Last year, I wrote about my annual 31 Days of Halloween "challenge." I suppose, when I started the practice, it was a challenge. Watching 31 movies in so many days can be a difficult undertaking. That's why I expanded the timeline to include September and October. With the expanded timeline, the number of movies I watched grew as well. Why? Because it became less of a challenge.
In years past I've drawn from a planning list, filtering by what's currently available to stream. I add to this list throughout the year as I come across horror movies I'd like to see. I remove films from this list as they are watched in accordance with the rules of the challenge.
The rules are simple:
😱 Watch at least 31 previously unwatched horror movies.
👻 Mix it up by watching different subgenres and franchises.
🧟♂️ Roll over the remainder to next year's planning list!
I've become pretty comfortable with this format. It's easy to pull by mood. The drawback to this is that the final list ends up featuring pockets of similar flicks.
Taking last year as an example, I watched a lot of great movies. But I also played it safe and gave up too many spots to multiples within franchises. In addition to the entire Terrifier franchise (comprised by an anthology, two shorts, and two films), I logged a whopping six Scooby-Doo movies. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. They're all movies I've not seen before, but it's a stark example of how unchallenging this yearly tradition has become. This year I'm changing it up.
This year, I decided to pre-draft my list. It took some more work to hunt down the movies on my list, but I want to watch more good movies this year (with a few bad sprinkled in for good measure).
To start, I added all of the unwatched horror flicks from the critics lists on my stats page. This includes the Letterboxd and IMDb Top 250, Box Office Mojo All Time 100, and a few more. From there I alternated between my watchlist and planning list to fill out 61 days. I used a loose array of categories to keep the assortment varied. Those are found in this list's notes.
This list also includes the 7 horror flicks from this year's Movie Draft that are scheduled within my 61 Days window. Last year I counted these as part of my 61 Days. This year they are represented in the list, but as additions. They are found at the end of this list and their draft categories are denoted as well. This brings this year's total to 68 horror movies.
- 12 foreign countries, including Japan (8), Czech Republic (3), Italy (3), France (2), UK (2), Sweden (2), Canada (2), Germany (2), South Korea, Chile, Austria, and Hong Kong.
- 12 foreign languages, including Czech, Italian, French, Japanese, Swedish, Spanish, Latin, German, Cantonese, Chinese, Korean, and Tagalog
- Decades: 1920s (1), 1930s (2), 1950s (3), 1960s (6), 1970s (14), 1980s (14), 1990s (6), 2000s (7), 2010s (11), 2020s (5)
- 38 films previously existed on my Letterboxd watchlist.
I'm very excited about this list. Like years past, I gave Mae a few picks for us to watch together. Reviewing my favorites from last year, it's clear my tastes lay in the past. As such, there is a definite emphasis on "classics" planned for this cycle. I'll watch through the thrillers first, saving the ghost stories and more specifically spooky entries for October.
Below I've written about some of my favorites (in the order they were seen), some reflection on the challenge, and thoughts on what I'll do next year. Check out all of my previous 31 Days of Halloween lists on Letterboxd.
King Kong (1933)
I'm continuing to catch up on Hollywood's horror classics. Like Frankenstein last year, I'm sure I've seen some portion of this in the past. Still, taking it all in from start to finish was a new experience. Some of the great ape's facial expressions are a little corny today, but the effects and romance of its time hold up well.
Side note: Humans suck.
I love a good thriller, particularly a detective story. Cure captures the horrific intrigue of Se7en with a layer of the supernatural, which is actually grounded in theoretical psychology. The result is a masterful mystery with mood and pace perfected.
The way this movie reveals the mystery in stages is methodical and brilliant. All the while we learn more about our protagonist and the concerns he has at home. I love when a detective builds a relationship with their suspect, making them a mirror for their own problems. Cure pushes this in profound new ways. Those Kurosawa blokes know how to make movies. Even the credits are cool.
Not only is this one of my favorites in the challenge or in the noir category, it's jumped right to the top my Japanese films list. It's clear how this has influenced some of my favorite Korean filmmakers like Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. Memories of Murder is absolutely being watched by year's end. Beyond that, I can't wait to revisit this down the line.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
I believe this to be the first western picture in the history of my marathon. There aren't a whole lot of western horrors, but I'd love to see more like this.
The conceit of the film is that a sadistic tribe of cannibal natives abduct two members of a small western town and a small band of rescuers pursue. The sheriff, his aging but affable deputy, a smarmy gunslinger, and a critically injured cattle man whose wife was one of the white people taken make up the party. Desert hijinks ensue.
What the movie is about, however, are small acts of kindness in dark places. Richard Jenkins' character is a joy to spend time with and the plot is more than serviceable with some really neat ideas when it comes to the troglodyte tribe.
I Saw The Devil (2010)
It's no surprise that the one South Korean film on my list left its mark. I've left I Saw The Devil unwatched for far too long. If I'm not mistaken, this has been one of the longest kept movies on my Letterboxd watchlist. Checking it off feels as gratifying as the movie was.
Devil bears similarities to Cure in that they are detective stories centered around a serial killer and personal revenge. The difference is in the method the detective takes to find the killer and the trail of violence left behind the hunt.
Detestable as Kyung-chul is, he's played so masterfully by Choi Min-sik that I found myself occasionally convinced that he should be the subject of my pity.
One of the best things I've done in the last two years is get deep into the filmography of Michael Mann. I've been picking one of his movies for the film draft I do with my mates every year we've done it and come out with a new favorite. He's got his own tone that works extremely well for a story like this one. Mann's sense of color is exquisite and he commissions the best scores. This one might even be my favorite.
I watched a very bizarre HD "Director's Cut" where some grainy SD shots/scenes are spliced back in. It wasn't a great first experience, but it's clear there is a excellent movie under there. I've since replaced this with a copy of the theatrical version for future viewings.
"My mama says that teenagers are ornery because they got all them sins and no Jesus."
I've seen pieces of Carrie over the years—how can you not?—but never the full thing. It's an efficient little movie where a lot of bad things happen in spite of best intentions. Perhaps the most concise of King's work about people with powers. I loved this.
Deep Red (1975)
Really cool movie with a killer soundtrack. Argento is my kind of director. Very glad to have also added Suspiria to my list yet this year (this is the second time this has unintentionally happened. See: The Cremator).
If I'm coming out of this marathon with any plans for the future, it's a more extensive tour of giallo. Deep Red is the first proper movie of that genre I've taken in and it bears company.
Dead Ringers (1988)
This handily tops my list of Cronenberg pictures. It shows a restrained use of body horror which, in this picture, is based in a more mainstream medical practice. He couldn’t help himself in the nightmare scene, but I’ll allow it.
The twin performances by Irons are subtle and wholly effective. Costuming during the operating procedures is particularly inspired.
A wonderful French thriller about a frail woman and her stronger-willed companion escaping abuse and getting away with it—sort of.
This one kept me on my toes. Highly recommended.
Funny Games (1997)
Violence does not need to happen on screen to be effective.
I added this one to a few lists relating to stress and the bleakness of humanity. Why Michael Haneke thought this needed to be remade is beyond me.
Demons / Shura (1971)
Finding a quality copy of this took a minute, but it was worth it. The contrast is absolutely beautiful in high def.
That contrast works so well once the violence kicks in. The blood pouring down the faces of Gengobe’s victims is indistinguishable from the deep shadows swallowing up the scene. I love the lighting and camera panning work.
Gengobe’s inability (or unwillingness) to learn or derivate from his dreams and fantasies is tragic, but honest. Between visions of the possible futures and frequent flashbacks to the past, the ronin refuses to remain in the present. By the time he’s inspired to do so by the sacrifice of his most loyal servant, it’s too late.
Shura is bold, dark, and stirring. It’s gorgeous to look at, showing a mastery of light and composition. It’s a masterclass drama worth searching for.
If you’re reading this and happen to have a copy of the Japanese Blu-ray you’d like to sell, reach out!
Penda's Fen (1974)
Alan Clarke was a rather influential writer and director who worked primarily in the medium of teleplays. Penda's Fen is one such play that's become a cult favorite and was even included in Severin's All Haunts Be Ours compendium of folk horror I reviewed last year.
It's a complex little story with a lot of themes running through it. Religion, nationalism, and sexuality just begin to brush the surface. The dialogue in this fantastic, courtesy of David Rudkin.
The Cremator (1969)
Mr. Kopfrkingl enjoys his job at a crematorium in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. He likes reading the Tibetan book of the dead, and espouses the view that cremation relieves earthly suffering.
I didn't know what to expect from The Cremator. It has appeared on a number of "top" lists on Letterboxd and it's received the Criterion treatment, but it's the first Czechoslovakian movie I've ever watched. I can tell you now that the bar is ridiculously high.
The editing and cinematography in this picture is astonishing and relentlessly inventive. The use of fish-eye lens adds drama to Kopfrkingl's decent into madness and the cuts between scenes blur by way of character movement and looks directly into camera. The intended result is frequent confusion for the viewer, which plays out successfully time and time again. You really have to see it to understand.
Not only is this my favorite movie of this year's marathon, The Cremator has easily jumped into my favorite films of all time. By happenstance, I also had Herz' adaptation of Beauty and The Beast on my list for this year. And although my anticipation for it increased greatly after watching this film, I didn't love it in the same way.
The Elephant Man (1980)
A beautiful movie, through and through. I adore Lynch's focus on John Merrick's love for his mother as his emotional tether to a world so utterly cruel to him. Whether or not the real Joseph Merrick bears any interpersonal resemblance to John Hurt's remarkable performance is unimportant. The legacy of this movie shines light on inner beauty and the impact of that to those we come in contact with.
From a technical perspective, the monochrome stock used on this picture is beautiful and the makeup design for Merrick very impressive. It's probably time to give Lynch the marathon he is due.
This Swedish masterpiece is the oldest film on my list. Beautifully restored and tinted in 2016, it's a beautiful thing to behold. Sure, the contextual sections are a little boring, but the live action is unbelievabling striking and rich. The set dressing truly beautiful. There will never be anything like it.
Can I get a “hell yea” for a Goblin score?
Argento manages a genuine feeling of magic and mysticism that’s so rare in genre films. The sets, the score, and the lighting do a lot of heavy lifting here but the story is rock solid. I can understand why Luca would want to attempt a modern retelling, but it was hardly necessary. This is a masterful work.
I also watched the 2018 remake and found myself conflicted. It's a very competent film and very different from its predecessor. Where Argento bathed his movie in rich colors, Guadagnino's almost entirely devoid of it. Where the Goblin soundtrack bites and excites, Thom Yorke's drones and croons. It's a fine movie, excellently made with a crazy memorable ending, but I don't prefer it.
The second Czechoslovakian film in my list did not disappoint. I've been looking forward to this one since watching the Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched folk horror documentary a few years back. Witchhammer adeptly puts into practice the learnings of Christensen’s Häxan within the context of a fully realized drama. They compliment each other and make for a nice double feature.
Side note: You can’t tell me Soňa Valentová isn’t related to Mila Kunis.
A knockout performance by Isabelle Adjani. Incredible commitment to the part(s). Sam Neill was such a weirdo. At very few points did I feel like I understood what was going on. Points for that. This is Cronenbergian filmmaking at its finest.
Let The Right One In (2008)
An extremely tender horror picture. Mysterious and dark, but never taken out of a child's frame of mind for very long. Very unique and tremendously endearing.
Kwaidan is not so much a horror film as an anthology of Japanese folk tales. It's beautiful to behold. Every soundstage is gorgeous. The storybook nature of this film makes for a great introduction to older Japanese pictures. It’s very easy to watch a portion at a time.
I wrote more about each of the four segments, but Hoichi The Earless was my favorite. 7 years and a drastically different part from Gengobe (Shura, 1971) obscured Katsuo Nakamura from recognition.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Golly, what a picture. The social anxiety burdened by the Castevets is terror enough. Wonderfully compact, featuring a dynamic performance by the lovely Mia Farrow. I absolutely loved this.
The Thing (1980)
I'm surprised I came into this knowing so little about the plot. The Thing is not quite as great as Alien, but definitely as good as Aliens. Even without any character development apart from the guy that clearly loves dogs, it’s very much my shit.
Maybe the devoted will disagree, but I don’t think the movie needs the UFOs at all. Antarctica is mysterious enough as it is. That’s why we have research facilities there. Otherwise, it’s a genius setting that used really well. We love a "nobody can hear you scream" movie setting that Jim Cameron hasn’t touched yet.
This probably warrants many rewatches. Glad to have finally added it to my film canon.
It's very cool this exists. I cant see any globally recognized news network even attempting something like this today. It just wouldn't work.
The little spooky details are what have elevated this from a scrappy one-time broadcast to an eternally enjoyable piece of Halloween media. Very rewatchable.
Rear Window (1954)
The sets! The camera! The stars! Nobody plays a grouchy skeptic like James Stewart. This is a masterpiece.
An exciting and thrilling serial killer chase. Peter Lorre's unmistakable visage is perfectly cast as this psychopathic weirdo. He plays it like a silent picture where his eyes do all the talking.
M is full of rich vignettes that tell the full story of a city besieged by terror. It's a timeless tale of fact vs fiction, crowd-mentality, and justice.
The goal this year was to make my movie marathon a challenge and I think I managed that. 61 pre-drafted movies, 8 horror flicks from another challenge, plus 2 spontaneous watches with other friends brought the list to a full 71 films. That made this the most ambitious marathon yet and I nearly watched them all, coming up just 3 movies short in the end.
Extenuating circumstances at the tail end of October limited my couch time, but I'm calling it a victory. The hard truth is, life is busier than it was during quarantine. I watched a LOT of movies, many of them foreign films that required every inch of my focus. I found a lot of new favorites. 27 of them I rated 4+ stars. It was a solid challenge that I'll never do again at this volume.
I'm already looking ahead to next year. I don't have a finalized list or anything, but I think I've settled on a framework I'm happy with. Following the three mainstay rules described at the top of this post, I'm returning to a 31-film format. I'll allow myself further watches, but I'm only prescribing the minimum.
Like this year, I plan to add any unwatched horror flicks from the critics lists on the All-stats page. A late addition to this page this year was the Top 250 Horror films list (currently 97/250). In the spirit of closing some loops, I'll draft primarily from this list while occasionally picking from my watchlist and planning list. I'll continue to use a loose array of categories to keep the assortment varied.
Overall, I'm both exhausted and very pleased with what I watched this year. I bought a few of my favorites from this year and year's past on Blu-ray, meaning I'm now a full-fledged Criterion boy. I'm planning some different challenges for next year that expand on horror, for which I feel I now have a very solid base.