Traditionally, Halloween night is a night when I get together with friends and watch awful horror movies and if that’s not possible, Halloween III (it’s an absolute classic – don’t you judge me).
This year that’s not proving possible, sadly, but over the last couple of nights I’ve been entertaining myself watching some classic films on the Netflix and Amazon Prime (now that I’ve discovered how to work Amazon Prime on the laptop). My plan for later tonight is to watch Eat Locals and possibly It (Part One) depending on when the last trick or treater turns up.
Although that said I might just watch Dog Soldiers again. It’s been about a month since last time I watched it. Decisions, decisions.
However, before I do that, here’s half-a-dozen recommendations for great (for a given value) movies that you might enjoy this Halloween evening. They’re all either on Netflix or available free with an Amazon Prime subscription because I am nothing if not cheap. They’re not explicitly Halloween movies – I watched “Tales of Halloween” last night to see if it would make the cut and it didn’t and that was the only explicitly Halloween themed movie on my watch list. It wasn’t bad incidentally, just not great. And this list has both Lifeforce and The Lair of the White Worm on it.
Damn now I feel bad for Tales of Halloween and want to add it back onto the list but I’m going to be strong. Watch it if you like – one or two of the stories are fun and there’s plenty of knowing nods to the genre but it’s not making the cut tonight so stop hassling me. God!
I’ve presented them in chronological order, because there’s no point doing a list in order of worst-to-best when all the entries are just great. Arguably.
TL:DR – watch Ghost Stories (2017) if you’re only watching one spooky movie this Halloween
The Monster Club (1981, Amazon Prime)
“Vampires sup, werewolves hunt, ghouls tear, shaddies lick, maddies yawn, mocks blow, but shadmocks only whistle.”
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for anthology movie horror. To be honest if I’d planned this better I’d just have watched anthology movies and called it a day. I was ambushed by this while looking for something else (Lair of the White Worm in fact) on Amazon Prime, and immediately watched it again.
It’s actually a pattern with the Monster Club. I have a memory of first watching this years and years ago on the television while looking for something else, and then finding the original collection of short stories it’s based on thirty years ago while browsing the library in Sunderland. It pops up unexpectedly, and cheers me up whenever it appears.
Wikipedia tells me the Monster Club flopped when it was released which is a crying shame. The last movie from Amicus (who made some absolute classics several of which I note are also on Amazon Prime), it’s a delight to watch.
It has three stories – the Shadmock which is sad and strange; the Vampire which is humorous and contains Donald Pleasance; and the Ghouls which is one of my hands-down favourite stories of the horror genre for… reasons.
In two of them the humans are arguably the real monsters. In the third one … not so much. In fact this theme – that humans are just as monstrous as vampires and werewolves – forms the coda at the end of the framing sequence which is set in the Monster Club itself. In a way it’s a little odd that the monsters in the third story are so unsympathetic given the previous stories but I suppose you could make an argument that the point of the Ghouls is that humans make accommodation with monsters while monsters act out of neccessity. Or something.
Regardless, it’s a short movie with some truly outrageous musical interludes and three fun and inventive horror tales. Give it a look why not.
Surprise Appearance: Patrick Magee. Although to be fair with this kind of movie it’d almost be a surprise if Patrick Magee wasn’t in it.
Pumpkin Rating: Four generous pinches of pumpkin spice. It’s only got three stories in – I’d give it the full five if it had one more tale in. Also I’m not a disco fan. Sue me.
Tangent: Honourable Mention
I also want to quickly mention three other anthology movies that I’ve enjoyed recently. Sadly none of them are on Netflix/Amazon Prime at the moment but they are bound to turn back up again eventually. All three are worth a squizz when they do if you haven’t seen them already.
Southbound – a grim sequence of nightmarish stories that follow on one from another full of unsettling imagery and sinisterness. There’s a lot of guilt here, and nobody gets out these stories unscathed – and nor do they deserve to.
XX – A classy anthology movie part of whose claim to fame is that it’s horror by female directors. The Box is very good and very dark; the Birthday Party is funny in a horrific sit-com sort of way that makes it feel a little like something that would happen to Hyacinth Bucket; the Fall is okay but suffers from having annoying young people in it; and Her Only Living Son is excellent and arguably moving. I’d watch it.
Trick ‘r Treat – We watched this as our Halloween movie years back with Prof Woody. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already. It’s full of familiar faces, and has a real EC Horror Comics vibe with slick visuals and loads of atmosphere. The fact that the stories are all taking place on the same night and gently bump up against one another adds just the right amount of pumpkin spice. It’s maybe a shame there’s never been a sequel although I imagine it’d be challenging to get the same degree of quality.
Lifeforce (1985, Netflix)
“That remark is not for publication gentlemen – this is a D-Notice situation.”
This is not a good movie. It’s a great movie! It’s like the weird lovechild of a pants 80s genre movie. A 70s Hammer movie, and a 60s Quatermass movie with added nudity!
It begins by quickly hand-waving the fact that this space shuttle has earth-like gravity because… science! It contains a scene in which a security guard tries to coax a naked woman with a sandwich, and one in which our hero slaps a nurse around because she is “…a masochist, an extreme masochist.” It culminates in sexy space-bat vampires destroying London.
It’s a movie that veers between excellent and terrible in the space of two lines of dialogue. To be honest it is at best a flawed movie and probably actively problematic. It’s … well it’s pretty 80s if I’m honest.
It’s textbook straight male gaze for example. I remember my sister back in the day complaining vociferously that there’s plenty of full-frontal nudity of the lady-space-vampire, but that the best you get to see on the men is the occasional bum. That said, I still laugh quietly every time the shot of the two male vampires appears where their tackle is tastefully concealed by the reflection of a light strip.
In a piece of trivia I found when reading up on this movie on Wikipedia, one of the male vampries is a younger brother of Mick Jagger, and the other was in both ‘Allo ‘Allo and the Dr Who story Silver Nemesis. Thank you wikipedia, font of all knowledge. I wish you’d been around 30 years ago when I was having a heated argument about whether the second male vampire was the guy from that advert. Wait no not that advert. This advert.
The story itself is a familiar one. Boy meets girl inside giant space ship hidden in Halley’s Comet. Boy loses girl during disaster on magic space shuttle. Girl destroys London. Boy finds girl again while energy vampire zombies run amok in the streets.
The tale of space vampires devastating London interweaves with the tale of an American astronaut with secrets and a dodgy British SAS fellow chasing a nurse around the Home Counties that is an almost classic example of the “get them out of the location on a wild goose chase so that it can all go wrong”.
Yet there’s more to it than that. For all its flaws, there’s something deeply satisfying about Lifeforce. It’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It doesn’t engage in too much exposition, and while there are a few obvious plot holes it’s easy to ignore them and focus on the dreadful special effects, the variable acting, the corny dialogue, and the occasionally naked underwear models tearing apart the capital.
The Prime Minister turns into an energy-vampire-zombie incidentally. Which I find prophetic.
Pumpkin Rating: Four slighty-past-their-best small pumpkins. Less excruciating nudity, less hilarious slapping of nurses/soft-core porn, and maybe a stronger actor in the lead would all earn it an additional half a star.
Surprise Appearance: Patrick Stewart. He has hair!
Lair of the White Worm (1988, Amazon Prime)
“Whist lad had yer gob I’ll tell yers all an afful story”
This is the move I was looking for when I found the Monster Club and watched that instead. I caught up with it last night. It’s… I want to use the phrase “still an absolute classic” but I’ve become aware that not everyone things those words mean what I think they mean.
Its still an absolute classic though.
It’s a Ken Russell movie; this knowledge should cause you to brace yourself slightly before going in. Do not take it seriously, just relax and enjoy the foolishness.
I first watched it late one night on I think Channel Four and loved it; thank goodness my parents had gone to bed however. It’s not precisely subtle. Part of the tale is a retelling of the Lambton Worm (a story for which I have a definite soft spot), but shifted a couple of miles and altered to Dampton for some reason. There’s a song. The song is brilliant.
There are many dreadful things about this movie, from at least one unconvincing accent through a disturbing strap-on dildo, to a scene with nuns in (it’s a Ken Russel movie remember), and a climax with a white worm that is only slightly less shonky than the giant Dampton Worm puppet that appeared in the hilarious village fete sequence.
It also contains the least subtle use of a red marker pen ever in the movies ever. And this is in a movie about a giant white snake that lives in a cave and has a taste for virgins.
In another life, this would have been a Call of Cthulhu scenario in White Dwarf. Or, with the careful removal of all the sex and violence, a pants BBC six-part paranormal thriller from the 80s. I say both of these as a good thing, obviously.
It has a surprisingly star-studded cast for a low-budget B-movie, and one of the high points for me is Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia. There’s something about her performance that in my opinion drags the whole movie up a couple of notches. Maybe it’s the fact that she regularly expressed exasperation that the idiot Scooby Gang are blundering around and foiling her plans mostly be accident. It’s hard to put it into words – watch the film yourself and see what you think.
The scene with the boy scout is awful and problematic and also one that makes me laugh every time. Because I am fundamentally broken inside.
Pumpkin Rating: Four-and-a-half pumpkin themed sweets that are not good for you. It’s a guilty pleasure inasmuch as I ever feel guilty about enjoying dreadful things.
Surprise Appearance: Half the cast. Especially Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant.
Cabin in the Woods (2012, Netflix)
“How hard is it to kill a bunch of nine year olds?”
I love this movie. The first time I saw it it immediately went into my constantly shifting favourite ten movies of all time and has stayed there ever since. It starts off in a pleasantly familiar fashion – a quintet of friends go to the titular cabin in a van, and discover a basement full of cursed horrors and then monsters and people die horribly.
Obviously there’s more going on than that, but I don’t really want to say too much for fear of spoiling it for people who haven’t seen it. Which means this is going to be a pretty short review.
If you enjoy horror movies, then it’s worth watching at least once. It’s clever, and slick, and wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve, and has some pretty damning things to say about the modern horror movie genre. To quote Whedon “… it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be all right but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances.“
Can’t argue with that.
The dialogue is funny – Joss Whedon co-wrote it with Drew Goddard who might not be as instantly recognisable as Whedon but has some meaty writing chops. I struggled to find a specific line to stick at the top there’s so many (I nearly went with “I’m on speakerphone aren’t I?”).
The commentary is sharp. The “people do unspeakable things in the most banal fashion” dial is turned up to eleven. Heck, it’s aaaarguably a treatment of the Trolley Problem that could in theory raise some questions about the ethics of the ending in a way that Ms LeGuin and the people of Omelas might find familiar. Yeah! Literary references. Take that! Liberal elite represent!
In conclusion, I found it to be one of those dense movies that rewards a second viewing to catch some of the stuff you missed the first time round. But if you can, go in cold the first time and let the story unfold around you. It’s worth it. Probably.
Number of Hemsworths: One (Chris)
Pumpkin Rating: Five excellent glowering jack-o-lanterns. One of my favourite movies in this genre or otherwise.
Surprise Appearance: Sigourney Weaver is in it for about five minutes and is as always excellent.
The Rezort (2015, netflix)
“I’m a businesswoman in a world of new priorities, and you pay for it.”
You like zombies? This movie got zombies. You like slightly heavy-handed social commentary? This movie got slighty heavy-handed social commentary. You like it when the humans are the real monsters? This movie got humans being the real monsters.
This isn’t a zombie apocalypse movie as such – although if I had had more wine I might talk about the idea of the zombie apocalypse in a small space which is kind of what happens here. Rather it’s a post-zombie apocalypse movie. The zompocalypse happened, then it ended, and now people have moved on with their lives.
Not all the zombies are gone, though. There’s one place on the planet apparently where they still remain – a private island which hosts the eponymous Rezort. People go there to shoot carefully herded and presented zombies. It’s Disneyland with post-human cannibal horrors and white wine spritzers and little cars right out of Jurassic Park. And like Jurassic Park, the Pirates of the Carribean ride comes alive and starts eating the tourists.
Although to be honest, like all the best zompocalypse fiction, it’s not really about the zombies.
Our hero is a woman coping with the trauma of the apocalypse for whom group therapy isn’t working out any more. She decides to try something different – shooting her trauma with a gun – and takes her boyfriend along with her. She meets a bunch of dreadful people also visiting the resort, and on their first day out the wheels come off with hilarious consequences.
Obviously the party of tourists and their guide get stranded, and then die one by one in gory fashion. So far so standard. It even has the semi-traditional “ticking clock” in the form of a Brimstone Protocol – a grand name for when the authorities unleash fuel-air explosives into an infected area to cauterise the outbreak before it can get out of control.
For all that it is a bit by-the-numbers, to my mind The Rezort manages to be a cut above the usual straight-to-Netflix zombie movies. The production values are higher for a start. Dougray Scott is in it, and is as dour and mysterious as he has ever been. There’s a mystery in the background that slowly unravels in a manner Chekov would be proud of.
There’s two things that set this apart specifically for me.
One is that the thing I took to be a plot hole in the first ten minutes is not a plot hole and indeed raises some grim questions about the post-zompocalypse world.
The other is a bit more specific and may not apply to anyone else, and it is the presence of Jassa Ahluwalia as one part of an e-sports-winning duo with Lawrence “chocolate fireguard” Walker. Jassa played Rocky in the underrated BBC Three comedy series Some Girls which I quite enjoyed back in the day. As is my wont, I like to imagine that this movie is a sequel to Some Girls and that the series took a distinctly dark turn once the zombies started eating people. I told you it was specific.
Pumpkin Rating: Four plump pumpkins. It’s not rocket surgery, it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s an enjoyably sincere zombie survival horror movie which always at the back of my mind is reminding me of a turn-of-the-century survival horror game.
Surprise Appearance: Nobody specific leaps to mind. I imagine Dougray Scott took all their surprise actor budget.
Ghost Stories (2017, Netflix)
“We have to be very careful what we choose to believe.”
It’s scary. It’s dark. It’s grim.
It’s brilliant. It’s about a man who dedicates his life to debunking the supernatural and… well that’s about all I’m going to say.
It’s Andy Nyman for whom I have had a soft spot ever since Severance and Dead Set and Campus. He’s great in everything he’s in. It’s Jeremy Dyson, the one from League of Gentlemen that nobody ever remembers because he just wrote stuff. It’s adapted by them from their stage play – which I’ve not seen but I understand is quite good.
As with Cabin in the Woods, I’m not going to say too much about it. It’s beautiful to look at, and builds an almost suffocating air of menace and dread that makes the actual horror when it happens almost a relief. Particular gold star for use of “someone with their back to you” which is a trope guaranteed to get the hair on the back of my neck to pack its bags and move to Iceland.
While it’s based on a stage play but I didn’t find it especially stagy. The acting is top notch, the special effects are wonderful, and it pulls the rug out from under you with style and aplomb.
I watched it in the cinema the first time, and spent a lot of time pressed back in my seat making the occasional yelping noise especially during the first sequence with Paul Whitehouse.
I think it’s very good indeed, is what you should take away from this.
Pumpkin Rating: Five great big haunted pumpkins. A great anthology story, that isn’t really an anthology story, and provides genuine scares. Watch it with the lights out.
Surprise Appearance: Martin Freeman.