Last year, I made the slightly insane decision to commit to the #31DaysofHalloween challenge, along with my girlfriend Kelly. This has been going around for a few years now, and the gist of it is that you watch a different horror or horror-adjacent movie every day of October. Though we had to cheat and double-up for a few of the days to get them all in, we hit our goal, and had that much greater appreciation for our favorite genre of film. Plus, we were still mostly under quarantine, so the idea of watching a movie a day was pretty reasonable to schedule around.
Flash forward to this year, and we have considerably more going on. Kelly has been promoted from girlfriend to fiancé, and less than two weeks after this article goes up she will be my wife. In addition to that, we’ll be moving out of state shortly after that, so as you can imagine, we have significantly more going on in our lives. But was it so much that we couldn’t still find time to sneak in another #31DayHorrorChallenge? Most would say yes, but then again, she and I are that special kind of crazy. So we did it again.
Below, as with last time, are my mini-reviews for all 31 films we watched this year. Shout out to the fine folks at Nightmare on Film Street for putting together a list of categories and subgenres for each day that helped us immensely with both narrowing down our selections and ensuring that our list was as diverse as possible. We’ve got some golden oldies, some modern classics, some that gave us nightmares, some that nearly put us to sleep, and everything in between.
Let us know which of these you’ve seen, which ones you haven’t, and if you participated in this challenge, I’d love to see your list in the comments below! Without further ado:
- The Night Eats the World (2018)
Dir. Dominique Rocher
While we did proceed to make a few obvious choices with some later categories, in general we strove to mix things up. There are any number of classic zombie films we could have chosen here, but we ultimately decided to check out this French indie drama based on a friend’s recommendation, and I am very glad that we did. Starring Anders Danielsen Lie (a brilliant Norwegian actor who can be seen this year in both Bergman Island and The Worst Person in the World) as a man who finds himself confined alone in a Paris apartment complex once the zombie apocalypse kicks off, this is a meditative slow-burn that’s far more interested in documenting his logistical dilemmas and dwindling sanity in the face of isolation than it is with jump scares. The undead here are almost silent, which lends them a uniquely eerie quality perfectly suited to building tension when they do rear their ugly heads. Considerably more thoughtful and cerebral than many entries in the genre, this was an unexpected treat right from the start.
Spookiest Scene: The escape scene near the end definitely gets there, but praise must also go to Denis Lavant’s Alfred, a zombie stuck in the elevator who proves memorably unsettling.
- Chopping Mall (1986)
Dir. Jim Wynorski
Category: 80s Horror
There are movies that were made in the 1980s, and then there are “80s movies”, and this delightfully goofy pseudo-slasher is most certainly the latter. In a hilarious vision of the future that could only be dreamed up in this particular era, a state-of-the-art shopping mall decides that the best way to combat potential looters and hooligans is the creation of three Dalek-looking security robots, each armed with claws, saws, and lasers that will sometimes lightly graze you, and other times are powerful enough to explode someone’s head. When a teen sex party in the furniture store (you know the kind) happens to coincide with the robots going haywire, it’s man vs. machine in that particularly dated, campy way that only trashy 80s cinema can provide. Whoever loses, we win.
Spookiest Scene: When the jaded teens sit down and realize that even if they survive, they’ll likely be in debt to the mall for the rest of their lives because of all the damages. That’s capitalism for ya.
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
Dir. Stuart Rosenberg
Category: Autumn Vibes
One of the great things about watching this many movies in a single go, is that it’s a great opportunity to get around to some classics that you’ve never seen. Considering that this film inspired almost 30 different sequels and spin-offs, a remake starring Ryan Reynolds, and is influential enough to get casually namedropped in The Conjuring franchise, there must be something to it, right? For the most part, yes. Margot Kidder and James Brolin (who looks almost distractingly like Christian Bale, far more so than Josh Brolin at this age) play a married couple who move into a big creepy house with big creepy windows that look like big creepy eyes, where a bunch of big creepy murders happened. Despite the haunted house tropes being well-worn at this point, the gradual escalation of terror is highly effective, and Brolin’s slow descent into madness feels authentic throughout. Unfortunately, a rambling subplot about a couple of priests and a conclusion that feels surprisingly anticlimactic and even toothless keeps this one from true horror greatness.
Spookiest Scene: When a family friend (Helen Shaver) with light psychic sensitivity is able to tap into the history of what’s happened in the basement, her terrified state of sensory overload is enough to raise the hairs on your neck.
- The Host (2006)
Dir. Bong Joon Ho
Category: Monster Mash
This genre-defying family dramedy/creature feature/political satire was actually my first exposure to the genius of eventual Oscar darling Bong Joon Ho. Since it was new for Kelly (who has loved his other films that we’ve watched together), this felt like a natural inclusion. The commentary about foreign intervention feels every bit as sharp as it did 15 years ago, while the story of a virus that throws the nation into a panic despite the fact that it may not even exist is certainly one that hits differently in a post-Covid world. Beyond the director’s more high-minded aspirations, there’s so much to love here, from the hilariously dysfunctional family that gives the film its heart, to one of the all-time great movie monsters (the creature design is so effective, you won’t even mind how dated the CGI feels by today’s standards). There’s nothing quite like it, and in the wake of Parasite’s much-deserved success, one imagines that it’s only garnered more fans in the past few years.
Spookiest Scene: The Park family’s kidnapped daughter Hyun-seo attempting to escape the sewer chamber she’s been trapped in without alerting the beast is some heart-pounding stuff.
- The Empty Man (2020)
Dir. David Prior
Category: First Time Watch
Admittedly, there are quite a few films on here that are first time watches, but for this category I decided to go with a recent film that I’d never even heard of until earlier this year, when it became a frequent discussion point on Film Twitter following its release on HBO Max after having been buried in theaters last October. The criminally underrated James Badge Dale takes the lead here, playing a former investigator who starts looking into the disappearances of several local teens. A seemingly disconnected prologue sets the tone, as eventually our hero’s search leads him to a mysterious cult and supernatural influences. It’s easy to see why this was a difficult film to market, as it defies expectations with every turn, barreling towards a resolution that’s every bit as mind-bending as it is divisive. Case in point, I felt like it worked well, but Kelly absolutely hated it. Even without the ending, this is top-notch horror filmmaking, with a number of distinctive choices throughout that set it apart (the way a shot of a map morphs into an overhead shot of the relevant area is one of the coolest transitions I’ve ever seen). Definitely worth a look, but keep an open mind.
Spookiest Scene: The aforementioned prologue, which could work as its own short film, is a master class of enigmatic terror, managing to be completely coherent and defiantly mysterious at the same time.
- Nightbooks (2021)
Dir. David Yarovesky
Category: Netflix & Kill
Since Kelly was decidedly not a fan of the previous night’s film (more so the ending than what came before), I gave her free reign to choose today’s entry, since the only proviso was that it had to be on Netflix. She settled on this modern fairy tale of sorts, largely based on the curiosity generated by casting Krysten Ritter as a witch who’s made some fascinatingly bizarre fashion choices. Her deal is that she steals children and either kills them or keeps them hostage if they prove useful to her. Our protagonist is a boy who writes scary stories, which becomes invaluable to her for reasons we won’t learn until later. The boy makes friends with a fellow kidnappee, and together they hatch a plan to escape. There’s some great production design throughout, and some interesting ideas presented, plus Ritter is clearly having fun as the baddie. That said, she’s a little too subtle as an actress to fully lean into the campy villainy the role demands, and even by the standards of child acting, the two leads simply aren’t able to carry the material, which severely drags down the overall experience. Even though I expected this one to be right up Kelly’s alley, we both agreed that it was kind of a dud.
Spookiest Scene: The introduction of a second witch is a highlight thanks to some inventive makeup, but it’s not until close to the end, and at that point feels like too little too late.
- Monster House (2006)
Dir. Gil Kenan
The co-writer of the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife (and director of the unfortunate Poltergeist remake, but we won’t hold that against him) made his debut with this charming, yet surprisingly intense animated spookfest. It’s a little janky in some places, particularly in the motion capture-enabled character animations, but there is a real directorial presence at work here that helps it stand out from the familiar house styles of a Pixar or DreamWorks. Not only that, it’s actually legitimately creepy in the way that so few kids movies are allowed to be nowadays, with the central concept of a living house providing endless opportunities for invention, as well as scares. The central love triangle between the three leads can feel a little rote at times, but beyond that this is top-shelf entertainment if you need something for the young ones this season.
Spookiest Scene: The discovery of a dead body at the center of the house is chilling, though not for the reasons you might expect. Also, there is a conversation about which of the male leads pees in bottles that goes on for an alarming amount of time.
- From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Dir. Robert Rodriguez
Category: 90s Horror
Today was my birthday, and given how influential cinema of the 90s was for me growing up, I figured we’d settle on one of my all-time genre favorites. This early collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino feels like a perfect synthesis of both filmmakers’ taste and style. For the first half, it’s a character and dialogue-driven crime flick about two criminals trying to escape across the border that could have been a missing sequence from Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Then in the second half, it takes a hard left turn into over-the-top supernatural splatter film that feels much more in line with the creator of Desperado and Sin City. Featuring reliably excellent work from George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, and Juliette Lewis (not to mention a career-making turn from Salma Hayek), and some wonderfully disgusting makeup effects, this is an absolute classic that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves when discussing the filmographies of its esteemed creators.
Spookiest Scene: The initial reveal of the undead and subsequent massacre is a delightful orgy of blood, guts, torn limbs, and other assorted body horror that works effectively as a splash of cold water after the more slow-paced, meditative first half.
- Videodrome (1983)
Dir. David Cronenberg
Category: Favorite Director
While I may be a bigger fan overall of certain directors who have occasionally dabbled in horror (like Alfred Hitchcock or David Fincher), my favorite filmmaker who has consistently worked within the genre, at least for a decent stretch of time, would have to be the great David Cronenberg. Few who work in horror can claim the consistent weirdness of his visions, the constant creativity and thoughtfulness he brings to films as disparate as Shivers, eXistenZ, Naked Lunch, and perhaps his masterpiece, The Fly. This year, I decided to revisit an old favorite of mine, his uncomfortably prescient media satire Videodrome. Despite the increasingly unlikable James Woods in the lead role being a minor barrier to entry, I find that this is overall a deeply disturbing look at the ways that media can influence us, reprogram us, and be used to manipulate us. Though it uses broad visual strokes to convey its relatively simple messaging, there is a chilling effectiveness to the imagery here that will stick with you. Or at least, with some people: I watched this one with Kelly and a mutual friend of ours, and they both hated it, so maybe it’s just me.
Spookiest Scene: Anything involving James Woods’ stomach vagina, which can serve as both a multi-purpose VCR as well as a handy gun storage space.
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Category: Twist Ending
In our defense, we initially tried to track down a less obvious choice here, with options ranging from The Orphanage to Don’t Look Now. But after none proved to be readily available via streaming, we finally settled on the filmmaker perhaps most synonymous with twist endings in all of cinema. But if we’re settling for Shyamalan, we’re going to do it right: hence, we return to The Sixth Sense, his true birth as an auteur. This is a film that would completely define the trajectory of his career, for better and for worse (often much worse). But regardless of his many missteps that followed, there’s no denying the sheer power and effectiveness of this early ghost story. Featuring career-best work from both Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment (with Toni Collete’s ever essential presence in support), this is a haunting, at times moving tale of loss, grief, and acceptance. Despite its notoriety as one of the most infamous twist endings of all time, the biggest compliment I can pay this film is that it would still absolutely work even without the surprise conclusion.
Spookiest Scene: After we learn of Cole’s ability to see the dead, his first few visitations from inside his apartment are the stuff of nightmares.
- Grave Encounters (2011)
Dir. The Vicious Brothers (Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz)
Category: Found Footage
Have you ever watched a film that you think is brand new, one you’ve heard good things about but never quite got around to? You read the description and think it sounds like fun, and for the first half hour or so you’re into what you’re seeing and gearing up for more good times ahead. Then suddenly, you start seeing things that feel familiar. Your brain is catching a major whiff of déjà vu, but you can’t quite place it. By the time it reaches the finale, a horrifying, somewhat embarrassing realization dawns upon you: “Wait a minute, I have seen this before!” That’s the hilariously coincidental experience that Kelly and I shared while watching this otherwise average mockumentary, which starts from a clever enough premise (behind the scenes of a hacky ghost hunting tv show, complete with all the tropes and obnoxious personalities), before ratcheting up the tension with unexplained disturbances, frantic yelling, and lots of shakycam, and finally devolving into a parade of ghosts with faces that have been photoshopped to look all boogely-woogely. The fact that we had both seen it independent of one another, and then both forgotten about it so thoroughly that we didn’t realize we’d already seen it until it was almost over, should tell you everything you need to know.
Spookiest Scene: When the film crew initially realizes that the layout of the mental hospital is actively changing to prevent them from escaping, the tension is at its most palpable.
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Dir. Joe Dante
Category: Horror Comedy
I had heard the stories. I’d seen various clips of all the crazy creatures out of context. I’d seen the Key & Peele sketch spoofing the creative process that could have conjured such an insane follow-up to a largely beloved holiday horror classic. But friends, believe me when I say that the absolute madness of Gremlins 2 must be seen to be believed. Nearly every detail of this sequel is an opportunity for a gag, from the building-shaped hats of the tour guides of its central location, to the identical twins playing a pair of scientists whose cloning experiments are going very well, thank you, to the fourth wall-shattering cameo by Hulk Hogan, to the sheer variety of titular monsters that have been brought to the screen with love and skill by Rick Baker and his team of wizards. This film feels more like a live-action cartoon than director Joe Dante’s own Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which as the title implies, actually stars the Looney Tunes (though they do make a brief cameo at the beginning and end of this film, so consider the tone established). I may well have seen better films that this one throughout October, but I don’t know that I saw one that was quite as much fun.
Spookiest Scene: The many Donald Trump parallels with John Glover’s Daniel Clamp are certainly unpleasant, even though the version presented here is far more of an affable goofball.
- Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) (1994)
Dir. Michele Soavi
Category: Gratuitous Graveyards
Definitely one of the weirdest films we watched this year (which is saying something), this Italian-British coproduction stars a young Rupert Everett as the caretaker of a cemetery where the dead occasionally and inexplicably come back to life. Our protagonist seems to be pretty unfazed by this by the time we meet him, however, as he’s able to casually chat with a friend on the phone while occasionally pausing to put a bullet in a zombie’s skull. As if all that weren’t fantastical enough, Everett also plays a straight man who romances and ultimately loses a series of strange women (at least three of whom are played by Anna Falchi). This is perhaps the exact intersection of the arthouse and the grindhouse, where dreamy imagery and meditative voiceover on the nature of life share equal screentime with slapstick gore and disembodied heads that have no issues with talking or flying around. I can’t promise you’ll love it, but you’ll definitely never have seen anything else like it.
Spookiest Scene: There is an extended sequence revolving around Everett attempting to make himself a eunuch that features one of the most tastelessly jaw-dropping payoffs I’ve ever seen in a movie.
- The Descent (2005)
Dir. Neil Marshall
Category: 00’s Horror
At this point, we’d watched a couple of bizarre movies, a couple of silly movies, and a couple of boring movies. It was time to expose Kelly to something genuinely scary. If you suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of the dark, this high point in Neil Marshall’s directing career won’t have to work very hard to give you some pretty major anxiety. The story of a group of women going on a cave-diving expedition after one of them experiences unspeakable tragedy takes its time establishing its subterranean setting, with one sequence after another instilling a sense of dread and foreboding. And that’s before the group are introduced the things that call this place home. Brilliantly paced and smartly scripted, buoyed by David Julyan’s immaculate score, this is one you’ll want to watch with the lights out. Also, you’ll want to make sure you track down the original cut, because the re-edit for American release bizarrely chooses to remove the bleak yet appropriate final scene, causing the film to cut to black at the strangest possible time.
Spookiest Scene: The first proper reveal of the creatures, via video camera night vision, is one of the most effective jump scares of the 2000s.
- Halloween Kills (2021)
Dir. David Gordon Green
Category: Masked Killer
Though our own Steve Prusakowski would vehemently disagree, the majority of fans (myself included) would consider David Gordon Green’s previous rebootquel, simply and frustratingly titled Halloween, to be a major high point in the long-running slasher franchise, and expectations were high for the next chapter in his proposed trilogy. If you go on Film Twitter, you’ll no doubt find the widest range of possible responses to this film. Some will praise it as the best film in the series, others will decry it as the worst. To each their own, but for my money, it’s somewhere in the middle. Definitely a letdown compared to its predecessor, but not unwatchably bad. It’s bizarrely structured, filled with meandering subplots that never pay off, featuring social commentary that never finds a point, and in perhaps its greatest sin, absolutely wastes the time of Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends most of the film in a hospital bed hanging out with a character presumed to have died in the previous film, but now gets a multilayered backstory about how he was actually super important in the original, you just didn’t see him. These things are all pretty bad, but on the other hand, the blunt entertainment of watching Michael Myers stalk and ultimately dispatch his victims still holds up for the most part. Add it all up, and you get a movie that’s mostly, well, fine.
Spookiest Scene: Big John and Little John are the two best victim characters this series had introduced in a long while, and their realization that Michael has entered their house is filled with dread, mostly because we know there’s no way they’ll ever survive him.
- Zombeavers (2014)
Dir. Jordan Rubin
Category: Guilty Pleasure
What do you want from me? It’s a movie about beavers that are zombies. A group of obnoxious, horny teens goes to an isolated cabin for the weekend, and are relentlessly stalked by a pack of beavers that, it bears repeating, are zombie beavers. The dialogue and acting are just the right kind of bad where you feel like it might be intentional, the special effects range from hilariously cheap to surprisingly creepy, and at one point one of the zombeavers bites a bear, and the resulting zombeaverbear is a creation you will definitely remember, despite it being in the film for only a few brief seconds. Look, it won’t change your life or anything, but it’s as entertaining as a film called Zombeavers could realistically be.
Spookiest Scene: The transformation of one character from human to zombeaverperson, complete with her own tail and buck teeth, is way more effective than it has any right to be.
- Three… Extremes (2004)
Dir. Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike
Released at the height of the Asian Extreme boom of the early 2000s, this collection of three unrelated short films by some of the continent’s most prolific directors had the capacity to be an absolute slam dunk. As with most anthologies, however, it’s more of a mixed bag. Fruit Chan’s Dumplings features a memorably icky premise, but tips its hand a bit too early, coasting by on visuals that range from gorgeous to gruesome, while the story mostly spins its wheels. Park Chan-Wook’s Cut is easily the highlight, finding a filmmaker and his wife held hostage on a movie set deliberately modeled after their own home, with strong performances and style to spare. Takashi Miike’s Box goes for a more dreamlike aesthetic, which works quite well in fits and bursts, but it also trades in some pretty disturbing subject matter, and is ultimately too elusive to really feel satisfying. On the whole, the film works as a curiosity for fans of the directors involved, but all three have done much better work that this.
Spookiest Scene: The occasional appearance of a ghost in Miike’s section, especially when emerging from the titular box, is the closest thing to traditional horror found here.
- Constantine (2005)
Dir. Francis Lawrence
Category: Hail Satan
This film could have easily been featured in the upcoming Underrated category, because despite underperforming both commercially and critically upon its initial release, there’s actually a lot to like about this action-horror hybrid. Keanu Reeves may bear little resemblance to the comic character he’s portraying, but the film is one of the more effective star vehicles he would find to suit his particular persona, especially in the relative lull between The Matrix and John Wick. The supporting cast is off the charts, featuring Rachel Weisz, Djimon Housou, Tilda Swinton, and Peter Stormare as one of the best representations of the devil in all of cinema. The lore established in the long-running conflict between Heaven and Hell begs for a sequel or two to further flesh out this world, and there are a number of religious weapons and gadgets the title character uses to combat the various demons he tangles with. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch (Reeves and Weisz have very little chemistry, and some of the VFX have aged better than others), but for the most part it achieves exactly what it sets out to do.
Spookiest Scene: An alcoholic priest is cursed with the inability to see what he is drinking, causing him to inadvertently drown himself in brooze.
- Love at First Bite (1979)
Dir. Stan Dragoti
Category: Dracula’s Brides
Vampire Pun Alert: this movie sucks. This was the category we probably struggled the most with (the most obvious choices being The Brides of Dracula, which felt too obvious, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which we had just revisited recently), and after struggling to find something appropriate, Kelly found this obscure romantic comedy starring a perplexingly tan George Hamilton as Dracula himself, or at least a version who finds himself kicked out of Transylvania and forced to relocate to 70’s New York, where he sets his eyes on a local model as his new bride. There are the seeds for some clever ideas sprinkled throughout: Arte Johnson plays Dracula’s loyal servant Renfield, who prefers eating bugs to any of the fine dining he is offered in the big city, while Richard Benjamin plays the model’s therapist and occasional boyfriend who just happens to be the descendent of Abraham Van Helsing. But at the end of the day, it’s just not funny. Between a wooden script, tedious pacing, and universally misguided performances, this was the low point of our marathon by a significant margin.
Spookiest Scene: Every now and then, the film will stop dead in its tracks to offer up some alarmingly racist African-American caricatures for no clear reason. This was par for the course in films set in New York around this time, but it’s done just consistently enough to raise a concerned eyebrow among viewers.
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Dir. John Landis
After the debacle that was the previous night’s film, we decided that going with an obvious choice for the next category might not be the worst choice. Not to mention that Kelly had never seen this absolute classic. An ideal blend of pitch-black humor with genuine scares, this tale of two American hitchhikers who discover the worst of what the English countryside has to offer remains one of the best ever treatments of a titular lycanthrope in all of cinema (with apologies to Ginger Snaps). Key to this is the infamous transformation scene, in which Rick Baker’s prosthetic effects take center stage and completely sell the notion that David Naughton’s body is slowly contorting into something inhuman: they have yet to be topped. Throw in an amusingly macabre subplot featuring a gradually decomposing Griffin Dunne and some truly bizarre dream sequences, and it’s easy to see why this one has stood the test of time.
Spookiest Scene: The aforementioned transformation is an obvious contender, but there’s also something about the Nazi werewolves that lingers in the mind.
- American Psycho (2000)
Dir. Mary Harron
Category: Killer Soundtrack
I won’t go on for too long about this film, since I’ve already written a Sunday Scaries article about it for this very site, but suffice it to say that this satire of Wall Street excess, rampant materialism, and toxic masculinity hits just as hard now as when it released more than 20 years ago. Christian Bale gives one of his best performances as the delightfully unhinged killer yuppie, and the costume and production design evoke the era beautifully despite a limited budget. And yes, as far as the category is concerned, the soundtrack is not just outstanding on its own merits, but is impactful within the narrative as well (Bale’s monologues where he thoughtfully reviews some of his favorite albums to his eventual victims are among the best parts of the film).
Spookiest Scene: It’s hard to top a blood-soaked Christian Bale running through the halls naked with a chainsaw.
- Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
Dir. Lee Harry
Category: Silly Slasher
Sometimes, especially within the horror genre, you just want to turn your brain and watch something that’s objectively trashy, poorly made, and devoid of good taste, especially when those elements coalesce into a stew that’s so deranged it might actually be brilliant. Considering that the Christmas season is nearly upon us, you might do well to seek out this scrappy little slasher if you ever find yourself in such a mood. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen the original Silent Night, Deadly Night: the first half or so of this film is literally just flashbacks to the events of its predecessor, with recycled footage shamelessly employed throughout. However, once the new footage starts to take over, that’s when the genius of Eric Freeman’s hilariously aggressive performance really starts to shine through. If anyone knows anything about this movie, it’s the iconic “Garbage Day!” scene that became a meme before we had memes, but the entire extended sequence it’s a part of is equally inspired. The film doesn’t have a tasteful bone in its body, but if you want to watch a goofy, grungy film about an axe-wielding Santa facing off against a wheelchair-bound nun, you can’t do much better.
Spookiest Scene: An early flashback to Billy and Ricky’s traumatic experience with another killer Santa is the closest the film gets to actual horror before going off the rails in the best way possible.
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
Dir. Mel Brooks
Category: Horror Comedy
Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks are two of the funniest men to ever grace cinema with their presence, and everyone will have their own personal favorite of their many respective works. For my money, however, this collaboration between the two represents the absolute best of their individual talents. The loving homage to the Universal era of monster movies is evident in every frame, and the gags are consistently hilarious without ever derailing the central narrative. The performances are top-notch across the board: Wilder has never been funnier, and he’s ably supported by such incredible talents as Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman. You don’t need me to tell you that this is one of the all-time great American comedies. All I’ll say is that it absolutely holds up, and you should definitely revisit it if you haven’t in a while.
Spookiest Scene: I mean, it’s not really that kind of movie, is it? The scene where Marty Feldman is so lustful that he bites into Madeline Kahn’s mink scarf is kind of intense.
- Onibaba (1964)
Dir. Kaneto Shindô
Category: Black & White
This one was a bit of a shot in the dark, motivated largely by its recent addition to The Criterion Collection, but one that definitely paid off. A period drama about two women making ends meet in feudal Japan by killing samurai and looting their corpses, it takes its time building up the tension caused when a male neighbor returns from the war and gradually comes between them. Eventually, the older woman is driven to instigate some demonic intervention, which results in dire consequences for all involved. The monochrome cinematography is striking, and the fearsome samurai mask that becomes a central part of the narrative creates a lasting impression (apparently it inspired the way that William Friedkin depicted the brief look we see of the demon in The Exorcist, so that’s pretty cool). If you’re a fan of Japanese cinema from this era and want something with spooky undertones, this is a great pick.
Spookiest Scene: The first appearance of the demon woman is likely to have a similar effect on viewers that it has on the unsuspecting younger woman.
- The Changeling (1980)
Dir. Peter Medak
Category: Big Old House
Here is a slow burn that has an absolute field day with genre conventions. Starting as a portrait of grief, centering on a famous composer (George C. Scott) who has recently lost his wife and daughter in a senseless car accident, it eventually morphs into a full-blown haunted house picture, as the mansion that Scott rents while attempting to recover contains its fair share of dark secrets. Once he starts to properly dig into those secrets, however, the results drift from the supernatural into the surprisingly political, and the film dovetails into more of a conspiracy thriller, before bringing its various genre strands together in a fiery conclusion sure to linger after the credits have rolled. The fact that it balances all these potentially disparate tones in a way that feels both organic and wholly natural is no small feat, and anchored by the dependably gruff Scott, the film is both engaging and suspenseful all the way through.
Spookiest Scene: All I’ll say is that they get a whole lot more mileage out of an abandoned wheelchair than you might expect.
- Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Dir. Alfred Sole
Category: My First Horror Movie
Full disclosure, my actual first horror movie was The Evil Dead, which Kelly and I have watched together many times (either that or the second half of Child’s Play 2, depending on whether you think that counts). So for today’s category we decided to go with her first horror movie, which is this giallo-esque murder mystery that, as a child, she mistakenly thought would somehow connect to the story of Alice in Wonderland (spoiler alert: it did not). It does however connect to various themes of Catholic guilt, sin and punishment, as well as the confusing logistics of two people who are running around committing crimes while wearing the same outfit, despite not being connected with each other beyond a single brief interaction in the opening scene. Plot mechanics aside, this is a disturbing, stylish little slasher that bears all the earmarks of the films that influenced it, as well as the many films that it would be influenced by it. In that sense, it serves as a fascinating nexus point in the subgenre that is also completely gripping in its own regard.
Spookiest Scene: The slovenly landlord gets a little too frisky with young Alice at one point, causing her to lash out at his cat in order to escape. Chilling stuff.
- Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
Dir. Steve Beck
Category: Getting Ghosty
This is a bad movie. This is a very bad, stupid, ugly, loud, irritating, terrible movie. It’s also a lot of fun. To be clear, fun in a very ironic sense. Fun in the sense that it feels like a parody of all the terrible horror tropes of the 2000s, from seizure-inducing editing to overcomplicated nonsense lore to hilariously bad CGI. Today it is perhaps best remembered for the memorable designs of the ghosts themselves, which look mostly impressive in a Halloween Horror Nights kind of way, as well as for the many, many choices that are happening in Matthew Lillard’s performance. If the IMDb trivia is to be believed, at least four people from this production dropped out of the film industry as a direct or at least partial result of their experience here (including the director, who only made one other film, and three of the actors). F. Murray Abraham has openly admitted that he only did it for the money, which is very evident when he’s on screen. The movie starts cranked up to 11 and never lets up, which is infectiously entertaining for the first 30-40 minutes or so. Once you’ve settled in for the ride and gotten acclimated to the impressively convoluted setting, however, the film runs out of steam fast, and mostly devolves into an endless barrage of screaming and jump cuts. There’s about half of a midnight horror movie in here, I just wish that it could keep up its gloriously stupid energy for the full runtime.
Spookiest Scene: The film hits its peak with the death of a lawyer who gets sliced in half by two glass doors, which is an absolutely amazing moment that the rest of the film never comes close to.
- Last Night in Soho (2021)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Category: Seeing “Red”
Edgar Wright is one of the most stylishly inventive filmmakers working today, and I give him a lot of credit for trying something different here. He’s clearly working outside his comfort zone, which works both for and against the movie. A fashion student obsessed with the 60s finds herself transported to them and witnessing the life of a wannabe singer who gets mixed up with a bad crowd. The way that Wright depicts this era is dazzling, and when the film merges the past and present it often conjures up a kaleidoscopic blend of color and music that proves mesmerizing. However, the story feels a bit undercooked, and the themes of sexual abuse and female empowerment never come together in any way that feels meaningful or interesting. The cast gives it their all (notably a radiant Anya Taylor-Joy, as well as the late Dame Diana Rigg in her final performance), and there’s plenty to recommend visually, but ultimately this feels like the least substantive entry yet in Wright’s otherwise impressive filmography.
Spookiest Scene: When our heroine bears witness to a gruesome murder from the past while in her bedroom with a guy, the sheer panic she feels is easily transmitted.
- The Love Witch (2016)
Dir. Anna Biller
Category: Witchy Woman
Speaking of 60s throwbacks, this makes for an interesting companion piece with Last Night in Soho, as it is made in such a style that it could conceivably be a lost film from that same era (although the appearances of modern cars and cell phones occasionally shatters that effect). The story centers on a recently converted witch who lives in a society where witches appear to be fairly common and, if not fully accepted, at least tolerated within society as a whole. Following the death of her husband (she says he left her, but we are explicitly shown that she poisoned him), she finds herself using her various spells and potions to make men fall in love with her, which leads to plenty of psychedelic imagery and occasional death. The film is very pretty to look at, and similar to Soho it clearly has a lot on its mind about gender dynamics and the role that strong women play in society. But also similar to Soho, it doesn’t quite land anywhere with its many ideas, and the dreamy presentation might make the viewer feel a bit sleepier than intended.
Spookiest Scene: A jar of urine, various herbs, and a used tampon ends up being a pretty major plot point, so have fun if any of that makes you uncomfortable.
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
This is another film that I’ve already written a Sunday Scaries article for on the site, so I won’t rehash what I’ve already said there. It gets a lot of crap for being a Halloween film with no Michael Myers, and the insane plot revolving around Irish curses, pieces of Stonehenge, and masks that turn your head into bugs and snakes is the kind of thing where you either fully embrace the lunacy, or reject it outright. But to anyone who dismissed this film out of hand as not worth your time, I implore you to reconsider. Anyone who enjoys a bit of campy 80s weirdness like I do will know that this film has more entertainment value than you could ever imagine. And even if you think it’s too stupid to take seriously (not an unfair criticism), it still absolutely works as a film that’s fun to laugh at as much as with.
Spookiest Scene: A Halloween mask turns a kid’s head into bugs and snakes. What more do you want?
- Hocus Pocus (1993)
Dir. Kenny Ortega
Category: All Hallow’s Eve
I adore Kelly for being not just willing, but excited to try all these different kinds of spooky movies with me for two years in a row. It’s one of her many qualities that let me know she’s a keeper. So even though I tried to not repeat any films that we watched last year as part of our marathon, I couldn’t refuse her a rewatch of her favorite film from this particular holiday (one that I covered in last year’s article, and discovered I actually kind of adore). It works perfectly as a fun cap to the season, and serves as a harbinger of all the good vibes to come from the rest of the year (we can only hope). Also, they finally greenlit the sequel between last year and this one, so that’s pretty cool.
Spookiest Scene: The jump scare when Sarah Jessica Parker pretends to be the little sister and pops out of her bed still got me. Well played.
That’s all I got. Thank you so much if you made it all the way to the end of this list! I hope you have a very safe and happy Halloween, and stay tuned for more fun content from Awards Radar!