Halloween Horror Movie Binge: Some Practical Considerations by Professor L. Yochum of the Villains Live University

To the student body of VLU…it’s nearly time.

As you know, it’s nearly October. And as well know, October is the month long celebration of all things spooky. Speaking personally,  I find it endlessly satisfying to spend the month immersed up to the metaphorical gills in horror. This time of year clearly gives us the best candies, best decorations, and most enjoyable music.

But a sincere horror binge is not something that can be done willy-nilly. While I might personally bristle at the thought of someone telling me how to GET SPOOKY, it does pay to have a plan. I therefore have a proposal. I would like to lay down some simple guidelines for the coming season.

Media binging is obviously not a new concept. Since the arrival of wide-spread on-demand media, many prefer to not absorb media in episodic format. Consider for a moment how many times you or a loved one have spent an entire weekend watching one show. Binging is applicable to film franchises, premier TV, even podcasts! But Halloween media is more than mere movies. Halloween media is multi-disciplinary, multi-platform media.  As such, our approach must be multi-faceted.  

 

Part One: Right Environment

When is it appropriate to watch a horror movie, much less many horror movies? Should the room be dark? And should you have your phone nearby? The greatest minds of the 20th and early 21st century have been debating this since the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (My intensive, evidence-based research of Google has shown that the first Blu-Ray of The Cabinet in 1955 caused quite a furor.)  A comprehensive recipe for optimal binge-watch environments is outside the scope of this brief lecture. However we should acknowledge some possibilities for this upcoming season.

For example: should a film prominently featuring daytime scenes be watched during the day or the night? Or whether or not snacks/beverages will improve a film going experience. Silly as such small contrivances may seem, they are questions worth addressing.

Many horror purists, such as The Scaredy Cats podcast, have put down the rules that horror movies must be watched at night, uninterrupted, without the presence of phones. And while I respect the expertise of the podcast’s hosts, I respectfully argue that this approach is ultimately incorrect. All of this is good for a singular film, but it is not feasible if you are planning on watching multiple films in a single sitting. I would argue that the film should match the environment as best as possible.  Black and White classics such as the original Night of The Living Dead are best absorbed at night, where the desaturated colors are easier on the eyes, and immersive in their tones.  Phantasm, on the other hand, lends itself to early evening on the account of it’s surreal, hallucinatory tone.

And to the point of refreshments, I wholeheartedly endorse their consumption during film during any film, and especially during a binge. The longer your experience goes, the greater your need for supplemental nutrition will become. Furthermore Halloween binging is a pre-written excuse for consumption of Halloween candy and themed cocktails or sodas. Again: multi-disciplinary and multi-media.

 

Part Two: Franchise vs. Curated List

So what are we watching? Astute students of horror will know the stress of attempting to have the right films for the occasion.  So should you give in to the simple desire to pick a pre-arranged franchise of films, or should you do something more personally intensive?

This decision seems to be largely a matter of the time you have available to freely dedicate. For instance, one could easily spend nearly half a month dedicated the Halloween franchise.  At 13 films, this offers you a seemingly simple guidepost.  Or if you want this time frame more compacted, there are 10 Hellraiser films.  That is an easy way to spread a massive dose of horror over a mere handful of days.

However, that approach has it’s flaws. Academic communities have raged with argument over whether or not Halloween 3 should be included in the canon of the Halloween franchise. And that says nothing of the religious schisms caused by the Hellraiser entries that de-emphasize Doug Bradley as Pinhead.  

As an alternative, curated lists of films are an option with profound flexibility.  One could easily create a list such as “Roger Corman Productions,” or “Slashers from the 70s and 80s only.” This list approach offers a profound degree of personalization options. The exchange, however, is in that it requires time and effort to create these sorts of lists, whereas film franchises have strict guidelines.

 

Part Three: 31 for 31

Arguably the greatest challenge available for horror fans is the 31 Days of Halloween, or sometimes called “31 for 31.” Put simply, the goal is to watch 31 horror movies in the month of October, potentially watching a single horror film every day of the month of October. Like the pre-hibernation eating of bears to the onset of Winter, this approach offers horror fans the ability to carry a dose of Spooky with them throughout the remainder of the year.

But 31 for 31 is a daunting challenge.  It requires dedication and grit.  Students of VLU are no doubt accustomed to the rigors of serious horror study. (See my maddening discussion of Folk Horror, if you have somehow shaken off the trauma of that initial experience by now…and stop emailing me to pay your therapy bills.  The Court’s Orders are clear in their rejection of your claims.)  The decision to watch this amount of horror is reserved for either the foolhardy or most iron willed.

As such, your trusted professor has decided to undertake this challenge.  I set down some simple parameters for my attempt.

  • The films on the list must represent a broad stroke of genres and time periods.
  • The list should be a mix of familiar favorites and films I’ve never seen.
  • Roughly half of the list must be at the suggestion of my most esteemed colleagues.
  • No direct sequels. Thematic sequels are acceptable, but numbered/titled sequels are stictly forbidden.

As such, I present the Professor Yochum 31 for 31 Challenge of 2020.  This list is in a mostly random order, and presented as a way to cover as much ground in a month as is possible.

  1. Colour Out Of Space
  2. Midsommar
  3. Event Horizon
  4. Videodrome
  5. The Platform
  6. Audition
  7. Circle
  8. Suspiria
  9. Inferno
  10. The Spiral
  11. Halloween
  12. #Alive
  13. Castle Freak
  14. Nosferatu
  15. Mandy
  16. The Mummy (the Boris Karloff original)
  17. Dark Water
  18. The Ninth Gate
  19. Tigers Are Not Afraid
  20. Phantasm
  21. Chopping Mall
  22. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
  23. The Witch
  24. The Wicker Man
  25. Night Of The Living Dead (original)
  26. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  27. As Above, So Below
  28. Ju-On: The Grudge
  29. The Changling
  30. Horse Girl
  31. Hell House LLC

So, to our dear students, we here at VLU look forward to hearing how you intend to spend the month of October.  Please remember to share your notes with fellow students.

Train To Busan Movie Poster

Train to Busan

While American studios obsess over dull remakes and franchise films South Korea is making new horror classics. Train to Busan is proof of this.  Zombies have been told 100 different ways but when done right can still be a captivating story and Train to Busan gets it right.  It understands that zombies are not the primary focus but the obstacle that brings focus to light.  No, what Train to Busan is actually about is how we can save ourselves.  From climate change, income inequality, and so many other real-life problems the way forward is to look out and care for one another.  Selfishness will ultimately be our downfall. Without being cliche, hamfisted or trite Train to Busan hits this message home.

There are a few things in the movie I want to address.  First, are they actually zombies?  *Spoiler alert* A chemical leak causes the zombie outbreak to begin.  The ensuing monster does eat people, and they do die and come back to life but this feels like a weird hybrid of traditional zombies and 28 days later.  I’m not sure if I would necessarily classify them as zombies but I can be convinced otherwise too.  In the slow vs fast zombies though these are absolutely the fast ones.  They run like crazy and I feel that it adds an element of terror.  I like fast movie zombies.  I also really like how it’s their eyes that tell you if they turned or not.

It’s a nice visual touch to see someone’s eyes turn milky white as they become a zombie.  After that, you just need to look for the group of blood-drenched maniacs to know who the zombies are.

I also enjoyed that a child is the moral center of the film.  Adults are too jaded and warped to accomplish this role but a child’s innocence is exactly what was needed.  Played perfectly by Su-an Kim she adds a good dimension to this film about how we need to work together more and get past our biases, and distrust for one another.  She could have been just another child that is zombie bait and keeps the terror alive but instead, she adds her own touch to the overall theme of the movie.  I personally love it.

Next is how the zombie’s horde.  I love how we see large amounts of zombies pressing together and breaking down doors and windows. It’s rare to actually see a horde of zombies in action. They may not be able to think and work out simple things but they can see food on the other side and break down windows just by piling against it.  This movie does a fantastic job of showing this in action and I never knew how much I need it until I saw it.  It’s a new spin on the terror that a horde of zombies can bring.

Lastly, I loved how every time it felt they would fall into a trope of classic zombie tales they would take the other path and create a new unexpected twist.  You never actually know where this movie is taking you because it truly does rely on its own originality.  Just when you think you know the movie twists in a different way and keeps you on your feet. Hard to do in a genre that’s as well told as zombies but it manages it all the same.

So overall I cannot recommend this movie enough.  It’s fun, original, fearful and honestly heartfelt.  It’s a complete movie and one that should be seen by horror fanatics everywhere. Especially if you love a zombie film.

House of Wax

House Of Wax (2005)

I had no interest in this movie when it came out and I really wanted to hate it.  I was very anti-Paris Hilton and the entire famous for being wealthy movement that was going on in the early 2000s.  Even though a big part of the marketing campaign for this film was “Watch Paris Die” I couldn’t get behind it.  However, my wife wanted to watch this and I found myself actually enjoying this film while she hated it.  Funny how things work out sometimes.

Watching this movie again I can see the problems with the story.  The most glaring mistake is that HOLY SHIT HOT WAX BURNS!!!  I love how this movie ends but in reality there would be no survivors.  Putting aside that I still love the idea of a town tucked in the woods, long forgotten, with an interesting past.  My imagination eats that up and thinks about all the ways that this could actually happen.  This is also a more elaborate, less gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Think about it.  Teens needing help, wandering into the wrong area.  Encounter a psycho hillbilly along the way.  I just kept thinking about how similar in structure these movies were.  Dark Castle films had that kind of history.  Just as Ghost Ship was Event Horizon at sea this is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with wax instead of chainsaws.

This is now the fourth Dark Castle horror film I have written about and what surprised me the most was the rather bland beginning.  Every other Dark Castle film has started with a bang, shout out to Ghost Ship, but this was just meh.  Waist-high shots of parents raising two kids where one is perfect and the other is a terror.  Truthfully the movie would have been fine without it.  I went back and watched the alternate beginning of this movie but didn’t find it to be any more impressive.  It was generic at best.  What happened Dark Castle?  You were doing one thing really well and for some reason, you abandoned it here.

I did notice though, the casting director hits it out of the park again.  Our merry cast of teenagers is Carly (Elisha Cuthbert), Nick (Chad Michael Murray), Paige (Paris Hilton), Wade (Jared Padalecki), Dalton (Jon Abrams), and Blake (Robert Ri’chard).  The difference this time is that many of the cast members have already had TV success.  Elisha Cuthbert was big from 24.  Chad Michael Murray and Jared Padalecki have also already appeared together on the Gilmore Girls.  It’s an impressive cast and they turn in good performances.  I really liked how Nick and Carly work together.  Some felt there was an incestual relationship there but I never saw that.  There were no romantic sparks between them, just siblings working together in order to survive.  They really portrayed that sibling relationship well and you got a sense that they knew when to zig and when to zag as one.

House of Wax Town

Arriving in the town is also when I began screaming at Wade.  The guy just didn’t seem to have an ounce of self-preservation in him.  Carly is plenty worried about the oddness of the people they encounter and the overall vibe of the town.  Wade, however, is a big idiot who keeps poking his head where it doesn’t belong.  As a result, he suffers what I believe to be one of the most horrific deaths of the movie.  The guy cannot read a room or in this case a town.  Classic horror victim.

The town itself is fascinating.  All done in 50’s art deco you get a creepy where is everyone type of atmosphere.  It’s my favorite part honestly.  Exploring the town and slowly discovering that everybody is wax.  The time it took for Bo and Vincent (our killers) to create this is incredible.  I want a haunted house that is just me wandering around this town.  Eventually, I make my way to the grand finale of the House of Wax.  We all want to wander around an open environment that just oozes creepy.  Can you imagine how much fun that would be?

 

Wax Figure

This is what I mean though.  This movie gets me thinking about everything except what’s going on in the movie itself.  It’s generic, predictable and overall just okay.  I don’t hate it, but it’s not anywhere close to a favorite either.  It’s just that sometimes you want a movie that you can dream yourself into.  This entire set is incredible and fun to imagine all the possibilities with.  It’s what I love.  Without it the movie is nothing and if they spent the entire time in the House of Wax I would get real bored, real quick.

So do I recommend you watch it?  If you feel like it.  I know it’s not the strongest recommendation but seriously I have seen worst.  I’ll continue to revisit it from time to time but I’m not going to suggest to my friends we sit and watch it.  It is what it is.

What do you think of House of Wax?  Was the Paris Hilton death scene good enough for you?  It was widely told that people in the theaters clapped when she died.  Let me know in the comments what you think.