Spooktober 2020: Night of the Living Spook

This year, even before my Spooktober Marathon, I had started watching more foreign language horror films. It started off with just a few Netflix recommendations, but the more I watched, the more of these recommendations I began to receive. Over the past year, I’ve been learning to appreciate foreign language horror films more. Since these films are typically not associated with any American/Hollywood/etc. studios, they offer different narratives and styles than I am used to seeing. For example, it’s been interesting to see how different cultures interpret demonic/ghostly possession stories. And the fact that these stories can be so different compared to their American counterparts means that I have ending up watching films with really unique and enticing takes on the horror genre. My favourite foreign language horror film to date is still Under the Shadow. There was so much about that movie that was just so perfect. And it genuinely scared me. Here’s hoping a come across a few more of these foreign language gems before the end of my movie marathon.

Dun dun… Dun dun… That’s the sound of Halloween approaching fast!

Malevolent (2018): Based on the trailer, I was really looking forward to what I thought would be an intense ghost story. I was very disappointed. The story itself is a combination of common horror tropes and situations strung together in a rather uninteresting and unoriginal way. Although there was considerable effort into developing the relationship between Angela and Jackson, as well as their backstories and personalities, there was little to no character growth over the course of the film. And, like many modern films, this took place in the past (presumably so that cell phones would not interfere with the action). If it hadn’t been stated right from the start that this film was taking place in the 80s, I never would have known. There was very little about this film, if anything, that indicated a particular time period. It annoyed me that Angela’s look in particular was definitely not from the 80s. The movie almost redeemed itself with the body horror moments at the end, but it was really just a blip in the story. Overall, a mediocre film.

Lovecraft Country (2020): Mark and I have been watching this show over the past couple of months, so it’s convenient that the season finale took place during my Spooktober Marathon. I’ve really been enjoying this show not just for its references to Lovecraft’s work, but for its references to other literary works as well. In fact, even without those references, books (and comic books) are very important within the story. And, most importantly, the horror, gore, magic, and all around spookiness are exactly what I was hoping to get out of a show like this – and then some. But what’s also interesting about this show is that it is told from a viewpoint that we are really only just starting to see in the horror genre thanks to filmmakers like Jordan Peele. This show revolves around people of colour and marginalized groups. In fact, that’s what really amplified the horror for me. Because of the time period in which this show takes place, even if you remove all of the fantasy/sci-fi elements it still exists in the realm of horror because of the racism. Some of the most powerful scenes for me were the ones that did not involve magic, scenes where violent racism threatened the safety of the main characters. The finale was a little clunky in that it left out a lot of the story and then tried to cram those moments into a kind of vision, but I am fairly content with the overall ending. I would love to see a second season, but I am also satisfied with how the story was tied up in the end. I would, however, love to re-watch this sometime to see if I can pick up on any more literary references I might have missed.

Veronica (2017): I’ve had this one on my list for quite some time, but it always got pushed to the backburner. I decided to watch it when I did because I saw someone post on Instagram that they were too scared to get through it. As I expected, I didn’t actually find this one scary; but I did really enjoy it. The story dealt with some pretty standard horror tropes like Ouija boards and ghostly possessions, but presented them within a more complex narrative so that the overall plot wasn’t too simple. While dealing with the paranormal, 15 year old Veronica also has to cope with the pressures of adulthood and growing up that are coming into her life in many different ways, and without any parental guidance. Because of this, she is ultimately forced to challenge her demons alone, and I think that really makes the ending a lot sadder. The editing in this movie is also really great, and I appreciated some of the more unique stylistic elements, like when Veronica walks across the pages of a paranormal magazine. And I especially loved how the ghosts were linked with the eclipse. They could burn things, like the heat from the sun, but like the eclipse itself they were dark and shadowy.

With all these horror movies, I’m surprised I’m not going batty.

Apostle (2018): This is one of the other movies I’ve really been looking forward to seeing this October, and thank goodness this one did not disappoint. This supernatural cult movie not only had a gripping story that focused on themes of religion, nature, and fertility, but it was artfully put together. The music was the first thing that really stood out to me as it’s not something I initially would have expected for this kind of film, but it works. Throughout the soundtrack, there are sounds that reminded me of a cowbell or metal cup being struck. Later in the film, this sound felt more significant as it reminded me of the alarm “bell” used by the village to indicate that there was a heretic in their midst. So it’s really significant for this metallic sound to occur throughout the film when there are, in fact, heretics present from the very beginning. The camera work and angles that were used were well thought out, and heightened the tone of each scene. Probably one of my favourite elements of this film, however, is the makeup and costume of the goddess. She looked absolutely perfect, and there was so much detail put into her look. Spoiler: Based on the way the vines grew into her face, coupled with the fact that the island has scorched earth, I’m really curious about what the ending signifies. As Thomas is dying and the island is burning, we see that his blood gives the island life and the vines grow into his face the same way they do for the goddess. Does this mean that his blood is an acceptable sacrifice or, now that the earth is being scorched anew, is he becoming her so that the cycle can begin again? I love the open-endedness of the ending.

Family Blood (2018): This Blumhouse film features a unique take on a vampire story. Although the vampires in this movie don’t adhere to some of the traditional vampire stereotypes, things like aversion to sunlight and a need to be invited into the home are at least referenced. But what’s really interesting about these vampires is that they’re addicts. Vampirism is presented as a form of addiction, so the plot mostly centers around the effects that addictions can have on a family. This is not at all the type of story I was expecting to get based on the description, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Invisible Man (2020): So, I had a feeling this would be the case, but this is not a retelling of H.G. Wells’ classic story. It is, however, a pretty intense Blumhouse production. I watched this with Mark and we were holding hands for quite a bit of the film because of the way the tension was built up. One layer of tension comes from the fact that the story is filled with gaslighting, then add to that the fact that you cannot actually see Cecilia’s stalker ex because he’s invisible. But that’s not all. Because Adrian is invisible, there are many scenes that require your complete attention so that you don’t miss the small details that indicate his presence. But in doing that, Mark and I began to overthink some of the things we were seeing, which led to more stress. Then there are the camera angles. So much of the camera work is done in such a way so that you feel like Cecilia is being watched, or there is an extra person in the room. On top of that, the soundtrack is almost non-existent in some parts of the film, and that overwhelming quietness adds even more tension. But it all comes together to build up to a very satisfying ending. My main complaint: the dog, Zeus, was essentially nothing more than a MacGuffin.

Nothing’s too creepy or gross for this time of year.

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016): Ruth Wilson does a phenomenal job of portraying Lily in this slow-burn mystery. Stylistically, the film was gorgeous, although sometimes the lighting was so dark that I had a hard time figuring out what I was supposed to be looking at. Given that a portion of the story revolves around a horror writer, a lot of the narration in this film feels like it came right out of a novel. Lily’s monologues bear a striking resemblance to the story of Polly, the ghost, in both tone and style. Although I enjoyed the artistic style of this film, the story fell flat for me in a few places. The opening and ending were very strong, but I found the rest of the story never quite grabbed my attention in the way that I hoped it would. I wanted to love this film more than I actually did.

The Open House (2018): Another mediocre thriller. This was a story that should have built up a lot of tension and paranoia, but everything always seemed to fall flat. The premise might have had the potential to be interesting, but it just felt a little silly sometimes. The storytelling was a little sloppy and there were a few plot holes throughout. All of this together meant that the ending was kind of a mess. It’s not entirely clear who is behind the attack or why they do it. I had my suspicion, but when I looked up an explanation of the ending, it turns out that my interpretation of the events was completely wrong. So far, this has probably been the worst story out of all of the films I’ve seen this month.

Strange But True (2019): Based on the film synopsis and the fact that this was listed as a thriller, I was expecting this to be more of a supernatural film. Unfortunately, as the story progressed, it became clear that this was more of a drama/mystery. I was fully expecting this to be a film about ghostly impregnation, but it was really more of an exploration of the lives of the main characters and how they all were or we not involved in this mysterious pregnancy. The film certainly set the stage for supernatural occurrences to take place, but everything ended up having a perfectly logical explanation. At least once the twist was revealed, and some intense action began to take place as a result, then it felt more like a thriller. I did enjoy the film, it just wasn’t what I was expecting and seemed out of place in my Spooktober Marathon.

Frankenstein’s Monster and his (soon-to-be) Bride.

Slender Man (2018): My buddy James (13thchannel on Twitch) and I have been wanting to watch this together ever since it came out. We finally set up a virtual viewing party so that we could roast it as we watched it. I had a blast making fun of anything we could get our hands on in this film; the movie was just as bad as we were expecting it to be. What’s disappointing is that there are actually some good moments, as well as some good visuals. I think the main issue is that the editing seems to have butchered the film, so those good moments seem wasted on a mediocre movie. James mentioned reading that the film had been heavily edited before its release, and that much is apparent. Some of the transitions between scenes are choppy, and in some places it feels like there are scenes missing that would have added better context/explanation to the events going on. And even for the scenes that were in the movie, some of them might have been stronger if their order was changed around. Slender Man was really hurt by the editing, but I did have lots of fun watching this with my friend.

The Binding (2020): I was intrigued to see what a possession-style movie would be like from an Italian perspective, but I was a little underwhelmed by this. The horror and scares were decent, and the special effects makeup was pretty good, but the overall story was lacking in a few places. I found the plot was fairly strong in the first half of the film as it established the characters and the red herring, but once it was reveled who was really behind everything then the story started to feel a little weaker. Plus, once I learned what Francesco’s part was in all of this, I was just waiting for him to get killed off. Spoiler: Emma’s “death” felt a little ridiculous. She didn’t actually need to stab herself like that in order to draw blood from the ritual. And then when it’s been established that she’s probably dead, her reappearance just felt like a deus ex machina.

The Ravenous (2017): A zombie thriller that takes place in Quebec! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of all of the French swearing in this. There’s not a whole lot that separates this movie from other zombie films, but I still really enjoyed it. Although it’s not scary, there are some fairly tense moments as the protagonists do their best to survive. And all of this is peppered with just the right amount of comedic dialogue in order to relieve said tension. One thing that really stood out to me was the way the zombies in this film stack objects to make almost artistic mounds. The reason is never really revealed, but it certainly got me thinking about the motivations and thought processes of the zombies; especially when there was a shot of a mound made of children’s toys.

It’s rare I can convince Mark to wear this much makeup 😛

Zombiellenium (2017): I loved the art style and animation in this French film! The plot was overly simplistic, but I adored the characters (well, the good guys anyway). I was also really amused that some of the characters are references to spooky pop culture icons like Michael Jackson and Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Edward from the Twilight series. The story follows your basic “we need to save our xyz” plot and is filled with all of the usual tropes and trappings along the way. What made this interesting for me is that the ethnicities of the characters added a deeper message to the story. All but two of the vampires are white and view themselves as superior compared to all of the other monsters and zombies in the amusement park. Add to that the fact that the zombies live in a kind of ghetto, and many of the main zombies reference POC identities (even though some of them no longer have skin). I would have loved it if this element of the film was played up a bit more, but this was still a really cute family movie and I absolutely want to watch it again. I read that it’s based on a comic, so I’ll want to give that a read now too.

Cadaver (2020): I love the style of this Norwegian post-apocalyptic thriller. The use of colour to differentiate the spaces, as well as the bright red dress that becomes such an important prop is fantastic. Despite the striking visual style of the film, the plot is fairly simple and unsurprising. The ending is fairly predictable, and twist that indicates the true purpose of the hotel was easy to figure out fairly early on in the film. That being said, I adore the basic premise. As someone who has taken a lot of theatre courses and seen a lot of live performances, I absolutely love the idea of holding a show at a hotel and having the audience chose which stories to follow based on what rooms they visit. The fact that there is a horrific catch associated with attending this performance is just a bonus in this spooky season.

Hopefully I haven’t traumatized him too much with all of my spookiness this year.

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