Every year, I try to avoid it. No matter how much of a horror movie addict I proclaim to be, every year I end up falling short of watching a fraction of the horror flicks I want to enjoy during
the month of October SPOOKY SZN. Without fail, I'd see folks on the timeline enjoying their Octobers, watching awesome horror movies every day. Hell, for the last few weeks, I've seen the homie Amanda hyping up her plans for a 2020 horror movie watch, and I decided to take action. I wanted to get on board as well. It's quarantine life for the foreseeable future, so why not dedicate myself to watching one movie a day during the best month of the year? I asked if it was OK and got the blessing, and made the commitment: I will be watching one horror movie a day—31 horror movies in total—during the month of October.
Now, I'm not 200(!) movies deep with it, but I did set up a Sheet to track the films I will be watching this month. I actually came up with a watchlist that has some semblance of a theme, week-to-week. That said, this particular feature will be updated day-to-day, with hopes that if you want to watch along, you can do so. The movies selected are a mix of classic horror movies I've seen, classic horror movies I have not seen, and a collection of newer releases in the horror genre. The aim? To dive into these selections and give you some honest insight, while enjoying a genre of film I can never seem to get enough of. It'll be fun looking at something like Jordan Peele's Us a year-plus after the hype has died down, or resurrecting classics like The Blob or some new films you've never heard of.
For you horror fans, jump scare fiends, and gory ghouls, hopefully there's something in here that you can connect with. And if you have suggestions on what you think I should be watching this month, shoot me an email with the subject HORROR MOVIE WATCH FEST. I'll see what can be arranged. Now that that's all out of the way, turn off the lights and turn on Complex's 2020 horror movie marathon.
'The Shining' (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent (Critics), 93 percent (Audience)
khalScore: Five out of five axes
Premise: This kid who can see shit that happens before it happens sees some insane shit happen when his daddy Jack Nicholson moves the family to The Overlook Hotel. Then said insane shit happens.
Where to Watch: YouTube Movies or Amazon Prime
It's been maybe three years since the last time I watching The Shining, after not having sat through the film in its entirety for what feels like 10-15 years. It was on a flight from L.A. to Philly, and I'd forgotten about the full-on, full-frontal that is on full display in Room 237 for what feels like miiiiinuuuuuuutes. The human body doesn't bother me, but I'm not sure what anyone around me in the cheap seats would be offended by. Truth be told, I wanted to rewatch this before screening the 2019 sequel Doctor Sleep (and with the Director's Cut now out, I guess you know what I'll be watching tomorrow), but you know how time is.
I never remember how long and intense Kubrick's film intros can be. I had 2001 one on months ago, and I had to make sure my speakers weren't on the fritz. Those helicopter shots in the beginning, set to those themes with the Pink Floyd "Echoes"-esque wails were...off-putting.
The idea that Jack Nicholson was Kubrick's first choice to play Jack Torrance comes to no surprise; I love Robin Williams, and would have loved to have seen him attempt something like this so early in his career, but I think Nicholson was crafted to play this role at that time for Kubrick. If they remake this, though, let me get Joaquin in this role on some real depths of humanity type shit.
I could probably watch an entire film of just people walking down those long hallways or riding Big Wheels on wooden floors with accent rugs. I'm also into the slow pans into the mind-boggling maze of this facility, both as a horrific entity and as a structure. Nicholson navigating through this hellish funhouse is the perfect demented ringleader, but...I have to be honest.
I love this film. It's art. It's also disturbing AF. Kubrick's a master at forcing you to look at the oddity for longer than your stomach can take it, even if it's two white guys in a bathroom discussing what needs to be done with the "nigger cook" (who still has to die, for some reason). That line cut me deeper than any of the visuals in this one, of which there are some that still haunt me (most of them have to do with blood cascading out of elevators, or any time Shelley Duvall helplessly wails and runs. There's so much going on in her eyes in every scene, you can just see the fear building higher and higher with each swipe of Jack's bullshit copy.
[Ed note: Why was she so mortified when she saw dude in the animal costume and mask with the guy in the suit in the one room?]
The thing is, at this point, I'm past being able to get lost in the mindfuck of a story, or just genuinely being frightened. I'm critiquing Danny Lloyd's line reads (which are hilarious until the REDRUM scene, which is some of the most terrifying shit I'd ever seen for the longest time), or falling in love with how the camera moved with Jack's ax swings into the bathroom door, as opposed to staying static while he went off. It's art for art's sake at this point; it just happens to be within the horror genre, birthing styles that are still being utilized to this day.
I'm almost tempted to pick up the book this was based on just to get the full story—with Stephen King and Kubrick famously falling out over how the film deviates from the source material, it's always interesting to read the film in different ways...one with Jack's alcoholism being the downfall, or if The Overlook is really messing with people's minds. Thinking back to Doctor Sleep, it's obviously the latter, but after watching true crime like American Murder: The Family Next Door, you never know what drives people to do horrific acts. I guess that's the point. —khal
'Doctor Sleep (Director's Cut)' (2019)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
Rotten Tomatoes: 77 percent (Critics), 89 percent (Audience)
khalScore: Three-and-a-half empty bottles of Whiskey
Premise: This kid who can see shit that happens before it happens turned into a grown-ass man who can see shit that happens before it happens. He befriends a little girl who can see shit that happens before it happens, and they do battle against some mystical queen. Somehow this all ends up back at The Overlook.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime and HBO Max
I know what you're thinking: "Hopefully this fool isn't just talking about this film and The Shining because he just watched it." Sorry, it's that type of party, but only because of how dedicated Mike Flanagan is in maintaining the spirit of The Shining. I remember going to the Screening Room at the Bryant Park Hotel (remember going to see movies with other people?). When the theme from the first film hit and we got those LONG ASS SHOTS of water and mountains and things surrounding The Overlook, I remember grinning. I hadn't realized how much I loved the universe Kubrick created until I got to revisit it as an adult. That said, I wish more of you checked this film out; it quietly hit theaters on November 8 of 2019, and in the shadow of whatever Joker was doing at that point, it felt like Doctor Sleep came and went. It was only right that, if I'm to do this horror movie marathon properly, I have to give Doctor Sleep a whirl, one day removed from rewatching The Shining. I'm not sure if the three-hour-and-one-minute Director's Cut (which adds roughly 30 minutes to Doctor Sleep's runtime) was the move for a random Friday morning, but I'd heard that the Director's Cut was the best way to watch the film, so let's dive in.
Now, ya'll know damn well you didn't have to do that to Violet (who was played by Violet McGraw, aka Young Nell from Flanagan's Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House). Also, with everyone catching their shower ghost lackin', I'm kind of surprised all of the bathroom ghost play in this film hasn't blown up. And how come, when all the wild shit starts going down, it happens in Jersey? And how much did Jacob Tremblay want to play Baseball Boy? What a quick check for such a horrific scene!
I will say: watching the Director's Cut isn't essential to the film. If we're keeping it a buck, at 152 minutes, the original film is already a heavy lift. What's important is the additions we're given to the backstory of Abra as a child interacting with her parents. There's a lot of great stuff tucked into these new scenes that made this viewing experience much more satisfying, especially when you look at this as more of a companion piece to The Shining as opposed to merely being a sequel. Maybe that's why I appreciate it more; instead of just retreading those steps, there's a real connection between this film and the first; while not nearly as terrifying as The Shining, this film is for those of you who love what Kubrick did to the source material and want to get lost in The Overlook once again. —khal
'The Lighthouse' (2019)
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent (Critics), 72 percent (Audience)
khalScore: 3.5 out of 5 sea birds
Premise: A young lighthouse operator goes crazy while living in a lighthouse with a crazy person. He may have cursed himself(?).
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
I want to preface this by saying I'm making myself watch Robert Eggers The Lighthouse. I wasn't as big of a fan of The VVitch, although I do respect the insanity of it all, his art direction, and the lengths he goes to make sure everything is era-appropriate. Dude's using specific cameras and film to capture this era...but I my problem with that film, and moreso with this film, is that it feels like they go so deep into nailing the period that they end up giving us a creepy tale that feels like on anything that makes stories work.
Honestly, if I hadn't already set up to watch Doctor Sleep, I would've followed up The Shining with The Lighthouse. Good companion pieces, in terms of some psychological horror and men behaving ridiculously (with axes!), but honestly, I felt like the mystery and intrigue with The Shining and its scenario is way more exciting than The Lighthouse, which feels like two guys drinking themselves into destruction. I'd seen Eggers mention that, with The Lighthouse, he was "more about questions than answers," which is cool until you have to decipher why Wake (Dafoe) tells this awesome speech while being buried alive (dirt all over his mouth) only to then spring out of a grave, dirt-free, and axe a man in the shoulder.
I can't imagine what drinking turpentine (mixed with honey) can do to the body or the mind, but I also am unsure on if this island is haunted or if dude's just going crazy in his own head. Either way, I'm firmly planted in the "I like what I see, but maybe The Lighthouse isn't for me" camp. Great performances in what must have been a challenging environment, though. —khal
'The Pale Door' (2020)
Director: Aaron B. Koontz
Starring: Devin Druid, Zachary Knighton, Melora Walters, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Stan Shaw, Natasha Bassett, Noah Segan, Tina Parker
Rotten Tomatoes: 50 percent
khalScore: One and a half reanimated crows
Premise: A Western horror where a band of train robbers gets lost in a ghost town.
Where to Watch: YouTube Movies
Truth be told, I'd heard about this film before I'd seen any reviews, and was on-board when I heard this was a "Western horror". I didn't know what the hell that was, did I? Either way, I was interested off those two words being put together.
I wish I'd seen the Rotten Tomatoes score first. What an awkwardly un-Western looking batch of whatever these folks were supposed to be. Even the jokers with beards looked too clean-shaven to be proper train robberts and cowboys. And why was there only one Black guy and one Native American guy in this town? Also, where did they get some of the themes for this film? There's one brooding cut arly on that's hard, but the stuff playing when the brothel turns into Witch Central sounds like it was taken from some random early PSX game.
It's hard to tell if The Pale Door knows what it wants to be. At times, it's taking itself seriously...until it's time for dialogue. There's a decent amount of B-movie humor in here, but it's hard to tell if the film wants to be tongue-in-cheek or serious gorefest set in the West. The Witch storyline is decent enough but everything kind of feels underdeveloped. In a world where Westworld has gone to painstaking lengths to bring forth a realistic Wild West to the small screen, you'd hope that others could make this feel a bit grittier.
[Ed note: Can someone recommend a good movie that explains how witches work in a horror setting? Are these women witches? They are able to crawl on the ceiling and jump around and seem to be mad powerful, but are also as easy to kill as a single bullet or stabbing in the head?]
Now there's a reveal (I hesitate on calling it "big") towards the end of this film that seems to be...pointless? I dunno, they give you a huge dose of backstory that ends up being something to help this guy Jacob get out of his own head, but realistically? Nothing seems to hinge on the story itself, and for what it's worth, they more than likely could've given him his confidence without this weird "our family is corrupt AF" situation.
That's not to say there isn't cool shit in here; anything that has to do with blood or gore looks realistic. The witches are also creepy beats; if they had the budget to really make them come to life, this film may have been better. —khal
'Black Christmas' (2019)
Director: Sophia Takal
Starring: Imogen Poots, Lily Donoghue, Aleyse Shannon, Brittany O'Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes
Rotten Tomatoes: 39 percent (Critics), 31 percent (Audience)
khalScore: Two DivaCups out of five
Premise: It's a battle of the sexes at Hawthorne College this holiday season.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
It was only within the last few years that I'd see 1974's Black Christmas, a tiny Canadian horror film that is probably best known for that "the call is coming from inside the house" bit. I'm not one of the biggest stans of the film, but it definitely holds a place in my heart as a shocking holiday horror flick. I wanted to like the updated Blumhouse version but...I'm not sure if this is it.
Now don't get me wrong; this film is right up my alley. A group of feminist sorority sisters who are sticking it to the shitty dudes on campus? Here for it, especially when Riley (Imogen Poots, who I mostly remember from the excellent Green Room) joins the squad for a special Christmas number. Like many Blumhouse ~90-minute flicks (especially those that hover the PG-13 lane) are quick with the snappy dialogue, and overall, the story makes sense. That doesn't mean this actually works as a film.
I'm just going to go ahead and say it: this didn't need to be to carry the Black Christmas title. Again, I'm no Black Christmas cult fan—it's a solid film. But that film was also about one demented MF who was creeping on this sorority house during Winter Break; this Black Christmas didn't even need to be set around Christmas! It may have made that one awesome song fit with the time of year in the film, but you could've had this set around Thanksgiving Break or Spring Break and had relatively the same film. And also, with this being a PG-13 horror flick, it's awkward to hear so many almost-curses or how little blood splatter or gore there is. Those things aren't necessary for a good horror film, but not having those things around make that PG-13 rating stand all the way out.
The tone of the film is off as well, in some spots. It tried to hark back to the source material—bozo cops, slowly panning over expertly-staged corpses, murder with Christmas lights—but it was hard to tell if this wanted to be as funny or goofy as it ends up being at times. For example, why is everyone basically laying out the real situation to Riley for her to be like "um I don't know if that's the case"? It's hard to say. I'm also not very concerned about it. The film is cool but it doesn't feel like it even knew what it wanted to do. Kudos to not killing off the Black folks in the film, but maybe next time we figure out a way to not need to shoe-horn very necessary conversations into a ham-fisted "holiday horror" flick.
We still cool, Blumhouse? —khal
'Gretel & Hansel' (2020)
Director: Oz Perkins
Starring: Sophia Lillis, Sam Leakey, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Alice Krige
Rotten Tomatoes: 65 percent (Critics), 23 percent (Audience)
khalScore: Two sharpened axes out of five
Premise: The Brothers Grimm "Hansel & Gretel (Oz Perkins Remix)"
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube Movies
I will say, this is the first film to really feel like some HALLOWEEN ish. A classic fairytale like Hansel & Gretel getting a remake in 2020 by Oz Perkins, aka the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins who has a passion for horror? I first got put on to his horror work courtesy of 2017's The Blackcoat's Daughter, which is a) currently streaming on Netflix and b) FUCKED UP. (I also wasn't happy with how that film ended, so I am prepared for...anything.)
Before we get to deep into this film, I do want to say that I really rock with Sophia Lillis. Even if the projects she is featured in aren't the truth, she always is. (Which reminds me, I still need to finish watching I Am Not Okay with This, the Netflix series she starred in earlier this year.)
Are we familiar with the story of Hansel & Gretel? I mean, I always knew that it was about a witch who lured some kids in to eat them, but its hard to tell if some of these situations are from Oz's script or if they were in the original text and got homogenized out over the years. Either way, Gretel has to go through some SHIT very early on. What a scary time to be alive, BEFORE THE WITCHCRAFT.
Do we know what time this was supposed to have taken place? Why do Hansel and Gretel speak so differently? And there's a random Black Englishman around as well? Why does the witch speak in such bar'd up riddles? ("Think less, my pretty, and know more" is insane.) Maybe it's just an Oz Perkins thing. He has an eye for impressive imagery—the way he shoots Gretel walking down a forest path, with all of the trees enveloping her, will never get old. And Rob's score, which is a gorgeous array of haunting melodies, fits perfect with this flick, which ends up being more macabre wonder than outright horror.
It's an interesting flick; with an 87 minute runtime, it feels a lot longer than it truly is. That might be due to the aforementioned imagery; the pacing and overall story don't seem to have been paid as much attention as to how this tale would unfold visually. Think about it: if this witch has had a successful time eating the young, why would this pair give her such a challenge? Does she always toy with her meals before eating, or did she see something different in this duo? The way the witch and Gretel's stories unfold is slick, but this feels more like an exercise in recreating random fairytale splash pages on-screen. That image might be impeccable, but it still needs a dope story surrounding it.
That said, I may still recommend this film. This isn't at the top of my artsy horror appreciation side, but if I'm going strictly for Halloween frights that are more eerie and disturbing than vomit-inducing and horrific, Gretel & Hansel might be a solid late(r)-night Halloween popcorn chomper. —khal
'Vampires vs. The Bronx' (2020)
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Starring: Jaden Michael, Gerald W. Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Coco Jones
Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent (Critics), 53 percent (Audience)
khalScore: Three Sammy Sosa bats out of five
Premise: A group of kids in The Bronx have to defend their block from a gang of gentrifying vampires.
Where to Watch: Netflix
What a dope film. I'm not sure why the Audience score is so low, honestly; maybe it depends on who you are. If you're a person of color from somewhere like The Bronx, where gentrification runs rampant, you gotta feel this. Hell, if you're a person of color who has always assumed that one family member secretly knew when the zombie apocalypse was coming, this film is for you.
I don't even want to go too ham in reviewing this film because we already did, but it is dope to see Mero get to do some solo acting work, especially in a role that's perfect for him. I'm not sure what it is about PG-13 horror, but it looks like there's space for teen-appropriate frights in the world. In a film that isn't one thing, that's more than enough, and can help ease you into the ish that we'll be covering very soon.
[Ed note: It's interesting to also look at how Vampires did something for Netflix's B-horror section that 2019's See You Yesterday couldn't do for Netflix's sci-fi section. See You was more daring, visually, but Vampires ultimately gave you a fuller story. Not saying one is necessarily better than the other—they both have intriguing jobs to do—but I love how Vampires felt realer than other films set amongst our people.] —khal
Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, Denis O'Hare
Rotten Tomatoes: 89 percent (Critics)
khalScore: Four thumb tacks out of five
Premise: A woman who feels isolated in her marriage and life decides to start binging and purging shit she shouldn't be eating, like marbles and what not.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
I was back and forth on including this film. It's technically considered a "psychological thriller" and not a horror, although finding reviews with the word "horror" in their title isn't hard. And with so much horror having desensitized me to proper frights, the worst experience is the squirm knowing that a self-destructive person couldn't help but swallow a marble to feel whole. The horrors we can (and do) inflict on our own bodies can be worse than the more graphic flicks you may see on this list.
Swallow also highlights what happens when someone is neglected enough by a family who has enough money to keep things hidden. The fact that Hunter (who's brilliantly portrayed by The Devil All the Time star Haley Bennett) is left to fend for herself in moments when she needs a helping hand most is the true American horror story. It's a terrible predicament, especially for a pregnant woman, but not having the people most important to your life and the life of your baby truly looking after you, that's how unfortunate things like what Swallow lays out happens.
This is one of the most beautiful films I've seen all year. Proper art. The way colors are placed throughout scenes tells a story all its own. All of the framing of Hunter in red is so striking and essential. It's also one of the saddest. I felt for Hunter and how the world's turned her into someone it then can't handle. That's the worst horror of them all. —khal
'Body Cam' (2020)
Director: Malik Vitthal
Starring: Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas, David Warshofsky, Demetrius Grosse, Anika Noni Rose
Rotten Tomatoes: 44 percent (Critics and Audience)
khalScore: One distorted body cam recording out of five
Premise: A police department is haunted after the murder of a Black youth, and it's up to Mary J. Blige to save the day.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Sling
Hollywood never stopped making horror set in the hood; most of it just isn't that good. Body Cam, which stars Mary J. Blige (Power Book II: Ghost, Mudbound) and Nat Wolff (Death Note) as two cops caught up in a ghost story built out of a Black Lives Matter tragedy ripped out of the headlines. It wants to be a #message movie, but it's really just a ghost story stitched around a Black boy being murdered by the police.
You don't know that at first. At first, Mary J. Blige squints a lot at odd things happening in their town. The film's color scheme is so bleak; I know shit is real in the field, but so much of this film takes place in the shadows that even when it's daytime, they find a way to miss any direct sunlight it seems. What's sad is that Mary is better at acting than she's given credit for, but this tale did her no favors. She spends most of the movie stumbling into figuring out the cause of the ghost tale at the center of the film, and even then, the reveal is just the reveal. We don't get to know much in the way of how one event turned into this story; it's a deep sentiment, and something that probably is handled better on shows like Lovecraft Country, but even then you have to be a capable storyteller to not make that kind of premise sound hokey AF. Body Cam didn't capture it, but there's no way this was going to.
This film came and went this year, which meant I had to see it. It could possibly be the third-worst film I've seen this year, preceded only by John Henry, which starred Terry Crews as Luke Cage minus the superpowers, and The Turning, which I'm not sure had a real ending. Body Cam has a beginning, middle, and end; it just doesn't have a point.
Body Cam made me wish that Jordan Peele had a bigger creative hand on The Twilight Zone; this could've been a much better hour-long episode of late(r)-night television. Or it could've just stayed the as the first tale in the first Tales From the Hood film. Or am I tripping? —khal