October Horror Roundup

Some years it seems October passes me by before I realize it, and I find myself staring November 1st in the face with the startling realization that I neglected to watch any horror to get myself into the Halloween spirit. Granted, horror can (and should) be enjoyed all year long, but taking in some spooky stuff while the decorations are out is extra special.

This year I made it a point to not let one of my favorite holidays (shout out to Christmas) pass me by. I’ve been able to check out a handful of horror I hadn’t seen before, and it’s been wonderful. I tried to cover as much of the horror spectrum as I could, from over-the-top-bonkers gore spectaculars to more traditional creepfests. I lucked out in that none of it was especially bad, and some of it was incredibly good. So if you need a kick in the pants to rev up your Halloween spirit or want something scary to watch in the dark on All Hallow’s Eve, here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve seen so far this month. (All available on Netflix)


Terrifier (2017) 

Terrifier is all about expectations. If you’re looking for subtle, nuanced fright, look elsewhere—subtlety is not to be found in this throwback to 80’s slasher flicks. Some have criticized the film for its derivative, paper-thin plot, but honestly, this film lets you know what you’re in for within the first five minutes. When you see a character’s eyeballs popped in their sockets, you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Featuring a sadistic killer clown out on the town for a maniacal killing spree, the kills in Terrifier are straight up gnarly: decapitations, dismemberments, and one scene so shocking (featuring the world’s sharpest hacksaw) that it even got raised eyebrows from this gourmet of gore. There’s a degree of detachment to most of the violence thanks to its less-than-realistic effects work, which only serves to add to the campiness and pitch black comedy.

Bottom Line: If you’re into crazy, over the top gore and not looking to set the bar too high, this will be right up your alley.


The Ritual (2017)

Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual is very Blair Witch-esque, featuring some lost hikers in the hills of Scandinavia and a (seemingly) supernatural entity haunting them at their every turn. The film does a great job of mixing physical scares with psychological terror, and there’s a nice element of surrealism to keep you wondering exactly what the hell you’re watching.

Without getting into spoilers, once the men see the thing in the forest they have been running from, it’s one of the best reveals I can remember in a long time. A truly WTF climax, with about as satisfying an ending as a movie of this type can deliver. This one definitely surpassed my expectations.

Bottom Line: A nice take on a familiar story, well written and well executed.


The Haunting of Hill House (2018) 

There’s not a lot about this 10-part series that hasn’t already been said. It’s probably the most buzzed-about thing Netflix has had since diving into original programming, and if you haven’t already seen it you might be wondering how something so critically lauded can possibly live up to the hype. All I can tell you is that it does, in spades.

Nearly every frame of Hill House’s ten hours is filled with a palpable sense of dread. You never know what’s going to happen at any given moment, and just when you think you’re safe something will catch you off guard. All of this done with very few jump scares (and excellent timing of the ones they do use), and practically no blood or gore.

The ending has been roundly criticized, but that is truly a nit being picked by people who should appreciate being given a piece of work this exceptional. When the worst thing people can say about a ten-part saga is that it’s not absolutely perfect, you know you’ve got something special.

Bottom Line: Believe the hype. A definite must watch.


Oculus (2014)

In what turned out to be a double shot from director Mike Flanagan, Oculus has a few things in common with The Haunting of Hill House—namely how ghosts haunt and ultimately screw up an otherwise happy family, and some reverse storytelling to gradually reveal what really unfolded. Initially revealing a young boy killing his father after a dastardly bout of domestic violence, the film makes use of flashbacks to fill in the missing details, and show us how the adults were manipulated by a haunted mirror that had come into the family’s possession. (That sounds corny as I type it out, but it actually works in the movie, trust me.)

Now grown, the children are determined to document exactly what powers the mirror possesses before ultimately destroying it—but of course the mirror won’t go down that easily. The ending is quite satisfying, although a major part of the climax will be obvious to anyone who’s got even a basic knack for spotting foreshadowing.

Bottom Line: Not great but by no means bad, Oculus proves Hill House was no fluke for Flanagan.

***NOTE: Oculus is only available on Netflix until Nov. 1st, hurry if you want to see it.


Tales of Halloween (2015)

In the mood for a string of campy mini B movies with gore galore and enough cheese to make fondue? Friend, meet Tales of Halloween. Made up of ten horror comedy shorts from various writers and directors, Adrienne Barbeau of Creepshow fame plays a local DJ who serves to string the tales together in a style reminiscent of old HBO favorite Tales From the Crypt.

The shorts run the gamut from amusing to decent to bad; a couple of them border on good, and some stink outright. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter—the stories are so short that the next one is on before you can complain about the last one. Gallows humor and corny comedic violence abound, making the fact that the content is not exactly top notch easier to swallow. Another reason to sit through it is the plethora of cameos, including horror directors John Landis and Mick Garris, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Barry Bostwick, Greg Grunberg of TV’s Alias and Heroes fame, and one of my all-time favorite comedians (and former writer on The Simpsons), Dana Gould.

Bottom Line: Worth watching if you are in the mood for total silliness but still want gore and violence. Willing to bet it would be 100% better with alcohol.


Apostle (2018)

Quite different than the other ones I’ve mentioned, Apostle is a period piece set on a remote Welsh island in 1905. Our protagonist Thomas Richardson’s sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult, and is demanding ransom for her release. Traveling to the island amid followers and infiltrating the cult, Thomas sets out to find his sister and rescue her from the clutches of the madman ‘prophet’ and his disciples. Of course, there is much more to the story which it’s better not to know going in. Suffice to say, belonging to the cult involves bloodletting, and there’s a wicked bit of medieval torture involving a device called The Heathen’s Stand.

Apostle is a slow burn compared to much of the contemporary horror put out nowadays—it’s almost like a mashup of The Wicker Man and The VVitch. The dialogue and many of the finer points of the script are a bit slow, but the chills and violence more than make up for it.

Bottom Line: Could be better, could’ve been a lot worse. It’s easily good enough to stick with it until the very cool ending.

Well, there you have it! Let me know f you end up watching something I mentioned above, and don’t hesitate to let me know of any good horror you’ve seen recently that you’d recommend to close out October!

Happy Halloween, people!



The Three Things That Shaped Me Into the Horror-Loving Weirdo I Am

Going back as far as I can remember (which is probably around the age of 8 or 10), I’ve always loved the dark side of things. The horrific. The violent. The macabre. By the time I was thirteen, I was renting slasher movies at the video store every weekend, reading the scariest books I could find, and watching any horror movie I came across on TV.

With October almost over and All Hallow’s Eve practically here, I realized I hadn’t written anything about Halloween or my love of all things frightful. I contemplated some sort of Top Horror Movies list, but to be honest, as much as I love horror there are tons of people out there who take it a lot more seriously than I do. People with encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every horror flick released since Noferatu – that sort of thing. I’m not going to insult a true horror fanatic’s intelligence by ranking horror movies when I haven’t even seen The Conjuring yet.

So I started thinking, and a question popped in my head: if I was watching and reading all this crazy stuff so young, when did it all begin? What turned me into such a little gore-obsessed freak by the seventh grade? I began to think back, and I realized if I really had to pinpoint the origins of my love for the sick and twisted it could be traced back to three things.

1. Pet Sematary – Stephen King (1983)


It will probably come as a surprise to absolutely no one that one of my first forays into horror was via Mr. King. It wasn’t the first King book I read (that would be The Dead Zone), and it wasn’t the first horror book I read (that was Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, although I don’t remember a thing about it), but it had the biggest impact on my young, impressionable brain. I believe I was around 10 when I was given the book as a gift, and between the gore, the reincarnations, and the terror of those that have come back to life being a little ‘off’, the book captivated me like nothing I had read before it and set me on a very dark path, entertainment-wise.

2. Elvira’s Movie Macabre – KHJ-TV Channel 9, Los Angeles (1981-1986)


Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I don’t know if everyone reading this will know who Elvira is/was, but in L.A. in the early eighties she was a freakin’ rock star. I remember tuning in to her show every weekend and being treated to schlocky B-horror classics, as well as some not-so-classics. I was but a tiny tot, so the memory is faded at best, but the standouts I remember were The Man with Two Heads, Crucible of Terror, Blacula and especially The Incredible Melting Man. Elvira would make cheesy jokes and double entendres throughout the movie, bringing me my first glimpse of the combination of horror and comedy – another big part of what makes me, well, me.

My dad did not share my love of horror, but he would watch Elvira with me every weekend. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized that he watched for a couple of obvious reasons.


3. Scanners – Directed by David Cronenberg (1981)


The first “serious” horror movie I remember watching (even though it’s largely part sci-fi as well). Although I would later immerse myself in all things Voorhees, Krueger, and Myers in my teens (not to mention Pinhead), before all that there was Scanners.

I haven’t re-watched the movie in ages, and to be honest I had to look it up on imdb to remind myself exactly what it was about – a group of extremely powerful psychics are able to control minds and inflict bodily harm on people at will, and they must be stopped from reaching their goal of complete global domination. But really, none of that mattered when I was a ten year old boy excited to be watching his first real, grown-up scary movie. What it really all boiled down to was one scene that burned into my brain like a smoking-hot branding iron.

A man’s head explodes right before your very eyes. There’s no cut away to blood splattering on the wall then back to the bloody stump, there’s no little spray like when someone gets shot in the movies. His head blew up into a million little pieces and it left me with my jaw hanging open and changed me forever. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I re-watched the short clip of the exploding head before writing this, and I have to say after all these years the effect holds up incredibly well. As a young boy just getting his feet wet in the pool of horror and gore, Scanners took me and threw me in the deep end head first.

Some might think it’s odd that I enjoyed such gruesome stuff at such a young age, and some may find the fact that my parents would let me watch and read things with such graphic content a little troubling, but I turned out okay (heh heh, right? I’m okay, right?).

If you want to see the cranial carnage in question, take a deep breath and watch the 11 second clip by clicking here.

So, there you have it. The three things that set me down the path of evil, darkness, and…more evil. Writing this got me wondering: what would you point to in your childhood that set you on your path, whatever that path is? No matter what you do, for most of us one (or in some cases several) things helped shape us to go in the direction we headed. What are yours?

Have a great Halloween everyone, and since I can’t help myself: for anyone out there who doesn’t watch a lot of horror that is wanting to scare themselves silly, I would recommend turning off all the lights and watching The Descent (2005), directed by Neil Marshall, preferably with the original UK ending. Enjoy!