (but bewarned, there are a ton of spoilers in it):
Also, a couple of days ago, I finally watched House of Usher (or is it Fall of the House of Usher, as the original book was titled? IMDb and the title card differ from how several sites record the name). And I was totally blown away — the Richard Matheson screenplay is taut and creepy, Price’s performance is wonderful (and he’s blonde), and it has a pervasive, wonderful sense of dread. By far my favorite of these Price films, and now one of my favorite Gothic horror films ever. I was happy to learn that my favorite line and delivery in the film — “I can hear the scratch of rat claws within the stone wall” — was apparently also John Waters’ favorite line.
So, I guess I’ve become a Shudder fanboy. I’ve subscribed to this service for two years, but haven’t used it much, to be honest. I suspect they have a huge uptick in subscriptions in October anyway, but I’ve been reading (anecdotally) that many have been flocking to the service in recent, dread-filled months.
One very cool thing they’re doing is a weekly “Shudder hotline” on Friday afternoons in October. For one hour, and if you can get through, you can call a number and chat with the lead curator for Shudder, Sam Zimmerman, and receive personalized movie recommendations. I actually did this on Friday! As I’ve been working my way through these Price movies, as well as enjoying some cosmic horror (I really liked Color out of Space; a flawed film but really interestingly flawed), I asked Sam for suggestions on what to watch next.
Pretty cool. I knew of Ring 0 before, but haven’t watched it; it’s not a film I would have assumed fit any definition of “Gothic,” but I’ll definitely check it out now. The other two were movies I had never heard of — Voice from the Stone seems to have pretty bad reviews, but, sure, I’ll check it out, and Beach House has excellent reviews and is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Shudder original. I suspect this hotline is primarily to promote Shudder originals these days (as they seem to be adding a bunch lately), and I’m okay with being a vehicle for that promotion.
Speaking of Shudder originals, I’ve been a member for a couple of years now and can recommend a few other things that might help one get in the seasonal mood. First is Video Palace, a faux-investigative audio podcast about VHS collecting and the mysterious history of a now-defunct video rental store. I greatly enjoyed this whole series, and Shudder has them up on YouTube still. Here’s episode 1:
Also, the kids and I absolutely adore their “Ghoul Logs” — they’ve made three of them so far, one for the last three years, and each one is cute, often a little clever, and wonderful thing to have on the TV in the background as we proceed with our spooky quarantine days. Here’s the trailer for the latest one:
And finally, several months after everyone else watched it, I finally checked out Host — the Zoom-séance-gone-wrong movie — and I loved it. It was short (less than an hour!) and sweet, with some clever uses of everything from virtual backgrounds to a Zoom contact list as the credits. I love that these smaller streamers can be free to support little genre experiments like this.
This post is quickly turning into an ad for Shudder, so I’ll stop there and then redirect the rest of the post to something else. But I do think Shudder is worth checking out — especially at only $5.99/month — but I have heard that it’s a pain to cancel your subscription, so caveat emptor.
Since I’ve been watching a number of horror films this year, I found myself gravitating toward those “watch a bunch of horror movies in a month” challenges. This is an extra-big challenge given the kind of things one sees in these films and because I’m cohabitating with a seven-year-old and a four-year old. But drawn to them I am. Going back to September 11th, I’m actually at a very spooky 13 movies watched at 11 days into October (at the time of writing this; the list linked will change in the coming days). I’m ahead of the pace to do this.
I’ve looked into the details of some of these movie-watching challenges, and they do seem like a lot of fun, if not exactly for me in their current forms. Take, for example, Hooptober (named after Tobe Hooper, director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among other things). This was the one that seems to have started it all seven years ago. The current Hooptober challenge is:
QUICK EASY RULES:
7 2nd films of franchises
4 body horror films
2 films from this year
3 disease based films
The highest rated horror film from the 50s that you haven’t seen and can access.
1 film that is set entirely inside one location
1 Invisible Person film
1 Non Dracula Hammer Film
2 films with a black director or predominantly black cast or lead.
1 film with a movie theater in it.
And 1 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film).
There’s more, but you get the gist. 13 different categories to fill before the end of October. People participating on Letterboxd started in mid-September and many are already done or close to done! I’m not really interested in a lot of these bits of the challenges (7 2nd films of franchises seems like a great way to kill any enjoyment in this for me), so I haven’t done it.
But I do like the idea, and realized it could work for me with a few tweaks. I frankly have no interest in watching Tobe Hooper movies, but I am curious about a bunch of other directors. I don’t feel like watching a movie about an invisible person this year, but I do feel like watching a were-person movie. I feel like adapting this to my tastes and my collection, as an incentive to finally watch a bunch of these.
So, here’s my “Hooptober” list (sans the “Hoop”) of my own 13 categories, with what I’ve watched so far (13 movies in, having started in mid-September). Numbers are minimums, of course, and there are still a ton of blanks here:
1. One movie from each of the following seven decades:
• 1930s: The Old Dark House
• 1950s: The Curse of Frankenstein
• 1960s: Carnival of Souls; Blood and Black Lace; Masque of the Red Death; Fall of the House of Usher
• 1980s: The Changeling; Re-Animator; Cat People (1982)
• 2000s: The Devil’s Backbone
• 2010s: Color Out of Space
2. One movie I haven’t seen before from each of the following five directors:
• David Cronenberg:
• Ana Lily Amirpour:
• Guillermo del Toro: The Devil’s Backbone
• Jacques Tourneur:
• Mike Flanagan:
3. Five films not originally filmed in English: Blood and Black Lace; The Devil’s Backbone
4. Five watched via Criterion Collection DVDs/Blus: The Devil’s Backbone
5. Three movies with titles that include “Blood”: Theatre of Blood; Blood and Black Lace
6. Three movies prominently featuring a were-being (wolf, cat, dog, slug): Cat People (1982)
7. Three “classic” (Victorian-ish and actually haunted) haunted house movies: The Changeling
8. Three Lovecraft adaptations: Color out of Space; Re-Animator
9. One “Universal monsters” movie:
10. One movie primarily set in the American South: Cat People (1982)
11. One movie released in 2020: Host
12. One found-footage movie:
13. One Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan; there must always be Bava’s Black Sunday):
Plus: No more than five movies (excluding Black Sunday!) may be movies I’ve seen before. So far, that’s: The Changeling
That’s a bit more like it. My tastes lean toward “classic” horror of various sorts from before 1970s (Universal horror, Hammer, Amicus, Corman productions) and frankly the rise of slashers in the 1970s started ruining horror for me. (That didn’t, uh, stop me from ordering the ridiculous Friday the 13th box set from Scream! Factory, however).
So far, I’ve had a lot of fun digging movies out of boxes and off of the shelf that I’ve wanted to watch. And the kids are getting caught up in it a little, even if they are not allowed to watch some of them (yet). Well, I’m certainly not going to let them watch any more than the Blu-Ray menus for The Devil’s Backbone until they’re older.
Basically, I’m hoping to learn a lot and fill in some gaps in my horror movie knowledge, while watching some of the massive pile of movies I’ve amassed.
I’m forcing myself to watch almost entirely new things (to me), while also making myself watch Black Sunday yet again — some people watch Hocus Pocus every year, but Black Sunday has been my holiday tradition for years. I saw it at our local Alamo Drafthouse on the big screen last year, and even screened it over the summer in my Discord. It’s such an endearing movie to me — you can see where Roger Corman, Tim Burton, and dozens of others ripped Bava off.
Anyway, a horror movie per day for the rest of the month, at least. I’m still barely underway and would welcome anyone who wanted to join me! If anyone wants to coordinate watching over a Discord or social media, please let me know. Regardless, I’ll continue to update my progress on Letterboxd and post about my progress here at least one or two more times before the end of the month.
Next post, I think I’ll shift media again, and post about monster and horror comics. Be forewarned: There will be a brief discussion of the enduring power of Gomdulla, the living pharoah.
Thanks for reading!