Spooktober officially came to an end 2 days ago. Let’s wrap this business up!
You can find this year’s previous entries here, here, and here. I did not meet the criteria I set out for myself this time around, and I closed out Spooktober with a movie from the man who also brought us City Slickers. It’s been a weird adventure.
In any case, I did watch some horror movies — or horror-adjacent movies, at least — and that’s always a positive thing. Here’s one more round. Let’s never speak about horror again.
My first viewing of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project remains one of my favorite film-going experiences. To say that the audience was “into it” would be a vast understatement: the ordinarily shouty crowd of teenage horror-enthusiasts at that particular cinema were stunned into a silence so total that some poor girl was shouted down for an innocuous moment of MST3K-style heckling. It was right and just, if a little intense — but people really were paying attention, straining to see and hear any nuance or variation, looking for clues on the screen. It’s hard to convey how different the film seemed at the time from your standard fare; it felt like something entirely new, something worth shouting down strangers for.
Nearly 2 decades later, that found-footage thrill has largely (though with occasional exceptions) been lost in the forest of imitators and head-scratching cash-grabs. At the very least, the surprise, and the silence it demanded, is a thing of the past. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett seem to know this, and it’s reflected in their Blair Witch remake/homage. Here’s a movie so roaringly loud out the gate that no one in a theater would even be able to hear you if you shouted at them to be quiet.
There are jump-scares aplenty, the introduction of new visual technologies (YouTube, Gopro cameras, a drone), and retrofitted narrative tweaks. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and none of it is really necessary. Unlike Wingard and Barrett’s other joints You’re Next and The Guest, Blair Witch isn’t so much nostalgic pastiche as an attempt to recreate a moment, but add more. And more. And more. The technical chops on display are predictably competent, but Blair Witch is little more than a noisy supplement to its game-changing predecessor. The paradox remains: a supplement assumes the original was already whole. We already had the masterpiece we needed.
The Creature (or Gill-Man, which must’ve sounded silly even in 1954) is the one Universal Monster I have the least familiarity with, so this snuck onto my Spooktober list under the heading Classic Horror You’ve Never Seen. I’m not sure how that happened. As with a lot of iconic titles and characters, it seems to exist in some realm of the already-viewed, absorbed through cultural reference rather than, you know, actually watching it.
Which is both silly and too bad, because this is a fun bit of monster-mashing. As the Creature, Ricou Browning pulls off some balletically graceful underwater stunts, even weighted down by his monster get-up. As Gillianren writes,
Now, I’m a pretty decent, if not great, swimmer, and I wouldn’t even want to think about swimming in that costume, much less swimming and acting at the same time—and Browning was acting, make no mistake.
She’s right. The underwater sequences are the most memorable, but the film as a whole accumulates its B-movie power not just from stunts, costume, and early 3D gimmickry, but also from the Creature himself, who, like many a monster before and since, is more sad and lonely than terrifying, really.
Speaking of not being terrifying, heeeeeeere’s Hammer!
Mummy’s Tomb doesn’t feature any of the venerable UK house’s most famous names, but it still carries with it that particular whiff of respectable schlock. It’s impressively shot by Otto Heller, who also worked on Powell’s Peeping Tom (and 236 other titles), and traffics in colonial critiques, American hucksterism, and third-act horror reveals. A fine way to spend 81 minutes.
One of my favorite Spooktober surprises, Ghostwatch was totally unknown to me. I did not know it existed. I did not know it was something of a cultural phenomenon in 1992, or resulted in tens of thousands of calls to the BBC that Halloween night. I did not know it led to court actions and allegations that its airing resulted in actual deaths. I did not know it was subsequently banned for a decade and the BBC chided for irresponsibility in ever unleashing it on an unsuspecting audience.
All of which seems hard to fathom watching it now. It’s too funny and self-aware to trick anyone! But of course, unlike the new Blair Witch, Ghostwatch played before such things were old hat. The notion of actual BBC personalities starring in a live production about a fake poltergeist, complete with phony call-ins and familiar set locations, apparently boggled the minds of the viewing public, and scared the shit out of some people.
And even today, it goes to some unexpected places, turning in on itself at the close while also indicating that the evil it’s been documenting is now inside your machine, coming for you.
David Lynch’s Spooktober offering is the story of 3 bipedal rabbits who live in the television. It is 3 hours long. Scarier than The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb but less scary than Ghostwatch. 5 stars.
Directed by Hiroki Matsuno (his only credit on IMDB) and co-written by Kyûzô Kobayashi (of Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell fame), this is all late-60s Japanese-horror moodiness, some exploitation notes, skin-melting potions and ghost-ships and budget skeletons bobbing in the ocean.
I liked it.
It’s hard to fault director/star Amy Lynn Best for the juvenile goofballery on display here. This is sub-Troma outsider art, and there is literally no other reason to watch Severe Injuries than to marvel at it. (Hell, if you’re unsure what you’re in for, the radical feminist professor who introduces her students to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, thus setting the “madcap” plot in motion, wearing a Tromeo & Juliet t-shirt and the brief appearance of Lloyd Kaufman should clear things up.)
This is Spooktober at its dumbest, and I honestly wasn’t sure I would last the full 64 minutes. (Best knows her audience, though: the narrative is bookended by 10-minute-long credit sequences, meaning Severe Injuries effectively plays for less than 45 minutes total.)
But taken as it is — a poorly-acted, indifferently photographed no-budget slasher parody — it has its moments. If nothing else, the idea of a family of serial killers who’ve never been able to get the job done, generation after generation, is funny enough, and everyone looks like they’re having a good time, so that’s nice for them.
On Halloween, most horror fans are probably putting on Carpenter or Hooper or Romero. Me? I watched some good old fashioned Underwood.
Why? Because Tremors is awesome, that’s why.