I’ve never really been much into horror movies. Mostly because of associations with films like Nightmare on Elm St. and such, which aren’t really my cup of tea. However, realizing the silly popular horror films aren’t representative of horror films in general, I want to broaden my horizons a bit into the hugely diverse realm of scary(ish) movies. Thus, this year, I was struck with the inspiration to watch a different movie from the horror (or similar) genre every night on the days leading up to Halloween, culminating in a joyous viewing of my favorite related film, Shaun of the Dead.
Most of the films I watched were films I already planned on watching and this was just a good excuse to finally get to them, while some of the films were movies I probably never would have seen were it not for this Halloween themed celebration of film.
As your friend, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the trailers for the films, especially if you are unfamiliar with a particular film!
Day One: 28 Weeks Later
Sequels are always a dicey proposition. We’ve all had franchises we loved murdered by the likes of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the At World’s End type films of the past. Thus, when 28 Days Later got the sequel treatment but Danny Boyle didn’t return as director and none of the original cast came back, I avoided it like the plague. My assumption (an unfair one as it turned out) was that an American film studio had cranked out another mindless horror film and slapped the 28 Days Later moniker on it to add credibility.
Since it was while watching 28 Days Later a few weeks ago that I got the inspiration to watch a different horror movie every night leading up to Halloween, it only made sense to kick it off with 28 Weeks Later. It didn’t hurt the cause that I learned after deciding to watch it that Danny Boyle was involved creatively on the project even though he didn’t direct (he even directed some secondary unit stuff!).
Lots of zombie fans dislike the 28 films because they don’t like the fact that the infected aren’t officially undead and fans loathe even more the fact that the ‘zombies’ are fast (although Danny Boyle insists they aren’t zombies, much like George Romero did after Night of the Living Dead came out). I understand the trouble with zombies being created by a rage virus, but it isn’t a problem I share. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are both great films and while they do turn the zombie genre on its head, it is in the best possible way. The first 5 minutes of 28 Weeks Later may be the best zombie sequence I’ve ever seen.
28 Weeks isn’t as strong as 28 Days Later, but we still had a great time watching it. It will certainly make an appearance during ‘Halloween Moviefest 2010.’
Click the photo below to watch the trailer for the film, and to be honest, watching the trailer again I wonder why I waited so long to watch the movie!
Day Two: Let The Right One In
This film was hands down, by far, in every way my favorite new film watched during HM2009. It was quiet, understated, beautiful, while also deeply disturbing and troubling in the best possible way. It wasn’t particularly scary in the traditional sense, but maybe that’s just me. However, it was brilliant, moving, engaging storytelling that ruminates on the violence and desperation of vampire mythology, while also making it human by setting it in the pain, brokenness and grit of real life and childhood.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who can stomach a fair amount of blood and violent content. Again, click on the photo below to see the trailer.
Day Three: The Orphanage
The Orphanage was the second movie in a row that was more creepy than scary, which I am realizing is a great thing. Fortunately, it also continued the trend of great storytelling. A story of tragedy, loss, unfailing love, and creepy ghost children, it didn’t bring anything new to the table as far as ghost stories go, but it used the old conventions and devices to weave a moving, engaging tale. There were many similarities between The Orphanage and Poltergeist, but in all the places where Poltergeist swung and missed for me (which I’ll get to later) The Orphanage hit it out of the park!
As of night three, we were batting a thousand for film selections.
Day Four: Ghostbusters
What needs to be said? The primary reason for the inclusion of Ghostbusters is that it is the only film I knew my wife Emily would watch with us, so I wanted to get her in on the fun.
The movie is a classic, there aren’t many a child who grew up in the 80′s for whom the Ghostbusters weren’t a regular part of their lives. From Hi-C Ecto-cooler to ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ cartoon series, I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I pretended to be busting ghosts as a kid.
Day Five: Poltergeist
This was included because of its status as a classic in the ghostly activity genre. I looked forward to catching up on what I’d been missing since I had been too much of a wuss to watch it when I was young. Sadly, while it was intentionally funny fairly consistently, it was also unintentionally funny even more consistently. It wasn’t scary as much as it was flat out ridiculous. Maybe it was the era, maybe it was just my personal tastes, maybe it was how dated it is by now; whatever it was, I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t scared or creeped out, I didn’t care about the characters at all, and I found myself wondering how much longer it was until the movie was over.
I respect the fact that it is a classic, that it was really well received critically, and that it was huge in the 80′s, so it must be me, I just wasn’t into the Poltergeist action.
Day Six: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
I had never seen Night of the Living Dead before. Obviously, as a fan of zombie lore I needed to finally be initiated into what became the inception of the modern zombie sub-genre. Sadly, much of the punch the film would have had for the original audiences was lost on me because I’ve already seen this material rehashed so many times, as well as because the legendary ending had been spoiled many times over.
However, I couldn’t help but appreciate how the effectively creepy, siege based storytelling which gives every viewer the opportunity to imagine how they would respond in the same situation spawned the sub-genre so close to my heart. If I had to pick characters from various zombie films who would be in my corner in the event of a real zombie apocalypse, the films main character, Ben, would certainly be included!
Day Seven: Part I – Evil Dead
Who doesn’t love Ash? There are plenty of complaints one can have about the Evil Dead franchise, and rightly so, but as a character you can’t find a more absurd, hilarious, over the top, bad ass than Bruce Campbell as Ashley Williams. I hadn’t actually seen Evil Dead before, I’d only seen Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. Since we knew later in the day we would be watching Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell it made perfect sense to kick things off with the film that started it all for Raimi. It was everything one might think it would be, much more an absurd, ultra-violent, ridiculous gore-fest as opposed to anything scary or frightening. Well, it was potentially frightening in one way, you may be frightened by the horrible thing on screen you just laughed at in any given scene like a pencil to the ankle or lopped off head.
Part II – Drag Me To Hell
Watching the trailers alone I had no plans to see Drag Me To Hell. However, when it consistently received great reviews from critics and wasn’t discarded as another mindless scary movie I took notice and decided to include it in HM2009. Boy am I glad I did. Drag Me To Hell was like Evil Dead with a brain. It embraced all of it’s camp and silliness and reveled in it. Staples to the forehead, a sacrificed kitten that resurfaced in the most ridiculous way later on, and a scary, gross old lady as the villain are just some of the delightfully absurd thrills the film offers. At the end of the day, it was just loads of fun to watch, and it was nice to see Raimi back at the top of his game.
As is always the case for trailers with embedding disabled, click on the photo to view the trailer.
Day Eight: Trick ‘r Treat
For the most part, I enjoyed Trick ‘r Treat. We are all quite familiar with stories that celebrate the joy, peace and love of the Christmas spirit. Well, this is a film that celebrates the fun, danger, terror and mischief of the Halloween spirit. Not as much a continuous story as a loose connection of stories that intersect (á la Pulp Fiction). Each storyline acts as a playful interaction with various conventions and myths of Halloween. It succeeds on a number of levels as a fun 90 minutes to spend on an October evening. It includes everything from Anna Paquin turning the story of Little Red Riding Hood on its head, to Dylan Baker as a serial killing principal, as well as Halloween’s version of Scrooge getting a dark lesson in celebrating Halloween the right way.
The biggest disappointment came from what had been my favorite part of the film for the majority of the movie. Wandering throughout the story is the spirit of Halloween. What looked like a creepy little kid trick or treating was actually a murderous little menace who had a list of who was naughty and who was nice, purely by Halloween standards. Instead of getting a lump of coal, you would instead die a gruesome death. The reason it wound up being a disappointment was because for a few brief minutes they remove the characters mask, and it was utterly ridiculous in the worst possible way. He immediately went from my favorite character of HM2009 to the most disappointing one. Sad. Hopefully I can have enough of a selective memory to edit the brief lame portion out of my head.
Day Nine: Dead Snow
You really only need two words to understand what you’re getting into with Dead Snow: Nazi. Zombies.
As I tweeted immediately after watching: Dead Snow was campy, hilarious, gory as all hell, filled to the gills with movie reference tips of the cap, and soooooooooooo fun!
The folks who made this film love movies, and more, love zombie movies, and it comes through in every moment of this film. It was at once campy and beautifully shot, it was pitch perfect, and it had everything you could possibly want in a zombie movie, including bad ass victims who aren’t willing to go down without a fight. Also, while I won’t ruin the surprises for those who choose to watch it, it has one of the best scenes in the history of zombie films, as well as some of the best zombie fighting. Also a strength is that their numerous movie references are often subtle, and are always used to great effect as opposed to just pointing out that they are referencing a movie, it actually works on a storytelling level too.
These aren’t your grandfather’s zombies kids… well, unless your grandfather fought in WWII, then I guess technically they are his zombies. As opposed to being mindless flesh eating monsters, they are a bunch of bastards so evil and greedy they won’t stay dead, thus they still think and act like humans hellbent on getting back their Nazi treasure. When these zombies eat flesh, it’s because they think it’s fun, not because of a zombie bloodlust. Again, a different twist on zombie lore, and a great addition to the family!!!
Day Ten: Dawn of the Dead 
Sadly, I’d have to call the updated Dawn of the Dead the biggest disappointment of HM2009. I enjoyed it more than Poltergeist, but I wasn’t expecting as much. I really thought Dawn of the Dead was going to be an entertaining film, but instead it was just dumb. More often than not I was just yelling at the screen because of how frustrated I was with how infuriatingly dumb and illogical the characters in the film were. Also, while I don’t have a problem with fast zombies, the zombies in this film were more superhuman in their speed and agility. It makes sense that Danny Boyle’s zombies would act the way they do because they were overcome by pure rage, why Zac Snyder’s zombies have their attributes is completely inexplicable, but little girls can suddenly jump up like cats and zombies with no legs can swing around from pipes like apes. WTF?!?
As I summed it up on Twitter later that evening: Dumb.
Day Eleven: Shaun of the Dead
The crown jewel of my plans for HM2009, this isn’t just one of my favorite zombie or horror movies, it’s one of my favorite movies. It succeeds on every level possible and delivers me so much joy, laughter and fun that it should probably be illegal. I LOVE this movie, and I’m so happy to have discovered another excuse to watch it. When we do HM2010, Halloween night will once again involve a viewing of Shaun of the Dead
I enjoyed doing the themed movie nights so much that I have already decided to continue doing more of the same. I did find out during this little experiment that they already do something similar over at Ain’t It Cool News, I guess great minds think alike or some such nonsense.
Next will be a Time Travel themed week or two of movie goodness. So far, off the top of our heads, the titles to be included are Primer, Time Bandits, Timecrimes, Back to the Future I & II, and Donnie Darko. I would LOVE suggestions on other great time travel movies that should be included! Sadly, I checked and Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t come out until March. We aren’t waiting that long.