At the beginning of October, I decided to introduce a theme to my film-watching activity in order to co-ordinate with the then-upcoming Halloween season, which is really just one day but culturally it starts about a week before that with people discussing costumes and the film spheres have daily discussions about the best and worst horror films.
So I decided to tackle some horror I hadn’t seen yet. Now, I didn’t get through that much in retrospect, but I ticked off a few heavy hitters and found some hidden gems that I never would have watched otherwise. So, I’m calling this October Horror Month a rousing success. I’m going to break down everything that I watched, provide a little review and then because I’m me and if you know this blog at all you know this is coming, I’m going to rank all of these first-time watches and crown an October Horror Month champion. Keep reading to find out what it is!
The reviews will go in chronological order and then the ranking will be at the end.
So, here’s every horror film I watched in October 2021!
1. Malignant (2021) dir. James Wan
Starting out my October Horror Month with a recent release, one that I was very excited to see. Wan has been a stalwart name in horror filmmaking for almost two decades now and I’ve at the very least appreciated everything of his I’ve seen from Saw to the first two Insidious movies. Malignant feels like Wan preparing to dial himself up to an 11 on his own scale. Spending the first hour or so tightly controlling a slightly unnerving police procedural about a serial killer, Wan baits you into expecting the ending to follow suit, only to pull the rug from underneath you in a bloodily spectacular fashion. Led by a career-best performance from Annabelle Wallis, Malignant veers off into insanity, providing a satisfying number of inventive kill sequences, a lot of tension, and a twisty conclusion that’s well-signposted but mostly shocks in the how of it all rather than the what. While it does have some clumsy thematic writing though which sours the experience a little for me, I’m choosing not to dwell on that or the uninspired first act because of how much fun I had with the gruesome, cerebral finale. Just a lot of fun!
2. Drag Me to Hell (2009) dir. Sam Raimi
From one master of horror to another, I’d been anticipating watching Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell for a while and I certainly was not disappointed. The movie sees Alison Lohman (in a performance that doesn’t seem to get enough credit) play Christine, a loan officer who faces a hellish curse after she denies an elderly woman a loan extension. Raimi taps in the freakishly weird and funny horror stylings and really tries to gross out his audience without jumping the shark. He succeeds in many ways, particularly during the first car scene and his overall set-up of Sylvia which is just horrific. The movie sees Justin Long play his version of the sceptical boyfriend who is caring but also too rational to believe in anything otherworldly. That’s about where the tropes seem to end, then it’s just a brisk, entertaining ride until an absolute killer of an ending. It ends exactly how I hoped it would, but never thought it would. Raimi has my respect anyway, but now he has my undying respect due to how much I smiled when I realised what was happening. A fun time all around with enough to satisfy horror fans but sticks to its PG-13 rating quite rigidly and does about enough to give everyone a really good movie experience.
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999) dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
With its reputation of being the grandmaster of all found-footage horror films, I was excited to finally experience the terror that I had been hearing so much about. That such a simple premise with such a low budget had garnered such a reputation was interesting to me, and I understand it a little better now. While not outright terrifying, there’s no doubt that The Blair Witch Project has some chilling moments, but it relies very heavily on the audience’s imagination. Most, if not all, of the scary moments, are sort of obfuscated from the screen and the movie asks the audience to answer the question that’s likely been on their minds since that haunting opening title card: “What happened to those three in the woods?” The question is answered in the most basic form possible, the camera capturing implications rather than moments of horror. And that’s absolutely fine and actually an intriguing concept directorially and I enjoy when an audience has to put in some work to get something from the film, but I don’t enjoy doing all of the work. Add to this the fact that the three characters are super annoying and don’t stop yelling at each other for most of the film (understandably due to hunger, discomfort, and fear), and you get a movie that can’t quite grow to be more than the heightened expectations of its own horrifying premise.
4. The Descent (2005) dir. Neil Marshall
The Descent is pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. I only knew the title and a few brief reviews and it’s pretty much what I signed up for. I didn’t realise it had an all-female cast though and I love to see that. Women who have issues with each other but aren’t tearing each other down and can communicate those issues in a healthy, emotionally open way…we love to see it! Neil Marshall does a great job with the infliction of terror here and he utilises the inevitable darkness in such an interesting way. I was gripped from start to finish, chilled to the bone yet satisfied with the gruesome kills and claustrophobic nightmares these women were trapped in. Honestly, it’s acclaimed for a reason and I’ll definitely be revisiting, but I do think that the acting could’ve been a little better in places. But it almost doesn’t matter because the main focal points of the film are executed brilliantly for some great scares and a lasting sense of unease that stays with you until the very end.
5. The Night House (2021) dir. David Bruckner
I’d been excited for this one and I pretty much went in blind, without even reading the premise. I knew that reviews had praised Rebecca Hall’s performance and that was all I needed. Great female horror performances usually bode well for me (Us, Hereditary, The Invisible Man) and I was ready to add Rebecca Hall to that list. And she is sublime. The Night House overall is mostly pretty excellent. Bruckner’s direction really shines, particularly in the use of atmosphere and the visual sequences, which compensates for the uneven writing. It starts off strongly, really doubling down on the depiction of grief and depression while intertwining some horror elements in a way that reminded me of Personal Shopper (a huge compliment). As the narrative progressed, it did lose me a little with some of the story reveals that came particularly in the third act. Hall carries the film pretty much through its shaky conclusion and manages to just about sell some of the less inspired narrative developments, but the fact that the film hinges on Hall’s performance is a problem. She’s good enough to do it, but it means that the writing is allowed a free pass. I wanted to love this more and I could’ve if the script had gone through a few more drafts or something.
6. Possession (1981) dir. Andrzej Żuławski
This has been on my list for a while and I’m so glad I finally got around to watching it. I didn’t realise it was going to unfold the way it did, but I was quite happy watching Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani have their own Kramer vs Kramer moment. They’re so good in these roles, particularly Adjani who absolutely has the harder performance. The things she has to do in this film, particularly to try and sell the subway scene…she pulls it off and turns in a tremendous performance. Neill is no slouch either as he traverses the insanity of whatever the hell is happening and shares in the audience’s confusion without losing any of his integrity and emotion, it’s really skilled work from him. Plus he really enjoys taking his clothes off on film, doesn’t he? Not that I blame him one little bit, of course. Anyway, getting off track thinking about Sam Neill…Possession is both what I expected and nothing that I expected it to be. Żuławski’s prowess with the camera is on full display here, circling around his actors and using perspective to advance the story. Possession is grimy, insane, and an absolute very good time (not for the characters, but for its audience). I love diving into earlier horror and seeing what was inspired by each film and how the genre has shifted into what it is today. I’ll definitely be looking into a lot more 20th-century horror after this. Loved it.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) dir. Wes Craven
It’s time for horror legend Wes Craven to enter the chat and what a way to start! A Nightmare on Elm Street is so fast-paced and always raising its own stakes that the 90-minute runtime flies by, producing new scares at every turn and a resonant story to go along with it. The performances are fine, I think Ronee Blakley deserves a lot of credit for her work here, though. I believe I’ve actually seen the remake of this, so the story wasn’t really too shocking, but I know that if I had gone in blind I would have been even more impressed by the writing. Craven is skilled behind the camera too, always using inventive perspectives to help to tell his story. It’s got a lot of that 80’s camp horror going for it, which is to be expected considering it was released towards the middle of that decade, but it manages to walk a tightrope between overly campy and seriously scary and that’s not an easy feat for a concept like this. Craven manages to make Nancy’s paranoia believable which also gives credibility to the adults who don’t believe her. I really liked this movie and I know it’ll only get better with rewatches. Whether I delve into the rest of the series during this month, I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely going to in the future.
8. The Empty Man (2020) dir. David Prior
This one’s had an interesting little history. Making only 25% of its budget at the box office, largely due to being dumped onto VOD in a lot of countries, The Empty Man has sort of gained a resurgence of interest following its release. Audiences have started to view it differently than they had based on its marketing which did not do it justice as I barely heard a peep about it until after its on-demand status. I had a really great time with this one, honestly, and I think David Prior has a lot of talent behind the camera and delivers an impressive debut feature effort. I’m unsure how faithfully this stuck to the graphic novel source material, but Prior also turns in some good writing and establishes a dense, creepy tone right from the prologue, which I thought was going to continue and become the whole film, but I’m now glad the tone shifted to James Badge Dale’s enigmatic former-cop protagonist and the mystery of The Empty Man. Less straight-up horror than I thought it would be, but (much like Malignant) combines its procedural and horror elements together well enough that you’re not really clamouring for more of either. I feel as though I’m an outlier as to how I feel about the ending, but I thought the final 25 minutes were superb. The “limbo” sequence is as good as any montage you’ll see. I can understand the hesitation to jump on board this one, but I am absolutely all in for it in a million different ways. Very, very impressed.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)dir. Jack Sholder
Despite my lack of certainty about continuing after I watched the first movie, I did marathon the rest of them in one day. I couldn’t shake how good the first was, so I carried on. So think about the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie, add a dose of surrealism in its nightmare imagery, a sexually-confused protagonist, a hot himbo friend, and a whole lot of delusion and angst and you’ve got yourself a fine sequel. It’s not quite the first one in terms of quality, particularly because it’s missing Wes Craven’s signature touch in both the script and behind the camera. But it’s just as creepy as the first even though it focuses on different things. The gay subtext is a much-discussed issue in horror circles and there’s debate on whether it’s a respectable depiction of teenage sexuality. I think it’s quite plain to see in its use of images: the men are rarely fully-clothed, there’s a literal scene at a gay bar, I could go on, but I think Freddy’s Revenge succeeds less as a horror sequel and more as a study into the shame associated with questioning your sexuality as an adolescent. The confusion Jesse feels through his nightmares echoes what he is seemingly feeling about his sexuality. I think that’s a pretty cool allegory, I just wish the actual horror film on the surface was a little better. Excited to soldier on with the series though.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) dir. Chuck Russell
I appreciate the concept and the melding of horror with trauma, but it doesn’t delve deep enough into any of these characters to truly make that theme ring true. There’s some nice writing across the surface, but Dream Warriors feels like it has a strong premise with no real idea of how to execute it. Freddy is the least scary he’s ever been despite the setting, I suppose it’s nice to see Nancy once again, but this really just failed to grab me. Even with the parts, I disliked about Freddy’s Revenge, I found some deeper exploration in it. With Dream Warriors, it feels like it’s all surface without any real depth. Hopefully, this is just a slump and that The Dream Master can bring it home for me.
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) dir. Renny Harlin
A definite step up from the last one, that’s for sure. Harlin knows exactly what he’s doing and the script is a lot better! There are characters that are explored, a really awesome progression in the dream logic, having Alice sort of ‘feel’ the deaths of the other characters, while everything is tied together with the last few entries. Really great stuff and has a hot himbo boy, what more could I have asked for? I am getting just a little tired of the formula of the teenagers having these experiences and the parents thinking that they just need to sleep it off or that they’re on drugs or something…it’s getting very rote even for this series. Let’s have some variety in the rest of the series, yes?
12. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989) dir. Stephen Hopkins
On the surface, there are some fun ideas here. The baby being the one who’s dreaming and giving Freddy access sounds like a cool twist. The comic book sequence should’ve been legendary. Instead, this whole thing plays out like a derivative, pro-life propaganda piece with recycled ideas and barely any progression of anything at all. Alice is a good character though, but this movie can’t take credit for that. This is literally just my Letterboxd review verbatim because I can’t think of anything to say without completely going all Freddy and slashing this thing to pieces and I really don’t want to do that.
13. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) dir. Rachel Talalay
I really just have nothing to say about this one. The story’s boring, the reveal is poorly executed, and none of the characters are actually very interesting. The sixth movie in and everything has gotten a little stale, unfortunately including Robert Englund’s turn as Freddy, it’s just not good anymore. I know that Wes Craven returns next to make a sort-of sequel thing that I don’t really know much about and I’m quite curious to see what he cooks up. Because this…this is just bad. It makes The Dream Child looks competent.
14. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) dir. Wes Craven
King Wes is back, baby!! With an inspired new take on the series, echoing and lampshading the typical Nightmare on Elm Street formula that had become rote in the last few films and acknowledging the popularity of the franchise. I wasn’t fully on board with a lot of things that were happening throughout, but I was on board enough to know that I liked it and the direction it went in. Craven understands the horror genre like not many filmmakers do. It’s completely refreshing and one of my favourites of the franchise.
15. Hush (2016) dir. Mike Flanagan
Hush has a very simple premise. A deaf-mute author named Maddie is faced with a masked killer who enters her home and tries to murder her. Simple, right? Mike Flanagan takes this and runs the whole 80 minutes with it, both to its credit and its detriment. Kate Siegel is great in the role but it’s quite a thin film in terms of character, plot, and layering which is surprising for someone who can combine scares and emotions the way that Flanagan has proven himself to be able to do. It’s really good though, and the tension is so sharp the whole way through, even if the simplicity of the cat/mouse stuff makes it run a little dry by the end. My fatal flaw also is that I would trust John Gallagher Jr with my life even if he showed up at my door with a crossbow. Final girl, I am not.
16. The Babadook (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
Now, this is how you do a horror film. Jennifer Kent’s sublime direction paired with Essie Davis’ powerful performance as a grieving, exhausted mother creates a bleak, chilling atmosphere that never once flinches away from revealing its true villain: grief and depression. But The Babadook is more than just an allegory for grief. It’s haunting, touching, and immaculately assembled. Even at less than 90 minutes, this thing runs so smoothly; not one cut is wasted, not one part of this film feels out of place. It’s stunning, stunning work from everyone involved and a shining example of the heights that modern horror can reach. Would love to do a double bill with Hereditary one day. Just for fun.
17. The Exorcist (1973) dir. William Friedkin
A classic in its own right, The Exorcist is probably the most ‘famous’ horror movie that I haven’t seen yet, although there are definitely a few that are escaping me right now. There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s still scary or whether it’s just outdated. From a film that caused seizures and all sorts of medical maladies during its theatrical tenure, The Exorcist has now become a shadow of itself, even the fact that it’s being debated means it’s lost a little of its spark. But I think it’s tremendous, more than a little disturbing, excellently directed and acted, not to mention one of the most inspired Best Picture nominees we’ve ever had at the Oscars. Ellen Burstyn is great, Jason Miller is tremendous, and Linda Blair is somehow even better. The sound work is also absolutely top-notch and makes it even scarier than it is. I watched this late at night with the lights off and sound up and I was pretty spooked. Damien Karras is one of the best characters in horror cinema ever I think. A classic for a reason!
18. Cat People (1942) dir. Jacques Tourneur
Doubles as a slight horror film and exercise in exploring the sexuality and repression of the age. The whole film hinges on the lack of physical intimacy between the main characters, which supports the plot going forward and starts to produce cracks in the relationship. The psychological paranoia is quite interesting especially with such a silly-sounding plot, but the actors all do great jobs in pushing the believability in every scene. The use of lighting, in particular the gorgeous shadow play, really does produce most of the horror contained in this one as the story moves far too quick to linger on any specific scares. The devil’s in the subtext for this one and I honestly don’t mind that one bit. Need to get into more Tourneur after this for sure.
19. Sinister (2012) dir. Scott Derrickson
Derrickson manages to keep up the creepy factor throughout quite a bit of the runtime, even during the perhaps too procedural mystery elements, but it’s Ethan Hawke’s committed performance and Christopher Young’s spooky score that keep this one ticking along. Hawke is so good in everything he does and so immensely watchable. What would’ve been just an ordinary horror/thriller becomes something with real guts and depth, largely due to his performance.
20. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) dir. Tobe Hooper
I think the thing that sets this apart for me is the direction. Tobe Hooper does everything right. Building the atmosphere of a claustrophobically scorching summer’s day that bleeds into a hellish night and culminates in a dreary dawn sunrise, Hooper controls the fear levels at every turn. Starting with that sickeningly chilling opening narration, the movie is rarely not gruesome and horrific. The door opens for the first time and there’s barely a moment to stop and think. This really resonates because the characters experience that too, particularly our everywoman final girl, Sally, who doesn’t do anything particularly cunning or devious to escape, she just screams her head off and runs around which I can really relate to and respect. Hooper coats this entire movie in exhaustion, which easily leads to fear, suspense, and one of the most iconic horror endings of all time.
21. Last Night in Soho (2021) dir. Edgar Wright
It’s fitting that my first new release horror film seen in the cinemas of this Monthly post came almost right at the end, just two days before Halloween, and that it also ends up being my final watch of the month. This was a very highly anticipated release for me, from a director I respect featuring two of my favourite young actresses. The two put in strong showings: Thomasin McKenzie is absolutely dazzling as our protagonist Eloise, a budding young fashion designer who becomes haunted by a mystery from the 1960s involving a young performer, played by Anya Taylor Joy. McKenzie uses all her innocence to endear us to Eloise before letting loose and putting in a performance that, in my opinion, stands with the best of the horror genre. Taylor Joy is one of the biggest stars of the last few years and has become a household name in her own right, but unfortunately, she doesn’t get much meat to chew on. She seems perfectly at home playing a 1960’s young starlet, evoking the glamour and poise of Old Hollywood, but Wright and Wilson-Cairns don’t seem to dig deeper into her character, at least enough to give her some nuance to play around with. This is part of the problem with Last Night in Soho, something that starts as a dazzling ode to the ’60s and features some truly breathtaking sequences, including the first foray into our new dreamland. When the final 45 minutes or so starts to take a turn into the rote, grating murder-mystery of a lot of recent horror disappointments, Wright loses control of his themes and presents a predictable third act, one that is such a massive disappointment to me after the exceptional first hour that it brings the whole project down with it. There are some spooky sequences, but they lose steam as the narrative struggles to maintain the wonder and freshness of the opening act. Despite the relative weakness of the script compared to the visual wonder, it’s good to see original horror concepts on the big screen.
So there they are! 21 horror films that I watched, and 20 of them for the first time! I had already seen Sinister so that was more of a refresher than anything as I barely remembered some of it. Never forget Ethan Hawke exuding big dad energy though.
Now onto the ranking! If you care to, stop reading here and comment on what you think my favourite watch is going to be purely based on my comments! And then read on to find out!
21. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
19. The Blair Witch Project
18. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
17. Last Night in Soho
15. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
14. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
13. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
11. The Night House
9. The Descent
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street
7. Cat People
6. The Empty Man
5. The Exorcist
4. Drag Me to Hell
3. The Babadook
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Yes, it comes as no surprise that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is my favourite horror of the month and immediately becomes one of my favourite of all time.
This was a really fun project to do, picking and choosing a mixture of classics, new releases, and films I wouldn’t have even thought of watching before. I’m not sure whether I’ll do any more themes in the future as I’d like to get back to regularly scheduled programming in my watchlist as well as preparing for Oscar season, but I’ve really enjoyed doing a round-up style post, so I might bring back my monthly round-ups heading into 2022…
I hope everyone had a safe and spooky Halloween and I look forward to bringing out some new posts in November. Next up will probably be my review for the much-anticipated Spencer.
The power of Isabelle Adjani compels you to give this post a like.